Chapter 32: Homecoming
Stepping through the portal was initially disorienting; I couldn’t see anything other than a clusterfuck of flashing colors, and could only hear a deafening rush of wind. Whatever was happening, it was sending me tumbling head over hooves through the abyss between worlds. For a moment I feared something had gone wrong, and my cruel, cruel mind suddenly imagined my various body parts appearing across multiple dimensions. Before I could start screaming, however, the sensation ended; my senses returned, and I felt myself slip from the portal.
However, navigating the portal safely required a few safety courses, apparently, as I was still rolling in midair as I came out of the portal. With a yelp I flailed my legs in an attempt to right myself, but I was too late to keep from slamming into what felt like a wall. I slid from it and fell to the floor with a groan.
“Nailed it…” I said strainfully. I sat up, and frowned upon taking in my surroundings. “Uh…”
This was not the Crystal Empire. I hadn’t heard of any changes with the portal, but there clearly had been. I was in some incredibly dark, dusty basement, lit only by the fading glow of the portal from my passing through. In the fading light I could see a few dusty ponyquins in the corner, a few crates and some large mirrors in varying states of wear. This was clearly where we were meant to go, judging by the number of ponies that were in the basement, casting brief, confused glances at me before hurrying up the stairs.
I turned towards the portal; the surface was still shimmering from me being tossed through.
“Well, that’s…” I began before the glow suddenly brightened. “Well, shit.”
I was suddenly bombarded by my children being flung through the portal, all colliding with me in a chorus of ‘Ow’s, ‘Oof’s and ‘Oh god why’s. The flood was slow, though; the swarm had taken care to enter at a steady pace. With great effort, I pulled myself from beneath the grub pile and took a glance around the room; the basement wasn’t small, but it would quickly become packed. I quickly pulled myself from the growing pile and hurried towards the stairs. “Up here, you guys!” I called. “Make room, keep moving!” The swarm began detangling themselves from the impromptu ‘Dude Mountain’, and I led those who had recovered up the stairs.
We filed through the door, the whooshes of the portal below us growing faint. The house above the basement looked like it was the site of a few random bombings; the walls had either collapsed or been worn away by time, the windows were shattered, much of the roof had given in… There was none of that ludicrous, yet somehow innocent chaos I’d seen on the show here… This was more along the lines of an apocalypse.
We were standing in what looked like a storefront, given the space and arrangement of the furniture. There was some kind of platform off to the side, surrounded by shattered mirrors, and a few more ponyquins, wearing tattered…
...Dresses. “Carousel Boutique…” I breathed. “We’re in Rarity’s place… We’re in Ponyville…”
I hurried towards the door, which hung loosely on its hinges. I almost broke the thing down as I passed through the doorway and took a look around Ponyville proper.
I had spoken too soon when I’d noted a lack of the more ‘comical’ variety of chaos; sure, there were still some buildings that looked straight out of Fallout: Equestria, but they must have merely been buildings that Discord hadn’t had any fun with. Others had been plucked out of the ground like weeds, left to float and spin several miles above the ground, or had their walls perfectly removed to form some kind of house of ‘cards’ some ways in the distance. The sky was a bright shade of purple, and the ground was patterned in a wide variety of colors. I actually felt relieved; the idea of a Discord that sought the apocalypse was much more terrifying than one who just enjoyed a bit of lunacy. On top of all of that, the familiar—though only barely so—city of Canterlot was in the distance, far closer to Ponyville than it was twenty-five years ago.
I turned towards my swarm, who were quickly flooding the Boutique main floor. “Get into a loose formation, on the ground and in the air. We need to get a solid foothold, before Discord shows up.”
With an assortment of affirmations, the swarm broke off and began combing Ponyville. I turned and headed down the street, taking in the havoc that blanketed the town.
Remember how we’d desperately wanted to actually go to Equestria? Chris asked in my head. Like pretty much every other brony and his cat?
I smiled. Does it really count as ‘we’? I mean, I never existed up… here until about a week ago… But, yeah, I do…
I stopped at a four-way intersection when I noticed a nearby street sign had been changed into a stop light, which was glowing red. Frowning, I glanced down every other road; there was nothing coming. Shrugging, I stepped forward.
A loudly ringing bell made me swing my head to the left. “FUCK!!” I threw myself back as an immense, unmanned pirate ship, gliding seamlessly across the ground, passed me at about a hundred miles an hour. The ship ‘sailed’ down the street and rounded a corner, and the light turned green. After giving my heart about thirty seconds to stop pounding a hole in my chest, I finally crossed the street.
...So, yeah, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind… Chris said, a hint of sadness in his ‘voice’.
Hey… I replied. We’ll fix it. All of it…
I rounded a corner and spotted the wilted, rotten tree that had once been Twilight’s residence, the Golden Oaks Library. Its leaves and some of its branches had fallen long ago, and the building itself looked to have been the victim of looters, though I don’t know what they could have hoped to find in a library that would have been of any value… Or perhaps they were seeking knowledge, some way of protecting themselves from Discord? Maybe they knew that a Bearer had lived here, and held some vain hope that her Element was here, that they could use it?
Regardless, I headed towards the library; I wasn’t sure why, but I just… wanted to. I passed through the battered door. The floor creaked loudly beneath my hooves as I took in the dust-caked home. The shelves had long ago been stripped of most of their books, most of those that remained had been strewn across the floor, some with their pages ripped out and blowing in the breeze that passed through the door. Gazing miserably at the display, I strolled around the room, occasionally picking up a book, only to find its words had worn away in the passage of time.
What few books I found that were still in a readable condition, I placed them carefully on the table off to the side; I figured, once this was all over, Twilight would appreciate that what little she had here to return to would be somewhat tidy…
There they were again… Worries over the future. What of those of us returning Equestrians who would return here? Would they struggle with rebuilding? With finding the strength to call this place ‘home’? The land they hadn’t seen in over two decades, that had been twisted at the whim of a demented demigod? Sure, it would be returned to normal in the end, but… would that be enough?
“Chrys?” I turned to see Trixie in the doorway.
I smiled at her in greeting. “Hey. Everypony coming through okay?”
“We’ve got a lot of ponies coming through…” Trixie said, a hint of anxiety in her voice. “I’m not sure it’ll go unnoticed…”
I shrugged. “We were bound to be noticed sooner or later…” I picked up another book and began flipping through its worn pages.
Trixie frowned. “Something wrong?”
Sighing, I gestured with a hoof around the ruined library. “This? This is our home… Or, rather, your home… This is what we’re returning to… Another fear for the future to add to the pile, I guess…”
Trixie nodded in understanding, yet was silent for a moment. “...Well… You remember what it was like?”
I nodded. “Yeah… I mean, this is the first time I’ve actually been in Ponyville, but I remember what it was like…”
“You’d like to see it like that again, right?” Trixie asked.
A moment’s thought, and I realized where she was going with this. I smiled and nodded. “Yeah… I would. And it’ll be worth whatever it takes to… to get settled in again.”
Trixie smiled. “Yeah. When all’s said and done, we’ll enjoy the peace when it comes.” She turned around. “Let’s go make sure everything’s going smoothly out there.”
I nodded and placed the book on the table. “Hope the portal doesn’t burn out from the traffic--”
“Mother?” Echo called, making me stop.
Yep? I replied; Trixie glanced back at me, confused at my sudden cessation of movement, but I raised a hoof in the same way you’d silence someone while you were on the phone.
“I… can’t reach Digit.”
I frowned. ...What?
“She isn’t responding. That doesn’t happen, unless…”
“She’s too far away to reach.”
Well, even then, that implies like hundreds of miles, and she couldn’t get that--
My eyes widened. “She didn’t…”
- - - - -
“Come on…” I said through grit teeth, straining against the slime that had pinned my feet to the floor. I couldn’t hear anything upstairs—I hadn’t for the past half hour. I’d tried shouting as the ponies had left, but they couldn’t hear me over the racket. Before long, the clatter had stopped, leaving me in the basement; at least Chrys had thought to leave the lights on…
I gave my feet another tug. I knew Chrys could handle herself, I knew she would fare better there than I would… But I didn’t care. I needed to be there with her; we’d started this together, we needed to end it as such. I wasn’t gonna sit (or stand) here on the sidelines while she endangered herself, and our--
The door at the top of the stairs opened. I glanced up, my hands still clenching my thigh from my attempts at pulling myself free.
Digit hurried down the stairs, a friendly grin on her face. “Hey!”
“Digit, what’re you…” I began, before noticing she was alone. “Wait…”
Digit aimed her horn at the slime around my feet; the goo grew warm for a moment before melting, freeing me. I stared at her, baffled as I shook the remaining slime from my shoes.
Digit gave me a sheepish grin. “I couldn’t just leave you here…” She said, though I could tell she wasn’t looking forward to what Chrys had to say about it.
I stared at her for a moment, astounded. “But… why?”
Digit’s smile fell a little.
“Because… Well… You’re just as big a part of this as any of us, Mom.” Her eyes widened in surprise at her wording, yet she didn’t seem particularly bothered by it.
I stared at her in silence for a few moments.
Then I flung my arms around her neck and hugged her tight, kissing her cheek repeatedly in spite of her squeals of protest. After a moment, though, she returned the hug, wings buzzing happily.
We finally ended the hug, and Digit turned towards the stairs. “Let’s get going. I wanna be back before the shit hits the fan!” She bolted up the stairs.
“Language!” I called as I hurried after her.
- - - - -
My wings practically burned as I soared over Ponyville towards the Boutique, ignoring the queries of my confused drones that were flying in formation over the ruined town. I didn’t know why Digit thought it necessary to bring Liz over, but I couldn’t let it happen—I’d left Liz in the basement for a reason!!
I began my descent once I spotted the ruined Boutique, but stopped when I noticed the immense number of ponies pouring through the front door, adding to the immense legion that were already covering the town. Holy shit…
“How did Digit manage to get through that?” Echo asked, baffled.
Don’t know, don’t care, I replied. I’m going back through to make sure she--
“My Queen!” Came the urgent cry of Scion.
My throat suddenly started feeling dry. What is it?
I felt a sharp pain of anxiety in my stomach, mixed a stirring, deeply buried fury. I slowly turned, facing the direction I knew Scion was in.
Form up, I called to my Royals. Meet at the northeastern edge of town, NOW.
I flew towards the edge of town, my swarm quickly regrouping and forming behind me as I went. The ponies below us seemed to notice our sudden movement and began following us; I wished they wouldn’t, for their sake, but I couldn’t make the time to stop them.
Do not attack unless I give the word, I commanded. Above all, ensure the ponies are kept safe…
I trailed off as the edge of town came into view.
And there he was, standing a short distance from the outermost ruins that made up Ponyville.
I felt a ripple of hatred flow through my body. Hold.
My swarm halted in midair, the buzzing of their wings much like the herald of an angry swarm of bees.
I landed just on the edge of town and took a few strides forward, practically fighting to keep myself from launching into a furious attack.
The draconequus smiled and gestured widely. “Welcome home…” He said, almost sounding genuine. “I must say, I’m almost glad you all decided to return… This land has started to lose its spark somewhat, it’s about time somepony sought to spice things up.”
“Enough!!” I barked; Discord actually looked surprised at my outburst. “No more games. No more tricks. You have brought no end of ruin, pain and anguish, Discord… And now it’s all come crashing down upon you.”
Discord began laughing. “With about as much effect as a wave crashing upon the shore… My dear, dear Chrysalis… You think you, or the ponies whose forgiveness you so crave, are the first enemies I’ve made? I’ve lived for centuries!! I’ve known thousands who have fought against me… And guess how well that turned out!!” He was clutching his gut at this point, wiping a tear from his eye.
I smirked. “Well, it left you as a pigeon ‘rest stop’ for over a thousand years…”
Discord stopped laughing. He scowled at me, his eyes narrowing in a cruel glare.
He raised his eagle talon, and prepared to snap.
“Well, I doubt you’ll be quite as fortunate.”
A few miles behind him, I spotted several bright purple portals open. A vast number of figures poured through and began charging towards Ponyville.
My eyes widened.