• Published 8th Mar 2013
  • 6,737 Views, 705 Comments

I'm Afraid of Changeling (and other short stories) - Cold in Gardez

Short sketches about being human. Except, you know, with ponies.

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Clouds Like Mountains

Alto found Cirrus perched on the edge of a wild cloud drifting in from the Everfree.

Wild clouds were dangerous, their parents said. It was a tired bit of obvious wisdom, in the same vein as Don’t Fly at Night, or Always Preen Your Wings Before Bed. Alto imagined that unicorn and earth pony foals dealt with the same sugary over-caution from their parents – Don’t Fire Lasers From Your Horn Indoors, perhaps, or… Whatever it was earth ponies did. Alto wasn’t really sure on that point.

Her parents were right about wild clouds, though. They were dangerous.

Alto first spotted her brother as a grey dot on the blinding white surface of the cloud, no larger than a speck of dust against its immensity. Wild clouds were larger than their tame counterparts, usually, but this one was enormous. Its flat base began no lower than seven thousand feet, and the highest broccoli-like plumes towered so far above her she couldn’t even fathom where they ended. Twenty-thousand feet or more, and still growing.

She landed beside him, her wings buzzing like a hummingbird’s to keep her aloft. The air was so thin, halfway up the cloud’s escarpment, that her lungs burned and the faint beginnings of a headache lurked behind her eyes. She rested a moment, to catch her breath, then stomped over to him.

“What are you doing up here?” she demanded. “Mom and dad said to stay away from the wild clouds.”

“Yeah? They told you the same thing, didn’t they?”

Alto bristled. “I’m allowed. I’m older, and I’m here to get you.”

He flicked his wing at her, tearing a tuft of the cloud away and spraying her with frigid droplets of water. She spluttered in surprise, and scowled when he laughed.

“Lighten up, Alto. You’re too serious, sometimes.”

“One of us has to be.”

He snorted, letting her know just what he thought of that, and then jumped off the edge. About a thousand feet below he landed on another massive upwelling of cloud.

Alto chased him down, banking nervously around the shifting cloud. It grew even as she watched, bulbous and unruly, like an explosion in slow motion.

She couldn’t even see the ground when she landed. The cloud stretched out before and below her for miles, while behind her it reached up for the heavens with an anvil’s flat head. It rumbled beneath her hooves with the promise of lightning.

“This isn’t safe,” she said, and she winced at how much she sounded like their mother.

“Life isn’t safe,” he shot back. “You want to push around tame little Weather Team clouds all your life? Fine. Be one of those pegasi who never flies higher than the treetops. Just get a home on the ground while you’re at it.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You take that back!”

He smirked. “Why? It’s true.” Without waiting for her reply, he turned to face the cloud. It filled three-quarters of the world, all but a faint sliver of the horizon and the blue sky above them.

“I’m going in,” he said. “All the way to its heart.”

She froze with one hoof held in the air. She’d been about to tackle him and bite his mane and yank it until he apologized, but now she was at a loss. No pegasus – no smart pegasus – would dare to fly into the center of a wild cloud.

“Cirrus…” She licked her lips and started over. “Cirrus, don’t. There could be anything in there. Sleet, thunder. Maybe even hail.”

“Yeah, maybe.” He flapped his wings a few times, settling the feathers.

“Maybe? Doesn't that bother you?”

“Eh.” He stared at the cloud, as though his vision could somehow penetrate its depths. “Yeah, a little. But life is dangerous. Besides, you’ll be with me.”

“What?” She drew back, her wings flaring at the thought. “I will not! One of us has to be sensible, and—hey, come back!”

But he was already gone. A faint swirl of cloudstuff twisted in the air where he had vanished into the monster’s depths. He could be hundreds of feet away, already.

She considered the cloud again. It was miles across, and miles high. The water within must have weighed over a billion pounds. A pegasus could get lost within, and spend hours flying in circles. And all that time, the lightning and hail and cold would compete to kill them.

She scowled again.

And she dove after him.

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