Where Black Stars Rise

by Corah Il Cappo

First published

Yet stranger still is, Lost Carcosa

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
Yet stranger still is,
Lost Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou unsung as tears unshed,
Must dry and die in,
Lost Carcosa.

Of Prince and Princess

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Clip clop clip clop.

Twilight Sparkle's hooves sounded out as she strode down the long marble corridors of Canterlot's palace. She had been through these hallways countless times on countless different occasions. Whether it was a friendly visit to Celestia or the Grand Galloping Gala itself, she had made some of her fondest memories in these halls. However, as she slowly tramped her way past a row of stained glass windows, she knew today was going to be one she would want to forget. Today was the day she had to deal with him.

Him being the royal pain in the rear himself, Prince Blueblood.

To be fair, Twilight had never personally spoken to him, but the tales she heard were ones of terror. The worst of the stories (typically those she had heard from Rarity) described a stallion who was so obsessed with himself that he could scarcely hold a conversation if the topic wasn't himself. She'd heard stories that he requested mares to throw down their jackets over puddles so he could walk over them, or refusing to enter a door that hadn't been held open for him. Even the stories from those closest to the Prince seemed to describe him as a pompous, pretentious little brat with little or no redeeming qualities. She gave a soft sigh as she mulled those stories over in her head, trying to pinpoint exactly why Celestia hadn't disowned the Prince.

Of course, Celestia had gotten her into this mess in the first place. She thought it would be nice if he and Twilight spent some time together, claiming that it would be a great opportunity for Twilight to learn more about the magic of friendship. Of course, Twilight had some suspicions about the exact intentions of her assignment. She had a sneaking suspicion that this was just Celestia's way of finding friends for Blueblood, seeing as he seemed to have none of his own. In fact, despite the fact that she and her friends spent plenty of time in Canterlot, Twilight very rarely saw or heard from the Prince while she was there. In fact, even on occasions that a Prince ought to be present for, such as her coronation as a Princess, he was mysteriously absent. After all, it shouldn't be difficult for him to attend events in Canterlot, seeing how he lived in the palace.

Now Twilight tried to push those thoughts from her head as she stood outside a heavy, oak wood door adorned with a gold and silver etching of the Prince's cutie mark. Giving a heavy gulp, Twilight reached out, gently rapping on the door with the back of her hoof.

No response.

She frowned, knocking again, this time a bit harder.


Twilight tapped her hooves impatiently for a moment, before pounding a hoof against the wood repeatedly.


Suddenly there came a muffled groan from behind the door. So somepony was in there, just refusing to answer.

"Hello?" Twilight said, pressing an ear to the door so she could better hear what went on behind it. "Prince Blueblood? Its me, Twilight Sparkle. Celestia sent me to-"

"Go away!"

Twilight paused as she was rather rudely cut off from behind the door. She mentally bit her tongue to keep from shouting. So far, all the stories she had heard were proving very, very accurate.

"...As I was saying, Celestia sent me here to-"

"Don't care. Please see yourself out."

"She sent me to-"



"I said, goodbye, madame!"

Twilight huffed, resisting the urge to break his door down with a blast of magic. She tensed her muscles, gritting her teeth and letting out an audible groan of disgust as she let her body slump against the wall opposite the door. She rubbed her temples with her hooves, closing her eyes and trying to mentally calm herself. She just needed to think of this as a particularly nasty school assignment; something she would not enjoy, but had to do nonetheless, since she would be graded on it. Celestia might not be grading her on friendship, but still, letting Celestia down was not an option for Twilight. She took a deep breath, rising to her hooves again and knocking once more.

It was time for some tough love.

"I thought I said-

"Alright, listen up Blueblood!" Twilight spoke, practically shouting at the door. "Celestia sent me here to talk to you, whether you want to or not! Now you're going to open this door right this second, and that's an order!"

There was a moment of silence, before a response came from Blueblood's room.

"It's unlocked you know."

Curiously, the Princess put a hoof on the handle, and felt it give as she pushed down on it. Now she was getting somewhere with this. The door swung open into a rather dimly lit room, and Twilight squinted to see into it. It didn't seem to be a bedroom, but was arranged more like an office, with the Prince himself seated behind an ornately carved wooden desk. The floor was carpeted with a soft, plush-feeling navy blue rug, emblazoned in the center with another image of the Prince's cutie mark. The wall opposite her was lined from floor to ceiling by a rather large bookshelf, which was neatly arranged with what appeared to be several multi-volume sets of leather bound tomes. Amid the books were several little trinkets and baubles, most of which appeared to be of foreign origin, including a large curved sword with a gemstone laden handle. There were as well a few small chests and cabinets scattered throughout the room, yet Twilight's eyes were mainly affixed on the bookshelf.

"Have you read all of those?" Twilight mused as she took a few steps into the room.

"Hmm?" Blueblood followed her gaze to the shelf, before returning to scrutinize Twilight once more. "Oh those? Mainly reference guides and such. They're not much for reading."

The Prince leaned back in his seat, hooves neatly folded in his lap. He certainly looked the part of an Equestrian Prince, with his mane perfectly coiffed and his coat neatly brushed. His hooves seemed to have been manicured recently, and a skilled eye might have noticed a clear coat of polish on both hooves. He was dressed in his finest clothing, with full suit jacket and tie, despite the fact that he was alone on a Saturday afternoon.

"So, it seems my aunt has arranged for you to come speak with me." He said, sounding more than a bit annoyed. "Let me guess, she's sent you to scold me for my behavior? Or have you perhaps taken that task up willingly?"

"What? No not at all. She just sent me to... you know, talk."

"Oh I see. She thinks I've grown out of touch with the peasantry and so she sent a commoner to my office to make smalltalk."

"Commoner?" Twilight raised an eyebrow in shock. "In case you couldn't tell by the wings, I'm not a commoner. I happen to be Princess Twilight Sparkle."

"Yes, I know who you are. The famed Princess Twilight Sparkle, born to parents Twilight Velvet and Night Light and younger sibling to Shining Armor. Attended Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns graduating head of her class and going on to serve under Princess Celestia herself. Defeated Nightmare Moon, Discord, and others before being elevated to the position of 'Princess'." Blueblood replied with a contemptuous snort. "Lets not kid ourselves here, you're a wizard, not a Princess."

Twilight stood, mouth agape. The stories certainly hadn't prepared her for something like this.

"If you want to leave, the door is right there." The Prince said, smirking and gesturing with his hoof.

Twilight suddenly realized why Celestia had asked her to talk with the Prince. He was, to put it bluntly, spoiled, rude, and full of himself, but perhaps that's why Celestia had sent her. She was the Princess of friendship after all, and if anypony could make a friend out of such a rotten Prince, it would have to be her. Besides, with an attitude like that, Blueblood probably didn't have any friends to speak of. Now it was up to Twilight to be his first.

"Why me?" She whispered under her breath as she let out a deep sigh. "Look Blueblood, if you want me to leave, you'll have to try harder than that. Celestia sent me here because she thinks you need a friend, and judging by your attitude, I can see why. So unless Celestia tells me I don't have to, I'm going to stick to you like glue."

Twilight returned the Prince's cocky smirk with one of her own.

"If I have to be miserable, then so do you."

Blueblood's eyes widened ever so slightly at those words. Although she wasn't sure, Twilight was almost certain she saw him swallow a lump in his throat before speaking again.

"If what you wish is to spend more time with me, then I'd be delighted to oblige, oh great and mighty Princess of friendship." The stallion said, his voice dripping with spite. "Perhaps you'll even teach me a lesson or two about friendship as we frolic together through fields of posies, oh wouldn't that be just delightful."

Blueblood rose from his seat, stretching his back as he did so.

"Ha ha. Very funny." Twilight rolled her eyes. "Friendship isn't all flowers and giggles Blueblood. It takes some real work for it to-"

As Twilight spoke, she noticed that the friend she was supposed to be making was headed for the door. He paused before exiting, calling to her over his shoulder.

"If I have to listen to you drone about friendship, I'd at least like to be slightly buzzed while doing so. I'm going to fetch a glass of wine." Blueblood said, stepping out of the room.

Twilight growled as she broke into a trot to catch up with him. As she fell into line beside the Prince, she did her best to feign a smile.

"So," She said, trying to find some way to strike up a halfway decent conversation. "Anything new going on lately?"

"The Diamond Dogs are due to convene to decide on a new chieftain." Blueblood replied, barely even acknowledging her presence. "The Griffon Kingdom of Kleinkrieg is in turmoil due to new taxes on imports, and Saddle Arabia has been steadily raising the price of silk. Or did you mean something new in my life? In that case, no. It's been much of the same."

"You certainly seem very up to date on your world news." Twilight commented as the two ponies rounded a corner and began to descend down a spiral staircase.

"I should hope so. What sort of ambassador would I be if I didn't?"

"Wait, you're an ambassador?" Twilight raised an eyebrow.

"You sound surprised."

"To be honest, I am. I never would have guessed you were in the business of diplomacy."

"My cutie mark is a compass rose. What else could that possibly signify?"

Twilight thought for a moment, placing a hoof on her chin.

"A cartographer perhaps?"

"I would assume a cartographer would have an actual map rather than a compass, or maybe something more along the lines of a globe or... "Blueblood's voice halted, as though he had caught himself just before starting to ramble. "I'm sure you know what I mean."

As they reached the base of the staircase, they stood before a very weathered and faded door. The Prince produced a small silver key from his suit pocket, unlocking the door. It opened with a rather foreboding creak, and Twilight coughed on a rather musty odor the seemed to stem from within. Blueblood however, seemed entirely unphased by the odd smell and ventured forth into the room. Inside were countless wooden racks holding numerous bottles of wine, all of which seemed to be incredibly old. Twilight could have sworn that one faded label contained a date older than three hundred years. Blueblood trod carefully over the cobblestone floor, selecting a slightly less aged wine.

"Ah, pinot noir, 1895." He mused, rummaging through one of the cabinets for a glass. "A good year for this particular blend. Very strong taste, quite complex."

He uncorked the bottle, pouring himself a glass and taking a sip. For the first time all day, Twilight saw Blueblood smile. Not a cocky smirk or even a smug grin, but a genuine smile. Of course, it faded as soon as he turned back to face her, but still. She couldn't help but feel that some slight progress had been made. Soon they had exited the wine cellar and were on their way back up the staircase.

"Now where was I?" Blueblood said, levitating his wine glass at his side. "Oh yes, the matters of diplomacy. I mostly serve as an executive to represent Equestria's wishes abroad, whether that be to the Griffons, or the Saddle Arabians, or across the sea to Zebrica."

"Really? The pony with a fear of dirt regularly goes to Zebrica?" Twilight suppressed a giggle at the thought.

"I never said I enjoyed my line of work." The Prince shot her a glare as he spoke.

Twilight opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a sudden loud noise from down the hall. It sounded like glass shattering. Blueblood jumped slightly at the sound, nearly spilling his wine on the carpet.

"What in Celestia's name was that?" Twilight quickened her pace through the hall, heading towards the source of the ruckus, the Prince's office. Blueblood trotted along beside her, just as she pushed open the door to his room. The window behind his desk had been shattered, shards of glass littering the floor amid stacks of books that had been swept off the shelves. Countless little treasures had been knocked to the carpet, some of which had broken on impact. Blueblood gasped, stepping into the room almost as if in shock.

"I've... I've been robbed!" He said, his eyes wide as saucers as he surveyed the room. "What sort of thieving little bastard..."

He paused, looking over the bits and pieces that had fallen from his shelf. There were still numerous valuables among the fallen objects. A gold plated mask from Zebrica, a collection of rings from one of the Griffon Kingdoms, and a box of gems from the Diamond Dogs all lay on the floor amid bits of glass and books. If they had been here for money, why had they not taken those. Only one thing seemed to be missing, and that was the scimitar he had been gifted on his first trip into Saddle Arabia.

"They took my sword." He practically growled as he stared down at the spot where it had once been, just before turning suddenly to Twilight. "You! You're a spellcaster! Can't you cast some sort of... tracking spell or something?"

Twilight blinked a few times, snapping back in as Blueblood spoke to her.

"Er... I could, if we still had it. See a tracking spell needs to-"

"Damn it!" Blueblood exclaimed, falling backwards into his chair with a muffled thump. "That sword was given to me by the Caliph himself. Its a one of a kind weapon given as part of our first peace treaty between our two nations. Ugh. It took almost a year of negotiation to secure that treaty and-"

Twilight began to filter out Blueblood's speech at this point. Something about trades and treaties and the like. On the one hoof, she was a bit impressed to find that Blueblood actually had a job to do. On the other, he was still the same Blueblood regardless, and that Blueblood was annoying! She took a step forward, gently nudging one of the fallen books with her hoof. There was something beneath it. She lit up her horn with a pale purple glow, lifting the tome to reveal a small brown and white feather beneath it. She levitated this as well, looking it over.

"Blueblood, Blueblood shut up a second and let me talk!" Twilight said, cutting off his story. He gave her a glare, which softened as soon as he saw the feather she held.

"A feather? Where did you find that?"

"It was on the floor under one of your books. I might not be able to track the sword, but I can track whoever this feather came from, and that means-"

"It means we can find my thief."

"Right." Twilight nodded. "But, if I help you with this, you need to help me with something."

"You want to wheel and deal with Equestria's prime ambassador?" Blueblood smirked. "Let's hear your offer then."

"I help you get this sword back, and you get Celestia to let me off the hook with you."

"You mean I not only get my sword back, but I get to be rid of you as well? Its a winning situation all around for me." The prince extended a hoof to shake. "You have a deal."

Twilight clasped hooves with him, giving a firm shake.


Of King and Cult

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It seemed that the sword had been taken further than Twilight initially thought. The tracking spell lead her through the halls of Canterlot, out the main gate, and yet continued to grow further away. Who or whatever stole this blade was fast. Of course, Twilight might have been able to catch them if she hadn't been burdened with the company of a certain somepony. Despite the fact that it was his property they were chasing, Blueblood seemed to be in no hurry to contribute anything to the mission at hand. Instead, he seemed perfectly content to simply trot alongside her occasionally complaining about how far they had to walk or lamenting the fact that he might have to mingle with the "common rabble" as he put it.

Twilight's tracking spell on the scimitar finally showed the sword settling down into a location. Seemed it was in the Everfree Forest just outside of Ponyville. And so the Prince and Princess boarded the next train bound for Ponyville, with Blueblood reserving the seats on either side of him to keep the more unsavory ponies at a distance. Twilight rolled her eyes and plopped down into a seat across from him, whispering a silent prayer that he could keep himself behaved for a train ride. Celestia knows what could happen if he made a scene in such a cramped area. Though, she supposed if such a thing were to happen, at the very least she would get to watch. For his part however, Blueblood kept relatively calm about the situation. Sure he would occasionally mutter under his breath or growl at a passenger threatening to take one of his three seats, but other than that he kept peaceful, and even more surprising, he kept quiet.

Soon, with a squeal of metal on metal, the train pulled into Ponyville station. Everypony began to file off, scattering as they exited the station. Slowly, Blueblood rose from his seat, or rather seats, and let out a quiet yawn as he stretched his limbs.

"Well then, where are we off to now?" He said, adjusting his jacket and tie. "After all, the sun is going down, and I'd prefer to be back in Canterlot before it gets too late."

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but we've still got a ways to go." Twilight replied, falling into step as she and Blueblood exited the train. "It looks like whoever took your sword has settled down in the Everfree Forest."

Blueblood grimaced at her words.

"Of all the places they could flee, they fled to the muddy, abhorrent cesspit that is the Everfree." He shook his head as they walked. "Something about this just doesn't add up. They only stole the sword, nothing else it seemed. If they were looking for a valuable treasure, I had plenty of things worth more than that scimitar. And furthermore, why the Everfree? It would have made more sense to try and sell the blade as soon as possible, rather than hang on to it. Perhaps taking it to a pawn shop would have been more prudent. It seems that whoever stole this sword was after the sword itself."

"Well, you seemed to have a pretty strong attachment to it." Twilight replied. "Maybe its somepony holding it for a ransom of sorts? Or maybe they just wanted to get revenge on you for something? Do you have any enemies who might want to get you back?"

"The question is not who has a motive, its who doesn't have a motive." Blueblood chuckled slightly. "Believe me, I've pissed off everypony in Canterlot at least once, and those outside the city haven't fared much better."

"I can think of at least one pony like that... " Twilight muttered.

"Oh? Who's that?"


"Sorry... Who?"

"Rarity, you know, the one who you brushed off at the Gala?"

"I brush off ponies every year at the Gala, usually more than one per night."

"Unicorn, purple mane, white coat?" Twilight said, still not eliciting a response. "The one who got cake all over you?"

The Prince paused for a moment, the nodded.

"Ah yes, I remember the one now. Quite a rude little mare wasn't she? Refused to hold open doors, expected me to pay for my own meals, and ended the evening by getting cake all over me." He shuddered slightly at the memory. "Ugh. It took three baths to get all the frosting out of my mane. Yet still, it wasn't the worst gala I've been to, so at least there's that."

Twilight sighed. It seemed that the hate between the two of them was one sided, though she couldn't really blame Rarity for holding a grudge. Was this just how Blueblood treated everypony? Or did he have a select few whom he at least treated slightly better than dirt? Twilight hoped for the latter, seeing that she still had at least the rest of the day to spend with him.

"Wait a second." Twilight quirked an eyebrow. "You've been to a worse gala that that one? The one where you ended up wearing the cake, animals took over the ballroom, and half the columns in the palace got knocked down? What could possibly be worse than that?"

"Two words. Drunk. Griffons. We hosted a get together with some visiting representatives from the Kingdom of Schwarzkamf, and made the mistake of serving alcohol. One thing lead to another, and soon the ballroom had become a battlefield, with guards trying to subdue a group of very strong, very angry, and very intoxicated Griffons. It was quite a sight for sure, but still, ponies ended up with broken bones and more than a few bruises, and the Griffons were expelled from Equestria the next morning. Not exactly a fun affair for any involved."

"That sounds... Yeah that sounds pretty bad." Twilight caught herself cringing at the thought.

Blueblood slowed to a halt as he and Twilight reached the edge of Ponyville. He stood, leering at the forest as if he hoped the branches ahead of him would simply vanish if he glared hard enough at them. The sun had already begun to sink behind the horizon, casting the sky in a brilliant mixture of reds and oranges that shone through the bramble of brush and bark that lay ahead. Blueblood sighed softly.

"Do I really have to follow you in there?" He said, his voice sounding almost piteous.

"Yes." Twilight replied. "You want that sword back, you've got to come with me and get it. That's how friendship works. Its give and take."

"You and I are not friends." Blueblood said with a bit of indignation. "We are partners brought together by unfortunate circumstance. Believe me, as soon as we get back my scimitar, I'll go straight to Celestia and hopefully the two of us will never need to speak again. Personally, I think that's reason enough for me to press on, if only to get all of this over with quicker."

Blueblood set his face, gave his mane a confident toss, and took a step forward into the shadows of the forest. After that one step, he froze where he stood. His eyes glanced down, looking at the mud puddle he had just stepped in. He tore his hoof back as though he had touched a white hot ember, letting out a rather unflattering shriek as he did so. He covered his mouth, trying to stifle his own scream. Twilight fought to keep from bursting into a fit of laughter at the sight, only just barely containing herself.

"Er... " Blueblood stammered, trying to give her a nervous smile. "Après vous."

"We really should have brought a navigator." Blueblood whined, his steps crisscrossing over themselves as he tried to avoid stepping in any muck in his path.

"For the third time, I know where I'm going Blueblood." Twilight replied with an exasperated sigh. "Lets not forget that I'm the one who has the tracking spell."

"You may have the tracking spell, but the question is if you have a sense of direction."

"I do so have a sense of direction!"

"Well, we've been wandering in the forest for close to an hour now, and we seem to be no closer to finding my sword."

"Maybe it wouldn't have taken so long if you didn't insist on walking around every single speck of dirt you see."

"I just had these hooves manicured! I'm not going to ruin them that quickly!"

"Look, do you want the sword, or do you want to keep your perfectly buffed hooves?"

"I don't see why I can't have both."

Twilight huffed, hooves going to her temples in frustration.

"There's just no arguing with you is there? Everypony just bends over backwards to accommodate your every whim, don't they? And if you don't get what you want, then you whine and cry to your aunt to get you w-" Twilight suddenly stopped. They were close. She trotted ahead, pushing aside a tangle of branches to gaze out into a clearing in the woods. Amid a spacious field stood a group of ponies, clad from head to toe in bright yellow robes. At least, Twilight thought they were ponies. The robes obscured the bodies, and white, featureless masks obscured the faces. They were joined together in a loose circle, muttering quietly. She froze dead in her tracks. Something about these ponies just felt... off somehow.

"I'm sorry, were you done verbally assaulting me? Or have you-" Blueblood was silenced as Twilight clapped a hoof over his mouth, pointing to the robed figures in the clearing. The Prince shoved her hoof away, sinking down to peer through the hole she had made in the bramble. Into the center of the group walked another figure, still robed but unmasked. Even from this distance Blueblood could tell it was a griffon. Not just any griffon however, this was a griffon wearing a jeweled scimitar at his hip. The Prince practically growled as he saw that sword. He leaned forward ever so slightly, only for Twilight to yank him backwards.

The griffon unsheathed the sword, removing a flask from within the folds of his robe. He poured the contents onto the blade, as a black, oily substance flowed from the bottle. He gave the scimitar a flourish, splattering the excess liquid on the grass before hoisting the blade above his head.

"Iä! Hastur cf'ayak'vulgtmm, vugtlagln vulgtmm!" The others shouted, almost in perfect unison. "Iä! Hastur cf'ayak'vulgtmm, vugtlagln vulgtmm!"

The group of ponies surrounding the griffon began to chant, their voices deep and guttural as they repeated the phrase again and again. Twilight covered her ears at the noise. It sounded like the grinding of metal on stone. She winced every time they opened their mouths, hoping it would be the last. Blueblood seemed a bit less affected by their words, yet his ears twitched at every syllable the robed ponies shouted.

Just as suddenly as it had started, the chanting ceased.

"Brothers," The griffon said, lowering the blade. "Tonight is the night that all our work shall finally pay off. We have worked in the shadows for years now, waiting for our moment to rise, and now our time has come. Brother Stone Steps has graciously accepted the call. Brother Stone, please step forward."

One of the ponies stepped out of line. The griffon turned to face him, then continued.

"Have you seen the Yellow Sign, brother?"

"I have seen the sign, brother. I have seen the sign, and the king, and his city."

"Are you prepared for what you must do?"

"My life is mine to give, and I give freely."

The pony knelt down on the grass, and the griffon once again raised the sword aloft, his voice booming amid the empty clearing.

"Iä! Hastur cf'ayak'vulgtmm, vugtlagln vulgtmm! I powerfully call upon ye and stir ye up O ye mighty spirits that dwelleth in the Great Abyss. In the dread and potent name of Azathoth come ye forth and give power unto this blade fashioned in accordance to ancient Lore. In the Name of Great and Mighty Yog-Sothoth and in the invincible sign of Voor..." At this he passed his hand over his chest, holding up his two outermost claws. "Give power! Give power! Give power!"

Twilight's eyes widened with shock as he slashed the blade across the throat of his comrade, cleanly cutting through it. There was a loud gurgling as the once yellow fabric of the pony's robe began to run red as blood dribbled from his wound. Twilight gasped, clasping a hoof over her mouth. She couldn't believe what she was seeing, not in the slightest. She hadn't considered for a moment that somepony would die tonight. Only now did the severity of the situation begin to dawn on her. She wanted to look away, to try and blot the images from her mind, yet she couldn't tear her eyes away from the scene. Terror and curiosity had mingled in her mind, and ultimately curiosity was a more powerful force. Blueblood too looked disgusted by what he saw, yet also oddly fixated. He swallowed hard, his heartbeat practically audible through his chest.

"In the names of Azathoth, and of Yog-Sothoth, and of their servant Nyarlathotep, and the invincible sign of Voor, I command you! Accept our offering, King in Yellow, and open to us the path to enlightenment!"

"What do we do?" Blueblood whispered, his eyes wide as saucers. "I thought we were hunting thieves, not madponies."

"Well we can't just sit here and do nothing!" Twilight replied, rising to her hooves.

"What are you doing! You can't go out-"

"Hey!" Twilight shouted, taking a firm step into the clearing. "I don't know who you ponies are, or what you're doing here, but I'm putting a stop to it!"

There was a moment of silence, before the cultists suddenly turned on Twilight, with the griffon leading the charge. He rushed towards her, brandishing his stolen sword. Twilight stood her ground, her horn igniting as she blasted the blade from her enemies claw with a concentrated beam of magic. She prepared to swing at him with her hoof, just as she was grabbed from behind by one of the masked ponies. She thrashed in his grip, trying desperately to break free, but to no avail.

"Blueblood help me!" She yelled, kicking her legs in a vain attempt to break the vice-like grip of her foe. "If you don't get out here then so help me I'll-"

Twilight was interrupted by a loud THWACK from behind her, as her assailant slumped to the ground. Blueblood stood behind her now, looking positively mortified.

"I hope you're happy. I chipped a hoof for this."

"Priorities Blueblood! We've got bigger problems here!" Twilight said as she used her magic to hurl a knife wielding cultist across the field. She turned, sending out another bolt of mystic energy to the chest of another pony, dropping him almost instantly. Blueblood meanwhile, was racing across the field to retrieve the sword he had come here for. He put a hoof on it, only for the griffon to lunge for him, beak and claws bared. The Prince toppled over backwards, the sword skittering from his grasp as his enemy pinned him to the ground. Blueblood kicked and shoved, trying to keep the griffon's claws from slashing his neck. Blueblood's horn glowed a pale white as his magic took hold of the scimitar just beyond his reach, With all his might, he swung for the griffon's head... and managed to hit him with the hilt of the sword. Not exactly his intention, but it worked. Blueblood rolled out from beneath the now unconscious griffon, brushing himself off and trying desperately to fix his mane.

Twilight on the other hand was facing one final cultist, apparently a unicorn, based on the fact that it seemed capable of magic. She let loose a bolt of purple energy, which her enemy deflected with a well placed shield. The unicorn returned the favor with a gout of arcane fire. Seeing an opportunity, Twilight lit up her horn, vanishing in the blink of an eye. Before her adversary could even react, Twilight appeared beside her, delivering a swift blow with her hoof and sending the cultist sprawling. With that taken care of, Twilight made her way over to Blueblood, who was frantically trying to brush the dirt from his good jacket.

"Are you alright?" She said, looking him over. "No broken bones, no cuts or bruises I should worry about?"

"No, but I've chipped a hoof, gotten dirt on my coat, and positively ruined my mane." Blueblood replied, still making a valiant effort to keep himself looking as prim and proper as he could.

"You're fine. After what we just saw, I'd say a chipped hoof is the least of our worries." Twilight turned to the pony the cultists had slain, who still remained on his knees, stock still and upright. She recalled reading in her biology textbooks that upon death, a ponies muscles should cease to function. If that were the case, then how was this pony still on its knees? Shouldn't it have toppled over, or at least slumped to the ground? She reached out a hoof, tapping the mask of the corpse ever so slightly. She jumped back with a yelp as the body instantly dissolved into dust, as though years of decay had suddenly caught up with it. Where the corpse had once sat was now a black outline. At least a black outline seemed the best way to describe it. It was like a shadow, yet it seemed to exist in three dimensions rather than two. A pure black, pony shaped void now hovered in mid air where the cultist had died.

Blueblood had just retrieved his sword, his nostrils flaring as he returned it to its sheath. Whatever they had poured on his blade reeked like an open grave, and he practically gagged on the foul stench. As he turned, he froze staring at the black figure.

"What in Celestia's name is that thing?"

"Honestly, I have no idea." Twilight mused, reaching out a hoof to touch it. As her hoof made contact, it seemed to sink within the figure, going beyond it. Her eyes grew wide as she pulled her hoof out, staring at it. It didn't hurt, and her hoof certainly seemed fine...

"Don't touch it!" Blueblood shouted. "We don't know what this thing is, and judging by the fact that somepony just died to bring it about, I don't think we ought to be messing with it! We got my sword, now lets just get out of here."

"Blueblood, this is magic the likes of which I've never even heard of! I just want to figure out what this... thing here does. That's it."

"Fine. But if you die, don't say I didn't warn you."

Twilight again reached her hoof into the shadow. Then she placed another hoof in. Nothing seemed to be going wrong as of yet, so she decided to take a leap of faith, and stuck her head through the outline. She remained within it for just a moment, before pulling her head out and turning to the Prince.

"Blueblood, you gotta see this." Twilight said, just before taking a full step into the void.

Blueblood sat there for a moment in stunned silence. This was incredibly dangerous. They come across a chanting cult of ponies who speak of signs and kings, and who shriek in indecipherable tongues, and now they're playing with their magic? It seemed an apt way to get oneself killed. Yet deep within him, there was a nagging feeling. He felt that he had to see, or that his curiosity would never be sated. So with a deep breath, he swallowed his fear and stepped forth into the blackness.

There, on the other side, was everything Blueblood did not, and was never meant to know.

Of Black Stars and Bright Skies

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Blueblood's hooves touched down on the ground on the opposite side of the shadow figure. At least, he thought it was the ground. His head was swimming after passing through what he could only assume was a portal of some sort, and he felt a bit of nausea creeping up on him. The heavy, harsh scent that hung in the air certainly wasn't helping matters. It wasn't a foul smell by any means, but it was acrid enough to curl his nostrils a bit. It reminded him a bit of industrial cleaner, or bleach; very strong and acidic smelling. He coughed a bit at the odor, still trying to suppress his gag reflex. As his head relaxed however, he finally got to take a good look around himself.

He stood on solid earth, or at least he assumed this was what the earth was like here. It was smooth, pristine looking, with a texture almost like glass or fine crystal. His hooves nearly slipped a few times as he tried to take a step on it. Yet despite its glass-like structure, it was full of pockmarks and chips, as though something had battered it over the years. In addition to this, deep gashes had been formed in its surface, each with polished sides, as though they had been etched by the hooves of a master jeweler. Other sections however, looked closer to ocean waves, with a curled, scalloped texture. Something deep below Blueblood seemed to be giving of a faint light, causing the entire earth surrounding him to glow with a faint yellowish hue.

The crystalline ground sloped gently downwards to the edge of what the Prince could only describe as a sea, or vast lake. However, it was not filled with water, but instead by swirling white fluff. It looked almost like an ocean of clouds, with mist hanging thickly over the surface. Yet despite looking like cloud, the stuff still behaved like liquid water, rolling and frothing and crashing on the shore in waves. Amid the clouds however, was something big and red. It looked almost like a ball of fire, and Blueblood needed to squint to get a good look at it. It didn't appear to float upon the lake, but rather to be slowly sinking amid the choppy waves of vapor. Suddenly, Blueblood realized what this strange red orb must be. It was a star. He guessed it must have been an old one, based on how little light and heat it gave off. Not that the area needed lighting.

The sky was blazing bright, almost searing if one looked at it for too long. Unlike the sky that Blueblood had grown accustomed to, this one was like a kaleidoscope of constantly shifting colors, from blue to red to pink to green to colors that the Prince simply had no words for, and doubted any existed. It was like a rainbow, if the visible light spectrum stretched to infinity. All through out this strange, sickeningly vibrant palette of the heavens were small, twinkling specks of pure black. Blueblood guessed these must have been stars as well, though of what sort he had no idea. They whirled and spun throughout the sky, rotating so quickly that they at times appeared as streaks of black against a multicolored backdrop. In addition to these stars were two moons, or at least what appeared from here to be moons. Unlike the rapidly spinning stars however, these seemed to remain in place. Stock still amid a sea of violent motion.

On the distant shore of the cloud lake stood the ghostly silhouette of a city. It seemed relatively normal at this distance, save for the fact that its tallest tower seemed to be obscured by one of the moons. Or was it? The moon seemed to be both in front of and behind the tower, or perhaps occupying the same space as it. Just trying to comprehend the spatial arrangement of this singular piece was giving Blueblood a headache. Or perhaps that was from the ceaseless pounding in his ears. It sounded like a drumbeat, yet at the same time like a voice.

"Car-Co-Sa. Car-Co-Sa. Car-Co-Sa."

Blueblood guessed that Carcosa must have been the name of the city. The city itself, save for the abnormality of the moon and the tower, seemed to be otherwise normal. It was composed of numerous black spires jutting out from the glassy earth, each one piercing the whirling heavens with its blackness. It seemed to be entirely composed of these jagged spikes, looking at this distance like the shadow of a pincushion, save for the few chinks of light that seemed to suggest slits or windows in the buildings.

Blueblood stood there in silence for what felt like an eternity, just trying to take everything in. Finally, after several minutes of stunned silence, he managed to whisper.

"What... What in Celestia's name is this place?" He said, eyes darting about rapidly. "You have experience with magic and strange spells and such, do you recognize this place?"

Twilight shook her head.

"I've done a lot of spells, and seen a lot of weird stuff, but this really takes the cake." Twilight gazed out over the glaring vista, cupping a hoof over her eyes to block out some of the light. "Its like we stepped into another world, maybe even another dimension."

"Well, whatever it is, we're leaving." Blueblood said, arms folded over his chest.

"Oh come on!" Twilight pleaded. "You don't have an adventurous bone in your body, do you?"

"I have plenty of adventurous bones, but very few of them want to go adventuring here. We have no idea where we are, or what this place is, or if anything even lives here. It could be infested with razor toothed, pony eating rats for all we know."

"That's exactly why we need to explore it Blueblood! We're the first ponies ever to enter this place. Its a whole new world full of new things just waiting to be uncovered! Doesn't that excite you just a little bit?"

"Whatever happened to 'lets get this whole friendship thing over with?' " Blueblood quirked an eyebrow at her.

"We will. We're not going to stay here long. I just want to go and check out that city on the other shore. Carcosa, I believe its called." Twilight put on her best pouty face as she looked at the Prince. "C'mon Blueblood. Who knows, maybe it'll be fun."

Blueblood took a deep breath, then let it out with a huff.

"Alright fine. Lets go and explore the creepy city of death."

"Carcosa. Its called Carcosa."

"Whatever. It beats being stuck in an office all day anyways."

The Prince and Princess began to walk around the edge of the wispy cloud lake, the sound of their hooves clip-clopping on the glass earth below echoing through the seemingly endless expanse. The whole place felt so bleak. There was no sound, not from the rolling cloud sea, nor from the star which floated within it. There was an uneasy silence that seemed to hang in the air, which only grew more and more palpable the closer they moved to Carcosa. Twilight also couldn't help but note the stillness in the air as they walked. Despite the fact that the clouds swirled about, there was no wind. In fact, the air felt stagnant and stale, and the heavy chemical odor that hung in it didn't help matters. Coupled with the intense light from above, Twilight couldn't help but be reminded of a hospital room.

Despite the fact that the city appeared to be nearly on the other horizon, they were practically at its gates within minutes of walking. The black spires towered over them, sticking into the sky like the spears of an advancing army. As they drew nearer and nearer to the city, the sky above began to darken. The sky that had once been filled with blindingly indescribable color soon became a sheet of pure blackness that stretched as far as the eye could see. The stars were no longer visible, but the moons certainly were. Now it was the moons which burned with a plethora of different hues and shades, as well as the moons which circled rapidly through the blackness. It was as though the city was somehow warping the world around it, shifting its rules and reversing them for its own purposes.

With their main source of light extinguished, Blueblood and Twilight both lit up their horns, casting dim white and purple glows over the area. They had entered the city of spires, and things only grew stranger from there. The pillars themselves didn't appear to be cylindrical, as they had initially thought, but were closer to being octagonal in shape. They seemed to have each been cut from a single piece of smooth black material, and seemed to be blurry, as if in constant motion.

"Look at these buildings." Blueblood said, running a hoof over the smooth side of one of the pillars. "It feels like bone."

Twilight examined the tower as well, hoof on her chin.

"Its like ivory." She gently tapped on the tower, the sound visibly reverberating through the structure. "This place is so strange."

"It just doesn't make sense." Blueblood turned his gaze from the tower to the city. "Where would they get anything resembling ivory around here? Everything for miles around is just barren. Its not like it just appeared out of thin... "

The Prince's eyes caught a glimpse of movement in the shadows of the streets. He squinted, trying to brighten his horn as he peered into the darkness. The light glinted off of a pair of eyes, which stared back at him. Blueblood took a step backwards, letting out a yelp as the beast in the blackness lurched toward him. Twilight turned at the noise to see what she could really only describe as a thing limply flopping after Blueblood. It was nearly as large as she was, and it had thin grey tufts of fur covering an almost skeletal body, from which sprang two pairs of glassy, membranous wings. From its face jutted a conical beak, like that of a raven or crow, yet it had no eyes. In its place were two pairs of antennae that twitched and jerked about spastically. It propelled itself along with webbed talons, awkwardly flailing its body as it came. Its beak opened, and it emitted a noise somewhat like the croaking of a frog, the cackling of a crow, and the shrieking of an equine being. Blueblood fell over backwards, trying desperately to scoot himself back before the strange beast could catch up to him.

Twilight quickly stepped between him and the creature, her horn lighting up with a brilliant purple glow as she gave the foul being a telepathic shove. The beast fell over on its back, writhing about and uselessly flailing its six legs. By now Blueblood had clamored to his hooves, drawing his sword from its sheath. With a shout and a flourish, he slashed the blade across the creature's exposed belly, which elicited a much louder shriek from the eyeless demon. This time the sound was enough to make both Blueblood and Twilight pause to cover their ears as they were assailed by the horrible noise. With a moment of respite, the beast was able to flip itself over, and with a flap of its massive wings, took off into the dark sky. Twilight glanced up after it, watching as it soared higher and higher, just before a small group of those same beings swooped in, ripping it to shreds with beak and talon. It fell upon the glassy earth, as the others too fell upon it, their claws tearing off bits of flesh before crunching it between their beaks and swallowing it with a backwards tilt of their heads. Before either Prince or Princess could react to the sight, they simply vanished, appearing to blur before their very eyes before fading entirely from sight.

"It... It didn't even bleed." Blueblood said, trembling. "I cut it open, but there was no blood. Just chitinous innards squirming. Celestia's sake... What was that thing?"

"I... I don't know. I just don't know." Twilight stammered, trying to find her tongue. She leaned back against a nearby tower wall, trying to collect herself. Unfortunately, there was no time for such things. Twilight felt a sudden, powerful force tug her backwards, and she tumbled down through what had seemed to be a solid wall. She screamed as she fell downwards through inky blackness, futilely flapping her wings to slow her descent. She hit ground with a rather ungraceful thump, rolling to her side as she hissed between her teeth at the pain. Above her, perhaps eight feet or so up, she could see Blueblood peering down into the hole she had fallen into.

"Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Twilight brushed herself off as she rose to her hooves, gently shaking the dust from her coat. "A few bumps and bruises, but nothing I can't handle."

"Celestia and Luna both, not even the architecture here makes any damn sense!" Blueblood said from above.

"Look, just jump down here and I'll catch you."

"No way. You fly up here, and lets leave."

"I'm already in here, so we might as well check it out." Twilight said with a shrug.

"Oh no. You've had your fun. You've already watched those...things appear and attack us. I'm putting my hoof down on this. We're leaving."

"Well right now, you're up where those things were." Twilight smirked slightly. "So right now, you're the one in danger, not me."

She couldn't see from there, but Twilight was sure that his eyes had just grown about an inch wider.

"C'mon. Just jump."

Blueblood sucked in his breath, before taking a leap of faith down into the black cavern below. Although he only fell for a few seconds, it felt to him like minutes of time passed before he landed, toppling Twilight as he crashed into her. They both hit the floor, with Blueblood rolling off of her as he landed.

"Ugh... I thought you said you were going to catch me?" He said, brushing the dust from his coat and tossing his mane.

"I didn't expect you to be so heavy!"

Blueblood let out a soft harumph, turning his nose up at her comment. Twilight lit up her horn, slowly but surely walking deeper into the corridor. In the dim light, it seemed that whatever they had landed in was an utterly barren room. However, as they walked, the ceilings began to grow higher and higher, and soon what had started as an 8 foot tall chamber soon stretched to what Twilight estimated to be about 45 feet. It was massive, almost vault-like. Their hoofbeats could be heard, yet they did not echo. It was as though these catacombs swallowed up the sound.

Suddenly, both ponies stood stock still.

Just in front of them, illuminated by the dim glow of their horns, was a massive stone door. It stretched from floor to ceiling, and was carved with hundreds of thousands of strange squiggles and runic shapes, each one seeming to belong to some incomprehensible alien language. Twilight reached out a hoof, tapping the door with her hoof. There was a massive grinding, as though a mountain were being bored to bits just in front of them, as the slab floated diagonally upwards, vanishing from their sight. Ahead of them, deep within the inky blackness of the vault, was a bright greenish light.

"Après vous." Blueblood muttered, motioning with his hoof.

With that, Twilight took her first step into the crypt.

Of Myths and Masks

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The light in the distance was a fire. A fire that burned bright green, seated in a brazier of a copper colored metal. Perhaps burned was the wrong word, as the fire was completely still, as though it had been frozen in time and place. It didn't give off any heat either, although the jade glow flickered and flashed just like a real flame. As Twilight drew closer to it, she could see that the light illuminated a spiral staircase, that seemed to stretch far beyond the reaches of the tower they occupied. Come to think of it, they had walked far beyond where their tower should have been by this point. Twilight had since given up trying to comprehend the inner workings of this world, and chose to simply go with the flow. Slowly but surely she and Blueblood ascended the staircase, the sound of their hoofbeats the only noise.

As Twilight continued her upwards climb, she paused near a large slit carved into the wall. Its sides were smoothly cut into the black, bone-like substance, and appeared to have been polished to a glossy sheen. However, it was the world outside the window that caught Twilight's eye. The skies were bright again, flashing in their erratic pattern of ever shifting colors, punctuated by streaking black stars. She managed to crane her neck, poking her head through the rather narrow slat. Once her head was outside the tower however, the sky was black as coal once more, with only the pulsating moons to light the streets below. Upon pulling her head back in again however, everything reverted back. Something very odd was going on here.

They reached the top of the staircase, only to stand in a wide, open chamber lit by numerous green fire braziers. unlike the rest of the chamber, this room was actually very well lit, even if it was a nauseating green color. The walls seemed to have been covered in a fine, almost metallic substance, looking like the entire room had been gilded in gold leaf. A low table sat before them, surrounded on all sides by cushioned pads. Although there was no food upon the table, it was set as though a great feast were being held, with numerous plates and knives and goblets set up in positions around the table, as though whoever owned it had been expecting guests.

Blueblood ran a hoof along one of the silvery plates, a thin film of dust left upon his hoof. "Seems like whoever set this table did it a while back, perhaps days or even weeks ago. Not to mention they were expecting quite a few guests at their party."

"The question is, what sort of 'guests' would be arriving at a place like this?" Twilight said, picking up one of the goblets to examine it under the glow of the green lights. "You think maybe someone was expecting those cultists we stopped?"

"Could be." The Prince replied. "Certainly seems likely. But how would they have gotten the message across dimensions? Its not like they have a telegraph line between Equestria and Carcosa."

"I'd assume if they found a way to open portals through dimensions, then they could pretty easily find a way to communicate across it. But you're right, it does seem a little odd. I think the question we ought to be asking is, what were they trying to contact here?"

"Well, I heard those cultists mention something. They said they were offering a sacrifice to the 'King in Yellow'. I'm guessing that this King was the one they were looking for. Then that means..."

"That we're in a palace."

"The banquet hall to be precise."

Twilight set her goblet down, and began to trace along the wall of the banquet hall. It looked like the room was a dead end, but Twilight was beginning to realize that here in Carcosa, things were never as they seemed. She touched her hooves to the black walls, applying only the slightest bit of pressure as she moved along. She noticed what appeared to be an opening to a hallway, but it was on the ceiling. However, when she applied pressure to the wall below it, she was able to push through as though nothing was there. It was weird, but it worked.

"I found another passageway." She called to the prince, making sure she caught his attention before passing directly through the wall. Somehow she had imagined it would feel different walking through walls. She had imagined there would be some sort of palpable sensation from the material, yet there was none. Of course, she wasn't even sure if there really was a wall there. The laws of physics she had grown so accustomed to seemed to be completely wrong here. Once she and Blueblood returned to Equestria, she had every intention of writing a book with her observations on the warped reality she encountered here.

As Twilight exited on the other side of the illusory wall, she had to adjust her eyes to the darkness. It seemed that assuming this place would be well lit was no more than a fleeting hope. She ignited her horn, and the glow was soon joined by another as Blueblood followed suit. The room in which they stood was a bit smaller than the banquet hall, though still rather open. The walls were covered with images; massive tapestries of strange, bipedal pale beings dressed in yellow robes. They were arrayed along the walls in a semicircular pattern, their portraits surrounded by strange runes and glyphs that had been etched into the wall and made to stand out with gold inlays. Further into the room, still shrouded by shadow, was a throne. It was nothing like the thrones in Canterlot, with their velvet cushions and gilded wooden frames. The throne of Carcosa was twisted and gnarled, like a tree with its branches doubling back upon themselves. Twilight gulped softly, for she swore that she had seen the throne moving. She pushed the thought from her mind, as she and Blueblood began to explore the throne room.

"What in Celestia's name are these things?" Blueblood said, staring at the intricately woven tapestry that towered above him. "Are these the natives of Carcosa?"

"I think we can assume these things are native to Carcosa, seeing as they have their portraits in the throne room. But to say they're the natives here might be a stretch. Maybe those weird bird-bat-bug things we saw earlier are the natives, and these are just the rulers." Twilight moved to stand beside him, hoping to stay as far as she could from the throne. Something about it just felt off.

"You may be right." Blueblood leaned in to examine the series of strange squiggles and signs that lined the walls around the image. He had seen plenty of languages in his day, yet these symbols didn't seem to match up with any of them. One sign in particular stood out to him however. It was an odd, curved figure, which was somehow entirely alien, yet all too familiar to the prince. One thing was certain to him however. This sign did not exist in any equine script, and judging by the shape of the runes surrounding it, it was perhaps not a member of this language either. Whatever it was, it sent a chill down his spine.

"Blueblood come check this out." Twilight called from the opposite side of the chamber. The wall in front of her was covered from floor to ceiling with those same strange symbols, interspersed with tiny, carved pictures of those bipedal beings. However, what Twilight pointed to was something all the more mind boggling. Amid all the swirled sigils and glyphs was a small image of a four legged being. It seemed to be wearing the same robes as the bipeds, but there was no mistaking it. There was a single, solitary carving of an equine being. It had one hoof outstretched, upon which sat an open tome. Nearby was one of those two legged creatures, its hand also over the book.

Blueblood's eyes grew wide. "It can't be."

"But it is. Somepony has been here before us."

"When I was serving in Saddle Arabia, some of the royals there told me the tale of a pony by the name of Abdullah Alhazred. He was a scribe who had served the Caliphate for years, before requesting a leave of absence to meet with his family. When his request was granted, Abdullah vanished for 15 years. He returned a vastly changed pony. They said he had gone mad, that he spoke only in gibberish, clinging to a book he had carried with him. He died only days later, screaming until the last ounce of breath left his body." Blueblood paused, staring at the figure on the wall. "Celestia and Luna both... Could the legends be true?"

"At this point, I'm willing to believe anything." Twilight mused, still examining the other carvings. They seemed to be a history of sorts, though exactly what the history was telling was anypony's guess. She began to feel a growing dread in the pit of her stomach. Her curiosity still burned, yet now she was worried about what else she might uncover here. She felt as though there were things lying amid these shadows that perhaps she, nor anypony else, was meant to know. Besides, she had seen plenty now, enough to fill volumes on the strange new discoveries she had made.

"Alright Blueblood lets go-" Twilight turned to leave, then instinctively froze in her tracks.

Something sat upon the throne.

Something very much alive.

It looked almost identical to the last of the tapestries; a tall, massive being clad in flowing yellow robes, face obscured by a pallid, featureless mask. It seemed to grow in size as it rose from its seat, filling the chamber with not only its body, but also its presence. It towered far above the prince and princess, seeming to stretch far beyond the limits of the room. As the light from her horn illuminated the creature, Twilight felt her stomach tying itself in knots. Everything about it was just plain wrong, from its size to its shape, everything about it seemed a massive contradiction of the logic she had so deeply instilled within herself. Its form seemed blasphemous to nature, the very fabric of its robes seeming to squirm and crawl. Twilight and Blueblood were so paralyzed from the sight that all they could do was back away slowly, till they were pressed against the opposite wall from the creature.

Slowly, the loathsome being began to move towards them, although it seemed to lack any visible means of propelling itself. Its robes scraped across the floor, appearing to leave long drag marks in the bony substance, yet it made no sound. In fact, in the presence of this thing all sound seemed to vanish. The room was blanketed by a palpable silence, the feeling practically squeezing around the prince and princess as the entity drew ever closer. It froze, its masked face staring down at them.

Twilight began to grope about frantically, trying to find some sort of passage or escape route, yet her search proved fruitless. She was trapped between a bone wall and a towering fiend. It seemed frozen for a moment, glaring down at her through false eyes. She could have sworn she heard Blueblood whimpering in fear.

Then the mask fell away.

What lay behind the mask was simply indescribable. It was a twisted mass of impossibility that boggled the mind with its transgressions against logic. No words from any tongue that equinity had since created could relate to it, save for one. Wrong. Everything about it was wrong. It didn't exist. It couldn't exist. It was so far beyond comprehension, that the ponies sight failed them. They did not perceive the face as a sight, for it was far more than that. They perceived it as a feeling. They perceived it as pain. It was snapping, twisting, shrieking, clawing, gnawing pain, and it permeated every cell of their bodies. It felt as though something had bored into their brains, scuttling about with chitinous legs and ripping its way through their grey matter. It was foulness and decay seeping through their bones, making them feel as though their flesh had been afflicted with boils, hives, and pus filled sores. It was profanity and blasphemy tainting their minds, their very thoughts seeming to melt amid a sea of horrific visions as they tried to wrap their mortal minds around what their eyes had witnessed.

As if by an act of self preservation, Twilight's horn lit up, surrounding both her and Blueblood with a blinding purple light. Before either of them knew what was happening, they had teleported out of the throne room, and high into the skies above Carcosa. Twilight's head was swimming, and her body numb as she began to free fall through the dim skies. The ground began to approach, and yet there was simply nothing she could do about it. Her mind and body had been thoroughly broken by what she had witnessed. As the vision of the wickedness that lay behind the mask faded from her mind, the reality of the situation began to dawn on her. She reached over, taking a firm hold of the Prince as she spread her wings, settling into a rather shaky glide above the frothing cloud lake.

Blueblood was trembling as the two of them floated above the swirling foam. Twilight hadn't noticed yet, but she too was shaking as she flew. Her breathing was shallow and rapid. A part of her wanted to turn around, to see if the being had pursued them, yet the rest of her was too afraid to check. Instead she fixated her eyes ahead, on the shadowy silhouette of a slumped pony that sat on the horizon. Twilight descended rapidly as she approached the gateway between the worlds, not slowing a bit as she flew directly through it, landing with a thump on the other side. She and Blueblood bounced and rolled across the earth in the clearing from which they had entered. They both lay on the grass, catching their breath and trying to erase the memories of what they had seen.

Twilight closed her eyes. She panted and choked, fresh air filling her lungs. The sounds of crickets and cicadas and birds chirping soon rang in her ear. The moon had fallen, and the sun had begun to rise over the horizon, casting the world around them in a sea of golden light. The sweet smell of damp earth filled her nostrils. All seemed right here. Things made sense in Equestria. Yet despite that, Twilight knew somewhere deep down that things would never be the same. Perhaps now, things in Equestria would cease to make sense. She would have taken the time to ponder this, had it not been for one small issue.

Both Blueblood and Twilight had blacked out.

Of Refuge and Runes

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Twilight awoke with a start, sitting straight up and surveying her surroundings. She was still in the clearing in the Everfree, with the sun casting its rays through the twisted branches overhead. Her mane and coat were soaked with morning dew, which she instinctively shook off. A few drops splashed onto Blueblood's snout, rousing him from his slumber. He sat bolt upright, his eyes wide as he quickly took into the world around him. He let out an audible sigh of relief when he found himself surrounded by grass and trees rather than glass and cloud seas. A cursory glance around the clearing revealed that the portal they had taken to Carcosa had vanished. In fact, no trace of the fell ritual that had taken place had been left behind. It was as if it had never happened.

In fact, Twilight had the slightest inkling of doubt that their voyage had ever taken place. It certainly seemed as if the evidence supporting their claims had vanished. The cultists were gone, the portal had disappeared, and neither of them had the foresight to take any souvenirs from their trip. It seemed that the only remnants of their journey were the memories they both bore. Twilight could scarcely forget the black ivory pillars, or the sky that burned with colors unimaginable. Nor could she forget the images of the strange beast that had attacked them in the streets, or the maskless visage of the King in Yellow. That last part in particular was difficult for her. She could remember it clearly, every blasphemous detail etched into her mind. Yet, she couldn't. The details were there, but she couldn't piece them together correctly. Or maybe she was, and the rational part of her own mind rejected the reality of the situation. Whatever it was, the whole event felt like trying to access a memory from her fillyhood. She knew it was there, but actually getting anything from it other than vague sensations was downright impossible.

The Prince had risen to his hooves, shaking himself off and tossing his mane to remove the buildup of dew. Twilight could have sworn that he splashed her with the droplets on purpose. She brushed the water from her face with a sigh. The two of them began to walk away from the clearing in silence. Questions and doubts still rattled about in their minds, mingled with memories of the city and its King that seemed to lay all their doubts to rest. They strode along, weaving between the trees as they simply tried to process all that they had seen. Finally, as they reached the edge of the forest, Blueblood spoke.

"What are we supposed to do now?" He said, his eyes looking desperate. "Will anypony even believe our story? We're going to sound like we're stark raving mad."

"Well, strange things have happened before." Twilight replied. "Ponyville is invaded by some creature or another practically once a month at this point."

"But has anything like... well, that thing ever appeared there?"

"Lets hope not."

"Twilight, nopony is going to believe what we've witnessed. Even if I could put to words exactly what I saw in there, I'd sound like a raving lunatic."

"Look, it doesn't matter if they believe us. You and I both know what we saw."

"Sure, it might not matter if anypony believes you. But for me its a whole different story."

"Excuse me?" Twilight said, her eyebrow rising incredulously.

"You don't have a job to keep up with." Blueblood replied, his voice tainted with spite. "Imagine if Equestria's premiere diplomat started talking about insectoid birds from another dimension. Would you let him keep his position?"

"Well... No. Probably not." She sheepishly admitted.

"Precisely. If I corroborate your story, if I claim I visited Carcosa, my job could be on the line. I could lose everything for this."

"So you're saying we should keep quiet about this?"

"I never said we should keep quiet." The Prince replied. "I'm saying that I should keep quiet.You have a reputation for finding strange things and coming away from them scot-free. I doubt anypony will question you coming back with another far-fetched story."

"And then what?" Twilight questioned. "What happens after we tell somepony?"

"I don't know. I haven't planned that far ahead."

Twilight sighed softly as the broke through the edge of the forest, Ponyville slowly coming into view.

"Lets just get back to Canterlot for now." She said, squinting in the brightened sunlight. "We can plan our next steps later."

"Agreed." Blueblood replied, tossing his mane. "I need a long, hot bath after that little excursion."

Following a short, uneventful train ride, both Prince and Princess arrived back in Canterlot. They bid farewell to one another and parted ways upon reaching the palace, with Blueblood off to bathe and Twilight off to the throne room. She couldn't just keep quiet about the things she had seen. A group of ponies had opened a portal into a strange dimension ruled over by a seemingly malevolent being that destroyed all established rules of mortal logic.This was something she couldn't just keep to herself. What if there were other ponies who at this very moment were trying to re-open that link between worlds? Or worse, what if the King or even a few of those birdlike creatures had followed them through and into Equestria? Somepony had to do something, even if for now all she could do was get the word out about it.

She had decided to tell Celestia first. After all, Celestia was her mentor, her guide, her leader. If anypony had reason to believe her, Celestia did. She strode into the spacious throne room of Canterlot palace, the sunlight blazing with countless dazzling hues as it filtered through the stained glass windows of the palace and reflected and shimmered across the marble floors. At the opposite end of the room was the Sun Princess herself, seated on a gilded throne with a plush red velvet cushion. Across her lap was spread an assortment of scrolls and letters, and the Princess was currently squinting to make out the chicken scratch scrawling upon one of them as Twilight approached. Celestia glanced up from her work, which she instantly dropped the second she laid eyes on her student. Her mouth fell agape as she rose from her throne, barely able to speak.

"Twilight?" She said, letting her papers fall to the floor. "My word, where have you been?"

"Where... what?" Twilight stammered, just as confused as her mentor.

"Please tell me, was my nephew with you? Is he alright?"

"Blueblood? He's fine but..."

"Oh thank heavens. I thought that you and him had simply vanished with how long the two of you were gone but now that you're back-"

"Wait!" Twilight interrupted her eyes wide with shock. "What do you mean we've been gone so long?"

Celestia blinked, as if in disbelief of Twilight's words.

"You and Blueblood have been gone for three weeks. We had dispatched search parties all over Equestria to find you, but to no avail. It was as if you had fallen off the face of the earth!" She paused, her eyes reflecting earnest surprise. "Where were you two exactly?"

"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about." Twilight said, her mouth twisting as she fought to swallow the lump in her throat. "You see, I believe that Blueblood and I actually traveled beyond Equestria."

"Where then? Saddle Arabia? The Griffon kingdoms? The Ibex Nation perhaps?"

"Princess... Have you ever heard of a place called Carcosa?"

"Carcosa? No, never. Where is it located?"

"I don't think I could tell you if I tried. Prince Blueblood and I stumbled upon a group of ponies, a cult of them, who killed another to open a portal into Carcosa. He and I entered the city after dealing with the murderers, and what we found within was like nothing we had ever seen. The earth was glass, and there was a great sea of clouds, and the sky was flashing like a kaleidoscope with a strobe effect. Even stranger was the city of Carcosa itself. It was full of gigantic black spires that stretched as far as the eye could see, and filled with strange places where the laws of physics seemed to turn themselves upside down and inside out. I walked through walls and fell into pits right through the earth. We were attacked by a strange bird-locust beast, and came face to face with the King of Carcosa itself. He, er... it was hard to put to words really. All I can really remember is that his face was not a face. Or at least it wasn't for very long. It was constantly shifting and changing and excruciatingly painful to see."

Twilight paused, almost out of breath as she rambled. She took a deep breath, and then went on.

"I know this all sounds hard to believe, and trust me I understand. I was there and I still barely believe it. But please, trust me on this. I saw Carcosa, and I know for sure that it's real."

Celestia was silent as she listened to Twilight's speech, periodically widening her eyes or nodding her head as her student spoke.

"Twilight, I want to believe you, I really do." She replied, her voice soft and earnest. "But what you're saying sounds... rather far fetched to say the least. Did you manage to bring back any proof of your travels? Or does this portal still remain open?"

"No your highness. We blacked out after escaping, and when we awoke the portal was gone. We never had the chance to take anything from the city either, I wish our heads had been clear enough to grab something, but we were a little preoccupied."

"Twilight, are you quite certain that this supposed voyage took place?" Celestia said, her mouth curling into a frown. "You said that you and my nephew awoke after blacking out? How certain are you that you didn't pass out before the journey, and merely imagined it happening?"

"I... " Twilight paused, for the first time at a bit of a loss for words. Could it really have been as her mentor said? Could it all have been some wicked vision conjured up by the darker portion of her mind? If they had been gone for three weeks, could they have perhaps been in some deep coma, where flights of wild and depraved fantasy ran rampant? That would certainly explain why bits and pieces of the trip seemed to have blotted themselves from her memory following the voyage, and why other parts were cloudy and dreamlike in their recollection. Perhaps that was all it was; merely a dream devised by her deepest subconscious fears.

But that didn't explain why both she and Blueblood remembered the same things. Nor did it explain the cult they had both seen before entering the portal. No. This was no dream. Twilight knew what she had seen. The only other explanation was that she and Blueblood had both gone mad, and she wasn't ready to accept that just yet.

"No. With all due respect Princess, I know what I saw. There was no way it was a dream." Twilight stated, remaining firm in her assertion.

"And my nephew will corroborate your story?" Celestia said, eyebrows raised.

"He was right there beside me the whole trip."

Celestia let out a soft sigh.

"Twilight, I really do want to believe you. But I've been on this planet for almost thirteen thousand years, and I've never even heard of these things you're talking about. I've seen the depths of Tartarus, the furthest regions of the frozen north, and the regions hidden within the mountains, but never anything like this Carcosa you speak of." She rubbed her temples, her voice quiet. "I need some time to think this over. You probably need to eat, and get some rest. I'm sure my nephew has already beaten you to that part. We can come back to this discussion later, after you've had some time to clear your head."

Twilight felt more than a little disappointed. Her own mentor didn't believe her, or at least she didn't yet. She had been expecting sympathy rather than incredulity, and yet at the same time she understood completely. Even speaking it herself, she could scarcely believe it. She wished that her mind would have been more task focused when she and Blueblood had entered the city, so they could have cut down one of those tapestries or gathered some of the crystalline goblets from the table as proof of their journey. Now all she had to go on was her own thoughts and words, and neither of those could convince the mind of an old Princess.

"Yes Princess." Twilight said, giving a polite bow of the head before departing. Perhaps she did need a bite to eat and a good long nap to clear her mind. She had been craving one of those rose petal strawberry salads they served here in Canterlot after all. She figured that while she was here, she might as well pick one up and eat it on the way back to her own palace. After some food and some rest, she would try to talk with Celestia once more. Hopefully then she would be more coherent in her views.

Twilight lay for hours, fast asleep on the couch in her study. It was far from a restful sleep however, as she was tormented by dreams of Carcosa and its King as she lay. Visions of black bone towers piercing a shifting multicolored sky faceted with legions of dark stars. In the shadow between the buildings were scuttling, crawling things. Things which Twilight's mind somehow recognized yet knew she had never seen in the midst of Carcosa. Horrible, pallid demons with heads covered in thousands of antennae or tendrils that flashed with a crimson bioluminescence. They fought battles with the bird-bug creatures she had seen on their trip, ripping them to shreds with their awkward crablike pincers. The bird-bugs fought back in turn, crushing bony exoskeletons in their conical beaks, spilling thick green ichor onto the glass earth below.

She tossed and turned in her sleep, kicking the blankets off as she rolled. A sudden loud pounding from downstairs roused her from her slumber, and she opened her eyes. The clock beside her couch read 2 AM. The sun had set now, and she fumbled to turn on a light. As she groggily clicked on a lamp, she heard a door slam shut, just before some very loud footsteps began tramping away from it. She staggered from the room, glancing down at Spike.

"Spike, who was at the door?" She said, yawning.

"Just some jerk Prince from Canterlot. Pretty sure it was that one stallion Rarity mentioned." Spike replied, making a gagging noise.

"So you shut the door in his face?!" Twilight exclaimed, clamoring down the stairs just as the pounding started up again.

"Well yeah." Spike said with a shrug. "He had it coming."

Twilight threw the door open, and was greeted by a rather annoyed looking Prince.

"Blueblood?" She said, still a bit surprised. "What are you doing-"

"You ought to fire that butler of yours." Blueblood said, pushing Twilight aside and stepping into the entry hall. "Or at the very least send him to some proper training so that he doesn't turn away important guests. Especially not ones who could have his tail on a platter with just a word to the right ponies..."

From down the hall, Spike stuck his tongue out at the Prince, which Blueblood returned with a low snarl. Twilight quickly stepped between them, smiling awkwardly.

"That doesn't answer my question. What are you doing this far from Canterlot, especially this late?"

"The night is young, and I'm far to agitated now to sleep." He replied, his eyes looking a bit red and bloodshot. "Can we perhaps talk somewhere a bit more private?"

Twilight nodded, leading him up the stairs to her study, folding the blanket she had knocked to the floor as he entered the room. He quickly walked over to her desk, grabbing a pen and a sheet of paper as he began to hurriedly scrawl something down. His pen moved in large sweeping strokes as he worked, his eyes feverish as he scribbled madly. Finally, he lifted the sheet of paper, turning it to her. What he had drawn was a strange glyph; an odd curving figure that Twilight recognized somewhere deep in her mind, yet also knew to be completely alien in origin.

"What is that?" Twilight said, taking the sheet and looking it over.

"I don't know to be honest with you." Blueblood replied. "I saw it in Carcosa, and its been appearing in my dreams now. I haven't been able to shake it since I saw it."

He paused for a moment, swallowing hard.

"Do you remember what those ponies said? That cult we came across in the Everfree? 'Have you seen the Yellow Sign?'"

Twilight glanced up at him, eyes wide.

"Could this be it?"

Blueblood spoke, in a nearly trance-like state.

"I have seen the sign, and the King, and his city."

Of Actor and Assault

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"This sign means something." Blueblood mused, pacing back and forth in Twilight's study, as the Princess herself sat at her desk surrounded by books of languages and scripts from all around Equestria. "I can feel it on an instinctive level. Is it a magic rune? A name? Perhaps a symbol or emblem of Carcosa itself? Or maybe it's the signet of the King in Yellow? After all, the cultists called it the Yellow Sign..."

Twilight glanced up from the book she had buried her face in for a moment.

"Blueblood, for the love of Celestia and Luna both sit down!" She said, before going back to her tome. "I swear, you're going to wear a hole through the floor with all your pacing."

The Prince took a seat on the nearby couch, still nervously tapping his hooves on the floor. With an exasperated sigh, Twilight closed the book. That was the last one in her stack too. Nothing even remotely resembling the sign appeared in any language the whole world over. Not even her search through a few books worth of royal crests and family symbols had turned anything up. There was absolutely nothing the whole world over that even remotely resembled that sign. It was utterly alien, yet so terrifyingly familiar to her. Just looking at the image Blueblood had scrawled made her skin crawl and her stomach twist. Although it was nothing more than a drawing, it stirred up such feelings of dread within her that Twilight practically felt as though she was back in that ghostly city, with the mad King bearing down upon her. She turned her eyes away from the glyph, folding the sheet over and setting it on her desk.

"Well, its definitely not from any language or kingdom in Equestria." Twilight said, peering at the Prince over her tower of books. "And without further proof, we can't even be sure if it's Carcosan in origin."

"Such truth is going to be hard to come by." Blueblood said, resting a hoof on his chin.

"But," She hastily added. "Even if its hard, there are answers out there, right?"

"How should I know? My field is politics. You're the one who's used to dealing with this magical stuff. I can't cast a spell to save my life."

"Well... " Twilight paused, taking a moment to think. "What about that story you told me when we were in Carcosa and saw the carving of a pony? You mentioned something about an old legend or-"

"Abdullah Alhazred? Are you suggesting we seek out his manuscripts?"

"If its possible he's the one who visited Carcosa, then yes. I think we ought to investigate."

"His writings are kept under lock and key in the city of Sutaf in Saddle Arabia. His memoirs are like a national treasure to those people. It would be like having a group of tourists ask to take the Elements of Harmony for a spin, it simply isn't done."

"I thought you said you have contacts in Saddle Arabia?"

"I do. But again, even with connections it would be impossible to get into contact with it for any more than a few hours. They'd never let a foreigner, even a royal one, take the book from them."

Twilight paused for a moment, before glancing at Blueblood with a devilish grin.

"What if we copied it?"

"You propose to copy a book with well over a thousand pages?" The Prince said, raising an eyebrow.

Twilight grabbed a sheet of paper from her desk, along with a rather aged scroll from her bookshelf, levitating them both with her magic. Her horn suddenly began to glow brighter, as the contents of the scroll began to imprint themselves on the sheet, every bit as clear as they had been in their original form. Blueblood's eyes opened slightly wider as he watched, before taking the two to compare for himself. They were nearly identical in nature, save for a few marks shaded improperly.

"It works on books too." Twilight commented. "I've been using it to copy down quotes from books or old scrolls onto my papers on magical theory."

"Even if we manage to copy the memoirs, there's still the matter of the contents." Blueblood said, his voice low. "Nopony seeks after that tome with a sane mind Twilight. The legends say that Abdullah saw things. Things that drove him, and many who followed him, to shrieking madness."

"But what about the things we've seen already?" She replied, starting to return her tomes to their proper places on the shelves. "We've already seen stuff that should, by all means, have driven us crazy. Yet here we are, sane as ever."

"That's just it. We've already had one close brush with madness. Do you really want to risk it all? We don't even know if Abdullah's book has the answers we're looking for. What if the whole thing is all for naught?"

"At least then we'd have gone mad doing something!" Twilight exclaimed, immediately lowering her voice afterwards, as she remembered Spike was asleep in the other room. "After what we saw in the Everfree, nothing has convinced me that those cultists we stopped don't have friends who will try again. I have a sinking feeling that we interrupted their ritual, and stopped them from doing something far worse than just opening the doorway. Somepony has to do something, and if nopony else will, then I guess its up to me to act."

"And I suppose I'm going to be roped into this?" Blueblood sighed, rubbing his forehead.

"If you don't come along, I'm not going to force you." She replied. "But I'm going to do this, with or without you."

At this the Prince stifled a chuckle, covering his mouth with his hoof to keep from bursting into peals of laughter. Twilight raised an eyebrow curiously.

"What's so funny?"

"What's funny," Blueblood stated, rising from his seat. "is that there is no way in Tartarus you could do this without me. Do you know which services to trust to get you to Saddle Arabia? Do you have the influence among its courts to persuade them to even let you near Alhazred's works? Do you know the customs of the land, so as not to offend the more unsavory locals? Or were you simply planning on applying brute force magic of friendship like you always do when faced with a problem?"

“Well I-”

“Well nothing.” The Prince cut her off before she could finish. “You need me, and I know that you know it. There are few possessed of my connections and skills, and trying to replace me would just prove more difficult than keeping me around.”

“So what are you saying?”

“What I'm saying is that you and I, as unfortunate as it is for me to say it, are going to be forced to work together. You and I both want answers, and the only way we're going to get them is through our own combined talents.” Blueblood gulped softly as he extended a hoof to her. “Truce?”

“Truce.” Twilight said, taking his hoof in hers. “At least until all this is done and over with.”


The Princess poked her head out the door of her study, hollering up the stairs.

"Spike?" She called, answered almost immediately with the pitter-patter of clawed toes on the floor outside. Within a minute, the diminutive dragon had scampered to the doorway, still looking a little bit groggy from sleep. He rubbed his eyes, yawning softly before replying to Twilight.

"Need to send a letter?"

She nodded, passing him a quill, a scroll, and a bottle of ink. Spike still glowered at Blueblood as he set the quill to the parchment, ready to scratch down whatever Twilight dictated. Blueblood merely rolled his eyes, kicking up his hooves on the couch, reclining with a sigh.

"Dear Princess Celestia, in light of recent events..." Twilight's voice trailed off as she saw Spike drop his writing implements, just before clutching his stomach. "Spike? Are you alright?"

"Yeah just-" His reply was cut off by a loud belch of green fire from his mouth, which was followed closely by a sealed scroll that dropped to the floor. Blueblood cringed at the sight.

"Ech. Do you receive all your mail that way?"

"Most of it yes." Twilight said, picking up the scroll, breaking the wax seal, and unfurling it. "Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle. I hope you've had some time to rest and recuperate after your long absence. Tonight, I have arranged for you and my nephew to meet me at the Royal Canterlot Theater. A traveling actor troupe by the name of The Dunwich Players have come to town, and in all their past excursions they have received rave reviews from the press. I dearly hope that you and Blueblood will join me, as I feel a night on the town could do the two of you a great deal of good after your ordeal. Sincerely Princess Celestia."

"Well, seems that we're got plans for this evening." Blueblood commented, rising to his hooves. "I ought to get going then. You obviously need some time to prepare for the evening, fixing your hair and such. After the play we can discuss travel arrangements for Saddle Arabia. But for now, farewell."

Without waiting for a reply, the Prince pushed past her, trotting quickly down the stairs and out the door.

"Farewell, I guess." Twilight mused as she heard the door slam shut.

The rest of that day was fairly uneventful for Twilight. She had breakfast with Pinkie Pie (though she could hardly call pancakes smothered in that much syrup and whipped cream anything but dessert) and made time to get a few seams on her good dress repaired at the Carousel Boutique. Of course both of them wanted to know where she had been for the past three weeks, and Twilight found her situation difficult to explain. Could she really tell them about Carcosa? Celestia certainly hadn't believed her about it, and she felt almost certain that her friends wouldn't either. It was a strange feeling, as though she had been completely alienated from everyone she once knew in a single event. When asked, she simply gave the excuse that she had been off on an assignment from Celestia, and tried to steer the topic away, back to other, safer things.

She had made good time in accomplishing her tasks for the day, and soon found herself back at home, where she bathed and fixed her hair for the upcoming play. The idea stirred up a great amount of conflicting emotions for her. On the one hoof, she was excited by the prospect, and was glad that at least for tonight she could attain some air of normalcy in her life. Yet on the other was a queer sense of dread about the whole thing. She couldn't place it exactly, but something about the invitation just felt wrong. Something deep within her shivered and knotted at the thought. Admittedly however, she had felt this way several times since her return from that nighted city outside reality, but she had pushed these feelings deep down, trying to brush them off as irrational delusions.

A carriage had been dispatched for her, and following an hour long ride, she passed the magnificent gates of the city of Canterlot. Her cabin twisted and turned through the narrow streets, winding its way about the town, until the Royal Theater came into view. Its design, like many other buildings in Canterlot, was one of opulence. It stood three stories tall, with great carved pillars of white marble upholding a high, vaulted ceiling. Two spotlights shone on the front of the building, causing it to shimmer and gleam in the dim light of the dusk. Outside, ponies of all shapes and sizes mingled in incredible throngs, each clothed in fabulous garments of lace and silk. Only the highest of society ponies lingered here long, as they were the only ones who could afford tickets.

Her carriage pulled up in front of the theater, and the door slowly creaked open. As Twilight stepped outside into the glaring spotlights, a stallion to her right gently took hold of her hoof, helping her to exit the cab. As her eyes adjusted to the blinding light, she was shocked to see that the stallion helping her down was in fact Prince Blueblood, dressed in his finest silken suit with his hooves re-manicured for the night. Seemed that not even the legions of Tartarus itself could keep him from putting on at least a front of perfection.

"Have you been waiting for my carriage this whole time?" She questioned as the two of them strode through the elegant archway to enter the theater. Inside was a short hallway with various fliers and posters plastering the walls, advertising what sort of attractions might be coming soon to this very theater.

"Of course not. But, I was still expected to be there to escort you inside." Blueblood replied, flashing a pair of tickets to one of the many ushers, who pointed them in the direction of their seats. "After all, if I don't want to lose my job, I have to keep up appearances, and so do you. What better way to distract the tabloids from my fabled 'tales of madness' than to show up at a play with a new mare on my arm, especially one of such prominence."

"You mean, everypony is going to think that you and I are..."

"Dating?" Blueblood finished. "Most likely so."

Twilight made a face, stifling the urge to gag vocally.

"Oh come now. Its only tabloids. Nopony takes them seriously, and they're all but forgotten the next day."

"But still, that means everypony is going to think I... Ugh..."

"There are worse things to be accused of."

"I'm never going to live this down." Twilight sighed, hanging her head as she suddenly became very conscious of every glance turning her way. She paused as she noticed the smirk slowly spreading across Blueblood's lips. "You're enjoying this aren't you."

"Perhaps." The Prince replied, his smirk telling far more than he was saying. "But ultimately, what's important is that we appear somewhat normal. A vacation to Saddle Arabia won't seem nearly as out of place if its preceded with a night of enjoyment and revelry. So lets just enjoy the show, and we can depart in the morning."

The two of them stepped into the auditorium, flanked on both sides by rows of folding red velvet seats. Above them, for nearly three levels, were balcony seats, each with some of the less affluent ponies crowding about to get a glimpse of the stage. Just above these, were the private boxes, which sat nearer to the stage, and provided an excellent view, provided one remembered to bring their opera glasses along for the show. It was in one of these booths that Princess Celestia herself sat, along with her sister Luna, overlooking the stage and returning the many waves from ponies down below. The lighting was dim, and the stage was nearly bare, save for a low table and a set of chairs. The table had been set with the most realistic looking fake fruits and vegetables, surrounded on all sides by crystal goblets and silver platters.

Blueblood and Twilight took their seats, right on the aisle only three rows from the stage, just as the lights flickered to signal the start of the show. The crowd hushed as a rather bookish, older looking pony stepped out onto the stage to address the crowd.

"Good evening Mares and Stallions alike. I would like to give a very special welcome to our most honored guests, Princesses Luna and Celestia." He motioned with his hoof as a spotlight shone upon the Princess' balcony, as they waved to the applause of the multitudes below. "We kindly request that you all refrain from any photography tonight, as it may be a distraction for our actors. We would also like to remind you that exits to the theater are located behind you, as well as on each side of the building. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the Dunwich Player's production of The King In Yellow."

Both Blueblood and Twilight almost instantly turned to one another. Their blood ran cold at the sound of that title. A flood of memories suddenly washed over them as the actors began to parade onto the stage, dressed in gaudy robes of purple, yellow and green. They took their seats around the table, and began their performance. Despite the actors being fairly good, the act seemed not to hold the attention of its audience, who began to chat amongst themselves or nod off into disinterested naps. Blueblood and Twilight however, were glued to the action.

"What in Celestia's name..." Blueblood whispered. "King in Yellow. There's no way its a coincidence."

"I don't doubt that." Twilight replied. "Its just too convenient."

"It doesn't seem like it really has anything to do with our adventures however. Other than a couple of similar names and locations."

"Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa."

Their eyes were drawn back to the stage, as one of the ponies had begun to sing. Her voice was powerful, deep, and seemed to possess a strange, otherworldly quality. The word Carcosa stood out to them, drawing them back in like a lure on the tip of a hook. One little nibble, and they were caught. Drawn in like moths to a flame, they hung on every word of her voice.

"Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa."

As her song finished, a figure dressed in a yellow robe and pale mask entered from stage left. There was no mistake in the minds of Blueblood and Twilight; This was the King. It looked like a miniature, shoddy version of the King they had seen across the gate in Carcosa, yet despite this fact, it brought with it a feeling of terror that flooded Twilight's veins. She could feel her body begin to tremble at the sight, and saw the Prince tighten his grip on his armrests. It may have been only an earthly shadow, but the image of the King in Yellow was still one to inspire fear within them. They stared awestruck at the figure upon the stage, drowning out whatever dialogue had taken place. Then, a single line snapped them back into the scene.

"You sir, should unmask." The singer from earlier now spoke directly to the one in the pallid mask.

"But I wear no mask." The King replied in a voice that seemed to come from all corners of the room at once. At this, the actress' face went white as a sheet, and she let out an earsplitting shriek that jostled awake any sleeping members of the audience.

"Not upon is O King! Not upon us!" She wailed as the scene faded to black as the lights went out. When the light returned, a wave of applause swept over the room, and an announcement rang out that there would be a brief intermission before the start of the second act. Blueblood and Twilight were too shocked to move. Instead, they sat where they were, eyes wide and hooves trembling.

"There is no way this is an accident." Blueblood said quietly. "I'd recognize that despicable mask anywhere. I saw that thing in Carcosa."

"But why is it here?" Twilight questioned out loud. "I couldn't find any reference for King in Yellow or Carcosa in the Canterlot archives. So why is there a play that seems to match what we say almost to a T?"

"I don't know. But I have a sinking feeling we're going to find out."

The Prince rose from his seat, stepping out into the aisle.

"I'm going to grab a glass of wine to help calm my nerves. Would you like some as well?"

Twilight shook her head.

"Suit yourself then." Blueblood said as he began to trot off over the plush carpet.

Blueblood had exited to the foyer, where numerous peddlers were already selling their wares. He purchased a half bottle of Pinot Noir, and began to slip off through the crowd, hoping he could go unnoticed. Something was wrong here. Something was terribly, horribly wrong about this whole situation. He needed to investigate this business, and so resolved to check out the backstage. Security seemed light, and nopony stopped his advances as he maneuvered his way through the halls and off into a backstage access. He knew exactly what he was looking for back here. He needed to find that pony clad in the mask of the King.

The Prince pushed aside a tech assistant as he scanned the area. The voice of the announcer for the evening suddenly crackled over the loudspeaker.

"The second act of The Dunwich Players The King in Yellow will begin in just a moment."

The curtain was still down, but the actors were on stage. Blueblood shoved another assistant out of his way as he rushed onto the stage, the actors turning to him with obvious shock. The King stood before him now, mask preventing Blueblood from determining what hid behind it.

"You there!" He shouted, glaring at the masked figure. "Who are you?"

"Whoa, listen, I get if you're a fan-" The muffled voice was cut off as the Prince bellowed once more.


"Alright, alright." The mask fell away, and Blueblood gazed into the eyes of a fellow pony. He felt a wave of relief wash over him when he looked into those eyes.

"I'm just an actor. Sorry if you got a little freaked out."

"I... " Blueblood stammered, just before noticing a small marking at the base of the actors neck. It was faint, but he would know that sign anywhere.

Etched into the actor's flesh was the Yellow Sign.

Something within Blueblood snapped in that moment. With a shout, he smashed the bottle of wine against the pony's face, sending him sprawling. The other actors screamed, just as the curtain flew up to begin the second act. The Prince leapt upon his foe, bludgeoning him with the broken shards of the bottle. Red was everywhere, both wine and blood mingled upon the marked pony's face as Blueblood beat him with every ounce of strength he had within him. A shriek of horror went up from the crowd, and Twilight gasped in shock as she saw Blueblood savagely assaulting the pony on stage, his face contorted with a mixture of rage and fright. The other actors were frantically trying to subdue him, only to be repulsed by wild flailing of his hooves, legs, and head.

Blueblood swung and swung and swung until the bottle had long been smashed into bits. He beat on that pony with his hooves, losing track of how long he had done so. It felt like hours. Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was only seconds. All he knew was that no matter how much he struck, that blasphemous sigil still stared defiantly back at him. He cursed and shouted and thrashed, until finally a pair of ushers managed to restrain him, pinning him to the floor with their full weight. Cries of "Murder!" and "He's gone mad!" were hurled from the crowd, as Twilight pushed against the teeming masses to try to get a glimpse of the stage. She heard one final, pitiful shout from Blueblood as the ushers dragged him out.

"I have seen it! The Yellow Sign! I have seen it! I have seen it!"

Of Dementia and Dungeons

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The commotion after the show had been too great. Twilight had been swept up in the crowds, and couldn't find anypony who had the slightest idea of what had happened to Blueblood, or the pony he had attacked. She had returned home for the night, but found herself unable to sleep, or even to rest. Her mind was racing at a million miles per hour over all the strange new revelations she had received tonight. First and foremost was the fact that she now knew there were other ponies who knew of Carcosa, the King, and the Sign. Not only that, but they were out and often blatant about their knowledge. After all, a play isn't exactly the most subtle of ways of spreading a message. Perhaps the play itself had some nefarious purpose behind it, but now they would never know.

The second major revelation for Twilight had been the fact that Blueblood might have been more deeply affected by his experience than he had let on. He had attacked a pony and possibly killed them, and for what? He might have had a reason for such a rash action, but for now she was forced to assume the worst. Had the Prince snapped and murdered a pony in his madness? Had the visage of the King driven him mad, or did the play somehow awaken a long dormant insanity within him? He certainly hadn't seemed in his right mind as he was dragged screaming from the theater, still kicking and trying to break free from his captors. Of course, she didn't want to believe that Blueblood had lost it. Despite the fact that he was a conceited little pain in the flank, he was the only pony who believed her story. She couldn't afford to lose the only pony who was firmly on her side about the whole matter.

Twilight paced her study just as she had scolded Blueblood about the night before. Sleep or even rest refused to come to her the entire night, as she tried futilely to calm her nerves. Eventually, she adjourned to the kitchen and brewed herself a cup of tea, taking a seat and sipping it quietly as she watched the sun slowly begin its ascent over the horizon. She breathed out a sigh. Hopefully with the morning Celestia and Luna would be able to shed some light on the events of last night.

The Canterlot throne room was a flurry of buzzing activity. Ponies darted to and fro with papers, files, typewriters and other objects, some working on orders from Celestia herself and others researching their own personal tangents. It seemed that the general air about the place was one of confusion rather than clarity. Psychologists, doctors, and therapists alike scurried here and there, occasionally muttering something about a breakthrough. Twilight tried to weave her way through the chaotic mess of a scene, heading straight for Celestia herself. The Princess was seated on her throne, absolutely swamped with letters and files and notices and ponies trying to pry some information from her. She looked just as frazzled as they did, as she tried to both read her notes and answer questions at the same time. As her student approached she glanced up, a look of relief on her face.

"Oh Twilight thank heavens you're here." She said, setting aside the mound of papers and rising from her seat. "He won't talk. Not to anypony. He just keeps repeating that song from the play over and over again. Even when me and Luna tried to speak with him he seemed to have no words for us, no matter how hard we pried. He says that he won't speak unless its to you."

"To me?" Twilight questioned. "Any reason why?"

"If he has one, it's lost to us." Celestia's face showed a mixture of concern and sadness. "Twilight, I fear he's gone mad."

Twilight gulped softly.

"Well if he asked to talk with me, we shouldn't keep him waiting. Where did you say he was being kept?"

Celestia motioned with her hoof as she lead Twilight away from the chaos of the throne room and into one of the many hallways of the castle. They began to travel downwards along a spiral staircase, the air seeming to thicken as they descended. The walls soon lost the windows they had once bore, with the light being provided now by sconces and torches.

"I've begun to worry Twilight, about the both of you." Celestia said as they passed through the cobweb ridden halls. "First you tell me a story of dimensions and Kings, then Blueblood goes mad and murders a pony during a play..."

"A play that supports our testimony." Twilight commented. "Doesn't it seem a little weird to you that the play used so many names that my story did?"

"Its an odd coincidence yes, but it doesn't leave much in the way of proof. How do I know you didn't use your three week absence to see the play beforehand? Or that you read a copy of the script some time in the past?"

"Are you saying I'm lying?"

"No." Celestia cringed slightly, trying to find words to say. "But what I'm saying is that what you've told me just cannot exist. You're telling me to believe that there is another world out there, this 'Carcosa' you speak of, ruled over by a King in a yellow robe and a mask, neither of which follow any of the laws established in reality? To put it all simply... It sounds utterly mad."

"I know it sounds mad. It sounds crazy to me even though I was there! But Princess, you have to believe me!" Twilight pleaded.

"I want to believe you Twilight, but its a lot to buy without any proof!"

"Indeed it is."

A third voice suddenly interrupted their conversation, with Twilight nearly jumping out of her skin in shock. Both she and Celestia turned to see Princess Luna standing behind them, nearly invisible in the shadows.

"Oh goodness." Celestia said, breathing a sigh of relief. "You startled me."

"It has been said that I hath a light hoofbeat dearest sister." Luna said, solemnly falling into line with her sister and Twilight.

"So, you've returned from Dunwich then? Were you able to extract anything useful from anypony there?"

"Nay. Tis as wretched a place as I recalled it. Ponies shutter themselves up in decrepit old houses even as the stink of decay befouls the air. The ponies of that town are as twisted and rotten as their architecture, and most were quick to hole themselves in at my presence. Those precious few who didn't duck into their reeking, pestilential doorways had little in the way of useful information. They confirmed that the Dunwich players came from this disgusting abode. The pony killed at the show was one Alistair Wheatly, nephew to Lavinia Wheatly, a mare of great prominence in the town. I offered condolences to her, but she merely thanked me for the news and stated that she had her own work to attend to, before slamming the door shut in my face. I left that place of foulness as soon as I was able."

"Sounds like we won't be getting anything useful from them then." Celestia said as the group of three approached a lone wooden door at the end of the staircase. A muffled voice could be heard from the other side, droning on and on in a rhythmic monotony. Twilight could faintly pick out the melody from the song at the show, occasionally catching the words "shadow" "tatters" or "Carcosa" through the doorway. "Blueblood is in there. He said he would speak to you, but to no one else. Be careful Twilight. He... hasn't exactly been himself since the incident."

Twilight nodded, stepping forward and opening the musty, creaking door. The room within was dark, with a sense of disquieting dampness that made her coat stand on end. In the dim light of the chamber, she could see Blueblood, leaned against the stone wall with heavy iron clamps fastened to his hooves, connected to the walls with thick chains. His head raised as he saw her enter, and in an instant his eyes had ignited with a sudden, urgent blaze of action. He rose to hos hooves, trotting as close as his bindings would allow.

"Twilight? Is that you?"

"No its Discord." She replied flatly. "Who else would it be?"

"You can't be too safe." Blueblood mused. "That masked bastard has spies and agents everywhere. Those ponies at the theater likely aren't his first, and they certainly won't be his last."

"Blueblood, what are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Him, Twilight. The King. I know that even now there are ponies out there just waiting to..."

"Look, you've lost me already." Twilight sighed. "Just start from the beginning alright? What happened at the play last night?"

"I had stepped out to order a drink, just like I had said." Blueblood said, beginning to pace back and forth, his chains clanging against the floor as he walked. "I felt like I needed to investigate the play however, as I felt uneasy somehow as it neared the second act. So, I slipped backstage to check things out. I stopped the actor who was playing the King, and he tried to assure me it was all merely an act. I would have believed him too, if I hadn't seen it first."

"Seen what Blueblood?"

"The sign. I saw the Yellow Sign etched into his flesh, as though it had been burned there with a brand or a flesh eating acid!" Blueblood's eyes were wild with a mixture of fright and rage. "That damn sign! When I saw it on that pony I just... I couldn't control myself. I scarcely remember what I did, all I can recall is a whirlwind of hooves before I was tackled to the ground. When I finally came to my senses my hooves were covered with blood and wine, and I'd been cuffed and dragged back to the Canterlot Dungeon."

He leaned against the wall, slowly sliding down before slumping on the floor. He kept speaking, but far less intensely than he had been. Twilight had to crane her neck to hear what he was whispering.

"Its all gone now. My position, my job, my title... Everything is going to be taken from me. Everypony thinks I've gone mad now, and perhaps they're right. Is it really the more logical choice to believe that everypony else is blind? Or have I really just gone mad?"

"You and I both saw the same things in Carcosa, Blueblood." Twilight replied. "If you're mad, that means that both of us are mad."

"Twilight, its the two of us against all of Equestria."

"It was one against Equestria when I figured out Nightmare Moon would return."

"Even so, Nightmare Moon was already a part of Equestria's lore and legend. Carcosa is... Well, utterly alien. Nopony believes us, and the few who do I'd rather not think about."

"What about Alharzed? What about his book that might have answers for us?"

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm in prison. I can't even go to my bedroom, much less travel abroad. For all intents and purposes, I'm as good as dead." Blueblood sighed. "I killed somepony Twilight. I'm not going anywhere. Please, don't waste your time on me. Go to Saddle Arabia, get that book, and find some answers. If you find them, come back and show them to me."


"No buts." Blueblood turned his back to her. "It's over for me Twilight."

Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but closed it almost just as quickly. She had gotten a pretty good feel of Blueblood's personality these past few days,and knew he was far too stubborn to be reasoned with at this point. She sighed softly, turning to leave. As she exited the cell, closing the door behind her, she could have sworn that she heard the Prince begin to softly hum a melody that had become all to familiar to her.

"Along the shore the cloud waves break
The twin suns sink behind the lake
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa."

For the second night in a row, Twilight couldn't sleep. She had nodded off for perhaps an hour or two, but she couldn't really call it restful. Despite the short duration, her rest had been plagued with dreams of the most terrible kind. In it, she was hurtling at breakneck speed through those kaleidoscopic skies, sailing over vast, nightmarish cities and gaping maws in the glass earth. She passed what she knew to have been Carcosa, but carried on from there, passing over new and nameless clusters of spires, which seemed to dot the landscape more and more frequently the further she soared. The towers below her seemed to echo with noise, through from her position she could not tell what the noises were. It sounded to her like the din of laughter, sorrow, and torment all rolled into one. On and on she sailed, far beyond grim Carcosa and deep into the blackness beyond. First stars, then planets, then entire galaxies whizzing by as she screamed through the tartarean void of interstellar space, as the stars and galaxies became fewer and far between. Finally, there was nothing, save an endless sea of palpable shadow all around her. Twilight felt something touch her hoof. Something that was soft and felt-like, yet also wet and cold. Its grip suddenly tightened, and Twilight instantly awoke, her body chilled and her brow slick with sweat.

Twilight lay there for what felt like hours, catching her breath and trying to think of what to do next. Trying to appeal to Celestia and Luna was getting her nowhere, and the idea of going alone to Saddle Arabia filled her with dread. She knew trying to tell other ponies about what she'd been through would just get her the same reaction Celestia had given her. Blueblood was the only other pony who knew what lurked there at the doorstep of reality, and who realized the stakes of having that doorway opened again. If what Blueblood claimed about those actors bearing the Yellow Sign was true, then Twilight's worst fears had been realized. The cult in the woods that they had stopped was only a small part of something much larger and far more horrific. They had only been able to open the portal in the woods, and had they not been stopped, could they have called something out of it? If there were still active members of this cult, could they perhaps be preparing to repeat the ritual, even as she waited here?

Twilight knew she couldn't take that risk. Now was not the time for her to sit about thinking of what shadowy cults might be doing. Now was the time to take action. She rolled out of bed and ascended the staircase that lead to Spike's bedroom. She knocked on the door, before pushing it open with a soft creak. The dragon was asleep, though his eyes blinked open as the light from the hall crept into his room.

"Twilight?" He mumbled, still half asleep. "Something wrong?"

She shook her head, kneeling beside his bed.

"Spike, I'm going to be going on a trip."

"How long?"

"I don't know." Twilight whispered. "I might never come back."

"You what?!" Spike sat up, only to be hushed by Twilight.

"I don't know for sure yet. I might be gone a week, I might be gone a year. It all depends."

"Why would you not come back?" Spike swallowed hard.

"Because I'm going to do something drastic." Twilight sighed. "I could be badly hurt, or worse..."

"Do you have to go?"


"Can I come with you?"


Both dragon and alicorn were silent for a moment, before Twilight spoke again.

"I saw something Spike. Something big and terrible. Something that could wipe Equestria off the map if it gets the chance."

"Are you going to stop it?"

"I'm going to try." Twilight said quietly. "If anypony asks about me, just tell them that I've gone on a vacation. Until I return, you are released from my service."

Spike closed his eyes, clenching his fists hard. Twilight gently hugged the little dragon, hearing him sniffle quietly as she held him. She could feel him shuddering, as well as a wet spot of hot tears soaking her coat. She shut her eyes, pulling him tighter against herself.

"I'm going to make things right, Spike. I promise."

Of Breakout and Banishment

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Twilight left her castle at approximately midnight. She was bound for Canterlot, though she felt she could not take a train or coach this time. She didn't want to draw anymore attention to herself than was absolutely necessary. Instead, she leapt from her battlements, spreading her wings in flight. She really wished that she had spent more time training her wings, as her flight was a bit shaky. She did her best to steady herself, giving a few extra flaps before settling into a glide. The lights of Ponyville appeared beneath her, like twinkling stars dotting the earth. She rose a bit higher, aiming herself like an arrow for the distant, gleaming marble spires of Canterlot.

The flight was a difficult one, as it seemed that every stiff breeze that touched her wings threatened to send her into an earthward spiral. Despite difficulties, she persevered, trying to right her wings every time they teetered clumsily. She glided and flapped silently through the chilly night air, the only sound to reach her ears the whistling of the breeze as she slowly rose ascended towards the upper mountain of Canterlot. She almost wished for sound, if only to distract her mind from what she was about to do. A soft landing on one of the palace ramparts put an end to the flight, as Twilight began to search about for her quarry. She had attempted to land near it, though her judgement may have been slightly off.

There just above her, was a broken window. Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as she jumped for the open window, propelling herself upwards with a flap of her wings. She managed to get a solid grip on the inside of the window, hooking her hoof on the interior and using it as leverage to clamor up the wall to peek inside. It was Prince Blueblood's study, freshly cleaned after the break in that had occurred weeks ago. She practically rolled into the room, landing on the carpet with an ungraceful thump. Quickly rising to her hooves, she scanned the shelves in the Prince's Quarters. She found a large backpack, and snatching it up turned her attention to the nearby bookshelves. She paused for a moment, taking in the scope and volume of Blueblood's personal collection, and then began to sweep the titles, stuffing into the knapsack any title that had anything to do with Saddle Arabia. Saddle Arabia: A Brief History, Customs and Etiquette of Saddle Arabia and Camel Caravans, Myth and Magic Beneath the Dunes, and Sarabic for Utter Morons were all tossed into the empty satchel.

Once the books were packed away, Twilight switched gears, taking a look at the Prince's desk. She jostled a few of the drawers, finding one that was held shut with a small brass lock. A quick focused bolt of magic from her horn was enough to shatter the rather flimsy lock, and Twilight was granted access into the cupboards contents. Inside she found a few documents, some old newspaper clippings, and at last the object she sought: Blueblood's wallet. Contained within the black leather wallet was an assortment of receipts, bills, and bits, exactly what Twilight was looking for. She tossed the whole wallet into the bag, before closing the drawer and returning to Blueblood's trophy shelf. She quickly swept a few of the more valuable trinkets into the satchel, taking several jeweled rings, talismans, and other bits of jewelry that might be worth a fair amount of bits.

With all this packed, Twilight tossed the bag over her shoulder and peered out into the hallway beyond. It was dark, as it should have been after hours. No guards either. They must have been on patrol elsewhere at the moment. She stepped out into the unlit corridor, tramping quietly over the rugs, taking care to keep her hoofbeats light as she traversed the halls. She made her way through the dark, coming to what she assumed was a small way station for guards. She cracked the door open ever so slightly, and peeked inside. The lights were on, but it seemed empty. Cautiously, Twilight opened the door and stepped inside. The walls were practically gleaming with rows of armor and weapons. Swords, shields, spears, daggers, and breastplates hung on the walls, surrounding a few small chairs and tables in the center of the room. She didn't want to spend a whole lot of time here, and quickly levitated a thin, rapier-like blade off the wall, along with a belt, sheath, and holster. Twilight stepped back into the hallway, only to see a bright light moving her way.

"Who's there?" A rather gruff sounding voice suddenly echoed through the corridor.

Twilight decided to reply by quickly blinking out of sight, casting a spell to teleport her further down the hall, behind the approaching guard. She tiptoed around the corner, working her way through the maze of corridors towards her ultimate goal; Celestia's throne room. The halls were fairly lightly guarded, seeing as there were no weekend events planned at the palace, and she was able to pass through it without much incident. Within a few minutes, she had found the throne room, which seemed quite a bit less inviting in the night than it did in the day. She stepped inside, closing the door behind her. As her hooves clip clopped across the marble floor, she felt a strange, almost foreboding presence in the room with her. It was as though every shadow were moving, living beings, all of which seemed to be stretching and reaching out to grab her.

She tried to shrug it off as her imagination, or perhaps a symptom of the repeated nightmares she had been having as of late. Somehow she just couldn't shake the feeling that she was being observed however. She glanced around as she walked, trying to pinpoint the source of her unease, yet somehow she felt that she was being watched from every corner of the room. She lit up her horn with a pale purple glow seeing a bit of the shadows recede. Her eyes darted about, searching for some sort of invisible observer. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement. In an instant she whirled to face it, a spell at the ready, only for a rather quiet voice to reach her ear.

"Did I startle you, Twilight?"

Twilight turned to see Princess Luna stepping out from the darkness, her eyes almost luminescent in the dim light. She breathed out a sigh of relief, a bit of the terror she had felt dissipating.

"Just a bit, yes." She said, letting her prepared spell fade from her mind as she spoke.

"I know why thou hast come." Luna spoke quietly, seeming to stare right through Twilight as she spoke.

"Why is that?"

"Thou art here to break the Prince out of prison."

Twilight froze in her tracks, gulping softly.

"Are you here to stop me?" Twilight could feel her nerves prickling as she talked. She knew she had bested Nightmare Moon once before, but she had the Elements of Harmony on her side then. She knew Luna was much older and wiser than she, and was certainly a better flier than she was. Twilight supposed that raw magical energy could have been tipped in her favor, though she didn't know for sure. What she did know for sure was that the absolute last thing she wanted was a standoff between herself and Luna.

"I am not." Luna whispered, as Twilight exhaled with relief. "My sister explained your situation to me following Blueblood's snap. It would seem that the two of you claimed to have exited this plane of existence, and traveled to a mythic, lost city which you called Carcosa. no?"

Twilight nodded.

"Celestia finds the whole matter difficult to believe, and I must admit I'm inclined to agree with her. However, I've noticed one thing that's been rather odd since your supposed voyage was made. Your dreams-"

"You've seen my dreams?" Twilight interrupted, only for Luna to silence her with an outstretched hoof.

"Therein lies the problem Twilight. I have been unable to enter your dreams as of late." Luna said with a touch of concern in her voice. "Its as though something or someone is preventing my entry. It is as though I travel through a long, nighted tunnel, whose walls narrow the closer I come to the realm of your dreams, until finally it closes up, swallowing me in intense blackness."

"That sounds... a bit unsettling." Twilight replied, her eyes widening.

"Indeed. It's been much the same with my attempts to enter Blueblood's dreams, and I can only assume that there is something sinister going on, whether it is connected to this 'Carcosa' or not remains to be seen." Luna's voice was smooth, yet solemn and stern. "If you're here to break the Prince from his confinement, I can only assume you wish to search for answers, no?"

Twilight only nodded in response.

"Then I wish you the best of luck in the endeavor." The Princess said softly. "Celestia will likely not be as accepting of your actions this night as I am. After all, you're freeing one imprisoned under order of Celestia herself. What you're doing is tantamount to treason. I would advise you not to return to this court unless you have found solid evidence supporting your claims. Have I made myself clear, Twilight Sparkle?"

"Of course Princess Luna."

"May your night be most favorable then." Luna said as she took a step backwards into the shadows once more, completely fading from Twilight's view. A second later, and a gentle breeze blew past her, passing beneath the throne room door on its way out. With a quiet sigh, Twilight pressed on, finding the hidden staircase beyond the throne, pushing open the aged wooden door with a deep, foreboding creak. She began to trace her way down the stone staircase, the sound of her hooves echoing off the halls as she went. As she descended further into the dungeon, she could hear Blueblood's voice, though she couldn't make out what he was saying. She could only assume that he was still repeating that damn song from the play the other night.

In the dim light of the torches, Twilight came upon the old wood and iron door that lead to Blueblood's cell. His voice was far clearer now, and she could make out his garbled speech with ease now.

"-the Hyades shall sing, where flap the tatters of the-"

She scowled at this, pushing open the door and instantly silencing his inane babbling. Inside, Blueblood was seated against the wall opposite her, hooves across his chest with his head hung low, half suggestion exhaustion. At the creaking of the iron hinges, his ears perked, before his head jolted upright, his eyes wide with otherworldly terror.

"Who is it? Who's there?" The Prince stammered, instinctively leaning away from the door.

"It's Discord, remember?" Twilight half-heartedly joked, forcing a slight smile.

"It wasn't funny the first time you said that " He replied flatly. "What are you doing here? It's almost one in the morning."

Twilight took a deep breath, swallowing hard.

"I want to preface this by saying that you're still an egotistical, self centered, royal pain in my flank."

"Duly noted. So again, why are you here?"

"Because despite all that, you're the only pony in all of Equestria who believes me right now, and that's something that I can't afford to lose." As she spoke, Twilight let her magic begin investigating the chains which bound Blueblood. Just as she thought, they were enchanted. Of course, enchantments could be broken with the proper counter spell. All she needed to do was find it.

"You're going to break me out?" Blueblood said, his demeanor softening somewhat. "Even after I told you to leave me?"

There was a sudden CLACK as the chains binding the Prince snapped, his manacles falling from his hooves and landing in a heap on the floor. He rubbed the spot they had been, tenderly massaging the area as he shakily rose to his hooves.

"You gave me advice, and I chose not to take it." Twilight smirked ever so slightly. "After all, what do you know?"

"Your humor fails to amuse me yet again." Blueblood said, following behind as Twilight began to ascend the stairs. "Praytell, what exactly did you plan on doing after you sprung me from my cell?"

"From here, we go to Saddle Arabia."

"And how do we get there?"

"I seem to recall a certain somepony owning a personal airship."

"Damn. You've thought this whole thing through, how long did it take you to plan this big break out?"

"Five minutes, plus the time it took for me to eat some toast before departing for Canterlot."

"Remind me to be impressed when we're out of harms way then." Blueblood said as the two of them entered the throne room once more. This time however, Blueblood chose to take the lead, leading Twilight into the eastern wing of the palace, keeping the light from his horn dim as he stalked his way through the dark corridors. The two of them snaked their way through a veritable maze of hallways, some lit by torchlight, others by moonlight, and a precious few without any light at all. Twilight's memories of the east wing were hazy at best, as the library, living quarters, and other important rooms for a budding young spellcaster sat in the west. The rooms she passed here however seemed far different. Many were simple bedrooms, though they were adorned with all the finery and pomp that one would expect from the bedroom of royalty. Several had shields or flags bearing insignias that Twilight recalled vaguely as belonging to foreign royal families or especially high ranking dignitaries. Other rooms contained entire walls devoted to maps, with tables which held detailed dioramas of local topography. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this wing was mostly reserved for diplomats, both domestic and foreign. She guessed that this was where Blueblood spent the majority of his time, if not abroad or locked in his room.

Blueblood opened one of the myriad of nearly identical wood and iron doors, leading to a spiral staircase that seemed to stretch quite a bit further than any of the others. The air began to feel cooler as they ascended, and before long they exited the confinements of the castle to an open air platform, upon which rested numerous airships of various shapes and sizes. Twilight stood for a moment with her mouth agape at the sheer size of some of them, which seemed to her eyes less like ships and more like great floating cities of canvas and steel. Blueblood rolled his eyes, grabbing her by the foreleg and giving her a sharp tug to bring her in line behind him as he made his way through the cluttered deck, weaving between crates and barrels and other debris while practically dragging Twilight behind.

The pair passed ships with names printed in gorgeous cursive script. The Dauntless, The Northwind, The Alicorn, and The Breezie Chaser all towered above her, the moonlight behind them only illuminating their splendor. At the end of the row however, was something far smaller. It was still large, but compared to the other ships at dock. It seemed to have only been built to transport three or four ponies, as opposed to the hundreds that would be needed to staff the larger ships. However, it seemed to have been built with far more opulence than the other ships as well. Taking the place of steel was gold, and in place of canvas, silk. Emblazoned upon the side was its title Volonté de Celestia.

"Is this one yours?" Twilight whispered as they began to approach the already lowered gangplank of the airship.

"Of course." Blueblood replied, sliding the doors open and stepping inside to a world of pipes and gears and wheels that seemed entirely alien to Twilght's eyes. "Never been on an airship before, have you?"

"Not one like this. I mean, I've ridden in a balloon plenty of times but-"

"A balloon is nothing like an airship, believe me, I know from experience with both." Blueblood spoke as he went about his business, checking various gauges and valves before flipping a few switches and giving a hefty tug on a nearby lever. "Check in the central gas chamber there, and see if the gas is flowing. Just stick a hoof in and see if you feel a breeze."

Twilight did as she was told, opening a small hatch on a bronze shaft in the center of the room, and placing her hoof within. Sure enough, a breeze was faintly blowing across her hoof.

"I think its working." Twilight removed her hoof, shutting the hatch as she began to glance around at the myriad of strange devices that now surrounded her. Clockwork gears began to turn, and the whole contraption seemed to come alive with a soft whirring noise. She could hear the gold plated silk balloon above her beginning to fill, and the various clicks and clacks of gauges reached her ears only seconds later. The ship began to lift from its docked position, and Blueblood took his place at the steering wheel, giving it a slight turn as they began to sail forward, their cabin rising higher and higher as the spires of Canterlot Palace began to grow distant.

"You're going to want to make yourself comfortable." Blueblood tossed back his mane, his eyes practically gleaming in the dim light. "Its going to be a long ride to Saddle Arabia."

As Twilight took a seat, she happened to glance out the back window of the cabin, she could see a single solitary figure standing atop the highest balcony of the palace. A figure outlined in shadow, from whom the dim light of the moon seemed to radiate. Twilight could barely make it out, but she was certain that this figure was waving her a very grim farewell.

Of Sunsets and Sarabic

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The Volonté de Celestia sailed across the still foggy early morning. Blueblood left the wheel after what seemed like an eternity, having set the ship on its course to Saddle Arabia and locking the wheel in place. He sighed softly, pulling up a seat beside a very groggy looking Twilight Sparkle. The poor girl was nearly asleep, her head leaned back and her hooves folded across her chest. She peered at Blueblood with a single half squinted eye. Considering he had spent a night in prison, the Prince wasn't looking too terrible. He had been scuffed up quite a bit, his mane had been mussed, and his suit seemed to be coated in a fine layer of dust and grime. Twilight debated commenting on his appearance, but decided against it. After all, if he realized the amount of dirt on his coat, he might blow a synapse. Blueblood's eyes happened upon the knapsack Twilight had packed the night before.

"Is that my bag?" Blueblood snatched it up, rifling through the contents. "And are these my books? And my jewels? And my wallet?!"

"Oh yeah." Twilight mused, still half in and half out of the conversation. "I grabbed those before I left. I figured we could use some money while we were abroad, and that maybe we can sell those gems and stuff."

"One does not simply sell these things! These are national treasures, Twilight! Those jewels were gifted to me by Duke Sword-Feather of Fliegendkralle! They can't just be pawned off like common baubles! And this golden dagger was from Captain Icewind of the Ibex. And this sapphire was a trophy from the hoard of Craven the Jackal at the last meeting of the Dogs. And this..."

Blueblood paused, as he glanced up at Twilight, seeing that her head had tilted back, eyes closed with her mouth hung open. He rolled his eyes, sighing heavily as he returned the objects to his bag.

"We're not done with this conversation, Twilight." Blueblood cut himself off with a yawn. "But we'll talk after we've landed. For now, you have sleep to catch up on, and I have navigation to do."

The Prince rose from his seat, and trotted over to the front of the ship, opening one of the wood paneled cabinets and removing one of the rolled up maps, spreading it out upon the marble counter top. He began to chart out their course, blinking his eyes a few times, before giving his head a shake to try and keep himself awake. He wished that he would have had the foresight to install a coffee machine on board this contraption. He rubbed his temples, levitating a pencil over with his magic as he began to plot out the course of the craft, letting out a quiet sigh as the sun began to rise over the horizon.

Today was going to be a very long day.

Twilight awoke with a sudden start, nearly falling out of her seat as her mind and body snapped back into reality. She shook her head, wiping a faint trace of drool from her jaw with the back of her hoof. She yawned groggily, her eyes fluttering as the gears in her brain slowly cranked to life once more. She saw Blueblood was adjusting the wheel once more, his eyes looking rather sunken, and his frame half slumped against the wheel. He was awake, but just barely. He mumbled a half-hearted "Good Morning," as he double checked the course on the map.

"How long was I out?" Twilight muttered, glancing out the window. Much to her shock, the forests and grasslands of Equestria had been replaced by a sea of sand dunes that seemed to stretch as far as her eyes could see.

"About six hours." The Prince responded, his gaze never wavering. "We crossed the border into Saddle Arabia half an hour ago. I contemplated waking you up for it, but you were in the middle of your beauty rest, and Celestia knows you need as much of that as you can get."

"Really?" Twilight rolled her eyes in disgust. "I break you out of prison, and this is the thanks I get?"

"Organizing a prison break has nothing to do with one's appearance. Besides, I was owed a jab after you called me... What were your exact words? If I recall correctly, you said I was an egotistical, self centered, royal pain in the flank. Surely you didn't think such an insult would go unpunished, now did you Twilight?"

Twilight didn't turn around to face him, if only because she could already feel his smirk burning into the back of her head.

"Either way, you may want to find something to hold on to. We're going to be landing shortly, and sometimes a stray gust of desert air can really rattle the craft," Blueblood said, giving a level a tug and slowly twisting the gas valve to "off".

The airship slowly began to sink downwards. Twilight peered out the window once more, and could now see something bright white gleaming amid the pale orange sand. As they drew closer, Twilight could see that it was a city, and a large one at that. Brilliant arabesque minarets towered high over cobblestone streets, where vibrantly colored canopies stretched out to shade the inhabitants from the blazing sun above. Closer and closer they drew, until Twilight felt she could practically smell the spices from the open air marketplaces, and was nearly able to reach out and grasp some of the tallest of the adobe brick houses. She could see horses below, clad in robes of silk studded with jewels, feathers, rhinestones and other precious stones and baubles. It was like a parade of fabulous new culture were flowing by her, and she couldn't help but stare agape at it all through the airship window.

The Volonté de Celestia touched down on the outskirts of the city, kicking up clouds of sand and dust with its rotors as it landed. Slowly the engines of the craft ground to a halt, and Blueblood opened the doors, dropping a hefty iron anchor from the airship and let the entry ramp extend out from the side of the craft.

"Welcome to Saddle Arabia," Blueblood said as he disembarked. shaking his head and tossing back his mane. "This is her capital city, Sutaf. I'm guessing the locals will have noticed my arrival by now, seeing as an airship entrance isn't exactly a hallmark of subtlety."

"Do you even know the meaning of the word subtlety?" Twilight rolled her eyes as they began to trek towards the shimmering city.

"I do. Flamboyance is a choice, Twilight, not an accident."

The pair approached the city gate, a towering structure of wood and ornately forged steel. Twilight could hear shouts from above her, as guards began to scuffle about to open the massive barricades. Apparently they recognized Blueblood, as she could hear his name intermingled with native Sarabic. The gates began to swing open revealing the cobblestone streets of the city of Sutaf. As Twilight and Blueblood entered, she could hear the guards whispering to one another, their eyes occasionally glancing in her direction.

"What are they saying?" She said to Blueblood with a hushed voice.

"Most of them are asking if you're Celestia." Blueblood replied, barely breaking pace as he spoke. "They've never seen an Alicorn up close before. Only in the sky above and in legends. The consensus seems to be that you're just weird in person."

"Well that's rather rude."

"To be fair, they don't think you can understand what they're saying. Not many outside of Saddle Arabia can speak it, much less understand it."

They strode down the streets, adobe homes towering on either side of them, with clotheslines full of brightly colored clothes dangling between them. It was like a veritable rainbow of silk, cotton, wool, and flax garments, with the rays of the sun changing color as it passed through the fibers of the fabric, casting the path below in hues of blue, green, orange and red. Twilight couldn't help but notice that Blueblood seemed to know these streets as well as he did the halls of the Canterlot palace, weaving seamlessly through the narrow alleys with ease.

"Where exactly are you taking us?" Twilight said as they wove their way through the maze-like streets of Sutaf.

"We're headed in the direction of the Hall of the Sultanate, though I expect that they've already dispatched an emissary to greet us." The Prince replied, diverting himself back to a larger more open road, avoiding one of the more cluttered alleyways. "Just remember that when we meet with the Sultan, you are to follow my lead. Do not attempt to speak to him unless spoken, and for the love of Celestia, don't forget to kowtow. Got it?"

"Yes, yes. I get it. You know how to bow down to foreign leaders." Twilight's ears twitched slightly, as she began to hear a distant lilt of flutes in the distance. Blueblood seemed to notice it as well, his ears perking as the steady cadence of drums joined with the flutes. His mouth twisted into a frown.

"Sounds like I have less time than I would like to teach you the delicate art of Saddle Arabian etiquette. That's a royal procession headed this way." Blueblood rounded the corner, stepping from the cramped and labyrinthine city streets and into a massive, open market place. There shouts and the smell of spices and food filled the air, half tempting Twilight to wander off in search of the aroma's source. Her stomach grumbled, and she realized that she had yet to eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. She followed behind, walking through the densely packed plaza, as a multitude of vendors shouted to her, both in Sarabic and in broken Equine, all vying for her attention and most likely her business. A few bold ones even rushed towards her, waving jewelry or clothing, She tried to repulse them with a smile and a "No thank you," but found that it seemed to only strengthen their resolve, and soon found a crowd of anxious shouting salesmen crowding around her. Blueblood turned, rolling his eyes at the group of vendors.

"Mish'lochim!!" The Prince shouted, catching the crowds attention in an instant. "Atem sh'lachtem et bayeet!"

This seemed to work slightly better than Twilight's method, and the peddlers scurried off into the crowds once more, seeking out new prey amid the teeming throngs.

"What did you say?" Twilight said, cocking her head slightly.

"Simple. I told them to go away. A bit stronger than you did, and in their native language of course, but the same thing nonetheless."

The music had begun to intensify now, to the point where the two ponies had to actually raise their voices when speaking. Ahead, they could see horses being pushed aside by a rapidly advancing force, which they could only assume was the royal procession headed their way. Suddenly, the way was clear between them, as four rather muscular guards, each clutching a hefty scimitar in their magical grasp, shoved the last of the citizens out of the way with cries of "L'phantem et derech!" These guards stood in a loose semicircle around another, much smaller horse, who was dressed in all the finery one would expect of an Equestrian royal, though with a distinctly Saracenic feel. He wore a white robe, threaded with gold and decorated with bright blue patterns woven into the fabric. Atop his head was a dazzlingly bejeweled
turban, studded all over with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, with a plumed peacock feather sticking out of the top.

At the sight of this figure, Blueblood almost instinctively dropped to his knees, kneeling with his face towards the street. He bowed low, glancing at Twilight and jerking his head, signalling for her to do the same. Twilight followed suit, trying to replicate the motions she had seen Blueblood make, practically kissing the pavement as she bowed. She could hear Blueblood speak something into the earth.

"Halalti atem, hamalkay malachim." The Prince said, keeping hid face to the ground.

"Sh'cham nasich." Came the reply from the gaudily dressed Sarab.

"Princess Twilight Sparkle, allow me to introduce you to Sultan Caliph, ruler of Saddle Arabia." Blueblood said as he rose back to his hooves, brushing himself off as he repeated her introduction in Sarabic. Upon hearing her credentials, the Sultan's face lit up, reaching out his hoof to shake, grinning from ear to ear.

"Princess, it is so good to be meeting you." The Sultan took her hoof in both of his, squeezing tightly and shaking them vigorously. "I have heard many stories of you nasichah. Is it true that you once cast down a great dragon?"

"Er...yes. That much is true." Twilight said, nodding in reply, glancing down at her slightly throbbing hoof. "Its a pleasure to meet you as well, Sultan."

"Tell me, what winds have borne you to my city, nasich?" Caliph said, quirking his brow at Blueblood. "Has it happened that another trade deal will be brought my way? Or perhaps was the last shipment of silk underwhelming?"

"This time, Sultan, I'm not here to discuss politics. I would have come alone for that. I'm here on a much more personal venture." Blueblood's voice lowered as he spoke, his eyes hardening as they locked with Caliph's. "Twilight and I have come across something strange. Very, very strange. We're looking for answers, and we think they may lie within Alhazred's book."

"Gods...what sort of answers could be important enough to warrant looking in that tome?" The Sultan shuddered at the thought.

"I'd rather not discuss such things in such a crowded space." The Prince's voice dropped to a whisper, checking around to make sure that nopony was giving him any suspicious looks.

"Of course." Caliph nodded, the feather of his turban bobbing. "We can privately discuss this all later, when our surroundings are a bit less crowded. For now, shall I put you and your guest in the usual place?"

"Sounds perfect to me." Blueblood replied, following behind the armed guards of the Caliph, motioning for Twilight to follow. She fell into line along with them, as they wove their way through the open market, and onto a wide road, paved not with cobblestone, but with expertly crafted bricks, all overlaid with a thin layer of electrum that gleamed white gold in the midday sun. The brightness of it nearly blinded Twilight, but as her eyes adjusted to the glare her jaw slackened in amazement. Ahead of her lay the royal palace of Saddle Arabia. It rose high above the desert sands, with exquisite marble walls topped with bulbs of shimmering gold. Its walls contained numerous minarets, which threatened to pierce through the clouds if they were any taller. The whole of the structure seemed to grow more and more opulent as she approached, as Twilight soon could see fabulous outer courts and gardens of lush vegetation as she drew ever nearer to its gates. The rich aroma of spices, luxurious wines, and freshly seared vegetables soon reached her nose, and her mouth practically watered at the tantalizing scent.

As their procession passed by the outer gates and into the main of the palace, Twilight noted a drop in temperature. It felt much cooler inside the palace than it was without, and for that she was grateful. The interior floors were covered in thick, plush rugs so soft she could have sworn her hooves were sinking into it. Servants, advisers, scribes, guards, and merchants milled about within, producing a low din of constant buzzing conversation. Tapestries and murals coated the walls, barely leaving a single bare spot to be seen. The Caliph's guard soon dispersed, and he turned to smile warmly at Twilight. "You will forgive me of course, but I have some business of my own to be tending to. I'm certain hanasich can show you the way to your chambers."

"You mean..." Twilight paused, still trying to take in the spectacle which surrounded her. "We're staying here?"

"Of course. You and he are guests of mine, and guests of Saddle Arabia herself! Only the finest for our guests here!"

"C'mon Twilight." Blueblood grabbed Twilight by the hoof, practically dragging her off through the halls. "Its been a long, long day."

After a short trek through the halls of the palace, Blueblood arrived at their room on the second level of the building. He opened the door to reveal a decent sized room, certainly large enough for two ponies to share. The floor was of that same plush red carpeting the palace contained, and Blueblood half felt inclined to simply plop down and sleep there. Of course, the bed was the far better option, covered in numerous satin and silk sheets, and strewn all over with soft pillows of all shapes and sizes. The rest of the furniture was rather simple. A wooden wardrobe, a sink and mirror station, a desk in the corner, and a low table rounded out their furnishings. Twilight raced to the bed, hurling herself upon it and letting out a small squeal of joy.

"Its so soft! All the silk just feels-" Twilight was cut off and Blueblood suddenly shoved her off of the bed, before promptly flopping down on it himself. She landed on the floor beside the bed with a muffled thud, glaring angrily up at him.

"Don't give me that look." Blueblood's eyelids fluttered as he stifled a yawn. "You got to sleep on the flight over here. I had to... To Navigate..."

Before he could finish complaining, the Prince's eyes closed, and he drifted off into his first real sleep in almost two days. Twilight gave a soft "hmmph!" before trotting over to their window and drawing back the blinds. Her mouth flickered into an excited grin as she gazed out over the desert sands, anxious for what was to come next.

Of Caravans and Carcosa

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The sweet smell of honey and spices tickled Blueblood's nostrils, rousing him from his sleep. He rubbed his eyes groggily, half blinded by the mid-morning sun streaming in through the open window. He squinted, cupping a hoof across his brow to see better in the glaring light. The room faded back into focus, and he saw Twilight seated at the low table on a velvet cushion, nibbling pensively upon some fire roasted vegetables. She glanced over to the waking prince, stifling a chuckle at his bedhead mane.

"Good morning sleepyhead." Twilight said, swallowing a mouthful. "Want some breakfast?"

The prince nodded, rolling out of bed and tossing his mane. It fell sloppily to one side, and his lip twisted into a scowl, as though he could somehow force his mane to right itself through sheer force of will. He rose to his hooves and stretched his back before walking over to the brass washbasin in the corner of the room, splashing the water upon his face and drying it with a nearby towel. He stepped over to the table, preparing a plate for himself and taking a small, dainty bite from it, gently dabbing his mouth with a napkin as he chewed silently.

"So." Twilight mused as she swallowed another bite of her own. "What's on the agenda for today?"

"We're going to want to meet with Caliph a bit later." Blueblood replied as he munched on a bit of honey glazed squash. "Probably around 3, during the time of rest. To show up earlier would be extremely rude."

"And why is that?"

"We're considered guests in this country, Twilight. Our needs are considered to be less important than those of his people and advisers. To show up early would be extremely presumptuous of us."

"Well, what do we do until then?"

"Personally, I'm planning on doing a bit of shopping while I'm here. A suit and tie are going to get terribly stifling in this heat, so I'd prefer to pick up something a bit more comfortable. You might do well to take some time to brush up on your Sarabic manners, or perhaps you should brush that tangled mess of your mane instead." Blueblood said as he daintily prodded at his cheeks with his napkin.

"It just never stops with you, does it?" Twilight sighed, her face showing more exasperation rather than insult.

"It's a part of my charm." He replied, rising from his seat and gently fixing his mane in the nearby mirror. "Combined with my natural charisma, I'm quite hard to resist."

"I'll believe it when I see it." Twilight lay back on the bed, opening the knapsack she had packed and grabbing a book from the small stack within. Customs and Etiquette of Saddle Arabia seemed like it would be a good place to start. She smiled as she cracked open the obviously well worn volume. It felt like forever since she'd last had a chance to sit back and curl up with a book, and within seconds she was pouring over the pages with great gusto.

Chapter 1: Greetings!
When greeting another pony, camel, or horse in Saddle Arabia, offer your hoof to shake. Touch their hoof only lightly, and use your other hoof to clasp their foreleg at the joint. This is a sign of respect between the two of you, and if you refuse a hoofshake from somepony of high social standing, it can be seen as a snub or insult. Always remember that the proper spoken greeting in Sarabic is "Shalom" or "Salaam" depending on the region. When greeted in this manner, respond with...

"I'll be back later." Blueblood spoke up, having spent enough time for now fixing up his appearance. "Please do remember Twilight, we're guests in this country. So for Celestia's sake don't do anything stupid."

"Uh huh." Twilight nonchalantly replied, barely even glancing up from her book. "See you later then."

Blueblood walked solemnly through the paved streets of Sutaf, turning away street peddlers attempting to con him into paying exorbitant prices on jewels, feathered turbans, spices, rugs, and Celestia knows what else. This wasn't his first time visiting the capital, and he already knew that if he wanted the best of the goods, it wasn't going to be from a horse on the street. He needed to find an established firm, preferably a tailor, who could quickly get him a change of garments. Wearing a full business suit in the sweltering midsummer heat of Saddle Arabia was already taking its toll on him, and he swore that his mane was beginning to droop from the sweat alone. On top of that though, he wanted to blend in with the locals as much as he could. After all, word traveled fast among diplomats, and word of his imprisonment and subsequent escape had probably already made its way through the ranks. It was only a matter of time then before somepony got wind of his location, and the Royal Guard would be hot on his hooves, and that was something he couldn't risk. Especially not when Alhazred's manuscript was nearly within his hooves.

The Prince spied a small stall in the market, where a large, rather rotund looking horse stood, flanked by a pair of heavily armed guard steeds. The trio was collecting gold from a long line of subjects, none of whom seemed all that thrilled to be there. Blueblood smiled as he realized what this was. It was a tax collector, and one with quite a bit of worth, judging by his obviously well-fed body and powerful royal escort. If anypony knew where to find things in this city, it would be a tax collector. After all, he had to have met any operating businesses in the city, or they certainly wouldn't stay open very long. Blueblood stepped around the column of horses, cutting his way to the front of the line with a confident stride.

"Shalom, adonim." He said, waving courteously to them. "Ayfah emtzo chayat?"

The tax collector quickly muttered something to one of the guards as he continued to focus on his work. The guard however grabbed a small sheet of paper and a pencil from the stand, scribbling down an address and passing it off to the Prince.

"Todah Rabah." Blueblood gave a slight bow as he tucked the parchment in his jacket. "Shalom!"

"Shalom. Khol tov." The guard responded, as he returned to the task at hand.

With the address of a local tailor now safely in his pocket, Blueblood set out through the labyrinthine streets of the city to locate his quarry. A short trek through the streets and into a cramped and crowded residential district lead him to the doorstep of one "Abd Al-Quadir" apparently a capable sewer by trade. As the Prince knocked, a tan colored and rather scrawny and bookish looking horse answered, adjusting his thick rimmed glasses as he stepped into the door frame.

"Can I help you?" He said, looking over the Prince with a curious eye.

"I'm looking for a new outfit." Blueblood said, prodding the obviously out of place suit jacket he currently wore. "I was hoping you might be able to help with that."

The tailor gave a slight nod, stepping aside and allowing the Prince into his shop. "So tell me, what were you thinking?"

"Something regal. Preferably in white." Blueblood removed the jacket of his suit, setting it on a conveniently placed rack.

Abd nodded, grabbing his tape measure and starting to take his customer's sizes, working with a swiftness that only came from years of nigh monotonous labor. He didn't even pause to write down the measurements he was talking, but seemed to just be working from memory.

"You came at a good time, adon." The tailor talked as he worked, stretching a tape measure across the Prince's back. "White is usually our most popular color, especially from well paying clients."

"Sounds like I lucked out then." Blueblood loosened his tie, hoping to free up his movement as he was forced into strange and odd positions for another round of assessments. "Any reason white isn't selling lately? Has it fallen out of fashion?"

"No no." Abd shook his head, wrapping the tape measure around his neck and stepping to the side to begin to meter out a roll of white fabric. "Just a lot of orders coming in lately for different colors. I had to order another roll of yellow linen just to fill all the orders for it this year."

"Yellow?" The Prince swallowed hard, trying to mask the obvious discomfort in his voice. "Seems a bit of an odd color to suddenly go off the shelves."

"I thought so too, but its a living."

Blueblood could feel a cold sweat beginning to trickle down his back. He moved to the side, taking a seat on a wooden stood, taking in a short, deep breath. Celestia's sake, just mentioning the color now was enough to slightly upset his mind. When all of this was over, he needed to take a good long vacation; preferably to a place that had nothing yellow for miles around. The color had once conjured up images of warm, sun soaked beaches, of fields of sunflowers in bloom, and of glasses of lemonade on a hot summer day. Now all it reminded him of were those robes, and the mask, and the yellow that lay behind them. It drudged up memories of pus, jaundice, and infection. He swallowed hard, hoping for keep himself from physically retching at the recollection.

"I'll be done with your robe in a few hours." Abd chimed, turning around from his work for a brief second. "Maybe take the time to get some fresh air, adon. You're looking a little pale."

"Sorry, I must just be adjusting badly to the heat." Blueblood was practically lying through his teeth. "I'll be back then. You accept Equestrian bits here, right?"

"Of course. Provided you have enough of them."

Blueblood gave a bow before exiting into the streets, where he took a deep breath of the dry desert air. Perhaps a light lunch would do him some good. He did his best to put the thoughts from his mind, and began to trot off down the street, seeking out a cafe.

Twilight on the other hand, had spent most of her day in their hotel room, tearing through the books she had brought ravenously. However, her ability to speed read was both a blessing and a curse, and before she knew it, she had completed the small stack she had packed. She neatly stacked the books and returned them to her knapsack with a sigh. It had been a nice distraction while it lasted, but unfortunately, she couldn't remain absorbed in such things for too long. After all, it was difficult for her to forget that she and the Prince were on the run. But, for the time being, it was nice to lose herself in a series of pages once again.

Slowly Twilight rose from her sprawled out position on the bed, stretching her back with a satisfying crack. She strode over to the window, taking a look out over the seemingly endless greenery that surrounded the palace. Everything seemed so lush and lively here, not at all how she would have pictured a desert. The greenery faded the further her eyes wandered, and soon she gazed upon the infinite orangish yellow sand beyond. Then again, most of her knowledge of Saddle Arabia was second hand, coming from books or by word of mouth. Facing it now, in the raw rather than behind the shield of a book, she couldn't believe just how vast it all was. It seemed so strange to her, who had for so long been on top of the world, to look out and feel so small.

Twilight decided that a short examination of the palace wouldn't be out of order, and pulled her gaze from the window, heading out the door of her room. She began to wander down the halls, admiring the handwoven rugs and tapestries that lined them. She had seen a few Saddle Arabian rugs in the homes of extremely wealthy ponies back in Canterlot, but never had she seen them in such volume before. they practically carpeted the floors, with only small gaps in between them through which the marble tiles could be seen. The tapestries too were massive and detailed in ways she had never thought they could be. Images of horses clad in armor, of Sphinxes prowling the desert, and priests performing ancient rites stood out in brilliant hues of red, gold, and navy blue.

The pictures began to depict images of the sacred, with the more heroic images tapering off. Soon no knights could be seen, but priests and hierophants became all too common. Tapestries of burials and ancient, pyramid tombs stood out especially, as Twilight could practically feel the gloom and sorrow flooding from the woven portraits. The likenesses of strange, grotesque gods loomed over processions of white robed worshipers, leering out upon the halls with glares of malevolent glee. These gods were at first equine in appearance, but the further down these dimly lit halls Twilight trod, the more they began to twist and change. Soon they were standing upright, on two hooves rather than four. Then, their faces began to contort, soon taking on animalistic features. Fangs protruded from mouths, trunks hung down from faces, and hooves twisted into strange five toed claws. Soon all sense of form seemed to be lost, and both the gods and their worshipers devolved into strange masses of abstract lines and shapes and angles the likes of which Twilight had never seen. Then finally, she came across an image at the end of the hall that chilled her to the bone.

There, among a swarm of queer swirls of color, was a portrait of a white, featureless face. Yet somehow deep inside, Twilight understood that this was no face. It was a mask, and a mask she knew all too well. She had seen that mask in Carcosa, and there too had she seen what the mask concealed. Her blood ran cold at the sight, and she stepped back away from the tapestry, her mouth hanging open in disbelief.

"Is everything alright, Nasichah?"

A voice from the other end of the hall pulled Twilight out of her terrified state, and glanced over. The Sultan stood at the end of the hallway, with a few of his aides standing beside him. He strode carefully down the hallway, stopping beside her and following her eyes to the tapestry.

"What... What is that?" Twilight said, her voice slightly trembling.

"An old god from an old time." Caliph spoke quietly. "Saddle Arabia is an ancient land, with legends that have been developing over countless generations. This particular legend is Hastad. He was a god that was worshiped in the oldest days of Saddle Arabia, long before the nation was ever unified. Nowadays however, he's merely mythology."

"Then why would you want a tapestry of him?"

"Its a part of our history, for better or for worse. There are very few who still offer their prayers to Hastad, but nevertheless, our legacy is worth preserving." Caliph gave her a polite nod, turning to walk back over to his waiting aides. "Enjoy your stay, Nasichah. I'm looking forward to our meeting later."

Even after the Sultan had left, Twilight simply couldn't take her eyes off of that pallid mask. It was terrifying, yet at the same time alluring. What lay behind that mask had shocked her to the core, and yet somehow, she felt an urge to look upon it again. She couldn't explain why, but she could feel it in the deepest depths of her mind, gnawing slowly at her rational thoughts. Something was calling to her. She had no idea what, but she could practically hear the rhythmic cadence.

"Car-Co-Sa. Car-Co-Sa. Car-Co-Sa."

Blueblood finished a lunch in a quiet little coffee shop, and returned to the tailor to pick up his robe. He changed into it, already feeling the difference as he stepped back out into the streets, the hot sun beating down on him once more. He looked almost like a Saddle Arabian native, though his short stature would have betrayed him to any observer. He fastened the included headpiece with a black headband, helping not only to keep the glare out of his eyes, but to help keep the sweat off his brow. His hooves clip clopped along the cobblestone roads, weaving his way through the crowds with ease. Soon, the gleaming electrum minarets of the Palace came into view, their jutting spires piercing the cloudless sky above.

The Prince passed through the outer gates, past the green gardens of hanging plants, and into the Palace itself. He traced a path through the marble halls, finally pushing open the massive crimson and gold trimmed doors into the Sultan's throne room. Caliph was seated at the opposite end of the room, amid a pile of soft velvet cushions, with two smiling female horses seated on either side of him. The room was filled with a low buzz of activity, as court mages, guards, advisors, and other officials busied themselves with work or conversed quietly. Blueblood spied Twilight amid the throng of horses, seated along the wall at a low table, currently snacking on a plate of dried, honey glazed fruits. He sat down opposite her, and she glanced up, blinking a few times as she took in the new outfit.

"What are you wearing?" Twilight said, her eyebrow raising quizzically.

"Its called a thaub." Blueblood responded, adjusting his headdress with his typical flair. "Its a traditional male robe worn in Saddle Arabia and her tributaries."

"It looks like you're wearing a dress." Twilight chuckled, a smirk playing across her lips.

"Its a thaub you uncultured little-"

Before Blueblood could unleash his string of prepared insults, a loud clap from the Sultan called everypony's attention right to the throne. He issued a few commands in Sarabic, as his many advisors, as well what Blueblood assumed were his two wives, slowly filed out of the room. Soon, it was only the two ponies, a few guards, and a rather old, wizened looking camel. Caliph beckoned to them with his hoof, and both Twilight and Blueblood made their way over to the throne. The Prince dropped to his knees, bowing his head and touching the floor before rising again, and Twilight followed his example as best as she could.

"Ore'achim," Caliph said, his voice strong and deep as it echoed around the opulent marble chamber. "I am very glad to see you all are well. Now, Blueblood, you had asked me earlier about looking into the Kitab Al-azif?"

"Yes, Sultan." Blueblood replied with a nod.

"I cannot imagine what sort of terror might have caused you to seek this book. You understand that those who seek it do not do so lightly. It is a thing of great evil, and is often sought after by wicked equines."

"I understand, Sultan."

"I will allow you to read Alhazred's book, Nasich, but understand that I do not do this lightly." Caliph's face grew hard and sullen as he spoke. "There are things in that tome that ought never to be seen by mortal eyes. Take care with the book, and do not read a word of it aloud. Do not read more than you need to. Read what you must, and no more. Understood?"

"Yes, Sultan. I understand."

"Good. Please, Nasich, in honor to our friendship, do not read too much of this book. It has warped the minds of better stallions than the both of us, and I would hate to see you go mad from what you uncover." The Sultan, pointed over to the Camel, who stood towering over Blueblood. "This is Shihab. He's one of the only ones alive in Sutaf who can still trace the path to Alhazred's work. Its hidden away, deep within the desert where it must remain, lest a wicked horse or pony get their hooves on it. I turn you over to his care, as well as the captain of my guard."

Caliph motioned to an armor clad, scimitar carrying horse, with a dappled grey coat and piercing green eyes who stepped forward with a bow.

"This is Husam, one of my personal bodyguards. He will be escorting you on the trip."

"Its a pleasure meeting you." Twilight chimed in, smiling faintly.

"The pleasure is all mine princess." The guard nodded, taking her hoof and planting a kiss upon it.

Shihab stepped past the two ponies with an elongated stride. He didn't look back as he made his way towards the doors, his voice booming as he spoke, despite not facing his charges.

"My caravan will be packed tonight. We will be leaving at the crack of dawn, with or without you two." He opened the door, letting it close with a loud slam behind him as he exited the room.

Blueblood and Twilight soon retired to their palace chambers, packing away what few belongings they had brought with them. Twilight had stuffed the knapsack she packed with as much as she could, trying to remember to be prepared for any eventuality. Blueblood on the other hand had packed lightly, with a few changes of clothes and other amenities rather than anything too large or cumbersome. Twilight plopped on the bed as she finished, laying and staring at the ceiling with a sigh.

"What do you think we'll find in that book Blueblood?" She said, rolling over onto her stomach and glancing in his direction.

"I'm hoping we'll find answers." Blueblood replied as he took a sip of the wine he had ordered. "But other than that, who can say? Alhazred was mad when he wrote the Al-azif, so who knows. We could get a truly horrifying tome, or a diary of mad ramblings."

"What if we do find answers? Do you think it will prove anything?"

"Maybe. It would lend credence to our theories, yes, but proving anything we say is going to be a Herculean task. After all, we're effectively banished from Equestria. At this point, everypony there thinks I've gone mad." Blueblood swallowed another sip of his wine, sighing softly. "Maybe I have."

"Well, if you're mad, then so am I." Twilight replied, snuggling up beneath the blankets. "And I know for sure I'm not mad. I saw everything you did with my own two eyes, and I'm inclined to believe that if we both saw it, then it had to be real."

"Can we even really trust our eyes at this point?" Blueblood mused into his glass. "Can we trust anyone anymore?"

"Maybe, maybe not." Twilight yawned, her eyelids fluttering as she flicked the lights off with a quick spell. "Either way, its too late for us to be getting this deep. I need my rest, and so do you. Goodnight Blueblood."

"Goodnight." Blueblood replied, sitting in the dark and watching out the window as the moon rose over the desert sands, casting a pale light over the room. Twilight was snoring within minutes, but the Prince scarcely noticed. His thoughts were elsewhere. His thoughts were beyond their palace bedroom, beyond the borders of Saddle Arabia, and far beyond the furthest star in the sky.

Blueblood's thoughts were somewhere yellow.

Of Shepherds and Secrets

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The sound of running water caused Twilight's ear to flick slightly in her sleep. Her eyelids lazily opened, as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes with a yawn. It was still dark out, and she had to blink a few times to adjust to the dim light of the room. She glanced about, finding that Blueblood was nowhere to be found. The door to the bathroom swung open, a small cloud of steam exiting the room ahead of the Equestrian Prince, who had just finished drying himself with a towel. He gingerly replaced the soft cloth on its rack, before grabbing his thaub from its neatly folded place on a nearby chair.

"What time is it?" Twilight mumbled, still trying to rub the residual sleepiness out of her eyes.

"4 o'clock." Blueblood replied bluntly as he adjusted the white robes around his shoulder. "We're going to be leaving in an hour to meet with Shihab and Husam. Then we'll be departing."

Twilight kicked her hooves over the side of the bed, arching her spine and giving her back a satisfying crack as she sat up. She touched her hooves to the plush red carpet, letting out one last yawn as she slumped into a standing position.

"How long have you been up?" Twilight asked as she began to gather a few toiletries for a shower.

"I dunno." Blueblood shrugged in response. "I don't really remember sleeping. One minute I'm staring out the window at Ten o'clock, and the next thing I know, my watch is beeping telling me its three in the morning."

"Blueblood, did it really take you an hour to get ready?" Twilight paused at the bathroom door with a slight chuckle.

"Well, in harsh and arid weather one's skin can quickly dry out, and moisturizing and exfoliating is not a quick process." The Prince stated these facts as though everypony ought to know them. "I've left the products on the counter in case you wanted to make use of them."

"Thanks, I guess..." Twilight said as she slowly closed the door and stepped into the shower. She noticed that, true to his word, Blueblood had in fact left his moisturizers and other lotions and oils on the counter for her. All twelve of them in fact. Twilight had never been much for the finer details of personal grooming, and chose to pass these up. Some shampoo, conditioner, and a good body wash was all she needed to be content. She started up the shower, letting the hot water fall on her coat, and the steam to help clear her mind. She began to lather up her mane as she scrubbed, letting her thoughts drift back to a much simpler time.

Twilight's thoughts slowly floated to just prior to the point where she was thrust into a strange new world of cults and ancient horrors and cities beyond reality. She remembered her meeting with Princess Celestia that very morning, and the topic of their discussion at breakfast.

"Blueblood? Really?" She had said as she nearly spat out her orange juice. "But he's... he's so-"

"Spoiled? Perhaps. My nephew has always been a bit of a handful, and I understand he is not an easy stallion to deal with."

"So why me?"

"Because you are the Princess of Friendship, Twilight Sparkle." She recalled the sound of deep concern in Celestia's voice. "He needs somepony to be a friend to him. A real friend. For I fear that even at this age, he may not have any. Who better to show him the magic of friendship than the princess herself?"

How could she have known that trying to befriend the Prince would wind her up in all of this madness? She had signed up to become friends with a royal pain in the flank, not to travel cross country to recover mysterious tomes of ancient lore. It seemed like it had been ages since that time, and yet, when she counted it out mentally, it had been only a few days. Or rather it had been only a few days for the two of them. To the rest of Equestria, this tale was months in the making. She couldn't help but think back to her original mission in all of this, making Blueblood her friend. Had she even really succeeded in that goal?

Thinking back over the past several days she had spent with Blueblood, Twilight couldn't help but realize that perhaps she was making some sort of impact on him. Sure, he was still snarky, cocky, and a bit self absorbed, but he seemed to be coming around. After all, here he was making sure she woke up early enough for a shower. If he had wanted to get rid of her, he could always have just let her sleep in, then left with the camels on his own. After all, he was familiar with the customs and language. He could have made this entire leg of the journey by himself, assuming he hadn't been imprisoned. Yet she still recalled their original plans to travel to Saddle Arabia. His plan had always included her in it.

Twilight let the water run through her sudsy mane, rinsing it off and starting to work on washing her body. Perhaps, if nothing else had been a success lately, she had at least gotten Blueblood to open up to her, even if it was ever so slightly. She would much rather have made this journey with Rainbow Dash, or Pinkie Pie, or Applejack, but having Prince Blueblood alongside her was better than going it alone. As Twilight finished washing her coat, she glanced over to the counter where the Prince had left his wide variety of skin creams and moisturizers. A small smile crossed her lips as she picked one up, a lavender scented coat shiner. Perhaps just a small application wouldn't hurt...

Meanwhile, just outside, Blueblood was beginning to pack up his belongings into a small rucksack. Several blank books, quills, inkwells, and a four days supply of food rations were among the things he tossed in, pulling the bag shut and sealing it. He assumed Twilight would pack her own bags once she got out of the shower. He was doing a quick scan of the room to make sure he hadn't missed anything, when he noticed something gleaming in the dark beside the bed. It was a sword, one with a long, tapered blade and an ornately decorated hilt. He drew it from its sheath, examining it in the pale early morning light of the room. He didn't recognize the sword itself, but he certainly recognized its make. This was a Canterlot blade, a sword that likely belonged to a Duke or some other minor noble. He gave the blade a little flourish smiling as he did so. It felt solid, well balanced.

It had been quite a long time since he had been required to carry a sword. He had once worn a blade with pride when he walked the halls of the Griffon Lord's courts, where custom dictated that even the visiting diplomats went armed. He had even spent several hard months during his youth in the Kingdom of Himmelfang training with the sword. Perhaps with all the events that he had seen unfold within the past several days, he ought to start making a sword a part of his daily attire. With a bit of effort, he found a place where the sword would latch firmly to his robe without obstructing his movement. This was a strange world indeed, with princes carrying swords as though they were soldiers. It frightened Blueblood that this was the most average of the strange things that he had been roped into.

The bathroom door swung open, and Twilight trotted back into the room, quickly toweling off her mane and tossing the slightly soggy towel on a nearby chair. Blueblood could have sworn he detected the scent of lavender on her as she returned, smiling faintly.

"Ready to go then?" He said as he slung his saddlebags over his shoulder.

Twilight nodded, opening the door with a quiet creak. "As ready as I'll ever be."

Twilight and Blueblood strode through the dimly lit streets of Sutaf at dawn. The sun was just barely beginning to peek over the horizon, lighting up the whole town in a pale golden glow. To any other ponies, it would have been a lovely sight. However, both of them couldn't help but feel a slight foreboding from the morning light. It just seemed so dismally sardonic that the first day of their journey would be shrouded in yellow. The bustling markets and stiflingly crowded alleys were replaced with an emptiness that only served to exacerbate their worry. Every so often, they would pass by a yawning shopkeeper unfurling an awning or restocking his goods, but other than that, the town felt utterly deserted. Perhaps it was because morning prayers began with the ringing of bells in the palace at six, or perhaps it was mere coincidence. Neither prince nor princess spoke, in part of lack of sleep, and in part for fear of disturbing the supreme silence that hung over the whole eerie scene.

They were glad when they saw a small cluster of camels and horses standing by on the outskirts of the town. They appeared to be just finishing their preparations for the desert journey, Twilight noticed several bags of food, along with collapsed tents, waterskins, and chests of treasure being loaded onto the backs of the camels, none of whom seemed to mind the weight at all. A few of them were also tending to small flocks of goats, whose soft bleating served to further break the silence. Shihab, clearly the leader of the camel caravan, was barking out orders in harsh sounding (and to Blueblood's ears, slightly imperfect) Sarabic to the small band of soldiers enlisted to guard them. Husam was frantically replying to him, as though trying to reassure the aged leader of something. Their conversation abruptly halted as they noticed their two charges joining them, and Husam stepped forward to greet them.

"Kol tov my friends." He said as he knelt before the two of them. "I must apologize for the current state of our caravan. It would seem that adon Shihab is... upset with my decision to embark with a few of my soldiers."

"Upset is putting it very lightly." Shihab replied as he assisted a fellow camel with their bags.

"You must understand, we are traveling with quite a bit of gold, not to mention other valuables. Without my comrades to stand guard, we would be easy prey for any number of things. Bandits, Jackals, or..."

"No, you must understand." The much larger camel's voice boomed, resonating about the empty expanse. "This is not a silly vacation, or a mere trek to unload goods. We are journeying to the resting place of the Kitab Al-Azif have you any idea the sorts of things that could happen if that book were to fall into the hooves of some incompetent soldier? Much less if it found its way to someone who could understand the horrors within it? We're leaving, and if you refuse to leave Sutaf without your lackeys, then you can remain behind with them for all I care!"

Twilight stepped forward, putting herself between their two feuding guides.

"That won't be necessary!" She said, doing her best to sound calm and reassuring to both parties. "Perhaps we can reach some sort of compromise?"

There was a moment of silence as both the horse and camel considered the situation. Finally, Husam spoke up, his voice having lost its pleading quality.

"Perhaps my 'lackeys' as you call them, could serve as a rear guard." The captain suggested. "We would remain far enough behind you that we would not interfere with your journey, but that in the event of a raid we could reach you at a moment's notice."

"Only under the condition that when we reach our destination, you and your horses do not come anywhere near the book." Shihab snorted as he turned to face the desert. "On that note, my caravan and I are leaving. If you intend to follow, I suggest you keep up."

True to his word, Shihab began to walk off through the magnificent white marble city gates and into the endless sea of dunes that stretched before them. The nearby camels all began to silently follow suit, the only noise they made the jingling and clanking of their heavy packs as they strode. A few of the camels lead flocks of goats alongside them, occasionally circling about them to keep their flocks in line. Blueblood and Twilight fell into step just behind the camels, each of them receiving a full water skin from one of their new traveling companions. The two ponies slung these bags over their shoulders, gazing out over the ancient, golden sands of the Great Sarabian Desert. After they had gained some distance away from Sutaf, Twilight glanced over her shoulder and saw the guards mobilizing. They were perhaps a mile and a half back from the main group, and try as she might, Twilight couldn't help but feel they ought to be closer.

Minutes turned into hours as the band of camels, ponies, and horses trekked across the scorching sands. The sun was beating down upon their backs with an intensity that Twilight had never before experienced. She had seen some hot days in Ponyville and Canterlot of course, but never anything as dry and as searing as this. She could feel the sweat starting to bead upon her brow as she walked, taking long gulps from her water skin to soothe her parched tongue. She noticed that Blueblood had barely touched his water, and the few times he did, she saw him only taking small sips from it. The camels meanwhile, she could have sworn hadn't sipped a drop the whole trip!

"How do you do it Blueblood?" Twilight said, glancing over at him as she took another swig from her water skin. "You've had one, maybe two sips this whole trip. Your mouth has got to feel like sandpaper by now!"

"This isn't my first time in Saddle Arabia, Twilight." Blueblood stated matter-of-factly. "Its not my first time traveling with a camel caravan either."

"You've done this before?"

"A few times actually. In fact, it was my first diplomatic assignment outside Equestria. I had to make a deal with one of the tribes for better prices on some of the rugs they sell. They're absolutely exquisite, and all the rage with the Canterlot elite. So, in order to earn their trust, I traveled with them for the better part of a month. It was hard going, I wont lie to you. Water was scarce, and food was... Well, not up to par with what I'm accustomed to."

"Oh, now this I've gotta hear." Twilight said with a chuckle in her voice. "What did they serve the esteemed Prince Blueblood on his first night out?"

"A delicacy known as miswak. Its a bush, common to the region, that many camels prefer to use in lieu of a toothbrush. Its bristly and fibrous, and before you can even brush your teeth with it, you have to chew off a layer of bark. Not exactly an appetizing meal." Blueblood cringed slightly at the memory.

"And you ate it?" Twilight's eyes were wide. "The pony who once turned his nose up at filhay mingon ate a toothbrush branch?"

"Well, I suppose I did. One of the camels noticed I wasn't eating, and stuffed the branch into my mouth. They kept on shouting, 'Too thin!' whenever I refused to eat. Even that wasn't the worst of the meals I endured. The worst was when our food supply had nearly run out, and we were forced to make do on some rock hard bread loaves and bits of extremely gone off dates. The dates were so shriveled they broke apart in your mouth like little bits of plastic. The taste was so bitter I can't even begin to describe it. Think something like black coffee with sour milk as your cream." Blueblood shuddered. "Again, I didn't want that stuff near me, but hunger can do some very strange things to a pony, believe me."

"I'll... Take your word for it." Twilight said with a little twitch of her own, just from imagining such a meal, or worse, thinking of how desperate Blueblood must have been to eat something as sickening as that. She silently hoped that their own expedition wouldn't run out of supplies, realizing now just how desolate the desert around her was. Not even a tuft of grass or a clump of weeds for miles around.

"But oh, the feasts we had!" Blueblood said, his eyes looking a bit wistful as he spoke. "It was on my last night with the caravan they threw me a party to celebrate the treaty we had signed. They served us all coffee of course, and we drank to our hearts content. Then they boiled a massive pot of rice, nearly as large as I was, filled to the brim. Then they started mixing in all sorts of ingredients: onions, dates, mustard seeds, daisies, and all sorts of herbs and spices. Then after a quick blessing of the meal by the tribal leader, we all dug in, quite literally I might add. We pulled out rice with our hooves, mashing it into balls or pancakes before eating. I'd dare the snootiest of all Canterlot ponies to turn down a meal so delicious."

"Well, I sure hope we get a meal like that on our trip." Twilight mused, licking her slightly parched lips and nearly drooling at the description of such a delectable dinner. After all, all that they had to eat for now on the trip were a few loaves of very hard, crusty bread that the camels had offered to share with them.

At the front of the caravan Shihab came to a halt. He surveyed the land around, noticing a small plateau overlooking an old, dry riverbed. Riverbeds tended to be dangerous places to pitch camp, as the threat of a flash flood was a very real one, despite the overall dryness of the area. The plateau however, seemed to be solid and sturdy enough, and after ascending the slightly sloped ridge for himself, he could feel that it would hold weight well enough. He gave it a few taps with his two toed hooves, feeling a layer of solid stone below. The sun's position in the sky was just beginning to dip down below the horizon, so that their shadows grew long in the afternoon glow.

"We'll pitch camp here!" Shihab shouted over his shoulder to the line of camels behind him. He slid off his bags, immediately beginning to unpack them, grabbing a sturdy wooden mallet, several rusted iron spikes, twine, and a thick matted tarp made from woven goat hair. The other camels sprinted to catch up to their leader, and soon they had switched from a slow and lumbering caravan crew to a swift assembly line. Their hooves worked furiously to pound in the stakes and tie up the massive flaps of woven fur which comprised their shelter for the night. As Blueblood and Twilight approached the scene, they were greeted with a frenzy of both Equine and Sarabic voices, with each camel seeming to have a different task in mind for them to accomplish. Blueblood was handed a dangling rope, with a camel shouting in Sarabic for him to grab hold of it. The Prince wrapped the cord around his hooves, nearly being lifted off the ground as another camel pulled it low on the opposite side of the tent. He managed to get his footing however, and with a bit of a strain, he was able to tug the rope down to the ground. Twilight meanwhile was tossed a hefty iron sledge, and she nearly crumpled to the sand when she caught it. She staggered a bit with it in her hooves, before letting it fall to the ground with a thud. She noticed the other camels were pounding in the stakes for the tent, and noticed one of the metallic spikes laying at her hooves. Using her magic rather than her hooves, she positioned the stake perfectly parallel to the others, before giving it a sudden telekinetic push and driving it downward. She felt it strike the rock below, and after giving it a quick jiggle with her hooves, determined that it was tightly embedded. Blueblood tugged hard on his rope, tying it off on the stake Twilight had just planted.

Within moments, the plateau had gone from a barren, sandy plain into a small city of tents, each of them large and shady, with open sides that allowed the desert breeze to carry through them. Twilight plopped down on the sand, letting out s soft sigh as she looked out over the desert surrounding them. The sun was just beginning to fall, making shadows dance about on the dunes. Everything was cast in a golden hue, with oranges and reds slowly starting to paint the landscape. Blueblood took a seat beside her, wiping his brow and taking a sip from his water skin.

"Its beautiful, isn't it?" He said, his voice just barely audible above the hustle and bustle of the caravan around them. "You'll never see a view quite like that in Equestria."

"Yeah." Twilight looked around, smiling slightly as she took in the scenery. "Its like a dream. It all just feels so... surreal."

"What I wouldn't give for this all to be a dream." Blueblood mused. "To wake up back in my bed in Canterlot and find that there was no King, no Carcosa, and no sign."

"Believe me, I know the feeling." Twilight replied, idly tracing a hoof across the sand. "I keep expecting to snap out of this, and suddenly be back home."

At the mention of home Twilight let out a long sigh.

"Do you think they miss us, Blueblood? The ponies back home? Like Rainbow Dash, or Pinkie Pie, or Applejack, or... erm... any of your friends?"

"I'd imagine there are a few who miss you. Having the Princess of Friendship vanish in the middle of the night likely caused quite a stir. Celestia is probably ready to tear out her mane looking for you, and your friends from Ponyville and that little dragon of yours are probably worried sick."

"What about you? There's gotta be somepony who misses you, right?"

Blueblood was quiet for a moment, the sounds of workers driving stakes and the strained grunts of the tent raisers taking the place of his speech. After a long pause, the Prince shook his head.

"Perhaps there is, though I doubt it. After all, most of my contacts were purely business. Besides, like I said before, I've pissed off everypony in Canterlot at least once." He let out a dry sounding chuckle, swallowing hard. "I imagine many of them are glad to hear of my disappearance."

At this Blueblood rose to his hooves once more, calling in Sarabic to one of the nearby camels who was setting up a small fire pit. Twilight didn't get back up. Her hooves were sore, and her throat felt dry. She couldn't help be recall Blueblood's voice from just a few moments ago. Until now, he had mostly been in one of two moods; callously sarcastic and self confident, or snarky but serious. But just now she had seen an entirely different side of him. For the first time, Blueblood had seemed vulnerable. Not scared or shocked, she had seen both of those emotions before, but vulnerable. Perhaps even a bit hurt. She had started this adventure with the intention of becoming friends with Blueblood, and now her suspicions were confirmed.

Prince Blueblood had traveled all across the globe, and had only one friend to show for it.

That friend was Twilight Sparkle.

Of Books and Blades

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The trek across the desert seemed to be dragging on forever. Twilight knew it had only been three days, but it felt so much longer than that. The days were hot, with the sun beating down on her back like a molten hammer upon an anvil. The nights were cold, and the thin blanket she had been given barely did anything to stop the frigid night breezes from chilling her to the bone. Blueblood seemed to be faring a bit better than she had, or at the very least, he was better at hiding his discomfort from her. She did notice that he seemed to be talking a bit less, and that his hooves seemed to be fixing his mane a lot more often. Twilight really wished she knew where the caravan was traveling; it would have been so much easier for her to fly, or to have taken Blueblood's airship to find the Kitab Al-Azif rather than walking the entire way.

Compounding matters was the breakneck pace that the camels traveled at. They were up at the crack of dawn, sounding loud horns to wake all those in the camp for the day's march. They would break down and pack up the tents and supplies within an hour, leaving nothing behind. Once they began walking, they simply didn't stop, save for a small break at midday, when the sun was directly above. Other than that, they marched from sun up to sundown, with minimal food and water throughout the day. It was exhausting to say the least.

"Its only one more day to go." Blueblood mused as they crossed the crest of a sand dune. "We're nearly there. I can hardly believe it."

"I just can't wait for this to all be over." Twilight said with a shake of her head. "One day until we've found the book, and hopefully gotten the answers we've been looking for."

"If we end up finding proof, do you think we'll be allowed back into Canterlot?"

"Its hard to say. I mean, we'll have proved we're right, but that doesn't change the fact that you're a wanted criminal, and I committed high treason to get you out of prison..."

"Its beginning to dawn on me that even after this is done, we may never get to return home."

"Don't talk like that Blueblood." Twilight replied in a tone that was more exasperated than cheerful. "I'm the Princess of Friendship, and you're a Prince of Equestria and not to mention Celestia's nephew! She can't banish us forever!"

Blueblood was silent for a moment after that, before finally speaking up once more.

"Twilight, if you think Celestia can't replace her nephew, you're extremely deluded."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Twilight glared at him. It had been a while since he'd said anything truly insulting. Some snarking here and there, but deluded?

"The little stallion who drew up maps of Equestria and started training to speak High Griffonic didn't last long as her favorite." Blueblood said dryly. "All it took was some upstart filly to hatch a dragon egg, and Celestia forgot all about that one. Didn't matter that he was her relative. Didn't matter that he showed potential. Didn't matter that he wanted it more than anything. He'd go on to be Prince, and then everypony would forget his name."

Twilight paused. She wasn't sure what to say really. Luckily for her, Blueblood was all too quick to speak in her stead.

"I'm guessing she never told you." He said quietly. His voice for once had lost the spiteful and sarcastic bite that it usually had. Now he just sounded hurt. "It doesn't surprise me I suppose. Celestia doesn't speak much of those days. I'm still seen as a success, albeit a success that tends to whine frequently. But now she has a young Princess of Friendship under her wing, with no time for little Princes."

"You were one of Celestia's students?" Twilight said, almost in disbelief.

"Never made it that far. I caught her eye at a young age because of my propensity for charts and maps. They wanted a diplomat, and I seemed to fit the bill. But then some other filly caught her eye because of her magical talent, and I was passed off to various handlers to finish my schooling. Upon graduation, I was crowned Prince of Equestria, and took a new name. Prince Vladimir Blueblood the First."

"I... I had no idea." Twilight said softly. "Blueblood, I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to apologize for." Blueblood said bluntly. "Politics is a game, and I suppose you won in the end."

Twilight was quiet a moment, before blinking a few times and glancing over to the Prince with a slightly bewildered look. "You said you took a new name?"

"Blueblood isn't my real name." Blueblood swallowed hard, a sheepish grin appearing on his face to match the slightly red tint of his cheeks. "I took a more regal sounding name when I took the throne. Its a fairly common practice in Canterlot. I was surprised to hear that you kept your name."

"So... What's your real name?" Twilight prodded, a smirk starting to play on her lips.

"It's not important."

"Is it Prissy Pants?" She giggled softly, watching the Prince only grow more flustered at her words. "Bossy Boots? Persnickety Prince?"

"No, no, and no." Blueblood quickened his step slightly, as though he could simply trot away from the discussion.

Twilight's horn lit up, before she suddenly appeared directly in Blueblood's path with an audible pop.

"I can keep this up all day, Blueblood." She said with a smug grin. "You better just tell me."

"Or we can drop the topic and move on with our lives." The Prince replied coldly.

"Not likely. Celestia always said I was too persistent for my own good."

"There's always a chance to grow up."

"You're one to talk."


"So how about it?" Twilight fell into step with the Prince, her saddlebags jingling softly. A thought crossed her mind, and she decided to run with it. "After all, we're friends now, right?"

Blueblood let out an exasperated sigh, his hooves rubbing his temples.

"If it will finally shut you up, then I'll tell you." He said, giving Twilight a glare. "My name is-"

As Blueblood opened his mouth to speak, the deep bellowing of horns suddenly cut him off. He glanced back to see Husam sounding the alarm with long blasts of the shofar. His soldiers were already engaged with what appeared to be a pack of dogs, though even at this distance he could tell these were no wild curs. They stood upright, and fought not with tooth and claw, but with spear and dagger and sword. As the shofar sounded again, a wave of panic set in among the caravan camels. The camels began to form circles with their bodies, surrounding their precious cargo with a defensive perimeter.

Another sound reached Twilight's ear above the rumbling blast of the horn. It was a bizarre mix of howling and yipping, and when she turned to face the direction of the furious din, she could see a second wave of dogs descending upon them from the crest of a nearby dune. They reminded her of the Diamond Dogs that had held Rarity hostage years ago, albeit smaller and less stocky. These were lithe creatures, with slim builds and short, smooth fur that ran the spectrum from black to tawny.

"What are-" Twilight barely had time to think before Blueblood responded.

"Jackals." The Prince unsheathed the sword he had concealed in the folds of his thaub. It flashed in the midday sun as he gave it a flourish, his magic suspending it just ahead of his body.

"Get behind me!" Twilight ordered as her horn ignited with a soft shimmer. Blueblood looked at her incredulously, as if weighing some option in his mind. The Princess' gaze flicked between her and the approaching horde of slobbering savages, before Blueblood finally relented, taking a few steps back to position himself behind his ally.

Twilight took in a deep breath through the nostrils before she released it, along with a trail of red hot flames, from her mouth. In that moment she looked like one of the dragons of old, with fire spewing from her jaws and setting the sands before her ablaze. Yelps and whimpers could be heard above the crackling of the flame, and through the rising smoke she could already see dogs fleeing in terror. Twilight coughed a bit, a few smoke rings emerging from her mouth each time she did.

Before Twilight could pat herself on the back for such an impressive spell, one of the dogs suddenly leapt through the wall of fire and smog, bringing a bronze axe to bear on the Princess. Without time to dodge, Twilight projected a reddish shield of magic ahead of her, catching the blade and stopping it short. The impact of the weapon shook her however, and she could feel a sharp ache at the base of her horn. She staggered backward, her head reeling as her attacker pressed his advantage, bringing the axe down once more.

This time, the clang of metal on metal interrupted his blow, as a hovering rapier deflected the axe. Twilight stepped back to bump into Blueblood, who steadied her for a brief moment before he recalled the sword to his side. Undeterred, the jackal snarled and charged the pair, and Blueblood said a prayer that he hadn't forgotten his fencing lessons.

The axe swung again in a wide, sweeping arc, and Blueblood's blade met it once more. This time however, he followed up his parry with a swift riposte, his sword finding its mark in the belly of the Jackal. The dog howled in pain as the Prince withdrew the blade, before the dog fell lifeless upon the sand, a muffled death rattle exiting his throat.

By now Twilight's firewall had ceased to be an obstacle to the encroaching jackals, who now hurled themselves through it, rolling on the sand to douse the flames of their fur before resuming their assault. Twilight moved her hoof in a circle, leaving a trail of arcane runes in its wake as her horn lit up once more. She took aim at a small group of dogs, before she let loose a bolt of lightning that tore through them in a flash. Before she could ready another spell however, the horde was upon her. Twilight ducked under the arc of a scimitar, which sailed so close to her that she was sure it trimmed her mane.

"Hold that pose!" Came a sudden call from Blueblood, as his rapier shot just over Twilight's head, delivering a swift thrust through the Jackal's ribs. Before he had a chance to scream, Twilight fired off a burst of magical energy from her horn, which tore a clean hole directly through her attacker's chin and out the back of his skull. The jackal fell limp as Blueblood tore the sword from him, cleaning it with a flourish.

The Prince and Princess were soon forced into a whirlwind melee, as jackals began to assail them on all sides. They were side by side in the midst of a storm of snarling, howling curs, but they held their ground. With blade and hoof and spell they fought, pushing back against the onslaught as best they could. However, both could see that it was futile to fight on. They were trapped, and knew that their stamina could only last so long. That is unless...

"Do you trust me?" Twilight shouted over the din as she caught the tip of a spear against her shield of magic.

"I... what?" Blueblood's voice wavered as he locked swords with one of the Jackals, straining as his strength wavered.

"Do you trust me?"

Blueblood grunted, the glow on his horn beginning to flicker as he blocked an incoming dagger thrust. In a voice that Twilight was barely able to hear over the raging battle, his reply came.

"I trust you."

That was all the permission Twilight needed. She grabbed Blueblood, pulling him into a sudden, tight embrace. The Prince yelped slightly, before letting out a string of expletives from his lips.

It was only a split second later that a white flash surrounded them, as Twilight teleported the both of then straight up into the air. Blueblood flailed a bit, before grabbing hold of Twilight as she spread her wings. Although it was shaky, Twilight managed to keep both of them aloft. Twilight's wings were beating furiously and her horn was burning brightly as she wove another spell. She focused all her efforts on one point amid the dogs that had once surrounded her, and a small speck of light marked the spot. She unleashed a powerful concussive burst from that mote, sending the Jackals sprawling in all directions. The few of them who got up after that howled in pain and began to limp away, snarling and muttering curses in broken Sarabic.

From her vantage point, Twilight could see that Husam and his guards had already hacked their way through the Jackals on their end, and had now begun a furious countercharge that sent the remaining curs into a panicked retreat. She might have taken a moment to give herself a pat on the back for her part in turning the tide, had she not felt Blueblood's hooves clawing at her back.

"Twilight! I'm slipping!" He said frantically, as he tried to cling tighter to her as he dangled off of her neck. The shifting weight caused Twilight's wings to shudder a bit, and as she tried to adjust herself to get a grip on Blueblood, she sent herself into a tailspin. Her wings shook as she futilely attempted to right them, but to no avail. Both she and Blueblood spun wildly out of control, before crashing down onto the sand with a muffled thump. Twilight skidded to a stop, kicking up a small cloud of dust as she rolled. She lost her grip on Blueblood, who was sent careening off on his own collision course with a nearby sand dune. He rolled over and over, sand and grit flying in all directions before he landed flat on his back, choking for air.

Twilight shook her head, trying to clear the grit from her mane as she rose to her hooves. She spit out a small mouthful of sand, gagging a bit at the taste it left behind.

"Blueblood?" She called, quickly scanning the area for him. "Are you alright?"

"I hope you're happy!" The Prince shouted as he rubbed his eyes, trying to scrape the dust off of his eyelids. "You've ruined my mane!"

"You're fine." Twilight said as she appeared beside him in a flash of light. She extended a hoof to help him up, which he took gladly. Blueblood attempted to toss back his now frazzled mane, but to no avail. It stuck out wildly in all directions now, a far cry from the perfect coif it had been mere moments ago. "Other than your mane, you're fine, right?"

"Nothing broken at least." Blueblood said as he ran a hoof through his mane, cringing at the amount of sand that fell from it. "I suppose I'll just have to muddle through until we return to Sutaf."

"That's the spirit." Twilight smiled, looking a bit worse for wear herself. Her mane had been wrecked, having frizzed up into a sandy mess. Blueblood took a small bit of solace that she looked nearly as bad as he did. "Any idea why the caravan got attacked?"

"Because Jackals are savage, remorseless devils."

Twilight turned to see Husam standing just behind her, cleaning the bits of fur and blood from his scimitar before he sheathed it. As the sword returned to its sheath, Twilight noticed that a small gold band around the captain's left foreleg glowed for a brief moment, almost as if it had cast a spell.

"They seek out treasures and baubles to add to their hoards, and were probably looking to raid the caravan for something shiny." Husam said as he straightened himself out to his full height once again.

"Sort of like dragons?" Twilight replied.

"Sort of. Jackals don't necessarily need their hoards to be valuable. I've seen them loot forks, bones, teapots... Doesn't matter what. They'll collect most anything."

He paused for a moment, looking the prince and princess over before going on.

"I was impressed by how well you handled yourselves. The guard and I are in your debt."

"It was my pleasure to bear arms for Saddle Arabia, captain." Blueblood said, trying to maintain his regal air despite his appearance. "I assume your troops are..."

"All but one." Husam replied, glumly. "Let Shihab know that my soldiers and I would like time to bury our dead comrade. I'm sure he'll take more kindly to you then me."

"I'll let him know." Twilight gave the horse a nod, who gave a small bow in reply. The camels seemed to already be breaking out their tents for the night as she and Blueblood descended the crest of the dune, weaving their way through the maze of half set shelters to find Shihab. He had just finished pounding in the last stake to support his tent when the pair approached, and moved to stand in the shade as they drew near.

"I see you've both made it out alive." He said coolly. "I wanted to thank you both for your actions today. You acted quickly and decisively, and protected my caravan with your lives. For that, I cannot repay you enough."

"Oh it was nothing." Twilight smiled somewhat bashfully at the camel's words. "Are we setting up camp already? Husam wanted time for the guards to bury one of the soldiers who... erm..."

"Indeed." Shihab laid down on the cool sand with a sigh. "The captain and his horses will have all night to tend to the dead. This is as far as our expedition goes. The final leg of this journey is yours to make. In the morning, I will lead you personally to the resting place of Alhazred's book."

There was an eerie silence that blanketed the conversation at the mention of the Kitab Al-Azif.

"But tonight," Shihab went on. "Tonight is the end of a journey, and ought to be celebrated as such. Once camp is set up and our fire lit, I'll prepare a feast that would make the Sultan himself drool."

He chuckled softly, as both Blueblood and Twilight seemed to light up at the mention of food. After three days of hardtack, dates, and water, anypony would be salivating at the thought of a feast. Especially the sort that Blueblood had described. Both bid a quick farewell to Shihab, before scrambling off to set up their tent and help get a fire going. The sooner they did, the sooner they would have their reward after all.

The fire roared as the cauldron of rice set atop it bubbled and burbled like a babbling brook. Everything was just as Blueblood had described it. The pot had been stuffed with rice, wildflowers, dates, oats, and a whole medley of spices that produced a tantalizing cloud of scents that permeated the entire campground. The pot was pulled off of the flames and set atop a bed of coals, as everypony gathered around, sitting on the sand as they anxiously awaited the meal. Twilight rocked and bounced excitedly in her seat, feeling as giddy as Pinkie Pie on a sugar rush. This was the first time she'd truly been immersed in another culture after all. It felt alien and a bit strange to her, but that was part of the fun, wasn't it?

Blueblood seemed more reserved than his companion, though Twilight could still see how he licked his lips and craned his neck to get a look at the contents of the cauldron. Although he didn't outwardly show it, he was nearly as excited as she was. This was an experience he'd been through once before, yes, but the dreary upper crust lifestyle of Canterlot had numbed him, and the recent events with Carcosa had left him without much time for finery. A night of revelry and feasting was precisely what the doctor ordered to pick him up out of his doldrums.

Shihab took his place at the front of the small crowd of camels and their Canterlot guests, arrayed in all the finery he could muster. Long garlands of desert blossoms adorned his hump, and a colorful ring of woven silk rested around his neck. The entire camp hushed as he lifted a hoof, before he cleared his throat and began to speak in Sarabic.

Twilight listened idly to the speech, though it being in a foreign tongue made it difficult for her to understand. Occasionally something he said would elicit a whoop or a round of stomping applause from the camels, and Twilight followed their lead. He pointed to her and Blueblood at one point, and his words garnered another cry of elation from the caravaneers. Even if she didn't understand it, Twilight's cheeks flushed a bit at the compliment. Then suddenly, a word in the speech stood out to her, striking her ear like a crack of thunder on a silent night.

"Ni'allor Hastad".

A chill ran down her spine as her mind drifted back to the tapestry she had seen in Sutaf, with its ancient god and its strangely woven glyphs. Hastad, she had been told, was once a diety in Saddle Arabia. "Merely mythology", the Sultan had assured her as she stared into the blank eyes of that pallid mask. She leaned over to ask Blueblood to translate for her, but before she could open her mouth, Shihab's blessing had ended, and the entire crowd seemed to rush for the cauldron in an instant.

Not wanting to be left behind, Twilight leapt from her seat and pressed in amid the camels, managing to squeeze between them and reach the edge of the pot. She saw Blueblood standing on the opposite side, and her jaw nearly dropped at the sight. The crown prince of Canterlot, who had just hours ago complained about his ruined mane, was nearly up to his elbows in rice, fishing around in the mixture with his bare hooves. For the first time, he didn't seem concerned that he was making a mess, or that the edge of his thaub had dipped into the mixture, or even that the heat would surely ruin his manicure. He seemed content somehow, cheerfully chatting in Sarabic as he filled his hoof with rice. Twilight quickly followed suit, digging in with both hooves and pressing the rice into a firm ball as she gathered it. She put the full ball into her mouth, and let the flavor sink in. It was spicy, yet subtly sweet. It was soft, yet not without substance. Honey and flowers and peppers and Celestia knows what else all blended together into a flavor she could barely describe, yet couldn't get enough of. Twilight dug into the cauldron like a filly digging into a cookie jar. She ate and ate until she felt nearly full to bursting, laying back on the sand and looking up at the sky as she finished.

The stars twinkled overhead like droplets of dew in the morning light. A crescent moon provided just enough light to bathe the desert in a soft white, making it look like something out of a dream. The sound of sweet music caressed her ear as a few of the camels began to play on their instruments. The gentle notes of the lyre, the rhythmic beating of the tambourine, and the low rumbling of the shofar joined together into a tune that felt somehow beautiful yet lonesome at the same time. The music grew as more and more instruments were added to the makeshift symphony, and a contented smile spread across Twilight's face as she closed her eyes. She had needed this more than she knew.

Before she could drift off however, something tapped her hoof. She opened one eye to see Blueblood standing over her, holding out a hoof to her.

"May I have this dance?"

"I..." Twilight's mouth contorted into a grimace. "You've never seen me dance, have you?"

"You call yourself a Princess, and you can't even perform a Canterlot waltz? You've got some nerve..." Blueblood said with a smirk.

"I was a little busy with the whole 'saving Equestria' thing to learn to dance." Twilight replied, folding her hooves. Despite her clear protest, the Prince grabbed her by the foreleg, pulling her to her feet.

"Its never too late to learn, now is it?" Blueblood said as he and Twilight got into the proper position. "Now, start with the right hoof, and just follow my lead. Ready?"

Twilight nodded, mentally preparing herself. This would be a piece of cake. As Blueblood started to take a step back, she took one forward... and stepped right onto his hoof.

Blueblood yelped slightly, hissing a bit as he bit his tongue. Twilight's cheeks flushed almost instantly.

"I'm so sorry!" She stammered out. "Are you okay?"

"Its fine, it's fine." Blueblood said, taking a deep breath in. "Let's try again. Remember, right hoof first, follow my lead."

"Got it." Twilight confidently took her position once more, and looked down at her hooves. As Blueblood stepped back, she stepped forward, and this time she missed his hoof! Already a step in the right direction. She took another step, then another, and then-

"Twilight, look up. Not at your- OW!"

As Twilight took her eyes off her hooves to reply, her hoof collided with Blueblood's shin, causing him to nearly topple over in pain.

"Are you alright?" She asked sheepishly, her ears drooping with embarrassment.

"Its... it's fine." The Prince rubbed his shin for a moment, before looking back up to Twilight. "Let's try once more."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

The two ponies prepared to dance once more, with Blueblood taking his first step back a bit hesitantly, as Twilight's hoof landed only a hair's width away from his own.

"Sorry..." Twilight looked down at her hooves again. "I've just got two left hooves."

"Twilight. You need to let me lead." Blueblood's voice was quiet. "Please. Just this once, follow me."

There was a long pause, before Twilight lifted her head once more.

"Alright. Just this once."

"Close your eyes. Just try to feel the rhythm of the song."

Twilight did as he asked, closing her eyes and opening her ears. Slowly she began to feel the tempo in her head, and it worked it's way through her body and down to her hooves. This time however, she waited for her partner to make a move. Blueblood stepped back, and when he did, Twilight moved with him. Her hooves followed his, shakily at first, but as she slowly lost herself in the rhythm, Twilight's nerves seemed to dissipate.

"We're going to try something a little more complicated now." Blueblood said as he quickened his pace ever so slightly. "Just keep on doing what you're doing."

Twilight's eyes fluttered open.

"Just how complex are we tal-" Before she could finish, she was thrown into a sudden twirl, the world around her spinning wildly before she came to a sudden stop. Before she could even take a breath, Blueblood gave her hoof a tug, and she came right back around, spun right back into step as she and the Prince continued their waltz.

Even though her head was still in a loop and she felt dizzy, Twilight was able to keep up with Blueblood now. So long as she followed his lead, she could dance as fine as any mare back in Canterlot.

"See," Blueblood smiled as they swayed, bathed in the blazing light of the fire and the soft glow of the moon above. "you can dance just fine. All it took was the right partner."

"Thanks." Twilight replied, as the troubles that had lead her to this point in time were momentarily forgotten. "Its nice to see you so... relaxed. I never would have expected this from the Blueblood I met back in Canterlot."

They both fell silent as the music began to fade. There they stood, hooves clasped for just the briefest of moments.

"Its Rose." Blueblood said in a voice barely above a whisper.

"What?" Twilight blinked a few times in confusion.

"My name... well, my old name. Cardinal Rose." The Prince sighed softly. "Now you know."

For just one night, Twilight was able to put from her mind all the thoughts of Kings and Signs and Carcosa. She knew it was a fleeting moment, a pinprick of normalcy amid an all consuming sea of madness, but it was a moment she could savor nonetheless. When the world has fallen into chaos, sometimes it's the little things that can help one maintain sanity, and Twilight needed all the sanity she could muster.

The revelry soon died down, as the camels retired to their tents, their energy spent and their bellies filled. Twilight Sparkle and Cardinal Rose soon lay on the sand, staring up at the sky above. For one night, all the world was as it should be.

It was so calm and so peaceful that they both ignored the beating of drums and strange chants from the encamped guards in the distance as they buried their fallen comrade. Rose's ear caught some of what they said, but he put it from his mind nearly as quickly as it came.

After all, whatever it was they were chanting, it wasn't Equestrian or Sarabic. It sounded vaguely familiar to the Prince, but he wasn't about to dwell upon it. Yet despite his efforts, one fragment of their litany stuck in his mind like a cancerous sore.