• Published 23rd May 2015
  • 2,233 Views, 125 Comments

Where Black Stars Rise - Corah Il Cappo

Yet stranger still is, Lost Carcosa

  • ...

Of Refuge and Runes

Twilight awoke with a start, sitting straight up and surveying her surroundings. She was still in the clearing in the Everfree, with the sun casting its rays through the twisted branches overhead. Her mane and coat were soaked with morning dew, which she instinctively shook off. A few drops splashed onto Blueblood's snout, rousing him from his slumber. He sat bolt upright, his eyes wide as he quickly took into the world around him. He let out an audible sigh of relief when he found himself surrounded by grass and trees rather than glass and cloud seas. A cursory glance around the clearing revealed that the portal they had taken to Carcosa had vanished. In fact, no trace of the fell ritual that had taken place had been left behind. It was as if it had never happened.

In fact, Twilight had the slightest inkling of doubt that their voyage had ever taken place. It certainly seemed as if the evidence supporting their claims had vanished. The cultists were gone, the portal had disappeared, and neither of them had the foresight to take any souvenirs from their trip. It seemed that the only remnants of their journey were the memories they both bore. Twilight could scarcely forget the black ivory pillars, or the sky that burned with colors unimaginable. Nor could she forget the images of the strange beast that had attacked them in the streets, or the maskless visage of the King in Yellow. That last part in particular was difficult for her. She could remember it clearly, every blasphemous detail etched into her mind. Yet, she couldn't. The details were there, but she couldn't piece them together correctly. Or maybe she was, and the rational part of her own mind rejected the reality of the situation. Whatever it was, the whole event felt like trying to access a memory from her fillyhood. She knew it was there, but actually getting anything from it other than vague sensations was downright impossible.

The Prince had risen to his hooves, shaking himself off and tossing his mane to remove the buildup of dew. Twilight could have sworn that he splashed her with the droplets on purpose. She brushed the water from her face with a sigh. The two of them began to walk away from the clearing in silence. Questions and doubts still rattled about in their minds, mingled with memories of the city and its King that seemed to lay all their doubts to rest. They strode along, weaving between the trees as they simply tried to process all that they had seen. Finally, as they reached the edge of the forest, Blueblood spoke.

"What are we supposed to do now?" He said, his eyes looking desperate. "Will anypony even believe our story? We're going to sound like we're stark raving mad."

"Well, strange things have happened before." Twilight replied. "Ponyville is invaded by some creature or another practically once a month at this point."

"But has anything like... well, that thing ever appeared there?"

"Lets hope not."

"Twilight, nopony is going to believe what we've witnessed. Even if I could put to words exactly what I saw in there, I'd sound like a raving lunatic."

"Look, it doesn't matter if they believe us. You and I both know what we saw."

"Sure, it might not matter if anypony believes you. But for me its a whole different story."

"Excuse me?" Twilight said, her eyebrow rising incredulously.

"You don't have a job to keep up with." Blueblood replied, his voice tainted with spite. "Imagine if Equestria's premiere diplomat started talking about insectoid birds from another dimension. Would you let him keep his position?"

"Well... No. Probably not." She sheepishly admitted.

"Precisely. If I corroborate your story, if I claim I visited Carcosa, my job could be on the line. I could lose everything for this."

"So you're saying we should keep quiet about this?"

"I never said we should keep quiet." The Prince replied. "I'm saying that I should keep quiet.You have a reputation for finding strange things and coming away from them scot-free. I doubt anypony will question you coming back with another far-fetched story."

"And then what?" Twilight questioned. "What happens after we tell somepony?"

"I don't know. I haven't planned that far ahead."

Twilight sighed softly as the broke through the edge of the forest, Ponyville slowly coming into view.

"Lets just get back to Canterlot for now." She said, squinting in the brightened sunlight. "We can plan our next steps later."

"Agreed." Blueblood replied, tossing his mane. "I need a long, hot bath after that little excursion."

Following a short, uneventful train ride, both Prince and Princess arrived back in Canterlot. They bid farewell to one another and parted ways upon reaching the palace, with Blueblood off to bathe and Twilight off to the throne room. She couldn't just keep quiet about the things she had seen. A group of ponies had opened a portal into a strange dimension ruled over by a seemingly malevolent being that destroyed all established rules of mortal logic.This was something she couldn't just keep to herself. What if there were other ponies who at this very moment were trying to re-open that link between worlds? Or worse, what if the King or even a few of those birdlike creatures had followed them through and into Equestria? Somepony had to do something, even if for now all she could do was get the word out about it.

She had decided to tell Celestia first. After all, Celestia was her mentor, her guide, her leader. If anypony had reason to believe her, Celestia did. She strode into the spacious throne room of Canterlot palace, the sunlight blazing with countless dazzling hues as it filtered through the stained glass windows of the palace and reflected and shimmered across the marble floors. At the opposite end of the room was the Sun Princess herself, seated on a gilded throne with a plush red velvet cushion. Across her lap was spread an assortment of scrolls and letters, and the Princess was currently squinting to make out the chicken scratch scrawling upon one of them as Twilight approached. Celestia glanced up from her work, which she instantly dropped the second she laid eyes on her student. Her mouth fell agape as she rose from her throne, barely able to speak.

"Twilight?" She said, letting her papers fall to the floor. "My word, where have you been?"

"Where... what?" Twilight stammered, just as confused as her mentor.

"Please tell me, was my nephew with you? Is he alright?"

"Blueblood? He's fine but..."

"Oh thank heavens. I thought that you and him had simply vanished with how long the two of you were gone but now that you're back-"

"Wait!" Twilight interrupted her eyes wide with shock. "What do you mean we've been gone so long?"

Celestia blinked, as if in disbelief of Twilight's words.

"You and Blueblood have been gone for three weeks. We had dispatched search parties all over Equestria to find you, but to no avail. It was as if you had fallen off the face of the earth!" She paused, her eyes reflecting earnest surprise. "Where were you two exactly?"

"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about." Twilight said, her mouth twisting as she fought to swallow the lump in her throat. "You see, I believe that Blueblood and I actually traveled beyond Equestria."

"Where then? Saddle Arabia? The Griffon kingdoms? The Ibex Nation perhaps?"

"Princess... Have you ever heard of a place called Carcosa?"

"Carcosa? No, never. Where is it located?"

"I don't think I could tell you if I tried. Prince Blueblood and I stumbled upon a group of ponies, a cult of them, who killed another to open a portal into Carcosa. He and I entered the city after dealing with the murderers, and what we found within was like nothing we had ever seen. The earth was glass, and there was a great sea of clouds, and the sky was flashing like a kaleidoscope with a strobe effect. Even stranger was the city of Carcosa itself. It was full of gigantic black spires that stretched as far as the eye could see, and filled with strange places where the laws of physics seemed to turn themselves upside down and inside out. I walked through walls and fell into pits right through the earth. We were attacked by a strange bird-locust beast, and came face to face with the King of Carcosa itself. He, er... it was hard to put to words really. All I can really remember is that his face was not a face. Or at least it wasn't for very long. It was constantly shifting and changing and excruciatingly painful to see."

Twilight paused, almost out of breath as she rambled. She took a deep breath, and then went on.

"I know this all sounds hard to believe, and trust me I understand. I was there and I still barely believe it. But please, trust me on this. I saw Carcosa, and I know for sure that it's real."

Celestia was silent as she listened to Twilight's speech, periodically widening her eyes or nodding her head as her student spoke.

"Twilight, I want to believe you, I really do." She replied, her voice soft and earnest. "But what you're saying sounds... rather far fetched to say the least. Did you manage to bring back any proof of your travels? Or does this portal still remain open?"

"No your highness. We blacked out after escaping, and when we awoke the portal was gone. We never had the chance to take anything from the city either, I wish our heads had been clear enough to grab something, but we were a little preoccupied."

"Twilight, are you quite certain that this supposed voyage took place?" Celestia said, her mouth curling into a frown. "You said that you and my nephew awoke after blacking out? How certain are you that you didn't pass out before the journey, and merely imagined it happening?"

"I... " Twilight paused, for the first time at a bit of a loss for words. Could it really have been as her mentor said? Could it all have been some wicked vision conjured up by the darker portion of her mind? If they had been gone for three weeks, could they have perhaps been in some deep coma, where flights of wild and depraved fantasy ran rampant? That would certainly explain why bits and pieces of the trip seemed to have blotted themselves from her memory following the voyage, and why other parts were cloudy and dreamlike in their recollection. Perhaps that was all it was; merely a dream devised by her deepest subconscious fears.

But that didn't explain why both she and Blueblood remembered the same things. Nor did it explain the cult they had both seen before entering the portal. No. This was no dream. Twilight knew what she had seen. The only other explanation was that she and Blueblood had both gone mad, and she wasn't ready to accept that just yet.

"No. With all due respect Princess, I know what I saw. There was no way it was a dream." Twilight stated, remaining firm in her assertion.

"And my nephew will corroborate your story?" Celestia said, eyebrows raised.

"He was right there beside me the whole trip."

Celestia let out a soft sigh.

"Twilight, I really do want to believe you. But I've been on this planet for almost thirteen thousand years, and I've never even heard of these things you're talking about. I've seen the depths of Tartarus, the furthest regions of the frozen north, and the regions hidden within the mountains, but never anything like this Carcosa you speak of." She rubbed her temples, her voice quiet. "I need some time to think this over. You probably need to eat, and get some rest. I'm sure my nephew has already beaten you to that part. We can come back to this discussion later, after you've had some time to clear your head."

Twilight felt more than a little disappointed. Her own mentor didn't believe her, or at least she didn't yet. She had been expecting sympathy rather than incredulity, and yet at the same time she understood completely. Even speaking it herself, she could scarcely believe it. She wished that her mind would have been more task focused when she and Blueblood had entered the city, so they could have cut down one of those tapestries or gathered some of the crystalline goblets from the table as proof of their journey. Now all she had to go on was her own thoughts and words, and neither of those could convince the mind of an old Princess.

"Yes Princess." Twilight said, giving a polite bow of the head before departing. Perhaps she did need a bite to eat and a good long nap to clear her mind. She had been craving one of those rose petal strawberry salads they served here in Canterlot after all. She figured that while she was here, she might as well pick one up and eat it on the way back to her own palace. After some food and some rest, she would try to talk with Celestia once more. Hopefully then she would be more coherent in her views.

Twilight lay for hours, fast asleep on the couch in her study. It was far from a restful sleep however, as she was tormented by dreams of Carcosa and its King as she lay. Visions of black bone towers piercing a shifting multicolored sky faceted with legions of dark stars. In the shadow between the buildings were scuttling, crawling things. Things which Twilight's mind somehow recognized yet knew she had never seen in the midst of Carcosa. Horrible, pallid demons with heads covered in thousands of antennae or tendrils that flashed with a crimson bioluminescence. They fought battles with the bird-bug creatures she had seen on their trip, ripping them to shreds with their awkward crablike pincers. The bird-bugs fought back in turn, crushing bony exoskeletons in their conical beaks, spilling thick green ichor onto the glass earth below.

She tossed and turned in her sleep, kicking the blankets off as she rolled. A sudden loud pounding from downstairs roused her from her slumber, and she opened her eyes. The clock beside her couch read 2 AM. The sun had set now, and she fumbled to turn on a light. As she groggily clicked on a lamp, she heard a door slam shut, just before some very loud footsteps began tramping away from it. She staggered from the room, glancing down at Spike.

"Spike, who was at the door?" She said, yawning.

"Just some jerk Prince from Canterlot. Pretty sure it was that one stallion Rarity mentioned." Spike replied, making a gagging noise.

"So you shut the door in his face?!" Twilight exclaimed, clamoring down the stairs just as the pounding started up again.

"Well yeah." Spike said with a shrug. "He had it coming."

Twilight threw the door open, and was greeted by a rather annoyed looking Prince.

"Blueblood?" She said, still a bit surprised. "What are you doing-"

"You ought to fire that butler of yours." Blueblood said, pushing Twilight aside and stepping into the entry hall. "Or at the very least send him to some proper training so that he doesn't turn away important guests. Especially not ones who could have his tail on a platter with just a word to the right ponies..."

From down the hall, Spike stuck his tongue out at the Prince, which Blueblood returned with a low snarl. Twilight quickly stepped between them, smiling awkwardly.

"That doesn't answer my question. What are you doing this far from Canterlot, especially this late?"

"The night is young, and I'm far to agitated now to sleep." He replied, his eyes looking a bit red and bloodshot. "Can we perhaps talk somewhere a bit more private?"

Twilight nodded, leading him up the stairs to her study, folding the blanket she had knocked to the floor as he entered the room. He quickly walked over to her desk, grabbing a pen and a sheet of paper as he began to hurriedly scrawl something down. His pen moved in large sweeping strokes as he worked, his eyes feverish as he scribbled madly. Finally, he lifted the sheet of paper, turning it to her. What he had drawn was a strange glyph; an odd curving figure that Twilight recognized somewhere deep in her mind, yet also knew to be completely alien in origin.

"What is that?" Twilight said, taking the sheet and looking it over.

"I don't know to be honest with you." Blueblood replied. "I saw it in Carcosa, and its been appearing in my dreams now. I haven't been able to shake it since I saw it."

He paused for a moment, swallowing hard.

"Do you remember what those ponies said? That cult we came across in the Everfree? 'Have you seen the Yellow Sign?'"

Twilight glanced up at him, eyes wide.

"Could this be it?"

Blueblood spoke, in a nearly trance-like state.

"I have seen the sign, and the King, and his city."