• Published 17th Feb 2018
  • 2,214 Views, 63 Comments

Compatī - Corejo

Sunset Shimmer lived a perfect life. Nightmare Moon destroyed it. When Luna seeks reconciliation years later, past demons resurface to threaten all that Sunset holds dear. Though she is willing, the question remains: is there a limit to forgiveness?

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VII - Nocturne

“I have waited a long time for this moment,” the voice said. It was a soft, drawn-out voice, one of honey and all things sweet.

Sunset Shimmer looked around. She stood in a dim, featureless expanse. It was as if a dense fog hid away whatever this place was. Something about it seemed off, like she was dreaming or something.

“Hello?” she called out. “Where am I?”

“Where are you?” the voice answered, to her left. “You are in your head.”

“In my head? You mean I’m dreaming?”

“That is correct.” Now to her right.

Sunset turned to face the voice. “I’ve never had a dream like this before. How do you know my name? Who are you?”

“It is because I have never been in your dreams before, Little Sunset. I know you because I have seen you drift upon the currents of the dreamscape. I have felt your presence among the stardust and limitless galaxies of the Equestrian subconscious.

“As to who I am…” A dark fog swirled into view. It plunged into the ground and rose to take shape as a pegasus—no, an alicorn, like Celestia—tall, powerfully built, but retaining the soft curvature of a mare in all the right places.

A thousand galaxies billowed within its mane and tail, and from its bare head protruded a horn that could have run a yak clean through. It wore nothing but a cloak of shadows that wafted from its sides and underbelly, obscuring the lower half of its body. Within the twisting shadows, Sunset could just make out the shape of a crescent moon for a cutie mark.

It half opened its wings and sat down. Every movement it made left wisps of black smoke to dissipate into the air.

Though its imposing presence drew a guarded step backward out of Sunset, the blank expression on its face lent it a neutral air. This creature, whatever it was—or whoever it was—seemed content simply watching her.

“I will leave that for you to decide,” it said.

“Leave it to me? What's that supposed to mean?” Sunset took a step forward, ears perked. She felt the tingle of magic about her, the invisible, snaking auras a practiced unicorn could sometimes feel in the real world if they closed their eyes and sat very still in a quiet room.

This was a being of intense magic. A… somnigeist, or something? She had read about them in a book of legends.

There were different kinds. Some preyed on ponies, to steal their souls or mind control them, like in the tale of Sundered Sorrow. Others brought happiness and well wishing in times of trouble, like the Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Present.

This one, though… The way it sat staring at her, catlike, consumed in the stardust of its mane and tail, felt more like a prophet, or an angel in the archaic sense.

“Like I said, Little Sunset.” It raised the bridge of its nose to look down its length at her. “I leave that to you.”

It rose from its haunches and stepped forward—only a single step, but it cleared the three lengths between them in a cloud of smoke all the same. It wrapped around her, and where its smoke touched her skin, it sent icy chills crawling through her. With those catlike turquoise eyes, it towered above, and it was then that Sunset had a true sense of just how tall this creature was.

“What do you think I am?” it asked. “What am I to you?”

Sunset clenched her teeth. She wanted to say “scary,” but instinct rightfully stuffed that thought down into her stomach where it belonged. Her mouth went dry, but she said all the same: “A somnigeist, a dream fantom.”

“A somnigeist? Is that what I am to you?” Its voice betrayed no emotion. Still it gazed with stoic eyes.

Again with the cryptic questions. This thing was playing a game of words. This was some sort of test.

Sunset smiled. She was good at tests.

“Depends,” she said. “I haven’t made up my mind yet. Why don’t you help me with that?”

There it was, a sliver of a smile—the tiniest flicker at the corner of its mouth—and gone again. “Very well. Tell me, Little Sunset, what is it that troubles you?”

Sunset stepped forward. This creature was tall, and clearly stronger than her. But this was also a dream. Being consciously aware of that, she could wake herself up whenever she wanted, a benefit of owning a horn. Even if this was a bad somnigeist, she was safe.

“No, me first,” she said. “Why are you an alicorn?”

“An alicorn? I am me. Nothing more.” For the first time in what felt like an hour, it drifted away from her, and in crept a semblance of warmth Sunset had almost forgotten existed. “The form I take is nothing more than the result of my creation.”

“Then who created you?”

It turned its shining eyes toward her. Something about them drew Sunset forward, like the call of a siren. “All is fair in love and war, Little Sunset. ’Tis my turn to question. What is it that troubles you so?”

“All is fair? We’re not in love and we’re not at war. Even if it was, that's all the more reason it's still my turn. Who created you?” This sort of insistence was off the beaten path for her, but she wanted to get to the bottom of this creature's intentions, and she didn’t like being jerked around, either.

This dream, this meeting. The creature’s words. It all felt almost… staged. Planned out.

The somnigeist smiled, its first true display of emotion. Sunset preferred its passive stoicism. She didn’t much like the look of those fangs.

“’Tis the truth you speak.” It said. “Wisely so. ’Tis my answer all the same.

“And to your rebuttal,” it continued, “are we not engaging in a love of words? A war of words?” It flitted its wings and sat down. Its studiously rigid pose reminded Sunset of a sphinx. “However polite it may be. I feel the contents of your heart churning like the ocean depths. This is a game to you, a test.”

What? Sunset stepped back and held a hoof up to what felt like an icicle through her chest. She pointed her ears forward, felt the invisible, snaking auras lick at her skin.

“You have no need to fear me, Little Sunset. I bring neither harms nor fears to this that you call slumber.” It looked around in what amounted to consideration. “Such as it is.”

Sunset clenched her jaw and tucked in her chin. “Then… what do you want from me?”

The somnigeist stared long into the distant grey. Its eyes danced ever so slightly, the way a pony’s eyes did when they looked into another’s. Hours seemed to pass before it flitted its wings and spoke:

“A friend.”

Sunset opened her mouth to say something, but whatever it was ran off with all pretense of her ‘test.’

“A… friend?”

Its eyes snapped to her. “Is that a foreign word in this day and age?”

Sunset blinked. She shook her head. “No, I… just wasn't expecting that.”

It tilted its head. “Is it so wrong that a spirit should wish for the trappings of the flesh? It has been… countless years since I have felt anything at all.”

What did a pony say to that? Was this real? So many questions whirled in Sunset’s head that she couldn’t keep up with them all. She picked the loudest one out of the crowd.

“Well… why me?”

“You are not the first I have approached. You are simply the first in a long time that has not awoken in a fit of terror, and longer still that has not shunned or rebuked my presence.”

“Well, you don’t exactly have the whole ‘friendly’ vibe going on.” Sunset offered a wave of her hoof, but pulled it back as the cold silence in the creature’s eyes bored into her.

The somnigeist blinked, and away went the frigid stare. It laid its ears back against its skull. “Regardless, I thank you all the same. As I said, it has been long since I have felt anything, and longer still since I have known the kindness of another pony.”

Sunset perked up her ears. “You used to be a pony?”

It made sense. Spirits that haunted the Everfree and other places like it supposedly belonged to those wronged by another pony, or were otherwise trapped in Equestria by a spell or curse. It wasn't hard to believe the same thing for ones that haunted dreams.

“Indeed. I hail from a darker age, one before the advent of Canterlot and this strange dialect you use.”

“Before Canterlot? Then that would put you at least…” Sunset looked up at the invisible numbers in her head. “Like, at least a thousand years old.”

“Has it been that long? It… seems like so long ago I first set after my Starswirl…”

Sunset snapped forward and all but came nose to nose with the somnigeist. “You knew Starswirl?”

It perked up its ears. “You know of him?”

Know of him? He's practically the father of modern magic. I've studied every one of his theories, from memory wells to warding stones, and I'm even taking a course in arcanonaturamancology this semester.” Her smile faltered after the outburst, and she took a step back. “Err, excuse me.”

The somnigeist chuckled. “You have no need to apologize, Little Sunset. In fact, it is much to my enjoyment to hear such words. To know his legacy lives on even today.”

“So… how did you know about Starswirl?”

The somnigeist opened its mouth, but paused. “Starswirl was a… a close friend of mine.”

“I…” The smile faded from Sunset's face. “Oh…”

The emptiness of her dream crept between them, and the somnigeist's mane twinkled in the nothingness.

“I'm sorry,” Sunset said. Her heart beat heavy in her ears, as she knew her condolences came far later than they should have.

It shook its head. “’Tis no fault of your own, Little Sunset.”

Sunset bit her lip. This was a conversation she had little experience with, and as the seconds wore on, it felt more and more awkward. She reached for a way to change the subject.

“You still didn't answer my question,” Sunset said. She looked the somnigeist in the eye. “Who created you?”

That twinge of a smile returned and faded. “I did. You see… My beloved Starswirl did not die.”

“Didn’t die? Then what happened to him? How does a pony that’s not Celestia not die after a thousand years?”

“He… disappeared. This form you see before you—” it spread its wings and looked down at itself. “—this was my attempt to discover his whereabouts.”


It shook its head. “I am afraid I can no longer recall. The traces of magic he left behind suggested he had crossed over into the dreamscape, and so I dedicated my life to studying what I needed, in order to shed my mortal coil and follow him. It has… It has been so long.”

A strained smile overtook the creature, but whatever thoughts churned in its heart dragged its eyes to the floor, and silence returned. Despite the distance between them, it felt like the warmth of this dream had all but crept away.

Sunset took a slow breath. This was a lot to take in. A pony who used to know Starswirl other than Celestia? The stories it must have, the things it must know.

Speaking of things it could teach her, she had forgotten one very basic thing. “What’s your name?”

The somnigeist opened its mouth slightly, like it meant to say something, but the hesitation on it's lips and how it flattened its ears back said more than Sunset needed to hear.

“I… I do not remember.”

It looked into the blank white of the non-existent floor, as if searching for a memory. The longer it stared, the qualities that made this creature a monster on the outside seemed to wither—the fangs, the ominous smoke shrouding its lower body, the piercing eyes.

Sunset saw past them, saw the brief flash of a pony long separated from reality, twisted by whatever magics it had delved in the name of love. What was this creature like when it walked Equestria with its own four hooves?

She found herself a few steps closer to it before she realized. She cleared her throat and took a step back out of courtesy, though it didn’t seem to notice.

This was the sort of thing Celestia had talked about, the distinction she made between empathy and sympathy—to understand another pony versus simply feeling for them. Sunset tried putting herself in this creature’s shoes.

Sunset hadn’t ever been in love, but she knew the distinction between it and attraction. To think the somnigeist had given up everything it knew—its life, its friends and family. All in search of the pony it loved and still come up with nothing.

A thousand years… The very thought twisted a knot in Sunset’s chest. She could never truly understand, but had she been in this pony’s position, a friend would be the next best thing—just somepony to talk to.

Celestia had always nagged her to make more friends. She didn't say anything about who or… what, exactly.

Of all the places, though, that pony in need came to Sunset in a dream. But who was she to argue that? Friends were often made in the most unlikely places, according to Celestia.

And Sunset? She could be that pony. She could make Celestia proud.

Sunset smiled. “Well, I guess if you don't have a name, we’ll have to give you one, right?”

The somnigeist tensed its brow, and it raised a hoof as if ready to reach out. “Give me a name? What would you call me then, Little Sunset?”

“Hmm…” Sunset tapped a hoof to her chin. A coat as black as midnight; smoke trailing from it like the tail of a genie; piercing, catlike eyes. “What about ‘Nocturne?’”

“Nocturne?” That look of hope on its face twisted into a smile, to the point that it's entire top row of teeth poked through. Nocturne threw its head back and let out a sharp laugh.

Sunset took a defensive step back. She flattened her ears and already had a shield spell focused at the base of her horn.

“Be at ease, Little Sunset,” it said. “I simply see within this christening the jest that fate sets before me—the play on words it deems fit for my unworthy ears. I should find that a name borne of darkness is only befitting my guise.”

Nocturne spread its—her?—wings wide. The ghostly shadows dripped from each individual feather like ichor.

“The appetent darkness has gathered itself upon me in my wanderings of the dreamscape. It clings like a parasite, desires my eventual decay, that I may fraternize in its eternal lust for dominion over all things.”

Sunset stood up straight and cursed herself for her instinctive distrust. Friends didn't do that to friends. “Does it… does it hurt?”

Consideration traced a thin line across Nocturne's lips. She pointed her ears forward and brought the edges of her mouth up into a smile.

“Not enough to suppress my elation at speaking with another pony.” She shook her head. “But fear not the dark, Little Sunset. For I am its keeper. And I will keep it from you.”

Sunset curled her mouth into a frown. Nocturne was speaking in riddles again. “What do you mean?”

“I mean what I speak. The outer dark of the dreamscape has taken to me, and in my countless wandering years I have taken to it in kind, that I may prolong the inevitable. That I may hope.

“You declare me ‘Nocturne’—darkness infinite, darkness eternal—and true, I see only darkness ahead.” Nocturne's eyes glazed over, and she clenched her jaw. “But as true as the stars twinkle in the sky, I know it also true that salvation awaits me in that unreachable distance. If I but outstretch my hoof a little farther, press on a little further, I will be free of this curse and know my flesh real as the day I first opened my eyes. And like my name I have long forgotten to the wearing of time, I shall too forget this one you bestow upon me.”

She blinked, and it seemed as if whatever vision played before her eyes had disappeared. She threw back her ears and lowered her muzzle. Her wings fell limp at her sides, disappeared within the obscuring smoke.

“To hear such a damning name be laid upon my shoulders fills me with hope, as it reminds me that what I search for yet exists.” She turned her eyes to Sunset. “Does… does that make sense?”

Sunset sat down and rubbed her left hoof up and down her other leg. “I don't know. That sounds a bit crazy to me.”

Nocturne's smile returned. “Tell me, Little Sunset, what is sanity without a little madness?”

Madness, indeed. She was right in that, though. If a pony wasn't willing to bend, they'd break.

But this mare had fallen out of touch with reality. She had been gone too long, probably seen too much of whatever unimaginable things lurked in the dreamscape.

Sunset had seen some weird stuff in her own dreams. She shivered just thinking what sort of things other ponies dreamed.

But more importantly, Nocturne was lonely. What was it like to no longer exist? To be cursed to wander between dreams, feared and hated by the ponies she met?

This mare was crazy. But maybe, like Celestia always said, ‘all it takes is a friend to show us the way.’

“You shouldn’t give up,” she said. “On Starswirl.”

Nocturne looked at her a moment, unsure what to make of her words. Quickly enough, she smiled.

“I shan’t believe I will, Little Sunset. If you but allow me safe harbor among your dreams, grant this forgotten shade a sliver of compassion, I would be forever grateful.”

Sunset pawed at the ground. “Would… would you tell me what he was like?”

Nocturne blinked. She chucked, which erupted into a full-bodied laugh. She spread her wings to refold them at her sides.

“I would gladly regale you in the fondest of my memories,” Nocturne said. “’Twould be invigorating to share them with another.”

Sunset beamed, and she leaned forward on her tippy hooves. “Like right now?”

Nocturne chuckled. “I believe now is not the time for stories, Little Sunset. ’Tis time for you to wake, I should think. Much time has passed in our discourse.”

“Time to wake up? Already?”

“Indeed. Time ebbs and flows differently in the dreamworld. I dare say the sun shall be rising shortly.”

Sunset frowned. Part of her really wanted to stay and learn more about her and Starswirl.

“Before you go, however,” Nocturne said. “I would ask of you a favor.”

“Anything for a friend.”

Nocturne's almost hesitation melted into an endearing smile. Her catlike eyes twinkled like the stars in her mane.

“Smile for me,” she said.

“I…” Sunset laughed. She shied away, blushing, and brushed her mane behind her ear. Courage returned in the form of a bashful smile that she turned up toward Nocturne.

“There you are, Little Sunset.” She traced a wisp of smoke across Sunset's cheek, cold as ice but not necessarily unwelcome. “I daresay you are the most beautiful mare I have had the pleasure to meet.”

That squirmy, embarrassed feeling wriggled around in Sunset's chest. She looked down at her hoof where she pawed at the ground. “I'm not beautiful…”

“Do not sell yourself short, Little Sunset. There is much to you that I am sure to learn and find no less laudable.”

Sunset looked away. Her cheeks burned red as fire.

“Until next time, Little Sunset.” In a sweep of her wing, Nocturne bowed. She fixed Sunset with a final smile before the edges of dream and reality blurred together, and Sunset opened her eyes to the ceiling fan of Coppertone's bedroom.

Oh, how innocence holds fast to its ignorance of the world. How its heart follows blindly the whims of sympathy and seeks comfort for others at the drop of a few impassioned words.

What silver tongues may tempt and sweetened words make palatable for you a drop of turpentine, Little Sunset? How does the nightingale coo from its branch and give fire to your heart, make light your hooves for the heavens behind your eyes?

I shall coo for you, Little Sunset, and this will our matrimonial dance be. We shall sing in harmony of Her severance and hold close our conspiracy as the Celestial light falls forgotten beneath the horizon.

You have failed your test, Little Sunset. But do not worry…

You will not fail me.

Author's Note:

Onward and Upward!