The Seventh Element

by PaisleyPerson

Chapter 16: The Thestral

Chapter 16
The Thestral

Though I now not only had my best friends back, but my own very special somepony, I knew life wasn’t going to be sugar and spice and everything nice. I still had to cut things off with Graphite before he got the wrong idea. Of course, secrets complicated things, too. My wing springs had more-or-less stopped ever since I started flying with Rainbow. Stretching them out for a while must help. The wings, though, weren’t the secret I was referring to. There was the “dirt” Torchwood was so afraid of me finding out about, and the fact that he didn’t want to tell Graphite about our relationship made things a little harder. He lived so far away that we wouldn’t get to see each other too often, making letters the best solution. I had to use his home address instead of the gallery’s so Graphite wouldn’t suspect anything. Though it had only been a few days since the picnic dinner, I already felt the weight of our secrecy crashing down.
I received an invitation from Graphite asking me to lunch. I wanted to decline, but I needed the chance to clear things up. Evidently, returning the paints hadn’t been a clear enough message. He was more than willing to meet me for a ‘business lunch.’ I had to break the news to him then. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but it would be a relief to get it off my chest. I was getting ready to leave when the bell rang to tell me I had a customer. Oh, timing.
“Sorry, I’m just closing up,” I called.
“That’s okay. I can come back.” I dashed to the front to greet the familiar voice. As I predicted, the smiling stallion hadn’t actually budged.
“Torchwood! What are you doing here?”
“I took your advice,” he answered. “I quit my job. There was a house available for rent here, and I took it.”
“You’re moving?!” I gleefully exclaimed.
“Not moving. Moved. It’s already settled.”
“But I thought work was going to be an issue. Did you get a new job?”
“Not yet, but I’m looking,” he nodded.
“Well, if nopony else takes you, I will,” I declared.
“Would you, now?” he smiled. I realized the weight of my statement with a sheepish grin, but gave an affirmative nod.
“I may take you up on that.” Excitement drained from my face as realization hit me. “But... what about Graphite Sketch?”
“He’s not too happy about it, but it’s like you said. He can’t run my life for me.”
“What about the... thing?” His ears flattened.
“Just do me a favor. If he ever says anything about me, don’t listen to him, alright?”
“I cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” I vowed.
“What’s that?” he burst out laughing.
“A Pinkie Pie swear. You can’t go back on them,” I grinned.
“Alright, then,” he chuckled.
“I’m actually just heading out. Graphite invited me for lunch. I just need to make sure he knows our relationship is strictly professional.”
“So you haven’t done it yet.”
“Not yet. Why?”
“I just thought I made a clean escape. I just hope he doesn’t put two and two together and realize I left for you.” I blushed.
“I’ll see if I can lead him off, if you want.”
“No, there’s no point in it now. Besides, I’m tired of secrets. Go ahead, if you like.” I smiled, and continued to the door. He followed close behind. “I’ll walk you to the station.”

“Miss Acrylic! I’m so glad you could join me,” Graphite exclaimed as I approached the table. Without a butler to do the work for him, he stood and personally pulled out a seat for me. This was one of Vanhoover’s finer restaurants, and not many others were here. I found the quiet unnerving, being used to bustling shops. Of course, Graphite had reserved a private room sectioned off by a glass wall, which only contributed to the quiet.
“Thank you,” I quietly said, taking the chair.
“Now, what will it be?” A menu was shoved into my hooves. “And don’t worry about the price; I insist on buying for you.”
“That really isn’t necessary,” I tried, but he cut me off.
“Ah, ah! I won’t take no for an answer. Let’s see... I hear the stuffed squash here is just divine!” It was also the day’s special.
“Alright,” I sighed, briefly glancing over the menu. Graphite proceeded to flag down a waiter to get two orders of the special in while I nervously shifted in my seat.
“Now then,” he panted, rather frazzled from the uncooperative staff. “We finally have a chance to talk! Tell me, Miss Storm, how’s your business faring?”
“Quite well, thanks to you,” I admitted. “Orders have almost doubled since The Painted Page started displaying my work.”
“I’m so glad to hear it!”
“And what about you? Torchwood mentioned that the gallery was booming.”
“He did, did he?” His happy, gentlecoltly disposition changed. Now he seemed dark, angry, but frighteningly calm. “I must ask, Acrylic. Are you romantically involved with Torchwood?” This was the first time I’d ever heard Graphite call him by name.
“Mr. Sketch, I was led to believe that this was a business meeting. I don’t see how my personal life has anything to do with it.”
“Forgive me. I just thought...”
“Graphite, our relationship is strictly professional.”
“Yes, I got that when you sent the paints back,” he almost chuckled. I was shocked at how well he was taking this, but not in a good way. I felt like he might explode at any minute. He stood and walked to the window, looking out at the rest of the restaurant. “You must understand, I only ask because I fear for your safety.”
“My safety?” I repeated. “What does my relationship with Mr. Torchwood have to do with my safety?”
“I know things about Torchwood.” Graphite’s eyes burned as he circled back to me. I was becoming extremely uncomfortable.
“I have to stop you right there, Mr. Sketch. I’d rather not hear anything negative you have to say about him.”
“But Acrylic-”
“He’s already told me,” I fibbed, trying to end the conversation. ‘If he ever says anything about me, don’t listen to him,’ Torchwood had said. I intended to keep my promise.
“He has?! And you’re okay with that?” His jaw fell.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Why... Because he’s a thestral, for Celestia’s sake! A thestral!”
“A what?” My eyes grew wide.
“Oh. I see he hasn’t told you this bit,” Graphite’s smile morphed into a sly grin. My heart beat fast, and I looked down at my hooves. Could it be? The corners of my lips curled into a smile. Luckily, Graphite didn’t notice. “The thestrals attacked Equestria before Discord’s rule.”
“Yes, I know how the legends go, thanks.”
“He was always running off in the middle of work,” Graphite went on. “I finally decided to find out where he was going, and followed him on one such occasion. It wasn’t long before I realized that the fool couldn’t keep his wings hidden for very long. He didn’t pose a threat to Equestria at the time, so I kept quiet about it.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” I said. In truth, my mind was racing. It all made sense! The green tinge of fire on his cutie mark? Thestral fire was colored, just like dragons’.
“I’m afraid it’s true, my dear. I urge you to ask him yourself when you return home. He did move to Ponyville, didn’t he?”
“Assuming you’re telling the truth, it’s no wonder you treat him so horribly,” I clenched my teeth.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You can get away with treating him like trash, because if he says anything about it, you threaten to expose him!”
“Acrylic...” Graphite was taken aback by my reaction. “He’s a thestral. That filth has no place in our society.”
“Not anymore, but they used to. I’m going to tell you a story, Graphite. Once upon a time, pegasi, earth ponies, unicorns and thestrals all lived in harmony. Who’s to say they can’t come together again?”
“Acrylic, please calm down and listen to yourself. Your feelings for Torchwood are blinding you.”
“You think I’m out of my mind? Well, I very well may be, but I expect you to stay quiet about it. If and when I believe Torchwood poses a threat to Equestria, I’ll inform the Princesses myself. Understood?” I’d struck him speechless. He recoiled from me like a snake into the corner. “Well, I hope so. If you breathe a word, I’ll make sure the Princesses know how long you’ve been blackmailing him. Thank you for lunch, Mr. Sketch. I’ll have your order sent through next month as we agreed. Good day.” I left just as the waiter was returning with the food.
My hooves never carried me so fast. I jumped on the train just seconds before it pulled out of the station. Even then, I couldn’t sit still. I trembled with excitement, wanting nothing more than to get back and confirm the rumor. Each second crawled by, and my hooves jittered ever faster. I played with the loose thread on my hat, chewed my hair, and went through all the stress relieving rituals I knew. I could have been back by now, had I just flown. What was taking this train so long?
An eon later, we arrived back at the station. I made sure I was the first one off, and shot like a bullet into town. I slid to a stop in the middle of the plaza. He said he’d moved here, but where?
“Hi, Acrylic! What’s up?”
“Pinkie!” The pink pony was bouncing right behind me. “Quick, Pinkie! Do you know where Torchwood is?”
“The stallion you have a crush on?” My face turned red.
“Yes. Him.”
“He was at Sugar Cube Corner a minute ago. He said that he moved in to Ponyville! That means I finally get to throw him a welcome party! Hey, since I don’t know where he lives, can I throw the party at Art Life?”
“Sure, Pinkie,” I breathlessly panted, taking off again for Sugar Cube Corner.
Torchwood was just stepping out of the bakery when I whipped around the corner.
“Whoa!” he teasingly exclaimed, backing up at my sudden arrival. “What’s the rush?”
“I need to talk to you. NOW!”
“Alright,” he barely managed to say before I started dragging him behind me. He finally wrangled his hoof out of my grasp, but sensing my urgency, fell into step with me. “What’s wrong?”
“Hopefully nothing,” I panted, flying into my shop. It was still closed up from when I’d left, so we were left to ourselves. Once he was in, I turned off the light, made sure the ‘Closed’ sign was still facing the right way, and locked the door. I didn’t want anypony to think I was in.
“What’s this all about?” he curiously inquired, a hint of worry in his voice.
“I have to know,” I panted. He knew what I was going to ask, and turned away. “Are you a thestral?”
“I thought you weren’t going to listen to Graphite.”
“I tried so hard to change the subject, but he told me anyway, so please. Please, tell me,” I begged. He refused to face me, and I knew the answer. My heart leapt for joy.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied. The irony of it was, a loud pop echoed through the room. I recognized that pop. That was the beginning of a wing spring. His wild expression told me he knew it too. “I have to go.”
“No, please wait,” I pleaded, barricading the door.
“Acrylic, I have to go!”
“WAIT!” My wings sprang from my back as I reared, completely blocking his way and causing us both to freeze. Even his wings momentarily paused mid-growth. “Please?”
“Like you? Yes.” His great, leathery wings finally finished exposing themselves. We each waited for the other to react, folding our wings with blank faces. Then, almost at the exact same time, we both exploded into a fit of laughter and questions.
“What sector are you from?”
“How long have you been here?”
“WHAT are you doing here?”
“I’m from Blade Wing Four!”
“I’m from Midnight Armor Two!”
“Wow! Isn’t that at the farthest end of the Everfree?”
“Yep. And you’re one of the closest.”
“I know. I crossed the borders all the time, and just loved to watch the ponies in town. That’s why I came!”
“I came because a whole group of us decided to split off. I thought, hey, why not?”
“More? There are more thestrals in Equestria? How many?!”
“Five came with us, but two went back. This... wing problem presented an issue.”
“Stretching them out once in a while helps. I started going on night flights with my friend Rainbow Dash...”
“Wait, the pegasus knows?”
“And she’s fine with it. But she’s the only pony who knows. She can keep a secret. But she doesn’t know about you. Oh, she’ll be thrilled!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t know how I feel about telling somepony else about this. Graphite was bad enough.”
“She’s nothing like Graphite, I promise!”
“I know, but just... don’t tell her about me, okay? She came so close to finding out before... and I still have to get over the last pony who knew.”
“Alright,” I reluctantly agreed, not wanting to blow it with my new stallion friend. Now I knew he was the perfect one for me, and I didn’t want to ruin it. He was the only one I could be really and truly honest with, now. Some things I couldn’t even talk to Rainbow about. She just didn’t understand. One look into Torchwood’s eyes told me that the feeling was mutual.
“Wait, she almost found you out?”
“She thought I was skipping out the night I asked you to dinner, and flew all the way back to Vanhoover to make sure I was still coming. I’d accidentally left the window open, and right in the middle of one of my episodes, she welcomed herself to my living room. I had to wrap them in my shower curtains and act like I was stepping on mints to mask the noise.” I couldn’t hold in a note of laughter at the image.