Chapter 9- The Bowels of Metropolis
"Is everypony okay?" said the voice of Cheerilee.
"I think so!" said the voice of Pinkie Pie. "You okay down there?"
"I think we can take that as a yes!"
"Right...Pinkie, could you get us a light?"
There was a pause.
A bright light came on, causing Cheerilee to wince. Twilight looked about the cave, her horn glowing white yet vaguely purple. A river of a revolting colour filled with nameless trash floated by them. The circular walls were made from concrete, and were covered in cracks and pockmarks. The Kin that pursued them lay completely unconscious. In the corner, a rat cleaned itself thoroughly, then suddenly noticed them and fled.
"Charming," said Twilight. "I tried going to Rarity, but she wouldn't come up. Couldn't stand the stench I guess."
"Can't say I blame her." Cheerilee remarked.
There was another groan from the floor. They looked down at their saviour, who lay in a crumpled heap. The dark cloth shrouded around her, which made her seem a bit like a botch job egyptian mummy, had been torn apart, exposing more of her light skin. Cheerilee looked her up and down, taking in every detail of this strange new vigilante. Suddenly, her gaze came to the flank, and she leapt back in shock.
"What is it?"
"Her cutie mark! Look!"
Twilight looked, and she gasped the foul air in alarm. The mark on the shrouded pony's flank was of a magic wand, topped with a star, with a silver cloud of pixie dust streaming from the tip. Twilight wasn't familiar with many people, but she knew one other pony with a mark like that.
"Trixie." Twilight watched as the pony rolled onto her back. "Well, that's one theory debunked, Cheerilee."
"But why...? It's not unheard of for a cutie mark to come up more than once. How do we know it's her?"
The shrouded pony abruptly sat up. A part of her outfit had gone over her eyes. "I'm blind." She said. "I'm blind!" She said. "I AM BLIIIND!"
"It's her," said the two ponies in unison.
"NOOO! I'm too young to be bliiiind! I had a job to do. I had payment to get! I can't go on if I'm BLIIIIIIIND!"
"You're not blind," said Twilight as she reached for the screaming unicorn's head.
"YES I AM! I'M BLIND AND NOW ALL OF EQUESTRIA IS DOOmrmphrmbm-" She struggled as Twilight tried to pull the blindfold off, and ended up wrapping her own head up in the folds. Eventually the wrappings came loose, and Trixie's face was unveiled. She gasped for breath, then looked up. "Hey! It's you!"
"How'd you get here?! What're you doing here?! I was handling things perfectly on my own!"
"I saw that when you saved us."
"SAVED you?! I- Listen here, Sparkle, I had a job to do and I didn't need anypony getting in my way!"
Cheerilee spoke up. "Look, just calm down dear. We needed to get down here as well, so we could find the Baroness. How did you get out the Everfree forest?"
"Find the Baroness?! Don't make me laugh! You don't just waltz up to a Baroness and kindly ask her to go away! Especially not if you're a couple of amateurish civilian ponies!"
"Well what makes you so qualified?" retorted Twilight, who was getting a bit fed up with Trixie's shouting. "You're a stage magician!"
"Not anymore!" replied Trixie with a triumphant smirk. "In the days that followed the coup d'état of Nightmare Moon, I, the great and powerful Trixie, began to hone my powerful prowess for combat! Fine tuning my spells, I branched out my power over light into other forms of energy, mastering the blinding flash-bang spell, the scorching lightning spell, the potent fireball spell! In time, I was ready to take the fight to the Surrogate Kin, and so became a deadly mercenary. A horn for hire if you will! And my services have been purchased near and far to drive back the threat of the creeping night!"
"Well, good to see somepony's been keeping themselves busy," snarked Twilight.
Trixie pushed face up to hers and stared her down, her own horn giving off light. "Now then, Sparkle, what makes you think that you and this pack mule are so qualified?"
"A couple of hours ago, we got the Baroness of Ponyville in a cage, and sent her teleporting away like a frightened leprechaun."
Trixie's head shot back. "Impossible! Not even a pony with magic like yours could take down a Baroness with only one other pony!"
"They can if they do this." "Hiya!" said Pinkie Pie.
Trixie gasped in horror, then gave a malevolent scowl. "Oh, big mistake!" Her shroud suddenly became enchanted, coiled around Pinkie's neck, and lifted her up into the air.
"Waddya doin?!" cried Pinkie Pie, "I'm a pony, You're a pony, she's a pony, gin a pony, meet a pony, we're all on the same side!"
"Are we?!" hissed Trixie, "You just turned into another pony like it was nothing! Obviously you're some kind of elite Kin, or some kind of demon brought to life by Nightmare Moon to gain pony trust, and then wipe out the resistance."
"But I'm not a demon of monster or Kin! I don't think I am anyway! And I'd know if I was!"
"How do I know that?"
"I just said about how we took out mean old Mould!"
"You could be weeding out the competition for another Baroness! Thunder Stroke's been getting ambitious lately."
"Nuh-uh! I'll go to every Baroness there is and cage them up too, just to show you!"
Cheerilee went up to Trixie. "Please, Trixie, hear her out."
"Stay out of this, fluffy mane!" snapped Trixie
"Look, this reign of terror has everyone in danger! Every second spent infighting is a second wasted!" protested Cheeriliee, "We have to stick together, otherwise, no-one could have a chance of getting through this alive!"
"I've lasted this long without your stupid 'teamwork' and 'trust'! You, shapeshifter, you could put on any face you like and I wouldn't work with it! Sparkle almost ruined my career for good, the Pink one's voice is already starting to grate,"
A sharp shock went through the enchanted cloth, and Pinkie abruptly and involuntarily became Rarity.
"You are a snooty, image-obsessed diva,"
A sharp shock.
"You are a rope swinging, inbred hick,"
A sharp shock.
"You sound like a belt sander with a cold,"
A sharp shock.
"And you...Who are you?"
"Um, Fluttershy...I was in the crowd..."
"...I have no opinions on you. You can talk to me." The cord unwound, and Fluttershy was promptly dropped, yet saved herself from splashing down with a gentle hover.
Trixie looked over the two. "I'm not going to get rid of you ponies, am I?" Cheerilee shook her head, to which Trixie sighed. "Very well. You may tag along. But any monkey business, and your flank goes to the blood bank, understood? Now come on. This sewage water doesn't wash out easily."
The journey through the sewers was mostly in silence for the first part. Twilight had come on to lend a bit more light to the scenery, which taken with light from Trixie's horn made it seem like a nice living room in the middle of the day. Trixie was, of course, pointedly ignoring her. She kept looking the opposite way, pausing only to tug the folds of her costume up.
"Pretty spacious for a sewer, huh?" remarked Twilight. After a beat, she turned to Cheerilee. "You'd think that it'd be just about big enough for, well, sewage."
"Well," said Cheerilee, "You'd probably have to have it quite big to let the repairponies down."
"That's a good point."
Trixie snorted loudly. If she had her way, anyone who engaged in small talk would be locked up for good. But, things hadn't exactly been going her way at all. Especially not since...that night in the forest...
She gasped, flattening the others against the wall and shutting off her light. The glow remained in the air, thanks to two Kin patrolling the chamber just beyond. "Darn it. Might've known they'd be heavily guarding this place."
Cheerilee suggested the rope.
"No. By the time I float the rope over to their feet, they'll have spotted it and be onto us. What we need is something unexpected, something unpredictable, something that they could never hope to prepare f-"
"SURPRISE!" Boing! Boing! Thunk, and a Kin was flattened. Boing! Thunk, and another face was shoved down to the ground by pink hooves. Pinkie continued to giggle and go boing! Then she noticed Cheerilee and Trixie looking flabbergasted in the tunnel. "Oh, I'm sorry...", she shifted into Fluttershy, "...did you want to finish your sentence?"
This, then, was their new strategy for dealing with the Kin of the tunnels. Whenever a light came up that wasn't their own, Pinkie Pie would jump in, knock all the Kin on the head, and they would soldier onward. They were all really standing guard in the best possible places for her to bounce to. It was all a matter of timing.
Finally, the trio had travelled what felt like a mile downwards, and two miles along the tunnels. The three were all feeling a bit tired. Cheerilee reached into a bag for a cereal bar, Trixie helped herself to it.
"So..." said Cheerilee, "How much further down is it?"
"Oh, well, you're asking the right pony," replied Trixie, "Because I've been down here before to defeat Limescale Rust, whose lair nopony has ever returned from, and mapped out every last inch of the tunnels. OH WAIT."
"There's been a lot less guards for a while," said Fluttershy, who had started floating to rest her legs.
"Yes, I think we're getting close."
"That would be odd. I'd expect there to be more guards around the place they're actually guarding."
"Perhaps the Baroness doesn't worry about people getting too close."
"Well then-" "Hey! Looky look!" Pinkie dropped into the water, splashing her partners, and pointed exitedly to a glow just beyond. "Weehee! More bouncing fun!" she said, bounding over.
"Pinkie! Wait!" cried Cheerilee, but it was too late. Pinkie jumped through the opening, noticed there was no ground underneath, and dropped through the air onto a waiting cabinet.
The room was like a massive cylindrical pit beneath her. The circular entrance she'd just come through was fifteen feet above the ground. The only other visible openings were the grating on the roof, and five large pipes that let out waterfalls of sewage. The floor was connected by thin bridges to the wall, in the middle of a moat of filthy water. The rest of the room was a mess, scattered with rotten remains of expensive foods, damaged paintings, cracked sculptures, and other paraphernalia. Some were floating like rafts in the water, some were even floating in mid air, like the cabinet she was now lying on. And in the midst of it all was a unicorn, fattened and grubby. Her body was between iron grey and pitch black, her mane and eyes a rusty orange. Were her hair not unkempt and stained, she would seem like a large lump of coal.
"So you're da shapeshifda dat pud Mouldy inna cage," Limescale Rust grunted.
"And you're the Baroness meaniepants around these parts, huh?" retorted Pinkie. "Wow, you've got a lotta stuff down here."
"Da cidy zens can't be drusded wiv dem. Dey break da drawing, so I ged all da drawings. Dey ged a pizza dirdy, so I ged all da pizzas."
"Sooo, what do they get?"
"Dey get whad I say dey ged, pinky!"
"Hey, wow! How do you know my name?"
"CUZ YOU'RE PINK, STOOPID!" The cabinet suddenly folded around Pinkie like the jaws of some great beast. Her head suddenly felt really full, and her tummy felt really squeezed. Limescale continued, "You're drying do drick me wiv dumb questions. Drying do make me forget dat you're here do sdeal my sduff. Bud you can'd have my sduff! Dis is my sduff, my cidy, my ponies, my rules! You god a problem wiv dat?!"
"Yes...I..." "DO!" Applejack pushed her legs out with all her might, prising the trap open. Then, with a few hard nods, she tilted the floating platform downwards, and then submitted to gravity, plummeting down to a raft below. That's when the onslaught began.
To begin with, it wasn't so bad. The rotten fruit and mouldy food went up into the air, and proceeded to pelt her. Applejack stood her ground, even when the food felt acidic, or blinded her, or even got into her mouth. After recovering from two flying burritos and a kamikazi watermelon to the face, however, she cleaned her face off only to see a chair coming right at her. She winced as the mess of wooden poles clattered into her, but then wriggled her leg free and got into a battle stance.
Several furniture hurtled towards Applejack, and were promptly disposed of in 'punches' and karate chops. Several china plates raced along the wall on either side. Moments away from being bombarded, Applejack leapt into the air. There was the sound of crashing underneath her, and she came back down onto fractured plates. There was a rushing sound. As if from nowhere, a wave of sewage rose up to meet her. It crashed into her, yet she managed to catch her hat before it was washed away. The ground rattled beneath her, then all of a sudden up burst an assortment of ten pin bowling equipment, a great tendril coming down in front and above Applejack. The cowpony merely smiled, flipped around, and proceeded to let loose a rapid-fire kicking honed from many a pillowfight.
A flurry of pins and bowling balls caused the Baroness to recoil, covering her bruised snout. "Dat's you're greadest weapon? Kicking?!"
"Pretty much, tons o'fun. Now've you had enough, or you want me to kick yer big greedy bee-hind a lil' more?"
An almighty crash signalled the arrival of a blizzard of glass shards. Applejack's eyes widened, and she leapt into the air again. But this time she let out a scream of pain, and dropped back onto the raft with lacerations all over her.
"Applejack!" called a voice from above. Applejack looked up to find Trixie and Cheerilee peering over the edge.
"Cheerilee! Throw down th' lasso! Hurry!" called Applejack as she darted side to side to avoid further rushes of blades.
Cheerilee tipped the bags down beside her. "Okay, lasso, lasso. Was it in this bag? No, that's the normal ropes? This one? No, that's food. Aha! This one!" She bit down on the strap, and managed to wiggle it free. "Okay, let's just open it. There! Now, it's stuck under something, so it'll take a lot of-"
"Oh, let me!" snapped Trixie. The rope lasso shot out of the bag, and dove down to Applejack. The earth pony hopped up to meet the tail end, and chomped down hard. As her hooves clattered back down to the raft, the loop skimmed the water and twirled above her head. Limescale was now focusing her energy on an assortment of knives and forks that hovered menacingly before her. Applejack cocked an eyebrow, then hopped through her own lasso a few times. Limescale was lulled into security, and hurled the daggers, which were immediately swept into the lasso's grip, swung around Applejack's head twice, and thrown back at the Baroness.
Applejack laughed. "Ah git something that grabs fr'm a distance, an' then you started throwin' stuff with handles? Lahmscale, you mus' be dumber than a box o' pebbles."
"Now..." Limescale pulled a fork out her side. "...Now I'm cross."
The water behind her suddenly heaved upwards. A huge metal container breached the sewage, casting a shadow over her and Applejack. Applejack saw a diamond shaped sign with a drawing of a fire on it. That was the last thing Applejack saw as it came flying at her.
The first thing Twilight saw was the tank pause in mid air, as her magic caught it in the nick of time. Limescale was still pushing on it, bringing it nearer and nearer. Twilight dug her hooves into the raft, and pushed back. A game of reverse-tug-of-war ensued. The tank in the air trembled as opposing invisible forces pushed it through the air. The strength of the attacks began to dent the hull. But Twilight kept on pushing, and before long, the tank was coming ever closer to Limescale's head. "...Trixie...now...would...be...nice!..."
Trixie tilted her head in irritated confusion. Then it suddenly struck her. Standing at the edge of the drop, she began to summon her will, then think of fire, and focus on drawing from all around her, generating a little light at the tip of her horn. The light grew brighter and brighter, hotter and hotter, then pounced free from the horn and straight for the tank. The metal container erupted into a great ball of fire, the heat pushing against the three. For a moment, Twilight was afraid she had gone too far. As the fire faded from the air, leaving dots of flame about the place, Twilight jumped across the water, and raced over to the prone, cellulite-filled body of the Baroness. To her partial relief, the badly singed unicorn pushed herself up, the glimmer of a magical shield fading.
"You douch one bid of my sduff, shapeshifda, an' I'll screw you up, you god dat?"
"Of course you will. So, you going to come quietly?"
"Da heck I will! You dink you're so good 'gainst the strongesd; I'll see you afder you take on da fasdesd." Twilight tried to grab her, but too late. Limescale Rust teleported into the air, just like Mould did.
There was the splashing behind her of Trixie and Cheerilee coming down. "Well, I think we can tick that off as another success!" said Cheerilee.
"'We', schoolteacher?" snapped Trixie. "Excuse me, but I was the victor here!"
Twilight rolled her eyes, and started nosing through the trash.
"You? But Twilight fought her!"
"If it hadn't been for me, the great and powerful Trixie, Sparkle would have been overpowered and crushed beneath a fuel tank!"
"But Twilight did the rest of the work!"
"But Trixie finished her off!"
Twilight raised her head. "Fillies! Please!" Fluttershy looked back at Trixie. "Sorry to be rude, but I need to look for the next element. It's probably buried around here."
"What are you talking about?" said Trixie.
"The next element of harmony, I'd forgotten!" exclaimed Cheerilee.
"Did I ask you, purple pony?"
"Well I never-"
The argument was interrupted as there was a brilliant light. Fluttershy had pushed aside the packaging of a pasta meal, and now a familiar ruby floated up and swirled around the pegasus. Fluttershy braced herself, and the Element of Generosity dove into her. Her eyes lit up, and projected a new image into the air.
The viewpoint was running through the forest. The remnants of thorny vines fell from her white legs as she cantered through the underbrush. The viewpoint briefly glanced behind at the vines reaching out behind her, and continued to run.
She hurdled bushes and gnarled roots. She ducked beneath low hanging branches as if they were monster's arms reaching for her. At this point, she was thinking, they probably were.
The viewpoint finally slowed to a halt, and looked to the ground as she caught her breath. There were the sounds of gibbering and howling from far away. She looked up. She suddenly saw something. A strange blue light, emanating from a distant tree.
She drew closer. The light grew brighter. There were the sounds of pained groaning. She pushed back a branch to see...
There were three huge, ebony spheres at triangular placements. In the centre there lay a strange putty, swimming in a cloud of blackness, tinged with sapphire light. A large distance away from the cloud, there stood a blue unicorn, Trixie stripped of her clothing, and a carpet of shadowy veins around her, coiling all over her, going into the root of her horn. Her horn shone brilliantly, a continuous stream of magic flowing from it into the shapeless mass.
Trixie was sweating, gulping breaths. She was funnelling all of her energy, all of her concentration, all of her magic. She grunted as she forced the elemental power into her work.
The mass was taking shape, growing and growing.
Her limbs trembled with the tension. Her eyes screwed up with each pained noise from her mouth. She began to slacken, the sheer effort draining everything she had. But she couldn't stop. She looked for all the world like she wanted to give up, stop the unimaginable pain, but she couldn't stop herself now.
The shadowy thing drew near to existence. A head became visible. Voices in the dark egged her on, calling for one final push.
She drew her greatest breath, tears mingling with the perspiration. Her expressions contorted. Her grunt became a groan.
The blot formed legs. It was moving, eager to become living.
Her veins bulged. The agony was unbearable. Her groan became a scream.
And then, at once, it was all over. The dark veins released her, allowing her to collapse. As she laying on the ground, drained of her strength, sobbing uncontrollably, the darkness parted like a curtain, unveiling the being which rose to its feet.
"Congratulations, sorceress. You have given life, and magic, to the greatest power of all. Everything that happens now, will be all thanks to you..." Nightmare Moon laughed.
The image faded from the air. Fluttershy and Cheerilee stared up at the empty space. Slowly, they turned back to the semi-shrouded unicorn. Trixie wore an expression that was landed squarely between horror, frustration, and baffled pride. "What're you staring at?" she said, spitting out her words.
"Trixie, I'm sor-" Cheerilee began.
"Don't need your pity." Trixie darted to the wall, and began quickly clambering the pockmarks.
"Trixie, wait!" called Cheerilee, "We were just tryi-"
"Shut up!" shouted Trixie without turning around, her voice cracking. "Just shut up! You tell anyone, I'll kill you! Leave me alone!"
Fluttershy turned around completely. "Don't you want to get something out of this?"
Trixie stopped. She was half way up, reaching for another hoofhold. "...What did you say?"
"Before the night in the forest, you told us that if you're good at something, you shouldn't do it for free. That's why you became a bounty hunter, right?"
Trixie said nothing.
"If your customers would pay you hugely to defeat one Baroness, what would they pay to defeat them all?"
Trixie said nothing.
"If you come with us, we can defeat them, and you get all the payment from the upper class. And you could get back at Nightmare Moon for putting you through all...that. We could get it done quicker together, Trixie...Please?"
Trixie said nothing for a few seconds more. Then finally she let go of the wall, dropping onto the raft. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "You say I'd be getting everything?"
Cheerilee and Fluttershy smiled. "You can keep it," said Cheerilee, "A teacher's salary isn't so bad in Ponyville." She leant on a sword sticking out the piles as she said this. Conveniently enough, this happened to be a sword that tilted with a click, causing a tremendous mound of fabricated gold to move to the right with a menacing rumble. Behind it lay a glowing white oval on the wall.
Fluttershy had a bit of hope on her face as she stepped through. "Two down...four to go."