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[WIP] Lost & Found

By HeavyHorse
Created: 3rd September 2021 06:25:04 PM
4th September 2021 01:21:32 PM

  1. >"You lost her‽"
  2. >Meadow Frost glared down at the smaller filly, now shrinking back in on herself, doing her best to hide behind her short, white bangs.
  3. >"W-We were playing near the forest, just hide-and-seek, a-and she must've got lost in there but we didn't want to go in because it's dangerous and—"
  4. >"And you left here there, alone," Meadow said, a slight quaver to her voice.
  5. >The filly, who assured herself she was really more of a young mare, worked hard to push back the tears that threatened to break through.
  6. >And as a young mare, she needed to look out for her younger sister. Especially seeing as she was yet young enough that she hadn't the proper control over her magic to walk upon the snowdrifts.
  7. >"What has Tundra been teaching you, Stellar?"
  8. >Stellar Mark lowered herself further, her ears swivelling about to pin back against her head.
  9. >"I-I haven't learned how to search forests yet..." The filly sniffled and shook her head. "Please, Meadow, you can't tell her!"
  10. >Meadow chewed at the inside of her lip. No, she couldn't tell Tundra Tracker - that'd only bring its own set of problems, not least having to tell mother and father of what happened.
  11. >It was still light out and with the luck of the stars, they might yet find her sister before night fell
  12. >But she was no navigator, no tracker, no huntress; if she was to brave the forest, she’d need help in doing so.
  13. >”I’m sorry!” Stellar wailed suddenly. “I didn’t want to leave her!”
  14. >With her mane, at least, Stellar almost looked like Snowfall. If she was here, she’d be just as upset at the loss of one of her friends, Meadow was sure.
  15. >Meadow sighed and leaned down to the filly. “Stellar, come here, it’s alright.”
  16. >She pressed her nose to Stellar’s and gently rubbed it, doing her best to keep her voice steady as she hummed.
  17. >They might be at the edge of the village but she still couldn’t risk being heard by the wrong mare.
  18. >It took a few moments but the filly’s crying died down to soft sobs, at least. And the time it took to comfort her left Meadow with one conclusion as to what to do.
  19. >”I’ll tell Cirrus.”
  20. >As if she’d been dunked in a freezing lake, Stellar froze up and her eyes shot wide.
  21. >”No, no, you can’t! She’ll tell Tundra and I-I’ll have to become a stick-picker and I’ll never get to learn the names of the stars!”
  22. >Meadow shushed the filly again, nuzzling her nose in the way her own mother had done on so many stormy nights for her. “She won’t tell her, she’ll find Snowfall on her own.”
  23. >She had to.
  24.  
  25. >Smoke rose from many of the huts of the village and the rich, sharp smell of the fish drying in the smokehouses followed with it.
  26. >Meadow frost thread her way between the huts, her hooves crunching on the well-trod snow as older mares and stallions passed by her, some carrying woven baskets of fish, others with wood logs balanced on their backs.
  27. >It was an effort to smile and nod, to stop next to one of the older dams and listen to her asking after Snowfall.
  28. >More of an effort still to hold herself steady and force the laughter when she said her sister was cleaning the snow from herself after her latest attempt to walk atop it.
  29. >The greying pony nodded and flashed a toothy grin, reminding Meadow that even when she was a filly, she had such trouble finding her hooves; to remind her sister not to lose heart over it.
  30. >Meadow could only nod and turn away as quickly as possible, sure if she thought any longer of Snowfall buried in the snow of the forest, alone, she’d yet find herself revealing everything.
  31. >As she trod further into the village, the scents turned to pine resin and wood shavings from one of the huts being repaired.
  32. >Her father was among those working at it, his sure hooves stripping back a log into one of the beautiful carvings that dotted some of the huts.
  33. >She made sure to put a little extra speed into her gait and kept her eyes from tarrying too long on him, sure he’d feel them and turn towards her and then what? She wouldn’t be able to hold it back.
  34. >A slight incline led out from the rear of the village towards one of the largest huts, decorated in bone and feather and precious dyes.
  35. >As always, smoke rose from the opening at the centre of its roof, carrying the earthy scent of the roots and herbs Cirrus used in her teas.
  36. >Just a few steps more and Meadow found herself pressed against the door to the hut, her ears swivelling this way and that as she sought the sound of voices from within.
  37. >But there was nothing at all.
  38. >Panic gripped her heart and Meadow pressed against the door with more force than she’d intended, almost falling through the opening as she frantically peered about.
  39. >But sure enough, sitting by her firepit with hooves crumbling dried leaves into a kettle was Cirrus Wisp, shaman of the village.
  40. >”Meadow Frost, it warms my heart to have you visit.”
  41. >In spite of herself, Meadow shivered - how was it the mare didn’t even have to turn about to know it was her?
  42. >”Won’t you please come sit by my fire.”
  43. >Forgetting the mare was still turned away from her, Meadow inclined her head deeply before pulling the door of the hut behind herself.
  44. >But a few steps in, the feeling of her damp hooves shedding snow, and the filly who was really a young mare grimaced.
  45. >”I’m sorry—”
  46. >”There is no need, Meadow.” The melodious laugh Cirrus let out did nothing to reveal her many years. “To have the fillies and colts of our tribe come see me is a blessing greater than any other the stars may bestow.”
  47.  
  48.  
  49. >Her long, flowing mane swept with her face as Cirrus turned about. The smile she wore stilled Meadow’s pounding heart.
  50. >”Please, come warm your cold little hooves with me.”
  51. >While the intricate wood carvings that lay along the walls were unlike anything in her own hut, the warmth and gentleness of Cirrus’ voice reminded Meadow of her mother’s.
  52. >It was impossible to resist the comfort it offered and the promise of warmth in her belly that the two bone cups by the fire held.
  53. >’Cold little hooves,’ though. What of Snowfall and her own frozen hooves?
  54. >What of her shivering body, alone in that ancient forest with nopony to reassure her that the floewolves would never dare come this far south?
  55. >If only she hadn’t overheard Snow Glide speaking of those beasts, Snowfall wouldn’t have woken up so many nights in tears.
  56. >Meadow sighed heavily and stepped further into the hut, towards the inviting fire. Those thoughts only left her feeling sure this was the right course.
  57. >She did her best to recall the proper words as she stood next the fire.
  58. >”Thank you for the gracious heat of your hearth… um…” Meadow trailed off, struggling to keep Cirrus’ gaze.
  59. >The older mare only smiled, all the wider as Meadow stood there silently working a hoof against the ground.
  60. >”There will be much time for that in future, little one. You know fillies and colts do not need to speak so.”
  61. >She wasn’t a little filly, though! She was old enough to go out of the village on her own and… and the only reason she hadn’t gone to look for Snowfall herself was that her mother still thought of her as being just as young.
  62. >But she couldn’t say that to Cirrus. Instead, she quietly said, “thank you, Cirrus.”
  63. >Clasping the kettle’s handle between her teeth, Cirrus poured out two steaming cups of her tea as Meadow seated herself.
  64. >The scent was even more intense now - nutty and with what almost smelled of the roots that Frozen Harvest was so adept at finding.
  65. >She tried to content herself by thinking that it wouldn’t be too much longer before her sister would be seated right here, by her side, drinking her own cup.
  66. >Looking to Cirrus for some sign that her thoughts were showing was fruitless, though, as the mare had closed her eyes and held her nose over the cup she’d lifted in her hooves.
  67. >Well, the drink might just help settle her nerves. Cirrus was known to create brews for things like that, right?
  68. >Meadow took a tentative sip and winced at the bitter flavour but knew, all the same, she couldn’t turn down the generosity of the shaman.
  69. >She wound up taking a much larger gulp than she’d intended, in her haste, and her choking quickly turned to a hacking cough after she forced the awful liquid down her throat.
  70. >”Ach! Bleh!” she grunted, setting the cup back down and wiping at her lips with a feathered fetlock.
  71. >”Goodness,” Cirrus said, drawing the filly’s attention to the mare who looked down at her with an odd smile, “are you truly so worried for your sister, Meadow?”
  72.  
  73. >If she hadn’t set her cup down she was sure she would’ve dropped it, bouncing into the fire.
  74. >”How…” her voice came out barely above a hoarse whisper.
  75. >In one graceful, fluid motion, Cirrus Wisp leaned over and down to the filly.
  76. >Meadow found her eyes falling shut at the gentle touch of the shaman’s nose to her own and the warmth of her breath as she breathed in time with it.
  77. >”The tuurngait whispered of her to me, little one.”
  78. >The filly gasped at that word. She’d heard of them!
  79. >Not all of it good, unfortunately, and part of her feared that some of those evil spirits were the ones responsible for stealing her sister.
  80. >”W-Where is she?” Meadow asked, hope blossoming in her chest.
  81. >It died just as quickly when Cirrus sighed, pulling her head back.
  82. >”I could not commune with them long enough to learn that.” Meadow made to object but Cirrus continued, “fret not, little one, they left only to keep her in their care and only that, because they know we will find her.”
  83. >”But if they didn’t tell you, how will we find her?” Meadow felt her breathing speeding up again, in spite of Cirrus holding her nose close.
  84. >”Be at peace, little one. You will tell me where she last was and with the tuurngait, I shall find her.”
  85. >The soft, sure tone Cirrus spoke with did little to slow Meadow’s breathing so she opened her eyes and hoped the sight of Cirrus’ own cool blue ones would help.
  86. >”The forest. To the west.” It was easier to control her voice if she spoke in shorter sentences. It was impossible to keep from sniffling, though. “I’ll show you.”
  87. >”And leave my fire untended?” Cirrus asked, pressing forward just enough to rub the filly’s nose. “Hmm and when I return with Snowfall, where will she warm herself?”
  88. >Meadow didn’t have to think before answering, “with me.”
  89. >With her muzzle so close, Meadow felt more than saw Cirrus’ smile.
  90. >”Your love will warm her heart, little one, as surely as it does mine, but a filly should not have to warm her all on her own.” She pulled back just enough for Meadow to feel her warm breath cascade across her nose. “The tea will warm her body but only so long as the fire warms it.”
  91. >It did make sense. The hunters loved nothing more than a hot drink after returning home from being away so long.
  92. >But…
  93. >”You have to find her.” Meadow shut her eyes and pushed her head forward just enough to brush against Cirrus’ nose. “Please.”
  94. >Snowfall was cold and alone and no doubt frightened without her big sister to protect her.
  95. >Her big sister who should’ve been there to watch over her and make sure she was safe.
  96. >The thought pushed a tear from her eyes and Meadow shuddered when she felt a hoof stroke from her withers down her back.
  97. >”As surely as the stars light our way, you will see Snowfall again.”
  98.  
  99. >’What a predicament to have landed in!’ Cirrus Wisp thought to herself as she stepped from the doorway of her hut.
  100. >No, Snowfall was not the first filly to have found herself lost and would surely not be the last but too many had been taken by the wilds.
  101. >She had been there at Snowfall’s birthing, to call down the blessings of wind and sky, and implore the spirits to watch over her.
  102. >So it was as well her search would take her to the western forest, she would need the proper lichens to burn in offering to the tuurngait for their aid.
  103. >The thick feathering of her fetlocks did much to dampen the crunching of her hooves on the snow, alongside the susurration of her mane and tail. Only the fillies and colts of the tribe still asked why her hoofprints were so much less noticeable than others.
  104. >A bundle wrapped in cloths of ochre and precious river blue lay by her door, another kind offering from Pine Ponder.
  105. >Though the mare herself hadn’t been near her home when Cirrus passed it, the wood of its doorway carefully carved to resemble her namesake, with leaves wrapped about them.
  106. >”Greatmother Cirrus!” came a cry to her side and she turned to see a group of fillies galloping towards her. Now who had told them to call her that?
  107. >Pausing, Cirrus turned herself towards the rapidly skidding group.
  108. >”Hello, children, how does the day find you?”
  109. >Almost in unison, save for a couple of the younger fillies, they quickly bobbed their heads before one spoke up, asking, “will you tell us the story of how the great Keen Strike hunted the floewolf that attacked Snowpitt?”
  110. >And who had told them of that?
  111. >True, Snowpitt was far to the north, to avoid the yak incursions that ruined their ancient capital, but Keen Strike had never fought a floewolf, at least there. Nor was it far north enough for floewolves to risk venturing towards such a populated place.
  112. >”Children, if you wish to hear of Keen Strike then you should wait until Ember Rime returns to sing of her deeds.”
  113. >More than a few groans erupted from the group, with one filly lamenting, “but he’s still trading in the Equestrii town.”
  114. >”Yeah! Can’t you tell us a story?” The others quickly joined that one in pleading with her.
  115. >Ah, the vigour of youth! Never was it so easily dismissed.
  116. >Still, no time could be spared for such matters, not now when another youth so clearly needed her help.
  117. >”I’m sorry, little ones-” A few groans rose from the fillies. “But I have important matters to attend to with our friends in the forest. However…” She leaned down, glad to see some of the fillies lean towards her while those further back in the group stepped closer. Cirrus lowered her voice conspiratorially. “If you wish to hear the tale of how the sun was sung to life from its slumber, I would be delighted to see all of you in my hut, tonight.”
  118. >It sounded just intriguing enough, she was sure, as the fillies turned to one another and asked each other in hushed voices what ‘Greatmother Cirrus’ was talking about.
  119.  
  120. >The group of fillies didn’t take long to bow to her once more, Cirrus returning it, before they took off at another gallop, laughing and asking each other how ever the sun could be sung to.
  121. >Her smile faltered momentarily as the thought occurred that Snowfall should be among them. With the grace of Her light to guide her, though, and her friends in the forest, it wouldn’t be long until the filly was returned to her friends.
  122. >The wind picked up suddenly, a gust blowing the snow from the tops of a few huts and sending a couple of mares scampering to avoid the sudden drops.
  123. >It whipped at her mane and tail, chilling her.
  124. >Yes, there were other things in the forest, far less friendly than the tuurngait.
  125. >It would be well if she could call upon Tundra Tracker or especially Cold Shoulder but neither were in the village and Cirrus dared not risk anypony else.
  126. >Least of all Snowfall and Meadow’s parents - they’d only seek to put themselves in danger and though she hadn’t said it, it was still clear from her not mentioning them that Meadow did not wish them to know.
  127. >The experience itself would be lesson enough for Snowfall, there was little need to put the filly through more misery.
  128. >”Hey, Cirrus!”
  129. >Ah, there was a voice she hadn’t expected to hear but brought a warm smile to her lips.
  130. >”Pine Ponder” Cirrus said, turning to the source of the voice - the tribe’s most respected arborist, despite the mannerisms that left some clicking their tongues in exasperation. The dark mare with bright blue eyes, Pine Ponder. “I’m so glad to see you, that I might thank you for the beautiful gift you brought.”
  131. >It was a rare treat to meet a pony who didn’t bow deeply to her and Cirrus was glad to instead be the one to lower her head in thanks to the mare.
  132. >”Aw, it’s alright. Feels kinda like you’re the only pony who likes ‘em as much as I do, sometimes.”
  133. >The mare approached Cirrus unbidden and extended her nose, which Cirrus gladly pressed her own to and nuzzled.
  134. >”They’re wonderful reminders of the forest and add a most interesting flavour to my teas.”
  135. >Pine Ponder nickered, nodding. “Yeah! I got some more of those pine cones and I even put a few of my personal favourites in there.”
  136. >”The gifts of the forest are outmatched only by the gifts of such a dear friend.” Cirrus took a slow breath and prepared herself for whatever answer such an unpredictable pony might give. “But if I might press more upon your generosity, I need to venture into the forest and I fear the wind carries words of ill-tiding from there.”
  137. >For a moment, Cirrus let the words hang between them and watched as Pine simply smiled back at her.
  138. >The mare had her usual woven baskets over her back, unusually empty which bode well but still, it was better to be sure of it.
  139. >”I would like you to accompany me into the forest, Pine.”
  140. >Immediately, Pine Ponder bobbed her head even as her smile widened.
  141. >”Sure, sure! I was goin’ in anyway to get some more of the good stuff!”
  142.  
  143. >Cheers from the southern end of the village drowned out any attempt Cirrus might have made to thank Pine.
  144. >The way was clear and the gentle slope high enough that she could see Cold Shoulder among those returning, her usual mask of stoicism disappearing for the briefest moment as somepony pointed to the covered sled and said something to her.
  145. >She puffed out her chest and took the spear slung over her back, pointing with it first to the sled and then to the plains, speaking some words to the mare before her.
  146. >”Looks like another good hunt.”
  147. >What was it that Pine had said? Cirrus was the only pony who liked her conifer cones so much?
  148. >Whether that was truly the case, there was no mistaking the warmth in Pine’s voice as she spoke of Cold Shoulder.
  149. >Cirrus smiled to herself, recalling how so often the two were seen together, though Cold would insist otherwise to all who might suggest that she seemed much less like her namesake at those times.
  150. >Still, would Pine want to seek out her friend to congratulate her? Cirrus had already tarried longer than she wished.
  151. >The sun was growing tired from its long vigil and now that the seasons of the long moon were approaching, it would soon be dark.
  152. >”Ah, we’ll hear all about it later, right?”
  153. >A quiet sigh escaped Cirrus and she thanked the Great Pony that Pine was still turned away and did not see it.
  154. >”Quite so, Pine. And I fear the spirits may grow restless if I do not depart.”
  155. >Which was the truth, of a sort.
  156. >Sparing one last look at the returning victors, Pine turned and walked ahead of Cirrus.
  157. >”Speaking of…” Pine trailed off, looking back at Cirrus. “Think you could put in a good word for me? With the tree spirits?”
  158. >Cirrus couldn’t help but nicker, doubly so to be beyond the gathering crowd and the watchful eyes of certain mother and father ponies.
  159. >”Have I not told you that I cannot speak to them? Those that hear me and reply have only told me that they welcome your return to the forest each time, Pine. Do not forget your ties to it.”
  160. >Pine huffed loudly and turned back around. “Yeah but they don’t talk to me. Gets kinda lonely out there sometimes, with just the wind and the trees.”
  161. >Only a few huts lay between them and the edge of the village now, larger pits still visible in uncovered patches of ground where those on watch during the worse nights would train their eyes towards the forest.
  162. >Then there were ponies like Pine Ponder, who walked those woods as sure-hoofed as Hiemal Heights climbed mountains.
  163. >If only more of the tribe remembered that the world asked only their respect, not their fear.
  164. >Now free of the village, it was only a short walk until they’d be in the forest proper. While the tribe might watch it with wary eyes, wood and plants were still needed, and much game made their home within it.
  165. >The only sound above the crunching of hooves upon snow was the whisper of the wind.
  166.  
  167. >The trees of the forest always felt larger when she walked among them, Cirrus thought. Like the grandest gathering hall recounted in the old songs. Large enough to hold the ponies of every tribe in the greatest huddle they had ever known.
  168. >Or perhaps the poets had added their own embellishments, like Keen Strike fending off a hundred floewolves by herself.
  169. >Still, it spoke to something deep within her - within all of them. The mere thought of that huddle, of such warmth and closeness, it brought a sense of comfort more profound and wondrous than anything.
  170. >That comfort lay undisturbed, when the wind didn’t pick up again. Though the tuurngait did not speak to her further, Cirrus took that to mean they still turned their attention towards protecting Snowfall.
  171. >A more auspicious omen, surely.
  172. >”Hey Cirrus,” Pine asked when the two had stopped, “you got any special orders you’re lookin’ for?”
  173. >”Special… ah,” Cirrus whispered to herself. Yes, Pine was certainly picking up some of the quirks the traders would sometimes return from the Equestrii towns with. “You said you left some more of the pine cones for me?” The other mare nodded. “Then if you see some particularly beautiful cones, I would love to adorn my hut with them, to remind me of the forest and the kind mare who brought them.”
  174. >She took another step, towards the grinning mare, before feeling the lightest tug at her mane, as if somepony was seeking her attention.
  175. >It was a sensation Cirrus was long since trained to recognise and she immediately turned her head in the direction she’d felt it.
  176. >They were calling to her. Using what they could to reach out while still preserving enough strength to protect.
  177. >”I must thank you for accompanying me, Pine, but I am afraid our paths must part here.”
  178. >Pine’s smile barely faltered but it was enough for Cirrus’ many years to recognise.
  179. >”Oh… um, sure!”
  180. >Cirrus felt another slight tug at her mane but she could still spare a moment longer for such a friend. If Snowfall was in true danger, the tuurngait would be far more imposing.
  181. >A few steps to close the distance, a flick of her head to clear her cascading mane from her face, and the lightest touch of her nose to Pine’s, for the two of them to share their breath.
  182. >”Come to my hut tonight with your precious load, Pine. You may not be the only visitor but it would warm my heart most to see you among them.”
  183. >The nodding of her head fulfilled the purpose of rubbing her nose against Cirrus’ and the mare allowed herself a quiet hum of contentment at the sensation.
  184. >The victorious hunt, the eager fillies, and now Pine Ponder. All she needed now was Snowfall to be seated by her sister’s side and the tribe would once more be righted, fully.
  185. >The sun was sinking lower, the first stars doing their best to shine through - a clear evening.
  186. >A good omen.

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