Palomino Activity

Apr 15th, 2019
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  1. >You are Anonymous.
  2. >And, right now, you’re on the road.
  3. >When you’re in the business of house flipping, you naturally spend most of your time out at the properties that you’re renovating for sale.
  4. >But, because today was Friday, you took the time to stop by your friends at the real estate office and see if there are any new listings for you to snap up.
  5. >Nothing piqued your interest at first, but then you noticed the address of one building you drive past almost every day.
  6. “Did the house on Vernon Street finally come up for sale?”
  7. >”It sure did. The old man who lived there croaked a month back, and his kids are auctioning off the estate, sight unseen, at City Hall this afternoon.”
  8. “Sight unseen?”
  9. >The young man nods.
  10. >”Sight unseen. It was in the will. No one can enter the house before it’s sold. I don’t expect it to go fast, if it ever does. It’s been rotting away for years now.”
  11. >You’re very familiar with that unfortunate truth.
  12. >A year ago, your team built a house on the empty lot right across the street, and almost everyone that wanted to buy it took one look at the crumbling Victorian mansion out the window and walked away.
  13. >That was a nightmare.
  14. >But, ever since then, you’ve had that house in the back of your mind.
  15. >Something about it can’t help but intrigue you.
  16. >Maybe it’s the mystery of it all, or maybe it’s the elegance of a bygone age that you never experienced.
  17. >Either way, you promised yourself that, if it ever came up for sale, you’d pounce.
  18. >And it looks like today’s the day.
  19. >You make of a note of the time of the auction and quickly get on your way to the bank to see just how much you can spend.
  20. >As most of the lending office was very familiar with you, the amount they were willing to offer was definitely on the generous side.
  22. >The auction itself was decidedly brisk, although there were far more people present and bidding than you ever would have imagined.
  23. >But, in the end, the gavel slammed down and you signed the deed, trying your best to contain your excitement.
  24. >Sure, you’ve bought and sold many houses, but this is the first one that’s well and truly yours.
  25. >You make the short drive back to your cramped apartment and call your close inner circle of college friends to tell them the news.
  26. >All four of the calls went the same, and all four of them agreed to meet you outside the house at morning tomorrow to check the place out.
  27. >One celebratory dinner and a restless night later and you pile into your Ford, making your way across town to the street that your new old house sits on.
  28. >When the gray, drooping expanse comes into view, you can’t help but smile.
  29. >Sure, the paint may be peeling off and there’s no living plant life to speak of, but it still looks close to awe-inspiring.
  30. >And it’s certainly more impressive than the red brick ramblers you’ve been building.
  31. >You park right outside the house, playing with the key in your pocket as you wait for your friends to show up.
  32. >And, soon enough, they do.
  33. >Scott is the first to arrive, in his beat-up Chevrolet, and he wastes no time in hopping out and coming up to you.
  34. >”So this is the house?”
  35. “It sure is.”
  36. >”And you haven’t been inside yet?”
  37. “Haven’t even looked through the windows.”
  38. >You make conversation as the rest of the group trickles over, catching up a little as the time begins to pass.
  39. >Scott started a job at an accounting firm, Chad is still keeping up his daily exercise regimen, Alex—whose brand new Cadillac practically eats up Scott’s envious glances—is still making a fortune in stocks.
  40. >Once Ava, late as usual, parks her tiny, odd-looking German car across the street, you make your way over to the gate.
  42. “So I’ve been pining for this house for a while now, and something told me to share the experience with you all. Now, I know it looks abandoned, but apparently the house was inhabited up until last month, when–”
  43. >”When that old hick kicked the bucket?”
  44. “Yes, Alex. It won’t be completely abandoned, just a little run down.”
  45. >”Well, let’s get on with it, then!”
  46. >You swing open the wrought iron gate and make your way down the path to the large, wraparound porch, testing the steps before you put all your weight on them so you don’t fall through the wood.
  47. >Fishing the key out of your pocket, you unlock the door, hearing the tumblers groan in protest.
  48. >The door swings open with little resistance, and you take your first steps inside.
  49. >It smells musty and old, yes, but the air doesn’t carry any of the familiar smells of mold and decay.
  50. >Wood paneling lines the walls, and a large crystal chandelier hangs above you.
  51. >Light coming in through the door dances off the many hanging crystals and plays upon the walls, drawing you even further inside.
  52. >It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
  53. >To your left is the parlor, and to your right is an ornate dining room, both with the same rich wood floors as the entrance hall.
  54. >Down the hallway is a staircase, what looks like a study, and a small, nondescript door.
  55. >All the furniture appears to be intact, if still covered in a layer of dust.
  56. “Hm. Par for the course, really.”
  57. >”It looks nice.”
  58. “It could use a good dusting though.”
  59. >Right on cue, Alex slams the large door shut, kicking up clouds of dust and sending you all into coughing fits.
  60. >Your eyes water and you lean against the wall, your hand making a hard clop against the surface.
  61. >That didn’t sound right.
  63. >You look over to your outstretched arm and, through your watery eyes, you can barely make out a solid green mass where your hand should be.
  64. >What the hell?
  65. >Still coughing and hacking, you suddenly lose your balance and end up on the floor, which only stirs up more dust and incites even more coughing.
  66. >And, on top of that, your blurry vision can just barely make out the hunched-over forms of your friends, all coughing their lungs out, too.
  67. >You feel the bones in your arms and legs start to shift, and you fight back a wave of nausea.
  68. >From behind you, Scott lets out a long groan, and you hear the solid thump of someone else falling to the floor.
  69. >Unable to process what the hell is happening to you, let alone what could have caused it, your head slumps to the ground and your eyes fall shut.
  70. >The last thing you hear before you pass out is a panicked cry.
  71. >When you finally gain consciousness and slowly slide your eyes open, you expect to see the musty, dusty foyer of your new house.
  72. >But your field of vision remains obscured, and you register the feeling of fabric draped on top of you.
  73. >It takes a little effort, but eventually you manage to slip out of your much too big shirt and jacket, your pants hanging loosely off your short legs.
  74. >You’re still lying on your side, with the front door, and presumably your friends, behind you.
  75. >You try to stand up, but vertigo overwhelms you after each try.
  76. >So you settle for a roll over onto your other side.
  77. >When you try that, you end up tangling yourself up in your arms and legs.
  78. >What happened to you?
  79. >Beside you, a furry mass starts to shift around, and you instinctively shoot up and turn your head.
  80. >Sprawled out on the floor is a small blue horse with a two-toned orange and brown mane and a matching tail.
  82. >You blink a couple times to shake any dust out of your eyes, and when the creature is still there, you try to rub your eyes.
  83. >You stop short of clocking yourself in the face, however, when you notice the green lumps in place of your hands.
  84. >Are those hooves?
  85. >Looking down at your body almost sends you back on the floor, unconscious.
  86. >Because the form attached to your head is decidedly equine shaped and covered in green fur.
  87. >In fact, it looks very similar to the blue horse right next to you.
  88. >And the cream-colored horse behind that one, along with the russet-furred one behind that one, and the purple one behind that.
  89. >So that brings the total to you and four horses.
  90. >You try to stand on two feet again and fail.
  91. >This is absurd.
  92. >And where the hell are your friends, and how did those animals get in here?
  93. >Come to think of it, how do they even exist?
  94. >Apparently noticing your motion, the blue horse’s eyes lazily drift open, and they drift around the room before settling on you.
  95. >”Anon? Is that you?”
  96. “Uh, yeah?”
  97. >”There’s no way.”
  98. “I’m confident that there is.”
  99. >Does your voice sound higher than usual?
  100. >”Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but you look like a horse.”
  101. >You blink.
  102. “Are you Scott?”
  103. >”I am.”
  104. “You’re a horse too, you know.”
  105. >”Are you serious?”
  106. >You nod, and his eyes go wide.
  107. >He spends the next few minutes going through the same motions as you did.
  108. >Behind him, the rest of the group slowly stirs to life.
  109. >Having learned the hard way that walking on two legs is an impossibility right now, you settle for four legs for the time being while you wait for everyone else to wake up.
  110. >As much as you don’t want it to be true, you’re fairly sure that the other horses in the room are your friends.
  112. “So who’s who here? I’m Anon, and I know you’re Scott.”
  113. >As the three others respond, you discover that the cream horse is Ava, the reddish-brown horse is Alex, and the purple horse is Chad.
  114. >It takes the better part of an hour for all of you to come to your senses, group hysteria temporarily overwhelming you all.
  115. >But you persist.
  116. >It’s only until after you’ve calmed down that you realize both Chad and Ava have their very own pairs of wings, and that a pointed horn is sitting on your forehead.
  117. >But after an unexplained species change, that feels like the last thing on your mind.
  118. >”Anon, is this a joke? You have to have set this up somehow.”
  119. >There’s Scott again, still trying to rationalize this somehow.
  120. >You just give him a small, slow shake of your head.
  121. “I already told you it’s not. Now let’s try to find something in here that might have caused this.”
  122. >Scott huffs and takes a step forward, only to fall flat on his face.
  123. >”Maybe we should learn how to walk first.”
  124. >He gets back on four legs and huffs, just as Ava comes trotting up to him, beaming.
  125. >”It’s not difficult, really. Now let’s have a look around.”
  126. >”Look around? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend another second in here.”
  127. >Alex goes to open the door with a hoof, but he can’t get a grip on the doorknob.
  128. >Exasperated, he grabs the handle in his mouth, but even then it doesn’t budge.
  129. >”Maybe we can open a window.”
  130. >He trots into the dining room and surveys the large bay window, looking for a latch.
  131. >”What the hell is wrong with this house!”
  132. “Do the windows open?”
  133. >”No! They’re just painted on!”
  134. “Painted on?”
  135. >”You heard me.”
  136. “I don’t believe you.”
  137. >”Well, see for yourself, then.”
  139. >You make your way into the dining room and immediately freeze in your tracks.
  140. >Where the tall windows should be are crude facsimiles that look like they were drawn by a five-year-old.
  141. >But that’s not what makes you take pause.
  142. >You walk right up to the painted wall and look outside the fake window.
  143. >Sitting right at the end of the painted yard is the poorly-drawn image of your car.
  144. >Your friends’ various modes of transportation are all right where they parked them, too.
  145. “That’s impossible. How can it show us the outside world as it looks right now if it’s just a painting on the wall?”
  146. >You gently touch a hoof to the surface; it comes back bone dry.
  147. “The paint’s not wet, either!”
  148. >You look back up and freeze again.
  149. >The rest of your group trickles into the room, and they all stop in their tracks as they watch the painted image of a black cat make its way down the sidewalk.
  150. >”This isn’t happening. There must be something in the air that’s driving us all mad.”
  151. ”Ava, let’s take what’s happening at face value right now. There’s got to be something that caused this.”
  152. >You scan the room in hopes of finding some catalyst for the change, and your eyes rest on the small table sitting by the front door.
  153. >Lying on top of it is a small, white letter held in place with a small paperweight.
  154. >That wasn’t there before.
  155. >You trot over and gently unfold the piece of paper with your mouth, briefly scanning its contents.
  156. “Guys? You might want to see this.”
  157. >Chad turns around and raises an eyebrow when he sees the letter you hold in your teeth.
  158. >”Was that there before?”
  159. “It was not.”
  160. >That gets their attention.
  161. >They all shuffle back into the entrance hall, gathering around you as you place the letter back onto the table.
  163. >”Well? Read it, Anon.”
  164. >You take a deep breath and begin.
  165. >”To whom it may concern:
  166. >”If you have found this letter, then you are likely the new owner of this residence. That also means that I am no longer of this world. I have spent the last thirty years of my life living alone in this house, and during that time I have learned of its many secrets. Hopefully, I will be able to share some of that information with you so that you can begin in a better position than I did.
  167. >”By the time the house lets you read this letter, you will have already transformed. I wish that this letter could have been brought to you earlier, but this house has a very particular way of doing things. I am, for example, able to say that there is a cure for your transformation that resides somewhere in this house, but I am unable to provide it or even tell you where it may be found. I have written many drafts of this letter that contained such information; all have been carried off to Lord knows where. What exactly the house permits is something that you will learn with time.
  168. >”I can guarantee that, presently, you are entertaining some notion of divesting yourself of this house and doing all in your power to strike this experience from your memory. I would advise against that. Before I purchased this property, it passed through the hands of no less than ten people in just six years. All disappeared without a trace. Fortunately, despite decades of occupation, I have not yet met the same end. Remaining in control of this house is a fate that I would not wish on my worst enemy, but it is sadly all too necessary.
  170. >”I came into this house much in the same way you presumably have: by acting upon some subconscious urge to cross the threshold and own it for myself. After combing through the house and discovering the antidote to my transformation, I vowed to never enter the house again. I did not bother selling it, for any person foolish enough to cross the threshold would experience the same transformation. Word would spread and, then, the secret of this house would be exposed. What effect that would have on the populace, I do not know, but I can think of no possible outcome that is even remotely positive. We are simply too afraid of the supernatural, and, although modern times have done away with the persistent fear of the unknown, a discovery like this would undoubtedly rekindle our age-old, primal fears.
  171. >”That is why I simply left it abandoned. I found an apartment house on the other side of town and simply ignored the building in its entirety. Once word spread, it became a popular attraction for teen-agers and vagabonds alike. All types of people would enter this house through any means necessary. Few returned, and those who did were deemed mentally unsound and sent away. Despite my best efforts to keep people away (I used every means imaginable short of standing at the edge of the property and shouting at passers-by), the supernatural draw persisted. Morally, I could not continue to sit idly by and watch the town’s populace slowly drain away, so I hesitantly took up residence. You will come to find that people’s attraction to this place persists only when the house is unoccupied, as did I. So I strengthened my mental fortitude and took up residence.
  173. >”That being said, I must warn you of the dangers of extended occupation of this place. This house presents challenges that threaten the stability of our very minds; entire years of my life passed by without my knowing. Either whatever force that governs this house deems you fit enough to play whatever game it has in its fickle mind, or it whisks you away to places unknown. Be wary of this house. That this letter has appeared before you is proof enough that, whoever you may be, the house perceives you as the former. Thank the Lord that this may be the case for every day of your life, for only He knows what fate awaits you once the house is finished with its game.
  174. >”I write this letter to you because, over the past few days, I have seen more and more catalysts for further changes appearing; I feel myself slipping away with each passing minute. Whether old age or this house will take me first remains to be seen, but I fear that this house has grown tired of me. Soon enough, I will be gone, and you will take my place.
  175. >”Please do not repeat my mistakes. If the house has let you read this, then it will likely, in due time, reveal my journals as well. I fully understand the magnitude of the burden that I am placing on you, as do I understand how unexpected this may be. But I implore you to consider the weight of my words. The fact that you have come this far means that the house has deemed you fit to be its temporary caretaker. Do not take that position lightly.
  176. >”May God have mercy on your soul.
  177. >”Regards, Clarence Cartwright”
  178. >You finish reading the letter and look up at your friends.
  179. >All have varying expressions of shock, confusion, and horror on their faces.
  180. >The impact that this is going to have on the rest of your lives hangs in the air with the dust and cobwebs.
  181. >You clear your throat and try to search for something to say.
  183. >But Ava beats you to it.
  184. >”What do we do now?”
  185. >You grimace.
  186. “First we try to change back. Then we stop this house’s sick game by any means necessary.”
  187. >Chad shakes his head.
  188. >”Clarence said he lived here for thirty years. If there was some way to stop it, wouldn’t he have found a way?”
  189. “But he kept journals. We have access to–”
  190. >”No we don’t. Not yet. Not until the house gives them to us. For now, all we can do is change back. Let’s not delude ourselves with the idea of defeating whatever’s behind this.”
  191. >”Chad’s right. All we can do now is comb through this house, inch by inch, and look for a way to change back. Then we’ll decide where to go from here.”
  192. >You sigh.
  193. “This isn’t going to be easy. But the alternative is far worse.”
  194. >”What on Earth does this house have in store for us?”
  195. >You glance back to the letter.
  196. “Whatever it is, it won’t be good.”
  198. >You steady yourself and look behind you at the long hallway and the dusty staircase.
  199. >What the hell are you waiting for?
  200. >You need to get over all this fear, it’ll do you no good.
  201. >Your mother always told you that, and if it got you through Sicily, it’ll get you through this, damnit.
  202. “Let’s split up and go through the house. That’s the quickest way we’ll find the cure, and then we can get out of here.”
  203. >Scott balks at the idea.
  204. >”Split up? That’s an easy way for us to get picked off, one by one. We should stay in teams.”
  205. >A few others nod at the idea, and you relent.
  206. “Okay. Scott and Ava, you can go through the top floors with me. Alex and Chad, can you take the first floor and the basement?”
  207. >You receive varying murmurs of approval, and you push forward.
  208. >Alex and Chad head off into the large, dusty parlor, and you make your way up the wide stairs with Scott and Ava in tow.
  209. >When you reach the top, you take a moment to steel yourself before peeking up to the second floor.
  210. >It looks remarkably like the first floor.
  211. >From what you can see, there’s another hallway off to the side, with a few closed doors breaking up the faded floral wallpaper.
  212. “It looks like there are four rooms up here.”
  213. >Just four.
  214. >This’ll be easy.
  215. >You step up into the small vestibule, peering up the staircase to the third floor and trying to discern what’s up there.
  216. >You leap back when you see a dark shape darting past the railing at the top of the stairs.
  217. “What on Earth?”
  219. >”What?”
  220. >Ava dashes over and looks up the staircase.
  221. >Of course, whatever startled you is long gone by now.
  222. >You sigh.
  223. “I thought I saw something. Let’s just get on with this.”
  224. >You make your way over to the door closest to you.
  225. >If your memory serves you right, this room should be directly above the study.
  226. >You take a deep breath and reach for the knob.
  227. >Your hooves fumble with the rounded surface a few times before you hesitantly bite down and turn the knob with your teeth.
  228. >It tastes like metal.
  229. >You let the door swing open all the way before hesitantly peering through the doorway.
  230. >It looks like an ordinary bedroom, albeit a very dusty one.
  231. >The room is mostly dark save for light streaming in through the windows, which look to be the same unnatural painted-on types as the windows downstairs.
  232. >How light can come from a painted surface, you’ll never know.
  233. >”I guess we should start looking through drawers, then.”
  234. >You give Ava a silent nod and make your way over to the large bureau.
  235. >Behind you, Scott goes for the nightstand by the large bed, and Ava examines the bookshelf on the other side of the wall.
  236. >You swing open the large pair of wooden doors and brace yourself for the worst.
  237. >A cloud of dust flies out at you, and you suppress a sneeze.
  238. >”Nothing in there?”
  239. “Not that I can see.”
  240. >You grab the brass handle for one of the two drawers at the bottom of the wardrobe in your teeth and pull.
  241. >There’s nothing in the first one, either.
  242. >You tug open the second one and take a step back.
  244. >Sitting in a pile in the corner of the drawer are four immaculate, polished horseshoes.
  245. “What the hell?”
  246. >”What is it?”
  247. “Horseshoes. Four damn horseshoes.”
  248. >Curious, Scott trots over to the open drawer and tilts his head.
  249. ”Do you think they’re important?”
  250. >”Well, I don’t think there’s anything else in this room, which makes it very important indeed.”
  251. >He hesitantly extends a hoof, reaching out to touch them.
  252. >”They’re so shiny.”
  253. “Scott?”
  254. >Your pupils shrink to pinpricks as you watch one of the horseshoes begin to slide across the wood, heading straight for his outstretched hoof.
  255. “Scott!”
  256. >Acting on instinct, you reach out to push him away from the drawer.
  257. >He stumbles back and the horseshoe stops in his tracks.
  258. >Panting, he takes a minute to catch his breath before looking back over at you.
  259. >”Thank you, Anon. I don’t know what came over me.”
  260. “We need to be careful, Scott. We don’t know what else is in this house.”
  261. >”There’s nothing else in this room. We should move on.”
  262. >Behind you, you hear Ava heading for the door, her pink tail bobbing up and down behind her, and you turn and follow her.
  263. >The next door down appears to lead into a small bathroom.
  264. >Checkered tile lines the floor and the walls, and, surprisingly, the fixtures suffer from none of the height difference that you’ve come to expect from this house.
  265. >Ava wastes no time in getting onto her hind legs and examining the medicine cabinet, and you peer into the claw-footed bathtub.
  266. “It doesn’t look like there’s anything in here.”
  267. >”Anon? There is.”
  268. >You turn around and look inside the medicine cabinet to where Ava is pointing.
  269. >Resting on a shelf is an inconspicuous-looking bottle of shampoo.
  270. >You read the label and hold back a laugh.
  272. “Mane and tail shampoo?”
  273. >As if on cue, the three of you tense up as you hear the faucets creak and groan to life.
  274. >Water rushes into the bathtub, and you leap back as the bottle hops off the shelf and floats over to the now-full bathtub.
  275. >”What in God’s name is wrong with this house?”
  276. >The cap pops off and the bottle empties into the tub, pretty pink bubbles piling up on top of the warm, inviting water.
  277. >You take a step forward, anticipating the blissful feeling of water and bubbles enveloping your coat as you just relax and let all your troubles slip away…
  278. >Scott reaches out and tugs you back and you snap out of it.
  279. >”Anon?”
  280. “I’m fine. Thank you, Scott. I needed that.”
  281. >”I’m glad you didn’t get any closer. You were about ready to leap in there.”
  282. >You were?
  283. >You don’t remember crossing the room at all.
  284. “Let’s just keep going.”
  285. >You turn tail and make your way into the next room down, taking just a moment to catch your breath before you open the door.
  286. >The bedroom is nothing short of incredible.
  287. >Rich paneling lines the walls, and the windows on the large, octagonal section of the room just ahead of you appear to be doubly tall.
  288. “We must be above the parlor now.”
  289. >A massive four-post bed sits across the room from you, and Ava trots over to it.
  290. >”Why, this isn’t dusty at all.”
  291. >You walk over to the bed, and it looks like she’s right.
  292. >The sheets look soft and plush, and a clean white bathrobe rests on top of the sheets.
  293. >It looks like it’s just the right size for a pony like you.
  294. >Ava reaches out to touch it, and when you notice that it’s creeping towards her just like the horseshoes did, you hold her back.
  295. >It doesn’t take long for her to start thinking straight again, and she turns around.
  296. >But before she can walk away, she looks up, and is immediately captivated by the sight in front of her.
  298. >Above the entrance to the room is a large, intricately carved wooden railing, and past that appears to be another room lined with bookshelves.
  299. >”Is that a library?”
  300. “It looks like it.”
  301. >Scott stops examining the dresser and trots over, his interest piqued once he sees what you’re staring at.
  302. >”How do we get up there?”
  303. >You look over to Ava, whose wings are fluttering with excitement.
  304. >”I could try flying.”
  305. >Without waiting for approval, she spreads her wings and gives them a test flap.
  306. >A few more flaps and she’s hovering off the ground.
  307. >”Hey, this is pretty easy!”
  308. >She wastes no time in soaring upwards and placing her hooves on the other side of the railing.
  309. “What do you see?”
  310. >”There’s a fireplace up here. The walls are lined with bookshelves, too. Oh, so many books!”
  311. “Do you see any titles that look like they could be about changing back?”
  312. >You sit down, awaiting her response.
  313. >”It doesn’t look like it. Maybe one of these books–”
  314. >You hear a click and the sound of a panel sliding back.
  315. >”There’s a compartment back here!”
  316. >Your heart jumps for joy.
  317. >This could be it!
  318. “Is there anything in it?’
  319. >”Just a note.”
  320. “Well, what does it say?”
  321. >She pauses for a moment.
  322. >”Better luck next time.”
  323. >Beside you, Scott curses.
  324. “Alright, come down here. Let’s keep moving.”
  325. >Ava flies back down, making a small loop in the air before gliding over to the door.
  326. >”Flying is so much fun!”
  327. >You grimace.
  328. “It may be, but try to keep from doing it too often. Humans don’t have wings. Flying isn’t what we do. That’s just another way for us to get detaches from who we are.”
  329. >Ava huffs, but relents.
  330. >And so you keep searching.
  332. >The room across the hall is wholly unremarkable, appearing to be an ordinary, if dusty, bedroom with nothing of value to you hidden anywhere
  333. >Better yet, there’s nothing to mess with your head, either.
  334. >That leaves only the top floor of the house.
  335. >You steel yourself before taking the first step up the stairs, remembering the apparition you saw earlier.
  336. >But there’s nothing.
  337. >The third floor hallway is much, much smaller, with doors to three or four rooms lining the walls.
  338. >You go through the door closest to you, just to your right.
  339. >When you cross the threshold, you’re blinded by sunlight coming from every direction.
  340. >You instinctively hold a hoof up to shield your eyes, and when you adjust to the light, you find yourself in a bright, airy sunroom.
  341. >And the windows are made of real glass this time!
  342. >The room looks like it was added on after the fact, resting on a flat rooftop.
  343. >Dead potted plants dot the corners of the room, and a set of small glass doors leads out to a rooftop patio.
  344. >You look under the cushions of the plush wicker furniture before stepping outside and leaning over the railing, craning your neck to try to look towards the other side of the house.
  345. >You can just barely see your car parked outside.
  346. “It looks like we’re actually outside. I don’t know how much good that does us, though, seeing as how we’re twenty feet off the ground.”
  347. >Behind you, Ava flutters her wings.
  348. >”I bet I could fly down.”
  349. >You look back to her, and then over to Scott, who seems nervous at the thought.
  350. “Let’s hold off on that for now.”
  351. >”Why? I could go get help.”
  352. >You grimace.
  353. “It just doesn’t seem like a good idea while we’re still transformed.”
  354. >Ava shrugs and steps back, only to bump into an unnoticed piece of furniture.
  355. >”What on Earth?”
  356. >She turns around and you trot over, examining what looks like a small pool.
  358. >You don’t notice it at first, but both your reflections are human.
  359. >When you do, though, your heart leaps into the air.
  360. “Do you think this could be it?”
  361. >”God, I hope so. I’m going to jump in.”
  362. >You hold her back.
  363. “No, I’ll do it. No sense in putting you in danger.”
  364. >Before she can protest, you leap over the side of the small, round basin of water, only to be immediately spit out.
  365. >You land splayed out on the deck, still not human, spitting water out of your mouth.
  366. “Well that didn’t work.”
  367. >”Um, Anon?”
  368. >You turn around just as you see yourself standing up.
  369. >Or, at least, it looks like you.
  370. >He gets on two feet and dusts himself off, and you take a step forward.
  371. “Hello?”
  372. >You reach out to him, but you quickly stop in your tracks.
  373. >Something about this person seems off.
  374. >Setting aside the fact that, somehow, your human body is standing right in front of you, his features seem flat and his colors seem dull, like a photograph.
  375. “Guys? That’s not me.”
  376. >”No kidding.”
  377. >Not-you lets out a loud cackle and pushes past you, darting back inside the house.
  378. >You turn around and see Scott and Ava staring, dumbfounded.
  379. >”That wasn’t your voice.”
  380. “Well, don’t just stand there! Follow him!”
  381. >You rush past them, only barely catching a glimpse of your figure disappearing inside an open door.
  382. >You round the corner and find yourself in a too-long hallway.
  383. >Although decorated like the rest of the house, it’s much too long to fit within the walls.
  384. >You can barely see where it ends.
  385. >The figure keeps running down it, though, so you make chase, the sounds of hoofsteps behind you reassuring you that Scott and Ava have your back.
  386. >You gallop for what feels like hours, and, still, the hallway never ends.
  387. >But right as you start to gain on him, he ducks into a set of large double doors.
  388. >You poke your head in and stop in your tracks.
  389. >The doors lead to another hallway, only this one is much, much larger.
  391. >The floors are a shiny, polished marble, with a red carpet covering the center of the hall and large windows on your left letting light stream in.
  392. >Whatever currently possesses your body is running right down the endless hall.
  393. >You hear your friends huffing as they come to a stop behind you.
  394. >”This shouldn’t be possible.”
  395. “But it is. Let’s just keep going.”
  396. >You start to gallop into the hall, intent on making up the distance between you and your human form.
  397. >The end of the hallway comes in sight quickly enough.
  398. >A massive pair of double doors made out what looks like crystal stand at the hall’s end, with two identical-looking equines standing at rapt attention on either side.
  399. >They hold what look like spears in their hooves and appear to be decked in some kind of armor.
  400. >And they look to be the same type of horses as you and your friends.
  401. >Not-you quickly reaches the doors and effortlessly cracks them open and slips through effortlessly, with the guards paying him no attention.
  402. >But when you reach the doors, they, still looking straight forward and without saying a sound, cross their spears to bar you from entering.
  403. “Um, hello?”
  404. >You wave a hoof in front of their face and get no response.
  405. >Time to shout.
  406. “I need to get in there!”
  407. >You take a slow step back and the guards, moving just as slowly, move their spears back to their original position.
  408. >But when you dart forward they cross them just as rapidly.
  409. >”What in God’s name?”
  410. >Looks like Scott and Ava have caught up to you.
  411. >You try to slip past the spears and fail.
  412. >”Have you tried talking to them?”
  413. “Of course I have. They don’t respond at all.”
  414. >Scott reaches out with a hoof and taps one on the shoulder.
  415. >Nothing.
  416. >”I think this is a lost cause, Anon.”
  417. >”Yeah, let’s get back to the normal house. This place gives me the creeps.”
  418. “But my body’s in there!”
  419. >Scott places a hoof on your shoulder.
  421. >”Anon. It’s just the house messing with us. That thing isn’t you.”
  422. >You let out a sigh.
  423. “I know. I’m sorry for leading you on a wild goose chase.”
  424. >”Don’t sweat it. Let’s just keep searching.”
  425. >Hanging your head, you make the long journey back to the normal house.
  426. >When all three of you cross the threshold, the door disappears behind you with a loud pop.
  427. >You don’t freak out about it.
  428. >If anything, it’s just par for the course.
  429. >There’s another bedroom up here, along with a small bath, both nestled underneath the house’s tall, steep roof.
  430. >Like the last room downstairs, there’s nothing of value in here.
  431. >But the air seems thick and stifling, like the house is waiting for something.
  432. >You step out of the room and your ears immediately pick up a quiet, muffled sound coming from a closed door down the hall.
  433. >It sounds almost familiar.
  434. >Beside you, Ava’s breath catches in her throat.
  435. >”Do you hear that?”
  436. >Scott clears his throat and looks at her like she’s insane.
  437. >”No. What are you talking about?”
  438. “I do.”
  439. >Ava lets out a sigh of relief.
  440. >”Doesn’t it sound an awful lot like–”
  441. “A crying foal.”
  442. >Scott looks at you like you’re insane.
  443. >”Don’t you mean a crying baby?”
  444. >You don’t pay him any mind.
  445. >Instead, you slowly make your way to the closed door, with Ava following close behind.
  446. >As you move down the hall, the crying only grows louder.
  447. >It tugs at some instinct deep within you, compelling you to find the cause of the sound.
  448. >You reach out to turn the handle, but Scott stops you.
  449. >”Anon. What the hell has gotten into you? You’re hearing things. Both of you are.”
  450. >“Scott, we have to check out this room anyways. What if the cure’s in there?”
  451. >”I think we should skip this room.”
  452. “We have to be thorough. You know that.”
  453. >Reluctantly, you push the door open and step inside.
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