Rain clouds had been forming high overhead for hours. Most ponies preferred sunny days, but Night Glider always liked it when the clouds were heavy.
She had been traveling almost nonstop since leaving town, traversing a vast desert on her way back to Modus. Slowly, the shifting sands and hot sun had given way to the lush fields and colors that Equestria was known for. It had been just the change of scenery she was looking forward to, having seen nothing but a small oasis in the middle of a desert for nearly a year. Though she had expected to find joy and nervous excitement to keep her going, she instead found herself hovering back and forth just off the ground on the edge of a vast tract of trees.
Rocky crags loomed high to the west above the dense canopy line, casting a long shadow over all the forest. She briefly looked at them, and could feel goosebumps shooting up her legs before she turned her head away quickly, trying to ignore them. She closed her eyes and flew forward through the air, but stopped swiftly and suddenly short mere inches away from the treeline. The scent of dead pine had entered her nostrils. It had been a long time, but she could still remember the exact night she last smelled it, the last time she was in the forest. Her wing beats slowed, and she gently returned to the ground.
She rocked back and forth on her hooves, unsure of what to do, until her head turned skyward. It would be so very easy to just fly over the whole thing and continue on her journey to Modus. She took a deep breath and took off into the air again, this time flying up over the tops of the trees. She couldn’t see the other end of the forest, but she knew if she just headed straight, she could make it there quickly.
She started forward when another thought entered her mind: Modus. The night she had been exiled. She froze in mid-air, then looked down at the trees. She snorted, then forced herself back downward until she was level with them again.
“I can do this,” she muttered to herself.
Slowly, she turned her head towards the rocky crags that marked the west side of the forest. She found herself instinctively holding onto her locket, idly jingling it. She looked down at the heirloom, popping it open and staring at her parents inside, but closed it quickly and looked straight forward at the vast sea of green before her.
“I promised I wouldn’t go back to that cave, so I don’t have to. I can just go straight through. I’m not the same pony I was a year ago, I can do this.”
Night Glider took a deep breath and flew forward into the forest. It only took a few feet before she realized that at this point, flying wasn’t going to be the best option if she wanted to get through: there were just too many branches and trees in the way, and any sort of speed would be a disaster.
She looked upwards, barely able to make out the dark sky through the trees looming above her. A little rain could solve her problem quickly, but as dark as the clouds were, they didn’t quite seem ready to give up their bounty. She sighed and landed on the ground, then began to walk forward, scanning the ground for any sort of path. She carefully stepped over the plants and ducked between trees, trying to keep her bearings about her and moving in the same direction.
Despite everything, the forest was still. She could hear a few insects on the tree to her right skittering up and down, and the rustling of leaves around her, but other than that, it was silent. Night Glider closed her eyes, trying to catch some kind of noise as she walked, but there just wasn’t enough to go on.
She continued walking, occasionally stopping to take stock of where she was. It was hard to do, when so much of the forest looked the same, just trees stretching high above her and bushes and vines messily covering the ground. The only path that lead cleanly through the forest was a vaguely trodden one, and Night Glider followed it closely, stepping around the bushes in the path as best she could.
She pushed her way through a tangle of plants and found herself at a crossroads on the path. One kept going forward off into the forest and the other veered to the left. She shifted her gaze between the two paths, racking her brain as to where to go next.
“Wait, which one…” she mumbled, trying to remember with path she had taken to first leave the forest. She closed her eyes, trying to think, while her hoof grasped her locket, slowly shaking it.
Vines hanging down over the path, a few paces to the left. Beyond that, just the cliffs. Thirty feet away?
She let go of the locket and took a few steps forward, but abruptly stopped as a leaf to her right was suddenly struck by something. Before she could zero in on it, she heard another, and then another. She turned her head upwards, feeling drop after drop of rain start to bounce off her face.
“About time!” she said. As the rain picked up, she closed her eyes once again, and the forest revealed itself to her.
Fifty feet forward, trees on either side of the path. Off the path, some bushes. Baneberries. Vines hanging down from the canopy, twenty-three feet above the ground. Trees to the right are roughly two feet apart. The cliffs are only twenty-five feet away, not thirty.
Her wings flapped, sending more rain splashing everywhere. With a quick look around the forest, she rose into the air and took off.
Rain bounced off her face and body as she zoomed forward, dodging the trees as she went faster and faster. A thick trunk quickly came up in front of her, and she swerved to the side, twirling around it and speeding off in another direction, dodging through some vines and coming to a stop in an opening. She took a moment to reorient herself, then faced north.
She hovered in midair and stared into the green. All around her, the storm was intensifying, and she could make out more and more of the forest: every inch of growth on the ground, the contour of every tree. She slowly turned away from the path she was facing to observe everything around her. She began to smile, and in a flash, she was off, flying east.
A gust of wind sent a branch falling down, sending water bursting in front of her. Night Glider blew through it, picking up as much speed as she could. With a large embankment of trees approaching, she squinted and sped up, doing a sharp turn at the last second and flying alongside them, close enough to feel the leaves brushing against her wing. As soon as there was a path open, she twisted her body and flew between two tangled trees, bursting through a mess of leaves into another clearing, but passing straight through and going right back into the thick.
She was laughing. She couldn’t help it. She had explored the forest a year ago, but only for a few days, and even then, never far from one place. Now she was flying every which way she could, all her cares left in the wind as she soared through the forest. She turned her body and flew upwards, cresting the tops of the canopy and observing the vast forest from above, before diving through the trees and speeding off.
Minutes ticked by, the rain only got harder. Night Glider was shivering, her body weighed down by all the water absorbed into her fur, but she didn’t care. Night Glider landed in the middle of the forest. She was soaked and it was hard to see through the rain, but she didn’t care; she could make out almost the entire forest around her. The laughter had stopped, but she couldn't get rid of the smile on her face as she looked around, taking in everything around her.
“Hah… alright, let’s see,” she finally said, “where’s that path?” She closed her eyes and concentrated on the forest, becoming absorbed in the sounds around her.
Nineteen feet to the right, more trees, no room for a path between them. There’s a bit of a clearing fifteen feet forward, just enough for a pony to squeeze through, that might be—
As she was zeroing in on the path out of the forest, something small struck her in the back of the head.
Suddenly thrown out of her concentration, Night Glider looked around quickly before hearing something small hit the ground beside her. She crouched down to examine it, seeing a small chunk of ice sitting on top of a leaf.
“Uh oh…” she mumbled. Within seconds, more hail was pouring down, mixing with the rain and bouncing off Night Glider. She quickly galloped to the side and dove under the nearest tree.
“Okay, no big deal,” she said. She waited for the hail to let up, but after a minute, it was just coming down harder, with larger chunks crashing down into the forest. The tree above her very quickly became inadequate cover, and she found herself being pelted by more hail.
She leapt back to her hooves and galloped away, hugging close to the trees to stay out of danger as best she could. The winds were blowing the trees back and forth, and the hail was only getting worse, rendering it harder to find any sort of safe cover.
Night Glider briefly tried to take off into the air, but the hail slammed into her wings, sending her crashing back to the ground. She scrambled back up and stumbled forward, regaining her footing as she dove under another large tree.
“Come on, let up already!” she yelled, glancing upward at the clouds and rain above, her hoof shielding her eyes from the hail. The tree wasn’t providing good enough cover, and she desperately scanned the area to find something better. Overhead, there was a massive clap of thunder, and as the aftershock rumbled, Night Glider froze.
Fifty feet to the west… the cave.
She shook her head to chase the thought away, but a bright flash of lightning briefly revealed the rocky walls a short distance away. Before she even had time to think, she was galloping towards it, pushing her way through the vegetation and rain.
The storm was quickly getting worse, with more and more hail pelting her as she ran. She dodged between trees as best she could in the circumstances, until another large clap of thunder momentarily broke her concentration and her shoulder scraped against a chunk of bark awkwardly sticking out of the tree.
Pain shot through her forehoof and she fell to the ground. She clutched at her shoulder and looked up, just as a flash of lightning illuminated the world around her for a brief second, and she could see just how close she was to the cliffs. She forced herself back to her hooves, shook out her foreleg, and continued galloping.
She shoved her way through a large bush and found herself staring at the entrance to a darkened cave. There was another flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, enough for Night Glider to recognize a small, crumpled-up blanket discarded to one side of the back of the cave.
After what had happened, she never thought she would have to see her makeshift home again.
The wind howled outside. Night Glider huddled as best she could under her blanket. It wasn’t much, but it was the only cover that she could find to deal with the cold night.
She stretched herself out as best she could over the only flat ground she could find in the cave. She curled herself into a ball, trying to find some sort of partially comfortable position, with no luck. This was going to be another sleepless night.
There was another howl of wind, making Night Glider bury herself even deeper in the blanket. She longed for her bed in Modus. She longed for any kind of bed. Night Glider just wanted any semblance of normalcy in her life back. It had been weeks since she had left Modus, and quickly had run out of civilized places to stay.
She didn’t care. She was still trying to make sense of what her life had become.
Night Glider’s head shot up as a voice came from the end of the cave. As the voice echoed, she could see a pale white pony standing in the entrance to the cave, peering inward.
“Go away!” Night Glider yelled.
The pony gasped and started to walk forward. “Are you Night Glider?”
Night Glider leapt to her hooves. “Who are you? How do you know my name?”
The pony continued to step forward. Night Glider backed up, ready to defend herself at a moment’s notice.
“No, it’s okay. I’m a friend,” he said. “I… we heard you were somewhere in this forest. My name is Double Diamond, I’m here to help you.”
“Y-you are?” Night Glider stuttered.
“Yeah, we are,” Double Diamond said.
Double Diamond looked back to the entrance of the cave. “She’s in here! I found her!”
He turned back and walked closer to Night Glider. She was now able to see him better. He had a white coat and matching white hair and mane, both perfectly cut and styled. He had a big smile on his face, but what stuck out the most to her was his Cutie Mark: two plain black lines next to each other, resembling an equal sign.
She was about to say something when another pony walked into the cave. As she approached, Night Glider immediately saw that her Cutie Mark was an equal sign, just like Double Diamond’s. As soon as the pink unicorn locked eyes with her, she smiled.
“Hello,” she said in a calm, soothing voice. “You must be Night Glider.”
“Who are you ponies?!” Night Glider said, putting her back to the cave wall.
“My name is Starlight Glimmer,” she said, “and I’m just here to help you.”
Starlight continued to walk forward. There was something about the tone of her voice that stuck with Night Glider.
“How do you two know me?” she quietly asked.
“I have my sources,” Starlight said. “I heard that you had been treated terribly in Modus. That they don’t want you around any more.”
Night Glider turned her head away. “I… um…”
“It’s okay,” Starlight said. “You don’t have to hide anything from me. I promise I’m just here to help you.”
Starlight smiled. “Yes. Now tell me, do you know why they kicked you out?”
Night Glider nodded. “Because I screwed up, like I always do. And ponies got hurt.”
Starlight leaned in. “And?”
For a few moments, the only sound was the howling wind outside. NIght Glider shivered.
“...and I’m different.”
For just a split second, Night Glider swore she saw a shimmer in Starlight’s eyes.
“Because you’re different, Night Glider,” Starlight repeated. “If everything I heard about you is true, you are a very, very special pony. And I bet that bothered a lot of ponies in Modus?”
“Well that’s why I’m here,” Starlight continued. “You see, there is a place here for you. A place where nopony will care if you’re different, because nopony is different.”
Night Glider looked up at Double Diamond, who was nodding in agreement, then turned back to Starlight. “There is?”
“We already have a whole community of like-minded, equal ponies there,” Starlight said. “I swear to you, you will never be judged again for being different.”
Night Glider could feel a lump forming in her throat. “I… won’t?”
“No way!” Double Diamond said, a huge grin on his face. “All of us are equal in our town! We don’t judge each other, because all of us are perfect equals. Right, Starlight?”
Night Glider’s lip began to quiver. She looked over at Starlight, who again responded with a warm, inviting smile. Starlight reached over and put her hoof on Night Glider’s shoulder.
“That’s right,” she said softly. “Night Glider, I believe that your example could be used to show all of Equestria that differences make us hate, but equality makes us love. Just come with us, and I promise you’ll have a home again.”
The word ‘home’ struck Night Glider. She couldn’t stop herself as she leaned forward and wrapped her forelimbs around Starlight Glimmer. Tears streamed down her face as she held the hug tighter, Starlight returning it and gently patting her on the back.
“T-t-thank you,” she stammered through sobs. “Y-yes… please… I-I don’t have anywhere else to g-go...”
Starlight Glimmer held her close. “It’s okay, Night Glider. Being different is awful, isn’t it?” Night Glider nodded. “Now, let’s get going to a place where you’ll finally be equal.”
Starlight and Double Diamond helped Night Glider walk out of the cave. Night Glider wiped the tears from her eyes as they walked into the forest, Starlight’s horn illuminating a path south.
“Thank you so much…” Night Glider barely got out through sobs.
“I should be the one thanking you,” Starlight said. “I think you are going to do wonderful things for our community.”
Double Diamond looked back. “Hey, you forgot your blanket…”
“I don’t care,” Night Glider said, pressing herself closer to Starlight Glimmer. “I’m never going back in there again.”
A loud thunderclap roared overhead, so loud that it made Night Glider jump. She pressed herself against the nearest tree, desperate to find some kind of shelter from the hail, but nothing was working. Her hooves were shaking as she stared at the blanket crumpled up in the cave.
Her brain was screaming at her to get out of the storm, but her hooves refused to listen. She closed her eyes and concentrated, nervously holding her locket, trying desperately to sense something—anything—that she could use as cover, but no matter how far she reached, there was nothing. Nothing, except the cave.
“Don’t make me do this…” she muttered. Another crash of thunder came from overhead, and for a moment she knew every contour, every rock, every inch of the cave. “Don’t make me do this!!!” she screamed, slamming her hoof into the tree she was cowering under, sending bark flying back at her.
She closed her eyes, realizing that she had to get to shelter, and only one was available. She held the locket in her hoof tightly as she finally raised her hoof and took a step forward.
Night Glider’s hoof froze in midair. A voice had called to her from somewhere. She jerked her head around, trying to find the source.
“Is there somepony down there?” the voice yelled again. Night Glider looked up; the voice was coming from somewhere above her. “I thought I heard somepony yell something, is anyone down there?”
Night Glider shielded her eyes from the rain as best she could to scan the clouds; there wasn’t much to see other than rain and darkness, but she could just barely make out a small patch of light.
“H-hello?” Night Glider yelled back.
“Oh my gosh!” came the response. “What are you doing here? The storm’s only gonna get worse!”
“I was just flying through!” Night Glider yelled back. “I’ll, um… be fine,” she said, momentarily looking back at the cave.
“No way, this storm ain’t letting up for hours! Hang on!”
Night Glider squinted at the sky, trying to figure out what the pony was doing. She could just barely make out a few voices over the rain and hail, before a section of the clouds were suddenly parted. She could see a patch of blue, quickly moving across the sky.
“Come on, get up here!” the voice yelled.
“I-I’m fine,” Night Glider replied. “I can just, um… I can just find my own cover.”
“Are you sure?”
“Come on, the storm’s gonna close up this hole quick!”
Night Glider stared up at the blue hole in the clouds. For a brief second, she looked back at the cave, but when another clap of thunder rumbled overhead, she closed her eyes, let in a deep breath, grasped her locket in her hoof, and took off into the air. She flew up in the direction of the hole in the clouds, her eyes closed as hail and rain bounced off of her. She kept her eyes tightly shut as she flew towards the only area without the sound of rain, hoping that she was going the right way.
Hail continued to batter her wings, but it just made her flap her feathers harder, inching through the onslaught. The rain was coming down so hard that it disoriented. For a few seconds she flew blindly, unable to open her eyes in the hail.
She let go of her locket, so that it whipped furiously back and forth around her neck. The sound reverberated in her ears.
10 feet to the left. No rain there.
She made a sharp turn to her left and flew. Within seconds the rain and hail abruptly stopped around her. She turned up and flew, opening her eyes to the blue skies above her. With one last burst of speed she flew above the clouds, just as the storm overtook the hole that had been cut for her.
Night Glider landed on a cloud, immediately collapsing down onto it and shutting her eyes. She took a deep breath of the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on her back as she lay prone for a minute, not willing to move. Finally she rolled over on her back and opened her eyes to find herself staring at three pegasi right above her.
“You okay?” one of them asked.
“Yeah,” Night Glider replied as she rolled up to her hooves. “T-thanks for that. I’m Night Glider, by the way.”
“No problem!” one of them, a red mare with a pink mane, said. “I’m Crimson Glint. This is Aurora Dawn, and he’s Wild Spark. What in Equestria were you doing down there?”
“I’m flying home,” Night Glider said. “I didn’t expect to run into the mother of all storms.”
“There should have been notices posted in town halls all around the area,” Wild Spark said, pulling a clipboard out of his saddle bag and flipping through it. “Cloudsdale gave us a list of places to notify, I’m sure I hit them all.”
“Oh, um… our town is way on the edge of the desert.”
“I don’t have any record of a town out there.”
“Eh, you wouldn’t.”
“Whatever, it all worked out!” Aurora Dawn said. “We’re just glad you’re okay!”
Night Glider opened her mouth, but to her surprise, no words came out. For a moment, she wasn’t sure how to respond to what Aurora had said.
“T-thanks,” Night Glider finally said.
“So, you’re flying home?” Crimson Glint said. “I’m assuming Palmacolta?”
“Nah,” Night Glider said, “although I’m probably gonna stop there. My home is Modus.”
All three ponies stared at her.
“You’re from Modus?” Wild Spark said. “Really?”
“Huh. That’s cool!” Aurora said. “I once met a pony from Modus, back when I was visiting Canterlot. He was all serious and cold, though. I hear that they don’t really like other ponies. It’s nice to meet somepony from there who actually knows how to talk to others for a change!”
“Aurora, don’t be rude,” Crimson said. “That’s her home you’re talking about.”
Night Glider stared at Aurora Dawn. For a second, her thoughts went back to Modus, to memories from before she left. To ponies constantly glaring at her out of the corner of their eyes. Ignoring her every move, except when she made a mistake. Whispering any time they were near her.
“No, it’s fine,” Night Glider said. “You’re right, ponies in Modus can be cold. We really don’t like our citizens having any contact with the rest of Equestria.”
“Yeah, see?” Aurora extended a wing and wrapped it around Night Glider’s shoulder, causing her to jump. “Oh man, now I have a friend from Modus! This rules!”
Wild Spark rolled his eyes. “Don’t mind Aurora. She’s a little excitable, and this is her first—”
“Oh, you know what?” Aurora suddenly interjected. “You should totally come visit us in Cloudsdale!”
“Cloudsdale?” Night Glider looked at the other two ponies, who were both smiling at her. Her thoughts were still with Modus, no matter how much she tried to concentrate on the ponies in front of her. “I’ve, uh, never been there. Do you think ponies would be okay with me being there?”
Crimson looked over at Aurora with one eyebrow raised. “Uh… I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be okay with you.”
“They wouldn’t?” Night Glider shook her memories of Modus out of her mind for a moment, and smiled. “I mean, yeah, I guess they wouldn’t really mind…”
“Of course not!” Aurora said. “So come visit us! We all work at the Cloudsdale Weather Association of Cloudsdale, just look us up when you swing by!”
“It’s just the Cloudsdale Weather Association…” Wild Spark said. “But hey, if you ever do come up to the area, you can look us up if you want to. We’d be happy to show you around! It’s not often you meet a pegasus who has never been to Cloudsdale before, much less a pony from Modus. I’m sure a few ponies at Cloudsdale University would like to talk to you, too.”
“But Sparkyyyy, that’s booooring!” Aurora pleaded. “I wanna take her to the Wonderbolts Arena, and the rain factory, and—”
Crimson Glint put her hoof over Aurora’s mouth, silencing her rant. “Look, the point is, feel free to come to Cloudsdale. All pegasi should visit at some point!”
“Well, thanks,” Night Glider said. She looked out into the distance. “I should really get back to flying, I was hoping to hit Palmacolta by tomorrow.”
“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay flying?” Wild Spark said. “Your wings probably took a beating in that storm…”
Night Glider extended her wings fully and flapped them a few times. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. They’re feeling better.”
“Huh,” Crimson Glint mused. “Most pegasi I know would be down for the count for a while after that.”
Night Glider chuckled. “Well… I’m not most ponies.” Suddenly, she found herself wrapped in a hug from the side.
“You gotta promise you’ll visit us in Cloudsdale!” Aurora Dawn exclaimed. “Say you will! You gotta!”
“S-sure, I’ll stop by at some point!” Night Glider said. “Cloudsdale Weather Association, right? I’ll look you guys up. Thanks again!”
“Yeah yeah yeah!” she said. “Say hi to all the ponies in Modus for me. See you around!”
“Hope to see you again,” Wild Spark said.
“Good luck on the journey!”
With a quick flick of her wings, Night Glider was airborne again. She looked back at the three ponies who had rescued her, all of them waving. She smiled and gave them a big wave back, then turned and flew north.
The storm was still raging below her, but Night Glider had a smile on her face. She had never been to Cloudsdale, but the other pegasi in Starlight’s town had told her about it. An entire city in the sky, populated exclusively by pegasi. She had never seen any pictures of it, but her own image of the city was shimmering in her eye. It could be a grand city of clouds, pegasi flying every which way, entire weather systems being built from the ground up.
She was already trying to figure out when she could visit Cloudsdale. Once she had gotten back to Modus and been accepted, she would prove to all the ponies there that their thoughts on her were wrong. She could be just like them. And after a few months, she could take a quick break to visit Starlight’s town to see how things were going, then she could travel across Equestria and finally visit Cloudsdale, meet up with her new friends and see…
“We really don’t like our citizens having any contact with the rest of Equestria.”
The smile faded from Night Glider’s face. She glanced down at the locket around her neck, then looked back. The three pegasi were back to observing the storm, carefully moving clouds around. There were distant, just blobs of color in the distance in a sea of white.
Night Glider turned forward. “I can’t let these things distract me,” she muttered. “Modus is the priority. I just gotta go… home…”
Without another look back, she lowered her head and sped off, racing north. Hoping to put the forest behind her as quickly as possible.