"Myst? Why can't you leave?" Fluttershy asked.
"Remember when I told you about the curse, the glowing eyes?" Myst said.
"That was only a tiny portion of the curse. The full curse is as follows. "
"Suffer in eternal torment, an unbreakable prison, forever shifting. May you never return until the end of their years. One month unto three, never more, never fewer. Let disaster follow grief, and let your eyes forever serve as a constant reminder of my eternal wrath."
"Oh, my." She said.
"Yes. That curse was laid on my ancestors a thousand years ago. I told you that pony had quite a temper."
"I didn't realise there were ponies that could be so cruel."
"You don't realise just how much my great to the tenth grandfather hurt the deity- err, pony. Well. Actually, deity would be a better description of his power. He did something that the deity could not overlook, or ever forgive."
"What did he do, Myst?" Fluttershy asked.
"He killed the only family the pony had left."
Myst stood up.
"I'm probably going to head back to my old hotel room in a little while. I ask that you don't come there. I have important work to do."
Myst walked off, and Fluttershy didn't follow. He had to focus his studies, alone, with no interruptions. Fluttershy coming could've been a disaster, so he was grateful when she decided against pursuing him further. He wondered, for only a second, if this would be the last time they met. After the disaster was averted, he hoped he could simply avoid the six friends until he was whisked away to his next location, never to see them again. He felt pain, as he walked away from his friend. After all, good friends were hard to come by.
"Myst!" Fluttershy shouted. He stopped, not sure if he'd be able to say no if she asked to see him again. He waited for her to continue, but she only said a few words, "I still think you're a good pony." Myst seized up. She... how... Pride nor happiness coursed through his mind at that point, only one thought dominated everything else. 'how pathetic'. Did she not know how to be angry, or did she not want to make his life any worse? Either way, all Myst saw when he looked back was weakness. She should hate him, but she couldn't bring herself to it. He looked away slowly, walking away quickly, not content to spend any more time around Fluttershy. She had offered him lodging, that was nice, sure. But respecting somepony such as him, that was unjust in its own right.
Myst returned to his previous lodging, hopping along balconies in order to secure the room without having to pass through the idle procedure of checking in, and paying. Surely, this way was much more effective, he only needed around half a day. Perhaps he might find solace deep within his studies, hopefully. The trip was short but the hours spent stretched long, Myst shut himself inside his room, drawing a rune over the door so as to conceal his presence. He delved deep into the olden tales of Equestria past, feeling a sensation of weight bear down upon him. He knew it would return. This feeling, it represented, in a sense, all that he had accomplished in the small town of Ponyville. He knew, immediately, that the next time such a feeling overcame him, it would be simple to interpret. Grief, or remorse.
Myst sat on his hill, the grass tickling his legs, he had finished his studies, the task doing little to avert the sense of dread he was feeling. He knew nothing would, but he still tried. His eyes scanned the countryside. He couldn't help but think back to his conversations with Fluttershy in the late hours of the night, not the one he had with her many hours ago, the other ones, the ones from back when he was staying with her…
"Um, Myst. Why are the elements of harmony drawn on your map?"
"Yes, the elements of harmony, the six circles drawn on the corners of your map."
"Oh, those? Well, actually. I drew those in a few years ago."
"Really? Why? Wait, you know about the elements?"
"Well, if you don't know about them… wait. Did you meet the wizard who discovered them? This could be an unprecedented discovery! I should get Twilight! She'll-"
"Uh, sorry, yes?"
"Those are just my favourite colours."
She got so excited when she thought he knew something. He could understand why, but it was better if she knew less about the elements, at least for the time being. The elements were a mysterious type of magic. Being a magic expert sure did come in handy. While it was still night, he might as well work on his rune circles. He pulled out his chalk, which he had grabbed while he was in the cottage. He drew a circle in the grass, a bit crooked, but it would function as required. This circle represented magical energy in the world. He had to draw from such a thing, as he was a pegasus and pegasi contained no magical energy of their own. He drew a square inside the circle. The square on its own meant nothing, but if he added a second circle in the dead centre, it would represent… ethereal energy. A benevolent force scarce in the world. What could he do with such energy though? Not much. Rune circles allowed non-unicorns to harness magic from the environment. However, most wellsprings of any particular magic flowed directly from a pony. He could do small, rudimentary tasks. Tasks such as healing small cuts or bruises, or stealing bits of magic. The only reason he was able to break through the shield was that he had trained for maybe a decade, plus Twilight wasn't really trying. She thought he was trapped, so she poured very little energy into the shield. Rune circles had been invented centuries ago, but had changed very little in that time. He wished unicorns didn't have such a leg up on everypony else. Seriously, flying was fun, but magic put flying to shame-
'Why are you thinking about magic, Myst?' The voice startled him, but he soon adjusted to its presence.
'I'm just trying to focus on something else.' He had more important things to worry about. There was the impending disaster, and there was the issue with his friends. They knew a lot, but they always wanted to know more. There was always his problem with Fluttershy. He had given her many different scraps of information, and if she put all of the info together, and did some deep research… she might actually figure out the truth. Well then, it was a race for information. However, all of those issues were mundane, and not worth his time. There was one thing above all else he needed to worry about.
That was the issue as to what he would do. Would he save his friends? Why did he give them so much information? The world had to move on! And if somepony figured out the truth, the cycle would begin anew, and last time…- He had to make a choice, a choice he didn't want to make. He had to decide whether or not to protect his friends. He knew he was a horrible pony for even considering the idea of allowing the disaster to take their lives, but he couldn't help but consider it. He was always the one making the difficult decisions. His… his old friends, his really old friends, were always too soft. That had nothing to do with the shield, or the disaster, but it kind of felt like it. It wasn't like he wanted to be cruel. He was practically under contract. What had he done? Why did he reveal some of his secrets to them? He had doomed them with his own stupidity! With his own urge to feel something again! That time was over! Myst collapsed back onto the hill, brushing off his rune circle. He didn't want to do anything at that moment. All that mattered was his decision. Yes? Or… No?
If he did save them, the cycle might begin again. He couldn't let that happen. He wasn't ready to get dragged back into that pit again. At least his friends wouldn't be there that time. No. He couldn't let it happen. There wouldn't be a next time!
But if he didn't save them… they would die. They would die. They would die.
His friends would die. Was the secret worth it?
Most ponies wouldn't understand his dilemma, obviously, he should save his friends right? Not necessarily. If he did save his friends, they might begin to put together the clues. He knew there would be only one way to stop whatever was coming for him. If they discovered… so many…
Why did it have to be him?
Myst walked away from his hill. He needed to go inside for once. He had spent the last few days almost entirely outside. Now, where was the nearest bar? He needed to drown his sorrows. He headed back to Ponyville and into the nearest tavern. The lowly lit estate suited him much better than that grassy field. He was greeted by a somewhat familiar face, Berryshine.
"Hey there." She said, unfamiliar with his face. He knew her as somepony had pointed her out to him at one of the parties, but they had never formally met.
"Hi. Could you get me something…. Really strong?"
"Tough day, huh? What's her name?" She asked as she reached to the shelf behind her.
"Guess again." Myst replied.
"Okay, what's his name?" She asked. Myst simply glanced at her with annoyance. Berryshine decided his real problem was probably personal and handed him his drink. Myst looked it. Alcohol was such an odd item. It was both socially accepted and frowned upon. Considered a social lubricant, but also an evil invention that most would be better off without. He didn't care though. He just liked how it tasted, and how it made you feel funny in large quantities. Myst took his time drinking it. He was going to be there for several hours at minimum and passing out after ten minutes wasn't really his style. He looked around for any familiar faces, after all, it was far easier to talk to ponies who really only wanted to gossip. It might be relaxing not having to talk about his feelings every five seconds. Unfortunately, it didn't look like that plan was going to come to fruition, nopony he knew was here, except… that pink pony sitting at one of the tables in the back did look familiar. Was that Pinkie Pie? Huh. He never took Pinkie for a drinking alone type. He really was hoping to not run into any of Fluttershy's closest friends, but having somepony to talk to after all he'd been through might be relaxing. He'd just not talk about his past, or the sealing spell, or his ancestors, or ancient magic, or… him.
Myst shook his head. He definitely didn't want to think about that. In the end, he decided to pay Pinkie a visit.
He slipped off his chair, leaving a few bits on the table to pay for the drink (plus a little extra) and trotted over to her. She was sitting on a bench adorned with a table and seemed perfectly content sitting on her own. For a second, Myst wondered if he should bug her. After all, one rarely gets time to simply sit alone these days. He knew thinking to yourself was a very important experience that should never be interrupted, but in the end, his desire to discuss his biggest problem got the better of him and he walked the remainder of the distance between him and the table.
"Hey there, Pinkie. Mind if I join you?" He asked. Trying to come off as friendly, rather than painfully confused and somewhat terrified.
"Not at all." She said. He was surprised to see that Pinkie was not alarmed at his presence. Myst waved over one of the bar staff and ordered more cider as he slid behind the table to join her.
"Might I ask why you were sitting alone?" Myst asked.
"You know, just needed a break from my crazy friends!" Pinkie said, waving her hoofs around for dramatic effect. Myst let out a little chuckle. Sure, Pinkie was usually funny, but their current situation was a new level of juxtaposition. There he was, the pony that had eluded the understanding of her and her friends for the entire duration of their stay. They recently found out he knew and practised a type of magic that he never been seen in all recorded history, plus, the literal princess of friendship didn't even trust him, and now he was ordering drinks with Pinkie Pie, an element of harmony. One of Fluttershy's closest friends, who, just a few hours ago, was attempting to hunt him down and drag him, kicking and screaming, back to the rest of her friends. He was impressed. He was very impressed. Few he met had ever shown such a complex system of thought as to not do something that could be immediately beneficial. He decided to continue their enlightened conversation,
"Do you happen to know where my history book is? I seem to have lost it."
"Yeah. Twilight's trying to crack it. She seems pretty focused. I don't know why. The code's pretty simple."
"And yet you choose not to help her."
"However things play out, that's how they'll play out. Something tells me even if she did crack that section of the book, it wouldn't offer her any answers. She wants to know if you're a bad pony, or if you could get her friends hurt. That's her job, to protect her friends. But, I think there's an easier way. And that's asking you." Myst was astounded but didn't have time to linger on that thought. She had asked him a question. Was he a bad pony?"
"But you aren't going to hurt us?"
"No. Not me."
"Anything we should know?"
"...I'd recommend that, two days from now, not 48 hours per say, but when the clock strikes 12:01, that you gather up your friends and lock them in that castle."
"I appreciate that Myst." She said. "Thanks."
"You have something to hide. You could've just left us to be swept away by the current, but you're making a conscious decision to save our lives." She elaborated, smiling at Myst. Not one of her large toothy smiles, but something much more relaxed and genuine. "I have one last thing to ask you if it's not too much trouble."
"Go ahead Pinkie."
"Will you save us if the castle isn't enough?" Myst felt his heart stop for a second before he remembered to breathe and answer appropriately,
"I guess I just expected an ideal scenario, but I suppose we'll have to fend for ourselves."
"Yeah. Sorry about that." Myst paused for a second, trying to slow his heart rate. "If it's of any consolation, you're possibly the most profound pony I've met in years."
"How many?" She asked.
"From whose perspective?" Pinkie asked with a melancholic undertone.
'She did it then.' The voice returned for a minute, but Myst had learned to cope. He simply confirmed this within his own mind. 'You might want to switch topics.' Myst decided to switch topics, it was the only thing he could think to do. Pinkie seemed more than happy to oblige. They talked about Ponyville and all the mayhem and chaos over the years. Then Myst proceeded to talk about his old life, albeit cryptically. He talked about his lineage, and the task bestowed upon him until soon, he found they had been talking for several hours.
"It was great talking to you Pinkie. There's a lot more to you than I gave you credit for."
"It's fine. Have a nice day, Myst." Myst began to walk away, slipping out from behind the booth before turning. He felt a hoof on his shoulder for only a moment. He turned to see Pinkie looking at him with a serious expression, casting aside any sense of peace or adjustment.
"If you're ever struggling with that decision of yours, just ask yourself how many lives your secret is worth. If it's more than six, then you have your answer." Myst felt himself freeze. Six lives, or his secret?... It was worth it, right?
-1 Day Left-
Myst glanced up at the clock. 12:03. It had been a few days. He had almost forgotten, he should check up on his flowers. Fluttershy probably felt really sorry for him so she would most likely leave him alone if he were to show up at her house. He stood up from his chair, leaving a few bits on the counter as a tip. He strolled out of the bar and headed towards the cottage. Waving goodbye to Pinkie as he stepped out the door.
Oh no. Tomorrow? The flowers will be dead by tomorrow? Myst inspected the flowers closer. The flowers were nearly in full bloom. They shone with a fiery, almost gold brilliance. Beautiful. None of the petals had begun to fall from the flowers yet but, he suspected it would be a little less than 12 hours before they started to. He was grateful for his flowers, but he also kind of hated them. They were such beautiful plants… but they also signified the end of his peace. Soon all of the petals would fall and the calamity would begin. Twenty-four hours, twenty-four hours to make a choice. Myst began to walk away in the moonlight. He glanced around. Fluttershy's yard really was beautiful. The stream was gently flowing along its designated route and the property was completely silent save for the chirping of crickets. Myst heard the opening of a door and picked up the pace, he needed to reach the road before Fluttershy identified his presence at her home. Light flooded out into the yard as Fluttershy opened the door and glanced around. Luckily Myst was already walking down the street, and looked like just another passerby to her. Myst stretched his stiff wings out to his sides, it was late at night and he was starting to get tired. His muscles were getting tense from fatigue and he felt the urge to sleep. He had to do some preparations before he could sleep though. He had ordered all that sand without even considering the dilemma he was facing with his friends. Plus, those nightmares were getting more and more specific. Usually, they were just massive, hour long amalgamations of all the horrible events that had ever transpired in his entire life. Recently though, they had been very specific. This had only ever happened to him… once before. That time, it had been his map. But it seemed as though- It seemed as though his recent dreams had been about something completely different from his old dreams. Last time- - - Myst felt sleep weigh down on him, he didn't last long, and he was soon out cold…
Where was he?
It looked like a castle. Stone walls, beautiful tinted glass windows, and a massive throne sitting before him. Wasn't he just on the road? And why wasn't the writing in italics anymore!? Wait. Something else was wrong… the lights, they were too dim. He'd been in Celestia's castle a few times before, and it was always so vibrant. Then there was the fact that… he could feel the air. It was cold, snapping away at his coat. He had never had a nightmare where he retained his sense of touch. Never. He glanced around, his sense of vision was incredibly well defined. Usually, it was foggy, or hazy around the edges. He walked towards the throne, only to turn around when he heard a loud crashing sound. He looked at the large doors separating the throne room from the foyer, and noticed the doors were beginning to buckle, as if some great pressure was bearing down on them from behind. He heard them creak and crack from the stress. He thought he saw something beneath the shroud of twilight. Was it a pony? Yes. It was. But... wait, what was it doing? It seemed to be slowly making its way towards the door... the figure reached for the latch as the pressure came to a peak.
"Wait! No!" Writhing black ink burst into the hall, attacking the lights, dimming the room until Myst could only see a few feet in front of him. The darkness wasn't the result of a vacancy of light, more that the darkness had swallowed it up. Myst uncomfortably started moving backwards. He felt chills running all along his body, prompting him to turn violently in every direction. Wherever he turned though, all he saw was darkness. He turned back to face the door, or at least the general direction of the door. The darkness parted, and he felt heat return to his body. He hadn't realised how cold the darkness had been. He walked along the path designated for him, but he didn't get far before he stopped in his tracks.
In front of him stood eight shadows, two taller than the rest. Myst went pale, well, paler than usual. He recognised them. The six smaller ones… one unicorn, three pegasi, and two earth ponies… were they… there was only one way to find out.
"Hello?" The shadows gave no response. "Hello?" He looked at the unicorn. He was slightly taller than him, and had a spiky mane-style, along with his tail. Well… Myst assumed it was a he. It was…
Myst ran towards him, he couldn't slip away. How was he here? How!
The figure disappeared, fading from his sight. This didn't bode well. He turned to face the other seven, but they had vanished from his sight as well. It didn't take long to find them though. They were gathered around the throne, well, two were sitting, the rest stood. The walked towards them, but they began to disappear one by one. First one of the earth ponies, then two of the pegasi, then the other earth pony, all that remained before him were the two unusually tall ponies and one last pegasus. He watched as the smaller one disappeared slowly, much slower than the others, and after that, he watched the largest of them vanish near instantly. All that remained was the pegasus, staring back at him…
"Hello." He said.
It didn't respond. He walked towards it, it walked backwards, maintaining a distance of one and a half meters at all times. Myst walked backwards, and it followed. Myst frowned at the odd shadow standing before him. Why didn't it want to get closer to him? He ran towards it, full speed, it turned and ran as well. He chased it through the throne room and out into the foyer. It jumped down to the first floor, Myst followed. When he landed though, he was met with six more shadows. He recognised them, particularly the one in the middle. It was him again, was he being taunted? He watched five of them disappear, until only one remained, plus the shadow beside him. Soon enough though, that's what it turned into, his shadow. All that remained in the room were Myst and… Hugo. The last two pieces on the board.
What did this dream mean? He already knew all of this. Was it just another flashback? No. His flashbacks never contained the capacity to feel pain. This was much too real, much too conscious.
The shadow violently jerked towards him, setting its course for the space between Myst's eyes.
He slipped under the pony and watched it barrel into the wall. He looked back at it and ran for the door. Bursting through it and running as fast as he could. What he encountered on the other side though, terrified him even more. It was his six new friends. Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Applejack.
He tried to move towards them but found himself bound by some sort of greater force. He looked down only to see his shadow greatly stretched and distorted, desperately clinging on to the massive castle behind him. He watched helplessly as the silhouette of Hugo strolled past him casually.
"Stay away from them!" He bellowed. Hugo ignored him, moving closer to his friends by the second. So, that's how it was. They would all meet their ends, while he just watched from the shadows. Myst tried his best to choke back tears. He knew, in the end, he was making the right choice.
'Are you?' The voice had returned.
"What do you mean. You, of everypony, should know I have to let them die. It's just six more lives."
'I know. I just can't help but feel like their lives are worth more than you attribute to them.' Myst had never thought before, about the inherent value of a life. After all how valuable could they possibly be?
'Valuable enough that the six of them would gladly risk their own lives for each other.'
Value. What a strange term. Myst noticed Hugo's hoof reaching out to the six, but ignored it.
He thought about what a life amounted to for only a moment, but he found he was unable to focus on life itself, and was instead reminded of very specific individuals. Twilight Sparkle, the alicorn princess who didn't trust him in any capacity, but only for the sake of her friends. Then there was Pinkie Pie, unique and eccentric, but nonetheless admirable, and finally Fluttershy, a kind, caring soul whose only goal was to help others. Each one was so radically different, but no less important than the others, after all, what really determined the value of life in comparison to another?He was reminded of the way they had reached out to him, the way they sought the truth. Truly, their lives could not be replicated, they were simply too vast, too...
priceless. Pinkie's words from earlier made much more sense to him. His secret wasn't worth six lives, in fact... it wasn't worth one.
He couldn't do this anymore. It wasn't worth it. He looked behind him. There lay the castle, his shadow, everything he had left behind, and yet, no matter where he travelled, he had always felt as if he had been getting nowhere. He had to let it go. He looked down at the dark vessel that bound him, and he severed it, violently. Staring towards the entity that dared to threaten his friends, their lives, their perfect, indescribably valuable lives. He didn't even have to think for a moment, before he barreled into the dark mass, perhaps not actually saving his friends, but he knew that was only the first step.
He was done running.
Myst awoke with a start.