The air carried the soft, floral aroma of spring as Summer wandered through the garden. On one night of all the nights in the year, the flowers of all the plants burst forth into bloom. The arms of the sun's influence gently stroked the land one, last time before it fell away into a glorious, crimson sunset. Summer sat in the centre, smiling in an almost delirious manner with the sheer breath-stealing beauty of it all.
She tilted her head back as she sat cross-legged, letting the last sighs of the warm, sun-caressed winds soothed her cheeks. A beautiful day. For just one day, at least.
A familiar figure emerged from the treeline to her right, stopping a few feet shy of her meditative resting position. He coughed lightly, causing Summer's eyes to snap open onto the new world that had evolved around her as she sat with them closed. The plants and grass were gone, merely a grim sludge beneath her feet. Trees had lost all their leaf and flower, and were merely frozen in place by the simple cold of the world, seemingly without a hope of ever thawing. Even the very air she breathedseemed to be like a malicious wraith, seeking to steal all the warmth from her bones as she gulped it down in sharp, light breaths that stung her throat. Even the sky had dulled to a deep black, with only the moon presiding over the world; its light shining cold, dark, and eternal.
The figure held out a hand to her, an invitation away from this nocturnal world of ice and shadow. He was taller than Summer, broader too, yet still like her. He was built like a primitive imitation of her form. Rougher, more hewn from stone than carefully carved from flesh and bone. His expression, however, dissolved into the softened tones of concern as he insistently offered his hand once more.
With trepidation, Summer took the offer, feeling herself being raised to her feet to stand beside him. He was taller, but not by a significant amount. Not imposing so much as simply being in possession of more excess in his build, all his dimensions seemingly built more durably than her's.
He smiled, waving a hand at a light on the horizon. Moonlight couldn't dilute it, nor the starless, black night dissuade it. It shone like a star fallen to the earth, as he pointed it out to her.
Then, as she had recounted so many times beforehand, he began the promise. As the first words spilled from his lips, the world around her began to fade. Become even colder, darker and greyer than before. Even an unpleasant dream presented a sharp juxtaposition to her current situation. Her return to the true, waking world.
* * * * * *
"Come away, O' human child,
to a long forgotten land.
This world's more full of weeping,
Than you can understand.."
Unnatural light burned through Summer's unprepared irises, finding its way seemingly into the very depths of her mind as she tried her best to shy away from it. Her bed was simple, and mostly comfortless. A thin sheet and a somehow thinner mattress, sufficient for purpose, but with little room for joy in the design.
The same face greeted her as it set down her breakfast on the table. She kept her current sleeping gown on as she ate, the toast and butter feeling equally as plain as the grey, cloth gown that covered her body. After she finished, the tray and plates were retrieved, and her clothes set out for her. Tight-fitting to her form, with sufficient room for frantic activity, they were utilitarianism in its prime.
Finally she was dressed, and ready for her regimen. Or - to be more accurate - the regimen set out for her since she had first collected her memories into her mind, though she was sure they stretched further back than that. Always the focus was on her physical primacy, it presided over all other objectives in her routine. Running tracks, swimming, weight lifting, then combinations and alternations of the three in increasingly difficult configurations.
All this time, a small creature had watched her without her knowledge, as was her habit. To see Summer stand beside this creature would have presented a confusion of hierarchy. The creature was a diminutive equine, four-legged with a vibrant, magenta coat. Her mane flowed in strands of hair that seemed chaotically arranged until one delved closer, to find that her mane was split into two halves. The pink half twisted its way around a purple half in a double-helix, creating a vibrant mane in both colour and stature.
As Summer came to her last, panting lap, she sat on the floor, crossing her legs as she bent over in heaving but controlled fits of breathlessness. It was only when the shadow crossed her vision that she noticed the creature that was blocking her light. She smiled, truthfully, the creature was one of the few causes she found for such a thing.
"Good morning, Summer. I'm pleased to see you're undertaking your conditioning of your own accord."
Summer took the offered hoof, carefully wrapping her fingers around it in a tight but gentle embrace. She rose to her feet, suddenly towering over the pony before her.
"Good morning, Nucleus. You're going to take me for my mental stimulation tests, then?"
Nucleus nodded, smiling benignly as she idly flicked a freshly scrawled piece of parchment attached to her clipboard.
"In a moment, I'm amazed at how eager you are to begin. At this rate, we may complete the program sooner than expected. Now, one thing first, you know that I'm your Welfare Officer-."
"Which means that you look after me."
"...Yes. Now, the other workers have been studying your sleep patterns, and they've found signs of...unrest. Is there anything troubling your sleep."
Summer cast her mind back over her dream, finding that it now had the consistency of water. Left alone to rest in her mind it was fine, but the moment she tried to grasp any of it, it flooded out like a torrent.
"There...there was a dream. But...I can't remember it."
Nucleus nodded, a small pen frantically burning its way across her parchment, suspended in a magenta aura that mirror the one that throbbed around her horn. Nucleus was a unicorn, Summer knew that. It meant her horn could do things no pony without one was capable of.
"Intriguing, your dream retention...well, your mental makeup was experimental. Can you remember nothing of it?"
Summer's mind dived once more into the sea of its own knowledge. All that stood was the poem, four simple lines. Yet, something else told her it was unimportant to the pony standing before her. Unworthy of her time, but not unworthy of Summer's.
"Nothing at all, ma'am."
Nucleus slowly nodded, her wide, green eyes scrutinising Summer's facial expressions. She gave a curt nod, before beckoning her out of the room with a casual hoof. Summer cast her mind over the words from her dreams. So unlike her own, yet presented by her own mind. One question hung forever unanswered since they had begun so many weeks ago...
"What did they mean?"