• 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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III - The Looming Shadow

All was silent in the village square, sparsely lit as it was by the four braziers at each corner. He stood rooted in the middle, by the wilted tufts of grass fenced off so that the foals wouldn’t steal away the village’s rations. The world smelled as empty as the sky above him.

His sister stood to his left. She stared upward with those large, blue eyes of hers, still as a statue. Mother’s scarf hung about her neck, as it had all their birthcycles until he took his first step beyond the village gates.

Beyond the wall, the Devourer let loose a deafening roar that rumbled the earth. The rapid-fire staccato of a thousand nails being driven into stone stabbed at his ears—the Devourer scaling the wall with its colossal, centipede-like body. Soon, it would peer down at them from the darkness the fires couldn’t quite chase away.

Just like last cycle, and the cycle before that. It was always the same dream. Except this time, he could turn his head.

The Voice existed beyond the rim of light as if afraid to step inside. Drifted, more like. It took no distinct shape, best described as a twisting mass of shadows, impossible to tell where one ended and another began. Bits of Moonlight threaded through it.

It had no eyes, but he gathered the sense that it stared at him all the same. It pulsed gently within his chest, even as he saw it outside himself, ever present and curious.

The Devourer roared again, louder this time. It was above him, barrelling down with those terrible, spiralling, grinding teeth, and everything went black.

His head shot up from the cold stone of the cathedral dais. The fang beast lay motionless where it fell last cycle among the rubble and splintered benches. Moonlight shimmered on its skin, and behind him the Moonlight brazier reached its silent flames toward the sky and the Moon itself.

The Voice stirred in his chest—that little mote of frostfire that had taken up residence inside him. It licked at the side of his heart, a flame all its own that he carried within—a living brazier.

“I was hoping for a dream, Champion, not a nightmare.” It sounded contemplative, whatever these sounds meant, wondering at something he must have been doing.

He looked up at the Moon, silent as the cathedral around him. After living all his life beneath impenetrable darkness, the sight stood the hairs of his withers on end.

The more he stared, the more it amazed and terrified him. This wasn’t how the sky was supposed to be. And yet it was. He simply hadn’t known it any other way.

But one thing was for certain. He had succeeded. He had restored Moonlight to its rightful place. Only Sunlight remained, resting beside him where he left it, patiently awaiting its reunion with the Sun brazier. Halfway done, halfway home.

He rose on stiff legs that cracked and popped their complaints of last cycle, urging he lie back down to sleep away the aches and pains. But those were poisonous thoughts, as wonderfully tempting as they were. Stillness meant death, and death was to accept the darkness.

He made a quick meal of last cycle’s leftover mash and downed a greedy portion of water from his canteen. He wiped the dribble from his lips and considered what was left.

It was still more than half full, but he couldn’t help the concern welling inside him. He didn’t know how far he had yet to travel. Hunger he could deal with, but he had seen what thirst could do to a pony—the crazed eyes that lorded over a dry village well. He started forward, but the Voice flared up in his chest.

“Nay, Champion. You are still weak.” The Voice receded inward, its chill reaching up the sides of his heart as if to coax him back to his haunches. “Do not yet brave the wastelands.”

It kept using that sound, “Champion.” No other came up in its sounds quite as often. Whatever it meant, the Voice desired communication. He fished a piece of charcoal from his saddlebags, one kept in the vain hope he would meet another pony in his quest. He started simple on the stone floor:

Can you understand me?

“Yes.”

He blinked and shook his head. Don’t be an idiot. He wrote out: Yes. No. He pointed to Yes.

“Yes.”

He nodded, then shifted his hoof to no, to hear the sound it would make.

“No.”

Another nod.

Before he could write more: “Can you not understand me, Champion?” it said. “Can you not speak?”

He paused, charcoal against the stone, at a loss for its sounds. Best make a statement the voice could hopefully understand:

We do not speak. Ponies never have.

Silence. He stared at his written words, hoping for something, a confirmation of any kind. Even the faintest peep would have scratched the itch that was his desire to hear it speak.

He changed his mind when the chill nestled between heart and lung withered to the littlest breath of frost. When it spoke, no language barrier could divide him from the heartache in its words.

“We are sorry. For all our failings.”

He imagined the Voice as a pony, silver like the Moon. It looked down at its hooves, crestfallen.

He likewise stared at his hooves. The pain in its words sent a shiver down his spine. Opening old wounds wasn’t his intention, however his words managed that. He shook his head and put charcoal to stone, to change the subject.

Brazier of the Sun. Direct me.

It hesitated, in a little flicker of flame that licked up the side of his heart. After a moment’s pause, the layered shadows at his left side extended forward, tapering to a point made from a broad horizontal pair at the tip. They seemed to shimmer in the Moonlight as they pointed beyond the cathedral’s broken archway, toward a towering shadow behind the city.

“Canterlot. Atop the mountain.”

He stared awhile at the figure he only now realized was there. It didn’t appear very large. Just past the houses and the flatness beyond, it stood at the edge of sight, where land became sky. He nodded, a smirk on his lips. A quarter cycle at most, if he could avoid the creatures in the city.

He reached back to return his charcoal to his bags, but stopped, looking over his shoulder at the brazier. It blazed grand and gleaming despite the years of neglect, as if its lighting had washed away the wear of untold birthcycles. At his hooves, their conversation looked more a child’s scribbling, most certainly out of place on such hallowed ground.

Sorry, he quickly scratched before smearing away their conversation.

“You do not need to apologize. I am in your debt.”

Though happy the Moon lit his way, he couldn’t help a grander sense of emptiness of the world his newfound sight brought him. The cathedral stood atop a hill, which overlooked the city he had travelled. It stretched beyond sight, its innumerable broken houses like crumbling tombstones in a forgotten graveyard.

It all looked so small for some reason. He remembered them reaching far above his head earlier. How it all had shrunk to fit his view was both astounding and terrifying. He reached out a hoof to touch them, curious as to why, and found it stranger still that he didn’t touch any of them.

A glance at the cathedral wall. He put a hoof against it. Solid. Back to the city. He stepped forward, glancing over his shoulder at the cathedral, watching it slowly shrink away.

He had never been able to see farther than a dozen meters, even within the village. What magic existed that made things change in size to meet and leave him? Was it the light?

“What are you thinking about, Champion?”

It sounded curious, a flicker of its fire dancing somewhere near his sternum—cold but not chilling, pleasant in its own strange way. He equated it to the Voice leaning forward to look up at him, an ear askance.

He shook his head. It was certainly the light, if the Voice seemed so casual about it. Surely it possessed immense power. He had only to look at the giant carcass behind him to believe that.

Ahead, down by the tiny houses, he watched the retching once-ponies he had avoided on his journey. He probed at them with Sunlight, but they seemed unaffected. Truth be told, they appeared frenzied, but their yips and cries of pain rose to the Moon rather than to him.

“Fear them not, Champion,” the Voice said. “They are little more than a nuisance to us now.”

That word again. Was it addressing him? Was that his name? Had the Voice bestowed upon him a name?

He scratched a question into the dirt. What is it you call me?

“Champion.”

A sharp sound, full-bodied and earnest. Foreign, yet homely, something he could hold his head high and believe. And to believe was to hope, which was half the battle in this wasteland.



He started down the hill, checking the cathedral behind him. It shrank quickly at first, and slowly lessened as he continued. By comparison, the houses grew slowly, then quickly, until he came to the point where he could touch them.

“You keep looking back,” the Voice said, tinged with curiosity. It wrinkled its nose in his mind’s eye. “Have you no concept of distance?”

Scratching sounds came from the walls of houses here and there—things digging, searching for holes and shadows to escape the Moonlight. Though nothing had wandered across his path, he hid Sunlight beneath his cape, just in case.

By the pale Moonlight he watched the street stretch ever onward, as if some strange magic endlessly looped him through the same few blocks, until something caught his eye: a well, in the middle of a plaza.

It welcomed him with cold paving stones into the open market, where not a soul wandered by. There were always at least a few ponies gathering their day’s water at any given moment, exchanging nods and perhaps even a few scribbled conversations on the flagstones. To see this one as devoid of friendly faces as it was of smell… The emptiness of this place was palpable.

Cautious steps brought him to the circular crop of stones, and he peered in. He lifted part of his cape to let Sunlight reach into the darkness the Moonlight above couldn’t chase away, and it sparkled back in the distance.

He smiled. His canteen was more than half full, but he couldn’t pass up a refill. He crafted a makeshift dropbucket from a coil of rope and a clay bowl from his saddlebags, to check the water before risking contaminating his canteen. Eyes over his shoulder, he lowered it into the well. When the rope laxed, he brought it back up, and by the grace of the Cinders, it was the most crystal clear water he’d ever seen.

He downed it greedily before sending the bowl down for another. Satisfied, he tied the rope fast to his canteen and sent it down to fill. He brought it back up, tightened the cap, and strapped it to his side. A grin wide on his lips, he followed the path toward the shadow, ears forward.

“You are skilled with your hooves, Champion,” the Voice said. Its tone was impossible to place, only its faint chill resting against his sternum, as if pushing, leading onward. Not anger, nor curious or scared. Perhaps merely a statement. Silence begot silence, and he continued on, but part of him wished the Voice would continue speaking, just so he could listen.

The Moon above kept watchful company, and the Voice’s presence within his chest was more companionship than he’d known most of his life, but that closeness only served to spark his curiosity.

The Voice was the Moonlight itself—the Moon itself, or so it seemed. They were one, yet somehow separate. Perhaps the Moon hadn’t been fully restored, or couldn’t until the Devourer was cast back to whatever hell it came from.

The Moon. How it looked back in watchful silence, so bright it almost hurt to look at. Just as the Voice was a tiny mote of cold fire inside him, the Moon seemed to cast a cooling aura on the earth, tinged every lungful of air with the tiniest bite. It lent a keener sense for the rot and death that grovelled behind the walls he passed.

The city’s broken houses fell away to open plains. Sparse rocks and sparser tree trunks stood as landmarks in what was otherwise a featureless expanse. All glowed pale beneath the Moonlight, and his eyes finally adjusted to the new light source.

Unlike the village braziers he could pass by and the houses of the wasted city, the Moon sat motionless above. No matter how far he walked, it remained in its place in the sky, like a giant eye that took in all.

He recalled how the cathedral had shrunk quick then slow, the houses growing slow then quick. The longer the transition, the more steps it took to affect, and so he could only wonder how many lengths spanned the distance between him and the Moon.

The shadow, too. Still it loomed where earth became sky, hadn’t grown an inch despite his steps. How, too, the earth itself seemed to continue moving beneath him though he had travelled far. It kept regenerating, as if brought up perpetually from the black abyss that surely awaited him at its edge. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a quarter cycle journey after all.

He had much to learn about this new world.

At that, a realization came to him, a question he should have asked back in the cathedral. He stopped and scratched into the dirt:

What is your name?

The Voice flickered in his chest and seemed to grow just a little warmer, in what was, perhaps, a smile.

“Luna,” it said.

He knew not how to spell it, but the word rolled gently around his head like water in a basin. Luna. Serene, yet commanding. A name fit for a ruler. A name he could follow.

He allowed himself another long look at the Moon before he caught himself smiling, and he set on again.

Author's Note:

Onward and Upward!