Before boarding the train to Brindlebury and having packed quickly, Joneigh and Autumn decided that they would like to swing by and interview Pale Smoke.
WHAT was she thinking when she participated in the madness (and murders)?
Did she know HER parents?
Does she recognize Joneigh or think she looks familiar?
What’s Windsmouth actually like?
These were the questions on the two fillies minds.
When they asked at the front desk, the clerk seemed to be stalling and disinclined to allow them a moment with Pale Smoke, but then they watched as the clerk saw someone to their right, just out of eyeshot, who apparently signaled in some way to suggest it was all just fine. Instead of putting us off, the clerk told us to go to a designated interview room.
After a few moments, Pale Smoke was led in in hoof cuffs and wing clips. Upon seeing us, her eyes grew very wide and she showed every sign of true fear. Perhaps even paranoia. Joneigh surveyed the room, and while there was no such thing as a double-sided mirror, there was a small trumpet up in a corner that probably led to either a vent for others to hear, or a recording gramophone. Joneigh covered that with her cloak to muffle the sound and make it difficult for the Inspector (who we presume got us the chance to speak with Pale Smoke) or anyone else who might be listening in. Autumn watches without comment, although personally thinks it might be a step too far. Pale Smoke, on the other hand, only seems more terrified.
Joneigh tells her consipiratorially, “That’s to protect us both.”
Autumn murmurs, “That seems reasonable, for now.”
Pale Smoke is quick to say, “I won’t tell them ANYthing”.
Joneigh asks Pale Smoke how long she has been here.
Pale Smoke, answering the literal question, “Well, since I was arrested and brought here…”
Joneigh, “No, not here here. HERE, as in not home.”
Pale Smoke, “Oh! So, you HAVE come from there!”
Joneigh, “What made you doubt?”
Pale Smoke, “I wasn’t sure. Because. You’re with … her.” And looks at Autumn Gallery.
Joneigh, “Well, don’t you have other friends from out here? She’s my friend.”
Autumn, “And besides. I’m not as normal as I might look anyway.”
It is revealed that “The Windsmouth Look” extends to coloring, which explains why they look so similar. Joneigh coaxes Pale Smoke into revealing that her parents died, and she was raised by her grandfather. She didn’t get to go back to Windsmouth until she was an adult and researching her own history. Even once she was there, though, she didn’t learn much. They didn’t seem to trust her. In fact, they seemed on the edge of coming after her, and she fled in the night to avoid something nefarious they had planned for her.
Joneigh asked if she’d left any trace of herself behind and Pale Smoke said no.
Joneigh asked where she learned more then.
Pale Smoke went to Trails End in the Varmint Hills.
Autumn murmured, “But, I thought that had been abandoned…?”
Joneigh also questioned Pale Smoke, “I didn’t think there were towns there?”
Pale Smoke said that the area had in fact been settled by families with problems in Windsmouth. A very kindly old pony named Windworth took her in and explained his misadventures as a child, trying to research HIS own history. And that’s where she learned about the Beyond. She made it to Canterlot, because he told her that’s where the last door to Beyond was. He had intended to go also but, well, he didn’t make it.
Autumn had a moment of confusion, but Joneigh was quicker, and realized that Pale Smoke meant he’d died before being able to make the trip.
Autumn asked how Midnight Skies got involved at all. They were cousins! When she’d gotten back to her grandfather’s, she found delivered mail to him. Since he was dead, she’d opened it and some of the letters were from Midnight Skies who was researching his family tree, and had determined that they were cousins somehow. He wanted to go Beyond for answers to EVERYTHING, which they were promised was there.
Joneigh tries to determine if they were all going, or how it happened that Doctor Sir Jeckyl Steele made the transfer to brain-in-jar first, and Pale Smoke, the interview having gone on for a bit, was unsure. It rapidly becomes apparent that she’s somewhat mad, and definitely not all there, and even somewhat suggestible. Questions must be asked quite carefully. We determine we haven’t much else to ask, so before they leave, Autumn asks Pale Smoke if SHE has any questions for them. She’s very still, and calmly asks, “Well, are you going to kill me now, or make me go through the trial?”
Autumn, feeling somewhat guilty still about her part in killing the Princess wanna-be, notes that they don’t kill intentionally, and one of her dopplegangers (Bone, the paler of the two) flickers into view beside her.
Pale Smoke seems to accept this, especially when Joneigh reassures her that it isn’t their PLACE to kill her, just make sure she keeps any secrets she’s promised to keep. Joneigh collects her cloak, and checks herself to make sure she’s dressed basically as she was when she entered. And then they leave.
Upon leaving, they meet Inspector Morning Dove who says to exit in “that” direction. He then turns down the hall, and can be heard murmuring that he has “just one more question” for someone who sounds in a hurry. He’s obviously giving them a moment or two to escape. So they follow his suggestion.
The two fillies determine that a trip to Trail’s End should definitely be in the future. They meet Jimmy, Shucks and Hurryup Ann at the train and board to go to Dodge Junction, which is the first stop.
It’s a couple days ride on the train there, and the spend the time chatting. Once they deboard to stretch their legs and rest, the two review a map and determine that the Varmint Hills aren’t THAT far, and they could probably slip away while Jimmy and Shucks are chatting. And so they do.
Of course, Hurryup Ann realizes that they’ve disappeared, and ninja-vanishes to follow them. And then of course, Jimmy realizes that Hurryup Ann is unsupervised (Not Again!) and the other girls are gone and… he and Shucks follow soon after, hoping they remembered to pack some water in their bags. (Which he of course is sure to do himself.) “Shucks, you should put on your tentacle hat, to protect you from the sun. You don’t want to be struck with sun madness again, now.”
After a time (and a brief flight and touch down), the Autumn and Joneigh hear a scream they recognize. It’s Shucks. Once they’re listening, they hear Jimmy reassuring him. Autumn and Joneigh discuss their dismay at being followed, because “If that’s Shucks and Jimmy, then where’s Hurryup Ann?” who pops up immediately beside them upon being mentioned. Of course.
They hear Jimmy telling Shucks it’s all right, the dogs been dead ages, and is JUST a skeleton, which isn’t that scary. Although the cross-bow bolts are a bit concerning, perhaps. Hurryup Ann sees a farmhouse nearby, and notes that there are FAR more cross-bow bolts in the walls THERE, which might be worse. Joneigh is all set to leave, as obviously it isn’t THEIR problem, they’re on the way to Trail’s End! But Autumn notices that the name on the mailbox for the farm is Windworth – the name of the old pony who took in Pale Smoke. So now they HAVE to investigate.
Scattered in the yard are more skeletons full of cross-bow bolts. Mostly animals Windworth apparently bred, and two more guard dogs.
Hurryup Ann investigates the farm, while the others are discussing what to do. A LOT of somebodies shot up and then ransacked the house. There’s a massive bloodstain in the main room, and a trail of blood from there as some-pony tried to drag himself away to safety. She follows the trail and discovers the final resting place of the pegasus pony who is desiccated and mostly decayed away near the pantry. There are towels and other wrappings where he apparently tried to bind his wounds but was unsuccessful. Autumn and Joneigh come in to find Hurryup Ann poking the body with a stick to determine if he’s ALL dead or not.
Jimmy, outside, is looking at the cross-bow bolts, trying to determine if he recognizes them as palace guard bolts by any chance (or Mare in Black), but all he can determine for sure is that they are NOT Guard Pony weaponry.
Joneigh notes that the dogs were probably barking at the intruder, which is why they were shot, and the first dog they found had been trying to get away.
Joneigh notices upon looking at the pillaged home, that there are far fewer books lying about than there should be, considering the massive shelves in all the rooms. For the most part, they only find almanacs for a HUGE number of years going back, and a few business ledges for Windworth’s breeding business.
There are also an extreme number of cracked and shattered gramophone records everywhere. A single gramophone sits in a corner, relatively undisturbed.
Autumn had been thoroughly distracted by a large portrait on the wall of Windworth’s ancestor with one of his prize-winning stock – a Kimono Dragon. (Something like a frilled/cloaked lizard but with “wings” from their forelegs back to their ribs.)
They notice that several of the smashed records have hand-written labels, “Vacation at…” and so on. There are also some records of famous singers.
Jimmy goes back to what he determines is the old pony’s bedroom and pries up the floorboards to see if the stash of money is still there or not. It is. “Well, whoever did this obviously wasn’t after his bits…”
Autumn wanders into the kitchen, looking at the selection of herbs to see if he was involved in anything nefarious. But she doesn’t find anything. In fact, it appears to have only been searched – not as thoroughly ruined as the records in the main room.
Jimmy succeeds in finding a lone record way back and flat in the hidey-hole! He comes out and examines the gramophone to see if it works.
Joneigh, having been looking for a root cellar, or other cold storage dry cellar, finds a Moth Pony corpse, lacking any gear, who has been smashed in the head. They presume suddenly that instead of passing quietly to his death, that truly Pale Smoke must have somehow witnessed this, or at least been in the vicinity. Likely, it was her who killed the Moth Pony and dressed as it to sneak away unobserved.
Jimmy discovers the gramophone works perfectly well! “Bad search practice. Leaving it functioning like this.” But it’s useful for them, as there is the one record left, which is of course not labeled in any way. He checks as best as he can to be sure that playing the record won’t ruin it, and then, once he’s sure, sets it on the turn table.
Jimmy cranks up the gramophone and the record when played produces rustling sounds, as if the recording was happening outdoors. Perhaps leaves in the wind? And then, there are drum beats heard. A voice says quietly, “I think they’re going to chant now..” and indeed, the party hears the following chant:
“She comes victorious from the moon;
Her legions ready to unleash doom;
Her faithful shall not truly die;
But with her will forever fly!”
which repeats several times before a shout of “Over there! Intruder!” is heard. A zzzpsstrrrt scratching sound is heard and that is the end of the recording.
The group goes out to the barn, to see if anything else can be learned there. Indeed, after a shriek and duck, and more shrieking and ducking, they discover dozens of kimono dragons, which have been breeding unsupervised and surviving as best they can.
Jimmy, of course, goes looking for feed to put out for them, but finds very little. He does put out what he finds, but of course they’d eaten what they could find on their own. They appear to mostly be vegetarian lizards, and disinclined to attack the group.
Joneigh, looking back at the house, sees a destroyed light on the roof of the house. It is seriously shattered, in every way possible. It looks like the light fixture and lens apparatus of a lighthouse, but only the light and lens portion, on top of the roof. After going back inside, they realize some of the bell pulls they assume had simply been for servants back when the entire house had been used, actually run the light.
Shucks, out with Jimmy, manages to shove a couple (few) very small kimono dragons into his tentacle hat to take home.
They decide there’s nothing else to be done, although Jimmy does try to leave the barn in a good condition for the kimono dragons, and restock their water from the farm’s well (which is quite full, from disuse) and go into town – Trail’s End – to investigate further.
It is soon apparent that Trail’s End was a VERY small town. Even smaller than Brindlebury. There was only one single building which was a library/town hall/clerk office/post office/mayor office/etc. There are a few other buildings, but no pony is there. A lone tumbleweed rolls in front of them.
Joneigh opens the door to the library/town hall and kimono dragons fly out. They have apparently gone to find any shelter in the vicinity that they can find. They’ve taken over the town, essentially, and yet there are still so many spiders and webs and disused cobwebs. (Further reinforcing the idea that the kimono dragons are vegetarian.)
There seems to be one main room downstairs at first, with a General Store window. There’s also a cage with a post office shingle and pigeon holes off behind. To the side, there’s a door that they open to reveal a desk. Autumn recognizes the stamp with dates! It was last used about eleven months ago. Autumn continues on looking for records of outgoing and incoming telegrams or other correspondence and journal entries. The most recent one she can find mentions So-n-So Pony aggreeing to go in to Dodge City to collect any mail they might have for Trail’s End as they don’t have delivery any longer.
In the meantime, Joneigh is in search of the library. (Most of the doors have signs, and the library is upstairs on the second floor, along with some offices for the major and so on. The only other room downstairs was the main meeting hall.) It’s very dusty and not big at all. Archives are very basic, and the meeting notes for town meetings are very basic and matter of fact. Joneigh searches for walls that make the space seem wrong in dimension, looking for secret panels or passages, but find nothing. They decide to look for an inn.
What they find is a combination Inn/Saloon/Entertainment area with a shingle that shows it is called The Silver Key.
Hurryup Ann is already inside, exploring, and examining odd frilly-skirted costumes inside.
Autumn looks at the registration desk, and finds keys, and a large keyring of more keys, and everything very organized, just dusty and abandoned. Joneigh looks around and actually does find a hidden passage. Along the passage are head cavities shaped for pony heads! There are even eyeholes to look through. If they go out, and through the normal halls, they determine that each room has these spying devices. On the ROOM side, the head cavities look like dragon masks hanging on the wall. After counting, Joneigh realizes that the long blank section in the secret passage is on the opposite side of Room 1403. So they go back and use the key from the registration desk to enter.
(Shucks and Jimmy are exploring and find an enormous barrel of pickles. “Shucks, get your head out of there. Don’t eat those. You don’t know how long they’ve been there!” “They’re pickles! It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been here.” crunch muffled sounds of happy eating and explaining)
It looks like mostly a normal room, except there’s a tall antique silver mirror, from floor to ceiling. It doesn’t take up the whole wall, but is wide enough to allow a pony to walk through, if it was a door. Autumn looks at the mirror, and decides to reach out a hoof and touch the mirror. She yawns hugely and in the mirror, one of the alternate selves (Flame) yawns and falls down to the floor asleep. Joneigh nudges her away from the mirror with her shoulder. Autumn blinks sleepily, and wonders, “how long’ve we been walking so far?” Joneigh says, “We haven’t been walking. We’ve been standing. You should wake up.” Autumn looks at the mirror, and sees Flame, but doesn’t feel so much disturbed as vaguely concerned. She asks, “Can you…?” and before she finishes asking, Joneigh says, “Yes. I can. Is that at all normal? Really, you should try to wake her… you, up!” She’s obviously concerned and beginning to stress out. So Autumn, upon consideration of HOW to wake up herself thoroughly enough to wake Flame, who is normally just in her own head (she thinks) mentions that “Maybe you should just pinch me then!” And before she finishes, Hurryup Ann complies gleefully out of nowhere! It works. Flame wakes up, and appears beside Autumn and then winks out. Autumn yelps because, of course it hurt! but feels better.
The three examine the wall more carefully and note there’s a keyhole off to the side of the mirror. Hurryup Ann offers that it appears to have been left in the open position. There is some discussion of if it’s really a door or not, because Flame was on the other side. Autumn becomes agitated enough that Flame appears beside her. While Flame doesn’t seem to recall anything, they both stubbornly decide to touch the mirror, because, “You can just pinch me awake, it will be FINE!”
Joneigh is completely against this idea, but Autumn and Flame both put hoof to mirror and to their view, appear on a vast landscape. The ground is covered in brilliant green moss, and a tall archway gate of bone and ivory is before them. Otherwise, it’s quite desolate. They look around and realize, they don’t see a mirror to get back.
From Joneigh and Hurryup Ann’s perspective, Autumn and her other self have vanished. They literally walked through the mirror. Joneigh calls to Autumn, but Autumn can’t hear her, or at least is unresponsive. She begins to count. Hurryup Ann waits.
Autumn, on the other side, begins to argue with Flame, who is incredibly irritated with her. They eventually agree that they DECIDED to walk through, so they can just DECIDE to back right back up. It will be find. They can decide what to do after they get back to the party. They close their eyes, hang onto each other, and determinedly back up.
They back into Joneigh as they come through, tumbling over each other, but make it back. Among the commotion of what happened, and what they saw, and where they went, they slowly come to realize – there is another Autumn and, when it is noted that she can’t be real, because original Autumn has Flame and SHE doesn’t, another Flame, who are equally convinced THEY are the real Autumn and Flame Gallery. Autumn begins muttering about Peanut Galleries and gets agitated about other-selves who didn’t originate from her own head. The mirror Autumn persists in saying SHE’s the original and the mirror Flame does the same. Joneigh asks “Couldn’t you HEAR us?” and Autumn says no, explaining what’s there, and the mirrror Autumn and Flame explain you just go and come back, go and come back!
So, Hurryup Ann goes through the mirror happily. She sees the gate and landscape that Autumn saw, but beyond, she notices a beautiful castle of many iridescent colors. (Judy the player asks for clarification, and Hurryup Ann can see the castle both through and to either side of the gate. The gate is not another dimensional portal, just an arch of bone and ivory.)
So, Hurryup Ann starts blithely down the bath to the castle.
At The Silver Key, Jimmy’s danger sense goes off, and he makes it upstairs with Shucks and calmly finds a large ball of twine in his saddle bag, once he determines what’s going on, hands it to Autumn, and keeping hold of the other end, goes through the mirror after Hurryup Ann.
Hurryup Ann has made it to the first of 2 dilapidated houses on the path. There is an impossibly round pony (think the horse Bugs Bunny rode in the Ring Cycle opera cartoon). They chat, and he asks her name, pulling a notebook and quill to make notes in. She says it’s a secret, so he produces a lorgnette and eyes her, and TELLS her who she is, Hurryup Ann Whately, of the Brindlebury Whatelys, undecayed. She notes that it was a bit odd to ask, if he knew already, at which point he informs he that he keeps secrets. It’s sort of his thing. So she asks his name, and learns he is Abel.
Hurryup Ann grows bored when she realizes he’s not going to really tell her anything, and leaves him to go further down the road. There, she find’s an impossibly tall and thin pony, who is named Cain. He’s Abel’s brother. While chatting, she deliberately provokes him about not being particularly scary or effectual. Right about then, Jimmy shows up. Cain has produced a monocle and is reading from his notebook as he’s irritated, and sets it in his saddlebag and pulls out an enormous battle axe, cartoon style.
Hurryup Ann had asked what he saw about them, in his book. And he had said blood, terror, screaming. Upon pulling out the axe, he explains he’s just going to go ahead and get her a head start on that.
Hurryup Ann goes for Cain’s notebook. Jimmy’s there! He’ll save her! And she does in fact capture it in her teeth! …
And Jimmy watches as she’s decapitated and her head and one hoof go flying apart from her body.
Autumn and Joneigh and Shucks watch as Hurryup Ann appears in room 1403, unconscious, with a notebook in her mouth. Since Autumn has the twine, which is suddenly jerking about quite a bit more than it was, she is very upset and asks Joneigh to help! With the twine! Or waking Hurryup Ann! Or SOMETHING! They can’t just LEAVE Jimmy there. Joneigh sensibly notes he’ll get himself out, and dumps water on Hurryup Ann. It doesn’t work for waking her up.
Jimmy battles Cain and wins, mostly by bowling him over. In the end, he gets the battle axe and knocks out Cain (but doesn’t kill him, because Cain explains that Hurryup Ann isn’t REALLY dead, they’re DREAMERS, so she’s just gone back to the waking world, although she’s probably still asleep and having a wonderfully horrid nightmare. She is. The Dark Pony has had his way with her, impregnated her and….), and leaves. On his way back past Abel’s house, he tells him his brother Cain is asleep and not very nice. Abel wishes that Jimmy would’ve chopped him up a bit, and inquires if he can’t go ahead and do that? Just a little?
Jimmy simply walks back through the mirror. Coming through, the battle axe is now just an axe handle, although Jimmy can feel the weight of the axe as if it’s still all there.
They all try to figure out how to wake Hurryup Ann. Joneigh takes the book out of Hurryup Ann’s mouth and notes that it says it’s The Book of Mysteries. Although, trying to actually read the book is almost impossible. The letters squirm and squiggle and try to slide off the page.
Jimmy notes that since the water bath didn’t work, there’s only one thing left to do. Shucks is going to have to kiss Hurryup Ann awake. It’s HIS turn. Shucks is very embarrassed about this. But in the end, he presses a pickle-breathed kiss to Hurryup Ann’s muzzle. It works, and she wakes up just as in her dream she’s about to explode with the spawn of the Dark Horse … obviously he doesn’t want her for MARRIAGE as she thought!! Oddly, she tastes pickles…. Shucks passes clean out.
Hurryup Ann, upon talking after a moment or two, realizes she has a doppleganger as well, and initially loves the idea. Autumn is NOT PLEASED AT ALL, because these aren’t reasonable mirror selves and they didn’t originate from her own head. She doesn’t trust them, and wants them gone. She’s angry, but so far has not generated her third self.
Joneigh concentrates and defocuses, even as she realizes she’s going to have a horrible headache, and reads from the Book of Mysteries about how to deal with the mirror and mirror selves that have come through. It’s almost as if she’s narrating a bit of the Twilight Zone, and telling the actual story of how mirror selves happen, and how you must determine which of you is Real.
Autumn simply can’t stand it. She KNOWS she’s the real Autumn and her Flame is the real Flame. She walks to the mirror, to go through and get rid of the false-Autumn/Flame she’s named Peanut Gallery and … bounces off the silver as the other Autumn/Flame walk straight through and poof out of existence.
Hurryup Ann walks through the mirror, both herself and the Mirror-Hurryup Ann. Mirror Hurryup Ann says, “Well, you know we’re both false, actually.” Hurryup Ann looks at the Mirror Hurryup Ann and says, “that sounds like head smarts stuff, and definitely not something I’d do, so you really ARE false.” Mirror Hurryup Ann says, "No I’m no- " and poof! She’s gone. Hurryup Ann tumbles back through the mirror and crashes into Autumn. “Hey, you want pinched again?!” “We have to stop meeting like this!” and giggle in relief. Joneigh is unconvinced and asks them to prove they’re real. Autumn apologizes, and Hurryup Ann doesn’t, and she is satisfied they’re both her friends. Especially when Hurryup Ann wants the notebook she basically had to survive a horrible nightmare decapitation and rape and almost birth of monsters to bring back!
Joneigh does not think it’s at all rational to let Hurryup Ann have the book, and pretends it doesn’t exist. She didn’t come back with a NOTEBOOK, which is what Hurryup Ann keeps calling it. She appeals to Jimmy, but both he and Autumn feel that Hurryup Ann brought the book back fair and square, and besides, the thing Jimmy said was a battle axe just looks like the stick of an axe, so being stubborn about what the book or notebook is called isn’t fair or kind. Joneigh flatly refuses to give the book to Hurryup Ann regardless, because it isn’t safe or rational. She’s extremely upset that her friends aren’t making sense or listening to her. They’re extremely upset that she’s not trusting Hurryup Ann. So Autumn says she can give it to her, and then she’ll give it to Hurryup Ann. Joneigh does, but flees the scene immediately and goes out to the town and turns back to see if the inn explodes. Or implodes. Or is otherwise destroyed.
Autumn holds out the book, which Hurryup Ann takes. They discuss what they should do, as they wake up Shucks. Once he wakes up, his duplicate, which had been there, but not being intrusive particularly, disappears. They decide Hurryup Ann should pick the mirror LOCKED, which she does. It … shimmers, but otherwise doesn’t look very different. It’s simply obvious that it’s no longer able to be used as a door. They lock the room as they leave, and although Autumn returns the keys, she conveniently does not put them away CORRECTLY, at Jimmy’s suggestion.
Jimmy has the axe stick, Hurryup Ann has the book, and Autumn is back to just her normal duplicates. As they make their way back to Dodge Junction, they make up and mend fences. When they investigate archives there at the post office, they see no sign of fowl play at Trail’s End. The town just slowly got smaller and smaller in population, and when they quit showing up for mail, and somewhen went to look, they found the town abandoned. They did send a report to Canterlot, but never heard word back. They do note that there did seem to be an awfully high percentage of pegasus ponies for an Earth-bound town.
Hurryup Ann gives the book to Joneigh to keep for her, since she can’t read it at the moment anyway.
The book, next time Joneigh reads it, firmly suggests Joneigh should go back to the mirror for answers!! She does not want to, and shoves the book away, but does not destroy it to the group’s knowledge.
They board the train to head home.