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Cynbel Ferode
by on June 29, 2020
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Off in the borders nearing the White Tail Woods, there was a sweet little hamlet that Cynbel frequently visited. Sweetcorn. It was a simple farming village that was untouched by the corruption of Equestria's xenophobic and morally bankrupt ways. They held no knowledge of the rumors of mistreatment and madness that often circulated around Cynbel, when he first arrived they simply saw a frail stranger in need of a soft bed and a warm meal. Their abundant fauna have proven to be nothing if not valuable to the young alchemist's research, which prompted many trips there in his lifetime. During his visits they've been extremely welcoming, mostly through discounted market prices, greetings on the streets and offerings of guidance. To Cynbel, it felt like home. His desires to fit in, to be who he wanted to be, they all came to fruition within the borders of Sweetcorn. The gentle hum of the water wheel felt much like the heartbeat of the settlement, quite literally. It pumped energy through the buildings, and in turn kept the fields fertile and irrigated. The true heart was in the kindness of the village-folk. Perhaps that is why he rushed out the door when he received the warning in the mail. It was a simple card, with one phrase. A statement that shot a chill of icy cold into into his frozen veins.
Sweetcorn will burn tonight.
He took the first train out to of Canterot, and let himself off at the closest train station, determination and panic fueled the half mile walk that remained. Already, he could see smoke billowing from the tree tops, so thick and black that not even the light of the full moon could peer through. When he arrived there was no gentle song of the wheel, or cheers of hearty village-folk. Screams of the dying replaced the obnoxious, yet charming songs of the drunken stallions who wanted to let loose after a day spent in the fields. All green had been tainted by ash and blood. A flaming board of wood fell in front of him, acting like a metaphorical curtain that tore away the fond memories of the now destroyed village.
Creatures flew in the night sky. Masses of flesh, gifted with leathery wings, stick-like legs and rows of teeth dangling from a swaying tubular neck. Such a creature was new to the victims of Sweetcorn, but not to Cynbel. These flesh bats, as he called them, were an alchemical monstrosity. What was once a beautiful product of nature, was now corrupted through forbidden transmutations powered by a philosopher’s stone. An abomination. There was no other word for it. Such practices weren't unheard of in the dark underbellies of his father's lab. That's when he realized just how familiar these creatures were to him. A memory so cruel that he made himself forget, but coming face to face with them unlocked a startling revelation.
Everything that he’s been trying to prevent has come to pass.
He summoned the courage to conjure a piercing bolt from his horn that struck one of the wretched creatures from the sky, causing it to fall down to the earth with a wet thud. The remaining creatures panicked and scattered in differing directions. His horn glowed, charging up another bolt... until he noticed a shape moving from the string of corpses. A survivor? His instincts kicked in and he ran toward the pony and crouched down beside her. She was older, weak-looking, covered in a mass of teeth marks, burns and ash. "Don't move! I'm here to help. Please, just stay with me."
The mare’s almost drained of life entirely. She slowly moved her head up, a smile of gratitude forming on her face. That quickly changed when she saw the face of her rescuer. Her stare turned harsh, despite her energy fading. She weakly slapped her hoof away and croaked, “You... did this.” Her accusing eyes, while still weak, held a burning fire beneath her dulling irises.
His heart tightened in his chest, constricting his breath and removing all heat in the air around him. He felt numb. Cold. Where did she get the idea? He lowered himself to look her in the eyes. Tears almost came spilling out. He swallowed the air in his throat and tried to choke out a few words. “N...No, I didn’t. I wouldn’t do this! I tried to stop this, I-- I..."
“Quiet," she said through a raspy breath. "You can’t even speak truth to a dying, old mare? Leave me be, Demon. May you burn for what you've done..."
Demon. The one word that's haunted him his whole life. A moniker that wouldn't leave him be no matter what he tried to do to fight against it... and now it's somehow made its way here. His one area of safety has yet again been defiled by his family.
The mare wheezed out her final breath, leaving only the crackling of flames behind as a somber reminder that all the other villagers had met the same fate. Even the snarling growls of the monsters have faded into silence as they disappeared into the forest and beyond. All that was left was the lone alchemist, wiping his eyes as he fought to see through the tears. This might as well have been his home, yet it was burned to the ground. Its villagers— slaughtered, like livestock.
A soft humming harmonized with the popping blaze. Gentle, low, and to a tune that Cynbel was most familiar with. He recognized it as a song he made up in his younger days, a simple learning trick to memorize the eight noble gases.
He was able to make out a cracked piece of glass in the remains of a burning home, the edge broken in all the right spots for a makeshift dagger. His horn flowed and swiped it up and held it close by, at a readied stance. A figure began to walk ominously slow, its features obscured by the shadow-casting flames, save for a dull blue stare.
A familiar voice spoke through a column of smoke. “Tears? Interesting. I thought we didn’t cry anymore.”
He felt an icy chill go down his spine. Little by little the pony revealed more of themself. Frail, baby blue legs carefully stepped over a piece of burning lumber. Their hair, blond and horribly disheveled. Cynbel swallowed the lump in his throat and met the stranger halfway... only to see a perfect copy of him, standing tall with a sickened smile on his face. A changeling? That would be the easiest guess, and likely the most simple answer, but one flash of his true sight spell disproved this theory. Whatever was before him was no changeling, it didn’t even seem to be organic. Traces of clay kept its body bound tight. Life-giving abrahamic dust. It checked all the marks of a homunculus, but he’s never known one to survive being life-sized... unless someone perfected the recipe. Regardless, something was wearing his face. That gave him plenty of reason to attack. He slowly approached the construct while keeping the glass close. His dull, icy eyes scanned nearby for anything the doppelgänger might use to attack. It seemed oddly calm. “Remove my face, impostor,” Cynbel spat.
The Other simply laughed, and took two steps closer. It greeted him with a smile, a direct contrast to Cynbel’s vengeful glare. “Why, when Father has so rightfully given it to me?”
Cynbel felt his breath getting sucked out when he heard the impostor speak. Not only did it sound exactly like him, but it was clearly taunting Cynbel's confusion and All those sleepless nights of wondering when Father would enact his next move led up to this moment. His father’s dream of conquering Equestria through countless horrors seemed to be slowly setting itself in motion. This poor village was likely meant to be a testing grounds for such an attack, with the perfect scapegoat standing just in front of him. Whoever this was, he couldn’t let him leave alive. He knew what had to be done. “Then I’ll remove it for you.”
As soon as Cynbel charged forward, the doppelgänger pushed back with a kinetic barrier that began at Cynbel’s hooves, and threw him back at an angle into a wooden wall. The alchemist tumbled back, rearing from the pain. He tried breathing out to groan, but his lungs were empty. A panicked gasped reset his body, filling his lungs with an emergency supply of the scorched air. Everything was blurry. He saw a flash of blue, and then the impostor appeared directly in front him, looming over. Cynbel tried to react with a quick channel of slashing magic aimed at his legs, but the double had given him a swift kick to the head before it could connect, cancelling the channel and keeping Cynbel down on the heated floor. Gasps and sobs took the place of any insults that would otherwise normally be thrown. Fear was a powerful silencer. Cynbel cursed his burden of a body, and his fear for getting in the way of things... no matter how desperately he tried, he couldn’t find the strength in him to stand back up. The other leaned his head down and used his magic to pull on that rat’s nest of a mane and brought the alchemist’s ear to his mouth.
“To think I was created in your image. It’s almost sad. I was so excited to meet you— to see just what this ‘Demon of Alchemy’ I’m supposed to be is. You’re just a sad little stallion, trying to belong in a world that no long rejected you.”
Cynbel sputtered out a cough. Everything was so dream-like, the surreality of the monsters and whoever this was... the blurred vision from the battle and the burning air around him served no purpose in establishing the legitimacy of what was going on. Many questions flooded his mind, but only one would come to fruition as his jellified brain sent the signals down to form the words. “What are you?”
“‘In order to eliminate any confusion, you can call me Scratch. Mr. Scratch, if you’re feeling formal. As for what I am? Ehyeh asher ehyeh,” the creature replied in an unknown tongue. A translation followed after he shot the alchemist a sickening grin. “I am what I am. Right now, I’m you.”
“You’re not me...” he sleepily mumbled, his eyes fighting to stay open.
“I know that. You know that. But I wonder if the world will know? Can the guards find the difference between us? Can Lucid...?” the double clicked, cancelling the channel and allowing Cynbel’s head to fall down with a thud. He turned around and began the slow saunter out. His taunts rendered the alchemist silent. Scratch knew about Lucid... it only made sense. He dreaded thinking about what harm may befall her thanks to this monster. His rage burned a hole in his throat, yet his body refused to move. “You’d better hope no one survived, else they may get us two confused. We’re so alike, you and I. Failures. Hated. The only difference is I’m merely a shadow, doomed to be whatever my original self is. I was born a failure, while you were kicked right off your ivory tower and fell into the cesspool that turned you into... whatever this is. You had the whole world in your hoof and you squandered it. I might just be the unluckiest impostor in the world to have to be following in your shadow.”
Those stinging, parting words would be the only sound aside from the flames. A flash of blue popped Mr. Scratch out of the area, and leaving Cynbel alone entirely. The distant cries of surviving monsters signaled oncoming chaos for the surround area.
His consciousness was fading, but it never truly went. He was tempted to just lay there until Celestia knows what happens. His body ached, and his breath was shallow at best. It wasn’t a good mentality to have, but... maybe he should just let whatever is destined to happen happen.
That notion was quickly thrown out the window as he remembered Scratch’s offhanded threat regarding Lucid. He couldn’t die here. There’s no telling what the fake had up his sleeve for his beloved. He swallowed what little air his lungs would take and use that to find the strength to rise. His head throbbed... and the pain continued. The flames quieted. The monsters were gone. No one was around.
He shambles outside and was met with the sun peeking through the lines of the clouds. The fires have died down, now only smoldered wood marked where the village’s homely essence used to be.
“Hello?” Cynbel called out. Nothing. Not even the chirp of birds. The only answer was his echo. He was alone again. There was nothing he hated more than being alone.
Topics: loregang, rat lore