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At last, the final sight of the Tartarian Descent Team is engulfed by the interminable darkness.

The Great Seal rends the earth with a deafening quake, as it slides nearly shut, open only by a hairsbreadth. The Loyal Kerberos, ten thousand Umbral Hounds strong, holds one end of Shei's Black Thread in one of his mouths. He leers at it contemptuously, but holds it nonetheless as agreed.

Most of the others accompanying Sir Pryce cannot look anymore at the Great Seal, ready to direct their thoughts to anything other than the fates of their friends… and foes. Sir Estuary is the only one who seems composed. He looks to Pryce, and with a slight bow of his head, says, "Perhaps we should make for the surface, milord. We have no further business here."
210 posts omitted. Click reply to view.


"I am not a veterinarian, but he seems fine, healthy anyway," Vortigern says. "I used some healing magic on him just to be sure. Something has him agitated– nobody can get near him."

"Go back to sleep, though it may be hard," Estuary commands. He takes the sweaty blanket off and replaces it with a fresh one. "But call us if you should have any need."


"He's just worried," Pryce responds to Hopper's diagnosis. "I'll be okay little guy," He says to Hopper.

He lays down, pulling up the fresh blanket.
"If I need… but I'll be fine after some rest," He says to Sir Estuary. "And, I'm sorry for grabbing you."


"Apologize only for your shoddy technique," Estuary says. "I could have easily escaped that grab."

Vortigern shoulders him aside and gives him a scolding glance for kicking you while you're down. Estuary rolls his eyes and departs, while Vortigern leaves you with a glass of water.

>Timeskip available


"We'll try it again when I'm better," Pryce responds with a tired chuckle.
"Thank you," He says to Vortigern for the water, taking a sip and laying back down to try and get some rest after that nightmare.
>Good to Skip


Time and space melt by, as you drift in a humid stew of nightmares. Yet time and again, some current always draws you back, back to that darkness… where you recall, time and again, the presence of something awaiting, as it has been waiting… though for you or for another, never can you tell, for all it takes is the sweltering wetness of that something's hungering gaze, projected more from odorous tongue than eye, for your every sense to rebel and thrash, shaking you back into the blinding, ignorant light…

You open your eyes to sunlight, coming in through the window, along with a breeze, but despite the light you feel rather cold.

KP, in fact, is downright frigid. He wakes, at last freed from fever and ache, and sees River holding his ice staff. She uses it to puff out very measured gusts of cold air, apparently to counteract the heat of fever. Yet now that he is healthier, she might as well be freezing the poor colt.

Lockjaw, wrapped up tight in a blanket, is laying near KP, snoozing.


Pryce opens his eyes, feeling tired still as those nightmares hang over his head. Shivering, he pulls the blanket in tight around himself, the change from freezing from burning not much of a welcome one. From his cocoon, he looks around the room to check for Hopper to see how his watchful frog is fairing.

KP's teeth chatter, pulling in his blanket before he opens his eyes slowly as he feels the gusts of air.
>"C-C-Can you turn up th-th-the heat?"
He mutters to River, seeing her by the bedside.


Hopper lays at your shoulder. Though he looks tired, he appears more calm now. Upon hearing your stirring, he faces you, squeaking inquisitively.

River nearly drops the staff with shock as KP speaks, then hurries to his side to examine him. "My word… a full recovery…? Regina was right! How do you feel? Can you move everything? Use magic?"


"Good to see you're doing well," Pryce says with a smile as Hopper looks better. "Think I still need more though, feel like I was stuck in a freezer."

>"Wh-What happened?"
KP asks as River checks him over.
>"I'm c-c-cold, and, uh… I th-th-think so…"
He lights his horn to try lifting up the staff to check his magic.


KP is able to lift the staff just fine, and River nods, performing a few more checks. As she does, Lockjaw wakes up, and upon seeing KP awake and well, nearly tackles the colt, his tail slapping the bed giddily. River nudges him back. "Zjetya! Bring that soup up!"
"Already!?" Zjetya shouts from afar. "Damnit, it's not ready– shit!"
You can hear some ingredients dropping to the floor, followed by Zjetya scooping them up and blowing them off.

Shortly after the commotion from Zjetya, Vortigern sticks her head in. "Well well, look who decided to wake up. You might have guessed, but KP is doing better, and so you are as a result. Looks like Regina's treatment worked."


KP laughs as Lockjaw tackles him over and they bounce on the bed.
>"Soup? How late is it?"
He asks curiously.

"I'm feeling a bit better. What did Regina do?" Pryce asks.


"Morning, three days after our arrival in Threecoins," River says. "It is not the usual breakfast, but it will be good for you."

Zjetya comes in with a bowl of hearty-looking soup and a serving tray, then gives KP a good hug. River does as well, then steps out of the room. "I'm going to check on Pryce. Bring KP up to speed, alright?"
"Hey, I'm no academic, I don't really get it myself…" Zjetya complains, then turns to KP. "So, I guess what happened is…"

"The night we arrived, demons infiltrated the lower levels of the Library," Vortigern says. "They were attempting to enact some kind of elaborate ritual, before they were caught by the Eccleisans. Two Ecclesians died, and many others were injured, but the demons were slain. Though the ritual was thwarted, all the Replica and Replicant witches suffered fevers and the flu, and I would guess that KP's origin as a magical construct caused him to succumb as well – infecting you through your sympathetic connection. Regina was the one who treated him, and indirectly, you, using the magical reagants she used to construct the Replicas and Replicants in the first place."

River enters, and smiles with relief to see you healthy. She comes in for a hug, which combined with the two KP just got, warms you back up to comfortable levels.


>"Three days?!"
KP says with some concern. When Zjetya comes in with the soup, he calms down, not wanting to spill it. He returns both hugs heartily after hearing it's been three days.

>"I'm glad everypony is okay now,"

KP comments after the explaination.
>"Where's Regina now?"

Pryce first is concerned, then feels a mixture of guilt that he couldn't help fend off the demons.
"I'll have to thank her when I see her next. …A ritual to make all the witches sick, was that their intention or was it going to be far worse if not stopped?"

As River pops into the room and comes over for a hug, Pryce returns it, though with only the only hoof, still bundled up and the other not materialized.


"Asleep," Zjetya says. "She'll probably be cat-napping for a good while, she was up pretty late treating the afflicted."

Soon, Estuary comes in with another bowl of soup, and a shot glass of fly soup for Hopper. It seems Estuary is much more competent at making a liquid-based meal, for both soups look delicious. Hopper eagerly tucks in, his mood rapidly improving.

"They don't quite know the demons's ultimate aim; the sickness seemed to be a side-effect caused by the release of malignant aether from the ritual's disruption. My bet is that it would have been much, much worse. In any case, Regina and her assistants are exhausted."


>"Gotta do something nice for her after helping with this."
KP says, pondering.
>"Wonder if there's any good giftshops in town."

He takes a spoon of the soup Zjetya brought, giving it a taste.

"Thank you," Pryce says in thanks as Estuary brings in soup for him and Hopper, taking a spoonful of it now that he's feeling warmer.

"Given it was demons, fevers seem the best outcome then. Though I would think they wouldn't try going for a ritual approach, and just attack when everypony was sleeping if they wanted to be stealthy," He muses, concerned in thinking over the demon's goal.


Mmm… soup.

"We'll check in with her tonight, after she's had a chance to sleep," River says. "I have heard that Sir Einmal has lifted Metalweave's prohibition against the White Dance, and it will be performed nightly again."
"How can Ecclesia get anything done with such an organizational structure…?" Vortigern wonders. "Snap judgments, disunified leadership, and an insatiable appetite for control…"
"Zjetya was telling me about it back in Lilane," River says. "Seems nobody truly knows… hence Gegenschein's not-so-secret plans for a revived monarchy, taking a page from Mariposan Alicorn worship."


The soup is a great dish after such an illness, already helping KP feel better than before.
>"This is great! What'd ya put in it Zjetya?"

"I don't like that something like this had to happen to allow proven methods to be used, but at least Ecclesia seems to acknowledge mistakes," Pryce comments on the situation. He takes a few more spoonfuls.
"I know some of their order was from the old Church, but it seems like nopony among their ranks has experience running anything more than an order, or if any do they're getting undermined. …The former Emperor is part of their rank, though I guess they want to shed off most of the old ways."


"Vortigern will have to give you the recipe…" Zjetya admits. "She just kinda left me in charge of the stove after she got it all set up."

Onion enters, carrying a nice juicy cut of meat. Lockjaw nearly topples the bed as he leaps off to grab the cut. Onion quickly sets the plate down and zips back, checking his hand to ensure he still has all his fingers.

"Make sure that lizard a yours in't sick, now," Onion says. "Li'l fella spent all that time sleeping next to you, tryin' to cool you off with his cold hide. He was hard to console when you wouldn't wake up."

"That's hardly the half of it," River scoffs. "I do hope Renee won't find herself a victim of their mismanagement. Zjetya might very well have a promising future as a statesmare for all that she was explaining to me of their foolishness. Ruled by 12 members of equal political authority, chosen from three factions that historically manipulated and schemed against one another… how do they resolve stalemates in vote? Why is martial strength a prerequisite for political rule? If it weren't for Laciela and Yareakh being chosen as their first queens I would applaud their removal of the kritarchy in favor of monarchy."

Vortigern clears her throat. "That's enough of a crash course in theory," she says. "Pryce, eat and get some more sleep. I'll wake you when Regina is ready to receive visitors herself. If you are well enough for it, we should leave tomorrow."


>"Well you did a good job keeping watch on it. The temperature is perfect."
KP says with a smile. He then holds his soup steady as Lockjaw quickly scrambles for the meat and shakes the bed in the process. He looks down at the little deviljho as Onion informs what a stalwart guardian he was.
>"He really did that?"
KP says, hearttouched.
>"He doesn't look like he's sick, but I'll ask River to check on him."

"Renee has a good head on her shoulders, and being a medic she'll probably be able to speak against any poor management on her part and get through them."

Pryce nods to Vortigern.
"I'm fine, feeling better now. One night of sleep was enough, really," He says, not wanting to causing too much worry with everypony working on keeping him and KP well.


After a bit longer chit-chatting with you both, your guests depart, allowing Pryce and KP time to stretch and bathe after being incapacitated for so long. KP in particular feels rather energetic – perhaps a bonus of Regina's treatment.


After cleaning up and moving out of bed for the first time after three days, KP gives Lockjaw a big hug for watching over him.
>"I'm sorry for how I acted the other day, I know you didn't mean to hit me with your tail You're a good deviljho. Now, let's go find some paper and crayons."
He says, apologizing and having a new goal.

Pryce after cleaning up finds it a little bit harder to adjust. Unaware it's been three days in bed and without a leg, he finds himself almost off balance when he reignites it. He takes a bit longer to do some stretches and some basic exercise to get back into a proper form.


KP and Pryce eventually meet up while KP is in the process of finding some art supplies in one of Regina's many rooms. Your allies, save for Hopper and Lockjaw, are nowhere to be seen in all this Castle.


Pryce comes across KP as he's shuffling through boxes to look for art supplies, smiling as he sees his younger self up and full of energy after the illness.
"Good to see you're doing alright."
KP hops up from the box, looking back.
>"Yup! I feel great!"
"What are looking for?"
>"Stuff to make a thank you card for Regina! It's the least I can do for all her help."
"Yea, everypony really came through for us."
>"Hmm, I should make everypony a card then. Three days of care is a lot."
"Th-Three days?!"
>"Yea, didn't they mention that?"
"That would explain the off feeling… Here, let me help you with those cards."
Together they finish the hunt for the art supplies, then they go look for the others.


After gathering your supplies, you head outside, where you can see, as visible as ever, Regina's giant form, lounging by the lakeside. A short jaunt later, you see that she lies half-asleep by the waters, smiling contentedly as all your allies, save for Vortigern, walk across her back and shoulders, evidently providing a keen massage. Zjetya looks up, then signals for the others to clear out. From the treeline, Vortigern suddenly dive-bombs down, and strikes Regina's back with a careful blow. The satisfying crrrrrikt! of popping vertebrae is the reward. The others climb back up to resume their work.


Pryce and KP head outside, pets in tow, when they can't find sign of the others in the Castle. Seeing Regina in the distance, KP takes lead first to go say thanks. But once they see the others, they pause at the sight of the party giving Regina a massage. Pryce winces as Vortigern dive bombs down, despite the effectiveness of it.
>"Wow! That looks like fun!"
KP exclaims.


Regina opens one eye. "You two can be next, if you wish."
"Hey," Zjetya snaps admonishingly. "Not 'til we're done with you. You don't just spend that many days saving lives and not get rewarded."
"Pryce, your special somepony is holding me hostage," Regina complains with a yawn."


File: 1642481766412.png (4.58 MB, 720x1280, KP Regina Card.png)

"Hardly sounds like a complaint," Pryce says with a chuckle. "But on that, thank you for all you did."
>"Yea! Here, I made you this!"
KP says, pulling out the card he made.
>"Thanks a bunch!"


Regina's eyes widen as she sees the tiny card, and she even tears up a little. She holds it gently in her paws, and a sealing spell comes over it to defend it from time and the elements.
"The gratitude is all mine," Regina says, then pats KP on the head.


KP smiles as he sees Regina likes it.
>"I'm glad you were there, can't imagine what would've happened otherwise."
"Doubly so. Those fever dreams alone still leave me uneasy."

KP looks up at the others going about the massage.
>"How long have you guys been going at that?"


"About half an hour," River says.
"And a bit longer would be nice," Regina says. "I did save the Pryces' lives."
Zjetya scoffs. "Now who's holding who hostage?"

After the jokes, Regina leans in toward Pryce. "Tell me… what did you see during those dreams?"


KP laughs at the turnaround of feeling.
>"Can I help?"

"Not much, but they were always the same. Just a void of darkness, an overwhelming sense of vertigo, and a feeling that something was watching me, like it was expected something to be there."


River flies down, and picks up KP to have him join.

Regina nods to Pryce. "You wouldn't be the only one," she whispers. "The Replicas and Replicants who could remember their dreams all told me similar things. KP was easily the worst case I dealt with… I'd be surprised if he remembered anything, but if he did, it'd be that."


KP treads around on Regina's back as he's lifted up, seeing if it's as soft as it looked.

("Do you think it meant something? Maybe part of whatever ritual the demons were trying?") He whispers back.
He then looks up towards the others.
"Hey, KP, how did you feel during those days. Remember anything?"
KP pauses mid-hop, thinking a moment.
>"Huh, I'm not sure…"
He ponders, trying to see if he can remember anything from the three days when he was sick.


KP could sink into the fluffier parts if he's not careful. Box would do well to come back alive. But as he thinks back to those dreadful days of fever, he can remember nothing, being absolutely floored by the sickness.

"We haven't yet decrypted the ritual mysteries," Regina says. "But I think those nightmares were a shadow of the real intent. No rite that elaborate would have been necessary for summoning. It looked more like an attempted resurrection. It could not have been, for only mortals are capable of that, but something similar, perhaps."


>"Nope! Can't remember a thing."
KP answers back, going back to moving through the sea of fluff, hopping through the higher parts.

"Not summoning or resurrection… Do you think they were trying to create something? Maybe some sort of advanced conjuration, or alchemy?" Pryce suggests. "It affected the Replicants and KP, so it could be something similar possibly."


Regina's eyes suddenly shoot open wider than you've ever seen them. "Pryce… what was KP's origin?"


"A mage named Calque cast a spell on me back when we were in Mariposa, creating KP. I don't know the specifics of the spell, but there is a connection so anything that happens to him happens to me."


"But why that shape? Why younger, and not a direct clone?"


"He used the spell to attempt to use KP as a hostage. We found out later he used the spell on himself too, also making a child form of himself, so it might just be how the spell works. His clone was trying to go save and marry Sugar while the original Calque was old, so maybe it's to make a younger body of the target for whatever reason."


"He also shared all my memories up to when he was made, so maybe it's just based off the memories of the target."


"Born from a spell of memory– of course! Just as the Replicas and Replicants!" Regina exclaims. "Their ritual must have been trying to make its victims remember something, false or no. A more permanent kind of mass hallucination. With its disruption came an assault on memory, bringing those born from memory to what may have been the brink of death, had they not been healed."


"But, what would be the point of making all of them remember something, real or not? And why target the witches for that too?" Pryce wonders.
"Those dreams, it did feel like whatever… thing, was there, it was waiting for something. Do you think they're trying to find somepony in specific? Making them remember whatever this was to go seek it out?"


"Belief affects reality," Regina says.
"And one is not dead until they are forgotten," Estuary adds. "Perhaps it was a resurrection, of a sort."
"And that was why the Ecclesians didn't want us to perform the White Dance further," Regina says as the dots connect. "For even if we knew little of its origin, those forgotten gods invoked by it revived, all the same."


"Feels like it'd be easier to target normal villages or ponies than a city of witches," Pryce comments. "Either way, at least there was nothing too concrete in those dreams, so whatever they wanted back or wanted to make won't be coming around."


"There aren't exactly a lot of those just lying around anymore," Regina says. "They would be hard pressed to find mortals who have not yet fallen under the rule of demons, or demon hunters, or other powerful despots. And besides… if you're going to mind-harvest someone, you might as well mind-harvest someone with power."

With a yawn, she rolls to one side, and all those who were on her back hurriedly run over to the upright side.

"Give us a little warning before you do that," Vortigern says.
"Oh, my apologies," Regina says, batting at Vortigern with a paw. "But you must not have had many cats growing up – we are capricious after all."
"No, my pets were all bears," Vortigern admits. She starts to look forlorn at the thought. "If you find that all is well here tonight, then…"
"I understand," Regina says. "You've a mission to do. Please, do not let me keep you overlong. With the White Dance reinstated we will be well-defended come nightfall."


"I suppose that's true…" Pryce admits.

KP runs along to avoid being thrown off or rolled over, hopping up after Regina settles.
>"Do it again! That was fun!"

"I am feeling well enough to travel, any further rest can be done on the ship," Pryce says on the front of their mission. "Contact us if anything else happens, or if anything else comes from that attempted ritual. We'll always be open to help if you need it."


Regina rolls again, this time to the opposite side. Everyone else leaps away, but KP, lacking wings and with legs too stubby to run, ends up squished beneath her fur. However, it is not painful, more like lying under a comfy plethora of blankets. The others peek over to make sure KP's alright, and seeing that he is, leave him there.

Regina nods and yawns, offering a claw to shake. "Then, if we do not see each other again before you depart, farewell, and do not be strangers. The doors of my castle will always open to friends."


KP pokes his head out from under the fur, laughing.
>"Hah, it's like a giant pillow fort!"

Pryce shakes Regina's claw.
"We won't, still need to continue that W&W game sometime," Pryce says with a smile. "We'll see you again soon."


Regina stretches once more, and is asleep in record time.

>timeskip available but pausing once initiated


As Regina quickly goes into a at nap, Pryce looks to the others.
"How have things been the past few days while we were bedridden?" He asks to get a catch up before they start preparations to depart.

KP squeezes out from under Regina to not disturb her rest.
>"I hope we didn't take up all your time."


"We used the time well," Estuary says. "While you were out, everyone save for the foals got a chance to fly the airship and practice the guns. We'll still have flight even if any of us are… incapacitated," he concludes, putting extra weight on that last word.

"In general, we've been training in all fields," Vortigern affirms. "So don't think that just because you've been out sick means you get a pass on the workouts."

"Still need to show me how to conjure weapons too," Spitshine says.

"Yeah, I wanna learn that too," Zjetya says. "Round out my options… I'm too dependent on what little magic I have right now."

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