The Great and Corrupted Trixie
Chapter 2: Entry
Princess Luna looked taller somehow,Twilight Sparkle noted. Perhaps it was the way she held herself; straight, strict and imperious rather than the shy little hunch she’d acquired after the Nightmare Moon incident. Maybe it was the way she replaced most of her royal finery with a suit of gleaming, dyed leather that creaked softly with every motion, both covering and accentuating the shape of her body. Or it could be the way everypony around her quickly lowered themselves to the floor in supplication when they saw her approach to avoid disciplinary action by the riding crop levitating mere inches off of Luna’s flank.
As the Princess of the moon fixed her gaze on Twilight Sparkle and approached in smooth, perfectly-rhythmic steps, the purple unicorn found herself at eye-level with the delicate curls of subtle embroidery along Luna’s leather chestplate. “Twilight Sparkle, you’re here. Good, the letter arrived intact then. We have something to discuss, in private.”
“But Princess Luna, can’t you tell me what’s going on? Where’s Princess Celestia?” Twilight Sparkle questioned, hesitating long enough in following Luna’s swaying tail to earn a gentle little tap of the princess’ crop upon her rump.
“You’ll find out soon enough. Come. It’s essential we don’t linger in the corridors to discuss this.” the alicorn replied, Twilight’s fertile mind conjuring increasingly-worrying imagery. Luckily, Luna’s private rooms turned out to be opulent, but comforting, lacking the ‘dungeon’ feel the small unicorn’s imagination had furnished it with.
“I’ll have to start with a history lesson.” Luna began, quickly snagging Twilight Sparkle’s attention from the decor. “What you’re about to hear may, if all goes well, become public knowledge soon enough.”
The dark alicorn seated herself on a nearby pillow, horn glowing as she used a small fraction of her power to lift a quill and a piece of paper from a desk across the room. “When Nightmare Moon... when I was banished, the history books say that Celestia took the burden of both sun and moon upon her shoulders. Those history books... gloss over certain details, however. I personally never would’ve known had Celestia not told me.”
The levitating quill made soft scratching noises as it trailed lines across the paper, Luna’s magic working without interrupting her tale, “The fact is, she couldn’t simply take the burden of the moon. Her power, her talent is entirely in the sphere of the sun, and with my banishment I took with me the influence of the moon. In ending my eternal night, she inadvertently brought forth eternal day. No matter what she tried, the moon proved too elusive to her magics, and the sun, without its celestial sister balancing it, would not fall below the horizon.”
More lines were added, the feather (quite possibly previously a pegasus’) dancing neatly to Luna’s idle commands. “She kept the sun as weak and low as she could, and frantically sought to find a magic that could reestablish the balance as the temperature across Equestria slowly climbed.”
The quill halted for a moment, giving the princess a moment to look over her work, “The answer she found.. it must’ve torn her heart. Working with a haste born of desperation, she and the best artists of arcane writings built a great machine and called countless volunteer unicorns to the hole torn from the mountain’s heart. There, the Moon Engine took in each unicorn and drew forth their magic, weaving each individual thread, thin and fragile by itself, into a tapestry of power that could grasp and move the moon. Equestria was saved, and by commanding the machine, Celestia could perform a task I should have never neglected.”
Luna paused for effect, “Success did not come without a price, however; for as long as the machine was required, the volunteers would remain trapped within, their minds lingering in it’s arcane pathways until the day I would return and take the burden of the moon upon my shoulders once again. In a few months, maybe a year, I believe I would’ve recovered enough that the machine would no longer be needed. At that point, Celestia would’ve activated the in-built release, and set the volunteers free upon Equestria’s soil as heroes. Did you know she’s been planning housing for them for years? A celebration too. Honor-ceremonies for each and every one.”
“However... A week ago, the machine suffered a momentary malfunction. Celestia went to see if she could repair the damage, and... integrated herself into the Moon Engine. My own investigations after the event exposed that, little over a few weeks prior, a lone unicorn made her way into the Moon Engine chamber and managed to damage both it and herself during the transfer into the machine. Unfortunately, I can’t release or awaken either of them from outside the system. And if I were to enter it and get stuck, like I suspect Celly is... I can’t abandon my duties raising the sun and moon.”
Luna sighed, then turned her gaze firmly upon the rapt little unicorn before her, “But you have no such duties. That, you’re a unicorn and Celestia trusts you. Therefore, I want you to integrate with the Moon Engine, find Celestia. If you can’t get her out, take stock of the situation and then report back to me. I’ll do my best to help you.”
With a few final scratches, the alicorn finished her drawing and presented the paper to Twilight Sparkle, “This is what she should look like inside the machine.”
The unicorn focused on the paper, glanced up at Luna, then back down at the paper. This was a lot to take in. It brought up so many questions, so many worries and fears. So many things she took for granted about magic and the princesses just collapsed around her ears, but for some reason only one question made it to her lips: “Thousands of years of life, and you never learned to draw beyond kindergarten level?
* * *
“So, get in, find Princess Celestia, and get back to the place I came in through.” Twilight Sparkle reiterated to herself for the dozenth time as the machine’s strange, metallic arm reached down and clamped a ring around her horn. Princess Luna glanced back over her shoulder, forehooves braced on either side of one of the many glowing plates with odd runic language trickling across it’s surface. “Yes, exactly that. Now remember, I’ll be out here, trying to help as much as I can. But remember, my influence is limited, and as time is experienced differently inside than outside, my responses will be.. dramatically delayed. On top of that I have tasks out here that require my attention. If I were to stop raising the sun.. there would be panic in the streets.”
“I left you some things to start with. They should help... Good luck. You’re going in.”
Darkness engulfed Twilight Sparkle, a perfect black void that swallowed every detail around her, leaving her with nothing but an odd falling sensation which made her stomach float up somewhere against her spine. Just as she began to feel the first frissons of panic building, a spark of light burst into existence, akin to a tiny star that settled at the tip of her left forehoof. Like the point of a pencil, the star smoothly slid across her coat, carving patterns of glowing white lines back and forth along the length and breadth of her body. Never straying, never wavering regardless of the unicorn’s initial startled motions and her attempts to follow it with her gaze, it painted her until she found herself patterned in a neat array.
Twilight barely had any time to admire her new decoration, tilting her forelimbs this way and that in front of her snout, before the star leaped from her body and scribed a perfect circle in the air a mere two feet from her face. As if cutting a piece from the void’s emptiness itself, the acitinic-white flare burned patterns through the black, crafting a gleaming mass of triangles and arches that split and finally fell together into a disc-shape. Obeying some unknown command, the disc settled just above the unicorn’s withers, where she could barely see it from the corner of her eye if she turned her head as far as she could, hovering in complete defiance of gravity or logic as if attached to her spine by a tiny invisible stick. No telekinesis involved whatsoever.
The tiny star winked out, its task done. It didn’t stay gone for long, however; Far beneath Twilight, it flickered back on, joined by countless of it’s kin in numerous colors. White, green, blue, orange, they burst into motion, leaving burning, glowing tracks as they raced out into the depths of the void. No mere disc, no mere pattern, they swept forth towards the horizon and, right in front of Twilight’s eyes, drew a world..
..a world that came up under the unicorn with all too much speed.
* * *
Twilight Sparkle’s eyes opened blearily, refocusing on a strangely-tilted horizon. An odd sense of vertigo accompanied her awakening, one that had been with her since she hit the ground and had steadily coaxed her from the depths of her momentary unconsciousness. After the unicorn’s analytical brain finally fully revived, the reason for this experience became all too obvious: She was laying sprawled out on a tilted slab of something smooth and black, strangely glassy except where it’s rough, uneven edges had cracked away from whatever surface it’d once been part of. Finally rising to her hooves, albeit unsteadily, the unicorn took stock of her surroundings.
It was a disaster area. A great metropolitan city, or she assumed it was, lay ruined around her. Great glassy towers stood unevenly, their black walls broken, great gaps torn in their structure as if mauled by a titanic Ursa Major. Light from the strange, rippling heavens poured through the holes, casting twisted shadows of the structures’ exposed skeletons across the debris-littered streets below. And through it all, strange, glowing green tendrils crawled like a thin network of slowly-pulsing veins, an ominously-organic presence in an otherwise perfectly-angular city.
“That’s.. not what I expected.” Twilight Sparkle startled slightly as the sound of her own voice, a sharp contrast to the surrounding silence. Wincing, she carefully slipped down from the fallen wall that had been her landing platform moments before, and turned a small circle. “Where is everypony? Luna said this was a thriving city, the busy urban buildup around the portal to- and from the real world.” Twilight gasped, whirling around to face the place she landed, finding the stately structure she assumed to be the portal in stately ruins. “Shoot! I should’ve known Luna’s knowledge would be a thousand years out-of-date!”. The unicorn did a little stompy-dance, using all four hooves to work her frustrations out on the innocent street surface, “Shoot! Shoot-shoot-shoot-shoot-shoot-SHOOT-SHOOT!”
..A blobby sphere of green goo came sailing from the ruins, smashing into a nearby wall and detonating in a strange warbling ‘thwoomph!’. “I didn’t mean it like that! It wasn’t a suggestion!” Twilight squealed as she quickly turned to see a trio of ponies clambering across the broken rubble. They looked little better than the cracked rock they crawled across, their manes were tangled, their motions were jerky and unsteady, and most notably: the neat glowing patterns across their bodies were heavily distorted by large, swollen green bulges that covered their bodies like pestilential growths.
“Stop shooting, stop shooting! I’m here on a peaceful - whoa!” Twilight Sparkle neighed as several of them spewed forth globs of explosive goop, spraying the area where Celestia’s prize student stood moments before. Twilight’s hooves struck the smooth floor in a rapid rush of hoofbeats, tail streaming behind her as she dodged around fallen and cracked walls, trying to put as much rock between herself and the twisted, spewing ponies. “I’m not your enemy! Shoo- I mean don’t shoot!”
The response was an unabated, if thin barrage of bulbous bolts, some surging ahead in a straight line whilst others sailed in almost-serene ballistic arcs. All ended against nearby cover in a warbling splash that seemed to rapidly decay the glassy rock, consuming and abrading it until glowing cracks radiated outward from the impact point like an acid-etched spiderweb. Twilight had seen enough, more than enough; uncaring of direction or purpose, she galloped through the streets, into- and through the shattered buildings, clambering over debris, sliding down slopes. Veins of luminescent green crunched under her hooves, leaking tiny trickles of fluid that stung and bit her legs while her lungs burned.
The realisation that the sound of explosions had faded into the distance came late to the terrified unicorn, her legs finally slacking as she greedily rasped for breath. For a moment, all Twilight Sparkle could do was stare at the soft glow of her forehooves, waiting for the trembling to subside. “They.. they tried to hurt me.” That little factoid was troubling in of itself. The residents of Ponyville got angry sometimes, sure, but rarely if ever to the point of blows. The closest Twilight Sparkle ever came to being hurt that way was with Nightmare Moon... and the Ursa Minor, and that dragon that tried to maim Spike, and the other dragon, that hydra, that cockatrice, that manticore...
“Come to think of it...” Twilight Sparkle murmured, coming to the strange discovery that she was probably one of the most experienced ponies in Ponyville when it came to nearly being maimed. “...avalanche, stampede, buffalo attack, projectile pegasi, an anvil, a piano...” Twilight jerked upright, scraping together enough confidence to dampen the fear, “I’m.. I’m a survivor! I take things that would flatten normal ponies and come out on top! You know what? I can handle this! The first place I find that might have answers, I’m going there.”
“First..” The unicorn looked around herself, making sure she’d shaken the strange, infected-looking ponies, before turning her gaze to the unnatural skies. Streams of glowing lights flowed through the heavens like a sparkling diamond trains following invisible rails, forming perfect lines that zoomed back and forth, across and through each other as far as Twilight could see. The main source of light, however, at least looked a little more familiar - a large silver sphere that radiated a cool silver light, a strange hybrid between sun and moon.
“At least there’s a sun.. of sorts. Now, I just have to find a nice high spot, and find some ponies that can tell me where to find the Princess.” Twilight Sparkle added to herself to help organize her thoughts. Finding a tall tower proved to be easy enough - there were plenty to choose from, and after some searching, the unicorn picked one that looked like it wouldn’t fall over immediately. A large tear in one of the windows at the approximate height of the first floor became her way in after a difficult climb across the rubble of an adjacent structure.
The inside proved... spartan. Strange, large, angular rooms and flat surfaces everywhere, as if the place was cut from a solid block by a perfectionist mathematician. It would’ve been a stark place had it not been for the glowing green ivy-stuff growing in through the cracked window, forcing Twilight Sparkle to step carefully lest she sting her hooves again. The chamber she assumed was a living room had a few odd-but-interesting knickknacks that held Twilight’s interest for several long minutes. Two small transparent boxes not much bigger than a softball shared space on a table with a small bowl. The boxes.. Twilight wasn’t sure what to make of them. They reminded her of tiny fishbowls, entirely transparent but for the edges, with small multicolored polygonic abstracts floating around inside them like fish. Dismissing them as ornamental, she turned her attention to the bowl. For all it looked like, the bowl seemed filled with simplified sugar-cubes, a little filly’s idea of a proper breakfast.
Quickly glancing around to see if anypony was watching, Twilight gave in to temptation and dipped her snout into the bowl, sucking up several of the ‘sugarcubes’, a quick swallow sending them down her throat. They tasted like.. nothing much, really. At least they proved to be edible, of a sort. At least, she hoped they were, otherwise she’d have a real problem when they came back out the other end.
“That’s another foalhood dream fulfilled that didn’t quite pan out like I’d hoped.”
Exploring further, the unicorn mentally mapped out the basic living unit, bedrooms and living room, even if there seemed a distinct lack of kitchen or toilets beyond a small storage area that, since it contained more of the ‘sugarcubes’, was mentally tagged a larder.
The elevator didn’t seem to have power, or even counterweights of any kind. Looking for a convenient on-switch proved equally useless. With a sigh, Twilight explored the emergency ladder running the length of the elevator-shaft, hooked her hoof over one of the rungs, and began climbing...
* * *
Seen from the rooftop of the tower, the city had a kind of eerie, desolate magnificence, stretching out around and beneath Twilight Sparkle’s hooves. The tallest towers broke her view of the horizon like jagged teeth, backlit with the pale glow of the strange solar orb in the midst of its phoenix’ plunge of dusk. The failing of the light steadily cast the already-dark metropolis in increasingly-sharp contrasts, turning it into a sea of black accented by the slowly-pulsing green glow of the ivy-like veins crawling across and through the structures.
But that made it all the easier for Twilight to trace the countless glowing lines to the nearest nexus, where they merged around.. a wide structure, decorated with spindly spires and nigh-gothic architecture, damaged, even wounded but still breathing in the cool emerald glow. A cathedral, trapped in the middle of a web of pulsing veins like a spider’s kill.
“There, then. To start off.”
Turning around, she sighed and slipped through the door into the depths of the tower. She was not looking forward to climbing down all those rungs again.
* * *
If there was one positive thing about the cathedral, it was that it was lit better than the surrounding area. Unfortunately it was lit by that steady, pulsing green glow, a color Twilight Sparkle was slowly forming a love/hate relationship with. Worse yet, this close, there were more details visible, many of which providing ominous little hints. Perched upon the stone walls, smooth, yet detailed statues of tall, winged ponies graced the cathedral’s architecture. By the shape of their bodies, they seemed to be made in the images of both Princess Celestia and a pre-Nightmare Moon Princess Luna. Twilight couldn’t be entirely sure, however, as the statues had been violently beheaded, leaving no tell-tale horn to show their alicorn nature.
Careful to stay in the plentiful lingering shadows, perhaps failing to remember that she now glowed, Twilight Sparkle snuck closer to the great structure. A piece of fallen wall that had wedged itself up against the side of the building let her ascend to the cathedral’s rooftop. Among the beheaded, winged shapes she crept, touching only gently when she needed support, as if in deference for the broken goddess-imagery. The cathedral rooftop was uneven, weathered, cracked by pulsing emerald growth. Small pieces came loose where Twilight Sparkle set her hooves, threatening her balance. It held, though, as she carefully made her way to a part where the roof had simply caved in, leaving a suitable little spyhole.
Hooking her hooves over the edge, the unicorn lowered herself to her belly, and peered down into the cathedral’s innards. The pews lay stacked against the walls and windows, the sun and moon symbolism along it’s inner walls defaced with the now-telltale sign of the impact of those green, hurled blobs. What happened within, however, was far more interesting: The room was illuminated by the glow of several of the pustulent ponies. Their bodies were misshapen by glowing growths that looked painful, yet their expressions were a discordant mix of exultant and blissful. One lay spread out across the altar like a strange, willing sacrifice, while another stood over him, forehooves on the altar’s edge.
“The heathens have come.” the lead pony began, its voice a strange, distorted warble. The ponies turned as the cathedral’s great front doors swung open, and six of the crazed ponies led a small group of others into their flock, standing guard. The other ponies looked.. healthier, black with blue or red lines tracing neatly across their bodies, several mares and two stallions. “They have come to accept the blessing of the true Goddess.”
“N-no!” one of the captives, a small mare with a spiky mane, squealed as she was forced to the altar, one of the captors beside her grasping her head and forcing it towards the sacrifice.
“Consume the Corruption. Corruption Consume.” the words came as a chant from the throats of several of the green ponies as the captor forced the mare’s snout open and pressed it against one of the bright blisters covering the sacrifice’ body. There was a disturbing wet, tearing sound as they forced the mare’s mouth shut around it, pushing a thick blob of it down her throat. She retched as she came away, wobbling unsteadily, but already her glowing lines grew dim, before rekindling with emerald energy. She didn’t run as they let her go and pushed her aside for the next captive. Her voice soon joined the chant as the next pony was forcefully inducted, “Consume the Corruption. The Corruption Consume.”
It felt to Twilight Sparkle like her stomach had escaped her body and was busy sliding down the tilted cathedral roof. She couldn’t think, couldn’t decide between disgust or horror. Her legs locked, she watched helplessly as pony after pony was forced to eat a piece of that strange, willing, sick pony on the altar. Clearly it was affecting the living sacrifice, too; the green glow slowly grew paler, then weaker as more and more of his body disappeared.. before finally and suddenly bursting apart, simply sinking in on itself in a cascade of tiny cubes.
The ritual leader simply swept the altar clean of the mess, and gestured to the little mare they’d inducted first. Without a word spoken, she simply climbed onto the altar, awaiting for the next captive to eat a portion of her corrupting flesh. Twilight Sparkle gagged, a soft little noise, but enough to suddenly draw one pair of eyes to her.
“Hey! You!” one of the captives, a young stallion, cried out as he spotted Twilight watching. “Don’t just watch! You’ve got a disk, toss it to me!”
“But..” Twilight hesitated, startled, but the surprise jolted her brain back in action. Snatching the floating disk from her back with her mouth, she flung it down through the hole. “Catch!”
The young stallion didn’t catch: In a move that would’ve done prince Blueblood proud, he jerked the corrupted pony holding on to him into the path of the soaring circle. A wave of little cubic pieces washed over the stallion as the pony holding on to him exploded. With no second wasted, the colt burst into motion, already in full gallop for the door. “Run, idiot!”
Twilight Sparkle quickly lost sight of the pony as she jerked her head back and began running. Already, the disturbed corrupted ones began stirring into action, the first blobby orb flung at the gap in the rooftops sailing through serenely even though Twilight’s face was no longer there to catch it. Half-sliding down the tilted rubble, stubbing her hooves and bumping her knees, Twilight reached the streets in a desperate hurry, just in time to see a streak of white twisting through the air, turning to hit her. She turned to run, dodging left and right, trying to avoid the strange projectile that turned and twisted to follow her no matter how she fled. Eventually, she knew, she could no longer dodge it. She braced for impact..
The disk clicked neatly back into place on her back, losing it pearly glow.
“Faster, pony, faster! My mem’s is too fragmented to carry weapons! We have to run!” the shout from behind was the only warning Twilight got as the stallion slid past her, his teeth clamping down on her withers as he dragged her along. “We’re taking the off-ramp here, it’s downhill all the way!”
Twilight Sparkle teetered for a moment as she was forcefully pushed and dragged out of her intended course to a wide curving road that indeed, showed a distinct downward slant.
“Friction dampeners to active memory!” the young stallion cried out to nopony in particular - but something responded, small bright orange spheres bulging into existence beneath all four of his hooves. “Alright, get on!”
It wasn’t like Twilight had a lot of choice, and the stallion seemed to be the only one who wasn’t trying to kill her. She hooked her forelegs over his shoulders, and awkwardly clamped her stifles around his lower legs, her analytical mind idly noticing that he was actually a bit smaller than her. “I’ll have you know I don’t usually ride strange stallio-ooooaaah!”
A quick kick of the stallion’s hindlegs launched them forward, the spheres beneath his hooves sliding across the smooth pavement as if he were on rolls, gaining speed with every second spent on the ramp. The strange motions of his legs as he steered and poured on what power her could seemed eerily familiar to Twilight in this alien, abstract world. “You’re rollerblading!”
“This isn’t a sport! We’re running from zealots!” the stallion corrected, “Now hold on tight, this last turn’s a doozy!”