• 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 74: Vestigial

“Death, huh? Considering how many years I've been doling it out, I'm familiar with your works.” Pinkamena clashed against his hastily summoned defenses, only to be pushed back. Seren wasn't given any time to recover, however, before Dash followed up with a few attacks of her own; each of these ponies that were aggressing him contained a professional killer. Seren did what he could, parrying with his blasts of energy. Though trained in combat during his time as a guard, without any cover, armor, or a weapon, he bore the brunt of the blows, blood spattering into the empty space. He grunted, groaned, and finally dropped, to be struck a finishing blow from Dash.

Once again, his body disintegrated and reformed. Before the others had a moment to react, however, he erupted in a shockwave of light, throwing the aggressors back. His form faded as they collected themselves; he wasn't fast, but he was strong. Twilight quickly donned her crown, but held off on activating its power; even if she were to defeat him, she didn't know what she'd ascend as. A victory without an escape plan was hardly a victory at all. Seren wasn't smiling anymore. There weren't any words, no taunts, no jeers. Only predatory scrutiny.

He stepped forward carefully, watching Dash especially. Sure enough, she darted forward, juking him out, managing to land a strike or two on his legs before she shot off once again. Pinkie hopped forward, eyes blazing with her telekinetic light, but Seren seemed ready. He crouched and pivoted, keeping his front towards her, but throwing his rear out of the way. During her necessarily slow follow-through, he jumped forward, knocking her over and pinning her with a hoof.

Twilight acted as quickly as she were able, running to Pinkie's aid, followed closely by -and then shortly following- Dash. The two worked in unison, Twilight tapping Lustrous' memories of combat while trying to project what Seren might do; his power wasn't quite limitless, but it was certainly plenty. Plenty to ruin their day, at least.

With a roar, Seren did the unexpected; he dropped, rolled, and threw Pinkie over himself with a telekinetic blast. The three flew back, and Seren gave them no time for recovery. He barreled into the tumbling bodies, sending them flying even further, as he tried to crush them with his hooves or impale them on his horn. He threw a blast here or there to keep them from retaliating, but it seemed all of his efforts were being poured into physical domination, and, as he was the larger and stronger by far, he was able to keep them exactly where he wanted. Lustrous' memories were keeping one thing clear: Twilight needed to keep her distance. She found an opening for escape as Seren turned his wrath on Rainbow Dash, who was the most active struggler. Twilight rolled away, and did the only thing she thought might help. She turned invisible. It was an underhanded trick, clouding his mind, and he'd see through the illusion in a moment if he calmed down, but she needed time to think- and recover from the wounds he'd already dealt, she thought, holding her leg gingerly.

Seren took immediate notice, knocking the others out of the way. He stood and bellowed a challenge. “Don't you dare run away! I will annihilate everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in this realm if you don't face me this very minute! I will sacrifice everything to see that the wayward will harm no more! My life is nothing if I allow one to escape!” His face had contorted into something truly animalistic; tears and blood mingled and fell with each commanding bark. His breath was ragged, due more to emotions than exertion. He began running to where he'd seen Twilight disappear, ignoring the other two. A fatal mistake, it turned out, as he was quickly assassinated twice, once by each of them. Each time his body reformed, he seemed only more infuriated. His mouth opened to speak, but only an incoherent cry emanated. He wasn't gaining some external power as his need for vengeance became more and more dire, he was simply becoming more stubborn. He simply refused to die to their mortal means.

Pinkie and Rainbow knew the wagers they'd made when they'd jumped in to help. Their distraction was the break she needed. Twilight ran to the end of the field, keeping her eyes unwaveringly forward. While it certainly didn't look like an edge, she could feel the presences of the others just beyond. She quickly breached the edge, tumbling into the void where they'd been left behind. It took only moments to survey how each of the reflected pairings were doing, and the answer wasn't good. Applejack and Jackie seemed to have ascended the furthest, but their merged form was shuddering on the ground, a light whimper echoing around. Their form was glowing, and they hadn't burned up, so surely it had gone well? Twilight ran over and dispelled her cloak. “Applejack! Are you alright?”

“Twilight,” came the feeble croak. “I've seen everything. Everything I've ever done. All the mistakes I've made.”

“But you've done so much good! And I need you! I can't begin to pretend to know what you've just gone through, but you have to pull through, or everything is lost! Your farm, Apple Bloom, Big Mac, Granny Smith! Please, pull through for them!”

“You're so confident, but you're barking up the wrong tree.”

Twilight held her tongue. Those deep green eyes told her to hold her peace.

“Applejack didn't survive. All that's left is the darkness, naked in the light. I'm sorry. So sorry.” The pony turned away slowly, pulling her mane and tail towards her chest, hiding her face from Twilight's. As Twilight backed away, her sharp ears picked up a few sobs escaping, despite Jackie's best efforts.

She walked, then ran next to Shining Armor, who was pleading with an unresponsive and genuinely horrifying merging of Chrysalis and Cadance.

Shining turned to Twilight, choking back emotion. “Everything's falling apart, and though I know Cadance wouldn't leave me so easily, Twilight...” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I'm afraid I've seen the last of her.”

Twilight flinched at his gaze. “Shining,” she began carefully, restraining her own rampant emotions.“We've got to rouse the others. I left two of my friends in there with that monster, and I don't know how long they'll hold.”

Shining Armor's breaths became more controlled as he employed his years of training. “You're right, but I can do nothing out here. I'll keep him at bay a little longer. My name is nothing if I'm not the first line of defense. It's what Cadance would want. Just... make sure she gets through alright.”

He ran off with resolve, and Twilight was left behind. She spent an unusual amount of time she didn't have considering him, his squared shoulders and determined face. If somebody harmed those he loved, they best watch out. He never let a crime go unpunished. She'd known this all her life, and she'd left her life in his hooves on several occasions. But who was he? Even though they were raised together, he'd always been somewhat of an enigma. He never seemed to question his position, his duties, or his path, whereas Twilight couldn't help but second-guess herself every step of the way. Failure was never an option for him, and furthermore, it hardly even seemed a word. Then there was the matter of his reflection. She'd run into a reflection for each of the other creatures who had been caught up in the tearing of the worlds, but he stood apart. Even the princesses had come to balance each other out, though they weren't biological identicals. Every power had a counter. All except for the devoted, unwavering, almost pig-headed brother of hers.

“Twilight, I know the border of a pocket-plane is fascinating -it does have a fun effect on the air around it, I'll admit- but is this the time to be staring off into blank space?”

Her bewildered glance was met with a shrug and a wave. “Discord! Aren't you watching Celestia?”

“I am.” He stepped aside to reveal Celestia herself, who was bathed in an aura of wavering light, making it almost look like she was underwater. She seemed frozen in place, a look of shock and perhaps just a touch of acceptance on her face.

“How- what?”

“I put her into stasis. She won't press the button until we're finished here, and I can maintain it almost indefinitely, but Seren entering reality might still be enough of a boost to her willpower to break my hold. I'm here to help where I can.”

“Perfect! Just go in there and do the same to Seren!”

Discord snorted, and gave a toothy grin. “I appreciate your fervor, but consider it like this. I can kill one, or save many. I've always been a healer, not a fighter, and I've put on the charade long enough. The beautiful thing about chaos is that it's all about the unknowns. If I stay here, I can tip the chances in our favors. Applejack's been ripped from us, but has her spirit left just yet? We don't know until we investigate, and if I'm the one to do so, I might -might- have the ability to keep her with us. Fluttershy, Rarity, Cadance; it'd certainly be much more pleasurable to have them on our side than lost to oblivion or darkness, wouldn't it?”

Twilight nodded resolutely. “If there's even a remote chance, do it.”

“I'm glad you see things my way. Besides, if I were to have any real chance in a fight, I'd have to lift this veil off of Celestia, and, well, I don't think we can have that just yet.”

At that moment, a pink blur shot out of the event horizon. A very wounded Pinkie landed with an 'oof'. And in a strange form of deja vu, it happened again, as her spirital twin landed besides her, similarly wounded. Pinkamena and Pinkie had been separated, it seemed. Pinkie got up, grinning despite her wounds. “Sorry Twilight, we did what we could, but we had to pull back or else we'd have been obliterated by our own ascension energy. And if I weren't around, who'd keep us in high spirits?”

“That'd be Spectral Slash,” Pinkamena commented dryly. “She heard that Reality actually managed to keep a stock of cider throughout the winter, and she hasn't stopped blathering about it.”

Twilight grinned as well, a sigh of relief escaping her tense form. “It's fine, Pinkie. I don't want to lose anyone, if I can manage. Has your ascension halted, then?”

Pinkamena shook her head. “I'm no expert in these kinds of things, but I think we're a close match, but not quite close enough. Pinkie's so unreasonably cheerful, and I'm so much-”

“-much of a worry-wart?”

“I was going to say 'a realist', but that works as well, Pinkie. Cup half-empty; if you recognize it as such, then you'll be able to ration what you have better.”

Twilight butted in on the bickering couple. “How is the fight with Seren going?”

“Seren seemed desperate to fight you in person, Twilight. He's been focusing all of his efforts just to break through his own barrier, but we're able to keep pushing him back. How much longer, I don't know. He's fueled by something beyond his own strength, that's for sure. After the fourth decapitation, I realized this guy isn't going to die through any normal means.”

“Four?” Twilight mouthed.

“Not including the first death you were there to witness. Heck, he very well may be the attribute of Death, because he doesn't seem to be affected by it.”

Discord shook his head. “I don't often throw my intellectual weight around, but as a doctor who spent far too many years trying to beat it, trust me, he can't. Whatever he's doing, he's simply delaying the inevitable. Now, I'm going to attend to Applejack, and see if I can't reclaim her.”

Twilight nodded, gave a quick command to the Pinkies to stay and help any way they could, and stepped back towards the fight. She heard a strange, unearthly moan. She turned back; it seemed the Cadance-Chrysalis merging was waking, and the results didn't look good. A sort of black, almost fluid substance was oozing around Cadance's shuddering body, seemingly trying to cover as much surface area as it could.

A call from Discord confirmed her suspicions. “Twilight, I'm losing power over your baby sitter and brother eater. I think I intervened too late to stop this, whatever it is. Be careful.”

Twilight nodded. She wanted to rush in there, to save her friends, defeat the menace, and put and end to all of this, but turning her back on something so potentially dangerous wasn't an option. She approached cautiously. “Cadance? Chrysalis? Who is still in there?”

The body stopped shuddering for a moment as it turned to look at Twilight. The disturbing pony opened her mouth, the tar-like substance dripping from her fangs. “Loooooove...” it gasped.

Twilight wasn't going to take chances. She continued her advance, preparing dimensional shackles. It was obviously a beast, and a beast needed a leash until there were means to tame it. “Careful now, I'm not going to hurt you.”

The creature shut its mouth momentarily, the goop spewing onto the ground, where it reformed and crawled back towards the main structure. And, then, all at once, the monstrosity ran towards Twilight, catching her off-guard. But instead of attacking or even trampling her, it ran around and straight into the pocket-dimension. Twilight practically skid on the invisible surface as she ran to keep pace.

The scene she stumbled upon was an utter mess. Blood was everywhere, and who it belonged to, she couldn't tell. Perhaps everyone. Each of her friends looked to be in pretty bad shape, but alive, thankfully. Shining Armor had more wounds than Rainbow Dash, as if he'd been intentionally taking hits for the others. As for Seren, well, he looked the worst of them all, and yet, he was still standing.

Or, well, he was until he was tackled by the changeling-pony. The black mucus flowed over onto his face, making his eyes go wide as he body slowly began to struggle less. Cadance's mouth, now free of the gunk, opened and began speaking with a raspy breath that was certainly not her own. Twilight took note that not all of the goop had switched hosts.

“Let us free, or I'll kill him!”

Spectral Slash slowly rose from her fallen position. “Isn't that what we want?”

“His death will undo the spells he's maintaining, and a pocket dimension collapsing too suddenly can be pretty violent. None of us want this.”

“Twilight, what is that, and why does it have my wife?”

“It's Chrysalis. Somehow.”

“It's your accursed princesses' love for you, Shining. Too powerful for me in such large quantities; it burned me up. But I'm not one to go without a fight. My mind's still here.”

“Give her back. After all the chances we've given you, how can you turn your back on us now?”

“Chances? Hah! You're the one that's betrayed me, slave. Everything's wrong. The whole plan's gone awry. And how? Because of one soldier acting outside of his orders.”

“What do you mean?”

“Still playing the innocent? We can talk about it after you've set me free. I want a full restitution of body, a means to teleport back into reality, and access to my army. That's all I need.”

“But if we do all that, we'll not have enough power to fight Seren! Besides, how do you know you can even maintain your control over him that long?”

“I don't. That just gives you all the more incentive to move quickly, doesn't it?”

Spectral Slash reared. “I say we take them both down. He'll turn on her the moment she lets go anyways, and with the two fighting each other, we'll be able to take both.”

Both of the corrupted ponies frowned simultaneously. “I wouldn't try anyting. Either of these ponies dying, and you'll never forgive yourselves.”

Twilight cleared her throat. “In case you're unawares, Chrysalis, I've made an active effort to practice my marksmanship. I'm fairly confident I could snipe you and save both.”

“You wouldn't dare try.”

Twilight's visage was the paragon of stoicism.

“But I'm a living creature as well! Death is to be avoided, by your personal and country's law!”

“Do sympathy or empathy matter if such a great threat have been made?”

Chrysalis was visibly upset. Well, the other ponies were, through her. “You can't.”

“I can. And the only reason I haven't yet is because of the very morals you're trying to push against me right now.”

“Then... then what do I do?”

“You slowly pull away from Cadance, and then you drop off of Seren as we try to handle him.”

The strange couple stood still for what seemed far too long, until finally, Chrysalis began to comply. “I can't guarantee Cadance's well-being; she didn't put up much of a fight, but it wasn't my fault.”

With a plop, Cadance fell to the ground as the last of Chrysalis was transferred to Seren. Cadance stumbled away, in some sort of stupor. She fell into Shining's embrace as if in a dream. “It's alright, I've got you,” he murmured. He carefully stepped in front of her until he was between her and the dangers.

“Now, do the same to Seren,” Twilight said steadily.

After another short pause, the dark substance that was Chrysalis began flowing from the rest of the body up towards Seren's face, bit by bit dropping off until, finally, there was only a coin sized glob over his eye. “If I move from here,” the borrowed baritone voice boomed, “He'll be back in control. Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Just do it. We can handle it from here.”

The last drop fell off, and the burning returned to Seren's gaze. But he didn't move immediately, instead looking directly at each of the ponies that were backed away and cowered, until finally his gaze fell on Twilight. “You came back.”

“I can't leave my friends to deal with you themselves, especially when you're my problem.”

“And it's a good thing you've come, because you're the only one who will be able to handle me.”

Twilight began a slow approach. “Why call me, then? If you're so determined to live, why bring back the only weapon that can end you?”

“Because it's never been about living. It's about being right.” Seren began to approach as well, causing the others to flinch forward to help. With a stern look from Twilight, they halted, though their movements were still tense. The two continued together until they were touching foreheads, their horns gracing each other. This close together, all distractions melted away. There was only the immovable object and the unstoppable force.

“And what is worth throwing you life away?”

“The truth. So let me give it to you.” With a sudden expulsion, that now-familiar black tar shot out of Seren's mouth, coating Twilight's fur. She stumbled back. Chrysalis! But, no, that wasn't it. There wasn't a hint of her arrogance. There was only the cold sensation of familiarity. This was Lustrous Revolt, distilled and condensed, simmered for hundreds of years. All that was left was anger and pain. Twilight sensed the others running towards her once more.

“Please, hold back. Unless she tries to escape, at which point, do everything you can to stop me. I think she's done fighting.”

“She?” Cadance asked, a short cough escaping her lips.

“I'm still not sure how, but Seren's darkness has always been me.”

“Then who am I?”

Twilight eyes rocketed to look up at the shaken, yet resolute creature before her. A light had returned to Seren's eyes, but the face still showed the mark that bitterness had left. “You're Quicksilver, servant of Luna and Celestia, and Captain of the Guard.”

He shook his head. “That's who I once was. But thanks to this miserable creature,” he said, scowling at the sapient blob slowly crawling up the side of Twilight's face, “I can never be the pony I once was. I'm begging you, let me destroy that here and now, and then I'll depart this life in peace.”

Lustrous made no objection. Twilight heard murmurs from the others, voicing their approval. As far as she could tell, she was alone. “I'm sorry, but I have to hear her out, first.”

Seren, -no,- Quicksilver watched her for a moment, not with anger, nor approval, but cold acceptance.

The darkness reached her face, and paused as if waiting for an invitation. “Let me see you for what you are,” Twilight whispered. “Your pain is mine, cause no more for the others.”

The flood consumed her sight, and the visions began.

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