The Ponies in the Caves

by SockPuppet


Chapter 5: The Central Gallery

Rarity shook her head, dazed from the rolling concussion. The motion shifted the broken bones in her face. She staggered up to her knees.

Darkness.

Complete darkness. 

A glance over her shoulder showed dim light up-cavern, towards Birch Bucket, Sparkler, the prisoners, and the surface—

But around her, darkness.

Ever since her first stay with the Diamond Dogs, and their first trip through the Everfree to battle Nightmare Moon, darkness

No. Not now. Fear later, when they had time. Now, fight.

Her nose flared with agony as she panted. Standing, up to her hooves, she looked around, ears twisting left and right. She heard only the ringing of the grenades in her ears.

Then:

"Cloudchaser! Now!" Davenport screamed.

The pegasus trooper, hovering at the top of the Dogs' gallery, lit a flare and dropped it, then another, and another, and flickering light and deep shadows appeared. The troopers, earth pony and unicorn, made a line of spears and swords across the cavern entrance, and the Diamond Dogs squared up against it. 

Redheart stood a few feet behind the line, Rarity stood next to Redheart, legs flexed, ready to run to the first injured trooper, heart pounding and the pain in her broken muzzle forgotten.

"Bat!" screamed Rex.

Everycreature turned to look into the gallery.

Behind the skirmish line, Dusky stood on Rex's chest, her fangs sunk into his neck, the dog flat on his back.

The dog held Dusky by the throat, both hands strangling her, Dusky's face turning as purple as Twilight's.

Cloudchaser dropped another flare, and another, zigzagging around the ceiling of the gallery, as dogs threw stones the size of stallions' heads at her.

A dog danced forward, swung a club, and cracked Bon Bon across the helmet. She staggered, slashed with her spear, and Comet Tail caught the dog across the hamstring with his sword. It fell, and crawled backwards, smearing blood on the floor.

Dusky's face was almost black as Rex strangled her. Rex lifted her, wrenching her fangs away from his throat, bloody strings of his own flesh hanging from the Major's jaws as Rex—still flat on his back—lifted her off his chest, lifted Dusky high, her legs and wings clenched tight to her barrel.

Just as Cloudchaser lit another flare, one of the stones struck her, crushing her right wing against the ceiling. The rock ricocheted and smashed her right rear leg. She fell and landed left-flank-first onto one of her flares, screamed, and rolled off the flames, feathers smoking. On three legs, she staggered to the side and threw herself down, rolling to extinguish the flames.

"Ponies not nearly so tough as griffons," Rex said, giving Dusky a hard shake.

Dusky flexed her right wing, a half-inch, revealing an armed grenade tucked tight between her humerus and her ribs. Rarity bit her hoof.

"Wanna die with me?" she choked out.

"Dusky..." Rarity whispered.

Rex's eyes widened and he whined.

One dog held Cloudchaser—deep inside the gallery, far from the other ponies—at spearpoint, while another dog poured a water jug onto her smoldering wing. Her rear right leg collapsed, and she lay prostrate, face twisted with hatred.

Dusky's right wing started to relax, and Rex let go of her throat. She landed flat on Rex's chest with all four hooves.

Rarity's head swam and her vision narrowed on the batpony.

Dusky stood, shakily, as her color returned. "Ponies!" she gasped. "Ponies, if I drop this grenade, run for cover!"

"Step... back!" Davenport ordered, and the line of spears and swords retreated half a pony length into the tunnel, without falter or waver. Bon Bon collapsed, unconscious, and the troopers to either side filled in the space, thinning their line but reinforcing the gap. Rarity sprang forward and bit Bon Bon's tail, dragging her back behind the line.

Dusky and Rex stared at each other, eyes flaring, inches apart.

Darling, Rarity thought, don't do it! Twilight won't be another minute, don't kill yourself to get him!

"You see this, Rex?" Dusky yelled. "I pulled the pin. If I let go of the arming lever, you die."

"Cave pony die too!"

The batpony smiled, then coughed, and Rex's blood dripped from her fangs. She licked her lips. "Do I look like I care?"

Dusky moved a forehoof to Rex's throat, and forced his head down. It thunked against the stone of the gallery floor. "You look like the one who's afraid to die, dog."

"You'll kill wing-pony," Rex said.

"Buck you!" Cloudchaser called, still crumpled on the floor, bleeding heavily. "Take him to the doghouse, skipper!" 

The dog guarding her whacked her across the helmet with his spear butt. Cloudchaser snarled and snapped at the spear.

"Here's the deal, Rex," Dusky said. "The Princess has the foals by now."

Rex snarled. "Lies!"

"You never met an alicorn in Griffonstone, I wager. Even if you, me, and the other ponies die—you've lost. Canterlot will be here by morning, and your pack is extinct. Wanna bark about your surrender?"

Rex started to snarl something, but Dusky twitched her wing.

"Private Eiffel!"

"Major?"

"Unchain Rover, and bring him down from the surface. As fast as you can sprint."

The earth pony galloped, and was past Rarity and up the cavern in an instant.

The line thinned again as the ponies reshuffled. The dogs banged their spears on their shields, eyes narrowed, calculating.

They can do it, Rarity decided. They can overwhelm us if they want to pay the bill. And they know it. It's up to Rex. Is he willing to brave Dusky's fireball?

And that was when Rarity decided she might—might—understand Rex's plan: use foals to suck in even more ponies, and take even more prisoners. Celestia only know what he planned to trade them for, but... he could have a dozen wounded Home Guards to add to his pack's stash, if he wanted.

Except, he hadn't counted on alicorns.... or batponies.

Redheart kneeled down and pulled off Bon Bon's helmet. The unconscious corporal vomited.

"Hornlight!" Redheart hissed. Rarity glanced at the dogs' archers, then lit her horn anyway, clenching her shoulders against possible arrows, and Redheart examined Bon Bon's wound.

"Dog! You." Dusky pointed with her left wing. "Light some of those sconces again."

"Dogs not listen to ponies!" Rex growled.

"You're yesterday's trash," Dusky said. "Light 'em."

A single dog—a rather runty one—scurried to relight the dogs' fixtures.

"I not speak to Rover!" Rex declared. "I am alpha."

"You," Dusky said, "are irrelevant. Dogs! Do you want your old alpha back? Or do you want to keep the alpha who's bringing the wrath of all Ponykind down on you, your pack, and your pups? I smell your females and your pups, I smell their fear. Save your pups from Rex's stupidity! If we kill you, who protects your pups from other dog packs?"

The dogs looked at each other, mumbling and grumbling in their own language. Rarity cocked her head and raised her ears, but she couldn't understand it. If only Twilight were here, she was probably fluent...

Twilight! Had she saved the foals? Where were they? Rarity leaned over and whispered, "Redheart—can you find the foals' cell again?"

"Lieutenant, let me past," Redheart said. "Rarity, keep Bon Bon's airway clear."

Davenport nodded. "Be safe."

Redheart trotted through the line of ponies. Dogs glared, and a few shifted their clubs or spears. "I'm still unarmed," Redheart yelled, and gestured to the red cross emblazoned across her chest. "I'm going to the prisoners."

Fido nodded, and barked once. 

Redheart looked at the brutally wounded pegasus. "Cloudchaser–you okay?"

"Get the foals, Sarge."

Redheart trotted past the dogs, and disappeared up the tunnel, toward the prisoners. 

"Dogs, your play is over!" Dusky shouted. "I'm the senior pony here. You get one chance: denounce Rex. Let us carry him to Canterlot. We'll lock him in a nice, high tower, far away from the catacombs and dungeons a dog might like."

"Never!" Rex snarled, and reached for Dusky's throat again.

She twitched the wing holding the grenade.

Rex froze.

"Coward!" Dusky spat. "With Rover back as alpha—dogs and ponies can live in peace again. What say you?"

The dogs muttered and grumbled. Rarity used her magic to scoop gobs of vomit from Bon Bon's airway, and risked a glance into the cavern. Cloudchaser was prostrate on the floor, right wing swollen and bloody, left wing burned and blackened, face still oozing blood, leg bent out of shape. She swooned, her head barely up. 

Dusky stood on Rex's throat, glaring.

"I am alpha!" Rex shouted. "Dogs do as I say!"

Dusky shifted more weight to the hoof on Rex's larynx.

The standoff lasted several minutes. Bon Bon's eyes fluttered as she fought back toward consciousness. Cloudchaser passed out.

From up-tunnel, Rarity heard a shout: "I am alpha!"

She turned, and saw Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Eiffel, Rover, and even Flitter. Flitter's face was pale and her chest heaved, but she trotted behind the now-untied dog, wingblades out, scowling.

Behind them were two dozen batponies and three pegasi, in heavy black armor.

Behind them strode Luna, clad in a dark-blue rain poncho and armor.

"Canterlot," Rarity whispered.

Next to Luna trotted Twilight.

Twilight winked at Rarity, and nodded yes.

Twilight walked to stand in the line of troopers, and her voice boomed, full-blown Royal Canterlot. Small stones cascaded from the ceilings. Dogs covered their ears, and ponies winced but held their weapons. "I teleported the foals to the surface. Dogs, throw down your arms. I'm prepared to teleport out my soldiers and collapse this tunnel on you. We've received reinforcements from Canterlot. This fight is over."

Rover squeezed past the line of ponies. His left arm still hung in its sling, but he raised his right arm. "I am alpha. Drop weapons."

"Never," Rex said. "How dare—"

"Screw you," Dusky said, and dropped her grenade on Rex's chest. 

Many things happened at once. It took Rarity several conversations with the others to get all the details straight in her memories:

Dogs threw themselves down. Ponies turned and galloped several steps up the cavern and threw themselves to their chests and covered their ears. 

Redheart emerged from the same side tunnel at a trot, saw the grenade drop, and sprinted toward Cloudchaser, closer to the grenade, perhaps planning to carry the unconscious trooper to cover, or perhaps planning to cover Cloudchaser's body with her own. Not that she had enough time for either. 

Dusky leaped and slapped her hooves into the ceiling, sticking there.

Rex flipped himself over, covered his head with his arms, and keened like an abandoned puppy.

Rarity leaned forward, jaw dropping. "Dusky!"

Twilight slammed a shield spell down, across the entrance to the gallery, shielding the ponies other than Cloudchaser, Dusky and Redheart from the coming blast.

Luna said, "My friend—"

Poof! 

The grenade billowed green smoke.

A puddle of urine spread around Rex.

"Gotcha!" Dusky crowed. "Dogs, see your coward of an alpha. Is an alpha who's so afraid to die for his pack that he pisses himself worthy of you? Throw down your weapons and save your pups and yourselves!"

The dogs stood, one by one, dropped their weapons, and raised their hands.


Rarity lead the column back up the tunnel. Trios of reinforcing batponies stood with Birch Bucket and Sparkler, helping guard their prisoners.

Two prisoners' faces were now covered by blankets. Rarity closed her eyes, and looked away from the dead dogs.

Rarity emerged into the rainy night, which was lit by far more torches than she remembered, and a hint of sunrise lit the horizon.

Fifty pegasi and batponies in full armor and slate-gray rain ponchos stood in a perimeter. 

Celestia, clad in heavy armor and a white poncho, stood in the center of the torchlight.

Had Rarity ever seen the Princess in armor? She couldn't remember a time, no.

The four rescued fillies stood under an awning, out of the rain, hugging their parents, and in Lemon Scratch's case, her big sister, Vinyl, and future sister-in-law, Octavia, too. A batpony in white medic's armor examined Toola Roola's blackened face.

Luna emerged from the tunnel and strode to Celestia's side. Rarity trotted straight to her. "You were right about Dusky, Luna."

Luna smiled, and gestured a hoof at the armored Guards. "A full brigade is enroute on every train I could commandeer from Canterlot Central Station. We then brought the winged members of three sections of Ronin Detachment, and a medical section, but just as we were preparing to reinforce Major Fireball, Twilight teleported in with the hostages, and Private Eiffel arrived with word to bring the prisoner. Our timing was just a little too late." Luna frowned. "As usual...."

Davenport sprinted up. "Highnesses!" He saluted. "I have multiple wounded down, ponies and prisoners. I require stretcher bearers and doctors."

Luna whistled, and pointed to another batpony in medic's gear. He, in turn, waved to several other medics, and two dozen Ponyville unicorn civilians levitated up stretchers and followed the red-cross-clad batponies into the cavern.

Celestia grimaced, eyes clenched, teeth grinding. "I have ruled Equestria for one thousand years. Many tens of thousands of guards have died or been maimed at my orders. Yet, those words still break my heart, every time. Describe the wounds."

Davenport said, "No ponies killed in action." 

Celestia sighed, and opened her eyes. "Thank goodness."

"Everypony has scrapes and bruises," Davenport said. "Major Fireball broke her nose, as did Miss Rarity, here. Private Cloudchaser suffered double-wing injuries and broke a rear leg."

Luna hissed.

"Private Birch Bucket broke a foreleg, but it doesn't look too bad. Sergeant Sparkler is in bad shape. She'll need surgery. Probably several surgeries. She took an arrow through her thigh armor."

"Sparkler? Another graduate of my School has shed her blood for Equestria." Celestia looked away, into the dark night, and her voice faded to a whisper. "That School has been my greatest joy, and darkest curse, for centuries."

"Corporal Bon Bon is unconscious," Davenport finished. "We don't know how bad she is."

"Sweetie Drops," Celestia muttered. "Well, this heroism need not be secret..."

Rarity frowned at that, puzzled.

Luna tapped a hoof as they watched the troopers of the Home Guard emerge from underground. Cloudchaser was levitated out on a stretcher, her mangled right wing spread carefully over her sister's back. Cloudchaser extended her burned left wing into the cold rain and gasped in relief.

"Combat-T devices on everything," Luna said. "Twilight will claim she did no fighting, but we all know better. The Combat Action Badge can only be awarded once per pony, so I cannot give it to Major Fireball and Sergeant Redheart, but the rest of you have truly earned it. Wounded in action decorations for all who shed blood or broke bones. And the Distinguished Unit Citation—the first Home Guard unit to earn such in..... what?"

"Sixty-five years," Celestia supplied.

Luna looked at Davenport. "And I shall expect the commander of the unit to provide recommendations for individual gallantry citations, as he sees fit."

The lieutenant nodded as his ears wilted and face paled. "Redheart and Cloudchaser. Just for starters."


Rarity migrated away from Davenport and the Princesses, and found Rainbow Dash. The two huddled together, sharing a borrowed poncho in the rain outside the torchlight. Rarity vomited, shook, and bawled into Rainbow's chest as the night's stress finally caught up to her. 

Rainbow hugged her tightly and rubbed her withers with a hoof, nuzzling her, cheek-to-cheek. Rarity shivered in frigid cold, cold, cold, cold like she'd never felt before, cold worse than crossing the snowfields of the Crystal Empire with Sombra nipping at their hooves, cold as the last hours of continuous terror and adrenaline came to a sudden stop. 

At least half of the reservists, Rarity saw, had taken themselves into the shadows to vomit in peace, now that the battle was over and the elite Canterlot troops were securing the scene. 

Rainbow wrapped her forelegs and wings around Rarity, rocking her gently. Rainbow didn't even complain when Rarity splashed yellow vomit on her feathers. 

She just rubbed Rarity's withers.

"You're awesome, Rarity," she said. "Twenty percent more awesome than me."

A pegasus in medic's armor found them. "Miss Rarity?"

Rarity looked up, out from under their shared poncho. "Yes?"

"Lieutenant Colonel Soft Feathers. Let me treat your nose."

"Redheart taped it up."

"No offense to the Sergeant, but I'm a surgeon, and Princess Twilight commands I examine you. I shall not annoy Her Highness."

Rainbow nuzzled Rarity, and released her hug. Rarity trotted with the surgeon. 

"What happened to your snout, specifically, Miss Rarity?"

"A Diamond Dog backhanded me across the cave. I have whiplash, too."

"In the fight?" he asked.

"No, I went and parleyed with him under a truce, to try to settle this little débâcle."

The surgeon's eyebrows arched. "That's brave."

Rarity snuck at glance at the surgeon. The word HOUSEHOLD was etched on the shoulder of his armor. 

"I failed," Rarity snarled. 

"It's still brave."

Rarity looked around. Where was Dusky?

The awning shielded all the wounded, and the four rescued foals, from the rain. Dinky and their parents, a middle-aged couple—brown unicorn stallion, pink earth pony mare—hugged Sparkler as her stretcher was loaded into a pegasus ambulance. Her father climbed in the chariot with two medics, and their mother stayed behind with Dinky.

"Where's you taking my sister?" Dinky demanded.

A pegasus mare in silver armor looked at her, and mussed Dinky's mane with a hoof. "University Hospital Canterlot."

"Ain't ya staying in Ponyville?"

"She needs special doctors."

Dinky plopped down on her bottom and howled. "I'm sorry I got napped!"

Rarity looked around the medical tent. Where was Dusky? She had most certainly broken her nose, too.

Birch Bucket sat glumly on a tree stump, foreleg splinted and slung, his helmet upside-down next to him, discreetly filled with vomit. 

Where was Dusky?

Lyra held Bon Bon as Dr. Horse, from Ponyville hospital, shined a flashlight into the dazed—but now-conscious—corporal's eyes.

Where was Dusky? Her muzzle was broken, and the dog's strangling must have done damage. 

Coudchaser, now stripped of her armor and poncho, lay flat on her belly as surgeons splinted her broken wing and leg, wrapped her burned wing, and stitched her scalp. She whispered curses. 

Flitter sat behind her sister, one hoof on Cloudchaser's left cutie mark. Their father sat behind the twins, shaking quietly, his wings limp.

Where was Dusky?

Colonel Soft Feathers unwrapped Rarity's nose and felt the alignment of the broken bones and cartilage. "I'll give you a painkiller. We'll take you to the hospital for X-rays, and see if you need surgery."

"Yes, darling," Rarity said, holding her head still but scanning with her eyes, looking for Dusky.

After a few minutes, a flash of blond in the deep shadows near the cavern entrance caught Rarity's eye.

"Colonel? Are you done?"

The surgeon looked at her. "I'd like to check your neck."

"I'll let the hospital do it," Rarity said, and trotted toward the cavern entrance.


Dusky laid in the mud, under a bush. She breathed through her mouth, her nose heavily swollen and crusted with clotted blood.

"Dusky, dear, you look worse."

"That last dog hit me right on the first break. It hurts a fair bit, and I can't breathe through my nose at all. My throat is a little tight, but it's getting better."

"There's a surgeon down in the tent."

"I think I'll fly to Appleoosa. I can make it that far before the sun gets too high. They might not rent a batpony a room, especially if it looks like she'll bleed on their bedclothes, but no doctor in Equestria would refuse to treat broken bones. I'll send dad a letter, and get him to send me some money for a train ticket home. Appleoosa to Vanhoover to Equuicigalpa. I can hide in the apple orchards outside town and check the post office once a day. Dad's a schoolteacher, he's not rich, but he can find the bits for a train ticket."

"Dusky, Ponyville is your home now." Rarity gestured at the crowds just visible in the rising sun. "You'll likely get a Key to the City from the Mayor."

"Lunadammit, Rarity, that's my point. I emigrated to start a new life—and here I am, fighting in caves again, like it's still two years ago, like I'm back on active duty. I'm going to be some sort of hero, even though I was just part of the team. Even though I want to be just an ordinary pony. And the next batpony who tries to immigrate—what will she have to do to earn the town's tolerance? How can she top this? Fight Tirek?"

"Dusky," Rarity said, laying down in the mud next to her, and slipping a foreleg over the small batpony's shoulder, "Some ponies are speciesist. There's nothing any batpony can do about that. Not even defeating Tirek would make Rental Room like you. But most ponies are good. Ponyville is a good town. You know my parents were among the first unicorns to move here? Before I was born. The earth ponies and pegasi didn't like having snooty hornheads in town." Rarity sniffed, and her eyes watered from the sudden pain in her nose. "Things are changing, faster every day, especially with the non-ponies in the School."

"I shouldn't have to spill somecreature's blood to be treated like a pony," Dusky said. "Did those donkeys have to fight into a defended cavern?"

"Dusky, I can't make you stay in town. But you're my friend. I should hate to lose you to become a mere distant pen-pal."

Dusky pulled her sunglasses from a pocket, put them on, and stared toward the rising sun. "I never thought I'd be doing this again."

"Doing what?" asked Rarity.

"Leading ponies into a fight. Sometimes I think the universe has it out for me. Cutie marks are so.... intransigent."

Rarity hugged her closer, and Dusky furled a wing around Rarity. The mud in her coat and tail nagged at Rarity, but she simply held Dusky as the sun rose.

"Rarity?" she asked, starting to shake.

"Yes, Dusky?"

"Move. I'm gonna puke."

Rarity hugged Dusky closer, all through the batpony's post-battle vomiting fit.


On a Thursday afternoon five weeks later, Rarity walked across Town Square from the friendship school to her appointment with Doctor Horse. Hopefully, the X-ray would show the bones in her muzzle fully knit by now, and she could stop taping up her face several times every day. The adhesive was pulling out the coat on her snout, giving her a mangy appearance, and leaving her skin red and irritated.

Most uncouth. 

"Rarity! Hey!"

She looked to her left and smiled. "Dusky, darling, how are you?"

"Great! I'm finally settled into my new place. Hey, would you and Sweetie like to come over Saturday? I'll make dinner. No crickets this time!"

"Wonderful, darling! I'll ask mother and father if I can borrow her. Whatever are you wearing?"

A cinnabar-colored cape covered Dusky's torso and rump, her wings shielded under loose-hanging panels, the hood thrown back from her head. Like usual, her sunglasses covered her sensitive eyes. She wore two saddlebags that, although not terribly large, looked rather encumbering for a mare Dusky's petite size.

A quick flash of Rarity's magic straightened the cape, and she read Barnyard Bargains Delivery. "Oh! You got the job from Filthy Rich?"

Dusky nodded. "Yes! Deliveries, and running the evening shift at the sales counter. Roll in my bits from the reserve, pension, being on-call with the night weather crew, and lectures at the school, and I'm above water, finally. Filthy Rich is actually a pretty good boss." Dusky smiled, and whispered: "Best of all, when I knock on a door, the ponies just see me as the pony delivering their order, not that crazy batpony with the history."

"Wonderful! How's your nose?"

Dusky frowned, and rubbed her snout with a forehoof. "Sore, but it's not affecting my sleep anymore, unless I roll over. You?"

"The same, darling. Oh—I heard Sparkler is getting transferred to Ponyville Hospital tomorrow?"

Dusky's face paled. "Yeah, that's true. I caught the train and visited her in Canterlot. Yesterday was my day off."

"Goodness, that's kind of you."

Dusky swallowed, then swallowed again, and her ears went flat. "A trooper went down under my command, Rarity. Going to visit her is what good officers do. I learned from the best. Did I tell you Twilight's brother visited me while the doctors put me back together? He's the only unicorn I've ever seen willingly visit Equuicigalpa, in all my years, and he was already retired from the Guard and running the Empire when I got... uh, hurt......"

"Shiny is special, indeed. Princess Cadance is lucky she got to him before I did. Would you like a chocolate? I went to Bon Bon's shop earlier today. She's back to normal."

"No thanks, Rarity. Three-tribes chocolate is boring, I need to show Bon Bon how to add red chile powder to it. Hey, last time we talked, you promised to ask Twilight....?"

"Rex? He's standing on his right to remain silent, and driving his public defenders insane. The courts in Canterlot are trying to decide if he's a common criminal or a prisoner of war. With the three dogs that died, they're leaning toward a criminal trial. Dogs don't have a justice system to speak of, so Rover asked us to deal with Rex."

Dusky's face darkened, and she nodded. "I made a delivery to Cloudchaser earlier today. She's back on her hooves, and the doctors cleared her to try her wings next week."

Rarity smiled. "Good. The twins and I go back to earlier than I can remember. Ha! Cloudchaser and I once got in a physical fight over a colt, when I was in ninth grade, and she eighth... What's on your agenda this evening?"

"My shift's over, so I'm going home to drop off my uniform and saddlebags. It's less than two hours to dark. I won't sunburn without a cape."

Rarity fought down a smile. Dusky, without a cape? No longer hiding her scars? That was progress, indeed! "Care to go eat at Café Hay? I have an appointment at the hospital, but it shan't take long...... Dusky, why are you blushing?"

The batpony looked away, and flipped up her hood to shadow her face. "I'm not blushing! You're blushing!"

Rarity smiled. "Oh-ho-ho-ho! You can't go eat dinner with me because you already have dinner plans, is that the situation, dear?"

Dusky looked back at her. She was definitely blushing. "Yeah."

"You have a date, Lieutenant Colonel Fireball."

"No, I don't! I. Do. Not! It's just a sunset flight in the nice evening air, and then a late dinner at, well, Café Hay. It's not a date."

"Who's this lucky stallion? ...Or mare, I suppose?"

"Stallion. But it's not a date. Redheart invited me to dinner at her place a few days ago, with her family. Her brother-in-law was there."

Rarity laughed. "That clever nurse. She's trying to hook you up with Warm Front?"

"It's not a hookup. We're going to have a fly together, and then eat dinner. As acquaintances. Because I'm new in town and he was born here. And knows the town. It's not a date."

The batpony's bright-red blush was worthy of Fluttershy.

"Well, Dusky," Rarity said, "I shan't make you late. I'm happy to say I was your first friend here in Ponyville—and I'm even happier to say I'm not your last. Welcome home, darling."