Twilight would be lying if she said she was prepared for the ride. The moment she slipped through, she felt like she was caught in a wind tunnel, with walls made of gravity-defying water. All she could see was Cheerilee in front of her eclipsed by rapidly appearing rings of iridescent light. All of a sudden, she felt her path diverge, like the passage split off into a second current, dropping her out of the tunnel, and to a skidding halt on the tarmac.
Even as she got up and stroked the graze on her chin, Twilight was aware of the distant sounds of a buzzing metropolis. She opened her eyes, and looked down a grimy stretch of road. The sidewalks were cracked and messy with overturned bins and benches. The brick walls were plastered in spray painted obscenities. The dark shapes of buildings that stretched towards the heavens were half formed, and unwarmly lit. Off in the distance, a towering Statue of Liberty confirmed her fears; this was indeed the famous Manehattan city. So much for the culture capital of the world!
She turned to Cheerilee, who groaned as she unsteadily rose, and looked blearily up at the skyline. "I'd always wanted to visit the Big Apple...I just didn't think it would be like this."
"Let's stop for a moment before we go on," said Twilight. "I think we should eat something first. Get our strength up, lighten the load a little for you."
"Good thinking," said Cheerilee. Twilight opened one of the saddlebags, taking out a couple of flasks, dandelion sandwiches, and apples. The two settled down and tucked into their respective meals. Twilight found herself wondering if it was breakfast or lunch. Then quickly decided the passage of time was now irrelevant, and a meal was a meal. Then she noticed something else about the distant landscape.
"Are those spotlights?" she asked, pointing to the lights panning over the skyscrapers.
"I think so," said Cheerilee. "One more thing to look out for, I guess."
"Can you tell me anything about how the city works now?"
"No, I'm sorry. Mould didn't let much news into the town, apart from really major events."
"Ah." The two finished their meals in silence. "Welp. Best get to work." Twilight got to her hooves, and felt a cold blade touching the back of her neck.
"Don't turn around. Don't make a sound. Move this way or you both get it."
"...You've gotta be kidding me."
"Mildred, Mildred, Mildred, whatever shall I do with you?"
Mould was currently suspended a few meters above the ground. A glistening blue mane, if you could call it that, was holding her up to the eyeline of Nightmare Moon.
"Should I...have you dismembered?"
Yeah! Dat's a good one! Tie her limbs up to the guards, 'n' then get 'em runnin'! Give the pieces a good flahm-bay, an' y' could have 'm draped over da castle or put on pikes!
Do not be so revolting. The momentary satisfaction of the offenders screams will not compensate for the mess to be cleaned afterwards, nor for the stomach-churning display of torn bodily components on the battlements, which while foreboding to subjects will quickly become most unpleasant to behold for oneself.
"...should I...have you made into my loyal minion?"
An agreeable decision indeed! The Surrogate Kin of Madness and Oblivion could always use an extra hoof. But be sure to place her within the lower-class ranks, ensuring that she be among the first to be destroyed by any adversaries.
Aw, c'mooon! You gonna listen ta brainiac here an' give 'er the BORIN' death?!
"...or maybe...I should keep you alive..." She leaned in closer, "Alive for longer than any normal pony. I could keep you close to me, something to play with in my spare hours. Just the two of us. How would you like to be my slave...my pet...my little pony toy?" Nightmare stared into Mould's eyes with a sultry look, and ran a tendril of her mane along Mould's chin.
Mould didn't even twitch. "I sincerely doubt you would be interested in that, much less know what you're currently talking about. If your strategy is to frighten and disturb me, I am sincerely disappointed by how little you know of me and my emotional range."
Nightmare's facade crumbled into an indignant scowl, and Mould felt her midriff being squeezed like a lemon. Nightmare shot a glare at the figure beside her. "I understand your reasoning when you chose her, but did she have to be a such a block of ice?!"
The figure beside her merely stood there, completely impassive.
Eyes were rolled. "Silent as ever. I don't know why I even bother." She turned back to Mould. "You would do well to curb your tongue in my presence, Baroness. You are as much my subject as any citizen, do not forget that. The only reason that I have not killed you yet is because of my dear partners' insistence."
"My Queen, I completely comprehend why you feel anger towards me, and none was more humiliated by my defeat than I. Could you not just allow that as my punishment, and release me so that I may seek revenge?"
"What foal do you think I am, Mould?" A ribbon of black magic swirled around Mould's ankles, and a pair of manacles were conjured up at her hooves, where they quickly became unbearably uncomfortable. "I don't happen to believe in redemption, and I will not let you walk free so that you can fail again. You've had your chance. The others will take it from here."
Nightmare Moon let Mildred Mould drop, where she hung upside down from her chains and swung back and forth. She made her way over to the fireplace, and stared over the flickering flames. A tendril of her glowing mane reached over the fire, and let loose a cloud of strange, glittering powder. Instantly, the fire turned from dirty orange to pure white, and became something like a flickering pale energy-mist. Deep within, images began to form, like frost disappearing from a window to reveal what lies beyond. Nightmare peered into the image, as it shifted over a multitude of hills and buildings, until all of a sudden a glimpse of a voice was heard. The image shifted and focused onto one particular area, on a few ponies of particular note.
"Come on, is this really-" began Twilight.
"Shut it! This isn't a toothpick, mare," hissed a raspy, yet young voice. "Come into the alley, drop those great big saddlebags of yours, and nopony has to get hurt. Much."
"Why the alleyway? Couldn't you cut them loose here?"
"Are you retarded?! The Kin would- Oh, speak of the nightmare, move!"
A light passed across the sky, and the ponies collectively crabwalked through the darkness. Twilight caught a glimpse of where the light was coming from, and saw a Kin walking across the edge of an old brick building. The light was coming from its horn. Twilight felt a lump in her throat.
"Right. There. Done. Now hold still, flowers." Twilight heard a dark chuckle, the sound of a saw slicing through straps, and Cheerilee whimpering. Angered, she began to ignite her horn, when all of a sudden she felt some sort of bag being thrust onto it. "Don't bother, Uni. This bag is Salamander Molt, rarest of the rare. Blocks any and all magic."
"I know what Salamander Molt does! Why are you using it on innocent passer-bys when you have Unicorn Kin patrolling the rooftops?"
Her mane was yanked back and the blade began to enter the skin, but Twilight could feel it wasn't too sharp. "You're either from way away from here or just plain dumb. Listen, broad, times are hard here. Everything made in this city or coming into this city, it goes through the Baroness. Food, money, decent renovation, it all goes to her, and schnooks like us get the scraps, so we take what we can get and only that. You wanna pick a fight with a Kin, be my guest. We can handle a couple of bimbos from outta town carrying junk in plain sight, and we can handle a retarded unicorn."
"Could you handle it if she started flying?"
By the time the thief started to question why the purple unicorn had turned sky blue, his mind was already processing being pulled into the sky by his front leg. Suffice to say, he screamed like a baby wombat. Cheerilee saw a knife clatter to the ground, and heard a voice say "To moon with this, I'm outta here!" followed by her side being released and hoofbeats. Rainbow Dash, for her part, braked a few stories up, letting her former mugger float upwards for a moment, then caught him and, in time with his momentum, plummeted back to earth seconds before a unicorn spotlight shone over the top of alleyway.
The robber was slumped against the wall, his eyes bulging and legs trembling. He was a greyish pony with a red mane, and a cutie mark of a baseball bat. Fluttershy switched in to try and calm him down.
"There there, it's okay. I can see you're not a bad person, you were just trying to make ends meet."
"W-w-what are you?"
"That's not important right now. What's important is that we put this regime to an end so you can get back to a normal life. Now tell us: which way is the Baroness's home?"
"It's not done yet. Th-they're working on it near Central Park. They say she lives around it. That's all I know."
"Thank you." Fluttershy gave the boy a peck on the forehead, and the two mares went on their way. The would-be crook watched them go with fear and disbelief. What had just happened? Had he just tried to mug a witch? An alien? The messiah?
And how long until that bounty hunter caught wind of this?
So...they're headed for Limescale Rust. This should be interesting.
Whad are we waidin' for? We's gottem in our sights! Jus' kill 'em now!
Now now, let's not be hasty. Limescale can be so much more entertaining.
An' whaddif she looses?
Then there'll be plenty of time to kill later on...
"Have the guards prepped and ready, my associate," ordered Nightmare Moon with a cold smirk. She looked over, and swore that somewhere in that blank slate of a face there was an equally sadistic smirk.
It was time to see what his spawn were truly capable of.
Under a thinly clouded sky that half obscured the moon, with half of their bodies in silhouette, Rarity and Cheerilee trotted over the rooftops. Rarity had been chosen so that Cheerilee could manage getting along with her saddlebag; there was a surprising amount of materials on the rooftops of the slums for creating bridges, and with her eye for detail, Rarity constructed platforms perfectly fitted for carrying the weighted pony over the gaps.
The boulevard was the very definition of derelict. As with Ponyville, there was dirt and wreckage remaining from a hostile takeover marking all of the buildings. The air was filled with the sounds of drilling and crashing, and whenever Rarity happened to look, she saw equipment that almost certainly was not being used for construction. Judging from the faded screams they heard, a lot of homes were being lost, for one reason or another. There were Horned Kin at every corner, shining brilliant lights which the duo barely had time to avoid, and as they progressed, the guards grew in numbers, becoming denser and denser.
Then at last the two saw it. A corner of the block where there stood nothing but a towering zig zag of iron girders, surrounded by a ragged square of a brick wall. Every last point was decked with a Kin. There were so many spotlights it was almost like a Christmas tree.
"What are they guarding?" asked Cheerilee, "They're not even building it right now."
"Just a minute, darling, the Baroness may not have chosen an obvious hiding place. Look at the middle, Cheerilee, what do you see?"
"Precisely! Now what in the world would a manhole cover be doing under a planned building?"
"Right, I see. So we'll be having to go into the sewers?"
"You've got it!...Wait a minute...the...sewers?" The hope drained from Rarity's face
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Rarity. How do we get past the guards?...Rarity?"
Twilight had teleported down to the centre of the area. All of the Kin had turned their gaze outwards, so she figured she would be safe here. Cautiously looking both ways, she trotted over to the manhole cover, and gripped the handle with her magic. She'd open it up, slip down, and then teleport back to Cheerilee and get her inside.
This plan did not account for the cover having an anti-magic charm placed on it.
A feedback burst of pure pain shot through the connection and struck her horn hard. Twilight was knock straight onto her back, followed by a burst of blinding light, and the feeling of something hot pinning her legs to either side of her. The spotlights dimmed, and Twilight was soon able to see the three horned Kin looming over her. In the background, she saw Cheerilee appear out of thin air, along with a Kin holding her in mid air.
"Let...go of me!" Twilight struggled against the hoops made from near-solid lightning, and the sorcery of the Kin, that held her in place.
Cheerilee found herself pushed into place, forced to stand upon her hind legs. Crackling energy swirled around her right hoof, and took the form of a knife. Suddenly, her hooves started to move against her will. Twilght between switching rapidly between ponies, trying to find one, anyone, that could break her out of this. Even as the pair struggled, Cheerilee was forced to march closer and closer to Twilight, her eyes wide as she realised what the Kin planned to do next.
"No! You wouldn't! You can't!" Rarity screamed her protests in vain, while Cheerilee could make only tiny sounds as her pupils shrank to dots, watching her own hoof raise a knife above her head. "This is beyond unethical!" cried Rainbow Dash, "This is beyond sick! Stop it right now!"
The knife flickered in the air. The lights started to dim further. Cheerilee could only watch as her body prepared to plunge the knife. The Kin were engrossed in their work. Except for one, who looked up at the flickering knife and dimming lights.
The burst of light hit like a bulldozer tied to a shooting star. Within moments, the Kin were staggering onto their haunches, no doubt all seeing purple patches. The magic evaporated, and the pair jumped to all fours. Pinkie was apparently the last pony switched in durning the struggling, and so was no more shaken than before. Then, from out of the shade, a unicorn draped in a rope of dark cloth from head to hoof cantered into view, her eyes shining through the gap in the wrapping of her face.
"Get out of here!" she shouted, then span around and faced the oncoming kin. With great bursts of light, electricity shot from her horn and struck the Kin one by one.
"Where'd you come from?" Pinkie asked, staring at the newcomer.
"No time for talk!" The shrouded pony sent out a shockwave of lightning. "Just get out of sight!"
"Okay! Cheerilee! Help me open the thing!"
The two earth ponies clambered for the manhole cover, and began to twist it open even as the heat of combat spells blazed all about. Pinkie felt her hairs prickle from a surge of static electricity, and looked up in time to see two Kin charging straight for her, horns a-blazing. A chain of crackling magic formed between their horns, when suddenly one of their targets shot straight into the air, and landed on their heads. The sorcery fizzled out in a second.
Cheerilee struggled with the metal slab, then after another few meters of turning, something felt different with the handles. She gave a sharp tug upwards. The cover came free. "Got it!" she called, staggering about on two legs with the cover in the air in front of her. Pinkie spent a millisecond wondering if she should hop down like a bunny or pirouette and then dive down, then she felt a spark of magic singe her ear and resorted to motion blur.
Cheerilee soon followed, splashing down into the dimly lit stench filled room. A few Kin shortly followed, before the shrouded unicorn joined them with a magic shockwave. "Run for your life!" she yelled, and the three ponies did just that. The shrouded one kept looking backwards, as the Kin kept piling in. The black magic of their horns coalesced, forming maces and axes that floated in the air, some even being flung right at the three. The shrouded pony returned fire with a whirling vortex that snatched the weapons out of the air, converting them into scimitars and flinging them right back.
Magic blades clashed in mid air, lighting up the darkness that swallowed everyone up the further they raced. The Kin fell to the ground one by one. As the glowing weapons faded, there was a screech overhead of metal against concrete. The spotlight cast from the opening slowly faded, as the Kin upstairs closed the cover once more, leaving the others to their fate. Then, as the last weapon shot through the air, the shrouded pony suddenly stumbled. The last sliver of light faded away, there was a resounding clunk, and all was blackness.