CHAPTER 17: Revived Alliances
The doors of the castle flew open, the heavy, detailed oak silent except for the slight breeze they caused. A shadow of a stallion stepped across the threshold, the white flames of his eyes the only light in the hallway. After regarding the darkness for a few moments, he looked over his shoulder his smoky mane whipping and finally trailing softly from the motion. Behind him stood an odd mixture of strength and pity. Luna was resisting his mind spells very well. She refused to give into his influence.
Peace, Mare of the Night. We mean you no harm. But sometimes truth can only be whispered in the darkest of places. The truth of the shadows is sometimes just as bright the fire of the home. Even when your moon is dark, its presence is felt by the sea. A light shaded still burns just as brightly. It need only be uncovered.
The truth is in your mind. We must remove the blinding.
He tugged at the mental bonds, pulling her after him. They traveled in silence, only her hoofsteps resounding down the corridor. Eventually, they arrived at the center of the castle. A long, dark red carpet led to a throne long abandoned, though recently occupied.
“Thael, good to see you again. I see the mission went well?”
At the risk of sounding cliché and overconfident, all is as planned, Gareth.
“Good, good.” Gareth rose from the throne. “Ah, Luna my dear. Finally come to join me? Oh, right, you can't really answer right now. You should stop smoking,” he said, pointing to the trail leading from the Goddess to the Metaspectre.
“I only wish I had a greater claw in this. Or a paw,” he said, holding up each. “Strengthening the Elements was fun, but I feel like I'm missing out on a lot of potential chaos.”
Your time will come soon enough, Lord of Disharmony.
“I have to thank you for all of this. Being trapped in here has been so boring. When the world is already in complete chaos, adding more just isn't fulfilling. Times were so much better when the worlds were merged. And I wasn't trapped in stone. Hey! Celestia!” he called. “Isn't it absolutely delicious? I'm within arm's length of your lost sister, and all you can do is watch. Oh, wait, hold on.” He placed a large silly hat on the princess, and summoned a false mustache as well. “Hahaha! Seriously, I don't know why you didn't do anything like this when I was frozen.”
Pardon me, Gareth, but there are more important matters we must attend to before the Elements arrive.
“Oh, just call me Discord. Everypony else does.”
Only because they're afraid of you.
“You're no fun at all.”
We shall see.
“Gilda?” asked Rainbow incredulously. “What are you doing here? I thought you went home after the party.”
“Party? What party? Dash, I haven't seen you since flight camp!”
Rainbow stepped back. “But... I... you were there. I understand if you want to forget it. We both made mistakes, and maybe I made more than you. I should have tried harder to make you feel welcomed. Pinkie really didn't intend any harm, and I was a bit of a jerk. Gilda, I want to apolo-”
Gilda grabbed Rainbow by the shoulders. “As nice as it is to see you, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Unless... no, maybe I do.” She looked around. “Listen, it's late, and I'd rather explain everything than be cut off prematurely. If the warden comes around, it won't be good for any of us.”
Rainbow frowned. “Alright, now I think I'm confused.”
“I'm sorry I can't explain any further.” She looked over her shoulder, the fear in her eyes apparent. “I'll find you tomorrow, but go to sleep for now. Trust me on this.”
She bowed to the other ponies. “If you're friends of Rainbow's, you're friends of mine. Sorry to run.” She left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
“Well, she seems to have changed,” Fluttershy commented.
“Before any of us go any further, let's step back for a moment,” began Twilight. “Why in the world would Gilda be here? Why is she so friendly? Sure, it might be Gilda's reflection, but there are two problems with that. The first is that she is friendly. So far, the only friendly pony in the Forgotten Realm betrayed us all. Secondly, she did know you, Rainbow, but if she were Gilda's reflection, she would know Spectral Slash, not you.”
“I dunno, Twilight,” Rainbow sighed, wings drooping. “She seemed like the real deal. I mean, the Gilda back in Reality that you met did seem a little different than the one I knew back at flight camp. Like, maybe she had a bad week or something. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, but she kept it up. The thing is, when either of us became angry at flight camp, we'd just call the other one out for it and we'd make up almost instantly. That's why we were such good friends. With what I've learned here, I'd be more willing to believe this is the real Gilda than the one I had to send away. It pained me, but she just didn't seem right. Especially when she didn't return.”
“I don't trust this, Rainbow. They're playing mind games with us.”
“But if she is the real Gilda,” Applejack added, “we need as many allies as we can get. However she got here, it was probably before us. Maybe she knows things about this world that could help us. Like where Luna might be.”
“We shouldn't be distracted by anything. We need to get out of here as soon as possible and pick up Luna's trail again. Why would Gilda know about the Metaspectre's hiding place when she's in here with us?”
“Twilight, dear, be reasonable. At the very least we should hear her out.”
Twilight sighed. She was out voiced. But every time she had been trusting of late, it had come at a price. “Alright. We'll listen to what she has to say. What are we going to do about sleeping arrangements?”
“All they gave us are these little boards. There should be enough for all of us, but it's not going to be a comfortable night.” Spike jumped up on the nearest 'bed,' which squeaked in protest.
“Well, we can worry and complain about what we don't have, or we can make due.” Applejack climbed onto one of the other boards, settling in. “Let's just sleep. Everything will make more sense in the morning.”
As predicted, the ponies woke up a bit more sore than usual. Nothing prepared them for their wake up call.
“ATTENTION! YOU HAVE THREE SECONDS TO GET UP AND GET OUT OR I'LL MAKE GOOD USE OF THE WHIP! IT'S NOT JUST FOR SHOW!”
The ponies leaped out of their beds before they even knew what was happening. A very cross pastel yellow pegasus stood before them, her pink hair crammed under a thick helmet and her eyes glaring angrily from underneath. Two stern guards attended her.
“Um... who are you?” Twilight asked.
“INSUBORDINATION! SPEAKING OUT OF TURN!” She cracked the short leather crop in the air, the noise making the still drowsy ponies recoil in shock. “But since you're new I'll let it slide! I am Sergeant Shuddercry, warden of the Moon Pool Prisoner of War camp and head of the Moon Pool militia! As far as you're concerned, I am your God! If I tell you to drop to the ground, you do. If I tell you to stab your friend...”
She got right up into Twilight's face, the crop tracing Twilight's cut. “So help me you better.” Her whisper was more frightening than her yelling.
“Now you stop right there.” Fluttershy stood resolutely, defiance pouring out of her in waves.
Shuddercry gave a dark smile. “Oh ho ho.” She turned from Twilight, flicking the whip across the wound as she did, making Twilight drop as the once subdued pain returned.
“I don't care who you say you are. You do not threaten my friends. And you DEFINITELY do not hurt them.”
“Good to see my reflection has a little bit of spine. Misplaced courage though.” Shuddercry sniffed with disdain. “Too bad Lustrous Revolt wants you relatively unharmed. Were you any other prisoner that would have earned you a beating.” She turned in place. “Learn your place well. You're not revered guests simply because you share a startling resemblance to me and my acquaintances. I will keep my camp in line. You're free to wander the compound, socialize with the other prisoners, and participate in some of the projects we have. You come back to the barracks at curfew, and you stay at least 10 feet away from the fences at all times. My guards are ordered to shoot should you go any further.”
She began walking away, then stopped as she had another thought. “Stay out of trouble and nothing bad will come to you. Well, not from my hoof anyway. Any whisper of rebellion from any of the other prisoners must be reported. We will reward you if you do.”
“So that's it?” asked Applejack. “What about meals?”
The Sergeant gave a snort of derision. “Who said anything about food?”
The door slammed shut with a bang.