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Out of Time · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Mistress of the Dark
Moondancer adjusted her glasses and looked back down the moonlit mountain path toward Canterlot, muttering curses about the city’s oppressive brightness. Even with midnight approaching, she could clearly see dim glows illuminating its skyward-lancing alabaster spires. For a moment she fixated on the glow of her own horn, hating its contribution to the brightness; but it was necessary given the large, almost pony-thick telescope that she held in the grip of her magic.

Moondancer cast a brief glance at the starry sky, picking-out a spot that would have seemed quite random to most ponies, but where she knew she was on the verge of missing something beautiful. She shivered despite her dark grey sweater; the night was cool and crisp, and the time was only getting later. With a sigh, she resumed trotting up the stony path as quickly as she dared.

A nearby howl caused Moondancer to stop short. She held her breath, scanning what she could see of the stone ledges above and below the path, but heard nothing other than the crunch of small rocks underhoof and the pulsing sound of blood pumping in her ears.

All else was silence. Moondancer bit her lip and shook her head. “No time for this,” she muttered, setting off again.

After a few minutes, she rounded a stony outcropping and found herself at the mouth of a wide ledge that she’d been up to a hoof-full of times for other astronomical outings. During certain parts of the year, the ledge afforded a clear view of some of the more interesting known celestial phenomena, while also being far enough from Canterlot to minimize the city’s light-pollution. And on a truly perfect night, the mountain itself would even block excessive moonlight.

Moondancer smiled, sighed, and allowed her shoulders to relax a little. But then she noticed the candles. A large circle of tiny, guttering lights had been set up in one of the prime spots to place her telescope.

Something glistened on the ground below the candles. Moondancer squinted, adjusting her glasses again. The substance, whatever it was, seemed painted-on, as if to connect the candles to each other, and also criss-crossed the space in between…

...where a dark figure sat, motionless and obscured by darkness.

Moondancer shook with dread. A circle of candles? And the substance… was it blood? Canterlot itself was kept safe by the Princesses and guards, but who could say what might lurk in the mountains beyond...

“Who… who’s there?” she called, her voice wavering.

The figure jerked upright. Moondancer heard a sharp intake of breath.

“Begone from this place,” the figure intoned. It paused for a moment. “You’re ruining the vibe.”

Moondancer blinked, trying to process what she’d just heard. The voice was gravelly, but quiet and nonthreatening. Moondancer scanned the ledge again, hoping to spot any other clues about what might be going on. She was rewarded with the sight of a paint can and brush half-hidden behind a pile of stones.

Moondancer furrowed her brow. “What are you playing at?”

The figure sighed. “I’m not ‘playing,’ I’m connecting. With the darkness. You... wouldn’t understand.”

Moondancer jerked her head toward the telescope. “Look… what I do or don’t understand doesn’t matter. There’s going to be a planetary alignment in a few minutes that won’t happen again for hundreds of years. If you could just let me set up my telescope in your circle of… I’m sorry, I’ve just gotta make sure... that’s paint, right?”

The figure sighed again. Moondancer took the impression that the pony she was dealing with must be accustomed to sighing frequently.

“You may not,” the pony said. “This is a personal retreat. It’s bad enough having some random pony come and disturb my solitude… um, no offense.”

Moondancer rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Look, please, I’m sure there’s lots of nights when you can… do whatever you’re doing up here. But try to understand, this is the one night in my whole life when I'll have a chance to see this alignment!”

“I do understand,” the figure said. It rose and stalked toward her. As it approached, Moondancer saw that it was a mare; a unicorn, with an off-white coat and a slick black mane that curled around her horn in front. She wore a long black cloak that covered most of her body, including her cutie mark. Her eyes were lidded with a dark blue pigment, and were rimmed with heavy eyeshadow.

The mare came up to Moondancer and put a hoof on her shoulder. “I understand better than most ponies do about the brevity of life, the suddenness of death, and the emptiness that claws at everypony’s soul… assuming that we even have souls.”

Moondancer gingerly removed the mare’s hoof from her shoulder. She cleared her throat. “Look, please… what’s your name?”

The mare narrowed her eyes. “Moonlight Raven,” she said at length. “Though there are those who call me… Mistress of the Dark.” She affected a dramatic, wide-legged pose that Moondancer might have found threatening, were it not for the situation’s sheer absurdity.

Moondancer gave her a tight-lipped smile. “Moonlight Raven. Look, my name is Moondancer, and I’m sorry about disturbing your…”

“Dark communion,” Moonlight finished.

“...Right. Again, I’m sorry, but I have some hypotheses about the alignment that I can only validate by watching it. Ordinarily I would have tried to make it up here earlier so I could claim this spot, but…”

Moonlight rolled her eyes. “Truly, the rapaciousness of mortal yearning knows no bounds. Let me guess: You spent the day engrossed in toil, so that you would have the food and drink needed to stave off death another day; then, labors done, you go forth to defile Luna’s perfect night with the scrutiny of scientific ‘progress?’”

Moondancer frowned. “What… are you even talking about?”

Moonlight raised her eyebrows and tightened her lips. “It isn’t personal. It’s just the folly of our time, to think the march of ‘progress’ has made everypony’s lives better. Think of how our ‘civilized’ world has the tendency to push out the unique, the wonderful…” She paused, giving Moondancer a significant look. “The strange. And all this, in the name of more accepted things that sacrifice substance and relevance on the altar of being inoffensive.”

Moondancer scratched a hoof at the ground. “Are you saying that you won’t let me set up my telescope because you’re… philosophically opposed to scientific progress and its influence on society?”

Moonlight looked away. “I’d say that’s oversimplifying it, but yes.”

Moondancer scoffed. “Look, first of all, me and my telescope have nothing to do with scientific progress at-large…”

The pale pony looked at her again. “And yet you hasten to its defense.”

Moondancer shook her head. “No… I’m just trying to learn more about a very rare phenomenon. I’ll admit my interest is a bit obscure, and my work might be redundant given that the Royal Observatory could be looking for similar things tonight... but it means something to me that I’m out here, doing this myself.”

Moonlight fixated on the Observatory, which, being one of the tallest structures in Canterlot, stretched high above the city walls. “They shut you out of the halls of power, relegate you to solitude.... yet here you stand, defending them.” She shook her head. “And the worst part is, they make you think your life is better for being shut out. Because only the best ponies should be allowed to do their research on behalf of the majority, right? Never mind what would be better for the individual.”

Moondancer bit her lip. “Look, I can respect somepony taking an iconoclastic view of society and its institutions.” She waved a hoof. “Truth be told, I find your point of view interesting, and if the planetary alignment wasn’t imminent, I might be interested in hearing more. But for right now, please just let me set up my telescope before it’s too late!”

Moonlight sighed. “I suppose it’s just as well. With all your so-called medical ‘advances,’ society as a whole has lost touch with the idea of life deriving part of its meaning from the uncertainty and impermanence of life itself. And while few things give me more enjoyment than these dark communions, I would be a hypocrite not to realize that having you cut this short is tantamount to that same kind of impermanence.” She shrugged. “Though truth be told, the experience kind of isn’t as fulfilling as I might’ve hoped.”

Moondancer smiled at the implicit agreement to let her set up the telescope, but then paused, realizing that the other pony’s morose demeanor might be coming from more than just her apparent fixation on the melancholic side of life. Moondancer cleared her throat. “You must walk a lonely path, if all you love is darkness.”

Moonlight paused. “It’s not the only thing I love.” She looked at Moondancer. “Though I suppose I can’t really argue with your larger point; my only real friend is my sister, and she’s not exactly the type to come out and enjoy the blessed darkness with me.”

Moondancer furrowed her brow. “You do realize, of course, that one advantage of scientific advancement and its impact on mortality is that there’s actually a better chance of finding ponies with a broader range of obscure interests, right? I mean, you might not even need the experience of premature death to serve as a more common unifying social influence.”

Moonlight fell quiet, staring at the city below. The silence stretched across more moments than Moondancer felt comfortable sacrificing. She swallowed, and pranced in-place a tiny bit, as her mind began to mull over the other places nearby that could offer a decent view of the alignment. That was, of course, providing she could get to one of them in time…

Moonlight’s words sliced through her reverie: “You said you might be interested in talking more when this... alignment is over?”

Moondancer nodded. “Sure. I know I’m kind of focused right now and probably not keeping up much of a conversation, but I think I could do better.” She smiled. “And… honestly, I think you might make an interesting friend.”

Moonlight looked at her with a timid hint of a smile. “If I could find somepony who was willing to bear with me on the whole…” She paused, frowning, looking at the nearby bucket. “Candles and fake-blood thing… I guess I’d be willing to try being their friend.”

Moondancer’s horn lit up again as she began to lift the telescope. “All right; friends, then. Now can I please get set up?”

“By all means,” Moonlight said. “Here, let me extinguish the candles…”

Moondancer shook her head. “There’s no need; I don’t think they’ll produce enough light to cause problems.” She paused, and smiled at Moonlight. “Besides… I think they might add something to the experience.”

Moonlight smiled back. “A touch of the macabre?”

Moondancer laughed. “A little bit of your thing, even though we’re kind of ending up doing my thing this time.”

Moonlight settled on her haunches as Moondancer began to set up the telescope’s tripod. She watched Moondancer adjust each leg in turn before fitting the telescope into its mount.

Moonlight’s brow furrowed as a thought began to form: “So… do you ever go looking for anything other than planets when you're using your telescope?”

Moondancer glanced back at her. “Well, there are stars, and nebulae, and meteors…”

Moonlight shook her head. “No, I mean, like… ponies. Flying ponies.”

Moondancer paused and scrunched-up her muzzle. “I suppose the odd pegasus has flown in front of my lens every now and again, but I wouldn’t expect many are out at this hour…”

Moonlight cleared her throat and spoke slowly: “What about… thestrals? You know; bat-like wings and fangs…”

Moondancer blinked a few times, then turned a mischievous smile on Moonlight. “You want to spy on the night guards, don’t you?! Because… you have a thing for them!”

Moonlight affected a coy smile. “What can I say; they don’t call me Mistress of the Dark for nothing!”
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