by Syke Jr

a church, burning

The last church in Canterlot is showing its age.

The stone, after so long, is beginning to crumble. The towers, once so tall as to be unbelievable to those on the streets below, are outclassed by the ever-larger office buildings in the heart of the city. It is difficult to deny that a lot of the old grandeur is lost, like so many other temples across Equestria, those that are goneā€”all gone, now. Only the largest cathedrals remain, and Canterlot, oddly, never had one of those.

So the Temple of the Moon stands alone, next to Selene's Park, the oldest public park in the city: a fitting companion. When the time is right, at the first full moon of spring, the light of the lunar disc will filter through the stained glass and bathes the park gates below in all the colours of the night.

The special night is imminent. Winter has been wrapped up only a few days hence, and the spring winds blow through the ancient trees of the park with a whisper of placid anticipation; at least to the ears of the pony painting in the sparse shade of their budding leaves.

She is known to the local ponies only as Trance. Her real name is known only to herself.

Presently her eyes are closed, and she hums softly. Her ears and nose twitch in time with the wind, with the murmur of the city beyond the black iron gates. She faces the Temple. Here, where the trees block the view of the other buildings, its towers still seem to tower. A pony approaches, and watches the unicorn work for a few moments.

The oil is swept slowly along the canvas with silent, methodical precision. A pony who did not know Trance and her odd methods would wonder about this, considering the closed eyes, and the odd way in which the mare works: her horn is glowing softly, but she does not hold either pallet or paintbrush in her magic. Atop the stool she sits, an implement in each hoof, blindly humming along to the tune of her own inspiration.

After a few moments, the stallion speaks. "It's that time of year again."

The unicorn's right ear swivels in his direction, but only a slight change in the pitch of her hum signals that Trance had heard his words. She does not respond, nor open her eyes, or stop painting.

He does not seem to mind, or be surprised.

A longer silence passes as he observes the brushstrokes placing the shape of the great doorway, closed as always. "It's a shame the protesters are back."

This time, there is more of a response: the hum becomes lower and, somehow, carries a suggestion of bitterness. The brush deftly and quicky traces several angry strokes along the base of the church, not marring its form, but definitely suggesting a miasma of conflict on the painted street.

Trance's ears twitch again. They twitch in the direction of the ponies holding large signs near the gates of the park, in the shadow of the Temple. One of them shouts something indistinctly, amplified but faraway enough to mercifully mask the words. There is a cheer of assent from those assembled.

Trance's hum grows haughtier still.

"I know," the stallion says with a shake of the head. "Imagine being so wrapped up in progress that you turn to the destruction of something beautiful."

At his final word, the brush moves suddenly away from the angry strokes at the bottom of the painting and takes on new, more colourful tones from the pallet. Then it's slowly, lovingly stroking its pigment along the window, the stained glass of the tallest tower, through which it is said good dreams are filtered to the worshippers within. The hum is softer, higher, now. Placid and almost wistful.

"Yeah," the stallion agrees. "They won't win." He looks thoughtfully upon the temple, and upon the painting that faithfully gives the impression of crumbling stone. "The passage of time is hard to beat, though."

The hum becomes glum. It seems Trance agrees, and the suggestion of falling fragments appears at the corner of the second-tallest tower. Most old, stone buildings in the city are protected by magical charms that weather the elements, but not the Temple. Like with all churches, such a thing is not done. Only the sweat of those who care enough to use their own two hooves to keep the stones atop one another is considered pure of spirit.

The number of ponies willing to expend that effort drops with every passing decade. Many, many decades have passed, now.

"Good luck, Trance," the stallion says finally after observing her work for a little while longer. The appreciable hum he hears in return makes him smile as he turns to continue through the park. A couple of mares, a foal between them, approach as he leaves. One sits down behind the artist, following the tip of the brush with bright eyes. The other simply stands by thoughtfully, eyes running over the scene on the large canvas.

"Why isn't she looking, Momma," the little colt says in a stage whisper, eliciting a small chuckle from the mare and an amused hum from the artist.

"She's the Trance Painter of Canterlot, honey. She doesn't need to see. Her magic lets her feel. She doesn't even know what it looks like until she's done."

"Ohh," the colt says, in a tone suggesting he might not understand one bit. He keeps looking, though. "Why does the brush have two brushes?"

"One end is for big strokes, honey. The other end is like a fan, see? For little details."

"Ohh," he repeats. Then he simply watches along with his guardians, there in the middle of the park. Silently. His mouth is open at the blind painter's confidence.

By the time the trio move on, the scene has taken a lot of its shape. Beginning at the top, Trance unknowingly begins a new layer, deftly blending new paint into the still-wet strokes from before.

More and more detail unfolds as the sun reaches its zenith in the sky and begins its slow descent.

Two ponies watch the painter from a ways away, from the shadow of the largest oak. One looks at a watch on a chain, and sighs. The other simply glances from her companion to Trance, and her little audience. This pegasus mare's eyes don't look in the same direction, but an expression of worry can be read all the same.

"If it's a few days away, can we really not do anything?"

"'Course we can," the earth pony stallion responds as he closes the watch with a click. "We're doing something right now. Waiting. The Trance Painter has to finish her painting. We can mitigate what happens but we can't stop it."

"And if we took the painting away before anypony else?"

"Impossible. You know how it works."

The grey mare huffs. "No, you know how it works. And you never explain."

The brown stallion is silent.

"And you don't know when she'll be done?"

"Afraid," he replies with a long sigh, "I don't."

Together, they wait for the day to slip away.


The darkness grows ever deeper; the shadows dissolve and the park is left to the soft, amber glow of the lamps along its pathways. There in the centre of the nexus of crisscrossing hoofpaths, though, the wistful spring tones of the painting remain. In the painting, the sky is blue and placid, the stones alight with shockingly faithful impressions of sunlight.

A pony who had seen Trance paint the Temple before would note it as unusual. The church is usually depicted in the moonlight; its natural place. Filtering the dreams of those who still find comfort in the myths of the celestial goddesses.

As the night takes hold, the protesters disperse, pleased with another day of decrying mythology in favour of something more productive: they suggest the place of honour at the park's gate should go to a museum of magitechnology, or perhaps a vocational school of some kind.

Two of them presently walk along the path where Trance is, indeed, nearly finished with her painting. The oil will not be dry for a long while, but the essence of the subject is captured in its brushwork forevermore. One of the ponies spares it a small glance, and a small shake of the head before returning to his discussion with the other stallion, a unicorn who carries a picket sign at his side.

"If Princess Twilight and her parliament will take no notice, it's up to us to take action."

The unicorn nods. "It's distasteful, but I fear you're correct. Other ponies are afraid to do what's right."

"The Temple belongs in the past with all the rest," the first pony says firmly. "I say it must be cleansed in fire. Weren't they all about that back in those days?"

The other stallion chuckles as they move out of the painter's earshot.

The brush, so close to completing its task, slows to a halt. Trance's gentle hum, so quiet so as to be nearly silent before, picks up again.

Its tone is inscrutable. But it is certainly not a happy one.

The glow of Trance's horn intensifies and from the bag on the ground, tubes of oil paints emerge in her magical grasp. They replenish the pallet in new colours.

Red, yellow, and brightest white.

Unseen in the darkness, two ponies continue to watch, one yawning wide. The faraway click of the pocket watch didn't echo, but it should have done.


Trance opens her eyes.

Immediately the unicorn turns away, hopping down from her stool as her magic deposits the brush and pallet on the ground with her other equipment. There is nopony around, now. The mare seems surprised, a little confused, as she looks around at the park. She tastes the crisp air, looks into the sky that is beginning to betray the first light before dawn, rather than the warm hues of dusk she might have been expecting.

A small sigh is given, but not an unhappy one. Trance steps past her easel, still not looking at the oil painting, and instead observes the Temple in the gloom. The moon has sunk behind the buildings, the church itself; it wasn't quite full yet tonight anyway. It's hard to make out the features of the Temple in the shadows. The imperfections are invisible, here in the twilight. Trance gives a small smile. The absence of the protestors almost cast Trance back into the time when the Temple was but one of many, one among dozens in this half of the city alone.

With another small sigh, the painter turns and moves to finally inspect her work, closing her eyes as she gently moves the stool aside and stands before the canvas. She looks up.

And gasps.

Trance's hoof flies to her mouth as she observes the finished painting. Gone is the soft sun and placid sky. Instead, the base of the church is a mass of writhing shadows. The stones are lit, but not by sunlight. The sky is full of grey clouds. The clouds are made of smoke.

There on the canvas, the Temple of the Moon is burning in broad daylight.

Flames lick around the towers and clutch at the arches on the doorways. The roof is collapsing, throwing ash and cinders into the sky. The stained glass window is shattered from the heat, and smoke billows from within.

Trance simply looks stunned. Slowly, her magic packs up her equipment, not bothering to clean the brush or the palette. It's all wrapped up in the duffel bag and brought to her side as she simply stares, stares at what her trance state has produced here at the runup to spring's first full moon.

It is not long before the artist has had enough. Like always, she leaves the painting on its easel and leaves it behind, there in the middle of Selene's Park as she turns her back on the Temple and begins to walk away.

The grey pegasus, unseen in the twilight, imagines the unreadable expression on the Trance Painter's face is one of stunned, contemplative sadness.

"Let's go," the stallion beside her says. The move off along one of the other paths, the lazy-eyed mare looking back once more at the retreating unicorn. She gives a small sigh as they pass the painting, glancing up at the Temple it depicts.

A small group of ponies enter the park, carrying picket signs. They are intercepted by her companion, and she's quickly dragged into a greeting and an animated conversation. As they play the part of fellow protestors, leading the group away from the painting and instead across the soft grass in the direction of the main gate where the Temple looms, another pony enters the park and makes a beeline for the blind artist's latest work.

He wears a suit, and half-moon glasses. He slows as he approaches the oil painting, wearing a stunned expression not unlike that of the mare who produced it. There he stands, taking it in for a moment before shaking his head, and slowly taking it in his magic. He starts along the path in the direction of the gate the protesters had used to enter the park. If not for the intervention of the mare and stallion, he might have run right into them.

The Temple of the Moon looms over the waking city below, though not as much, perhaps, as the glass buildings flanking the park, flanking the church.

It doesn't burn. Not that day.


On the day after the full moon, a pony enters the local art gallery with his marefriend. He wasn't expecting much from the date. Art isn't his area of interest. But his companion's eyes glow at the works they see within; especially those of the Trance Painter. How a pony can paint such works without knowing quite what her brush is doing... it's a wonderful oddity.

The stallion starts to yawn, but he sees something that stops the show of boredom dead in its tracks.

The church, burning. It's more beautiful to him than it had been in his mind, that day in the park, when his companion had laughed at the suggestion. Now that the full moon is past, the Temple is temporarily forgotten, even by those who ardently maintain it deserves to keep its place on the streets of Canterlot.

The painting lights his mind. How wrong they are.

Inspiration is a strange thing. When he leaves the art gallery, he does so with purpose.