• Published 29th Dec 2020
  • 291 Views, 63 Comments

Under the Black Moon - Cloud Ring



Solid Line, young unicorn with suppressed dreams of greatness and being closer to her chosen Moon, gets a dream, and answers the calling.

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Chapter 15: Approaching

⊛⊛⊛

“Are you asleep?” Cursory Streak’s voice went through Gentle’s dream. She grunted, being drawn from the sleep at the last slices of her quiet phase. For Cursory, her White Moon just had went through its zenith in the sky, so she was more than awake.

Gentle Touch turned her head towards the milky silhouette and glanced aside. The monotone rustle of the forgotten ocean sounded in her head, but soon it was gone. There were dark green walls of the hospital hotel, a half-open window, a barely noticeable reflection of light coming from the corridor. The silence, so deep that she can hear Cursory breathing. A snowy smell of disinfection that made her nose numb.

Still hopelessly far from home.

Gentle sneezed, but it didn't help much. The smell of pegasus became apparent though — a little bit of lightning and the smallest note of dry fireplace heat against the background of lifeless purity.

“Not anymore,” Gentle huddled deeper under the warm blanket, but did not turn away. Her body remained almost motionless, her breathing was even, and it didn't even work out to be angry, except that the answer was still a bit harsh.

“I need to talk,” the white pony sounded a little embarrassed — just a little.

Gentle couldn't help but smile, and saw that on the other side, against the far wall of the hotel room, Cursory Streak smiled back.

“You’re already talking, and I’m fully awake. I mean, my head woke up, and my ears are here for you too. The rest is up for discussion,” Gentle teased a bit.

“The rest is not required yet,” the joke was accepted and sent back. Gentle smiled wider.

However, Cursory did not uphold the game after that. The question sounded very serious, “Do you think Solid will fit between us?”

Gentle yawned and turned her head fully towards Cursory, looking in. No, not afraid of a threat... a little jealousy, perhaps... and afraid to be unprepared, unsuitable.

“Why ‘between’?” the earth pony asked.

“Because everything will be different with her. Right now I know that you would not be offended. But if a third, unfamiliar, pony slept here?”

Gentle Touch paused, then laughed softly, “Nonsense. When our phases intersect, Black Moon’s ponies usually sleep so deep that not even a storm could wake them.”

The pegasus muttered indistinctly, then followed on anyway, “I mean something else. You and I have already gotten used to and learned to be together. And if she doesn't get along with us at all? And how do you think we will work if at least one of us three will always be asleep?”

Gentle closed her eyes and hid her head between her front legs. Not that she wasn't afraid of it herself. Still she replied, trying to sound confident, “Do you understand that she will wake up alone? There will be nopony but us. We will be her first guides in this world. It's... as if you came to an unknown company — at first you carefully look and listen to what is going around.”

Gentle took a deep breath and continued without raising her head — in fact, she was not so certain in her words, so for the sake of quelling Cursory’s anxiety she chose to hide her face for now, “And the phases of the cycle... they can be shifted, I know a recipe for such a potion. Or we might take an aviette, and pilot in turn. If you want, you tell me what to draw on the aviette’s board for our team, and I will draw it,” Gentle giggled.

“How much time has passed since she was alive?.. Two square nines of rounds, at least. It's a totally different life. They had no Net...”

“First, almost three,” Gentle corrected, “Second, being a Herald, she should be able to hit the ground running on her own — we don’t need anypony but the Moon. In fact, she might be so attuned to Black Moon’s solitude as to immediately run away.”

Gentle Touch made a break, waiting for a reply. There was none, and she continued, “Still, it is unlikely in my eyes. She would not want to lose us. We are to point out what has changed and what remains… and I will be honest here: given your Moon’s mantle, it is possible that you exaggerate the rate of change. Just be natural: think about others as you always do. And all will be well. I will check up on her state, too.”

Cursory chuckled. Gentle, believing that the conversation was over, briefly went out the door. When she returned, she noticed a piece of thin cardboard with a crossword puzzle on it on the nightstand. She took it to give it back to its owner, but she went out the door again instead and, under the dim electric light, carefully appreciated her own portrait done with a few pencil strokes on the back of the crossword puzzle.

When she returned, Cursory Streak pretended to be asleep — and out of phase at that. Gentle quietly made her way to her bed, put the crossword puzzle on the nightstand exactly the same way as it was before, pulled herself under the fluffy blanket again and went into lighter dreams — her own ones.

These were enough, for now.

☄☄☄

Before heading to the capsule, they sent out letters just in case — by distant winds, which Cursory took care of, and copies by slow mail in envelopes.

Gentle's letter contained almost nothing but two long lists of names. First, her relatives — the first, second, third degree of kinship, with short questions about their health and souvenirs from the center, with a few words of care and memory for everypony; the place of friends was limited to the line ‘Now for the friends’, but this section remained completely empty, and immediately after it there was a list of acquaintances to whom — all together, also listed by names — Gentle wished success in their endeavors.

About herself Gentle Touch wrote only that she did not intend to return, except for a visit — Moons promised her a job on the spot and a completed designation, and this was worth a little fleeting yearning. Such a letter would have been inconvenient for another voice of the wind, but Cursory Streak had to memorize similar lists quite often, and the letter left without reconciliation and without errors.

Cursory sent a couple of short letters to the station and the home — ‘I will be back, I won't be able to pick up all the issues anymore, tell mom to be cautious in the mountains’, — and found a mnemo station.

She asked Gentle to stay at the door and wait a little, spent a notable sum on three copies, and sent out all dreams about the ocean and the unrealised memory of Melody to her station and two trusted contacts at the center of Metropolis. She imprinted additional instructions at a deep level, submerging and weighing them down with key-images. Nopony of the mnemo operators in the Black Moon’s uniform tried to rush her, probably because there was no queue.

When she left the mnemo room, Gentle was gone. She was neither in the slow post office, nor in the nearest cafes, nor at the gates of the hospital. Cursory took off, looked around, found a tower clock — the Black Moon is almost at Her zenith, White Moon is leaning towards descent, Blue Moon is in nadir — and almost forgot to flap her wings, surprised.

She lost more than four slices. Mnemos took no more than a third of a slice, and even if she estimated the time wrong, which had never happened before... still, the degree of failure was just too big!

She remembered the underground tunnel in 12-S, where they lost each other in the same way, so Cursory found a terminal at a quiet intersection, entered the service codes and requested data on reflection activity in the immediate vicinity. She incredulously re-read the summary for the last cycle, although the graphs spoke for themselves — the number and complexity of issues is one sixth of the expected level, the sensors may be damaged or miscalibrated, operators are advised to keep their alertness above average — but did not linger.

With a heavy heart, the pegasus rose into the air, determined the vector and set off in a straight line to the place of Solid Line's long sleep. In the web of airways, this point and the small surrounding area were an imperceptible void — very few lines crossed this neighborhood, but even those were isolated and low-speed.

A pulling not-quite-desire lit up in her chest, as if she should, because it was necessary and right, to approach this exact ‘void’; as if it contained something that was lost during childhood and since then forgotten — until now; thus, for the last one and a half slices, once she crossed the sector’s border, she was guided by this feeling and not by the map.

She arrived at a hill slope overgrown with clover. Gentle Touch was not here either, but looking closely, Cursory noticed several lines of snow-white clover, and all these lines converged at one point. She went there, accidentally stepping on the white line, and the clover turned into dry dust. Cursory jumped up and turned around, but there was nopony around; feeling curious, she once again tried to step on the white with the same result — a dehydrated flower, lifeless copy of itself, crumbled into dust from the slightest touch.

Where the lines met, in the depression, crushed by the stone, lay a note with six lines in Gentle's hoofwriting.

‘I waited for you while I could. Going back to the hospital is stupid, all the other options more so. Desire pulls me to the tower, but I promise that I will wait for you for the whole next cycle — there, on the tower. I really hope that you are alive. When I looked into the mnemo station, you were not there, and no one knew where did you fly, and they barely recalled you were there at all. If I disappointed you with something, I would like to know what exactly.’

Cursory blinked. On the tower?

She looked around and saw it. Incredibly high, thin, with arched supports, lattice, and completely black even against the background of darkness. It did not cast the slightest shadow from the setting White Moon.

She jumped, giving a quiet yelp, and the tower disappeared, as if it had never existed.

Except... it had. So carefully, very carefully, out of the corner of her eye, Cursory made it stay where it was and where it was not, but...

Slowly, step by step, looking to the side and trying not to pay attention to the crunch of dried clover, Cursory reached the very tower, shivering from the icy cold that oozed from the black metal. Then she walked between the supports and almost pressed the button, over which the signs of neon-green flame danced and floated.

She could not read them, but one glance was enough to find out and never forget that this is an elevator, that it is directed upwards, and that it leads to a place of unbearable rest, and...

Cursory turned away and the tower disappeared again. The knowledge persisted, shining with undeniable neon green before her mind regardless of her eyes being closed or open. For at least a third of a slice, she tried to forget what had been written, recalling home and going for long flights. And yet the subtle desire still had been pointing her to the tower. Counting backwards from square nine to zero eventually subsided the pattern, but still it remained as sharp as ever — just deeper.

She was so very afraid and had nopony to hide it from. All of this, despite obvious signs of Black Moon, still might have been a clever ruse by the reflections. And, as Black Moon said then, in 12-S, Cursory Streak had had an unpleasant moment with Her aspects before.

Who knows, maybe at the top it will not be Gentle who waits… maybe there are more of these neon signs, and they rewrote her, devoured her — or, worse, she is the sign now. Black Moon does that! Maybe I should just run away and never turn back… but what if she needs me there?..

These thoughts were suppressing her will, dispersing her power. Far too long time went by while she was afraid to move, feeling that she too was only a beat or two away from crumbling to dust.

Only after a few millicycles, when she managed to remind herself and stay reminded that the doubt is one of Black Moon’s aspects, she braced herself to see the tower again, call the elevator and enter it.

The smooth rocking of the booth going up was enough, to some extent, to calm her down.

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