• Published 29th Dec 2020
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Under 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 8: Crossing

☄☄☄

Cursory rose into the air and surveyed the surroundings. Rails, train stop, shop, four locals, one heading in our direction, two track indicators, recharge booth... nothing vital nearby. The White Moon was still dim as through a stormcloud, but in Cursory's heart Her presence was certain despite the oppressive darkness around. Cursory chose a point above and behind the doubles — half-way between them and the train. Then she accelerated and flew towards the target, creating a shower of blinding light-blue sparks behind her. Gentle's reflection looked up; each of the sparks expanded to a small pentagon, and they rained down on the reflection and stuck to its coat. It began to speak.

“We came to discuss…” it said.

But Cursory pulled the pentagons to her, along with the captured double, lifting it above the station tiles, higher and higher. She herself landed onto the roof of the booth and slowly pulled the invisible threads towards her, pulling up the captive creature, but leaving it hanging in the air, sideways against the wall of the booth.

Then she encouraged it: “For what it's worth, let’s discuss. After all, you always come with a purpose. But I’d like to talk this way, it's safer. So, do you want to speak? You may.”

She glanced in her companion's direction, quickly confirming that Gentle pinned the pegasus-reflection to the ground, nodded to herself, and turned back to the suspended one.

“The rules must be obliged. What do you want to say? There is not much time left until the third question, and the fourth will not be,” she reminded.

“We came to warn you,” the reflection answered quickly. “If you will come for…”

Cursory shook the threads, turning the prisoner upside down.

“I don’t believe you and don’t want to hear your lies. What do you really want to say? This was the third question.”

“On the road of Moons you will perish, all three of you,” the reflection said, its voice clear; with a subtle ringing it crumbled into fragments of glass. Cursory grunted and pulled closer a fan of pentagons with glass shards freeze-stuck to them. She took out the scraper and small pouch from her saddlebag, and proceeded to tear off and deposit the shards into it. She then glided towards Gentle, who was still standing on the chest of the pegasus double.

“Well? Have you talked?” Cursory asked.

⊛⊛⊛

Gentle turned her head towards the pegasus. The copy of Cursory under her hooves looked and sounded like a real one, but it was definitely not real; instead of a thin and graceful multilayered rainbow, a scarce few separate, scattered, disconnected lines barely gleamed through Gentle Touch’s star blindness, and each of them broke off in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

“Yes. It's... peaceful. It asks us — asks, do you get it? — to leave this sector by our own will, while there is no need to stop us by other means. We can, and I quote, help the Red in its grief and quench its anger. But only if we leave right now and wait for its sign,” Gentle twitched, and added lowering her voice to a whisper, “And I'm not going to do anything that’s even close to it. I suffered from the Red. One and a third of a round of my life lost to it, and I do not know how much more cut from my life expectations.”

Pegasus under her hooves quickly nodded, glancing at them both with a pitiful wide eyes.

"That's right," Cursory nodded. “Reflections don’t lie often, they just don't tell the whole truth. Better to forget all its words. You need to listen, not to hearken.”

Gentle hesitated, looked at the reflection, then at Cursory herself, “And... how to let it go?”

The older pony snorted in response, “Just swear it to not harm you nor anypony else, and it will have no other purpose. It will go away by itself.”

Gentle blinked, "That simple?"

There was a dry, unfamiliar voice from behind, “Yes, it is that simple. You have exchanged reflections. Even before I was convinced that Our choice was correct, but now I have almost no doubt.”

☄☄☄

Black Moon stood behind them. Alicorn, in black armor with neon-green streaks, changing and floating, coalescing into sigils of an unknown language; one that will become clear if you look at it closely for some time. If you believe the horror tales about Moons, these signs were ready to answer the unasked and even unconscious questions of the beholder; but the answers carried nothing but sadness. Cursory didn’t need to believe in it, she knew it for sure, and therefore tried to look at the armor as little as possible, lifting her head to see the face of the alicorn. However, she noticed that the breastplate was inlaid with six dull gems in a smooth arc; this meant that the Black Moon had arrived in her primordial armor.

She walked toward them with short, soundless steps. Each time Black Moon tilted Her head, or even glanced aside, a greenish lightning would run along Her horn, from the base to the very tip. As an afterglow of a few lightnings, Cursory briefly saw fleeting ponies’ silhouettes that appeared and vanished in their wake, drawn with green on a dense darkness.

Finally, Black Moon tilted Her head towards them and looked straight. On Her face there was neither a mask nor a helmet; nothing hid the tired but living violet eyes shining in deep sockets of Her bony skull for which Her coat was too tight; the coat almost purely black save for the slightest shade of purple and tiny sparks of lightning. Other tales said that the Black Moon was capable of unmaking a pony with a glance, leaving a soul to shiver in the cosmic winds, and Cursory looked down at her front hoof for a moment. Her body was here, for now.

“Welcome, Heralds of other Apexes. I know you have questions. Ask and do not be afraid of the answers,” Black Moon said then paused, “When I was still in the mood for playing with ponies, I could have limited you to three questions total for you two combined. Now I am ready to answer until your curiosity runs out.”

⊛⊛⊛

Gentle stood up; bowed not too deep but with all due respect, as she should to Moon that she had not chosen.

“Then my first question is: what is my task and designation here?” she asked.

“To become a part of a special team that will help the entire Triangle,” Black Moon answered matter-of-factly, ”You will get two grades of status on completing the assignment. Cursory Streak included and invited.”

Gentle froze for three beats assessing the possibilities. Three rooms instead of one. Cinema without limits. Unlimited meals nine cycles per full moon...

“Three grades,” she replied, looking straight into the face of the alicorn.

“Two grades,” Black Moon repeated.

“What will we have to do?”

“To search for the missing ponies.”

“This is not our specialty,” Cursory said.

“Irrelevant. Moreover, I am sure that you are the first item on the list for this search.”

“But for us it’s relevant. My deck at my job will not stay vacant waiting for me. I need to know that the risk is worth it. Everypony chooses for themself, don't they? And you’ve too many items on your lists,” Cursory Streak pressed on, while Gentle waited.

Black Moon tilted Her head and grinned; a row of teeth too white. She came closer, keeping Her head down, so as not to overwhelm; the grin faded from Her face, and Her voice wavered slightly, “You can help five good ponies. I am not the only one asking, it is an offer from the entire Triangle.”

Cursory did not look away, “At work, every cycle, I help at least nine ponies. This is many times more than five per, I’m sure, many more than just one cycle.”

“I am not the only one asking, but I am the one to whom these five are most important. Personally. According to our calculations, there is a chance that I can come back to life.”

Cursory took a third of a step back and looked down. For a beat she was silent, then raised her head again.

“This addition… changes a lot. Does the Triangle promise that I will come out of this quest without notable loss?” Cursory Streak asked with a tiny hint of apology in her voice.

“No. I promise that you can perish. But I also promise that I will take care of you after your death, and will neither let you leave for the Forest, nor add you to my stars.”

Gentle touched Cursory's side with her own and asked, her voice trembling, "Not very encouraging, hm?" and it was unclear just who she was asking.

The Black Moon remained silent, but the pegasus answered: “Yes. And so I need more details. I need a concise briefing. If something important depends on us, we need to know exactly what we’re going to do. By the way, you knew that... those words of yours about the Forest... were... important to me? That I’d like to be anywhere but there,” she hesitated but still managed to finish the phrase.

The alicorn lay down on the tiled floor with her legs tucked in. Her voice was calm again, “Of course. I need you; I have collected data about you, reputable Cursory Streak. But first, there is a question for both of you. Do you believe in reincarnation?”

Author's Note:

If you follow the story, you may have a question or two right now. Let's try to attempt just a tiny bit of meta.

Ask away, and I honestly try to set the answers in the next chapter, as context and setting welcome it right there.

It may be a flashback, or direct IC question, depending on the question.

I may deny the question if it breaks the needed minimum of mystery for the story, but overall... let's clarify things a bit.

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