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Distant Shores · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Far Kobresia
The wind, it's said, never blows across the grasslands of Kobresia, so deep in the mountains beyond Yakyakistan that even the inhabitants of that distant kingdom—when they begrudgingly find that they must refer to it at all—call it "Far Kobresia."

The wind, as I said, is rumored never to blow through those tall, perennial sedges. Yaks will assert with much shouting and smashing of tavern tables that the wind there drifts and hisses and rustles and sighs. But that it might merely blow is something they will fervently deny.

In fact, sir, those few yaks who claim to have stumbled, half frozen, from the ice-laden storms that howl in constant, swirling confusion through that northernmost of northern spots into the sudden, sun-drenched silence of Far Kobresia report that the stillness at first makes them wonder if they've gone deaf, if somehow the storms have affected their ears the way snow blindness will affect the eyes.

At first, they wonder this.

At first, too, they dance with elation, especially those who report that they'd felt Death's frosty but fevered breath upon their flanks mere moments before. For summer in Yakyakistan is a thing any of us ponies would call the depths of deepest winter, and even the majority of yaks, born and raised in the yurt-filled villages and thickly-insulated stone cities huddled on the permafrosted plains and nestled in the sheltered valleys, find travel outside the settlements to be a tricky proposition at certain times of the year.

But there are always those who feel confined by the usual, aren't there? Pedestrian they call the life they lead among blizzards that would challenge the heartiest pony adventurer. Sneering, they turn up their noses at the commonplace reality of the thriving civilization the yaks have wrenched from a landscape few other species would consider close to habitable. Wearily they wave away the towers that thrust their bannered roofs into a sky so crisp it seems ready to shatter. Hooves heavy with disgust, they turn their backs on the fragrant feasts and festivals and raise their shaggy brows to the heights of the mountains beyond.

Now, the mountains of Yakyakistan, sir, deserve the name "mountain." Mention the mountains of Yakyakistan while clambering about on what we call mountains here in Equestria, and you will feel the ground tremble beneath you at the comparison. Mountains are nothing if not honest, after all, and their natural inclination will simply not allow them to stand idly by while untruths are being uttered in their general direction.

The shuddering sense of unworthiness that our mountains feel when they're forced into contemplation of the mountains of Yakyakistan, however, is nothing to the unease that the mountains cradling the heart of yak civilization feel when their attention is turned to the behemoths beyond them, geological features that rise from the very center of the world to scrape white, cloudy scars across the blue face of the sky.

These, no yak would dare call mountains. The word is too small, too ephemeral, too much a breath of air to describe objects so very much of the earth. These, the yaks have no word for.

Whether this lack of nomenclature arises from respect or fear or hatred, I certainly cannot say. Try to imagine, though, living in a world one storm away from utter ruin. The yaks have no pegasi among them to control the weather, and their lands are at the very edge of the route Princess Celestia has set for the sun's movements across the heavens. Yaks must therefore rely upon their own stern characters, their own solid habits of mind, their own unbreakable traditions to carry them successfully from season to season.

While during every moment of every day, above and beyond the mountains they know and the mountains that nurture them looms a landscape unutterably alien in every single way.

We ponies, were we ever to see even the casual, workaday mountains the yaks call home, we who breathe a constant atmosphere of magic and wonder would have our breaths taken away at the majestic splendor of the scene. Should we then catch a glimpse of the mountains beyond those mountains, our poor, stricken minds would view them merely as 'even bigger mountains.'

But to the yaks, that similarity is an illusion and a lie. They know mountains, don't they? And these things simply aren't that.

The nearest I can come to explaining their way of thinking, sir, would be an analogy wherein our beloved Princesses were not the sweetly charming and oh-so-approachable beings we've all known since our foalhoods. Consider how different our lives would be if our Princesses, while still looking much like us mortal ponies, were in fact creatures who never spoke to us, who never regarded us, who never seemed to take any notice of us at all. How could we possibly live with them hovering overhead while ignoring us and everything we do? How could we hold a civilization together in the face of such overwhelming mystery and uncertainty?

Would we perhaps respond as the yaks do to those vast and unknowable mountains? Would we largely ignore those creature as they ignore us? Or would some of us commit wild and desperate acts to force some sort of acknowledgment?

At least that's one possible explanation for the yaks' behavior when the topic of those mountains beyond their mountains is broached. For while most will fall silent, their ears folding tight into their manes, a very few will widen their eyes, flare their nostrils, and begin to speak of Far Kobresia.

It was never a land settled by yaks. Far from it. What land the yaks can call their own has been carved and scraped and formed and shaped by countless generations, a place that has grown with the yaks and because of the yaks, a nation created by long, cold centuries of effort. All Yakyakistan is a testament to the power of persistence in the face of overwhelming odds, and as such, it is a testament to the yaks themselves.

But Far Kobresia, those who will speak of it at all will say, is a place not made by yaks. It is, they mutter, their great eyes rolling from side to side to be certain none of their fellows in the tavern are near enough to hear, a place made for yaks.

And this distinction, sir, is at the very heart of the matter. As an illustration, let me relate a story that's told of Prince Ruddigore, the last yak to visit Equestria before our dear Princess Twilight recently reopened relations with the far north. According to the annals of Seneschal, the administrator of Canterlot Tower at the time, the prince was found missing from his rooms the morning before his party's scheduled departure. When questioned, his aides shrugged, mentioned that His Highness had expressed an interest in seeing the crystal mines below the city, announced that they were unconcerned, and lumbered off to the breakfast buffet.

Seneschal, however, was extremely concerned, and she rushed down into the mines only to hear a whirling, screaming bedlam echoing along the tunnels ahead of her. Following the tumult, she rounded a corner to see that a section of floor at the bottom of the main shaft had collapsed under the impact of Prince Ruddigore's displeasure concerning certain Equestrian mining techniques. The prince was struggling at the center of a pit filled with fine, crystalline powder, his struggles only causing him to sink more steadily.

The crystals all around hummed and vibrated at the sudden instability, and Seneschal reports that the unicorns on the crew were forced to suspend any use of magic due to fears that the walls might come tumbling down. Instead, the earth ponies miners had formed a chain, one holding the rear hoofs of another, each lowering the rest further into the pit. "Your Highness!" the pony on the end was yelling as he drew ever nearer to the still struggling prince. "Give me your hooves, sir! Give me your hooves!"

Prince Ruddigore, however, merely continued striking out at the sand slowly sucking him into itself, and Seneschal, who had studied the yaks before and during their visit, went cold. Knowing that time was of the essence, she leaped onto the living chain of ponies and clambered down the shouting miners till she reached the pony at the end. Dangling herself from his forelegs and stretching as far as she could, she called, "Prince Ruddigore! Take my hooves, sir! Take my hooves!"

The prince's attention snapped immediately to her; his hooves seized hers, and all were drawn safely from the pit.

Yaks don't give, you see. They only take. It's how they've survived in the mountains of their birth, and it's colored their every impression of the world. So when they're presented with gifts, or when they meet with objects either immovable or unusable, the vast majority of yaks will quickly become prickly and annoyed: more prickly and annoyed, I mean, than they normally are.

If the gift or the untakable object is small, some amount of smashing is the usual result. But in the case of the mountains beyond their own mountains, most yaks simply lower their gazes and pretend not to see them.

A small minority, however, accepts the very existence of these mountains as a challenge. These few turn away from the trappings of civilization and strike out for those storms that dwarf all other storms, for those temperatures that plunge further than any other temperatures, for those crags and crevices unmatched among the world's every other crag and crevice.

Most of these adventurers return quickly and are welcomed with much hearty crashing and stomping back into their local taverns, their fellows yearning to hear the wild and dangerous tales of unyielding stone and snow that all yaks expect from those who enter that misbegotten land beyond. But now and then, a traveler will return with a different tale, a tale less welcomed and more dangerous. A tale of Far Kobresia.

It's only those travelers who have lost their way who seem to happen upon Far Kobresia. Those travelers who slip unexpectedly or who come up against an unplanned-for obstacle or who find themselves battered and beaten by the wind and terrain nearly to the point of death are those who lurch sideways in the blinding gale and fall not into a ravine but onto a cushion of sedge grass. They feel the sun settle sweetly and gently over them, and as the ice melts from their eyes, they can only blink at the rolling green meadow surrounded by the heights of the mountains, the sky a clear, almost painful blue.

This is when they report their elated dancing, the sedge grass crunchy and perfect between their teeth, the bosky dell they always seem to wander into dappled with shade from the swaying but silent grasses standing higher than even the tallest yak's horns around a pool of water flowing from the side of the hill and away in a winding brook. They settle down and rest—none are ever quite sure for how long—but their strength returns eventually.

And that's when they notice the wind.

Not blowing, of course. As I mentioned before, that's a word the yaks specifically rule out when discussing the wind of Far Kobresia. It slinks and it whispers, they say, chatters and whines and speaks to them in the sounds that trickle over their ears from the grasses.

Most of those who tell these stories will become quite agitated at this juncture and pound out the point that the wind speaks lies. It tells them, they say, that their loved ones at home don't miss them at all, that they were never well-regarded among other yaks, that they're better off staying here in the comfort and care of Far Kobresia where all their needs will be met and all their burdens lifted.

The travelers declare that this is when they leaped to their hooves in horror at the offer, and some will bellow that they then glimpsed through the undulating curtain of reeds the bleached bones of other yaks, the sedge grass wrapped and twining about them. Galloping for their lives, they relate in varying degrees of detail their frantic flight from that terrible place, the wind still tugging at them and urging them to stay. They charge out along a gap they spot in the cliff face ahead and are soon struggling their way through the howling blizzard toward the right and proper mountains and the civilized world below.

This is the usual tale one will hear of Far Kobresia if one can coax any tale of that land at all from a reluctant throat lubricated with multiple flagons of fermented kefir milk. And the lesson the yaks will draw from it at their top of their lungs and in the crash and clatter of furniture scattering from one wall of the tavern to another is that the world is full of dangers, dangers that often appear in very appealing guise: the vast, snow-covered peaks of a monstrous mountain range, for instance, or a pleasant and marshy field of grass. "You must beware, ponies!" the storyteller will conclude. "You must always, always beware!"

But there is another, less-common version of the story one might perhaps hear now and again. In this version, the wind, once it resolves itself into words, does not speak in scuttling and murderous tones. It speaks quietly, warmly, and simply. "Stay as long as you like," the voice seems to say. "Enjoy your time here in whatever way you may wish. My only desire is to reach out in friendship and perhaps be considered worthy of receiving your friendship in return. I know it's a lot to ask, but I hope you'll at least give us a chance to get to know each other. I have much I'd like to offer you, and having a friend would mean ever so much to me. Do you think that's possible?"

The few yaks who tell this version of the story will conclude in small and distant voices by saying that the offer surprised them so completely that they ran from Far Kobresia until, shaking with cold and uncertainty, they found themselves arriving somehow back at their home town or village. These yaks won't take their eyes from their mugs during the entire time that they're speaking, and if you stop in at the tavern the next evening looking for them, more often than not, you will not find them.

"Far Kobresia," the other yaks will answer should you ask them, and the phrase will be muttered with a curled lip and an occasional spit onto the tavern's floor. And neither you, sir, nor any of their fellows will see those odd and quiet yaks ever again, not should you stay in Yakyakistan for another month of moons.

Leaning forward, Moondancer pressed her front hoofs together and rested her elbows atop her desk. "Interested?"

For a moment, the earth pony who'd introduced himself as Double Diamond just sat with his eyes wide and his mouth partially open. Then he bent down, pushed his skis to one side, grabbed a large sack from his saddlebags, and flopped it with a hefty jingling onto Moondancer's desk. "One round trip ticket, please!"

Moondancer smiled. She was so glad she'd followed Minuette's advice and applied for this job. No question she would be named Canterlot Travel Services' Salespony of the Month yet again.

Activating her horn, she pulled out the paperwork for the new Yakyakistan package tour. "You won't regret a moment of it, sir," she said.
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