"It is the bright day that brings forth the adder and that craves wary walking."
Ghosts of the Past
That night, Daylight was again haunted by nightmares. She found herself once more standing inside the hollowed-out trunk of an ancient tree, in the middle of the lowest room. A shattered wooden door lay in front of her, its crushed pieces strewn across the entryway like a spilled bag of oats. Outside it was darkthrough the door-less entrance, the stars winked at her across an unfamiliar landscape. Though the scene was otherwise peaceful, tension and fear seemed to hang thick in the air, building with time and putting her on edge.
Suddenly she noticed another pony therethough she had been there all along, she now realized. Before her stood a tall and stately purple unicorn, and though Daylight didn't recognize her features an intense feeling of kinship warmed her heart. It was almost as if Daylight had known her well at some point, but had long since forgotten.
The unicorn's mane and tail were a deep shade of blue, broken only by two streaks of pink. Her gleaming purple eyes radiated a comforting familiarity, and filled Daylight with a feeling of peace the likes of which she could not remember having ever felt. They met each other's gaze, eyes locked, and simply stood that way for what felt like an eternity and yet no time at all.
Daylight wanted this moment to last forever. She felt as though she was truly home.
The moment, however, proved far too good to last. The flames that Daylight had grown to dread rippled out from the unicorn's very mane, slithering about the room like hideous burning serpents. The blaze spread out in a ring, rapidly consuming the ancient wood surrounding them. Still, the unicorn made no move to save herself. She simply stood amidst the fire and flames, watching Daylight with saddened, loving eyes.
A phantasmal force snatched at Daylight, dragging her from the innocent happiness of the book-filled room. NO! she thought, she didn't want to leave. She didn't want to leave! As she was drawn slowly into an enveloping blackness she reached out a hoof to the unicorn, beseeching help.
The unicorn simply looked at her as Daylight vanished into the darkness. Before the flames licking at her fur completely engulfed her, a profoundly forlorn expression came over her face and she spoke softly, ever so softly, to Daylight.
"I'll be with you every step of the way, Sweetie. Don't you worry."
Daylight awoke in the dark, her face pressed deep into a clammy pillow wet with tears. She looked quickly about the room, confirming reality before settling back into her chilly sheets with a huff. A faint glow shone through her curtainsit was too close to daybreak now to go back to sleep. Resigned, she threw the covers from her body and rolled off the bed and onto the cold wooden floor. She shivered slightly as she trotted from her room, her head beginning to throb and ache from her injury the night before.
Applejack hadn't woken up yet, she noticed as she checked her Aunt's room. Daylight desperately wanted to ask her about all the things she couldn't explain herself, but Applejack had gone to bed early the previous evening and was already asleep when Daylight burst through their front door in a panic. Daylight hadn't the heart to wake her, so the questionings would have to wait until that evening.
In the kitchen she lit the oil lamp on the dining table, revealing half of the previous day's cornbread still in its dish. She served herself a sliceit was a bit stale, but tasty nonetheless, and definitely filling. As she ate the last bite of bread, Daylight decided to head out early. There was something that she wanted to check on before work, and she did not want to be late two days in a rowwho knew what Redsky would do if she were.
She didn't worry too much about staying quiet as she worriedly magicked her way through the front door, briefcase in tow and sweater bundled tight against the early morning chill. Snow had fallen that night, wrapping the earth in a pristine white shell that crunched open beneath her hooves, and wind whipped down the boulevard. Bits of dusty snow swirled up in an invisible vortex before falling back to the ground in some other snow drift. The heaps of snow, sparkling in the morning sun, sat in glaring discordance with the greying and dilapidated houses.
Instead of heading towards her workplace, Daylight immediately turned right and cut across the snowy lawn of the abandoned bungalow next door, towards Dinky's house. As she looked it over, everything seemed to be in order. The house was intact, the doors and windows still in place and as weather-worn as they had ever been, although no light shone from the windows. That was to be expected at this early hour, however; nopony was ever up before the State mandate.
A check of the door showed no sign of forced entry
all was quiet. Warily, she raised a hoof and knocked lightly upon the door.
There was no answer.
She knocked again; once more, no answer. Hesitantly, she decided to try the handleto her surprise, it was unlocked. The door swung easily open with a light push. Although the room inside was darkened, enough pre-dawn light seeped in to allow Daylight to see that the house was
The residence wasn't just devoid of lifeit was devoid of everything. Derpy's red futon was gone, and no yellow doll sat in the corner. There were no tables, and no chairs. The small alcove, once a haven for books, sat devoid of even the simple wooden desk Daylight had seen Dinky sitting at the night before. The only things left seemed to be the Spectators, lids still closed, outwardly asleep.
Daylight called out nervously, voice just low enough to keep the Spectator from noticing. "Dinky?"
When no response came, she cautiously moved into the building to inspect the other rooms. All seemed to have followed the same Spartan trend as the living room. To all appearances Dinky and Derpy seemed to have simply vanished, taking with them any trace that they had ever lived there.
Daylight bit her tongue to keep herself from groaning with worry. Something had happened last nightnopony could move out that quickly, not even with a State transfer order. Things didn't add up. Unless
Daylight's eyes grew wide. Unless the Department took them. They'd be back, though, wouldn't they? The Department is supposed to only Re-Educate them, nothing else.
She looked around in dismay. But then where did all of their belongings go?
A horrible suspicion told her that she wouldn't ever see Dinky and Derpy again. They wouldn't be back. If Daylight had been wrong about the Peacekeepers, then why couldn't she also be wrong about the Department itself?
why couldn't she have been wrong about the entire State?
There was only one way that she could figure this outshe'd have to find their records at the Department. Surely, filed away somewhere, she could find information on what had happened to the two grey ponies.
Quietly, she left the deserted bungalow. The first true rays of sunlight peeked over the rooftops, cutting through the sagging holes to the rotted wood and furniture inside. Walking at a normal speed, she would be just on time for work. Despite the comfort of routine, however, worry and sadness gnawed at her heart. Despite Daylight's initial reluctance, she had begun to hope that Dinky could have become a kind of friend to her
she'd never had any real friends before.
The reception desk sat empty as Daylight signed in, and she vaguely recalled something about a presentation that daymandatory for all employees. After taking the lift, she peered into the tenth-floor presentation room to see all of the other employees sitting facing a large tapestry of the Eye. Chief Interrogator Redsky stood next to the tapestry, and as Daylight took her usual seat at the back of the room he motioned sharply upwards with a forehoof. The lights dimmed.
For a moment the only light in the room came from the unearthly glow of the Eye, which shimmered momentarily before dissolving into blackness. From the darkness a spectral voice began to magically emanatea familiar voice, one that every pony had repeatedly heard, but a voice that they always tried to forget.
"My friends," it began slowly, seeping into the ears of the audience like a slick poison, "You are all loyal citizens of the State. You do what is asked of you, for the good of every pony in the land, and as such you reap the rewards of civilization. The State provides you with food, clothing, shelter, safety
everything you need. But there are a few
who take without giving."
The audience stirred.
"They take what you work so hard to create. They work to destroy our happiness. They work to destroy our reality. They spread rumors. They spread lies. There is nothing that they won't say or do to ruin all that we hold dear. They must be stopped. They must be punished. "
The ponies around Daylight voiced their approval.
"Now look," the voice began once more, "Look upon the face of the one who instigates this
Light flashed once more from the tapestry, momentarily blinding all the ponies whose eyes had adjusted to the dark. Upon the fabric was now a glowing image of a scarred older Pegasus, glaring evilly out at the audience. Her teal fur was matted with dust and her graying multi-hued mane was bedraggled, lending to her terrifying appearance. She was clad in a strange blue and yellow uniform, and cracked goggles hung loosely about her neck. Deep fuchsia eyes glittered, emanating a kind of wickedness that had Daylight unconsciously rearing back in disgust.
Jeers and hisses rose from the crowd as hooves were stamped against the floor. A dense cloud of hate began to build within the room, the ponies releasing their anger towards the image of the Pegasus, building into a frenzy. One pony, a records clerk with whom Daylight had spoken on a number of occasions, became enraged and seized a small notebook. The tablet was flung violently at the tapestry, which rippled and swayed while she and the others screamed angrily.
These presentations happened every other week or so, and Daylight realized that this was her chance to see if things were really as she feared. She could go and check, just to be safe
find Dinky's records and prove that she and her mother were safe, find out when they would be returned and things would go back to normal. She would discover that Dinky really had been wrong about the past. That things really always had been the way they were and that the Peacekeepers really did keep the peace.
Unnoticed by her infuriated peers, the yellow unicorn slid back out into the hall. She trotted quickly, conscious of every second ticking by, to where she knew that she would find her answers: the only place in the Department that held the absolutely true information.
The Chief Interrogator's office.
The door was locked, as could be expected, and as the Eye on the door peered intently at her Daylight found herself hoping beyond hope that it really was just a painted facsimile and not a real Spectator. Drawing from the magic in her horn, she poked around inside the mechanism of the lock. She carefully manipulated the latch inside, shifting the tiny balls until each one fell through their respective hole with a tiny, nearly inaudible plink.
The door swung inward, revealing the terrifying office she had encountered only the day before. Wasting no time, she immediately set about trying to find the records. The most obvious place to look was the row of filing cabinets behind Redsky's deskdue to their alphabetical nature, the drawer labeled "H" was easy enough for Daylight to find.
A drawer nearly a meter in length rolled open smoothly to reveal an interior filled to the brim with file after file. Daylight began flipping through them: Habit, Halter, Highland, Hillock, Hip, Hiss, Hobnob, Hoof
Aha! Hooves. A sigh of relief escaped Daylight's lips as she saw the file with Dinky's last name. Quickly, she magicked it out and threw it on Redsky's desk before flipping it open.
It was empty. She cursed her luckperhaps the papers were elsewhere? Flinging the empty file to the side in dismay she ripped open Redsky's top desk drawer. A vital records file lay atop a pile of papers, and she picked it up excitedly. Was this it? Noit was labeled Montag, not at all the name Daylight was looking for. She rifled through the rest of the drawer's contents. Inventory reports? No. Staff Timesheets? No!
"No, no, no!" Daylight groaned, scattering loose papers as she went.
"What's the matter, Miss Sparkle? Not finding what you're looking for?"
Daylight froze upon hearing the cold voice, heart pumping loudly in her ears.
"You won't find many files under Hooves, I'm afraid. There aren't any ponies in City Seven with that name. In fact, there are no ponies with that name in any of the Cities," Redsky stated plainly, standing unconcernedly in the doorway, "They don't exist anymore. Or, I should say
they never existed."
Daylight was visibly shaking now as a horrible, hard knot formed in her stomach and her breakfast's contents threatened to attempt a coup on her esophagus. Her worst fears were being confirmedin her mind the only reality she had never known was crashing down around her piece by piece like trees in a hurricane. All that she had ever known and been taught by the State had been a lie. She slowly turned around, searching for a venue of escape.
"Oh, I wouldn't try it, if I were you," Redsky smirked, satisfaction evident in his words, "Even if you did make it out, how far do you think you would get? We were willing to overlook your little escapades in the night and your interactions with individuals of a
less than proper nature. Yes, we know about them. That is our job here, after all, and we make it a point to know everything. But it seems that you have crossed a line today, Miss Sparkle. And now you must face the consequences. My Peacekeepers shall be along momentarily."
Daylight's options were rapidly dwindlingRedsky blocked the only exit, and she was as good as dead if the Peacekeepers caught up. There was no way that she could fight her way out or push through without being killed; Redsky was much larger and more muscular than her, and she had never had any reason to learn how to fight. Redsky began to slowly advance on her, attempting to back her into one of the corners. She had to think quick.
A tiny glint of steel caught her eye from atop Redsky's deskit was her only hope. Without thinking any further about what she was going to do she magically seized the metal calligraphy pen from its holder and catapulted it, point-first, through the air at Redsky with all the force she could muster. It flew straight and true, arcing briefly through the air like a miniature arrow.
Redsky had no time to react before the pen's wickedly sharp point found its mark, just below his jaw. He fell to the floor with a gurgling choke, clutching at his throat with his forehooves. A horrible, dark stream of crimson flowed from between his hooves as he writhed about in anguish, spattering messily across the pristinely cleaned floor. Sluggishly, he jerked forward and looked up at a horrified Daylight, standing over him with her mouth agape in dismay. She met his eyes as the life faded from them, and with a final sigh he became stiff and motionless, a pool of blood growing steadily outward from his body. Daylight's mind went completely numb.
I didn't mean to KILL him! she thought frantically, as if somehow denying her guilt might help, I only meant to HURT him! So I could escape!
Now more than ever, it became apparent to Daylight that she needed to leaveand quickly. She galloped with all her speed from the office and down the emergency stairs at the end of the hall. She couldn't risk the lift stopping on heras soon as the Peacekeepers found the Chief Interrogator, all Hell would break loose. Every Peacekeeper in the city would be on her tail. She wasn't safe there anymore, and neither was Applejack. They would have to run, but to where? Where could they go that the State couldn't catch them?
Daylight was at a loss. She knew first-hoof the capabilities of the State.
And now, they were all turned against her.
Exhausted, Daylight stopped to rest momentarily, panting heavily. She had never run so fast in her life. The Peacekeepers hadn't found her yetthat was good. And the Siren hadn't been set off, either. She hoped that she could get back home to Applejack before it began as once it was tripped, the entire City would be after her.
As if on cue, an eerie wail broke the silence of the mid-morning air. It began almost as a whisper but soon worked its way up to an ear-piercing shriek, emanating magically from the Department building a few kilometers away. Daylight winced and took off again. The Siren had started, and she was running out of time. The tone broke momentarily, switching over to a cool female voice.
"Attention all residents of City Seven: there is a fugitive from justice loose within the city. Name: Daylight Sparkle. Occupation: Department Secretary. She is wanted for murder and treasonous crimes against the State. Watch for a yellow unicorn alone on hoof." The voice shut off as the siren returned to its horrible blare.
Daylight dashed into the shadows behind a large warehouse, knee-deep in snow. Trudging onward, she found her way into a long snaking alley that led six blocks in the right direction. Too soon, however, she found herself facing a broad, open street clear of snow. In plain sight.
Slowly, she peeked out around the corner and onto the frosty road. There was a shopkeeper standing outside of his shop only a few yards from her, intently gazing about the road. Waiting for somepony. Waiting for her.
An idea came to her: these ponies would be looking for a pony who was running. Maybe, just maybe, if she were to simply walk out across the street, as calmly as possible, she would not be noticed. It was a risk, but Daylight had no other option that she could see. She dusted herself off and composed her sweater so that it looked a bit less unkempt. Taking care not to rush, she trotted out onto the street, looking neither left nor right, just walking straight ahead as if she had someplace to be.
She was halfway there
and she was across. Her plan seemed to have workedeither the shopkeeper hadn't noticed or hadn't followed. On a side street she broke into a full-out gallop, following it towards home as the Siren repeated its message. As she rounded the last corner to her house she gasped for breath, sprinting the last few meters to the door and flinging it open to reveal a very distressed Applejack standing in the main room.
"Daylight! What in tarnation is goin' on!" She huffed angrily, "They say you killed somepony!"
"No time to talk now!" Daylight rushed to her room, grabbing her saddlebags from the corner, "We've got to go! Run! Get some food and stuff together, we only have a minute or two." The Spectators in each room glared at her, red light blinking furiously. When she returned to the main room Applejack was still standing there, staring off into space. "Come on, Applejack! Quickly!"
Applejack shook her head and blinked, snapping herself out of it. She immediately grabbed her own bags from her bedroom and began packing as much food from the kitchenette as would fit. Then, she opened the cabinet beneath the sink and began rummaging through the rags and bottles.
"Applejack?" Daylight asked nervously. She had already finished packing and was getting antsy waiting for Applejack.
"Ah'm a-comin'. Just give me a sec, will ya?" Applejack said from inside the cabinet, "Aha! Here 'tis!" She pulled out a small brown paper package, slipping it quickly into her right saddlebag.
"What's in that?" Daylight asked, curiously.
"Later," Applejack stated, "Now, would ya mind explainin'" A pounding on the front door that rattled the windowpanes interrupted her.
Daylight whipped around to see the door beginning to buckle, splinters forming on the inside. "I'm going to try something, Applejack, get close to me!"
Applejack's eyes flicked warily between Daylight and the rapidly disintegrating door. "Ahah don't know, Daylight. It's magic, ain't it?"
"Yes, it is, but it may be our only hope! If they get through the door, they'll kill us!"
" Applejack moved to Daylight's side worriedly. Daylight began concentrating on her spell. She wasn't entirely sure how to do this, or if she could even manage it a second time, but she had to try. She wracked her brain for the magic, searching for its power desperately. Her horn began to glow brightly, a hazy yellow aura flickering, waving back and forth and enveloping the two terrified ponies.
With a mighty CRACK the door caved inward, revealing six Peacekeepers. As they stormed into the room, the rush of adrenaline was enough to push Daylight's magic over the edge. With another mighty thunder-crack, the two vanished into thin air.
The Peacekeepers were left staring at each other in wonder, none of them able to understand what had just happened.
A tall shadowy figure sat encircled by burning incense, deep in thought and as motionless as a statue. The pungent smoke permeated the air of the darkened room, hanging in heavy clouds. The figure stared into the swirling trails of smoke as if entranced by some otherworldly deity as a bizarre feeling entered his consciousness. A buzzing ran through his mind, as if some far-off magic was tugging at him, offsetting his thoughts. He inhaled sharply.
"What is this
" he concentrated on the feeling, searching with all his power to bring it back, but found it slipping from his grasp. "
I haven't felt an aura like this for a very long time."
He stood, donning his white coat, and made sure that both his tie and silvery glasses were straight. He walked over to a plinth made of volcanic glass and peered down into a thick, gooey substance held in an inset basin. The unicorn began to channel his magical energy, directing it downward and into the fluid. The goo swirled rapidly, glowing from within, and at once showed him a city street down which a single yellow unicorn was frantically running. He concentrated harder, bringing the image into better focus, and information concerning this new pony flooded his mind.
"Ah, so this is the one. It seems I may have overlooked something
important," he muttered quietly, "Come back to haunt me once more, have you? We'll see."
The image faded once more into dark stillness as the flow of magic ceased, and the pale figure strode from the smoky room and down a long, gilded hallway that led into an enormous, column-lined chamber. A white velveteen carpet spanned the entire length of the marble hall, leading up to an immense banner of the Eye, towering over the chamber and easily soaring twenty meters to the ceiling.
He sat himself on a plain, boxy throne beneath the Eye and stared forward, towards the grand entrance to the hall. He had to wait only a moment before a lone pink figure came skipping through the doorway and up the lengthy carpet. She stopped a couple of meters from his throne, looking upon him with crazed, pin-point pupils, before bowing deeply.
He spoke. "Ah, my most faithful servant. I see you have anticipated my need."
The pink pony looked upward, causing her long curls to bounce around her face. "Of course! Don't I always, Mr. Malevie?" she sang gaily.
"Yes," he said calmly. "I have a new game for you."
"Oh? What is it? What is it?" she bounced in excitement.
"It's a bit like hide and seek: I give you a pony to find, and you go and get them for me."
"Ooh, sounds fun! Do I get to play with them when I find them?" she asked eagerly.
A wicked grin slid over Maleve's face. "Certainly. Take the Public Servant along with you as wellit should make things more
"Okee-dokey-lokey! So who do I look for?" the pony asked curiously.
"Find me the one called Daylight Sparkle."