• Published 17th May 2016
  • 2,318 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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X - "Luna"

When he opened his eyes, he again sat in the meadow amidst the purple flowers and fluttering insects.

The mountains in the distance washed blue beneath a golden Sun that was just warm enough to coax a light sweat from his coat. Birds chirped from their homes in the forest behind them, and a gentle wind brought the sound of rustling leaves to his ears and the dry smell of prairie grass to his nostrils.

“You wished to see more, Champion?” She lay beside him, gazing toward the distant mountains. Her mane danced in a friendly breeze, its thousands of stars undimmed by the Sunlight, and her wingtips poked just above the gentle curve of her back. Even with the difference in posture, she was almost as tall as him. She swivelled an eye toward him, and the smile on her face got a sudden nervousness going in his stomach.

He looked away, at a flower beside him bobbing in the wind, then back at her. Finally, he mustered the courage to point at her mouth, then traced his hoof in the grass:

Speak.

She chuckled, lowering her nose to look more fully at him. “You wish for me to teach you to speak? I thought you were afraid of speaking.”

He blushed. She was right. Before, to speak meant inviting death. But things had changed. He had learned the ways of the world—the truth of the world—and had carved out of it a purpose, even if it went against everything he had ever known. And in that disavowment, he had no reason to maintain silence. He squared his shoulders and looked her in the eye.

The gesture was not lost on her. She smiled and raised herself up as well. “Very well. Where would you like to start?”

He shifted looking between each of her eyes, so bright and limitless, then down at the curved reflection of the Sun on her breastplate. A nervous smile overcame him, and he looked back up before pointing at her.

She raised an eyebrow, putting a hoof to her chest. “Me? You mean my name?”

He nodded. His heart raced for some odd fear she would say no.

But the smile on her face said he had no reason to worry. She closed her eyes and let a soft chuckle drift away with the breeze.

“Very well,” she said, rising from her haunches. Her form towered over him in all its regal posture. Tall and powerful, yet she held the length and grace no pony in the village could have ever hoped to match.

“Luna,” she said.

He furrowed his brow. How did she make those sounds? He understood them easily enough. They had conversed long enough that he should. But to make them? How in Equestria did she do that?

“Luna,” she repeated. She cleared her throat. “Put the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth.”

That was easy enough. It felt odd, though. Living his whole life without speech, his tongue was of no more use than to help him chew his food.

“Good. Now, make the sound. ‘Llll.’”

He froze, tongue against teeth, frowning. He looked to her for guidance, unsure how exactly he was supposed to do that.

She smiled all the wider. “When you laugh, when you cry, when you scream in pain or frustration. Surely, sound is as innate to you despite your years of silence.”

His frown got bigger. Memories of such things sprang to mind like embers from the village braziers, but birthcycles of silence under pain of death left him hesitant, even here in his dream. It was one thing to claim disavowment of silence, but a whole other beast to commit to it.

His desperation must have shown on his face, as Luna slanted her mouth. “Perhaps a different approach, then,” Luna said.

She closed her eyes, and the projection from her forehead glowed a blue as dark and radiant as her coat. The world stretched toward its point like a curtain pulled from its rod. When the world relaxed back into place, they stood in shadow.

Walls of what looked like striated red-orange stone rose up on either side of them. Its curves made the sky above look like a distant river.

“Do you know what this is, Champion?” Luna whispered. Before he could shake his head, she shouted, “It is a canyon!”

He flattened his ears to his skull and raised a defensive hoof, but his ears perked at the sound:

“Canyon!” the corridor shouted back. “Canyon. Anyon…” quieter and more distant.

He stared down the canyon, ears pointed toward her not-voice. What magic was this?

She smiled like the Moon itself and raised an upturned hoof at him. “Your turn, Champion.”

He stared at her hoof, then the winding canyon ahead. Still, he was unsure. Would it work for him? Could he even shout like she could? What was this magic?

“Do not be shy, Champion, let me hear you shout!”

“Shout!” went the canyon. “Shout. Out…”

He watched the canyon again for any tricks that might be at play. There was nothing, though. It really seemed to just be Luna’s voice repeating itself, for whatever reason. This phenomenon was beyond him, both strange and frightening. Still, if Luna was certain of it…

He took a deep breath and thought about all the things that made him want to make noise—things that hurt, things that scared him, things that threatened he abide by the laws of silence or else know immeasurable pain—and he let them go. It came out as a loud if warped sound that on first shout-back seemed unsure of its own ferocity.

As the shout-back faded, a shiver worked its way up his legs. He’d done it. He shouted his heart out and… nothing. No Devourer, no once-ponies hungrily seeking their next meal, no Elders come to drag him away. Only him and the blood pounding in his ears.

Presently, Luna let out a tiny giggle. She had a hoof up to her mouth as if trying to hide a smile, but the moment their eyes met she broke down into a fit of laughter that had her on the ground.

“You have a good set of lungs, Champion,” she said, rising to her hooves. She sighed, fluffing her wings and resettling them at her sides.

A fire burned inside him. Something primal, something natural. It wasn’t merely a release of noise, but rather a defiance of the darkness. He had shouted, and the darkness did nothing. The greatest fear he had known all his life held no water.

He squared up with the canyon, and this time, he wasn’t afraid. He imagined the Devourer and the Elders and everything else that had kept him silent all his life, and he let loose a shout worthy of defying the dark.

He shouted as the shout-back resounded up and down the canyon. He shouted as it flattened his ears back and rang inside his skull. And still he shouted, until the sound died from his throat and his lungs felt like they had shrivelled up.

He heaved for air, and within his chest, Luna’s presence blossomed like the flames from her brazier. And as the shout-backs faded away, the her beside him stirred.

“We as ponies are meant to use our voices. It is wonderful to see this calling is not lost to you.” The smile she wore was less a smile than an outpouring of pride. It got his heart going and his knees weak for reasons he couldn’t understand. But it was a good weakness, whatever it was. Because Luna made him feel this way, and that’s all that mattered.

Her smile turned into a grin. “Now, have you had your fill of shouting, or are you ready to proceed?”

He took a final breath to settle his wits, and after a moment gave her a nod.

As if drifting off to sleep, Luna lowered her chin and closed her eyes. Her projection glowed blue, and a faint tinny sound sprinkled the air. The world stretched inward for the briefest of seconds as if toward a singular point in the distance, and they again stood in the meadow. The Sun hung closer to the horizon than before, highlighting the once-white lumpy things in the sky with the colors of Sunlight and crimson.

A breeze swept through the grass and sent it waving. The heads of the purple flowers and spiny grasses tickled his flank while the sweet aroma of the white-flowered bushes along the tree line drifted on the breeze.

Luna resettled her wings, drawing her head up from a bowed posture, and set her large, expectant eyes upon him.

“Luna,” she said.

He recalled her earlier instructions, those of pressing his tongue against the back of his teeth. “Llll…”

He looked down at his hooves, and a strange heat rose to his cheeks. This was beyond weird, and he couldn’t help feeling a little embarrassed.

“Good. Now…” She looked aside, her mouth forming a faint grimace. “Er, flick your tongue down behind your front bottom teeth as you make the sound… Llluuu.” She formed an “o” with her mouth as she spoke.

“Lluuuuh…” he said, scrunching his face as the sound came out wrong. He mimed her “o,” and almost ruined the proper sound by smiling in embarrassment.

Luna laughed with him. “You are doing well, Champion. Do not disparage yourself. But to continue, Luuuu—to the roof of your mouth—nnnn…”

“Nnn,” he parroted.

“…Nnaaa—back down to the bottom—naaa.” She opened her mouth wider to let the final syllable roll out, and her nose dipped slightly. Even in such a silly pose, she was all the more stately for it.

“Naaa… Llu”—he pressed his tongue as hard as he could against the roof of his mouth and furrowed his brow—“nnn-naa.”

“Not quite so hard,” she said. “Speaking is a gentle art. Rather, I should say an intricate art. There is no strict need to be forceful with how you speak. I… Forgive me, Champion. I was never given to teaching ponies in my day, especially not for something so innate. I find myself ill-suited for this.” She looked aside, ears pointed down and away.

He fixed her with an incredulous stare. Was she worried that she was a bad teacher? He’d had bad teachers before, and none of them were nearly as patient. He shook his head and smiled, waving her a “go on” with his hoof, to which she closed her eyes, nose dipped slightly, the most genuine smile he had ever seen on her lips.

“Very well, Champion.” She opened and refolded her wings. “Speak simply. Do not force your tongue, guide it.”

He looked down at the grass and licked his lips, felt the back of his teeth where his tongue should move when speaking. It still felt weird.

“Lllunna,” he said. He stared at her in disbelief, and she smiled back. “Llunna. Lluuna.

“Luuna,” he said. “Luna.” He blinked, and a smile grew on his face. “Luna. Luna. Luna” —his smile kept growing— “Luna! Luna! Lunaaa!!!”

He yelled it the top of his lungs. His voice shouted back from the forest, and birds took flight over the treetops. The sway of the trees and the frightened bird calls filled the air with noise and his heart with fire. He let out a laugh, full-bodied and dark-defiant, as he watched them shrink into the distance.

Luna laughed alongside him. This time, she didn’t try and hide it behind a hoof. Her eyes followed the flock of birds beyond the treetops.

She sighed and turned her smile toward him. Something about her smile brought a heat to his face, and he had to look away, ears flat back. The purple flowers danced in the breeze, and they smelled so wonderful.

“You are a quick learner, Champion.” Something about the softness of her voice sent his heart racing, and she was still looking at him when he regarded her.

He opened his mouth as if a million words suddenly made themselves known and wanted to express for him the thoughts whirling in his head. But as it was, he didn’t know them by speech, so he sat there staring, unsure how to share his feelings. He clicked his teeth shut to keep from looking like a fool. He smiled at the grass beneath his hooves and gave a small nod.

The Sun neared the horizon, and all things once blue and saturated with the colors of day swam in the oranges and pinks of the phenomenon unfolding before him. The birds had slowed their chirps from the nearby forest, and even the smells of the grasses seemed to be winding down for rest.

“It is beautiful, is it not?”

She sat down beside him, the fold of her wing brushing against his side and drawing another race of his heart. She stared at the Sun, a sense of wonder filling the depths of her eyes. The Sun’s reflection in them highlighted the turquoise that held him captive every time he looked her way.

“Many, if asked, would say the Moon and its wondrous nightscape is my favorite time of day.” Her voice reached a near whisper, and he dared sit down next to her to better listen. If she disliked the closeness, she didn’t show it. “But they would be wrong.”

A faint smile of cycles long passed turned up the corners of her mouth. “It is the Sunset. This, Champion, is when I think the sky is most beautiful.”

He stared long at the Sunset, bright but not blinding, thinking on her words. Again, she seemed preoccupied with the Sun, the symbol of her sister. They protected the ponies of the real world, protected each other as well, it seemed, as any reasonable member of the village would. Yet there remained no overt reason for it other than to see to their health, no intention of prolonging their dynasty, or for self-protection through a herd mentality, as it was with the village. She longed for her sister, simply because she was her sister.

Why?

There was no practicality to it. No end goal. She did so simply for the sake of togetherness, and it was the strangest thing.

Yet he could say the same for himself. Over the course of their journey, he found himself growing accustomed to Luna’s presence. She was his protector and guide. Countless times, she had saved his life, encouraged him onward when the world seemed at its bleakest—and not simply for her own ends.

Despite what this journey meant, every bit of it, every word she spoke, was not in cold disinterest, greed, or selfishness. She felt for him in this impossible way he had yet to understand, in a way that he wanted to feel for her, hoped he already did.

Even when her encouragement wavered and bravery faltered, there were moments when he wanted simply to know she was there.

These feelings were his own. He knew that for certain. But where had they come from? Nopony had ever mentioned feelings like these, to want another pony nearby simply for their presence. Always, cohabitation lent itself toward a practical goal, be it protection or procreation, or simply consolidation of families after a death. There was no desire, no want for it.

Even now as the bottom half of the Sun touched the horizon, that tugging in his heart grew all the more pronounced. It drew his eyes up and to the left, where Luna still stared wistfully into the Sunset.

It meant more than anything to her to succeed in this quest.

His gaze fell to her Moon-embossed breastplate. The Sun’s convex reflection curled around the far side of the crescent, as if to complete the other half of a circle.

She turned his way with steepled brows, and their eyes met for an instant. The deep hues of the Sun saturated her coat to turn her midnight blue into a wash of indigo and the half of her in shadow into the color of the darkest sky between stars.

He shied away, his hoof reflexively moving for his saddlebags. A sudden wave of embarrassment struck him when he realized they didn’t exist in this dream, and he wilted in on himself. He could feel her gaze on the back of his head, and that only made it worse.

A long moment passed in silence before she sent a filament of light spiralling up the projection from her forehead. It sprouted from the tip and snaked down to the grass, where it formed a piece of charcoal and a stone slab.

He paused before taking up the charcoal, not out of hesitation, but rather for his own sense of longing. Now more than ever, he wished he could simply say the words that were on his mind.

Beautiful, he wrote.

She regarded the word with her still-seeking expression, then turned it back to the Sun. She laid herself down and lowered her wing to the grass, beckoning him.

He lay beside her, and she draped her wing over his back. He tensed at the suddenness of the gesture, but her warmth eased his worries away and he all but melted into her side. The heat in her wing was like the warmest blanket on a cold sleep cycle.

These were real feathers, not the cold things of Moonlight that grew from his sides when he was awake. Every feather was as soft as a newborn’s fetlocks. As foalish as it might have been, he snuggled in closer.

They lay there as the Sun slipped halfway beyond the horizon. The wind had died down, but the smell of those white-flowered bushes at the tree line danced beneath his nostrils with another, sweeter scent, one he could only assume was the coat of the mare beside him.

He craned his neck to press his nose against her wingbone draped over his shoulder and yes, there it was. He held that breath in for as long as his lungs allowed him, committing it to memory.

“It is almost time to wake up,” she said. “If my senses still persist, it has been six hours since you closed your eyes.”

He let the breath go, and he turned back to the Sun. Time to wake up…

His thoughts molded themselves into images of that cave, that unnatural cave and its unnatural darkness. Even here, safe beneath Luna’s wing, it seemed to snake in and pervert the happiness of the moment. He suppressed a shudder, if only so she wouldn’t notice.

For the first time in what felt like a cycle, he picked up the charcoal and let a fledgling hope take flight in his heart.

How long is that?

“About a quarter cycle, by your timekeeping.”

Long enough, then. Though the pangs of hunger were absent here, he didn’t want to think how bad they’d be when he woke up. It had been three cycles since he last ate, and it wouldn’t do to stretch his energy any longer by lingering here. Though, he couldn’t help the sense of… longing. Not for something he had lost, but for something he soon would.

“Luna?” he said.

She turned fully toward him, ears alert, apparently surprised by his voice. “Yes, Champion?”

It was all he knew in voice, though he wished so desperately that he could speak the rest. Isn’t time irrelevant in a dream? he wrote.

“Yes it is, Champion.”

He stared at the grass and, in fleeting moments of courage, at her hooves next to his. Then, can you control it?

A moment passed before she chuckled. Where words would have been appropriate, she simply turned her head toward the Sunset and leaned gently into him.

The last traces of gold and pink fled from the sky, and as the Sun dipped fully beyond sight, he leaned further into her side. If he hadn’t closed his eyes to better feel her next to him, he wouldn’t have noticed her wing tighten ever so slightly.

The sound of insects—their nightsong, as Luna had once called it—filled the air with a loud but peaceful hum as the first specks of starlight dared their entrance into the not-quite dark sky. It was a sight that anypony in the village would have marveled at, a sight anypony had the right to call beautiful.

He looked down at the word he wrote. Beautiful. The Sunset surely was, but deep down, part of him knew the truth.

He didn’t mean the Sunset.

Author's Note:

Onward and Upward!