• Published 26th Sep 2022
  • 180 Views, 15 Comments

Summit - Daedalus Aegle

A story about climbing a mountain

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Maybe this was a mistake

Clover looked up at the city. It rose, and it rose swiftly, and it rose far. Like the mountain it was built against, it strove upwards more than it spread out.

He stood amazed at the bottom of it, a vast abandoned construction site like a giant ladder set against the mountain, and looking straight up from between the base of its skyscrapers he couldn’t see where the path lead.

Behind him was the great Welcome-sign at the entrance to the city. Half of it had fallen down, and it said WELC, though it still showed the silhouette of pegasus wings behind it.

A thought came to him from when he was just a little foal.

There had been a rug in his room that he played on, which was a picture of a town from above, like a map but not, full of buildings and streets and ponies. It was his town, his place to play.

He would imagine himself arriving in town at the corner road and wander through its streets, visiting every house, greeting every pony, charting his path with his hoof, running through the city with his eyes.

At that moment he felt like he was a foal again looking at that rug, but that the ground itself was pulled loose like a sheet and hung from the wall without disturbing the city-image on it, which by some trick of perspective was both above and below him, and he could pick out its places and follow its paths as clearly.

It was beautiful, in all its rough industrial hubris. In the strange glow of snowfall at night it felt magical, like it had been emptied out just for him, to explore to his heart’s content. Cold, and indifferent, but open and waiting to be seen.

It was like an imaginary playground castle like he’d always dreamed of, full of endless hiding places and detours, where you could run through a labyrinth and never be seen, and climb to high towers and look out over a vast countryside under a dazzling sunrise.

The thought of looking straight down from the window of that tower made his knees weak, and he shook the thought off.

He walked through it silently with wide eyes, his breath leaving little clouds behind him. The cold air on his face was brisk and made him feel alive and full of energy.

He could see his goal. The highest point of the city was built into a jutting outcrop of rock, merging with the mountain, or as though carved out of it, far ahead and far above.

I’m going to reach the top.

He ran forward, climbing stairs where he could find them to get off the ground and begin ascending the huge interconnected rising buildings.

The path was far from clear. No spiraling stairwell started at the ground floor and continued to the highest levels. He would go up a level or two, then find himself back outside and crossing a rooftop to get to the next likely entrance. The brick wall shells of buildings gave way to skeletal steel bars, concrete rebar and construction site scaffolding that climbed through the vertical city.

The distance from the ground grew higher, and when Clover found himself walking along narrow scaffolds between two enormous concrete pylons he had to stop and hold tight, convincing himself by slow sense that the connections still held, it wasn’t swaying under him.

His eyes stung in the cold air, the snow blew against his face but he didn’t want to blink or turn away, and the cold made him feel that he was pushing against the limits of what was allowed. He walked, treading his path carefully, eyes wide open and looking up at the skyline, taking it all in.

Machinery filled the city. Abandoned, but still operational, they spun aimlessly in the wind, turned their gears and pulled their chains.

A street sign read “Urgent information!” in large letters on top, and the rest of the sign was unreadable.

Everything was covered in spikes, and he often had to step around, or carefully jump over a bed of them placed haphazardly in the abandoned industry.

Ad banners, erected before the buildings from which they were to be seen, showed lithe and slender pegasi as the peak of physical beauty and vigor, lest anypony forget.

As he went he experimented with the strange spell he’d discovered, casting it again and again to test its limits and his comfort. It would launch him in any direction he wished with a burst of speed, at will. Even straight up into the air, like a bird.

But it had its limits. Though it would fire with great force, it soon faded, like a feather thrown against the wind. Nor could he cast it in rapid succession: he had leapt as high as he could, cast the spell to dash straight up, and when he tried to cast it again and go higher he instead crashed back down to earth with all the force of gravity.

A taste of freedom that soon turned into a slow and painful negotiation.

He ran through his notes in his mind as he climbed over a stockpile of the strange machines, deep in thought, when he stepped down on a block and suddenly heard a loud grr-CHUNK and felt it moving below him, some mechanism triggered to snap the platform into motion with the force of a catapult.

He panicked, his entire body locking up, and without thought his horn glowed as he cast the spell, and dashed forward and off the block just before it could crush him against the ceiling like a fly.

He fell forward and tumbled over the snow into a corner, his heart racing. Behind him the machine automatically reset, the block pulled back into its starting position on a chain, ticking as the gears turned.

In front of him he saw a particularly tremendous ad banner that filled the whole side of the building in front of him. It showed a stallion in an expensive suit with a muzzle like a steam locomotive, prominently wearing a luxury anklewatch. Huge letters read:



Clover stared across the gap between him and the opposite rooftop, at what lay on the other side.

The roof was a sheet of steel, and snowdrifts had piled up on it, driven by the soft but constant wind. But somehow in spite of that there peeked through the white sheet a sudden burst of color that had drawn his eye. He stared at it, hanging just out of sight, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. They were not.

A strawberry bush clung to life amid the frost, and a lone berry hung from its stem. The fruit was plump and red and impossible, bouncing gently back and forth with each gust of wind.

Clover reached out his hoof to try to grab it, leaning on the fence of the scaffold. He fell back when he heard the structure creak under him, and carefully tried again, stretching a hindleg backwards to try to maintain his center of balance.

Don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down

It was no use. The berry hung just out of reach.

The gap between the two buildings was not wide. If he was on a grassy field he would skip the distance effortlessly.

But it was deep. Darkness shrouded the bottom, and his only clue to its depth was the distance of the ghostly howls the wind blew through the skeletal structure.

Clover’s legs went numb.

Don’t be ridiculous. Just jump over there and get it.

He stepped back, giving himself room to build up speed. He bent and stretched his legs, shifted his weight side to side, backwards and forwards. He focused on the spot where he would jump, and on the spot across the gap where he would land. He breathed in and out several times, deeply, closed his eyes, nodded, and opened them.

He ran, and he leapt.

He flew over the gap easily and made landfall on the far side, his hooves striking sharply against the stone surface.

For a moment his heart was light and full of joy. Then something broke under him and he was falling, his eyes fixed on the strawberry pulling away as he plunged into darkness.

He cast the spell in a panic, dashing straight up. It broke his fall for a brief moment before it started again, still as far away from solid ground as before, his legs flailing desperately for something to grab on to and finding nothing.

His heart felt like it would explode as the metal closed in around him, the open sky above shrinking to a jagged eye surrounded by skeletal unfinished things.

Burning pain consumed him as he struck the bed of spikes at the bottom of the pit, impaling him, tearing him apart, shattering his bones and leaving him forgotten and alone at the end of his life.

The last thing he knew before he died was the sound of wings as time slowed to a crawl, and a magic spell again was placed inside his barely-lucid mind, completed and whole, to be cast.

Time reversed itself in a dizzying whirlwind of terror and sensory information, and Clover screamed. He gasped for breath, drawing the freezing cold air deep into his lungs as every limb shot and shook and gripped for something solid to cling to.

It was only after the initial moments of mindless panic that he could understand he was standing back on top of the scaffolding, right where he’d been seconds before, as though his daring leap and subsequent death was a terrible dream, or hallucination, brought on by his own mind eager to show him all the ways he could suffer.

The strawberry still hung from its stem across the gap in front of him, daring him to reach for it.

To his right the path up towards the heights of the city continued.

Behind him the road back down to the forest lay wide open. As though it were saying, You can always turn back.

Clover thought again of the foal’s playground castle of his dreams. He remembered looking at those climbing poles from below and thinking how fun and cool it would be to reach the top – and then, when he’d climbed only the bottom few rungs on the rope, looking down and suddenly thinking how much further down it seemed from above than it had from below.

He remembered clinging to the rope, unable to bring himself to move, his legs refusing to obey his mind, staring down and burning while around and above him all the other foals laughed at his weakness. He remembered slinking away in shame, tears flowing, terrified to ever go back to the playground as they all sang his name in mockery.

As though the mountain wanted him to give up, and slink away, defeated.

He saw more strawberries as he went through the city, equally as inexplicable. They seemed to grow everywhere, yet – whether because the easy ones had all been picked or because the city was taunting him personally – all of them were far away, across chasms and atop high walls and behind barriers covered with spikes, siren fruits looking to tempt him to risk death.

He had dared to try for the nearest ones he saw, carefully and slowly jumping across rows of spikes onto safe ground to get to them, feeling a momentary burst of joy with each one he caught before hurrying back to the main path.

He looked longingly towards the more distant ones, cursing himself every time for not being brave enough.

Inside a narrow structure was a spiral staircase, or what was left of one. Clover went as high up it as he could, jumping and dashing and climbing up the fallen stretches, turning round and round.

Maybe that was why when he emerged and kept going he found that he had made a wrong turn somewhere, and found himself at the outer edge of the city, facing away from the mountain.

All the sounds of unbuilt city faded away behind him, only the soft wind remained. A little flock of brightly colored birds perched on a nest nearby, the only living things he’d seen in the city, sometimes taking off to fly in formation before landing again. He stood on the edge of a hollow skyscraper and saw the vast murky sky, and the abyss beneath him.

It was a peaceful place, and beautiful. There was only the wind, and the dance of snow, in an empty world.

His hooves were at the edge of the abyss. A single step forward and he would be in the wide open.

He stood there for a moment, listening to the silence for guidance.

Suddenly his ears perked up.

Somewhere in the stillness nearby he heard a rhythmic beeping and buzzing, like some strange signal being sent out from nearby to anypony who heard it. Looking away from the abyss, he carefully stepped along the outer edge of the city to peek around the next corner.

A series of little brick blocks, reached straight out in front of him like islands in the ocean of sky, linked and supported by half-seen and untrusted structures. And at the end a machine of unknowable purpose repeated its message into the void.

As his eyes ran over it a flicker of light struck a shattered window pane and Clover thought he saw the shape of a heart in the crystal.

The machine fell silent, and all was still. Clover watched, waiting to see if there would be anything more. There wasn’t.

He took a step back.

Hey. Do you remember when

“NO,” Clover snapped, turning his head suddenly, as if yelling at somepony behind him. “No. No. STOP. Not doing it. Not. Horse apples. Ponyfeathers. Hide-bucking snapjackets! Cankers! Drink capstones, you take – lank – DOCKNUGGETS!

He stomped his right forehoof down so hard his whole leg hurt. Somewhere nearby he heard birds flap their wings and take off in flight. He stood still and stared at nothing, teeth clenched together, breathing rapidly, until he calmed down enough to turn around and shake his head.

Slowly, regretfully, he turned away, back into the city.

Retracing his steps Clover found where he’d taken a wrong turn and went the other direction, climbing further, with the slopes of the mountain rising up through the gaps between structures.

He clambered his way up a snowy fence and onto a container whose gate was jammed open, when something caught his eye. Up ahead he saw the flicker of firelight shining on the sides of a building and the metal surfaces of the city.

What is that?

He approached cautiously, staying in the shadows until he was close enough to peer around a corner.

On a rooftop with tall fences to shelter from the wind there was a campfire burning bright, and a lone pony sitting beside it.

She was a pegasus pony, with pink fur and a purple mane, and downy wings. She was wrapped up in a thick jacket and large fuzzy earmuffs, and a vest covered in pockets, all meticulously designed and carefully fit to style, far from Clover’s simple cloak. Behind her was her tent, and she sat tapping her hooves on a small tablet of metal and glass.

She was also talking to herself.

“Hi Pippsqueaks! I’m up here on the side of Mount Celestia and I’m—no no, that’s terrible, let me try that again…”

Clover stayed there, unsure what to do, suddenly feeling keenly aware of himself.

The pegasus was clearly a lone mare, dressed in fine warm clothes and no doubt with a pack full of supplies. Standing there in the shadows behind the corner with his hooded cloak, Clover must have seemed like a lurking assailant waiting for a chance to attack.

If she was afraid she hid it well. As soon as she caught sight of his movement she looked up at him, seeming slightly unsure at first but then quickly erupting into a warm smile. “Is somepony there? Oh my hoofness! Come on out and say hi! Sit by the fire.”

Clover glanced backwards, as though thinking about leaving, or perhaps wondering if the mare was talking to somepony else coming up behind him. After a moment’s hesitation he stepped into view fully. The mare reached out a hoof. “I’m Pipp. Pipp Petals. What’s your name?”

Clover looked at the mare and her hoof awkwardly, wondering what to do, as the moment dragged out until it was too late to say anything. The hoof was withdrawn.

“Quiet type, huh? That’s fine. My sister tells me I can fill the time just fine on my own.”

Clover cleared his throat. “Sorry. I just… have a lot on my mind. Um. It’s Clover. My name is Clover. Clover the Clever.”

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Clover,” the mare said warmly, still tapping at her small machine. “I wasn’t expecting to see another pony all the way up here. This is quite a place for a hike, huh?”

Clover nodded, unsure. “It certainly isn’t easy. This place is…”

He thought back to the strawberries, and the old stallion he had met on the road, and the black bird, and the void. He wondered what were the words.

“Strange,” he finally finished, ignoring the look she was giving him. “I didn’t think there were any other ponies here either… That’s… kind of why I came.”

“Want to get away from things? Yeah, I can see that. This place is pretty cool, huh?” She barely looked up from her strange glowing device, tapping it deftly with her hoof.

“It is very cold,” Clover agreed, pulling his cloak tighter and stepping closer to the warmth of the fire. He looked up at the skyline all around them. “And strange… It’s like, something out of a dream. Or from another time.”

“I know right? It’s ancient.” Pipp smiled, and looked out into the snowfall, white and glittering in the firelight. “I was searching for something – different, something special, and beautiful. Something nopony had ever seen before, full of… mystery, and melancholy potential. It’s perfect.”

Clover couldn’t help but nod in agreement. “I don’t think I knew this place even existed,” he muttered.

“Yeah.” She turned and looked into his eyes. “So, what brings you all the way out here?”

His mind screamed.

What could he tell her? Did she understand what she was asking? How could she? How could he explain that the aggregate entirety of his life experience had led him to try to climb the mountain? When every one part of it made no sense without the context of every other part, when his every decision by itself seemed like madness, and the full body of meaning was a sun burning inside his stomach, impossible to take hold of, too big to fit through his throat, too hot to share?

What could he say to try to make somepony understand when he barely understood it himself?

“I just wanted to.”


“Yes.” Clover looked around for something to say. “And you? Have you traveled far?”

Very far,” Pipp said with a knowing chuckle. “I’m from distant, sunny, pegasus-filled Zephyr Heights, the city for which this city is a prophetic memento mori. And you? You must be from Bridlewood?”

His thoughts felt like molasses. He stared at her blankly. “Must I?”

She had already moved on. “I love your cloak! It’s i-cooon-ic!” She said in a sing-song voice that was unlike any sound Clover had heard from a pony’s mouth, and made him feel like he was being made fun of.Is that the fashion there? It makes sense, for the woods. But aren’t you cold wearing just that?”

Clover pulled his cloak tight protectively. “It’s just my cloak.” He stood tense for a moment in silence before he relaxed again. “But the fire is nice. You made it?”

“There’s an app for that!” Pipp said proudly and shot out her phone so fast that Clover flinched. He looked at the glowing surface. “Oh. Tinder?”

Pipp yanked the phone back.

Clover blinked in hopeless confusion.

Participate, you damn fool.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Is that some kind of… magic tablet?”

“Oh, wow, you really are straight out of Bridlewood aren’t you? You haven’t seen a smartphone yet?”

His cheeks burned. He shook his head.

“Well, it’s the reason why I’m here. It’s my work, my hobby, my life, my calling. On that content grind. Gotta find something great to deliver for my audience.” She laughed, smiling wide. “I’m always searching for the most epic sights, snapping the best pics, to share with my followers. I was running out of steam back in Maretime Bay. But this! This city is something else. I’m gonna get so much good content here.”

Clover listened, though he had to fight every word. “You’re a… a travelogue writer?”

Travelogue? Clover, everypony uses Feedbag now.”

“What?” Clover mouthed the word, then shook his head. “Never mind. But you said – do you know anything about this city? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh sure,” Pipp said casually, not looking up from her phone. “The Pegasus ponies built it, with tons of support from the royal family. It was supposed to be this – city of dreams! Where anything is possible! A city that never sleeps, full of style and glitz and glam! The ideal city, for the ideal pony.”

Clover listened intently as she spoke, silently taking in the jagged, hollow spires and towers all around them. “They poured bits into it,” Pipp continued. “It was the biggest construction project for many decades, and it went on for years. And then nopony wanted to live here. It stood empty, and construction kept going – until they pulled out overnight. The final order is still classified. But they went so fast they left all their equipment behind, a ghost city from a future that never was.”

“Equipment?” Clover’s ears perked up. “Was that those – I saw… pointless machines, still functional.”

Pipp nodded, not looking up while Clover ran his eyes over the structures all around them, searching. “Pegasus construction. They’re for transporting materials and equipment vertically. Rather than have ponies land and rise all the time it’s easier to just launch it and catch it mid-air. They’re also for launching ponies. Taking off from a stand-still is hard, traffic moves much faster if you get a little boost to start with.”

“That’s… I see.” Clover took a step away from the fire. “Thank you. I have to get going.”

“Oh. Are you going back down?” Pipp asked.

Clover shook his head. “No. I’m going to the top.”

“Oooh. Ambitious! Good luck. I hear there are even older structures if you go higher up. I want to get some pics, but I’m not sure how far I’ll make it. It looks like it only gets harder from here though, so I might turn around soon.”

“Oh? Can’t you just fly up to the summit?”

Pipp looked at him strangely. “You haven’t met many pegasi, have you?”

Clover crossed a leg defensively.

“Listen. You can’t just fly up a tall mountain. The higher you go, the stronger the wind gets. The sky gets angry where the earth challenges it, and they fight. Even for Pegasi mountain-climbing is its own skill, and I’m not Rainbow Dash. If you’re going up there, take care of yourself, okay?”

Clover nodded. “I… thank you. I will. Good luck with your, um, picks.”

“Thanks. Good luck on the climb!”

Clover turned around and continued on his way, his mind a jumble for a full minute before he could think anything.

That was odd.

She seemed friendly, though.

I wonder if I’ll see her again.

…After that conversation? Don’t be ridiculous, you made a complete fool of yourself.

Like that ridiculous thing you did. What were you thinking?

…I don’t even know what it was I did. She showed me the thing, I just looked at it.

Well you should have known. Whatever you did it obviously made her uncomfortable. She was only pretending to tolerate you after, to be polite. She probably hates you now.

Honestly, what were you thinking. A mare like her, rich and stylish, talking to you? She must be laughing at you right now.

Clover stopped and stared at a plain concrete wall. A few snowflakes blew past it.

…I can’t ever speak to her again.

He kept climbing, the site of the fire falling further behind him. The freezing cold air bit his face. He kept himself looking forward and upward, clenching his eyes and shaking his head when he felt like looking back. And at last he found himself at the end of the path.

Ahead of him he saw the final, tallest building of the half-city, that anchored itself to the mountain at its top.

Between him and it was a great open stretch, far too wide to jump. Halfway between stood an angled crane holding a lone girder that swayed in the wind. It was enormous, and much of it was covered in spikes.

It was, he estimated, exactly close enough for him to reach. If he jumped, with all his strength, into the void, and if he timed his dash exactly right.

He stood staring at it in dead silence for several minutes that felt like an eternity.

Don’t be a fool.

You can’t do this.

You can’t do ANYTHING.

Clover felt the bile rising in his stomach, his face burning.

Then he jumped.

The huge girder swayed, an enormous motion like the slow turning of a planet, his eyes locked on it. It was not slow, but impossibly fast, the empty void rising swiftly to seize him.

He cast the spell, dashing forward past the empty black, and slammed down onto the girder. He clung to it with all four legs, shaking like a leaf, the freezing cold metal draining his heat. It rumbled beneath him, but did not alter its course.

Hold on hold on hold on hold on

You did it. It’s okay. It’s not gonna fall.

You’re okay.

I’m okay.

Slowly, deliberately, trying not to think too much about its motion, Clover crawled forward to the center of the girder and stood up.

The wind ruffled his cloak but did not push against him. The metal was not slippery as ice. And the motion of the girder was slow, dependable. And the gap in front of him was not greater than the gap behind him.

“I did it once,” he said under his breath. “I can do it again.”

He did not wait as long this time to make the jump. The dash obeyed him, and he touched down on the far side.

He blinked, and slowly his mouth widened to a grin. “I – I did it. I did it!” He tapped the concrete platform beneath him, which turned into a clatter as he lightly jumped on all four hooves, and laughed in triumph. “I did it!”

He turned his eyes upwards, following the tower’s height to the rocky outcropping of the mountain at the top. “Now I can just—” He walked through the open doorway and fell silent.

The interior of the skyscraper did not hold a staircase leading up, as he’d hoped. Not even a broken one with holes along the way.

What he found instead was that the whole building was an empty shell, outer walls with windows around a sheer open shaft that stretched from the earth to the roof, with nothing inside except for the abandoned construction machines affixed to the inside.

His guts knotted up inside him, and he felt sick.

There’s no getting across that. Not with the dash spell either.


There was a launcher overheard, not far from where he stood. Clover looked at it intently, eyeing its path along the rail. Slowly, he raised a hoof and touched it.

The machine reacted instantly, smashing forward with the force of a catapult and a loud mechanical KRR-SHUNK, before the chains and gears began to tick backwards, returning it to its starting position with a sharp click.

What was it she said?

“The machines are for transporting equipment,” Clover muttered, “and ponies.”

He followed its path with his eyes. Across the void was another launcher, and from where he stood Clover could clearly see the rail along which it moved, that it pointed straight up.

And if you die, you’ll know.

Clover looked up at the launcher above him, and felt the anger welling up inside him.

I’m not turning back.

He cast the dash spell, and slammed his hooves against the launcher. It came to life, roaring like a dragon, and flung him across the great chasm like a pebble thrown into the sea.

Oh no oh no oh no no no no NO

Clover’s legs flailed as he stared down into the black void, the wind overwhelming his ears, spinning and twisting, touching nothing, with only the fall.

He crashed into the other side, where the second launcher reacted as quickly as the first and shoved him upwards, the gravity and the motion zapping his mind and body and seeming to slow everything. He looked in front of him, which was up, and saw the narrowest, flimsiest of cross-boards and the bare remnant of a ladder through the roof.

As he hit the apex of his orbit, for an instant he hung motionless in the air before the plummet. He reached out his legs desperately for the ladder, and the dash spell showed mercy on him and obeyed, bringing him to it.

He held on to it for dear life. Shaking, he raised a hoof to the next rung and bent his ankle around it. His hindlegs trembled as he forced them to straighten, to push himself up each step, until he clambered up onto the roof.

He took a few steps there, feeling the solid ground under his hooves. Slowly his heartbeat returned to normal. The wind rustled his hair, and he could look back and see out across the entire city, though where he started he had no idea. Below the spires he saw only darkness now.

There was a huge stone marker there, erected there at the highest point of the city, like a gravestone. On it was written:


This memorial dedicated to those who perished on the climb

The top of the marker was carved with an alicorn horn and wings, like Celestia herself was carrying them.

Clover looked at it quietly, then turned away. He staggered off to the side, finding shelter from the wind in a corner, and soon set up a fire. He sat down in the glow and warmth, and pulled his cloak tight around him as he felt the last of his energy leave him.

“I can’t believe I did this,” he muttered, and yawned. “What was I thinking?”

He closed his eyes, and the last thing he heard before sleep took him was the fluttering of wings, and a black bird roosting overhead.

Author's Note:

This is a story about facing your fears.