• Published 12th Feb 2021
  • 591 Views, 37 Comments

When the Stars Sleep - Sea Gnash

Have you ever wondered what happens when the sun sets, but the moon doesn't rise to take its place?

  • ...

1. Darkness

~*~ Chapter 1 ~*~


~*~ Darkness ~*~


A wisp of green fire and a trail of smoke flying out of the nearby window signaled the letter had been sent successfully, a simple action that seemed to bring a nervous calm over the room of six ponies and a dragon. Twilight returned to the red cushion across the table from her pink-maned friend.

“Alright, it's just a matter of time until we hear back. The princesses should know what's going on,” stated Twilight as she scanned her eyes over her collection of friends, some noticeably more worried about the situation than others. “Hopefully.”

“Oh, I hope nothing bad has happened to them.” Fluttershy's words were almost too quiet to hear.

“Me too, Fluttershy.” Twilight couldn't help but glance out the nearby window once again, the pitch darkness of what should have been the afternoon steadily getting broken up by the many lanterns and any other lights the townsponies hung from their homes or nearby trees. “But, I want to stay positive. They are the two most powerful ponies in Equestria, after all.”

She didn't have the heart to tell her friend that had been the fourth letter she sent since the day before with no reply. That would only add even more worries to the meek pony's plate. Besides, the princesses were probably just busy with trying to fix all of this mess, and a few letters hardly felt like they would be at the top of the list of priorities. She had to keep telling herself that.

Fluttershy remained quiet. Though the pegasus was nervous more often than not, Twilight still eventually learned how to get a read on her, for the most part. She could tell that this strange occurrence was already starting to get to her. Though she would be lying if she had said that she herself wasn't scared.

Twilight's eyes tracked a string of fairy lights getting strung up between two homes by a pegasus mare she believed went by the name of Dizzy Twister. It made her feel a little hopeful that some ponies were starting to take the initiative after nearly the entire town had kept themselves locked up in their homes for the entire day previously.

Maybe living next to an anomaly like the Everfree Forest had made the ponies of Ponyville a little more resistant to strange occurrences? It definitely had helped her stop taking small disturbances in the night so seriously at the very least. Even if that forest was the very same reason she had asked Fluttershy to come stay with her while it remained so dark. Most of the monsters that lurked in those trees so close to her cottage might end up getting a little more bold without as much light around.

As that thought passed through Twilight's mind, she felt herself unable to sit still. A heavy contrast to the research she had been conducting through every relevant book she could find in the library previously in hopes of finding an answer to the strange event playing itself out just past the windows of her home.

Sliding the book away from herself with a little wisp of magic, she sighed and rose back up to her hooves. “I think I want to check on the others and make sure they're alright. I haven't had the chance to speak to any of them since this began.”

The sudden words breaking up the silence caused Fluttershy to jump slightly. A silence lingered in the room after that, as if the shy mare was contemplating something. Just as Twilight went to speak again, she found herself beaten to the punch.

“I...” Fluttershy turned her head to hide behind her mane, an action Twilight was more than used to seeing. “Can I come with you?”

The question surprised Twilight. She hadn't planned on asking for Fluttershy's company, having expected her to want to stick where it felt a little more safe. She wouldn't complain about some extra company while out in that heavy darkness.

“Something is telling me that I shouldn't let you go alone,” added Fluttershy.

“Well, I was going to bring Spike along with me, but if you insist,” chuckled Twilight. That was the first bit of levity she had been able to feel since the darkness fell. Maybe Fluttershy had actually learned something from that whole assertiveness incident.

The realization that she had volunteered herself for something she didn't need to do seemed to poke a little hole into the balloon Fluttershy had been using to puff herself up with. However, she still rose up from her seat on her floor cushion despite it.

Even if her friend remained quiet, the action spoke volumes and put a faint smile onto Twilight's face. Trotting to the stairs, she peered up towards the second floor. “Spike! Fluttershy and I are going to head out for a little bit!”

“Huh?!” came Spike's surprised voice, followed by the sound of a broom clattering to the floor.

After a few moments, Spike came scurrying down the steps to meet the two ponies. “Going out? Wasn't it you that said we would be safer waiting inside until all of this got fixed?”

“Yes, I did say that, but we're running a little low on food and we want to make sure our friends are okay. We can ki-” Twilight paused her words, reconsidering the saying she was about to use while giving Fluttershy a subtle glance through the corner of her eye. “-take care of both at once to minimize our trips out.”

“And you're just going to leave me here all by myself with all this weird stuff going on?” complained Spike.

“Would you like to come into the scary darkness with us, then?”

Twilight could sense the hesitation coming from the dragon before his face even showed the hint of nerves. When Spike hurried back up the stairs, she simply chuckled.

“Sorry, but I have just so much cleaning to take care of! Maybe next time!” shouted Spike over his shoulder as he rushed away.

With a deep breath, Twilight turned to Fluttershy and gave her the best reassuring smile she could. Even if she was sure nothing should happen to either of them while out, she still dreaded leaving the library. The unnatural stillness of everything felt deafening in its silence both times she had left previous, but she knew she needed to keep a brave face if she wanted any chance of getting Fluttershy to venture out with her.

Twilight opened the front door to the library, the slow squeaking of the hinges almost sounding like it was daring her to step through the threshold and into the waiting maw of the darkness. The air outside was just as thick and heavy as before, the strange sensation of feeling weighed down by some invisible cloak dulling all of her senses.

* * *

The trot to Sweet Apple Acres felt much longer than usual, even if Twilight had led the way down her usual route to the farm. Despite all of the lights and lanterns hung up around the town, it almost felt like the illumination from them was dying off much sooner than it should have. It was as if the darkness itself was fighting to exist.

Combined with the dulled sounds that came from the ponies working to keep the streets lit, everything during the trip across the small town just felt wrong. Everything and everypony still looked as they should, but it all felt just off enough to keep Twilight on edge. From how much she had to keep her eyes on Fluttershy to urge her along, she could tell she wasn't the only one who noticed it, either.

Luckily, their destination came into view with help from the many lights hung from the old wooden fence and between the trees. Rainbow Dash must have come by to help to get all of that done in such a short amount of time.

Twilight had chosen to stop by Sweet Apple Acres first since it was the most out of the way and they could stop by the others' homes on the way back. Even if it meant she would have to lug around a sack of apples for longer, the less time she and Fluttershy would had to spend outside, the better.

Despite the farm's usual rustic charm, Twilight almost felt like she was back next to the Everfree going to pick up Fluttershy from her cottage. She suddenly realized she hadn't ever actually visited the orchard during the night, and it never struck her mind just how dark all of the trees would have made everything. Even with the lights doing the best they could, she couldn't see much further than fifteen feet out into the forest of apple trees.

A sudden crack of wood on wood and a clattering of something to the ground forced Twilight's attention away from the trees and towards the rustic farmhouse sitting across from it. She placed a hoof over her pounding heart upon seeing that it had come from Applejack who appeared be having some difficulty with a collection of apple buckets; the realization helping Fluttershy slowly return to the ground after leaping to the air out of reflex.

“Oh, consarn it!” exclaimed the exasperated earth pony.

Not waiting a moment to help out her friend, Twilight rushed to the side of the home and lit up her horn to return the buckets to a neat stack. The sudden movement of the buckets appeared to startle her friend.

“What in Equestria? I swear if this confounded darkness is going to start messing with me, I'm gonna-” Applejack stopped her little rant once she turned towards Twilight and Fluttershy, it only taking a moment for her to realize what had happened. “Oh, hi Twi and you too, Fluttershy. Thanks for that.”

“No problem. You doing alright?” asked Twilight with concern. “You seem a little on edge.”

“Yeah, I'm fine. Think this darn darkness is getting to me a little bit, though,” admitted Applejack, scratching the back of her head with a hoof.

“I can only imagine. You're one of the few ponies who actually needs to work out here,” replied Twilight.

“Isn't it scary being out here?” asked Fluttershy, a noticeable hesitation in her tone.

“Maybe a little, but the trees aren't going to harvest themselves. Besides, I've got Big Mac working out here with me.” Applejack adjusted her hat a bit, the fumble from earlier having nearly taken it off her head. “What are you two doing all the way out here, though? I figured you'd want to stay inside as much as possible like most of the others.”

“Trust me, that is what we want to be doing right now.” Twilight couldn't help letting her eyes drift up towards the dark sky as she spoke. “Being out here just doesn't feel right.”

“Like something big is just bearing down on ya, right?”

“Exactly. Which actually brings me to the reason we're here. Well, two reasons, actually.”

“Well, I'm all ears.”

“First off, we'd like to get some apples for the library.” Twilight answered, turning her gaze back towards her orange friend. “I invited Fluttershy to stay with me in the library since I didn't feel comfortable leaving her so close to the Everfree Forest in conditions like these. But, that also means we're using twice as much food.”

Applejack gave her an enthusiastic smile. Well, as best of one somepony could give when stuck in a weird heavy darkness. “I see. Well, of course y'all can have your fill. I'm not just gonna leave two of my friends all high and dry during something like this.”

“Thank you, Applejack, I appreciate it.” Twilight smiled.

She could feel Fluttershy lightly press herself against her side as they lingered on the farm, the motion reminding her of her second request she had for the earth pony. “Also, like Fluttershy, I was hoping you could accompany us back to the library.”

“Sorry, but I'm gonna have to say no to that one. You can get your fruit, but this apple is staying on the farm.” Applejack turned to pull an apple bucket off the top of the neat stack next to her.

Twilight cantered after Applejack once she started to head for one of the nearby trees, eliciting a nervous squeak to come from behind her as Fluttershy moved to keep up. “We're trying to find an answer to what might be causing all this and if we can get an extra pair of eyes, it might-”

“I know, I know, and I want to help y'all, trust me.” Applejack set the bucket under her selected tree and turned away from the trunk. With the same smooth motion Twilight had seen plenty of times before, she struck the tree with both of her hind hooves. “But just like you two, there are a lot of hungry ponies who need food for staying inside.”

Twilight watched as a cascade of apples fell into the nearby bucket, still not quite sure how Applejack always got them to fall so cleanly inside. However, she relented with a heavy sigh. “Right. Of course.”

Applejack lowered her posture and shoved the full bucket closer to her two friends with the top of her head. Rising back up, she wore a little smile. “Tell ya what. In a few days time when we've got all of these apples taken care of, I'll pay y'all a visit if all this hasn't been fixed yet.”

Though disappointment still lingered within Twilight, the assurance of future aid helped give her some sense of ease. With a flare of her horn, she heaved the heavy bucket of apples into the air to bring along with her and Fluttershy on their journey through the rest of Ponyville.

“Oh, and those apples are on me for today, tonight? Whatever. Just head on home and stay safe, you two,” added Applejack to put the faintest of smiles back onto Twilight's face.

“Thank you, Applejack. You stay safe, too.”

With one final exchange of nods, Twilight gave Fluttershy a soft little nudge to get the pegasus to walk with her. Though it was far from strange for Fluttershy to stay quiet and let others speak for her, she could still sense the situation was getting to her. Maybe she should have forced Spike to come along instead.

Twilight had to shake those thoughts from her head as she and Fluttershy cantered towards the exit of Sweet Apple Acres. A soft rustling of the nearby trees filtered into her ears, the strangeness of the seemingly normal sound's existence not registering with her mind while she already had so much to worry about.

* * *

Twilight closed the door to her home with a sigh that held an odd mixture of relief and defeat. She hadn't been able to shake an uncomfortable chill in her spine since leaving Sweet Apple Acres. Judging by how quickly Fluttershy had taken to climbing under a blanket near the library's fireplace, she wasn't the only one who felt it. It was only exacerbated by the total failure to bring any of their other friends back with them. Not even the scent of the bucket filled with fresh ripe apples sitting next to her could lift her spirits.

Rainbow Dash surprised her by forming a town watch with many of the other pegasi. She wasn't too worried about them as any monsters that might wander from the forest wouldn't pose too much of a threat to anypony perched high above in the clouds. She even felt tempted to suggest Fluttershy stay with Rainbow in her cloud house instead. Though, the extra company did feel nice.

Unlike Rainbow, Twilight couldn't shake off her worries for the others. Like Applejack, Pinkie Pie insisted that she stay and prepare food for any hungry ponies who might need it and she didn't want to argue the point. Even if cakes and cookies weren't exactly the best survival foods.

Rarity wasn't even at her home, Carousel Boutique simply bore a sign taped to its door informing any possible visitors that its owner was away with her family. Twilight sadly didn't know where in town Rarity's family lived and blindly searching around for the fashionista was the last thing she wanted to do. A sentiment Fluttershy no doubt shared.

“Spike! We're back!” called Twilight, her words immediately producing the sound of little dragon feet hurrying down the stairs in a display that instantly removed one of the fears she had lingering in the back of her mind during the entire excursion outside.

Spike nearly tripped over himself upon reaching the bottom of the steps in his rush to give Twilight a hug, the dragon's grip surprisingly strong for how small he was. “Oh thank Celestia you're back! You were gone for so long, I thought a manticore or something might have gotten you!”

Twilight rolled her eyes. Spike had a flare for exaggeration, but she never expected him to use that against himself. “Spike, we were only gone for a couple hours at most.”

“But it felt like forever! Reading comics can only pass the time so fast, you know,” insisted Spike as Twilight used her magic to gently peel him off her foreleg so she could take a seat next to Fluttershy.

“It's even more scary out there.” Fluttershy barely peeked out from behind her long mane, subtle shivering of her body giving off just how much the experience had shaken her. Even if nothing out of the ordinary had actually happened.

Twilight had to take in a deep breath to help keep herself calm. Being back inside her home definitely helped ward away that chill that had been sticking to her that entire time. Though, the gently burning fire nearby seemed to help that. Maybe it was just the autumn chill only made worse by the lack of sun.

Twilight paused, her idle thoughts bringing a question to her attention. “Spike, has there been any response from Princess Celestia?”

Spike answered with a simple shake of his head that forced a heavy sigh out of Twilight. “Of course not.”

Trying her best to not let her worries get the better of her, Twilight instead used her magic to pull one of the many books off of a nearby shelf to begin skimming through it. Research always calmed her nerves and maybe she would be able to find an answer to the many questions zipping through her mind like the strongest hurricane. It was a raging storm gently quelled by the warmth of her friend and little brother on either side of her as they all did their best to rest next to the fire's orange glow.

Even in that moment of calm, she couldn't help but glance towards the nearest window. Though she couldn't see her old hometown through the darkness, she could still picture it in her mind and only hope that her family was alright.