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

Summit - Daedalus Aegle

A story about climbing a mountain

  • ...

My heart is a fortress

Clover climbed the concrete walls and felt the snow blow against his face, as he looked up at the skyline of the city at the foot of the mountain.

Of course he knew where he was, and where he was going. The winding, rising climb between the skyscrapers that was his approach to the mountain. He looked at the construction machinery that littered the unfinished city, forgotten but still working, waiting for him.

He passed the sign marked “Urgent information!”, and stopped to read it:

“Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological disorder that develops in response to prolonged or repetitive trauma that the afflicted feels that they cannot escape.

Symptoms of CPTSD include lack of trust, isolation, difficulty understanding others’ emotional states, problems with impulse control, depersonalization, difficulty identifying and expressing emotions and internal states, and difficulties communicating needs, wants, and wishes.”

In my dreams I am vulnerable.

Clover woke up.

He didn’t know the time, but it was still night, and an aurora stretched out across the sky, filling it with shimmering curtains of color. Not only that but the sky seemed alive with a multitude of stars. In the thin and freezing mountain air they shone like he’d never seen before, bright and sharp and dazzling, and they raced across the sky like falling jewels.

He looked up at the memorial stone where he’d laid down to rest. The writing danced in the dim and shifting light, which stretched out behind the sculpted horn and wings like Celestia herself had descended into the stone meant to symbolize her. Perhaps to observe him.

He did not know how long he had been sleeping, how much of the night was left. But he did not feel cold, and he did not feel tired.

He turned away from the marker and looked up towards the mountain peak.

Standing between him and it was an old town of the far-flung outskirts. It was a ruined structure, built above the pegasus city and far older than it. The cold air was crystal clear, and even in the middle of the night, between the starlight and the snow-covered ground the walls cast long shadows.

While the city below was half-built, frozen in the moment of reaching upwards, waiting for ponies who would never come and a future that would never be, this town looked the other way. Ponies had been here, once, and had long ago abandoned it. Now, though built to stand against the harsh winds and heavy snows of the mountain, it slowly crumbled under the weight of being forgotten.

He knew towns like this, Clover told himself. His childhood was spent in them. The materials, the construction, simple brick and wood walls, though the wood had long crumbled. An old town hall with a clock tower still reaching high above, and stone roads running between. Homes with good basements, tight-built side to side when outside was too forbidding.

The rocks and sparse grass. The thick sheet of ice on top of the rocks and grass. The icicles that hung from every ledge. The shuff-shuff of snow packing together under his hooves with each step as his legs sank into them, leaving a rough trench in his path.

It was even beautiful in its own way, in the cold and stillness. Left to sleep undisturbed, on its slow journey to nothingness.

But one thing did promise to preserve the town, in its fashion. Thick walls of ice clear as glass enveloped entire houses, children of the glacier pushing down from the impassable dark side of the mountain, returning from exile to reassert an old claim.

The ice melded with the boulders and the broken walls in the shadows, and Clover couldn’t see what roads were open and which were blocked.

Something started tickling in his mind as he went. He’d been dreaming as he slept, and the memories played in his vision.

He’d been a foal again, and starting at the Mare St.Royce School for Foals. It was the third year, and it was his first day. He’d had to move across Unicornia, far away from Coldscar Valley, far from the old home, and for all that they spoke the same language he could not understand a word the other foals said.

The memory played out before his eyes as he looked around: a tiny version of himself in an ill-fitting saddlebag, small and frail and timid, with a manecut he didn’t choose, not knowing where to go, where to speak, where to look. Some other foals came to him.

Drafna hva dimsi?”

Young Clover stared at the filly in alarm.

Dimsi hva salda? Dafa! Dafa valdi dan!”

The foals ran away screaming and laughing, and they never spoke to him again. But the first impression had been set.

Focus, Clover.

Clover drew a breath and forced himself to be calm. He looked upwards, far away to the distant peak of the mountain, reminding himself of his goal.

“You can do this,” he whispered to himself, “Everything else is a distraction.”

He ignored the foals in the snow at the edge of his vision and kept going.

The old town hall stood before him. He clambered through the opening left behind by a fallen section of wall, and dropped into its dark interior.

Inside was a large, empty hall strewn with piles of debris from ancient furniture and fallen brickwork. A few rusty chains ran down from the ceiling. Some of them held old lanterns, but many had been torn off and simply hung in the air. The walls creaked, and a low howl from the wind echoed back and forth across the open space.

Clover felt out of place in the ruin. He stepped around the crumbling piles, searching for a way through to the far side. He walked cautiously, and kept his breathing low and quiet lest his intrusion brought down more of the structure on top of his head.

The front doors had burst inwards. That whole side of the building seemed encased in ice, and impassable. The wooden stairs to the upper floors had long since crumbled and fallen away leaving only holes in the ceiling to mark their passing, too high above Clover for his dash spell to reach on its own.

Something in a corner caught his eye, and he went over to look at it.

There was a hatch on the floor, half-obscured in the dirt, and Clover pulled it open. He looked down into the enormous underground chamber, and dropped down into the darkness.

Clover knew towns like this. He knew buildings like this. They had blind spots. Tunnels for shipping goods that nopony wanted seen, built to be connected and concealed, dug in and dug out.

Dark brick walls slowly crumbled, revealing frozen earth and roots in the gaps. As above, the old wooden stairs leading down had long since rotted to dust, and looking down he saw only darkness that gave no indication how far down the floor was.

He saw a door down a section of the old stair leading to a side room, and jumped to it. Inside was a smaller chamber that led down alongside the main chamber, filled with large blocks of ice that formed a roundabout stair. He cautiously jumped from block to block, until he reached the cold soil and stone at the bottom.

Another door led back to the main basement chamber. A cluster of foals huddled together at the basement wall.

St. Royce’s school for foals had blind spots. There were walls without windows, and that’s where they went. There were places that weren’t watched, and rules that weren’t written, and snitches got stitches.

Silence suited him fine.

There was a colt who declared they were friends, and wouldn’t leave him alone. The colt was loud and brash and drowned out Clover’s quiet thoughts and it irked him. And Clover, who was accustomed to sitting alone for long times, was angered and rude.

Clover winced, and forced himself to look away, feeling like his own subconscious was betraying him.

Was it not obvious that he was preoccupied with other things? That their voices were like a hail storm on his mind, pushing their way in when he already had too much to think about?

Didn’t it make sense that he would lash out at them for not reading his thoughts?

The basement was a good place to hide when the shouting starts. Or when the shouting ends.

His eye twitched, his ears laid back flat. and he stopped to rub his brow. Suddenly there was a tension in the muscles of his spine, that hunched him over and stretched him out, that made him kick and jerk to work it out.

He made his way down into the darkness, avoiding the ice.

In one wall of the basement he found what he was looking for: once hidden behind a false wall panel, long since broken, was a narrow tunnel to an underground passage. Clover bent down and crept inside.

The tunnel had stayed open, mostly. But the ground had shifted slowly under the grinding weight of the ice and, left untended for so many years, the tunnel had bent and warped far below it.

He had to get down on his barrel and crawl. The tight passage corkscrewed around him, and it was hard to tell if he was going up or down as he twisted himself to fit through. Until in the end it opened into a larger chamber filled with ice.

He did not know where he was, but he figured in a basement under some other house somewhere in town, nearer to the surface where the ice had crept down. There was a door on the far side. But the ceiling was covered in more of the treacherous-looking icicles, and the floor was strewn with spikes, real ones, to deter unknowing intruders in the dark.

There was another memory, from years later in another school. He had grown bigger, and his mouth fit differently on his face.

A filly said something kind to him. But after hearing kind words used to mock so many times he stopped distinguishing between them, and every kindness felt like an attack.

He reacted accordingly, and the filly never said a kind thing to him again.


Clover saw his young self standing in a circle of other foals. His face was locked in sneering, snarling rage, eyes afire, head low in a ramming posture as he turned this way and that, shouting angry, hurtful things. He felt on fire, and the fire made him strong, pain washed away in invincible burning heat.

When it burned away it would leave him feeling weaker than ever.


There was a happy moment of playing games, kicking a ball, surrounded by other ponies he didn’t want to think about. He was smiling, and they were smiling, and no-one was hurt, and it burned as much as anything.

“I said ENOUGH!” The echo ran back and forth across the hall.

Are you the same pony now that you were back then? Is there some true you that you were supposed to be, if you can only find them? Was it who you were before all the things that made you change? Do you think that if you rip away the armor and the thorns then what’s left will be the real you?

Can you go back to that pony?

“Khamberflanks,” he muttered to himself as he paced back and forth, like the incantation of some private spell. “Proskasimp. Morkempsi.”

He shook under his cloak under the shaking passed.

“...I can do this.”

There was a gap in the treacherous ice, a long straight gap between the sharp points that looked ready to impale him and leave him freezing to death and bleeding out if he so much as touched them.

“Dash straight forward,” he mumbled to himself. “Don’t look back. Just straight forward.”

He held his breath and focused every piece of his will into carrying out the command without deviation.

And when it was done he pushed forward, breathing a sigh of relief as he left the passage behind and kept going.

Past a narrow doorway whose door had long since disappeared he dropped down into the heart of the town’s secret, the nexus that bound every tunnel and house together.

It was empty. If anything had been left here when the town was abandoned it had long since been picked clean, and every other exit had been filled in, and blocked off.

All that was left, standing alone against a far wall, was a large mirror.

Clover’s eyes settled on it, and he didn’t look away as he walked down towards it.

Inside it he saw himself walking through the dark basement. He was searching for a way through, and out, checking every corner. He poked at the walls, and peered up under the ceiling. He saw himself searching every spot. But as he searched he saw a dark shadow moving behind himself, and as he turned back to see he


The mirror shattered clear across.

Inside the mirror Clover stared, and saw the cracks extend across the wall and through the air. It left a criss-crossing spiderweb of shards that each showed its own reflection all around him, each one slightly different.

The cracking done, he looked around. He thought back to the mad old stallion he’d met on the road.

“The mountain will show you things,” he muttered.

He pressed a hoof against the sharp edge of the crack, and leaned his weight on it. Finding it steady, he climbed onto it and walked along the line.

You’ve done this before. You know how it works.

He nodded.

The crack ran through the wall, ran through the building, ran through the sky.

Clover walked along it, one step at a time. All around him he saw the places he had been, distorted and twisted in the reflection. Like a broken mirror, every side of every crack was the same image at different angles, spread out all around him. He carefully balanced along the narrow line to avoid falling back into any of them.

The line of the crack stretched out to the edge of the universe, and if he looked closely along it he could see the stars shooting and the aurora.

He followed it back through the smuggling tunnels, seeing now the remains of ponies who had succumbed to the ice and the traps, the interlopers who did not know the way. He followed it up to the town hall, where the hanging chains now held pony-sized cages, gibbets that had held the ponies of whichever side without judgment, those who’d smuggled and been caught or those who’d judged the smugglers and been judged themselves in turn.

He followed it through to the glacier that enveloped the town.

Of course a crack will get me through the ice, he thought.

It ran through the frozen earth into the tall empty chamber of the town hall, and standing on it he looked up to the clock tower, balancing on a glass shard’s blade where the stairs had rotted to dust beneath the open ceiling shaft. From there he could just barely jump up to the next floor, and continue climbing.

He dashed, and climbed, going up the stairs and jumping from platform to platform, where chains and lanterns hung down alongside gibbets.

He jumped to the wall, clung to it; he climbed up along the uneven ledges as he felt his legs protest, until he was high enough. Then he kicked off in a jump, and when he was just below the opening he dashed up, grabbed onto the ledge, and rolled up and over to the floor above.

“Clover darling, slow down,” said a deep, smooth voice that sent a deep chill down Clover’s spine.

Clover shot up on his hooves and looked around, ears alert. “Who’s there?”

Sitting by the wall, opposite the remains of a long-dead pony, there was a unicorn made of shadows, with charcoal fur and a mane that flickered like waves at midnight on a black sea. His horn was red like a glowing ember deep in the fire, and he looked at Clover with eyes red like blood in candlelight.

“You know me,” the shadowed king said. “I’m your oldest friend.”

Clover felt his legs tense up, heavy like iron. “I saw you in the mirror.”

“Of course you did – I’m part of you,” Sombra said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I’m all the things you wish you were. Handsome. Strong. Fearless. The part that sees things clearly.” He stretched out his legs luxuriously and flexed his shoulders. “And I can’t tell you what a relief it is, to finally get out of your head! To talk to you, like a proper pony!”

He took a step forward, and Clover took a step back. “You made me hurt ponies.”

“I taught you how to stand up for yourself,” Sombra said. “I showed you who your enemies were, and how to fight back. I have helped you every step of the way. I’m helping you now. Tell me, my dear friend… What on Equis do you think you’re doing here? Here, of all places?”

Clover took another step back, raising a foreleg defensively. “I need to climb the mountain,” he said. “I know it doesn’t make any sense. But… I have to.”

“Clover… Darling. My friend and colleague. Don’t you think you’re taking this a little far?” Sombra gave him a look he had seen too many times, from too many ponies. “You can’t do anything else, so you decided to do something that nopony can do at all? You’re setting yourself up for failure. Again.”

Clover felt the bile stirring deep in his stomach, and his mouth bent like a goblin. “I can do this. I’m going to reach the top.”

“Some ponies just won’t listen to reason,” Sombra said, shaking his head.

The shadow rose, hovering in the air, and all around him everything began to crumble into black nothing, like he was a moving hole in the world emptying into the void. He reached out a hoof.

“Come along. Let’s go home.”

Clover ran, and his shadow followed him closely.

Clover ran as fast as he’d ever run in his life, and heard Sombra’s laugh from right behind him. “Really, Clover?”

He jumped across the spikes, dashed up to the wall, kicked off it to the higher floor, and dashed again to the next level.

“Come on, Clover. You can’t do this. Trust me, I know you better than you know yourself.”

“You don’t know me at all.”

“Don’t I? You’re scared of heights. You’re scared of being trapped. You’re scared of being alone and you’re scared of other ponies. All your life you’ve wanted to escape. But you can’t escape yourself, and that scares you most of all.”

The walls of the clock tower were bare, the floors and stairs rotted and fallen. A gibbet hung from a chain, and Clover dashed onto it, and climbed.

Sombra was right behind him, unperturbed.

“You limp away from every failure and think maybe next time will be different. But it never is. It’s just another failure on the pile, leaving you more and more convinced you’ll never accomplish anything. Left behind, while everypony else lives full lives.”

Clover felt like he was on fire. A deep, roaring heat was licking at his hooves, and at the edges of his visions he thought he saw black flames rising from below, consuming the tower. He jumped from wall to wall, and his breath caught in his throat when he felt his hooves slip, barely managing to catch himself and jump again. His muscles screamed in pain.

“Everything you’ve ever done was a desperate, ill-thought out delusion that you could break free. But you never could. Do you really think you’re going to reach the peak? Or will this be just another failure, to disappoint everypony who ever knew you?

The clock tower pinnacle was above him. He was nearly at the top, and placed a hoof on a ladder rung when a gust of wind blew in his cloak and chilled his ears. He turned and saw a hole in the wall leading outside to open air, above the ice.

He hesitated, and looked back down to see the shadow-fire rising up quickly to meet him, caught between two options.

He let go of the ladder and ran for the hole, and just as the shadow reached down to clutch him he dashed through it, out of the clock tower and into the open air, falling down to the ice below.

He hit the ground hard, and kept running, leaving the town hall far behind.

Sombra looked at him and laughed.

The sound faded into the distance as Clover ran, and then he was gone.

Clover didn’t look back. Slowing down as his adrenaline crashed, and the ache in his hooves made him limp, he pushed forward through the abandoned streets, along its rough and damaged roads half-covered with large blocks of ice.

At the far end of the town he heard a ringing sound, and looked up to see a pay phone ringing ahead under the flickering glow of a street light.

Without thinking, Clover went up to it and picked it up, gingerly holding it to his face. “Hello?”

“Clover?” The tired voice of Princess Platinum said from the other end. “Are you calling from a payphone?”

“I… am I?” Clover looked puzzled, then shook his head. “No, you called me.”

“What are you talking about?”

Clover’s lips moved to speak but he said nothing. He shook his head again “It doesn’t matter. Listen, I need help! Somepony’s chasing me. I don’t know where I am, I think I’m in danger. Please.”

Platinum sighed heavily “Clover, you only call me when you’re panicking in the middle of the night. You don’t have to make up some ridiculous story to get my attention.”

“I’m not lying!” He yelled into the phone.

He could hear her rolling her eyes at him. “It’s fine, sweetheart. Tell me what happened.”

Clover placed an elbow on the pay phone and rubbed his forehead as he spoke. “I’m climbing Mount Celestia,” he began. “I was stuck. But I found this old mirror, and it shattered, and I thought I could get through by climbing up the cracks, but my reflection escaped, and… and…”

He was quiet for achingly long seconds. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I?”

“Of course you’re dreaming,” Platinum said. “Do you really think I would talk to you in real life?”

There was a gust of wind, and Sombra appeared from a dark swirl right in front of him. He gave Clover a look that was disappointed, but not surprised. “I told you this was pointless.”

Clover felt the ground under him shift, and he looked down just in time to see that he stood on the lips of some giant monstrous creature.

The mouth snapped open, and he fell into the blackness as it closed up above him and swallowed him whole.

Clover woke up, throwing himself up on his hooves, feeling like every part of his body and mind was screaming at him and telling him to run.

He turned around and his eyes fell on the memorial stone, the carved implication of Celestia looking down at him.

He was exactly where he had gone to sleep before. The night sky was dark, and the stars were cold, distant, and still. He was covered in sweat, and it froze in the mountain air. His face was filthy and wet, and his nose was stuffy.

He rubbed his cloak over his face.

Without making another sound he picked up his things and began to walk.

There was the town, just as he had dreamed it. But the ice was nowhere to be seen and he walked through the ruined town hall in silence. There was no basement hatch, no holes in the roof. The far wall was broken wide open, and he climbed through it clumsily, weakly.

On the far side he turned back and looked up at the clock tower, far above and out of reach. The opening he had jumped out was there, a black square of shadow high up on the tower, just below the bell. But on the clock face…

There was a light up there, behind the clock, like something glowing was hidden inside. Though he did not understand why, the sight made him feel like he had failed somehow. That he had lost a challenge, proved unworthy of its resurrections.

He kept going through the empty town, until he saw the pay phone.

He watched it from a distance, staying outside the circle of the light as though it were the loop of a snare.

He knew, from his dream, that it was some sort of connection point, tying ponies together. And he guessed, from the recognized word phone, that it was like Pipp’s own device, only bigger and immobile and therefore, he presumed, more powerful.

If it was true that it could tie ponies together, connect their voices across any distance, he wondered who he would reach for. If he knew how to operate the inscrutable device. But he didn’t.

With that feeling in his stomach, he turned from it and kept walking.

His head was a tumble, and he couldn’t put words to what he was thinking. A fire burned in front of him and when he came close he heard a bright voice call out. “Clover! Hey! Come on over—Woah! Are you okay, girl?”

Clover stopped at the edge of the firelight and Pipp ran over to him. “Are you crying?”

Clover blinked, and wiped his eyes with his cloak. “N-no,” he said in a strained voice, and cleared his throat.

“Are you hurt? Oh hoofness, you must be freezing to death… Come on, sit by the fire!” The young mare dragged him along, and he let himself be dragged. “Sorry I passed you, I thought you’d gotten further along.”

“I was by the memorial,” he said. “I need to keep going. I have to…”

The fire burned merrily and bright under the glittering sky, with Pipp’s tent pitched beside it. The warmth of the fire struck him, and reminded him just how cold he was, and he shivered as feeling returned to his legs and face. Pipp had found herself a spot far more sheltered and pleasant than Clover had to set her camp.

“Maybe I will sit a while,” Clover said. “Oh, if that’s all right with you. I mean.”

“Yeah, you’re not going anywhere right now,” Pipp said. “Not until you warm up.”

“I have things to do. I mustn’t get distracted.”

“Of course you are. You’re all alone up here. You know what’ll cheer you up? Getting a thousand likes on Ponygram.”


“Take a selfie with me!”

“A what?”

Without giving Clover a chance to object Pipp sat next to him and hugged him close, foreleg over his shoulder, and took the picture, with a snap and a bright flash.

She held up the phone to show him the results: Pipp beamed for the camera with a giant grin and warm, cheerful eyes. Clover looked equal parts morose, awkward, and terrified, his face too little and too soft, and doubly out of place sitting next to her.

“Now, I know what you’re thinking,” Pipp said, her smile somewhat more strained now. “But trust me, nopony looks good without a filter. Watch!”

She tapped the screen in some unholy secret incantation that Clover would never comprehend, and when she showed him the image again they were both of them covered in rippling rainbows.

“It’s fine. I’m just not… portrait-worthy,” Clover said.

“…Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

He sat back and closed his eyes, and drew deep breaths.

Pipp turned away, then her eyes shot wide as a thought struck her. “Oh my Celestia, I have to show you, look at what I found in town!”

Pipp triumphantly held up a strange mechanical box between her hooves, as though it were some long-lost treasure. Clover had no idea what it was, but it looked made of some unearthly material, and to his eyes it looked impossibly futuristic, like the pay phone.

Written on its side were the words “Pony Walkmare”.

“And it still works!” Pipp said with unbridled delight, eyes glittering and grinning wide. “Here, try it!”

She put the headphones on his head and pressed a button, and his eyes lit up as the music began to play in his ears.

“What is,” he started to mutter, then stopped as he sat listening.

The music brought back all the emotions he’d felt before. They ran through him in waves. But controlled like this, in sound, he felt them differently. Like he could sit there all day, just listening, and not feel tired.

“I know right? So. Cool.” Pipp squeed. “I was trotting through the city when I heard music, and I flew over and found this! It must be ancient!

He nodded, barely hearing her over it. After a minute she pressed the button, and the music cut short with a sharp click.

“You feel better?”

Pipp was watching him intently, concern written on her face that even Clover could recognize.

A look of shock passed over Clover’s face, quickly suppressed as he realized once again that other ponies could both see him and think about what they had seen.

His mouth opened and closed.

Before we talk I need to explain all the reasons you shouldn’t talk to me. So you can make an informed decision. Yes, that’s a great start, that always works so well.

I can’t tell her what I think. She’ll think I’m crazy, or just not understand a word, or get bored. But I have to say something. And I don’t want to lie.

So think of something halfway between dishonesty and madness. Go on, pretend to be a sensible pony. You can do that. You’re good with words, supposedly.

Clover hesitated for another moment. “Do you think ponies can change?”


“Your cutie mark. Finding your mark means finding your true self. And cutie marks don’t change. So… Do you think that’s the end of it? Nothing more?”

Pipp looked surprised for a moment, then sat back. “Huh.”

Clover felt a sting in his chest. Idiot. “I’m sorry, forget I said anything.”

“No, it’s okay.” Pipp sat there thinking for a moment, then tapped her phone a few times. “Let me tell you a secret, Clover: everything is beautiful. You just have to find it first. Here, look at these pics I took in the ruins.”

She flicked through them, and looking at them Clover felt his attention slip. They were beautiful, and even though he had just passed through the old town himself he felt like he was looking at something completely different, precious secret sights that had shown themselves to the mare, and that she was sharing with him.

She could see it on his face, and grinned at him. “Right?” Clover nodded, and sniffed, and rubbed his face with his fetlock.

“It’s okay,” she said when Clover said nothing in response. “My grandpa was an inventor. He loved cameras, he even made some improvements to how they were made back then… of course, nopony makes those anymore. But it makes me feel close to him. Once, when I was just a little filly, I had a… a fight, with somepony, and I ran to my room crying, and he came to cheer me up. I was upset about… never mind, it’s not important. I was jealous of somepony. Somepony better than me. And he told me…” Pipp looked into the flickering firelight, and Clover saw it reflected in her eyes. “He told me, Pipp, it’s not just about you. When your picture is everywhere, even if you’ve never met them, ponies see you as a friend. That’s your power. If you find joy and excitement in your day, you put it into theirs too. It’s a responsibility. Being famous means… being a friend to everypony.”

“I… never thought of that,” Clover admitted. “I don’t think I could be famous.”

“Hey. You’re doing your own thing. You’re going to the top of the mountain, right?”

Clover nodded. “I’m tired of breaking promises.”

“You see? Life goals. It’s admirable.”

Clover wanted to accept the compliment, but felt like it would be a lie to do so. He said nothing, and the two of them fell into silence for a while.

“Thank you for the fire,” he eventually said. “I should keep moving.”

“You sure? You look pretty tired. You don’t wanna get some more sleep?”

“It will pass. I’m going to the top.”

“Wait.” She grabbed the Pony Walkmare and held it out. “Y’know what, why don’t you take this.” She held the device up for him. The gesture shocked him, and it showed. She let out a little “heh.”

“But, you found it,” he mumbled.

“I have my phone. I got my pics. I don’t need it.” She shrugged. “Besides, you looked like you need it more.”

“I… thank you.” He took it, and held it close, like a treasure. “I’ll take good care of it.”

Clover got up and followed the path.

At the edge of the firelight he paused, and turned back, and looked around.

It was only the barest flicker of movement. But up on a broken wall he saw a flap of wings, as the black bird turned and flew away.

Author's Note:

This is a story about running away.

Comments ( 3 )

A scene that was regretfully cut but I think still deserves to be visible:

The front doors had burst inwards. That whole side of the building seemed encased in ice, and impassable. The wooden stairs to the upper floors had long since crumbled and fallen away leaving only holes in the ceiling to mark their passing, too high above Clover for his dash spell to reach on its own.

He cursed in frustration at being stuck. His face felt hot, and he glared up at the ceiling while thinking.

One of the upper floor entrances was in a corner, and he studied it. A few rusty chains ran down from above. Some of them held old lanterns, but many had been torn off and simply hung in the air. There was nothing there he could stand on, but…

If I can get up just a couple pony heights on that wall, he thought, and jump off, and dash at just the right moment, then I might just barely reach the edge of that hole and climb up.

He approached the wall, searching the rough brick facade for purchase, anywhere he could grip the wall of his hoof, and tried to climb.

He made it two steps up before he fell backward on the floor, landing heavily on the frozen ground with a thud.

He got up, and ignored the shaking in his legs to try again. And after four tries he found himself clinging high enough, and pushed his legs with all his might to jump.

At the top of his arc, when his mind was empty of all thought, he dashed straight up and jammed his forelegs over the rough, broken edges of the planks. He kicked his hindlegs on empty air while he scrabbled for purchase, desperately clinging to the unsteady ledge while he tried to pull his weight up and over for balance.

When he got up he fell to the floor and allowed his legs to shake all they wanted.

He stood up and pushed away a pebble that was blocking his sight, and it drifted over to the wall while he looked around the room he now found himself in. It was narrow, and there wasn’t much to see. The threadbare wooden floor allowed little room to move, and if there had been a door in the room the ice had long since claimed that entire wall. But it kept going up, and now that he was out of the spacious ground floor he thought he could get from wall to floor to ceiling crossbeam. He only had to get past the spikes.

Clover took another look, and shook his head as he reoriented himself: these weren’t the spikes he had seen down in the city. Why would there be, here so far removed from the construction site? He saw now that they were only icicles, wicked-looking like long shards of glass, but harmless. They covered the ceiling between him and his next step, and somehow they covered the floor as well, like stalagmites, making him think they were there as weapons.

It made him feel sour when he realized it, like he was the butt of the mountain’s joke. He grunted angrily, and stomped in a circle before jumping head-first into the ice.

It cracked under his hooves with sharp shards that stung the frog of his hooves, and he stumbled and tripped, and the force shook the floor under him, and through the wooden beams up to the ceiling.

A hunk of ice cracked off and crashed into his head before a broken shard stabbed through his side and left him pinned under it, freezing as his blood poured out from his stomach and between his ribs.

He lay there, gasping, unable to breathe, struggling to push his hooves for agonizing long moments before everything faded to black.

Time reversed and Clover screamed as he floundered backwards and pushed up against the wall, with the icicles returned to their undisturbed state before him. He clutched his stomach and patted himself down, his lungs freezing as he dragged the cold air down in huge gulps before he was able to calm down.

He looked through the ice again, and looked back down the hole in the floor he’d come up. He grimaced, every muscle in his body tense, his eyes clenched shut.

“…I have to reach the top,” he told himself under his breath.

If I just jump straight up, and dash straight ahead mid-air, I should get just far enough to land on that open patch over there. And from there, jump over those spikes to that wall… and hold on to it for dear life… and dash from there to the level above…

He gulped, and drew a deep breath, and jumped.

A minute later he was curled up on the floor above, lying on his side and clutching his cloak as he shivered, the events of the last ten seconds and the sheer number of times it had almost killed him running through his mind on a loop.

Eventually he was able to stand up again without feeling that the bottoms of his hooves would make him slide to his doom from sweat. And from that it was just a last dash up to the final platform and he would be at the top of the chamber.

Looking up he saw moonlight cast on the wall, spilling through some window or doorway opposite, not obstructed by ice. It made his heart sing.

He gingerly made the jump, and climbed the ledge.

The window on the far wall was locked and barred with iron bars, and impassable. There was no way out of the building, or to anywhere else.

Hanging from a crack in the ceiling above was a strawberry.

Clover stared at it for a long time, while a number of powerful negative emotions fought their way across his face. He thought about the climb back down.

He grabbed the strawberry and put it in his bag, and began to make his way back to the large hall below.

One does not climb a mountain nopony else has dared for fun, and Clover isn't the sort to do it for fame either. Thank goodness Pipp's there. He needs some kind of grounding presence to counterbalance the darkness in his heart.

Brilliant work, seamlessly blending old memories and unquestioned surreality into something that actually feels like a dream. Looking forward to more.

I kind of love Clover and Pipp together. Those little ponies are trying so hard.

I really wanted to nail the dreamlike atmosphere in this one, I'm glad it worked.

That's also the reason the scene got cut, along with some other platforming sections. The detailed physical description was very hard on the atmosphere. But I wanted to have a death, and a strawberry in there :derpytongue2:

Thanks for reading.

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