• Published 13th Nov 2017
  • 892 Views, 22 Comments

I Can Read Names in Clouds - Yuu



In the aftermath of the confusion with replacing the newest princess, a human arrives to learn about pony society.

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Oak, Blackthorn, and Ash

This must have be the building I was searching for: a large tree with windows poking through the wood, and a signboard that stood on the ground near the door. The board had several books drawn on it. I remembered at once parts of the message: there was a room with many books, and the windows looked similar to those in the tree-house in front of me.

A spark in the window drew my attention, but it was too dark inside to see anything else. I hopped close and tapped the glass with my beak, hoping to get someone's attention. As I strained to see past the bright reflections of the sky, I heard the opening and closing of a door nearby. I flew from the window to the door and tapped once again, this time more forcefully.

Before I began tapping again to attract the attention of the slow dwellers, the door finally opened. A pony with a sapphire blue, blunt fringe emerged from the door. She was mulberry-coated and had a pink streak in her mane.

She looked at me and said something. That was the moment I remembered that I had turned off my translator while I was flying around the town, and that I should activate it again. Before that, since I wasn’t certain that the messenger spirit had shown me this tree-building, I decided I should check to ensure it was the right one.

I quickly flew through the open door and circled inside the room. It was definitely a library: numerous bookshelves recessed in every wall, several tables with books packed on top of them, along with a couple of doors to other rooms. I noticed a bust of an equine, and perched on it. The mare with the sapphire fringe closed the door and trotted closer to me, eyeing me carefully. I concentrated and activated my translator.

“Hello,” she said. “What’s a nice young bird like you doing in my library? What’s your name?”

Did she really expect that I would answer? Perhaps some birds around here could actually speak. Next time I see one, I should try making a conversation. Or perhaps her words were a greeting specifically for birds? In any case, I decided to use the translator gift on the mare and introduce myself. I concentrated on the meaning of my name, as it would be unrealistic to expect ponies to repeat words from a foreign language.

“Good day. My name is Snowy Clothes.”

The mare with the sapphire fringe took several steps backwards and her eyes widened. The good thing was she didn't charge at me.

“You can talk!” she exclaimed.

“And you're pretty good at stating the obvious.”

“Well, yes.” She shook her head as if to clear her mind and came closer again. “Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is...” It was an atmospheric effect that seemed to occur when the sun was close to the horizon. I didn’t even know the term in my own language for the phenomenon she was named after.

I waved a white wing at her. “I will try something in my own language. Please tell me if I get something close enough.”

“I will,” she said, nodding. I was glad to see a familiar gesture in this alien world. When she turned, she displayed a large starburst on both of her flanks, or whatever ponies called it. I should ask about it later.

“So.” A phenomenon on the horizon... “How about Dusk Shine?”

“It is close,” she acknowledged, “but maybe you can find something else?”

“Maybe Horizon Gloaming?”

“That's better. I think you can just call me Gloaming.”

“Excellent. Nice to meet you, Gloaming.” I ducked my head slightly.

“What type of bird are you?” she asked after a short pause. “I know some birds can repeat words, but you’re responding to my words, not just repeating them. Are you from some distant place? There are some birds I know that resemble you, but they have darker crests...”

I sensed the rising excitement from the pony and instinctively took a step back. “Wait a moment, one question a time please.” I waved a wing at her to emphasise my words. As to her question, I thought it would be wise to keep matters simple for now. “I believe I am a crow. I’ve seen birds like me around town, but their feathers are darker than mine.”

“And why...” Gloaming began asking. “Sorry, please continue.”

She was almost as bad at questioning as some crazy scientists I knew.

“The reason for my unusual colouring is a lack of pigmentation, caused by albinism.”

“I see.” She moved to the closest table. “I would like to write down this, if you don't mind.”

“Fine.”

Gloaming looked at a journal lying on the table, and I saw a dim violet light illuminated on her forehead. A similar coloured light enveloped the journal, and it flipped open. Then a light illuminated a page of the journal and several unfamiliar symbols appeared on it.

Whatever it was, a mystical power or an implanted device in her head, it was very convenient. I wished I could just concentrate and transfer my thoughts to a paper.

“So, if I understand correctly, your lack of colouration is somehow connected to your eyes? I’ve seen several ponies with similar colour schemes, so they might have a similar condition. Then again, it may just be a natural trait.” She seemed to be murmuring more to herself than me.

“My eyesight could be worse than it is now. My condition was called oculocutaneous albinism for a reason. Fortunately, my parents brought me to a healer who prevented most of the vision problems.”

“Your kind has healers?” Her voice sounded incredulous. “You really aren’t from around here. I’ve never heard about healer crows.”

I wondered if I should tell her that the healer wasn't a crow. Despite her amazement, she continued to make notes in the journal.

“I wasn't born a crow.”

“Really?” At this, the glow on paper ceased to exist, and her eyebrows shot up. “Somepony turned you into a crow?”

“No.” Having reached this level of civil discourse with Gloaming, I decided to trust her with the truth. “I can change my shape to that of another species.”

“Can you really do that? Can I see you in another form?” Her head darted from side to side, her eyes moving furtively for some reason.

I considered her request. I had two options: to shift to a human form or to a hybrid. Both of them should be alien to ponies, but my hybrid form at least had some resemblance to a bird. That would be the one I would go with, I decided.

“It won’t be too difficult for me. Still…” I hesitated for a moment. “I have to ask, but I noticed you seemed a bit nervous just now.”

She exhaled loudly, looking at me directly. “You see, there was an… incident, recently.”

Her visible scrutiny made me reconsider immediately transforming myself. “Could you please tell me what happened?”

“It's a rather personal story, for me at least.” She continued to study me for a few more moments before she nodded resolutely to herself once. “Still, everypony knows about it, so there’s no reason not to tell you, too. We have legends about creatures that can impersonate other ponies. They replace common ponies with doubles, for some time or forever, for unknown reasons.”

That certainly explained her uneasiness at my declaration.

“You should know that I can't impersonate specific people,” I said.

“If you say so,” Gloaming said, sounding uncertain. “They were considered a myth until recent events, when at least two of them impersonated two ponies who were very close to me.”

“Don’t you have any protocols to check someone’s identity?”

“Yes, we do, but these...” She gave a name that the translator failed to interpret. Doppelgänger seemed to be the best word to fit the creatures she had described. “...doppelgängers hadn't done anything that required their identities to be checked. They went on to replace my brother's fiancée.”

“I'm sorry. I hope it ended well.” Her story brought to mind several of my own failed romances in the past.

“More or less,” Gloaming said, looking at her journal. “One of them fled when I finally persuaded my friends and guards to check the mare I suspected. My brother was shocked that he had been fooled like that. It was afterwards that we found that another doppelgänger had imitated my brother with his real fiancée in another part of the city.”

“That was very cunning.”

“Well, I can’t disagree.” She briefly looked at me, than turned her gaze back to the journal. “The two doppelgängers somehow communicated with each other to fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge. That's why it took me several hours to prove...”

I mentally raised my non-existent eyebrows. I certainly hadn’t seen this discussion veering off into this direction when I had first knocked on library’s door.

“...That she was a fake!” Gloaming’s jaw seemed tight, and her eyes reminded me lifeless eyes of a plush doll for a moment. She inhaled deeply several times. “I'm sorry for that.”

She gave an apologetic smile. I remained silent, waiting for her to continue.

“Now I can only hope these doppelgängers haven’t replaced anypony else in town,” Gloaming added. “I’m trying to think about it logically, but it pains me even to imagine that some of my friends could be replaced.”

She appeared calmer now, but I noticed that her right ear twitched slightly every two seconds or so.

“I can tell you for sure that I don't want to replace anyone,” I said, respecting the shift in tone and mood that she had brought on. “I actually can't do that. My other forms aren’t ponies.”

“Really?” She quickly became more animated than a second ago. “What are they?”

“It’s an entirely different species than ponies,” I said. “It’s bipedal with two hands. If you have any apes around, my species is very close to them. We call ourselves humans.”

“I know about apes, but they aren’t native inhabitants of our region,” Gloaming said. This shift away from murkier emotional waters seemed to pick up her spirits. “Is this form affected by your albinism?”

“Yes, it is,” I said. Maybe if I described myself in my human form, I could better prepare her for my change of appearance. “So, I don’t have any fur or noticeable amount of hair on my body, and my skin is light pink.”

“And I assume that if you have hair it would be white.” Gloaming returned to her journal and made some notes.

I nodded, and examined Gloaming’s hairstyle.

“I actually have some hair at the top of my head, and I usually let it fall down to the middle of my body.” I almost mentioned waist, but who knows which part of their body ponies consider their own waist.

“You can also tell me about the differences between your race and ponies, if you like.” She pointed on herself with her forehoof, than on me.

“So, my face is flatter, compared to yours. If you stand on your hind legs you may be only a bit shorter than me, and in this position you will more or less resemble a human.” I imagined this in my mind, but I didn’t know for sure if they could they stand upright or not. “Still, without fur on our bodies we can’t withstand cold weather, so humans wear clothes almost all the time.”

“That’s reasonable, but ponies also wear clothing during very cold winters and formal events,” Gloaming said, still writing.

“Humans also have five digits on their hands and feet. We can grab and use tools with our hands, but the digits on our feet are short and pretty useless. And we don’t have claws.”

“And do you look like an average human?” Gloaming asked. “I mean, I, for example, have a physique of an average pony mare, but other mares could be a head taller or shorter than me.”

“I see. My height should be pretty average for a female, but my weight is about one tenth smaller that the average, I think.” I still remembered my last visit to the doctor, who advised me to gather some mass.

“Can you show me you other form, please?”

She looked more relaxed right now, so I decided to go on.

“Sure, why not.”

I jumped from the bust to the floor and concentrated on my shifting abilities. The world around me began to blur, and I felt something new, as if my transformation had deviated to another route previously unknown. I suddenly felt cold in my chest, my mind feverish. Immediately I stopped, to investigate what had happened.

The thought came to me that perhaps the properties of this world prevented my transformation to take the shape it always had. Was my hybrid form really too alien for ponies? For some reason, I was left with the sense that this alteration wouldn’t be irreversible. Therefore, I released the mental hold I had on the transformation and allowed my body to assume a new form.

The world around me stabilised, and I saw Gloaming opening and closing her mouth without any sound emerging. While she did that, I took in the appearance of my new look.

The first I noticed was that my point of perspective seemed shorter than it was in my hybrid form. I was now currently the same height as Gloaming. Looking at what should have been my hands, I saw they had become stout limbs that ended with talons. I looked back and realised that I had become a quadruped, with my hind legs not resembling the talons of my forelimbs but had taken on the look of hooves. Despite all that, I still retained my backpack.

“What in the name of sun and the moon are you?” Gloaming finally found her voice, and it was rather loud.

Her tail swished several times and an intense purplish light began to glow before her forehead. Despite the strange nature of the situation I was in, my brain served to remind me that, on Earth, we had mentions of unicorns in our lore, and the form of this light reminded me of a unicorn’s horn. I hadn’t met one before now, but there was no telling where else they might have popped up. Perhaps unicorns weren’t as mystical as humans tended to think.

“I'm not a guardspony,” Gloaming said, swishing her tail rapidly, “but I know a lot of spells. Some of which are lethal.”

Her ears flicked back and forth several times, her gaze still glued at me, “So you better prove you aren’t working with doppelgängers. And you aren’t one of them. Or else...”

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