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Forbidden Knowledge · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Outer Dark
Before I answer your questions, let me say that it is good to see you. Even after all these years, I am delighted to see you again. We were friends once, after a fashion, weren’t we? I see you hesitate. It’s alright, it has been a long time, and I’m sure seeing me again was something of a shock. You’ve taken it in stride, however, and that is commendable.

And, yes, I’m getting there. Where have I been? And why do I seem so… strange?

Why, I have seen the mare who does not sleep.

Quiet, please. Don’t react so—you’ll worry the other patrons. In fact, here, let me pay in advance. For what? Why, for the drinks. You’ll be wanting a few. As for myself, I’ve found that since my little sojourn I care little for anything that would detract from my alertness.

Yes, I’ve really seen her. I’m sure you have questions, but let me tell you how I came to find her first.

The guards surrounding the Valley of Shadow were the easiest part, ironically. Princess Celestia picked her finest guards, and yet still they too are only mortal. That place takes its toll on even the strongest wills. Have you ever watched acid do its work? I have. I once saw an artist work at etching, and marveled at what acid could do to an otherwise strong material.

But I am getting off track. The guards were easy to slip by. Judicious application of magic, combined with sleight of hoof and a generous helping of soul-wariness on the part of those forlorn protectors, and I was past their hopelessly inadequate wall.

It was strange, to walk the old paths again, and see the old things. Much of it is now unrecognizable, of course—even without the effect of the mare who does not sleep, time and the elements have ruined much of my former home.

What was it like, in the ruins of Ponyville?

If you must know—and I suppose you must—it was in many ways identical to the day we left. The Sofa and Quills store has a sign hanging in its sad window announcing a sale that is long since over with. There are a few carts still in the center of town. The bakery is even intact, though its colors are long since faded. Everywhere in the valley there is a near-silence. Your breathing seems louder. Your hooves against the dirt path sound like muffled cannons in the distance.

Silence has a way of seeping into the skin, don’t you know? When a place is still enough, quiet enough, empty enough, the lack of movement becomes tangible. It clings to you. Your own steps frighten you. Your own blood pumping in the veins of your neck is enough to make you want to scream, because you swear that you hear every heartbeat.

I didn’t. Scream, that is—I did not say a word. I was as prepared for my journey as any could be.
Every precaution had been taken. I said that slipping through the guard’s embargo was the easiest part, did I not? I watched them for a week. I used my not-so-inconsiderable skill to copy their schedules. For the horrors beyond—inward and downward—I prepared with careful study. I was no student of the finer and more esoteric sorts of magic, but with the right mindset even one such as I can learn certain secrets.

I had, of course, learned how to shield the mind and spirit from certain aftereffects of the sort of magic that now saturates my beloved Ponyville. Had I walked the streets without my wards in place, I would not be here to tell you this tale.

See this? Yes, isn’t it lovely? ‘Twas originally a birthday gift, but I have given it a much more noble purpose. Let me open the locket for you, and… there we are. Where once were pictures I have scrawled in tiniest detail the most intricate of formulations. I spent a week on each side, slaving away in the darkness when I knew none would disturb me or ask questions I could not answer.

But Ponyville, yes, I know you would rather know of it than my preparations. You remember the last moments of that burg—the chill in the air, the screaming. The… the lights.

The library is surprisingly well preserved, considering. The top looked as if it had been ripped asunder by some terrible clawed beast. I found the old telescope that used to sit so proudly atop the highest platform shattered on my way inside, and I kept one of the shards as I ventured into the epicenter of all our sorrows.

Books, mostly charred, littered the filthy floor. Here and there, one found markings on the floor clearly made by design, I presume by the mare herself with heat or strongest steel. Little… canals, to carry her intent. They spiraled all over the floor and along the walls, and for all of my diligent research I could not make heads or tails of them. They would suggest letters, and then word would fail to appear. They would almost seem to mimic some of the more advanced thaumaturgical phenomenology I have seen in dusty tomes… and then the lines would twist away and leave the work incomplete.

Everything about that library felt incomplete in a most maddening way. The mare herself was long gone, but her touch lingered still.

Gaining entrance to the basement was difficult, but I managed to dig through the debris sealing the entrance with brute force. Surprising, I know, but I am nothing if not determined. It took an hour, at least. Everything in Ponyville fights your magic now, as if it too were alive. Perhaps it is.

The basement of the library had been her sanctum. I had never entered it whilst I still lived in Ponyville, so I cannot say how much it had actually changed. The layout was predictably Spartan, books in their proper places in a forest of shelves which soon gave way to older records bound up in dusty scrolls. A small laboratory, perfect for alchemical work, far removed from the archives. I felt around the edges, cautious of a trap, but found only the ghost of an old spell to keep any conflagration from spreading. It was sad, seeing her spellwork again.

Another? Of course, I am happy to pay, but you seem pale. I suppose a brandy would fix that. Perhaps I could be convinced to partake.

Yes, of course, I do believe you’re right. We should find a more private place. A booth, perhaps.

I stayed in the library for two nights.

You see, I had found her notes. They were, to be blunt, beyond me in most respects. Perhaps if I had spent a few more years in study as intense as she had undergone, I could have understood a quarter of the brilliance she applied to the page in such a slapdash fashion. I knew enough of the peculiar sort of lore in which she had dabbled to understand nothing more than that the scope of her work had been immense.

Of course, we all know what she was doing now.

I was able to piece together a narrative, however, and that was far more useful than mere notes. Others might care to know how it had all been done, but I only cared to know how ruin had come to Ponyville.

I did not visit my old home until the second day. I could hardly bear to look at it. I simply walked the abandoned halls. I touched nothing. The doom that came to our town had rendered it forever violated. The walls pulsed.

Funny that only now I mention that.

The walls, I mean. How they… how they pulsed. Reach out your hoof—yes, like so—touch the wall beside us. Not the glass, right. Now, what does it feel like? Solid, yes.

Not so in the valley of the shadow.

There, the buildings seem almost to move beneath you and around you. It was like stepping into the bowels of something that lived… if that word can apply to anything in the valley. Life is not so much what comes to mind as…

Forget it. Try to.

After two days, I found that I could bear the library no more. I had compiled the narrative of the mare who does not sleep into a neat timeline, and had read as much of her work as I could bear to read. She was not there. The final answers were not there. Does that puzzle you? At first, I too was confused. Surely if anywhere in the valley had answers, ‘twould be the library where we saw…

There were so few bones there. None, actually. Did you know? How curious that is. How…

You know, perhaps I will have a brandy. Excuse me.

I am taking far too long to tell this story, I think.

You’ve been very patient. Thank you for that, old friend.

From the notes and research log, I concluded that my search would be completed not in Ponyville’s corpse but in the heart of the Everfree. Yes, I entered it alone. It, too, has changed.

We thought of it as fearsome before, and we were right to think so. Untested as we were, it would have swallowed us whole the moment we let down our guard. But it was not yet come into its own then. It was… imagine a foal. A foal can do many of the things a grown pony can do, but not as a grown pony might do them. We too, I think, were foals—all of us, then. When the sun shone in the valley. The forest has grown up.

It took me a solid day to reach the dark heart of that place. Cutting through the seemingly endless, snarling thicket was taxing on the body. The constant murmuring was taxing on the soul.

Oh, right. I forget. I keep getting ahead of myself.

The forest whispers now.

Where do the voices come from? I have ideas. What do they say? Many things. Much of it is nonsense. The more you strain to listen to them, the less progress you make through the vines and thorns. But sometimes, I would catch fragments of what almost seemed like conversation…

Halfway through, I found the river where that dear old serpent once lived. In my excitement, I was careless. The thorns raked my flank and where they touched was so, so cold. I stumbled out onto open ground, trying to see what they had done to me. It was hard to breathe. Was it panic? Was I imagining the cold and the strangulation and the feeling of evil in the air? Perhaps. Probably, even. But I still felt it. It felt real.

I cauterized the wound. Yes, that look is appropriate. Overkill? Certainly.

The books were very clear that fire was the only true defense I could afford. And, to be honest with you, for a short time I think I lost my mind to fear.

Do you know what it is like to really, truly lose control of yourself? My panic was more frightening than the whispering trees or the dead streets had been. Your body refuses your commands. It revolts. Your legs give out beneath you. Cold sweat runs down into your eyes and your mouth sputters with things that want to be words but are not even close to being them. Your vision blurs with tears—or is it just another part of the panic? In the moment, you don’t know. You don’t really know anything in the moment of absolute terror. Your thoughts twist themselves into horrible shapes like a mare in the grips of glossolalia.

But I recovered. Perhaps it would have been better had I not.

So I burnt myself rather badly. I dared not trust the water. Perhaps I would have been fine, but I was too frightened to even try. I lay there in the tall grass, hearing my heart hammering like a madmare in her cell for release. I felt like I, too, might snap. Ponyville, the notes, my home… it was a bit much, really. After all of those years of silent grieving, to see it all again.

No. I shouldn’t have brought any of you along. It was bad enough that I went myself.

My fears still felt justified. If she could make the Everfree even more terrifying than it had been before, what else could she have done?

Last call will be soon, won’t it? Here, I’ll procure our last bits of fortitude, and finish the tale.

What motivated her? That eluded me. Even with her notes in my saddlebags, I still was no closer to discovering that crucial detail.

What motivates a kind, sweet pony to delve into the darkest of lores? Was it simply the allure of forbidden fruit? I could understand that—resent it, of course—but I could understand it. Was it… was there some misguided notion of the common good? Or was she never the mare we thought she was, from the beginning? Were her smiles simply a cover for something awful, something that was always waiting for us?

Like myself, I know you have never looked at ponies the same way since Ponyville. Not after Her. You look at them and you wonder—who are you? Does this evil grow in you too? Have you found yourself shying away from their gazes, like I have for years now? Have you feared their touch, reminded of… of Her?

I’m sorry, perhaps I’m merely projecting.

But I kept returning to the problem of Her motivations as I looked at the Castle of the Two Sisters. Once, it had been opulent and imperial. When we first saw it, it was a ruin. It has since become a festering abomination.

How? Oh, believe me if you can, but it is obvious to the naked eye. The castle glows with a sickly green light. Dramatic, isn’t it?

But it does. And the light flickers within, like when a foal walks in front of the fire and casts her shadow on the wall.

The bridge has been repaired. It was a nerve-wracking passage, but I made it and walked unchallenged by any sentinel. Perhaps the lack of response as I crossed into her domain should have warned me away, but I had come so far and seen so little.

The outer walls were much the same, but the inner courtyard has been utterly altered. Where vines and normal bush had overgrown the masonry, now there are stranger things growing. Thorned monstrosities that reminded me of the Venus fly trap an old professor of mine at community college was so proud of, with what I suspected were maws. I obviously didn’t close enough to check. It’s all wild growth, but it feels intentional, as if someone were planting those horrid things as a new wall, to replace the old stone battlements entirely one day. Certainly it took some effort to get through them into the inner sanctums of the old palace. The machete I had brought along, fearing exactly this, became useless after the first few swings. The plants secrete a sort of acidic sap that bit into the steel right before my eyes. Fire was a disaster—the smoke was pungent and I feared it might be toxic, and so I was forced at first to retreat.

Oh. I’d almost forgotten. They glowed, faintly. Like fireflies lived inside them. Yes, curious, isn’t it? I certainly thought so. I thought a lot of things, then.

It may come as some surprise to you, but I am better with magic then any of my friends ever suspected. Not all of us can be as grand as the mages of Canterlot. I was better with precision. Cutting, manipulating, the fine arts of the scalpel.

Suffice it to say that with difficulty I was able to pass safely through the thorned walls into the true inner sanctum.

The keep crawled with the unnatural plants, but I found the door was free of them and so I gained access easily.

She had finished here what she had begun in the library of Ponyville. The walls played host to her calculations and matrices, her spiraling eldritch scripts and her half-finished incantations. They were uneven—no, not uneven, downright maddening—and at first I tried to study them. I honestly tried, but I simply couldn’t after some time, don’t you understand? I understood less than half but I understood enough.

Have you… no, of course you haven’t. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound rude. If you’d ever seen a phenomenology of a pony by a true mage you would have been able to understand my discomfort. Those? They are works of art. But that is of the physical. What she did on the walls was on herself, starting with the physical. But as I wandered deeper I found cross-sections of a soul. I stopped reading. There were others, brighter matrices, glowing with the same greenish fire, but I could not bear to look. Because what comes after such an examination? What had she done?

The deeper I ventured, the more the writing seemed to lose what little order it had shown. Her scrawling became more frantic, her spell work more advanced and less legible. Here she was working fast, too fast to keep up with, working up towards some last great release.

The thrones are gone now, and I know not where they are. But in their place there is a great doorway which is lined in old unicorn runes which I cannot read—but I’m sure she can. Even after everything, I want to know what they say. Maybe that’s why I kept going. The need to know.

I opened the door and found stairs that led down, down, down, into some other place.

At this point, I could have still turned back, I think. I should have. Just a few muscles pulling, a few signals different in this diseased mind of mine, and I could have left that ruin behind me and left that awful forest of darkness behind me and slipped back out through the frightened patrols and gone home. I would have had the papers examined by a mage I could trust, and perhaps have reached some closure about the whole business. The mare, like Ponyville, was gone, and that would have been it. And in the end, wouldn’t that have been enough? Surely it would have been. To die, calmly in my bed, without having delved into that darkest of places?

I want to believe that I could have done anything else. I need to believe it.

But what is important is that I climbed down those stairs, lighting my way with a simple cantrip spell. I walked and walked and walked, for what seemed like miles but couldn’t possibly have been. How deep under the earth was I when at last I saw and end to stairs? I cannot hazard a guess, and I’ll explain to you why—

Oh. I believe this establishment is closing. Would you walk with me? Please? It… I’ve been alone too long. I stretch the story out because the telling is my only comfort.

It’s a lovely night, isn’t it? Despite my ramblings, Luna’s work is untarnished. The offer of a place to stay was generous of you, and I would love to take you up on it… but I don’t believe I can. I must say, I was surprised to find you here of all places at first, but it makes sense now. Canterlot is but a short ways away from Ponyville, isn’t it? So very close. As close as you can get without being in mortal peril. You didn’t want to let go of it. Or maybe, just maybe, you too found yourself trapped as I did. You were unable to let go. Days would go by as normal, and then one night you would dream of Ponyville again, and the things we saw there, and you would wake up shivering in the diseased hours between midnight and dawn, slick with sweat, begging the old gods of Dream Valley for mercy.

How did I know about the dreams? We all have them. All of the survivors. You know, I met the poor bookseller the other day. You remember him, on the corner? He is an absolute wreck. I entrusted the pages of the “diary” I had organized from her notes to that poor fellow, and he asked me if I had seen her in dreams. I tried to laugh it off, or suggest that perhaps he should try and read fewer dark things. But then I saw his eyes, and how they looked at everything, including myself.

Oh yes, we’ve all had the dreams. Every single one of us that fled like ants before the boot.

But for now, I should finish my tale.

Yes, I understand. It’s not exactly that you’re eager. I’m certainly not eager to relate it. It’s more that you have a need, isn’t it? As if you somehow know what’s coming next, but you have to hear it anyhow? Yes, I felt the same as I descended.

The end of the stair and the stair itself were strangely lit.

More runes. These I could read, for they were of more modern make. Some of it seemed like doggerel to me, bits of strange verse or half-remembered passages from odd books. I can only speculate on why she marked the walls in this way.

At the time, I remember thinking to myself that it was whim that compelled her. And the more I thought about it, the worse that idea became. I could almost see her, stopping her insane masterwork long enough to scrawl out some silly poem on the rock with her magic. Like how you or I might pause from some late night work to have some coffee, or a lonely writer might walk the block and smoke to clear his head. The juxtaposition of such a mundane, natural, even wholesome thing with the knowledge of what she had worked above and… below, was almost nauseating. It was simply normal. It was just another project.

The end of the stair, yes. I’m sorry, I was lost in thought.

I saw the light before I saw the final step. For a moment, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I had the most absurd idea that it was the sun. That I’d somehow gotten lost and I would come out aboveground again.

Beneath the earth there was a vast vault. I could not see the top of it, and I could not see its end. A vault so high I thought there might be clouds above, though I saw none, and so long that I thought a world could fit beneath our hooves. And there was a city, and I saw it all laid out before me, for the stairs ended on a cliffside overlooking that… that damnable cathedral!

The city I will not describe to you because I cannot. In the center there was the cathedral, made of light and glass, translucent so as to suggest but never explain its contents, and light shone from it—clear! Clear light but it was not a wholesome light. The streets were winding, and I feared being in the light of the tall, crystalline tower and the shadows alike. I feared the green glow of the torches. I trembled in the alleyways for what felt like weeks, imagining I could hear heartbeats from the walls.

It’s all live, you see. The whole city is alive.

And the ponies are alive, I think. Are they? I don’t know. What does that word mean? If stones can pulse with life than what is life?

Yes, ponies. I saw them. I hid from them in the alleyways, dimming my light spell and praying to every being ponies have ever revered that they would not see me hiding from them. I dashed from hiding place to hiding place, unnerved by how they seemed to walk unencumbered.

You see, I wish I could tell you they were deformed or disfigured somehow. I so wish that I could relate some lesser horror to you then that they were, for all appearances, absolutely normal. They walked. They breathed.

They are building a city.

One finally saw me out in the open. I hesitated a second too long. It was… the teacher. She taught poor, poor Sweetie Belle. I remember her. Even after so many years I remember her. Ponyville’s final day ended a few minutes after school let out, don’t you remember? I imagine the foals bursting out of the little schoolhouse on the edge of town, laughing in the sun. I imagine her smiling a tired, content smile from her desk.

She looked at me with a mute, bored expression. Her eyes were awful. I do not know why, I cannot put it into words except to say that her gaze unnerved me. I was not the city. I held no interest for her.

And yet, when she made no effort to attack me, and I made no effort to do likewise… she followed me. Soon others joined, a dozen or so, following but not seeming to notice me at all.

I wish I could tell you they were monstrous because it would be easier to bear than to hear that they were marionettes. They were puppets. All extensions of a greater will.

I came to the great cathedral. The marionettes that wore the faces of our neighbors stayed outside, staring up at the crystalline tower. The doors were open.

Of course I walked inside. I had no choice either way, now. Where could I go to escape the maddening need to know but inward?

She was there. At first, I did not see her. There was the high dais and the stairs that led up to it. I saw no other doors. It was all glass—and translucent, suggesting the city beyond but not letting one see it, and so at last I was truly alone.

I walked up the stairs. I took them one by one.

Why was I there? Why did I go at all? I did not know until that moment, halfway into my ascent. Hadn’t I felt called to? Hadn’t I felt like all along, in my studying and in my spying, that I had been summoned? That I was, in some way, trying to get back to something?

I ascended.

She was… reading. She was reading, and I could not breathe. She had marked herself with those swirling designs, some thaumic matrix I did not understand. Horrible runes dug into her skin and fortified with sordid magic until they shone as if a sun had taken up lodging in her stomach.

She turned slowly. And… and… Please, please stop, I can’t bear to go any farther.

Celestia! Celestia help me. Her eyes glowed and they were unblinking, like twinned green suns.

She said, “Hello, Rarity.”

And I could not sob, I could not weep, I could not scream. Even when she rose to meet me more properly, and her form wavered like smoke, I could do nothing else.

I said, “Hello, Twilight.”

Rarity was practically panting in the streets of Canterlot. Rainbow Dash had thought that she looked drained before, but now she seemed like somepony watching their own murder through a scrying glass. Her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. The strange hood she had been wearing had been cast aside, and Rainbow recoiled with shock to see the glowing runes carved into the sides of her head.

“I’m marked,” Rarity hissed, as if struggling to breath. “Rainbow, I saw her.”

“Rarity… oh, Celestia, what did she do to you?”

Rarity laughed. Her magic grabbed ahold of Rainbow’s simple weatherpony uniform and jerked her in closer. The pegasus squirmed, but she couldn’t break the iron grip. They were muzzle to muzzle.

“She rides my mind like a foal at a mayfair revel,” seethed the once-so composed unicorn. Rainbow saw her eyes watering. She smelt the stink rolling off Rarity in waves now, it was impossible to ignore. “I cannot sleep, I cannot do anything to relax or escape her. She rides me hard, from one survivor to the next.”

“What the hell—“

“My story is my last generosity,” choked Rarity. “So at least you’ll know. So you’ll have some idea before you walk in there.”

“Rarity, let go of me!”

“Don’t you feel watched?” Rarity continued. Her eyes bored holes in Rainbow’s own, and yet Rainbow knew that Rarity wasn’t looking at her. She wasn’t looking at anything. “Don’t you feel watched, all the time? Eyes on you? I do. I did, before, but now I know that it isn’t just simple anxiety or fear of the dark.”

Rainbow pushed with both forelegs against Rarity’s chest and they both went sprawling on the cobblestones.

Rainbow took deep breaths, trying to recover some semblance of herself, but Rarity was still babbling.

“Rainbow, do you remember? Do you remember what happened?”

“Of course I do, you idiot! Everyone… they…”

“No! You’re just like me.” Rarity was already back on her hooves, and Rainbow backed away. “You’re exactly like me. You saw it, didn’t you? They talked about necromantic magic in the papers, or blood magic, whoever was writing the story made up some new malady because there was no way to describe it! None of that fit! She saw something! We all did.”

“I just saw the explosion,” Dash growled. “And so did you.”

“The fabric of creation, she tore a hole into it, so we could see the outer dark, and then that too she tore away, until… until…” Rarity’s wide eyes gleamed in the torchlight of old Canterlot. Two mares, former friends, stared each other down.

Rarity sat on her haunches, and buried her head in her hooves.

“Rainbow, we’re the last.”

Dash’s ears flicked. She was seconds from bolting. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t you understand? Didn’t you suspect something? We’re the last ones. She has all the others. Poor… I visited the book seller last night, you see. You were the last. She helped me find you. She pushed me forward, dug into me until I screamed. It’s only you and I that are left outside of the valley.”

“Someone would have noticed,” Rainbow said, but already her mind was working. When was the last time she had seen anypony from Ponyville? When was the last time she had seen another survivor? A week ago?

“Oh, they have. They’ve been watching you, just like they’ve been watching me. They’re terrified, and they should be. You and I? One moment we’re there and the next we aren’t. We slip right through their clever clutches. It’s not because we want to. I could have walked right past those guards. She was there. She was always there. She’s with you too.”

“Get away from me. You’re…” Rainbow spat. “You’re wrong. She’s dead. She died in the library. The mare that doesn’t sleep is a lie, Rarity.”

“I’ve seen her.”

“You saw wrong! You…” she wanted to say it again, but she could not.

“Do you remember? Do you remember what happened when she showed us all what the truth was? Do you remember that terrible secret?” Rarity edged in closer. Dash backed away. “Have you begun to remember? We all saw it… I know I did. My mind put up walls around the… the revelation, but they were breaking bit by bit. The weaker I became, the more I knew I had to go back. The more I felt the need to know. When I’m… when I’m done she’ll… What do you remember?”

“Flying,” Dash replied, her voice a hoarse rasp. “Flying, and then… light? Sound? I crashed. Somepony pulled me.”

“You flew towards the light,” Rarity said. “I remembered that part a few months ago, before I went in.”

She had. She remembered it. “I… but…”

“Rainbow,” Rarity began, “Twilight sent me to you. She sent me to the others. One by one, I’ve visited them and then she…”


Rarity tore the robe off. Dash saw the new mark on her flank and recoiled.

“What is that? Sweet Celestia, what did you do?”

“She did this! This is her mark. It’s on you too. Yours just isn’t visible! She already has you. She wants me to say… to say…” Rarity choked. Rainbow hesitated, torn between fleeing the obviously troubled mare in front of her and trying to help, but Rarity ended her indecision by holding a hoof up.

Rarity shuddered. “She wants you to come back. She wants them all to come back. How much do you remember? Do you have a way to stay out of the shadows?”

“I already told you, I—“

Rarity moved forward before Rainbow could elude her. Rarity held her head in a vice between her hooves and stared at her eyes. She wilted, flinched as if slapped. She backed away.

“No, maybe… maybe if you just… if you didn’t go home. If you kept running… flying, I mean,” she began to babble to herself. “Chase the sun, go far away until you were beyond her and her city. You could keep to the light and…” Rarity began to sob. “I don’t want to be the last one!”

Rainbow fled towards home.

She slumped inside of her doorway.

Rarity hadn’t followed. She’d been crying in the street, and Rainbow had left her there to her madness. It was madness, she was sure of that. Rarity was delusional. Oh, Dash believed the first part of her story—the way she’d talked and acted, it wasn’t hard to believe she’d somehow gotten inside the quarantine surrounding Ponyville. Idiot! Of course she would. Always so nosy, always having to know… and now look at her, ranting about impossibilities. Like Twilight. Twilight was dead.

Yet, Rainbow’s heart rate was slow to return to its normal pace despite her certainty. The mind was convinced, but the body doubted.

Some of the things Rarity had said bothered her, that was true. The dreams… but that was easy to explain. It had been a traumatic day for all of the survivors, of course there had been dreams. The being watched was obvious. They’d all been cleared and officially declared clean of corruption by Celestia herself, but Rainbow would have been nervous about ponies who had been so close to whatever the hell Twilight had done if she and the guards positions had been reversed. Her memories were fine, weren’t they?

No, they weren’t. She tried to remember the explosion, but couldn’t.

She remembered… flying. She remembered a noise of some kind. Light.

The harder Dash tried to remember the more her heart hammered in her chest. The closer she got, the more her wings twitched to fly her anywhere but here. The less sure of Rarity’s madness she was, the less she noticed her apartment.

The air was cold, but it had been a cold winter for Canterlot. The light—the one electric light she kept on at all times—was out. The candles throughout had not yet been lit. Darkness wouldn’t do. She couldn’t stand it, couldn’t sleep in it. When she was in the dark she couldn’t help but think in lieu of see.

Rainbow Dash shuddered.

And then, before her in that total darkness, she saw them. She saw the unblinking eyes that glowed with a jade fire invade the sanctity of her living room. The fires were out. The light had failed. Rainbow tried to will herself into flight but her body would not obey. Only now could she feel the slightest touch of magic like a faint electric current over her wings, pinning them to the door.

The eyes came closer. She tried to say something, anything, so as not to die quiet. All that came was a pitiful, low groan of denial. Twilight had stolen her voice. She was doing something else, something Rainbow couldn’t see, but what did it matter? The air was thick with the electric thrum of magic.

And the eyes were so large now, so close, taking up more and more of her vision until they took up the entirety of it. There was nothing for Rainbow to see but the backlight of her eyes and the way the dark twinned abyss at the center of each waited to swallow her up.

Breathing on her face, on her ear, like a blizzard-wind. A voice, unchanged by time or calamity, in her ear.

“I’ve missed you, Rainbow.”
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#1 · 1
I'll admit, the one-sided conversation format at the beggining made it hard for me to get into the story.

Stylistic issues aside, I found it to be more enjoyable as I read on, I just had some trouble getting into it at first.
#2 · 2
At the core of this story, there's some pretty solid mood-building. The text really conveys a sense of everything bring wrong very effectively, which makes the story a pleasantly disturbing read.

I feel like the biggest issue here has got to be that hook. The fact is that whenever you open up with paragraphs and paragraphs of dialogue, readers are going to inevitably wonder when the dialogue ends and when something actually happens. This isn't really helped by the fact that the one-sided nature of 3/4ths of this piece means that a lot of the exposition is almost certainly going to sound telly. Truthfully, it's not always easy to pay attention to the monologue, since Rarity seems to always describe things in very vague terms, and descriptions of consecutive events are often interspersed with seemingly unrelated tangents.

Give us something more concrete to latch onto early on. Even a quick description of Rarity, Dash, and their surroundings would make us feel more grounded in the story, especially since I don't really think you've gained much by withholding the identity of the speaker and her addressee until the very end.

With concrete characters in mind and a sense of the setting, I think readers will have a much easier time getting invested when you need them to be.
#3 · 1
I really don't think this story is well-served by having a majority of it told in second-person, Writer. I found it much more enjoyable once the camera zoomed out to hover over Rainbow Dash's shoulder, rather than being told the story as her.

That said, as a fan of both scaring myself silly and Lovecraftian motifs in general, you do an excellent job of wheedling the reader along through the slowly building tension of the narrative. It strays overlong at points - particularly where you interrupt the story being told by referencing the bar the story is being told in (getting drinks, etc) - but for the most part this is creeping dread at its finest.

This is going pretty high up on my slate, Writer. I'll take comfort from the thunderstorm raging outside tonight - it's funny how peaceful silence can be, up until somepony calls attention to it.

Final Thought: This Round is Going to Damage My Psyche, Isn't It?
#4 · 4
Before I say anything else, I must say this: I read this story on my phone while at work. A coworker, who didn't know what I was doing/reading on my phone, asked me why I had goosebumps.

This is far and beyond my top pick of my mandatory votes (and is equally why it gets my longest review with the most of my criticism. Love is funny that way, eh?).

Firstly, let's start with the perspective. You've taken to using a recounting method of narrative, one with a character telling another in the present (who is totally not an audience surrogate!) what's happened in the past. I, personally, like this sort of narrative. It's like a step up from first person, being that, rather than just using the pronouns "I" and "We," it forces a much closer perspective than normal first person does. Force, being the stressed word here, as normal first person can get this close; it just doesn't have to be, from what I've seen.

This setup does have its counterpoints, though—namely how in-the-way the framing device can get. There's a point where I really don't care if Rarity wants a brandy after all and just want her to finish the damn story. Ultimately, while it's good for initially setting a mood via 'this guy's pretty F-d up by whatever happened,' it starts detracting from the groove the real story's telling if you too readily let the narrator talk directly at the listener and/or reference their setting rather than the scene of the story he's telling. It's a criticism I've had of one of my own fics that, while author-blind to it then, here looking at someone else's story I can see rather easily. Inject sparingly.

I really like how you breadcrumbed who the speaker and the antagonist were. Well-placed clues gave just enough to pique interest without leaving us in the dark, with enough information for me to puzzle out the obvious antagonist around 500 words in, and just enough to be certain which of her friends was the narrator maybe a thousand or two words before the actual name drops, which did well in heightening the tension. I do have to say, though, that I feel you teased us a little too hard about who's who. Rather than just giving us clues, you seemed to go out of your way to reference Twilight as 'the mare who does not sleep’ and the like, as if to say 'haha! I know something you don't know!' despite how quickly you establish who it is.

The ending is 50/50 for me. I like how dark it gets (oh, Celestia, do I love how dark it gets. This is Horse Voice-level darkness and that's just unf!), but at the same time I was so into the one-way dialogue format that when it went third person it felt like a different story. I have no idea how you could preserve that same perspective without either gloriously ruining the current ending or an equally jarring perspective shift to Rainbow Dash, though.

My biggest concern with this story is, ironically, the narrative. It reads beautifully, and the imagery engrossing, but once you figure out who it is, it doesn’t seem to fit. The phrasing’s off. It doesn’t sound like her at all. Yeah, you might argue that she's pretty messed up by the whole ordeal, but this reads more like an eccentric like Doctor Hooves or an OC than Rarity talking. You need to hone in on that more the next time you go for a story like this. Even if direct usage of the character's voice would spoil the mystery, there should at least be some indication by the way they talk that would indicate who they are. Really, that should be used as part of your arsenal of clues rather than a thing that should be hedged to retain the mystery.

Let’s sandwich those negatives with a restatement of my overall feelings: holy fuck, I love this. Top pick. 10/10, would goosebump again.

This story has earned you a follower once I find out who you are (provided I’m not already following you, in which case I’ll upgrade that to stalking).

EDIT: actually finished that first point of criticism, cause I somehow forgot to go back to that point when I got sidetracked making the others.
#5 ·
Well this was a huge mood swing from the last story I read.

I don't really like horror stories, but I still thought that this was really good. My only real complaint is that Rarity says she figured out something of what led Twilight to do all of this, but we never find out what she knows. I guess that helps to preserve the aura of mystery and whatnot, but it still bothers me a bit.

I strongly suspect that this story will end up at or near the top of my slate.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go do something happy.
#6 · 2
piggybacking off Corejo, in hindsight, after the first "mare who does not sleep" keeping up the illusion of the "mare who does not sleep" kind of falls flat. The first time is great--and there's kind of a sense that the name is sort of a He Who Shall Not Be Named sort of thing, an urban legend or something. But both of these characters would just use her name.

The problem of voice is also an issue. There are parts where it sounds like Rarity but other times when it doesn't, like at all. Even with the intervening time and perhaps picking up some latent pretentiousness from those dusty grimoires, it sometimes misses the mark.

On the other hand, I love Lovecraft. Hell, I did papers on him in undergrad. Weird papers.

"Phenomenology" was a bit silly, but it adds to the overall "Poe/Lovecraft technobabble effect" where you have all of these titles or terms that make the horror in front of you suddenly seem more credible. Kind of how there are certain books and terms shared across the Mythos that not only link them but also add an undeniable air of authenticity.

I'm a title guy, and I wonder about the title here. I get the ref:

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But wonder how it fits here, beyond the fact that the narrator references it near the end. A title can't just be pretty, I think, but should add to the effect of the whole. Certainly it's spooky. Ominous as hell, even. But is there anything else there? I wonder. Honestly, I don't think so, unless Twilight is the "unprofitable servant" I guess?

Overall, I like this, but I'm not sure what to feel about the uneven sections and the narrator intruding too much into the narrative. Otherwise, I like the creepy runes and the mare who don't sleep.
#7 ·
Ah! Hello there! Oh sure come on in. Not like I'm gonna stop you from....Jesus you really just entered without my permission! Okay, what are you doing? Where are you? Okay fine sit on my chair!

Why are you just staring at me?! What do you want?! A story? Does it look like I make stories?! Okay don't answer that! Just....why? Why are you sitting there like some kind of zombie expecting me to tell the tale of- Oh I don't know?! A ghost pony haunting a cake.

Wait? You seriously want me to tell you that story? NO! Why are you being so nosy?! What? No I don't have any crimes to share with you and also don't look under my bed! There is not some stash there to abide by that claim! Also you're not a cop! So HAH!

What pony in their right mind! Barges into some other pony's room and expects some type of story?! Go online like the rest of us!

What do you mean I'm making a story now?! That doesn't make sense! How can only dialogue make a story? I can't even?-why are you?- bah! AGH! I'm getting my blasting staff and you better be gone before I get back.

NO! THIS IS NOT A SCENE CUT! What is wrong with you!? Get out of my house!

Nothing but dialogue by Remedy F. Heart.

JESUS! The twist on this story is one of a kind! Which I'm sure most authors wouldn't have done this without having some experience in reading books. It gave me something simple and confused me at first. Like the story was talking to me. which indeed it was. I felt like I was in some type of stick-up situation with me being fed the story. Which felt nice for a change of pace. It made me think of who I was reading about and who might his audience be? It's a companion of some type that may be the reader himself. Yet this is confirmed through what the narrator carefully says. Which he does time and time mentioning that it was "their" home. Meaning that this companion is indeed a pony. A former residence of the town just like he was reminiscing about home and the current state of it. My main problem with this is that it's like tea. Some people like it. Others like me don't like tea. Unless it comes in a bottle with high amounts of sugar store bought, but I digress! It's a different flavor that may not appeal to your audience. It's a rather big gamble.

This was confusing. The Golden Oak Library should be in shambles right now. Yet in this story it's still standing. Or halfway standing. It also came to mind that were dealing with a highly magically advanced Twilight Sparkle. Meaning she's most likely her Twilicorn self if she did this much damage. The prompt is forbidden knowledge so this had to come by when Twilight wasn't studying friendship anymore. Unless it just came up to her door and said "Look at me!". What is interesting though is that we kinda get a feeling on what happened with Sombra and possibly the creation of Chaos himself Discord. It's chaotic magic that in a sense could explain a lot of things. In fact there's so much potential in this idea that it could easily line up several chapters of mystery and suspense along with it's dark atmosphere.Needless to say I just wanna ask when in the timeline is this taking place? Past, Present, or Future?

I'll admit the constant variable of the mood made this really light up while having it hide in the dark. It was hinted throughout the entire piece that it was indeed a dire time for Ponyville. Which are now ruins. It gives this thought as our hero traverses through town, forest, and castle grounds to find the one answer that had been eluding her while at the same time picking at her mind. It tied well to the fact that it left me intact in my seat to continue reading this story. Sadly the strange half of the story with the narration being so one-sided left me to think that it is indeed a memory and nothing else. So it was a scary story told by it's survivor, who was conversing in a very pleasant surrounding. If she has brandy and a faithful friend to listen to her we can come to the conclusion that everything was fine just then and there. Until we get to the other half that gave way to a big time implosion of confusion. The pony telling the story is none other than Rarity. With the companion being Rainbow. Now I'm not one to judge but I suspect Rarity wouldn't have been talking like that for the longest time all calm and sincere and then break out into a panic disorder. And I'm sure Rainbow being the Element of Loyalty would have had much more to say during the first half of the story rather then just being a pony on a leash. The mood really shines when it unveils who these two were form the beginning and comes to a drastic conclusion of all the warning signs coming together. Great ending but very very very strange build up.

JESUS! It was a grand take, but I wanted to feel the story. Not have it be told to me. I never got to even understand the narrator! Which was highly disappointing for me. I wanted to feel something from here but it felt like a lecture. Like my grandfather was talking to me while I nodded my head. I'm sorry, while it was beautifully written. I really wanted to fall in love with this story. It's basically nothing but dialogue. It could be turned into a script more so than my last story that I've reviewed. I can literally copy paste and edit everything and turn it into a fully blown up script and have someone act the story out with their own voice. It was highly creative but I just didn't fall in love with it. I'm sure people will come to love this but this type of narration is for a certain group. I wish it was simple and just made me come to see characters conversing about their adventures into Ponyville while they enjoy each others company in a cigar lounge. Instead I'm left with nothing about the viewer. Which is not even me. Which is actually hinted in the story as the narrator constantly says things like "Our Ponyville". So I just couldn't connect with it when I really so badly wanted to.

This is a new one to add to the list of story traits. Its as is stated. The commentary was troublesome. Let me explain. Majority of the story is told via mouth by the narrator/main character of the tale. Often times he gets distracted by his own detailing so much in fact he seems to literally drone on about one particular thing. This annoyed me as I already got the gist of it. Maddening runes. Yet there was multiple scenes where he paused the story just to talk about how "maddening" these runes were. We get it. He needs to actually speak like it's an actual conversation he's having rather than trying to build something up. I'm sure the pony listening in on his story was waiting for the story to continue. I like detail but not under another person. We as writer add detail into our stories to paint a picture. What a character needs to do in a story is to express themselves and actually venture out. Having this sort of pseudo story telling style with the character actually reading a story out loud, without actually reading from a book. Just feels odd. It was throwing me off quite a bit. It was lovely the wording and the added details but his speech didn't seem natural. Keep a character as a character and not as some kind of tether to the story's detailing. At the most! Show the significance of why he was so excited or touched or moved by such things. As in having his shake or tear up his speech. To where it seems traumatic. Not like it was some evening stroll. Let the viewer rattle and roll in his seat at the sheer mention of the frightful thing happening. Do not make it sound so normal in fact that it's just turns tasteless fluff.

Now this one had words and ideas that I can't even think of myself. Well done on that. Though I do advise some scripting. Line what events will take place in your story and follow it. Use it like guidelines for your writing material. That way things don't go off rail and feel and seem different than what is originally planned for your story. the narration was nice but once again just a very risky angle to do it from. I really wish I could have seen this from a normal angle. To see how my two beloved canon characters would react to all of this. Which would have brought n even more of a connection to the story and add more feeling to it. Not gonna lie this story idea and the material you've already outline was like a grenade! But it ended up feeling like a dud, due to some complex modifications holding it's original explosive aspects. I think this would have done so much better form an originally writing standpoint without it going over the top. I loved the ending once I got pass that Rarity said all of this and that and RD was pretty much dead weight at the beginning of the story. I wanted to see more of your ending come to like. Not some dialogue. I actually do want more. For now. I cannot say I love this piece. Still ranks high for material and concept in my opinion but it has many things to hash out before I think it'll be safe to share.
#8 · 3
Were this a story of humans on Earth, I would have nearly no complaints. It fits Lovecraft in many, many ways. And yet.

And yet.

The thing here that jars it for me is that Twilight does all this...why?

And what she discovers is...what?

And why they are building a new town in the depths is...again, why?

In Lovecraft, the big theme is 'The universe is populated by vast things whose motives are utterly alien, and humanity is but a speck clinging to a toothpick in the ocean, awaiting the storm to buffet it away'

Yes, Lovecraft endings are often vague, but that fits the motif, that the universe is dark and unknowable and uncaring.

But here, why are we doing this? It feels more an exercise in evoking Lovecraft than having any commentary to make. It's painting a scenario, but it's not doing anything with that scenario. It's all medium, no message.

It's a good medium, don't get me wrong. But it needs motivations, at least passingly. It needs a further hint or two of WHY, at least passingly. Hints of HOW beyond 'Twilight tore a hole into the void and....'

She seems to be serving some new, unknown master. Hints of their agenda, hints of their anything, would help this immensely.
#9 · 1
This was remarkably well-written and did a good job of establishing a mood.
I didn't particularly like the "interruptions" that preceded the scene breaks in the story, such as the commentary on the bar. An exception to this, however, would be this line: "Oh. I believe this establishment is closing. Would you walk with me? Please? It… I’ve been alone too long." It really captures the speaker's feelings and fears in that moment. Still, most of the interruptions are just that. They mess with immersion. I understand it's to ground the story in reality and remind the reader that this a story being told to an observer, but I just find it disruptive.
The identity of the speaker is left unspecified for a large portion of the story, although enough clues along the way help make it apparent. My suggestion to you would be to place some clues earlier in the story. As it is, I initially imagined some faceless stand-in (a male one, at that) until it became clear that the speaker's identity actually was significant. While on the subject, some hinting towards the listener's identity would also be appreciated.
Lastly, I want to comment on the way the speaker speaks. It's too neat, considering the topic of discussion and the apparent state of the speaker. I refer back to the line I quoted previously. I feel more lines should be like that one. The doubt and indecision in her voice are tangible. Her manner of speech should reflect how she's feeling in that moment. To recollect and recount a frightening experience would likely lead to stammering, false-starts, and hanging-threads. It would make the piece more evocative and would enhance the reader's connection to the speaker.
Still, I liked it. I was engrossed in the tale and wanted to know what it was all leading to. While some questions are left unanswered, I'm not cheated without them. It was a satisfying read, and I'm glad I got to partake.
#10 ·
Very nice:

The structure tripped me up a little, though. I mean, if you're gonna end the story with Rainbow Dash, you need to start the story with Rainbow Dash. Have her sitting in that bar not sure if she wants to stay or go. You can still keep Rarity's whole narrative--plenty of Lovecraft stories have the main character sitting there listening to someone else tell a story--and you can even have her wearing her hood over her face so we're not sure who it is for a while like you do here. But I'd strongly advocate for having Rainbow be the main POV character right from the beginning.

#11 · 1
I think I need to disagree with the consensus here and say that I appreciated the story more when you had an intrusive narrator. I mean, yes, you've got Rarity rambling in ways that distract from the narrative — which didn't bother me as much, because they establish character and set tone in her reluctance to continue — but I think that section does two big things right:

1. Provides the story with a strong voice.
The guards surrounding the Valley of Shadow were the easiest part, ironically. Princess Celestia picked her finest guards, and yet still they too are only mortal. That place takes its toll on even the strongest wills. Have you ever watched acid do its work? I have. I once saw an artist work at etching, and marveled at what acid could do to an otherwise strong material.

Oh my stars, this drips with style.

(I'm not sure it's Rarity's style -- you may want to pick through this section with an eye toward the language and metaphors she would use; for example, in the quoted paragraph, it seems natural to me that her first thought would be some sort of clothing-based metaphor, maybe something about running clothes through the wash too many times? ... And I do have to ding this a bit for feeling to me like it shoehorns Rarity somewhat awkwardly into this Lovecraftian protagonist role, but the good news is that you've got that style down cold.)

2. Unobtrusive scene-setting.
Quiet, please. Don’t react so—you’ll worry the other patrons. In fact, here, let me pay in advance. For what? Why, for the drinks.

It may seem like a bit of a low bar to say "you've managed to tell us they're in a bar without an exposition dump", but to be honest I can't remember the last monologue story I read that had this light of a touch. These are all things I feel like I could actually overhear — other than that "For what? Why" (and that's easy to fix with a three-word edit) — rather than rhetorical questions asked for the benefit of the audience. The story's not consistent about this expositional smoothness, but it didn't trigger me like most monologues do, so you're most of the way there.

The monologue also brings a remarkable immediacy to the story. In contrast, when we shift to the distant third-person about Rainbow Dash, we get sections like this:
Rainbow hesitated, torn between fleeing the obviously troubled mare in front of her and trying to help, but Rarity ended her indecision by holding a hoof up.

Augh no no no. D: This sort of sledgehammer telling would be bad anywhere, but it's such a stark contrast to the graceful dance of showing in the first section that it feels like an entirely different story.

It's primarily that voicing shift that is dragging this down from Top Contender, because this executes really well on its Lovecraft theme and tone before it deflates at the end. More firmly establishing Rarity's voice (and Dash's identity) and then keeping that voice consistent is going to be your major editing challenge in the first section. I'm honestly not sure what to suggest to bring the second section in line — I mean, you're telling a story you can't quite tell from Rarity's POV.

... Maybe stepping back from Rarity's narration to Twilight's narration at the end? Rewriting the entire thing so it's a monologue from her, watching the scene, and then following her new target?

On the whole, though, good job here.

Tier: Strong
#12 ·
Hm, if he hadn't already reviewed this story, I'd have been tempted to accuse Cynewulf of writing it. It reminds me in some ways of his Memento Mori.

This story shares a lot, stylistically, with A Faint and Curious Voice. The narrative style – first person, relayed directly, as though we're listening to a story told around a campfire – reminds me of late 19th and early 20th century stories. Lovecraft and Poe are exemplars of this type, and they made frequent use of the 'story told by a stranger' device that's used here (though not really a stranger, as it were).

I'm not sure how I feel about the change in perspective at the end. It really becomes a different story at that point. I think you could have ended the story quite easily at that point, and nothing would have been lost.
#13 ·
I think this is a very good fic, but it's also pretty one note; without much in the way of an explanation of what happened, it never tries to be anything more than an elemental horror story. But it's a very well done elemental horror story. It uses imagery and metaphor in a way I can only envy, and if there were any technical errors I was far too enthralled in the telling to notice them.

Rarity's voicing just feels weird, but that actually kind of works within the story. It gives a dissonance with the show, and that fits because the entire story is about being dissonant with the show.

This isn't the kind of story I seek out, but I'm impressed all the same. This gets the highest marks from me.