• Published 24th Oct 2016
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Dreams of a Princess - Feenkatze

Ponies dream of the oddest things. For Celestia, kissing her sister is one of those things.

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Chapter 3: Dreams of Constriction

Celestia turned her back against the wind and inspected the array of smooth, black cobblestones beneath her hooves. They told a long story of merchants pulling their carts over the road, of upswing and wealth. The edges and corners of the cuboid stones were rounded by the steady stream of sand blowing against them, which told of decline and, finally, the fall into oblivion.

Luna walked up to her. “I am not sure who built this route, but it has to be old. Perhaps older than ponykind.”

The black band of stones led through the plane of the desert, becoming thinner and thinner on its way towards the horizon. There, in the distance, the shapes of giant mountains eclipsed the sky, flickering in the heat.

The sisters’ hooves clopped on the hard surface of the road like clockwork, a welcome change for their tired legs after weeks of wading through the sand. In the Sun, the black cobblestones radiated heat like ember. Soon, the biting smell of burnt keratin emerged from the ground and made Celestia scrunch her nose.

“We should cover our hooves,” Luna said. They stopped, and Luna took off the lumpy quilt that she was carrying on her back, splitting it evenly until she had eight pieces of cloth.

Celestia lifted her right forehoof, holding it up for her sister to wrap one of the pieces around it. Luna’s hoof gently brushed against her leg, tickling her.

“You have to hold still,” Luna complained as Celestia started to wiggle on her three hooves, almost toppling over. Gritting her teeth, she tried her best to stay still so that Luna could complete her work, tying the corners of the fabric together.

Luna went on hoof by hoof, until she made it around her and nuzzled the last one playfully with her mouth.

Celestia giggled. “Thank you, Lulu.” She returned the favor, and made sure to treat each of Luna’s hooves with a little kiss as she was done wrapping it up.

The playful mood didn’t last long, though. Celestia saw the worry growing in Luna’s face, clouding her eyes until she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

“What is troubling you, sister?”

“I was thinking about yesterday,” Luna said, avoiding eye contact. “I should not have kissed you again. I’m sorry.”

Celestia shook her head. “I really didn’t mind.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positively so. You see, if I were to die from the heat, then I would rather I had kissed my sister before the end.”

“Yes, me too.” But Luna still seemed concerned. “Just promise that you will tell me if anything is bothering you, will you?”

Celestia leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I promise.”

That did the trick of making Luna smile again. “Very well. Now let us focus on the task at hoof – we’re almost there, after all.”

Looking up, Celestia could see that they were indeed closing in on the mountains. From down here they looked even larger than from afar, with cliffs towering over her so steep that she wondered whether they could make it over them, and peaks that seemed to scratch the ceiling of the sky.

The road sloped upwards, and the landscape around them changed. Sharp rocks emerged from the sand like flowers, growing higher the further they went. The desert finally lay behind them.

They came across a rock arch that stretched over them, hollowed out by millennia of wind rushing through it. Right behind that natural bridge, the way split in two. The road turned left, continuing through the outskirts of the mountains. On their right hoof, however, was a path that climbed up the mountain.

“Where do you think we should go?” Luna asked.

Celestia looked up to her in confusion. Were they lost? If Luna didn’t know where they were, how could she?

“It’s alright,” Luna quickly assured her, “you don’t have to decide. Let us just go up the mountains and leave that desert as far behind as we can, shan’t we?”

Nodding, Celestia left the road, but she still had an odd feeling about this. Her sister always knew what to do!

Rocks were scattered across the path, which became steeper with each minute they walked, leading up the flank of the mountain. Before long, Celestia was soaking with sweat and breathed in quick bursts. As they made it halfway around the mountain, Luna offered to take a break, and Celestia sank down against the warm rock.

They had gained quite some altitude, and she couldn’t deny that the view from up here was marvelous. Behind the field of rock shards that they had crossed, the desert extended as far as the eye could reach. The horizon was smudged with clouds of sand, and somewhere in the distance a sandstorm slowly rolled across the plane. It looked tiny and harmless from up here, yet Celestia shivered at the memory of the masses of sand rolling over her and pounding onto the ground.

Luna sat down next to her, and Celestia hugged her torso like a stuffed animal. “How do we find Unicornia now?”

Luna petted Celestia’s head. “I don’t know, Tia. All we can do is go on and hope for the best.”

Celestia tightened her hug. “But … what if we don’t find a way?”

“You need to have a little faith. Sometimes the solutions just come to you when you least expect them. It’s all going to be fine.” Luna was returning the embrace now, comforting her, and Celestia closed her eyes.

She must have drifted off into slumber like this, because all of a sudden the wind had grown stronger and made the scarf she wore dance on her flank, tickling her. She let go of her sister, waking her up as well.

A cloud of sand had arisen from the desert. It had followed them all the way up into the mountains, now sitting below them and reaching upwards.

In a blink, Luna was up on her hooves. “We need to find shelter, or we’ll be blown off the cliffs!”

Celestia pulled the scarf around herself. She jumped to her hooves and ran, urged by her sister who stayed close behind her.

They followed the path deeper into the mountains, still upwards, looking for a place – a tunnel, a niche – to sit out the storm. They couldn’t find any any. There were only rocks, hard and unforgiving and with edges as sharp as blades.

Behind them, the roar of the wind grew louder. Celestia gave all her strength into her legs, but the storm came nearer and nearer still.

They reached the crest. Luna passed her, now leading the way. Somewhere behind them, they could hear sandstone being crushed in the merciless claw of the wind.

“Over there!” Luna yelled over the noise. Ahead of them, a hole became visible in the crag, large enough for them to pass through.

Celestia couldn’t tell how deep it went into the mountain. It was possible that they would be stuck in there, without any protection against the shrapnel of stone splinters. But what else could they do? So they left the path and, with a final effort, sprinted over to the hole.

They were lucky. The hole turned out to be the entrance to a cave, reaching deep into the stone, so deep in fact that they couldn’t see the other end in the darkness. They both lit up their horns in order to see where they were going. The narrow ceiling spanning a good thirty feet from one side to the other, glistening in the light of their magic.

As the storm reached them, all light from outside was blocked. Sand, dust, and small rocks were blown through the entrance. Thunder rumbled through the rocky ceiling. Celestia winced and clung to Luna, who wrapped a protective wing around her.

Something large crashed against the roof of the entrance, sending a shiver through the whole cave.

Celestia’s grip around her sister tightened as little bits of stone rained down on them. Hooves wrapped around her. Tears found their way into her eyes, and she shook in her sister’s forelegs while hell was coming alive.

Then, all of a sudden, it was quiet.

“Shh,” Luna whispered. “It’s over.”

Celestia’s heart was still pounding. She sniffed and opened her wet eyes to look around. The cave was dark, save for the glow of Luna’s horn. Luna cast a beam of light towards the entrance, but it was jammed by a pile of rocks.

Celestia got up on her shaky legs and tried to stay as close to her sister as possible. The shadows that Luna’s light cast onto the walls seemed to stalk them with every movement she made.

“Lulu, can we get out of here, please?”

Luna turned towards the entrance. “Let’s see what we can do.”

Her horn lit up, and a blue aura wrapped around the rocks that blocked their way. Celestia helped her, pushing against the obstacles with all the force she could summon. Small stones fell off, clacking on the floor, but other than that, nothing happened.

“Let me try pulling,” Luna said. Her horn lit up even brighter, and Celestia could see her face tense up. But the rubble didn’t move a single bit.

“It’s no use. I could try to detonate us a way out, but that would be dangerous.”

Celestia’s ears flattened against her head, but Luna put a reassuring hoof on her shoulder. “Let’s see if there is another exit, shall we?”

They approached the back end of the cave, turning up the light of their horns. And indeed, in the dark, it instead transitioned into a narrow tunnel, just wide enough for one pony to pass at a time. She cast a beam of light into it, but the tunnel went around a corner, so they couldn’t see how far it went.

“Are you ready to go?” Luna asked carefully.

“I just want to get out of here.”

She gulped when Luna crouched and crawled into the tunnel, barely fitting through the opening with her wings tucked firmly to her sides.

Celestia got down on her haunches and followed. She was fortunate enough to be smaller than her sister, and thus had less problems to squeeze through the opening. Still, it felt like entering her own grave.

Coldness radiated from the rock walls that enclosed her. She forced herself to breathe slowly and not think about the mass of rock sitting right on top of her.

A cold bite went up Celestia’s spine when her flank touched the wall of the tunnel. She yanked away from it, but in the narrowness of the tunnel, all she achieved was hitting her head against the roof and scratching her flank at a sharp rock.

Luna stopped. “Everything alright?”

“Don’t worry, just keep going. Please keep going.”

Luna didn’t have enough space to turn her head and look after Celestia, but she seemed to feel her distress, because she crawled forward as fast as her restricted legs allowed her to.

After a while, Celestia’s legs started aching from sliding across the uneven rock. Every time her sides touched the cold walls, she could barely keep herself from panicking. She focused on her steps, keeping her eyes locked on the ground. Her hooves appeared before her, the left, the right, then the left again. One step, two steps, repeat.

Only when Luna came to a halt did Celestia look up. Was that a breeze of fresh air she smelled? Were they getting close to the outside? But she couldn’t see any sunlight yet.

Luna climbed out of the tunnel in front of her, and now Celestia could see what they had found. It was a cave, huge like a castle, its walls illuminated by a soft glow emerging from an underground lake. Only the cave ceiling lay in darkness, too high to be reached by it.

Still in awe, she let Luna help her out of the tunnel. The walls of the cave were full of holes and tunnels and entrances to side caves. The lake began a few feet to their hooves, its surface as smooth as a mirror, speckled with gem-crusted rocks that glistened in a multitude of colors.

“This,” Luna whispered, “is the Cave of Dreams. It is the place where the dreams of all ponies flow together, or so says the legend. One who is foolish enough to wade into the water will forever be lost in a world between here and there. Fortunately, there is a path around it. We wouldn’t want to get stuck in a dream, would we?”

Celestia smirked and bumped her bottom against her sister’s as she passed her. “I would only dream of you, anyway.”

As they closed the distance to the water, the light became even more intense. It wasn’t a steady glow, but an assortment of little patches flickering beneath the blue surface like thousands of fireflies. Even though they were still underground, the coolness of the air and the blue glow of the lake made Celestia feel at ease. Maybe, she mused, that was because the color reminded her so much of Luna’s mane.

As they walked along the waterline, a bold shape grew out of the distance. It was a tower of stone cubes, big as houses, that were stacked in a spiral pattern all the way up into the darkness.

At first its meaning didn’t occur to Celestia, but as they approached it, she noticed a staircase that was set into the bottom cube. Beginning at ground level, it went around and all the way up to the top of the block, to then continue on the next one, reaching the block above that and so forth. Which could only mean one thing.

“This is our way out,” Luna confirmed what Celestia had just been thinking.

She couldn’t believe it. They would make it back to the surface! When they arrived at the staircase, she ran ahead of Luna, dashing up the stairs.

“One,” she counted, “two, three …”

Up close, the blocks were even larger than they had looked from afar.

“… twenty-six, twenty-seven …”

She had to be about halfway up. Looking back, she could see Luna following her below.

“Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty!” Celestia jumped up the final step, finding herself on top of the first stone cube. Its surface was smooth, but not so much that her hooves would slip on it. She looked up – if each of those cubes was fifty steps high, it would easily be a thousand steps or more to the top.

Luna caught up with her, giving her neck a brief nuzzle as she walked past. “We can stand here and wonder, or we can go and climb.”

Celestia hurried up, making sure not to stay too far behind her sister.

The stairs flew by faster than she expected. After reaching the top of each cube, they would stop for a moment to look down upon the shrinking lake. Its light faded more and more the higher they got, and at some point they had to summon their magical lights again to make sure they didn’t fall off the staircase.

After twenty cubes – exactly one thousand steps, Celestia calculated – the stairs ended. By now they were surrounded by utter darkness, and only when they crossed the final step did they notice that the light of their horns fell onto the stone ceiling of the cave.

Celestia turned back toward the lake one last time, which was reduced to a faintly sparkling puddle beneath them. Luna brushed against her side.

“It feels weird to leave this place,” Celestia said, leaning into her sister. “I liked it here.”

“Me too,” Luna agreed. “Maybe we can come back one day, but for now, our way leads onwards.”

Of course. The most important thing was to find out what was wrong with the Sun. Turning their backs at the Cave of Dreams they went on through a large tunnel, and before Celestia knew, the light of day embraced them again.

Stepping outside it took some moments until her eyes adjusted to the blinding brightness. When they had, though, the view was breathtaking. Even the other mountains appearing to be nothing but molehills, so high up were they.

A small path went from the cave exit around the mountain. Celestia nestled against Luna’s side, resting her head against her sister’s. “You were right. Maybe faith was all I needed.”

Luna beamed at her. “So you feel better now?”

“I do. And I’m ready for the things to come.”

She gave Luna a peck on the nose, who giggled, before planting a loving kiss on her lips in return.

“Don’t worry,” Luna said, “I will be with you. I promise.”