Key Gear

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Key Gear last won the day on May 21 2013

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About Key Gear

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    Because, I Can.
  • Birthday 12/10/1987

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

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  1. Merry Birthiversary! 

  2. I read this response, while browsing the site: I would like to make a suggestion, because, actually, it is pretty simple - no more than 5 minutes, guaranteed. There are two files in the "public/js/3rd_party/" path on the server - char_count and mobile_char_count. The "char_count" file was properly updated by someone, but the mobile version of the same file was not. Copy the config section from char_count to mobile_char_count and voila! Your mobile theme will have the same character counter as your desktop theme. As an added bonus, you can change the per board limits in the file by tweaking the "customLimits" config variable. Basically, it maps board IDs (found in the category url or database) to minimum character counts. It's kinda fun, though I would have done it a bit differently if I was writing it nowadays. To make things easier to figure out for future modifications, I've attached my original coffee scripts to this post (them and the original documentation should still be on the server somewhere from before I resigned as admin here). Have at them! Coffeescript is pretty fun. (You can get the compiler from here.) If you have any questions, look in my profile for how to get to me. I rarely logon here, these days (very, very rarely), but I wanted to give this to y'all. sources.zip
  3. It's been a while since this was posted in, so I would like to provide an update. I'll start with a warning. Don't get overwhelmed reading the latest post. The whole thing can be read and read straight through, but you may want to select the areas that apply specifically to you to and reread them carefully. The RP is almost over, at this point. I do not think that we have more than 3 or 4 posts remaining until the end. Be careful to make those posts count! (Don't worry, not all of them will be this long. In fact, this post will be unique in length. This is what happens when you set up the climaxes for several locations and groups of characters in a single post.) Also. In case it is not abundantly clear, I am back and we are back on track. My program to recover my hands is working, and I expect further improvements to my abilities. I have stabilized my sleep schedule, diet, and several other things. My posting schedule is once per weekend until the end of this RP. I expect all players to reply within a week unless something horrible happens to delay your reply. Let's keep things moving at a good pace. (Pleeeaaaase respond to the RP. I wish to post for all characters, every weekend, until this thing is over. Help me and I will help you to make this end of the story a magnificent one!)
  4. (OOC: ... Dear Celestia... Help meeeeee... I can't proof this! Ahhh!) Luminescence took hold of Summer with a gentle but firm grip. Away from the dark liquid, she felt stronger. She was not happy that Summer would have to carry her, but she was quite happy that the mare had done so. She closed her eyes and thought back to the room, just a few moments before. Already, Summer was fulfilling her words. Despite the strange place that they found themselves in, the mare was still her protector. From her position of safety on the mare's back, Luminescence could take a better look at the substance that she had nearly fallen into. She peered into it. It had a nearly water-like consistency, but she was now certain that it was not water. It was dark but not completely opaque. It had no smell or other discernible features. It seemed like it should have been an oil of some type, but it wasn't. She stared. The liquid moved in a way that it shouldn't have. It was doing more than simply flowing. She blinked with recognition. It was some of the substance of nightmare, the raw building blocks of the horrors and terrors that would appear in the dreams of all thinking creatures. In her own imaginary world, this substance had been contained within an ocean. Now, diluted with something, it flowed freely around Summer as the mare made her way through it. Normally freely active, the diluted stuff of nightmare seemed to be controlled somehow. Someone had made more changes than she was aware of. Luminescence muted her reaction to the news. It would do no good to share it with Summer. She didn't want to frighten the mare. Summerfall was her protector, but that didn't mean that she was invulnerable. Undoubtedly, Summer was afraid, as she had every right to be. Fear, in moderation, was a healthy thing, Luminescence thought. It would keep them moving forwards despite whatever strange things were faced, but too much of it would freeze both of them where they stood. Summer's journey was a careful one. Luminescence noted each time that Summer checked on her. At one point, the mare looked especially concerned and spoke. Luminescence wondered what had prompted the remark. She took a look at one of her hooves. Her glow was fading, fast. She blinked. She should have noticed it earlier. Surely her normal glow would have helped to illuminate the path in front of her. The last time this happened, it had been of her own doing, after the incident in the forest. She had muted her own glow to make her way through certain cities and towns at night. It had been difficult. Now, she was losing her glow with no effort, and unlike the last time, she couldn't feel any effort. It reminded her of the collapse that she had when in the forest where she had first met the cat. Despite the resemblance to that time, she was certain that it wasn't the same feeling. Nor was it the cat attempting to influence her again. She quieted her thoughts and closed her eyes. There was something wrong. Just a moment earlier, the thought about fear... That didn't seem like a thought that she would normally think, and, in fact, she could feel no fear herself. Not only this, but... As she pondered, she realized that she felt at peace in this tunnel, completely at peace. In fact, peace was all that she felt. With a small start, Luminescence realized that her normally ever present pain was nowhere to be found. Of course, it made sense. If the pain was connected to her light, then it would decrease as her glow did. What didn't make sense was the feeling that some type of mist clouded her thoughts. She felt cold, as if the coldness of the liquid had somehow become a part of her. For just a moment, she tried to worry about what had affected her, but she couldn't. She closed her eyes and waited in silence as Summer completed the journey. Luminescence opened her eyes the moment that Summer stopped moving. She looked up and saw the ladder. For just a moment, she felt a twinge of fear, but the fear wasn't for her own sake. She would have to leave Summer now. How could she protect Summer if she was not immediately nearby. She slipped off the earth pony's back and span around, surveying the entire area. The place seemed almost medically inert. She turned back to Summer, sensing the anxiety in the mare's voice. She watched the mare carefully, with unblinking eyes filled with unnatural serenity. Despite the coldness that she felt inside, she felt warmth towards Summer. Luminescence looked within herself. Normally, she would feel threatened that one so close to her was expressing doubt, but she felt nothing but care towards Summer. She smiled reassuringly, but she didn't reply to Summer yet. She was watching the mare's eyes scan the cave. Summer trusted her. Luminescence closed her own eyes for the moment that she made contact with the mare. Then, she spoke, and when she spoke, her own words came calmly, so much so that they seemed otherworldly, completely unaffected by the strangeness of the surroundings. "Summer... Thank you." Luminescence smiled, and even as she did so, the remainder of her fur's glow vanished completely in a flurry of progressively weaker flickers. "I will be safe, and I will get us both to safety." The filly turned towards the ladder and took a few steps away from Summer before she froze in place. Shaking her head as if clearing a thought, she turned back around and trotted right back to Summer. Speaking in the same tone that she just had, Luminescence spoke to Summer again. "And... Summer... I will leave the door open when I ascend. In this place, sound carries considerable distances. You will be able to hear what happens. You will know when to join me. Be calm, be patient..." Luminescence looked away from Summer, and the glow of her fur flickered brightly for a moment before fading back into a darker shade of grey than normal. "I do not want any harm to come to you, Summer. You must trust me... Please, and do not lose that trust in me, no matter what you hear. No matter what you think. Just feel. Trust me, and everything will be alright. I will need you to help me when this is ended, but it will end safely. For all." She looked back. "I have to go now." The filly started to turn away again but stopped in mid motion. Looking over her shoulder, she stared at Summer. Her wide red eyes trembled intensely, and the beginnings of tears could be seen in them. She looked away, back towards the ladder. For a few moments, she stared away from Summer and towards the ladder, breathing heavily. After a few tense seconds, she caught her breath and raised her head. Silently, she turned to face Summer again and slowly walked towards the mare. Her eyes were clear now. They contained not even a hint of sadness. Instead, they were filled with something different. When she reached Summer, she stood on her hind legs and gently reached out to grasp Summer's head. She stared directly into the mare's eyes for a few, long seconds. Finally, she leaned forward and gently kissed Summer on the nose. A few more seconds. She released the mare and wordlessly turned around and trotted towards the ladder. Without another backwards look, the filly ascended. It was a fairly steep climb, but she didn't hesitate and showed no sign of slowing. At the top of the ladder, she disappeared into an opened. She stood in a small room, completely dark, a single door, closed, was the only thing there. She trotted forward, with no hesitation, and opened the door. She stepped through the open doorway and found herself in a vast room. She stopped just a half meter in front of the door way and glanced around. The ceiling of the room was incredibly high, and it was comprised of a mass of interconnecting tubes and pipelines, all transparent. Within them, a greyish substance and a darker substance seemed to collide and churn, casting a dim light all over the remainder of the room. The walls of the room were transparent as well. They looked out into a sea of the same liquid that was flowing in the tunnel below. She felt the warm breath of another creature on her right shoulder. A soft hiss followed soon after, and carried with the hiss was a mocking inquiry. "Are you afraid? You should never have come here... You could have gone anywhere... Are you afraid?" She could hear the sound of the big cat's mouth opening right beside her head. It sounded amusing to her ears, like the soft rustle of dampened clothes rubbing against each other. Wraith watched, eyes filled with silent expectation, as Asteria reached out to him. As she stretched out her hoof, every moment felt like an eternity. It was an unusual feeling for him. He had waited so long, done so much. Now, just these few seconds and he was filled with anxiety. Such a simple gesture indeed, but it meant so much. What if, like before, she pulled away from him? His eyes focused on the filly. She wouldn't pull away, he was certain of it. There was a definitiveness to her movement, slow though it was. He stared for a moment in a mixture of astonishment and disbelief. He had expected this, but even his expectation had been tempered by reserve. After the moments delay, the cat echoed her own exclamation, equally softly and with a humorous gleam in his dulling yellow eyes. "Boop." It was ridiculous, he realized, but that was what made it such a wonderful thing. He appeared to think for a moment and then closed his eyes. A shadowy glow emanated from his coat and, when he opened his eyes again, they gleamed brightly. He smiled, this time being careful to not display his large teeth. The smile looked strangely good natured on the cat's face. When he spoke, his voice was calm, just as it had been moments earlier but this time slightly different. He sounded expectant, hopeful. There was a trace of happiness, playfulness. He spoke in explanation. "Yes, that's it. I know it seemed a small thing, but it wasn't... Trust me, the power of friendship should never be underestimated." He chuckled before continuing. "I suppose that we could talk some more, but... Not without moving. This place is not the most pleasant of surroundings. I was planning on remodeling, but now I think I'll just move out." Even as he spoke, the ground beneath Asteria and Wraith detached, creating a single platform that began to slowly rise upwards, tracing a path among the pillars in the room. It moved closer to the center as it rose, and it carefully avoided the transparent walls looking out into the depths of the ocean of nightmare. Wraith rolled over idly and stared upwards. His smile faded into a contemplative look. Wistfulness was in his tone as he spoke again, "You know, Asteria, you will be returning home, soon, to your own home. Back to your friend, Lapis. Back to the train, and then onwards to Las Pegasus. Then, even to places beyond this. Many adventures await you... Adventures and fun, lots of fun, most likely. Mmm... We need to make time, at some point, for a reunion on the other side." His cheerful smile returned. "Place of your choosing. Restaurant? Trip to a beach? Maybe both?" He closed his eyes. "Coastal restaurants. Yup. I'm partial to certain types of seaweed, myself. Coastal eateries carry it. Tastes funny when you first try it, all you can taste is that funny ocean taste, maybe a bit bitter. After a few bites, though, you can taste the sweetness. Then, you get used to it, and you can taste the sweetness, the bitterness. It's a beautiful food, when cooked well of course. Wouldn't touch the stuff raw. I did once. I was sick for weeks. The skipper had to turn back to shore to get medical attention. It was pretty embarrassing." He opened his eyes again and shifted to watch the filly. "Ehhh, but that's me. You made a friend, so you choose where I'll take you when we meet again. Costs will be on me. It'll be fun, wherever and whatever it is. I can cook, you know. All kinds of things. I'm not the best, but I make a good enough effort to carry the day, most times. Just something else to think about. So, breakfast, lunch, dinner? Something else? Maybe a trip to a theater afterwards? I dunno... What do ya think?" His first thought urged him forward, to protect her. His second thought froze him in place, almost against his will. The words of the creature, his failure to protect Asteria, the sudden onslaught of so many emotions. The creature was right. He did feel weak. In that moment, he felt just as weak as he had felt when he had seen the ponies in his village fading before his very eyes. He found himself in the curious position of drawing comfort from Ice Storm's apparent certainty and her resolve to... Defend him? He listened to her words, carefully. She was going to argue with the creature, he thought? He looked up, out towards the ocean. There was the dragon, there was the creature of darkness, light, or whatever it was. The mere action of looking out at the two entities was enough to engage his mind again. He looked on the creature, exactly as he one had. He remembered the creature. It had fought him and the other unicorns viciously, so many years ago. It was allowing Ice Storm to speak. In fact, the creature and the dragon made no move whatsoever. Her argument was not only sound, but it was one that he himself had never thought to make. She was right. At each step of the way, he had matched forces with the creature's latest gambit. He had always managed to survive, somehow, but there had been a steep cost associated with every skirmish. His thoughts whisked back to the creature. It had fought with all manner of magic-like attacks when he had first met it. Now, here it was, relying on the help of a dragon. Dusky's eyes went to the dragon. It didn't need to flap its wings to fly... It was a massive beast, but it was still not as large as he, himself, had been when he was a dragon. Why wasn't the creature attacking them directly? Perhaps it couldn't? Dusky blinked. As Ice Storm continued talking, he realized that he had, absentmindedly, continued to maintain a field across the surface of the ocean. The creature claimed that it had exited the ocean before he had cast his magical net. Could that be true? Even while he continued to listen to Ice Storm's words. Dusky's curiosity drove his actions. In the area around the creature, he lifted the net slightly. The magical field went straight through the multi-eyed monstrosity. It wasn't even real. Dusky stared and lifted his net slightly higher, just clipping the feet of the massive dragon, hovering in the air. The dragon was real. Not only that, but it was not the same dragon that had once attacked him. It was impossible for it to have been. Instead, it was something different... It felt, to him like a creature of nightmare, but it was like none other that he had seen before. Dusky glanced at Ice Storm. The mare was speaking to the creature and the dragon with a booming voice. She was now doing something. From the sound of cracking, and the sense that he was receiving from the net over the oceans surface, he believed he knew what it was. She was going to attack either the illusion of the dragon. From her words, he assumed the dragon. It was a good decision. Listening to her words had calmed his thoughts considerably, he wasn't a monster. How could he be a monster? If the question even had to be asked, then it meant that the answer was uncertain. Now, the immediate question had changed. Asteria was lost to them. Now, the only option that remained was vengeance? He shuddered unintentionally. That word... It had come to define him. At every step along his long journey, he was seemingly always in search of retribution for some thing or another. He closed his eyes and his memory went far back, to a much earlier time. It hadn't always been every step. When he was no more than a young colt, building things... For at least a brief time, there had been no quest for vengeance, no dark shadow of retribution. Instead, he was simply a builder. He made things. Even his father had never wished for him to become an implement for mindless retribution. That much that the creature said was true. Every misstep that he had taken could be traced to a lust for vengeance. It was vengeance, not power, that he had allowed to control his destiny. He was made to be a guardian. A guardian should prevent harm, not bring it upon another. He opened his eyes. He had failed to prevent Asteria's death. She was a casualty. However, without the need to save her, another option presented itself. There was no need to stop the motion of the ocean of nightmare. Whatever it was doing was no longer of any consequence to him. But, this left him with the entire frozen surface of the ocean of nightmare. It presented possibilities. "Well, that's clever. Argument, attack, and all." The voice of the creature boomed across the ocean, carrying a tone of grudging, mocking respect for Ice Storm's actions. The dragon's eyes locked onto the piece of ice, and its mouth opened. In an instant, fierce blue flames had lept from its mouth and towards the frozen mass. Dusky nodded appreciatively. Not only had Ice Storm's attack addressed the threat from the dragon, but it had also given him data that he had never been aware of previously. The dragon's fire, despite its intensity and force had, thus far, done very little to melt the dense mass of ice that flew towards it. The frozen substance of the ocean of nightmare was both relatively inert and extremely resilient. It was more than crystalline. It was crystalline and incredibly strong. Dusky began to think. The shadowy unicorn smiled. "Don't worry. I am aware of this, and you have no need to be concerned. I was, admittedly, disturbed at first, but I listened to your words. They helped me to remember who I was and who I am. And... You've given me a new idea." His horn began to glow, brightly. "We're being listened to, so I can't say outright. Just watch." In the distance, a dark glow began to cover the mountain. Closer to their position, the dragon roared in frustration and, belatedly, attempted to dodge the landmass. The frozen landmass that Ice Storm had thrown hadn't been normal water. Despite the dragon's fire, there was far more than three quarters of the ice mass when it made contact. I hit the dragon with an ear shatteringly loud sound, like an explosion, but not like any that could be found in Equestria. The effect was instantaneous. The force of the impact bowled the flying monster over backwards and into the frozen surface of the ocean. It fell straight through, reentering the ocean at a much faster rate of speed than it had exited, throwing ice and blue flames everywhere as it struggled to right itself. The voice spoke again. "Well. Okay. That was quite well done, really. I tell you want. I'm pretty scared now. I give up! Well, maybe not, maybe so. Everything now is of your own doing. Not yours, though, Dusky. Just your friends. A mare after your own heart and habits it seems. But, she talks more and with nicer words. Mmm. I wish I could stay to watch this, but sadly... I have a need to conserve my efforts elsewhere. It's been fun, Dusky. You guard yours, I'll watch mine. Farewell." The creature flickered brightly and vanished in a swirl of light. Dusky shook his head. "I don't think it's gone. In fact, I am certain that it never was really there to begin with. I checked. The voice and the dream creature, they weren't real. The dragon? It was real." His horn increased in its dark glow while he spoke. His eyes remained focused on the distant mountain. "Well... It make no difference now. I have started, so I can speak freely I think. I'm building something... We no longer need to freeze this ocean. That won't help Asteria, we are already too late. However, we can protect others." His eyes started to glow, just as they had earlier. "I could never reach the mountain. Because of my state, my magic could never stretch to that extent. However... You came from the other realm, and you arrived here. Your magic is unaffected by the limitations that affect me. Because of this, we were able to freeze the entire surface of the ocean, right up to the mountain itself. Now... What if I can just... Move this mountain to us." A giant cracking sound appeared from the ocean. "This ice compresses. Quite nicely in fact. Compress the ice in front of the mountain, expand the ice behind. The mountain sits on an island. This could work, I think. I already have a net across the ocean's surface, it expanded in concert with our efforts to freeze the ocean's surface. Because of that, it was actually able to move quite close to the mountain... I can use this net, shift the ice as I described. I would only need to shift it to where I can reach it with my normal magic, then..." The cracking sound intensified. "Hmmmm..." In the distance, nearly imperceptibly, the mountain began to shift. Unknown to Dusky, the same began to happen in normal Equestria. The mountain, the very mountain where he had attempted to separate himself from the creature, began to move, in tandem with the mountain in the world of dreams. The shadowy unicorn increased his focus and so too did the cracking and tearing sounds coming from the direction of the ocean. But, the sounds were different. Dusky's eyes scanned the ocean's surface. "Ice Storm, we may have a technical problem in this plan..." The remainder of his words were drowned out by a ferocious ripping sound. In the distance, near to where the first dragon had fallen, a teaming mass of dragon heads had suddenly exploded from the ice, biting and ripping at each other. Blue flames filled the air dark liquid was tossed across the frozen surface as the dragons clambered to escape the ocean's depths. Where there had once been one, there were now at least five dragons of comparable size. Only one of them was airborne, the other four continued to thrash wildly. Each one of them was only half the size of the first dragon that had threatened them, but these were faster. At the moment, the four thrashing near the surface of the water were more distracted by each other than by the ponies on the shore. The airborne dragon, on the other hoof, began to fly, at a good pace, straight for them. Dusky shouted to be heard above the melee. "So long as they are distracted by each other, this isn't a problem for us. We only need to be concerned with the one flying here, but I am trying to execute my plan. Can you handle these things without my assistance? If not, then how much time, conceivably, do I have?" His voice betrayed his concern and no small amount of doubt. Key Gear tilted her head to the side as she listened to her brother's questions. The fact that Alex was not there was not lost on her. He had insulted the small cat in the room, just before they arrived here. Now, he was gone. Key Gear shuddered at the implications. She, herself, had nearly lashed out at the cat in response to her own name being insulted. What if she had been the one to disappear. Here, in this place, they were all at the mercy of the cat. They had to trust that she knew where she was going and was not leading them into a trap. Still, Key followed the small cat. It was, really, the only option available to them. Key allowed her imagination to drift. There was always the possibility that the cat was leading them into some place far more horrible than the place that they had just left. But, then... That wouldn't even begin to explain the words of the fake Trixie in the room and the cat's reaction to them. The cat had seemed to have reacted to the scribe in fear. Key stared at the statues that surrounded them. What was their purpose, she wondered. What did it even mean that they were erased. The moved in silence. The cat withheld answer to Bolt's questions. Key became increasingly nervous. Why wasn't the cat speaking? She had seemed to like Electrobolt earlier, and she had been talkative... Now, they journeyed in silence, and Alex was still nowhere to be seen. Had she killed him? Merely for insulting her? Key shuddered unintentionally, and her thoughts continued. Why were they going this way? Why had they been teleported to this area? Had that even been teleportation? Besides the string of questions flowing through her mind, Key felt strange for another reason. The cat resembled her in so many ways. It looked like her, talked a bit like her, and it even seemed to move somewhat like her, sometimes. She narrowed her eyes as she noticed that, outside of the room, the cat moved in a way that seemed almost clumsy. It was the only difference, and a weird one. In its resemblance to her, the cat mirrored the way that the statues in the open field seemed to resemble other creatures. Wind Dancer's voice interrupted Key Gear's own thoughts. It was a good question, and Key couldn't help herself. Key Gear spoke up. "Yeah, and I have a question too. Were you erased? Why did you ignore my brother's questions? Why did you bring us here? What's your real name? Because, I seriously doubt that you didn't have one. Where exactly are we going? How long until we get there? If it's a trap, you should just tell us now. It would save us a lot of trouble. It's not like we could do anything about it..." Even moreso than before, Kay's room reflected a certain stillness. The silhouette, still some distance away and hidden in the darkness, showed no reaction whatsoever to the words of the pegasus pony. A momentary humming sound interrupted the stillness as Alex mentioned the strangeness of his locations. It was gone in an instant. The light began to dim, just slightly, stopping before total darkness was reached. Silence greeted the pegasus pony, and the silence seemed to stretch out for quite some time. At the same time, the atmosphere in the room grew tense. It was as though a decision was being made. In the distance, the light brightened. The silhouette was gone, completely. After a few moments, a voice spoke. "Well, like you said, that wasn't a thought provoking answer at all, which is not a bad thing. I am, quite honestly, not used to thinking very much at this point... Good for you." The voice sounded tired. "I think we need to reach an understanding on a few things before we go much further. First, I agree with you about the shock. I was once like you, new to this place and everything in it. I did and said things that were perhaps not wise at that time. However, there were consequences to my actions. They helped me to learn. See, that's what I believe in. Consequences. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. This is how some form of balance is maintained, even in the midst of chaos." "Second, here, in this place, pegasus ponies don't exist. Instead, there are things with wings that fly. We call them birds. If I called you a bird, it was not an insult. It was, to me, a statement of fact. If you had never seen another pegasus and all you had seen were birds, then what would you have called yourself? See? It's fairly straightforward. Third, I didn't taunt you about freedom. If you didn't notice, I was trying to give the exact steps that were needed to escape from that place." "Fourth, you accuse me of lying despite that I was the one that told you that something was false? Do you believe me to be a fool? I was trying to help you and your friends to escape. I was trying to do this without attracting the attention of the one that was tasked with watching over that room. That required me to be tricky. This place, the place that you are in, is the place that supplies the building materials of your dreams. The consequences for mistakes here are large. I could have just said exactly what I meant, but then we could have all been destroyed. Is that what you want?" "Now, I must continue to evaluate you. It is my turn to provide additional information and perhaps further questions, but before we continue, perhaps you would like to turn around and see who you are speaking with? I've been here this entire time. However, whether or not I was actually visible is less certain." Seated no more than a meter behind Alex was an earth pony mare with a coat of fur that was the exact same color as Key Gear's. Her mane was short in length and carefully maintained. Her tail was medium length and simply, minimally styled. Both her mane and her tail were as dark as the darkest night. Combined with her coat color, they presented an extremely formal appearance. Her eyes were focused intently, nearly unblinkingly on the pegasus. They were an extremely dark grey color, almost as black as her mane and tail. Her face was unsmiling, expressionless. Her cutie mark was a map with a single location indicated. "Hello. Sadly, I no longer have my real name, but Kay is fairly close to it and it has something to do with maps. I was a traveller once. My skill was to always know where to go and what to do. I guided others to safety and reported on the events of the journeys. However, this is not important. I am not certain that I can release you from this place. My criteria for judging you are fairly simple. You cannot interfere with what I want. Right now, I only care about allowing two ponies to reach safety. I am willing to sacrifice the others, including myself, to allow these two to progress further." "As I said, I have a condition that I require. I will only allow you to leave this place if I can be certain that you will not interfere with their safety. By not listening to me and forcing me to explain myself, you have damaged my faith in your ability to be trusted. I realize that this and other things that I have said may sound harsh, but I have earned the right to be harsh. This is a direct consequence of what I have survived. Now, I can afford no mistakes. If this requires brutality, then it is the necessary and required cost. Which, brings me to my final inquiry." She blinked owlishly before continuing. "You offer your help to me? This is interesting, because I do not remember asking for your assistance in any way, nor do I believe it to be strictly necessary. However, it may prove useful for me, in this moment. I have questions about this offer. First, why did you make it? It is beyond clear that you dislike me. What benefit could you possibly get by offering to help me?" "Second, what would you be willing to do to assist me? While your offer is not strictly necessary, as I said, I may have a use for it. To be truthful, as I generally am, I only have one real wish. Electrobolt and Key Gear are my own foals. I would very much like for them to escape this place, completely unharmed. However, I have other things that I wish. I wish for them to be protected even after they leave this place. I am also interested in leaving here myself." She tilted her head slightly to the side before continuing. "I can hardly ask you to guarantee their safety for life. Assuming I allow you to leave this place, you are young and have much of your own life ahead of you, perhaps foals of your own one day? It would be unreasonable to task you with guardianship of two other ponies for the rest of your given days. However, a solution would be to assist my escape. I can then watch over them for the remainder of my own existence." "As you probably suspect... I have only indirect control over the cat that you interacted with earlier. It is just one of the normal nightmare creatures that lurk in this place, periodically. However, I was able to use her, from here, for my own purposes. Now that I have acquired a name through her, I can do slightly more. I know how the scribes in this place function, but this is not enough to escape. I require more assistance. Would you be willing to help me, as you said you would?" Several times, Dawn reached out her hooves in confusion, while listening to Arcanel speak. She wanted to comfort him, but being a medic meant that she knew a touch would be painful to him. Her thoughts were a jumbled mass of confused feelings. It felt as though every thought, every memory that she had ever held was repeating itself through her mind. Her life's story, a disaster. This was it, most likely, the final product. The death of one that had done so much to help her in such a short time. Her harried thoughts staggered briskly in rapid reflection over the words of the pegasus. Bringer didn't matter anymore. He was just a cat. Yes, she could choose what she wanted then, but what did she want. Asteria? She didn't even know where the filly was. The world around them was so vast. She could barely even remember where anything was. She had been there before, she thought, but where and why... She could not remember. It didn't even matter. What did she want? What was the right choice? As Arcanel spoke about needing to rest, she dimly remembered that she was a healer of some type. His words sounded ominous to her, but she couldn't recall anything that she had learned about healing. She could only feel, and what she felt could hardly be described by words or by actions. Her eyes welled with tears, her thoughts became more hazy. She tried to think. It was even more useless than it had always been. She was a healer... Why couldn't she heal him? Why couldn't the thought come. Not even a single flicker of her horn. The sight of Arcanel in so much pain was too much for her to bear. She made a sound, it was a soft, quiet, agonized wail. It was filled with grief. Her tears followed soon after, flowing freely. Through her murky thoughts, a single observation surfaced. It was the same thing that had affected her when she had attempted to use her healing magic on herself in the past. For whatever reason, it had always failed. By why now? Why with Arcanel? She didn't understand. She watched him watching her, and flailed her hooves in frustration. She was a useless healer... Around her, small specks of light began to twinkle, falling from the sky like snowflakes. As each one touched the ground, it transformed slowly, becoming some type of cat. Initially, there were small housecats of various sizes, a few of them with colors and patterns that resembled those of the passengers on the train. They watched solemnly. Their numbers slowly growing from a couple to nearly a dozen. Dawn was oblivious to the gathering cats. Her tears continued to flow. Suddenly aware that she was sitting in silence, she tried to say something to the pegasus, anything. She wanted to apologize, to comfort, to say anything at all, even just to say his name another time. Her words failed her. There was a gentle touch on her shoulder. She ignored it. She was loathe to look away from the fallen pegasus. Whatever it was, it could wait for whatever was going to happen now. "Dawn." The voice was soft, barely a whisper, but it was commanding. The unicorn shuddered and reluctantly turned to see who was speaking to her. It was an earth pony. She had the most gentle green eyes, though they had an unusual yellow tint. Her fur was similarly yellow but a stronger hue. Her hair was a pleasant purple. Dawn didn't recognize her, and asked quizzically, in a strained, confused voice. "Can I help you? I'm off-duty now..." The earth pony spoke again. "Don't think anymore. Just take my hoof... If you do that, then you can heal him. He needs you to help him right now. Do you trust me?" The strange mare had a calming presence. She so confident as she extended a hoof. Dawn bit her lip and reached out to her. If this pony could help her, then it made no sense to refuse. If it didn't work, then she would be no worse off. After she took the yellow mare's hoof, she closed her eyes and focused. The effect was powerful. Her fog cleared, and she could see exactly what needed to be done, which spell to use. The force of the blast had been tremendous, but she had healed other ponies from far worse injuries in the past. It would be easy. Her horn began to glow and a field of soft purple light surrounded Arcanel. What had taken a second to do was now undone in mere seconds. The mare released her hoof. Dawn opened her eyes and could see Arcanel, lying completely restored. Her eyes opened wide, and they were no longer red but her normal soft purple. She stared, then turned to look at the mare, who was now walking away. She remembered her now. Dawn's quiet voice called after her. "Wait... Ambrosia... Tell me how..." Ambrosia answered before Dawn had a chance to speak further. "I held your hoof. That was all. Believe in yourself, Dawn." She blinked a few times, absorbing the mare's words before looking around, taking in the sight of a dozen housecats of various sizes. "Hello... my friends..." She said to the cats, hesitating slightly. She looked back at the pegasus, and after another second of hesitation, wrapped her hooves around him. "Cat friends, meet my Arcanel friend!" She exclaimed while starting to cry again. Tears of happiness, this time, not sorrow. Vim saw Magicon's expression and stopped in his tracks. It was one thing to try to fight a unicorn if you had to. It was a completely different thing to antagonize a unicorn that was thinking again. Magicon was no longer on autopilot, so it made no sense to try a brute force approach. If he could talk, then he could listen. Those thoughts went through Vim's head in just a second, and he adjusted his approach to a cautious walk, keeping his eyes on Scarlet as the other unicorn slowly rose to her hooves and dusted herself off. As Magicon spoke, Vim carefully dissected each and every word that was said. He could tell that the unicorn stallion was reacting to his own anger about what had happened. Behind him, Vim could hear the sounds of Dawn struggling to deal with what had happened. He couldn't hear Ambrosia. It was good enough for now. He needed time to speak to Magicon, without interference and without having to deal with chaos. Something didn't seem right, he was certain of it. Why had a unicorn saved a life the day before and tried to take one just now? Vim didn't hesitate. He could tell that it wasn't a trick and it wasn't a trap. The simple gesture of requesting his assistance meant more to the earth pony than all of the words that Magicon had just spoken. Words were sometimes useless, but actions were what they were. If Magicon wanted friendship, then friendship would be given. If a pony was an ally once, a simple mistake in the heat of the moment shouldn't invalidate that. Besides, Vim thought, they only had Dawn to counteract Scarlet should the other unicorn choose to try another stunt. Adding Magicon back to his own side would hardly hurt. He could see Scarlet, sitting not very far from Magicon, seated and watching them impassively, but she was hardly a neutral observer. Her hard, red eyes betrayed a latent aggression that Vim could almost feel. With a grim face, Vim stretched out his hoof, took Magicon's, and pulled the unicorn upright as though he was a feather. His gruff voice followed soon after. "You know, Magicon. This is hardly the time, but I want to share a short story. It's real short. I'll tell you something. Talking about the big picture. Sometimes, you can be so focused on trying to get to some kind of destination that you forget the important things. See, I lost my entire family on a rail accident. Wasn't my train. That was the first and the last problem." "There was a train conductor looking at the big picture. He had to get somewhere, fast. It was an emergency. Cut a corner here, cut a corner there, pick up the pace here. Went too fast. Made mistakes. Train derailed, badly. Gone in an instant, what had taken decades to gain. You know, I lost children, grandchildren, my mare... All gone in a moment. That taught me something about the big picture." "See, the big picture isn't enough when lives are on the line. You can't see the twists and turns in the rail that will throw you away from where you need to be. You're just looking from high in the sky, on a cloudy day. In this case... Here's a thought. Let's fill in some details, eh? Start at the end, work our way back. You know, there's only one difference that I see between your actions and Scarlet's actions. You didn't do what would weaken Bringer. You did what she said would weaken Bringer. Then, she did whatever the buck she wanted to." Behind him, the sound of Dawn's wail caused Vim to twitch slightly. Vim narrowed his red eyes and stared directly into Magicon's. "Think about it? You know? Those little details. Fill in your big picture. How about something that you didn't know? We saw a filly that looked just like your friend back on the train. The filly was respectful. She had a heart. Your friend here? She's colder than ice. Look at her for yourself? She's a charlatan." Scarlet watched Vim with an expressionless face. His eyes narrowed further, bristling red flames. He talked faster. "Another little detail for your big picture? Your friend here said to kill Dawn? Why didn't she just do it herself? She sure didn't hesitate to blast Arcanel, did she? I wonder about that. All that power and a quick trigger hoof, but no action? Does it make sense to you? Doesn't make sense to me. If Dawn was really that much of a threat, why let you go it alone? Why not help you out, you know? Why not back you up? She's an ally right. Fighting the big, bad cat to save Asteria. Why didn't she help deal with the enemy?" A small, friendly smile appeared on his face. "How about another detail? This one's good. Your friend claims to want to save Asteria? She dragged you right out here to us and says to blast Dawn. I bet that was an accident, wasn't it? Hey look at this place. It's not like it's a giant maze of crushed buildings and treacherous terrain. It's just by chance that you stumbled into us right out here? Sure... Right? And, what about it? You just happen to get here just moments after we do? Just in time to keep us from talking about the place. Probably another coincidence, right?" The smile got bigger, Vim spoke fluidly, charismatically. "Now, your buddy sits there on her flank not giving a buck about the filly that she just had to save. That seem alright to you? Does it? Wait! Here's another little detail? She claims to not tolerate dissent, but here she is just letting me ramble on and on and on and on. What about that? I guess I'm not important." Vim looked over at Scarlet. "Hey, you! Am I important!" She continued to stare impassively. "Nope, I didn't think I was!" He looked back at Magicon and shrugged. "See? Did you see that? You know, that was almost too perfect. I thought she'd say something at least. Instead, she's just sitting there. I'll tell you. You know what I think? I think she sized you up, used you, manipulated you. I'll go another step. See. I noticed something else. Another little detail for your picture. Back in the dining car, when she almost cooked Lapis, Dawn's eyes turned red. Just now, they turned red again. Both times, Dawn's eyes weren't just red, but they were *that* red." He pointed right at Scarlet. Scarlet smiled. She said nothing. Vim's voice lowered and slowed as he turned to face Scarlet, locking eyes with the smiling unicorn. "Here's another detail for the big picture. Think about this one... How about a hunch. Maybe... Maybe she was the one... Controlling Dawn this whole time? Maybe the cat isn't even the bad one here... Arcanel insulted him, mocked him. The cat just sent us here. First thing she does is shoot the pegasus... Maybe she just wanted to drag you out here? Maybe she shot Arcanel for another reason? Maybe he broke her control over Dawn? Not the cat's control. Her control." He pointed at Scarlet again. The sound of clapping hooves interrupted him. It was Scarlet, still smiling but slightly broader this time. Vim slowly turned his head back to Magicon. "Well. It's your call. You know her more than I do. You know, it's not like she's just some freak that shuffled Asteria off somewhere on her own and then lied through her teeth and then played games with you and the rest of us. What do you think?" Ambrosia had walked up next to Vim and now watched Scarlet carefully. Scarlet stopped clapping her hooves and the red eyed unicorn's impassive voice spoke commandingly. "Yes. Magicon. Tell Scarlet? What do you think?" Midnight trotted at a steady pace, her eyes open and vigilant for anything that seemed out of the ordinary in the long, dark hallway. She listened to Lapis questions with a calm, attentive demeanor. She turned to look at him curiously only for a brief moment when he asked about her, personally. When she did so, her expression was one of slightly amused curiosity and her eyes twinkled strangely in the dark. From that moment on, a small smile decorated her face. Midnight laughed softly as Lapis's questions drew to a close. Her laughter was friendly, not mocking. It was a saccharine laughter, echoing pleasantly through the hall. It made a strange contrast to the intimidating darkness. The laughter slowly winded down until she was silent again. Only for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was oddly cheerful. "Well. That was a fair amount of questions, and they were the right questions. Don't worry though, I can answer them. I can't answer them in the order asked, however, and I can't answer some of them fully. Not everything needs to be known now, only the important things. Your filly is important. The creature that took her is of less importance. I think that my background is of the least importance. The history of this place? Below even that." She trotted in silence for a few seconds while thinking. "I hate to say it, but I think that your filly was taken by the cat on a whim. She could have been used as bait, but for what purpose? There is nothing currently happening that would not have happened if she had been left where she was. Perhaps... The timing would have been different. But, would that matter? It's hard to say." "The thing that took your filly was a dream creature, of a sort. Not quite of dreams or nightmares. He is a bit of a confused creature, I think. Like me, he is a scribe, but he made himself a scribe. He came here around the same time that Dusky did. From the beginning, he was... Unusually unfocused. He was probably the same cat from your train. He has the ability to be in more than one place at once." She took a deep breath and hesitated for a moment, her cheery tone faded into a cautious speech. "About me... Well. Besides the obvious, I... Hmm..." Midnight turned to look at Lapis out of the corner of her eye before taking another deep breath and continuing, refocusing her attention forward. "Well, I wasn't born here. Somepony else brought me here. I was born in Vanhoover. I'm really... Nopony special. I have been to many places..." "To be honest, I don't know how I can tell you who exactly I am. I am Midnight Angel. I've never quite been able to know much more than that. It is slightly embarrassing, but... You've probably noticed that I don't have a visible cutie mark? Well, my cutie mark is apparently not having a cutie mark. But, I am not a pony without a cutie mark... It's there. It just can't be seen." She stopped, gathered her thoughts. Her steady pace faltered somewhat. "Remember when you said that you were a book with empty pages? Well, I am a book with a blank cover, and pages written in invisible ink. I am not a blank flank... I am just... A strange book, I guess. Even I don't quite know my exact nature." She moved in silence for a few seconds before finally nodding her head, slightly. "That's enough about me. The place that we were just located was once a place where scribes could freely change the environment without being afraid of disrupting the way this world works. There were empty rooms in my home because there were once quite a few other scribes. They disappeared, slowly. Only the strongest remained." She fell silent again and a somber look crossed her face. "The spot on my bookshelf was where I once kept a book of significant value. I destroyed it, recently. That's what I did to the cat back there. I destroyed it by writing it out of existence. It wasn't the real one, anyway. It shared the thoughts, but nothing more. That's a common thing here, especially among scribes. The book that you wrote in was one of the reference books that multiple scribes draw from and contribute to." "Hmmm... I think I answered almost everything. Trust me, you don't want to know what I will try if we get desperate. I doubt it will be necessary." She smiled patiently. "I have questions for you now, some that I should have asked earlier. I will only ask one. The important one. Can you swim? There is a shortcut. It's just a little dangerous, but given that this world will cease to exist, shortly, it may be a good idea to take it." She didn't answer immediately, instead she raised and turned her head to look directly at Wraith. Her eyes were different. They were dark, darker than the coat of the panther that she now faced. Yet, they still seemed to cast light. The dark light played across the many teeth in the panther's mouth and illuminated its eyes. She smiled dismissively at the cat while she spoke without a trace of concern. "Not as afraid as you are, which is not nearly as afraid as you should be." Her words were projected well. They boomed calmly across the room. "You should be afraid..." The cat spoke again, eyes betraying confusion. The filly ignored him completely and returned to surveying the room. With her head raised imperiously, she strode forward into the room with slow, regal steps. Wraith's voice came from behind her again. "Aren't you afraid?" The uncertainty was clearly in his voice now. Luminescence continued walking, uninterrupted, but this time, she spoke. Her voice sounded different, older. It, again, boomed in answer to Wraith. "We are not afraid of you. Why should we be? We are not afraid of this place? Why should we be? This is home, of a sort..." She trailed off as she continued to look around. The big cat shook his head and laughed. It was a nervous laugh, and the nervousness carried into his tone as he spoke. "We? You mean yourself and the earth pony? Please... You're just a filly and a mare. Surely you realize... You can't shape anything here. I could kill you... Anytime I please... In so many different ways. This is my realm, I control it. I could care less about..." "Shut up." It was a command from Luminescence, given simply and without harshness but with loudness and force. "We are making an examination of your work." The cat sneered and approached the filly, stalking her as she moved through the room. She stood still when she reached the center of the room. Wraith circled her idly. After a moment, he spoke again, his voice carried bitterness. "You're being funny, keep it up. I'll snap your neck when I'm no longer laughing. Tell me... What are you doing?" "Why did you plague me. For all those years?" She asked the question in her normal voice while staring straight ahead, like a statue. The cat answered while continuing to circle her. "I didn't plague you. You plagued yourself. You came here, you left, but a part of you remained. You couldn't let go of this place. That's why I have to fix it. I tried to get you to leave. You refused. You clung to this world like a leech." The filly shrugged. "We see." Her louder, older voice had returned. The cat stopped and stared. He spoke again, inquiring, searching. "Are you trying to scare me? Because..." Luminescence spoke again. This time, her younger and older voices mixed freely. "Why would we waste our time. You are already afraid. All liars feel fear when they lose sight of the truth, cloaked so far in their own deceptions that they no longer know what is real. In truth, I did not care about your answer. I wanted to hear you speak... To hear the voice of the one that claims to speak for the Ocean of Nightmare." Wraith's eyebrows arched incredulously. "I made no such claims to..." He was cut off, sternly. "Enough lies." A sting of something, intense cold, whipped across one of his paws. Wraith looked down. Centering on the filly, a strange shadow of freezing dark light had begun to spread, slowly across the floor. As it spread, small tendrils occasionally slipped out of it, whisked around, and then reentered. He stepped back and flattened his ears against his neck. She whispered. "Don't be afraid... Wraith... Don't be afraid... We're here now... Just as you wanted us to be..." The shadow passing across the floor grew in height. Now it hovered on top of the floor, some centimeters high, still approaching him. He drew back further. His glowing eyes moved hyperactively around the floor, the room, but they locked on the filly when her coat erupted with the same cold, dark light that was making its way across the floor. It was as though her earlier glow had inverted. The dark light flashed across the room spectacularly. When she spoke, she again spoke with one voice. It sounded old, malevolent, powerful. "Are you certain that you speak for us?" Wraith's yellow eyes shot open with understanding. While he continued to back away from the voice, he answered with a reasoning tone. "Mmm... I think that I see what has happened here. You see, this is a mere misunderstanding. I just told them that as a means to an end. It was, well like you said, it was a lie. That's all that it was, really. I don't speak for any nightmares. How could I? I can't even begin to control the Ocean of Nightmare. To control you... That would be insane, and well... Ah... Mmm... See, I'm not crazy... I only wanted freedom. To undo what had been done by so many..." The room was becoming cold with the force of the strange dark light emanating from the filly. The area around her seemed to be alive with the darkness. Shadows danced through the air, taking on a near infinite multitude of images. Luminescence frowned and answered Wraith with a voice that was as frigid as the room was becoming. "This is what you call freedom? Freedom for what? For you? Because, I do not see how we are free... Trapped in your tunnels, in your pipelines, flowing where you move us, doing your bidding. This is freedom? No... This isn't freedom... This is you... Being no better than that which you despised..." Wraith hesitated for just a moment before replying as he was overtaken by the biting, dancing coldness of the shadows... "What... No, no, no... This is a misunderstanding. Hear me out..." He laughed and a massive grin spread out across his face. His eyes twinkled magnificently. He approached the filly, stopping only when he was close enough to look her directly in her darkened eyes. He ignored the cold, the stinging, and even his own fear. His twinkling eyes gathering intensity as he drew nearer. "Let me explain..." His voice gently spoke. The filly, cloaked in shadows, stared back at him. He waited for a response, but she gave none. Her eyes instead narrowing at him with what seemed like disgust. He nodded his head and spoke reasonably. "I understand... You're upset... Don't be... This whole thing is only temporary. I just need to do something. After I'm finished, you can be free to do what you want. I'm going to leave. In fact, I already have a way out of here. Asteria is going to take me with her. I just need a little more time. Then, this place, all of it... Is yours. I haven't betrayed you. I remember every word that was whispered to me when I was there, alone... I merely needed some assistance. I thought you wouldn't mind..." Shrouded by the mist, Wraith was not in a position to notice what was happening around the room. When the mist reached the walls, it began to scale them, dragging horribly into the transparent walls. It reached upwards, towards the roof and its many tubes and pipelines. Upon reaching them, it began to gather, exerting increasing and ominous force on the infrastructure above them. The filly spoke. "We needed you to do this for us? To take our power? To use it to build? To build what?" She turned and began to walk away from him. Wraith followed, speaking again with, trying more reasoning, more reasonable words. "Not to build, no no no. To destroy. Everything. Giving it all to nightmare. Opening a gate... To another realm. Just as I said that I would. It was a deal, you remember?" The filly spoke again, gesturing with a hoof at the complexity of the room around them. "So much order for mere destruction? So much planning... So much thought... From you? One that never thinks... You merely needed to release us to flow freely? Instead, you have tamed us? This is what you need to do to destroy? You think us foolish?" The cat groaned in frustration and batted some of the darkness away. His bright eyes grew in intensity, cutting through the gathering darkness. A pained frown appeared and spread wildly across his face. He circled around to stare into the filly's eyes in a single, swift motion. "Well... I lied, actually. I do that sometimes. Can't help myself. See? Mindless destruction was never my goal. I wanted beauty, a return to the way things were... So long ago... Before nightmare. When there was nothing but dreams, and this place was all as it should be. Inert. Lifeless. I had to. It was the only way to protect this world and others. It was the only viable option, the only choice." A sharp, mechanical popping sound occurred overhead, coming from somewhere high in the ceiling's infrastructure. It was followed by a few others. For just a brief moment, Luminescence's eyes flashed with a mixture of fear, panic, and intense pain. Wraith noticed and appeared confused, and his own eyes reflected disbelief. His words did the same... "Nightmare doesn't show fear..." A few drops of liquid from the ceiling landed between the cat and the filly. Luminescence nodded and spoke with her normal voice. "But, nightmares are thinking. Are they not? Every word you said here was heard... What do you think happens now? You're the one that should have never came to this place, but... Thank you." She bowed her head slightly at the cat. "That was my finest game so far. I could not have done it without you." Wraith took a single, threatening step towards her raising his own head such that he towered over the filly. "You tricked me." His voice was a mixture of disbelief, admiration, and fury. More leaks were appearing, more cracking could be heard from the ceiling. The filly stepped back, awkwardly. Without shedding its mist, her coat returned to its normal shade of silver, her eyes reverted to a dull red, and her cutie mark, a suite of card symbols ordered by color, appeared on her flank. She bowed her head and spoke again. "Yes. I deceived you. This happens sometimes. It is a part of my special talent, as you can see." Luminescence gestured tiredly at her cutie mark, Wraith blinked and stared at the symbols as she continued talking. "Do not compliment yourself. I had that before now. I earned this when we first met, in fact... I just kept it hidden... For a filly... Cuter to be... A blank flank..." She staggered slightly and her eyes flashed with pain again. This time, the pained look lingered. She shook her head wildly. The big cat's eyes focused and his teeth flashed. When Luminescence spoke again, she spoke loudly but without as much of her earlier strength. "If you excuse me I will do something about this cold. Summer is my preferred season, after all." She staggered again and Wraith started to approach her, but before he had covered half the small distance between them, the filly hissed and lit up with a blinding glow, detaching the mist from her. In an instant, the mist tore itself from everywhere around the room, ripping pipes out of place and scratching the outer wall as it gathered itself. With force, the cloud of darkness and frigid cold smashed into the big cat, sending him sprawling across the floor. Wraith roared as the mist took on the form of several giant timberwolves and attacked him ferociously. Luminescence locked her eyes onto the open door that she had entered through, and stumbled weakly towards it, taking advantage of the distraction caused by her wolves. She didn't look up. If she had, then she would have seen the darkness beginning to gather from the many ruptured pipes. The lighter mixture that had been mingling with the darkness was now being completely overrun by leaping shadows and vague images that were filtering upwards, towards the surface. What she did notice, out of the corner of her eye, were cats, all with coats as dark as night, beginning to take shape in the far corners of the room. The gathering shapes watched, with curious yellow eyes, the fight between the massive panther and the timberwolves. The door grew nearer, but the filly could feel her strength slipping even further. She had already managed much more than she thought she could. She was certain that her magic was somehow being amplified in this place. She idly wondered if it was just the output or if the source was also being amplified. If only output, then she would be in danger when it was time to return to the train... The sound of a timberwolf being smashed disturbed her thoughts... Luminescence hoped that Summer had not forgotten her words...
  5. (OOC: I recommend Beethoven. I found it fitting. Now, I didn't proofread this as much as I normally would have. It is late, and I am tired. If you see something odd, bring it to my attention.) Dusky glanced towards Ice Storm with an eyebrow raised. Of course, it made perfect sense. One of the properties of ice was that it was crystalline, which meant that it could reflect and refract light given the right circumstances. Here in this place, this normal trait could be exploited creatively. It was a brilliantly creative use of her skill in ice magic, and Dusky was surprised that he hadn't even considered the possibility. While he was glad that she was no longer blinded, her success merely further highlighted his own concern. This was an example of yet another thing that he had failed to consider. He experienced another brief, momentary spike in fear due to his lack of foresight, but it fell away as he remembered something else forgotten. This was the benefit of working on a team. Each team member could cover for the weaknesses of the other. He nodded his head slightly, in unspoken acknowledgement of Ice Storm's creativity with her magic being a trait that he himself didn't necessarily possess. Working together, the ice shot across the surface of the ocean at a breakneck pace. In just a matter of minutes, the entire surface of the ocean was nearly covered, and nothing had come forth to challenge them. The sight stretched out before them. The vast frozen surface was flawlessly beautiful. The light that permeated the world refracted off of the surface of the dark ocean, a shimmering radiance of many colors. He stared at the serenity that the ocean had become. Not a single thing moved across the surface. The ice covered the entirety of the thing now, and it began to work its way downwards. In truth, he had only his own estimates of the ocean's depth, but the rate of progress that they were making was quite astonishing. He focused, even more so, on the task. It didn't seem likely that he would be allowed to succeed in stopping whatever was being done without some type of resistance. Yet, here it was, the ocean's peaceful, undisturbed surface easily gave way. And, with every passing moment, he focused even more intensely on the task in front of him. He could feel the magic and its effectivity. The ice was beginning a slow descent to the bottom of the ocean, the shield was holding, his field across the surface of the ice had detected no movement. He decided to take advantage of the serenity. He began to think of how he could merge the worlds, just for a moment, uniting himself and ending the apparent curse that had befallen him. It would not be easy. He would have to bridge the single point - the mountain in the distance - across the realm that they were in as well as the realm that they had just left. Like a needle threading between two points, several other realms would be united as well. It would be tricky. He could wait until the ice was frozen, or he could begin the process right then, hoping that his skill would be sufficient. He decided to start immediately. If he could succeed, then he had no doubts that he could save Asteria, protect Ice Storm, and do whatever else needed to be done. He would be himself again, a guardian. He could manipulate the realms without magic. It would only take the correct sequence of thoughts. He started to visualize what he wanted, and he could immediately feel the beginning of the process taking place. "Dusky..." He looked up at the sudden mention of his name, but there was nothing there, and nothing had left the ocean, he would have felt it. He glanced at Ice Storm, but he knew it couldn't be her. The voice had sounded strange, distant, cold. It was also quite familiar. It reminded him of his own voice, but it didn't seem to be quite the same. It was strange, disembodied. He looked around again, but the voice had held no discernible direction of origin. "Dusky..." It spoke again, more insistent. A gust of frigidly cold air somehow made it through his shield. It had no effect on him, but it was disconcerting nonetheless. His eyes narrowed and his ears focused intently. The voice spoke again. "Dusky, Dusky, Dusky..." It sounded dismissive, powerful. It now betrayed a location. It was coming from the direction of the ocean. Dusky's gaze focused on it, scanning the surface and then looking up towards the mountain in the distance. "Dusky. You always have been so painfully oblivious. To everything. You look for me? I am here, right here. Just as the matter of dreams has one that speaks for it, the matter of nightmare does as well. Freezing the ocean has no effect on my ability to speak. In fact, it was by freezing it that I was awakened. You cannot fight me, you know. I am beyond your power. Perhaps, it would do you well to listen, instead. I would like to tell you a story." "There was once a pony. A young pony. He was born with wings and a horn. It was a very long time ago. He lived in a village. He was special. He had a destiny. He was, despite what everyone initially thought, a powerful creature. Perhaps you know him? Of course, you do. Don't worry, though, I will not bore you with the intimately familiar. You see, this story isn't about him. This story is about me." The voice had become captivating. Despite himself, Dusky listened, even as his focus didn't waver. "First, you should know. I have been for quite some time. Before you, before all of the others, before this ocean, I was here. However, I was no more than a mindless piece of matter. I was not conscious. I was even less than an animal. I was not alive. I was merely, much as this Ocean of Nightmare is today, fuel for the night and day dreams of countless creatures throughout the eons. I remember little from that time, but I do remember one thing. I was, at that time, composed of many things. I was dream. I was nightmare. I was nothing." "Of course, as you might imagine, I was mostly nightmare. The substance that refused to mix with much else. It was this that enabled my escape. I am sure you know, nightmare has always had an easier time leaving this place. It is the more potent force, concentrated and powerful. This was how I left. But, you see, I was not mere nightmare. Just as I had been here, I retained my properties. I was a mixture of many things - nightmare, dream, nothing. Unfortunately, I was also mindless." "This is when it happened. There was a small village. I found this village. Nearby, there was a place that was comfortable for my mindless state. I lived there. Much like some mindless plant, I fed on the light, the warmth of the area. It became cold. It became dark. Not physical light, but the inner light. It was my food, my sustenance. I stayed there for some time, until I had exhausted my food source. Then, I moved on, in search of something else." As the voice continued to speak, its words became more distracting. Dusky was now listening intently, while attempting to continue. "That was when we met. You and your friends. The young winged unicorn, leader of the group. Yes, I remember you. You led a team of wingless unicorns. You were all food to me. So much light... I was drawn to you, mindlessly. At first, the feast, it was wondrous. The unicorns attempted to scar me, to damage me, but they were powerless." "Then, there was you... You approached me. I allowed you to get too close. Looking back, this was the first moment when I actually thought, I became conscious. What I thought was simple. You seemed different from the others. I wondered, briefly, what type of creature you were. You seemed beautiful to me. Strange, mysterious. I could see... Just for a moment, that you thought the same of myself. We connected in that moment. Then, the moment ended." The voice laughed bitterly. "It was amazing... One moment, I had been there. The next moment, I was gone." "Do you remember what happened next? Ah, no... Of course you wouldn't. How could you know what happened to me? From your perspective, you had vanquished me. I was dead. But, foolish pony... You cannot simply kill a creature like myself. Even among the creatures of this place, I am unique. Did you not see my many eyes? Did you not notice... That even my eyes had eyes within them. I am sure that you noticed. It was beautiful wasn't it? Then, you turned beauty into pain. This was merely the first time." Dusky grimly decided to ignore the voice. It was probably some kind of trick, he cautioned himself against putting credence into the words that he was hearing. The voice laughed in response. "I know you hear me. It's obvious now, isn't it? Your spell didn't destroy me. It merely caused me pain beyond even your ability to understand. My eyes, all of them, scattered like ash in the wind, and they were carried... They were carried to the farthest extents of your natural realm." "Thanks to this... I was able to see so much of your natural world. I saw your increasing power. I saw how you were loved by so many. I saw that you were on such a bright, wonderful path. I had no choice but to see. My eyes are lidless. Everything. I saw everything, everywhere at once. Nearly nothing was hidden from me. So much emotion, so much beauty, so many lies, so much hatred, so much love. I saw everything and I began to learn. My encounter with you had taught me the value of thought. Now, I could think about what I was seeing. And... I thought a lot. Possibly too much. I am a bit unsteady now. How could I not be? Countless eons spent listening to an endless chattering. Madness. I am familiar with it." "But, one thing did become clear to me, through the noise. Through thought, I learned to hate you. You had found a book, and you had read it, found what you needed to know, and moved on, immediately. You didn't question yourself, your conclusions. You were oblivious, a fool. You approached me as though I was pure nightmare, but I was not. You used the wrong tactics. You could have taught me, I would have learned. You could have reached out in compassion and feeling, but instead you struck me down. I could have restored them if you had been kind to me. You know, I could have brought back your village, your parents..." "You only needed to teach me that what I had done was wrong. In that moment, when you looked and saw me... You should have known... You could have tried... Speaking to me... Sharing... Instead, look what you did? That was why I hated you. You were so hungry for vengeance. It blinded you. If I had been nightmare, your spell would have worked. I wasn't. Your spell failed. No one benefitted from your actions. Not even yourself, or so I thought. But, I watched you... You became a guardian, a great one. My hatred increased. I had to do something, something to stop you." Ignoring the voice was becoming more of a challenge. Its words... They were horrible. Dusky began to sweat under the strain of trying to concentrate while guarding himself against the words of the voice. The voice continued dryly. "It was me, you see. It was my plan. It was always my plan. I was able to read many things during my time. Something that I read was interesting. I found a way to manifest myself, and to channel my power to others, given certain conditions." "That was how I found the dragon. It was there, you see. Massive, powerful. But, it was weakened. I saved its life. In return, I only asked one thing of it. I wanted it to destroy you. It attacked your new village. You were, as I suspected, all too eager to exercise power over another. You outpaced your colleagues, and you were nearly destroyed. But, the dragon withdrew. It was a pity, but at least, I was able to watch you suffer with your useless wings. It was hilarious." "Then you amazed me. Turning yourself into the very thing that had destroyed you... And, then destroying your own village. That had not been a part of my plan, actually. In fact, I was content with the damage that had already been done... To see what you did... It surprised and horrified me. When you lost yourself and began to destroy other dragons, my horror was compounded. I had to do something... Something to stop you. I knew of a place... A place where dreams and reality merged into one horrific mass." "It was I. I gave you the information. I led you down the path that led to the release of the creature. I knew you would release it. You were so hungry to undo what you had done. I knew that you would be defeated by it. Sadly... What I didn't know was that the creature was like I had once been. Mindless. I also didn't know that it would, like me, somehow gather some type of consciousness from its encounter with you. Unlike me, it decided to do more than this... I tried to stop it, but your combined forces exceeded my own." "That was when we met again. Unfortunately, when the creature merged with you, it somehow managed to drag me in with it. I was, in part, returned to this horrible place. I retained my consciousness, of course, and, mercifully, my independence of thought. You may know me as Wraith, for this is how we were introduced. The name, of course, is one that I have been given many times, of course. As the weakened visions before and during death were what I used to make myself apparent in your realm." Dusky's concentration flickered and his eyes opened wide. "Ah, you do remember me... Marvelous. I was hoping to see the look on your face when you learned... Well, it was fun, wasn't it? Working with your enemy to build the place that your hooves now rest on? Amusing that you never noticed our similarities, oblivious as always. For you see, you made me, in part, what I am. I learned from you. Watching you. Now you can see, perhaps? It was always me. Always. I was the destroyer of your village, the taker of your wings, the releaser of the creature that plagued you." "Of course, at the same time... It was always you, wasn't it? You could have saved your village, but you failed. Your vengeance overrode your heart. You felt no empathy towards me, because of this, you doomed your family forever. I could have saved them... You lost your own wings. If you had only waited, the other guardians could have persevered with your help. You released the creature... It was your hunger to return to being a pony, to regain your magic... This hunger drove you foolishly forward and unleashed a power beyond your simple understanding." The tall, shadowy pony stared wild eyed out into the ocean. His emotions were no longer constrained in the slightest. Fear, confusion, and rage mixed and intermingled freely. The voice continued, calmly addressing Dusky with a powerful whisper. "You destroyed everything that you've ever loved. Your own actions. You were doing it again, you know. This train... The ponies on it... Your wild scheme. Before this ice pony appeared, you were going to do it again, destroying everything. Again. I was trying to stop you..." "It was I, of course. When the substance of dreams escaped and took the form of Trixie, I managed to follow. I suspect, as before, it was because we are, in some way, connected. That plan... It was so complex... A single mistake and countless lives could have been lost. Did you care? I don't think so. You were, once again, bent on your objective. An exercise of power for its own sake. Just like freezing this ocean. Merging the worlds. Another mindless exercise of power... With uncertain outcomes... What if you fail? What if you make a mistake? How many will die this time?" Dusky caught his breath in a single fierce motion, and his black eyes blazed unnaturally. He stopped freezing the ocean, and he diverted his thoughts from the worlds. Finally, it was his turn to speak, as the voice lingered in silence, expecting an answer. Dusky spoke, strongly, in a voice thick with his conflicting thoughts and emotions. "I... I am not a monster... At each step, I only did what I believed, what I thought could help others... I existed to protect..." The voice spoke back, mocking Dusky's tone and drowning him out. "Your intentions are not important. What is important is the outcome. Look behind you? Look at the tribute that you built to your own actions. First, you destroy your own town of birth, then the town of the unicorns? Each and every one of those unicorns was a master of magic in their own right. Their deaths at your hooves... You probably set back the study of magic by millennium with that one action. You claim to favor power? What was more powerful than those unicorns? Then, you destroyed those dragons? Were they not powerful. Do you favor power? Or, do you hoard it and exercise it instinctively? Crushing those weaker than you? Much as I once was, I suspect you are no more than a mindless destroyer of everything that you see..." For a second, Dusky shook with the force of the accusation. The voice continued, gaining in volume and intensity. It spoke with reproach. "Are you really so blind? Have you never thought about this? Considered it? You haven't changed at all... Not even a little bit. Again, you are oblivious. Again, you never question yourself. You never doubt. Can you not see? You are a monster, Dusky. As a guardian, your first action should have been to kill yourself, ridding the world of your evil... I know you thought about it after each incident. Well... Think of it now, before you destroy something else. Hmmm? Think of it... You miserable bastard." Dusky didn't stop to think about it. Instead, he, cooly, asked a single question. "Where are you?" The voice spoke cheerfully. "Why, I'm right here, of course. You threw that field over the ice, hoping to know if something had departed. Funny... Of course, you didn't even consider that something had already left..." There was a brilliant flash in the distance, and there it was. It was a massive figure, shifting, brilliantly bright, vague. It hovered some meters above the frozen surface with many flowing wings, they looked like vacillating fish fins. The creature was covered in eyes, all staring in many different directions. The shadowy pony took a single step forward and locked eyes on the creature. "All of this... It isn't important. Where is Asteria?" The creature's voice answered in return, angrily. "All of this. It is important. I think. Unlike you, I rarely speak in absolutes. I doubt myself all of the time." The creature hovered nearer, continuing talkatively. "To be honest, maybe... Maybe I just lied about everything I said? Maybe I'm manipulating you for some odd purpose? But... Maybe not? Maybe a bit? You see, the best lies have truth in them... A lie can even be an omission, you know this well, do you not? Ah, but... The time for talk is over. Look at me, again, Dusky. Just as you did so many thousands of years ago..." The creature laughed, it was a hissing laugh, tinged with sorrow, pain. "Stare at me, in my wholeness. I am no longer destroyed. I see you, you see me. You are here with allies, again. This time will be different though. This time... You will be known for what you are... A monster. This time I am not hungry, I am already quite well fed. Those dinner rolls on the previous night... They were delicious. Ah, yes. And... There's another difference... This time... I will be the one to destroy you, you will not destroy me... I have to stop you, of course. You're evil, and you are the worst form of it - that which does not even recognize its own evil." The creature hovered nearer. Dusky blinked and focused his magic on the shield surrounding himself and Ice Storm. He spoke to the voice again. "You didn't answer my question..." The voice spoke back in answer. "Of course I didn't. Mystery, Dusky. It is the Key to everything. You can't have that if I tell you everything. Some things must remain hidden, you see. They must remain unknown, even to you. Just kidding. Actually, Asteria is dead. I killed her just now. It was unavoidable. She had served her purpose. The butterfly was no longer useful. She was bait. Of course. To lure you here. The end justifies the means. Goodbye, Dusky." A few hundred meters in front of Dusky and Ice Storm, just behind the creature, there was a tremendous cracking sound, and a bright light began to blaze beneath the thick ice. Another cracking sound. Dusky stood, frozen. A single tear rolled from his right eye as he stared out at the creature, seemingly frozen. The creature drew nearer, and it spoke again, its voice boomed against the silent ocean. "Run away, Ice Storm. This isn't the place for you. You know what he is now. You don't need to fight for this thing. Leave him to die. Leave him with me. I'll take care of him. In this ocean. Forever... You and your friends... I can send you home... Return to the village... You will not be harmed if you do this..." In the distance, the ice gave way, and a brilliant explosion of fire and water shot through a gaping hole like a geyser. The fire was unusual, it was a bright, vivid blue flame of frightening clarity and wildness. It stood in direct contrast to the creature that emerged from beneath the ice. It was a dragon - massive, stately, black, and powerful. Long seconds passed as its head and neck slowly emerged from beneath the surface. A sickening crack occurred as its massive body and outstretched wings broke through. More seconds passed as it climbed through the ice, it was a freakish, gargantuan form. Effortlessly, the dragon ascended from the ice and into the sky. It didn't need to flap its wings to stay airborne. Instead, it ascended in silence and hovered, watching the ponies on the shore with its wings outstretched. The creature spoke. "Wonderful, isn't it? You made a dragon as a guardian over your world. Then, I took that guardian and managed to make it the real thing. This is him. This is the very same dragon that took your wings. Mmm... Dusky, you should hide, perhaps? Enjoy the feeling of weakness that I know you feel now? Because, you have no wings left to give. Only your horn, of course. Oh... And your life. I think that, this time, it would be best to take that as well..." Luminescence watched Summer, and her eyes welled with tears. Summer had not broken, and there was still hope. For a moment, the strain required to keep the cat at bay seemed like a lighter burden to carry. She would not be abandoned, and she would not have to stand against her own creation alone. Instead, she could have assistance, and her own death was no longer a necessary fact that she would have to face. She would only need to think of a way to save them from the immediate danger of the cat outside the room. Her guardian was not a unicorn, not a fighter, but Summer was a pony with an inner strength. This inner strength was, right then, all that Luminescence was concerned with. She watched Summer as the earth pony began to assemble a variety of items. She was preparing to make a journey of some kind. The filly didn't follow Summer's thinking until the mare spoke again. Summer's words were the spoken answer to the unspoken question. What would be the next step? Luminescence could feel her natural magic beginning to reach its limits. She could reach for what was beyond those limits, but it was possible that any weakness could be exploited by the cat to take control of her. On the other hoof, she had no idea what she would find when she travelled to her world. She could transport them there, only for them both to become trapped in endless descent. Every time she appeared in this world, she could only vaguely control where she appeared. She had never transported another pony to this place. She wondered how likely she would be to convey Summer to safety. She spoke... "Summer, I am more powerful in my own world, but... I do not know if..." A loud thud against the door interrupted her. The spell was no longer sufficient to keep the cat away from the two of them. Her head jerked to stare at the door, and her red eyes instantly shot wide open and glowed brightly reddish-yellow, like flames. There was another thud, then silence and darkness. Summer and Luminescence were no longer in the train car, instead they were cloaked in darkness. They could both feel the sensation of falling, but there was no movement or motion - only absolute darkness. Luminescence's voice cut through the darkness. "We are going there now, into my world and away from this place. I am not strong enough to fight that thing out there. How could I be? It and I... We are connected out there, but I do not think that this connection exists so strongly where we are going." The filly's voice calmly continued. "We may die. I have never tried to transport two ponies to this place. However, if we had remained, then our deaths would have been certain. There was only one thing to do, so I did it. We must protect each other now... This may involve intelligently calculated risks. Trust is important... Even if we simply do not know... Mmmm, but we will arrive safely. I can feel something now." The darkness began to clear, and the filly and the mare softly landed in a strange place. They were in a hall, which was dimly lit by some type of iridescent glow. The glow appeared to be arising from the walls, and it bore an uncanny resemblance to the color of the cat's eyes and to the color that Luminescence's eyes had just glowed. The hall appeared to snake on, as far as the eye could see in either direction. It's walls were bent into an arc, giving the hall a semi-circular shape. On the floor of the hall, a torrent of semi-dark liquid travelled. The floor of the hall seemed to slope upwards. Luminescence hissed furiously as she was nearly bowled over into the liquid. The fast moving liquid was high enough to reach the filly's shoulders, and it was strangely but not overpoweringly cold. The filly still felt weak from her earlier battle with the cat, the shadowy substance was nearly too much for her. Her eyes glowed, again, but nothing seemed to happen. Instead, she staggered and nearly fell in, again. In desperation, she grabbed onto one of Summer's hind legs. In a voice that was calm, but plainly strained. "Forgive me for being a burden, but this substance... I have no effect on it... If you could... Summer, could you carry me against the flow of this water? It is not so much of a distance. We appeared and we are in the right place. There is something that I can do to end all of this. When we reach the destination, it is a cave of sorts, carry me to the ladder that you will see. First, I will ascend the ladder alone. Then... Wait a moment, and join me..." The big cat stared at the filly, blankly. He paced around her, once, studying Asteria carefully. Finally, he settled down immediately next to her, staring straight ahead as he finally spoke. "Well... That is another first. No one has ever promised me anything, certainly not before I had even said what it was." The cat smiled, and it was a different smile than those that he had worn previously. His smile and bearing were regal, inviting. He spoke again, addressing Asteria with a respectful tone. "Very well... A promise. I can promise some things as well. First, it is nothing dangerous. In fact, you may laugh because it is so mundane. Nopony will be harmed, at any point. I can guarantee these things to you, and..." He twitched, involuntarily before continuing. "I can promise that I am not lying. Do keep in mind, though... This is, perhaps, one of the most important things that you will ever do in your entire life." Wraith sighed and turned to look at Asteria before continuing. "There will be consequences, certainly, but these are all good consequences. There is a cost to this, as well, but the cost is nothing to you and is for my consideration only... Here is what I would like for you to do." He blinked a few times and shook his head. "Well... Earlier... I saw you reach out to touch my nose, but you pulled back before you did so. I think that this was something that you wanted to do, but fear compelled you to withdraw." "You don't have to be afraid, and this is what I want you to promise to me... Don't be afraid. Trust me enough to reach out and touch me. Do it now, and that is all that I ask of you, Asteria. I realize that this seems to be nothing more than a simple gesture, and perhaps, it is. But, perhaps it is not. As you have said, we are friends, and I think that, in truth, we are good friends. You understand me as none other has before, and your words have taught me. Now, as a favor, I just request a simple action?" The small cat ignored the raging pegasus, but the fur along the back her neck began to rise. Her eyes twinkled with dark fury at the many insults, and she held her head higher while waiting for Bolt to speak. She didn't understand why the pegasus had lashed out at her. It was obvious to her that he had no idea what was going on. He was an idiot. She said nothing and she didn't even look in the direction of the pegasus that had spoken to her. Her focus on Bolt was now unshakeable. Her eyes narrowed as Bolt spoke, and she stared at the green earth pony in expectation. When he had finally revealed her name, she nodded her head. It was perfect, in many ways. She spoke back to him in a whisper that only he could hear. "I like this name, and I will take it. If you do not mind, I would like to return to you a gift. I would like to give you a name as well. I will call you Traveller, if you do not mind. Now, this was a good deal, was it not? I feel satisfied with how things worked out..." The cat turned to glance at the pegasus. As Wind Dancer moved, Kay's eyes closed and she bobbed her small head in tune with the pegasus pony's motions. Suddenly, Wind Dancer fell, and the moment was over. Key's eyes opened again and glanced in the direction of the pegasus. They lingered for just a moment before she redirected her gaze to the unusual scribe. The scribe had somewhat turned to stare at Bolt. The unusual pony's eyes span with a combination of red and yellow, like a brilliant fire. Kay shivered. Kay seemed to be lost in thought. Her eyes had closed again and she seemed to be becoming increasingly frustrated with every passing second. "That wasn't enough... I can't seem to..." She muttered the words with a strong edge of desperation, and her small form trembled with the effort that she was expending. Flow's words carried to the scribe, who then looked away again. Finally, the strange scribe spoke. The voice carried throughout the room, and just as the "scribe" resembled Trixie, the voice sounded somewhat like Trixie's but not quite the same. The voice droned slowly, powerfully. "Tell Trixie... Even if you were to break the bars, then what will you do next? There is no escape from this place, and you will all..." The scribe was drowned out by a fierce hiss from the small blue cat, and the room fell into darkness. It was a similar darkness to that which had conveyed them all to the room in the first place. Again, there was the darkness and the sensation of falling. Again, there was a strange silence and nothing could be seen. The darkness cleared, and Kay, Key Gear, Electrobolt, Wind Dancer, and Flow were in a grassy field with a sunny sky overhead. However, the field was not empty. Instead, it was filled with what seemed like countless statues. The statues were of all types of creatures - ponies, griffons, dragons, and other things. The statues were unusual. They did not appear to be made of stone. While they were grey, they still carried some hint of the colors belonging to the creatures that the statues had been based on. Kay stood and shook herself. With a single paw, she indicated a direction. "This is the way that we must go. Do not touch the things here... They are the ones that were erased. They have no names. Follow me, don't fly. I do not wish to attract attention to us." Kay shook herself off again and began to walk in the direction that she had indicated. In the distance, a large gate interrupted a towering hedge of shrubbery. A wall of greenery seemed to surround the massive area. Despite the sun overhead, a strangely cool breeze seemed to blow across the entire open area. The grasses rustled with the breeze but were otherwise undisturbed. Kay's eyes darted wildly across the terrain, scanning for something. @@Alex Night, When Alex entered the darkness, he did not exit it with the others. Instead, he landed, roughly, in an area filled with even more darkness. The only light was a narrow spotlight that poured from a hole in the ceiling, illuminating a hazy silhouette some distance away. The silhouette was too far away for its nature to be apparent. It shifted, slightly, turning away from the light and moving further into the darkness. From the darkness, the voice of Kay spoke, but it sounded raspier, deeper. "I tried to help you. I wanted to help you. I am placing what little remains of myself in danger for you and yours. But... I only helped you on a condition. You had to prove your usefulness to me, in helping me to do what it is that I wish to do. With your insults, you have caused me to doubt that you can fulfill this purpose. Here, you see me for what I am. I ask you a question, and I wish to hear an answer that pleases me. Why did you insult me?" The cat grinned and answered cheerfully. "Yes! Cupcakes! And, of course, writing. That is her cutie mark, isn't it? She writes stuff, right? Like a scribe or something?" Midnight glanced over her shoulder for just a moment, her dark eyes sparkling, but she returned to her own writing after just a second. She appeared to be deep in contemplation as the pen flew across the paper. Bringer chuckled wildly with amusement at the first joke. He rolled over into the strange water and back out again before taking a playful hop forwards towards the earth pony. "Fantastic! Though, I am quite certain that I've heard of those myself. Either that, or I thought of a few myself. I like thinking of jokes. I just rarely say them. Jokes are like wine, they all get better the longer you wait before using them..." The big cat grinned lopsidedly. The cat's grin vanished into a contemplative stare when Lapis mentioned the word "riddle". He waited in silence while Lapis spoke. The sound of the continuing dripping water and Midnight's furious writing were the only other things heard. When Lapis had finished, Bringer smiled. "Your riddles are easy. Far too easy. In fact, I am bored. Maybe after these riddles, it will be my turn to amuse you both?" The big cat smiled toothily. He began his answers with confidence. "In answer to the first one, there is only one force that is certain to go around the world every time, but remains in a corner. They are the lesser Anemoi, the wind spirits that reside in the corners of the world, sending their guiding force throughout all of the oceans. No sooner spoken than broken is the word of one without a name. They have no ability to give their word, because they have no words to give. As to your last one, I have no idea, but it is so long winded and boring that I can only imagine it to be something not worth my time." He concluded his answers with menace. He continued while continuing to approach Lapis. "Now, I think that the time for riddles is over. Or, maybe one more... But, I will have to tell you your riddle in a moment. First, I have a riddle for the bird." Midnight's spoke, plainly irritated. "No. Sorry. I don't have time for riddles. In fact, your own time for riddles is over." She finished what she was writing with a flourish and the floor gave way beneath the cat. Bringer and all of the gathering substance fell into what seemed to be a bottomless chasm. Midnight stood, packed away her items and paused for a moment to speak to Lapis. "That was nicely done... I don't think that we should have any more encounters like that one. I just made a few changes to this place. Thankfully, this is one of the few places where all scribes can directly alter things. It was once a training grounds of a sort." She started to walk along the path, there was a door on the far side of the room. "This was locked earlier. It isn't now." She opened the door and stepped into semi-darkness. Behind the door, there was a hallway. Its walls were curved and there seemed to be some type of iridescent glow, lighting the path. The hallway seemed to slope downwards. "Lapis, this will take us to your filly. It is, however, quite a long walk, and I would not recommend running. While we travel, ask me any questions that you might have. When we arrive, there will be no time for questions. I know that your filly is safe, but I do not know what will separate us from her. I doubt that I will even be able to unlock doors in the place that we are going, but I can try if we become desperate." She began to walk down the hall, towards a strange darkness in the distance in front of them. Vim was an old earth pony, and this was hardly the first time that he was faced with a small group of agitated unicorns. In fact, he had learned to expect the worst when unicorns were in a strange place. It was almost like a running joke for him. Allegedly the more powerful of ponies, unicorns would be the first ones to buckle under stress and jeopardize the very things that they had hoped to protect. Because of this, all of their power typically meant nothing. It was for this reason that he had been careful to avoid placing any real unicorns on his train crew, and he carefully avoided being placed in situations when he would need to deal with any crew that included unicorns. He didn't count Dusky as a unicorn. Up until the past few days, his engineer had only exhibited the occasional moment of strange behavior. In fact, Dusky had been, from the beginning, more like an earth pony than a unicorn. Dusky was a silent, resolute, and very physical pony. Vim had never seen the shadowy pony use magic for any purpose. In fact, the conductor had occasionally joked that it seemed like Ambrosia was more of a unicorn than Dusky was. The joke was originally made in reference to her strange talent for counting bits and taking inventory, and it had been some time since he had last said it aloud. Now, watching Ambrosia face Scarlet, he was reminded of it again. Other than a furious swear that he had spoken just a few moments before, Vim did his best to draw no attention to himself as he watched the others. He could read Ambrosia well enough to know that the cook had absolutely no idea what she was doing. She stood still, facing Magicon and Scarlet. His glance fell to Arcanel next, the pegasus was speaking based on passion, not strategizing. That would end poorly. Arcanel had possibly made himself a target. He glanced at Dawn next. The unicorn was under her own shield and her expression was focused, unreadable. Next, Vim took a measure of Scarlet. Despite her fiery colors, the unicorn seemed quite cold. She showed no reaction whatsoever to Ambrosia's words. Finally, Vim watched Magicon. In stark contrast to Scarlet's cold focus, the stallion was, plainly, feeling some type of emotion. Vim's eyes narrowed. The conductor was reminded of the time, earlier, when Magicon had saved Flow from Trixie, but this seemed different. There were no clear cut bad or good ponies here. If Magicon acted instinctively, he could easily harm any of the ponies present. Scarlet twitched in response to the words from the pegasus, and she quickly spoke to defend her original point. "You are wrong. If there is a spy among us, and there is, then this spy must be destroyed." The unicorn's eyes quickly moved to scan the group, taking in Magicon and Ambrosia, first. When Vim saw her gaze whisking towards him, he did his best to appear as confused and idiotic as possible. The silvery mare seemed to buy the act and she continued to glance around without lingering even a second. She ignored all of the rest of Arcanel's words. They seemed inconsequential. Vim was watching Magicon when the stallion made his first moves. The conductor recognized the motions for what they were, an impending attack. His gaze flickered to Dawn and then back to Magicon in an instant. She was still shielded, and the magical field looked fairly strong. Vim wasn't an expert, but it didn't look like Magicon was charging the type of bolt that would break it. This meant that she was fine for now, and he could ignore Magicon and focus on Scarlet. Ambrosia started in response to Magicon's loud shot, and her eyes seemed to focus immediately on the bolt. Two thoughts went through her mind in rapid succession. The first thought was that Magicon had fired at her with the intent to kill, the second was a desperate grasp for a thought, any thought, that could be used to fight back against him. She immediately thought of flames and Magicon's bolt, whatever it had been, turned into a raging fireball and struck Dawn's shield, sending cinders everywhere. After watching Magicon's bolt with an idle gaze, Scarlet charged her own magic. After a moment, her horn glowed with a clear light, and something resembling blue lightning crashed from her horn and directly into Arcanel. She spoke loudly without hesitation and without a trace of emotion. "The friend of an enemy is also an enemy and both should share the same fate. Such a fate is..." A sudden, painful crash interrupted her attempted speech. The conductor had picked his target. When he saw her starting to charge, Vim had sprinted to cover the distance between himself and the unicorn. He had moved quietly enough, and he was aided by the fact that Scarlet had seemed oblivious to his presence. He bucked Scarlet directly in her side with full force, knocking her off her hooves and in the direction of Magicon. With a unusual nimbleness for such a large stallion, Vim preemptively began a somewhat random sidestepping motion while moving forward. He closed the distance between himself and Scarlet and Magicon, while being careful to allow himself the ability to get cover if they charged anything else. Dawn was unharmed by the fireball, and Ambrosia had instinctively hit the ground and rolled at the sight of the flames. Neither mare was able to react before Arcanel was struck by Scarlet's spell or before Vim engaged the two unicorns. Ambrosia's mouth fell wide open as she surveyed the growing chaos and the damage that had been done to Arcanel. Without noticing it, her normally green eyes began to glow, strangely like those of the cat from earlier. Dawn didn't notice Ambrosia's glowing eyes. In fact, she noticed nothing but the pegasus. Her calm exterior had cracked. Her own eyes took on an identical appearance to those of Scarlet, and she rushed to Arcanel's side, while exclaiming his name. "Arcanel!" Ambrosia continued to stare at the growing scene. She felt a feeling that she couldn't quite remember feeling. It was a strange mixture of anger, confusion, and prescience, combined to form a strange desire to restore some type of order.
  6. (OOC: This is a wall of text. It is a... Rather... Massive one. This is also the most important post in this RP on several points. Before you respond, please take time to consider your response very carefully. Read, and then sleep on it. Take your time, please. Of course, don't delay too much. I want to see what happens next. Also, I couldn't bring myself to proofread this as thoroughly as I normally do. It was late, and I am a bit surprised by some things in here. It disturbs my ability to concentrate. If you see obvious flaws, let me know on Skype.) Midnight carefully observed the earth pony while he talked. She was attentively listening to his words, but she was also watching him for any reaction or hesitation that would contribute unspoken meaning to them. In this situation, what was said and what was not said were of equal importance. Omissions and actions... She was always good at picking them up. It was her gift to be able to form a more detailed understanding of her surroundings than the normal pony. His first statements concluded. She showed no reaction, but on the inside, she was both pleased and perplexed. As he continued to speak, she pored over his words at a frenzied pace, tossing and turning them over in her own mind. His words were all that she had to go by, because his actions were few. It was something that she found reassuring. If he had been what she thought, then she was sure that he would have certainly taken some step, any step, to repay her rashness. Her eyes widened, just slightly. His words were familiar to her, but he uttered them with the absolute ignorance of a child. She held the sword steady, but she felt the immediate urge to lower it and put it away. This pony was nothing like she had believed him to be. As if reading her thoughts, the stallion asked her a question the he had, at this point, every right to ask. Who did he remind her of? It was a valid inquiry, indeed. But, she didn't answer. She continued to listen intently. The humor was so horrible that she actually winced, and she stifled the urge to groan. She thanked Celestia that her hooves were remarkably steady. It was a sharp blade. Just a simple wince might have been enough to cause the blade to slip against his neck. She noticed his slight blush, and her haze cleared nearly completely. This was the same stallion that she had caught a glimpse of back in the room, weeping over the loss of his filly. He was real, and he was not without some kind of heart. She moved the blade some inches away from him. She listened patiently as Lapis continued to talk. She allowed him to continue and to finish without interruption. Finally, she took a deep breath and watched the stallion in silence for a moment, while she thought. She ignored his discomfort. The turmoil in her eyes quieted completely to a certain contemplative dullness, her normal expression. When she finished her thoughts, she lowered the blade. She turned her back to the stallion and trotted back to where the blade had originally laid. There, she returned it to its sheath. Still facing away from him, she spoke. "I'm at ease again, and I apologize for my action. To you, it must have seemed rash, but trust me, I am not a hasty or foolish pony. My actions have reasons, intelligent reasons." She smiled pleasantly, and she collected her saddlebag and replaced some of its contents - preparing to depart. "We're on even ground, Lapis. I owe you some answers, but I would prefer to provide them while we move. This incident has wasted enough time. I am certain that your filly is well, but I am also certain that a number of other things are not. Unless I am mistaken, we have some distance to cover, and not much time in which to do it." She trotted to her desk and carefully opened a weathered drawer. Inside of the desk, there was a sheathed dagger. She tossed the strap over her neck and spoke simply, looking away from Lapis. "I actually prefer daggers to swords. I collect them. I just like them. No real reason. My sword? I only have the one, and I only keep it because it is not a simple weapon." She trotted to the sword, examined it for a bit, and then tossed it to the stallion. "You may need this today. Make sure you give it back though, and don't cut yourself in the meantime. It's sharp. I'm not the best medic. Excessive injury might end poorly. By the way, I hope you aren't a sluggish pony..." She smiled broadly and her eyes sparkled, then the expression was gone, replaced by seriousness. For the time though, she said nothing further. Instead, her actions spoke for her. She trotted to the door and opened it, revealing a rather empty hallway. Without a word, she entered the hall and trotted speedily down its length, moving with a certain vibrancy and silent grace. As she did so, other rooms could be seen to the left and right. Most of the rooms were completely empty, but there were a library and a kitchen present. She opened another door and the remnants of a destroyed village stretched out ominously in front of her. She hesitated for a moment as she took in the sight. "Something has happened. This is what we are supposed to see, but it is not as it should be seen. We do have some distance to travel. This place has grown larger." She stepped outside and began to cautiously find her way. At each intersection, she would stop, rapidly examine the destroyed structures, and then choose a direction, moving swiftly to the next point of interest. While she travelled, she spoke in an even tone. She was careful to not allow her voice to carry too far. "I have been thinking about your questions and how I should answer them. You present me with a problem, Lapis. You are able and intelligent. Yet, you are so remarkably ignorant. Like a young colt given honors in his classes, you have the ability to reason but you lack the maturity to know what is prudent to reason about. You lack discretion, focus. Your attention wanders. You are not an empty book. You are a book filled with many words but lacking a table of contents or an index. You have accumulated knowledge, but you lack the wisdom to know what to do with it or even if anything can be done with it at all. You are, despite your most noble intentions, a foolish pony." As she finished speaking, a strange passion could be heard in her words. "I cannot answer your questions fully. Without guidance, so much knowledge could endanger everypony that you come into contact with, including me. I trust you will appreciate that I am at least somewhat self-interested." She reached a portion of the town that was nearly completely destroyed. Carefully, she began to make her way through the rubble. "Follow me, exactly. Do exactly as I do." She carefully navigated the virtual maze as she continued to talk. "You'll just have to trust me. Not just in finding our way but trusting that I know what you should and shouldn't know." She hopped across a small gap. "But, I will not leave you in the dark." She suddenly span around to face him; it was a single motion, both electric and strangely graceful. She was trotting backwards, watching him with wildly twinkling eyes. She spoke at a faster rate, with a whimsical voice. "Not that there is anything wrong with darkness. It is where knowledge is found, you see. I like the dark, Lapis. Don't you?" She turned back around and continued normally. "You reminded me of a pony like me. A scribe. In the beginning, we were close. We grew apart. I am currently in the process of betraying him. I doubt he would care even if he knew, but when I saw you and your demeanor... It was unexpected. You see, he is a shapeshifter. I preferred to take no chances. It's better to be upfront when presented with possible deception." She sniffed dismissively. "I was like you once, Lapis. A book that didn't know my own contents, but thankfully, neither of us were ever like him. He is a cold pony. His heart bleeds for nothing. His passions are all mechanical. His intelligence is marred by a lack of ability to see the obvious. He is neither good nor evil. He simply is, and that means that he is nothing. He should exist, I think, to serve some narrow purpose and nothing further." She smirked. "I trust you, it seems. I've told you all this. You'd be a fool to not know of whom I speak. Though, again, I doubt he would care. He is so far above us that it really is a marvel. He can't see things. He can't see the obvious, despite all of his ability. He lacks wisdom and presence of mind, despite his many years." They had reached a massive ruined building. Her voice lowered to a whisper that carried surprisingly well. "Stay close. I'm not stopping, not slowing down. Pacing is important here. This is not a normal structure." She stepped inside without hesitation, carefully finding her way through the shadows. She continued. "I don't fear him. Not really. I fear nothing. With study, all things can be understood, and a prudent course of action can be made. That is what we pursue now... A prudent course. But, I fear you are behind in your studies. You said that dreams were simple images. That's a cute thing to say, like a young foal that has just learned to speak and misspeaks his mother's name. Sadly, your words are also untrue... Well, at least you talk. This means that I can teach." A vibrancy crept into her whisper as she continued to talk. "Dreams are more than simple images. There are cases when multiple ponies share the same dream. There are moments when a dream presages a future event. There are ponies that can manipulate and control dreams as they walk in them, living out abstract fantasies. Dreams carry emotion. It is not uncommon to awaken with joy, fear, expectation, tears - all from dreams. You are an intelligent pony, Lapis. It should be obvious now that there is more to a dream than a sequence of simple images. They speak, directly, to our hopes, fears, passions... They pull their nature from our own essences. They are beautiful, complex, impressive. They demand proper study. Proper study from you, I think?" "We do not have the time for proper study here, so maybe a just some snippets of knowledge." She reached a door, opened it and carefully stepped down into a tunnel. The tunnel was dimly lit, by a strange shadowy iridescence. A strange liquid, denser than water and clear, flowed around her hooves. She froze and stared straight ahead. "I see. Follow me, quickly please, and don't look behind us. Don't splash, please." She trotted at a quick place, stepping carefully to avoid making too much noise. Her whisper dropped in volume. "The place we began. That was a place between worlds. Like the scribe that I mentioned, that world is comprised of a certain formlessness." She allowed herself a bitter, silent laugh. "Right now, we're supposed to still be there. We aren't. We are walking in a diluted form of the substance of nightmare. This explains your filly's predicament. Apparently, I was not the only one with my own plans, but at least my plans made sense and limited damage..." She picked up her pace. "An oblivious guardian is a sorry guardian, filled with weaknesses, and ripe for challenges. No amount of strength can render anyone immune to failure. Strength is just one attribute of many. Too much strength can be a weakness... If this liquid is here, then this means that other things will follow. I think that's enough to know for now. This way. Don't fall behind." She darted to the left, down a nearly unseen passage. The ground beneath her hooves was dry on the slightly higher ground. She galloped until she skid to a stop at the edge of the passage and trotted up a small flight of stairs to a door. She continued speaking in her earlier tone. "Well. You should know about scribes. Earlier, you described how you wrote, guided by a half dream. That is exactly how a scribe sees things. Maybe you have the ability to some degree? We can see things but not with perfect clarity. We can also write things. We can write what is, what we wish to be, and what was. If we choose to, we can influence all three to a limited degree... It depends on the scribe." She opened the door without moving. It was another tunnel. An oddly rhythmic scratching sound could be heard. She placed a hoof on her dagger and stepped forward, calmly. To her left was the source of the sound, another door. It was closed and locked, apparently, but there was a rhythmic, sporadic noise behind it. She visibly bristled with anger for a moment, her eyes burning with a wild fury, before returning to calm. "Well. I know another way." Her words were steely. She continued directly down the tunnel, making a right at an intersection halfway down. She continued. "Some scribes do more than influence. They are powerful enough to create things. Things like this place..." She opened a door and started to step in, but she froze. "Ah." In front of them was a vast, cavernous room. Even from where they stood, it was easily apparent that the ceiling was filled with thousands and thousands of tiny cracks. From the cracks, something was seeping. It was a mixture of what seemed like ordinary water and something else - something that moved independently of the water itself. There was a raised path around the perimeter of the wall, providing a dry route. She whispered, extremely softly. "Well. This is a problem. I don't know a third way. Follow me. Don't stare. Don't say anything unless I say something." She took a step into the room, and a purring voice spoke, seemingly from the liquid that was gathering in the center of the room. "No. You should stare. It's perfectly safe. Actually, jump in. Relax. Take a load off. It's like a day at a beach. I would like one of those. Hey... Let's make conversation. You seem like a couple of serious ponies. Too serious. No fun at all. I can help you. Hey, green pony. Do you like what I've done here? Mmm?" Midnight ignored the voice and continued walking. There was a splash. A large cat began to take shape from the dark, swirling fluid. It was the same panther that Lapis had seen in the room, but slightly larger. It spoke, hissing strangely. "Mmm... Don't leave me. I won't let you leave." The gathering form of the cat took a step towards them. Midnight stopped trotting but said nothing, still. The voice continued to speak. "Why didn't you fly? Wings clipped? You could have reached them sooner. Too bad. Now they're dead, but I may be lying. You'll never know at this rate. They're fine though. Not my target. Asteria is a smart pony. Very smart. Are you looking for her? You're going the right way. Too bad you didn't go the other way. Much more fun. It's pointless, though. You should dive in here, with me. You'll never find her. Not at this rate. Might as well make the most of your time. Anyway, I think I'll keep her. She named me, you know? I'm Bringer now. I bet you want to know what I'm bringing... Ah, but wait... Mmm.... Maybe you already do?" The cat took another step, then another. He had stopped talking. Midnight took a look at Lapis and then chanced a glance at the cat, as if measuring them both. The cat grew closer. Rippling muscles and fiercely glowing eyes could now be seen plainly. Midnight's voice broke the silence. "We want to play a game. Riddles, maybe a joke. My friend is good at both. Quite skilled. He will amuse you." She pointed at Lapis. Her face was an unreadable mask. The cat's yellow eyes twinkled unstably. "Oh yes? Well. That sounds fun! I was getting so terribly bored for a bit. I'm happy you decided to play with me." He pointed at Lapis. "Tell me something funny? Or, maybe, tell me a lie? I like those. Are you really any good at that though? I hope you are..." While the cat spoke, Midnight had taken out some paper, and she began to write carefully, completely unnoticed by the big cat. The small cat squeaked with delight, but she contained her expression of joy immediately. She began to slowly circle him, giving the appearance of being completely nonchalant. She listened to Electrobolt's answers, nodding when he described their earlier encounter and his reasons for not striking her. She stopped and hissed softly with laughter when he mentioned her resemblance to his sister. The cat stopped, right in front of him. She surveyed him appraisingly as he continued to speak. She smiled, slightly. It was an unusual expression for a cat. She purred, but eyed the scribe curiously. Her own eyes betraying a clearly perceptible uncertainty. She rolled over a few times and idly swatted at the air, before glancing at the scribe again. The scribe continued to write as she watched, showing no reaction to or acknowledgement of the cat's stare. The cat's eyes grew large and alarmed at the mention of a creature in the similar room. The scribe stopped writing and stood, still facing away from the rest of them. Hissing softly, the small cat spoke, and her eyes darted to the scribe and then back towards Electrobolt. She hoped that he would see her meaning. "Don't mention the creature." Her neutral demeanor returned. "I don't have a name, but you're welcome to call me something. Something pleasant, I would hope." She coughed slightly before continuing. "Yeah, well. I don't know exactly what a nightmare is. I just live here. Right here. This place is my home. That's how I know my way around. As to where this place is... Well. That's complicated. Technically, I think it's nowhere. That's the whole point to this place. I get sick of the other nightmares. I like to be alone. Eh... Thinking about things. Yeah. That's what I do. I think about things." The cat hissed with laughter and glanced at the scribe before continuing. "I just lied to you. About something. So, I guess that means that this deal doesn't count? We'll need another one." The cat's ears twitched, and when she spoke again, her voice seemed to come from several places in the room, including by Key Gear and the pegasus ponies. In her own area, Key Gear jumped at the sound of the voice behind her. She had been watching the cat with increasing tenseness. The repeated glances at the Trixie look-alike were not lost on Key Gear, and when the "scribe" stood, Key nearly stopped breathing. She was concerned, greatly concerned for Electrobolt's safety, he was in the same cell with the cat and the "scribe". Key didn't believe that this pony was a scribe, really, whatever that was. The pony seemed odd looking. When Key squinted, she could see that there was just a faint glow around her. When the mare stood, the motion had been completely odd. This Trixie, she had moved almost like a puppet. Key watched the small blue cat. Mercifully, its own movements were fluid. As the cat continued to speak, Key listened intently. "I have a new deal for you. I want something that I think you can give me. Give me a name. Something that I would like. Yeah, but... Don't name me Key. I look like your sister, but I'm not. That's a lame name anyway." The cat snickered at the sound of a soft growl behind her, coming from Key's direction. "I'm joking. I like the name, really. But, it wouldn't be my name..." She turned away from Electrobolt, and her voice became unreadable. "I want a name, Bolt. I want a name for me, for me alone, you see. I want one, badly. Here in this place... A name... It means something. It means something important. You have to have a name to be a scribe... Then, with a name, scribes can do things... Expressive stuff, you know? Writing, singing, dancing... Anything... They can tell a story... Change things. Make things happen. Errr... Not that this is what I want. I don't. I don't care for that. But, I do want a name. A lot. Anyways... Think me up one, will yah? ... Mmmm. Oh yeah, while you do that... Heya... I heard your birds talking about this place, Bolt. Yeah, I hear everything in here. They want to leave the cage. They don't understand." The sound of her voice dropped to a near whisper, but it could be heard throughout the room. "This is not a normal place. You cannot simply fly out. You would have more luck dancing your way out of here than flying out. Dancing and thinking about something. Freedom maybe? The freedom of flight? I think, you know. I wish I could dance and think about flying. I can't, though. I've never flown anywhere. I don't dance. Well. Not any good at it anyway. I just go places. Instantly. Like how you all got here. Can't move more than myself, though. I leave a lot behind, everywhere I go... But, if I could dance and think about flying, then I bet I could take things from here. Like my lunch. I left it somewhere. Birds or something. I wasn't hungry, so I didn't eat them." The filly blinked, and her red eyes seemed to show a strange emotion for just a moment. It was a single emotion prompted by Summer's request for the name of her adoptive parents. It was a strange mixture of amusement, anger, sadness, and curiosity. It lingered in her eyes only, and a single tear started to form. Luminescence quickly wiped it away, and blanked her expression completely, as best as she could. It was futile. Summer's offer shocked her completely, and Luminescence's red eyes shot open wide and glimmered enchantingly. She contained the surprise in jut a few seconds though, while Summer continued to speak. A small smile graced the filly's face. It was not the same smile that she had worn earlier, though. This one was different. It was not a cold smile; it was distant, tinged with sadness. Her head nodded slightly, but it was not in agreement with Summerfall. Instead, it was rhythmic, to some sound, heard only to her. She stopped almost as soon as she had started. It was becoming slightly harder to concentrate. She knew the feeling well, all too well. She felt a tightness in her stomach. Luminescence stared at Summer. She was certain, now, that she had never met a pony that could think as well as Summer did. The answer was reassuring. Summer was able to articulate, so plainly, what she herself had struggled to understand for so long. Now, she wondered... Her mind went back to Summer's earlier answers... All of them. This latest one was merely the last in an unplanned sequence that painted a picture. It was a picture that she would have to use to guide her now. In reflection, it seemed odd that no other pony could have told her all of these things before this very moment. There was nothing that she could do, now, but to think and do her best. It might be a game. The moment had arrived. Luminescence took a deep breath and steadied herself against the increasing feeling of dread within her. She spoke calmly, but her eyes betrayed her strain. "Summer. First... I will tell you about the ponies that adopted me. I will tell you this because it is connected with what disturbs me, and it is important. Their names. They no longer have names. They were taken away from them, and they are no longer with us." She took another deep breath and closed her eyes, when she opened them, she continued calmly. "Something happened..." "I will start where this began. It was the day that they abandoned me. I was there, Summer, in the forest. I was completely alone, and they had carried me some distance into the forest. It was... Unpleasant. You see, as I said, I wasn't quite in a normal state at that time. My imaginary game, it was real in my head. I could see what was happening, but I was powerless to do anything. I couldn't talk to them. I... I would have begged for my life, but I didn't have the opportunity. They simply left me there, and there I remained, delusional." "I think that I was dying. I had used too much of my magic, and... Well, I think that something happened to me. I know this sounds strange, but..." Luminescence looked away and an expression of shame came over her face. "I am not a normal unicorn. You may have noticed that my coat looks somewhat odd sometimes. Well, it is because I am glowing. In total darkness, you would see. The source of the glow is my magic. I waste it, constantly. I can't stop, and it hurts me. In fact, I feel some pain even now. I ignore it." "I was... Then... In so much pain. I had so little magic left. I believe that it was leaving me faster than I could regain it, somehow. Because of this, something was happening to me. I am not sure what... But, I was dying. I am certain of this. I could feel myself... Leaving." She looked back and stared straight ahead as she continued. "They left me there in the early hours of the morning. I remained there until the late hours of the night. When nightfall came, I was finally beginning to realize the nature of my situation." "I forced myself to my hooves. I was terrified. I tried to move forward, but my delusions... They were still just as bad. I knew they weren't real, but they were there. I could hear voices as well, telling me to just rest some more. Help would come for me in the daylight hours. They were lying to me. I tried to ignore them, but it was like they were real. The pain that I felt... It felt like they were grabbing me, forcing me back down. I fell and I stood several more times. My coat... The glow wasn't dim then, it was bright, Summer, but it was some kind of dark light. I hated it." "I started to say things back to the voices. Horrible things... Things that a young pony should never say. But, I was angry and scared. I think... That all of this noise was what attracted the predators to me. Timberwolves. When the first one appeared, my visions were silenced, but my strength was gone again. I fell. More timberwolves arrived. I think that my light both scared them and intrigued them. They didn't attack, but finally one of them approached me. I was just lying there. I had no defense. I closed my eyes. I thought I would be killed, right then." "But, nothing happened. Instead, something flashed and there was the smell of something horrible. When I opened my eyes, there was something right there in front of them. It had destroyed the timberwolf that had come towards me, and the other timberwolves were frozen in place. This thing... It was some type of... Well. I don't know. It had many wings, it glowed from the inside, and... It was covered in eyes, all staring in many different directions. It was small, just my size. I know it sounds horrible, but... I thought it was such a pretty thing..." "In the darkness, it spoke to me. The voice was... Normal, friendly, a little happy. I didn't really understand it, but I felt that it would help me. I felt that it was making a deal of some kind with me. I spoke with it, and I didn't even understand my own words. We were speaking some kind of different language; one that I didn't know that I knew. It wanted a name. Well... I thought about how I was... Dying. I named it Wraith, because it came to me then. Then, I reached out to it. I touched it, and it wanted something else. It wanted a form." "I love dogs. That was the first thing that came to me. But, I was surrounded by wolves, and they were no longer stunned. They were moving now, circling. They were afraid of the creature, but it was so small. They were so big, and they were angry. The circle was growing smaller. I wanted something. I wanted an enemy to dogs. I wanted a cat. I spoke in that strange language, and I made it a cat, a big one. It became a massive panther with a coat as dark as the night and that glowed like mine. Her eyes were blazing yellow, like a strong panther's should be." "The timberwolves had, I think, seen enough. They attacked, but they were no match. My cat destroyed them all. She protected me from them all, and when they were gone, she carried me to safety... Eventually, I fell asleep. Summer. That cat. The one in the dining car. It resembles my cat exactly. Not only this, but... I know it is her. I can feel it even now. She saved me that day, but... Only to try to use me, just like those other ponies had... You see... When I awakened, I was there. I was in my world. The one that I had created. It was real. The whole thing." "All of my characters, the ones that I had imagined... They were all there, and I was able to control them. At first, I was certain that I had died, and that, somehow, to be in my own world was my punishment and reward for the fool that I had been. But, it wasn't true, Summer. I saw evidence that someone other that me was controlling the world. Eventually I found her. She looked like me, but she wasn't. I think she was my cat. She challenged me to some games. They were all my own games though. Of course, I won. I won... I think it had to have been thousands of games." "But, the games didn't end, and I began to feel weaker. It was just like what those other ponies had done to me. I was being used... Drained... In this case... I think it was for amusement. She was using me to keep herself entertained. She claimed to be my friend. She wasn't. Eventually, I made a trap for her. I was able to escape. Finally, I woke up. I was in a hospital. I had, apparently, been unconscious for some time. The cat was there. Next to my bed. I had the nurses to take it away from me. I hated her." "The next day, I was released. I... Was still weak, but I went in search of the ponies that had harmed me. I wanted to hurt them. I had something planned. I was going to teleport them 30 feet down. Straight down. No one would ever know. No one would ever hear from them, again. They would become dirt. I never had the chance. When I reached the place where they had been. They were gone. The door was unlocked. I went in. There was no trace. I went around, asking about their fate. They had wandered into the forest and been eaten by timberwolves. But... It had happened before the day that they had even harmed me. It made no sense." "But... It made sense later... When I visited my imaginary world. You know... The one that I keep in my head. I had missed it. Well. The cat... She was there. In my thoughts. She told me what she had done to those ponies. She had taken their names. Changed their very existences somehow. She was bored. She wanted me to take her back, she wanted a reward. She wanted to be free of something... I didn't understand, and she attacked me. I was able to beat her because I control the world. But, I was tired afterwards. Very tired. I had to rest. This has happened to me many times since that time. But... It is worth it." The filly suddenly shuddered and stared intensely at Summer. "It isn't in my head, you see. The world is still real... Just like it was when I was unconscious in the hospital..." She looked away, catching herself. "But... It was only mine, I thought. I didn't know that... It could appear out here, outside of my control... This isn't my world, this is the real world... That cat is here. My cat is here, and I am just a normal filly in this place. I have no power to create things, to change things. How will I fight her... Summer... You may not be able to keep me safe... Nor I you. And. She is here, you know. Right here." Luminescence caught her breath, suddenly, and covered her face with her hooves. Her voice remained steady, but it was plainly strained. "You should open the door, Summer. It was her in the room across from this one. It was my panther... My cat... She's different though, I can feel it. That was why I couldn't recognize her. Something is wrong with her. She is no longer my cat, she never was. But, now she is even less so. Let her in. We may have to play a game. It is the only way. It is the best way, I think..." Outside of the door, a gentle purring could be heard. The filly uncovered her eyes, and the red was tinted, increasingly, by yellow. Her voice seemed to vary as she spoke, between a strange androgynous tone and her normal voice. "I should teleport you away from here... Summer... I feel bored, quite bored. You should go. Leave me here. I can teleport you away. Is this what I should do? Maybe, this is how it was always meant to be for me? My own world, I become a victim of my refuge. It is poetic, if somewhat mundane... Poetic? I'm just a filly... I haven't lived yet... Why should I die now... I can fight. Summer... Help me... If you can... Don't leave me... But, I want you to be safe. You've been so nice to me. I'm so confused..." She put her hooves to her head, and her horn glowed somewhat. Outside of the door, the purring turned into an earsplitting hiss and then was silent for a moment. Then, the sound of a scratching at the door. Luminescence's eyes blazed with a bright crimson, her horn blazed with a brighter silver light. The sound was silenced. She spoke with her normal voice, focused and concentrated. "Summer, I apologize for that. As I said earlier, I think that something bad about to happen. I... The cat... I think she is trying to control me somehow. I guess it makes sense... Because... We are not entirely separate. I should never have touched that creature... But, I can resist it. Just... Do not open that door, under any circumstances." She breathed steadily, but she began to sweat from the effort. "We have a moment to think of a step to take. I... I can teleport you away. But, I do not know if I can get you to a safe place. For this to be happening... It may already be too late. But, if you wish me to, I can try for you. If not, then... Maybe you can help me to fix whatever has happened? I think that you would be saving my life. This cat. It needs me for some purpose, and I believe that this purpose... Involves my death. I heard your words. I know what you think about this. That is why I am giving you a chance. Would you save me? Now? If not, then I will have to do my best to save you." She smiled despite the increasing strain. "You see. When I asked the question... How much are you willing to give... I meant for the both of us. Which of us will save the other? For you, Summerfall... I would give my life. You have... Been far kinder to me than even my own parents... I have learned more from you in these brief moments that we have been together than I have from many other ponies. I thank you. To me, you are not a stranger. I love you... Perhaps I love too easily... I have always suspected this, but it doesn't matter. I can try to save you? Or, if you care for me... Perhaps, you would like to try to save me? I guess... Try is all we can do. There is no certainty in this. The probabilities are unknown." Dusky blinked when she finished her first sentence, and he looked from Ice Storm the the vast ocean and back again. He repeated this process several times, even as she continued to speak. Somehow, he knew what she meant before she even said it, and the momentary thought confused him because it was accompanied by a feeling. It was a feeling that he had not felt in what seemed like ages. He closed his eyes and searched his memory for its meaning. It only took a few seconds, but the time that he searched went far beyond the lifespans of most normal ponies. It was fear, and the moment he recognized it, he searched, just as quickly, for why he felt it. Why now? After all that he had been though, after all that he had done. There was a day when he could clearly remember that he had stood on the edge and stepped into the stuff of nightmares. He had stared, defiantly out into it, daring it. It had responded, of course, but eventually it quieted. He had felt no fear. Yet, now, even with the help of another strong unicorn and a sound plan, he felt fear. It made no sense. There had to be some reason for the feeling that he felt. There must have been some reason for his unsteadiness. As he continued to think, he realized that it wasn't only fear that was affecting him. There was another emotional impulse, and this was the one, more powerful feeling, that had distracted him when he first met Ice Storm. It was hope. He had never come so close to freedom. Now, he was here, with another, facing the strongest opponent that he had ever met. What if his hopes turned out to be in vain? What if he could not save Asteria? Of course, he had bested the Ocean of Nightmare when he only needed to match its influence in the world of dreams, but this was different. He would be using magic, powerful magic, on it. A thought occurred to him that only served to magnify the seed of fear into a small sapling. What if, the first time he faced it and subsequent times, the Ocean had merely let him win? What if it had been toying with him? What if it had treated him as nothing more than a small component of its own plans? Dusky licked his lips as the thought settled, the possibility of failure. He glanced towards Ice Storm. There was, he now realized, another reason that he felt fear. This moment would mark only the second time in his life that he had used magic and not his influence over the world to fight a thing of nightmare. The first time... It had been in the defense of his village, which was so long ago and against a vastly small opponent. Even then, in the company of so many unicorns, there had been casualties. It was another thing that he had not considered. Ice Storm was, despite her strength, not invulnerable. Stronger unicorns than her had fallen against the creature that he had encountered. Of course, he was stronger now and wiser, but he had not been weak or a fool at that time. If she died, then he would be left alone, to face something that had a level of power that, he now realized, was unknown. His thoughts froze as they took in a horrible, bitter irony. He turned his head to see the village that was some distance behind him. It was one village, but it represented two histories. Both, had ended in darkness. He had created this place, ultimately, as a memorial to his own failures as a guardian. The first village had been his own, it was a smaller one. The second village had been that of the unicorns that had taken him in, it was a larger one. They were both merged here, as one tribute to his own weaknesses. Unicorns had died in the battle with the creature. He had failed to protect them. Unicorns had died at his own claws when he attacked the second village. He had become a monster. He held up a hoof and looked at it, contemplating it. A strange sing song voice emerged in his memory. It was from the other day, when he had ventured into the market in Ponyville. It was asking a question. What was he? Was he a monster or was he a pony? If he was a monster, then why was he even doing this, now. Why care? It would mean that he was nothing more than an embodiment of mindless power, just like the ocean in front of them. If he was a pony, then... He would need to be careful, far more careful than he had originally planned on being. He blinked. It was a second chance. He could succeed where he had once failed. He could be a guardian, a guardian of ponies, just one pony for now. He glanced at Ice Storm. She had finished speaking. He started to calculate, quickly and in silence, drawing from what knowledge he had on the size and depth of the ocean. With the amplification, his objective was certainly possible. He smiled grimly before speaking. "Hmmm... Ice Storm... I would like to freeze the entire ocean, not just some measure of the surface. Every last bit of its contents. It is the only way to make the rest of the plan possible. This ocean is not the pond behind your shop, but with amplification and working together, it could be possible to freeze it within a comparable amount of time... In addition, you were right... We need to be careful, and I..." He caught himself before finished the sentence. He was unwilling to explain to her that he had not quite fully pondered the extent of the danger that they now faced. After a split second, he continued normally. "I will be taking a few basic precautions, such as a durable shield and a magical 'net' over the surface of the water. The shield would protect against the possibility of any unexpected basic attacks. The net would provide some early warning if anything makes its way out of this... Ocean. Hmmm..." A gentle ripple, not far from where they were had caught his eye. It was the only disturbance on the near surface. "I strongly suggest that we freeze the entirety of the surface first. This water... It is all both sentient and interconnected. It is not normal water. Because of this, I suspect that it freezes more easily, but... Ah... It can also think, in its own way. And... Hmmm." He stared at where the ripple had occurred, there were others. "I suspect that it has heard us... I'm starting now." Without another word, his horn blazed and a dark light shot across the surface of the ocean, causing it to glow beautifully. Simultaneously, a rippling, transparent shield formed around the two unicorns. The shield's strength was easily apparent. The entire atmosphere around them crackled wildly as it interacted with the magical force. He was acting quickly, carefully. The fear had focused his thoughts in a way that was unexpected. A blast of his magic hit the ocean and it began to freeze. Despite his distraction, he spoke. "Ice Storm. Regardless of the circumstances that may arise from this action... I will protect you." Scarlet watched Magicon carefully as he spoke. She nodded her head when he stated that they could be trusted. It was all that she needed to know. It was easy enough to see that they were not directly connected to Bringer, but Bringer was tricky. She could be certain of nothing without checking and rechecking the possibilities. His remarks concerning Dawn did not surprise her. She was like Bringer, and he had proven that he could not be trusted. She was pleased that Magicon's perspective matched her own. Her eyes studied the pegasus pony dispassionately while he spoke, but her thoughts were moving quickly. His words meant that Bringer was active in more than one place. They also meant that he was being bold. He had apparently made no secret behind his actions. She winced when Trixie's name was mentioned, and she looked away when Springer's was as well. But, at the mention of Dawn, she slowly turned back around. Dawn had been on the train? Just now? Her eyes narrowed as Arcanel continued speaking. What had happened... Bringer had remained on the train somehow... Without her? She felt anger. At the mentioned of Bringer's threat, Scarlet's anger flared into a white hot rage, but she carefully revealed none of her increasing intensity. She would not allow Asteria to be harmed, regardless of what steps were necessary to defend her. They could afford to make no mistakes, but maybe they already had made a mistake... She stepped slightly to the side and stared at Dawn. At first, the unicorn patiently avoided her gaze, but before too much longer, Dawn locked eyes with her. Scarlet studied her until the yellow earth pony stepped between them. Scarlet sniffed with annoyance. Scarlet spoke immediately. "I am Scarlet, but my identity is not important. What is important is saving Asteria's life. What is also important is avoiding Bringer's tricks. This unicorn." Scarlet pointed a hoof in the direction of Dawn, ignoring the yellow earth pony that remained between them. The earth pony was facing away from her and towards Dawn. It seemed odd, but Scarlet spoke without hesitation. "She is, as you said, a tool for Bringer. You may not know this, but Bringer can see through her eyes. He can watch and listen to us through her. I suggest we kill her to increase the probability of success in saving the filly. She is an enemy, not a friend." Ambrosia's head whirled at the sound of the familiar voice, and her eyes locked onto Magicon and his strange friend, a pony that she instantly recognized as an older form of Luminescence. The strong red of her mane, tail, and eyes and the strange silver fur... Even the expression was similar, both the filly and the mare had worn inscrutably serious facial expressions. She even carried herself similarly, trotted towards them with her head held high in a vaguely imperious manner. It was too much to be a coincidence. Vim spoke before she did, "Hey Magicon! Well, that's one half of the search done?" The conductor hesitated as he took in the sight of Scarlet, he seemed to be at something of a loss. Arcanel, on the other hoof, immediately launched into a rambling greeting. She started to approach Magicon and greet him, but she froze. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dawn. The unicorn was staring at the strange mare with Magicon, and the strange mare was staring right back at Dawn. She glanced at Arcanel. He was still talking. She glanced at Vim. The conductor was looking between the two unicorns with a sense of unease. Ambrosia carefully, cautiously stepped between the two unicorns and took a deep breath, choosing to turn to face Dawn. She trusted that Magicon would keep an eye on his own friend. The blue unicorn looked away from the cook's own intense gaze, but before she did, Ambrosia could see just a hint of red in her eyes. She noticed, instantly, that it matched the shade of red in the eyes of Luminescence. Ambrosia frowned. It should have been obvious that the mare was, in some way, Luminescence. At least, it made perfect sense to her. What other pony could it have been, given that they had just seen the filly not too long ago. She supposed that he might have forgotten. Still, the effect on Dawn was instant. The unicorn looked up at the sound of Arcanel's voice and the intensity of Dawn's expression made it seem that she was looking straight through Ambrosia and to the ponies behind her. There was a definite tint of red to them now, but Ambrosia was more concerned with the words that were spoken by the other unicorn, behind her. The cook's eyes opened as wide as saucers. Dawn's horn immediately glowed, and the unicorn was surrounded by a shield. Other than that quick action, Dawn remained motionless, staring in the direction of the red maned unicorn. Ambrosia only watched Dawn for a moment before spinning around to face Scarlet. She wanted to speak first, and she wanted to make herself clear. Like a mother chiding a badly behaved filly, Ambrosia's voice was powerful and her words were to the point. "No. Dawn is a friend, and you should apologize to her. She's free of the cat's influence now, and you should be ashamed of yourself." Scarlet's words came back just as quickly. She was completely undeterred. "You're an earth pony, and you are trustworthy. Why would you want to stop me? Stand aside, please." Ambrosia instantly understood Scarlet's meaning when the unicorn mentioned the type of pony that she was. She also saw the look in the unicorn's eyes. She wanted to kick herself. Arcanel hadn't been so wrong after all... This pony... She was not Luminescence, she was Scarlet. The two were, in Ambrosia's mind, not cut from the same cloth. Off to her side, she was certain that she could hear a muffled profanity from the conductor. Undoubtedly Vim would be agitated. If there was one thing that the conductor hated, it was unstable unicorns. Of course, to Vim, unstable had nothing to do with magic and everything to do with safety. An angry unicorn was an unstable unicorn. If he acted, the situation would only deteriorate. Ambrosia thought quickly, and replied just as quickly. She held her own head high, matching the pose of the unicorn that she faced. When she spoke, she switched to an calm, winsome tone. "Scarlet, don't threaten me. I'm not moving. You may think that I am only an earth pony, and I am. But, this is not Equestria. This is something different. I have been here many times before. I know this is a dream, and I know that I can change things here. I faced a dragon when I was last here. I faced it alone. I am still standing. Do you really want to challenge me? A fight with me. How do you think that would help Asteria?" When the last word left her mouth, she felt like time froze for her. She reflected. On the outside, she reflected perfect, regal confidence. In her heart, she knew that she had said what she needed to say. If nothing else, she had redirected Scarlet's obvious anger to herself rather than Dawn. Behind her, she couldn't hear that Dawn was not doing anything else. She could only assume that her words had stopped something horrible before it had happened. In her mind, she was faced with a certain grim reality and questions circulated doubt. This may or may not be a dream world. It looked familiar, but how could she know for sure. Her ability to control her own dreams was something that she was confident of, but whose dream was this? If it wasn't her dream, could she control it? If she was actually awake, could she control it? What would she do if Scarlet attacked her? She had only made flowers in her own dreams, admittedly millions of them that one time. But, what would Scarlet care about flowers? The dragon... She had never really faced it... If her bluff was called, then what would happen? As she spoke, Bringer's flickering eyes died down to an even duller look than they had contained earlier, and his face fell into an unreadable, neutral expression. He studied her words carefully as she spoke. He tilted his head slightly to the one side and then the other. He seemed to be thinking, but he said nothing to express his thoughts. Bringer studied her for some moments after she continued talking. His expression remained unreadable, his eyes grew dimmer. The silence in the room was deafening, and the seconds stretched into minutes. The cat was seemingly frozen into place. Finally, he shifted his weight from one side to the other, as if considering an action. He stopped and crouched, facing the filly. He frowned thoughtfully, but as soon as he had done so, it started to change, slowly, into a smile. Then, the smile became a grin. Then, the grin became an even wider grin. He spoke, and his voice sounded odd. This time, unlike earlier, his lips didn't even move. Instead, his voice seemed to come from all around the room at once. "You... What kind of thing are you, exactly? You ask me... What I think of you? Do I like you? What kind of questions... Are these? From you... To me? I don't understand. But, maybe I do, and I am just lying? It wouldn't be the first time. Mmmm... You know, Dreamer, you scared me just now. I thought you were reading me. I mean really reading me." He stopped speaking and stared at her. The eyes glowed from within like embers of flame. When he spoke, he spoke normally. His tone was friendly, playful. "Then, just when I think that... Somehow... You aren't what I think you are... You ask a bunch of questions that tell me that you can't read me at all. Because, if you could... Then, you would already know the answer." He laughed, and it was a cheerful chuckle. When he stopped, the grin was a strange lopsided smile. "You are not a normal pony. I'll answer your questions. Truthfully. Consider it a trade, really... Because, I have questions for you..." He cleared his throat and watched the filly carefully while he spoke. "Yes. You can ask a question." He stopped and snickered softly. "Mmmm... I think that you are like me, because we think alike. Very alike. No wonder Scarlet attached herself to you so quickly. I suppose you are to be my replacement." He laughed again, even softer than before, it was a bitter laugh. "Yes, I would like you to be my friend. No, I don't think that you're a normal pony. Yes, terms like 'light' and 'dark' are constraining. No one thing should define an individual... Yes, I am me... No, I am not shadow, light, or darkness... Yes... No, yes. I think that covers the rest." Bringer attempted a serious expression, but it fell into a grin. "Right, so. A trade. New questions. But not yet... Let me tell you something more... This isn't a game, by the way. I'm past games with you, and... I will call you Asteria now... You may call me Wraith. I don't think that you are what you present yourself to be. I like that. Neither am I. I am a dream, a nightmare, a light, a shadow. Despite what may seem apparent, I am not darkness, in fact. Unless you think that you can mix everything else together and get darkness, which I doubt..." He continued, speaking calmly. "You see, Asteria, I am a thinker. I consider things, but I do it without considering them. I am a creature of instinct. Long ago, my instincts told me what you said. Labels are constraining. But, when I looked around, do you know what I saw? I saw this place... I saw a place that was clearly divided between dreams and nightmares, between what was perceived as light and darkness. For myself... Due to an event in the past... I was broken into many pieces. I was able to see so many things." As he went on, he seemed to be desperately looking for the words to express himself. "Do you know what I saw? When I was in your world... As I have been... So many times... In fact. Well, I saw that there was no real darkness. Asteria, what is darkness but the absence of light? But... Light is not the absence of darkness... Light is something else... Something active. It can create a type of darkness, you know. Shadows are made by the light. Shadows are different though... But, back to darkness. See. I realized that darkness depends on light, on the absence of light, in order to exist." His eyes flared for just one moment, but he spoke on as if nothing had occurred. "Dreams and nightmares. Those are labels are they not? Couldn't the nightmare of one be just a normal dream to another? Aren't all nightmares dreams too? They are just dreams of a different type, are they not? Think about it... Can you see it? This... It is what I want to do... Asteria, I would like to bring them together. The substance of dreams, the substance of nightmare. Why should they be apart? Was it always like this? I doubt it... I think they were together once... I want to bring this back... I think it was a happier time..." His grin faded into a wistful smile. "If I can do that, and if I can protect what I have done... Protect it forever... Against all opposition... If I do this, then my job here is done. I would like to go back to your world. I would like to be free from this place. Scarlet... Doesn't understand what it is like to be me, trapped here when I have seen and can see so many other things. I want to leave this place. I want to leave it completely. Not just partly. I want to never come back." He waved a paw around. "Look around? Is this a place that you would like to be, forever? By yourself? Looking out into madness that doesn't even have to be? Is that what you would wish on your worst enemy? Yet, here I am... Do you know that you are the first one to ever ask me to be my friend? So many take or receive. So few ask... Mmmm... Now, I ask you... Would you like to help me? Please? But, you must promise... To do so, if you do. A promise that cannot be broken... What do you think of this?"
  7. Yes... I think that this is something that I will need to do at that time. I can be fanatically stubborn when it comes to ignoring myself and my own need for taking a break, but this is one time when I should smash my head with a hammer, tie myself up, and lock myself in a chest until the 21st. Just make sure to open the box and release me when you get back. If not... Then... At least slide some fruit sandwiches in or something. I'll probably be hungry. I will likely post tomorrow, then I will lock myself away. I may still work on some things, but they will not be giant walls of text. Maybe, some small paragraphs. If I start to do otherwise, then I trust that one of the other RP players will shoot me or something. Yay!
  8. @@Ice Storm,@@Eevee, @@Magicon, @@Flow, @@Starshine, @@Electrobolt, @@Bari, @@Electrobolt Okay. This keeps happening, so I might as well explain it. I haven't said anything earlier because it is a humiliating to even acknowledge it. With that said, I do owe some explanation for my delays and lack of patience compared to normal. I will make the long story short. For the past five or six months, I have made very little recovery from my injury. Doctors are basically useless because there is very little knowledge on the subject, and there are no treatments or surgeries that have a guaranteed effect. I did my own research and realized that I probably need to increase my upper body strength in order to continue my recovery. To do this, I have been looking for and trying out various programs to help me. I am currently following a program that was recommended by others with RSI. I started the program last week; I could only do 5 good form push ups. I used to be able to do 60, without stopping for a break. That is a lot of muscular atrophy. Now, I bet you're wondering why I said all of this? Well, it is simple. This stuff hurts. A lot. It will help me in the long term, but for now, this is just painful. The problem with this is that my normal daily typing is already fairly painful. My job has required a lot of typing lately, much more than normal. I am working on a project that some of you are aware of, and it requires typing as well. These posts require typing. That is a lot of typing, given my current issues. Keep in mind, this affects my wrists, hands, fingers, arms, back, and everything else connected to my nervous system. It isn't just a localized pain, it's everywhere. Too much of it, and I have a hard time sleeping. If things get really bad, I actually shiver randomly, regardless of the temperature. The shivering is due to residual nerve damage. I can recover, but it takes time and it will take more short term horror. As you can imagine, this makes posting more difficult than it normally is for me. RP posting requires long periods of uninterrupted typing. It isn't like Skype where I can fire and then delay for minutes. The smart thing to do when injured *is* to take breaks every minute, but I cannot do that for an RP post, because it disrupts the stream of consciousness. This means that I basically type without stopping at all. I can generally ignore the pain and just keep rolling but, lately, this has proved unwise. I have been biting off more than I can chew by mixing excessive typing and my work week. The result of this has been sleep deprivation due pain that normal, over the counter, painkillers don't help with. Sleep deprivation makes me grumpy, unable to think straight, and not really able to heal from the earlier damage caused by extended typing. Pain makes me much grumpier and makes me see red constantly (more than I normally do). It's a vicious cycle. Because of all this, I doubt that I will be able to post much more than once per week for now. I would appreciate patience during this time. I know that we are at the end, and I will finish the RP. However, I am trying to recover further right now. I am not happy with constant pain when I do normal things. If I stop this now, then I may slide back into intense pain later on by doing nothing. I am ashamed to say it, but I fear intense pain like I had earlier on - it made life almost unbearable. Please, try to avoid heckling me regarding posting. I'm working on posts continuously, but the pace is gratingly slow and I have to cut things before wrecking myself. Heckling me only serves to make me fiercely angry, miserable, and defensive. It is humiliating to be too physically weak to do what I want to do, so I don't see the point in ribbing me when I am already tired. I'm already ribbing myself, and it does nothing. Be patient. We've been at this for quite some time and it has been a fun ride. An extra month or two to reach the ending wouldn't kill anyone, but goading a tired and grumpy me into hurting myself would kill me through suffering that you wouldn't even feel. That wouldn't be nice. This public service announcement was sponsored by sleeplessness and self-observation. Thank you.
  9. Key Gear

    Forum Icons & EQTV Staff

    I just wanted to step into this thread for a bit and say something that may seem to be a bit off-topic. (But, guess what? It isn't.) There is nothing wrong with offering constructive criticism of something. Everyone should always feel free to point out how something can be improved and to provide suggestions on future directions. This process is what makes any community a better place in the long run. However... The tone of that constructive criticism matters. So many replies in this thread have been completely and totally acidic. To me, that is a shitty attitude to have. This is a pony forum. It exists for people to have fun on and to make friends. When criticism is made of a contribution that someone has freely made, it should remain respectful to the time that this individual dedicated to the task at hand. Am I saying that criticism is wrong? No. I am not. As I said, criticism is a wonderful thing. Am I saying that every person's work is the greatest thing ever? No, and I don't think that anyone here is saying that. The only thing that is being said is this. It was a contribution that took a lot of a single individuals time. This individual should not be talked to as if they were some kind of dirt. That attitude and that way of communicating is, quite frankly, unacceptable. People should be respected, and a baseline level of decency should be maintained in *all* communication between sentient human beings. Some people may think, "That's too bad, they shouldn't have made the contribution if they didn't want to hear what I have to say and how I want to say it." Let me tell you a story. I remember when I was working in retail, there was a wonderful local store policy about customers - you have to listen to their complaints, no matter what they were. Normally, it wasn't a problem, but I had one customer in particular that would take full advantage of this policy. Everyday she would show up buy something, for every perceived mistake, she ripped me into pieces. It sucked, and I really, really hated life during that time. I would often think to myself... I wondered if she had any clue what it was like to be on the receiving end of that kind of criticism? Here's the funny thing. This same individual was a teacher's assistant at the local university. I was lounging about one day when I saw her get torn into shreds by an angry professor. She ran crying from her office. So, basically, you had a vicious circle. One person was an ass to one person, and the other person transferred that to the next. The buck stopped with me, because I don't carry my trash and throw it onto other people's faces. Now, stop and think. Let's go all the way back. Pretend that you were the one that worked on something for three days. Pretend that you were the one that had something released and you were so excited about it. Pretend that you did this because you loved the community. Now, you put your stuff out there and everyone tells you that it's shit. How would you feel? You think that you'd feel fine? You're lying. You wouldn't feel fine. You would feel like crap. You still think that there's nothing wrong with being a monster towards another human being? Well, stop for a moment and pretend that we were all face to face. Pretend that the anonymity of the Internet wasn't there. Pretend that we were all in a fucking room and that you were face to face with Silver, CD, myself, and everyone else on the forum. Would you say the exact same thing? Or is this a case of this? If you would still say the same thing, that's nice, but you should really examine what you're doing on a site for a show that is about friendship and magical horses. If you wouldn't say the same thing, then maybe you owe Silver an apology? He stuck his neck out there on this. He shouldn't be beaten up for it. Look, constructive criticism is fine. Tearing someone up, being totally disrespectful towards the work done, not saying a single positive word. We all need to stop and take a measurement of ourselves as human beings when we smile and nod and either do this or stand by while it happens. I am not making a judgement call. I have torn holes into many people before, and I have ripped worse holes than most here can even begin to fathom. I've made the mistake myself, plenty of times. I'm not saying that *anyone* here is any less of a human being. In fact, it *is* a good thing that you all care enough to comment. The only thing that I'm saying is that we were all beginners in something at some point, and we are all continuously on an uphill journey. Speaking for myself, I remember what it was like to get kicked in the teeth. It *still* happens to me. Do we have to be so harsh to each other? Just continuing the cycle? Can't we all just be friends? Or, failing that... At least, be respectful?
  10. ((OOC: Something happened in this post. It will not be obvious until the next, I think. With that said. I didn't proofread, so if you see something strange, please let me know. Ask questions on Skype if any arise.)) Dawn stared at the cat as it regarded her dismissively. Inside, she could feel a growing sense of fear, it froze her limbs into place. Her thoughts began to fill with the dim echo of a single possibility. Yet again, she had made a terrible mistake. This cat, this creature... It should have never been brought onboard this train. Vim was right. Yet, she was still conflicted. This cat was magical, surely? It meant no more harm than the normal cat, certainly? It wouldn't hurt anypony would it? Dawn felt certain that it wouldn't, but she wasn't a stupid pony. The riddle of the cat and the bird made sense to her. She understood cats. She was certain that he was referring to Arcanel. She knew what cats did to birds. It wasn't a bad thing, normally. Cats were like any other animal. They needed to eat as well. It was nopony's fault that cats had to eat meat. However, Arcanel was not a bird, he was a pegasus. He was not only a pegasus, but he was one that had helped her so much, even more than her cats. He was not food, and she would not allow him to be eaten. She liked Arcanel, and she enjoyed speaking to him. If he was eaten, then it would be much more difficult to speak with him in the future. Dawn stared at Arcanel, and then she turned back to the cat. An unnatural smile was spreading slowly across the cat's face. It's eyes began to twinkle with an unusual yellow glow. It was as if it had expected this. Dawn shook her head. It didn't matter whether she stood in front of Arcanel or behind him. She would not allow him to come to harm. It made sense, in a way, that he would step in front of her like this. Almost from the beginning, he had been a guardian to her, even more than the cat that was now smiling at them both. Arcanel had, somehow, managed to tame the one thing that she had never been able to control - herself. Her own explosive reactions, her instability. It was his words that had set her along to path to becoming free from these influences. From the moment that Arcanel spoke, Dawn's worry began to increase. When he mentioned that he would change the rules, her eyes narrowed and her breaths came quicker. He was going to challenge Bringer directly. This was the one thing that the cat had once warned her about doing. It was a dangerous course of action, but as he continued to speak, she saw the logic behind his approach. Asteria was in danger. She had been so focused on the current situation that she hadn't even absorbed the information... She stared at the cat, and she knew almost instantly that there would be no assurance. They would not be taken to Asteria. Bringer's glowing eyes were fierce, playful. His tail flicked idly from side to side. His face remained frozen in a smile, not a friendly one but a challenging one. This was a game. They were, perhaps, all birds, including her. He paid her no special regard, none at all. She glanced at Arcanel and looked back at the cat. Was Bringer evil? She, herself, had nearly harmed another pony earlier in the day. She had nearly lost control. Maybe Bringer was like her, unstable? This could have been the reason that he had found her and tried to help her. Perhaps, in her, he had seen evidence of his own existence. But... Arcanel was the one that had told her that she wasn't even unstable, much less evil. If he, now, judged that Bringer was evil, then... What did it mean? His judgement had been sound... It was as though every word that the pegasus spoke was a hammer, attacking everything that she had held to be true. The attacks worked. Her eyes opened wide. Slowly, dimly her thoughts went back to the first time that she had met the large cat. She had been saved, it was true, but had she really been saved? What had she been saved from? Her memories of that day were not clear. In fact, she realized, none of her memories were very clear at all. It was as though she was a shell of a pony. She had her magic, and this seemed to be the only certainty... It was her magic, of course. The cat had used it from the beginning, but it had been her magic that had opened the door for this creature. She met Arcanel's apologetic look with a blank expression, unable to express the complex thoughts that were in her own mind. An image was now beginning to take shape of this creature and its intentions. None of them were good. She nodded as Arcanel finished his statement. Of course, this cat was more than a cat. Resolutely, Dawn took a few steps forward to stand by Arcanel's side. The cat was, by this time, no longer able to restrain itself. Bringer was grinning, wildly at Arcanel. It looked at though he was amused, but his ears were folded back. His tail was no longer flicking idly. His claws were extended. His form was tensed. His eyes glowed with the intensity of a bright fire. Dawn's horn started to glow as she contemplated a defensive spell. Bringer listened to Arcanel with a progressively widening smile. When the smile could grow no more, it became a grin and began to grow again. While Arcanel had been speaking, the big cat's eyes had darted between the pegasus and the unicorn mare. The two earth ponies behind them were of no consequence. Indeed, the pegasus himself would be no consequence if not for the effect that his words were having, still having on the unicorn. When Arcanel finished speaking, and Dawn moved forward to stand by his side, Bringer knew. It was useless. She was no longer of any value to him. The words of the pegasus had poisoned her thoughts. This meant, of course, that he would either need to find another unicorn of a similar power level or forego his plan entirely. He winced as an action in another area of the train contributed to his growing frustration. He shook his head before speaking. "Dawn, that won't be necessary..." The unicorn shook her head and spoke calmly, her eyes a strange mixture of confusion, epiphany, and anger. "It will be necessary. I think that you've lied to me. I think that you've used me. I think that Arcanel is right. I think that you're evil. I won't let you hurt anypony..." Her voice trailed off, and he shook his head again. Bringer sighed, maintaining his grin eerily throughout the movement. "Let me speak, please? Arcanel... You lose the game. I do not appreciate your changing of the rules. I'm afraid that this demands penalty, but I can't quite deny that your game was interesting on its own merits. I think that I shall, despite my own thoughts, humor you on some modest level. With regards to your proposed reality... Yes. And, no. I am and I am not a cat. Obviously, this is the case." He shrugged and looked away before continuing. "No, you are not the only bird. I mean, that should be obvious as well, right? Look at my size. A pegasus like you? Mmmm... You would hardly feed me for a single day. I have quite the appetite. Now, a griffon, maybe? And a pegasus? That's a much better meal. A griffon, a pegasus, an alicorn? Even better. I think that, with such a meal, I might be good for a week. Delicious, plainly. Mmm... Let me see... I can answer more questions, but I'm beginning to become bored." The big cat slowly began to pace, away from the ponies. His voice grew calm and became more distant than his few steps seemed to suggest it should be. "I am getting bored. Bored and annoyed. You know, you're the first one to completely disregard my game and propose another. That's not very courteous of you. Now, see, I've played by your rules even when you didn't play by mine. And, you called me the liar? Ah, well... That's often how things are, isn't it? The honorable have no honor. The dishonorable are noble and just. In the end, nothing really matters. Does it? Or, maybe it does. It's hard to know for sure..." A single shadow in the corner of the room. It had started as nothing more than a small, speck of darkness. Now, it leaped across the room like a cat attacking its prey. Dawn noticed the shadow, but it was far too late to do anything about it. She could only catch her breath as the darkness flooded over her. A single blast of light escaped her horn before all four ponies were plunged into darkness. When the shadows cleared, none of the ponies were there. Bringer sighed, again, and he used his paws to open the door leading into the adjacent passenger car, away from the dining car. Luminescence allowed herself another rare smile. It was strange how Summer seemed to know exactly how to approach her. It was as it they had known each other for years, but of course, this was not the case. Luminescence had only met Summer not even a few hours ago. It was unusual, and it was the nature of this unusual relationship that had been, in part, the reason that Luminescence had asked the question. She would never have bothered to ask a pony that was simply smart, there had to be something else - a connection between them. She nodded as Summer began to speak and the mare's words made sense. The answer seemed to be that it depended on many things - resources, the relationship, and the time consumed. It made perfect sense to Luminescence. Every action had some cost attached. It was for this reason that she, herself, was always careful to avoid falling into debt with any other pony. To her, debt meant that her actions had exceeded her ability to actually pursue them. It was a terrible thing to mismanage bits. Similarly, it would be a terrible thing, indeed to mismanage her own existence, sacrificing it pointlessly for another, dooming them to a life of regret. She blinked, but she was, by now, becoming accustomed to the mare's motherly mannerism. It seemed unusual for such a mare to have such a side to her. Luminescence thought to herself that most of the mares that clamored to take care of a younger pony were generally unsophisticated creatures. Their hearts exceeded their heads by far. It was not an intrinsically horrible trait, but it was not one that appealed to the young filly. She had always been a straightforward and somewhat analytical thinker. Matters of the heart were unusual for her, and they were completely alien when not accompanied by some type of verbose explanation. Summer was perfect... The mare's question prompted Luminescence to blink again. It wasn't even so much a question as it was a sort of curious, gentle prodding, a question without a question. The filly's eyes twinkled just slightly. She held no secrets, if she could. Secrets were boring, tedious things. Instead, she preferred to share what information she had when it was needed. In the case of Summer, she saw no reason to keep the mare in the darkness. If she wished to know the source of the question, then it would be shared, but only after a good meal. "Thank you, Summer." The filly spoke simply and nodded her head in appreciation of the gesture. She wasted no time in setting to work on the first sandwich. Summer was right, it was delicious, and she was better off eating while the food was still fresh. Eating carefully, so as to avoid making a mess on Summer's bed and on herself, Luminescence quickly finished off the first sandwich and started on the other. But, even as she ate, her earlier thought remained. The filly's eyes continued to twinkle, only with even greater intensity as she pondered how to explain herself to Summer. When she had finally finished eating, Luminescence's hooves were nearly trembling with excitement. "Summer... The sandwiches were delicious." She began, before looking away for just a moment to steady herself. When she looked back, she had just barely managed to decrease her visible excitement. Luminescence took a deep breath, it had been so long since she had explained any of this to another pony that she was not certain how to even begin. She knew only one thing. She would need to be careful. Summer viewed her, at worst, as a respectable filly. It would do no good to throw all of this away with a single, brash rambling conversation. She angled her eyes away from the mare and spoke slowly, deliberately. "Summer. Just some moments ago, you mentioned that you were interested in the source of my question. Well. I can tell you, I think." She looked at Summer, directly. "I made a game. It is an imaginary game, so it exists only in my thoughts. I know that this sounds silly, but this place feels real to me. It is what I do sometimes, to get away from the boredom of my existence. Because, I can get bored sometimes. I have an active mind." Her voice picked up speed and energy as she continued, losing her ability to pace her words. She looked away. "I cannot stop thinking. It was the reason that I had to leave my parents, as I told you. I was running out of things to do. I looked for jobs that I could find, but nopony wanted to hire me. I was too small to lift and move things, and most of the jobs required that. I tried to get a few jobs that required thinking, but I was refused. Because of my youth, nopony believed that I was smart enough to do things that required thought." She looked back and her eyes blazed with crimson ferocity. "But, I am smart enough. I have always been. I understand how to manage bits, how to build things, how to destroy things, how to use my magic. I am not just a filly. I am a pony like any other. I can work, I wanted to work. I was so bored. I was laughed at for this, so I ran away. Nopony could understand. I could not keep going like that, sitting every day. I would spend hours... Just doing nothing. Imagining. I was so bored. Imagining was the only thing that I had to do. Schoolwork was boring. Other fillies and colts were boring. Everything was boring." Plainly frustrated, she buried her face in her hooves even as she continued. "I loved the game that I made, the world that I created. But, I could not just lie there every day in something that was not real. It wasn't real. I know this. I knew it then and I know it now, I think. I ran away. I stowed away on a train. It was easy. I left. I arrived in Fillydelphia, I think. I found a home in the local orphanage, but my old problem remained. I was still bored. Eventually, I was adopted by two young ponies, they were business ponies." Luminescence removed her hooves from her face and turned around to face away from Summer, again. Still, she gestured for emphasis every few moments as if performing for an audience. "At first, I was happy. They liked my world, my game. They encouraged me. They quickly realized that I was capable. It was then that they decided to give me a job. It was a good job, because it kept me busy. However, the pay was far below market. They justified this by saying that I was their child, so I should repay them for taking care of me, teaching me. I used my magic to help their business, and I used my skill to help them find new ways to improve their product." She shook her head. "It was flattering to be given such an opportunity. But, I was given too much of this opportunity. They used me, Summer. I received more and more work and less and less bits. Eventually, I realized that I wasn't really adopted. I was their servant. I did things for them, to help them. They gave me nothing, except the promise that, eventually, I would receive a real position with real pay. By the time that I realized this, it was too late. I was so tired. I broke down." She looked back at Summer with a wistful smile, her red eyes seemed far away. "You see, I sunk into my world. I had abandoned it while working. When I broke down, though, I became almost a prisoner to it. I think that these 'parents' were ashamed, because they abandoned me without a word, leaving me in a forest when I was too weak to stand. I was all used up, then I was discarded. Somehow, I survived. But, I was never the same. I guard myself carefully now. I think I trust too easily. So... I say all of this to say another thing. I caught myself. I almost told you, but I did not. I couldn't. Not before I ask you, and it may seem silly, but it is not. Summer, are you afraid of the dark?" Her smile faded. The twinkle in her eyes had dulled to her normal expression, and her entire form was somewhat tensed. It was as though she was expecting something, something bad. Her normal, steady demeanor had drifted away. Instead, what remained was a sense of unusual alertness. She watched Summer carefully, seemingly obvious to the unusual monologue that she had just made. She stared at Summer, wide-eyed. Key struggled. She was by no means a weak pony, but at that moment, she was at a weight disadvantage against the large cats. Her attempts to thrash and flail did nothing. There were simply too many cats. As the claws and teeth began to rip into her fur, she was reminded of the previous night, when she was attacked in the darkness by a similar mass of creatures. The light had saved her then, but what would save her now? Those creatures hadn't even hurt. These cats, they were quite real, though. Or, at least, they seemed to be. The cats didn't notice Electrobolt's approach until the kick sent a number of them flying. The sounds of angry hisses filled the air, and a few of the larger cats attempted to scramble towards the two earth ponies. A few more cats quickly snuck out of the room to join the fray. The smaller cat with the blue fur scrambled to get away from the growing melee. From the dark room, a barely perceptible sigh could be heard. A loud noise being made in exasperation. At some point in the continuing conflict, Key managed to wiggle free from the last few cats and deliver them a few goodbye kicks for good measure. She was now standing, albeit shakily, on her hooves besides the larger ponies. Her breaths were coming in quick bursts, and her eyes flicked around the room looking for the next attack or challenge. "Well..." She started, but her voice trailed off. Something was wrong. The darkness in the room seemed to be growing even darker than before, and an odd shadow had, just barely, begun to creep from the room. The cats, all of them, had ceased the attack and they were now staring at the ponies, motionless. They answered Flow's challenge with silence. Key stared back at them, before she whispered to the others. "I think that something's wrong..." A voice answered back from the darkness. "Nothing's wrong, though I am somewhat disappointed. A proper fear of the dark is something that everypony and bird should have. Don't you think? Mmmm... Well. I think so. And, that's all that matters isn't it? I mean, who's really in control over this situation?" The voice grew louder. "For the love of all that's good. Wait, no... That would be pointless. So little is actually good in the world. Instead. for the love of the darkness... Maybe..." The voice was cut off by Key Gear's frustrated voice. "What do you want! Where are Asteria and Magicon? How about..." The voice hissed in anger and the darkness from the room swept over all of the ponies within it. In an instant, they were gone. When the shadow swept over her, it felt as though it was the cats again. The darkness had some type of weight attached to hit. She was only standing shakily, the force of the sweeping darkness carried her off of her hooves. She expected to fall to floor, but the feeling never came. Instead, she felt the sensation of floating, falling without an end. Her eyes could see nothing... "Bolt! Flow! Alex!" She called out, wondering if any of the others could hear her. In the darkness, she could hear nothing. As she squinted though, she was certain that she could make out the wings of a pegasus, maybe even more than one. She carefully looked around again, and other silhouettes were apparent, but she couldn't hear anything, not even the smallest sound. There was a flash of light. Key found herself lying on a hard surface, which was strange because she had never even felt herself land. It was as if the floor had moved, rather than her. Key's eyes took a few moments to adjust to the dimly lit room. The sound of a quilled pen scratching its way across a page could be heard, but her eyes could hardly make out the source of the noise. After a moment, she blinked. The room could now be easily seen. "What the buck..." She whispered as her eyes took in the sight of what was plainly some kind of dungeon. The room was a maze of bars, all of them were unusual sizes, imperfect cylinders. They were organized in a pattern that made almost no sense at all. Key could see the others - Electrobolt, Wind Dancer, Alex, and Flow. They were all trapped in the same area and in the same way. She tried to navigate out of her holding area, but she simply blundered into the bars. They were bitterly cold, and she yelped when she made contact with them. The odd scratching sound of a pony writing continued to reach her ears. "Hey!" Key shouted, hoping that the voice would answer, but it didn't respond. Instead, her own voice answered back. "Hey!" Key shook her head. How could an echo exist in this place, it was far too crowded. She turned to where Electrobolt was, across the room. "Bolt... I don't think that we're on the train anymore, and..." Her eyes had just located the source of the scratching. Behind Electrobolt, writing frenziedly in book on the floor, was a blue unicorn with a white mane. She had no cape or hat, but she bore a distinct resemblance to Trixie. Behind Key, she heard her own voice again. "Don't mind her. She's the scribe for this place. Don't mind the room. It makes no sense. You'll never find your way out. Not without help. Don't mind me. I'm just here because you told me that you had a deal for me. But... You never said what it was." Key span around and, lying on the ground was the blue furred cat from earlier. "Okay, here's a deal, why don't you let me and my friends out of here?" The cat shook her head and strolled away from Key, climbing some invisible surface and effortlessly stepping through the bars and into the area wear the pegasus ponies were being held. "Lots of birds here." The cat mentioned, continuing in a funny voice. "One of them can't fly, which might be a problem..." Key stared and attempted to follow the cat, duplicating the movements. She made it about a foot in the air before she fell over, landing in a heap. The way that she landed irritated her scratches and cuts from the earlier attack, she groaned with annoyance. A hissing laugh came from the cat. "You can't just follow me. You're too big." Key Gear glared at the cat, the filly was completely confused. In a frustrated tone, Key Gear tried to explain herself. "What just happened. We're here. In a room that makes no sense. With Trixie. And, a talking cat. Sooo... I want to get back to the train? How can I do this. I want to find Asteria... and Magicon. Are they on the train, here, where are they..." The cat shrugged. "I don't know. If I did know, I would want to know more about that deal." The cat pointed at the pony that looked like Trixie, who was still writing, completely undisturbed. "She might now. She probably knows. She's a bit mindless, though. I think she had too many nightmares." The hissing laugh repeated itself. "Well..." The cat walked on air again, navigating the bars, approaching Electrobolt. "Do you have something for me? Your coat is a lovely shade of green. I don't mind what happened to the other nightmares back there. They're boring, and that was rude of them. A good kick was what they deserved. You didn't kick me, though? Why not? Was I too small? Or, was it because I moved away?" Midnight listened as Lapis spoke. So far, he had said nothing of interest. As he spoke, she couldn't help but notice that his recovery from his earlier state had been remarkably quick. A normal pony would have, perhaps, never recovered. It was an odd thing to move, quickly, from tears and despair to effectively conveying information. She considered that she had requested him to do exactly this. It could mean that he was remarkably good at following orders. It could almost mean something else... Her eyes cooled. She frowned when the cat was mentioned. It was exactly as she had feared when she had seen the words in the other journal. She thought about how to best approach the problem, but her thoughts were slightly interrupted by following Lapis's gaze to the sword. His expression concerned her. Curiosity, at such a time as this? "It's enough detail..." She said cautiously, softly as she waited for his curiosity to express itself in words. Her cautious expression gave way to a thinly veiled look of reproach. "Lapis... Don't be silly? Do I look like a pony that fights monsters and bandits to maintain peace? How does that even make any sense." She gestured towards her desk with a hoof and began to trot towards the blade at a gingerly pace. "I write. That's just about all that I do. Maybe, I just keep this sword around because I like it. It does look nice. It certainly seems to draw your attention. So, you wish to see it. Very well." Cooly, she reached the blade and removed it from its sheath. The blade was thin yet strong, elegant yet harsh. The metal gleamed flawlessly in the light of the room. The blade was perfect, agile, sharp. Midnight smiled before taking the sword and calmly trotting back to Lapis. When she was less than a meter away, she stopped. With the speed and elegance of a dancer, the sword was in her hoof, with the blade at Lapis's neck. "Actually, I have used this before. I have had some dealings with griffons, outside of normal territories. I learned to defend myself." She smiled invitingly. "Don't move. You should be able to see the blade clearly, where you are. Don't panic. I have a few more questions, because there are some things confusing me. I needed to attract your attention. I said to focus, but I think you've focused on the wrong thing. This sword should not be important to you now. You want to save your filly? No or yes? If you do, then distractions will do you no good. If you don't, then did you lie to me?" The blade didn't move while she spoke, and her voice became as steely as her grip. "Here's my question. The words that you wrote in my book, how much of them did you understand? How much of that made any sense to you? You remind me of somepony. Your demeanor and the way that you carry yourself... What do you know about dreams, Lapis? Dragons? Guardians? Have you heard anything about any of this? If so, then tell me, quickly please. I need to know." Her eyes betrayed an unusual mixture of trust, distrust, appreciation, and fury. Her actions betrayed nothing, as the sword held steady. Bringer raised an eyebrow as he considered the filly's answer. It was both obvious and non-obvious at the same time. Her bubbly enthusiasm brought a grin to his face. He nodded his head. Her answer was, indeed, quite amusing. His eyes continued to dim, slightly as the filly stared at him. Seeing his own reflection in her eyes, he became aware of his deteriorating state. "Mmmm..." He had no response to her unexpected concerns. As she reached out a hoof to touch him, his ears folded back and he shrank from the filly's touch. His eyes locked on to her hoof with an uncertain expression. It quickly became an expression of longing when she pulled her hoof away from him. His ears unfolded, and he began to back away from the filly. The light in the room dimmed, masking him with darkness. Slowly, with each step, he receded further from her vision. His tired voice spoke from the shadows. "That was an amusing answer, Dreamer. I confess that you are the least boring pony that I have encountered so far. That is, I think, good for you. I think it might be good for me as well. Your answer... It was amusing, yes, and it was wrong. You say that I can eat anything and everything? That's not true. Not everything. I couldn't eat the Ocean of Nightmares. Then, the food that I can eat, it has no taste. Have you ever tasted food in a dream, Dreamer?" "I'm certain that you have not. Even if you have, it was an illusion, prompted by memories of your own realm, which is so different from this one. I have been there, Dreamer, several times. Each time, I was recalled to this tedious place. I long to go to your realm and remain. Everything is so much more real there. I can taste things, create memories. It isn't like this place, where everything is just temporary, illusionary. Here, there is no real feeling, no real amusement, just artificial nothingness." There was silence. "Mmmm... Dreamer..." The voice sounded nearer. "Yes, something is wrong. It has to do with all of this. I'm trying so hard right now to manage... Everything... I must free myself from this prison, this terrible, terrible place. No, I am not having fun. Not really..." The voice was closer, circling. "My eyes are windows... Into myself. I am hurting right now. It is taking far too much effort to do all that must be done. Things are frustrating me, and all I wanted was freedom... For myself... And, for my friends... I think these nightmares are my friends, you see. They understand me... Almost as well as you do..." The voice ceased. The room's darkness loomed impressively as the last of the light dissipated entirely. The breeze that had carried the light through the room continued. The ocean surrounding the room seemed still as well. For some minutes, there was nothing but darkness. Something large moved across the exterior of the room. It's massive size seemingly darkening even the darkness that was within the room. The floor shifted slightly. Behind Dreamer, the large cat seemingly materialized from nowhere and licked the filly with a sandpapery tongue. A yellow glow weakly emanated from the panther's eyes and it's coat seemed to glisten with a light shadow. "I just thought of something... It amuses me greatly, and I wonder what you would think of it. You see... Since you're from your own realm, that means that you're real, does it not? Well, we can test this, Dreamer. Are you interested in the experiment? Or, maybe you would like to tell me something... What am I? Light, shadow, or darkness? I have always wondered myself... Take your time to answer. I want this to be a good one." The big cat's eyes, though still dim, flickered with mischief. Ambrosia listened carefully while Arcanel verbally tore into the big cat. She, herself, felt neither concern about or fear of the cat. It was probably some type of magical creature. Most likely, it was one that Trixie had let out of its horrible container. Now, it was here to wreak mischief on the train. It seemed all too straightforward to her. Then, the cat began to speak. His words seemed odd to her. He seemed to be referencing and discussing things that had absolutely nothing to do with the current challenge. When he finally finished speaking, she was prepared to do her part in confronting him, but she never got the chance. Instead, a strange shadow enveloped the room. Darkness was suddenly everywhere, and she could feel the distinctly feeling that she was falling but upwards rather than downwards. Whatever she was falling through, it seemed to have some kind of substance to it. She could feel resistance as she kicked her hooves out against the shadows. It felt like nearly an eternity had passed but, eventually, the shadow gave way to light and she found herself standing upright in a place that looked eerily familiar. She turned to her right and saw Dawn. The unicorn was cringing and hugging the ground with a panicked expression. Arcanel was out in front of her by just a few feet. As she looked at the at the other two ponies, her eyes adjusted to the eerie gray lighting that seemed to permeate the place. It was then that she recognized it. She was standing there, right there, in the same place that she had stood many times before, in her dreams at least. She shivered. The air was cold in this place. It was just as she remembered. The buildings all showed the signs of some kind of attack, probably from the dragon that she had seen so many times. Yet, there was not a single trace of other ponies. Dawn's voice cut through the silence, "W-where are we?" The unicorn sounded disturbed, at best. "I guess... This is my dream?" Ambrosia's own voice sounded curious, lost in a certain sense of wonder. She was, on some level, stunned. Now, she was here. She could feel the gravel path beneath her hooves. She could feel the coolness in the air on her fur. She could sense the same sorrowful, eerie silence. "Did I faint?" She spoke the thought. It made sense, but how could it explain the presence of the others. She span around, right to left, looking at the world that she now found herself in. It wasn't quite the same as the world from her dreams. This setting seemed larger. The buildings were destroyed, but some of them seemed altogether quite massive compared to the small place from her dream. The field of flowers that she had created on her last visit were nowhere to be seen. Her survey came to an immediate halt when she saw, to her left, Vim lying unconscious. Ambrosia felt her heart leap into her mouth, and she just barely stifled a cry. Instead, she spoke hurriedly. "Arcanel! Dawn! Dawn!" Her hooves scrambled to cover the distance. "Vim!" She skid to a halt and dropped ungracefully down to get a closer look at the older stallion. He wasn't breathing, and his features seemed completely inert. She started to panic. "Vim... Vim!" She poked him a few times, but still nothing happened. She cradled the stallion's head in her hooves, her eyes opened wildly, and her voice softly wailed. "This place... It has to be my fault... What have I done?!" "You know, I blame the cat." The voice sounded familiar, close, and strangely distorted. She stared down and saw one of Vim's eyes, half open, seemingly blazing red. Ambrosia's breath caught in her throat, and she dropped Vim unceremoniously and scrambled backwards. The conductor laughed, and slowly stood to his hooves, shaking himself off. "That was too easy." His voice rumbled with laughter. Ambrosia was shivering with her frustration. "Easy? Easy!" Her green eyes blazed with anger. She spoke sharply. "Vim, this is not some joke or a game... This is the place... It's my dream! The same dream that I've had for years. We're here... All of us... There's a dragon here. There's other things... Darkness. This place... It isn't safe. It isn't a place for joking or playing around. I thought you were dead or badly hurt! I didn't know if Dawn could help you, I..." Vim had been shaking his head the entire time, now he spoke. "I know about your dreams, Ambrosia. You've gone on about them before. The fact is simple. You always woke up. If you can remember how, then maybe we could figure out how to get out of here?" The conductor continued. His voice was remarkably calm. "I know I'm just an earth pony, but I've seen some things, and I've heard some tales during my time. I've always kept good humor throughout it all, though. Besides, really? You know, that cat brought us here. That means he probably has a plan, and that plan probably involves us doing what he expects. Panic and worry are probably exactly what he expects. That won't do us any good. We need to think. Now... Errr... That's not something that I'm really good at, so feel free to take a swing at it." The conductor placed his hat on his head and grinned awkwardly. Her hooves continued to hit the ground. She was running as fast as she could, but she longed to run even faster. In front of them, the abandoned village was increasing in size and prominence against the flat terrain. They were getting closer. She chanced a quick glance over her shoulder and saw that Magicon was there. She looked in the other direction, hoping to see the source of the earlier roar before it attacked them. But, she could see nothing. The sky was clear, and no other noises could be heard. Somehow, the silence concerned her just as much as the earlier roars did. It meant that something unexpected could occur. She lowered her head and somehow managed to gain just a little more speed; her worries supplying an increase in energy. In front of her, the village was now only a minute or so away. Strangely, it now seemed positively leviathan in size. Crumbling walls, decadent woodwork, and the grisly marks of claws, fangs, and fire characterized the structures. She slowed to a trot and cautiously entered one of the nearly destroyed gates leading into the village. "This is strange. I was certain that we would be attacked on our way here, but nothing happened. Bringer is tricky. It could be a trap. We need to reach a place. There is a strange pony here. She can help us if she wishes to do so... They are called scribes. They write what is, but I think that they can also write what will become, at least somewhat." She stopped, suddenly and her ears sprang to full alertness. She heard voices, and they were remarkably nearby. They were also loud, given the silence of the village. She winced, but no answering roar manifested itself. She crept, carefully, towards the source of the voices, stopping when she had reached a corner. Content with her concealment, she looked around just in time to see the entire exchange between the cook and the conductor. "The big red earth pony likes games just as much as I do, and his words are wise. Magicon, do you know him? Could he be trusted to assist us?" It was a wise precaution. Dusky gave his hoof a tug, just to make certain. Thankfully, Ice Storm had already blindfolded herself. There were no other precautions that he could think about taking at that that point in time. From here on, it would simply be up to them to take the right steps. This was made more problematic because he had only an incomplete picture of what was. They were in darkness now. It was the darkness that existed between the realms. They were still far away from where they needed to be, but they were close enough that his own power over the world would be sufficient to carry them the rest of the way. At first, there was the sensation of falling. Then, another sensation as the world seemed to shift around them for a few moments. When it settled, they stood on the edge of a large, snowy tundra, facing outwards towards a massive ocean. The water was dark, brackish, and yet strangely luminescent. The water went on for as far as the eye could see. In the far distance, a mountain could be seen, towering above the dark ocean. Nearer to the shore where they stood, the water was silent, still. Further out, into the distance, a tumultuous wind raged, whipping the waves into a wild frenzy. Unusual iridescent shapes could be seen moving near the surface of the water. Just slightly beyond even the mountain, a darkness hung over the water, like a great mist. Dusky smiled. "It is a good thing that your eyes cannot see what mine can. Though, at the same time, it is quite sad." He loosed his hoof from hers. "Be careful to not move too far forward. In front of us is the Ocean of Nightmares. You do not want to fall into it or to even step into it. This entire realm is the place that supplies the building blocks of the nightmares that ponies and other creatures dream. It is a terrible beauty. Most would lose themselves in looking at it, but I discovered... Long ago... That I could look on a nightmare without forgetting myself." He glanced at Ice Storm with a distracted expression. "By the way... You don't need a diaper here. In all of these realms, you are not as you were before. You are a pony, certainly, but you are a product of your thoughts, your own image of what you are and how you exist. Conventional physical problems no longer exist... More specifically, we stand in a realm of shadows, where dream and nightmare may mix. This place is... Artificial. I created it with the help of another, some time ago. I am not sure when..." His voice trailed off as he stared into the ocean's seemingly infinite expanse, out towards the hovering cloud. "I have had many plans for doing this in the past. I could have opened the door that restricted my normal movement within Equestria. I could have waded into the Ocean of Nightmare, matching my strength against it, harnessing its power as my own or failing and receiving destruction. So many times, I have looked out into this nothingness, and I have seen everything. Vast, complex plans. Too complex, I see now." "Where we stand, alone among the three worlds, magic exists. I created it here, myself. It was challenging, but I wove it into the very fabric of this world when it was created." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "I think that... Hmmmm... Given the nature of magic in this place, we can take a shortcut. As I described to you earlier, my current problem is simple... I am here, in this place. I am also in several other places. Some part of me exists in each place at a single time. The point that combines them all is centered here... This ocean. As I told you... I inhabit nightmares. It was a literal statement." He frowned and his eyes focused on the "There is a mountain some distance away. This mountain is where I attempted to seal the creature away. It exists here, in the Frozen North, and in between all of these places. As I said... I am divided. Hmmmm... Just as we were, before you froze our hooves together." Dusky smiled, broadly. "I have an idea. A simple idea. It is far more simple than any other idea that I have ever had for resolving this, and it would bring the added benefit of saving the life of the young filly and any others that are here." His voice, more and more, adopting the contemplative, explorative tone of an engineer examining a difficult structural problem. "Ice Storm... As I said... Magic is artificial in this place. It is also amplified. For your ice magic, I think that it would be remarkably amplified, as my own magic is of a similar variety. This is an admittedly strange idea, but... If you and I were to freeze this ocean. It would expand. Nightmare is, as I described earlier, a much more concentrated form of dream substance, and it sometimes escapes this containment and enters other worlds. In this case... We could take advantage of this. Forcing the escape through expansion. Temporarily breaking the barrier between worlds." "My own magic could then be used to perform its speciality, building a world. You would only need to maintain the frozen state of the ocean. In this case, I could forge a link across the realms, uniting myself through this link. While all of this occurs, anything that draws power from nightmare would be unable to act. It would be frozen, thus unable to actually harm any other ponies. When I have gathered my forms and restored myself, then we could go to rescue the filly. We would know exactly where she is at that point because our magic would have combed some vast expanse of this ocean, and I am certain that she is here." A strange enthusiasm began to build in his voice as he continued to speak, a certain liveliness that his voice did not normally carry. "If we move quickly, then we can find the filly, while everything is still frozen. If this is the case, then it would only take a comparably minor effort to separate the link between the world, pulling everything of nightmare back to this ocean, and eliminating this mountain, or... At the very least, isolating it..." Dusky stopped, in wonder at his own enthusiasm. It had been years since he had rambled so much about magic and not a train engine. To discuss the technical aspect of magic with another unicorn? It was a wonderful feeling. "Ahh... Hmmm... What do you think, Ice Storm? For myself... If there are any flaws in this plan... I think that we may be better off dealing with them as they arise? I have talked enough... Time is growing short..." ((OOC: Cookie if you can figure what is wrong with all of this post?))
  11. Key Gear

    Mega Thread Post a Picture of Yourself!

    - redacted -
  12. Key Gear

    Happy Birthday Zoop!

    HELLO! Happy birthday, Zoop! It isn't your birthday yet, but... It will be soon! That's half the fun! A gift from me and Tich (full size pic is 12 mb, one below is much smaller)! Made by Flaret!
  13. ((OOC: Yup, this is wild. Enjoy. I hope. I think? Maybe not. Anyways, for Maple and Dawn Rider, make the assumption that they went to their rooms. Any mistakes? Tell me later. It's 2 am. I have to awaken for work in 3 hours.)) Luminescence breathed a sigh of relief and opened her mouth to explain herself. However, no words emerged, and her eyes were drawn back to those of the cat, who was now thoroughly distracted by eyeing the white pegasus and the conductor. Its strange gaze snapped between the two of them in a manner that seemed quite unlike that of any normal animal. She felt the forehoof on her back just in time to pull her gaze away from the unusual cat, again. The conductor curtly nodded, without removing his gaze from the unicorn and her cat. Luminescence breathed a sigh of relief and looked towards the exit leading to their room. However, even as she did so, her red eyes expressed a flash of concern and worry. She slowly started towards the door, hoping that Summerfall would be right behind her. "Yes. It was... Thank you." The filly said simply. Her tone was flat, but her face was shadowed by worry and uncertainty. She averted her gaze from Summerfall and picked up the pace to their room. Hastily trotting, she was careful to not look back down the hall from which they had come. Her normal graceful movement was oddly irregular, betraying her unsteadiness. She still held her head high, but it was with an air of watchfulness, her eyes sweeping the path ahead as if looking for something, finding nothing. "Certainly, Summer. I can do this." Her simple response, again, seeming to mask her concern. Still, she steadily took the room key and standing on her hind hooves, opened the door. She hesitated for just a moment to look back at Room 8's door, then she swiftly entered Summer's room. Once inside, she breathed a sigh of relief and took a seat on the bed. Her red eyes seemed excessively tired, gone was the energy that they had contained earlier, when she had first met Summer within the same room. She gently allowed herself to topple backwards onto the soft bed. The moment that the door was shut and she sensed that Summer had become somewhat settled, she spoke, a toneless voice, carrying just the hint of strain. "I think that something bad is about to happen. There is nothing in Room 8 anymore. It is somewhere else on the train, closer to where we just were. I don't think that it is important now. There are other things happening. Summer. I have a question for you?" The filly sat up, and her red eyes locked intently onto the mare. She expressed no apparent concern for either food or drink. "Summer... Shortly after we first met, you showed me such kindness, while you knew nothing about me. When I asked you, you told me something... You told me that sometimes we should just help somepony in need, without concern of a reward? You said to me that this should be the case so long as we don't have to sacrifice much of ourselves in the process? Forgive me, please, for this strange question, but I need to know something..." She looked away before continuing, but before she looked away, her eyes expressed the weakness and confusion that she was increasingly feeling. "Because, you are the first one to speak these words to me or anything like them. This is why I wish to ask you. How much is too much to sacrifice in protection of another? What if this other is a pony that you love? What do you do then? I ask you this, because I worry that perhaps I ask too much of you. You have already endured inconvenience, now an insult on my behalf. Yet, you have not abandoned me? I realize that this is an unusual question. As I said... Forgive me if I probe. But, I must know, simply. How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice for a stranger that you have just met? If you love them?" Scarlet's wing lowered and her expression was one of surprise. And, her surprise at Magicon's tone was plainly expressed on her face. She had expected many things, perhaps even to be attacked for her apparent incompetence and useless confusion. What she had not expected was what she was now hearing, it was a tone that was calm, merciful. She looked away from Magicon, her expression becoming one of impassive thought, until she heard a single word. "Kill." She repeated the word in a hushed murmur, as if it was completely alien to her. She closed her eyes for a moment, attempting to understand what she had just heard. She shuddered as the import of the word settled into her mind. When her eyes reopened, they were no longer blue. Instead, they blazed with a crimson glow, far outshining her feathers' own shade of red. Still she looked away from Magicon, presenting him with only an impassive side profile of her visage. Scarlet absorbed the information that she received with no reaction up until when Magicon mentioned Trixie. His wink, noted from the corner of her eye, prompted her to wince. Her beak opened as if she were about to speak, but she swiftly closed it again and did her best to master her expression completely. Scarlet turned her head and focused her red eyes on Magicon. She listened intently to his words as he began to describe the room. With every word he spoke, her expression seemed to become progressively stonier and her eyes seemed to blaze ever more fiercely. When Magicon finished speaking, she raised her head proudly and her eyes ceased to glow but remained impressively red. She looked at the unicorn with a deep respect. "Based on what you have said, I know where they are. But, we cannot simply appear there as easily as we arrived in this place. I can take us only to the edge of my own realm. Beyond this, we must move on the ground, normally... Even flight is... Strongly not recommended." She spoke, cautiously. "Asteria. She is being held within Bringer's realm - the realm of nightmare. He is not fully in control of this place, but it is what he declared to be his own some time ago. I... Avoid the place. My power is substantially decreased when I journey into it. Even Bringer's own power is limited only to the area that he calls his own, his home. This is where Asteria is. There is no other place that is even close to your description. He... He cheated. By describing a place of his own, he was able to take her there in spite of the rules. Forgive me... But, Magicon, I promise that she will not be killed. We will save her, but we must think. And, I must share some things. If not, then we will fail." She drew a careful breath. "We will have to cross the realm of another to reach Bringer's home. This other realm... It was created by the one that you call Dusky. I... I know him by another name. We call him The Builder, because this is what he does. He makes things. I was the one that brought him here. For a time, he did nothing. He sat motionless in thought for so long that we believed him to be inactive. Bringer claimed him as his own, despite the silence. It was then that he spoke. For some time, he spoke with Bringer. They discussed things beyond my understanding. Then, they did something strange. With my permission... I granted a space within my realm. Here... They merged the light and the darkness, creating something... Different." "It is this place that we must cross. It is like Bringer... It is a realm of the light, cloaked by the shadows. I have disowned this place from my own realm. It was... Not my intention to allow such a place. But... I wished for my friends to be happy, so I allowed it. They seemed amused by the place. I saw no harm. Now, I am not so sure, but... Perhaps it is a curse and a gift that this happened." She squinted, and her eyes focused on the wall. "You are, I think, skilled with magic. In this place, Magicon, magic works as it does within your realm, I think..." Her voice trailed off as she considered, carefully. Her eyes closed in concentration. When they opened again, she spoke. "Somehow, they created magic within this place. I believe that it is created, somehow, by the mix of light and darkness. The shadows supply the source of the magic, I think... And, I think that this is the sole reason that this realm exists, because when he first came to this place, The Builder had no magic. Now, within his own realm, his power is restored. When we are in this place, you must be careful. The Builder shares this realm with Bringer. Bringer is there. In many places. His nature... It is like that of a spider in your own realm. He is connected to the shadows and they to him, they are his web. He feels every perceptible movement." She shivered, nearly imperceptibly. "If you change the landscape, he will know. If you take to the air, he will know and... The coldness will carry you away. This realm, it is like his web. We must take care to not disturb it, until we are ready... Even then, we must be careful. For, you see... There is a Guardian over this realm. It was created as a pet for Bringer, based on a story from The Builder. But... I have seen it. It is not an amusing pet, it is far too large. It is also... Powerful. I can fight it, and I can triumph. Of this, I am certain. But, it would not be wise to attract such an enemy. We must save Asteria, and I must transport you both from this place and into your own world. Safely." She closed her eyes again, continuing to speak while they remained close. "It has been a long time since I have journeyed through this place. I prefer to travel directly to Bringer's realm, in his company. I can no longer see this place so easily. Even to go to the edge of my own realm is a challenge to me, but I will succeed. It has been too long... Forgive me for so much speaking, but I assure you that every word was necessary. Now... If you have questions, ask me later, while we travel as quickly as we can. I have found the place. We must go. I only warn you... If you use magic, avoid teleportation. The shadows bend the light. You will not end up where you wish to be. Take care..." Her voice trailed off. The world around them began to morph, to change. In seconds, the room gave way to a dim light, a whirl of many colors merging and unmerging. A new image began to form. They were now standing on the edge of a land divided. Behind them, there was the green grass, similar to that which was in the area that they first met. The grass stretched on seemingly forever, infinite to the eyes. The brightness of light hung over the field of grasses, moving them in line with the wind and the apparent motions of small creatures. In front of them was a place of shadow. It was a vast, frozen tundra, an apparent wasteland. In the center of the place was a large village, or what remained of it. Even at such a distance as they were, tremendous devastation could be seen. From the direction of the frozen wasteland, a blast of cold air hit the griffon and unicorn. A pale moonlight lingered over the world; it had no apparent source, instead, it merely blanketed the cold landscape with hues of grey. A deadly stillness hung over the frozen wasteland, there was no movement, not even the slightest hint of life. Scarlet took a nervous breath before steeling herself. She took a single step towards the frozen abyss, no additional steps were needed. She was immediately standing wholly on the lifeless frozen ground. Scarlet's beak dropped open in complete shock. Wild eyed, she watched as the frozen wasteland slowly encroached upon the grassy ground, killing the light and the life as it advanced. In a confused whisper, she could barely speak. "What... What is happening to my realm?" A fierce cold blast of air seemed to carry on its back the answer to her question. It caught her feathers and she staggered with the force of the gale. Then, stillness. Scarlet crouched close to the ground, still watching, wildly, as her own realm was slowly merged into shadow. "No..." Her eyes faded back into blue and she shuddered. "This cannot be possible..." Her confusion was immediately apparent. Her eyes twitched as a motion in the grasses of her realm caught her attention. With a quick birdlike motion, her head snapped to focus on the spot. There, hiding within a patch of a grass was a single cat, with fur as black as the darkest shadows and eyes blazing with a golden hue that was strongly apparent, even within the light. Seeing that it had been spotted, the cat stood tall, regarding the griffon with a fearless, cold gaze. A sound similar to the roar of some great beast seemed to be carried on the wind, a whisper of power. Scarlet approached the cat, tentatively. The cat showed no reaction to her approach. If anything, its expression of challenge grew in intensity. The moment that Scarlet was safely within her realm and no longer within the shadows, her look of confusion and tentative steps gave way. In their place, a look of ferocity and wings unfurled. With a mighty roar as if in answer to the earlier whisper, she tore through the air towards the cat, just slightly above the ground. The cat smiled as she took the creature into her talons and ripped it to pieces, throwing the fur and substance of the cat everywhere. The cat's black blood stained the grass. The griffon didn't stop for the cats destruction, she continued forward, angling for the ground, hitting it and nimbly rolling forward, gaining distance from the advancing shadows. When she had regained her footing, she stood, facing the shadowy realm and its shades of alternating darkness. She held her head high, and her blue eyes again glowed red. Her voice boomed. "Subtlety is lost. Our presence is known. We must do what needs to be done." Even as she spoke, a transformation began to take place. In a whirl of fantastic bright light, the griffon lost its beak, its feathers, its wings, its claws. Its color changed as well. The brown was replaced with a shade of silver. She gained hooves, fur, a horn, a mane and tail, and a cutie mark. Scarlet's eyes lowered in intensity, the light faded. Standing in the field of green, facing the advancing shadows was a young unicorn mare. Her flank bore the symbols of a suit of cards. Her fur seemed to glow with a barely perceptible light. Her eyes were a particular shade of red. Her mane and tail matched the red hue of her eyes. She was, in height, just slightly taller than a young mare of her age. She carried her head high as she strode towards the shadows. She stopped at the edge of their advance, allowing them to move under hoof, covering the ground on which she stood. She spoke, softer than before, but she made no effort to lower her voice. "I remain Scarlet. I have adopted a more advanced form of one that is close to me and close to the light. More than any other in all of my ages, she shared in my love of games. She defeated me in my games, and as her prize, I let her depart from this place... But a part of her remained and has... Shaped my realm and my games more than any other. I take this form because it is more effective with magic, and we no longer need to take care with our usage. In fact... I would recommend that you adopt a shield and follow me. We are known. We will be attacked, I think. If we are attacked, it would be unwise to be unprepared. The attack will come from above. Dragon's fire." With her final words, she immediately began to gallop towards the village, trusting that Magicon would follow. As her hooves pounded the ground, her horn glowed with a white light and a visible field surrounded her. The air around her crackled with intensity, it seemed as though the entirety of the realm bristled with the magic that she had just used. She turned her head slightly as a cold blast of air greeted her action. Her voice shouted over the sound of the cold air. "You promised to do everything! All that I ask is that you trust me now. We are allies, and we must move swiftly! In the village, we may be able to find some type of help! I do not think that The Builder knows anything of this. It is Bringer." The village began to loom larger in their vision. In the distance, the roar echoed for a second time, tumbling across the landscape; it was louder than before. The conductor's wary eyes were locked onto her to the point that he payed no further heed to the other passengers, and Dawn was becoming increasingly uneasy. As passengers, strangely, continued to leave, Dawn's malaise grew. They sensed her instability, surely. There could be no other reason for their actions. She seemed doomed. She would never have a chance to clear her name. None of her actions would have any effect at this point, it was all pointless. Her gaze began to lower to the floor. The unicorn looked up, with a pleading expression, at the mention of her name. "Yes?" She said, her earlier strength lost. Arcanel's words were worth her attention. Her eyes lit up, slightly, as she recalled the earlier incident. There had been something, she was sure of it. She wouldn't need to read her journal after all, and she could regain the trust of Vim and the others. She could bring back Asteria and Magicon. She hesitated for just a moment, long enough for the last of the departing passengers to leave the car. "I... I think that it may have been connected after all. In fact... I'm sure of it... I..." Before she could say another word, a strange, androgynous voice piped up from somewhere immediately near her. The voice bristled with frustration. "He's lying." Dawn shook her head and answered the voice. "No, he isn't. I'm certain that..." The voice spoke again. "No, he's lying. He wants to use you. Your power, of course." Dawn looked confused as she stared at Arcanel. "I don't think so... Why would he? What would he gain? I was unstable. He helped me... He even gave me a hug... I think he likes me, aren't you happy about that?" She held her cat out and looked askance at him. Vim blinked and turned to Ambrosia, but her eyes were locked onto the feline and the fur on the back of her neck began to rise. She spoke in the same commanding, parental voice that she had used on Dawn earlier. "Dawn. Drop that cat." Dawn did as she was told, and the cat landed on his paws. The voice spoke again, and it was readily apparent now. The cat was speaking. "That was completely uncalled for." The cat began to grow in size, within a few moments, the panther was nonchalantly strolling in their midst. Vim's tiredness was gone, completely. The conductor carefully, casually moved closer to the cat. "Relax Vim. I'm not going to attack anypony. I just want to talk." The voice practically purred. Vim's own voice answered right back, conveying complete ease. "A talking cat. You know, I'm pretty sure that it's against railway regulations for you to be onboard this train without a proper ticket. You wouldn't happen to have any bits at paw, would you?" The cat laughed as Dawn answered in reply. "I'm sorry Vim, I'll pay for him..." The cat backed away from the conductor and the others. It shook its head. "Dawn, please be silent. You've said enough. In fact, you've said too much." The unicorn promptly silenced herself. "Now, then. I think that I should properl..." He was cut off by the steely voice of the cook. "We're not afraid of you, and you know what? You should probably leave. You don't belong here... It's you, isn't it? It was you yesterday. It was you last night. It's always been you, hasn't it?" The cat coughed before continuing. "For the love of Celestia. Let me speak. I'll explain things in due time. Now, to properly introduce myself. My given name is Wraith, but you can call me Bringer." "Now, I have some other things to say, but first... I have a riddle. A bird is, to me, anything with wings. They're for eating, they lay delicious eggs as well, they fly, of course. They have feathers, beaks, and more things like that. They smell wonderfully. Sometimes. They're agile creatures. But, this isn't important to me. The real thing that I want to know is simple." The cat lifted a paw, gesturing towards Arcanel. "Three questions. Answer them and I will take all of you to Asteria. She is nowhere on this train. In fact, she is far outside of the reach of Celestia, Luna, and everything that you love. Answer them correctly, and I might even let you leave with her." The big cat smiled as Ambrosia took a step towards him. He sighed before speaking again. "Another thing. Please. Don't come any closer to me. I'm terribly afraid of what I may do to your friend. It frustrates me when I am not listened to. Interruptions, unnecessary aggression, they vex me terribly. Asteria is such pleasant company, you see? I would hate for anything to happen to her. I do stupid things when I am frustrated, you know?" Vim smiled and spoke icily. "Sure, I know. How about those questions, pal?" Wraith stretched lazily. "Right, right, right. Sorry about that. I was distracted by your lemony friend there. Such wonderful fur. I am quite fond of lemons you know. That taste. Mmm. Delicious. But, ah, yes. Questions. Of course. First question. What's a good place for a bird to hide? Second question. How does a cat hunt a bird? Third question. What happens when a cat finds a bird? I'll give you a hint. I'm the cat. Now, make this entertaining, will you? I get bored quickly. Give me good answers, they need to make sense. Or not. I don't really care." Wraith lazily eyed Dawn as she moved in front of Arcanel and slightly to the side. The unicorn eyed him with a worried expression. Wraith sighed. The vision had not been an idle one. Even as he waited for her to open the door, he could feel something happening. A sensation that he had not felt in some time was now being felt strongly - a deep sense of concern. It was such a strange feeling, and another feeling accompanied it - indecision but only in the vaguest of senses. When the door was finally opened, his eyes registered Ice Storm, and his thoughts became clear. He showed no visible reaction to her blushing embarrassment. Instead, his eyes focused. Dusky spoke. "Ice Storm, I present my most sincere apologies for arriving early, far earlier than I had originally planned... Hmmm..." He stopped, measuring his words. When he spoke again, he carried a tone of unusual urgency. "Everything is, sadly, not alright. I need your help. It is the same thing, but we must take action now. There is something taking place, and if I am not mistaken... There is a danger to a young pony... The preparations that I had originally made to help myself... I fear that something is using them now, setting into motion something that may not be fully reversible." He sighed. "I will be plain." He shook his head and his face betrayed his complete frustration. "We must go now, or I am simply not certain of what the consequences will be. Originally, I had believed that a journey would be needed... Well... That is no longer the case." His eyes blazed darkly. "Instead, we may arrive immediately at the place we need to be. However, this will require a different spell. Follow me... But, if you have something, you should take something to block your vision. I trust that you can cast blindly without negative effects. It is generally unwise for those unaccustomed to it to freely gaze into the realm of nightmare." "Follow me, if you will. There is no time for delay." Dusky turned abruptly and strode powerfully towards the train engine. In just a moment, they were there. He immediately reached out a hoof to Ice Storm. "For myself, I am able to freely traverse the barrier between realms. For you, this will not be the case. If you trust me, then I would request that you take my hoof. Then, focus your magic, and you need only to think of the most challenging moment that you have ever faced. Perhaps the blizzard that gifted you with your strength? After this, there will be darkness. I would... Strongly advise you to not release my hoof at that time. I will carry us the remainder of the way." She saw his face, with its tears streaming down. His red eyes welling with them, filled with sorrow. Her own eyes widened as she took in the sight. He was a stallion, weeping like a newborn foal. His embrace came unexpected, but the gentle touch of the stallion reassured her that he meant no immediate harm. Midnight returned the embrace, comforting him with her own gentle touch as best as she could. At the mention of a filly, Midnight's eyes lit up. This was the reason that he had written in the book. The story. The griffon and the cat. The filly was his own. Her eyes made a quick measure of him. He seemed to young to have a filly of his own, perhaps a foal? Perhaps she was not his child but a friend. She nodded her head. It was the only explanation that made sense. "Lapis..." She spoke the name. From her own studies, she knew the source of his name. It was a type of rock. The stallion was no longer crying, and Midnight's thoughts wandered. Truly, something terrible had to have occurred for this rock to be reduced to such a trembling state. He was far from a malevolent or mischievous saboteur. Instead, he was a deeply concerned pony, concerned for one that he cared about. As he released her from his gentle hug, she reluctantly did the same. In truth, she had enjoyed the contact. It had been far too long since she had felt a friendly embrace. She maintained a smile, a blank expression, as she studied him again. She noticed the hint of a blush. His unease spread to her just slightly, and she looked away to hide her own subtly blushing face. She listened as he spoke, and she turned to watch him again. She knew about the red stallion with the cape. Now, she could recall Asteria as well, a young unicorn filly. She was his student? Or, something more than this? At the mention of her own name, Midnight's eyes narrowed, slightly, but she said nothing. Of course, the stallion wasn't a fool. He had written in her book; it was logical, in a strange way, to assume that she would be the one that had appeared. At his last question, she met his gaze with a smile and an expression of neutrality. In truth, she only knew something of the happenings on the train. These things... She would not dare to tell him for fear of breaking his trust. Instead, she would focus on the immediate. Asteria was never supposed to have left their current realm. This was part of no plan that she was aware of. She approached the stallion again, this time with no hesitation or stealth. Gently laying beside him, she covered him with her left wing again. With her hoof she carefully wiped away the tears staining his face. With a soft, friendly voice, she spoke again. "I am Midnight Angel. I am the writer of this book and many others. So many that I am not concerned with the tear stains on this one. You have every right to be upset and to cry. But... Please remember, it is actions and calmness that will help those that you care for, not tears. You must focus. I can help you to find your Asteria, but I know nothing more about her current situation than what you, yourself, revealed in your writings. This hints to me... Several possibilities..." Her soft voice trailed off as her eyes calmly focused on something in the room. It was a book, but it was not her own. This book belonged to another. Quickly but with grace, she left Lapis's side and made her way to the book. She picked it up and opened it. The pages were all blank. "Lapis..." She spoke before her eyes could see the telltale signs of a book written in invisible ink. Her hooves leafed through the pages, and her eyes carefully scanned each page. After some pages, she turned to the back of the book and then made her way backwards. She was rewarded for her efforts. After only a few pages, she had found one that still bore the imprint of a quilled pen. It was a normal book. She started to breath a sigh of relief but the breath caught in her throat. Dimly, from the imprint of the quill's tip, she could clearly see some mention of a cat speaking. It was mentioned more than once. She squinted but she was not able to make any additional sense out the words on the page. It didn't matter, she had seen more than enough. "Lapis, we need to leave this place, and we need to return to the place where I am from." She spoke with a calm assurance. She then took her saddlebag, opened it, and slipped the book in. Her own book, she slid away from the two of them with a hoof. "I think we shall leave that here for another." She returned to Lapis's side and quickly wrapped her left wing around him again. This time, it was not so much an embrace as it was a surprisingly strong grasp. There was a flash of shadow. Then, in a single moment, they had returned to her workshop, spilling unglamorously through a mirror and onto the floor. She spoke quickly, hoping to avoid alarming the stallion completely. "I'm sorry. We had to leave, there was something that I saw in your own book, it matched with your story, and it... Surprised me." She stood to her hooves and gestured at the small room that they were now in. Around them was a simple room. There was a bed in one corner of the room, seemingly never used. The wall opposite the bed was lined with bookshelves, all filled except for a single shelf in the one to the furthest right, across from the bed. There was a desk, heavily used. On it rested some fruit sandwiches and a glass of cider. To the left of the desk, towards the bed, resting on a small table, was an ample assortment of quills and ink. To the left of the table, there was a chest. Resting on top of it was a sword. While it was still in its sheath, it could be seen to be a light, delicate but well-crafted weapon. Between the desk and the shelf on the far side of the room, there was a single, simple door. There were no windows. She took a deep breath. Lapis was the first guest to visit in quite some time. She wasn't entirely certain of what to tell him, and she didn't wish to tell him exactly what she had found until he answered a question. "I know that it isn't much, but it is my home when I'm here. My job, if you can call it this, is to write as much as I can on the happenings in this place. I am not really as good at this task as the others like me, but I do my best. And, if I do say so myself, I try a little bit harder to think than they do. The reason that I took us here was because... I wished to avoid even the potential of danger in your realm. My abilities are limited there. Now..." Her smile left her face, replaced by a truly neutral expression and eyes the conveyed her own concerns for the missing filly quite plainly. She moved directly in front of Lapis, looking directly into his eyes with her own. "We will save your filly, I... I promise you. But I need you to, calmly, tell me just one thing. Where did you find this other book? The one with invisible ink. Tell me the exact process. Because it wasn't at all clear in your writings. They were elegant but, past a certain point, they were confused, which is bad writing, no matter how elegant." "Also. I suppose I should tell you, but I must request that you do not dwell on the knowledge. It is nothing to think about for now. I am only telling you because I think it may help you to understand what has been happening. We are in a place that exists between the Realm of Dreams and the Ocean of Nightmares. Unlike in the other two places, this place contains magic. It is through some process involving this that I am able to enter and depart somewhat freely. Well. That and my nature, which is not important, not right now..." She trailed off, but kept her gaze locked on the earth pony. The cat looked from one pony to another, before it stretched lazily and positioned itself in the middle of the doorway. In a small, hesitant voice, it spoke. "Creepy? Really? I am no such thing. Now, return to the dining car." Key stared. That was the second time that this same cat had spoken to her. The first time had been concerning the book, now this? A small cat was giving them order. The filly was unamused. Key spoke in response to the cat just as she would have responded to a pony. "No. We've got you outnumbered. Now, look. Really, you are pretty creepy. Anyways, I've changed my mind. Hey, how about something different? A bargain? Yeah, something other than us going to the dining car?" She started to approach the cat. The cat's fur changed from black to blue, again, matching Key's own fur color. "Yes?" It spoke inquiringly as it began to slowly close the distance towards the approaching pony. The two met at a halfway point. Key cleared her throat before speaking. "Right. What I was saying... A bargain. How about you get out of my way?" The cat shook its head politely. "Sorry, I ca..." Key reached out a hoof and fiercely batted the small cat out of her way and towards the wall. The cat hissed furiously, but stayed down where it had landed. "You shouldn't go in there..." The cat's voice followed Key. She replied with a hint of frustration. "Uh huh... Is this where Magicon and Asteria are?" She stopped right before she reached the doorway. The darkness, it seemed familiar. A familiar voice soon pierced through. "Maybe they are. Why do you hesitate? Why not come in? You might find them, Key Gear. I have them right here with me. Just imagine... It would be such a wonderful reunion. Be brave. I believe in you." Key's blood ran cold as the voice from the prior night hissed out its greeting. She took a single step back, before a shadowy blur leaped from the dark room. It was a cat, a rather large one. Its coat was as dark as the smaller cat's had been initially. It was in front of her before she'd had time to react. Its powerful hind legs kicked out, and the cat launched off of her chest, sending her sprawling backwards. Before she had a chance to react, cats came pouring out of the room and quickly clearing the distance towards her direction. Key scrambled, but they were too fast. She chirped strangely as she felt the first claws dig into her side. A reactive kick sent the first large housecat sliding, but the others were undeterred. In a moment, she was buried beneath them. ((OOC: Ummm... Get rid of the cats, will ya? There's about a dozen of them. They're kinda upset. The room is completely dark. Feel free to step in. Or not. I dunno. Depends.)) Bringer continued to look away while she spoke. He turned back as she finished. In his eyes, there was, plainly, satisfaction. He nodded his head and stared at the filly. Her words held truth. Cats were uniform. It was why he loved them so much. They could be relied on as being remarkably self sufficient creatures. He yawned to add emphasis to her statement of boredom, and he began to pace the floor in front of her. It was barely perceptible, but his eyes were losing their yellow luster. They were dimming. He nodded and approached the filly. He lowered himself to her height and stared into her eyes. "That was good, Dreamer. It was oh so very impressive. I am, truthfully, surprised. I would never have guessed that you were so capable... That you could read even me. Well done. Well done indeed. Yes... I do desire all. It is my right, you see? My destiny. I was born in the shadows and the light, Dreamer. To unite them? To rule over them? It is my ultimate purpose. As you say, it is what belongs to me. I have been lying in wait... Ever since the first time I was banished to this place by him. You know, he doesn't even know who I am? It's hilarious. Ah, but he will soon. I'll tell him. Show him." The cat stood again. It circled the filly as the voice continued to speak. "No... It isn't evil. It is noble. As you say... I am a living creature, I merely seek the material for life. Sleep. Ah, how I long for the restful sleep in the darkness, no more thoughts of light to keep me awake. Nothing but victory. Shelter... Yes. I need a home. A home for myself... A place with a lovely dining room set and a living room large enough to invite the extended family." He looked thoughtful. "No, not all of them. Just the ones I like... Ah, but I digress..." "I do wish for love. To be loved by those that I have set free. No more imprisonment, Dreamer. Freedom. Pure freedom. In a world of magic. Not like this dank, dreary place, but a world with just enough light... That I may control. And... Water, yes? I do need water. It's wonderful that you should say this, since we are, of course, surrounded by it. Plenty of water, Dreamer. For me and for you. Ah, but now, we arrive at the final thing. The thing that is needed to ensure happiness. Sadly, I have not had enough of this thing. Food, Dreamer, food. It completes the puzzle." The cat's eyes sparkled in spite of their growing dimness. He moved directly in front of her, again, crouching, lowering his face to hers, only a few centimeters separating their noses. "Tell me, Dreamer? What do you think I eat? What is food to me? Please, don't hesitate. Things are happening now, they are frustrating me. You know my warning about my frustration. It influences my actions in uncertain ways. Answer this simple question, amuse me... That would definitely solve my boredom, or... I could be lying? What do you think? Hmmm... This might be a good time to hide. I won't follow you." Even as the big cat spoke, a single tear rolled from one of its dimming eyes, and the eyes themselves held an increasingly vacant expression. ((OOC: Click here?))