• Published 27th Mar 2015
  • 2,946 Views, 102 Comments

Dusk Falls - NorrisThePony

Celestia discovers an eldritch conspiracy in the small beach town of Dusk Falls. Luna fights back growing feelings of jealousy and isolation.

  • ...

Corona Radianza (XIII)

“Indigo!” I barked the moment I was outside. She followed me as I walked off the porch and started towards Main Street.

“Yes, Your Majesty?”

“Please pen a letter to my sister immediately. Tell her I need her in Dusk Falls as soon as possible, and that she is to come prepared for battle.” I ordered. Like I’d done with the wineglass, I created a piece of parchment and an ink-spotted quill out of magic alone, and levitated them both to Indigo.

“What happened in there? I heard some shouting and things break. Was there a fight or something?” she asked, furiously scrawling onto the parchment.

“No, we both made it pretty clear we know of each other’s intentions.”

“So then…”

“Kleos is a pathetic pawn,” I said. “He found the mirror shard, and like a genie from a lamp, Hydia emerged. She lulled him into helping her by keeping him alive using dark magic, and promised him rulership. She dangled it in front of him like a carrot, and he was too stupid to realize he was as disposable to her as everypony else. She used him to build up a cult to allow her to come to power and construct the Smooze for her little genocide.”

“Right. Makes sense. What are going to do about him?”

"I...can't exactly prove what I just told you," I said. "But frankly I don't care. Pretty soon this whole town will be ash anyways. I'll order the Royal Guard to deal with him, because I don't trust my own judgement right now."

Indeed, the chains keeping vengeful thought back had already been broken, and it was already a miracle his behavior had not caused me to actually physically injure him or worse, because in those fleeting moments I disturbed myself with how much I would have loved to inflict harm upon him. A brief flare of effortless magic, without so much as a temporary foray from my calm demeanor, and his maid would have had a bit more than spilled wine and shattered glass to contend with come morning.

I didn't like that thought though. Instead, I would evacuate Dusk Falls, and then I would have him arrested for treason, murder, conspiracy, and whatever else I could manage to get away with. It wasn't as though my word would ever be protested against, and I could hardly wait to pass my unobjectionable judgement. I could rest without an inkling of regret in my mind knowing he would be spending the remainder of his days in some moldy, sunless dungeon cell. He should have died seventy years earlier, anyways, and I had no pity to waste on him.

In the meantime, dealing with the impending doom the Smooze would bring about was markedly more important.

“Whatever Hydia has planned, we don’t have a long time to prepare.” I said somberly.

“We’ve had months to prepare,” Indigo pointed out, signing her name on the letter and passing it to me. In a moment it was cast into thin air with my magic, disappearing in a cloud of smoke to appear at Luna’s desk hundreds of miles away. I physically teleported it, instead of the dragon-fire magic from earlier. A bit more magical effort, but I thought it wise to practice my long-distance teleportation magic anyways.

“Yes, I suppose we have,” I murmured, not paying much attention. Oddly, the night air in Dusk Falls seemed to be warming, as if the Sun were making an early appearance before dawn. It wasn’t, of course—I couldn’t imagine the fury I’d incite in Luna if I were to do such a thing.

“It’s warming up…” Indigo echoed my thoughts out loud.

“So it’s not just me. I think our near future is going to be quite...eventful.”

“I think so too,” she said, “What should we do?”

I didn’t say anything for awhile, staring towards the sparsely populated boardwalk in introspective thought. Even with it’s relative silence, the Ferris Wheel still spun and the band played to nopony in particular.

“I think we should get as many ponies out of Dusk Falls as possible, right now.” I said after a brief moment of contemplation. There could be no waiting for dawn. “They need to be swift, too. I believe my barrier will be coming down before the sun rises.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, following my gaze. “Do you think Hydia is going to try and engage you and the residents herself?”

“I figure she will. No battle is fought without a bit of collateral damage. It’s my duty to make sure innocent ponies aren’t among it.”

Briskly, I unfurled my wings and with a few strong beats, I was airborne and flying over the town. I used my magic to cast a deafening, sourceless blast of sound, which rumbled the earth and came quite close to shattering the windows of the houses and shops below. It would most likely wake everyone below, but the guards already flocking towards their previously discussed and organzied positions would do the same moments later anyways. The auditory blast had been a mere signal for them, one which I had already described and conferred to them.

With half the town in favor of the foe I was evacuating the town to protect, there was no way I could have done it subtly, and so doing it swiftly and efficiently was the next most viable option. Soon, the Main Street of Dusk Falls was populated by frightened looking ponies being herded towards the town's exit, casting nervous glances back towards me hovering high above, many chattering in dread.

“Do not panic, nor hesitate! Proceed from this town without delay!” I said, my narrowed eyes meeting the backwards looking stragglers. What they were fearful of had been a mystery, but when they saw me hovering about with my wings unfurled to their fullest, beating the too-still morning air and looking down upon them, their fear was manifested into compliant respect. Their confused, wayward expressions shifted into respectful terror as they twisted theirselves around, turning tail and fleeing with the rest of the ponies around them.

I landed on the empty boardwalk beside Indigo, who must have sprinted a ways to follow me.

“They did hear you when you said ‘don’t panic,’ right?” Indigo said beside me, crinkling her nose and panting slightly.

“Apparently not,” I said. “Indy, I think it would be a good idea if you went down there and gave them a bit of leadership.”

“M...me?” she gasped. “Leadership? Your Majesty, I don’t know—”

“Celestia, Indigo.” I said. If I truly was at risk of dying soon, I at least wanted to be addressed by my own name from my friends. “Call me Celestia.”

“I hardly think I’m capable—”

“That doesn't matter to me,” I said shortly, my patience even with her drawing thin. “Please just do what I ask.”

“O...okay,” she stuttered, and without any further hesitation took off towards the boardwalk in a sprint.

I took to hovering overhead, observing the flocking of ponies down Main Street and out of Dusk Falls, when far off in the distance, a beam of brilliant, deep blue magic was cast, splitting through the clouds with ease and momentarily parting away the dark recesses of the darkness with its icy blue light. The towering beam rose miles above Equestria, and promptly exploded, casting it’s magnificent light on every shadow in Equestria for a brief moment before vanishing back into darkness. The sound lumbered lazily behind, but when it finally arrived it came as a booming shockwave which rumbled the earth below.

It was Luna’s magical battle cry. The signal whose sole purpose was to inform a foe that Equestria’s alicorns were coming, fearless and brave as we so pretended to be for our subjects. Yet any pony would be terrified in those caverns below the sea, and knowledge of the Smooze and of Hydia provided no recluse from the fear I carried myself. With a strange sense of selfishness, I found myself hoping that Luna—as she churned the night with her wings at a quicker rate upon receiving Indigo's letter—shared in my fearful yet not hopeless anticipation.

I stopped flying, and cast my own magic upwards in response. Like Luna, my yellow beam tore up and up, before exploding like fireworks which coated everything in their light. Windows shattered below me, coupled with both gasps and screams from ponies below. They had seen me cast it, and in the sight they hopefully felt sheltered under my white wings keeping me hovering above the small settlement curving around me, instead of feeling terrified by the unnatural magic I was casting.

Luna was on her way, undoubtedly flying as fast as she could. If she had any sense she would know to use her wings instead of teleport, for every drop of magic energy in our horns was a rich, deep reservoir we dared not waste. From the point where I had seen her towering beacon of magic split the stratosphere (or, at least, where I had seen the ensuing rippling echoes across the night sky emanate from) she was some point several hundred miles from Dusk Falls. She must have set out not long after our conversation in my dreams, when she had assured me she would be.

I overlooked the evacuation of Dusk Falls, which was done in swift and orderly fashion, even with the brief amount of time my guards had been given to prepare. In an hour, the town was already largely empty, and I knew Luna would be arriving soon. There was little else to do but accept her at Pink Sunset when she did.

As I was flying rapidly for home, my wings already aching from days of exertion with so little rest, I felt an odd sensation creep into my horn. It was a feeling comparable to having a large insect crawl across one's back, but this terrible feeling was without a physical source to swat away with moderate irritation. I would have paid it no mind, if it wouldn’t have intensified to a pain like the jaws of a dragon within moments. Before I was able to fully comprehend what was happening, it let out one firm, isolated throb which must have rendered me unconscious, because next I knew, I was lying in a small crater in the middle of the cobblestone Main Street of Dusk Falls.

The sensation in my head was one which many unicorns have dubbed a “magical migraine,” typically a headache of intense proportions brought about my massive magical strain. It was entirely possible for the signals of a pony's magic to cross or distort, either by external interference or internal incoherence.

Multiple ponies who had not yet fled were standing far back with eyes wide with shock, but in a moment their gaze was drawn to something more alarming to the East.

Overhead the Sun rose, slowly and gracefully as if I had been the one controlling it. It became clear to me where the sudden magical migraine had originated from, but this unnatural sight was not greeted by the onlookers with confusion, but instead a collective cheer just as my horn began spilling out a thick green substance somewhere between liquid and fog, pattering against the street while also venting into the air as vapour.

I repressed an audible scream of pain and the urge to throw up, and stumbled to my hooves. Even before my horn's pain had fully ceased I was attempting to reassume control of the Sun, but something that was most certainly not my magic had wrenched it from grasp. The stormy clouds seemed to part by themselves as it rose, but there was no refuge in the sight of the sky beyond. The Sun rose to a noon-day position, but the sky only lightened slightly as it did, not as grey or blue, but instead a filthy blood red that was anything but ordinary. The temperature soared further, rising to a maddening, humid warmth, and as long as whatever was keeping the Sun in place remained, I was powerless to do any more than watch.

Something other than myself had done this. For the first time in centuries, the sun had been moved by somepony other than Luna and myself. Judging from the sky, it was something in the town of Dusk Falls itself.

Unless I chose to waste all my magic trying to retake the Sun, it would remain in Hydia's grasp. But I knew that to try to take it back would be a foolish choice. Better to put a swift end to the thing that had wrenched it from me.

On my hooves, and with the strange pain cast aside, I finally looked to the ponies around me, curiously contemplating why they were still here. I looked at their faces, not bearing expressions befitting ponies that had any measure of good intentions within the mad whirlwind spiral that was their minds. Greater evil was coming, and these ponies before me had helped bring it to power. Many were sneering at me or laughing madly at my expense, in fact I seemed to be surrounded by a minuscule army of ponies looking as insane as the stallion I’d interrogated.

My mind was racing as I struggled for both a rational explanation, as well as a solution. If Hydia had manipulated my sun, it meant her power was greater than I could ever have thought. And moving the Sun was likely a simple demonstration, a show of power to all of Equestria that she saw herself just as fit to be their leader as I myself was, carrying with her the power of a thousand unicorns.

Or, seventy years worth of magic from several hundreds. The end result was hardly dissimilar.

I took off as the cultists advanced, a greater urgency having manifested itself. My head was still throbbing in tandem with my beating wings, and my horn felt once again sore and uncomfortable as it had after the Smooze had seeped through it and into my magic's stream, but I ignored it as best I could as I flew back where I had come, towards the center of the town.

As I split the night as a streak of white, there came a most dreadful screech, resounding at alarming volume with its source unquestionably the dark and still ocean.

An eternal moment of hesitation followed, a pregnant pause in the activities of every living thing in Dusk Falls; my beating wings ceased my forwards flight and instead kept me in place, and the last several dozen terrified residents—the ones not baring their teeth like animals or brandishing homemade weapons into the air—who had been filing down Main Street in a cluster stopped in impressive unison to peer up at the lonely ocean. Even the cultists ceased their insane jeering and chanting.

I willed myself to scream for them all to continue fleeing, but the words did not come as I carried on my stationary flight, staring unblinking directly ahead, knowing precisely what was about to emerge. The waves, previously as motionless as a cloudless, starless winter's night, struck up in a frenzy as though some great leviathan of the depths were surfacing. But I knew there would be no tangible beast clawing it's way from the ocean's unplundered recesses. As a great mist swept from below the furious waves (red like the water and sky, the richest amount of the blood fog that I’d ever seen) there followed a foul smell like a marine beast's carcass left to bleach in the sweltering summer sun, picked at my birds and worms alike. It was the smell of rot and decay.

And then, the Smooze began creeping from the waves and onto the partially frozen sand, clawing its way out with the same spindly tentacles on its bottom. I had been expecting a great amount of the stuff, but I had not been expecting a lake of blackish sludge to emerge from the ocean. A collective scream of horror echoed through every terrified civilian in Dusk Falls as they beheld the unnatural substance emerging from the depths of the sea. Fortunately, their horror was more than enough encouragement for them to begin fleeing from the town, and the evacuation swiftly elevated in intensity.

For the cultists, the sight of the advancing sludge brought forth only immense excitement. Spears were raised into the air, as was a reprise of their joyous cheer. Jeering insults were screamed at the fleeing ponies, but they made no actual move to pursue them. Clearly, as Hydia had said to me, they thought their deaths to be a guarantee anyways, and no amount of fleeing could do more than delay their untimely fates.

I knew that I had to cast the barrier soon, for the Smooze had already started dispersing along the beach as well as advancing inwards. I had shifted my hovering flight downwards, and landed on the boardwalk, placing myself at the foremost proximity to the Smooze. In a blast of magic a portion of the rail was disintegrated, and the magic beam continued flying downwards at the Smooze. It showed absolutely no regard for the ensuing impact.

The radius of my shield could encapsulate the town, but not a whole lot more, and I had no way of shifting it. I desperately looked down from the boardwalk at the Smooze that had broken into two separate sections, one southwards in the ocean, as the other began advancing in the direction of the fleeing ponies. Of course, I could only watch for a short while before the struts connecting it to the beach started to be consumed as the Smooze climbed its way up them and across the elevated distance dividing the town from the ocean below.

The boardwalk instantly began keeling as the Smooze’s acidic flesh tore through the old wood, and entire sections started falling in mere moments of coming in contact with it. I took off into the air just as the first wispy tentacles crept over the railing rendered jagged by my blast, and the grotesque ocean of sludge made its way onwards to fulfill its genocidal conquest.

I didn’t care so much about this portion pursuing the fleeing ponies as I did for the other section that was creeping onwards in the ocean’s stream, where the much more populated city of Manehattan lay several hundred miles south. It was advancing quickly through the water, and soon it would be beyond the range that my shield could reach. If I did not cast it soon, I would miss the chance entirely. But the town was still not empty of fleeing ponies, there were still dozens making their way urgently down the town’s Main Street.

Of course, a significant number of these stragglers had no intention of fleeing the town. Instead, they had been directly involved in bringing about its end in favor of Hydia’s vile plans. They’d been promised great things from their rule, and they did not realize the sludge presently consuming the boardwalk would never give it to them.

There was no correlation between them other than that they were all wielding spears or the occasional flintlock rifle. Some were mares, some stallions, I even saw a griffon in their midst, familiar to me as the one who had sold me my sunhat an eternity ago. They did not look like what one would imagine a quote-unquote cultist to look like, but even I knew (and Luna had asserted once before to me) that this view existed mainly in fiction alone. Everypony has their dark and twisted secrets, and it's not often anypony sees them in the limelight.

These ponies were no different. They were the residents I saw everyday, the ones who bowed when I walked past and gasped in wonderment when I rose the sun. They were the ones who lit effigies at the Summer Sun Celebration and helped keep the town's disappearances out of the public's eye. Amongst these gathered ordinary fools I thought I saw the Mayor himself, dressed strangely well for what he knew was more or less an organized apocalypse, but my eyes strayed on them for only a moment as the hissing of the Smooze suddenly spiked in intensity.

As the heavy wooden planks dissolved into the Smooze’s midst, I noted that even as it consumed them it seemed to not be growing in size as I’d expected, but then I reasoned it most likely needed organic material in order to grow larger. The shops and stands that were crumbling into nothingness and then dissolving into less than ash had no life to keep this creature sustained, but the forests of trees, the animals within, and the ponies…

Between here and the closest settlement, there was nothing but rich forests. If it crept any further from the town, I wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it. Within minutes of first reaching the first forests, it would already be vast and unstoppable.

Behind me, the last few ponies were still fleeing, but I could waste time no longer. Instead I remained hovering in the air, with horn bursting to life with magic intended for teleportation. I had no time to discriminate between the cultists and the ponies actually trying to escape, but my mind's instant rationalization was that it was better to allow them to escape then to allow innocent ponies to die.

But before I could teleport them to safety, a stray beam of magic flew at me. I saw no source, but it struck me all the same and I tumbled downwards in a mad spiral, on barely able to salvage the rest of my flight before striking the cobblestone.

I was already under attack, and I hadn't even erected the barrier.

I landed and instantly cast a shield around myself, my mind quickly processing what needed to be done. If I did not take action swiftly, I would perhaps be too distracted warding Hydia off to do so. I could delay no longer, for this one brief moment of several seconds seemed like all I would have.

To anypony watching from behind, they would have seen a great orb of yellow light surround me, looking like perhaps the greatest show of magic, but really was no more than a heavily modified teleportation spell, no different from the one I had just used to teleport the ponies to safety. I angled my horn at the burning red sun far above, and pictured my destination as best I could. Teleportation magic relies greatly on having a mental visualization of a location, yet despite raising it every day, I could only assume what the Sun looked like. From research I knew that the distance I was teleporting (a far off point of its corona) was something like ninety-three million miles, and I also knew it would be little else but a mass of plasma. My magic leapt this gap instantaneously every day when I rose it, but that was magic far different from the simple teleportation I was casting now. It was not magic a pony could find in a spellbook or be taught in a unicorn's school, but another type I myself seldom understood, not unlike the Elements of Harmony.

A point a million miles from the core of the Sun would be hot enough to incinerate everything in Equestria if it were in contact for a split-second, barrier or not, and as such I had to aim my magic carefully. The distance determined in my mind, I let loose with my magic before my overwrought mind thus clashed with my ability to cast the difficult magic. My horn's glow flew upwards in a beam out clear of the stratosphere and into the far beyond.

Even at the quickest speed alicorn magic could operate, it would take shy of thirty minutes for it to reach. But once it did, the spell would end instantaneously and a tiny cosmic pinprick of the most intense burning heat would be teleported straight into the walls of the magic barrier I would next be casting, and nothing would survive, with the hopeful exception of myself.

The barrier erected, I shifted the flow of my magic, the strain of what I had just done not showing in the slightest as my horn's vibration changed frequency. Like the moon revealing itself through heavy clouds the barrier did not immediately reveal itself, but instead gradually seeped into visibility. It was an immense yellowish dome (technically, it was a sphere which crept below us, too) of ever-shimmering magic with strangely electric qualities. It tore through the beach, parting through the waves, splitting trees and boats in half with unnatural precision, circling the entire town and ending where it had began. With one final burst of brilliant yellow light, the barrier was complete, and the magic in my horn came to rest with an anticlimactic sizzle.

The magic dome sparkled once it was complete, looking beautiful and magnificent, a great ironic contrast considering its role in favor of massive destruction. I breathed a long sigh of relief and exhaustion as the last of my magic died off, and still the dome remained, ensuring that none entered Dusk Falls and that none left. I couldn’t risk the Smooze leaving Dusk Falls, and terrible sacrifices would have to be made. I would miss the town, and I knew I would not be alone.

With its link broken by the barrier, the Sun once again began it’s journey across the sky at a normal pace, instead of remaining suspended at the summit of the red midnight sky. Still, it fell agonizingly slow, and I knew that the rest of Luna’s starry sky would be lost to the bloody heavens for hours to come.

The barrier had split part way down the middle of the main street, which meant a portion of the town was beyond the range of the blast. The majority of the shield’s circumference instead stretched across the ocean waves the Smooze was traveling through.

Fresh shouts tore through the town as what sounded like a dozen raised voices beheld the red sky and the dome keeping them all sealed within the town. I had narrowly trapped the Smooze within, but I had trapped at least a dozen ponies within. They all looked to be quite amazed and not fearful in the slightest, and I decided they must have been the cultists who, having no knowledge of my plan, had made no notion to flee the town and were more than excited to see the supposed goddess they had helped resurrect, as well as the eldritch ocean of death she had created.

A foolish, insane gesture, but I hardly thought it to be deserving of the death they would now be facing as punishment. These troubled and mad souls could perhaps have been helped and healed, but it appeared they had unwillingly rejected their retribution.

I didn't hesitate, and flapped my wings harder until I was flying over the jeering crown. Despite their hostile nature, I landed directly before the tips of their strangely constructed spears.

I saw instantly that I had been right, the Mayor was indeed leading this little group of fools. I would have thought seventy extra years of life would have granted him any more than a child's wisdom, but spoiled, selfish minds don't always change. He was, however, holding in his magic a fairly intricate and sizable looking rifle, that was lacking a conventional flintlock mechanism and instead had a bolt-like-contraption protruding from one of the sides. Truly a weapon designed in secrecy, and likely never used on a living creature before.

I was curious about how he had gotten his hooves on it, but nonetheless I did not hesitate. I looked down the barrel for a fraction of a moment, and then wrenched the thing from his grip. It fired once into the air as I tore it away, and then I twisted it in my magic and snapped the thing with ease.

He had no time to formulate a reaction before my magic was upon him, too. I needed to make an example to these cultists, and he would do nicely.

Whether by my intention or not—my mind seemed to be operating in a sickening trance through those several seconds—his clothing caught fire the moment my magic enveloped him, but with him in my grasp there was little he could do to remove the flaming garments. I looked into his terrified eyes for several seconds, and then flung him forwards with my magic.

The other cultists backed away in shock as he hit the ground, his discarded rifle clattering against the street and the sound of cracking bones ringing out as he hit the stone with no measure of grace. My example was made, and their conviction was instantly dead, although still they attempted to prove to themselves otherwise with scowling expressions and shaking spears.

“I apologize for that.” I said. Kleos started squirming as if to rise, so with another flare of magic more precisely aimed I fractured his spinal cord and continued looking down upon them as the first bits of my mane started simmering with flaming heat. I was perhaps no expressing my anger, but it seemed my magic's sparking intensity was doing that job anyways.

One of the cultist's spears accidentally poked it's way into my flesh as I advanced—the young griffon holding it in shaking talons had been too frightened to notice she was even holding it—and even if the pathetic weapon truly posed me no threat I dissolved the thing into ash with a flare of magic regardless.

The moment I addressed them in blunt and dry fury, the remains of their celebratory discourse sizzled away as swiftly as a torch submersed in water. Their wide, bloodshot eyes stared me down as though I had just screamed to them some juvenile insult, instead of an earnest apology delivered in a soft voice.

“You fools don't deserve an inkling of my sympathy,” I said coldly. “Regardless, you have it. Whatever fate has done to bring you to such low levels of selfish desperation, I can only offer my apologies. I understand that you know damn well what that creature is, and have helped bring it to power. Now, you’ll learn what that power entails. I hope for your sakes you...learn swiftly.””

Beyond these jeering faces and at the ends of pointed spears lay young, half-witted ponies dealt a poor hand by either life or their own inner demons, and their choices were neither blameless nor unforgivable.

I was to grant them no further luxury, and I swiftly turned from them to the ponies beyond the barrier.

The divide between these murderers, and the hoof-full of terrified looking ponies on the other safe side of the barrier was enough to make the most placid creature in the universe shudder with rage of the most intense sort. I swallowed with a little difficulty and a lump in my stomach when I saw them looking desperately back at me. I could not imagine what they were thinking when they saw me encased in the shimmering fishbowl of magic; perhaps confusion or even apprehension. They saw the advancing Smooze, and perhaps somehow knew as well as I did that there was to be no discrimination for the acidic death it would soon be delivering to the poor fools before me. No decent pony finds comfort in that feeling, and the crimes of others rarely have merit enough to drive away the goodness and decency in their hearts.

Cultists or not, the ponies on the side of safety perhaps knew the others within the barrier. Perhaps they were even friends, with no knowledge that they were anything more than innocent ponies. I knew this, and the apology I had provided them had not been a lie.

“I see no reason to lie to any of you,” I said, addressing these poor yet temporarily safe residents more so than the murderous cultists, but allowing my voice to be heard by all. “So instead I will be blunt and honest. The last of the witches, a vile creature who calls herself Hydia, has crept from the ruins of her own dead world into ours, brought to power through dark rituals and parasitic magic of her own. I aim to end her, here and now.”

I had turned while speaking and paced the short ways back to the wall of the barrier. The first pony my eyes locked on was Indigo, who was standing as the only pony who was not either visibly terrified or visibly mad. Perhaps it was because she was also the only pony other than myself who understood exactly what was happening, and had bitterly come to terms with it.

She had presented the somber thought herself. For the sake of these terrified ponies, I would give her an answer.

“The vile substance you see is bent on consuming all in Equestria. In the event that I fail to stop it here, I...can give no more advice, beyond the obvious statement. Flee, and carry faith in my sister to succeed where I have failed. The Smooze will not discriminate between you, and no mercy shall be spent on a single living soul.”

I made no mention of the barrier, nor of the solar flare that would be scorching Dusk Falls of life very soon. The heat would be so intense and instantaneous that they would not even have a chance to feel panic or pain when it arrived. It would have been unnecessarily cruel to deprive them of a painless and fearless death.

I knew that while I had a chance of saving myself with whatever magic I had left, there was simply no way I could do so after also waging war with Hydia or driving back the Smooze, let alone saving the dozens of cultists, but I knew better than to snuff what little hope the poor former-pegasus had left. I had briefly mentioned it to Luna, but I figured our best chance to survive the flare would be to wield the Elements of Harmony as a shield for ourselves. With the barrier in place and dividing her from me, I had to rely on my own dodgy magic to parallel this impossible feat.

With so much of the ocean of sludge advancing towards us, and my magic powerless against it, I had no deliberate target. But suddenly, as if my mind's desperate willingness for something material I could defend from had been rich enough, Hydia swept down in front of the approaching Smooze, landing with a few dainty flaps of the wings that she should not have possessed. She did not deserve to be in the alicorn body she presently was in, and now with my horn healed and the motivation of saving Equestria, I intended to blast her clear out of it.

Atop her head was the same crown she had been wearing in the caves, with it's harsh spikes arching upwards. It reminded me of Sombra's crown in many ways, and I reasoned it was possible she had modeled hers after it. Seeing Luna's horn amongst all these others, some still caked in bits of dried blood and marrow, filled me with inexpressible disgust, and yet this witch was wearing them like trophies.

Luna's horn had been the front-most one and was laced with a swirling bit of enchanted metal keeping it well guarded, but right next to it on both sides were two other interesting ones. The leftmost one was the polished horn of what looked like a changeling Queen, and the horn to the right of Luna's was clearly curved at a sharp angle that told me without a doubt it belonged to a particularly formidable minotaur.

There were other varying creature's horns, and many other unicorn's, but the changeling, minotaur, and alicorn horns were clearly being boasted as superior.

"Hydia," I said, swallowing my disgust and keeping my words still and monotone.

"Really, Celestia. This is your plan? Containing it?" she laughed. "You won't be able to keep this shield open forever, you know. Because you won't be able to avoid your own untimely demise forever."

She was right, of course. Even if it took days, exhaustion would eventually set in, even for an alicorn like myself. And when my wings could no longer carry me on a fleeing course, or my horn could not produce any more defensive magic, the barrier would fall and the Smooze would seep back out into the world. It did not tire, and it would never give up. But it didn't matter, for I did not have to stay alive forever. I only needed to stay alive for about twenty four minutes.

Even the cultists did not quite know what to do in the moment, instead they had backed from me and from Hydia and were instead staring in awe like starstruck school-fillies watching a solar eclipse. It was likely that for the first time they were actually seeing the being they had devoted their lives to bringing to life.

While I stood in front of the cowering ponies, at Hydia's back was the advancing Smooze, and nothing but destruction in its wake. She was a picture that I'd expected to see in painted-glass depictions, standing with an apathetic expression and wings delicately folded, while buildings crumbled and fell and waves of the acidic sludge continued advancing. By comparison, I had my wings unfurled, as if by doing so I could shield myself from the death before me.

I took the first step forwards, and with a heavy multitude of offensive magic already springing to life in my horn, I intended to deliver the first blow, too, but Hydia must have seen it in my face and taken the liberty of doing so herself. And as such, the final battle for Dusk Falls began how so many others had, with a colourful collision of dark magic and bright yellow magic of my own, splashing its light upwards with enough intensity to illuminate the resolute barrier far above.

To the tune of the Hotel’s framework giving way and the building falling in a tall cloud of dust, Hydia and my magic collided in two separate beams, one red, one yellow. It was impossible to tell from her quick assault and my hasty defense who stood stronger, but I deflected her beam with ease and it flew skywards, ricocheting off the ceiling far above and becoming lost in the ocean of Smooze.

I returned her assault with one of my own, a quick volley of a dozen arrow-like bursts of magic. She might have been able to deflect several, but not all, and they struck through her quickly-cast shield. They perhaps damaged her, but if so the wounds healed with efficiency seemingly above that of an ordinary alicorn. I saw red mist flow from the wounds and vanish, and reasoned she was probably drawing from the lifeforce of the trapped ponies encased in the crystals, assuming they had not already fled. Which meant that the further I pushed her, the more they might suffer.

To protect myself from Hydia's assault, I had to indirectly inflict harm on others.

After her injuries swiftly healed, she cast a cruel imitation of the magic I had just used, but I was more than experienced enough to deflect it. She snarled angrily and tried, over and over, with varying beams of magic, each one bouncing harmlessly off the shield I cast and flying upwards to either bounce of the dome above or else fade away entirely. As she continued fruitlessly trying to inflict a single bit of injury against me, it swiftly dawned on me that she was entirely inexperienced with the type of magic she was using.

In the impossible fairy-tales of old, it had been quite the same. She had manipulated ancient evils into helping her, gaining dominance not through action but by forcing or tricking other creatures into assisting her. These “fairytales,” what all had thought to be innocent literature for foals and fillies...truthfully had been the beaten voice of some lost history screaming desperate warnings, warnings which lost volume and composure as they bounced across the immeasurable dark depths of eons of forgotten time. Despite so many ages that seemed to have come and gone, and for all the distance across Sombra's Mirror's infinite worlds, her actions were entirely familiar with what I would have expected had I spared a moment’s time to consider them.

Who else was she prepared to bring forth to aid her, if not the Smooze? Would she have delved into the lands of the depths below, where even I dared not go? The prison of hellish evil where the winds seared the flesh and the air seeped life, magic, and hope from a pony's soul? Or, would she have tried to shatter the Element's grasp on the Spirit of Chaos, expecting a reward as Kleos had so foolishly expected as well?

I could not know, nor did I intend to provide her the chance to teach me. She had chosen the Smooze as her homicidal catalyst, and I would make sure it was her final failure.

More magic clashed like blades and spears of energy arcing through the distance between us and lighting the world with its beautiful, destructive power. Before my bloodshot and unblinking eyes was a plain of flashing light, red and yellow and orange in constant battle for dominance in my frantically disorienting visual spectrum. Shields were cast and promptly shattered, assaulting beams struck or did not.

And every moment, I knew that some poor pony down below was suffering because of it. And I was afraid. If I cast any more than the pretty lights I presently was, and unleashed anything more—striking her a fatal blow—she would proceed to save herself with magic that was not her own. I would have the blood of an innocent pony on my hooves. Time and time again I could best her, and time and time again it would matter little for the sake of progression.

But if I ceased the fight and fled, the ponies before me would perish in a moment.

There could be no victory without innocent sacrifice, save for one option, and by no means a decent one. It was a mad idea that even an ignorant fool would laugh at with scorn and derision.

I ended my magic's flow.

The last bits of Hydia's magic struck my fading shield, and the pain certainly registered, but it wasn't a severe blast and I did not so much as stagger. For a temporary moment, Hydia ceased as I had, not willfully but rather in baffled shock. And then, realizing what I was attempting, she chuckled.

“This again, Celestia?” she said, with a smirk and no indication that she saw me as anything more than a naive fool. “Seriously. Are you going to try once more to reason with me? I thought I made my stance clear. You, and everpony else in your kingdom, is going to die. You're delaying it, because you're worthless and can't do anything else. It's not as though you have a single thing to hold against—”

“I know.” I cut her response off with sharp words and a raised hoof. “I have nothing with which I can use to threaten you, nor words to sway you from your delusions—ah...intentions, of conquest. But come on! You've been waiting for more than a hundred years for this, Hydia! Let's talk.”

She blinked. Then, she looked behind her at the Smooze, some hundred feet before us, and then back at me with the same confused smile.

“Talk.” she repeated bluntly.

“Indeed. Leader to leader. Or, mother to mother.”

More silence. I carried on with a shrug.

“Of course I refer to myself as such solely in the metaphorical sense,” I elaborated, motioning without turning around at to the cowering ponies on the other side of the barrier behind me, no longer bearing a battle-ready snarl upon my face, but rather a smug smile. “But I mean it quite literally when I refer to you.”

“You're wrong!” she spat with sudden hostility, the objection convincing nopony, not even herself. It was a pathetic, hastily defended denial, and there could be no bitterness in her words rich enough to sway my patronizing words and expression. And yet, despite the emotional gash I was rending across her soul, no magic flared, as the seconds carried on. My horn was quite ready to have a shield ready in a moment if it did, but it seemed my request for simple conversation had miraculously been met.

“Hydia. Don't lie to me, please. You proclaimed yourself a creature of our fairytales and legends, and a survivor of death itself, and yet something is missing,” I said placidly. “You weren't alone.”

“What do you think you know—”

“You had two daughters, didn't you?” I cut her off once more, and provided her with no time to answer my question. “What happened to them, Hydia? Did you neglect casting your death-salving dark magic on any but yourself?”

She was too stunned to answer beyond a few stuttering syllables, so I carried on as if she had not spoken in the slightest.

“Selfish in the past, and in your present conquest you are selfish now,” I said, shaking my head in disgust. “And even the death of your only loved ones has failed to show this to you. I wonder if you'll ever realize how pathetic you are.”

“And yourself?” she barked. “How many ponies have you watched croak around you without batting an eye? Do mortal lives mean anything to you?”

“I spared the Mayor, and I haven't inflicted harm on your cultists. I nearly perished several days ago saving my guards from your Smooze, and presently I am mourning the ones who have fallen. And I will face death at the hooves of cowardly foes like you time and time again if it means saving my ponies.”

More silence, and I intensified my smug smile further.

“I'm better than you, Hydia. It's factual.”

The Smooze was quite close to us, and without bothering to turn I knew that Hydia was aware. Furiously, she took off into the air without providing a response, or at least not one uttered to myself.

“What are you fools doing?” she hissed, not to me but instead the bewildered group of twenty or so cultists. For the longest while, they had all been standing about, watching our clashing magic's destructive dance, and their leader try and fail to gain some sort of advantage against me.

“Kill her!” she barked.

Of course, it was clear that they had no emotional desire to do so. Any sense of conviction had perished, and dread had settled where it had been. As the cultists warily advanced, so too did the Smooze behind where she had been, advancing towards us with sudden intensity. No longer was it stopping to consume the town, instead it seemed content to simply flow over it as it bounded quickly towards us with its long tendrils, letting it’s acidic flesh pull the buildings apart gradually. Hydia had taken flight just as it crossed where she had been standing, and now it was just myself and the cultists who seemed too frightened to approach me. Despite the commanding tone she had taken, they had clearly seen their supposed new goddess fail against me, and did not seem confident enough to make an attempt themselves.

The Smooze was close enough to us that it's tentacles began flailing madly, and it begun hissing with newfound conviction. It was as though it were intensely excited by the prospect of prey.

I cast a durable dome-like shield that was more-or-less a miniature version of the one encasing the town. In a moment the Smooze was flinging itself against the walls of the magical barrier, but it stayed resolute. Nonetheless, it was nowhere near as strong as the larger one encasing the town and would collapse in due time. We were quickly flooded into darkness as the Smooze coated every the entirety of the dome, dripping with it's putrid acid like a feral animal, but I lit my horn and turned to the ponies, no longer civilians or cultists but instead simply that. Ponies. Perhaps Hydia had been right, and mortal lives didn't matter that much to me in that moment, and it was perhaps to their benefit considering what they had did.

“You’ve made a mistake,” I said to them, “But I’m not above forgiveness. Stand against me and I’ll end you in an instant.”

I pointed upwards at the Smooze, its mouths with too many teeth gnashing against the surface of the dome, tentacles flailing and spewing acid all about.

“You were told you’d be saved. Does it look as though this promise has been kept?” I sternly asked rhetorically. “For all I’m concerned, you’re all the same to me right now: ponies I must save. Don’t act like anything more, and I will have no reason to refrain from doing so.”

Of course, what I was not telling them was that when this was all over with, they would hardly be getting away with anything. It was likely they would not see much beyond four dungeon walls in the years to follow.

Suddenly, the barrier shattered, but the moment it did my horn once again erupted, this time with teleportation magic. The Smooze was still approaching us, for I had only been able to teleport the great multitude of ponies several dozen feet, but it was still better than a sudden, anticlimactic death.

“Pegasi, fly from it. Unicorns, stay with earth ponies and use shield magic to drive it back. Flee towards…” I hastily pointed in the direction of Pink Sunset, which would most likely be the last place the Smooze would infect. It seemed intent on moving forwards in the direction of Central Equestria, as if it somehow knew that further North down the Crimson Coast there would be no life to consume. “...towards there.”

Instantly, the pegasi took off. The Smooze was already almost upon us again. Quickly I trotted the distance backwards to the electric surface of the barrier. Amongst the peering crowd I picked out Indigo and addressed her, already giving my wings a shake to prepare for flight myself.

"Indy, get the Royal Guard here. As many as they can spare. If anypony beyond myself manages to survive the solar flare it will likely be Hydia, so we must be prepared. You also must start moving ponies from the barrier. Now. I'll see you in twenty three minutes.”

She looked a little confused by my oddly specific time, and then nodded when she realized I was referring to the time it would take for my spell to finish its cycle.

I took off, and instantly brought my flight over the sea of sludge, remnants of slowly decomposing buildings jutting out like wreckage from a destroyed warship. The rapidly fleeing ponies were a pinprick of movement which was the only exception of movement to the rolling waves of sludge. They were fleeing down a narrowly converging path between the approaching Smooze and the wall of the barrier, but the road to Pink Sunset remained unsullied by the purple sludge.

The pegasi I saw were safe, for the time being. The unicorns were using their magic to teleport forwards...but in blatant contradiction to my commands the earth ponies had been left to their lonesome to sprint to safety themselves. Abandoned by their own brethren to a grisly fate, and despite their frantic pace the Smooze seemed undoubtedly the swifter.

I cursed these selfish ponies bitterly, but moreso I cursed myself for being surprised. I had trusted them to obey the orders of the mare they were opposing. What had I suspected would happen?

I clipped my wings to give pursuit and help the four or five earth ponies—and the six or seven unicorns, whose magic seemed to be dimming and every teleportation distance gradually shrinking—but before I could come to their assistance I felt something heavy impact my shield. It shattered like glass in an instant, and multicoloured sparks flew forwards from the impact, burning my white coat.

The source of the sudden impact was not a magic blast, but a stray tendril of the Smooze. Another was quick to follow. I dipped below it, but other tendrils followed in the first's wake, and my flight was forced to become equally as chaotic and sporadic. There were so many surrounding me now that it was like a forest canopy of dark purple, blotting out the red sky and all the odd crepuscular light it had been casting.

I flew madly about, determined to surface but finding it impossible with the Smooze everywhere around, below, and above me. My one moment of distracted flying had allowed it to virtually surround where I had been. Eventually the forest canopy became too great, and I knew I could travel forwards no longer.

I fired a beam downwards, for no other reason beyond the added momentum, and then with a few heavy flaps of my wings flew straight upwards. Before impacting with the wall of sludge I cast another shield, more or less centralized around my horn alone, and one of intense heat. Then, I tore straight through it like I had with the suspended wall of water in front of the lonely beach cove.

Instantly, the sensation of acidic corrosion was upon me. The Smooze's plasma form was turned to water by my flaming shield, but when it fell onto my back the feeling of corrosion was no different. I did my best to ignore it and tried my best to focuse on something...anything besides the intense pain during that one split-second that felt like an eternity. I grimaced, my eyes watering despite me having squeezed them shut to save them from the Smooze's persistent assault.

When I finally tore through back into the morning light my white fur was largely gone, and my already dishevelled looking mane and tail were rendered even worse.

As if it had anticipated her move, the Smooze was already flailing upwards with its tentacles the second I was free. I nearly screamed out in panic as I was once more grasped by dozens of them, my wings, legs, and body all instantly biting out in pain from the acidic contact and the sheer pressure of their grasp.

I had no direct contact with the Sun thanks to the magical barrier, but I had flowing in my veins its power all the same. Suddenly my entire body was a bursting flame of intense heat, and the tendrils instantly lost their grip. My injuries healed swiftly, and by time my flight had recovered and I had angled my snout back upwards towards Hydia the flames surrounding me had died off and my coat was back to its pure-white former self.

I flew upwards as fast as I could, until I almost collided with the ceiling of the barrier and flew with my back nearly pressed against it as I traced along its perforated surface.

At the summit of the dome, I looked back to where the fleeing earth ponies had been, now as much an ocean of blackish purple as the rest of the land around it. The earth ponies were nowhere to be seen, and on closer examination I could not see the unicorns or pegasus anywhere, either. I could, however, see that the Smooze was in some sort of mad frenzy where they should have been, flowing about like river rapids with the intensity of a feral wolf. And indeed, the Smooze's goal was quite the same.

Even if the barrier would not have been there, it was clear to me that the unicorns and earth ponies were dead. The ones not earthbound might have been able to outfly it, but with nowhere to go they were simply delaying the inevitable.

I hurled a thousand accusations of blame at myself, even if I knew that I had done all I could to help them in time. If they would have worked together, as I had told them to, they would have been able to survive long enough for me to catch up and help them further. But selfishness and fear had laid to waste this opportunity, and they had died because of it.

My sorrowful contemplation was broken by the sound of wingbeats behind me. I turned in a moment, eager to confront the source with thoughts of both defense and assistance on my mind.

The source, however, would not be dismissed easily, it seemed, and certainly was in no position where my assistance would have been desired. Hydia had been hovering far above the wreckage, looking on with a somewhat apathetic expression, but the moment she had seen that I too had taken flight, undamaged by her gutless cultists or the mindless Smooze, she narrowed her eyes. Whether it was with fear or with anger, it was difficult to say. In direct combat now, she undoubtedly was wondering if she would be able to drive me back without the assistance of the Smooze.

My assault was instantaneous.

With a scream of hate and fury I let loose with a thick beam of solar energy, and struck her directly.

Her flight swirled downwards, taking her alarmingly close to the Smooze, but she managed to recover and respond with a red magic blast of her own. It narrowly missed me, but I’d known it would and did not even bother casting a shield against it.

Despite the considerable distance she was intentionally maintaining from me, I noticed the clear sight of billowing red smoke from Luna’s horn atop her crown. She was drawing more power from the imprisoned ponies, and was about to use it against me.

Before she could fire, I quickly flew at her with great speed, and this time did not even bother allowing magic into my horn. Instead, I struck her with the full force of my body, twisting around and kicking upwards with my hindlegs and sending her flying. She tumbled for some distance, and by time her flight recovered to stop herself from falling into the Smooze, she instead crashed into a tall building that had not yet fallen victim to the Smooze’s assault.

It had been the most successful I had been at weakening her thus far, and I had already prepared to dive into the flimsy building after her, when an audible booming noise caused my attention to be diverted elsewhere. I turned to look in the direction of the distinctly familiar sound, already knowing that my foolishness had allowed my moment of potential victory to pass. Still, I knew very well what the popping sound had been, and some cruel part of me still needed the confirmation.

The Mayor of Dusk Falls had climbed onto the roof of his decaying mansion, which was already buckling and ready to fall. My earlier magic should have rendered him partially immobile, at least through physical means but he still must have been able to use his horn to teleport to a spot of temporary safety.

Indeed, temporary seemed to be the most fitting word, and he himself seemed to know this, too. I could do little else but imagine the sobering moment when his situation finally clicked into place, the moment when he had swiftly learned that any promises that he would have been spared had been no more than heartless lies.

I wonder if perhaps he had ever considered screaming to me for help; despite my position I perhaps would have provided it, and I had been sure to keep the injuries I'd inflicted on him solely temporary and mendable. But he must have disregarded the notion out of pride or obligation, because he was now lying in a building pool of blood spilling onto the shingles of the mansion roof.

Still, I flew downwards anyways and landed upon it just to be absolutely certain. I had already let my opportunity against Hydia pass, and until she reemerged I had time to confirm he indeed was dead. The flimsy mansion roof nearly collapsed with the added weight even despite my cautious landing. An entire section broke free and tumbled downwards, disappearing into nothingness instantaneously.

I remembered the sound of the flintlock rifle booming in the caverns below after the last of the shields had stopped. Had it been used for this same purpose? It seemed a more welcome end than a slow, painful one at the tendrils of the Smooze, but I hadn't contemplated the action until I saw what Kleos—once so full of confidence and conviction—had also done to avoid the acidic ocean below us.

I didn't see any weapon nearby he would have used, but the last bits of smoke billowing from his horn told me all I needed to know. A unicorn could theoretically overload magic into their horn into a burst that was beyond what it could actually handle. As I stated before, with a horn directly linked to a unicorn's mind, forcibly destroying it to such a catastrophic extent in turn had a result that rarely ended in any less than the gruesome sight before me. The loud popping sound I had heard was his magic exploding in a final over-capacitated blast, although it had sounded quite similar to a rifle blast indeed.

Left alone to die on the street, he had done his best to place himself in a position of temporary security. And then, when even that security was gone...

With the sensation of being burned alive by the Smooze's acidic flesh still clear in my mind, I would have had trouble saying I would have done anything different were I in his position.

I felt pity (or some cold perversion of it) but some macabre part of me also felt relief that it wasn't something I could have avoided and indeed was not responsible for. It was appropriate that he had taken his own life out of terror and dread of the gruesome thing he had helped bring about. I kicked off the roof of the mansion, the subtle movement causing the last of the stone to give way and the entire building to fall into the acidic sludge below. The Smooze welcomed his still-warm body with excitement, and I had no mind to watch any further.

I turned to look at the wreckage of the building Hydia had fallen into. She had not yet emerged. Instead of carrying on a purposeless fight, I decided the time to confront Luna had finally come. In many ways, the thought was more daunting than any violent combat that would have ensued had I not chosen to.

Author's Note:


Writing extended action sequences is hardly my strong suit, so I admit I was quite skeptical of this chapter. Hence the...longer wait. I've been dreading publishing these finale chapters since chapter one.

Oh well. Hopefully it was somewhat tolerable.