CHAPTER 13: Duplicity
“Don't you know to let a drunk pony lie? I'm going to have the worst hangover now.”
From her unfortunate vantage point, Rainbow got a good look at her assailant. Were it not for the discoloration, Rainbow would have thought she was looking at a perfect copy of herself. This pony, however, was in gray scale. Her mane was much like Daring Do's, a gradient from white to black and was obviously dyed, though it was even messier than Rainbow's, and her coat was a medium gray, also obviously dyed. Her eyes, however, remained a bright and startling magenta.
The attacker pulled back in shock, so she must have seen the similarities as well. She withdrew her knife and climbed off of Rainbow, looking her over with wonder.
“You're... ha. Heh. HehehehaHAHAHA! WOW!” Spectral Slash spun around in disbelief, placing a hoof to her head. “Alright, alright.” She turned to the rest of the group, helping Rainbow up. “Sorry about the outburst. But I wasn't expecting visitors. Come, pull up a seat at my table, and sorry for the mess,” she added to the patrons who had lost their meals in the brief scuffle. She tossed a few spurs to the disgruntled ponies as a peace offering.
“So, what are you here for?” Spectral Slash asked, as the friends got settled in. “And why, may I ask, do you have my apparent long lost twin with you?”
“Well,” Twilight began, not certain how much of her current theory she wanted to reveal. “Perhaps the resemblance is coincidence?”
“Perhaps. But nothing really seems to be with hindsight. What's your name?”
“Twilight Sparkle. As for your first question, we're looking for a friend of ours. She was captured by a dark creature known as both the Devil and the Metaspectre. It looks like a dark stallion, and seems to be made of smoke.”
“Really? Well, I haven't seen anything like that lately, but I know somebody who certainly has.”
Twilight gave a sigh of relief. She had been worried they wouldn't find any leads. “Can you take us to them?”
“Of course, of course. I only have one condition.”
Of course there's a condition, thought Twilight somewhat bitterly.
“You look tired from your trip. Eat a bit, drink a bit. Consider it my apology for scaring you, Miss...”
“Rainbow Dash and Spectral Slash. Hmm... Hey! Fox Ears! Bring some food over to go with these drinks!”
As the bartender, Fox Ears apparently, went about providing the group with a meal, Spectral Slash began chatting them up.
“So where exactly are you from?”
Twilight caught a couple of exchanged glances amongst her friends in her peripheral vision. “It's... pretty far away. You probably haven't heard of it.”
Slash looked up from her drink. “Yeah? Try me. I get around.”
Twilight decided to take a leap of faith. After all, she needed an ally in this harsh and somewhat rude town. “Ponyville.”
“Ponyville, eh?” Slash rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess I haven't heard of it. So it's pretty far then?”
“You could say that.”
“So you came all this way to rescue a friend, captured by a dark monster? You must really like her to be traveling around much right now.”
“You know, the war going on?”
Twilight craned her head, thinking for a moment. That word. 'War.' She'd read it plenty of times in history books, but it seemed so foreign a concept. There were disagreements in Equestria, of course, but those could usually be solved through diplomacy, or in some extreme cases, through mock battles, like the Appaloosans and the Buffalos. But the way Spectral Slash said it, it sounded like there was a legitimate danger. Temperament had mentioned conflict with neighboring cities and the griffons, Twilight recalled.
“Well, we had the luck to... not run into anypony on our way here.”
“Anypony? Don't go around saying that too much.”
“Sheesh, you must have come from far away if you seriously don't know what I'm talking about. I mean, I personally don't care, but I see the logic behind it.”
“The logic behind what?”
“Well, tensions between the races are bad enough without us throwing racial slurs around.”
Now Twilight was thoroughly confused. “What?”
“'Anypony' is politically incorrect. There are other sentient creatures besides the pony race. Just because they look different or act differently doesn't mean they're less intelligent. Though,” Slash said, taking another sip of her drink, “it does seem to make them think that they have a right to fight with us. But we're trying to be the better being by at least remaining respectful. Just say anybody or anyone or somebody or someone around here, you'll cause less trouble that way.”
“I'm sorry, I didn't know.”
“Hey, no worries. You haven't touched your drink yet, I notice. Have a sip, relax a bit, there's plenty of time to talk.”
Twilight grumbled to herself, thinking that actually, there wasn't much time. This was supposed to be a simple recovery mission. But she took a sip anyway, so as to not offend her informant.
She gagged as she tasted the drink. “Wha-this is supposed to be cider!”
“Did Fox give you something different?” Slash leaned over, sniffing the mug. “No, that's cider alright. What were you expecting?”
“It's gone bad! He allowed it to ferment!”
“Gone bad? What, you-hahaha! You thought it was going to be apple juice?” Spectral Slash slammed the table with her hoof, laughing to tears. “Oh my goodness, you're a riot. What'd you say your name was again?”
“Well, Twilight Sparkle, Moon Pool runs a little bit differently than your 'Ponyville'. Around here, any non-water beverage is fermented. It creates alcohol, which allows us to forget our problems, which is necessary considering how many we have.”
“Why would anyone want to drink anything flammable? Doesn't it mess with your mind?”
“Well, anything's flammable if you get it hot enough. But yeah, some tend to over-drink. Most become pretty useless after a couple of glasses. I only get migraines.”
“But if it's hurting you, why do you drink it?”
Slash shrugged. “Habit, I suppose. And sometimes you just need a distraction from the world. So, uh, I can take you to see my acquaintance now if you want. Your friends can stay here and finish eating if you really are in a rush.”
Twilight looked around the table at her friends. Spike was staring off into the distance, lost in thought and not really paying attention. Applejack had been frowning at her cup for the last ten minutes or so; she had noticed it was fermented earlier and was pondering this atrocious waste of good cider and whether or not she could bring herself to drink it. Fluttershy had a sip before anyone had said anything, and put it down quietly so she wouldn't offend anyone, and was now nibbling at one of the plates of hay fries. Rarity was taking lady-like sips of her cider, trying to decide whether or not she liked it, and Rainbow and Pinkie were having a drinking contest to see who could down their mug the fastest.
“Will anyone give them trouble?”
“Not now that they've seen you're with me.”
Twilight stood up. “Alright everypon-er, everybody. Spectral Slash is going to take me to someBODY who can help us. Are you alright waiting here?”
After getting affirmatives from each of the ponies and one dragon, Spectral Slash held out a hoof towards the door. While the two ponies walked through the crowd, Twilight finally let her curiosity get the better of her.
“What are those goggles on your head for?” The object in question were three green-tinged lenses inset in a black frame and secured to Slash's head by a black strap.
“Oh these? Nightvision goggles. Allow me to see at night.”
“What kind of spells are put on those? And why all the gear?” Twilight asked, looking at the utility belt and dark suit.
“Spells?” Spectral Slash stopped on the doorstep of the bar, the chill wind blowing her monochrome mane, emphasizing her stern look. “I don't think you've been honest with me Twilight Sparkle. Anyone would understand basic electronics. A 'I'm from far away' isn't going to cut it. Where are you really from? You can trust me.”
Twilight bit her lip. Slash was her only true ally here. Her one link to completing her mission, her one link to saving Luna. Her one link to proving that she was strong.
Twilight sighed. “Slash, I need your help. I haven't even told my friends what I think is happening.” They continued walking forward, Twilight subconsciously following Slash as she led her through the town. “I come from a different world.”
Slash looked over in surprise, but made no comment. “I actually believe that this world is a reflection of mine,” Twilight continued. “Both literally and metaphorically. My world is peaceful, kind, and bright, whereas I've felt and heard nothing but fear and whispers of war and darkness. The friend I'm looking for doesn't belong here, and neither do we. You've shown me kindness in this dark time, and I have to thank you for that.”
Slash gave a smile. “Thanks Twilight. You've put my mind at ease. Now I know I'll be delivering the right target.”
Twilight looked around in confusion. Spectral Slash had led her into an alleyway, and had moved between her and the open street, her once comforting form foreboding and oppressive. “What are you doing?” Demanded Twilight.
Spectral Slash grinned darkly. “Only my job.” She sped forward with terrifying speed, and everything went dark.