Chapter 3- Fear is a Dark Room
"Oh, it was abominable! Ghastly! Indescribably foul!"
"...Sooo, you didn't like it?" asked Pinkie Pie. She, Twilight and Rarity were just passing down the street, looking out for any unusual signs after the events of yesterday, when they found Regal Cut, Diamond Tiara's father, leaning on the side of his door, breathing heavily. He was a tall, greyed, moustachioed pony, near to Big Macintosh's height, and on any other day he would have been imposing. But today he stopped babbling to himself only to glare at the new arrivals, in an annoyance that hid no more panic than what had been given away just now.
"What would you know about it, you little foal?!"
"Ooo, that's a tricky one...uh...nothing! You haven't told us about it yet!"
"Oh, be quiet for once in your life, cake maker!" Regal Cut leaned closer and narrowed his eyes. "I have seen sights that no stallion should ever have to see, and the least you can do is stop your prattling!"
Twilight stepped forward. "Look, sir, we're trying to find out why these strange goings on have been happening. We could really use your assistance."
"Mind your own business!" cried the stallion.
Twilight was about to respond in kind, when Rarity tipped her nose in the air and said. "All right, then, come along girls! If this gentlecolt wants to suffer in silence, I see no reason not to allow it. Good day, sir." The mare trotted along, but smiled and held up no resistance as a reluctant greyed hoof pulled her back.
"I was on the landing last, making doubly sure that my daughter was safe, not that I had any reason to doubt by dear cherub. Then I remember seeing something out of the corner of my eye, I turned around and then...the next thing I can remember is waking up, still on my feet in the exact same place."
Pinkie waved her arms. "Oooo, spoooky!"
"Let me finish!" he snapped. "At any rate, I don't exactly recall the night in all its clarity, but I remember the remnants of some...hideous vision. Something involving strange letters in the air, some kind of interference, and this I-don't-know-what with a black tie, spindly black arms and a face that was either different every instant, or not there at all...'Slenderman'...I keep thinking of that word and I don't know why...I doubt I've even heard it before..."
"Oh, hey! That reminds me! The other day, or the day before that, I saw this tree, only it was a different kind of tree because-"
"Is your daughter safe and sound?" asked Twilight.
"Are you implying that she is not capable of handling herself?" accused the stallion, raising himself up. "I'll have you know my daughter has not left the confines of her room, and is on her way to school even as we speak! Now if you'll excuse me, I must now talk to a professional. If only for a change in company." He marched off in a huff.
"Excuse me, girls, I need to be somewhere," said Twilight.
"But Twilight," said Rarity, "What about the mysterious vanishings?"
"Oh, I'll still be investigating." And then some, thought Twilight, as she ran off in the general direction of the school.
Apple Bloom walked in silence beside Twist. Up ahead and beside them were dozens of other little fillies, flocking to school. They all seemed very happy, talking amongst themselves as they went. But one or two in the crowd seemed off to Apple Bloom. Maybe it was the way they talked, maybe it was they way they walked, maybe it was because of that odd, plastic sheen that their eyes gave off. But each one of them seemed more like a half-alive doppelgänger than themselves to her. Or they would, if she actually knew the word 'doppelgänger' and could pronounce it.
And that was just the sort of vibe Apple Bloom got from Twist whenever she looked at her. It caused her to bristle just walking beside her down the path like she was doing. It was hard not to keep glancing at her, even though it felt uncomfortable doing so. She was the same person, all right. Same colours, same glasses, same Cutie Mark. But her usually messy red mane was more elegantly brushed and flattened. She walked in a taller, more grown-up way. Her lisp had completely vanished; she said she'd figured out a way to talk around it, and it made a big difference. Her glasses were lowered until she was looking right over them, Apple Bloom guessed she found a way around that too. And the way she smiled, it was just...
"...uuh, Twist?" asked Apple Bloom, breaking the uncomfortable silence that didn't seem to bother her friend at all.
"Seein' how it's Book day 'n a coupla days, ah was wonderin'...you ever hear'a any books where, um, there're people in 'em that go all weird, one by one?"
"You mean like in a Zombie Apocalypse?"
"N-no, not that far, just like, uh, goin' all weird, bit by bit, and then it's the hero 'n' their friend, an' the friend starts goin' weird..."
"Well, I'm glad you asked dear friend. There was one novella referred to as 'The Stepford Wives', by Irate Leverage, in the 'Satire' and 'Thriller' genres, concerning a community whose housewives were all doting and submissive and constantly smiling, wherein the reveal lay that the husbands had been brainwashing the mares into becoming their ideal of perfect companions and servants. Why do you ask, dear Apple Bloom?"
Apple Bloom stared. "...No reason..."
"Hey Blank Flank!"
Apple Bloom whipped around, irritated. Sure enough, there came Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. "Droning on about boring old books," asked Silver Spoon, followed by Tiara adding another "Blank Flank?"
"Hey! Mah friend an' I were jus' tryin' to get into the spirit o' the day! It's a National Event and Cheerilee's been workin' real hard makin' it all work!"
"Doesn't mean you just talk about any old book!" said Silver Spoon.
"Stepford Wives?" said Diamond Tiara.
"Now 'To Kill a Mockingbird'?"
"Now that's proper literature."
"The rich prose,"
"The moral dilemmas posed,"
"It's the sort of book to make you really think!"
"Oh, trust me," countered Twist, "I concur, but we mustn't belittle the other classics. After all, it isn't their fault they got adapted into a fiasco of a Nickel Kidman play!"
The three ponies chuckled cordially. Apple Bloom could only look around and manage a "Huh?" She was starting to notice some things about the two bullies. For one thing, since when were they so into classic literature? For another thing, she was noticing a pattern of one filly finishing another's sentence every bit of punctuation. For yet another thing...they were looking a little Stepfordy themselves...
"Not that you'd understand what we're saying," said Silver Spoon to Apple Bloom.
"After all Blank Flank,"
"How much would you know about the arts?" Silver Spoon dipped her head slightly at this, as did Diamond Tiara. They felt a bit odd, today. Usually poking fun at Apple Bloom made them feel better, but today, they felt a little sick to their stomachs, not that either would admit it.
Apple Bloom stiffened. "Hay, ah know plenty 'bout the arts! Ah've seen plenty'a paintin's...and prob'ly half've them 're in the books you're bandyin' 'bout."
Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara laughed again, and Tiara smiled smugly as she spoke. "His eyes are closed, his mouth is open, and his arms outstretched."
Apple Bloom cocked an eyebrow. "...Come again?"
The two seemed as surprised as her, and Tiara massaged her throat. "I said: Love to stay and chat dear,"
"But as quaint as our discussion is,"
"We mustn't keep Miss Cheerilee waiting!" The two ponies went off. At the corner leading to the school they did their little 'Bump bump sugar lump rump' hoofshake, but it seemed a little off, and uncoordinated. Just then, Apple Bloom heard the faint sound of someone calling her name. She turned around, and saw Twilight Sparkle heading her way.
"Umm... go on ahead, Twist, I'll catch up with ya."
"Yes, friend Apple Bloom." Twist went on ahead, while Apple Bloom went back and met Twilight midway.
"Hello Apple Bloom, I need a favour."
"What kinda favour?"
"Was that your friend Twist over there?"
"Well, listen, I need you to talk to her and invite her over to a sleepover. Tonight."
"Tonight?! On this kinda notice?! What if she says no?"
"Then persuade her. Beg, barter, I don't care what you do, just get her over to your house for the night."
"...Is it to help you find out what's wrong with her? An' the other little ponies?"
Twilight's breath slowed as she kept the filly's gaze. What was the point in hiding anything from her? She sighed. "Yes, it is. That's why you can't tell her the real reason you're asking her over."
"All right, top secret. Is it okay if I tell Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo? In fact, can I tell 'em then invite 'em over too?"
"That'll be fine with me, Apple Bloom, if you really think you can trust them."
"Don' worry, Twilight, y' can count on me!" She gave a big smile, which Twilight weakly tried to return, then trotted off to class.
In the shade of the cozy little home, Twilight crept around the side of the wall. Her plan for finding out more information from Twist's room had hit a slight snag. It turns out Twist's parents were too anxious to allow Twist to leave the home overnight. They were, however, willing to allow the filly to go over for the afternoon. The problem is that they were too protective even then. The fact that they were still outside, making sure Twist had all the wash kits, spare glasses and contact addresses she would ever need, would make sneaking past them into the house that bit more difficult.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Spike who was likewise pinned against the wall, "What if you get caught?"
"I'm a respected member of the community. They'll understand perfectly."
"Then why are we sneaking?"
"Shh!" Slowly, very slowly, Twilight moved her head across the wall, peeking around the corner. She could see the backs of two other ponies, and then there was Twist and Apple Bloom.
"Now do you have your toothbrush?"
"And your flashlight?"
"And the neighbour's number?"
"The neighbour's house doesn't have a number in it's name; it's called 'Rosehill Cottage'."
"Good! Right it down, and head straight there if the kidnapper comes!"
It just kept going on. Twilight's brain was starting to go to sleep. Granted, they had every right to be concerned for their daughter after yesterday, but this was a little far for a couple who didn't even walk their kid to school. Apple Bloom was starting to get worn down as well. As her friend's mom started from the top of the list again, she groaned and rolled her eyes, suddenly noticing Twilight as she did so. Twilight put a hoof to her mouth, then pointed to the parents, and then the door. She needed a distraction. Apple Bloom tried to come up with something, but her mind drew a blank, and sweat poured down her face. She needed this to make sure Twist was okay, but what could she do? It seemed like the parents were finally wrapping up. The mom was turning around.
Thinking fast, Apple Bloom yanked hard on Twist's satchel. The contents of her equipment spilled to the ground. The mom gasped "My poor foal! Your things! Something could be missing!" She and the dad rushed to Twist's side and rifled through the pile. Twilight bolted through the door, with Spike holding onto her tail for dear life, and ducked behind a couch inside. The parents made sure everything was packed away, then went through the list one more time. Apple Bloom sighed. The lengths she went to for friendship.
Twilight lay there, holding her breath, with a hoof over Spike's mouth, for another three minutes before Twist and Apple Bloom were down the block and out of sight, and the parents went back through the front door, talking in feverish tones about how safe it was to let their daughter out of sight and mind for so long. As soon as they were in the other room, Twilight rushed from corner to corner, lifting up plant pots and opening draws. "C'mon, Spike. We need to be in the opposite room from them at all times, and we need to leave everything exactly the way we found it."
"Couldn't we have started looking while they were outside?"
"Too risky. We might've tipped something over and they'd hear the crash."
"...You really didn't think this through, did you Twilight?"
"Are you gonna help me look or not?!"
Twilight wasted no time, even as Spike tried calling something out to her. She scoured the entire living room, sprinted to the dining room, checked under every table and behind every portrait, even as Spike was calling to her. She waited just outside the kitchen door as the parents poured themselves some coffee over their conversation, then the moment they moved to the conservatory she opened every pantry door, peered down the sink hole and checked both the refrigerator and freezer. She checked the door to the conservatory, saw the mom weeping at the table and the father with a reassuring hoof on her shoulder, then started to clamber out the window. While the two turned to each other and talked, she moved like a hovercraft across the garden, checking under every leafy object she could find, then was back in the kitchen before they knew a thing. Twilight bolted back to the front room, where she saw Spike standing at the foot of the stairs, with a dour expression, holding up a sign saying "HER ROOM?"
"Good thinking, Spike!" said Twilight, rushing up the stairs, "You take the bathroom while I-"
There was the sound of a door closing. Twilight stopped dead in her tracks, front hoof hovering above the last step. Her head slowly panned across the landing, which seemed strangely darker than the rest of the house. She saw a door with a picture taped to it, of a crudely drawn Twist and writing saying 'PEPERMINT TWSTS ROOM'. There seemed to be some sort of light shining through it, and as she looked down, a shadow passed through the gap under the door. But Twist was out for the day, she thought, nopony should be in there.
Was anypony there at all?
Stealthily, and with Spike close behind, she inched nearer and nearer towards the door. Seconds felt like hours as she moved as though walking through treacle. Step by painful step. Her eyes grew wider and wider as she moved closer and closer to the wooden door. Finally, she was meters away from the door, which seemed like a massive gateway before her. She lifted a shaking hoof towards the door handle, desperately trying to convince herself that she was a big girl now and the noises on the other side were all in her head. She put her hoof on he door handle, and turned it, twitching for a second when it felt like there was someone holding it on the other end. The door swung an inch on its hinges, and gave a horrific creak that seemed to wring her spine and Spike's. Unable to stand it, she pushed the door wide, and then almost jumped free of her hooves.
You could almost hear the jarring chord. Pictures, drawings, and scrawled words covered every inch of the walls. "DONT TURN AROUND", "DARK FOREST", "SUCH DELIGHTS", drawings of Everfree forest, and of fillies dressed in strange clothes dancing, "MANY HANDS", "THEY NEVER LOVED US", pictures of abstract dismembered creatures, and distorted faces screaming, "FOUND YOU" "SLENDY'S WATCHING ME", that crossed circle symbol everywhere, and the images of a tall creature in a business suit with no face or hair.
Twilight froze up, the whites of her eyes bigger than her head, her mouth wide open, her chest rising and falling with every breath. Everything seemed to be in a whirlwind around her. Her vision started to fade, her head getting lighter and lighter. She was beginning to faint, even with her whole body on high alert. But almost as soon as her consciousness slipped away...
overtheroadovertheroadEND OF THE LINE
W3h18a5t5 A16 Lov25e16ly1 T19u20n1e
JUST BEEN STANDING THERE
Twilight hadn't moved a single muscle as the glimpse of a nightmare woke her up. She heard people going up the stairs, and then two voices in succession.
The first, a female voice said "Ms Sparkle? What are you doing in our- EEEK!"
The second, a male voice, "...Good Grrracious! What's all this?!"
Finally, she was able to muscle a sentence. "Spike. Get everyone you can find down here. NOW!"
News travels fast in a small Equestrian town. Especially one with such community spirit as Ponyville. Within a matter of hours, two thirds of everyone in the town knew of what was on the walls of the bedroom. In even less time, it was established that young Twist had no memory of writing or drawing anything like that. By the end of the day, everyone was on a watch and wait basis for this bizarre abomination with no face, who had been linked to the name 'Slenderman'.
Perhaps, thought some, this creature wasn't prepared for so much attention. Perhaps it hadn't thought through the consequences of revealing itself in a small community, where its actions were in plain sight. But perhaps, thought others, it wanted them to know. Perhaps it got stronger the more ponies thought about it. Perhaps they were playing right into its claws.
At any rate, the story of the Slenderman was moving at an unprecedented rate. Everyone in town soon knew of the demon, and short messages were being sent off, where they would catch the eyes of Canterlot and hit the tabloids of Manehattan. But the shockwaves sent weren't merely vocal.
Past the thick, non enchanted oaks, into the misty darkness of the Everfree forest, something began to stir. Something ancient beyond belief. Something once more powerful than any force the world had ever known. Beasts and creatures stirred in the pitch blackness. Some of them hid, a few of them drew closer. For beyond rivers and chasms and the shadiest corners of the woodlands, there lay a castle. A ruined structure that once held a potent sorcery, but now was only a shadow of its former self. The ideal place for a shadow to be reborn.
Shadows rolled across the floor of the Ruin of the Ancient Pony sisters. Wisps of dark blue magic span out of the crevices and coalesced in the air. Energies absent of energy and true life gathered in the air, and pooled towards the centre of the room. Darkness and concentrated magic began to merge, forming a shining orb, forming a pillar of swirling power. The vortex flashed black, showing outlines of strange images. Incomprehensible tongues spoke ancient words from within. The flashes grew stronger, and stronger, until there came a great flash of whiteness.
The vortex fell apart, though its contents continued to spin in the air, until they formed outlines on the ground. Those outlines filled with a strange translucent colour, until it came to pass that three ponies lay upon the ground. One a brawny stallion, one a pony identical except for a slight shortness, and the other a short yet full-grown filly. Each one was a pegasus who had dark blue unkempt manes and white bodies hidden beneath purple and black jumpsuits. They were the Shadowbolts, and by all accounts they should not have existed.
The filly got to her feet first. "I...I-I'm awake! I'm alive! I'm...see through..."
"Whut's goin' on heres?" shouted the stallion. "Who're you freaks? I di'nt dink dem Shadowbolts wuz real."
"Of course they are not real, you sesquipedalian oaf!" exclaimed the middle pony, "Can you not comprehend the circumstances that have recently transpired?"
"Who you callin' oaf?!" snarled the stallion. "You start makin' some sense or ah'm gonna snap yer neck like a pretzel!"
"Be quiet!" snapped the filly. "Didn't you feel it? The fear? The anger? The sheer, raw negativity coming from the town? We were feeding off it, it was making us stronger, bringing us back to life!"
"Den why are you clowns here? Why ain't I Nightmayer Moon? An' why does I sound like a dude?" The stallion grabbed the filly and yanked her closer. "You give me sum answers bufore I break both ya numbskulls!"
The other pony straightened itself. "The consciousness and magical residue of the Nightmare Moon persona were not sufficient to remain in a single form, nor to generate a physical host to house it. Hence, the power of Nightmare Moon assumed a non corporeal form, and with insufficient strength to form a full body, it was forced to assume multiple forms simultaneously to accommodate the psyche fragmentation of ego, superego and id."
The stallion looked confused. The filly sighed and said "Basically, we weren't strong enough to be one person, so we're now three ghosts instead. You're our brawny side, he's the intelligent side, and I'm somewhere in the middle."
"Wud about why we's da Shadowbolts? Dat cause I toined into dem once so it's a more familiar bodies?"
The superego pony clopped its front hooves. "Congratulations, my egregiously imbecilic counterpart. And you even orchestrated a sentence bearing a word of more than two syllables!"
The stallion roared and lunged at the pony, wrestling him to the ground. Frustrated, the filly opened her wings, took to the air, and shot forward, ramming into the struggling pair. "SILENCE, the pair of you! We have spent too much time talking here, we must move forward! Now, if we're going to co-operate, we need to be able to speak to each other. We can't just keep calling one another 'Filly', 'Pony' or 'Stallion'."
"Indubitably so." The pony crawled out from underneath the stallion. "Until the point in chronology hwence this triumvirate reassembles as the victorious sovereign Nightmare Moon, I shall henceforth assume the mantle of Penumbra."
The stallion growled "Fine. Ah'll be Stormah."
"And I will be called Night Terror. Now, Stormer and Penumbra, I'd like you to try and change yourselves somehow, I can hardly tell you apart."
The two stared at each other. They both made their body hair green. They both changed it back.
Night Terror was looking away "It's a blessing that we're still here,"
They both made their legs longer. They both changed them back.
"But without a proper body, we'll stay fragments forever."
They both made their tails dragon tails. They both changed them back.
"So, what we need is a new host to call home."
Finally, Stormer had enough and rammed his hoof into Penumbra.
"We will find some angry tortured individual,"
Against his will, Penumbra gained a scar over the eye with a cut in the costume to match, a five o'clock shadow and a chipped tooth.
"Give him or her promises of absolute power,"
Stormer removed his hoof, and gave a rumbling laugh. Penumbra conjured up a magic circle in the air with his reflection in, and gasped.
"Possess them and turn them into the new Nightmare,"
Penumbra blinked, and the disfigurements were suddenly on Stormer. He smirked. Stormer was about to charge, then noticed his new reflection, paused, and added a grey streak in his mane.
Night Terror looked back at them with an arrogant smile, "And then we rule all of the world in an everlasting night, as a unified queen."
"And how, pray tell, shall we induct this gullible and angst-ridden individual, from within the very centrepiece of nohwere?"
"Ponyville isn't far from these ruins, my pessimistic prodigy. Once we creep inside, we'll be sure to find someone...receptive to us."
"Wayddaminute, you said that we wuz feedin' offa huge wave o' fear. Wud wuz causin' dat fear jus' now?"
"We'll find out, and when we do, we'll be sure to give them a proper, Shadowbolt 'welcome'." With a cruel smirk, she turned from her partners, before gasping and leaping back.
The one in the night stood in the doorway. The one in the night stood straight as a pole, its head vibrating unnaturally. Night Terror shook her head to clear it, but the instant she stopped, the one in the night was right in front of them. The one in the night stood there. The Shadowbolts stared up at it. The silence hung like drapes of iron.
"...Am I speaking to the creature that has Ponyville in terror?"
The one in the night was silent. Then it dipped its head slightly.
"...Are you here to fight with us, or surrender?"
The one in the night was silent. Then it turned its head slightly.
Stormer had enough. "Would ya jest say sumthin', damn it?!"
The one in the night snapped its head to the left. It stared Stormer down with eyes it didn't have. Stormer stood firm, but his knees bent ever so slightly. The one in the night turned its gaze over all of the ponies there, then with an aching slowness it bent over, until it was almost level with Night Terror. As it continued to stare, its desires became clear. It didn't wish to fight with cuts and bruises. That was simply not what it did. It had heard of the great and terrible Nightmare Moon. It wanted something from her, or from them.
"So, you're here to bargain with us, is that it?" said Night Terror. "Well, that might be a little difficult, monster. You can't have something for nothing, after all. But, we might just be able to negotiate something. You know what we want. You want something just as bad. We want to know if you'll get them both. So, do we have a bargain?"
The one in the shadows cocked its head.