Having the house now complete, Nightshade and Scootloo moved out of Fluttershy's cottage. They thanked her for letting them stay there for the past month and a half, and moved into their own place across the path. Even though they were right there, she still felt alone, and her cottage, normally full of forest animals, was empty. Only Fluttershy herself and Angel remained, and quiet prevailed over all. So used to having others around, she felt strange, and Angel picked up on it.
"What is it Angel bunny?" She asked, as the rabbit tapped his foot on the ground. He pointed at the newly built house across the path, telling her to go. The CMC were there, and they were going over plans on what they'd do to get their cutie marks, even though most of it had to do with just following Nightshade around till he figured it out. They went out to the back yard, and Fluttershy followed.
"Alright, this looks like a good place to set it up." He said.
"Set what up?" The crusaders asked.
"Our maple syrup shop! I'll need some help setting it up, but it's not going to be nearly as much work as building the house. " He told them. Scootaloo was excited at the prospect, but the other two didn't have a clue.
"It's a new type of sweet, that comes from trees. it's never been seen in Equestria before, but from back on Earth, it's one of the most popular types of sugary stuff. You can do almost anything with it, so we're going to be the first ones to do it." He said excitedly. "I want you three to help because then I'll be able to spend more time with you three, and help to discover your special talents."
"Mind if I help?" Came a soft squeak of a voice from behind a tree.
"Of course not Fluttershy. You're always welcome, besides, You'd probably get bored since all the animals are asleep and you don't have to look after us anymore." He said with a smile. She blushed, but it was also because of the cold. "Here's what we need...."
After giving a list to the crusaders of things he needed, he realized that after buying furniture, he didn't have any left. That was a problem. One that Fluttershy didn't mind solving.
"Well, I could always give you the bits I have saved up." The yellow pegasus said meekly.
"I can't ask you to do that, you've already been such a help, I can't possibly ask any more of you." It was true. She had housed both of them for over a month, asking nothing in return.
"But I want to help! If it makes you feel any better, you can call it a partnership, and I'm simply investing in the business." Nightshade was more than a little shocked that Fluttershy suddenly became so assertive, but since she insisted, he wasn't going to say no.
"So, what do you say to Shade and Shy's Sugar Shack?" He asked the four. They all gave a giggle, and nodded in agreement.
"Alright, so I'll need 6 metal pans, 6 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet, with a hole in one end 2 feet from the bottom. I'll need 2 metal screens, as fine as you can get them, to fit in the pans. I also need lids for the pans, a furnace for each of them, and a large metal tank. Head into town and place the order with the blacksmith, I'll get to working on the housings for them." He ordered the crusaders.
Two of the pans would have screens in them, to filter the bark and dirt from the sap. With the holes in each end, they could be tilted up to drain the sap into the next pan. Each pan would be heated by the furnace, so that the sap would boil and turn into syrup. Finally, the finished product would be held in the tank. Sap would be filtered once and heated twice, then filtered in the tank as well. Having 6 pans meant two sets of three. The housings would be made of wood, and would be strong enough to support the metal tubs filled with sap, and also mobile enough to tip them up. Having Fluttershy's knowledge of wild animals, they devised a fence system with a cap along the top to prevent wild animals from coming near.
After a week of working along side Fluttershy and the crusaders, it was all done. All that needed to be done was to wait for spring, for the sap to flow. Nightshade noticed Sweetie Belle singing the entire time she worked, and confronted her about it.
"Sweetie Belle, what are ya singing?" He asked.
"Oh, just something I made up myself." The little unicorn responded.
"Well, it's very beautiful. Do you like singing?" He tried to get her to open up.
"Yeah, I really do." She replied.
"You know, with a voice like that, you could probably go professional." He said, trying to get her to make the connection herself.
"Oh, but I don't want to sing, I want to be a designer, and help my sister. I'm no good at it though." She said sadly. "Every time I try to help, I just get in the way."
Nightshade thought for a moment. Then he had an idea.
"You want to help your sister, but Rarity is someone who needs space in order to work properly. If you try to help her directly, it would just mess with her creative flow. What if you helped her another way?" He told her.
"What do you mean?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"You like to sing, and are good at it. If you became a singer, you would need outfits to wear on stage. Rarity could design and make those outfits. Then, at every one of your shows, the audience would all know who made your outfits, and that would bring business to her store. You wanted to help your sister, so you tried to be like her, but you aren't her, you're you, and that's why you've been having trouble." Nightshade said knowingly.
"But how will I know if that's my special talent?" She asked.
"Hearths Warming Eve is next week, what if you were to sing in the play? If it's your special talent, that's the best place to find out." He advised. She agreed to try.
At Hearths Warming Eve, she performs spectacularly. The historical play itself was a little sub par, after all, how could they possibly top the year when the mane six had done it? Once the end came, rather than a whole chorus of voices, the ending song only had one. Hers. The crowd had tears in their eyes, and at the end, a symphony of hooves clopping resounded their approval. And on Sweetie Belle's flank, appeared a microphone.
"Thank you so much." She said, not in her usual hyper, squeaky tone, but in a calm, soothing one. Her sister was so proud of her, having finally found what she was good at, and stopped getting into trouble at the boutique. Twilight was astounded.
"Well, you're two for two, all that's left is Scootaloo, and I need to stop hanging out with Zecora." They all laughed. "It's still amazing that you know just what their talents are, and the perfect way to bring them out."
Canterlot had become accustomed to the presence of Twilight and her friends, so seeing the strange bipedal creature with them, they didn't ask. They had all heard rumors about him, and several whispered to each other, but they figured since he was with them, he must be fine. They all got into a pegasi drawn carriage, and headed home. Little did they know, Lyra was also headed back to Ponyville.
Having learned a great deal about portal magic during her stay in Canterlot, and having given her findings to the academy, she decided there was nothing left to do in the capitol, so she was also headed home. Bon Bon was worried about her, and besides, she had plans to make.
Making it back home, the whole group went to bed, with Fluttershy and Angel sleeping over at Nightshade's.
"Nobody should be alone on Hearth's Warming Eve." He said, so she accepted the offer, and while they had a guest room available, Nightshade, Scootaloo, Fluttershy, and Angel all decided to instead sleep huddled up on the couch, next to the fire.
Having the largest floor space, he decided to have everyone over for Hearths Warming Day, so they could all exchange gifts, have a nice meal, and talk. It all went over well, until Pinkie brought them some particular embarrassment by hanging upside down from the ceiling, holding mistletoe over Nightshade and Fluttershy's heads. They both blushed deeply, and settled for a hug instead. After all, they didn't want anyone fainting. Rainbow Dash called them chicken, and having gotten into some spiked punch a little early, planted one on Twilight, who freaked out as everyone else fell to the floor laughing. They exchanged gifts, and went on their way.
They day after hearth's warming, Nightshade accidently bumped into Lyra.
"Oh hey Lyra, it's been a while." He said. "I didn't know you were back in town. If I had, I would have invited you over for Hearths Warming." He said.
"Sure you would have." She said sarcastically.
"Yes, I would have, I even made you a present. Just because I'm not attracted to you romantically, doesn't mean that we can't be friends. I know I acted a little harshly, but you kind of put me on the spot. I thought you might still be feeling bad about it, so I want you to know, I forgive you. Here." He said, handing her a small box.
Opening the box, Lyra saw a small ring, with a kind of spider web of threads inside it, and feathers hanging on the bottom. It had a string, turning it into a necklace.
"What is it?" She asked.
"It's called a dream catcher. The native peoples of where I'm from showed me how to make them. It's meant to ward off evil spirits, and prevent nightmares. It's a bit superstitious, I know, but a while ago, I had a very dark presence following me, so I made one of these, and I haven't heard from it since. I always wear it around my neck, just inside my shirt." He explained, as he pulled out his own, showing it to her. "Hopefully it keeps you safe."
Thanking him for his rather strange gift, Lyra put it on, and headed home. The rest of the day went normally, until Lyra went to bed. She found herself in her mind, with standing in an enlarged version of the object around her neck. The dark presence which she normally had with her, which gave her words of advice, stayed outside the circle. She tried to speak to it, but it wouldn't answer. She tried walking towards it, but the diagram on the floor of her dream world moved with her, and the black cloud was pushed away as she approached, as if there was a sort of barrier. Feeling scared that this spirit which had promised to help her win his heart wouldn't speak to her, she woke up, and threw the dream catcher in the trash.
"Good riddance." Spoke Nightmare.
[SPOILER] Spring has sprung! Shade and Shy's Sugar Shack is open for business, some antics from a pink party pony, Lyra's disastrous attempts at winning Nightshade's heart, a forest tour for the mane 6, and some action at the school house, all in the next chapter of 'Monster'
Ps, I know it's another short chapter, but let's face it, not all that much happened this winter. They all have holidays, AJ can't farm, there's little demand for stylish clothes, as warmth is a bigger priority, it's too damn cold to fly, all the animals are asleep, not many winter parties, and Twilight can only read every book in the library so many times. They are all bored stiff until spring. Nightshade finishes his book on forest survival.
Fluttershy: Pinkie, I know you were trying to help, but we're still just really good friends, we're not ready for a serious relationship.
RD: *Hic* Aww come on, you both know you like each other, *hic* what's da problem.
AJ: Rainbow, if they ain't ready, they ain't ready. They're just tryin to take things slow, there's no rushing when it comes to love.
Twilight: That's right, this book says you have to take things slow, get to know each other, and let the relationship blossom on it's own.
Pinkie: But at this rate, they'll be as old as Granny Pie before they get anywhere!
Fluttershy: Get where?
Pinkie: *Whispers in Fluttershy's ear*
Fluttershy: Oh, my.... *Faints*
Discord: A little help over here?
Rarity: Now hold still deary, do you have any idea how difficult it is to make a festive outfit to match your.... unique figure?
BlackWing: Great, now you're all here! Did I leave a door open or something? Just for that, I think I'll skip Hearts and Hooves day. Never liked Valentines anyway.
Fluttershy: *Now awake* Why not? Don't you have a special somepony?
BlackWing: No, I don't. In fact, I'm Forever Alone.
*Gasps from all present* *Arguments about the importance, or lack there of, of Valentines Day*
BlackWing: Oh, alright. I'll make a mention of it, but just because you are forcing me to do this, Fluttershy get's her first real kiss, but it's not who you think it's with. So there.
Pinkie: Who's it with?
BlackWing *Looks at the drunk off her flank pegasus ogling Applejack*