Chapter 33: Leaking Light
The pegasus zombie snarled at the huddled ponies, putrid, yellow spittle flinging from its slack jaw. It lunged towards them, the murderous intent clear in its unfocused eyes. A loud crack echoed over the empty grounds as Applejack caught the attacker with a well timed kick from her hind legs. The kick, strong enough to knock even the least ripe apples out of a tree, was more than enough to get the job done.
The gruesomely decapitated corpse dropped where it stood, and moved no more. Spike stepped over to it, his eyes full of wonder. “That...that was awesome! Twilight! Zombies are real! I told you so! Ha!”
“This is not a laughing matter, Spike! We might be able to handle one zombie, maybe twenty, maybe more, but there comes a point where they could prove a real danger to us! Besides, that used to be a living pony. We shouldn't gloat over its terrible fate. Whoever reanimated it was preventing their rest. Or, in this world, I suppose their true reanimation? Augh, just when I was getting used to The Forgotten Realm, it has to ruin everything. It seems the resurrection spell has some loopholes.” She shook her head. She would have to ponder the mysteries of this world later. “I'm voting we leave, now. In my stories, where there's one zombie, there are always more. There are other towns, and getting food is not worth becoming food. Not yet.”
Applejack was wiping her hoof in the snow, trying to clean off the gruesome mess. “Twilight's right. We can't risk it.”
“A zombie infestation would explain why the village is gone,” Rainbow pointed out.
“How observant, Dash. Not to be rude, but that's not usually your strong point.”
Dash grinned at Rarity. “Well, you know I've been reading a lot lately. Once I learned that foreshadowing was a thing, I paid more attention to the clues left in around. Minor details that seem inconsequential at the time become everything later. But yes, I agree. I'm not usually one to run from a fight, but we should know what we're up against. Everypony head towards the gate, and I'll keep watch above. If anything comes your way, I'll let you know.”
The nimble pegasus shot off into the air, her bright colors muted in the night, despite the bright moon. The others began running towards the entrance, all thoughts of stealth forgotten. Almost immediately, there came a cry from above. “How did we miss them?! They're everywhere! Keep running! It's your only chance!”
Twilight looked around herself as they ran. Rainbow was right. The undead had remained so still she had mistaken them for snow-covered rocks. But now that the first zombie had alerted the group, the others were stirring from their slumber, the snow falling from their forms. They were all pegasi, Twilight noted. And, despite being shambling monsters, they still had enough coordination to fly.
Rainbow gave a battle cry from above, but Twilight didn't have time to look up. One of the zombies was rushing towards her, flapping its wings to dash madly towards her, growling deeply. Twilight shot a blast of energy, using the same spell she had in the Canterlot crystal caves. It was one of the first spells Celestia had taught her. Celestia had pounded into Twilight's mind that it was only to be used in dire circumstances.
Twilight never thought she'd have to use it; after all, she'd never been much for violence. She simply clenched her teeth as she continued through the cloud of gore. Yup, she'd come quite some way.
The gate was blocked, dozens of soulless eyes daring the friends to continue. It was strange, seeing these creatures that had obviously known civilization. The corpses seemed fresh, though it might have been the snow preserving them. Their coats were still brightly colored and relatively well kept, and some of their cutie, or rather, merit marks, were discernible. Despite this, the now familiar air of death hung around them, and Twilight had no doubts that diplomacy was not an option.
“Girls! We have to fight! Prepare yourselves!”
The horde surged forward, and Twilight found herself immediately surrounded. Because her attackers lacked any form of restraint or fear, Twilight had to focus all of her skills on simply avoiding their strikes.
In the fury of battle, she couldn't keep track of her allies. She'd see an occasional glimpse of Rarity's magic, or hear Fluttershy's shrill and angry cries. Twilight dropped to her stomach, lashing out with all four hooves, knocking over her oppressors. “Ah!” Twilight didn't have time to look, but she knew she had been hit. She forced the pain to the back of her mind. She rolled, and tossed the offender into several other zombies. She didn't know if she'd have time to recover before the next one came down.
With a loud crack, Pinkie appeared before her, eyes glowing. She moved her forehooves purposefully, and the zombies stopped in their tracks. The air around them shimmered like a hot road on a summer's day, and with a sickening crunch and another, even louder crack, their bodies collapsed on themselves.
Twilight jumped to her hooves, throwing her own attacks into the fray. “How did you-”
“I think it's Pinkamina doing it. It's very instinctive. The Spatial Distortion we gained from merging can be used as a weapon, it seems.” She gave a sad smile. “If I had known this earlier maybe I could have protected the group more, rather than being a dead weight.”
“Hey, you're helping now.”
Pinkie nodded, and left Twilight to herself. Within a few seconds, the path was cleared, though Twilight could see more undead running and flying towards them. “We need to leave now!” She lead the charge back down the mountain side, only sensing the danger in the split second before she hit it.
It was some sort of energy field, similar in purpose to the one surrounding the Metaspectre's orb. Protection, or more sinisterly, containment. Twilight shook her still throbbing head. They were trapped.
“We might be able to fly over it!” Rainbow dropped to the ground. Twilight was shocked to see her covered in scratches. Obviously the zombies didn't play fair in the air. “Fluttershy and I can pick you guys up, one at a time.”
“There's not enough time. We only have seconds, and anypony left behind would have to fend for themselves. Pinkie, you can teleport now, right?”
“I'm sorry, Twilight, I'm not practiced enough to take others with me. Not even Pinkamina is. Can't you teleport, Twilight?”
“I can, but I don't want to accidentally harm any you. My concentration is way off. Stupid wall. I could teleport us 40 feet in the air or even further into the city.”
“Then we fight.” Applejack looked resolutely towards the growing crowd. It seemed the city went quite a bit further back than they had thought. There were easily hundreds, and no end was in sight.
Twilight gulped. “It seems we do.”
The horde swelled, and it became clear the entire city had been inflicted with the curse. But even as Twilight tensed up, they didn't get any closer than ten feet. There was a semi-circle around the friends, as if the zombies were held off by an invisible wall of their own. Suddenly, all at once, the mob silenced. Every unfocused eye was forward, but no noise escaped their mouths. Twilight tensed up. Something was happening.
It took Twilight a moment to recognize it, but there was a glowing light behind the oppressive force. It grew steadily brighter as it made its way through the crowd. Finally, the light pushed its way through the front lines of the undead. Twilight blinked against the illumination, and her eyes teared up at the harsh light.
The glowing form halted in front of the defiant ponies. After a brief pause, an echoing, blasting voice addressed them.
“WHY HAVE YOU COME HERE?”
Twilight stepped forward. She didn't know what this thing was, but it was her only hope to escape without a fight. “We're travelers passing through. We were looking for food.”
“A STRANGE THING, TO APPROACH UNDER THE CLOAK OF NIGHT. YOU INTENDED TO ROB THIS PLACE.”
“Of course not! We just didn't want to run blindly into danger. The last city we visited treated us horribly.”
“BECAUSE YOU WERE A THREAT.” The light shuddered, and Twilight felt a wave of confusion coming from it. It seemed unsure of its words, of its situation. But then it immediately cut off the emotional leak, and stood, or rather, floated resolutely once again.
Twilight cocked her head. “Well, no, we weren't a threat, they treated us badly because... well...” she racked her brains furiously. From the beginning, she felt like they had been singled out because they were different, but now that she thought about it...
“I MAKE NO MISTAKE WITH MY JUDGEMENT. THE WEAK ARE IGNORED, AND NOT WORTH THE ATTENTION OF OTHERS. ONLY THE STRONG ARE NOTICED. SUCH AS I. I AM STRONG. TELL ME, WHY ARE YOU HERE?”
“Like I said, we were looking for food.”
“YOU MISUNDERSTAND THE QUESTION. I MEAN TO ASK WHY YOU ARE IN THIS WORLD. YOU ARE FOREIGN, THAT MUCH IS CERTAIN.”
“We're looking for a friend.”
“THAT'S NOT IT. A MASK YOU FOOL EVEN YOURSELF WITH. YOU'VE COME TO PROVE SOMETHING. TO THE WORLD. TO YOURSELF. THAT YOU ARE STRONG. THAT YOU ARE WORTH NOTICING.”
Twilight raised her head. “Who are you, then? Are these creatures yours?”
Again came the wave of indecision, of faltering resolve. “I AM LIGHT. THESE ARE MY CHILDREN AND MY PEOPLE. WE WILL SAVE THIS WORLD.”
“Uh huh. Well, that's a noble goal.” Twilight forced a grin. She wasn't certain what was happening here, but frankly, she didn't want any part of it. “We're terribly sorry to have disturbed you, so we'll just leave now.”
“YOU KNOW AS WELL AS I DO THAT THAT IS NOT AN OPTION.”
Twilight sighed. At least she had tried. “Listen, you, we might not be from around here, but I promise we can handle ourselves.”
“ALL THE MORE REASON TO TAKE CARE OF YOU NOW. NO THREAT CAN REMAIN STANDING. PERHAPS YOU WILL SEE LIGHT AFTER YOUR DEATH.”
The light disappeared with a bang, leaving the area dark once more. The leash restraining the zombies was removed, and Twilight felt herself, still blinded and disoriented, besieged once more by writhing and cold flesh.
The sudden change of events, and the horror and instinct following, awoke something inside of the terrified pony.. Twilight felt her mind step outside of her body, and she could see herself as if from another pony's point of view. The zombies immediately surrounding her autonomous body were thrown back by a visible shockwave. Twilight's eyes flew open, glowing with the same glory of the Elements. Her body rose into the air, her fore-hooves glowing with a fiery pink aura.
Words began flowing from Twilight's mouth. There was no direct translation; it seemed the words, whatever they were, conveyed pure emotion and thought. The disembodied consciousness recognized where she had experienced these before; in the Moon Pool, and the thoughts that the being inside expressed.
Twilight waved a hoof over the writhing mass, a whisper as calm and peaceful as a mother trying to comfort her child after a terrible nightmare. The air grew heavy, and the lightly falling snowflakes... stopped. As did the rest of the world. Friends and foes alike paused.
The whispering grew more fevered, and the dark mare's eyes narrowed in concentration. A chill wind flew through the crowd, despite the immobile air. To the displaced Twilight's wonder, the zombies fell apart. Limbs and chunks fell off in a hauntingly beautiful way. The flesh melted off the bones and turned to dust, and the bones cracked, then proceeded dug themselves into the earth. Shimmering orbs of light hung where each attacker had once stood, the only movement in the paused plane.
The whispers stopped. A single phrase fell, casually, like a dismissal. The orbs vaporized, their energy filling the air and dispersing like a gas. Twilight felt her consciousness pulling back into her body, even as she dropped back to the earth, her eyes losing their glory. Her friends reanimated, some still in mid-swing, only to find that their target had disappeared, seemingly instantaneously.
The being that had greeted them appeared once more, obviously agitated. “I HAVE UNDERESTIMATED YOU. I MUST TAKE CARE OF YOU MYSELF.” It moved forward, pressing the friends against the energy barrier, which crackled hungrily, as if daring them to try to cross it. Twilight willed her body to activate as it just had. She tried to remember some of the whispers, but she found her tongue tripping over the foreign words. She tried to access her stored energies. Certainly they were there, but she couldn't pull nearly enough energy for what she had just seen. Which begged the question. What had she done? And why couldn't she do it now? Twilight growled in frustration. Sometimes, it would be nice to have answers instead of questions. Especially when she was being faced by an angry, buzzing, over-excited light bulb.
“You know what?! STOP!” Twilight was done running.
The advancing entity halted.
Twilight marched forward. “Step aside. We're moving through, and if you try to stop us, you'll see just how much you underestimated us.” It was a total bluff, but it seemed to be working. Again, the overwhelming feeling of confusion came from the shining form.
“I...THIS IS WRONG. I WILL LET YOU GO, IF YOU CAN HELP ME.”
Twilight quietly let out the breath she had been holding. “Very well. What do you need help with?”
“MY LIFE IS A FOG. I DON'T REMEMBER HOW LONG I'VE BEEN HERE. MY PEOPLE TRIED TO ATTACK ME, SO I CALMED THEM... BUT IT WAS SO LONG AGO. I DON'T REMEMBER WHO I AM, ANYMORE. I AM LOST.”
Twilight stepped forward. “If you're looking for answers, why did you attack us?”
“I AM AFRAID. LIKE AN ANIMAL.”
Twilight looked to her friends. They merely shrugged. They had no idea what it was talking about, nor how to react. Twilight continued.
“What's your name?”
The aura didn't answer for a moment. It hung silently, still illuminating the deep night. Then came the quiet answer. “I was called Lux.”
The brightness dimmed, and a true shape was given to the mass. To Twilight's surprise, a unicorn stood before them. Her mane was still a writhing mass of energy, her body still shone with glory, and her eyes were leaking power, but it was obviously a shaking and scared mare.
Lux continued speaking, her voice no longer projecting, no longer pretentious, no longer demanding. “You... you have to help me. It's been so long... I know my purpose has been frustrated, but I can't remember what it was.” She stopped talking, then looked sternly towards the purple mare. “But I do remember you...”
Twilight stepped forward, aware that it could be a trick, but she could sense the sincerity of the plea. “What can I do to help?”
“You have to fix what has happened here. Those walls aren't your prison, they're my safeguards. I hold the city in stasis. I've declared myself an enemy to its inhabitants, that much I remember, yet I only do so to protect myself and my people.”
Twilight looked around. They stood alone. “Which people?”
“My servants. You met them.”
“The zombies? But Twilight killed them, didn't she? Ow!” Rainbow Dash received a swift kick from Applejack as answer.
Lux shuddered, as if from the cold. “My people need me. I am their protector. They cannot die as long as I stand. But they do not understand why I act as I do.”
Twilight's eyes widened in understanding. “You put the city in a time-lock. A bubble, independent of the outside world. Time has no meaning here, is that correct? Your people aren't dead, but neither are they alive. And you, you're in some sort of flux yourself, aren't you?”
Lux turned suddenly, looking deeper into the city. “It's reverting.”
Twilight looked as well. Up in the sky, the heavens worked in reverse. The moon set where it rose, and the sun burned once again, peeking over the horizon. Time had reversed.
“What's happening, Lux?”
There wasn't an answer. Twilight looked to her side, but the unicorn was gone. In confusion, Twilight spun around. She was in the middle of a crowd of milling ponies, non of them familiar. And, to her horror, her friends were missing.