With a blare of its horn and a hiss of steam the train pulled into Grand Canterlot Central. Misty gave a contented sigh and trotted down the halls, her saddlebags full of the lovely produce she'd picked up that very morning at Ponyville's farmer's market. The quaint earth pony town, within a few hours' train ride of the city, grew some of the finest fruits and vegetables in all of Equestria, so Misty had made certain to avail herself of spring-fresh carrots, mouthwatering beets, and above all, succulent apples from the nationally famous farm Sweet Apple Acres.
Still, Ponyville, for all its charms, was not Canterlot. As she stepped onto the white stone platform, Misty's ears filled with the gentle din of the great metropolis, and they popped very faintly as she yawned her way to comfort in the high altitude. She actually found the hustle and bustle fairly relaxing, like the breaking of waves upon the seashore, so she smiled serenely at the crowd dispersing from the-
Misty was shoved to the side as an orange earth pony in a cowcolt's hat barreled past her, followed by a white unicorn, a blue pegasus with a rainbow- a rainbow mane? Misty immediately jumped away, as did everypony who looked up enough to see the six ponies and one dragon. Everypony knew them. And if they were in a hurry, it had to be for a good reason.
With Spike on her back, Twilight and her five friends galloped out of the station, barreling down the steps lined with towering statues. “Make way!” Twilight cried, causing pony after pony to vault from their path. “Make way! We're going to the castle! Make way!”
They turned right at the bottom of the steps, following the way Twilight knew by heart. Canterlot had many narrow streets and cobbled alleys, but its rising layers were dominated by a long, winding road, paved in slate, that rose higher and higher as it curved clockwise through the city. One could tell it apart from the other roads by the banners that fluttered on posts at either side, fixed with the sun-and-moon device. It was also almost always the widest of roads one could encounter, such that all roads led to it, like streams feeding a great river.
Roundabout and upward more the six and Spike traversed, galloping ever faster. “Make way!” Twilight cried. Her horn flashed with magic, strobing through the ether to warn other unicorns that they should stay well clear. The air grew thin as they ascended. Above the common neighborhoods, through the many shopping districts and artisans' boutiques, through the tall and narrow homes of the most hallowed elite, still they rose. The white and lavender stone was thick about them, tall towers topped with golden splendor flashing in the late spring sun. Gardens now wound about their path, blooming, overrun with verdancy, spewing legions of sweet smells that lingered on their nostrils even as they passed into a final broad ascent of white stone steps. These were lined with the Royal Guard, their gilt armor polished to the finest gleam.
Up the final step- and here! They stood upon the heights of Canterlot, where the white stone and golden domes of the Palace of the Sun lay before them. All the plains of East Equestria were spread two thousand feet below, banners billowed in the cold crisp air of the heights; to their right the peaks of the Eyrie Mountains rose, blue-stoned, white-capped.
“Whew!” Twilight said, fluttering her wings subconsciously as she regained her breath. “Come on, girls!” She galloped the remainder of the way, to a pair of massive golden gates rimmed by ponies wielding spears. “Guards!” she cried. “Open the gates!”
“No can do, Princess Twilight Sparkle, ma'am,” said the lead guard, a brown unicorn in armor.
“What?” Rainbow Dash cried. “What gives?”
“Sir guard, please, this is urgent,” Twilight said. “We've sent a serious letter to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna! They're almost certainly expecting us!”
“Yes, my good fellow,” Rarity said, “please, this is quite important.”
“The princesses are conducting private business right now,” said the chief guard. “No admittance.”
“But you just gotta let us in!” Pinkie Pie cried. “It's super important!”
“Rules are rules, Miss Pie,” said the guard.
“Oh really?” Twilight said. “Well, if rules are rules, you have no choice but to let me in.”
“Uh... what?” the chief guard said, his tufted eyebrow rising.
“I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, as you said,” Twilight began. “And that makes me a princess as recognized by the Equestrian State. This, in turn, makes me a princess as recognized by the Ancient Code of Canterlot. And according to the Ancient Code of Canterlot, a princess will always be recognized as Mistress of Gates. And a Mistress of Gates can decree any gate open or shut that she desires, even if it has been shut by the decree of other princesses.”
“Wait, really?” said the chief guard.
Twilight stepped right up to him, thought of Fluttershy's stare, and gave him what she hoped was a look to peel paint. “Master guard, you know all about me, I'm sure. Are you really going to question me on a matter of something I've read?”
“Oh! N-No, your highness!” the chief guard staggered back, stumbling with both hooves and tongue. “Of course not! I'll open the gate right away!”
“Thank you very much,” Twilight said, as his horn and those of the other unicorns came alight with magic. The gates shimmered in a patchwork of radiant auras, and with mighty groans of metal they creaked open. “Come on, girls! Let's hurry!”
The six ponies and Spike dashed inside, Spike sliding off Twilight's back once they were within the bounds of the castle. As the gates crashed shut behind them, Applejack said, “Golly, Twilight, I never even heard o' that Mistress o' the Gates stuff!”
“Me neither,” Fluttershy said. “Lucky that it exists, right?”
“Uh,” Twilight's purple eyes shifted to the side. “Um, actually, I totally made that up.”
“What?” Dash said.
“So that's what was givin' me a funny feelin' just now!” Applejack said.
“Ooo, Twilight's getting tricksy!” Pinkie said, coming close and nudging her in the side. “Way to fib your way to the greater good, girl!”
“Let's hope it was for good reason!” Spike said. “Come on, girls!” He toddled up the near, shallow steps, hurrying as fast as his stubby legs might carry him.
“Right! Come on!” Pinkie Pie echoed. She bounced up the steps with more spring than usual, covering long measures with each bound.
“Okay!” said Twilight, cantering at accelerated speed. The four other ponies came in her wake, so that they were all moving through long corridors festooned with powerful artwork, polished steel plate, and glimmering stained glass. “Come on!” Twilight said, speeding to a trot. She passed Spike, then used her magic to return him to her back. The others eagerly followed. There was nothing of plod in their pace, no dragged hoof, no sign that they might be fatigued from chase or fear of death. Fear indeed was what drove them on.
At last they galloped down a tremendous hallway, colored windows of stained glass spangling the deep scarlet carpet with bright light in all the rainbow. Two sturdy pegasi were planted like great statues at the closed doors, but Twilight's approach weakened their steadfastness. “Princess!” one of them exclaimed.
“Let us in!” Twilight shouted as the seven drew yet closer.
“We can't!” the second cried.
“Do it now!” Twilight yelled again, her horn growing brilliant bright and sparkling with fury.
The guards were well familiar with the wrath of a princess. It was such a thing as they had felt before, and they had no desire to provoke it yet again. Thus they pulled back, and the great doors with their unfathomably sturdy wood stood free and ready. Twilight's horn grew bright, the mighty oak shuddered, and by gentle measures came the doors to open, leaking snatches of emphatic speech.
“- should have told us, of course. How could you not find us at once?”
“- not our intention to hide things from you-”
“Princess Celestia!” Twilight cried, bursting through the gapped gates into the brilliant chambers. “Princess Celestia, we-” Yet Twilight's great intensity went cold on her lips. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna stood, the former sparkling, the latter glinting, at the base of their shared throne. All around them, turning keen and terrible eyes to face the six and Spike, were deer.
What deer! No white-tails or mule deer among them, nothing of the folk that stood near same-shouldered with ponies. These were massive, mighty deer, all at or past Celestia in size. Six they numbered, some alike, some different. A trio stood together. They were all of powerful build, even though the shaping of their eyes marked each as female, and their antlers swelled like branches of the greatest elms. Their coats were light in weight but not in color: they were ruddy, a rich, resplendent red, which made the bony white of their antlers still more striking. They looked a bit like Falalauria, but though she matched their height her frame was far more graceful.
Rainbow Dash gazed past them, and a gasp slipped from her lips. Beyond them was a deer of even greater size, a monster, mighty, overwhelming. His coat was darkest brown, his eyes deep pools of unrelenting blue. His snout was rounded, and long, and drooped, while his antlers seemed like Spike's palms turned over and swollen. He alone smiled at them; the rest were stern.
At last were two great deer with coats of earthen brown on bottom, snowy silver at the atop. Their antlers were the biggest of them all, huge and sturdy as the limbs of oaks, with tines each the length of Twilight Sparkle's horn. They were the smallest, though they still met Celestia at her shoulder, and the air seemed faintly bent around them, warped as when seen through a strong lens. It was a subtle effect, but it weighed on the mind. One of them looked measured upon Twilight and her friends, but the other, the taller, the stronger swiveled golden eyes their way and made them jump. His stare could have scraped bark from off a birch.
“Ah, Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia, drawing their eyes her way. “I'm glad you and your friends are here. Your report will be invaluable.”
“This?” said the gold-eyed deer. “This is Twilight Sparkle?” His molten gaze pinned them. “These are the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony?”
“They are,” said Luna. “If you all might introduce yourselves...”
“Oh! Sorry!” Twilight bowed low. “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle. This is my friend Spike.”
“Please to meet you,” Spike said.
“I'm Applejack, m'lords,” her hat swept off her head.
“I am Rarity, your excellencies.”
“I'm Rainbow Dash!”
“Um... um... I'm... I'mfluttershy...”
“I'm Pinkie Pie! It's super cool to meet you! I think I know what you all are, too!” Pinkie pointed at the three ruddy deer, “You're red deer! And you're,” toward the brown titan, “a moose! And you two,” at the silver-coats, “you're elk!”
“You are correct,” said one of the red deer, smiling, seeming not quite so unnerving. “I am Nona.”
“I am Decima,” said another red deer.
“And I am Morta,” said the third. “We are all sisters, as you may have guessed.”
The moose lowered his tremendous head. “I am Nordeshang,” he rumbled, deep as a cistern. “It is a pleasure to meet the ones whose names have spread so far.”
“Indeed,” said the smaller, softer elk. “I am Glorfindel. And this...” he turned to his fellow.
The larger, stronger, fiercer elk did not respond. His golden gaze was smoldering upon the six ponies. Twilight felt the whisper and the tickle of his magic, knew its probing touch that would have shook the mountains were it ever full unleashed. It sped her heart, it raced her spine, to see with her own eyes someone so mighty.
“And this is Fëanor,” said Celestia, “leader of the Deer Elders. All of these distinguished deer were my and Luna's teachers when we first came into the world. Feanor, in particular, taught me magic.”
“Magic, and other things,” said Fëanor, his voice tinged with the special accent of high culture. That melted gold went narrow. “You, Twilight Sparkle, are the Bearer of Magic, are you not?”
“Oh, yes!” Twilight said. “That means I have your Gift, my lord.”
“Bear it well,” said Fëanor. He swiveled back Celestia's way. “Now, Celestia, as we were saying, why did you not inform us of the Herd Lord's release?”
“Well, Fëanor,” said Celestia, her speech carrying the subtle tight intensity that Twilight knew meant she was frustrated, “you certainly know that you all aren't the easiest creatures to get a hold of. Falalauria sent out a magical report, as I recall; it's not her fault, or ours, that you failed to receive it.”
“We received it,” said Morta, “but only hours after the conflict was done. And the report itself contained no details, only mention of a dire threat.”
“Which emphasizes my aggravation,” said Fëanor with flashing gaze. “Details, Celestia! If not at the time, then at least after it was done. Regardless of the Herd Lord's defeat, you should have sought us out and let us know that he had even gotten loose. It matters not that you beat him. What matters is that he escaped in the first place.”
“An occurrence whose blame, however unintended, falls those most recently present,” said Decima, one dark eye moving to sweep over the six ponies.
“Hold on!” Dash cried. “You can't blame us for him getting out!”
“Oh no?” said Glorfindel. “The sisters have Seen into the past. The Herd Lord's prison, which held for millennia, was cracked by the angry movements of the world snake in the Archback Mountains, a world snake that had slumbered, likewise, for millennia. The only reason he woke was because some of you six, particularly you three, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity-”
“And particularly you above all, Rainbow Dash,” Nona said.
“The only reason he woke was because you disturbed him.”
“Twilight was gonna die!” Applejack firmly cried, stepping forward with incensed vigor. In nearly the same motion Rainbow Dash shrunk back, her legs bending gently to a cower in reflection of her shame. “What did y'all expect us to do, just let her go? And how could we have known it would go bad?”
“Er, we did know,” Rarity said softly. The whole of the throne room twitched its gaze upon her. She recoiled from the scrutiny. “That is, Lady Falalauria told me that our going up to the Archbacks would set something in motion that would bring horrible consequences. She particularly mentioned that it would destroy the Shimmerwood.”
“Which it did!” Fëanor snapped. “You cannot fathom what the loss of the Shimmerwood means to the deerfolk. It was a fastness for our kind, a repository of wisdom and craft. For it to burn...” he loosed a thundering sigh.
“Lady Falalauria also threatened to exterminate the three of them,” said Decima.
“I am glad she did not,” Nordeshang rumbled. “Ending an innocent life, even in the preservation of other innocent lives, is not a choice our kind should make.”
“Of... of course not,” growled Fëanor. “No, I am glad she did not kill the three of you. You are Bearers of the Elements, after all. But she could have warned you further. You could have been more careful.”
“But she did not, and they were not,” said Nordeshang. “Let us not dwell overmuch on what is past. It matters now that the Herd Lord has been beaten.”
“Has he?” Fëanor said. “I do not believe it.”
“Uh, actually-” Spike said before he could control his mouth. His scaly palms slapped hard against his lips as those shut tightly, his eyes bulging.
“What?” Fëanor said sharply. “What did you say?”
“Uh, nothing,” said Fluttershy. “Oh, you don't need to... to worry about-”
“The Herd Lord is not dead,” said Luna.
“Oh my gosh!” Pinkie Pie cried.
“What?” Glorfindel roared.
“Apparently we did not finish the job,” said Luna. Her voice held a clinician's levelness. “The Herd Lord endured, however weakly, and slithered into Equestria. He has been building his strength by feeding in his old way.”
“Luna,” Celestia cooed.
“They would have found out sooner or later, sister,” said Luna. “No sense lying to them.”
“Indeed,” said Fëanor. “Thank you, Luna, for your usual forthrightness. As for you,” the golden eyes erupted as they fell upon Celestia, “how could you even think to keep this from us? The Herd Lord? Alive? Alive and strong? Equestria and all the world are in immense danger!”
“I just learned it today, Lord Fëanor,” Celestia said, snipping out her words as though she were nipping leaves. “Perhaps if you would show some uncustomary patience-”
“If I had been patient with you, you would never have learned anything,” growled Fëanor. “Has he taken on a new name?”
“He calls himself Reiziger now,” Twilight dared to speak, and shuddered when the great deer turned her way. “He's... well, he's already taken over a couple of towns and cities-”
“He is taking territory?” Nona exclaimed. “He is already that powerful?”
“Everything in the towns was super gray and misty!” Pinkie said. “And all the dead ponies were gray, too!”
“So he has been feeding,” Nordeshang said.
“Morta!” Fëanor said. “Look upon Equestria. What parts of it are hidden from you?”
Morta's eyes engorged. Dark as pitch they turned, and stars came out to dot them. Her sisters looked upon her gently, all the rest were eager, and they waited, waited, the throne room soft and sunny. Rarity reflected that it truly was serene, a picture so lovely it might have been enshrined in some great baron's gallery. Such a stark contrast from the darkness that had lain upon the misty towns, and the darkness, the doom, the threat that hung now above them all, suspended like a sword of sharpest edge.
“There is a swath some few hundreds of miles in the west of Equestria,” said Morta at last, her eyes returning to their normal dark. “It is misted over, and my Sight cannot penetrate it.”
“So that is where he lies,” said Fëanor. “How could you let things grow so dire, Celestia?”
“They are not as grim as you make them out to be, Lord Feanor,” sad Celestia. “I have the situation well in hoof.”
“Well in hoof?” Fëanor repeated, nearly barking out the final word. “Celestia, the Herd Lord is taking your country from you! Leagues already have fallen into shadow. You cannot afford to dither. This situation must be dealt with at once.” He stood. The light seemed to twist a hint more deeply around him. “And we shall be the ones to deal with it.”
“I won't permit it,” said Celestia. “I know how you will deal with this, Feanor. Your methods are not gentle, nor are their consequences acceptable.”
“Gentleness has no place in this matter,” Fëanor said. “You do not treat a cancer with ointment. You cut it out.”
“I will not permit you to use your battle magic in Equestria,” Celestia snarled. “The devastation it would cause rivals any damage Reiziger himself might do.”
“If you had paid attention in your history classes, you would know how foolish that statement is,” said Fëanor. “Nothing we could do to stop the Herd Lord comes anywhere close to his evil.”
“You and Luna used battle magic against him the first time you fought, if you'll recall,” said Decima.
“We did,” said Celestia, “but that was because we fought in the Broken Lands. They were abandoned and ruined, so we were free to cut loose. Even so, the Shimmerwood burned. Why would you visit such horror upon my land?”
Fëanor breathed deeply, in and out. His golden eyes, for just a moment, lost their fire. “Oh, Celestia,” he huffed, “I do not relish any destruction, except perhaps the Herd Lord's. But you must understand. The Herd Lord is like no enemy you have faced. He does not kidnap princesses, he does not steal gems or harvest love. He wages war. Can you withstand him?”
“I believe we can,” said Celestia.
“What is your plan?” said Nordeshang.
“If you all will put your faith in me,” said Celestia, “I shall put my faith in the Elements of Harmony.” She gazed serenely upon Twilight and the others. The Elders turned their terrible eyes likewise upon them, raising each pony's hackles.
But Pinkie bounced forward. “You can count on us, Princess Celestia!” she cried, standing on her back legs to toss out a salute.
“Bah,” growled Fëanor, “the Elements are not strong enough to beat the Herd Lord.”
“How would we know?” Nordeshang asked. “Recall that we did not possess the Elements at the time the War began.”
“The Elements have beaten stronger foes than Reiziger,” Luna said. “They were enough to defeat Discord, and convince him to embrace friendship. They also purged the Nightmare from me, and when I had it I was close in power to Reiziger at his mightiest.”
“But Princess-” Twilight began, but Celestia gently shook her head, thus Twilight kept silent.
“It would be a great boon to defeat the Herd Lord without causing too much destruction,” Glorfindel admitted.
Fëanor bared his teeth for a moment, mouth grit tight with consternation. He swiveled at length toward the sisters. “Can it be done?”
“The future is uncertain,” said Nona.
Morta continued, “It always is where the Herd Lord is concerned.”
“But there seems to be a chance,” Decima finished.
A deep breath drew through Fëanor's snout. He held it, mighty chest swollen, while his head came down with terrible, pensive consideration. Glorfindel was about to speak when Fëanor at last said, “Fine. We shall give you a chance, Celestia. However, we shall be watching closely- very closely. If we think, if we even suspect, that this matter has grown beyond your capabilities, we shall step in, and we shall manage the Herd Lord once and for all- no matter what stands in our way.”
“Thank you, Lord Fëanor,” Celestia said, and Twilight saw the faint hints of relief flood through her form.
“Don't thank us yet,” growled Fëanor. “I still have my misgivings. But for now, I shall trust you.” He swiveled his great head to face the others. “We retreat to our present fastness. But, again, we shall be watching. Farewell, Celestia. Luna.” He turned to the six ponies and Spike. “Elements.” Then he took one dainty step backwards, and vanished.
Nona, Decima, and Morta likewise flickered out of presence with some small motion of their hooves. Next came Glorfindel, winking away as though he were some ancient phantom. Finally came Nordeshang, but he did not choose to at once make himself scarce. His lengthy, sturdy legs brought him around to face the throne, and there he lowered his immense head, blue eyes bright. “As always, Celestia, Luna, it is a pleasure to see you. And, as always, I apologize for Lord Fëanor's brusqueness. You know he means well.”
“We do,” said Celestia. “And as always, Nordeshang, your courtesy and kindness are greatly appreciated.”
“I do hope you are right, you know,” Nordeshang said deeply. “I should like the Elements of Harmony to prevail.” He swiveled around to face the six ponies and Spike. “Know that at least one of us has hope, O Bearers.” His gaze swung slowly over them. It lingered for a special, extra moment upon Fluttershy. Their eyes met; she was briefly frightened, but then calmed and soothed. She nodded. So did Nordeshang. “Farewell.” He stepped backward, thus was gone.
“Unnggh,” groaned Celestia, slumping back in her throne. “Every meeting with them feels like I'm taking one of my old exams.”
“Thou passed with flying colors, by my estimation,” Luna said. She turned to the ponies. “Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Applejack,” she glanced downward, “and dear Spike, we do apologize for making you endure such terrible old folk. But perhaps it was good for you to meet them now. As you may guess, they shall not be strangers henceforth.”
“That Fëanor guy is a jerk!” said Dash. “How could you two let him boss you around like that?”
“Because Lord Fëanor is powerful and wise,” said Celestia. “And he's not wrong about the risks Reiziger poses. His fear is well-founded. He and the other Elders were part of the group of high deer who finally defeated Reiziger the first time, at the end of the Deer War. They were the ones who beat him and sealed him away. He knows what Reiziger is capable of.”
“Which is why we must be careful,” said Luna. “We cannot allow Equestria to suffer too much harm. It may even better to temporarily ceded portions of the country to him, rather than wreck it by deploying powerful magics.”
“But, Princesses,” Twilight said, wings ruffling, “you mentioned the Elements of Harmony. We don't have them any more!”
“Yeah! They're on the Tree o' Harmony!” Applejack said.
“Ah, but recall what Lady Falalauria said,” Celestia responded. “The Elements are more than just the gems you once possessed. They are in your spirits. Their power is your power. That is why, henceforth, each of you six must begin to seriously strengthen your ties to your Element of Harmony. You must exercise your Gifts as much as you can, to build them up and thus increase the power of the Element within you. Only then will you be able to summon the Rainbow of Light, and you will be able to do it even without the gems. Then Reiziger will be defeated. I'm certain.”
“So that is thy plan, then, Tia?” said Luna.
“Indeed it is, Lulu,” said Celestia. “Luna and I shall help you as much as you can. So will Falalauria. In fact, I insist that all six of you consult her to help strengthen your Elements. Remember that she can peer across all of space and time with near-perfect accuracy. She has access to thousands of years of wisdom concerning the Elements of Harmony, their Gifts, and the techniques to make them mighty.” Celestia nodded, and Twilight saw the marks of newfound vigor steal into her bright magenta gaze. “In the meantime, we must prepare for Reiziger's offensive. Doubtless it is coming, and we have no clue yet what form it might take. All our energy must be focused.”
“We must begin by evacuating western Equestria,” said Luna. “However, we should do it subtly, so as not to alarm the general populace.”
“I don't think there's any way that won't alarm them, Luna,” said Celestia. “In fact, it might be good if they were alarmed. Dark times are upon us, and everypony must exercise no small degree of caution.”
“Princesses,” Twilight said with quiet fervor, “if you need room to house ponies from the west, Ponyville-”
“No need, Twilight Sparkle,” said Luna. “Thou has been generous enough finding homes for all the deerfolk. We shall find other towns and cities in which to resettle the ponies of the west.” She swiveled her effervescent turquoise eye back up unto her sister's gaze. “What of the south? Is Appleoosa safe?”
“Likely, for the moment,” said Celestia. “Let us not disturb any more than we must. For now, let us hope that the powers of the Elements of Harmony can prevail in swift order.”
“We won't let you down, princesses!” Rarity said, her hoof stamping hard upon the scarlet rug.
“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie said. “We'll make our Gifts so super strong that dumb ol' Reiziger won't know what hit him!”
“I... I'm not sure we can do it,” Fluttershy said, “or, I'm not sure I can do it.” She drew in one deep breath. “But I'll try.”
“Y'all can count on us! We'll be true and sturdy!” Applejack said.
“Yeah, we'll do it,” said Rainbow Dash, lacking some of her typical spirit. She could not help but dwell upon Reiziger's words, his taunts to her that she alone should be enough to vanquish him.
“You girls can count on me, too!” Spike said. “Any single thing any of you need to make this happen, I'll help however I can!”
Twilight gently nuzzled him, her heart aglow. “I'm sure we'll need your help, Spike,” she said. “In fact, I'm sure we'll need the help of everypony we can find.”
“First, though,” said Celestia, “you all have come so far and been through so much danger. Might I offer you some lunch?”
“I'm starving!” Pinkie Pie cried.
“Then come,” said Celestia, fluttering her great white wings and coming down so gently from the throne. “I guarantee the kitchens have something cooked up.”
They started out, Celestia and Luna side-by-side, the six ponies together, standing strong, unbroken, unrelenting, un- “Hey, Rainbow!” called out Applejack. “Y'all comin'?”
"Oh, yeah!” said Dash. Why not you? After all, aren't you the strongest? “Yeah, I'm coming.” And she made great haste to join the parting crowd.