The Tainted Renaissance

by Red B

One and a Half Unicorn

Rarity was not a happy pony. At the current moment she felt like the least fortunate mare in all of Equestria. Absolutely everything was working against her and there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing other than carry on and hope that her luck would change.

Her thoughts were scattered to all winds when her hoof got caught in something, she couldn't see what it was, and the white mare fell down, hitting the ground hard, splashing thick mud in every direction. A fair amount of the vile stuff ended on her coat, adding to the thick layer of dirt and grime already there. Strangely though, the dirt was only a secondary concern at best. Usually, Rarity would be horrified at the thought of even a tiny speck of dust ruining her coat, but right now, she failed to notice it. Even if she did, Rarity had more pressing concerns to deal with.

Hooves slipping in the mud, the white unicorn forced herself to stand up. Rarity ignored the shaking of her legs as well as the massive headache that intensified the moment she was standing again. At least she tried to. Her head was hurting so bad, she lifted her hoof and pressed it against the spot that felt like the center of the pain. A cry of pain escaped her lips the moment her hoof touched her head right between her left eye and the horn. She took in a jagged breath, forcing air into her lungs even though it felt like somepony was shoving hot coals down her throat and inside her chest with every breath Rarity took.

A few short breaths later, Rarity lowered her hoof and had to close her eyes for a moment when she saw it come away covered in blood. Her blood. The sensation of hot fluid trickling down the side of her head was impossible not to notice, despite the intense downpour. That was most likely because her blood was hot, while the rainstorm was downright freezing. Such contrasts were hard to miss. Shoving aside the sensation of pain that assaulted almost every part of her body aside, Rarity resumed walking. She had to get back home. And as she pushed herself through a particularly thick brush, trying not to think about the monumental task of getting her coat and mane clean again, Rarity focused the idle part of her thoughts on the events that led to her current predicament.

It was very simple actually, she could thank her inspiration for this. A sudden flash of inspiration had struck her early in the morning, filling her with compulsion to create art. And create art she had. At least until she had ran out of gems, which had forced her to do a quick trip to her usual hunting grounds.

A flash of lightning, followed by a deafening crack of thunder interrupted her thoughts, forcing Rarity to cast a concerned glance upwards as if searching for any signs that would tell her whether or not the lightning would strike somewhere nearby. However, her search bore no fruit It was so dark, she could barely see anything. The thick layer of storm clouds hiding the moon as well as the dense foliage made it impossible to see further than a few meters in any direction. She was pretty much blindly stumbling through the darkness, hoping that she was heading the right way. During this time, Rarity recalled the last episode of her gem hunt where everything had gone terribly wrong.

Her gem hunt had been quite fortunate. Then again, all of her hunts were. Her spell had done a marvelous job at revealing the gems she needed. It hadn't taken her a long time to load a noticeable pile into the small cart she had brought with her. However, during her search she hadn't noticed that she had moved near an edge of a cliff that formed an entire side of the hill she had been on. With her back towards the edge of the cliff, Rarity hadn't had a single warning about the dangerous situation she had been in.

The only warning she had received had been when the ground beneath her had suddenly become loose and unable to support her weight. In the process of digging numerous holes as well as moving around half and fully buried rocks, Rarity had weakened the integrity of the section of the edge she was on. Her taking a step closer to the edge had been the final straw. The entire edge had given in and had turned into a massive landslide that had carried everything on the platform, including Rarity, down the cliff-side in a lightning fast and unstoppable flow. The only thing Rarity could recall from the fall was the sharp blow to the head at the very end.

Rarity had woken up several hours later in the middle of an intense downpour, lying in a large puddle, half-buried under a pile of mud, rocks, broken branches, leaves and other types of plants. However, as soon as she woken up, her remaining senses had flared to life and hadn't hesitated to inform her of pain. Immense pain all over her body, making it hard to breath, think or otherwise gather her thoughts.

It had taken her a lot of time to free herself of the mud. She'd tried to use magic, but had nearly passed out when the pain in her head had skyrocketed to almost unbearable levels and hadn't gone away even after she had stopped to use magic. Fortunately, the mud hadn't been that deep and Rarity had been able to free herself with pure force alone. Once she free, Rarity had moved underneath a nearby tree and, after a brief thought, had decided to abandon her gem hunt and return home.

The decision had been made more than two hours ago. More than two hours of wondering through the dark and rainy forest, unable to see a single familiar tree, which would help her get back on track. The headache wasn't helping either.

Strangely, though, she wasn't too worried about being lost. Sure, it was inconvenient in the extreme, but Rarity had little doubt that sooner or later she would return home. She had friends. The moment they noticed she was missing, they would go and look for her. Of course, that did not mean she was content to just stay there and wait to be rescued. She wasn't helpless. Rarity proved it to herself by increasing her pace, despite the various aches becoming less bearable.

Rarity's mind came to an unexpected halt when she saw something in the distance. Her entire body froze up as she focused her gaze in the direction where, unless she was hallucinating, she had spotted a flash of light. Not one from the lightning, but the warm glow of a lantern. A sudden jolt surged through her body when she saw it again. A small light was moving not far from her, flickering and occasionally disappearing from her view as it was briefly obscured by a tree or a bush. Not only that, but when she focused her hearing, Rarity was certain she could hear the sound of hoofsteps. How she could hear it over the thunderstorm, Rarity had no idea. Perhaps she was imagining the sound in order to give herself additional hope.

Well, sound or not, the fact that she was looking on what was obviously the light coming from a lantern, which was being carried by somepony, did wonders in lifting her spirits and lending her extra strength. With her eyes focused on the light, Rarity moved towards it as quickly as she could. She ignored her body protesting against such sudden and quick movement by leaping over a log lying on the ground. She immediately regretted her decision. Her legs almost gave out from the impact of landing, sending her stumbling in an ungraceful manner before she recovered. Still, Rarity didn't stop moving. Not now. Not when she had a chance to escape her current situation right in front of her.

“Hello?” She called and blinked her eyes in order to get rid of some of the rain that was flowing from her mane. “Is anypony there? Please, I am in need of help.” Whoever was holding the lantern must have heard it, as the light came to a sudden halt. The sight fully convinced Rarity that here was definitely somepony out there. She wasn't seeing things.

The light moved downwards a little. The pony holding it must have lowered it on the ground. “I am over here.” Rarity called out again. She pushed herself through a relatively sparse bush, gaining a few more scratches on her sides in the process. It didn't matter. Right now she didn't care about something like that. Once she was back home, then she would address the issues regarding her appearance, but right now, all she wanted was to reach that light, meet the pony next to it and ask him or her to help her get back to Ponyville.

Rarity was close enough that the lantern turned from an obscure orb of light in the distance, to a solid object that was standing in the middle of a dirt road, illuminating the surrounding area and letting her notice plants and other objects the light was revealing. Strangely, though she didn't see anything else. She saw the lantern, the dirt road, the trees and bushes it cast its light upon, but she didn't see the pony who was supposed to be carrying the lantern. Rarity thought she saw movement in the bushes on the other side of the lantern, but when she looked again, there was nothing else, but a cluster of bushes whose leaves were rustling in the wind.

With her hooves meeting solid ground instead of grass and moss, Rarity entered the circle of light the lantern was casting. A quick look around confirmed her suspicions. There was nopony there. “Hello?” She tried again while looking around. Nothing. She slowly walked over to the lantern until she was standing right next to it. The faint warmth coming from it confirmed that this wasn't a product of her imagination. This was real. She was standing next to somepony's lantern on a dirt road in the middle of the forest, covered in mud as well as scrapes and bruises while rain kept falling on her, drenching her mane and coat. However, the pony to whom the lantern belonged to was nowhere in sight.

“Is anypony there? Please, I am in need of assistance and I would greatly appreciate your help.” The white mare hoped that a more polite request would yield some results. No such luck, she was still standing all alone, with nothing but the forest and rain to keep her company. Rarity waited a few more minutes before she decided to act. If there was no pony else nearby then she had to keep on moving. As for the lantern, she glanced down, since it was of no use to anypony while standing in the middle of the forest, she might as well take it and use it to get home. This way she wouldn't have to worry about blindly stumbling around. Rarity was just about to lean down and grab the lantern when a voice spoke from behind her.

“Can I help you ma'am?” Rarity let out a surprised gasp and quickly turned around, almost knocking down the lantern while doing so.

Standing on the edge of the light, with a pair of saddlebags hanging from his sides, was a gray stallion. An earth pony, considering she couldn't see any wings or a horn. He was looking at her, his dark green eyes traveling back and forth across her as he took in every single detail. Like Rarity, the stallion was also wet from the rain, his long dark blue, almost black mane hanging from his head and neck, similarly to Rarity's. The difference was that, unlike Rarity, he wasn't carrying half of the forest's flora in it. Another thing Rarity noticed was the tension in his stance. The stallion was like a coiled spring, ready to explode into action at the slightest touch. That little detail made her take a step back. However, when their eyes met a moment later, Rarity saw no anger or threat inside them. Instead, they were filled with a mixture of curiosity and, much to her surprise, fear. For a reason she could not fathom, he was afraid of her. As if expecting her to attack him any moment.

Rarity was so surprised that she forgot to reply to his question. Instead, they stood there, staring at each other as if caught in a trance. Eventually, the stallion took a careful step forward and spoke again. “Can I help you, ma'am? You seem to be hurt. What happened to you?” Just like the look in his eyes, the stallion spoke in a cautious voice. Fortunately Rarity also heard genuine concern in his words.

“Ah, yes... help.” Rarity mentally shook her head, pushing the confusion to the back of her mind. “I am afraid I had an accident, as you can plainly see. I had the misfortune of being caught in a landslide earlier today. When I woke up, it was already dark and I couldn't see a thing, which led me to wondering around this forest, looking for a way back home.” She summed up the day's events. “Please, good sir, could you direct me towards Ponyville? I must return home in order to take care of all this dirt.” She pointed at her mane and the rest of her body.

The stallion's eyes followed her hoof before focusing on her eyes again. “That is very unfortunate indeed, ma'am. Judging from the sound of it, you were fortunate to get away with only a few scrapes. As for Ponyville, it is in that direction.” He pointed in the direction he was facing. “Head down this road and turn right at the crossroads. You should reach Ponyville in about an hour, roughly speaking.”

Rarity felt the bottom of her stomach drop. “An hour?” How far away had she wandered off in her confusion? She turned her head in the indicated direction and stared at the road as it disappeared into the darkness. The trees on either side of the road made it look like it was leading into a giant maw. The white unicorn looked down at the lantern and then back at the road. A whole hour through darkness, rain and mud. She wasn't sure she could do that. Then again, what choice did she have?

With a heavy sigh, she turned her gaze back at the gray stallion and flashed a thankful smile. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate your help.” A sudden thought crossed her mind. Perhaps she wouldn't have to do it all alone. “Um, excuse me for asking, but where are you heading? If you are traveling to Ponyville perhaps we could do it together?” Her hopes lasted only for a moment before the stallion shook his head.

“Sorry, ma'am, but I do not live in Ponyville.”

“Oh, I see. That is most unfortunate.” Rarity said. She should have known better than to hope for such luck. This entire day had been unfortunate for her, no reason for her luck to turn. She'd been lucky enough to meet a fellow pony. “It looks like I'll just have to make it on my own. Either way, thank you for your assistance, mister...” She paused, fishing for his name.

“Lumberjack.” The pony replied after a moment of thought. The fear in his eyes was gone and though there was still a fair amount of tension in his posture, it was nowhere near the level it had previously been at.

“It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, mister Lumberjack.” Rarity felt her miserable state recede enough for her usual elegance to surface. “My name is Rarity. Once again, I am thankful for your help. But now I must go. If you ever decide to visit Ponyville, come to the Carousel Boutique. Perhaps I will find a way to repay you for your assistance. Farewell.” Rarity said and steeled herself for the journey ahead. She turned around and set off in a slow, but at the same time determined, pace. She had survived the fall, the forest and the mud. There was no way she would let a the road ahead of her get the upper hand.

Lumberjack didn't say a word as she walked past the lantern and left him behind. The last look on his face Rarity saw, told her that he once again had that tense look on his face. The one he had sported at the very beginning of their short meeting. The one that told her of an immense conflict being resolved behind those dark green eyes. She was mildly curious to find out what he was thinking so hard about, but the pang of pain from near her horn reminded her that she had other, more important matters to take care of.

It was around two minutes later when Rarity heard the thundering sound of hooves hitting the ground in rapid rhythm approaching from behind her. She glanced back and saw Lumberjack running up to her. “Ma'am. Miss Rarity. Wait.” His words were slightly unclear, courtesy of the handle between his teeth. The lantern was wildly swinging back and forth, causing the light to move back and forth as well. “Please wait.” The gray stallion repeated as he came to a stop right next to her. He placed the lantern on the road before addressing her.

“Miss Rarity, please. I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to go on like this. You asked for help and the only thing I did was show you directions. It is unacceptable! You are injured, probably tired, it's the middle of the night and it's raining.” Lumberjack said and glanced at a spot above Rarity's eyes where the gash was located. “This is not the best time to be outside. Therefore, if I may suggest, perhaps you would be willing to spend the night in my house? I have medical supplies for that gash on your forehead and you will also be able to get some rest. Afterwards, tomorrow morning, I will escort you all the way back to Ponyville.”

“Spend the night in your house?” Rarity was surprised by the sudden offer.

“Yes, I live very close by.” The stallion nodded and continued, this time with some regret in his voice. “I should have made this offer the moment you asked me for help, but the thing is, I live alone and I don't meet other ponies very often. That and, I'm not afraid to admit, you did scare me when you called out to me so suddenly. It took me a while to get my thoughts back in order.”

Rarity gave it some thought. The chance to put something between her and the rainstorm, take care of her injuries as well as getting rid of all the mud did sound appealing. The offer to get some rest as well was just icing on cake. However, Rarity wasn't certain she could trust Lumberjack. She had just met him and didn't know a thing about him. Following a stranger to his house sounded like a very bad idea. Then again, he did sound sincere and the look in his eyes told her that Lumberjack had no sinister motives in mind. That or he was a very good liar. She didn't think he was lying though, as someone who spent quite a lot of time dealing with the upper crust of Canterlot's society as well as other celebrities from all over Equestria, Rarity was familiar with false facades and hidden meanings that came with the territory. She had little trouble spotting when somepony was hiding something, and as far as she could tell, Lumberjack was being honest. Besides, even if he did  try something funny, Rarity knew how to defend herself. Sure, she wasn't in her best form at the moment, but she was still more than capable of taking on anypony she knew. If something went wrong, Rarity would make sure that Lumberjack remembered this day for a very long time.

“Very well. I accept your offer, Lumberjack.” Rarity said. “Thank you.”

Some of her concerns must have surfaced on her face, because Lumberjack smiled a reassuring smile when he heard her reply. “I assure you, miss Rarity, I mean you no harm. Truth be told, if I wanted to do something like that, letting you go would be a much easier way to accomplish that.” He pointed out and picked up the lantern before proceeding down the road in the opposite direction of Ponyville, with Rarity trotting right next to him. “This is about doing what is right.”

For the next few minutes, they both made their way towards Lumberjack's house in silence. They moved fast enough to reach their destination as quickly as possible, yet at the same time, Lumberjack, who was leading the way, also made sure to keep the pace at a level where Rarity was able to move without too much discomfort. Rarity greatly appreciated the courtesy. Now that the prospect of a good rest was hanging pretty much in front of her eyes, her eagerness was making her impatient and, in an effort to further motivate her, it was making every ache feel twice as strong as it actually was. Rarity stumbled a bit when her hoof slipped on the ground. Almost instantly Lumberjack glanced back at her, worried that the sudden sound would indicate that something bad had happened.

“No need to worry. I am fine. Thank you for your concern.” Rarity put his worries to rest, forcing herself to sound less tired than she actually was. “Just slipped a bit. Nothing serious.”

“Oh, okay. Fortunately, we're almost there. Just a little bit left. This way, miss Rarity.” Lumberjack replied and moved off the road, walking down a small, almost unnoticeable path that led deeper into the forest. “My house is a bit off the road. It is more private that way.” He explained.

Rarity arched her eyebrow and look in both directions of the road. “More privacy? You live in the middle of the forest. There can't be that many ponies around.”

“Well, yes. You are right about that. It's just that this road does see a fair amount of traffic. It's one way a pony can travel from Canterlot to Ponyville or Dodge City. Not many do it, since it's much faster to take the train. However, some ponies do prefer the longer road. And, considering that the nearest inn is some thirty minutes away, it's logical that somepony would decide to stop at my house.”  The gray stallion explained as they walked down the small path. It was too narrow for them to walk side by side so Rarity decided to follow him rather than step off the path and into the grass. She had enough of that for one day. “I am not good with other ponies, so I prefer to stay away.”

“Yet here you are, inviting me to follow you and offering a place to spend the night.”

Lumberjack gave a short chuckle and Rarity saw him nod his head in agreement. “Good point. If this was a normal situation, I would have simply let you go and that would have been all. However, I think you will agree, this is not a normal situation. You asked me to help you and I couldn't leave you there. As much as I dislike contact with others, I can't just refuse a request for help.”

Rarity was about to reply, but was cut short when he saw several lights through the trees. A moment later, the path led them to a small glade where a small cottage was located. The building was rather simple. It looked just like any other building in Ponyville. Light gray stone walls with a thatched roof. There was also a small shed, right next to the building as well as an entrance to the basement. However, the sight that instantly drew Rarity's attention was the light coming from the windows. Beautiful, welcoming light that promised shelter, warmth and peace from the rain.

“We're here.” Lumberjack said as they stopped in front of the door. He put down the lantern and started rummaging through his saddlebags. A few moments later, he fished out a key and unlocked the door. “Please.” He gestured at Rarity to enter.

Not one to turn such an invitation down, Rarity entered the house and let out a short breath of relief when she felt the constant feeling of rain on her back go away. She looked around and saw that the interior wasn't that much different from other houses. A single, large room dominated most of the interior. The most distinctive feature was the fireplace, located at the far opposite wall, with a pair of bookcases nearby and a reading chair in front of it. A large table with three chairs was in front of her across the room, near the doors leading to the kitchen. Right next to the entrance was a pair of wardrobes and shelves. Another set of doors was located to her left, while a dividing wall to her right, concealed the rest of the room.

Rarity walked further inside and saw that the rest of the room, hidden behind the dividing wall, was occupied with even more bookcases, a chest and a large desk, which was entirely covered by various books, scrolls, notes and other things. There was also a staircase, which led to the attic, where, Rarity assumed, the bedroom was located. All in all, the interior was simple and at the same time, comforting, the dark wooden panels covering the walls, played a major part of it. She quickly noticed that the furniture was old, but well maintained with a perfect balance between comfort, appearance and practicality.

She took another step and felt her hoof land on a soft rug. I am dirty. A panicked thought flashed through her mind, causing her to look down at her dirt covered hooves, step off the rug and look back at Lumberjack, who was busy removing he saddlebags. “Oh, I am terribly sorry. I dragged mud all over the floor.” Rarity said apologetically. “Is there a place I could...”

“The bathroom is over there, miss Rarity.” Lumberjack smiled and pointed towards the door on his left. “You will be able to wash off the mud in there. I do have to warn you, though. Considering the location, all I can offer is a cold shower. It's difficult to get hot water all the way out here.”

With a thankful nod and relief flooding every part of her body, Rarity quickly moved towards the bathroom. Once inside, she reached for the switch and turned on the lights. Magic crystals, arranged along the walls, came to life, filling the small room with light, allowing her to see a small cabinet, a sink, a shower stall and a mirror. “Thank you. I won't take long.” Rarity said and closed the doors. She then walked over to the mirror and glanced inside. What she saw there made her gasp in shock.

Rarity knew that she was a mess. She had expected to see dirt, leaves, and even a bit of blood. However, the reality was much more shocking than she had expected. Her mane was ruined. That was a fact. In some places it was difficult to tell where her mane ended and a patch of mud began. There were also small twigs hanging from the knots in her mane as well as leaves of all types. Her face wasn't that different. The entire left side of her face was covered with a mixture of half-clotted blood and mud, creating a gross, leathery layer that was disgusting to the touch. Some of the stuff was even in her eyelashes. In short, her appearance was a disaster of highest proportions. No wonder Lumberjack got scared when he saw her.

Afraid to even look at the rest of her body, Rarity hurried into the shower and let water cascade over her. The fact that the water was cold didn't bother her at all. Usually she took cold showers, since cold water was good for the health and beauty. She closed her eyes in delight as she felt all the dirt and mud being washed off of her, making her feel lighter. Even her headache wasn't as strong as before, the relief of experiencing a small bit of civilized lifestyle acting as a wonderful painkiller.

Rarity ran her hooves through her mane, getting rid of all the unwanted objects and untangling the knots. Rarity then rubbed her face in order to get rid of all the blood. The cold water also helped reduce the pain from the gash. She was careful not to touch the scar too much. The blood had clotted enough that it wasn't flowing anymore. Disturbing the clot would result in the whole mess starting all over again and perhaps even leaving a scar. Rarity shuddered at the thought and made sure to make an appointment at the Ponyville's clinic in order to have a professional look at it. Having a scar on her face would be the worst possible thing.

Once she was done, Rarity shut off the shower and stepped outside with a noticeable spring in her steps. A single shower and she already felt like a young filly. Rarity looked at the mirror again and this time instead of a gasp, she smiled at her reflection when she saw herself, not the swamp creature from before. Unfortunately, her smile soon disappeared when she saw that there was no drier in sight. Only a stack of towels with which to dry her coat and her mane. “Calm down, Rarity. This is an emergency. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Rarity reached out and grabbed on of the towels and began to dry herself.

She tried not to think about the damage she was doing to her mane and coat by using a towel to dry herself. She tried to ignore the agonizing cries of her soul at the rough treatment. Rarity, this is an emergency. A one-time thing only. You're doing this only once. You'll go to the spa and get proper care as soon as you get home. Rarity repeated the mantra in her mind the entire time it took for her to dry her coat and mane. Once she was done, Rarity was further disappointed when she didn't see a single product she could use to style her mane. There were some of them, but they were meant for stallions, not mares and Rarity had no intention of using them even as an emergency measure. In the end, she decided to keep her mane straight as it currently was. Even in her current state with towel dried coat and straight mane, Rarity had to admit, she was feeling good. Then again, anything was better than walking around with all that mud.

“Ah, you're done. Excellent.” Rarity heard Lumberjack say the moment she left the bathroom. She looked over to the table where Lumberjack was busy setting down a tray of food. The sight of several sandwiches made her realize how hungry she was. Judging from the look on Lumberjack's face, he was fully aware of it. “I took the liberty of preparing a small midnight snack. I figured you'd be hungry from all that walking around. Please. Take a seat. The tea will be ready soon.” He nodded in the direction of the kitchen.

With a large smile on her face, Rarity walked over to the table and sat down. “Thank you most sincerely. I have to admit, I am starving. I haven't had a bite to eat ever since I...” Her voice trailed off when she took a good look at Lumberjack's face. Or rather his forehead. It had been dark outside, so she hadn't noticed it before. Even when they had entered Lumberjack's house, where lightning was much brighter, Rarity hadn't noticed it due to her thoughts being occupied by other things. However, now that her mind was fully at rest and she could spare more attention towards studying her rescuer, it took only a second for her to notice that Lumberjack wasn't an earth pony. He was a unicorn.

Partially hidden under his dark blue mane was a horn. Or rather, the remains of what had once been a horn. Its edges were jagged and the very tip of the gray stump was charred black as if burnt. “What … what happened to your horn?”

Lumberjack took a sharp breath and raised his hoof to the stump. “Oh, this? Nothing... just a small accident a long time ago.”
“A small accident? You can't be serious!” Rarity stared at the stump with wide eyes. She felt sympathetic pain pang through her own horn as it suddenly felt very weak and vulnerable. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing … I mean, it doesn't matter... I … please … You see …. It's a bit … long ago.” Lumberjack was clearly feeling very uncomfortable. He kept his hoof to his stump while looking at the table in front of him, sparing an occasional glance at Rarity. He kept trying to form a sentence, but to no avail. Every time it looked like he would tell her something, the gray stallion trailed off or found himself unable to speak. After several tries, he took a deep breath and cast a pleading look at Rarity. “Please, miss Rarity... I beg you, let's not talk about it. It is a very painful and uncomfortable memory... please.”

Despite burning with desire to know more about how Lumberjack lost his horn, Rarity decided to listen to his request. It was obvious that the issue was very uncomfortable for him and he wanted to avoid talking about it. A lot of ponies had something they preferred to keep to themselves and not discuss with anypony else. Private matters were just that, private. Besides, she was a guest in his house. It would be very rude if she tried to press the issue after the help Lumberjack had given to her. “As you wish, Lumberjack. Just one question, if you don't mind. Can you use magic?” Rarity asked in a quiet voice as if afraid to hear the answer. The dead look Lumberjack gave her made Rarity's heart clench. Like any other unicorn, magic was a crucial part of her life. It was so ingrained in her everyday life that she sometimes wasn't even aware of using it. To have something like that taken away, to not be able to use any magic. She shuddered just at the mere thought of it. Of course, it was then that she realized that she was currently in a similar position. The blow to the head, resulting in one hell of a headache and a light concussion made it impossible for her to use magic. At least trouble maintaining it without being driven to her knees from the pain. “I apologize for making you feel uncomfortable.” She whispered.

Lumberjack lowered his hoof and gave her a brief smile. At least he tried to put up a smiling appearance, but Rarity could see the pain in his eyes. Pain from having old scars torn open again. Suddenly, Lumberjack's preference for privacy made a lot of sense. “It's okay, miss Rarity. It's not like the horn is impossible to notice ... And it's not like one sees a crippled unicorn everyday. I understand.”

An awkward silence settled between them as neither pony knew what to say and waited for the other pony to change topics. Before that could happen, the silence was broken by the sound of a kettle's whistle as the water inside it started to boil. Glad for the sudden distraction, Lumberjack grabbed the tray and hurried towards the kitchen. A few minutes later, he emerged with a pair of teacups resting on the tray he held between his teeth. He placed them on the table and offered one to Rarity. The white unicorn took the cup and inhaled the scent. “Mmm... Peppermint. Smells wonderful.” Rarity commented and took a sip. It tasted just as good as it smelled and the sensation of hot tea going down her throat made her feel much better. She felt even better when she ate one of the sandwiches. She didn't realize just how hungry she actually was until she caught herself eating the third sandwich without remembering anything about the second one.

A short chuckle from Lumberjack made her blush in embarrassment at her unladylike behavior. Lumberjack was only half-way through his first sandwich, though it was obvious that he was eating just to keep her company, not because he was hungry. He saw the uncomfortable look on Rarity's face and raised his hoof in an assuring manner. “Don't worry about it and eat as much as you want. A healthy appetite is a good sign, don't you agree?”

“Yes, but it was impolite of me to eat most of them. I apologize for...”

“You don't have to apologize, miss Rarity. I am not hungry at all. The only reason I am eating is so you wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Eat as much as you want … More tea?” Lumberjack offered, the pained expression in his eyes now a distant memory as the conversation changed topics. Rarity glanced at her cup and her blush deepened a bit when she distantly recalled emptying the cup sometime between her second and third sandwich. She had to take a short breath in order to calm herself. She was acting just like her parents who merely consumed the food without enjoying the taste. Rarity scolded herself for letting her manners slip like that. She was better than that and she would prove it by eating the rest of the meal in a proper manner.

“Yes, please.” Rarity nodded and patiently waited for Lumberjack to prepare another cup of tea. Only then she resumed eating, taking small bites off the sandwich and savoring the taste before washing it down with a small sip of the tea. She finished eating and used the napkin to wipe off any crumbs or stains that might have ended up on her lips. Once she was done, Rarity passed the plate and the empty cup to Lumberjack with a thankful nod. The gray stallion took the empty dishes and carried them to the kitchen. When he returned, he was carrying a first aid kit with him. He placed it on the table next to Rarity, and opened it.

“Miss Rarity, if you don't mind, may I take a look at that gash? The bleeding seems to have stopped, but I think it's best to check it out regardless. There is the possibility of infection after all.” Rarity considered his offer and eventually replied with a nod. “No worries, it won't take long.”

Lumberjack carefully brushed away a few strands of Rarity's mane away from the forehead and examined the injury. “Hmm, it looks like there is nothing to worry about. Seems to be shallow. I'll just disinfect it just to be sure.” He turned his attention towards the first aid kit and started searching for the disinfectant. “You mentioned you got caught in a landslide. How did you end up in one, if I may ask?”

“It is simple really. There is a ridge not far from here and there are a lot of gems scattered all over that area. Even though you can find gems almost anywhere, gems over there are of much better quality. I needed them in order to finish a dress. I am a fashion designer and I often incorporate games in my designs. I find it adds a unique touch to the design.” Rarity explained and winced slightly when she felt the sting of the disinfectant as Lumberjack started to clean the gash. “Anyway, I was busy searching for the gems. Unfortunately I was so focused on the task that I did not notice that the ground was becoming less safe because of my actions. Some of the gems were hidden underneath large rocks, so I had to remove them in order to get to them. As a result, when I made a careless step, the side of the hill gave in and collapsed. Since I was close to the edge, I got caught in it as well.”

“Oh. That does not sound like an enjoyable thing. Good thing you were lucky enough not to be seriously injured. Such accidents often result in broken bones or worse … Wait a minute ... Fashion designer … lives in Ponyville … named Rarity.” He trailed off as realization settled on his face. “Aren't you one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony? … How could I be so stupid and not realize it sooner! … You are one of them, right? … The element of Loy.... no, wait … The Element of Generosity, correct?”

Rarity chuckled at the dumbfounded look on his face. She couldn't help it. “Why yes. Yes I am. Rarity, the Element of Generosity.”

“Wow … I can't … Wow.” Lumberjack gasped, his hoof hovering somewhere above Rarity's head as he absentmindedly kept cleaning the injury. Rarity glanced up, laughed a bit and brought his hoof down to the actual spot. That turned out to be a mistake. Lumberjack was still staring at her in amazement and failed to pay any attention to his actions. As a result, Rarity grunted in pain when the piece of cotton in Lumberjack's hoof came down a little bit harder than intended.

“Please, do be careful with that.” Rarity directed his attention to the gash on her forehead.

“Sorry.” Lumberjack pulled away his hoof as if he had burned it. “It's just that meeting a hero of Equestria like this is the last thing I expected. I have heard a lot about you. All those times you saved Equestria... Wow. I mean, I knew that you all live in Ponyville, but I never expected to actually meet you. I have to say, it's an honor to meet you, miss Rarity. I am grateful for what you have done for all of Equestria.”

“Thank you.” Rarity gave him a kind smile. She always loved being treated like a celebrity. Being admired was one of the things she enjoyed. This was also one of the very few times when a pony expressed his gratitude for her efforts just like that, out of the blue.“I appreciate your gratitude, but I can hardly claim all the credit. I worked together with my friends. Without them, I wouldn't be sitting here. We all helped each other and stood by each others' side.”

“Apologies, miss Rarity, I wasn't insinuating that your friends were in any way less important. It's just that you are the only one of the Element Bearers I have met, so I couldn't avoid focusing mostly on you. All of you are important and I would be a fool to deny that.” Lumberjack nodded in agreement and resumed the treatment. He didn't say anything else on the matter, but Rarity could plainly see the enthusiastic grin on his face. Part of her enjoyed the attention she was getting, however, another part of her felt exhausted. As much as she enjoyed being in the spotlight, right now, she didn't have the strength for it. She was content to merely sit there, savor the brief moment of fame and wait for Lumberjack to finish. As it turned out, she didn't have to wait for long. “There, that should do it. Didn't look serious, it was only a flesh wound. Either way, cleaned it and it seems to be well on the way of healing. Won't even leave a scar.”

Rarity carefully raised her hoof to her forehead and probed it a few times. As far as she could tell, everything was fine. At least as far as the injury went. There was still the mild concussion and headache to consider. “Thank you most sincerely, Lumberjack. Your help is greatly appreciated. There is one more thing though. Do you have anything for headache? I hit my head during the accident and the pain doesn't seem to be going away.”

“Of course. One moment.” Lumberjack quickly searched his first aid kit and produced a bottle of pills. He checked the instructions, opened the bottle and shook out a pair of white pills. He then fetched a glass of water and offered it to Rarity. “These should kick in almost immediately.” The white mare took the pills and washed them down with water. She was surprised to feel the pain recede almost instantly, however, after a brief though, Rarity realized that it was nothing more than her imagination. The medicine would take time to work.

Meanwhile Lumberjack finished gathering the medical supplies and placed them back inside the kit. Once that was done, he glanced outside the nearby window before addressing Rarity. “Now that that's taken care of, I think it would be best if you got some sleep.”

“Yes, I would like that very much, assuming I am not inconveniencing you.” Rarity replied with slight concern. It was one thing to know that she would be spending the night at Lumberjack's house, but it was an entirely different thing to actually talk about it. It felt like a much greater intrusion of a pony's privacy than any of the previous things. A chance to clean up, a meal, as well as medical aid was something that most ponies would offer to others without a second thought. It was basic decency. However, spending a night at somepony's house was a much more serious. It placed more demands on the host.

“Not at all, miss Rarity. I invited you here after all. And I would be a very poor host if I kicked you out in your condition and in this weather.” Lumberjack put her concerns to rest with a kind laugh. Gesturing her to follow him, he lit a candle from the fireplace and led Rarity across the room towards the staircase. As expected, the second floor wasn't an actual floor. Unlike most ponies who used attic to store old things they didn't have the heart to throw out, Lumberjack had turned the attic into a room that saw frequent use. Once they were up the stairs, they ended up in front of a small room. The gray stallion opened the doors and gestured Rarity to enter.

Lumberjack's bedroom was messy. Though Rarity was quick to notice that the books, scattered across the floor, piled on top of the desk near the window, or resting inside the two bookcases or on top of the nightstand as well as on the bed itself weren't there because Lumberjack didn't care about cleaning up after himself. There was chaos, but there was a system to it, it was organized chaos. A work in progress type of mess. Just like her inspiration room back at Carousel Boutique.

The gray stallion muttered a quick apology and hastily cleared some of the books off to the side, so that they presented less of an obstacle. He also removed the piles of books from his bed and shoved them into a nearby bookcase. Once he was satisfied, Lumberjack gave Rarity a somewhat sheepish smile. “I apologize for the mess. I sometimes get carried away with my work and fail to remember to put away some things before taking out new ones. Anyway, I hope this bed will be to your liking. It's not much, but it's all I have to offer.”

Rarity frowned when she heard his words. “Wait, this is the only bed you have? Your bed?” Her frowned deepened when she saw Lumberjack give a short nod. “I can't do it. I can't claim the only bed in the house. Even as a guest that would be rude.”

“Well, the alternative is a worn out reading chair downstairs. However, letting a guest and a lady sleep in it while I spend the night up here would be rude to the extreme. I am afraid I must insist that you sleep here.” He patted on the covers before his voice took a more reassuring tone. “Thing is, I am not much of a sleeper. A few hours of sleep is more than enough for me. Besides, I still have a few tasks to take care of, so I will be up for a while. Please, miss Rarity. You need a good rest more than I do.”

Rarity bit her lip as she considered her reply. On one hoof, she was tempted to accept his offer. While the bed wouldn't be up to her standards, it was still a lot more comfortable than anything else that was available. Furthermore, Lumberjack was being polite and was determined to treat her like a lady by offering the best he had. On the other hoof, she did feel like she was intruding. Yes, she liked getting special treatment, yes, she enjoyed comfort, yes, she wanted to have the best possible thing. But never at somepony's expense. To take from others without any regard for them, it went against everything Rarity stood for.

Eventually, Rarity decided to acquiesce Lumberjack's offer. He had raised a lot of good points and didn't seem to be bothered by it. That, or he was hiding it very well. However, a quick memory of Lumberjack's initial offer of help and the lack of lies in his eyes, convinced Rarity that Lumberjack was speaking the truth. He didn't mind her taking the only bed. “Very well. I accept your offer. Thank you for your generosity, Lumberjack.” Rarity gave in with a tired voice. Now that she could see the bed, or, after a short walk, touch it, Rarity realized just how tired she was. Her eyes were almost closing on their own accord and she could barely remain on her hooves.

“You are welcome. In case you need anything, I'll be downstairs.” Lumberjack replied and headed towards the doors. “Good night.”

After he left, Rarity kept her gaze focused on the doors before glancing outside through the only window the room had. The storm was still going on at full strength. Rainbow Dash and her team had really outdone themselves. The weather schedule rarely called for storms, but the very few times it did, the cyan pegasus preferred quality over quantity. Instead of a light storm that lasted for a day or two, she arranged for a stronger one that lasted only a single night. While such an approach made the storms more devastating, they passed much quicker. Besides, Rainbow Dash always made sure that Ponyville itself didn't experience any damage. Rarity knew that tomorrow morning there would be no trace of the storm. The skies would be bright and sunny with not a single cloud in sight.

“Well, what better way to wait for the storm to pass than to simply sleep through it?” Rarity muttered and got into the bed. The bad was very comfortable and coupled with the warmth coming from the fireplace below, the white unicorn found herself slowly drifting to sleep. Rarity turned to the side and cast a sleepy gaze at the stack of books on the nightstand. The light of the candle nearby allowed her to read the titles. The books were ancient myths, magic history and... her train of thoughts broke as she fell asleep.


When Rarity woke up, the sun was already up. She yawned and looked outside the window. The welcoming sight of a beautiful late summer morning added an extra boost to her already high spirits. Rarity sat up in the bed and stretched. Her mood worsened a bit when she felt some of the sore spots act up, but she instantly dismissed them. They were barely more than a minor annoyance. Something the lack of headache made it easy to fully ignore. In fact, the lack of headache made her draw a sharp breath when Rarity realized one thing. She focused her mind on one of the nearby books and smiled when she saw it float in the air, surrounded by blue aura. She could use magic again. Or rather, she could use magic without having to worry about headache.

Smiling in relief, Rarity got up from the bed and slowly made her way towards the door. At the same time, the bedsheets behind her folded themselves and soon were piled into a neat stack on top of the bed. Rarity even made sure to correct a few of the book piles that looked particularly unstable. She couldn't help it, she hadn't realized just how much she'd missed to be able to use magic. It was like finding a small part of herself she hadn't realized it had been missing and once it was in place, the entire world felt like a better place. With the same relieved smile still lingering on her lips, Rarity left the room and walked downstairs.

“Lumberjack? Are you there?” Rarity called out as she descended down the stairs. To her displeasure, no response came. She glanced around once she reached the end of the stairs, her ears moving back and forth as she tried to pick up the sound of any response, but no answer came. The morning light was pouring through the windows, filling every part of the cottage, but not its owner.

Frowning, Rarity walked towards where the dividing room separated the living area she was currently in, from the more utilitarian part of the house. Rarity glanced at the desk nearby and, with curiosity getting the better of her, stopped to take a peek at the notes and books scattered all over it. History of magic? Rarity arched her eyebrows as she studied some of the most obvious titles. Why would he study magic if he can't use it? An idle thought crossed her mind. It was one thing to study magic on a purely academic level, but from the material she was seeing, Lumberjack's interest was much deeper than that. “Origins of magic … Ancient cultures … Myths and legends of the old world … Teachings of Epona … 20 Scriptures of Epona … Book of Epona … The origins Evening War.” Rarity read some of the titles, noting how often they referenced Epona.

Rarity was not well versed in ancient history, but like every pony she knew about the myths of Epona. According to legends, Epona, also known as the Great Mare, was considered as the creator of the world. Epona was the goddess who created not only the world, the magic, the sun and the moon, but also all the living beings. Earth ponies, pegasi, unicorns, alicorns and all the creatures in the world were considered her children and part of the Great Herd, whereas Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were considered divine manifestations of Epona. As a result it was no wonder that a lot of ponies worshiped her.

However, it wasn't the religious aspect Lumberjack was working on. His notes were focused on the creation of magic, ancient languages and something called The Grimoire of Evening War, which, as far as Rarity could discern, was a book of great importance to Lumberjack. In fact, he seemed to be almost obsessed with it. Every book that was open had tiny notes scribbled on the pages, all mentioning or referencing the Grimoire. Rarity looked at the remaining books, partially expecting Lumberjack to have a copy of the book that seemed to be the focus of his work, but apart from some of the books with titles in languages Rarity couldn't understand, it wasn't there.

She was about to move around some of the books in order to continue her search, when a bird landed just outside the window near the desk and started singing loud enough to startle her. Rarity jumped a bit and glared at the dark green and black bird for giving her such a scare. Almost immediately, Rarity's mind grasped the situation she was in and she felt shame overwhelming her. She was a guest at Lumberjack's house and she was sticking her nose into his business without asking. Just because the books were in the open did not mean she could read them and study his notes. It was rude.

Chastising herself for such behavior, Rarity stepped away from the desk and made her way towards the table where Lumberjack had served her sandwiches last night. Immediately, Rarity noticed several things placed on the table. One was a large plate with several sandwiches under a glass cover to keep them fresh. There was also a teapot, placed on a warmer that kept its contents hot. A cup and a small note.

“Went out to take care of some things in the forest. Won't be long. Please, enjoy your breakfast. In case you decide not to wait, there are directions on the other side that will help you get back to Ponyville. Lumberjack.” Rarity read the note while using magic to hold it in front of her. She turned it around and checked the directions. Once she was done, Rarity placed the note onto the table and surveyed the meal. The sandwiches looked delicious. Lumberjack had prepared several kinds of them. Some with vegetables, others with flowers and a couple of ones with jam. Blueberry from the looks of it. Rarity took a deep breath and felt the wonderful aroma of peppermint tea. She wanted to return home as quickly as she could. She even had directions in her possession. However, she also didn't want to leave just like that, without saying goodbye. That and she was hungry. The last thought made her stomach growl in an unladylike fashion as it voiced its lack of enthusiasm of abandoning all this food and making the long trip back with only those three sandwiches inside.

“Very well. I shall stay here for the breakfast. Perhaps he will return while I am eating.” Rarity made her decision and, with a well-practices move, tossed her mane away from her eyes and headed towards the bathroom in order to freshen up. Sadly, as expected, her morning rituals were limited to bare basics, just enough to make herself presentable to the world.

Once it was taken care of, Rarity returned to the table and began eating. Unlike before, this time Rarity didn't wolf down her food like a savage. She made sure to retain her grace and class, taking small bites and savoring the taste. It did take her a lot longer to finish her breakfast, but Rarity was used to it. She always took the slow approach when it came to eating. It was much healthier and better for her body. Besides, it wasn't like she was in a hurry.

Just as Rarity finished the last sandwich, she heard something outside. Her ears perked up and swiveled towards the door behind her. Putting down her sandwich, Rarity turned around so she could see them as well. She could clearly hear hoofsteps approaching the door and a moment later, they opened, revealing Lumberjack, holding a basket of flowers in his mouth. He met her eyes  with a smile and chuckled before putting the basket down. “Ah, good morning miss lady Rarity, the Most Amazing of Gem Hunters.”

“I beg your pardon?” Rarity was caught off guard by Lumberjack's words. The gray stallion looked like he was about to burst from laughter if the quiet chuckling was of any indicator. It was plain to see that something, or somepony had amused him greatly. Rarity watched him pick up the basket and walk over to the table so he could place it on top of it. Once it was done, he looked at Rarity, his face still sporting that amused look. Noting her confusion, Lumberjack raised one hoof in front of him placatingly.

“Apologies. It's just that... Let me explain from the beginning. I went out to collect some Lightning Bloom flowers.” Lumberjack nodded at the flowers in the basket. Rarity took a glance as well. The flowers didn't look special. They were dark gray with puffy petals, which reminded her of storm clouds. However, as she looked, she also spotted an occasional spark jump between the petals. “Lighting Bloom. Blossoms only after thunderstorms. Dry them and you can make an extremely delicious tea.” Lumberjack explained after tracking her gaze. He then cleared his throat and continued.

“As I was saying, I went to gather some flowers. Didn't take long, and hour or so. At least, that was my intention when I left the house. Thing is, it all started exactly as planned. There is this nice place, where there's a lot of them. Once my basket was full, I was about to head back when I heard a commotion in the distance. I got curious and went to investigate. As it turned out it was a group of diamond dogs, standing around a white cart and arguing about something, while some of them were busy loading gems into the cart. I might have stumbled upon the location where that landslide had happened yesterday, since there was a huge pile of rocks and mud at the base of the cliff and a large part of the hill was missing. Turns out, it's actually pretty close. Anyway, I started to listen in, but it didn't last long, since they spotted me.”

“A moment later, I was surrounded by the entire pack. For a while I was afraid of what they might do. From what I've heard, they don't like others intruding in their territory. Imagine my surprise when one of them asked me if I knew you. Obviously I said yes. I thought they were looking for you, so I offered to lead them here. However, they were having none of that. It was almost as if they were scared of meeting you. Then they asked me whether or not you would be returning for the cart. When I said that I didn't know, they practically grabbed me and tied me to the cart. They then demanded that, since I know you and where you are, I take the cart with me and deliver it to you. What surprised me the most was that they were begging me to do it. They were terrified when they mentioned you and were constantly coming up with all sorts of titles for you.” Lumberjack shook his head in mild amusement. He shot her a suspicious glance. “I've never seen diamond dogs act like that. What did you do to them?”

Rarity couldn't hold back a short laugh, especially when she remembered that time when she had been captured by diamond dogs and how that day had ended. To think that after all this time, they would still be so afraid of her that they would.... Rarity's laugh died down instantly when she recalled the inspiration, the gems, the entire reason of her trip. In a flash she jumped down from the chair and was staring in Lumberjack's eyes from just centimeters away. “The cart. I assume you did bring it back, right?” Lumberjack silently nodded, surprise and worry plain on his face. Almost immediately, Rarity felt the weight of the world drop off her back. She let out a heavy sigh of relief and stepped away from the gray stallion. The slightly manic look in her eyes disappearing without a trace.

“Thank you, Lumberjack. You cannot imagine how much it means to me. Without those gems, all of this would have been for nothing. My work would be ruined and I would never find peace. Thank you most sincerely.” She said in a joyful voice and placed a hoof on her chest to still her beating heart.

Lumberjack studied her carefully for a while, confused by the sudden change of Rarity's mood. The look in her eyes when she heard about the gems was still fresh in his mind. When he was certain that it had been only a momentary thing, Lumberjack managed a weak smile. “You're welcome, miss Rarity. Though it's not like I had a choice, those diamond dogs were … adamant that I deliver you your cart. It's right outside, good to go the moment you... finish your breakfast.” He trailed off when he saw that the plate was empty. It looked like he had arrived just in time.

Rarity traced his look. “As you can see, I am done eating. It was very delicious. Thank you for going out of your way to make me breakfast. Please, allow me to return a small part of the favor and take care of those dishes.”

“That is not necessary.”

“Lumberjack. I insist, I must repay your hospitality somehow.” Rarity said and used her magic to gather all the dishes.

“I can't let you do that. You are a guest, Rarity.” Lumberjack paused for a moment. “Umm, I mean, miss Rarity.”

“Nonsense, darling. It would be rude not to clean up after myself. Oh, and just Rarity is fine.” Rarity ignored Lumberjack's protests and moved towards the kitchen so she could wash the dishes. A small part of her mind noted that she had used the form of address she usually reserved for ponies she considered friends. However, after a brief thought, Rarity decided to include Lumberjack in that circle. She felt comfortable enough to consider him a friend. Not as close as her Ponyville friends, few ponies were that close, but he was certainly a lot closer than an acquaintance.

The kitchen, as expected, was very basic. An ice box with the stasis spell cast on it, to keep the food fresh, a sink, a small table, a wood burning stove and a few counters for the dishes. Nothing exotic. It a lot of ways it reminded her of Applejack's kitchen at Sweet Apple Acres. It was there to take care of the most basic needs with minimum fuss. In short, it was a working pony's kitchen. Perfect for somepony who spend most of the day working and didn't want to bother with the more complicated aspects of cooking. As a result, it took her barely a minute to wash, rinse and dry the dishes before Rarity placed them in a nearby counter.

“You see? All has been taken care of. No problem at all.” Rarity said with a victorious smile and turned around to face Lumberjack. The stallion shook his head and admitted defeat.

“Well, I couldn’t really stop you, so I guess there is no point in complaining, Rarity. Anyway, now that the breakfast has been taken care of, I assume that we are ready to head to Ponyville?” Lumberjack said and left the kitchen with Rarity following close behind. They made their way towards the doors and, after a brief pause while Lumberjack grabbed his saddlebags and put on a dark blue boonie hat, they went outside.

Rarity narrowed her eyes and covered them with her hoof when the sunlight almost blinded her. With raindrops covering most of the surfaces and small puddles dotting the ground, everything in her sight was shining as if covered with gems. She blinked a few times in order to adjust to the daylight sooner. Once the glittering reflections weren't causing tears to well up in her eyes, Rarity looked around and was momentarily stunned by the sight that greeted her.

Unlike last night when the forest was dark and dangerous, the morning sun turned it into something amazing. Bright rays shone down upon her, filling the glade with a warm and comfortable light. The forest, surrounding the cottage was like a giant wall. However, it was far from intimidating. Here and there in the distance, Rarity could see rays of light piercing the foliage, bathing the lower parts of the forest in their warmth. Raindrops glittered in these isles of light, filling the already rich palette of greens and browns with sparkles and revealing the colorful flowers covering the ground. Mesmerized by the sight, Rarity took a deep breath, savoring the fresh scent of the forest in the morning.

Most ponies believed that Rarity disliked nature. For the most part, they were right. Rarity despised nature, since it often had a nasty habit of getting on her hooves, or her coat, or in her mane. She also disliked bugs that seemed to make it a sport to surprise her with their presence when she last expected it. However, if all those factors were removed and Rarity was free to observe nature, rather than be in it, the white unicorn found some of its aspects rather enjoyable. The colors alone could serve as a source of inspiration whenever Rarity felt like designing a nature themed collection.

However, nature failed to keep Rarity's attention when she spotted a very familiar gleam in the corner of her eye. She couldn't hold back an amazed gasp when she saw her cart, filled to the breaking point with gems of all types and sizes. The amount of gems was more than twice of what she had collected. The diamond dogs had not only gathered up the gems she had collected, but also added a fair amount of their own. She never expected something like that from them. Not if that last time was of any indicator. “I … I am speechless. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine them doing something like this.” Rarity muttered to herself as she walked over to the cart. She made a mental note that the next time she went on a gem collecting trip, she would mark some of the gem deposits and leave them untouched. A small way to repay the diamond dogs for the unexpected generosity.

“Yeah, they mentioned adding a few gems of their own.” Lumberjack overheard Rarity's words and followed Rarity after he made sure the door was locked. “Ready to go?”

“Yes … yes, I am.” Rarity replied, her mind still trying to get a hold of the situation.

“Excellent. Now, if you allow me.” Lumberjack said and moved over to the front of the cart where the harness was located. It was a few sizes too small for him, but he managed to put it on regardless.  He pulled the cart a bit, testing its weight and momentum, and then started moving. They made their way onto the main road and were soon on their way to Ponyville, with Lumberjack pulling the cart and Rarity walking right next to him. For a while they walked in complete silence.

Eventually, Rarity decided to break the silence and satisfy her curiosity. “So, Lumberjack, would you mind telling me about yourself? Where are you from?”

The gray stallion didn't reply immediately. He remained silent for a while as if composing his answer. “I am from Fillydelphia. I grew up there and, for the most of it, had an ordinary life. Went to school, got an occasional part time job here and there, you know, the usual. The only problem was my parents. You see, they were a bit different from others. They were very big on all sorts of mystical stuff. Prophecies, predictions, fortune telling, that sort of deal. They were so obsessed with it, that, when she was pregnant, my mother went to see a fortune teller who claimed she could predict my destiny. The fortune teller told my mother that my destiny revolved around working in the forest, cutting down trees. That's how I got my name before I was even born.” Lumberjack made a short laugh.

“Unfortunately, I was something of a disappointment. I had little interest in trees and a lot of it in magic. Or rather history of magic. I wanted to know what magic really is, how it came to be and how it does the things it does. My parents were not happy. They were so focused on that stupid prediction that they wouldn't even consider that maybe it was a false one. Either way, they tried to pressure me into forestry, but I refused. Even when I got my Cutie Mark, which, as you can clearly see, has nothing to do with forestry, they didn't give up. Eventually, I got tired of it. I packed my things and left. That was the only way I could indulge my hobby and study magic. Ever since then I've been wondering around Equestria, collecting rare books, studying the history of ancient magic and so on. I came to this place around two months ago. Heard that there might be some lost books in the ancient castle ruins.”

“I see. Interesting.” Rarity said thoughtfully, as she mulled over what she had heard. His story was interesting, there was no doubt about that. However, it was also made up. At least parts of it were. Rarity had spent several parts of her life in order to develop a proper Fillydelphia accent to a level where it sounded like she'd been using it for her entire life. Lumberjack, despite his claims of spending most of his life in Fillydelphia, didn't have even a hint of the accent. In fact, he sounded  like a Canterlot pony. The part about the prediction was somewhat believable, though she did notice the change in Lumberjack's tone when he had spoken about his family. It felt like there was a much bigger conflict underneath. As for the special talent... Rarity's eyes drifted towards Lumberjack's flank, where his Cutie Mark was located.

Lumberjack's Cutie Mark was that of a golden star, trailing streaks of colorful dust. The trail was a mixture of red, violet, green, blue, black and other colors that were similar to a nebula. Clearly, it was plain to see that whatever Lumberjack's special talent was, it had nothing to do with forestry. And while Rarity was far from an expert on deciphering the meaning of a Cutie Mark just from its appearance, it made more sense to tie it with magic and its history. Perhaps his talent was to reveal the stars of ancient knowledge from the dusty layers of history?

Meanwhile Lumberjack, completely oblivious to Rarity's musings, continued to speak. “I don't usually stay in one place for long. Three, four months maximum, before I move on. There is just so much hidden history to recover across Equestria.”

“Why are you moving from one place to another so quickly? I don't know much about researching old knowledge, but from what I have learned from a dear friend of mine, such things require a lot of time and, apologies if I sound offensive, you do not seem like a pony who is in a hurry.” Rarity noticed a hole in his argument. He also noticed him squirm a bit when he heard the question.

“Well, you see … It's complicated.” Lumberjack gave her, arguably, the most frustrating answer there was. No answer was ever complicated. There were either things a pony wanted to hide or a lack of patience to explain a problematic situation to another pony and Rarity could clearly see that lack of patience was not the reason for Lumberjack's refusal. But then why hide it? What was so important about history that Lumberjack would hide? What is something personal? Something to do with his horn? Something else?

“You don't want to talk about it?”

“Yes, that is correct.” Lumberjack took a deep breath and held it for a long time. Eventually he heaved a heavy sigh, muttered something that sounded like “terrible liar” and looked at Rarity with an apologetic look in his eyes. “Rarity, I understand that you want to know a few things about me, and that the answers I am providing are insufficient at best. I will also admit that not all details I told you about my past were true. Thing is, there is a reason I can't tell you that.” He looked away from her and focused his gaze on the road ahead. “It is frustrating, I know, but I will risk sounding melodramatic and say that the less you know, the safer it will be for you and your friends.”

“I think you are underestimating us, Lumberjack. I do not want to sound arrogant, but we have confronted many trials in our past and we have managed to overcome all of them.” Rarity replied, feeling mildly offended by Lumberjack's implication that there was a threat she and her friends couldn't handle.

Lumberjack shook his head and smiled a reassuring smile. “You misunderstood me. I was not insinuating that you or your friends are helpless. Far from it. Considering the things you have done, underestimating you would be the height of folly. You and your friends are heroes. You all bear the Elements of Harmony, there is nothing in Equestria that could pose a threat to you. It is just that this is a problem I alone must fix. It is a personal quest I must undertake in order to atone for what I have done. A one pony crusade if you will.”

The heartfelt explanation helped banish the unpleasant sensation, stemming from the assumption that Lumberjack was looking down on her. In fact, Rarity felt a warm feeling of satisfaction inside her when Lumberjack spoke about her achievements. It was so wonderful to be appreciated for a change. Especially since it was more or less a random pony expressing his gratitude. Despite the power Rarity and her friends could wield in order to protect Equestria, few ponies recognized them. Even fewer ponies actually bothered to say thanks. Sure, there was plenty of cheers and stomping during official events, but rarely was Rarity thanked for her efforts in her daily life. Then again, it wasn't like she walked around announcing her status as an Element Bearer for all to hear, such things were beneath her, but she had hoped that at least some ponies would bother to do some research. It sometimes felt that all the world saving business was something other ponies considered her daily job, not worth mentioning. Therefore, it was refreshing to hear her efforts being appreciated. Rarity could actually feel her steps become a tiny bit lighter as the warm feeling spread throughout her body. In some ways it was mildly surprising. A girl like Rarity was used to receiving compliments. In fact she savored them like fine wine. The surprising thing was the effect such a simple and direct compliment had on her. However, as Rarity immediately realized, there was a difference between the hollow, almost casually dispensed compliments in a high society event in Canterlot and a genuine one, expressed in the middle of a forest.

However, there was more to Lumberjack's words than a mere compliment. There was also his admission that he had a problem, but refused to involve others. Normally Rarity would do everything in her power to help out a fellow pony, even if she had to insist on helping out. It just wasn't in her nature to abandon a pony in need. This time it was different. There wasn't a hidden plea for help in his voice as it was with mos ponies when they refused help because they were too afraid or too shy to ask for it. Instead there was determination in his voice. A strongly held belief that this was indeed, as Lumberjack had put it, a one pony crusade, and as much as Rarity wanted to insist on offering her help, she understood that doing so would only result in a refusal. Therefore, Rarity decided to respect Lumberjack's decision and not pressure him into accepting her help. Of course, that did not mean she didn't want to know about it. The entire situation was very interesting and her curious nature was intrigued by it.

“Is it safe to assume that the problem is tied not only to all those books, but to your horn as well?” She asked, trying to voice her question as gently as possible as the painful expression on Lumberjack's face last night surfaces in her mind. As expected, Lumberjack took a deep breath before answering, an action that took place every time the conversation touched upon an unpleasant topic, Rarity noted.

“Yes, Rarity. That is correct.” Lumberjack adjusted his hat, making sure the stump of his horn was covered. “Did a stupid thing, got punished and now I have to fix the mess I made.”

“I am sorry to hear that.” Rarity said, wondering whether or not Lumberjack was telling the truth. After he had admitted to hide some of the details about his past, Rarity had her doubts about the authenticity of his claims on what looked like a self-imposed journey of repentance. He could be very well telling her half-truths or even outright lies. Then again, Rarity was becoming familiar with his body language and, as far as she could tell it, Lumberjack was telling the truth. Rarity shook her head, all this speculating was becoming frustrating. She could already feel small hints of a headache forming, something she desperately wanted to avoid. In the end, Rarity decided to drop the issue and just let it be. Why worry about irregularities of somepony's past? If he was that determined to keep tings to himself, then Rarity saw no reason to be rude by pressuring him. “Perhaps a change of topic would be in order? How about that nice house of yours? You mentioned that you are planning to move somewhere else soon and that you generally travel a lot. What are you going to do with it? Sell it?”

Lumberjack heaved a relieved sigh as the conversation changed tracks and for once Rarity didn't hear any moments of silence or sudden gasps. The gray stallion shook his head in denial. “Nothing of the sort. I will be taking it with me. You see, it's not a real house. At least not in the traditional sense. Have you ever heard of Home Away From Home artifacts?” Lumberjack glanced at her, just in time to catch Rarity frown slightly as she searched her memory. “Truth is, they are rather rare. The one I have is a family heirloom, a gift from my grandmother. You see, the Home Away From Home artifact usually takes the form of a small version of the real thing. A model if you will. It makes it easy to carry around. When you decide that you need a place to stay, you place the model on the ground, tap it three times with the key and it immediately expands to a full-sized house. It comes fully furnished and even has running water as you already know. That is if you place the building on top of an underground stream, so there is one thing to keep in mind. Whenever I decide to move to somewhere else, I can use the key to shrink it so it easily fits into my saddlebags. Let's me avoid carrying around a large pile of various things and allows me to enjoy some benefits of civilization no matter where I am.”

“That does sound like a useful thing for somepony who travels a lot. Especially if it allows you to bring along various necessities without having to worry about carrying them. I have a tent in my possession, which is very similar to your house. To some degree. It is magically enchanted to be more spacious than it might appear from the outside. I will admit, I do not use it often as I am not fond of camping, so it merely gathers dust most of the time. However, the few times when I had to spend a night in the wilderness, it has been invaluable in its ability to provide a comfortable semblance of civilization.” Now that they were no longer talking about complicated matters, the mood became noticeably lighter, especially when Rarity realized that the forest was becoming familiar.

“That one looks familiar.” She instantly recognized a small path they passed a few minutes later. It was leading off the main road and was the same one she usually took when going on her gem hunting trips. “We will be in Ponyville soon.” Rarity added, feeling the weight of the world disappear from her shoulders as the thought settled in. Though she hadn't been thinking about it, there had been that small though, far away at the back of her mind that perhaps Lumberjack could not be trusted. After all, meeting a strange pony, who was unusually helpful and who also kept things hidden from her, was rather suspicious. Suspicious enough to make her think that maybe Lumberjack had a hidden agenda in regards to her. Something unpleasant. However, the sight of familiar surroundings as well as the forest becoming less dense, was a wonderful realization that, no matter what he had to hide, Lumberjack had kept his promise.

“Y-yeah … sounds good.” The nervousness in Lumberjack's voice caused Rarity to turn her head towards him so fast, she almost sprained it. Rubbing a sore spot with her hoof, she noticed that Lumberjack's body was screaming nervousness to the world.

“Oh my goodness, is there something...” Rarity started to ask before recalling a few details from their conversation last night. “Ah, you mentioned you don't feel comfortable around other ponies, correct?” She watched him reply with a shallow nod. “Well, if it bothers you so much, we could part ways here. Ponyville is not far from here and it won't be a problem to pull that cart by myself for the rest of the road. You have been extremely helpful already, I would hate to ask more of you.”

“NO!” Lumberjack slammed his hoof against the ground. Initially Rarity thought she had offended him in some ways, but when Lumberjack didn't say anything else and even increased his pace, the white unicorn realized that the response was mostly intended for himself, rather than her.

“Darling, please, you don't have to go that far on my account. I will not think badly of you for coming this far and turning away because you are afraid of crowds.”

“No, Rarity.” This time he was talking to her. “It's not that I am afraid of crowds. I'm just not used to them. It's not a big problem. Besides, I did promise I would help you get home. I mean, what kind of a pony would I be if I left a lady alone and broke my promise to escort her home?” He said with a somewhat forced smile.

Rarity answered his smile with a short laugh which seemed to drain all the nervousness from Lumberjack's eyes. “Oh, my. What a gentlecolt! I guess chivalry is still alive. Very well, mister Lumberjack, if you insist on keeping your promise and escort me all the way home, how can I refuse?”

“Precisely. I am a pony of my word.” He replied with a genuine chuckle of his own just as they left the forest and the pleasant sight of Ponyville greeted them. Usually, when Rarity saw her home village, she felt glad. The familiar sight was like a soothing balm for her soul. This time, she was almost bouncing from joy. She was so happy, she nearly let out a joyful squeal. Fortunately, Rarity managed to control herself and settled to a mere smile. An unusually wide smile, but a smile nonetheless.

The short trip to the Carousel Boutique was an interesting one. Mostly because a lot of ponies gave her more than a single confused look. It wasn't everyday when one saw Rarity walk around with her mane completely straight and unstyled. At least when it wasn't raining. Not only that, but looking like that while accompanied by an unfamiliar stallion, who was pulling her cart of gems, was more than unusual. In some ways, it was almost unsettling. Perhaps there was something wrong with her?

Rarity noticed the strange looks she was receiving and did her best to ignore him. Yes, she knew that she didn't look like her usual self, but what was she supposed to do? Quietly sneak around, hoping nopony would notice her? That would be more humiliating than her current situation. Then again, it wasn't like she felt humiliated. An unstyled mane and a slightly unkempt? Yes. Humiliated? No. She merely looked different like her usual self. That was it. In an about an hour, she would look like she always did and that would be the end of it. There was no reason to look at her like that. Honestly, it is like they have never seen me like this. Aren’t you overreacting a bit, my dear? Rarity thought when she caught sight of an earth pony staring in her direction as if she had grown another head. The purple mare seemed to be so shocked by Rarity's appearance that it looked like she was unable to keep her eyes on Rarity and was staring at Lumberjack who was right next to her.

Rarity made a quick check on Lumberjack and almost laughed. The stallion was putting up a brave show of trying to look like he didn't care about other ponies. Unfortunately, the stiffness in his posture, the focused sight and the constantly moving ears told Rarity that his mind was full of thoughts about the ponies looking at him and Rarity. His stiff appearance made him look more like an automaton than an actual pony, forcing Rarity to look away before she started laughing. She knew it wasn’t right, because Lumberjack was doing it for her, however, it looked so funny it was almost impossible to resist. Perhaps that's why they were getting so many strange looks?

“Ah, there we are. Home sweet home.” Rarity said moments later when they reached Carousel Boutique. “You can leave the cart over there.” She pointed at a spot near the door. Lumberjack nodded and moved over to the indicated location, where he removed the harness from his back. He was about to start unloading the cart when Rarity stopped him with a raised hoof. “That will not be necessary. I will sort them out later myself. Why don't you come inside for a cup of tea while I figure out how to repay you.” Rarity opened the door and walked inside. She stopped, however, when she didn't hear Lumberjack following her. The white mare turned around and saw that Lumberjack hadn't moved from his spot near the cart.

“I appreciate the offer, Rarity, but that will not be necessary. You don't have to repay me.”

“But I can't let you leave just like that. You did so much for me. I have to repay you somehow.” Rarity tried to convince him, but once again, the look in his eyes convinced her that it would be a wasted effort.

“There is no need for it. Really. I did all those things because it was the right thing to do.” He gave her a warm, reassuring smile. “A simple thank you will be more than adequate. Though is that is not enough, I would like to ask you to forget everything that happened.”

Rarity shook her head in defeat and smiled back at him. “You really won't let me pay you back, won't you? Oh well, as much as I would like to do something, I understand. In any case, thank you Lumberjack for all the help. I truly appreciate that. And if, by any chance, you are in Ponyville again, perhaps after you have taken care of your crusade, please, do come by. Maybe then we can arrange something.”

“Maybe I will do that.” Lumberjack replied and started walking away, back towards the forest. “Anyway, I bid you farewell, Rarity. It was wonderful to meet you.”

“Good bye, Lumberjack. Best of luck to you.” Rarity said and watched him leave. “Unfortunately I will not be able to grant your request.” She muttered quietly a moment later as she closed the door. A strange, yet very helpful and kind unicorn with a broken horn, living in the middle of the forest, far away from other ponies, obsessed with magic and history, determined to accomplish a personal task. “It is impossible to forget something like that.”