Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 80

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Chapter 80

The cat rolls her eyes and smirks. “Just because I’m nice, take another try.” I let out a breath. Wow that was almost bad.

“Okay... need some more ideas. But the spiritual idea isn’t bad, I just jumped to a conclusion...” I turn to Twilight “What do you know of spirituality?”

“Uhm, well, spirits are usually those who haven’t yet been able to pass on to any form of their afterlife, and need to accomplish something to do so. The requirement is based on who they were, and decides what type of spirit they are.” Twilight pauses for a moment. “But I don’t really know too much about them, the Royal Exorcist Paladins takes care of them when they pop up, so...”

“Huh. I guess I can ask more about that later. Sounds interesting. Uh... riddle, right.” I continue thinking. What was created in fire? Metal in a forge? Nah, we have that understood pretty well. It needs to be something that we can’t touch... Something that can’t be seen in the literal sense. I look at Twilight, her face still contorted in thought.

Can’t escape without my permission or anger... sounds like something that is a constant rule, like a universal law. That’s definitely something hard to understand and study. I share this opinion with Anne and Twilight. I’ve decided that I can keep deducing, but I’m not going to be the one to present the answer, lest I screw up again.

The two girls think about it. “I don’t know, Anthony, the universe wasn’t created in flames. And if it ever was that hot, there’d be nothing here at all.”

Universe created in flames! I get another idea, but quell the urge to jump up and shout it out.

“Twilight, have you heard of the Big Bang theory?”

“The what now?” Twilight looks confused, but it seems that Anne gets where I’m going with this. I continue pondering. Life was created by the big bang and it started everything, birthed by a huge explosion. The rules of life are definitely something that can’t be studied, but also something practically everyone theorizes about... but life, in a way, can be touched. I think about it. It’s that first line that just seems to throw a huge wrench in my thought process. You cannot reach me, yet are already here. Dang this is difficult. What could this cat do to us that would involve breaking or changing a universal law?

I once again parrot my thoughts to the girls. Twilight still seems a bit confused by the Big Bang already and it hasn’t even been described... But Anne seems to like it.

The harpy tries piecing it together. “I think... well, something you can’t escape, like life and all, is a big part, but... then we get to coming from fire. But fire’s not always just fire in the literal sense. What about a metaphorical fire, like a flame war in a forum? And well... life comes from conflicts, from change, like fire! So, maybe... yeah. I think that the answer is life.”

“Hmmm... perhaps, but it’s actually pretty easy to escape life. I could use my powers to kill myself at any time I wanted.”

“But then that’s in anger or with permission, ‘cuz it’s not just life in general, but your life! Well, my life for me, but you get the idea, right?”

“Yeah.” Once more I turn to Twilight. “Come on Twi, think of something. We gotta give the right answer or who knows what crazy stuff this cat will do?”

Twilight looks put upon. “I, uh... r- riddles aren’t really my thing... unless it’s one that I already know.” She grins sheepishly, her ears flat.

“Crap.” What have I done? I just screwed us over by making a deal with a Cheshire Cat. What kind of idiot would try and outwit a reality-warping creature of chaos? Guess I figured it wouldn’t be much different from doing so with Discord, but boy was I wrong...

“Come on Anne, we gotta think of something. Life seems like a good answer, but there’s usually more than one answer to riddles. What can’t be escaped without permission? I still say a universal law, but which one it is I can’t figure out. What was created in fire that can’t be studied? What can we not reach but already be with?”

“Uhm... a giant, all-consuming black hole?” Anne answers, looking doubtful.

“Oh fuck it.” I stand up and look at the cat a defeated look on my face. “A cosmic black hole?”

The cat face-paws. “No, but that’s inventive, at least. And you didn’t answer life, like half the people I hear that riddle get told to... well, I suppose I’ll lead you to the Gate... And, since I get to mess with you, then I’ll even help you find your lost princess.” The cat grins beneficently at us, poofy tail curled into a striped halo over her head.

I just stand there and blink. “Well then what the name of the seven princes is the answer!?”

“The universe. Or reality, your choice.”

I throw my hands up. “Well fine then... just show us the Gate...” I feel like a complete dumbass.

The cat practically prances as she walks down an invisible staircase to the ground, from which she starts leading us through the forest. Now that she’s down below my eye level, I realize she’s almost the size of Twilight, which is a touch worrying.

Screw it, my brain is fried and stumped. I’m just gonna go along with whatever happens now...

Anne and Twilight seem a bit reluctant to follow, but I remind them that we did make a deal with the cat. Twilight points out that I made a deal with the cat, they didn’t actually say anything.

“Alright, I guess you can find the Gate on your own. And even if I‘m duped by the cat and I’m not gonna end up in front of the portal, then I’m still not any more lost than I already am. Just saying.”

The girls face each other, and then begin to follow me following the cat. I’d say it’s like the blind leading the blind, but the cat apparently knows where she’s going.

We finally stop in a clearing, a wide one near a set of cliffs with strange, angular channels in them. A large cave entrance is ahead of us. The cat looks back over her shoulder, beginning to unravel again.

“Well, this is where we part ways, for a little bit. Just make it through the cave, and I’ll meet you on the other side. Ta!” The cat faded out, shutting her eyes to completely vanish. Twilight shuddered, apparently not liking the Cat. I demonstrate my own dislike, though in a different manner.

You better be right or I’m gonna find a razor and shave you bald, you fucking cat!!”

Anne sighs, looking utterly exhausted. Her skin has turned a bit more bronze, though that’s likely because of the exercise and the sunlight that’s been bathing us every few steps through the forest. I decide that if we don’t get through the cave in time, the cat might continue without us. I relay this to the girls and step into the cave. I Spark up to shine a bit of light around us. I can always use my arm as a torch if it’s still too dark.

“I wonder where we are.” Anne says, whispering as she steps into the cave. surprisingly, the large opening has let in a tremendous amount of natural light, so I only really need my Spark on to see in the deep pools of shadow the floor’s rough patches cast. The floor has some sorts of symbols or glyphs scored into them, and the walls look like they’re made of thousands of layers.

“Alright, I’m not entirely sure what we’ve got here, but one thing’s for sure: we need to be prepared.” I can fashion my usual shortsword and buckler from the coal in my satchel. Anne has sharp wings and Twilight at least has armor.

“We ready, gang?” I ask. “Once we start, we should probably not stop.”

The two nod hesitantly, and we step into the thestral gloom. Like a barrier or someone flicking a switch, the light goes from nearly full daylight to pitch black the moment the shadow of the cave prevents from getting any farther. I’m suddenly the only source of light, and I can feel Anne and Twilight pressing up on either side of me, getting as close as they can to the light source.

Heh, I’m a chick magnet... and a mare magnet too.

We continue into the darkness. Obviously since I’m lighting the place with my Stellar form, I’m unable to make my coal tools weightless. Man this sword is heavy...

The light isn’t bright enough to see the edges of the cave tunnel anymore, but my Spark’s light keeps throwing eerie shadows from the edges of the symbols in the floor. In several places, the glyphs just disappear under the walls, as if the walls aren’t normally there. Worrying, but the dust on the ground at least means no walls have been moving recently.

“Okay, I’ve had enough. Girls, stand back and don’t touch me.” I turn off my Spark to return my coal tools into dust in my satchel. I then Spark up again and enter my Heat Form, summoning fireballs around my hands. “There, that should be better.”

Immediately, I see that the rough, layered look to the walls is common even this far into the tunnel, and that it begins to slope down like thin steps shortly ahead. That would’ve been bad to stumble onto by accident. Two tunnels extend into the darkness ahead, though, from the bottom of the slope.

“So uh... which way?”

Anne points towards the right, while Twilight points left. Seeing the other’s choice, they both immediately switch, still pointing at opposing directions. Great.

“Well, we can’t just split up. Anyone have a coin?”

A bunch of ‘um’ sounds come from the two of them, as Twilight tries to reach her bags. She can’t reach them though. Stupid magic dependance. I put the fires on my shoulders and open up her saddlebag and start looking through the stuff she’d packed. I just need something with two unidentical sides. Or a spinny thing.

Finally, I pull out a bit. “Heads we go left, Tails we go right.” I flip the coin, and reach out to catch it. It bounces off my hands, and I curse quietly as I watch it roll off to the right, into a small cave at the top of the slope. I hadn’t noticed it because it was so much smaller than the rest of the caves, the side-passage being about as tall as I am.

“Okay, option C it is.” I say walking towards the smaller passage. The passage is much smaller, leaving me uncomfortably near the layered pieces of stone that the cave is made from. Tiny, almost fibrous-looking bits of stone splay from each edge, like the edges of a ripped piece of paper, but stone. As well, the whole thing is a circle, not the mostly flat-bottomed cave that the larger area is. Curiosity, though, won’t let me leave it alone.

I kneel down to inspect it further. Reaching a tentative hand towards the top of one layer, I find that it’s smooth, like the paper it resembles, but almost a quarter-inch thick. It is also stone, but I can see the carvings of more glyphs on the layer itself. It’s like something went through, layer by layer, and wrote things in the stone, then put another layer of stone on, and did it again. What kind of anything, Wunderland or not, would do that? Either way, the only other feature I can see is that the tunnel curves, though the shadows make it a little harder to tell which way it curves, at least from here.

Not seeing any other option I stand up and walk towards the tunnel, flaming palm outstretched. Slowly, I navigate in towards the curve, and look around the corner. In the distance, I can see a light. It must be the way out!

I rush forward to the light, expecting grass and sky or something. Instead, I bump into something, and I fall on my rear, scraping up my palms as I catch myself from the fall. The light, which I’d assumed was an exit, is actually just two feet into the tunnel, and is illuminating a book on the ground. What I bounced off of is a large creature, more or less the exact dimensions of the tunnel I’m in now as far as diameter is concerned. It looks up at me, eight glowing red eyes becoming visible as they point in my direction.

“Uh... hi there?” I decide to go intangible just for the sake of caution.

A set of jaws, hidden behind scales as wide as my chest, is bared. I can only sort of hear the roar, because my hearing is pretty much gone from the moment it starts. Running, it seems, is a good idea, and a ringing is starting in my ears.

“Uh... I wouldn’t happen to be able to talk this out?” I probably sound like I just wet myself. I hope I didn’t. I get up and bolt back the way I came, which is pretty fast. So fast, in fact, that I don’t turn when the tunnel does and I hit the wall facefirst. The thin layers of pointy stone scrape the hell out of my face and chest, and I start to wish I’d commissioned armor before this journey. I shake off the pain and confusion, and dart out of the tunnel, my hearing coming back partially enough for me to hear the creature sliding across the ground.

I keep running and barely stop in time to avoid crashing into the girls. “That is not the way out!” I yell, and dart down the slope. Once I return to the intersection room I stop and power down. I find the darkest spot in the room and begin my heroic plan of hiding like a pansy, hoping it won’t find me.

Another roar, this one not deafening me, echoed through the tunnels as the glowing light of the creature barreled out of the little tunnel. The creature exited the tunnel, and I begin to see lines of glowing sigils, glyphs, and even some recognizable letter and numbers. The light on the end of the creature swung around the little area, and finally swept across Twilight.

The pony, looking like a deer in the headlights, simply stared in shock and fear at the titanic, worm-like creature glaring at her. Its jaws open wide, and it looks like it’s about to strike. I am sooooo going to hate myself for this. I go intangible and leap inside the worm-beast and start generating as much electricity as I can, hoping I can electrocute it to death from the inside before I think about where I am.

Next Chapter: Chapter 81 Estimated time remaining: 23 Hours, 41 Minutes

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