Misc. Short Stories / Contest Entries

The following short story was written as a contest entry for the January 2014 Winter Writing Challenge on Valley of Unicorns. It’s an online adoptables site that focuses on fantasy horses. (Yes, I’m clearly a girl though I strive to not to behave as one most times.) I’d forgotten to post this story here but since the original story collection on VoU’s forums seems to have gone, I figured I might put it back online here.

Summary: Rejected and alone, a young Pegasus stallion tries to find his place in the world.
Themes: Winter festival, family, new beginnings, hope, mythology, spirituality

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Turning Point

“At the beginning of time, there was no light, there was no darkness, there was only Spirit. When Spirit felt the time was right, everything came into being, the stars were firstborn, then the earth, the plants and eventually the First Horses. The Winged Ones, the Unicorns and all their children.”

Young eyes, sparkling with curiousity were fixed on the old unicorn mare as she told the Tale. Even though he knew the story by heart, he enjoyed listening. Standing in the shadows of the near wood underneath snow-covered branches, he watched. Amber eyes did not see the mare and her nursery of foals but were gazing straight ahead, into the past, into far-away worlds. Dreamer, they called him among other, less flattering names.

Focused on her young audience, the mare continued, “At this time of the year, we remember Ea and Ara, the two sisters. Born as daughters of the first Pegasi, they were very special horses. Both had great powers that matched their different personalites. Ea was bright and fair as the morning light, flowers grew where her hooves touched the ground and the swish of her mane filled the air with the scent of a gentle summer breeze.”

A flock of fairy fillies stood open-mouthed, surely each one wishing they would see such beauty some day. As the old mare let her own mane trail over them, they started giggling. Then she continued in her soft voice, “Where Ea was fair, Ara was her dark counterpart. With velvet wings that shadowed the entire sky and starlight glittering in her luminous eyes she was every inch as beautiful as her sister. She had the power to bestow visions and to inspire others. Some horses call her the Bringer of Dreams. The sisters loved each other dearly and would soar across the wide blue sky side by side, bringing joy and happiness where they went. One day though, they encountered a mortal stallion. In a giddy mood, Ea asked him which of the sisters was more beautiful. The stallion considered the question and not wanting to embarrass any one of the mares, he answered it was impossible to say because both were magnificent.”

It was inevitable, wasn’t it? The disagreement and the following disorder. For yet another time, he wondered how much of this tale was true. He’d heard it so often, with varying details but the core was always the same – the reason why winter and summer existed. A cold shiver ran down his neck as snow dropped down from the branches overhead. Stifling a surprised neigh, he flicked his ears to get rid of the cold sensation.

When he turned his attention back to the storyteller, she had moved on to the devastation of the world as both sisters demonstrated their powers, Ea burning all life to ashes with the bright heat of a thousand suns while Ara plunged the world into darkness, suffocating all that remained, and drowning it in madness. They stood over the remnants of the world, shocked into speechlessness by what they had done. In desperation they parted, going in opposite directions, to never be the cause of such destruction again.

“This is why it can never be day and night at the same time. It is either Ea’s time or Ara’s. One half of the year, Ea gives us warmth and provides us with light so our food can grow and all you little ones may be born and raised in warmth and be strong enough for when Ara comes. Winter is her time when she reigns the sky, when darkness blankets the world in a snow cover; it is the time when all the world slumbers and dreams of spring. And as you all know, tonight is the Dawn Festival because this is a special night – the longest night of the year. When the sun comes up tomorrow morning, Ea will be on her way back to us.”

Expectant faces turned to the mare, the little ones urged her to tell another story, or asked excited questions. One of the foals though, a bay unicorn colt piped up, “But my mom told me, summer and winter come from the way the world turns around the sun, with the world being tilted and such!”

The old mare gave him a smile. “Your mom is an educated lady, Gawin. And she is right, but the story I told you is very, very old and from a time when horses didn’t know these things. They came up with their own explanation why the seasons change.”

Gawin snorted in amusement, “These horses must have been very dumb then! ‘Cause everyone knows there are no supernatural Pegasi in the sky, only clouds and stuff!”

“And ordinary Pegasi, Fairies and Alicorns!” A little Palomino filly chimed in, her tiny wings flapping madly as if to prove her point.

A soft whinny of laughter sounded across the clearing. “Did you tell them one of your fairy tales, Alma? Filling their little heads with funny ideas?” The speaker crossed the small distance from the edge of the wood over to the old mare. A proud bay unicorn stallion with a glossy coat and immaculate groomed mane and tail and an impatient air about him, one of the parents of the gaggle of foals probably.

Only for a second, Alma’s ears folded back; a tiny movement that might have gone unnoticed if not for the unseen observer in the woods. Politely enough, she answered, “I prefer the term ‘legend’, and I think it is important that they learn the stories of our Ancestors, their cultural heritage. Besides, saying ‘fairy tale’ is no longer considered politically correct nowadays as pointed out by the League of Spring Fairies.”

Little Gawin disentagled from a play fight with his buddies and galloped over to the stallion with a delighted squeal. “Dad!” With a nod back he indicated his buddies who still acted out a sword fight with their short horns. “Did you see that just now? I won! I’m the strongest!”

“Come on, little warrior. Let’s go home. Your mom and I have finished gathering the festival dinner for tonight.” With a nod of goodbye, the stallion and his little son turned and left.

“U-huh… Celebrating the night with your family as tradition demands, even though it is only an ordinary night that simply marks an annual astronomical event. So much for funny ideas, eh?” Muttering under her breath, Alma turned her attention back to the foals.

One by one, the little ones were picked up by their parents to go home. Most parents expressed their overwhelming gratitude that their offspring had been out of the way for a couple of hours. Preparing everything for the festival was hard work all of itself, even without having the little ones prancing about. Alma smiled; she’d done this on every Dawn Festival day for years, ever since her own foals were grown up.

Finally, she was alone in the clearing and looked over to the shadowy figure hiding in the wood. “Won’t you come out now? You must be freezing, standing there without moving for an hour.”

Darn, how does she do that every time? I’ve been so quiet! The young Pegasus stallion shook his mane and slowly came forward into the wintery grey of beginning twilight.

“Aeglas, why are you hiding?” Though soft, Alma’s voice held a gentle reproach. “The kids wouldn’t mind having you around, you know.”

Ears folded back and looking down at his hooves, Aeglas turned. “That’s not true, and you know it. They would gape and they would be scared. Their parents would frown as to why you would let someone like me into the vicinity of their children.”

“And by someone like you, you mean… ?” Inquisitive eyes searched his face for an answer, and he squirmed. Alma had seen him grow from foal to stallion, was his family; he owed her an answer.

Restless by sudden emotions, he began to pace in a circle, unable to express himself without letting his frustration show. Snow spattered up from his hooves as he kicked the ground hard.

“What I mean? I mean, an outcast. Look at me, Alma, I’m not like them.” Though his silvery mane and tail looked ordinary enough and blended in neatly with the snow, his coat made him stand out among other horses like a duck among swans; dark swirly markings on an unhealthy-looking dappled olive.

For a moment, Alma hesitated. Wraith – demon children of Ara, they were called. Nightflyer, Creeper, Nightmare were the names whispered in darkness. The rarity of this colour seemed to confirm the myth even though these Pegasi held no powers out of the ordinary. Superstition never dies out. She sighed. Of course, he was an outcast, but how could she explain to him that despite his appearance, he could better his situation simply by being more open towards others, a lesson she’d tried to teach him for years?

Head hanging, he went on, “No one wants me around, I make everybody tense up even though they hide their nervousness behind polite manners and exaggerated talk of how educated they are, and how superstition is a silly thing. Yet they breathe more feely when I leave, when they think me out of earshot. What sense does everything make, what sense does life make when you’re not allowed to partake?”

Alma trotted closer to him, gently blowing a cloud of breath from her nostrils.

“Aeglas, do you remember the time I found you, a lost foal in the middle of winter? It was on a night not unlike this one when you were huddled among the roots of a tree, hungry, cold, miserable. I feared for your life back then and was not sure whether you would live to see spring. And now I look at you and see a proud, young stallion with strong wings and hooves that dance upon the clouds. Look up there, Aeglas, and remember your name.”

Grumbling, Aeglas raised his head, silver mane flowing backwards over his neck. On the dark blue velvet of the sky above, the first stars began to glitter in the frigid air. The familiar constellations told their eternal tales in silent distance; he knew them all by heart. There was the twinkling tip of the Horn of Loril, the Three Alicorns of the Greensea. And then there was…

“Aeglas. The Seeker. You are named after these stars, always remember that. Aeglas was a mystery like you, no one knew where he came from. Blessed and cursed with a keen mind, he sought to understand the universe. He was also Keeper of Stories and guarded the ancient wisdom. His eyes saw both worlds, the visible and the invisible, and he was a hero and highly respected among his herd.”

“The Seeker… Maybe it is time, I went on my own search for wisdom,” the Pegasus mumbled, an edge of bitterness in his voice. Turning, he disappeared in the dark forest. “If I can’t find happiness among others, then maybe I will find it in solitude. Don’t follow me, I will be back… in a while.”

Knowing it made no sense to hold him back, Alma stood and watched him leave, silent wishes for his well-being in her heart.

o.O.o

The ground had no appeal to him, nor could it restrain him. Speeding up, beating the frozen earth with steadily accelerating hooves, he spread his mighty wings to leave gravity and its sorrows behind. Up here, he could be free, could dance among the clouds and race the wind as was the privilege of his kind.

Flying in darkness was foolish, said the elders; too easy an obstacle could be overlooked, a rock or a tree become a bone-breaking force. Aeglas did not care – if he truly was a child of darkness like everyone thought, he might as well prove the point.

Far underneath, fires flickered and cast small circles of golden light and warmth in the darkness. Down there, families and their friends celebrated the turning point of winter, feasted upon greenery carefully grown in sheltered places especially for this night. For a moment, Aeglas felt a pang of guilt for having left Alma on her own, but she would find a warm, cosy place to celebrate, he was sure.

Above, the endless globe of the night sky stretched. This far up, no clouds, no smoke could veil the sight of the stars, millions of tiny diamonds – more than he had ever seen! Threading through them like the filigree tail of a godess mare, the pale band of the Milky Way glowed softly. His heart skipped a beat, breath caught in his throat at the sheer beauty of the sight.

Seeker indeed, and he had found something. In an instant, he could see it all, feel it all. The world revolving on its axis, round and round, ever onward through the night towards the day. The fiery orb of the sun and its pull, holding the earth and the moon and all the other worlds together like a precious necklace of unimaginable wonders. And he was part of it all… Although a small part, he was important as any other, for no part could exist without the others. For once, he was no longer lost and wandering.

Wind rushed past, building up underneath his wings and carried him ever upwards until his coat and mane glittered with ice crystals. Through the wind, he could almost hear a voice, or maybe he was imagining things in the rapidly thinning air? A detached part of his mind urged him, he was suffering from lack of oxygene and must descend to a safer height at once. But he would not, could not descend – not yet. There was so much he still needed to see.

So you have found me… you are truly a child of mine, whispered the wind.

“Who are you?” He asked, eyes wide in wonder. “Are you Ara?”

Ara, Nott, Nyx, Morena – my names are as plentiful as the stars. I am Darkness, I am Winter, I am Cold. My colours are Black as the abyss between the stars and White as the ice where Light cannot reach. Fear not, for darkness holds no threat. Without darkness, the stars would not shine. Without darkness, you would not see the light.

For a moment, Aeglas could not belive his eyes; something moved in the vastness above, like a giant shadow that swallowed the sparkling dots of light. One by one they disappeared behind something impossibly large, utterly incomprehensible to a mortal mind, until he was the only being left, enveloped in soft darkness.

Can you feel it? Can you feel the turning point?

And there it was, clear as water, bright as daylight; the shifting of the celestial balance. Through the darkness, a bright explosion of light and colour flooded his consciousness, filling him with joy and peace. The darkness around him began moving, swirled and lifted, releasing the stars from its cold grip, and the material world came back into focus. Speechless, he hovered above a world that appeared solid and insubstantial at the same time.

Go now. Go back to your herd, little horse. I am always close, you know where to look for me.

All of a sudden, he felt drained and cold, his body remembering its material nature and obeying the rules of gravity. Gasping for breath, his felt his vision blur and his wings lost their steady beat. He started tumbling, tumbling downwards and another kind of darkness fell in his mind…

nox_draco-stellaris

“Do you think, he’s alright?” A female voice drifted through his consciousness, sounding worried. “What the heck was he doing up there anyway?”

“Dunno… probably wanted to get himself killed,” a male voice answered with a faint sneer. “Only a complete idiot would fly this high.”

Someone nudged him with their nose and snorted into his face. “I think he’s coming by. Hey, Sleeping Beauty, you okay? Remember anything?”

“What…?” he mumbled, not quite in control of his body yet. Getting all his legs sorted and underneath him posed an enormous problem, the same as getting his wings folded the right way. Like a foal standing up for the first time, he wobbled on his legs until the world was no longer revolving around him and he let out a sigh of relief.

“Whoa, careful, buddy. You might’ve knocked your head while landing.” The worried face of a Pegasus stallion appeared out of the dark.

“Or maybe he was knocked senseless before, who knows,” the second speaker in the background muttered under his breath.

Aeglas narrowed his eyes, he could discern three shapes in front of him, all Pegasi. Two stallions and a mare looked at him. Concern and surprise showed on the mare’s face while one of the stallions merely eyed him with a haughty air of mild interest, this had to be the sneering one. “What happened?” he inquired, shaking off a sudden burst of headache.

The mare stepped forward. “We were up there on our way to the festival when suddenly you fell past us like a stone, obviously out cold. You must’ve dropped from great height because you were covered in icicles. We dove after you and managed to catch you just before you hit the ground.”

“Well, thank you,” Aeglas said with heartfelt gratitude. “If you hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be here, I guess.”

“At least not in one piece.” Another muttering from behind the mare.

Without further ado, the mare lifted a leg and kicked out behind, smiled when a yelp confirmed her hoof had connected with its target. Not a bad aim at all considering she hadn’t even looked round. Unimpressed, she continued, “Would you like to come with us? It’s probably best if you have company tonight, in case there are complications from your crash. You can come along to the festival.”

She stepped closer and for the first time, Aeglas could see her clearly. What he has taken for a Palomino coat in the dark turned out to be covered with dark markings, and as she lifted her head up to the sky, there was no mistaking the elegant, flowing lines circling her cheekbones.

“But, but… you are Wraith!” he stuttered, taken aback by the discovery.

“Gosh, seems we found ourselves a genius.” The haughty stallion stepped up next to the mare and Aeglas saw that he, too, was Wraith. A dark line that looked like a slash ran down from his forehead across his left eye and his mane featured some thin braids. “In case you had no mirror at home, you are Wraith too.”

Aeglas pranced in excitement. “But I have never seen another one like me! I had no idea there were others close by!”

“Well, not exactly close by,” the third stranger interjected. “We only recently found our way here, actually. We’re nomads, see? Free as the wind and all that.” He nodded at his companions. “I’m Ember, this precious jewel is called Phoebe and the guy with more wit than can possibly be good for him is her brother, Pollux.”

Said Pollux pawed the ground impatiently and flattened his ears. “So now that we are finished exchanging niceties, can we hit the road? My butt is freezing out here and there are warm fires waiting for us.” Without waiting for the others to reply, he spread his wings and lifted off, littering them with snow as he went. “Last one at the festival is a lame mule!”

Aeglas shook snow out of his eyes and wings, then gazed at the other two. Phoebe nickered at his sight. “Don’t take his attitude personal; he’s a good guy at heart. When you dropped out of the sky, he was the first one to make the dive.”

It would take a while to process all the new impressions, Aeglas was sure. Regaining his speech, he remembered to introduce himself. “I’m Aeglas, by the way. Very pleased to meet you all. You said, you were going to the festival, aren’t you afraid you won’t be… well, welcome?”

For a long moment, Phoebe just looked at him, ears upright, flicking forward and backwards indecisive; and understanding grew in her amber eyes. When she replied, her voice was low, “Yes, we are aware we may not be welcome. But we go anyway, even if it means we have to search a long time for a place where we are welcome. And up till today, we have always found such a place sooner or later. The secret is to keep searching.”

With a smile, she spread her wings and took after her brother. Ember was already hovering close to the treetops, waiting. “You coming or what?”

With newfound resolve and a sense of belonging, Aeglas jumped into the air with all fours, just one strong beat of his wings propelling him upwards between his new companions.

Despite his teasing, Pollux hung back to let them catch up. Eyeing Aeglas with a sidelong glance, he began to talk. “So, you’re having issues being Wraith, eh? That’s very, very wrong, buddy. Being Wraith is probably the single best thing that ever happened to you.”

At Aeglas’ other side, Ember heaved a deep sigh and muttered, “Oh no, here he goes again.”

“Because,” Pollux continued and cast a conspirative glance around. “The mares secretly dig us guys. They think we’re fascinating and dangerous. I’m going to give you a few hints – free of charge because your’re a newbie, right?”

A hoof shot through the air, not far from his head, and he gave a startled snort.

“Cut it off, Pollux, will you? It’s better for your health,” Phoebe exclaimed. “What happened to our race, by the way? Last one at the festival is a lame mule?” A triumphant whinny escaped her throat as she sped forward. A look of sour indignation on his face, Pollux followed as fast as he could.

Laughing, Ember turned to Aeglas, “Are you up for a race? You don’t have to feel obliged, though, if you’re still shaken from your fall, that’s okay. Let the two sillies run ahead, we can take our time.”

Aeglas pondered over the question. Physically, he felt alright and strong enough to take up the chase, but he didn’t literally want to rush things. “Maybe I should join in the race another day, and better take it one step at a time just now.”

Ember nodded and simply kept on flying by Aeglas’ side; Phoebe and Pollux were already reduced to small dots against the slowly brightening Eastern horizon.

What are the chances of stumbling over a whole group of Wraith Pegasi on a lonely night like this, in the vastness of the skies?

A familiar presence that had been lurking at the edge of his consciousness now took flight. It left gentle laughter behind and the fleeting touch of cold, feathery wings on his cheek. Go home, little horse. Follow your kin, experience the light of dawn but never forget the wisdom of darkness.

I won’t, he silently vowed, sure he was heard.

The End

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