• Published 13th Mar 2012
  • 14,729 Views, 1,080 Comments

Inner Glory - Erindor

A utopian society cannot exist without the corpses of the revolutionaries.

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Chapter 32: Stalking Shadows

Chapter 32: Stalking Shadows

Twilight blinked in the morning light, feeling surprisingly well rested. She lifted her head, stretching as she glanced around the clearing. Her friends were stirring as well, some sort of common force waking them simultaneously.

As the others wiped the sleepiness from their eyes, Twilight dumped some snow on the already extinguished fire. If they were going to be followed, as she expected they would, she might as well make it as difficult as possible for her pursuers. After finishing the simple task, Twilight stretched her legs out, yawning loudly. She felt good. Better than she had in a long time. She turned to her friends, who were waiting expectantly.

“You know what girls? I feel like today's going to be a good day.”

They set out on that fresh note, chatting and giggling in the early morning light. Their hunger was forgotten in the relief of their escape from Moon Pool. Yes, Twilight realized, that was it. They were happy to be free.

The group slowly grew quiet as they carried on, each becoming lost in their thought. Part way through the morning, Pinkie spoke up, having been muttering to herself for some time. “I'm going to sing a song, if that's alright.”

Rainbow automatically opened her mouth to object, but after a moment, closed it silently. “Go ahead, Pinkie Pie.”

Pinkie began a melancholy melody, yet her voice remained cheerful. The words were heavy and filled with experience.

When days grow long, and wearily you plod

When shadow falls, and thru flames you've trod

Just close your eyes, allow time to bide

Sometimes the light must come from inside

Legions fall, and tyrants will rise

But recall that the angels have eyes

You shall not fail, for one truth is just;

Good shall prevail, in love put your trust

The cruel are not loved, and that's why they fight

The evil are not so, they've just lost the light

Raise up your voice, give breath to the right

With kindness kill, the future make bright.

Her voice trailed off. The sorrowful yet hopeful tone lingered over the winter air.

Twilight turned to look at her friend, who wore a tired smile. “Pinkie... are you alright?”

“Better than I've ever been, Twilight. But it comes at a price. I feel my innocence slipping away. She gave me control, but I'm becoming more like Pinkamina. Soon, I don't think you'll be able to distinguish between us. And shortly after, neither will we.”

“I'm sorry, Pinkie.”

“Thanks, but I don't know if I am.” She shook her head. “I'm sorry to have dampened the mood. I just needed to get that off my chest.” She grinned more genuinely. “We can sing a different song, if you guys want.”

Pinkie led the group in a chorus of a foalhood nursery rhyme, a silly tune about a clumsy pegasus chasing a lost balloon for a friend. Twilight mused silently, as the rest of the group sang along. Pinkie was changing, there was no doubt about it. How soon before the transformation into a truly merged personality was complete? Would the same happen to any of her other friends? Could it happen to her?

Twilight shuddered at the thought. She couldn't fathom merging with Lustrous Revolt.

At last the friends crested the forest that had been obscuring their view for quite some time. Before them rose a jagged mountain with shining buildings clustered around the top. Twilight checked her map once more. This was it. Stonehill. Twilight glanced at the surrounding area. Nothing but clear, snow-covered fields surrounding the base of the ascent. She was painfully aware of how visible they would be if they approached now. They needed to keep moving, to escape their pursuers, but if they ran blindly they could easily get in more trouble.

“Alright girls, we've learned from our mistake last time. We'll watch the city before we approach, waiting for nightfall. We need supplies, especially food, that's the first priority. The second priority is to collect any information we can about Canterlot's reflection, Windark. We should be in and out of here as quickly as possible. Stick together, and don't separate for any reason. We'll leave as soon as the sun sets.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Applejack began gathering firewood. Twilight shook her head.

“We won't be able to have a fire. Not until we know that the ponies that live in Stonehill are friendly.

The friends milled around close to the edge of the forest, Fluttershy uncovering the earth and contemplating the cold unforgiving soil. Rainbow Dash found a sturdy tree branch and began napping. Rarity and Applejack wondered how things were back in Equestria, and how their siblings were fairing.

“Ah'm certain Sweetie Belle's having the time of her life. She loves having sleepovers at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Yes, but, and no offense to you or your family, I worry she's forgetting how to act like a lady.”

“It's good for little ponies to play in the dirt every now and then.”

Pinkie sat next to Twilight, the two of them in a silent vigil, watching the bright city. Every now and then Twilight could catch glimpses of movement that betrayed life. But overall, it seemed quiet. Nopony flew in or out of the city, no noise escaped, and to Twilight, it just felt... wrong. She didn't quite know what to think of it. But they had to try. As much as she tried to ignore it, she had to face the facts. Her hunger was now a constant, sharp ache. The others had been great about not complaining, but Twilight found herself wincing occasionally. It simply couldn't continue. They needed food, and soon. Before they were too weak.

Night fell, and the group stole across the fields. The moon was high in the sky and growing ever closer to its full majesty, but luck smiled upon the friends. A thick cloud cover blocked most of its light; the plan could continue.

Once upon the winding path leading up the mountain, Twilight motioned for absolute silence. The ponies complied. Spike sat atop of Twilight's back, helping to guide her through the dark with his natural nightvision. Eventually, the gateway of the city came into view. It was a tall, dark arch with runes running up and down the columns. Twilight couldn't quite make them out in the low light, and she wasn't certain she'd be able to decipher them in the bright of day. They looked old, like something she'd see in a forgotten tome in Canterlot's library.

Twilight looked at what she could see of the streets from her vantage point. All the lights were out, and there wasn't a soul in sight. It felt unnatural, as if the city had been deserted quickly, yet there wasn't any sign of a struggle. Twilight motioned for her friends to join her. “We'll circle around to see what we can find. Remember, stay close, and stay quiet.”

“I really wish we could just knock on a door or something...”

“I do too, Fluttershy. But things are different here. We can't take any chances. Follow me girls.”

The slunk around the perimeter of the wall enclosing the city, which had frustrated much of Twilight's earlier observation. Now that she was here, however, there wasn't much to see. Just more houses, formed out of the same stone the wall was made out of, which in turn was made out of the mountain's limestone. Besides them, there didn't seem to be anypony around. Hoofprints along the streets proved that there had been activity since the last snowfall, but each home was just as deserted as the ones on the street had been. Once they had explored a few streets with similar results, Twilight decided to push her luck. She drew close to one of the houses that stood a distance away from the main streets, and tested the door. It swung open, apparently unlocked. Twilight stepped inside, motioning for her friends to stand guard.

The inside was barren, yet lived in. There were basic cooking supplies in the kitchen and a few books on the table. It wasn't the fanciest home, but it had everything it needed to be comfortable, except ponies. Twilight climbed quietly up the stairs, Spike following fearfully behind her. The dark hallway the two were led to offered no hints. Twilight carefully opened the door, a sharp creak betraying her presence. She winced, but no sound came from inside in reply. She opened it the rest of the way. The room appeared to be a nursery of some kind. A few stuffed toys were strewn about, as if a foal had been playing in here and been taken away for a walk. Twilight tapped her hoof to her chin. Something wasn't adding up.

She stepped forward, cracking something on the ground. Spike picked it up and Twilight cast a small illumination spell. It was a picture frame with a picture of a happy pegasus family.

The rest of the rooms gave little more evidence. Twilight trotted back downstairs and outside. Her friends were nowhere to be seen. Twilight growled softly in frustration and worry.

A small snowball plopped into the ground next to her. Twilight looked up, and could just make out a collection of shadows near the wall. Another snowball dropped soared across the ground, landing in almost the same place. Twilight ran over to the source of the artillery, both relieved and annoyed. “Why did you guys run off?” she hissed.

Rarity, who had signaled Twilight, clapped a hoof over Twilight's mouth. “We're not alone.”

The white unicorn pointed between the buildings. A street over, a silhouetted shape was peering into the darkness. It strode heavily and deliberately towards them, yet it seemed to be having trouble walking. It pushed its legs through the snow rather than lifting them, and now that Twilight was aware of its presence, she could hear a low, drawn out groan.

“What do we do?” whispered Rainbow almost wordlessly.

Twilight quickly came up with several plans, weighing their cost and benefits. She didn't want to reveal their position too early, nor did she want to harm a potential ally. But if she didn't act quickly, they might lose the advantage.

The creature came close, and Twilight could tell its form was definitely equine. Two side appendages told her this was a pegasus, but once again, she could feel something was wrong. A rank odor overcame her... rotting flesh.

Twilight felt her mind expand as a new forgotten sensation was pushed into her already vast collection of thoughts. The memory of decay, of decomposition. Twilight knew that whatever this was, it wasn't benign. The time to act had come.

She lit up her horn so she could get a good look at her assailant. The creature reacted by raising its groan into an airy wail, the combined sight and sound making Twilight locked up in shock and fear.

Spike lifted a shaking claw, pointing it to the agitated abomination. “A... Z-z-ombie?!”

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