Chapter 25: Offering
Twilight struggled for breath as the living waters pulled her down. It couldn't end here. It just couldn't. But she just wasn't strong enough. She felt the air in her lungs finally failing her. Her thoughts turned to her friends. Would they even know what became of her?
Her chest heaved involuntarily. She screamed mentally, watching the bubbles escape. The next breath would be water. And then only a few minutes later she would Blink. She closed her eyes as she prepared for the worst.
When she could hold her breath no longer, Twilight gasped in desperation and yelled in fear.
She was yelling. That meant she could breathe. Twilight opened her eyes. She was surrounded by nothing but darkness. She couldn't see, but she was alive. She took another breath, the liquid filling her lungs but causing no harm. She chuckled nervously. Heck, she'd take breathing over eyesight any day.
As she recovered from her adrenaline rush, Twilight got her mind back in order. She needed to find out where she exactly she was, and beyond that, why.
“I apologize for the unsettling journey. It's the only way we could talk.”
Twilight flipped around at the sound of the commanding yet polite voice. There was nothing there.
“You won't see me. I have no body, not since Celestia destroyed it. Good; here comes your reflection.”
Lustrous Revolt landed softly next to Twilight, barely visible in the almost blackness. Though, with such low visibility, Twilight acknowledged she easily might just be imagining what she was seeing.
“Intelligence of the Moon Pool?” Revolt began, “You've never brought me here before. Why now?”
“What I'm about to say has to be heard by both of you, or rather, the whole you. Both sides of Twilight. Each of you has been extraordinarily gifted with magic from a young age. Twilight, you felt it first the day you got your Cutie Mark. You were connected with a strange power that allowed you the power to perform great feats without any training. You've trained to control your actions since then, but you've never experienced the same power without the aide of the Elements of Harmony. Revolt, you've worked to find that power with mixed results. I am here to offer you both a chance to fully unlock your potential.”
“You'll want something in return, I assume?”
“Of course, Miss Sparkle. Nothing good in life is free. You know my disdain towards Celestia, but I also know that you care for her. I'll simply ask that you help me recover some...belongings of mine.”
“It is. Celestia tied the worst of the worst in here with me. As Revolt was able to surmise, I released the four stars that you saw in Reality. In doing so, I lost almost all of my power, but it was a sacrifice that I was willing to make. It had some unforeseen consequences, however. The four energies were tied to the four strongest Atrocities, and my abandonment of them threw them abroad. Four ideas that you're beginning to understand. Famine. War. Plague. Death. Bringing them back to me would be beneficial for all, as a matter of fact. By restraining them once more, you'll end up saving this realm from its troubles. But to have any control over them, you'll have to experience them for yourselves. It's a terrible cost, but it's why I promise such a great reward. You would become all powerful. Equal, if not superior, to the Alicorns.”
“Why should I agree to help you? Celestia stuck you in here, and she must have had a pretty good reason to do so.”
She felt a prick of anger from the void around her. Then it settled back into calm. “You'll experience them either way. I offer recompense for a necessary and predestined evil.”
Twilight shook her head. “I'm not going to make any promises. You're a smooth talker, but that just makes me trust you less.”
Lustrous Revolt stepped into the conversation. “Intelligence, I will do what I can to recover the Atrocities. But I must know. What is your name?”
“My name? It's been a long time since anybody cared about that. Almost a thousand years to the day. Seren. My name is Seren.”
“Tell me, Seren, why were you banished to this world with the rest of us?”
“Because I loved.” There was a wave of depression and acceptance, quickly reigned in by stoicism and determination. “I will see you again, when you are ready.”
The water tugged at Twilight, pulling her up to the surface. She took a deep breath of air, real air, flinging her mane out of her eyes, droplets of the living water rejoining the indiscernible mass.
Lustrous Revolt surfaced besides her as well. After a moment's respite, she stepped out of the water, indicating for Twilight to follow with a flick of her tail. “Well, that wasn't quite what I expected.”
They walked all the way back to the prisoner camp, the silence only occasionally interrupted by growls of hunger from Twilight's stomach. It had been so long since she'd had a good meal. The last time she ate was that half of a muffin in the Natural Plane. Thinking back on it, she regretted not finishing it. Stupid Metaspectre, distracting her from her food. She had to find something to eat. She passed a measly looking branch that at any other time she wouldn't have looked twice at. Just maybe she could stomach it.
“Hey!” Twilight stopped with the branch in her mouth, mid chew. Lustrous Revolt was frowning at her. “Two things; one, prisoners aren't allowed to eat anything. Secondly, that's poisonous. Most plants around here are.”
Twilight spit out the branch immediately, less out of deference to Revolt's rules and more in horror at the prospect of digesting a poisonous plant while she was already starving. “Why would you allow poisonous plants to grow around your town?”
“We're too busy with other things to pull up every weed that sprouts. Besides, everybody knows to not eat whatever happens to be in front of them without knowing exactly what it is. Keep moving.”
In short time they were back in the compound.
“Your friends should have arrived here before you.”
“What happens now?”
“You go meet with each other. Tell what you learned, since you don't have Celestia to report to. Besides that, get used to your quarters. Sadly, experiencing Famine isn't quite as easy as, say, Pain or Blood. I would apologize but there's no need to be fake on either side, is there?”
“What can I expect from it?” Twilight paused for a moment before asking the next question. “Is there anything I can do to comfort my friends?”
“What to expect? Pain. Pain racking your entire body. Desperation and Fear mixed in with that. Famine is Hopelessness. A final acceptance that there will be no better tomorrow. To be honest, the only thing you could do to comfort your friends is to lie. Lie, and tell them that all will be well.”
Lustrous Revolt turned out of the camp, locking the gate behind her. Twilight walked to the sleeping quarters, refusing to give Revolt the pleasure of seeing the defeat in her eyes. Nor would she allow her friends to see it. She sniffed quietly, composing herself before stepping into the small building. To her surprise, everypony was there, except for Spike. It had been so quiet that despite Revolt's assurance that the other ponies had already arrived, she found it hard to believe that these bedraggled ponies were her normally chatty friends. Each had a vague look, hardly even recognizing her presence.
They weren't her normally chatty friends, Twilight realized. Like her, they had changed.
“Everyone.” All heads turned to Rainbow Dash who had answered mechanically. She lifted her head, her eyes pulling back to reality. Or rather, the reality they now lived in.
“Uh, I mean...it doesn't really matter Twilight. Good to see you again. How was your day?”
“Where to begin?” Twilight lay down, tucking her hooves underneath herself. “But I imagine that things were just as bad for each of you.”
“Well, we'd already gone over our stories before you got here,” Applejack interjected, “but we'll tell them again.”
“Temperament taught me how to forge a sword, and that trials are what make us strong. She was more kind than her first impression suggested, but she was still rough around the edges, and perhaps a bit rude. But I have nothing to complain about,” Rarity admitted with a sigh. “I cannot pretend my day was horrible, compared to the others.”
“Ah was introduced to Jackie, who seems just as heavily pressed by this world as we are. She has to provide food for everybody around here, and times are especially tough. She explained that their actions are out of out of necessity rather than any twisted pleasure. It's a matter of survival for them. She saw me off pretty quickly when her older brother, Big Mike, the stallion who gave us the cloaks, showed up. Apparently something big came up.”
“I...” Fluttershy began. She choked on a wave of emotion. “That...terrible...evil...” she spat, before she began sobbing uncontrollably.
Applejack laid a comforting hoof on her back. “It's alright Fluttershy. Ah'll explain to Twilight. Shuddercry showed her around the camp, but that's not the problem. Shuddercry dealt with a griffon who had tried to escape, and she turned it into a twisted game with Fluttershy. Made it seem as if her decision to kill the griffon was Fluttershy's choice, not hers. A cowardly and sick-minded move. And if I get the chance to speak to her anytime soon, she'll be gettin' a mouthful of my back right hoof, ah'll tell you what.”
Twilight opened her mouth, about to tell Applejack off for making threats of violence. She closed it once again as she recognized that the threats were completely justified. “Well, how about you Rainbow?”
“Spectral Slash brought me back to the pub, told me the troubles of her life, especially about how nobody can trust her because of her job, and how she'd love nothing more than to just have a friend. Even if it meant that I become the controlling personality when the worlds merge.”
“She was probably just trying to make you let down your guard.”
“Don't you think I've thought of that?!” snapped Rainbow Dash. The others recoiled in shock, even Fluttershy growing silent at the outburst.
Rainbow stood up and began pacing around, the tension in her body quite visible. “That's just it Twilight. I don't know who to trust anymore. Some of our reflections are definitely working against us. But some sound like they could be possible allies. You know we need as many as we can get right now. I heard the desperation in her voice. I saw the longing in her eyes. If she was faking it, she's a better actor than Rarity.” Rainbow stopped, pounding her hoof in frustration. She looked at Twilight, the same longing and desperation she had just described mirrored in her magenta soul gates.
“And I stole this!”
She extended one of her wings, revealing a bright red apple.
Twilight's stomach fired up at the sight, and her mouth began salivating in spite of her new anger towards Rainbow. “You stole an apple? Were you really that short sighted?”
“It wasn't for me! It was before I heard about the food situation around Moon Pool. There was a stack of apples, I didn't think one would go missing. I took it for Gilda. She seems so strong, when we seem so weak. But I know her. She'd do anything to make others feel better. She has to be starving. She's been here for a couple of weeks now. I...I can't let her die. I can't lose her again. So I did what I could. What I had to do.”
The door swung open, and Gilda stepped in with a smile on her face. “Word's going around that somebody stole an apple. That should keep your pesky reflections off our backs for a little bit.”
She glanced around. “Why the long faces? We'll be able to breathe easier while they're distracted looking for the idiot who– ” Her eyes fell on Rainbow's outstretched wing and the shining contraband.