Darkness. Darkness and a rhythmic beeping were all that drifted to my senses. The world was a void. Not simply the blankness one found themselves in behind closed eyes, but endless oblivion and nothing more. Where there had been sensation, weak and frail as it had been, now there was nothing. Disembodiment, was this how it felt? Like being submerged in an impossible blackness?
There was no up or down, no left or right. I could not even tell if my eyes were open or closed or whether I even had eyes at all. Naught but that steady beep, getting slower and slower, more distant with every reverberating chime. Ten, nine, eight. It came from nowhere, not that looking around was something I could even register. When your whole world is nothing, how do you even tell you're moving?
Part of me wondered if this was what it was like to die. Yet for that, surely there would have to be memories of a life to pass on from? There were a few things lingering in my consciousness, about the only thing that was apparently left of me. A light, a bright light had been the last thing I'd seen, I think. Voices too, yet they had faded long ago, at least I suspected.
Seven, six, five, four. What was time when the world was nothing?
I recalled instincts, a body. There was the knowledge to breathe and blink without continually thinking to do so. Like a ghost, there was the distant sensation of a beating heart, four limbs, and flashes of sight. All things that seemed utterly impossible now, as though to believe they were real was the most foolish thing in the world.
A flickering in the endless canvas of darkness and my thoughts were working again, spawning from a brain that was no longer in existence. Maybe this was exactly what it was like to die? The memories of a past life fading so rapidly that within seconds you're someone completely new. Ready to pass on, go towards the light. That was one thing that did stick in my mind, failing to drift away on the ethereal current along with everything else. That beeping was the last thing to fade. Three, two, one... zero.
You'll know in the end? Like a leaf caught in a river, I was swept towards that light.
I was a moth to a flame, the silver glow so alluring, to resist it would have been impossible. If I'd have had the ability to, I may have reached out, yet who knew if it was inches or light-years away? A glimmer of purple flashed across the luminescent orb, and just like that, some semblance of reality was restored.
There was sensation, the touch of the world around me. Then reality tilted on its head. A new sound replaced the beeps. An audible shimmering, and with it, the darkness rippled like inky water. Like holes poked through a vast black sheet, more glinting specks of light were pierced into existence. The last thing to return was something I could still recall, gravity.
I was falling from the stars in an instant, screaming with a voice that did not exist and flailing limbs that were no better. If the blackness had been any different from that which I was trapped in, I'd have closed my eyes... if eyes were still what I could perceive this nightmare through. Yet no ground came rushing up to greet me. What did appear was a new light, vast and purple. There was no warm allure to it, not like the last one.
Maybe this really was death? Don't go towards the light was another thing that passed through my mind at that new revelation. That light pulling me down like a comet had different ideas, however. The darkness seemed to stretch around it. Like looking through a lens, the world appeared to have the consistency of thick treacle. I caught a glimpse of crystal walls, the flash of a golden arch. Then, finally, a hard surface rushed upwards from the amethyst glow.
Maybe not what it's like after death. Before you're born, perhaps? Whatever the case, life came rushing up to meet me like a brick wall. And one thing it did remind me of... Was pain.
A flash, and a hard thud. The first thing I remembered was the sensation of something solid under me and the coolness of air finally crawling its way into my lungs. My chest rising and falling came with it as did the sensation of limbs pressed against something smooth and cold. My senses came back to me, and for a moment, I could have sworn I was laying on ice. I gave a sniff, a very odd pair of nostrils flaring as I did so.
Head still spinning, and a pounding comparable to war drums thundering within, I finally cracked open an eye. My vision was no less distorted, and about the only thing I could make out was that, wherever I was, it did not look familiar. Most of it was a dark blue blur, washed in an almost shimmering like effect.
Maybe I'm right, and this really is ice?
The sensation of heat finally creeping back into my weary body suggested otherwise, however. It took me a moment to even register how it was to feel. After that timeless oblivion, taking in the world around me in such a physical way felt so alien for some reason. Sound found me next, the twinkling meeting my ears, and causing them to twitch. That motion of two very unusual appendages moving atop my skull alone was enough to spark a hint of recollections.
Ears that moved? Not how I remembered it. Yet the memory was distant, I could not place why it felt so wrong, there were just so many things amidst my wayward thoughts telling me that it was.
Moments later, and I was finally able to collect myself enough to move a limb. As far as I could feel, I had four. Yet when the instinct to wriggle the ends of each to feel the surface under me was met with nothing, I craned my neck to peer at them.
Aching muscles stiff and bones grinding like stones, I clenched my jaw, the very odd sensation of a longer mouth, tongue, and teeth adding to that of my disembodied limbs. Hands? Fingers? Claws? Words came to me in a series of brief whispers, and with them, the distant knowledge that once I may have possessed such things at the end of each limb. What I saw now as I squinted and my eyesight finally came into focus, was what appeared to be no more than a gnarled, black stump.
My breath caught in my throat, new muscles contracting in a neck that did not feel anything like I was used to. Dread welled up in me as recollections of afflictions that could rot flesh to naught but sickly black offal came to mind. Of all the things my mind could have dragged up to me, it had to be that. With it came more flashes, lights, pale walls, masked faces, and numbers.
I felt a face, my face, and a face that was just as wrong as everything else I was feeling, wrinkle as confusion seeped into my mind. Those ears that had sparked my concern folded back against my skull as the numbers in my mind counted down, steadily. Ten. Nine. Eyes going wide, a shudder ran through me, and before I knew it, I was sitting up. Vision settling into focus, I made out that what I once suspected to be ice, actually appeared to be dark blue crystal.
Turning my stiff neck, I allowed my gaze to pan across the rounded chamber, noting a series of six large thrones arrayed around the vast pedestal upon which I sat. One smaller throne sat beside the one directly ahead of me, and behind that was a tall, golden trimmed door. A purple starburst, a trio of apples, diamonds, blue and yellow balloons, pink butterflies and finally a cloud sparking a prismatic lightning bolt marked each of the thrones respectively.
Another breath left me, the bellows in my chest returning to full power, a strength I was not used to. Like a reverberating buzz, exhaling was just as strange as everything else, at least until I managed to get another good look at what had become of my forelimbs. Where there had once been fingers or claws, there was nothing but a smooth, black stump. The sensation of wriggling hands was like a ghost as I tried to will the motion into existence. My determination lasted all of a second before I finally gasped, looking down to what I could best describe as a kind of rotted hoof, along with a leg that looked just as degraded.
I lifted the limb opposite to find that it was exactly the same, then looked back. That was, of course, when I wished I hadn't. True to what I'd expected, and dreaded, my legs were just as mutilated as my arms, yet that seemed to be the last of my worries. The body I saw propped upright on the crystal table appeared to be vaguely equine, even canine? My brain's own observations came long before I could even place meaning to the words, memories running far ahead of my ability to keep up.
Gnarled hooves led up equally punctured legs to a dark body of hard carapace and small, tufted fur. A curved flank, tipped with a dark black tail, supported my meager weight, and most surprising of all were a pair of sleek, silvery wings protruding from my shoulders. Daring to run a hoof across my side I flinched at the sensation of a short, bristled coat poking back. The chitin below seemed perfectly smooth, and when I dared touch myself again, I pressed my hoof to a glistening smooth shell upon my back. A texture similar to marble, my touch forced my wings to instinctively twitch, startling me into jumping once again.
Could I fly with those or what? They’re like insect wings. I closed my eyes and took another breath, most of my consciousness trying to assure me that this could not be real.
Opening my eyes and looking back told me otherwise as my wings glinted in the light cast by a series of hanging gems from above. I rubbed a hoof along the smooth surface under me, the sensation of a flat limb tip against another flat surface sending a shudder through me as my mind’s descending count continued. Seven, six.
Looking up to where the light and shimmering sound emanated from, I made out what appeared to be an uprooted tree hanging from the ceiling. More confusion once again flooded into my mind, every new sight stoking the flames as my eyes closed again and I took another long, reverberating breath.
It wasn't real, it could not be real. I pressed a hoof to my smooth head, felt a pair of tattered ears twitch away and clenched my jaw.
Why does this feel so wrong? I asked myself, my brain finally coming online enough to conjure coherent thoughts. I don't know what I'm remembering to make this feel so wrong!
The force of my teeth grinding only revealed a more disturbing fact about my situation. I was pretty sure that teeth too large for my muzzle were not normal, and as I felt my long tongue lick around fangs I opened my eyes with a gasp. A reflexive forehoof was on the tip of my new muzzle in an instant, only to shudder away as I indeed felt sharp fangs. That shy motion was forgotten in one glance, however, as I caught a glimpse of what I really looked like in the table below me.
The creature looking back at me was like no animal I'd ever seen. Memories and images still lingered in my mind, dogs, cats, horses, even some things I was sure never actually existed, like dragons and manticores. I looked like the sick and twisted offspring of some kind of spider, fly, horse hybrid. Dark chitinous body, buzzing translucent wings and dark blue elytra were my most prominent features. Yet what had my eyes fixed as it peered back at me from the reflection, was a face I did not know. Two cloudy blue eyes stared in utter bewilderment, above them a pair of erect black ears, and what appeared to be a sort of curved horn jutting from my forehead. Below sat a squat muzzle with formidable fangs jutting from under each lip.
My mind offered two ultimatums, logic was in there somewhere. The flashes of numbers still in my head attested to that. Five, four. I was about the least illogical bug creature going, and so, of course, that was the last option I chose. I'd never have suspected I'd have heard myself scream, and I definitely would have not expected that scream to sound like a shrill, reverberating insect. But I kicked away from my reflection and scooted backward along the sleek crystal as fast as my new legs could shuffle me.
No, no. no, what is that... That's not me, I'm... I'm something else... My mind raced, desperately trying to drag up a memory that would reveal a past form, life or anything to prove I was not some kind of freak of nature. I can't look like that! I'm not just some ugly...
Panicked thoughts evaporated from my mind the moment I felt nothing but thin air under my new equine posterior. I hung in mid-air for what felt like a cartoonishly long moment, looking down just in time to see a crystalline floor surge up to meet me. There was a burst of blackness and an odd sense of déjà-vu as I was once again plastered muzzle first against something slick and cool. A low groan escaped my mouth, the sound once again doing nothing to settle my anxiety as I opened my eyes and rubbed a hoof across my face.
Urg, why couldn't pain have been something I forgot how to feel too? I peeled myself from the floor, looking up at the now monolithic table and thrones. Was this a land of giant insect horses or was I just really small?
If the giant horse theory proved inaccurate, then from my judgment, I'd have guessed I was no larger than a young child... Or foal, I guess? Nymph. Larva? More questions swirled into existence as I sat up and pressed my back to the jagged table supports. Once again I found myself looking at my forehooves. The shadow cast by the table did hide the sight a little, yet the urge to try and will whatever my old self was back into being was suppressed by ill memory. I hoped panic would bring more back for a fleeting moment, yet ultimately I sighed and slumped back.
Taking another deep breath I forced all of my will into collecting myself instead, pulling my wandering mind together and aligning my thoughts into one coherent vision. What was one to do in a situation like this? Get answers, I was pretty certain. Looking down at myself again, however, I had the nagging suspicion that if I found anyone that wasn't like me, I'd probably be swatted like a bug before actually being helped.
If only I could remember! I hissed internally, clasping both sides of my head with my forehooves, face contorting. Hey, at least this is starting to feel less weird now, right?
I slumped forward. At least some part of my mind was right. If this was the bottom then I could only go upwards, right? Three, two. The numbers were going towards zero, so why not try to go up for one?
I fortified that sentiment against my doubts, steeling myself against the horror that now, for some ungodly reason, I was some kind of strange bug horse in some odd, crystal world and I had no idea why or if there was even anything that had come before this curse.
That's the spirit! I cheered, staggering upward and planting all four hooves on the ground. I wobbled, legs like jelly, yet unhindered by the holes that marred them. Okay, I can do this, four legs, no problem.
Taking one step was like walking on some alien world for the first time, yet the motion at least brought a smile to my face. I could not imagine how creepy I must look, grinning with fangs as I'd seen in my reflection. Yet I was not about to be undone by something as simple as learning to walk, no matter how disgusting the urge to walk on all fours felt.
One hoof in front of the other, remember that's how it goes. One small step for me, and one giant leap for my confidence.
At least that's what I'd hoped it would be like. I had mental glimpses of crawling on all fours and this was nothing like that. Joints were in the wrong places and for the most part, it felt like I was walking on tiptoes. This was the universe's idea of a sick joke to be sure. Rob me of everything in my life. Memories, body, mobility.
I managed three steps before falling flat on my face, let out a shrill gasp as I was once again flat on the floor. Urg, this is not going to be as simple as I thought... I'm going to break a fang at this rate.
At least some part of that idea did not seem so bad. What was a monster without fangs? I'd at least be less of a freak if it turned out this odd insect body was not the norm around here. Narrowing my eyes once again, I stoked a new flare of determination. Rear legs kicking up, my butt was in the air first, ragged tail swaying. I glanced back, a smirk forming on my muzzle.
One half, now the other, you can do this. I unfolded my tangled foreleg and pushed upwards, head lifting as I swayed and staggered into the side of the crystal table. It's just walking, it should not be so hard.
Walking it seemed was the last of my concerns, however, as my newly dextrous ears perked. The sensation of the things like antenna atop my skull forced a wince, yet what the neatly sensitive sensors picked up on made my heart skip a beat and sent a chill from wing tip to wing tip. The large doors cracked open, the only sound to herald the voice that followed. I felt sensation drain from my body once again, right as the numbers ceased.
Two, one... zero.