• Published 3rd Feb 2015
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Sleep - Dark Avenger

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"Again and again..."

And so the Princess of the Night nodded, and her sister went to rest for a while.

The younger mare got up from her desk and trudged into her bathroom to clean herself up. A groan left her face when she noticed the bags under her eyes, though she did not feel tired at all, merely looked it. If anything, she was restless. Pressure grew in her chest, one that she could not understand, yet felt compelled to release.

Sighing, she finished grooming herself and left her chambers. Following the maze of hallways and staircases, she eventually opened one of the side doors that led to a smaller balcony. The cool morning air caressed her nostrils and soothed her warm lungs. Breathing evenly, she stretched her limbs a little and looked to the horizon toward the east.

Only twice did Celestia ever share it with her sister, just in case the elder were not to survive. Each time before they left to fight the two of their greatest battles together – one against chaos, and the other against fear – the keeper of the sun whispered the ancient spell into Luna's ear.

Let us hope this works... she thought.

There may have been time to memorize it, but there was never a chance to practice.



Her eyes narrowed as she focused on the fine line between heaven and earth. Luna muttered the incantation, her horn lit up, and the magic within reached for the void beyond.

A shiver went down her spine. Luna felt her magical limb extend as it traveled the enormous distance, feeling all alone and exposed in the black sea of stars. Eventually, the spell made contact, and she inhaled sharply from the sensations it set off.

Fire. More vast and turbulent than any she could imagine, glowing bright enough to pierce the earth itself.

Luna groaned. The power of the sun blinded and burned her mind. It was large, heavy, and hot, almost impossibly so. The experience was far more vivid than in her dream, and the orb itself was more unwieldy.

Gritting her teeth, she channeled a greater dose of energy into her spell and gently spread her wings. Her embrace spread out over the heavenly object and anchored it to her. Sweat poured from her forehead as the fire in her mind grew. Taking a deep breath, she bent her legs, flapped her wings, and kicked off, her body shooting up from the balcony and gliding over the city below.

There was a tug on her hold, and agony stabbed into her skull, but she did not let go. Slowly and steadily, the sun rose up over the horizon, mirroring her own ascent as though it wished to meet her halfway. Luna flapped her wings and pulled it higher and higher, her eyes firmly shut as she strained against the immense weight.

Finally, the pull on her magic relented, and she breathed a sigh of relief, letting the glow on her horn disperse. Blinking away at tears, she looked to the horizon once more, where the bright red orb slowly ascended, its color turning brighter with every second.

Luna smiled proudly. Just like the moon, all the sun needed was a "nudge" to start it off, and it could then move on its own. Her triumph over the fiery beast left her all giddy.

I did it! A tiny, childish giggle escaped her lips, and she could barely resist the urge to dance in mid-air. I actually did it!

With her work now done, the princess turned around and glided back toward the castle, her mind set on a quick meal and some soft cushions. But at the last moment, she paused. Warmth touched her back, foreign to her skin. Her eyes focused on the line across the rooftops, where the light of the dawn met the shadows of the night and forced more and more of it into the ground. As they receded, so did her unease grow.

Luna flapped her wings to regain altitude. She did not want to stop. Not just yet.

Instead of returning to the balcony, the Princess of the Night ascended once more, going between and above the rooftops and tall spires. Along the way, she watched in awe as the slumbering city came back to life around her.

Ponies stirred awake in their beds and emerged from their homes, guards exchanged shifts, merchants set up their booths, and those who labored through the night now settled down to rest. Everypony wore sleepy expressions, the miracle of the dawn seeming to go by unnoticed. Somewhere, a foal's crying rang out, the light having forced her awake.

Luna cooed silently to express her amazement. She wanted to slow down, maybe get a closer look, only to recoil from the confused and curious eyes that turned up to greet her. Their collective gaze felt piercing and judgmental, stirring up things deep within. They urged her to pick up the pace. To hide from them in the shadows where she belonged.

Soon enough, the buildings disappeared from her sight, and she reached the edge of the mountain. Keeping her wings still, she let herself glide toward the lands below, the sun right behind her.

The warmth on her back faded once she entered the shadow of the mountain. Luna closed her eyes and breathed deeply, the air becoming thick with the scents of the earth that rushed up to meet her. Flapping her wings again, she eventually steadied herself a few hundred feet above ground level, now turning her attention to speed.

She opened her eyes again, letting them wander over the lands below. Hills, copses of trees, lakes, streams, and the occasional dwelling greeted her. For a while, there was no sign of life, until she noticed a group of ponies on top of a small hill up ahead. They were gathered in a straight line, facing east. Everypony wore strange robes and was on their knees, bent forward with their faces planted on the ground between their forelegs.

Luna raised an eyebrow in confusion. Moments later, warmth touched her back again as the light of the sun emerged over the mountain. The odd group lifted slowly, their faces rising up along with the bright orb, and their forelegs reached out as though they wished to embrace it.

"Sun cultists..." the princess grumbled under her breath. "So that's what they look like..."

The ponies chanted in low tones, eyes wide open as they bathed themselves in the earliest sunlight of the day. Luna felt an urge to spit. Her ears throbbed from the noises that reached her. The stirring of her memories and emotions returned, now more difficult to ignore.

The bright orb was halfway above the peak of the mountain now. It followed close behind, akin to an obedient pet. Luna smiled and dashed onward, letting it keep chasing her.

Yes, that's right... She glanced back at the group below. Keep it up all you want. Don't you see? Your precious 'god' is a mere plaything in my hooves.

The cultists remained oblivious to her presence. With a smug grin on her face, the princess glided onward. A dense forest came next, the canopy dark and thick, akin to a veil of storm clouds. She could almost feel the sea of darkness caress her hooves as she sailed over it.

She felt home.

Her eyes narrowed when she reached a clearing, and a familiar sight greeted her: grey and crumbling piles of stone, a shadow of what once stood here. Only in her memories did the castle still rise above the trees, tall and proud.

Old memories and older ruins, however, had no value in her eyes today. She kept going, unfazed by the view, and for a while, the vast ocean of the dark canopy below and the shroud of the night ahead comforted her mind.

But it was not to last. She came upon another distraction. More old stones, and even hazier memories. One clearing followed another, each one taken up by a landmark of a world long lost to time.

Luna closed her eyes, not even wanting to look. Moments later, faint, white light seeped in through her eyelids, making her frown. She peeked for a moment, and her jaw dropped when she found herself gazing upon the source of the brightness.

Another large clearing opened up beneath her, more ruins at the center of it. Unlike the others, however, she had no memory at all of this particular place. The walls that still stood revealed it to be a temple or observatory of some kind, a "crescent moon" theme carved into the stone as frequently and ambitiously as the architects of old could manage.

In a large circle around the crumbling ruins, the soil was lit up by thousands of hoof-sized flowers. They all gave a cool, silver glow, identical to that of the moon, which was now fully visible up ahead. A closer look revealed dozens of patches in the circle, each one different in size and brightness.

They did not match in glow only. The flowers created a mirror image of what dominated the sky during the night.

Smiling from its beauty, Luna felt the urge to stop once more. She wanted to stay still and just bathe herself in the wondrous sight for as long as it lasted. But as the sun approached and the moon sank, the light of the flowers waned, forcing her to move on. The dark canopy below came to an end soon afterward.

With the forest behind her, she came upon a small village. Beyond it, another group of cultists were busy climbing up a bare hill nearby. Luna ground her teeth together, her pleasant daze giving way to disgust. The unpleasant stir returned once more, along with a faint taste of bile, and she now felt compelled to swoop down upon the gathering herd.

"Wait..." She blinked as the group reached the summit. "What are they—"

Luna gasped silently and froze once she got close enough. The cultists formed up the same way as the others before, except they all faced west this time. Each one murmured their prayers, held out their hooves, and bent toward the ground, following the moon as it sank over the horizon.

Using her magic, she tried listening in. A shiver ran down her spine as every single pony, young and old, prayed from the bottom of their hearts. With love and reverence, they gave thanks to the moon and its shepherd for keeping them safe through the night, both in body and in their dreams.

The sun climbed over the horizon a few minutes later, and the ponies turned to the east. Luna closed her eyes and glided on before they could notice. Her pet followed calmly.

No... she thought. That word did not feel right. It was not a pet.

It was a lantern, and it was anchored to her. Today, it was her duty to carry its burden.

Breathing deeply, the princess tried to focus on just flying as fast as she could. The memory of the cultists brought back the image of the ruins again. She could see the light of the flowers. The bright circle they formed. A "moon on earth" as a gift to the prisoner in the sky.

She was late by over a thousand years. She could never tell them. And for all she knew, they would not have cared either way.

The prison was too far for anypony to see their gift from there.

-----

"Am I still dreaming?"

The question never wanted to leave her mind. Her lips kept repeating it silently.

She had no answer. Her wings flapped with a mind of their own. She had been flying for hours now. Perhaps even days.

It was dark all around. The air was cold. The lands were foreign. The ponies had odd accents.

Another settlement came into view. The third since she came upon dry land again, and it too was wildly decorated. The inhabitants gathered around the marketplace, each one wearing a different disguise.

A dark figure towered over a group of smaller, lightly-colored ones. The child wore a costume based on the infamous mare from the old ponies' tales. With a menacing voice of command, she tried to muster the herd of unruly foals around her. They all just giggled in response. Moments later, the filly broke character and laughed with them.

Luna sealed her eyes shut. Her hooves tried to block her ears.

She could not stand it. She had to talk to them. She had to scream, or at least whimper.

Her wings would not respond. Her voice would not come out.

She had to do it. She had to make them stop. They had no idea. They saw the image as an amusing source of fright, never having seen where it all began.

They never saw the wings that brought storms and nightmares. They never heard the blood-curdling laughter. Never met the blackened skin and the cold, slitted eyes.

It was the last thing her victims would ever see.

"Wow, nice costume!"

The voice snapped her out of her reverie. Luna's head snapped up, and she found herself face to face with the filly she just saw a moment ago. Glancing around, she realized she was sitting on a bench near the edge of the village. Everypony else milled about or made their way back home, which left the two of them on their own.

The princess blinked in confusion. Up close, the filly's costume was nowhere near as menacing. If anything, it was laughable. The headpiece turned out to be paper with some silvery paint on it, the "ethereal mane" was a blue towel covered in glitter, and the rest was just body paint.

"I mean, I did my best, but..." the filly went on. She frowned a little as she inspected her own costume. "But you..." She turned back to Luna. "Wow, you look just like her! Did ya spend lots of time with it?"

Her accent was unlike anything Luna ever heard before, making her feel all the more lost. Her jaw hung open, and a cavalcade of thoughts filled her head as she tried to conjure a response. Eventually, the filly made the first move. She stepped a bit closer and reached out to tug on Luna's mane.

"Whoa!" Her eyes widened as her hoof brushed against the magical strands. "It feels so... weird... How do you do it?"

Luna's heart skipped a beat, as she did not expect the child to be so forward. Every inch of her screamed at her to escape. Spread her wings, or just teleport away. But she resisted. There was another tug on her mane, and the Princess of the Night smiled.

"It's a secret."

The filly pouted. "Awww!" Giggling, she poked the alicorn in the chest lightly and stuck her tongue out. "Meanie! You prolly just cheated and asked your mommy!"

"Really?" The princess chuckled and held her nose high, a smug smile on her face. "Do I hear somepony being... jealous around here?"

"Nuh-uh! It's not fair if ya get your parents to help!"

"Except that's not true, little one." Luna reached out to rub the child's head with her hoof, making her squirm. "You're the meanie, not me."

"Heey! No noogies!" The filly groaned and laughed as she pulled away from her grip.

"I didn't get any help," Luna said. "I had this costume all along. In a way, I was born with—" She trailed off and gave another chuckle. "Well, all right... I suppose I did get a little help from them."

"See?" Her opponent pointed with a triumphant grin. "I told you so!" She stuck her tongue out again.

Luna responded by sticking out her own, and the two laughed at each other.

"So..." The filly went on. "You get lots of candy tonight?"

The princess sighed. "I'm afraid not."

"Huh? But your costume is really good. No way nopony gave you anything!"

"No, it's not that." Luna said. "I... slept in and got here a little late." She looked away with a sorrowful expression. "Nopony left to give a fright."

"Awww, that's a shame," the filly said. She chuckled and poked her opponent again. "Well, why didn't ya go to bed sooner, silly?"

Luna could not help but laugh as well. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Hmm..." The filly rubbed her chin. "Still... no candy." She turned to reach into her saddlebags. "Well, don't be sad. You can just have some of mine."

Luna glanced down to see the filly grin, while her forelegs held out a paper bag overflowing with colorful sweets. Giving a weak smile, the princess took a piece and popped it into her mouth. The child nodded, urged her to take some more, and gobbled up a hoofful herself.

"Thank you," Luna said. "Hmm... What's your name?"

The filly paused in her chewing. "Alioth..." she replied with a small blush.

"Hmm?" Luna leaned a bit closer, puzzled by her change of demeanor.

"It's... such a weird name, huh?" Alioth laughed, while her hooves shuffled nervously. "I dunno why mom gave it to me. I guess she loves stars and stuff. Oh, and uhh... You can just call me 'Ali' if you want."

Luna smiled and nodded. "Do you know what it means?"

"Uhh... She said its one of the stars in the 'Big Ladel' or whatsit called."

"Yes. Ursa Major, otherwise known as 'The Big Dipper'."

"Yeah, that one!" Alioth lit up somewhat. "You know a lot about stars?"

The princess nodded again. "Quite a lot, yes. Let's just say I... often have to work with them."

"Oooh!" Alioth grinned. "Can you tell me more about them? I always loved looking at stars! They're so pretty and bright and there's so many of them and—"

She trailed off when she noticed Luna staring at her, not quite sharing her enthusiasm.

"It's late, little one," she said. "Shouldn't you be going to bed?"

"Nuh-uhhhh!" Alioth dropped onto her haunches and crossed her hooves. "Don't be a meanie! It's such a nice night, and I'm not even tired!"

Luna's facade did not last long, and she let out a giggle. "All right, all right..." She glanced to the east, but there was no sign of the reddish glow just yet. "We should have a few more hours of night left. Why not?"

She invited the filly to sit beside her. Once she did, her hoof guided the child's gaze to the stars above, while her horn flashed for a moment. The child frowned when she noticed it, but a sudden shift above quickly brought her attention back to the sky.

"Wooow..." Alioth's jaw dropped as the stars seemed to brighten right in front of her eyes. Every apparition gained clear outlines and vivid colors. Instead of a black canopy with a few bright holes, the two of them now stared up at a colorful spectacle of constellations, nebulae, and other cosmic wonders.

"All these stars..." the princess said. "All those clouds and comets and shapes... They all have stories about them."

Alioth did not reply, merely blinked non-stop as she tried to take it all in. Smiling, Luna wrapped a foreleg around the filly's back and whispered in her ear.

"Which one do you want to hear first?"

Author's Note:

moar Dandy Warhols kthxbai