It had just been one small turn, but everything had changed.
It wasn’t everything. If it had been everything, he might have been able to handle it better.
He was far from home, but it hadn’t taken long to figure out what normal was around here. It was warmer and everything was spread out. Ponies made a greater effort to see each other because that’s how they stayed connected. At least, that’s how Flint had described his earliest assessments of Ponyville. In the Crystal Empire, you knew your neighbors because you ran into them all the time. Here you knew them because you didn’t want to be alone. They were still working on the details and chipping away at what Flint called biases. Opinions they brought to the situation that were not naturally a part of it.
Well, he had a strong opinion of what he had seen. He had dropped everything and ran. Despite the young stallion’s desire to not seem like a baby, the noise he had let out could only be classified as a scream. Even now he belted out a few more calls for help, his voice cracking as it tended to do when he got excited. Hormones were jerks. And then he had ran, leaving everything behind. It was all so important, but as he darted away from the scene, he didn’t consider going back for it.
He was no child, but it seemed to him that nothing good happened after the sun set.
Night in Ponyville had a peculiar bend to it, Silhouette had discovered—a sort of ephemeral touch that Canterlot lacked, that only came to those communities closer to the earth and all its natural and preternatural phenomenon. The ponies there, too, seemed to have more respect for it; you saw no graffiti on Sugarcube Corner, no carousing groups of ruffians looking for a pub after dark. The community was contented.
At least, for the most part. Not every night could be a peaceful slice of apple pie. A cracking scream pitched through the air, calling out for help; a young girl somewhere was in trouble.
Silhouette took a running start and leapt over the thatched peak of a rooftop, extending her wings and gliding through the air toward the source of the scream. There were hoofsteps fast beating the ground in the direction of the train station. She predicted their path and took a cut across the top of a café, then tucked down her wings and landed with a heavy metal thunk in the street ahead.
It was a crystal pony—and a young one. Not a common sight this far south. She tapped the light on her uniform, causing the eye at her center chest to glow blue and give him a bit more to see by.
"What's happened?" she asked, though it was not soft, and came out a bit more like a command than a request. "Are you hurt?"
There were obviously more questions, but those were the important ones. Time could be crucial.
Jasper stopped in his tracks as a form landed heavily in front of him. At first, he feared that his running had all been in vain. He had been caught and he was done for. And now he would have to perish all sweaty and gross from running. He had always assumed that he would meet the coroner already dressed for an open casket funeral. But now he just knew that he’d need some serious work done before he was presentable.
His memory was short, so there wasn’t much to relive. Then again, it didn’t take too long before he realized that it was not a monster in front of him. So it was a good thing he wasn’t going through his golden years as the revelation hit him.
”Am I hurt?” He questioned, believing that to be a poor question. Yet, now that it was asked, he realized that he was not actually hurt. His voice was a bit worn, his heart was racing and his legs were feeling the burn. He blushed, looking himself over as if to find some bruise that he could show the guard. ”Well, no, no I don’t believe so.”
”But it was horrifying! It was all so fast, I could only just form a solid thought before my legs were carrying me away, ma’am!” He explained, not quite answering her first question in his stupor.
She let out a breath, relieved. It had been a while since she got her first aid certification—she was almost due for a course to refresh. The last thing she wanted was to end up being responsible for some pony's kid getting a poor splint or something. But her blessings weren't quite counting themselves yet, since the way he was talking seemed to suggest there might've been someone else injured.
"Hey. Deep breath," she said, clanking softly over to him and stooping so she didn't quite tower over the clearly-shaken kid. "You're safe. I'm a guard. I need you to try and calm down, tell me what you saw, and show me where, so I can help. Can you do that for me?"
Though she was aware young ponies tended to make mountains of molehills—the guard station had apparently received a fair few "vampony sightings" from the local schoolchildren since her arrival—she also remembered the guard back in Canterlot take her as seriously as a sneezing fit. (They were right to, as she was trying to get a serial jaywalker arrested, but they had been dismissive even before she said it.)
Last Edit: Jun 1, 2015 14:33:40 GMT -6 by Deleted: adjusted legal adjective limit
Calm. He could be calm. He was the master of his fear… The master of his fear… Master... Flint was not going to like him be out at all hours of the night. He wasn’t going to like Jasper losing some of their data, either. This was simply awful. Even if he had survived, he was going to be in trouble once he returned home. Making the guard get involved, too. This had already snowballed beyond what would be approved of.
He did not feel calm at all.
”Well it’s dark and I was really the only light I had,” he explained apologetically, referencing the glow he had emitted before he had come into contact with the object of his fear. He took for granted that anypony would realize the more dull shine he was radiating now was far from the usual radiation. ”So I couldn’t see it too well but…”
”It was over here,” He said, slowly beginning to move back in the direction he had come. He knew the thing could still be there, but he was being told to show the scene. ”Small… It was small in size. A dark thing, Lady Guard, a dark thing it was…” Something inside echoed, causing him to arch an eyebrow and form a look of concerned understanding. ”I think maybe…” He trailed off.
That's right. Crystal Ponies let off that telltale glow, most of the time—if she remembered correctly, it tied into their mood. She hadn't had long to prime on their particular properties before the migrations started, but she imagined in this case, it might come in useful. The lad was his own little EKG test.
"It's alright. I don't need light to see," she said, following him close, her armor clacking against itself and ears alert for movement. She stood in a position that put her between him and the closer alleyways just in case this was something actively, physically dangerous.
She looked over at his description, cocking her head slightly. Funny little echo there... but he drifted off what he was saying for some reason, even if he looked like he was started to put some pieces together.
"Many dark things come from the Everfree around here. Most of them are harmless enough," she said, hoping that would be some measure of comfort. "Tell me what you think. It might help me know what to expect."
No sooner than she said that, she squinted her eyes ahead and made a throaty clicking noise, almost like a chirp, or the sound a cat makes when it's staring after some bugs. She was trying to echolocate a little and see if she could get a wider lay of their surroundings.
Ah, yes. Her nocturnal adaptation. Small wonder she was working at night. He wondered if the dark was no longer scary when you could navigate it as a native. While her form had initially been a source of unease for him, he now realized that she was exactly the type that he wanted with him during this ordeal.
”I was reminded of a tale we have in the Empire. I mean no offense when I say that I’d be surprised if you had heard it. As a culture we are not much for sharing scary stories. But it was said that during King Sombra’s reign, he learned how to pervert our inner light into something else. The Shineless. No longer radiant, but a sort of void. Your eye would pass them over. Your mind would have trouble focussing on them. It’d be as if they were an arbitrary part of the background. Only by the most lucky flash of insight could you notice one at all. I thought, perhaps, one had followed my master and myself here… Yet I believe what I saw was too small to be a grown pony… Unless…” Sombra had performed the process on a foal… No, he wouldn’t have… ”They’re just superstition anyway…” Probably.
He thought again as they made their way back to the scene. His deliberation distracting him from the residual fear that he still held for what had transpired. He was not familiar with the Everfree. Word of its darkness had not reached him until now. Surely something could have come from there.
”Still, I do wonder if this was the work of a stalking creature. On our journey I have thought that something may have been following us. Master Flint said it was only my imagination.” He frowned. At the time, he had felt a bit betrayed by the comment. Now he wished it had been true. He had not bargained for this type of excitement in his life. Yet, his mind was firing at top speed. It wanted to make meaning of every detail. Sharpen the image in his mind, to remember the the things that seemed to be locked away or erased...
Last Edit: Jun 27, 2015 17:39:22 GMT -6 by Deleted
Though a strictly by-the-book response would be to try and use clues within his story to work with other evidence and reach a sensible conclusion, Silhouette listened, and took his words on face value. She believed the experience of life was something beyond books and scales, and this remained a potential witness making a statement. Calling it folktale or testimony made no difference to her.
"I have not heard it. I'm afraid I haven't been up north since long before you returned, when the mountains were barren," she said, eyes scanning the roads for movement. There was some, but none out of the ordinary. A mouse getting into some garbage; the breeze in a bush. "The Shineless, then? Tell me, on the off chance this is something like that... would they be dangerous? Or only lost?"
Her wings were held a bit loose then, relaxed, yet ready to spring. She didn't make too much a show of it unless she had to, but the thumbs on a bat's wings were not dull. She looked over and sized him up again; he wasn't as young as she initially assumed, he was just clean-cut and abnormally cute. Somewhere in early adolescence. He spoke well, anyway—probably quite a few of the Crystal Ponies did.
"About how long have you and your mentor been in town, if I may ask? Did you arrive by train or carriage?" It was partly information gathering, partly just to get his mind off the story itself. "And, forgive me my rudeness, but we have to cover our bases... is there any reason you can think of for your group to be followed? By pony or otherwise?"
Dangerous or only lost… ”They certainly are dangerous, regardless of intention, they have a heightened capacity for wrong-doing,” he said, giving his point of view, ”yet having never spoken to one, I can’t be sure. Some say they were devoted to Sombra, either by choice or as a byproduct of his manipulation of their empathy. If either is the case, there is a chance they’d lash out now that he’s out of the picture. Either in retribution or for lack of purpose.”
That defined the building blocks his mind needed to work through everything else. There was a pillar that represented the notion that they were no more criminal than any other pony. One that tied their criminal proclivity to confusion or even madness from losing their overlord. And another that placed their wicked ways as a matter of ongoing choice. Within this mental avenue, he found himself wondering if all three buildings could exist. They seemed to stand on their own with no overlap between them.
”They were called experiments… But experiments don’t always go the way you thought they ought to… Or they do so only in certain ways but not in others… I’m afraid they could be nothing more than lonely… Assuming they aren’t nothing more than a story, that is.”
Inside, he continued to stare at each of them. No lights were on, they were the Shineless, after all. Yet some seemed darker than others. Outside of his imaginary vision, there were other buildings, ones not quite formed.
”We arrived by carriage. Master Flint prefers to move more intentionally. He believes it fills us with purpose. That and the off chance we’ll find nomads on our route. We have been conducting some studies, progress always has its detractors. Or even competition. Although Master Flint has no real competition.”
It certainly did have the markings of a tall tale, Silhouette thought—it had that kind of tidiness about the mystery that was common in folktales and legends, a kind of appropriate statement on the culture they were spoken from. However, that didn't mean they weren't around; quite far from it. Either way, she didn't like the sound of running into some rogue magical experiment turned loose in Ponyville. It warranted a thorough investigation.
On the bright side, he had answered her questions and she learned a couple of things. Wouldn't help to check passenger lists against the colt's travel itinerary if he didn't have one to speak of. She considered going to find her spear, but then decided, with an escort to protect, bringing a weapon into the mix was just too risky.
"I hope for their sake that they're nothing more than a story," she said of his story, her voice pitched a bit softer. "A carriage... you came from the eastern road, then? What sort of studies do you do? Have you known these 'detractors' to directly interfere with your Master Flint and the work before?"
While he worked in the palace of his mind, she kept her eyes on the streets before them. She still wasn't sure exactly where this originated. "My name is Silhouette, by the way. Private of the 33rd. Are we close to the scene?"
The whispers of structure inside his mind fell away from his thoughts as she continued her line of questioning. It was simpler matters, more straightforward than trying to find the truth within a group of ponies he knew only by reputation.
Jasper had been taught to be careful what he said about their research. Not only because it could others to embark on the same intellectual journey, but because of many second and third order effects. Ponies might come to expect certain outcomes or have trouble with the idea of certain subjects being breached. But he had also been taught to respect the authority of guards.
“Psychological analysis. Specifically, emotional resiliency testing. We’re trying to figure out if the core mindset of crystal ponies differs from that of other ponies, or other species. If we’re being raised in a way that… doesn’t make us as strong… Or perhaps if we’re born in such a way. It’s more complex than that, but that is what I can speak upon at this time. I’ve never been attacked because of it before...”
He shook his head again. He wasn’t sure if attacked was the right word for what happened, but it felt that way.
”A pleasure, Private Silhouette, though I do prefer when my life leaves me out of the rough and tumble affairs of guards... This here, this is the place...” The alleyway seemed to have little out of place. Jasper's discarded pack lay on the ground, the contents spilled just a little out of them.
To her eyes, the alleyway's long-cast shadows and dark corners were bereft of secrets; the discarded pack was the only thing that looked like it shouldn't be there, but that didn't mean something wasn't hiding. She didn't step through yet and start looking in earnest, but analyzed the exits, the neighbor buildings. Better to reconstruct the events with once she had more information.
While Silhouette gave it a cursory look-over, she considered what the lad had told her; that little creak in his voice made her wonder if he's not supposed to be telling her about this. Not that she could do anything with it, she was no scientist. But it was good to know they were dealing in a realm she had at least some tiny manner of understanding.
"Well, don't worry, sir. If I do my job right, we'll be getting you back rather soon," she said, looking forward, her brow furrowing. "One moment..."
She opened her mouth and made a noise that ponies ordinarily wouldn't be making. A chirping, clicking kind of squeak, and her ears pivoted and dipped around, trying to catch for strange shapes or movement. Once she was reasonably assured of safety (inasmuch as an off-the-book technique could), she stepped into the alleyway, slow and methodical. She looked to each side, then the end of the alley—and took up his discarded pack, scooping back in what had spilled. Then, she walked backwards until she was once again where she stood before.
"I apologize. I'm sure you're getting tired of questions, but there will probably be many before we get to the answers we most want, I'm afraid." She set the bag down by the lad, now looking with her full attention on him, and with a wing took a small spiral notebook and pen from a slip in the shoulder of her armor. Standard issue. "Is everything there, in your bag? Was anything taken? And may I have your full name?"
Further investigation into the area would give her a number of tip offs. They would be small things, but perhaps enough to paint a bit of a picture. Unsurprisingly, a set of tracks that could quite easily be attributed to a pony of Jasper’s bulk would be readily found. His bag also corroborating his placement at the scene.
Of another being, there would be less. Patches of indent into the ground, but not a steady track. The splotchy trail would have at least two meters between each patch. The trash can and a few wooden crates both seem to have been moved recently and in the same direction. Beyond the common senses, there would be a wrongness that ebbed and flowed into those in the area, though each sinister pulse would be weaker than the last.
”Quite alright, I will assist to the utmost of my ability,” he assured her, feeling a sliver of guilt at his spoken preference to not interact with her. A reasonable outlook, he believed, but perhaps one that should remain unspoken in civil conversation. A note for the future.
He began to look through the bag as it was returned to him. It was difficult to remember every piece of stationery that should have been within it. Even a fragment of their documents was still a fair stack. Their authorization from the Crystal Empire to conduct their study wasn’t in there… Had it been before? No… probably not…
”Jasper Edge, apprentice of Dr. Flint Heliodore, both of the Crystal Empire,” he replied to the easy question.
”I believe this is everything… Wait… No, not everything. I most certainly had Madame Avagradite’s report… I don’t see it in here. Perhaps it slipped out…” He relayed, taking another look around, but finding nothing. To him, there seemed little reason for someone to want just one set of data.
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