• Published 1st Oct 2017
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Just a Little Batty - I Thought I Was Toast



The first day of school always sucks. It's particularly sucky when you're normally nocturnal.

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Ewigenacht

It was do or die.

I walked up to Miss Cheerilee, shuffling from one hoof to another. Thankfully, she couldn’t see me avoiding eye contact with my shades, but I could still hear the concern in her voice.

“Night, is something wrong?”

By the stars, why wouldn’t my leg stop twitching? This wasn’t that scary. The worst she could do was say no, and Mom and Dad promised me we would go no matter what.

“I-I was wondering…” I bit my lip hard enough to draw blood, “...if I could have next week off without any extra work? There’s a family thing I need to do in Canterlot.”

Miss Cheerilee walked from behind her desk to bend down in front of me; her smiling face was inescapable. “Oh? This wouldn’t happen to be for Ewigenacht, would it?”

I scrunched downwards. “How’d you know?”

She laughed, patting my withers. “Your parents mentioned it when I sat down to talk with them some more after your first day. Normally, I’d have to say no—rules are rules, after all—but I think we can make a special exception for the holidays.”

“Really?” I finally managed to look at her, eyes wide.

“On one condition.” Miss Cheerilee grinned with a gleam in her eyes. “You have to help me teach the class today—”

“What?!” I squeaked. “I know I get good grades and all, but I don’t think—”

“—on Ewigenacht.” Miss Cheerilee’s grin grew and she hopped from hoof to hoof. “It’ll be so much fun! You probably know more about it than I do!”

“Yeah… fun….” I found myself shuffling from hoof to hoof again.

“Hey! Don’t worry!” Miss Cheerilee bent down to look me in the eye again. “It doesn’t have to be anything big. I researched enough of the general history and traditions to do things on my own if you want, but I thought it’d be fun if you added a personal thestral touch. I want the class to learn what makes it special to you. Can you do that?”

I hesitated for a moment before nodding.

“Thank you.” Miss Cheerilee smiled, ruffling my mane before standing back up and heading to the door. “Alright, class! Recess is over!”

“Awww…” There was a bunch of groans from everypony outside.

“But the bell hasn’t rung yet!” Count on Rumble to put up a fight—the insubordinate, little jerk.

“Yes, and I’m sorry for cutting it short, but I promise I have a lesson you’ll all love.” Miss Cheerilee looked back at me with a wink. “Nightingale has been teaching me all about a special thestral holiday! Did you know she doesn’t celebrate Hearth’s Warming like the rest of us?”

Doesn’t celebrate Hearth’s Warming?!” The schoolhouse shook from the force of my classmate’s cries of distress—the doorway suddenly filling with curious heads trying to peek around Miss Cheerilee. I shrunk in at the volume, my ears pinned to my head as I fought the urge to hide in the closet.

“Yep!” my teacher chirped. “She celebrates something completely different! Don’t you want to learn all about it?”

There was heated muttering from everypony outside before a lone voice called forth.

“It isn’t boring, is it?” A grey head with a slick black mane poked out from the sea of foals to squint at me.

Why that little— How dare he question Ewigenacht?! He didn’t even know anything about it!

Scree!” I hissed at Rumble, forgetting my nervousness as my blood boiled at his comment.

Why did he always insist on doing these things? The stupid, no-good, insubordinate featherbrain needed to learn when it was best to sit down and shut up. There was no reason for him to—

“We do not screech at classmates, Nightingale!” Miss Cheerilee glanced back at me and I immediately fell silent under her gaze. “Please don’t do anything that will force me to keep you in detention next week….” She studied me for a few moments until she was satisfied.

Then, she turned back to Rumble with a strained smile. “Now, Rumble, that was very rude of you. Ewigenacht is a very important part of thestral culture. It’s just as important to Night as Hearth’s Warming is to us, so I would like you to apologize.”

“Sorry, Night….” Rumble rubbed the back of his head. “I can’t be the only pony thinking it, though!”

“Yeah, but none of the others were stupid enough to say it right to Miss Cheerilee and Night!” Diamond huffed. “They probably worked real hard to set something up for us! What does it matter if we miss a little recess?”

The bell decided it was time to ring.

“See!” Diamond stomped a hoof. “We didn’t even have that much time left anyways!”

There were more heated mutters from everypony outside.

“Everypony, please!” Miss Cheerilee looked about. “We’ve wasted enough time fighting. Recess is over, so please just come in and take your seats. This is meant to be a fun lesson for everypony.”

As the class piled in after her, Miss Cheerilee closed the door and went to each of the windows, closing the shutters and drawing the curtains tight. I smiled at the sight as the mix of whites and light greys spread through most of the room darkened to a more appreciable muddle of charcoals and steels. I could see where she was going with the lesson, and hastened to switch the lights off as soon as she was done.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself aren’t you, Night?” Miss Cheerilee laughed. “Now I can’t see well enough to get the—“

“Shshshshhh!” I stuck a hoof out only remembering afterwards that she couldn’t see me anywhere near as well as I could see her. “Just tell me where they are, and I’ll take care of everything.”

“Ooooh-wheee-oooh...” Snails stage whispered only for the nearby crusaders to slug him in the shoulder. “Ow! How’d you even find me?”

“You get used to it when you hang out with Night.” Silver rolled her eyes.

Yeah, this was nowhere near as deep or dark or terrifying as the depths of the caves beneath Canterlot—at least for me. I could show the class the true magic of having your first Ewigenacht; I could see well enough to lead the procession myself, and I already had the best friends— I mean, acolytes— I could ask for.

“Alright, then…” Cheerilee bit her lip. “If you’re sure you can do it on your own, then you can find everything in the right drawers of my desk…”

I slunk to the front of the room as quietly as I could. Silence was key to a good Ewigenacht—silence and shadows. I barely touched my hooves to the floor, and I opened the desk with care.

Shoot…. The candles were in a plastic bag. That was going to be noisy….

I swished back to my desk and emptied my saddlebags before returning to the front. Ripping open the plastic bag as if I was tearing off a band aid, I hastily dumped the candles in my saddle bags and studiously ignored the disrespectful crinkle that broke the silence.

Several foals dared to whisper to one another, and I promptly shushed them as I had Miss Cheerilee.

“Lame….” Rumble muttered to himself, and I smiled as Diamond kicked him as quietly as a neighponese ninja.

At least somepony got the message.

I muffled the sound of me striking the match with my wing, and hid its glow from everypony but myself. I reverently lowered the flame until the fire jumped to light the wick of the candle I’d carefully placed in the simple, bronze carrier Miss Cheerilee had provided.

“And lo—“ I squeaked, and cringed at my own voice before gamely pressing on. I knew the words by heart. Every thestral from Canterlot did. They had a way of carving themselves into the brain amid the silence of the caves.

“And lo! In the age before the three became four, the unicorns, earth ponies and pegasi lived in an uneasy truce. Too weak to survive on their own, they each provided the needs of the others, while we secluded ourselves in our mountains.”

I almost stumbled a few times. Certain words were long or hard or strange, and, while I knew them all by heart, I still didn’t fully understand them. I felt them, though, as I did every year, and I avoided stuttering through them.

“We were the mightiest hunters of the land, and we needed neither sun nor food nor magic. We hunted easily, the land beneath the pale moon defined with our echoes. They thought us monsters, and we thought ourselves their betters.”

I drew in a deep breath.

“Such was both our follies.”

Somepony giggled, and I squirmed a bit.

“In our pride, we thought ourselves beyond the need of help, thus offered none. The three descended into chaos and conflict, and we abandoned them to their fate. When they left for greener pastures, we remained in the bitter cold and tried to live as we always had.”

Some of the others were whispering or fidgeting as I spoke, and it made me itch and twitch.

“As the endless blizzard worsened, though, we soon found ourselves trapped in a hateful night through which even we could not see. Our echoes were lost amidst the raging winds, and even our keenest hunters were all but blind when they ventured into the whirling snow.”

I doused the lone candle lighting up my face.

“Ewigenacht had come. And lost within the impenetrable umbra, there was naught we could do but pray.”

I waited for a minute in the shadowy silence before I lit the candle once more. I held it up so all could see the flickering flame, and I made sure my voice carried through the room.

“And she came to us—the great northern star, Polaris! She pierced the endless clouds and night where even the harsh and unforgiving Sol had failed! She came to us in our darkest hour, and shed what little light we needed to navigate the storm!”

Biting into the handle of the bronze base, I carried my charge to Diamond Tiara’s desk. I resisted the urge to glower at Rumble as I quietly retrieved a candle from my bags and lit it for my fellow crusader.

“On the second night, she brought a friend—a star that would stick near her until the very end.”

I waved to Diamond to follow me before going to Scoots, Sweetie, Silver, and Bloom.

“And, before long, her friend brought a friend and their friend brought a friend and their friend brought still another friend. The tiny trickle of light became a flock of glimmering whites, blending blacks into greys, granting moon blessed sight.”

We went from desk to desk lighting candles for everypony—even Rumble—as the room finally started to understand. The whispers had died. The fidgeting had stopped. Everypony watched my little procession of starlight.

“For seven miraculous nights, the stars came to aid us, lighting our way as we made our escape. On the eighth day, the storm finally broke as we rested, letting us wake to the clearest sky we had ever beheld. And as we thanked the stars for guiding us to this new land, we noticed a bright new star blazed in the night above the heart of our new home: a beacon for us to follow.”

I lit Miss Cheerilee’s candle.

“It was beneath that star, we found the three, and they welcomed us like never before. Where once they’d thought us monsters, now they welcomed us as brothers and sisters, and we were happy to receive their aid. A change had come—to both them and us. Thus, did the three become four.”

I looked out over the class to see my hoofwork, and became acutely aware of everypony staring at me.

“What?” I shrunk in on myself.

Rumble snorted. “Those were some pretty big words, you a dictionary or something?”

“Rumble!” Miss Cheerilee tutted before ruffling my mane with one hoof. “Don’t you worry, Night. You were fantastic out there. I wasn’t expecting you to be quite so… serious though. I was just planning on lighting the candles to set the mood for the lecture. I didn’t realize you practically knew the whole rite!”

“Well, not the whole thing….” I felt my cheeks heat up. “That’s just the part that everypony knows. It’s hard to forget when it’s bringing the first light you’ve seen in hours.” I shuffled from hoof to hoof. “The caves can get really dark in Canterlot….”

She chuckled. “I can imagine…. Now, why don’t you go take your seat? As enlightening as your presentation was, I still need to give the rest of the lecture.”

She looked out over the room as the crusaders and I scampered off to our desks. “Can everypony see well enough to take notes by their candlelight?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Yeah!”

“M-maybe?”

A chorus of mostly yeses rang out.

“Then get your notebooks out, because we’ve got a big lesson ahead of us.” Miss Cheerilee giggled. “I imagine at least some of it will end up as extra credit on your next test.”

“Mom! Dad! I’m home! Miss Cheerilee said I can go to Ewigenacht!” I burst through the door with glee and my dad hissed at the light, burying himself in the table to escape it. Most of the luggage he’d packed throughout the night surrounded him, and I couldn’t help but poke at them as I wondered which held my presents this year.

Seven nights, seven presents. It was just so hard to wait.

“No. No early presents for you,” Dad groused from within his fluffy bastion, blindly waving a hoof towards the door. “Now shut that sun-blasted thing and go help your mother pack your bag. She wasn’t sure which shampoo to pack or something.”

I smiled sheepishly, easing the door shut before heading to my room. “Mom? You in here?”

I poked my head in to find my bed even neater than I’d left it. The clouds were perfectly flat and rectangular, and the blankets fitted over them so snuggly that it looked like I could cut myself on the edge of the bed. It was a clear sign of recent mom activity: I still couldn’t set the bed to proper guard standards.

My blindball trophies had been dusted, and the couple of pictures I kept had been straightened on the wall. The one Wonderbolts poster I had framed even shined as much as my many, many guard posters.

There was no Mom, though, just an open bag on the floor.

“I’m in the bathroom, Night.” There was a voice from behind me. “Did you want the lavender and lily shampoo or the rose medley?”

“Does it really matter?” I shouted back, tilting my head to the side.

“Of course, it does!” Mom squawked. “The whole family will be there, and you need to look your best for when the lights come on.” There was the sound of several bottles clattering. “Ooh! Strawberry-kiwi! It even says it leaves your coat extra smooth and silky! That’ll be great for when we’re all snuggling in the dark!”

“Mom!” I whined as I trotted down the hall to see the mess for myself. “Just pick one! We don’t want to be late!”

“I already tried telling her that!” Dad called from the living room. “She wouldn’t listen!“

“Shush, you!” Mom called back. “This is important! Besides, you’re the one who bought me all these!”

Dad grumbled loudly for a minute or two. “Yes, I bought you those, not Night.”

“Right!” Mom giggled. “And now I’m loaning them to Night so she can look her best this Ewigenacht.”

“Ragger. Shtagger. Fragger! Dagger!” A soft fwump signaled the coffee table being flipped.

“Drama queen!” Mom’s giggles turned to outright laughter. “Must you always get this way when we travel?”

“Must you always spend an entire day getting ready?” Dad snorted. “I wanted to do something besides packing last night!”

I walked into the bathroom to see—

By the stars, that was a lot of bottles.

“Mom, why do you have so much shampoo?” I squinted at the pile of bottles taller than me. There couldn’t possibly be enough room for those in the cupboards.

I got a smile in response. “Your father has yet to realize there’s more to feminine hygiene than a good shampoo.”

“I heard that!” I could hear Dad rolling his eyes. “Besides, a good shampoo is just as serviceable as a good cologne!”

Mom stuck her tongue out at the door. “Really? That’s not what you thought two weeks ago when you took me on that date!”

“That was a special occasion!” Dad rumbled back.

“Yes, it certainly was!” Mom turned back to digging through the bottles. “And so is this! Be glad I’m not making her wear my perfume!”

There was a pause. “You have perfume?”

Mom giggled. “Yes, dear, I wore some of it on that date.”

“I thought that was just the shampoo….” I barely managed to catch Dad’s mumble on the edge of my hearing. “Guess it’s a good thing Rarity talked me into getting her a dress instead….”

Ooh…. Mom was going to love getting a Rarity.

“Do I want to know what you just said?” Mom looked up again to arch an eyebrow at the door.

“No!” Dad and I shouted simultaneously.

Mom squinted at me suspiciously before shrugging and lifting another bottle up. “Oh! Lavender and lilies! This is perfect!”

But— But she already asked me about that one! I ground my fangs together and resisted the urge to flip something. Dad was no better. He groaned audibly from the living room, and whimpered about the lack of a good coffee table.

“Oh, my. I made such a mess looking for this….” Mom craned her neck over the sea of bottles. “You go look for anything you want to pack that I might have missed, Night. I definitely need to clean this up.”

I left, taking Mom’s bottle of shampoo with me. The sounds of construction equipment and industrial strength wing dusting came through the door as I closed it, and I hastily made my way to my room before she could change her mind.

I glided to the left as we circled Mount Canter, careful to stay in the upwash Dad left behind for me. Our little skein of three had managed to fly all the way from Ponyville without stopping for a rest, and I was grinning like a loon under moon because of it.

Dad hit a thermal and began to climb. A creaky groan filled the air as the wagon behind him took a second to adjust to the change in angle, but it held together as it always did.

I followed him up, grateful for the relief to my wings. Sure, they burned the good burn, but I was starting to reach my limits. If we didn’t find the entrance to the caves soon, I’d have to get in the wagon or hitch a ride with Mom.

And that would be just the absolute worst given how far I’d made it.

“Is that it?!” Mom yelled from behind me as a flicker of light came into view above us. She had insisted on following me—just in case. It bugged me a little, but at least I got to practice leaving my own upwash for her.

“Yes!” Dad rumbled back with a laugh. “Only catching it now, are you? Your eyes must be slipping!”

I squirmed slightly, having only just caught sight of it myself.

“Oh?!” Mom giggled. “And when did the mighty Tempered Mettle catch sight of it?!”

Dad shifted slightly as he continued to band left. “About two rotations ago! We should be up there in about three more!”

“Three more!” I whinnied. “I’m not sure I can make that!”

Dad looked back at me for a moment, half-smiling, half-frowning. “You sure about that, champ?! You’ve been doing great so far! It’s only a little farther, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it to a glide!”

“Yeah, I’m sure!” I took a moment to glower at the light above us. It was so close and yet so far…. “Maybe if we made a straight climb I could—“

“No!” The reprimand from both Mom and Dad was immediate and harsh. My ears wilted at it, but I followed the chain of command and curved inwards to perch on the wagon. Dad grunted a little at the extra weight but soldiered on, while Mom rotated forward to take my place.

We flew in silence after that. It wasn’t until we reached the caves and turned in for a landing that my parents said anything else. No sooner than when the wagon wheels skidded to a stop, Mom swept me up in a hug to end all hugs.

“I’m so sorry for snapping at you my little light in the night—“ she squeezed, “—but what you wanted was really dangerous to consider. It’s never a good idea to climb like that if you’re close to your limits. There are horror stories of ponies who had their wings lock up from cramps because they asked for more than their wings could give.”

“But you would have caught me!” I wiggled in her embrace.

“Night…” Mom whispered into my ear, “...you’re old enough to know that that isn’t always true…. It wasn’t worth the risk when we had a safer option.”

She pulled back and looked at me, smiling. “Besides, you know the first rule of formation flying. Your father would never have been able to climb like that with the wagon.”

“Yeah, I know….” I kicked at the ground.

Mom immediately hugged me again. “You should be proud of yourself, Night. You almost made it all the way to Canterlot in one go! Do you know how hard that is for a filly your age?”

“Most parents would be terrified to let their foals tackle that kind of flight.” There was a clink and creaky groan as Dad finished talking with the lookout to unhitch himself. “We knew you could do it, though.”

“But I didn’t make it!” My ears splayed back and I sniffed once. “I made it all the way to the end only to fail.”

Dad bent down to look me square in the eye. “Night. You. Did. Not. Fail.”

“But I—“

He booped me on the nose. “No, you didn’t.”

“But I—“

Another boop. “No. You didn’t.”

He let out a rumbling chuckle. “You managed to make it a lot farther than I ever did as a colt. You have the markings of a great endurance flyer, and you’re only going to get better as you keep training in the Junior Guard.”

“I guess…” I muttered.

“Come on, now!” He ruffled my mane before lifting me onto the wagon. “We need to get to the cave inn so we can get our alcove before they give it away.” He looked over me at Mom. “You ready, honey?”

“You bet!” Mom jingled the harness to the wagon for good measure. “You going to hold my hoof in case we get lost in the dark again?”

“You know it.” Dad purred, waggling his eyebrows. “Just stay close to me.”

“My knight in shadowed armor.” Mom fluttered her eyelashes as she took Dad’s hoof in her own.

“Eeew, guys!” I stuck my tongue out and my parents grinned at me like loons under moon.

“Welcome to the Drunken Moon, finest cave inn in all of Mount Canter.” A thestral dropped down from the ceiling to greet us as we entered a particularly large hollow in the mountain. “Do you have a reservation? Or are you just dropping in?”

“Reservation.” Dad stepped forward. “One Tempered Mettle for a lit alcove for three.”

“Ah, yes. You’re lucky you managed to snag the last one.” The thestral bowed his head. “Please remember not to make it too bright or you may disturb the other guests.”

“Of course.” Mom smiled. “I’m used to working by candlelight at home.”

“Thank you.” The bow was deeper this time. “You’ll find your accommodations on the third floor behind me, alcove zero-three-two-six.”

The thestral waved to us before flying back up to his stalactite.

“Tempered Mettle, you old son of a sunwitch! I thought I saw you dragging your sorry flank in here!” A bombastic echo carried through the cavern and several of its occupants screed in displeasure.

Dad just rolled his eyes and waited for the meteor to impact him. “That insult doesn’t work when we’re brothers, you big oaf.” Their hug was fierce. “Where are all the others?”

Uncle Courage pulled back with a somber frown. “They all got a case of the feather flu.”

Dad and I winced. Feather flu was the worst when you didn’t have any feathers.

“Everypony?” Dad shook his head sadly.

“Everypony.” Uncle Courage nodded. “Even got General Badass.”

“By the stars, it must be bad then.” Dad muttered. “Star Keeper never gets sick. He’s all but made of stone.”

“Not to be a stick in the mud—“ Mom pressed into Dad, “—but I’d really like a bit of light. Care to join us for a night cap, Liquid? We’ll probably be having a quick snack before taking a nap and freshening up for tonight’s ceremony.”

“I’d love to.” Uncle Courage bowed his head before squinting up. “You wouldn’t happen to have any of Sweet Apple Acres’ famous applejack on hoof, would you?”

“Not with Night here, no,” Mom tittered. “We can bring you a bottle when we visit my family for Hearth’s Warming if you like, though. Will you still be in Canterlot then?”

“Probably not, but I can make the time to come back.” Uncle Courage grinned, flaring his wings to cast a massive and sinister shadow. “Who knows, maybe I’ll stick around to scare the daylights out of everypony?”

Uncle Courage at Grandma Billowy’s for Hearth’s Warming. I giggled. Now there was a thought.

Dad snorted in amusement. “They haven’t been scared of me in years—“ Mom coughed, “—Okay, the adults haven’t been scared of me in years. The little ones can be a bit jumpy.”

“Don’t forget my brother, dear.” Mom prodded Dad.

“I didn’t.” Dad rolled his eyes. “He’s included with the little ones.”

“I hope Zephyr won’t be there this time….” I pouted. “Last time he wouldn’t stop crying whenever he saw me, and all I did was smile at him!”

“I told you not to let it bother you,” Dad rumbled, ruffling my mane. “Your cousin Zephyr is just a baby. He doesn’t know any better.” He frowned. “Besides, he probably gets it from his father, the pansy.”

“Tempered,” Mom chided, blindly trying to thwap Dad with a wing. At most she managed to tickle him as he deftly dodged to the side.

“I know. I know.” He chuckled as Mom finally landed a hit. “Why don’t you show your mother to our room, Night. I’m going back to the wagon and to bring in all our luggage.”

Mom grinned and pecked Dad on the cheek. “Make sure you lock up when you’re done. Wouldn’t want anypony running off with that rusty old thing.” She giggled. “They’d probably poke an eye out.”

Dad kissed her back. “Yes, love.” He turned to walk towards the cavern we’d parked in.

“Oh!” Mom turned to wave in the completely wrong direction. “Don’t forget the bag with all the shampoo!”

I giggled as I ran between the carts and stands. Silver and candles were everywhere, dotting the caverns with little specks of light. We were so deep that it was hard to see without them, and it was like running among the inky greyness of space—each candle a star to light the way.

I loved it.

“Night, be careful!” Mom called out from behind me. “You don’t want to get lost right before the first night, do you?”

“No!” I pranced back. “But I won’t go too far!” I slapped a hoof to my chest. “I’m too responsible for that!”

“You aren’t the platoon commander for nothing.” Dad grinned, and Mom gave him a look.

“I seem to remember another platoon commander who got into all kinds of trouble,” Mom hummed, squinting at Dad. “For some reason, I was the one who always got them out of it.”

Dad gave a rumbling laugh. “True, but our little star is actually responsible. Let her have her fun, dear.”

“Worst comes to worst. I can keep an eye on her.” Uncle Courage chuckled. “You two focus on your romantic stroll through a pitch black cave.”

I fidgeted a little, waiting for Mom’s approval. Her face was all scrunched up as she thought about it, and—

“Oh! Sparklers!” I bolted off as a new cart wheeled in from a side cavern. The fireworks carts were the best. The way they crackled and popped to tickle my ears. The way they burst in little fits of light and smoke that made all the greys around them dance and weave and shimmer.

Fireworks were the best.

“Hello there, little filly.” The mare managing the cart bent down to smile at me as I stared transfixed at the sparklers spinning on her cart. “Are you looking for something to brighten up your night after the silent vigil?”

“I— Umm— I— Yes?” I squeaked.

“Well, you bring your parents over here, and I’ll see what I can do.” The mare ruffled through her cart. “No filly as adorable as yourself deserves to be without a little light on Ewigenacht. Here. At least take this sparkler on the house.” She hoofed me a small rod.

Screeheeheeheehee!” I scurried off with my prize. “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Look what I got! Can we buy some more?! The fireworks lady was really nice and—“

“Calm down, Night.” Mom silenced me by gently putting a hoof to my muzzle before she looked at Dad, who nodded with a smile. Then, she reached into her saddle bags to get some bits. “A couple sparklers seem like a wonderful idea, Night. I want you to take some money and grab one for each of us, okay?”

I vigorously nodded.

“Good.” She smiled. “Check if she has any candles too. We might as well pick those up while we’re at it.”

“Yes, Mom!” I pranced off only to sheepishly return moments later to collect the bits I left behind. “Be back in a flash!”

I ran back to the fireworks cart.

“That was fast. I take it you ran ahead of your parents?” The salespony giggled.

“Nope!” I fluffed out my chest. “They gave me all the money we’d need.”

“Aren’t you a responsible little filly, then.” The mare smiled. “Whenever I give my nephew money, he just runs off and spends it on sweets.”

“I’m a platoon commander!” I trilled, puffing out my chest even more for a moment. There was business to tend to, though, so I ruffled my wings and looked over the cart carefully. “By the way, do you have any candles? We haven’t picked up any for tonight yet.”

There was a laugh from the salespony. “Cutting it close, aren’t you? I can’t remember the last time anypony asked me for candles, but it’d be wrong not to have at least a few in stock. Let me see if I can find them.”

A long, low, solemn horn echoed its way through the entire cave system.

“It’s time! It’s time!” I hopped up and down, squeaking.

I was so excited I almost dashed off without paying for everything.

The braziers above us shed just enough light to outline all the families that had gathered in the enormous cavern that filled the pit of Mount Canter. It was dark—really, truly, dark—and my heart beat just a little faster because of it.

Yet, the only sounds to be heard in the vastness of the cave were the breathing of ponies and Elder Moonbeam’s voice. Occasionally, somepony would sniffle. Once, somepony snorted. The room ate the sounds like we ate bugs, though. They were gone in a flash; it swallowed them whole within seconds.

Only the elder’s voice managed to carry throughout the cave, a single candle lighting his post in the distance. He was talking about something or other. Some lesson some hunter learned when he did something to some rabbit who came from the moon.

Heh…. Moon rabbits….

I squirmed a little, making myself as cozy as possible between Mom and Dad. They’d draped both their wings over me, and the rise and fall of their barrels rocked me back and forth with the sound of their breathing. If I was a few years younger, I probably would have fallen asleep by now.

I was a big girl now, though. The last couple years, I made it through all the lectures without falling asleep, and I’d be darned if I didn’t do it this year. Even flying all the way here couldn’t keep me down.

Uncle Courage had been dragged under Dad’s other wing with only a little reluctance on his part, and the two of them shifted every so often, poking and prodding each other as brothers do.

It made me wonder when Mom and Dad would finally get around to buying me a little brother from the stork.

Wait…. Was Elder Moonbeam stopping? Was it time for—

A cold wind pierced the depths of the mountain, ghostly whinnies echoing in the darkness. It chilled me to the bone, even beneath my parents’ wings, and we all huddled together a little closer.

The braziers died instantly. Only the candle by Elder Moonbeam managed to stay alight, desperately flickering in the darkness. Finally, it too died out, and the wind fled, laughing victoriously.

“Ewigenacht has come.” Elder Moonbeam intoned from the complete and total darkness. “Now we pray to the stars. Let them hear us and light the way for us once more.”

I snuggled into Mom and Dad as quietly as I could. I couldn’t see anything—could barely hear anything. The darkness was absolute, and the cavern devoured any sound we might make. It made my heart race in a way I only rarely felt. As long as I could feel everypony, though…

Mom wrapped her wing tighter around me and squeezed. It would be a long couple of hours until the starlight procession, but I knew it would be worth it.

I shivered in anticipation.

It was always worth it.

Author's Note:

Hearth's Warming episode! Maybe next year you'll get the other side of the family.

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