• Published 21st Feb 2022
  • 3,146 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.

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Chapter 3

I was unnerved by how quiet everything was.

Before, I at least had my beating heart and the heavy footsteps of the princess that provided a soundtrack to the ensuing chaos. But now? I was alone again with only my worries and an endless list of questions plaguing my mind.

They weren’t enough to sate my curiosity.

No, I told myself firmly. Creepy shit is going down here. You know what happens to stupid teenagers in horror films and novels! They let their curiosity get the best of them, and then before you know it- they suffer fates worse than death!

There was nothing to gain by following Luna and her wild goose chase, and I was unwilling to tempt fate once more. I knew that there would be no second chances if she found me a second time.

I held a fist to my mouth as bile rushed up into my dried throat.

For the first time in what felt like months, I had something that I had been deprived of for so long: agency. It wasn’t enough to stop my lungs from burning like a midsummer heat or the malaise that crawled up through my limbs and into my spine, but I didn’t care.

I was free, and that was all that mattered.

I flung my battered carcass on top of the sun throne and sighed as the last of my adrenaline ebbed away.


There hadn’t been any need for a coin toss.

The noise had reverberated from the right side of the hallway. On top of the servant’s quarters being completely devoid of life, there wasn’t anything of value hidden within the same copy-pasted rooms and hallways.
Left was the only option.

So I trudged onwards in the dim candlelight. Before my imprisonment, I was able to survive consecutive all-nighters without sleep. Playing video games until my eyes bled or cramming for assignments were often the culprits to my abhorrent sleep schedule, but it hardly mattered. I always managed to power through fatigue and stress with enough motivation and caffeine.

Things were different now.

Apart from the scant few times Luna provided me some paper to write on, my only form of entertainment within my cell was dreaming. I’d often find myself blacking out for stretches at a time, only to wake up in the same room again and again. Time never shifted within that isolation chamber, and my internal clock suffered as a result.

I bit down on my tongue once more in an effort to stay awake and alert, but it did little to reduce my overall fatigue-

-And it didn’t help me from jumping at nearly every shadow that I came across.

I couldn't tell if it was a trick of the light or just my paranoia fogging my perception of reality, but the dark reflections that danced around the candlelight were enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

This fear clung onto me like an overbearing parent as I found myself within the guard's barracks. To my relief, but also my dismay, there was not a single soul in sight. Unlike the overall tidiness of the servant’s quarters, however, the rooms here were little more than refuse dumps at best.

The layers of dust that clung onto the furniture were almost thick enough to plow, and that was just the beginning of it. Candle stubs, scattered papers and empty ink bottles, and general rubbish lay in haphazardly placed piles, with a couple meeting knee level.

The aroma of old polish and dust was enough to assault my sinuses, but I pushed on regardless. An army marched on its stomach, and if I was going to brave whatever hellish nightmares Luna had in store for me, I wanted to do it on a full stomach.
But that begged the question: how was Luna able to feed anyone?

The decades’ worth of dust covering everything in the barracks and the lack of any living people in the other wings of the castle made me feel like I wandered off set after hours.

And with each passing minute, I felt more and more convinced that everything not bolted to the floor was discarded props left to rot.

The only exception to this rule was the armory.

Unlike the decrepit offices and bunk rooms, the air seemed to taste downright sterile within the confines of the armory. Rows of polished armor flanked me on both sides upon various racks and stands, all still serviceable.

It was unfortunate that none of it would help; These armor sets had not been designed for human use. The body sizes certainly didn’t help, either. Not even Luna would be able to squeeze into the armor sets, which lent credence to the idea that Luna’s subjects did exist at some point in time.

“Where did you all go?” I muttered as the gleam from a set of polished midnight purple armor caught my eye. This set was meant for a pegasus night guard if the sharp, bat-like wing protectors and the crescent moon sigil on the chest brace were any indications. If the design was meant to provide an intimidation factor, it certainly worked; I would think twice before getting into melee combat with something wearing this, small stature be damned.

My eyes drifted to the far corners of the armory.

It was also unfortunate that there were no weapons anywhere in sight. I doubted that a short sword or a spear would help much against a demi-god, but not being completely defenseless would have done wonders for my psyche.

I rubbed a hand through my hair as I thought about what to do next.

It was becoming abundantly clear that there was some form of spell that was warding against moisture and mildew in this room. Perhaps the same could be said for the food stores and kitchens? Luna was able to serve me three meals a day after all, and all of that fresh food had to have come from somewhere.

With a new goal in mind, I took one last glance at the armor racks before quietly funneling out the door I came in.


Within the space of what must have been an hour, I cleared through any unlocked door that I could find within the barracks. There was little that I could find and even less that I wanted to bother salvaging.

My sinuses thanked me for fleeing from that decrepit maze as I wandered up a flight of stone stairs and into a gust of warm air.

Chalking up the strange air flows and currents to “magic,” I dragged my emaciated corpse down another hallway before I came across an unexpected but welcome surprise- the kitchens. Thankfully, there were no ponies in chef’s outfits or kitchen elves in sight to chase me off.

My dried mouth watered at the sight of fresh vegetables and fruits lining the shelves. Up to this point, I had been running on fumes- and my empty stomach was ready to tie itself into a noose around my neck if I didn’t immediately shovel whatever I could get my grubby mitts on into it.

I was more than happy to oblige.

“Just a quick snack” turned into a feast as I raided the food stores, consumed a half dozen apples, washed it all down with a few liters of coffee, and raided an honest to god fridge for butter to slather onto the sesame seed bagels I was shoving down my gullet.

The implications of how Luna was able to acquire this food and preserve it all without any of the logistics required to stock a kitchen this large did not cross my mind as I ate my fill.

Clink-Clop Clink-Clop Clink-Clop Clink-Clop

I was already moving before my mind even registered the dancing contours of the shadow in the candlelight, taking cover behind the center table and glancing around the left side of it. I could make out the shadows that hung just outside the doorway I had entered from just a short while ago.

The skin on my face turned pallid, and I choked down the scream that tried to bubble up to my throat as I clenched my right hand onto the edge of the tabletop.

Run. Hide.

I eyed the other entrance to the kitchen at the opposite end of the table.

Clink-Clop Clink-Clop Clink-Clop Clink-Clop

Within three powerful strides, I leapt up from the white tiled floor and bounded through the threshold.

Something rolled off the counter and fell onto the floor behind me.


I was always afraid of the dark.

Regardless of age and the supposed maturity that came bundled with the extra birthday candles, I was always prone to anxiety if left alone for extended periods of time. During the day, I would be mostly fine as I wasted the day away playing video games or raiding the snack drawer for sweets.

However, once night fell and my eyelids drew heavy, anxiety would flood through me. I’d become jumpy, catching reflections in the movement of every window and mirror. This often drove me to keep the lights on in the hallway to my bedroom; The light that seeped in through the thin crack below the door never failed to soothe my nerves.

This time was no different.

I stared at the thin light that poked underneath the door frame with tired eyes as my racing heartbeat ebbed into a slow and steady cadence. I was no longer afraid of passing out suddenly; The copious amounts of caffeine flooding through my body would keep me up for a few hours at least, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid about my newest close encounter.

It was a much-needed wake-up call. I couldn't afford to let my guard down again.

Not if she could sneak up on me like that.

I took more deep breaths and cleared my mind before pressing my right ear against the door.

Nothing.

No sounds. No quiet ambiance. It was something that I missed dearly from home; The white noise from an overhanging fluorescent light or the creaking and popping sounds from a house settling in for the night. None of that was present here, which made everything that much worse.

I could hear a pin drop from a few rooms away in this silence.

And I’d bet my right kidney that Luna could hear even better.

It took me a while to coax myself out of my fortress of janitor’s smocks and old mops and pry the old wooden door a smidge-

-Only to have my heart race back into sixth gear at nine thousand rpm.

“No,” I stated. “This is impossible! I would- I would have heard her! I would have seen her shadow!”

I felt disconnected like I was viewing things from behind my eyes like a video game character. It took a few minutes for the black hoof prints staining the red-carpeted floor to sink in, and a few more after that to realize that the trail ended in front of the closet.

Even then… I couldn’t begin to fathom what my eyes were seeing.

I quickly grabbed one of the mops from the closet before swiping it over one of the prints. Black, tar-like goop clung to the bristles of the mop, and I nearly lost my lunch on the spot from the fetid stench.

I followed the tar trail with my eyes. In my panic, I had once more thrown caution to the wind and bumbled through the halls of the castle like a mad man. I didn’t even know what wing this was, let alone the floor.

I am going to get myself killed like this, I thought. My death grip on the mop tightened, and my sinuses protested by scratching at my throat and nasal cavity. Luna is toying with me, and she is making me second guess my every move. Why is she doing this? Why didn’t she grab me here?

I didn’t have an answer.

The last dregs of my confidence left me as I stared at the trail of hoof prints once more. What was I supposed to do? What sort of fourth-dimensional chess was she playing? Was she watching me right now?

The most frightening thing about this was that it was entirely possible. Luna could be scrying me right now, using her vast knowledge of the arcane to scare me witless, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“Luna,” My despondent voice left my lips before I could stop myself. “I- please, I beg you! Enough of these mind games! I am sorry for trying to leave, but you have to understand-”

My words fell on deaf ears.

It was a subtle change, but I immediately noticed the far end of the hallway grow dimmer with each passing second until it was completely engulfed in darkness.

A bone-chilling breeze wafted through the hall, blowing out every candle in its wake before cradling my face in its arms.

The mop I was clutching onto like a spear fell from my clammy hands and clattered to the floor.

I spun on the balls of my feet and sprinted in the opposite direction.


Rushing, teeth chattering, frozen air billowed in my ears as my feet thundered against the carpeted and marble floor. The darkness was coming. It was coming faster than I could run.

I refused to glance back. But I knew it was there, and seeing the gaping black wall again wouldn’t help anything.

Hearing nothing but the sound of my heartbeat and the quiet fizzle of candles burning out was already bad enough. The fear that thudded away inside my skull if I was too slow only made things worse.


Another narrow hallway. The second verse is the same as the first.

A painful wheeze scratched at my throat and slipped out of my mouth, which was as dry as sandpaper. I gritted my teeth and forced my shaking legs to pick up the pace. I was going too slow.

Another fizzle. Another candle burnt out.

I was running, not sprinting, but I couldn't go faster. No matter how much I willed it, the steel rods of pain shooting through my spine and reducing my nervous system to pudding wouldn’t allow it. I couldn't go any faster if I wanted to.

And by God, did I want to.


She was trying to box me in.

Herd me like a farm animal.

The intersection I had found myself in was a kill zone; Darkness had flanked me not only from behind but also from directly ahead and the hallway to my left. I turned right and tried to run faster to make up for my brief moment of pause.

I managed this for about two more minutes before the lead weights in my legs weighed me down.


Her plan had worked.

The fears of the darkness catching me, the weakness of my body betraying me as I stumbled down the path she had laid for me, or the desperate need for rest but not having time to stop; She had used all of this to play me like a fiddle, and I only realized this as I clawed my way up a flight of stairs, nearly tripping myself as one of my feet bent at an odd angle at the second to last step.

The cool purple and blue hues of this wing's walls blurred past me as I made one final effort to escape.

It was all futile.

The weight of my doubt and my weakness slowed me down to a crawl. Numb legs, scorched lungs, addled brain, all of this led to one last moment of defiance.

I crashed into the solitary door at the end of the hallway before twisting its golden doorknob with the last of my strength.

I was suddenly baptized in a swathe of moonlight.


My mind was floating between the void of consciousness and dreams. It was not the first time I had felt such a sensation; I would often have a few brief moments to reflect upon the strange nonsense my sleep-deprived mind conjured before the annoying tones of my alarm clock bounced off the bedroom walls.

And what a strange dream it was, I thought to myself. My crusted eyes opened and blinked out the grogginess as I tried to sit up and get out of bed. It doesn’t matter. It’s a brand new day, and I refuse to let something as silly as a dream ruin it for me.

I squirmed and felt my limbs untangle from underneath the layers of bedsheets that clung onto me while a pale light shined into my half-lidded eyes.

It was then that my mind screamed that something was very, very wrong.

A pattern of stars and constellations I did not recognize lined the deep blue ceiling above me.

I white-knuckled the blue bed sheets holding me captive as I shot up to a sitting position. Everything was a deep shade of blue. The polished marble floors. The walls. The ceiling. There was nothing in sight that was unblemished by this night-themed ambiance.

I felt myself be brought to a sharp awareness as I crossed past the soft moonlight spilling into the room and twisted the golden handle of the wooden door.

It refused to budge.

I shook my head and twisted the knob again.

It refused to budge.

I grasped both hands onto the handle and pushed down with all the force I could muster.

It refused to budge.

“No! Let me out! LET ME OUT!” I pounded on the door and screamed.

It refused to budge.

“Please!” I kicked at and slammed my body into the door frame.

It refused to budge.

This can’t be happening!

My eyes darted towards the window at the far side of the room.

No! No! NO!

Death was preferable to wasting away again, but it was a last resort. I- there had to be a way out! A means of escape! I couldn't-

I turned towards my left.

Shelves of books written in Luna’s indecipherable language lined the walls.

Crazy rich people always had secret tunnels and hidden rooms! I just needed to find the right lever or switch! I thought to myself as I glided over to the bookcases and began to touch, grab, and toss away every book on the shelf.

With each book clattering to the floor, my hope diminished.

Ten. Fifteen. Thirty. An entire shelf worth of books was scattered haphazardly in my wake. I rubbed my hands against the insides of the empty shelf, feeling for a button or some sort of mechanism that I knew was there.

Two shelves. Three.

“Where is it?” My feverish eyes scrutinized every speck of dust on the shelves.

My nostrils flared.

Where is the goddamn switch?!?” My arms swept up another shelf-full of books and smashed them onto the marble floor. Heat coursed through my body, and I could only see red as I threw Luna’s prized leather books in every which direction.

There was no switch. No passage that would let me get out of here. My anger didn’t make me feel powerful. The coiled strength of my muscles couldn’t be aimed at the actual target of my ire. I was just throwing a temper tantrum like a bratty child.

The worst part of it all? Luna was watching every second of this. She was reviling in my despair from some ivory tower, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

My eyes lingered towards the window, and my breathing hitched.

It was my only option. I didn’t know how high the jump was, but I didn’t care.

I was done.

The crumpling of paper echoed off the still deep blue walls like my Dad on a Sunday morning thumbing through the interesting sections of the newspaper. But the only news that would be shown this time around was the untimely death of a trapped and scared little boy.

"Just a few more steps..." I muttered to myself.

The trick to telling a convincing lie is to believe the diarrhea foaming out of your mouth while you’re spewing it. Was Luna going to let me go that easily? Would she let me plummet to my death before ripping even that choice away from me?

Was this just another game of hers?

The weight of my shame anchored my chin to my chest, and I stared down at my feet and the loose sheets of paper crumpling underfoot like autumn leaves.

This wasn’t me.

I hated this uncontrollable frustration that I couldn’t vent. I hated having no one to confide in. I hated giving up.

My foot dragged across the floor lazily and brushed against the leather curtain of books that almost reached up to my knees. With a flick of my ankle, the towers of books toppled, allowing them to fly open like a kaleidoscope of butterflies.

What?

My heart stopped for a split second and I forced myself to glance back at the books again.

Between all of the chicken scratch and the indecipherable squiggles…

Something stood out to me.

I crouched down onto my weary knees and snatched the offending page into my sweaty palms.


I never thought that relaxing could be so stressful. The suite was easily larger and fancier than any room in the entire apartment complex and yet, staring up at the ceiling, I found myself unable to tear my thoughts away from-


There were others. I thought darkly. I wasn’t the only one.

I haphazardly tossed away the paper into its own pile in favor of another one I snatched up from the ground. My eyes darted across the worn page.


I had that same dream again.

The one where the four claustrophobic walls of my room shift and constrict upon me like an insect in a venus fly trap. Luna assured me that she would stop these nightmares if I let her into my dreams, but I just-

I couldn’t do it.

Every fiber of my being screamed at me to run away and hide at the mere sight of her, and my extended stay in her castle hadn’t changed that one bit. Hell, I don’t think I’ll ever get acclimated to her presence. The hairs on the back of my neck always stand on edge whenever she’s near.


She had asked me that same question nearly every visit to my cell, like clockwork. And I always refused, like clockwork. It’s good to see that I wasn’t the only one to sniff out her bullshit.

Without another thought, I threw the paper to the side and pulled another one up from the sea of chaos.


I was so tired. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my family and the life I left behind.

If I had a shoulder to cry on or a whole new world to explore… I might not have fallen into that rut. Perhaps I could have even cast these thoughts plaguing my mind aside. I was not some old dog that couldn’t learn new tricks. Nor was I some bitter old man who refused to embrace change.

But this?

What has that witch given me other than a prison cell?


My unfocused gaze lingered upon the page in my shaking hands. I wasn’t the only one. I- I wasn’t alone to suffer in this nightmare. A shallow, defeated laugh crawled its way out of my throat as I traced my thumb against the faded page.

It wasn’t empathy, nor was it any other feeling I could place.

This sensation was almost nostalgic in a way.

Wait…

Frantically, I fished around one last time in the torrent of dead trees and pulled up another page.


The words simply weren’t coming to me.

It’s funny, really. I’ve been flung across space and time, come face to face with an alicorn princess, and now I was living it up inside a suite that was likely worth more than my old college tuition.

But there I was, shaking like a leaf with quill in hand like I was stuck at my mandatory creative writing class.

Perhaps it was my nerves, or maybe even just excitement? Who else had ever made contact with an alien species like this? Or got to explore a new world? Regardless, I think this bit of R&R is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Although, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of the ass-chewing I was inevitably going to receive for missing my shift. Assuming I still have a job-


My eyes darted between the lines of text scrawled upon the yellowed page, and then back to the pile I made.

The squished a’s. The curved hooks of the g’s and y’s as though they’re cursive. The neat spacing.

This was my handwriting.

Author's Note:

I apologize for the delay.

I had to rewrite this chapter along with studying for midterms, and I don't think I'll be able to pick up the pen again until next week. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy it!

Once again, I need to give a shout-out to Unamused Waffle and newbie for proofreading / editing!