“This is your target. I need you to bring her to me. Her perfection isn’t complete.”
“She... she looks kinda like me and my brothers.”
“If you must know, she is one of the two beings whose genes I used to create you and your partners.”
“So... she’s my mother?”
“You could say that.”
“What are you going to do with her?”
“I’m going to complete her. She left before I was able to make her perfect. I need you to retrieve her. Simply breathe fire on her and her friends, and your work is done. It won’t hurt them. But don’t underestimate them.”
“Are you going to hurt her?”
“It won’t hurt for very long... I just need to perfect her.”
“W-why? From what you’ve told me about her, I think she’s fine the way she is!”
“Don’t talk back to your Auntie. Just be a good little hybrid and bring your mother here. And don’t show any affection towards her. In fact, it’d be better if you made her hate you. You know how to get to her.”
“But... No! I don’t want to! If she’s my mother, then I don’t want her to hate--”
“Are you listening? Don’t talk back.”
“Shh... Don’t cry. It’s for the best.”
“Why are you telling only me this?”
“It was an experiment, to see how you would react. The results were positive, so my decision to not tell the others was a good one. Do not hold back against your mother, because she will not hold back against you.”
The creature standing in front of Rarity shook itself for a moment, allowing her to take in its form. It was... almost like a pony, but something was horribly wrong with it. “Your perfection is not complete, little pony.” It stepped towards her on four legs, its voice little more than a masculine growl. “Well, you’re not quite a pony anymore, are you?”
Rarity gawked as her eyes locked with its own, realization dawning on her face. This creature’s eyes were far beyond familiar. They were just like those of her dear friend Spike. They were just like her own. Short, sapphire-blue spines protruded from the sides of the creature’s strikingly white face, which split into a horrible, twisted, fanged grin at her expression. Its head looked somewhere in-between pony and dragon, with light-blue scales trailing from the underside of its jaw down to its underbelly. Without another word, it lunged at her with its white claws outstretched. Rarity quickly jumped to the side, letting the creature’s razor-sharp claws rake through the soil before she turned her gaze back on it. From the side, she could get a better look at it. It WAS almost like a pony, at least in posture. Its front legs ended in claws, while its back legs looked more like pony hooves. Shining blue spikes trailed down its spine, from its head to the tip of its draconic tail.
Resting on its flank was another pony feature, or at least it looked like one. It was a cutie mark. Right? Rarity stared at it for a moment, only passively noticing that the creature was grinning at her and standing still, almost as if it wanted her to study it. The cutie mark almost looked like her own. It was a single large diamond surrounded with a chilling blue flame. In fact, judging by the creature’s bleach-white body and surprisingly uniform mixture of pony and dragon traits, it almost looked like...
Her irises shrunk as she came to an unsettling conclusion. If she and Spike were ever to have had a child, this was what it might’ve looked like. But... how did this happen? She could hear the thing chuckling, a twisted chuckle that sent shivers down her spine, before it faded off as the creature’s expression changed. It looked at her with pleading, begging eyes for just a few seconds, almost like a trapped animal, before its expression shot back to stoic.
“Auntie Fluttershy has been having fun with the genetic sample she took from you during your perfection. You had to be a sniveling troublemaker and leave before it was finished, but that’s what we are here for,” the thing hissed, flicking its spiked tail in authority. On cue, two replicas of the creature emerged from either side of the forest clearing, effectively surrounding the group. Wait, they weren’t replicas... they were slightly different in color. Everything that was blue on the first one was uniformly red or green on the other two, from the spines, to the scales, to the cutie mark. But their eyes were all the same shocking green.
Firefly, Surprise, and Megan all huddled together as the beasts corralled them inward. Surprise flicked her head to the surrounding flora. “Hey, big benevolent trees of food and stuff! We’re being attacked, so uh, do something!”
Rarity scanned around her at the nearby trees, noting that they seemed to be entirely ignorant of the situation and the danger that the group faced. But the trees were supposed to help them survive!
The blue creature roared with its twisted laughter. “Auntie controls the trees, you know. Well, not completely, but she does know what they do and how to prevent them from doing anything at all. She didn’t want them interfering with your retrieval, so she deactivated their supportive function after she figured out where you ran off to.” It began a slow, intimidating walk to Rarity, that sadistic grin still plastered on its face. “Now, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. The easy way is for you to sit still like a good pony-scorpion-thing so I can send you back to Auntie with my fire.” It released a plume of blue flame from its mouth for emphasis. “Or, I can break every bone in your body so you can’t run away.” It flicked its head to her friends. “Oh, and your lackeys, too.”
After glancing at her friends, who were apparently stalling the creatures on either side of them, she set her jaw with a glare at the offending blue thing that was threatening to hurt them. She planted her hooves firmly in the ground, flexing her tail in warning. She was only laughed at.
“That’s not going to work on us, mother.”
Rarity flinched. MOTHER? Were they really assembled from Spike’s genetic blueprint as well as her own? That was... a perfectly legitimate reason for why this creature would address her as its mother, and that fact frightened her more than anything else.
“Auntie GAVE you that tail, and she knows what it does, and how it works. Don’t try that.”
Rarity’s expression faltered for a moment, but she quickly shook her head and re-assumed it. “No. I’m not going anywhere, and you’re not going to hurt my friends!”
The creature looked regretful and mournful for a moment, staring at the ground, before it shook its head. “So it’s the hard way, huh?”
Rarity narrowly avoided the set of white claws intending to rip across her face, leaving the creature stumbling for just a moment before it righted itself and charged at her again. She dropped to the ground, catching her enemy off-guard and succeeding in tripping him. He fell flat onto his face. Rarity considered stabbing him with her tail right then and there, but she wasn’t sure if she could condemn any living creature to a fate worse than death like that... But wait, hadn’t it just claimed that they were immune to her sting? Unfortunately, in her brief moment of reflection, the dragon-pony had planted its claws into the dirt and bucked her with both hind legs. Her vision flashed white as she was sent spiraling through the air toward her group of friends, slamming painfully into the hard dirt beneath the soft grass. She almost thought she heard the sapphire-colored monster whisper an apology as she lay on the ground.
Her vision swam as she picked herself up, feeling a sharp pain lance through her chest. She could see her friends immediately assuming battle positions in response to her injury. Firefly deployed her rainbow tech weapons harness, her armor releasing a metallic whirr as it shifted into a more structurally supportive configuration. Megan, after snapping her fingers and looking shocked for a moment as she was unable to freeze the creatures, snapped her fingers again and formed two short blades in each of her hands, bending her hind legs to allow for more agility. Surprise, reflecting her name, extracted what looked like two very small, handheld versions of Party Cannons.
“Party Pistols. They shoot ‘pop-sand.’ I’m sure we don’t need massive firepower for these guys. This will make it more interesting, anyway. Everything’s been too easy so far,” Surprise commented, fiddling with her small weapons until they made clacking noises. When she looked up, all her friends were giving her overtly dark looks. She blinked. “What?”
Any thoughts of infighting were knocked away by the creatures simultaneously lunging at the group. Firefly’s weapons harness began to shine and emit a high-pitched whining noise. In a flash it released a powerful blast that knocked away the green creature, sending it flying into a tree. It quickly got back up and inhaled, before launching a blistering green fireball back at the pegasus, who jumped out of the way, almost knocking over Megan.
The human was locked in a head-to-head physical struggle against the red monster, who stared at her with an unblinking, almost unseeing expression as it pressed with all its might against her crossed blades. “Auntie wants you back at tree. You come to tree. Now!” it growled in a surprisingly deep voice. It inhaled, red fire gathering in its throat, before Megan bent down and thrust her knee into its scaly stomach. It spat out a glob of crimson blood as it doubled over, giving the human plenty of time to toss it aside.
Surprise was launching shot after shot of ‘Pop-sand’ at whichever monster was closest, tearing off a chunk of skin with each hit, but she soon found herself pinned against the floor by the blue one, who stared down at her with its ever-present sadistic smile. “Auntie wants you too, yellow-hair.” Surprise merely stared up at it as it inhaled, but before it could blast her with a tempest of raging blue fire, the creature’s skin suddenly erupted with small crystals that soon melted into a shiny coating, just like a couple of certain nearby trees. The creature stopped moving. Surprise wiggled her way out and looked to the side, spotting a very upset Rarity with the blade of her tail buried into the monster’s back.
The unicorn had tears in her eyes, her unsteady breathing showing her discomfort as she stared at the reflective diamond statue. Hadn’t the monster boasted that her sting wouldn’t work on them? But... it had, and she had just sentenced a living creature to a fate worse than death. Before she could think about it any longer, a ball of green fire impacted the statue, engulfing it. Rarity backed away, her chest still hurting as the flame fizzled out, revealing a very not-petrified dragon-pony-creature that quickly swiped a claw at her.
“All right! I finally got to try that! You’re lucky I didn’t fry you like a chicken, Sapphire!” a cocky voice called from nearby. Rarity snapped her head in its direction for a moment, laying eyes on the green monster, who had a playful, cheerful grin on his face. She looked back at the blue monster, apparently named ‘Sapphire’, noticing that he was glaring at his ally.
“Shut up, Emerald.” Not a second passed before Sapphire sucker-punched Rarity, again sending her to the ground. Another whispered apology teased across her eardrums. She must’ve just been hearing things. She growled and got back up, wiping a drop of blood from her mouth and charging at the blue monster. She planted one front hoof into the ground, lifting her body up with it and doing a quick pirouette, whipping her enemy’s face with her scorpion tail and knocking him over. She smiled. If she was going to fight, she was going to do it with style.
Hearing a set of clumsy thuds from behind her, she ducked and pulled the same trick on the approaching enemy that she had used to strike Sapphire, tripping what turned out to be the red creature and flipping it onto its back.“You stop resisting. Come with, now!” it rumbled in its deep voice as it rolled to its feet and blew a torrent of red fire at Rarity. Unfortunately, the unicorn was standing just a tad too far away, and the flames did not reach her. She stared into them, watching how they flared and crackled and sparked with magic. According to Sapphire, their flames carried a magic similar to Spike’s; the ability to teleport an engulfed object or creature to another location.
The red creature soon halted its incandescent hurricane, blinking stupidly at Rarity. “Why you still here?”
“You weren’t close enough, Ruby!” a familiar airy voice called from a distance, before a few plumes of green fire shot past the unicorn, barely missing.
“Be quiet. Your aim very bad anyway.”
“Hey, shut up! At least I usually-AGH!”
Rarity turned to Emerald to see that Surprise had tackled him, and was furiously whacking his face with her twin pistols. The white unicorn idly wondered why the pegasus wasn’t simply firing her guns in his face, but her thoughts were torn away from her as she felt her tail involuntarily bury itself into the creature in front of her. Ruby was petrified before she even looked back. Sucking up her distress, she quickly jumped away from the new statue before it was bathed in a sheet of roiling blue fire.
Watching the red creature shake itself off, she realized something. They weren’t entirely immune to her stings; they just had a defense mechanism. They could save each other with their flames. She gulped. One of the options to defeat them was to sting all three of them before they could free each other... a fate Rarity wouldn’t wish on anypony, even these vile creatures that were supposedly crafted at least partially from HER genetic blueprint. She had only stung them so far out of desperation or uncontrolled instinct. The other option was simply to incapacitate or kill them, and even then, Rarity and her friends had to get out of the forest afterward, before that psychotic mockery of Fluttershy sent something ELSE after them.
Megan was apparently going for the latter option, as she jumped in-between the red and blue creatures, her blades dancing. She cut several large gashes into the head and neck of each, shouting expletives before she was knocked away to the sound of furious roars of pain. Rarity shook her head, trying to assert the idea to herself that these creatures would eventually capture them if they didn’t aggressively fight back--one surprise blast of fire, and they would be whisked back to Fluttershy’s tree, one at a time. She would have to defeat them, and again, there were two ways to do that. Killing or incapacitating them would be more difficult, but it wouldn’t trap them in a diamond shell. But stinging all three of them would be easier, faster, and carry far less risk...
Rarity clenched her teeth and swallowed. “Megan, Surprise, Firefly! Hold them all in one place!” she shouted, her friends immediately snapping to attention. The sick, twisted mockery of Equestria that was The ULE was not going to change her. She simply needed to survive, and help her friends survive, even if she had to do something that would paint her as a monster in the eyes of just about anypony. Including herself.
“Roger!” Firefly piped confidently, moving into position and angling her weapons harness at Ruby, letting it charge.
Surprise wrapped her forelegs around Emerald’s neck, squeezing so tightly that the dragon-pony hybrid began to cough and sputter in its struggle for breath. With a crack of lightning, the red-spined monster was sent careening into his green twin, Surprise holding her ground against the impact.
Megan moved to grapple the blue creature, but it gripped her midsection and flipped over, slamming her into the ground. “Your efforts are futile,” it growled, pinning the human to the dirt with one claw-tipped leg. Whipping his gaze to Rarity, Sapphire looked at her regretfully, almost apologetically, before shaking his head with vigor. “Your little plan is more transparent than your allies, Mom. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have friends. They will all betray you one day!” he hissed, causing Rarity to flinch. That was essentially what her new, alien urge was telling her, put into words. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t! She shook her head wildly, her irises constricting, but this only made the creature laugh. Although this time, it sounded completely forced.
Nopony seemed to notice the deep groaning emanating from something nearby.
“Your best course of action is to come back to Auntie Fluttershy and accept your perfection--then you can live in harmony with me... I mean, the rest of her works of art, who will nev—”
A heavy thunk echoed through the clearing as the monster’s monologue was interrupted by a massive pillar of diamond crashing down on his back, knocking him off of Megan and pressing his body against the dirt. His scream split the air as a horrible, wet crunch issued from his torso, a sheet of blood jetting out of his throat. He continued to cough, peppering the green grass with specks of violent red.
Rarity stared in awe and horror at the scene before her, realizing that the pillar of diamond was actually one of the trees she had petrified. Wait, no, not petrified. It had just attacked a creature that was trying to kill her! Was it... trying to protect her? Or was it just another odd and seemingly random movement, like it’s slow fall and rise just after its petrification?
Sapphire’s attitude whipped around immediately as he stared up at Rarity with pleading green eyes, trying to breathe with his undoubtedly shattered rib cage. “Mom...” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “Please... Help me...”
Rarity beat down the small flicker of maternal instinct in her chest. This THING was not her child. Neither were the other two. As Megan rolled away and stood up, Rarity began to walk away. “Mom!!” Sapphire continued to cough, his breaths becoming shorter and more labored. He was just trying to trick her. ‘Ignore him,’ she thought to herself. It was just part of his plan, and she was not going to fall for it.
“Mom, I’m sorry!”
“I am not your mother,” Rarity snarled, whipping her head around with a glare. “You are a monster. Not from what you are, but what you do. It doesn’t matter if you were made from the genes of Spike and I. I did not give birth to you, I did not raise you, and you are only a pawn in a scheme to turn me into something I’m not. I don’t care for you. Get out of my sight.”
“Ouch, Marshy...” Surprise muttered, still holding Emerald, who had since asphyxiated. Ruby lay dazed on the grass next to her, drunkenly pawing at the air. Neither of them would be getting up any time soon.
Sapphire continued to stare up at Rarity, tears leaking out of his eyes and mixing with the blood pouring out of his mouth. He took a few shuddering breaths. “...I-I’m sorry... I never... w-wanted this...” His voice grew weaker and weaker. “A-auntie... made me... do it... I... I love you, Mom... I’m sorry... I’m so sorry... I-...” His eyes glazed over, and he lay still.
“No, you’re not,” Rarity growled, turning away from the sight and flicking her scorpion tail in dismissal. She couldn’t get rid of the feeling that she had simply stood there and watched while her own flesh and blood lay dying under a fallen tree, but regardless of where that thing came from, it still was not her child.
Well, there it was. Her first actual kill. No, she had not ended a real life. This thing didn’t REALLY have feelings; it was only trying to trick her. Fluttershy’s imprint had definitely planned for it to stir up as much mental anguish as possible if it were to fail, so the entire ‘I’m sorry, Mom’ shtick was definitely just a facade. Crocodile tears. That monster couldn’t have been any better than those copies in The Hall of Life.
So... why did it hurt so much?
Wind whipped through Rarity’s mane, blowing it out in front of her face as she sat in the back of the vehicle Megan had conjured. Firefly was hitched to the front, her mechanical wings whirring as she pulled the group forward as quickly as she could. They had to throw off Fluttershy’s grasp of their location, and the best way to do that was to move somewhere far away.
She didn’t speak. Her friends were all gathered at the front, most likely looking back at her in concern.
Mom, I’m sorry!!
The creature’s words echoed through her mind again and again, dominating her thoughts. That thing was trying to kill her, or take her someplace where she would be so mutilated that she wouldn’t be herself any more. It wasn’t her child. She shouldn’t be feeling this way.
I never... w-wanted this...
She was beginning to doubt her previous notions. During the entire fight, the creature had seemed reluctant to hurt her, and every time it did, she heard something whisper apologies to her. Perhaps it really was him.
I... I love you, Mom... I’m sorry... I’m so sorry...
“Marshmallow?” Surprise asked softly, tapping her on the shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Rarity was silent for a moment. “I’m just fine,” she said, her voice breaking. Stop it, Rarity! That thing was merely fooling you!
Evidence suggests otherwise, her mind whispered back to her in the voice of one of her more bookish friends. She clenched her eyes, shaking her head.
“You don’t sound fine.” Surprise nuzzled her shoulder for a moment. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong.” Rarity felt the burning of tears in her eyes, but blinked them away. She had cried enough over this. She turned back to face Megan. “Megan, I noticed that you didn’t try your time-freezing trick on those things... Why ever not?”
“There was something about them that made that ability ineffective.” Megan looked at her sadly. “Uhm... you’ve been sitting back there and moping for twenty minutes now. Really, what’s wrong? I heard what the blue monster said just before he died... Was it that?”
Rarity winced at the dead-on assumption, looking away, but said nothing. She felt a very faint urge to sting Surprise with her tail, since she was so close, but it was easy to resist. She had something more important to think about at the time.
“I think Fluttershy’s imprint is just messing with you,” Firefly commented from up ahead. “It would be the most complex false guilt-trip I’ve ever seen, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty complicated, making you feel like you killed your own son or something,” Surprise agreed.
Rarity choked back a sudden sob. It certainly felt that way. But at the same time, it didn’t. Conflicting emotions roiled inside of her, like somepony was feeding an electric current through the lead weight in her stomach. She felt Surprise nuzzling her again.
Tears dripping from her eyes, she pushed away the snow-white pegasus, looking out at the forest that was quickly speeding by. They had left the other two monsters at the clearing instead of taking any further action, at Rarity’s request. She told them that they needed to move to get out of Fluttershy’s crosshair, but in reality, she just wanted to be as far away from Sapphire as possible.
My little test tube foal, her mind whispered to her, making annoyingly perfect logical sense. She was about to object, but found herself too emotionally exhausted to think of anything to say.
“Hey guys, we’re coming up on what looks like a village at the edge of the forest. There’s ponies walking around, I think. Uhh... they LOOK like ponies, at least.” Firefly announced, breaking Rarity out of her self-pity. She lit up her horn and cast the Disk-locator spell again, noticing that it tugged toward the very village Firefly was looking at. She swallowed, and took a deep breath to calm herself.
“I can sense a Disk there, maybe two. Let’s land,” she requested. Firefly complied and began a slow descent, creating a feeling of decreased gravity inside the vehicle. It didn’t take very long before they touched down, Rarity wiping her eyes with one hoof before jumping off the vehicle and landing on the soft dirt.
The town was built mostly out of wood, as would be practical for a settlement near a huge forest. The colors weren’t vivid, but everything seemed to be made out of many different types of lumber. Each color was pale, and each building seemed to match itself in some way. Walking to and fro were... Zebras! Rarity’s dragon eyes widened as she took them in. A few had turned to face her, some backing away cautiously. She looked over her shoulder at her scorpion tail, flicking it once. Oh, right... Well, if she and her friends could find the Disk, she wouldn’t have to stay here long to freak out the locals.
“I don’t think we should stay here very long... we’re not exactly the most normal bunch,” Megan muttered, reflecting Rarity’s thoughts exactly. They were a two-leg, a cybernetically-enhanced pony wearing a glowing suit of armor, a mutated scorpion-pony thing, and... Well, Surprise looked the most normal out of all of them, but one only had to spend a few minutes with the insane pegasus to realize that that was not so. “Can you tell where the Disk is, Rarity?”
Rarity closed her eyes and lit up her horn again, feeling a rather sharp tug to somewhere nearby. “It’s this way,” she announced as Megan snapped her fingers, disassembling their vehicle into energy and absorbing it. Rarity began to walk down the dirt road of one street, disregarding the zebras that were obviously frightened by her appearance, before turning a corner to look at a stand in what appeared to be the town’s marketplace.
Her eyes shot wide open. A pegasus was sitting at the stand, cleaning a black circular object with a small rag, scrubbing it until it shined. Arranged around her were several other black circles. Disks! The merchant peered up at her with dull amethyst eyes, smiling. “Hello! How may I help y--” She stopped abruptly as she stared at Rarity, her eyes shooting open. She dropped the Disk she was polishing, pressing herself against the back wall of her stand and whimpering in fright. Her eyes darted intermittently from Rarity’s scorpion tail to her dragon eyes. “W-...Wha...”
Megan, on the other hand, immediately recognized the pegasus from their business in Cloudsdale. “Hey, I know you!”