After the three leaders went over their camper's progress, they all went back to their respective camps. It was astonishing how far they all had come, especially since it was only the second night they slept there. The forest had a unique way of making or breaking any who entered. Starting day three, the trio wondered what else they might discover.
"Alright! Up and at em! Let's get moving!" Nightshade was up, as was Big Mac, who was used to being an early riser.
"Listen up, we're headed to the clearing. Gather up anything we want to trade, and let's move out!" Nightshade brought most of his fish, which would probably be used to trade with Spike's group, as they had two members who were omnivorous, one of which could not eat leaves or grasses. They also brought some wild blueberries Silver had found.
Spike's group brought some of the fruit they had collected, having Luna carry it. Diamond insisted on carrying her fair portion, with Switch helping her. She wasn't really taking a load off the princess, but she wanted to get stronger, and according to her new griffin friend, this was the way to do it.
Rainbow Dash's team didn't bring any trade goods, as they had everything they would need, and didn't think the other teams would have anything of use. All three teams arrived at the specified location. Diamond and Silver ran to each other, as did Switch and Scratch. Firebolt ran to Spike as well. After getting re acquainted, they all sat on three separate felled trees, one for each team.
"Alright, we're here. Let's begin the trade negotiations shall we?" Nightshade began.
"We have 20 tang apples, (the apple and orange hybrid fruit) to trade." Spike said, stepping up.
"We have 15 fish of various types including trout, perch, and fiddle fish." He responded.
"We have all that we require, and have brought nothing to trade." Dash finished.
All on Nightshade's team were eyeing the fruit. They clearly wanted them. Spike and Switch were looking hungrily at the fish. Scratch looked, but with a head shake no and a pat on the back by Dash, he just looked away. The fish being bigger than the fruit, they traded 10 fish for 15 fruit. Spike roasted two of them, which he and Switch proceeded to devour greedily. Each member of Nightshade's team bit into the sweet and sour fruits, and finished them as well.
"Now that that's over with, what have we all learned so far?" Spike spoke up.
"I learned that there are many ways to be strong, and unless you try, you'll never find yours. Just never give up." Silver said.
"I learned that no matter what, to always be there for your friends. If you do that, they'll never let you down." Scratch added.
"I learned that just because you can't do something, doesn't mean you should give up. Keep trying and you will find a way." Diamond added.
" And I learned that often the best solution is the simplest." Blueblood commented, remembering how much easier it was to just take the entire bush instead of picking each berry.
"Alright, that's very good. We're off to a good start. Everyone, time to go back to camp. This trip is far from over."
As they all headed back to their respective homes for the week, Nightshade and Luna felt as though they were being watched, followed by something. They simply dismissed it as the forest trying to play tricks on them. If they had been in the same group however, they would have had a second opinion, and would not have dismissed it so easily.
"We should have brought something to trade. Next time, let's bring something, even if we don't think we'll trade it." Scratch told Dash.
"I know, you wanted some of those fish didn't you." She looked to her little friend knowingly. He just nodded.
"Well, since me and Blueblood are headed back to the berry bushes to go grab some more, you take Firebolt down to the river. Grab a couple and cook them up there. Don't stock up on them, we don't want to attract any wild animals with the scent." Scratch looked really happy at this, and merrily ran off, Firebolt following close behind.
Nightshade teamed up Big Mac, and Twilight with Silver. Silver was glad to spend some time with the skilled magic user, and went about learning all she could. Twilight was glad to have somepony actually listen intently to her rambling, rather than Spike's usual tuning her out. She taught the filly a bit about magic, little tricks she picked up that made it easier, how to conserve your energy, stuff like that.
Big Mac and Nightshade walked a ways, taking care of the cave area. Mac wasn't much of a conversationalist, so he had to try and break the awkward silence.
"Sooo, umm, is there somepony special you've got your eye on Mac?" He asked. The stallions eyes went wide at the question.
"Gonna tell me who?"
"Come on, I won't tell anyone." He was getting desperate.
Nightshade sighed. "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye. Yes, you see? Now If I tell anyone Pinkie will kill me. Your secret is safe with me."
"It's Twilight." Big Mac said quietly.
"Wait, really? Why?" He was confused.
"She's so smart, an' she knows what to do. Ever since that winter wrap up, where she got everything done in half the time, I got ta thinkin. If she could get the farm workin like that, we'd have no trouble. An she's cute, with her little bookish ways." The stallion explained.
"Well, I'm not gonna judge ya. Best of luck to ya!" He patted Mac on the back.
"He he, n...n....nice kitty." Firebolt said shaking. She and Scratch were staring down a manticore. The very reason that Dash didn't want them to stock fish at their camp, was now standing in front of them at the river. Scratch looked at the giant cat, who returned his gaze while licking it's lips.
"Hey, kitty, if you don't eat us, you can have some nice tasty fish! How about it? Come on! I'm scrawny, and she's waaaaaay to spicy for you." At this, the manticore seemed lost in thought for a moment, before laying down on the ground. Apparently, it accepted the deal. Scratch fed his fish the the giant cat, scratched him behind his ears, and then the two of them backed away slowly.
"That was too close."
The next few days went well. everyone finally settled in with their jobs. They all had plenty of food, and Dash nearly had a nervous breakdown when Scratch brought his 'pet' manticore back to camp. As it turns out, this particular manticore recognized the rainbow pegasus. It was the very same one that had a thorn pulled from it's paw by Fluttershy, and became a weclome fifth member of the team for the rest of the week. Late at night, Twilight was still awake, and Nightshade took to talking to her to pass the time.
"It's strange, you know?"
"What is?" She asked.
"I come from a completely different world, yet, when I look up, the stars are the same. Orion, Scorpio, the dippers, they're all there. Even the moon looks the same, minus having a man's face on it. All this time, we've been from two entirely different worlds, but looked at the same sky each night. This is a world I never knew existed, but now that I've seen it, I never want to leave." He stared at the night sky, and spotted two specific stars.
"Those stars appeared the night of Scootaloo's funeral. In ancient times, some humans believed that the stars were their ancestors, watching over them forever, until they joined them in the sky. Now I know where the belief came from. That one is Scoots, and the other is Claire. I don't ever have to be lonely, because I can look to the sky, and see them looking right back at me." He smiled.
"Even in death, so long as we hold our loved ones in our hearts, they are never truly gone." Twilight spoke of some words of wisdom she read in a book once.
"Speaking of loved ones, is there a certain pony you hold in your heart?" He asked.
"You have to promise not to tell anyone." Twilight said sternly. After going through the Pinkie Pie swear ritual, she told him.
"Big Mac? Really? Why?"
"He's just so strong, so dependable. He's quiet, a great listener, and always deep in thought. That and he's got the flanks of a god. And now I know he's good with kids." she explained.
"Fair enough." He replied.
'Wait a minute.
Big Mac, I promise I won't tell anyone you like Twilight.
Twilight, I promise I won't tell anyone you like Big Mac.
Damn. Now what?'
Nightshade had a sudden look of frustration on his face, and when Twilight went to look at him, he quickly wiped it away.
"It's just, I don't know how he feels about me, and I'm too embarrassed to ask. I don't really know what to do." Twilight looked a little nervous.
"Well, I'm not sure either. I like Fluttershy, and she likes me. We both know how the other feels, and we're open about it. Heck, I plan on proposing this winter. I have no idea how to go about it if you don't know the other's feelings. This may surprise you, but I don't exactly have much experience when it comes to matters of the heart." He said.
"Much?" Twilight asked.
"Okay, so none. I pretty much weirded out everyone back home, girls included." Nightshade gave a weak laugh.
"You know, I've got some books on that." She offered.
"I'd rather figure it out along the way."
The campers finished their week. They had all come out of it better. Blueblood, Diamond, and Silver learned the value of hard work. Having 'Fluffy the Manticore' help around the camp made things a lot easier, and took a huge load off of the rest of the team as they lacked serious muscle like Big Mac and Luna. Dash learned to listen to others, specifically Scratch who said it was a good idea to have some fish. Firebolt practiced not catching things on fire, and accepted the fact that she couldn't fly. If she had her Spikey Wikey around, he could be her wings, and she couldn't hurt him. Luna got to make some friends, specifically Switch, since she liked his work ethic, and they were both playful. Twilight put on some muscle, which came in handy when she had to run from a certain misbehaving cockatrice, who apparently didn't learn his lesson from Fluttershy. Big Mac learned to actually be sociable a bit, and that he liked kids, while Spike just had fun.
"That was great!" Blueblood said. "Let's never do it again." Although he enjoyed it a little, having to go without soap, and instead bathe in the frigid river had taken it's toll. At least he had an appreciation for things like that now. He, Luna, and the griffin twins headed back to Canterlot for a very long bath.
The rest of the crew walked into Ponyville, glad to finally be out of the woods. Giving Fluttershy a peck on the cheek, apologizing for being away from her, and saying it was just what he needed, the two of them headed inside to clean themselves off.
"So, you're not a mopey dopey droopy whoopy saddy mc sad pants anymore?" Pinkie said in her usual tone.
"Nah, I'll see her again. I'll see Claire again. I'll see everyone again, one day. Until then, I know they're watching over me."
Slipping out of his dirty clothes,and getting into the bath, he began to sing.
"One day we'll meet Davy Jones,
And on that day we'll turn to bones,
Until that day we'll wander in our never ending tale."
Standing on her balcony, overlooking the garden, Celestia thought that something was missing. She looked at the statues.
"Griffin Warlord, check. Florist, check, Nightshade's empty pedestal, check, Discord........"
"Well hello there my dear! It has been such a long time! Nearly five years if I'm correct, although that's not nearly as long of a time as the last time around! Apparently, somepony has been causing quite a stir, and I figured it would be a good time to come out. I was going to break out earlier, but I overslept. Being turned to stone makes you lazy, although you wouldn't know that, would you? Either way, I'm out, and I've gotta get the spring back in my step!" The Draconequuis said laughing, wrapping himself around the now infuriated alicorn.
"You will lose this Discord. You will go back to being a statue by week's end. The bearers of the elements have only become stronger. They beat you before, and will not fall for your trickery!" Celestia reamed at him.
"Tsk tsk, you ought to know me better than that Celestia my dear, I'm no fool. I won't be facing them alone this time. I will not go back to being a statue. Since your garden is missing a decoration, I've decided to add one of my own. BOOP!" He poked her nose, and a look of fear filled her eyes. She turned into a statue right there, and Discord teleported the two of them to the garden.
"Oh don't worry you're little head, you won't be a statue forever, just the next couple days. I can't have you chasing me around while I make preparation. I know, I know, I'm Discord! I don't plan anything! But if I'm always chaotic, then not being chaotic for a moment is completely unexpected! Besides, I really want to win this time. I can have my fun after I get rid of the little elements of harmony. Tata!" He snapped his fingers, and with a poof, he was gone.
"I learned that no matter what, to always be there for your friends. If you do that, they'll never let you down." Scratch added.
For all those who avoided my Rick Rolling last time, *Boom Headshot*
The song in the bath is a verse from 'Bink's Sake' It was fan translated from the original Japanese version, found in the popular anime 'One Piece' It's a good song, look it up. It's fitting because even though other's may die and leave him behind, all that's left to do is keep living, wandering through life, weaving a story in his past, until he too meets his end.
So, I'm getting to the plot. About time. We're gonna learn a little bit about Discord and Nightshade, and it's gonna be fun. Discord is hard to write, because nothing he does is believable. For him, being in character is out of character. It's basically going to be me writing a bunch of random nonsense, since that's what he is.