Luna listens to ponies stories in the tavern she runs.
The inn of the World is a place where storytellers can relax, enjoy food and drinks and exhange stories. Its mysterious barkeep listens intently to tales of things that go bump in the night and the horrors that lurk in the heart of every pony.
All stories written by members of "The Writer's Group".
I have been alive for well over a thousand years, listening to ponies stories. It is not merely a hobby of mine, I am the mistress of the night after all, and responsible for both dreams and nightmares. I have noticed how every generation has their “do's” and “don'ts”, things held up as unbreakable rules that are quickly forgotten whenever a skilled enough storyteller comes along that remembers the first rule of storytelling, namely that there are no rules.
For example, you modern weavers of yarn tell me that you should never ever begin a story with "it was a dark and stormy night" but for the life of me, I can't understand why. After all, some stories could only ever happen on dark stormy nights and this is one of them.
So yes, it was indeed a dark and stormy night, one of Cloudsdale's finest. Did you know that the weather team don't just create those to get rid off leftover water or because they want to annoy earth ponies? Truth is, they create them to facilitate nights like this. Because as much as ponies hate to admit it, life is like any great work of art: an interplay between light and dark.
Happiness would mean nothing without sorrow and bright sunny days would be nothing if we didn't also have dark stormy nights. If you don't occasionally feel like the rain had crawled trough your skin and trough your bones, making your entire body feel like that of a damp sponge, how would you ever appreciate being warm and dry?
Don't misunderstand me, my children, I wish for nopony to be lost and alone on a night like this and that's why if you find yourself outside in the pouring rain where no other place to go, you just might end up here, at the Inn of the World. This is a place for ponies to relax, warm their hooves by a roaring fire, eat and drink merrily and exchange stories.
I could sense a potential customer outside, and I looked around the room. The scene was all set, the inn was warm and inviting, as it should be, but empty apart from a few silent ponies. There was a traveller at the far end of the table, locked in a struggle with a piece of extraordinary chewy taffy, another who seemed lost in an old book and yet another who was in the process of losing himself in a bottle of hard cider. Won't be long now until.
The door swung open and a small colt entered. The way he looked around, he must've thought that the place was empty at first. I was covered by a spidery black cloak that could blend in with any shadows as long as I stood still and my other guests kept mostly quiet apart from the never-ending smacking from the taffy-eating pony.
“He-hello” he asked. “Is anypony there?”
I remained quiet and waited patiently as he staggered across the room. Once he was close to the bar disk, I decided to reveal myself.
“Hello, my child,” I said and noticed with satisfaction how a tingle ran down his spin, paralysing his entire body. “Welcome to the inn of the world, how may I serve you?”
“I-I'm sorry” he said, having relaxed a bit ,but still nervous. “I don't have any bits on me, but could I stay here for the night anyway? Or at least until the rain stops, please?” He looked at me with pleading eyes, but I just smiled at him.
“Oh, I don't take payment in bits, I prefer them in stories. You can stay however long you want, young sir, and enjoy our food and drink as you please, if you can spin me a tale.” The colt shot me a sceptical look.
“What sort of story?” he asked.
“I prefer horror stories, tales about the dark things that lurks in the night, do you have one of those for me?” The colt glanced over to my other customers and then looked back at me.
“I have a story,” he said. “but just for you, all right?”
He leaned over and spoke in a low voice, but I didn't need to hear it, I could pick up his thoughts like a faint whisper underneath.
So dark. So very Dark. We put our head under the covers so we could be safe. Still not helping. The Moon was absent tonight. A new moon is what they called it. We just felt like it was wrong. The moon was the same, not new. The whole idea was rather silly...
Consciousness slipped for a moment. We pulled ourselves back, just long enough to think. Think about what to dream about. Dragons. That's what little colts like, right? We felt like we should have known that. We had been feeling odd lately. Sometimes we couldn't remember what we liked. Mother offered iced cream for dessert tonight, but we had to stop and remember how it tasted. Thoughts are drifting, we should go to sleep. Can't think properly right now.
The morning light was welcome. At the same time it stabbed at our eyes. How could something so comforting, be so cruel? We stretched our wings. Maybe we could practice flying again today. We had been getting the hang of it, but it was still tiring. Our wings weren't ready yet.
Pancakes downstairs, we could smell them. We weren't hungry. We opened a window and crawled outside. We were ready to go to school. Climbing to the ground was a struggle. It was hard to grab things with our hooves. Or at least harder than usual. We still felt groggy. We had felt groggy for he past few days. Maybe we needed more sleep?
That was a brilliant idea. We decided to skip school, (we didn't really feel like going anyways.) and take a nap out near the woods. There was plenty of shade there. We could sleep all day. That's what we'd do.
Walking through Ponyville we recieved some concerned looks, like something was wrong, but there clearly wasn't. We were just a little, sleepy colt. Nothing abnormal. The townsfolk were almost staring, but we were almost to the forest. We heard some whispers from the ponies behind us, but we dismissed it. They weren't speaking in tongues a little colt could understand. Yet we could understand. The little colt that was us kept screaming, and it was getting annoying. Maybe we should just let it go? No. Sustenance.
We curled up on the edge of the forest underneath a tall tree. The sounds of the forest ad been lovely from afar, but getting closer made them all the more sweet. The twittering of Nightingales. Lovely. We did enjoy the song of the Nightingale, luring in lost souls and swallowing them up, chortling with sick laughter once they caught one. We closed our eyes and began to doze off. We didn't even have time to think about dreaming.
In his head there was a gate. I didn't know where it lead. It was very dark. I could see eyes about the entrance of the gate. I didn't want to enter it, I was frightened. My body had other ideas. I walked through the gate, my mind screaming no, but my legs responding with a simple yes.
Walking through the gate, it got darker. I wondered if I was in some kind of tunnel, but I couldn't be sure. The gullet of this tunnel had swallowed me up. I couldn't see behind me or in front of me. I felt the ground leave my hooves and I fell. I fell for what seemed like an hour. I touched the ground lightly, and after blinking once, I could see the trapezoidal walls of a city.
I stood at the brink of an ocean and this polygonal city of stone. The pointed edges reaching out over the water discouraged a leap into the foam, since I could now see the stone spikes of a collapsed section, sunk into the water. Looking into the entrance, there seemed to be a similar gate, but not dark. I entered the city out of curiosity. The hewn rock led me through the streets. I noticed quickly there were no real buildings, but just sharp walls jutting out in seemingly random directions. Somehow I knew where to go though. I walked through this seemingly impossible, maddening, and impassible maze. I got lost at some point, I was pretty sure that the walls were moving on their own.
I eventually headed through a path that sent me to a large open courtyard. He was looking for an answer. In the courtyard, there was writing on the walls that I couldn't quite read. The words floated off the walls and glowed to my eyes, shifting and swirling. I had to look away for a moment, though I didn't know why.
I followed the angle of the walls toward a large stone seat. This throne seated something I couldn't possibly understand or put into words. He asked the question The thing stared into my eyes, and in a few instances I could feel the very core of my thought give out. On command, I turned my head and read the wall. We knew how to be consumed. The solution to our dilemma of eternal life. The colt still didn't get it, but he knew his mind was slipping.
We awoke. Our full design was ready. The perfect way to be consumed by the cosmic mass. The dark void. The all. The Moon Ladder was the solution.
We awoke at night. We could see The Moon Ladder. We grinned at our success, giddy to end. The glint of light across the forest leaves showed it to us, and by simply touching it, it was solid.
The Moon Ladder almost finished the colt's descent into madness, but we couldn't allow him to corrupt yet, not without seeing the glory of the end.
The Moon Ladder facilitated our ascent. We felt the emptiness of space pulling us to float the rest of the way up. We obliged. The ladder vanished before our eyes, and suddenly there was everything.
The eye of the moon looked at our small colt body. I separated from the colt, allowing him to die painfully, drifting into the void where his soul would be lost. The moon gazed at my true form and knew what we wanted. The sun erupted with light, revealing the black curtain that hid the master. The curtain drew back, and I saw destiny. The maw of him was wonderful. I felt happiness once he closed upon me.
Closing his mouth, I saw further. I witnessed creation and destruction in the blink of an eye. The gift bestowed by him, taken away in the end. His hand fell on my body, forcing out my soul of sustenance. I wanted to feed him, placate him. His voice made no noise, but I knew, he would destroy me, but the universe still would not be spared. I was consumed
The stars took my existence, and the Moon Ladder brought me to absolution.
After the colt finished his story, I sent him upstairs to find a room. I did tell him about the house ghost in room 47, as much as I adore a good scare, the poor dear looked like he needed a good nights sleep.
“This reminds me,” I said with a louder voice than strictly necessary, startling what few guests I had. “Some of you have yet to pay for your stay. I am waiting.” The taffy-eating pony abandoned his table and came trotting over to the bar witg a confident look in his eyes.
“Do you have a story for me, Red Velvet?” I asked him.
“Oh, do I ever!” he replied. I got a story that will turn you inside out with fear. But I gotta ask, what sort of business plan is this? How can you expect to earn money for rent or supplies when you don't charge for anything?”
T”he rent is not a problem, and I make my living on... other endeavours. This is merely a side-project so to speak.”
“Ookay... Anyway, you wanna know why I am on the run and have to spend my night in places like this... no offense, this is a lovely inn.”
“Good. Well, it all has to do with this document,” from his saddlebag, he produced a parchment and I had to confess that my eyes grew slightly larger as I was reading it. It was typewritten and very official-looking, but the seal was not one that I recognied. And I, if anpony, should know these things.
Depicted: Entrance to SCP-1753‘s habitat. Red coloration of steps determined to be rust, traces of blood are also present. SCP-1753 can be seen just underneath the steps. Photograph provided by [REDACTED].
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-1753 is to be kept under surveillance at all times. One teams of two is to be stationed at a point exactly 20 feet in distance to the subject. Each team must be provided with: 1xBinoculars, 2xFlashlights with backup batteries, 2xPadded suits in case of escape, and 5xTranquilizers. Any request to swap teams will be denied. Teams are to cycle out every 6 hours. In case of escape, do not apprehend SCP-1753. The subject will not leave if light is provided to it’s eyes directly. If contact is made with SCP-1753, apply tranquilizers until movement ceases. In no situation should SCP-1753 be introduced to any environment other than it’s own. Upon subduction, SCP-1753 is to be returned to it’s hole.
Description: SCP-1753 seems to be equine in appearance. Coat color is cream, mane and tail both are a dark brown. Visuals of said subject suggest the presence of a skin rotting parasite, likely born from the dirtied water in which it resides. Known behavioral properties include ritual cannibalism, application of blood to own skin and mane, and self mutilation. No records of origin or family, appears to be the only of it’s kind. Language skills are undetermined, few interactions have been recorded. Over all mental capacity is speculated to be deficient.
SCP-1753‘s first recorded appearance was in Stalliongrad. It has since been determined that SCP-1753 was behind the mass disappearance of civilians, often found later as skeletons outside of the city. Victims were all contained to suburbs on the west side of the city, the same direction in which [REDACTED] can be found. This is the only known location of SCP-1753.
Research has concluded that the bloodied water in which SCP-1753 lives retains a highly acidic property. Upon further research, this liquid has shown detrimental effects towards conventional equine coat and skin. This data would suggest that the subject has adapted, or is of a different species.
Nothing is known yet of further contents of [REDACTED]. All attempts to investigate have resulted in failure due to hazardous conditions. No other entrances have been found, but they are speculated to exist.
ADDENDUM 1753-01: An escape attempt by SCP-1753 was successfully prevented on [DATE REMOVED]. There was only one casualty due to exposure to parasitic bacteria. Research has shown that this parasite feeds on organic material, and if introduced to the blood stream can become fatal within 24 hours. No evidence shows how SCP-1753 is able to survive with this parasite, but it is to be understood that it has become something of a host to the bacteria.
ADDENDUM 1753-02: Detailed study of photographs involving subject SCP-1753 suggests that it is completely blind. This explains the violent reactions to light. Extensive radar and audio wave research has shown us that SCP-1753 navigates through a series of tongue clicks, producing an echo-location effect.
ADDENDUM 1753-03: The wind in the area has uncovered a few bones under the snow, which have been identified as belonging to victims of the related massacre. Tribal markings on the bones suggest that SCP-1753 is intelligent enough to recognize idols. SCP-1753 is from this point forward to be regarded as mentally capable, and potentially under religious influence.
ADDENDUM 1753-04: SCP-1753 has escaped under surveillance of team #1753-12a. Questioning is to commence after treatment is administered to sustained wounds. Last known direction of subject is South. Parties have been sent in search, and further containment measures are being prepared at base. Any information on SCP-1753 is to be reported directly to your supervisor. Sightings are to be reported and monitored. Do not apprehend SCP-1753 without backup and proper safety.
“Where did you get this?” I demanded to know while failing to hide the alarm in my voice, but Red just grinned at me.
“That would be TWO stories, not one, would it not? Perhaps I'll tell it to you some other time.” I decided to leave it be, but made a mental note to ask Celestia about this next time I talked to her. He went back to his table to struggle with yet another piece of taffy. I just got those on a whim, I didn't think anyone would actually be interested in them.
“Excuse me,” a voice said right next to me and now it was my turn to be startled.
“Dear me!” I exclaimed as I turned towardsa blue earth pony I swear wasn't there before. “I didn't notice you.”
“Hardly anypony does,” he replied, and I had to lean over just to hear his voice. “Anyway, I do have a story for you if you want one.”
Many things are always happening in Ponyville. Sometimes it is destroyed in random monster attacks and other times less destructive creatures disrupt the quite of the town. Still, crime is relatively low. There are not many criminal activities that take place there and even then, it usually doesn’t go beyond petty theft. Except that one time.
Fluttershy, the quite pegasus who lives in the cottage at the edge of town, was the first one to take notice of the incident. It seemed innocent enough at the time. You see, Fluttershy is known for her caring of woodland creatures and the like, and that day was no different. She was caring for the animals that gathered at her house every morning when she noticed an unfamiliar squirrel hobbling out of the Everfree Forest. It was hobbling because it was missing its right front paw.
Fluttershy occasionally saw creatures like this, animals that had happened to lose a limb as an infant through some accident or another, but the sight still set her heart into full caregiver mode and she took the squirrel immediately into her home to nurse it.
This was the norm for the rare occasions when she came across an animal such as this but this time it was a little different. Through her keen observation and knowledge of nursing, she realized that the squirrel’s paw had been lost recently. It had only just scabbed over and seemed infected slightly as if it had happened within the last two weeks. This was uncommon among adult squirrels or any other animal she knew for that matter.
Before she could examine the stump limb further, her pet bunny Angel came running inside and, after jostling her attention away from the squirrel, pointed her outside the door. When Fluttershy came to see what he was fussing about, she nearly screamed. Angel and a few other animals had brought another slightly larger bunny with them. This bunny was missing its left front paw, but this time there was blood. It may have happened just that morning.
“How could this happen?” she thought. It wasn’t the last one. Over the course of the day, several other critters came to her home with a family member or friend that had a single missing front paw. A beaver from the marshlands, a chipmunk from the Whitetail Woods, and also a small mouse that had apparently been missing its front right paw for more than a month. This was not some random accident, this was serious.
After nursing the animals the best she knew how, she raced into town to the library to find her friend, Twilight Sparkle. If anypony could figure out was going on, it was her. Twilight is a unicorn from Canterlot who may very well be the smartest pony in Ponyville as well as the most magical. When she heard about the incident, she was stunned, partly because of the details and partially because she had never heard Fluttershy speak so much.
“Calm down,” she told her frantic friend. “I’m sure there is a logical explanation for this.” Twilight always attempted to take things calmly, even if that often didn’t end up being the case. However, Twilight was in the middle of drafting a speech she would be presenting as a guest speaker at the elementary school the following morning, and she and her assistant Spike would be busy for the remainder of the day.
Since Spike had claws instead of hooves, being a baby dragon and all, he could write with a pen just a little more adeptly than even Twilight could with her magic. She assured Fluttershy that everything would be all right and said she would come over first thing in the morning.
It wasn’t the most comforting thing but Fluttershy had faith in her friend and returned to her cottage. Though she tried to go to sleep in the evening, the thoughts of the poor animals danced in her mind, and she tossed and turned in bed. That’s when it happened.
Fluttershy bolted upright when she heard a loud squawking noise outside. “The chicken coop!” Fluttershy turned on her light and looked out her window just in time to see a shadow dash into the bushes. Gathering her courage, Fluttershy ventured out to her coop and peered inside. What she saw horrified her. One of her chickens was missing a foot. A small trail of blood let out into the general direction of the shadow. Someone or something was doing this heartless act deliberately.
Flying faster than she ever had before, Fluttershy returned to the library where Twilight was still awake doing late night studying. She hadn’t forgotten about the incidents, but had figured Fluttershy would be asleep by then. It took less than a minute for Fluttershy to convince Twilight to come to her cottage right away.
By the bright light of her own magic, Twilight inspected the animals with missing limbs as well as the newest victim and the small trail of blood. She stood still for several minutes and Fluttershy almost thought she had fallen asleep. However, Twilight was trying to figure out a riddle. Something didn’t add up.
“I don’t get it,” she finally said. “Why the chicken?” She paced back and forth while she thought further. “It’s the only thing in this case that doesn’t match.”
“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked her. “Because all the other victims are mammals?”
“There is that, but it’s not what I mean. I’m talking about their paws. In each of these cases, the animal is missing a front paw. If this was the same perpetrator then it would have taken the end of the chicken’s wing, not its foot. Unless the culprit is changing tactics, what’s the significance of the chicken’s foot versus an animal’s front paw?”
Though she mulled it over for several minutes longer, Twilight couldn’t come up with any logical explanation. The perpetrator seemed to be taking limbs at random. But why would he or she do that?
Considering that the suspect might return to the scene of the crime, Twilight opted to spend the night to watch over the other animals. Unfortunately, the culprit did not return and the night was uneventful, though Twilight did manage to get some sleep. She had a schedule to keep and was to be a guest speaker at the elementary school, for which she was now ill prepared since she hadn’t had time to memorize her speech.
Though the case was important, she didn’t have any new leads and left for the school, though with Fluttershy in tow. The quiet pegasus was uncharacteristically talkative on the way, trying to convince Twilight to think about the case more. To her credit, Twilight was thinking about it, but wasn’t getting any closer than she already had. Fluttershy was being assertive though and it made it difficult for the lavender unicorn to concentrate. She very nearly lost her patience when they arrived at the school where both of them went silent.
School had not yet started and some of the children were playing outside. What caught their eyes was a little filly playing by herself with a stuffed bear. The stuffed animal was missing its right front paw.
“Excuse me, but what happened to your bear?” Twilight asked politely.
The young filly quietly replied. “I don’t know. I found her like this about two months ago.”
Twilight’s mind whizzed. “Fluttershy, how old is the oldest incident you know of?”
“I guess the mouse, about a month ago. Why?”
The cogs in Twilight’s mind were turning fast. Part of the mystery was suddenly making sense, if such a thing could be said to have any sense at all.
Twilight addressed the filly again. “Tell Cheerilee that I’m going to be a bit late this morning.” Then she walked away. Fluttershy followed her quickly. “What’s going on?”
“I think I might know who did it.”
The two ponies walked through town until they came to a specific house. Twilight knocked and waited, but there was no answer. Nopony seemed to be home. Using her magic, Twilight unlocked the door and went inside.
Twilight hadn’t said who she thought the culprit was and Fluttershy didn’t know whose house they had just entered but was too nervous about being caught to ask.
“What are we doing here?”
“Looking for the missing paws. We know from last night that the culprit didn’t just sever the chicken’s foot, but took it. Why would anyone do that unless they wanted to keep it?”
The two of them searched the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom and several other rooms, but didn’t turn up any sign that the missing paws were there.
“Are you sure the culprit is keeping them? The paws would smell by now wouldn’t they?”
“True. Unless they were kept in a something sealed but…” In that moment, Twilight realized there was one place she hadn’t looked that fit such a description. She went into the kitchen and saw it. The refrigerator. She cautiously opened it and peered inside. Both ponies gasped. Twilight had been right about the missing paws. There were dozens of them, ranging from very small to the size of a beaver. The chicken’s foot was in there and so were several dolls’ hands. Twilight’s mind suddenly started to grind again.
“This is horrible,” Fluttershy said. Who did this?”
Twilight screamed, “Spike!”
“Spike? He’s the culprit?”
“No, but I just realized he’s a potential target. And I’m not supposed to be home today!”
Forgetting that she could teleport, Twilight galloped back to her library, knowing that the culprit could be there right then. Fluttershy followed close behind, afraid for Spike just as much as Twilight. When the library was in sight, they saw that the door was slightly ajar. Twilight burst inside and stopped.
Spike was on the ground sleeping, possibly through the aid of magic. He was spread-eagle with his arm outstretched under the hoof of a pony. The pony was holding an object with magic. Fluttershy and Twilight stared into her eyes and she stared back unable to move. Finally, Twilight said, “Lyra, put the knife down!”
Lyra Heartstrings stared for a moment before she slowly lowered the knife and dropped it on the ground. Lyra was a unicorn known for strange but normally harmless obsessions. One of those obsessions was with hands. Twilight had realized that the perpetrator was not severing the animals’ limbs because they were paws, but because they were the closest thing to hands.
The recent victim, the chicken and its foot, functioned similarly to a hand, which is why she had tried to take that instead of the wing. Lyra had worked her way up from a harmless doll to progressively larger living creatures until she finally reached the logical standpoint. A baby dragon who possessed hands.
Knowing that she was caught, Lyra gave up without a struggle. There was no apologizing that would fix the reputation she had just betrayed and she accepted it with a heavy heart. When the police arrived to take her away, she was heard whispering one thing. “I just wanted hands of my own.”
I swear, after the pony told me his story, it was like he disappeared into thin air again, it was uncanny. I did see him again after that, of course. He wasn't a ghost, if that was what you where thinking, there are enough of those around here. No, he was just kind of quiet and after a while, you stopped noticing him, a bit like my cloak, actually.
The room was getting a bit chilly and I was about to go and re-ignite the fire when the drunk at the end of the bar looked over towards me and began to speak.
“Don't tell me you're closhing already, I have barely had time to get round under my hoovesh.” The pony, who had introduced himself before as “my name is Maplewood, madam”, looked more than a little “round under his hoovesh” already, but I humoured him.
“Oh no, we're open all night,” I reassured him and when I was sure that nopony was looking, I used my magic to pull some more wood onto the embers and help push the fire along. “But you haven't paid me yet,” I reminded him.
“Oh yesh, you wan't a story?” Give me a glash of water and let me sober up.”
I complied with his request and he studied my mysterious eyes for a moment before he began drinking it. He must have suspected I was up to something, I do not have the world's best poker face, but he went along with it anyway. Before serving him the water, I enchanted it slightly, turning it into a really effective hangover cure. He was back to his senses in no time, tough I suspected that later this evening, he'd go back to drowning his sorrows with yet another bottle of liqour on the house.
I just wanted a little extra money, that’s all. I didn’t even want to be rich. I just wanted to be able to fix up the house. Maybe take a vacation to Las Pegasus.
I wanted to stop living day to day, and job to job.
That why, when I got an opportunity, I took it.
See, one day, Ironwood — that’s my brother — came by for a visit. He worked for the railroad, so he’d been all over Equestria. He always had some stories to tell. He was quiet this time, though.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him like that. A few years earlier, he’d lost a friend to a cave in. I figured that it’d happened again. I thought that, after a few beers, he’d tell me who it was, then we’d spend the night drinking in that stallion’s honour while I heard about all the good times.
Instead, two beers in, he looks over at me and asks, “do you know about Zap Apples?”
“Yeah,” I say.
Who hasn’t? The Riches are famous for it. A jar of the jam goes for, what, two hundred bits in Manehattan?
“Ever thought about selling ‘em?”
About right there I started wondering if he’d been drinking before he came over. Zap Apples only come from one place in all of Equestria. One farm, and apparently the seeds from that farm won’t grow new trees.
Sure, there are ponies who try and sell knockoffs of the jam, but they’re found out pretty quickly and the Riches are known for making sure nopony will ever buy from them again.
I told him that and that, I’m sorry, but I needed a good name to make a living.
He just laughed.
So he tells me that he had to do some work in Ponyville a few months back. Some eldritch horror broke the tracks again — hey, it’s Ponyville — and after he was done, he went to a bar to relax. The way he told it, there was this big stallion there who said he worked at Sweet Apple Acres. A few drinks later and this Macintosh guy starts talking about how Zap Apple season’s coming. He told Ironwood everything, and I mean everything, right down to the day and where his grandmother found the first seeds.
So Iron said that if we got our own seeds, we could grow some Zap Apples on our father’s land. We’d have to make sure we pick them all the day they get ripe, but we wouldn’t have to do anything else to take care of them. We couldn’t sell Sweet Zap Apple Jam, of course, but there are a lot of ponies who would pay good bits for a Zap Apple.
One day of hard work a year and we could sell the apples for five bits apiece. Even split in two, it’s not a fortune, but it’s a nice pile of bits for ponies like us.
Better yet, Ironwood said, if anypony asks, we just tell them the truth. All of it; right down to the stallion at the bar. It was that Macintosh’s job to keep the secret, not ours. There’s no law that says we can’t take advantage of an opportunity. Like I said, I took it.
Now, we weren’t stupid ponies. Getting the seeds meant going into the Everfree. We did some reading and bought some cat toys, a mirror and a lot of other stuff the books said. It took both of our savings to do it, but we got everything we needed and got ourselves on a train to Ponyville. We were just in time, too. That night we heard the Timberwolves howling.
That’s the first sign of the Zap Apples.
The next day, just like that Macintosh had told Iron, a giant bolt of lightning shot into the sky out of the Everfree and came back down to Earth in a hundred bolts, all at once. We didn’t see it happen, but we saw Sweet Apple Acres the day before and now there was a whole orchard of trees in one of the empty fields. Yeah, they were bare, but we knew the story was true.
Next day, another bolt of lightning came from the Everfree, split, and hit all the trees at once. We actually snuck out to see it. One bolt and then, zap, every tree was covered in leaves.
The next day it happened again, and the trees were covered in grey apples.
Me and Ironwood, we decided we were going to sleep in the afternoon and go to the Everfree after midnight. We wanted to make sure we found the Zap Apple trees before the lightning hit the next day. That’s when the Zap Apples would be ripe, but if you don’t pick them that day, the whole tree vanishes. We only had one chance and we weren’t going to waste it. The problem was that were too excited. Both of us just tossed and turned until it was time to go.
We snuck in through Sweet Apple Acres. From what we saw, there were only a few ponies on the farm and, that night, nopony came out to stop us. It only took us a few minutes to reach the Forest.
The Everfree wasn’t what I thought it would be, not at first. I thought a pony couldn’t go two steps without seeing a cockatrice, but the place was quiet. There weren’t even any creepy crickets chirping or frogs croaking. Iron and me, we just looked at each other and laughed.
There we were, two grown stallions with our saddlebags full of gear to fight off monsters. We were acting like little colts and we knew it; or at least we thought we did.
Now, maybe it was just us being tired, or maybe it was because we didn’t go into the woods that much. Either way, neither of us remembered that forests are never really quiet. Not unless there’s something big and mean in there with you.
We went looking for the Zap Apples. We just walked through the forest, laughing and joking like we were on our way to a picnic.
I never saw the Wolf that got me. One minute I’m telling the one about the three-legged griffin, and the next the world went sideways and my head cracked against a tree. I don’t remember falling, but I was on the ground. My head and my shoulder felt wet. I didn’t know it then, but I was bleeding badly.
I saw Ironwood running toward me, and I saw the Timberwolves behind him. I tried to warn him, I really did, but there just wasn’t any air in me.
I’ll never forget the way he screamed when they hamstrung him.
If there were any mercy in Equestria, they would have killed us right then.
One of them bit into my flank, but it didn’t tear. It rocked its head back and forth to work its teeth down to the bone. I was screaming and bucking to get away. Another Wolf bit my leg to keep me still. They didn’t care. To them, we were just meat.
I was still kicking when they started dragging us away. I pawed at the ground to pull away, but it didn’t do anything. They took turns, one dragging us backward across the forest floor until it was tired, and then another would take its place and sink its teeth into me.
I don’t know when I gave up. Between the Timberwolves and the cuts and scrapes I got from the rocks and roots, I just gave up and hoped it would end. I didn’t even think about Iron until I heard him sobbing.
We were pulled into a clearing as the sun was coming up. I guess it’s irony that the clearing was surrounded by Zap Apple trees. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. The Wolves pulled us to the center of the clearing where an old, gnarled monster of a tree stood. They dropped us there, in front of it, and backed away.
The tree was huge and thick, but skeletal without a single leaf on it.
When the first rays of the sun hit it, the tree began to writhe. Its branches shook and rattled against one another. Its gnarled trunk twisted and cracked, the tangled bands of bark splitting apart into a hideous, sideways maw.
Out of that mouth, a root fell out onto the ground between my brother and me. It twisted around blindly, searching. I pushed myself away. My brother, his hind legs ruined, flopped like a fish. The root found him, wrapped itself around his body.
Ironwood screamed. He reached for me, but I didn’t reach back. I just watched as the tree drew him back, pulled him into that mouth. He was still screaming when the mouth closed. I heard bones give and crack, then a roiling crunch as the rest of him collapsed. Only then was he quiet.
The monster tree shuddered and shook, creaking against its own weight. Its upper branches parted and a lightning bolt shot up out of its trunk into the sky. I could taste the ozone when the bolt came back to Earth. Lightning lit up the clearing. All around me, the dark Zap Apples exploded into colour.
I expected the tree to open again, this time for me. It didn’t. It just quivered one last time and went still. Around me, the Timberwolves shrank back into the forest.
I was nothing to them now. They’d only needed one more.
Alone and bleeding, I finally passed out.
I don’t remember much about the trip back. I only know that I didn’t make it all the way. I was found by a zebra who lives in the Everfree, and she carried me to a hospital. I wouldn’t be alive now without her. Sometimes, I actually wish she hadn’t found me.
When I was healed, I left that town and I’ll never go back to the horrible place. On the way out I bought a jar of Sweet Zap Apple Jam. You can buy it cheap in that town. I keep it with me. It’s all I have left of my brother.
I don't really feel like talking to my friends at the moment. Right now, I just feel like I want to be alone. My parents and my friends have told me how moody I was, and honestly, I kinda am. I am happy, and then suddenly I don't want anypony to talk to me. Some of my friends suggested that I should go see a doctor or something. I don't really pay attention to them if they mention those to me.
Anyway, as I was walking around the edge of town to enjoy the quiet night air, I saw an establishment that I hadn't noticed before. I shrugged. I've been walking for a while, so I might as well go inside and check what's inside.
I'm not really alcoholic, nor am I a talkative-type of pony, so after I said to the bartender that I simply wanted a glass of water, she arched an eyebrow. I don't blame her. Anyway, she told me about the rules of her inn. If I want to get my glass of water, I need to share with her, or anypony around here, a story. It was my turn to arch an eyebrow at her. I mean, really. What kind of payment is that?
She must have sensed that I am doubting, so she told me the everypony else around have started sharing stories to get drinks or meals. I don't need to turn around, for I could clearly hear the voices echoing all around the room. Chatters, whispers, laughters...
I sighed. Great. A non-talkative pony walks into a bar and couldn't even get a simple glass of water. Plus, I'm in no mood for talking at the moment. Not to mention to share a story. I have a dull life. Well, wait... That counts as a story, right?
"I have a dull life," I said with my calm dark voice. I was about to continue when the bartender gave me my glass of water.
"Go on," she said.
I wondered for a moment how she could listen and pay attention to my story if she's busy attending with other ponies. I was about to ask her when I noticed another pony seated beside me, looking rather interested. I haven't seen this pony before, but meh, it doesn't hurt to share a story to somepony you don't know, right? Plus, I get free food and drinks for it!
That thought made me smile a bit. Instead of focusing my attention on anypony, I focused my gaze on my glass of water on the (counter/table). I don't know, but I find it weird to look at strangers directly in the eyes. The orbs of life, said to be the mirror of souls, they always distract me and make me stumble on my words. Though that only applies on strangers, and some mares that I like.
"...I have a dull life. At least, that's what my friends tell me about how I lived my life. I lived with my parents, under their strict and watchful eye. I lie, I get punished. I get hurt, they'll immediately nurse me back to health, even with simple cuts. Yeah, they're over-protective, and I lived with them until I got to high school. I don't go out of the house to spend time with my friends-friends I made when I am in school. I'm always inside our home: studying, doing chores, playing toys... I never experienced the outside world.
"Through my room's windows, I always wondered how it felt like to play with other ponies: tag, hide and seek, swings, see-saws, ball, and other things. I never experienced playing with a team. Never got into a fight. Never got teased by a group of ponies about crushes.
"At school, I earned the title The Loner. I am never open with my thoughts and opinions. Not unless I'm asked to speak about them. I'm also judgemental, but I never show it and say it. For me, sometimes, your first impression with other ponies is not enough to immediately judge them."
I took a sip, to take a small break and to cure my drying throat.
"Anyway, when I was in high school, something happened." I am not sure if it's okay to share that part of my life with other ponies. Not even a lot of my friends knew about it. I sighed. I might as well share it. After all, it could probably help me ease this painful burden I kept carrying around. "My parents were on a trip back home, but, they got mugged, and, they were no longer..."
I sighed yet again. I don't know why, but I can't bring myself to look at my companion's eyes. I know the pony's still beside me. I can see her on the edge of my eyes.
"I have no relatives here. And I'm the only son, and after they're gone, I felt..." I paused to take a small sip. "I felt... free... I could do anything now, and nopony was there to stop me." I sighed.
"But, I can't. I don't know why, but I just can't. For instance, for so long, I've been wanting to try and go inside these..." Should I say it? I'm twenty-two, so there's no harm, right?
"...get inside these...clubs...bars...y'know...for adults. But I can't. ALl the things I never experienced yet, I couldn't do them. It was like, even if my parents are gone, they're still around, watching over me. I don't know if I'm scared to try something new, or I'm just stuck to being a lock-up."
I sighed once again, and drowned the remainding amount of water on my glass. I'm feeling frustrated, but I smiled. Strangely, I smiled. I feel my heart was lighter than usual. I guess sharing a story really helped me lighten up my load. I thanked my companion as the bartender gave me another glass of water and free food. Free food!
“How did you do that?” A pony sitting on the other side of the bar said to me. “Gold Blitz,” I think his name was.
“One moment, that guy looked like he was feeling no pain, then you gave him a glass of water and suddenly he started talking like someone just blasted a dam in his mouth.” I smiled at him, careful to hide my reaction a best as I could.
“I got good food and a warm fire,” I replied. “And that tends to loosen ponies' tounges.”
Gold thankfully lets this explanation suffice and slides back into the common room where the fire has finally grown to a decent size. The warm waves filled the room and seemed to at least somewhat thaw my weary travellers. There was even some conversation between them, something rare for a place where everypony carries a secret or two.
Red Velvet was trying to sell himself as something of a rebellious spy, not realizing who I am or that I can sense the fear coming from him. Poor guy has gotten himself into a lot of trouble, although with whom, I'm still not sure. Maplewood is clutching a jar very defensively and snorts wheneveranypony dares to inquire about it. The blue pony tried to strike up a conversation with somepony... I think. Funny how he always seems to slip out if view unless you're really paying attention.
Outside, I could sense two ponies approaching trough the sharp wind and the rain outside, probably drawn by the lights in the window and the promise of a warm fireplace and a good story to share before renting a bed. Too bad the tales here isn't the kind that makes for a good bedtime story...
The bell ring as the door flies open and before me stands our latest customer. Some of the cold autumn chills sneaks into the tavern before I make the door close, startling her somewhat.
“What was that?!” she exclaims and turn around.
“Welcome to the Inn of the World, dear,” I said with a voice calculated to send chills down her spine. “ How may I serve you. She nearly jumps up at this and looks around in confusion before finally spotting me. Her heart rate settles as I counterpoint my spooky introduction with a kind smile.
“Don't startle me like that!” she demanded. “I'm on edge enough as it is.”
“I'm sorry,” I said earnestly. “This season makes us all a little bit... frightful, does it not?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“So, what can I help you with?
“I'm going to need a room, please,” she said before her stomach interrupted her. “Oh, and maybe a small meal if it isn't too much trouble, and some malted milk for my baby.” Only then did I realize that the bundle she carried was actually a little foal, wrapped in several layers of comforters and blankets. The baby took one look at me, blinked once and began to cry, prompting the mother to cradle it in her front legs.
“Ssssh,” she said to the the foal. “Everything is going to be all right, don't you worry.”
“It is definently not too much trouble, will a tasty mushroom stew suffice?” She nodded and I turned towards the kitchen. “Hey cook, one stew and a bottle of gruel for the little one!” The cook let's out a disgruntled roar from behind the screen, causing chills to once again travel trough the spine of my guest.
“Pay no attention to him,” I said. “He's always a little grumpy this time of the month. It's the moonlight, it puts him in a quite a... hairy situation. Still cooks like an artisan, tough.” The cook growled contently at the praise.
“But nevermind,” I continued. “You should know that this is not your normal establishment. I do not accept bits, gold or diamonds, but stories. You have my full hospitality, if you can tell me a story that entertains me.” The other customers turned their heads towards the young mare, and she met their looks with a soft, uncertain smile.
The story I'm about to tell is a true one, I can assure you all. As I recall, it happened almost a year ago, and I personally know the poor soul who had gotten into this. At the time of the winter holidays, it is common for families in Canterlot to visit some of the more rural parts of Equestria, as a vacation of sorts. It is also common for groups of teenage ponies - without their families' company or even consent - to do the same on their own. What better opportunity for these young mares and colts to get to know each other at a more... intimate level.
The mare who I know, Tender Kindle by name, was one of those ponies who practically ran away with a cute colt in the middle of the night, hoping this will be the ride of their lives, topped with an extasic night they will surely never forget. She most certainly did not forget it, I can also tell you that.
The two were headed to a small town called Ponyville, and from Canterlot the most convenient road leading there was the railroad. The train they took departed late into the night, one that everypony else climbed off of, and no one else climbed up on.
"See, I told you we would get here without getting caught!" said the colt, excitedly eyeing his mare compatriot.
"Woody, I'm beginning to think this wasn't such a good idea after all."
"Aww, don't tell me you've turned pristine saint all of a sudden! I’ve seen you jumping in the air when I’ve asked you to come, how come you’re so bashful now?"
"No, it's not that. Okay, not just that. I just feel bad about leaving my parents like this, without any-- Oh, no! NONONONO!"
"What's the matter? You didn't take birth control?"
"No, I didn't leave a note at home! My parents are going to kill me when they come after me and find us!" Kindle shouted in panic.
"But you did take birth control, right?"
"Oh, for the love of... yes, of course I did.” She didn’t know why she lied here. “How can you be so insensitive? Honestly, it's like I'm talking to a piece of wood."
"Hehheh, you said 'wood'.” came the answer she should have seen coming.
"That's it, I'm getting off this train."
"The only way to do that is to jump off, right into the gorge next to the rails."
"The train goes around the mountain, since the main tunnels are under construction again. Meaning you'd be jumping off the cliff." Woody opens the cabin window and leans out. "See? there's the-- hey, what the? Tender, come over here." Tender Kindle also leaned out the window, perplexed as to what could possibly be spotted in the dark at this time.
"What should I be looking at?"
"There, see it?"
"Is that... a pony? Trying to climb in a cabin window!?"
"Uh huh." still leaning out, Woody turned around to face the train's forward direction. "Uh oh."
"The tunnel. It’s not far off, we’ll be entering it soon." Woody answered calmly.
"You said the tunnels were under construction!"
"Not this one it seems."
"Oh, Celestia, that pony's gonna fall off if he can't climb in real fast!"
"Let's see, one, two... Okay, it's eight cabins afar, I'm going there and try to help him.” He closed the window and stepped out the door. “Stay here, and be sure not to hump anyone while I'm gone!" He stood there with a grin, waiting for a reaction.
Kindle facehoofed. "Just go already!"
The foal gave out a sudden cry, and the mare began soothing it.
"Shhhhh, it's okay, we're not on the train, this is just a story, we're okay, we're not on the train anymore." said the ragged mare as she desperately tried to calm her child. The cries faded eventually, as the foal was lulled back to sleep.
"I am sorry. Poor baby gets scared easily." said the mare, wearing a smile that tried to deny what she said.
As her less than chivalrous knight went off, Tender Kindle was left in the company of her own thoughts taunting her, with silence only interrupted by the rattling of the train. How could she forget to leave a note, when she always makes sure her father always knows where she is, else she’d have to suffer through hours of interrogation and lecturing. She had repeatedly noticed before: it’s as if Father regularly rehearsed the bad cop role on her. One time he slipped and had actually said ‘slammer’ during a ‘session’. She’s going to be so in for it this time. But at least Mother is always there to comfort her. Kindle was never afraid to talk to her about colts, even though there wasn’t much to talk about, until Woody came along. So far, everypony called her ‘Kindle’, as using her first name was generally deemed too intimate, a right reserved only for Mother. Woody turned out to break the convention.
Her thoughts turned to more pressing matters: the situation at hoof. Far from home, on a train ride she never rode before, waiting for a colt who’s too immature for his own good, with whom she’s supposed to do it for the first time ever. At least he had enough guts to go help the poor pony hanging outside, but that meant he had left her alone, only with the train noise to keep her company, and the ever-louder knocking on the window she so far managed not to notice somehow.
Kindle turned to the corner of the cabin window and saw a foreleg mercilessly pummeling the glass as if someone’s life depended on it. As she approached the window to open it, a grey figure of a head pounced on the glass, at which she closed the curtains as fast as possible. She didn’t see exactly what it looked like, and wasn’t sure what to do. The knocking stopped. Driven by curiosity and with a hint of carefulness, she pulled the curtain up by some inches. She wished she hadn’t done so, her petrified body screaming with her to look away. A smile. A sown smile on a piece of grey cloth, with oval, empty eyes, slowly ripping up its sewing, opening its gigantic maw for a silent laugh, so wide as to devour her with it.
She finally closed the curtains full, not letting any area of the glass cast a glance upon her. A screeching horn screamed at the front of the train, but with a different tone than usual, as if muffled by surrounding walls - tunnel walls. Not much time until this wagon also reached the tunnel. The pummeling returned, more furious than ever. She grabbed the curtains, preparing to swipe them away and open the window.
“A-bloogey-woogey-woo!!” said the figure behind her with a grey mask on, with hollow black, oval eyes and the same sown smile. A loud smash could be heard outside. Tender Kindle opened the curtains, and now there was nothing outside but the tunnel walls madly rushing away, as if the train itself was motionless and the world was racing past.
“Congratulations, idiot! Now I’ve missed it because of you!” she yelled while showering her masked coltfriend with painful slaps.
“Hey, oww, what, what did you miss?” yelped the colt, trying to shelter his head from the violent assault.
“The pony hanging outside! He was here, he tried to climb in!”
“Over my dead body! I saw you first!”
Afterwards he wished he hadn’t said that. When the storm of smacks had finally stopped, she took the mask off her coltfriend, examining it thoroughly. It was a small sack with rough facial features on it, most prominently a sewn smile wickedly grinning at her.
“Where did you get this thing, anyways?”
“Ain’t it cool?” Woody said after getting it back “I found it in the cabin where I headed, the one where we saw the hanging dude.”
“And you just took it?”
“Yep. Don’t worry, no one was there, and the window was closed. Someone must’ve left it on the train after Nightmare Night or something.”
“Nightmare Night was more than a month ago. They regularly clear the cabins, you know.”
“Doesn’t matter, have mask.” shrugging as he said it. He playfully began to spin it around, then turn it inside-out. “Oh look, there’s writing inside! Let’s see.
“It said, property of Ca-” Here, the brown mare stopped herself, not wanting to say what exactly was written on the inside of the mask. She did write it down for me, but I can't tell you what it said, my children.
Kindle’s eyes widened at the utterance of the name. Suddenly she wasn’t sure whether to embrace her companion in fear and never let go, or to run away from him as far as she could, while she could.
“Tender, you alright?”
“No, I’m-- uh, I-I don’t know. Haven’t you heard of Can--” she fell silent before finishing the question.
“Heard of whom?”
“Forget it, let’s, let’s not talk about it.” Kindle hesitantly and hastily dismissed.
At this point, Woody had had enough of what he thought to be simple feminine secrecy. “What’s the matter, love? You’ve been so excited about this trip all day, and now that we’re here, you barely look me in the eye.”
Her voice turned noticeably gentler in reaction, “I’m just worried about it. We’ve never done anything like this before, and I feel we’re not supposed to be here.”
“Is that mare-code for ‘I suddenly dig dudes with masks who scale trains in the middle of the night’? Cause if it is, then I’ve got a mask and I’m not afraid to use it!” said in a threatening tone, shaking the grey cloth in front of him.
“I honestly don’t get you,” shaking her head, “what’s with all these bad jokes all the time?”
“It’s how I cope. I need them. They’re my drugs.” tightly hugging the mask all the while.
After looking at him for a while, still hugging that damned rag, Kindle felt she had enough of standing for the night, and lay down the cabin bed. At this point, all she wanted was a good night’s sleep: a chance to get away from everything, even if for just a short while.
“So, you ready for this?” Woodie asked with bursting enthusiasm, jumping up and down on the springy bed.
After the vertical commotion abated, and some seconds more had passed, Kindle answered. “I want to ask you something beforehoof. Why did you bring me with you? Why me?”
“Frankly, just wanted to hear you scream my name. ‘Oh Woodie! Woodie! Can I go for another ride?’” badly imitating the last part with a girly voice.
“Oww. You’re seriously asking why I like you?”
“No, that’s not what I... Ugh, look. Out of all the mares, I was the least likely you’d want to bring with you. One, my father, Sergeant ‘I-Shall-Beat-The-Living-Daylight-Outta-You’ Flaming Brand, would no doubt try to track us down. Two, I’m not exactly the prettiest or the sluttiest mare around. Three, I thought you dated someone else.”
“Correction: out of all the mares, you’re the one whom I want to be with the most. One, Canterlot police is restricted to Canterlot and its close district only, meaning your father can’t leave the city while on duty without going against royal order; and we’re supposed to come back before the weekend anyways. Two, I’m into braided ponytails. Three, I used to, but she had some faults. Namely, no braided ponytail.”
She gave him a hard glare, for the last two answers no doubt.
“Like I said, you’re asking me why I like you, but you’re too afraid to ask me straight.” Seeing that the glaring hasn’t stopped, he embraced his love tight, looked in her eyes, and continued softly, “I just like you, without any reason. I feel like I need you. More than my jokes. I don’t ever want to let go of y-- hey, where’s my mask goin’?” Woody sat up after feeling the cloth getting away from his hooves. The mask, the little grey sack with an evil smile wasn’t there anymore: it was fleeing through the corridor, as if reeled in by some invisible thread. It could be heard as it went, for it was laughing, with no lungs nor face behind it. And not just about anything. Laughing at him, for letting her go.
He began to pursue his cloth quarry, letting go of the words thrown at him to stop. Kindle soon lost sight of him after enough wagon doors had opened and shut before her. An eerie darkness kept crawling towards her, reminding her she’s hopelessly alone, and yet, that she is not. Eyes were looking at her, peering through the darkness, gazing into her soul and departing with it, leaving her cowering and unable to advance.
It was time to seek refuge in an old friend, the only thing she could trust at nights like this. Inside the cabin, she produced an old candle holder out of her saddlebag, a simple stick-shaped one with a wooden plate under it. Once lit, it burned with a ferocious flame, acting as a tiny beacon in the sea of night, keeping away the invisible sharks that otherwise drain her dead.
* * *
“This is the last wagon” Kindle thought, as she slowly opened the heavy door. Cabins. Again. An endless row of cabins holding empty darkness, gently lit by the dim candlelight every time she passed one, checking that it’s empty. Empty, all of them empty, she thought at first, until she heard a familiar voice calling out.
“Gotcha, you rascal! Now on you go--” interrupted by a sound of ropes unrolling and running tight.
She ran as she could, quickly checking every cabin, even though she knew which one was the one where the voice came. At the last one, the candle didn’t shine forth, its light stopped at the belly of a familiar coat of fur. She almost screamed in delight. Then she screamed in horror.
The body was floating in the air, his legs limp and lifeless. Rope ran around his neck, coiling many times over, going up through a hook on the ceiling, and finally fastened to a nail on the wall. His face wasn’t visible, for it was covered with the sack: the crowning mask to celebrate the ascension of the colt.
Tender Kindle collapsed on the floor, and quietly wept for him, and for herself that she couldn’t stop him. Not long after, she untied the rope and let the body slowly descend. She stared into the empty, hollow eyes of the sack, and could feel anger and rage rapidly building inside, wishing to burn the cursed cloth. Until she finally noticed: it was staring back. It looked deep into her, grinning endlessly and uncontrollably, unable to resume the perverted joke of defiling the sacredness of life.
Finally mustering enough courage to take it off of him, she slowly reached towards it, but could touch it. Her foreleg was stopped by another, the hoof of the dead that stood before her.
“Don’t you like my face as it is?” asked the familiar voice under the bag.
“I-It isn’t y-yours.” Kindle gave a quivering answer. “Look what it did to you.”
“Don’t you want to look what it did to me? Let me take it off for you.”
The revelation brought forth a face she never witnessed on the colt before. Its whitened eyes gazed into nothingness, and a scared surprise was frozen on its face, as if it reacted to what it saw on the other side. Its lips were blue, and as they moved, its vaporous breath told of death freshly delivered.
“Is it better now?” the body asked, as it began to slowly approach her.
“Woody? Is it still you?” Kindle was forced to slowly back away into the corridor.
The mask, without a rope this time, flew back on his head, his eyes now piercingly staring, his mouth silently widening for a terrible laugh. The cloth slowly stretched and grew as it reached his shoulders, then his forelegs and hooves. What was left of Woody was slowly consumed right before her eyes, until he was completely swallowed by the nightmare woven in grey. The clapping of his hooves stopped, but the approaching figure didn’t. They weren’t touching the floor any more.
“What do you want from me?” Kindle asked, holding the candle before her, as if trying to fend off the grinning horror with it.
The figure stopped, as eventually the mare before him. An infernal laughter struck, akin to none she ever heard before, sinfully mocking his quarry into a whimpering collapse on the floor. As she wasn’t holding it any more, he took the candle and held it close to his own visage. He leaned down to the mare, and the mockery he had for a face crept ever closer to hers, until it was the only thing in the world she could see.
“I want to hear you scream my name.”
* * *
The impossible morning eventually came, scattering snow and sunshine all around Ponyville. At the station it found a train standing, on it a worn out mare with signs of a struggle, knocked out on the cold floor, next to her a handle with a candle in it. It was still burning.
"Excuse me,” I ask when her story is finished, “But please tell me, how old is your foal?"
"He was born a month ago, why you ask?" answered the mare with a tender voice.
"Is he a... normal baby?"
"Yes, yes he is. He is in good health, thank Celestia."
"What is his name?"
A bitter smile was brought to the face of the mare. She looked at her son and answered.
I am proud of my dad. He's the most famous wizard in all of Unicornia, he's created over 200 spells including the amniomorphic spell. He told me once that he wanted to create a spell just for me. I said he didn't have to because I knew it would mean that he would be too busy to take care of me and I would be alone. When he is working on one of his spells, he goes into this room I'm not supposed to enter and he just sits there for hours. I don't like it when he does that.
The best sound in the world is the jingle of the bells he has sewn into his cloak when he finally finds time to come out to play with me. I don't get to play with the other fillies much, my dad doesn't want me to go outside because he is afraid that I will just stumble around like... well, like I was blind.
* * *
My favourite day of the year is my name day. It is the one time of the year where my daddy never forgets about me and tolerates me being by his side even if I sometimes mess up and gets in his way. As usual, he decorated our dwelling with a number of chimes and bells and the soft tones gave the room a pleasant atmosphere. I noticed he tied a few extra bells to his cape, maybe he's afraid I wouldn't hear him over all the other chimes? Silly dad.
“Knell,” he said to me. “I'm sorry I've been so busy lately, but I have worked really hard on a present for you.”
“Is it a pony?” I said hopefully. “you know I've always wanted one.” He laughed at me and I felt a bit embarrassed by my eagerness.
“B-but you know I need a thrall!” I protested. “I'm turning into a big girl and I don't want to be alone here any more. I wanna see... I wanna visit places.”
“If this works.” He assured me. ”You won't need a seeing-eye pony to help you.” An electric jolt ran trough my body as I finally understood what he was talking about.
“You mean... you can give me my sight back?”
“Yes,” he said. “I'm sure of it.” Then he leaned over to me and I could feel his horn touching mine.
At first, I thought it had been a dud, because I felt nothing, not even a tingle. Then I suddenly became aware that I had my eyes closed. With some apprehension I opened them, and the world greeted me like a parents returning after a long business trip.
I... don't think I could describe it. Words that's been laying useless in the back of my head suddenly sprung to life. I saw my dad for the first time in... I don't even remember. Every feature that I had previously only known only trough touch suddenly had colour and features.
His tough, bristly beard that tickled me whenever I tried to hug him: grey.
His kind eyes: brown.
His pale coat: green.
His cape with the tiny bells: purple.
The bells that I adore looked even more beautiful than they sounded, with smooth shiny copper in several shades of dark yellow and green, and the chimes shone like... like things that shine as they turned in the candlelight. I ran around the house just wanting to soak everything in and my father let me while wearing a patient smile until I was about to enter into his workroom.
“Please, Knell,” he pleaded as he extended a hoof to stop me. “You may go wherever you please now, inside this house and without, but you may not enter this room, understood?” I nodded, paralysed by a stern gaze I've never seen before.
* * *
I took full advantage of my new found freedom and I made frequent trips around Unicornia. I saw the tall minarets with their funny-shaped roofs, like whipped cream on a sundae. I saw the elegant fabrics of the noble ponies as they passed me by. I saw the tattered sackcloth of the poor ponies. I saw markets and shops, I saw windows and doors. I saw colours I never even knew existed. In an alley, I found a young filly crying to herself.
“What's the matter?” I asked her.
“T-the other foals tells me I'm ugly,” she said between sobs. “AM I ugly?”
I looked at her, I saw her mottled coat, her crooked yellow teeth, her warts and her blodshot eyes who seemed to constantly point in different directions. Every feature was interesting and I leaned close just to study her further, but I had to pull back when she started to sound uncomfortable.
“No,” I said with complete honestly “In fact, I think you are very beautiful.”
“R-really?” I saw those skewed eyes shine up like little suns.
“Rreally, do you want to be friends?”
“yes please, my name is Dementia Do”
We met every day afterwards to play. I was fascinated by the imaginative scenarios she could cook up involving things I had never seen myself, and she responded to my questions with great patience:
“What does the ocean look like?”
"Like a big blue floor with waves on it."
“ What colour is a lily?”
“How high is a mountain?”
"Uhm.... really really high."
* * *
The other foals did not like us very much. They said Dementia was ugly and I was strange. The other colts and fillies stared at us as we walked down the street, looking like rows of identical dolls sitting in a shop window. If they got too annoying, I'd gaze back at them; there was something about my eyes that made them shudder and leave.
We quickly abandoned the city and went for longer and longer walks across the countryside. The first time I saw the nature around Unicornia I nearly cried. I couldn't understand why everypony locked themselves up in cities when there where so many beautiful things outside of them. Fields and rocks, trees and flowers, each with their own unique texture and colour. This was the perfect canvas for our imaginations.
We where explorers one day, reaching into far-off countires like our brave princess Platinum, searching for a new land to call our own. The next day we where soldiers, fighting the pegasi in an airship consisting of an unusually gnarled tree with several trunks spread out like the limbs of an octopus. Other days we where on a quest to find a mysterious jewel, or just travelling the world looking for adventure.
* * *
One day, Dementia just disappeared. I looked all over Unicornia for her, but found no sign of her anywhere. When I asked my daddy about it, he told me his parents had sent her off to an asylum.
“Was she crazy?” I asked with my eyes wide.
“Some would call it that,” my dad replied while trying to avoid my gaze. “But truth is, there are ponies in this world with the ability to see further than anypony else, and that unsettles ponies.”
I couldn't sleep that night and instead I went out looking at the stars. Daddy said that contrary what most ponies believed, the stars weren’t just jewels resting on some kind of firmament, but enormous bodies, millions of miles away. If I could see that far, how much further could some ponies see?
* * *
I was alone again, and I grew restless. I had visited every possible place that my little legs could take me, but without my friend to guide me trough things unseen, it all looked the same. The door to my dads workroom grew more and more inviting. It was the one place I had never seen before, and I was curious. In my dreams I walked into his workroom and was greeted by nothing but dead pools of light, frightfully similar to what would be etched across my vision back when my eyes where still failing me and I looked straight at the sun.
Moreover, something seemed to be... visually whispering to me. In the corner of my eyes I would sometimes see figments that didn't disappear until I looked straight at that door. When I asked my father about it, he said that it was nothing, that I was just getting used to my vision but I couldn’t help but notice a worried frown spreading across his face.
* * *
One day when my dad was away, curiosity got the better of me. I figured just looking from the door wouldn't do me any harm. With intense concentration, I managed to silence the alarm spell, but inside, I saw nothing but darkness.
My hooves began moving, seemingly on their own, and I got deeper into his chamber. From what little I could see in the dim light, it looked about like I would have suspected: Strange pieces of glassware besides rune-engraved slates and maps of the star system. Then I heard a noise. A slow, pained groan, coming from what I thought was nothing but shadows.
“Who a... are you?,” a voice told me. There was a being somewhere in the dark, talking trough a delirious haze.
“I'm Knell,” said in spite of myself. “Daughter of Starswirl.”
“You... you have my eyes,” it demanded. “P...please give them back.”
“No!” I told it. I don't want to be blind again.”
“Pl-lease....” As my eyes adjusted and the shadows became more solid, I started to see the outline of who I was talking to; a creature I had never seen before. His face was covered in feathers and he had no mouth, only a beak. I held back a scream when I realized that there was only empty eye sockets where his eyes were supposed to be.
As he move, I heard the rattling of chains, as well as a nasty, organic sound, something dark dripped down from above him. He had wings, and they had hooks attached to the most fleshy part. The hooks tore deep wounds trough his skin.
“My dad did this?” I asked in disbelief.
“Please...” the creature continued rambling. “I just want my eyes back. I don't have much time left, just one last look.”
“C-can I get them back later?”
“Yes,” he promised, but there was no features that could convey his emotions.
I couldn't stand the sight of his pathetic eyeless face. I leaned over and touched his forehead, not knowing if it would actually help. Then everything became completely dark again when even the shadows disappeared.
“Thank you” he croaked as I stood paralysed by my blindness. “You are a beautiful and kind little pony, do you know that? I would be proud to let you have my vision, but you need to promise me one thing.”
“What is that?”
I heard another of his wounds being torn open as he shifted close to me and at this point, his voice was nothing but a whisper.
“Leave this place, and never come back.”
Then he died. I could tell by the sad little groan he let out. It was the one time I was thankful for my blindness. Suddenly I saw two pools of light, like the ones I had seen figments of in my dreams. They grew larger until they engulfed my entire field of vision. As I opened my eyes, I could see the unnamed creature's dead body sprawled in front of me, clear as day.
Leave. Now. I could hear his voice echo in my head.
* * *
I am proud of my dad. He managed feats that nopony have ever succeeded in doing before or since, but I cannot forgive him for what he had to do to perform them. There was no sun or moon up the day I left, but it did not bother me.
As I later found out, the creature I borrowed my eyes from is a griffon, and I was only ever able to use a fraction of his vision before. But with my unnamed friends soul still lingering in his eyes, I am able to see further than anypony.
Candelight and her young mother finished their dinner with great appetite. I couldn't help but crack a soft smile thinking about the little enchantments I had put in their food. They where both going to sleep well tonight, untroubled by nightmares for perhaps the first night in a long time. Do not think of my as cruel, my children. I can give sweet dreams as well as nightmares as I please.
“Thank you kindly for your generosity, madam!” the mother said to me. “And my compliments to the chef,” she added.
“GRRROAAAAR!” the roar came from the kitchen.
“I think he likes you,” I informed her with mischievously slanted eyes.
“Uhm... I really gotta get some sleep now,” she said as she hasted towards the stairs, still carrying the bundle of blankets and comforters.
A drowsy air began to settle throughout the tavern, entirely without my intervention. The dark and the fireplace performed a magic all on their own, relaxing my customers and driving them onwards.
“I better go hit the hay,” Red Velvet said. “I'm gonna have to get up early tomorrow.” He turned to me. “Say, is there and extra mattress I could borrow?”
I will personally put a dummy of you in your bed after you leave to throw off potential followers if it makes you feel better, but I assure you that it won't be necessary.” I replied, sensing what it was he had in mind. He looked a bit alarmed at the ease which I managed to decrypt his intention.
“Oh... all right then... by the way, should you perhaps do something about him?” Red Velvet pointed towards Maplewood, who had been working hard to earn a new ticket to the land of drunkenness in the last hour or so and by the looks of it, he had finally arrived. His head was resting on the bar disk in a puddle of drool and he let out a content snore.
“I will take care of him, I said.” Don't you worry.” And as Red turned around, I teleported the unconscious pony into one of the unoccupied bed, where Crane and sir Halfblood tucked him in for the night.
“It's been fun here, but I should be moving,” Gold Blitz announced as he removed himself from the sofa.
“Take care,” I said as he exited. I was thankful that my remaining customers hadn't noticed the sudden shift in weather as the door now led to the calm streets of Ponyville, with no rainstorm in sight. The storm returned a short while later, as if somepony had unpaused a video tape.
The brown pegasus pony stayed for a while longer besides the fireplace, still reading that old tome he carried. I furrowed my brow as I noticed the title, “The reign of Nightmares”. I had hoped that Celestia had managed to burn every copy of that accursed book, for ponies safety if nothing else. I was not exactly in my right mind when I wrote it.
But eventually even the pony named after an owl had to yield to the night, and I was left alone by the bar. When I was sure that all of my guests where fast asleep, I dampened the light from the fireplace and clapped my hooves together to call for a meeting. At first, nopony seemed to react to my command, but after a short while, beings began to stir.
The cook growled and jumped out from behind the screen, his brown fur glistening in the last dying embers of the fire. And once the last ember went up in smoke, Crane, Halfblood and most of the other ghosts drifted down from upstairs, their chains rattling hollowly as a greeting. I studied this menagerie of ghouls and gave them all a warm smile.
“Excellent job, everypony!” I said to them. “They may not ever know you where there, but you did a great job keeping the atmosphere spooky. There's just a few things we need to take care of before closing shop tomorrow. Crane, there's a brown pegasus in room number seven that needs a good scare, and if you can manage to take that cursed book of his, I'd be much obliged.” The headless horse saluted in true military fashion and trotted up the stairs.
“As for the rest of you...” I began, but I was interrupted by a knock.
“Strange,” I muttered. “I did not sense anypony arrive.
I opened the door to a still raging storm. The hood of my cloak shielded my eyes just enough for me to see trough the sharp torrents of rain. I thought I saw something drift across the road, like a bright colourful speck amidst the dull grey dark, but I can't be sure. I never did sense who it was and it could just have been my imagination. I was just about to close the door again when I noticed a brown, rain-stained package on the doorstep.
“Curious, what can it be?” I wondered as I levitated the package into the room.
It turned out to contain a video tape with a note attached to it:
“Dear Princess of the Night
I was told you had a taste for the ghostly and the mysterious, and being of a similar mind myself, I had one of my apprentices deliver this to you. Y'see, I'm a little tied up at the moment, I guess you can say that I've hit rock-bottom. But my will still burns bright and my influence is only somewhat diminished.
I know we had our differences in the past, but there is still room by my side, should you decide to turn your back on that boring old sister of yours and come join me in chaos.
Five Tons of Flax!
“Every Nightmare night with this guy!” I exclaimed as I read the letter. “At least he didn't call me this time, how can someone who's a statue be this relentlessly annoying?” I sensed no malicious curses from the tape, however, and curiosity got the better of me. With one blast of magic, I made a television appear by the bar disc.
“Impromptu movie night, everypony!” I announced and a few of my ghosts and ghouls gathered around me. The cook went into the kitchen to make popcorn for us as the tape started up.
If you’re viewing this... I... I’ve been trapped in here for nearly a week. It’s been nearly a week since I’ve seen the outside, and I can’t take it anymore! They’re everywhere; they’re everywhere, and now they’re coming for me. I... I have to leave a warning, for you; a warning for whatever Celestia-forsaken soul is unlucky enough to see this. I suppose that I should probably start at the beginning, so that you know what happened and such.
Have to hurry... Have to hurry. They’re trying to find a way into my home, and I can’t hold them off forever. They’re coming to kill me. They know, that I know; I know what they are. I know why they’re here. They are predators, and if I know what they are; if I can warn everybody, they won’t be able to get food anymore. You have to prepare yourself though. You have to be ready to warn everypony, because once they know that you know, they’ll come for you too.
Well... I... I suppose I should get started. I’m a... Well I used to be a normal pony up until a few days ago. Just a normal pegasus, living a normal life, with normal friends. I live quite a ways outside of town, so I don’t really have a lot of contact with other ponies unless they come to visit me. I... I guess that’s why they chose me. Name’s Blue Grass by the way. Just thought I’d throw that out there... At least somepony will remember my name.
Like I said, it all started last week. On my birthday in fact. Heh. Isn’t that ironic? That my life gets ruined on the one day of the year that I’m supposed to have a good time? The one day that I’m surrounded by my friends and loved ones is the last that I’ll ever see of them... It was a great day if you’re wondering actually. Guess that sort of makes me happy... That their last memories will be of a happy me. Not of this terrified pony that I am now; this defeated being that I call myself.
It all started after the party. We’d all had a great time together, average party stuff. You know, drinks, games, dancing and all that jazz. Everypony was headed home after all of that intense partying, and it was pretty late at night. One of my best friends had gotten me a new video recording device for my birthday. You know, those new things that use magic to capture videos so that you can watch them later?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for all of the other presents, but this one? This one was something else. I’ll tell you, I had never been more excited for anything in my life. I just wanted to test it out... Oh Celestia, all I wanted was to test it out, to have a little fun.
Hah! You’re not getting in that way you monsters! I boarded up the windows! How stupid do you think I am? Right, the story. I have to hurry... They’ll be finding a way in any minute. Where did I leave off? No, no. Just skip that part. Skip ahead to the important details. We can’t be rambling right now; there’s not enough time...
It all started when I walked out into the forest to test out my new camera, and just to get a bit of fresh air. It can get a bit stuffy in here sometimes, and it was the perfect time for me to go check out how my new toy worked. Celestia... I wished I had never gone out on that damn walk!
Everything started off normal enough, just the normal stuff. A few birds here and there, and a squirrel or two running around and gathering up nuts for their homes. I was just waving my camera around, checking everything that I could find. I was like a foal in a candy store; every single thing that I saw through that lens filled me with a sense of wonder. And then I saw something.
It was subtle; just a different coloration in the trees on the very edge of the screen. It wasn’t moving, and there was nothing really special about it. Somehow though, I felt that feeling... That damn, dreaded feeling. You know the one that you get when you feel like someone’s watching you? You feel it sometimes, even though you know that you are completely alone.
I just felt like I had to get out of there, like I was in some kind of danger. I know what you’re thinking... How crazy right? That I was just being paranoid? It was completely real; I should have never gone home that night... I should have just stayed out there and let them get me. Would have saved me a lot of trouble.
After that everything was normal for about... Oh, I’d say a day. Then, all of a sudden one night, I heard a... slithering sound and a loud crunch. Like someone was walking around outside my house. I made my way out of my house and began to look around. It was just a dark night in the forest like normal; I just thought that somepony was trespassing or coming to pay me an unexpected visit, which I really wouldn’t have minded.
No no no no no! What was that? I know that I boarded everything up as tight as I could. They can’t be breaking in already! No, I have to hurry. I have to let you know!
I saw... I saw one. Outside, in the corner of my vision, I saw one of them. I turned quickly to see what it was, but no matter where I turned, it always stayed at the very edge of my vision. It just stood there watching me... Watching me turn and try to catch it... Like it was mocking me. It probably was for all I know.
I got the distinct feeling, that I shouldn’t turn my back on it; that if I did, something terrible would happen to me. I spent that whole night awake... Just trying to get some rest with all of those noises outside. I haven’t gotten any sleep since that first day you know... Not a wink. I can’t, or I’m afraid that they’ll get me.
The... The next day I decided that I would try to see what it was. I placed the camera in the corner of my house, and just sat out on my porch and waited. Just waited for it to show itself again. Sure enough, after a few hours, it showed up again. Thinking quickly, I grabbed my camera and ran back inside to take a look. I wish... I wish so badly that I hadn’t done that.
There was... something, at the very edge of the camera. I... I can’t describe the horror that I saw in that frame. That ungodly abomination... After that... After that I knew that I couldn’t go outside again. It wasn’t safe! Maybe... Maybe I should have gone to get help. Should have just taken my chances and bolted as fast as I could. Maybe I could have gotten out of this whole mess.
I boarded up my house with everything I could find and blockaded all of the doors. It’s taking it’s toll on me; I can’t eat, I haven’t been able to sleep. For three days I’ve been backed up against this wall, just watching the door for them. We’ve seen each other a few time since that first encounter. I know that they’re waiting for something... But they’re making their move soon, I can sense it.
I know what they are now though. That’s why I’m recording this; to tell you. You know that feeling? That damn feeling that you get when you’re alone, the one where you feel that somepony is watching you, even though nopony else is around? That’s because something is there. Waiting on the edge of your vision, watching you to see if you would make a good meal. To see if you would make an easy meal.
You never notice them; they know how to avoid your sight. But I have seen them... That is why they are coming for me. They know that I’m alone, and that nopony is coming to save me. I’m trapped. You though... You can warn everypony.
They’re trying to get into the front door! It’s time! I have to finish this; to tell you everything. As long as the front door is still closed, then I still have time. I still have time... But I’m so tired...
No! NO! The truth is that they’re everywhere. You are never safe when you are alone; in fact, you are never truly alone. They are always on the outskirts, in your peripherals, watching and waiting. Waiting for you to slip up like I did. They wait for you to trap yourself and make it easy for them. You can’t let them do that to you. You can’t let them.
Oh... That sound is so nice... So tired... I can’t... I can’t keep this up anymore. I can’t stay awake any longer; it’s too hard... Maybe if I just close my eyes for a second. If I just take a quick rest, then I can gather enough energy to get out of here. To try and make my escape! Yes... A quick rest. Just a little wink. Just close my eyes for a few moments, and everything will be fine. I’ll find a way out of this...
Morning has broken and the last of my customers have left trough the gate. If anypony of them dared to look back, they would have seen this building gradually disappear in fog until it is like “The Inn of The World” was never there in the first place.
Soon, the memories of this place will fade as they each go their separate ways on their own separate roads. But their stories will remain with me, my children, and if you are lucky, figments of their tales will appear in one of your dreams.
Who knows, maybe you will In the world of imagination, anything is possible, and you haven't even begun to realize the terrible truth of that statement. I will see you in your nightmares, children...