• Published 8th Aug 2017
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Cascade! Clouds Above, Obfuscate! - WritingSpirit

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Ⅽ㐅L̶Ĩ̶V̵͢










In the stillness of the forest came the roaring of the clouds.

It began, perhaps, as rumbling thunder. A glance up, one would believe that nothing was amiss, what with the plentiful streaks of light shattering the facade of the gloomy sky, perfect as a visual accompaniment. Somewhere down the line, however, it began taking on the gangly form of a vulture's shrill warble, almost akin to the harrowing screeches that would occasionally come ringing out from the edges of the world. Now, without a moment's rest, it had warped into an unrecognizable degree, becoming this... sound, if one could even call it a sound anymore.

How would anyone even begin describing it? How, with it operating on the principles of senselessness? Sometimes, it's as if a barrage of spiders crawling across the insides of your skull. Other times, it's like a flurry of wasp stings resounding from inside your liver. Sometimes, it's like a splurt of wax and ink spilling from your throat. Other times, it's like a syringe of laughter, constricting and convulsing like tapeworms ready to slither out through the needle jabbed right into your veins. Sometimes, it's silence strangling. Other times, it's scrutiny screaming. Each and every time, however, all he could see embracing the world were those plumes of apathy dotting the fields of gray, fallow apart from their fiscal flickering.

Within the blackness of his clenched eyes, Soarin' held on tightly onto the swinging threads that make up the lattice of his uneven mind. He scowled, then winced with a hiss, and for a second he seemed to have lost his grip, only to regain it a moment later. The blistering white sizzles between the silver trees, like wriggling termites, ate away at his decaying vision, and in their trickling embrace, he stumbled once more onto the porcelain floor.

"Soar?! Soarin', you okay?"

"Huh, wha... sorry, I was... I don't know..." he stopped, a chuckle forcing its way out of his mouth. "R-Reminiscing, maybe. Probably that. Maybe cause I needed to. Done it a few times already. You know, just looking back to the past, conjuring something up to make sure I don't..." The words fell short, quickly forgotten with a shake of the head. "Never mind that. Y-You feeling better? Fever died down?"

"I-I think..." she muttered softly, hoof grazing over her forehead. "Yours?"

"Probably. I don't know. Had it for so long now, it probably became a part of me that I've learned to live with," Soarin' laughed halfheartedly, then silence. Only after an uneasy glance to the frigid sky did he find the courage to speak again: "But I guess it's not all bad, isn't it? I mean, at least I'm stuck here with you, aren't I?"

"I guess so..."

"I... know so..." he managed with impoverished breaths, propping himself against a craggy, silver bark. "We'll make it out, you know that. We always do. And after we do, we'll head to the nearest bar, order as many mugs of... cider as... we can handle and... well... we'd waste the next few days away. Hangover's gonna suck, but that's just part of the deal.

"That's if we actually get out."

"Just gotta be optimistic, I guess. We'll find our way out, one way or another."

"And if we don't?"

Soarin' worked his strained head. "Well, I..." he paused with a gasp, hoof running through his mane. "I-I guess we'll have to make do with whatever this place has to offer then. It's not that bad? I think? Nice scenery, at least. Pretty strange, but... nice? Clean? Maybe a little bit too clean in some parts for my taste. Not really colorful either. Matter of fact, you and I might be the most colorful sight to see for miles. We'll have to do something about that."

"How?"

"Well, we'll figure it out."

"Seriously, how?"

"We're pegasi, Dash. We wing it like we always do. Just gotta go with what we have."

"But there's nearly next to nothing here, Soar! We ran out of food ages ago, we're running out of water soon! How would you even think about making sure we finally get out—"

"I don't know, okay?!"

The forest trembled. The earth rumbled. The clouds thundered once more. Those fabled words lunged into the air like a rabid hound from his lips, vicious and venomous. "I don't know..." he muttered before sighing a fractured sigh, the simmering heat crackling from his head and seeping down into his bones. His skull crumpled when the screeching started again, clawing from inside his ears for the umpteenth time. Fire and water snarled and shrieked between his eyes, and herewith he stumbled back, shuddering before their might.

"S-Soar? Soarin, you're—"

"L-Listen to me, Dash," he managed, blinking profusely as his hooves began to wobble. "This... this is no... nothing we can't handle, right? We'll get out of here... no matter... no matter... doesn't matter... no matter what... okay, Dash? Just... we'll get out... then... then I'll..."

The angels screamed from the stratosphere. The glaring whiteness snapped at his joints. After all those days of striving onward, Soarin' collapsed within a matter of seconds, the steadfast spirit that he had been clinching on for so long reduced to dust as he howled and bawled in agony. The shadows danced around the bonfire breaking his bones, the smoke clawing the walls of his throat. Panting, gasping and screaming at the same time, the material world was a spectator and nothing else. All hope remaining, however false it may be, rested on a frayed voice, and from it, he achieved tranquility.

"Soarin'?! Soarin', you okay?!"

"I'm... I'll be..."

"No you're not! Okay okay, uh, what should I do, what should I—"

"D-Dash..." his voice slipped with a shiver, his pleas as earnest as if it was really her. "Just... p-please... don't... please don't... please don't...


















"Please don't leave me behind."

"Shut up."

In the silence of the white woods, Rainbow Dash marched onward.

"You don't know where you're going."

"Shut up."

In the shadows, it followed closely behind.

"You know it's not safe, kiddo."

"Don't you dare," she hissed, still maintaining her caustic stare ahead as she stopped in her tracks. She could hear it breathing. She could feel it even, the air brushing against the back of her shoulder blades. It was bristlingly close. Hair-raisingly close. She could swing back and slam it into a nearby tree if she wanted to. "Don't you try that with me, you... monster... dammit... dammit, Soarin', I can't do this any longer..."

"Dash, look at me."

"You think I'm that stupid? You think I don't know what you're doing? You think I don't know what you'll do to me the moment I turn around? Who do you think you are?" she snorted, voice tinged in acerbic defeat. "Just because you have his voice... j-just because you're using the words he'd use, just because you figure out the way he uses them, that doesn't make you him, that just... it doesn't work like that. It never does. If.. if I turn around and look at you now, I... I know that I'll—"

"SHALL LOSE EVERY LAST BIT OF YOURSELF."

"Who's there?!" she yelled, whirling around.

All that met her was silence, save for the disquieting echo of that new, unfamiliar voice ringing in her head. She couldn't tell where it came from, though she was certain it would be getting closer. Treading lightly, Rainbow surveyed the looming forests, watching warily the multitude of shadows dancing from within the glint of the silver trees between the lines of pitiful sunlight. "Who's there?" she called out, as she craned her neck, searching for any sign of brisk movement.

It returned, perhaps, as rumbling thunder.

"CONSIDER ME A FRIEND."

"A friend, huh?" she snarked. "And why would you say that?"

"I CAN HELP. I SHALL."

"Really? And how do I know you're not the... thing that took him away? How do I know you're not trying to get into my head as well?"

"Because we share a common goal, you and I."

Rainbow Dash leaped from where she stood, eyes wide and breath hitched in her throat as a figure stepped out into the open from behind her, seemingly sifting from the landscape itself. She couldn't deny he was a pony — a mulberry-furred unicorn sporting a white, silky mane, to be precise — yet there was just... something about him that was just... wrong. Perhaps it was the way his immaculate, resplendent black suit he was wearing seemed to be hovering above his coat. Perhaps it was the fact that he was brandishing a cane that resembled a sawed-off street lamp, the mystifying blue candlelight drawing in a company of fluttering moths. Or perhaps it was that gleaming stare he was wearing, brimming with the unlikely sight of sheer confidence and intent.

"Rainbow Dash."

"How do you—"

"By manner of observation," the stranger hummed. "Certainly, to observe is to attain knowledge, and with that knowledge one can do a couple of surprising things, surprising you being on that list. Oh, and before you surrender to your recklessness and from it make an inquiry, I've an unpronounceable name, though in the language of you Equestrians, I figured the closest equivalent, and also the name I decided upon, would be Nightingale. Henceforth, you shall call me as such."

"I... uh... Nightingale?" she muttered in contemplation, which was quickly torn up and tossed aside by a passing thought. "Wait, what do you mean 'us Equestrians'? Aren't you a pony too?"

"I merely took a form of one to approach you. My true self, one could say, is immaterial to an unorthodox degree. To some extent, I was seen as horrific, ghastly even. You'd be quick to refuse my proposal should I reveal myself to you. Xenophobia does compel you lot to do that sometimes, especially one so impetuous as you are. Always muddying the waters of a good, if not beneficial, deal."

"How would you know that?"

"You would," came his firm, somewhat-threatening statement, though that only served to ruffle her feathers even more. "Some topics are better off untouched, love, just as some places are better left unexplored."

"So that's how it's gonna be, huh? You're gonna say that I deserve it? That this is all my fault for coming here?"

"You're doing a rather fine job at it already, there's no need for me to replace you."

"Good to know," Rainbow spat as she began strutting away.

"Now now, never did I say this conversation was over."

"Oh, it's over alright. I have better things to do than talk to somepony who has nothing better to do than—"

She couldn't even finish a sentence before she was yanked backward, falling fast with a shriek as she tumbled into a flash of white and out in the middle of the sky. Her wing, injured as it were, flailed and fluttered helplessly no matter how hard she tried. The silver trees on the distant ground stuck out like spears piercing the clouds, with the glinting tip of one of them seemingly narrowing in on her. Hopelessly screaming in the sky, Rainbow Dash plummeted towards the forest, tears soaring up from her eyes as she clenched them shut.

"CEASE."

And just like that, everything stopped.

By the time she gathered her shattered courage and opened her eyes, she found herself stranded in the sky, just a matter of seconds away from impalement. A feverish gasp slipped from her lips when her swiveling vision recovered enough to see Nightingale trotting up towards her, his hooves striding across the emptiness as if it was laid out for him, before he came to a halt to leer at her shivering form. The grin on his face, she could only describe it as mischievous, if not malicious, though she found herself inclined to believe it was the latter when he stuck out his lamp of a cane and, with its menacingly sharp, scalding tip, raised her head by her chin.

"You've screamed beautifully, love."

"What... what are you?"

"Thus, the eternal question. I would love to provide you an answer, though I do recall you mentioning our conversation being over—"

"I didn't have time to talk, alright?!"

A chuckle. "How precious. Fine then, I shall reconsider. What am I, what am I, hmm...." he hummed in mock contemplation. "Well, your little friend had a funny little name for me. Wholly inaccurate, but I do fancy it, and since you fancy him, it does make it all the more fanciful. Yes, indeed, let's go with that! Suspenseful, thrilling, spectacular even!"

"What do you—"

"Vampire."

Rainbow's breath hitched in her throat, her jaw falling in a silent gasp.

"Nevertheless, wrong" he continued nonetheless. "Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, very, very, oh, so, very, wrong~! I am no vampire, nor am I a deity of the shadows. In fact, I have more in common with you ponies than you think. Not physically, mind you, just... well, in terms of circumstance."

"I don't get what you're—"

"Of course you don't," Nightingale snapped. "No one ever gets it. Right then, I'll get to it: I'm the reason you're here. I'm the reason you and so many others who really need to learn how to take a hint. You lot, who thought it would be a good idea to skip into a temple in the middle of nowhere, thinking it's all just a simple journey to grab something from some stone pedestal rising off the ground with nary a care nor thought that something might be awaiting them at the end."

"W-What are you talking—"

"You're looking for an artifact, aren't you?"

"Y..." she hesitated, if only for a moment. "Y-You know where it is?"

"What do you think?" he scoffed, glaring down at her in disgust. "Well, you know what it looks like, don't you? Care describing it for me, love?"

"I... but..." Rainbow sighed, clearing her throat. "It's... some sort of figurine. Like a small stone statue or something, I don't know. My... friend, she said that it might be a little ancient, so the shape might be a bit off, but she said it's supposed to resemble a bird, like some sparrow, or a bluejay, or a... a..."

Her voice slowly trailed off. Her eyes glistened. It was in the throes of perplexity that she finally saw the sparkling flame dancing furiously in his eyes. Having noticed her realization, Nightingale's snide grin grew wider, giddily giving his cane a festive spin before kneeling down to meet her.

"Hello there."

"Y-You're..." Rainbow gulped. "You're it... you're the artifact..."

"Surprised, aren't we? Don't worry, it's a common reaction."

"But... but h-how—"

"Can't a little statuette grow a sentience? Not everything's limited to you equines, you know. I'd rather not get on with the details, particularly when conversing with one of such, let's call it, indifference. No, no, instead, let's discuss something we both want to achieve, yes. Let's talk about something we have in common."

"Which is?"

"The yearning to leave this place behind. To escape. Return to the bowels of civilization. That's what you want, yes. That's what all of you want. Always yearning to find a way out, always hoping to leave without consequence, yes, yes, such naivety, but— oh yes, there's a but in all of this! You can't leave unless you leave something behind, love. Tit for that. Nothing personal, just the order of the universe. Way things are, yada yada, what what."

"W-What do you mean 'leave behind'?"

"Oh, you know very well what I mean by that, love. Very well indeed."

The glare that was softening returned in full force.

"No," she huffed, voice straining. "No, no, no, no—"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" his cheerfulness erupted. "Yes, and nothing else! No second answers! No refunds! No 'if's, 'but's and 'maybe's! The law is key, and the key to leaving is by following the law! As per stated! By royal decree!"

"I'm not going to leave him behind!!"

"YES YOU ARE!!"

Ferocity raged against ferocity; mare against monstrosity. The eye of the storm swirled in the glare of the one who called himself Nightingale, yet Rainbow knew this wasn't the first time she was looking into one, and she was well aware that he knew it as well, down to every chip of the bone and every tear of the skin. The raging winds around her swirled faster and faster, tossing about the glass leaves into the sky to circle around them like a cyclone of blades. One of them even swooped in and left a cut on her cheek, wresting from it a scarlet thread to be swallowed by the voracious clouds. Nevertheless, in all the furor and cacophony, her stare remained firm, if not hardened.

"This is the way of things, love."

"No, it isn't," she snarled. "It isn't unless I say so."

"Your obstinacy will cost you dearly."

"You think I care? I've stopped caring a long time ago." Days. Months. Years, maybe. "I walked in this forest for so long, I don't even care if I could never go back. All I wanted... all I wanted was to make sure that Soarin' was safe, that's all I wanted now... that's all I ever wanted... I brought him here, I wanted to at least be sure he's alright, that he won't lose himself down here, that he'll... he'll be the Soarin' that he always is... always was..."

In the cyclone of shards, Nightingale's scowl darkened. For a moment, the fire in his cane seemed to burn a little brighter, the embers almost breaking out of their glass cage to lunge at her with its tangled claws, though he stunted it with a tumultuous hiss. Much to her surprise, Rainbow was instead carefully lowered down onto the porcelain floor, her gaze never leaving him as he followed suit, grumbling all the way in their descent.

"W-What are you—"

"We share a common goal, ultimately," he groused, dusting the glass shards off his suit. "It is perhaps best that I lend my aid to my fellow prisoner, however short her tenure may be. You'd rather perish here than escape without him, and though it would be amusing to see you suffer, I require your assistance in escaping myself."

"But isn't this place... doesn't it belong to you?"

"It was a place built to keep me in, love. Simply put, there are forces beyond the edges of the universe that seek to feed off on all of us. I was built as a charm to ward these demons away. I was even given a sentience to ensure my powers aren't so easily deactivated, you see. That is why when I was stolen away, I was placed here, in this flawless construct. Any who came upon the entrance to this world — the temple, that is — would be swallowed up by the darkness, as you and your coltfriend had demonstrated so eloquently."

"But then, if that wasn't you that took Soarin' away, then—"

"That would be the guard dog, so to speak," Nightingale grimly stated. "You need not bother with what it is as well. All you need to know is that it has a ravenous appetite and it has your lonely little coltfriend in its sights. I imagine that suppertime for it would be coming any moment now."

Rainbow bit her lip. "But you know how to save him, don't you?"

"Fortunately for you, love, yes," he said with absolute confidence, yet she could still see the darkness in his eyes even as he glanced away. "The good news is should you do everything I say, you can rescue Soarin' and we will all be able to escape from this forest together."

"Okay... okay..."

"The bad news."

She stopped short of a relieved sigh. "The bad news?" she squeaked underneath her breath, which began trembling when Nightingale turned to face her once more, his eyes burnished with the sourest varnish of what she could only perceive as pure pity.

"You will not like it," came his grave warning. "Not one bit."














Author's Note:

Okay, two more chapters to go. Almost there. :pinkiehappy:

Just a heads up, final chapter might come out a little later than usual, since I'm gonna coincide its release alongside the next tale in the series.