• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 3,758 Views, 145 Comments

Darkened Shores - Silver Flare



An adventure that takes the Mane 6 around the world to face the what destroyed the alicorn homeland.

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21: Movement

Twilight Sparkle had read lots of books in her lifetime. Most of them were of the educational sort. Books about Equestrian history and philosophy and chemistry, social systems and economics, astronomy and physics, not to mention books on magic, from theory to application. But between these instructional tomes, Twilight was known to read the occasional adventure book. Or occasional adventure series, she might be quick to point out.

Twilight had noted that when things became dicey for many protagonists within these novels, the author would describe how time seemed to slow down, revealing each moment as clear and distinct from the last. This odd mechanic cropped up often enough that Twilight had given it serious credence and had, in the back of her mind, secretly hoped to experience what she might refer to as Perceptual Crisis-Based Temporal Dilation and thoroughly document the phenomena.

Now that things had progressed far beyond merely 'dicey,' the detached and rational corner of Twilight's mind was disappointed to find that time hadn't slowed one bit. It was apparent that precious few adventure novelists actually did their research.

Twilight tried not to look back as she led her three friends north, away from where she was certain Fluttershy still lay. But staying focused was made difficult by the detonations and concussions shaking the ground from behind them. Luna's booming voice and the broken bellows from the colossus she fought made Twilight flinch with fear.

Her focus became easier when they reached the first wave of rotting figures dragging themselves towards them. Without slowing her trot, Twilight's horn burst into light, and the first few creatures were lifted up and flung back into the darkness. They were quickly followed by another cluster, and another. But she wasn't fast enough, and her trot became a walk, and then stopped entirely as more creatures closed in, drawn by their presence like moths to light.

When Twilight was forced to take her first step back, Applejack leapt in front of her, swinging her branch like a golf club. "Ret me take a frw of deshe!" She mumbled from around the edges of her cudgel as she sent more creatures flying.

Pinkie Pie's face had been scrunched up in serious thought since they'd started running. Before too long her pendant lit with a dim glow, and a bubble of blue light formed around her. "Hey! I made a thingy!" She reported, her voice muffled by the shield. It immediately flickered out. "Oh, drat."

Some fat, flightless bird flopped too close to Applejack's rear hooves, and Twilight turned the force of her fears and angers upon it, releasing a more deadly spell in a shower of white and black sparks. The creature vanished in a puff of smoke, and the smell of burnt flesh hit Twilight's nostrils. Applejack shot her an alarmed glance but didn't cease her attack. Twilight tasted bile, and she felt like her stomach might try crawling out of her mouth, but there was no time to contemplate her choices. She broadened her scope and aimed carefully past Applejack's shoulder.

As the farm mare swept the legs out from some vague jungle cat and sent it flying back into its neighbors with a pair of well-timed strikes, she noticed a worm thick as a hawser threading through the sand, and she leapt away, spinning in midair and rolling back through the surf before it could touch her. By the time she'd regained her hooves, Twilight fired her spell, and a swath of sand exploded outward, disintegrating everything caught in the blast and flinging nearby creatures backward, buying them a few precious moments.

"Woah. . ." Pinkie breathed.

Applejack relaxed from her combat stance, her ponytail dripping seawater. From the expression on her face, it looked like she agreed. She glanced behind them to check on the fight back there, and Twilight reflexively did the same.


-


Meanwhile, Princess Luna fought for their lives. These blasted creatures just didn't seem easily phased by magic. Difficult to lift with force, immune to arcane sigils, resistant to transmutation attempts, and so forth. It's as though their leprous skins had been saturated with. . . something. Something resistant to magic, anyhow. At least lightning strikes seemed to get its attention, even it they didn't slow it down much.

Luna conjured a couple of bolts of lightning and took to the wing in an attempt to draw the megalith away from the retreating ponies. She'd hoped to turn it around, maybe lead it out to sea, yet when its head turned too far it just tenaciously swiveled back towards Twilight and her friends. It's bulk emerged from the layered shadows of the cursed lands, stretched across the thin strip of beach and protruded a fair distance into the ocean. It was like a living avalanche made out of toxic carcasses rumbling along in slow motion.

As Luna banked around to get its attention again, she spotted its long, thin tongue snaking out towards its closest meal. And Pinkie Pie, facing the other way, couldn't possibly have seen it coming. In desperation, Luna drew up her power and pulled back her hooves. But just before she cast her spell, she saw Pinkie's front leg twitch, and the pink pony scrambled away from the danger without even a backwards glance. Amazing.

Luna cast her spell anyway. She shoved her hooves forward, and her magic slammed the beasts head into the ground with brute force. It's soft skull deformed under the impact, absorbing the blow, and its tongue rolled back into its head. In irritation, it swept a paw the size of a wagon through the air, as though it could bat Luna's spell away like a fly, and the paw crashed down close to where Twilight and Applejack had stopped, unable to advance against the tide of nightmarish creatures gathered before them.

This wasn't working. Luna tucked her wings and pulled into a dive, conjuring small balls of fire and flicking them towards the misshapen head of the beast. The potential for collateral damage was too great for her to use fire on a large scale. She'd seen first-hoof what happened when fire spells grew out of control. Unfortunately, the beast's moist skin seemed reluctant to burn, and the monster managed to shrug off fire as well as it shrugged off her lightning. Luna swept in for a landing in front of the thing, determined to keep it from catching her subjects. Somehow.

Luna conjured up a solid velvet-black wall of magic as the monstrosity crawled forward again. She grounded it deep within the bedrock below her, steeling herself for impact. Until a giant paw collided with her construct, and a sharp pain shot down Luna's horn and into her skull. Her vision swam, but the Princess of the Night would never have let a tiny thing like pain distract her. As she blinked her eyes clear, she noted the massive cracks that already ran through her defense. She melded them with her mind, willing the magic to flow straight again, but the next impact came too soon and Luna felt it like a blow as her defenses gave way.

Her wall crumpled beneath the weight of the beast and a ponderous claw blotted out the sky above. So Luna flung herself sideways, conjuring thick black chains out of thin air as she tumbled. The chains wrapped around the creature's wrist and tangled its paw. With a twitch of her horn, Luna did the same to its other claw. When it lifted that claw to crawl forward, a whispered word from the alicorn brought that paw crashing back to the ground as the chains became heavier.

It had no eyes that Luna could see, but all the same the creature seemed to glance at its paw in frustration. But then, with a sound like boulders grinding together, it scraped it body forward as far as it could and turned its jaws sideways to snap Luna up in its horrible mouth. It slammed its teeth together with a deafening crack, but Luna had teleported upwards, out of harms way. Having bought herself a moment, she glanced backwards to see if anyone else yet lived.


-


When the mountainous deformity slammed its claws down, the concussion shook the ground and a shockwave knocked Twilight off her hooves. She tumbled through the sand, sprawling at the feet of what might have been a reindeer if its soft, drooping antlers hadn't framed a pair of dead black orbs. In a panic, Twilight fired off another spell, pouring her waning strength into another mixture of telekinesis and heat.

The energy exploded close to her face, dispersing against a sky-blue dome of force that suddenly separated her from the creature. Twilight gasped and flinched away from the backlash. Her ears rang, her throat felt parched and raw from the air she'd inhaled, and she was certain her eyebrows had singed. "Gah! Pinkie!" She choked out.

"Oh! Sorry!" Pinkie's shield immediately disappeared. "It's all I know how to do!"

Now there was, once again, nothing between her and the monster. It lurched towards her. "Wait wait wait!" Twilight scrabbled backwards, her hooves failing to find purchase in the sand. It took another lurching step, and Twilight had to jerk her hind leg up to her chin to keep it from touching her. It loomed over her, framed by the cerulean sky, and Twilight readied another spell in the last moment afforded to her.

Until her next breath, thick with the stench of gangrene and ammonia, sent her into a coughing fit. It felt like it burned her throat, and it broke her concentration. In plain desperation, she reached out her numb hoof to try and hold the beast at bay.

Through watering eyes, she saw a shape spin into view, pivoting on front hooves. She saw a flash of emerald eyes beneath a straw-colored mane before Applejack's sturdy branch launched the thing through the air with a loud, wet crunch of impact.

Twilight kept pushing herself backwards through the sand, her coughing fit making it hard to stand. That is, until a pink pair of hooves slid under her shoulders and hauled her upright. "I'm so sorry, Twilight!" Pinkie's voice pleaded right by her ear, but she sounded distant beneath the dull ringing sound. "I honestly don't know what I'm doing!"

Applejack fought a hopeless battle, losing ground with every swing of her head and pivot of her shoulders. Twilight's lungs felt like they were on fire, and her body convulsed with the effort of trying to suppress her coughing. These destructive spells were taking their toll on her, and the beach seemed to stretch on for miles. Looking up, there were easily more than twice the number of creatures clustering towards them then there were a minute ago. Come on, Twilight! She thought as she struggled for breath. You have to think of something!

She heard Applejack cry out in pain, and in a flash Twilight found her own breathing easier to control. With a thought she cast a teleportation spell, and Applejack tumbled right out of the sky and landed on Pinkie in a tangle of legs and manes. A swift, dark shape flicked above, but Twilight had no attention to spare for the Princess of the Night. She was mesmerized by the slow drip of blood down Applejack's fetlock.


-


Seeing the behemoth immobilized, Princess Luna swept her wings back and launched herself towards the others. She swooped in just above Twilight and Pinkie, folding her wings and landing lightly on the sand. As she did, the valiant farm mare disappeared in a violet bubble of light, leaving a mass of creatures to pour into the space she'd been a moment before. Luna nodded her approval. Twilight had surely recalled her friend to her side with a spell.

Luna called over her shoulder without looking. "Ward thyselves!" Then her mane began to ripple upward, and her eyes lit with fierce determination. Without looking to see if she was obeyed, Luna touched the tip of her horn to the sand before her, and then swept her head skyward. As she did, large swaths of sand rose into spikes between her and the shambling horde of misshapen creatures.

While she held that spell she cast another, projecting a wave of intense heat from the tip of her horn. No actual fire bloomed, but the world before Luna shimmered, distorted by heat. Pasty, sick flesh on the far side of Luna's barrier blackened and flaked, but the ground itself was her target. The layers of white sand boiled and sizzled, fuzing into large spikes of dirty black glass.

Luna swept her spell left and right, encasing her side of the beach in a broad semi-circle of spines. The grey swarm pressed forward mindlessly, grasping and reaching and oozing, but the glass stopped them. Luna knew they would make their way around the edges, or pile atop one another to scale her obstruction if given enough time. Luna hoped they'd all be far away by then. She took a brief moment to watch, ensuring her defenses were working as she'd hoped.

A deafening crash caused Luna to snap her head around. In the space where three ponies were a moment ago, there was nothing but an enormous, doughy paw tipped with sharp claws, still bound in Luna's weighted chains.

Luna's heart leapt into her throat.


-


From atop Pinkie Pie's back, Applejack poked at a wound halfway up her foreleg where a chunk of her coat and skin had been peeled away. She had a worried look in her eyes.

"Applejack, no. . ." Twilight murmured. "Not you too. . ."

The earth pony's expression flew from worried to alarmed. She dropped her branch to the sand, stretching her jaw before shooting back an accusation. "Whaddaya mean, not me too? Twi, you ain't been. . ."

Pinkie Pie couldn't see the exchange happening above her, but she did see Applejack's weapon hit the sand and crumble into splinters and sawdust. "Hey!" She said, brightening. "AJ! Your sticky broke! You must have been using some kind of magic to hold it together!"

That seemed to catch Applejack's attention for a moment. "I. . . I what?"

The beach rumbled beneath them, and waves of sand shot upward into vicious-looking rows of spikes. Twilight immediately sighed. And she'll melt them into glass. Ah, why didn't I think of that? Princess Luna was remarkable at thinking on her hooves in a dangerous situation. She was calm, smart, and dangerous. Not to mention graceful under pressure. Perhaps it was the strain of the last few days, or possibly delirium, but Twilight found herself wondering why she'd never looked up to Princess Luna as a role model before today.

But then something occluded the sun, a thick shadow of some sort. Twilight glanced up in time to see a vast, gnarled claw poised above her friends. She barely had time to note the cobalt chains tangled about it, adding tremendous weight to the already giant appendage, no doubt Luna's make. Twilight gathered her magic for a teleport spell, but the world ended before she could cast it.

A concussion, and the very firmaments trembled.

Twilight was certain that she was dead. Well and truly certain. So imagine her surprise to find she was still breathing. She heard nothing but a vague ringing, and although she was certain she'd pried her eyes open, there was nothing to see. Where in Tartarus was she?

No, that wasn't true. There was a soft blue glow surrounding her, and beyond that. . . was that rock? "Twilight. . ." It was a tremulous voice just behind her ear, a dear voice offered to the dark like an unwilling sacrifice. Pinkie Pie. "That hurt way more than I thought it would." Her voice was thin, as though she was close to losing consciousness.

Applejack was faster, having slung her uninjured foreleg over her friend. "That was some mighty quick thinkin' Pinkie. You sure saved our sorry hides."

Glancing up, Twilight could faintly see the monster's palm, all fungus and open sores and criss-crossed with chain still hovering above them, surrounded by a ring of sand. Pinkie's shield had held together, despite being driven into bedrock. And it hadn't even cracked!

Applejack suddenly sounded nervous. "Now hold on there sugar pie! You stay with us! Don't you go aaaaaand she's gone." Twilight craned her neck around to see Pinkie's eyes roll back into her skull, and the light surrounding them went out.

Piles of sand and pulverized rock sprinkled down atop them, and it sounded like the rocks surrounding them were shifting, no longer supported by anything. Twilight squeezed her eyes shut against the falling sand. "AJ, Give me a long ten count, then get Pinkie back to the ship, whatever it takes. I'll try to help Princess Luna."

"Sure Twi." Applejack breathed, herself just a ghostly shadow in the darkness.

Twilight shook the sand and dirt out of her eyes and squinted upwards. Her horn began to glow. This creature couldn't be any bigger than an Ursa Minor, could it? She'd haul this thing off of them with brute force if she had to. With an effort of will, she. . . and it vanished, leaving bright sunlight pouring like a river into their hole in the ground. Twilight squinted hard against the painful glare, but she clambered out of the hole.

To one side, Princess Luna had her hooves braced deep in the sand. Her horn was wreathed in multiple cocoons of light, and her eyes shone like unnaturally bright spotlights. Behind her, a few pale grey creatures writhed past the first bank of glass spikes, but there were another pair of rows in Luna's defenses. To Twilight's other side, the megalith was being shoved forcibly out to sea, but it wasn't going quietly. It clawed and clutched at the shore, roaring its frustration to the sky, pounding the sand and shoving sea water away from its bulk in massive waves as it fought.

As Twilight set herself to help, the creature's tongue lashed out towards its closest target, the small purple unicorn. Yet it did not catch Twilight unprepared. With a burst of telekinesis, Twilight swept the air in front of her into a scythe, and the ripple of air and magic neatly severed the thin, pink tongue before it reached her.

Before she could join the Princess against the oversized dough-corpse, however, she noticed more movement in her peripheral vision. The colossus had been blocking a sizable portion of the beach, and now that it was being forced into the ocean more creatures staggered into view from the south. Twilight charged ahead, flinging the creatures away with as little force as she could manage. Gah, these things are exhausting!

Once she'd cleared a little space, she tried mimicking Luna's spell, lifting a barrier of sand up in front of her, matching Luna's spikes from where they left off. She slowed her breathing, summoned a heat spell to mind, and felt her will drain away as her eyes focused on a form beyond the sand.

The creature staggering towards her on four legs was a pony with a dull yellow coat and a blank expression. Two wings dragged lifelessly in the sand on either side of her, and her sea-green eyes focused on nothing. An ornate gold choker-style necklace sagged meaninglessly off her neck. She moved like a derelict, limping brokenly through the light of day like a harbinger of death.

Twilight's spell failed, and the sand collapsed into dunes around her.







Sun Shade needed one extra second to grasp the loss and anger rising up inside her. Pin Feather had been one of the first crew members recruited for Celestia's secret endeavor. He had been Thistle's closest friend for over thirty years, and he had been one of Sun Shade's closest friends, too. If he were dead, or rotting in some changeling hive somewhere. . .

When the moment shattered Kelbrri recovered first, throwing herself upon the sudden changeling in their midst. Cloud, despite her shock, kept the flight controls steady. And Shade, for her part, hesitated. She needed a second. A breath. Something to absorb the tragedy laid out before her.

Besides, the changeling was caught anyhow. Thistle's adrenaline-induced seizure had locked his foreclaws around Pin Feath. . . the changeling's hooves, and Kelbrri was closing in on its back. Once they'd chained the spy to something, she was going to find out what happened to the real Pin Feather. And she would get the truth whatever the cost. Those soulless eyes would receive no mercy from her.

It happened so quickly, Sun Shade almost didn't believe what her eyes were telling her. The changeling stopped Kelbrri's charge with a kick of its hind hoof. There was a snapping sound, and despite her larger mass, Kelbrri dropped to the floor like a discarded doll, still grappling for the leg that had kicked her.

With a deft twist, the imposter freed a front hoof from the Captain's numb grip and drove it into his beak. With the other hoof, the changeling ripped the giant needle out of Thistle's chest and spun, slamming it into Kelbrri's shoulder and she fell back with a cry of pain and surprise. Freed, the traitor dashed towards the open doorway.

Sun Shade may have needed a moment, but she could live without one. And she was glad she'd thought ahead, for she had flung herself towards the doorway rather than the slimy insect. Shade reached the hatch first and she slammed it closed, allowing it to latch just as the changeling tossed her aside.

Shade was ready, and she used the momentum of her tumble to slide her parasol off her shoulder and raise it up, sighting down one of the ribs once she'd rolled upright. With a small phut sound she fired a numbing dart, hoping to hit something soft.

Pin Fea. . . the changeling was too fast for her, leaping nimbly backwards as the door unlatched. Of course. Pin F. . . the changeling would know exactly what she, and her weaponized umbrella, would be capable of. Wouldn't it?

It kept its eyes locked on her parasol, trying to anticipate her next shot, but it spared a tiny, frustrated glance towards the cracked door. Shade felt a prickly chill crawl down her spine. If that thing could escape and impersonate another crew member, goddesses alone knew what harm it might be capable of before they found it again. Shade was not about to let that happen.

Kelbrri may have been injured, and Thistle was certainly in no shape to move, but they weren't the only ones in the room. Clouded Gaze moved a pair of levers and the airship banked, enough to slam the door shut again. The changeling, spreading its wings to stay balanced, hissed in annoyance. Sun Shade grinned triumphantly. "Lay down on the floor!" She said, still holding her aim steady. Her voice rang with authority. "Or I will put you down!"

The changeling smiled back. A sad, almost condescending smile. In a flash of intuition, Shade launched another dart, but there was a flash of green light, and the dart whizzed straight as an arrow to clink harmlessly off the far wall.

The changeling had vanished.







"Sister, this transport is magnificent," Teryn looked about the upper deck of the airship ponderously, as though his neck was too tired to support his head. "But where do we head in such haste?"

Celestia barely heard him. Her mind was simply too busy studying him. His short mane held notes of rich, loamy browns which faded to black, and other light browns which faded to white. His sharp, moss-green eyes and his precise smile, the texture of his voice. . . he was almost exactly as she remembered him last, down to the subtle 'v' markings on each of his feathers. How he managed to survive in this accursed wasteland for nine millennia was a complete mystery.

Celestia had to force her brain to consider his question, rather than simply absorb the details of his reality. "Oh, yes. You see, I have subjects who have accompanied me to this place, but we have lost a few of our number in a terrible storm. Some of my friends are searching for one of them, and. . ." Celestia was well aware how this next bit of information might be received. "Luna is with them."

Teryn gasped, and his eyes welled with tears. "Oh, to see you both together on the same blessed day." His joyful smile was enough to cut straight through to Celestia's heart. He threw another hug around his big sister. "I knew that you'd find me, if I just held out hope."

Skan, looking on, wiped a empathetic tear out of one eye. He leaned in to the pegasus crew member on his left. "Oh Pearl, I do love emotional reunions. . ."

The pony elbowed the gryphon in the ribs. "Get a hold of yourself. You're always such a pansy."

A sudden course correction caught the crew members off guard. The pegasus spoke up. "Um, Princess, should we maybe check in with the bridge?"

It looked like Celestia was drifting through a dream. "Hmmm? Oh yes, of course." It was clear her attention would be elsewhere for awhile.

Pearl rolled her eyes and dragged Skan off the bridge by a wing. "C'mon ya lug. Let's make sure Cloud hasn't blown a gasket or something."







Fluttershy. . .

Twilight's brain refused to work. The entire world spun around her, moving to the beat of her heart. She could feel her pulse shaking her tiny frame, making her chest jump and her temples throb. Her vision narrowed, darkness creeping in until she was looking down a black tube at a world that had lost all meaning to her.

Fluttershy had become one with the shambling mass of creatures too cursed to die, and in one stroke Twilight had utterly lost the will to fight, to strive for her own survival. Despair had wrapped its cold tendrils about her throat, and her soul had become as numb and lifeless as her foreleg. Fluttershy had boarded a train in Ponyville, trusting in her friends and trusting in her Princess. And she had died horribly, all alone upon the shores of hell.

The only thing Twilight wanted anymore was to join her.

As the forlorn image of Fluttershy lurched closer and closer, Twilight just sat in shock and waited for the end to come. Instead, for the second time in five minutes, she watched as Applejack flashed past her. In that moment, the strangest thing happened. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl.

Every glint and facet of clean sunlight refracting off the shifting waves became as distinct as a shard of glass. Every grain of sand kicked up by Applejack's charge arced lazily through the air. The mix of fear and sorrow in the farm mare's streaming eyes were as plain as words on a page to Twilight, and she had all the time in the world to study it.

Applejack twisted, planting her front hooves in the sand between Twilight and Fluttershy's animated corpse. Her body pivoted, all practiced grace and coiled power. Her blond mane and tail spun with her in broad, straw-colored scythes as she glanced over her shoulder, aiming the vicious blow she was about to deliver with her hind hooves.

In that stunned stillness, in that elastic second of time which seemed to stretch on for minutes, Twilight saw Fluttershy's eyes. They were still whole, still beautiful, and as they struggled into focus they met Twilight's gaze.

There was life behind them.

In a flash of intuition Twilight remembered a cave. A cave where she had gone to sleep injured, and had awoken mysteriously whole. She'd awoken curled next to Rainbow Dash, yes, but Fluttershy had been curled around her. And Princess Celestia's grievous injuries, mended so miraculously over night? Sure, Fluttershy had left, but she had slept there next to the alicorn. Slept and somehow fuzed bones, mended capillaries, and goddess knows what else. None of it was possible. None of it should have been remotely possible without causing more harm.

Yet, Twilight wondered as her mind blazed from one revelation to the next. Is that any more or less impossible than Pinkie's weirdly accurate predictions? Or Applejack suddenly being able to hear the truth? If any soul in existence had the subtlety and grace to use magic with such precision, maybe it was her. Perhaps 'impossible' might simply translate into 'hasn't been done yet.'

Unfortunately, Applejack was clearly convinced that Fluttershy had been changed, and she was one instant away from making a terrible mistake. And Twilight discovered to her dismay that just because time felt like it was crawling by, that didn't mean that she moved any faster. She felt sluggish, her muscles unable to keep pace with her racing mind.

She had barely opened her mouth to shout a warning when a sick crunch reached her ears and Fluttershy's body was flung backwards, tumbling through the sand. She came to rest sprawled halfway across the borderline between shore and cursed shadows, the black tendrils twining about her still form.

Twilight lifted a heavy hoof in a futile gesture, reaching towards the pegasus as though she might somehow take back the violence she'd just witnessed. But, despite all her attention being trained upon her friend's broken form, Twilight's eyes focused on something much closer to her. Against her will, she noticed something clinging to her foreleg. It was some kind of large, segmented insect with a slick, grey body. Its many legs rippled smoothly, easily touching both sides of her leg at once, and in the wake of their touch Twilight's fur singed and her skin peeled away. Her eyes almost crossed trying to stare as it flowed up her arm and burrowed its pincers into her shoulder.

She didn't feel a thing.

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