Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 206

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Chapter 206

Come on, think! What can be melted but not phased through? What’s completely solid but also immune to intangibility? Heck, what’s resistant to my star powers? This can’t be normal stone, that much is certain as I haven’t experienced anything that has negated my powers but not turned them off.

Taking a few deep breaths I look around the room for any indication of abnormalcy I might have missed, but whatever this blockade is, it’s been completely covered in the stone. Wait a sec... covered? I look back at the melted handprint. I put my hand back in the indent and try to melt my way further, but it doesn’t work, it just stops... but the ‘back’ of it is still stone. Marked in black but definitely still stone. If the stone is just a covering, that wouldn’t make sense as I’d have melted through the covering and hit the barrier, but it’s still ‘stone’ behind the layers I can burn through. In fact, there’s no indent at all. It’s still flat!

Like a wall in a videogame that can be shot full of bulletholes but won’t ever weaken or break. I look through my backpack again and pull out some of the Dark Continent books and look around for anything that could give insight... But there’s nothing in here about ‘impervious stone walls’. Then again, I might be looking through the wrong book, this is on natural occurrences, and since I stepped on a rune circle to trigger this, it’s been manufactured. I pull out a book on sentient creatures and look for anything that could match my situation.

Nothing is mentioned about this specifically, but I do see again and again that there are various types of hags and they have high-level magical power. So that means it stands to reason that this place only looks made of stone but possibly modified with magic. But still looks exactly like stone. Every time I’ve seen an ‘enchanted’ object it’s had a sort of glow around it like the boxes back at the Ponyville bank, and I’ve already sort of discovered that I can ‘see’ magic in ways others, or at least ponies, can’t. So if I can’t see an enchantment, then that means there might not be one.

So if it’s not rock and not enchanted, what looks and feels exactly like stone, but is totally invulnerable but can still be marked? I check back through the books I have but still find nothing that matches.

Alright, back to the drawing board. It’s got some sort of magical influence, but not typical magic, something special. Something that shows one thing but is actually another, picturing cracks and damage but still being perfectly solid and unmarred. Like I thought before, it sounds like a wall in a video game... A simulation... video games are fake. Their walls aren’t metal or rock or anything, it’s just an impassable barrier with a skin over it to hide the invisible wall. If you don’t reskin the wall, it breaks immersion, it breaks... the... illusion...

The ‘walls’ aren’t actually there, but placeholders to make you think there’s something there as opposed to solid nothingness. Wait a sec... the Lens of Truth from Majora lets you see through walls that aren’t there, see a skin on invisible barriers, but you don’t need the Lens if you know something is fake. If you already know it’s fake, you can just jump onto the platform of ‘air’. Open an invisible chest. Run right through the wall because there is no wall!

Is that the trick? Illusion magic? Only one way to find out. I put my hand up against the sto- no, the nothing. Clear your mind... nothing there. Touching nothing. Feel no texture because there is nothing to feel. It’s impossible to pass because it doesn’t exist.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes, imagining the stone room around me, the walls fading to black as I keep walking forward. Imagine walking straight forward into the void, nothing around me nothing stopping me. I open my eyes and see... the room, with a single tunnel leading out, and a burnt-out circle of runes in the middle. There’s small piles of sand and bones, but it’s completely back to normal.

Awww yeah, who’s the man? Alright, enough funny business, I might as well try calling for the girls again. I figure we’ll have to back for Myrna, because if she could get through she would have by now... No response though so Rainbow and Anne are still MIA. That leaves the side passage, which probably looked smaller to draw me off.

Yeah, if I was trying to fuck with someone’s head, I’d make the way to my lair or whatever the ‘path less travelled’ and all. Turning back I see the trail I scorched into the wall. Just to be sure though, I fashion some coal into a drill and bore about three inches into the wall. Yep, there’s an actual hole there, real stone. Following my burn-mark trail, I get back and take the smaller trail.

Walking down the tunnel, I get an itchy feeling at the back of my neck. Checking behind me doesn’t reveal anyone, nor any evidence of there being anyone invisible, like footprints in the dust other than my own. Maybe it’s all the skulls; they’re all arranged to face towards whoever’s looking at them. It even looks like they’ve turned to face me. Creepy.

But that also implies magical meddling. Walls that aren’t really there, imagining things that aren’t there... sounds like illusion magic for sure. “Alright, I don’t know who you are, but drop the ‘you see what I want you to see’ crap.”

I hear something like a snicker, until one of the skulls ahead of me visibly turns towards me, little red lights forming in the sockets. Nearby it, more than a dozen other pairs of lights do the same, each one resting on a pile of bones.

“Ooooooh skeletons, so scary!” I mock. “Even if they were real they have no muscles or tissue. I could just punch one to pieces without powers.” One of the skulls begins to rise, bones trailing after it like paperclips stuck to a strong fridge magnet. The body forms, made of hundreds of overlapping bones, criss-crossed and woven like straw into a basket. “Okay, I guess that works. I take it you might also be behind the zombies in the swamp. The creepy laugh sounds vaguely the same. You think I can’t handle a few bonemen?” I draw my sword.

One of the skeletons moves into better light, revealing it’s made of hundreds upon hundreds of bones, and its fingers are tipped with rat skulls, making it look like it’s basically got a series of serrated spoons on its fingertips. However, it doesn’t come any closer.

“If this is legitimate necromancy crap, you better hope you can make minions out of ash, because I’m not gonna hold back. One more chance before I start melting your bodyguards: Wanna talk this out?”

The large skeleton in front of me slowly opens its mouth, far wider than anything with real muscles could, revealing a darkness crawling inside. A voice echoes from within it. “Be ye here in peace?”

“That depends. Be you here in peace?”

“This be my home. Thou come without invitation.”

“I’m just looking for my friends. One’s a harpy, the other’s a pegasus, can’t miss them. Where are they?”

“... How wouldst I determine if ye speak truth?”

“Because if I came here just to fuck with you, I wouldn’t be talking this out with you. Show yourself, hag.”

“Ye may yet be enemy of those I collected. How wouldst I know? They have yet to awaken of their slumbers.”

I sigh. “Look, how’s this. I sheathe my weapons and you unsummon your lackeys. If you don’t fight, I won’t. Fair?”

“Who sends ye, Warlock? What be the name of thy mistress?”

“I am not a Warlock, I am starborn. I have no mistress... or I have two, we’re still trying to figure that out. Though the harpy friend of mine is one of said potential mistresses.”

“Thou art seeking her as mistress? But... she be hideous!”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I say, sheathing my sword. “I admit her tits are way too huge for my liking, but I’m not gonna ditch her just because her mountain range is literally bigger than her own head.”

“Urgh... I shall not berate ye for thy perversions, warlock, but I wouldst suggest ye find a more fitting mistress in time.” the voice from the skeleton stops, and its mouth closes. The bone bodyguards move back to the sides of the tunnel, then collapse into their piles once more. The tunnel is suddenly well-lit, lamps with pale red lights moving within fading into view. “Thy mistress be further down the hall. Bear no ill intents, and you may stay until thy mistress and familiar are well.”

“Sounds good to me.” I walk along, using the torches as guides. I figure that the hags have some sort of backwards deal with appearances. Seeing Anne as hideous? I mean, she’s not the Avon lady or anything but she’s still pretty. Guess with a race called ‘hags’ and some of the pictures I’ve seen, they have it the other way around where ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ swap places. But they still have the ‘dominant female’ shtick going that ponies have. I wonder if the whole planet is like that?

Eventually, I find a series of doors on the side of the tunnel, each made of decent wood and decorated with several pictures of various plants and the like. I think it’s to distinguish which door is which. The first one glows a little when I approach it, but the next one doesn’t. I guess that’s the door in question?

Oh well, better try the glowy stuff first. Opening the door I saw first, I walk in. On a bed made of large, bent bones and a mess of animal skins, lays Anne, looking very much like she had simply been dumped there while unconscious. On a pile of animal skins on the floor, Dash is similarly out cold, butt in the air, face on the floor.

I’ll never understand how anyone can sleep like that. Either way, I head over to Anne and shake her shoulder a bit. Her eyes flutter open. “‘Morning, ‘mistress’.”

“Morning. Wait- wha?”

“Come on, let’s get you out of here.” She looks around her and realizes what she’s laying on and squeaks in surprise. “Yeah, this isn’t the best place to be napping.”

I grab Rainbow and toss her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, which wakes her up rather quick. “What the hay? Where- Oh geez... Is that real fur?”

“Most likely.” I shrug, which pushes my shoulder into her side. “Let’s get outta here already, just getting to you two was a pain in the ass.”

I turn around to leave, but there’s someone in the door. A hunched figure, barely classifiable as feminine, is standing there. Gaunt, gnarled hands and a plethora of wrinkles and scars cover the few pieces of skin visible, while the rest of the figure is shrouded in dark scraps of cloth. A grin full of yellow-and-black teeth is grinning at the three of us from under the turban-esque headpiece.

“Hi. You the one who lives here?”

“I be she, aye.” the way her mouth moves reminds me of the Joker; her lips don’t close over her jagged teeth, making it look like a grin, regardless of her expression. “Under the rules of hospitality, I welcome ye, and offer beautifying supplies, should ye need it, sister.” the hag holds out a wicker basket towards Anne

I turn to Anne. “Yeah, think like the pony-deal of ‘female-dominant culture’ taken up to eleven. Basically you and Myrna are the ones in charge of me or something.”

The hag looks at me, eyes narrowing slightly. However, she doesn’t comment. Anne gently flexes her wings, and takes the basket. From here, I can tell it’s pretty bad, as the smell is atrocious.

“We actually left my, er, other mistress behind. I came looking for Anne. Myrna is probably worried about us missing.”

“Hmmm... I shall grant ye passage from my domain. I wish ye not to return; I chose this place for isolation.”

“Yeah, us finding this place was kind of an accident. We’ll be going now. Sorry to bother you.” The hag ignores me, continuing to stare at Anne.

Anne, quailing under the stare, squeaks out a ‘sorry!’ and ducks her head a little. The hag huffs derisively, then moves out of the way for us to leave, RD wiggling out of my hold and onto the floor.

We make our way back through the cave and come to the gap, with the wide ledge and guardrail still clearly visible. I know it wasn’t there the first time! Possibly more of that illusion magic. Either way, the three of us make it across with no issues. I take another scrap of parchment and, looking down, see a rather stressed out looking Myrna.

I write down another message and chuck it at her. She sees this one and catches it. “Jumping down, catch us.”

Myrna looks even more confused but spreads the top of the spire wider to make a large platform. I position myself and leap for it, this time not getting any dizzy feeling. I look up and see Myrna. “Awesome, we’re back.” I look up further into the empty sky where I jumped from and gesture for Anne and Rainbow to follow. After a few moments I see them hovering down onto the platform, also not dizzy. “Alright Myrna, take us down. I’ll explain once we’re back on the ground.”

“So yeah, we may end up dealing with these not-really-human things called Hags and they come in different ‘varieties’ according to this book. They don’t seem malicious outright, but a bit touchy. And they keep calling me ‘Warlock’ which I assume is supposed to denote the fact that I’m male, them seeing me as humanoid and therefore ‘one of them’.”

“What about ponies though? What d’they think of me?” Dash asks.

I shrug. “No idea, but this book seems to be written by ponies so I guess there’s a bit of a hint there. The hag we ran into called you my ‘familiar’ though. Which is, roughly translated from wizard-speak, my spirit animal or a special pet assuming they are using the same definition I am.”

Pet? I am nopony’s pet!”

“Yeah, and definitely not my pet. I prefer small cute things as pets and you don’t even come close to either of those.”

“Hey, I’m plenty cu- er, I mean, uh... I’m good enough to be anypony’s familiar, no matter what!”

“Whatever you say, Dashie. Anyway, that’s all I know on the hags really. If we want more info, it has to be learned from personal experience.” I pull out the relatively useless map once more. “Okay, the continental map in the planning room was more zoomed out than this, but if I recall, the Class-Four was last seen in this general area... but I don’t know where we are in relation to it.”

“Well, you see that mountain symbol there?” Dash asks, covering half the map with her hoof trying to point. “It’s got its top broken off and all, right?”

“I don’t have x-ray vision for hooves, but yes I think I recall that.”

“Well, when you go high enough, the ground sorta shimmers a lot, but there’s a mountain like that about twenty miles thataway.” She points off in the distance. “East from here. I think it’s a mirrorage or whatever it’s called.”

“Well the closest I can figure, we’d be heading in that direction if we wanted to get closer to the Landing Zone. We must have gotten turned around because if this over here is the beach and we’re roughly in this area, we overshot our destination laterally.” I pass the map to the others with markings of where we might be and our destination for them to look over.

“Well,” Dash says, looking at the map, “if we go to the mountain, I can point us where we need to go. A pegasus always knows north.”

“Yeah, and so does this.” I say, holding up the compass. “Except this is less talkative.”

“Uh... Anthony?” She points down at the compass. It’s spinning gently clockwise.

“Okay fine, still, if we get to the top of the mountain we should be able to see the Landing Zone from there if I’m right, so we head for the mountaintop regardless.”

“Alright, then it’s settled.” Myrna says. “And we can set up sighting stones along the way.”

I roll my eyes. “I dub thee Myrna, snake queen of breadcrumb-leaving.”

“Hey, these’re way less susceptible to crows than mere breadcrumbs. And it was cake crumbs in the original story.”

“Whatever, let’s get moving. The mountain itself is a ways away still, we won’t get there in the next hour, that’s for sure.”

“Well, the only thing we can do is get moving. The sun’s only going to get hotter.”

“Heat doesn’t bother me. Go temperature resistance.”

“But it does bother me!” Dash says. “Pegasi don’t do so well in the heat, actually.”

I summon another lump of coal. “The ‘full-body shaving’ offer is still on the table...”

“Hay no!”

“Then don’t complain if you aren’t going to take the offer of help.”

“Thats not help, that’s... that’s...”

“A one-way trip to a cool breeze any time of day?”

“Just shut up... and keep that away from me! If I wake up bald tomorrow, you’re gonna need a new nose!”

“Alright you two, cut it out.” Myrna interjects. “Now, let’s get moving sooner, not later. With this sun out, I’m going to need to eat soon, and I have no idea how strong the craving can get... and no offense, Rainbow Dash, you’re almost exactly the same size as a turkey.”

I put my hand over the pony’s head, palm up and fingers splayed to imitate a comb. “Gobble gobble go-oof!” Rainbow punches me in the gut with her hoof.

Okay, I kinda deserved that... “Fine, let’s just keep going then. And no more complaining, okay? It’s gonna slow us down.”

“Yeah, you’re just lucky cuz you’re all ‘Oh, I’m on fire and it doesn’t burn my eyebrows off!’ and stuff.” Dash retorts, taking off. We just keep walking along, Rainbow having stopped responding to my incredibly witty retorts. That’s fine, I don’t need her reactions to tell me I’m a funny person.

Hours of walking and the burning hot sun is wearing even on me. At the very least because it’s bright. Some of the patches of grass, which Anne called ‘razorgrass’ and the name stuck, are metallic and sharp. I’m already sporting several bandaged cuts from being the first to walk into a patch. A few sparse trees and some decidedly painful cactus-like plants also impede our progress, so it’s absolutely blissful when we come across a wide stream, with a section that has looped enough to form a miniature lake.

Around the lake are hundreds of footprints from various animals, and across the stream from us, a long-legged bird is happily strutting along the muddy banks.

I turn to Myrna and gesture at the bird. “Well, you’re the hungry one. Wanna go after it?”

“Idunno... that’s real far away and it still looks big. I don’t wanna find out it eats snakes.”

“Except for the fact that you could, I dunno, bean it with a rock from over here. Heck, I could throw some coal-saws over there and chop it’s head off Metal Man style.”

“No, I’m fine right now.”

“Suit yourself.” I take a drink from the water. I’m not dehydrated, but the cool water feels pretty good, though it does taste vaguely of ‘nature’. “Everyone get a drink, go for a swim to cool off, whatever. We should keep-”

I feel myself being choked and yanked back, claws with an iron grip around my throat and chest. I barely have time to register a set of teeth in a mouth bigger than me before I’m flat on my back, gasping for air. A set of scaley jaws, turning rapidly to green stone go still where I was a moment ago. Myrna, curled in a half-circle around me, is breathing hard as she looks at the titanic reptile that just lunged at me.

I take a look at the general shape of the thing that had grabbed me. “Alligator...” I Take a second look and notice the nose is wrong. “Crocodile...” I correct myself as I resume catching my breath. “Nice moves there Myrna. What’s your encore?”

She heaves a breath. “Uh, how about a break? A little further away the water?”

“Sure.” I’m still a bit dazed from the surprise attack but a thought enters my mind. “I know we made a deal, but howsabout I skin and cook the next croc you catch, huh?”

“Not so sure there’s much to skin of this one.” She replies, reaching out tentatively. She gingerly touches the petrified, brown-green stone of the once-living creature.

“That would be the joke here, miss humor. C’mon, I need a rest.” I lean on her as she sort of drags me away using her lower torso/tail as a sort of stretcher. “Yer comfy...”

“And you’re delirious from the adrenaline.”

“So what?” I bury my face in the top of her, the warm smooth scales feeling pretty nice. They’re just a little cooler than the surrounding air, and that makes them the best thing ever.

I feel myself be set down, and sit up a little. “Alright, so if we want more water, we’re going to want to have either myself or you get it, Anne.” Myrna says.

“And boil it.” I add. “The stuff tastes like animal crap.”

“That’s probably for a reason, Anthony. Don’t eat yellow snow, and don’t drink brown water. The middle has clear water.” Anne says.

“Yeah well, the ones who die from stupid stuff are idiots. The ones that survive are called ‘discoverers’.”

“Adventurers, more often, Anthony.” Dash says.

“Shut up.” I lean over and lay on her. “You are not even close to as soft as you look.”

“Yeah, yeah, can it, bub. Just because I’m all skinny doesn’t mean ya gotta rub it in.”

“I’m not saying fat girls don’t deserve love, but to humans, skinny is sexy. If you weren’t such a pony, you’d probably have human guys all over you.”

“Uh... I, uh...” Rainbow gulps, and I can hear her muscles churn from where I lie. “You, uh, mean that?”

“Literally? Depends on the guy. Some of ‘em would probably just follow you around everywhere. Others would try to hug you or something. Some guys are kinda grabby. But yeah, athletes are kind of a big deal. Being successful for your physical attributes is pretty much the human equivalent to the fast lane to being desirable for any gender... But you could stand to be a bit fuzzier.”

“Uh...” She shifts a little. “Anthony, why are you petting my wings?”

“They’re the softest part of you, and I’m too lazy to move and find something else to lay on.” I recall the princesses’ appreciation for my massaging their wings. “I thought you ponies like it.”

“That’s, um... putting it mildly... Can you, uh, please stop?”

“Fine.” I readjust her so she’s more of a pillow than a head rest. “Say, what do pegasi like in guys?”

“Er... why do you ask?”

“Scootaloo’s kinda messed up from me shooting her down, I had a chat with her and figured if she could find a boyfriend she might not end up doing something stupid like aging herself up somehow so she can be with me.”

Oh! Oh... right... yeah.” Dash lets out a breath she was holding in for some reason. “Uh... hmmm. Honestly I have no idea who Scoots would go for. Before you showed up I figured she wasn’t even, y’know, interested in colts...”

“The way you act, Dash, I could say the same for you.”

“Hey, just ‘cause I’m a tomcolt doesn’t mean anything. Besides, I’m dating Big Macintosh, so there’s proof right there!”

“Get a pic of you in bed with him and I’ll believe you.”

“Ew, no! I’m not gonna just use him like that! Besides, if we did I wouldn’t be throwing around pictures!”

“I’m just messing with you. Seriously, I can respect someone wanting to take a relationship slow. You’re just fun to rile up.” I turn over and poke her nose. “Boop! Anyway, back to Scoots. I really messed her up. I was a total moron, didn’t know what pegasus courtship even looked like. I want her to be happy, you know?”

“Yeah, she’s got some issues but I don’t really know where to start. Most pegasi girls want a colt- or mare- who is tough, strong, brave... you know, the kind who can take care of themselves and their mare.”

“Oh... don’t know anyone like that. Well, there’s you but uh... taken.”


“So I told her that she should be looking for a guy who likes her back rather than going after me, who she can’t have.”

“That might be hard, man. Pegasi, even since before the unification of the tribes, we’re more of the ‘chase down and conquer’ type than the ‘find my soul mate’ that Earth ponies go for.”

“Well that won’t help us here... unless... what if we found an Earth pony colt who likes her?”

“Sorry, I don’t know many of the kids ‘round town very well.”

“I just don’t want her to be chasing after someone she can’t have.” I roll over and let out a sigh, getting a small giggle from Rainbow Dash. “Uh, what was that?”

“Nothing... get your face out of my stomach.”

I give her an evil grin. “Hey Dash, you know what a raspberry is?”

“Uh... it’s a berry, ri-” She interrupts herself with a torrent on laughter. “G- get off! Ah! Hahahahastop! Hahahahapl- please!” Grinning, I let up and pull my face away, Rainbow heaving as she tries catching her breath. “You... jerk...”

“That’s revenge for when you tickled me last March.”

“Uh... What exactly are we, ah, interrupting here?” Myrna asks, an odd look on her face.

I look at Dash’s face next to mine then back at Myrna. “What do you think it is?”

“You trying to seduce a taken mare.” Myrna replies bluntly.

I scoff. “Please, if I was trying to seduce her I’d do this.” I run my finger along her wings, massaging the downey area underneath her main feathers.

“H- hey don- ooohhhh” Dash’s eyes roll back a bit and she sighs, sounding very relaxed though the rest of her body tenses up. I’m met with a hoof to my face, knocking me clear off of her and rolling a bit. “Don’t do that!”

I grin. “Your mouth may say ‘no’ but your body says ‘yes’...”  Rainbow goes totally red in the face like someone covered her in paint and raises a hoof. Her hoof looks like it’s getting bigger and I can’t figure out why. Then it hits m-

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