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Distant Shores · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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A Once and Future Darkness
Twilight Sparkle climbed out of bed and walked to the balcony.

It was nearly midnight in Canterlot, and her guest bedroom in Celestia's palace looked down from the edge of the mountain onto the city far below. The lighted streets flowed like burning rivers through the darkness, pouring down the foothills and blocks and causeways into the humid valley. Vague sounds drifted up despite the late hour, a constant low murmur of voices and hoofsteps that echoed against the hard stones. She felt the noise as much as heard it.

It was cool up high, almost chilled. The ponies below sweltered in the July heat, but on Celestia's mountain she could see her breath fogging in the air, and for a moment a long-forgotten memory seized her mind. It was winter, and she was a filly, roaring with Spike, pretending her breath was smoke and his was fire and both of them were dragons perched atop a hoard of books and toys and clothes stolen from her brother's drawers.

She smiled and closed her eyes. A mountain breeze swept over the balcony, tussling her mane, and she stretched out her wings to let it ruffle her feathers as well. A nice night for a flight, but she had an early train to catch. Back to bed, then.

She pushed away from the marble balustrade and was about to step inside when a silver light caught her eye. Curious, she looked up.

The moon was too low. Bloated and full, it drifted across the sky like an overloaded boat. It bumped against the mountaintop, knocking loose a small avalanche, and then it slowly bounced its way around until it snagged on the highest tower of Celestia's castle. A pennanted spire scraped a deep gouge in the moon's surface before snapping free to tumble to the earth below.

She expected the moon to continue on its way then, but it seemed to be lodged on the castle. It filled half the sky above her, as large as a mountain itself. Its lantern glow bathed the world in a gentle, cold light.

Wings fluttered in the darkness, and she turned to see a motley collection of pegasus night owls flying up to the moon. They swarmed around like moths, and then as one they put their hooves against the cratered regolith and pushed. Slowly, the moon lifted off the tower, bumped against the mountain again, and resumed its ponderous drift across the nighttime sky. The pegasi let out a ragged cheer and descended back into the city.

So, that was nice. Crisis averted. Having the moon stuck on the castle would have been a tremendous headache for the Royal Astronomy Corps. Twilight smiled and gave the receding moon a little wave with her wingtip.

“That is most unusual,” Luna said beside her. She leaned over the railing to get a better view of the moon as it vanished over the horizon.

“Well, it is a full moon,” Twilight said. “My mom told me once the moon was closer when it was full.”

Luna smiled at that. “And you believe her?”

“Well, when I was a foal, I did. But then she gave me a book on astronomy for my birthday, and it had a whole chapter on the phases of the moon and how they’re really just a visual artifact of our position relative to the moon and sun and that the moon never really changes and that ponies who believe the moon gets closer or further from us really need to study more.” She paused for a moment, realizing she was babbling. “Luna, is this a dream—”

Twilight Sparkle woke covered in sweat, the thin sheets tangled around her legs. Luna was nowhere around, which was fortunate because she felt sticky and had a slight headache behind her horn and wasn’t really in the mood for company. She mumbled and kicked away the blankets, rolling onto her side in search of a cooler section of the bed.

The July heat in Ponyville offered no quarter, even at night. She fanned her wings a few times, trying to stir a breeze in the thick, cloying air, but the eddies teased her feathers for only a moment before dying. Something about the summer hated everything cool and refreshing and killed them wherever they were found.

Outside, viewed dimly through the gauze curtains draped across her balcony door, the moon was a solitary star high in the black vault of night. It was full and small, barely the size of a child’s marble, and Twilight gave it a grumpy frown.

Stupid moon. Stupid summer.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but when she opened her eyes again it was dawn.

Summer struck with a vengeance the next morning.

It wasn’t scorching – Ponyville was not a desert. But on some days, when the winds died and a glum humid haze drifted in from the Everfree Forest, ponies forgot what it was to feel dry. The air pressed against them like wet cotton, it invaded their lungs, it drenched their coats and left them swimming through the streets. Ponies darted from shadow to shade, hiding in the lee of buildings and beneath the trees until they recovered their breath for the dash to the next refuge from the sun.

Pegasi suffered the most. The thick coats that kept them warm in the high reaches of the atmosphere became suffocating blankets. Their feathers caught the moist air like sponges, turning scraggly and limp. Their cloud homes became ovens, and they tore open the roofs and walls and floors in a desperate bid to entice a breeze.

Earth ponies seemed fine, Twilight noted. Applejack apparently didn’t even notice the heat. She just sipped on her lemonade, a relaxed smile on her face as she listened to Rarity moan about the weather.

Twilight had long-since tuned Rarity out. The three of them sat beneath a sun awning outside the Hayseed Cafe in central Ponyville, waiting for their lunch orders to arrive. They’d been waiting for a while – being a princess did not result in faster food delivery – but the waiter kept their glasses full of icy lemonade. He deserved a good tip, Twilight decided.

“And my mane!” Rarity wailed. “It just curls up like a spring! I spent the whole morning trying to straighten it out, and…”

Twilight stopped paying attention again. It was at least the third or fourth time Rarity had mentioned her mane since they sat down to eat. Instead she focused on her breathing, and how cool the crystal floor of her palace would feel when she got back to it and flopped down on her belly.

“You alright, Twilight?” Applejack broke into her musing. “You look a bit beat.”

“Hm? Yeah, just…” Twilight trailed off with a yawn. “Sorry. Just tired. I didn’t sleep very well last night. The heat kept me up.”

“You and me both, darling,” Rarity said. She pushed a stray purple ringlet away from her face. “I was tossing and turning all night.”

Applejack took another sip from her lemonade. “Ah, it’s not so bad. Some years are like this, little hotter’n others. It’ll pass soon.”

Twilight’s ears perked at that. “Really? How soon?” Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Hm.” Applejack tilted her head. “September?”

Or maybe she could go visit her brother. There was still snow in the Crystal Empire at this time of year. She could fill a swimming pool with it and jump in, and nopony could make her come out again because she was a princess and princesses were allowed to swim in the snow as much as they wanted and it would feel wonderful between her feathers and—

“Twilight?” Rarity’s voice broke her reverie. “Your food is here.”

So it was. A house salad with with bits of orange sat before her. The arugula was a bit wilted, but the citrusy bite of the orange was cool and sharp in her mouth. For the next several minutes conversation lulled as the three of them ate.

“So,” Applejack finally said. “How’s the Boutique doing?”

“Slow this week,” Rarity said. “Nopony wants to shop for clothes in this weather. I sold a few sun hats, but otherwise… well, see for yourself.” She gestured with a hoof at the street. It wasn’t crowded, but everypony Twilight saw was naked in deference to the punishing heat. Even the fashion horses who normally wore saddles went bare.

“Sorry to hear that,” Applejack said. “If you want, come on out to the farm. The orchard’s nice an’ cool.”

“I might just do that.” Rarity paused to yawn. “Mm, pardon me. On second thought, I might go out there just to take a nap. Last night was just atrocious. Too hot, and when I did finally get to sleep I kept having the weirdest dreams.”

Dreams. Something she could sympathize with. Twilight took another sip of her lemonade and tried to keep up with the conversation until their meal was done, and they exchanged half-hearted farewells before slinking back into the punishing sun.

The rest of the day passed in a dull blur. Ponies kept to their homes. The afternoon market was empty except for a few earth pony farmers who spent the day chatting with each other while they waited for customers. High above, the sun seemed content to stretch out the hours, drifting reluctantly toward evening.

Twilight silently willed the sun to move faster. Anything to hasten the coming night.

“So, you don’t like summer?” Luna asked. She floated a dainty teacup to her lips and took a sip.

“Oh, I love summer!” Twilight said. She shifted her weight, careful not to rock their small rowboat, and filled her own teacup from the steaming pot. It was a jasmine blend – one of her favorites. “It’s just this heat I can’t stand. Summers in Canterlot aren’t so bad.”

At least it was nice on the boat. Twilight took a sip of tea and looked out over the waves. The wind was low, and the ocean calm. In the distance, a smudge on the horizon might have been a storm, or a range of mountains beyond some unseen, distant shore.

“Canterlot is in the mountains,” Luna said. She took another sip and carefully set her cup down on the tray. The tiny boat was barely wide enough to hold it, and the two of them filled up all its remaining space. “It never gets too warm, but the winters can be fierce.”

“That’s what fires are for, and good books to curl up with.”

Luna allowed herself a smile. “So they are. And if I can be honest, I enjoy the winter. The nights are longer.”

“And it’s easier to see the stars,” Twilight said with a grin. She looked out again at the ocean. “You know, it’s funny. This doesn’t feel like a dream.”

“Who says it is?”

“It must be. I don’t remember coming here, and there’s no reason for me to be on a boat with you in the middle of an ocean.” Twilight peered over the edge into the dark waters. A silver flicker caught her eye – a school of mackerel darting away from her shadow.

“Maybe it is real, then.”

“It feels real.” Twilight tapped her hoof in a small puddle collecting in the bottom of the boat. It was briny and cool against her skin. “But it’s still a dream. Just like last night.”

“Maybe dreams can be real,” Luna said. She peered beneath the silver tray. “We seem to be taking on some water.”

“There must be a leak.” The water was up over her hooves now. She quickly drank the last of her tea and used the cup to scoop water out of the boat. “Anyway, dreams aren’t real. They’re just our minds attempting to make sense of the stimuli we experience each day. It’s why they’re so chaotic and nonsensical.”

“Does this seem chaotic and nonsensical?” Luna stood on her seat to avoid the water.

“Honestly? Yes. Do you have a bigger cup?”

“I have a teapot. Will that help?”

“Worth a try.” Twilight tossed her cup over the side and grabbed the teapot from Luna. It held ten times as much as the cup, but despite her hurried bailing the boat sank deeper and deeper. The highest waves spilled water over the gunwale. “We might have to leave.”

“Pity, I enjoy sailing.” Luna hopped up on the bowsprit, using her wings for balance. “Can you swim?”

“Yes. You?” Twilight kept bailing until the gunwale sank beneath the surface, and the ocean flooded in to fill the boat. The teacups and napkins and tea cozies all floated to the surface while the rest of their enterprise sank into the depths. She treaded water with her hooves.

“Yes, but I’ll just fly, if that’s alright.” Luna hovered a comfortable distance away. “Now tell me, Twilight. Doesn’t this feel real?”

It did. The press of the water against her chest, the cool depths chilling her legs. The current teasing her tail. Waves breaking over her head, filling her nostrils with water and salt. She blew them clear and struggled to stay upright. It all felt very real, and a tiny worm of fear began crawling inside her heart.

“It does, Luna,” she gasped. “It feels very—”

Twilight woke with a gasp. A cold flush shot down her spine, standing her coat on end, but just as quickly the suffocating summer heat returned. She groaned and struggled out of the sodden sheets. The crystal floor was cool under her hooves, and she flopped onto it gratefully. Puddles collected on the floor beneath her bed, but she ignored them.

Stupid summer. Stupid dreams. She blinked blearily out her balcony door, where the full moon peered down at her misery. Stupid moon.

In time, she managed to sleep.

The sun rose that morning like a pregnant pegasus – slow, ponderous and huge. Its rays dug into Twilight’s eyes, prying between her lids, dragging her forcefully into the world of the waking.

And, Celestia dammit, it was already hot.

Even the earth ponies seemed to feel it today. They trudged to and fro in the Ponyville streets, and the few who already worked the stalls slumped against their produce. The sun was a hammer, and the wet air a rope around their necks. A thick haze concealed the horizon, blending it with the sky in a gray smudge that seemed to hem in the town. Twilight couldn’t even see the Canterlot mountains from her balcony.

She stood and frowned at her bed. It was still sodden in the center; water dripped onto the floor below. The scent of salt filled the air, and the sheets were crusty with brine. A starfish clung to her headboard.

So, that was interesting. She shook out her coat, sending a cloud of salt crystals falling to the floor.

She hopped over the balcony railing and flew down to the street. A few ponies waved or raised their voices in greeting, and she forced herself to smile in return.

What day was it? She couldn’t remember. The cloying heat drove every meaningful fact from her brain, and it was all she could do to stumble into the shade of an enormous oak in the center of the town square. She closed her eyes her eyes for just a moment.

Breathe in, breathe out. She let her mind drift while her body adjusted to the heat. Idle fantasies of snow and ice spun around her mind. Perhaps a visit to Celestia’s palace, high on its mountain, was in order? She could drink from the crystal streams and soak her feathers in the glacial melt. And maybe visit her parents while she was there.

“Twilight? Hey, Twilight!”

“Hm?” She cracked an eye open to see Rainbow Dash standing a few feet away. The pegasus fidgeted, leaning from hoof to hoof. “Hey, Dash.”

“Oh, good. I thought you were asleep.” Dash held a hoof up over her eyes to block the sun. She looked as exhausted as Twilight felt, and her wings flapped weakly, creating a gentle breeze that kissed Twilight’s coat with a cool touch. “Do you have a minute?”

“I guess?” Twilight winced at the sudden intrusion of the sun and peered around the town square. There was no oak tree, nor any shadow. “Say, Dash? Have you, uh, felt anything weird lately?”

“Huh? Like what?”

“Like… I’m not sure. Like things aren’t quite real.” She frowned down at her hooves. Tiny dark spots dappled the cobblestones where sweat dripped from her muzzle. “Like… like a dream.”

“Uh.” Dash chewed on the inside of her lip. “I dunno. I haven’t really been sleeping much. Too hot, you know?”

“Yeah, I definitely know. So, what did you need?”

Dash blinked for a moment, then jerked upright. “Oh! Nurse Redheart needs you. There’s a, uh…” She glanced over her shoulder. “A problem.”

Twilight stood. For a moment the constricting heat was forgotten. “Is somepony hurt?”

Dash wiped her forehead with a hoof. Strands of her bright mane plastered to her face. “Sorta, I guess? It’s hard to explain. C’mon.”

She led the way through Ponyville’s quiet streets. A few neighbors greeted them, or waved from the windows, but otherwise the town was as empty as the coldest winter night. Twilight dreamed about how that would feel, and nearly stumbled into Rainbow Dash’s rump when they finally arrived at their destinations. It was a small bungalow on the edge of the town, with neat rows of petunias growing from flower boxes beneath the windowsills. The door was open, and inside she heard the quiet murmur of voices.

“You know Sugar Nut?” Dash asked as they entered the home. It brought an instant relief from the sun, but even with all the doors and windows open there was no ventilation.

“She’s Walnut’s daughter, right?” Twilight had only encountered them in the market, where Walnut set up her stand once a week to sell a bewildering variety of nuts, seeds, and hard fruits. She was, like most earth ponies, sensible and friendly, and her daughter seemed the same.

Now that she looked around the home, it was obvious who lived here. A vast kitchen took up half the bottom floor, filled with all the tools of a chef who took their job seriously. A row of larders ran alongside the kitchen, stuffed with barrels and crates of nuts and jars of nut oils. The living area was tidy but strewn with evidence of a small filly – toys, foal’s books, art projects. A long strand of buckeyes strung on a thread looped over the fireplace, clacking quietly whenever the air shifted around them.

“Is she alright?” Twilight asked. The voices seemed to be coming from the stairs leading up to the second floor, and without thinking she climbed them. Rainbow Dash followed a few steps behind.

Nurse Redheart and Walnut were at the top. The former seemed tired, her normally neat mane askew beneath her nurse’s hat. Bags weighed down her eyes, and she gave Twilight a small nod.

Walnut was a mess. Her eyes were red from crying, and her breath came in hitches and starts, never sounding more than a few seconds away from a sob. She looked at Twilight without recognition for a long moment, then jerked forward, wrapping her legs around Twilight’s chest in a vice-like hug.

“Oh thank goodness!” Her voice spilled out in a rush. “You came! I mean, I knew you’d come. I just, I don’t know what to do, and Redheart said you might be able to help and…” A weak sob choked out the rest of her words, and she fell to her haunches, holding onto Twilight for support.

Comforting distraught ponies was not one of Twilight’s specialties. She froze in Walnut’s grip, and when nothing remained but sobs she slowly lifted a hoof, patting it on Wanut’s back.

“It’s, uh, okay,” she said. “I’m here now, and, uh…” She glanced over at Redheart and Rainbow Dash. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s better if you see for yourself,” Redheart said. “I’m not sure it’s a medical issue, or I’d have already brought her to the hospital.”

“Who? Walnut?” Twilight glanced down at the mare in her grasp. She didn’t seem ill or injured.

“No, Sugar Nut. She’s in her room.” Redheart reached out a hoof to gently touch Walnut’s side, and she slowly unwrapped her legs from around Twilight’s chest. Together they led the way down the hall, with Twilight and Rainbow Dash trailing a few steps behind.

Sugar Nut sat on her bed, a pencil in her mouth and a pad of sketch paper laid out on the sheets in front of her. She hummed quietly around the pencil, and her ears perked up as the four adults crowded into the room.

She was smiling, Twilight saw. And more importantly, she had a cutie mark – a paintbrush filling in the image of a heart. That wasn’t there the last time they’d met, and even though Ponyville had grown in the years since Twilight arrived, it was still big news when a filly got her mark. Wonderful news, and they should have already been planning her cute-ceañera.

“Hey sweetie.” Nurse Redheart climbed onto the bed beside the filly and carefully settled down at her side. “How do you feel?”

“Good!” Sugar Nut exclaimed. She tore the top sheet off her sketch pad and set it aside, and then began to scratch out some new design. “Is mommy feeling any better?”

“She is.” Redheart glanced over at Walnut, who huddled near the door. “She’s still a little worried about you, though, and we were hoping you could tell Princess Twilight how you got your cutie mark.”

“Oh! Okay!” Sugar Nut tore off another sheet from her notepad. “I’m sorry, princess. I didn’t see you there.” She giggled at something, and beside her Nurse Redheart winced.

Twilight edged closer and peered down at the most recent piece of paper. It held a half-finished sketch of Nurse Redheart, all loose lines and movement but somehow striking in its resemblance to the mare. She couldn’t have spent more than thirty seconds on it, but it was more real than anything Twilight could have done in a full afternoon.

“That’s fine,” Twilight said. “Congratulations, by the way. And these drawings are wonderful.”

“They’re messy,” Sugar Nut said. She frowned down at her current work. “I need better paper and some charcoals. And pens.”

“I think the school has art supplies. We can ask Ms. Cherilee for some later today.” Twilight leaned forward to examine the filly’s latest sketch. It appeared to be a pegasus in flight, but nopony she recognized. “Now, can you tell me about your mark?”

“Mhm! I was dreaming last night, and—”

Twilight jerked away so suddenly the bed shook. Sugar Nut froze, and the other adults all turned to her in surprise.

“Er, sorry,” Twilight said. Despite the choking heat, she suddenly felt cold. “Just, um, thought of something. Go on.”

“Uh, okay.” It took a few seconds for Sugar Nut to get back up to steam. “I dreamed that I was in a garden, but everything stood still. It was all grey, like pencils. Even the sun and sky were gray. Everywhere I went was like that, and I started to cry.

“But then there was a mare next to me.” Sugar Nut paused in her sketching, and looked up at the ceiling with a wide smile. “She was super tall, taller than mommy, and she had wings and a horn, and she asked me why I was crying, and—”

“Sorry, this mare,” Twilight said. “What color was she?”

“Blue! Every blue. Her coat was indigo but her mane was cobalt and lapis and sapphire and even some blues I don’t know, and she was sooo beautiful! Even more beautiful than mommy.” She paused for a second and ducked her head. “Sorry mommy.”

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Walnut murmured. “Keep going.”

Sugar Nut nodded vigorously. “I told her I was sad because everything was grey and didn’t move, and she gave me a magic paintbrush! She told me to paint everything, and I did, and all the flowers turned red and green and yellow, and the grass turned green, and the sky turned cerulean, and the sun turned yellow, and everything started moving again! Even the wind!”

“And that’s how you got your mark?” Twilight hazarded.

“Nope!” Sugar Nut paused to play with her sketch. There were three pegasi now, all cavorting in the air. They were elegant and majestic, with long tapered wings and slender hooves, seeming to dance on the paper. Far beneath them, faintly shaded with the edge of the lead, Twilight saw what might have been a mountain range in the distance, and much closer an ocean’s waves breaking against the shore.

“I tried to give the brush back,” Sugar Nut continued. “But the tall mare said I could keep it if I painted one more thing. But there was nothing left to paint, and I started to wake up. And she said I had to hurry and paint my eyes.”

Silence filled the room, broken by a quiet sob from Walnut.

“Paint your eyes…” Twilight glanced at Sugar Nut’s cutie mark, then at the filly’s face. Her eyes were wide and bright and chestnut brown, and she stared intently at the sketch pad between her legs. But now that Twilight looked closer, her eyes seemed unfocused, unmoving. Slowly, she lifted a hoof and waved it in front of the filly’s eyes.

No reaction. Sugar Nut kept drawing, putting the last few touches on a mesmerizing study of flight and flow. She jerked her head three times, and all three pegasi grew horns.

“Done! Here you go!” She tore the page off with her lips and held it out for Twilight.

Twilight accepted it with a shaking hoof. She didn’t trust her magic just yet. “Thank you, Sugar Nut. It’s beautiful. If you’ll excuse us for a moment, we’re going to go talk for a bit, okay?”

“Okay!” Sugar Nut was already sketching something new, and said nothing else as the four adults retreated into the hallway.

Walnut slumped against Nurse Redheart, who draped a hoof over her shoulders. Rainbow Dash and Twilight peered at the sketch, then at each other, then at the filly on her bed.

“She’s blind?” Twilight asked. Walnut let out a quiet keen at the word, and Nurse Redheart frowned.

“She seems to be,” Redheart said. “Walnut said she kept running into walls, and almost fell down the stairs. That’s when she got me.”

“So, uh, obvious question here,” Dash said. “How is she drawing like that?” She pointed with her muzzle at the paper in Twilight’s hooves.

“There’s some kind of magic at work here,” Twilight said. “Maybe a curse, or dark magic? It’s nothing I’ve heard of.”

“Uh, hello?” Dash rapped Twilight’s skull with a hoof. “She said she saw Luna in a dream. She must know something about this.”

“That’s not definitive. We’ve all been having trouble sleeping. It’s this heat.” As if summoned, the summer crashed back down upon Twilight’s shoulders. The humid air choked her, squeezing her head like a vice. A hoof-shaped spot of moisture began to curl the paper where Twilight touched, and she lifted it away with her magic before her sweat could ruin the art.

“She doesn’t seem to be in any distress for now,” she continued. “Let me go back and do some research. If necessary, I can ask the princesses for help.”

Or an explanation, she added silently.

Rainbow Dash returned to the castle library with her, to Twilight’s surprise.

“You know what research means, right? Reading books and taking notes?”

“Yeah, whatever.” Rainbow Dash waved a wingtip dismissively. “I can do that.”

And Rainbow Dash tried, she really did. She fetched books with Spike’s help, and she flipped through tomes of onieromancy and magical sickness and even biographies of famous blind artists. She fetched tea and wrote down page numbers whenever Twilight called them out.

And after a few hours they took a break to assess what they had learned. As far as Twilight could tell, it was nothing.

“But, I read all those books! Just like you said!” Rainbow Dash protested.

“That’s how it goes sometimes.” Twilight rubbed her temples with a hoof. Another headache was creeping up on her. “I think we need a break.”

“You need a break. I need a nap.” Rainbow Dash yawned, then scowled out the window. The sun was still hours from setting. “Ugh, this stupid heat. Why can’t it end?”

“It’s just a heatwave. Applejack said it will pass.” Twilight stifled a yawn of her own. Maybe a nap wasn’t such a bad idea. “Say, uh, Dash?”


“Have you been having trouble sleeping? Odd dreams?”

There was a long pause. Rainbow Dash shuffled her hooves.

Finally, “Uh, maybe. We all have, Twilight.” She stretched her wings and neck. “Listen, I’m taking a nap. Get some rest, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Right.” Rainbow paused for a moment, as if expecting something more, but when nothing else came she shrugged and leapt into the air, zipping out the window into the pitiless, burning sky.

But Twilight Sparkle found no rest. Her books tugged at her soul, and after a few sleepless minutes lying atop the covers of her bed, she trudged back down to the library for another stab at research. The heat settled into her bones, and she wiped her brow every few minutes to keep sweat from dripping onto the precious pages. She downed cups of water like they were popcorn.

The sun was near the horizon when Rainbow Dash returned. She flitted through the window, looking cool and refreshed, her feathers straight and her mane dry, windblown and fair. She settled by Twilight’s side and gave her cheek a gentle nuzzle.

“Hey, still working?”

“Yes.” Twilight pushed her away half-heartedly. “Don’t touch me, I’m icky.”

“We all are. It’s this heat.” She stretched languidly, the tips of her wings reaching up, up toward the ceiling. “Don’t mind it.”

“How can ponies stand it?” Twilight grumped. “It’s insane.”

“Eh, just don’t let it bother you, I guess.” Rainbow Dash rubbed against her side. “It only gets you if you let it, right?”

“Um.” Twilight leaned away. Dash was being an unusually affectionate friend tonight. “Right. I guess. How’s, uh, Sugar Nut doing? Did you check on her?”

“Nah, I’m sure she’s fine.” Dash shrugged, rolling her shoulders in a fluid motion reminiscent of a cat. “Better question: how are you? Take that nap?”

“I couldn’t.” Twilight scowled down at her latest book. “And no luck, either. Dreams are poorly understood from a magical perspective. Nopony really knows where they come from or what they mean.”

“One pony might.”

“I don’t want to go running to Celestia or Luna every time we have a problem we can’t solve in ten minutes. Besides, for all we know, dreams don’t have anything to do with Sugar Nut’s malady.”

“Lotta weird dreams going around, though.”

“That’s just the heat.” Twilight let out a deep breath, willing the suffocating warmth to leave her body. “Nopony can sleep.”

“Maybe they aren’t trying hard enough.” Rainbow Dash leaned forward again, and lightly nipped the skin below Twilight’s ear.

“Rainbow!” Twilight pushed her away with a squeak and a blush. “What are you doing?”

“C’mon, egghead, what do you think?” Dash stepped to the side, reaching out with a wingtip to brush Twilight’s shoulder. “Just having a little fun.”

“We’re friends, Dash! But not, uh, not like that!” Twilight found she was out of breath from just those few words.

“So? Who cares?” Rainbow Dash stepped forward, and when Twilight didn’t move to stop her, pulled her into a loose hug. Their muzzles were just inches apart, and Twilight felt the heat of her breath. The scent of rain and sweat and ozone and apples stolen from Applejack’s orchards flooded her brain.

“It’s the heat, Dash. It’s making ponies do strange things…” She placed a hoof against Dash’s chest. It burned like an oven, and the heart hammering just inches away shook her leg. “Let’s, just…”

“You’re thinking too much, egghead. Stop.” Dash pressed forward, and their lips touched.

That was true. Confused thoughts tumbled through Twilight’s brain, melting in the heat. Rainbow Dash’s body was like a furnace, hotter even than the stultifying summer air. Another kiss came, longer, and then Dash’s lips found her cheeks and chin and neck, each gentle caress followed by the sharp touch of her teeth.

Twilight Sparkle was not a foal – she knew about love and romance and sex. She was a sexual creature, as all ponies were, and though she had never been in an intimate relationship, she knew what they were about.

Still, she was pretty sure this wasn’t how they started. That thought niggled at the back of her mind even as she gave in to instinct, and her lips found Rainbow Dash’s skin. It tasted like sweat and rainstorms, and the pegasus let out a long, shuddering breath.

“Yes, like that,” Rainbow Dash breathed. “Harder.”

Okay, harder. Her teeth nipped at Dash’s neck gently. The muscles beneath her skin flexed in response. Dash’s wings flapped weakly, batting at Twilight’s shoulders. It only drove her further.

She could get used to this. She bit again.

“Yes!” Dash screamed. “Yes! Do it, Twilight!”

She could do it. Twilight pushed Rainbow Dash onto her back and straddled her. She bit again, just above Dash’s collarbone, and something hot and coppery flooded her mouth. The pegasus howled.

Everything was hot. Dash’s body, the taste of metal, the summer air. It cocooned her, burning away reason, leaving only sensation. Only the wild, grunting animal. She opened her mouth wide and closed her teeth on Dash’s neck. A fountain of blood painted her chest.

“Yes,” Rainbow Dash somehow spoke. She stroked Twilight’s mane with a gentle hoof. “Don’t stop. You're not done yet.”

Twilight didn’t hear her – it wouldn’t have mattered if she did. All that mattered was Dash’s body beneath her. It held something precious, something that fluttered and beat and ran but could never escape. She bit again, savaging her friend, until with a final, wet roar she rent the pegasus’s slender chest apart, and there it was. Beating, showering her with blood. She lowered her teeth to Dash’s heart and—

Twilight woke with a gasp. Her wings stood on end, straining to fly. Sweat poured from her in streams and soaked the sheets. Night was all around her, and she flailed at the darkness with her hooves, shrieking, pushing it away.

Finally, her brain caught up with her body, and she slumped. Vivid memories of the dream slid away from her mind, leaving only fatigue and shakes. Some foul taste clogged her mouth, stinking of iron and salt. She spat out a wad of blood.

Maybe it was time to see Luna after all. Twilight sank back onto the bed, ignoring the unpleasant squish of soaked sheets and damp pillow. They were, after all, a momentary respite from the sweltering summer night. Outside, shining in through her balcony door, the full moon leered at her from its high orbit.

Rainbow Dash found her in the morning. A vivid line of bruises ran down her neck and chest. Twilight stared at them for a moment, then looked away with a hot flush.

“Hey,” Dash said. “Sorry, I meant to come back yesterday. Nap lasted too long.”

“It’s fine. Are you, uh, alright?”

“Huh?” Dash tilted her head at the question. “Oh, yeah. Just, uh, weird dreams. Really weird.” She blushed and looked away as well.

“Right.” Twilight cleared her throat. “Anyway, I’m heading to Canterlot. I think it’s time we asked Luna about this.” She paused for a moment. “Would you like to, uh, come with me?”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, and her wings fluttered at her side. But then she slumped and shook her head. “Sorry, I promised Walnut I’d hang out with Sugar Nut. She’s still pretty freaked out about this.”

“Sugar Nut? She seemed fine.” Aside, of course, from being inexplicably blind.

“Huh? Oh, no, Walnut’s the one freaking out. I mean, wouldn’t you?”

Probably, Twilight decided. She gave her head a shake. “Okay, I’ll try to return tonight. Hopefully with a solution. Oh, and Dash?”


“Be careful, okay? There’s something weird going on. This heat, the dreams… I don’t know. Just be careful.”

Rainbow grinned. “Me, careful?”

Twilight flicked her shoulder with a wingtip. “Try it for once.” She jumped, her wings caught the air, and she flew away to Canterlot.

“What do you mean, they’re not here?”

“The princesses are on a short sabbatical,” the majordomo, Celestia’s personal secretary, said. “They put the court in recess two days ago and flew away before I could ask where they were going.”

Twilight sighed. The headache, which had seemed on the verge of vanishing when she reached Canterlot, came back in full force. At least it was cooler on the mountain. The fresh, crisp air stung her nostrils when she took in a deep breath.

Oddly, the ponies in Canterlot seemed no better rested than those in Ponyville. They had bags beneath their eyes, and twitched at unheard sounds. Even the guards slumped when they thought nopony was watching.

“Did they say when they were coming back?”

“No, but… hang on.” The majordomo nosed through the mountain of scrolls that threatened to overflow his desk. “Aha. Here we are. The princesses left a few messages, and you have two.”

Twilight floated the pair of scrolls from his grasp. They were rolled parchment, one secured by a bright white ribbon with gold embroidery, the other by a dark blue ribbon impregnated with silver threads. No mystery whose was whose.

She opened Celestia’s first. It contained only two words: “Be careful.”


Luna’s was longer, but not by much. Twilight read it with a scowl. “You know where to find me.”

She incinerated both of them with a thought and stormed out into the hall.

Her bedroom in Celestia’s palace was as she remembered it. The marble balcony looked down onto the city of Canterlot far below. Above, the mountain stretched toward the heaven.

She was not in the highest tower, but she could see it from her balcony. The pennant atop it was broken off. Damaged in a storm, one of the staff told her.

It was still early. The sun hung above the horizon, painting the world a soft gold. But the residue of sleepless night still clung to Twilight, and she let her hooves pull her to the bed, and she settled onto the soft covers with a happy murmur. They were fluffy and dry and the best thing she’d ever laid her head on.

Sleep was quick in coming.

“You must have questions,” Luna said.

“I do.” Twilight took her time before continuing. She stood atop a tightrope strung between two of Canterlot’s towers. Colorful dots the size of ants strolled through the streets below her. The rope shook under her hooves, and she stretched out her wings for balance.

Luna watched her from a few feet away. She sat on the rope, still as a statue.

“Okay. Okay.” Slowly the wobbling rope settled down, and Twilight dared to look up. “First, what’s going on with these dreams?”

“Ah, you noticed.” Luna smiled. “Something wonderful is happening, Twilight.”

“It doesn’t seem wonderful. It seems crazy. Things are happening that shouldn’t.”

“Who says they shouldn’t?” Luna shrugged, setting the rope bouncing again. “Why can’t dreams be real?”

“Because they’re not!” Twilight struggled to stay upright. “Dreams are just nonsense! They’re random thoughts, without meaning!”

“Oh, that’s not true.” Luna smiled at her, and tapped the rope with her hoof. It shook madly, nearly knocking Twilight off. “Believe me, I would know.”

“But they’ve never done this before!”

“Well, I wasn’t here before, was I?” Luna stalked forward, placing each hoof carefully on the rope until she was just inches away. “It’s been a thousand years, Twilight. Ponies have forgotten what dreams really are. They are magic, true magic, the birthright of every pony. And now, finally, the old magic is slowly coming back. It is… it is wonderful, Twilight Sparkle. This is a joyous time to be alive.”

Twilight struggled to stay upright. “Can you stop it? Ponies will go crazy, Luna. They aren’t ready for this.”

“Ah, so says you. So says my sister.” Luna lowered herself to her belly, straddling the tightrope like a cat. “Give it time, Twilight Sparkle, and they will grow to love it. It is a form of freedom, wonderful and wild. Magical.”

The rope twisted, and Twilight stumbled. She caught the rope with her forelegs and dangled from it, her rear legs kicking at the empty air. Her wings flapped uselessly.

“Anything else?” Luna asked. “I don’t think this dream will last much longer.”

“Yes!” Twilight shouted. “In our dreams, who are we?”

Luna tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“Is the—” Twilight slipped and nearly fell. “Is the pony we are in our dreams the real us? Is that how we really are, deep inside?”

“You sound worried, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna grinned. “Having interesting dreams, lately?”

The scent of blood returned. “No! I’m not! But tell me that’s not real, that’s not how we are!”

“That is freedom, Twilight. That is your soul, unchained. Now, wake.” She reached out a hoof and unhooked Twilight’s leg from the rope.

Gravity vanished, and the wind roared in her ears. The world spun, the ground growing closer with each revolution. Just before impact, she heard Luna’s final words.

“Find me in Ponyville.”

Ponyville was a mess when Twilight returned. A storm had rolled through, leaving the ground slick and wet, and the heatwave had finally broken. But the ponies seemed no more rested than before. They stumbled about in a daze, lost.

The sun and full moon both hung overhead. That was impossible. The full moon could only rise as the sun set, but there it was, mocking her.

Whatever. It was almost over. Twilight could feel the cliff waiting for them, even if she couldn’t see it. She flew through the crazed streets to her castle, and waited out the day in her bed.

At least Spike had changed the sheets. They were clean and dry and soft. Perhaps for the last time.

“Welcome, Twilight Sparkle!” Luna cried. She wheeled in the air, thousands of feet above the ocean. Below, Twilight saw a range of mountains in the distance beyond a rocky shore.

“Luna, stop this!” Twilight shouted. She flew alongside the dark princess. “You’re destroying the kingdom! Ponies are going mad!”

“No, they’re going free!” Luna laughed and spun in a tight circle. “The Dreamtime has finally returned! Our age of greatness begins anew!”

“AN AGE OF MADNESS,” a new voice thundered. A blistering, blinding light exploded before them, and when Twilight’s vision returned she saw Celestia hovering there, resplendent in her glory. “STOP THIS AT ONCE, LUNA!”

“I will not!” Luna shrieked at her sister. “This is how we are meant to be! Free from your coddling and harmony! Awakened from childhood! All creation will fear us again, as it should!”

The air around Luna dimmed as she spoke. Frost bit at Twilight’s feathers, and she darted away. “Celestia! What do I do!”

“We must stop her, Twilight!” A burst of light beat back Luna’s darkness. “Do not let her cross the shore! Beyond lies the land of madness, and she will drag all the world into it!”

“She is lying,” a voice whispered in Twilight’s mind. She twisted in place, searching for the source while the sisters fought. The sky pulsed with light and shadow as they clashed. “Celestia wants nothing but dull order for her children. We can free them, Twilight. End her tyranny!”

“No! She’s given us kindness and peace! Prosperity! She loves us!”

“She loves you too much! She will never let you grow! Ponies can be such wondrous creatures, Twilight Sparkle, but not if they live in her shadow!”

A triumphant cry broke into her thoughts, and Twilight turned to see Celestia tumble from the sky. Above her, Luna howled in delight and dove to pursue her sister.

“No!” Twilight beat her wings, chasing them both. “Luna, stop!”

“No, Twilight Sparkle. I can never stop, and neither can she. We are equally matched, and ponies must decide which of us will triumph. For a thousand years I have been gone, but now you must choose again! Her weak and sniveling safety, or my greatness?”

She was almost even with the falling alicorns now. “Please, I can’t—”

“You must! Let your heart decide!”

Luna caught Celestia, and her jaws opened like a shark’s. A thousand wicked teeth stretched out to take their pound of flesh.

Inside Twilight’s heart, something snapped. She screamed, a wordless incoherent shriek, and dove into Luna’s side.

“Yes! Yes! Do it!”

She did. Her teeth found Luna’s throat and bit. Hot, coppery blood filled her mouth, spraying out into the rushing air. She bit again, and again, and with each excision of flesh another piece of her mind melted away, leaving only a beast.

Somehow, Luna laughed. It was the last sound Twilight heard before she woke.

It was night when Twilight opened her eyes. Or perhaps it was dawn. She couldn’t tell.

A full moon filled half the sky outside her balcony. The world beneath it was chattering and red. Wild, maniacal. Joyous screams filled the air.

A laugh burbled up from Twilight’s chest, and she doubled over to vomit out a torrent of blood. It covered the floor, crawled up the walls, and spilled out through the balcony’s spindles in a black waterfall. She coughed and gagged and laughed. She howled with joy.


Outside, titans strode through the streets. Earth ponies a dozen meters high smashed the buildings as they passed. The earth shook with their hoofsteps.

Overhead, bat-like forms wheeled in silhouette. A dragon rose to join them, and the pegasi danced in the sky alongside it. It breathed out a burst of fire, and so did they.

Smoke rose from the Everfree Forest. Twilight peered between the trees and saw the spark-like forms of unicorns racing through the brush. Everything they touched burst into flames.

She laughed again, for there was no reason not to. Reality bent, and she found herself in the town square. The earth buckled and broke as something pushed from beneath the cobblestones, and a mighty oak slowly rose from the ruins. It shook off the dirt, and with no more than a thought her library tree, her true home, was reborn. Her useless crystal castle crumbled into dust.

It was wonderful. She laughed and found she could not stop. A few feet away, a chimaera wearing Rainbow Dash's garish mane and cutie mark landed on cat-like paws. The grin it gave her dripped with promises. Twilight's heart beat faster at the sight.

On the horizon, the sun slowly rose. It was red, and color wept from it like a wound, slowly filling the sky with all the shades of blood. Crimson and alizarin and vermilion and cinnabar painted the heavens and the earth and everything in between, everything except the lurid silver moon that watched them all.

And so began the first day of a new era. The age of dreams and monsters and greatness.

Everywhere, ponies woke to the first day of a thousand years of night.
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