The Night Will Last Forever
Chapter 8 The Estranged Stranger
New Lunar Calendar
-29 Days After The Return
Celestia stared into the face of the striped zebra, their eyes glowing a deep yellow. The light from the burning library showing their grey face. Celestia wondered how they could see her.
"Who are you?" She yelled over the flames.
"Why don't you find out and see? But to do that you must first catch me!" The zebra taunted and ran down a street faster then Celestia had ever seen a pony run on foot.
"Hey! Come back here! Please, you have to tell me if you saw somepony leave this library!" Celestia yelled and ran after the zebra.
The zebra ran through the charred streets of Ponyville, leaping over piles of charred wood and debris. Celestia followed them, her legs picking up speed. The zebra lead Celestia through ruined homes and burned parks.
"Stop! Just tell me if you saw somepony else!" Celestia shouted as she ran after them.
Celestia started to gain a lead on the zebra, picking up speed quickly. The zebra looked over their shoulder and saw the alicorn getting closer. The zebra grunted and quickly turned towards the end of town.
Celestia dug her hooves in the dirt to pull a sudden turn, using her wings to leap over a crumbled statue. The zebra sidestepped onto an empty road and headed for the plains surrounding the town.
Piles of dust and ash flew into the air from the two figures as they ran past destroyed shops and houses. As they reached the edge of town Celestia saw a light purple wall form in front of them near the edge of town.
Celestia recognized it as a magic bubble and ran faster to catch up with the zebra before they could reach it. She lowered her head and flapped her wings to give her more speed.
Just as they were about to reach the magic barrier a hole in the bubble appeared in front of them. Celestia gave one last push with her wings and jumped at the zebra.
She collided with the zebra and they both fell through the hole just as it closed behind them. They tumbled along the ground and rolled to a stop with Celestia on top of the zebra. She held the zebra down with her hooves as she struggled to break free.
"Alright, I caught you, now tell me who you are. How can you see me?" Celestia said sternly down at the zebra.
The zebra stopped struggling and looked up at Celestia. "I will tell you what you wish to know, but only if you will let me go."
Celestia waited a second and nodded, stepping off of the zebra but readied herself in case they would attack her. As she did she noticed that she felt different, she felt heavier.
"Nightmare Moon is who I serve, a name I do not deserve." The zebra said.
"No, you were a zebra once, untouched by Nightmare Moon's darkness. I want to know what you were called before she came back and made you what you are now." Celestia told the zebra.
The zebra chuckled. "It was Zecora that was my old name, before Nightmare Moon and I became the same."
"Zecora. That's a lovely name."
Zecora simply stared at Celestia, frowning.
"Zecora, what was that magic barrier you ran towards? I feel different, what did it do to me?" Celestia asked.
"We have just left a time bubble, designed to keep ponies like you out of trouble. Everything inside the bubble is slow, time itself slows down it's flow." Zecora explained.
"How long has that barrier been there?"
"Ever since you stopped your student's rage you were trapped inside that cage. While you were comforting her fears it has been five whole years."
Celestia opened her mouth in shock. "Five years?"
She thought about it for a moment before figuring it out. When she was hit by that last bit of magic Nightmare Moon must have put a magic spell on her that caused her to be unable to physically interact with the world. And when she jumped through the barrier the spell was broken.
She looked back at the town, the purple bubble around the town was starting to fade out. The plains around the town looked even more grey and deserted then they did before she entered the town. The world had been moving on for five years without her, and she imagined that it was not the same one she had known before.
"But what about Twilight? What happened to her?" Celestia sternly asked.
Zecora's dark smile returned. "She suffered an awful tragedy, sitting inside that library." Zecora said.
Celestia's face dropped. "But how did the fire start? Wait, it was you wasn't it? You started the fire. It was you!"
Zecora nodded and started running away from the town. Celestia took a last look at Ponyville and felt her rage build up inside her. This was the last straw, she lost her last friend, and she wasn't going to let Nightmare Moon take away anything else.
And she would start with Zecora.
The white mare cautiously approached the clearing in the forest where the meteor had landed. She saw a large crater where it landed and slowly inched her way towards it.
She reached the edge of the crater and looked into it. She saw a trail of thin smoke coming off of an object in the bottom of the crater.
It was a dark blue object that had a light blue spot on the top. The mare stepped into the crater and walked up to the object. She reached the object and poked it with the tip of her hoof, studying it.
The object didn't move, but it felt soft. She poked it again, a little harder this time. After it still didn't move, she smacked it with her hoof.
"GAAAAH!" The blue object jumped and screamed, getting up and running to the side of the crater.
The white mare jumped back, surprised by the object's sudden movement. After a moment the white mare could see the blue object clearly.
It...looked almost exactly like her.
The blue object stopped squirming and looked back at the white mare. It could move on it's own, without having to be moved by the white mare. The white mare hadn't seen anything that could do that before.
It had eyes, and it could clearly see her with them. The blue object looked at her and leaned forward, curious about her. The two each took a step towards each other.
They didn't take their eyes off of each other, they were so entranced by this new thing in front of them that seemed to be so similar, but different in almost every way.
The white mare looked at the blue object's form then back to herself. They looked almost exactly the same, except the blue thing was smaller then she was.
Then the white mare spoke the first words she had spoken out loud in years.
"Hello?" She asked the blue thing.
The ears on the blue object twitched, reacting to the sound of the white mare's greeting. The white mare decided to come up with a name for the basic appearance of the two of them.
Celestia flapped her wings and ran after Zecora who was speeding through the empty grey plains. Celestia ran with a strength she had not had since before Nightmare Moon returned.
Celestia started catching up with Zecora as they ran through the plains. Zecora looked over her shoulder and saw Celestia charging towards her. Zecora jumped into the air and pulled out a vial from her bag.
She took the vial and threw it front of herself, blasting it with a magic bolt. The vial burst open and a large portal of magic began to form. A flat circle of undulating purple and white magic formed in the sky.
Zecora jumped through the portal into the swirling purple color. Celestia jumped in after her, barely making it through before it closed.
As Celestia entered the portal she lost her bearing and tumbled to her hooves. She shook her head and looked around, she was surrounded by nothing but swirling purple and white. She had no idea where she was.
She looked down and saw she was sitting on a platform made of purple color. She stood up and found the platform to be stable and capable of holding her weight. Looking over her shoulder Celestia saw that the portal that took her here was gone.
She had just about enough of this zebra's games, she had to stop her and get out of here as soon as possible. The purple ground beneath her hooves moved along with her, carrying her through the strange place.
The swirling magic made Celestia uneasy. It had no form or rhythm to it, it was just purely random energy. It didn't even feel like magic; it was unlike anything she had seen before.
The sound of hoofsteps caught Celestia's attention. She looked to her side and saw Zecora walking away from her. This little game of hers was going to end right now.
"Give it up Zecora, you can't run from me anymore." Celestia shouted to her.
Zecora stopped and looked back at Celestia for a few moments. "No, I suppose I can't." She said, abandoning her rhyming mannerism. "No one runs from this place, once you are here you don't run away anymore."
"What is this place?" Celestia demanded.
"The other side." Zecora answered. "The side of the world even you don't know about. The Void. There is nothing here, and there never will be. It is the in-between space in the world, the empty space between all the little cracks in reality."
Celestia looked around. The world was completely empty except for the two of them.
"Some say this is where the spirit named Discord was formed, still others say this place is a scientific fallacy. I will let you decide if you believe this place is real or not." Zecora explained.
"Tell me how to get back. Tell me or I will be forced to make you tell me." Celestia said, stomping her hoof on the ground.
"Maybe I will tell, maybe I will not. That is for me to know and you to grow ruthless trying to find out." Zecora answered.
"I see words mean nothing. Very well then." Celestia said and hunched down, ready to fight.
Zecora did the same. "If you wish to leave this place, then it is I you must face."
Celestia jumped into the air, her wings spread wide. Zecora leapt to her side and a line of magic swirled around her hooves. Zecora leapt back at Celestia and struck her in her side, knocking Celestia to the ground.
Celestia rolled back to her hooves and shot a ball of magic at Zecora. Zecora kicked the ball away with her hooves. Celestia flicked her wings and jumped back at Zecora, attempting to knock her to the ground.
The two jumped past each other, trying to strike each other as they flew through the air. Zecora jumped backwards and pulled a number of potions out of her saddlebag. She used her magic to throw them at Celestia as she ran.
Celestia flew up and down, dodging the potions which exploded on impact with the ground. As Celestia tried to fly closer Zecora threw a vial on the ground and a wall of fire separated the two.
The wall of fire grew around Zecora and covered her in a ball of flames. Celestia used her magic to form a ball of bright yellow magic around the ball of flames. The fire started to burn away all of the oxygen inside of the magic bubble.
The flames started to die out and Celestia saw Zecora coughing for air. Celestia suddenly felt worried for her and released Zecora from the magic barrier.
Zecora stood on the ground coughing but suddenly jumped at Celestia and knocked her to the ground with a strong kick. The hit knocked the air out Celestia lungs as she hit the ground.
"I'm sure this is something you already know, but never put any trust in your foe." Zecora shook her head.
Celestia spat a drop of blood out of her mouth and looked down at her hooves. Zecora was right, she couldn't go easy on her just because she was being controlled against her will. She would have to stop her even if it meant killing an innocent zebra.
Celestia cracked her neck and stood up. She spread her wings and her horn glowed as magic pulsed through it. Zecora adjusted her hood as she watched Celestia prepare a spell.
After a few moments Celestia looked at Zecora and frowned at her. She launched a bolt of lightning at the zebra who jumped out of the way of the spell. Celestia fired more bolts of lightning as Zecora jumped back and forth to avoid them.
Finally Celestia launched a wave of lightning at Zecora. Zecora quickly brought up a wall of magic to block the lightning. The lightning hit the shield and flashed a bright light, emitting a crackling sound as the electricity dissipated.
The shield around Zecora broke in a puff of dark smoke and she spread her arms out wide. The saddlebags on Zecora's back magically shot open and started shooting countless potions and vials at Celestia.
Celestia's eyes widened as a wave of explosive potions rained down towards her. She ran around Zecora in a large circle, ducking and weaving around the explosions caused by the bottles.
As she was running one of the potions caught the tip of her wing. Celestia looked at her wing and flapped it to put out the fire. When she turned her head Zecora threw a potion that hit Celestia in the leg, knocking her to the ground.
Celestia fell to the ground and instinctively brought up a magic bubble around herself. Zecora concentrated on throwing the rest of her potions at the yellow sphere of magic.
The ground shook from the explosions, Celestia felt herself shaking from the force but concentrated on holding up the barrier. Zecora used the last of her spell to throw every last bottle she had left at the barrier around Celestia, creating an enormous fireball.
For a few moments everything was quiet. Zecora silently watched the black smoke swirl around the place she had thrown her attack. As the smoke cleared Zecora saw Celestia shakily standing on her hooves, her body covered in burns.
Suddenly the ground started shaking, causing Zecora to raise her eyebrow. Through the smoke a pair of glowing yellow eyes stared intensely back at Zecora. A bolt of magic shot out of the smoke, causing Zecora to quickly jump to her side.
Yellow magic lit up the cloud of black smoke as yellow lightning coursed through Celestia into the ground. She kept firing bolts at the hooded zebra who jumped in between each one.
A final pulse of magic went through Celestia as she fired a wave of magic along the ground. Zecora jumped into the air to avoid the strong wave of magic. While Zecora was in the air Celestia shot four chains out of her horn which wrapped around Zecora.
Zecora squirmed as the chains held her in the air. "What are you doi-"
Before Zecora could finish the ground shook again and a large insignia of Celestia's cutie mark appeared below Zecora. Zecora attempted to shake herself free in a panic.
The cutie mark flashed and a wave of bright light shot up out of it, enveloping Zecora in a searing sunlight. Zecora screamed as the light came out of the ground and surrounded her.
The burning sunlight subsided after a few moments and the large cutie mark insignia disappeared. The magical chains faded out of existence and Zecora fell to the ground, her cloak covered in black burns.
Celestia heaved, her energy was all taken up by her last attack. She fell to her knees and attempted to catch her breath. Zecora was lying on the purple ground unmoving.
Getting back to her hooves with a strained grunt, Celestia painfully walked over to Zecora's limp body and leaned over it. Zecora's chest was slowly rising and falling, her breath extremely slow.
Celestia rolled Zecora onto her side and looked at her face. Her eyes were closed. Celestia sighed and took a deep breath. She couldn't let Nightmare Moon use Zecora for anything else, but she hadn't killed anypony in hundreds of years.
And she still regretted it after all this time.
The Void around them swirled aimlessly like it had done since the two of them arrived here.
"The other side of reality." Celestia mused to herself. "It's strange seeing a world that has no form or structure except this odd floor." She looked down at the purple floor beneath her.
"I wish things weren't so complicated..." She said to herself as she lied next to Zecora's unconscious body.
The blue pony squeaked a small noise, an attempt to mimic the white mare's voice. The pony made a few more attempts at speaking until it formed what appeared to be the best imitation she could manage.
The white mare stared at the blue pony, watching her mimic the word. It was surreal, watching this other pony try and do something she had been able to do for years.
The blue pony stopped imitating the white mare and looked around. Her blue eyes widened and she shrunk to the ground, looking around at the dark forest clearing. She whimpered and covered her eyes with her front legs.
The white mare suddenly felt an urge to help this terrified little pony. She kneeled down to the ground and covered the blue pony with her wing. The little pony opened an eye and saw the taller pony wrapping her in their wing.
Feeling a warmness go through her, the blue pony relaxed herself and let the white pony comfort her. She felt like she had something familiar in this new world where everything was new and foreign.
The next weeks were filled with the white pony teaching the smaller pony the language she had invented and showing her as much as she could.
Soon the blue pony had learned almost everything about the forest and the mountains, and she even thought of a few new ways to name things. They had also learned to place multiple words together to express new ideas.
The sky was still dark from the night where the blue pony arrived, and the white pony soon grew used to the new darkness. She often forgot that the sun had been gone for weeks.
As they were walking through a gap in the forest the white pony stopped and asked the blue pony a simple question.
The blue pony sat perplexed by her question, thinking about it for a moment. Then she looked up into the night sky and pointed with her hoof to the large moon hanging in the sky surrounded by stars.
The white pony followed her gaze up to the Moon and looked at it.
Home. That was where she came from.
The blue pony turned back to the taller white pony and asked the same question.
The white pony thought about it and looked up into the sky. She couldn't see any of her familiar light or her sun she had always felt so close to.
She suddenly felt very worried and scared. Her eyes widened as she realized she could not find any trace of what she felt was home. She started looking around the sky in a panic, the full realization hitting her.
She started running around the clearing, her eyes almost in tears. She had known the sun was gone, but she had never realized how alone she could feel without it.
The white pony ran into the forest and crouched to the ground under a large leaf. She felt alone and helpless, like the world she had known for so long was gone.
A drop of water fell from the sky and landed on the blue pony's nose. She looked up to see a foggy cloud begin to form above them.
The cloud thickened until it covered the entire sky. Water started pouring out of the bottom and fall to the ground. The blue pony stood in the rain, wondering what was happening.
A bright flash and a roar of thunder cracked in the distance, lighting up the rainy sky. The blue pony screamed and ran to where the white pony was hiding. She scooted up to the bigger pony and leaned into them for comfort.
The white pony opened her eyes and saw the blue pony curled up against her. She grabbed her and pulled her closer to her body, feeling like she was the only thing left as the world seemed to rip itself apart around her.
After they sat under the leaf for an hour the blue pony poked her head up and said a single word to the white mare.
"Why does everything have to be like this?" Celestia said to herself as she watched the Void swirl and twist around her. "Why did this happen to you Luna? And all of us?"
"Sometimes I feel like I don't know anything, like everything has gotten away from me..." Celestia sighed as she lay on her back.
The Void shifted it's purple gaze at Celestia, watching her contemplate what could possibly happen next.
"No one runs from this place, once you are here you don't run away anymore."
Zecora's words rang in her head. Maybe she was right, maybe there was no more running away. Maybe she was supposed to end up here, trapped until her mind gets washed away by time. This is what it has all come too then.
"Why do you stop Princess? Why do you stay there motionless?" Came a weak voice.
Celestia turned her head at the sound of the voice. Zecora was lying awake on the purple ground, her eyes staring up into the swirling magic.
The voice made Celestia look Zecora in the face. Her voice was different, this one was not full of hate or darkness, it was sincere. The hood around Zecora's head fell off to reveal that her eyes were no longer glowing a deep yellow.
"Is that you Zecora?" Celestia asked.
"It is true what you see with your eyes, Nightmare Moon has dropped her guise." Zecora coughed.
"I'm sorry I had to do that to you Zecora..." Celestia hung her head.
"Princess please do not fret, I don't want to make you upset. My mind was not my own, your actions I do condone."
Celestia looked at Zecora who was barely breathing due to her injuries. "I'm so sorry."
Zecora waved her comment away with her hoof. "What I said before is true, you did what you had to do."
Zecora coughed for a few moments and breathed deeply, desperately trying to get air in her lungs. "Oh my, I think my body finally fails me." She said, abandoning her rhyming rhetoric. "You've got to get out of here Princess. You've got much that needs to be done."
"But you said there was no way out of this place." Celestia said.
"That was not me speaking, it was Nightmare Moon. There is much she has withheld from you, and she will lie whenever it suits her." Zecora reached her hoof to her side and reached down to the bottom of her saddlebag.
She pulled out a tiny vial only large enough to contain a few drops of red fluid. She carefully placed it on the ground in front of herself.
"While I was under Nightmare Moon's control I managed to free my mind on occasion. I was able to mix only a few drops of this potion and place it in the bottom of my bag."
Celestia picked up the tiny glass vial and eyed it. "Will this be able to make a portal back to Equestria?"
"Yes, but only for a few moments. Only enough time for you to make it through. You would not be able to carry me, not after our fight."
"You are one amazing zebra Zecora. Your heart must be strong to be able to break free from her control like that." Celestia smiled.
"She admired my skills in alchemy, and over the past few years while you were trapped in Ponyville I was able to create these portals to the Void. Although I don't wish any other pony to find out how to create one, this place is poisonous to the mind."
Zecora started coughing and wheezing. Celestia looked at her nervously. "Leave me Princess, I fear what might happen if I go back to a world with Nightmare Moon in it."
"Are you sure? I don't want to leave you here to die."
"I'm sure. I think it would be nicer to die here then in that wasteland. The world has changed in five years, changed more then you could think. But I know you can fix it, you can make everything right again."
Zecora let out another cough before continuing. "All you have to do is smash the vial, it will create a portal big enough to let you out. Then you can get to work repairing everything."
Celestia sighed and nodded her head. "To be honest, I'm not sure how much I can do. My powers are not what they used to be, and I haven't had to fight in years."
"You will find a way, and you have proven to me you can fight. I believe in you Princess."
"I'm not a princess anymore, this is Nightmare Moon's kingdom now, not mine."
"You're still the princess I followed, and it's time to retake you throne. Go on Princess Celestia, it's time to leave."
Celestia took a deep breath and put the vial on the ground, raising her hoof up to smash it.
"Just remember Princess, this your kingdom, not hers. And above all, remember this-" Zecora coughed before finishing her sentence.
Celestia nodded to the zebra. "We"ll see each other someday, I promise."
Celestia brought her hoof down and smashed the glass vial, sending a wave of sparkles around her. The sparkles flew up and converged into a circle in front of her. She quickly leaped through it, her world spinning as the gravity changed.
A grey plain of grass greeted Celestia as she tumbled out of a gaping hole in reality. The portal behind her faded out of existence, leaving no trace of the mysterious Void.
Low breezes swept across the plains, making the dull trees dance. Celestia looked around at the world Nightmare Moon had created in her absence, it was lifeless and empty.
Zecora watched Celestia leap through the portal and disappear back to the real world. She leaned her head on the ground and let out a groan. As much as she always wanted to meet the princess, she didn't want it to be like that.
The Void undulated around her, she staredta it for a moment before her eyes started getting fuzzy. She blinked and shook her head. This place really was poison to the mind.
"How ironic." She mused to herself. She had loved alchemy her whole life, and now it wound up getting herkcuts to a different dimension where she would lay there waiting to die.
She chuckled to herself. "There is one thing I must insist, this is quite a cruel twist."
She let out a sigh and watched the world swirl around her. It had a strangely calming effect to it, it was foreign yet it was familiar.
This wouldn't be a bad place to simply sit and wait.
"I think I don't mind dying to a view like this." Zecora said to herself.
She closed her eyes and let her muscles relax. A wave of peace came over her, she felt completely relaxed as she laid in the swirling purple magic.
Celestia sat on the ground in the middle of the dark hilly plains. It wasn't anything like the land it used to be: bright and alive.
It was as if someone had re-made the world in black and white. She frowned as she looked around, it practically called out to her for help. But what could she do?
She thought for a moment. Nightmare Moon had the Elements of Harmony, if she could somehow get those back she might be able to beat her. The Elements had the power to fix the world, they could make everything right again.
But she had no idea where to begin. After her battle with Nightmare Moon she woke up in the middle of nowhere and it took her almost a week to reach Ponyville.
Who knew how long it would take to find something else. She could wander for days and find nothing.
She needed something to help tell her where to g-
"WAIT!" A colt's voice cried out from behind a hill.
"Wait! Waitwaitwait hold on don't start yet!"
Celestia heard the sound of hoofsteps running up a nearby hill.
"Don't start without me!" An earth pony stopped at the top of the hill and tripped over his hooves. He rolled down the hill and tumbled to a stop at the bottom.
The colt squirmed and stood upright. His coat was a light grey color and his spiky mane was a bright green.
"Ok I'm here, now you can go. Wait...." He looked around quizzically. "Did I miss it?"
His eyes widened as he looked around. "Oh come on! I missed it! Five years of waiting and I missed it! You have got to be kidding me." He stomped on the ground angrily.
Celestia simply stared at him, completely dumbfounded.
"What the hay Celestia, you could have waited a few minutes." He raised an eyebrow and looked at her.
"Um...I....excuse me?" Celestia stammered.
"The fight, the big battle between you and Zecora. I was gonna watch it but I had to sleep in, didn't I?"
"You knew about that?"
"Yeah, and it was gonna be awesome. But I guess I'll never know now."
"How did you know that was going to happen?" Celestia asked.
"I have my ways." He smiled and brushed his shoulder. "But seriously, you could have waited."
"Who are you?"
"Me? I have many names, I can never quite decide what I want ponies to call me." He said.
"Would name would you prefer I use?" Celestia frowned.
"Ah, there is one thing I like to introduce myself as. It's probably the closest thing I have to a real name." The colt walked a few steps up to Celestia and opened his mouth to speak.
"You know Celestia, you have the neatest hair, all wavy and stuff."
Celestia just stared at him.
"Sorry, I'm getting a bit off topic. That happens sometimes." He shrugged.
"You still haven't told me who you are or how you got here."
He stepped back before speaking. "Yes, my name, of course. As to that subject, you may call me Fate."
"Well it's...nice to meet you Fate." Celestia nervously stretched out her hoof.
Fate shook his hoof and beamed. "Likewise Princess."
-End Act I-