GREEN   400   1
   8264   45.98 KB   647

Bury Me in White (Ongoing)

By pentapony
Created: 2nd September 2021 03:33:36 PM
4th September 2021 01:08:04 PM

  1. >You set your pack down and check your watch.
  2. >It's 4:17. You're far past the point of knowing AM or PM.
  3. >The sun's out, of course, but that's irrelevant.
  4. >Your watch is set to track time back home. That's all you have to go on.
  5. >Home is where it's 4:17.
  6. >And this place — whatever the hell it is — doesn't sync up with home.
  7. >Those tiny gears set into your wristwatch turn to track a 24-hour cycle.
  8. >That cycle's different here. A bit under 23 hours, by your count. And it's getting increasingly off-sync.
  9. >Though that last part's to be expected, you suppose.
  10. >You've been hiking north for, what, five months now?
  11. >It's hard keeping track of the days. You rest when you get tired and move when you're not.
  12. >Sometimes that aligns with the daylight. Sometimes not.
  13. >You can't afford to slow your pace just for the luxury of consistency, though. You need to get home.
  14. >You just want the nightmare to end.
  15. >Slinging your pack over your shoulder, you head out again.
  16. >The hard part's over, at least. Or so you hope.
  17. >You glance back at the expansive mountain range looming behind you. It's just barely beginning to fade into the horizon.
  18. >Things take a long time fade into the horizon here. That's evidence to what you're hoping for.
  19. >Your way home.
  20. >That's if the others are to be trusted. Legends are just that, after all— legends.
  21. >But it was clear from the start that this place is different. You lost any modicum of skepticism the day you landed here.
  22. >With the mountains at your back, all that's ahead of you is... nothing.
  23. >Seriously. Nothing.
  24. >It's a barren tundra. Nothing but the permafrost crunching beneath your feet as far as the eye can see.
  25. >It's unnerving, if you're being honest. The flora's been slowly thinning out the further you get from the mountains.
  26. >And with it, the fauna.
  27. >You've got maybe four days' worth of salted jackrabbit in your pack. And that's if you're being conservative.
  28. >You might consider turning back, but you haven't seen any signs of life in a week.
  29. >The early summer permafrost makes it all but impossible to track game. If only there were snow, you might see something.
  30. >The only hope left is to forge on ahead and hope something changes.
  31. >It's not looking good, though.
  32.  
  33. >It takes three days before the emptiness of the landscape changes.
  34. >And it changes only subtly. Ridges and hills as tall as you are. Small grasses here and there, and even a couple of foraging rodents.
  35. >What's more, though, is you find a small lake. Still frozen over from winter, but just barely.
  36. >The ice cracks without much effort. With a bit of work, you manage to fish out a life-saving meal.
  37. >You don't know what kind. Everything's different here.
  38. >It's a nondescript fish, and it's got meat on its bones. That's all that matters.
  39. >Now you've got a difficult choice to make. Keep trekking and hope the land's bounty holds, or stay a spell to stock up.
  40. >Normally, you'd take the risk. But the last couple hundred miles have been awfully discouraging.
  41. >You'll stay a day. That ought to be enough.
  42. >The rest of daylight is burned while you manage six more catches. As the sun sets, you light a fire and start the process of skinning, deboning, and curing the fish.
  43. >Preserving it makes it taste like crap, but it's the only way it'll last.
  44. >It's just past twilight when you wrap the rations and stow them in your pack.
  45. >Lighting a torch, you put out the fire and rise to your feet.
  46. >All that's left is to find a patch of land that's not too rocky to bed down for the night.
  47. >Extending your torch outward, you navigate up over the ridge, picking out a suitable level patch of dirt in the distance.
  48. >As you descend the ridge though, you catch your foot in a gopher hole and trip. Hard.
  49. >It sends you tumbling down about twenty feet, straight into a crevice at the base of the ridge.
  50. >You try to pick yourself up, but in holding out your hands to break your fall, you pinned your arms beneath your own weight.
  51. >If you could just prop yourself up a bit, you could get them un-pinned...
  52. >You shift your weight and try to push off with your legs when you feel a searing pain.
  53. >You turned your ankle on that hole.
  54. >Again you try to position yourself to get up, but the pain stops you before you get anywhere close.
  55. >You breathe a pained sigh.
  56. >What a stupid way to die. Of all the things that could have snuffed you out in the past three-thousand miles...
  57. >No. What are you saying? You're not dying here, in a shallow grave. Don't be so morose.
  58. >You're caught between a rock and a hard place, but you can breathe fine and you don't feel your circulation getting cut off.
  59. >It's not ideal, but you'll rest till morning. The throbbing will subside enough for you to grit your teeth, push through the pain, and climb out of this godforsaken crack in the earth.
  60. >This is not the end of the road.
  61. >Not yet.
  62. >After calming your nerves, you take a deep breath and try to settle in for the night.
  63. >As if you had any other choice.
  64.  
  65. >You awake suddenly to a soft crunch in the soil beside your face.
  66. >Craning your neck, you try to look upward. All you manage to see is a tuft of beige fetlock out of the corner of your eye.
  67. >Oh no.
  68. >"Omaen-ye!" the voice attached to the hoof exclaims.
  69. >A flurry of gallops descend upon your position. You can make out at least four distinct gaits.
  70. >The figures cast shadows over you as they surround the crevice. They whisper amongst each other in some strange guttural language.
  71. >Suddenly, you feel the edge of a flint press against your shoulder blade. In one fluid motion, they cut the strap, and you feel the weight of your pack lift off your back.
  72. "Get away from me!"
  73. >The hushed conversations cease immediately.
  74. >Growing anxious, you try to reason with your invisible attackers.
  75. "There's nothing in there for you. Put it down and walk away before you do something you'll regret."
  76. >You find some small relief at the sound of your pack being dropped onto the ground, only to promptly lose it upon hearing them open it and rifle through your belongings.
  77. >Meanwhile, you feel the loop of a catch pole drawn over your head and constrict around your neck.
  78. "STOP!"
  79. >That's all you manage to choke out before you're hauled out of the crevice by the pole.
  80. >Thrown onto the ground, you cough and sputter, fighting to stay on your hands and knees.
  81. >The pole is yanked back, forcing you to look up at the creature standing over you.
  82. >It's a pony. That much is obvious. Though she's not like the ponies you've seen.
  83. >Her coat is far more shaggy, decorated with streaks and swirls of light brown against the beige, extending up to her fluffy cheeks.
  84. >She peers down at you sharply with her enormous eyes, face contorted into an intimidating glare.
  85. >Those eyes, such a pale blue they might almost be grey — the color of pond ice and twice as cold.
  86. >And then she speaks.
  87. >"Who are you?"
  88. >You open your mouth to respond, but only a scratchy croak comes out.
  89. >She nods to the figure behind you, and you feel the pole loosen just a smidge.
  90. "I mean you no harm," you reply, inhaling deeply.
  91. >She snarls. "Where are they?"
  92. >You look up at her with genuine ignorance.
  93. "Who?"
  94. >Without warning, she spins around and kicks up rocks, pelting your face with them. You instinctually turn your head and clench your eyes.
  95. >"What did you do to them?!" she charges.
  96. "I don't know what you're talking about!" you yell, not daring to open your eyes.
  97. >She grunts and walks off to confer with the others, while the one behind you keeps a tight hold.
  98. >You reluctantly open your eyes to see a group of five mares circled up a few yards off.
  99. >For the first time, you get a good look at the party. The other ponies look like your interrogator, with similarly-colored manes and coats, absent the distinctive markings that line her body.
  100. >A couple of them are armed with simple spears. The smallest of them is wearing a parka, which suggests they can't be as primitive as you first thought.
  101. >You can't well make out what they're saying, but it sounds like it's in their language, anyway.
  102. >You're just surprised even one of them can speak yours.
  103. >Summoning the courage to speak unprompted, you call out to them.
  104. "Just let me go! We can go our separate ways and pretend this never happened."
  105. >They glance over to you for only a moment before returning to their conversation.
  106. >You groan and wait until the leader leaves the group and returns to you.
  107. >"Your... illivut. Put it behind you."
  108. "What?"
  109. >She growls in frustration and grabs your arm. "Hooves!"
  110. >You tug your arm out of her grasp.
  111. "Easy. Alright."
  112. >Lying on the ground, you place your hands in the small of your back. Immediately, one of them binds your wrists tight with twine.
  113. >You grimace as the bindings dig into your skin.
  114. "What, you don't have anything softer?"
  115. >"Quiet!" she barks. "You are too tall for the pulat. We will walk you in the rope."
  116. "The what?"
  117. >Your question is answered when the catch pole is withdrawn from your neck, allowing you to breath easy once again.
  118. >The pony kicks at your side. "Up."
  119. >You stand and almost immediately stagger, having forgotten your injury in the commotion.
  120. >"What?" she inquires snidely.
  121. "I hurt my ankle. I can't walk."
  122. >She leans down and sniffs your shin, nostrils flaring. You warily pull your leg away from her, causing her to look up with distrust.
  123. >"You walk or we leave you."
  124. >You're about to eagerly accept the latter when you notice one of the party pulling your pack onto her back.
  125. >Either you comply and follow them God knows how far on some death march, or you stay behind, hands tied, with nothing but the clothes on your back, guaranteeing you'll die from exposure.
  126. >You weigh your options for a few seconds before setting off obediently.
  127. >"Ut-talaak!" she shouts to the group, nudging you onward.
  128. >You limp across the rocky terrain, forcing yourself to simply grin and bear it as your captors hike in formation around you.
  129. >The walk lasts several hours to the northeast. On several occasions, you contemplate escape, jumping back and forth between ambushing them and simply making a break for it.
  130. >Both options are equally unlikely to prosper.
  131. >But you have to try something.
  132. >The leader's wearing a wool cummerbund tied around her barrel, with a flint tucked into it.
  133. >If you can get at it, you might be able to turn the tables. Swipe it, lag behind, cut your binds discreetly, and take one of them hostage.
  134. >They look fairly strong, a good twenty percent bulkier than the ponies you remember, but you've got the size advantage.
  135. >With a flint to their friend's throat, they'll back off. You'll get your pack back and get away from them.
  136. >You'll have to be careful they don't come after you, but you stand a damn sight better of a chance than letting them corral you like this.
  137. >Once you get away, you can't imagine they'd take the risk pursuing you, anyway. They happened upon you unarmed and helpless. They won't have the same fortune again.
  138. >You call out to the leader, walking about thirty paces ahead.
  139. "Hey."
  140. >She doesn't respond.
  141. "Hey," you repeat, a little louder this time.
  142. >Finally, she stops and turns around.
  143. "I need water."
  144. >She stares back at you, unimpressed. You can't get a read on her.
  145. >You plead with her in earnest.
  146. "Please."
  147. >Wordlessly, she grabs a sheepskin canteen from her companion's sash and brings it to you. The rest of the party waits around patiently.
  148. >As she approaches, you squat down to meet her eye level. She holds the canteen up in her mouth, with the opening towards you.
  149. >You tilt your head back to drink from it, swallowing down large gulps of the refreshing liquid.
  150. >After a few sips, she pulls it back to signal you to stop, but you lean forward to keep drinking.
  151. >This happens a couple more times until you lean forward a bit too far, toppling forward and bumping into her.
  152. >"Agh!" she exclaims, staggering back.
  153. "I'm sorry!" you say, floundering on your belly with your hands behind your back. "I'm just dehydrated. I need a rest. Please."
  154. >She looks at you with disdain for a moment before uttering something to her party.
  155. >"Three minutes," she warns you.
  156. "Thanks."
  157. >As she goes off to join the others, you scoot forward and sit up, grabbing the flint you knocked out of her sash.
  158. >Trying to stay inconspicuous, you scratch the jagged edge against your bindings to wear it down.
  159. >The twine is tied up tight. It takes a couple minutes to get through the first layer. Once that loosens it a bit, the rest snap much quicker.
  160. >"Up," she says, returning to you after a prompt three minutes.
  161. "Yeah."
  162. >Hands still hidden, you rise to your feet and follow after her.
  163. >You have a perfect opportunity to seize her right then, but you feel like you'd fare better with one of the subordinates as hostage.
  164. >As the group starts to take their formation around you once more, you're forced into making your move before getting caught.
  165. >Acting quickly, you reach out and grab ahold of the nearest mare, pressing the flint against her throat.
  166. "Nobody move!"
  167. >The other five react with indignant fury, drawing their weapons.
  168. >"Erh!" the leader shouts at them.
  169. >Everyone holds their ground in a tense standoff.
  170. >"You are making a very bad mistake," she growls.
  171. "You're the one who made the mistake, taking me prisoner. "I didn't want anything to do with you."
  172. >She watches you intensely.
  173. >You motion toward the one carrying your pack.
  174. "Throw it here. Don't move a step, or I cut her throat."
  175. >She complies, tossing the pack at your feet.
  176. >Still keeping the blade against your hostage, you kneel down and pull your knife from within, swapping the flint for it.
  177. >As you rise back up, you grab the pack by the still-intact strap and sling it over your shoulder.
  178. >In one sudden movement, you throw the mare towards her friends.
  179. >They flinch in preparation to attack, but stop upon realizing you're releasing her.
  180. >You back away, holding the knife out defensively.
  181. "Don't come after me. You'll regret it."
  182. >Limping back, you stay facing them on your retreat for a long while. They move in to comfort their companion, but otherwise remain where they stand, watching you disappear into the distance.
  183. >You don't dare turn your back on them until they're nothing but dots in the far-off distance.
  184. >Now, doubling back southwest, you glance over your shoulder every thirty seconds to ensure they're not following you.
  185. >Wherever they were taking you, you want to stay as far from it as possible. You'll retreat to the pond and head northwest from there.
  186. >That'll keep you on your journey north while giving you a wide berth from whatever hellhole they crawled out of.
  187. >Your injury stunts your pace quite a bit, but you push through it. Now is perhaps the worst time to take it slow.
  188. >You've faced threats before. Trolls in the Crystal Mountains. A hydra in the gorge swamps.
  189. >But those beasts were scarcely intelligent. A little precaution and outmaneuvering, and you were never in imminent danger.
  190. >You've never met hostile ponies before. Granted, you're not sure if that village of crystal ponies you passed was hostile or not, but you weren't exactly keen on making your presence known to find out.
  191. >You were warned you might encounter strange things on your journey. The further north you go, the more unstable the world is bound to be. Reality gradually becomes lawless.
  192. >There's a reason the huge swath of land between Equestria and the Brink is called "The Unknown."
  193. >You took them at face value to be exactly what they were: tall tales.
  194. >This world is queer, of course, but surely there's got to be a limit to how fantastical things can be?
  195. >And, all things considered, a roaming band of hunters is perfectly mundane compared to some of the oddities you passed on the way here.
  196. >You pray the rumors are just rumors. You're not sure how much more you can handle.
  197. >It's well past sunset before you allow yourself a respite. You make camp in a small, dried-up ravine to keep you out of sight.
  198. >Wary of advertising your presence, you make sure to keep a low fire to obfuscate the smoke.
  199. >As you rest, you try to cobble together a splint from flat stones and grass. It fails, of course. If only there were sticks out in the tundra.
  200. >As a last resort, you wash and massage your ankle in hopes of reducing the swelling.
  201. >Over the course of your escape today, you saw no indication of the party pursuing you.
  202. >But now, as you sit upon the cold, dead earth, you can sense them out there. Waiting. Watching.
  203. >You were wrong in thinking they wouldn't try to track you.
  204. >You haven't seen them, but you know they're there. Humans have a sixth sense for these things.
  205. >And you know what they're planning. You're alone. You have to rest sometime. Shut your eyes and get some sleep. And that's when they'll strike.
  206. >For fuck's sake, these horses are persistence hunting you. This goddamn bizarro world...
  207. >You can get up and keep moving, but then so will they. Indefinitely. They outnumber you. They can take shifts.
  208. >Sooner or later, they'll get you. And then what?
  209. >It's becoming increasingly clear that this is only going to end one of two ways. And in light of how far you've come, there's no way you're getting stuck with the short end of the stick now.
  210. >Packing your belongings, you get up and climb out of the ravine.
  211. >From there, you set out back the way you came, knife gripped tightly in hand.
  212. >It's not long before you reach them. They're camped just a mile off from where you were.
  213. >A few of them are asleep. The others wake them as you approach from a few hundred yards.
  214. >They're standing to meet you when you enter the camp, polearms drawn.
  215. >You stop about fifty feet, staring each other down in tense silence.
  216. >It's a while before you finally address them.
  217. "I don't want to hurt you. I warned you not to follow me."
  218. >The leader steps forward. "You are a danger."
  219. "YOU took ME prisoner."
  220. >"We didn't hurt you. You put the stone to my cousin's throat."
  221. >You glance over at your former hostage, who's wearing an anxious look on her face.
  222. "I wasn't going to hurt her, either."
  223. >"WHERE IS KALLIK?" she roars abruptly.
  224. >The others grip their weapons.
  225. >You hold up the knife preemptively.
  226. "I told you I don't know what you're talking about! Whatever's going on, I have no part in it!"
  227. >"You will come with us," she says, "or we bury you."
  228. >The way she words the threat puts you off.
  229. >Not 'we kill you where you stand' or 'you die here'.
  230. >'We bury you.'
  231. >She has a peculiar way of talking, for sure. But that little phrasing feels more portentous than it should.
  232. >You consider killing them here and now, ridding yourself of this thorn in your side altogether. Your weapon's a league above theirs.
  233. >But they outnumber you six-to-one. You might get four if you're lucky, but you're no warrior, and injured at that.
  234. >The sad reality is that your only chance at walking out of this alive is doing what they say.
  235. >As you drop your knife and fall to your knees, you're hopeful that the truth comes out sooner than later.
  236. >When they realize you have nothing to do with their lost friend, they'll cut you loose.
  237. >At least, you hope they will.
  238. >As she comes up to you, you put your arms behind your back for her to bind them again.
  239. >But to your surprise, she doesn't.
  240. >No, instead, the last thing you remember is a solid kick to the head.
  241. >Then, nothing but darkness.
  242.  
  243. >You awake to a white sky.
  244. >But as your eyes adjust, you find it's no sky. It's a dome above your head.
  245. >Lying on the cold ground, your arms and legs are bound. There's no flint this time.
  246. "Hey!" you shout.
  247. >You kick at the walls of the igloo, hoping to draw your captor in so someone can explain what the fuck is going on.
  248. >It works.
  249. >Within a couple minutes, your attacker enters the shelter, followed by an older mare. She has the same markings on her coat.
  250. >The elder looks down at you forebodingly before turning back to the other. "Tunuq wasae oman qu'oir met ukihhinol seddut."
  251. >"I had no choice. He knows what happened at Ka'lak."
  252. >The elder gives her an odd look.
  253. >She tilts her head toward you. "He speaks Ponish," she explains.
  254. >With a smile, the elder kneels down in front of you.
  255. "Look, whatever she's saying, she's wrong."
  256. >You look past her to the huntress.
  257. "Tell her I had nothing to do with this."
  258. >"She does not need to tell me," the elder crows. "I speak your tongue. We all do."
  259. >You push past the surprise and address her directly.
  260. "This is a misunderstanding. I'm a traveler passing through. I have nothing to do with you folk, all I want is to get to the Brink."
  261. >The huntress' eyes light up when you utter that word. "He's lying, Om-ma! He knows where they are!"
  262. "No, I swear—"
  263. >"There is an easy way to discern the truth," the elder interrupts. She leans over and whispers into the huntress' ear, who then leaves the igloo.
  264. >She smiles at you warmly until the huntress returns, with a wooden bowl in her mouth.
  265. >The elder takes it and sets it on the ground in front of you. The contents inside are a mash of roots and some indeterminate yellow paste.
  266. >"Eat," she instructs.
  267. >You decline.
  268. >She holds it up to your face. "You will feel better."
  269. >You're inclined to resist, but something curious in her voice leaves you trusting her words.
  270. >Slowly, you lean down and begin to eat from the bowl.
  271. >It doesn't taste too bad. Certainly an earthy flavor, but not unpleasantly so.
  272. >You finish about half of it before pulling back.
  273. >"Good." She sets the bowl down and extends her hoof to your face.
  274. >You lean back, but, back against the wall, you've nowhere to retreat.
  275. >Her hoof makes contact with your forehead and holds there. You watch in uncertainty as her eyes glaze over a milky white, and she gazes out at nothing in particular.
  276. >All expression drains from her face. The huntress merely stands back idly as the process unfolds.
  277. >Suddenly, her eyes revert to normal and she returns to the present moment.
  278. >"He is telling the truth," she breathes. "He knows nothing."
  279. >Finally.
  280. "Thank you, now please, let m—"
  281. >"We are not done," she says, collecting the bowl and standing back up. "We know of your past, but not yet the future."
  282. >The huntress shifts tensely.
  283. "The future?"
  284. >She doesn't respond. "Light the fire," she commands the huntress, passing her the bowl. "Make preparations to divine at moonrise."
  285. >With that, she exits.
  286. >You observe, exasperated, as the huntress cobbles together grasses into a small, recessed pit.
  287. "You know I'm not involved. Why not let me go?"
  288. >She shoots you an agitated glance and returns to the fire.
  289. >Once it's lit, she leaves you to yourself.
  290. >You sit upright, slumped back against the dome wall, watching the flames grow.
  291. >A thin plume of smoke trails upward, slipping through a tiny ventilation hole in the ceiling.
  292. >No one returns for hours.
  293. >In that time, you think about crawling out of this prison they have you in. You can see the white tundra outside through the passage across from you.
  294. >But you know there's no point. Even if you somehow escape your binds, you know there's no way you'll be able to take on however many of them are out there.
  295. >And if you flee, well, you already tried that.
  296. >So here you are.
  297. >It gradually gets dark. Soon the only light to see by is the fire, which has since burned down to nothing but glimmering embers.
  298. >The two mares eventually return, the elder's mane now tied back with a yellow strap of cloth.
  299. >She takes a seat opposite you and prods at the fire with a flint, rolling the grass and turning the embers over until they grow.
  300. >She begins to quietly recite something in her language. You can just barely hear the huntress, standing by the passage, whispering along.
  301. >You want to say something, to object to this senseless captivity, but some unknown force compels you to stay silent.
  302. >Slowly, the embers grow in size and intensity, not yet becoming flames. More like tiny, glistening orbs of light.
  303. >As the recitation continues, the elder stirs at them until they start to take form. You watch in awe as they rise up an inch above the pit, suspended in midair.
  304. >They grow and morph, soon taking the shape of familiar objects. Igloos, huts, streams, even tiny ponies.
  305. >The shapes rearrange for a few seconds before settling into fixed positions.
  306. >When you look closely, it almost resembles... a village. Glowing orange, radiating warmth.
  307. >The image of a home. Not yours, mind you, but a home in every sense of the word.
  308. >Suddenly, two birds fly in through the passage. The huntress steps aside to make way for them, not once ceasing her low chanting.
  309. >They're sparrows.
  310. >Yes, sparrows. Out here.
  311. >You could've sworn it was too far north for nesting birds.
  312. >But here they are.
  313. >They flutter around the igloo interior, circling the walls. The mares act as though they're not even there.
  314. >You stop to wonder whether they're even part of this.
  315. >Your question's soon answered, though, when their spiral descends, and they land. Upon the fire.
  316. >The embers don't seem to bother them, or burn their fragile feet as one would expect. Rather, they seem quite taken with the shapes, peering in at them, even going so far as to dip their beaks inside.
  317. >This goes on for a few seconds, at which point the embers flicker and darken.
  318. >The sparrows glance at each other one final time, and take off into the air. You feel the cool air beat down on you as they flap their gentle wings, circling upward in perfect synchronization... Until one after the other, they slip up through the hole in the roof, disappearing into the night.
  319. >At that moment, the embers shiver and dissipate into fine sparkles, leaving nothing but wisps of white smoke emanating from the pit.
  320. >The recitation stops.
  321. >There's a drawn-out silence before anyone speaks.
  322. >"It is clear, then, what must happen," the elder says.
  323. >The huntress steps up to the fire pit. "Why can't you just find them?"
  324. >"Ka'lak is too far. The spirits are blocking sight. They do not want us to know."
  325. >"I need to know," she insists. "It's Kallik, Om-ma."
  326. >The elder turns to her. "Though you may not sense it, do not doubt my worry, little one." She looks back at the dwindling smoke. "Rest easy knowing we will know. When this one leaves, it will not be alone."
  327. >"No!" she argues. "He is useless to me. I will go alone, and I will bring them back myself."
  328. >"That is not what we saw," the elder warns her. "It is poor judgment to go against what has been foretold. While his course runs separate from ours, they run parallel yet. There is a reason he travels to Ka'lak."
  329. >Finally, you muster the will to interject.
  330. "I don't want to get mixed up in this. I've seen enough."
  331. >She gazes over you with a knowing look. "Like branches of the kusooq, you two will grow together, or wither apart. There is no other path."
  332. >Rising up, she places a hoof on the huntress' wither as she departs. "Leave when you are able. Say goodbye to Nunqevit before. She will want to know."
  333. >With the older mare gone, it's just you and the one who brought you here.
  334. >Taking a seat, she grabs the flint and strikes it against a piece of steel, lighting the fire once again.
  335. >You watch as she picks out the ash, making room for the flames to grow. Not for another convoluted ritual, apparently. Just for the normal reason.
  336. "You ever gonna tell me what the hell is going on?"
  337. >She doesn't respond, instead picking at the tinder with her flint.
  338. "Because it seems like the more I listen, the less I understand."
  339. >"We go together," she says quietly, not looking up.
  340. >Go together?
  341. "I'm sorry, okay? I can't help you, I've got my own problems to deal with."
  342. >"We go to the same place. Ka'lak."
  343. "Ka'lak?"
  344. >"The Brink."
  345. >You fall silent. You hadn't realized you were talking about the same place this entire time. But whose fault is that?
  346. >You can't imagine what business any mortal creature of this world might have with the Brink.
  347. >It's only by extenuating circumstance that you're out here in search of it, and now you've found another who is, too.
  348. >She's... interesting. She's got a unique look to her. And the way she carries herself... you'd almost admire it if she hadn't kicked you in the head.
  349. "What's your name?"
  350. >"Aqsarniit."
  351. "Ak...sarny?"
  352. >"No," she says, furrowing her brow through her bangs.
  353. "What does it mean?"
  354. >"The lights that wave in the north sky. I don't know the Ponish word."
  355. "Aurora?"
  356. >"Maybe."
  357. >You pause.
  358. "That's a pretty name."
  359. >"Thank you," she says lowly.
  360. >You nudge at the ash with the toe of your boot.
  361. >"And you?" she asks.
  362. "Anon."
  363. >"What does it mean?"
  364. "It—"
  365. >You hesitate.
  366. "Nothing. It means nothing."
  367. >"All things have meaning."
  368. >It'd sound more profound if she hadn't practically grumbled it.
  369. >Sounds like neither of you are particularly happy about this situation.
  370. >So why the hell is it still happening?
  371. "It means 'royally fucked', I guess."
  372. >She tilts her head, letting her mane spill down her side. "I don't understand."
  373. "I— It was just a bad joke."
  374. >"I'm sorry."
  375. >You look up at her in mild surprise.
  376. "For what?"
  377. >"I thought you were one of them."
  378. "'Them'?"
  379. >"A spirit. Windigo, I think is what you call them."
  380. >You pause, never having heard of the creature.
  381. "Do those usually look like me?"
  382. >She shakes her head. "I've never seen one. In dreams they take many forms."
  383. >A few seconds of silence pass.
  384. >"Ka'lak is full of them," she whispers morbidly.
  385. "Then why would you want to go there?"
  386. >Finally, she abandons the fire and meets your gaze, crossing her hooves. "Ponish has a name for this place, but not Snowish."
  387. >Snowish?
  388. >"Ka'lak is the closet word for it. It means trial. Every spring's end, the males of the village travel there to offer the season's bounty to the spirits."
  389. "Why?"
  390. >"They protect us. In times of other tribes' hardship, we are spared."
  391. "But why go there yourself?"
  392. >"Because they should have returned two weeks ago."
  393. "Oh," you murmur.
  394. >"There is no reason for the spirits to reject us. The season's bounty was strong. All our stallions traveled. Even..."
  395. >She chokes up and turns away. "Kallik."
  396. "Your... brother?"
  397. >Visibly distressed, she paws at the ground with her hoof. "It is his first year."
  398. >Now it's starting to make sense how you ended up here. A case of mistaken identity, borne out of desperation.
  399. >She tries to mask her pain by hastily changing the subject.
  400. >"Who are you, Anon?"
  401. "What do you mean?"
  402. >"You're no pony, yet you share their tongue. No Equestrian has ever come this way, not in all my life."
  403. >You stare down at the flickering flames as they cast shadows on the igloo walls. One for you, one for her.
  404. "I'm just trying to get home."
  405. >"Ka'lak is no one's home but the spirits."
  406. "Well, I'm hoping it's a way home."
  407. >She watches you, vexed by your explanation.
  408. >You elaborate.
  409. "The Brink is the edge of this world, right? So maybe — just maybe — it'll lead me to mine."
  410. >You thump your head back against the wall.
  411. "I know how stupid it sounds. But I have to try. I can't— I don't belong here."
  412. >Grabbing the flint, Aurora comes around the fire. You pick your head up as she cuts the rope around your legs, then the ones around your wrist.
  413. >You rub your tender skin as she tosses the twine into the fire.
  414. >"We set out at first light," she tells you. "You will find your kin, and I, mine. This I promise."
  415. >She glances back at you before leaving through the passage. "Sleep well, Anon."
  416. "You too."
  417. >You look down at your bindings, idly burning into ash, then back to the tunnel the snowmare disappeared through.
  418. >Maybe it's just the leftover magic in the fire, but you can't seem to shake the feeling that your destiny is calling.
  419.  
  420. >The new day brings with it a sense of quiet trepidation.
  421. >A bowl of broth, still steaming, is at your side when you rise. Beside it is a crudely fashioned splint for your ankle.
  422. >Raising the bowl to your lips, you take small sips. It's got quite the fishy taste, but at this point, you welcome any source of warmth and nourishment.
  423. >Once finished, you affix the splint and gently flex it, testing the rigidity. Slowly, you stand and put weight on the injured leg.
  424. >You feel discomfort, but the throbbing pain has at least subsided.
  425. >Getting a sense of your balance, you stamp out what remains of the fire and crawl out of the passage, into the harsh light of day.
  426. >You're not quite sure what you expected to see, but the village is alive with activity when you emerge.
  427. >Snow ponies just like Aurora walking to and fro, attending to whatever business they may. Each of them a mare, save for the children.
  428. >All eyes land on you. Nobody dares to engage, but it's clear your presence is disquieting. You've never felt more an outsider than you do now, walking among these folk.
  429. >You amble through the village, observing the others, wondering where you're meant to seek Aurora.
  430. >The population must be just a few dozen— some hauling nets of fish, others refining tools laid out on the ground. There's even a weaving circle comprised of older mares.
  431. >And the foals, they fill the air with laughter, running, chasing, playing, as any other child would. It's been so long, the sight's become almost alien to you.
  432. >A group of them halt their game to eye you curiously, whispering amongst themselves, needling each other to approach you.
  433. >As you stand out in the open, gazing back at them, you feel a tug at your pant sleeve from behind.
  434. >You glance down to see a colt (no more than a quarter your height) peering up at you.
  435. >You look around, not entirely sure how to respond, or whether it's appropriate to even interact at all.
  436. "Hey there."
  437. >He poses a question in his language. "Munihr kerd passunatek Ka'lak?"
  438. >You don't understand what he's asking, but the last word gives you enough context to get a sense.
  439. "I'm sorry, I— I don't speak Snowish."
  440. >He smiles. "Go?"
  441. "Go? Me? Yeah, I'll be gone soon. I'm not staying."
  442. >Not comprehending your words, he just gazes up at you inquisitively.
  443. >You try to plain it down for him.
  444. "Yes. Go."
  445. >He pauses and racks his brain, trying to find the right word.
  446. >"Prom-ise?"
  447. >You're confused, but the longer this goes on, the more you just want him out of your hair.
  448. "Promise."
  449. >"Nunqevit!"
  450. >You look up to see Aurora approaching, a stern look on her face.
  451. >Her mane's been braided since she left you last night.
  452. >Gleeful, the colt scampers off and joins his friends.
  453. >She shakes her head as she comes up to you. "Ignore him. He misbehaves."
  454. "Okay?"
  455. >She nods to a rack outside a nearby hut, upon which your pack is hanging. "We fixed it."
  456. >You walk over and grab it, inspecting the strap her flint had severed. It looks good as new.
  457. "Thanks, I guess," you say, returning to her.
  458. >"Come," she instructs, turning away.
  459. >You follow her to a large tent. She holds open the flap for you as you enter.
  460. >It's modestly furnished. Rugs, presumably for bedding, and a fire pit beneath a ventilation flap. Shelves at the far end are lined with tools and odd trinkets.
  461. >In the center, laid out neatly, are several supplies. Mostly cured fish.
  462. >"Take all you can," she says, grabbing her parka and saddlebag. "The trip is dangerous."
  463. >Setting your pack down, you remove your knife and affix the sheath to your belt.
  464. >You begin loading up on rations while she dons her jacket.
  465. >"Bring this."
  466. >You look up, and Aurora tosses you a tied bundle. You stow it in your pack.
  467. "What is it?"
  468. >"Shelter."
  469. >After stowing a spare canteen in the side pocket, you seal your pack up. You grunt as you sling it over your shoulders. It's got to weigh at least sixty pounds.
  470. >At least you'll be prepared.
  471. >As you leave the tent together, the elder from yesterday comes up to Aurora.
  472. >They discuss something quietly in Snowish. Then she takes some substance from a small canvas pouch and smears it around Aurora's eyes.
  473. >Aurora stands patiently, waiting for her to finish. Once done, she unfolds something wrapped in cloth, some kind of charm, and ties it around Aurora's neck, tucking it into her parka.
  474. >The elder presses her forehead to Aurora's and whispers a prayer. You stand by idly as the entire village watches from afar.
  475. >With that, the elder bids her farewell. Aurora motions you to follow, and the two of you set off, departing from the village.
  476. "Who's that?"
  477. >"My mother," she replies stoically.
  478. >You should've figured.
  479. >Walking at her side, you march out into the north, glancing back occasionally at the village shrinking behind you. It sits at the base of a large hill, adjacent to a small river.
  480. >It might seem quaint if you didn't know the sad truth. Half its population just up and vanished.
  481. >After only a few minutes, you hear a squeaky voice calling out to you.
  482. >You both turn around to see the colt from earlier, wearing little snow boots, scurrying after you.
  483. >Aurora groans and walks out to meet him.
  484. >"Tutteq kavvamehhit!" she scolds.
  485. >He runs up to her and replies something excitedly, pointing to you.
  486. >She whips around and, incensed, she asks you, "Did you promise him he can come?"
  487. >Mortified, you shake your head vehemently.
  488. "Of course not!"
  489. >She stares you down irritably, the enthusiastic colt bouncing behind her. "He says you did. He's not lying."
  490. "I— I told him *I* was going, not him, I swear."
  491. >Aurora turns back and argues with the boy a minute before he reluctantly turns back, trudging back to the village.
  492. >She pushes past you, heading out again. You follow after her.
  493. >"This is not good," she mutters.
  494. "What?"
  495. >"You promised him without knowing what."
  496. "I don't get it, what's the big deal? You sent him home. It's done."
  497. >She stops and turns to face you. "Here, a promise — an ilâ — is an oath. It is an agreement with the spirits to uphold what you have foretold. By defying it, you anger them. They will be working against us now."
  498. >Riled up, she turns on her heel and marches off.
  499. "You don't actually believe that, do you?"
  500. >She scoffs. "This is not Equestria, Anon! They haven't seen windigos since before the darkness. The world works different here. If you want to get to Ka'lak, you have to accept the forces beyond your control."
  501. >'Reality becomes lawless.'
  502. >You supposed the warning to be a figure of speech. But if the forces of nature change the closer you get to the Brink...
  503. >Could she be right? Are there gods dictating your future?
  504. >Could an inconsequential misunderstanding really alter the course of history?
  505. >If the Brink truly is your only way home, then you pray the windigos don't stand in your way.
  506. >Though it may be too late for that.
  507. >Aurora isn't very talkative on the first day's hike. Somewhat understandable, given that you set the journey off on a bad start.
  508. >She walks authoritatively, you noticed. A firm step, with her head held high, and that strong braid running down her neck.
  509. >Her is pack is heavier than yours, yet she wears it like it's nothing. You find it hard just keeping up with her pace, though you don't dare lag behind.
  510. >Fortunately, whatever the windigos' sentiments toward you, you don't encounter any troubles your first day.
  511. >You make camp on the riverbank a bit before dusk. You can see a small mountain range as miniscule bumps on the horizon ahead.
  512. >They're nothing compared to the behemoth that was the Crystal Mountains, but you almost welcome the change in terrain.
  513. >It's bleak, seeing nothing but vast emptiness in every direction. Almost as if you're not headed anywhere at all.
  514. >Aurora lights a fire while you establish the tent.
  515. >Once finished, you stand back, admiring how quickly you figured the assembly out.
  516. "Want me to set up yours?"
  517. >"Mine?" she asks, glancing back at you.
  518. "The other tent."
  519. >"There is no other tent," she says plainly.
  520. >You frown.
  521. "You didn't bring two?"
  522. >"Why would I bring two?"
  523. >You pause.
  524. >Apparently, this load you're carrying is actually the bare minimum, which doesn't seem to include separate tents.
  525. "You want us to sleep together?"
  526. >"What's the problem?" she asks, standing back up.
  527. "Nothing, I just— I don't know."
  528. >She casually brushes past you and tosses her saddlebag inside. "Sleep outside, then."
  529. >You could.
  530. >You've made it this far without much need for portable shelter.
  531. >There were plenty of caves and tree cover to serve as rudimentary harbor on the way here.
  532. >And sleeping under the stars was never much a problem in the springtime.
  533. >In the absence of rain or snow, your bedroll works just fine. It's not ideal, but what part of this is?
  534. >You sit opposite each other around the campfire, warming your extremities and eating your supper.
  535. >Aurora absent-mindedly fiddles with the charm around her neck.
  536. "What is it?"
  537. >She follows your eye line to her necklace and looks down.
  538. >"Protection," she answers.
  539. "From the spirits?"
  540. >She nods.
  541. "And the...?"
  542. >You motion around your eyes.
  543. >She takes a bite of fish. "It shows me what will come of our journey."
  544. "'Shows' you?"
  545. >"Tonight, when I sleep."
  546. "You mean in your dreams?"
  547. >She shakes her head. "Dreams are not real. This is."
  548. >You pick at your food.
  549. "Still, it... It's what you see in your sleep."
  550. >"They're separate words," she says. "'Sinnatomak' and 'Sillaetomak'."
  551. "Is that it, then? You wake up tomorrow and know exactly what's going to happen to us?"
  552. >"I don't think so."
  553. "Then, why—?"
  554. >"Because the spirits will not want me seeing after today."
  555. >You fall silent.
  556. "I'm sorry."
  557. >"It's okay," she replies distantly. "You didn't mean it."
  558. "Yeah," you murmur. "I just wish *they* knew that."
  559. >You pack up your ration. It's not like you have much of an appetite anyway.
  560. >Instead, you watch Aurora gaze pensively into the flames, barely registering your presence.
  561. >Shadows dance across her face from the flickering light of the fire, illuminating the dark paint smeared upon her eyes.
  562. >She looks almost like a spirit herself, with her pale coat and the appearance of sunken eyes.
  563. >You wish you could read the thoughts running through her mind as she stares into the flames.
  564. >You feel sorry for her, and you're not entirely sure why.
  565. >Her brother is missing, which should be reason enough, but it feels more than that. Like she's been hurting for a while. Long before you met her.
  566. >But you were never one for reading people.
  567. >And you never cared to learn much about other ponies.
  568. >All this time, you've just been fixated on getting home. That's been the end goal. Everything else took a back seat to that.
  569. >It made sense. This isn't home. You don't belong here.
  570. >But what if something changed that?
  571. >Honestly, you're not even sure what you're talking about. This is just rambling to yourself.
  572. >It's just, you look into this mare's eyes, and you feel like things could be different.
  573. >You don't know what 'different' would be. You don't know why her.
  574. >You just know you feel something.
  575. >Maybe it's the world destabilizing around you.
  576. >Wouldn't that be an easy excuse? To keep yourself from admitting something you don't want?
  577. >Things work different here. Isn't that what she said?
  578. >What if you get to the Brink, and it's not what you thought?
  579. >What if the past half-year ended up being a waste?
  580. >Where would you go?
  581. >What would you do?
  582. >You look at Aurora, and you almost hope she doesn't see the future tonight.
  583. >Because that would mean knowing.
  584. >You don't think you could handle knowing.
  585. >Picking up the canteen, you take a swig and offer it up to her. She declines.
  586. >You set it down beside you and breathe deeply, trying to stop this restless train of thought.
  587. "What does Kallik mean?"
  588. >She looks up at you.
  589. >"'Bolt of lightning.'"
  590. "Aurora and lightning. Your mother must've had a thing for electromagnetism."
  591. >She gives you a strange look.
  592. "It— never mind."
  593. >"It's custom for the shaman to name her children after the skies," she explains. "It ties them to the spirits."
  594. "Does that mean you'll follow after her?"
  595. >"I have to."
  596. "Why's that?"
  597. >"I was marked, the same way she was." She traces the streaks on her coat.
  598. "But do you want to?"
  599. >She stares back you inquisitively. "Want to?"
  600. "Yeah. Is that what you want your life to be?"
  601. >She sighs. "All I want is Kallik to come home."
  602. >You pause, thinking to yourself.
  603. >Suddenly, you extend a hand to her over the fire.
  604. "I promise you we'll find him."
  605. >She frowns. "Don't—"
  606. "I know what I'm doing," you stress. "Trust me."
  607. >She hesitates a moment, then slowly places her hoof in your hand. Her fetlocks slip through the gaps in your fingers.
  608. "Don't worry."
  609. >You hold her hoof tenderly for a few seconds before finally letting go.
  610. >"Thanks, Anon," she whispers.
  611. >You watch the fire as the sun dips below the horizon.
  612. "Does that mean you can do the sort of things your mother does?"
  613. >"Not everything," she responds. "I'm still learning."
  614. "What do you know?"
  615. >"I can show you."
  616. >She shuts her eyes and holds completely still, so much that she looks like a statue in the dark.
  617. >Some time passes without any indication from her, and you're about to ask what she's doing when she opens her eyes once again.
  618. "What was that?"
  619. >You stare back at her, puzzled, when you catch a snowflake falling in front of your eyes, drifting, disappearing into the fire.
  620. >Tilting your head back, you look up to see a solitary cloud in the night sky, swirling directly above.
  621. >Only when you turn back to her do you notice the identically-shaped marking on her cheek has vanished.
  622. "How—?"
  623. >But when you glance up again, the cloud is gone, and the swirl back in its rightful place upon her face.
  624. >She simply smiles at your bewilderment.
  625. >"It's only little things," she explains. "Om-ma can do so much more."
  626. "It's..."
  627. >You shake your head in awe, scarcely believing what you just saw.
  628. "Beautiful."
  629. >For the first time, you see genuine happiness in her expression.
  630. >You almost wish you could capture it in a bottle and hold onto it forever.
  631. >Yet it, as all things, is fleeting, and the contentment eventually fades, leaving behind only the sobering reality that weighs you both down.
  632. >Happiness exists only in moments.
  633. >It was never meant to last.
  634. >"We should rest," she says, getting up from her place by the fire.
  635. "Yeah," you murmur.
  636. >You've too much on your mind.
  637. >"Goodnight," she tells you.
  638. "Goodnight."
  639. >As she disappears into the tent, you consider, for just a moment, the idea of joining her. Tempted by the prospect of not having to sleep alone for the first time in months.
  640. >But she can't be that person to you.
  641. >She's just a girl living in her own world, and you're...
  642. >You.
  643. >No matter how alone you are, you'll never belong next to her. You're not meant for this world.
  644. >She has to be more than just someone you kill your loneliness with. Because, if you're not careful, what happens at the end of the road?
  645. >You pull your bedroll from your pack and lay it out beside the fire. Lying back, you gaze up at the stars, at the spot in the sky where the cloud in her cheek once lingered.
  646. >And as the night sky twinkles above, you can't help but think.
  647. >Would it be so bad?

Bury Me in White (Ongoing)

by pentapony

Pentapony's Story List

by pentapony

Love and War

by pentapony

Megalomania (Ongoing)

by pentapony

Tea For Two

by pentapony