Chapter 20: A Day with Darkness (Part 2)
“So...where are we headed?” Rainbow had held her tongue for as long as possible, but they had passed so many interesting things, she felt she had to break the silence, even if it was with the one that had betrayed her and her friends.
“To the pub, first off. I need another drink. Then the Colosseum.”
“The what now?”
“Hush. You'll see soon enough. In the mean time, try to stick to the shadows.”
Rainbow frowned. “Why?”
“Though most of the ponies in this town are aware of the other world, it's better to lay low. They'd either become overzealous and act rashly, ruining our plans, or they'd attack you in jealousy. Either way, the result wouldn't be desirable for you.”
They finally reached the pub, where the bartender didn't have to do more than glance before he began pouring a glass for Spectral Slash. It seemed she was a frequent flier here, so to speak.
They sat down at the table Slash had occupied earlier. Rainbow noted that though there were so many ponies here that some were standing, nobody even approached this table.
Rainbow looked around the room. Nopony-body...whatever, made eye contact with her. The other patrons, who were also looking around the room in boredom, refused to look in that corner, some even going as far as to turn all the way around before continuing their scrutinizing scan.
“Why isn't anyone looking over here?”
Spectral Slash took a sip of her drink without revealing her eyes under her hood. “It's because they're afraid of me.”
“They are?” Rainbow looked her reflection over. Despite what she had done to her friends earlier, Rainbow still felt somewhat safe around her. And yet the blade attached to her forehoof, lying ready in the shadows, the metal armor tracing the front of her wings, which spread as if they were daring for action, the way her eyes darted around the room, drinking in every detail, her ears flicking ever so slightly as she caught the conversations...The now monochrome mane and coat, blending her into the shadows, her suit removing any defining lines and her goggles furthering the almost spider-like appearance...Rainbow could see why they were afraid of her. But it must have been more than just that.
“Why do they fear you?”
Slash put down her cup and sighed. She turned to Dash, her magenta eyes the only highlight of color, and therefore that much more alluring. “It's because they know what I am. They've seen my work. I destroy our enemies from the inside. I'm the head a team of elite assassins, the Thunderbolts. We strike with the force of thunder, and are gone before the clap sounds.”
She snorted with a wry smile. “Sorry, I've become used to throwing that catchphrase around. But as I was saying, I'm hired by the town to sabotage the forces working against us, sometimes from within our own town. I've had to pull the politically disgruntled out of their homes and bring them to judgment. I've had to publicly kill people while they were unarmed because of vague threats that the higher authorities thought were enough to condemn them. How could anybody trust me, much less like me if there's the constant fear of betrayal from me?” She turned to Rainbow Dash. “You don't even know that this isn't another elaborate setup. I could just be getting you to trust me so I can stab you in the back later.”
She sighed once again. “The others want to merge the worlds so they can take what they believe is theirs. What they deserve. I know I don't deserve it. The others prepare themselves so they can overpower you reality ponies once we merge, but honestly, I'd be content to whither away in your light. You're everything I wish I could be. Loyal, honest, kind, loved...all I am is respected. But that's not even self-respectable. What an irony.
“No, I'd be great with blipping out of existence if it meant I could have peace with myself. But until then I do what I have to do to survive.” She chugged the rest of her mug, and stood up. “This was more of a pit stop than anything. We'll get going to the real destination.” They walked out of the pub, Slash throwing a spur to the bartender. “That's for next time as well.”
They walked once more, their hooves crunching the light snow beneath them, leaving an identical pair of imprints behind them. Would anybody come along and think it was the same pony passing over twice, Rainbow wondered. Would it even matter if they did? Or would the lightly falling snow cover their tracks before even they had time to return? Would they even return the same way? Rainbow began to feel very self conscious about the fleetingness of life.
Rainbow herself had always been one for the spotlight. She loved it when other ponies paid attention to her. Slash, on the other hoof was possibly even more well known than Rainbow was. Yet not only did Slash not enjoy her fame, but cursed it. Twilight had said that the reflections were, at the core, the same as each of the friends. Just put through different trials. So how could this pony, grown out of the same seed of personality, be so radically different? The very thing that Rainbow craved, fame and perhaps even worship, was the only thing Slash really had, and yet all Slash wanted, Rainbow was forced to admit, was the only thing Rainbow really had. Friends.
Despite all her efforts, her amazing feats and competitions won, it was never enough. Rainbow bit her lip. How could she go back to Equestria in good conscience now? She'd never voice it to anypony else, but her one drive in life seemed so vain now, when there was an entire race here who just wanted the ability to sleep at night without fear of attack.
Rainbow was pulled out of her thoughts by her doppelgänger's voice. They
stood in front of a massive, circular, stone building, built in a style very similar to the Cloudosseum in Cloudsdale. Slash had called it the Colosseum, Rainbow recalled. So some sort of sport must be held here. Sure enough, a swell of cheering rose from the building as distant clanging ensued.
Spectral Slash led Dash through several dark hallways, before the corridors opened up into a central arena with seats all around. Hundreds of ponies cheered and yelled towards the floor of the arena, where two ponies were locked in combat. This was obviously the main attraction here in Moon Pool.
“Let's find a seat.” Spectral Slash pulled her hood further past her eyes, and clambered up the steps with Rainbow close behind. They found two isolated seats on the very top row, giving them a great view of the arena and the rest of the crowd.
“What are they doing down there?” Rainbow asked, leaning over the railing. “They're not actually fighting are they?”
“Actually, they are. And that's what I've come to show you. Those two ponies down there are good friends, even here in the Forgotten Realm. I believe they're named Lyra and Bon-Bon in your world. But life is so hard here, they're willing to literally kill each other over a few spurs.”
“They'll be reborn though, right? That's how this world works.”
“Sure, but how close can anyone's relationship get if you're killing one another? Perhaps even more so because they return to life. That isn't friendship. That's rivalry. Something you and Applejack learned a bit about.”
The cheering rose as Bon-Bon's reflection preformed an amazing counter attack, striking with a quick upwards slash of her short sword. Rainbow covered her mouth in horror as Lyra's reflection's ear was sheared off, flopping uselessly into the dirt.
Spectral Slash spread a hoof across the crowd, which yelled as Lyra's reflection slashed forward with a spear. “These ponies, who have known almost nothing but fighting their entire lives, watch more of it to forget their own troubles. But what they don't realize is that, in the end...”
Lyra's reflection pulled out of the jab at the last second, expertly redirecting the spearhead directly into her friend's neck, a red geyser confirming the hit. Rainbow gasped in shock once more.
“Fighting is meaningless. Sheer force never changed anyone's mind. It might subdue them, it might make them go lick their wounds in shame, but vengeance will always be on their mind.”
Slash stood up, as Bon-Bon's reflection fell, a faint shadow over her paling face falling from the dripping spear held in victory, as the crowd and the excitement rose.
“Heh, just look at us. Animals. We deserve our fate here. We deserve to drown in the blood we spill, gorging our empty stomachs on the flesh of our friends and enemies. It's all we've managed to do with this world. We use the excuse of the Atrocities, the warring clans and cities that don't see as we do, our terrible punishment bestowed by a merciless God. But in truth, the Atrocities are us. Our refusal to see that, in any situation, we could make a difference.”
She looked at Rainbow, her eyes sad and full of longing. “So I use my Element of Betrayal to betray the darkness within. To betray this world. To betray myself. Dash, you have to save us.”
A short time later, the two ponies were walking back to the pub. Slash said she wanted another drink, and Rainbow wasn't too keen on watching more blood be spilled. They took a different route than before, after Slash said something about being followed.
Rainbow looked up as her stomach growled. She had forgotten just how long it had been since she had eaten. It had been bothering her all day, she realized, but she had been ignoring it, due to the circumstances. But now, right there in front of her, was an apple stand. The stallion who had lent them the cloaks was standing behind it, but he was distracted at the moment...
In a split second, Rainbow grabbed one of the apples and tucked it under her wing, pressing the cold fruit against her body. It wasn't really stealing, she decided. She intended to pay the stallion back for the cloaks, so she'd just pay him extra for the apple. Yes, that was it. Totally fine.
She began turning back towards the stand to return the apple, her conscience getting the better of her. She stopped when she remembered Gilda.
Perhaps it was justified if she stole it for her. Gilda hadn't eaten in who knew how long, and despite her cheery appearance, Rainbow had noticed she was very thin. She frowned with determination. Gilda was oppressed by that cruel, that...brutal reflection of Fluttershy, Shuddercry. If there was a single pony or griffon who deserved this apple more than Gilda, Rainbow couldn't think of it.
She tightened her grip on the apple. Just one. It wouldn't be missed.
Spectral Slash looked back. “You coming, Dash?”
Rainbow nodded. “I'll be right with you.” She trotted after Slash, her hooves falling perfectly into place with her reflection's prints.