Twilight Sparkle trotted along the snowy main street of Ponyville, looking around the empty stores. It was well past midnight and the Hearth’s Warming Eve festival earlier that night had wound down hours ago. She tugged the brown cloak around herself more snugly as a breath of wind tried to lift it away. Her horn glowed telekinetically, catching her cloak and freeing her hooves to keep pushing through the thick snow.
“This snow is ridiculous,” she muttered to herself as she diverted some of her magic to assist in clearing the path “the way this is going, I’d almost think Discord’s returned.” She sighed “I guess I shouldn’t joke about that, especially not when I’m going to meet the princess…”
Twilight shook a bit of snow off her hood, beginning to wonder now if this wasn’t some elaborate prank by Spike. She very much doubted the princess would even be awake at so late an hour, let alone come out in the cold and snow. Unfortunately that wasn’t a risk she was prepared to take, so all she could do was follow the path the letter had specified.
As her hooves struck the dirt of the path down toward the forest however, she began to have her doubts. She took the letter out of her saddlebag, planning to check the directions again, but the wind snatched it away. “No!” she called, galloping after it as the wind carried it steadily toward the forest.
Twilight stopped as the letter passed the tree line. She was instantly struck with a sense of indecision. If she arrived at the meeting place without the letter there was no telling what the princess could do. She might be killed! Or worse, Celestia might expel her as a protégé! But to go into those trees seemed suicidal…
Just as she made up her mind to take the first step, however, there was a flash of lightning and she turned quick as a whip to see a black chariot flying down from the clouds. Not without a backward glance, she darted to where the chariot was pulling up for a landing.
“I’m sorry princess!” she gasped, bowing as the wheels landed with a soft poof in the snow “I lost the letter, it just got away from me, but I’m here, just as you asked!”
“Twilight?” came a voice from the chariot “Did sister send you?”
Twilight looked up in surprise; the voice did not belong to Celestia. Her purple eyes connected with a set of deep blue, staring up into the face of Princess Luna.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Luna, stepping down from the chariot quickly “we could use your help anyway.” Twilight noticed now that Luna had a small bundle held tightly against her with magic. To Twilight’s slight shock, she saw the bundle shift slightly of its own accord.
“The night’s getting on,” said a deeper, masculine voice, as a black stallion stepped out of the chariot after her “We don’t want any pony to be getting suspicious…”
Luna turned to the stallion, a slight look of hurt in her eyes “Umbra…” she said “you don’t have to do this; you can stay in Canterlot, both of you!”
Umbra walked over to Luna and put a hoof around her shoulders. Twilight was amazed a regular stallion could be tall enough to do so, “My love,” he said “your safety is far more important than my comfort, and so is his.” Umbra’s eyes fell to the bundle now, his expression softening.
“It’s so hard though…” said Luna “I don’t want to let go…”
Umbra turned to Twilight “Judging by the fact you’re still alive, I’m going to believe she trusts you,” he said “could you build a shelter please? This cold is biting…”
“Yes, of course!” Twilight said, casting her magic toward the trees, working into the wood’s shape, bending it and twisting it into a cubic form. She began featuring it a bit more precisely as Umbra continued talking.
“You know as well as I the changelings have been on the move” he said “Discord has escaped once already, and the dragons have been moving out of the southlands. Everfree’s influence is growing, and it would take advantage of your weakness. I know how you feel but we have no choice.”
A tear streamed down Luna’s face “I’ll never find a better captain, you were the best…”
“Come now,” said Umbra “How about that kid, what was his name… Shining Armor! He’d do well.” Twilight perked up at the sound of the name “He’s got the spirit for it.”
“I’ll just let Celly decide,” said Luna, starting to choke “She would…know best…”
Twilight finished the structure as Luna started to cry. She was tired from the exertion of magical energy, and confused by this conversation. Was the captain of the royal guard resigning? With her brother to take his place? But equally important, why would Luna, and the current captain, be here in Ponyville. And what could be bringing Luna to tears like this?
Umbra nodded in Twilights direction, then turned back to Luna “It’s time,” he said “there’s no need to wait any longer, it’s almost time for you to lower the moon.”
Luna nodded, bringing the small bundle up to eye level “Goodbye,” she said “goodbye… my little Shadow…” She lowered the bundle onto Umbra’s back and he draped his wings protectively over it.
“We’ll come back to see you when things have calmed down.” He said reassuringly “Five years should go by in the blink of an eye for you.”
“It will feel like all my years lost on the moon,” said Luna “and more, just to go without seeing you two.”
“I’ll keep him safe,” said Umbra “I swear that on my own life. Now go, you have work to do.”
Luna nodded, turning with a low head back toward the chariot. As the bat winged pegasi lifted it off the ground and swung into the night sky Twilight could see her sobbing.
“Twilight,” said Umbra “I need to say something to you.”
“Of course!” Said Twilight, not daring to question how this Pegasus had known her name.”
“This foal means the world to Luna, and then some,” said Umbra, his flashing red eyes seeming to bore slowly into Twilight “You will leave this place and never tell a soul what has transpired here. I am now a travelling Pegasus, having moved here from Canterlot for better living arrangements with my son. If I hear any other story out of you, it will be your end…”
Twilight noticed now that Umbra had a long sword hanging by his side. She gulped “Yes sir!” she said “I swear it!”
Umbra merely nodded again, turning toward the house Twilight had fashioned and walking inside. As the door slammed shut behind him the gravity of the situation slammed into Twilight with the force of an Ursa’s punch.
As most ponies might know the next several years were very eventful, especially in the little town of Ponyville, but most of the commotion passed harmlessly over the little house by the forest. As such it came to no one’s mind that there was anything suspicious about a new student enrolling at Cheerilee’s schoolhouse. Anyone walking by the forest that August morning would’ve spotted a very bouncy Pegasus colt with gray fur and a dark green mane standing in the doorway of the cottage.
“Come on Dad!” he shouted “Where’s my lunch? I’m ready to go!”
“Be patient Shadow,” Umbra’s voice came from the kitchen “Sorry if I haven’t made a sandwich in months.”
“It’s just bread, lettuce, tomatoes, bread…” Shadow grumbled, his wings beginning to flutter.
Umbra walked over and placed a lunchbox in Shadow’s schoolbag, then handed it to him “Now you behave yourself.” He said cautiously “I know you’ve got a kind of a habit of bouncing off walls, but Cheerilee isn’t there to babysit you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got it!” said Shadow rolling his eyes “Can I go already? I want to meet my new classmates!”
Something suddenly caught Umbra’s attention out of the corner of his eye “Go ahead,” he said “Why don’t you see how fast you can go?”
Shadow didn’t need telling twice, he kicked hard, his wings hauling him into a low flight while his hooves continued to pound the ground. Umbra waved and turned to Fluttershy, who was walking up to the house with a smile.
“Oh my, he looked energetic,” she said mildly “is it his first day of school?”
Umbra gave a smile “Yeah, they really grow up fast,” he said “You know what it’s like?”
“Of course,” said Fluttershy “I’ve watched so many little critters grow up and leave home. It’s sad every time.” She looked back to Umbra “So why did you ask me to come over?”
“It’s nothing major,” said Umbra “I’ve just had this migraine for awhile. It’s not bad but it’s kind of tugging at the back of my head.”
“I’m not a real doctor you know,” said Fluttershy with a giggle “how long has this been going on?”
Umbra shrugged “Oh…five months?” he said, and then winced a little “I haven’t been to the hospital because it might cost us on the health care, you know how often kids like that can get into trouble.”
“Has it been on and off that whole time?” asked Fluttershy, sounding frightened.
“Not really,” said Umbra “it just started off as a little tick and started getting worse steadily. It’s just a sort of dull roar I guess.”
“Your eyes are bloodshot…” said Fluttershy “that could mean you’re sick…”
“I work the night weather remember?” said Umbra with a laugh “I don’t get enough sleep.”
“Umbra!” Fluttershy exclaimed “You could have a hemorrhage, or a clot, or brain cancer! You could bleed into your brain!”
“Now can it really be all that bad?” said Umbra “I’m still alive aren’t I?”
“Not if that pressure gets too intense,” Fluttershy squeaked “You need to get to the hospital, if just to make sure. Now!” She punctuated as Umbra seemed about to object.
“Alright, well I’ll go, just let me leave a note for Shadow,” Umbra said, and when Fluttershy seemed ready to interrupt “I won’t take long if it means that much to you.”
Later that afternoon found Shadow skipping gleefully back home, his backpack stuffed with the spoils of the first school day. It had been so much fun he was almost looking forward to the homework… well…almost.
“Dad! I’m home!” he shouted, bounding in the door “I behaved just like you asked!” when there was no response, he started poking around the house. Finally after climbing one of the chairs he discovered the note that had been left on the kitchen table.
“Shadow,” he read aloud slowly “a friend of mine has discovered some health problems I overlooked… I’m going to the doctor to get a checkup. There is food in the fridge, but don’t eat too much and get sick. Dad.” The formality of this was totally lost on Shadow who immediately dove for the fridge.
Two hours and a full tub of ice cream later he began to get worried. Umbra still wasn’t back yet. He peeked up at the phone with the two emergency numbers listed. The first was 911, but he was too afraid to press that. The other one connected to the library. After pushing a chair and a few phone books over to stand on, he dialed.
“Hello,” came an unfamiliar voice on the line “Ponyville library, Twilight speaking.”
“Um…hello?” Shadow spoke, still mostly unsure how to use the device “This is Twilight Sparkle right?”
“Who is this?” Twilight’s voice sounded agitated now “It’s nearly ten PM, is this some sort of prank?”
“No!” Shadow shouted “please don’t hang up! I just called the number my dad says is for little emergencies!”
There was a sigh, then a slight laugh from the other end “Well who is this?” she said “I’ll see what I can do to help.”
“I’m Shadow Chaser!” said Shadow “I live in the house near the forest. My Dad went to the doctor while I was at school and hasn’t come back!”
“What’s your dad’s name?” asked Twilight, sounding serious now.
“Umbra Chaser,” said Shadow “can you help me?”
“I’ll be right over.” Said Twilight, sounding almost scared herself.
Before Shadow even had the chance to hang up the phone there was a knock on the door. Twilight must have teleported over. He ran over and jumped at the doorknob a few times before Twilight opened it herself.
“Hey,” she said “are you alright?”
Shadow, who had tumbled over as the door opened, stood up again “Yeah, you’re Twilight?” he asked curiously.
“Yes,” said Twilight with a warm smile “I’m Twilight Sparkle, can you tell me exactly what happened?”
When Shadow explained what had happened, Twilight had begun to feel a little better. Shadow was really just a scared kid, and Umbra’s delay had of course frightened him. “Come on,” she said “let’s head to the doctor, we can meet your dad there.”
Shadow practically flew out the door “Well come on!” he said “Or we might miss him!”
Twilight laughed as she followed the little Pegasus out the door, almost able to forget how serious this could be…
When they arrived at the Ponyville medical center Twilight left Shadow in the sitting area of the lobby and went to the front desk.
“I’m looking for Umbra Chaser,” she told the brown unicorn “His son’s pretty much scared to death.”
“Oh dear,” said the unicorn, turning so he could check the files telekinetically “that sounds dreadful. Let’s see, Chaser you said? Yes, Fluttershy checked him into the infirmary this morning.”
Twilight breathed a sigh of relief, if Fluttershy had something to do with this everything had to be okay “Could you tell us where he is? The little guys really worried.”
“I don’t think that it would do you much good,” said the unicorn, “he’s in urgent care, long term clotting in the brain.”
“Is he going to be okay?” asked Twilight, her stomach seeming to jump into her throat.
“It’s not looking great, but it’s not bad either,” said the Doctor “he has a fighting chance, he’s pretty darn tough for a Pegasus his age. You should tell the boy that Umbra will be fine by tomorrow.”
Twilight nodded and walked back to Shadow, who had occupied himself with a few of the toys scattered about the lobby “He’s still here,” she said “but he’s pretty sick, do you want to wait here until he’s better?”
Shadow seemed to contemplate this for a long time, then nodded “If he’s that sick he’ll want to make sure I’ve kept up my flying practice” he finally said “I’ll wait right here Ms.Twilight!”
Twilight almost blushed, she wasn’t often addressed so formally “I’ll stay here too,” she said “I can’t leave you here alone in good conscious.”
“I don’t know what conscious is…” said Shadow “but… you know what?”
“What?” asked Twilight playfully.
Shadow suddenly darted forward and poked her nose “You’re it!” he shouted and took off at a hover. Twilight laughed and followed after him at a trot.
The sun cresting the horizon the next morning illuminated Shadow, sleeping uncomfortably on one of the hospital chairs. Twilight sitting to him, eyes open, waited for the desk worker to clock in for the morning.
As the pink mane of Nurse Redheart finally appeared behind the desk Twilight carefully got up and walked over “I’d like to know the status of Umbra Chaser.” She said formally.
“Nice seeing you Twilight,” said Redheart with a smile “sure, I can get that for you!”
“Sorry we haven’t talked more often,” said Twilight “the library really is a full time job; I’m only here because it’s an emergency. Well, minor emergency I suppose.” She couldn’t help laughing to herself as she remembered Shadow’s childish explanation.
Redheart’s smile suddenly faltered “You said Umbra Chaser…?” she asked worriedly.
“Yes…” said Twilight, her expression dropping.
“Oh no…” said Redheart “I’m so sorry Twilight, Umbra Chaser passed away in critical care last night…”
“What…?” came a small voice from behind Twilight.
She turned quickly to look down at Shadow, she hadn’t heard him approach, and based on Redheart’s shocked look, neither had she.
“He’s…Dad is…dead?” Shadow’s eyes filled with tears “No… he can’t be… we were going to Canterlot… he promised….Dad!” Before either of the mares could stop him he was off down the hallway at a full sprint.