• Published 24th Sep 2017
  • 1,515 Views, 80 Comments

To Bring Light to Eternal Darkness - scifipony



In the days before Equestria was even a dream, when mares are second-class citizens, a pony with a solar cutie mark tries to help her brother become a mage. She doesn't realize that she and the sun have an appointment with destiny. (EqD Story Post)

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Dream

A hoof shook me awake.

Kind of difficult to do, you know… Since I was dead and all.

I had lost consciousness with the distinct impression that the mages and everypony else had lent their strength to Umbra. Bringing everypony the light of day had been a fantasy but having accomplished it in the insane depths of my own mind, I had nothing left to live for that I had not achieved.

Nevertheless...

I felt an urgent hoof pressing my shoulder. I smelled the lavender I loved to scent my room with and felt the firm hay beneath my shoulder that I stuffed my mattresses with. It crinkled as I moved. My thin linen sheet had slipped down to my mid-back. The sunshine filtering through my eyelids warmed the room.

"Sunny Daze?" Da. His voice cracked.

So, it all been a dream? That actually made the best sense: my worst fears made manifest. A nightmare, perhaps?

Good. It was over. Nopony alone could raise the sun.

Bizarre to even dream that!

I rubbed my eyes as I rolled toward the voice. "Did I oversleep—"

I gasped and grabbed up the sheet with my magic.

Besides Da and Summer Daze, a dozen stallions crowded the room, bodily displacing the purple room-dividing curtains and staring at me. Including the bedstead and the wardrobe—and the table stacked with my unfeminine copybooks and potions paraphernalia, not to forget the basketweave trunk the sisters Dell had traded me for breakfast bowls—the room had already been packed.

"What?" I asked.

The leader of the Collegiate cleared his throat. His white goatsbeard was trimmed and straight; his conical mage hat was placed just right. Deep-blue eyes accentuated his dark blue fur and severely trimmed white mane. He held a folded light-blue robe in his blue magic, the same robe worn by all the members of the Collegiate. He placed it on the bedsheets. "You may want to put this on."

I stared at the garment beside the flow of my long mane.

Flowing described my mane perfectly because it subtly shifted like a calm brook, almost a trick of the eye. I noticed a thick streak amongst the pink hair, like mud drifting in clear water. You might have expected any streak to have been gray, considering what I'd experienced, but it was a strange pre-dawn blue. My mind went blank.

Sunlight played on my mane from the partially open shutters of my window. It seemed to say, Accept it.

I looked up when nopony moved. Some ponies weren't perceptive. I had been put to bed wearing only my cutie mark. "Well!" I huffed. I lifted an eyebrow, raised a hoof, and made a spinning motion.

Summer Daze also wore a light blue robe, which caused me to whisper, "Maybe I am still dreaming."

He translated my gesture. "That means to turn around."

Amidst the sudden shuffle, I used my magic to throw off the sheets, fold them with a crisp crease, and slip the robe on in one deft five-second motion. I was always there when Da or Summer Daze called; I was good at this.

Breathless.

"So..." I said as the satiny fabric breezily fell and draped nicely down to my fetlocks. Somepony had noticed I was a giant. "I raised the sun. That wasn't a dream?" A chill galloped along my spine and felt my fur rise. I'd raised the sun.

I'd raised the sun.

I'd said it.

But was it true?

As they turned again, the leader introduced himself. "I am Rolling Rock, Acting Dominant Mage of the Queen's Collegiate of Mages. Yes, well, yes and no. Yes, you raised the sun, and no, not a dream."

A small awed voice inside whispered, I raised the sun...

Even after my time in the cell covered only by a blanket—manifestly never a dream—it still felt weird addressing strange stallions with my head uncovered; I resisted the impulse to lift the hood because their being in my room felt subtly rude, an intrusion. Deep inside, I felt ticked at how I'd been treated. I curtsied anyway. "I am Sunny Daze, filly of Snow Frost and Silver Crown." I added Mare's name... because. "Nice to meet you."

As I raised my eyes, the leader gestured me up, looking profoundly embarrassed.

I pressed him: I continued to bow. All stallions had an agenda; certainly I'd learned that much from Umbra. "What are you asking?" Perhaps courtesy could be secretly rude. Funny, bowing, I had lowered myself to eye level of all but three of the stallions in the room.

Summer Daze translated the confused silence. "They want you to join the Collegiate."

I eyed each stallion in turn; they all nodded. I stood and scoffed, looking down upon them again. "That is hard to believe. Mares don't do such things."

Another mage, one with a copper mane and verdigris fur laughed. "When visiting the far reaches of the empire, the Collegiate accedes to regional sensibilities." His voice made a slight whistle when he said certain words. "You met Flare—the blonde mare who made you breakfast in Five Waterfalls Township. Her area of research is smoke and fire magic. You will not be the only mare amongst our ranks. My name's Tin Whistle. I'm the regional recruitment officer." He reached out a copper-shod hoof.

I tapped it. "And... this means...?" I asked.

A third stallion stepped forward. He was as brown as eastern ironwood or caravan caramel with a chopped zigzag midnight-blue mane and coal-black eyes. A round yellow patch of fur blazed in the middle of his forehead. "I'm named Star and I'm a celestial mechanic. Please understand when I say this, but— we cannot accept you not saying yes."

Everypony nodded.

"Why?" I asked. "Summer Daze understands magic so much better than I do, and cares to. Sure, I can do a special trick, but my interest in magic doesn't go beyond the practical." Like teaching Summer Daze.

A plump teenage creme-color pony with oddly red eyes said, "We study magic and the creation of it. I am Seer Barthemule, the Collegiate's thaumatologist. I study cutie mark magic." He looked no older than Summer. He raised his robe to display an almost colorless tan magnifying glass in front of a red pony eye. His muzzle was white. That, and his spikey short platinum mane and pudgy features, made him look a bit like a mule. "May we see your cutie mark?"

I looked to Da who nodded.

By Platinum's Grace, everypony here had already well seen me wearing only my cutie mark if I had actually burnt the propoli's blanket to ashes, which maybe I had! I raised the robe to display my right flank to show a neat yellow sun in a manilla outline; it had tiny left hooked flares that curved right along the circle's edge. My fur was matted from sleep sweat, but who cared? Thanks to my giant body, my cutie mark was as enormous as the sun seen upon the horizon.

Feeling nervous being looked at, I blathered. "I got it one long night after day and night had first broken completely. Da was ill. Feverish. He kept talking about never seeing the sun again and endlessly repeating what to do when he passed. I told him the sun was about to rise, not so much because I knew it but because it simply had to or we'd lose him. And, within moments, it did. It shocked him out of his certainty that death stalked him. I remember him staring out the window fascinated by the rising sun. I later found I had this on my flank. It's the sun."

I worked not to smirk as one after another of the Collegiate stepped forth to take a good look. It felt good to be admired for something society said I had to hide, but I quickly dropped the robe the instant the last mage turned away. "Goes with my name. Mare named me right."

"May be Silver Crown did." Star said, "Maybe she didn't. Regardless, you need to know some basic facts about the heavens you have been so blithely manipulating: The sun and the moon are set in concentric crystal spheres that slide with a set coefficient of friction and are articulated at intervals with resonant—"

"You make it sound like the sky is some kind of machine."

"It is one. It is called an orrery."

I arched an eyebrow. "Next you're going to tell me that this 'machine' was created by a unicorn?"

Star's mouth dropped open.

"What?" I asked.

The mages whispered between themselves. I looked from one to another as Rolling Rock ushered Tin Whistle beyond the curtains, accidentally ripping the cheap purple fabric. "Sorry!" An argument began, abruptly cut off mid-syllable—probably by magic. After two minutes of me staring at the fidgeting mute stallions, beginning to worry I'd insulted somepony or some foreign social norm, the pair returned.

I swallowed hard. "Yes?"

Tin whistle said, "You need to join the Collegiate, now."

I frowned. "Why?" Right, they weren't telling me everything. "Because some power-mad unicorn made the heavens?"

I could see sweat bead on Rolling Rock's blue brow, which fascinated me. He looked at Da, then me. "Don't ever repeat that outside this room."

I added, "Except amongst the Collegiate?"

Verdigris-furred Tin Whistle rubbed a hoof down his Mohawk-cut copper mane. "Which is why you must join the Collegiate!" His whistling slur became more pronounced.

I shrugged and zipped my mouth with a gesture. "So I won't speak of it."

Star shook his head furiously. "No, no, no, no, no! Everypony who's ever raised the sun has—"

"—and the moon, and spun up the stars—" I twirled a hoof. Yes. I was messing with them, but a mare just can't say yes to any stallion's daft proposal without reason.

"—has been a member of the Collegiate."

"Controlled by the Collegiate," I translated and gave the barest laugh. "Until now. First time for everything." Really, if I had a choice, I didn't need any more ponies to control my life.

"You need to learn how to raise the sun."

"She's teaching me well enough."

"She...? The sun, right—"

"She's definitely a mare. Didn't you kn—?"

"—we have years of experience raising the sun."

"But you weren't good at it, and you definitely didn't know she was a mare."

"You need to be stronger!" Star pleaded. "You can't do this twice a day in your current state; it will kill you."

Da's amber eyes focused on me and widened.

"Once every three days works well enough. With practice I'll get better." I was a High Desert mare, an experienced buyer at the market and the caravan. I found it hard to respect stallions who didn't dicker well.

I gave them a hoof up: "How could you make me stronger?"

Everypony looked at each other and murmured jargon that made sense only to them. Star said, "There is much we could teach you."

"And...? Stuff you can't tell me about?"

Star nodded. The dark brown pony held his big coal black eyes wide, looking set upon.

That was a ploy.

I sighed and thought, You're losing your audience. Make an offer I might be interested in.

Confused silence.

I said, "I see no reason why I can't stay home and continue with my life, doing a special chore as often as I can until it's twice daily. The town has a perfectly good clock tower—"

A tiny pony who had been ignoring the conversation, and staring out the nearest window on my left, turned to face me. Reddish magic lit his shadowed face and it didn't match his violet eyes. He lowered his hood and said two words in a deep gravelly voice that belied his size. "Sol Umbra."

I shuddered with sudden cold.

When the other mages stepped aside, I could see the sinewy petit purple stallion. He had a simple bowl cut dark-purple mane with bangs that displayed deep crimson and a brick-red stripes. He raised an eyebrow.

I whispered, "There is that," and shuddered again.

"And angry members of your thought police," he added. He pointed at his horn. "A shield spell to keep us from being bothered or overheard."

Rolling Rock said, "That's Buster. His talent is battle magic."

Taking a closer look, I saw a fresh welt on his right cheek, then noticed a furless patch of pinker skin, like a healed burn, and a thin scar from his chin to his right ear, which was torn like a frayed rag. White hairs scattered around his eyes hinted that he was as old as Da.

I said the first thing that came into my head. "And you all raise the sun together?"

Rolling Rock said, "It's significantly easier with the help of Hibiscus Water and Flare, but... yes, we do."

Red-eyed seer smiled when he added, "The magic a pony does everyday has little to do with his special talent."

"Or hers. Tell me what happened with..." l found it difficult to say his first name, which I knew was another name for the sun. It seemed... sick, somehow. "—with Umbra."

Tin Whistle nudged Summer on the shoulder in a friendly fashion and Summer in return gave him a confused cross look. "This young fellow neatly swapped the vectors of Umbra's levitation spell and caused the rocks to loop upward and come down on his head."

"I prevented the unintentional consequence," said Buster.

Considering what I had begun to learn about my brother and the concept of empathy he was just beginning to master, I suspected he well understood what he had been doing.

"Sad," I whispered.

Some ponies didn't deserve empathy.

"Most of the townsfolk tried to knock the stallion down or deflect the rocks away from you." My breath caught as Buster added, "At which point constables charged you, and us, with clubs. I used a shield spell so we could gather you up. The townsfolk chased the authorities inside. Many ponies got hurt."

My throat closed up. Tears coursed down my cheeks. Was it the outrageous sentence they'd witnessed? The unyielding propolis in face of what I'd proven to be? Or shear High Desert orneriness finally winning out? I didn't care. I had been sure I was irredeemable and they had proven me wrong.

"It's not over yet," Buster finished by pointing at his horn.

Rolling Rock said, "We can protect you if you join the Collegiate."

The townsfolk were willing to protect me, too. I suspected there would be others who would be willing to "protect" me when they thought about it for a little while, the propolis, too. I could raise the sun, or choose not to. I was...

Valuable.

I gasped. Why had one pony suddenly wanted to marry me after he had first arrested and humiliated me? Because he'd witnessed my raising of the sun that first time near the Council Paddock... and had immediately dissembled, believably—at least to me.

It was all about controlling a resource. He— She who controlled the sun...

"Umbra," I sneered.

"We can protect you from him, too," the leader of the mages added, not intuiting my train of thought.

I had always been good at observing ponies and figuring them out well enough to predict their behavior. I was learning unexpected, neigh unwelcome, lessons today. That colored my next words. "You'll protect me regardless of whether or not I join the Collegiate, won't you?"

When the other mages looked uncomfortably at one another, Buster said a matter-of-factly, "We have no choice."

"Indeed. Next subject. A unicorn created the heavens...?"

A resigned Star sighed. He fussed with his midnight-blue zigzag mane for a moment, then pointed at my father. "For his own safety, he must not hear this."

Da had turned toward the main room of the house when Rolling Rock's horn lit and a blue bubble surrounded my father. He bumped into a rubbery wall. Da rubbed his nose as he said something that was completely muffled. His amber eyes met mine and we shrugged. He sat.

Star said, "Let me tell you the story of Crystal Hoof."

"King Crystal Hoof? The Last King? Queen Platinum's ancestor?" I asked, never timid, today especially.

Half the mages glanced at the copybooks on the table, each clearly labeled on their spine with a title in Summer Daze's magical cursive. One read, The History of Magic. They all nodded.

I had read basic history and explained it to Summer.

"Queen Platinum's very distant grandmare was King Crystal Hoof's sister. Though a prince, Crystal Hoof was a member of the Collegiate; he manipulated us and used his considerable magic prowess to vanquish his five brothers to seize the throne.

"For all his magical strength, he was a feeble pony. He grew to loath the cold winter nights of our land. With the help of astronomers and physicists, he developed new magic to control the heavens. While his subjects faltered through lack of attention and heavy taxes, there was nevertheless a renaissance in the sciences and the magical arts.

"We learned that our world was just a small orb that orbited a distant glowing sun many hundreds of times wider than our world—"

I said, "But, that's not true—"

He held up a hoof. "The stars… They were suns unimaginable distances away. But Crystal Hoof was determined. Many thought him quite mad, though he was responsible for many of the fundamental treatises in thaumaturgy, including Prime Escapements there in your little library. He was obsessed, not demented. His attempts to control the seasons caused spontaneous weather events and earthquakes felt around the globe, but created only the most minor changes in the axial tilt of the world. For any other scientist or mage, this would have been a great accomplishment, but not for him. He considered himself too weak, though no unicorn could best him horn on horn.

"Through extensive studies of the three tribes, he formulated a theory of the Allunicorngasus, an amalgam of all the postulated magics of the earth pony, the pegasus, and the unicorn tribes. Commentaries saved from the Purges show that the Collegiate thought his thesis was superstition woven with threads of history, and barely plausible.

"He was the king, though. The Collegiate humored him.

"The tyrant invited to the court the strongest earth pony and the fleetest pegasus. In front of everypony, he lanced his own heart in his chest and that of the earth and pegasus ponies to create—by the vilest of magicks, death itself—a monstrous chimera."

I could barely breathe. I whispered, "How could this be true—?"

"He earned the title of tyrant. The Collegiate, to its enduring dishonor, missed its one chance to sunder the tyrant during his transformation. We found ourselves facing a resurrected, terrifically strong, winged-unicorn standing in a pool of his blood and that of the other two ponies."

I whispered, "This— this is not in the history books."

"The Platinum Queens don't want it remembered. In our most guarded histories, it figures prominently. The Last King thinned the Collegiate's ranks of dissent and set about his task of mastering the heavens. The Collegiate supported him, though he would not parcel out complete spells to anypony. He sowed enough dissension in our ranks that nopony shared enough that anypony truly understood what we were doing. One day, after individually testing us, he gathered us together to cast his Celestial Mastery spell.

"Initially, it failed.

"How could it not? We were a speck of sand trying to move a mountain, but he refused to fail. He drove his magic until it went from magenta to a sickly smokey green, what today we call chimeric magic available only to the strongest or the most evil—and expected us to follow his example. He threw one pony off a balcony who refused to corrupt her magic and cast along side him.

"By the application of all our magic and all our will we changed the nature of reality and the physics that supported it; we crystallized the heavens, though that was only the most obvious of many changes. The crack thundered around the world, breaking pottery and glass and deafening ponies and animals alike. The difference was immediately noticeable. The moon had become a strange featureless ivory orb in the night. Worse, or perhaps better, Crystal Hoof stood before us without magic, still a chimera but unable to fly. Even his quartz crystal cutie mark had disappeared from his platinum white hide."

Could a being be so powerful? I found myself shaking listening to the story. "Wait? Are you saying the sun and the moon used to raise themselves?"

Star nodded. "It is more complicated than that, but yes. In an instant, Crystal Hoof encased our world in a set of crystal spheres, one for the sun and the moon, and outer ones for the firmament. With the same foul magic, he wrenched the souls out of thousands of ponies—leaving them catatonic shells—each to provide the magic to light an individual star or a flowing tendril of mist in Milky Way or a nebulae."

"How horrible!"

"His sister, Princess Platinum, seized upon his weakness to imprison the tyrant and condemn much of the Collegiate, forcing her brother to assist the remaining few in learning the mechanics of the crystal spheres.

"It is a bizarrely complex orrery of gears, tracks, loops, ramps, ratchets, circular springs, and sliding crystal in which we live embedded, isolated from the greater heavens and the real sun and moon beyond. It took weeks to figure out how it worked, but only three and a half days for the thing to wind down and grind to a halt. Reports from explorers later confirmed that a month of constant night froze the land and the surface of the sea, devastating the opposite side of the world. We learned how to raise and lower the celestial orbs through unicorn magic quickly enough that civilization, though scorched, could rebuild. Since that day, the Platinum queens have fought many wars to maintain our independence from ponies and other civilizations who rightly fear us. Can the world do without us? No. The Queen's Dominion of Unicornia is the empire the Crystal Hoof dynasty developed to rule the world to keep the pony tribes safe."

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Such a foul history. You— you really expect me to work with you to help raise the sun and the moon?"

"It is a history; it is not the present."

"Spawned in evil."

"I won't argue that. The crystal spheres are not intrinsically evil, nor are the gemstones that grow in our soil and interfere with crops, nor the pillaging dragons Celestial Spheres brought to life to eat them. Platinum's dynasty and our bad judgment saddled us with the responsibility to operate the heavens and to protect the world."

I thought about Queen Platinum and her tyrannical ancestor. She too was called a tyrant, but then in the High Desert all stallions considered any foreign power tyrannical... because. "The necessity is certainly not evil, but—"

"The job must be done," Rolling Rock interrupted, "and doing so benefits everypony. The mechanisms of the celestial sphere that control the planets, move the stars, and guide the sun and the moon are complex and become more so as they wear, which is where the Collegiate can help you."

Could—should a common pony like me weigh the morality of history and try to balance it? I didn't want to. I hoped I'd never have to. I greedily jumped at his distraction and said, "It sounds like you think the heavens are little more than—" I thought about what Summer and I had just learned. "clockworks?"

I'd once snuck into the town clock building behind the brother of a friend to see the spinning wheels and massive gears powered by weighted pendulums contained within. It all suddenly made sense: "Escapements! The moving blocks and mountainous squared-off tracks… spring ratchets... it's basically everything that's ticking and whirring away inside a clock!"

"Crystal Hoof's crafted apparition made solid and permanent—"

"The sky needs to be wound daily!"

"Exactly. Two years ago, the orrery locked up. Sadly, over the centuries, fewer unicorns of the calibre of Crystal Hoof's Collegiate are trained—or survive the Queen's scrutiny. We need you, but not to help us. We agree that your special talent is in celestial mechanics."

The pale red-eyed pony, Seer Barthemule, nodded.

I blinked at them. I thought how I had known where the sun was when I needed to know for Da. "At the Council Paddock, I listened in the dark ready to help my brother if he lost focus, but when you started the ritual I forgot about all that. It felt—" I reared so I could gesture with my hooves, grasp a measure of distance between my hooves then shift right and up. "I pushed with Sliding and added Motivate; snippets of those spells' mnemonics filled your chant. I felt what I thought was the sun begin to move, but a certain propoli we've discussed found me, arrested me, tied a halter on me, and led me away." My face burned, thinking about how he had humiliated me by parading me in front of all the ponies in town.

"You felt it?"

Another said, "The sun?"

"I did." I really did.

Still rearing—despite having raised the sun less than half a day ago—I tried to feel her again.

It felt right.