• Published 4th Feb 2014
  • 4,751 Views, 100 Comments

Three Nights - Bradel

Beneath a moonless sky, a foal shivers, hungry and alone. In a snow-covered city, a young mare dreams of the things she left behind. On the coldest night of the year, Princess Cadance finds the family she thought that she had lost.

  • ...

Parents & Children

Hearth’s Warming Eve, 972 a.b.

The night was sharp and bitter with the taste of unfallen snow.

A tiny filly, little more than a foal, picked her way among the towering trees. Overhead, pale stars twinkled in the moonless darkness. Bare branches scrabbled against one another as a cold wind moaned through them. The filly hugged her wings tight to her sides, but her feathers did little to hold back the chill. Her eyes hurt. She felt tears welling up in them, but the frigid night air froze those tears before they could drop.

Her legs, still not accustomed to carrying her weight for any length of time, trembled and gave out. She collapsed to the carpet of fallen leaves in a splay of hooves. It didn't hurt, though—she didn't have far to fall.

In the distance, she thought she saw a glow. Maybe. Her eyes weren't very good, and the freezing, stinging tears only made matters worse. And even if it was a glow, it was so far away. She didn't know if she could make it that far.

For that matter, she didn't know if the glow meant anything. At least it was different from the craggly, creaky trees all around her. But would it be any better?

She didn't know much, to be fair. She didn't know where she was, and she didn't know how long she'd been here. Worst of all, she didn't even know her own name. She didn't know anything except how to walk—

A low rumbling filled her ears, and she felt a stab of discomfort from her belly.

—and how to be hungry. Apparently she knew that too.

Thin wisps of cloud scuttled across the sky, blotting out the stars in their passing. Without their light, the night seemed to grow colder. She struggled back to her hooves, but she was too tired and weak to support her own weight. Again, she collapsed to the bed of leaves, and the stinging in her eyes grew stronger. She felt a hitch in her throat, like something trying to escape from inside of her chest. She let it, and a high, thin wail split the night air. It sliced through the howls of the wind. It wasn't very loud, but after all, she wasn't very big.

Three things, then. She knew how to walk, how to be hungry, and how to cry.

Some time later—she still hadn't recovered her ability to do the first, but she felt like she was getting rather good at the second and the third—the tiny filly heard the sound of hoofsteps crunching the fallen leaves. An enormous figure of shadow appeared before her and started making low rumbling sounds of its own. The sounds seemed vaguely familiar, though not the voice that caused them.

The figure towered into the night, like the trees themselves. It continued making its sounds as it paced around her. Its voice grew louder, and the sounds took on a note of panic.

She continued to cry.

It looked down on her with two green eyes that shone faintly in the starlight. Its voice fell silent. For long moments, it stared down at her. She tried to fight her wails back into her throat, and with a hiccough, the crying subsided.

With a hoof, the figure scooped her off the forest floor and deposited her on its back. The figure’s coat felt soft and furry, much like her own. Close up, it was a shade of reddish-brown. She burrowed into it, hoping to find some measure of warmth, but the wind still bit at her. The filly felt movement beneath her, and noticed that the trees were passing by once again. She was going faster than her own legs could take her, now. And there definitely was a glow; it seemed to be getting quite a bit closer.

Suddenly, the bare-branched trees vanished and she found herself in another place. Big boxes rose around her, with yellow-glowing lights coming from holes in their sides. Everything was so tall—taller even than the trees had been! One of the lights winked out, and she started in surprise. The movement unbalanced her, and she felt herself slipping from the tall figure’s back. It stopped and reached for her with one hoof, but it was too slow. She fell to the ground once more, fell much farther, and this time she had no bed of leaves to cushion her fall.

Air left her in a rush of pain. She struggled to suck it back in, but finding her breath was difficult. When she did, she found that her body didn’t want to keep it. Against her will, the sharp wailing began again, perhaps a little louder this time.

The figure wasted little time. It returned her to its back and continued through the rows of glowing boxes. She tried to stop crying for it, thinking the figure probably didn’t care for the noise any more than she did, but she just hurt so much. She was so tired. And hungry. She buried her face in the figure’s coat, muffling her wails a little. Her tears must have made the figure’s coat wet, but she was tiny and it was large, and it didn’t seem to notice.

Ahead, one of the shiny boxes was growing much closer. The figure walked up to it and rapped a hoof against it, and a new hole opened in the side, letting out even more light. She raised her head and looked up into this hole, and she saw another figure framed there. This figure was rounder and shorter—though still many times taller than she herself. It was also a dusty gray color, different from both the red of the figure she rode and her own… she looked down at her legs.

Pink. She was pink. And, she noticed, much less wrinkly than either the red one or the gray one.

The reddish figure, the one that had found her among the trees and carried her here, stepped into the box. It reached up and plucked her off its back, setting her on top of something. She was still crying, she noticed. She tried to stop again, and this time it seemed to work. The pain had faded a little, and she found that it was much warmer inside the box than it had been outside among the trees. She was still hungry, very hungry, but everything else seemed better now. She hiccoughed again, and then fell silent as she watched the two figures.

The gray one was making noises now. Its voice wasn’t as deep as the red one’s. It sounded worried, she thought. Upset, maybe.

The red one sighed and waved a hoof, and then it made quite a lot of sounds. Some of them tickled the back of her memory again, like she could almost understand them. As it talked, the red one wandered farther into the heart of the box. The gray one stayed where it was, studying her and occasionally turning its head to call out to the red one.

After a minute, the red one returned with a bowl full of something. Little white chunks. The smell hit her as the red one came closer. She knew what these were. They were apple. She liked apple.

Four things, then. Walking, hunger, crying, and apple. Apple was definitely the best of those four.

The gray one stepped out of view for a moment as she started to eat. The apple was wonderful, as she knew it always had been. Then the gray one returned, carrying a strange object that looked like it came off a particularly odd-looking tree. The red one walked over to the gray one, and they pressed their faces together for a moment, after which the red one turned and cantered back out into the cold, dark night. The gray one stayed, and began to make more sounds at her. Then it raised the branch-like object to its mouth, and a new type of sound emerged.

She had never heard anything like this. It reminded her of the wind in the tree branches, but where that sound had been harsh and frightening, this was warm. Her mouth fell open, a little bit of half-chewed apple dropping out. She watched the gray one with rapt attention, hunger and apple completely forgotten. The sounds went on and on… and then they stopped. The gray one took the branch away from her mouth.

The tears returned to her eyes, but she refused to cry. How could she let herself make that awful wailing sound now? That was no way to thank the gray one for the beautiful sounds it had just made. She fumbled with her hooves and pulled the bowl of apple closer, stuffing some of it in her mouth to keep herself quiet.

The gray one laughed, and that was a beautiful sound, too. Then it began to talk to her in a rambling voice, like it didn’t know what else it could do.

Amidst the chaos of sounds coming from the gray one, one small piece seemed to shimmer and coalesce in the air, almost as if she should be able to understand it.

“...didn’t have the cadence quite right…”