• Published 13th Mar 2012
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Inner Glory - Erindor


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

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Chapter 44: Declination
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Chapter 44: Declination

The Moon Pool glittered softly as the ball of crackling energy passed over it. The orb of energy was bigger than a pony, but with no notable feature to compare it to over the expanse of the water, it looked no bigger than one of the stars of the night sky. It drew itself to the center of the pool, where it hovered about a foot off of the surface. From the opposite side of the pool came another, identical orb. After traversing the waters, it merged with the first. The pool underneath bubbled with excitement.

From over the tree-line, the first rays of light from the morning sun skimmed the surface of the small lake. The waters receded begrudgingly, while the energy ball continued to spark, unchanged. It wasn't enough power. But that would soon change.

{- - -}

Far away, across the frozen landscape, through a mirror, over a misty void, and across yet another wintery, though certainly less hostile land, Princess Celestia was flitting about her chambers. She looked at a couple of papers on her desk, frowning at what they were telling her. She turned to her journal, whose recent pages were filled with a number of mathematical equations and diagrams. One line of text stood out from the jumbled mess of numbers. It was circled and underlined several times, and was surrounded by a halo of little question marks. 'Will it trap them there?'

That was just what she was trying to figure out. Many things had already happened differently than she might have expected. Some for better and some for worse. But this one she had to be sure of.

She stepped over to the window, watching the slowly rising sun. She had set it on its course for the day already, but that only emphasized her problem. She only had three days before the winter solstice, when the day would be its shortest and the night its longest. She had to decide before then. Would she continue the separation between the two worlds? Could she risk it?

Could she accept the consequences if her last resort failed?

{- - -}

Twilight led the charge. Her friends followed closely, eyes wide and ears straining for any hint of an ambush. The countryside was quiet enough, but experience had taught them to not always trust appearances. In this case, however, it seemed that their caution was unnecessary. They were unimpeded in their march towards The Abbey. After being left to their thoughts for the three hours of travel, they crested a hill and saw their destination.

The Abbey was a shining fortress, likely built of limestone. Unlike much of what they had seen in this world, it was well-kept and rather beautiful, actually. In the morning light, it gave a sense of hope and strength. Ponies and griffons alike could be seen patrolling the ramparts. They looked ready to fight, but not particularly violent. One of the guards spotted the small group and pointed it out to his fellow patrol members. They gathered at the wall, sizing up the threat they posed. A few went back to their patrols, ensuring that it wasn't just a distraction for a larger attack.

“Well, gang, let's go introduce ourselves, if we can.” They walked forward carefully, making no sudden movements. When they got about twenty feet away from the main door, Twilight sensed a magical barrier of some sort. She paused instinctively.

“What's your business?” called one of the griffon guards up top.

“We seek passage to...” Twilight took a moment to recall the name of Canterlot's reflection. “...Windark. It's still a good distance away, and we need a place to rest. We will be as unobtrusive as possible.”

“Well, that's not for me to decide. If you're willing to wait, I can get the master of The Abbey. She'll hear your plea. Where were you coming from, then?”

Twilight paused for a moment, wondering how much she should reveal. Something about this place made her calm, however, relieving her fears. The natural aura of peace, combined with the fact that this was the one place she had seen ponies and griffons working together made her decide to take a chance. “We were held captive in Moon Pool, but managed to escape. We've been running from our captors for some time now, and recently stopped in Stonehill, where we were attacked not once, but twice.”

The guard raised his brows. “Sounds like quite the adventure. Who's hunting you?”

“You wouldn't believe it if I said it.”

“I get that a lot. Go ahead, try me.”

“Well...” Twilight hesitated once more. “Our reflections. We come from a world that mirrors this one. The darkness here is alien to us, and corruptions of our core beings have made it their personal goal to make us as miserable as them.”

The guard laughed heartily. Twilight rolled her eyes. Of course he didn't believe her.

“Oh, that's perfect!” he called. “You'll be right at home then! Welcome to the land of the outcasts. We all know something's wrong with this world, that's why we banded together.”

“You... you believe me?”

“Of course! It's not the first time it's happened! Why, Static here came from Equestria four years ago after he got lost in a mirror maze. One of them had apparently been tuned to this plane. Little pockets appear between the worlds every now and then. Usually around the middle of winter and summer. Don't know why. Anyways, he ran into his reflection pretty quickly and managed to escape before it figured out just what he was. It chased him down, but by luck our leader found him before the reflection did. She brought him back here for safety.”

“Yup, and I've been loyal to The Abbey since.”

Twilight looked between the griffon and the grinning pony, happy to see true brotherhood once again. “Who's your leader?”

“Great girl. You'll meet her soon enough. Come on in, we'll open the doors for you.”

Twilight nodded, and began to walk forward once more. She was stopped in her tracks by the spell, which pushed her back gently. Not enough to hurt, but enough to let her know it didn't like her for whatever reason. “Uh, going to let the shield down?”

“It shouldn't stop you unless you're a changeling, or...”

The guard narrowed his eyes. “You said you were attacked twice at Stonehill. Neither of those attacks were by Changelings, were they?”

“Actually, yeah. We just managed to escape a patrol. That's actually why we made the detour in the first place.”

“Oh gods.”

Twilight looked up in confusion. The guard returned a look of horror and pity.

“I'm sorry. We can't let you in. You've been infected.”

“Infected? By what?”

“How many of you were hurt? Open wounds?”

Twilight looked around. All of them had some sort of scratch that had bled. She noted the guard was avoiding her question. “All of us.”

The guard looked to his pony friend, Static. All the joy of meeting new survivors had been lost. “Well, the Changelings have changed their tactics recently. They've mutated some sort of virus and they imbue it into their saliva. Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“Give it to me straight.”

The guard nodded, impressed by Twilight's bravery.

“Good news is it's curable. Bad news? Only by death.”

Twilight stepped back in disbelief. “I... we have to die?”

“It's the only way to purge the disease from your bodies. It's a horrible thing to ask, but would you like us to kill you? After you revive, we'll give you rest and comfort. It's either this or you'll experience the full force of the disease.”

“How bad is it?”

“I can't really explain it in terms you'd understand. The ailments in Equestria are nothing compared to it. Cutie Pox? Laughable. I don't mean to frighten you, but it causes you to bleed from your eyes, which, of course, blinds you. Sores appear in your joints, you become fatigued... It's meant to slow you and make you easier to track. As far as we've gathered, it was magically created by the Changeling queen.”

“Chrysalis...”

“Ah, so you know her. It's terrible, too. She and her swarm disappeared for a while, and then we only had to deal with would-be raiders. But they've been about the countryside lately. It's terrible luck you ran into them.”

“How long until the disease takes hold?”

“Well, if you came from Stonehill, you've been traveling for at least three hours... honestly, I'm surprised it hasn't already.”

Twilight began to feel queasy, though she couldn't be sure it was because of the disease. “Maybe we're immune?” she proposed hopefully.

“The shield stopped you. Even if it doesn't harm you, you're still a carrier, and we can't risk that. I'm sorry.”

Twilight nodded. “I understand.” she turned to her friends. “I'm not willing to impose my will on you guys. Mercy killing or fight it out?”

Spike grabbed Twilight’s leg. “I’ll go with whatever you choose.” Twilight nodded her understanding. The ponies shuffled around. Surprisingly, it was Fluttershy who spoke first.

“I can't bring myself to ask another to kill, even if it is for my own good. I want to fight it out.”

Rainbow jumped on the opportunity. “She'll need moral support. I'm sticking with her.”

Rarity fidgeted, her lip quivering. “I... I don't want to go through this. But there's no other choice.” Applejack sided up next to her, placing a hoof of comfort around her neck.

“It's alright. We'll all be here for each other. And it's not like it's the end of us seein' each other.”

Pinkie was the last to speak. “Pinkamina... No, I personally recommend the mercy killing. In fact, I could perform it for you guys if you'd like. With my spatial powers, I could make your deaths swift. But either path we take, there will be pain.”

The others were quiet. Pinkamina nodded.

“There isn't weakness in being afraid of death. In fact, if you face this challenge, you will become stronger for it. Very well. I'll stand by you.” She smiled softly.

Twilight nodded as well, and then turned back to the guard pony. “We've decided to sit through the sickness.”

The guard nodded his understanding. Everybody's heads were bobbing, Twilight noted with grim humor. I suppose there wasn't much to say in a situation like this.

“This will sound harsh, but if you could go into the trees to die, it'll make things better for us. You know... not watching it, not being distracted by the noise, or anything. It's for your safety as well. If this place isn't defended when you're finished, not much point sitting through it, is there?”

“That's reasonable. We'll see you soon. Spike? I want you to go into the Abbey.”

“Huh? What do you mean? I’m going to stay with you guys!”

“You didn’t get hurt in the fight, Spike. Try walking through the barrier.” Spike, worry in his eyes, walked forward a couple feet, completely unimpeded. He turned around suddenly, and ran back to Twilight. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“I won’t be.” She pried him off gently. “I have my friends with me. And you’ll see us soon enough, don’t worry. I don’t want you to see this.”

“But-“

The look in Twilight’s eyes told him to back down. With reluctance, he walked to the fortress doors, where two guards ushered him inside.

“Good luck,” he called, before the doors shut.

The ponies retreated to the woods. It was a grim setting, and yet, they were in high spirits. Twilight mused quietly to herself. They were nearing the end of their journey. These were the last two Atrocities of the Forgotten Realm. Plague and Death. If they passed this last trial, they would be ready.

The group gathered in a circle in a small clearing. Rarity busied herself by making a small campfire to warm themselves at. Rainbow Dash showed off a new trick to Fluttershy that she had invented during their march over here, which involved running at a tree, then up it, doing a backflip and landing still facing the tree. She bragged about how it might be useful in a fight. Applejack was rambling about what her family must be doing back at the farm right now, noting that because it wasn't winter, they wouldn't have too many responsibilities. After everybody settled down, Pinkie gave a little performance with some puppets she retrieved from her saddlebag.

It didn't feel like a last hurrah. It felt like friends having a good time.

At one point Twilight shifted to sit more comfortable. She gasped in pain. Some of the sores had already sprung up, without her notice. She grinned, and said nothing more, holding back her fears. She didn't need to make it any worse for her friends.

Twilight heard something off in the distance. Ignoring how tired she suddenly felt, she excused herself from the festivities and walked to the edge of the forest, wincing at every step, which agitated the now omni-present irritants. Over the fields she saw six ponies crossing towards the Abbey. No... one of them wasn't quite a pony. She was tall, black, and angry looking. Chrysalis. Twilight squinted in concentration. Was... was she being ridden by Spectral Slash?

Sure enough, it looked like their reflections had caught up, and not only that, but had Chrysalis on a short leash. But their small party wasn't what had drawn her attention. The rumbling of a marching army had.

Twilight stumbled over herself as she turned around in a blind panic. If they were caught out here by the changelings, there'd be no point in going through this pain. Now she felt a bit foolish for not accepting the mercy killing, though the reasoning had been honorable. She tried to run back to warn the others, but the magically-fueled disease was taking its toll. She felt a stab of intense pain in her eyes. She looked to the ground in an attempt to stabilize herself, only to see drops of crimson fall, tainting the snow. It was the last she saw. Her vision went black, though it wasn't like she would have been able to focus much longer if her vision had remained. She considered the loss of one of her senses as a gift, as it allowed her to focus the rest of her willpower into navigating. Every step she took felt like the first knife slice she had experienced in this world. Her breath came in ragged, unsteady huffs.

She felt herself fading. She needed to focus. She fell to her knees, her saddlebag sliding off. She felt the Metaspectre's crystal calling to her. In desperation, she grasped at it. She felt the power at her hoof-tips, and willed it into her. Strength returned to her limbs, and her vision cleared just enough to let her see where she was going. The snow around her looked like a cherry snow-cone. She didn't have much time.

With a grunt, Twilight forced herself back to her legs. It took all of her strength to take another step. And then another. Somehow, she found herself with just enough strength to take that next step. She entered the clearing again, to a horrible sight. Her friends had collapsed, twitching in pain, each twitch growing weaker. The blood trails were thick and quick flowing.

“We need to go!” she called out. Her voice was raspy and barely carried, but she saw her friends' ears flick in response. They tried to rise, but their strength failed them. Twilight willed herself forward. With great effort, she pulled more power from the crystal, pouring it into each of her friends. They rose, staggering at first, but finally steadying and stepping forward.

Through the fogginess of her mind, Twilight realized that she hadn't explained why they needed to go, but her friends had trusted her so wholly they didn't need an explanation. She pushed them forward, and they burst out of the forest, her friends still blinded, each step an eternity, each breath a torture. They ran forward, and Twilight was vaguely aware of changelings running to intercept her. With a swell of will, she produced a force-field around the friends.

Even with the Metaspectre’s crystal helping her, she knew it was only a matter of time. She didn’t know how to fully access its power, and she was barely maintaining consciousness. She had lost so much blood now, she was quite certain that it was only the magic keeping her alive. She had been bitten a little bit earlier than her friends had. There was still time. They just might make it.

Twilight tripped over her own legs, barely recovering. She foggily looked around, seeing the changelings climbing the force field, trying to crush it with their weight. Through the writhing bodies, Twilight could see the fortress doors, only fifty or so feet away. If they could just make it to the barrier, then everything would be fine. The guards would rescue them. Wouldn’t they?

Twilight pushed forward once more, her friends moving mechanically, changelings being pushed aside as if she were a snowplow. Twilight’s eyes flickered. She was tired. So tired.

She heard a cry to her left. It sounded like it had come from herself. For all she knew, it could have. But no, there was Lustrous Revolt. What was she doing here?

Lustrous Revolt had been overtaken by changelings. If it was possible, Twilight thought she looked worse than Twilight herself did. Deep gashes covered her body, and several changelings were still physically imbedded in them. She stood over her fallen comrades, who looked even worse. Shuddercry was missing an arm. Jackie was still.

Lustrous Revolt saw Twilight, and swallowed deeply. She whispered a single word.

“Help.”

Twilight continued walking without a pause. Why should she? The reason her friends were about to die was because of this pony and her corrupt schemes. Then Twilight looked back once more.

No. She couldn’t leave anyone, not even Lustrous Revolt to such a terrible fate.

Twilight held the crystal in front of her. She knew what she wanted to do. Perhaps the crystal would oblige. “Na’ahm, se’thulum, pora’dis.”

The scene froze.

Twilight dropped her shield, and the crystal, which was maintaining the time-lock. She didn’t even take a moment to admire her handiwork. She staggered towards Lustrous Revolt, gave her a solemn look, then began pulling the reflections upright. With a herculean effort, the pain so intense she honestly couldn’t even feel it any more, she wriggled her way under them all, and stood once more. With four ponies on her back, she turned towards her one hope once more.

“If I die, save my friends.”

Lustrous Revolt, after a pause, nodded her understanding.

The two of them plodded forward, their blood mingling in the snow, a marker for the blinded and fading ponies behind them.

Time resumed.

Behind them, the changelings crashed into each other, wondering where their prey had disappeared to. It took them only moments to realize just where.

Twilight channeled all the sensations plaguing her body in preparation for the coming attack. They were her last source of energy. Ten feet. That was all they needed. She formed a shield around her friends.

Five.

The first Changeling landed on her. She cried out in animalistic terror and anger, blasting it to ashes. Another met the same fate. She spun around, walking backwards to get a better shot. It didn’t matter. She felt the accursed crimson liquid spilling out of her eyes once again.

She let a couple more shots fly blindly. Two feet. One.

The field began to press against her.

Zero.

She had made it.

She toppled over, the ponies on her back sliding off unceremoniously. Her breathing faded, and she became less aware of the world around her. She heard yelling and felt herself being lifted up, but by whom and what their intent was, she could not know. Now, it was time to sleep.

Sleep sounded good.

Death wasn’t cruel. It wasn’t an Atrocity. It was like a mother’s embrace.

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