CHAPTER 16: Reunion
Twilight woke up in a dark room. She had lost consciousness soon after... after her reflection, Lustrous Revolt left. As her eyes adjusted to her surroundings, she saw she was in a prison cell of some sort. A barred window let in a small beam of moonlight. Twilight picked herself up. The pain had numbed to a dull throb.
Across the room, a glint of light caught her eye. A mirror. In the land of mirrors. Whether these were standard prison decoration or whether they had placed it there deliberately, she didn't know. But she had to see her condition. She stepped up to the glass, stoically examining her face like a biologist might look over a plant. There was a deep slash, in the exact same place her 'future self' had it during her time travel incident, though it had healed long ago. The same liquid she had seen earlier had caked along her cheek, and it seemed like nopony had bothered to clean it.
Blood, Lustrous Revolt had called it. She grimaced at the thought of that name, and the pony behind it. The name itself went against Twilight's mentality. The name was, well, revolting. She reached a hoof up to her cheek, and pressed lightly. A bolt of pain shot through her face, and she collapsed in shock. Her body still hadn't adjusted to this new sensation yet. She stood up once more, on wobbly legs. Already in her time here, she had lost some of the brightness in her eyes. And her innocence.
Blood, as she had known it before, was just a metaphor for lineage and royalty. A perfect example was Prince Blueblood. But could this be where the comparisons had come from? It seemed to flow through her, and the gash had brought it to the surface. But now something didn't make sense. She had heard her own heart beat before. She understood the concept of blood, and how it helped her body. But never once before did she question where it was when she got cut. For serious, unrecoverable injuries, ponies would 'Blink', or pass on to the next life, their bodies becoming energy and being reabsorbed into the earth. For lesser injuries, all that was needed was a bit of bed-rest or babying of the wound. Sometimes they wouldn't even feel it after five seconds or so. There wasn't a lot of middle ground.
Could this be what had been missing? What Eclipse felt was wrong with Reality? Though, could she blame Celestia? She would never wish what she had experienced on anypony else. Which frustrated her further. Lustrous Revolt was right. There was no way she could pull out of the Land of the Lost now. Not if it meant bringing true pain to Equestria.
Twilight explored her cell in the almost-darkness. There. A door. She knocked on it. “Hello? Is anypony there?”
A slot at eye-level slid open. Brilliant green eyes held Twilight's gaze. “Ah, good, you're awake. Hold on.” The viewport shut, and there was a rustling on the other side, then a jangle of keys. The door swung inward, making Twilight step back to avoid getting hit. Her liberator was an orange pony with a blond mane, a black fedora, and some sort of metal rod pointed threateningly at her. Telekinetically, Twilight noticed, though the mare was an earth pony.
“Alright, get outta there.” Her voice was heavily accented with a southern Manehatten dialect, the same Twilight had heard on the stallion who gave them the cloaks earlier. “You can join your friends with the rest of the prisoners.”
Twilight's heart rose. Her friends were safe! Well, somewhat. Apparently they were in the same boat she was. But at least they were alive!
As Twilight complied, she got a glance at the pony's Cutie Mark. Three apples. So this was Applejack's reflection. But she was using magic to carry her weapon, like Pinkamina had said was possible. That was something that needed further study. The pony pushed Twilight down the narrow corridor, which was lined with other doors which Twilight could only assume led to more cells.
The reflection opened the door at the end of the hallway, and pushed Twilight through it. She staggered out into the open air, blinking in the artificial light. After her eyes adjusted to the shock, she saw that she was in a compound of some sort. There were high walls made of chain-link fence with nasty looking barbed wire on the top, the half-moon highlighting the wicked points. Towers were positioned at each corner of the compound, which had the same long metal rods her jailer carried, mounted onto the frames of the towers. The compound itself, despite its size, was deserted besides Twilight herself and Applejack's reflection. There were several wooden buildings in the middle, which Twilight could only assume was where she was being led.
“Keep moving. I haven't got all day.”
As they walked, Twilight could feel the penetrating stare of one of the guards in the tower. She looked up and was surprised to see a blond maned, gray pegasus. Ditzy? But no. This one was wearing an eyepatch. It couldn't have been her. But a reflection? Could the oracle of the natural plane have a reflection?
They arrived at the first of the cabins. “You'll be sleeping here. Might as well make yourself comfortable. You'll be here for quite some time.”
Twilight stepped in, deciding to keep her mouth shut. She had so many unanswered questions, but for some reason she felt she didn't want to be on the receiving end of that rod.
The door slammed behind her, and it once again it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. From the darkness peered several... griffons. They scowled darkly at her.
“Um... heheh. Hello.”
One of the griffons stalked over, looking Twilight up and down with a menacing stare. “So. They're capturing more of their own kind now are they?”
The griffon sniffed, with a hint of disdain. “Well, if you're on their bad side, you're fine in my book.” He flicked his tail to one of his brethren. “Take her to the other ponies. They said they were looking for someone. This could be her.”
Twilight was lead away through the building, which had meager sleeping arrangements. Really just boards attached to the walls by chains. Definitely uncomfortable looking, and rather barbaric Twilight thought.
“...Well, ah just feel like we can't wait here for her. Sure, they have us locked up tight, but it just seems wrong lettin' time slip by when we don't even know if she's safe.”
Once more, Twilight's heart leaped. She knew that drawl from anywhere. She turned the corner, and sure enough, there were her six—five friends conversing quietly. Pinkamina, and thus Pinkie was missing, Twilight noted. Spike saw her first.
“Twilight! You're safe!” He jumped up and latched onto Twilight's neck, hugging her tightly. The griffon that had guided her stepped away, leaving them in peace. The other ponies jumped up as well, and she was overwhelmed by a stream of questions and endearing remarks.
Finally, one rose above the other. “Oh Twilight! Your cheek!”
“It's... it's nothing.”
“No it isn't, Twilight.” Rarity's voice was heavy, shaking almost. She lit up her horn, which seemed strained, as if they had drained her energy as well. But it provided just enough light for Twilight to see.
Each of her friends had slashes across their cheeks. Though the blood had dried, the sight was more painful than the memory of the way she got hers.
“They... they couldn't have!” Twilight was infuriated. “Spike! Rarity! Applejack! Rainbow! Oh, Fluttershy, I'm so sorry you had to endure that! How dare they! What happened? How much do you know?”
The others went silent. “Well...” Applejack began. “All we know is a pony walked in who looked just like you. Ah mean, none of us thought it was, but she was so serious, and looked the same...”
Twilight smiled sadly. “I have some explaining to do, don't I? I don't know how much you've picked up, but this world is a reflection to ours. It seems that every event, every being, every concept has an alternate, but not quite opposite version in this, the Forgotten Realm. From what I heard from my captors, this world was made by Princess Celestia, I can only assume to keep these evils away from ponykind. This is the true Tartarus. Now, the problem is that from their perspective, the reflections are justified in fighting back. They claim that because they've been through the troubles, they're the ones that deserve to have the joy. They consider our world a paradise.”
Applejack frowned. “But it's not like our world is perfect, is it?”
“Well, that's just it. To us, it might not be, but to them, by comparison, it is. Think about it. Sure, ponies might be annoying or egotistical every now and then, like Trixie and Gilda, but nopony's truly evil. Well, if they are, we take them down, like Discord and Nightmare Moon, but even Nightmare Moon had Luna deep down inside, and Discord, as frustrating as he was, he didn't actually harm anypony, not this last time around anyway. But compared to this,” she said, holding up a hoof to her cut, “All of our troubles are nothing. And from what they said, we've only begun to experience this world.”
She sighed. “I don't know what to think. I sympathize with our reflections. They're afraid. Hurt. Discouraged. But then they take it out on us. If it were just me, maybe. But I can't allow myself to even begin to agree with them if they're hurting you guys.”
Rainbow scowled. “We'll just have to fight against them. They're not on our side, so we'll have to work for ourselves. Nopony else is going to. We'll find a way to get out of this compound, then get Luna, and get out.”
Twilight took a deep breath. “There's a slight problem with than plan, Rainbow. Apparently, if we return to Reality, we'll pull these experiences, true Pain and Blood with us. They're called the Atrocities, and since, according to my reflection, this world was built with the Elements of Harmony, the problems placed there can be taken out with them as well. And seeing as we're the physical vessels for the Elements...”
The group went silent.
“Well that stinks.”
“Tell me about it. So, where are we exactly?”
“Well, dear, we're still in Moon Pool, just on the outskirts. When you didn't return for a bit, we decided to go exploring a bit more. We found Spectral Slash, who said she'd come to get us. She led us into a dark room and several ponies jumped us, and we each woke up in separate rooms.”
“Then,” said Fluttershy, her voice shaking, “your, um, reflection attacked us. Then we were brought here.”
“It could be worse, ah suppose,” said Applejack, trying to lift their spirits. “At least they let us stick together, and this isn't exactly a dungeon. And these other prisoners, the griffons, are at least cordial if a bit distant.”
“They did take our Elements though, Twilight,” reported Rainbow. “Besides what we have right here, we don't have any tools to help us escape.”
Twilight smiled. “We can worry about that later. Right now, I'm just happy to see my friends.” They joined together in a group hug, their shared troubles melting away at the warmth of their bonds. They sat like that for a couple minutes, not wanting to end the moment.
Finally, Twilight pulled away. All good things come to an end. But so did the bad. “There's not much we can do until our situation changes somewhat. I don't think they put us in here to rot. They're trying to show us something, trying to get us to think differently. We just don't know how yet.”
A new voice came from behind them. “I don't believe it. Is it really you, Rainbow Dash?”
The friends whipped around. In the shadows was a griffon, who had managed to enter undetected. Rainbow jumped over her friends and stood defiantly against the visitor. “Yeah, and what's it to you? Here to hurt us?”
The griffon stepped forward, her face bright and full of joy. “No, of course not. Don't you recognize me? It's me, Gilda!”