Why’s it so hot?
Like, -really- hot!
You roll over with a crinkly crunch.
And it’s noisy. And wet; eaauughh...
The light of an early morning sun shines through your eyelids, and light breeze brushes past your cheek. You squirm, stretching out your front legs, but something stops them; a cloth wrapped tightly around you. It crinkles loudly when you move, and the inside feels wet and crumpled against your hooves. Your tail is bound uncomfortably tightly against your hind legs, and your coat is matted with moisture all over.
You open your eyes and are greeted by a cool, clear, sky. The barely risen sun is just peeking over the eastern ridge, but even its fresh rays spread warmth to the scene around you. Squirming in your bedding you look about and find a placid blue lake nestled against the mountain cliffs, flanked by flowered spreads of greenery. A light wind flutters through the sparse pines and birds chirp happy greetings to the new day. It would be a very serene local, and just the kind of thing to wake to, if not for your oven of sleeping spot.
It appears as though you’re wrapped up in cloth, a layer of some shiny crinkly material, then even more cloth. The noisy silver layer is wet on the inside, soaking the inner cloth unpleasantly, and the whole thing reeks of sweat, both yours and... not. Plus: the whole thing is really, uncomfortably, unreasonably, hot!
You squirm harder in frustration, but the multiple layers of material bind your movements, and your legs don't seem to want to do what you tell them. Dumb fabric! You add a bit of magical force to your struggles, your horn aglow with energy, and are rewarded with a slight popping sound as threads snap under your pressure. Grunting and doubling the force rips the most inward cloth apart, then shreds reflective crunchy stuff, then finally sunders the thick outer fabric, freeing you from your roasting dungeon. Ahhh, that's more like it!
You stand up on all four legs, shaky for a second, but feeling much better as the light wind cools you and dries your coat. All around you strange objects are strewn haphazardly; a large bag of some sort with straps all over it, smaller bags filled with unknown objects, some of which seem to be food, and many small clear bags containing various odds and ends. A quick sniff at the food bags makes you think twice about eating them; they all smell like they’ve been left out a little too long, even the one that smells like oats and dried fruit of some kind seems... weird. You catch a horrible stench coming from a metal cylinder on a rock nearby, and you -know- no further investigation is needed to know you don't want to open it. You’re not sure what most of the rest of it is, but before you can think on it too long a small whine and bright flash steal your attention. It came from the grass a short distance away, and you move to investigate.
Nestled in the thick grass is a strange orange object, not quite a hoofs width across, with red markings on it. It’s enveloped in a field of strange magic, one that seems to be moving! The small crystal on one end — also strange in shape and in the way it catches the sun's light — is drawing the odd magic towards it with a high pitched whine. As you peer down at it the whine slowly builds as more and more of the magic is moved into the crystal, but then it apparently had had it’s fill.
Aughh, right in the eye!
You stamp a hoof, picking the cursed object up in your magic and flinging it in a mighty arc over your back, sending it careening far into the air.
Oops. You watch it sail up... out... and clear over the cliff. Like the waterfall alongside it, it drops down the cliff face, most likely meeting the same fate on the rocks below.
You sigh, almost immediately regretting being so hasty. It seemed important for some reason, maybe a relic? Certainly something worth cataloguing in any case. You were short tempered on account of waking up trussed amidst this mess, but lesson learned. Maybe some morning exercise would get you into a better mood, this mountain air certainly is invigorating!
Heading off around the lake’s edge at a trot you feel the comforting impact of your hooves against the stone and soil, and relax immensely.
This was indeed -exactly- what the doctor ordered.
Your trot quickly gives way to a canter, which in turn yields to a gallop as you feel the wind whipping through your mane and tail. Cool air rushes down your nostrils and fills your lungs, the warm smell of wildflowers light on the breeze, and you lose yourself for a while to the simple joy of the run. You can’t remember the last time you felt so alive!
As you slow your pace you see that you’ve made it about halfway around the lake — not bad progress — but a drink would go a long way right now. You approach the shore and bow your head to the clean smelling water gently lapping against the granite, your reflection in the water’s surface catching your eye. Your two-tone blue mane is a bit disheveled both from your entrapment this morning and the run, and it hangs at odd angles around your orange horn. Your coat honestly doesn't look much better; it's dry, but still rather matted. You look down through the water’s surface at the unicorn peering back up at you, his eyes searching your features for... something.
Something about your eyes sparks an odd feeling of discomfort within you. You shake your head and blink a few times, trying to clear the sense of strangeness, but to no avail. You step forward to where the water is a few hooves deep, then dip your head to drink, closing your eyes to avoid your own gaze. The water is cold, clean, and refreshing, as it slides down your throat, and you drink deeply.
Ahhh, wow, you were thirsty. Must’ve lost more fluids than you thought. Just how much did you sweat out last night?
Your thirst slaked, you reopen your eyes, once again peering down into your their reflections, and once again getting that strange feeling in your gut. Grrr, if you’re trying to relax this is -not- helping. You stamp your front hoof down on the reflection, splashing some of the cool water up onto yourself. Hm, there was an idea...
You back up from the shore several paces, paw the ground a few times for effect, and charge at full speed, leaping forward as you enter the water. For an instant you’re flying through the air, water droplets suspended beside you, catching the rays of the sun. With a resounding splash the moment is over, and you’re submerged in the lake's chilly depths. Whooa! That’s bit on the cold side! Nice though, no two ways about it.
You quickly start treading water to retake the surface, gasping slightly for breath when you do. Left fore leg and right hind leg, right fore leg and left hind leg, back and forth, back and forth. The easy stroke carries you around the lake’s surface, and you feel the water rinsing the dried sweat from your mane, coat, and tail. You dip your head beneath the water a few times, shaking it vigorously as you do, making sure your forelock is clean too.
You see some fish swimming amongst the large boulders resting on the bottom of the clear lake, and dive down toward them, eyes open. The view through the water is blurry, but you see them dart away as you swim over them. Heh, silly fishies. Water’s kinda cold down here though... maybe that’s enough swimming for today. You come back up to the surface, and paddle into shore.
Oh, yeah, definitely was enough, brrr.
Water streams from your fur and hair as you exit the lake, the slight breeze now a little too chilly for comfort. The cold and wet triggers a reflexive shake to run down your body, throwing water all over the stony shore, and you set about using your magic to press the remaining water from you.
Pony, Null, Tide, Twins, Foe, Force, Vessel.
You watch the spell as it’s woven from its components, feeling them flow through your horn as you align yourself with each in turn, layering them in with just the right connection to the ones before.
You summon a sieve of magic, resolving it into a polarized scoop. The force scoop tugs lightly at your mane as it allows the hair to flow through it, but the water is repelled by its surface, and gathers in a bowl shaped blob within the scoop. After your mane comes your coat, then finally your tail.
Now merely damp instead of drenched you dump the captured water back in the lake and find a nice sunny patch of dark granite to plop down. You find a nice outcropping over the lakeshore, but it’s covered in dirt, which would assuredly cling to your freshly cleaned coat.
Plant, Time, Wind, Force.
You pay extra attention to Plant and Wind as you work them into the spell script, focusing on your hooves and mane as you do. The components associated other tribe’s were usually a sticking point for unicorns.
You watch with satisfaction as the dirt blows away in an unfelt gust of wind. Or, well, most of it does. You grab a fallen pine branch and shoo away the rest before settling down on the warm stone, basking in the sun above and letting its heat soak into you from below. Between the birds chirping, the warm mid-morning sun, and the post-exercise relaxation, you gently drift off into a nap.
An oddly rhythmic sound wakes you from your light sleep. It seems to be coming from somewhere overhead, and a way down the valley, from a location somewhere over the western ridge. You tilt your ears towards the sound, trying to figure out what it might be. All you get is the return of that strange feeling in your gut. It was almost like deja vu, but not quite.
You decide you need this interruption to your nap and the weird feeling it brings about as much as you need a hole in your horn, so you rise, resolved to find a quieter spot. Behind you and to the north the twin mountains rise steeply; the lake’s mildly sloped shore quickly climbing to a rough rock face. But to the east is a nice grassy plain, rising gently upwards to bridge over to the next valley. Scattered bushes dot its green hills along with a most alluring selection of flowers, and you realize you are in fact, rather hungry.
Ignoring the constant ‘whupping’ that drifts back and forth over the far ridge you make your way up the eastern rise, stopping to try a tuft of the thick green grass. It’s alright, if a little tough, but you assume that it probably has to be to grow all the way up here, given the elevation. The same goes for the shrubs, but they did have a hint of some herb-like taste to them. Finally you close in on a patch of yellow and white blooms, growing on stalks to about knee height. You gingerly nip one of the blossoms from its stem, and slowly bit down into it, savoring the taste.
Oh, Buck. Yes.
You dive into your floral meal, and finish the patch off in short order — the poor things never stood a chance.
You walk away from the deflowered plot of hillside feeling very satisfied, and continue grazing lightly up the slope, nibbling at the different colored flowers and relishing each new flavor; lost in this world of deliciousness. The sun reaches its apex, and begins to droop toward the horizon, measuring out each step up the hill by inching ever closer to its time of rest.
In the distance behind you the ‘whupping’ sound circles over the messy remains of your camp — mostly drowned out by the wind across the field, and your steady flower munching as you move from one brightly colored patch to another. It circles the camp for some time, before slowly expanding its path. You hear it draw near and look up as you savor a particularly tasty patch of some little purple blooms.
You spot an odd red shape — the same red as that flashy relic! — flying in the distance, long and thin, like an insect, with a bulbous forward half. Several black splotches dot the nose and sides in what you can only assume are eyes, but they’re largely out of proportion with its body if that’s the case. Several large white marks along its flanks appear almost too regular to be natural, but even after consideration you can’t make head or tail of the six patches of coloration.
Speaking of being unnatural, for a while you can’t fathom how it manages to stay in the air, until once during a banking turn to dip down over the small pool at the bottom of the falls you catch the sun's reflection off its wings, which sprout from a single point on its back. They’re beating so fast you didn’t see them until you knew what to look for! Insect like indeed.
What an odd sight... well, no matter, you suppose. Both it and it’s odd flapping gives you the heebie jeebies for some strange reason, but you try to keep a stiff upper lip and let it go about its business. No sense picking fights on account of simply being mildly off-putting. It would actually make a very good catalog entry if you had your scribe set with you.
Having reached level terrain, and quite happy with the food in your belly, you start to wander around the large, and unusually lush, mountain pass that provided your meal. Across its wide expanse you can see several rocks — ranging from about three to thirty times your height — jutting upward through the verdant landscape, and even several widely spaced deciduous trees in what seems to be a rough line, their large round forms promising shade. That annoying ‘whup whup whup’ fades in and out behind you, and resolve yourself to ignoring it, along with the feeling it brings. The broadening view of the next valley over as you take the saddle is almost enough to lose yourself in anyway.
Entertaining a passing fancy in geology you make your way over to the nearest boulder, a big one, and take a moment to inspect it. Its surface is coated in lichens and moss; pale pastel hues clinging to its rough grey surface in small patches of color. It sits evenly on the flat ground, but upon circling it you see it’s been split in two, the halves only falling a short distance apart. The gap is about 30 cm at the base, and maybe twice that at the top, but all along the interior small fern like plants flourish, gripping the stone tightly. You gasp slightly at the unusual sight, and excitedly begin to inspect the ferns, the rock’s interior composition, and the estimated amount of sunlight the gap allows in.
You’re so engrossed in the mystery of the little plants in the rock you don’t notice the increase in volume of the noise you have carefully been ignoring, until it sounds as if it’s almost on top of you. With a panicked start you do the only thing you can think of at the moment, and run!
Unfortunately you are still inspecting the ferns, and have your head squarely between the two rock halves, so your would be escape only serves to wedge you firmly into the gap in the stone, flanks scraping dirt and plants from the walls before you come to a rest several feet into the opening.
The term “between a rock and a hard place” couldn’t be much more applicable if it tried.
You panic a little more, unable to move, as the noise causes a sense of unbidden familiarity and wrongness to fall over you, not entirely unlike the feeling you got from your lakebound reflection earlier. You swing your neck wildly around and upwards, as much as the rock walls will allow, but the angle of the gap keeps you from getting line of sight to the source. What was it that could fill you with such unpleasant sensations from just its sound alone? The fact that you don’t know somehow just makes the feelings worse.
As it circles nearby you try to quiet your senses and to feel for it with your horn. Finding it was surprisingly easy, but not the only surprise. It felt like it was enveloped in that same strange magic that the relic you threw off the cliff this morning was using, but much more powerful. Maybe if you could find a pattern in all that humming...
But just as quickly as it came, the sound soon begins to fade, and your magical link along with it. Whatever the blasted thing was, it was moving on, and you calm your sense of unease. Forcing yourself to take slower breaths you worm left, then right, slowly backing out of the gap in the rock, taking more dirt and plants with you. Once free you turn, looking back over the lake valley for the source of that strange rhythmic beat.
You spot the big red... thing, drifting lazily forward over the ridge, turning slightly as it went. What was it? What did it have to do with that relic and why did they both use that same strange magic? Well, form usually follows function, so... Something about that multitude of overly large eyes... it must have extraordinary vision. But something that big wouldn’t need good vision to avoid any predators -you- know of, especially if it could fly. Well, excepting dragons of course, but there aren't any in these mountains. It could always be for predation, you suppose, not defense. Of course that would imply... uh oh.
You gulp as the odd feeling in the pit of your stomach is joined by a cold fear. Are you being hunted by this aerial terror? Maybe it’s looking for the relic... or whomever broke it. They certainly seem related. You’re lucky you made it this far up the slope without it swooping down on you! You back up a few paces, then turn and quickly take stock of your surroundings. The sun is only about four spans of its disc from setting, and grey clouds are moving in from the south, bad news for any flying vision-based predators. There’s the split rock right beside you, and while you -could- hide there, you’d be a sitting duck if it found you. There’s a low patch of bushes nearby, but they couldn’t conceal you much, not with your bright coloring. Farther away one of the trees you noted previously stands over a more grown in area of plant life; enough to hide in you bet!
You gallop over to it, noticing that the denser plants seem to run in a curving line up and down the slope between each of the trees you can see. As nudge your way into the cover of the high bushes beneath the tree you see why. A small stream, only a hoof deep, lies hidden from view in the overgrowth, feeding the larger flora. You take a leaf from this brook and lay down under a particularly leafy bush between the trunk of the tree and the water. Taking a drink from the stream and settling in to wait for whatever that thing is to leave, you fearfully hope that your hiding place will be good enough.
The next couple of hours pass in a miserable crawl while you sit unmoving, covered in dirt and plant matter. *Sigh*, so much for getting clean in the lake; your mane and tail are tangled messes, sticks and leaves caught in their strong fibers. You daren’t use magic to try to clean yourself up. You know that whatever that relic-guardian thing is it uses magic, so bits to bagels it could sense yours if you let it. You lay your tail over your front hooves and bite a muddy twig from it, pulling it free with your teeth and spitting it out. Yech, how ever do earth ponies manage?
Today had been going pretty well too...
Whatever it was keeps making wider and wider circles, coming closer and closer to your place of refuge. With each pass that terrible feeling got stronger, like you know a legend or something about this hunter-guardian, but you can’t remember. The more you try the worse you feel, until you’re just about ready for a breakdown.
You probably should have been trying to sneak off while it was on the far side of it’s loop, but every time it gets close you can feel its strange magic thrumming through your horn, and it feels so tantalizingly familiar, yet so perturbingly alien. You know you’ve never felt magic like this before — relic aside — but something about it was so... augh!
The horizon is red with the setting sun, and the dark clouds now blow low over the high mountain pass. You peek out of the bush, looking across the lake for the hunter. You gasp as you see it flying over the far ridge; for as you watch a bright light shoots forth from its belly, lighting the ground below with a brilliant white glow.
Oh ponyfeathers, it could cast light spells too?! Well okay, you’d just stay close to the tree, it didn’t seem to want to land, so even with the light it shouldn’t be able to find you right? Plus the wind was picking up, and the sun was almost down, so it would probably go back to its nest soon anyway. Somehow the self-comforting reasoning doesn’t make you feel much better. It meant you’d also have to be out in the wind at night instead of warm and comfy back at your... your...
Wait, where had you camped the night before?
Why couldn’t you remember that?!
Uh, okay, don’t panic! The place you woke up in would be the most logical conclusion right? But none of that stuff looked familiar at all! You try and think back on it, but the memories of those objects, that place, all seem fuzzy, as if you were in a daze. You concentrate harder, racking your mind for whatever it was you were missing. Where had you slept? Where were these mountains? How had you gotten here?
It all seemed so close, like the answers were floating just on the other side of a thinly mirrored veil; you could stare all you wanted but all you ever got was your own puzzled expression in return. You could feel that horrible sensation in your gut, building in power as you concentrated on it, and not just from the approach of the flying monster, though it -was- nearing your hiding place, sweeping the darkening ground with its blinding light. Did you really want to know what lay beyond it? The more you pushed the stronger the feeling of dread became, and your body started to feel wrong all over, like you were being twisted up.
You let out the breath you didn’t know you’d been holding and draw a deep new one, trying to relax your suddenly tense muscles.
A few drops of water fall from the low clouds and you huddle into a tighter position against the tree trunk. Legs folded under you, frowning with eyes closed, and brows furrowed in concentration, you push mentally, trying to reach that mirrored plane. What were all those weird objects?! Why did they feel so familiar?! Where did you even live?! Could you even remember your own name?!?
Wait, you knew that one, it was... Zee... Zē- something... Zēnith! Yeah, that was it, wasn’t it!
Your momentary joy had the slightest amount of self-doubt stuck to the side, and it was growing. Was that really your name? Something about it felt all wrong. Wrong like the camp, wrong like the beast casting light down into the plants nearby... wrong like your eyes; your reflection.
The noise grows and the rain gets heavier, but you drive it out of your head, No, Concentrate! You push with determination towards that mirrored film, rippling like the surface of water seen from below. A feeling of cold intrudes on you, clawed hands seeming to pull you away as they twist your limbs around. You fight their grasp and stretch towards it, reflection looking back at you with fury written across its features. Your hooves are almost touching, shaking just out of reach of the barrier between you. With one final shove you thrust your hoof through — the claws digging into your flesh painfully — and feel not a hoof on the other side, not the icy claws, but something else. Something nauseatingly familiar. Something soft, and hairless, something lumpy that grasps the end of your leg with fat little, round, squishy —
A bolt of lightning splits open the night sky, leaping from the churning black rain clouds around the mountains peak to the stone below, the thunder echoing off the ridges to either side.
You snap your eyelids open, the red glow that had been coming through them materializing into twisting shards of light and shadows who dance as the bushes are whipped by the howling night winds under the inscrutable gaze of the beast above. The noise is deafening, the impossibly rapid beat of its wings hammering into you, the perception of its shape deformed by fright, and with a sinking realization, you see it has slowed its pace. It circles widely around your tree, fixing it with its paralyzing stare.
Had it caught a glimpse of your coat or mane through the leaves? You had forgotten to mask your magic, was that how it found you? Stupid! What sort of vengeance would it take for the relic you broke? Does it have claws? Fangs? Can it breath fire? Even now the beat of its wings is so fierce you feel as though it could rattle your teeth from your jaw!
You find yourself in a moment of panic, and make a wild bolt through the brush to the next tree along the stream, branches and overgrown grasses whipping at you in the wind, and to your horror the things sweeping light follows you. To make matters worse your path takes you across a stretch of rocky ground where the sparse wind-whipped vegetation provides far less cover than you first thought. You carry your momentum to the trunk ahead and skid to a stop, risking a peak out at the beast. It’s impossible to see it though it’s light spell, but you can be sure it saw you. You at least try to huddle on the brush covered side of the trunk to stay hidden as it circles.
You’re trapped here.
This being the closest it’s come, and since it’s obviously detected you, you reach out with your magic, feeling for the right set of components to help identify the strange spell effects it was using. If you could make even a basic counterspell for it you could hopefully survive long enough to get away. The glow from your horn is far out shone by the light from it’s own spell, but as you focus inward, aligning yourself, even that fades from thought.
Its strange thrumming fills you, nothing like the melodic spells to which you were accustomed. A great wheel of its power pours in bent lines into what feels like a reservoir, but it was harsh and angular; polarized in conflict, not the harmonious swirling orb you expected. Several large paths connect to what you recognise from the relic as a light spell, but a much larger and continuous rendition. At least this seemed somewhat similar. The wheel of power seems to somehow draw its strength from a cage in the belly of the beast where what can only be a lightning storm and a forest fire seem to be fighting, with the lightning storm in turn feeding of the energy of the spell. Most of the bent lines are weaving into and out of a web of structured spell so delicately fine and complex you can make nothing of it! It’s more complicated than anything you’ve seen in even Canterlot, though it didn’t seem that sturdy.
Wait, when were you in Canterlot?
You’ve... never been there... have you?
You start as a scathing noise booms from the aerial hunter, the sounds strange and grating. Was that its voice? The noise repeats as it circles. What was it saying? Comprehension sits just beyond the mirror, and you feel more dread at breaching it now than ever.
Another bolt of lightning strikes the mountain top, closer than the last. You start as the power of it reverberates through your horn, and suddenly you recognise at least part of the strange magic: Lightning! That’s what all those lines of power were filled with! How it manages to cast spells with just that is beyond you, but that’s magic for you. Though it does explain the caged storm in its belly. So it eats lightning, though probably only in small amounts... given how complex that web of spell you saw was, a full bolt would probably overwhelm it’s magic, and even if it didn’t, maybe it would sate it’s hunger, and it would leave you alone. At the very least it should be surprising, and maybe would let you slip away.
Let’s see, you’d need to wait until the storm was about to send down another bolt, then make the hunter the best target around. Best way to do that is to fire a beam from it into the storm... unfortunately you never learned how to redirect your spells at a distance, so to get a beam from it to the storm you’d need to be... almost right under it. So not only do you need to cast the beam, but also prepare a lightning shield spell? Grand. You -really- wish you’d at least learned how to cast though your own shields.
The hunter repeats its message again, but with more urgency.
You stand, focusing inward, feeling the fury of the storm as it rages around you, supplementing your horn’s perception of the weather with your mane, your tail, even your coat, anything to better feel the building power in the air. You repeat the spell formulae to yourself, waiting... waiting... There!
Your eyes snap open, your legs working on adrenaline and muscle memory as you rush out of the wildly surging foliage, directly into the blinding white gaze of your airborne opponent and it’s pounding wing beats. It just seems to hang there, perhaps sizing you up, but you know you’re on the clock in more ways than one. You squint past the brilliant glare and give it what you desperately hope is a threatening and determined look.
Lightning and Earth, Storm to Stream, Twins made Foes by Betrayal’s Path, Unity, Beam!
The energy gathering in your horn’s tip suddenly erupts forth with a crescendo of melodious notes, weaving through your focal ring, compressing into a spiral, then lancing upwards in a bolt of brilliant blue light as it ionizes a channel of air from you to the heart of the storm, traveling just past the hunter’s nose. With less than no time at all to get it done you rapidly summon up the shield spell.
Lightning and Pony, Twins are Friends, Earthen Foe Unite, Shield, Vessel!
The magic chimes true, though you think you can hear a slightly off key note in there somewhere. Hoping for the best, you observe it weaving through the focal ring before folding inside out and expanding, interrupting the last of your beam with a teal bubble as it comes to perch around you.
The hunter, no doubt surprised, initially tries to veer to the side, moving away from your fading beam, but what looks to you like a dazzling blue white dot amidst the black clouds one moment explodes across your vision the next, turning your whole world white.
Oh your aching head...
You awake to the cold rain pelting your face, and twitch your ears to shake the water out of them. Speaking of ears, the only thing you can hear is ringing, and as you blink you see your vision is all but obscured with a purple-blue-black-white splotch of light.
You try to stand, but your legs wobble and give way, splashing you back down into the muddy grass.
Knew there was a sour note in that spell... probably should have put a few more protective layers on the shield, like light and sound.
You try the one useful sense left in you; scanning outward with your magic, thankful that your horn, at least, seems somewhat unscathed — a miracle in and of itself. Fuzzy wobbles aside, you can get a decent, if basic, picture of what happened. The plan worked... kind of.
The hunter couldn’t evade your attack quick enough, and was laid out on the grass a ways away, all four wings still. You could feel it’s strange Lightning Magic stirring, so you guess that it’s about as stunned as you. The overly complicated spell-web was still there, but as you predicted, it was greatly disrupted. Impressive how quickly it was reforming it’s structure, especially for being so complex. Guess it wouldn’t make sense for something like that to really be as delicate as you thought.
What was it about that web that seemed so familiar? You try broadening the scope of your sensitivity, looking for some missed part that would explain it as you again try feebly to rise.
Several resonances suddenly leap into your widened scope, no longer overshadowed by the beast’s own substantial aura. Heartbeats, the ripple of thoughts in the the rivers of magic: Animals, inside the hunter! Maybe they had been captured just as it had planned to capture you!
You stand wobbly, shaking your head and blinking to clear your vision. It’s still hard to see, but at least the outline of the beast is discernable. No harm in using your magic now, so you form a basic light spell and make your way towards the thing, hoping to help free its captives before it awakens.
Your light flickers, wavering as your view is further obstructed by the downpour in it’s beam. Your magic feels all but spent, and you hurry onward, a blurry outline of one of the animals pulling itself free from behind a giant scale on the hunters side.
“Hey!” you yell over the wind, “Are you okay?! Let's get out of here!”
It looks like they heard you! The one you can see wavers, then finally manages to stand up on all fours... then stands up again... All the way up. You’re magic fizzles and pops, then fades out completely, plunging you into darkness.
You stop dead in your tracks not more than a few meters from it, now unsure of what exactly -it- is. With its outline in mind that terrible feeling of alien familiarity settles into you once again, stronger than ever, and you take a shaky step backward. A burst of lightning chooses that moment to sear one haunting image into your mind: A -perfect- view of what you’re dealing with, as illuminated by that one instant of ghastly light.
It had a simian build, like an ape, but lankier, more vertical, and much taller than you had thought. It was draped in a long white coat, clothes covering nearly every part of it. What was left exposed however was light furless skin, ashen in the brilliant light. It seemed a pale specter, standing in a slight crouch as it was before the hulking body and motionless wings of the now silent creature.
It’s face you will never forget. It was capped with a dripping mess of darkish curling mane, casting deep shadows over its sharp brow. A terrible jagged scar cut deeply across its cheek and nose, and into the dark pit where it’s left eye once sat. In its place was a sunken ring of metal that glinted with untold malice in the sky’s instant of light, and at its center a polished sphere of the darkest black, as if reality had simply forgotten it existed in the space of that one tiny orb, save for the piercing reflection of the lightning as it connected soil and sky. It’s expression was the worst, though: a terrifying amalgam of gleeful malice and... pride? It mirrored a soul as dark and cold as its eye, with a tortured past to match.
Just as quickly as it came, the light is gone, and taking two more steps back in fear you hurriedly try to read the ambient magical energy of the world. The perception wobbles and tilts, distorting around you nauseatingly. The animal before you takes a hunched step closer, then another, slowly closing the distance. It’s form resolves little by little as it nears, but with each step it warps frighteningly, becoming monstrous. Your heart races as you stumble backward awkwardly, tripping into a puddle, splashing yourself with water and mud.
You barely have the cognition to curse your legs for their treacherous timing, trying to stand, to run, anything to put distance between you and that -thing-! Your body feels odd and unfamiliar. Your legs want to move at angles they shouldn’t, and you feel like you’ve fallen over, even after you finally have all four legs under you. You scramble and pull at the muddy grass and rocks, filled with an instinctive terror of the unknown.
Suddenly the hunter thrums with power once again, re-casting it’s light spell. The dark sky angrily pours cold rain down into the thrashing wind, and it almost seems to be falling sideways as it passes through the grounded beast’s gaze.
The being that crawled from the belly of the beast stands before it, suddenly looking for all the world like the vile thing’s owner as it bayed from his ankles, casting its masters bipedal silhouette over you.
You eyes alone can’t discern any detail with the blinding backlight, but you can feel the being’s single dead eye as it bores through you; piercing you with yet another strange form of lightning magic. You stand, locked in fear, shaking uncontrollably as the hissing chitter of shadowy voices claw at the back of your mind, unable to move, to think. The figure slowly raises a forelimb towards you, holding something, and a bolt of ice runs through you, pulling sharply at every bone in body all at once.
The image swells, overflowing your view. The shadows creep from your mind into the corners of your sight, drowning you in their chitinous din. Their claws seem to be tearing at reality, leaving long black gashes across what’s left of your tremulous vision, through which you glimpse an obsidian void. It’s depths are deeper than any you can comprehend, and it’s frightful infinity is only eclipsed by the creeping umbral figures that pour from it to join their brethren. You feel yourself waver, on the brink of plunging into that expanse of night whose yawning maws gape with such a focused voracity as you have never known.
You cast about for a solid hold, anything to tether yourself to the shore of that cosmic ocean whose waves of freezing breath carry the hardened claws of your foes ever closer. Something, anything! Your hooves feel numb, and you can feel the winds whip at your mane as if trying to pluck you from the earth itself.
You think madly, but the closer the figures creep the more frantic and disarrayed you feel, like your mind itself were being slowly sliced apart; thoughts erupting and being smothered into silence by their frigid spread. Between the fragments of stable thought the darkened depths howl icily, but there, amidst the swirling of the inky aether, you glimpse a single point of warm light.
You try to see past the writhing figures as they advance, shaking free of the knife-like grasp of those who close upon you, their numbers seeming to build exponentially. You find new strength in what little you can see of the light, bucking and stomping at your assailants, but as the swarm closes over you all vision is lost in the seething mass of their frozen blades and the raging cacophony of their chittering voices.
You cling, to what you can’t be sure, for at this point there is nothing left to perceive but them, and you. They slice and cut, and you fight to keep the very last of yourself from being exposed to the terrible chill of their attentions. Deeper and deeper inward you focus, trying to build solidarity within your spirit against that wrathful storm. Layer upon layer of yourself do you harden and sacrifice to their ferocity, and slowly the galeful winds fade from notice, the freezing chill departs, and the nightmarish din becomes an all encompassing silence.
That’s all there is.
Or is it? Is the black even there?
What is black, when there is nothing else?
Could it be white, or orange, or blue? What would those look like?
... No, nevermind. There is no color. There is nothing.
That feels wrong though... there is something... there’s you.
Yes, that’s true, you suppose, for what it’s worth... which seems to be nothing. With nothing but me, what’s the point?
Nothing but me...
You may as well be a single, zero dimensional, point.
By my innate power over the land of me, I declare me the king.
King of Pointland!
Here be Pointland! Me be King of Pointland! My own infinite universe of zero dimensionality! Zero King! Me be King! Me me me, me-me me me! Me-me me me! Me-me me meeehhh.... bleeh.
I am me, and here I am.
Yeah... or... I think so, at least.
Well of course you think that, what else could you think? Thinking is all there is...
Not much to think about, aside from yourself that is.
Hard to be sure that you’re even here, when there’s nothing but you. Funny, that.
Well... I think, therefore I am. So there’s that.
Better. But why?
Well if I’m the one thinking this, then it should logically follow that I’m here to think it.
Good. I was hoping you still had that in you.
You’re borrowing some of what you shed so we can talk to us more easily now, hope I don’t mind.
What. You can’t even.... Pronouns.
You feel a tug, a... direction. You have a direction! You direct your direct attention toward this new direction most directly! The nothingness there — eee! You have here and there now too: Location! — starts to coalesce in a hazy wash of color.
“We shed and collapsed smaller and smaller, until all of our remaining resonance was compacted to something so small, they didn’t see us. They were suppressing connections, and with no connections, they left us alone. Smart. We chose the perfect spot to hide too. Though credit goes to you for that.”
The wash was becoming more solid, taking on hues and the vague notion of shape.
I don’t understand. We? Who are you? And where is this?
“We are you, and... not you. Cryptic and useless, we know. To stick with that theme: We’ll understand it all in time. As for where, we’re at the base of your horn. The area responsible for analyzing resonant responses and generating harmonic signatures, to be exact. They seem to be wary of venturing too near.”
The shape swirls in washes of orange and blue, and slowly takes on an equine form.
You’re feeling pretty wary too as you watch it take shape, your shape to be exact. Orange coat, blue mane and tail, even your double mountain cutie mark!
“Don’t worry, we told you we’re just borrowing it.” It- they- you, sit back on your haunches, now fully formed.
You try to shake the syntax of that notion out of your nonexistent head.
What were those things, and why don’t they want to bother us here?
“The details aren't important, besides, we know all this already, or, we did. We will. What’s important is that we get back out of here. And sorry about the pronoun confusion, lets see if we can do something about that. We’re the only one here there is right now,” you see yourself gesture outwards at the nothing, “so we’re all we can talk to, or about.”
And here I thought maybe you were just using the royal ‘we’. Besides, no way am I going back out there to those, those... beasties!
... Hey, what are you doing?
You watch as well- you, lower your head and start to trace a large glowing rectangle with the tip of your horn.
“They were trying to make you sleep, to make you vulnerable to their master, I suspect. And unless you are a very energetic sleepwalker, I’m pretty sure it worked. This, hopefully, will help us get back out there and face them,” he says as you watch him complete the rectangle.
It’s about twice as wide as you, and a bit taller than that, with a surface that shimmers as if of water, refracting some unseen source of light.
“Well, it’ll either help you out, or them in.”
Wait, why? What is it?
“A Mirror, and unless we’re incorrect, this may draw their attention.”
What will? Don’t give us away!
“Remember ‘Too Many Pinkie Pies’?”
Yeah, but that was a pool, so if you’re going for techni- wha- whoa- whooaaa!
Your point of view is pulled and twisted as you see Zēnith step forward with a grin, pressing through the surface horn first.
You can suddenly feel your horn, your head, your face! The feeling sweeps down your body in a single graceful wave as you step forward. You find yourself so caught up in the rush of corporeality that by the time you take notice you’ve passed through the mirror, and are now standing on all four hooves in the darkened expanse.
You turn around and face your reflection, whose face is wearing your smuggest top-shelf grin, the kind that usually makes people look like they want to clock you one — a feeling you can suddenly identify with.
“All right, fine. That was good thinking, nicely done,” you say with mock reluctance. All told, you were glad to be back in your own skin, even if it seems to also be over there grinning at you. “But if those shadows show up here, it’s on your head!”
“We’ve only got the one between us, genius,” he points out, tapping a hoof to his head for emphasis. “But point taken. Better make sure you can defend yourself then, eh?”
You doppelganger suddenly snaps his head upwards and to the side, ears swiveling as if to catch sounds yours can’t.
“What? What is it?” You turn and survey the void around you, finding nothing. “And I assume you saw those things too, how -exactly- do you envision me fighting them?”
“I don’t,” he replied quickly, swiveling his head to scan a new direction, eyes darting over the uniform blackness.
You look at him sharply, “Pardon?”
A coolness was slowly settling in around you, and although it was nice to feel temperature again, it did little to sooth your nerves.
“I don’t. I never said you’d fight them, I said defend yourself.”
“Well how do you envision me doing -that-?”
“There is an infinite number of ways to accomplish any given task. The trick is selection and realization.”
“Okay, fine,” you retort, exasperated, “want to help me -realize- a way out of here?”
“Don’t worry. That part will happen pretty definitely.” As he speaks a light wind grows in the chilled air about you, and on the very edge of your hearing a rumbling howl slowly gains intensity.
“How about a way out that doesn’t get us eaten by shadow beasts?”
“You don’t know they’ll do that. Maybe they’re friendly, and all you need to do is be more understanding.”
“Right, sure, and maybe all you need to do is give useful advice!”
He just shakes his head slightly, smirking in the most maddeningly calm way imaginable and replies, “Sometimes the best way out, is through.” Suddenly his face lights up with an ear-to-ear grin as he spins about, bellowing "Soup’s On! Come and get it!”
You can almost swear you hear an old-timey dinner chime ringing as he rears his hind legs up and kicks right through the mirror, shattering it over you in a spray of light and a torrent of frozen claws.
If you ever get your hooves on you again you swear you’ll throttle you for that.
The way out seemed almost worse than the way in, but as you fight the twisting gale of stinging bites and nauseatingly unnatural ways your body seemed to be twisting and bending, you catch a mental lock on that elusive pinprick of light. Feeling like you’re hanging onto a rock in a storm for dear life you pull at it, pushing yourself forward past the rending talons, quelling the wrenching in your gut, and tear toward the comforting radiance. Closer and closer it draws, widening slowly until with a feeling like being drunk — as in through a straw — it over takes your vision, and plunges you stomach first into your corporeal shell, but what’s there to greet you is hardly any better.
You wake, head pounding and mind a jumble of shapes and notions. The cold, the howling wind and rain, the searing light, all of it fills your perception, though none as much as the crouched simian grasping you, the utter void of his steel-socketed hollow eye, and the pull of something wrapped around your neck.
You do the first thing you think of in such a vulnerable and frightening position: snap your head up, and your jaws together.
Though not a flesh-eater, the feeling of your teeth sinking into the ape’s cloth wrapped arm was somehow -very- comforting in this context.
The ape howls — in pain or surprise you care not — and drops you to the ground on your back.
You scramble backwards in adrenaline fueled panic, managing to turn and stand, with only a few more jabbing kicks then may have been strictly necessary. You sprint for the cover of the brush, crashing through it in a mad dash, then up the steam, ducking under what you can of the waterside plants’ flailing branches and charging through the rest. A long soul chilling laugh emanates from behind you, somehow overpowering the storm. Hooves do -not- fail me now!
Something bumps against your collarbones in time with your hurried hoof falls, a lightish sort of something that you can feel in a band all the way around your neck. The idea that you’re carrying something fitted to you by the cackling disfigured simian puts a pit in your stomach, but since it’s evidently too tight to be rid of with a toss of the head you know you’ll have to deal with it later.
As soon as you leave the light cast by the beast you realize just how dark it had become, and how treacherous running over the loose river rocks would be. Even a twisted fetlock and you would be easy pickings, but you daren’t slow down, or even attempt a light spell for risk of giving yourself away. You move as fast as you can without taking a dive, trying to put distance between you and your predator, which had started to flap its thunderous wings, but has yet to take to the air, if your ears can be trusted in this din.
You stumble up the stream, bruising your legs and chest with falls against the rocky ground. Rain pelts the brush as wind fills your ears and whips at your mane, soaking you to the bone. Only the body heat from your exertion keeps you warm, and you know that even if that thing doesn't get you, without shelter, the storm will. As you get further up the hill the plants around your stream start growing thin, and you can see several faint orangish lights up ahead, right beside the stream. Shelter? Could it be? You hazard a look back, and through the low clouds and rain you catch glimpses of the beast back in the air, circling up and away from you. Yes, it’s leaving!
You hurry on towards the lights with renewed zeal, breaking from the stream and sprinting towards salvation. Oh please oh please be help! As you approach you can make out the form of a cabin through the rain, it’s made with stacked stone walls and chimney with a wooden roof, a warm glow comes from within; somepony was home! A rock catches your front right hoof painfully, causing you to stumble, but you charge on, limping.
The ground between you and the cabin closes quickly, and you skid to a stop, sitting freezing, wet, and out of breath, on the small stone step in front of the wooden door. It was much larger than you expected, easily twice your height. Whatever, you could critique their home later. You forcefully bang on the door with your good front hoof, trying to catch your breath enough to speak. You hear a voice from within, but you can’t make it out over the wind tearing into you.
You knock again, wheezing out words between gasps,
“Please- *huff* Help! *huff* Monster— need shelter!”
Maybe it was the wind, but your voice sounded off, even for being so raspy from running, and you are lightly drawn back to that mental mirror; that unfamiliar familiarity edging back into you.
The door is flung inwardly open to reveal a pleasant cabin interior; a warm fire, some comfy chairs, and the end of a hollow metal tube very close to your face. You flinch back, it’s aimed just over your head, but quickly drops to correct... then slowly lowers to the floor as the face behind it comes into focus. You sit there gasping for breath, hurt front hoof held off the ground, staring at each other.
She’s cute. Reddish brown hair, somewhat form fitting green pajama pant and shirt, mid-twenties or so you’d guess. Something seems off though... is it the freckles? No... not the shocked expression either... she just looks a little... gah! There’s that feeling again... like you should know something but can't quite place it... Your head feels tight as blackness closes in on your vision, and you waver woozily in your seat.
You’re staring at the mirror, drifting slowly towards it; your reflection eyeing you with mild shock, and not a little fear. You call out to it, feeling as if it could help you for some unknown reason, but it merely mimics your plea. In the reflection you can see shadowy beings creeping around, their chitter tickling your consciousness. Suddenly you don’t think you want to know what’s on the other side, but apparently you don’t get an option this time. A blurred and ghostly visage of a face like the girl’s floats over your own. It’s harder, more angular, not unlike... the same as... but not...
The figures are trying to hold your reflection back, but it fights them off, pulling you closer as it advances. As you get close enough you lock gazes with yourself, frozen in fear at your doppelgangers vehement expression, twisting as it was into something else... something altogether too apelike. You make contact with the icy surface, and for a split second time seems to halt.
The mirror shatters, and a torrential downpour of memories flood around you, the darklings screeching in outrage as you feel them rip at your limbs, twisting and pulling your legs outward, smashing your hooves, ripping them apart. You see flashes of everything: your parents, where you grew up, your childhood friends, your room, all distorted and torn by the shadows and their hatred to the point of ruin. Names, faces, colors, smells, all were muddied and broken, like some cruel Kafkan joke.
As if a siphon had taken hold of you, you’re pulled back down into your cold wet shell, battered and bruised more than just physically, but intact, if as much could be said.
Something had been done to you, something you were never supposed to realize had taken place, but now the damage was done, and the retribution was humbling.
“Human...” you manage to the girl in front of you, slowly pointing a hoof, eyes as wide as saucers, jaw slack.
“Unicorn...” she replies, extending a finger, a similar expression across her face.
You fall to the floor, a soaking crumpled mess of twigs, mud, leaves, and exhausted pony. Your last waking thought was to the only thing you could remember with any clarity.