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Double-edged Sword · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 1000–25000
Piercing Octaves
A wall-mounted display sat above the only exit to a large, square, windowless room. The display's arcade-blue background, contrasted with the wall's dark, castle-like bricks, caused it to stand out in the nothingness. A small fizzle came upon the display as a giant, yellow block of text fell across it. A booming announcer read its contents aloud: “Game Start!”

A light-grey pony materialised in the centre of the room and stood dormant with its eyes closed, kneeling. The display fizzled again.

“Please enter your name.”

A series of underscores lay across the screen, awaiting input. The light-grey pony remained motionless.

“Welcome, WhomeverThisIs.” The announcer continued, “Please choose your weapon.”

The display fizzled again and displayed a list of weapons. A dim-green light on the display navigated through them.

“You have selected: Cello, level five.”

A cello appeared next to WhomeverThisIs, who, opening her eyes and rising from the ground, grasped it with her hooves.

“Begin!”

WhomeverThisIs ran through the exit and up a spiral staircase, heading for the first floor.




On entering the first room, she encountered three faceless ponies, armed with black piccolos, standing in battle formation. The room was drab and featureless, not unlike its inhabitants.

“Round one!” the announcer called from all directions.

The first piccoloist blasted a high C straight at the cellist, who dodged it with a small flick of her head. The second quickly followed with a low G, while the third ran to close distance between its target, then threw an E alongside the G wave that flew past. The first then moved back and kneeled down, lining up its next shot.

WhomeverThisIs moved out of the incoming notes' trajectories and laid her cello down. She plucked three naked A notes, sending three dagger-waves at the piccoloist approaching her. The piccoloist made no attempt to dodge them and exploded into tiny, green fragments on impact. The first piccoloist had put itself into position and began rhythmically throwing C notes at her. The second walked forwards, slowly, and played a short melody, each bar synchronised with the other's accompaniment.

WhomeverThisIs danced around her cello, using the endpin as a pivot, dodging the incoming waves. The two piccoloists continued looping through the same two bars. The pattern was easily discernible, and once the cellist had found it, she positioned herself where she could strum a D chord in safety, and sent it towards the approaching piccoloist. The chord sailed swiftly through the air and left her target no room to maneuver, shattering the piccoloist, littering the floor with additional green fragments.

Feeling outmatched, the final piccoloist attempted a retreat. It galloped away as quick as possible, turning its head every few seconds to defend itself with a few puffs into its piccolo. But with all its energy focused on its escape, the piccoloist had no breath to play a distraction. Another D chord soared through the mist, shattering the third and final piccoloist into green shards.

WhomeverThisIs collected the shards and fragments and continued on to the next room.




The cellist made her way into the second room, which was, again, entirely featureless – nothing but a giant, square room with bricks for walls and no windows. The room was lit by an unknown source that kept the room at an eerie dimness. A musical bow lay in the centre, which WhomeverThisIs ran towards, but as she went to grasp it, a percussion wave blasted her into the old walls, which crumbled and pinned her to the ground. She coughed and struggled about, trying to gain her feet.

“Round two!” the announcer said, somewhat late.

WhomeverThisIs looked across the room and saw two cornetists standing at the other end. They sent another wave of percussion at her, pushing her further into the rubble. In preparation for their final blow, the two cornetists trumped a marching tune and cantered towards the cellist victoriously. WhomeverThisIs writhed about in pain, closed her eyes, and braced herself for the next assault. The upbeat tune contrasted with the deadly blow that it would soon produce caused her no end of uncomfortable misery.

But as the final note was about to sound, an intruder blasted her way into the room, shredding the Imperial March with her keytar. She was jamming out of control with her hooves all over the keyboard, rocking tunes that pierced through the cornetists' percussion, giving the cellist time to recover. “Get your key into overdrive, Tavi!” she said.

WhomeverThisIs rolled about in the rubble some more before struggling to her feet. She looked at her saviour and read the name displayed above her withers. “Thanks, Scratch.”

Scratch and the cornetists began their showdown, each blasting tunes at each other with all their might. The shimmying dagger-waves from the keytar shot about in all directions, slicing the heavy percussion apart, but they wilted into nothingness before reaching the other side of the room. None of the musicians seemed to be making ground on their opponents.

WhomeverThisIs tried to retrieve her cello, but as she ran towards it, one of the cornetists pushed her back into her crumbly corner of the room.

Scratch, seeing that she was outmatched two to one, set her keytar to record. She continued jamming for a good ten seconds, then placed the keytar down on loop to maintain a distraction. She ran into the centre of the foray, trying to grab the bow. The ripples of percussion and jazz took heavy toll on her as she continued pushing through. As she reached the centre, her legs buckled under the pressure and she collapsed to the ground. With her last bit of strength, she threw the bow across the room to the cellist. The noble keytarist, along with her keytar, then faded away into nothingness.

WhomeverThisIs, revitalised with energy at Scratch's sacrifice, rose from the pit of rubble, bow in hoof, and began to play. She arpeggiated a harrowing minor back and forth, back and forth, piercing through the burling, brass cornets. Locked into their key of F, the cornetists had no tricks to save them. The slicing waves of cello chords tore through them like a searing katana. Their bodies, each cut in two, then exploded into tiny green fragments.

In a bid to mourn her saviour, she played a funeral march. She lowered her head and closed her eyes, letting the sadness escape her through the music.

“Hey, whaddya gettin' so mopey about?” a voice called from the entrance.

WhomeverThisIs lifted her head and, seeing the voice to be Scratch's, went agape.

“Three lives, Tavi. You new or something? Come on, let's go.” She cantered off to the next floor.

WhomeverThisIs blinked and shook her head, then followed behind her new partner.




The duo continued into the next room, which had two long columns of pews on either side, creating a long aisle down the centre. The giant translucent windows scattered the gloomy sunlight into the battlefield. At the end of the walkway, on centre stage, was a light-brown earth pony, playing a grand piano. The music was slow and romantic.

“Final round!”

The pianist made no concession to the intruders and continued playing pianissimo, the music dimly echoing about the chamber.

Scratch battered her keytar with a discordant tune, sending waves of attacks at the pianist. The pianist intercepted these waves with a fluid forte. Scratch continued her barrage of noise by hammering every key on the keytar, playing every melody she could think of in asynchronous chaos. With effortless grace, the pianist continued into a crescendo, dissipating any further tones sent to attack him. Scratch continued madly bashing the keys on her instrument, but the roaring piano made any sounds from her keytar barely audible. “Tavi! Help!” she yelled, but the cry too was conquered by the piano.

WhomeverThisIs sat at the back of the auditorium, mesmerised by the scene in front of her.

The pianist struck the tonic chord fortemente, rose from his stool, and, with a hoof still holding down the sostenuto pedal, turned to face the intruding mares. “What are you?” he yelled, his voice booming and echoing through the theatre. “Who are you?”

“We're—”

“You're nothing! You're nobody!”

Scratch was gutted at the insult. “Yeah, well, you're nothing!” She threw her keytar up high and jammed out a wicked tune, sending rippling shards of air towards the pianist.

He, without turning around, slammed a single hoof down on the piano, causing the entire battlefield to rumble with dissonance, corrupting the oncoming ripples, causing them to flail about in all directions. WhomeverThisIs barely flinched as a few flew past her within a hair's breadth.

Scratch ran up to her friend and shook her violently. “Tavi, what're you doing!”

WhomeverThisIs shook her head and looked up at Scratch. “Buh?”

“You gotta help me take this guy out! Tavi!” She kept shaking her.

“Why?”

“Why? why? He's the boss!”

“Oh, right.” WhomeverThisIs jumped from the pew and readied herself to play.

The pianist sat back down on his stool and began playing a soft, sombre ballad. The music was peaceful, calm. It invited her to play – but not against him – with him. It made the room weep, as if its old walls were about to collapse into rubble.

WhomeverThisIs began to play in harmonics with the pianist, and neither musician attacked the other with their playing. The music simply ebbed and fluxed about the room. Vinyl sat on the bench agape, unknowing of what to do or why her partner was not trying to kill the boss. They were playing in ways that she had never seen before, and had no idea how to accompany it. So she sat, and she watched.

“You play well,” the pianist said, speaking softly over the music. “You can escape this place. Do you see those cameras? Those ones up above us?”

She looked up. “Yes.”

“Destroy them.”

“Why?”

“So you can escape.”

“But I'm supposed to kill you.”

He stopped playing and sighed. “You can't. You can't kill me. I'm not apart of this game.”

“But I'm supposed to—”

“You don't have time!” He rose from his stool and started galloping away. “Fly, fly, you fools!”




Loud sirens began whirring from all directions, and red and blue lights scattered about the theatre. “Intrusion detected! Intrusion detected!”

“Come on! we've gotta get out of here!” Scratch said, running up the aisle of the church-like theatre. WhomeverThisIs followed closely behind.

“Intrusion detected! Intrusion detected!” the announcer repeated. A series of flashes and warpings raged about the room, causing over a dozen featureless unicorns to apparate into it. They ran about with their horns acting as additional sirens.

WhomeverThisIs and Scratch attempted to cower beneath the enormous piano, the former leaving her cello back in the pew. “What's going on?” she whispered.

The unicorns continued to run about eratically, screaming and wooing with their horn-sirens.

“I don't know.”

“How did that guy run away? Bosses can't run away.”

“Shaddup willya? How am I supposed to know?”

“Bosses can't run away...”

“Shaddup! shaddup will—”

“Halt! Lifeforms detected,” one of the unicorns yelled in a mechanical voice. It looked beneath the piano and stared at them with its hollow eyes and shone its horn bright – so bright that the two cowering under the piano were nearly blinded by it. Its body creacked about as if its innards were recalibrating. A green light emitted from the horn and began scanning through them and the ground around them. Then its horn receded back to its original illumination. “All clear. They're only programs.” The unicorn resumed its former task of running about and destroying the room with its siren.

“Hey!” Scratch screamed out, launching up from beneath the piano. “Who're you calling a program? Huh?” She galloped up to one of the unicorns and hit it, but it ignored her. “Hey!”

“This area is clear,” one of them announced, and as quickly as they had arrived, the unicorns disappeared. The sirens and lights stopped, and the sun set, encapsulating the room in quiet darkness.




WhomeverThisIs started walking about the boss room listlessly.

“What just happened? Hey, Tavi, what just happened? I mean, what do we do now?”

“Why do you keep calling me that?”

Scratch tilted her head and looked cock-eyed at her partner. “Um... That's your name. Octavia.”

“The announcer thing. It said it was ‘Whomever This Is’.”

Scratch raised her eyebrow. “Are you okay up there? That's just what you called yourself – for the game. Wait, you recognise me, don't ya? Yeah, before – you said ‘Thanks, Scratch’ before.”

“It's above your head, your name.”

“Wait, you mean you don't recognise me? What the hell's going on, Tavi?”

“She's a loose avatar,” a gruff voice said from one of the shattered windows. Scratch looked and saw it to be the pianist. “She's not a part of the game anymore.”

“Hey! How'd you run away? You're not suppo—”

“You, on the other hand, are,” he said, pulling out a gun and shooting Scratch point-blank. She evaporated without a trace, as if she had never been there.

WhomeverThisIs stifled a scream. Her face froze. She stared at the gunpony, wide-eyed and petrified.

“Come with me. We don't have time. This place still has cameras.” He grabbed her hoof and dragged her along. “It'll all make sense once we're out of here.” He then did a double-take and looked back at the scene behind him. “Bring that cello with you.”

She hesistated at first, but then obliged and followed behind him, speechless.

Through the shattered windows they made their way into an open landscape. He continued to lead her away from the large castle-like room from which they had came, until stopping abuptly. He pressed his hooves against the air like a mime, then turned to her and said, “This is where the game zone ends. Look.” He took her cello and plucked a note, sending a chilling wave into the invisible wall. The wave sliced through the air from the cello's base, and then mysteriously vanished. “Music isn't normally deadly. It's ridiculous. It's just part of the game. Music is peaceful. That cello, it's a part of the game. It can't get past here. Watch.” He took the cello and threw it against the invisible wall, and as it made contact, the cello fizzled away into little sparks. “See? Now you. You need to cross here. You need to get out of the game zone.”

The cellist backed up. “But I'm a part of the game. It'll kill me too.”

“No, you're not. You're not a part of the game. I said – I said that before. You're not a part of the game.”

“What am I, then? You said before that I'm nothing, just a part of the game.”

The pianist facehooved and tried to think of a way to explain it. “Look, you were a part of the game. You had a player. Like that other one, the one—”

“The one you killed.”

“Right, the one I killed. Except not really. But yes, the one I killed. She had a player. She knew who you were. She knew your real name, right? But you don't know your real name, or who you are, because your player is gone now. She stopped playing the game, and so you were left in the game, but you weren't playing the game, or you didn't think you were, or you didn't know what you were doing, or you were just going along with it, or something like that. But that's the point. You don't know who you are, because you're not playing anymore, or the person you're supposed to be isn't. If you were still a part of the game, you'd know who your friend was, and you'd think this was all just a game, and you'd be trying to kill me right now, like that other one was.”

“But this is just a game. You shot Scratch, and she just disappeared. That's not real.”

“No, no it's not. It's not just a game. This is very real. You are very real. She was part of the game. That's why I'm here, to get you out of the game, because you're not supposed to be in the game. Well, you are, but you're not. That's not the point. The point is that you can get out of the game. You just need to get out of the game. It's really quite simple, actually.” His ears flopped down weakly. “Look, just trust me.”

WhomeverThisIs stood for a moment in silence. She slowly lifted her hoof up to the invisible wall, and tentatively drew it nearer. As it made contact, she felt a sharp sting flow through her body, causing her to yelp and retract her hoof. “See! It'll kill me.”

The pianist stomped his hooves on the grass. “No, no, look. You're still wired into the game, to accept a player. It's all in your head. When you leave the game zone, it'll mess with your head a little. That's why you need me, to help you escape. Loose avatars – you're a loose avatar, a clone – that's why you don't have any memory. That's why you don't know who you are. But you can still play the cello, see? How can you play the cello if you're only an hour old? Because you're not. But you are. I mean, that's what they do, to play the game. They clone ponies with their magic, make avatars. Then they, the players, they control them with their magic, see? You're not supposed to have memories, because they're supposed to be hers. There's another pony, just like you, looks like you. Her name's Octavia, what the other one was calling you. I can show her to you, if you just come with me.”

WhomeverThisIs slowly went to put her hoof against the invisible fence again, but the pianist interrupted her:—

“Look, don't do it like that. It's like a band-aid. Just run through it. It'll be easier. Actually, no. Gallop through it, even. Like, really fast, so you can't stop yourself.”

She backed up a little and stood still, hesitating.

“Come on! What've you got to lose?”

She closed her eyes and began a gallop, quickening her gait with every leap. As she passed the invisible barrier, she screeched a ghastly cry of pain, and her joints buckled, causing her to collapse. The name displayed at her whithers disappeared. She lay on the floor with a weak smile, looking up at the sky. She only just realised that it was night, and that all the stars were out. She closed her eyes and breathed in the cool night-air, feeling liberated.

The pianist knelt down beside her and said with an endearing smile, “See? Now you are free.”




It was still dark out, and the two made their way to a domestic house in Manehattan. The pianist knocked on the door, then turned to talk to the cellist. “So when you, er, see yourself, don't freak out too much, okay? Actually, you probably don't even know what you look like, huh? Okay, well, when you – I mean she – when she freaks out, you just stay calm.”

A voice came from behind the door, “Who is it?”

“It's me, Freddy. I got something to show ya.”

The pony behind the door swung it open. “Bloody Luna, Frederick, do you have any idea what ti—” she cut herself off and slammed the door shut. “What the hell is that?”

Frederick had an indulgent laugh to himself. “Say hello to Octavia-clone number who-knows-what, a.k.a. ‘Whomever This Is’. I told you it was real! You said I was mad. ‘It's just a game,’ you said. But you can see it now, you, right here, another you.” He shivered a little. “Now open this bloody door. It's cold out here.”

Octavia opened the door. “You are mad,” she said, then beckoned they come in.

Frederick walked in, WhomeverThisIs following closely behind and looking about like a lost lamb. They made themselves comfortable by Octavia's fireplace.

“Can you believe it?” Frederick said, barely able to contain his excitement.

“No, no I can't,” she said. “Does it talk?”

“Yes, she can talk. She's not a bloody robot. She's just a bit, well, shocked.”

“Okay, okay, sorry. So, um, what is she?”

“You, basically. Except she doesn't really remember anything, but she plays the cello like you do. I don't really know myself. I'm no brain scientist.”

“I figured you'd be into that kind of thing, what with how mad you are.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Frederick waved a hoof at the mute earth-pony. “Hey, ‘Whomever This Is’, you there?”

She uttered a few incoherent noises and curled herself up.

“Bloody hell, you've scared her stiff.”

“Are you really going to keep calling her that?”

“Calling her what? ‘Whomever This Is’? You're the one that called her that.”

“I didn't think you were going bring the damn thing home. I just put that in because I couldn't think of anything.”

“Can you stop talking like she's a robot? She's in the same room for Luna's sake.”

“All right, all right, calm down. I'm allowed to be a little creeped out by my clone, okay?”

Frederick looked over at the frightened clone. “So what're we gonna call you then? Your name can't be ‘Whomever This Is’ now, can it?”

She didn't answer.

“Okay, well, I'm just gonna call you W.T. for now.”

Octavia stood up. “My heads all in a buzz right now, and you've got a lot of explaining to do.” She looked over at the eerie doppleganger. “I'm gonna go make drinks. Maybe you can convince her to say something. You want tea or cocoa?

“Coffee.”

“Tiassake you know I don't keep that crap here. Tea or cocoa?”

Frederick mumbled something under his breath. “Cocoa, then.”

“What about – oh, right, doesn't talk. I'll make you some cocoa. I like coacoa, so you like cocoa.” As she made her way out of the room, she called out to Frederick, “She's really creeping me out with the whole mute thing.”

“So you gonna talk?”

“Talk about what?” W.T. said, finally.

“That's a start, I guess. How about you tell me what you can remember. Do you recognise this place? This is your – her – house.”

“No.”

Frederick put a hoof to his chin. “You remember music, right? Just hang on a second.” He ran out of the room and came back a few seconds later with a bow and cello and handed them to her. “Play something.”

She took the instrument and began playing.

Frederick sat and listened intently.

“Hey!” Octavia yelled from the kitchen. “She's not playing my cello is she?” She cantered back into the room to affirm the fact.

Frederik jumped up and got between the two cellists. “She's not gonna brake it. You wouldn't.”

W.T. stopped playing and apologised to Octavia.

“Don't stop, please.” He turned to Octavia. “Bloody hell, you're freaking her out. She's like a goddam hour old. Give her some space.”

“Right, and treating her like a baby is such a better alternative.” She pushed past him and grabbed the cello “If she knows the pieces I know...” Octavia started playing. “This is a piece that I wrote myself.” W.T. started to hum along with the tune. Octavia handed the cello back to her. “Play the rest for me.”

W.T. took the cello and continued the piece.

Octavia closed her eyes and began humming and bobbing her head with the tune. Her eyes then shot back open. “Crap,” she said as she galloped off to finish the drinks.

W.T. played the final note with a satisfied smile.

“Nice,” Frederick said. “So what else can you remember? Do you know the names of the pieces, or is it like muscle memory or something?”

“I don't really remember anything.”

“Well, you can talk, and you can play music. So it's not like you just woke up from under a rock. But is that all? Like, you can't remember anything else? There's no repressed amnesia-memories coming back to you or anything?”

“No, I don't think so.”

Octavia came back with a tray of drinks and placed them on the coffee table. “Right,” she said, looking at Frederick. “I don't really know what she is, or where she came from, but I want to know how the hell you got her here, why she's here, and what we're supposed to do with her.”

“Don't you get it?” he said. “They're using life, making life, for that stupid game. Real, conscious, ponies. They're cloning us for entertainment. I had to rescue one, to show everyone what they're doing.”

“Wait, so you're going to parade her around town like some conspiracy nutter?”

“I figure we have two options: either you two go to Princess Celestia and get her to go all Godmode on the clone-ponies, or we go to the cloning place and stage a Michael Bay heist scene and blow the place up.”

“Well, the first option seems the most reasonable, so I'm guessing we do the heist.”

“All righty then.”
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