Twilight smiled as she dusted. It had been a rare delight to be allowed into the store room of mirror portals. To even be allowed to see them... "What an honor," she breathed to herself as she got to scrubbing all the harder. "What secrets you hide..."
Her eager polishing seemed sufficient to cause her rag to be absorbed in the glass, the surface shimmering and flexing. "That's odd, Celestia said they were all turned off..." She peered through the mirror curiously to see a sky painted with thick grey clouds. The land she could see was also grey. There was a lack of living vegetation in sight. A glance down showed the view was over some kind of ditch.
Stagnant water barely moved. Despite the still water, she saw no insects or bugs enjoying the respite. It seemed a dead place. "What world is this..." She could see her rag though. It hadn't fallen far, just on the surface of that water. She reached with her magic and snatched it up easily. "Let's get out of here."
A hand erupted from the darkness of the water and grabbed the rag. A humanoid figure climbed to its feet, its every step as if it were in incredible pain.
Twilight's eyes went wide. "A-are you alright?" It was clear he or she was very much not, but she felt obliged to ask.
The figure bent unnaturally to look up at her floating portal, its back arching backwards. It gazed at her, somehow both seeing through her and yet not perceiving her at all. It gave a rattling cry as it clutched the rag with one gnarled hand, the other grabbing a rusted sword from beneath the water.
Feeling dread building rapidly, Twilight tugged her rag. She would have just abandoned it, but she was told not to leave things on the other sides of the portal. The creature swayed with the pull of her magic, almost drawn off-balance before it froze, then wrenched its tugged hand back. Her magic was so firm on it that instead of pulling the rag to her, she was drawn through the portal, screaming as she fell towards the desiccated human-like creature.
It watched her splash down into the ditch even as it raised its sword, giving an groan without words as it lurched towards her.
Twilight scrambled to her hooves and backed away, water sloshing around her furry legs, soaking them with filthy water. "W-wait! I'm not here to hurt you, I swear!"
It did not care for her words. It swung its sword at her in a terrible arc, its notched and decayed blade still firm enough to bite into Twilight's shoulder and chest, blood set free to flow and join the discoloration of her fur. She screamed in pain and her wings unfurled. With frantic flaps, she fled away from it. With pain and panic, she didn't get very far, but even the edge of the ditch was far enough that the creature, whatever it was, couldn't reach her. It called out to her, seemingly begging her to come die at its sword.
"No!" She shouted as she trembled. She'd never been so directly slashed before. That thing had tried to outright murder her, and she was still bleeding. She couldn't stay there. She looked for the portal that she had come through, but saw no hint of it. Was it gone? She wasn't thinking clearly through the pain and staggered away from the ditch and its angry resident. She began to hobble away, wishing the bleeding would slow. "Why hadn't I paid more attention in those first aid classes...?"
That's when she saw another figure. This one was already standing, leaning against a wall and muttering something. It wasn't approaching her, and it stood beside some stairs. Stairs were a path. Maybe there was help there, safety... Twilight wanted to follow that path.
She approached slowly and cautiously, eyeing the figure that seemed to ignore her until she drew too close for whatever concept of comfort it has. It drew a club from under its tattered clothing and made an unwell noise, practically choking as it lurched towards her.
"I'm not your enemy," spat out Twilight as her wings spread on their own. It didn't listen. It just kept coming closer. She had learned her painful lesson. When the club came down, she jumped to the side and lashed out her hooves with all the power she had. The creature grunted as it staggered back, clearly hurt, but not put down. It raised the club to try again.
Twilight scowled at it. "Go away!" Her horn glowed brightly and she fired a bright ray of light at it. It jerked backwards, then fell, collapsing to the ground in a heap of dried flesh. A moment later, its body blew away, no more than ash on the wind. "What... is this place...?" Twilight shook her head and crept closer. Its club was still there, but Twilight saw no use in that. She had to find safety.
She staggered up the stairs to find the landscape of the hellacious world she had found herself in. She was on a cliff-side. Far ahead and past a valley was an imposing citadel of sorts, though she couldn't see much of its details. As she walked, a new scent tickled her nose and she turned to behold an old and cold campfire. "Does that mean somepony lives here?" Or was it just another sign that all had been abandoned? She didn't know, so she pressed on.
She saw more of those figures down one narrow passage and turned away from it. Down the other path she could see one such figure, but it was facing away from her, down a small drop. She had the advantage of surprise! Or... Twilight frowned as she looked back at her wings. Perhaps she should be using those instead of creeping around. She spread them wide and gave a flap, lifting from the earth and soaring right over the head of that figure.
It was quite the shame that the second figure that lurked by the gate beyond was wielding a crossbow, and knew how to use it. Pain exploded through Twilight and she crashed to the earth. She was bleeding. She had been bleeding before, but it just kept getting worse. Her purple fur was matted and dark with her life essence. She fired a desperate bolt of energy at the figure, and it fell over, but that didn't heal her.
She was dying.
She grabbed at the bolt lodged in her chest with her magic and tried to wrench it free. All she freed was more blood.
She collapsed to the ground.
She barely felt the first figure find her fallen form and plunge its daggers into her back.
Twilight Sparkle had died.
But that was not the fate she could accept. It was not the fate her soul could accept. The merciless entropy of the world demanded she lay her head down and join the countless fallen that called it home, but she refused. She screamed silently. She was dead, but she refused. She had things to do. She had destinies unfulfilled. She couldn't have died. She just couldn't.
Twilight found light filtering through her lashes as she slowly opened her eyes. She was not dead...
She sat up onto her haunches. Everything hurt a little, but that was almost a comfort. The pain meant that she was alive. She reached a hoof to where the bolt had pierced her. Her fur was still a mess of blood and filth, but she was whole, mostly. Looking at her hoof, she could see that it was taut and sunken, as if she were starving, perhaps? She didn't feel hungry.
She felt terrified. "Where am I?" she asked, though no answers were coming. She looked around and saw she was back in the ditch she had begun in. She would have to climb again. "I'll do it right this time..." She clenched her teeth, mustering her resolve before advancing to meet the first figure that had welcomed her to their world.
Twilight did not hesitate to blast the figure, causing it to collapse into the water before it had even drawn its blade. "They're not... ponies." Near as she could tell, they weren't anything with thoughts beyond hurting her. Even as she moved to trot past the fallen figure, it fell to ashes, but something stirred in her. A powerful but brief delight stirred in her chest. Twilight couldn't explain what had happened, but she found wicked delight, somehow absorbing some of the lost power of that defeated figure.
She spotted something glinting off a body she hadn't gone past before and carefully approached it, expecting an attack, but that one appeared to be truly dead.
She grabbed the glinting object in her magic and drew it close. It was a bottle of clay that glowed a curious blue color. It reacted with the magic it was held in and she could feel tingling in her horn. "Magic?" She had felt that tingle before. Whatever was inside the jar was very magical. "I may need this..." She tucked away the ashen flask and ascended the stairs only to find that the second figure she had put down before had returned. Just like her, it had stubbornly refused to die.
Twilight stomped a drawn hoof, which was enough to draw its attention. It drew its club, but barely made it to steps before Twilight blasted it apart. "Not this time..." Thinking of them as just... things, not living, just strange and horrible machines made the task much easier.
She didn't leave the club behind that time, clenching it in her teeth as she advanced. To her left was that campfire, but it was... different.
Twilight felt a pull towards it and approached the old ashes and gnarled sticks. She reached out a hoof as if to warm herself by the fire that wasn't there. For a moment she just stood there, waiting for it, but none came. She frowned a moment. "Why did I expect that to work?" She shook her head. "This place is driving me crazy..." She thrust her hoof at the fire. "Light or I--" It lit. With a great rush of flames, it began to crackle and emit blessed warmth.
She sank to her haunches beside the flame and let her eyes half close. The comfort it provided reached deep into her body and soothed the pains she had suffered since arriving in that terrible world. For a moment, she just wanted to stay there forever, but she resisted the urge, climbing to her hooves.
That's when she saw them. She was not alone, not by far. There were other figures, humans by their shape, in different clothing, wielding different weapons. They all sat in silence, all joined in the comfort of the flame.
For once she felt no fear from them. They were bound to her, somehow. They were all bound... "To the flame," she said aloud, frowning a little. "How..." She waved a hoof right through one of them, and her attempts to talk to them yielded nothing. They were there, so close, and yet incalculably far.
She had to press on, to find answers, and get home. "Good luck," she whispered gently to the other lost souls. If they could find their own ways to home, that gave her hope for her own journey.
She advanced on the dagger-wielding creature that was beneath her. She knew the crossbow firing one was not far past it, so she couldn't rush past it. Still... she had magic! She cracked a crooked smile and lowered her horn at the unwitting creature. It had enough time to spin around after the first blast to take the second to its chest and collapse against the tombstone it had been standing beside. With a faint whisper, its body joined the ash of the world. "One step at a time..." She shuddered with a rush of power, even if she knew not what to do with it.
She just had to be slow and careful... "I can do this..."