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Fatelocked [Rewrite]

By Aftercase
Created: 2021-06-22 21:31:33
Updated: 2023-07-18 12:30:49
Expiry: Never

  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 fill you with anxiety and dread, did that one move? Was that one always in that position?
  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, the last thing you need is your mind to start playing tricks. You’ll find a guard or some pony to lead you back to your room eventually.
  3. >Though the lack of Royal Guards in this part of the castle makes you uneased.
  4. >The silence is deafening other than your footsteps, as you walk down the almost pitch-black hallway, you can barely see a few meters in front of you. The darkness seems to grow thick as you make your way along.
  5. >The hairs rise on the back of your neck and arms followed by an electric tingle down your back. Maybe it's your mind playing tricks on you but your footsteps sound not like your own.
  6. >You stop suddenly.
  7. >To your heart skips a beat when another footstep echoes behind you. You quickly glance back to find more darkness and a hallway, devoid of any life.
  8. “Is anyone there?” Your voice echoes into the night, not knowing which is worse, no reply or someone answering back.
  9. >After waiting for a few seconds, or what seems like minutes, you turn back around.
  10. >You gasp and stumble back, almost losing your footing.
  11. >A white glowing orb hovers down the hall, casting a small amount of light on the pictures of long gone nobles that litter the stone walls.
  12. >You slide behind a statue and crouch and watch it for a few moments.
  13. >Do you run?
  14. >Remain hidden?
  15. >Not sure what to do. You simply watch as the orb levitates a fair few feet off the floor, slowly bobbing like a piece of driftwood at sea.
  16. >A few moments pass, to your dismay, curiosity gets the better of you.
  17. >You slip from behind the statue and slowly walk towards the glowing ball of light. Ready to give into your flight reflex and bolt at any moment if the thing simply bobs the wrong way.
  18. >As you get closer the orb starts to float away. Only to stop when you stop.
  19. >This better not be a “Will-o-Wisp” scenario
  20. >You continue to follow behind at a safe distance.
  21. >You’ve played enough fantasy RPGs to know what happens at the end of the trail.
  22. >You let the orb lead the way for a while until it suddenly stops before slowly fading.
  23. >Once again you are alone in the blackness.
  24.  
  25. >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 crest of his helmet.
  26. >Relieved, you yell down the corridor “Hey, guard! Do you know how-” You stop as the shadow guard turns and disappears into the door.
  27. >You stand there stunned by what you just saw, not sure if it was your tired mind once again playing tricks on you but you swear you never heard the door open and close when that guard walked in.
  28. >With the silence in the hallway you should be able to hear a pin drop. Worst of all you never heard any hoofsteps.
  29. >Walking up to the door where the shadow guard once stood you grab the faded golden door handle.
  30. >It's ice cold. Almost hurts to touch as the cold burns against your skin.
  31. >You have no option now. You got to open the large wooden door.
  32. >Pushing down the handle the door unlocks and creeks open.
  33. “Hello?” You asked now completely unnerved.
  34. >Once again, no reply.
  35. >You take a step in and scan the room. You spot old sofas, beds, and a few lockers in the dark.
  36. >You take another step to try and see what else the room holds in its black veil.
  37. >SLAM!
  38. >The door slams behind you. Immediately you turn and pull at the handle. Again, the cold burns the skin on your hand as you desperately rattle the door in its frame by it’s handle.
  39. >Panting, you turn around and stare into the void. Maybe you’ll catch the glimpse of whatever is in here to get you.
  40. >In some sick way, you were disappointed it never came. This nightmare would have been over.
  41. >Fumbling in your pocket you pull out your trusty lighter and flick on the flame.
  42. >The flame lights up a few feet in front of you to reveal the face of a tall pony.
  43. “Ah shit!” You yell as you fumble and drop the lighter.
  44. >”Interesting.” A female voice mutters.
  45. >Interesting?
  46. You know that voice, “Luna?” You ask.
  47. >”It’s Princess Luna, Anonymous. You are a subject now and you will refer to us as such.”
  48. >The candles around the room spontaneously ignite, bathing the old stone room in an orange glow.
  49. “Whatever.” You shrug “Why are you trying to spook me like that?”
  50. >”Pray tell, Why were you taking another midnight tour of our castle?”
  51. “I got lost going to the bathroom.” You reply, more focused on looking around your feet for the lighter you dropped.
  52. >Luna stares at you giving you her classic ‘I’m not amused’ look before speaking up in her royal tone, “It seems once again, we may have to give you the benefit of the doubt. Nethertheless, the results have been interesting at least.”
  53. “Results?” You pause half away picking up your lighter from the stone-tiled floor.
  54. >”It seems you have certain qualities we are looking for.”
  55. “Qualities?”
  56. >”Must you repeat our words? Yes. Qualities.”
  57. “So you’ve been testing me?”
  58. >”Watching” Luna states.
  59. “Watching?” You reply.
  60. >Luna narrows her eyes at you.
  61. “Sorry.” You say with a sheepish grin.
  62. >”We have been watching you, to see how one would handle himself experiencing the supernatural.”
  63. “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.”
  64. >”That was no magic Anonymous.”
  65. “What do you mean? That wasn’t you?” You ask, with shivers shooting down your spine.
  66. >”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.”
  67. “Wait, that was a real ghost!?” You exclaim, whipping your head round at the door that the ghost had opened.
  68. >”Indeed. we thought you were aware of that.”
  69. “I thought it was my mind playing tricks on me, or you, with your magic”
  70. >”Then it seems you were mistaken.”
  71. >You stand there completely dumbfounded.
  72. >Are ghosts real in this world?
  73. >...Of course, they internally face slap, it makes sense in a world of magical horses.
  74. >”Well, the night is ending soon, Anonymous. So we would like to make you an offer.”
  75. “Offer?” You snap out of your internal thoughts.
  76. >”Again with the repeating.”
  77. “Sorry.”
  78. >Luna sighs, “We are looking for a replacement for one of my special units.”
  79. You throw up your hands “Wow wow, hold on there princess. I’m not a soldier material. The five AM wake up calls are not for me.”
  80. >”Then I must ask why you wonder at three AM? Nethertheless, Worry not, this position is merely research and recon.”
  81. “You're going to have to explain a little more. I’m one of the guys who loves the fine print.”
  82. >”Very well, the position is to join a unit that researches the paranormal, supernatural and magical anomalies.”
  83. “So ghost hunting?”
  84. >”A very basic term, but yes.”
  85. “I don’t know...Never really got into that hobby”
  86. >”A hobby? Why use such a term?”
  87. “On Earth, humans that believe in it, do it as a hobby...”
  88. >”...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.”
  89. “I’m still unsure why you are offering it to me.”
  90. >”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.”
  91. >You hesitate on your decision.
  92. >You do need a job, you can tell Celestia is slowly losing her patience with you, being a complete neet.
  93. >”Two thousand bits per month, starting basic pay.”
  94. Your jaw almost hit the floor. You regain your stature then cough in your hand “Of course the money is a good incentive. But…”
  95. >”Tax free. All expenses paid by the crown.”
  96. “So, where do I sign up?”
  97. >”Follow.” Luna motions her head towards the door.
  98.  
  99. >You feel your nerves ease as you enter another hallway with Luna, actually seeing some candle light washes the lingering dread you had from earlier.
  100. Plus the sight of Royal Guards brings some relief. Even though they annoy you for always telling you off for running in the halls, you’re glad to see them.
  101. >After a few minutes you find yourself following Luna outside into the night air.
  102. >You feel the small stone crunch under your shoes as you Walk out into the castle's gardens with the princess.
  103. >Upon walking a few minutes you both enter a well trimmed maze where Luna mentions that you need to pay attention to the route.
  104. >It’s hard to tell if she is joking or not but she mentions she lost many ponies in the maze over the years.
  105. >Left.
  106. >Left.
  107. >Right.
  108. >Left.
  109. >You both stop as you stare in bewilderment at an old rusty metal hatch on the floor.
  110. > Luna's horn glows as she lifts the heavy trap door with her magic.
  111. >The heavy lid creaks open before giving a heavy thunk on the dirt floor flicking up dust and debri into the cool night air.
  112. >”Down here.”
  113. “Odd place for a dungeon…” You shrug before stepping down a stone staircase.
  114. >”Used to be in the yesteryears. Now, it’ll be your new home.”
  115. “Home?” You pause on a step, “Look Princess Luna, I told your sister I didn’t know it was her cake...”
  116. >”Do not fret Anonymous, we do not plan on your imprisonment.”
  117. “Just making sure…”
  118. >You once again follow the alicorn down the cold stone staircase. It narrows and twists as you both descend what seems meters upon meters underground.
  119. >Old candles sitting on cracked stone shelves that are coated from many centuries of wax, light the way down the steep staircase.
  120. >Falling down these stairs would mean a fair few broken bones. Maybe a shatter skull to boot.
  121. >You run a hand against the night-cooled wall for balance, and maybe reassurance that you wouldn’t misstep and cause you and the princess to tumble down to the bottom.
  122. >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 still hung from the walls, which you presume an artifact from its previous use.
  123. >In the middle of the long room sat a makeshift office space, an old oak desk coated in dripped aged candle wax and littered with an untold amount of paperwork.
  124. >The air is stale and still, but cold. You could not help notice the smell of sulfur in the air. Something you remember from your chemistry classes back in highschool.
  125. “Luna? Do you smell that?”
  126. >”It’s Prin-” Luna pauses and sniffs the air “Yes we do.”
  127. “Normally that's a bad sign, in this line of work isn’t it? I’ve seen plenty of horror flicks to know it’s a bad sign.”
  128. >”Normally, yes. But down here, it’s a sign of a pony named Aether, dabbling with dark magic again…” Luna replies, while you're not sure if she is angry or just disappointed in this Aether.
  129. “I thought that was illegal.”
  130. >”It is, unless you have a special license and training to do so.”
  131. >Luna walks over to a door where the stench of sulfur is at its strongest.
  132. >”Aether! This is Princess Luna, open up!” Luna bellows at the door causing it to rattle on its hinges, with two strong knocks with a hoof.
  133. >Stepping up to the door you hear a male voice inside. “Ah, leather-feathers. Hang on Ma’am!”
  134. >Luna huffs but patiently waits outside of the door.
  135. >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.
  136. >You look over his grey coat as he grins up to Luna like a kid stealing from a cookie jar.
  137. >”Aether. Please tell us why we smell sulphur?”
  138. >”Research Ma’am.” He salutes.
  139. >”Research. In your bunk?” The princess frowns at him.
  140. >”Comfort Ma’am.”
  141. >”Is the lab not to your standards? Or is it you're trying to summon a succubus again.”
  142. >Aether coughs in a hoof. “The results are not clear enough for a straight answer ma’am.”
  143. >”...You do realise using the dark arts for personal gain can result in heavy punishment.”
  144. >”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.”
  145. >Luna continues to stare down at Aether. “This cryptid is Anonymous. A human.”
  146. >”Human Ma’am?”
  147. >Luna grumbles under her breath. “Yes. Human. Now Anonymous will be joining your unit. I trust you to take care of him.”
  148. >”You can be certain of that ma’am.”
  149. >”Good. Now I must return to my duties.” Luna turns towards the stairs. “Oh, and Aether. I suggest finding a mare of the night -that- we can overlook. 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 get the better of you.” With her warning, Luna ascends the stairs.
  150. >”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.”
  151. >You look down at the stallion with an eyebrow raised.
  152. >”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?”
  153. “I am.”
  154. >”Right, good, good. Come on in, the others are out so it’s just me and you at the moment.”
  155. >When you step through the door, you notice chalked runes over the stone flooring surrounded by more candles. There’s been a summoning here, if you have ever seen one.
  156. “So how did it go?” You point towards the runes.
  157. >”Bah, I keep messing it up. Speaking ancient Equestrian is hard when you are trying to invoke a portal to Tartarus.”
  158. “That seems dangerous.”
  159. >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.
  160. “Right...And which is my bed?” You change the subject, not really sure how to feel about the first impressions of this pony.
  161. >”Biggest one on the left, with the empty locker.”
  162. >You walk over and inspect the large bed. At least it’ll fit your size.
  163. >Opening the old boot locker you glance inside, the top shelf was empty, but at the bottom was a small action figurine.
  164. >You pick it up and inspect the little metal action figure of a pony superhero, time hasn’t been kind to the little toy, as the paint has faded and the diecast metal had rust along the edges . Noticing the tail had a spring mechanism you push down on the tail with your thumb, to your surprise the back legs shoot up and out into a buck motion.
  165. “Who used to own this bed before?”
  166. >”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 by pushing the tail. “He passed away a few months ago.He went on a mission with unit Alpha to Black Hoof Hill.”
  167. >Noticing the pained expression on his face, you wonder if you should ask what happened.
  168. >Aether tucks the toy under his wing and looks up at you “You can ask. At least you should know what you are getting yourself into.”
  169. A little unnerved by the news you take his offer “What happened?”
  170. >”We’re not sure of the full story, but Black Hoof Hill is a very dangerous place, so much so that the Princesses put out a decree that it would be scrubbed from every map.”
  171. ”Then why go there?”
  172. >”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.”
  173. “At least they were alive…” You add.
  174. >”No, actually petrified.” Aether shakes his head and sighs, “Sadly two of Alpha team and Horned Charge who volunteered to fill in, suffered a similar fate.”
  175. “Why did Horned Charge go if he knew it was dangerous?”
  176. >”He knew it was his end, he had no choice.”
  177. “...What? He knew he was going to die there?”
  178. >”You’ll see soon enough.” Aether smiles at you. “Anyway!” He claps his hooves together, “Let get you suited up with your equipment, you're a similar shape to our old minotaur friend...Though less muscle, but that can be adjusted.”
  179.  
  180.  
  181. >Aether leads you out of his bunk room and down the long room and opens the furthest door from the staircase.
  182. > ”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 open office space.
  183. “I’ll make sure I do.”
  184. >”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 wooden shelves. “Ah! That’ll do. This is Horn's first chest armor, when he first joined he was scrawny like you.”
  185. >Without warning he tosses you a black set armor. You grab and fumble your catch and inspect it. It is unlike the usual guards, it looks more like the black Kevlar bullet proof vests you saw back on Earth. Pressing your thumb onto the thick chest pads you notice it squeezes down.
  186. “Is there some kind of powder in these?”
  187. >”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...Is it?”
  188. “It is - Though something tells me Luna lied when she said this job isn’t dangerous.”
  189. >”Just Recon and Research?”
  190. “Yeah, I’m not sure I can do this.”
  191. >”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.
  192. “Well the money kind of made me agree to it.”
  193. >”Luna must have seen something in you to offer the position. Normally we are selected from the nightguard.”
  194. “Maybe it's just because I’m an alien.”
  195. >Aether laughs, “No such things as aliens buddy.”
  196. >You furrow your brow at his off the cuff comment, before you could reply, he shoves an old-looking gun in your hands.
  197. >”A good ol’ salt blaster. See dangerous spooks, you blast them to render them powerless for a few minutes.”
  198. >When you inspect the gun, its flared muzzle reminds you of an old blunderbuss that the pioneers had from hundreds of years ago.
  199. >”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.”
  200. “Okay.”
  201. >”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 from something that wants you dea-...Oh, and this. This is important too.”
  202. >He lifts his leathery wing, you spot a silver necklace dangling from it.
  203. “Dog Tags?”
  204. >”They're designed like them, but they have more uses than identifying your dead flank.”
  205. >You reach out and take them, the tags start to glow, on closer inspection, you see an unknown text scrawl across the silver plate.
  206. >”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. It automatically engraves it when you hold it.”
  207. “I’ll take your word for it...So when does training start?”
  208. >”...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.”
  209. “Not even a bootcamp, basic training?”
  210. >Aether laughs, “We’re not part of the military like the Army or the Guard, we’re more like an agency, so to speak.”
  211. “So there is no clause about me leaving if I wish? Or is it a two stab wounds at the back of my neck suicide kind of deal?”
  212. >”No, you're free to leave whenever. Though there is a two week notice policy. But I’ll warn you this work is addictive…”
  213. “Addictive?”
  214. >”You’ll understand.”
  215.  
  216. >Aethers ears twitch just a moment before you hear multiple hoof steps descend the stairs.
  217. >”Well it looks like the others are back. Come, I’ll introduce them to you.”
  218. >You step back from the doorway to let Aether greet the approaching four mares.
  219. >”Hey guys!”
  220. >”YOU!” A dark blue coated bat mare rushes over and pushes her muzzle almost against Aethers, “What have I told you!”
  221. >”Oh come on Bright Eye’s, I already told Luna, it was for research purposes…”
  222. >”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!”
  223. >”Yeah, yeah,” Aether waves a decisive hoof, “Besides meet our new big guy.”
  224. >”Big guy?” The mare called Bright Eyes looks up at you.
  225. >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 replace her eyes.
  226. >She looks up at you, “Well, you must be the human Luna mentioned. I see you already got yourself kitted out. I presume Aether has already shown you your bed and locker?”
  227. >You are not able to break eye-...Gem?... Emerald?.. -contact.
  228. >”Good…” Her expression falls to a scowl as she notices your stare. “Go ahead, point them out.” She huffs.
  229. “Your eyes are gems…”
  230. >”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!”
  231. >”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-”
  232. >Slap!
  233. >One of the blueish 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.
  234. >”Luna dammit, it’s always the quiet ones…” He mumbles while rubbing his cheek, “What was that for Mini?”
  235. >The other twin's orange eyes narrow, “You know what you’ve done! Or been doing!”
  236. >”I have no idea what you're on about Molo!”
  237. >”I already said, I have no idea what you-”
  238. >Slap!
  239. >”Ow! Hey! Watch it!”
  240.  
  241. >You feel a hoof tap you on your hip.
  242. >Looking down you spot a pair of pink catlike eyes looking up at you.
  243. >The third bat mare blows her fringe from her face. “Hey, never mind those three. This is a normal night…”
  244. “Are you sure? She’s hitting him pretty hard,” You point at the twin who is now kicking Aether in the gut.
  245. >”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.”
  246. “Nice to meet you Dawnlight. I’m Anonymous, Anon for short.”
  247. >”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.
  248. “I think I’ll give it a shot.”
  249. >”Good to hear,” Dawn turns to the others, “Hey guys! You know what this means?”
  250. >The bat ponies look at Dawn, while Molo and Aether are caught in each other's limbs.
  251. >”It means Anon here needs to be inducted.”
  252. >As on cue all the bat ponies grin at you.
  253. >You have a bad feeling about this...
  254.  
  255. >Everything happens so fast, you find yourself ushered into a dark room that is dimly lit by candlelight.
  256. >Stood upon a tall pedestal that stood behind a small altar, Bright Eyes looking down upon you with her freaky gem eyes.
  257. >”Anonymous. Do you take the oath to protect the living from the Dead, Damned and the Possessed?”
  258. >You look around to find the others with featureless masks humming in the darkness.
  259. >Some Eyes Wide Shut shit is happening here you mutter under your breath.
  260. >Though, a part of you wonders when the satanic orgies would start.
  261. “Errr, Yes?”
  262. >”Do you give your life to the forbidden, unknown and the undiscovered?”
  263. “Yes?”
  264. >”Very well Anonymous, we accept you into the unit. Welcome to PHEER.”
  265. “Pheer?”
  266. >”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 Crown financed side.”
  267. “Right…Err thanks I think. So are we done here?”
  268. >”Not yet,” Bright Eyes pauses and turns to Aether, “Aether, bring the box.”
  269. >You watch Aether silently step across the room and place the box on the small altar in front of you. He flicks a small lock and quickly steps back with his head hung low in respect to the object.
  270. >The box falls open to reveal the skull of a pony.
  271. >Ah there we go, you knew you were getting cult vibes.
  272. >”Anonymous, know your fate, stare into the skull.” Bright Eyes commands.
  273. “...Alright...Can I pick it up?”
  274. >”If you must.”
  275. >You pick up the skull and stare into the black abyss of the two eye sockets.
  276.  
  277. >Apart from the eerie feeling of doing such a thing, you are more confused than anything.
  278. “Should I be-” You jolt awake, you find yourself in a hospital, hooked up to a drip.
  279. >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.
  280. >”I’m sorry- I’m so sorry…” You hear Aether next to you.
  281. >You slowly roll your head towards him.
  282. >Your eyes widen in panic as you see him jabbing the drip with a syringe filled with an unknown fluid.
  283. >”I’m sorry! They don't know! They can’t know! Luna mustn’t know!” Aether mutters in a psychotic frenzy with fur under his eyes matted with tears.
  284. >You try to say something or scream, but to no avail, you can only watch. As the fluid runs down the tube and into your veins.
  285. >”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 if you see them...” He weeps and sobs as he grabs your head in his hooves and pulls you into his chest. You feel the sensation of his chest fur on your cheek slip away as the white hospital ceiling fades to black.
  286.  
  287. >You groan, as you feel a pounding headache take form at the center of your forehead.
  288. >Peeking your eyes open you spot the ceiling now a simple stone lit by a dimming candle.
  289. >Feeling groggy, sit up and look around. Your back in Aethers bunk, or your bunk that you recall from yesterday.
  290. >That’s a point, What happened yesterday...The memories start to flashback as you hold your head and grimace.
  291. >These ponies are going to be the death of you…
  292. >You look around to Aether who is sprawled across his bed, snoring like a broken train.
  293. >Should you tell him?
  294. >Surely someone in your unit needs to know.
  295. >You swing your legs out from under the quilts. To your relief, you are still fully clothed.
  296. >After searching around your bed for your shoes, you creep out while Tip toeing out of the bunkroom and quietly close the heavy door behind you.
  297. >”Anonymous. Nice to meet someone else up early tonight.” You hear Bright Eyes at her desk sipping a coffee.
  298. “What time is it?”
  299. >”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…”
  300. “About last night…”
  301. >”You saw your death.” She states while flicking through her paperwork.
  302. “Yeah, you see- uh there isn’t a thing where if I talk about it I’ll die in a more horrible way?”
  303. >”No. Don’t be silly. It's a vision not a curse.”
  304. “Point taken, you see my vision, it was Aether who killed me.”
  305. >”And will there be a problem working with him?”
  306. “What!? He’s going to kill me.”
  307. >”Then you didn’t understand your vision.” Bright Eyes replies bluntly.
  308. “You don’t understand, the way he was talking, he killed you all.”
  309. >The gem eyed mare lifts her head from her papers, ”Then mine must be incorrect, I die by having my skull crushed by Princess Luna herself.” She finishes off grabbing a cup.
  310. “And you still work for her?”
  311. >”Horned Charge. Have you heard of him?” She asks before calmly sipping her coffee.
  312. “Yes Aether told me about him, what has he got to do with it?”
  313. >”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.”
  314. “...He died at Black Hoof Hill…”
  315. >”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.”
  316. “Why were you in his vision?”
  317. >Bright Eyes falls silent and seems to stare into her coffee.
  318. >A few moments pass before she responds, “I ordered him there, even though he told me his vision.”
  319. “...Why?”
  320. >”There’s no way of escaping it.”
  321. “Shit!” You curse before rubbing your face, “What have I gotten myself into.”
  322. >”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.”
  323. “What if I never looked into the eyes of that skull thing?”
  324. >”It would have been the same. You would just have the illusion of choice...”
  325.  
  326. >After the odd yet unnerving conversion with Bright Eyes, she points a hoof to a door and orders you to have breakfast.
  327. >Upon entering, you see what you pretty much expected down here, a dark cold stone room lit dimly with candles. In the center there is a large low oak dining table that took up the majority of the room.
  328. >Old antique silverware, tarnished from the lack of polishing makes a haphazard centerpiece for a display that sits under a makeshift metal chandelier holding a few lit candles.
  329. >Your new workmates crowd around the knee-high table located in the ‘mess’ hall to sit at their regular places.
  330. >It takes a while to dawn on you the distinct lack of chairs, instead sat large cushions that are from their glory, with faded colors and frayed sides.
  331. >Holding a plate and a cup of coffee, you shuffle around the room to find a vacant cushion to sit upon.
  332. >Maybe chairs are too uncomfortable for their wings. Then again, they could use stools, you ponder.
  333. >The clatter of plates, cutlery, and chatter pulls you from your thoughts.
  334. >”Hey Molo, pass the sauce!” Aether shouts across the table with a mouth full of eggs and bacon.
  335. >”Swallow before you talk Aether,” Bright Eyes pipes in while reading the Canterlot Evening Post.
  336. >”Not until Molo passes the sauce.” The bat stallion replies still with a mouthful of food.
  337. >”Just hang on Aether! Mini wants some.” Molo passes the ketchup to Mini, who smiles for a simple thank you.
  338. >”Come on! Need sauce!” Aether taps the table with his hooves.
  339. >”Aether! Please, just wait. You're acting like a little colt.” Molo shouts across at Aether.
  340.  
  341. >Among the commotion, a voice appears beside you.”So you can eat meat too?”
  342. >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.
  343. “Yeah, you don’t know how ecstatic I was when I found the castle provided ethically produced meat. If I had to eat another apple or carrot I think I would have died.”
  344. >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.”
  345. >You nod in agreement, when you were living in ponyville when you first arrived you had to overcome that hurdle alone.
  346. >You glance back at the Aether and Molo still arguing back and forth over the table.
  347. “Is there something between them?”
  348. >”Hmm?” Dawn looks up from her plate. “I don’t think so. But that's just Aether, he winds up everyone.”
  349. >”Aether! For Luna’s sake! Just wait!” Molo is almost bellowing, as he continues to drum the table so hard that you have to steady your coffee.
  350. >Mini nods at her plate with another smile, then passes the sauce back to Molo.
  351. >”Thanks,” Molo replies before turning towards Aether, “Here's your sauce!”
  352. >Molo launches the sauce bottle across the table.
  353. >Her throw falls a little short and hits a knife flicking it up towards the bat stallion.
  354. >The room falls silent followed by a big yelp as Aether falls to the floor clutching his neck.
  355. >”AETHER!” Molo stands up and runs across the table knocking over a few cups while Bright Eyes continues to read her evening paper.
  356. >Aether struggles to his haunches clutching the red-covered knife with his front hooves.
  357. >He’s visibly panting, as he struggles to talk.
  358. >”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-”
  359. >”Language at the table!” Bright Eyes once again speaks up, still not looking up from the newspaper. “And Aether. Don't tempt fate. I told you this before.”
  360. >”Oh that’s cruel…” Dawn mutters.
  361. “Yeah it's a bit of a cruel prank” You reply. But deep down you found it a little funny.
  362. >The table starts to shake as Molo pummels Aether into the floor with a fury of hooves.
  363. >Once again you hold your coffee.
  364. >”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.”
  365. “Oh…”
  366. >”Say,” Dawn leans a little closer to you and whispers “That reminds me, what was your vision?”
  367. >The room falls silent again, bat ponies hearing must be fine tuned to something because you barely heard her even though being right next to you..
  368.  
  369. >You look around the table, Mini is silently 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 article that's caught her interest...
  370. “Uh well, my death is…uh...” You couldn’t help but look at Aether.
  371. >”Buddy, if I was in your vision just say. It’s proven time and time again that the visions are more metaphorical.” Aether shrugs.
  372. “You see…” You try to say it, but how can you?
  373. >It’ll be like. Hey, dude I just met you, you're going to kill me, probably, maybe...
  374. >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.”
  375. “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...”
  376. >”See that's impo- ACh!” Aethers' sentence is cut off by Molo squeezing tighter.
  377. >”I knew you were some kind of psychopath!” The angry twin exclaims, squeezing his neck tighter.
  378. >”Can’t...Breathe…” Aether mutters out.
  379. >”Let go of him Molo. You won’t kill him that way.” Bright Eyes orders in a monotone voice whilst grabbing her coffee.
  380. >Molo glares at Bright Eyes before dropping Aether into a heap gasping for air. “I’m going to wash up.” The twin grabs her plate and walks out of the mess room.
  381. “I guess they don’t like each other.” You whisper to Dawn.
  382. >”They clash a lot. Molo’s quick to lash out while Bright Eyes' anger is more back hoofed. So occasionally there’s always a massive showdown between them.” Dawn Light whispers back.
  383. >”Dawnlight.” Bright Eyes calls across the table. “Since you're so keen on our new recruit, he’ll be going on your assignment tonight.”
  384. >”What about Aether?” Dawn asks.
  385. >”Yeah, what about me?” Aether echo’s her question, finally pulling himself up rubbing his neck.
  386. >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.”
  387. >”Great…” Aether mumbles as he sulks out of the mess room.
  388. >”And Mini, I presume it's your night off.” Bright Eyes turns towards her.
  389. >The silent twin nods with a warm smile.
  390. >”Anything planned?”
  391. >Mini silently mimes an opera singer singing her highest notes with one hoof on her chest.
  392. >”Singing lessons hmm?”
  393. >Mini silently chuckles behind a hoof before nodding.
  394. >”Always a comedian.” Bright Eyes closes her newspaper and stands up then sighs. “Another night of paperwork for me then. See you two at first light for the debrief.”
  395.  
  396. >After suiting up with your gear, you and Dawn Light descend the steps of the castle into the city below.
  397. >The sky is a deep purple as the moon shines its fullest lighting up the streets in a cool deep blue.
  398. >As you both walk the cobbled streets in the medieval-esque city, the guards perform their changeover.
  399. >You have to admit the change over ritual is pretty neat to watch, a Night Guard would carry a torch and light the streetlamps where a Day Guard is standing. After saying their oaths to the princesses the night guard will salute the other.
  400. >”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.
  401. “It is pretty cool to watch…” You reply, still watching them. “So, where are we heading?”
  402. >”Hmm? Oh right, just across town. There’s a family who hears strange sounds in their attic during the night.”
  403. “Might be rodents.”
  404. >”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.”
  405. “Scared of rats probably?”
  406. >Dawn laughs, “There’s more to it. After that ordeal the family had a young nephew stay over for a few days, the poor colt ended up being very poorly with a strange ailment.”
  407. “Is he okay?”
  408. >”He is, as soon as the doctor on call 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.”
  409. “Then what do you think it is?”
  410. >Your co-agent pauses and bites down on her lower lip deep in thought then smirks, “I think I’ll let you find out for yourself. You’ve been asking all the right questions so far.”
  411. “I have?”
  412. >”Yep, now down here,”Dawnlight motions down a side street,” it should be one of these houses.”
  413. >You both turn to follow the row of old town houses. Now and again stopping to check the house number.
  414. >”Number twenty two. I think it's this one.” Dawn calls out to you from across the street.
  415. >As you cross the empty street Dawn pulls off her saddlebag and rummages through it.
  416. “Shouldn’t we knock?”
  417. >”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.
  418. >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.
  419.  
  420. >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. It’s a small house, but compared from the outside it's very homely with the family's pictures along the white walls and a thin long rug that lays on the polished wooden floor.
  421. >”Go on in Anon, the bumps don’t normally start until around midnight on most cases.”
  422. >You nod and head in towards the kitchen and place your backpack on the dining table.
  423. >”Good choice. Always use the room with the biggest table to set up our 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, and in a few seconds the area around her glows pink. “You got one in your bag too.”
  424. >You open your backpack and pull out a glow stick similar to hers.
  425. >You hit it on the table, like before it glows green.
  426. “Have we all got different colors? And besides I thought you bat ponies have night vision.”
  427. >”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, yeah?”
  428. You nod, “My eyes will adjust soon enough.”
  429. >”Now. The boring part. We need to survey the house, but before that I’ll introduce you to more of your kit.”
  430. “Sounds good to me.”
  431. >”If you get your Ki-meter from your bag, it looks like this..” Dawn pulls out a wooden box with a few gages and dials from her saddlebags.
  432. >After a few seconds of searching in your bag, you pull out something similar.
  433. >”This box is your best friend as it’ll be your eyes and ears.” Your new mentor continues, “Keep it with you whenever you leave base.”
  434. “Alright, but I have no idea what these gauges are reading.”
  435. >”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 in a harmonic state. It will oscillate more erratically if the magic becomes more chaotic. So if that happens, run.”
  436. You watch the needle sway back and forth in a slow steady rhythm. “Alright I get it. And the next?”
  437. >”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, it jumps to four.”
  438. “I guess if it jumps two to six with just us two then there could be something here?”
  439. >”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 zero. That means there is no dark magic nearby.”
  440. >Like she said, the needle hovers around one.
  441. “Say for instance Zen was normal, but Tau was around seven, that would be Dark Harmonic Magic right? That makes no sense.”
  442. >”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?”
  443. You hesitate, “...Yeah.”
  444. >”Well he uses Light Chaos magic so to speak. While Luna was Nightmare Night, she used Dark Harmonic. There's more to it than that, but that's the nutshell.”
  445. “I think I got a rough idea,” You continue to watch the gauges on the Ki-meter.
  446. >”Just remember this, we call it a Ki-meter because we mostly just use it for that. If you're using the Zen or Tau then you should probably be running instead.”
  447. >Dawn tucks her glow stick into a strap of her armor, and you do the same.
  448. >”Now let's survey the house. The kitchen seems fine, so let's start with the living room.”
  449.  
  450. >You both go room by room calling clear after a few minutes watching the Ki-meters.
  451. >Once finished the two bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs you both meet on the landing.
  452. “It all seems clear to me.”
  453. >”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?”
  454. >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.
  455. >”Well?” Dawn looks up at you eagerly.
  456. “It reached five then dropped to four.”
  457. >”Not a huge jump, could be a false positive. But along with those hoof steps, that warrants an investigation of the attic...”
  458. >Dawn flaps her wings and hovers a few feet from the floor. “Come on, let's open that hatch.”
  459. >You turn on your heel and walk towards the ceiling hatch, pulling the string the hatch opens with a loud clunk.
  460. >”Hmm, the ladder seems to be stuck, give me a moment.”
  461. >You watch your co-worker fly up through the hatch without a second thought. This mare must have some guts or just be reckless.
  462. “Is it caught on anything?” You call up to the attic.
  463. >You wait for a reply
  464. “Dawn?” You feel a little worry form in the pit of your stomach. “Are you alright?”
  465. >The ladder suddenly clicks and slides down, missing your head by a few inches.
  466. “Hey, watch it! That would’ve hurt!” You yell.
  467. >Once again no reply.
  468. “Alright I’m coming up.”
  469. >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 bathes the immediate area around in a green light. You see silhouettes of boxes and old furniture stacked carelessly among long sprawling cobwebs.
  470. >The air is thick and dusty. The hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
  471. “Dawn?”
  472. >You pull your legs up and stumble into a crouched position trying not to bash your head on the low roof beams.
  473. “Dawn, if this is a prank for the newbies, then you got me.” You say keeping the eye on the Ki-meter.
  474. >”Shhh!” Dawn hushes you before pulling you by the hand. “Come here.”
  475. >She pulls you a few feet to the right.
  476. >”Now stay in the ring” The bat pony whispers pointing down. “Epon’ salt”
  477. “Should I be worried?” You ask, matching the volume of her voice.
  478. >Checking your meter once again, the needle sits comfortably at five. Something else is here.
  479. >”No just a precaution...Now listen…”
  480. >You stare into the darkness, as you focus on every sound you can hear.
  481. >From the far side of the attic you can hear faint knocking.
  482. “I hear knocking…”
  483. >”I think that’s our ghost. Now, this is the fun bit, what's the reading on the meter?”
  484. “Zen harmonic, Ki Five, Tau one...Did I say that right?”
  485. >”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.”
  486. “If the meter picks up me and you, I guess we count as two Ki each?”
  487. >”Correct, though use the dial on the side to fine tune it.”
  488. >You run a finger down the side of the device until you feel the bumpy edge of the dial, you scroll it down.
  489. >The needle on Ki drops to three.
  490. “So now I guess we count as one Ki each.”
  491. >Dawn nods, “It's important to fine tune when needs be, especially if you are in a full 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?”
  492. “Sure, like what?”
  493. >”Do simple yes or no questions. First ask is anypony there, one knock for yes, two for no.”
  494. “Alright,” You glance back into the darkness, “Is anypony there, one knock for yes, two for no.”
  495. >You both listen intently for a few moments.
  496. >Sure enough one distinct quiet knock comes from the far end of the attic.
  497. >”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 a mare, two for stallion.”
  498. >You repeat Dawn's question.
  499. >Another brief moment passes before one knock comes from behind you. Followed by another two.
  500. >Slightly unnerved you start to desperately see where it came from.
  501. >”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.”
  502. “But does three knocks mean?”
  503. >”Not sure, but I have a suspicion we asked the wrong question, ask if it's a filly or a colt.”
  504. “Are you a filly or a colt?”
  505. >You feel the floorboards vibrate from a knock just outside the salt ring. Instinctively you look where you felt it.
  506. >A small black mass shoots away from you before disappearing behind some boxes.
  507. “Did you see that!”
  508. >”Calm down, you just scared her.”
  509. “What do you mean I scared a ghost!”
  510. >”Shh, I’ll take it from here.”
  511. >Dawn takes a step out of the salt circle and speaks in a motherly tone. “It’s okay, we’re here to help you.” She coos.
  512. >A few boxes tumble onto the floor spilling out old antiques from years before.
  513. >Your co-agent sighs and switches to stern mother mode. ”Come on now, I’ve seen far scarier 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?”
  514. >A knock appears from close to you, a moment after, four consecutive knocks emit close to you.
  515. >”That’s Anonymous, he’s a friend. Now don’t change the subject, Your parents are waiting for you. It’s time to go.”
  516. >Another two knocks raps out.
  517. >”You’ve been making a young colt very ill, haven't you.”
  518. >You run your hand down to your stomach, as a sudden pang of nausea starts to make you feel dizzy with a fever to match.
  519. >You wipe your hot forehead, but notice the lack of sweat.
  520. “Dawn, I feel sick all of a sudden…” You state before a sickly burp bubbles up your windpipe.
  521. >”Just relax,” Dawn whispers before returning to her previous tone, “You're making Anonymous here feel sick. Are you trying to tell us something?”
  522. >Knock.
  523. >”I already know, you died during the great plague. Didn't you.”
  524. >Knock.
  525. >”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.”
  526. >Dawn turns and smiles at you, you can tell it's these moments she enjoys the most.
  527. >The thick air dissipates with your nausea, the mood of the attic changes with it.
  528. “Is she gone?”
  529. >”Sure is.”
  530. ”How did you know all that?”
  531. >”Research, always look into the history of the house or grounds. During the great plague, this area of Canterlot was the slums, sadly it was here the ponies were hit the hardest.”
  532. “Then you checked the death register from that era?”
  533. >”Yep, took me all night to match the name with the address. A small filly died in one of the bedrooms…”
  534. “Then why haunt the attic?”
  535. >”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.”
  536. “That’s pretty grim.”
  537. >”From the accounts, it sure was…” Dawn sighs, “Anyway,” Her mood immediately lifts into a chirpier tone, “There’s a few more tools in your kit I want to go through with you.”
  538. “Sure.”
  539. >Back at the kitchen Dawn lights a few candles and places them on the table.
  540. >”There, now you can see a little better,” Dawnlight smiles in the warm glow before once again rummaging through her saddlebags, “Look in your bag for one of these,” She says holding what seems to be an handheld pickaxe, or a snowpick for a better word.
  541. >You reach into your backpack and sure enough you feel something metallic with a wooden handle.
  542. “What do I do with this? I won't, I'll be climbing mountains with it. Or looking for ore...” You ask rolling the small pick handle in your hand
  543. >Dawn laughs, “This here, compared to the Ki meter, is your second best friend. “Ghosts, especially poltergeists and demons, love shutting doors or trapping alone agents in rooms. Now mostly poltergeists are just tricksters, they do it to scare you, but get trapped by a demon it’s bad news. This is where this tool comes in, your pick.”
  544. “I start digging my grave?”
  545. >Your comment earns another laugh from Dawnlight.
  546. >”No, you use the flattened end to get the door open, if that fails, use the pick end to get through the wood of the door and call for help. Also,” Your co agent continues, “You do get some demons and other dark spirits who like to pull you into a room. If you can, use the pick end and jam it into the floor. Being two legged they would mostly go to your ankles, us ponies, our tails.”
  547. “Should I worry about damaging others property?”
  548. >”Not at all, we’re insured by the Crown, Princess Luna would have you alive rather than dead because you didn’t want to bash through a door to escape a life threatening situation.”
  549. “So I should have been carrying that thing with me tonight?”
  550. >”Normally the team leader will advise you on the tools to take. Tonight's assignment, no. After the research I guess Bright Eyes deemed it as safe for a newbie.”
  551. “Right, so what else do I have?”
  552. >”Epon’ salt. There should be a bag of powder.”
  553. You pull out the bag, “This is the stuff in our armor…”
  554. >”Correct, and I used it in the attic too, this stuff is your protection. If in doubt, any doubt at all of what you’re dealing with, create a ring with this. It’ll keep the majority of the paranormal at bay and keep you safe.”
  555. “Alright, and I use this with the salt blaster?”
  556. >”Yep, load it up and fire away. Though not needed tonight, you would be carrying one on more dangerous missions. I’ll go through your blaster with you another time.”
  557. “And what’s next?”
  558. >Dawnlight pulls out a small book with a black cover, a small piece of chalk hangs in a loop in the spine. You return to your bag and pull out something similar.
  559. >”This book is for protection too, on every page there is a rune that can be drawn, their purpose is written above.”
  560. >You flick through your small black book, sure enough there are many rune symbols, most circular while others linier. Above the illustration some text what you presume the rune does.
  561. “I can’t read the text...I can’t read Equestrian…”
  562. >”But you speak it so fine…” Dawn tilts her head in confusion.
  563. “It’s very similar to my native language English, almost exactly the same. But your written language, it’s well...”
  564. >”Oh, well out of all the runes that you need to know is the first one,” Dawn opens her book on the first page. The rune is a circular design with a square and an X in the middle, “This is the protection rune, like Epon’ salt it creates a protective aura around you. Draw this within a salt circle you can be assured you’ll be protected against the strongest dark spirits. Though it doesn’t mean that it protects you from physical objects or entities. A powerful enough ghost will still attempt to hurl stuff at you.”
  565. “Good to know, any more?”
  566. >Dawn flick through the book, “This one too, fourth page, that’s a cleansing rune, sometimes when dealing with dark magics or spirits you end up carrying dark energies with you. If you're feeling angry or upset for no reason, draw this, it should, well, cleanse you.”
  567. >You look at the rune on the first page, it’s similar to the one on the first page, but instead of a square and cross, it’s a triangle with three lines protruding from each of the three corners.
  568. “And with these do I have to say some magic line or something?”
  569. >Dawnlight shakes her head, “No, these are passive runes, they work as soon as you draw them, there are runes in the book that do need activate by a spoken spell, those are called proactive runes, but most agents don’t use them, other than Aether and a few others. I wouldn’t suggest using them, as they can backfire.”
  570. “In what way?”
  571. >”For instance there’s the Entrapment Rune, it traps a spirit in one place, activating the rune wrong, you could bond your own soul to the spirit.”
  572. “I’ll take your word for it and leave them be then.”
  573. >”They’re still worth knowing about. Ask Aether when you have the time to go through them. Just don’t let him get you into dark runes, just slap him if he does.”
  574. You laugh, “Will do, I mean the asking part, not the slapping. I’ll just say no if he does.”
  575. >”Well that’s everything, there’s some more equipment to go through, but these are your essentials.”
  576. “Cool,” You reply, not really knowing what else to say.
  577. >”Cool,” Dawn copies, “Let’s get packed up, I don’t think there’s any more spirits here and everything seems to be in order.”
  578.  
  579. >It didn’t take long to pack up, lock the door and head out into the breezy midnight cobbled streets.
  580. >”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.
  581. “Yeah, in fact I did. Knowing that the filly is at rest gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.”
  582. >”I get that too, it means you are a good pon- err monke- ahh…”
  583. You laugh as Dawn trips over her words. “Person. Not a monkey either.”
  584. >”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.”
  585. “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.
  586. >Dawn giggles ”...Really? How come SMILE hasn't caught you yet?”
  587. “Trust me they tried. Took them all day to prise me out of Celestia's bathroom...It’s a long story, Besides, SMILE is supposed to be top secret.”
  588. >”We work with them from 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.”
  589. “Sounds like a bad history with them.”
  590. >”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.”
  591. >You continue to walk down the streets, turning a corner you recognize the area, Main Street, instead of bustling with life, the cobbly streets lay empty, except for a few guards patrolling or stations at a post.
  592. You look up to the night sky, the stars are showing in all their glory with constellations that stretch across the horizon, “I guess there’s a fair few more hours left till dawn.”
  593. >”There is, so we need to find something to do!”
  594. “Well what do you normally do, when an assignment finishes early?”
  595. >”I normally go to the bar, but tonight, I want to show you a few things.”
  596. “A midnight tour?”
  597. >”Something like that. Come one this way!” Dawn nudges you to turn left towards Canterlot station.
  598. >You both enter the empty station, for somewhere that’s always busy during the day, the eerie feeling it gives you is that of what you can’t describe. The empty ticket booths, the empty chairs, the empty platform. It puts you on edge.
  599. >”Don’t worry Anon, there’s nothing here, now follow.” Downlight says fluttering towards a gated doorway at the bottom of the second platform.
  600. >She rattles the gate then gives a hard push in which it grinds open.
  601. >”The locks have been broken for years.” Your co agent claims, “Down here, come quickly else we're going to miss it.”
  602. “Miss what?” You ask following Dawn down a flight of metal stairs.
  603. >”You’ll see, you might want to crack another glowstick.”
  604. >You do as she says. You continue to follow her down until the stairs reach an old stone tiled floor. The air is colder down here, but the air seemed oddly thin. Looking around you discover it’s a single underground platform, you walk over to the edge, you can just make out a pair of rusty rails from the green light of your glow stick.
  605. “Alright, it’s an underground platform. Why are we here?”
  606. >Dawn smiles, “Just wait a little longer, but if you follow the rails to your right, you’ll see the exit to outside of Canerlots abandoned tunnel two, look to your left, and those rails lead to the mines in the mountain.”
  607. >You look down the track to the mines, you can see nothing but a black void into nothingness.
  608. “I imagine this place would have been pretty smokey from those stream trains…”
  609. >”They were, from old accounts, this place had a rudimentary air filter system. Though state of the art at the time, if you take a look above you, there’s long pipes.”
  610. >You look up, you can just make out the black pipes hanging from the ceiling.
  611. “I see them.”
  612. >”Those were the filtering systems. On the upper level where the first platform is, there were steam pumps that pumped in the fresh air and extracted the smoke. Though when the train left the station the poor miners would get covered in soot. They called it the morning soot or being soothed when you board the train.”
  613. “It sounds like those miners had it tough, can’t imagine being smoked out on the way to work.”
  614. >”Back then miners we’re still the underclass here in Canterlot, they’re health wasn’t a concern back then, it was all about getting them to work on time that mattered.”
  615. “You sure love your history.”
  616. >”I do!, trust me knowing this stuff has saved my flank a fair few times, now shh!” Dawnlight lands on the ground and holds up a hoof to her ear, “Listen.”
  617.  
  618. >You listen to the complete silence coming from the platform exit and mine entrance tunnels. Faintly you hear a distant clanking and chugging of what reminds you of a train.
  619. “I hear a train, they run this time of night?”
  620. >”Nope,” Dawn grins when you both hear a faint whistle, “What your experience is a residual haunting.
  621. >You listen some more, it sounds as if the train is coming from the exit to Tunnel Two.
  622. >Suddenly you feel a gush of air followed by a strong smell of burning coal.
  623. “I think the trains here,” You mutter, staring at the empty tracks in front of you.
  624. >”The next bit is my favorite, but I need you to do it. A males voice seems to walk best, shouting ‘all aboard’ really loud.”
  625. “...Why?”
  626. >”Just do it! Trust me.”
  627. “Fine,” You cough into your fist and shout, “ALL ABOARD!”
  628. >Your voice echoes through the underground platform and down into the mines.
  629. >Feeling ridiculous, you turn towards Dawn who is walking towards you.
  630. >”Now watch, I think it worked.”
  631. “What am I seeing?”
  632. >”There.” She points a hoof down the platform, a single orb bobs towards the track followed by another.
  633. “Wow…Are they?”
  634. >”Shh! Just watch.”
  635. >Suddenly you're both surrounded by orbs, bobbing and bounding towards the rails. Only to disappear once they cross over the edge. You simply stand there in awe at the amount of floating balls light drifting past you.
  636. >Minutes passed until the last of the orbs evaporates as it crosses the threshold.
  637. >”Wasn’t that cool or what?” Dawn asks.
  638. “That was...Something…” You reply trying to describe what you just saw, “Where they the-”
  639. >”Miners yes,” Dawn's smile fades, “Even though it's an awesome sight, it has a sad story to it.”
  640. “What happened?”
  641. >”What we saw there were the two hundred miners who never came home from work. Like I said, since they were underclass their work conditions were poor, they were ushered into the carriages and packed into the point where each stallion where positioned side by side. Nose to tail, with no seats I might add. And back then it was almost an hour's journey to the furthest mine. So imagine the heat as well trying to breathe through the smoke.”
  642. “Sounds like a recipe for disaster.”
  643. >”It was, the train caught fire due to a furnace rupture that killed the engineers instantly. Many of the poor souls on board packed tightly had nowhere to run and burned to death, a few survivors of the fire ended up suffocating due to the lack of air when they tried to return on hoof.”
  644. “A rough way to go. Though, those orbs, are they their spirits?”
  645. >”Kind of, It’s a residual haunting. It’s like seeing a snapshot of time, we're still not fully sure what causes them, but normally after a tragic event like this enough energy is stored in the stones. Like a cinema projector, it plays it out. I assure you every spirit has crossed over and we're just watching a replay.”
  646. “So no spirit is trapped then?”
  647. >”No,” Dawn shakes her head, “The event will continue to play out until the area runs out of residual energy. This event anomaly used to play out every week when it was first discovered decades ago, but now it’s just every month or so. Early reports of this haunting said that you could see the train smoke and headlamps come from the tunnel. And the orbs were actually shadow figures. Just goes to show how much energy was stored here.”
  648. “I’m glad I saw it. Thanks for showing this to me Dawn. It was pretty fascinating.”
  649. >”Well, I got one more place to show you, it doesn’t have a sad story to it, it’s just...weird. Not spooky weird, just your above average weird.”
  650. “Alright sounds good, lead the way!”
  651.  
  652. >You both leave the station and return to walking the city's streets under the hazy blue moonlit sky.
  653. >”Why would you call your planet Earth?” Dawn asks after the early hour discussion landed on your origins.
  654. “I don’t know, it was called that before I was born.” You shrug.
  655. >”Weird...” Dawn trails off into thought as she glances around at the houses either side of the street. “What is it like?”
  656. “What do you mean?”
  657. >”Earth, your home. What’s it like living there?”
  658. “Mostly the same, but more technologically advanced and no talking equines.”
  659. >Dawn scrunches up her muzzle before replying, ”That’s a bit vague...Wait, there’s ponies in your world?”
  660. You nod, “Yeah, horses too. But they are animals and look nothing like ponies here.”
  661. >”I guess, that makes sense, you do look like a chimp.”
  662. “Hey!” You feign being offended, “I’ll have you know, we evolved from a chimp like species. They are close cousins in fact.”
  663. >”Really? What about ponies in your world. What do they look like? And why can’t they talk?”
  664. “Well they’re a lot taller, longer muzzle too, smaller eyes, they don’t do magic. They’re basically animals.”
  665. >”...What about Pegasi and Unicorns?”
  666. “Don’t exist as they are nothing but myths. Or to some, classified as cryptids.”
  667. >”And you knew of pegasi and unicorns before you came here?”
  668. You laugh, “Yeah, they’re dotted throughout our myths and legends, even dragons. Just don’t try and think about it too hard. It drove Celestia's top student up the wall. I think she didn’t get a wink of sleep for days.”
  669. >”I won’t but it is fascinating...What about bat ponies?”
  670. “Closest I can think of from old fairy tales, and that’ll be a thestral”
  671. >”You're kidding....”
  672. “I’m not.”
  673. >”It’s not that, thestrals are ancient history to us bat ponies. Think of them as batpony but tall as the Princesses.”
  674. “I take it they’re extinct?”
  675. >Dawnlight nods, “They are, we’re the descendants of the thestral race. Many aeons ago, there were two main races in Equestria, The Alicorn and The Thestrial. To cut this history lesson short, a war broke out and you only need to know who lives in the castle to know who won.”
  676. “Celestia and Luna…”
  677. >”Correct, though it was a pyrrhic victory and Equestia’s lands were left devastated.”
  678. You take a moment to digest the information, you never knew much about Celestia and Luna's past as they don’t talk much about it, “How did the other races come to be?”
  679. >”That I don’t know, that history has been scrubbed from record.”
  680. You decide to leave it as that and change the subject, “Are we nearly there yet, we’ve been walking for ages now.”
  681. >”It’s just around this corner.”
  682. >You follow Dawnlight around the corner into a narrow street.
  683. >The street is like any other in Canterlots residential areas, cobbled with old town houses littered down each side. To you there’s nothing really out of the ordinary.
  684. >”We’re here!” Dawn chirps, “Number two three three,” She points at a house that earns no distinctive qualities.
  685. >Old style tiled roof, with an attic window.
  686. >Two wooden framed windows with crests on the upper floor and two large bowed windows on the bottom with an old oak front door. A normal house for this part of Canterlot.
  687. “It’s a house, is it haunted?”
  688. >”Not quite, this house doesn’t exist.”
  689. “It does, I can see it.”
  690. >”Yet it doesn’t exist, there’s no record of this house ever being built, sold, owned, or even appearing in any map of Canterlot.”
  691. “Could have been an oversight. The numbering could be wrong on the houses.”
  692. >”Could be, but it gets better, find a stone and throw it at it.”
  693. “...I’m not a vandal,”
  694. >”It’s fine, it's fine, trust me. This isn’t some prank.” Dawn assures you.
  695. >You scuff your foot along the road until you find a stone.
  696. >Picking it up you take aim and throw it.
  697. >To your surprise the stone passes through.
  698. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
  699. >”Weird isn’t it? PHEERs agents have been pondering what this anomaly is. So far we have nothing.”
  700. “Is it safe just to leave it like this? I would expect the area to be closed off.” You ask.
  701. >”Unless it’s pointed out to you, everyday ponies would just walk on by. Even the neighbors believe the house is vacant.”
  702. “Is it still worth trying to stop the anomaly?”
  703. >Dawnlight shakes her head, “Some things are just worth leaving alone. Sometimes the paranormal should be treated like a wild animal, if it isn’t causing harm then leave it.”
  704. “I presume you could run the risk of provoking something more sinister?”
  705. >”Yeah, a benign spirit can turn dark if provoked enough. Same rule applies with cryptids.” Dawn motions for you to follow, “Let's go, I’m starving and we have a few hours left, I suggest let's grab a snack before heading back.”
  706. Your belly rumbles in agreement, “Sounds good.”
  707.  
  708. “Let get this straight,” You try and process the new information as you both walk towards Canterlot Castle, “You know if its a Doppelganger because if you see yourself you die, a Changeling you will feel your emotions being drained and a Skinwalker would just be eating your face.”
  709. >”I would have put it less morbid, but that's correct, those are your three mimics. A Doppelganger is a spirit, while a Skinwalker and a Changeling is a cryptid - ah, I keep forgetting, now after the invasion and we know Changelings have a queen and a society, they’re no longer classified as a cryptid, they come under enemy combatant.”
  710. “Then they’re the Royal Guards problem?”
  711. >”Sure are. But we come across them from time to time,” Dawn replies before motioning down an alleyway. “This way~” She sings.
  712. “I imagined going to a bar or midnight cafe, not to be mugged…” You reply.
  713. >”We are going to a bar, this ones the best one. Everypony from PHEER comes here.”
  714. “Something tells me this place is a dive…”
  715. >”How did you guess?” Dawn laughs, “Now down here~” She sings again.
  716. >The bat pony glides down a set of stairs that seems to be an entry to an old wine cellar.
  717. >You descend the flight of stairs and wait behind her as she bangs on the rusty metal door.
  718. >”Let me do the talking,” Dawn whispers before you hear a grinding metal latch slide across on the other side of the door.
  719. >The rust metal door opens an inch.
  720. >”Last orders rang two hours ago. Leave.” A gravelly voice grumbles out.
  721. >”I guess the bell tolls.” Dawn replies.
  722. >The door opens wide and Dawn trots in.
  723. >You go to follow only to find a grey monster of an Earth pony blocking your way.
  724. >He stares at you with tired dark blue eyes. “Not you.” He orders.
  725. >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.
  726. >”Are you coming or what Anon?” Dawn asks as she squeezes by the massive bulk of muscle.
  727. “He’s not letting me in.”
  728. >”Oh just ignore him, come on.” She waves you in with a hoof.
  729. “I don’t think he’ll let me pass.”
  730. >”You’ll let him in, won't you Buff?” Your co-agent asks the bouncer.
  731. >”No.” Buff replies sternly.
  732. > 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.”
  733. >Buff grunts as he continues to stare you down.
  734. >From where you stand you can smell his overpowering aftershave assault your senses.
  735. >Seriously, did he bathe in it or something?
  736. “So…” You rub the back of your head. “Nice night huh?”
  737. >The bouncer grunts again for a reply.
  738. “...Busy night? You look tired.”
  739. >He grunts again.
  740. >You figure that the small talk isn’t working, so you just grunt back.
  741. >Bulk narrows his eyes and grunts a little louder.
  742. >In acceptance of his challenge you grunt back.
  743. >He grunts back.
  744. >You grunt forth.
  745. >”What are you two doing?” Dawn's voice comes from behind the grunting stallion.
  746. >”Let him in Buff,” A male voice calls from the bar.
  747. >Buff grunts and steps aside.
  748. >You step in through the door, Buff head tracks you as you walk past the mass of muscle.
  749. >You pause your footing and nod at him and grunt again for a thank you. In which he grunts back.
  750. >”I wouldn’t annoy him 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.
  751.  
  752. >The smell of stale smoke and booze hits your senses, your suspicions are correct. This place is a dive. Round tables that dots the room sit on a worn wooden floor. The tables are chipped, and graffitied. 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.
  753. >”Well I never thought I'd have a cryptid in my bar.” A stallion calls out from the bar.
  754. >The bar owner wore an off-white apron to contrast with his dull dark purple coat and black mane. He polishes a glass with his front hooves, waiting for your reply.
  755. “More like an alien. I come in peace and all that…” You shrug.
  756. >The stallion laughs, “I like you, the name’s Tender, do you know what beer is?”
  757. “Pint, no large head.”
  758. >”You’ll get what you're given, besides the ones in the house. Accept it as a peace offering between our planets.”
  759. >You smirk and walk towards the bar, as Tender slides a beer over to you.
  760. >”Anon, I need to talk to Tender for a minute. I’ll order the food, what do you want?” Dawn asks with a smile.
  761. “I’ll have what you’re having...Just no hay.”
  762. >”Hotdog it is then, go and find a table I’ll be over shortly.”
  763. “Sure,” You shrug, you scan the room to find a table, probably not one in the middle, nor too near the bar.
  764.  
  765. >Among the tables you spot a familiar face with her hoof on her cheek with a disappointed expression. Her deep ocean blue mane, done into a styled ponytail, with two bangs on either side of her face.
  766. “Mini?” You ask as you walk over to her.
  767. >She looks up with her large orange eyes and cocks her head to one side.
  768. “I thought that was you.” You point at the empty chair opposite her, “Is this one taken?”
  769. >Mini shrugs and waves a hoof, to signal ‘do as you wish’
  770. Placing your free pint on the table, you pull out the chair and sit down. “Something tells me tonight didn’t go as planned.”
  771. >The silent bat pony frowns and points at a still full pint glass that sat next to yours.
  772. “So someone walked on you? A date?”
  773. >Mini nods slowly.
  774. “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…”
  775. >As you continue with your story Mini’s expression changes more content as she listens.
  776. “...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-”
  777. >Upon hearing the word car Mini gives a confused expression with a shrug.
  778. “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.”
  779. >You curse yourself at that bad description, but with a nod from her, you guess she had a rough idea.
  780. “So everything seemed fine until she pulled out a gun -err bit like a salt blaster or musket but smaller and design to kill” You hold up to fingers roughly the size of a pistol “Anyway, she pulls it from her purse, being weaponless, she ordered me to pull over and stop the car…”
  781. >With her hooves held up to her mouth, Mini mimes a soundless gasp.
  782. “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”
  783. >Mini couldn’t quite look you in the eyes as a smirk forms behind her hooves.
  784. “You can laugh, that’s all I can do when I think about it.” You smile.
  785. >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.
  786. >You feel a puff of air in your ear followed by another aroma assault of aftershave.
  787. >Turning your head you see the familiar pair of tired blue eyes glaring at you.
  788. >”Is this creature bothering you Miss?” Buff asks Mini.
  789. >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.
  790. >”Well any trouble let me know and I’ll make him disappear.”
  791. You tilt your head at Buff then back to Mini, “You know I bet Buff here is single.”
  792. >Mini smirks and flicks a hoof.
  793. “Yeah you're right, too much of a talker. Can barely get a word in.”
  794. >Buff puts his muzzle inches from your cheek and snorts a blast of air at you then leaves.
  795. “Actually, he’s probably deep down he’s a sweetheart…”
  796. >Mini rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
  797. >”Food has been ordered” Dawn calls out as she trots towards you, “Oh, hi Mini!”
  798. >Mini waves at Dawn Light with a warm friendly smile.
  799.  
  800. >”Are you enjoying your night off Mini?”
  801. >Mini points at the full glass then back to herself.
  802. >”Somepony walked on you?”
  803. >Mini nods.
  804. >”Why?”
  805. >Mini huffs then points to Dawn's armor.
  806. >”Didn’t like your line of work?”
  807. >Mini nods again.
  808. >”Aww…” Dawn grabs her into a hug, “You’ll find a special somepony oneday.”
  809. >The silent mare sighs then smiles.
  810. “How did he find out? I’m not sure how you would mime that you’re working for PHEER.” You ask, silently cursing yourself upon asking a maybe sensitive question.
  811. >Mini points to Tender who is walking over with two plates held on a leathery wing.
  812. >”What?” Tender asks, placing the hotdogs on the table.
  813. >”Apparently you ruined Minis' date.” Dawn informs the bartender.
  814. >”..Oh, that guy freaked out when I told him Mini here works for PHEER.”
  815. >Mini folds her front legs and frowns.
  816. >”He would have found out eventually Mini…”
  817. >The mute mare looks defeated.
  818. >”Mini, look I’m sorry, I didn’t know he was your date...Anyway I gotta get back to the bar, you two enjoy your meals.”
  819. You reach over and grab your hotdog, “Thanks,” You call out to Tender as he stations himself back behind his bar. “What is the problem working for PHEER? We’re doing good right? What's with the stigma?” You ask the two mares.
  820. >”It’s the danger that comes with the job, and the work is your life. They’re not exactly settled down material.” Dawn grimaces upon her choice of words.
  821. >Mini’s gaze shoots to Dawn upon hearing her answer with her face twisted in envy.
  822. >“Mini…” Dawn reaches out to her, only to be knocked out of the way as the silent batpony leaves. “Mini come back! I didn’t mean it like that!”
  823. >You watch Mini leave the bar before stopping by Buff. She points at you then makes another ‘U’ shape with both hooves before leaving.
  824. >The bouncer snorts at you then turns towards the door.
  825. “What was that about Dawn?” You ask, completely taken away from the sudden turn of events.
  826. >”...Don’t blame her, she gets jealous due to me getting a lucky dice roll by fate.”
  827. “As in your vision?”
  828. >Dawn nods and pushes away her plate, food untouched. “Many in PHEER dislike me due to the fact I get a happy ending...And Mini, she gets jealous like the others sometimes.”
  829. “A happy death?”
  830. >”I die in my bed at a grand old age, surrounded by my family. I couldn’t see any faces but I knew my foals and grand foals were there…”
  831. “If there’s any consolation, I’m not jealous.”
  832. >Dawn smiles, “It’s nice to hear that Anon.”
  833. You smirk, “Well it’s obviously mine is better, I get a comfy hospital bed, with a crazy Aether pumping poison into my veins.”
  834. >To your relief, your co-agent laughs, cheering her up a little, “Each to their own there, monkey colt.”
  835. “Jokes aside, will you and Mini be alright? She kind of snubbed you there.”
  836. >”Mini is like that, there’s a little bit of Molo in Mini and little bit of Mini in Molo. I’m pretty sure tomorrow night Mini will apologise with a big hug.”
  837.  
  838. >After you finish up your early morning meal, you both return to base just as the sun creeps over the horizon.
  839. >”Good morning.” Bright eyes greets you at the bottom of the stone stairs, “I see you made it back in one piece.” She finishes staring at you with her emerald eyes.
  840. “Morning, Turned out it was a ghost of a little filly.” You reply stifling a yawn.
  841. >”Either way, it could have been a demon posing as a little filly. Don’t think all your assignments will be such a breeze.” The emerald eye’d mare turns to Dawn, “Dawn, why did it take all night to clear out one little spirit?”
  842. >Dawn stands straight, “I gave Anonymous a tour of Canterlot, I showed him the old underground platform at the station, and house two two three.”
  843. >Bright Eyes stays silent for a while, “I see. May I ask why?”
  844. >”Experience, I showed him two different anomalies he can expect.”
  845. >”Well done Dawn. Debrief over. Go to bed.” Bright Eyes orders.
  846. >You say good night to Dawn and head to your bunk before you can open the door. Bright Eyes speaks again from her desk.
  847. >”Anon, you’ll be working with Aether tomorrow. You’ll have an assignment outside of Canterlot. Will this be an issue?”
  848. “I don’t think he’ll kill me yet, in the way he acted we were very good friends.”
  849. >”Good. And well done you’re using your head. Use your fate to your advantage, never tempt it.” Bright Eyes stretches her wings, “I’ll be turning in soon, goodnight Anon.”
  850. >With that the gem eyed mare leaves for her room.
  851. >You push the door open to find Aether sitting on his bed, looking up at you with his yellowish-green eyes.
  852. “I take it you were listening.”
  853. >”Didn’t have a choice bud, my hearing is pretty good.” Aether shrugs his wings.
  854. “Alright, I should be honest with you, I’m a little worried about being around you. You know the whole killing me in the future bit - Kind of rubs me the wrong way…” You say walking to your bed and start removing your armor and gear.
  855. >”There has to be a reason for me to do it.” Aether replies flopping back on his bed with his limbs and wings sprawled out.
  856. You hang up your armor and place your backpack in the lower part of your locker, “Well you implied you killed the rest of the team.”
  857. >”That part doesn’t make sense. They all have different fates. Take Dawns for example, she gets a good life.”
  858. “She told me earlier about that.”
  859. >”She did?” Your bunkmate raises his head a little, “Normally she keeps that to herself...But anyway,” He flicks a hoof, “There still has to be a reason for me to do it. I’m not some mindless killer you know.”
  860. “You could be. I just met you.”
  861. >”Well you could be one. Ready to have your wicked way with me while I sleep.”
  862. “...I’m not a succubus…”
  863. >”Incubus.”
  864. “Eh?” You pause taking off your shoes. “What’s that?”
  865. >”Male succubus is an Incubus.” Aether corrects. “Unless…” He sits up and glances down at your crotch, “I’ve seen many weird cryptids in my time…”
  866. You launch your pillow straight at the stallion's face, “I have a goddamn cock.”
  867. >”Well if you tuck it behind, I could overlook it,” Aether calmly places the pillow to one side with a serious expression.
  868. >You glare at the male batpony who gives you a wink.
  869. >Is he hitting on you?
  870. >Dumbfounded, you stare at him.
  871. >After a moment, Aethers face starts to crack before he rolls back in laughter. “I’m joking bud!”
  872. “That wasn’t funny!” You almost yell, just catching yourself as you remember the others are probably asleep.
  873. >”Buddy, relax. I’m a consinsure of the female sex.”
  874. “I was under the impression you’ll go after everything.”
  875. >”Half of everything,” He corrects as he fires your pillow back at you.
  876. >Catching your pillow ,you groan and climb into your bed.
  877. >”Anyway, bud, we have a good Cryptid hunt tomorrow.” Says Aether as he too climbs into his bed and places his head on his pillow. “You heard of Yarramares?”
  878. “I thought SMILE deals with cryptids?”
  879. >”They do, but we’re called in on this one as Yarramares are spirits who physically manifest.”
  880. “What are they then?”
  881. >”They’re an ancient spirit, normally summoned by stupid ponies who dapple in dark magic.”
  882. >You sit up and fold your arms.
  883. >”Hey, I know what I’m doing. I’m fully licensed to do so. Besides, these ponies, probably teenagers or amature hunters who end up summoning them, thinking they’re playing one big game.”
  884. “Why summon them?”
  885. >”A number of reasons. Back in ancient times before the great unification, the summoning ritual was a curse…” Aether says before yawning, “A pony from a neighboring tribe would trick another into doing the ritual to bring good fortune to their village.”
  886. “Let me guess. It doesn't go down well.”
  887. >”No it doesn’t, the ritual is very simple to do. Get a jar or container of some sort, place a cutting of a newborn foal's mane, a piece of burnt wood, a gold coin and a grain of wheat from the last harvest. After doing that you bury it, on the outskirts of your village in the early hours.”
  888. “I see where the pony could be fooled, all those things come with good fortune...Though I don’t understand the burnt wood”
  889. >”Items in dark magic are used as representations, symbols if you will, gold for wealth, wheat for a good harvest, and a newborn mane represents fertility...A good heat, if you catch my drift…” Aether sleepily chuckles.
  890. “And burnt wood?”
  891. >”Put that in the jar, all those items would get covered in soot and become darkened. Thus reversing the symbology of those items.”
  892. “Alright I get it, so what do these Yarramares do?”
  893. >”Normally a small herd is summoned, they come into the curse village every night, and bring misfortune to the families, loss of income, ruined food stores, sudden deaths, and if you’re a mare, a risk of losing your fertility. Even worse if the mare is pregnant…”
  894. A cold shiver rattles down your spine, “And how would I recognise one?”
  895. >Aether half asleep starts to mumbles his reply, “Looks like a pony, pure white, no head and long legs...You know when you see one.”
  896. >After that Aether starts snoring.
  897. >You roll over and stare at the stone wall deep in thought about the situation you find yourself in.
  898.  
  899. >Next evening you're sitting on the last train to Hollow Shades.
  900. >The train chugs and the carriage rocks as it leaves Canterlot, you watch out the window as the hills roll on by as the sun slowly dips below the horizon casting the sky in orange to purple hues.
  901. >Aether yawns, leaning his head against the window in the cushioned seat opposite you. As the train carriage rocks his head thumps against the glass causing him to stir a bit more awake.
  902. >”I hate early evenings…” He mumbles.
  903. “It’s not too bad. I’ve been up since three PM.”
  904. >”Says the day walker…” Aether groans as he sits up and rubs his eyes, “I supposed to check your kit for this assignment, so I hope you brought everything.”
  905. “I got my Salt Blaster, Armor, Pick, Epon’ Salt, Ki Meter and Rune Book.”
  906. >”Sounds good. Has anypony gone through the Rune Book with you?”
  907. “Dawn did yesterday. She showed me the protection rune and the cleansing one too.”
  908. >”Alright, that’ll be all you need for this, but I’ll show you one more, get your book and flip to the sixth page.”
  909. >You rummage through your backpack and pull out the black book.
  910. >Flipping to the sixth page you analyze the rune.
  911. >A square with a triangle protruding from the top and bottom side.
  912. “What does this one do?”
  913. >”Well read it.”
  914. “I can’t read Equestrian.”
  915. >”Really? Sorry bud, that there is a lock. If you suspect there’s a portal created due to summoning then draw this at the location. It’ll stop any more spirits coming through.”
  916. “Would I need this for this assignment?”
  917. >”More than likely,” Aether pulls out some papers from under his wing, “We got it easy tonight, we’ll be teaming up with two SMILE agents, they would be dealing with the Yarramares themselves, while us two be hunting for the portal.”
  918. “Any idea where it would be?”
  919. >”No, but there is a way to find out. We watch them.”
  920. “Why?”
  921. >”Yarra’s will only follow a path into a village, we simply keep following the direction they are coming from. Once we no longer see any then use the Ki meter, Ki should be off the charts when we’re nearby. Yarra’s never physically manifest near the portal.”
  922. “I put my money on ‘they do it to hide the portal's location’.”
  923. >”Correct. Plus we should be safe when they are in that state. If one has manifested near you, blast it and run.” Aether gasps on realising something, “That reminds me,” He pulls his saddle bags up onto his seat and pulls out a bag of white rocks.”
  924. “And they are?”
  925. >”Salt stones, they hurt physically and spiritually.” He replies by throwing you the bag. “Stuff a few of these in the muzzle before you fire. It should buy you time.”
  926. “Alright, hopefully I won't need to use it.”
  927. >”You’ll probably will, just don’t let those things near you,”
  928. “Let me guess. Death?”
  929. >”No, a hospital trip is more likely for you.” Aether laughs.
  930. “That’s not funny.” You frown.
  931. >”Lighten up bud, but seriously, don’t let them touch you. It’ll mess you up for life.”
  932. “I’ll take your word for it.”
  933. >”Awesome.” Aether smiles until a silhouette of a tree lined hill passes by outside. His eyes track along the trees with a somber expression.
  934. “What the matter?”
  935. >”...That hill behind those tree’s. That’s Black Hoof Hill.”
  936. “Oh right. Horned Charge...You were friends with him?”
  937. >Aether nods, “One of best friends. We all know our fate in this job but it was still unexpected you know?”
  938. “I can imagine.”
  939. >”...Yeah…” Aether stares at the tree line for a moment and shakes his head, clearing his lament from his mind. “Anyway, we’re almost at Hollow Shades.”
  940.  
  941. >The train screeches to a halt at an old station consisting of one platform, lacking any buildings.
  942. “Is this the stop?” You ask looking out the window.
  943. >”It is. Hollow Shades is a place trapped in time. So don’t expect the luxuries you get back in Canterlot.”
  944. “...We sleep in an old dungeon we call base.”
  945. >”Yeah, luxury.” Aether smirks, “For bat ponies.”
  946. “Of course. I’m surprised you all don’t sleep in coffins too.”
  947. >”Ouch, tone down the racism there Anon.” Aether replies, throwing his saddlebags over his back.
  948. “How that racist?”
  949. >”Oh because we have sharp canine teeth that look like fangs? You know, for sucking blood...”
  950. “Because I implied bat ponies are vampires.”
  951. >”Yes. I don’t like being called a cryptid thank you very much.” He turns away from you and starts to leave the train. As he turns you catch him suppressing a smirk.
  952. “...Bullcrap. Your having me on.” You claim, “Besides, aren’t you calling a kettle black here?”
  953. >”I don’t know what you’re on about.”
  954. “You called me a cryptid and I find that offensive. I’m an A class alien.”
  955. >”...Aliens don’t exist.” He replies as it's still a matter of fact tucking his yellow glow stick into his Armor while you do the same.
  956. “Alright,” You continue talking as you follow him off the platform into the pitch black and towards Hollow Shades village, “Have you seen a Human before?”
  957. >”No.”
  958. “You know where I came from?” You ask, following the soft yellow glow in front of you.
  959. >”Earth.”
  960. “Yes, Planet Earth. The keyword here is planet.”
  961. >”Where are you going with this?” He chuckles.
  962. “If I’m from another planet then I must be an alien.”
  963. >”There’s no such thing as a planet.”
  964. “Planets exist, all you have to do is look up! See those stars?” You point to the deep blue sky that is littered with stars.
  965. >”Yeah.”
  966. ”Those are planets.”
  967. >”Those are stars Anon. Luna makes them when she pulls forth the night.”
  968. “That’s impossible!”
  969. >”A Celestia moving the sun isn't it?”
  970. >He got you on that one, first you didn’t believe the Princess until one morning she got you out of bed and showed you. By shooting the entire sun across the sky and back again.
  971. “Alright maybe you got something there but you're just denying stuff to annoy me!“
  972. >”I am not!” He laughs, “I’m stating the facts here.”
  973. “You know what, let's drop it.”
  974. >”Alright bud, it’s not me who’s having the identity crisis here…” Aether stops and looks around, “Now our SMILE agents should be in a camp just outside of the village.”
  975. >You look around, you can barely see, other than a few feet in front of you, you can just make out the top of the tree’s silhouetted against the deep dark blue sky.
  976. >You both walk for a few minutes until in the distance a campfire comes into view.
  977.  
  978. >Walking up to the camp you see two tents bathed in the orange glow of the campfire.
  979. >”Hello?” Aether calls out, “I’m looking for a top secret organisation, called FROWN. Or sometimes known as useless?”
  980. >”Ugh, that’ll be the PHEER agents,” A female voice comes from the tent who you somewhat recognize.
  981. >To your surprise you recognise the face to match the voice as a mare emerges from her tent.
  982. “Bon-Hmmph!” The mare with a curly two colored mane shoots over and covers your mouth with two hooves.
  983. >”It’s Agent Sweetie Drops!” Bonbon orders, “You do not use that name-” She pauses as she feels your face with her hooves, “Huh? That’s not fur…”
  984. “It’s been a while,”
  985. >”Anonymous?” Agent Sweetie Drops pulls back and looks up at you, “...Are you?”
  986. “I joined PHEER.”
  987. >”I was going to say lost, but that comes as a surprise too...”
  988. >”You two know each other?” Aether interjects your reunion with the SMILE agent.
  989. >”That’s classified.” Bonbon says sternly.
  990. >Aether huffs, “Alright, Anon, you know her?”
  991. You grin at the stallion, “It’s classified.”
  992. >”...Oh come on! It's a simple question” Aether groans.
  993. “How’s you know who?” You ask the SMILE agent.
  994. >”She’s...Fine, still a little obsessed with you.”
  995. “Figured as much.”
  996. >”Anyway, let's get started. You both know your assignment?” The SMILE agent quickly changes the subject.
  997. >”Yarra’s. You stop them getting into the village while Anon and I find the portal.” Aether states
  998. >”Good, the village residence has been under lock down since yesterday evening under the pretence there’s changelings in the area, there should be no ponies around tonight.” Bonbon says, pulling a metal briefcase from her tent, she presses her hoof against it. With many clicks and clanks the briefcase opens. “I have another agent back at the village. I'll randevu with him, meet us back here at first light for the debrief.”
  999. >Bonbon pulls out a pair of mechanical goggles and puts them on. With a press of a button you hear a high pitch whine as they glow green.
  1000. “Nightvision goggles? I can use a pair of them.” You say.
  1001. >Bonbon gasps and rushes back up to you, “These are highly classified, how do you know about them!”
  1002. “...We have them back on Earth…”
  1003. >”Oh...Just...Hmm…” In a loss for words Bonbon sighs, “Nevermind then…” She mutters as she picks up a hoof worn crossbow and turns towards the dark void. “Just be careful out there, remember, back here at first light.”
  1004. >”Yes ma’am!” Aether says, giving a mocking salute as she trots off in what you presume is the direction of the village.
  1005. “Now what?” You turn to Aether for guidance, who is staring Bonbons behind as she fades into the black void of night.
  1006. >”Huh? Oh right,” He walks over to the campfire and sits down, “We wait.”
  1007. “Wait?”
  1008. >”That’s what I said,” He replies, “Just keep an eye out for lanky white ponies.”
  1009. “With no head.”
  1010. >”With no head.” He repeats.
  1011.  
  1012. >You idly chat with Aether for a while into the night. You both take turns fetching firewood to keep the fire lit.
  1013. >”It’s your turn bud.” Aether throws the last log onto the fire
  1014. “Shit,not again it’s creepy out there…”
  1015. >”Come on bud, grow a pair.”
  1016. “Alright, fine…” You internally curse as you get to your feet and start walking towards the nearest tree line with your Salt Blaster over your shoulder.
  1017. >A few minutes of walking, you make it to the forest that surrounds Hollow Shades. Using the little light from your glow stick and your trusty lighter you fumble around for logs that are easy enough to carry back.
  1018. >You throw a few logs into a pile on the floor ready to haul back. You hear rustling coming from the trees that breaks the eerie silence that lingers around Hollow Shades.
  1019. >You freeze like a deer in front of headlights.
  1020. >Maybe it’s the wind.
  1021. >Yet you feel none, it’s a very still night. Not a single leaf is swaying.
  1022. >Slowly putting your lighter in your pocket, you pull over your Blaster from your shoulder. Trigger finger ready.
  1023. >Snap.
  1024. >You hear the snapping of a twig, but still nothing to be seen.
  1025. >Maybe it's an animal…A timberwolf?
  1026. >No, that's even more terrifying, you push that thought from your mind immediately.
  1027. >Between the trees, you see something move, something tall, very tall, move among the branches. A white leg steps over some foliage, it’s knee has to be over your head height.
  1028. >Still facing what you're seeing at the forest edge you back away slowly towards your log pile.
  1029. >Slinging the gun back over your shoulder you pick up the logs.
  1030. >You quickly hauled ass back to the camp, completely shaken from the experience.
  1031. >To your dismay, you see no sign of Aether. Panicking, you drop the logs and start to search the tents.
  1032. “Aether?...Aether!” You yell.
  1033. >“Sorry bud,” A familiar voice calls out, startling you, “needed to take a leak then ended up pissing like a race pony…”
  1034. >You turn towards the voice to spot Aether stepping out of the darkness into the orange glow.
  1035. “I think I saw one…”
  1036. >”One of our lanky friends?” He asks.
  1037. You nod, “Yeah, it’s leg was taller than I am…”
  1038. >”Doubt that, they’re tall, but not taller than three ponies tops.” Aether looks around, “Are you sure it wasn’t a tree? Your mind does play tricks on you when you’re scared.”
  1039. “I know what I saw.”
  1040. >”Alright, Alright. Calm down. Let's grab our gear and go where you saw it.”
  1041. >You agree and lead Aether back to where you picked up the logs.
  1042. “It was there,” You point into the tree line.
  1043. >Aether's ears twitch, as he stares into the forest, “Something is out there.”
  1044. >He turns and starts rummaging through his saddlebags and cracks a new glow stick before pulling out his Ki-meter.
  1045. >”...Now that’s worrying.”
  1046. “What's worrying?”
  1047. >”I’m getting a Ki-reading of...Hang on,” He fine tunes his meter, “Of ten, no...Twelve...Fourteen..” He looks up into the forest wide eyed and curses under his breath, “...Anon, get back to camp...”
  1048. >Once again you sprint back to the safety of the campfire with Aether in tow.
  1049. >Spending no time hesitating, Aether grabs his bag of Epon’ salt and creates a ring around the campfire.
  1050. “Does the salt stop them? I thought these things were physical…” You ask.
  1051. >”It’s more of a repellent, hopefully since we're not the ones cursed, they should bypass us.”
  1052. >You both stare from the safety of camp at the treeline. Eventually a tall dark shambling figure stumbles out of the forest.
  1053. >”...I never seen those things that tall before,” Aether mutters as another steps out from between the trees.
  1054. >After a minute dozens start pouring out of the treeline, silently stumbling around with no sense of direction.
  1055. “What are they doing?” You whisper, frightened that any noise would cause a rush of lanky cryptids stampeding towards the camp.
  1056. >”I’m not sure” Aether whispers back, “This isn’t right, they should be heading towards the village.”
  1057. “Are you sure these things are Yarra’s?”
  1058. >Aether nods, “Other than they gained extra height, I can safely say they are.”
  1059. >You turn and watch them idly stumble about in the moonlight until one catches your eye, it sways for a moment before it starts scuffing the ground, you nudge Aether and point to it.
  1060. >”It’s digging…”
  1061. >The digging Yarra continues to scuff the floor for a while until it raises its massive leg and brings it down. A loud crackle and a flash of blue light erupts from around its hoof.
  1062. >”Ah, it looks like SMILE has planted Protection Wards…” Before you can ask, Aether continues, “They’re slate rock with runes, charged with unicorn magic.”
  1063. “Do we have them?”
  1064. >”No, SMILE always gets the good stuff while we get a stick of chalk. Besides, as you can see they’re useless here. They can still physically break them.”
  1065. >Slowly the herd of Yarramares start moving in one direction, towards the village.
  1066. >”It looks like it's showtime,” The batpony whispers, loading his blaster and tucking it under his wing, “Stay quiet and let them past, the portal shouldn't be too far from the treeline as they came out there quite close together.”
  1067. “I’m not liking this…”
  1068. >”Me either, now shush,”
  1069. >Silently, the herd moves past the camp, wobbling and shambling towards the village.
  1070. >You wonder if you held your breath the entire time as the lanky cryptids passed.
  1071. >The batpony nudges you and taking the cue you both bolt it to the treeline, checking over your shoulder your relieve to find none has followed you.,
  1072. >Sticks and twigs snap under your feet as you step into the forest, only seeing a few feet in front of you the green light of your glow stick barely lit up past the first tree.
  1073. >You pull round your backpack and grab your Ki-meter, squirting to see the gauges you read a Ki reading of eight, then six, then ten.
  1074. “Ki is all over the place, getting a reading between six and ten.” You whisper to Aether as he carefully steps though the foliage beside you.
  1075. >”I don’t see any Yarra’s so we’re getting close, keep your eye on Tau.”
  1076. “Tau? If it reads, we should run right?”
  1077. >”If we’re not dealing with portals then yes, but this time we're using it to locate one.”
  1078. “Are portals dark magic?”
  1079. >”Some are, some not, if Yarra’s are spawning from them then place your Bits on the magic being dark.”
  1080. >You continue to move through between the trees, ducking and dodging low hanging branches along with minding your feet for fallen ones.
  1081. >The hair on the back of your neck starts to raise as goosebumps tingle along your arms.
  1082. >On cue you tilt and turn the Ki-meter in your glowstick light to get a reading.
  1083. >The Ki reading is now fluctuating between two and twenty, Zen is harmonic while Tau’s needle starts to bob gently.
  1084. “I’m getting a Tau reading here Aether…” You call out.
  1085. >”We’re getting near, keep searching until you get a Tau spike.
  1086. “Alright,” You reply, once again you start moving through the thickening foliage.
  1087. >As you continue along, you hear quiet sobbing, the pitch black forest is disorientating enough and you struggle to pinpoint the direction it’s coming from.

Midnight Run /nmp/

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