"It is a heretic that builds the fire, not she who burns within it."
The wind bore down heavily on the dimly-lit streets of City One, stirring up eddies of snow into miniature demons that flitted about the orange-hued forms of two near-motionless poniesthe biting cold stinging, slicing, and carving their miserable bodies. Daylight swallowed back tears as she carefully slipped her mother's book into the front of her torn sweater before swiping at her frost-encrusted eyes with a forehoof. Applejack moved to sit close to her, giving her a soft nuzzle.
"She was a good pony, Daylight. Come on, let's see if'n we can't get outta this snow," a shiver wracked the elder pony's frail form and Daylight looked up, concerned. "Ah'm not sure ah'll make it much longer out here
" Her kindly, world-weary eyes were frost-rimmed in the worsening weather as a forlorn smile crossed her face. In the glow of the magical street lamps, she almost seemed to shine.
Grasping and failing to find words to express her feelings, Daylight simply gave a slight nod. She looked hollowly around, trying to decide which course of action presented the least danger. The guards at the gate were of far too great a number to even attempt an escape, and the gate was too heavy to be moved in any case. And even if they did, by some miracle, succeed, Applejack was rightthe cold would get the best of them. What had seemed at first to be a simple if unpleasant snowstorm was now rapidly descending into a deep freeze, making even Daylight's young bones ache and her flesh sting and numb.
There was nothing back the way they had come, either; only the broad street, on which she had encountered the eerie pony
What was her name?... Pinkie Pie. Suddenly Daylight gave a short gasp of surprise that quickly turned to a moan of pain as the frozen air rent her throat and lungs. She did know that name! That pony. Though she had only spoken to her as a filly on a few occasions, Daylight began to recognize her. Pinkie Pie had been friends with her mother. She tried desperately to remember anything else, but her memory fell short and presented her with nothing more than an association between Pinkie Pie and pastries from a sweet shop.
Maybe Pinkie Pie wanted to help them, though, and that was why she had been looking for Daylight! Maybe, just maybe, she was their key to escape! But then, swifter than hope had warmed her heart, it fled. Daylight had seen how Pinkie had behaved, and there was no doubt that she was aligned with the State. They'd have to make their own way out
"The shops," Daylight whispered, almost to herself.
"What's that, sugar cube?"
"The shops," Daylight repeated, looking into Applejack's eyes. "We can wait out the night in one of the shops
out of the cold. Think of an escape plan."
Applejack, suddenly more animated, beamed and pressed closer against Daylight's body heat. "Ah, now I see! Seems like a plan! Lead the way."
As they quickly trotted back up the alley Daylight craned her head to and fro, searching for one very specific shop
the one that had caught her eye so intensely. The one with the dress. It was easily enough found despite a thick covering of hoarfrost, and Daylight stopped to examine the door. Although the pane of glass that housed the dresses may have been thin the door was made of thick and solid mahogany, faded from time, its golden gilding peeling from ornately carved grooves.
Biting down on the freezing knob and attempting to twist, Daylight tried desperately to open the door even as her teeth sent sharp, sour signals to her brain. When that failed she jerked her head back and forth, jiggling the knob as best she could, but to no avail. No matter how she pushed the door was jammed, its frame packed tightly with thick black ice. No doubt the ice had even seeped deep into the mechanism of the door to freeze the lock and hinges shut.
Suddenly Applejack stood beside Daylight, determination in her aged eyes. "Step back, Daylight. Ah may be old, but ah think ah got this."
Daylight watched her aunt creakily position herself facing away from the door before throwing all of her weight onto her forehooves. Her tattered hat flipped off of her head as she powered her legs backwards into the door in a mighty buck and small chips of ice flew in all directions to spatter piercingly on Daylight's bare face and hooves. A massive crack pierced the frigid air, easily audible even over the howling of the wind, as the door groaned and shifted. Despite her obvious discomfort Applejack moved herself into position once more; this time the crack was cut short as the door flew inwards, taking pieces of the jamb with it.
Applejack seized her hat from where it lay on the street. "In, now! They'll have heard that for sure!"
Once both were in the shop Applejack bucked the door tightly shut once again. Luckily the shop also had a door bar, which Daylight hastily but firmly slid into its holders to lock the door from the inside.
The street lamps' light filtered through the ice on the window to illuminate the interior with a wintery mithril light; just enough for Daylight to see. Dust motes swirled in the air, disturbed by the ponies' rapid entrance and drawn by a slight draft towards a staircase in the back corner. The faded, beautiful dress sat resplendent in its glass housing, stars shining even more exquisitely on this side of the window. Other articles began to catch Daylight's eyes as well: a magnificent purple sun hat, wide-brimmed and jaunty, sat atop a hat form beside the dress; a tarnished wreath of golden leaves rested beside that. Upon the shelves were a multitude of neatly folded dresses, covered in dust though they were
one clearly red and white striped, one rosy pink.
Slowly her eyes were drawn down from the shelves to countless piles of cloth strewn about, hanging off of their bolts, many torn to shreds. Needles and thread were carelessly thrown about. Amidst the wreckage a maroon lounge chair lay smashed and torn, a white shred of fabric bearing a dark and ominous stain atop the splintered wood. Applejack stared at the debris, shaking violently.
Daylight found herself disconnected, timidly stepping across the mess to the star-speckled dress despite the broken glass from what might once have been a magnificent vase crunching beneath her hooves. Ever so carefully she held up a hoof to touch the fabric of the dress, as though it were but a mirage that would shimmer away if she came too close, before touching it to her cheek. The faded blue fabric was luxuriously soft and finer than any she had ever felt, obviously woven from the most expensive of silken threads. The stars themselves were made from the thinnest metallic foil; not silver, but something different. Something magical.
Suddenly Daylight's eyes landed on a single metallic star positioned just behind the dress form's right ear. This star was different from the rest; it was far more radiant, far more glorious. Carefully she pulled it down, a tingle teasing her mind upon seeing it directly. Sometime long, long ago, her mother had shown her a star just like it. Using what magic she could muster, she clipped the star carefully into her mussed mane.
A shadow crossed the frosted glass and movement outside startled Daylight back into reality. She froze in horror as another shadow went by, closely followed by a third.
"Over here, Daylight!" Applejack's harsh, urgent whisper allowed Daylight to turn her head even through her sick fear. Applejack was standing over an open trap door, holding the hatch open with one hoof. With the other she motioned down into the darkness.
Loud voices echoed through the front door.
"I know I heard it! Sounded like somepony bangin' on something!"
Panic coursed through her and Daylight moved to Applejack as quickly and quietly as she could manage as a second voice filtered angrily into the shop.
"Check these doors!"
"Which ones?" The first voice again.
"All of them!"
Daylight rapidly passed through the hatch to descend the rickety flight of stairs into darkness, Applejack close behind. With a sputtering jolt Daylight magicked her horn to glow, dimly illuminating the basement room as Applejack seized a rope attached to the trap door with her teeth and yanked savagely downward. The hatch threw itself closed with a thud and a shadow from above indicated that a piece of fabric had fallen down over the edge, partially obscuring its outline even as thin rays of light from above shone down through the floorboards.
Daylight shivered from fear in the dank, moldy space, surrounded by mildew-speckled and rat-eaten piles of cloth. Two dress forms stood staring at the two ponies from a corner, like frozen corpses, their wretched skin sagging under years of decay and disuse. Beneath the forms lay a small patchwork mouse, a cat's toy, long ago forgotten. She retreated back to the top of the stairs, loath to stand amidst such a disturbing arrangement.
"Daylight! Douse the light!"
Upon Applejack's harried whisper Daylight immediately acquiesced, and just in time. The horribly familiar sound of a breaking door reverberated across the shop, the pieces of the lock board clattering across the floor before coming to a deathly silent rest only a meter from their basement door. A moment later, the tell-tale clip-clop of hooves echoed through the darkness.
"Search this place! I know somepony came in here!"
The hooves approached their hiding place, stopping dangerously close to the hatch. Daylight peered cautiously upward through the thin space between the boards. A shadowed figure was just barely visible, soft blue light illuminating a stark white coat underneath which gleamed a sharp glint of shined brass. She could see as the pony turned his head back and forth, ears rotating this way and that as he searched. Searched for her. Daylight held her breath, silently willing them to leave. Don't come here. Go away! Please, please!
The Peacekeeper narrowed his eyes as he checked the room one last time before hesitantly turning to leave, hooves clopping slowly on the scarred wood. Daylight let out the breath she hadn't even realized she had been holding, the slightest whisper of a sound issuing from her nostrils with a puff of vapor. The Peacekeeper abruptly stopped, and creeping fear washed over her in a wave. He turned again and light issued from his horn, dancing about and glittering in his cold eyes. He had only to search for a moment before the outline of the hatch became visible to him.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
He peered through the floorboards and his own cold gaze caught the glint of Daylight's terrified eyes. Their gazes met for one split second.
"Looks like we got us a mouse hiding under the floor, boys!"
He reared up and brought his forehooves crashing down on the brittle wood of the hatch, splintered wood flying in all directions. Daylight shrieked pitifully in pain as the sharp slivers struck her face to draw forth streaks of warm, sanguine blood. She tumbled backward down the staircase, landing hard on the stone-cold masonry with a thud and a cry. The Peacekeeper stood ominously above her on the stairs, advancing down with a horrific gleam of sick pleasure in his eyes.
Daylight shakily righted herself and a vein of blood dribbled from her lacerated forehead to land on her sweater, forming a dark and messy stain and bringing with it a sharp pain. She stared at the approaching Peacekeeper and anger began to bubble deep within her chest. A deep scowl tore at her face. No!
No, it wasn't going to end like this. They were going to get out of here one way or another!
A piece of loose stone was seized from beneath her hooves as her anger fueled her magic and with all the force and speed of a catapult was flung. She closed her eyes before the impact.
A sickening, wet crack. A thud.
Daylight's head swam woozily, the expenditure of magic having been almost too much. Blood continued to drip from her nose and forehead. She collapsed to her knees, and blackness very nearly fell. With a tremendous effort she fought it off. "Applejack
" she felt groggy, disconnected, unreal. "We gotta go Applejack
Applejack blinked as she turned her head to gaze at Daylight with a look of horror
and fear. She shuffled over to the unicorn, silent, no words. As Daylight opened her eyes and struggled back to her feet, Applejack looked away.
With as much speed as she could muster Daylight ascended the stairs. There would be more soon, and she was in no state to fight any more Peacekeepers. She froze as she passed the broken hatch. They couldn't go back out into the street. They would die. Instead, she turned her attention to the staircase she had noted upon first entering the shop.
The narrow metal steps spiraled upwards and up was somewhere, and somewhere, which was anywhere, was better than here. Halfway up the stairs, the sound of harsh voices was once again heard from below. It would be reinforcements, no doubt discovering their comrade in the room below.
"What in the
The stairs! I hear somepony going up there! To the roof!"
The metal staircase rattled like old bones with the rapid hooves of galloping Peacekeepers and terror once more set in. Daylight picked up the pace, adrenaline quickening her blood and driving away some of the wooziness. The Peacekeepers were not yet in sight as Applejack paused, taking a nervous glance down below her.
"Come on, Applejack!" Daylight yelled, throat raw.
The path to the roof was blocked at the top of the stairs by a rickety, ancient-looking door. It hung loosely on its hinges and was held shut only by a rusty padlock easily smashed by one of Daylight's hooves. As the brittle form easily shattered she swung it open to rush through into a dilapidated attic. The blizzard outside was visible through holes in the roofing, pieces of useless insulation and old furniture strewn across the floor. The only other exit was a small window on the far wall, no more than a meter across. Daylight shut the door behind her before using her magic to yank down a piece of the ceiling to wedge beneath the door. It wouldn't help much, but it could slow the Peacekeepers down just enough.
The window was heavily frosted and shone translucently, but was nailed shut. Without stopping to consider the consequences Daylight gave the glass a stout kick, sending broken glass and ice flying into the night. She winced as thin slivers of glass struck her legs and hindquarters and shivered from the pain, forehead still oozing blood. Through the shattered window stretched many rooftops, dark chimneys jutting towards the sky like gravestones. They were dizzyingly high
almost a full twenty meters up. Not a pony's length from the window, however, lay a long and flat roof.
A pounding came at the door, and Daylight knew that it wouldn't hold for long. Cracks were already visible, the center bulging dangerously. There was only one option.
"We gotta jump!" Daylight shouted.
Applejack's face was arrested in a look of shock. "What! I ain't jumpin'! Are you crazy?"
"You have to trust me," Daylight keened, glancing at the deteriorating door. "There's no time. Just follow my lead!"
A few steps back, and then Daylight was charging directly at the open window. She sailed through with a mighty leap and landed heavily on the next building's roof tiles, cracking several in the process. A few slipped, but the footholds were steady enough that she was able to keep from falling. She looked across at Applejack, still framed in the window.
"Now! Jump!" she hollered, the icy wind carrying away most of her voice.
Applejack uneasily took a step back, but then came flying through the window herself. She landed in a heap next to Daylight, shaken and bruised, as an audible crash echoed through the broken window. They began to run across the roof before Daylight suddenly stopped, attention broken by a noise. A tone was slithering through the chill air, eerie and familiar. No
it was the Siren. The City One Siren. Her heart sank as the words were spoken by a calm mare.
"Attention all residents and Peacekeepers of City One: there is a fugitive from justice loose within the city. Last seen attempting to flee on hoof. Name: Daylight Sparkle. Occupation: Department Secretary. She is wanted for multiple counts of murder and treasonous crimes against the State. Watch for a yellow unicorn accompanied by an orange earth pony."
Daylight winced and cursed. Just one more thing, one more problem barring their way to freedom. The wind began to lull, though it was an incredibly small relief. At least there was one good thing. There had to be some way out of here, even if they had to fling themselves from the battlements atop the castle and over the outer wall. They would escape!
A shape whistled through the air millimeters from Daylight's nose and embedded itself into the ceramic of the roof. She reared back in shock and looked down, startled. The feathered shaft of a long bodkin arrow still vibrated from the force of its impact, its venomous tip buried deep into the wood beneath the tiles. She took off, the Siren forgotten to her. Another arrow whizzed past, once more just barely missing her. Her hooves clacked sharply on the tiles as she galloped across the roof and dodged around the corner of a sloping tower, Applejack coming swiftly behind her. A few meters away she spotted a raised window jutting from a low slope of the roof and made a run for it, dashing with all of her speed, the frozen air like salt in her wounds.
THUNK! More arrows were loosed through the night sky.
The window was open, and she thanked the heavens that it hadn't been locked as she slid through the window frame with Applejack on her tail. They were in another attic, this time filled with many boxes and crates, stacked up one atop another like bricks in a wall. Their dark forms reached all the way up to the invisible ceiling, extending before them like a wooden maze. Daylight just barely managed the smallest spark from her horn to light their way; just enough to see for a couple of meters. She wobbled clumsily on her hooves, exhaustion setting in. She shook her head quickly, staving off the feeling for just a few more moments.
She searched the floor; somewhere would be a door or hatch that would lead out of the attic. There it was: only a meter distant, with a tarnished silver latch clearly visible and shining in the light from her horn. The hatch was easily lifted to reveal a gaping stairwell. She allowed Applejack down first, and held it open carefully as she sidled down herself. The hatch closed with a metallic ping, as though some sort of lock were being engaged.
The stairs were incredibly narrow, only wide enough for one pony, but quickly opened up at the bottom into a crumbling antechamber. Another door lay before them, this one a smooth hardwood that was nearly as dark as ebony. The handle was solid brass, dulled by a thick layer of dust that Applejack blew off before attempting to pull the handle. It didn't budge.
"Aw horsefeathersah guess ah'll have to buck this one too." She moved herself into position.
With a bang the door flew from its hinges, but not because of Applejack. It fell inward, almost crushing the elderly earth pony as she dodged the falling wood. Two Peacekeepers rushed in, stark white uniforms gleaming in the light of Daylight's horn and wielding batons. With a fierce blow the first viciously struck Daylight across the head. The world dissolved into chaos as light exploded around her, her silver star clattering noisily to the floor a mere second before she collapsed.
Everything began to spin, numbness spreading through her limbs. She stumbled and hit her head on the floor heavily, blood once more flowing from the gashes. The light from her horn gave out and blackness fell. Scuffling, thuds, and screams surrounded her. More ponies.
What are they saying?...
Daylight managed to look up weakly from where she lay on the floor. A shadowed figure hovered above her, blurred and out of focus. Her will gave out as she clutched the precious book hidden within her bloodied sweater, and she finally gave in to the darkness.