The wooden streets of Windthrow had cleared by the time Gold Plate unloaded the last of several metal poles. He hoofed the stalks towards a group of neighborhood guard ponies who trotted towards the far corners of the suspended village with the items in their grasp. At marked places, the Wintergaters erected the poles and planted glowing unicorn crystal on top. A dim silver glow bathed the fringes of the place. Slowly, the fog that had for so long seeped down the sides of the mountains began to clear, retreating from the burning mana of the delivered rocks that had been freshly raised.
A brief cheer echoed among the ponies within sight of the much awaited clearing. After sharing several proud, victorious glances, the guards of Windthrow began their nightly patrol. Clad in leather cloaks with polearms fastened to their sides, they marched determinedly about the edges of the miners' high altitude home.
Gold Plate exhaled long and hard. Under the scattering bands of fog-laden moonlight, he dropped down from the delivery wragon and began tying shut the canvas bags that had carried the enchanted crystals to the caravan's home.
No sooner had he started doing this when a shrieking blue comet fell from the sky, slamming offensively into an alleyway full of loose barrels and garbage crates.
Gold Plate twitched and glanced aside. There was a loud clatter of hoofsteps as half-a-dozen guardponies rushed over, brandishing their polearms in fright. “What is it?! The creatures?! Are we being attacked?”
“Nnnngh—I'm... dangittoCelestia'smane—I'm all right! Ooof...” Rainbow Dash clumsily pulled her reeling, bruised body out of the alleyway. She stood, fuming, brushing flakes of wood and debris off her limbs. “Friggin' city of wood, I swear. Don't you guys—like—ever stop and think if it's worth all the splinters?”
The ponies all relaxed with a sigh. They chuckled, then smirked in the traveller's direction.
“You okay, Equestrian? You look a little loopy-eyed.”
“Hey! I'm cool—DAH!” Rainbow Dash tripped over a barrel, winced, and slumped herself up against a wall of varnished oak. “Just having an argument with gravity. Isaac Neighton's overhyped, if you ask me.”
The guard ponies marched off, laughing amongst themselves.
“What a quack!”
“Who would have thought pegasi were so ditzy!”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. She was about to burn them with a comeback when—
“Hey! Her ditziness saved all of your older brothers' sorry flanks!” Gold Plate barked. “So would it kill you to be a little bit grateful?”
“Depends. Would it kill her to do a barrel roll?”
“Ha! Who ever heard of a dizzy flying pony.”
As they left, Gold Plate sighed, hanging his head.
“Ya know...” Rainbow Dash stealthily swallowed back a gulp of rising bile and maintained composure enough to smile. “I always figured that earth ponies were full of it. But I didn't know that some of them have it for breakfast in the morning. Heheheh...”
Rainbow Dash squinted. “The heck are you sorry for? You're not the one who fell off the jerk train tonight.”
“They wouldn't have continued poking fun at you if I didn't say anything,” Gold Plate mumbled, digging his hoof into the street. “I... have that sort of a reputation around here.”
“I don't get it, but whatever. Thanks for sticking up to me, for what it's worth.”
“You're lousy at expressing gratitude.”
“Yeah, well, you're lousy at accepting it.”
“Guess that makes us even.” Gold Plate wandered over. Reaching into his vest, he produced a canteen of water and hoofed it to Rainbow. “Here. It'll make you feel better.”
Rainbow Dash eagerly took the container. “And what makes you think I feel anything but awesome right now?”
“Were you purposefully aiming for the alleyway or did it just jump out at you?”
“Hey! I've flown into tons of towns before! It's a hobby of mine! At least half of them were a lot bouncier than this one! What the heck kind of trees do you earth ponies chop to make this thing? Iron birch?”
“Heeheehee,” Gold Plate giggled. “Maybe the ponies were right. Maybe you are ditzy.” He glanced aside and ran a hoof through his short blond mane. “We could sure use whatever you grew off of in this kind of a place.”
“Is that so?” Rainbow Dash gazed sideways at him. She slowly unscrewed the canteen. “Maybe then you wouldn't be doing double duty.”
“Last time I checked, everypony who was in Fulltrot's caravan has gone inside their homes to hang out with their families. Everypony but you.”
“Didn't you say you had friends in this place?” Rainbow Dash remarked, raising the canteen to her lips. “Surely there's somepony you miss, somepony you'd like to hang out with.”
Gold Plate took a deep breath, gazing solemnly at the wooden panels beneath them. “I'm fine. Besides, I like it when I'm doing work. I like it even better than sleeping.”
“That's kind of weird, don't you think?”
“What's it matter to you?” Gold Plate's voice cracked as he glared back at her.
Rainbow Dash blinked, shrugged, and sipped from the canteen. After a liberal gulp, she exhaled and said, “I just don't like seeing lonely ponies.”
“Because it makes me think of how sad it is,” Rainbow Dash murmured, “That a sane stallion or mare would go through life doing stuff that they hate, trying to make themselves think otherwise.”
Gold Plate gulped and reached back for his canteen. “You presume too much.”
“If you insist,” Rainbow Dash hoofed the canteen back, but at a low angle that forced Gold Plate to catch her sharp gaze. “So when are you going to tell me your name?”
Gold Plate blinked at her. “Huh?”
“You already know it!” Gold Plate stammered, nervously taking the container from Rainbow Dash while clearing his throat. “It's 'Gold Plate.'”
“No, I mean your real name.” Rainbow Dash's ruby eyes were stabbing.
Gold Plate avoided the look yet again. “You're nuttier than you think, traveller. You know that?”
“I know a lot of things, but that's not the point.” Rainbow Dash spoke, “You may be able to fool a wagonload of dense, marble-headed stallions but you can't fool me. You and this 'tough as nails' routine comes across as waaaaay cheesy, especially when all you do is let these creeps walk all over you. So are you gonna tell me or what?”
Gold Plate's face fell. The pony's eyes closed sadly. Upon the next breath, the Wintergater's body deflated with a relaxed exhale, and the voice that came out was decidedly higher than Rainbow Dash had ever heard it before.
“'Gold Petals',” she muttered. “My name is 'Gold Petals.'”