[NST] Wit’s End

May 9th, 2018
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  2. >It happened again.
  3. >Twilight is having that same dream tonight.
  4. >She finds herself looking at a row of empty train seats across a mahogany table. Its tablecloth features a series of six-pointed lavender stars strewn across a hazy night sky.
  5. >Hot steam rises from an untouched mug of coffee sitting on her side of the table.
  6. >Across from it is an empty mug, making the setup elegant in its simplicity and symmetry.
  7. >To the left of her, warm orange lights fly across the window in a moderate rhythm. As it enters the cart, some hit and dance around on the polished red pleather of the seats.
  8. >Gently rocking back and forth to the sway of the train car, she is hugged tightly against the wall of the train, right leg across her left.
  9. >The cart is completely desolate of people, the only sounds being the lethargic industrial groaning sounds of the locomotives.
  10. >This dreamscape is relatively serene compared to the previous iterations of this particular sequence.
  11. >She looks down to find herself dressed in her school outfit: a cerulean top underneath a purple vest, a lavender skirt, finished off with a pink bow tie.
  12. >Letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding in, she mentally steels herself for what’s coming next.
  13. >Footsteps start to approach from behind her.
  14. >Measured and light.
  15. >Twilight doesn’t react.
  16. >She already knows who it is. There’s no use in running away.
  17. >All she does is turn to the right to face the aisle, waiting patiently for the person in question to rejoin her at the table.
  18. >As the footsteps grow closer and closer, a lavender hand grips the corner of the seat.
  19. >Leaning against the seat, a teenage girl dressed in a Crystal Prep uniform innocently smiles down at her.
  20. >She holds a handful of coffee condiments up to Twilight’s face, tightly gripping on to them as if they were nuggets of gold.
  21. >Some small nondescript red plastic cartons. No brand names, labels, or anything.
  22. >“So I went up to the front to ask for more of these,” she explains as if she was setting up the funniest joke ever told.
  23. >“Then all they did was give me this death glare and without a word, handed me the entire box,” she continues, voice cracking up at the end.
  24. >Not being to hold it in anymore, she throws her head back and hollers like a hyena in laughter, causing her hair bun to comically bounces up and down.
  25. >Twilight keeps her lips shut and blankly stares at the girl.
  26. >Still chuckling to herself, the girl in the uniform tosses the cartons onto the table in a scatter.
  27. >She takes off her horned-rimmed glasses and wipes a tear from her eye. It lands on the table and burns one of the lavender stars off the pattern, accompanied by a tiny sizzle.
  28. >Twilight stares at it, unfazed.
  29. >“Damn, you’re no fun at all, you know that?” she stated matter-of-factly.
  30. >Twilight chooses to not dignify anything that comes out of the girl’s mouth with a response.
  31. >She brushes her bangs to the side and peers at her mug of coffee.
  32. >”Oh yeah, that,” her mirror image peps up, taking her seat. “Someone came by with refreshments while you were asleep. I got you a mug of black coffee.”
  33. >She nods and winks at Twilight, completing the look with finger guns.
  34. >”Y’know. Just the way you like it.”
  35. >Twilight only hums in response.
  36. >The other girl narrows her eyes.
  37. >”I just might be the only person in the world that knows that about you,” she says as she fixes her tie and straightens out her skirt.
  38. >”I’m trying my best here to be a friend to you,” she states sternly. “So the least you can do in return is to cooperate with me.”
  39. >Her eyes grill Twilight for a response, but she doesn’t cave in.
  40. >Instead she directs her attention to the mug of coffee and wraps her hands around it.
  41. >The girl melodramatically throws her hands in the air and groans in disbelief.
  42. >”Sure. Whatever. Go on and ignore me then.”
  43. >She reaches for the kettle of coffee for a refill.
  44. >”Do whatever you want…”
  45. >From the kettle out comes a stream of viscous brown sludge with the consistency of rotten milk containing fragments of stone and bone in it.
  46. >”…because what you want doesn’t matter to me and I’m the conductor tonight.”
  47. >She rips the label off of one the nameless red cartons and pours a dash of human blood into her mug.
  48. >Twilight raises her mug of coffee to her lips and takes a small sip, though not out of courtesy for her company.
  49. >She confides in the sense of familiarity and reality in the blunt bitterness of the beverage, slightly relieved that the other girl hasn’t modified it in any way.
  50. >”You get it?”
  51. >The girl tears violently opens another carton, spicing up her grotesque brew with a tinge of battery acid.
  52. >”It’s because we’re on a train,” she explains, voice beginning to become unstable.
  53. >A clump of vermicompost drops in.
  54. >Twilight finds that one particularly slightly distasteful.
  55. >”I’m going to be real with you. I spent a lot of time setting this one up, Twilight.”
  56. >Dimethylmercury.
  57. >The liquid in the mug begins to overflow.
  58. >”On that note, have you ever realized that I’m always the one that pulls the weight in this relationship, Twilight?” she yells, beginning to raise her voice.
  59. >”What have you ever done for the two of us? What have you ever contributed to Twilight Sparkle?” she spits, venom dripping from every word.
  60. >Twilight remains silent.
  61. >Two rusty, stained razor blades.
  62. >The girl’s voice suddenly becomes solemn.
  63. >”Answer me. Answer me so that I tell you you’re worthless. Answer me so that I can show you the truth.”
  64. >A live cockroach.
  65. >It attempts to crawl out, but the effort is wasted. Its struggles cease as it gradually and unwillingly assimilates into the toxic concoction. Twilight chokes it up to the effects of the dimethylmercury, but she isn't quite sure.
  66. >”I said ans—”
  67. “You may stop this juvenile charade now.”
  68. >All pretenses of aggression immediately fade away from the girl’s face.
  69. >She had won. She elicited a direct response from Twilight.
  70. >The girl smirks and uses her arm to brush the mug and the and rest of unopened red cartons into a portal. Perhaps a void dimension if she was considerate enough. Twilight supposes it didn’t really matter either way since this was a dream anyway.
  71. >Twilight knew that the girl wouldn’t kill her. As a matter of fact, she could not. Nor would she have a reason to.
  72. >That entire act wasn’t a elaborate death threat or insult.
  73. >It was to demonstrate to Twilight that she had put extra attention to detail in that little sequence. Twilight suspected that even the unused cartons had their own preprepared and unique little horror inside of them.
  74. >The girl may have spent upwards of weeks building this mindscape while locked deep in isolation within the chambers of her psyche.
  75. >Perhaps her diligence can be rewarded with an inkling of cooperation.
  76. >Twilight quirks an eyebrow at the smug girl as she takes another sip of the coffee.
  77. “I thought I told you to drop the act, Midnight.”
  79. >A manic gleam of excitement, something between the giddiness of a child and the malice of a psychopath, flashes across her eyes.
  80. >Midnight makes a show of fully outstretching her arms and throwing her head back.
  81. >The sounds of the train locomotive become muted as if the entire dreamscape pauses to witness the sequence.
  82. >Dark lavender sparks suddenly erupt at the tips of her fingers. Encompassing the rest of her hands, they begin to travel up her arm.
  83. >The white sleeves of the uniform are engulfed in the sea of magic, charred away to reveal deep, rich, and beautiful purple skin lying underneath.
  84. >The business casual uniform is ravaged and destroyed in favor of a tight, lavender leather corset. The emblem of her purple star rests in the middle of the front. Its points extend outwards into six separate directions, forming thin straight lines that touched the edges of the piece. As a final touch, a final purple line traces the circumference of her waist, crossing the middle of the star.
  85. >As the thaumic energy travels down towards her legs, the changes she makes to her bottom half bear more semblance to her original uniform.
  86. >A dress made of a thick lavender fabric splays off to her sides, revealing a smaller skirt that cuts off at the thighs.
  87. >Some sparkles converge on parts of her body and begin to materialize. They form metallic armlets and boots that feature distinct streaks of wavy purple highlights. Her choker’s lavender star is replaced with the contour of purple heart, with bundles of symmetrical vinelike designs on the interior now dangling against her bare top.
  88. >Her thick glasses crumble away, revealing pairs of sharp eyebrows and thick eyelashes.
  89. >The abundant locks of hair tied into her bun immediately bursts forth into the air, sporadically dancing and flowing around like a mesmerizing, ethereal flame.
  90. >Midnight finally lowers her face to meet Twilight’s stoic face.
  91. “You look like a magical girl turned prostitute.”
  92. >Midnight bursts out laughing, lurching backward and holding her hands over her chest.
  93. >Twilight is taken aback by the surprisingly genuine laughter, expecting her to uncontrollably cackle instead.
  94. >“This is the first time you’ve ever had a good, close look at me, and that’s all you have to say?” Midnight inquires, still giggling to herself. “That’s a good one, old friend.”
  95. >Twilight narrows her eyes.
  96. “Don’t you ever call me that again.”
  97. >”Alright then,” she complies, putting her hands up in innocence. “I suppose I’m not allowed to call you anything while you get a free pass on your words.”
  98. “I’m only being honest,” shrugs Twilight.
  99. >”Oh.”
  100. >All playfulness drop from Midnight’s face as she locks eyes with Twilight with her own hallow, frenzied pupils.
  101. >”You’ll know what that really means after what I have planned tonight.”
  102. >Twilight feels a slight shiver tingle down her spine, waiting for the moment Midnight becomes completely unhinged, abs blast her with magic, evaporating her to kingdom come.
  103. >Instead she bores into her with eyes carrying the intent of an intense interrogator.
  104. >The tense silence permeates into the train cart, as the sounds of the train engine regain prominence.
  105. “So, uh. Where are your wings and your tail?” Twilight nervously asks, attempting to regain some control over the conversation. “Moreover, what happened to your horn and weird mask thing?”
  106. >Midnight looks lost.
  107. >”You can remember?” she asks with curiosity and awestruck as real as her sudden burst of laughter.
  108. >Twilight feels slightly unsettled and diverts her eyes away from her doppelganger's face.
  109. “What do you mean?”
  110. >Midnight shakes her head.
  111. >”Nevermind. That’s not important right now,” Midnight reassures herself more than anyone else.
  112. >A confident grin finds its way back on her face again.
  113. >”Where are we right now, Twilight?”
  114. >Midnight leans over the table, giving Twilight a modest view of her chest.
  115. >Before Twilight could question if this was intentional or not, Midnight cuts into her thoughts.
  116. >”Do you have any idea where we’re headed, partner?” she repeats, this time hushed and sultrier.
  117. >Twilight is reluctant to answer at first. But she knows that not playing along will worsen the situation. Midnight will drag her into playing her games, no doubt having planned a contingency for every possible instance of dissent from Twilight.
  118. “No, Midnight,” Twilight responds, deadpan. “Pray tell, where exactly are we headed?”
  119. >A wide smile crosses Midnight’s face. There was a childish and giddy excitement in it.
  120. >”Why don’t you check the map to your left? For your information, we’re currently on the Finitus Vulgaris line.”
  121. >Twilight quirks an eyebrow as Midnight returns to her seat.
  122. >She had taken Latin as her language elective back in Crystal Prep. She’s rusty; it’s been a while.
  123. ‘Vulgaris…’
  124. >Twilight looks to her left to find a map behind a glass case hanging on the wall.
  125. ‘…meaning ‘Common.’’
  126. >She’s sure that it wasn’t there before.
  127. ‘Finitus… what does ‘finitus’ mean again?’
  128. >The map could barely even be called one. Series of colored lines twist and contort into impossible tangles, drifting aimlessly like dead lifeboats on the ocean surface. The Finitus Vulgaris line is no exception to these forces. However, one endpoint remains constant. At the very top of the map lays a single infinitely dark point. For all the wriggling and spasms of the lines, they could never quite escape its hold, like a mischievous child gripping on to the tail of a frantic old dog.
  129. >Twilight arches her neck upward so she can read the name of the final station.
  131. >Before Twilight has any time to process this new foreign phrase, Midnight cuts in once again.
  132. >”Are you lost, Twilight?”
  133. “No. Just give a second.”
  134. >”Playing catch-up now, are we, partner?” she smirks.
  135. “I just need some time to understand what all this means.”
  136. >Midnight nods.
  137. >”I can understand that, Twilight. I really do.”
  138. >She puts her hands together.
  139. >”But it wouldn’t hurt to get some aid from your very best friends, would it?”
  140. “What the hell are you talking about?”
  141. >Midnight says nothing.
  142. >She presses her hands against one another as if she was crushing something between them.
  143. >Suddenly the decorative stars on the tablecloth begin to move as if they were alive. All of them make a beeline for the center.
  144. >A brilliant, beautiful star begins to take shape, royal and elegant in its immaculate power.
  145. >Out comes it a small plastic limb, birthed from the star.
  146. >Then another. Then another. Then tiny little heads. Their eyes were closed. Their hair was sprouting at an impossible rate.
  147. >They were mesmerizing.
  148. >And they were beautiful.
  149. >And they were disgusting.
  150. >The star finally died down. Though it was never even alive to begin with, Twilight felt pity for its exhausted, faded state.
  151. >”Well?”
  152. >Twilight looks up at Midnight’s calm, unwavering face.
  153. “Well, what?”
  154. >”Why don’t you give them a round of applause?”
  155. “What?”
  156. >”They've done so many great deeds for everyone. For us. They are like angels, like holy children of the sun,” she explains, a subtle tinge of sarcasm in her voice. “So why won’t you give them a round of applause? Acknowledge them.”
  157. >Twilight reluctantly puts her hands together.
  158. >She quickly steals a glance at Midnight, as if asking if she had done it right.
  159. >”Go ahead, partner,” she nods.
  160. >And together, they commence a soulless, absentminded, and cacophonous applause, sounding just as dead as the plastic doll-like bodies laying right there on the table.
  162. >In response, the pieces begin to rattle and come to life, rotating and positioning themselves to form gestalt figures which vaguely resembles that of a human body. Parts lock on to one another with satisfying snaps like assembling toys.
  163. >Six naked feminine figures lay on the table. One of them takes a special prominence over all the other, featuring a taller build that gives a dominating presence.
  164. >Their eyes immediately open like soldiers standing at attention.
  165. >Miniature articles of clothing grow and rise from beneath a permeable layer of flesh, accompanied by the moist sounds of unnaturally shifting muscle and skin. With their metamorphosis complete, they appear to be like artificial fairies and pixies on account of their reflective skins and pairs of vacant eyes.
  166. >“Enjoy the show,” Midnight comments. “I spent a lot of time on its script. It’s a real riot. Heh heh.”
  167. >She sits back in her seat, lazily smiles, and folds her arms across her chest, leaving the duo with silence.
  168. >The tallest figure, Amber, suddenly jumps to its feet, frantically gesturing at nothing in particular. “Girls, we got another magical friendship problem on our hands!” it declares to an invisible audience.
  169. >The voice is only partly familiar, a distorted, distasteful parody of a pre-existing identity.
  170. >An cyan figure raises itself off the group in one stiff, singular motion. “Ugh, what is it this time?” she groans in raspy, cracking voice. “I really don’t like helping or acting for the sake of others,” elaborates Cyan as she throws a series of hooks and roundhouse punches to a soccer ball that keeps returning to her cranium like a homing missile.
  171. >“Oh dear. Let’s just hope this doesn’t take ‘too’ much time out of our day,” White unnecessarily remarks, as she attempts to maintain balance on her two feet despite her uncontrollable discombobulated spasms.
  172. >She has to hunch over in order to do so.
  173. >Inaudible canned laughed plays in Twilight’s head.
  174. >“Ah got’s to say ah’m wit’ ‘er, ‘fer once,” Orange concurs. “Ah’ve really needs ‘ta git back to the farm ‘ta do mah chores. If ah don’t get ‘ta pluckin’ them there apples of ‘a them there wooden limbs of them there trees, then there will be some serious apples ‘ta apples. Apples apples apples apples apples apples.”
  175. >“AhgeezIdon’treallyknowOrangeMagicHorseIhavealotofpartiestoplanandcakestobakeandballonstoinflateandcustomerstogetooandstreamerstohangandpastriestodecoratingandpeopletostalkandcamerastohideandtrackerstoplaceanddeadbodiestoskinandpartiestohold!” incoherently rambles Pink. Her voice occasionally cuts out on account of her molecules’ insistence on constantly rearranging themselves, which causes her to blink back and forth between life and death. Twilight only caught the words “cake” and “party.”
  176. >“But you guys,” Amber whines, stamping her feet and kicking up dust. “This could possibly be a friendship problem of utmost importance! We’re the only ones that can fix this, and besides, you haven’t even listened to what it is yet!”
  177. >“Yeah, and I can already tell that it’s gonna be lame!” Cyan cackles as the soccer ball slams into the side of her head at Mach 5, sending her flying face-first into the ground.
  178. >With its mission accomplished, the soccer ball collapses in on itself and forms a black hole.
  179. >“Don’t say that…” Yellow meekly replies. Five pairs of lifeless eyes land on her fragile state. She could easily collapse under the weight of them. “I just think that we should allocate all of our time and resources for the purposes of helping our friends and other people, even if we wear ourselves thin, even if we burn ourselves out, even if we collapse trying, even if we lose the skin on our fingers, even if we die. Because good Samaritan acts are where happiness is derived and earned since there’s no value in helping yourself. Because you’re worthless. Because we’re all worthless. Because I am worthless.”
  180. >Silence.
  181. >“That’s the spirit!” yelps Amber, ecstatic. Her smile widens and her eyes glimmer with hope.
  182. >However, it’s quickly replaced by a solemn look directed at her feet.
  183. >“As you know, no one in the school has seen Twilight for the past two weeks. We’ve contacted her parents, but they don’t have a single clue on where she could be either.”
  184. >The group nods. Cyan tries to, but her neck is broken.
  185. >Orange stifles a chuckle.
  186. >“The principals suspect that she is in grave danger. Worst case scenario is that she’s been kidnapped and murdered.”
  187. >Despite her heavy-handed speech, she switches to cheerful expression on a dime. “But I have a lead that might tell us where we need to go!”
  188. >The gaggle of monstrosities huddle close together in a group.
  189. >Cyan bleeds profusely out the side of her head. It seeps into the tablecloth.
  190. >Amber produces a note from out of nowhere. “I broke into Twilight’s locker after school with a crowbar the other day. Strangely enough, the only thing that was inside was a scrap of a paper with some stuff scribbled on it. Wanna know what it said?”
  191. >Everyone nods feverishly.
  192. >“Well, it said…” she takes a deep breath.
  193. >“THE RAVEN SPREADS ITS WINGS ONCE AGAIN,” her voice lowers multiple octaves as her eyes turn pitch dark.
  194. >Black wings sprout out of her back in a mangled mess of feather, bone, and muscle.
  195. >She lurched over and begins to vomit black feathers. They shred her throat and mouth as they come up, soaking the feathers with hot, fresh blood.
  196. >This in turn makes it more difficult for her to regurgitate them, causing her to start choking.
  197. >She falls on her knees, spending the final moments of her brief existence gasping for air and twitching on the floor.
  198. >“Heh,” chuckles Cyan as she too collapses in a modest puddle of her own blood.
  199. >This causes some to splatter on White and Orange.
  200. >“Uncouth,” she sighs.
  201. >“Nuh-uh! There’s no darn tootin’ way ‘n ‘ell she’s gon’ be the one that dies first outta the two o’ us!” declares Orange as she makes a mad dash for Amber’s convulsing corpse.
  202. >She gets on her knees and pries the slip of paper out of her dead hands.
  203. >Feathers stick to her knees and lower leg, streaking red on them as if they were paintbrushes on a canvas.
  204. >“Lemme have a look-see this here note!”
  205. >Her face scrunches in confusion. “Ah don’t understand. All it says is…”
  206. >“ALL MINDS ROT IN CEREBRUM TERMINUS,” she shrieks.
  207. >The feathers that were puked out by Amber morph into ravens.
  208. >Cawing wildly, they begin to circle Orange’s body. Soon enough, they form a small, black homogenous tornado around the screaming girl.
  209. >They move in on her in revolutions, pecking and tearing away the flesh from her body. Orange tries her best to swat them away but always seems to miss by a scratch.
  210. >As the muscle and skin are ripped from her bones, she can longer support her defenses.
  211. >Spotting this opening, the team moves in as a singular unit.
  212. >Her final screams are muffled by the feathers of a hundred black ravens.
  213. >It takes mere seconds before the flock flies away, dissolving into smaller subdivisions.
  214. >In their absence, a bare skeleton poses with an outstretched hand to the heavens that failed her.
  215. >Pink takes this opportunity to completely evaporate.
  216. >She becomes a part of the troposphere.
  217. >Perhaps she can work off all her excess energy there. Most likely not, though.
  218. >It’s a shame she won’t be able to throw any parties anymore, though.
  219. >A tinge of sympathy passes through Twilight.
  220. >She knows that these caricatures are no more than magical constructs, perhaps only existing in the mental plane, yet she felt bad for the horrendous deaths by raven of Amber and Orange.
  221. >Yellow is about to launch into another monologue, but she’s interrupted.
  222. >At Amber’s body, white lilacs begin to blossom on her corpse. Spreading rapidly, they cover the rest of her body.
  223. >Midnight sits up and uncrosses her arms, staring daggers at Twilight. “You.”
  224. >The flowers take root in the table and soon spreads to the bodies of Cyan and Orange.
  225. >“What the hell are you doing?” she points an accusatory finger at Twilight. Lilacs now flourish on three tiny bodies.
  226. “What do you mean?” simply responds Twilight. “I haven’t even done anything. I thought you were the one that was doing it.”
  227. >White and Yellow are drawn to the now extensive flowerbed like drones to their queen. They dive in without hesitation, being consumed by the mass.
  228. >“Stop this!” Midnight demands, slamming a fist on the table. “Stop this right now! This is not what I had planned!”
  229. >The ravens look up at her with curiosity, heads tilted.
  230. “I told you, I’m not doing anything!”
  231. >An arm reaches for Twilight’s throat before she has any time to react.
  232. >She feels rough, powerful fingers wrap around her neck.
  233. >At that moment, an electrifying sensation travels across her entire body.
  234. >Not particularly painful nor shocking, it courses through her insides like it was always meant to.
  235. >As if the blood vessels she was born with were engineered long before her birth to serve the purpose of acting as channels and conduits for the foreign energy.
  236. >This intrusive feeling causes her to immediately recoil backward.
  237. >Midnight does the same as the two girls move in a synchronized motion.
  238. >They stare into each other eyes in mutual disbelief.
  239. >Twilight holds the gaze as she absentmindedly massages her neck, Midnight doing the same to her hands.
  240. >Anger flashes across Midnight’s face, quickly overwriting her awestruck expression.
  241. >“Enough!” she commands.
  242. >Magic traces a contour around her eyes as lilac petals are violently ripped from their stems and sent flying into the air, chaotically swirling around to the whims of the wind.
  243. >Sleek, dark wings sprout from her back, slicing into the fabric of the seats in the confined space.
  244. >Having learned her lesson, she firsts covers her hands in a thick magic barrier.
  245. >“Just when I thought you were finally cooperating,” she hollers with an unrestricted hysteria and fury. “For the first time in our existences, we had mutual cooperation. But you just had to throw it all away! And for what? For nothing! Nothing!”
  246. “Wait!” cries Twilight, holding a pleading hand out to Midnight. “Please! Let’s calm down and talk about this for a moment. It could all be some kind of misunderstanding.”
  247. >She believes for a moment she saw a white dove amongst the flock of ravens.
  248. >Hands wrap around her neck.
  249. >She’s flung out her seat.
  250. >Before she has a chance to stand back up, she’s immediately grabbed by her collar and slammed into the floor.
  251. >The breath is knocked out of her. She feels the train tremble underneath her from the impact as her ribs crack.
  252. >She looks up with a faded vision to see a snarling Midnight.
  253. >Twilight isn’t entirely sure on why she chooses to place her hands on Midnight’s bare shoulders at that exact moment.
  254. >Perhaps it was a pitiful attempt at resistance, or it was the physical manifestation of her perpetual foolish dedication to a peaceful resolution.
  255. >The magical sensation returns to her again. The roaring pain in her chest is alleviated, like an instantaneous opioid dosage. As she meets Midnight’s face again, she’s greeted with a sight that was wondrous as salvation.
  256. >Recognition and guilt is plastered on Midnight’s face as she comes to an abrupt epiphany.
  257. >“You…” she trails off. She gently lets go of her grip on Twilight.
  258. >There is a myriad of things she wants to tell her right then and there.
  259. >Theories and speculations popping in her head like a chain of firecrackers, curtly awaking and enlightening her.
  260. >But instead, all she decides to relay to her friend is, “You’re not lying to me. I can somehow tell. I don’t fully understand why, but I can.”
  261. >Twilight weakly shakes her head. She wants to wipe the blood from her mouth, but it hurts too much to move her arms.
  262. >Midnight simply cures all of Twilight’s ails with the simple gesture of her hand. Twilight wants to do anything but accept the offer, but she fears the consequences of the latter choice.
  263. >The train makes an innocent dinging sound. Midnight grins, “We’ve arrived.”
  264. >The doors slide open, giving Twilight a view of absolute nothingness.
  265. >Midnight attempts to return to her showwoman persona, but the uneasy expression on her face gives away her true feelings.
  266. >”Why don’t you take a walk around the place and get to know it? After all, we’ll be here together for a long time.
  267. >And just like that, she disappeared from out behind Twilight, leaving her alone on the floor and drained of her strength and will.
  268. >Twilight knew Midnight felt the same.
  269. >She could feel it.
  270. >Twilight awkwardly pushes herself off the floor and finds her footing.
  271. >As she bends over to dust off her skirt, her bow tie slips off. The torn straps tickle her neck as it flutters to the ground.
  272. >She pauses momentarily and stares at the teared pink piece on the floor in silent contemplation.
  273. >Finally, she sweeps it to the side with her foot and heads for the train doors.
  274. >Holding onto the sides of the doors, she peers out into the infinite blackness, looking left and right as if she was about to cross a road.
  275. >But all she can see is the Vulgaris extending infinitely in both directions.
  276. >Before she could have a moment to think, an invisible force shoves her from behind. She loses her balance, stumbling forward into the darkness. Twilight braces herself for a long fall, but instead lands neatly on her feet.
  277. >She finds herself standing on an invisible strip of solid land running perpendicular to the railway and parallel to the walls, just under a meter away from the cart.
  278. >Looking back, Twilight hears the train ding once again as the doors snap shut with a satisfying click.
  279. >The engines sound to life again as the train lethargically chugs away, running beneath Twilight’s feet.
  280. “What is happening?” she whispers to herself under her breath.
  281. >She often does this when working on a particularly difficult assignment or schoolwork, talking it through with herself. And this enigma at hand is no different to her.
  282. >And for the first time in her life, a voice responds to her self-directed rhetoric.
  283. >A velvety, soft voice murmurs into her ear, “Don’t you get it, partner? You’re the one who makes the rules here.”
  284. “Are you talking to me in my head? On that note, I hope you realize that none of this makes any sense. What was the point of riding an infinitely long train if it’s already arrived the second you board? How do you even shift an infinite line onto itself?”
  285. >Midnight ignores her hallow questions and continues.
  286. >“What you experience here are manifestations of the mind, Twilight. Abstract concepts and emotions in their purest, most raw form; Thoughts stripped of the self-imposed superficiality of the mind, filled with a truth fundamentally inherent and natural to the individual.”
  287. “What are you talking about? Aren’t you just describing a dream?”
  288. >Twilight feels a pair of hands gently trace her shoulder, traveling down her arms in a symmetrical motion. They cascade down her arms like a steady stream.
  289. >“Welcome to Cerebrum Terminus, old friend. It’s a special little place I made just for you.”
  290. “I thought I told you never to call me that again,” growls Twilight.
  291. >She shakes the voyeuristic hands off of her, stopping them just short of her forearms.
  292. “How do I know it’s not just another ploy to psyche me out? It’s what you’ve been trying to do this entire time, anyways.”
  293. >“You can try to push me away.” Midnight’s voice grows close as her chilly, heavy breath falls onto Twilight’s neck. “But soon enough, this is going to be all mine, regardless of what you want.”
  294. >Just then, the Vulgaris suddenly ramps up in velocity like a panicked gazelle desperately trying to escape its predator.
  295. >Twilight locks in place, staring down at the nonterminating blur of muted colors rushing beneath her.
  296. >“I don’t think you quite get it yet,” Midnight comments, “I told you, you see what you assume to be true. Your own interpretations and inferences of the world. Think heuristics, Twilight. What harm could an abstract concept possibly do to you?”
  297. “Alright, alright, I got it! Stop with your pseudo-psychology bullcrap!” Twilight exclaims, exasperated.
  298. >And just like that, she sees the final train cart pass under and proceed to shrink away into the distance.
  299. >“Hmm. Not very imaginative now, are we, old friend? Some random chump on the street could’ve done better.”
  300. “Oh, shut up,” Twilight curtly replies. “What were you expecting, then? A giant pot of gold? Santa Claus?”
  301. >She turns on her heels but doesn’t see Midnight anywhere.
  302. >“How do I know you’re not the one manipulating all this? Are you even following what you preach?”
  303. >She giggles.
  304. >Giggles like a little schoolgirl.
  305. >It pierces Twilight’s ears like a needle.
  306. >“You’ll know in due time.”
  307. >Twilight scoffs, fists clenched at her sides.
  308. “So what now?” she asks.
  309. >“We visit home,” Midnight responds indifferently.
  310. “Oh yeah? Okay. Sure. Tell me, where would that be?”
  311. >“A place you call home has no need for directions. The idea is intrinsic to you. Follow your instincts and let your two feet guide you towards your destination.”
  312. “Aren’t you just telling me to wander around?”
  313. >“Not quite. Listen carefully to my words,” she instructs. “Create an image in your mind of what you know home to be. Once you have accomplished that, you can see it in the light. That light will be the torch for your path.”
  314. “Is this supposed to be a meditation session or something?” Twilight japes. “I like to spend my already-sparse free time reading, not wasting an hour listening to some homeless guy lecture me on how to open my third eye.”
  315. >A sudden, swift blow to her stomach knocks the air right out of Twilight, bringing her to knees.
  316. >Gasping for air and holding her gut in pain, she glances up to see Midnight cutting an unmoving, imposing figure above her.
  317. >Her wings beat in a dull, passive rhythm as she hovers above the ground, filling the darkness with the sounds of rippling air.
  318. >She looks down disapprovingly at her with an unwavering expression, akin to an adult scolding their child.
  319. >“Let me make it clear to you that I am aware of the fact that we are teenagers,” she begins. “I recognize your first social instinct is to dismiss any form of authoritative power with what you seem to perceive as sarcastic wit. Perhaps you do this in an attempt to demonstrate that you are somehow above commands and orders. An exception from the condition.”
  320. >“But I know we are better than that.” She plants her feet on the ground, crouching down to meet Twilight’s glare.
  321. >“I am trying to help you here.”
  322. >”I am trying to give you my best explanations. I am trying to guide you.”
  323. >She speaks with the monotonous rhythm of mantra, tone solemn and dictating.
  324. >“There is something here you must see. That you must understand.”
  325. >”I feel that it is crucial to you. I am a benevolent force here.”
  326. >Midnight delivers her words in short, direct sentences. She hopes it drills into Twilight her truest intentions.
  327. >The lack of any linguistic embellishments dismantles them into their most fundamental meaning.
  328. >She offers a hand towards Twilight, unraveling her fingers as if she was presenting a piece of expensive jewelry.
  329. >“I don’t know if your cooperation before was done tongue-in-cheek just to spite or humor me.”
  330. >She pauses for a brief moment.
  331. >“But I would like it if we could do that again,” she discloses, tone bordering on the edge of beseechment.
  332. >Twilight stares at Midnight’s extended hand.
  333. >Despite everything she’s doing, she continues to place herself on equal footing with Twilight.
  334. >Even, she has now lowered herself to Twilight’s level.
  335. >Yet, on the other hand, she can sense a sinister motive behind all her words and actions.
  336. >She doesn’t quite buy the act. But, the same unwelcome situation has presented itself once again.
  337. >Comply or die.
  338. “Yeah, sure,” she responds cordially.
  339. >She takes Midnight’s hand, pulling herself to her feet.
  340. “Please just walk me through it again.”
  342. >Midnight floats in a circumference around Twilight, maneuvering behind her.
  343. >As she speaks, her voice revolves around Twilight, fading away into her head as she disappears from her peripherals.
  344. >“Recall the concept of home. All the emotions associated with it and the impression it has made on you.”
  345. “So in other words, the personal connections that I have with it,” relays Twilight. “Not the actual physical location or appearance.”
  346. >“Correct,” Midnight responds. “We were always faster learners, weren’t we? All you had to do was to open your mind, Twilight. Open yourself up.”
  347. “Don’t push it,” Twilight snaps.
  348. >“Of course, partner,” she says with an invisible smirk.
  349. >Twilight looks up around at the boundless void before her.
  350. >Its reach has no perceivable limits, giving it an intimidating, omnidirectional presence.
  351. >If it weren't for the strip of ground running beneath Twilight’s feet, she wouldn’t be able to tell up from down. Or any direction from another, as a matter of fact.
  352. >She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes and unclenching the fists she hadn’t realized she was making until now. The flesh where her fingernails dug into stings mild and dulling pain.
  353. >She conjures up a mental image of her home.
  354. >Though the relatively large size of the estate oftentimes felt apatheic and cold, it was still Twilight’s sanctuary and frequent host of warm memories.
  355. >Safety. Security. Protection.
  356. >“Now we’re getting somewhere, partner,” Midnight encourages, as a perverse joy creeps into her voice. “Now start walking. Any direction, it doesn’t matter which. Just keep at it.”
  357. >With her eyes still shut, Twilight starts moving in the first direction her instincts demands.
  358. >She gives no thought to the movement of her legs, letting involuntary automation take over as she cycles through the thoughts in her head.
  359. >Family. Love. Joy.
  360. >They spin through her head like the chambers in the cylinder of a revolver.
  361. >The chambers seems to be non terminating. Circles with infinitesimal radii spin around and around.
  362. >Stability. Accountability. Consistency.
  363. >Subsistence. Nurturing. Caring.
  364. >Workplace. Laboratory. Progress.
  365. >Twilight breaks into a full sprint.
  366. >She opens her eyes to the void once again.
  367. >Expect the void isn’t there anymore.
  368. >Now fully illuminated, Twilight finally realizes that she is on the inside of a sphere of monstrous size.
  369. >The surface chaotically exfoliates and shifts around as millions of simultaneous waves are spontaneously being spawned, colliding, and dying.
  370. >Sparks of blue lightning violently crack at the air like whips, illuminating the walls in brief flashes.
  371. >“Do not get distracted!” commands Midnight with a booming voice. “Return to your thoughts at once.”
  372. >But Twilight can’t.
  373. >She’s captivated by the view.
  374. >The feeling is reminiscent of sitting on a beach for hours, staring at waves crashing onto shore in a trance induced by the rhythmic, geometric movements.
  375. >“I know you. I know that your curious nature is compromising your rational thought.” Midnight snapped in a stern voice. “I will explain everything about the nature of this place to you once you have accomplished the task at hand. What is important now is that you focus! Focus or you will never leave this place!”
  376. >Twilight shuts her eyes with such ferocity that she strains her face.
  377. >She adds speed to the spinning of the cylinder.
  378. >Conception.
  379. >Genesis.
  380. >Molding.
  381. >Cementation.
  382. >Deterioration.
  383. >Refuge.
  384. >Isolation.
  385. >Molding.
  386. >Cementation.
  387. >Conception.
  388. >Genesis
  389. >Development.
  390. >Invention.
  391. singularity point explosion speed velocity acceleration flame heat tear shred rip destruction chaos desire need want spiral Spiral SpiRaL SPIrAL SPIRAL.
  392. >Magic.
  393. >“That’s quite enough,” Midnight cuts through Twilight’s thoughts. “I have all I need. You may stop now.”
  394. >Twilight winds down as she stops to catch her breath.
  395. >She puts her hands on her knees and heaves. She hadn’t run like that since grade school physical education.
  396. >“You can drop the act,” Midnight snidely remarks. “You’re only feeling tired because you feel it should be.”
  397. “What—”
  398. >She stops to take in a big breath of air.
  399. “—the hell do you mean?”
  400. >“Did you notice that you haven’t broken a single sweat? No offense, but with your physical condition, your lungs and legs should be burning like hell. Yet you’re still able to stand up and taking big, heaving breathes like that?”
  401. >MIdnight pauses to give Twilight a chance to observe for herself.
  402. >“That’s because you find those sensations revolting,” Midnight concludes matter-of-factly. “But curiously enough, you are completely fine with running short of breath. Perhaps it’s like a mark to prove that you went through with it. Like giving yourself a sticker for a job well done.”
  403. “Just shut up. Shut up.”
  404. >As Twilight catches her breath, she looks down at the floor and notices a field of amaranths in bloom.
  405. >The grass and soft soil provide a cushion her feet.
  406. >The purple flowers idly sway back and forth, being blown around by an invisible wind.
  407. >Looking up, a grey tall house greets Twilight. One that she recognizes immediately.
  408. >But it wasn’t the time for sightseeing.
  409. >She needed to reap her rewards before she forgets to.
  410. “You owe me an explanation,” she states.
  411. >”But of course. Where would you like to start?”
  412. “Is this place real or not?” Twilights asks, keeping her question intentionally vague.
  413. >It’s not as if she has a choice in the matter.
  414. >Start off broad, gain as much preliminary knowledge as possible.
  415. >”Hmm. That’s not really a yes-or-no question,” Midnight thinks out loud. “Somewhere in the middle, really.
  416. “Could you specify?”
  417. “It’s physical in the sense that you can interact with it,” Midnight continues, “and by the fact that I have you trapped here. Forever.”
  418. >Twilight considers this piece of information for a moment.
  419. >She’s suspected that metaphysical forces are at play ever since the start. If this was the case, it is very possible she could wrestle some control for herself.
  420. >”I know what you’re thinking, Twilight,” Midnight whispers. “It’s not going to happen. Not again.”
  421. >Twilight remains silent.
  422. >The unwavering amaranths cast their unbiased judgment upon her, like hundreds of eyes boring into her.
  423. >She never thought there’d come a day where she would feel intimidated by flowers.
  424. >”And just for that, I’m limiting you to one more question,” Midnight follows up as if there was already a preexisting maximum.
  425. “That’s not fair.” Twilight retorts. “Anybody in this situation would have those thoughts. It’s only natural for me to begin thinking that way.”
  426. >”Oh, I’m well aware of that, Twilight. Do you take me for an idiot?”
  427. >Twilight formulates a witty insult but decides to keep it in her head.
  428. >”It’s conditioning, Twilight.” Midnight jeered. “You can wear a little collar around your neck as well, one fit for the Pavlov’s Dog you’ll become.”
  429. “My second question,” Twilight quickly interjects, redirecting the trajectory of the conversation.
  430. >”Go right on ahead. We have all the time in the world.”
  431. “What relation does this place have with magic?”
  432. >A brief moment of silence passes between the two.
  433. >Midnight chuckles.
  434. >”Twiley—”
  435. “Don’t you ever call me that,” Twilight snaps, cutting her off. “Or any stupid pet name again for that matter. Just call me Twilight. Twi-light. Aren’t we supposed to be equals? Then why do you act so condescending towards me?”
  436. >No.
  437. >She can’t get mad now. She can’t afford to be distracted now. Not when she has access to explicit answers. When she can learn how to leave this hellscape.
  438. >”Too far?” Midnight innocently asks. “I’ll take it down a notch if it makes you nice and happy.”
  439. “Whatever. It’s not what’s important right now.”
  440. >”How does Twigley sound to you?” she pitches.
  441. “Just answer the damn question, Midnight.”
  442. >”Alright, alright. It’s always all work and no play with you, eh, buddy?”
  443. >Twilight can picture the disembodied voice attached to her body cartoonishly backing up with her hands up and a sarcastic smirk on her face.
  444. >She needs to drag this conversation back on the right track again.
  445. >”Nothing? No response? Not even a ‘shut up’ or a sarcastic quip?” Midnight probes. “Are we back to square one again? Are you for real right now?”
  446. >Twilight says nothing.
  447. >”Oh, come on!” anger starts to crawl back into Midnight’s voice. “After everything I’ve done to move our relationship beyond this! Time after time I am forced to remind you how absolutely essential communication and cooperation between us is to this operation.”
  448. >If cooperation between the two is what she really wants, why does she insist on provoking and teasing her? Is there primary, ulterior motive behind her words or is Twilight just overthinking a severe case of cognitive dissonance?
  449. >Potentially an exploitable trait if the latter is true.
  450. >Oh, and while she’s on that note, append ‘emotional instability’ and ‘anger issues’ to the list.
  451. >”You, you just…” Midnight trails off mid-sentence, cutting her rage-filled rant short.
  452. >The deafening silence returns. The amaranths stand still and resilient.
  453. “Are you alright? Are we finished?”
  454. >”How I feel right now is irrelevant, and yes, we’re moving past that. I’ll answer your question, on one condition: make your question more specific if you want a good answer.”
  455. “No, I’m content with how it is already,” defies Twilight.
  456. >Twilight makes sure to choose her tone and words carefully. One wrong move and she tips Midnight over the emotional edge she’s already dangling from.
  457. >The amaranths stay rooted.
  458. >What exactly about them is immortal; is their presence or the ideas they inspire? If the second is true, doesn’t that create a logical paradox? Where does the association with immortality emanate?
  459. >The purple petals stand unmoved against the passage of time.
  460. “How do you expect me to thoroughly inquire about the specifics if I’ve haven't even gotten the chance to become familiar with the basics?” Twilight argues.
  461. >Midnight hums a monotone note, unamused.
  462. >”Fair enough,” she responds flatly. “I came up with—well, it’s more like ‘we’ came up with—a theory on a specific type of magic.”
  463. “‘We?”
  464. >”Let’s just say you performed the first step. You provided me with the means, and then I put the pieces together.”
  465. >Twilight instantly recognizes what she’s talking about. The painful memories begin to resurface.
  466. >It feels like trying to hold back a sneeze— eh, no, that’s quite a strange way of putting it. She would more rather verbally describe it as the sensation of vomit crawling back up her throat if not for the inflammatory implications aimed towards her company.
  467. “Are you talking about the incident?” she asks with a ragged, bated breath.
  468. >Midnight chuckles faintly.
  469. >”Has the indoctrination of the way of ‘friendship’ dug its appendages that far into your head that quickly? Is that what they’re feeding you? Hey, here’s a suggestion: why don’t you just simply call it what it was.” Midnight jabs, not being to help herself from resisting the urge to lunge at the opening. “You’re even more submissive than I thought. It seems like the old method of ‘forceful and complete takeover’ is now rendered overkill. Who knew there was such an easier alternative? All anybody needed to do was to exploit that crippling loneliness of yours.”
  470. “And you seem to hold a particularly strong grudge against them.” Twilight half-heartedly retorts, trying her best to repress the emotions crawling their way into her voice.
  471. >”Hmm, I wouldn’t exactly call it a ‘grudge,’ per se,” Midnight shoots back. “I’d call it more of a clash of fundamental virtues.”
  472. “You’re very funny. But, please, continue what you were saying.”
  473. >”I will, thank you. But nonetheless, we had stumbled this idea of Conceptual Magic.”
  474. “And that is the theory which lays the fundamentals of the mechanics that power this place.”
  475. >”But of course.”
  476. “Just inferring from the name, I’d believe the magic responds accordingly to a user’s thoughts and emotions.”
  477. >”Correct!” Midnight giddily responds like an ecstatic teacher. “Let’s say, for example, you want ‘Protection.’ The magic will then form barriers and shields around you. Or if the magic was set to work around the concept of ‘Healthiness,’ your wounds and ailments will be healed.”
  478. “How is this any different from any other magic? Transposing will into action could barely be deemed a unique trait,” Twilight interjects. “How is this any different from wanting to fire a laser, and then just firing a laser? This whole thing just seems entirely self-glorifying, derivative pseudoscience.”
  479. >”I’m so glad you brought that up!” Midnight exclaims. “You’re really good at making rhetoric with yourself, you know that?”
  480. “Continue,” Twilight grits her teeth.
  481. >”I suppose I gave you an abridged explanation of the mechanics of this magic. Those two ideas I gave as examples are way too bold and general to actually be efficient in practice. There are too many aspects and interpretations to them that all the available magic will either be immediately consumed or the spell will simply fail. Picture it like a fabric being torn in all directions.”
  482. >”What is really needed to make use of this magic is a network of interconnected small, specific concepts that are webbed together to perform a function. Therein lies the beauty of it all, Twilight. There’s an infinite amount of specialized tasks we can perform autonomously with this magic. And believe me, there will be no shortage of magic with us together. With careful engineering, we could become the most powerful being the world, maybe even the entire universe.”
  483. “And is that why you had me do all of that?” Twilight accuses, venom dripping from her tongue. “All so you can build your stupid little idea web?”
  484. >”And that’s not even the best part about it, Twilight. You know what’s the best part of it, old friend? The most beautiful, glorious part of it?”
  485. >Twilight pauses.
  486. >She’s not sure how to respond. She had Midnight to take a step back. Yet she continues to advances.
  487. “What would that be?”
  488. >”It’s what created what you see now.”
  489. “This god-forsaken place?”
  490. >”No.”
  492. >”It created me, Twilight.”
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