A summer day, and then in Memory
Summer vacation. No need to wait for school before taking the train to Canterlot. No need to play hookey, either. Dinky feels uncharacteristically non-guilty as she waits outside Prince Solar Eclipse's suite. She doesn't have any homework over the summer, but she does have reading to do--a large book is spread in front of her on the hallway floor while the guards ignore her. She's not reading it, though--she's just sitting there, in thought. Looking glum.
"I am afraid the prince is not available today," says a voice, cold and stern, that materializes right behind the filly. "It would, perhaps, be more appropriate to study in the library," Nightshade continues, peering down at the young unicorn with dark, purple eyes.
Dinky looks up. Her yellow eyes are confrontational but neither angry nor clearly annoyed. "Where is he? With his mom?" She puts a bookmark in her tome and flips it shut with her nose before looking back to the overseer.
"Perhaps," says Nightshade mysteriously, taking a discreet glance at the book's title. "I suppose you are in the preparatory stage of entering Celestia's Academy?"
Dinky squats back in disbelief, forgetting for a moment how to stand. "Are you looney?" She taps her horn. "I'm a dud, remember? Can't even lift a feather with this thing. I'd be the laughing stock of the academy, plus they'd probably all hate me." She slips the book into her rucksack while she's talking, avoiding eye contact. "No, I'm just trying to work things out on my own. Was hoping Eclipse could help."
Oh, and the book is called, 'Life Eternal: Channeling the Wellspring".
Nightshade makes a careful note of the book's title, but when she speaks again it's as if she hasn't noticed at all. "Certainly you must know of other possible tutors or mentors to assist you? After all, the prince is often busy with his duties."
Dinky sighs and nods. "Yeah, I've got some leads. Nettleglum, the palace steward. If I could manage to actually get her house to behave, she might have something foe me. There's Tejene, the zebra shaman. Can't find him around, though. And Dusk's cool, but he's a little... I dunno, he makes me nervous. Magical conflict or something. I hear there's a doctor at the hospital I might want to see." She falls silently into thought. "Eclipse isn't a tutor--he's just a kid, like me. My best friend. Plus all that betrothal stuff."
Nightshade's head bobs up and down in contemplation. "Of course," she comments, " and I can understand why you would seek their expertise in particular. Perhaps, much more fitting than what I can offer." Her horn seems to grow darker, then suddenly waves of shadow spring forth from the tip, spraying down to the floor and slowly congealing into definite forms. The clumps of shadow stretch and vibrate as tendrils sprout, forming legs and tails and heads. Miniature shadow ponies clamber about in agitation, their lifelike faces scrunched in tension and rage as they drag another little pony tied to a wheelbarrow. "History is filled with tragedies of ignorance; gifts are mistaken for curses." Soundlessly the little shadows harass their prisoner, dragging her towards a stake, a fire being prepared not too far away. "But there are those of kind heart who know truth and compassion." Suddenly the mob is broken up by waves of force. Their prisoner is left behind, weeping in shame, but her savior comes upon her: an alicorn of great beauty who looks rather familiar. "And even the most frightening of talents can be made to serve the greater good." The former prisoner leaps up in joy, her horn glowing brightly as she casts her spell, spirits rising from the ground to dance in celebration.
Dinky is a captive audience from the moment Nightshade starts her show, and doesn't look away for the entire thing. She lowers herself to her posterior, watching intently, lip quavering. At the rising of the spirits in the end, Dinky does a double take. "What was that all about?" She points to the freed prisoner. "Who was that?"
"Her name was Whispersong, the Spirit Caller," Nightshade explains. "Unfortunately, for some time she was also known as Whispersong, the Necromancer, despite the favor granted to her by the Princess Celestia herself. She communed often with the spirits of departed creatures, helping to return them into the earth, but she always respected the Great Divide and never attempted to contact the spirits of the Free."
"Huh." Dinky shakes her sack. "She's in this book. Don't really remember much about her... it didn't say they tried to kill her." She looks unbelievingly up at Nightshade. "So... you trying to scare me, or encourage me, or what?"
"There is much that the conventional history writers choose to leave out, for various motives," Nightshade states, with a lilt of scholarly criticism in her voice. "I tell you this only to inform, leaving the judgment to yourself. What is paramount is that the past be made known as it should: with minimal mediation."
Dinky's eyelids lower. "Yeah. Great. Spiritcallers are loads of fun, necromancers get burned. Got it." She trudges along the hallway, headed for the library. "I'll be sure and try and pick a nice title for myself, if I ever get past killing grass."
Nightshade stays right where she is, persisting in silence, solemn and emotionless. She watches as Dinky moves farther and farther away, hooves echoing across the hall, until several seconds later she says: "Does the name Blackbird mean anything to you, Ms. Doo?"
The foal freezes in the hallway. She turns around with a few well chosen soft steps, anger now on her face. She doesn't answer--she just stares incredulously.
Nightshade's head tilts a miniscule degree, her eyes gaining a curious sheen as the light reflects off them in a new way. "It appears that it does," she deduces. "But...how familiar? I wonder."
"Yeah, you wonder pretty well," scoff Dinky. "She was my grandmother. But you know that, right? She died before I was born, but my mom can't stop talking about her." She takes a step forward and swings her sack onto her back, like a weapon. "What is your deal? Are you getting at something here, or... I don't even know what."
"Perhaps," Nightshade states with a tone of vagueness. "As you have likely deduced, I have more than a passing interest in the study of the past, and often, too, how ponies interpret it." She walks to the side of the hall, keeping the distance between herself and the filly the same, but unbeknownst to the latter Nightshade's shadow now falls rather closer to Dinky's. "I find you learn a great deal about other ponies that way."
Dinky remains obstinate in the face of Nightshade's exposition. She sidles to one side of the hall, making it easy for Nightshade to keep her distance. And no, Dinky doesn't notice the proximity of the shadows... but maybe she realizes something is wrong. "If you have questions for me, Miss Shade, just ask. I'm around today. What better have I got to do?" Her tail flicks tensely against the wall.
"Questions will only provide so much," says Nightshade. "At some point it becomes prudent to put theory into action. So, I have one more question." She turns aside once more, her shadow lengthening further until it almost touches Dinky's. "Do you want to meet Blackbird for yourself?"
Dinky is staring at Nightshade suspiciously, but with something else. Hope? Curiosity? Macabre curiosity, maybe? Her jaw is open before she can think what to say. "She's dead," the filly points out. "You saying she's a ghost?"
"Ghosts are not within my purview," Nightshade speaks. "Rather, I am proficient in recovering...memories, remembrances, experiences of the past." Her shadow shifts and sidles, probing the outer boundaries of Dinky's own shadow. "It just so happens that I collected many such memories of Blackbird in my investigations, enough to show you something of her...character."
Dinky shifts awayslightly, and it's then she realizes that he shadow is being... impinged on. She leaps without quite leaving the floor. "Wha--what are you doing?" She holds up a hoof, watching the shadow of her leg, and then scampers a few steps back, out of shadow range. "Are you violating my shadow?"
"Whatever do you mean?" Nightshade inquires, and in an instant her shadow has resumed normal behaviours, pooling tightly at her hooves. "I do not seek to 'violate' or impinge upon your freedom. You have a choice: to accept my offer, or to return to your adolescent disdain."
Dinky looks at the patterns on the floor with uncertainty, blinking. She looks cautiously back at Nightshade. "You... all right. Whatever. Don't screw with me. If you can introduce me to my dead grandmother from memories or whatever, let's have it. If it makes you happy, then fine." She stands firm, all four knees tight.
Nightshade gazes at Dinky, her expression suddenly purposeful and direct. "If it pleases you," she says, her eyes becoming deep pools of swirling darkness. Much happens. Light breaks down into its base particles as shadow erupts from the ground. Nightshade's horn turns black as darkness seeps out and envelops her, embraces her, squeezes the colour and brightness out of her. Her mouth hangs open in a silent gasp, but whether from pain or ecstasy it is difficult to say. Very soon even form and pattern fade until all that remains is a being of the Void, a form of black space with something like raw static clinging to the nebulous edges. There is the horn, though, which glows with starlight, and eyes of glowing purple that gaze upon Dinky hungrily. "noW ReMeMBer!" she declares in an unearthly, monstrous voice as the shadows spring forth from the ground, like a fresh spring, and swallow the world whole.
Dinky is not cool with this. This display is far scarier than anything Luna ever did, and she's scuttling back before she knows it. But Dinky is riveted by the strangeness. She's caught by the command and does remember in the way it wants her to. Her world is swallowed and she falls to her seat... only to land on a tuffet. An actual tuffet. In a finely decorated house, all made up in damask and rococo stylings. Ornate lanterns buzzing with lightning bugs. Furniture draped with unnecessary extra layers of upholstery. A slowly whirring ceiling fan. Dangling things from every protrusion. Velvet and sateen everywhere... and a large, jet black stallion, dressed in a wine-colored sweater vest, sitting at a desk doing work. "What," says Dinky.
"An apt description of our experience when first we delved into this memory," says Nightshade, who has materialized, quite happily, as her regular, non-scary self. "Fitting, I suppose." She walks right up to the desk and sits beside it, glancing at the stallion. "His identity will become evident shortly, I assure you."
Dinky glares unbelievingly at Nightshade. She glares at the stallion too, but then at NIghtshade again. The stallion pushes back from his desk and starts to pace, brushing against a rod laden with crystals that chime against one another. Somewhere, a tassel of sleighbells ring. Curtains cover all the windows, but around their edges sunlight peeks. "Can he see us?" asks Dinky. "Does he know we're here?"
"All of this is merely a representation, a remembrance," Nightshade explains. "This room and the objects in it are manifestations of memory, and not the mere subjective memories of experience. It is all True Memory, the remembering of the cosmos themselves." She follows after the stallion, keeping pace with him. "He cannot see us any more than we can affect him." She lifts her hoof and tries to mimic the stallion's action, brushing against the rod, but though she makes contact with the object her movements are ineffectual; it remains stubbornly where it is.
Dinky hops off the tuffet and hurries after them. She tries doing the same, knocking her hoof against the rod, and fionds to her surprise that it behaves as one would expect--the crystals tinkle against each other and she even half-upsets a pile of books keeping the otehr end of the rod steady. She draws up her lip, momentarily addlepated. "What? WHy are we--" Then the stallion drawss open a curtain, and bright yellow white sunlight streams in. The door open, and a pair of school-age fillies a bit older than DInky pass inside. One is black and one tawny yellow, both pegasi. The black one bears the cutie mark of a blackbird in white silhouette, with traces of yellow marking its wing; the other's mark is a pole adorned with curves and inset with faces, like a signpost crossed with a weathervane crossed with a totem pole. It bears traces of black around its inner edge.
Nightshade stops in her tracks and cranes her neck to face Dinky, peering at the tinkling rod. "...That does not happen very often," she observes, tapping her chin. Very soon, however, the main feature arrives. When first she appeared, Nightshade recognized the black filly immedietely, but it was uncovering the identity of the yellow one that proved even more interesting.
Dinky gapes and sets her chin neatly, stubbornly. "I broke your memory thing," she posits. She dangles the chime again before turning her attention to the fillies. "Oh," she says. "Okay, sure. That guy in the sweater's my great grandpa, Bottlebon. And those are my grandma and my great aunt, probably. I think she's still alive somewhere."
"I am aware," says Nightshade, but she quiets quickly: the stallion is speaking. "Blackbird, Yellow Yearling, good day to you," he greets, showing an avuncular smile. "What brings you in here? Do you have something to show me?"
"We learned so much from our music teacher!" says Blackbird, raising her tall neck proudly. "So many cadences and rhythms... I don't want to forget them." The black youngster peeks around for something playable and grabs a string of bangles strung like beads, which she strings around her leg and starts shaking in 3:4 time. "I know it's our day with Mommy, but you have so many more wonderful things at home! And she doesn't appreciate things like you do." Dinky is standing now, watching. "Okay. So... okay. Is there something I"m supposed to do here, or...?"
The yellow filly nods, standing on the doorstep. "Your house is a lot more musical, Daddy," she agrees. "Mommy has a meeting with someone on the cabinet until five, anyway! Can we stay?"
Bottlebon sighs aloud upon hearing the news. "Very well, very well. I suppose I can accommodate you both; it's not like I have a lack of space here." He looks miffed, but he can't be entirely frustrated, for he manages a grin nevertheless. "You can stay, my little fillies, and I hope you decide to sit down and learn something this time!" At this point he breaks out into a full smile, stepping forward and giving both his daughters a hug.
They return the hug but make it quick and routine. Blackberry walks inside and takes a curious look around--perhaps things have changed here since her last visit. Yellow grins and sits down on a little round rug. "I'd be glad to!" she announces. Dinky looks over toward Nightshade, if she's still there. "Hello? Overseer? What are we doing here?"
"All things have a beginning," Nightshade states. "Walk with me." She begins to move towards the door through which the all-too-familiar fillies emerged and stepped through, but when they pass they are no longer in Bottlebon's estate. The scent of moist leaves invades the nostrils as they find themselves on a dirt path, a fresh breeze bring strange smells and sounds from not too far away.
Dinky looks around nervously but gets up and hops to the floor. At the sound of her hooves touching the floor, Blackbird's ears perk suddenly and she looks around, slightly startled but ultimately finding nothing. Dinky is a little rattled, but follows Nightshade out the door and along the dirt path. The house seems to grow far awy very quickly, and Dinky inhales deeply of the moist woody air but says nothing as she paces.
Nightshade observes, calculates, and plans as Dinky once again affects the parameters of the Remembrance. Her colleagues had thought it a danger to intervene so closely in Dinky's development, but Nightshade's greater vision prevailed in their deliberations: she could see how a threat could be made into an asset. With every step they take the landscape jolts in further transformation, growing wilder and more foreign until, at last, the vague sounds become distinct and clear. "...site is nothing like I've seen before," says a stallion. "Perfectly preserved, as if somepony had cast quite a powerful boon."
"The Zebras pride themselves on mastering positive powers, whether magical, skill-based or social," says another voice. The now grown (though still young) Yellow Yearling is dressed properly for the jungle and carries a quill on a string and a clipboard. "Their leaders consistently claim that there is no such thing as curses, only boons. I wuld be surprised if this weren't their work." As Dinky steps into the area, she finds a group of a dozen or so exploring a little stone buiding in the jungle near a well, with faces shaped from the piled stone at either side of the entrance. Blackbird is among the workers carefully cleaning debris from its exterior.
"I have a feeling that its provenance may be older still," says the stallion, a unicorn who appears to be a royal blue color with a grey mane. "The foundation stones don't appear to be of Zebra make; I believe that they have merely built upon the remains of an even older civilization, perhaps the proto-Equians, or perhaps even the ali-" -- "Oh please not the ancient alicorns again," says an earth mare, her purple-red hue reminiscent of raspberry juice. "We don't need you foisting your crazed theories on the novices, Brightstar, especially you're your barely graduated from being a novice yourself." -- "The young need new ideas!" he declares. "Or at least openness. By Celestia."
Yellow Yearling shakes her head, helmet shaking over her curled locks. "No, I agree, the styles seems Proto-Equian, but I meant that it seems Zebras chose to preserve it with one of their ritual blessings. Probably not less than--" But then Blackbird speaks up in a normal tone, as if unaware her sister is talking. "There were ancient alicorns, and there was a first, as there was a first of everything." She chisels a chunk of dirt loose and stands back, surveying her work before turning around. "I don't know whether this ruin is the work of the Merry Mares, but there is no doubt as to their existence. In a way, they exist still." Other worker stop their labor once Blackbird gets started. She turns her nose in the air as if detecting something, and Dinky stares in open skepticism.
The raspberry mare cranes her neck and regards Blackbird curiously. "What /is/ she talking about?" she asks, but Brightstar is much more intrigued. He strode towards her purposefully, fascinated and surprised. "My, you have some interesting theories, Ms. Blackbird! The Merry Mares, ah, there's a magnificent legend if I ever read one. Sadly, in the field of alicornology few particulars can be offered for certain." Even crazy theories have their limits, it seems.
"Oh, I readily cede that I have no scientific basis for believing in the Polychromatic Pegacornic Progression," she allows dryly. "Unless one considers that repetition of results are a cornerstone of science, and that as I face the dawn each morning and question my belief anew, I find it stands." She is facing to the east, though the sun is overhead and blocked by foliage, but she turns to regard Brightstar. Yellow Yearling seems agitated. "Birdie, what are you doing? Get back to work, please," she murmurs.
Brightstar is shocked into careful silence at Blackbird's reflections. Slowly he inclines his head towards Yellow Yearling. "Ah...is she always like that?" he queries. The raspberry mare, however, is quite agitated by Blackbird's apparent blasphemy. "Ms. Blackbird! You can't express such radicalism so openly! This is a respectable expedition!"
Blackbird shrugs to the raspberry mare. "If wild leaves don't brook freedom of speech, I don't know what does." She says no more on the topic, though, but mumbles something aloof to Yellow Yearling. Yearling in turn grits her teeth, snaps a quick retort, and apologizes to Brightstar. "She's sometimes quite reasonable. I think the grandeur of this find has... moved her, somehow." The explorer stands frowning, her clipboard dangling unused. "So my grandmother walked her own dumb path," says Dinky to Nightshade. "So what?"
"Patience," Nightshade counsels, moving onward along the path as Brightstar taps his chin in contemplation. As they walk the air grows cooler, and dew begins to clothe the naked leaves. The air assumes the mantle of colder months, heavier and wetter, and moss clings tightly to sturdy cedar. Incense and spice permeates the air as they come upon another gathering, voices whispering in strange tongues.
Dinky says "Okay, so what's -this- place, now?" demands Dinky. But she soon recognizes it, letting her eyes adapt to the light. "Ohh. Yeah. This is the lee of the hill. It's where they'd gather when it was too cold to go up top, or when... or when they were talking secrets. Usually when they did that, I wasn't allowed down." Indeed, a little glowing fire burns amid a cluster of hooded figures. One tall earth stallion stands watch over a pile of autumn leaves nearby in which various presumably sacred items are set. As they watch, the group concludes their chant and one among them rises. A blue, sturdy pegasus mare who wears a crown of oak leaves. "Let us speak in peace. Is anything troubling any of... or perhaps tonight I should ask, is anything exciting anyone present?" There is a little hushed laughter. Blackbird is there and stands. "There is and you know it, Rowan. The dance!" More tittering."
Murmurs of hushed excitement build to a chant of cheer as the coven speaks of the celebrations. Nightmare Night was always an excellent occasion, not just for merrymaking but also for trade, in goods aswell as ideas. For fairly obvious reasons, it was also a good time for recruitment, for welcoming, or at the very least for discussion amongst the mundanes, to teach and enlighten. Already there was discussion of the itinerary, of the assigned tasks for each and all, but even then challenges arose.
"I'm not sure we can -all- take turns at the dance," someone is saying, a stony white earth mare in a black cloak. "There's so much to do... and do we even all -want- to go?" A chorus of answers, mostly affirmative. "I'll be willing to do my utmost before and after, says Blackbird in the slightly hoarse voice entering her thirties has given her, "but I =must= go. There is someone in attendance whom I am planning to meet." Various others ask or speak over each other, but someone says, "Yes, she does. She means Swan Silk. Blackbird thinks she can unveil his secrets." Blackbird sits back and lowers her hood, but doesn't answer.
"We must not be too enamoured of solitude, though it aids us," says another mare of golden mane and bronze hue. "Our purpose must include enlightenment, the sharing of the wisdom we have learned." More murmurs arise in agreement, but they are of the minority. "If our sister wishes to speak to this Swan Silk, then we must have faith that it will be to the betterment of our community."
Blackbird grins smugly. "Oh, it will be to our betterment," she says with a trace of a laugh. "What do you mean?" someone asks. "Because you'll gossip about him?" Blackbird just looks knowing, and eventually sits down again. Others suggest that she'll be lucky to get a dance with Swan Silk. "He doesn't stick around," says the stony white mare. "They say if someone gets too close, he leaves. And he -only- ever shows up in public in costume, and he -never- takes it off." "Everyone knows that!" chides someone else. Still others suggest they get their planning back on track.
As the argument continues, the gold-bronze mare takes some associates aside and whispers carefully, indicating Blackbird discreetly. So the plans continue and the excitement builds, but beneath the facade of merrymaking contrasting agendas were stewing with sinister intent. Meanwhile, Nightshade seems to be stirring herself. "Secrets whisper in the night air, but the wary are awake and ready." She turns about and starts to head towards the lights in the far distance.
Dinky follows her, but then hurries back to hear just what that break-off group was talking about. "Wait, what secrets? Wary of what? What's happening?
"In time," says Nightshade. "You will see it for yourself." The lights draw closer until, at last, they come upon the edge of Hoofington, where already the loud and joyous euphony of the occasion is surging forth. Even as they approach the town, though, they have strange company, shadows and figures vaguely discerned in the shelter of the wood. The figures make no notice of them for now, but nevertheless they persist in going in the same direction.
Dinky watches them, continually looking back. She walks along nervously, stumbling. "Is it Nightmare Night now?" she asks. "Are we at the dance?" Costumes are showing up on ordinary citizens, so it would appear the answer is yes.
Nightshade has no answer except to continue walking, past the gailly adorned ponies, past the stalls and tables full of luscious food and tasty treats, past the spooky decorations and the strings of fake cobweb towards the far end of town, where the light of the lamps began to fail. All the while the hidden shadows creep along beside them.
Dinky takes it all in. Somewhere, she acquired a pointed black witch's hat and a ruffled black slip. She shakes the hat's brim up. "Uh, Nightshade? The dance hall was back that way."
"Sometimes the most meaningful path is the strangest," Nightshade explains, and as she does so the shadows begin to gain form. They are ponies from the coven...and the gold-bronze mare is leading them. "Quickly now," she whispers. "We must get into position before the others notice." And then just like that everything fades. The forest yields to brick and wood, and the cries of the crickets give way to the shouts and hollers of partygoers. The dance hall is, well, a jivin' place to be, and amidst the roaring excitement there is merriment and, as they approach a quieter corner, opportunity.
Dinky's eleventh birthday was a jiving place to be. But the atmosphere here is much more lavish. This isn't just any town dance--this is a masquerade, through and through. The masks are often gaudy and some cover their wearers' entire heads. Fancy wimples and bowlers are passed out to those without, streaming cloth ribbons and sparkling tassels. Everywhere is something--chiffon, strings of beads separating rooms, a mobile of fish overhead and pictures of birds shellacked on the dance floor. The population of the dance is scattered thick, but eventually Dinky, pushing through the crowds, comes to a place where a thick knot of ponies can be seen. The stony white mare from the coven is there in a silver sparkling dress. Dinky's witch hat has somehwo acquired a seafoam green ribbon of cotton the winds around her neck.
Nightshade regards Dinky closer as she assesses the filly's affinity with this retelling of the past, but very discreetly, very subtly. She nevertheless persists in moving onward, marching through the coven ponies and towards the centre of the dance, the passage of costumed ponies striking a clever rhyme with their earlier passage towards the far wood. They came upon a wide clearing, like that in which the coven gathered, and in the centre...
"Oh," says Dinky, spying a thick cluster of ponies not so much dancing as milling and milling with a gliterry will. The costumes are thick here, but now and then a shining vermillion or emerald scale glints in the rotating light, or a flower of little gold cups, dangling like a soundless bell. This costume rises above the rest at the heart of the knot. "Yeah," says Dinky. "I think we found my grand-dad." Just then, the song ends and a new, dizzier song begins, the sort that one induce one to whirl around and round and round.
Colour and light spin around them in mad excitement, making the world swoon with delight. Figures prance and shuffle with graceful energy, shivering with bold anticipation. As everything around them congeals into a chaotic blur, only two constants persist: Blackbird and her mysterious suitor. "I have but two eyes to see," Nightshade sings suddenly, her voice having assuming an unearthly clarity, "If only you would dance for me..."
"You're kidding, right?" responds Dinky. But if that wasn't the song before, it is now. Instruments, but no one singing the words except Nightshade. And yes... as though claiming some primal right, the entourage cracks open from the pair, and now the fantastic outlandish costume the exotic stallion wears gleams in silver-gray light. His shoulders and barrel are draped with textured tassels in vermillion, emerald and scarlet, disguising a body that promises to be powerful and lean. A huge headdress covers his ears but leaves the rest of his face exposed, making him seem like a hybrid between pony and dragon. The little rings of gold cup shapes look like dragons' ears. The tricolor garment supports a winding tail in the back with a well-shaped bustle, its tails concealing his own tail but for a golden tip, barely visible. Blackbird herself is dressed something like an owl crossed with a raven, only in a costume of shimmering silver, with rings around her eyes. She doesn't smile, but as her raised hoof meets the stranger's, her fascination with him is complete. Dinky finds herself staring, but then looks off toward the other side of the room, in the direction that group of schemers had been. "Am I supposed to sing along, or what?"
Nightshade doesn't seem to hear Dinky, but continues to sing the song, a grand and awful loneliness expressed by every vibration of the unicorn's unexpectedly rich messo-soprano. She's not even singing in common Equestrian anymore but a lilting tongue that time has forgotten, a tongue very similar to that the coven had whispered. Her music is the backdrop to Blackbird's dance; all the world seems to fade into gray unimportance in the midst of this cosmic celebration of physicality.
But the two newly met lovebirds are celebrating much more than physicality, or they wouldn't have connected in the first place. Their eyes rarely leave each other all through the dance, which they dance in their own strange, slow way, but not in a way you could say was incorrect, as there really is no correct way to dance this one. Others are trying and looking spaced out or overexerted. Dinky walks closer and keeps peering at the strange tall stallion, trying to get glimpses when his shifting costume moves. Now and then they murmur words to each other. A few are audib **Log is corrupt here! Will replace with the fixed version later. Basically they're being romantic and mushy, then Dinky moves closer and somehow Blackbird sees her.** heightened move she was in. "You see?" says the other pegasus, smiling. "I told you so." Dinky backs away. "Yeah, you're gonna have kids. Two fillies. And they're gonna be..." But she can't bring herself to finish.
Something like howling wind builds in the distance, surging forth like a great gale, but the dance hall seems unaffected for the time being. There is, however, a noticeable shivering of the outer edges of vision that grows, slowly but steadily. Colours begin to pulse and shake at the far reaches of the building. All the while Nightshade observes silently, her horn glowing steadily brighter.
Dinky turns and turns, worried that something worth her attention will be grabbing it at any moment. "Will be what?" asks Blackbird. "If you have come from the future, you must have done so for a reason." But Dinky bites her lip and backs away. The costumed white pegasus with golden hair bends down and touches her with his nose. Dinky leaps and lands, looking at him. "So. Is it true? Is what Mom said true?" But he just stares through her, endless, until the moment bends and breaks.
And break it does. As Dinky and the stallion make contact, the storm makes it ingress, pure black chaos erupting from the walls and floors. The bright lights of the dance are wracked in great distress, changing from orange to purple to dark grey as the world collapses. Eventually shape itself gives way to the amorphous, ever-yielding and ever-changing writhing of pure potentiality, churning and squeezing itself forever in expectation of being effected. Only one spot of order remains: a shiny layer of starlight and cosmic rays that buoy up the area beneath Dinky and Nightshade and Blackbird...and the stallion.
Dinky sinks backward until she's amazed she hasn't fallen off the pedestal of whatever that's keeping this going. Star-rays vault them in a technicolor sky devoid of sky-ness. "Seriously, Nightshade, what's going on??" yells Dinky. "Two daughters," murmurs Blackbird introspectively. "Will they carry on in my hoofsteps?" Dinky looks stricken at her grandmother. "No... no, not really. Sorry." Blackbird swallows apprehensively. "In mine?" asks the stallion, but Dinky can't answer.
"The memoryscape is collapsing due to your interference," Nightshade states. "It is a rare phenomenon, but one I had anticipated would happen given your...particular talents. I am expending a considerable amount of power to preserve this small section, for reasons that will become clear." With that, her horn glows brighter than ever, almost as bright as the sun itself, and something like the flowing stream of the galaxies rushes forth from her horn and engulfs the stallion, his costume starting to slowly fade.
Dinky is confused but relieved. She nervously looks back and forth, but then the galaxy stream comes flowing in and dazzles her. A moment later, she realizes what it's doing. "Hey! Hey!! Are you undressing him? You can't do that? That's not okay!" She stamps her hoof hard, and then, failing to dsirupt the stream, attempts to leap off the side of the platform.
This interference is enough to make even Blackbird and the stallion fade out, leaving only the Cosmic Remembrance which seems to begin warping and twisting, the lights of the night sky being drawn out and stretched like string from a ball of yarn. Nightshade's eyes glow bright as she encases them both in a bubble, the platform careening through space until they are thrust quite rudely into another place.
It's the hill again, and it's still autumn, only now they're on top of it, ponies stretched out on afghans and elaborate blankets everywhere with leaves surrounding them. Mostly mares, as before. The town has changed below, though. It spreads wider and its peaked roofs are a little taller, its streets a little brighter. Dinky takes all this in in a second, though, and turns angrily to Nightshade. "What were you doing back there?" she demands, her tail raised and coiling in its wispy way.
Nightshade regards Dinky with the same blank gaze that she's so accustomed to displaying. "I was of the hope that you would have liked to learn something rather intriguing about your heritage, but I suppose that there are other ways and means." Without further word she turns and starts walking again, this time along the crest of the hill.
Dinky termbles. "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. You know. How did you know?" She scuffs the dirt in anger. But then she canters after Nightshade along the hill until a sacred chant, given and echoed in the ancient tongue, no longer whispered, becomes audible, and the bulk of the Flowers of the Hill and their friends comes into view. The mare with the yellow-wingd blackbird cutie mark is forty now. Gray has started to touch her hair, and some of her feathers are a little ragged, a little lacking in sheen. But her health seems good. She lies on a plush bnurgundy blanket with yellow and brown ornamentation, and beside her lies a pegasus filly, her gray coat an even mixture of her mother's jet black and the shining white of an outlander who passed through long ago. Some faces here are new; others are older, and others gone. Nearby, a bright yellow mare in a red coat raises a large hoop partitioned into shapes from her soapy bucket, and weaves it through the air, producing bubbles.
"A Shadowwalker has ways of knowing," Nightshade states, her voice distant and strange. As they come closer Nightshade gazes at the grey filly in particular, walking right up to her, almost able to touch her. She looks down upon both mother and child contemplatively, but does nothing else for a while.
Dinky remains where she is, unsure how to react. As Nightshade approaches, mother cranes her elegant neck and nuzzles daughter. The little filly spreads her wings and lifts herself, gathering her legs before standing. She seems about to speak, but then sees the bubbles starting to form. And she stands up straight, veering away.
Nightshade looks up with the filly, looking closely at the bubble. "History is written in unusual ways," she says. "Endless concatenations, untold combinations...all of these collapse into a single reality, if only because of a choice, if only because...of a love."
"But this isn't real," says Dinky. "Right? This is only a memory, even if it isn't -our- memory. And memories can be wrong. They're always wrong. Right?" She seems hard to win over. The bubbles waft slowly past the pair, and then a change in the wind sends many of them coursing for the mother and her child. The gray pegasus filly sees them coming and runs away, startling. Her mother rises and twists around. "Bright Eyes, where are you going? You know they're harmless, don't you?"
"The cosmos Remember," Nightshade asserts, the bubbles swirling around her as, for a brief instant, her form flickers, revealing that frightening shadow being she had become before thrusting them both into this place. "Memory Remembers Itself. That is the first tenet of the Shadowwalkers' way. In every remnant of every trinket, every tome, every breath, there is an inkling of the past...and of the future."
"Perfect," says Dinky. "Total non-answer. Flawless." Meanwhile, the gray filly turns around, making sure she's sufficiently distant from the strange floating orbs. "Is that true?" she asks in her well-toned, high-pitched voice. "They look like loose souls! And they're so happy! What if my soul flies off with them?" Blackbird 's head drops in humor and she chuckles, going off to nuzzle her daughter. "Nonsense, Bright Eyes. They're only floating soap. But if they make you thnk of beautiful things, then Dabble Dazzle has done her job. Go on and frolic, dear child... it's the Equinox! Let your mind wander!" And slowly, timidly, the filly walks forward toward the cloud of bubbles that the yellow mare is making ever thicker.
"To say it plainly is to diminish its depths of meaning," Nightshade says, possibly more straightforward than before. "In time you will understand, but we are here to learn something different." She walks onward, towards the bubble cloud, the irisdescent shapes bright and shiny, but, as they build mass, oddly ominous.
Dinky follows along, now buffeted by bubbles. Some of them aren't round;some are shaped like five-pointed stars, or hourglasses, or leaves, or blocks, or pyramids, or horseshoes. "You always have options," says the black pegasus. "If you bubbles scare you, Bright Eyes, just pop them, and they'll disappear!" And little Bright Eyes hears and internalizes this. As they watch, she eventually overcomes her initial temerity to admire the bubbles, and then to pop them, one by one, with a careful pinion. "Pop!" she says. "Pop-pop!" Soon the gray filly is dancing among the bubbles, soaring now and then, and the yellow earth mare blowing them is laughing at the spectacle. "So what am I supposed to take from this?" Dinky asks.
"All will be clear in time," Nightshade answers. "Let us begin with an observation: this filly has certain attributes incongruent with what we know of her in a future time." There might be something to it: Bright Eyes is definitely not derpy-eyed at the moment.
Dinky nods and takes a breath, huffing it out. "Yeah. I know. And she talks with all her words, too. She's not eleven yet." As they watch, little Bright Eyes lands with a sort of swinging grace and walks over to Dapple Dazzle. "May I blow some of the bubbles?" she asks. The adult nods benficently and passes the bucket and blower to Bright Eyes, who leaps right into it. She swings the wand eagerly, and then finds a better speed for letting the bubbles survive. Then she tries pursing her lips and actually blowing. Her mother watches with pride.
"The beginning of new knowledge is the approval of what is already known," Nightshade states aphoritically. Her horn glows again, and the bubbles seem to gain an unusual definition and focus.
"And that means what?" asks Dinky. She looks between Nightshade and the developing scene. "Sorry, I'm having some trouble processing 'cause this has been weird, and that level of...cryptowordage is a little much even for me." The little gray filly plays and plays with the bubbles as adults come and go and the elements of a celebration are played out in quiet ways around them, with each group picnicking and happy largely on its own, but connected to the whole and to the weather.
"Wisdom is not granted lightly, but is cultivated over time," Nightshade says, adding mystery to mystery. "But since you have been deemed to be among the wise, I shall explain." Her horn glows brighter, and the scene sharpens even more, the rest of the world seeming to fade except for the grey filly and her bubbles. "At times what is familiar becomes unfamiliar, when studied again with new eyes."
Dinky slumps to a seat on the cool earth. Comfortably cool, with fallen leaves that fade away under her. The filly dances and cavorts, blowing bubbles, chasing bubbles, popping bubbles. Creating and destroying. She stops suddenly quivering just slightly, to watch one particular pair of bubbles float that happen to be stuck together, equal in size. They bob up and down, and the filly raises and lowers her head watching them. Then she steps forward, stretches her hoof out, and -pops- one half of the pair. The remaining bubble immediately rounds out and floats alone. At that moment, a light shimmering sound can be heard, and the filly's rear end glows. In seconds, a set of bubbles of different sizes remains, decorating her now and forever.
Bubbles upon bubbles, bubbles in the wind, in the water, lacing the outer limits of light, of thought, of being. There is Bright Eyes, newly minted with her mark of talent, yet what can it mean? Just bubbles? The bubbles seem to glow, expand, twist, until something of their iridescence is imprinted in the mind, the source of all mystery in this strange remembrance. "Look closely, look closely," says Nightshade, her voice fading into a weird echo. Closer. Closer.
Dinky looks around in distraction. She pulls her gaze away from her future mother and stares, defiant, at the bubbles. "What? What's so special?" But the colors and the swimming texture do mesmerize her. She stands before a buble growing in size to rival her own, and swallows. Afraid. "No," she says.
"Why not?" somepony says. Is it Nightshade? No, it doesn't sound like her, or rather, it doesn't sound /exactly/ like her. "Why not?" it asks again. "Why not?" Steadily the bubble expands, the image of Bright Eyes frolicking joyfully with her new cutie mark overwhelming the senses until the inherent shinyness of the surface overcomes that, too.
Dinky stares in wonder and horror until she can't tell the difference anymore. She hears the cheerful little high-pitched voice, detached from the image. "Hello Mr. Magnum! See anything different about me? Do you?" And again: "But some liquids have bubbles, and some don't! The bubbles come out if you shake it. That's chemistry, isn't it? So can I be a chemist?" And the voice of Blackbird superimposed on a smeared montage of her face, and her wings. "My darling child, you can make of your life whatever you would have it be. If I am to be a chemist's mother, I will sing my pride to the wind." And the wind takes the bubble until Dinky is within it, and she loses herself.
"Memory speaks for itself," Nightshade's voice states, a weird, ethereal tone about it as the whole world collapses into bubbles. "Such a simple phrase, yet there is great signification behind its utterance. Nothing is known except for a thinker, and nothing can be thought except through the Great Thought, who remembers even the future. Do you remember the future, Dinky of Hoofington?"
"No," says Dinky. "I don't. Wait. Yes. I must. The future, when I'm eleven, and about to lose my marbles." She speaks into a void before a pane of moving images. A schoolroom forms, full of foals, and in one desk near the front sits little Bright Eyes. "I'm not Dinky of Hoofington. I'm of Ponyville. For now. I dunno how long Ponyville'll take me for."
"Ponyville conceals destiny from the foolish," Nightshade says, her form at last re-appearing amidst the mists of memory. "Yet wisdom is granted first to the foolish, that they may be wise. Listen, see, the effecting of this axiom."
"Okay, okay," says Dinky, finding herself sitting in a desk near the back. The ceiling is high and the walls are of light blue and white, somehow stifling even when the room of students seems to work merrily enough. "Wisdom is granted first to the foolish. What is that? That's the opposite of the truth. So. The foolish can be wise? What, the universe feels sorry for the dumb and gives them the first crack at all the wisdom, knowing they won't take it? That's... that's harsh. What's happening here?"
Slowly the classroom hardens into something resembling reality, outlines becoming definied, colours locking into place between strips of seperation. It looks very much like the schoolhouse of Dinky's day, but there are several indications that this is a different era. There's no wall clock yet, the device merely the fever dream of an inventor, and all the books are hardbound and written in an ornate typeset rather than the simpler font of modern times. The desks are mostly the same, though, as is the blackboard and its myriad of questions to stump students.
Dinky has only the faintest recollection of the Hoofington schoolhouse--she only attended it for kindergarten, and even that was cut short due to illness. She sits up attentively, suddenly realizing that the other students have their hooves raised, nearly to a foal. The walls are darker now and solid. Bright Eyes hesitantly raises her hoof, last of all, looking nervously around her. Dinky raises her own, then puts it down. "Why are we even here? I thought this was about my grandma's life. She's not even here."
The teacher is a stallion, piebald (and balding) with a cutie mark that resembles a T-square. He wears a tweed suit that looks rather old-fashioned, except that in this era it might be a bit newer-fashioned. "Yes, Miss Bright Eyes?" he says with a pedagogical baritone, pointing at her. "You know the answer?"
The gray filly, now slightly older but notably less possessed of herself, frowns. One of her eyes twitches. "I... I'm sorry. I forgot the question." Light laughter from scattered classmates. "Can you say it again?"
"That's enough, class," the teacher commands at once. "Very well, somepony else can answer." And so it goes, until the end of the period, with the teacher pointedly avoiding Bright Eyes' raised hoof. He was trying not to embarrass her further, but he suspects that it might have made her isolated. Well, not to worry. That's what guidance counselors are for, right?
Bright Eyes stops raises her hoof after a while. She suffers the indnity of being one of the only ones unready to answer the questions... until suddenly comes a question she thinks she knows, and it shoots up again, determined. Dinky is sitting in a desk in the front row now, looking back. "She's losing it," the mauve filly remarks. "This is it, isn't it? This is where she loses it. There wasn't any big thing, no lamp to the head or anything? She just... lost it, day by day?"
"All knowledge leads to fulfillment," Nightshade intones, "but not all are given to know the whole of it, until the day when memory and thought are one." One more time, the scene tightens, the background fades little by little until there is only Bright Eyes at her desk and, oddly enough, the teacher.
"The day when memory and thought are one?" asks Dinky. "Is that... do you really believe that'll happen someday? Memory and thought... &#@+#, those are different things." She leans forward to watch. "Teacher?" asks Bright Eyes. The classroom is empty of others now. "I don't understand. What's happening? Last year I only got A's. Now year--this year... I can't. I can't even C's." Her ears cup forward, nervous, and her breath quickens.
The teacher has noticed, too. "I...I'm not sure, either. Perhaps you should see a doctor? Maybe they can help you." His expression is vague, mixed, conflicted, as if confronted by his own weakness yet daring not admit it. "Nothing to worry about; every foal goes to a rough patch in their academic careers. Now, run along and play outside."
Bright Eyes rises but remains at her desk. "My mother takes me only to one doctor," she says, tripping a little over her words. "She says I can't talk to anyone." Dinky taps her hoof on her desk, rising a little with curiosity.
The teacher's mouth quivers for a few seconds. "...Right, of course, a special doctor. Very well then." Who was he to pry into this little filly's life? Or so he seemed to believe. Yet... "Yet he live his days in regret for it," Nightshade says, completing the thought. "As he lived when he shared this moment with me."
Dinky looks at Nightshade in surprise. The scene fades into old cedar and mothballs. "He did? He wished he's asked more?" And then, inevitably, the scene again reforms.
Familiar trees loom overhead, the scent of incense, much attenuated, wafting from somewhere in the distance. There are whispers and voices afar, but closer there is silence as the coven ponies mill about, some contemplating in silence, others watching intently at the scene unfolding.
Blackbird arrives with two in tow--her precious gray filly, now visibly lacking in coordination, and her older sister. Yellow Yearling wears a backpack and a brown denim shirt. Blackbird opens her wings dramatically upon her arrival, stirring a light current. Dinky turns around to take it in. "Whoa. Whoa, what now?"
"As the moment of crisis approaches," Nightshade recites, "there is tension, there is the accumulation of force. Here is where the story takes the most drastic turn, whether for better or worse. Yet the climactic event comes unexpected even to those who were looking for it."
"Well, I don't know what to expect," says Dinky churlishly. "Iris," says Blackbird harshly. "Did you deliberately begin without us?"
"So it would seem," Nightshade responds. "Think carefully. Look carefully. Remember."
The pony named Iris steps forward, a mare of cerulean with a purple mane. "Things have changed," she states somberly. "The Thornists are making their move after Wildrose died. They...they want to get rid of you."
"This is manure," mutters Yellow Yearling. But Blackbird shushes her with a glance and steps forward, beating her wings and soaring up to Iris and the others. "And are you with them?" she challenges. Little Bright Eyes walks forward hesitantly, one wing raised and splayed. One of her eyes has wandered off to the side; the other focuses on the group of druids."
Iris looks pained, conflicted. "I...I don't think you should have ever come," she admits, "But...I don't want the Thornists to win. They're forgotten why they really exist in the first place. I can help you, but I don't want them knowing about it."
"Who are the Thornists again?" murmurs an exasperated Yellow Yearling. Blackbird looks back over her shoulder. "Complex. What Iris is referring to is their founding belief--that the world must be strengthened to care for itself. They would plant thorned, enchanted plants over the sites of power to prevent their desecration." She turns back to the assembled group. The yellow bubble blower Dabble Dazzle is among them; the blue mare who was leader of the coven when the Nightmare Night Festival rocked Hoofington is not. "But now," she goes on, "they can better be described as those who would block any attempt to visit the sacred lands of others. Even when those lands could connect us to our neighbors. The zebras. The antelope. The whitetails."
"We shouldn't linger here," Iris says, shifting uncomfortably in place. "Goldenrod is ready to give your filly more medicine, Blackbird, in the other place. I...I have to get going." With that, she and several others slip away into the wood.
Blackbird frowns, even when Bright Eye creeps up under her wing and cuddles there. She folds her wing protectively over her daughter and then, watching the group leave, turns around. "Come on," she tells her sister. "I need your help." And off they head, for the 'other place'. "Where is this 'other place'?" asks Dinky. "And what was that about?"
A change in scene answers Dinky's question as they find themselves before a hut, crudely constructed from old pine logs and rope, but surprisingly sturdy despite it all. The entrance is blocked by a simple cotton curtain, but soon it gives way to a mare with a golden mane and bronze fur...that same mare who had stood up for Blackbird all those years ago. "Ah, Blackbird, wasting no time, I see," she states, her voice is mellow despite her age. "Let us conclude the business before we are discovered."
"I'll wait," says her sister, Yellow, now scratched and dingy from the dangers of the woods. Blackbird escorts a trembling Bright Eyes into the hut, whispering to her. Dinky watches in amazement. "Okay, I did -not- know about this." She walks toward the door of the hut and pushes it open.
Within the hut the scents of herbs overwhelms, every inch of the place reeking with fragance. There are dried leeks hanging from the ceiling and a whole wall of bottles of stuff and trinkets and amulets embedded into every crevice. At the centre is a round-ish table propped up by stones, and upon its surface are wares of the apothecary's trade: a balance, a mortar and pestle, several measuring spoons and a small burner upon which, bubbling brightly, is a syrupy yellow liquid. Goldenrod leads Blackbird and Bright Eyes inside, and as she does so half the walls suddenly disappear into blackness, revealing Nightshade and...a familiar scene in the woods. Goldenrod, younger, sneaking about through the woods not too long after the dance, and Iris is with her. "Everything is ready now," say both Goldenrods.
Dinky shudders. "Whoa, whoa," she says. She hurries into the room and Blackbird looks at her, puzzled, for a moment. "Will better soon?" asks Bright Eyes, clearly impressed and amazed by the bounty of the hut's interior. "Hopefully," says Blackbird, nuzzling her child. "But it may take time."
Two scenes begin to play out before Dinky's eyes, with Nightshade right in between them, as if to mediate, but this time the unicorn says nothing, letting the memories speak for themselves. In the hut, Goldenrod smiles and nods. "Yes, in time, you may well return to your old self. Here, let me pour out a dose for you." -- At the other side, the younger Goldenrod and Iris are soon joined by ponies in cloaks...but their faces are indistinct, their bodies barely visible amidst a swirl of white noise and chaos, like static on a television. "Disciple," booms one of them, his (her?) voice masked and distorted. "You have earned the mother's trust?" -- "I have," says the younger Goldenrod. "I have begun preparing an appropriate tincture. It will be years before we see the fruits of it, yet...I am certain that Balance will be restored."
Dinky wheels her head from one side to the other. Iris, in the past, the further past, stamps a hoof, displacing chalky dirt. "Balance has already been restored, naturally," she points out. "You would only enforce it. Using our powers to keep it from sliding back." She raises her eyebrows. Meanwhile, little Bright Eyes drinks from the wooden cup. She gulps hungrily, and looks to both adults for approval when done. Blackbird strokes her with a wingtip. "Good. What more must we do, Goldenrod?"
"It will be years before we see the fruits of the tincture," the older Goldenrod admits, "but I am certain that Bright Eyes will be restored." -- "You are foolish," says another of the cloaked ponies, but the voice is of the same kind. "Already the pegasi begin to recover their old power, and unicorn newcomers from the south bring their own terrible secrets. No...if our kind is to survive, the mare and her foal must know their place." -- "And you must know yours," the younger Goldenrod warns Iris. "The disciples of Flusternbaum know what is best for all earth ponies."
"...Years?" asks Blackbird, trying to keep a stoic tone, but her face falls. "Restore?" asks the filly. Dinky looks from them to the older scene, her shoulders tensing. "I am... not so sure about that," says Iris. But she steps back, submitting to authority. Dinky stamps her hooves and looks incensed. "No! No, this is ^@$#~%! Grams, come on. Come on. This Goldenrod, she's scheming against you. This stuff isn't gonna heal Mom, it's gonna keep her from getting better! &$$##*!!" She tugs on Blackbird's tail, and Blackbird whips around, staring angrily at Dinky. It's a moment before she speaks. "You! Again! You think this tincture is poison?!" "Pois-in?" echoes little Bright Eyes, growing uncomfortable. "Yes," says Dinky. "Yes, it is!"
Dinky's meddling causes the scene to start destabilizing yet again. The outer walls of the hut collapse into darkness, and its contents all melt away into dust and wind. All that remains is the bottle of tincture, floating menacing in empty space, Blackbird, Bright Eyes...and the three cloaked ponies, who quickly dominate the fading memory as they do.../something/, a kind of bending of space, or the sucking of a vacuum, that forces Dinky into the midst of them. "She has spawned," says one. "Indeed," says another. "Balance must be /restored/." They all reach forth and try to lay their hooves on the filly.
"No, hey!!" yells Dinky, mad at the dissipating chunks of remembered reality. Now Dinky is drawn amid the three conspirators... and she hunches and quails at the thought of them touching her. "NO!!!" she yells, kicking out. "Don't -touch- me!! Oh, *&#$@," she moans, sinking into self-pity even in the midst of attackers. "I'm a *$$#+^! accident shard 'spawned' from a *$&#& up poison dud freak who was never even meant to have kids. She got ruined, she wandered, I'm here. I'm a chunk. I'm a *$&#@+~% chunk!" The darkness intensifies, as does the light around Dinky, now wearing a dark cloak of her own.
And then just like that, they are all gone: the conspirators, the shadows, the chaos of memory, everything. All that remains is the scent of lemony cleaner that the Palace servants like to use for the floors, and a wooden door marked with the sign of Prince Solar Eclipse. "Well," says Nightshade, looking and sounding like she's just returned from a very interesting vacation. "I have learned something novel. That does not happen very often."
Dinky stays huddled in misery and anger for a few seconds, and then rises, trembling. She's facing Nightshade and her yellow eyes are mad, though not necessarily at Nightshade herself. "So, what. We're not gonna see her die?"
"Enough has been shared," Nightshade explains, as steady and emotionless as ever. "Her fate is well known to all, as are the consequences. My purpose here has been to unravel what was previously hidden."
"Well. You did. Kind of. I mean, sure. Lots of that I didn't know. That big house my great grand-dad had--whatever happened to that? Did anyone ever sell that? And all those crazy knick-knacks. But really, how much was -hidden?- That whole bit with the weird mares in the closaks, and the poison? That was dark. That was super dark. Nightshade, what if they hadn't done that? Would she have gotten better?" Dinky's forgotten her facade and her sense of discretion, it seems. Who else?
"Even now, we are still unravelling all the variables," Nightshade answers, seemingly unreactive to Dinky's new curiosity. "Many of these remembrances were painstakingly gathered. If we had not encountered Ms. Iris in a most serendiptious circumstance we would have never come this far, but that is a tale for another time." She starts to walk away, as if bidden by another. "I have business elsewhere. Don't spend too much time prying for answers; should we discern something which we require you to know, then we shall inform you."
"Wait wait wait wait wait, no hold on," objects the child, hurrying after the mytserious overseer. "Was all that for me or for you? 'Cause I don't feel like I have any answers! I don't understand anything better than I did before. I'm just confused"!
Nightshade halts in her tracks, but doesn't turn around. "We can answer...one question."
"We?" asks Dinky. "Okay, wait. "Answer my first question if you're gonna answer any. Why did you take me through all that?! Was it for me, or was it for you?" She draws up a yard from Nightshade, evening up her front hooves with a loud -clack.-
Nightshade is still for an awkwardly long time before she speaks again. "By sharing this with you," she says, "we advance our plans...but we teach you about your heritage, and stir the beginning of wisdoms. Either way, we both benefit."
"The beginning of wisdom," repeats a sardonic Dinky. "Really. -Really!- Let me ask a follow-up. Do you talk this way with your family? Truths unfold into this and stirs the wisdom of fools that? Seriously!"
"I said that I would answer one question," Nightshade replies, more sternly this time. "Farewell, Dinky Doo." She continues onward, stepping beneath the shadow of a pillar, where she promptly disappears from sight.
Dinky stands there in silent shock, one hoof raised, for some time. Her mind reels back toward what she's been through. She slowly slinks back to Solar Eclipse's door and slumps to the floor. And her head rests against her leg, and her eyes don't quite close, and tears don't quite come. So much to remember. So much to process.
Sunday, June 29, 2014