• Published 12th Feb 2021
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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?

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6. Discovery

~*~ Chapter 6 ~*~

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~*~ Discovery ~*~

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Twilight's tail idly swished over her bandaged flank, the stitches still itchy even after two days of forced rest in the castle. The guards refused to let the three of them leave until they were convinced the incident in the archives was just an 'accident.' Explaining what actually happened would have most likely been a futile effort despite how valuable the knowledge that whatever it was hiding in the shadows can in fact interact with physical objects.

Her ears perked at the sound of the train car's speakers buzzing to life followed by the conductor's voice announcing their approach toward Ponyville station. Soon after, the car returned to a near silent state. Unlike their last trip on the train, this time it was only her, Fluttershy and Spike. Everypony else probably finally wised up and stopped thinking things would be any different elsewhere.

As the train steadily rolled to a stop, Twilight gave Fluttershy a little nudge to wake up her napping friend. The weight of Fluttershy's head leaving her shoulder felt as cold as it did relieving. Fluttershy had nodded off in her seat and slowly leaned against her during a turn down the twisting mountain pass, but she didn't have the heart to wake her up despite her shoulder still bearing much of its bruise.

Spike had actually managed to stay awake that time around and instead had taken to reading one of the comics Twilight had packed for him before their initial outing. He had already read through all of them back at the castle, so she began to suspect that he was trying to use them as a distraction more than anything else.

Once the train came to a complete stop, Twilight picked up her bags in her magic and set them on her back once up from her seat. To her relief, the Ponyville train station still had its lights shining strongly which gave her the strength she needed to step off the train. A path of lamps and lanterns still showed the way back to the nearest building, but just as expected, that was the only light she could see.

Twilight just about started for the steps off the platform, but she paused upon hearing a voice call out to her. Her heart momentarily sank in her chest, but to her relief, a pegasus mare was waving a hoof towards her and the others from a row of soft chairs inside the small building that made up the bulk of the simple station. Curious, she gave a glance to Fluttershy and Spike before leading them inside.

Once she was able to get closer, Twilight could see more details of the beckoning pony. She felt familiar, but definitely not anypony she would have interacted with on any sort of daily basis. Though the mare was much more disheveled than normal, she did recognize the cutie mark of two lightning bolts on her sky blue coat.

“Hey, you're the one who lives in that tree library and you take care of the animals, right?” asked the mare in a tired tone that made her sound like she hadn't gotten any sleep in days.

Twilight blinked. “Um, yes. I'm Twilight Sparkle and this is Fluttershy. Do you need something from us?”

The pegasus slipped off her seat and onto her hooves. “Name's Sassaflash, I've been put here by what's left of the pegasus watch to keep an eye on anypony getting off the train. Just wanted to check in.”

“Well, that's very kind of you. Though, something is telling me you should get home soon,” Twilight frowned, letting Fluttershy squeeze up against her without a fight.

“You're probably right, most of the others in the watch already chickened out and refused to leave their homes after a few members never reported back a couple days ago,” Sassaflash stated flatly. “I still say they just flew off the Cloudsdale or something.”

Twilight wanted to ask more, but she needed to get back to the library and find the book she was missing before whatever had tried to crush her back at the castle realized what she was after. “Well, I hope you can make it home safely. I'm sure those other ponies are safe and sound as well.”

She felt a stab into her heart after what she knew was most likely a lie as she turned to lead Fluttershy back outside and into the chain of lights. Spike hugged her around her neck to keep close once they were out of the brighter station lights and in the dimmer light of the lanterns and street lamps.

Twilight was used to Ponyville's sleepy nature, but as she cantered through the empty roads, the pure silence that greeted her beyond the two sets of hoofsteps chilled her to the core. The majority of homes she passed by had been emptied with their lights turned off and those who still housed ponies produced little sound. Most of those that were occupied had their shades drawn as if they would keep the dark out in a strange reversal of hiding from the morning sun.

“Hey, you're back!”

Twilight jumped back a few steps, catching Fluttershy in her magic before she could fall over after a failed attempt at a safety hug. Once righted, she allowed Fluttershy to hold onto her as their little trio scanned the darkness. After a few moments of silence, Twilight just about sighed in relief, but found herself yelping in surprise as the face of Pinkie Pie appeared in her view from behind a street light that should in no way have been able to hide her completely.

Twilight placed a hoof on her chest and let out a sigh. “Oh, it actually is you, Pinkie Pie. I would be angry at you for that if I weren't so relieved.”

“Oh, did I scare ya? Sorry about that!” Pinkie giggled, leaving her hiding place in full to reveal a box tied in ribbon on her back. “I was making a delivery from Sugarcube Corner and I saw you three and thought I'd say hello!”

Fluttershy lowered herself back down onto all fours, but continued to stick close to Twilight's side. “You're still making deliveries for the Cakes? Aren't you scared?”

“Scared? What's there to be scared about? It's just dark out! That happens for half the day normally anyway!” Pinkie waved a hoof about as she spoke. “Anyway, how was your trip to Canterlot? Is it all dark there, too?!”

“Short answer, not well. It's dark there too and the trip to the archives was a bust,” Twilight sighed, feeling something telling her to not give the whole story while out in the open. “We actually should be getting back home now, though. Hopefully whatever is causing this takes care of itself soon.”

“Aw, that's a shame! Well, I'm sure something good will come soon! I'll make sure to stop by the library with some extra treats once I finish this delivery!” Pinkie chimed with her usual enthusiasm.

Normally, Pinkie just tired Twilight out, but something about seeing such a beacon of pep after being surrounded by uncomfortable quiet for just over a week was refreshing. She offered a smile and a nod. “We would all appreciate that, right?”

Fluttershy and Spike both nodded in agreement. Though Twilight still felt nervous for Pinkie, she also knew there was only one pony who could immerse herself in something she shouldn't be near and come out just fine.

“Okie-dokie-lokie! I'll get these dropped off and I'll see you all again in a little bit!” Pinkie declared before continuing on her path past them with happy bounces.

Fluttershy watched Pinkie until she disappeared around a corner. “At least she's taking this in stride?”

“Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if she hasn't even realized just how serious of a situation this actually is,” Spike huffed with a little puff of smoke from his nose.

Twilight sighed and stepped forward once again. Once Pinkie left and took her cheer with her, the overwhelming sense of pressure coming from remaining outside almost felt even stronger than before. “I'm sure she does, Spike. Everypony handles stressful situations in their own way.”

Spike held onto Twilight's neck to keep himself on her back once she started moving again. “I wouldn't complain if she wasn't, you know, exactly the same but I guess it's better than her being all scared and hiding under her bed.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Well, once she visits us later, I'm sure we'll be able to talk to her. If she's been out here so much, maybe she's seen something useful.”

Spike let his cheek rest against the back of Twilight's head. “Would be nice to have something go our way for once.”

“Our friends will be able to come through for us. They always have before,” added Fluttershy before her nerves made her fall silent again.

Twilight could only glance toward a sign hanging off the corner of a nearby shop as it began to swing ever so slightly in a non-existent breeze. “They have, and I hope they can again.”

* * *

Twilight flipped through the pages of Malicious Mythical Monsters to find the entry she was looking for. She glanced up once she found herself on the page containing the story about the creature known as the Nuckelavee which curiously had no drawing or image of the creature like the other pages held. Spike just set down one of the remaining lamps from the upper half of the tree home, he and Fluttershy trying to bring as much light into the room as possible.

They all had foolishly turned the lights off when heading to Canterlot, assuming it would be alright once they returned. Now that Twilight could see the corners of the room still shrouded in darkness despite their efforts, she had to keep from berating herself even if it had been impossible to predict just what the creature trying to get at them was capable of at the time.

Twilight had to take a deep, calming breath to focus back on the book in front of her while Spike curiously peered over the top to try and catch a peek. She scanned over the two pages of sparse information once before reading it in full.

The Nuckelavee is a creature from Coltic folklore connected to the night and darkness. It is believed that this demon's arrival is always preceded by a cloak of magical darkness that is a part of its being, yet not. No one knows the true form of this being, but the most common beliefs say it either takes the form of a pitch black pony or that of a literal shadow on the ground or walls. One common trait between the few stories that exist of the figure, however, is the apparent possession of glowing, featureless eyes.

Twilight paused her reading as the image of those glowing spots in the darkened archives came back to the forefront of her memory. The thought that those might have actually been the eyes of some living creature sent a chill down her spine that forced her to adjust her posture.

Despite all of the differing stories surrounding this creature, all tellings appear to agree on one similar point. The Nuckelavee can be chased back to whence it came if -

Twilight's ears perked as the sound of knocking came from the front door. She could only stare at it with her heart speeding up in her chest as another knock came.

“Hey, it's me! Sorry I'm late, I dropped the cookies I had on the way over!” called the voice of Pinkie Pie from the other side and letting the sense of tension in the room settle.

Twilight placed a hoof on her chest and sighed. Though thankful it was just Pinkie again, she was beginning to grow tired of being scared by her. “Could you let her in, Fluttershy? I need to keep reading. I think I'm on to something.”

Twilight blinked when her gaze was met with a confused look from Fluttershy. “Pinkie Pie said she was coming over to help keep us company, remember?”

Fluttershy appeared to want to say something, but eventually stood. She opened up the door, but rather than receiving an excited hug or one of the many other ways Pinkie enjoyed greeting others, everything remained silent. The lamp hanging just outside the door had been removed, making it impossible to see much further than the doorstep.

“Pinkie Pie? If you're trying to play a joke on us, it's dangerous out there. Please come inside,” stuttered Fluttershy whose hoof shook while resting on the door's handle.

When no response came, Fluttershy closed the door and slowly trotted back to the table where she promptly looked back at Twilight once again. “Are you sure you heard her?”

“I'm positive. Unless it's actually just my mind playing tricks on me this time,” replied Twilight, preparing to return to her book.

“Hey, it's not nice to just pretend you can't see me!” Pinkie Pie called again. This time, her voice seemed to carry the sound of radio static behind it that made all three in the room flinch.

A familiar shiver ran through Twilight, but before she could act on any of her natural impulses, a pair of glowing white discs lit up in the shadow cast by the table set near the front door, followed by a third glow that grew into a familiar wide grin. The sudden appearance made Twilight snap her book closed to hide the page she was on while Fluttershy scrambled to hide behind the big main table.

“I'll just let myself in, then!” laughed the distorted voice once again.

Twilight rose to her hooves, one foreleg dedicated to holding the book close to her chest. She let Spike climb onto her back as she slowly stepped away from the featureless face. “Get out of my house and get out of this world while you're at it!”

The smile on the glowing face turned down into a frown. “Hey! That's not a very nice thing to say! What's got you feeling like a cranky, old, grumpy-pants?”

The display only made Twilight grow angrier. Between Fluttershy's injuries and her own, she felt herself growing tired of merely running. “Stop pretending to be our friends, you monster! What do you even want with us?!”

“I'm not a monster! I just want to spend some time with my friends!”

Twilight continued her slow retreat away from the wall bearing the face speaking to her, taking a moment to glance at Fluttershy hiding her face under her hooves beside a book shelf. Once she looked back the face that claimed to be Pinkie was missing.

“Unless you were just lying about being my friends this whole time?”

Twilight scrambled around and back the way she had came, the face now frowned at her from the wall she had just been standing near in the shadow of a potted plant. The eyes squinted in a manner suggestive of anger.

“First, Applejack gives me this big run-around in town on my way over here and now you three are being all mean? Maybe I should be mean, too!” As the voice grew angrier, the lamps in the immediate area toppled to the ground, light bulbs smashing and candles blowing out.

Though the room remained mostly lit, Twilight felt that same chill run through her entire body as she stared into the shaded kitchen. She had to squint, but she could just barely make out the pitch black shape of Pinkie Pie, springy mane and all, step forth from the wall. The figure's head turned to look directly at her, the glow of another wide smile coming to the thing's face.

“We can make it a 'Twilight and Fluttershy learn to be nice' party! You just need to sit still and we can have fun again!” Pinkie's voice echoed through the room, seemingly unaffected by the sound muting effect caused by the darkness surrounding her.

Twilight had to use a wisp of her magic to get Fluttershy to stand up, finding herself forced to drag her frozen stiff friend next to her. Even once Fluttershy was next to her, she only stared at the shadowed shape. Twilight could just barely make out her mumble 'Rainbow' under her breath over and over.

Pinkie pie approached the edge of the darkness, expression never changing from that smile even as more lights were broken or snuffed. Twilight backed away from the encroaching shadows, magic still gripping Fluttershy to make sure she followed.

“This is going to sound pretty obvious, but don't you think we should get out of here?!” yelled Spike with a mix of fear and frustration, seemingly at the ponies' trepidation.

“Run? Don't you run away from me! You still haven't even apologized!” Pinkie suddenly picked up her pace into a quick gallop through the library with the many lamps set up breaking more quickly to keep ahead of her.

“I was trying to be subtle!” Twilight shot spike as best of a glare she could with him on her back before turning around and flinging the front door open.

Twilight just about took off at her own gallop, but her eyes caught Fluttershy who still stared at the swiftly approaching threat. Without taking a moment to think, she strained her magic to lift Fluttershy just enough off the ground to take her along before racing out of the library as quickly as she could in her awkward three-legged gallop with her copy of Malicious Mythical Monsters still tight in her grip.

She could just barely hear the last of the lights in her library smashing behind her. The lamps strung up on her tree had all been removed or snuffed, forcing her to trudge and pull her way through the thick, magnetic feeling the pitch blackness put on her entire body until she made it into the glow of a streetlight.

Just before she could get under the complete safety of the light, she felt a sudden sharp pain come from the base of her tail. She couldn't see the form of what grabbed her, but she used her magic to toss Fluttershy and Spike into the lit area while dropping the book. Despite her best efforts to fight back against the entity that had its grip on her, she could feel her hooves start to scrape along the ground.

Pinkie's giggling returned to echo through the open air. “I got you!”

“Not for long!” Spike grabbed onto Twilight's foreleg with as much strength his little claws could muster, only succeeding in getting slowly dragged with her inside.

Twilight continued to scrape and pull against Pinkie. A burning pain flared back to life in her left flank, making her pause just enough to get dragged back even further before she could resume her struggles.

“Fluttershy! A little help here?!” Spike said over his growls of effort to keep Twilight in place.

Fluttershy still lay where she had been dropped by Twilight's magic, but the mention of her name finally seemed to shake her out of whatever thoughts she was having. She climbed back on to her shaking legs and hurried over to hug Twilight around her shoulders to get as strong of a grip as she could muster. Flapping of her wings to assist her, she managed to slowly help Twilight pull back in to the light.

The trio worked back far enough that a pair of pitch black hooves lit up. A yelp of pain came from Pinkie and she let go of Twilight's tail, sending the fighting three tumbling to the ground in a little pile.

Twilight groaned. She could feel the warmth of fresh blood seeping into the bandages on her flank where the struggle had caused her stitches to break. Her heart raced as the only thing that filled her mind were thoughts of just how close she had come to possible death.

“Oh Twilight, are you okay?” asked Fluttershy who continued to hold on to her even as she sat up.

“Sore, will need to see a doctor once I can and might have lost a few tail hairs, but I'm alright.” Twilight used a foreleg to hug Fluttershy back, the other patting Spike on the head. “Thanks to you two.”

“Aww, I want a hug, too!”

Twilight jumped and twisted her head to the side at the same time as her friends. The shape of Pinkie could just barely be seen at the very edge of the street lamp's light.

The glowing points that made up the Pinkie Pie entity's face faded out of sight. “You win this time, but I'll be back with the others! You can come out of that mean ouchie light that won't let me smash it and we can have one big party!”

Twilight groaned and slumped into Fluttershy's hold, this time being the one to bury her face into a warm neck.