• Published 21st Feb 2022
  • 3,161 Views, 79 Comments

Moonlit Stranding - DarthBall

There are no windows in my room, everything is lit by candlelight, and my gut is screaming at me to not trust a word she says.

  • ...

Chapter 1

It's sobering to realize just how many people disappear into thin air every year.

Just by not being in the direct line of sight of somebody that knows you before getting poofed is often enough for you to become just another statistic. Worried calls flood into your local police station by panicked friends and relatives end up being nothing more than a bandage on a festering wound; the forty-eighth hour had already passed.

It was already too late.

There was no reason for you to disappear. You didn’t decide one rain-swept morning to pack your bags and drive down the thruway until you crossed county or state lines. You didn’t leave your phone on its charger and allow the distressed voices of the people you care about to flood your voicemail’s inbox.

And you certainly didn’t choose to chase some wild fantasy that your exhausted mind conjured up.

But it happened anyway.

It became the latest local story. The new juiciest piece of gossip that traveled down your town’s local grapevine. Speculations and theories came out of the woodwork; perhaps you had a run-in with the wrong crowd or accurred too many debts to a loan shark and taught a lesson you wouldn’t live to regret.

Or maybe it was at the behest of some foreign government? Perhaps even your own? Your post history must have been the start of some bread crumb trail. Someone wanted you gone for a reason, right?

The idea of you abandoning your former life for greener pastures crossed some people’s minds. Mainly friends and family.

People who gave a shit.

That lingering sense of doubt acted as a spiritual poison that slowly ate away at their souls as they wondered. Perhaps there was some truth to it? It hardly mattered to you. You weren’t there to tell them the truth.

Months passed. Years. Apart from a Reddit post mentioning your sudden disappearance and sending chills down the spine of some stranger chasing a terror-filled rush, there was no further mention of you.

They moved on.

You became another statistic.

The only difference between this hypothetical scenario and the trouble I found myself in is that I wasn’t too dead to care.

It should have been an otherwise banal moment in my life.

Wednesday nights usually were; too far away from the weekend, but just close enough to tease me with promises of some much-needed R&R. I could still remember my sleep-deprived mind guiding my battered carcass into my newly changed bedsheets after a grueling nine and a half hour workday.

I was more than ready to surrender to the siren call of a good night’s rest. My iPhone lied just out of reach on its charger, no light shined in through the closed windows, and the haze that clouded my mind was too thick for errant thoughts to pass through.

And it would have been.

Had I not noticed the slight shift in the air.

Or the indistinguishable sound that accompanied it.

I had little time to think, to worry about the chilling breeze that filtered through the air, sizzling like strips of bacon on a frying pan before I found myself sprawled before a creature straight out of mythology.

Its midnight-blue fur and basic equine-like features were the only things that had some basis in reality. Everything else, from the spiraling horn that jutted out from above its forehead to the set of wings that rested at its sides, would not have been out of place in any of the other dreams that my subconscious mind conjured up.

But it was not those features or the shimmering mane that appeared to blow from an unseen wind that caused my heartbeat to race.

It was the pale turquoise eyes that sparkled with intelligence that stared back at me.

And the voice that accompanied it.

The panic that gripped at my chest had placed just enough weight onto my lungs that it strangled the scream that bubbled up from my throat in its crib. It didn’t stop the look of paralyzing fear that plastered itself onto my face.

To this day, I still can’t tell if it was my comatose state or genuine kindness that coaxed the motherly tone that promised understanding and kindness out of her.

She introduced herself as Princess Luna, Ruler of Equestria and Mistress of the Night before she apologized profusely about my current situation. In her spare time, she had begun to research and study old tomes that had been recently rediscovered.

I had kept my reservations of magic existing to myself; the fact that I was talking to an actual alicorn was proof enough that I wasn’t in Kansas or even Earth anymore. The prickling sensation that crawled underneath my skin when she performed the “portal spells” she had been testing moments before my unfortunate relocation had removed any lingering shadows of doubt.

But I still had my reservations.

The portal spells in theory would allow for travel between any two points at will, opening up a completely new form of transportation for civilians and military personnel alike. But how could a spell such as this open a rift between dimensions? Or cross the vast swathes of space between planets? Solar Systems? Galaxies?

The chicken scratch that the tome was written in couldn’t confirm or deny her explanation. But that was the inherent crux of the issue that I had found myself in. She gave me her word that I would return home posthaste… as soon as she was able to replicate the conditions with the spell that started this in the first place.

In return, she required me to remain in a private suite in her castle and avoid interacting with the general population. “Provoking panic amongst the general public” and “avoiding entanglements with the nobles and foreign entities” had been the primary concerns that she cited.

I wasn’t concerned with seeing what this new world had to offer; I had too many obligations to fulfill and people I couldn’t afford to let down. There was also the fact that I had little choice in the matter, even if the idea of charity left a bad taste in my mouth.

Or the sense that something was fishy about this whole ordeal.

With a reassuring smile, Luna beckoned me to follow her, and we had stealthily made our way through winding corridors bathed in moonlight and dimly lit spiraling staircases without encountering a single living soul.

In the silence that followed, I was not able to shake the unease that fluttered in my stomach like a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Something was very, very wrong. But nothing came of my fears as we finally arrived at our destination.

The spacious suite that was assigned to me was well furnished, with a lush four-poster bed, wooden cabinets and a table, bookshelves, and even a bathroom stocked with plenty of soaps and hygiene supplies.

I couldn’t tell if it was the smell of old leathery books, the furniture polish slathered onto everything wooden, or something else that triggered a sense of nostalgia for a place I’d never been to.

It hardly mattered.

My mood had soured upon the second day. The books were scribbled in an incomprehensible text that I couldn’t possibly begin to decipher, and the claustrophobic confines of my room became apparent with each passing moment.

Without anything to distract my wandering mind, I was plagued with thoughts of homesickness. Images of distraught family and friends flashed through my mind-

Dim candlelight illuminated the manuscript on top of my temporary workplace as I pushed aside an empty ink bottle and nursed the cramp in my right hand. Time had come to a standstill in this gilded cage; seconds crawled on for minutes at a time and hours had felt like eternities.

I had no way of knowing, and little else apart from my imagination and meager writing skills to let out the mounting frustrations and fear in a safe environment. I was confident that the written language barrier worked both ways, and the idea of the serene alicorn princess sputtering while trying to decipher my inner ramblings brought a ghost of a smile to my face.

Which was immediately cut as I hacked out another lung. I wasn’t sure if it was my asthma kicking in again at the slightest provocation of my dust allergy or just another symptom of being trapped in magic horse land, but I was certain that this feeling would plague me for the rest of my stay.

However long that would be.

I grimaced as another whooping cough rattled every bone in my body.

This sucked.

But what was I going to do? Tell the Princess? My gut instinct screamed at me to turn tail and run every time I laid eyes on her, and with each passing day, I began to suspect something was amiss.

She was hiding me away for a reason, and “keeping the peace” sounded like absolute bullshit in retrospect. Was this sham all an elaborate ruse to hide the evidence of what she’s done? Luna was only a princess; it made sense if that book she was casting her spells from was forbidden… and that my mere existence would draw the ire of her parents.

And that was just another can of worms that I didn’t want to open. If these ponies were racist enough to the point that she locked me up in this abandoned section of the castle without a single guard or servant in sight-

-what would happen if I was discovered?

Would they get rid of me? I doubted that royalty would want to bother with some dimensionally misplaced college student turned vagabond. It would be much easier to just wipe their hands clean of the situation and just eliminate me rather than deal with trying to find me a way home or integrate me into their society.

A series of rigid knocks at the door to my suite brought me out of my thoughts.

I cleared my throat of congestion before turning my sight to the wooden door. “Come in!”

The doorknob turned with a soft click before I could push myself up from my chair or grumble about the lateness of the hour. Or at least, I assumed it was a late hour. My fatigued body wanted nothing more than to clamber up to my bed and crumple on top of it.

And it wasn’t like this fucking room had a window or anything.

“Good evening, Princess,” I greeted cordially while stifling a tired yawn. I reflexively drummed my fingers on the tabletop as I stared at the azure glow of the princess's horn and the tray that it was floating with its witchcraft.

“Good morning Daniel,” Luna said. “I apologize for the sudden intrusion but I thought that I would bring you breakfast before I must return to my duties.”

My watering mouth could taste the smorgasbord of scrambled eggs, wheat toast, and hash browns before the smell had a chance to waft itself into my nostrils, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip. I needed to know.

I needed to have some shred of hope.

“Please,” my voice faltered.

It was all I could muster.

Pangs of shame ripped through my chest, just barely overshadowing the fear that still gripped my heart. I knew I wasn't responsible for this; for any of it, but that didn't-couldn't, stop me from blaming myself anyway, a nasty habit.

Even if the person responsible was standing just a few feet away.

“Princess, I need to know,” I whispered hoarsely. My throat closed, but I forced it back open. It was the only way I was making it out of here with a shred of humanity left.

"When can I go home?"

My muscles quivered as a wave of smoldering heat flushed through my body. I clenched my teeth alongside my fist resting on the worktable.

“How long do I need to pay for your mistake?”

Silence reigned.

I had been certain that she would ignore my plight and utter a few empty platitudes before leaving me to suffer in silence.

I did not expect to see her vibrant eyes dull as they stared through me.

Perhaps my words had found a chink in her armor? A soft spot that sowed the seeds of empathy? Or had she already been feeling the wimple of guilt ever since she stole me from my home?

“I am no stranger to the loneliness that plagues you,” Luna’s voice broke the tense silence. “That longing for hearth and home which manifests itself into pain that stains the soul and refuses to heal.”

Luna’s ears folded to the sides of her head. “My apologies will do little to alleviate your concerns but that is all I can currently offer you.”

“Prin- Princess- “ I stuttered, my ears refusing to believe what I was hearing. “I- I am going home, right? You can send me back?”

Luna grimaced at my poorly hidden discomfort and softly replied, “The spell is temperamental at best, and while I was able to discern the cause that brought you here,” her voice tapered off, and I could see the wings on her back jerk back and unfurl slightly. “It is far too dangerous to use in its current state.”

“But you do know how to fix this?” I could hear the blood rushing to my head like a cascading waterfall in my ears as I struggled to stay seated.

“It is not merely enough to simply fix the spell matrices so that you aren't teleported to the ocean floor or plummet to your death from the sky. I would also need to pinpoint your homeworld within the vast infinity of the multiverse, which is an undertaking that trumps our civilizations greatest achievements a thousandfold.”

Luna shook her head slowly before dealing the final blow to the last dangling shred of hope I had.

“Without a means to replicate the exact conditions of the anomaly that sent you here in the first place, I fear that such a feat is impossible.”

Fatigue flooded through me as I felt a piece of myself break into pieces. I had felt this way at least two times before; once with the death of my Grandfather due to Alzhimer's and another when my sister moved off to Pennsylvania for college, I immediately recognized the malaise that made the world around me crawl to a standstill and shrouded my mind within a thick haze.

Both times, I had support to drag me away from the abyss. Whether it was a shoulder to cry on or a night out on the town with drunken regrets, I had always been able to rely on someone I could trust with my very life.

But now?

I was uncertain if I’d ever be anything other than a pathetic wreck again.

“Then why did you make that promise?”

Luna stopped in front of me and gently touched my shoulder with her left wing. “All hope is not yet lost. Perhaps with more time, we can unravel this mystery and send you home. As things stand right now, however.”

A worried gleam flickered through Luna’s eyes as she stared at me. “...I will take measures to integrate you with our society and reimburse you for the damages that I have caused.”

“Don’t.” I brushed her wing off my shoulder before turning away from her. “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep, Princess.”

There wasn’t anything else to say after that, and it should have been the end of things.

The congestion in my lungs had a different idea, however.

I clutched at the grey fabric of my shirt as another coughing fit rattled my bones. Luna was upon me in an instant, her wings wrapping around my waist and preventing me from careening off my chair as I suffered through yet another asthma attack.

On earth, I had my lungs relatively under control. Aside from a daily dose of a prescription inhaler, I was able to function like a normal human being. Long walks on the bike path alongside my house? No issues. Stair-climbing exercises with in-between reps of planks and push-ups? Mild, at best.

I could’ve chalked all of this up to a lack of my medicine, but if the worried expression on Luna’s face as she pointed her glowing horn at me while muttering to herself was any indication, I might’ve had a reason to worry.

“Why have you not told me of this sooner?” Luna spoke, her voice teetering between concern and a tone that befitted a mother scolding their child for stealing from the cookie jar.

“You never gave me a chance to explain,” I wheezed.

Luna flinched as though I’d just slapped her.

“I must- Stay here, Daniel!” Luna replied shakily. “I will return shortly.”

A blue flash engulfed her, and she was gone.

Have you ever felt like you were dead, but no one told you?

This thought lingered rent-free in my mind as I shoveled down another bite of toast down my gullet. I was hungry, but the morning breakfast spread had no flavor. I was upset, but I was too numb to shed tears.

I was dead but still breathing.

And I didn’t know what to do.

I couldn’t trust Luna on her word.

I had no allies in this hellscape.

And even if I escaped, where would I go? No amount of running or disguises would hide me away from the princess and her tin soldiers if she was determined to keep me locked up.

Staying in this room- this cage was the obvious choice. The safe choice. An unchanging bastion of familiarity in an ocean of uncertainty.

I felt numb as I stabbed at the empty plate with my silver fork. I would never be safe from her deceit as long as I was within the same postal code. I couldn’t care if the brief snapshot of concern and empathy she showed was genuine.

I wanted out.

I stared towards the closed wooden door before moving with apprehension. Even with the plethora of fantasy novels and movies I’ve consumed, magic was utterly outside of the context of what I was able to understand. For all I knew, the door could be booby-trapped; either by some forcefield or trigger a set of alarms.

Whatever sort of witchcraft was in play here, I knew that it was more than enough to replace the need for guard patrols... and that terrified me.

My legs bounced, either from the raw display of power Luna unintentionally showed, my overwhelming desire to flee, or both.

The rational part of my mind screamed at me to stay put.

Who knew when she would return? What if she had some spell or medicine for my asthma.

“No. Now isn’t the time to have cold feet,” I exhaled with the breath I was holding. “I have to trust my gut instincts, and they are telling me that Luna is not to be trusted.”

I held my breath and counted to three before slowly exhaling and repeating this a few more times. It wasn’t a catchall cure, but it was enough to calm my frayed nerves and regulate my breathing. I needed to be at my A-game if I was going to escape.

With that, I pushed myself off my chair and tiptoed towards the door. My socks made no noise as they brushed against the marble floors of my room, but I knew that things wouldn’t be that simple as I approached the wooden frame.

What if Luna could hear my every step regardless? What if she bugged the fixtures to spy on me? Or cast some spell that allowed her to pinpoint my exact location at all times? No amount of perceptiveness would help me spot something I couldn’t even begin to fathom!

“No. There’s no time for this,” I clasped my right hand on the golden handle and wrenched the door open with far more force than I intended. My heart skipped a beat as the door slammed against the wall with a mighty CLANG.

I looked around and saw no movement in the empty hallway or the telltale sign of magic; the air had not sizzled and popped like a bowl of Rice Krispies.

Without any sign of apparent danger, I took a single tentative step forward. And then another and another.

My footfalls were as silent as the grave as I turned left and slunk down the hallway.

The lack of any guards or castle servants unnerved me now just as much as it did the first time. I was traveling through an honest to god liminal space, with all the trappings and cliches included. Rows upon rows of empty but comfortably furnished rooms flanked me on my sides, and not one of them showed any signs of habitation.

I couldn’t even find a single cobweb hanging from some obscure out-of-the-way corner. Everything was clean. Sterile. The earthy smell of wood and furniture polish was my only companion.

“Hopefully, it stays that way,” I whisper to myself as I continue onward down another empty hallway. It felt like ages ago since Luna had guided me through these halls, and I was all the worse off for it. The floor plan seemed to have no rhyme or reason to it, and I couldn’t tell if this was an intentional design choice or if Luna had set up some sort of spatial anomaly to keep me in a recursive loop.

Knowing her, it was probably both. She didn’t seem like the kind of woman to leave things half-finished and to chance.

The only thing I could remember was that this was a bottom floor. If I found a staircase or even a window, I’d be one step closer to securing my freedom.

Of course, that was assuming I didn’t crumble to the floor as an asthmatic-ridden heap beforehand. I hadn’t been walking long enough to feel any form of exhaustion, but if my frequent bouts of coughing didn’t stop soon…

Well, I just need to pray it doesn’t come to that.

I’ll dive out of the nearest window before I let her take me back to that cell, I thought darkly as I took a right at an intersection before I walked down yet another corridor aimlessly. A part of me was thankful that such an option wasn’t available.

My extremities tingled.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood ramrod straight.

I paused and glanced back the way I came. Still empty, thankfully, but I felt a massive stone drop into the pit of my stomach.

Something was very, very wrong.

And I couldn’t tell why.

Had I inadvertently cornered myself? Did I recognize this hallway somehow over all the others? Was Luna hot on my heels?

Was she guarding the exits?

These doubts plagued me with each step going forward. It wasn’t until I had taken another blind left turn at yet another intersection that I found what I was looking for: a staircase.

Or rather, the staircase.

The fear of being caught caused me to falter.

It was that same fear that caused me to bound up the stairs in a few panicked strides-

-and stumble into a hallway that was longer than a football field. Shafts of silver moonlight spilled through the rows of stained glass windows, bathing the hallway in a glow that almost seemed otherworldly.

Author's Note:

I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this! I am new to writing fanfiction, and this is my first longer-form story. If you see any errors or have critiques to share, please let me know!