• Published 27th Mar 2018
  • 3,288 Views, 141 Comments

Lunangrad - Cynewulf

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

  • ...

IX. Gates of Ivory and Horn

Twilight walked behind Luna, down the winding, winding stair.

She did not want to. She did not want to be here, in this cursed city--she did not want to be in this awful temple stained with blood, and she did not want to follow in the wake of this wrathful goddess.

They came to a great door and Luna blew it open with a mighty magical blow. Inside was a great chamber with stone slabs, and a pony in plain brown robes cowered behind one of them. As Luna strode into the room, she seemed torn between protrating and fleeing deeper into the temple, but whatever she would have chosen was moot. Luna’s magic grabbed her and held her aloft. For a moment--a brief, brief moment--Twilight feared that Luna would crush the poor mare like she had crushed the altar at the top of the ziggurat.

But she did not. The squirming mare pleaded. “Dread Lady, please! I-I have… I am only cleaning!”

Luna set her down somewhat roughly by the ruined doors. “Go,” she said, and did not watch her go.

Instead she walked among the slabs. “Twilight,” she began, “do you see these? All of them with bodies. Foals, all of them, their insides laid bare and exposed to the air whilst they still lived. Have you ever been in the presence of death, Twilight? The death of a pony?”

“No. I haven’t.”

“You can feel them die. You can feel them. When one dies, you will miss them as they go--if they die peacefully even I might miss it. But a pony that dies violently goes groaning down to Tartarus, or so they used to say. The more of them pass in one place, at one time, the louder their last dying sobs reverberate in the air.”

She took a deep breath and walked a bit longer, wandering, meandering, with no aim or goal. Twilight felt like it was wrong for her to be here and to witness this. But hadn’t this been what Celestia had asked of her?

“Murder scars the world,” Luna rasped. She was no longer there. Her body was in the sanctum, but her mind was somewhere far beyond, and Twilight did not want to go where she had gone. “It scars the world forever. The blood sinks into the ground and nothing can exorcise it. It covers you and it cannot be washed off. The blood! The blood! But it wasn’t the worst. It wasn’t the worst. I…” She shuddered.

Luna continued her story:

I drove them out. I stole the knives from their grasp and chased them out into the night with a thousand cuts. I set fire to the bodies, furious and drunken, enraged and wanting to purge the sickness around me.

But when my fires subsided, I looked and saw another door, another passageway. This one was smaller, more cramped, sealed then behind gates of adamantium which I pried apart only after great effort. But rage and sorrow drove me on, even when my head ached from magical overuse. But I breached! I charged down and down and… More priests. I slew them swiftly, before they could even express their surprise.

I destroyed and raged and eventually I had nothing left to destroy. I thought, for a brief moment, to bring the whole thing down on top of me. But even my anger is not infinite, and it fell away long enough for common sense to prevail. I solved nothing by destroying myself along with this vile edifice. They would do this again after me, unless… unless I stopped them. Perhaps I could. They had made it clear that they saw me as the earthly avatar of their distasteful goddess, and if I were to bring them a new revelation…

But I could not bear to go back up. Not yet. For I had found the final door, down into the last sanctum. See it? Carved in runes, recreated after my departure but there nonetheless. I made to force it open, but it opened for me instead. What did I think, then? Did I have an inkling of what laid down below? It’s hard to say.

But I felt compelled to enter the maw-like opening. It called to me--and I do mean it called, not in a metaphoric sense but in a very literal sense. The earth remembers blood. The air remembers magic. What we do lingers in creation, and what we are cannot be erased. The weight of what lies below pulled at my legs.

Here, come with me as we retrace my old steps. Slick, yes, slick with use these steps. They came down here often, before I ever came here. I wish they would not, but I cannot stop them. I take solace in the fact that they would never touch the secret they guard.

It’s not as dark as you expected, is it? The light from below filters up through the passageway.

But I was telling you of my journey. I felt… sick. Nauseous. The deeper down I went, the worst the feeling grew until I was slumped against the wall. Here, about here. I feel the same as I did long ago. I see you feel it too, Twilight. Be stout of heart, and lean on me if you must. Down we go.

I continued on. I had to. If I had risen and returned, the secret of what lay below would have tormented me.

In truth, in truth… I think that if I had not gone down to the water, things would have been worse. No course was good. I had no escape. Every road leads down highways into the pit.

We’re here. I’ll support you. Do you hear it? Sh. Listen.

You hear it, don’t you? The singing. And you see it. The water. The well.

Two wells they speak of, wells in Jannah and wells at the feet of the sea of mountains, but there is another. A well not of natural make, but of sorcery. Tainted. Cursed. Wrong.

When the song that birthed our world drew to a close, as I was being born, the waters receded. The young world was so empty, then, but so beautiful. But there were things already that sang discordantly. I do not know who or what trapped these song-blessed waters here in this forsaken place, but they did. Cut off from the holy wells which carried the rest of its kind, the song here echoed and echoed and finally lost its tune. It sang off key, and then it became a New Song.

It is not a good song.

The other wells are passageways into life and into the heart of the world. This is a passageway only into hell. Go not near it.

What am I saying? As if you could.

And if you could, could I even stop you? If the warped song did not lay you low, then it would control you so securely that I doubt short of maiming you could I arrest your progress.

It happened quickly.

As Luna has long known, awful things always happen so very quickly. The space between the thought and the act, between a pony living and dying, is so narrow that it sometimes hardly seems to exist at all.

The Well was as she had remembered it, and it still sang to her. It glowed with a sickly blue-white light, its waters never still but rolling in chaos, bubbling as the Well lived. She supposed it did, after a fashion. In its own way.

She had been about to tell Twilight something more, to explain why she felt so called to it, what she had seen beneath the little waves, but there was no time.

Twilight was already moving, called and as she had feared, unable to resist. Luna grabbed at her with hooves and then with magic, her wings unfurling in the cavernous space as if a lunge might save Twilight from her own needs, but Twilight was more powerful than any unicorn she’d met. Her magic was rebuffed with enough force to throw her off her guard. Twilight was sinking into the well before Luna could even call her name.

Luna, sitting by the well, spoke slowly to her own echoes:

When I went beneath the waves, in my sorrow, I had no throught to what I would see, or what would become of me. I may have left my immediate furor behind me, but that did not mean that I was sane yet.

Have you ever had a nightmare, Twilight, that was so vivid that when you woke you knew that you had seen what might yet be? A nightmare so vivid, you felt it had already been.

I did.

I saw dozens of them. Dozens.

I saw myself emerging and joining the ponies above. I saw my own banner, but changed, and beneath it marched armies wreathed in diseased darkness. I saw my sister and I arguing. I saw her stolen away by a returning Discord, or the life crushed out of her by Sombra’s hooves. You don’t know who he is, but I suspect you will. The times are changing.

I saw her die. I saw her die to Sombra. But then I saw another vision, and I knew it was true. I saw myself with an iron-shod hoof on her throat. She pleaded with me, and it was not dignified. It was shameless, base pleading. Tears ran down her face, blood mixed with spittle and dirt. She was not heroic. She was pathetic. Celestia begged for her life like a craven, promising servitude. She offered to cut her own horn off to prove that she would never, ever challenge me. She promised horrible things for a few more moments of life. And I leaned forward, bit by bit, until her words ran dry and she writhed without air.

And then she died.

And I was alone in our destroyed castle, changed from what I had been all my life. I looked different. I was a monster. The fangs I bear from my long struggle with the Father of Vampires were no longer hidden, but enhanced, and my eyes were full of feral lusts. I didn’t know who I was looking at , because it was not me. That creature was not me.

Not yet.

Another: Celestia, laughing as I fled, magic breaking my shield and lancing through my hind leg to bring me down. I went sprawling, and she towered over me. She was on fire. More magic, and she melted holes in my legs. She cut my wings off piece by piece, and she told me she’d always wanted to. Ever since that day, before we reached the place where the both of us took hold of the heavens, hundreds of years before. She’d always wanted to do this. Celestia hated me. I was the whining shadow who was never happy, who could never be satisfied. Centuries of having a baby bird or a mewling kitten follow me around, she said. The first centuries it had been cute, even endearing. But how it grated! How she wanted to be done with me! Even my lovers had complained of it before they all left us for good.

Another--there were so many--We argued, and at last Celestia embraced me, and I cried against her shoulder, and I apologized. I had just been… but I never said, for I cried out in alarm and pulled back with a dagger in my ribs. Or as we seperated, she smiled sadly and told me that yes, she knew, it was alright. But I had still gone too far, hadn’t I? And then the elements--your elements now, I suppose--rose up.

I saw the moon long before I lived there.

The visions all ended there. Do you know what the moon is like? Do you have any idea? Do you know what its like to lie astonished upon the gray dusty plain and see Earth hanging there above you and hear nothing at all, with no air and no wind? No smell, no sound, no breathing, only yourself alone in the dead lands.

Stars. Nights and days that never end. I crawled on my stomach for a thousand years in absolute darkness, hating the sun and the light of home. And you know, before I emerged only an hour later, I liked it. I liked being miserable and blind. It was so comforting to hate. Despair is like a cozy bed where you lie at peace and hate and hate and hate and it feels wonderful. IT feels perfect to rot. It feels right.

I never told my sister. But everytime she smiled at me I wanted to ask her how often she dreamed of tearing my wings off.

I stopped going into her dreams. I started to fear her.

What if I went and saw and knew it was all true? Then what? Then what? What was I supposed to do?

So I festered. I rotted. I liked it. I hated. I hated and I hated and I hated and

And you know what happened.

You’ll know even better when you come up again.

Won’t you?

I’m sorry.

Maybe I wanted you to know what it was like. Maybe that is whyI wanted you to come.


I’m sorry.