• Published 2nd Jul 2013
  • 854 Views, 80 Comments

Beyond the Vale - Slip Kid

Canterlot Castle: a place of wonders and revelations, countless advances having been made within its sturdy walls. However, what should have been a great leap forward has instead flung a pony into the unknown...

  • ...

Of Moonlight & Wooden Wolves

To say that the Everfree Forest was eerie at night would be a massive understatement. The image of the menacing trees shrouded in darkness was a sight to make even the bravest pony hesitate. But a certain unicorn couldn't care less, and he was ready and willing to reduce the entire Everfree to ashes. Which, judging by the massive trail of destruction left in his wake, he was well on his way to accomplishing.

He was in the midst of incinerating a particularly infuriating patch of undergrowth when he heard twigs snapping behind him. His ears momentarily flicked towards the source of the noise, but he couldn't hear anything over his fervent bush-roasting. When he was ready to move towards his ill-defined goal he heard the rustle of leaves close to his position. With a startled whinny, he turned around with a sun-fire spell at the ready...

...Only to nearly scorch a particularly curious rabbit, which then hurriedly sprinted from whence it came.

He let out a frustrated sigh. “When this is over, I'm going to stop volunteering for dangerous experiments. Also, anypony who asks me to do a report is getting their office set on fire,” he said under his breath. The light emanating from his horn briefly flared up as he thought about the Archmage in particular.

After a few more minutes of uneventful marching through the sodden undergrowth of the cursed forest, he spotted a gap in the massive trees ahead of him from which faint moonlight could be seen shining. Realising that he had possibly reached the end of his tedious journey, he hastened towards the moonlit exit, but what he saw on the other side made him come to a jarring stop just at the entrance to the outside world. His breath hitched in his throat and his jaw lowered.

He saw desolation. There was no grass upon the barren landscape, with the only landmarks being rocks coated in a fine layer of frost. On a hunch, he gathered an amount of stagnant water from a nearby pond in his magical aura, slowly levitated it to his side, and threw it beyond the reaches of the Everfree; it immediately turned to snow in the frigid air pervading the devastated land before him. He then turned his gaze upwards and saw something that shouldn’t have been possible, Canterlot wasn’t shining like a pearlescent beacon in the pale moonlight. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t there at all. There was nothing but sheer rock covering the spot on the Horn of the World where Canterlot usually resided, even then it was cracked, with great slabs of rock ready to fall at a moments' notice. He started breathing rapidly and his glassy eyes stared off into nothingness.

“Canterlot’s gone? Why in Tartarus is Canterlot gone!? D-did I destroy it? Did that idiot Bright Light do something. Oh no... My books! Where are they!? I swear- no, no. Everything's fine, no need to worry. Everything's fine. Everything. Is. Fine.” He sat on his haunches and softly pressed his hooves to his head.

He took a shaky breath, his posture slumped and facing the frozen ground, then racked his brain for a reasonable excuse for his situation.

“This is probably just a horrible dream. My spell clearly failed and I passed out, no need to panic. No need to panic. Besides, how could everything just freeze anyway? Heh.”

His brief smile was a broken thing, not reaching his eyes and falling just as soon as it had appeared.

The utterly frigid conditions out there probably means that Equestria has been like this for some time, but what could have happened to reduce our nation to... this? And where's Canterlot? Ugh, I can't deal with this at the moment, to Tartarus with it all.

He turned his lidded green eyes towards the moon for the second time that night, foolishly hoping for some clue as to what happened to suddenly appear from the heavenly being. After staring intently at the cratered orb hanging motionless in the sky, he was reminded of a recent event: the return of Princess Luna. Not many ponies knew that she had originally appeared as Nightmare Moon, but it was hard to keep a secret from the mages and alchemists at Canterlot Castle. He also remembered that her stated goal was to bring about eternal night.

Wait. The moon standing unmoving, the inhospitable conditions and Canterlot not even existing? And those... extra runes on the plan... what have I gotten myself into this time? I've never messed up this badly before, not even when I melted Princess Celestia's crown.

He winced slightly at the memory, still remembering the shocked expression of the princess when he'd busted through one of the throne room walls in a blaze of fire. Shaking his head slightly to dispel the memory, he raised himself on lightly shaking hooves. He turned around and set his sights on the inky darkness behind him, the faint whispers of awful creatures and unimaginable horrors bleeding through. He took a deep breath, lit his horn, and stumbled off into the darkness. Various hidden creatures observed him as he sauntered into the forest, the smack of hooves impacting dense earth and the faint hiss of magic in the air attracted them like moths to a flame.

He didn't hear their faint hisses and growls, his gaze was firmly locked on the forest ahead of him and his ears were stood tall upon his head. His destination: The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.

While trying to force himself through a particularly stubborn bush, and earning a few scratches along the way, his mind started to wander to the state of the forest he was currently inhabiting. The sounds of bird calls and buzzing insects contrasting with depths of the midnight sky that framed the canopy.

We always knew that the Everfree contained unnatural magic, but this! The forest has managed to stay alive even without sunlight, the amount of magic needed to fuel the plant life alone must be staggering. Not to mention the temperature regulation. I should really take some ambient magic readings while I’m here, no researcher has ever been able to stay in here long enough to do it. For science!

Momentarily forgetting his mission, the state of the outside world and the numerous predators discreetly lurking in the shadows that shrouded most of the forest, Firebrand set to work. He gradually lowered his horn to one of the roots of the tree nearest to him, and channelled small amount of magicka into it in an attempt to connect to the ambient magic keeping the gargantuan forest alive. His green aura was met with a soft blue glow when it touched the tree, but the soft blue suddenly flared into a brilliant violet corona of light, overpowering his tenuous magical link. The resulting magical backlash caused him to fall on his side, his eyes unmoving and a few errant sparks sputtering from his horn. After he was able to think coherently once again, he rose up on quivering legs. His eyes were bright and full of life; a wide smile split his face in two.

He started speaking in a quick and exited tone, not even bothering to keep quiet. "That was amazing! The power... astonishing! Though the magic here is renowned for being malicious and chaotic, I’m surprised it didn’t outright kill me. Heh. Why did I even do that? That could've easily been the end of me. I just want to go to sleep; and no monster or ancient evil will stop me! I deserve it for putting up with all this- this, um..."

When he took the time to take in his surroundings, he noticed that he was surrounded by eight sets of glowing yellow eyes in a small clearing. He could barely make out what looked like leafy protrusions on their hulking forms. Their bodies danced and swayed with the shadows, grace offset by their malevolent eyes.

Timberwolves, really? Great, just great, that's exactly what I needed.

He stared through half-lidded eyes at the magical constructs before him, his expression blank. A normal pony would see death staring at them from the perpetual gloom obscuring all but the most recognisable features of the forest, but Firebrand was not a normal pony. All he saw were walking tinderboxes.

He put on some twisted semblance of a smile before speaking. "Now, I'm not sure if you can understand me but I haven't had a good day. In fact, I've been having an incredibly bad one, and I've just been aching to vent a bit. Either leave or risk becoming a nice hot bonfire." The wolves simply tilted their heads quizzically at the strange thing in front of them that was making odd noises.

His smile widened. "Fantastic."

The dim glow surrounding his horn increased in intensity until it was almost blinding, a deep thrum resonated around the area and the ground vibrated slightly from the sheer power being exerted. At this show of force several of the larger, older wolves cautiously took a step back while the young wolves simply snapped their jaws in excitement and eyed him hungrily.

Firebrand took one last look at the wolves surrounding him before letting a minute orange spark escape from the tip of his horn. Suddenly a great gout of yellow flame burst forth from his horn, putting everything into sharp contrast. A suffocating heat pervaded the area. The leaves on trees went brown and bark was gnarled and warped by the intense fire. He rapidly swung his head at the three wolves in front of him. The first tried to pounce on Firebrand but was caught mid-leap by the wall of flame, the upper half of the wolf was instantly vaporised with the lower settling back on the forest floor with a muffled thump.

Not giving the rest of the wolves the chance to recover, he brought his head around once again and tried to dispatch the remaining two wolves. The first was completely enveloped by the searing flame while the second barely managed to save itself. The proximity of the unnaturally hot fire wilted its leaves and left its hind legs a charred mess. Two wolves behind him took the fall of their comrades as a chance to take down the troublesome unicorn, but Firebrand was faster.

He spun around and concentrated his unfocused flames into a greenish-white lance of raw energy. The beam swept across the leaping wolves, cutting one neatly in two and decapitating the other. It continued on, digging a smoking furrow in the ground and passing over the elder wolves, disintegrating any loose twigs and setting the rest on fire. They all yelped simultaneously and scrambled madly to get away from their tormentor, leaving a smoking path through the trees in their wake.

The only sounds left in the clearing were the heavy panting of Firebrand, the crackling of burning wood and the soft whines of the injured timberwolf that had been so cruelly left behind. The magical construct regarded Firebrand with baleful eyes while he wondered what to do with the fallen wolf.

After a few seconds, he found a solution.

The acrid odour of smoke hung in the air and the hungry crackle of flames obscured the ambient sounds of the forest, and many small creatures found that they weren’t going to end up being killed by a pack of timberwolves. No, now they had something far more dangerous to fear, a strange being that could shoot fire from its head and could dismantle a pack of timberwolves with ease. Deranged cackling could barely be heard over the din of roaring flames; several of the bolder animals who were approaching the fire shrunk back at the sound.

As the laughter wound down, Firebrand could be seen lying next to a large fire, the charred form of a timberwolf barely recognisable under the soft orange flames. He took a moment to admire his work; one timberwolf serving as a makeshift campfire while three different trails of smouldering wood and singed leaves told the tale of what had happened to the rest of the once ferocious pack of apex predators. The remains of the others had been flung far of into the distance in a brief fit of mania. He looked wistfully back at his cutie mark; an ugly black gash with smoke rising from it.

Hmm, this is pretty much the only time this has been actually good for something.

Soon, the comforting warmth provided by the fire made his eyelids grow heavy. Yet, whenever he would get close to the sweet embrace of sleep his mind was brought back to what he had seen of the outside world. It weighed heavily upon his mind, but eventually the needs of his body overcame his restless conscious and he slipped into a deep, dreamless slumber.

When he awoke, the smell of smoke was barely perceptible over the earthy musk of the Everfree Forest, the roaring inferno of what was once an intimidating predator had petered out, leaving nothing but a burnt out husk. A few remaining embers drifted into the sky and dyed out in the warm, damp air of the Everfree. Firebrand contently curled up on the ground, his back cracking as he twisted. He let out a quiet, content sigh. He was also pleasantly surprised to find that he hadn’t been mauled in his sleep by a passing manticore, so that was another upside to his impromptu nap. He belted out a cavernous yawn and languidly stretched his limbs (which were afflicted with a mild ache) in preparation for his upcoming trek through the untamed wilderness. He then rubbed his horn when a sharp pang of pain coursed through it.

Ow, probably shouldn't do any magic for a while.

After completing his short ritual, and wishing that he had a toothbrush and a shower at hoof, he set off in what he remembered as being the rough direction of the Castle. Although the world was locked in a permanent state of darkness, the forest refused to obey the laws of nature and thus was hot and the air was heavy with humidity; he was soaked with sweat after only a small amount of activity. Also, mosquitoes; because why not? The universe seemingly hated him enough make his journey just that bit more uncomfortable.

He slowly slogged through the thick under-brush passing the time by cataloguing the various plants and animals that he passed by. He didn't want to draw undue attention to himself so he didn't bother trying to burn any of it. The dull ache in his horn reminded him that he probably couldn't, anyway.

He tried to whittle away the time by trying to categorise the various animals and plants he came across. He spotted a patch of glowing blue mushrooms after a few hours of walking, nestled beneath the soaring roots of an ancient and majestic tree that stood vigil over the forest.

Light of the Night, species name Lux Noctis. Only grows in areas with extreme amounts of ambient magicka; I must be getting close.

It was slow going and often times he thought he could hear faint noises behind him. A rustle of leaves or a twig snapping conspicuously close his position.

Well, at least nothing's rushed from the darkness to take a sample of my delicious pony-flesh yet, he mused bitterly.

The trek wore on and so immersed was he in the task of trying to remove the mosquitoes and other undesirables from his general area, and damning whatever cruel gods had cursed him, that he almost missed a decrepit wooden bridge stretched over a vast chasm. With an ancient castle silhouetted in an almost ethereal glow by the full moon overhead.

Pushing his chest out and raising his head to look steadily at the menacing ruin, he took a heavy step on the first plank of the wooden bridge.

...Only for the rotted wood to break on contact and fall into the black hole below.

“Nope,” was Firebrand’s immediate reaction, his wide eyes locked on the dilapidated bridge.

Maybe I could teleport over there? No, last time I tried something about that distance I ended up in a pot of soup in the Fleur... Which really calls the Archmage's decision to let me work on a teleportation spell into question.

With an explosive sigh, he tried to conjure memories of his mandatory survival training issued by the royal guard. Though he couldn't help but wonder why they were given it if most of them wouldn't face anything more challenging than a particularly lengthy tome or a back-fired spell.

“-so remember, If you come across an ursa major or an angry dragon, pray to Celestia that your death will be swift.”

The Royal Guard instructor looked out over the shocked faces of the group of unicorns he was lecturing and he immediately knew that he’d done a good job.

“Any questions?”

When nopony spoke up, some shivering silently in their seats, the white stallion continued.

“If you happen to come across any unstable platforms or bridges, and you can't safely teleport over, remember to apply a mass-lightening spell to make the risk of accidental breakage or displacement minimal. However-”

Firebrand shook his head to clear the memories of the traumatising lecture he’d been given a few years ago, and focused on simultaneously forming the correct spell matrix in his mind and channelling the necessary magicka from his reserves and into his horn. A saturated dark green aura built up as more power was funnelled into the appendage. Once both actions had been completed, he released the mana in his horn with a bright flash and immediately jumped into the air, only to slowly fall back down with barely a sound. He felt the beginnings of a headache at the base of his horn, he simply bared his teeth in a grimace.

He then put his hoof on the plank that was next in line from the now broken one, his eyes nervously flitting to the gargantuan cavern below his hooves every few steps as he continued across the rickety rope-bridge. When he didn't abruptly fall to his death, his steps grew slightly heavier. He reached the other side and exhaled a breath he didn't realise he was holding in.

Any feelings of accomplishment were immediately sapped from his being when he looked up at the imposing form of the extremely dilapidated Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. He was immediately struck with an extreme sense of doom, not fear or anxiousness, just deep dread. Looming over his head like an angry dragon. Regardless, he did his best to quell any feelings of trepidation, and walked up to the gigantic doors of the building. They were made out of a dark and sturdy looking wood and were notched with deep claw marks. He swallowed nervously, took a deep breath, and entered the monolithic structure.

He brushed past the already ajar doors of the structure, their rusted hinges producing a bone-chilling wail which made Firebrand’s ears instinctively fold down.

“It’s just a door, it’s not going to hurt you.” He took a moment to steady his thumping heart and entered the Castle proper. He was immediately overcome with a sense of foreboding that seemed to emanate from the very stone beneath his hooves, like the horrors of a past age had seeped into the essence of the building.

Crumbled walls and empty windows were the only thing that greeted him within the commodious room that he found himself in, nothing but relics of a forgotten age. Firebrand desperately rushed around the room, looking at every crevice in the cracked and forgotten rubble, hoping to find a clue as to what had happened. After a few minutes of this, he gave up his search and brought himself back to the entrance of the once magnificent castle.

“Well, what was I expecting? A wise pony who could answer all my questions? Anything that might have been here has crumbled to dust; I just wasted two days on nothing!” He turned and fired an anger-fuelled lance of energy at a pile of loose rock, his rage turned what would normally be a feeble spell into a hateful red beam, reducing the stone to slag which slowly pooled on the floor.

In his anger, he bashed his right hoof against the wall adjoining the doorway. Flakes of centuries old dust peeled away from the wall to reveal an inscription roughly carved into the stone. Much of it was unintelligible, but one barely legible part stood out to him, under the crude carving of a crescent moon.

Knowing my luck, it’s probably just a shopping list.

His cynical thoughts were interrupted when he actually read the short inscription.

Once two sisters verily ruled fair and just

But one grew jealous and betrayed the other's trust

She let wicked darkness into her heart

For she was not like thou art

The sun perished and the moon took its place

glaring down upon us with its cold face

Plants and animals withered and sighed

We ponies found we had nowhere to hide

But we saw one thing in the moon's vicious lies

Even hope eventually dies

I sit here now, cold and alone

My hooves ache and my bones groan

The moon is gone, succumbed to her madness

And hath left a profound sadness

I sit waiting for death in this cold shell

So, I say fair thee well

Firebrands eyes watered slightly and he collapsed on his rump heavily. He simply stared into nothingness as he struggled process the new information.

“Everything, everypony... gone. H-how? Why?”

He barely noticed when his limbs started to tingle, only becoming aware of his state as darkness started to creep into the periphery of his vision. He struggled to fight it, he got to his hooves and moved for the door but found that his movements had grown sluggish. He collapsed and darkness swarmed in.

When he awoke from his forced slumber, his slightly more rested brain immediately recognised that he was dangling from a vine in a verdant forest, bright sunlight making the trees shine a dazzlingly bright green. He then realised that this wasn't at all right.

"Apokryfes; I hate you. Archmage Lumus; I hate you. Everypony at the teleportation wing; I hate you all!"

Author's Note:

I know this is really late, things came up, I'm sorry! :fluttercry:. Hey... don't look at me like that! Anyway, hope you all enjoyed this chapter, don't forget to leave a comment; they're what motivates me to write in the first place.

Have a good day - Slip Kid :twilightsmile:

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