• Published 27th Mar 2018
  • 3,261 Views, 141 Comments

Lunangrad - Cynewulf

Luna, newly returned from her exile, takes Twilight along on a pilgrimage into her own past.

  • ...

V. The Music of the Spheres

One expects the moon to be silent and still. One expects it to be a sucking peaceful void laid thickly upon a barren porcelain desert.

One does not expect the stars. It would make sense to, but the stars have a way of taking the breath right out of mortal ponies. One does not expect the lush darkness of an alien jungle, the constant hubbub of life.

Twilight stumbled through the thick jungle. She did not know where she was, or where she was going. She had no memory of what was before or what lay ahead, or even of the now. She had a hard time thinking of herself at all, of experiencing anything other than the warm wet air or the soft tread of her hooves. She looked down and saw only the faintest impression of herself.

Tracks. Hoof tracks that set off through the brush, in front of her and around her as if made by a great host. Something in her pushed at her chest, something trying to escape or something trying to give chase. She had to follow the tracks.

And she did. Her pace quickened without command, though her double-time beating heart would have commanded so regardless.

Branches caught at her mane but she did not falter. Vines and branches tore at her legs but she soared above them, leaving the ground entirely behind. She flew on wings of sinew and feather, of ice and shadow. She did not know how to fly, but she did not need to know. Her wings knew. They knew where to take her as she tore through the wilds.

And then there were no wilds.

There was the open sky, but not like any sky she knew. It was not her night sky. It was…

She saw above her, suspended as if it were alive, as if it were not hanging upon the roof of the sky but was watching, flying, coming for her to meet her in the air as she was taken up into it, she saw it--a planet of awesome size, of awful glow. It was her own. It was the world she had lived and worked upon, which she and her sister had traveled for millenia in one way or another. She knew its plains and its coasts, she knew its treacherous seas and its quiet inlets. It was torn in that moment from here and she did not think she could ever see it again the same way. It was not Earth. It was not home, even, but simply that planet of awful, awesome size which filled her vision. There was no room to see the canyons of sterile white below her, or the craters of long conquered lands, or the ravages of time and radiation upon the moon’s lighter and barren half. She had no time to see the shadows which gathered below her, no space to concieve of anything except the world, where ponies lived and played, where they looked up--if in fact they ever would--and saw her and did nothing.

How alone it was to be looked upon, to be seen but to not be noticed or worth--

They were upon her. Shadows, mechanical and creaking, liquid and alive. Their knives found purchase, but she twisted and fought them. She summoned magic which tore them apart atom by atom, and yet before her eyes they reassembled, screaming like pigs in the slaughter, shrieking so high and so close that they battered her thoughts to dust.

She screamed back, and felt that nervous energy within her that had followed the tracks explode outwards with such force she could almost feel herself coming apart at the seams, and

Twilight woke to a gentle triple knock on her door.

She lay in a tangle of blankets, blinking at the ceiling. Beneath her, the train rattled on its tracks.

The air was cold. Far, far too cold. Cold like the tops of Mount Canterhorn.

The knocking came again. She half-rose and called out. “I’m up! I’m… up,” she said and shuffled her way through the jungle of sheets onto the floor. “Who is it?”

A stallion on the other side cleared his throat. “Private Honest, Miss Sparkle. Captain sent me to tell you the Lady will be up and about soon.”

“Ah. I… thank you, sir,” she said, and let out a breath as she heard hoofsteps outside. She did not, under any circumstances, want to see or be seen by anypony right just then.

Time crawled around her as Twilight Sparkle put herself together. Sleeping during the day had been difficult, and it explained the troublesome dream well… or, it would, had it not been for the way that the cold lingered even through her ritual of grooming.

Eventually, she stepped out of her private car and headed towards the dining car.

Coffee was ready before she even asked. The waiter smiled at her and she smiled back. She mixed some sugar in, sat at the bar, and tried to pretend that this was a normal morning at Donut Joe’s, and that she was just on her way to morning classes.

The pleasant illusion lasted perhaps ten minutes before her coffee was half gone and several night guards piled in to do much the same as she had. The peace, the calm was shattered and she sighed. “What do I owe you?” she asked with a wan smile.

The pony behind the counter shook his head. “Nothing at all, Miss. It’s all on the house, as it were.” He winked and Twilight chuckled.

There wasn’t much else to do, and nowhere else to go. Usually, the chance to talk with Princess Luna would have filled her with excitement! Only yesterday, in fact, it had filled her with eagerness.

Twilight shook her head. This was ridiculous. Dreams and strange conversations and suddenly she was nothing like herself! Was that all that she was made of? Were Librarians made of no sterner stuff than this?

Twilight huffed and strode with her head hight out of the dining car and back towards Luna’s chambers. Beneath her, she felt the train rattling and imagined herself carried along the great plains of the north.

The door to Luna’s car was guarded by a single batpony stallion in dark armor who nodded stiffly at her. “The wards will work for you.”

He did not look at her as he said it, so unlike the palace guards who had known her name and used it freely. She smiled back regardless, as her mother had taught her long ago, and put her hoof to the door. It swung aside on its own and she stepped into opulence.

The car was dark--somehow she was not surprised--but there were a few magical lights that allowed her to see. Celestia’s actual apartments were not spartan, but they were moderate. She believed in moderation in all areas except those which were purely for others benefit. This was not a place to live in.This was a place to receive a cowed foe. She hadn’t seen so much gold in one place in a long, long time.

Luna lounged in a chair in the corner, reading by a floating magical light.

She did not lift her head. She did not greet Twilight. The fire, small as it was, that had lit in the librarian’s heart did not falter.

“Um, hello,” Twilight said, not sure what else to do.

Luna startled and looked up with wide eyes. For a moment her movements almost seemed alien: too quick, too sensuous. But then she relaxed and smiled, and the world was normal. A trick of the light, and nothing more. Here was the Luna of letters.

“Forgive me. I was a bit caught up in reading. Come in! Oh, the light.” She blinked owlishly and with a brief light of her horn, the lights glowed more brightly. Twilight was reminded of dusk.

“May I inquire what you’re reading?” Twilight asked and found herself a chair and pulled it gingerly into the corner by the window near Luna.

Luna’s smile turned into the slyest of grins and she floated the book up. “Ars Amatoria. Heard of it?”

Twilight blinked, and then flushed before licking her lips. “Ah, yes. I have.”

“Excellent. I never did get over the fact that his name was Long Nose.” She snorted. “A pity that Celestia had him exiled.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know, would you? It’s always been a matter of some debate.”

Luna snickered, and then lost her composure and laughed heartily. Twilight joined her, glad for this warm familiarity at last.

“Oh, that? Poor Nose. He had the misfortune of, ah, how did he put it? A poem and a mistake.”

“Yes! Ponies assume it was the Art of Love that did it, but no one is quite sure why.”

“They’re wrong. We both rather liked the ArsAmatoria. It was the, ah, how shall I put this? ‘Twas the verses on my sister’s form and behaviors which did it. That and forgetting to burn his prank. A poem and a mistake. It is quite destroyed now, and I did not have the time to commit it to memory. But I assure you, it was delightful. I loved it. Celestia was… well. You try having a famous poet’s thousand line depiction of your carnal habits fall into the hands of gossiping maids and out into the streets.”

Twilight felt like her face was on fire. “A thousand lines?”

“A thousand exactly.”

“Part of me wants to ask.”

Luna chuckled and marked her place in the book with a bit of paper floated from somewhere Twilight didn’t see. “I’m afraid it is not mine to speak of, my friend. You really should ask our sister about it.”

“Yeah, that will never happen.”

Luna leaned in and flashed her teeth in an almost mocking grin. “Ah, so you fear her retribution?”

“More like I would die of embarrassment, but also yes.”

Luna leaned back with a chuckle. “You seem in high spirits this evening.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. “So you noticed?”

“I had.You seemed a bit preoccupied, but in fairness I am not at my best in the morning. Did our drinking sit ill at ease?”

“You mean like a hangover?” Twilight shook her head. “No. I mean, I guess I didn’t feel great. But I was just a bit spacey. Not sure why.”

Luna shrugged. “If thou say’st. I hear that my captain has introduced himself as well.”

Twilight chuckled. “He has.”

“And has he said anything to thee? Anything, ah, untoward?”

Twilight blinked. “Pardon?”

“He is competent, but I am not blind to his wiles. Do keep your maiden’s heart in check.” Luna smiled and stretched. “I hear many things, and see many things, you know. I know that you have misgivings.”

Looking away, Twilight Sparkle considered what to say to that. It wasn’t as if it were false. She did have some misgivings. Or really, she had one rather large misgiving which could hardly be named and which infected everything.

“I have a strange feeling,” she began slowly, as if each word was precious cargo. “There is just… I’m not sure what to say. Something about Celestia’s comments, your comments, my own dreams… Lunangrad seems more myth than reality, and I am not sure what to make of a functioning, incorporated city of the realm being…”

“Erased?” Luna finished for her.

Twilight flinched. “I wasn’t going to say that, and I’m not sure I wish to say it now. The idea that somepony could be so thorough is hard to imagine. Even with what we’ve lost that’s thousands of years of text…”

“Or one very clever bit of spellwork,” Luna said. “Coffee? I’ve heard tale that Celestia has you for one of her own, but that you are no stranger to finer things.”

“I… sure.”

Luna’s horn glowed with magic, and a bell rose from a table in the center of the room. It rang, with no answer. But this seemed to satisfy Luna, who turned back to Twilight.

“We dance and dance, but then we stop dancing. I know you’ve had troubled sleep. How long?”

She still would not look up at Princess Luna. Twilight swallowed. She licked her lips.

“Just the last two times I slept,” she said. “Just dreams. Strange dreams, of course, and unpleasant. But they are just dreams.”

Luna sighed. “Just dreams. I confess to you that I am in a fell mood, Twilight Sparkle. If it pleases, might I recall a tale?”

Twilight looked back now, her curiosity winning through. “Of course.”

The first time I walked the aether, I did so accidentally.

I could not explain it later to my siblings, and they could Sing. So I cannot hope to explain it to you now, you who does not sing. But I may yet try.

In the days before Discord, in our wide wanderings, my sister and I recieved our domains. Many ponies think that this is when I learned to walk among dreams. Or they believe I was born of it. No, I came into it through nightmare.

Stumbling from a great height, I found I had no wings. I cried out, but none could save me as I plummeted. Beneath the ground began to twist and boil and grass and rock, the very same that surrounded our birthplace in the West, grew thick with black thorns. Thirsty they were, for blood and mine in particular.

Screaming, I had almost fallen into their grasp when everything was cast into chaos. The force my screaming… no, that is not quite it. The force of me, my Self, pushing as I was in blind terror, broke the walls of my dreaming and my spirit spilled out into the aether beyond.

That first time… I imagine it is what dying will feel like, should I at last fall to blade or spell.

Your senses leave all at once, and then flicker. Feeling comes before awareness, before thought. Can you imagine what it is to feel and not to understand? Perhaps you do. It is unbearable. It is the lowest and basest of Tartarus’ inventions.

But comprehension does dawn eventually, somewhere between smell and taste. Your spirit pulls itself together like the shards of a broken mirror.

I lay astonished on a great plain. Picture it. It is a lie, but a convenient one for it conveys the truth like a ship carries one over the long sea. I lay there, gasping for air, and did not notice that I had slipped in between a crack in the Way of Things.

The Aether is… it is not physical. It is made up of thought and potential, of the possibilities of possibility. I have struggled before to explain that there is a difference between what we see, what is, and… No. A better way. Experience is in three parts divided. The thing-in-of-itself, our experience of the Thing, and our idea about the thing. What we see, what we experience, is the space between what is and what we think Is. The Aether I “walk” is the interplay of these three parts without the intervention of a single unified mind. It is chaos. It is meaning and no meaning at once. It is…

It is perhaps beyond the comprehension of those who who have not ever stepped beyond time. But I try.

Night after night I found myself in this incomprehensible space, and each time I came to understand it a bit more. It changed me, but that is not for tonight to explain. What I will say is that once I understood, I began to explore. In my sojourns I began to encounter dreams and dreamers.

Dreams are fickle things. They are more living things than any other classification of Being. They can swallow lives and take only a moment. Ponies think they have strange dreams, but I have seen the things their minds cannot hold on to, and I know for sure that there is more to the realms of mares than what they imagine in their philosophies. The dreams of creatures whose very living is imbued with magic do not have dreams devoid of that magic. As it warps and changes the universe, so it warps and changes the immaterial.

I will not ask you about your dreams.

Not yet.