An old gray mare walked down a road.
The road was made of well-laid cobblestones, as if it led to a busy market square, though the mare could see no buildings. Instead dirt walls rose at either hoof, stretching above her head; the road was one of those ancient tracks, walked and walked again until the passing lives had driven it straight down into the earth, like a river.
In places the walls were topped by thick hedges of black thorn. On others they were not, and sometimes, when they were a little lower, the mare could see the countryside through which she traveled. The view just now was drab and dreary; dry hills with sparse grass rolling towards a dark smudge that might be mountains very far off or merely more, slightly taller hills nearer by.
Above, the sky was dark, and thickly strewn with silver stars. They cast such light that there was a wisp of shadow beneath the gray mare’s hooves.
Those hooves rang on the cobblestones like bells. But the carillon they played was a doleful dirge, for the pace the mare set was slow, slow, slow. One hoof went in front of another, steadily, wearily, endlessly, and there was no sign of moonrise nor of sunrise as she walked, and walked—though the stars, alien and aloof, moved inexorably overhead.
The mare bore saddlebags slung across her back, and they were as plain and as gray as she. There was no dust. The cobblestones were conspicuously clean, black as night and nearly glossy, but it would have made no difference. Caked in dust, she would have still been much the same color. The bags hid whatever cutie mark she might have from sight.
Time, such as it was, passed. The stars turned. The mare walked. Her hooves paced out, steadily: day is done, gone the sun, from the land, from the sea from the sky...
Perhaps she walked for an age. On the other hoof, it might have been less than the span of a day. The turning stars marked off some unknown period as she paced her weary path alone.
She looked down to watch the placement of her hooves, and when next she lifted her eyes, she stood at a crossroads. There, in the star-silvered world of black cobbles, drab dirt and gray mare, she found a double splash of color. On one side of the road the walls fell away, and there was green grass for grazing, and the soft chuckle of a stream, with the thread of a dirt path winding its way along it. And on the other, standing just past where that path crossed the cobbled road, was a mare the color of periwinkle blossoms, a rich purple-blue even seen by the faded silver of starlight. Her horn was just that color too, a seashell spiral, and her mane and tail were the soft blue of a warm summer’s sky.
This new mare carried nothing, but her hindquarters were marked with the black of night, and the crescent moon, and the gray mare perked her ears forward, feeling something stir in her to see the newcomer.
“Hello,” she said, then coughed, her voice creaking with disuse.
The new mare pawed at the ground uncertainly. “Greetings.”
“I’m… Ah… Luna?”
Whiffletree tilted her head to the side, frowning faintly. “Luna. I feel as if I should know that name,” she hesitated a moment before continuing, “As if it means something.” She looked at the brighter, younger mare, and shook her head, sending wispy strands of gray hair flying. “I don’t know what, though. Perhaps we’ve met?”
“I don’t know. I don’t… I don’t think so.” Luna looked uncertain. She shook her own head, tossing her horn and letting her pale mane fly. Her tail switched behind her. “I don’t remember a Whiffletree. But everything is vague. I think I have forgotten most of what I ever knew.”
“What do you remember, then?”
“I remember a herd. I remember family. The other ponies. I remember travel, wandering. There was… There was somepony with me as I wandered. A…sister? Yes, I had a sister. We were together, and then we were apart. I think… I think I remember pain, and darkness, yet eventually we were reunited? And then… There were other ponies. I had... friends. I think I have seldom had friends.”
Whiffletree smiled. Her own mind was far from whole, but there were things she knew. Friends, yes. Friends were important. “It is good to not walk alone.”
“Yes. But then… There was something about the friends. A leave-taking. I don’t remember. It becomes a blur. I left. Something had been accomplished. Something else could be done. Yes! I remember that.” Luna smiled brightly, and something in that expression struck Whiffletree in the heart.
“A grand quest,” she said softly, almost wistfully. There had been grand quests in her past, she felt, though she could only grasp the shape of them, not the details. All quests needed somepony like Luna in them, didn’t they? Somepony all hard brightness and sharp enthusiasm.
“Yes! We quested often, when we were young, and it was good. But this last quest…” Luna frowned again. “Something went awry. My mind is muddled and mazed, and things are not as they should be. I cannot see the shape of what is wrong, though, only that something is.”
“Yes.” Whiffletree nodded. “This place is not a wholesome one.”
“No. It’s dark here.” Luna shifted uncomfortably, her eyes glancing about, as if to find a spark of light to contradict her statement.
“For as long as I’ve been here. Perhaps it always has been. Perhaps it always will be.”
“Somehow that doesn’t seem right. There should be lights. No world should be only darkness. Even if it were always night…” Luna trailed off, frowning.
“Even if it were always night, the moon should shine?” said Whiffletree, looking at Luna’s cutie mark.
“The stars yet shine here,” noted Whiffletree, lifting her head to look up at them. They spilled all across the sky, lying thickest in a milky band that ran from horizon to horizon. “Perhaps all is not unwholesome in this world.”
“Perhaps.” Luna lifted her head too. “These stars are wrong, though.”
“They’re not… I don’t know. They’re wrong.” Luna bared her teeth briefly in frustration, and showed a flash of sharp whiteness. Whiffletree was somehow unsurprised to see that Luna had wolf-teeth, which few mares had, and that hers were longer than most. She had somehow seemed the sort.
“Well, wrong or not, I have walked far beneath these stars. I think I would like to see if the grass is right, and if the water is, and perhaps drink and rest.”
“Yes. I… I walked long too. Though I don’t know from where. Or to where.” Luna frowned still, her ears pinned back to her head.
“No more do I. Something in the walking matters, though.”
Luna snorted. “Does it? Now that I have halted, perhaps I won’t start again.”
“Perhaps.” Whiffletree walked over to the side of the road. “But for now I want to see if the grass is any good.”
The grass tasted of grass, though Whiffletree didn’t know how it could grow in this land without sunlight, and the water tasted fresh and clean, so she drank, and ate. Luna did as well, though more restlessly, more scantily. She soon turned to rooting in the bramble hedges that grew all about, her magic yanking at brittle, dead old branches. These she piled in a spot she cleared amid the grass, and another spark of magic set them alight. They burned readily, with a bright, yellow flame.
Whiffletree, feeling glad of that further splash of color, that cheery light, that comfortable, primal warmth, sat beside the fire once her grass was cropped. Luna sat beside her, and the two contemplated the flames in silence for a time.
Then Whiffletree worked her muzzle around the buckle of her saddlebags, letting them fall to the ground, and rooted in them. She found their contents surprising, yet familiar. She had no memory of packing any of the items found within, but they were all old friends. Including the sturdy bottle of amber glass, with an apple mark etched on the side, which she drew out with a smile. She took a swig of the strong apple brandy contained within. The memories around the bottle were blunted, but she knew it meant friendship, and family, and moments much like this, with fire and food and drink that all present shared.
So she hoofed it over to Luna, who took it silently and downed a long draught without hesitation.
Whiffletree stowed the bottle, then found herself pulling out a book that had been nestled beside it. It was small, and bound in black, with pages of paper so thin they were nearly transparent. Each one was printed with small, close text, in narrow columns, numbered off chapter and verse.
“What is that?” said Luna, curiously.
Whiffletree turned it over in her hooves. There was no title on the cover. When she opened it, the first page merely read, “The Book.” She shrugged, and let it fall open to a random spot. As she looked at the book, a melancholy fell over her, the smile she’d worn since seeing Luna fading at last.
“What does it say?” asked Luna.
“The Sun hath looked upon me, and She did smile, in the days when The Great Queen ruled in the Valley of Dreams.
“Green was the grass, sweet was the water, and bright was Celestia’s light.
“Bright also the moonlight as we slept, and soft the stars above.
“Thou shalt abide with me, oh Sun, for thy light is my constant lamp.
“Thou shalt wax and wane always above me, oh Moon.
“Never shall these lights cease, while the earth abides.
“Yea, though the herd walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear neither chaos nor discord, for light is with us always.”[/i]
Whiffletree found tears standing in her eyes as she read the final words out loud. She felt an ache at the center of her chest and knew that she had lost something of light, somehow. Looking over, she saw that Luna looked impossibly sad, though her eyes were dry.
“The sun has set,” she said softly, “and I walk alone once more.”
Whiffletree hesitated, then gently set a hoof on Luna’s withers, scooting closer beside her as she did. “I’m here,” she said softly. “I know I’m not much, but I’m here.”
“You are.” Luna leaned into the touch and sighed. “Thank you.”
An old gray mare walks down an ancient turnpike, and encounters a unicorn named Luna, standing at a crossroads. Across a land without sun or moon, their paths bend inescapably together beneath strange, wrong stars that may soon be right.
(New chapter to be posted every day until they're all up.)