Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 170

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Chapter 170

Discord and I, after getting the rest of the pudding off and unsummoning the giant diving board, go our separate ways. It takes a little while to recall what else I planned or today, but I do recall wanting to talk to Clark about the trial and his side of the story. You know, that’s kind of odd. Now that I think of it, Clark was never asked to speak... courts always ask for both stories, even if the accused has admitted to being guilty... Oh well, at least I can get it from him now.

Heading over to Fluttershy’s, I briefly imagine why they don’t have things like teleporters or something. I mean... why not? Certainly make moving around town faster. Oh well.

I get to the little cottage and I’m about to just walk in when I mentally slap myself. If I start doing this, the ponies will never get the idea of total privacy into their heads. Knocking briefly, Fluttershy opens the door.

“Heya Fluttershy. Can I come in?”

“Of course. Are you here to see Anne?” Fluttershy is in rare form today.

“No, I wanted to talk with Clark, actually.” Turning, I see he’s sleeping on the couch. “Well, I can wait for him to wake up. That’s something I’m used to.”

“Well, I don’t know how long you’ll have to wait. I can get Anne to keep you-”

“Fluttershy, quit it. Shippers ruin lives.”

“O- okay...?”

Now the waiting game. Man I wish they’d invent a portable gaming system already. The Game & Watch can’t be that far off, can it?

After about another hour of watching Clark slowly shift and roll in his sleep, he finally wakes up from catching a stray sunbeam to the face. He seems confused about finding me in the living room as well.

“Finally awake, or are you just going to blame the sun and go back to bed?”

“... Answer unclear. Ask again later. What time is it?”

“Well let’s see. It was about one when I got up, I gave a speech to the schoolkids for around a half-hour, and then went pudding-diving for twenty minutes. I say it’s one-fifty-five right now if I include the walk here.”

“Uh-huh. Sorry for sleeping in like this, I was up real late, gettin’ active and all, y’know?”

“Sure you were. Up all night to get lucky, are we?”

“Not really, no. Mostly stretching, bends, and the like. Fluttershy was kind enough to stay out with me, but she went to bed before me.”

“Yeah well, hate to sour the mood but... well, I got AJ’s side of the whole ‘kill the monster’ fiasco. Let’s hear yours.”

“This is something Twilight, and by extension the Princesses, need to hear too. I’d rather explain this once, so let me write Flutters a message and we’ll go to the library.”

“Fine. Oh by the way, I’m not sure how much information that Twilight gleans on Celestia’s behalf is relayed to Luna. I’d suggest you just talk to her personally if you want her to get a full story. She’s a lot more fun to chat with than her sister at least.”

“Well, given the nature of the information, I expect they’ll both hear about it rather quickly.” Clark says, tacking the note the door and stepping out smoothly. I don’t know how, but he makes the step-duck-step movement graceful in an eerie sort of way.

Great, now a trek back to the library. Wonder how many more places we’ll have to go today? Oh well... I guess if I get to hear his story, it’s worth it. The trek back is completely ordinary.

Once at the library, we get Twilight to be available, and Clark tells her to get some paper and quill.

“First thing I have to tell you is that I’ve been lying by omission since I arrived.” Clark starts.

I shrug. “Well, I just figured you’d want to keep your real name secret just in case, if you’re fine with-”

“No. That’s only a little part, and I suppose I’m not who I was anyways.” ‘Join the club.’ my mind interjects silently. “The most important thing is that my arm was not the only demonic part I received before coming here.” He reaches up with his normal hand and pulls his lower jaw open, revealing that it splits down the front. I vaguely remember seeing this at the hospital. Twilight, though gasps, especially as tiny, thorn-like ‘teeth’ pop out of the ‘cheek’ material, all of them pointed inwards.

“You think that’s creepy, you should see a Gug.”

“What do you think I got this thing from? It tore off my jaw, so I took pieces off to make this. Frankly, it’s a miracle it even looks human, let alone closes normally.”

“So... Lovecraftian horrors are rampant as well? Damn, how’d you survive!?”

“Well, that’s part of this talk. The demon incursion started out with very generic features, and everything on the ones seen later were either changes to or direct graftings of existing designs, with a few exceptions. A group, who were called the ‘Elderspawn Cult’ by other clans, went for the Cthulu theme, but it was clearly based on the stories, and they rarely matched up, other than having lots of combat tentacles everywhere. Speaking of, there was... six? Eight? I’d need to check my notes, but there was around six or eight clans in the pacific northwest area, including bits of Canada and down as far as northern California. I didn’t range farther than that, though; too far from my own clan.”

“So... the first demon that came through to Ponyville. It had like... this giant mouth on it’s stomach and these huge arms but otherwise looked mostly... human?” Twilight turns to me for confirmation of what ‘normal human’ looks like and I nod.

“Yeah, huge arms, looked like he was made of magma, and had this giant scorpion tail of doom. Totally human legs and face.”

“So.. kinda like a demonic cartoon gorilla?” I nod. “Probably either Endbringer or Beastlings, then. Might have been a rogue, simply killing the demons it finds to get more powerful. was its hide really tough, or did it tend to roar a lot?”

“Not roaring. Really loud voice, but talked pretty darn well. It was pretty hard to hurt until I lightspeed-punched his face into chunklets. Said some stuff about going after the Fount of Kindness as I recall. ‘Swhy I’m glad you and Anne are living with Fluttershy. If he didn’t ‘land’ so close to the center of town, he might’ve got her.”

“Yeah, Endbringer then. Most of us were pretty into the whole ‘demonic ascendency’ thing, but I wasn’t. Still, the fact that you punched it to death is incredible. I’ve seen that kind of hide bounce literal tank shells before.”

“Well as I said, wasn’t really just a punch. I was moving as close as I could get to the speed of light and socked him so fast that... well, you ever seen that guy who smashed that watermelon with a mallet? Yeah, pretty much like that, but it broke my hand.”

“Ah, that must’ve sucked. I broke this arm,” he gestures towards the demonic one, “exactly once. Never again, says I. Anyways, I have several other... augmentations. I don’t think I can really be classified as ‘human’ anymore. I’ve got a few augmentations that were singularly unpleasant to receive, though I was told at the time it was all for the better. Considering the later usage, I’d have to agree, but still...” Clark winces and wipes his hand on his pants.

“Hey, you aren’t some monster hellbent on murdering. You have your self control, and that’s what makes the difference between you and the real demons. They can call that arm freaky all they want. I say corruption is only important if it hits your brain.”

“Well...” Clark doesn’t meet my eyes. “I’m not sure it doesn’t. I’ve watched the others in the clan. They change, personality-wise, the more they get augmented. It’s different for everyone, but similar augments seem to have similar effects. Endbringer reactive hide makes you more aggressive, wendigo stomach makes you ravenous, all the time. And a little more accepting of... long pork. Other things. Little things. My hand’s steady now. Never moves unless it’s to do something.” He looks down at the golden eye on the back of his hand. “How much is me, how much is the rest?”

“Hey, I still think you’re the same... as long as you can still whoop my ass in a game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.”

“Hmmm... an exogorth makes an appearance in which movie?”

“Uh... A New Hope?”

“Well, you had a one in six chance... and you missed. Still, I bet you can’t find one I don’t know.”

“What... is the official species name for the Sand people?”

“Tusken raiders... or so many would say. They’re just Tuskens, as the Tusken Plateau is where they came from originally. They ride Banthas, which also act as their meat source and pack animals, and were sacred in their native religion.” He grins.

“Ha, yup, still you, buddy.”

Twilight seems to be giving us weird looks. “But... that’s... they’ve never been named yet! Geode

Loosends hasn’t even revealed a third playwright, how can there be six!?”

I see Clark choke at the mention of the name, looking utterly disconcerted.

“Yeah, I know.” I roll my eyes and grab a book from the shelf behind me. “Check out who wrote ‘Hitchhiker's Guide’.”

Clark looks for the book, finds it, and makes a face like he just sucked a lemon dry. “Crou- Croupless Apples?! That’s...” his face returns to normal as he thinks it over, “actually about par for the course, really.”

“Yeah yeah, anyway, we should probably fill the bookworm’s notes with more than movie spoilers. So exactly when did the demon invasion start? Everything was totally normal when I was pulled to Equestria, and Myrna says she saw it in Olympia in 2016. How near did I miss it?”

“I got a call one morning. You’d disappeared overnight, and your mom wanted to know if you’d run off to hang out with me. When I checked the news later, in case the police had found anything, I learned they had... you and almost a hundred million others from around the world had vanished within a twenty-four-hour period, coinciding with the sweep of midnight across the planet.” Clark pauses, taking a few breaths. His face is pinched and his expression pained.

“I wonder why me? I mean, as one of the millions among the countless other possibilities? Unless God plays dice after all...”

“Or chess. Six days later, around midnight, the first hellmouth opened. The hundredth was less than six hours after. There weren’t casualty statistics after a day, and there weren’t radio broadcasts after three. Goddess... if only I’d gotten to my family sooner. Or maybe.. maybe I’d just be dead if I had.” Clark puts his head into his hands.

Trying to take the mood off the darker path, I return to an earlier point. “So you said millions of other humans vanished. I have two theories. One, they all ended up here, but spread across the planet so far that wherever they end up they aren’t considered a new species but a one-off deal like me and we haven’t heard any news from them in the two years since The Vanishing... or they were flung across the universe -or multiverse as the case may be- and only a few of us ended up here on Terra.” I turn to Twilight. “You understand the planet better than we do, what do you think is more likely?

“Well, there isn’t more than two-hundred-million ponies in Equestria, so it’s unlikely half that many humans, likely all with some form of powers, simply dropped in with you and just weren’t noticed. As well, the various humans dropping in lately have been showing up in a staggered lack-of-pattern. It’s possible they weren’t just dropped to other places...”

“But other times!” Clark and I both say simultaneously.

“Right. So even if they did all get dropped here, they might not arrive in total for the next thousand or more years. And there is always the possibility they got dropped into alternate versions of Equestria, Earth, or anywhere else.”

“I envy whoever gets to drop in with superpowers on Korhal.”

“Heh, yeah. Either get their heads bitten off by a bunch of Zerg, or become a ‘God-on-duty’ depending on what they roll for their skills, so to speak. Though there’s something that bugs me, because it can’t really be answered. See, we don’t really know what the Earth/Terra relationship is. Is Terra an alternate-universe Earth, or is it in the same universe, but very very far away in a totally different solar system? It could be that Terra is the universe’s ‘backup-Earth’ in case of catastrophe... or Terra just got lucky and the others are flung out to other worlds, Terra just seeming to get the majority.”

“Well, actually... about six months after the first hellmouth, there was a burst transmission. It woke me up. A huge amount, untallied at the time due to, y’know, personnel shortages, of people, demons, and slaves had been vanished. Everyone hoped it was a lucky break, and they had just decided to leave.”

“Well, I don’t have an idea of what Myrna went through, but Anne said she was a refugee for quite a while and didn’t know the date because of the demonic takeover. If that’s true, then it’s possible not all the humans who were to be sent here were ‘picked up’ during the same years, as Myrna definitely stated it was 2016 when she ‘left’ and she arrived two weeks before we found her in the Everfree.”

“Medusa probably lived in the Rise, then. A bunch of survivors lived in one of the older military bases. Y’know, nothing but solid stone and steel, with ways out everywhere. They had a hill and the Sound to escape to in an emergency, and plenty of military folks joined ‘em. Endbringers, Elderspawn, even the Daughters tried taking the place, but kept getting rebuffed rather soundly. I got shot for the first time in one of those failed raids.”

I do my best to ignore the notion of my friend being part of a demonic raid. “And I assume nobody has tried or been able to ‘dig’ into what the Hellmouths are, how they got there, where they originate from, or anything like that. Once the demons are there they don’t need to worry about returning, and I doubt any non-demon would be able to survive long enough to learn and live.”

“Actually, the Endbringers slept in one. Once it stops spitting out Demons, it’s just a hole in the ground, going down, and down, and down... fire at the bottom, probably the mantle being breached a little.”

“So Hell is quite literally underneath the Earth’s crust? Hm...”

“No, don’t think so. The clan head told me when I asked that she came through when it was all ‘fire and blades of seeming.’ This was before she died, of course. She was less talkative afterwards.”

“Understandable. So I guess the main worry is that we know it’s likely more demons are going to come through. If they figure out how to somehow mimic whatever force brought the humans here, the demons will start coming through as well. We have proof that’s a possibility, what with that one demon-gorilla guy coming out of literally nowhere. We just don’t have any clue where it will happen again and how long we have.”

“Or whatever brought the humans off of Earth has really terrible eyesight and can’t tell a demonic human from a real human.” Clark adds.

“I suppose, but that also leaves one more thing. Myrna and Anne didn’t have those animal parts before coming here, and I know I couldn’t set myself on fire with my mind... whatever’s sending the humans through is rolling dice and giving us powers. Why?”

“Idunno. Maybe to help us survive? Maybe it’s not that whatever-it-is, but Terra itself, trying to help us or making us not human. Might be Terra is a bigot.”

“Could be, if the majority of the races’ reaction to me is any indication. But if it is giving us powers for a reason, wouldn’t it be at least nice enough to give some sort of reason as to why?”

“Uhm... Well, if it’s something literally unknowable giving us powers, maybe it sat us down for a full lecture, gave us a gameplan, and then we wiped it from our own minds to preserve our sanity?”

“How the heck does that-”

I interrupt Twilight. “That’s possible, or it could be working on a kind of schedule and just picking people and powersets at random. Heck, we both have a star core, but some of our powers still differ. Speaking of, with your plant control, you could probably turn the Everfree Forest into a hundred-acre army and wipe out any demon that drops within Ponyville’s area. Just a supposition.”

“I- don’t want to do that. The last one brought up something I hadn’t thought of in... two years. Give or take.”

“Yeah... I miss her too. Anyways... her aside, I think we should get back on track. What happened with you before you were dropped into the Canterlot Castle Gardens and assaulted by guards?”

“Well, I was sleeping... but leading up to that, I had actually recently won a dominance battle. Corella said she’d give me a new set of eyes in the morning, not that I really needed them. Near-sightedness aside, I didn’t like the red-and-orange of Skewer’s eyes.”

“Yeah, if I had to swap out eyes, I’d prefer a nice purple or light green. Too far into the orange spectrum and you start freaking out each time you look in a mirror. You’d want the anesthetic-less surgery to be worth it after all.”

“Yeah, that and I’d have gaping wounds on my head from where they put ‘em in. Those eyes were bigger than mine by a good bit. Uhm... before that, I killed a small group of the Raven Flock, they have magic of their own. They say it comes from special glands.”

“So whatever force is bringing us here likes to wait until we’re asleep before taking us. That makes a bit of sense from a few perspectives, so I guess the next thing to think about is if the area and time they are taken from has any determination on their Terra-side powerset, and if there’s any pattern to what they get other than that, such as where they land, or such.”

“Well, I was west of the Olympia mountain range. Still, it was better than showing up in the ocean. I’ve checked, both Earth and Terra are mostly covered in water. Hmm, let me think... leading up to that, I’d done some recon on a pack of Blood Knights, or Sanguine Knights, or whatever they call themselves. They do things with blood. Theirs, yours, doesn’t matter. Once it’s spilled, they have it. Hmm... Gimme a sec, I have some notes on the clans stashed around here. I wrote it down once I figured out quills.” Clark proceeds to move into the side room, pausing only to pull up a seven-ish-foot-long board from the floor, retrieving a sheaf of papers and a sandwich that’s a little green. He pops the sandwich into his mouth and my stomach does a flop.

“So, is that on all the clans, or just the Blood guys?”

“The ones I know of. The Wendigoes wandered Canada for the most part, I sometimes traded folks for information. They mentioned other clans elsewhere, but I don’t have anything solid on them.” He begins organizing the papers, absently snagging some flowers from a vase. The flowers are wilted, but apparently edible as he stuffs them into his mouth.

“So first off, I think we need to clarify something for Twilight. They seem to have a creature called a Windigo, with an I, and aside from the cold-affinity, there seems to be no relation whatsoever with Wendigos, which is what Clark killed and got his stomach from, the cow-headed thing from half a month ago. We should probably cover those first just so we can get the differences settled so the similar names aren’t a problem. Agreed?”

“Oh, right, I read about those... windigoes are spirits of hatred, distrust, and factionalism. I’m not sure if they’re literal or just extinct, but they haven’t been seen in the last thousand-plus years or so. Wendigoes are a clan of demons named for a human myth about what happens to cannibals; they turn into literal monsters and get hunted down for it. They’re always hungry, both the demons and the legends, and the demon versions get bigger the more they eat and shrink as they starve, their bodies constantly repair themselves with anything they eat. The biggest are the ‘leaders’, though I say that with quotes because they tend to be loners. The really big ones grow antlers, have bony carapaces, etc. The littler ones just digest their own skin by existing, and the bigger ones grow fire-resistant skin and carapace. I can honestly say I don’t know much about them beyond that, though. They can shoot cold, and they freeze the hell out of wherever they go. The smaller ones can be taken care of with fire. They eat people and each other.”

“But the one we- you fought had antlers, but you said fire worked... so it was in a higher tier, but not the top. I don’t know how to gauge the first demon that came through, so I don’t know if it’s escalating, or just being random.”

“Big, muscley, probably had a nice accent?”

“Yeah, as you said, giant magmatic cartoon gorilla. As I said, it had a very loud voice, but it’s speech seemed almost like it was from a proper culture. The difference in voice and appearance was kind of astounding.”

“Yeah, that’s a middler that got a lucky grab with that skin. Probably skinned itself regularly to keep it growing.” Clark says, finally getting his notes in order.

“Mhmm, so until another one comes through, it’s either escalating what demons are let through -or sent here- or if it’s totally random. Given yours, mine, and Myrna’s location, time of arrival, and touchdown point, I doubt those three things have anything to do with what happens to us... but the demons seem to be left alone. The thought occurs that it’s possible that Earth has become too... ravaged, and whatever force is flinging people around is dropping in suped-up normals and demons to duke it out and eventually all the demons -or humans- will be wiped out, but the touchdowns are infrequent enough to prevent a demonic takeover if they are dispatched soon enough. What do you think Twilight, does that sound reasonable on Terra’s end?”

“Augh. Erg. Guh.” Twilight seems to have switched off at some point in the conversation.

“Damnit, we broke the smartest pony in town. Now who do we get to bounce ideas off of?”

“... Gimme a sec, I found a trick that works.” He reaches over and boops the stuttering pony on the nose, and yells ‘BOOP!’ at the top of his lungs. Twilight shrieks and falls over, flailing. After a moment, she sits up, breathing hard. “See? Works on Flutters, works on Dash, and now I have proof it works on Twilight.”

“Okay, so they have a ‘reset’ button, good to know. So Twilight, you catch any of that, or do we have to start over?”

“Uhhh... could you start from explaining Wendigos?”

I sigh. Oh well. Next Chapter: Chapter 171 Estimated time remaining: 8 Hours, 17 Minutes

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