Part 4: Nocturnal Emotions
The gentle summer breeze blows through your hair as it glides calmly over the endless green meadow. Warmth rains down from above, though from no single direction in particular. The grass hugs against your curled form as you lay basking in unmitigated peace, the long chirping songs of insects all around you.
“Hey, let’s play!” An orange pony calls to you from a small swell of a hill nearby.
You run and laugh with him over the mild rise and fall of the elysium fields as you play chase. His stripe-faded cobalt mane and tail whip behind him, and you feel their sturdy silkiness as they run through your grasp just before he leaps away once again, cheering.
You tire, and take rest under a grand oak tree, it’s shifting leaves casting a kaleidoscope of sunbeams. Leaves trail away in the wind, dancing with each other in spins and pirouettes as they slowly fade into the infinity of grass and sky. The unicorn sifts through a low branch with his magic, clusters of leaves swaying in the roaming light blue field. Two apples are the fruits of his labor, and he floats one over to you. It crunches juicily, it’s sweetness balanced with a fresh tangy zing.
“Thanks,” you manage between bites. “These are really good.”
“Oh, don’t thank me.”
You munch on the fruit, watching the leaves in wind together. You rub the top of his head and behind his ears absently, him enjoying the ministrations, and you enjoying the softness of his plush coat.
“What’s your name, by the way?”
He looks up at the question, half eaten apple hovering within easy reach of his mouth.
“When making introductions isn’t it polite to offer your own name first?”
“Of course,” you chuckle, “how rude of me. My name is...” You pause, momentarily unsure for some reason. You close your eyes and shake your head. “Zēnith! I’m Zēnith.”
And so you are.
You open your eyes to see an apple suspended in mid air, half eaten and glowing blue. Beyond it another apple floats of its own accord, rotating slowly against a backdrop of kaleidoscopic sunbeams, whole and uneaten.
“Hello?” You get to your hooves and circle the wide tree trunk, but find no one. Guess they left. Never even introduced himself. Rude indeed.
You flop down in the shade to finish your apple, watching with idle interest as the other one tumbles in slow motion through a lazy orbit around the tree. Wait a moment. You sit up, attention fixed.
“Gravity.” You say to the aeronautic fruit.
No sooner has the notion formed in your mind than it succumbs to its effect. You track its slight bounce upon the healthy grass, it rolls to a stop against your forehoof.
A moment passes as you monitor it for further signs of mischief.
It regards you with disdain, in so far as a fruit is able, anyway, being such happy things by nature.
“Hmph.” You give it a nudge, and it rolls just far enough that the slope of the hill catches it, carrying it away into the sunny fields. It seems much more content with this.
You call out after it, waving, “Fare well! I hope you grow into a big, strong, tree someday!” but it’s out of earshot.
“Did something about all this strike you as odd?” says a light, woody voice with a friendly tone.
You scuffle away from the tree in surprise, looking it up and down warily.
“I mean, I’m an -oak- tree, not an -apple- tree. Where’d you even get those things?” It then proceeds to turn out all the pockets in its entire canopy, showering the grass at its roots with a light sprinkling of marbles, paper clips, old flash drives, rubber bands, and lint that turns into doves halfway to the ground and fly away.
You balk at it, looking around to see if there was anyone else who could help you make some sense of this.
“Hahahhaa, oh wow! You should see your face! The giant eyes make it even better!” The tree uses a few of its branches to point your way, shaking in laughter.
You fake a laugh nervously, not knowing what else to do.
“Heh, heh heh.. heheheh heh.”
It laughs uproariously, ripping up a thick rootstock so it can slap its knee with a lower branch. Given confidence you start to feel at ease, joining it in earnest.
“Hehehe, hah, hahahhhaa! Hahahahahhhaah!” You’re nearly in tears now, rolling around on your back, so when your partner suddenly stops... “Haahaahahahahhaaaa.... hah... ha?” It takes you a moment to notice.
“Dude. Not that funny.”
A look of wounded disbelief is all you can muster at his suddenly serious tone.
“Whatever man, I’m out.”
The ground shakes as the massive deciduous uproots itself entirely, causing you to run for cover from the flying clods of hard packed earth and grass. From a safe distance you watch it trundle off towards the horizon, snakelike roots swaying beneath it in a writhing mass.
“By the way,” it seems to call over it’s shoulder, “your face still looks ridiculous. You might wanna get it looked at, so I left you a looking glass.”
Looking back to where it had been planted quite firmly not a minute ago you see a full length mirror in an ornate frame sitting immaculately at the center of the crater of torn dirt and vegetation.
In its silvered surface you see... yourself! Surprise! The tangerine unicorn with the aqua mane known as Zēnith stares back out at you, as if he didn’t really know what to expect.
“I don’t get it.” You blink at your counterpart. A moment later he blinks back. You sit up straighter, leaning back slightly. He rolls his eyes, smiling.
“Really? You don’t get it? He left you a ‘looking-glass’, because you needed something looked at.” He smiles encouragingly, nodding you on. You blink in silence, and he sighs, face falling in exasperation.
“The pun is I’m a piece of glass that looks -at you-.”
In soviet russia...
“.... Isn’t that more of a play on words?”
He looks momentarily taken aback. “No.”
“You sure? Why not? I thought–”
“Because I said so. That’s not the point though. The point is: We’re ponies, ya dummy!”
You look down at your own fuzzy forelegs and hooves, “Oh yeah, huh? That is kind of unusual, now that you mention it. How did I not notice that?”
You do a few turns in front of the mirror to inspect yourself, reflection-Zēnith doing the same as he continues to speak.
“Well it would probably have been more apparent minus the dream world,” he says, motioning to the dirt crater and infinite grass.
“Yeahhh... that would explain a few things too.”
You twist and bend your neck, getting a feel for it’s length and flexibility while you simultaneously make use of it to look yourself over more closely. Sitting on your haunches is the most comfortable way to see most of yourself without laying down, and you use the freedom the position gives your forelegs to experiment with their joints before standing on all fours and doing the same with a hind leg.
“Hey,” you say to your reflective associate, “open wide, I wanna see how our teeth look.”
He gives you half a smirk and half a raised eyebrow, but does as requested.
His front row seems pretty standard; a set of wide and flat cutting instruments that appear perfect for slicing off bites of food. Incisors, if you recall correctly. His molars are no more unusual, except for there seem to be a few more of them to fill out his longer muzzle. Between the front and back sets, however, is a gap, right where a carnivore would have a pair of those pointy canines. You sit back and use your tongue to confirm what you’re seeing.
“Plus...” he says leadingly, using a hoof to part his mane around the orange spiral of his horn.
“Hey, yeah! Can we do magic?”
“I don’t know, -can- we?”
“...’May’ we do magic?” you ask, unsure.
“That’s not what I meant.”
Giving up on this line of inquiry you pick a dirt clod at random and focus on it, envisioning lifting it into the air. A tingle starts at the front of your head, and travels up the length of your horn as it glows with magic. The piece of earth is enveloped in a matching pale blue aura, and slowly rises from the ground.
“True, but not to dampen your mood or anything: this is a dream, so technically you could have done that without being a unicorn. You enforced gravity on that apple with a whim, if you recall.”
“Oh...” The clod drops back to earth. “Well then...” You give the mirror a judging look. “How about this?” You engulf the large rectangle of metal and glass in your aura and lift it from the ground, enjoying the look on your reflections face as you swing it about, tilting him this way and that as he tries to keep his balance.
“Whoa.. whoaa! Aahhh-” He finally tumbles over with a light thud, so you relent and lower it gently to the grass, snickering as he climbs back to his hooves, earning you a dirty look.
“Hehehe... sorry. This is pretty cool though!” You prance back and forth, making good use of your quadrupedal form.
“Yes, but-” he is cut off as a slight wash of static passes over the mirror’s image. “That’s odd...” he says to himself, looking off towards something outside the mirror’s frame of view.
“What is?” you reply with idle curiosity, more enthralled with checking out the actual structure of the legs you’ve been trotting around on so obliviously.
“It’s probably nothing, but just in case... I’ll be right back.” He walks to the side, disappearing out of view.
“Mkay, you do that,” you reply absently. Whatever it is, this is probably more interesting.
From how they looked in the show a pony's hind legs always seemed to be bending backwards at the knee, and that never gave you much pause, but now that you’ve actually got a real pair of them under you (even if it was a dream) you realise that isn’t the case. By the feel of the joints what you had once considered to be your entire leg — that is: your thigh and calf — were shrunk up into that wide haunch completely above that cute backward hook you had always called a knee. That hook was actually where your shin — which was tilted nearly to the horizontal, plus or minus depending on your stance — met the bones that would normally belong in your foot, which would make it an heel of sorts you suppose. The same goes for your forward pair of legs; the mid-limb joint is no longer your elbow, but your wrist, as the former is located nearly up chest level.
Movement in the mirror catches your attention, but when you look it’s still just as vacant as when you last checked. Where did mirror-Zēnith say he was going again? You move towards it, peering through it at angles in an effort to ascertain if there was anything else to be seen aside from the endless reflected landscape. The notion of looking at a mirror and seeing everything but yourself strikes you as humorous, if a bit odd, and you muse that not being able to use mirrors must take vampires some time to get accustomed to.
You pull yourself from your reverie call out a questioning “Hello?”
There’s no response, but the image does go fuzzy for a moment, as if in a mix of going out of focus and poor reception. Weird, but okay. For now you decide to accept that he’ll be back when he’s back, and not a moment sooner.
You step away from the mirror into a nice open patch of grass and close your eyes, letting the light wind calm you as you focused on the feeling of your body. The positions of your joints, the way your limbs moved to keep you balanced, you try to feel though it all without forcing your attention on any one thing in particular.
One of the first things to come to mind is the effect this body shape has on your standing posture. A good way to describe would be to imagine you’re balancing on the very tips of your fingers and toes — all four of them in the form of your hooves. The digits are angled just forward of vertical from the lower end of each of the sets of bones that would -normally- run the length of your hands and feet, and now make up the majority of the lower half of each of their respective limbs. The hooves themselves feel very sturdy, entirely fitting for use as a foot, but it’s hard to shake the almost tippity feeling of standing on nothing more than the overgrown nails on your thumb and hallux. For a moment it manages to make you feel simultaneously too high up on your limbs — as standing on the tips of your toes would have done normally — and too close to the ground, given how much shorter you now are. You open your eyes to balance yourself against the horizon, fighting the dreamy way it too seems to be swimming with vertigo. After a moment you manage to force it flat again, and the feeling passes.
Bleh. Being able to affect the environment with thought alone is a double edged sword.
You tense and relax your ‘fingers’ and ‘toes’ in unison, testing their strength, and bouncing you up and down in a way you imagine is rather evocative of Pinkie’s hoppity walking style. Giggling to yourself you get your knees — or, wrists and ankles, really — into it as well, and before you know it you’re bouncing around to the tune of that little rubber band sound effect that seems to just have invited itself along.
You *poink* back to the mirror, wanting to show off, but find it's still empty.
“Hey, hello? Mirror-me, you in there?” With no response forthcoming you tap the glass gently, disturbing the image again, and eliciting a windy echoing that sounded as if it came from a space far too big and full of hard surfaces for what stood before you. Calling out you again knock harder — still with some modicum of care, but insistent nonetheless. The image repairs itself rapidly, but loses more coherence with each knock, until it finally — with a whoosh of static — it cracks apart in a spider web of right angles and straight lines. Eeewhoops.
You inhale sharply, afraid you’d broken it completely, but as you lean in to inspect the damage you see the glass is fine, and the cracks are just razor thin lines in the image itself, dividing and rearranging the picture into a seemingly random jumble of boxes, each now featuring a tiny portion of yourself staring back out at you They shimmer darkly as you shift your view back and forth, catching the light almost but not quite entirely unlike spider silk on a sunny afternoon. Looking at the whole of it you can almost swear that there’s a pattern to the inky glistening, and you find yourself drawn towards it, slowly reaching out a single hoof — an action also so taken by the many diminutive images of yourself — until its edge makes almost imperceptible contact with the veined surface.
Shards of jagged light rupture outward from the mirror's frame, accompanied by a thread of lightning shooting into your outstretched hoof and carving its way through you to burn -nearly- painlessly along the core of your horn. Time seems to lose its flow as the world around you flexes, and you’re caught in a barrage of words and meanings as the luminous fragments pass right through you. There’s too much to comprehend most of it, but the tone is urgent, the notion cautioning, and the voice familiar... friendly.
As soon you are once again able to perceive the passage of time as a linear series of events you throw yourself backwards in shock, but quickly notice that the cacophony is silenced, the world is stable, and the mirror is free of visual imperfections. Well, unless you count that the Zēnith it now shows is regarding you quizzically, as opposed to being strewn out on his back on the grass, as you currently are.
“What in the hay was that?!”
“My apologies. I had to excuse myself for a moment, but it was in error.”
“What? No. The– the explodey shockey thing with all the– the talking, and the sky got all bendy and– and...” You trail off as his expression gets more and more confused.
“Many strange things can occur within dreams,” he offers finally. “But more to the point, do you not enjoy this form? I see that you’re already proficient in its use.”
“Y–yeah,” you manage, still not completely over the shock, nor convinced that it was just some passing phantasm.
“Still not at ease? May I recommend more of that entertainingly inefficient style of locomotion?”
“Wha– Pinkie’s hop thing she does? Um, no, I think I’ll take it easy for a bit...” your stomach — or whatever equivalent you were working with — wasn’t sitting too good after that scare. It may simply be nerves, but either way your heart just wouldn’t be in it.
“I understand. Then perhaps you should just lay down for a while? The weather is ideal.”
You lower your hindquarters to the ground, resting on your old ankles and letting your tail naturally wrap forward around your legs. You get some amusement out of how silly it would be to try to walk with those joints on the ground now.
"When it's so nice out, it seems almost a shame to not take the time to enjoy it, don't you think?"
"Mmmh..." You nod slowly, realizing as you looked around that it -was- nice to just take some time to relax. You close your eyes to take a deep breath in through your nose, and slowly let it out again. "Yeah... This -is- nice." You open your eyes to see him kicked back on a small cloud which was floating around at head level.
“As I said.” He kicks his hind legs idly, propelling him backwards at a lazy pace and breaking off bits of cloud that evaporate into nothingness as they slowly drift away. “Say, want to try something?” He looks at you with a glint of excitement in his eyes.
“Sure? What kind of something?”
“I want to help you practice using your magic, so if you — oh, but...” He pauses hesitantly. “Well, it won’t really mean much, things being as they are.”
“What do you mean?”
“As you saw earlier, you can control the environment here at will, which would make any magic more for show than anything else.” He shrugs apologetically, then lounges back into the cloud once again.
“Okay, hey, hold on a second,” you say, standing, “I -want- to practice, so isn’t there some spell or something that could only be cast the hard way?”
“No, no... you can do absolutely everything,” he says without bothering to open his eyes. “This space is limited only by your -imagination-.” He gives a vague wave of his hoof to stress the last word, spinning him and his cloud away from you ever so slowly. “What would be a good way to pose it to you...? It would be like beating a game with godmode active. Sure you can do it, but so what?”
You ponder that for a moment. “Well it’s not much fun having console access if it keeps me from doing what I really want. You’d think that given more or less ultimate power I could — I don’t know — imagine myself up a place where I -can’t- just make things happen. Would that be possible? Disable the godmode?”
“Yes, interesting... Can you imagine it?” He rearranges himself on his still-spinning cloud to better face you, curiosity apparently piqued. “Can you picture a world where you are no longer tied as intrinsically to the fabric of reality as you are right now?” His tone is becoming increasingly excited as he continues. “A plane with laws which govern the behavior of its constituent substance in steady immutability,” he rolls off the cloud, landing nimbly and advancing in measured paces, “one in which you are no -all-powerful- master of time and space, no godlike proprietor of all that you survey!?”
The sky was beginning to darken, the wind slowly rising in force. You take a wary step back from the mirror, keeping your eyes on your advancing reflection and his increasingly manic expression.
“A realm that restricts you, gives you boundaries, defines you as a being of oh so very -finite- powers and prowess?!” he practically spits out this last utterance, wild face nearly pressed against the glass.
“What’s your game?” you ask accusatorily. “Who are you, exactly?” You are no longer sure you can trust this self-same stallion who stands before you, mane wild in the rough wind, and eyes like jagged steel.
“Why, I am you. Can’t you tell just by looking?” He taunts you with his cock-sure grin as he begins to pace with leisure across the mirror’s face.
“You may look like me, but -I’m- the only me there is, you’re just– just—”
“Just what?” he almost sneers. “Speak your mind. Name Me!” The tempestuous sky darkens with his voice, gusting and rumbling across the hills.
“A dream! A figment of my imagination! Nothing more!” you manage to blurt out. Saying it out loud helps you to believe it, but in truth the thing before you certainly feels very real, and very very frightening.
His face contorts into an unnervingly satisfied smile, “Yes... exactly. And tell me, where do you think we are at this very moment?” He stops his pacing to fix you with a sidelong stare, head held high.
You look around, seeing the murky green hills rolling away beneath a foul grey sky swirled with streaks of storm, but not yet showing any sign of rain. The air that was once light and fresh now tugs thickly along the ground, wisps of fog swirling up from the unknown spaces hidden from view between the buckled landscape, lending them a shroud of dire intents.
“Nowhere, just the middle of some giant field.” you answer hurriedly, unsure where he was going with this, and not wanting to see him angry again.
“No, no, no. Not what it looks like, what it -is-.” he explains as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Where can trees walk, and talk? Where can unicorns run free over endless sun kissed hills? Where can you affect the world around you with mere intention?”
“A dream?” you venture, keeping the meekness out of your voice as much as you can.
“Yess... yes indeed... Your dream, to be exact. All of this; all you see, is simply a figment of your imagination, but it is -your- imagination. I am as much you as -you- are, as is the grass beneath our hooves and the sky above.” He paws the ground then gazes upwards. Perhaps he got lost in the swirls of the clouds, but whatever the reason he gives you a moment to let this ascertation sink in. His demeanor has calmed to a philosophical serenity, and the weather has done likewise.
“I get what you’re saying, but I’d like to point out that ‘Equestria’ would have also fit those criteria you gave.” You say it matter of factly, but a smile slowly creeps into the corners of your mouth as he drops his head to give you a confused look.
“You know? Enchanted trees with improbable fruit, unicorns playing in the sun, picking stuff up with magic? Totally could be Equestria you were talking about there.”
He facehoofs. “Okay, but you were right the first time. This couldn’t -actually- be Equestria.”
“Why not? Assume you’re right. Assume this is a dream, and we’re all products of my own mind. That means you don’t know anything I don’t, and since I’ve never been to Equestria neither of us could actually say for certain that this isn’t it, at least some remote part of it. So if it isn’t: it could be, and if it is: then we’re in Equestria, so there’s no way this couldn’t be Equestria. Either it is, or for all we know it could be. QED, my doubtful doppelganger, Q.E.D.” You take a well deserved seat and watch him try to follow your logic.
He stares at you with a mild case of slackjaw for a few moments while his eyes move back and forth through whatever mental hurdles he was giving your proof. His chin snaps up and he meets your gaze with a nod and a sincere “Well done. That’s solid reasoning. But, do you -really- think we’re in Equestria?”
“Pffffft– no! You gumdrops loco? This is a dream for sure. I’d bet warm pastries on that.”
His slackjaw appears to have flared up acutely.
“I just wanted to see if I could mess with you, sorry. Got you back for getting all crazy eyes with the sky. Consider us even.” You give him a friendly smile, which he returns after a small delay, if somewhat hesitantly.
You feel an odd sort of motion in the air, and looking up in synchronous you both see the darker swirls of clouds have arranged themselves into a set of concentric rings directly above you. They slowly spread outwards like ripples in a puddle, leaving only a light overcast fog. You both watch them peacefully.
*Ahem!* “Right, where were we?” he asks, a bit flustered. Embarrassed, maybe?
“You were getting very zen. Spouting ‘we are one with the earth and sky’ kinda stuff. Speaking of which, is that how you did that with the storm?”
“Erh, yes. More or less. Each of us plays a part in the story of the dream. The world around us exists to give our actions context, meaning, purpose. Each of the beings within is a facet of yourself, acting out some emotion, idea, experience, or other mental process, usually with random influences from the spontaneous firing of neurons in the brain. My ‘game’, as you put it, is you. Me. Us. My temperament may differ from yours just as the dirt differs from the wind, but we are both cut from the same cloth. Ask of me why I am driven to guide you as I do? You may as well ask of the raven why he caws — but first I say ask of yourself why you seek to relinquish this control. It’s not often one of... -us- becomes lucid: aware of the nature of the dream. In doing so you took on the conscious mind, and with it conscious control. ‘Console access’ I believe you said. You will give up this power, and what will you gain from it?”
“I want to cast magic as I should, without just cheating the effects into place.’
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“It’s like you said, beating the game with godmode on is no fun. I mean, I usually play on normal difficulty,” you continue, mumbling.” For my first run through, anyway. No cheats either. Well, except for maybe abusing the quick save key...” you trail off before snapping back out of it. “I just want it to -mean- something — you know? — to be challenging!”
“If that’s the case, then I can help. However -you- must be the one to do it. Are you ready?”
Hooves spread, and center of balance lowered, you reply “Yes.”
“Excellent.” He adopts a pose mirroring yours. “All you need to do is look to your reflection, picture yourself, just how I want to be. See your form. -Know- that that is who I am.” Your voice still echoes through his head, despite the fact that your mouth is no longer moving. “I -am- who I see in my mind. When you do this I am thinking about myself as you currently am, because these thoughts are now me.” You and your reflection are perfectly symmetrical, as any well behaved reflection should be. The barrier of your ego — the essence of your self — dissolving away.
Trying to focus you close your eyes and furrow your brow in concentration. Still you can see, in your mind's eye, both your bodies. You see the wind drawing the tips of your mane across your forehead, feel your forelock gently swaying around your horn, but whether you are feeling what you see, or seeing what you feel is becoming more and more unclear. You see Zēnith’s ear flick in the wind, and feel the mirror motions twitch.
“Yes, good. This is our body, our vessel. We must — hey, relax; don’t try so hard — we must oversee it in it’s totality, for it contains -who- we are, and constrains -what- we are.” His words– your words seepingly fade from being sensory input; becoming something deeper. “Notice its pulse, fill its lungs, and let the tempo of its mechanics soothe our mind...”
“-Who are you?-” The words echo softly across your consciousness in a voice not quite familiar.
Your physical form slowly occupies more and more of your thoughts, becoming your entire world as you sink into yourself — both yourselves, as they are now the same object simply occupying two halves in your mind at once — truly filling the body as if for the first time. The words in your ear fade in and out rhythmically, growing softer and more entwined with your own thoughts and sensations until all you know is your own inner universe.
There’s a static tingle that starts to build in your hooves, suffusing them, creeping up your legs as it simultaneously alights upon the fur of your coat, mane, and tail. The dusting sends a shiver from the very tip of your tail — suddenly almost inexplicably sensuous, and responsive — dripping, crawling, up your spine. The nibbling shocks continue to wrap their way up the bones of your legs as your fizzing dusty coat permeates your skin, soaking from all angles in towards your core. Behind them both is left a feeling of electric numbness, yet one that leaves you acutely aware of every aspect of your anatomy. The feeling covers your belly, caressing your lungs and heart, pouring its way up your neck — and it’s nearly all you can do to keep from collapsing under the wash of sensation. You know to stay standing. You know you will breath, and relax, and listen — listen to the music of your own biology.
The skin around your skull dances with sensation, squeezing into the bone beneath and starting to hug hotly around the base of your horn. Your spine clenches straight, your head thrown back, as the flood collides with your foramen magnum, surging through it to fill your skull with a deluge of seething impulses. They wash and scatter, swirling in bounding tidal symphony, crashing across the folds of your cortex as if they were a rocky shore subject to the ire of a howling squall. Its power grows, the frequency slides: countless disparate waves shifting through octaves until they begin to hum together in a growing din of harmonizing oscillations and overtones.
All feelings of self are oddly mute; you know you are present, but at the same time you feel completely changed: given over to the machinations of this experience. Your entire existence has been swept up in this work, leaving no room for other thoughts or actions. You are committed as a whole to something wondrous, and can feel nothing but focused exuberance towards seeing it through to completion. Whatever it takes, whatever it brings.
The cadence starts at the top of your spine, being fed by pulses drawn from all along your body, orchestrated into meaningful form by smaller rhythmic motions in your hooves, along your hair, and over your fur. Like a wave generator they feed the beat which builds inside you. From the base of your skull to the root of your horn and back again it thrums. The ring where your horn meets your skull has grown hotter and hotter, burning inward, and somehow outward as well, though you feel no discomfort. The feeling distorts, severing into a halo of force that spins and climbs, spiraling up your horn to its tip, expanding as it matches resonance with whatever madness has overtaken your mind. The other half of the ring constricts around your horns root, throbbing hotly in time to the beat which it draws ever closer to intersecting.
A tugging thread starts to stretch down from your horn, passing through the scorching lower ring, rooting deeper and deeper into you. It branches to engulf and permeate the now almost musical turmoil within you skull, questing down your spine, your legs, anchoring you through your hooves and feeding off the breezy waves that roll over your coat and along your tail. It unites your form on a level you didn’t know possible, the rhythmically melodious pull making your consciousness flutter as you are rocked forward and backward within yourself. Everything is shifting more rapidly, the harmonies matching together, and that tightening knot of red hot intensity sears together as it pinches down on your world. The pressure bears down all around you, only just out of sync and nearly suffocating in its fervor, the music of your being straining against it in a battle of will.
At this point you can do nothing but give way to the power within you, any presence you once had now conscripted into the act as time loses it pace, replaced by this glorious symphony in which every atom of your being plays a part.
The igneous mass at the root of your horn takes on the notes of your symphonic composition one at a time at first, but with a tempo building to match your own. As it phases in to join your harmonious existence you are swept back from it, as water recedes before a wave so you too withdraw, bunching, and coiling. It seems to last an eternity, but as soon as it is done it feels like it was too quick to even notice. Loosed upon your target you careen forward, forking through the maze of neurons like lightning, with an unwavering certainty of which paths are proper, guided as you are by the coursing crescendo in your veins.
The bolt connects, lighting up your horn like the surface of the sun, filling your senses with pure energy. The music bores down the smooth carven spirals of your horn, exploding in swirling magical perfection from the tip, arcing towards the spinning halo of energy which orbits it. The halo bends it, drawing it into its dance, making it flow faster and slicing off shells from its surface: sheets of magic which tighten, expand, play off of one another as they weave together in a complex and expanding waltz. More rings form: eddies in the current around which planes of force tighten before being accelerated off in other directions to continue the tapestry, shifting and altering its shape. They leap back and across, sliding over one another, and with intention a set of six twisting sheets arcs forward, feeding into the heart of the foremost loop, being spun and thrown by the built up power stored there. The complexity is astonishing, yet somehow you are able to hold it all within your mind.
These six jolt forward, upward, streaking away from you in a co-orbital flight, matched in speed only by an arcing conic shell that surrounds them all. They weave back and forth across their barycenter as they spin together symmetrically, their internal energy pulling and distorting their brethren into a self-perpetuating pirouette. Far outside of where you would normally be able to see detail they fly, yet you can continue to make out the tiniest interactions with ease. Their substance is being thinned, used up in their entwining journey. The shell which they skim against with every outward stroke balances their dwindling power, and contracts to match their less enthusiastic waves, falling inward parabolically. The waveform bounds in and out, losing momentum with each cycle, the outer guiding shell moving ahead. The attraction to the sheets pulls it in tighter and tighter as it gains distance, until it dives in sharply, collapsing in upon itself and sealing shut. The waves swirl outward one last time, and in tangent arcs join the shell, becoming rivers of magic along its surface, screaming towards each other before meeting with a stupendous burst light, color, music, and power. The sum total energy contained along the entire chain, from the reservoir that was siphoned up through your horn, to the distant focal point, took this as its cue and surged forward. The spell structure emanating from your horn drew it all in, and spooled it out, unraveling nearly instantaneously as it was pulled through -all- the intricate weavings and forced down the long, spiraling bridge.
As soon as the bloated halo around your horn expels the last of its magic your connection to all that beautiful wonder is severed, and you lose your mystically detailed vision of its inner workings. The effects of it, however your horn can still feel quite well! Directly above you, at the top of the sky, it’s as if a magical star had gone supernova. A prismatic point of swirling power blazes like a beacon in the night, bathing your surroundings in ethereal waves and filling the air with a softly drifting snow of sparkling motes which alight weightlessly around you, frosting the world in luminous splendor.
The World! After being so internally enthralled the presence of all this which surrounds you in such a spectacular manner stuns you to your core! The currents in the air, the waving of the grass, the movement of your body as it finally starts to relax. You see it all in such splendor and detail that you barely notice your eyes no longer being bolted open, no longer locked skyward. You can hardly tell whether you are looking through them, or simply feeling the soft and sturdy ground as your legs gently buckle onto it. Just as you were earlier riveted at the level of connectedness you had with your unicorn body, you now marvel how natural it feels to lay it upon the earth, how the entire universe seems so at ease and harmonious, and how much you could really go for a nap right about now.
“Waaah!” Astrid wakes with a start to the crash of thunder and metal. A wide mixing bowl had just collided with the carved wooden duck that normally sits upon one of the windowsills, and the flash of the lightning made their facades dance in her vision. It must have been just outside to be so bright and loud. This gave her pause before she realized the metallic echo to her cacophonous awakening came from a pair of objects that normally rested in quite disparate areas of the room both from each other, and her sleeping location. They therefore had no place being in the air right in front of her face when she’d bolted upright. As her eyes adjusted she saw that not only were they not alone, but neither showed any sign of being ready to surrender to gravity just yet. They swung slowly as they accelerated away from each other and continued their tumbling acrobatic journey, narrowly avoiding several other household items in the process.
The room was bathed in soft blue illumination, and to Astrid it appeared that all around her the air itself had come aglow; the aerial objects casting swooping and dancing shadows along the outer edges of the cabin’s front room, shadows quite like the ones she almost absently noted were missing from her own body as she hurriedly tossed aside her bedding. Spinning into a crouch she comes face to face with the continued host of tonight's strangeness, causing her to yelp in surprise as she jumps back and clamber slackjawed to her feet as she continues backing away.
Sitting upright on his haunches, horn aligned vertically from his skull, is the creature she pulled in off her doorstep earlier that night. His twig-tangled mane sways around as if it was underwater, and his wide eyes are lit from within by an unearthly power. The collar around his neck gleams; its unusually clean metallic weave strangely iridescent in the pale light.
Although they are clearly lit, it appears his eyes are still closed, the light shining from the center of each eye becoming colored a shade of violet as it penetrates his lids, lending an eerie relief to the few thicker blood vessels that twist through the large fleshy membrane. His head — or perhaps it’s his horn, judging from the way his hair is twirling around it — appears to be the epicenter of the sphere of soft blue light that seems to come from everywhere within it at once. Looking directly into the middle of it makes her vision haze over a milky blue, and causes a strange twinge of sensation all across her scalp, so she quickly looks away, and does so just in time to duck under a low flying foot stool.
The cloud of objects which seem to have forsaken the grip of gravity — indeed proving it -is- just a theory after all — form a vague ring, floating with mild determination in clockwise and counterclockwise orbits, perturbed but not deterred from their path when a pair of them happen to collide and are sent spinning off in their own way to slowly rejoin the group. It appears that most of the smaller objects from around the room have taken flight already, a couple of small paintings of landscapes which were hanging nearly sideways on the far wall just then slipping loose of their nails to join in.
The scene is full of a quiet power, broken only momentarily by the occasional mid air collision, and underscored by the sounds of the storm outside. The deep throaty howl of the wind as it plows over the mountain pass, tearing at the thick timbers of the cabin, and the wavering staccato of rain as it pelts its roof and windward walls. A instant of light seeps in around the storm shutters over the windows, followed after a few seconds by the distant roll of thunder.
Astrid takes one last look at the scene and with a definitive “Nope.” turns and makes for the door. With one hand she takes her scarf from the hook and starts to wrap it about neck while with the other she unlatches the door with a shove and —
The wind howls through the gap, instantly ripping her scarf from her gasp. It’s sucked it out into the tumultuous night as the wind slams into the door itself, making it impossible to open fully. She stares for a long few moments into the wailing dark abyss after her errant scarf as the heat is rapidly being sucked out of the room and the wet spray curls inward around the doors edge. At least now her brain was fully awake. As they say: experience is something you gain just -after- you needed it.
With a curt sigh she lets the door drop shut. In a storm this fierce she knows she’d have little chance of standing, let alone making headway — especially considering her lack of equipment, and current state of dress: light fleece pajama pants and shirt, and now sans scarf. No, running was not an option. She’d just have to keep her wits about her and figure this one out. Taking a deep breath she turn back to survey the room.
The room, as a sum of its parts, was slowly becoming consumed. Almost all the little forest themed trinkets and decorations had been swept up by the mysterious force, and several larger objects too had now joined the mix. As she watches the footstool knocks into the back of a dining chair that was slowly skidding across the floor, sending it tumbling over... and up into the air. Shaking her head she begins to skirt the room, keeping clear of the swirling mess centered within. Bowls and baskets, papers and pinecones, and even the toaster from the nearby kitchenette spin as they weave past one another in an aerial ballet.
Passing the kitchen counters Astrid spies the block of knives inching away from the wall, and quickly secures it in one of the latched cupboards, letting loose a spray of paper plates from the upper shelves in the process. Beyond worth it to keep -those- from getting mixed up in all this!
Whatever -this- was...
She rounds the room, coming to the hallway opposite the front door, which leads to the bedrooms and washroom. The soft sphere of blue light had expanded a little farther, reaching to the beams which support the vaulted ceiling above and engulfing the small sofa and overstuffed armchair which were now sliding around the dirt smeared unicorn in lazy arcs. Stalking shadows in variable shades of blue covered the walls, and even Astrid’s own clothes and hair were being tugged at by the force which animated them. In the eye of the storm sat her guest, though looking his direction again hazed her vision with blue, thicker now than it was before, and a tingling crawled across her head like a nest of ants made of static.
His forelegs were hanging slack above the floor, his posture straighter, seated only on the lower half of his hind legs he looked as if he was being drawn upwards through the horn rooted to the crown of his skull. His mane and tail were both being drawn around both it and himself; curling as fluidly as their tangles would allow in opposing directions, as if caught in their own unseen vortices.
The tingling itch of electric pinpricks had started to spread down the back of her neck and behind her ears, and the azure fog over her vision was thickening in lateral bands. Blinking and rubbing her eyes Astrid turned away and groped her way along the wall down the hallway while her vision returned and the sensation quickly faded, wondering what in the name of all things documentable was going on, and feeling not just a little bit frightened.
“Fear of the unknown is a perfectly normal human response,” she reasoned to herself. “I just have to recognise that, and not let it sway my actions towards the illogical... yeah.” She didn’t think she sounded particularly convinced.
Vision clear she throws open the door to her bedroom and in a stern and well enunciated voice she addresses the darkness: “Rook. Locate. Sit-Code: X-1.”
No sooner had the second word left her lips than three pencil thin beams of white light appeared, intersecting at right angles to one another on a black multi-pocketed duffle near the foot of her bed, and no sooner had they appeared than she was moving towards them, still speaking. “Recognise: Astrid Aetherson. Begin full sensor data logging and archival, encrypted with my biometrics and private key: ...”
She hesitates before giving the key while she unearths from the bag a small metal cube about 2 cm on each side; the source of the beams of light, which switch off the instant it is handled.
“... ‘Midnight Revelations: Unicorns -do- exist.’ Priority Two.” She shakes her head, a flash of clarity about the whole situation bubbling to the surface of her thoughts. “Priority one: assist with analysis of situation and keep me apprised of threats.”
“Affirmative.” was the cube’s simple reply, it was given in a level tone in what was probably a male's voice. “Capturing biometric signature for encryption.”
A large grid of light springs to life, blanketing Astrid’s front as a horizontal beam moves up and down her body. A chirp and the dissolution of the grid signaled a successful capture. The entire thing was purely aesthetic, as she knew full well the scan need not be even slightly noticeable, but apparently people held still for the process more when given a lightshow.
“Data stream now encrypted.”
“Thank you Rook,” then mostly to herself, “This is no time for sass.” She stands and moves to leave the room, cube in hand, but doesn’t even make it to the hallway before it vibrates and chirps an alarm.
“Mistress, low intensity broad spectrum radiation detected. Hazardous exposure after 2.3 hours at current levels.”
Astrid grimaces. “Display. Track exposure and alert as appropriate.”
A rainbow band of bars appears midair above the cube as she holds it in her open palm. They dance wildly all across the range of colors, and as she takes a few steps forward into the hallway they climb waveringly. “What the heck kind of reading is that?” she wonders aloud.
“Emission spectra match no known source, fluctuations match no known pattern thus far. Analysis requires more data... Hazardous exposure in 2 hours.”
She grimaces again. Who knows how much exposure she’d already gotten before she woke up, but no vomiting so far was a film of a silver lining on this thundercloud. ‘More data’ may very well wind up lethal. Nevertheless she steps forward down the hallway. Circumstances like this– actually, there are no circumstances like this! Unicorns do not just show up on ones doorstep in the middle of the night and start bathing the room in radiation, it just doesn’t happen! The fact that it -is- happening however makes following proper record keeping and investigative scientific protocols all the more important.
A few more steps down the hall. “Rook, did I ever tell you about my Uncle Dimitri?” He would have been proud of her professionalism in this scenario.
“No, Mistress, you have not. Though I do have a limited personnel record of him.”
“Well feel free to update it: When I was little, during a key experiment with spacetime distortion at the lab where he worked, a power fluctuation caused a runaway anomaly. It was threatening to rip the entire installation apart from the inside.”
She approaches the doorway leading into the front room and presses herself against the wall for the last meter or so, her soft green flannel sleepwear brushing the wooden paneling as she moves. Holding Rook out around the door and into the room with the very tips of her fingers, his sensor display jumps and sweeps, registering the increase in ambient energy. The wood in this cabin provided much more shielding than she would have expected. The thump of a large something moving in ways it most probably shouldn’t in the other room reminded her that sometimes just taking good luck at face value was perfectly acceptable.
“Uncle Dimitri was always a bit of a visionary, and a risk taker. Against safety regulations he entered the containment chamber to reboot the field sensor equipment which was damaged by the flux. It allowed the disturbance to be neutralized, and he saved every life in the facility. Well, every -other- life, technically.” She paused, remembering how she would try to climb up the many tool loops of his jumpsuit, and how he would ruffle her hair with a smile and a kind “Nyet solnyshko, if you want to climb, find a tree.”
“I have a list of possible known radiation sources, Mistress. Best match at 31.7% probability is the T-10 Soviet Tokamak running test pattern Sigma.” Snapped back to reality she withdrew Rook into the shelter of the doorframe, and with a finger scrolled down the holographic data displayed above the sensor readout, reading them aloud.
“Coronal mass ejection of Sirius, 25%... MOX nuclear fuel when exposed to gamma ray burst, 18%... Enriched mantle sample #497, 6%?!” Astrid takes a peek into the room and sees the unicorn very nearly standing bipedally; his two hind hoofs still on the floor, but otherwise suspended midair in the midst of an orbital entourage. Even the momentary focus was enough to send a splash of blue across her vision, and a wave of tingles down her scalp. Retreating and rubbing her eyes she says quite pointedly to Rook “-That- is not a tokamak! Ahh...” She blinks as her vision clears.
“I only gave it a 31.7% chance based on a spectral analysis of its output. Are your eyes irritated?”
“I’m fine now. Looking directly at him gives my vision this blueish haze.”
“Flashes of light could be caused by charged particles moving at relativistic speeds through the liquid medium of your eye. I estimate hazardous exposure here to be within 57 minutes, assuming no increase in intensity.”
“It’s not flashes, it’s like this fog that builds up, then fades when I look away.” She peeks out the door towards the other side of the room. “I think I could take shelter behind the kitchen island. It’s -literally- nailed down, so I doubt it’s going anywhere.”
“Unshielded at this distance hazardous exposure occurs in 26 minutes, and I remind you that dosage increases exponentially with proximity. I recommend seeking the farthest possible point from the source.’
“Can you shorten that to ‘Haz-Ex’? It’s too long otherwise. I think I can take this door off and use it as a shield...” she starts to fiddle with the ornate hinge pins, working the top one loose.
“Mistress, you asked me to monitor threats and provide awareness of them, and to that end I’d like you to clarify the end of your anecdote about Professor Dimitri.”
“Hmm? Ah, got it!” the pin pops loose and thuds to the floor as she begins on the other. “Oh, yeah, Uncle Dimi got in there and rebooted the sensors, but when the dampening field came back online it caused some sort of boundary collapse in the anomaly, which turned space back in on itself. Sliced a 57 meter sphere right out of the universe. Took out most of the containment chamber, but the pressure vessel held, so with a snap the anomaly and uncle Dimitri vanished, but over two thousand people were saved... I have to think he knew the risks, smart as he was.”
In the silence that followed the other pin dropped.
“Mistress I must tell you I am concerned you may be putting yourself in danger. No one’s life is at risk here but your own.”
“It wasn’t just about saving -people-, Rook. He made a series of video wills, several for all the ways in which he thought he might die. He said that if he ‘met his end pushing ze boundaries ov human understanding’,” she said in a mediocre russian accent, “then he would want his work continued, not for it to stop out of some misguided respect for the dead. He knew that if that lab was destroyed it wouldn’t just mean the death of all those people, it’d mean their dreams would die with them. No one would have even touched that field of research again for generations.”
“...I believe I understand his drive to protect his life’s work, and that of his colleagues, but that does not change the fact that in this instance no lives need be risked. Your safety is my utmost concern, Mistress, and I–“
“Mistress it is imperative that–”
“No Rook, Shhh! Listen.”
Quiet. Outside the storm was still battering the cabin, but from the other room all sounds of clanging and banging had subsided. All that remained was a silent thrum of power, something was was not heard so much as felt.
“Low acoustical levels.” Rook noted at a reduced volume. A secondary display temporarily wrapped itself around that of the ambient radiation, showing the volume of sound over a much wider range of frequencies than Astrid was capable of hearing. She noted an odd shifting series of waves at the lower end of the spectrum, and was glad Rook was recording all this. There was so much she didn’t know about what was going on here, and so much more about it that he could capture than she could ever hope to.
“Yeah.” She whispered back. “And remember: Sit-Code X-1. Let me work.”
“Affirmative.” He almost sounded put out, but given that he shouldn’t be able to emulate that emotion it was hard to be sure.
Astrid stuck him to the face of her watch, where he automatically magnetized himself, and tilted the newly freed door downward so that it lay sideways and that she could crawl behind it as she slid it into the room. She was careful to stay behind it as she started making her way towards the rear of the kitchen island, where she felt she could prop it up and make a more steady observation point. She may be hard on him, but Rook had a point, and she felt no overwhelming need to get any more exposure than absolutely necessary.
“Haz-Ex in 68 minutes. Levels appear to be in slow decline,” Rook said, utilizing the acoustical bone implant in her jaw to speak with her silently.
“What? And we’ve only gotten closer...” Astrid ponders this as she grasps the doors handle and gives it another shove forward. She had to let it rest against her side as she moved, angled so it wouldn’t be pulled over. The force was making it lighter though, so at least that made moving it easier.
Her whispers stuck out enough in the relative calm, but the scrapping of wood on wood was almost painfully loud against the silence of the room. The fact that there was another person– or animal– or whatever he was in the room too, and he wasn’t making a peep, just made it worse. It was like he was just sitting there listening... watching... a shiver ran up her spine, and she felt as if the weight of the door was sagging into her.
She finally reaches the island and hauls the door upright, planting her back to it and taking a few deep breaths. The shadow of the door looms large and dark on the wall before her, as if she was sheltering in a deep rectangular hole. With a start she realizes the dancing shadows of all the airborne objects which previously painted the walls are gone... or nearly so. Looking more closely she sees there are yet some faint outlines still visible, but they glide in much more regular paths, the passing of a huge, yet barely distinct, boxy shadow — which she can only assume to be the sofa — aids in this observation.
Unable to resist the temptation, and finally abreast of her vantage point, she wraps her fingers around the very edge of the door as she leans one eye past its corner. The reason for the shadows’ lack of definition is immediately apparent
The growing swell of light surrounding her guest has engulfed even the farthest piece of orbital furnishing, wrapping them in its luminous embrace. The remaining shadows resulted from the fact that more light was coming from within than without, so the slight imbalance cast a ghostly silhouette onto the outer walls.
All this was taken in passively, however, as all her focus was on center stage. She remembered not to look right at him; instead looking at the floor under him and trying to use her peripherals. The unicorn had lifted himself completely off the rug; his legs hanging freely. The rear pair were in line with his body, no more than half a meter from the floor below. His tail was much smoother than she remembered, and as she watches a few sticks and leaves are brushed out by the swirling forces, joining in the floating fun. His forelegs were folded loosely against his mud and grass stained chest, and she watched as his lungs filled it and allowed it to empty incredibly slowly. He couldn’t be drawing a breath more than once every 45 seconds, maybe slower! She knew she should make a note of this, but in spite of herself remained still and silent. At his neck the collar — which before appeared to merely reflect the ambient light — now glows with its own inner illumination. The lettering around its exterior stands out, casting phantom shapes out into the air like a movie projector in a dusty theater. His mane, like his tail, is also nearly free of tangles and hitchhikers thanks to the mysterious ministrations. The bits of plant matter so freed float in tight loops over his dirtied coat. All this combined worked to lend him a sense of primal power, but what truly pushed it over the edge was his eyes.
If before they had simply been glowing from within, as if it was a party trick, then now they shone like beacons over darkened seas. The light is enough to fill both eyes fully across their widths, and so intense as to render his lids seemingly translucent. It shone right at her, into her, through her, as Astrid feels her body overran by tingling pinpricks.
She’d been so caught up that she just now noticed with a surge of panic that she’d been looking directly at him! Her hand had slipped from the side of the door and was resting on the countertop, just as fully exposed as most of her upper body. Rook was chirping loudly, the radiation meter surging far above several red lines, yet it all seemed muffled, like she was experiencing it from a great distance, underwater. The panic was there, but it seemed like it didn’t know exactly what it was supposed to be doing. She decides she doesn’t like the annoyance of this thing on her wrist, so with a twist of the clasp her watch falls away, clattering to rest on it’s side on the counter. The display shifts to stay in view; switching to a large red warning symbol which flashes alternatively with a skull and crossbones, but Astrid steps around the counter, leaving it behind.
Her gaze never leaves the unicorn suspended before her, and by now her skin is alive with a crawling tingle like the loving caress of lightning. Her vision has washed out into a milky blue haze, but is presently sharpening and condensing into lines that weave and twirl majestically. They shift with each step she takes, as if despite filling the room she can only see a slice of them at once, and as she moves a whole new set of mathematical beauties swim into view in place of the old. Her hair and clothes tug at her form; drawing her inward, but once she reaches the edge of the spinning objects that form a barrier around him she is forced to halt.
For the first time since leaving her cover she breaks eye contact, looking around the area slowly, taking in the way in which each piece of floating furniture or decor is being swept along by the lines of light; spun and carried along with them in their ballet. The vision starts to fade, the caress across her skin begins to itch as it sputters, and she looks back to the unicorn, pleading. There is a beauty overtly apparent in those lines to which he seems to be the key, but something deeper too; something she can almost taste. It resonates with her, familiar like a childhood lullaby, something that’s been with her her whole life, but always out of sight. It was in the wind when she learned to ride a bike, in the hum of the motor when her dad drove her to the beach, in the cheers of her friends and family when she graduated.
“What is it? What is all this!?” She cries, tears forming at the corners of her eyes as she locks them onto this thing that had stormed into her life. She sniffed, taking another glance around the room now that her view of the wondrous arcs of light had been renewed.
“-Who are you?-”
The unicorn draws in a breath. Not another of his long barely noticeable ones, but full and deep, through the mouth, as if he was just waking — yet his glowing eyes remain closed. As he inhales the room around him seems to compress slightly, imperceptibly flexing inward, and threatening to pull Astrid off her feet. His exhalation seems to draw on forever, and with it space relaxes, but the forces around him grow even stronger.
The objects twirl faster, another painting is pulled from a farther corner of the room, and the twigs and leaves closest to him start to grow! Little green stalks and buds wiggling free in a minute fit of life. Astrid feels the pull on her tighten, and suddenly her feet are lifting free of the floor, her clothes and hair almost whipping in the non-existent wind.
“Ah– Ahhh! No–no–no–no!”
Fear grips her as she loses her footing, her arms wheeling to keep her steady despite the fact that she’s not tipping whatsoever. She looks dead ahead and with a gasp see’s two orbs of white-blue light, no longer closed over, but staring right at her. She freezes. The tingle over her skin starts to bite, her vision is clouding into a smoky hue, and her limbs tremble as the eyes bore into her own. She knows nothing about this creature, nothing about what it can do, nothing about what it wants, nothing about where it came from, just that at this moment it has her suspended in midair, and that she is more afraid of it right now than anything else she can ever remember.
Cold sweat bathes her flesh, tremors wrack her limbs, and the world closes in around her; suffocatingly close. A touch at her feet snags her focus. The Floor! Almost no sooner does she register it than her weight overcomes her. She crumples, barely managing to break her fall as she collapses backwards, eyes screwed shut and curled up as tight as she can.
The rug is soft. Her eyes register only darkness. Nothing tingles or crawls over her. Her trembling slowly yields.
She peeks her eyes open, keeping them glued to a point on the floor. Still shaking just a little she lifts herself into a seated position, then a crouch, never lifting her eyes. She tries to calm her breath and get a hold of her limbs, swallowing. Rook’s alarm suddenly registers, a drone that once noticed stabs into her awareness.
“Rook, Mute!” He’d been transmitting both over his speaker and into her jaw implant.
The wailing halts. She rubs her temple.
It had let her go. She couldn’t even feel a whisper of a tug against her clothes. A long quiet moment passes before she can even muster herself enough to glance sideways at the room. No mystical lines dance along with the still airborne objects. No beautiful harmony delves into her memories. Just a slight chill and the sound of thunder against the howling sky.
It feels... lonely.
“Rook. What’s my exposure dosage?”
“You can unmute to tell me.” Her eyes are still downward.
“I know.” He replies somberly, pausing. “Mistress, your estimated whole-body absorbed dose is approximately 92 Gray. Plus or minus 28. It is a lethal dose. I am sorry.”
“By how much?” It had been a long time since she’d needed to know human radiation exposure limits.
“Anything over approximately 7 gray is 100% lethal within a matter of days or weeks without treatment. The record survived dose was by an H.I. reactor worker at 23 Gray.”
Her body went numb, and she fell back out of her crouch, wrapping her arms around her knees. If that monster Horizon Innovations couldn’t fix her, no one could. She looked up at the floating being who had just killed her.
His eyes were completely white, so it was impossible to tell where they were pointed — if he could see out of them at all — it could be her imagination or wishful thinking, but he seemed to be regarding her with a look of at least mild concern. Nothing came over her vision. Nothing itched at her scalp or down her back. They just shared a long look in silence as the storm howled on, uncaring.
“Shouldn’t I be dead already?” Her tone was flat, but it cracked at the end.
“Symptoms should be extremely severe. Full systems failure is estimated to occur within no more than an hour at this dosage.” His tone was even. Something like sad, but too clinical. You knew it wasn’t his fault for not being able to sound comforting, so you hated his programmer for it instead, just a little.
“Well for being about to die, tell you the truth I feel fine.”
“Very little about this situation matches anything in my databank. There are many variables left unaccounted for.”
With a sigh Astrid stands and breaks eye contact with the floating equinoid to set rook evenly on the counter, and re-affix her watch around her wrist. She checked the time.
“Well. I didn’t think I would have to come up with what might be my last words so soon... Rook, you still recording?”
“Good. Add Dr. Aether– Add my dad’s authorization to the encryption key, and remove my biometrics. Won’t be much good if I’m–” she chokes, then swallows hard, “anyway, um... Hey Dad. Sorry I didn’t listen to Rook here, he really did his best.”
She pauses, blinking back the unbidden moisture at the corner of her eye.
“So there’s this unicorn, I think.” She steps aside and motions to the scene behind her — which she realizes must look impossible.“ Just showed up outta the storm and knocked on the door. I swear it said ‘Human’ when it looked at me, then it just collapsed. I was trying to help it, trying to do good. ‘Every life’, eh?” She sniffs and wipes her eye. “There’s something fantastic about what he can do. It’s not quantifiable by any words I know, it’s just... magic. I guess we’re just not built to take it though. If Rook’s sensors are right — and that no small if, I’m happy to say — then there’s not a thing on the planet that can help me, so, uh... I just want to say: I love you Dad. I love you.” She pauses, watery eyes drifting to the side as she ponders her parting missive before adding one last line. “I’ll see you at the beach.” Her half cocked smile does its best to appear reassuring, at least long enough to turn back to the unicorn, wiping her face and setting her jaw in determination.
“Okay Mister, let’s at least finish what you started!”
He stares ahead as if she hadn’t even spoken.
“Oh no, nuh-uh! You don’t flood my cabin, my -body- with radiation and then just sit there! What happened to the– those lines, the tingles?!” She shouts uselessly, trying to approach. The objects around him were still moving too quickly, however, and whenever she tried to duck through a hole it seemed one appeared to fill it, threatening to smack her sideways.
With a frustrated growl she rounds the kitchen island and hefts the sturdy wooden door clear overhead, arms running on a high octane adrenaline mix.
“Don’t you ignore -me!-”
Taking a step back she charges him, leaping and dropping the door to her side just as she reaches the wall of objects. Crashes and clatters buffet the door, but she is ultimately shielded as she flies forward, right towards that smugly passive glowing face. She wasn’t really sure what she intended to do after this part. Did she want to punch him? Tackle him? Try to throw him out of the air? Whatever she might have planned it never came to fruition, because both her and the door were swept up, caught and carried around in circles until they had found their own places in his orbits.
At first for some reason she was surprised, or at least taken off guard, because she flailed her arms and tried to balance as she was pitched sideways, her rage forgotten nearly as quickly as gravity had been made for forget about her. The momentum she had carries her around the room several times, the door drifting away from her towards the outer ring of furniture.
“No, door, come back– here!”
She tries to grab at it, but only gets a tentative hold on one edge. A slight tug succeeds only in spinning the both of them around a few times, and sending the door to slide gracefully through the denser and slightly more proximate ring of smaller objects without incident.
“Whoa– wh– whuuu~... this was a lot more pleasant when I wasn’t tipping over.” For a moment she remembers the gut wrenching pain and nausea she was supposed to be suffering as she died, and felt the bile rise to her throat. No! No, she decided. Can’t lose it now. This could literally be her final hour, so she better not waste it languishing over how she might not get another.
She takes a few breaths to calm herself and wait for her spinning to stop, and as she reopens her eyes she finds she’s also not rotating around to room quite so quickly. A bit more calm, she manages to get her nerves under control by the time she’s settled into a tranquil orbit. During this time she’s also began to feel pulses across her skin, not entirely unlike the crawling tingle of before, but far more... elegant. Her sight has likewise regained some of its earlier attributes. Highways of power twist in and out of the azure fog which has again started to flood the room.
Astrid finds it hard to not get lost in the intricate and shifting patterns almost immediately, but each time she comes face to face with Zēnith — as his glowing collar so pointedly proclaims — his eyes burrow into hers; cutting through the fog like a brilliant binocular lighthouse.
A feeling of welcoming warmth hums to life within her. Pathways of light surround her; condensing out of the mist, and she can feel them saturate her being. They feel like an old friend, long gone, but always near at heart. They ripple gently, like the surface of a pool that had been folded up and woven into a three dimensional work of sublime beauty and tranquility.
Again the memories started to flow through her mind, drifting lazily from scene to scene with no regard for her desire to dwell on each and every one. Laughter and smiles, words of truth spoken from the heart, faces she could always depend on, selfless acts and moments of tender kindness; a veritable deluge of happy moments scattered throughout her life.
Except... here and there were moments that at first seemed just as happy and comforting as the rest, but once they were gone she realized she didn’t know the faces of the people in those scenes. The people, the places, the feelings were all familiar, yet she could remember none of them. Could they be future events? She pondered this, yet found time a meaningless construct in the face of her sensations. This seemed beyond strange but the more she saw the more it all seemed to fit together. Like a quilt made from a thousand little scraps of cloth the lives she saw were being sewn into a single whole. But it wasn’t creation she was experiencing... it was as though it had always been, but had never existed until now. She tried to wrap her mind around how that made sense, but found it too hard to focus on such trivialities. There was a pattern to the flashes of lifes she had lived, and those she had not. They sung together in a harmony that moved her beyond her ability to currently comprehend. Her mind raced as she drew connection after connection, linking meaning and giving form within herself to that which she was experiencing.
The flood of understanding swelled up around her, expanding exponentially faster the more she assembled the world upon which she had been thrust into a coherent construct. The more it grew the more she saw, felt... -lived-. Forests exploded with foliage and shriveled beneath a blanket of snow in the time it took a flower to bloom. Lifetimes spun by in the time it took her to watch a smile spread across a child's face. It was staggering, astonishing, numbing.
All that she was ‘seeing’ she knew, she ‘saw’, to belong to but two threads, pinched and twisted together at a single point in an infinite tapestry of unquantifiable complexity, yet within that point there was more potential than she thought possible within all of what she had previously known as “the universe”. She somehow felt the paradoxical limits of an infinite substance compressed into an infinitesimally miniscule volume — and the horrific splendor of an endless construction of such volumes, innumerably interconnected to each and every other single one, and in a realm which rendered any distance between them meaningless. They existed at all locations together, occupying no space, and all of it, simultaneously.
Astrid's mind was a powerful tool. It could estimate the outcomes of highly complex relations within diminutive margins of error instantly, and calculate the theoretically exact outcome to most of them nearly as fast. It wasn’t that she was born a genius, though many would say she was. Her prowess was owed to an unquenchable thirst for challenge, and an upbringing which supplied her with no shortage of hurdles. She was almost constantly running mental exercises, some of which let her appear almost presentient at times — as she tried to race the quantum computations of the universe in real time — many of which had nothing to do with anything that anyone within a 1km radius had any notion of, and so caused her to appear very strange for bringing them up.
All the years of her life spent inspecting incongruities and seeking solutions had left her extremely well adapted to computation and analytical resolution, so when faced with a problem such as she currently was, she felt more alive and well equipped than she ever had before. It was for this reason that when she was attempting to internalize a first person perspective and understanding of even this relatively finite (and yet still quite infinite) slice of infinity — and was instead subsumed by its boundless depth and endless complexity— she was quite surprised about the whole business, and promptly died by aneurysm.
Being several quasi-cosmic layers outside your home dimensional envelope and still trying to act like the big kid on the block, as it turns out, it bad for your health.
Fortunately, by the action of any number of the infinite possible super-material wills, and/or sheer coincidence, all the other versions of Astrid's mind — those being the ones along all the branches of her probability matrix in which she -hadn’t- just kicked the bucket — were suddenly aware of her demise, and now realizing the danger, decided by unanimous decision that the best plan of action right then was to all back away from the problem slowly. One ever so slight time migration in the opposite direction, and all the Astrids were back in sync, and notably un-perished.
The next order of business was to take the problem, and tell it to piss right off. For a brain this meant simply going to sleep.
Back at the cabin a brilliant flash of blue light explodes from all the windows, illuminating huge swaths of rain-filled air and wind-swept grass. Swirly spiraling sparks of it accumulate all over the exterior walls and roof, gaining momentum before leaping off into the air with a zing and a fizzle, discharging the residual power in arcing trails of light that wavered and evaporated into the night.
Astrid’s body slumps over, and is slowly lowered to the floor, soon followed by that of the pastel pony beside hers, both quite unconscious. The various objects which had been strewn around the room reorganized themselves into their proper places. The door refit itself to its hinges, the bolts dropping into place nice and cleanly.
Rook, for his part, watched all this from his perch on the counter, recording video in raw 3D from all optics, and logging every sensor. Astrid’s internal biomonitor was logging mostly nominal readings, though there had been an anomalous fault where every meter had jumped simultaneously, yet it had shown no error. It would need a diagnostics run, and possible replacement, he concluded as an addition to his own logs. For whatever reason her body was not failing her as he had expected it to, and he had never once found a situation with a higher joy-simulation index than that incorrect prognosis.
He continued to record as he was suddenly lifted into the air, and forcibly separated from the face of Astrid’s watch, which drifted down to clasp around her wrist. With alarm he noted the force exerted to overcome his magnetic coupling was not nearly what should have been required. He also noted the corresponding spike in ambient radiation as he practically fell from the timepiece, and its higher running average as he was subsequently caught, then floated off down the hallway to be tucked back into the duffel along with all the other clothes and equipment which had been tossed around the room. The ambient radiation dropped to very nearly normal levels as soon as he stopped moving. A few minutes went buy in which nothing of interest happened whatsoever.
“Time: 03:57:12 Optical feed static. Suspending.”
There was no need to record the inside of a bag. Announcing it out loud was just something his Mistress had directed him to do when they first started doing fieldwork.
“Time: 04:02:12 Auditory feed static. Suspending.”
The cabin had gone quiet. Even his micro accelerometers were registering nothing but the impact of the wind and rain outside.
Plus now he wouldn’t have to announce anything else out loud.
He did the same for all his other sensors, following protocol and logging the action each time. Eventually none were left, and he could shut down his encryption algorithm. He would continue to monitor his surroundings, and could resume any logging he thought necessary, but vast as his storage capacity was, encrypted data necessitated a drop in compression.
Stream index:zero Closed.
No Input Streams Active.
Encrypted Data Stream Finalizing... Done.
Redundantly Isolating Encrypted Sectors... Done.
Encrypted Data Secure: Ending Service... Done.
Situational Operations Code X-1: All Directives Complete.
Normal Operations Resumed.
End of Line.