• Published 10th May 2019
  • 5,856 Views, 685 Comments

Sunken Horizons - Goldenwing

Twilight glared at her reflection standing among the ruins. "You know you're a monster." It only smiled, revealing bloody fangs.

  • ...

III: Of Others

“Rarity? Rares! Yoohoo, anybody in there?”

Rarity jumped as a pink hoof waved in front of her face. “Oh, what? Did you need anything, Pinkie?”

“Do I need anything?” Pinkie let out a quick gigglesnort. “That’s really, really nice of you, Rarity, but you know you can’t fool me, right?”

Rarity grimaced. She looked back to herself, reflected in three pony-sized mirrors all trimmed in polished silver, and felt her knees go weak again.

She was wearing a dress, and if you had asked her about it any other day then she would have said that it was designed by a pony who knew what she was doing. It was a pale white thing, adorned with many layers of wispy veils along the flanks and fetlocks, and she could tell that the seamstress had put great effort into its creation just from the feel of the soft fabric against her coat.

Was it beautiful? All she knew was that it filled her with a slimy revulsion she’d never felt before. Her hooves twitched as she imagined ripping it from her body in shreds, throwing the tattered silk into a fire, and then stomping on the ashes until the wind carried it all far, far away. She felt guilty fantasizing about destroying something that another dressmaker had clearly put so much effort into, but she couldn’t help herself.

She had always dreamed of wearing something of her own creation for her wedding, after all, and she had always pictured herself marrying a stallion she loved.

Rarity licked her lips before giving Pinkie a shaky nod. “I’ll survive, darling.”

There was a knock at the door, and Rarity glanced back to see Whitehorn poking his head into the little dressing tent. “Are we ready to begin, ladies?”

“Goodness,” Rarity breathed, fussing with her mane. “Is it that time already?”

“I’m afraid so.” He came fully into the room, displaying the long-tailed, pale blue suit he wore. “You should get to the steps, Pinkie. Fluttershy is already there.”

“Oh, right! Good luck, Rare-bear!” With one last wide, beaming smile, Pinkie Pie turned for the door. The wheels strapped to her sides squealed in complaint as she zipped out of the tent, leaving the flaps to flutter in her wake.

Whitehorn turned to face Rarity with a wan smile. “You look beautiful as ever, my Lady, though I’m sure you already knew that.”

“I don’t feel beautiful.” Rarity heaved a sigh. “You know, I spent many years as a filly imagining how this day would come. I dreamed of being wed in a great hall in Canterlot, to a chivalrous prince at the end of a long, romantic courtship.” She paused, tugging at her sleeves. “And I was supposed to make my own dress.”

“It’s still not too late to call it off, you know,” Whitehorn said. He stepped forwards, offering a hoof, and she allowed him to help her down off the little stool she had been standing on.

“Not too late?” Rarity scoffed. “There’re hundreds of villagers waiting out there for me, a half-dozen noble witnesses from around the island and, most significantly of all, five prisoners watching from the dungeon tower, no doubt praying to Celestia this very second that I don’t disappear and leave them to their deaths!” She became worked up as she spoke, and she chided herself for the unladylike display as she straightened her mane.

Whitehorn dipped his head, acknowledging her words. “All true, and still, nobody would blame you.”

Rarity pursed her lips. “I would.”

A silence hung between the two, disturbed only by the excited chatter of the crowd outside. After several seconds, Whitehorn cleared his throat. “Shall we?”

With one last glance in the mirror, Rarity took Whitehorn’s hoof and allowed him to guide her out of the tent. In the absence of any real paternal figure to give her over to Pontius, she had chosen the cordial stallion to do the honors. Her tent was only a short distance outside of the freshly replaced gate of the manor lawn, and so it only took them a few seconds to pass the arched stone threshold and enter the garden proper.

Although most of the bushes and trees had already been replaced, Rarity knew that they wouldn’t grow into their full forms for years. She knew that there were crags and sinkholes that had only been hastily filled in with dirt, and that many parts of the manor’s interior were still in dire need of repairs. It didn’t matter, however, because it was impossible to see all these broken details past the throng of faces that all turned to regard her arrival.

The music began at once. It wasn’t the archetypal wedding melody that Rarity had once dreamed of, nor any other song that she recognized, but it was pleasant enough to somewhat soothe her. Lyre, flute, and organ filled her ears as she followed Whitehorn up the aisle with robotic stiffness.

At the end of the aisle waited her shackles. Duke Titus stood at the top of the manor steps, the unpainted stone still visible where repairs had been made just days prior. He wasn’t wearing his usual breastplate—perhaps because it was still being mended—and instead displayed his crest proudly on a thick orange cloak. There was a wooden table in front of him which carried a single small vial on a circular cushion. To his right stood a clearly nervous Pontius, wearing an orange tabard over thin mail, and flanked by stern-faced senior members of Titus’ guard. To his left was an open space where Rarity was to stand. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy stood behind it, wearing simple white dresses and encouraging smiles.

Wrong. Rarity couldn’t get the word out of her head. It’s all wrong.

There was a slight ringing in her head as Whitehorn let her hoof go and she took the final steps to her position. The Duke waved for silence and began to speak, but Rarity couldn’t make out any words. She frowned at him, watching his lips move for nearly a full minute, and then looked to Pontius. The colt gave her a small smile—sympathetic, or merely excited? She didn’t know what there was to smile about, either way.

A mare dressed in a plain white robe approached the duo, and after a few seconds Rarity recognized her as Mother White, the priestess at one of the local Celestial churches. Had she stepped up to announce her objection? No, she walked up to Titus and plucked a feather from his extended wings with her mouth. How odd.

Rarity watched with detached interest as Mother White turned to the table and dipped the feather into the first vial, which Rarity realized held a pure white dye much like the color of her own coat. The priestess turned to Pontius with the white feather, who straightened his stance and opened his mouth to speak.

Rarity couldn’t hear him over her own heartbeat, but the words were obvious. “I do.”

He extended his right wing. With a small smile, Mother White wove the white feather in among his dusty brown primaries. A round of polite applause sounded from the crowd.

Mother White then plucked a brown feather from Pontius’ wing. Slowly she turned to Rarity, her smile now showing an encouraging sympathy instead of pride, and prompted her with a nod.

Rarity blinked. Was it time already? She wished that her friends weren’t behind her so that she could look to them for strength. Her ears flicked as she heard a low snarl from Titus, barely audible.

“Say it.”

The pit of dread in her breast grew tighter still. She pulled her dry lips apart and, after several seconds, managed to speak the terrible words.

“I do.”

Mother White nodded. Rarity watched as the older mare walked to her side and slipped Pontius’ brown feather into a prepared fold on the left side of her dress before stepping back and to the side.

“Good girl,” Titus rumbled. He raised his voice to address the assembled crowd. “By th’ power I hold as th’ lord of this land, I now pronounce ye mare and stallion! Kiss yer bride, lad.”

Pontius shot an anxious glance towards his father, who only looked back with silent command. After visibly taking a moment to steel himself, he leaned in towards Rarity, who closed her eyes and simply waited. She resisted the urge to cringe as she felt his lips—only on her cheek, thank Celestia—and the audience stomped their hooves in approval.

Rarity took a deep, calming breath as she opened her eyes and looked out over the hundreds of faces below. In the first rows sat the nobles and their entourages, who had paused in their quiet discussion just long enough to acknowledge the sanctified union with calculating eyes. Behind them was a thin band of curious commoners, travelers from the urbanized west edge of Altalusia and islands beyond who had been drawn in by the news of the marriage of the supposed Last Lady of Old Equestria. Their obvious skepticism was a familiar sight to Rarity, but it was the furthest back, most numerous ponies who held her attention.

The villagers of Titus’ land, the farmers and cottage artisans who had no doubt scrubbed off days of dirt accumulated in the fields so that they could don tired homemade outfits and watch the festivities, gazed up at her with unabashed excitement. Young fillies stared in open-mouthed awe at her dress, while wrinkled stallions smiled at Pontius with obvious pride. They all wore bright smiles and chattered eagerly amongst themselves, and Rarity found herself wondering just what it was they were so happy about.

Were they too simple to understand how terrible her fate was? What did they care that a mare they’d never heard of a scant week ago was binding herself to the son of their brutish lord?

Rarity flinched as she felt a rough hoof on her shoulder. Titus’ voice spoke into her ear. “I admit, I was expectin’ ye t’ turn tail up t’ th’ last second.”

“A lady keeps her word,” Rarity growled back. “I can only assume that the concept is new to one such as yourself.”

“Heh. Yer of fine stock, Countess.” Titus took a few steps past her, towards the crowd, and beckoned to her and Pontius with a wing. “Lad, grab yer mare. There’re some guests I want ye to meet.”

Pontius shot a nervous glance towards Rarity, but she stomped her hoof in objection before he could speak. “I am a mare of my own, and I have no intent of being paraded around like a trophy! I’ve done as you asked, and I won’t suffer another moment of this indignity!” She paused, waiting for Titus to look back at her so she could stare him down. “You will honor our deal.”

Infuriatingly enough, the grizzled pegasus had the nerve to answer her objection with an amused grin. “Aye, ye’re right. Yer precious bandits are free.”

Rarity blinked. She had been expecting him to put up some fight, to hang the threat of the bandits over her and demand that she obey him. By all means, he possessed the power to do so, and there was nothing she would be able to do to stop him. Perhaps I’ve underestimated him?

No. A lady is not so easily impressed.

With a flick of her tail, Rarity turned away. Pinkie and Fluttershy were watching her with obvious concern, so she spared a few seconds to say, “I’ll be in my room, girls,” before striding for the towering double doors of the manor. The doors opened on their own as she approached, no doubt thanks to a watchful servant, and Rarity stormed through unimpeded.

Despair, shame, and fury all competed for dominance inside her. She tore the wedding dress off and cast it to the side, relishing the ripping scream of its threads. She had been crushed when Titus had first forced her to agree to the marriage, but now she wanted payback. How dare he think to own her, to control her, to dress her up like a doll before that crowd and make her speak those rotten words?

It didn’t take long to reach her rooms at her pace. She slammed the door shut behind her, causing the sky-themed paintings on the walls to rattle as if in fear. She groaned in frustration as she threw a painting of an armored pegasus across the room with her magic. Would it kill him to decorate his home with a single thing of beauty instead of plastering every surface with winged soldiers, airships, and skyscapes?

She shook herself. Wild fury wasn’t going to get her anywhere. A lady only angers with purpose. But what purpose? She took deep breaths, forcing her racing thoughts to focus. She was a member of a powerful noble house now. The servants and soldiers seemed to listen to her, though she had never requested anything especially egregious, and they treated her more like a hotel guest than a superior. How much authority did she really have as the wife of the Duke’s heir? She couldn’t help but curl her lip at the revolting question.

A quiet knock at the door drew her attention. She rounded on it sharply. “What?!”

The door creaked open, and Pontius poked his head inside. “Lady Rarity, are ye well?”

“No, I am not well!” Rarity snapped. “And I didn’t tell you that you could enter!”

Pontius flinched. He glanced back into the hall, gulped, and then stepped fully into the room before closing the door behind him. He didn’t meet her glare, instead fiddling with the mangled wedding dress he had slung over his back. “I th-thought ye might need someone t-to talk to.”

Rarity narrowed her eyes. “Did your father put you up to this?”

He looked everywhere but her. Was he sweating? “I—I just—”

“Do not lie to me, Pontius,” Rarity growled. “I am very much not in the mood.”

Several seconds passed while the colt searched for his words. For a moment Rarity almost felt sorry for him. He couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, by her guess. It was just a moment, though.

At last he cleared his throat and glanced in her direction. “W-we’re expected t-to c-c-consummate our m-marriage.”

Rarity’s jaw dropped. After a few seconds she found the presence of mind to close her jaw and work it side to side in a very unladylike fashion. The colt at least seemed to have the wisdom to look ashamed of himself, if his blushing cheeks and shivering hooves were any indication. Stiffly, Rarity stepped towards him. She raised a hoof.

He opened his mouth to say something, but only a strained squeak came out. The sound of her hoof smacking across his face was much, much louder.

To his credit, he took the slap like a proper stallion, making no attempt to oppose nor escape it. He only raised a hoof to the red spot on his cheek and rubbed it gingerly. For the first time since entering the room, he found the strength to look her in the eyes.

“Uncouth brat!” Rarity spat, causing him to cringe back. “You have some nerve to traipse into a lady’s room when she is clearly upset and demand sex! What do you take me for? Do you think I’m some two-bit whore who’s willing to spread her legs for every upstart colt that’s intelligent enough to get his groin past the threshold of her door?!” Her nostrils flared as she took a moment to process her outrage. “I am a lady, and you will treat me as such! Now get! Out!”

Her horn lit up, and he paled as his clothes tightened around him. With a sweep of her horn, she tore the door open, flung him out into the hall, and slammed it in his face.

Rarity took a deep breath. She had to admit that there was a certain catharsis to ejecting unwanted callers from her room by their lapels, even if it wasn’t quite accepted in polite society.

Just as she was about to turn away from the door, she heard Pontius knock once more. “Countess, please. J-just let me sleep on t-the floor tonight. It’s t-tradition.”

Rarity frowned, eyeing the door with her brow furrowed in thought. Had Pontius ever been anything but respectful towards her before? No, it was his father that had always spoke with contempt, looked down on her, and treated her as an object. It was Pontius whom she had seen treating the villagers with dignity and leading soldiers through the woods in search of bandits. He wasn’t the one that had forced her into marriage or insulted her to her face. He had always been cordial, polite, even earnest at times.

Perhaps she was misdirecting her anger. Perhaps Pontius was trying to do his best as a young stallion trapped between a demanding father and his own ideals. Had he protested when his father had sent him to her room talking of consummation?

There was a thud against the door, and Rarity realized that Pontius was leaning against it. She imagined that Titus was not the type of father who took kindly to failure.

Rarity’s horn glowed as she pulled the door open. Pontius let out a shout of alarm as he fell backwards into the room, the wedding dress falling onto his face. She pulled it aside quickly, looking down at him with a discerning gaze. He blinked up at her and opened his mouth to say something, but was smart enough to close it before any words came out.

I suppose there’s no harm in treating him with the same respect he shows me, Rarity thought.

“You may stay the night,” Rarity said curtly. “I shall make you a place to sleep on the floor, but if you so much as touch my bed—” she tossed her mane and fixed him with her best smoldering glare “—I’ll throw you out a window next time.”

His tense expression gave way to a nervous smile. “Thank ye, my Lady.”

Rarity nodded, closed the door, and turned to find some appropriate linens in her closet. If she was going to be forced to wed the colt, then she would be sure to teach him proper manners.

The three dive suits were lined up along one wall of the Argo’s cargo hold, but Rainbow’s eye was focused entirely on the steel blue set in the middle. She flared her wings to match the set on the armor, imagining herself wearing it and protected by the silver-trimmed armor plates that covered almost every surface. She couldn’t suppress her wide grin as she looked over the hard, wing-shaped limbs at the sides, decorated with gleaming sharp cutting edges and sets of pressurized air jets on the backs for propelling her through the water. She stepped up close, almost muzzle-to-cold muzzle with the thing, and peered into each of the two angled glass eye holes on its face, catching the glint of the metal inside. Her very own dive suit, custom-built to fit her figure so she could explore ruins and fight monsters with comfort and ease. It was, in a word—

“Awesome,” Rainbow breathed. She turned to her friend standing besides her. “AJ, these are so awesome!”

“Uh huh.” Applejack regarded her with a warm, amused smile. “I heard ya the first few times.”

Star Trails chuckled as she brushed some imaginary dust off of the orange-tinted set on the right. “Yeah, I still remember when I got mine, y’know. Armis Metalworks will really do some good work when you pay like Crazy does.”

“How did they get done so fast?” Rainbow asked, hovering around the three sets in a slow circle. Her excitement faltered for a moment when she reached the lavender armor on the left, but she recovered quickly. “I mean, we’ve only been here a day!”

“Sabre ordered these a couple weeks ago, actually,” Trails explained. “After we did that dive in—Ponyville, was it? Yeah. Of course then Gava showed up and we weren’t really around for the delivery.” She shrugged, then broke out into a grin of her own. “But we’re here now, so congratulations! You guys don’t have to deal with those cheap one-size-fits-all cans anymore!”

“They surely are somethin’ fine,” Applejack said. “I can appreciate good craftsmareship when I see it, but did y’all have to put that gun mount on mine?” She grimaced as she regarded her suit from a few steps back. A sturdy casing was riveted onto one side, similar to the one’s Rainbow had seen on both sides of Flintlock’s armor. She knew from talking to him that it could be opened up to reveal a rail where a gun could be mounted to the armor’s integral trigger system before being closed again to protect it from the crushing water pressure of the ocean. “I mean, I ain’t never done any shootin’ before.”

Trails snorted. “Go tell Flint that. He’ll have you hitting barn sides within a couple days, tops.”

Applejack frowned. “Wait, why would we be shootin’ at barns?”

Rainbow kept smiling, but she stopped listening as she landed in front of the third, unclaimed dive suit. Twilight’s suit. Sea Sabre had ordered these back when they were all still together, so it made sense that Twilight would be included, but Rainbow found herself wondering if it would ever see any use. She brushed a wing over the armored hornpiece, tracing the thin, off-white spiral etched into the surface. She could almost imagine that Twilight was standing right there in front of her, but of course when she looked into the slitted visor she saw nothing but dark shadows. Would she see the same darkness in Twilight’s eyes when they finally did find her?

“Hey, RD? Woohoo, you listening?” Trails let out a short whistle to grab Rainbow’s attention. “I know these things are pretty sweet, but the rest of the world’s still here too.”

“Oh, what?” Rainbow blinked, turning to the other two mares.

“Okay, once again. We’ve got a day or two yet before we head out,” Trails began. From the way she was speaking, Rainbow got the impression that it was the second time she’d said this. “So if you wanted any adjustments or modifications, we can get some stuff done.”

“I’m gettin’ some spurs and studs on mine,” Applejack said, giving her suit’s leg a soft kick. “Reckon I’ll feel a heck of a lot safer with my hooves than I would with some fancy gun.”

“Hrm.” Rainbow raised a hoof to rub at her chin as she eyed her own suit. Maybe she could have a gun mount added? She dismissed the idea quickly—she had never shot a gun, and if her last fight with Gava was any indication, they weren’t anywhere as reliable as a good set of wing blades. Besides, it already looked pretty cool as it was. She didn’t want to risk messing that up. Then again, it could use a little more Rainbow Dash flair.

She turned to Star Trails with a smirk. “Have we got any paint?”

Deep inside the maze of rubble that was Old Canterlot, swathed in claustrophobic darkness, a changeling screamed.

Twilight had heard many screams like it since arriving in the dead city. They often came one after another, overlapping and building up into a shrill crescendo before fading away like a roll of thunder. She had imagined that perhaps the changelings were hunting something, although she was never able to figure out what it was that they hunted. There didn’t seem to be any other life in the city—aside from Spike, she realized with a cringe, although he didn’t seem a likely victim—but perhaps there was some species of elusive herbivore subsisting off of the fungus, providing a food source for the swarm. It always made her look over her shoulder when she had these thoughts. What was she if not a hidden prey animal scavenging for scraps in damp corners?

This time the source of the screams was close. Twilight had tucked herself beneath a pile of bricks held up by a fallen timber on the second floor of a slender building, just a few steps back from a shattered window frame. She didn’t dare light her horn, and so she squeezed herself as low to the cool stone floor as she could, body stiff while her ears flicked this way and that listening to the changelings fight something in the street below.

She strained to discern some meaning from the subtle differences between each shriek. Was that a cry of pain, or a call for blood? Did changelings always sound so agitated, or were they in the middle of a heated conflict? She had no way to tell, and so she listened and waited.

She didn’t know how long it took for the commotion to end, but it felt like hours. Her ears flicked at the sound of shifting rubble and hard carapace scraping over stone, and she pushed herself further back into her hiding spot. If a changeling came too close, it might hear her shaky breaths. She wouldn’t be able to see one even if it was staring right at her in this darkness. She looked to The Other, who sat in a patch of blackness as featureless as any other while it watched her.

You should be on lookout, not just watching me, she said.

It arched a brow. Very well. I shall turn and stare at the same darkness you are. It made a great show of slowly turning in place with little shuffling steps. Oh, I see something!

Twilight stiffened. What is it?

It’s nothing, you idiot. Twilight blinked, and the Other was facing her again. Its calculating gaze was replaced with a sneer. Or did you think I had a pair of invisible eyes floating over here that only you can see?

Twilight glared up at it. Maybe I was just hoping you’d do something helpful for once.

As opposed to something worthless like letting you starve us to death?

Shut up! Twilight snapped. Her hooves twitched as she held herself back from stomping at the ground. We need to focus.

Then stop distracting us.

Twilight did the mental equivalent of a frustrated huff, but didn’t push the matter any further. She reminded herself that the fanged, blood-matted Twilight Sparkle leering at her from the corner of her vision had no physical presence in reality. After so long with its constant presence, it had begun to feel just as real as the cold stones of Canterlot, but she had to remember the truth. There was nobody there to watch her back.

The ruins had gone silent. Twilight cringed at the light cast from her horn as she sent a series of pings out into the darkness. I think they’re gone.

Then what are we waiting for? We must move quickly.

But what if I’m wrong? What if they know we’re here, and they’re just waiting for us to come out?

Remember the plan, little flower. We can always teleport us out—unless you change your mind, of course.

But how can I trust you? Twilight narrowed her eyes, trying to somehow see further without brightening her horn. How can I know you won’t try to make me fight anyways?

The Other scoffed. You’ve agreed to my terms by seeking out meat, and so I’ve agreed to yours. Unlike you, I haven’t made a regular habit of lying, to myself or anything else. It paused, and Twilight could feel its disgust. No doubt you would get us killed if I tried, anyways.

Twilight nodded, sensing the blunt honesty in its words. Her unwanted passenger may not be friendly, but she knew that it valued survival.

Satisfied, Twilight crawled up to the broken window frame and peered outside, forming her hornlight into a cone. Spiraling motes of dust danced in the lavender spotlight as she scanned the street below, illuminating wet streaks of fresh green blood. A changeling lay still atop a collapsed barricade of rotten wood. Its carapace had been broken in several locations, each one leaking more thick ichor in a growing puddle beneath it.

Twilight grimaced. It’s dead.

Yes, as we had hoped. The Other looked up at her from beside the corpse. Come and—wait. Do you feel that?

The Other was looking up now, eyes wide with obvious alarm. Twilight followed its gaze, shining her spotlight up into the blanket of darkness above her, but she didn’t see anything. What is it?

We’re being watched, the Other hissed. Quickly, grab the meat!

Adrenaline surged in Twilight’s veins, pushing back the fog of exhaustion as she scrambled out of the window. She landed on a pile of rubble and skidded down the side with stiff legs, grimacing as the hard stone scraped against her hooves and fur. She bounced off the bottom with a grunt.

The Other was crouched over the changeling body, its bloodshot eyes fixed upwards. Faster!

Twilight fell to the ground next to the body. She cringed back from the warmth and pungent scent, but the urgency in the Other’s voice drove her on. The air seemed to buzz around her as she wrapped herself and the changeling in her magic, squeezed her eyes shut, and thought of safety.

There was a loud pop, and the buzzing stopped. Twilight yelped as she fell to the ground in the sealed off castle kitchen that she’d been using as a hideout. She yelped again at the thud of the changeling body hitting the stone beside her.

What was that? Twilight asked. She scanned the room, sending pings in every direction, but nothing unusual or dangerous jumped out at her.

I’m not sure, the Other said. Its voice carried an edge that Twilight hadn’t heard before. It was another… like me.

Twilight frowned. The blood was still rushing in her ears, and she was having some trouble gathering her thoughts. She looked around and saw her illusive doppelganger hunched over the cooking fire. You mean like us?

I’m not sure! In an instant, the Other was in her face, fangs bared. I sensed something, something like me, but bigger. And it could sense me, too. It turned away, a distant look in its eyes. It was hungry.

Twilight looked up and met the Other’s gaze. Is it… afraid?

I am not afraid! The Other stomped a hoof, and its voice echoed inside her head with enough volume to make her vision blur. We have acquired the meat we need. Eat it!

When Twilight’s sight finally cleared enough for her to get her bearings, she was alone. She turned a full circle, pushing back the shadows with the lavender light of her horn, but the Other was nowhere to be seen. Hello? Are you there?

There was no answer. Twilight could still feel the presence of the Other deep inside her, but it had left her alone for the moment.

For several seconds, Twilight wasn’t sure how to react. The unexpected outburst combined with the last lingering traces of adrenaline left her with a nervous energy, and she found herself tapping a hoof, looking around with wide eyes, waiting for some hissed insult that never came.

Her gaze fell on the corpse at her hooves, and it shook her from her stupor. There was a body in front of her, bruised and bleeding and smelling of death. She had not killed it, but she was going to eat it. She didn’t have a choice. She repeated the thoughts to herself several times, and after the tenth time she found the willpower to begin moving.

The thought of tearing chunks of flesh off the corpse like she had before sent a powerful shiver down her spine, and so she resolved to cook it instead. With a grimace she levitated The Carnivore’s Cookbook, Equestrian Edition to her eyes and checked the table of contents. Meat-based meals for the adventurous pony—page 88.

She flipped to the relevant page, scanning the text and trying not to settle on any one of the gruesome words within. A pit formed at the bottom of her stomach as she realized that all the instructions were based off of cuts of meat, not fresh corpses. She would have to butcher the body herself.

Keeping her eyes forward, Twilight wrapped her magic around the body. She flinched at the crunching and cracking sounds the carapace made as she forcibly peeled it free from the changeling’s body. She grabbed a butcher’s knife in her magic—the castle kitchens were equipped to prepare any meal, it seemed—and began to cut.

Chop. Chop. Chop.

The steaks would be ragged and poorly shaped, and there was a part of her that protested at doing a task with so little precision, but that part was easily dwarfed by the pony desperately clinging to her identity. She didn’t know if she could handle watching herself butcher the body of another being.

With the bloody work done, Twilight levitated a trio of changeling steaks in front of her. The meat was grey like ash, glistening with sinew and fat, and it made her mouth water. Disgusting. They landed in her pan with wet smacks.

She worked on autopilot, keeping her muzzle buried in the text of the cook book and only sometimes glancing at the pan. She had often performed simple experiments with this method, and had been proud of her ability to follow rote instructions while her mind was elsewhere. Her eyes glided over the page without seeing, and her magic flowed around the ingredients without feeling. It wasn’t until the scent of cooked meat began to tickle at her nostrils that she finally escaped her trance.

The meat sizzled and popped in its juices, having transformed from stiff grey charcoal to a spongy black steak. Fat seeped from the porous little holes that dotted its surface before pooling in a creamy froth at the bottom of the pan. And the smell. Twilight had never smelled something so savory in her life. She found herself leaning in, swallowing the saliva that pooled in her mouth.

Bile rose in the back of her throat and she pulled back. She had convinced herself, rationally, that this was okay, and her body clearly agreed in earnest. She still couldn’t touch the fork.

Minutes passed. She drew the heat out of the pan with a simple spell to ensure the meat didn’t overcook and simply sat there, drawing the greasy scent in. She looked around the room, expecting the Other to be standing in the shadows nearby ready to jeer her into action, but she was alone. She felt lonely.


No answer. Did the Other have a name that she could call? It seemed to be intelligent, but it had never offered any formal introduction. It had always been ready with a snide remark and a contemptuous glare, and there had never been a need to summon it before now. With a sigh and another glance at her cooked food, Twilight realized that she would have to go looking for her unwanted guest.

With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and turned her senses inwards. The Other had been a constant, inescapable presence ever since Twilight had accepted its help on Altalusia, and she’d grown familiar with the feel of its movements. She had never been able to hide from it, and no matter how hard it might try, it couldn’t hide from her.

She opened her eyes. She was standing on the wooden deck of an airship beneath angular white sails that fluttered in a wailing breeze she couldn’t feel. A cloudless night sky stretched above her, broken only by twirling tendrils of lavender and black that arced over the horizon. Twilight regarded the ship with a frown. It looked like Gava’s ship, but why would the Other be hiding someplace like this?

The howling wind grew louder, and Twilight watched as the ship’s rigging began to move, adjusting the sails by its own volition. The wind transformed into a chorus of ghostly voices, all singing with the rhythm of the ship’s movement.

We go down to the deep, down to the dark, down to the black and cold.
Where the monsters don’t sleep, nor does the shark, nor does the evil old.
There’s salvage down there in the canyons, there’s jewels and silver and gold.
So go down to the deep, down to the dark, down to the black and cold.

A chill hung in the air, and Twilight shivered as she walked up to a door that led below decks. She opened it with her magic and let her hooves guide her deeper into the ship, through cracked halls and past shattered walls. All the while, the voices rolled over her.

The clouds up here beckon, the sun up here warms
my face with her ancient Celestial charms.
But she didn’t reach out to rescue my love,
when she slipped on the deck and fell from above.

At last she reached her destination. A narrow wooden hall stretched before her, housing six simple jail cells. The Other stood behind the bars of one, frowning down at a broken ring on the floor.

It looked up sharply as she entered. “What are you doing here?”

Twilight offered up a weak smile. “I was, uh, looking for you?”

The Other regarded her coldly. After several seconds, it spoke. “For what purpose?”

Twilight grimaced, flinching away from its gaze. She would have laughed at the mundanity of what she was about to say if the words didn’t make her nauseous. “The food’s ready.”

“Then eat it.” It turned away with a grunt of annoyance.

Twilight’s ears drooped as she bit her lip. What was she supposed to say? The Other already thought her to be a worthless weakling, and asking it for help just to eat would only inspire more mockery. She blinked, raising a hoof to her head in confusion. Why should she be concerned about its feelings on anything? It was a pest; an invader in her mind, her most sacred place.

But it had feelings. Whereas before Twilight had thought it to be nothing more than anger given a voice, it had displayed so much more breadth in the past week. It had shown pride, wit, frustration, and even fear. Was it sequestering itself away because it was ashamed of that fear? Twilight almost found herself wishing for the simpler time when she was certain the Other was an evil, soulless entity trying to forcibly conquer her body. Looking at it now, as much as she wanted to deny it, Twilight saw a creature in turmoil, and she couldn’t help but walk closer. As she pushed herself into motion, the shadow voices began another verse.

In my dreams I see her how she was that day.
She reaches to touch me, then just falls away.
The world’s painted silver, when I wake from my screams.
The moon doesn’t listen; she keeps sending dreams.

The bars of the Other’s cell gave a rusty creak as Twilight opened the door and stepped inside. Now that she was closer, she could see thin tendrils of smoke spiraling off of the broken ring on the floor. “What is this place?”

The Other’s tail flicked side to side. “It is my place. As your tree is yours.”

Twilight’s frown deepened. “Your… home?”

“You may call it as you wish. It is my place.”

“This is Gava’s ship, isn’t it?” Twilight scanned the little cell curiously. “Why would you choose this?”

With a snarl, the Other turned to glare at her. “Choose? Did you have the liberty of choosing your pitiful tree, little flower? Because I never chose to wake on this ship, surrounded by weapons or iron bars. It was you that brought me here!”

Twilight flinched back. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Yes, you don’t know much; that is obvious,” the Other sneered. It snorted, looking away.

The dismissal was clear, but Twilight knew she couldn’t back down. She looked around, searching for what to say next, watching as the Other’s ears angled back and its hooves began to scrape at the wooden floor. After almost a minute of silence, Twilight blurted out the only words she could think of.

“What’s your name?”

The Other stiffened, and Twilight could tell that it was thinking. Its answer came out in a low growl. “I have no need of a name.”

“Of course you do,” Twilight countered. She risked stepping closer, coming up to its side. “What do I call you if you don’t have a name?”

It shot her a sideways glare. “You call me ‘Other.’”

Twilight’s eyes widened. Of course it would know what she called it in her mind—that’s where it dwelled. Mentally chastising herself, Twilight tried again. “Is that what you want me to call you?”

It narrowed its eyes. Twilight didn’t need a psychic connection to pick up on its suspicion. “What are you doing?”

Twilight took a deep breath, answering the suspicion with a wan smile. “I’m trying to get to know you.”

The Other curled its lip at her, then turned away. Its focus returned to the smoldering halves of the broken ring on the floor, and for a long time it said nothing. Twilight watched with trepidation, her hooves twitching. The moaning of the invisible singers was barely audible through the wooden walls.

How I wish so to end it, to dive after my wife,
to sink and freeze and drown in the wreckage of my life!
But I am not a craven, the quick way’s not for me,
and there’s things in the deep that will do the job for free.

Just as Twilight was considering speaking again, the Other met her eyes. Its gaze was hard and imperious, its lips set in a stern frown. “Midnight.”

Twilight nodded, and the Other—Midnight, she corrected herself—looked away with a scoff. After a few seconds, Twilight cleared her throat. “I was hoping you would come eat with me?”

Midnight grunted. “You can’t bring yourself to do it, can you, little flower?”

“Well—” Twilight pursed her lips, considering denial, but decided against it. “No, I can’t.”

“I suppose I expected too much of you,” Midnight said. It stood up, turned around, and marched out of the cell without looking at her. “But I see it’s necessary for me to handle even something so simple as feeding ourselves.”

Twilight let out a sigh of relief. As long as Midnight was pestering her with condescending remarks, she knew where she stood. The chorus of unseen sailors continued their song as she followed herself out of the brig.

I go down to the deep, down to the dark, down to the black and cold.
Where the monsters don’t sleep, nor does the shark, nor does the evil old.
There’s destiny there in the ruins, there’s things that will swallow your soul.
So go down to the deep, down to the dark, down to the black and cold.

Twilight opened her eyes. She was back in the dark, ruined kitchen, the pan-seared steak waiting patiently before her. Midnight was sitting opposite her, eyeing the meat with obvious hunger. You cooked it.

Twilight smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t really want to just—you know.” She nodded her head towards where the half-butchered changeling was hidden. She still hadn’t looked at it.

Without another word, Midnight’s horn glowed. Its lavender aura was interspersed with popping bubbles of darkness, and it picked up the steak and levitated it towards its open maw. Its fangs snapped close with enough force to make Twilight flinch, and she watched as the juice dribbled down Midnight’s muzzle to join the ever-present bloodstains on her chin. Then the taste hit her.

It was disgustingly heavy and greasy, and it was delicious in a way that Twilight hadn’t thought possible. She watched with open-mouthed, drooling amazement as Midnight tore piece after piece away from the steak, each bite another splash of piquant flavor on her tongue. She could feel the fog lifting from her mind as it swallowed; her thoughts were coming clearer than they had in days. She felt whole. She felt strong. She felt like she could take on the world and come out on top.

Twilight shook herself. Don’t let it mess with your head. Meat was a necessity, and nothing more. As soon as she could, she would find a way to reject Midnight and turn herself back to how she was before. She must not forget herself. But meanwhile—

Midnight swallowed the last bite of the steak. Both of them looked to each other as their stomachs rumbled.

Twilight’s fangs pricked her tongue as she licked the lingering flavor from her lips. “I should make more.”