Chapter 33: The Third Day
"I do thank you for having me over, Miss Sparkle." Diamond Solitaire's pearly-white magic leveled the teacup to his snout. "Although the other magi are my intellectual equals, few desire a simple chat merely to brainstorm. Good thing to do so now, as it looked like there is some weather coming our way."
"It's no problem. In fact, I asked you over here due to an artifact the Miner gave me earlier this morning." This made Diamond's eyebrows inch upwards.
It was ten in the morning, and the smell of tea and coffee flooded Twilight's sitting room. Although Diamond much prefered tea, it was coffee for the librarian. Her bed head was still getting a combing treatment as she sorted the previous day's returned books for the coming morning trickle. Books flew from the return bin through the air like little specters, all returning to their rightful place.
Twilight took a draft of her coffee and winced. "Ugh, too black." Nevertheless, she took another drink. "It is not a problem, Mr. Solitaire."
"Please, call me Diamond."
"Very well, Diamond."
Diamond took another sip of his tea and sighed. "So, what is this artifact?"
Twilight grinned conspiratorially and said, "I'm still waiting on a few tests down in my lab. I'll show you in a moment. Now I believe you wanted to discuss the Miner's abilities?"
"Why, yes." Despite his sandy-brown fur, Twilight couldn't help but be reminded of Fancypants as the stallion brought the tea to his lips. He did have a Canterlot drawl after all. "Are you familiar with the term hydrostatic shock?"
"Yes, but doesn't that only apply when a force is applied to a liquid?"
"I only use the concept, dear. We have seen the Miner's ability to force matter to lose cohesion, but this only occurs when he strikes an object. Whether it be an axe in his hand or," something slowed his train of thought, "...punching trees... he exerts a certain type of kinetic force on an object. My working theory is that his body naturally produces a quantifiable energy that disturbs molecular bonds in order for him to break them down and absorb them. I do not believe he violates Starswirl's Law of Interchange and Distribution of Matter and Magic. If this theory holds true, he only absorbs and dissipates energy at will, never producing or creating it like the possible ectoentropic lifeform we estimated he was."
"It could revolutionize magic as we know it if it could be applied to conventional magics," Twilight started, "but not even physics works right when he is involved. That Aether Gate over Ponyville defies the very law of gravity itself, and that's not even getting close to how he actually absorbs materials. He can break them down, but where do they go?"
"Goin' out, Twilight! Back in an hour!" a voice called from the adjacent room.
"Spike!" Twilight called out to the house. "You can't keep leaving leaving every time I have a magus over to talk!"
"But it's boring!" he shot back. "Why can't you consider raves and bowling fun like normal ponies!"
"I'll have you know a friendly debate can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience! And pick up some eggs and a loaf of bread!"
Twilight heard a grunt of affirmation and the doorbell ringing before all went quiet. "Sorry about that."
"It is quite fine, Miss Sparkle. This is not my domicile after all."
"Please, call me Twilight."
"Very well. Now, where were we? Ah! I think the question might be the answer itself for where all that matter goes: it never stays matter."
Twilight downed the remaining dregs and stared at her empty cup forlornly. "I don't understand. You are referring to some type of conversion? That's hard to do..." Twilight trailed off. "The chests!"
"Exactly as I determined. My brief time among the mansion's interiors was brief, but his chests were an item I payed close attention to. Inside was naught but his strings of energy that I believe are the remains of broken down matter."
"He has the ability to transfer matter to energy at will..." Twilight whispered.
"And back again. His body is a living energy battery, capable of breaking down matter and absorbing it into his body, or placing it in some type of storage like the chests. However, that does not explain how he is capable of reproducing this feat with constant consistency; he is capable of producing items that are chemically indistinguishable from each other. I also do not understand how two vastly different physical laws can possibly coexist without problems."
Twilight's eyes sparkled as thoughts about an entire new branch of science budded within her crowded brain. Bags with bottomless capacity, her own private room capable of holding an entire lab within the confines of her magic! Why, she might be able to manipulate it into her very own pocket dimension! The possibilities!
A loud whistle reached through the basement door, snapping Twilight out of her reverie. "Ah! It's done!" Twilight disappeared downstairs while Diamond patiently waited for her return. Helping himself to a pot of brewed tea, he continued to sip until Twilight clattered up the stairs with a glass flask full of a dirty cyan fluid. "His abilities still bring up the concern of a breach in whatever containment he has, but that is for another time. Now this is something he gave me to study."
"One of his alchemy potions..." he breathed, enthralled at the prospect. "He had only revealed one potion to us in his fight with Miss Chaser..."
"Wonderful, isn't it!?"
"Very much so, my dear. However, I fear it may be for naught. Down in the caves, a wounded pony consumed a loaf of his bread. While he possesses the inherent ability to heal himself with consumables, the soldier did not benefit from eating it. I conclude his items only affect himself."
Twilight hummed and brought out a notepad in order to jot down a few meager notes. "That may not be true, Diamond. At least, not the whole truth. I don't think his abilities are blanketed like that, but grouped into their own separate categories. For example, he makes tools to alter other materials, food to alter himself, and I think his alchemy alters both."
"Interesting hypothesis. How did you get it?"
Twilight smiled, now in full lecture mode. She paged the same notepad and a printout sheet outlining chemical composition. "It says here that his potion is water-based. Simple water as a base isn't common, but still viable. This still matches with the potion used against Lyra Heartstrings. It too was water-based."
Diamond brought a hoof to his forehead and laughed. "Ha ha ha! I had completely forgotten about the unfortunate attack on Miss Heartstrings. It seems like it has been months, even though only nine days have passed. Yes, yes, I can see that now."
"The Miner's abilities operate on a highly unnatural and unusually strong reliance on uniformity. This predictability is not likely in magic or nature; the variables are simply too numerous and unpredictable. Yet he still managed to conjure blocks in perfect meter squares every time. Even the tools he makes are completely identical. It's simply not natural. If one potion is capable of affecting himself, and another is capable of affecting others, I'm fairly certain his potions are not mutually exclusive."
Twilight wrote herself a few more notes on her notepad before continuing. How could Spike not enjoy a good debate? "His second potion increased his healing factor. The first slowed Lyra's vitals to coma levels. And if I am right, this one," she nodded towards the dirty blue fluid, "decreases the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles in conjunction with an decrease in synaptic response time. It increases his physical and mental speed.
"What is amazing is that the effect is nearly instantaneous. It's not possible for an alchemical potion to take effect with such speed, leaving me to believe that some type of sorcery is involved. It's some type of hybrid magic combining the strengths of both alchemy and magic. Biomagic." Twilight pranced in place. "Oh, first a lexicon, and now this! I should write a paper!"
Unlike his superior, Captain Barricade, Skylar was relatively quiet when he was not actively doing work, even if he was in the actively chatty mess hall. Why speak for the sake of speaking? It was not as if work would get done any faster if he kept breathing down everyone's necks.
Speaking of the captain, she was currently finishing up with the Miner. Now that he could reasonably understand words, she had asked and he accepted to speak about the creatures concerning his homeland. He had recently received an alarming missive concerning one creature in particular, a monster that attacks using the tactic of mutually assured destruction.
Skylar folded the picture away into a manilla envelope. The good four or five dozen magi and soldiers of various ethnicities in the mess hall were all in animate conversation or kept to themselves. There was an unspoken divide among them; soldiers sat on the left, magi on the right. As much as active servicemen and the Council unicorns were encouraged to intermingle, it did not bother the officer. Some ponies were just more comfortable with the groups that they grew up and worked with.
Taking a moment, he listened in on some of their conversations, "Fuck that, I was happy until Lars rolled my ass out of bed. Nice dream, balls deep in mares all night, even before I went to sleep."
"Lucky you. I woke up in a cold sweat. Bunkmate said I was moaning in my sleep."
"Sound like you had a fun dream, too."
"But I don't remember any of it!"
"My dreams were awful. Don't remember what they were, but I knew I hated them."
"Aye. My dreams do be unpleasant every time I sleep."
"Ah've been hearin' a lot o' that goin' around. Hemos is runnin' himself ragged over ponies with bad dreams."
Skylar tuned the chatting ponies out, but couldn't help but smile for reasons unknown to him. Despite how worrisome nightmares may be, especially among trained soldiers in close proximity to Luna herself, that fact didn't seem troublesome. He buried it in his mind for future reference.
A clerk sat down next to the officer and slid another manila envelope towards him. "The Council has prepared as per requested, sir. On your signal, they can send an emergency distress flare that can be seen all the way to Canterlot. It will drain a fair portion of them by necessity, but it will get through."
"Very good." Something tugged at him, some obscure compulsion that compelled him to speak. "I've updated the work rotation, especially those on night duty. Send this down the grapevine."
Strange, he didn't remember when he created the document that he removed from his folder. He didn't even know the words that came from his mouth until they left. The clerk eyed the list, noting several names were currently in the mess hall, and most were those currently experiencing extremely traumatic nightmares.
"You are excused."
Skylar sighed. He had a feeling it was going to be a long few days.
Hexxus Incantus was looking through a report fresh off the press from Farlander Portal duty. Adjusting his glasses, he started reading. "'The gemstone currently in place in the Farlander Portal, tentatively named "Farlander Eye," produces a radically disharmoic resonance across several low bandwidth frequencies. The output is not known to be harmful, but is chaotic and unpredictable, with rapid oscillation in the lower bands. Energy output from the Farlander Eye reverberate within it's containment nodule (one of twelve) inside the Farlander Portal. If all twelve nodules contained Farlander Eyes, a stable resonance could theoretically be achieved. What this process would do would be unknown, but is likely to result in a stable dimensional rupture in spacetime. Further research to provoke a reaction with the Farlander Portal have been discontinued until a more feasible and less potentially dangerous alternative has been produced.' Well, that's a relief." At least somepony had the sense that opening portals to eldritch realms was not a good idea.
Hexxus's nose smashed into a tent pole and his papers spilled to the ground. He rubbed his tender snout, biting back an obscenity or two. The unicorn bent down to pick up his papers, cringing at the inevitable creak of early onset arthritis, only to see a spry young mare holding it already.
"You're the egghead that doesn't stop talking, right? Or are you the teacher? It's kinda hard to understand Twilight sometimes." The mare before him had a coat of cyan coated with sweat from exertion. It was almost four in the afternoon and the logic of letting one getting themself worn out with much of the day remaining was lost on Hexxus. However, it would be if he did not already know the identity of the mare in question.
"Salutations, Rainbow Dash. Tales of your exploits have spread even to the Council." Rainbow's chest puffed at the compliment and he had trouble not staring. Cords of lean muscle coated in soft fur and gleaming sweat covered her body. Although he was twice her age, she was lithe and still pleasing to the eye. 'Focus, Hexxus, you're married.'
"Well, they had to eventually. It's not as if the winner of the Best Young Fliers Competition wouldn't be unknown for long." She casually polished a hoof on her coat in an attempt to look modest, albeit failing gracefully when she brandished her wings to rid them of atmospheric dew and sweat runoff while she flipped her mane around her head to cool it off. A slight wind blew from the east, tossing her polychromatic hair. Hexxus could feel heat blush across his skin. Rainbow snapped herself out of her self worship and retracted her wings. "So you're her teacher? The guy in charge."
"Why, yes. Why do you ask?"
"Have any of your guys been messing with the weather? We've got a weather front coming in from Everfree Forest that's not on the manifest."
Just like Rainbow said, Hexxus saw the the mass of grey clouds coming in from over the canopy. It was moving slow enough to not take anypony by surprise, but he was surprised it was there at all. "It is not our doing, but I will check to see if anypony is operating some sort of unauthorized experiment."
Rainbow Dash nodded in thanks and he quickly excused himself before the blush consumed the rest of his face. She, in a rare moment of quiet contemplation, looked at the clouds approaching from the west. No one noticed them until early this morning and she had spent most of the day trying to figure who had been gathering rain clouds and pushing them right at Ponyville.
Her hair still blew to the west, but the clouds were moving in the opposite direction. "Clouds moving to the east... and against the wind..."
Zecora's hut was particularly dark, being wedged in a lightless depression in the middle of one of the world's most dangerous forests. And that was during the day. Currently at night, whatever meager light that illuminated the forest floor was expunged and replaced with thousands of chittering insects and small game. While monsters did hunt and prowl the darker confines, most dared not approach the edge of the forest without extremely demanding circumstances.
Light poured through the windows, little daggers that cut through the oppressive cloak of night and shadows. Inside two mares were engaged in animated conversation. One had a coat of black and white stripes separated by the width of a razor, while the other was a dark charcoal gray mare with leathery wings and ice-blue eyes.
The hut was flush with earthy and herbal scents. Smudges of rosemary, sage, and, for some disturbing reason, belladonna hung from the rafters by loops of twine and string, all drying from the heat of the hearth and the kindling below a bubbling pewter cauldron filled with a viscous green slime.
Lightning Chaser's eyes had already scanned the hut twice. She had already memorized the location of the half dozen windows, every smudge hanging above, and the lacquered wooden plaque on the wall giving Zecora an official "pat on the back" for her efforts in locating the Farlander Portal.
The guard opened her mouth, fighting to find the right words to say to her exotic companion. The pair were comfortably seated on indigo velvet cushions with golden tassel fringes. Each were enjoying a home brewed tea that was heavily laced with lemon and spices.
"Thank you for entertaining me tonight," Lightning said quickly. The words of gratitude felt strange on her tongue.
Eyes narrowing, Zecora took notice of the insignificant but noticeable struggle to say something so simple. "Not used to manners, I see. Their need, I must agree."
Lightning looked ready to his a retort, but bit her lower lip until it turned white before replying, "I'm not... good with others. If you can, I ask you to ignore any outbursts, as I'm one hundred percent sure I will act like a mule at some point."
Ponyville's pariah nodded in understanding. "You are not alone in your plight. I too was considered a blight."
The soldier shook her head in half anger, half annoyance. "Pffft. I've heard a lot about this town and the indignation of its idiots. Because you're from Zebrica? That's what started that poison joke scare? I don't know what's up with the school here, teaching these ponies that anything new is dangerous and untrustworthy. Ha! Children."
If Zecora's eyes narrowed any more, they would be closed. Despite having just proclaimed she would do so, Zecora did not expect her to spout bile towards the town so quick. Instead of saying anything, she let Lightning stew in her loss of tact. Realizing that she had said something wrong, Lightning's lips curved into a hard line and she took a generous gulp of tea before continuing. "I know a lot of soldiers like them." Her voice lost the irritation and was now lined with calm. "A lot of others don't expect me to be as good as I am, some because I'm only twenty four, others because I'm a mare. And I'm in Luna's royal guard to boot."
Her lips broadened to a sardonic smile. It looked painfully unnatural on her face, one suited to blank calm or scowling. "I'm often asked to track down criminals. I'm always better than them. I always get my target. Why can't they see like I do? Why can't they just see things that are right under their nose? It's so obvious..."
Lightning trailed off. Although she was looking Zecora right in the eyes, her mind had momentarily wandered elsewhere. "The curse of brilliance has its price, a burn like fire or cold as ice."
"It's not my fault everpony's minds work so slow and I have to hold their hooves so they can struggle to connect the dots. Everypony is always left in the dust behind me. My doctor once said I would be incapable of having normal relationships with ponies, that I am unable to properly empathize with ponies, but that's a load of manure; I get along just fine with the princess and my captain." Lightning took another gulp of tea, seemingly surprised she said so much to a near stranger.
"You feel like an outcast, a feeling that lasts. I too have known such hurt."
Lightning smirked. "That last one didn't rhyme."
Zecora returned the smile. "Perhaps another time."
The two chuckled softly over tea before Lightning spoke up once again. "Why did you come to this backwater town? Zebrica's a long ways away from here."
Zecora's tea froze at her lips. Lightning had been waiting for some sort of tell, and that was it, but that was the only one. Her turquoise eyes met Lightning's in a calm stare. "Why does every filly not wish to leave home? Not the refusal to roam."
The answer, one of the few answers she had every heard to do so, confused Lightning. Zecora didn't want to leave Zebrica?
'I'll file that away for later...'
But before even her impressive mind could contemplate the matter further, Zecora interrupted her with, "But I believe we should not waste. There is a matter needing haste?"
"Yes... I am conducting an investigation. I have a few questions for you about the Farlander. Do you believe you forgot anything during your time following the creature?"
Lightning smiled as Zecora's face fell. The zebra blinked balefully, then in thought, tilting her head to the side. "I imagine it was not but my mind, causing memory to be blind. I thought it was nerves, the way fear preserves, but this is something more? My mind opened like a door?"
Lightning chewed a lip in thought. "I am just researching something. Describe what happened after you left my fight. Without the rhymes."
Zecora had lifted the tea to her lips and stared at Lighting over the cup. Lighting only stared back expectantly, then impatience before gritting her teeth and grunting, "Please."
"Such a thing I heard that night, more than a guard's woeful plight. Some creature prowled the dark, and hid in the underground away from prying eyes. I knew not what such a beast wished, but for answers I fished. It was then I felt something most... disconcerting, a feeling unlike any other I had felt before."
"You were close to a cave. Kinda hard to not be cold, especially with the backdraft and underground caves."
Zecora shook her head. "Not like a freezing foal, but of a chilled soul. A creeping darkness in my heart that spread like Faceless Pony's glare. I knew not what it was, but once it began, I knew no more."
"Then how did you know to leave a trail of buttons? Or not be surprised once you told the guards?"
Zecora set her tea down on the table with a soft click. She closed her eyes, carefully choosing her words before speaking slowly. "I felt like staring through a mirror, knowing my path, but not choosing it. Such a path felt right, not a plight. My hooves were sure of the path they walked, their assurity I did not balk."
"...Like a marionette with the illusion of free will."
"A'right. Bad news is that repaired wall he did two days ago isn't a repaired wall, it's a giant fuck-all mass of solid wood. Good news is they've turned it into a table and asked him to try not to get thrown through the wall again." The Miner tried not to look sheepish as Jim Beam gave his report to Ambrosia. His recent repair of the house that Barricade smashed him through, although achieved several days quicker than a normal repair job, still had the unfortunate side effect of sealing it with cubic squares of wood rather than the flat planks.
"Alright, I think that won't be a problem. What about you, big boy?" Ambrosia purred. The Miner, who had been sitting on a bench next to a concrete house foundation in Ponyville proper, inched away from her smoldering gaze. The two Night Guards nearby sniggered.
The sun had graced the early morning sky, evaporating the slight dew that clung to plants and the more dank alleys. At the crack of dawn, Ambrosia approached the military to request use of the Miner. Her appeal was provisionally granted, as long as he was guarded at all times.
"Say, why are you blokes always hanging around this chap?" Crafty Crate asked the two guards.
"So he don't get in no trouble. An' tah see if he's gettin' 'long with the local yolkals." The soldier's strange drawl caused Crafty to crunch his brow in confusion as he pieced together the butchered language. The guard snorted. "Yer not the firs' tah have no idea what I be sayin'."
Much to the guard's, the construction ponies', and the Miner's relief, the ponies in town had warmed up to his presence. The Cakes had offered him a few slices of jellied fruit snacks earlier that morning, and several of the fillies and colts danced around his feet whenever he moved from one place to another. The concept that he didn't wish to talk seemed lost on them, but he and the children seemed perfectly content to bask in each other's delight. The increased attention seemed to make him happy as he occasionally conjured and destroyed, much to the shock and awe of their prepubescent minds.
Mothers and fathers wouldn't dare let their children anywhere near Ambrosia's construction zones for their own safety, so he was now free of the attention. Rather than having a mandatory hard hat, he wore a ridiculously lumpy-looking helmet shaped to perfectly fit his head. From what Ambrosia could discern, it was made out of some tough gemstone. Diamond, if she remembered correctly.
Their current job was to build a house for a couple moving in from out of town, one big enough for their three fillies to have plenty of room to run around. Ambrosia had already planned out the measurements for the house, foundation, front yard, and backyard. Work was going well, especially with the Miner's powers cutting down the time to lay concrete from two days to ten minutes.
Now their circular saw's motor overheated and they couldn't start cutting lumber until a new one was pulled from storage, only the lumberyard was on the other side of town and a brisk twenty minute canter.
"If only you could cut wood..." Ambrosia mumbled. Not even toying with the idea of snogging him in a corner alleviated her irritation. The only thing they needed was the saw to finish cutting 2x4 wood planks into manageable sizes. "We still got enough for a general framework?"
"Yeah, at least enough to keep us at it for a few days. Given he ain't too good with flat boards," Jim Beam jerked his head to the Miner, who had taken a keen interest in the circular saw, "havin' him do the job for us ain't a good idea. Hey! It's broken!"
The Miner, in his bottomless curiosity, had shifted and inspected the broken saw. He put a finger to the circular blade and gave it a flick, sending the blade spinning rapidly, but not even close to the speed needed to cut wood. Ambrosia, however, saw the gears turning in his eyes.
He put his hands on the circular saw's supports and heaved. It was, however, still firmly attached to the steel supports.
Jim Beam was about to say something, but Ambrosia overrode him with a wave of her hoof. She was curious about his motives. It wasn't as if they could use the saw anyway in its current state. The Miner tensed a little as she cantered to the saw table, but relaxed as she only showed him how to detach the mechanism from the rigid supports.
He conjured his workbench and set the heavy saw mechanism in the middle He stood back, eyeing the mechanism thoughtfully.
"He's trying to think how to build one..." Crafty Crate said.
The Miner conjured the workbench Ambrosia had come to know well. He set it on top of the central grid and walked to a nearby pile of wood planks she had had reserved for the house. Picking up a pair, he placed them lengthwise next to the broken saw head along with a heavy duty extension cord. A magi that had been relatively quiet all day had got to his hooves and walked to the workbench, removing a pen and paper along the way. Curiously, he began sketching his strange symbols and scripts that dotted the workbench.
The Miner brought both fists down upon the hodgepodge with one echoing thud. The quartet of items merged into a mass of gray, black, and brown. Just like his other lightning-quick transformation, this one was as equally fast. Whatever powers granted to the Miner, energy transferring, displacing, or anywhere in between, the process halted as quickly as it started.
The miner heaved the contraption off of his workbench, grunting and gasping quietly. What had once been a collection of parts had warped and transformed itself into a strange, if recognizable, saw table. Despite one of the components being the extension cord, Ambrosia did not see a single port or wire indicating any recognizable type of power.
"Great; can you fix my AC?"
"That is perfect."
Princess Cadance and Celestia stood waiting next to one of the royal scribes, waiting patiently as his pencil made a few final strokes across the parchment. The scribe's study was a little too hot and humid for Cadance's liking, but it was a nice refresher from the chill that occasionally permeated the castle. The hearths mostly kept the cold at bay, but they were not enough to properly heat an entire castle, even if the noon sun warmed earth and sun alike.
The room, cramped and smelling of dusty scrolls, was fit for royalty's current desires. The scribe flipped the parchment around and slid it across his oak desk. "How is that, Highness?"
Cadance lifted the parchment to her snout. Scrawled across it in careful black, brown, and green pencil strokes was a single entity, a bipedal creature with eyes made of pure white light. "Exactly as I remembered."
Celestia took the drawing from her niece, examining it for her own eyes. It looked remarkably like descriptions of the Miner. The only real noticeably difference being, of course, the glowing white eyes Cadance had so adamantly described.
"I must keep this to myself?" the scribe questioned.
"Indeed." Celestia's tone ordered no room for argument or wiggle room.
The scribe nodded. "I won't make any other copies for my personal record then. Feel free to use my office for as long a necessary." And with that, the scribe left with the door's opening and shutting squeak.
"They certainly look alike," Cadance said. Unrolling a scroll sent by one of the Council of Magic's ranking members, a different drawing showing a creature identical save for a pair of blue eyes stared back at her. "Do you think they are related?"
"That is Captain Barricade's duty to discover. Whatever this creature may be, the Miner holds all the available keys." Celestia rolled the scroll up and stashed it away. "And you are certain this creature said nothing to you?"
"I'm sure of it, auntie. I know Luna said that it spoke to her in the Miner's mind, but it said nothing to me. It just... stared." Cadance's voice trailed off. Her eyes wandered to the far corner where the office hearth's light had trouble touching. No glowing eyes examined her from the darkness. "I'm certain it was real."
"I don't think it is a coincidence you met this creature immediately after the attack, either. We may have just obtained the face of an enemy."
"But nothing it is doing is making sense!" Cadance proclaimed.
"Perhaps the Miner knows more than he is not telling... or the Farlander." Celestia's eyes fell on the parchment on the scribe's desk. It was a report from the Immigration Office. A wing of griffons, twenty four in all, were now within Equestrian borders. The things she did to keep the peace and obtain order. It would help to bring in a few fresh eyes anyway. Perhaps the oncoming griffons might be able to discover something they had overlooked. "I am... uneasy. Recent events are stacking against my subjects. I can only pray to the powers that be that we may discover a way to outstep this... Herobrine."
If there were two things that made Doctor Hemos grumpy, it was complaining and extra work. Unfortunately, the latter often caused the former for the army doctor, even if it was himself complaining and not a whiny patient. Blood centrifuges whirled and mixed chemicals under his ever-watchful eye. The Miner's blood to be precise. Given that studying the creature was surreptitiously added to his workload after the last head of departments meeting, his foul mood had caused what few nurses he possessed to avoid him like the plague whenever possible.
The first centrifuge beeped and ceased its rotation. Enveloping it in his magic, he removed the vials one by one, sliding a sticker on each one for future identification purposes.
"Doctor?" a timid voice chimed from behind the curtained room. His impromptu lab was yet another source of irritation; he had been given less than half of his requested materials. It wasn't as if they had all the power of the Equestrian military and a civilian train to give him the necessary resources, instead of a small, cramped room!
The nurse shied away from his angry gaze. Still in a bad mood, it seemed. The mare timidly offered a manilla folder to him. "The results of the Miner's blood work and cultures are in."
"About time." Hemos jerked the envelope away from her as his horn became alight with power.
"There's something strange about it. I – "
Hemos' harsh command silenced her, but she waited patiently for him to finish his scan of the Miner's physical exams. He never liked having to stay with the stallion; nopony did, as Hemos' perpetually poor bedside manner made him one of the base's least favorite ponies.
So it was strange when his disgruntled nature slowly lifted from his face only to be replaced by confusion and surprise. "That's not possible..."
"I – " Hemos held up a hoof to silence her. As his eyes progressed further and further down each page, they became wider and more bewildered with each passing moment.
Once done looking through the report, he handed it off to her and said, "Check it again."
Keeping up with his trait of interrupting the nurse, she opened her mouth to speak, only to be silenced by the doctor once again. "Do you even know what this implies? How much danger we are all in if this is due to what I suspect?"
"What do you suspect?"
"That we may be in more danger than we realized. Check it again, and speak of this to absolutely nopony. I grant you whatever authority you need to get him back here for more testing."
The sun had almost set on Ponyville proper. Rarity wasn't sure why, but there was an almost physical tension in the air, some obscure force that pressed upon the back of everypony's mind. Doors had closed early today, shop overhangs retracted. The likely culprit behind their skittishness was the wave of cumulous overhead. The clouds that Rainbow Dash had investigated yesterday had not revealed an architect. Even though it was almost dusk, both horizons were blocked under an oppressive wave of clouds, and there wasn't enough time to organize an ad hoc relief effort to solve such a large-scale storm.
Rarity quickly cantered to her shop, two bolts of cloth tucked safely away in her bag. Normally cloth bolts were several yards long, but her current purchases were very small bolts made with specialty cotton, both gilded and sewn with gold.
"Oh, dear," Rarity moaned. The skies waved and writhed angrily. Bloated as they may be, Rarity had not yet felt a single drop of moisture from the heavens. "Thank Celestia for good luck." Nervously, she checked the straps on her bags. They were as secure as the last four times she had examined them on her trip back to Carousel Boutique, but the threat of moisture damage did not repeal the danger in her head.
Coming upon her familiar house, the door opened with a flash and closed as the last hair of her perfectly groomed tail entered safely. Using her dexterous skill gained over many long years of practice, her bag clasps unlocked and every knook and cranny inside flew out and circled her. Every facet of Carousel Boutique had long been memorized. Each and every piece, from the bolts of cloth, to the bag of extra bits, to the spare needle and thread neatly organized in several pockets all arranged themselves perfectly in their respectful places.
The mare trotted to the closest Boutique window. A few drops of water splattered against the window. Rarity sighed in relief. "I made it just in time." For a moment it looked like the bloated clouds would pass right over Ponyville to the neighboring hamlets. That still did not resolve the problem that she had had yet to plan for an extended Ponyville deluge, especially after they had finished receiving such a downpour only days earlier.
"So, what to do..." As much as she liked having a little more time to herself, rain never helped her focus on her work. She required pressure, a friendly but pressing mood to help her concentrate on what needed to be done. Rain was... calming, and calm was the opposite of what she needed.
"Well, I do have some books that need to be returned shortly." And she didn't want Twilight getting on her case for returning a book late. Rarity shuddered. "Yes, finishing up would be the wisest option."
Rarity opened the doors to the upper levels. Like most ponies, she lived above her place of work. The two spare bedrooms, one more of a large closet than a bedroom, were for guests whenever she had them, although the larger of the two had become a semi-permanent room for Sweetie Belle, as long as she helped with household chores. Ever since she was young, the little filly had always looked up to her big sister with wide-eyed adoration and wonder. Pearl and Magnum, the somewhat estranged parents of Rarity, were always curious as to why the little filly would go to her sister rather than spending time with her adventurous parents.
Speaking of, was that her singing?
"So simple a life in this brittle shell."
Strange; Sweetie was usually in bed by now. Unlike her two more active friends, Sweetie slept like the dead from sunrise to sunset. Given the oncoming storm, Rarity had expected her to already be asleep.
"So small and blind, so hard to find..."
Rarity rolled her eyes. She had secretly made a wager with herself that Sweetie would choose an emo-gothic route over more conventional way of rebelling as she matured. It just so happened that her stage came a little earlier than expected, apparently. Then again, Sweetie Belle had a very good line of sight to see her when she came, something that was easily denied with the coming dark skies. Perhaps Sweetie had been rehearsing for quite some time, and Rarity never noticed it.
Rarity quietly climbed the stairs, making sure to skip the squeaky step halfway up the stairs. As much as she did not care for such music, she was at least curious about what she had written in terms of lyrics.
"What came to my aid as the heavens fell? My hopes and dreams? So frail they seem."
She caught herself rolling her eyes again and paused. Whenever Sweetie sang, it was usually upbeat and bombastic, not the slow, somber mood she was currently invoking. It took time to rehearse, yet she was displaying such a depressed mood?
Suspicions raised, Rarity quietly snuck forward. Her hooves were muffled as the rain crescendoed against her house into a full-fledged downpour. Lightning flashed across the rain-splattered windows, throwing shadows like some great beast thrashing against the darkness.
"I only wish to make me dreams come true. Someday my soul will come to see you through..."
Having reached the top of the stairs, Rarity could hear Sweetie's voice coming from behind her closed door. Their rooms were placed right next to each other, so Rarity always made a note to be downstairs whenever Applebloom and Scootaloo were over, as the walls were far too thin to block out their noise.
She waited for Sweetie to continue her song, but the filly had halted. Could she have possibly heard her? That wasn't possible. Rarity knew where all the squeaky floorboards were and she was certain she missed every one of them. She had long practiced the art of waking up before her parents and sneaking around as a filly in order to watch TV. Those skills hadn't left her, so she was sure she didn't make any noise.
"Hello, Rarity." To emphasize her words, another flash of lightning lit up the hallway via the window.
SIghing, Rarity pushed open the door. There was an itching right by her withers, warning her not to open the door. Despite it being her sister's voice, some instinct was warning her away. Ignoring the call, she walked right in.
The lights were off. Another flash of lightning illuminated the room. Rarity spotted Sweetie sitting by the window, staring out of it with a blank expression on her face.
"Sweetie Belle?" Rarity called cautiously.
Sweetie turned her head mechanically toward Rarity. Taking a deep breath, Sweetie rose straight and tall, something Sweetie never did. "Not quite. We need to talk."
Fluttershy couldn't help but let her eyes drift to the window. The rain wasn't coming down too hard, but enough to keep both her and her charges inside. Her cottage was nestled partly underground, so that did help muffle the sound of thunder and pounding rain. Thunderheads projected lightning like dripping yolk from a cracked egg.
"Why did it have to be a supercell?" Fluttershy moaned.
Rainbow Dash had talked about her job often enough that Fluttershy had become an uncertified expert on weather phenomenon. Given Rainbow always asked her to participate in weather events, it wasn't too hard to pick up on things.
"Oh, I wish she was here right now." She only wanted a little companionship, but blushed as the words left her mouth. Not only was it getting late, but having Rainbow alone with her at her house caused her mind to wander in less reputable directions.
Angel poked her in the hindquarters, snapping her out of whatever inappropriate thoughts that clouded her mind. "What is it, Angel?"
The bunny pointed at a family of ferrets cowering under a chair. Despite them having a perfectly acceptable wooden waren in the adjacent room, they looked on in fear at Fluttershy's front door.
Fluttershy flinched as the sonic boom crashed almost above her house. That was a close one. Too close. Fluttershy hoped Rainbow could stop the storm tomorrow, and find out what group of ponies would do something so mean to the quiet town.
Recovering from the sound of thunder, Fluttershy rose and walked to the family. Collapsing to her knees, she leaned forward and nuzzled the group. "There, there, no need to be afraid. It's just a storm, as loud and scary as it might seem. It can't hurt us." It seemed little comfort to the trembling and scared ferrets.
Without warning, the front door opened with a thunderous bang. A small, furry form flew to the wall; Angel had climbed onto a cabinet, lept to the doorknob, and opened the door before being blown back by the howling wind.
In scampered a little woodland squirrel, shaking and trembling from cold and rain. The ferrets had since vanished after Angel unceremoniously opened the door and startled both them and Fluttershy.
Shaking off her knee jerk fear, Fluttershy put her shoulder into the door and closed it with a grunt of effort. She was not the most well built of ponies, but chasing and wrestling with frightened animals had packed a little more muscle on her body over the years.
"Oh dear, let's get you dried off." The rodent seemed extremely hesitant and frightened of its new environment, but upon seeing Fluttershy approach with a plush, dry towel, eagerly accepted the offering of drying off after such conditions.
"Thank you for letting him in in, Angel Bunny." Angel squeaked angrily and rose from the heap he collapsed in. Fluttershy knew he was rather proud for such a small animal, and let him rise under his own power rather than offer to help him. It would only anger the rabbit, and she had more pressing matters to take care of. "Why were you out in such dreadful weather? Surely you have a home? You do have a home, right? If not, I can let you stay in my house until you get back on your feet."
The rodent started chittering rapidly to both her and Angel, ignoring the rigorous toweling it was receiving.
"...What is coming...? White Eyes!?"
Ask anypony alive, and they would usually find something positive relating to the night to talk about. After Princess Luna's return, their was a resurgence of focus on the night. It was not uncommon to see the occasional pair of lovers taking a moonlit stroll, basking under heaven's light.
Ponyville was bathed in blues and whites as the last hues of red disappeared over the eastern horizon. At least, they would have been if the skies were not hidden behind a blanket of angry black and gray clouds. They had only recently been emptying their payload across the town. Everything had been under the careful eye of the creature watching from the forest.
Whether they called him Era'doth or Herobrine, it no longer mattered. The chains binding him with light and magic still rattled an ever present reminder of the seal on his body. Nothing that the ponies thought or did would change that, but maybe after tonight, after such a long time trapped in darkness, watching and waiting in the Overworld, he would finally have a chance to be free.
Freedom. Bound by flesh and bone, butchered and dismembered with his powers stripped from him. How could creatures such as those before him live like this, life in such hollow shells? It was a pain that cut deeper than any blade.
With a tilt of his head, the forest behind him was suddenly flush with the sound of shuffling, hissing, and clanking monsters. The three-headed creature hovered behind him protectively, but in an act that defied his usually stoic nature, his arm shot forward, pointing towards the southern edge of town. The massive creature hissed and moved towards the tents of the Equestrian royal garrison.
Ponyville was momentarily ignored until on a whim, Herobrine turned his gaze on the small hamlet. One would almost assume the hamlet would be safe from the creature and the legion of creatures in his wake.
For a moment, everything was silent. Mists curled at the legion's heels. There was only one warning of the oncoming doom.
In rolled a thick cloud of black fog over Ponyville.
Edited by: Material Defender, Cor Thunder, arachnidsGrip, Hyperbole