The Great and Corrupted Trixie
Chapter 3: Upbeat
The ancient castle’s corridors lay dilapidated around her as she set hoof on ancient memories. The dark shade of her coat matched the colors of wall-hangings worn thin by the unforgiving bite of a thousand years neglect, and the moth-eaten carpets shared their fate. With her hoofsteps echoing forlorn through the empty hallways, Luna found herself taking that familiar path to the throne-room. She knew who awaited there, but the demands of her dream held her to her path as it had done many times before.
Dark as midnight, malignant yet serene in her quiet anger, Nightmare Moon sat waiting upon her throne, wings spread wide as she rose. “There you are, little princess.” she sneered, her breath wafting from her mouth in thin clouds, as if the air around her was as cold as bitter winter. “Lay down before me, surrender. Your head on the first step, a firm blow of my hoof, and these nightmares will be gone.” the black malice of midnight spoke, her grin a flash of pure white in sharp contrast to her lips. “You can’t escape me, little Luna. You have no way of fighting me, and I, indelible part of your soul, will eventually break you. What say you, hmm? Surrender.. or shall I twist this dream into the screaming horror you know I can make it?”
Luna stood before the nightmare queen, her unsteady legs straight, her posture defiant. She knew what was to come, as it had every night before when she slept and visited this dark corner of her soul. Celestia couldn’t protect her here, but for her sister, Luna would fight off the dark ‘till eternity’s passing, taking each horrifying dream as it came. “I... I will not falter. All ponykind relies on me.”
The thin grin on Nightmare Moon’s face became a smirk, “I sense your fear, little Luna. It manifests itself in the dream already. Leather, little moonprincess? The last time your mind at least conjured armor made of starmetals. It didn’t make you feel any safer in the end, did it?”
Luna blinked. Had she..? She glanced at her flanks, the motion causing the smooth material of her outfit to creak faintly. Leather. This dream, she wore leather, not the regalia of royalty, not the metal armor she’d mentally conjured up in the vague hope of protection, but the same leathers she’d worn the last few days awake. And with that leather came... “Somepony’s been a naughty filly.”
“Well, little Luna, prepare for- what?” the nightmare shade interrupted herself, momentarily surprised by the response.
“I said: Somepony’s been a very, very naughty filly.” Luna reiterated as the item that came with her outfit obediently moved to levitate before her face, its little loop hanging mere inches from the princess’ snout. “And she needs some discipline.”
“What? Do you honestly think a riding crop is going to - AIE!” Nightmare Moon’s eyes went wide as the crop snapped harshly across her hindquarters.
Oh Celestia! You knew! How could I have ever doubted your choice of image coaches. I worried so, I worried that everypony’d fear me, I worried I’d give them reason to hate me. I even, for a moment, thought it was all a cruel joke... but you knew. It was all to prepare me, to give me the confidence to control the nightmares. I’ll trust you, Celestia. I’ll do my very best to learn what the coaches have to teach me.
The sound of Nightmare Moon’s panicked whinnying echoed through the dreamscape, mingling with the rhythmic slap of crop to flesh.
* * *
Twilight Sparkle’s face hurt, and the inside of her mouth tasted like... asphalt, or something of the sort. Blinking hazily, she slowly stirred from unconsciousness, the world around her coming into focus with effort. A quick orienting glance placed her inside of a small apartment, it seemed, way up in one of the many towers. Abandoned, but lacking any sign of the green ivy that crawled through most of the city.
“Sorry about the whole face-grindboarding thing.” The stallion from the cathedral peeked through the doorway, then slipped into the room, “You have to understand I had to do it so we could escape.”
“W-what faceboarding thing? What are you talking about?” Twilight asked, one hoof reaching behind her ear to scratch at her aching head.
“Oh, you were unconscious for that? Never mind then. How about.. Introductions, right! I’m Upbeat, bringing the beats from the streets to your sheets!” he pitterpatted a quick little rhythm on the floor with his forehooves for emphasis.
Finally, Twilight Sparkle took a moment to get a proper look at her companion and mutual rescue: He was younger than Twilight had taken him for, his build that of a lanky pony right in that awkward time between colt and full-grown stallion. Most of his height came from his long, gangly legs, having had little to no chance to build up the mass that came to stallions over the months, and his hairstyle was so wild one might as well call it unmanageable. “Twilight Sparkle, here on a mission to find--” Finally in-gear after a long time in a state of mixed confusion and panic, a dread realization suddenly dawned on the lavender unicorn; “What were you doing with - I threw my disk at you and you... you used it to kill-”
“A Zealot.” Upbeat quickly jumped in. “Not a pony, a Zealot. Corrupted worshippers of the false goddess. They’re not really ponies, not anymore, they’re more like... like walking-dead ponies. It’s not their fault; the corruption spreads like a disease, and once it gets inside it twists your mind until all that matters to you is spreading the infection further. Don’t worry. Don’t think about it. They’re not ponies, not anymore. As for what I was doing: I was collecting clean bits. We fled the city in an awful hurry, and I hoped there was still some left over that hadn’t gotten corrupted yet. Turned out to be right too, shame I wasn’t paying enough attention to notice the Zealots had spotted me. That’s where you came in. So.. what mission has had you living under a rock so long that you don’t know what Zealots are?”
“Actually, I came from outside. Princess Luna sent me to find Celestia, and I-”
Upbeat’s eyes bulged visibly, “You’re.. you’re from outside? You’re a noobie?!” For several awkward seconds the silence stretched, before Upbeat suddenly jerked himself out of his thoughts. “Wow... that... and the moon princess is back? That’s.. that’s big news. The guys and girls back home are going to want to pump you for information, stories, anything. But first, you need to see this. Do you know how to access these?” Upbeat held out a forehoof and exposed.. a tiny sphere, not much bigger than a marble, cradled in the center of a small, flat ring not much wider than her hoof. “It’s a video-file. Video-files contain audiovisual experiences. Accessing one tends to lock you out of your own senses until the file is done, but the information within can be truly valuable. This one’s a kind of story from Outside, like where you’re from. It contains an important lesson regarding this place, as well as a lesson on sharing. You should watch it. Just.. take it in your mouth, and bite down.”
Twilight did exactly that.
. o (o) o .
Upbeat’s hooves kicked at empty air as he rolled around on his back, tears in his eyes, gasping for breath only to waste it in further laughter. From the adjacent room, a wretched retching sound could be heard all too clearly.
“W-why would you show me something like that?” Twilight Sparkle wailed accusingly from the other room, her voice sounding thin and weak, “That... those stallions. I thought you said it was a lesson in sharing!”
“It was!” Upbeat laughed, “They were sharing a bucket! And so much more too! Do you remember that part where the little stallion shoved his snout under the tail of that big one and-” He was interrupted by more dry retching sounds, his laughter given a second wind before finally abating to mere giggles as he listened in on poor Twilight Sparkle’s misery.
“But... what was the lesson about this place..? You said it had a lesson..?” Celestia’s loyal student asked as she re-entered the room, one foreleg lightly cradling her unsettled stomach.
“Well, first of all, always identify any file before accessing it. Secondly, since you’re an outsider, prepare to get trolled. It’s... kind of tradition.” Casually, Upbeat tapped the file, causing it to disappear again, wherever such things went.
“S-so... this kind of thing is ‘getting trolled’? I don’t like it. It’s funny for you, but it’s not really something I can *ulp!* laugh about. I’m... I’m never accessing another video file in my entire life. ”
“Oh, don’t worry.” Upbeat added with a quick snicker, “Besides, I needed to be sure you weren’t yanking my code there. Only a real noobie’d fall for Two Stallions, One Bucket.” The stallion snorted, turning to peer out of one of the windows, “Anyway, we have to skip outta town in a hurry. It’s crawling with Zealots and I have to get my bits back home. You can come, if you want. The ponies in Refuge’d love to meet you. Just don’t hold me back, ‘kay? We’re even. You saved me, I saved you.”
“...and you made me watch Two Stallions, One Bucket. From how I see it, you’re still in my debt. On top of that, you wouldn’t have had to save me if I hadn’t saved you.” Twilight Sparkle pointed out, jabbing her hoof in Upbeat’s general direction for emphasis. “Not that not-saving-you ever crossed my mind. Ponies help ponies, after all.” she added a little mincingly. “Princess Luna said she’d send something to help. I’ll come with you, but we should get that before we leave. Where should we look for it?”
“The city’s downlink dock, most likely. It hasn’t been used in a while though.” Upbeat replied, one forehoof resting against the glass as he peered across the darkened city. “And... well, I suppose if it’s from one of the princesses outside, it might be important.” A sigh escaped the colt, “It’ll be day soon and it’s a long way down through the elevator shaft, we’d best get going, ok?”
Twilight Sparkle bobbed her head in a quick nod and rose to her hooves again. The way down the sharply-inclined steps proved to be a utterly grueling - they seemed built with the intention of being used only during emergencies, almost as an afterthought, and only for short spans at a time. Shuffling backwards, the two ponies made their way down, step by step, completely focused on not slipping. It even chased the questions out of Twilight Sparkle’s inquisitive mind for a while.
But as they lay resting on the vine-encrusted ground floor of the tall, tilted spire, their sore legs trembling, even fatigue couldn’t hold back the torrent for long; a single question managed to leak through the dam, “That video file and those.. things you had under your hooves. Where do those come from? Where did they go?”
Upbeat’s took several long seconds to lift his head, “Huh? Ugh, ehm. Compressed memory. Compmem. Cee-Emm. When you don’t have an object or routine manifested, you have it stored on your disk in an unusable, but compact compressed format.”
“You have a disk too?” Twilight Sparkle couldn’t remember seeing it, but now that she looked, craning her neck, she could spot it neatly pressed against Upbeat’s spine. For a few lingering seconds, she stared at the hoof-and-a-half-sized circle, “It’s so... tiny!”
“H-hey!” Upbeat squawked, his cheeks taking on a rosy flush, “It’s perfectly average-sized for a pony at my stage of development! Besides, it’s not how big it is that matters, it’s how you use it. At least I don’t go swinging around a freakishly-huge disk like you. I bet you don’t even know what to do with it!”
“I... ehm... it stores objects in an unusual, but compact compressed format? So it’s like a magical saddlebag. Oh, and you can smack Zealots with it, apparently. And it returns when you throw it. That much I’ve figured out.”
“Drat! Ehm, I mean, you can... I’ll explain later. Just don’t go swaggering just because you’ve got a big disk, okay?” Upbeat sputtered, climbing to his hooves with a shuddering groan. “Alright, I’ll lead the way and let’s hope we can avoid all the bad guys this time.”
The sun-equivalent, as alien as it seemed at first glance, rose towards the heavens with an almost-soothingly familiar glow, casting it’s light through the dead city in ever-rising angles as the duo made their way through the deserted streets. Shadows lingered in silent structures that once might have been shops, bars and homes, but now remained eerily quiet.
“So, I guess our luck ran out?” Twilight Sparkle groaned with a glance to her companion. With her forehooves hooked over a piece of fallen rubble, she could just peer over the top. It gave her a brilliant view of the downlink docks; a great open structure that reminded her vaguely of a mix between the river-docks it was an analogy of, and a giant space-elevator unlike anything Equestria had ever seen. It was a tower of glass, ridged with gleaming black stone, rising to the heavens and beyond into the codestream-enriched warping black of the system firmament. While untouched by the glowing green vine, it was, however, also completely dead.
“No, no, I think this place is reasonably intact. If we can get it some power, I think we’ll be able to receive your package.” Upbeat corrected, albeit with a slight hesitation. “Come, let’s hurry.” Kicking his hindlegs at the wall, he scrambled over, swiftly followed by Twilight as they galloped the open ground through the automated, but unmoving cargo crane-structures that clustered around the base of the mighty tower.
The tower’s base opened up in a cavernous space, its size further empathized by it’s nigh-complete emptiness. The control box, a semi-transparant glass case hovering midair with no visible support, proved easy enough to spot. The path up to it swirled around the titanic room’s edges like the twirling ribbon of a Ponylympics dancer. The shallow angle made the journey up to the box a great deal easier, a swift gallop bringing them into the bubble where an arcane control panel - made more arcane still by the fact it operated from within the system rather than without - stood quiet, but filled with a steady blue glow that traced outlines throughout its otherwise-inanimate features. It was the first thing that Twilight Sparkle saw that actually had power in this city.
“Now I’m not exactly a registered or trained operator for... well... this. It should be easy, though? Right? Just -” Upbeat jammed his forehoof into a large glowing circle, “- push the big button.”
The whole tower lit up.
Lines of fluorescent light bursts into existence, pouring up from the ground into their dedicated grooves in the dark stone, reaching heavenward in angular, branching patterns. Even in the warming glow of the faux sun, the city downlink dock suddenly shone in stark contrast to the rest of the darkened city. A loud hiss echoed through the tower’s confines, followed by a rumbling hum as something began descending down it’s central shaft.
“Wow, that’s... pretty impressive.” Twilight Sparkle had to confess, head craned back to watch the great loading platform descend towards them. “The whole place lit up like a roman candle. I can almost imagine how this city must’ve looked before it went dark.”
“Oh shoot! I forgot! Ehm, miss... ehr... crammitwhatwashername? Miss Big Disk, the Zealots aren’t going to miss spotting the light and they’ll definitely come investigate! If you really want whatever the princess sent you, you’d better hurry up so we can go.” Upbeat squeaked as he rattled the console in a frustrated attempt to make the elevator platform descend faster.
Slowly, the cargo came into view, a veritable maze of haphazardly-stacked transparent cubes very much like the ‘fishbowls’ she saw earlier. Truly haphazardly-stacked, Twilight realized as she noticed several of them hovering in complete defiance of gravity, moving with the elevator’s steady descent as if the cubes underneath had been removed and the ones on top simply forgot to fall.
“The name’s Twilight Sparkle! It’s not that hard to remember, right? And why would princess Luna send me a giant pile of fishbowls?” Twilight asked both herself and her slightly-befuddled companion.
“Fishbowls? What’s a..? Oh, those are datacubes! Empty ones. Why would she send so much empty stuff, though? I hope she didn’t forget to send at least something.”
“No problem, I’ll just lift the empty ones out of the way and find the one with, ehm, stuff that way; with a little magic.” Twilight Sparkle focused on her horn, nose crinkling as she began to lift-
-nothing. “M-my magic!”
“What? Didn’t Luna tell you about that? No magic here, all of it goes to feed the machine. What we do with programs is much like magic anyway.” Upbeat glanced around himself, “You can have your nervous breakdown later. Now get to searching!” A quick shove of his forehead against Twilight’s hindquarters sent the horrified lavender pony tumbling a few steps forward, onto the still-descending elevator platform.
For several long seconds, Twilight Sparkle stumbled through the mass, unsure what to do. Salvation, or at least some form of conclusion, came when she noticed the vague, blurry motion of something colorful among one of the stacks. “Found one with fish in it!”
“Fish?” Upbeat hesitated, peering from behind the console, “Ehr, yes, just touch that cube and try to... magic the fish towards you. It may take a little while, so I’ll try to keep us both alive. Suffusion to active memory.”
“Got it! It’s ‘downloading’, I can see a growing line filling up an empty bar. What was that last bit you said?” Twilight Sparkle shouted, her attention focused on the single non-empty container she found.
“Nothing!” The denial was soon followed by the familiar warbling boom of a Zealot’s blobby projectiles. “How’s that download coming along?”
“Eight seconds! No, three minutes! Ten minutes! Six minutes! Twelve seconds! No, twelve minutes! It keeps jumping around!”
“Please don’t tell me you’re not using the default downloader?!” Upbeat wailed through the noise of detonations. An electrical whirring joined the steadily swelling bedlam, terminating in a sudden hollow ‘thrump!’.
“Default what? I’m new here, I’m using the default everything!”
“You - I - what - ARGH! When we get to town, I’m getting you a customized! Just don’t - Ow! - move too far from the storage cube and- ah crap, now that’s fragmented too?!”
“Nothing! Just keep downloading! How much of the bar is full?”
“About nine out of ten! No, wait, it’s done!”
“In that case, run!”
“What?” Twilight Sparkle blinked, taking her focus from the now-empty transparent cube to the young stallion rushing towards her at frantic speed, dodging back and forth through the erratically-stacked boxes. “You know, this looks familia-yike!” Like a tidal wave of green bodies, the Zealots literally avalanched in behind the decidedly terrified-looking Upbeat, scrabbling and crawling one over the other as they spilled onto the loading platform. Pulsing emerald blobs flew in lazy, undirected arcs as tumbling Zealots spat forth their corruptive ooze.
“I meant it, run!” Upbeat squealed as behind him the mass of kicking and squirming bodies frantically tried to get to their hooves to chase their new prey. “We got a lot of attention here!”
Twilight Sparkle’d already figured that much out, squealing as she turned and kicked into a gallop with enough force to strike sparks from the loading platform’s smooth surface. “I’ll never complain about ticket-hungry mobs again!”
“Over here, up here!” Upbeat squealed as he jinked to the left, forehooves striking the solid surface of a tilted ledge swirling up along the tower of one of the massive cranes. “Left! Left again! Left again!”
“It’s a spiral staircase, what do you think I’ll do, go right?!” Twilight Sparkle shouted after Upbeat’s bobbing backside. Glancing back, she could just spot the first Zealots taking their first steps onto the spiralling ramp. Climbing, they were considerably faster than the flood of green - but journeys heavenward tended to have a very specific conclusion;
Upbeat was breathing a little heavily as he carefully balanced himself on the blissfully-flat, elongated surface of the cargo-crane. Leaning forward slightly, he peered down along the crane’s tower, “Woooh, that’s high! Alright, we got a few moments to think, and I bet you have something superfancy among those things the Princess sent you. Right? Right? Please tell me I’m right.”
“I don’t know!” Twilight Sparkle whined, “How am I supposed to know what I have?”
“Read your disk, just tell me what’s on it!”
“Oh, ehm... alright?” Twilight Sparkle reached behind her, and neatly flipped the large disk over in front of her, holding it between her hooves as she intently glared at it, “It doesn’t work like a book does- oh, there we go! Princess Luna sent me quite a package. Lots of things on here. Let’s see, the first is: ‘Extremely important fi-’, followed by a lot of odd squiggly symbols and letters that make no sense.”
“Not important. Next!” Upbeat impatiently snapped.
“Project Twixie. What’s a Twixie?”
“Not a clue. Next!”
“There we go! Just what we need. With that thing rezzed, we can just ride down the spiral, smashing our way through the Zealots, and we’ll be home free! Remember how to rez?”
“Ehm, I think so. I can try.” Twilight Sparkle focused for a moment. It was like magic, Upbeat’d told her, didn’t he? It shouldn’t be too-
A sleek rod burst into existence, moments before smoothly disassembling itself. Thin lines carved themselves through reality, purple neon light drawing through space like the touch of an artist’s pen scribed upon three dimensions at terrifying speed.
“Wow, that looks...” Upbeat went quiet. What was once empty space was now dominated by a monument to speed that would’ve sent Rainbow Dash into a squealing fit of jealousy. Deep purple, the titan of a cycle, no fewer than five ponylengths long, gleamed like a showroom model with a fresh coat of wax. Its flanges and massive virtual engine-block were all marked copiously with Twilight Sparkle’s cutie-mark, and the sleek snout tapered down to a flat, almost blade-like crescent. Upbeat swallowed. “...fast.”
“What are those parts?”
“Rocket engines.” Upbeat squeaked out, his voice climbing half an octave.
“More rocket engines.” It came out almost as a Fluttershy-esque peep.
“It looks very fancy. I wouldn’t know where to start!” Twilight Sparkle giggled, hopping on the rearmost seat of the sleek, yet phallic monstrosity of a lightcycle. “Good thing you’ll be the one driving it.”
“Me?!” Sweat began to roll down Upbeat’s face, trailing down his snout and cheeks like water in a rainstorm.
“You can drive it, right?”
“O-of course! I mean, cool ponies can drive lightcycles, and I’m a cool pony!” With several careful steps, Upbeat moved up to the vehicle, and touched it, nervously snatching his forehoof back.
“Hurry up, the Zealots are almost here!”
Upbeat swallowed, inhaled deeply, and hopped on. “Alright then! Hold on, and watch the master at work!” He grabbed the handlebars by its pony-suitable handles and kicked the throttle.
The engine burst to life in a shrieking rage of glory, sending them shooting forward as if launched from a cannon. A deep purple wall flared into existence behind them, forming a magnificent, long, graceful downward arc like a monocolor rainbow.
...unfortunately it had that particular shape because Upbeat missed the first turn and launched the vehicle off the crane-tower the fast way.
“Wooohoo! I can’t believe we survived that!” Upbeat cheered as he wobbled on unsteady legs, “And with the zealots up in the tower, and us on the ground, we got plenty of time to get away!”
“I... I can’t believe you trashed my lightcycle! I had it for like, ten seconds!”
“Ehm... don’t worry, my shelter’s not far off. It’s on our way to Refuge, in fact. I’ll get you a new one.”
Upbeat’s ‘shelter’ really did live up to expectations. A stout, dark, blocky little structure that could’ve easily served as a bomb-hideaway. Within its barely-lit confines, two ponies bravely wrestled themselves through a maze-like mass of empty storage cubes and the occasional discarded chunk of rock.
“Never can have enough storage space. Don’t worry, garage is right through here.” Upbeat announced, pointing sheepishly at a doorway vaguely visible through the distortion of semi-transparent storage boxes.
“How about space for yourself?”
“Oh, I don’t come here often. Anyway, here we go! This box is the one... I think.” Upbeat tapped the crate, where a single solitary little datafile swam lazily back and forth. A quick tap, and it was in his possession. Another tap, hooves touching, and Twilight Sparkle was the brand new owner of a brand new Lightcycle.
“Tadaa!” Upbeat cheerfully announced as he gestured at the manifesting vehicle. “It’s mine. Well, yours now. What do you think?”
“It’s... smaller.” Twilight Sparkle noted hesitantly, noting that the new bright pink lightcycle was barely three-quarters of a ponylength from nose to tail. “And it has streamers hanging from the handlebars.”
“That just makes it look cooler, right?”
“And it has... are those training wheels?”
“You’re a new driver, right? This lightcycle’s far more suited for your noobie skills than that deathtrap the princess got you.”
“I think anyone but a little filly’d be rather embarrassed to be seen riding one of these. In fact, I think it’s meant for a little filly!”
Upbeat nervously tapped his hooves together, seating himself halfway on a nearby empty storage cube, “Well, to be honest, it’s my first lightcycle... and kinda my last. Promise not to tell anypony? I... kinda never graduated from this one to anything bigger. You see, I have this... habit of trashing every vehicle I ever drive. It’s like a curse, really. For example, do you remember that high tower you woke up in? Well, on the way up, I used the elevator. Ehm... on the way down, it was broken.”
“I didn’t see it when we got down though. Did it reach the top floor?”
“Bits of it did!”
* * *
The little lightcycle purred like a pleased baby kitten as it made its way across the empty road, almost as if it was delighted that it was being driven again. Perhaps it just liked getting out of the storage cube, perhaps it enjoyed the fact it was being driven by somepony who couldn’t turn an elevator ride into a demolition derby.
Perhaps Twilight Sparkle was just imagining things. After all, it was only a little filly’s lightcycle, rolling along at a foal-safe speed under her inexperienced, but sturdy guidance. Clinging to the back of the little cycle with his forelegs, Upbeat cheerfully applied the occasional ‘weee!’ and ‘faster!’ to Twilight Sparkle’s already slightly-frayed nerves whilst straddling the tiny, ankle-high lightwall with a rollerball-equipped hindhoof on either side.
The purple unicorn’s eyebrows tried to burrow into the bridge of her snout. It was like driving with a little foal in the back seat. At least he wasn’t-
“Are we there yet?”
“Aargh! Shouldn’t you know that? You live here!”
“Of course! I just can’t see around your-”
“Finish that sentence and you’re walking.”
* * *
“Are we there yet?”
“No- wait, yes! Yes! Yesyesyes! We’re there! Finally!” Twilight Sparkle’s head almost bounced off the steering column with excitement as the dark and gleaming walls of what looked to be a town came into view, signalling the end of her Upbeat-induced torment like a prison guard giving her back her material possessions on the way out of jail.
Her enthusiasm slowly waned as the distance shrank. Details manifested, the walls seemingly growing more ragged with each detail that caught the unicorn’s eye. Plates of cracked road lay twisted and tilted crazily against each other, haphazardly forming a crude wall around a town so small it could’ve fit inside Ponyville twice. Empty data containers, familiar now that she knew what their purpose was, formed support and defensive positions around rooftops that hinted at the village within.
“There we go! Let me handle this. They know me, after all. You’re a stranger to them.” Upbeat announced as he let go of the moving lightcycle and casually rolled to a stop in front of the armored, somewhat makeshift-looking gate. “Now watch, and learn. Ehem.” A deep breath preceded, followed by a startlingly loud “Hey dicks! We want in!”.
“Are you sure that’s the right atti-” Twilight Sparkle started, before being interrupted by a loud, bonemarrow-chilling scrape of rock across rock, the gate slowly forced apart, barely wide enough to let a single pony squeeze through.
“See?” Upbeat snickered, and turned away from Celestia’s faithful student to lead the way in.
...and came snout-to-snout with the massive frame of one of the gate guards, the unsettlingly-large stallion peering through the gap. “It’s you. You marry Sue.”
“Ehr...” Upbeat swallowed. “Oh, I kinda forgot about that. Don’t worry, I’ll, ehm...”
The gate slammed shut in his face.
“Oh.” Upbeat looked slightly stunned. “How about you do it, Twilight Sparkle? They don’t know you, after all.”
“I suppose I could...” Twilight Sparkle’s lil’ lightcycle flashed as it disassembled itself back into its basic rod shape, before disappearing into the purple unicorn’s disc, stored away as she approached the door. “Ah, hello there? My name is Twilight Sparkle and I’d like to get in please..?”
* * *
While the walls were ramshackle, beyond them lay a hint of what the great city they left behind must’ve looked like in its full glory. It was like seeing urban Ponyville, cast in gleaming black and lit by lines of neon fire. Even its inhabitants, more tightly-packed than the town was built for, glowed with their own personal light, leaving not a single shadow among them. Familiar market stalls in brilliant blue and orange filled the remaining space between buildings, stallkeepers patiently awaiting customers for their wares or trying to draw the attention of the bustling crowd.
“This is so... colorful!” Twilight Sparkle spurted, gaping like a slackjawed tourist, “It’s like Heartswarming at night, but all the ponies are wearing lights too!”
Upbeat snickered in response, slipping in past the stunned purple unicorn, “It’s like that all the time, although there were fewer ponies here before. Most of these lived in Canterlock City, although this is only a small portion. The rest either got corrupted or moved further away.” The stallion glanced at the towering cannons roughly braced on the rooftops of structures that clearly weren’t meant for such adornments. “They feel safe here, though. At least safe enough to go about their business. Anyway, I have some business and you should do some shopping. Do you think you can handle shopping?”
“Shopping? I think so, but... what do I pay with?” Twilight Sparkle rummaged around, forehooves poking various parts of her body in search for pockets, a baggy, or anything of the sort. “I don’t have any coins with me, I don’t even know what you use for money.”
“Bits, obviously! I mentioned that before, didn’t I?”
“Oh right! You were scrounging for them in the city... Canterlock? I don’t think I got any, though.”
“Hold out your disk in front of you. Horizontally.” Upbeat instructed, and when Twilight Sparkle proceeded to do exactly that, leaned forward, opened his mouth...
...and proceeded to vomit a sizable pile of tiny cubelets onto the proffered disk. “Here you go, miss Twilight Sparkle. Those bits should be enough to pay for what you need. Bon appetit!”
“...eww? What, how..? Did you just vomit?!”
“Just spitting out some of the bits I collected. They’re our food too, sortof. We don’t need to eat but we can graze up bits and store them inside, then use them for payment, construction, ammunition, andsoforth. So eat up.”
With an expression remarkably similar to one Rarity would wear while being forced to root through garbage, Twilight Sparkle hesitantly clamped one of the freshly up-chucked little cubes between her lips, held her virtual breath, and swallowed.
It tasted exactly like the ones she had in the tower: nothing.
With a sigh of relief, the unicorn proceeded to consume what remained of the pile, carefully tilting the disk to avoid any of Bits sliding off. “Ok, I think I’ve got them all. So how do I bring them back out?” Valiantly, the faithful student started producing various gagging noises. “Wait, maybe if I put the tip of my hoof in the back of my mou-”
“No-no. It’s not like that. Just.. think of a number, focus for a moment, and...”
Two ‘fresh’ Bits appeared on the large surface of Twilight Sparkle’s disk. “Ah, I figured it out! I’ll need to add this to my report to Celestia! The Economy of Vomiting.”
“You... do that, then. And go shopping. Here’s a mail with a list of the things you should get. As I said, I have some... things to do.” Upbeat coughed, turned around, and dug his way through the crowd like a fish swimming through familiar current.
“Wai-oh shoot. Well, I suppose I could manage shopping, right?” Twilight Sparkle turned the the obvious market square, and peered at the little list that popped up in her vision. “At least I have a shopping-list, even if I have no clue how it works...”