Chapter 47: Challenge
“I request entrance into this place of refuge!” called Eclipse up to the awestruck guards.
“For heaven’s sake, give it to her! Open the doors!”
The Abbey’s gates opened quickly, the heavy doors creaking on their hinges. She strode into the fortress, stopping in the foyer. Flare nodded to the others, indicating to follow. They ran down the stairs, which lead straight to where Eclipse was waiting. When she saw the group, she gave a controlled, deep bow.
“I apologize for intruding such as I have, though I expect myself to be of importance and assistance in upcoming events.”
Flare shook her head. “Not at all, thank you for handling that little threat outside of our gates, though I wish she would have left on her own accord.”
“She stood in my way. My goal is just, and I shall not be stopped. You are Flare, then?”
“Indeed. And you are Eclipse?”
“You are correct.” The two of them stood for a moment, each regarding the other. Eclipse spoke first. “You are not like the other ponies I’ve met in this land. Your heart has the warmth of Equestria.”
“And yours, the cold necessity of the Forgotten Realm.”
“What then, are we a mistake, an error? Or are we the intention product of some greater being? Either way, it was fortuitous. My sense of direction tempered by my hope for a better world, and your wholly accepting outlook strengthened by the reality of how people inherently are will make our goals more compatible.”
Eclipse noticed Twilight, nodding acknowledgment. “If I am reading the lingering magic correctly, you lost this?” She held out the black crystal from the Metaspectre’s altar.
“I dropped that when I was fighting my way through that army outside the doors! Thanks for returning it.”
“I never said it was yours.”
Twilight opened her mouth to reply, and then shut it in confusion. “What do you mean? You’re taking it for yourself?”
“Not that either. This belongs to the creature that entered Reality just under two weeks ago. I sense that you didn’t ask permission.”
“Well, I couldn’t, really. He wasn’t exactly talkative.”
“I’m sure your intentions were pure, but now that it’s served its purpose, should you not return it?”
Twilight sighed. “I suppose so. He didn’t mention it when I’ve seen him since I took it, though.”
“Salutary neglect doesn’t justify your actions. Perhaps he’s testing your merit?” She threw the crystal over to Twilight, who caught it in her magic’s net, looking up in surprise.
“I thought you were trying to confiscate it.”
“Not at all. It’s your duty to make amends. If I were to act in your place, well, I’d be the thief. I’d be stealing your opportunity to grow. You haven’t done anything particularly wrong, but to depend on another’s strength only weakens you.”
She turned back to Flare. “Now, if my information is correct, you’ll know who I am. I do not have the pleasure of knowing you fully myself, though I can feel we are kindred spirits.”
“I am Flare. I am the master of the Abbey, a healer.”
“I am Eclipse. I am the master of none, but a servant of morality.”
“Oh gag, I hope we don’t sound like that.”
All heads whipped around to the hallway that lead away from the stairs and the entrance. The Elements’ reflections stood in a motley crowd, looking over the new arrival. Shuddercry was the one who had spoken.
“We heard yelling. Is everything alright?” Jackie looked around, catching Applejack’s eye. The two of them looked at each other for a few moments before Jackie broke contact.
Flare shook her head. “We were just welcoming another visitor.”
Eclipse stepped forward, sizing up the newcomers. “So, you’re the ones who have been giving Miss Sparkle and her friends such trouble?”
Lustrous Revolt met her challenge. “As a matter of fact, yes. How are you involved?”
“You took them by surprise and subjugated them to your will. As a defender of Justice, I am involved because you have acted unfairly.”
“Unfairly? Hah! What’s unfair is the fact that we were born into this world of torment without a moment’s respite. You know nothing of it.”
“You are wrong.” Lustrous Revolt rose a brow at Eclipse’s short retort.
“Oh? How so? You’ve only just arrived in this world, if I heard correctly.”
“No, I’ve been here every night since my birth.”
Silence fell on the room.
Seeing that everybody was waiting for her explanation, she began. “I have had visions. Much as Flare has this Abbey, this small pocket of Equestria in the Forgotten Realm, my mind punctured the separation between the worlds. When I was younger, I thought my visions were nightmares, and nothing more. But as I grew, I learned that nobody around me had anything as horrifying as my night terrors. So I kept them to myself, My parents were relieved, thinking I had grown out of the phase, thinking that I would be able to live a normal life. I knew better.
“You see, these visions weren’t normal dreams. They were consistent. Each night, I would be a different pony, but the world remained the same. Constant fighting, hatred, and despair. I felt intense pain, like nothing in Equestria, as a spear skewered me through, or a well-placed blade stopped my heart. Sometimes, I wasn’t in a fight. But those nights were the worst. Instead, I would be in a cold, drafty home trying to take care of my children. I knew that no bread would come to the table that night. But I had to lie. I could not strip away that small bit of hope they had left.
“I would awake a debtor, so overcome with grief I would hang myself. But this world gives no respite. I would awaken, and the debt would still be there. I was the orphan, I was the sick, the tortured, the captive, the pained, hopeless masses. I was every single one of you. Yes, even you, Lustrous Revolt. So, I am involved because every offense to every person, every sentient being, is an offense to me.
“Now,” she said, grabbing Twilight and placing her in front of Lustrous Revolt, “you two are going to reconcile.”
Lustrous Revolt sneered, but her careful demeanor was wavering. “And if we don’t?”
“I will expound each of your weaknesses, since you have exploited hers, so she can have her revenge. Either way, she will know you intimately. One will simply cause you more pain.”
Lustrous twitched, trying to come up with an excuse. She looked like she was about to flat-out refuse, but she caught Eclipse’s eye, and shrunk back. Something about the way Eclipse carried herself made the idea that she was lying preposterous.
Lustrous Revolt looked over Twilight bitterly. Twilight did the same. It really was like she was looking in a mirror. If the mirror showed you at your angriest.
Lustrous Revolt pawed at the ground. “Hi. I uh, I guess I have to thank you for rescuing us.”
Twilight took a deep breath, and said what she had been planning to say for quite some time now.
“I challenge you to a duel.”
Everybody gave a collective “Huh?” All that is, except for Eclipse, who smiled for the first time since she entered the room.
Twilight continued without pausing for breath. “Eclipse is right. You’ve wronged us, over and over again, when we’re here for the same reasons. We want what’s best for everyone. You thought that because we came from a different world that we would inherently be enemies, that we’d be weaker. Well, you know what I see when I look at you? I see myself, if I had been blinded by my goals and forgotten that it’s other people that make life worth living. You’re not a bad person, but you’re sure as Discord trying to be. So, let’s end it once and for all. Which of us will be stronger? The light personality, or the dark?”
Lustrous Revolt stepped back, not sure what to make of this new development. Twilight clenched her teeth behind her stoic face in an attempt to calm herself. It had taken quite a bit of willpower to say that. She wouldn’t admit it now, but she was afraid of Lustrous Revolt. Not because she was this great, mysterious foe, but because Twilight could honestly see the hints of herself in her. That scared her more than any army of changelings, more than any threat of pain. She wanted Lustrous Revolt to see why she and her friends were here, why they acted the way she did. More than anything, she didn’t want to be enemies with herself.
Twilight posed her challenge once more, ignoring the mocking grins of the reflections. “Now then, Lustrous Revolt, how do you answer?”
Lustrous Revolt thought for a moment, the gears in her head working overtime. Finally she looked up. “Fine, I accept. What are the terms?”
“To the death. If I win, your friends will wait for your return here in the Abbey rather than hindering us in any way. If you win, my friends and I will do whatever the heck it is that you think will further your goals. Whatever they were.”
Lustrous Revolt narrowed her eyes. “My goal was to merge the worlds so that we may have true joy.”
“And you think the best way to go about that is to take it from others?”
“Twilight,” Applejack began, trying to remain calm, “Don't risk yourself like this. Heck, don't risk us like this. We can't afford to be held up any further.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Well, of course, but– ”
“Then please, trust my judgment.”
Rarity chimed in. “Twilight dear, consider what you're saying.”
“I've thought it through. This is what I want. If I fail, you guys have the right to never listen to my opinions again.”
Fluttershy shook her head in disappointment. Rainbow Dash, for once, was silent, though her eyes shone in concern.
Twilight avoided the gazes of her friends, turning to Flare. “I hate to impose, but is there somewhere we can go to hold the duel?”
“The courtyard should be large enough for your needs.”
The crowd shuffled their way through the halls towards the courtyard. They passed a few guards, but Twilight was surprised to see normal looking families here. There were young couples with children who looked as happy as any in Equestria, though there was a deepness to their happy, shining eyes that Twilight had come to recognize as the wisdom brought by trials.
The courtyard was in the center of the Abbey, not terribly large, but big enough to house a good ten trees around the edges. The early morning sky greeted them from up above, lightly illuminating the trampled snow.
“Now, I don’t want any stray spells endangering anybody in the Abbey. Eclipse and I will form an anti-magic field around you. Be careful; if you step through it, it will sap all of your arcane reserves and you’ll be left powerless.”
Twilight and Lustrous Revolt voiced their understanding, then took their positions on opposite sides of the field. The two unicorns of Justice and Mercy began chanting rhythmically, their eyes flaring up in white flame, their respective spells connecting above the scene. A shimmering white field descended over the two combatants, giving the area a ghostly, otherworldly feel.
Eclipse, her spell still being sustained by her horn, cleared her throat. “On the count of three, you may attack. The terms have been set. Only one of you will step out of here.”
The two purple mares stared each other down coldly. Twilight knew that Lustrous Revolt wouldn’t back down. Neither would she.
Lustrous Revolt, more experienced in combat, responded just a moment sooner than Twilight. She ran forward, staying low the ground, beginning a spell as she ran. “Irna, lutolmis, dresdien, for’tol!” The collected energy suddenly ignited and flew towards Twilight, the red arc of flame melting the snow underneath it.
Twilight ran forwards, hoping to duck underneath it. Lustrous Revolt was not wasting her combat advantage. Spells with verbal components were more precise, and in general, more effective. In the Forgotten Realm, that meant more deadly.
The fireball was streaking towards her face. Twilight collapsed to her stomach, sliding a good distance over the wet grass. The fireball struck the ground behind her and exploded, the force throwing her even further forward. The heat singed a few hairs on her coat, the potent smell piercing even her battle-fevered mind.
Twilight recovered from her spin-out, and retaliated with a modified teleport spell. It was small, not in any way intended to teleport Lustrous Revolt entirely. Lustrous Revolt felt the teleport beginning to pull her away, and stopped her charge. She ducked down, the teleport catching her whipping tail. The partial teleport gave her an immediate and sloppy hair-cut, dropping off the shaved hairs a few feet away. If it had caught something important, she would have been missing a good chunk of her flesh.
Lustrous Revolt turned to attack. She was impressed, though she didn’t allow it to shine through her determined glare. She traced her horn in a parabola in the air, crackling light trailing her movements. With a flick of her head, she tossed the whip towards Twilight.
“Ugh!” Twilight flew back a couple of feet, feeling both the impact of the ground and the burn where she had been hit. Lustrous Revolt pressed the attack, hitting Twilight twice more before she could even begin to recover.
Twilight threw up a hasty shield, the electric whip bouncing off uselessly. She rolled out from underneath it, launching a standard blast of magic to cover her. Lustrous Revolt sidestepped it, stumbling in her haste.
Twilight ran forward, hoping that cutting the distance between the two ponies would make Lustrous Revolt more reckless. “Mirnash, tol-toom, ferena, lotis!”
Magical shackles flew forward, wrapping themselves around Lustrous’ legs, making her stumble a fall. She struggled to get up, but the shackles were slowing her movements. Twilight tackled her doppelgänger, sending them both sprawling.
Twilight focused for a moment, generating a flaming sword. She had seen the damage they could do in passing in the previous battles she had been in, and it seemed appropriate in close quarters. Lustrous formed a warhammer, which swung viciously towards Twilight as its owner tried to stand once more.
Twilight jumped to the side, knocking it away with a swing of her sword. She felt the drain on her energy reserves as she made contact. It seemed trying to avoid the weapon entirely would be much smarter than trying to block it. The good news was that Lustrous Revolt must be expending a good deal of energy to keep the hammer active if it had that much force.
Lustrous Revolt finally managed to get to her hooves. She pulled the hammer back, guarding herself carefully. Twilight did the same, and they began circling, their piercing eyes straining for an opening.
Twilight darted forward, watching for the falling hammer. There it was. She rolled underneath it and to the side, ending up at Lustrous’ flank. After but a moment’s hesitation, she jabbed forward, the flaming blade sliding easily into Lustrous’ haunches, immediately marring her shared cutie mark.
Lustrous yelled out in pain, bringing the hammer down along her side. It caught Twilight’s front shoulder, sending her flying. She heard, and boy, did she feel, the crack as her shoulder decided it wanted none of this. She tried to avoid landing on her now useless front leg, but that made her hit her head on the tree she had been thrown into.
Lustrous Revolt tried to step forward, but her hind leg gave out. Twilight’s shackling spell, combined with the new wound, ensured she would be staying put. Lustrous collapsed the hammer, reforming the thousands of sparkling orbs into some sort of bow. An arrow of light materialized and fitted itself onto the string. Twilight collapsed her sword, forming a traditional shield.
The arrow flew forward, disintegrating as it struck the defensive barrier. Twilight got up, limping forward as she hid behind the shield. No matter how many times it happened, she still really hated getting hurt. Though, she supposed, that was pain’s intent. To prevent you from feeling even worse.
Didn’t help too much when it was to the death anyways.
Another arrow bounced off the shield. Lustrous Revolt destroyed the bow, and turned it into a sword much like Twilight’s. Twilight destroyed her shield, forming a sword of her own. They clashed, wasted arcane energy sparking off. Twilight pulled back, and attempted a downwards slash, hoping to cripple Lustrous even further. Lustrous answered with an uppercut, making Twilight fall back in recoil. After a moment to catch her breath, Twilight pushed forward once again. Lustrous matched her attacks carefully. After a successful block, she jabbed forward with a masterful parry. Twilight’s already damaged shoulder and a good portion of her side were ripped up as a result. Twilight cried out in agony. Blood dripped down her side, reminding her of her newfound mortality. Twilight recovered her sword, swinging it with all of her might. It smashed against the offending blade, shattering both spells. Lustrous head-butted Twilight, her horn catching Twilight in the side, drawing yet another wound.
Twilight fell down, lashing out telekinetically in fury and fear. Lustrous’ rolled a good ten feet from the impact, all over her wounds. Twilight pulled herself up, her front leg screaming in pain. Twilight gritted her teeth, huffing powerfully to try to distract herself from her wounds. She stumbled forward, Lustrous quickly trying to undo Twilight’s restraining spell.
Twilight poured the rest of her magic reserves into her next attack. An orb of pure force materialized. Twilight applied pressure around all the entire surface, compacting it as much as possible. The end result was a baseball sized ball of energy that was igniting the air around it. Twilight flung it forward, falling from the effort.
Lustrous Revolt finished removing the restraining spell just in time to see the attack impact. With a meaty and sickening slurp-crunch, it ripped off her back legs, throwing them through the anti-magic field and into a wall, the blood spatter catching a few of the Reality ponies.
Lustrous Revolt’s scream startled the besieging changelings outside, causing most to take to the air in instinctive escape.
Twilight stepped got up once more, the battle-fever the only thing keeping her conscious. She stalked over to her bleeding-out foe, who was a mess of tears and blood. Her magic reserves gone, Twilight turned to her back legs to finish the job. As she reared up to bash her foe’s skull in, she caught sight of Lustrous’ eyes. In them, she saw reflected her own, filled with hatred and animalistic fury.
“Please…” Lustrous whispered.
Twilight drew back in horror. Her brain jolted as she realized she was essentially about to kill herself. For crying out loud, Lustrous was an identical physical copy! Terrified, agonized, and simply fighting for survival. And at that moment, she wanted nothing more than to comfort the scared, helpless filly she saw. Twilight turned and stepped forward, her useless shoulder giving way, making her collapse to the ground.
Lustrous’ face contorted in pain, her breath coming in short, rapid bursts. She was losing her fight for life, Twilight knew. Even in her short time here, she knew an attack that traumatic meant a certain end. Twilight pulled herself closer.
“I’m sorry, but this was the only way to make you see.”
“I-“ Lustrous choked, struggling to maintain consciousness long enough to form a coherent sentence. “I just want to feel the light. It’s so dark in this world.”
Twilight began crying, her heart full of regret and disgust at what she had just done. “Then please, feel the light.” She titled her head forward, touching her horn to her dying other half.
A sudden burst of light made her jerk her head up. Had it been a trap?
No, it wasn’t Lustrous’. There was no way she’d have the willpower to make a final attack anyways. But it wasn’t hers, either. It felt like it was from another source. Like it was coming from the fabric of space itself.
The surge of power grew exponentially. In a matter of nanoseconds, it exploded out, engulfing both of the ponies immediately, then slingshot back into itself, disappearing entirely.
The bystanders looked on in confusion and horror. “Where’d they go?”
Pinkamina Diane Pie was the only one who shook her head in wonder. “I never thought they’d be the first to follow me.”
With a flash of light, the purple mare returned. Singular.
She looked around in confusion. Her body was whole, her form was glowing brightly, and her magic stores were completely full. But there was only one of them.
She clapped her hoof over her mouth.
“No way… I didn’t…”
Pinkie bounded forward. “Welcome to the exclusive club of the Merged, Twilustrous.”
The merged pony, after giving herself a moment to recover from her sudden reappearance, frowned. “That is not going to be my name.”
“Heh, at least you two can agree on something. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
Twilight groaned internally.
Can you do that a little quieter? It’s already hard enough to hear myself think.