• 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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VIII - The Goddess Beheld

Something hissed in the haze beyond his eyelids. He clenched his eyes tighter and put a hoof to his face to block the light drilling through his eyelids. A grimace found its way to his lips as the ambient noises drew him further from the realm of sleep. He took a deep breath, and into his brain rushed a myriad of scents he had never smelled before. The sensation snapped his eyes open.

He lay on a bed of grass, but that was impossible. It wasn’t brown. It was a different color, and it expanded into the distance, tall and bobbing and thronged with tiny spines as delicate as the hair of his fetlock. He stared for what could have been ages. Was this what Luna had talked about cycles ago? Was this… green?

He touched a delicate hoof to them, fearful they would snap and crumble away, but they bent and waved at the touch of his hoof, reached up around it as it passed them by. They were soft, so soft. Their gentle sensation at the tip of his hoof seemed to ask he reach out and touch them all.

Around him rose patches of this green in bunches of leaves that belonged to plants that didn’t grow in the village and had no names or even the words to describe them. Packed with green and the dancing shadows of the light from above—long and trailing, feeling, creeping winding weaving crawling overtop and through the rest with leaves narrow and round and spiney. Between and around them sprouted stems and leaves hung low with reds and blues of berries and flower heads, all vying for his undivided attention.

He had seen a flower once. It was a sickly little thing that grew in the village chapel, in a little pot beside the Moonlight brazier. He was never allowed near it. But here in whatever place he had awoken he could reach out and touch them. All of them. And how they bent their slender necks, curled their silky petals. So bright. So vibrant! It was as if the world had peeled away a film from his eyes he never knew existed.

At seemingly random intervals in all directions, massive pillars of stone towered over the endless green. Deep cracks ran their lengths like parched earth. He rose, taking slow steps toward the nearest pillar.

No. These weren’t stone. He placed a hoof against one and almost recoiled at the texture. Wood.

It was a tree. An honest, living tree.

The bark’s miniature canyons reached skyward, where millions upon millions of leaves of this most vibrant green waved and hissed at each other. And farther still, a peaceful blue hung in the ceiling of this place, hidden away, peeking through the leaves.

One spot above in particular glowed brighter than the rest. It tinged the leaves a blinding color at its center, bleeding outward where it rimmed each individual leaf in the color of not-quite fire. It was the same color of Canterlot’s towers. Not the faint glint beneath Moonlight but a shining, blinding light that stung the eye to see. Sunlight. His ears fell back against his head, his jaw slack, and he stared all the more through the sting.

A shrill sound came from above, and something flitted overhead. He ducked on instinct, but perked up as a winged creature no larger than his hoof alighted on a branch. It bobbed up and down, the branch supple and willing to bear its weight. There it turned its head in quick, twitchy motions, its black beady eyes set within the most brilliant blues and whites and streaks of black taking in the world. The shrill sound came again, and he saw, to no illusion, its beak open and shut.

This tiny feathered creature made the sharpest of sounds, as if it were calling to him, to the world. It dipped low on its perch, and in one swift motion took flight to leave the branch bobbing in its wake as it disappeared into the green beyond.

And as he stood there, gazing into the endless green, he opened his ears, and the sounds of a million living things made themselves known.

He knew of the words, those that meant sounds, but which was which? Were these chirping or squawking? Barking or chittering? The treetops hissed and swayed, their boughs dancing in the light of a blue sky.

As he gazed upward, a soft presence brushed across his face and through his mane, cool as Moonlight. It whispered in his ears, slow and hollow, but full of well-wishing.

Wind? Was this wind?

Where was he?

There was another sound. High, bubbly. He’d heard it before. Luna made it after they defeated the raven beast in the tunnel. Laughter. But this one was different. Younger, perhaps.

He turned, and there a white-coated filly peeked at him from around a tree with wide eyes, greener than all the world around him. She flicked an ear before ducking away, laughter trailing off to hide amidst the birdsong and chatter of this place’s little creatures.

Another pony beyond the village walls? A filly no less. She wanted him to follow, so he set off after her.

He pushed aside branches that swished back into place, crunched dried leaves and snapped twigs beneath his hooves. The air was thick with noises of the forest, but thicker still it filled his lungs with its scents and a seemingly dense presence, like when he lowered his head into the village well. But rather than a mustiness, it tasted of something different. Warmer, headier. Fresh. Whatever it was, it beckoned him onward, toward a strange sound he’d never heard before.

It was that of water sloshing around in a bowl, poured from one to another to another without end. When he stepped through the bushes, the sight of water greeted him, but not how he imagined it.

It ran along the ground, through a dip in the earth almost three lengths wide. It washed overtop rocks and sticks. Leaves floated on its surface, carried aloft on its flow downhill. The sound came from where it splashed against a particularly large rock and bent around the far side of a thicket of trees.

A riverbed, Luna’s voice played in his head as clear as when he first crossed that dry, Moonlit plain cycles ago. The filly laughed on the other side, water dripping from her coat. She smiled at him through the curtain of beet-red mane plastered to her face.

He gave the stream a glance, then a tentative step. Cool to the touch, it rushed up the side of his hoof and around in its journey downstream. He took another step farther in. It was deeper, and his hoof sank to the knee. Hesitation drew him back a step, but curiosity nudged him forward with gentle encouragement.

Splish went his first hoof back into the stream. It was cool and inviting. Splash went his other hoof, and he swished and sloshed them around in the water, feeling it roll past him as it soaked through his fur. He stamped and stomped to the kerplunk of water splashing everywhere and relishing the sounds and just feeling alive.

He lost his balance and toppled into the stream. He scrambled to his stomach, the stream coming just to his withers, and he shook the water out of his mane, which clung to the side of his face in wet strands. He was out of breath, but he wore the biggest smile he could remember, lying there, soaked to the bone, listening to the water dribble back into the stream. And still it rolled past him, carrying his eyes down beyond the thicket at the bend.

Leaves rustled ahead, and he turned in time to see the filly taking off into the bushes. He got up and followed at a gallop, making sure to splash as much as he could all the way across.

On the other side of the stream, the trees grew thicker the longer he followed the filly, the brief glimpses through leaf and vine like the blink of an eye. But that was all he needed to see without a doubt: there were two of them. They looked like sisters.

Twins, perhaps, and they laughed the same laugh, scurrying between bushes, beneath low-hanging branches blooming with leaves broader than his head, their large green eyes turned back his way.

The feathered creatures overhead, the little furry things scampering through the leafy forest floor, the rich smell of dirt and grass filling in the deepest reaches of his lungs as his coat started drying. It was all so much, yet not enough. He shed his cares for the wheres and whens, the hows and whys. Here, now, this place was new and lush and beautiful. He and the fillies were beyond the village gates, but also beyond the darkness. It held no sway in this strange and wonderful place. Here was safe, wherever here was.

Ahead of him, the trees gave way to an open field, and there he saw a figure. He stopped, curious yet hesitant, unable to judge its shape between the trees. Something within his chest urged him onward, a sense deep down that whatever this figure was, it waited for him, was part of him. Gingerly, he stepped from the thicket.

It stood among shoots of purple flowers bobbing in the wind. He paused not two steps out from the last tree, and what little breath he still held left him as his ears fell back against his skull.

It was the Voice. Not a formless mass of shadows watching from the corner of his nightmare, or an obscure imagined pony in his mind’s eye. It stood full-bodied before him, tall, graceful as the Moon.

No. Not it. She.

Starlight twinkled in the swirling mists of her mane and tail, little wisps breaking free like embers from the hearth to travel with the wind. On her head, she wore a tiara as black as onyx, and from her forehead rose a long projection that spiralled to an elegant point. She stepped forward on slender hooves dark as the Moonlit sky, wearing silver horseshoes that flashed in the Sunlight. Her wings at her sides bobbed in time with her stride, their tips long and lithe as the curves of her chest and flank.

But what amazed him most of all was her smile. He had never seen such an enchanting smile, full of all the well-wishing such shining turquoise eyes could ever impart.

“Hello, Champion,” Luna said as she strode near. She put her wings out to corral the fillies, where they hid behind her hooves to peek out at him. “Or, should I say, good morning?”

Luna swept a wing behind her. “Welcome, Champion, to Equestria.”

Beyond her lay a valley and long rows of mountains stretching into the distant blue. Canterlot Mountain rose above them, far removed in its majesty from the dark and decaying tunnels he had climbed. Canterlot itself sat perched at the top, shimmering in the Sunlight like a diamond only half unearthed. What looked like mist fell from it in long streaks for a body of water below. A forest huddled against the water’s edge, and endless fields of grass spanned the distance between, bobbing in ceaseless waves beneath the wind.

“This, Champion…” Luna said, stepping up beside him, eyes trained on something in the distance, her ever present smile growing by the second. “This is what you are fighting for. The birds and forests, the open air and the ponies you will soon see.”

He stepped forward, eyes dancing about to take it all in. His legs tingled in a desire to race out there and see and hear it all, to smell what there was beyond the purple flowers at his hooves and the white-flowered bushes along the tree line behind him.

“Do you see it?” Luna said. She pointed a wing at a smidge of color across the plain. “That little bundle of colors between the forest’s arms. That is Ponyville. I should think it is what your village used to be before darkness fell upon my dream.”

He perked up his ears. His village? He looked to her, and her questioning eyes met his.

“Would you like to see it?” she asked.

He nodded eagerly. All his life he spent in darkness, surrounded by ramshackle huts and dying grass. Even from this distance, the little speck held more color than his village ever had in his life.

Luna chuckled and said, “Very well.” Wearing a smile, she closed her eyes and bowed her head.

The projection at her forehead glowed a deep blue, and the world smeared as if he were staring through a dirty window. The ground shifted so that he had to catch himself from falling. Colors wavered and reformed, and the grass beneath his hooves became hard-packed dirt. When he regained his balance, they stood amidst a town square filled with ponies.

Their smiles were as bright as their coats of colors he couldn’t name—different shades of blue and Sunlight and green and many more beyond. Some had either projections from their foreheads or wings like Luna, and some had neither like himself. A little stampede of foals chased after a red ball for some reason, but their laughter was something he wouldn’t soon forget. The buildings themselves stood tall and clean with colors beyond even those of the ponies, and a mouthwatering aroma unlike any other drifted on the air from a building of dots, lumps, swirls and all sorts of odd, brightly colored shapes sticking from its walls.

He stepped toward a nearby mare, reached out to shake hooves in greeting, but she didn’t regard him in the slightest. He frowned at her, confused, until she saw something behind him and walked straight through him. It sent a wave of chills down his back.

Luna laughed. “’Tis a dream, yes, Champion, but we are not a part of it. You do not exist here, nor do I.

“This particular dream is of the last time I visited this place,” Luna said. She, too, stood captivated by the goings-on, her eyes dancing between pony and house and ball and whirling disk the foals threw. “There was a concert that night. Jazz, if I recall. Would you care to walk with me?”

She smiled at him in a strange manner. Something about her easy smile—the way she arched her brows, eyes half lidded—struck him as multilayered, meant more than a smile could ever intend. She started forward without answer, her gaze lingering on him for two steps before shifting ahead.

He could watch her walk forever. The way she moved, so graceful and light-hooved. He fell in beside her without hesitation.

The bright sky dimmed with every street they passed, time skimming by as fluid as the voices drifting overhead. A distant, steady sound whispered to him beneath the droll of voices. It made no effort to command his attention, content amidst the other hundreds of sounds that had him turning his head at the smiles and shutting doors and clip clop of hooves on stone and packed dirt.

He smelled more flowers like the ones back in the meadow. It came from a house exploding with color—flowers of all shapes and sizes. They bloomed from baskets hung from every windowsill and a garden that ran the house’s length. A wagon sat outside overflowing with even more of them arranged in twined bunches and assorted by color.

Ponies exchanged small, shiny disks for them and went on their way toward the sounds steadily gaining hold of the town. To think they bartered with useless bits of metal in place of goods, that they could even spare their wealth for something as luxurious as a fragrant smell.

That curious noise they’d been following picked up again, and he swivelled his ears to better hear it. It bobbed up and down like that little winged creature in the forest, as if expecting him to wonder at it. The sounds held a distinct pattern to them, clearer with each street that passed beneath his hooves.

He crooked Luna a curious eye. She had yet to look back since asking him to follow, and she led with distinguished authority toward these rhythmic sounds. Still she wore that smile of some underlying meaning. It must have to do with the noises ahead.

Beams of light reached into the starlit sky above, sweeping back and forth as if trying to illuminate every star one by one. A wooden stage of sorts waited for them in the middle of a crowd, and atop it stood black-and-white dressed ponies with Sunlight-colored metal tubes and stringed boxes of curved, shiny wood. The sounds, now slow and rhythmic, came from these contraptions in their hooves. They were the center of attention, the crowd’s collective gaze fixed on them or the various see-through containers of colored water at their tables.

“I particularly liked this one,” Luna said at last. Her eyes never left the ponies on stage. She looked entranced, everything about her slowing to match the rhythm of the noises. Even her mane waved slower in the breeze only it knew. “This song was one of the first I heard when I returned from my exile in the Moon. Very classic in its structure. It reminds me of the composers of old.”

He listened to her words, despite how little sense they made. He had never heard of a “song” before, but if this was one, then he liked songs. Every sound that swung low had a partner there to carry it higher. Fast sounds made way for longer, slower ones. A long moment passed before he realized his body swayed to the rhythm.

Luna smiled at him. “Enjoying yourself?”

He blushed, though unsure why. His heart beat faster when she spoke, something about that half-lidded smile and the softness of her voice.

The song ended, and the ponies on stage bowed. Those watching stamped their hooves, shouted and yelled at the stageponies. But they were happy sounds, it seemed, evident in the smiles they wore. What strange customs they had, to make noise in approval of what they enjoyed.

“Come, Champion, there is more than music to our world.” She closed her eyes, the projection from her forehead glowed, and again the world smeared into a singular mess of color.

He held his balance better this time, and the world blended back into view as he watched what used to be little thatched houses reshape as towering monoliths taller than Canterlot Mountain.

Ponies ran through lined streets made from some type of stone he had never seen before. They dragged large wheeled structures of wood behind them, some with other ponies sitting inside.

To have called Ponyville a colorful place would do the word a disservice. These ponies were colorful—their flowing clothes and the grand and shiny things that dangled from their manes and ears. Their giant houses—for what else could they be?—they splashed with colors and paintings of smiling faces and words for things he could only guess at. The Moon watched from above, but there were far more lights illuminating this city.

Lights of reds and blues and greens and Sunlight flashed and waved across the walls under the power of their own illumination. Some had even been coiled into rope and made to resemble words and the suggestion of ponies or objects. Lamps hung over the streets at even intervals, and every window he could see glowed warm with their own personal Sunlight.

A hoof pushed up against his chin, closing his mouth. Luna chuckled, that same odd smile on her lips. She set her hoof down and swept a wing at all there was to see.

“This is Manehattan, the most metropolitan of our cities.” She walked down the street, her eyes to the tops of the giant houses. “’Tis one of many feats of ponykind’s advances in technology and business. I do not much care for it myself, but I cannot spit in the face of progress, nor can I deny the benefits such advances bring our little ponies.”

They passed a large window, where inside stood statues of ponies fastened to poles by their barrels. Each statue wore on its head a massive hat with feathers and flowers of all sorts of colors.

A mare walked past him. She wore one of the many colorful clothes all the others did, but beneath her hat glowed a protrusion from her head, like Luna’s, and her bags floated—floated—next to her. He had to stop and turn his head as she passed.

“Magic is commonplace in Equestria, Champion.” Her gaze upon the mare looked even and natural. “’Tis nothing special to anypony, but seeing the look on your face humbles me so. The things we take for granted…”

Her words drifted into silence, overtaken by the bustle of the city. He let his gaze wander in the moment, take in everything new and different about this world. His eyes drifted upward to the skies, where pegasi flew between the giant houses. Like the little creature of the forest, they moved gracefully, as if the earth simply didn’t bother pulling them down to where they belonged. What was it like to fly? To be unbound by the dirt beneath his hooves?

“Yet another thing I have taken for granted,” Luna half whispered. She, too, gazed upward, following the little silhouettes darting between houses. Her lips curled into a smile, and she swivelled an eye down toward him. “I haven’t stretched my wings in ages.”

Her smile grew mischievous like it did in Ponyville. “Care to join me?”

What?

Before he could shake his head, the world smeared a third time. The giant houses melted to the ground, and what was once solid stone softened to the point that falling through became a frightening possibility. The wind picked up, and when everything stopped changing, a bright blue sky stretched all around them.

He stood on a… a thing—a giant lumpy white thing far above the earth. It left his hooves and haunches damp where it touched, and that much colder in the wind. Below, fields of green trawled on in silence, their colors muted by the shadows cast from the other white things in the sky.

Luna sat a length away on the lumpy white ground. She wore that odd, layered smile, wings half open, feathers bending slightly beneath the breeze. She giggled.

“Catch me, Champion.” She fell over backwards and disappeared beneath the white earth.

His fur bristled all down his back, and he scrambled to the ledge to see her getting smaller, falling toward her death upon the fields below. He dove, hooves outstretched to catch her.

She twisted in freefall, her wings curling to catch the wind and leave little contrails of the white thing they had fallen from. Her laughter rang high above the wind roaring in his ears.

He caught her around the waist, his chin coming to rest in the valley between her shoulder blades.

She craned her neck back to look sidelong at him, and she wore that little smile of hers. It got his heart racing.

“You caught me,” she whispered. She gave a little giggle that could have stilled the Devourer itself, and in that moment, he forgot his fear of heights and the ground below.

“I may not be able to fly in my outer dream, but in this one I am not bound by such limitations.” She spread her wings, every individual feather catching and bending ever so slightly in the wind. “Here, I can fly.”

Luna arched her back, wings reaching high to either side. She thrust them downward, and her back surged up into his chest. He had to grip tighter to keep from falling off.

She rose another bout of laughter to the sky as she beat her wings, climbing higher toward the white things trawling along above them. She passed one by, grazing it with the tip of her wing to tease out feathery curls of white from its belly.

He stuck out a hoof to touch them, and how light they were! They strung out further at his touch like cotton being pulled free from clothing. How in Equestria had he stood on this moments ago? What kind of magic defied the laws of the world as he knew them?

“Hold on, Champion,” Luna said over her shoulder. She gave one last pump of her wings, and down she dove.

The wind picked up in his ears as they gained speed, and he felt a very uncomfortable sensation of his insides rising up inside him. He held tighter onto her waist, watching as they rushed past chunks of floating white earth.

Luna twisted her wingtips to send them into a spiral that had all the colors of the world blending together. “We are safe, Champion. Here were are unbound by the chains of the earth. Here we are free!”

She climbed again into the sky, through a patch of white earth. It melted around them and left damp streaks on his fur that drew away the Sun’s heat.

They scraped the highest reaches of the sky, where even the floating ground didn’t dare tread. All was silent in the moments between wing beats, and despite the lack of air, a sense of peace washed over him.

All too suddenly, he felt her presence disappear from under him. He seized up at the realization he was in freefall and flailed his hooves in search of something to grab hold of.

“Calm yourself, Champion,” came Luna’s voice. She fell belly-up beside him, without a care in the world. She twisted a wing to roll herself over into a dive, hooves spread wide. “Feel the wind! This is freedom!”

She threw her wings out to break her fall and loop above him, laughing over the roaring wind. In one seamless motion, she wrapped her hooves around him, and her muzzle brushed against his cheek.

“I have you,” she whispered. Her warm breath tickled his ear, her heart beat between his shoulder blades, and her hooves pulled him close. She held him within the span of her wings, and together they fell as one.

He closed his eyes and let himself be carried away by her presence. He could have been falling into the Devourer’s open jaws and wouldn’t have been afraid.

They landed on a patch of floating white earth, and there they lay in the silence of the world. He closed his eyes to better listen to the sound of her breathing, quiet as a whisper beneath the howl of the wind. Her heart continued beating against his back, slow and steady, and he didn’t dare open his eyes lest the moment pass him by. Slowly, he brought a hoof to hers around his chest and held her tight.

He had never experienced a sensation like this, this desire to be near another pony, to hold them close and never let go. But whatever it was, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing it. Something about this mare—the way she walked, talked, laughed, looked at him. She was unlike any other.

She evoked in him this unnamable feeling, a sensation that made his heart beat fast, made him want to get up and move yet lay still for fear of disturbing the moment they shared.

She tightened her wings around him to better hold in their collective body heat. Unlike the waking world, he could feel her wings against him, rather than simply a force that resisted his touch. Her feathers were softer than the fetlocks of a newborn foal, and as warm as a blanket left by the fire.

He knew what was to come once he woke, the darkness and danger awaiting him on the other side of the gate and the distance between. But for now, here in the comfort of Luna’s dream, he could smile and hold close this feeling that meant more than anything in the world.

This feeling, yes. More than the Sun, more than the grass and sky and the bright lights and tall buildings. More than the smells that made his eyes want to flutter shut, the songs that made him want to get up and move. More than himself.

This, he could fight for.

Author's Note:

Onward and Upward!