Fluttershy's eyes slowly opened, the morning light pouring in the window and casting a glare across her face. Looking to her side, the person she snuggled into that she had believed to be Nathan was actually Pinkie Pie. Smiling, she gently rolled the party pony off of her leg and allowed her eyes to fully adjust to the light.
Rarity was blissfully asleep, a smile crossing her face. Things had been strained between them lately, but Fluttershy had seen change in the unicorn and it brought hope to her that things would be ok. Now that she was Nathan's marefriend, Rarity would have to accept him. The matter was how to tell her...
Fluttershy shrugged. All things in time. Right now, she was more interested in where Nathan was. She noted with dismay that his gun case was missing and one of his bags was open. Creeping out of bed so as to not wake the other two mares, she slipped out the door and down the hall. Passing by the room that housed the other three ponies, she could hear the soft snorts of snoring. Satisfied that she was the only awake mare she continued down to the kitchen where, to her relief, Nathan was sitting at one of the tables with his back turned to her.
She could see the Pie Cannon had been dissembled into several pieces and laid out on the table and a pile of greasy slightly mangled steel shavings sat off to the side. She watched as he picked one of dirty pieces up, turned it over a few times and replaced it on the table. Taking a quill in hand, he began talking to himself and writing in a book.
"Trigger mechanism for the shotgun has worn down quickly over repeated use at stress levels well beyond what it was originally designed for. On examination, likely cause is user gripping too hard during discharge. Barrel and pin also showing slight warping, affecting accuracy and reliability. Fortunately had the foresight to build replacement parts, and will be swapping in heavier gauge on the pin and trigger, but no available barrel means that the Cannon will need repairs once we reach Canterlot." He sighed and started rebuilding the firearm, replacing the defective parts and wiping it down.
Grasping it with both hands, and seeing down it, he slowly surveyed the room, feeling the cold metal against his hands and smiling. Fluttershy walked up beside him and glanced at him questioningly. Nathan kept smiling.
"Good morning Fluttershy. I hope you slept well?" He set the shotgun down and laid his hand on the mare's shoulder. A matching smile started to grace her face.
"O-oh yes. I did. I thought I was snuggling you of course, and not Pinkie, but having you close seemed to be enough."
"Good. I'm glad. I'm sorry I got up early, but I had some work to do and I needed to catch up on my writing." Fluttershy glanced down at the book.
"Your writing? I didn't know you wrote. Are you writing a book? Is it a romance novel? Oh that would be so wonderful." She clasped her front hooves together and smiled broadly. Nathan chuckled and shook his head.
"Hardly. This is my journal- a record of my experiences and observations in Equestria."
"Oh? Is that like a diary?”
"Sort of. However, it's not just a place to store my memories and private thoughts. It's also a useful research tool. So much here overwhelms me that if I don't keep up with it the facts start to blur together. Even something as natural to me as firearm maintenance."
"Oh I was wondering what you were doing. Is your journal private? C-can I read some of it?"
"Well...yes some of it is private. However, I wrote most of it expecting Twilight to snoop through it, so for the most part you can read it, if you would like. I warn you, much of it is boring charts and schematics. Here, I'll mark off a few entries with some substance to them." Nathan thumbed through the journal, using bits of paper to mark off a few pages the pegasus would find interesting.
In truth, Nathan had been careful not to write down anything the mares might find objectionable for this very reason. He had been considering writing down his experiences with Bronzewing and Luna in order to organize his thoughts better, but now he silently thanked the stars Fluttershy had come down when she did, interrupting his morning routine.
The mare looked back up at him questioningly, but his soft smile and gesturing to proceed gave her all the encouragement she needed to start reading. She wasn't the most learned pony, being from Cloudsdale, and reading was slow.
The pegasi were most concerned with ‘hooves on tasks’ like weather production, and placed academic studies further down the list of importance. She felt a little awkward, sitting in silence while Nathan watched her read, however part way through he took note of the mare's growing nervousness and made himself busy with the Pie Cannon, much to her relief. Fluttershy took note of the writing itself. Unlike the perfect strokes of a unicorn's levitation spell, the human's writing was a little more uneven and rough. More natural. She decided she liked it.
Finishing her reading, she let the journal flop back to the page Nathan had last been writing on. Seeing her finish, the human finished up with the Pie Cannon and snapped it shut back in its case. Turning his attention back to her, he took a seat next to her again.
"So?" Fluttershy smiled.
"I-I quite enjoyed reading it. Thank-you for sharing it with me. You were right though- some of it was a little boring." She dropped her eyes, suddenly very embarrassed. "O-oh I'm s-sorry. I was just saying. Oh please don't feel bad."
"Fluttershy it's fine. I told you some of it was pretty dry. Maybe it needs something to spice it up?" Fluttershy's puzzled look had returned.
"W-what do you mean?"
"Why don't you write something in it?" Fluttershy turned her head towards Nathan eyes wide.
“You’re my marefriend, and I’m only going to be around a few more days. So why not do something a couple would do and share this journal?”
"O-oh n-no but I couldn't. That's your thoughts and feelings, not mine. I c-couldn't impose." Nathan rolled his eyes.
"Come on Fluttershy. I asked you for a reason. Besides, reading about things from a different point of view might help me to organize my thoughts. I'm asking you as your boy... sorry, coltfriend." The mare's eyebrow raised.
"You were so hesitant the night before... what changed?" Nathan shrugged.
"You've been so sweet to me the entire time I've been here in Equestria. How could I not be smitten with you?" I see you're still leading her on. Go on. Keep making an ass of yourself. It‘s not going to matter in a few days right? The pegasus' face lit up, the smile on her face all that Nathan needed to forget his nagging doubts.
“You mean it? You don’t mind?”
“Of course Fluttershy, go ahead. You can start writing here.” He smiled and pointed out the next blank page for her. She made a happy chirp and took the quill up in her mouth and tapped one of her hooves on the table, her face upturned in a look of deep thought. After a few moments she dipped the writing instrument into the available inkwell and started to write. Nathan patiently sat next to the mare and ran his hand along her wing, calming her and giving her the time to slowly write out her entry.
Oh, hello Mr. Journal. My name’s Fluttershy. I hope you don’t mind, but Nathan asked me to write in you, and even though I’m not your owner, I thought maybe it might be alright with you. You don’t talk much do you? I like that. I think it’s good that Nathan has a friend that’s nice and quiet. Then again, I guess you’re not really alive anyways, so how could you talk? Oh my! Look at me doodle on like an idle school filly who has just learned to write. I’m taking up half of your page just trying to introduce myself! I’m so sorry!
Um, so I’m Nathan’s mare friend now. Oh don’t tell the others though, it’s our secret. We just made it official the night before. The only other time I’ve felt like this is when I first came to Ponyville and met all of my animal friends. Even the other ponies there seemed so nice. It took me a while to open up to them, but I’ve gained so many wonderful friends. I’ve been even happier just being by Nathan’s side, sharing his experiences. I’m not a very brave pony, but being near him makes me feel like I could conquer the world! Not that I would ever do such a thing! Oh my listen to me!
I don’t know what else to tell you that Nathan hasn’t already. Actually I do have one secret that even he doesn’t know. I guess I can tell you, but you can’t tell him! Promise? For all of Nathan’s gruff attitude and volatile temper, he really is sweet and kind, and he only gets into confrontations to protect me from harm. Us. I mean. He only gets into confrontations to protect us. He doesn’t know it, but it’s true. Our secret, right journal?
Alright, that’s enough from me for now. My jaw is getting sore, and I’m sure Nathan still has a lot of writing to do himself. Thanks for letting me write in you- you’re a really good listener.
Fluttershy finished up her writing and set the quill down beside the journal. She wiggled and stretched her jaw a few times to work out the mild cramp that had set in. Nathan smiled down at her and continued to run his hand along her wings, and she could feel his fingertips gliding across each individual feather and muscle, forcing involuntary sighs out of her mouth. She looked up to the human and matched his smile.
“D-did you like what I wrote? I hope it was ok.”
“It was fine Fluttershy, but I’m sorry to say that the journal didn’t keep your secret. I had no idea that I was so sweet and kind. I’m disappointed- I had just about earned my ‘jerk for life’ badge too.” She giggled.
“Well you haven’t acted like a jerk to me or the other mares for a couple days now. Usually you can’t go a couple hours without making some off comment about Rarity or Twilight.” At least not that you’ve seen…
“That bad huh?”
“Mmm-hmm. I’ve really seen a change in you though and it makes me happy. Thank you for being my friend.”
“Of course, Fluttershy.” The mare slowly rose to her hooves, quietly trotting back towards the hallway.
“I need to get a bit more sleep before we leave. Were you going to write some more?” Nathan shrugged and gestured towards the book.
“I think you’ve written all that needs to be said, don’t you? I could use some more sleep myself. Give me a moment to organize here and I’ll join you. Warm the bed up for me?” Fluttershy blushed and nodded.
“Of course.” With that, she trotted down the hallway with a bounce in her step that would make Pinkie Pie jealous. Nathan followed her, and before long a sixth and seventh set of snores could be heard echoing around the bunkhouse.
Luna was back in her parapet, quill and ink flying furiously over paper envisioning several contingency plans for the overthrow of her sister. She was confident Ypsilon would go along with it, if only to save his own skin, however there was so much that could awry, especially if he refused. If he does I'll have to deal with him as well. She shook her head. Focusing on her work again, she scribbled down a few more ideas.
"Slatehide! Stoutheart!" Her guards were at their usual post just below her, and were immediately at attention at the behest of their princess. Flying up, they landed just in front of her and dipped into their customary bows.
"Your majesty. You called for us?"
"Yes. I've been thinking about something and I need an outside opinion." Slatehide stepped out of his bow and arched his brow.
"Would you like us to fetch an advisor or another qualified unicorn?" She shook her head.
"No. I wanted your opinion. Both of your opinions." Stoutheart's jaw slung open.
"Princess Luna, surely you don't need us to answer your questions. We're merely your guards nothing more. We know nothing of what the kingdom needs." Luna knew that was a lie. The two had been her personal guard for long enough that if they hadn't picked up on the nuances of kingdom politics, she would have considered them stupid. Neither pegasus was stupid.
"No, Stoutheart. You're exactly who I wanted to talk to. It pertains to Ypsilon." Confusion spread across their faces.
"Ypsilon ma'am? I don't understand. We don't know anything about him, or even what he looks like."
"I know, but you've read most of my reports on him, correct?" Slatehide nodded.
"We have, at your bidding." She rolled her eyes but stopped short of frustration with the pony's constant adherence to protocol.
"And?" She stood on her rear hooves and tapped one of them impatiently folding her fore legs in front of her. Slatehide mulled over his princess’ request.
"You want my honest opinion?" Luna nodded and waved her hoof towards him pushing him to proceed. He sighed. "Princess Celestia is scared of him. She seems to think he can undo pony society. So why is she asking him to come to Canterlot? If anything, she should have dealt with him immediately. He's obviously found favour with some of her closest students. Either he's somehow manipulating her..." Slatehide stuck his hoof in his mouth realizing the blasphemy pouring from his lips. Luna smiled.
"It's fine. Continue." Stoutheart jumped in, a little less formal than his gruff companion.
"Or she knows something that she's not telling us." He blushed and dropped his head.
"It's alright my loyal guards. I asked you a question and you answered honestly. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I have been thinking the same thing, and my sister's seclusion has only heightened my suspicions." Slatehide was doing his best to not look incredulous.
"Then why ask?"
"I needed another opinion, from somepony who has not spent so much time with my dear sister, and would be willing to answer my questions honestly to see if their view matched my own."
"So what does this mean then?"
"It means that, unless I've missed my mark, Ypsilon and his relationship with Celestia, whatever that relationship might be, is concerning and should be observed carefully. Wouldn't you agree Stoutheart?" Stoutheart dipped into a low bow.
“Of course your majesty.” Luna sighed. As much as she enjoyed the company and the casual ease she shared with her guards, it wore on her some days just how loyal they were. It was hard enough dragging an opinion out of them. Getting them to do anything but agree with her would be nigh impossible. Waving a hoof dismissively she addressed the pair.
“You know, if would be nice if once, just once, I could ask you something and you wouldn’t dance around protocol and just spit it out. Do you actually agree with me?” Slatehide looked nervous for a second, but snapped himself smartly to attention and allowed the moment of discomfort pass.
“I’m sorry, Princess Luna, but I’m not sure how such a thing would be possible, and even if it was, it could be quite dangerous. You would need to send somepony out to physically be near him at all times, with the isolation protocols in place, and if Princess Celestia is correct about him being some sort of danger to our society, what’s a single pony against that sort of power?” Luna allowed the hint of a smile to cross her face.
“You are correct, Slatehide. I would need to send somepony to keep an eye on him at all times if I was even half-way serious about observing him as he travels. However, I would not be so rash as to send a single pony after him.” Stoutheart sighed with relief, reminding himself that of course Princess Luna wouldn’t purposely put a pony in harm’s way. Who would she have sent anyways? He had started to idly formulate a list when Luna’s continuing dialogue broke him out of his thoughts. “I’m going to send a pair. Two of the most trustworthy and diligent ponies I know.”
“T-two, Princess Luna? Who would these two be? Have you even talked to them yet?” She stood there and just stared at him, and then let her eyes drift over to Slatehide. A few moments later, they divined her intentions. “Us?” She nodded
“I need two pegasi I can trust implicitly to follow my instructions, and can act independently if necessary. The only two that I can think of that fit that description are you.” Slatehide, for one of the first times in his life that he could remember, was on the verge of fear.
“B-but your majesty, who would guard you? Our place is by your side. What if somepony attacks you in our absence?” Luna’s eyes narrowed.
“Slatehide, if I didn’t know any better I would say that you were being insubordinate.”
“N-no, Princess Luna, of course not.”
“Good. Then you will follow my orders to the letter, do you understand me?”
“Y-yes Princess Luna. W-what are your orders?”
“You are to observe Ypsilon at all times. Keep an eye on him- watch how he interacts with the ponies he travels with, try and figure out what his intentions are. We need to know as much as possible about him before he arrives in Canterlot.” Stoutheart carefully levelled a question at the stern monarch.
“Shall we intervene if it looks like he may come to harm, or leave him to perish?” Slatehide whipped his head around, a question planted on his face. Luna arched her eyebrow, intrigued by Stoutheart’s question.
“Slatehide, these are strange times. This Ypsilon, if he is as Celestia suggests, is dangerous. Allowing him to get to Canterlot may endanger the lives of everypony. I don’t like it any more than you do, but should we be assisting this creature in any way?” Luna smiled at the cool calculation of her guard.
“You have a valid point Stoutheart. However, not assisting his passage to Canterlot may very well run the same risks. We, personally, know very little about Ypsilon, which is why the espionage is important.” Both ponies bowed again.
“Yes your majesty. When shall we depart?” Luna looked up at the moon and gauged the time.
“Go home and get some rest first. Like ponies, he prefers to travel during the day. Depart at first light and seek him out. If my latest reports are accurate you should be able to find them around Raspberry Estates. You are dismissed my ponies.” She nodded towards the pair, and with a few nervous glances between them they departed. Trotting to the edge of the parapet she gazed out over Canterlot, taking in the sights once more. Ponies milled all about below her, enjoying the night that she had provided for them.
“Celestia, your time as ruler of Canterlot soon draws to a close. Whether by the hoof of my own self, or by the hand of the human, I shall take the reins in your stead. Centuries ago you sent me to the moon, when I was the Nightmare. You must know yourself that the balance is shifting against order, and Equestria herself is now starting to cry. She must live, as she always has, even through your end.” Turning back to the table, she continued making notes long into the morning.
As the mares prepared to leave, Applejack sat in quiet contemplation. Her ‘talk’ with Luna had cleared her mind, and she felt a sense of calm come over her. Nathan’s arrival in Ponyville had complicated things, but she was honest enough to realize he wasn’t the sole cause. Sure, he was a hoof-full, and she didn’t understand him all the time, but she was content to consider him a friend. When he had first shown up she was unsure what to make of him, but over time she had grown to appreciate him. It would have never happened if Twilight had not asked her to employ him, however. Which lead her to her next thought.
Pinkie Pie was gathering her belongings and stuffing her bag, shoving things in wherever they would fit. As she was going about this routine, Applejack trotted up to her.
“Uh, hey Pinkie. Did ya need any help getting packed?”
“Noperoonie! I’m just about ready to go!”
“Oh, ok. Ah thought maybe you might need help organizing. While Ah’m talking to you though, can Ah ask you a question?”
“Sure can! Unless it’s the secret to my super fabulous cupcakes and I don’t give that recipe out to anypony well except one time I accidentally told somepony what the first three ingredients were and I was soooo freaked out but then I realized all cupcake recipes use those ingredients so it was ok!” Applejack chuckled.
“It’s ok Pinkie, Ah just wanted to know about when Nathan first arrived in Ponyville. The very first day you made a comment about him being dangerous, and then later you convinced me to lie to the others and keep him on my farm. What was that about?”
“What are you talking about you silly filly? I didn’t say either of those things.” Applejack raised her eyebrow.
“Beg pardon? You absolutely did!” Pinkie shook her head.
“No I would remember if I had, but that was a pretty funny joke Applejack. Did you ever consider being a comedian? You could have an awesome stage name like Applejoke! Wait, was that funny? Heeheehee!” She giggled and went off packing again, oblivious to the confused orange mare behind her.
“Well that was peculiar…” Applejack shook her head and went back to getting ready to leave. Sometimes there was just no figuring Pinkie Pie out.
"Thou may enter, Lawn Order." Princess Celestia sighed. After having raised the sun, he had returned to her chambers, exhausted not only from her morning routine, but the compounded stress from her constant diligence over her kingdom. She silently cursed herself, realizing that it was her own fault the adviser was at her door so early, insisting that the reports from the day before be delivered at Lawn's earliest convenience. Any contemplation of returning to sleep was lost as soon as the knocking had begun.
Lawn Order carefully slipped in the door so as to not make any undue noise, and trotted over to the princess, a stack of papers gently levitating just to her side. She bit her lower lip, seeing the irritation etched on Princess Celestia's face, and stood at attention. Celestia sighed again.
"Thou art trying our patience Lawn Order. Dost thou have a report for us or art thou just here to gaze upon our magnificence?" Lawn fumbled with the papers in her grasp and forced herself to respond to the agitated monarch.
"I-I'm sorry y-your majesty. I was waiting for your permission to speak. With your blessing I will give my report?" Celestia waved her hoof towards the unicorn. Lawn swallowed audibly and continued speaking. "Thank-you, your highness.
"Since you are usually so insistent on the progress on our special projects, I took the liberty of moving their status reports to the top of the list. ES-24 is at seventy-six percent operational status. Tests 3, 17, and 22 were all successful, while the others had to be aborted due to improper triangulation of coordinates. As the rest of the projectors green light, we should have total control. Several sites are reading unexpected energy levels and warrant further examination. The Everfree Forest location specifically is putting out enough power to account for the lack of three other sites.
“Project Skylight continues to see ongoing success in such a short period of time. I have personally overseen some of the research and development myself and can attest to the many hours both the unicorns and pegasi are pouring into it. There was one unfortunate mishap where the spell field covering a pegasus unexpectedly collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital with internal trauma from the release of the energy, but is expected to make a full recovery." Lawn paused for a moment, waiting for the Princess to comment on the injury. Noticing her adviser's silence, Celestia raised her eyebrow.
"Yes Lawn Order?"
"Well... I just thought that you would inquire into current health of the pegasus, or if such an accident could happen again? You must be concerned with ponies lives at stake." If Lawn Order could have felt more nauseous or been any whiter at Celestia's next statement, she would have.
"Thou said he's expected to make a full recovery, and that it was only one pegasus. In our time as thy ruler, many such pegasi have come and gone, and he is no different. Should the accident have been fatal, he would have been remembered as a hero of the kingdom. As it is, he shalt return to service as is befitting one of our citizens. Accidents doth happen. The greater good must take precedence."
"O-of course y-your majesty." Celestia smiled.
"Good. We implore thee to continue." Some of the colour returned to Lawn's cheeks, but she was having issues concentrating on the reports.
"T-Twilight Sparkle and her party have arrived at a series of communes in the northern reaches of Equestria. At their current pace, they should arrive here within the next two or three days. It seems that Ypsilon is... starting to fit in much better with them." The alicorn narrowed her eyes dangerously.
"Better? How?" Lawn frantically searched the documents in her grasp and muttered to herself. Pulling out the one she was looking for she faced the Princess again.
"Apparently, most of them are now treating him as their friend... and Twilight..." The unicorn trailed off.
"And Twilight what?"
"Um... well I'm not sure I believe the report and I wasn't going to bring it to you. Can we move on?" She laughed nervously. Celestia was not having any of the adviser's avoidance.
"Lawn Order, the last time we appraised our situation, we are thy ruler and thou shalt not avoid answering our questions. Thou shall answer us or thou shall have a first-hoof experience of the moon thyself. Dost we make ourselves clear?" Lawn's fear was palpable, and the rush of words was so rapid that Celestia had to ask for clarification.
"Thou will speak slower. Now, answer me!"
"One of the pegasi overheard a conversation between Ypsilon and Twilight. He reported back that after a disagreement between them, she questioned if you knew what you were doing and is now turning to Ypsilon for advice." Lawn Order hid behind her stack of documents, fearing the repercussions of her report. Celestia fanned her wings and snorted. Lawn peaked out and could see a rage playing out across the monarch's face. Barely restrained anger bubbled just beneath her quiet exterior.
"Twilight Sparkle has done WHAT?!"
"P-p-please, Princess Celestia. There's a very real chance that the report is inaccurate or was misinterpreted. We both know how much Twilight loves and trusts you, and there is little evidence that she would do this. Even if that was the case, Ypsilon is a manipulator and..."
"Thy will still thine tongue should thou wish to keep it in thine mouth." Lawn cowered, scattering the reports throughout the bedchamber.
"We said silence! So, Twilight thinks her new friend can protect the kingdom better than her own Princess does she? Perhaps it's time that insolent unicorn felt our retribution for her many faults. Lawn, thou shall have a letter delivered to her, encouraging her entourage to hasten their pace, lest they find themselves at the end of my horn. Do we make ourselves clear?"
"C-c-crystal, your majesty."
"Now, doth thou have any other reports for us at this time?"
"N-n-no your majesty." Celestia nodded.
"Good. Depart post-haste."
"Y-yes Princess Celestia." The grey unicorn gathered her papers and galloped as quickly as her hooves could carry her towards the door. Grabbing the stack of reports in her mouth, she magically opened the door and slammed it behind her. Celestia sighed once more, and turned her attention to the ceiling.
"Thou can come down now Slatehide. Dids't thou listen to the adviser's short report?" In the corner of the room, a brief shimmer of magic appeared and dissipated, leaving a cloaked pegasus in it's wake. He flew down and alighted himself in front of the princess.
"Of course, Princess Celestia." He bowed deeply.
"We assume that it was thine report that informed on Twilight Sparkle?"
"We thought so. Thou have been most busy lately, spying not only on our sister, but also on Twilight Sparkle and her companions. Thy actions have proven thyself a loyal citizen of Canterlot."
"Of course your majesty. I could not stand idly by while your sister schemes behind your back. My loyalty is to Canterlot first. It's been that way in my family for generations." Celestia smiled.
"Good, good Slatehide. Now tell us what latest news dost thou bring on our sibling?" Slatehide nodded.
"She is sending myself and Stoutheart out to gather more information about Ypsilon. I tried to dissuade her from this, but she failed to listen to reason. As soon as this conversation is finished I am to go back and meet up with my companion and depart."
"Dost thou have a suspicion as to why she wouldst do so?" Slatehide shook his head.
"I'm sorry my princess, but at this time I have no idea what she is after. Though if what you told me is true, which I would never doubt, it could be she is looking for allies to overthrow you. I love both you and Princess Luna, but if she is changing back into Nightmare Moon... I will do whatever I can so that does not come to pass."
"Of course Slatehide. Thine caution and care are to be commended. We are pleased you see the true nature of things. We have requests of you. First, take this key, enter the vaults and return with the item marked on this tag." She magically willed a receipt into one of his pockets.
"What is it?"
"It is of no importance at this time. We merely have need of it, and thou art the most convenient pony to carry out our wishes." Slatehide nodded and bowed. "Secondly, thou art to follow our sister's commandment. For now, follow the human, listen to him, learn what thy can. The knowledge will be useful to us, and we may ascertain what our sibling intends for Ypsilon."
"That is all, Princess Celestia?" She smiled softly at the pegasus.
"At this time, thou art dismissed, Slatehide. Return the item to us and then depart with Stoutheart. Thine kin wouldst do well to take heed of your loyalty." Bowing again, Slatehide started trotting towards the window. Celestia began weaving an incantation, re-establishing the concealment spell. With a glimmer of magical energy, Slatehide disappeared.
Turning to a pile of papers on her desk, she debated doing some more work, but the allure of her bed overpowered her psyche. She was always so tired lately. So tired. Sloughing off her crown and shoes, she flopped onto her mattress and almost immediately passed out.
“Quick get inside and close the door!” Twilight Sparkle pushed the door to a small cottage open with her magic and galloped inside, the other mares following along. Nathan brought up the rear, slamming the door shut and locking out the cold weather. They had made good progress that morning initially, and even with the bit of snow falling they had managed to set a pace that would easily put them within a day of North Gelding by the evening. However, as the morning had dragged on, the snow and wind had picked up and had slowed their progress considerably. Deciding that a new course of action might be warranted, Twilight had pointed them in the direction of a nearby cottage.
"Well? What should we do? Wait for the weather teams to clear it away or forge ahead?" Nathan shook his head.
"With how hard it's coming down the weather teams are going to take too long dealing with it." He pointed out the window and waved his hands. "Besides, I haven't seen a single pegasi this morning yet, have you? Come to think of it, I haven't seen one on weather duty this entire trip." Twilight opened her mouth to rebuke the human, but as she did she realized that in fact, no, she had not seen one. Closing her mouth she sheepishly shrugged.
"I guess not. Rainbow Dash?"
"How cone none of the weather teams are out working the skies?" Dash rolled her eyes.
"Uh, duh? The whole ban on travel between towns? Applies to weather pegasi as much as it applies to normal ponies. I think we could totally handle it, 'cause we're awesome like that, but Princess Celestia's orders are orders. Besides, the skies around here always were a little more untended." Twilight put a hoof to her nose and closed her eyes.
"Rainbow Dash! I was relying on the weather being good all week! You told me that it was going to be nice!"
"Hey, I told you it was supposed to be nice. It's hard to monitor the weather when you're trapped inside a guard's shield y'know? It's just a little snow, how bad could it be?"
"Just a little snow? Just a little snow?! Look at it! I've never seen so much of it. Even Nathan's worried, and weather where he comes from is naturally like this!" Nathan arched his eyebrow, having been dragged back into the conversation.
"What? I'm not that worried, but it is coming down pretty hard. We might want to wait here for a bit and get warmed up while we figure out what the plan should be. I’m curious though- you’re getting mad at Dash, but if you had known the weather was going to be like this in the first place, would it have stopped you from leaving Ponyville?”
"Exactly. So you might consider going easy on the girl." Twilight looked at Rainbow Dash sheepishly.
“Sorry Dash.” Dash shook her head.
“It’s ok. Now, let’s get warmed up. It’s cold out there!” Dash sat in front of the fireplace and pointed a hoof at it and impatiently waited for Nathan to build a fire. He rolled his eyes and laughed.
“Oh yes my mistress! Let me attend to your pampered needs my mistress! Here, shall I rub your hooves for you too? They must be so sore from all of that walking you’ve done today.” Dash snickered.
“Just make the fire dweeb.”
“Whatever zebra face.” The two of them laughed and soon a fire was radiating out, and warmth filled the cottage.
Nathan wandered off to another room, looking for some sort of bed to lay in, thoroughly exhausted having spent most of the morning dragging the ponies through the snow. After the initial hour of travel, Nathan had to tie ropes around them to prevent them from getting lost. His larger frame and physical strength had made him the anchor of the array, and it had been slow going. Finding a bed, he barely bothered taking off his boots before flopping into it. He closed his eyes, waiting for the sweet embrace of sleep to come.
Turning and opening his eyes, he could see Pinkie Pie standing at the door to the room. Nathan smiled and waved her over.
"Alright Pinkie, come on in. Not like this is my personal room or anything. Sorry, seems to be only one bed but I'm sure we could figure something out” He laughed and watched Pinkie bounce over. She giggled and hopped into bed, taking a seat next to him and letting her fore hooves hang over the side.
“Trying to get some sleep. That was a long morning, and the afternoon probably won’t be much different.” She nodded.
“Oh I know right? That was quite the storm. I thought something was weird about it, but I guess now that Dash cleared up the issue with the weather pegasi it all makes sense.”
“Yep, I was concerned myself. Oh well, not much to do about it at this point. In the meantime we should get some rest.” He closed his eyes, hoping the pink pony would do the same. She turned back to look at him, and studied his face. Opening one eye he could see her staring at him intently. “Now what’s up Pinkie?”
“Your face has scratches on it. Where did they come from?”
“Fluttershy didn’t tell you? Bad room service in Manyhooves. Apparently the porter mistook me for some sort of monster and freaked out. Ponies can hit hard when they’re scared let me tell you.”
“Oh that wasn't very friendly! You’re ok?”
“For sure, Pinkie.” She smiled and laid her head down. Nathan shut his eyes again, hoping for the sweet embrace of sleep. Just as it took him, Pinkie stretched out and stuck a hoof into his gut.
“Ouch.” He reached down and rubbed the sensitive area she had prodded, the same place he had been winded by the Baron the night before. “Careful Pinkie.”
“And where did you get that?” Nathan sighed.
“I told you, the porter.”
“No, you said he hit you in the face.”
“Well, yeah, he hit me in the face, and then he hit me in the gut.” Pinkie shook her head.
“So you’re telling me that he hit you in the face in a panic, and then rather than running away, or going for help, he stuck around long enough to hit you again in the stomach?” Nathan scratched the back of his head.
“Uh, yeah?” The pink pony sighed.
“You’re not a very good liar Nathan. I thought we weren’t supposed to be keeping secrets.”
“We’re not but…”
“But nothing! Friends don’t hide things from friends!” Nathan frowned.
“I’m sorry Pinkie. I just can’t tell you about it right now. Please trust me on this one.”
“Trust is mutual, Nathan. You’re always hiding things. Always. I’ve already gone out on a long limb to help you keep what you need concealed, even when you were building a potentially lethal weapon under Twilight’s house. You promised me that you would hold me as a reliable confident. Instead, you pretend nothing is wrong and go on thinking that I’m too stupid to understand, just like the others. I thought you held me in higher regard than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, everypony else knows me as Pinkie Pie, the fun loving party pony. I don’t have intelligence, wisdom, or any other sort of mental capacity for anything other than fun and games. You, for whatever reason, see me as a real pony. You don’t think I’m an idiot, you value my opinion. At least I thought so. When you keep secrets from me, it reminds me that even you think that I’m an idiot.”
“Now that’s not fair Pinkie. I’ve never considered you any less intelligent than any other pony, and I do trust you!”
“No you don’t. Not really. There wouldn’t be a need for you to actively lie to me if you trusted me or my opinion. So can you tell me what happened that night? Or how you actually got to Foalham quicker than us?”
“Not right now, no. It’s not that I don’t trust you, I just don’t have the words to explain it right now. Besides, if you’re so concerned with being seen as a ‘real pony’ as you put it, why do you laugh all the time? We’ve been in several dangerous situations already, and you always laugh. How can you say that they don’t take you seriously when you don’t let them see you for the pony you are?”
“What do you mean? I don’t let them see me for who I am? I’m always there for them, I’m their friend!”
“Yes, Pinkie. You’re their friend, but you don’t let them treat you like they’re your friends. This whole trust business is one-sided, they trust you to be honest with them, upfront and willing to listen. They try to treat you as if you’re the pony that they meet everyday to talk to, they try to listen to you when they think you know things, they try to accommodate you for they pony they think you are. The problem is they have no idea who you actually are, how in the world could you possibly think that they would treat you as anything other than a party pony if you’ve never trusted them enough to show anything about yourself?
“They think they know who you are as a pony. They don't, but it's not their fault. It's not their fault for not knowing what sort of a pony you really are, neither is it their fault for not knowing what to ask or to say to be the friends that they really are. I’m not saying it’s your fault either, since you obviously have reasons why you’re acting like this in the first place, but I’d also be much more charitable to their side since they don’t know anything and you not willing to talk isn’t helping any.” Nathan finished more angrily than he otherwise expected to be, and stared at Pinkie Pie beadily waiting for a response. Pinkie Pie, for her part, looked equal parts outraged, sad, watermelon and, oddly enough, happy.
“…Say Nathan, do you remember the worst day of your life?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Do you want to talk to me about it?”
“Because it’s private.”
“But compared to that, most days are better right?”
“I guess so. Do you want to talk about yours? Does it have anything to do why you’re so bottled up that every other pony thinks you’re nothing but a bucket of laughs?” Nathan watched her hair deflate, and the smallest, saddest most tentative smile he’d ever seen on a pony inch its way across her face.
“Did you ever hear about how I got my Cutie Mark?”
"Do you mean How Equestria was Made?" Pinkie’s eyes clamped shut, and her smile trembled and grew strained.
"Then you should know that I was raised on a rock farm and moved to Ponyville soon after getting my cutie mark." Nathan nodded.
"Yes, you found your passion for parties. I've heard you've thrown all sorts, and that they're always top notch. Did everypony come to expect nothing but parties from you?” A sad shake of the head reminded Nathan he was continuing to interrupt her story. "Sorry Pinkie, please continue. No more interruptions from me."
"I moved to Ponyville and started throwing all sorts of parties, wanting to make as many friends as possible. I poured all of my energy into making every party unique and special. Even if I threw two parties with the same name, they would be wildly different. I took up a job at Sugar Cube Corner to help pay for them. I thought maybe I could make a living off of the parties at first, but in the end I had too much fun throwing them to ask for any sort of money. I'm sorry, by the way."
"For not throwing you any sort of parties."
"It's ok Pinkie. You don't need to throw me any..." Pinkie cut him off, visibly agitated.
"No, it's not. It’s really, really not.” She shook her head. "Anyways, while I rarely returned to the farm to see my family, I kept in touch as best as I could and we sent letters back and forth almost weekly. One summer I noticed that my parents hadn't been sending as many letters as normal. Apparently the farm had fallen on rough times and it wasn’t a good season. I offered to return home and help but they insisted they could handle it. One day I was throwing a party for a pony that had just moved to town- Juniper Berry. It was going to be the biggest, most fantastic party yet. While making my final preparations I heard a knock at the door."
"One of your friends?"
"No one of my sisters. She told me mom and dad were sick, and had finally asked for me to come back to the farm to help them. This was hours before the party, and I didn't think it could be that bad whatever it was or, rather, that it couldn’t possibly be so important that it couldn’t be delayed for my party. I told my sister I would something to attend to, and that I would return in the morning. She nodded and left." Nathan could feel a lump welling up in his throat.
"Pinkie, you don’t have to say-” Pinkie Pie placed a hoof to his mouth, and shook her head sadly.
"I packed up a basket of goodies and treats for them to help them feel better. The party was wonderful. Everypony had a great time, and Juniper Berry had made so many friends that she told me that it was as if she’d lived here her whole life, I was so happy. The next morning I woke up refreshed. I grabbed the basket and headed off."
"I arrived at the farm to find my sister sitting in the doorway of the house. She had tears running down her face, and a letter in her mouth. Apparently, my parents passed away the night before, whatever illness they had running its course. Had I left Ponyville the day my sister asked me to return, I would’ve made it.” Pinkie broke, tears streaming out her eyes, and a clenched jaw that tried to hold back her sobs.
“I-instead, I came home to a pair of younger siblings who had to watch their parents die alone, wondering why I wasn’t there, or what could’ve been so important that I couldn’t possibly make it. Then they had to bury them the next sunrise without me because their worthless older sister was too busy partying the night away to possibly attend." Pinkie Pie spat out the last few words through her sobs like she’d eaten something foul. Nathan could feel pity and tears welling up in his eyes.
“Was it from your parents… That letter?” Pinkie gave a weak nod.
"It was a last letter from my parents to me as they lay in their death bed. They had dictated it to my sister and she had written it down word for word. 'Pinkie,' they wrote, 'we are so proud of the fine young mare you've become and how even in the face of possible tragedy, you were able to put aside your personal feelings to fulfill your obligations. Your sisters should be more like you- we're so proud of you and wish you all the best.' Proud." She turned to Nathan, unrestrained tears streaming down her face. "I ignored my sister, and decided to stay and party, and they said they were proud of me. Proud!” Pinkie Pie looked like she detested very fact that the word could even exit her mouth.
“I quietly left the farm later that day and went back to Ponyville. My sisters took over running the farm and I haven’t been back. They still look up to me like I can do no wrong, the perfect daughter. I don’t deserve any of it. Not the perfect, not their pride, not their unwavering respect, I don’t even deserve to be called their daughter.
“I’m… I’m so sorry Pinkie, I didn’t know.”
“Ever since then… I’ve been trying my best to make other ponies happy with the one thing I know I can do. I thought I earned a little place back by the time I met the girls, I-I thought I could be myself again. That I didn’t have to be treated as a nopony that only knew how to party anymore…"
“Pinkie… You didn’t know, it wasn’t your fault.” Pinkie turned sharply.
“IT DIDN’T MATTER IF I DIDN’T KNOW, SHE TOLD ME TO GO, I SHOULD HAVE TRUSTED HER AND I SHOULD’VE STILL GONE AND BEEN THERE. I should’ve been there for them…” Her voice trailed off into sobs as the tears continued to flow. Nathan took the pony up in his arms and pressed her unresisting head into his chest.
“Pinkie… You didn’t have to put yourself through any of this. For that matter, why tell me? Why tell me any of this when I won’t be around here for much longer anyways?” Nathan could feel the tears welling up in his own eyes.
“Because I’ve never had a friend who actually cares about me for me and doesn’t make me feel like I’m an idiot. Never. There’s always somepony who puts me down for trying to enjoy life. You take me for me, and that’s why it hurts me the most that you want to hide things from me. We’re supposed to be friends. We’re supposed to trust each other. We’re supposed to…” She sniffed back a tear and felt a lump in her throat.
“Supposed to what Pinkie?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter- you’re going to keep on hiding things from me, and you’re going to leave me alone as the stupid party pony.”
“Look, Pinkie. I’m sorry. You really are a special pony, and I think you’re amazing. No other pony could do half of what you’ve done for me since we first met.” Pinkie stopped crying and looked up at the human.
“R-really? You mean that?” Nathan nodded.
“Mmhmm. I still think you do yourself a disservice by hiding behind a veil of laughter and giggles rather than letting your friends get to know you, but I can understand where you’re coming from. Tell you what- let’s make a deal.”
“You promise me to be more open with the others and try and let them get to know the real Pinkie Pie, and I promise that not only will I not keep anymore secrets, but before going home, I’ll tell you anything I’ve hid from you thus far. Deal?” A small smile started to spread across her face, and she nodded.
“Deal.” She stepped down off the bed and hopped away back to the main-room with the other mares. Stopping in the door she looked back over her shoulder, and Nathan could see that for all intents and purposes, cheerful lovable Pinkie Pie was back. She winked and continued on. Nathan turned his thoughts back to napping, and managed to pass out a few minutes later.
A while later, all seven of them had reconvened in front of the fire. Looking out the window, they could see that the small storm had relented and only a few flakes were now falling outside. Nathan addressed the group.
“Alright, looks like nature’s decided to cut us a break. If we’re going to move on today, this is the time to do it. Gather your stuff, let’s go.” He bent down and grabbed his bags, slinging them about him. Digging through one bag, he scrunched up his face, unable to locate the object he had been searching for. Setting the bags down again, he looked through each one in turn. Stopping, he slowly stood up.
“Oh Fluttershy?” She made a quiet squeaking noise.
“Y-yes, Nathan?” He smiled. You’ll have to wake up earlier than that to pull one over on me you mischievous little pegasus.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where my journal got to, did you? I mean, it couldn’t possibly have found it’s way into your bag right?”
“Oh n-no, I have no idea where it could have gotten to…” He walked over and knelt in front of her.
“Then you won’t mind if I take a look through your bags right? Oh what’s this?” He spotted the corner of the book poking out from one of her saddlebags. “Wouldn’t you believe it? Here it is!” Fluttershy went a dark crimson.
“Oh however did that get there? S-somepony must have stuck it there when I wasn’t looking. Isn’t that funny?” She turned away a stifled a giggle. Nathan chuckled himself.
“Fluttershy, if you wanted to hold onto my journal, all you had to do was say so. Though, I think it’s my turn to write something. You already had your turn this morning.” Twilight trotted over.
“You keep a journal?” Nathan nodded.
“Well, at this point it’s safe to say we keep a journal.” He gestured between himself and Fluttershy. “She wrote her first entry in it this morning.” Despite her misgivings of the dynamics between Fluttershy and the human, Rarity couldn’t hold herself back.
“I dare say, that’s simply romantic! I know a few stallions that could learn something from you.” Nathan blushed and smiled meekly at the unicorn.
“Heh, I don’t know about that, but thanks I guess Rarity?” Fluttershy prodded him.
“S-since that was my first entry, do you think maybe I could hold onto it for tonight, and then tomorrow after I write something else, I could give it back then? I think it would be nice to spend our last few mornings together like that.” Nathan scratched his chin and relented.
“Sure Fluttershy. Tomorrow morning we’ll trade back. You can hang onto it for now.” Not a face in the room lacked a smile. Finishing packing, they strode back out into the winter wilderness. The last pony to head out the door was Rainbow Dash, but as she was about to exit the cottage, Nathan tapped her on the shoulder.
“Hey hold up.”
“What? You want to go another round dog knee?”
“No I wanted to say… wait, dog knee? That’s the best you could come up with dork knob?” She giggled
“Maybe… but seriously, what’s up?”
"What are you talking about?"
"I spent enough time in Twilight's library to know that it takes a lot longer than a week or two for the weather to return to its natural state. Pegasi or no, it shouldn't be this bad."
"Hey, I said that the skies around here aren't as monitored, remember? Something about proximity to the border." Nathan shook his head.
"It still is monitored though, enough to keep the weather regular enough at any rate."
“The weather has cleared up though! I mean, it doesn’t matter anyways right? Nice clear day now.”
“Try again, dinosaur breath. Look at the walls of the storm cell- you can see them even from here. We’re just in the eye, and soon enough we’ll walk into the other side. It’s going to be the same or worse in an hour.”
"Dash, we both know what's up. Why don't you tell Twilight? It might make her feel better, not to mention yourself."
"I have no idea what you're talking about heh heh." Dash looked off into a corner of the room.
"You're a terrible liar Dash. Fine. Let's go." Nathan ran out the door flagging down the departing mares. Dash watched him leave and grimaced before catching up herself. She tried to convince herself that Nathan was wrong, but true to his word, within an hour the storm had returned to its previous intensity. Nathan jogged up to Twilight, noticing she was having troubles keep her pace.
“Twilight! What’s going on?”
“The snow and wind are getting too thick. I’m having difficulty moving.” Nathan nodded and set down his bags.
“I have some rope here, let’s tie on in groups. Applejack and Pinkie, being earth ponies, should be able to anchor you and Rarity. I’ll tie on with Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. If we stick together we should be ok.” Twilight nodded and the group stopped to set up. Soon, they continued on with the human and earth ponies pulling the others along. Twilight looked over to Nathan.
“Nathan! You say this is a natural storm for you? This just seems so awful!” Nathan smiled.
“Well, normally I wouldn’t want to be out in this, but yeah it’s just a bit of wind and snow. Nothing terrible. You should try living without magic for a bit- it’s spoiling you ponies rotten.” He laughed and kept walking. Twilight fumed a bit, but could see Applejack and Pinkie sharing his smile and thought better of chastising him. She did, however, look back and frown at the expression on Rainbow Dash’s face. She was taking the weather worse than any of them.
“Dash! You can’t do anything about it, so don’t worry about it!” Dash shot her a glare.
“I can so do something about it! Just watch me.” She slipped out of the loop that had secured her to the human and Fluttershy and flew off, wings beating furiously against the wind. Reaching the overhead cloud layer, she managed to move a few clouds before the wind and snow forced her to land again, and quickly sealed up the holes she had made. Nathan put his hand on her shoulder and gave her a knowing look. He bent down and whispered into her ear.
She shook her head, attached herself to the rope again, and kept walking. Twilight had not overheard what the human had said, but she could feel a chill run down her spine.
The weather became progressively worse as the afternoon progressed, and soon they were in near white-out conditions. The howling wind made most forms of vocal communication impossible at range, and they had resorted to hand-hoof signals between the groups. The sun, trees, and any other form of landmark were blotted out, and eventually they were walking blind. Nathan jogged up to Twilight again, and got as close as possible to her.
“Twilight! Do you know where we are?” She shouted over the storm.
“Yes! Just over this next hill we should see a few more farms! We’re far enough along we can stay for the night here and wait out the rest of this!” In almost a state of glee, she started quickening her pace, beckoning the others to keep up. Nathan held back slightly, smiling at the suddenly overeager mare’s enthusiasm. His smile dropped when he saw a panic starting to come over Pinkie. He could see her mouthing something inaudible to Applejack, who was starting to share her worry. They were doing their best to pull back on the ropes attaching them to Twilight and Rarity, but if Twilight could feel their restraint, she didn’t show it. Trying to ascertain the cause of the worry, Nathan squinted his eyes at the receding ponies and blanched when he divined the cause for concern.
Dashing up after them, and dragging the pegasi with him, he called out for the others to stop, but it was too late. Cresting the hill, the storm cleared enough to reveal their surroundings and Twilight realized one step too late she had horribly miscalculated their position. Rather than being in the lower foothills of the northern mountains, they were up on the side of the mountains themselves, a solid hour north by foot from where she estimated their location. It was the last thought she had before she, and the other three ponies attached to her, began tumbling down an icy ridge towards a ravine. Nathan broke into a dead sprint.
“Shit!” He crested the hill himself, and threw off the rope connecting him to the pair of ponies, tying them off to a tree. “Stay here, and don’t move for anything!” Continuing down the hill as fast as his feet would carry him, he realized that on foot with how slippery it was there would be no hope of catching the now screaming group of ponies. Diving onto his stomach, he propelled himself down the slope. Using his hands to steer around any obstructions, he was coming up quickly on the mares and was met with sixteen wildly flailing limbs.
“All of you relax! Stop moving!” One by one, three of them managed to take control of their facilities and listened to the human. Rarity, however, was still shrieking at the top of her lungs and panicking. Nathan rolled his eyes, grabbed her by the mane and shook her. “Enough!” She stopped screaming and curled into a submissive ball. “Applejack, Pinkie, the three of us will get on the lower side and dig in our feet! Twilight! I need you to use your magic to grab onto anything we happen to slide by and try and slow us as best you can!” The three ponies nodded. Applejack, Nathan and Pinkie Pie all pushed up against the two unicorns and dug into the snow and ice, trying to slow their collective descent. With Rarity was still rolled in a ball, Twilight lashed her magic on to several trees and soon they had managed to slow their progress. Grabbing the rope, Nathan swung back out from the ponies and grasped onto another tree they were about to pass. He groaned under the weight pulling at his arm, and the tree branch snapped, but they soon came to a rest, a couple hundred feet from the ravine. In unison, the five of them sighed in relief.
“Well, that was close.” Nathan chuckled. Twilight looked embarrassed.
“I’m so sorry! I thought we were further south! That could have been a disaster.” Nathan reached out and rubbed her back.
“It’s ok, we’re all safe now, that’s the important thing.” Dash and Fluttershy came flying down the slope slowly, having removed themselves from the tree.
“That was so awesome! Did you see the way Nathan slid down that slope? Awesome!” Nathan laughed again. The panic returned a moment later when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Rarity had begun to slide again, and the loop of rope around her body that was supposed to secure her body had slipped off. She tried stamping her hooves to the snow to stop, but she couldn’t generate enough traction to stop her forward momentum from continuing to slide her down towards the edge. Nathan came on to his feet immediately.
“Applejack! Tie this onto something stable, now!” He threw a coil of rope to her, and tied the other end onto his body. He took off down the slope again, mentally calculating the distance to the edge and the speed at which the pony was traveling. Diving to his belly again, he started to close the gap, but realized he wouldn’t make it in time. He had a few dozen feet left before the edge of the ravine when he committed to the only course of action that he had left. As Rarity shot off the edge, screaming the whole way, he grabbed an outcropping of rock, forced his upper body off the snow, brought his feet underneath him, and leapt off after her, praying to whatever pony gods that didn’t want him court-martialed that might be listening to him that Applejack had secured the other end to something sturdy. Grabbing Rarity in his arms, his heart jumped into his throat as vertigo took over and they plunged downwards. He saw the cliff face rapidly accelerating past his face and clamped his eyes shut, fearing for the worst.
His prayers were answered as a moment later he felt the rope catch on something. The action tightened the rope around his midsection, compressing his lungs and forcing the air out. The sudden stress threatened to make him pass out, but he fought through it and kept his grip on the unicorn in his arms. The rope sagged and slackened more than he would have liked, but the rope held, and soon both he and Rarity were hanging upside down over the ravine. The wind pushed them back and forth, and the snow stung at his eyes. Looking down, he could see the floor of the chasm was obscured by the storm, and he couldn’t begin to guess how far the drop would be, but they were alive and he mentally thanked Applejack. He looked back up at the still screaming pony and gently rubbed her mane, whispering into her ear.
“Shhh, shhh. It’s ok Rarity, you’re going to be ok. I’ve got you.” She opened her eyes long enough to evaluate her predicament and clamped them shut again, throwing her hooves around Nathan’s body.
“Please don’t drop me please don’t drop me, I’m so sorry that I’ve treated you so uncouthly you’re not a beast please don’t drop me. I’m sorry for everything I’ve said darling. Don’t drop me!” She was trembling, in the human's arms. Nathan sighed.
“I’m not going to drop you. I wouldn’t have jumped out after you if I was just going to drop you. Okay? Relax.” She nodded and managed to open her eyes. Her blue pools gazed into his, and a feeling of quiet understanding came over her.
“Thank-you. I don’t know why you did this, but thank-you.” Nathan smiled.
“You and I haven’t exactly seen eye to eye in the past, but that doesn’t mean I would stand by and watch you plummet to your death. Now, let’s figure out how to get back up.” Twilight had made herself over to the edge of the ravine and was calling down to them. The storm was obscuring her voice, but they could vaguely make it out.
“Nathan! Rarity! Are you two ok?!”
“We’re fine Twilight! I’ve got Rarity in my arms and for now we’re in no danger of dropping! What did Applejack tie us off onto?” Twilight shuffled her hooves, and glanced back and forth between the hanging pair and something behind her that Nathan couldn't see.
“Herself and Pinkie.”
“There was nothing else to attach the rope to. So far they’re holding, but the storm and your weight is making it difficult to keep their grip on the snow.” Nathan could feel the scowl creeping up on his face.
“Are they insane?! We could have dragged them to their deaths! Ok, we have to get up quickly then. Can you guys pull us up?” Nathan could see Twilight relay the question to the earth ponies, and a tug of the rope signified their attempt. A couple more tugs lead to a sad shake of the head from Twilight.
“No, the rope’s caught on the edge of some sharp rocks! If we pull too hard the rock will cut into the rope! You’re too heavy!” Nathan squinted his eyes and made out the rocks she was referring to, and sure enough the rope was tightly slung over them, and had even then begun to cut into the first few strands. The attempt to pull them up had further damaged their life line.
“Try using your magic on the rope maybe if you lighten the load they can get us up without cutting the rope.” Twilight nodded and Nathan could see a faint lavender glow encircle her horn and a matching one run along the rope. She managed to lighten the load just enough that Nathan could feel the earth ponies making headway. Just as he felt that the crisis was averted a strong gust of wind swung the line out wide and buffeted Twilight, forcing her to drop the spell and focus on not toppling over the edge. Nathan could feel the sudden added weight pulling on the line, running it over the rocks and, along with it, Applejack and Pinkie. He watched the rope slide against the sharpened cliff side, individual strings of the strong twine cutting apart. Twilight turned her head and yelled.
“Rainbow Dash get over here! We need you to fly down and pick them up away from the rocks, I don’t think Fluttershy can fly much in this weather, hurry!”
The two pegasi appeared at the edge, glancing down at the hanging pair. While the look on Fluttershy’s face was the expected shock and horror, Dash had a look of inner conflict and met eyes with Nathan.
“Twilight can’t do anything to this storm Dash.” The rainbow coloured pegasus frowned and looked at Twilight. “Just tell them.” A tear rolled down Dash’s face.
“No, don’t make me do it. Not like this.” Nathan smiled.
“Then fly down there and help me get Rarity up. You can do that right?”
“You’re sick, you know that camel butt? How can you just sit there and make stupid jokes at a time like this?!” Twilight looked at Dash.
“What is he talking about? What’s going on, why aren’t you flying down and pulling them up? Rainbow Dash!” Rainbow Dash’s eyes darted all over the landscape trying to avoid the question, but finally sighed and gave in. Nathan couldn’t hear the conversation, but he could tell from Twilight’s dismayed look what it was.
“It’s Nathan. It’s him. He’s interfering with the weather and making it like this. He’s been doing it since Ponyville. Not on purpose or anything, of course. I never said anything because I didn’t think it mattered, but the weather around him doesn’t function right. On top of that, he makes flying more difficult.” She dropped her head.
“What?!” Twilight was stunned, and was broken out of it shortly after by Applejack.
“Twi! Ah’m sorry to break up the conversation, but what’s goin’ on?! It’s getting real hard jes’ to hold on to the two o’ ‘em. Ain’t Rainbow got ahoof of them yet?” Twilight looked at the pair of struggling earth ponies and back down to Nathan. Hearing the strain in Applejack’s voice, Rainbow Dash flew over the edge. The wind threw her about and progress was difficult, but she managed to make her way to the pair.
“Nathan, what can I do to help?” Nathan shook his head.
“Dash, you can barely keep yourself in the air. Don’t do anything stupid. I know that’s hard for you, but come on.” Dash refused to listen to him, and pulled up on Rarity in a futile effort to drag them up. The effort was largely wasted, and Dash was fatigued, sweat rolling down her forehead. “Dash, if you want to help go get on the rope and help keep us supported. Applejack and Pinkie will need help. Keep Fluttershy from flying out too, there’s no way she can keep alight if you can barely hover in this situation.” Dash frowned, but nodded and slowly flew back up over the edge, grasping the rope in her mouth. Twilight yelled down at the human.
“Nathan… I don’t know what to do! There’s something wrong my magic’s not reacting the way it’s supposed to be! I can lift giant constellation monsters, I can buffet a tornado for Celestia's sake, so why am I so useless at a time like this.” He felt the rope sag more. So we're too heavy, huh? Nathan turned his head towards Twilight and yelled up at her.
"Twilight! Go with the others to try and haul us up! We’ll be fine here for a bit!” While Twilight nodded and turned away from the cliff edge to go help the others, Nathan turned to Rarity.
“Rarity, stay calm alright? I’m just going to tie you on above me here, because I need my hands free to try and get us out of this.” Rarity nodded and did her best not to struggle as Nathan stretched upwards and tied her onto the rope a couple feet above him. She weakly smiled down.
“I’m sorry… for everything.”
“It’s ok Rarity, I’m sorry too.” He reached for one of his bags and pulled out his knife, and started sawing away at the rope that connected him to the rest of the rope. Rarity’s eyes flashed with panic.
“No… Nathan, what are you doing?!”
“Sorry Rarity, it’s the only way.” Rarity screamed up at the other ponies.
“Applejack! Fluttershy! HELP!! Stop him! Don’t let him do this!” Hearing her screams carry over the storm, Applejack hurried over.
“Twi you grab the rope over here! I need ta talk to Nathan!” Applejack ran over to the edge, noting the knife in his hand.
“Whoa nelly! The heck’re ya doin’ with that knife?” Nathan could see Fluttershy looking confusingly between Rarity and Applejack, unable to ascertain what was happening.
“It’s the only way Applejack. If I let any of you ponies fall to their deaths while I could do something about it, I’d land in every hell any human’s ever conceived. I’m not going to make you choose between us, so I’ll choose for you. It’s the only available option.” Fluttershy’s voice squeaked out, barely audible over the wind.
“Applejack, what’s he talking about? What’s going on?” Applejack stood up straight and looked over at her, then back to the human.
“He’s saving Rarity. That’s what he’s doing.” Fluttershy smiled.
“Oh that’s wonderful. I knew he would!” Applejack shook her head and shouted down at Nathan again.
“The heck are ya on about ya stupid human? Tain’t the way we do things in Equestria! There’s always another way, if we just work together we can find the answer! Stop that right now!” Nathan shook his head.
“Sorry Applejack, I don’t think there is. If we had more time maybe, but I can already feel the others loosing their footing. Is my life worth four ponies?” Applejack scowled.
“Don’t you use yer fancy mathematics to muddle the issue! Ain’t no sense to be made comparin’ one life to another. They’re all valuable. You’re telling me you’re going to let Fluttershy here watch you do this?” Nathan watched a few more strands snap off the rope from the sharp rocks off the side of the cliff.
“If that’s the way it has to be.” Fluttershy blanched.
“Applejack, what’s going on?!”
“Stupid critter’s going to cut the rope.”
“No! Applejack! Twilight! Stop him! Somepony do something! Don’t let him do this!” Fluttershy joined in the panic.
“Horseapples… Fluttershy! Stay here an’ talk the idiot outta this. I’m gon’ go see if we can’t do somethin’ about this with the others. While Applejack hurried off the edge, Fluttershy turned to Nathan tears in her eyes.
“P-p-please, Nathan, just hang on a little bit longer. Everything will be okay.” Rarity looked back down to Nathan and yelled at him.
“Don’t you dare do it- if you do I’ll… I’ll… I’ll hate you forever!”
“Come now Rarity, I thought you already hated me?” With a deft swipe of the knife he severed the rope. For as long as she lived, Rarity never forgot that moment. Unable to tear her eyes away, she watched him fall head first into the obscuring mists, a contented smile never leaving his face. Her heart sank as she realized he had given his life for her, after months of torment, and still he was smiling. Fluttershy's wail broke through the moment.
“NOOOOO!” She reached her hoof into the air and watched his body disappear into the storm. She backed away from the edge, horrified. Tears in her eyes, she turned and looked at Applejack and could see the silent reservation in her face while Applejack tended to the rope. A purple glow surrounded the rope, rocketing it and Rarity from over the edge landing them in a pile. Fluttershy ran over to her and threw her hooves around her, both bawling their eyes out. Pinkie Pie looked between the stalwart earth pony on the edge of the ravine, the crying pair on the ground, and the severed rope.
“W-where’s Nathan? What happened? Where is he?” Appplejack trotted over to the edge and sat there, staring down the cliff silently.
“N-no. No, that’s not possible. He couldn’t have. How could you let him? Quick! Throw the line back over the edge! He’s gotta be just over the edge!” She dashed for the edge. Applejack caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and tackled her.
“Pinkie no! He’s gone, and throwing yourself off the edge ain‘t gonna bring him back.” She struggled against Applejack’s grip.
“NO he’s just over the edge! Throw it back! I can help him! Let me go!” She was crying again, refusing to believe what had happened. Finally she broke down and collapsed. “He promised! He Pinkie promised!” All six mares sat in misery, crying freely. As if on queue, Celestia’s sun broke through the cloud layer and the storm starting clearing away, revealing a bright and sunny day.