With a last, flickering glow of orange light, Princess Celestia watched the sun dip below the horizon. She instantly relaxed the mystical bond anchoring her subconscious, her presence, her power, to the golden disc. The link wavered for a moment and then dissipated into nothing, disappearing like smoke in the wind.
Celestia gasped as a wave of fatigue swept through her, sending her vision reeling. She stumbled backwards like a newborn foal from the balcony and into her chamber. Her legs, legs that had once been strong and unyielding, shook underneath her, trembling as if the very earth itself were moving. Her horn flared briefly, and several candles spluttered into life, casting a weak amber glow around the room.
The Princess attempted to levitate several scrolls onto her desk in an act of denial. The magic shimmered into existence, and the parchment began its short journey over to the alicorn. She held it for a fraction, before the spell slipped from her gasp, nearly taking her consciousness with it. The Princess fell to her knees, feeling the power ebb and flow, but always leaving. Always leaving.
Not now. I thought I had more time! I need just a little bit longer.
Celestia shuddered, unable to control the forces pulling on her. She was thin, stretched mentally out further than she, nor anypony, had ever thought possible. The power… the responsibility… it had taken so much. Demanded everything. And now she was paying the price for her work, for controlling what was not hers. She was finally being forced to stop.
“Luna...” she whispered, her vision almost completed gone. “Luna…”
The complete silence of her chambers echoed back at the alicorn. It reverberated off of the ornate stone walls, soaked into the luxurious cream-coloured carpet. The drapes and curtains framing the windows shook gently as it passed by. Her strength. Her power. It was slipping from between her hooves, dancing away almost gleefully.
Princess Celestia raised her head as the darkness ebbed in from the edge of the world. She couldn’t fight. She couldn’t plan. She had to accept. The sun would rise again. Luna… would... Luna could… Luna…
The Princess tried to summon forth the strength to compose a letter. She felt the energy flow to her horn, where it pooled just inside her subconscious. She could feel it waiting… but there it failed. The power marshalled, only to slip away before she could cast it outwards.
“Luna…” the Princess whispered again. “Learn… Sister… forgive.”
Celestia let her head fall back down, her mane settling itself around her like a pool of light. Rather than fight the darkness, she let it in now, closing her eyes to hasten its progress. Rest. Sleep. Respite.
The Goddess of the Sun drifted away, her mind falling into a place that was not of this world.
With a flash of purple energy, the unicorn materialised outside of the palace gates. The night sky transformed the world into one of constant shadow, washed with blue and purple tones. She shook her head briefly in an attempt to clear it as a bead of sweat coursed down her brow agonisingly slowly. Her gaze snapped towards to the sight of four royal guards walking purposefully towards her, each dressed in golden armour that shone despite the lack of any real light.
“Twilight Sparkle,” the elder one in front said, wasting no time with any sort of greeting. “You have been summoned by her Royal Majesty, Princess Luna. Immediately.”
Twilight frowned. “Well, I know that. After all, her letter got me to teleport from Ponyville to here in the dead of night.” She stopped, appraising each of the guards carefully. “Do… do you know why?” she asked much more quietly.
Twilight watched as one of the guards near the back flinched. “I am afraid we do not,” the captain said. “The Princess insisted that she speak with you first.”
“What about Princess Celestia? Why did Luna summon me and not her?”
Another flicker of emotion crossed the guards’ faces. Twilight knew that look. That was the look Fluttershy had gotten in front of the dragon’s lair… before she had learned to overcome her fears.
“I… what happened?” Twilight said. Her voice suddenly sounded so very small.
“If you would please come with us,” the guard said again, his voice wavering ever so slightly beneath the surface.
“I… right away. Of course.”
The guards immediately took to each of Twilight’s corners, forming a protective square around the unicorn. She followed as they walked in perfect synchronisation towards the castle. A small ball of ice seemed to have formed within her stomach, and it jolted uncomfortably with each step.
They entered the palace swiftly, not pausing as the great wooden doors swung inwards to let them in. The great hall was filled with dozens of ponies. Most of them were aristocrats or nobles, clothed in ridiculous examples of Canterlot fashion that only Rarity would have been able to appreciate. Some were guards, standing at attention by all of the entrances and exits. Everypony who was not clad in enchanted armour was whispering, falling silent the second Twilight entered the room.
Twilight shifted uncomfortably under the intensive stares of everypony assembled. A few started to murmur again, casting furtive glances in her direction.
The whispers floated around the room like ghosts. Princess… Luna… Night… Gone…
They passed through the hall and into an adjoining hallway. Lanterns hung from the walls bathing the masonry in a golden light. Doors led off on both sides, and Twilight could hear voices whispering dully from inside them. Some were fast, anxious, agitated. Others were angry. Some were scared.
They entered another corridor, moving swiftly past the semi-circular pillars lining the walls, framed by hanging white flowers. Twilight knew where they were going; they were headed to the Princess' private wing. With her escort, they ascended a short staircase and turned another corner before Celestia’s office door came into view. The door was open, and silver light spilled out into the corridor. Voices drifted out, low and nervous. Twilight couldn’t help but notice that they sounded exactly the same as the ones in the rooms behind her.
“I would ask you to hold your tongue! Such words are not fit for these walls, Top Hat.”
“With all due respect… Princess, the palace is terrified. What is wrong with her? Can we get her back? Is she going to be ok?”
“I do not know!” Luna shouted, her voice cracking. “Twilight Sparkle should be here in a moment. I-”
“I’m here, Princess,” Twilight said as she entered the room. Everypony stopped and stared. There was a small collection of castle officials, dressed in the traditional finery of the palace. They looked tired; bags hung under their eyes, manes were unkempt and ties were loose and too long.
“Twilight!” Luna cried out. Suddenly, everypony’s gaze switched back to her, and her eyes darted subtly. “It is a relief to see you here, Twilight,” the Princess said again, this time much more levelly.
“What… happened, Princess?”
Luna regarded her carefully. “My faithful subjects, would you do us the pleasure of leaving, so I may speak with my sister’s faithful student alone?” Her voice was calm, but there was an edge of ice to it that made Twilight’s skin crawl.
One by one, everypony in the room glanced between Twilight and the Princess before nodding, murmuring their assent and leaving. Each one threw one last anxious glance over their shoulders as they left.
When they were alone, Luna again faced the purple unicorn. “Twilight,” she said, staring at her with large, sapphire eyes. “I... do not know what… I do not understand…” She looked away. “You are the only pony who can help me, Twilight.”
“What happened, Princess? Where is Celestia? Why did you ask me to come alone?”
Luna inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself. She took a moment before finally replying. "Twilight, my sister is unconscious. The serving staff found her soon after sunset when they came to bring her dinner."
Twilight felt like the world disappeared away from beneath her hooves, sucked into a whirlpool of horror. "What?! How? What caused it? Is she sick? Have we been attacked?!" Her voice was louder than a shout at the end, but she did not care.
"Please, Twilight, listen to me!" Luna said, her eyes large and pleading.
Twilight stared back at her. A moment passed between them. "O-ok. What happened? What do we know?" She tried to keep her voice calm, level. She was not sure she succeeded.
"Almost nothing," Luna admitted painfully. "We have been unable to discern what has happened to her. There is no magical residue. There are no signs of physical harm. There are no traces of physical poisons or toxins."
"That doesn't make sense!"
Luna bit her lower lip. "I know, Twilight. All we know is that she appears to be... trapped within her own mind."
"What?" was Twilight's eloquent response.
"She..." Luna stopped, thinking to herself. "Do you know anything of the dreamscape, Twilight?"
"I feared as much," Luna said. She took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts. "The dreamscape is a place of pure magic, Twilight. It is a plane of existence that exists in all of us, binding our subconscious to magic."
Twilight blinked. "That's incredible... I... I haven't heard anything about it before..."
"Yes," Luna agreed. "Nopony really did know about it even before my exile. Since returning, I cannot find any mention of it whatsoever in academia, only in myths and legends."
"But what is it? This dreamscape? What does it do?"
A flicker of emotion crossed the Princess' face. It was a distant expression, remembering some sort of vague memory. "It builds dreams for us, Twilight. It constructs worlds for us when we sleep so that we can escape the trials of the day."
"So are you saying that the Princess is trapped in a... dream?"
Luna frowned. "Not quite, but I do not know how else to describe it. The dreamscape builds dreams for us, but it is not the dream itself."
Twilight sat down heavily, trying to work through the issue in her head. "But if she's trapped inside of this 'dreamworld', how do we get her out?"
'Well, as you might have guessed, we cannot just wake her up. I have tried, but the root of her condition lies not in her physical being."
"But what can we do?! Somepony has to rule; Equestria has to have the Princess." Twilight froze, realizing her words. Her eyes went as wide as dinner plates. "You have to rule, Princess! You have to rule Equestria!"
"No!" Luna's voice cried out, echoing loudly in the chamber. "No," she said, much quieter when Twilight flinched. "I cannot, not alone."
Twilight was about to ask why not, but the Princess had already guessed her question.
"The sun, Twilight. I cannot raise the sun. I have tried to reach it, but it eludes my grasp. I... I cannot touch it." She hung her head, suddenly looking so much smaller, a nervous foal like in the Everfree Castle so many months ago.
Twilight felt a rush of sympathy, as well as a burning desire to look away. She didn't want to see the Princess like this, not so defeated and so unsure. Even though she knew next to nothing about magical dreamworlds, she did know when a friend needed her help. She walked up and wrapped a foreleg around Luna's shoulders, hugging her gently. The Princess stiffened a little at first, but soon relaxed into the embrace.
"So what do we do, Princess? How do we get her back?" Twilight asked, trying her best to remain calm.
Luna took a deep breath, breaking the hug and taking a step back to look Twilight in the eyes. "Well, we have to enter her mind and return her to the waking world."
"We... we can do that?"
"At the very least we should be able to interact with her, when we find her, that is. We should be able to at least find out what happened, and how we can go about fixing it."
Twilight nodded, thinking hard. "Then we go in, together, and we find the Princess and we bring her home."
Luna smiled. "Thank you, Twilight. Your... your offer means a lot to me. I do not ask such a burden upon you lightly; I would not were there any other options."
"I wouldn't have it any other way, Princess. I'm glad you called me. We can fix this together." She paused, deciding to ask the question. "But why me, Princess? Why did you ask for my help?"
"Because of the bond you share with my sister," Luna replied, her voice strained. "The dreamscape recognises those who enter it, and I believe that having you as well as me might make our task easier in finding her and getting her to respond."
Twilight nodded, and smiled at the Princess. "Don't worry; we will find her and bring her home. You'll see."
The Goddess of the Night took a deep breath, a grateful smile resting on the edges of her lips. “Well then, if we are to go in and find Sister before dawn…” She cast a glance out of the window, staring up at the midnight-blue night sky. “We must leave soon.”
“Do we tell the nobles? Let them know what we’re doing?”
Luna thought for a moment, her lips pressed together tightly. “Hmm. Yes. I believe that you are probably correct. We need to establish some sort of order before we leave.” The Princess’ horn burst into light and a bell suddenly chimed sweetly through the air. Within seconds, the door to her chambers slid open and an elderly earth pony mare entered.
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Summon the inner circle. We have business that needs attending to immediately.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the pony repeated before stepping out of the room with a small bow.
“We have a plan,” Luna said softly, seemingly to herself.
When the officials had arrived, Twilight watched as Luna did her best to establish some kind of caretaker system. Nopony seemed to know what to do. It had never really been considered; the thought of not having a Princess with things under control was alien to most of these ponies. Twilight did her best to help, suggesting strategies to keep the court organised, or to pronounce a holiday for Luna’s return, one that deserved an extended night – anything, really, that would keep calm throughout the nation.
With a makeshift council assembled, one that would keep the nobles in check for as long as possible, Luna dismissed them again to fulfil their duties. Twilight watched as each one left the room, some glancing back, their faces torn between emotions.
Still, they all left. They had a job to do.
When they were alone, Luna turned to Twilight again, her expression grave, but her wide eyes betraying her real emotion. “Follow me, Twilight Sparkle. I shall take you to her.”
Together, they left Celestia’s office. Four guards immediately snapped to attention, trailing them with discipline and focus, their hooves ringing loudly in the hallways. Too loudly, Twilight thought.
They wound their way through the convoluted system of corridors that formed the multi-faceted system of rooms throughout the higher levels of the palace. A silence rested between them like a fog, the absence of words stifling rather than revealing. There was a tension around them that chilled the air to where the unicorn couldn’t help but shiver.
Celestia was being kept in her chambers, far away from any prying eyes. Four guards waited at attention outside her door, watching the pair and their escort approach with visible caution.
“Your Majesty,” one of the guards said, snapping his wing in salute. “Do you wish to enter?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The guard nodded and turned to his companions, who were already moving to open the door.
Twilight and Luna entered, the former full of apprehension. The unicorn gasped as she stepped into the room.
Princess Celestia lay on the elegant bed, her wings trapped tightly against her sides. Her mane had lost all of its previous ethereal nature and was lying around her like bright-pink pool of liquid. Her coat lacked its usual shine, a flat white rather than the luminescent glow it had possessed before.
“Princess…” Twilight murmured, rushing to her side. “Luna… we have to help her!” She looked up at the Princess of the Night, her expression imploring.
“I… I know, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna replied softly, her gaze fixed on her older sister. “And we shall.” She held Twilight’s gaze for a moment before looking away, her eyes flickering shut.
Twilight looked to the Princess with expectation. She didn’t want to rush her, but she was burning with nervousness. The Princess could be danger, and they weren’t doing anything to help her. “What now?” was all she said.
“Well… are you sure you wish to embark on this quest with me, Twilight?”
Twilight nodded quickly.
“Then it is simple. But I must warn you, Twilight, the dreamscape will be unlike anything you have ever encountered before. In there, everything will have meaning, everything will have a purpose. It is all constructed by the pony, after all. Be on the lookout, and do not discount anything.”
Twilight nodded, taking a short breath. “Ok, I understand.”
“Then let us be off.” Luna inhaled deeply, her horn suddenly glowing, encased in a shimmering blue light. She walked over to Celestia and touched her horn with the sleeping alicorn’s. Immediately, a bright flash engulfed the room, and Twilight blinked several times to clear the spots still lingering in her vision.
“I would ask that you relax… this may feel a little… strange.”
Luna lowered her still-glowing horn to Twilight’s. The unicorn closed her eyes when she felt contact, sucking in one last deep breath. She was dimly aware of a blinding flash just outside the protective shell of her eyelids, and then suddenly, her body was pulled away, straight into darkness.
Twilight was vaguely aware of the sensation that she was moving… and fast. Nothing and everything seemed to fly past her, embracing her, pulling her, pressing down on her on all sides. She tried to get a hold of her magic, but she did so in vain. She knew where it was meant to be, and what she wanted to happen, but nothing did. She was useless, unable to see, feel, or use spells. She didn’t even have a body in this void.
Suddenly, the pulling sensation began to grow worse. She wanted to whimper as the forces coercing her on all sides started to squeeze her mind, testing its strength, placing it under pressure. A high-pitched whine suddenly filled her non-existent ears, growing louder with each passing second.
Another sound entered the void. The sound of voices. They were whispering, laughing, screaming. Twilight felt like she should be shuddering in fear, but there was nothing to move with. She was forced to listen to the cacophony slowly building within her mind. Twilight was suddenly filled with the feeling that something, somewhere, had gone terribly, terribly wrong.
The darkness was everywhere. It was everywhere, and Twilight couldn’t feel a thing. She wanted to scream. She wanted to scream to drown out the sounds, to suppress the feelings eating at her mind like little insects.
Then, suddenly, almost as if it had never happened, everything stopped. Twilight felt herself seemingly materialise around her consciousness as her body fell down onto the cool grass beneath her. Her stomach rolled turbulently, threatening to empty itself. She inhaled deeply, relishing in the feeling of her lungs expanding with air.
Twilight opened her eyes. She was laying on wide open pasture coloured the deepest shade of steel blue. It stretched out as far as she could see, rolling over a gently undulating landscape. There was not a tree in sight. The land was completely empty.
“Lu- Luna?” Twilight whispered, finding her voice incredibly hoarse, almost if she herself had been the one screaming.
There was no reply.
“Luna?” Twilight called out again, this time louder. “Luna?! Are you there?!”
A gentle breeze caressed her, flattening the grass around her with a quiet rush of noise. Twilight got to her hooves, looking desperately around her to the horizons as panic hissed and burned at her stomach like acid.
Luna was nowhere to be seen. There was nothing except for an endless stretch of steel blue grass. Except…
Slowly, Twilight turned around and gasped.
A city. A gigantic metropolis sprawled out in front of her, tall, regal towers, sprawling plazas, elegant manors and great halls, all inter-connected by a labyrinth of roads, highways and streets, some of which had been suspended high above the buildings, mighty highways linking the towers together. A great wall ringed the metropolis, standing high and mighty in a proud gesture of strength. From the back, looking reminiscent of Canterlot with its marble walls and multi-towered structure glistening in the sunlight, a gigantic palace rose up with a great golden domed ceiling. Almost every building was decorated with silver or golden lining that swept along the marble like vines. Atop of the tallest towers, Twilight could see banners fluttering gently in a wind that she couldn’t feel.
The city was majestic, ornate and beautiful, yet it was deathly silent. The streets were empty, and no sound echoed forth from its stony walls.
Behind the city, a great mountain soared into the sky, a tower of earth and stone. Twilight craned her neck back squinting hard, but she could not make out the summit.
“Where am I…?” Twilight said to nopony. The silence that followed her voice sent the acid in her stomach churning violently.
Another gust of wind pressed at her from behind, pushing her towards the city with gentle reassurance. Twilight gulped, her mind reeling.
She was in Celestia’s mind, that much she knew, but this… how could this be anypony’s mind, let alone Celestia’s? It looked so real, so majestic, dwarfing even Canterlot with its scale and ambition of design. It was a masterpiece of marble and metal, organic and elegant, shining against the rocky backdrop behind it.
Twilight took a deep breath to calm the fear burning in her stomach. She couldn’t panic, not here, not now. She had to stay focused, stay on target. Celestia needed their help, and the only way to do that was to find Luna and re-group... and fast. Who knew how time passed when inside this dreamscape, and the Princess had said they had to be out come the dawn back in Equestria.
Perhaps they had only been separated, Twilight thought, and that Luna was trying to find her right now even as she stood here. With a weak sense of hope, Twilight latched onto that idea tightly. Luna would come to her!
She waited a few minutes, standing still in the knee high grass, scanning the sky for any sign of the midnight alicorn. The sky was a brilliant shade of cyan, devoid of even a single cloud. The sun was larger here than in Equestria. Twilight watched as flares and plumes of solar fire seemed to explode outwards from its surface, visible despite the incredible distance.
Five minutes passed, and there was no sign of Luna. The world was unchanging. The occasional gust of wind nudging her toward the city and the sun were the only things that moved. The Princess wasn’t coming to find her. That either meant one of two things: Luna wasn’t here, or she was trapped inside somewhere in the city. Either way, that left her only one possible location she could go in an attempt to find a way out. There was only one way home.
Biting her lip, trying to stay brave, Twilight set out for the only landmark she could see.
The wind simply pushed her along.
As always, my eternal gratitude to my editor, Sessalisk, without whom this story would be a bigger mess than what it already is. Also, a special thank you to Sparkle for his help with this chapter. It helped a lot!
A thank you to xX-Mr-No-Name-Xx for the incredibly awesome artwork! Be sure to check out his DA and check out his other cool artwork!
And finally, a massive and sincere thank you to everyone for reading! Let's go a on a little adventure with this, shall we? It should be good fun.
It was not long before the grass beneath Twilight’s hooves quickly changed into a path of shining marble, the stone almost glowing in the sunlight. The city loomed on the horizon in front of her, lit up like a lamp. The mountain framed the city behind it, dwarfing even the tallest spires with its size and bulk.
It was incredible, but all Twilight was focused about was the city – the only real possible way out of this place. She looked out at the rapidly approaching metropolis, trying to make out the details.
A shining wall standing over seventy feet high spanned the perimeter of the city. Huge automatons of rock with two thick and bulging cylindrical arms and legs watched as sentinels with great swords resting in their grip, the stone points touching the wall beneath them. They were set apart evenly along the battlements, one every hundred or so paces.
Mighty watchtowers were built into the wall at equal intervals, as were magnificent gates of some deep-red wood and gold. All of these were closed, except for the one directly in right of Twilight’s position. Two alicorns had been fixed to the burgundy-coloured wood as decoration, one gold, and the other silver, both of them standing triumphant. Vines of metal curved around them like a spider-web, clinging to the stone supports on either side.
Twilight had long since stopped trying to work out what on earth this place was meant to be. Luna had said something about the dreamscape reflecting a pony’s personality or history, but she could not come up with a reason as to what all this meant. It was probably someplace Celestia had seen, but what, or where, or even when, Twilight could not guess. She just marvelled at the structure with open-mouthed awe.
No small part of her wished that her friends were here. Together they might be able to think of something more definitive than ‘go to the city’. She had nopony but herself, and she had no idea where she was.
She shook her head violently, scolding herself for thinking like that. She had to try and stay positive. If she started to let the panic get to her, she wouldn’t be able to think clearly. She had read all about it a year ago, in a book on the psychology of dealing with stressful situations. Not for the first time in the past twenty minutes, she reminded herself to find that book and give it a thank-you read through when she got home.
The city walls rushed up to meet her, the path widening out into a wide highway right before the gate. The mighty doors were open, the alicorns emblazoned on each calling her forward.
Taking a deep breath, Twilight walked past the gates in wonder, staring around at the surrounding buildings. Clean, white walls soared skyward, and every window was filled with stained-glass. The streets were impeccably clean. It was almost supernatural how no dust clung to the smooth, rounded cobblestones.
She decided to head toward the massive, golden roofed palace in the city centre. The domed ceiling was impossible to miss, and the mighty spires surrounding it only made the building easier to find. Plus, it seemed logical to Twilight that the best place to try and find the Princess would be the palace. It was at least a place to start, and it was thus better than nothing. Having somewhere to go to helped her keep the acidic panic at bay.
Twilight noticed that there didn’t seem to be any bricks in any of these buildings. More than that, there didn’t appear to be a single sharp angle in the entire city. It was as if all of the walls were shaped out of one, curving and continuous block of stone. Upon closer inspection, the unicorn could see that, in fact, almost everything appeared to be made of a single piece of marble. Even the joins between the roof and the walls were seamless, curving gently as it flowed onto the next part of the building. The same was true for the stone on the streets; it all ran into each other faultlessly, forming one cohesive body.
The buildings didn’t look built… they looked grown. Natural creations of magic beyond anything she had ever imagined rather than any creation of hooves or simple levitation. Even Canterlot could not boast this level of craftsmanship. It was impeccable, styled perfectly to be functional, beautiful, and eternal.
This place just wasn’t real… Twilight shook her head. It was just a dream land. It wasn’t real. It was all in her head.
Looking around at the organic-looking buildings, however, she found herself doubting even that.
Twilight meandered her way through the streets, always aiming towards the majestic palace on the horizon. She went through countless courtyards, markets and thoroughfares. Twilight stared in wonder at a gigantic hall she found, the structure supported by rows of pillars that stretched to over fifty feet high. A flight of steps ascended to the complex underneath, and it was surrounded by small lakes that ran their way around like a moat. All around her, the mighty towers loomed in the sky, bastions of civilisation and power.
However, it was completely deserted.
After walking through the city for what felt like an hour, Twilight couldn’t help but notice that the stone seemed less bright than before. The luminescence was gone, replaced instead by the flat-white of stone she was familiar with back in Equestria. She looked around, confused, trying to work out why the buildings here had suddenly lost their shine compared to the ones back earlier in the city. Finding nothing, she continued onwards, frowning to herself.
Another twenty minutes later, Twilight rounded a corner on the street she was on and stopped abruptly. She was standing in a courtyard, not unlike many she had seen before. However, right in the middle, a small flight of steps led up to a dais on which was a statue of shining silver. It was an alicorn, its proud head facing the sky, one leg held off the ground in victory. The winged statue was set against a backdrop of two slabs of granite that formed a rough semi-circle behind it. The rock was a black so glossy that it shone in the daylight.
Looking a little closer, Twilight could have sworn that there were words carved onto the black marble. She moved a little closer, squinting to try and see.
There were indeed words on the stone, as black and cold as obsidian. Rough gouges slanted and scratched were cut into the stone, dark smears just discernible around the marks.
Twilight read the words out loud, “Lessons. Learn. Forgive.”
Almost as if the world itself were listening, the courtyard suddenly erupted into life. A strong wind swept through the city like a typhoon, blowing with it a deluge of leaves that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. The wind carried with it a voice, a genderless, ephemeral whisper that lingered in Twilight’s subconscious.
Twilight shivered, but before she could speak, the wind and the voice were gone, leaving nothing but the dead leaves it had brought with it. The words hissed in Twilight’s memory, taunting her with their simplicity. It was a message, that much was obvious. But from who, and for what purpose, she was confused as a small filly. It could have been from Celestia, but why?
It made no sense whatsoever, and it was driving Twilight crazy. She stamped her hoof against the marble in frustration, and the sound echoed back to her plaintively, reverberating around the abandoned stone that surrounded her on all sides.
Twilight fell quiet. She took a deep breath and fell back on her plan. She walked to the other side of the courtyard, leaving the statue and its magic behind her.
A little while later, still surrounded by sprawling houses, Twilight began to wonder who on earth had built or lived in such a city. She stared up at what looked like a massive mansion, the walls lined with fine threads of silver and gold. Twilight couldn’t help but notice that a small web-like pattern of cracks ran through the building, and the corners of the windows looked… stained, beaten and abused by the weather.
“Huh…” Twilight said slowly, looking closer at the cracks. They hadn’t been there only a few minutes before…
The unicorn stopped, staring at the thick lattice of vines that had crept over the roof of one of the buildings. It was met with a series of wide cracks, and the glass in the windows was gone, leaving their frames hollow, revealing nothing of the darkened interiors beyond. The stone was no longer white; it was now a dull grey, the stone looking like it had been stained by aeons of weather exposure.
The unicorn looked behind her and she froze; she no longer recognised the very buildings she had walked passed a mere minute ago. Vines had crawled along walls and weeds had sprung up along the roads through cracks that had not existed only moments before. Glass had been shattered, yet none lay on the ground, and everywhere Twilight looked, the stone was losing its lustre, the white being washed away by a mottled grey.
Twilight whirled around, trying in vain to make out the source of the decay. The silence of the city echoed back to her, revealing nothing except for a few vines that seemed to move as she looked away and looked back.
“Okay!” Twilight said out loud, relying on the sound of her voice to calm her down. “Definitely not crazy! This is just a dream! Keep calm, Twilight. The walls aging faster than you are is just a crazy dream thing!”
Calm… Twilight… faster… dream…
Twilight whimpered as her words echoed back to her. She forced herself to take a few more deep breaths. The palace. She had to get to the palace… preferably before the city crumbled to the ground around her.
Looking up, Twilight could see that she still had a way to go; she wasn’t moving fast enough. Thinking hard, she looked around, and then it hit her: the highways! The ribbons of marble road were suspended high above the city, all of them ending up at the palace sooner or later. That would put her up above the labyrinth of streets and offer her a direct path. Or, as direct a path she could get without flying.
After she had picked one nearby that led straight to the palace without too many twists and turns, Twilight made toward it. She passed through a few last blocks of row after row of the silent buildings, watching as the walls seemed to age just a little bit more every time she looked away and looked back. Chunks of rock were now missing from the edges, leaving the surfaces pockmarked and disfigured. The vines still grew thicker, becoming more adventurous as they slithered down the walls.
Twilight walked up a ramp leading from the street to the one of the massive thoroughfares above. It stood, supported by massive, circular pillars set evenly along its length. Cracks ran through the roads, and leaves and small piles of rubble had collected along the edges designed to act as small walls.
She set along her newfound path, and Twilight saw just how extensive this system of highways was; all of the major structures seemed to have a road leading toward it, and the palace was no exception. In fact, Twilight couldn’t help but feel that pretty much every road either began or ended at the castle. It certainly made her feel a lot better about choosing this route.
Down in the streets far below, Twilight could see the true extent of the destruction wreaked by the effects of the magic. The entire city looked as if it had been covered in a blanket of shadow, one that clung to the corners of every street like a mould, eating away at the stone around it. Roofs bowed inwards, garden walls had collapsed and trees appeared to be literally sprouting from beneath the roads, and as Twilight swept her gaze from left to right, she couldn’t help but feel that the decay became worse and more pronounced every time she looked back.
The city almost felt like it was dying around her. Twilight suppressed another shiver at the thought. It was downright unsettling.
However, despite the ruin befalling the structures, the sun still shone overhead, unchanging as it warmed the land. In all of the hours she had been there, it hadn’t moved at all. According to the sun’s position, it was still high noon, or thereabouts.
Once she neared the palace, she dropped back down on another ramp to the street. It looked as if it was a major boulevard, a single highway split into two parallel sections by what appeared to be a wall of pure glass, standing about ten feet high. Even it hadn’t escaped time’s ravages, though, marked by a sea of cracks and chips, stained in places by smog-like smears.
Twilight walked along the silent thoroughfare, staring at the rows of shining metal and glossy stone statues that flanked it on either side. Several were of alicorns like the one in the courtyard. Some featured objects such as the sun, the moon or planets Twilight didn’t know the name of. One or two were of magnificent and terrible beasts, dragons or hydras who snarled at the world, forever unmoving.
One in particular at the head of the road caused Twilight to pause in amazement, a shiver running up her spine at the sight of it. The monster stood crouched on two legs. Its body, covered with some sort of jagged plating, was coiled like a spring, looking ready to leap forward and strike. It carried with it a massive whip that was twisted around it, and its other hand was covered in what could not be mistaken to be anything else but fire. Two horns curled from the top of its head as it roared down silently at Twilight, its face twisted into a eternal snarl of rage. Opposite the creature was an alicorn, facing the monster with an unrelenting position, wings raised in defiance.
Twilight took a moment before continuing on, her gaze fixated on the massive demon, forever locked in is prison of obsidian. What was it? What could possibly look so cruel? Twilight wasn’t completely sure she wanted to know. Was it something from Celestia’s history? Or was it a symbol for something else entirely? Twilight shivered as the statue continued to snarl at her, its whip curling around its body like some demonic tail. It had to mean something... but what? Twilight couldn’t find an answer. She had never seen anything like it... anything so... evil.
Shaking her head to break the hold the statue’s glare had over her, Twilight looked up and saw that she had reached the end of the boulevard. The palace seemed to fill every space in front of her. Only the mountain behind it was larger. Series of towers and spires soared toward the sky, their now weathered and crumbling walls standing proudly despite the decay. These were connected to a foundation of smaller buildings synonymous to the larger structure of the palace as a whole. Sections were joined together by stone bridges and archways, decorated in layers of scraggly vines. The entire thing looked dark, covered in what looked like a layer of grime and shadow.
There was a small courtyard of grey marble, and standing in the centre was a tree, looking as dead as the city surrounding it. Its twisted alabaster trunk was more than ten feet wide and stood over fifty feet high, with a web of empty branches that reached toward the sky with skeletal fingers. The twisting roots hadn’t cracked and shattered the pavement like one would expect, but rather they had pushed it out of the way, the stone seemingly accommodating the tree’s growth. An empty pool bordered the tree’s side, and Twilight could see the roots spilling out into the parched basin.
Directly in front of her was a closed set of massive double doors of burgundy-coloured wood. They were almost identical to the ones she had past through to enter the city, only now the wood looked rotten, and the metal tarnished, despite any magical properties it may have held.
Twilight stepped forward, and her horn flared into life. The doors shuddered and groaned, encased in a purple magical field, before they started to move, thrust backwards along hinges older than Twilight could have imagined.
Or were they really that old at all? Twilight shuddered, the air seeming suddenly so much colder.
With a resounding boom, the doors slammed open, and Twilight let her magic dissipate. Alone, one lonely shadow in the hall of the ancients, she stepped forward into a great hallway. The room flew out away from her for over two hundred feet, and above her a great domed ceiling reached toward the heavens, making the unicorn feel so impossibly small, an ant in the home of giants. Twilight could make out faint murals on the roof, faded from time. She could see the sun and the moon; she could see the entire celestial cohort as it shone against a black and endless void; she could see clouds of light that swirled around great shapes in the darkness, forming, shaping, and she could see worlds, plains of steel-blue grass and mountains higher than any in Earth today.
Most of all, she could see the creatures – beasts of terrible power and stature, spreading forth across the land from a pit in the earth, from which spewed flames of fire and shadow. Some she recognized like dragons, hydras, wyverns or basilisks. Others she did not, great automatons of living rock, fire seeping out of the cracks of their chitinous bodies, holding weapons and throwing flames. They looked just like the statue of the monster back in the boulevard.
Even then, there was a light on the edge of the darkness, and from that light there was a great host of beings cloaked in crackling energies. They swept forward on powerful wings and cast forth beams of eldritch lightning from their horns. They were power incarnate, beautiful and elegant even in destruction.
Twilight gaped at this with eyes as wide as platters. The images were terrible, terrifying. They were like staring at another world, of events that could not possibly have occurred within the world as she knew it. Those creatures... that fire, that shadow... But... they had to mean something... They had to be telling her something about Celestia... but what?
It was incredible, but it was not what was holding Twilight’s attention.
At the head of the hall were seven massive thrones of marble, flecked with small threads of gold and silver. They were arranged in a semi circle around a pedestal of white metal, the two arms supporting two of the most incredible jewels Twilight had ever seen in her life. They were levitating on their own power, each about the size of a pony’s head. One was as bright and wonderful as the sun, bathing the room with a golden glow that emanated from within. The other was mysterious and ethereal, and from it there was a softer, silver luminance that danced in harmony with the light from the other.
“The sun and the moon…” Twilight whispered, staring at the two jewels in unabashed awe, ignoring the crumbling walls and pillars around her. They were literally living gems, each one creating its own source of light, levitating seemingly from their own free will.
“Princess…? Celestia?” Twilight said hesitantly, half expecting a reaction from the golden gem.
Twilight wondered if they would respond to magic, and she reached out with her own magical senses. She gasped and hurriedly sucked her magic back inside. Those gems were radiating so much energy! Waves were rippling from each of them, filling the air around them with unrestrained magic.
She eyed the gems with apprehension, not sure how to react. They weren’t doing anything, but if Luna was right about the dreams all meaning something, then these had to be a sign of something. But what, she could not fathom.
“What do you mean…?” Twilight said to herself. “What are you…?”
Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof. Perhaps she had to make some sort of a connection with the jewels. The sun made the most sense, being Celestia’s mind and all. But speaking hadn’t worked… and Twilight was a little scared to try and make a connection via magic. The sheer power coming from each prevented her senses from even getting close. If she was going to connect with it via magic, she was going to have to do it with a little more… oomph.
The bookish unicorn gulped. The idea made her skin prickle uncomfortably; those jewels held more power than Twilight had ever felt in her life, and she had no way of knowing just what they might be capable of if disturbed. It could even be strong enough to destroy the whole city! Twilight knew there was no way she could protect herself were that to happen.
Still, she was forced to admit, she didn’t have any other options other than walk around aimlessly, looking for something she had idea of what it was. The jewels were something; in fact, they were more than something. As signs and symbols went, they were bright and coloured with neon lights.
Steeling herself, Twilight’s horn began to shimmer and glow, encased in a magical aura. A single point of purple-white light began to form on its tip, growing in size and intensity. With a small gasp, Twilight let the magic loose and a streak of energy snapped forward like a lightning bolt, arcing between her and the sun, striking it with a blinding flash of light. Twilight was knocked backwards as an explosion of air rippled forward from the gem as a wave of concussive force. She hit the marble floor hard, the breath driven out of her lungs in a violent rush.
Coughing, Twilight looked up, her heart sinking to see that not only had nothing happened, that also the explosion had left no damage whatsoever except for what it did to her. She groaned, completely at a loss at how to proceed.
A low rumble cut her train of thought short, and the ground suddenly shifted beneath her hooves. Twilight looked around, alarmed, trying to locate the source of the tremor. Another rumble shuddered through the ground, and small piles of dust fell from the ceiling. Twilight watched as a red glow washed through the broken windows on all sides of the hall. It filled the entire room with a flickering crimson light, causing her shadow to dance feverishly beside her.
“Ahh…” Twilight said out loud. “What is that?” She opened her mouth to speak again, but another tremor stopped her. She waited for it to end, but it never did. The ground started to move, vibrating back and forth as a loud roar grew, driven from deep within the earth.
An ear-piercing crack ripped through the air, and huge fractures started tearing themselves into the walls, growing wider even as Twilight stared at them in horror. The rumbling noise continued to grow until it filled Twilight’s mind and shook her to her core.
A splintering explosion tore through the air like a canon discharging, and Twilight looked up to watch an entire chunk of the roof come spearing towards her, still showing the moon painted onto its surface. Twilight stared at the oncoming missile, suddenly unable to move; her legs were frozen, and she could do little but stare as the ceiling rushed forward to crush her.
Jump! The word came from deep inside her, a whisper from a source she could not name. Without thinking, she followed its advice, and she launched herself to the right as far as she could go. The chunk of ceiling smashed into the space she had been standing in only a matter of seconds before, showering the unicorn with dust and displaced air.
The voice whispered again.
So Twilight did. Not wanting to waste another second, she turned and she ran, sprinting as fast as she could towards the exit.
More pieces of masonry fell around her, shattered under the power of the earthquake. Twilight struggled to maintain her balance as the earth moved beneath her hooves, driven by a roar of unimaginable power. Dust was filling the air, turned blood red by the glow still emanating from outside.
There was another crack followed shortly by yet another explosion as another chunk of the roof slammed into the floor beside the unicorn. Reacting on instinct, Twilight threw up a force field preventing a wave of stone shards from tearing her to pieces.
There! The exit! The doorway was open, shedding light into the dust-choked hall, lighting the air up as if it were on fire.
She raced toward the light, and burst forward from a wall of dust and out into the welcome daylight.
Only, there was no day.
Twilight looked skyward in horror and saw that the sun had been replaced by a burning ball of demonic flame. She could see waves of energy ripple across its massive surface as it spewed forth plumes of blood-red fire.
Twilight turned from the sun to stare back out at the city. Or what was left of it. The ground was shaking even harder now, and Twilight watched as entire buildings imploded in on themselves as explosions of dust and stone. The suspended highways began to fragment as the roads of marble shattered under the power of the earth.
The whole city was breaking apart.
Then so did the earth.
Twilight’s blood turned to ice. A massive fissure rent the ground open with an ear-piercing shriek, swallowing entire blocks within its gaping mouth. As the earth shook, the fracture grew wider, tearing the city apart at the seams. There was another explosion, and the ground tore again. The jagged wound was larger, well over a thousand feet long and over a hundred feet wide. Fire spewed forth from the opening, filling the streets with sickening red flames that refused to go out, even amongst a city of stone.
More and more buildings crumbled as the earth refused to relent its terrible fury. Twilight gaped at the destruction, completely awed into submission.
A sharp explosion behind her forced Twilight to whirl around. She looked up, and her entire body went cold as one of the mighty spires began to collapse along its shattered base, falling toward her.
This time, Twilight did not wait. She sprinted to the side, pushing her legs to their limit. The tower pummelled into the ground with the force of a meteor, shattering it and the pavement alike. Twilight was knocked to her hooves, peppered in stone shrapnel that left small cuts through her coat.
She struggled to her hooves, and without even thinking, she made up her mind. Turning on the spot, Twilight sprinted as fast as she could back towards the great hall. The earth shook beneath her, trying to knock her off balance and send her sprawling. More than once, cracks opened in the floor beside her, growing larger as the earth tore apart at the seams.
The wall beside Twilight collapsed as she burst back into the hall with the jewels. It imploded on itself, a wave of dust washing out over Twilight like a wall of water. She coughed and spluttered, trying to breathe through the thick air that choked her.
The earth exploded again. Twilight watched in horror as a fissure started to appear in the ground directly beneath her. She darted to the side as the crack opened fully, plumes of fire erupting into the air. Despite the smoke, Twilight could see straight down; she could see the malicious light bursting forward from the hole in the earth. Fire crawled up along the sides of the fracture, reaching up with fingers of flickering heat. It looked hungry, desperate to devour anything it could find.
Then, Twilight saw them – the jewels. Even with the chaos around them, they still shone brightly, unaffected by the destruction. They were so close, Twilight could sense their power. She willed her muscles to go that little bit harder, to push her body along that little bit faster.
With an almighty roar that left Twilight deafened, the palace finally gave way. The walls shuddered and collapsed inwards, unable to take the strain a moment longer. Twilight watched as the entire structure fell towards the fissure, growing wider next to her. The rain of marble became an avalanche, falling in a maelstrom of stone and masonry toward the ravenous fracture.
She watched as a wall came rushing down toward them, bringing with it the entire east wing of the palace.
She wasn’t going to make it.
Twilight felt the strength surge forward, bidden forward by that thought. She felt the power fill her body, tearing at her nerves, her consciousness. Her vision exploded in a blinding white flash as suddenly the entire world was thrown into sharp relief.
As the wall fell, Twilight unleashed her power to meet it. The magic made contact and branched out, supporting itself like a spider-web of energy. She braced her mind, feeling the magic strengthen, and then, with a groan that shook the world, the wall stopped moving, coming to a shuddering halt just above the ground.
With a shout, Twilight let another bolt of energy leave her horn. It arced through the dust, illuminating it with a bright purple light, leaping forward and connecting with the jewel of the moon with an explosion.
There was a rush of air, a blinding flash, and then the city, torn apart by the world itself, melted away from around her.
Twilight found herself falling. This time, though, there was no Luna to grab her. This time, there was no Twilight herself. She had no body, and she was falling impossibly fast through a void that surrounded her completely on all sides.
She tried to scream, but of course, there was no air to formulate sound. There was no body or organs with which to generate the movement required. She was trapped completely within herself, plummeting through the unknown toward some unknown destination.
Then, without warning, it was over. She felt her body suddenly exist around her consciousness again, and she fell to the earth unceremoniously, landing on the ground in a heap.
Twilight groaned. The air was cool, and it burned slightly as she inhaled for the first time. The earth was soft and damp, and it flexed gently against her flank as she rolled over.
Trying to not be sick, Twilight opened her eyes. She found herself staring through some pillar-like trees at the most perfect night sky she had ever seen. The stars shone like diamonds under direct sunlight, burning in contrast to the inescapable void they were pitted against.
Twilight looked around and saw that the stars were not alone in the sky. The moon hung like a ghost in the night, the pale orb crowning the night with a halo of silver, as bright and beautiful as any gem. She couldn’t help but notice that on this moon, the Nightmare’s outline was still visible on its cold surface.
Suppressing a fearful shiver, the unicorn got up, struggling to her unsteady hooves. She was standing in the middle of a forest; the tall trees, taller than any in Equestria, were devoid of a single branch until they reached the upper canopy where the thin boughs were covered in needle-like spindles. There wasn’t any undergrowth to speak of, but instead a thick fog crawled its way along the ground between the trees.
In the distance, Twilight could see the vague outline of a massive mountain as it soared into the sky, dominating the horizon, the moon shimmering directly above it.
“Luna?” Twilight said hopefully. Her voice echoed back to her through the trees, absorbed by the fog until it faded into nothing.
Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled, a piercing cry that shattered the otherworldly silence like a plane of glass under a hammer.
The realisation hit home like a punch to the gut, with an empty feeling spreading through her stomach soon after. Twilight’s plan still hadn’t worked.
She was still alone.
As always, my eternal gratitude to my editor, Sessalisk, without whom this story would be a bigger mess than what it already is.
Thank you for reading!
Her plan had failed. The city had yielded nothing, and Luna was nowhere to be found. She was just as lost, just as confused, and just as alone.
Twilight tried very hard not to crumple to the ground, fighting against the panic attempting to seep in and take root within her stomach. She looked around at the huge expanse of shadowy forest surrounding her on all sides, searching in vain for the Princess of the Night.
“Luna…?” Twilight whispered, afraid to hear her voice echo should she speak any louder.
Struck by sudden inspiration, partly in desperation, she sent up a magical flare that arced into the sky, burning a bright orange. Twilight could only watch as the flare exploded in a ball of shadow as soon as it passed the trees, obliterating any illumination that it may have shed. Something had stopped it… There was a force field just above the trees! She was trapped!
A sudden breeze cut through the air like a knife, causing the forest to hiss in a burst of scratching branches and leaves. The thick fog swirled around itself like blood in water, clinging to Twilight’s legs with cold fingers.
The unicorn shivered, staring helplessly around the forest. She had been so sure! Her plan would have sent her to Luna; what else could the gems have meant in the great hall? So... where was the Princess? Where could she be, and how did Twilight find her? She was stuck alone once again in a strange and mystical world so alien and different from home – and it was meant to be in Celestia’s mind! How did a mind make this? It all looked so real, yet she was meant to believe that it was just a dream... Just a dream, nothing more.
Twilight whimpered and lay down on the ground, her eyes burning fiercely. This place looked exactly the same! She had seen how big the city was, who was to say that this world was any smaller? It could even be bigger! There was nothing but trees, the fog and the night sky.
And a mountain – a massive purple behemoth that loomed on the horizon, a bulging tumour of rock and earth shrouded in subdued blues and blacks.
“Hey!” Rainbow Dash’s voice suddenly sounded in her head. Twilight started, almost falling over as she tried in vain to locate the sound of the sound. “You’re not gonna let a forest keep you down, are you? You charged Nightmare Moon! Show a little backbone!”
“Rainbow!” Rarity scolded. Twilight blinked, wondering if this was a feature of the dreamscape or whether she was just insane. “But she is right, Twilight.” The sound of Rarity’s voice continued to echo. “You can do this. Just get up and walk towards the mountain. Something will be there to help you.”
“But how can you know?” Twilight whispered to the empty wood around her.
“Well duh, Twilight!” Pinkie’s voice appeared to come from all sides. It seemed so real… “It’s kinda obvious, isn’t it? A big scary dream world and the only thing besides tall and creepy trees and icky fog is a big mountain? Kinda symbolic, don’t you think?”
Twilight opened her mouth, but stopped, blushing. “I…” Trust Pinkie to state a solution so clear that she was totally blind to it… She scolded herself for not thinking logically, for letting the panic get to her.
“See, sugar cube?” Applejack said kindly. “You just gotta get up and go. We’re your friends. We’ll be with you to help you when you fall. Don’t you worry none.”
“Don’t be scared, Twilight,” Fluttershy said in her demure voice. “You’ll get out. You just have to be brave and strong – just like you told me.”
“I…” Twilight swallowed. “You’re… you’re right, girls. Of course you’re right. I just have to get up and start walking. I’ll find a way.”
Her friends voiced their collective agreement, their individual voices becoming lost in the air. She smiled as the voices faded out of her mind, leaving her alone, but feeling slightly better. She just had to be strong, had to be brave just like her friends.
A sudden howl tore into the night air, echoing through the trees like funeral bells. Twilight whimpered, forcing herself to stay upright. “It’s ok,” she said quickly. “It’s ok. It’s just a little wolf like the ones in Equestria. And it’s a long way away. Yes. That’s right. The sound was faint, and considering sound moves through the air at…” She stopped, biting her lip, realising just how little sense that made.
Be strong. Be brave. Find Luna, save Celestia and go home. She had a list, and Celestia forbid that she wouldn’t finish it.
Holding her head up as high as she could, Twilight stepped forward, heading towards the distant mountain.
For the next hour, Twilight walked in silence. The landscape around her was unchanging – flat, cold earth covered in rows upon rows of trees. Occasionally, a breath of wind swept through the air, and the trees would shudder and the fog would swirl angrily around her body.
Even as she stared, the fog never stayed still. It crawled and slithered around the tree trunks, leaving glistening droplets of dew clinging to the smooth bark. Dark tendrils writhed within, filling the fog with natural highlights that looked downright unnatural to Twilight.
Twilight shivered despite herself. It was cold, but not unbearably so. After all, ponies walked around in the middle of winter with nothing but the odd scarf or fancy saddle. A little chill was little more than an inconvenience for the studious unicorn.
As she walked, Twilight couldn’t stop the gears in her head from whirring. She watched everything – even though there wasn’t much else apart from fog, trees, sky and mountain – and tried to decipher its meaning.
Luna had said that everything here was a construct of Celestia’s mind, and that it might reflect facets of her personality. So what did all of this mean? The night sky? The Forest? The moon? Together it made no sense. This whole place made the hairs on Twilight’s neck stand on end; it was menacing. Could Celestia really have created something so… dark? What was in her mind?
But yet, the stars shone so beautifully in the sky. Twilight had heard of stars being described as gems before in songs or in poetry, but never before did she feel the description to be more apt. They were breathtakingly gorgeous, coy and suggestive, twinkling with an elegance that seemed impossible to recreate. As a collective, they made the sky come alive.
Perhaps Luna might know… Twilight mused. She had been around her sister for millennia. Maybe this did represent something, something from long before Twilight’s time. This and the city... it had to be important. She shivered as she remembered the statues and the mural from the world previous… memories from a time long since forgotten.
A loud snapping sound caused Twilight to freeze, her ears shooting up as fast as lightning. She turned as fast as she could, searching the gloom for the source of the noise. Perhaps it was a tree branch…
Behind her, nothing moved. Nothing save the fog, crawling around on the earth like it always had. She peered deeper, swearing she could see a shadow watching her…
“Hello?” she called out, trying to ignore the fact that her voice was shaking. “Is anypony there?”
Silence. Twilight watched cautiously, debating whether to approach the shadow.
And then, the shadow opened its eyes. Two blood-red slits materialised in the air, the red smouldering like glowing coals. The eyes narrowed, and a soft growl filled the air.
Twilight scrambled backwards, her heart beating ferociously in her chest. The shadow took a step closer, its body obscured by fog.
Just when Twilight was about to yell out, another breath of air swept through the wood, and the shadow was gone. Twilight blinked, her heart and her breathing the only sounds now. It was gone… just gone…
She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Be brave, her friends had said. Be strong.
Steeling herself once again, Twilight kept walking. She kept her ears pricked, though, listening intently for any sounds like before.
You can’t be too careful, Twilight thought. You... can’t be too careful at all...
The stream had started seemingly out of nowhere. One second Twilight was walking through the exact same terrain as she had been for almost two hours now, and the next her hoof had splashed down through the fog and into moving water.
She summoned her magic and cleared some of the mist, revealing a small stream cutting through the earth. However, the water… wasn’t really water. It was pure silver in colour, and it shone luminescent under the glow of Twilight’s flickering horn. Twilight put another hoof into the brook, and stared confusedly at it. It was thicker than water too, but it was also velvety smooth, caressing her leg as it flowed past.
Not entirely game to taste it, Twilight decided to follow the stream. Instead of going downstream, though, she went upstream. It was in roughly the same direction that she was heading, so she reasoned that it could mean that there might be higher ground where she could see something.
Twilight followed the stream for several minutes, forcing the fog away to keep it from obscuring her path. She wasn’t sure, but she could swear that the ground was rising a little…
An object appeared through the trees. Twilight stared at the massive hulking shadow, looming in the forest just behind the skeletal wood on the edge of the unicorn’s vision; it almost seemed to shine slightly, even under moonlight. The stream seemed to come from it, flowing like a ribbon of light, so Twilight walked closer, frowning slightly.
An enormous boulder revealed itself through the gloom, curved and imperial in size. It was made entirely out of a glossy black stone, one that looked very similar to wall that the message was carved on back in the city. It was perfectly smooth, the curves and bumps shaped perfectly as if crafted by magic.
Twilight made her way around the gigantic rock and saw there was an entrance, about the size of a pony, and from it the stream of silver was bubbling forth. With her brow furrowed, Twilight made toward the opening.
The fissure revealed a massive hollowed-out space. The entire centre of the boulder looked empty, the black, shiny walls curving naturally to form an enclosed room. It was about fifty feet wide, larger than Twilight realised.
In the middle was a pool of the same liquid silver as the stream. Surrounding it were several golden flowers that seemed to grow straight from the rock on glowing white stems. The flowers filled the cave, a serene and beautiful garden that emitted a low, high-pitched melody into the air, while golden shadows played on the walls. The sound reverberated through the cave, humming within the unicorn’s consciousness.
From high above on the ceiling, blades of moonlight cut through the cave in shafts of silver that...
Twilight looked up. The centre of the ceiling was not rock, but rather a glossy material that looked almost exactly like glass, shining like diamond. The moonlight was striking its multi-faceted surface, condensing into the singular beams that Twilight could see as clear as sunlight. She followed one of the beams as it shone against the wall and watched as the light seemed to coagulate against the shiny black stone. A few drops of silver ran down from the illuminated spot, trickling towards the lake in the middle.
Twilight gasped. The water was… moonlight! She looked around and sure enough, every beam seemed to be collecting more of the liquid against the walls where it flowed into the lake.
Liquid moonlight… Twilight marvelled. She knew of the properties of rainbows, but this was something else entirely! The moonlight was being focused by this rock and liquefied. She couldn’t help but stare, her mouth wide open. Her eyes twinkled like they used to as a filly whenever she was learning something new.
Twilight stepped forward closer to the lake. On the way, her body crossed through a path of silver light, and she paused as she instantly felt her coat start to dampen, almost as if something was condensing on it.
Making sure to avoid the golden flowers, Twilight stepped around the lake. She paused, staring into the pure silver. She had no reflection. She was right over it, but yet she could see nothing but the gently rippling silver.
Twilight frowned and was just about to turn away when a shadow danced across the silver on the edge of her vision. She looked up and watched as an image of the shadow swirled within the moonlight, darting to-and-fro as it twirled.
An image began to take hold on the surface of the lake, formed and painted by the shadow. Twilight could make out the outline of an alicorn with strong and wide wings and an elegantly tapering horn. It flapped its wings smoothly and powerfully as it soared around in the water. Suddenly, the entire surface of the lake turned black, and the alicorn turned into a gorgeous midnight-blue, her lighter mane dancing ethereally around her.
“Luna…” Twilight whispered, recognizing the cutie mark on her flank.
The miniature Luna continued to float around in the darkness, seeming altogether lost. But Twilight watched as a golden light appeared on the edge of the pool. Luna hesitated, observing the Light carefully, not sure how to respond. With lithe playfulness, the light jumped forward, twirling around Luna in circles. Luna shrunk back at first, but the Light encouraged her with its warmth and radiance. Soon, Luna was flying with it, laughing and singing with words that Twilight could not hear. The Light chased the small alicorn playfully as they danced around the void, and everywhere they went, stars came into being.
Twilight stared as the heavens flickered into existence. Luna and the Light continued to dance, shaping and rearranging their creations, forming constellations as they flickered through the cosmos.
After a time, Luna and the Light slowed down. They stopped, looking at their creations with love and devotion. But in the centre of all this beauty, one dark spot still remained. It was a ball of shadow, and Twilight watched as plumes of flame grew out of the silhouette. The fire grew and grew, filling up the world, consuming everything but the shadow.
Shapes flew around the world, streamers of multi-coloured light chased by darkness and fire, locked in a violent struggle. Twilight saw Luna and the Light react, staring at the world with frustration and righteous fury.
Luna and the Light rushed toward the world, their bodies now completely encased in glowing energies. They plunged headlong into the shadow and flame, tearing it apart with bolts of supernatural power. The light shining from their bodies was blinding as they ripped the shadow world to pieces, now aided by the other streamers of rainbow. Victory was assured, the power of the alicorns’ as terrible as it was unstoppable.
Yet, despite their terrible fury, the shadow could not be completely destroyed. The darkness soon dispersed under their wrath, but it slinked away in slivers to hide amongst the stars. The shadow was gone, and in its place was a world of green and brown and blue. Luna and the Light and the other beings floated down, and the image shifted.
The pool now showed a great mountain. Luna was standing next to a glowing white Alicorn. Both of them were encased in radiant armour, and dark splatters covered their coats. They looked out over the world, and they smiled as their creations and namesakes shone down upon it.
Twilight watched as the image began to blur again. The world shifted, and cities grew and fell. Armies threw themselves onto others and blood ruled supreme. Each time this happened, Twilight could see the darkness that had crawled out of the stars to wreak havoc. But each time, Luna and the Light stood firm and beat it back, forcing it back into hiding. But each time, it was never destroyed, only delayed.
As the eons past, Twilight watched the darkness flee and the light prevail. But then, not for the first time, she saw entire cities become consumed by fire and blood, the destruction orchestrated by a single puppet master. Luna and the Light came forth to meet him, but this foe was too strong. There was more than just darkness fuelling this creature – there was a crystalline hatred for all harmony. Twilight could see it burn in this creature’s soul; it spilled from his mouth and eyes, and it resonated from his terrible magics.
Luna and the Light attacked, but the puppet master forced them back. They were beaten, bloodied and humiliated. They watched in horror as the creature set about dismantling their creations, literally tearing the heavens apart, inviting the darkness back to the world. And it came. It rushed to answer the monster’s call, filling the world with shadow and flame once more. Twilight watched as entire peoples were subjected to the shadow. She watched as the cities were burned and the earth corrupted.
Then, Luna and the Light returned, and with them were the other six streamers of light. They floated over the world, watching it together as one, bound by a magic Twilight knew all too well.
The shadow saw them, and it rushed forward to meet them. Entire armies of darkness and fire engulfed the group, but each time the light held them back. They slammed repeatedly against the glowing friends like waves on an immovable rock. And all the while, the light coming forth was getting stronger. The darkness and the monster screamed in frustration. The glow reached its zenith, and it exploded forth from Luna and the Light, washing over the earth, forever removing the darkness from the world. Some of it tried to flee; most did not escape the purity.
The puppet master lasted longest of all. He stood defiant against the waves of light, snarling and throwing bolts of fire and lightning against them. However, harmony prevailed, and with one last explosion of colour, he too fell, freeing the world from his cursed grip.
The image shifted again. Twilight watched as for the second time cities rose, this time watched more closely by Luna and the Light. A nation flourished, and harmony prevailed.
But not all of the darkness had been removed from the stars. Some of it had remained behind after the monster’s call. Some of it had escaped in their hour of defeat. And Twilight could see it planning, waiting, whispering.
When Luna and the Light stood triumphant over a magnificent empire, one that stretched from sea to mountain and to the sky itself, the darkness moved. It slithered back into the world silently, going to great lengths to remain undetected. It crawled around Luna, testing her resolve, wearing away at her defences.
Twilight watched as Luna fell into shadow, the darkness igniting every self doubt and fear into an unstoppable inferno. Then the darkness retreated to watch, content in their revenge.
Luna approached the Light, bringing with her legions of shadow. The Light pleaded with her, but the alicorn had made up her mind. She was lost within herself, heedless to the Light’s calls for peace.
The Nightmare attacked. The struggle that followed was ferocious. Walls of unstoppable power clashed together, submitting the world to a blinding display of raw power. For what seemed like years, the two beings fought, tearing the heavens apart with their energies. But then, the Light stopped. It stopped, and it moved away, falling back toward the earth. When she arrived, she was met with six multi-coloured streamers of light. Together, they turned and faced the Nightmare.
When she attacked, they were ready. They beat back her and her armies of shadow with hosts of light that cut through the shade like a torch through the darkness. Together, they surrounded the Nightmare, holding her within a complex web of power. Twilight watched as the Light stepped forward, her head held low even in victory. She glowed brilliantly, and the Nightmare was forced away, imprisoned by this web of energy to the creature’s namesake.
The Nightmare was exiled, and when she was gone… the world was safe. The world could grow. And grow it did. It grew with a great flash of rainbow-coloured light that covered the image in its entirety, almost blinding Twilight.
She blinked, and when she looked back, the image was gone, the pool back to its normal silver.
The unicorn stood there, dumbfounded. Could it…? Was it…?
There was so much she didn’t know, and so much she couldn’t even be sure if it was real. Was that a metaphor? Or was she just watching a stylised version of the world’s history. Or maybe it wasn’t that stylised at all. The streamers of light and the shadow had looked so real…
Why was this in Celestia’s mind?
For that, she had no answer. She didn’t have any answers for any of her questions. None of it made sense...
With one last look into the pool, Twilight shook her head and moved out of the stone. Another stream flowed out of the pool, and so she followed this one as it crawled its way towards the mountains. She pushed the images to the back of her mind, telling herself that she would think of them later. Right now she had to find Luna. That was the most important thing.
Twilight breathed a little easier as soon as she stepped out of the cave and back into the unending forest. The cool air was a welcome relief. Inhaling deeply, steeling herself, the unicorn resumed her journey.
The stream of moonlight ended in a river that cut across Twilight’s path like a wound. The little tributary poured into a river of pure silver over thirty feet wide. It tore past Twilight angrily, a complete juxtaposition to the gentile calmness of the moonlight stream. Silver vapour misted up in a shimmering wall, filling the air with a rich haze.
Twilight stared at it, a little frustrated. She had tried to teleport across, but something held her back, just like something had destroyed the flare. It was almost as if she couldn’t let the magic go, and instead, it just marshalled within her mind, powerful and filled with such energy, but unable to escape and exist.
It was incredibly annoying.
Grumbling incoherently, Twilight moved along the bank of the river for a place to cross. It took several minutes, but eventually a shape made itself known in the gloomy fog. A bridge spanned across the river, a narrow walkway that looked ancient with moss-eaten cobblestones and flowing decoration along the side.
The unicorn approached the stone arch carefully, staring at it with obvious distrust. Two low walls ran along both sides, lined with gothic styled decorations, a twisting gargoyle’s face framed by two moons in the bridge’s apex. On both sides, the walkway began with two small pillars on either side, and on one there was a statue shaped into the moon, and on the other was the sun.
Just as Twilight was drawing close to the bridge, still eyeing it carefully, a figure stepped out from behind one of the stone pillars. Twilight jumped back, her heart beating like a jackhammer in her chest, her eyes wide.
It was a pony, shrouded in a flowing black cloak that hung loosely from his frame. His coat was alabaster, and an ashen grey mane and tail protruded from the folds of his clothing. As he stepped out, he pulled back his hood to properly reveal his gaunt, hollow-looking face. He stared at Twilight with sunken eyes that were pure white, devoid of any kind of pupil.
“A lone traveller in a world so very far from home,” the cloaked pony said. His voice rasped and creaked under the weight of ages, and Twilight couldn’t help but feel like a little filly just by listening to it.
“Uh… hello?” Twilight said hesitantly, keeping a cautious distance. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I-”
“I know who you are,” the pony said with a faint smile.
The stallion’s smile grew a little wider. “What can be learned, I know. What can be forgotten, I remember.”
Twilight rose an eyebrow at the riddle, but she held her tongue.
“Tell me,” the stallion said suddenly, his ragged voice pressing. “Why are you here?”
“Um… to find Luna and save the Princess. Could you please move aside? I would like to cross the bridge.”
The stallion stared at her, but not unkindly, his eyes twinkling. “Child, do not rush. Answer my question first.”
Twilight frowned. “Well, I need to find Princess Luna before I can save Celestia, and I’m lost, so the mountain seemed like a good place for me to head towards, it being the only landmark, you see.”
“Find and then rescue.” The pale stallion nodded slowly. “Tell me, from whom – or what – are you saving this Princess of yours from?”
“I don’t really know,” Twilight admitted, biting her lip. “Luna says she needed saving, and I had to help. That’s what friends do, after all.”
“But why are you here? All things are here for a reason, child. What is the shadow for you?”
“I... the shadow...?”
“The shadow. Your shadow. The reason why this world is so. The way you see the world. What are they? Why are you here?”
“I... don’t really know... I... just want to help the Princess. This place is... this place isn’t real. It can’t be real. I just want to help her and go home.”
“Not real? Oh, child. This place is real. It is as real as the void ever gets.” He paused, a thoughtful look in his eye. “She needed help, you say? All things need help, child. All things. Your shadows plague you, your own demons lurk inside. The…” He smiled, his eyes looking distant, almost like Spike’s when he thought of Rarity. “The midnight one is filled with them, as is the creature of light. They avoid me, but yet they carry so much. I would like to ask them whether it’s truly worth it. It has been far too long.”
“Shadows in our mind?” Twilight asked, sticking to the one bit of his words that she knew she understood. She frowned again. She had just seen the shadows of this world in the cave, and she did not like them one bit.
“Fears. Doubts. Vices. They grip at your soul. Many ponies fall mad under their control. Many commit grievous sins not just to others, but to themselves.” He went still, and the light in his milky eyes seemed so far away. Twilight wondered if he had gone into some sort of dormancy, but he spoke again. “Tell me, child. Do you know what it is like to fall from grace? To plummet from a pedestal you yourself have created into complete darkness?”
Unsurprisingly, Twilight shook her head.
“Count yourself blessed, child. One would assume it makes my task easier for their souls, but they are wrong. Redemption is always possible, and to take that from them, even if they do not seek it…” He shook his head.
“Your task?” Twilight asked cautiously.
“The balance. The order. The end. It’s all part of harmony, child. It’s all part. I suppose that makes me one of the noble ones.” Twilight opened her mouth to speak, now even more confused than what she was before, but the skeletal stallion cut her off. “You seek the midnight one? She lies beyond the river, but I must warn you first; I do not attempt to control the other side. My work walks freely through the trees. Beware, Twilight Sparkle. If you cross, be on your guard.”
“I can cross?” Twilight said disbelievingly as the elderly stallion stepped aside.
“Yes child, you can. Find the midnight one, and help her. But beware, child, beware. Use your mind and you will not be deceived. There is more to this than meets the eye.”
Twilight squinted through the trees on the other side of the river, watching for anything that would warrant her caution. “Beware of what?” Twilight turned around, but the stallion was gone. She was alone once again, and she hadn’t even asked for his name.
Twilight sighed, closing her eyes almost as if the feeling inside of her would vanish with the world if she stopped seeing it. She wished her friends were here. She had absolutely no idea what she was about to put herself through when she volunteered to help, but it certainly wasn’t this. It wasn’t two worlds, one falling apart and the other filled with shadows and fog and strange visions and even stranger ponies.
Twilight took a deep breath. Celestia needed her. Luna needed her. She came along because Luna needed a friend, and while this wasn’t normal behaviour, Twilight was the very best at doing things for her friends. She didn’t understand, but that didn’t matter. She had to help, and she wouldn’t give up.
Reaching out with one hoof, Twilight started across the bridge. If the dream pony was right, Luna was on the other side, and Twilight wanted to go home.
As always, my eternal gratitude to my editor, Sessalisk, without whom this story would be a bigger mess than what it already is.
Don't forget to rate the story, and let me know how you're finding it! Every bit of feedback helps.
Thank you for reading!
The river of moonlight flowed underneath Twilight ferociously, churning with a great noise that gurgled thickly. Her hooves rang out loudly on the cobbles, and she kept her eyes peeled for any sign of movement on the other side. If the dream pony was right, then Luna should be somewhere in here. It was a good thought, but the dream pony also had offered her a warning, and it rang within her mind with every step.
Once she was firmly back on the cool, damp earth, Twilight set out into the forest. The mountain seemed closer now, which gave the unicorn some encouragement. At least this wasn’t a dream world where no matter how far you walked, everything stayed far away.
Looking around, Twilight could see that on this side, the forest was slightly different. While the trees still looked like the same species, several of them were covered in low-lying branches that reached out like skeletal fingers. There was undergrowth here too; small colourless and scraggly bushes grew close to the tree trunks, their bodies obscured by the fog. Even the mist was different. There were more tendrils of black coiling through the white on this side.
There was something else too… Twilight tried to work out what it was… It was silent. She frowned; it shouldn’t be silent. The unicorn turned around and paused. The river and the bridge was nowhere to be seen… She hadn’t walked that far, had she?
A sudden flash of movement caused Twilight to jerk her head to the side. It had looked like a shadow, not unlike the one she had seen with the red eyes. But this one had been moving and fast.
She peered into the gloom, trying to see anything that she hadn’t seen already. The trees still stood silently, watching her closely, and the fog still sulked along the forest floor.
There was another flash of darkness, this time on the opposite side. Twilight swung round to face it, her heart beating loudly inside her chest.
“Who’s there?” Twilight called out.
A soft growl filled the air, answering her call. Twilight’s eyes went wide and her blood turned to ice as another pair of red eyes open to her left, staring straight at her. This time, they didn’t stay still for long, and the shadowy body they were attached to began to stalk closer.
A quick snapshot of movement caused Twilight to look to the right. Two more sets of red eyes greeted her, also coming closer, also growling menacingly.
She looked back and saw that two more had joined the first on the left. Five sets of eyes, five rapidly approaching shadows.
“Stay back!” Twilight yelled. “Stay… back…”
The first set of eyes growled more loudly and bared its teeth. Twilight gasped as a set of glistening ceramic-looking fangs revealed themselves, looking sharp as knives. The head they were attached to drew close enough for Twilight to make out its body. It was a wolf, a gigantic wolf constructed out of… shadow. Everything but its teeth and its eyes danced like smoke, tendrils leaching out only to fall back in line with the rest of the structure. The red eyes and glistening teeth glared at her, and the wolf pounced.
Reacting on pure instinct, Twilight threw up a purple force field, and the shadow wolf slammed into it, temporarily knocked to the ground. The other wolves suddenly howled a blood-curdling cry that threatened to paralyse Twilight with fear.
“Be strong. Be brave,” her friends whispered simultaneously.
Twilight ran. She threw every ounce of strength she possessed into her legs and she ran with everything she had.
The unicorn tore through the trees, ducking and weaving to avoid the low lying branches. She was vaguely aware of the shadow wolves spreading out behind her, hunting her through the forest.
A branch snapped across her face, and Twilight winced as she felt a line that felt like fire being drawn along her cheek. She was dimly aware of some sort of moisture seeping from the cut, but she tried to ignore it.
One of the wolves came at her from the side. She threw up another barrier, it and her horn bathing the trees in a sparkling purple light. She felt the wolf impact against her shield through her magic and heard it fall against a tree with a loud thump. Twilight pressed onwards, ignoring the growing burning sensation in her legs.
The wolves almost surrounded her now. Another one got close, snatching at her legs, and Twilight forced it away with another magical blast. She could hear the others howling just behind her or on her sides. They were howling and not running out of breath. They were coordinating, but they weren’t all attacking…
Suddenly, it dawned on her. She was being herded! Another wolf came too close, and so Twilight went through the motions, forcing the creature away.
But where? Where were they leading her?
A louder, urgent, howl suddenly cut through the air, and the others started to come closer. Maybe she wasn’t being led anywhere, after all. Twilight tried to focus on running and placing magical barriers rather than the bloodthirsty wolves made out of shadow behind her. Chasing her. Hunting her.
Her legs were burning, and her breathing was becoming shallower. Each gasp seemed to deliver less and less relief, and lethargy began to spread through her limbs.
Still the wolves grew closer.
A sudden flash up ahead almost caused Twilight to stumble in surprise. She watched as it was followed by another, and then another. Each one was a mix of blue and white, and they shone through the trees like a beacon.
The wolves howled, and Twilight could almost feel them running just behind her, their paws hitting the ground in a sickening rhythm with her own hooves. She sprinted towards the flashing lights, putting everything into the dash for survival.
There was another flash, this one bigger than the last, and it was followed by an explosion. Twilight felt the shockwave as its remnants washed over her, blowing her mane about her face. The lead wolf howled again, and suddenly the others howled back in response.
Twilight could barely believe it; the cries had stopped moving. She allowed herself a quick glance over her shoulder, and sure enough, the wolves had stopped. The five of them watched her with bared teeth and glowing eyes, snarling in frustration. The lead wolf threw its head back and howled to the moon. When it landed, it looked Twilight in the eyes…
…and it smiled, its eyes glinting maliciously.
Twilight turned to see a massive shape reveal itself through the trees. Suddenly, she burst out into a clearing, the middle of which was filled with the ruin of a small stone temple, green and eaten at by moss. On the other side of the collection of crumbling walls and decaying stone pillars, Twilight could see bright flashes erupting forth into the night sky.
A shape launched itself into the sky above the temple, her wings beating powerfully to keep her body airborne. Her horn crackled with terrible energy as she sent down another bolt of blue light down onto the ground. Twilight felt the earth shudder beneath her hooves as the subsequent explosion tore through the air.
“Luna!” Twilight screamed, relief flooding her body with a gentle warmth. “Princess! It’s me!”
The great alicorn turned, her eyes blazing white with power. “Twilight Sparkle!” she cried, rushing down to meet her.
Twilight almost collapsed, gasping weakly for breath against a stone pillar in the middle of the ruin as the Princess landed next to her.
“You are ok!” she shouted, unable to conceal her relief.
“Of course… I’m… alive…” Twilight said, panting. “What are… you… fighting…?”
Luna’s face grew dark. “Best acquire your breath swiftly, Twilight Sparkle. I sent them away, but they will be back in a few moments. I... I cannot seem to hold them.”
“What will be back?” Twilight asked, completely confused at the Princess’ rushed response, but then she froze, her eyes locked behind Luna.
The Princess turned. “Yes. Those.”
The skeleton lumbered towards the two mares slowly. It stared at them with empty eyes, the hollow sockets fixated upon the living. Twilight could see the shadow writhing inside its body, holding the entire bleached structure together.
The skeleton was quickly joined by another one, and then another one as they stepped out from behind crumbling walls, all of them heading heedlessly towards the two ponies.
Luna leaped into action. Her wings spread out, and she summoned her magic. Her horn erupted in an explosion of blue light, and a shockwave of energy ripped through the air towards the skeletons. It struck their bodies furiously, tearing the bones to pieces and sending them flying backwards.
Twilight breathed a sigh of relief, but Luna did not lower her guard. She kept the magic flowing through her, almost encasing her entire body in a blue-white halo.
And then Twilight saw why. Tendrils of shadow began to crawl along the broken bones, dragging them together into a pile. Twilight watched in silent horror as the shadow literally rebuilt the skeletons, forcing them to stand once more.
“Please rest quickly, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna’s voice was low and urgent, struggling to hold itself in check. “We will force these ones back towards the forest. The centre of this ruin has an elevated altar on which we can stage our defence. Follow me!”
Twilight followed as Luna swept forward, blasting the skeletons apart with waves of energy. She used her magic to blow their remains out of the temple and back towards the forest. Soon they had cleared the temple, and the two ponies watched as the skeletons reassembled themselves in the trees.
“Why can’t we leave?” Twilight asked.
“I think this place may hold some clues, but I cannot find time to search. We need this area clear.”
Twilight looked around at the crumbling temple. They were standing on an elevated dais surrounded on all sides by a small set of steps. A series of low, broken walls formed a small compound behind them, a mossy green colour eaten away at by time. In front of them were nine pillars set in three lines of three. Perhaps they had held up a roof, but if they had, it was now completely gone, leaving the front of the temple open to the forest.
The skeletons were shambling their way back onto the temple grounds, staring with unblinking eyes, their hoof-steps echoing loudly into the night air.
“Twilight Sparkle… I am at pains to ask this of you, but I need you to fight. We have to crush them so they cannot return.”
“What?! Can’t we get them to stop some other way? Can’t we try talking to them?” Twilight asked, staring at the Princess pleadingly.
Luna’s eyes flashed desperately. “I have tried, Twilight. They have not the ears to hear nor the mind to comprehend. We must apply… other means.”
With that, Luna’s sent three bolts of energy striking towards the skeletons. They struck them with a crackling hiss, tearing the bones to pieces in the process.
The skeletons fell, and the shadow began to repair them.
“Uhh, Princess?” Twilight called out.
“Yes, Twilight?” Luna replied, sending another bolt of energy at a skeleton that had appeared from behind a pillar.
Twilight pointed toward the forest. There, their bodies wreathed in fog, were a host of over twenty skeletons, all of them moving, and far quicker than the ones they had now.
Luna’s jaw hung limp for a second, but she quickly snapped it shut with a frown. “You know how to make a force field, correct?” Twilight nodded. “War magic, then?”
Twilight looked away, somehow managing to feel a little embarrassed despite the circumstances. War magic was not something in the prescribed reading lists in schools, or any other institution the kingdom over. “Maybe the theory…” She remembered the bolts of red light she had used during the royal wedding. They had been dialed down at the time, but the idea behind anything larger, more complex or dangerous was essentially the same. She had read the books, the dusty tomes dedicated to a branch of magic everypony else seemed to have forgotten, from a time Twilight couldn’t locate in the history books.
“Use what you know,” was all the Princess said, her voice hard as steel. “You will need it.”
With that, Luna took to the sky, circling above the battlefield. Twilight watched as the first wave of skeletons came running up to the stone plaza, ducking behind pillars to limit Twilight’s visibility. A few fell to the ground in a smouldering heap as Luna strafed the area with a series of magical explosions, but a few made it through, sprinting straight towards the bookish unicorn.
“Your magic, Twilight!” Luna shouted, unable to draw a line of sight. “Use it!”
Twilight stared straight into the eyes of the skeleton nearest to her. The shadow underneath flexed to keep the structure rigid as the bones jolted while it ran. When it was about ten feet away, its legs coiled like springs, readying itself to launch across the stairs to reach her.
Twilight saw, and Twilight reacted. She reached deep inside her subconscious, feeling the wealth of power lingering just inside. She allowed it to fill her being, and her horn crackled with violent energy. In theory, the spells of war magic were easy. Magic was a force, and forces could be used to apply heat, electricity, or energy itself. Most magic controlled those energies into safe, practical applications. War magic was simply the opposite; it was uncontrolled power controlled to destroy. It was almost too easy. She funnelled the power inside of her, willing the magic into a single beam of destruction, making the magic she used during the changeling attack pale in comparison.
The skeleton jumped, throwing itself toward Twilight like a bullet out of a gun, its mouth reaching for her neck.
Twilight released the spell.
It exploded from her horn like a bolt of lightning, striking the skeleton in the chest. There was an explosion as a small ball of energy formed, sending a shockwave of air flying out across the ruins. The skeleton was torn asunder by the magic, the force sending its remains scattering out in multiple directions.
Twilight stood, panting, staring at her work with horror. The bones of the skeleton lay still, the shadow struggling to put such damage back together again. It would succeed, but it would take time.
She was barely aware of Luna flying above her, sending barrages of magical energy down upon the waves of encroaching skeletons. She could only see the rest that had gotten through Luna’s defences, and they were sprinting towards her.
Twilight reached into her magic, and readied herself again. They had to stop eventually. They couldn’t keep coming forever. Could they?
Over the next few minutes, Twilight and Luna fought off wave after wave of skeletons. While they learned that destroying them completely was impossible, they could do enough damage to individual ones to delay their regeneration significantly. Soon the temple and the clearing surrounding it were covered in bones, tendrils of shadow linking them together, slowly dragging them towards the main body.
While they destroyed many, more kept coming from the trees. They were an unstoppable wave, and even if they crushed one enough to delay its healing by several minutes, two more would take his place in that time.
To make matters worse, Twilight could only remember a limited number of spells, and all of them were too localised to do any real damage to more than one skeleton at a time. She couldn’t create the missiles of magic that Luna could, spraying the ground with blue-white fire. She couldn’t cast out balls of electricity that tore the monsters apart.
Luna just darted around the tree line, struggling to keep the bulk of the attackers at bay while Twilight mopped up the survivors. More than once the unicorn was forced to summon force fields and blasts of air to keep their attackers away from her position.
A sudden hiss filled Twilight’s hearing, and a red bolt streaked past her, striking the wall behind the unicorn with a small explosion, showering her with debris. Blasting another skeleton, Twilight peered into the forest, and her jaw dropped.
The trees were filled with a small host of unicorn skeletons, their horns encased in shadow, generating crackling red energy. Twilight watched as one sent another bolt lancing towards her, one that she just managed to stop with a shield.
“Luna!” Twilight shouted! “There are unicorns in the trees!”
“I see them, Twilight Sparkle!” Luna cried back, sweeping towards them in an impressive dive. Her horn glittered with power, ready to unleash it upon the skeleton unicorns.
Suddenly, shapes materialised out of the sky, racing toward the Princess hungrily. Twilight could only watch with icy fear as they neared Luna, rushing forward on wings of darkness.
“Princess! Watch out!”
Luna turned to see the first of the pegasus skeletons slam into her side with a tremendous force that sent the Goddess reeling. Others circled ahead, carried on wings constructed out of shadow, the darkness filling the joins between the bones on their wings.
The Princess struggled to recover from the force of the blow, but she sent out a wave of energy to knock her attacker away. She fell into a nosedive into the tree-line, forcing the skeletons to pull up and abandon their all-out attack. Luna pulled up and soared between the trees, often tucking her wings in with unnatural agility to avoid hitting the trunks. As to how she didn’t lose any lift, Twilight had no idea.
The Princess began to glow with an aura of power, the light forming a circle around her body. She swept down on the unicorns, sending shafts of magic to tear them apart. Each beam exploded on contact, tearing the trees near them to pieces in the process.
Luna pulled up, and the pegasi were waiting for her. Then again, Luna was ready for them too. The first two swung at her from either side, charging the Goddess with a blatant disregard for their own safety. Luna twisted in the air, rapidly changing direction while erecting glittering force fields as extra protection. As she did, crackling bolts of energy streaked along her horn, and she directed these to blast those pegasi nearest her. The skeletal remains fell limply from the sky, falling to smoking, smouldering pieces on the way down.
While the Princess engaged in a fierce battle with both the unicorn spell casters and the pegasi, Twilight suddenly found herself faced with almost the entirety of the earth pony skeletons.
They charged at her with fury, and the shadows writhed in their skulls, forcing it out of their eye sockets, noses and mouths.
The base of Twilight’s horn had begun to throb, and she was covered with a light sheen of sweat. She took a deep breath, and with a soft, unconscious snarl, dove back into the seemingly endless pool of magic within her. She let the power fill her, and she embraced it. As the bolts of energy left her horn, she forgot about her headache. As the air rippled with magical explosions that sent bones and stone flying across the room, she forgot about the sweat covering her body. And as the skeletons got too close, and she deflected them with magic and the adrenaline coursed through her body, she forgot about her fatigue.
What’s more, the magic was not hard to learn. She probed with what she knew was theoretically possible, and it reacted for her. It guided her power almost out of its own free will, showing her how to use it – showing her how to destroy. Flickers of shadow danced around her, and she ignored them as best she could.
Two skeletons tried to attack simultaneously, one from the right, one from the left. Twilight reacted, and with a cry, wrapped their bodies in vines of shimmering purple and tore them apart. The bones scattered around her, many of them of them splintering into pieces. Twilight began to smile...
Then she froze, completely horrified.
The battlefield was now covered in a thin haze of smoke. It hung in the air like a bad feeling – the magics sent flying through it illuminating it in terrifying flashes of colour. Twilight looked out over the destruction, staring the piles of bones lying all around her, the shadow crawling pitifully in an attempt to fix the damage. The unicorn felt her eyes start to itch, and her stomach twisted inside her.
“No!” she yelled. “Stop! Stop! Stop!”
The skeletons just kept on coming, not hearing, not comprehending.
Twilight’s looked out on her attackers, and a wave of helplessness washed over her. She wanted to scream in frustration.
“STOP! STOP! STOP!”
As Twilight screamed, the light overtook her. Her mind shuddered as waves of uncontrolled power swept through her body, completely unbidden. But this time, it was not destructive. A massive wall of purple energy exploded from the unicorn, forming a barrier between her and the skeletons. Several of those closest slammed into it, unable to penetrate.
“Stop!” Twilight screamed, her voice magnified by the power coursing through every nerve in her body. “Please! Stop! Please!”
The skeletons kept on coming.
They sprinted headlong into the barrier, heedless of the obstruction. Twilight responded by channelling even more power through it, causing bolts of energy to explode outwards on contact.
The wave of dead just kept on coming.
An earth-rendering explosion ripped the air to pieces, and the world was suddenly transformed into a ball of blue and red light. Twilight, her eyes still under the effects of magical induced possession, stared at the destruction, seeing every terrible detail. She watched individual streamers of magic rip the very molecules in the air apart, hissing and crackling as they did.
And then she saw it.
The alicorn skeleton flew through the air on currents of shadow. The darkness literally coiled around the monster’s outstretched wings, the bleached frames held open above its body. A viciously shimmering glow of red covered its horn, but Twilight realised that meant one thing: it was levitating something.
The creature turned, and Twilight saw the item in its demonic red flame. A brutal sword of bone hovered near its head, the blade serrated and curved like a scimitar. The weapon was massive, well over six feet long and it swung through the air, parting the lingering magic from the explosion. Twilight saw Luna beyond, her hastily constructed shield falling as she dove to avoid the skeleton.
“LUNA!” Twilight screamed. “Watch out!”
The alicorn gave chase, covering its body in a circle of red light as it did. Luna flew between the trees, but the skeleton followed, blowing apart those which it could not dodge with magic or its sword.
Realising she wasn’t going to out-fly it that way, the Princess swept upwards and pivoted in the air to face the monster. The skeletal alicorn collided against her with a rippling explosion of power. The two alicorn’s bubbles of light hissed and sizzled every time they made contact.
Luna ducked and weaved through the air, trying to avoid the vicious swipes made by the skeleton and its sword. Whenever she could, she launched beams of light that exploded against the monster’s red shield.
Finally, the skeleton got lucky and its sword shattered Luna’s shield with a savage strike, the Goddess only just avoiding the blade itself. The creature took advantage of Luna’s weakness and shot a beam of light that hit her square in the chest. Luna cried out as she was sent flying backwards.
The skeleton pounced, soaring toward Luna with its sword raised in triumph.
But Luna stopped. She recovered, and with alarming agility, she pirouetted in the air and forced the skeleton back with a blast of magic.
The Goddess hovered in the air, her horn blazing brighter than the sun. Her body radiated power as the light swirled around her in thick tendrils of magic.
“Thou art a false god!” Luna screamed. Her own voice was magnified by magic, and her eyes shimmered with pure white light. “Thou hast no place here in this world!”
The Goddess of the Night swept the power surrounding her into a ball, holding it above her head. The magic crackled as it discharged streaks of lightning that danced above the alicorn, illuminating her mane in the darkness. “We cast thee back to the shadow!”
With a blinding flash, Luna sent the ball of energy speeding towards the skeletal alicorn. It threw up a shimmering red barrier in defence, and it cut at the magic with its sword... but it was no use. The crackling magic struck the creature with a force that ripped the trees beneath it to pieces, flattening the forest in a wave of power that rippled through the air. The night sky exploded into a torrent of white and blue light so intense that it blinded the stars. The temple, however, stood resolute, the magic passing through it harmlessly.
Twilight felt the magic strike her barrier with the force of an ursa major. She screamed in pain as the sheer power of the explosion started to tear her shield to pieces, assaulting her connection to the magic in the process. The skeletons outside never stood a chance, their bodies vaporising under the magical ruin wreaked by the Goddess of the Night.
Twilight held the barrier for as long as she could, but the magic was too strong. With a scream of pain, her force field fell, and the lingering magic sent her flying backwards into the wall.
As the explosion died away, and the light fell from the sky, Twilight struggled to raise her head. She coughed, her body screaming in protest to her every move. Luna still hovered in the air, still encased with energy. The alicorn skeleton lay on the ground in a smoking pile.
Luna seemed to look towards Twilight, and suddenly, all her magic vanished. The Princess dove down to the unicorn, her eyes wide and panicked.
“Twilight Sparkle! Twilight!”
“I’m… I’m ok, Princess,” Twilight said weakly. She offered a small smile.
“I am so sorry! I did not think!”
“No. Really, it’s fine. That was some impressive magic there, Princess.” Twilight stumbled to her hooves, determined to stand. She hurt, but she’d live. Nothing seemed to be broken, after all.
Luna suddenly looked away. “Yes, it-” She stopped.
Twilight looked around, trying to work out why the Princess had paused; all along the ground, the shadow was gaining momentum. Streamers of it raced along the stone and the earth, rapidly repairing the bones. Beyond them, in the remains of the trees, reinforcements were already beginning to arrive.
“Oh no…” Twilight whispered.
She peered around a pillar and saw exactly what she had been dreading. There, the shadow, with a final flourish and a flash of red light, finished putting the alicorn back together. It flexed its neck, and its horn burst back into life, holding its sword near its side again.
“No…” Twilight whispered again, her eyes widening in horror. “No…!”
Luna stared at the skeletons, her expression crushed. Her lower lip began to tremble as the monsters began to stand again, now led by the alicorn, its horn glowing in preparation.
“It cannot be…” Luna said, her voice numb and disbelieving. “It… cannot… be…”
“Princess…” Twilight said weakly. “Princess… I…”
The skeleton army started to advance as one, all of them staring with empty, pitiless eyes.
“It cannot be… These things… these monsters…”
Twilight watched as Luna’s expression started to change. Her eyes tightened and her mouth twisted into a snarl.
“They… Why… Why won’t thou die!” Luna screamed at the advancing army. “Why won’t your lives end!”
Suddenly, the skeletons stopped. They turned to Luna, their pitiless faces staring at the Princess passively. As one, they cocked their heads to the left, almost as if they were curious.
A wind started to grow through the battlefield, clearing away the smoke that still lingered from the fighting. It grew stronger and stronger as Twilight and Luna stared at the frozen army in complete confusion, their manes whipping about their heads.
Then, as one, the skeletons lowered their heads, and they began to disappear. Their bones started to unravel in the wind, transformed into dust as the wind tore through their bodies, ripping the shadow from them.
The two mares stared with frozen horror as the army dissolved in the breeze, their forms becoming vague and blurry as the wind continued to blow. Then, with a final gust, and a sudden howling cry from a wolf in the distance, they vanished completely, leaving nothing but empty space and destruction behind them. Even the fog was nowhere to be found, leaving the true extent of the ruin caused by Luna’s magic to become painfully obvious. The forest was decimated, the trees torn apart and uprooted, some of them still smouldering in the darkness. Even the earth had been torn up, scorched and scarred by unimaginable power.
But yet, the ruined temple was still perfectly intact.
Twilight stared, completely dumbfounded, while Luna’s jaw dropped.
“I…” she whispered… her voice shattered. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, Princess…” Twilight murmured back, both of them unable to look away from the emptiness in front of them. “I just don’t know…”
The two mares stood among the smoking ruins of the battlefield. Overhead, the moon stared down on the land. Twilight looked up and saw its dull surface, pocked-marked by a canvass of craters. If it had a face, Twilight couldn’t help herself from thinking that its expression would be one of sorrow. Next to the moon, the stars twinkled their agreement.
With a heaving sob, Luna hung her head and began to cry. The tears fell from her face and splashed on the stone beneath her as she fell to her knees, her mane covering her face.
Twilight rushed over to the Princess, holding her close gently with a foreleg.
“It’s ok, Princess,” Twilight whispered. “It’s ok.”
But the truth was, Twilight wanted nothing more than to cry herself. The dream world had tested her, and it was winning. Why was Celestia’s mind like this?
As always, my eternal gratitude to my editor, Sessalisk, without whom this story would be a bigger mess than what it already is.
Don't forget to rate the story, and let me know how you're finding it! Every bit of feedback helps.
Thank you for reading!
The two mares sat amongst the temple’s ruin, staring at the crumbling walls around them. The battle didn’t change the fact that they had a job to do, and they were probably running out of time back in Equestria. It couldn’t stay night-time forever. Not again.
But first, they needed to rest. Both ponies were absolutely exhausted, and Twilight felt spent both magically and emotionally. She let her body relax on the cracked stone floor, and it was the best she could do not to let her eyes fall shut and submit to the fatigue.
“I…” Luna began softly, breaking the silence that had fallen since she had stopped crying. “I apologise for my behaviour, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Oh,” Twilight said, blinking her eyes open. “That’s not a problem, Princess. Not at all. This is not something everypony has to face. I... It was... hard. Anypony would cry after that.”
The Princess shook her head, her expression slightly annoyed. “No, not that, Twilight. I apologise for my behaviour during the battle. I… The past has a hard time of leaving me alone.”
Twilight frowned, not a little confused, and Luna looked away. “Oh. That’s… that’s not a problem,” Twilight said again. “I… it was nothing. Considering the circumstances, I completely understand. I mean-”
“Twilight,” Luna interrupted, unable to properly meet the unicorn’s gaze. “I appreciate your… discretion, but hear me out. Please. I have to say these things, or else they go unsaid.”
“I… lost control. I shouldn’t forget my temper, yet I did. I beg of you, Twilight Sparkle, that you don’t think any of less of me because of this. I… the enemy was… unsettling, and I let that fester within my thoughts.”
Twilight smiled a smile that she hoped was warm and reassuring, a feeling that was totally at odds with how she really felt. “Don’t worry, Princess. I understand. I know what you mean; the magic was so…powerful. It felt so natural… so strong. I imagined what I wanted to do to those skeletons, and the magic almost seemed to show me the way… like it wanted me to do it... it was terrifying.”
“Yes,” Luna said, her expression concerned. “Therein lies the dangers of war magic. Magic is power, Twilight Sparkle, a fact you of all ponies should be aware of. And power corrupts all of us completely. Noble hearts have tried to control that potential for destruction, and I have watched them crumble, falling prey to the power they possess. Gods themselves have succumbed. Do not fear that feeling. Just do not forget it.”
“But it was so… potent,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “Normally, I get so tired when casting big spells, but I felt like I could cast these spells forever. The power felt insignificant. I just reached in and it was there waiting to be used.”
“Such is often the case with war magic in the heat of battle. The fear, the adrenalin, and the cause give ponies a strength beyond their preconceived natural limits. Power as great as that was how magic was used in the beginning of time, Twilight. Perhaps that is magic existing naturally. Perhaps not.” Luna smiled mischievously. “But then again, you are the element of magic, after all.”
“And the shadow… the shadow liked it when I lost control. It liked it when I was… vicious.” The unicorn shuddered, remembering how it danced around her whenever she let the power direct her actions.
Luna nodded, her expression distant. “The shadow is indeed malicious. It always has been, ever since the dawn of time.” Twilight remembered the world of shadow she had seen in the pool of moonlight, and the creatures it had spawned, and she had to suppress another shudder. “And I believe it always will, till the end of time itself. The shadow looks upon anything connected with harmony with scorn, and stops at nothing to see its destruction.”
“It truly is. Much has been defeated, but there are always shadows, Twilight, within our minds, within the dark places in creature’s hearts. It always has a voice. We must choose to listen, or to fight its influence.”
“But…” Twilight said, thinking hard. “We are in Celestia’s mind, so what does that mean? This ‘shadow’ doesn’t even really exist within Equestria’s mythology – though it makes sense when examining the dark forces. I mean, just look at Discord-”
“Or me,” Luna interjected, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
Twilight smiled at Luna kindly. “Or Nightmare Moon, yes. They reject harmony, just like you said. This ‘shadow’ could definitely exist, even if it isn’t all that noticeable. But why is it here? It’s so powerful, in so much control. It must mean something.”
“Well,” Luna said, her expression thoughtful. “I have noticed the saturation of my sister’s magics throughout Equestria since my return. She has woven power from the elements into the very fabrics of the ecosystems and societies. It is subtle work, but its effects are profound. Perhaps that is why you see little of the shadow. As for why it is here, perhaps it is fear from the past? We spent the better part of several millennia fighting the shadow. We… we lost much. It would be a part of her.”
Twilight had to forcibly close her jaw; she was still reeling from Luna’s throwaway comment about the integrated nature of Celestia’s power within pony society. It was… downright terrifying! “The Princess… she changed the entire world with the elements of harmony?” Twilight said slowly, stressing each word.
Luna looked at her and shook her head. “Not changed. Influenced. Pony nature has changed subtly, as has the mindsets of all beasts and civilisation. It is subtle that any being without the perspective of millennia would not notice it, but it is there. The very air is filled with a gentle power.” Luna stopped, looking at Twilight’s mortified expression with sudden apprehension. “Oh! It is not forceful! In fact, it is the opposite. It does not change things; it encourages change. It facilitates peace and love. It strengthens ponies’ hearts, gives them the peace to live happy lives in harmony with the world.
“It is vast improvement, Twilight Sparkle. I saw your rehearsal of the Hearth’s Warming story. The world was very different than what you showed. Your view has been skewed by a cultural perspective of years of peace and tolerance. The reality was darkness of a most malicious nature. Life was different back then, Twilight. It only started to resemble what you would recognise as pony life after Equestria was formed. Even then, it was not until after Discord fell that we were able to shape the social fabric to something you would be familiar with today.”
Twilight stared at Luna, completely dumbfounded. Sure, academic theory supported Luna’s claims, but on a far more limited level. Life was harsher back then, but technology and the peace treaties helped facilitate growth… not magic!
“But always remember, Twilight, it was the strength of the pony’s soul and love for peace and harmony that drove change. Throughout history, pony folk wanted to live in peace, and it was this desire that led to the formation of Equestria. It led to the fall of Discord, and it created the society that you live in today. Celestia controlled a magic that ponies gave to her. It is their dreams and desires that fill the air, that shape the world. My sister... or at least I believe it is her, just seems to help it along.”
Twilight nodded, not a little confused at the faint bitterness that filled the Princess’ last statement. “She… does that?”
Luna nodded, her eyes warm, but her lips were pulled taut. “She does. She desires nothing but harmony for her subjects.”
Twilight shook her head slowly, trying to process the information. She wondered whether or not the Princess even noticed the alarming flippancy with which she threw potentially entire-perspective-altering statements at her. Sighing gently, the unicorn realised that no, she probably didn’t.
“But Twilight, you have not told me what happened to you while we were separated!”
Twilight blinked. She hadn’t, had she? They had been so distracted by the skeletons and their battle that she hadn’t even thought of her previous adventures. “Um...” She wasn’t entirely sure where to begin. “Well, when I... ‘woke up’ I was standing in front of a massive city...” Twilight launched into her tale. She was a little unsure at first, but she quickly warmed into her recount. Luna was silent throughout, her eyes the only outward sign of emotion. She frowned when Twilight told her about the sped up aging, looked distant at the mention of the palace and its inhabitants, and looked downright furious when Twilight told her how the whole world had fallen to pieces.
“You did well, Twilight,” Luna interrupted. “That was some quick thinking to get out of the city alive...”
“I just don’t understand why it was like that!” Twilight said, exasperated. “You said it has to mean something, so what did the city mean? What did all of it mean?!”
Luna was silent for a long time. “I’m not sure, Twilight. I’m not sure at all. The city you described sounds like the cities of old. Perhaps that is what they have been modelled on. The rest... I am less sure. I don’t understand the aging, or why the world turned on you so.”
“Maybe the aging has something to do about Celestia’s fear of Canterlot crumbling?” Twilight suggested with a shrug.
Luna thought on it for a moment. “Perhaps... Perhaps it is how she perceives time.”
“What do you mean?”
The Princess looked on the unicorn with a clouded expression. “Time passes by effortlessly, Twilight. It must be so hard for you to truly appreciate, and I am sorry for that.” She paused. “Then, I am not sure that you actually are unlucky in that regard.”
“But what about the city burning? I made a connection to the sun and it’s Celestia’s mind. Why didn’t it work?”
“That I do not know, Twilight. That makes little sense to me at all – the city destroying itself even less. Such a violent reaction to the wrong choice...” Luna stopped, her eyes clouded by doubt.
Twilight frowned. “None of this is making any sense.” But didn't it? Twilight thought. Why didn’t it make sense? The Princess had thousands of years worth of history. Most of which Twilight knew absolutely nothing about. But everything in here was so... dark. Yet, if it was in Celestia’s, then Luna should know too, shouldn’t she? They were together for such a long time; at least that’s what the pool of moonlight had shown her. But the alicorn wasn’t saying anything directly, so Twilight couldn’t be sure.
“Sense? This is a dreamworld. It means something, yes, but it does not have to make sense. And besides, the dreamworld can show us things that even the host's mind does not want us to see, things that may not always be obvious.”
“But where does that leave us?” Twilight asked after a short pause, staring around at the ruin.
“Well,” Luna said, seemingly coming out of her own reverie. “The temple stands while the other aspects of the environment… fall. It must hold something of importance, I believe.”
Twilight nodded, getting to her hooves. “That seems logical enough.” She started to walk around the stone dais in the middle of the temple, staring at the stone carefully.
Luna descended the steps from the stage and peered closely at the small, nondescript stone altar set along the back wall.
Twilight examined the alicorns carved decoratively into the floor. They were in the exact same style as the ones she had seen in the city and back on Equestrian flags – monochromatic with long, thin bodies, devoid of any other defining characteristics. There were two of them, each one facing the other, heads held high. Twilight frowned; there was nothing special about any of this at all.
“Twilight!” Princess Luna cried out. “Come! I believe I may have found something!”
Twilight dashed over to the alicorn, who was staring intently at the altar’s side. When the unicorn reached her, she pointed to where she was looking. “What do you make of that?”
Twilight looked and saw a small symbol carved hastily in the side. It was a crude-looking mountain, and a full moon rising behind it, the spire of the peak seemingly balancing the celestial body on its point.
“Hmm,” Twilight murmured, tapping a hoof to her chin. “A mountain and the moon…?” The lavender unicorn looked toward the moon hanging within this world, and she froze. There it was! The moon hanging above the mountain!
There, perfectly framed by a large, open window, was the real-life version of the symbol. Twilight ran over to the window, followed by a still slightly confused Princess Luna.
“Ok,” Twilight said, examining every inch of the window sill. “It should be around here somewhere…”
“What?” Luna asked, her head tilted to one side.
“A clue!” Twilight cried out. “The image visible in this window is identical to the symbol! Something has to be here!”
“Oh!” Luna said, comprehension dawning on her face. “Of course!”
Twilight smiled and returned to her searching. “Ooh!” she murmured. “I’ve found something!”
“What is it?”
The unicorn frowned. “It’s a sentence. It says, ‘The Truth is inside’.”
The Princess of the Night blinked. “‘The Truth is inside’? What does that mea-”
But she never finished, for as soon as the phrase left her mouth, the world disappeared in a vortex of darkness that instantly destroyed the world’s structure. Before either of them could tell what was happening, they were floating in an inescapable void.
It was the third time Twilight had experienced the phenomena, and it was just as hard to accept as the first time. She was present, but she didn’t exist. She was moving, but she had no mass. All facts were just as true as the others, but yet they couldn’t exist together.
And then there were the sounds. She didn’t remember them being all that prevalent in the second transition, but she had been leaving a world literally tearing itself apart at the time, so it wasn’t hard to believe that she had been otherwise preoccupied at the time.
Yet now, she could hear them – the whispering, laughing, and the screaming. The latter was particularly loud; it reverberated within the nothing, filling up Twilight, making her want nothing more than to crawl in her bed and hide underneath the covers. They were shouts of anger, of fear and of pain, and they echoed with the weight of ages and emotion.
Then, just like before, as soon as Twilight could feel it begin, the entire experience was over. Her body materialised around her, and she fell to the hard, baked earth with a thump.
Twilight groaned, fighting her surging stomach. Three times, and each time she had to struggle to keep her dinner inside.
The unicorn rolled over to her front and stopped, suddenly frowning. It was hot… really hot. Really uncomfortably hot.
Twilight finally forced her eyes open and gasped.
The brown and scorched landscape stretched around the pony for as far as she could see. The terrain was broken by huge, deformed boulders, and the charcoaled skeletons of trees standing a lonely watch over the wasteland.
But that’s not what Twilight was looking at.
A monstrous volcano dominated the horizon, tearing forth from the wasted earth, soaring into the ash-ridden sky. Fire erupted from its peak, spewing a deluge of ash and flame into the atmosphere. Torrents of lava flowed down its cracked and barren slopes, filling the rivers of fire that criss-crossed the landscape around them. Low rumbles occasionally filled the air, and the ground shook as the volcano discharged more molten rock and ash.
Yet that was not all. Visible even despite the shroud of smog and ash, the sun burned like a furnace in the sky, its body a dark red, not the warm golden yellow like back home. This sun was old, but it filled the air with an oppressive heat. It pressed down on Twilight like a physical weight, and she could practically feel her skin baking beneath her coat.
Twilight stood up, and she saw Luna stand next to her in the corner of her eyes. “What is this place?” Twilight asked, staring around the world with wide eyes.
“I… I do not know,” Luna admitted softly, also staring around at the world with poorly concealed trepidation and awe.
The two mares were standing on the remnants of what looked like a stone path. Most of the cobbles were gone, and the remainders were caked in soot and baked dirt. The path curled its way through the badlands towards the mountain, often drawing close to rivers of fire.
About fifty feet down the road, standing in the pathetic shade provided by one of the dead trees, was an old wooden signpost. Twilight and Luna both looked on it simultaneously, before turning to each other, the same question written in both their eyes.
Twilight tried to teleport over to the sign, but was met with another invisible and impossible barrier preventing her from moving through space. Sighing, she turned to Luna, and they started to walk the old fashioned way over to the marker. While it didn’t seem like much, in a world as constructed as this one, something as blatant as a road and a sign post had to be important.
Together, they stepped up to the road marker. It was a weathered and scorched lone wooden post, a single direction marked like a banner at the top. The sign pointed toward the mountain, and it was labelled, ‘Truth’.
“Well, that message is certainly subtle,” Luna muttered darkly, frowning at the sign post.
“Well it’s definitely better than nothing,” Twilight said hopefully.
Luna shot Twilight a sideways glance. “Yes, that it is. I just fear what the nature of this so called ‘truth’ may be.”
“Only one way to find out.” Twilight turned toward the volcano, peering at its looming, bulky shadow. Luna nodded, and they set out once more.
As they walked, the landscape changed little. The earth was scorched and devoid of any life. Boulders sat like the artwork of surrealist sculptors, the basalt set into twisted and jagged patterns. Rivers of molten rock bubbled slowly around them, and more than once Luna was forced to fly them over sections of the road where the lava flows had flooded the path.
And it was scorching hot. The heat seemed to suck any moisture out of the air, leaving nothing but the dry, dehydrated carcass of the atmosphere in its place. Concerned about what the heat would be doing to their bodies, Luna summoned forth two cups and filled them pure, sparkling water from the ether. The speed and ease with which she did this left Twilight awed, and she vowed to dedicate a few weeks of extra study to creation magic when she got home. There was a simple elegance with the way the Princess created the water in the air, letting it form out of nothing and flow in currents created by her whim.
When Twilight’s throat no longer felt like a piece of charcoal, they set out again. A slow-moving river of lava flowed about fifty feet to their left, and Twilight could feel the heat radiating from it like it would from an oven.
Feeling an inexplicable need to break the silence, Twilight spoke, “Princess, back in the night world, I actually met somepony.”
“You did?” Luna said, taken aback.
“Yeah. I was walking through the forest before I met up with you and I came across this bridge. But before I could cross, a pony stepped out in front of me and asked me questions before I could pass.”
“What did this pony look like?”
“Well, he was dressed in this weird, flowing black cloak. His coat was a really pale white colour and he had a light-grey mane and tail. I couldn’t see his cutie mark, but his eyes were pure white. He didn’t even have any pupils!” She shuddered slightly at the memory.
“Hmm.” Luna frowned, staring ahead at the volcano, her expression occupied. “Did you ask his name?”
“Well, no,” Twilight admitted. “He spoke in strange riddles half of the time. The other half he was either asking me questions or being extremely vague.”
“Questions like what?” the Princess asked.
“Well, he asked why I wanted to cross, and I told him about Princess Celestia and wanting to find you. Then he went on about ‘falling from grace’ and something about the balance and order of things. I honestly didn’t understand most of it.” Twilight frowned a little at the thought. “Then he told me to ‘beware’ if I crossed the bridge – something about how he didn’t control the other side.”
Luna nodded slowly, clearly deep in thought. “Interesting. It is rare to find sentient beings who operate with some degree of autonomy within dreamscapes. But this one sounds disturbingly conscious of his environment, claiming to hold some level of control is intriguing to say the least.”
“But does that mean he wasn’t a figment of the Princess’ mind, and that he was actually something else entirely?”
“It is hard to say,” Luna said. “Without meeting him, it is nigh impossible. Perhaps he is my sister’s representation of an individual being, or perhaps he is here of his own free will. With this type of magic, it is always complicated.”
“He also told me that there is ‘more than meets the eye’. I am not sure what he was talking about, though.”
Luna snorted. “In here, there is always more than meets the eye. There are always meanings hidden within meanings, gears within gears, wheels within wheels, Twilight Sparkle. One must simply look to find them.”
“So what does a volcanic wasteland mean?” Twilight asked, only joking a little bit.
Smiling, the Princess of the Night answered her, “Just because I know that there are truths to be found does not mean I actually know them.”
Twilight thought the Princess’ words over for a moment. “Well, I just hope Celestia is here. Even though I feel completely back to normal after coming to this world, this place is hard work.”
“Yes,” Luna agreed. “That it is, Twilight Sparkle, that it is.”
The two ponies had started to climb the volcano in earnest now, following the path as it corkscrewed on itself in a series of switch-backs. On each turn, a rough stone pillar stood as sentinels over the walkway, watching the world with their tired, crumbling gaze.
Every now and then, the earth would rumble as another explosion tore its way through the rock deep within the bowels of the earth. These triggered cascades of rubble and scree to fall tumbling down the mountain slopes.
To their left, the entire flank of the mountain was becoming consumed by a blanket of lava that was spewing forth from the peak. Thankfully, a small ridge was directing the flows away from the path, forcing it down the mountain toward the plain instead. Down on the surface, Twilight watched the skeletons of the trees combust in balls of orange and red flame whenever the lava drew too close.
About halfway up, Twilight noticed exactly where the path was heading. A great black opening was set into the mountainside like a gaping wound. Twilight pointed towards the cave, and Luna nodded.
“Into the depths of a volcano that is literally erupting every few minutes,” Twilight said with a grumble. “Great.” She looked away. Her stomach twisted at the sight of the jagged hole in the earth, leading towards the dark and the unknown.
Luna said nothing, choosing instead to adjust her wings against her body.
As the cave drew closer, Twilight was able to see just how big it actually was. It looked to be almost fifty feet wide and almost thirty feet high. Massive stone supports flanked it on both sides, the pillars literally merging with the rock of the mountain behind it. Twilight thought she could see some statues standing near the entrance but wasn’t completely sure just yet.
The two mares crested the last switch back, and there it was. The path widened out to a large ledge directly in front of the cave. Twilight saw that she had been right; there were two statues standing guard by the entrance, tall and proud in their demeanour. Both were alicorns, just like the ones she had seen in all of the worlds previous. Looking closer, Twilight could see that one the word ‘Truth’ had been engraved on its base and on the other was the word ‘Learn’.
The cave itself fell away into a dark opening that sucked the visibility from the tunnel. Twilight thought she could see flickering red glows within, though, so hopefully that meant there was some light.
“Well,” Twilight said to the Princess who standing next to her, staring into the darkness. “Do we go in?” The darkness seemed to beckon to her, and the unicorn gulped.
“We have no other choice,” Luna said evenly.
Twilight took a deep breath, trying to prepare herself for whatever may lay ahead. With these dream worlds, it could be just about anything. Crazy living monsters of lava? Definitely not impossible! Something darker... something dangerous? Something...
Luna turned around and gave the unicorn a look of concern. “Are... are you coming, Twilight?”
Twilight opened her mouth but closed it. Staring at Luna’s eyes, a ball of steel formed itself in her spirit. Resolve, Applejack would call it. Rainbow would call it loyalty. Smiling slightly, the unicorn nodded and followed the Princess into the darkness.
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Twilight, just behind Princess Luna, stepped into the cave. At first, it was pitch-black, the stone around them seeming to suck the light from the world despite the huge entrance behind them. Their hoof-steps echoed loudly in the dark tunnel as they walked on hard stone. As they went further, however, flickering red and yellow glows filled their vision, finally shedding some light in the cave.
Twilight gasped after they came across the first source of light. A single torch was set in a bracket on the wall, the fire shedding a magical glow. But for Twilight, her gaze was locked on the walls themselves.
Instead of stone like she was expecting, the walls looked like they were made completely of glass. The uneven and multi-faceted surfaces were shaped in places like a massive gemstone. Twilight peered into the transparent walls, examining the thousands of tiny cracks and flaws within. The light from the torch seemed to almost refract from within the walls, bouncing off of the natural curves and bends.
“It’s like glass…” Twilight whispered, staring at the roof, floor and sides with awe. “It’s made completely out of glass. Look! You can’t even see the end!”
“It is just like the moonlight caves in Iyecaris,” Luna said, staring around at their surroundings with wide eyes.
“Huh?” That was a name Twilight had never heard before. The way Luna had pronounced the word like she were singing made it sound like it came from another language.
“A place from my past, Twilight. It’s high up in the frozen mountains on the top of the world. The caves there would collect moonlight and feed it into the river Styx that poured into Tartarus.”
“Collect moonlight? That’s just like the cave I found back in the forest.”
Luna bit her lip, though Twilight did not know why. “I know. And here it is again...”
“It’s incredible,” Twilight said, starting to move again, still staring at the walls of glass around her.
“Yes,” Luna replied, her voice distant and barely louder than a whisper. “It is.”
The tunnel plunged into the depths of the mountain, angling gently downwards. Torches were set evenly into the walls on alternating sides every fifty or so paces, filling the cave with more than enough light to see. Apart from their own hoof-steps and the crackling of the magical fire, it was completely silent.
At least, Twilight thought, it’s a little bit cooler in here than it is out in the sun.
They walked down into the earth, not saying much, just staring at the tunnel around them. The walls of glass were so… otherworldly. Surreal, almost.
It wasn’t long before Twilight first saw it. In the corner of her vision, there was a sudden flash of colour. She stopped and peered into the glass wall, trying to see whatever had caused the flash. Luna had stopped too, but she was looking in the opposite wall, searching for something that was clearly no longer there.
Twilight watched as a light began to grow in the depths of the transparent walls. Red and inky darkness swirled together, and occasionally a streak of blue, white, green, gold or silver would flash through it all, leaving a trail in its wake. As Twilight stared, the light became larger and larger, slowly drawing closer to the edge of the walls.
And then, with a rush of light that seemed to almost make the walls explode with images, the pictures raced towards the unicorn, filling the wall completely with a mess of indiscriminate colour. Twilight stumbled backwards in the shock of the sudden movement. She righted herself after a meek whimpering sound.
“The walls are moving,” Luna whispered, staring on her side where the wall had done the exact same thing.
“I…” Twilight said, unable to tear her eyes away from the swirling shapes visible inside the walls.
Suddenly, the light shifted. Twilight felt like she was falling, as the image flew through darkness before righting itself inside what looked like a gigantic stone cavern.
All was still for a moment before the darkened cavern was suddenly illuminated with a wash of red, orange and yellow light. It flickered and danced feverishly along the walls, revealing grotesque formations that looked like tumours clinging to the rock. The light coming from beneath grew and grew, until Twilight could finally see its source. A roaring inferno was burning from somewhere out of the image, filling the hall with a wall of flames that consumed everything in its path.
But even as the fire grew, Twilight watched as a single point of white light formed near the ceiling. The speck of light shone brightly despite the darkness and the fire, casting out rays of silver into the cavern. A battle was forming between the light and the fire, each one vying for supremacy within the enclosed space.
But then, even as both sides looked to be nearing a climax, the image suddenly disappeared in a flash of shadow. Twilight watched the light swirl, rearranging itself before her very eyes.
The image started to settle, and Twilight could see another huge underground cavern, this one filled with massive spires and pillars that reached from the floor to the ceiling. The entire thing was filled with fire. It swirled like clouds through the air and vomited forth from every crack or crevice in the floor. The ground was awash with lava, the molten rock filling every depression. It was hard to tell without a frame of reference, but Twilight guessed the cavern would have been easily over a mile high.
But that’s not what she was looking at. All Twilight could see was the mass of moving creatures. The cavern was filled with them; entire legions of beasts and monsters rushed around like scuttled ants, screaming in soundless voices to the roof of the cavern. Twilight could see hydras, dragons, wyverns, basilisks, trolls, giant wolves and even more that she did not recognise.
But they were all subtly different. The hydras weren’t the muted natural tones of the ones in Equestria; these were all pitch black, their hides almost looking like living rock. The dragons, instead of being covered in a thin pattern of smaller scales, were all protected by huge plates of bulking and jagged armour, each one meshing together like the chitinous exoskeletons of many insects.
All of the monsters were shrouded in shadow and flame, and all of them were armed.
But what Twilight couldn’t stop looking at were the marshals of shadow and fire themselves. Twilight realised she was staring at the living manifestations of the statues and paintings she had seen in the old city, the statue with the whip in its hand, fire in the other. Black horns curled up from their heads, and their chitinous bodies glowed a scalding red.
There were several of them, all standing on two legs, holding massive, cruel weapons constructed out of metal so black it looked like tar, covered in glowing red symbols. Their darkened bodies were cracked, and Twilight could see the red glow seeping forth from the fissures. They were all encased in spined fragments of armour made out of the same black metal as their weapons.
“Daemons...” Luna whispered, her voice breathless and quick, a panicked voice.
Twilight didn’t answer. She didn’t ask what daemons were. She couldn’t. All she could do was stare.
The daemons stood watch over their dominion, standing over twenty feet tall. As hard as Twilight tried, she could not stop looking at these ancient monsters, these monstrosities from an age forgotten by history itself. But if the picture Twilight was watching really was true... then these monsters... they were real...
Suddenly, an explosion of gold and silver tore a massive hole in the roof of the cavern. Twilight watched as all of the beasts fled to avoid the massive pieces of stone now plummeting to the ground, splintering in their own miniature explosions on impact. Bright light flooded from the hole that had not been there mere seconds ago, and from it came two objects. Two glowing creatures of grace, flying into the heart of darkness, encased in halos of pure light.
The two beings soared into the room, one as fair and beautiful as the sun, the other as elegant and mysterious as the moon. Both were sheathed in shimmering armour that hugged their bodies naturally and effortlessly, embedded with jewels and other pieces of finery. Twilight watched as they summoned tremendous amounts of power while the daemons below howled and screamed, throwing waves of fire at the magnificent creatures.
The pair broke apart in tandem, swirling away to avoid the burning missiles before coming back together, leaving trails of light in their wake. Twilight watched as the there was a flash, and then each creature slowed to a stop, hovering over the burning cavern, illuminating the shadow with beams of light.
The two creatures, alicorns of the heavens, looked at the chaos beneath them. Suddenly, the light around them seemed to stretch and elongate, forming two bright beams. Twilight stared in awe as the beams materialised, forming weapons of terrible beauty and craft.
The Midnight one levitated a sword of the deepest blue, the thin and slightly curving blade shimmering like the night’s sky. It was razor sharp and sliced through the air with elegant ease, sending sparks of liquid silver flying off into the shadow.
The creature of the Light held a massive spear, one of pure gold. It was a thick and hefty weapon that broadened out into a broad, wide blade, the edge keen and glinting in the light. It was decorated with silver filigree looking like infant vines that seemed to flow into the blade itself.
Together, their weapons held within shimmering auras of power, the pair descended on the shadow beneath them. They swept through the legions of monsters, leaving ruin in their wake. The daemons roared, fire spewing forth from their mouths. They drew their weapons and took flight on massive wings of darkness, launching themselves at the beings of light. The larger of the daemons, wielding a whip in one hand and a jagged sword in the other, led the charge.
Twilight stood, shaking in fear, unable to look away. The alicorns and the daemons engaged in a ferocious battle, explosions of pure energy and sparks of molten metal flying off as shields, bolts, and weapons collided with terrible force. The angels pirouetted effortlessly in the air, avoiding the savage blows of the daemons before striking with lances of magic or making calculated strikes with their blades.
Soon, the daemons began to fall, their bodies leaving crumpled ruins in amongst the broken stone on the floor, still smoking from the energies sent tearing through their bodies.
The darkness and the fire was strong, but the light was unrelenting, filling the entire cavern with its presence.
The light could not be stopped.
“Lu… Luna…?” Twilight whispered, still trembling.
“I am here, Twilight Sparkle,” came the distant reply. Her voice sounded like it came from another world, the voice of a ghost trapped in time.
“What… is that?”
“A moment in time, Twilight. A moment in history long forgotten by all. And for good reason.”
“Where… where are you?”
“But…” Twilight shook her head. Not wanting to believe. Unable to believe. “I have seen Tartarus! I have looked at the gates! I have seen Fluttershy pet Cerberus! Tartarus is not that!” Her voice was loud, manic even, as she tried to process what she was looking at.
Luna watched the terrible angels with sadness as they cast down another daemon into the fire. “There is more than one level to Tartarus, Twilight Sparkle. There are seven,” she said softly. “Each one more terrible than the last. Remember what I told you about the magic of the elements changing the world around it? The same is true for hell itself. Things are different now. I do not know if the effect has penetrated the depths of all of the seven levels, but regardless, Tartarus looked very different. This is how things were, Twilight. This is the history of your home… our history.”
“But… your weapons… your armour…” Twilight mumbled, not quite looking the Princess in the eye.
“Yes,” Luna said, her voice weighted with sadness. “Narliah and Alduaine, blades of the heavens. The sword of moonlight and the spear of the sun. They were our companions.”
Twilight watched as a massive hydra reared its head in the image, fire seeping out from its mouth, eyes and nose, its body cracked and crystalline like stone put under immense heat and pressure. The hydra roared, snapping at the angels with ferocious jaws. The Midnight one swerved and with one fell stroke, removed the creature from one of its heads. There was a swirl of darkness and of fire, but before the head could regrow, the Light sent forth a beam of energy, striking the wound and crippling the beast. With a howl, the hydra fell, and the Light fell upon it, plunging its spear into the monster’s heart. It twitched, and the fires within it went out and it lay still.
“I… don’t understand,” Twilight whispered at last. She stared at the equally magnificent and terrible form of her mentor, her ethereal mane swirling about her face as she removed her spear, before leaning down to whisper to the deceased monster. With a heavy expression, she took flight again, rejoining her sister in battle.
“I… That was a long time ago, Twilight. I have said it before; the world is now very different. That was the first of many wars for peace in Equestria’s early history. We learned… so much from it. Mistakes were made that we swore never to repeat again, and we strive to live by those vows.” Luna looked troubled by her own words, lost in thought.
Suddenly, the image shifted subtly. The legions were gone, and instead there was only a single daemon. He stood over thirty feet high, his black armour dripping with fire. He roared at the angels who answered him with silent grace.
“Who… who was that?” Twilight said, staring at the great and terrible monster.
“That was Necroth. One of the great daemons of the seventh level of Tartarus. He was one of their leaders, a puppet of the shadow, and a being of unspeakable evil and hatred.”
“One… one of?”
Luna nodded. “Yes. One of.”
“What happened to them?”
“We stopped them, Twilight Sparkle. We lost so much, but we stopped them. We sealed the lower levels for all eternity, slaying or trapping all of the worst creatures inside.”
“It was a war?”
“One of the worst this world has ever, or will ever see. Only Discord rivals its destruction. Be thankful for my sister’s magic, Twilight Sparkle. Be very thankful.”
“But you helped. You saved Equestria from these daemons and from Discord!”
The Princess turned on Twilight, her eyes burning. “And then witness what I did in payment! I cast the world into night, seeking to control it!” Twilight flinched as Luna’s voice suddenly rose, echoing off the glass walls. “I am no better than them, Twilight Sparkle! I am no better!”
“Princess! No! That’s not-”
“Twilight, please stop!” Luna said, her voice jarringly lower, but menacingly chilling. “I know what I am. I know better than anypony – mortal or not. You cannot convince me otherwise. I can only atone for what I have done.”
“Please, Twilight Sparkle. We should continue. We have lingered here long enough.” With that, Luna turned and started to walk away down the flickering tunnel.
Twilight stared plaintively after her, before running to catch up. She wanted to speak, but she didn’t. She wanted to run as fast as she could back toward the opening, but she didn’t. She held her tongue, respecting the Princess’ desire, and she stayed.
Because sometimes, that’s what a friend needed to do.
They had been walking in silence for about ten minutes when the tunnel finally ended. At first the images on the walls had faded out of existence, at last no longer showing the scenes of terror and violence within hell itself.
Then the glass walls began to change. Veins of glossy black rock could be seen running through the transparent walls, growing thicker and more numerous as they went.
Finally, the amount of rock in the walls outnumbered the amount of glass, and then there was none at all. Twilight noticed the subtle change in the sound her hoofsteps made on the floor, and realised that the glass had been left behind, and now they were firmly back in amongst rock. The temperature was growing again, and Twilight guessed that this meant they were nearing the centre of the volcano.
Then suddenly, without any warning, the tunnel ended, and the two mares found themselves in a huge stone cavern. It was filled with empty space, a curtain of dust hanging in the air like a smog, shifting and shimmering under the light of the fires burning along the walls. Twilight looked at the massive stone pillars and the boulders lying around and shivered as she remembered the levels within Tartarus she had seen only minutes ago. A small waterfall of lava flowed into a small pool up against the far right hoof side, bubbling gently.
But what Twilight and Luna were focused on was the stage and the thrones at the back of the cavern, for there, lying curled up in front of them, her mane shimmering gently around her white body, was Princess Celestia.
“Princess!” Twilight shouted, sprinting towards her mentor as fast as she could. “Princess! It’s me, Twilight!”
Twilight could feel the wind from Luna flying just above her, but she only had eyes for the Princess, who looked up at the sound of Twilight’s voice, her face illuminated by her smile, visible even from so far away.
“Twilight!” Celestia called out. Her voice was still as rich and beautiful as ever, but it shook slightly at the end, like someone who was struggling to stay awake. “My faithful student!”
“Princess!” Twilight said again, rushing up to Celestia and throwing her legs around the alicorn in a hug. “We came to find you, Princess.”
“Sister!” Luna said from behind her. “You are safe!”
“You came to find me?” the Princess asked, confusion written over her face. “Why?”
Up close, Twilight could see that her coat wasn’t quite as white as it usually was, almost as if it had lost its luminescence. Her mane seemed less ethereal as well, more like normal hair now. But she was still, without a doubt, the same Princess she loved. “Because we have to bring you home, Princess. Equestria needs you back. The sun won’t rise, and so we came to get you.”
Celestia nodded. “Yes, the sun does need to be raised. But I cannot return, Twilight. That task lies with Luna for the time being.”
“I… what?!” Twilight cried.
“Indeed. I have to rest, Twilight. I need to sleep. Luna has to raise the sun till I return. She has to rule Equestria.”
“But sister…” Luna said, her eyes wide and fearful. “I cannot! I cannot rule! That is your responsibility, not mine! We entered your mind to bring you back. You cannot leave me alone!”
Celestia cocked her head to one side, looking at her sister intently. “My mind? Whatever do you mean?”
“The dreamscape, Sister. We used the celestial void to enter your dreamscape.”
Celestia shook her head, a small frown on her face. “That cannot be. I sealed that away after you left. I prevented any of us from entering another’s dreamscape – we can only enter our own.”
Twilight froze, staring at Luna. It couldn’t be… It didn’t make sense… but did it?
“But- we- I…” Luna spluttered, her eyes darting to-and-fro. “That is impossible! I cast the spell on your mind! We entered into it! I felt it, I saw it! We are in your mind!”
“You can’t be,” Celestia replied evenly. “Only I can enter my mind, and only you yours. The only exception to that is if you willingly bring someone into your own, something only you or I know how to do. And before I slept, I did not bring you in.”
“But… but… I don’t understand…” Luna said, staring at her sister in shock.
It started slowly at first, but it quickly gained momentum. The laugh echoed from every corner of the cavern, filling it to its entirety. It was a cold, cruel laugh, and one that Twilight had heard before.
“Are you finally figuring it out?” Nightmare Moon’s voice hissed down from the ceiling, reverberating off of the stone. “Can you finally begin to grasp that this isn’t your precious sister’s mind, but rather your own prison?”
Luna’s eyes widened, and Twilight watched every single muscle in her body freeze and lock up. She could practically hear the heartbeat within the Princess’ chest from here.
“You cannot escape from me, Luna.” The voice practically spat the last word, loading her voice with as much contempt as possible. “I am inside every part of you. I am inside your mind when you are awake. I am inside your mind when you dream. I am a part of you, and I am always there, and I am always stronger than you.”
“No!” Twilight shouted back. “You’re not strong! You’re cowardly! You think power is all that it takes to be strong, to be respected, but that’s not true!”
Nightmare Moon laughed again. “Oh, and it’s precious little Twilight Sparkle. Such a pleasure as always. It’s nice to see you without your friends. Perhaps now we will show you what happens to those who dare defy the will of a goddess.”
“You…” Luna said, softly at first, but her voice rapidly gained volume and fire. “You shall not touch her!”
“Or what, Luna? What could you possibly hope to do? Your sister is too weak to fight, and the mortal lacks her friends to trick me like she did before. All there is, is you and me. And I think we both know who the stronger one between us is.”
“You shall not touch either of them,” Luna said again, her voice firm and resolute and fiery like a forest fire. “I shall crush you like we did the forces of hell. I shall crush you like we did the Puppet Master Discord!”
Nightmare Moon laughed again, and trails of shadow started to crawl into sight from every corner of the cave. The wisps of darkness pooled in the centre of the cavern, coalescing into the outline of an alicorn. “Fool,” she said, her voice hissing like a snake’s. “I am stronger than you. I always have been. You couldn’t change me, and so I won. And I will win again!”
With a flash of shadow, Nightmare Moon launched herself across the hall at Luna. Her cold and wicked armour materialised on her as she flew, and she summoned forth a blade shaped identically to the one Twilight had seen in the images in the wall. But this was a black with the dull gleam of ice, imbued with glowing runes, just like the daemon’s weapons.
Luna reacted, throwing herself to the side, drawing Nightmare Moon away from Twilight and her sister. Twilight watched as Luna encased herself with a halo of energy, her eyes suddenly glowing white instead of their normal teal. Luna cast a bolt of energy that sizzled in the air as it flew towards Nightmare, but the dark goddess absorbed the blow easily with her shield, laughing as her protection barely rippled.
“Please! Is that all? If you are going to make an attempt at beating me, show some strength!” With a snarl, Nightmare Moon sent two crackling beams of dark lightning streaking over to Luna, rending her shield apart with an explosion of energy. Twilight felt Celestia struggle to cast a shield around the pair of them, protecting them from the discharge of magic sent flying across the room.
She looks so weak, Twilight thought, moving a little closer to the white alicorn.
Luna tried to swerve to avoid the worst of the blow, but Nightmare pounced, closing the distance between them with two powerful flaps of her wings and a flourish of shadow. She brought her sword hissing down through the air towards the Princess, a sneer painted on her lips. Luna, realising she couldn’t avoid the blow, grimaced and sent out every ounce of her magic in a solid beam to absorb the strike.
Nightmare Moon’s sword struck beam of light with an explosion of sparks, and for the second time, Luna’s shield flickered and fell. But not before she was able to push herself away with a backwards arch through the air to give herself some space.
The dark goddess watched Luna back away with contempt. “See? You cannot beat me! You do not even have the strength to summon Narliah to focus your power. You are too weak to use your true potential!”
Luna allowed herself to land, catching her breath. She held Nightmare Moon’s gaze for as long as she could before looking down, her expression twisted in frustration.
Nightmare Moon took advantage of this lapse in concentration, and she swept forwards towards the Princess on a wave of shadow. “Fool!” she screamed. “You are weak! You are nothing compared to your sister! Nothing!”
As Nightmare spoke, Twilight watched Luna’s face change. Her lower lip trembled and her eyes narrowed into pinpricks. She looked up, her face a mask of rage. “I am not weak!” Luna screamed.
With a blinding flash of light, Luna encased herself with yet another ball of energy. She disappeared and materialised a few feet to the left, neatly avoiding Nightmare’s vicious swings. Nightmare turned with unnatural agility, her sword already waiting to strike again, but this time, Luna was ready.
She stood, encased in armour constructed out of shimmering blue and white light. Her eyes blazed like stars, and her mane was more ephemeral than real. Beside her, shedding the last of the silver light encasing it barely a second before, her sword, Narliah, glinted at the ready, its elegant blade testing the air in front of her.
With a cry, Luna charged Nightmare Moon, striking at the dark goddess with a flurry of blows calculated to outmatch her opponent through pure speed. Twilight watched her funnel all of her power through the sword as she struck high and low in a complex series of strikes.
Nightmare blocked them all with lightning speed, but Twilight saw the grimace that had spread across her face. Luna brought her sword down in a savage cut that Nightmare parried, and both their blades glinted off the other in a shower of sparks. Luna used the deflection to her advantage, changing the blade’s momentum to sweep sideways, attacking Nightmare’s legs. The dark goddess flicked her blade down, but she was too slow, and the strike hit home, opening a shallow cut at the top of Nightmare’s left leg.
She snarled and sent out a wave of power that forced Luna backwards. The shadow alicorn examined her wound with fury, and with a burst of light from her horn, the flesh stopped bleeding. She couldn’t close it, though, a side effect of magical blades, Twilight guessed.
“You can halt the bleeding,” Luna said, panting. “I must not have struck you hard enough. Perhaps next time…”
“Be my guest,” Nightmare said, gritting her teeth. “You will not get a second chance. It is nice to see you embrace your power, but that will not save you.”
With a flourish of shadow, Nightmare Moon materialised next to Luna, bringing her sword down in a savage arc onto her back. Luna flicked her sword around and only just managed to deflect the blow. Nightmare quickly followed up on her advantage, pressing Luna back towards the thrones with a series of blows so fast that Twilight lost sight of the two blades – they were just blurs of light, visible only when they stopped long enough for a shower of sparks to be sent flying.
Luna was being beaten backwards, barely keeping up with Nightmare’s pace. With each strike, the dark goddess channelled more power into her blade, allowing it to ripple and glow with energy. The shields around the two goddesses grew brighter and brighter, surrounding them both with balls of light.
Luna slipped, and Nightmare’s blade smashed into Luna’s shield, causing it to explode with a wave of energy that tore the very air apart. Loose wisps of magic filled the cave, burning and hissing as they disappeared into nothing. Twilight watched in horror as Luna was violently thrown backwards, Narliah hitting the ground next to her with a clang.
Nightmare Moon moved to stand over Luna as a cloud of shadow, materialising with her sword pointed at the Princess’ throat. She sneered at the midnight alicorn, her cat-like eyes narrowed into slits.
“You are weak, Luna. Know that. You cannot beat me, and you never will. I have more strength than you. I have more power. You could never win.” She paused, looking up at Celestia and Twilight with a sneer. “Do you want to know what happens if I kill you here within your own mind? You die. Luna will die, and I can possess her body. Think of that, Luna! I can permanently take control of your body and that way the elements of harmony can never defeat me. I will be unbeatable!”
“You…” Luna choked out. “You shall never be victorious. The others… will… find a method to… stop… you.” She winced as she coughed blood onto the stone.
“Fool. Not this time. This time, I win. Know that, Luna. Know that I shall win because I am stronger than you. Your friends will die because I am stronger than you. Your world will die…” She leaned in to Luna, and whispered in her ear, “Because I am stronger than you.”
With a sneer, she leaned back up. “Goodbye, Luna. Let the eversleep torture you for all eternity.” Her sword flicked up, and she brought it down in a shimmering swipe at Luna’s neck.
As the blade fell, Twilight watched the world slow to an absolute crawl. She saw Luna tense, and the unicorn’s own body became flooded in the icy grip of fear. “NO!” she screamed, her voice suddenly and inexplicably amplified by more power than Twilight had ever felt in her entire life. She was aware of everything, and she watched the magic dance as it brought death down on the Night Goddess.
Before Twilight was even aware of what was happening, she made up her mind. Her body disappeared into the ether, vanishing into a world of magic. The world was constructed out of nothing but magic, so it was a simple matter of accepting that fact, letting that truth enter her, become her. She crossed the distance between herself and Nightmare Moon in a fraction of a second, her body becoming awash with tingles as she passed through Celestia’s shield.
Twilight was pure energy, her body losing all physical form and structure. She was a purpose. She had to save Princess Luna. She had to save her.
Twilight slammed into Nightmare Moon with the force of a meteor. A shockwave of molten energy tore outwards like a supernova, shredding the stone in the cavern to pieces. Twilight ensured that it passed through Luna and Celestia harmlessly.
Nightmare Moon, on the other hoof, took the brunt of the power. Her body was sent flying, slamming into a pillar a mere ten feet away. The stone crumbled into dust, and she collapsed with it, limp and barely moving. As the shockwave passed, Twilight began to lose control of the power that made her. It rushed out of her, dissipating into nothing. Normally, she would return to her body, and the magic would leave, but Twilight had no such solace. She panicked as she realised that magic was all she was; she had no body. As the power vanished, so did she.
The unicorn tried to create a body, but it was useless. She had never done enough creation magic, and the power was leaving rapidly. She was vanishing from the dreamscape, fading into nothing.
But then, she felt a pull on her consciousness. A line had been drawn, a life preserver of magic tethering her to something permanent, something eternal. Twilight felt the pull and submitted herself to it, letting it take her wherever it wanted.
Twilight was aware of bright flash, and then, she inhaled – a deep and glorious breath that filled her lungs with air so sweet she could almost taste it. She opened her eyes, and saw Luna leaning up against a pillar, the light from her horn fading away.
“Princess!” Twilight began, but her knees suddenly buckled beneath her as a wave of nausea and fatigue washed over the unicorn. Before she knew it, Luna was standing over her, the princess looking battered and bloodied, but very much alive. “I’m fine, Princess,” Twilight murmured. “I just… need a moment to catch my breath.” She tried to smile at the alicorn, who frowned, concerned, down at her.
“So… so pathetic…” came a rasping voice from underneath a pile of rubble.
Luna turned and faced the ruined and broken Nightmare, who could do little more than watch helplessly from the rubble. “You have been cast down once more, Nightmare.” She flicked up her sword in a midnight blue glow, and limped over to the fallen shadow. “Your darkness is over.” She placed her sword against Nightmare Moon’s throat and pressed the blade against her flesh.
“Princess!” Twilight tried to call out, but her throat didn’t want to seem to work. Her cry was barely louder than a whisper.
“What?” Nightmare sneered. “Are you going to kill me? Are you going to finally decide to take my life and be strong? Can you do it? Can you actually show any kind of strength and kill me?”
Luna pressed the blade a little deeper, drawing a line of crimson to run down Nightmare’s neck from the sword’s point. She looked at Nightmare Moon with cold eyes, her expression torn. Then, with a sigh, she removed the blade.
“I didn’t think so,” Nightmare Moon mocked, breaking into another coughing fit, blood dribbling out of the corner of her mouth. “You are... too weak.”
Luna shook her head, a small smile on her face. “No, Nightmare. You are wrong. I… I do not have the strength to kill you, but I have the strength for something far greater.”
“And that is?”
“I have the strength to know that I was wrong, and that you are nothing but fear. I shall not be dictated to by fear. I shall not live in shadows of my own making. I shall be free. And that is how I am strong, Nightmare.”
She leaned down, placing her lips on the dark goddess’ ear. “I forgive you.”
And with that, she turned and limped away, leaving the broken body of Nightmare Moon in the rubble.
“No!” Nightmare Moon screamed, her voice cracking. “No! You can’t! You-” Luna’s horn flashed, and suddenly Nightmare’s voice disappeared. Her mouth still moved, but no sound escaped.
Luna helped Twilight to her hooves, and together they walked towards Celestia who was staring upon the pair with a warm and benevolent smile.
When they arrived, Twilight lay back down, and Luna followed suit. She looked toward her sister with an exhausted expression. “Tell me, sister. What are you doing here? I thought you said that you could not enter other’s dreamscapes unless they invited them in.”
“I am not sure,” Celestia replied. “I am not even sure that I am here. I believe that I am, however. Dreams are tricky little things.” She winked at the pair. “So perhaps when you tried to enter my mind, you established a connection that let my unconscious self enter yours.”
Luna nodded slowly, thinking back to the spell she cast on her older sister’s mind. “Why are you resting, sister? What happened?”
Celestia gave her little sister a searching look. “I used too much power, Luna. I took on a responsibility that was meant to be shared. I tried to control both the sun and the moon, and after a thousand years, it left me exhausted. And the battle with Chrysalis only made things worse. I needed to rest. You know this, Luna. You know the way magic of that level must regenerate... especially since I closed the celestial void to us.”
“But…” Luna began, her expression pleading. “You must return! You must! You have to raise the sun. It cannot remain nighttime in Equestria forever. The nobles and officials trust me little as it is. This would be perceived as a coup!”
Celestia just smiled as her sister’s voice rose in volume. “Breathe easy, dear Luna. Until I return, which should be soon, you know what to do. Just like when we were children. Do you remember on the plains of the void when we watched the heavens light up the creation? Do you remember? They were ours, Luna. Not mine and yours. Ours.”
Luna held her sister’s gaze for a moment, before lowering her head and nodding. “Just like before…”
“That’s it. You know. You can do this. I believe in you.”
Luna looked up and smiled softly. “Thank you, Sister.”
Celestia returned the smile, her expression saying more than words ever could.
Luna sighed, and turned to Twilight. “And Twilight Sparkle… I… thank you.”
“For what, Princess?” Twilight asked.
Luna looked up and smiled the exact same smile she gave her sister. “For everything, Twilight. For everything. Are you ready to go home?”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Ahhh yesplease!”
Luna chuckled. “Then it is no matter.”
“One second,” Twilight said, struggling to her hooves. She staggered over to Celestia and nuzzled her gently. “You promise you will be back soon?”
“I promise, my faithful student,” Celestia replied, returning the nuzzle. “You won’t even realise I’m gone.”
Twilight nodded, and took a shaky step away. She turned back to Luna. “Ok. I’m ready.”
The Princess of the Night smiled, her horn already glowing. “Then hold still, Twilight Sparkle. This may feel a little… strange.”
She touched her horn to Twilight’s and suddenly, the world melted away into a cloud of darkness.
With a groan, Twilight opened her eyes. She stretched on the ridiculously comfy bed she was laying on, feeling her muscles and joints crack and pop satisfyingly. She yawned once and looked around the room.
It took her a moment to realise it, but she was still in Princess Celestia’s chambers. She was lying on a bed that felt as soft as a cloud directly across from the Princess herself. Luna was on a similar bed on Twilight’s right, still sleeping blissfully. Gentle moonlight shone through the cracks in the velvet curtains, illuminating the two sleeping Princesses.
Smiling, Twilight examined Celestia. She couldn’t help but notice that her coat seemed to have regained some of its lustre. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light, but it definitely seemed to glow like it once did. Or maybe it was just the ghost of a smile that graced the sleeping Princess’ lips that gave the impression that the Princess was in a far better state of health. Twilight wasn’t sure.
Luna stirred gently, her large, teal eyes blinking as she opened them. She looked to Twilight and smiled. Twilight returned the smile as warmly as she could. Luna looked to her sister, and nodded once, a look of determination crossing her face.
“That... that was your mind?” Twilight asked hesitantly, biting on her tongue.
Luna looked at her for a long time, her expression troubled. “Yes. It would appear so.”
“What about Nightmare Moon?” Twilight asked slowly.
“A part of me, Twilight. Like everything you saw. My history and my fears. A part of me and one that will never leave.” She paused, staring past Twilight into nothing. “But... I feel... better,” she said simply.
Twilight thought back to everything she had seen. The city, the forest, the battle with the skeletons, the volcano, the visions inside and the fight with Nightmare Moon. She opened her mouth and then closed it again, struggling to comprehend. “I... you were really brave, Princess,” was all she said.
Luna looked at Twilight appreciatively. “Not as much as you, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Huh?” Twilight said, thinking of all the times she nearly ran away. “I wasn’t brave, not really.”
“You never left, Twilight Sparkle. You never abandoned me. I have the experience of millennia, millennia that you began to witness. You have no such expectation. You only have your strength, and you never left my side, even when it almost cost you your life..” She paused for a moment, staring at the unicorn with large, shining eyes. “...Thank you.”
Twilight smiled, her heart singing. “Anytime, Princess.” It was, after all, a simple and logical situation for the unicorn. A friend had needed help. Nothing could be easier, nothing could be more important.
Luna returned the expression, her smile lighting up the room still adorned with moonlight.
“What do we do now, Princess?” Twilight asked.
Luna smiled again and got up, the sheets falling like liquid moonlight to the floor around her. “Follow me, Twilight Sparkle. I shall show you.”
Curious, Twilight did as she was asked, slipping to her hooves, surprised at how much better she felt. The exhaustion from within the volcano had felt so real…
Twilight followed Luna as she stepped from the room and out onto the expansive balcony. Canterlot and the valley soared out below them, and Twilight could swear she could see the distant lights of Ponyville twinkling in the distance.
Luna smiled at the unicorn and nodded, turning her gaze to the horizon, staring up at the moon and stars hanging in the sky like little flowers of light.
“What now, Princess?” Twilight asked again.
“This…” Luna said with a quick smile. Her horn suddenly erupted into life, and Twilight had to look away from the sheer intensity of the magic. Luna closed her eyes, and her face scrunched up in concentration as the light covering her horn grew brighter and brighter, washing the castle behind them in a silvery light.
Princess Luna shifted her weight, her mouth stretched into a thin, tight line. Her back began to arch as if pressed down upon by a terrible weight. Twilight watched as her mane whipped around her body, driven by an imaginary wind. Luna cried out softly, her stance slipping.
But then, right as Twilight thought the Princess couldn’t possibly keep up the effort any longer, another glow joined the one from Luna’s horn. Twilight gasped as a warm, golden light flooded the horizon on the east, washing over the land with brilliant hues of orange, yellow and gold.
With one last final gasp, Luna let the magic go, her horn falling dark as the sun began its daily journey across the sky.
Twilight looked on the Princess, standing proudly, her mane floating around her regal features, and she smiled. She smiled like she would with any of her other friends. She smiled for them.
Somewhere down in the valley, a rooster crowed, heralding the arrival of the dawn. Ponies around the nation began to wake, the golden light of the sun drawing them out of peaceful slumbers, gently coaxing them out of worlds of their own making, containing all of their dreams, fears and desires. The sun rose, and Equestria rose with it, willing and eager to live like any other day.
Luna saw this, and she smiled. She smiled because another day had dawned over Equestria.
And it was hers.
Well there you go! Another story done and dusted. This one was a lot of fun – just letting my imagination go wherever it pleased and seeing what came out from it. I was trying to find my style outside of my last story and get some world-building ideas onto paper, and hopefully you guys liked it! As per my usual fashion, I am a firm believer of leaving things open for wide and various interpretations, so tell me what you think! What do you think the various landscapes and events in the dreamworld meant? I always love to hear what people’s thoughts on things were.
First, a big shout out to xX-Mr-No-Name-Xx for the awesome artwork! Be sure to check out his DA.
As always, my eternal gratitude to my editor Sessalisk. My work would be a mess of abysmal proportions if it wasn’t for her help, and for that I cannot thank her enough! Be sure to tell her she’s awesome!
Finally, a massive thank you to everyone for reading, commenting and faving/liking. It means the world to me, and I wish I could convey just how much each one makes my day! Stay awesome guys. If you haven’t already, be sure to thumb the story up, and drop as a star rating over on the EqD page. Every vote/like counts!
As for the future… Oh boy. As you may have noticed, there are some subtle historical events and then some not so subtle ones mentioned in this story, things I have been planning for months now. There is a massive world that I have started the ball rolling with this story, and if you liked this chuck us a watch because, well…
I am just getting warmed up.
Till next time,