• Published 7th Feb 2019
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Princess Twilight Sparkle and the Fortress of Egress - kudzuhaiku



Twilight Sparkle never knew just how much she wanted to adventure with her mentor.

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Chapter 4

Another hallway that ended in a pentagonal room, a place identical to the previous. Tedious? Perhaps. But there was a satisfaction in the exploration; there were new doors to be seen, some of them quite beautiful. Like the one that Twilight was examining now. It was made of water, solid water that was still somehow liquid. She could see fish swimming around, and golden rays of sunlight created glittering cascades of diamonds in the water.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.

All these worlds, all these variations. She had stood on another world, and she had visited various variations of her home. Starlight’s time-travel assault… how many ripples had it created? How many new doors had sprung into existence? Which tangent universes became more than mere bubbles and gained permanency? How many lives suddenly sprang into existence when a derivative manifested—and how many lives were lost when that tangent bubble popped? Were they lives, or mere anomalies, variations and derivatives that sprang into being when the right conditions necessitated—demanded—their existence?

How many variations of herself existed?

Celestia?

As the fish swam by, unaware of otherworldly observance, Twilight wondered if coming here had changed anything, and if a new universe sprang into existence, one where she stayed at home to finish paperwork, a universe where she, Twilight Sparkle, could not be bothered to go adventuring. How old would that world be? That Twilight Sparkle might believe her world to be old—ancient. A world with a long, rich tapestry of history, but in truth, that world might be just a few hours old.

But it would have memories.

Would a false tapestry of history hold any less meaning?

The lessons of the past—false though they might be—would still shape the future.

“Twilight… your thoughts—”

“I’m okay with it,” she said to Celestia, who stood beside her. “Really, I am. My past and everything in it might not be real. But that’s okay. My friendships are real, and I’ve seen the consequences of them not existing. That’s real enough for me to go forward.”

“Twilight Sparkle.” Celestia breathed out this name. “There are moments when there are just no words in any known language to express just how proud I am of you. Many would be crushed beneath the doubt caused by these realisations. But not you.”

Casting one final glance at the watery door, Twilight knew that she had to keep moving.


When Celestia came to a halt, Twilight did too. Something felt off—wrong. A dreadful coldness—something felt in the soul—approached. Shining Armor murmured something and began casting a spell and Twilight recognised it as Protection from Disharmonious Evil. Celestia brought her hammer to bear, and Twilight began casting her own wards.

Dim stood puffing his pipe, and didn’t seem particularly concerned.

Tendrils of frost engulfed the floor, walls, doors, and the ceiling. Twilight could see her breath now, little curls of steam rose from the confines of her helmet. A pale blue glow could be seen, a wretched, unwholesome corruption of light. The blue illumination was ghastly, unnatural, a light that should not be.

“Rottergeists.” Celestia half-spat, half-hissed the guttural utterance.

Then, Twilight saw one, and it froze her blood. Some kind of skull—what species was unknown—and a section of vertebrae, ablaze with unholy blue flames. A second one manifested, and something about this one seemed distinctly feline. Twilight had never seen anything like it, she had never even heard of such a thing, and was quite horrified that something like this even existed.

“If one kills you,” Dim said as his body burst into flames, “you become one.”

“Oh great,” Twilight replied.

Almost panicked, Twilight released a partially-charged bolt of disruption and was pleased when the floating skull and spine was blasted into dust. But more were coming—a whole lot more. Celestia cast a barrier of golden light just ahead, and from the warm glow it radiated, Twilight knew it was sunlight. Pure, golden, cleansing light. One of the approaching rottergeists shrieked, and Twilight felt a stabbing pain go through her skull.

The pain was such that her knees wobbled and went weak. She might have dropped to the floor, but her brother came to her aid. Rather than topple over, she leaned up against him as she waited for the weakness to pass. Twilight, who didn’t particularly like the undead, began charging up her horn for another blast.

She just needed time, and Dim was buying her that time. He summoned darts of pink and black flames, all of which flew unerringly to their targets. Twilight knew the nature of these flames, the odd, peculiar magic of Chantico and the Void—an anathema to the undead and the unnatural.

“Get behind me!” Twilight shouted as she changed her spell focus from pinpoint to catastrophe-in-waiting.

Dim teleported while Celestia lept backwards. Twilight did not fire prematurely, but was patient, and allowed her spell to fully charge. Visible wibbles of magic coalesced around her armor-sheathed horn; tiny motes of light created by overcharged thaumatons excitedly bouncing about. Rottergeists, perhaps hundreds of them danced into view.

Closing her eyes, Twilight let go.

The resulting blast of disruption formed a cone that engulfed the hallway and reality struggled to reassert itself as the destructive silvery illumination spread ever-outward. Whatever happened in the hallway was invisible, unseen, as the unbridled destructive force obscured all view. The roar was deafening—thunderous—it sounded like a howitzer fired into the tight confines of a tunnel. Twilight had failed to protect her ears yet again; she heard a ringing sound, a high-pitched chime, and then the world went silent, utterly silent.

Silver flames roiled, consuming everything, and only the otherworldly nature of this place prevented its own destruction. Twilight opened her eyes and then immediately wished she hadn’t, as she was blinded by the view. The cone of calamity cleansed the hallway and seared silvery, dancing stars onto Twilight Sparkle’s retinas.

The thick silence in Twilight’s ears became a droning whine, then a cacophonic chorus of bells. She could feel the pressure just behind her eyes, and for a second, her mind tormented her with cringe-inducing imagery of her eyes popping right out of their sockets. Her brain was a bell, and the ringing in her ears was a sort of clapper. Each bong, each dong, each resonating toll, she could feel her grey matter squishing against the inside of her skull, and she feared that her brain might go squirting out of her ears at any moment.

Ashes swirled and blew around like snowflakes. Particles of bone dust glittered in the air as the silver light raced down the hall like a cannonball express locomotive destined for Tartarus. Nothing remained. Absolute and total obliteration had been achieved. The dire chill was gone. Utter eradication restored warmth and good cheer.

With a stupefied smile hidden beneath her helmet, Twilight stood listening to the bells.


“That,” said Dim in words that Twilight could hardly make out, “was a bovine brouhaha.”

“Dim, I don’t follow.” Celestia stood nearby, examining a pile of ash. “What does this have to do with cows?”

“Was that not a cattle-clysmic event?”

For the briefest moment, Twilight Sparkle thought about disintegrating Dim. She could barely hear anything, but had been subjected to this. Perhaps she was a bit fatigued, maybe still under the effects of magical fear, or it could have been Dim’s pun, but Twilight felt her knees wobbling and her spine made her feel almost like a quasi-invertebrate.

Celestia jerked her head back, which caused the articulated plates of her armor to creak and squeak. Twilight could feel her mentor’s powerful stare; it was like standing too close to a kiln, or something wickedly hot. Thankfully, this stare was focused on Dim, and Twilight was secretly pleased that the vizard might get a little comeuppance.

“Come now, Auntie Celestia, this is no time to start a beef.”

At the sound of her brother’s voice, Twilight, her ears still ringing, felt her duodenum slither upwards so that it could throttle her defenseless windpipe. In her weakened state, she had no protections against the pernicious punning. If looks could indeed kill—Celestia, a being of nigh-infinite power—Shining Armor would be a bubbling puddle on the floor.

“So this is how it is in the Crystal Empire now,” Celestia said in a voice made cool with menace.

“Forgive me, dairy godmother,” Dim said with all of the sincerity he could muster, which wasn’t much.

Twilight heard her brother chortling and something about the sound lifted her spirits. Then, she heard Celestia… giggling. She had heard it before, but never like this, at a time like this. It seemed so out of character, so out of place. Twilight was left awe-stricken by the experience of having yet another aspect of her mentor revealed.

But she found herself bothered, annoyed, irritated. Twilight, still hearing the tolling of the bells, took a moment to determine why she was irked. The puns? No, those were bad, awful even, but that was not the source of her ire. She looked around, first at her brother, then her mentor, and then at Dim. Looking about did not reveal the source of the sourness she felt, so she had to put her mind to work.

Where was her well-deserved praise? A major threat had been dealt with. She, Twilight Sparkle, had just resolved conflict in a manner most spectacular. Her companions, rather than focus upon her glorious achievements, made puns instead. Bad ones. Dim had stolen her moment of glory with some unworthy wordplay. Celestia offered no praise, no congratulations. Her brother offered no compliments, no plaudits, none of the big brotherly admiration that she craved.

Hmph!

Twilight’s mental harrumph did nothing to make her feel better. If anything, it made her feel worse, and now, having identified the cause of her consternation, she felt foalish and self-conscious. She was a big filly—a mare in almost every way—and such accolades were not necessary. Yet, she craved them. She wanted Celestia’s approval. Needed it. Craved it. When she adventured with her friends, the praise was free-flowing and constant. They were supportive of one another and mindful of each other’s accomplishments. Rainbow Dash had her pep-talks. Rarity was generous with her flattery. Applejack was always there with a good word to say, or encouragement when needed. Pinkie Pie was Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy… Flutters had her quiet, soul-affirming ‘yays.’

A clever turn of phrase held more importance than a spectacular feat of magic.

Dim had pulled off his hat, and was now rummaging around inside of it. Twilight heard things go clunk, things rattled around, and with a raspy cough, Dim retrieved his prize. A bright pink bottle of Cadance~Cola. The bottle was glistening, sweaty with condensation, and Twilight found herself licking her lips when she looked at it.

“Dim, how thoughtful,” said Celestia.

“I have no intentions of sharing,” the vizard replied with an impressive sneer.

“But Dim—”

“Did no one else think to pack a hat? Do I detect a dearth of common sense amongst my companions?”

“Just what else did you pack in that hat of yours, I wonder?” Before Dim could react or respond, Celestia snatched his hat away, pulled it close, and peeked inside.

It was quite unlike Celestia to behave in such a manner, and Twilight almost swallowed her tongue. Why, the big mare… she was almost… foalish. Dim was left holding his glistening bottle of Cadance~Cola whilst Celestia plundered his hat, no doubt searching for any provisions he might have secreted away. The first thing that Celestia pulled out was not food, but an alchemist’s shotgun that was longer than the hat was deep. Something about the weapon caused Twilight a great deal of alarm, as it was both a weapon—a firearm—and it reeked of less than wholesome enchantments.

Celestia pulled out an empty jar and eyeballed it. “We could use this as a glass, so we can share.”

“No, we can’t.”

“Dim, don’t be contrary. An empty jar will work as a glass in a pinch.”

“It’s not empty,” the vizard said with a faint hint of alarm in his voice. “Do not unscrew the lid.”

Celestia shook the jar, held it up to her helmet, and then gave it another shake. “What’s in here, anyhow? It’s resisting my efforts to determine what it is. What it might be.”

“Uh…”

“Dim.” Celestia’s playfulness was gone now. “Do you need to confess one of your many egregious sins? What is it? Tell me. Now. The only thing I can tell about the jar is that there is some kind of amplification spell on it. Some kind of sound enhancer. Why keep that on what appears to be an empty jar?”

Before saying anything, Dim backed away from the armored alicorn and his hindquarters bumped into the wall. Twilight—now curious—waited for Dim to respond. The decidedly not-empty jar filled her with alarm now when she looked at it, a sort of sweaty, quivery terror. The unknown was a great and glorious thing to Twilight—but not unknowns when it came to Dim, who dealt with truly unpleasant things.

“Just do not open the jar,” Dim said again, repeating his words from mere moments ago.

“Tell me, what is in the jar?” Celestia demanded.

“Distilled essence of banshee scream, highly refined and processed. Made from the finest, most shrieky of banshees.”

Twilight felt her nethers clench when she realised the implications.

“You put that in a jar”—Celestia moved the jar away from her face and held it at a distance—“and then you enchanted it with an amplification spell?”

“Oh crap!” There was a clatter as Shining Armor ducked behind his sister and took cover.

“This… this could bring ruination to a city. Destroy it—”

“I’ve destroyed cities before,” Dim said, smoothly interrupting Celestia.

“Dim… this is a weapon of mass destruction. I almost drank from this.”

Twilight felt an almost odd sense of relief. She wasn’t the one being lectured. It felt great to hear Dim getting lectured. Sure, she had once almost wrecked Ponyville with Smarty Pants and a poorly applied spell, and as awful as that was, it wasn’t as bad as keeping weapons of mass destruction in a hat. Hearing Celestia’s heavy breathing made Twilight giddy in a way she’d never felt before.

If she couldn’t be praised for her extraordinary accomplishments, then at least she could listen to another pony be lectured for his dastardly deeds. She found this quite satisfactory, and was no longer miffed. Then, much to Twilight’s horror, Celestia stuffed the jar back into Dim’s hat, and continued to look around.

It was contraband; why didn’t she take it away?

“For punishment, you’ll be sharing your soda pop.”

Dim sighed, but said nothing.

“I get the first drink,” Celestia said while towering over Dim. “I don’t trust you not to backwash out of spite.”

Author's Note:

One wonders how one collects a scream in a jar...