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Between Heaven and Earth

by Moonshot

Princess Skystar could only faintly recall the first time that she dreamt.

She was in a sort of white mist, a weighty haze cloaking a shapeless plain that spread all around her. Around her came the sounds of echoing laughter, the memories of children her age, unburdened by the oppressive depths of the oceans.

As she pushed through the mist with her slim claws, structures came into view. They towered over the plains, shimmering with indescribable colors, coalescing into all sorts of shapes and sizes. She saw the outlines of other hippogriffs playing in the bright pastures. Beyond it all, she heard a vague, meandering trill, and realized it was music. It stunned her, feared her, brought tears to her eyes. But when it was over, she swallowed hot tears and felt the happiest she’d been in her life.

In front of her, a hippogriff seemed to grow more solid. It stared at Skystar with penetrating eyes that seemed to beckon to her, asking her to join them. But as she reached out, the ground beneath her began to give way. It crumbled, sending her in freefall to the depths below.

Just before she hit the ground, she woke up. In the morning, she asked Queen Novo what she’d witnessed.

Queen Novo responded with wide eyes and a soft exhale. “You’ve had a vision of the ones who came before, my daughter. The sky-chasers, the Tengeri. They were the hippogriffs not bound between sea and land, but between land and sky. Some say they still watch over us to this very day.” Her face grew soft, and she embraced Skystar. “Oh, my daughter. Perhaps they’ve chosen you to be their messenger. It’s been such a long time, after all.”

* * *

There was a gentle rumbling in the oceans as bubbles slowly drifted their way to the surface. On Mount Aris, frigid winds cut through the sharp air. The hippogriffs who paused their work all instinctively knew that Princess Skystar was singing.

She stood between the water and the land, chanting a resonant melody. Swooping through the air and diving into the ocean, she closed her eyes, letting the ethereal music take hold of her. She sang of the music she’d remembered as a child, as if reaching for the misty plains again.

And slowly, more and more hippogriff voices joined her. Sopranos and tenor voices rang out aside hers, transforming the song into an echoing chorus. It made Skystar feel as if she were walking slowly down the aisles of a well-worn cathedral, its hallowed halls blessing her with divine knowledge. She felt butterflies in her chest that she simply wanted to let out and watch flutter away in the afternoon breeze.

When all sound subsided, she walked back to her home. Hippogriffs murmured as she passed, casting each other sideways glances that she pretended not to notice.

“She’s not of this world,” one said, and Skystar felt he was half-true. Oh, how much she’d give to see the fields of laughing children again.

“She’s one of the ancient ones,” one stated, and Skystar felt a glimmer of hope within her. Perhaps one day they’d reveal themselves to her and take her away, if only for a day.

“She’s better than all of us,” another whispered, and Skystar felt a twinge of guilt. As much as she’d loved her little taste of heaven, she also remained fascinated about the bits and baubles that other hippogriffs made, the new advances they were making after the Storm King’s defeat, and the friendship she’d learned from the ponies she met.

Opening the door to her humble quarters, she took a deep breath, then started. Queen Novo was sitting on the side of her bed, reading a novel. “Oh!”

Queen Novo looked up as Skystar entered. She put the book down and smiled. “It was lovely hearing your voice today, my daughter.” But her smile quickly faded as her beak pressed together. “I’m not wrong in assuming that something’s on your mind, though?”

Skystar nodded back quickly. “I… yeah. I can’t stop thinking about the dream, I can’t. It’s just…” She hopped on the bed beside her mother, flopping on her back and splaying her legs like a tired cat. “I should be happy with all I have, really. I am happy. I’ve got everygriff and everypony and everything I could ever want.” She signed. “Is it selfish of me to want something more? For me to think that I’m special, because I received that dream so long ago.”

Novo cradled Skystar in her arms. “You’re special because you’re my daughter, Skystar. I don’t blame you for wanting more. If it were me in your position, I’d certainly want the same.” She took a moment to gently stroke Skystar’s mane. “I’ve certainly said it before, but one day, it’ll be you in charge of running this kingdom.” She giggled. “And when that day comes, I think you’ll make a great queen. Because despite it all, you’re humble, and you’re kind, and your singing… your singing!”

Skystar pictured the towering, mysterious structures, the indescribable colors, and the eyes that beckoned for her. She shook her head slightly, dispelling the images. “You’re right, mother. Thanks.”

* * *

Later that night, she woke in a drenched sweat.

She didn’t know why, but there was a rock in her gut that seemed to tug and tug her out of bed. Wide awake, she pulled away the blankets, jumped out of bed, and creaked the door open. She muttered a thanks that no one was awake to hear her heavy breathing.

Out the door she went, tiptoeing past all the bedrooms. She walked past all the houses, between the mountains, and toward the beaches. Her gut called her to dive into the ocean, so she did.

Deeper and deeper she swam, the water getting darker and darker. Pressure began to build up around her as she delved lower than she’d ever been. But her heart beat faster and faster and her rock in her gut churned more and more, signifying that she was close.

And finally, at the bottom of the ocean, she found a fruit.

It was rough and bumpy, its skin a blur of purple and vibrant green. Skystar knew somehow, perhaps from a faded memory, that it was called the Nauyi fruit, and that it had only been spoken of in myths.

She measured her heartbeat carefully, listening as it steadied. Thump thump. Thump thump.

Then, she reached out and plucked the Nauyi fruit from its stem, and ate it.

There was an odd click from within her. Instantly, she felt a tug from above, her body twisting and turning to face the ocean’s surface. The tug became harder, yanking her toward the pale moonlight. Skystar flailed in the water, called for help, but none came. She emerged onto the surface.

And the tugging continued. It seemed as if gravity itself was being reversed as she was flung into the sky, falling faster and faster into the clouds. She kicked and screamed, hoping that someone, anyone would save her. As she entered the clouds, misty drops collided with her face. She grit her teeth and prayed.

As soon as it happened, it was over. Skystar felt the lurch in her chest subside, and rubbed her stomach as the lurching stopped. She opened her eyes, and gasped.

There it was, the heavenly city. The effervescent sky and the misty fog and the jumbling playgrounds and the laughing hippogriffs all before her. She collapsed to her knees, tears forming in her eyes. Then, she took off, flying as fast as toward the city her wings could take her, eyes wide in an expression of pure hope.

As she got closer, she stopped.

The music was different. There was a wild cacophony of noise that she didn’t understand. She couldn’t hear the laughter, or see the hippogriffs very well at all. The buildings spiraled above her dizzyingly, causing her head to spin in circles.

It was all so, so overwhelming. Slowly, Skystar sat back down, her claws wavering.

She didn’t know what to do, so she began to sing.

She sang the songs of her people, of the joy and sorrow that she’d felt. She sang her anguish at the joy of discovering the city in her dreams, then having found it to be so different. She sang the songs she’d remembered hearing, and imagined the other hippogriffs joining in unison as she cried freely.

As she sang, one of the ghostly hippogriffs walked up to her, and spoke.

“Child, you do not belong here. What brings you here, oh child?”

Skystar bit down, then let it go. “I… I’ve always wanted to be among your people. I heard the songs when I was young, and they were… so, so beautiful. And now I’m here and this is real, b-but what happened?”

The hippogriff smiled warmly, wrinkles beside his eyes. “I have said. You do not belong here, young one. You belong among your people. And you must go.” As Skystar looked at him disbelievingly, he placed his claw on her chest. “But before you do, I have a gift.”

There was a pulse of energy, of magic, and Skystar felt something resonating within her. She felt the songs of a hundred years, a thousand years, ten thousand years flowing through her. She witnessed the birth of civilizations, the hopes and dreams of hippogriffs a hundred generations over, all in musical form. She felt her heart flutter and had an indescribable urge to grin, leap for happiness. She belonged among her people. She understood that the songs she’d heard were not for attaining divinity, but for inspiring the souls of the hippogriffs around her, just as the songs she’d heard when she was younger so inspired her.

So as the sky crumbled beneath her, she didn’t despair. She beamed for joy, falling through the clouds, back down from above the peaks of Mount Aris.

Back to where she belonged.