It's done! Probably the hardest foray into perspective I've done yet! Oh and a new chapter too! Hooray!
This picture came to me while stuck for ideas and low on inspiration. This picture basically unravelled the problem I was having with writing the chapter and conveying certain things through imagery. Ultimately, this idea split a monstrous chapter I couldn't write into two chapters that I could
I tried my best to capture a texture more befitting of rock and stone than just a flat colour and a few dark lines scribbled over it. In fact, I avoided using the Pen tool I'm fond of and used the Watercolour and Pencil - changing the settings as and when needed. Really helped create an uneven texture the suggests a rough and tough surface.
So, in this excerpt, Fluttershy undergoes a traumatic experience as she uncovers memories of her visit to the Free Lands. Will it be worth what she sacrifices? I'm not sure either - I have no interest in saying 'yes' or 'no'.
Anyway, obligatory link dump and then the chapter excerpt. Be warned, this excerpt is over 2.5k words. Please mind your scrolling finger.
Survivor Shy Gallery (spoilers likely): [link]
Survivor Shy on FimFiction (organised, more-legible version of story): [link]
My Tumblr (Safe; progress shots and other art): [link]
WORD COUNT WARNING: 2.5k words - Please mind your scrolling finger!
Almost too quickly, the magic flowing between my Element and the stone door in front of me ceased. And once again I was plunged into darkness. A whimper escaped into the corridor, and I shuffled to the side and leant against the cold wall. Seconds later, a low, guttural rumble shook the room, and the stone door dropped down an inch, letting through a brilliant golden light. Ancient gears groaned, and the door lowered into the floor, falling flush with the slabs. Before me was a golden barrier, dancing and shimmering like sunlight over a pond, that quickly dispelled and revealed a large room inside.
Swallowing down the lump in my throat, I cautiously ambled through the doorway. As soon as my hoof graced the first slab in the room, dozens of torches flared up on the walls and bathed the entire space in light. I shrank back into the shadows of the corridor, whimpering. Hesitantly, I peeked back inside the secret hall. The room didn’t look like a burial chamber filled with mummies and traps like in those nerve-wracking Daring Do books, if anything, it looked like a library. A dozen bookshelves flanked a torn blue carpet going straight down the center of room. Cylindrical columns wider than the average pony towered up to the ceiling, interconnected at the top by strong stone arches criss-crossing among the supports. In however long they had been there, they had kept the ceiling up, but were losing to cracks dripping with water and very stubborn moss. At the far end of the hall, beyond the other end of the blue rug, stood what looked like a stone table - to which a thin beam of light from my necklace shone.
Trusting the amulet more than my gut feeling, I carefully trotted down the middle of the room, glancing down the rows of stocked bookshelves. The room was thick with dust motes and the smell of old parchment, something that I knew would make Twilight excited to explore the countless tomes and scrolls bursting from the shelves. If only she was here to see this…
I quickly dried my eye and blew the dust away from my face. Bowing my head, I hurried along and avoided looking at the books any more.
The tattered rug fanned out in ripped tails, and I stopped a few feet away from the stone table, I glanced over to the left, spotting a pristine wooden table resting close to the floor, with a few dusty cushions placed around it. On the opposite side of the room was a clearer space; a woven rug covered most of the hard floor, and a long work bench up against the wall stood dutifully, carrying kinds of writing and restoration supplies on its dusty surface.
My gaze fell to the stone table, framed by two banners on each side; one depicting a majestic styling of a Unicorn’s head on a faded purple background, and the other showing a green banner with a combination of crests united under a crescent moon and full sun. Finally, my gaze fell to the table in front of me, and nervous shudder coursed through me.
In an instant the room was again a burial chamber and not a library. Maybe this place was just a teeny bit like Rainbow’s books – but there weren’t traps. I hoped. What I was looking at was a grave; a pale sarcophagus sealed by chiselled lid. I closed my eyes, and took a moment to soothe the skittish butterflies panicking in my stomach. Exhaling gently, I took a few steps closer, looking over the symbol engraved on the cold stone. I blew away some of the dust in crevices, revealing the same insignia of a spiral with two stars off from its centre – minus the six orbiting symbols.
The size of the resting place meant that a pony was buried here, and the markings and magical lock meant that they had something to do with the Elements of Harmony in the past. But what did my Element want to show me? It would take decades to read just the books that haven’t been destroyed by water. There had to be something specific to search for, either that or the Element of Kindness brought me here for sanctuary from the dragons, dogs, and the pain of watching my home crumble under vicious claws.
My head drooped down, and a pair of tears fell and disturbed the dust on the floor. The Element of Kindness was still twinkling, and my sight followed the thin strand of light as it bounced around the room. I blinked, and blinked again, making sure it was really landing on where to go next. A silver strand sparked over the room, tracing the crack between the sarcophagus and the stone lid sealing it.
I tripped backwards as if I saw a ghost, stumbling over my hooves and falling onto my back. My eyes stayed glued to the grave, and the thin strand of light from my Element continued to flicker and seek a tiny gap to get inside.It can’t be,
begged my mind. There had to be some mistake, there had to be something else it wanted!
The beam momentarily grew brighter, bathing the grave in its glow. I closed my eyes and shook my head. Images of skeletons coming to life and haunting ghosts appeared under my eyelids, making my heart race and my legs quiver and itch to get up and flee. I couldn’t disturb a body. I couldn’t steal from a grave – I could barely convince myself that looting needed supplies was okay.
Slowly I stood back up, and looked away from the pale stone. There had to be some explanation; a reason for all of this. The ruins up top, the banners and architecture in this chamber, and the location of the secret room told of the countless years that had passed since anypony set hoof in this place, yet they offered nothing to explain why I had to come here. It also didn’t explain what it was in the sarcophagus that I had to get to. Why had I been led here? How could I be expected to open somepony’s grave and rifle through it – by the Element of Kindness?
My head drooped down to the tatty rug, tears staining it into a darker shade. I dried my eyes with the bandage on my leg, and looked at how filthy it had become since I had last changed it. With a light grasp and flick of my head, I pulled the wrappings loose, revealing a faint scar peeking through my fur. I sat down on my haunches, and traced the mark with my hoof. I looked at my fringe, frowning at how dirty it had become, too. Quickly I checked myself over, looking at my tail and scuffed saddlebags. How long had I been living like this already? Had it been a few weeks perhaps, maybe a month? Time had marched on without me, the world had changed from what I held onto.
A dirty clump of my fringe fell in front of my eye, and I blew it aside and adjusted my headband to keep it back. I knew I had changed too - but I had to! I couldn’t survive if I hadn’t. I couldn’t keep my promise to my friends and myself if I wasn’t willing to do what it took to stay safe. But was it a good thing?
My mind questioned. Would I still be who my friends loved when I eventually saw them again – this life or the next? Or would they only see a far cry of the friend they once had? A thief…
I looked up at the sarcophagus. …A grave robber?
My wings twitched uncomfortably. The Element was asking this of me, it wouldn’t lead me astray in a time like this would it? But if I turned back I wouldn’t be a bad pony. Would it be worth the risk of ignoring my own amulet? Could it cost me my own wish to reunite my friends – cost me bringing peace to them and myself?
I stashed the old bandage back into my saddlebags and stood back up. My hooves pattered back to the stone bed, and I swallowed down the same sickly taste I had before. I shot a glance at my Element and saw that it was dull and lifeless – not taking any joy or pleasure from what I was about to do. I hoped it was right about this, and I hoped that all of the ghost stories and assurances of being sent to Tartarus were not going to turn out to be true. I had to trust my Element; I had to trust that it was in the best interest of Kindness – as wrong as it seemed to be.
My sweaty hooves pressed against the side of the slab. With a hurried whisper I begged for understanding, and that my friends wouldn’t hate me for trying to do the right thing for them.
A grunt escaped me as I pushed against the heavy stone. My rear hooves skidded along the floor, but I kept on pushing, quickly wedging my rear hooves in front of an uneven slab for support. The stone seal growled and slid aside, and suddenly leapt to the other side of the enclosure – slamming into the floor and wall with a grating crunch. I slipped and half-fell into the cold container, bringing my gaze to the ancient bones of a Unicorn stallion curled up inside.
Before I could think, I made the mistake of looking up the pony’s skull, and locking my bewildered stare with one of the eye sockets. The ceiling felt like it had fallen on my back, the air had snapped into a harsh chill in an instant. It was me who had done this; I had invaded and violated a dead creature’s right to peace. The skull didn’t move, silently burning its scorn into my soul, staining it with something that would never ever be cleansed.
Screwing my eyes shut, I tore myself away from the grave, retching and dry-heaving to the side, trying desperately to think of something else. I thought of my friends, but all I could see were their skulls staring through me with the same lifeless view. I thought of the Princesses, but all I could see were their skeletal forms towering over me. My lungs were closed off, and I choked and suffocated among the feeling of hateful stares coming from thousands of disturbed souls. Why couldn’t you have just left us in peace?
I pulled my ears down and covered my head, but their accusing voices still pierced through. How could you disrespect our wishes?
The voices demanded.
The chamber was plunged into darkness, and the chilling sight of white skulls and empty eye sockets surrounded me. The skeletal forms of everypony I knew joined the countless judging gazes. I gasped for air, still being smothered by the guilt of the crime I had committed. The voices all spoke harshly and in unison. Why couldn’t you respect the permanent nature of death?
“Because none of you are dead!” I screamed, slamming my hooves into the floor. The grip around my neck vanished, leaving my breaths ragged and curt. The phantoms dissolved and fell to the floor, seeping into the cracks in the burial chamber’s floor. Blindly I stared ahead, ignoring the streams of tears pouring down my cheeks, and listened. The dead silence of the room strained under each breath I took, but thankfully no more angry voices could be heard . The weight of the moment pushed me down, squeezing the anger out of my shaking body and letting it evaporate into the cold, stale air.
I wiped the tears away from my face, and gradually counted to ten. Carefully, I pulled myself onto my hooves once more and turned back to the grave. Avoiding the empty gaze of the skull, I scanned over the body, my eyes falling upon a leather-bound book tucked inside the skeleton’s grasp. A tiny shimmer confirmed that it was what I was looking for, and slowly I leant down to pick it up – whispering a painful apology to the once-at-peace pony. I held my breath, feeling the cold claws of death brush down my cheeks. Delicately I bit the edge of the cover and tugged, and surprisingly the book came away with ease. Without a moment’s hesitation I pulled away from the sarcophagus, and balanced the book on my wing. Without a second glance at the skeleton, I walked over to the large table, and slid the old tome onto the surface. A moment later I pushed a stiff cushion over and carefully sat down, paying no attention to the dust and bugs that had been disturbed.
The book, aside from looking old, appeared to be nothing particularly special. The leather had faded to grey, and the edges of the pages had turned into the colour of rust. I opened the book carefully, revealing pages and pages of hoof-written notes and carefully-drawn diagrams. I looked to my amulet for a clue for which page to read, but it didn’t even shine. Its job was done, and it had become dormant once more.
I began to skim through the book, searching for words or topics that would seemed important. A lot of the notes were regarding weather-changing magic and agriculture and how the author’s findings either supported or invalidated their theories. Other notes talked about a “growing problem with Windigos” and an “importance of pulling together” that the author particularly scoffed at – citing that it took more than just standing together to deal with such dangerous creatures.
I turned a few more pages, and suddenly the tone changed. “No more is my apprentice a mere apprentice,” it said. “Today she and five others are more than that – perhaps blessed by divinity.
“Normally this is not the place for my personal musings, but it is hard to work in spite of the news that the so-called ‘First Friends of Equestria’ wielded power beyond even my own. Normally I would assume that everypony was fabricating a lie to tease the old wizard of House Platinum, but the chestplates they’re wearing now are far too intricate to be a useless prop – and the gemstone embedded in each piece is enchanted with an energy I have never before encountered.
“Details are dubious, however, as to how those six mares came to be wielders of such power. Some self-described witnesses claim a variety of things from rainbows exploding from the ground and bestowing these pieces to their owners, to the mere declaration between the six ponies that their ‘friendship is what will preserve this new republic’. Bah! It’s all flowery nonsense! Comradeship keeps Unicorns (and I suppose other ponies) together, yes, but it is magical prowess – or in the case of those Pegasi, military might – that ensures the defence of a state.
“Even so, I must learn more about those artefacts. Perhaps I could acquire permission to study them from Lady Platinum, or call a favour from curious little Clover. “Wait.
I flicked through a few more pages, and turned towards the open coffin, recalling the symbol on the lid and on the door sealing this place away. This is… Oh my. Oh goodness!
I stared back down at the page I had landed on, and carried on reading.