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.
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Thank you for reading!