Chapter 22: The Moon Pool
Twilight and Lustrous Revolt crested the hill, revealing the core of the city. As Twilight had predicted, a glistening pool rested in the small valley. The rays of the setting sun failed to pierce the blackness of the small lake, giving the place an ominous feeling. The water sank into darkness, no life apparent in what should have been an oasis in the depths of winter. Despite the pool's stillness, there was not a single shard of ice on its surface, and the snow line stopped a good five feet away from the water's edge.
As they got closer, Twilight could see her literal reflection in the water just as easily as any in mirror, though it looked a bit eerie in the fading light.. She turned to Lustrous Revolt, who was waiting expectantly.
“It's a pretty pond, sure, but I don't see what it's got to do with this whole charade of yours.”
“Patience, Twilight. Must everything be answered instantly? The best revelations take both time and an understanding of events that came before.”
“What are we waiting for, then?”
“For the moon to rise.”
“Oh, I get it. So it'll be the accurately named Moon Pool rather than the 'Dark Lake in a Sunset Pool'. Yeah, I guess that doesn't have the same ring to it.”
“Please, hold your sarcasm. It goes beyond that, of course.”
Twilight sat in a dark acceptance. Lustrous Revolt was a monster, and their resemblance just made Twilight hate her more. She had attacked Twilight's friends with no provocation. Twilight understood, perhaps, their position and desire to get out of here, but that did not excuse their hostility.
The moon rose slowly as the world darkened, the stars popping into existence as the sun's glory no longer drowned them out. The pool in front of them caught the light from above so perfectly that Twilight experienced a moment of vertigo and had to plant her hooves firmly into the ground to reassure herself she was still on the earth.
“Nobody likes change...”
Twilight turned to her reflection, who had been silent for almost an entire hour now. “Excuse me?”
“Nobody likes change happening around them because it causes change inside.” Revolt looked over to Twilight, her face unreadable. “The Twilight that entered this world is already dead. And what you are now will be long gone by the time you leave. It's what we have to do to survive. We adapt, or we perish. But just as nobody thinks they're going to die, most people cannot accept that their current mindset will die as well.
“Those who do, however, become the strongest. They're the ones who rise to power. They're the ones who change the rules of war, of life, of happiness. Those who are willing to let themselves die are the ones who become Gods.”
Twilight raised a brow. “Rather poetic.”
“I thought you might like it.”
“I'm not certain I do. But it's definitely something to think about.”
“Isn't that enough, at times? The thinkers are the most dangerous. They take calculated risks rather than jumping blindly into danger. Because of that, they usually come out on top. After all, by thinking you learn to adapt. You learn to learn, so to speak. If you don't take the time to ponder your trials and experiences, gathering plans and knowledge for future troubles, then what was the point of having the experiences in the first place? What was that quote? 'Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' Yes. So, let's learn just a bit of history about the Forgotten Realm.”
As she spoke, the moon reached the crest of its ascent, the bright orb reflected perfectly in the dead center of the lake. The stars around it seemed to grow brighter as they greeted its presence.
“Remember that book you read that lead you to your friends? The one with the prophecies of Nightmare Moon's return? 'The Stars will aide in her escape', it said. Didn't that ever strike you as odd?”
“I didn't think much of it at the time. The method didn't matter. Only that a threat to Equestria was about to rise.”
“Oh, but the method does matter. Why would a passive force release the greatest darkness known to your world? They wouldn't, now, would they?”
“Well, the stars are part of the night sky, so maybe they belong to Luna?”
“If Luna, being incarcerated, had the ability to release herself, she would have done it a lot earlier, wouldn't you think? No, there has to be another party involved. It couldn't have been Celestia either. Though Celestia wanted her true sister back, she didn't want to face Nightmare Moon first. After all, she did run off when Luna returned.”
“Hey! She was doing what she thought was best!”
“It made Luna realize her mistake, made me love my friends, and brought peace back to Equestria! So...for everypony!”
“Still blinding yourself? After all this time? After everything you've experienced?”
Twilight growled. “Celestia did nothing wrong!”
“Of course not. She uses fools like you to do her dirty work so she remains pure. She tricks others into making mistakes so they come back to her, begging for mercy, which she so gladly gives, when all it takes is an outside perspective to realize she's the one causing the problems in the first place.”
“Am I? Let's look at the facts. You almost brought ruin on your town when you lost control of yourself and your magic. You had to find something good to report to your oh-so-wise mentor.”
“I recognize what I did as wrong, but I've moved on from such foolishness.”
“Alright, let's look at some of the others. The recent Changeling attack on Canterlot. The Queen's plan wasn't exactly fool-proof or even well thought out. But it almost worked, didn't it? Because Celestia couldn't see what was under her nose, because it was and is held in the air in unwarranted pride.
“Discord's return? Ha. She kept his 'body' on display, a testament to her vanity. She thought she was safe. 'I thought the spell we cast would keep him contained forever', she said. 'That chamber is protected by a powerful spell that only I can break! This doesn't make sense!'” Lustrous' tone was mocking and bitter.
“Those are some pretty critical mistakes for her to make. Then what does she do? She throws you into the middle of it all, sending you letters in the hopes that it will spur you into action, because she can't face you herself in times of distress. She puts on a pretty face when it's needed, but you're the ones that keep the realm safe. And still you worry yourself every time she makes an appearance, hoping that she will deem your meager offers as sufficient.”
“Stop right there. You've crossed the line.” Twilight felt anger welling up in her heart. It didn't matter what this lying shadow was saying. “The Princess is amazing! She saves Equestria from forces like you! Once I may have felt pity, but now I know this is where you and all the other reflections belong! I'm done listening.” She got up and began walking away.
With a flash of light, she was blasted back, skidding through the snow until she lay at the water's edge. Lustrous Revolt stood over her, calm yet menacing. “No, you're not.”
Twilight jumped back to her hooves, her horn flaring up weakly. She had recovered just enough magic for one blast.
“Better make it count,” Lustrous sneered.
The frustration inside of Twilight came to a boiling point. She focused, the blast of radiance striking Lustrous Revolt dead on, throwing her a good twenty feet. Twilight panted, the anger inside her not yet sated. She trotted over to the fallen body of her reflection, towering over it with indignation. “You do not insult the Princess.”
Lustrous coughed. “You would've made a better Element of Loyalty than Rainbow Dash. So willing to blindly follow orders.”
Twilight had had enough. She brought her hoof down on her reflection, again and again and again. “You've hurt me! You've hurt my friends! Your plan, your twisted web of darkness is over! I will not cooperate!”
Lustrous took the blows, laughing weakly as the crimson fluid began to pour out of the gashes, dyeing the snow around her in the pale light.
“But you are...”
Twilight stopped in shock. She looked at her hooves, now soaked in blood, at the broken body beneath her, so similar in appearance that she couldn't deny that she saw herself. The same Cutie Mark, the same mane, the same coat, all of them soiled by the cuts and blood, the blood that drenched her, the blood... the blood that she brought.
Twilight turned and heaved up the contents of her already empty stomach. She stumbled and fell on her side. What had she done? She... she...
Lustrous Revolt struggled to her legs, stepping over to Twilight. “Now perhaps you'll listen to what I have to say. What-” She stopped to cough up some blood, which she spit to the side. “What you just experienced isn't new. This area was avoided for a very long time because of this pool. Something darker than even we used to be comfortable with lies within. These waters radiate Vengeance.”
She lay down next to Twilight, both of them recovering from the physical shock. Twilight began tearing up. She had lost control. She gave a heaving sob. It was true, she hated Revolt for what she had done, but Twilight's counter attack went beyond just disabling. She had attacked an unarmed opponent simply because of a couple of words. It didn't matter if there was another force helping her along the path; she had chosen to go along with it.
After Revolt had recovered her breath for a moment, she continued, now whispering as she was lost in her memories, while Twilight gathered her composure.
“Any minor annoyance is blown out of proportion, and for a long while it made this town weak, disjointed, and composed of factions. But when I arrived here almost a year and a half ago, I unified this city under a banner of purpose. I had knowledge brought from our ruined capitol city. There was a way out. A way into your world. But then something strange happened.
“We were gathered here, finishing our discussion, when the moon reached its peak on the Summer Solstice. A beam of light shot up from the water into the heavens, and before our eyes, four orbs of light rose around the beam. The beam ripped open space itself, and we had a peek into Reality. How beautiful it was. It made our decision that much more solidified. We needed to escape. It was not only our right, it was our duty.
“We watched the orbs rise through the rift, wondering what it could all mean. Those orbs, I later realized, were pure energy, magic in its refined form. The 'stars' you saw must have been the very orbs I witnessed rising from the lake.”
Twilight sniffed, determined to remain in control now. “Why? What's in the lake? And why did it want to help Nightmare Moon escape?”
Revolt shuffled until she was resting her head on her hooves, the reflected moonlight shining off of her eyes. “That's just it. We just don't know. There's an intelligence in the lake, there's no denying that. It gives me visions, occasionally. Of how to win battles. How to crush our enemies. It can communicate through emotions and feelings, but it cannot speak. When you hear it, it feels restrained, like there's a lot of power in there, but it can't get out. I brought you down here to speak with it. And now that you've paid a tribute of blood, you've got its attention. Look.”
Twilight turned her head towards the Pool. The water was slightly agitated, churning slightly like a pot being brought to a boil. The stars surrounding the moon glimmered brighter than before, pulsing with their faint light. She looked up to the sky, where the same image met her wondering eye.
Lustrous Revolt stood to her hooves. “Come with me, Twilight. Let us wash the blood off our hooves.”
Twilight, for once, followed her reflection without a word. They stepped down to the water's edge, Revolt limping all the way. Twilight hesitated at the water's edge. The water seemed to reach forward, as if it were trying to pull her in. Revolt stepped in until the water was just touching her belly. “Come in, Twilight. Nothing will happen unless you let it.”
Twilight shook her head. She was crazy for listening to this shade of a pony. She was crazy for even considering this. But she needed answers, and it looked like the only way she'd get them was by playing along. She stepped into the pitch-black water as well, expecting the cold she had felt when she first stepped into the forgotten realm. But the water was comfortably warm. As she stepped, Twilight felt the blood on her hooves pull away into the depths of the lake, and could see that Revolt's wounds were closing as she stood in the water. Twilight pulled up next to her, watching the reflected light swirl around her from the movement.
“Why is the water so dark?”
“The darkest place in the world is the inside of a mirror. An entity that returns all light given has none of its own. This Pool is just that. A mirror in the world of mirrors. Can you feel it, Twilight? The energy inside?”
She could. The water felt...vibrant. Alive, almost. Like a shiver.
“Place your face in the water. It's the only way to communicate with what's inside.”
Twilight frowned. Once again, she had the thought of turning back, but could she really, after she'd come so far? Before she could question herself any further, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and submerged her face.
Her mind was touched by a mess of impressions, which finally clarified into one. She was welcome here.
What are you? She thought.
The images rearranged themselves into a picture of a lost foal. Alone.
Why are you alone?
A picture of a hoof reaching out to another in friendship. Then a blade, which slashed forward. Betrayal.
A brilliant orb of light, bringing life to the world. Yet the light also burned, made ponies suffer in the desert, and blinded any who looked at it. The sun. Celestia.
The same anger Twilight had felt while attacking Revolt returned. Then clarity. A scene of Celestia staring down Nightmare Moon appeared. Celestia had the Elements of Harmony in careful orbit around her, and Nightmare Moon was wounded and bleeding, Twilight was surprised to note.
Celestia mouthed something to the mare of darkness; there wasn't any sound attached to the motion. Nightmare Moon spat something back, standing to her legs in defiance, despite the obvious pain. The Elements activated around Celestia, the chromatic aura firing towards Nightmare, entangling her. A new burst of emotions popped into Twilight's mind. Terror, fear, pain, and even regret. Through the swirling torrent of a Rainbow could be seen the bent figure of Nightmare Moon, mouthing words that even in the silence Twilight knew.
Stop. Don't. Her eyes flew open, returning from their dragon slitted pupils to Luna's natural state. The eyes begged for mercy. Then the light enveloped them, and the Nightmare burned.
Twilight pulled out of the water, gasping for breath. Had she just seen what she thought she saw?
“Yes.” Lustrous Revolt was watching Twilight. “Celestia didn't just banish her sister. She killed her.”