Ember and the Orb
Ember Flame sprinted across the field, spraying mud behind her as she ran. Ahead, a rope flapped in the wind. She jumped at the rope, but her teeth caught only air. The loose corner of the tarp flapped freely, allowing the driving rain to soak into the rolls of hay.
She jumped, snapping at the rope, but again she missed. Ember flung herself at it, catching her prize under her chest as she fell. She reached down and grabbed the rope, the taste of mud spreading across her tongue.
Ember grimaced, but she didn’t dare let go. Instead, she pulled the rope towards its anchor, taking up its slack. The filly, now more brown than turquoise, strained with all her might. Ember was fighting a game of tug-of-war against the wind and the rain. Every new second renewed her opponents’ attempt to extinguish her fiery mane and tail, which were beating against the back of her head. Overhead, streaks of lightning spectated the match. The earth pony held her ground, her hooves digging deep grooves into the mud.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ember saw the other rope holding her side of the tarp down begin to shift. Time slowed down for the filly as the rope broke free of its anchor. Her eyes went wide. The tarp swelled like a sail.
A mare lept over Ember, catching the loose rope in her teeth and dragging it to the ground. The pony tied her rope back to its anchor before taking Ember’s.
Ember spat the mud out of her mouth. “Thanks, Mom.” She spat again. “I almost lost it there.”
“Nonsense!” her mother replied. “You were doing great, Ember!”
Ember looked at the hay, now safe from the wind’s futile efforts. “Yeah, I did!” She shouted to the clouds, “Take that, weather!”
The weather responded by sending two billion volts to the ground a quarter mile away.
Ember chuckled nervously. “Let’s get inside and wash up. I got enough mud on me for one day.” She flicked some at her mother.
“But being covered in mud means...” the mare started.
Mother and daughter finished the sentence together: “...you did a good job!”
Ember Flame was laying in the bathtub, water up to her neck and covered in suds.
A pink hoof scrubbed some dirt from behind her ear. A quick breath from Ember sent some bubbles into her mother’s face.
“What do you say we get extra dessert tonight for saving our hay supply?”
Ember looked past her mother to see an aquamarine colored mare entering the bathroom. She was wearing her own share of mud, as well as a smile.
“I got the chicken coop’s roof nailed back down. A few of the birds got away, but I rounded them up, Strawberry.”
Ember cut in. “Mom Petal! Mom Strawberry and I got the hay all tarped down again and we’re having extra cupcakes for dessert!”
Strawberry Blossom chuckled. “Cupcakes? Sure, we can have cupcakes.” She lifted her daughter out of the tub. “I can’t make mud cupcakes though, so you’d better get dried while Petal and I wash up. Hop on in, Petal. I’ve scrubbed one pony I love, I might as well scrub two.”
Petal smiled at her daughter as the filly trotted out of the bathroom, then bounced into the tub, splashing water across the floor.
Strawberry closed her eyes as the small wave hit her. “Splash all you want, dewdrop; it’s your turn to mop tonight.”
Petal Shower grinned back at Strawberry. “You sure about that, sweetie?”
Strawberry thought for a moment. “Aw shoot.”
Ember Flame darted around beneath her bed covers. Her faithful companion, Sparky, guided her beyond the Folded Blanket of Mystery. Ember took care to avoid drawing the attention of whatever monsters awaited the unwary. On the far side of the Fold, she found the Pillow of Doom. She carefully lifted the Pillow, and extracted The Lint of Destiny. Ember triumphantly brought her prize back towards the Dust Bunny Tribe.
Suddenly, something bit Ember’s tail. “Aah! Run Sparky, the monster’s got me!” Ember dropped the plush firefly off of the side of the bed, nobly sacrificing herself so that he might live.
A hoof pulled the bedsheets back and Ember looked up into Petal Shower’s eyes.
Ember’s mother released her captive. “Your tail was sticking out. Did you finish your homework?”
Ember gazed up at Petal with her best impression of a puppy. “Maaaybe.”
“Strawberry hasn’t started dinner yet, so, maaaybe she might change her mind on those cupcakes.”
Strawberry entered the room, setting a bucket down by the door. “After what she did out there? No way!”
“Yeah!” Ember jumped a few inches. “No way!”
“And they’ll make up for having to help with the cleanup after the storm ends,” Strawberry said with a grin.
“Cleaning up? Aww. Do I have to?”
“You’re not getting out of it this time, Ember.”
“Oh wait! I just remembered!”
Ember jumped over to her backpack and rummaged through it. Petal and Strawberry just looked at each other. Ember triumphantly pulled out a sheet of paper and presented it to her parents.
Strawberry’s eyes swept over the page. “Release form?”
“The school’s going camping this weekend! Beautiful Ruacanter Falls! Me, the class, the open air...”
“...and no storm cleanup,” Strawberry finished.
“And only one parent needs to sign it!” Ember smiled at Petal.
Strawberry snickered. “I’ve seen this enough to know how it ends. All right you can go.” She put a foreleg around her wife’s neck. “I’ll just make Petal do your work, too. But you’re going to owe your poor mother some extra chores.”
Strawberry got an uneasy look from Petal Shower as she made for the door.
As Strawberry walked out, she called behind her, “Better get your rest, dewdrop. You have a long weekend coming up.”
Ember walked alongside her friend in the herd of fillies, their teacher at the lead.
“Raspberry, get back in line,” Honey Heart commanded.
“Yes, Miss Heart.”
“Emerald, put the gems away and keep with the group.”
“Yes, Miss Heart.”
“Thunderbolt, slow down. The train will still be there if we walk.”
The navy blue pegasus colt just rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, Thunderdolt,” Ember’s friend said.
“Stargazer, I don’t need your input,” Miss Heart responded.
Thunderbolt stuck his tongue out at his younger sister, and resumed entertaining himself with a series of slow barrel rolls just above her head.
While Honey Heart continued to corral her class, Ember continued her conversation with Stargazer.
“The falls sound so awesome. They say there’s a never-ending rainbow at the bottom.”
Stargazer flared her beige wings. “I’m looking forwards to the view. It must be so dark at night, I bet you can see everything in the sky. The Milky Way must be so bright out there.” She walked for a moment in silence. “I wonder how long the train ride will be.”
“Longer than it’d take me to fly there,” Thunderbolt cut in.
“No way; you’d get tired out way before you get there.”
“No I wouldn’t!”
“Yes you would!”
“No I wouldn’t!”
“Yes you would!”
“Children! Would you please stop arguing!”
“The dodo’s in trouble,” Thunderbolt teased.
“Thunderbolt, up front, on the ground, now.”
“Who’s in trouble now, Thunderdolt?”
“You too, Stargazer.”
“Awww.” The two siblings made their way to the front, away from Ember.
“Way to go, Thunderbolt.”
Outside of the train, Ember sheepishly took the toothbrush and toothpaste from Strawberry Blossom that she had forgotten to pack earlier. Next to her, a unicorn and a pegasus supplied Thunderbolt and Stargazer with a shedding rake and two extra blankets.
“Be safe out there, Thunderbolt,” the purple pegasus said, gripping him tightly.
The orange unicorn added, “And be nice to your sister. I don’t want to hear that you fought with her the whole trip.”
Stargazer’s mother moved to add her daughter to the embrace, too.
Ember got a nuzzle from Strawberry. “You be good, too. If you see any flowers that’ll look good on the farm, go ahead and pick some up. You owe Petal for making her clean up, after all.”
“I will, Mom.” She turned to her neighbors’ father. “And I’ll try to keep your kids in line, but no promises, Uncle Spyglass.”
“Do what you can,” the unicorn replied. “Stormy, dear, you have to let go of them so they can get on the train.”
“Yeah Mom.” Thunderbolt squirmed in his mother’s grasp. “You’re embarrassing me.”
Stormy reluctantly released her children, who boarded the train. Honey Heart herded the remaining students on, before turning away from the train with a sigh.
Stormy Nights turned to Strawberry. “Since when did you need help cleaning up after my weather?”
Strawberry didn’t look away from the train. “Never. I just make Ember help to show her the value of hard work.”
“I know that. Why are you making Petal Shower do it, then?”
“I’m not. I’m just saying that to get more chores out of Ember.”
Several dozen brakes hissed, releasing puffs of steam. The train lurched into motion among the cheers of its passengers, and the sighs of relief from those watching it. After a few moments, the train cars vanished into the distance.
Ember was awe-stuck at the sight of the Ruacanter Falls. Trees dangled over the edge of the cliff just beside the constant torrent of water. The water spraying at the base even produced the promised rainbow. The campsite itself was a short distance from the river.
Ember Flame joined her schoolmates in largely ignoring the briefing, which was being given by an earth stallion with “Tree” in his name or something. She picked up the crucial information, namely which bunkhouse was for the fillies, where the bathrooms were, and that the forest near the camp was safe to explore, provided that she wasn’t alone.
After unpacking, Ember loaded up her survival kit and sought out her friend.
“Ready to roam?”
Stargazer looked at Ember’s pack. “Do you think we got everything? I just threw in what looked important.”
“Yeah, I packed up blankets, tinder, rope, the magic flares, the tent, extra food and water, everything we need.”
“Oh, did you actually pay attention to the guy?”
Ember puffed out her chest. “Heck no! You know all those mountain trips our parents take us on? While you’re playing with those telescopes, Mom Strawberry’s been showing me this stuff. I can pitch a tent with my eyes closed while reciting the instructions backwards. Come on, I want to see the base of the cliffs.”
Ember walked beneath the leafy canopy, the towering cliffs above only visible in the tiny gaps between the greenery. She closed her eyes. Around her, she heard the chirps of the birds. She smelled the living dirt beneath her hooves. She left the life surrounding her.
Near the edge of the forest, Ember Flame found a young beech tree. It had a yellow tinge to its leaves. The pony looked up around the forest canopy, and spotted a patch of sky. Below, a tree lay on its side, the victim of some unknown calamity.
Ember closed her eyes again and placed her hoof on the young beech. She could feel the sap flow beneath its bark. She moved her hoof along the trunk, and up a branch, feeling her way along the tree’s lifestream. Ember opened her eyes and watched several leaves sprout from the end of the nearby limb. This tree would find the light.
The circle of life continued, from the trees, to the animals, to the soil, and through, if only temporarily, Ember Flame.
Nearby, a pegasus tried her best not to look bored.
“You done with the trees, Ember?”
Ember smiled back. “Yup! This tree’s going to be a strong one when it grows up. Let’s look at some cliff foliage.”
Two fillies looked up the cliff face. A few straggling plants stuck out from crevices in the rocks above.
“The view from the top must be incredible!” Stargazer said.
“I bet. It’d be a tough climb though.” Ember glanced around the cliff. Instead of a path up, a collection of purple foxglove flowers caught her eye.
The earth filly trotted over to the plant. “Hm, I bet Mom Petal would appreciate these.” As Ember placed a hoof by the flowers’ base, she hesitated. The feeling of life in this plant was fuzzy, chaotic, wild. Ember looked around, trying to get a better feel for the area.
“Uh Stargazer, I think we wandered a little too far away from camp. This place feels like the wilderness. Let’s head back.”
The pegasus turned away. “Sounds like a plan,” she said, beginning her walk along the base of the cliff. “I’m getting hungry anywaaaAA!”
The ground beneath Stargazer’s hooves gave way. The filly vanished into the earth. Ember rushed to the edge of the freshly-revealed pit. The remains of several rotten wood planks stuck out as a testament to how the pit had been concealed.
“Stargazer! Are you all right?” Ember looked over the edge, careful of her footing.
Seven feet below her, two dark green eyes looked back up.
“I’m all right; I was able to brake.” She spread her wings. “But I’m kind of stuck down here.”
Ember rummaged through her saddlebag. “Here, tie this rope around your chest,” she said, lowering it down. “I’ll pull you up.”
After a moment, Stargazer called back up, “Go ahead.”
Ember gripped the rope as tightly as she could in her teeth. Bracing herself against the ground, the earth pony pulled with all her might. The rope moved slowly, scraping against the rotten wood at the edge of the pit.
Ember relaxed and the rope fell slack. “It’s fraying; this won’t work.”
“Guess we should send up one of those magic flares of yours and let the grown-ups get me out.”
“We should... but we’d get in trouble for getting too far away from camp. Here, uh, lemme lower down some extra food and water for you. If I’m not back in an hour or something bad happens, point the flare’s tube up, away from the cliff face, and squeeze it with your mouth as hard as you can.”
“All right. I’ll just... stay here I guess.”
Ember Flame cantered away. She knew what she was after.
Ember plodded along the trail. She was running out of places to look. She glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the cliffs. It had been over an hour, and yet Stargazer still hadn’t lit the flare. She was about to give up and head back to the pit when she spotted a blue and white trail in the sky. It turned to overfly Ember. She jumped up and waved her forelegs.
The pegasus colt pulled to a halt in front of Ember. “What do you want? I was practising my racing.”
“Stargazer’s stuck by the cliff! I need your help!”
“What? Is she all right? Where is she?”
“She’s fine. Just fly along the base of the cliff and you’ll find a pit. Stay above it so I can spot you easier.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Thunderbolt turned and rocketed off towards the cliff.
Ember found the pit by looking for the hovering pegasus. She did not need the sound of his laughter to guide her.
“Look at you! A pegasus stuck in a hole!” Thunderbolt laughed. “Hey, hey maybe today’s the day those wings of yours will work!” He flipped over backwards. “Come on up, the air’s just fine!”
Ember looked up at the colt. “Not what I had in mind, Thunderbolt.”
Ember heard a voice below her: “You brought him here, Ember?”
“Hey, I needed somepony who could fly. And keep a secret.”
Thunderbolt turned to Ember. “A secret? I never promised to keep this secret. Just wait until I tell my friends about the dodo in the pit!”
“Hey!” Stargazer shouted, before pausing. “Wait, I get it. Since Ember and I aren’t supposed to be here, neither are you! If you tell anypony about this, you’ll get in trouble, too!”
“But... I was... you...” Thunderbolt finally groaned through gritted teeth. “Fine, I’ll get the dodo out of the hole and forget about this. But you’ll owe me one.”
Ember tossed Thunderbolt the rope. “Here, tie this around the both of you and lift her out. I’m sure you’ll be able to get her out in no time, right mister future Wonderbolt?”
Thunderbolt scoffed. “Ten seconds.”
Ninety seconds later, Stargazer was on the grass.
“There, I did my community service for the day,” Thunderbolt said. “I’m out of here.” He turned, flicked his tail, and zoomed away.
“You all right?” Ember asked. “You didn’t light the flare like I told you to. I was starting to get worried.”
“Oh, that. I guess I lost track of time,” Stargazer said.
“Doing what, counting the roots?”
“Reading this.” Stargazer opened her saddlebag to produce a scroll, yellow and tattered around the edges. “It was in this jar down there. It was hard to read in the dark, something about a treasure."
Ember was at Stargazer's side in a single jump. "A treasure? What kind of treasure? Is it something valuable?"
Stargazer pulled the scroll away. "I don't know; it was hard to read. But it's treasure, of course it's valuable."
"Lemme see, lemme see!"
"We can see in the bunkhouse. It's getting dark. We need to head back before we do get in trouble."
The shadow of the cliffs grew across the two fillies.