My first memories of the boy Danny are hazy. I had just come into the world, along with my brother, and there was quite an audience! Most other horses are born with just their mother to bear witness, or perhaps a farmer or two. But apparently Runed Ponies are very rare and thus very sought after, and a whole tribe was present to welcome us!
But among all the happy faces, Danny’s face was up front. Well technically, two faces, since his twin brother Sammy was also there. Two ponies for two brothers, future leaders of the tribe. Even our runes matched theirs. But I didn’t know about any of that right then. Things were blurry and confusing, so I just focused on his face. Even then, I knew he was my Wizard. I just knew.
After several months with our mother, nourished by her milk, my brother and I left her and traveled with the twin brothers and their tribe. We traveled north, to a colder and harsher climate than we had previously known. But the boys made sure we stayed warm and had plenty to eat on our journey, and we grew stronger.
My brother Atom
The boys looked very similar, and most of the other humans of the tribe couldn’t tell them apart. But my brother and I knew. They had little tics and mannerisms that distinguished them, if you observed them as closely as we did. And their energy was different, although I wasn’t sure if humans could sense such things.
“So, about our ponies…” Sammy said. The tribe had just finished setting up their encampment, somewhere in the Expanse’s tundra, and the boys had been allowed to tend to us while dinner was prepared.
“You sense it too, don’t you,” replied Danny. “We got assigned the wrong ponies.”
“It doesn’t make sense. Logically, we should each get the pony that matches our own Rune…”
“...but I’m feeling more attached to Penelope, with the Rune of Uranus.”
“Gods, you’ve already named her?! But yeah, I’m feeling the same with the Neptune pony.”
Danny grinned. “So, let’s work a little of our twin magic! We’ll just switch during training, and by the time everyone figures it out we’ll be too far along and they’ll have to let us keep it switched.”
“Hmm, agreed,” Sammy said. “You can have Penelope there. I feel like, hmm…. Atom here is more my style anyway.” He stroked my brother’s ash-colored mane.
“Atom, huh? You’re even more enamored with the ancient texts than I realized! Well, he’s your pony, name him as you will.”
Danny turned to me. “So Penelope, are you OK with this arrangement? Even if our Runes don’t match?” He laughed as I walked over and nuzzled him. He knew he didn’t have to ask.
The “twin magic” worked for a surprisingly long time. While taking care of us and during training sessions, the boys were careful to dress identically and respond to each other’s names. Stable Master was none the wiser for months as we mastered the basics of riding. But he eventually caught on once we entered attunement training and it didn’t…work.
It happened during night-time training. Sammy was supposed to use me to enhance his Rune of Uranus, and draw power from the stars. But since he was riding Atom, he wasn’t getting the extra power he needed, and failed to conjure a Starlight Orb as requested. The boys were immediately given a stern lecture by Stable Master.
“The tribe’s future depends on you two!” he scolded. “You need to use your assigned ponies and develop your respective abilities to the fullest!” He glanced upward at the field of stars, so clear in the arctic sky. “I see great change and turmoil in the years to come. Our tribe won’t survive without you to guide them as competent shaman chiefs.”
After that, the brothers begrudgingly rode us as requested during training sessions. As twins, they shared so much already, so it wasn’t that bad. But although Sammy could successfully draw power from the starlit sky while riding me, it just wasn’t the same - our Runes might match, but our spirits did not. His energy was powerful, ambitious, and cold. He was a good boy just like my Danny, but that energy disquieted me.
Atom seemed to like it just fine, though. “He has the makings of greatness, and great men aren’t afraid to forge their own trail and stomp on a few hooves along the way,” he said. Luckily, whenever we weren’t under the watchful eye of the stablemaster, the boys continued to care for their “chosen” ponies, and I still got fed, brushed, and taken out for rides by Danny during those times. In contrast to Sammy, Danny’s energy was soft, warm and mellow. Needless to say, I adored him.
As the boys and us ponies grew older, we got stronger and more skilled. This was put to the test one night when we all snuck out of the tribe’s encampment for a moonlit ride through Crystal Gorge. A unique landmark in the Expanse, the gorge was a narrow pass between two large formations of ice crystals. When lit by the northern lights, as they were on this night, the crystals would glow with otherworldly color. It was a mesmerizing scene, and I will never forget it.
The boys could only look from side to side in wonderment as we walked through. What made it even more wondrous, was that all the crystals glistened with moisture, diffracting the colorful lights further. We had never visited before during these conditions, so we didn’t know that we were in mortal danger.
Our first warning was a sharp CRACK! as a crystal suddenly broke off of its base, far up above. The fragment tumbled down toward us, hitting and breaking off bits of other crystals on the way. Almost immediately after, we heard more cracks - it appeared that somehow, the crystals’ integrity was breaking down! A fallen crystal landed nearby, and a fragment grazed Danny’s arm, opening a cut. We all stared at it for a few seconds until Sammy suddenly shouted, “It’s all coming down, we gotta get out NOW!”
Atom and I didn’t need to be told twice. We immediately turned around and galloped back the way we came. More and more crystals started cracking and falling down around us. We did our best to avoid them, but they kept coming down faster - it appeared that the entire gorge would get inundated!
I noticed Danny making incantations as we ran. His Neptune Rune gave him some ability to control ice. But this was too much ice, he needed more power! I neighed and tossed my head towards my brother. He would need Atom for this one.
Danny understood immediately and shouted, “Sammy, do a running switch, I can stop this!” The twins maneuvered us side by side, and and although we were almost frantic with terror, luckily Atom and I are evenly matched in our speed and endurance, so we stayed close, even as we ran for our lives.
Doing a running switch at full gallop would have been considered excessively dangerous in most other situations; the brothers had only successfully completed it at a trot previously. But to their credit, they didn’t hesitate - Sammy called out then immediately leaped in the air between Atom and me while Danny simultaneously darted sideways under him. Both boys stayed on horseback, although Danny had a few tense moments scrambling up to a secure position atop Atom.
Meanwhile, the cascade of crashing crystals had flanked us, and they were filling the path ahead. It sounded as if the stars themselves were coming down around us in a twinkling cacophony. The boys pulled us to a halt as Danny, now attuned with Atom, unleashed his ice magic with a scream. Just as a rush of crystal fragments were about to bury us, they suddenly froze back in place as Danny’s spell took hold. What was once a wonder of crystalline sculptures, now resembled a torrent of rushing daggers, frozen in place.
All of us had suffered various cuts and bruises where some of the crystals had hit us, but due to the heroics of the boys, we hadn’t been grievously wounded. Atom and I were grateful that we’d been paired with such courageous souls. So I was surprised when Danny suddenly hugged me.
“Thank you, thank you Penelope and Atom! You did great!” gushed Danny.
“I’m impressed that they kept their heads, or we’d have been goners,” said Sammy. “I’d say they’re battle ready, if it came to that. Well done.” He patted Atom’s mane.
We proceeded to pick our way out of the former Crystal Gorge - they’d probably have to change the name at this point. As we headed home, Sammy said, “that shouldn’t have been possible. The Elders said that Crystal Gorge was discovered by our ancestors hundreds of years ago, and it’s been there ever since, unchanged. How could it just collapse like that?”
Danny looked troubled. “Stable Master said that there’s troubled times coming. Maybe this is a sign that the changes are here.”
(to be continued)
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