Daring Doodle Donkey

by The 24th Pegasus

A Filly

Daring Doodle Donkey

The 24th Pegasus

A Filly

Cranky Doodle Donkey adjusted the weight of the bags on his back and stared up the trail ahead of him. The many, many boulders and avalanches of the rugged Smokey Mountains had left him exhausted, but he had to cross the range. The rail line that was supposed to connect Tall Tale with the rest of Equestria had yet to be laid, and probably wouldn’t be finished for another few years. Most would’ve simply bypassed the mountains by following the pass along the Unicorn Range, but not Cranky. As far as he was concerned, the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, and he had no intention of straying from his planned path.

Besides, he’d already walked the Unicorn Range and never found her. For all he knew, she could’ve been holed up in one of the small villages that clung to the sides of these mountains, standing defiant against the snow and ice and blizzards that tore through their peaks. Although she never had been much of a winter girl herself…

The path fell apart in front of Cranky. Snow and ice choked what little had remained of the spring trails the ponies of the mountains had carved, promising treacherous hoofing and a terrifying plunge into the jagged ravine on Cranky’s left. The next safe slope was about a quarter mile away, where Cranky could see some bare gray granite. If he was right—and he knew he was—from there, it’d be little more than a gradual descent into the next town, and his bed for the night.

A shrill wind whipped across what little of Cranky’s muzzle the donkey had left exposed, and he shivered and raised his scarf. It would be getting dark soon, and the temperature would drop extremely low in the middle of the night. Sure, Cranky had enough firewood and tinder to survive another night on the mountains, but he wasn’t going to risk hypothermia with civilization so close nearby. He was experienced enough to know how dangerous that could be.

Cranky took a second to check the spikes on his shoes, stomping them hard into the snow and ice. He’d taken excellent care of them, and the points were extremely sharp. They bit into the ice without a fuss and refused to let go when Cranky slid them left or right, remaining firmly lodged until the donkey pulled them straight out. Confident in his hoofing, Cranky began to carefully cross the slippery, snowy trail ahead of him.

The wind barreled into his chest with a howling frenzy when he was halfway across, and he missed a step. The spikes in his horseshoe hit the ice at an oblique angle and skidded across its glistening surface as they failed to support Cranky’s weight. The misstep sent Cranky falling towards the ravine, but a quick twist of his torso allowed him to sink two of his other legs into the ice as shavings of frost and snow flew into his face and off the ravine behind him. His carefully-preserved spikes held, biting deep into the ice and anchoring him there while his left hind leg kicked into the empty air behind him.

Cranky simply hung from the side of the trail, regaining his breath, as chunks of ice continued to clatter down the side of the mountain below him. He stared blankly ahead in disbelief at the vapor that bellowed from his muzzle with each haggard breath. Perhaps it took him a moment to realize he was still alive, or perhaps his heart finally ceased pounding in his chest, but after a minute, Cranky set his jaw, dug into the ice with his other two hooves, and began to haul himself back onto the trail.

It was excruciating work, especially with all Cranky carried on his back, and as soon as he was back on relatively even ground, the donkey collapsed in the powdery white snow. Gasping for breath, he laid there while snowflakes decorated his face, melting into tiny drops from the heat radiating off his body.

He was getting too old for this…

When the winds finally exhausted themselves for the moment, Cranky grunted and stood up, though not without some difficulty in keeping the weight on his back centered. He began to carefully pick his way through the snow and ice again, working closer and closer to the stony slope. Even as the world shrieked and howled around him and the temperature steadily dropped, the donkey continued his stubborn advance, until finally his ice spikes scraped against solid rock.

Sighing with relief, Cranky pulled himself onto the stone platform and sat on his haunches to remove his spikes. Behind him, his blunder was little more than a patch of flattened snow amidst the natural chaos and tumult clogging the path, and beyond that, the trail continued down the mountain before eventually winding out of sight. He knew where he was sitting offered him an impressive view of the Equestrian countryside, but night was falling, and all he could see were faint glows on distant, obscure structures as they reflected what tiny slivers of daylight remained. But despite that, the darkness settling over the mountain provided him the opportunity to notice something he would otherwise miss: a tiny, flickering light emanating from a hollow in the snow, not even twenty yards away.

Confused, Cranky furrowed his brow and began to walk toward the light. Another traveler, perhaps? If so, he had to question their survival skills. Starting a fire in a snow hollow wasn’t safe. Sure, it might seem like a good idea to stay sheltered from the elements with a fire, but the heat from the fire could weaken the surrounding walls of the hollow, causing it to cave in. Most ponies wouldn’t be able to survive being buried alive by heavy, wet snow, and even if they did dig themselves out, they would find themselves soaking wet in the freezing cold with all their supplies buried under the snow and ice. The only thing they had to look forward to then was a slow, freezing death.

Cranky had seen a lot on his travels. He knew these things from seeing them on the road.

As the donkey approached the hollow, he heard a voice coming from it, nearly lost to the whining of the wind around him. Where he expected the disgruntled voice of another explorer or mountain climber, perhaps, he instead heard what sounded like a filly muttering to herself. Frowning, he stopped a few feet away from the edge of the hollow and cleared his throat. “Hello?” he asked, watching the hollow carefully. He’d found that ponies in the wilderness preferred it if unexpected visitors announced themselves first before intruding upon their campsite to disarm any intentions of harm. “Are you alright?”

The muttering abruptly stopped, replaced with dead silence. When it seemed clear a response wasn’t coming, Cranky decided to investigate. Dropping his bags into the snow, he trotted over to the hollow and peered inside.

The flickering light of a tiny, feeble fire, barely stronger than a candle, illuminated the hollow. The tiny flame fed on scraps of paper that looked like they’d been torn from a book, and the foundation of the fire, if it could be called that, was made from a few pitiful twigs. Sitting in the back of the hollow, however, was a khaki filly, who hardly looked more than ten or eleven. Her winter coat was torn, singed, and losing its down stuffing, and the filly sat with her grayscale rainbow tail wrapped around her midsection for warmth. Wide rose eyes stared at him from atop her frightened expression, and as Cranky stepped closer, the filly shuffled backwards until her back was pressed against the far wall of the hollow. She didn’t say a word, only sitting there watching him, terrified.

Cranky froze in his tracks. The filly was far too young to be out in the mountains on her own, and she was woefully unequipped to deal with the cold. Her miserable attempts at a fire would hardly be enough to keep her hooves warm, let alone actually keep her from freezing to death. The damage to her winter coat told Cranky that she’d already had an unpleasant encounter with a will-o’-the-wisp; if that was true, she was lucky to have gotten away with only a few burns. Still, he didn’t think it likely that she was going to survive the night if she was left alone.

“Where are you from, kid?” Cranky asked, stooping to enter the hollow. “Glacier Point?”

Though the filly didn’t answer him, her eyes widened slightly at the name of the nearby town. Shaking his head, Cranky sighed and looked to his left, further along the trail. “What are you doing out here all by yourself? You’re going to freeze to death.”

The filly seemed to have finally found her voice. Shivering, she nevertheless managed to stare defiantly at the donkey. “I’m not going back! You can’t make me!” At Cranky’s surprised look, she wilted and stared at her hooves. “Just leave me alone…”

“Kid, do you even know how to make a fire?” Cranky asked, pointing to the already-fading flame between them. When she didn’t answer, he rolled his eyes and gestured to the otherwise empty hollow. “Where are your supplies? You’re not going to survive in the mountains without some food and a bedroll. And if your jacket loses any more stuffing, then it’s not going to keep you warm, anyway.”

But the khaki filly only shrugged, staring at the ground. Cranky found himself at a loss for what to do. The easiest choice would be to simply press on and make it to Glacier Point before it became too dark to see the trail. While it was still another hour’s hike away, Cranky knew where he was going, and he could hurry if he needed to. But that would mean leaving this filly to die in the cold. Despite her attitude, she was scared and alone, and she didn’t have the supplies, let alone the know-how, to survive on her own. He could try to take her with him, but she would likely struggle, and even if she did come willingly, she’d likely slow him down too much to make it to town in a timely fashion.

Standing up, Cranky trotted back outside and dragged his supplies over to the mouth of the hollow. There, just outside the natural shelter, he piled some wood and surrounded it with a protective wall of snow to try to keep the wind from blowing over the foundation. After layering some dried bark over and within the fuel, Cranky drew a flint and steel and struck them once. His expert blow created a shower of sparks that immediately caught on the tinder, beginning a tiny flame, which he carefully shielded with his hooves and grew with his breath. In a few minutes, he fashioned a proper campfire, which immediately began to radiate warmth. Grunting, the donkey sat in the mouth of the hollow, sheltered from the worst of the wind, and stowed his supplies inside, even going so far as to remove his scarf and hat and simply let the fire warm his face.

It didn’t take long for the fire to attract the filly. Shivering, the khaki kid wandered out from the depths of the hollow to sit at the entrance, though she kept herself out of Cranky’s reach. The donkey pretended to ignore her; he figured if she was going to talk, she’d do it on her own time. Not that he minded, anyway. He’d spent so long traveling by himself that he was used to the silence.

“Are you an adventurer or something?”

Cranky’s ears twitched at the filly’s question, but he didn’t look at her. He simply stared into the fire as he mulled his response. “I’ve been all over the world, kid. I’ve seen places you can’t possibly imagine. Used to be a pretty important donkey myself; I got an invitation from Princess Celestia herself to attend the Grand Galloping Gala, once upon a time. And I’ve been wandering Equestria longer than you’ve been alive.” His eyes slid over to the filly. “But I’m no adventurer. Just a traveler.”

That answer apparently didn’t satisfy the filly, because she pouted and glared adorable little daggers at him. “You’re an adventurer! That’s what adventurers do! They go and see things and do stuff!” Her hoof stomped on the snow, and a proud smile appeared on her muzzle. “I’m going to be an adventurer someday! It’s what I got my cutie mark for!”

She grabbed the lower hem of her coat and yanked it up, revealing a green and gold compass rose on her flank. Cranky nodded and went back to staring at the fire. “How’d you get that?” he asked.

“I used to be on the trail cutting teams,” the filly said. “We lost our marker flags in an avalanche, but I found the way home!”

“What was a filly like you doing on the trail cutting teams?” Cranky asked, giving the filly a sidelong glance. “That sounds too dangerous for a kid. Your parents were okay with that?”

The filly fidgeted, pawing at the ground. “Mama and Papa died in an avalanche a long time ago…” she murmured.

“I’m… sorry,” Cranky said, guilt hammering away at his insides. If the filly was an orphan with no immediate family to look after her, the town had likely taken her in and given her the odd jobs to work and help contribute. Sad as it was, orphans were often looked down upon by these small mountain towns, and the filly had every look of a runaway. “You’re from Glacier Point, right?”

Though the filly refused to answer him again, she did give Cranky the smallest of nods.

“Right.” Digging into his bags, Cranky pulled out a bag of dried seeds and held them out to the filly. The khaki pony sniffed at the bag and regarded it with suspicion until Cranky took a few seeds out and ate them himself. “Get some grub in your gut, kid. Don’t want to sleep on an empty stomach.”

As if on cue, the filly’s stomach rumbled, and she glanced at it like she was startled by the noise. Once more, Cranky offered the seeds, and this time the filly took them. She didn’t bother using her hooves to pick them out of the bag; instead, she simply shoved her muzzle into it like a feed bag and began chomping through the seeds, shells and all. Cranky felt the beginnings of a smile making their way onto his muzzle, but he forced it back down. He would just be passing through Glacier Point in the morning; no sense in getting attached.

Still, though, he had some questions regarding the little filly that was now his impromptu campfire companion.

“What’s your name, kid?” he asked, finding a reasonably comfortable snowbank to lean against.

The filly stopped and took her muzzle out of the bag to look at him. Sunflower shells were stuck to her cheeks and lips, and her cheeks bulged like a chipmunk holding a wad of food in its mouth. Swallowing the seeds, she wiped the shells from her muzzle. “Daring.”

“Daring, eh?” Cranky repeated. Nodding, he added, “Seems appropriate.” He held out his hoof for the seeds, and Daring reluctantly passed them back. After crunching a few between his flat teeth, he rolled up the bag and slipped it back into his supplies. “Just Daring?”

“Yeah,” Daring said, grazing her hoof across the top layer of snow, which began to glisten more and more as the fire worked on melting it. “Mrs. Snowbound  says that I used to escape from my crib all the time, and Mama would always say, ‘My, isn’t she daring?’ And then she and Papa decided to call me Daring.” She shrugged and looked away. “At least, that’s what they tell me. When I ask Mrs. Ice Pick, she just yells at me."

Cranky nodded, leaving it at that. Shrill winds disturbed him from his thoughts, biting into his thin brown coat, and he wrapped his winter coat tighter about himself. The sky outside was pitch black; not even the moon was visible. The only light the two of them had was their fire, and Cranky was reluctant to feed it any more fuel. Whatever he could save would be something he didn’t have to buy in Glacier Point, and he was already low enough on bits as it was after gearing up for the trek.

Besides, a quick glance at Daring revealed she was struggling to stay awake. After finally having some food and warmth, the little filly seemed about ready to pass out where she was sitting. Grunting, Cranky stood up and went to his supplies, ultimately digging out a bedroll and a heap of extra blankets, which he put in the back of the snowy hollow. Daring watched him the entire time, and when Cranky began to wrap himself in the spare blankets, she feebly protested, “But I’m not tired…”

“You look like you can hardly stay awake, kid,” Cranky said. He gestured to the bedroll next to him. “You can have my bedroll for the night, since it doesn’t look like you have one of your own. In the morning, I’m taking you back to Glacier Point.”

Daring pouted and stomped the snow. “I don’t want to go to Glacier Point. I hate Glacier Point."

“Kid, there’s somepony there who’s worrying their head off over you, I guarantee it.” Sighing, Cranky made a crude pillow from his hiking supplies and laid down. “We start moving at first light. Get some sleep while you can.”

Daring stood in the entryway to the hollow for several long seconds, her little frame silhouetted by the fire behind her. Ultimately, though, she sighed, hung her head, and trudged inside. Slipping into the bedroll Cranky had laid out for her, she flopped down with an aggravated grunt and laid with her back to Cranky and her forelegs crossed.

Cranky suppressed the first of what was sure to be many yawns. He knew the kid wasn’t going to speak to him the rest of the night, so he didn’t bother saying goodnight. Some part of him doubted she’d still be there when he woke up. For some reason she seemed very adamant about refusing to go to Glacier Point, but the donkey just shrugged and sought a more comfortable position for his aching back. Kids would be kids, and Daring was just entering the rebellious stage of her life. He didn’t see it as anything more than natural teenage angst and resentment toward adults.

His mind didn’t linger on those thoughts very long, however. All it took was two more yawns, and Cranky was out like a light.


Despite the long winter nights, morning came far too quickly. Even with the blankets he’d wrapped himself in, the first thing Cranky felt was the chill of the frigid mountain air on his face and numbing his hooves. It chased away what remained of his exhaustion, and in a few seconds, the donkey was fully awake and squinting into the gray light of morning beyond the snowy hollow.

Something squeaked at his side, and Cranky suddenly became aware of a small bundle of fuzzy warmth clinging to him. A look to his right revealed a sleeping Daring curled against him, sharing his warmth under the blankets, and snoring like an oversized chew toy. She’d removed her coat in the middle of the night to better share body heat, and now her khaki wings twitched by her sides as she dreamed. Cranky shifted slightly, but Daring only whimpered in her sleep and clung more tightly to the foreleg she’d trapped beneath her.

It would’ve been easy for Cranky to shake her off and get moving again. After all, he’d already told the filly that they’d be moving at daylight, and there was already enough light outside to see the trail. Every minute they lingered in the hollow was another minute he wasted getting to Glacier Point... and trying to find her.

Daring hummed and nuzzled Cranky’s leg, wings fluttering as she slept.

The donkey’s nostrils flared, and with a stiff sigh, he laid his head back down on his makeshift pillow and closed his eyes.

It was another hour before the filly finally stirred. Yawning, she carefully untangled herself from the blankets and threw on her coat, stopping in the middle of the hollow to stretch and arch her back, fluttering her little wings as she did so. Only when she disappeared outside the hollow and past the remains of the fire to make water did Cranky finally groan and kick his way out of the blankets.

Daring came back a minute later to find Cranky packing his bags and preparing for the trek ahead. “Sleep well?” the donkey asked as he tied down the bedroll and hooked it to his bags. The filly’s cheeks flushed, and she shakily nodded, a little embarrassed about where she’d ended up in the middle of the night. “Good,” Cranky said, tying down a strap and setting a plate of hay on the ground between them. “Eat. We’ve got a long walk ahead of us.”

The pegasus filly plodded over and plopped herself on the ground in front of Cranky. “I don’t want to go back,” she pouted, poking at the hay. “Everypony’s mean to me there. Can’t I just stay with you?”

The question caught Cranky off guard, and he fumbled as he tried to process it. Once he did, however, he frowned and shook his head. “My journey’s no place for you, kid. You’d find it boring, anyway.”

“Nuh-uh!” Daring exclaimed. “You said it yourself! You’ve been all across Equestria—across the world! I want to see Equestria! I want to see the world! Please please please please please!” She flattened her ears against her head and stared up at Cranky with the biggest puppy dog eyes she could muster, jutting her trembling lower lip out just far enough to look natural and particularly heart wrenching.

“I’m not falling for it, kid,” Cranky said, pointedly turning away from the filly. “You’re too young to be wandering the roads. Your place is back home, where you belong.” He quickly stuffed some hay into his muzzle and stood up, slinging his packs over his shoulders. “Come on. It’s time to get moving.”

Daring said nothing, choosing to quietly glower at the snow and ice around her hooves as she shouldered what little she had with her and followed Cranky out of the hollow. After a brief moment to stretch his legs, Cranky set off along the trail toward Glacier Point, with Daring following in his hoofsteps.

They arrived in the town after two or three hours of hiking, stopping only once or twice along the way for Daring’s sake, as the trek was much harder on the filly’s shorter legs, and it was too cold for her to fly. Glacier Point was, like most of the mountain towns, hardly enough to be considered anything more than an outpost. There were forty, maybe fifty little wooden buildings at the most, and Cranky put the population at around two hundred ponies by that alone. A few ponies were out in the streets, but Cranky figured that most of the sane ones were hiding inside where there were fires and alcohol to keep warm. If he wanted to get Daring back to whoever was looking after her, his best bet would be to go poking around the tavern and find somepony to dump her off on.

For her part, Daring just plodded along in Cranky’s hoofsteps, eyes glued to the ground, and shivering not from the cold, but from the baleful stares the few ponies that they passed gave her.

The bell above the tavern door rang as Cranky nudged it open, and he made sure Daring followed him inside before he shut it again. The filly winced at the slamming of wood against wood like it was a death sentence, and she shuffled her hooves as she followed Cranky to the bar. True to his expectations, it seemed like most of the ponies of Glacier Point were inside the single largest structure in the entire town, gathered around a roaring fire pit in the middle of the floor and clacking mugs of warm cider together. Even more were seated around the bar, which was shaped like an oval to maximize seating space, and housed a pair of bartenders that kept everypony happy and chatty. Glacier Point was an important waypoint on the road through the mountains, after all, and Cranky figured that the majority of the town’s income came from the ponies passing through it. There wasn’t much else the mountains were good for.

Cranky found two empty stools near one of the ends of the oval and climbed onto one, dropping his bags at his hooves. He motioned for Daring to join him, and the filly wordlessly fluttered her wings and lifted herself onto the stool next to him. She refused to look away from the polished wooden counter, however, and if Cranky looked, he could have sworn that her frown only darkened. Kids will be kids, he supposed.

One of the two bartenders noticed Cranky’s arrival and hurriedly cantered over to him. “Good morning, sir, welcome to the Frosty Keg. Can I get you anything?”

“Cider,” Cranky grumbled, “and some vittles. I’ve only had trail food the past few days, and I could use a real meal.”

“Right away,” the bartender said, turning around to get Cranky his drink and snatch a waitress to have her bring out some food. Cranky noticed that he never bothered to ask Daring what she wanted, or if she wanted anything at all. He also noticed that Daring had sunk into her stool and was trying to look as little as possible. Maybe there really was something going on that had made the filly want to brave the mountains on her own just to get away from the town.

When the bartender returned with Cranky’s food and drink, Cranky cleared his throat and patted Daring on the back, making her flinch. “I found this filly in a hollow in the mountains last night. She said that she’s from this town. Know who looks after her?”

The bartender narrowed his eyes at Daring. “Huh, we all thought she was going to die out there.” The dismissiveness in his voice surprised Cranky, but the bartender continued, oblivious to his reaction. “Daring, go find Ice Pick and apologize for running away. Again.”

Daring slunk off of her stool and plodded toward the door of the tavern, pausing in front of it long enough to shoot Cranky a silent plea for help. The bartender scared her away with a glare, however, and the cold winds of the outside pierced the cozy interior of the tavern for only a second before she was gone.

For some reason, Cranky had lost his appetite, so he set his food aside for now. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked, carefully wording his inquiry. “She seemed nice enough on the path.”

The bartender sighed and shook his head. “That filly is a menace. She endangers the very safety of our town.”

Cranky’s eyebrow climbed up his forehead. “She just seems like a little filly to me.”

“Yes, but she’s reckless, and doesn’t think before she acts.” Leaning on one elbow, the bartender suddenly dropped his voice to a low murmur. “Four years ago, her parents took her out with them on a trail cutting trip. They were both hiking guides, so they knew the trails inside and out. Problem was, their daughter didn’t share the same sort of… respect, let’s call it, for the mountains. When they were deep into the mountains, she wandered off on her own and started playing in the snowbanks above where everypony was working, trying to clear the trails of the ice that’d built up over the winter.”

He stood back up and looked around him. “She started an avalanche that killed everypony on the trail. Her parents included. Glacier Point’s a small town, so we all knew everypony that died. Some of those ponies were brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers to ponies sitting in this tavern right now. And they’re all gone. Because of her.”

Cranky grimaced and leaned back. “But she’s only a filly. Kids make mistakes. That’s why they’re kids.”

“Most fillies don’t have the blood of twenty ponies on their hooves before they’re ten,” the bartender shot back. Then, shrugging, he snatched Cranky’s mug and refilled it before the donkey could protest. “Ice Pick runs the orphanage here, and she’s trying her best to whip the kid into shape. Spend enough time cleaning snow from rooftops and emptying the outhouses, and you learn to follow the rules sooner or later.”

Cranky was at a loss for words. Daring only would’ve been six when she caused the avalanche, and the ponies here treated her like she was a murderer. No wonder the poor filly wanted to run away. Still, it was probably for the best that he stay out of the small town’s affairs. Besides, having another traveling companion, a filly no less, would only slow him down. And he didn’t exactly have the bits to support another pony traveling with him.

It left a sour feeling in his gut, but Cranky decided to ultimately push his thoughts of Daring to the back of his mind.

He finished his meal undisturbed, making sure to completely clean his plate of the delicious home cooked food, and left a few bits to pay. Then, shouldering his pack, he left the safety of the tavern behind, venturing out into the snow to gather supplies he’d need to reach the next village. Some more firewood, extra rations for the trail, and a few other things to make his journey through the next mountain pass tolerable. A few inquiries as to where she was turned up nothing, as he expected, so he simply shouldered his gear and set his sights on the next village. His bags were bulging again, but Cranky didn’t mind. He’d carried heavier loads in worse weather before.

By the time he was ready to leave, it was noon—or at least, he supposed it was noon. It was hard to tell where exactly the sun was with the swirling clouds overhead. Not wanting to waste any more daylight, Cranky made his way straight toward the north gate of the town, and the treacherous trail that laid ahead of him. He hesitated right at the wooden arch that marked the symbolic limits of the town, his mind drifting to unfinished business and uncomfortable thoughts. That was when he heard the shouting.

Turning around, he spotted the source of the commotion. An ice blue mare was shouting down at a familiar khaki filly, who looked like she was trying to bury herself in the snow to escape the mare’s fury. Cranky figured that had to be Ice Pick, the mare who ran the orphanage, or the closest thing Glacier Point had to one. The screams were unintelligible this far away, but the actions weren’t. After finally shouting Daring into submission, Ice pick raised a hoof and struck Daring across the face. A tiny little cry of pain stopped Cranky’s heart, and the filly collapsed in the snow, curling up into the fetal position and shivering. Ice Pick scowled at the small pegasus in front of her, and turning around, marched inside the orphanage and slammed the door behind her, leaving Daring alone in the cold.

Cranky grinded his teeth together and turned around, marching back toward the town. He didn’t know what he was doing, only that he was acting. Soon enough he found himself standing over the filly, who was holding a hoof to her cheek as she laid in the snow. It already looked like a welt was forming.

“You alright, Kid?” Cranky asked in a tender voice he hadn’t used since the Gala all those years ago. Daring flinched and peeked up at the donkey from the snow she laid in, and Cranky offered her a hoof. Biting her lip, the filly took it and stood up, still a little shaky on her hooves.

“Y-Yeah…” Daring whispered, sniffling. She rubbed the welt on her cheek again and shuddered. “I’m f-fine. I should probably be going anyway. Mrs. Ice Pick wants me to shovel the roads, and I don’t want to disappoint her…”

Cranky looked around him. All he saw was snow covering anything that might resemble a road in the summer months. Far too much for even a team of stallions to handle in a day.

“Tell you what, Kid,” Cranky said without even thinking. “Forget the shoveling. Get your things and whatever else you want to bring with you and meet me by the north gate. Don’t tell anypony, okay?”

Daring stopped moving like she was frozen in place. “You… you mean it?” she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper. When Cranky grumbled and nodded, she began to smile—a genuine, excited, ecstatic smile. Grinning from ear to ear, the filly ran forward and hugged him, making Cranky flinch back at the unexpected contact. “Thank you thank you thank you! You’re the best. The beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssttttttt!” she sang as she galloped back to the orphanage. She didn’t even bother closing the door behind her.

Cranky watched her go, only moving toward the gate when her excited voice died away somewhere inside the building. As he walked, he felt his muzzle contorting into something it hadn’t done for a long time. Before he knew it, he had a small, proud, happy smile on his face and a warm fluttering in his heart. Ten minutes later, when he saw the khaki filly practically tripping across the snow as she lumbered over to him with a stuffed pack as big as she was, he felt that feeling intensify. As they left Glacier Point behind them, he found it incredibly hard not to reflect the happy grin Daring had plastered across her muzzle.

Though he probably could have done without the happy singing the filly belted out in her squeaky voice over the next several hours.