Knick Knack awoke from his forced journey through the horror hole and as he'd learned to do from past experiences waking up in an unknown location took a second to gather information about his surroundings. For once there was light outside, the shine of a sun through a thick overcast making it easy to see around him. The grass beneath his body informed him that he was outside and the smell and feel of humidity around him suggested it had rained some time ago. He was outside of his house.
Lifting his head off the grass Knick Knack got to his feet and carefully looked around, seeing that there was a thick cover of fog surrounding the area. It made it annoying for traveling but at least this place looked far more friendly than the past several ones he'd been to. Closer observation showed that he was on a hill somewhere and there were many flowers planted near by. That's when it hit him.
"This is the flower field. I'm in the cemetery." He was standing on the hill that was just outside of Ponyville, the place where plots of different kinds of flowers marked the final resting place of many of the past citizens. Turning around to look at where he came from Knick Knack saw that there was an open grave behind him and peering down into it revealed it was much deeper than it first looked. He devised that must have been where he came from. "Forcing me to crawl in and out of a grave. This place can go to Tartarus."
But if he was in the Ponyville cemetery then that meant he finally knew where he was and where to go. "Annie." Knick Knack trotted through the field and towards Sweet Apple Acres as quickly as his hooves would allow him to. Navigating through the deep mists to the familiar road he'd taken many times before.
Surprisingly despite the thick fog cover his watch never went off to alert him of danger. There were no shadows in the mists and there was no noise to alert him of another being following his every move. The town was completely silent and he was confused by this fact. "Is everyone trapped in their homes like I was?" Maybe so. If that was the case then maybe he wasn't the only one that escaped. Knick had new purpose in finding his lover quickly and ensuring her and all of his friends were safe.
Passing through the gate onto the Apple Family property Knick moved carefully to see if he could find anyone. He still wasn't confident that this place was free of monsters and didn't want to attract the attention of any kind of threat lurking in the mist covered orchard. Soon Annie's house came into view and thankfully it wasn't boarded up or sealed off at the windows. Knick burst inside right away.
"Annie? Annie are you in here?" Knick closed the door behind himself and looked around. Everything seemed relatively normal despite it all having a dismal color of grey from the light outside. Things didn't look as bad as his shop had been though when he first woke up in it. "Annie? Mr. Smith? Mrs. Smith?" He wasn't thrilled at the idea of meeting Annie's father even under these conditions but anypony was better than nopony. "Aero? Is anyone here?" Silence.
"Great, guess it's just me. Maybe they all ran for town hall when this crazy weather started." Mayor Clarity was a pretty organized stallion and friends with Mr. Smith on top of it. It would be like them to gather everypony together to keep them safe. Still just to be sure. "Annie?" Knick walked upstairs to her room.
He'd been inside the Apple Family home before of course but not many times. He never felt welcome with how Annie's dad looked down on him. Usually he and Annie would spend time at his house together or some place else that was neutral ground in a sense. Still he at least recognized the house layout well enough to find his way around and up to his sweetheart's room. "Annie, are you in here?"
She wasn't, the room was completely empty. However there was one thing that stood out. Sitting on the bed which was neatly made was Annie's hat. Knick walked over to it and put his hoof on it, confirming that yes it was real. "She left her hat behind? She never goes anywhere without it." It was a gift from her father when she started working on the farm with him. She loved this hat, he couldn't imagine she'd leave without it unless she was in a terrible hurry. Knick picked the hat up and found yet another surprise underneath. "A key?"
Setting the hat aside Knick lifted up the key with his hoof and looked it over closely. It had a thick end to it with a symbol imprinted in the metal. That of a crescent moon with the thicker part of the crescent at the bottom and a comet over the top, making it looked like a closed eye. He knew that symbol and had seen it many times before. "It has Dreamer Dust's cutie mark on it."
The fact Knick found this key weighed heavily on him. The sudden fear that he wasn't actually outside of this terrible game yet seemed to be true if he was still finding clues that were leading him in specific directions. The only consolation of this would be that his friends weren't trapped in this horrible world with him. At least the safety of the town was still a possibility, which begged the question of where exactly was he then?
Knick put Annie's hat on himself and found it made him feel surprisingly more comfortable. That was good since after he'd been pulled through the hole into this other Ponyville his ax hadn't made the trip with him. He still had the silver dagger firmly secured against his body under the straps of his saddle bag in case things got intense though. Tossing the key in his saddle bag after recognizing that he was going to need it Knick also noticed a note laying on the bed. He unfolded the paper and it looked as if it had been ripped from a book or a diary. "This looks like Annie's writing."
"She wants what I have. Everyone says it, I don't want to believe it. But I know that she wants what I have. I wont let her take it from me. Stay locked in there forever for all I care."
Knick read the words over but they didn't really make sense to him. He recognized it as Annie's writing but it didn't seem like something she'd ever think or say. Annie was pretty direct with most things and she never shied away from expressing herself. This seemed like the thoughts of someone who was bitter and paranoid. Regardless Knick folded the note up and put it in his bag as well. No telling what was useful in this place.
He could have searched the rest of the house but he figured that was probably a waste of time. He doubted there would be much more that was useful in here after finding a clue directing him where to go. On top of that anypony that was still inside would have heard him by now. Knick strolled down the stairs again and back out the door, closing it behind him. There was only one place left to go.
The walk back from Sweet Apple Acres to Ponyville was very much the same walk he'd taken many times before aside from the thick fog. The path didn't diverge in strange directions, nothing seemed out of place or unusual. It was just so disturbingly quiet and lonely. All the doors to the other buildings were shut, the curtains were all drawn closed on the windows. He could probably break into a building had he really wanted to but it felt pointless. So even after entering the town limits Knick kept to his destination.
Still there was something he wanted to try and he'd be going past there anyway. Walking through the fog Knick came to the place he was most curious about of all; his own shop. The outside of the building looked exactly like it should and the windows had no boards covering them up from the inside. Though their curtains were drawn closed and he couldn't peek in. Letting out a breath as he prepared himself Knick walked to the door and turned the handle.
It was locked.
"Son of a... my own house. I'm locked out of my own house." Knick beat on the door with his hoof, grumbling when it ached and remembering his burn. So instead he changed tactics. "Hey! Hey me or whoever is in there. Open up, this is my house. Let me in." Still nothing, Knick tried to look inside through the windows but they all had their curtains drawn closed tightly. He walked around the building and tried the back door which was also locked. "Hm... wait, this building has a back door." Remembering back to when he'd woken up in the other house Knick had tried going out the back door before and it was gone, with just a solid wall there. "So either that really was a very elaborate job of hiding it or this isn't my shop." Well... not his other shop anyway. This was getting too confusing to ponder right now. "Forget it."
Knick rounded the house back to the street in frustration. He wasn't done with this place but he still had a clue to follow up on. He'd be back for it.
The stroll down to Dreamer Dust's house was similar to the walk into Ponyville; foggy and uneventful. He was surprised there was such a lack of danger in this place and Knick wondered if he was somewhere else entirely from the dark places he'd been in before. Each location the hole in his bathroom had lead him to had been dark, filled with monsters and covered in filth. Ever since being forced through the hole behind the book case this silent, foggy Ponyville was completely different. There was daylight and nothing was trying to kill him. Yet anyway.
Knick stopped outside of Dreamer's door and tried looking through her windows but of course the curtains were drawn like every other house. Attempting the door on his own revealed it was locked and he expected the same result anywhere he went, aside from Sweet Apple Acres that was. Come to think of it that had been effortless to enter, as if someone knew that would be the very first place he'd go when Knick Knack arrived in Ponyville. Did whatever was part of this world know who Annie was? If it did would it use that against him? The idea of his friends being used to manipulate him further was more terrifying than any beast this place could throw at him.
"Focus." Keep pushing forward and hopefully it wouldn't ever come to something like that. Knick pulled the key out to Dreamer's shop and naturally it fit and turned with no effort. However when Knick tried to remove the key it refused to pull out again. "Maybe... I'm not supposed to?" Not that it mattered, the key had served its purpose. Knick Knack opened the door to the fortune teller/book keeper's shop and entered.
It was darker inside than he anticipated, though there was light coming in through the thin curtains. Walking in slowly Knick heard a noise that was familiar; the crying of a mare. "Dreamer? Are you in here?" Knick walked in further and the door slowly swung closed behind him. He stopped to let his eyes adjust to the darkened building and made the shape of a pony out farther back in the room.
A mare was sitting on the floor, leaning over the couch that Knick had laid on the morning he'd come to visit Dreamer Dust for help with his problems with nightmares. She was completely white with a thick, curly mane of whites and greys. Her sobs were continuous and Knick recognized her as one of the ghostly unicorns he'd run across in all of the past worlds he'd traveled through. So there were monsters here waiting for him.
There was something on the couch near the ghostly mare, Knick figured that naturally like the huge dogs he'd have to get whatever that was without dying like his game with the bones. He had his silver dagger and remembered how a similar knife had stopped the ghostly foal back on the cobblestone street home. Would this dagger work on her though? Knick looked around the room for options and spotted something useful.
On the book case near the front door was a silver candle like he'd used back at his other shop on the haunted objects. He remembered that back in the train yard he'd lit one of these candles and when it got near the ghostly filly there she ran from it in fear. Maybe it would be the same for this one? He still had the haunted painting back in his shop though, should he save it for that purpose instead?
Knick pondered it carefully and eventually decided that he'd just use the candle now. It seemed like a better idea than risking a fight with something that could kill him with a weapon that might not even work. He'd remembered the way the ghostly school filly had pulled at his legs and it felt like she was dragging the very life from his soul. Pulling out a match Knick struck it against the floor and used the flame to light the candle. It shined with a beautiful silver light. "Well, lets see if this works."
Knick held the candle in one hoof and approached slowly towards the ghostly mare and the couch. The candle didn't drip wax thankfully and spared him the pain of getting it on his injured leg. As Knick got closer the mare got up on all fours and walked away from him. She kept her head diverted from his gaze and never stopped sobbing. Knick watched in amazement at how simple that had been. When she sat down facing a wall away from him he set the candle down between them and inspected the couch.
The couch itself was fine, a little dusty and old looking but no damage or stains. Knick noticed the painting above the couch that had originally been of Dreamer's spirits of dreams and nightmares was now completely blank. As if it had been erased entirely from this Ponyville. With how everything else had looked normal he wondered if that was something important? "Maybe she was right about those spirits existing. Guess this isn't any place for them." It was an odd thing to have left out. Other than that Knick looked down to find yet another key. This one he recognized clearly; it belonged to him. The one to his home. Beneath that was another page like something ripped from a book and Knick unfolded it to read.
"It was supposed to be us from the beginning. Through the darkness I was always able to find light with the two of us. Why did that have to be taken away? Why did you have to forget?"
These notes were beginning to bother Knick. They felt like they were more important than just some scrawling designed to unnerve or scare him. He folded the paper up and put it in his saddle bag, looking at the ghostly mare. She hadn't moved from her place looking towards the wall. She was still crying.
Knick picked up the silver candle and tried to approach her, coming up from her side. He saw what looked like a unicorn's horn but that was all, the mare turning away and walking to another part of the room. She stopped and sat facing the wall still sobbing to herself. Was she avoiding him because of the candle? Knick wasn't so sure, she made every attempt to hide her face from him. He considered putting it down to try and see her more closely but that seemed like an idiot trap waiting to kill him.
"I don't know who you are... but you seem like you've suffered." She took in a breath and stopped crying when he spoke to her. "I'm not sure there's anything I can do for you to ease your pain, but try to understand I can't have you stopping me either." Knick walked towards the front door and set the candle down before it. "I'm going to have to leave this here with you. Please... don't hate me for it." He didn't know why he was saying these things to the ghost but it felt appropriate somehow. "Goodbye." She didn't say anything in response, she didn't turn his direction. She just stayed staring at the wall facing away from him. So Knick opened the door and left her there.
He walked away from the building and stopped a moment to look back and be sure she wasn't coming after him. When he was sure it was just him in the road and nopony else he sighed and continued on his way. Leaving her behind made him feel sad like he'd somehow made a mistake. Regardless he had another clue and another destination. He couldn't stop now.
Knick found himself back in front of his shop again shortly, staring at the building intensely. As far as he was aware everything had been building up to this moment. It took several deep breaths and a very intent focus on his watch to be sure it made no sounds before he was confident enough to reach into his bag and pull out his key. Sliding it into the lock he gave it a turn and froze. His watch was silent. Unlike the key with Dreamer's house Knick was able to pull his out again and tossed it back into his bag. Carefully he opened the door into the building.
It was completely calm inside. Knick walked in and looked around, seeing that everything was essentially how he remembered it. The stock was all the same though a bit dusty, the house was decorated how he'd left it back home back in the normal Ponyville. Nothing looked out of place. Still he wasn't convinced everything was completely fine. Walking into the building the door closed slowly behind him and Knick listened intently but there were no sounds. "Hello?" He called out wondering if maybe there was another ghostly figure waiting for him but nothing appeared.
Deciding standing in the door way wasn't helping he proceeded into the store. Winding through the aisles that he'd always set up in their unusual way Knick made it to the check out counter and found two items he didn't recognize; a key ring and a letter. "The hay is all this?" Knick picked up the key ring and looked it over, not really sure what the point of such a thing was. Just to see if anything happened he pulled out his house key and attached it to the ring, waiting for a response but finding none occurred. Sticking both items into his bag he then turned his attention to the letter. It was addressed to a Mr. Check Mark.
"Hold on a second, this was for my grandfather." How strange, Knick had owned the shop for some time after his grandfather passed away, bless his soul. He hadn't seen a piece of mail for the old pony in years. The envelope was already open so Knick pulled out the letter that rest inside and read it to himself.
"Dear Mr. Check Mark,"
"During your unfortunate time of loss we wish to express our deepest sympathies to you and your remaining family. We know it's been hard on you having taken on this responsibility after the unfortunate deaths of-" The names were blacked out, as if someone had purposefully hidden them with dark ink.
"In this time of tragedy we'd like to offer our services as best we can. With the paper work taken care of we wanted to inform you that transfer of legal guardianship of your grandson Knick Knack has been established and that all legal decisions for medical care and ownership of personal estates has been passed to you. Should any other issues arise with need for proper documentation or representation as Knick Knack's legal guardian please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help."
"Sincerely the Department of Foster Care of Equestria"
"Wait... wait a minute... when was it that I moved in with grandpa?" Knick set the letter down and tried to think back. He remembered living with his grandfather when he was just a colt but... how long had he lived in Ponyville with him? For that matter why did he move in with his grandfather? It seemed like evidence was pointing to the fact that Check Mark was all that was left of Knick Knack's next of kin but he still didn't know how or when things got to that point. Let alone the reason why. For as long as Knick could remember he'd lived in Ponyville with all his friends.
"So what are you trying to tell me!?" Knick shouted at the ceiling, to the heavens themselves. "What, that my parents died? That something happened to them? So what? Ponies die everyday. What was the point of all of this?" Knick grabbed the letter and held it up. "Yeah, I moved in with my grandfather. Big deal, what does that mean anyway? What am I supposed to understand from all of this?" He looked around the building waiting for something to burst out, scream or drop from the sky but nothing happened. "Is this it?" He dropped the letter on the ground. "Is this really all there is to it? My parents died and my grandfather inherited me and my 'estates'. What 'estates' did we have? I'M the one that inherited this shop when HE died!"
Knick sat on the floor glaring down at the piece of paper. All this trouble over something so meaningless. Sure he couldn't remember as to what had happened that resulted in him moving in with his grandfather but if the point of his trip through all these places had been to remind him it had failed rather completely. "I'm leaving. I'm done. To hay with all of this and with you. Whatever you are." Knick got up and walked to the exit. "I'm going back to my shop and I'm chopping that door down if I have to." Knick opened the door to the shop and went outside. Nothing got in his way as he did.
Before he'd been afraid but now he was mad. The only explanation previously had been there was a point to all of this but if there was one he didn't see it. His parents died and his life had started over when he moved in with his grandfather. If reminding him that his previous family had perished was the point of all this then why even bring him here? He figured that out when he listened to the record. Then there was the key ring and Annie's hat, the only things he'd still had from this strange Ponyville. "Waste of time." Other than that there was the ghostly mare back in Dreamer's house. He felt bad for her though, she hadn't tried to attack him. Was she the reason he was supposed to be here? "Maybe I should take that candle out of her house. I might even be able to bring it back with me."
Suddenly it started. It was low at first, so low that Knick didn't realize it was happening right away but as time went on the sound grew louder and louder. Knick stopped and looked back towards the town he was walking away from. "A siren?" The sound was unmistakable, there was a siren sounding off in the distance. Its shrill cry growing louder and louder. "Ponyville doesn't have a siren." He peered off over the horizon to see where it might be mounted at that it was sounding from. It had to be on a building's roof to reach this far out. With the deep fog though the attempt proved fruitless to make out such details.
He didn't see a siren but there was something in the distance he could make out. Dark clouds were seeping in as if they were quickly rolling over the sky. Knick's eyes widened as the blaring siren reached the height of its cries and the world around him grew darker. Beneath him the earth itself started to peel and burn as if it were being consumed by flame and turning to ash. "Oh no. Oh no oh no!" Knick turned to run the other way but it was happening all around him. Ponyville was being consumed by darkness. Knick froze as everything went black and impossibly quiet.
Nothing happened for a while, he couldn't even hear the sound of his own breathing. Was he dead? Knick dared to take a step forward and when he did the lanterns along the streets of the town began to slowly light with a dim flame. It was the only light he was afforded as the world started to come back into view.
Everything was wrong. The buildings were charred and burned, boarded up and abandoned looking. The street was a horrible ashy grey and the ashes seemed to be now falling from the sky like snow as the lamp lights made things easier for him to make out. Knick swallowed a lump in his throat seeing the thing that filled him with the most dread of all. Most of the doors on the buildings had become the blue door from the cobblestone street house. Knick was surrounded by them.
Slowly turning his head Knick looked back to see that his own shop had also adopted the new door way. To his horror the door slowly opened with a loud creaking noise that filled the quiet street. A large black hoof stepped out, its leg pulsing with electric energy.
Knick turned and ran.
After seeing what that monster had done in the past the idea of out running it seemed fruitless but Knick Knack didn't stop to consider it. Instead he pushed his aching body as hard as he could out of town. Around him the blue doors all began to open, each one swinging forward with a slow and loud creek and releasing Celestia knows what into the town. Knick heard things behind him, things that wanted his flesh. He didn't stop to see what they were.
The street lamps blazed to life as Knick passed them, feeling the vibrations in the earth as whatever was behind him was building in force. It was like every terror imaginable had become one large embodiment of his fear with the soul purpose of killing him. Somewhere in his heart he refused to give in. Taking a precious second to pull Annie's hat low over his face Knick pushed himself beyond all his current limits and ran past the town and up the flower covered hill.
It was ironic that he was running to a graveyard for salvation but he couldn't think of anywhere else to go that would offer him safety. Sweet Apple Acres was too far away and there was no guarantee those walls would protect him or even be open to him any longer. Knick pushed himself up the hill and felt something grab at his tail. It motivated him to run harder.
As Knick came up to the point of the hill where he'd woken up he beat his hooves against the ground. Crossing over the other plots of flowers where other ponies had laid to rest he saw the open grave he'd been sleeping by. Ducking his head down and getting ready to leap into the hole Annie's hat suddenly flipped off of his head and onto the grass. Knick cursed every curse a pony knew as he turned and kept his head down, reaching out with his hoof to grab the hat. His wasn't the only one that did.
On the opposite side of the hat the black hoof held it down against the ground. Knick looked on helplessly as his head craned upward and saw the cyclops unicorn standing over him, tall and fearsome. Behind him down the hill was a mass of something that Knick Knack didn't want to look at for fear of going mad at the sight of it. As if whatever wicked force had been fueling this nightmare was waiting for him to be delivered to it by this courier of death. The tip of the monster unicorn's horn lit up as it prepared to snuff Knick out there amongst the other dead ponies with its powerful strike.
In desperation Knick reached back and grabbed his silver dagger with his mouth. He swung his head around and cut at the cyclops unicorn's leg, causing it to rear back and scream in pain with an unearthly howl. Its horn misfired the electric blast into the darkened sky and through the clouds. The vibrations of the black mass behind the unicorn warned him as it began to sweep forward towards them both on the hill. Knick didn't hesitate to see what it was, instead grabbing his lover's hat and rolling his body into the black grave. He looked up to see the large single eye of the unicorn monster staring down at him as he fell into the darkness and away from what was in that doppelganger version of his home.
Somehow despite it all Knick smiled back at that eye. He'd escaped them. He beat death.