• Published 17th May 2016
  • 2,317 Views, 135 Comments

Into the Dark - Corejo



Equestria has fallen to a curse of eternal darkness. Together with the spirit of Luna, a stallion seeks to return the sun and moon to the sky, before the Devourer consumes all.

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I - Beyond the Village Gates

He saw nothing beyond the flagstones outside the village gates. The darkness allowed nothing more.

The world above had been forever black, in the place the Elders called the sky. Here, outside the walls, it stretched its jaws around him, waiting to swallow him up.

It would have gladly done so if not for two wrought iron lanterns strapped to his bandolier: one the warm and gentle glow of Sunlight, the other as cold and biting as the Moon. They were his sword and shield he held closer than all else. Lose them, and the darkness would claim him.

At his back, the village gates closed shut. Massive though they were, they moved without a sound. Silence was the rule of the world, lest It hear and come crawling.

He looked back at the gate towering beyond lantern light, at the crumbling walls where the Devourer had climbed long ago. Its noises traced an icy claw up his back, impossible to forget—the screams, then the silence.

The village braziers had endured countless cycles, but their Cinders of Sun and Moon could only hold back the darkness for so long. In time, even stone will turn to dust and smother the flames they hold dear.

But there existed other braziers—larger, grander, great enough to dispel the darkness, so wrote the Elders of his village. The Cinders remembered their birthright to the sky, and he as one of their subjects was sworn to preserve them, or Equestria would be lost forever.

And in that oath, he had been chosen to suffer the highest honor his village could bestow: one step forward, into the dark.

≈≈≈×≈≈≈

He would find the braziers within the cities.

Ancient cathedrals rose high above the cityscape, and the braziers awaited him within their vast and stony walls, as the Elders wrote. He had only to wade through the expansive darkness and hope he never lost his way.

No less than two wake cycles had passed since the village gates had fallen into shadow behind him, and still the road he followed seemed without end.

Broken cobblestone marked a skeletal path. Debris of the old world came and went within the circle of lantern light—splintered trees and shattered stone, things that had withstood the decay of time, long before it and its keeping became irrelevant.

All was strangely scentless. In a world without sound and little sight, ponies made due with smell. He knew every village pony by the smell of their sweat, could navigate his home by the wood dust of his kitchen table and the musty linens in his bedroom. Even the dirt along the village pathways tried its best to tinge the air with a smell one might call familiar. But out here, simply nothing.

It smelled empty, like not even the ghost of a departed pony had wandered by in ages. There was only darkness, and it rolled forever away from Sun and Moonlight, creeping in behind to greedily swallow the world back up.

He cinched up Mother’s scarf about his neck, thankful he had decided to bring it with him. It smelled of sawdust and dry wool, and that was home enough for him.

He continued on through the silence, the only thing greater than the oppressive dark. His hooves, wrapped in cloth to muffle his steps, whispered to stones that had long forgotten sound. Often he had lain in bed, listening to the ringing in his ears as he closed his eyes for sleep, but never had it gone so long, so unbroken.

Out here, the circle of light was his world. And he carried it alone.

A stone wall reached up from the dark as Sun and Moonlight splashed it with gold and silver. Broken and crumbling, it gave way to darkness within. He stepped inside, curious.

Rubble spilled across the floor from the opening, shoring up against upturned stone tables and chairs. They stared back at him like children huddled in their beds. Beams of wood lay where they fell from a roof they no longer held, and ceramic trinkets littered the floor beneath a toppled mantelpiece. A wicker basket lay upside down toward the far entrance, torn and trampled.

All of it had sat motionless since the day the Devourer swallowed the Sun and Moon. It sent one singular thought round and round his head as he circled the place, taking it in.

A pony once lived here.

A relic of the past, a glimpse into the world he only knew through bedtime stories and the writings of the Elders. Before the Devourer, before darkness, here stood a testament to the wonders of ponykind.

It hurt knowing he couldn’t stay, but he couldn’t linger. He had only so many rations, and no idea how far he had yet to go. One final sweep of the head, and he left, careful not to disturb the rubble or whatever ghosts might reside there.

There were more houses. They lined what became a street of tightly packed cobblestone. Rows upon rows, they gathered together like ponies in line for the village well. All stood in ruins, but their faces remained recognizable as places once inhabited.

How they stretched along the never-ending road, just within lanterns’ reach. What life must have bustled through here.

Children’s shadows ran in and out of broken doorframes, suddenly pristine in their trimmings and shining brass, the adults without a care for their games. Did they, perhaps, make noise back then? He shook his head.

A silly thought.

He hefted his half cape to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and cinched up the belt of his saddlebags. The trek had taken a great deal out of him, and sleep weighed heavy on his eyelids. But he had yet to find the cathedral, and with it, a decent place to rest his head.

He followed in a long line of brave souls who once ventured beyond the gates, but as the sky remained black, how far any of them made it was anypony’s guess. For all anypony knew, he had come the farthest. Or, more unsettlingly, the least.

How many of them, if any, still roamed this wasteland in search of the braziers? It had been many birthcycles since the last Light Bearer left the village, but there remained hope another might be out here.

Survival above all. It was a tenet passed down by the Elders, to be adhered to until the very last. The darkness deserved nothing from them, least of all that they go without a fight.

To live meant to defy the darkness. There was no greater act of pride than to draw another breath, and he carried that honor with him through the streets of this decrepit city.

The houses lining the street fell away to broken cobblestone stretching into all corners of the darkness. Something gave him pause, a creeping doubt of the unknown ahead. The houses had stood like walls, things to keep the dark at bay with the memories of the lives they once held. With how suddenly they ended, the world seemed lonely again.

A noise came from beyond the receding black. He tensed, stepping away, eyes and ears fixed forward.

It was not the sound It made. Nothing compared to the Devourer’s roaring cry.

He pulled the Sun lantern from his bandolier, held it aloft, and stepped hesitantly forward.

Slowly the noise grew louder, stertorous, like those of the ponies who went missing in their sleep. At the rim of light, he came upon a pale, hairless figure.

A statue, or, that’s what it looked like. Except, it couldn’t be. It was breathing.

It looked like a pony that had died and been born again, sitting on its haunches with its head hung low. Each and every one of its vertebrae pushed outward against its skin as if trying to escape, and its prominent, sinuous ribs stretched and relaxed with every unnaturally rapid breath. A charcoal-like substance ran from its eyes.

It was… sleeping.

He kept his distance, circling it slowly so that it stayed as far away as possible, yet still within sight so that he’d know if it moved. His heart racketed in his chest, a noise that he prayed to Sun and Moon only he could hear. Slowly enough, the creature receded into the darkness, and the world fell silent again.

He afforded himself a silent sigh to gather his wits. The Elders never wrote of other things in the darkness. Nothing lived beyond the village walls but the Devourer.

But by the light of life he saw it, whatever it was. Whatever it had been, perhaps. A pony, maybe. Nothing natural, for sure. He turned back ahead, but froze just as quickly. The hairs bristled on the nape of his neck at the sight of a face floating just within lantern light.

It was a gaunt, smiling thing, its black, featureless eyes glimmering gold and silver in the lantern light. One ear hung limp, its tip chewed off either by tooth or the rot of time, the other perked forward, seeking him. It cocked its head in curiosity, and he swore he heard the faint crack of bone. Its toothy, yellowed smile gave way to a lolling tongue, and it shambled forward.

By the fuller light of the lanterns, its calloused skin glistened as if slick with water, in greater tatters than the scarf around his neck. Spines protruded from its body like bones tearing free of their prison. Broken steps on broken legs, it staggered closer, cloven mandibles opening wide to roll out a guttural, drooling hiss.

He stumbled back, too frozen to flee, yet too desperate to cower. When it leapt, he swung Sunlight at it with all his strength.

Sunlight and Moonlight were more than simple flames. They were the leftover Cinders that escaped the Devourer when it swallowed the Sun and Moon and brought the sky crashing down upon the earth. There was magic in them, magic enough to distinguish friend from foe and the power to exact revenge upon the darkness and whatever might stand in his way.

The instant the Sunlight lantern connected with the creature's jaw, it ignited in white-hot fire that rushed outward to blanket its face. It was a small display of the power the Sun once wielded, but every power came at a price, and before he had even followed through on the swing, he could see Sunlight glowing that much dimmer.

The weight behind the blow sent the creature tumbling sideways out of sight, and it let out a retching screech of pain.

A blood-freezing cry rose up behind him. He heard the heavy hooves of another creature and turned to see the first once-pony sprinting out from the darkness. He had only the time to flinch as it tackled him to the ground.

Where Sunlight showed its ire of the dark with fire and vengeance, Moonlight warded it with inexorable certainty. It was the shield to Sunlight’s sword, and as the once-pony scrambled on top of him and opened its cloven mouth to tear out his throat, Moonlight flared like a silver beacon to seemingly suspend it in midair.

It reached for him with a mindless bloodlust in its eye and a manic clack clack clack of its teeth, inches from his face. Saliva spackled his face, and its frantic, raspy breathing reeked of death and all things unholy.

He kicked out a foreleg and caught it in the knee, feeling the meaty crunch of a joint bending the wrong way. A pivot of his hips, and he used the extra leverage to bring Sunlight around and take its legs out from under it with another roar of fire.

It yelped, and that was enough to pry himself free and suck down a precious gulp of fresh air. Another hairless once-pony crawled out from the dark to the left, and he had only the wits to run.

Lantern back on his bandolier, Sun and Moon clanged together like bells as he took off in a full-blown sprint. Row after row of houses blew past him, giant skeletons whose crumbling faces hinted at more eyes watching from within.

The once-ponies trailed behind him, ever clipping at his heels. Some demonic calling stirred up an impossible energy within their warped and twisted bodies. Still they breathed as if sleeping, creatures dreaming of his rent and broken body in their jaws.

He wasn’t built for running. The village’s rations had seen to his gaunt figure, hardly worthy of the force behind his lantern swings, and the exertion already cut into his lungs like knives. If he kept this up any longer, it’d be the death of him.

He made for the nearest house, teeth gritted in hopes it was empty. The front door splintered against his lowered shoulder and blanketed the living room in a hail of shrapnel. Through the kitchen door, he vaulted over the remains of the back wall and into the next street. With nowhere to run, he flattened himself against the wall beneath the hole and covered the lanterns in a swirl of his cape to return the world to inky blackness.

Heavy hooves scraped and clambered across the wooden floor, scattering bits of rubble and grinding the rest to dust underhoof. Furniture was upended and torn to splinters, and the wooden floor creaked and moaned as a pair of hooves came closer, closer, closer—just above him.

He pressed harder against the wall, clutching Sun and Moonlight against his racing heart. They singed the fur of his chest and choked out what little breaths of air he dared to suck down. The stench burned in his lungs like acid, and he had to struggle against the urge to double over in a coughing fit. It felt like he was drowning.

He could hear the once-pony’s raspy, hungry breaths. It sniffed at the air, tested it with lolling tongue. It snorted something vile and stamped back inside, and eventually the noises faded to silence.

He willed himself to breathe silently. He sat there for a long time without moving, his ears straining for the tiniest sounds, in case they were simply lying in wait, ready to pounce when he thought himself alone. He could have waited there an entire cycle, but the adrenaline of the moment had passed, and he was spent.

He slumped down the side of the house and reclined his head against the cold stone. How safe he had been within the village walls. Confined, but safe. All the supplies in his saddlebags wouldn’t have been worth simply lying in his bed at that moment.

But the way had been lost. Those things had chased him hopelessly far from the road he first wandered, and while the street ahead beckoned him onward, he knew he would never find his way back. He gave the hole in the wall a wary glance before heading off.

He stuck to the walls, always keeping one to his side, lanterns partially concealed beneath his cape as he fumbled through the streets. Better to be half blind than run down again.

Actually, that thought got the better of him. He had barely gotten away as it was. If those things found him again, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

He sought refuge in a larger home, one less torn down by the claws of time. The upstairs bedroom had a window overlooking what remained of the porch roof—as good an escape route as any, if it came to it.

He laid himself down on the cold wood. Lanterns beneath his cape, safe from prying, hungry eyes, he closed his own and let sleep take him.

Author's Note:

And the remaster is live! Enjoy, guys!

Onward and Upward!