Chapter 2- The Worst of a Bad Job
st moIre like Ka symEbol-'
There in HEthe window, ELtall thing with no faLPce, starinP<g down at ME
water water everywhere
on the draws on the shelf staring RI~GHT AT ME
hekp hekp GET IT AWA
Spike woke up from the nightmare with tears in his eyes and a pounding headache. He was rubbing the side of his head when he noticed the tears. Had he been crying in his sleep? No, of course not, maybe it was some kind of a cold going around.
He got up out of his bed. The room was filled with an orange light, dimmer as it got to him. Twilight had forgotten to turn the reading light off again. He looked over to her on her bed, holding a blue book to her chest, blissfully slumbering as she rolled over. He couldn't help smiling at the sight; it reminded him of her as a filly. When you work for a pony like that your whole life, you tend to get sentimental.
Anyway. He was up, she was asleep, nothing to stop him getting a late night snack. He hopped out of bed, and jumped one foot after another each step down to the ground. It didn't take too long to get a cookie from the jar, nor to get a glass and some milk from the refrigerator. He nibbled at his snack as he trotted along to the main room again.
The shape went past the door. He gasped and snapped around, staring intently at the front door. What was that? Was he just getting jumpy? He moved towards the door. It might've been Owlowiscious; the dumb bird was probably out for exercise. But no, it seemed as though it was taller, longer, like a walking lamp post. He couldn't think of anything like that.
Nah, it was just his imagination. Jumping at shadows out the corner of his eye. Twilight would laugh if she was awake. He sighed and shook his head, then trotted up to bed. He placed the snacks by his bed, spared only a few moments to go up to Twilight on the loft and switch off her lantern, then went straight back to his bedside and dived in. (There was also him stubbing his toe in the dark, but who needed to know about that?)
As he finished his food and drink, and wriggled down into the covers, his eyes slowly drifted closed, and he felt his mind becoming cloudy.
He yawned...That's funny...He could have sworn there was another branch...by the window...just the other day...
The thing in the dark watched the lizard as it drifted into snoring. It could have felt some peace from the sight, were the sight not so very simple. The thing in the dark turned from the screen, and moved down the street.
Its vision panned across the little hostels scattered about almost randomly and with little thought. At the very edge of hearing, there was the sound of ponies breathing heavily, the sound of ponies wishing good nights to unseen tenants, there may even have been the sound of crashing plates amidst a heated argument. All very interesting, to those whose ears were trained. To anyone else, the night was all in silence. And the thing in the dark was quite at home.
The thing in the dark scanned its surroundings. There was no movement but the mice skittering away in fright. And soon what remnants of sound there were died as well. But there was no chance to soak the atmosphere. There was a place to find. And a place to find soon. The thing in the dark walked for what others would feel was an age. And then, at last, it came to a house of two balconies, sitting detached from the rest.
The thing in the dark began to climb. The ponies would find it arduous, but the long and dexterous reach made it as simple as topping a cardboard box. The thing in the dark barely brushed against the thatched roof as it slipped along the side, and came to a window. Within, it could see the prone form of a tiny pale thing, in a bed facing the window. The thing in the dark pawed the window, as it began its song, as soft as the wind but as sharp as a blade. Come out, my child.
The pale filly stirred in her sleep. She began to sit up, though showed no true signs of awakening. Her hoof brushed against the side, by the lamp and the pair of purple horn-rimmed glasses. But the song told her they wouldn't be needed. She slowly opened her eyes, and saw the dark figure, beyond the glass. The thing in the dark reached an impossibly long arm to the side. Its talon twirled around a red red flower that nestled in a basket hanging from a chain. The flower was plucked from its' stem, and slowly proffered to the filly. Come out, my child, come out to play.
The filly slid through the covers and slumped to the ground. With eyes that were barely open, and on feet that moved as lead, she slogged forward, in a weird, lifeless gait, toward the thing in the dark that sung of such wondrous delights. Come out Twist, my child, come out to play.
Twilight emerged from her library to find the streets in panic. Ponies were rushing about everywhere, only stopping to look around and call out names. Twilight stood there, trying in vain to get someone's attention, but they were already gone before she could get out half a syllable. Suddenly, she noticed Fluttershy wandering out into the streets, looking almost as worried as the rushing crowds. "Fluttershy!" She ran over, narrowly dodging incoming ponies, and made her way to her friend. "Fluttershy, what's going on? Why are all these ponies running about?"
"Oh Twilight, it's just awful! Little fillies are missing from their beds, like they just vanished in their sleep. The mothers and fathers are going mad with worry, as you can see!"
"Oh my gosh, how many went missing?"
"About five or six. Just up and vanished in the night."
"Oh dear..." Five or six wasn't that many, but it was still enough to cause a stir. "Have they checked the Northern Park?"
"Have they checked the Everfree forest?"
"The Apple Family went up to check a few moments ago. They should be back in-"
"Everypony, listen up!" Twilight and Fluttershy looked up to see Applejack and Big Macintosh coming up with two young ponies by their side. "We found these two young 'uns comin' outa the forest. Take it easy on 'em, they're a mite dazed 'n' c'nfused."
"We'll be checkin the forest again soon," added Big Macintosh, "With a bit'a luck, this'll be over a'fore it started."
A lime green unicorn with a dark blue mane rushed out to her leaf green filly and hugged her tightly. "Oh, Forest Fir, I'm so glad you're alright! What in Equestria happened to you?"
"I'm so sorry, mother. I must have sleepwalked in the night. I didn't know where I was when I woke up in there."
"Oh, now, that's all right, angel. We'll get you some hot chocolate and a nice warm blanket." The doting mother led the filly away as the crowd dispersed, murmuring amongst themselves. Applejack went up to Twilight and Fluttershy.
"I guess this is one less worry, right?" said Fluttershy, though she didn't really believe it.
"Not quite, sugar cube," said Applejack with a shake of her head. "Six ponies up and left in the night. That sorta thing warrants suspicion."
Twilight piped up, "I'll talk with the Mayor, and see what has to be done."
"See thatcha do." Applejack and Fluttershy moved on, but Twilight hesitated just long enough to watch the peppermint maned filly reunite with her black and white mom.
"Well, Starburst," she growled, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"I'm so sorry, mother. I must have sleepwalked in the night. I didn't know where I was when I woke up in there."
"A likely story! And don't you 'mother' me." The pony lead the child away. "I swear, when you get back home, your father is going..."
A tall shape on the sidelines. Twilight gasped and jumped back. By the time she was looking at the road again, it was empty. What was she so startled about anyway? Twilight Sparkle grimaced, and trotted toward the Town Hall. This was turning sour real fast.
Twilight and Spike arrived to find a crowd of anxious parents assemble in the town square in front of the podium. The Mayor was just clearing her throat, to stem a tide of questions that seemed to be rolling in as if there were paparazzi all about. "Now, everypony, I understand your concerns, each and every one of them, and I assure you that the protection of the children is one of our top prioities." There was an unintelligible jeer from the back. "Yes, 'one of them'! Perhaps even the highest. Now, this has been an isolated incident, but there is every chance it may happen again. I would advise all parents to make sure all the doors and windows are tightly fastened. Anypony who does not have children; we would appreciate your assistance in checking the Everfree forest for any..."
"Hey, Twilight, look!" Spike disrupted Twilight's concentration, and pointed excitedly to Rarity making her way over.
"Relax, Spike, she just wants to talk. And for Celestia's sake, try not to embarrass yourself."
Rarity reached Twilight. "Twilight, darling, (Oh, hello there Spike)." Spike turned away bashfully and waved, his attempt at containing himself. "Twilight, I had been meaning to talk to you about this ghastly affair. I fear there may be more to it than meets the eye."
"I was thinking the same. When the first two fillies got picked up, the way the first one talked to her mother sounded very strange...a little beyond 'rehearsed' if I'm honest, she rattled the whole spiel off like clockwork. That was strange enough, but then the second filly said the exact same thing! Same words, same intonation, almost like the same person speaking it. I don't care how dazed these ponies were, something's not right in their heads."
"Well, my word, Twilight, that is disconcerting. And it's partly why I'm here. You see, Sweetie Belle was talking with one of the fillies who went out in the night, and she said she didn't seem herself. Sweetie Belle couldn't quite put her hoof on it, but the way her friend talked, the way she acted, 'it seemed like some part of her had gone to sleep' she said. And what's more, the filly had this sticking out of her mane." Rarity took a small piece of white painted bark out of her saddlebag. On one side were scrawled the words "I SEE HIM" and on the other, the same circular symbol she'd seen inside her draw. "You haven't seen either of these before, have you?"
"...Matter of fact I have. This is worse than I thought. It means that whoever's responsible could be just about anywhere." She examined the fragment closely. "Spike, join the lookout at Everfree. I'm going to get to the bottom of this. But I'm worried that not even my books will have the answer this time."
"...that will be all. Goodnight, Ponyville." concluded the Mayor.
"It's just not fair!"
Diamond Tiara paced about in her room, the rain outside echoing her mood. Not moments ago, her stupid mommy and her stupid daddy had told her that they were going to bring her bedtime up a 'little' earlier, and when she asked why, her daddy had just snapped at her, told her not to ask questions, and had been standing guard outside her room ever since. Like she was some sort of criminal that needed to be watched.
"Not fair at all! Just because a bunch of stupid ponies decided to go out at night. 'Ooo, Diamond dear, you need to stay safe just like everypony else!' Well I'm not everypony else! I'm Diamond! Tiara! Best girl in school! It isn't fair!"
Indeed it isn't, said the voice from her window.
She froze, and turned slowly around. There was a strange shape just peeking over the side. Some kind of weird pony. "What do you want?" she asked, trying to sound bigger than she felt.
The dark shape outside said it couldn't help but overhear her injustice. It asked her if she really hated her parents. If she wanted them out of the way for good.
"Not for good," she said, "I just want to teach them a lesson, that's all."
It could be arranged. The voice outside said that it knew of a way to show how great she was. It knew of a place where she would be free from stupid grown ups making all the rules, and the uglies and the nerds could be dealt with properly, like they should be.
Diamond Tiara got curious. "And would I be able to...tell the grown ups what to do instead? Show them what it's like to be bossed around."
If that is what she wished. All she had to do is take the first step. Prove her parents wrong. Go out without their help, be back by dawn, without a hair out of place.
Diamond Tiara cocked her head. That didn't sound quite like proving her parents wrong. But the more she looked at this strange thing outside in the rain, the more calm she felt. The more she felt like...anything else in the world didn't matter, that she could trust this strange thing. There was a flash of lightning outside. She couldn't see his face still. The jolt was enough to displace her calm just a little. "...But...won't daddy hear me if I open the window?"
The figure assured her that her father was...otherwise occupied. There was nothing to fear, all she had to do was come outside.
Diamond Tiara struggled with her own legs as they moved forwards. She didn't want to go, but its persistant quietness as it stretched its arms into view horrified and comforted her at the same time. She felt a feeling of warmth and trust build onto her building anxiety. The feelings weren't right, they didn't feel like real feelings. But at the same time, she felt a smile creeping up her face, as she came closer and closer to the window. The light cast an unnatural shadow onto the wall behind her, but still she moved forward. Her hoof began to raise upwards, shaking vigorously, as her face struggled against itself. It gradually came forward, lightly rested upon the latch...
Then with a thunderclap, the window swung wide open. The creature leaned in, looking down upon the little filly, who smiled happily up at the funny thing in the dapper suit. She wasn't sure why her eyes would be wide with fear, and she didn't care. As long as she was around this lovely person who understood her, everything would be okay. She gave a small woop of joy as the long arms of the Seussian thing lifted her off the ground.
Now, let us see if the silver spoons are counted.