Chapter 34: Stoning the Prophets
Twilight's heart rate shot up. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to keep herself calm. She backtracked the events that had just transpired, grasping for some meaning behind this. There wasn't any immediate danger; as far as she could tell, this is what the city would have normally looked like, if there weren't zombies inhabiting it. Now Stonehill looked much like Moon Pool had when they first arrived; dreary, but not dangerous. There were an unusual amount of pegasi, she noted. Unicorns and earth ponies were definitely in the minority, only one or two of each for every twenty pegasi.
The frustrated mare sighed. What was she doing here? Was it her fate to be interrupted every step she took towards completing her mission? Well, she was done being subtle. Time had obviously reversed, somehow, or else this was an illusion. She strode towards one of the vendors in the city. “Pardon me, sir, but what day is it? I've been out of town for quite some time lost track of the days.”
“It's the sixteenth.”
Twilight nodded her thanks, and walked away. The sixteenth. That meant in this reality, there were only five days until the Solstice. The one she had come from, however, only had four, after midnight had passed, just before the time reversal. She had been put back a day, if the vendor was correct. Time reversals didn't happen without reason, she knew. To get out of it, she only had to find why she was here, complete whatever inane mission the universe had decreed she should undertake, and then she could return to the actual task at hand, and find her friends. She knew she was only trying to convince herself it was that easy, but it was better than despairing.
Her purple ear flicked as she heard a commotion coming from a couple streets over. When she went to investigate, she groaned at what she saw. A familiar unicorn was on a stage in the center of a small crowd, with a shimmering and perfectly maintained light blue coat and an even lighter blueish-white mane. But her physical appearance wasn't the most memorable part of the pony, nor was it her determined and haughty countenance, nor was it even her matching wizard's hat and cloak.
No, it was her voice. How could Twilight ever forget it?
“Listen to me, unbelieving ponies! The end is nigh, and without your adherence to Lux's plan, all of your loved ones will be lost to the coming darkness!”
Yes, it seemed Lux was Trixie's reflection. Twilight hadn't recognized it before, as Lux's shimmering aura had covered up the more definitive features, and her echoing voice hadn't sounded quite the same. She pushed into the crowd, trying to get a better view.
Lux patrolled her stage dramatically, not pausing to take a breath as she continued her doom and gloom speech. “I have seen it in a vision! This very night, a terrible fate will fall on this city. Homes will reduce to ashes and lives will be lost! Unless you pledge to help me fight against it!”
The crowed booed. One voice rose above the others. “You've been saying this for days! Nothing's happened! The other cities have their own problems, and they won't march on us for our measly supplies!”
“This is no mortal threat!” Lux replied. “A dark creature awakes, one forgotten by time, but not by the gods! A lich, a necromancer, a performer of the darkest arts, will come and claim the citizens of this city for their army” The crowd roared again.
“Get off the stage! Go home!”
“What a bunch of garbage! Nobody can see the future! You're only causing trouble for yourself, and annoying us!”
“You should check your hat! I think the tightness is cutting off circulation to your brain!”
The crowd laughed in approval.
“Lux asks nothing from you but to defend your own home! I am a revelator of truth, and my sole purpose is to cause that you might live and have peace!”
“Peace? In this land? Now I know you've lost some brain cells. We've been at war for hundreds of years! The only peace I get is walking these streets without anybody yelling lies in my direction!”
Twilight could feel the mob's anger growing around her. She felt herself being pulled into the emotions. It was like Flim and Flam's sales pitch all over again. She shook herself out of it, and strode to the front of the crowd. “Lux! I must speak with you!”
Lux looked surprised. “Speak with me? Say what you must.”
“It's a private matter.”
“I do not make my dealings private, so all others may know I am an honest pony.”
One of the ponies on the front row scoffed. “That's a laugh!”
Lux frowned darkly. “I'm sorry, good unicorn, but if you have something to say, say it here and now.”
Twilight shook her head, unamused. So this is how it was going to be. She jumped onto the stage. “Alright, this is going to sound crazy. Ahem. I have been traveling for many days, and arrived at your town tonight.”
“Tonight? Don't you mean last night?” asked a member of the crowd.
“No. I said exactly as I meant it. I arrived tonight, in the future, just a bit before midnight. I seem to have been pulled into some sort of causality loop, and let me tell you what; every single one of you becomes a zombie. I know, because I was attacked, and have some wounds to show it.” She turned a leg towards the crowd, showing where she had been bit. “I don't even know the whole story, but I honestly want to get back to my timeline, and though I learned you can't change the past a while back, maybe this will be different. Can you please just trust her, for the next eighteen hours or so?”
The crowd was silent for a good five seconds. Then it erupted in laughter. “Look at these two unicorns! Thinking they're so high and mighty! I think the magic's gone to their head!”
“Come on, the 'Honest and Humble' Lux, tell us the truth. You hired this pony, didn't you?”
“I've had enough of these chuckleheads. I'm heading home.”
The crowd began to disperse, ponies tossing their heads in derision and laughter, some throwing disparaging comments towards the two ponies on stage.
Twilight just looked tired and unamused.
Lux stepped closer to Twilight now that the crowd had left, so she could speak without yelling. “Is what you said the truth, or is this a clever trick to ruin my benevolent warnings?”
“It's true all the way through.”
“Hm. So you say that the citizens become zombies?”
“That's right. Every single one of them, as far as I could tell, except you.”
Lux looked at Twilight very seriously. Their eyes locked, and Twilight began to grow uncomfortable in the blue unicorn's gaze, but she couldn't look away. Lux finally nodded. “What you say is the truth, or at the very least, you are convinced of it. If so, then my warnings fall on deaf ears. Tell me, what happened?”
Twilight explained everything that occurred in Stonehill as she and her friends had approached, explored, and eventually fought their way through it. Lux listened, not speaking up once, until Twilight was finished. When she had, Lux looked concerned, but not surprised.
“I am worried for my future self's sake, but now I have yet another confirmation that my gods do not lie.”
“You mentioned them earlier, when you were talking to the crowd. Who are they?”
“An ancient race that lived here long before, but has since gone into hiding, who have taken notes on the mortal events in the world, and have the power to see into the future, not by any divining, but by such a perfect understanding of how ponies think and the world around them, that they cannot err in their predictions. They, in turn, worship a higher god, whose name I know not. I think they pulled you into the past to learn something, though I cannot say what it is.”
“You don't think they brought me to help you?”
Lux shook her head. “I wouldn't be so naïve. I have no reason to believe you're from a condemned timeline, and thus the events you've witnessed will come to pass, no matter how unpleasant they are. But your arrival here is no accident.”
“Nothing seems to be, nowadays.”
“We live in strange times. Though, you come from far way, correct?”
“Closer than you'd think. But I couldn't agree more.”
Lux turned. “Would you like to meet the gods?”
Twilight started. “Can I?”
“If you have an open mind and a listening ear. The ponies in this town don't have the patience, but I think you might.”
“Lead the way.”
Lux jumped off the stage and began winding through the crowd. After Twilight followed, the stage folded itself back into a wagon, which blended into the background subtly. The two of them were heading towards the back of the city, and into the mountain. Eventually the sky was replaced by a stony ceiling, carved with intricate, archaic flowing text.
“This is old Stonehill. Most citizens avoid this area, believing that dark forces are at work here. They are afraid of what they do not know. They hear whispers of the past, and condemn them as deceiving spirits. This is where I come to seek guidance.”
They stood before a long, flat stone, which came to their knees. Runes were trailing around the circumference, their meaning escaping Twilight's grasp. “So what do I do to contact them?”
“You must make a blood sacrifice. This isn't to appease them like the animalistic ancients, but rather a means to an end. They are eager to make contact, but they were sealed off from this area long ago. The life energy in the blood powers this stone, which opens a rift that allows them to speak for a short time.”
Twilight nodded. Her bleeding from the earlier fight had largely stopped, but she had learned it didn't take much to start it up again, if you needed to. She rubbed a hoof against one of the scratches, breaking off the clotted blood until the bright liquid flowed again. “How much do I need?”
“Enough to make a small pool about the size of a coin. They told me this after I had accidentally bled out about a pint, unknowingly activating their forgotten line into the mortal world.”
“It sounds like there's a story behind that.” Twilight watched the red trails gathering at the tip of her hoof. It was strange, she thought, that not two weeks ago she had been frightened and disgusted by blood, but now it was just another biological process.
“Well, yes, actually. When I was younger, I was brash and bold. A traveling magician, if you can believe it.”
Twilight hid a smile as Lux continued, getting lost in thought.
“At first, I stuck to tricks I could reproduce, sleights-of-hoof and the like, using my natural born ability of discernment to aid me in engaging the crowd. If they didn't like one kind of trick, I'd move onto another. There was always something I could surprise them with. Every crowd cheered, eventually. It made me feel great. Why, it even made me feel powerful. But in the end, I was still Lux, whether or not I remembered it. Then, one day, I lost it. The crowd wasn't responding. They weren't pleased with my usual tricks. Understand, I survived only on the meager earnings I gained from my performances. If I didn't get a few coins, I simply wouldn't eat that night. And fear is perhaps the greatest motivator of all. The most blind, the most foolish, but the strongest.
“I began telling lies about my abilities. I told them I was stronger than I was. And once I told one, it became easier to tell another. Every fantasy of mine, every childhood dream was being told as truth, and after a while, I began to believe them myself. My act soon cast aside the humble and harmless deceptions and replaced them with outrageous and easily broken lies, but I seemed so confident about them that nobody questioned me. I earned more money than I had in my entire life. I lost sight of who I was, but one day, I was finally liberated from my own mind.
“Everything came to a boiling point in a town not too far from here. I grew cocky, and challenged the audience to best me in any way they could. Rather than better them through skill, I shamed them with misdirection. I turned their abilities against them, until they slunk back into the crowd. It seemed like it would be another profitable day until another unicorn, cloaked and keeping to the shadows, stepped onto the stage. She challenged me to a duel, slandering my name for all to see. She struck through every lie I had told, and where the truth had once protected me, it now stung more than the pains of hunger I used to know.
“Even then, I wanted nothing more than to back down, and admit my lies to the crowd. Instead of learning new skills and actually becoming a better performer, I had been riding on my success for months. But my pride got the better of me. I confidently accepted the challenge, and the duel began. I held my own for some time, but it soon became apparent the challenger was the superior spell caster. I realized she had been bred for warfare, and she soon struck me down. Wounded and pained, she made me swear to never return to her city again, in front of the crowd that now hungered for my blood. It was then I knew her. Lustrous Revolt.”
Twilight looked up in shock. Lux was staring intently at her. “I know you bear a resemblance to her. So much so, my heart stopped in fear when I first saw you. But your voice carries hope, not anger. Now I must ask, are you from the Land of Promise?”
Twilight staunched her bleeding. “Yes, actually. And your story is hauntingly close to one I experienced.”
“But on the reflected side, I'm sure. If you are the one they've been talking about, it's an honor being in your presence.”
Twilight looked down. “What happened after she attacked you?”
“I had to leave. There was no other choice. She swore death on me if I so much as looked back. I had unknowingly insulted her friends –if you could call them such– with my challenges. So I kept walking, with no food, no warmth, and no magic, until I found this city. Nobody wanted to house a wounded unicorn, knowing that danger might be on my tail and fully aware that I would just be another mouth to feed. And so, I walked to the back of the city, where all was quiet and still, and I lay down on the stone in despair and and defeat. All I wanted was rest. Instead, I was granted a vision. Terrifying and awe-inspiring, it reignited my love for truth, and I became a prophet, casting aside the lies that tainted my once honest occupation. And until I have fulfilled my duty, I shall continue warning the people of this town. Even if they don't listen to me, they deserve the chance.”
“Until you fulfill your duty? What duty is that? To whom?”
“The inherent duty that comes with knowing truth. To spread it, and to never let it lie in the dark, no matter the cost. It is my penance for allowing myself to fall.”
Twilight sat for a moment, thinking on Lux's words. Was Trixie like this, deep down? Was Trixie still just blinded by her own words, or was she truly as nasty as she remembered? The small red pool offered no answers, not yet anyways.
“How do I activate it?”
“Pose a question to the stone. My question in my time of trial was simple and heartfelt. A humble 'why'.”
Twilight lifted her head, one question boiling up from the hundreds of others she had. “What is my purpose here?”
The runes glowed, and the blood began spinning around the edge of the stone like a centrifuge. The stone shimmered, then the texture melted away into a pool of darkness. For a moment, Twilight didn't see anything. Then a large, gleaming reptillian eye blinked. Twilight recoiled in horror, as the form grew clear. Other, snaking, twisting eyes turned towards her, each as piercing as the first. Long, gleaming spikes of teeth lined a mouth that grinned cruelly. But the voice was the most shocking of all. Despite the growling and terrifying form, a clear, kind, intelligent voice entered her mind.
We've been expecting you. Welcome, All-Sight.
Twilight gasped as she was pulled forward, and with the sound of shifting stone, the portal disappeared. Lux blinked softly, looking confused for a moment and then turned away, stepping back into the city without looking back.