The Toy Castle, prologue
The forest was cold and damp. Leaves that would normally crunch just mushed softly under the hooves of the pastel-colored herd, exhausted fluffies desperately searching for shelter with the frigid air on their tongues. The breeze slipped between the trees, causing foals to chirp and whimper as their thin fluff could not yet shut it out.
“A wittwe mowe,” urged the smarty, walking at the head of the group. They had long lost track of how many times he’d urged them on, but they understood why. Everyone was tired and dirty, wishing to stop and rest, but if they slept in the open fluffies would be lost to the wind and wildlife alike. “Just a wittwe mowe.”
So on they walked. Until finally, something out of the norm caught everyone’s attention.
A house, no - more like a castle, brilliantly painted in an array of colors. It looked beautiful, like a saferoom turned inside-out, and many fluffies stopped to gape in awe. The foals were most awed of all, more than one having to be nudged away from staring itself blind at the spectacle.
Finally the smarty declared a rest. The castle itself was unreachable - a few tried, but an overgrown metal fence with a golden gate surrounded it and the ground was hard and unyielding, leaving no openings for anything bigger than a foal to squeeze through. But the fence wall provided security, and the rough foliage that covered it provided ample hiding spots against the wind.
One of the toughies tried chewing on the foliage but declared it inedible, so the least exhausted fluffies went to find food. The others settled, preparing beds or cleaning themselves up. Once everyone had eaten, they huddled together into a large fluff pile and soon every fluffy had fallen asleep.
“Whewe …? Whewe babbehs?”
“Babbehs missing! Whewe babbehs go!?”
Snowcone stirred to a cacophony of cries, and blinked awake as she looked around. A white pegasus who had yet to find a mate, she was one of few mares not to have any babies of her own, so it took her a few moments to realize what had happened; all the foals were missing. A wide-spread panic had engulfed the herd, mothers crying and wailing for their lost children while fathers searched around in despair. The smarty, grief filling his gray eyes, was trying to calm them all down to no avail.
Pain shot through Snowcone’s heart and she huddled down, resisting the urge to cry herself. Everyone’s sorrows weighed on her chest like a boulder, suffocating and sharp. The lost foals – none were hers, but she had helped tend so many of them. And there had been so many, four talkie foals and over a dozen more chirpies, how could they all be gone?
“Smawty!!” a toughy cried from afar – Ron, single father of a talky baby, and the most panicked of them all. “Dis way!!”
It attracted the attention of not just the smarty but the entire herd, and Snowcone followed as they all congegrated by Ron. Gasps spread throughout as one by one, everyone saw the same thing.
The gates to the colorful castle stood open.
It was a horrible epiphany. Twenty foals didn’t vanish on their own; someone had stolen them. Whatever human lived in there had taken all of their children away.
At once a series of wails and cries broke out among the fluffies. The mothers called for the toughies to go in and save their foals, while the toughies begged the smarty to take charge and go first like he always did. Ron looked ready to run in on his own and one of the mothers had to be held back from going in.
It was chaos and agony, and the longer it went on the worse Snowcone felt. The smarty couldn’t make a decision in this, that she knew; he was clever and knew lots about survival, but he wasn’t strong or brave. The mothers grieved too harshly, weren’t able to think clearly. And the toughies relied on orders they couldn’t get, nobody wanting to take the first step, yet fearful to go all together.
“Snowcone wiww go!” she called as loudly as she could just to be heard over the cries around her. The smarty jumped and everyone else began to quiet down, sobbing interspliced with quiet questions and confusion. Snowcone straightened up, spreading her wings to help show off her resolve. “Snowcone am wingy fwend, am fast; can scout castwe and come back wif babbehs ow info fow hewd! Den toughies can entew an’ hewp.”
“Am Snowcone suwe?” the smarty asked carefully, and Snowcone nodded.
Pushing through the rest of the herd, Snowcone glanced around. She felt the fear circle her heart, ready to take hold at any moment, so she made sure not to stop lest she wouldn’t be able to resume. Halfly running just to keep herself going, she passed through the gate and into the castle’s garden.
She had barely taken in the prickly flowers and decorations when the gate slammed shut behind her, yelping and jumping back as she whirled to face the golden bars.
“Snowcone?!” cried her smarty from the other side. “Yu otay?!”
“Nu can get in, gate nu wants to open!”
Tail between her legs, Snowcone looked around. The garden was small, only populated by thorns and stone decorations and inedible leaves, and ahead of her the castle loomed like a giant doll’s house.
“S-Snowcone… Snowcone wiww twy to find anothew way out!” she called. “Pwease wait!”
“Otay… Hewd wiww wait untiw tonight.”
One day. One day to get out, with or without foals. The castle doors stood open, inviting and waiting, and Snowcone steeled herself.
The only way out was forward.