• Published 16th Mar 2021
  • 33,179 Views, 2,385 Comments

What a Strange Little Colt - Lynwood



Rainbow Dash finds a maimed, unconscious young colt on the edge of Ponyville and rushes him to the hospital, but nopony knows who he is and something about him seems off...

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Fickle Honesty

Wednesday Evening

Just outside an unassuming-looking door, Doctor Horse paused, turning to face Rainbow Dash.

"Er... before you go in there, I should warn you, miss. This is not a normal colt."

"Huh?" Rainbow stopped and tilted her head. "What do you mean, doc?"

The doctor shifted his weight from hoof to hoof. He looked uncomfortable, almost... nervous? "It's just that he, well... He's been behaving very... peculiarly. He rarely speaks, he mostly stares. We're not really set up to handle this sort of situation at the moment." He rubbed his neck with a hoof. "It's best if you see for yourself." Then he pushed open the door.

The little green colt sat in the middle of his hospital bed. Its size made him seem very small, tiny even, and he was already small and thin enough that he really didn't need its help. A pillow propped him up, and a patchwork of bandages ran around his middle and spiraled up one of his hooves, which had been splinted along with a wing. Yet more bandages clung to his skull, wrapping around his head and forcing his mane to stick out in clumped tufts. He held a bright red foal's cup with both hooves, and his deep brown gaze currently focused on the crazy-looking toy straw that twisted in the shape of a butterfly and vanished straight into his mouth.

Nurse Redheart sat on a bedside stool that looked like it had seen much better days, frazzled and drained. She perked up when Doctor Horse followed Rainbow into the room.

"Horse," she nodded, "and Miss Dash, too. I was wondering when you would be by." She turned to the doctor. "Have you–"

Doctor Horse cut her off with a wave of his hoof. "Yes, I let her know. Now go ahead and take a break, Redheart. I think you've earned it." Redheart nodded, looking relieved, and trotted out the door.

The doctor cantered to the colt's bedside but Rainbow Dash followed behind at a far more nervous pace. She bit her lip as she watched the foal, who had his face so screwed up you'd think that he was trying to do math in his head instead of drinking out of a cup. The relief that came with seeing him there, apparently managing just fine, was immeasurable, but now she didn't know what to say. Ask him if he was ok? What happened to him? Maybe I should just start with his name.

The doctor tapped him gently on his shoulder. "Erm, Gab Real, you have a visitor."

What the hay kind of name is that?

He looked up at Doctor Horse, who nodded towards Rainbow. She gave a tentative wave. "Hey, kid. I'm—uh... Are you okay?"

His eyes had at least doubled in size and his eyebrows had disappeared underneath the edge of his mussed-up mane. "No way..." he said as if Princess Celestia herself had just walked through the door.

Rainbow blinked. "Uh, what?"

"I can't believe it," the foal said. "You're Rainbow Dash."

That threw her for a loop. "You know me?"

"You know her?" Doctor Horse said with an equal amount of confused surprise.

"Uh..."

Horse looked at Rainbow with a somewhat shocked look. "That's the most he's said at once, you know."

"Um…” She looked back at the foal. “So, are you a fan of mine, kid?"

The colt blinked, looking at her for entirely too long. "...you're famous."

"Um, yeah... I guess I am famous," Rainbow replied with a little smile, holding her head up a bit higher. "but I'm not that famous, not like the Wonderbolts or anything." Not that she didn't like the recognition, but getting used to being an Element of Harmony took a while. Then Rainbow realized she was grinning to herself and cleared her throat. "So, uh... your name's, uh, Gab Real?" She did her best to parrot the strange name Doctor Horse had used.

"Gabriel," he corrected, though if she was being honest, Rainbow couldn't really tell where she had gone wrong. "But I'm also called Gabe."

Well, at least that's easier.

"I've never heard a name like that before," Rainbow said, trotting closer, up to the side of his bed. "Where's it come from, uh, Gabe?" The name felt so strange coming out of her mouth. What did it mean? What kinda mean-spirited parent would give their kid a name like that? It's practically asking to be bullied.

"Um..." The colt bit his lip and looked back down at his cup. "It comes from a really old story, I think."

He spoke with a peculiar accent, barely different enough to notice. Weird. "Really? It must not be any story I've ever heard." As the two spoke, the doctor gave Rainbow an encouraging smile and moved to check the clipboard at the end of the colt's oversized bed. "So, uh, how're you feeling, kid? When I found you, you were in pretty bad shape."

The foal—Gabe—gave her that funny look. "You're the one that found me?"

"Yeah, I am." Rainbow grinned and puffed her chest out just the tiniest bit. "I scooped you up and flew you back here, quick as a wink! Probably the fastest anypony crossed Ponyville. Good thing, too, because something roughed you up pretty darn bad."

"Oh, well, thank you. Very much."

The foal was being... surprisingly polite, Rainbow realized. She expected any other foal to be scared stiff of all the strangers, crying to go home, but nothing about this foal struck her as normal. At all. He didn't look scared, really, just... numb and confused. What kind of foal is this?

"And I'm okay," he continued. "It's not too bad."

That nearly made Rainbow's eyes bug out of her head. The condition that she’d found that foal in would’ve hit a grown mare like a train, but no, it seemed like the only trouble he was having was keeping the cup propped up. Joys of a splinted foreleg, I guess.

She turned to the Doctor. "What kind of spells do you have this kid on?" she said under her breath.

The doctor only offered a raised eyebrow. "The top shelf stuff, apparently. I didn't cast them."

Rainbow coughed into her hoof and looked back to the foal. "So, kid, I gotta know, what happened to ya? How'd you wind up in such bad shape?"

The stare he gave her in response was haunting. His eyes looked scared, sad, horrified, and angry all at the same time but the rest of his face stayed perfectly level. Rainbow realized that she had started to step back, raising one hoof slightly off the ground.

"I don't remember," he said with the calm of a pile of rocks. Then it was time for a sip from his butterfly straw. Rainbow remembered herself and set her hoof down.

"Well," said the doctor, thankfully breaking the silence, "we'll make sure you get better as soon as possible. I'm sure your parents will be relieved to know you're okay. Can you tell me their names?"

That made the colt look away. "Um..." He spoke in a very quiet voice. "My parents. Uh. They aren't around."

Rainbow's breath caught in her throat and she saw the doctor's eyes widen. "Oh." After a moment's hesitation, he made for the door. "I'll be back soon, I have to... send for somepony." Then he was gone.

Things in the room got very quiet, save for the slurping of a toy straw trying to suck up the last drops of juice. What the hay do I say to something like that?! the pegasus thought. Then she took a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. "I'm sorry to hear that, kid."

Gabe blinked, then spoke without being asked a question, which caught the cyan pegasus by surprise. "Miss Dash, am I really in Ponyville?"

"Uh," Rainbow began, "are you not from here?"

"No, not at all," said Gabe.

Rainbow set herself down on the stool and leaned forward "Well, where are you from, then?"

The foal looked down at his now empty cup, his eyebrows furrowed in thought. "A little town up north," he said, eventually. "It's called Westfield."

"I've never heard of Westfield," said Rainbow, putting a hoof to her mouth in thought. "Wow, I'm famous in places I didn't know existed. That's pretty awesome, actually." The colt nodded. Heh. A northern town called Westfield.

"Wait," the pegasus mare spoke after she thought for a moment. "How'd you get all the way to the edge of Ponyville in the first place?"

"...I don't remember." Rainbow frowned a little. There was an awful lot that this colt didn't remember. What in Celestia's name had happened to bring him from the north (which was a real flight, even for her) all the way to Ponyville? She'd have asked the question if a certain realization hadn't dropped a lightning bolt right into her spine. Her eyes widened.

"Um, you said, you've never been to Ponyville, right?"

"Yeah," said the colt, still fiddling with his straw.

"And we're the only ones who've visited?"

"Mm-hmm."

Rainbow put the tip of her hoof to her chin. "Weird, I would've thought that she'd have gotten here before–"

A very poofy, bright pink head peeked through the little window in the hospital room door. "I hear somepony new in there!" came an excited but muffled voice, followed shortly by an intense, melodramatic gasp. "Whaaaaaat?! Dashie beat me there! How can this be?!"

The door leapt open with a dramatic clang of strained hinges. Ponyville's party pony, the ever-energetic Pinkie Pie wasted no time bouncing over to Gabe, jabbering her head off and making the most expressive faces that Rainbow had ever seen since... well, since the last time she saw Pinkie.

"I knew that somepony new was in town because my back left hoof was itchy-twitchy and I knew it was a foal because it was just itchy-twitchy and not itchy-witchy like the way it is with grown-ups and I just knew that I had to give you the warmest, huggiest, most superlicious Pinkie Pie welcome ever so I made a big batch of super-yummy cupcakes but then my tail got wiggly and I knew somepony in the hospital would need more than just a normal cupcake so I made a brand-new batch of extra super-yummy cupcakes to make somepony who was having an terrible horrible no-good very bad day into somepony who was having an extra special new friend day so then I brought one up to the hospital but the SUPER nice mare at the front said that I had to wait for the doctor to come back but I just couldn't stand by while a foal was so horribly cupcake-less so I got super sneakey and sneaked so fast that the mare couldn't stop me from getting all the way to your room and then I saw that Dashie was already here and I was like 'whaaaaaat' but that's okay because now it’s a party and at a party you're always supposed to introduce yourself to people you don't know even if they have super-duper weird and scary eyes so hi my name's Pinkie Pie what's yours?"

At that point, the bright pink pony had climbed all the way up onto the hospital bed. Her eye-to-eye stare had backed Gabe so far into his pillow that it had started to swallow him. For a moment, nopony moved, and the room—despite containing Pinkie Pie—was completely silent.

"Well that's not right!" said Pinkie rather abruptly, leaning away and drawing a hoof up to her chest. "You don't say–" the pink pony made a very serious, wide-eyed face for a second, "–you say your name, silly! That's ok, though, you can try again!"

The foal's attention jumped to Rainbow and he gave her the slightest pleading look. Rainbow chuckled a little. "It's alright! My friend's just trying to be, erm, friendly. You can tell her your name."

He looked back at Pinkie. "Uh, It's Gabriel."

Pinkie sprang up on her hind legs and pressed her hooves to her face. "Wowee! That's the most super specialest uniquest name I've ever heard!" Then she fell back down and grabbed his un-splinted hoof with surprising care, extended it so his hoof pointed out, and bumped it. "It's a super-duper pleasure to meet you, Gab Real!"

"Miss Pie, you get down from there this instant!" Pinkie's head snapped around to look at the doorway, where three very annoyed-looking ponies stood. Her ears fell back right away.

"Ah-heh-heh," Pinkie chuckled sheepishly as she clambered off Gabe's bed. "Sorry... But I just had to give Mister Real here the best 'Welcome to Ponyville' Ever!"

Doctor Horse raised an eyebrow and kept his eyes half-lidded. "And now you have, Miss Pie, which I'm sure he appreciates, but you really need to learn to listen to the staff. We're looking out for our patients' best interests here."

"Oh. Yeah..." Pinkie said, looking down and scratching at the floor with a hoof.

"Now. Miss Pie, Miss Dash, I'm afraid I have to ask you to leave. We have somepony here this foal needs to meet, and visiting hours are almost up."

Somepony he needs to meet? Rainbow took a closer look at the two ponies behind Doctor Horse. The sight of a positively drained Flowing Fields brought gratitude to her heart, but the other rang very few bells in Rainbow's head. The saddle-bagged stranger looked middle-aged. She had a sand-tan coat, a light brown mane, and a cutie mark of a heart wrapped in a bandage. Unlike the other two, the mare directed her focus not at Pinkie, but the foal, studying him with her bright blue eyes.

Rainbow’s heart sunk a little but she knew how... convincing the staff could be from personal experience. They did not take the wellbeing of their patients lightly. "Sure thing, Doc," she said. Then she turned to the foal sitting in the hospital bed. "Hey, kid, it was, uh, good meetin' ya."

"Are you gonna come back?" he asked, tilting his head. Rainbow blinked.

What? This random kid wants me to come back? she thought. Truth be told, her anxiety about the foal had been satisfied. Parents or no, he was alive, and in a whole building bustling with ponies who could help him a whole lot better than she could. Why does he want to see me again? Is it because I'm the awesome Rainbow Dash? Maybe it's because—oh, crap, everypony's staring at me. C’mon, Dash, think of something to say...

"Erm, would you want me to?"

"Yes." He gave her a small but heartwarming smile. The first she’d seen from him. I guess it wouldn't hurt to come back one more time and make sure everything's alright.

"Um, sure thing, kid." She replied, flashing him a confident grin. "C'mon, Pinkie."

"Okie dokie! Nice meetin’ ya, Gabie!" Pinkie gave the foal a big wave and her biggest, widest, happiest smile, then followed Rainbow Dash past the three ponies and out the door... or at least she would have if she hadn’t stopped in place and jumped straight up, avoiding concussing herself on its frame by a hair.

"Omigosh! I almost forgot!" She pulled a cupcake from her mane in the blink of an eye and rushed back to Gabe's bed. "It's extra super yummy, believe me! I used all my super-special–"

"Pinkie," Rainbow called from the door.

"OkayhereitiswelcometoPonyvillegottarunbye!" She dropped it at the foot of his bed and leapt across the hospital room to join Rainbow at the door, where she gave Rainbow an excited smile. "So, spill it!" she said as the two started down the hall, away from the strange foal's room. "How'd you beat me to 'im?"

Rainbow huffed a tired laugh. "Well, this morning I was flying over those fields outside of town..."


Behind a gentle, friendly face, Counselor Sandy Hills worried.

She'd dealt with similar situations. She’d talked to foals and parents about the long-term effects of a childhood injury as traumatic as this. She knew how those foals behaved. Confused, scared absolutely stiff of an unfamiliar environment and new experiences. Clinging to a parent—or in the most unfortunate cases, a legal guardian—like they were the only rock in a terrible storm. At that age, going through something like this stayed with the foal, and that kind of permanence scared anypony. Some days, bearing news like that felt impossible. Just the thought made her shuffle her wings on her back.

The way this foal behaved didn't just make her uncomfortable, it put a small, cold stone of dread in her stomach.

This colt did not look scared. Confused, maybe, but if he was afraid, he was doing a downright professional job of hiding it. He seemed attentive and lucid, too, looking Doctor Horse right in the eye as he spoke.

"Gab Real, I'd like you to meet a very close friend of mine. She's here to help you feel better, ok? Does that sound alright?" Good thing that Doctor horse has a talent for speaking to foals. His tone always sounded so perfectly understanding and kind. 'Gab Real', only nodded, then looked at her and quizzically tilted his head just the tiniest bit.

Sandy cleared her throat. "Hello, Gab," she said. "My name is Sandy Hills. I'm a counselor, and it's a pleasure to meet you!" she drew up the friendliest smile she could manage.

"Hello Miss Hills," he said. His voice sounded so small and high, but he spoke calmly and evenly. "I'm Gabriel."

Oops. Was I saying it wrong? Counselor Hills trotted to the side of his bed across from Doctor Horse and drew up the nearby stool, removing her saddlebags and setting them down beside her. "How are you, Gabriel?" She made extra sure to pronounce the strange-sounding name exactly as he had. If it meant anything to him, she couldn’t tell. "Are you comfortable? Do you feel any pain?"

All while she spoke, he kept those deep brown eyes right on hers the whole time. It was unnerving, sure, but Sandy had encountered far worse. He nodded. "I'm comfortable. The pain isn't anything I haven't dealt with before. I can handle it."

Immediate red flag. Healthy foals of his age needed to be surprised and scared by any kind of pain. She didn't let her worry show, though, keeping them locked away underneath the friendliest, gentlest smile she could muster. They always say smiling keeps your mood up. "It’s reassuring to hear that."

With the greetings out of the way, now it was time to move on to the hard stuff. She steeled herself. "Gabriel, I was asked to be here by the staff because you told Doctor Horse here that your parents are 'not around.' Is that true?"

Sandy glimpsed a crack colt's calm façade. He swallowed and his eyes darted away for just the barest second. Then he nodded that calm, even nod. "Yes, I did."

Even though she knew it was foalish, Sandy Hills had hoped that this wouldn't be the case; that this would just be some colt that had royally botched running away and was too embarrassed to say who his parents were. Despite her best efforts, the mare's smile became a little sadder.

"Okay, Gabriel. I'll need to talk to you about some very important things, then." She paused. Even in rare cases like this, there was usually somebody familiar with the foal to help them through this next conversation. A legal guardian, a family friend, a familiar neighbor, anything. She stumbled for a moment. "Uh, would you like Doctor Horse to stay with you while we talk? I know it can be tough, meeting new ponies. I know you don't know him all that well, but–"

"No, that's all right." He shook his head. "I'll be okay, Miss Hills."

Sandy blinked. "Oh... Alright. Doctor Horse, Miss Fields? Some privacy, please." The two nodded and walked out the door, carefully closing it behind them.

Celestia's sun had set and the sky outside was the color of deep water. The only thing illuminating the room was the lamp on the small table next to Gabriel's hospital bed. It exaggerated the shadows on the colt's face and cast long black forms about the rest of the room. They clashed harshly with its golden light.

"Gabriel," Sandy started, "I want you to know that I am here to help you. I only want the best for you, ok?" He nodded. "But for me to help you, I need you to tell me the truth, ok? You can tell me anything, even things that other ponies, even adults, have told you to keep secret. Do you understand?" Another nod. She looked him in the eye. In the darkened room, his irises almost disappeared into his eyes. "Can you help me by telling the truth, Gabriel?"

He didn't answer right away, biting his lip instead. The way he looked at her made the counselor feel like she was being studied. "Alright," he eventually said. His voice was low, almost... sad? "I'll try."

"I'll do my best to be as understanding as I can, I promise." It was of the utmost importance to help the foal feel as welcome and safe as possible. "Anything you tell me can only be between you and me if that's what you want." Sandy gave the foal her slyest wink. "It can be our little secret."

"That's alright, I don't mind you telling other ponies."

Sandy bit her lip. This next part was going to be tough. "Gabriel, if your parents aren't around, who takes care of you?"

He worked his jaw for a moment, looking for all the world like he was working on some prime chewing gum. "My older sister used to take care of me, but I've been living without her for a while." The detail caught her off guard somewhat pleasantly. She’d been expecting a short, choppy response. Still, her smile fell a little bit.

I may have a homeless foal on my hooves.

"Have you been on your own?"

"No," he said, right away, "I live with my... friends." His hesitation raised an eyebrow.

"Are your friends grown-ups?"

He shrugged. "Some of 'em."

"Are your friends nice to you, Gabriel?"

"It depends on the friend." He said astutely.

"Gabriel, if they're not being nice, then I don't think they count as being your friends."

"Can you hand me that?" What? Her eyes followed his pointed hoof straight to the cupcake that Pinkie Pie had left at the foot of his bed.

The counselor frowned a little.

"Please?"

"...Of course, Gabriel." She reached over to the foal-sized cupcake and glanced at its bright red frosted writing. "Welcome to Ponyville, I hope you feel better super-duper soon!" it read in tiny sugary writing, accompanied by a little heart.

Nice work with the details, Miss Pie, she thought as she passed it to the foal, who cupped it with his fetlocks. He studied it for a moment, holding it this way and that, perhaps considering how best to begin. He eventually brought it to his mouth with both hooves and took a hesitant bite, chewing thoughtfully.

"Gabriel, if you don't feel safe or secure answering a question just say so. We can move on. The last thing I want is for you to feel uncomfortable, okay?"

He swallowed. "No, it's fine. I know they're not the best friends in the world, but they're the only ones I have." Then his face fell just the tiniest bit, in a way that made Sandy want to cry. "Or had, I guess."

Sandy decided they could follow this topic of conversation some other time. "Where are you from, Gabriel?"

Gabriel moved on to the new topic right away, looking a little relieved. "Little town up north called Westfield."

Never heard of it. I'll have to look it up. "Is that where you and your friends lived?"

"No, we moved around a lot." The situation got more concerning with every word that came out of this foal's mouth. A group of ponies that weren't in his family, traveling with multiple adults and other foals, always on the move. It began to paint a very disturbing picture.

"Gabriel, when you were traveling, were you ever hurt?"

The foal became very silent. Then, when he turned his head, he didn't look at her, he looked right through her, at something only he could see. At that very moment, Sandy realized that she had a severely traumatized colt on her hooves. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."

"Of course. That's perfectly fine." Sandy smiled. "Would you like it if I asked you about more boring stuff?"

He shoved the rest of the cupcake in his mouth all at once and nodded. She chuckled.

"Sure thing, Gabriel." Sandy bent down and retrieved a clipboard, pencil, and the form that she’d really hoped she wouldn’t need. "Okay, Gabriel. I need to fill out this very boring grown-up paperwork. Would you be willing to help me?"

"Sure," he managed through a mouthful of frosting and cake.

She nodded, smiling. "Okay. I've already got your name, mm-hmm, just need to fill a few things out first..." Counselor Hills quickly jotted down her own name, his tribe, colorations, and roughly sized up his height and weight. "Okay... first question is... age. How old are you, Gabriel?"

"Erm..."

Oh, dear.

"Gabriel, do you know how old you are?" His eyes furrowed and he looked at his hooves, then back at his wings.

"...Nope." The counselor resisted the urge to rub her temples.

"Well, honey, do you want me to guess for you?" He nodded, and she jotted down her best guess. 'Approx. 10-12' appeared next to the little 'age' bullet. "Alright. Do you have a cutie mark?" The foal blinked and got an odd look on his face, then checked under the covers.

"Nope."

Sandy suppressed a chuckle. I don't think you would have gotten your special talent by getting brought to the hospital, even if it was by Rainbow Dash.

"Okay... Do you know what your parents' names are?" Sandy made sure to use 'are' instead of 'were'. Best not to remind him of his loss before he's ready.

"Amelia and David."

More strange names. She raised an eyebrow. "Can you tell me your sister's name?"

"Rachel."

"Gabriel, these names don't sound very pony-like at all," the counselor said as she made her best effort to write them down. Sandy intended to follow-up with a question about whether or not he had even been living with people like him—an assumption she apparently should not have made—but he beat her to it.

"That's because they aren't."

"...I see." The picture was shaping up, and Sandy Hills did not like what she saw. Whoever this foal was, wherever he had come from, he had endured a difficult life. By her guess, he had been stolen very young. He’d been transported with others his age, likely in a similar situation, and at times, he’d been hurt by those handling him. It all pointed to one deeply-disturbing fate: foal traffickers.

Scum. The lowest of the low. Those who would steal the youngest, most innocent minds of this world and exploit them. To escape from such creatures was a treacherous thing to attempt. No wonder he had been found with half his side gouged out.

Snap!

Sandy looked down at her clipboard. She'd pushed the pencil into the paper too hard and its tip had snapped clean off. When she raised her head, she saw the colt giving her a very strange look.

"Well, Gabriel," she said, "I think that's enough questions for now, and, erm... Well, it's late, and you've had an eventful day. I'm sure you would like some sleep."

He gave that trademark even nod of his. "Yes, I would, Miss Hills."

She stowed away her clipboard and now-useless pencil. "Then I'll let you have your room to yourself."

"You're leaving already?" That made her stop in her tracks.

"Erm... Well, I was going to come to visit again first thing tomorrow, Gabriel, but..." she set her saddlebags down, "Would you like me to stay with you?"

Gabriel ducked his head and his eyes flicked to the side. "Erm, please? Just for a little while?"

Is he scared to be alone? Sandy couldn't help but satisfy her curiosity. "You're not unsure about me? Somepony you just met?"

"I've met a lot of people in my life, Miss Hills," he said, furrowing his eyebrows a little. Sandy noted that he said 'people' instead of 'ponies'. "I've gotten pretty good at sizing up folks when I first meet 'em. You're a good person, Miss Hills. I can tell. And, uh... I don't really like being in hospitals, even when they're as clean as this one."

The purest bit of foalhood innocence shone through for just a moment when he said those words. They were astute, honest. It put a real, happy smile on Sandy Hills' face... until she realized, of course, what 'even when they're as clean as this one' implied. Her smile became that much more forced.

"Of course I'll stay, Gabriel." She scooted the stool a bit closer and he settled down, drawing the blankets up to his chin. Then she turned out the lamp with a push of the button at its base, casting the room into a complete, peaceful dark.

"Goodnight, Miss Hills," came his calm, tired voice from the darkness.

"Goodnight, Gabriel."


Princess Celestia’s ear twitched towards her private chambers’ main door. Hoofsteps. Another calling from a castle runner, most likely. Her own hooves sprang to life, swiping her trashy romance novel off from its place atop the textbook-like ledger that a more responsible ruler might have been studying and into her writing desk’s bottom right drawer. It slid shut and Celestia’s magic winked out not a moment before the doorknocker rapped against the doors’ iron frame.

Celestia cleared her throat. “Come in!”

The left door hesitated before swinging open in a smooth arc, revealing the one pony Celestia was positive should not have been present, especially since the night court should have just started. Something is wrong, whispered a voice in the back of her head. A coldness dripped down into her heart, but untold years of practice killed any chance of a change appearing in her face.

“Sister!” Celestia said, with just the right amount of tired cheer in her voice. “What a pleasant surprise! Though, I should ask, won’t they be missing you in the throne room?”

It truly felt nice to see her sister these days, especially with the particular difficulty of the past few months, but the arrival was clearly no social calling. Princess Luna’s face showed no hint of what lay behind her little sister’s eyes, but dark bags beneath them and the long pause before her response spoke volumes. “...Celestia,” she said with a low voice as she walked into the room. “...Sister, I have…” The massive door swung shut behind her, closing with the barest cushioned thump.

A lance of worry stabbed into the princess’s chest and she furrowed her brow. “Yes, Lu?” she said. “Is something wrong?”

Her sister opened her mouth, then closed it, and blankly nodded. She swallowed. “Sister,” she began again with a voice that had begun to shed its stupor, “I’m afraid I bring terrible news.”