• 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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Eternal Glory

“What do you want?” asked the mare with the greenish mane.

She spoke the same language as ponies, but it sounded raspy, like she was suppressing a cough. Medley flinched at the sound of the voice.

“Well,” Rainbow said, “we’re looking for doppelgängers, to talk with them.”

The mare with the greenish mane fixed Rainbow with an unblinking gaze. Then she pointed her foreleg at the body on her lap. On a closer look I saw several cuts and bite marks.

“Then talk to him,” she said. “Though he can’t answer.”

Medley began sobbing again and fell to her haunches. Rainbow opened her mouth several times but said nothing.

“You can also kill us, if you want.”

Rainbow turned her head from me and Medley, and folded her ears backward.

“I didn't...” I said. “We didn't come for this.”

“And you.” She looked at me. “You aren't a pony. What do you want from us?”

“The same.” I stopped and breathed in several times. “To talk.”

She just looked at me for a minute or so. Were there small green dots floating before her eyes? Or was I just tired, and seeing things?

“Promise to hear my story about the dawn of the night,” she said, “then we may talk.”

If she wanted our promise, maybe she was interested in a peaceful meeting as well.

“I promise,” I said, and Medley and Rainbow also promised after me. “But why do you need to pose as a pony?”

“We need to feel the emotions of others,” the mare with the greenish mane said. Her voice sounded more pleasant than before. “Without them we encounter problems with mental functions.”

“Do you steal emotions?” Rainbow asked.

“No, it’s more like we copy them.”

“That's good, I don't want my emotions stealed,” Medley said. “And what is your name? We still don't know what to call you.”

“Golden Beryl...” she said, trailing off. The name may have originally been one word, but it corresponded with two simple concepts.

She looked around, gesturing to the bodies, and continued, “...Queen of what remains of these doppelgängers.”

The smell of burned flesh hit me again—I'd almost gotten used to it. The silence grew until Medley finally introduced us. I also told her about my difficulties with names.

Once I was finished, I suddenly realized she used a word for “Queen” that the ponies did not. The ponies’ Queen had a meaning closer to “queen-counsellor”, while the doppelgängers’ Queen was more like “queen-mother”.

“You speak an alien language, yet still I understand,” the queen said. “I would like to hear your story later.”

“And what is the real reason you need ponies’ emotions?” Medley asked. “Some myths about doppelgängers say...”

“That we somehow convert emotions to magic,” the queen finished for her. “I also know about your studies that emotions can influence magic no more than other cognitive processes. The real reason is what happened to our species centuries ago.”

She was actually using the pony definition of century, sixteen years squared, but it was still several centuries either way.

“It feels like something bad happened,” Medley said, shuddering.

The queen nodded. “Long ago, we weren't so different from you ponies.”

Her eyes began glowing again, and small green dots appeared from her eyes’ cornea. They floated closer to us like small fireflies, then momentarily grew bigger, then combined into an equine figure. The figure solidified and changed colour, becoming a grey equine with a green mane and tail. Its build was similar to a unicorn’s.

“We could use illusions to change our appearance,” the queen said. “Ponies didn’t like us for that, even though we rarely contacted ponies and lived in an isolated valley.”

I noticed movements around us: some more doppelgängers came to the bonfire.

“Ah! Dead doppelgängers are moving!” Medley cried. Then she stopped and looked around. “Or... maybe they're not dead?”

“Hush now,” the queen said, frowning. “They weren’t dead, they only pretended to be.”

“But why?” Rainbow asked.

“I asked them to. So we wouldn’t look threatening,” the queen said.

“And so we would feel guilty?” I asked, as soon as I realised.

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“Are you going to hurt us?” Medley asked.

“We've had several opportunities to do so already,” the queen said with a smile. “But no, we depend on ponies, so your well-being is beneficial for us.” She looked around at each of the ponies and doppelgängers. “No more of this chatter, we should get back to the story.”

The doppelgängers around us nodded, and their eyes also began to glow. Magical mist flew from their eyes and formed a landscape before us. There were several mountains and a valley between them, dotted with a number of small houses and with many trees. The mist that made up the ground remained green, but in the mountains it became brown and grey, and the houses also changed colour to look like regular wooden buildings. Rainbow and Medley seemed to forget their stress and stared at the illusion with wide eyes. How could these doppelgängers coordinate their efforts so well, to make as big and detailed an image as this without any kind of technical aid?

“As I said, our ancestors used illusions to pose as ponies, because they didn’t have the ability to transform their bodies at that time,” the queen said.

She showed an image of her ancestor again, but the mare’s appearance changed slightly as she took on the shape of a pony.

She gestured to the town. “This was our sole settlement. If we were more spread out, we might have avoided the catastrophe.”

The illusion of the land vibrated and the top of one of the mountains exploded. Gray ash covered the valley and soon lava followed, too. Small dots of illusory doppelgängers tried to escape, but only some of them could. I even expected to hear screams of pain, because it looked so real, but the only sound was the crackling of a bonfire.

“Most doppelgängers received severe burns, and many became sick from the poisonous water and air. Many of our ancestors thought it would be the end of our species.”

I looked over the illusory land. The town was destroyed by lava, the valley had turned dark grey, and almost all trees were burnt or burning. Lost in the realism again, I could almost smell the smoke.

“Still, the first queen decided to do anything she could to save us,” Golden Beryl said.

The name was of some yellow mineral, possibly quartz. But if I remembered correctly, the yellow variety had a separate name, something with a fruit theme... Yes, Citrine.

“So Queen Citrine used her magical knowledge to help our ancestors heal their injuries,” Golden Beryl continued. “She experimented with samples of our skin tissue to create cultures that could be deformed without cell destruction. Eventually, she managed to develop a mechanism which allowed cells to slide on or stick to each other when necessary.”

Another illusion appeared above the valley, a matrix of magnified cells and a space between them, filled with many fibers. These fibers detached from cell membranes and connected in other places, allowing the membranes to move within the matrix. Some of them moved in layers, some moved independently, some stayed adhered to each other.

“But even with the help of some uninjured doppelgängers, she couldn't force the cells to replicate fast enough to cover all burns,” the queen said. “So many of us died.”

I used the pause to look at the others. Medley's eyes were red and she had stripes of wet fur under her eyes. Rainbow looked at the ground immediately when I turned to her, but I still noticed her body convulse several times.

“The solution came from the same source as the death,” continued Golden Beryl. “Our ancestors now stood beneath hills of volcanic ash, and some of Queen Citrine’s advisers proposed to add small ash particles into the cells to increase cell volume. It was a comparatively easy operation, and the volume of the new cell cultures increased by an order of magnitude. She worked without sleep for several days, until all in need could be treated.”

The magnified cells disappeared and were replaced by an illusory image of a burned doppelgänger. Another, more healthy doppelgänger applied a dark grey paste on the injuries, then enveloped it in green magic. It gradually changed shape and coated the injuries completely.

“As a side effect, the cell culture changed colour and became somewhat heavier,” Golden Beryl said. “But it prevented the likely extinction of our species. After days working without sleep Queen Citrine fell unconscious and never woke up. She died after being in coma for about a year. We still remember her, because we still rely on her invention. And her blood still flows in our veins.”

An illusory crowd of doppelgängers appeared, standing in circles around a grey monolith.

“We raised an obelisk from obsidian, taken from the same volcano that changed our fate. On the winter solstice many of us make a journey there to pay our respects.

“You may wonder why we are still covered with this modified skin,” Golden Beryl said, with a smile. “As an unexpected side effect, these cultured cells integrated themselves into our skin, and eventually replaced it. The cells even transferred themselves to the next generation when some of them travelled inside the womb during conception and grew with the embryo. The second generation grew up with these changes, and regained the sensitivity in their skin that their parents lost.”

Illusion showed us hairless, newborn foals, their skin quickly darkening after birth.

“Our new skin adapted to get its necessary minerals directly from the soil we step on,” the queen said. “Also, a generation without tactile sensations opened our minds to the possibility of direct communication—or, telepathy. But in exchange we became dependent on the emotions of other species, especially ponies, as we were once like you.”

Slowly the images disappeared. The queen sat silent for a minute. We also didn't say anything.

“Well,” she began again, “maybe not in exchange, but as a result of a species-wide post traumatic stress. This dependence was moderate in the first generations, and became more pronounced later, but it is slowly weakening in recent generations. I hope this means we can live on our own, some day.”

I looked at the ponies. Rainbow appeared almost like her usual confident self, but Medley scowled for some reason.

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