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Fate Locked

By Aftercase
Created: 18th February 2021 12:20:20 AM
Modified: 17th April 2021 08:32:53 PM

  1. >You walk along the dark castle halls, slowly regretting your most recent midnight wander into uncharted territory. The stone statues that decorate the corridor feel you with anxiety and dread, did that one move? Was it always like that?
  2. >You try to tear your eyes away from the stone forms, but when you do your mind fills with what-ifs. You calm your breath down, no point in getting worked up. You’ll find a guard or some pony to lead you back to your room.
  3. >The silence is deafening as you walk down the pitch-black hallway, you can barely see a few meters in front of you. The darkness almost grows thicker as you make your way along.
  4. >You feel the hairs rise on the back of your neck and arms. Maybe it's your mind playing tricks on you but your footsteps sound not like your own.
  5. >You stop suddenly.
  6. >To your horror another footstep echoes behind you. You quickly glance back to find more darkness and hallway.
  7. “Is anyone there?” Your voice echoes into the night. Not knowing whats is worst, no reply or someone answering back.
  8. >After waiting for a few seconds, or what seems like minutes, you turn back around.
  9. >You gasp and stumble back, almost losing your footing.
  10. >A white glowing orb hovers down the hall.
  11. >You slide behind a statue and crouch and watch it for a few moments.
  12. >Do you run?
  13. >Remain hidden?
  14. >Not sure what to do. You simply watch as the orb levitates a few feet off the floor, slowly bobbing like a piece of driftwood at sea.
  15. >A few moments pass, to your dismay, the curiosity gets the better of you.
  16. >You slip from behind the statue and slowly walk towards the glowing ball of light. Ready to bolt at any moment if the thing simply bobs the wrong way.
  17. >As you get closer the orb starts to float away. Only to stop when you stop.
  18. >This better not be a “Will-o-Wisp” scenario, but you continue to follow behind at a safe distance.
  19. >You let the orb lead the way for a while until it suddenly stops before slowly fading.
  20. >Once again you are alone in the blackness.
  21. >Squinting, you spot a shadow standing next to a door. You can make out a silhouette of a Stallion guard with the Telling of his bulkier form and the cress of his helmet.
  22. >Relieved, you yell down the corridor “Hey, guard! Do you know how-” You stop as the shadow guard turns and disappears into the door.
  23. >You are not sure if it was your tired mind once again playing tricks on you but you swear you never heard the door open when that guard walked in.
  24. >With the silence in the hallway you should be able to hear a pin drop.
  25. >Walking up to the door wearing the shadow guard once stood you grab the golden door handle.
  26. >It's ice cold. Almost hurts to touch against your skin.
  27. >You have no option now. You got to open the door.
  28. >Pushing down the handle the door unlocks and creaks open as your push.
  29. “Hello?” You asked now completely unnerved.
  30. >Once again, no reply.
  31. >You take a step in and scan the room. You spot old sofas, beds, and a few lockers in the dark.
  32. >You take another step to try and see what else the room holds in its black veil.
  33. >SLAM!
  34. >The door slams behind you. Immediately you turn and pull at the handle. The cold burns the skin on your hand as you desperately rattle the door in its frame.
  35. >Panting, you turn around and stare into the complete black. Maybe you’ll catch the glimpse of whatever is in here to get you.
  36. >In some sick way, you were disappointed it never came. This nightmare would have been over.
  37. >Fumbling in your pocket you pull out your trusty lighter and flick on a flame.
  38. >The flame lights up a few feet in front of you to reveal a face of a tall pony.
  39. “Ah shit!” You yell as you fumble and drop the lighter.
  40. >”Interesting.” A female voice mutters.
  41. >Interesting?
  42. You know that voice. “Luna?”
  43. >”It’s Princess Luna, Anonymous. You are a subject now and you will refer to us as such.”
  44. >The candles that litter around the room spontaneously ignites.
  45. “Whatever.” You shrug “Why are you trying to spook me like that?”
  46. >”Pray tell, Why were you taking another midnight tour of our castle?”
  47. “I got lost going to the bathroom.” You reply, more focused on looking around your feet for the lighter you dropped.
  48. >Luna stares at you giving you the ‘I’m not amused’ look.
  49. >“It seems once again, we may give you the benefit of the doubt. Nethertheless, the results have been interesting at least.”
  50. “Results?” You pause half away picking up your lighter from the stone-tiled floor.
  51. >”It seems you have certain qualities we are looking for.”
  52. “Qualities?”
  53. >”Must you repeat our words? Yes. Qualities.”
  54. “So you’ve been testing me?”
  55. >”Watching” Luna states.
  56. “Watching?” You reply.
  57. >Luna narrows her eyes at you.
  58. “Sorry.”
  59. >”We have been watching you, to see how one would handle himself experiencing the supernatural.”
  60. “I have to admit you did spook me a little, nice touch on the shadow guard, it is surprising what you pony can do with your magic.”
  61. >”That was no magic Anonymous.”
  62. “What do you mean? That wasn’t you?” You ask, with shivers shooting down your spine.
  63. >”Those anomalies you saw were real. That shadow guard as you refer, was Night Watcher. He suffered a heart attack while on duty over a hundred years ago. We assure you his spirit is benign, though several times we tried to cross him to the otherside, but it seems his loyalty to my sister is unbreakable.”
  64. “Wait, that was a real ghost!?”
  65. >”Indeed. we thought you were aware of that.”
  66. “I thought it was my mind playing tricks on me, or you with your magic”
  67. >”Then it seems you were mistaken.”
  68. >You stand there completely dumbfounded.
  69. >Are ghosts real in this world?
  70. >...Of course, they are, internally face slap, it makes sense in a world of magical horses.
  71. >”Well, the night is ending soon Anonymous. So we would like to make you an offer.”
  72. “Offer?” You snap out of your internal thoughts.
  73. >”Again with the repeating.”
  74. “Sorry.”
  75. >Luna sighs, “We are looking for a replacement for one of my special units.”
  76. You throw up your hands “Wow wow, hold on there princess. I’m not soldier material.”
  77. >”Worry not, this position is merely research and recon.”
  78. “You're going to have to explain a little more. I’m one of the guys who loves the fine print.”
  79. >”Very well, the position is to join a unit that researches the paranormal, supernatural and magical anomalies.”
  80. “So ghost hunting?”
  81. >”A very basic term, but yes.”
  82. “I don’t know...Never really got into that hobby”
  83. >”A hobby? Why use such a term?”
  84. “On Earth, humans that believe in it, do it as a hobby...”
  85. >”...We see, if your species see’s it as a trivial thing for a simple past time, then we urge you to consider the position.”
  86. “I’m still failing why you are offering it to me.”
  87. >”While most ponies would run on sight of a specter, you on the otherhoof went against your fear and investigated. That is what we are looking for.”
  88. >You hesitate on your decision.
  89. >You do need a job, you can tell Celestia is slowly losing her patience with you, being a complete neet.
  90. >”Two thousand bits per month, starting basic pay.”
  91. Your jaw almost hit the floor. You regain your stature then cough in your hand “Of course the money is a good incentive. But…”
  92. >”Tax free. All expenses paid by the crown.”
  93. “So, where do I sign up?”
  94. >”Follow.” Luna motions her head towards the door.
  95.  
  96. >You feel your nerves ease as you enter another hallway with Luna, actually seeing some light, and the Royal Guards brings some relief.
  97. >After a few minutes you find yourself following Luna outside into the night air.
  98. >Walking out into the castle's gardens and the maze.
  99. >Luna mentions paying attention to the route.
  100. >Left.
  101. >Left.
  102. >Right.
  103. >Left.
  104. >You both stop and you stare in bewilderment as you find an old hatch on the floor.
  105. > Luna's horn glows as she lifts the heavy trap door with her magic.
  106. >The heavy lid creaks as it opens before giving a heavy thunk on the dirt floor.
  107. >”Down here.”
  108. “Odd place for a dungeon…” You shrug before stepping down a stone staircase.
  109. >”Used to be in the yesteryears. Now, it’ll be your new home.”
  110. “Home?” You pause on a step,  “Look Princess Luna, I told your sister I didn’t know it was her cake...”
  111. >”Do not fret Anonymous, we do not plan on imprisonment.”
  112. “Just making sure…”
  113. >You once again follow the Alicorn down the cold stone staircase. It narrows and twists as you both descend what seems meters underground.
  114. >Old candles sitting on stone shelves light the way down the steep staircase. Falling them would mean a fair few broken bones.
  115. >You run a hand against the night-cooled wall for balance, and maybe reassurance that you don’t cause you and the princess to tumble down to the bottom.
  116. >Eventually the staircase ends into a long candle-lit room, with old dungeon doors made from old wood and rusted metal off to either side. You notice old chains and shackles hung from the walls, what you presume an artifact from its previous use.
  117. >In the middle of the long room sat a makeshift office space, an old oak desk coated in dripped candle wax and littered with paperwork.
  118. >The air is stale and still, but cold. You could not help notice the smell of sulfur in the air.
  119. “Luna? Do you smell that?”
  120. >”It’s Prin-” Luna pauses and sniffs the air “Yes we do.”
  121. “Normally that's a bad sign, in this line of work isn’t it?”
  122. >”Normally, yes. But down here, it’s a sign of Aether, dabbling with dark magics again…” Luna replies, while you're not sure if we're angry or just disappointed in this Aether.
  123. “I thought that was illegal.”
  124. >”It is, unless you have a special license and training to do so.”
  125. >Luna walks over to a door where the stench of sulfur is at its strongest.
  126. >”Aether! This is Princess Luna, open up!” Luna bellows at the door, with two strong knocks with a hoof.
  127. >Stepping up to the door you hear a male voice inside. “Ah, leather-feathers. Hang on Ma’am!”
  128. >Luna huff but patiently waits outside of the door.
  129. >You hear buffing and banging from the room before the door creaks open to reveal a well-built stallion, tilting your head for a better view of him, you spot his leathery wings.
  130. >You look over his grey coat as he grins up to Luna like a kid stealing from a cookie jar.
  131. >”Aether. Please tell us why we smell sulphur?”
  132. >”Research Ma’am.” He salutes.
  133. >”Research. In your bunk?” The princess frowns at him.
  134. >”Comfort Ma’am.”
  135. >”Is the lab not to your standards? Or is it you're trying to summon a succubus again.”
  136. >Aether coughs in a hoof. “The results are not clear enough for a straight answer ma’am.”
  137. >”...You do realise using the dark arts for personal gain can result in heavy punishment.”
  138. >”I do Ma’am.” Aether looks at you with his yellowish-green, catlike eyes. “Ma’am I do believe there is a cryptid behind you.”
  139. >Luna continues to stare down at Aether. “This cryptid is Anonymous. A human.”
  140. >”Human Ma’am?”
  141. >Luna grumbles under her breath. “Yes. Human. Now Anonymous will be joining your unit. I trust you to take care of him.”
  142. >”You can be certain of that ma’am.”
  143. >”Good. Now I must return to my duties.” Luna turns towards the stairs. “Oh an Aether. I suggest finding a mare of the night -that- we can overlook but nay, we do not wish to find evidence of your exploits in the dark arts. You may be resistant to its corruption but one day it'll better you.” With her warning, Luna ascends the stairs.
  144. >”Yes Ma’am…” Aether replies watching her leave. As her tail leaves sight he sighs. “One way to ruin a colt's quest for some sucubii poon.”  
  145. >You look down at the stallion with an eyebrow raised.
  146. >”What? I have specific needs.” He shrugs his wings, “Now come on in, I guess you’ll be bunking with me as I got a spare bed and  I’m the only other stallion in the unit - uh you are male aren't you?”
  147. “I am.”
  148. >”Right good, good. Come on in, the others are out so it’s just me and you at the moment.”
  149. >You step through the door, you notice chalked runes over the stone flooring surrounded by candles. There’s been a summoning if you have ever seen one.
  150. “So how did it go?” You point towards the runes.
  151. >”Bah, I keep messing it up. Speaking ancient Equestrian is hard when you are trying to invoke a portal to Tartarus.”
  152. “That seems dangerous.”
  153. >Aether shrugs “It’s only dangerous when you open the portal to lower levels. From the old records succubi exist on the first level. Though I’m starting to think I’ve translated the old books wrong, somewhere down the line hmm…” The stallion bat pony taps his chin with a hoof as he looks over the notes that are thrown haphazardly across the floor.
  154. “Right...And which is my bed?” You ask.
  155. >”Biggest one on the left, with the empty locker.”
  156. >You walk over and inspect the large bed. At least it’ll fit your size.
  157. >Opening the old locker you glance inside, the top shelf was empty, but at the bottom was a small action figurine.
  158. >You pick it up and inspect the little action figure of a pony superhero. You push on the tail to kick the back legs out into a buck.
  159. “Who used to own this bed before?”
  160. >”Huh?” Aether looks up from his notes. “That’ll be a Horned Charge the minotaur of our unit.” The bat pony walks up to you and takes the figure in his hoof then proceeds to do the same and pushes the tail. “He passed away a few months ago.He went on a mission with unit Alpha to Black Hoof Hill, only two made it back alive.”
  161. >Noticing the pained expression on his face, you wonder if you should ask what happened.
  162. >”You can ask. A least you should know what you are getting yourself into.”
  163. A little unnerved by the news you take his offer “What happened?”
  164. >”We’re not sure of the full story, but Black Hoof Hill is a dangerous place, so much that the Princesses put out a decree that it would be scrubbed from every map.”
  165. ”Then why go there?”
  166. >”Alpha Team needed to recover a lost patrol that was supposed to arrive at Hollow Shades but ended at Black Hoof instead. Well the reports have it that the Alpha Team found the lost patrol huddled together in an old school house completely petrified.”
  167. “At least they were alive…” You add.
  168. >”No, actually petrified.” Aether shakes his head and sighs, “Sadly two of Alpha team and Horned Charge suffered a similar fate.”
  169. “Why did Horned Charge go?”
  170. >”He knew it was his end, he had no choice.”
  171. “...What?”
  172. >”You’ll see soon enough.” Aether smiles at you, that seems to unsettle you, “Anyway!” He changes the subject, “Let get you suited up with your equipment, you're a similar shape build to our old minotaur friend...Though less muscle, but that can be adjusted.”
  173.  
  174. >Aether leads you out of his bunk room and down the long room and opens a door.
  175. > ”This is our store room. You can grab whatever you need from here.  Just make sure you tell ol’ bright eyes when you do. She normally sits at that desk over there.” He nodded towards the oak desk and sat in the office space.
  176. “I’ll make sure I do.”
  177. >”Trust me, that mare see’s everything.” Aether chuckles before giving a few flaps of his leathery wings. He lazily flaps into the storeroom and browses the shelves. “Ah! That’ll do. This is Horns first chest armor, when he first joined he was scrawny like you.”
  178. >Without warning he tosses you the armor. You grab and fumble your catch and inspect the armor. It is unlike the usual guards, it looks more like the black Kevlar body armor you saw back on Earth. Pressing your thumb into the thickest part you notice it squeezes down.
  179. “Is there some kind of powder in these?”
  180. >”Yeah,” The bat pony replies still looking through the shelves, “It’s padded with Epon’ Salt, gives you protection against possession from lower spirits and protects your heart against corruption, hence why it's slightly thicker around the chest area…Well I presume that's where your heart is...”
  181. “It is - Though something tells me Luna lied when she said this job isn’t dangerous.”
  182. >”Just Recon and Research?”
  183. “Yeah, I’m not sure I can do this.”
  184. >”She said the same to me, and all the others. But the pay they offer should be a dead giveaway…”Aether smirks at his pun.
  185. “Well that kind of made me agree to it.”
  186. >”Luna must have seen something in you to offer the position. Normally we are selected from the nightguard.”
  187. “Maybe it just because I’m an alien.”
  188. >Aether laughs, “No such things as aliens buddy.”
  189. >Before you could reply, he shoves an old-looking gun in your hands.
  190. >”A good ol’ salt blaster. See dangerous spooks, you blast them to render them powerless for a few minutes.”
  191. >You inspect the old gun, its flared muzzle reminds you of an old blunderbuss from hundreds of years ago.
  192. >”Yours is a little different from the rest, due to you having hands,” He holds up and shakes his front hooves to drive the point, “But you load the gem charge down the muzzle first then the salt. Then pull the trigger, located here.”
  193. “Okay…”
  194. >”Just don’t use it unless you have too, these things are loud, having ringing ears and being blinded by smoke doesn’t help when you're trying to flee...Oh lastly, this.”
  195. >He lifts his leathery wing, you spot a silver necklace dangling from it.
  196. “Dogtags?”
  197. >”They're designed like them, but they have more uses than identifying your dead flank.”
  198. >You reach out and take them, the tags start to glow, on closer inspection, you see an unknown text scrawl across the silver plate.
  199. >”These are made from the finest silver, imbued with protection magic,” Aether pauses when he notices you inspect the language, “It says your name in ancient equestrian.”
  200. “I’ll take your word for it...So when does training start?”
  201. >”...Training? You mostly learn on the job, and not to worry, we won't be sent on high risk jobs at first. It’ll be basic haunted home investigation stuff first.”
  202. “Not even a bootcamp, basic training?”
  203. >Aether laughs, “We’re not part of the military like the Army or the Guard, we’re more like an agency, so to speak.”
  204. “So there is no clause about me leaving if I wish? Or is it a two stab wound at the back of my neck suicide kind of deal?”
  205. >”No you're free to leave whenever. Though there is a two week notice policy. But I’ll warn you this work is addictive…”
  206. “Addictive?”
  207. >”You’ll understand.”
  208.  
  209. >Aethers ears twitch just a moment before you hear multiple hoof steps descend the stairs.
  210. >”Well looks like the others are back. Come, I’ll introduce them to you.”
  211. >You step back from the doorway to let Aether greet the approaching three mares.
  212. >”Hey guys!”
  213. >”YOU!” A dark blue coated bat mare rushes over and pushes her muzzle almost against Aethers, “What have I told you!”
  214. >”Oh come on Bright Eye’s, I already told Luna, it was for research purposes…”
  215. >”I swear to the moon itself, if you unleash a demon in this place, I’ll personally send you to the lowest levels of Tartarus!”
  216. >”Yeah, yeah,” Aether waves a decisive hoof, “Besides meet our new big guy.”
  217. >”Big guy?” The mare called Bright Eyes looks up at you.
  218. >Well you can guess where she gets her name. Under her white scruffy mane that hangs over her face, you spot two green emeralds that replaced her eyes.
  219. >She looks up at you, “Well, you must be the human Luna mentioned. I see you already got yourself kitted out. I persum Aether has already shown you your locker?”
  220. >You are not able to break eye...Gem? Contact.
  221. >”Good…” Her expression falls to a scowl as she notices your stare. “Go ahead, point them out.”
  222. “Your eyes are gems…”
  223. >”Well done. At least I can put ‘observant’ on your preliminary report.” The gem-eyed mare turns and walks to the oak desk. “I got some paperwork to fill. Don’t disturb me...That means you too Aether!”
  224. >”Wouldn’t dream of it!” Aether replies with a smirk before looking over to the other three mares trotting over. “Ah! It’s the twin-”
  225. >Slap!
  226. >One of the blue/grey coated twin mares, slaps her hoof across Aethers face, with a hrmph, she turns and points her nose up with her front legs folded.
  227. >”Luna dammit, it’s always the quiet ones…” He mumbles while rubbing his cheek, “What was that for Mini?”
  228. >The other twin's orange eyes narrow, “You know what you’ve done! Or been doing!”
  229. >”I have no idea what you're on about Molo!”
  230. >”I already said, I have no idea what you-”
  231. >Slap!
  232. >”Ow! Hey! Watch it!”
  233.  
  234. >You feel a hoof tap you on your hip.
  235. >Looking down you spot a pair of pink catlike eyes looking up at you.
  236. >The third bat mare blows her fringe from her face. “Hey, never mind those three. This is a normal night…”
  237. “Are you sure? She’s hitting him pretty hard,” You point at the twin who is now kicking Aether in the gut.
  238. >”He’ll be fine, look he’s smiling, he’s getting off on it.” The mare replies as you both watch Aether get the snot kicked out of him. “Oh!” The mare looks back at you, “Where my manners, I’m DawnLight by the way.”
  239. “Nice to meet you Dawnlight. I’m Anonymous, Anon for short.”
  240. >”Well nice to meet you too.” She smiles at you. “I take it you're planning to accept the job then” She points towards your armor that you are still holding.
  241. “I think I’ll give it a shot.”
  242. >”Good to hear,” Dawn turns to the others, “Hey guys! You know what this means?”
  243. >The three ponies look at Dawn, while Molo and Aether are caught in each other's limbs.
  244. >”It means Anon here needs to be inducted.”
  245. >As on cue all the bat ponies grin at you.
  246. >You have a bad feeling about this...
  247.  
  248.  
  249.  
  250. >Everything happened so fast, you find yourself ushered into a dark room that is dimly lit by candlelight.
  251. >Stood upon a tall pedestal that stood behind a small altar, Bright Eyes looks down on you with her freaky gem eyes.
  252. >”Anonymous. Do you take the oath to protect the living from the Dead, Damned and the Possessed?”
  253. >You look around to find the others with featureless masks humming in the darkness.
  254. >Some Eyes Wide Shut shit is happening here.
  255. >A part of you wonder when the satanic orgies would start.
  256. “Errr, Yes?”
  257. >”Do you give your life to the unknown?”
  258. “Yes?”
  259. >”Very well Anonymous, we accept you into the unit. Welcome to PHEER.”
  260. “Pheer?”
  261. >”The name of the organisation. Hasn’t anypon-” Bright Eyes groans “Nevermind. It stands for Paranormal Help, Equestrian, Extraction and Recon. Paranormal Help is the public side, Equestrian Extraction and Recon is the more government financed side.”
  262. “Right…Err thanks I think. So are we done here?”
  263. >”Not yet. Aether, bring the box.”
  264. >You watch Aether silently hover across the room and place the box on the small altar in front of you. He flicks a small lock and quickly steps back.
  265. >The box falls open to reveal a skull of a pony.
  266. >Ah there we go, you knew you were getting cult vibes.
  267. >”Anonymous, know your fate, stare into the skull.” Bright Eyes commands.
  268. “...Alright...Can I pick it up?”
  269. >”If you must.”
  270. >You pick up the skull and stare into the black abyss of the eye sockets.
  271.  
  272. >Apart from the eerie feeling of doing such a thing, you are more confused than anything.
  273. “Should I be-” You jolt awake, you find yourself in a hospital, hooked up to a drip.
  274. >You try to call out for a nurse or anypony for that matter. The pain was unbearable, your body seems to be burning under the bandages. You can barely move an inch without the searing pain.
  275. >”I’m sorry- I’m so sorry…” You hear Aether next to you.
  276. >You slowly roll your head towards him.
  277. >Your eyes widen in panic as you see him jabbing the drip with a syringe filled with an unknown fluid.
  278. >”I’m sorry! They don't know! They can’t know! Luna mustn’t know!” Aethers fur under his eyes is matted with tears.
  279. >You try and say something or scream, but to no avail, you can only watch. As the fluid runs down the tube and into your veins.
  280. >”I’m sorry! I messed up so bad! I’ll be following shortly behind buddy! See you in Tartarus…Tell the others I’m sorry before I get there...” He weeps as he holds your head in his hooves as you slip away as the white hospital ceiling fades to black.
  281.  
  282. >You groan, as you feel a pounding headache take form at the center of your forehead.
  283. >Peeking your eyes open you spot the ceiling now a simple stone lit by a dimming candle.
  284. >You groggy sit up and look around. Your back in Aethers bunk, or your bunk as you recall yesterday.
  285. >What happened yesterday...The memories start to flashback as you hold your head and grimace.
  286. >These ponies are going to be the death of you…
  287. >You look around to Aether who is sprawled across his bed, snoring like a broken train.
  288. >Should you tell him?
  289. >Surely someone in your unit needs to know.
  290. >You swing your legs out from under the quits. To your relief, you are still fully clothed.
  291. >Tip toeing, you creep out of the bunk and quietly close the door behind you.
  292. >”Anonymous. Nice to meet someone else up early tonight.” You hear Bright Eyes at her desk sipping a coffee.
  293. “What time is it?”
  294. >”Six thirty in the evening, it seemed our little ritual took everything out of you. Another hour asleep I would have called the medics for you…”
  295. “About last night…”
  296. >”You saw your death.” She states while looking over her paperwork.
  297. “Yeah, you see- uh there isn’t a thing where if I talk about it I’ll die in a more horrible way?”
  298. >”No. Don’t be silly. It's a vision not a curse.”
  299. “Point taken, you see my vision, it was Aether who killed me.”
  300. >”And will there be a problem working with him?”
  301. “What!? He’s going to kill me.”
  302. >”Then you didn’t understand your vision.”
  303. “You don’t understand, the way he was talking, he kills you all.”
  304. >”Then mine must be incorrect, I die by having my skull crushed by Princess Luna herself.”
  305. “And you still work for her?”
  306. >”Horned Charge. You heard of him?” She asks before calmly sipping her coffee.
  307. “Yes Aether told me about him, what has he got to do with it?”
  308. >”His vision was him being trampled under a black horse as he was climbing a hill. The last part of his vision was him falling into a room filled with statues, only to be turned into one by well, yours truly.”
  309. “...He died at Black Hoof Hill…”
  310. >”And he was petrified by a magical anomaly.” She finishes your sentence. “Not by me, I was over two hundred miles away working on a case at the frontier.”
  311. “Why were you in his vision?”
  312. >Bright Eyes falls silent and seems to stare into her coffee.
  313. >A few moments pass before she responds, “I ordered him there, even though he told me his vision.”
  314. “...Why?”
  315. >”There’s no way of escaping it.”
  316. “Shit!” You curse before rubbing your face, “What have I gotten myself into.”
  317. >”Fate has chosen for you Anonymous. Whether you leave us, run or even try to end your life your way, it’ll be a similar outcome.”
  318. “What if I never looked into the eyes of that skull thing?”
  319. >”It would have been the same. Just you would have the illusion of choice.”
  320.  
  321. >Your new workmates crowd around the knee-high table in the ‘mess’ hall.
  322. >You shuffle around the room to find a cushion to sit upon.
  323. >Maybe chairs are too uncomfortable for their wings. Then again, they could use stools.
  324. >The clatter of plates, cutlery, and chatter pulls you from your thoughts.
  325. >”Hey Molo, pass the sauce!” Aether shouts across the table with a mouth full of eggs and bacon.
  326. >”Swallow before you talk Aether,” Bright Eyes pipes in while reading the Canterlot Evening Post.
  327. >”Not until Molo passes the sauce.” The bat stallion replies still with a mouthful of food.
  328. >”Just hang on Aether, Mini wants some.” Molo passes the ketchup to Mini, who smiles for a simple thank you.
  329. >”Come on! Need the sauce.” Aether taps the table with his hooves.
  330. >”Aether! Please just wait. You're acting like a little colt.” Molo shouts across at Aether.
  331.  
  332. >Among the commotion, a voice appears beside you.”So you eat meat too?”
  333. >You look to your side, Dawn Light smiles at you as she places her plate on the table with her wing then proceeds to sit on the cushion.
  334. “Yeah, you don’t know how ecstatic I was when I found the castle provided to ethically produce meat. If I had to eat another apple or carrot I think I would have died.”
  335. >Dawn laughs a little. “I can imagine. Living among normal ponies can be a bit of a chore in that area. It’s nice to eat with another species without them freaking out because I’ve  bitten into a chicken leg.”
  336. >You nod in agreement, when you were living in ponyville when you first arrived you had to overcome that hurdle.
  337. >You glance back at the Aether and Molo still arguing back and forth over the table.
  338. “Is there something between them?”
  339. >”Hmm?” Dawn looks up from her plate. “I don’t think so. But that just Aether, he winds up everyone.”
  340. >”Aether! For Luna’s sake! Just wait!” Molo is almost bellowing at him as he continues to drum the table, a few times you had to steady your coffee.
  341. >Mini nods at her plate with another smile, then passes the sauce back to Molo.
  342. >”Thanks,” Molo replies before turning towards Aether, “Here's your sauce!”
  343. >Molo launches the sauce bottle across the table.
  344. >Her throw falls a little short and hits a knife flicking it up towards the bat stallion.
  345. >The room falls silent followed by a big yelp as Aether falls to the floor clutching his neck.
  346. >”AETHER!” Molo stands up and runs across the table knocking over a few cups.
  347. >Aether struggles to his haunches clutching the red-covered knife with his front hooves.
  348. >He’s visibly panting, as he struggles to talk.
  349. >”Oh Luna! Oh Luna! Aether stay stil-” Molo stops mid sentence as she spots Aethers quick smirk as he holds up the ketchup bottle “...AETHER! YOU MOTHER-”
  350. >”Language at the table!” Bright Eyes once again speaks up, still not looking up from the newspaper. “Aether. Don't tempt fate.”
  351. >”Oh that’s cruel…” Dawn mutters.
  352. “Yeah it's a bit of a cruel prank” You reply. But deep down it was a little funny.
  353. >The table starts to shake as Molo pummels Aether into the floor with a fury of hooves.
  354. >Once again you hold your coffee.
  355. >”No it’s more than that.” The pink-eyed bat pony continues. “Aether's vision from the skull is that of Molo accidentally stabbing him.”
  356. “Oh…”
  357. >”Say,” Dawn leans a little closer to you, “That reminds me, what was your vision?”
  358. >The room falls silent again.
  359.  
  360. >You look around the table, Mini is chewing her food but looking intently. Aether is caught in a headlock by Molo, both staring and finally Bright Eyes glances up from her newspaper for a few moments before returning to whatever she is reading...
  361. “Uh well, my death is…uh...” You couldn’t help but look at Aether.
  362. >”Buddy, if I was in your vision just say. It’s proven time and time again that the visions are more metaphorical.”
  363. “You see…” You try and say it, but how can you?
  364. >It’ll be like. Hey, dude I just met you, you're going to kill me, probably, maybe...
  365. >Aether sighs, still in Molo's grip. “Look I die by jumping out of a multistory building with my wings folded. Now how can that be if Molo stabs me and I bleed out before she can get help.”
  366. “I guess you're right, well, I ended up in a hospital covered in bandages. Aether comes into the room and injects some type of poison into my drip...”
  367. >”See- ACh!” Aethers' sentence is cut off by Molo squeezing tighter.
  368. >”I knew you are some kind of psychopath!” The angry twin exclaims ever squeezing his neck tighter.
  369. >”Can’t...Breathe…” Aether mutters out.
  370. >”Let go of him Molo. You won’t kill him that way.”Says Bright Eyes now looking up from the newspaper.
  371. >Damn that's cold.
  372. >Molo glares at Bright Eyes before dropping Aether into a heap. “I’m going to wash up.” The twin grabs her plate and walks out of the mess room.
  373. “I guess they don’t like each other.” You whisper to Dawn.
  374. >”No, they clash a lot. Molo’s quick to lash out while Bright Eyes' anger is more backhoofed. So occasionally there’s always a massive showdown between them.” Dawn Light whispers back.
  375. >”Dawnlight.” Bright Eyes calls across the table. “Since you're so keen on our new recruit, he’ll be going on your assignment tonight.”
  376. >”What about Aether?” Dawn asks.
  377. >”Yeah what about me?” Aether echo’s her question, finally pulling himself up.
  378. >Bright Eyes attention snaps to the stallion, “You’ll be removing all those runes from the floor of your bunk from last night” The gem-eyed mare continues before Aether can argue back “And! The floors in the rest of this place need a good scrub.”
  379. >”Great…” Aether mumbles as he sulks out of the mess room.
  380. >”And Mini, I presume it's your night off.” Bright Eyes turns towards her.
  381. >The silent twin nods with a warm smile.
  382. >”Anything planned?”
  383. >Mini mimes an opera singer singing her highest notes with one hoof on her chest.
  384.  >”Singing lessons hmm?”
  385. >Mini silently chuckles before nodding.
  386. >”Always a comedian.”Bright Eyes closes her newspaper and stands up sighs. “Another night of paperwork for me then. See you two at first light for the debrief.”
  387.  
  388. >You and Dawn Light descend the steps of the castle into the city below.
  389. >The sky is a deep purple as the moon shines its fullest lighting up the streets in a cool deep blue.
  390. >As you both walk the cobbled streets in the medieval-esque city, the guards perform their changeover.
  391. >You have to admit the change over ritual is pretty neat to watch, a nightguard would carry a torch and light the streetlamps where a night guard is standing. After saying their oaths to the princesses the night guard will salute the other.
  392. >”I used to love getting up early and watching the changeover of the guard…” Dawn says as she trots beside you donned in her kevlar-like armor with two saddlebags on each side that probably carried the same weight as your backpack.
  393. “It is pretty cool to watch…” You reply, still watching them. “So, where are we heading?”
  394. >”Hmm? Oh right, just across town. There’s a family who hears strange sounds in their attic during the night.”
  395. “Might be rodents.”
  396. >”Could be, but the report says that the family thought the same thing. They hired somepony to deal with the problem. After thirty minutes the pony they hired ran out of the house screaming.”
  397. “Scared of mice probably?”
  398. >Dawn laughs, “There’s more to it. After that ordeal the family had a young nephew stay over for a few days, the young colt ended up being very ill with a strange ailment.”
  399. “Is he okay?”
  400. >”He is, as soon the doctor told them to take him to hospital, the symptoms went away before even reaching the end of the street. It was as if he was never ill.”  
  401. “Then what do you think it is?”
  402. >You co-agent pauses and bites down on her lower lip deep in thought, “I think I’ll let you find out for yourself. You’ve been asking all the right questions so far.”
  403. “I have?”
  404. >”Yep, now down here, should be one of these houses.”
  405. >You both turn to follow the row of old attached houses, now and again stopping to check the house number.
  406. >”Number twenty two. I think it's this one.” Dawn calls out to you from across the street.
  407. >As you cross the empty street Dawn pulls off her saddlebag and rummages through it.
  408. “Shouldn’t we knock?”
  409. >”No, the families are not in, they’re staying at a friend's house during our investigation...There it is.” Dawn pulls out a big key from the bag.
  410. >Holding the key in her mouth she unlocks the wooden front door and pushes it open with her wing. “Afffer you..” She says still holding the key.
  411. >You take a few cautious steps in and look around the dark hallway leading into the kitchen with a living room off to the side.
  412. >”Go on in Anon, the bumps don’t normally start until around midnight on most cases.”
  413. >You nod and head towards the kitchen and place the bag on the table.
  414. >”Good choice. Always use the room with the biggest table to set up base. Easier to organise stuff.” Dawn places her saddlebags on the table and pulls out a small pink stick. She cracks it on the side, in a few seconds the area around her glows pink. “You got one in your bag too.”
  415. >You open your backpack and pull out a glow stick similar to hers.
  416. >You hit it on the table, like before your glows green.
  417. “Have we all got different colors? And besides I thought you bat ponies have night vision.”
  418. >”It's mostly so we know who is there from a distance. I guess for you it's mostly to see what you are doing. I take it you can still see somewhat yeah?”
  419. You nod, “My eyes will adjust soon enough.”
  420. >”Now. The boring part. We need to survey the house, while we do that I’ll introduce you to more of your kit.”
  421. “Sounds good to me.”
  422. >”If you get your Ki-meter it looks like this..” Dawn pulls out a box from her saddlebags.
  423. >After a few seconds of searching you pull out something similar.
  424. >”This box is your best friend, eyes and ears.” Your new mentor continues, “Keep it with you whenever you leave base.”
  425. “Alright, but I have no idea what these dials are reading.”
  426. >”It’s simple, that first needle we call Zen, that measures the background magic, if the needles slowly move back and forth it means the area you are in is harmonic, it will oscillate more erratically if the magic becomes more chaotic. So if that happens, run.”
  427. You watch the needle sway back and forth in a slow steady rhythm. “Alright I get it. And the next?”
  428. >”The middle one is Ki. A term borrowed from the Kirins, it measures life energies. At the moment it should be around the two mark. That means it's detecting you. But if I stand a little closer, see it jumps to four.”
  429. “I guess if it jumps two six with just us two then there something here?”
  430. >”Correct. Now the last one, Tau. Like Zen it measures magic but instead of Harmonic and Chaos, it measures Light and Dark. If you look now it should be ticking around one. That means there is no dark magic nearby.”
  431. >Like she said, the needle hovers around one.
  432. “Say for instance Zen was normal, but Tau was around seven, that would be there's Dark Harmonic Magic right? That makes no sense.”
  433. >”Alright, basic magic one oh one. When we say Harmony and Chaos, we talk about what state the magic fields are in. If they are flowing slowly and in rhythm they are Hamonic, if they are out of sync and flowing fast then they are Chaotic. You know of Discord?”
  434. You hesitate, “...Yeah.”
  435. >”Well he uses Light Chaos magic so to speak. While when Luna was Nightmare Night, she used Dark Harmonic. There more to it than that, but that's the nutshell.”
  436.  “I think I got a rough idea,” You continue to watch the dial on the Ki-meter.
  437. >”Just remember this, we call it a Ki-meter due we mostly just use it for that. If you're using the Zen or Tau then you should probably be running instead.”
  438. >Dawn tucks her glow stick into a strap of her armor, and you do the same.
  439. >”Now lets survey the house. The kitchen seems fine, so let's start with the living room.”
  440.  
  441. >You both go room by room calling clear after a few minutes watching the Ki-meters.
  442. >Once finished the two bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs meets on the landing.
  443. “It all seems clear to me.”
  444. >”That's because we only tested the baseline for each room. Now we know if we enter the room and it gives another reading we know the environment has changed-.” Dawn's ears twitch, she holds up a hoof to stay silent. “You hear that?”
  445. >You listen, just above your head you hear what seem to be a few sudden hoof steps. Slowly you raise your Kit-meter and place the back of it on the ceiling. The needle starts to creep up to five, before falling back to four.
  446. >”Well?” Dawn looks up at you eagerly.
  447. “It reached five then dropped to four.”
  448. >”Not a huge jump, could be a false positive. But along with those hoof steps, that warrants an investigation of the attic...”
  449. >Dawn flaps her wings and hovers a few feet from the floor. “Come on, let's open that hatch.”
  450. >You turn on your heel and walk towards the ceiling hatch, pulling the string the hatch opens with a loud clunk.
  451. >”Hmm, the ladder seems to be stuck, give me a moment.”
  452. >You watch your co-worker fly up through the hatch without a second thought. This mare must have some guts or just reckless.
  453. “Is it caught on anything?” You call up to the attic.
  454. >You wait for a reply
  455. “Dawn?” You feel a little worry form in the pit of your stomach. “Are you alright?”
  456. >The ladder suddenly clicks and slides down missing your head by a few inches.
  457. “Hey watch it! That would’ve hurt!” You yell.
  458. >Once again no reply.
  459. “Alright I’m coming up.”
  460. >You put a foot on the bottom step and start to climb up with the Ki-meter in hand. You pull yourself up into the attic space. The glow stick attached to your armor lights up the area around you. You see silhouettes of boxes and old furniture stack carelessly.
  461. >The air is dusty but thick as the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
  462. “Dawn?”
  463. >You pull your legs up and crouch not to bash your head on the low room beams.
  464. “Dawn, if this is a prank for the newbies, then you got me.” You say keeping the eye on the Ki-meter.
  465. >”Shhh!” Dawn hushes you before pulling you by the hand. “Come here.”
  466. >She pulls you a few feet to the right.
  467. >”Now stay in the ring” The bat pony whispers pointing down. “Epon’ salt.
  468. “Should I be worried?” You ask, matching the volume of her voice.
  469. >Checking your meter once again, the needle sits comfortably at five. Something else is here.
  470. >”No just a precaution...Now listen…”
  471. >You stare into the darkness, as you focus on every sound you can hear.
  472. >From the far side of the attic you can hear faint knocking.
  473. “I hear knocking…”
  474. >”I think that’s our ghost. Now, this is the fun bit, what's the reading on the meter?”
  475. “Zen harmonic, Ki Five, Tau one...Did I say that right?”
  476. >”Yeah spot on, That means there is more life energy then there should be, and our ghost seems harmonic and probably not a demon or dark spirit. Though do keep your eye on Tau, demons can easily fool you, hence the salt circle.”
  477. “If the meter picks up me and you, I guess we count as two Ki each?”
  478. >”Correct, though use the dial on the side to fine tune it.”
  479. >You run a finger down the side of the device until you feel the bumpy edge of the dial, you scroll it down.
  480. >The needle on Ki drops to three.
  481. “So now I guess we count as one Ki each.”
  482. >Dawn nods, “It's important to fine tune when needs be, especially if you are in a fall unit. Else you might end up detecting another agent upstairs or in the next room. Now let's find out who this spook is. You want to ask a question?”
  483. “Sure, like what?”
  484. >”Do simple yes or no questions. First ask is anypony there, one knock for yes, two for no.”
  485. “Alright,” You glance back into the darkness, “Is anypony there, one knock for yes, two for no.”
  486. >You both listen intently for a few moments.
  487. >Sure enough one distinct quiet knock comes from the far end of the attic.
  488. >”Good, now we know it's not a residual haunting. This spirit is aware of our presents. Ask another, maybe ‘are you a mare or a stallion’. One knock for mare, two for stallion.”
  489. >You repeat Dawn's question.
  490. >Another brief moment passes before one knock comes from behind you. Followed by another two.
  491. >Slightly unnerved you start to desperately see where it came from.
  492. >”It's alright,” You feel Dawn's hoof press against your side. “They do move, they probably wanted to take a closer look at us.”
  493. “But does three knocks mean?”
  494. >”Not sure, but I have a supposition we asked the wrong question, ask if it's a filly or a colt.”
  495. “Are you a filly or a colt?”
  496. >You feel the floorboards vibrate from a knock just outside the salt ring. Instinctively you look where you felt it.
  497. >A small black mass shoot away from you before disappearing behind some boxes.
  498. “Did you see that!”
  499. >”Calm down, you scared her.”
  500. “What do you mean I scared a ghost!”
  501. >”Shh, I’ll take it from here.”
  502. >Dawn takes a step out of the salt circle and speaks in a motherly tone. “It’s okay, we’re here to help you.”
  503. >A few boxes tumble onto the floor spilling out old antiques from years before.
  504. >Your co-agent sighs and switches to stern mother mode. ”Come on now, I’ve seen far more scarer stuff than that young filly. I know you’ve been here for a long time and your parents are waiting for you. You do love them right?”
  505. >A knock appears from close to you, a moment after four consecutive knocks.
  506. >”That’s Anonymous, he’s a friend. Now don’t change the subject, Your parents are waiting for you. It’s time to go.”
  507. >Another two knocks raps out.
  508. >”You’ve been making a young colt very ill, haven't you.”
  509. >You run your hand down to your stomach, as sudden nausea starts to make you feel dizzy.
  510. “Dawn, I feel sick all of a sudden…” You state before a sickly burp bubbles up your windpipe.
  511. >”Just relax,” Dawn wipers before returning to her previous tone, “You're making Anonymous here feel sick. Are you trying to tell us something?”
  512. >Knock.
  513. >”I already know, you died during the great plague didn't you.”
  514. >Knock.
  515. >”That was Five Hundred years ago. I think it's time to let this family live in peace, we know your story, Thatch Straw, your parents are waiting.”
  516. >Dawn turns and smiles at you, you can tell it's these moments she enjoys the most.
  517. >The thick air dissipates with your nausea, the mood of the attic changes with it.
  518. “Is she gone?”
  519. >”Sure is.”
  520. ”How did you know all that?”
  521. >”Research, always look into the history of the house or grounds. During the great plague, this area of Canterlot were the slums, sadly it was here the ponies were hit the hardest.”
  522. “Then you checked the death register from that era?”
  523. >”Yep, took me all night to match the name with the address. A small filly died in one of the bedrooms…”
  524. “The why haunt the attic?”
  525. >”Her body was stored up here, these houses don’t have a basement. It was well reported that it took days before a coroner came to take the dead. In the middle of summer I cannot imagine the stench in this part of town back then.”
  526. “That’s pretty grim.”
  527. >”From the accounts, it sure was…” Dawn sighs, “Lets get packed up. We still got a few more hours until first light, so let's hit the town for some fun, hmm?”
  528. “We can do that?”
  529. >”Sure can. Plus we’re still working, so expenses are paid for.”
  530.  
  531. >It didn’t take long to pack up, lock the door and head out into the cool midnight cobbled streets.
  532. >”You haven’t stopped smiling since we started packing up. I take it you enjoyed our little mission?” Dawn asks lazily flapping next to you.
  533. “Yeah, in fact I did. Knowing that filly is at rest gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.”
  534. >”I get that too, it means you are a good pon- err monke- ahh…”
  535. You laugh as Dawn trips over her words. “Person. Not a monkey either.”
  536. >”Sorry. You know it's weird, you're a cryptid but it's like talking to another pony sometimes. It’s almost like you're not a furless bipedal primate.”
  537. “Technically, I’m an alien from Planet Earth.” You pause and raise a hand with your palm facing Dawn. “I come in peace, take me to your leader!” You say in a cheesy stereotypical martian voice.
  538. >Dawn giggles ”...Really? How come SMILE, hasn’t caught you yet?”
  539. “Trust me they tried. Took them all day to prize me out of Celestia bathroom...Long story, Besides, SMILE is supposed to be top secret.”
  540. >”We work with them time to time. Ugh, trust me if you're on an assignment with them, just keep out of the way.  It’s all protocol this, report that...Makes me want to kick those stupid shades right off their faces.”
  541. “Sounds like a bad history with them.”
  542. >”Some. The assignments always end in arguments on who is leading who. They think that because they’re governed by Celestia we should kiss the ground they walk on.”
  543. >You continue to walk down the streets, turning a corner you recognize the area, Main Street, instead of bustling with life, the street lays empty, except for a few guards.
  544.  
  545. >Dawn nudges you down an alleyway, “This way~” She sings.
  546. “I imagined going to a bar, not to be mugged…” You reply.
  547. >”We are going to a bar, this ones the best one. Everypony from PHEER drinks here.”
  548. “Something tells me this place is a dive…”
  549. >”How did you guess?” Dawn laughs, “Now down here~” She sings again.
  550. >The bat pony glides down a set of stairs that seems to be an entry to an old wine cellar.
  551. >You descend the flight of stairs and wait behind her as she bangs on the rusty metal door.
  552. >”Let me do the talking,” Dawn whispers before you hear a grinding metal latch slide across on the other side of the door.
  553. >The rust metal door opens an inch.
  554. >”Last orders rang two hours ago. Leave.” A gravelly voice grumbles out.
  555. >”I guess the bell tolls.” Dawn replies.
  556. >The door opens wide and Dawn trots on in.
  557. >You go to follow only to find a grey monster of an Earth pony blocking your way.
  558. >He stares at you with tired dark blue eyes. “Not you.” He orders.
  559. >You’ve dealt with bouncers back on Earth before. And mostly lost, but this time arguing with such a beast would land you worse from wear.
  560. >”Are you coming or what Anon?” Dawn asks as she squeezes by the massive bulk of muscle.
  561. “He’s not letting me in.”
  562. >”Oh just ignore him, come on.” She waves you in with a hoof.
  563. “I don’t think he’ll let me pass.”
  564. >”You’ll let him in wouldn’t you Buff?” Your co-agent asks the bouncer.
  565. >”No.” Buff replies sternly.
  566. > Dawn sighs and slips back into the bar ”Wait there Anon, I’ll talk to the owner to let you in. Stay there. You look after him, Buff.”
  567. >Buff grunts as he continues to stare you down.
  568. >From where you stand you can smell his overpowering aftershave assault your senses.
  569. >Seriously did he bath in it or something?
  570. “So…” You rub the back of your head. “Nice night huh?”
  571. >The bouncer grunts again for a reply.
  572. “...Busy night? You look tired.”
  573. >He grunts again.
  574. >You figure that the small talk isn’t working, so you just grunt back.
  575. >Bulk narrows his eyes and grunts a little louder.
  576. >In acceptance of his challenge you grunt back.
  577. >He grunts back.
  578. >You grunt forth.
  579. >”What are you two doing?” Dawn's voice comes from the grunting stallion.
  580. >”Let him in Buff,” A male voice calls from the bar.
  581. >Buff grunts and steps aside.
  582. >You step in through the door, Buff head tracks you as you walk past the mass of muscle.
  583. >You pause your footing and nod at him and grunt again for a thank you. In which he grunts back.
  584. >”I wouldn’t wind him out too much Anon. Ask Aether if you want to know the outcome if you push Buff too far.” Dawn says as you follow her into the bar.
  585.  
  586. >The smell of stale smoke and booze hit your senses, your suspicions are correct this place is a dive. The round tables that dotted the room are old, chipped, and graffitied with the chairs to match. You half expected this place to be crammed, but only a few ponies seem to be a patron here, the majority being off-duty nightguards.
  587. >”Well I never thought I’ll have a cryptid in my bar.” The bar owner calls out from the bar.
  588. >The bar owner wore an off-white apron to contrast with his dull dark purple coat and black mane. He polishes a glass in his front hooves, waiting for your reply.
  589. “More like an alien. I come in peace and all that…” You shrug.
  590. >The stallion laughs, “I like you, the name’s Tender, do you know what beer is?”
  591. “Pint, no large head.”
  592. >”You’ll get what you're given, besides the ones in the house. Accept it as a peace offering between our planets.”
  593. >You smirk and walk towards the bar, as Tender slides a pint glass over to you.
  594. >”Anon, I need to talk to Tender a minute. Why don’t you find a table?” Dawn asks with a smile.
  595. “Sure,” You shrug, you scan the room to find a table, probably not one in the middle, nor too near the bar.
  596. >Among the tables you spot a familiar face with her hoof on her cheek with a disappointed expression.
  597. “Mini?” You ask as you walk over to her.
  598. >You notice her deep ocean blue mane, done into a styled ponytail, with two bangs on either side of her face.
  599. >She looks up with her large orange eyes and cocks her head to one side.
  600. “I thought that was you.” You point at the empty chair opposite her, “Is this one taken?”
  601. >Mini shrugs and waves a hoof, to signal ‘do as you wish’
  602. Placing your free pint on the table, you pull out the chair and sit down “Something tells me tonight didn’t go as planned.”
  603. >The silent bat pony frowns and points at a still full pint glass that sat next to yours.
  604. “So someone walked on you? A date?”
  605. >Mini nods slowly.
  606. “Ouch, you know, this reminds me of my first date…” You start with a reassuring smile, “I manage to pull a nice blonde back on Earth, outgoing, nice legs, beautiful eyes she had it all. I decided to take her to the fanciest restaurant in town…”
  607. >As you continue with your story Mini’s expression changes to something a bit more content as she listens.
  608. “...The meal went fine and I called the tab and we headed home,” You huff and shake your head, “The odd part of it is that she asked me to drop her at a house thirty miles outside of town. Well, me being me, I agreed and we set of in my car-”
  609. >Upon hearing the word car Mini gives a confused expression with a shrug.
  610. “It’s a chariot that has a machine that pulls it instead of a horse-pony or whatever. Gets you to A to B fast.”
  611. >You curse yourself at that description, but with a nod from her, you guess she had a rough idea.
  612. “So everything seemed fine until she pulled out a gun -err bit like a salt blaster or musket but smaller,  from her purse, being weaponless, she ordered me to pull over…”
  613. >With her hooves held up to her mouth, Mini mimes a soundless gasp.
  614. “Yeah, once outside she ordered me to give over all my possessions then strip. Then proceeded to put it all in the car and drove off. Leaving me miles from town, butt naked and alone...So she kind of ‘walked’ on me”
  615. >Mini couldn’t quite look at you in the eyes as a smirk form behind her hooves.
  616. “You can laugh, that’s all I can do when I think about it.” You smile.
  617. >Her hooves drop as she laughs silently before wiping a tear from her eye. For some reason, you feel that she found that more funny than it should be.
  618. >You feel a puff of air in your ear followed by another assault of aftershave.
  619. >Turning your head you see the familiar pair of tired blue eyes glaring at you.
  620. >”Is this creature bothering you Miss?” Buff asks Mini.
  621. >The bat mare shakes her head and waves him down. She points at you then forms a ‘U’ by her mouth with her hooves indicating you were making her happy.
  622. >”Well any trouble let me know and I’ll send him out on his flank.”
  623. You tilt your head at Buff then back to Mini, “You know I bet Buff here is single.”
  624. >Mini smirks and flicks a hoof.
  625. “Yeah your right, too much of a talker. Can barely get a word in.”
  626. >Buff puts his muzzle inches from your cheek and snorts a blast of air at you then leaves.
  627. “Actually, he’s probably deep down he’s a sweetheart…”
  628. >Mini rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
  629. >”Anon?” Dawn calls out as she trots towards you, “Oh, hi Mini!”
  630. >Mini waves at Dawn Light with a warm friendly smile.
  631. >”Actually it’s good that you're here Mini, I need you to fly back to base and notify Bright Eyes we got a situation here, its to do with the catacombs”
  632. >Mini’s smile drops into a face of worry.
  633. >”Hopefully it’s nothing, but we may need back up.” Dawn returns her attention to you as Mini downs her drink and quickly leaves. “I know it’s your first night on the job, but we need everypony we can get.”
  634. “What happened?”
  635. >”Three amature ghost hunters have slipped into the catacombs using an entrance from this bar.” Dawn motions you to follow. “I’ll show you.”
  636.  
  637. >You follow her across the room and behind the bar counter and through a door with a ‘staff only’ sign. Once through the door, you walk through a storage area that shares a space with an office. At the back of the storeroom, a large metal door stands along with the bar owner and two-night guards.
  638. >”I’ve already told you, they asked a few hours ago if they can go in, I said no. This isn’t my fault. The idiots must have slipped by me.” Tender tells the guard, who is getting more irritated as the bar owner tries to deflect any accusation.
  639. >”Then why haven’t you reported them missing till now?” One guard speaks up.
  640. >”Because this door here leads to the Canterlot tunnels, access to the catacombs has been blocked off. I’ve been hoping they realise it's a dead end and come back.”
  641. >”Then how do you know they went down there?”
  642. >”The tunnel this door contacts too is only a quarter mile long,” Tender notices you and Dawn and points to her, “I sent Dawn here to search for them.”
  643. >”Knowing the dangers you sent another pony in?” The second guard now speaks up, more irritated than the other.
  644. >”Calm down, I've been with PHEER for a long time, I can handle myself in those tunnels.” Dawn cuts in.
  645. >The two guards look up at you with suspicion with a hint of wonder.
  646. >”He is too, he’s our friendly neighborhood human.” She adds.
  647. “Hey.” You lift a hand.
  648. >”You’re the monkey creature that's been staying at the castle, right?” A guard asks.
  649. >You nod.
  650. >After that, the guards lose interest in you and return their attention to Tender.
  651. >The bar owner groans, “So much for talking me into telling the Guard Dawn.”
  652. >”It’s the right thing to do, besides that means I can help and get the proper equipment we need.”
  653. >”A simple search party is what I had in mind.”
  654. “I would have agreed” Dawn replies and places a hoof on the door handle, “Because it’s this i'm worried about!” Your co-agent yanks open the door to reveal deep scratch marks bored deep in the metal.
  655. >Tender stares at them in shock then back to Dawn.
  656. >”Whatever is in there, is trying to either escape, or after something in your bar.”
  657. >The guards look at each other and nod, “Tender, we will be issuing a fine, or an unreported entry to the catacombs.”
  658. >”What! I told you it’s been blocked off. It was the first thing I had done when I moved in.”
  659. >”Maybe we should bring you in for neglect of public safety too Mr Tender. If you knew the dangers you should have gone in after them. We both know you're more than qualified to do so.”
  660. >”If I go in there I will die. Then you will have a bigger problem on your hooves.” Tender barks back.
  661. >”Coward. No wonder you left PHEER, Mr Tender.”
  662. >The look on the bar owner's face, tells that he was inches away from battering them both.
  663.  
  664. >”Anon.” Dawn grabs your attention, “This is a big ask, but I’ll need you to come with me, we need to secure the entrance of the catacombs and set up base.”
  665. “I feel like I’m getting into the deep end.”
  666. >”You won't be expected to enter the catacombs itself as it’s the first night on the job.”
  667. >You nod, you reach into your backpack and pull out another glowstick, give it a good whack on your thigh, you attach it to your armor.
  668. “After you then Dawn,” You motion towards the door with your hand.
  669.  
  670. >The air is surprisingly thick and stuffy in the Canterlot Tunnels.
  671. >You can hear drips and knocks behind the black veil of the darkness. You have to admit this place as you are really on edge.
  672. >What didn’t help is that your glow stick only lit up a few feet in front of you.
  673. >”Stay calm Anonymous.” Dawn reassures you.
  674. “I am calm.” You lie you do have the spooks.
  675. >”Really, then why are you breathing heavy? And why I can smell your sweat from here…”
  676. >You glance at the bat pony, then give yourself a quick sniff hoping it didn’t smell too bad.
  677. “It’s the hot air, it’s stuffy in here.”
  678. >”It is a bit, be sure to keep your fear under control.” Dawn warns.
  679. “I never knew the Canterlot had catacombs…” You change the subject to keep your mind off your situation.
  680. >”Hmm? Ah right, you remember when I told you about the great plague?”
  681. “Yeah, let me guess they graveyards ended up full so they buried the dead in the mines under the city?”
  682. >Dawn looks at you in surprise bathed in the pink light from her glowstick. “That’s some guess but that’s correct. There’s around a million bodies buried down here, as other nearby towns and villages ended up with the same problem.”
  683. “Sounds like Paris.”
  684. >”Paris?”
  685. “A city on Earth, they had a similar issue with burning the dead. So they converted the old mines into tombs, there’s around six to seven million bodies underneath the city.”
  686. >”Seven mil...That’s incredible.”
  687. “Creepy if you ask me. I read an article about it how people set up cinemas and bars down there.”
  688. >”That actually sounds pretty awesome, though it’ll be hard to keep everypony safe from the paranormal with that amount of dead in one place.”
  689. “Actually there are only a few accounts of the paranormal down there and that’s with hundreds of tours and teenagers breaking in every day.”
  690. >”Isn’t there ghosts in your world?”
  691. “We don’t know. Some say they have seen one, some don’t believe in them. Others don’t really care.” You shrug, “All I can say there is no scientific certainty of their existence.”
  692. >”Next you will say there is no magic…”
  693. >You look down at her with a smirk.
  694. >”Oh buck off, without magic you humans wouldn’t exist. It’s the fundamental part of life.”
  695. “I’m serious, no magic in my world.”
  696. >Dawn stops and pulls out her Ki-meter from her bag. “Four Ki’s, if your world or you didn’t have magic then you wouldn’t be alive or coming up on the Ki-meter for that matter.”
  697. You rub your temples, “I had this argument with Celestia's student, honestly, I can’t be bothered to go through it again. So can we agree to disagree?”
  698. >Dawn thinks for a bit while tapping her chin with the edge of the Ki-meter. “Hmm...No this isn’t finished. Anyway we’re here.” She points to a large crack in the floor next to the tunnel wall.
  699. “Are you sure that's the entrance?”
  700. >”It has to be, any further you’ll reach a cave in. No pony is getting though there.” Your co-agent replies, dropping her saddlebags on the floor. “Grab some salt from your bag and help me create a circle. Luna knows what is lurking around here.”
  701. “Sure,” You nod.
  702. >You open your backpack and pull out a bag of Epon’ Salt and tear off the corner with your teeth. Slowly you start forming a large circle along with Dawn.
  703. >”Good, now we need to light this place up. In your bag there should be some candles.”
  704. >You nod again and search for the candles. Sure enough, you find two thick waxy candles at the bottom of your backpack. You place them on the floor and lit them using your trusty lighter.
  705. “That’s done,” You mutter, before turning to Dawn Light, “Now what?”
  706. >”We wait for the others,” The bat pony replies as she sits on her haunches. “They shouldn’t be long.”
  707. >You gaze into the darkness, not sure if you are seeing shadows or hallucinations. But you would feel more relaxed when the others get here.
  708. >A shiver shoots down your spine, as you wonder what it’ll be like to be trapped down here, alone and with no light. No one would be able to hear you.
  709. >You jump as you feel a hoof be placed on your shoulder.
  710. >”Don’t stare into the dark if you don’t need to. Your mind will end up putting stuff there for you, and trust me, the things inside of your head are far scarier than any ghost or ghoul.”
  711. “Sorry, I was just wondering what I’ll be like to be trapped down here…”
  712. >”Luckily, that's not your fate. But Tender will die down here.” Dawn mentions it as mere fact.
  713. “That’s why he didn’t go after them?”
  714. >Dawn nods. “As the guard said, Tender was a part of PHEER, though, a part of the Bravo team. His vision was him falling into a bone pit in the catacombs, with broken legs and wings. He crawled around in a screaming mass of dying ponies until he died of dehydration a few days later.”
  715. “Damn that’s messed up. I guess that’s why he left PHEER?”
  716. >Dawn nods, “He managed to stay for a year, but the anxiety got the better of him. Every briefing before an assignment he becomes a nervous wreck, as he fears one day he’ll be sent down here.”
  717. “He could say no right?”
  718. >”He could. You have every right to. But whatever your choice, it’ll end up that way. When he brought this place he had no idea it connected straight to the catacombs., sadly it’s only a matter of time.”
  719. “No matter what we do…” You trail off into your thoughts.
  720. >A part of you wish you never looked into that skull. It’s almost as if your life is one massive spoiler now.
  721. >What makes things worse is how Aether called you buddy and how he acted. There is no point in denying that you will become good friends.
  722. >You think about Aethers and Molo’s vision, does Molo accidentally kill Aether after he kills you?
  723. >That doesn’t make sense, he said he falls from a multistory building.
  724. >Maybe he takes a swan dive from a hospital window after doing his deed.
  725. >You groan and rub your temples.
  726. >”You alright there Anon?” Dawn asks.
  727. “Yeah, just working stuff out.”
  728. >”Anon, either way, you will one day die. Try and live what time you have to the fullest.”
  729. “I guess,” You turn to Dawn Light, “What was your vision?”
  730. >Dawn's ears fall flat then glances away from you, then to the floor.
  731. “Dawn?”
  732. >Without looking up the answers. ”Don’t hate me for it, but I die alone in my bed at a grand old age.”
  733. “Why would I hate you for that?”
  734. >”Because others do. They get jealous.”
  735. >You can see why, all the ones you’ve heard have been either brutal or a nasty way to go.
  736. >But knowing everyone around you that you care about will die before you. Is that just as bad?
  737. “Thinking about it, I’m not, well, jealous that is.” You sit down on the stone floor beside her. Resting your wrists on your knees you continue, “Knowing that everyone in your unit is going to die horrible deaths and you will have to live through it. I imagine it's going to be horrible.”
  738. >Dawn looks at you wide-eyed.
  739. “Uh...Did I say something wrong?”
  740. >”The last bit, say it again…” She asks.
  741. “...I imagine it's going to be horrible.”
  742.  >Her eyes soften as a solemn smile grows on her face, “Thanks Anon, you don’t know what it means to hear somepony say that.”
  743. “Your welcome?”
  744.  
  745. >”Hey! Anon? Dawn? Is that you?” You hear Aethers voice shout down from the tunnel.
  746. >You and Dawn’s attention is drawn down the tunnel, Four lights appear in the darkness slowly bobbing. Two orange, one deep green, and one a yellowish-green mix.
  747. >The yellowish-green light speeds up towards you, you hear hoof steps break into a trot.
  748. >Eventually you see Aether's face light up in the candlelight, he's panting, probably running with multiple heavy saddlebags and supplies on his back.
  749. “Aether?” You ask.
  750. >”Hey buddy,” He pants, “Give me a second, ugh…” He steps into the salt circle and falls to his haunches causing everything to slide off his back into a heap, “Had to carry your E and R equipment.”
  751. “E and R?”
  752. >”Extraction and Recon. So your salt blaster, magic charges, salt rocks, water canister, and spare glow sticks…”
  753. “That doesn't seem that much-”
  754. >”And... locator gem, spare candles, sleeping bag, charms and wards, sage burner, equipment belt…”
  755. “Okay I get the point.”
  756. >”On top of that I had to bring my-” He continues before Molo appears and shoves a hoof in his mouth.
  757. >”That's enough Aether.” Molo snaps. “We had to put up with your complaining all the way he- ARE YOU LICKING MY HOOF!” She quickly draws back her saliva-covered hoof, “What is wrong with you!”
  758. >”Sorry Molo, you shoved it in my mouth, and I thought it was your thing,” Aether shrugs.
  759. >”I’m going to beat you…” Molo grits her teeth with her hoof ready to strike.
  760. >”That’s enough Molo, Aether, just stop.” Bright Eyes' voice comes from the darkness as Two emeralds light up in the candlelight. “Everypony here?”
  761. >”Aether Reporting.”
  762. >”Dawn Reporting.”
  763. >Molo lowers her hoof and grumbles ”...Molo Reporting.”
  764. >Mini simply waves.
  765. “Anon Reporting.” You finally add.
  766. >”Good, time for the briefing.” Bright Eyes joins everyone else in the salt circle. “We have three lost ponies playing ghost hunters somewhere in the catacombs. We do not know what we will encounter down in there, so stay in groups of three. Do not go alone and keep your salt blaster and locators on you at all times…” The gem-eyed mare turns to Mini, “Sorry Mini for dragging you from your day off, at least you’ll get double pay tonight.”
  767. >Mini grins and rubs her hooves together greedily.
  768. >”And Anon,” Bright Eyes turns to you, “I know this is the first day on the job, you are not expected to leave base, unless the situation calls for it.”
  769. >You nod in understanding.
  770. >”Dawn do you have a preliminary report?”
  771. >”I do,” Dawn speaks up, “I have found deep scratch marks on the door of the bar. The air in this tunnel is dense, possible paranormal activity.”
  772. >”Noted. Thank you Dawn. Now Mini, Molo, you're coming with me, we are covering the first layer of the tombs. Aether, Dawn, Anon, you three will be staying up here. Set up a receiver for our locators and make note of any possible paranormal events up here. Also keep an eye out for Bravo Team, they will be here in a few hours to relieve us from the night shift.”
  773. >Everyone nods and agrees with her plan then proceeds to gather their gear.
  774. >Shortly after suiting up, Molo, Mini, and Bright Eyes squeeze through the crack in the floor and descend into the catacombs below.
  775.  
  776. >Dawn pulls out another device from her saddlebags then places it on the floor.
  777. >You walk over and inspect it as she sets it up by slotting in flat gems into a wooden panel. After she starts flicking a few toggle switches on the side of the box.
  778. >”It’s a receiver. It lets us know they are still alive and their activity.”  Dawn starts to explain the function of the device, “You can probably guess with the colors they are flashing that Molo, Mini and Bright have their locator gems on.”
  779. “What does the flashing mean?” You ask.
  780. >”It means they are moving, the faster it flashes the more movement they are doing, by the looks of it they are walking slowly.”
  781. “That’s pretty neat, so how does it locate them?”
  782. >”This device doesn’t, but the locator gems themselves have another magic function that if smashed they let out a loud high pitch signal, so you locate them that way.”
  783. >”Here’s your gem Anon.” Aether passes over a locator gem with his leathery wing.
  784. >You take it and roll it in your hand. A swirl of magical aura swirls inside in the perfectly cut gem. You squeeze it a little.
  785. “Are they hard to break?”
  786. >”Of course they are, they’re gems, but when you're in a panic and trapped, I can guarantee you can break it in one go.” Aether replies as he rolls out his sleeping bag.
  787. “Are we sleeping here?”
  788. >”Since it dawn in around two hours, I would suggest a power nap. These things can go on for multiple nights.” Dawn chimes in as she rolls out her sleeping bag. “Though we have to take turns on watch in case the others need help.”
  789. >”Anyway bud, I’ve set yours up next to mine, plus the rest of your stuff is here too.” Aether rolls over on his side and pats your sleeping bag.
  790. “Couldn’t you do that any less creepy?” You ask.
  791. >”No.” The stallion bat pony laughs.
  792. “Why do I get the feeling that you’ll touch me in my sleep?”
  793. >Aether looks up at you with an obvious feigned hurt expression, “I wouldn’t do such a thing,” >His face breaks into a grin, “Only if you touch first.”
  794. “I’m not gay.”
  795. >”Me either, it’s only gay if the balls touch.” He shrugs.
  796. >You smirk and let out a chuckle.
  797. >Damn he’s got the same sense of humor as your friends back home.
  798. >You sigh and lay down next to Aether, who is reading a magazine. You squint at the front cover, of course, it has a mare in a pose.
  799. “Articles?”
  800. >”Articles.” Aether replies knowing exactly what you are on about.
  801. >”Stallions…” You hear Dawn mutter as she returns to watching the receiver.
  802. >Aether lowers his magazine and turns to Dawn Light, “Hey Dawn, when is Bravo Team getting here?”
  803. >”Probably first light knowing them.”
  804. “That reminds me, what's our team called?”
  805. >”Fodder Team.” Aether smirks.
  806. >”Don’t listen to him, we’re Foxtrot. There’s six teams, Alpha, Bravo, Crystal, Delta, Everfree, Foxtrot. Each team specialises in their own area. “Dawn explains, “Alpha specializes in magic anomalies, Bravo focuses on mysterious disappearances, Crystal well they are based in the Crystal Empire mostly the deal with Sombras residual dark magic, Delta...They...Hmm…I forget”
  807. >”They cover what we call forign paranormal, so Zebra witchdoctors, Kirin dark magic, Buffalo burial grounds, that kind of stuff. Just mostly curses.”
  808. >”Thanks Aether,” Dawn nods before continuing, “Then you got Everfree, that place is on another level when it comes to the supernatural, but the Everfree team seem to handle that besides they always have the element of harmony nearby...”
  809. ”And what do we specialise in?”
  810. >”We do support and deal with the public side of things.”
  811. >”We are supposed to protect the castle, but with two powerful alicorns inside, we’re pretty much obsolete.” Aether cuts in.
  812. >”We still get work Aether.”
  813. >”Yeah as either cannon fodder or your friendly neighborhood spook-away service.” The stallion shrugs before returning to his magazine. He reads for a little bit before turning to you, “I wonder if the bar is still open…”
  814. “Not sure, but thanks to this I ended up leaving my free pint.”
  815. >”Tender let one on the house? By Luna’s grace, he did mean it when he said he was stressed when we passed through his bar.”
  816. >You roll from your back onto your side to see how Dawn is doing.
  817. >Like a min disco, the lights from the receiver light up her face as she monitors it.
  818. “Everything okay?”
  819. >”Looks like the others are moving at pace. Though nothing seems to indicate they are in trouble.” Dawn focuses on an orange gem that flicks faster than the others. “Not sure if it’s Molo or Mini but they seem to be at a full sprint...What is going on down there.”
  820. >You sit up and walk towards the open crack that leads down below.
  821. >Staring into the void, something tugs at your primal instincts that something is down there.
  822. >You grab a candle and try to light up the entrance when something catches your eye on the wall.  
  823. >A hoof print, it must be about half of an inch thick. Plus the sheer size of it calls its mysteries into question.
  824. “Hey Dawn, can ponies crack stone with their hooves?”
  825. >”If they are a rock farmer with years of training. Why?”
  826. “It seems this hole is pony made, it’s got a large-”
  827. >Something cuts you off with a blood-curdling growl from the darkness.
  828. >You stumble back and kick yourself from the entrance.
  829. >Before you know it, Aether is already standing over you with a salt blaster under his wing throwing down flaming sage into the hole.
  830. >A black mist that's blacker than night emits from the crack, giving it no time to gather Aether fires a round of salt into it. Your ears ring as you cough from the smoke.
  831. >”Dawn, Tau reading.” He orders.
  832. >”Three.” Dawn replies already holding a K-meter in the hoof.
  833. >”This isn’t good. KI reading?”
  834. >”Eight, No it jumped to Ten…”
  835. >Hesitantly you look back down into the abyss, you spot a flash of orange as Aether loads another round.
  836. “Wait Aether! I see one of ours down there. I see the glow stick!” You claim to pull back his gun.
  837. >You all jump as a pale purple pegasus burst from the void scrabbling towards you.
  838. >Quickly you grab the mare by her front hooves and pull her into the circle.
  839. >Caught in the moment, you leave the sobbing mare to one side and return to the entrance.
  840. “Molo?” You shout into the darkness.
  841. >No answer.
  842. >It must be Mini down there.
  843. >A loud gunshot goes off followed by rapid hoof steps.
  844. >Eventually Mini shoots through the opening and crashlands in the circle, tumbling through the equipment.
  845. >”Check the ring! Make sure there are no breaks,” Dawn orders as she rushes to the pegasus mare.
  846. >”On it,” Aether replies as he follows along the salt circle with a salt bag.
  847. >As the other two were occupied you check on Mini who was in a heap covered in your equipment.
  848. “Mini? Are you okay?”
  849. >She blows her now messy blue mane from her face and sits up. Giving herself a once over she nods.
  850. “What the hells down there?”
  851. >Her eyes stare off into space for a while before slowly shaking her head. She points to the pegasus then to you.
  852. >You nod, she wants you to check on the survivor.
  853. >The pegasus screams and thrashes as Dawn holds her down.
  854. >”Relax! You’re safe!” Dawn shouts over the screaming.
  855. >The mare is hysterical, still screaming for us not to hurt her. Eventually, Dawn sighs and slaps the mare across the cheek.
  856. >”Listen! You are safe. Now we need to know what happened so we can save your friends.”
  857. >The pegasus mare shakes and looks at Dawn wide-eyed filled with tears.
  858. >”That’s it breathe…” Dawn orders gently, switching her tactics, “I want you to tell us what happened and we will get you to the surface.”
  859. >”M-my friends…”
  860. >”Far as we know, We haven't found them yet.” Dawn replies looking at Mini who shakes her head to confirm. “Can you tell us anything? Start from the beginning if you wish.”
  861. >Still breathing heavily, the mare starts to talk, “We- My friends and I heard about the ghosts in the Canterlot Catacombs, we decided to check it out for ourselves…”
  862. >Aether walks over and sits beside Dawn, “You know it’s closed for a reason right? It’s very dangerous down here.”
  863. >”We thought it was dangerous due to the cramped conditions and pitfalls…” The shaken mare replies.
  864. >”And you think ghosts and the paranormal aren't dangerous?” Dawn asks.
  865. >”We thought we would see some orbs or strange shadows or something. Hopefully capture some photos too. W-we done this hundreds times before…”
  866. >”So you thought this place would be like a haunted house?”
  867. >The mare nods. “I’ve seen ghosts before, but nothing like that!”
  868. >”The reason you don’t see things like that is that we work tirelessly to keep ponies like you safe.” Aether adds.
  869. >Dawn nods in agreement. “Now, I have every right to chew your ear off about why ghost hunting without doing the proper research is dangerous, but your friends may be still in danger. So tell me, where was the last place you saw them?”
  870. >”L-last place I saw them, is down there…”
  871. >”Where down there?”  
  872. >”The stairs to the second level as you reach the bone pits. Something pulled Far Harvest into the darkness, we tried looking for him…” The pegasus begins to work herself up again as fresh tears stream down her face. “Then when we-”
  873. >”Who was the other friend?” Aether cuts her off to ask another question.
  874. >”Daisy Meadows, she disappeared when she saw something and fled in terror. I tried calling her, but then something growled at me…”
  875. >”Okay, and what's your name?”
  876. >”Summer Winds.”
  877. >”Alright Summer, then what happened after?”
  878. >”I ran, as fast as I could. I’m not sure for how long, but I managed to find the first floor, that where I found you guys, well the three what was down there…”
  879. >”We had orders not to separate, how did you end up coming back with Mini over there?” Dawn Light points at her co-agent with a hoof.
  880. >”I’m not exactly sure, but the one with the weird eyes, told us to quickly start moving towards the exit. Before I knew it there was a lot of shouting, smoke and loud bangs. I was told to run towards the light where that pony,” She points to Mini “Lead me here.”
  881. >You take a look at Mini who is staring at the receiver, two lights are still blinking, but this time at a slower pace.
  882. >A voice from the tunnel catches your attention, “Bravo Team!”
  883. >You spin around to see six glowsticks in the distance.
  884. >”Foxtrot Team!” Aether shouts back.
  885. >A few moments later six new faces appear within the salt circle.
  886. >A tall stallion bat pony steps forward, his dark grey coat appears almost black in the candlelight, his dark purple swept-back mane.
  887. >He coughs into his hoof and speaks up, “Who’s in charge?”
  888. >”Bright Eyes.” Aether replies.
  889. >The bat pony huffs, “And where is she?”
  890. >”Down below,” This time Dawn replies.
  891. >”And do you realise there is a cryptid standing among you?”
  892. >”That’s Anon, the human. He’s our new member.”
  893. >”I see.” The tall stallion walks up to you, his eyes almost reach your chin, “Never seen your kind before,”
  894. “It’s a long story. In a nutshell, I’m an alien.”
  895. >Who you presume is Bravo Team's leader snorts, “No such thing.”
  896. “As a few others have said,” You shrug.
  897. >”Alright, tell me newbie, what’s the situation here?”
  898. “Had three amature ghost hunters trapped below. Two still missing one just been saved.” You point at the mare quietly sobbing into her hooves.
  899. >”How many of your team is down there?”
  900. “Bright Eyes and Molo.”
  901. >”Not names, I said how many.” He orders.
  902. “Then two.”
  903. >”Thank you.” With another huff, he turns to his team, “You three, I want a forward base just before the access to the second floor.”
  904. >”Yes sir,” They all bark before crawling through the gap.
  905. >”You two,” He fires a hoof at the remaining two. “Come with me, we will be covering the second floor.”
  906. “Wait, we had something attack us just befo-”
  907. >”Did I ask you any more questions?” The unit leader barks at you mere inches from your face.
  908. “No, but!”
  909. >”Why are you still talking?”
  910. “You see.”
  911. >”Silence!” He roars in your face before turning to follow his unit into the void.
  912. >You stand there dumbfounded at what transpired.
  913. >Aethers laughter breaks you from your state of shock, “Looks like you just met Nightwing.”
  914. “Talk about having a stick up his rear…”
  915. >”He’s a moron, damn idiot still thinks he’s a drill sergeant. I feel sorry for those who work with him,”
  916. “He’s going to get his team killed, he didn’t bother listening to me.”
  917. >”He may be a pain in the flank,” Dawn chimed in, “But he’s good at what he does plus his unit is trained to military precision, I wouldn’t worry.”
  918. >Everyone's attention turns back to the entrance of the catacombs when a black bag slides up through the gap.
  919. >”Oh...No..” Dawn sighs, before walking over and pulling the bag into the base.
  920. >Aether spending no time idling, put down fresh salt to patch up the break in the circle.
  921. >Seconds later Molo and Bright Eyes pull themselves up from the abyss.
  922. >Once again the pegasus mare starts sobbing again upon the sight of the black bag.
  923. >You stare at the bag with a sense of dread that weighs in the bottom of your stomach. That thing is a body bag.
  924. >Bright Eyes, noticing the sobbing from Summer Winds, rests a hoof on her withers. “It’s alright, we believe it's not one of your friends. By the look of things this stallion has been down here for days.”
  925. >The rest of your team crowd around the body, where Molo adds a tag on the zip.
  926. >”Looks like it must have been another wanderer.” Dawn speaks up.
  927. >Molo shakes her head and speaks in a hushed tone “More like a victim, of an absolute Ki drain.”
  928. “How can you tell?”
  929. >Molo unzips the bag to reveal the face of the stallion, “For one, we would all be gagging by now due to the smell of decomposition. But the telltale signs are the lack of color on the fur and..” Molo presses a hoof on the stallion's jaw and pushes down, giving a sickening crack, “When Ki is being drained from your body, it convulses and you end up chewing the inside of your mouth and tongue. That what a death rattle is, is your body freaking out due to the lack of instruction from spirit, but this poor soul must have been a food source for days.”
  930. >Bright Eyes joins the rest of the group around the body. “Everyone listen up. We will be acting as support for the Bravo Team. We have no ETA on the recovery of the two missing. Dawn, any updates you like to report?”
  931. >”Yes, we had a black mass encounter-” Dawn replies before being distracted by Mini who is waving and pointing to herself. “You saw it too, I take it?”
  932. >Mini nods.
  933. >”Then two encounters of a back mass anonmily, we had a reading of three Tau on the meter.”
  934. “There was also a growl,” You add, “I was inspecting a large hoof print on the side of the entrance before it happened.”
  935. >”A hoof print?” Bright Eyes turns and starts inspecting the entrance.
  936. “It's on the side on the wall.” You point.
  937. >”I see. Good observations Anonymous. It appears this entrance was made deliberately.”
  938.  
  939. >An unknown amount of hours has passed and everyone at base seems to have taken the opportunity to have a rest. Aether, once again, snoring like a train with his smutty magazine covering his face. Dawn is curled up in a ball on her sleeping bag.
  940. >You couldn’t help but smile at Mini and Molo who were sleeping in a pony pile.  
  941. >The only one who seems to be awake is Bright Eyes, next to a few candles she flips through some paperwork and books.
  942. “Heard from Bravo Team?” You ask the gem-eyed mare.
  943. >She shakes her head without breaking from her paperwork. “Two returned earlier with another body bag. Sadly, it seems to be one of Summers' friends.”
  944. “Oh,” You look around, unable to find the Summer, you return your attention back to Bright Eyes, “Where is Summer anyway?”
  945. >”A unit of DayGuards came with a coroner, they escorted her and the dead back to the surface…Surprised her wailing didn't wake you.”Bright eyes huffs and closes one of her books, “This has to be one of the worst assignments we had in awhile, it seems we have truly thrown you into the deep end here.”
  946. “I guess it's better I find out how dangerous this job is sooner than later.”
  947. >”After this assignment, I’ll fully understand if you quit Anonymous.”
  948. >Where did that come from?
  949. >Thinking about it, you have been through a lot over the last two days.
  950. >In fact, now your life has been changed forever.
  951. >You think back to when Bright Eyes mentioned no matter what you do, your fate will be the same, or at least similar.
  952. >At least you are helping ponies doing this job.
  953. “I don’t think I could, the first assignment, Dawn and I found it was a little filly haunting the attic of that house, knowing that she’s at rest due my help, I don’t know...I have not probably formed an proper opinion on it, but all I know is that I want to help the dead and the living.”
  954. >A smile flashes across Bright Eyes face for a second, “You’re a good stallion Anonymous. With that attitude I feel you’ll fit in our unit nicely.”
  955. >Ignoring that she called you a stallion, you smile a nod.
  956. You push yourself up onto your feet and stretch, “What I’ll do for a coffee about now…” You voice your thoughts.
  957. >”I can do with one aswell,” As if on cue, Bright Eyes trots over to a small portable stove.
  958. >Turning on the gas, she uses a candle to light a flame and place a steel kettle on top.
  959. “Thanks,”
  960. >”I don’t know why you’re thanking me, you’re making the coffee.” Bright Eyes replies returning to her papers.
  961. >Touche
  962. “Once Bravo Team finds the last pony we can leave right?” You ask, stretching out your back.
  963. >You feel a few pops in your lower spine, you hope this would be the last time you’ll be sleeping on a cold stone floor.
  964. >”Not really, we still need to know what paranormal entity or entities we are dealing with here.”
  965. “You got an idea what it is?”
  966. >”An educated guess, if I’m right, then we’re in for a wild ride tonight.”
  967. “Why?”
  968. >”Ever heard of a Tar Hound? Or Tartarus Hound?”
  969. “We have legends of HellHounds back on Earth. They’re a bad omen if you see one or something.”
  970. >”They’re bad omen alright. But in reality they are released from Tartarus to hunt for hollows.”
  971. “You’re going to have to explain hollows to me.”
  972. >”Hollows are ponies that used black magic to escape their death. Seeing that the stallion from earlier had been drained somepony with access to these tunnels have been conducting such atrocities.”
  973. “I take it that they need someone elses Ki to stay alive?”
  974. >”You catch on quick, they do. Without it their body will start rotting and they will eventually die. Though, most of the time the Tarhounds end up getting them before that happens.”
  975. “If you don’t mind me asking, as I am curious, but what makes you sure we are dealing with hounds and hollows here?”
  976. >”The scratches on the door to the bar, the growls, and the drained pony. I’ve dealt with a case like this before.”
  977. “Then if we just leave, would the situation fix itself? I mean the Tarhounds would deal with the hollow right?”
  978. >”Eventually yes, but Tarhounds are vicious, they attack any living on sight. Leaving now would but many more in danger.”
  979. >The kettle starts to whistle, you walk over to it and proceed to make the coffees.
  980. >”Black, one sugar.” Bright Eyes says to you as you pour the water.
  981. You continue to talk as you stir the coffee, “Is it possible to cast the hounds back to Tartarus? Like an exorcism or cleansing or something?”
  982. >”Definitely words of a rookie. Exorcism and cleansings are useful only for certain ghosts. No, with the hounds they would just keep coming. Growing in number day by day.”
  983. >Now that was something you didn’t want to hear.
  984. “I hope we can at least defend ourselves against them right?”
  985. >”If you catch them before they manifest then yes, a quick blast of salt would stop them for a while. Though it seems everypony has been quick on the trigger on that regard.” Bright Eyes replies as you hand her her coffee, “Thanks.”
  986. >Dawn starts to stir and stretch on her sleeping bag. She slowly raises her head and scrunches her eyes shut and blinks them open.
  987. >”Ah, Dawn,” Bright Eyes turns to her, “I need your research and sleuthing skills for today.”
  988. >“Today? What time is it?” Dawn Light mumbles.
  989. >”Around Eleven O’clock.”
  990. >”What am I researching?” The sleepy mare asks.
  991. >”Grab a coffee first, the kettle has just been boiled.”
  992. >Dawn nods and shakily makes her way to the portable stove.
  993. >”I need you to track down a possible hollow?” The unit leader orders.
  994. >”Hollow?” Dawn snaps round to Bright Eyes with a cup in her hooves, her voice tainted with owrry “Are we dealing with Tar Hounds again?”
  995. >”It seems that way, a possible match would be whoever hoof would fit the impression on the wall by the entrance.”
  996. >Upon making herself a coffee Dawn grumbles into it before taking a sip “It’s the Rockysaddle Hotel all over again isn’t it?”
  997. >You take note of Dawn's reaction to the news.
  998. >Maybe you should ask her what happened at Rockysaddle. At least then you can have some knowledge on what to expect.
  999. >”It seems that way Dawn.” Bright Eyes sighs before taking a sip of her coffee.
  1000. “How do we identify a hollow?” You ask.
  1001. >”Easy, they smell like death, turned meat. With us down here, their supply is cut off. It’ll only be a matter of time before they start falling apart, literally.” Aethers voice catches you by surprise.
  1002. >How long has he been awake for?
  1003. “Anything else?” You turn towards the stallion who was stretching out with his wings flared out and back arched.
  1004. >Aether stretches some more before answering, this time a few pops and cracks come from his back and wings, ”They have a dead look in their eyes, very secretive, and like to be alone most of the time, so... A bit like Bright Eyes over there.” He nods towards the mare in question.
  1005. >”Very funny Aether, for that I’ll be losing your overtime paperwork for this month.” The gem-eyed retorts.
  1006. >”Y-you wouldn’t do that? Right?”
  1007. >Bright Eyes leaves Aethers question unanswered and instead turns her attention to you, “Anonymous, I want you to go with Dawn back to the Bar and help to locate the Hollow.”
  1008. “Sure,”
  1009. >”Well leave Molo and Mini asleep for another hour, they did a lot of running yesterday. And Aether.” She finally turns back to him.
  1010. >”Yeah,”
  1011. >”I need to chalk some protection runes around the circle, I fear we would need them for tonight.”
  1012. “I thought last night was bad enough,” You mumble not expecting Bright Eyes to hear.
  1013. >”We caught the tail end of it last night. Around midnight till four the paranormal activity is at its peak. And as Aether said, we are standing in the way of a hollow who is probably getting desperate by now. Long story short, we are standing in between two powerful entities, maybe more if more hounds appear.”
  1014.  
  1015. >Walking the quarter mile back to the bar you find that it isn’t as bad as the first time you entered the Canterlot tunnels, you can hear the heavy hoof traffic on mainstreet above, to the point you can hear muffled voices of ponies on their commute.
  1016. >You swing your salt blaster over your shoulder and adjust the backpack with the other hand.
  1017. >It’s surprising how heavy this thing is when you are carrying all your equipment.
  1018. >Dawn has been silent for a while now as you two walk back. Her salt gun, held under her wing is gripped tight.
  1019. Deciding to break the silence, you speak up, “Any idea who the hollow could be? The bar does seem like your local”
  1020. >”Huh?” Dawn snaps from her thoughts “Sorry, my head was in the clouds, what did you say?”
  1021. “I said-” You stop mid sentence due to Dawn's worried expression, “Is something the matter?”
  1022. >Dawn doesn’t reply, as her eyes dart around the dark tunnel, as if to expect something to jump out at any moment.
  1023. “Dawn?”
  1024. >”Sorry, sorry. I just really wish I didn’t have to deal with Tarhounds again…”
  1025. “Sounds like a bad experience.” You reply subtly attempting for her to continue.
  1026. >”A bad experience is an understatement. Tar Hounds are among the few paranormal spectres that can physically harm the living.”
  1027. “As in wounding us?” You hold your gun a little tighter.
  1028. >Dawn nods, “Those scratches on the door, our armor aren't designed to withstand anything like that. To be honest I rather be trapped in here with Timberwolves…”
  1029. “Now you're actually making me worried.”
  1030. >”You should be, at least Timberwolves can be scared off if you make a loud enough noise, or injure the alpha, but these things…” Dawn vocally shivers, “...Pure nastiness.”
  1031.  
  1032. >Eventually you both make it back to the bar.
  1033. >Before you shut the metal door behind you, you glance at the scratch marks and shudder.
  1034. >Dawn is right, the armor you are wearing wouldn’t protect you from that, their claws would cut through it like a wet paper bag.
  1035. >You feel the door close slowly.
  1036. >Looking down you see Dawn hushing you with a hoof in front of her lips.
  1037. >”I need you to listen,” She whispers, “Don’t mention a Hollow to anyone in this bar, nor the Tarhounds for that matter.”
  1038.  “What about Tender? Surely he would work it out being an old member of PHEER right?” You whisper back.
  1039. >Dawn shakes her head, “His fate ends with him in the catacombs; he's a big suspect.”
  1040. “What about the bouncer?”
  1041. >”Him too. Pretty much any regular here.” Dawn turns away from you and starts walking towards the bar area, “I know it sounds weird but when you're near a pony, discreetly sniff them.”
  1042. “That is weird, but alright. And check for the dead look in eyes as well?”
  1043. >”Yeah, now, just ask questions that seem like you're investigating a regular paranormal phenomenon, like ‘have you seen any shadow figures’ or something.”
  1044.  
  1045. >To your surprise the bar is full of ponies and dayguards.
  1046. >You can hear accusations being thrown left right and center.
  1047. >”Tender?” Dawn asks the bar owner who’s rubbing his head with his hooves, hiding behind the bar. “What are you doing?”
  1048. >”I think I’m going to break!” He almost yells, “How’s telling the guards a good idea Dawn!” He clutches his teeth at her,  “I’m in deep Tartarus! Two dead and one still missing!”
  1049. >”Tender. Calm down,” Dawn replies, “I know this isn’t your fault,”
  1050. >You raise an eyebrow. Does Dawn really see him as a suspect? Or is she a good liar?
  1051. >”Don’t you think I know that! I’m still a little stressed when I got accused of pony-slaughter this morning!”
  1052. >”Since you're not arrested, we both know that was a dirty tactic from a guard to get you to confess. Besides it sounds like you're not the only one being accused.” Dawn peaks over the bar as she continues, “Why are there so many ponies here anyway?”
  1053. >”Those bucking dayguard didn’t let anypony leave who were here last night. I’m sure they can’t legally hold us in here!”
  1054. “Do you know which guard is in command here?”
  1055. >Tender stares up at you, “The one with a blue cress on his helmet, though they’ll probably put you as a suspect too, as you were here last night.”
  1056. “You’re probably right.” You reply, glancing at the guard in question.
  1057. >The blue cressed guard does a double take when he sees you.
  1058. >”Anonymous?” He calls out.
  1059. >You’re taken back, he knows your name?
  1060. >Normally you're referred to as a cryptid or creature.
  1061. >The guard in command marches around the bar.
  1062. >”Backroom. Now. Guards orders.” the guard barks out.
  1063. >You look at Dawn, who nods her head for you to follow. “I think it’s best to do what he says,” She whispers again, “I’ll be on the other side of this door. Shout if you need me.”
  1064. >You nod back before following the guard into the staff office/storage area.
  1065. >”Close the door.” He orders.
  1066. >You slowly close the door behind you and quickly turn around.
  1067. >Something feels off about this guard as he glares at you.
  1068.  
  1069. >”So, Anonymous the alien...”
  1070. “That’s me.”
  1071. >”I’ll cut to the chase. The word is you come to this bar, disappear into the tunnels and two bodies have been discovered.”
  1072. “You do realize I’m part of PHEER. We got called in.”
  1073. >”Though thorough investigation, there is no record of Mr Tender requesting the assistance of PHEER.”
  1074. “Correct, we came for a drink to celebrate completing my first assignment. Tender asked us to investigate when we arrived.”
  1075. >”Who’s we?”
  1076. “Dawn and I.”
  1077. >”I see.” He steps closer, “Tell me Anonymous, these tunnels are a bit like the hallways of the castle at night.” He stops a few feet away from you, “Quiet, dark, not too many eyes to see your misdeeds.”
  1078. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
  1079. >Is this pony accusing you?
  1080. >Actually, it makes sense, by the sounds of things, he accused everyone else in this place.
  1081. >”You’ve been plotting this for a long time, I know about your midnight strolls throughout the castle.”
  1082. “I have a messed-up sleep schedule.”
  1083. >”Likely excuse.”
  1084. “Being dropped onto another planet gives you unbelievable jet-lag.”
  1085. >”Jetlag? Is that what you call it when you are low on life essence?”
  1086. “What?”
  1087. >That’s some conclusion.
  1088. >Is he implying that he knows a pony has been drained?
  1089. >”You needed to feed so you drained an innocent soul?”
  1090. “No jetlag is when you travel across timezones, and your body becomes out of sync with your sleep schedule.”
  1091. >You quietly curse yourself again, being unable to explain things properly.
  1092. >You kneel down to meet his eye level, using the opportunity, you get a good look at his eyes. He stares back at you as sharp as cut glass and full of life.
  1093. >You breathe in through your nose, masking it as a start of a sigh. He doesn’t smell like a rotten corpse to you, just a musky stallion.
  1094. >In return, he takes a deep breath before a blast through his nostrils.
  1095. >You frown at him, did he just discreetly sniff you back?
  1096. >”I say, Anonymous you do look dead tired. Are you feeling okay?”
  1097. “I’ve only had a few hours sleep. Hang on,” You hold up a finger and sniff the air, “Do you smell that?”
  1098. >”No.” He sniffs.
  1099. >”It smells like something rotten, like rotting meat or something…”
  1100. >He sniffs the air again, “No, I don’t smell it.”
  1101. >You sniff the guard, this time making it obvious, “I think it’s coming from you.”
  1102. >”Are you implying I’m a Hollow Mr Anonymous?”
  1103. “No, but how did you know a Hollow is involved?” You stand back up and cross your arms.
  1104. >The guards' eyes widen ”Pony-feathers, I was hoping it would be you, then it’ll be a closed case. You’re the only outsider here.”
  1105. “Gee thanks, but my question still stands.”
  1106. >”Bravo Teams leader, he was my drill sergeant before he joined PHEER. He sent a message to me with the first body that was recovered. He still cares about us, so he tipped me off on what to look out for.”
  1107. “But he’s a bat pony, didn’t he train the nightguard?.”
  1108. >The guard nods “Originally, he got transferred over due to a joint training program.”
  1109. >You both turn as the door to the bar opens as Dawn peers through.
  1110. >”Is everything alright in here?” She asks.
  1111. “Yeah, we were just sniffing each other.”
  1112. >Dawn scrunches up her face, “Wait, He knows?”
  1113. >”I do Miss, I was just telling Anonymous here that I knew Nightwing from Bravo Team. I’ve been helping to locate this Hollow.”
  1114. >”Any luck?”
  1115. >”None at all, we’ve been questioning every pony - and alien. Honestly, I'm out of my depth here.” The guard slowly shakes his head, "Other than the dead look in their eyes and smelling like rotten meat, I don't know what else to be looking for."
  1116. >”How long can you keep everypony in here?” Dawn inquires
  1117. >”I’ll have to let them go soon, legally I can only hold them for so long.”
  1118. >Dawn turns to you, “Come on, we got a lot of ponies to check and question.”
/bat/ Anon Princess Luna Bat Ponies

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