• Published 11th Jul 2015
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The Night That Never Finds the Day - MyOwnNameWasTaken



Princess Luna has many duties: to keep the night soft and safe; to keep her subjects hale, in flesh and in dreams; to keep her realm and its allies strong. But sometimes, all she wants is to be there for her sister. Is that too much to ask?

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3 — The Great Dangers Lie Within Ourselves

“If one desires to be happy, sir, one must never understand duty; for, as soon as one has comprehended it, it is implacable. One would say that it punished you for comprehending it; but no, it rewards you; for it places you in a hell, where you feel God beside you.”

- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Witching Hour, Twelfth Stroke,” said Luna, “you are to assist Nightfall in evacuating the wounded Crystal Ponies. This creature is not swift, but it can spew magma, and we do not know its effective striking distance. Get past that hilly ridge at the least, then relay all you know to the next signalling tower, and intercept the Crystal Empire’s runners, who should be drawing near by now…”

“With respect, Your Highness,” interrupted Witching Hour, even as she directed Twelfth Stroke to fly down to Nightfall’s position, “we may be able to run some interference if you need a distraction.”

“This foe is beyond you.”

“Everything’s got a weakness, Princess. We Know,” she added, quoting the Night Watch’s enigmatic motto.

“No,” said Luna firmly. “Fall back, consolidate, and stay well clear of this. Those are your orders.” With that, she turned about to face her foe.

Luna considered the situation. She had the clear advantage in mobility, but she had to halt a mountain: it was not her mobility that was of concern. She could likely stay out of the creature’s reach, but its seeming ability to spew magma worried her. Avoiding the spray should be possible, given her ability to teleport, but she was worried about the forest she meant to protect. Simply dodging the projectile would let it fall upon whatever lay behind her.

A ward, perhaps, she thought. A field of force to arrest the magma’s motion, let it slide to the ground. She did not think she could hold back the Mountain’s Heart with a ward—the creature was simply too massive—but as long as she prevented it from blundering into the Winterward Wood directly, she should be able to keep the forest mostly intact.

As for how to keep the creature confined… she would need to come up with something.

She glided on the Heart’s Breath, drifting towards the Mountain’s Heart. A beam shot out of her horn and touched the rocky ground a little in advance of the creature. She dragged the beam over the land, leaving a glowing blue line cutting perpendicularly across the creature’s path. She waited until the creature’s head and erupting pseudopods had passed over it before wrenching the line asunder with a grunt of effort.

The line broadened abruptly, opening like a great eye to reveal a yawning chasm directly beneath what passed for the creature’s head. There was a short growl of surprise—rocks snapping under strain—and the massive head dropped into the newly formed fissure, brittle forelimbs snapping off and shattering as it fell. The forefront of the creature’s body smashed into the bottom of the ravine, breaking open like a pumpkin, with a sound of bursting rock. Bright magma flared in the depths. For a moment, all was still.

Then, with a crackling of cooling stone, the serpentine form reversed, dragging its bulk back out of the chasm. At the bottom, the oozing magma drew back into the shattered ‘face’ of the creature, leaving little detritus behind it as it rose back out of Luna’s pit.

Luna stooped to the ground, landing on all four hooves on the far side of the newly crafted hole, upon a patch of avens. Another beam surged from her horn, but this time it drove into the rock directly in front of her, reaching deep into the ground. She ducked her head, drawing a glowing line between her legs, directly underneath her, before raising it again, the beam sweeping ahead, across and through the gap before her, and deep through the rock underneath the Mountain’s Heart.

The massive creature raised its ponderous ‘head’, in a grinding and cracking of stone. The head rose high, high as a castle wall, before holding still. For a moment, it seemed as though it might be listening, when with a sudden pop, six vents burst open in the front facing, in a V-shaped wedge reminiscent of a flight of migrating birds. Steam and less wholesome fumes billowed from these new orifices, and through the vapours shone the angry red of molten rock, distorted by superheated air. Something else shone through as well, something Luna could not mistake: awareness.

‘Windows to the soul’, indeed.

“So you can see, after a fashion,” she called out aloud. She thought of booming her voice, making it thunder and echo down the length of the ravine, but to what end? To make herself feel less small before this colossus? Could thunder move a mountain?

More cracking and popping sounded from the Mountain’s Heart, and its head suddenly dipped. Tendrils of magma vomited forth from beneath the drooping extension, turning to pillars of basalt, arresting the creature’s fall. The eyelike vents did not change shape, betrayed no expression, but magma now oozed out of the slits and ran in rivulets down the Mountain’s face. Tears for the titan, though whether indicative of some inner turmoil or simply a result of their head’s sudden, jarring drop, Luna could not tell.

“You’ll not move me with tears, Creature,” Luna cried. “We are the Fulcrum; the World moves around Us!” With a grunt, she pushed her hooves apart.

And how they parted! They did not scrape across the wind-carved stone of the valley floor, nor tear the hardy growth upon it. They parted, and the rock parted to keep even with them. Luna’s line of gloaming split asunder, a fissure opening beneath her, and reaching forward, reaching far, and widening as it reached, as ripples do when they stretch out over broad waters. Beneath the beast, along its long length, the fissure yawned wide, a maw of the Earth’s, broad enough to swallow a mountain—or its Heart.

With cracking and tearing and a mighty roar, head uplifted and spewing streamers raw and red, the colossal form fell into the abyss. It would not be enough; Luna could not reach as deep as the steep-sided ravine was tall, and so trap the creature in a trough. Rather, she watched the fiend’s form burst upon the rocks and then, splay-limbed, she reached once more deep within the Earth, and drawing in a deep breath of the cool night air, drew her hooves back underneath her body, and the Earth followed suit, the rift sealing beneath her.

Beneath Luna’s hooves, the avens burst into fragrant flowers, white as her Moon.

Further out, the ground was more stubborn, forced as it was to crush a great deal of molten rock within the sealing chasm. Pushed by pressure, the magma burst forth into the eye socket she had first opened in the rock, pooling and collecting in the empty orbit in a way that was nothing natural.

“No,” spoke Luna. A carving beam of moonlight from her horn sheared through the rock face rising before her, parting it as a pony might cut a pie. A large slice of rock slid clear, Luna slashing it thrice more as it tipped down towards her, adjusting its fall until the carved cliff careened into the open space and onto the reforming Mountain’s Heart, burying it deep.

The rumble of rubble gradually subsided as Luna stood watch over the pile of broken boulders and tumbled scree. After a time, the usual noises of the night began to reassert themselves.

Luna turned her tail to the scene, but as she was yet unsure of victory, did not fly away. Rather, she kept the tumble of boulders in her peripheral vision as she stepped away, and most importantly, she walked. It was the walking that brought warning: before her ears, before her eyes, her hooves felt the sudden, terrible surge of pressure, the too-fast bloom of primal magic within the rock.

Will-wound wind streamed beneath silent wings and she soared off as behind her the Mountain’s Heart erupted from the stony soil a second time in a single night, bursting boulders and flinging them forth and far—and directly in Luna’s path. Luna ably avoided the smaller debris, bisecting with witch-fire missiles too large to evade. As the airborne avalanche thinned, she dared a backwards glance.

Roiling with what might have been rage, the molten monster streamed forth from the rock, like a geyser with direction—and dire intent. Its forward part churned as more of its spindly pseudo limbs shot out frenziedly, tumbling over themselves in a scrabbling attempt to keep the front of the wave aloft, the rest of the cooling mass flowing behind it at a more sluggish pace. The effect might have been comical in a less fearsome creature. Here it was horrific.

At the front of the beast was a rough face of scaly, congealing plates floating over runny rock, and out of it shone the six vents of its eyes, as it flowed after Luna. Belatedly, she realized that she was headed towards the widening of the ravine, where it opened onto the vast valley that held the Winterward Wood. She could not let the creature in there. She pulled up hard and to the right, wrapping around and doubling swiftly back over the beast, skimming the rock face.

The Mountain’s Heart’s ‘head’ swung about to intercept her, but she ducked under it, too quick to be caught. The rest of the creature’s mass seemed to bunch up as its tail end, propelled by momentum, flowed into the front, which was seeking to turn about. Luna slowed and came about again: she had to see this, needed to learn how the monster moved. If its mass made it slow to turn, she could use that to her advantage.

But the thing’s face! Its six ‘eyes’ had torn, their fire mingling together, leaving a single large orifice in the cooled rock surface. That fiery furnace folded in on itself, twisting like a whirlpool, while beneath that face, the beast’s body bulged.

It is going to spew! realized Luna, at once weaving a magical ward, night-blue power spreading out in domed rampart before her. She stood ready to teleport, but needed to know if she could deflect the stream without harm.

The test came immediately, as the invagination in the creature’s face inverted itself in a sudden grinding roar, a torrent of magma blasting forth in a scorching stream. It struck Luna’s shield and splashed along its curved surface; Luna extended the shield into a domed shape as some of the stream threatened to slither over the top.

So her ward could hold off the lava and keep her shielded from its heat! Luna allowed herself some satisfaction—which was immediately dashed as a massive weight smashed into the ward; she felt the scream of strain in her mind. Her floating rampart dropped at once, the top of the dome smashing down onto her, driving her down towards the rocks. The lower edges of the shield caught the ravine's floor, wedging themselves into the ground and allowing Luna—barely—to save her legs by arresting her fall with her wings, mere hoof-widths from the ground.

In place of magma there was now a great, slithering bulk. It must have lunged at me in the magma’s trail! Luna desperately tried to clutch at a thought in spite of the fire blazing through her mind. She cried out in pain as her ward, unable to buckle, cracked under the titanic weight, its smooth surface splitting and splintering. Luna bowed beneath the mental strain, her horn become a blindingly bright flare with the effort to maintain her only rampart against the creature’s crushing bulk.

Moon and Sun, the weight of it!

In her mind’s eye, she saw—and felt—her ward shatter. What heartbeats ago had been a smooth curved barrier was now a shimmering cloud of dust, held roughly in shape by Luna’s fast-flagging will. Another moment, and it would wink out of existence, leaving Luna to be crushed to paste by the Mountain’s Heart.

She had to teleport; it was her only hope now. A mile or two, straight up—that would give her enough time to re-orient herself… but her mind was on fire from the impossible task of holding up a mountain with a puff of dust. If she let the ward dissipate, she would have a split-second to escape. She was not sure she could do this, not after maintaining such a sorcerous surge, but what choice had she? To stay was certain doom.

The weight lifted! Without warning, the beast reared up and off her. Her ward dissipated instantly, vanishing into moonlight as Luna staggered forward drunkenly, her head spinning with the sudden release from strain. Above the rushing of blood in her ears, she heard the monster roar.

A mass drove in under her left wing and struck her in the flank low and angled upwards, lifting her off her hooves.

“Fly, Highness,” Twelfth Stroke cried as he spun her perpendicular to the beast’s path, “you’re too big to carry!”

Luna snapped her wings out on reflex, catching the air and sweeping forward, Twelfth Stroke keeping on her left. Together, they flew out sideways, past and away from the Mountain’s Heart.

“You’re listing to port, Highness,” cautioned her escort. “Are you alright?”

Luna knew that she was not. Though the unbearable pressure of the monster’s weight had lifted, her head still spun. “Guide me a moment,” she said curtly—Twelfth Stroke immediately swept closer, respectfully placing a fore hoof against her ceremonial armour before leading her along the curving Southern wall of the ravine, always keeping himself between his Princess and the rock.

Meanwhile, Luna waved a hoof before her face. She could see it, but not well. Her eyes refused to focus, and it seemed that three hooves were waving where only one should be. Her legs were unsteady, as well: suspended in flight, she could feel faint tremors running through them.

Luna gave a short, bitter laugh, recognising the symptoms. Channeller’s Sickness! She?! When had she last experienced that? She could not recall: time out of memory, even for her—assuming she had ever suffered it at all before now. But a Unicorn who strained herself too hard, who channelled too much power through her horn could be left drained and dizzy for a span. She tossed her head again. She should be able to cast spells, unpleasant though it would be, but with her vision swimming, aiming them would prove a different—

High overhead, the beast loosed its grating roar again, bellowing in anger or… pain?

“Witching Hour,” gasped Luna. “Where is she?!”

“Shoving a great big icicle in that thing’s eye,” Twelfth Night answered proudly. “Ice does work, like she figured!”

The Northern cliffs are hung with dripping ice, Luna remembered. Quickly, she looked back at the Mountain’s Heart. It was rearing in the air, pseudo-limbs writhing obscenely in the moonlight, its head sliding back and forth on a semi-solid base as though trying to shake something loose. Luna squinted desperately, but her blurred vision couldn’t pick out the Bat Pony’s tiny form against the massive monster’s bulk.

“We are going back,” cried Luna. “Steady me!” She dragged Twelfth Stroke into a tight turn, racing back towards the creature. Luna gave a frantic ultrasonic call: “Witching Hour, fall back! We are clear; fall ba—”

The beast bellowed once more, shaking the air, drowning out Luna’s call. But even her distorted vision picked out the tell-tale swelling of the monster’s form, and the sudden yawning red gulf opening in its head.

“I cannot see aright! Is she still in its face?”

“Yeah,” croaked Twelfth Stroke as he grasped the situation. “Drop, Witchy,” he cried. “Get out of—!”

I can neither shield not teleport her without sight, thought Luna frantically. She saw the sudden ripple, that bulge in the beast’s body lurching upwards to incinerate Witching Hour, and did the only thing she could.

A flare of silver-blue flooded the ravine—and gravity itself bowed down before the Princess of the Night. Next to her, Twelfth Hour gave an inarticulate cry of surprise, his fight destabilizing as his inner ear flipped. For the Mountain’s Heart, it was worse: its massive bulk, previously piled against gravity’s pull, was suddenly impossibly overextended, warping backwards as it fell, magma spraying out in an arc high overhead.

Yawing hard to the left, Luna caught Twelfth Stroke’s tail in her teeth. Another pulse of power, and gravity spun one-hundred and twenty degrees widdershins, angling downwards, hard. Luna let the air catch her as she tossed Twelfth Stroke over one shoulder, spinning him around so that he landed on her back, his muzzle in her mane.

“Take hold of me, and be my eyes,” she shouted at him over the beast’s startled bellowing. She dove down the new axis of gravity for a quick burst of speed before twisting out to fly towards the Mountain’s Heart, which was now splashing across the ground, rolling and tumbling along the bottom of the ravine. Fearing to let Witching Hour strike the ground herself, Luna spun the axis once more, arching her back and wings to dive up into the new down as the monster began to fall into the sky.

Twelfth Stroke, his legs clenched tight around Luna, pushed his face through her flowing mane and gave one short, high-pitched chirp. It was answered almost immediately, up high and to the left—Witching Hour. The call bounced off the beast’s unnatural geometries; to Luna’s ears it has a hopeless jumble.

Even my sound-sight is fouled, she thought bitterly as she dove past the Mountain’s Heart, driving towards Witching Hour’s call.

“On your four!”

Luna turned her head to her left, rotating her ear so that it faced Twelfth Stroke. “What do you—”

“Four o’clock! Bank-left-bank-left-bank—”

Luna read his tone and banked, immediately and hard, bending the air around her to boost her speed. Twelfth Stroke’s weight pressed in sixfold on her and she felt him grunt as the force flattened his head against her neck. One of the beast’s tendrils slashed down past them, missing her right flank and wing by half a hoof. The turbulence of the stroke grasped at her fur in a parody of affection; she rent it with her slipstream as she soared away, passing the monster on her right.

“ ‘Four o’clock,’ ” repeated Twelfth Stroke, his breath hot and ragged against her ear. “It’s short-wing, Highness—imagine you’re standing on a big clock face, your muzzle pointing at twelve: due right is three o’clock, straight back is six, due left is nine… get it?”

‘On your four.’

“Ingenious! I comprehend.” She realigned her flight, turning back towards the beast. “Now, let us pluck Witching Hour from the fire!”

“Those leg-things are wriggling all over the place,” shouted Twelfth Stroke in her ear, as the Mountain’s Heart writhed in its fall, flailing desperately for purchase. “It’s a real gauntlet!”

“Use your clock-code and give warning, then! I can see them when close at hoof!”

A sudden lance of columnar stone shot out, driving straight at them. “Six o’clock!” Twelfth Stroke screamed.

Light seared from Luna’s horn, and the extruding stone was shattered to shards and dust, which she scattered in her wake.

“…That works too,” added her helpmate softly as they streaked on. In a much more urgent voice he added, “We’re going to pass the beast at this rate!”

“It can’t catch the air as Witching Hour does! Find her so we can escape!”

Twelfth Stroke gave a grunt of approval and chirped once more; Witching Hour’s response could again be heard above the creature’s grinding tumult. “She’s past us—five o’clock and under! We overshot!”

Another flash of witch-light and Luna undid her gravity spell. Both she and the Mountain’s Heart drifted to a gentle halt…and then began to fall back to earth. Luna dove through the creature’s sulphurous roar, facing the direction given by Twelfth Stroke. The slipstream was like ice against her lathered sides. Better ice than fire, she reminded herself.

“I’ll not be able to spot her,” she panted, head still spinning. “You’ll have to snatch her as she goes by!”

“Roger!”

The now all-too-familiar spindly cracking sound that accompanied the fiend’s tendrils rang out again, this time in a multitudinous cacophony.

“It’s like a nightmare flower—leg-things everywhere,” screamed Twelfth Stroke in her ear as a forest of jagged stone ribbons exploded upwards at them.

“Better ourselves than Witching Hour!” Luna answered, and from her horn six lines of power stretched out in a vortex, perpendicular to her flight. The lines of destructive sorcery looped back on themselves again and again, weaving an array of petal-like outlines in the air before her.

I’ll show this beast a ‘nightmare flower,’ she privately vowed, before adding aloud, “Cling fast to me; leave no extremities loose!” She spun the tracery, turning the filigree into a thrumming disk, just as they rushed into the rising tendrils.

With a dreadful hum and an angry shriek, Luna’s conjuration vaporised the incoming stone on contact. She closed her eyes against the flying dust and minute splinters of stone, twisting and writhing amongst the flailing spikes, guided by little more than her Pegasus sense for the air around her, as she interposed her shearing shield between the two of them and the Mountain’s ribbons.

The Battle Blossom, she had named that spell, ages ago when she had devised it. Once, she had reaped an army with it—and had never cast it again, until tonight. Scorched hair and burnt flesh… those scents, once known, could never be forgotten.

Luna cleaved through the nets of living stone and dead memories both, the suddenly clear air making her lose the conjuration, which promptly dissipated. She tumbled through the air, attempting to regain her prior orientation.

“Legs out! We’re about to hit!” came Twelfth’s Stroke’s warning. Luna righted herself at the last moment, pulling up along the surface of the falling monster, catching herself with her legs and half-gliding, half-running over its torrid surface as it popped and steamed, the support from her wings keeping her legs steady.

“Bank left a little,” advised Twelfth Stroke in her ear. “We can spiral around its body!”

“Keep a weather eye!” Luna shouted back as she picked her way at speed over the ragged, furnace-hot stone, her horseshoes hissing as she went. The beast’s bulk heaved and twisted underneath, but she broke into short glides to avoid the pitfalls—against the monster’s form, every current was an updraft.

Suddenly, the surface cracked and pitted, and Luna leaped clear as more tendrils erupted beneath her.

“The hay?! I thought we were on its back!”

“It lacks a fundamental orientation!” shouted Luna over the din. “Just find me Witching Hour, and the ground!”

“Witchy, talk to me!” Twelfth Stroke called. He and Luna both exulted when they heard her chirp back, close at hoof.

“Contact!” the stallion cried out in triumph. Then he spotted the ground and triumph died. “Oh, horse app—”

“Catch her and aerobrake!” commanded Luna as she rode a spike erupting from the main body before leaping clear. She felt Twelfth Stroke thrust off from her and then could only worry about herself.

Leather and feather caught the wind as the Mountain’s Heart smote the ground, a mere second ahead of them. The heated shockwave drove into them, pummelling them even as it wrenched them upwards out of their fall.

“Witching Hour, Twelfth Stroke,” Luna called out across the acrid air as she rose. “Are you…?” She could not bring herself to finish the thought.

“Present and accounted for,” called back Twelfth Stroke as he came flapping out of the smoke, holding Witching Hour firmly between his forelegs, her back pressed against his barrel.

“I’m a little dizzy, but still able, Highness,” Witching Hour assured Luna after briefly and neatly vomiting over to one side. “Thank you for coming back for me,” she added in a softer tone.

Luna felt a sudden urge to sweep both Bat Ponies up in her forelegs and crush them to her barrel, but she feared to let them know how badly spent their Princess was, so instead she pressed her fore hooves together to hide their shaking and held her head high to steady her voice before she spoke.

“It is I who owe you thanks,” she answered in a formal tone, “for it was you who returned for me. Though in defiance of your orders, I must concede that the intervention proved timely.”

“So is that thing down for the count or what?” asked Twelfth Stroke, prompting all three ponies to look down at the bubbling ruin of the Mountain’s Heart.

“I crushed it to a similar flatness previously,” said Luna. “I fear that we have only gained a brief respite—”

No sooner spoken did her words prove prophetic, as the molten magma suddenly surged, dozens of tendril-spears spraying outwards all around them, curving in towards their position.

“ENOUGH!” bellowed Luna, pointing a condemning hoof at the beast as she reached for the boundless power of the Elements of Harmony—

…Which was no longer hers to command. Taken aback by frustrated instinct, Luna hesitated for one moment. One moment too long.

“ ‘Been an honour, Witchy,” she heard Twelfth Stroke hurriedly whisper behind her.

“Likewise, Twelve,” breathed Witching Hour in turn.

“NO!” cried Luna, spinning about to face them. She cupped the air in her outermost wing and, accelerating it to gale force, threw it into the wings of her escort. Their wings filled and pulled taught, wrenching them backwards between the scything tendrils and clear of danger.

There was a sudden, shrill whistling in the air on her left, and even her dazed eyes caught the blur of movement, but too close, too late.

Her sister had been proven right, again: they had depended too much upon the Elements of Harmony.

Luna closed her eyes the instant before the titanic blow swatted her like a vulgar fly.

Comments ( 3 )

I am happy this story got updated!

Good, good, GOOD!

I can only hope that I won’t have to wait too long for the next chapter.

Luna NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Gerd darn it! I didn't just get into this story to have the most epic of cliff hangers! Oh jeez. Curious what you'll do with it now. The Heart of the Mountain reminds me of the corruption demons from Princes Mononoke. Also, bat ponies are rad.

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