• Published 29th Dec 2020
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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 9: Coordination

Author's Note:

A few questions still left unanswered for now, but I will continue the notion in the next chapter. This one chapter is too long for me (I know that it's below standards for the people here) to try and stretch it even more.

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“Do you believe in reincarnation?” Black Moon asked, and the question was... too simple. Deceptively simple. Even unmarked foals have heard of reincarnation.

Maybe it’s a lead to an actual question?..

The question was there, waiting. Gentle coughed, trying to stall for time and find an answer; Cursory answered before her with a wry smile,

“Of course not. There is no need to believe in common knowledge. You personally observed Project Lens six square nines four nines and three rounds ago. The project fulfilled all its stated goals, and in two generations you have finalized and implemented soul reimplantation,” Cursory chuckled. “I’m not even talking about the stars.” She raised her hoof, pointing up at the glimmering sky. “And about the tools that you created for this.”

The Black Moon silently turned Her head towards Gentle Touch; Cursory lowered her ears for a moment, but then lifted her nose and snorted.

So this is the wrong answer? Gentle Touch thought, crossing her hooves in a defensive gesture. But four beats later, something was still expected of her. The gaze was steadfast, unblinking, and only slightly warmer than the celestial light.

Reputable Gentle Touch, I note that the answer of the Herald of the White Moon did not correspond to the question that was asked, the glasses intervened. There seemed to be a faint smile in their voice.

“Um… is there a difference between reincarnation and reimplantation?..” Gentle asked cautiously.

Black Moon narrowed Her eyes, but remained silent. Gentle took a deep breath and blurted out in one breath:

“I haven’t heard of any difference between these words. Synonyms, here. And there really is no need to believe in a routine procedure! Once you have a receiver for a reimplant — an animal or a thing — there are not many issues. If there is a difference, I ask you to share your knowledge with me!”

Black Moon nodded and answered in a dry tone, “There is a difference. What happens to those who have not gone through the procedure?”

“Um? The Forest, of course.”

Cursory wedged herself into a pause, “Or, very likely, Your stars…”

Gentle exhaled sharply, put a hoof to her forehead, but, blushing strongly, kept silent.

Cursory winked at her and continued “...or one of the other Moons' vaults. Radiance of White or Veil of Blue. But these are rare cases, compared to the Forest and the Stars.”

“And that is it?” Black Moon asked. The voice was neither angry nor annoyed, for now.

Gentle Touch shook her head, but still nothing came to mind.

“That's it,” she replied quietly.

Black Moon looked away from her. For three beats between the two ponies and one Moon there was silence; the stars still would like for Gentle to disappear.

“The word ‘reincarnation’ used to mean a rare phenomenon, which was studied in the Project Lens. Spontaneous attachment of a soul of a deceased pony to another carrier, as it was then believed, with its total or almost total destruction in the process. Fragmentary memories of somepony else's life, certain habits, manners, character traits. Personality disorders associated with the presence of a stranger. Poorly diagnosed, even less curable. Reimplantation, as we use it now, allows us to control and limit the inevitable decay, nullifies rejection reactions in both directions. We have domesticated a natural phenomenon and put it at the service of society.”

Black Moon's voice was detached and indifferent, as if She were reading, for an infinite time, a badly glued and half-peeled leaflet on the dirty wall.

Gentle closed her eyes, peered at the Black Moon, and could not understand almost anything: the web was at least nine times denser than usual, with green and purple waves moving along it. Absolutely nothing like a living being, let alone a pony, but cubic nines of times more complex than a mirror double.

Gentle blinked, and asked with a guilt, “Excuse me for not knowing this difference... and I should have, yes? Now you will withdraw the designation, huh?..” She hung her head, in wait of being sent back.

“No, of course—”

Cursory intervened, not letting the alicorn finish, “And, most importantly, why do you need me? Why did you set up our meeting with Gentle, knowing that I won't let her go to sector S alone?”

Alicorn stood up, arched her neck and looked down at Cursory. After a long pause, she replied: “Nopony interrupted me for a long time. Here is the answer to the first question: you are not afraid of reflections, you are able to fight them and think tactically, and even in the very heart of my domain you still shine — and more than just with a borrowed light. There may be nine Heralds among a cubic nine of cubic nines of ponies, but there is one like you in a square nine of Heralds. Without you, the reflections and will of the Red are bound to reach Gentle Touch on her way and she will be lucky to be just dead then. On the second question: I did not set up your meeting. But the fact that it happened is a good sign; you will understand when you hear the essence of your assignment.”

Gentle did not rise. She wanted to say no and return home to stay under the familiar and comfortable black sky, to be protected by the Net in it. Nopony would argue, as everypony chooses for themself.

But that meant being weak in Cursory Streak’s eyes. Gentle asked, almost to herself, as if she were pondering aloud, “So what is the task, and who exactly should we find for you? And why can't you do it yourself? And why did you call me, knowing that the Red will be on my tail in your mission, as you surely know that I have encountered it already?”

She was heard.

“Two ponies. Two who died many rounds ago.”

“But you said we’ll help five?” Cursory interjected with a slight sneer. “Your counting abilities seem to be lacking, Electra.”

Black Moon turned sharply and stomped her hoof, “You're trying to throw me off balance, reputable Cursory Streak,” she said, her voice freezing.

She is really trying, Gentle thought as she glanced at the pegasus, to get dropped from the mission and return home at worst, or learn more at best. And... those who died? This is another leading line, not something literal, right?

Cursory smiled triumphantly, “Well, now I see that this is really important to you. Sorry, Princess. I don't want to be a piece in your endless game. I can help a live pony, but not…” and then the pegasus cut herself off, pressing her hoof to her mouth.

“...Sorry. I didn’t mean… I didn’t want to… I’m ready to accept the consequences of my offense, as you assign them and as you see fit.”

For the first time since first meeting Cursory, Gentle heard the pegasus’s voice clearly trembling with fear and guilt in equal measure.

“You do not actually want to help the Princess of Science, Magic and the Dead. You ran into one or more creations of my aspects and were injured by it; I can deduce it is more mental than physical trauma,” the alicorn said neutrally, stating the fact. “The duty of the Herald of White, and the aspect you have chosen, are pushing you to help, but you yourself are against it.”

“No,” Cursory Streak shook her head, struggling to keep direct eye contact with the alicorn.

Yes, her body and her soul said to the eyes of Gentle Touch.

Gentle Touch rose and stood between them, knowing for sure that against a Moon, should She decide to unleash a faction of Her power, this gesture is completely useless, but feeling that the notion may be worth it by itself.

“I'm in. If it helps you…” she hesitated, but still exhaled. “...come to life. But I ask for help and protection from the Red. We may still be able to manage the reflections, but direct gaze of the Red... is not something that a mortal pony can stay against.”

“As we are, the Triangle cannot either. If you're expecting me to give you a protective amulet, then no. It's impossible.” Black Moon went up to her and stood beside her; ran the edge of Her hoof along Gentle’s side, “The Red is our mistake. When we were young, Princesses, not even the Triangle then, made a mistake with a pony. What remains, has the right to destroy us, and in matters of high magic, the right and confidence matter more than strength.”

"So it's still... a pony? A conscious person?" Gentle shuddered, remembering the icy touch of the scarlet, the low hiss, the heavy stench of rotting roses. “No pony would harm... all of us.”

“Therefore, it is a disaster for our ponies. Whether it is a pony or not... Even I do not know for sure what it is now. I know it was, once. And I hope for it to remain so; then maybe we could talk to it and come to an agreement eventually. But other Apexes may disagree.”

“So there will be no protection?” Gentle asked quietly.

“There will be one. I have a good friend. Somepony who... is not directly or indirectly related to the error. In the times long gone she did not know at all what the Princesses were going to do. So the first thing you may try doing is visit her. Maybe you could even persuade her to join the team. And I think that she has some kind of protection.”

Gentle thought for a few beats.

“But how many cubic nines of rounds your friend is old then?” she asked.

“Slightly less than me. Slightly more than me. It does not matter anymore.”

Gentle blinked, and pressed closer to the Black Moon.

“That is, she is the fourth?..” She did not finish the question.

“No, of course not,” Black Moon giggled shortly in response, as if She was the only one to get the joke. “Quiet Melody — that’s her current name — just refused to stop looking after me. But you asked…”

Cursory stood on the other side of Gentle, looked at the alicorn, but said nothing. Black Moon nodded to Cursory and continued, “As for why can't I do the task myself: I've been doing it already, for many dozens of rounds, and have found only one soul of the dead that I’ve sought. This cycle I found two more, so there were three. Two dead ponies still remain unaccounted for.”

Cursory snorted, “That's what I'm talking about. ‘Unaccounted’. As if we aren’t ponies for you but lines in the ledger that should match. And who are these two found in this cycle?”

“You are,” Black Moon replied.

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