“What in the world…?” breathed Fuzzhead, eyes focused on the glowing green shards on the forest floor.
“This is… one of the Elements of Harmony, Mister Fuzzhead,” Twilight explained, stunned by the same thing as the stag. “We need all six to defeat NightMare Moon and free Queen Celestia and her fellow queen regnant. This is the fourth one we’ve activated, but we…”
A neuron fired in Twilight’s mind, and the message that it sent broadcast about her brain like a spark igniting a fire. Her eyes widened in realization, and her sharp gasp following such quiet musing brought the eyes of her companions over to her.
“What is it, Mom?” Spike asked.
“I’ve been so stupid, Spike,” Twilight replied, albeit with a smile. “I’ve been really overlooking something very vital to the Elements of Harmony: that they are literally powered by the magic of friendship. That’s how each of the Elements have been activating so far, but I didn’t think about it! Every time that an Element’s regained its magic occurred exactly at a moment when I made a realization with each of you.”
“What realization was that, Twilight?” asked Fluttershy.
Twilight pointed a hoof at the shards of Fluttershy’s Element, “It was when I realized just how much you valued the Element that you carried the strongest affinity for. Not at a fully conscious level, I don’t think, but myself and each of you realized how important that Element was to you.”
“As fascinating a topic of conversation that this is,” interjected Fuzzhead, “I think it may be best if we all of us return to Harthind, our village of Deer deep in the forest. We’ll be safer there than at the edge that is surely still prowled by that eldritch Pony-Without-Head.”
“Ah think that Fuzzhead here’s got th’ right idea, Twi,” Applejack added. “Ah think we oughta settle in somewhere ‘fore we start talkin’ our muzzles off.”
In short time, a unanimous agreement was reached to follow Fuzzhead the stag to the Deer village of Harthind. As Twilight explained, it would be easier to discuss what revelations had come to her if they were all in a place of comfort rather than standing around in some frosty corner
“But,” Rainbow Dash cut in, “won’t it be just as cold there as here? I mean, it’s like super-chillville here, and this Heart-hind place sounds like it’s way in the forest; it’s not gonna be any warmer in there…”
Fuzzhead’s antlers wavered with a subtle light.
“We Deer possess a magic all to ourselves, as I’m sure you ponies do. Our old stag-wizards have devised an abjuration that forestalls the eternal night of the Dark Mare. It has kept our village relatively temperate thus far, though… admittedly, the area of effect has shrunk somewhat since it was cast a month ago.”
Twilight cast a glance at the heliogenesic sun floating at her head’s level.
“Fuzzhead, do you think that you and your fellow Deer could use this sun here? It would help to combat the encroaching cold, and your village would have a source of light to look to.”
Fuzzhead cocked his head back to the sun which Twilight had generated.
“I do not think that the elders will accept what they see as a display of pity, but… the masses of Harthind should persuade them. It will be a great boon to our village. I thank you in advance.”
Twilight bowed her head, “Don’t thank us just yet. NightMare Moon sits the throne of Canterlot still.”
Her alicorn shimmered pink, and the heliogenesic sun followed suit, hovering close by Twilight’s side. Spike squinted at it from his place near Rarity.
“Sure is a bright ball of sumthin’-or-other,” he commented.
“It’s an orb of aether simulant kept in a quasi-plasmic state, so as to create an artificial environment closely replicating that of daytime,” Twilight explained to her little drake. “But it’s not irradiating like true aether, so we have no fear of… tumors and… cancer.”
Feeling the atmosphere taking an awkwardly grim turn, Twilight sheepishly grinned.
“But hey. Even a ball of aether this big would incinerate us all. The Sun is a gigantic sphere of plasmic aether constantly erupting in subatomic fission…”
In an instant Twilight realized what she was saying, and her jaw dropped.
“And Queen Celestia is trapped inside of it.”
Every face in eyeshot grimaced in horror, even Pinkie Pie’s.
“Maker above…” Applejack gasped. “Could even Celestia survive in th’ heart a’ th’ Sun?”
“Of course!” Twilight said vehemently. “She told me that she once descended into the fire of Tartarus itself without even singing her coat. But…” She looked up at the tree canopy overhead. “It can’t possibly be pleasant. And she’s been sealed in there for the better part of a month and a half by now. Let’s get a move-on, everyone!”
With nods and utterances of assent, the band made their way deeper into the forest, with Fuzzhead leading the way − it would do better to let Harthind’s representative lead their way into the village, so as to present a better image to the locals.
It unsettled Twilight to be trotting through a forest so far from where she called home, even if it was with those whom she now loved as much as anypony else in her life. The pink-tinted light of her dwimmer-held heliogenesic sun cast stark shadows against the surrounding trees, revealing the canopy of snow supported by the interlocking branches overhead.
The heat of the heliogenesic sun at such close proximity was so great that it felt warmer by far than any day that year leading up to the aborted Summer Sun Celebration. The sweat was much appreciated, though; to the greater part of the band, good heat had been denied them sharply upon their return from Pundamilia. The icy droplets of freshly melted snow from overhead seeped through the Minotaur cloaks they bore, making for a bitter reminder of what they had escaped from, and what they had soon to face once more.
If not for Fuzzhead, it was entirely likely that Twilight Sparkle and her band would have lost their way. The trees were indistinct to the ponies who had largely grown up in more constructed and airy societies, and a feeling of mild claustrophobia began to set in. The air of the forest was beginning to feel close and oppressive, the last light of the Moon and stars now far behind them.
“Whoo!” Pinkie Pie shouted suddenly and brightly. “I don’t know if it’s you, but it feels like we’ve passed through a giant field of warmness that’s making us feel entirely more at home than we have since Aquastria. Either that, or the giant maw of an oversized Dragon is ahead of us hidden behind all these trees!”
Twilight reckoned more strongly that it was the former, meaning that they had passed within the field surrounding Harthind that Fuzzhead had mentioned. If that was the case, then soon they would see…
Starlight and moonlight shone down through the tree branches overhead which were no more impeded by snow. The gaps between the trees had expanded greatly as they met an incline down into what was surely a very shallow bowl of earth and grass. Harthind was a small village indeed, probably fewer than five-dozen Deer, but it still prospered. Cottages made out of twigs and branches bound tightly together surrounded each tree, some of them stacked on top of one another and connected to the forest floor by walkways carved from the trunks of fallen trees. Each house bore within it a flickering orange light, bringing to mind the misery that the eternal night had brought to everyone, pony or not. In the dark deeper into Harthind, the shapes of at least a dozen Deer could be seen: stag, doe and fawn. Even by the dim light of the bonfire in the village center and the faint glow of the heliogenesic sun entering their world, it was evident that these Deer were ill-fed, judging by the frail builds of the few fawns out and about.
A burly stag with dark fur and a single antler flaking velvet atop his head turned in the band’s direction. Fuzzhead was large, but he only met this Deer’s withers. He affixed a surly look on Fuzzhead, who merely bowed his head low at the approaching stag.
“You have returned early, Fuzzhead,” the stag rumbled. “And you come with… Ponies? And the…” He blinked at Twilight’s heliogenesic sun. “And the Sun? How far did you venture?”
“Only to the forest’s edge, Cobnut,” came the reply. “These quart-and-three were pursued by the Pony-Without-Head.”
Cobnut’s eyes widened in shock.
“You cannot be serious. The Pony-Without-Head is an old doe’s tale, to frighten fawns into knowing not to poke their noses into the troubles of others.”
“We thought the same once of the Dark Mare,” retorted Fuzzhead, “and now she sits the throne of the Pony Queen of Light.”
“Even so, the Pony-Without-Head cannot exist. Something without a head cannot be alive.”
“Tha’s what Ah thought, too,” cut in Applejack, “but Ah saw it with mah own eyes.”
“You are outsiders!” snapped Cobnut. “Your word means nothing here!”
“Oh yeah?” growled Rainbow Dash, bolting up to the surly stag’s face and butting her muzzle against his. “Well, these ‘outsiders’ actually have a pretty good idea about what’s going on outside! And we can tell you Deer-people that the Headless Horse is really real and was really chasing us for forever!”
Cobnut reeled back from the cerulean Pegasus, his ears flattening.
“You are a bold one,” he rumbled in a low voice. “And yet… I see no lie in your eyes. Despite your confrontational demeanor, I will take you at your word.”
Rainbow Dash smirked back at her band.
“See? It just took a little bit of Daring Do.” She winced and, with eyes wide, did a quick verbal reversal. “I mean derring-do! Derring-do is what I said! I didn’t say anything about Daring Do!”
Twilight sighed heavily, “Rainbow Dash, you don’t need to play the book-dumb bronco here in Harthind. Nodeer here’s going to judge you.”
Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her head nervously.
“I − I know, it’s just… I mean, Daring Do’s cool and all − coolest Pegasus in all of Equestria − apart from me, of course − but I don’t know if anydeer here thinks the same.”
“Mama, what’s a bunch of pony doing in Harthind?” asked a chestnut-colored fawn, stepping up cautiously behind Cobnut with his doe mother behind him.
“It’s ‘a bunch of ponies’, sweetheart,” the doe corrected, “and I don’t know, either.”
The band of ponies − and a drake − were attracting a good deal of attention from the Harthind Deer because of Rainbow Dash’s outburst. For most of the band, who had spent most of their lives in the humble hamlet of Ponyville, this was their first time seeing such large groups of Deer. Contrary to the broad color schemes of ponies, the Deer were almost monochromatic by comparison; varying shades of brown and some white were all that could really be seen. At the back of the group stood a cadre of five aged and gray Deer: three does and two stags. Their eyes spoke of deep wisdom and old memories. The looks that the bulk of the Harthind Deer gave to Fuzzhead fit in with the notion of him being aloof; clearly they did not take kindly to his return, though some did cast curious glances at his splint. Still more eyes were turned towards the heliogenesic sun, gazing at it in a vaguely mesmerized sense.
“Cobnut,” asked the doe who had previously spoken, “who are these ponies in our village?”
Twilight cleared her throat, “Umm, Mister Cobnut? Do I have your permission to speak?”
The towering stag looked down on the lavender Unicorn with hazel eyes, before inclining his single-horned head in assent.
“Thank you, sir,” she said with a courteous smile and a bow of her own head before turning to address the crowd of Deer.
“Kind Deer-folk of Harthind, I am Twilight Sparkle, protégée to Celestia the Queen of Light, and these are my companions from the distant town of Ponyville. This is Applejack of the Apple Family; these are Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy; this is Rarity Belle; and this is Pinkie Pie of the Pie Rock Inheritance.”
As she spoke, she indicated each mare at her rear, and each replied to her addressing them by name with a certain gesture: Applejack crossed her right foreleg in front of her left and smiled broadly, Rainbow Dash flapped up into the air and kicked at the air with her forehooves, Fluttershy hid her face behind her mane and withdrew sharply, Rarity raised a forehoof and bowed her head with half-lidded eyes, and Pinkie pronked in place with a gay smile that showed all of her teeth.
“And this… is my surrogate son, Spike the Dragon.”
Twilight took the mulberry drake in her foreleg and nuzzled him against her cheek. He gave a soft but nervous smile at his surrogate mother’s affection.
By Twilight’s own internal admission, it was not the best image that they could have put forth at their first meeting with another species. Each of the six mares had clearly seen better days, with their matted coats and tangled manes and tails. The lot of them each had scrapes and bruises that they would remember long after this crisis would be resolved. Applejack’s hairbands had long since been lost, leaving her blonde mane and tail to flow freely. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy’s feathers − along with those at Pinkie Pie’s shoulders and fetlocks − were ill-cared for and desperately in need of preening. Rarity was almost unrecognizable as the gorgeous alabaster Unicorn mare of Carousel Couture; her mane was frazzled and had long lost its sleek sheen, her coat was stained with sand and dirt, and her amethyst stubble was badly showing around her muzzle. Twilight could only assume the same was true of herself, but she was never as fastidious as Rarity seemed about shaving her facial hair (excepting situations where appearing unshaven would reflect badly on the Queen).
Still, there was more to a first impression than appearances, and Twilight knew that from personal experience. Dozens of the upper crust of Canterlot − least of all Moondancer − had attempted to court her to their sides so as to more easily kiss up to Queen Celestia and improve their already extravagant social standings. It was nothing to do with genuinely wanting to know her in any way, but what benefits could be received from becoming close to her. There were some who had seemed genuinely kindly to her, but time revealed their true intentions: a slip of the tongue here or a misremembering of details of Twilight’s life there, and it became entirely too apparent what motivation there was in approaching Queen Celestia’s pupil.
But still, that was in the past. What disillusionment she’d faced then was left behind on that doorstep of her ivory tower back in Canterlot. Now she stood firm with five ponies whom she could trust with her life, and who could trust their lives with her.
Taking all of this to heart, Twilight took a deep breath and continued,
“I don’t think I need to tell you what has befallen the world outside of this forest and your Harthind. But Queen Celestia has tasked me to gather a band of ponies together so that we might use the Elements of Harmony to overthrow NightMare Moon.”
A raspy throat cleared from behind the herd of Deer, and it parted to allow a small group to approach. It was the five elder Deer who’d caught Twilight’s eye earlier. These had to be the village elders referred to by Cobnut. The doe at the head of the small herd casually flicked a hoof at Cobnut.
“Cobnut, allow me a word with Fuzzhead and these… pony delegates.”
“Yes, Madam Rosemary,” he replied with a bow of his head, retreating to the Deer herd.
Madam Rosemary turned her deep-brown eyes upon Twilight’s. They were strong and piercing, showing a strength belaying her frail form.
“You speak well, Twilight Sparkle,” she said slowly, revealing worn teeth that showed her long age, “but it is not very common for ponies to enter the Harthind, and are not permitted to stay long at the best of times. As you can see… our village has fallen hard under the long cold night of the Harsh Mistress of the Moon. Our fawns must eat, so food and drink are given to them first. Does cannot bear young with such lacking food, and our stags lose their antlers prematurely under this wintery chill, making it only harder to ward predators away from our settlement. You have to realize that we cannot afford to bring in quart-and-three more mouths to feed when our lives are already under enough strain.”
The crowd of Deer behind the elder doe began to rustle in irritation, some voices rising up in protest of Madam Rosemary’s decision.
“C’mon, Madam Rosemary!” cried a high voice from behind the herd; he must have been a short stag indeed, for not even antlers could be seen from where his voice was. “They’re fixin’ to save the world! You can’t turn them back now!”
One of the other does amongst the village elders turned to face the voice,
“Hold your tongue, Butter-And-Eggs, while Madam Rosemary is speaking.”
“I thank you, Madam Amber,” replied Madam Rosemary curtly. “Now, I know that it is a difficult choice to make, but it is my duty as the chief village elder to make difficult choices.”
Fuzzhead’s eyebrows furrowed as he slowly trotted towards the elderly doe, taking careful steps on his splint as he did so. Madam Rosemary eyed it curiously before looking the (relatively) younger stag in the eye.
Fuzzhead began, “With all due respect, Madam, I do not see the necessity of this ‘difficult choice’ of yours. These ponies have come a long way, or so it seems, and I am willing to vouch for them if I must.”
Madam Rosemary met Fuzzhead’s eyes with disdain and disapproval.
“Always you feel that your word counts for more than others, Fuzzhead. Despite your stately name, I have no reason to accept your word on this matter. For almost all of your square-and-one-quart years you have been so quick to reckon yourself right and everydeer else wrong. You have no friends in this village, nodeer to call family, and the only place you could find in Harthind was on the outskirts as a scout. And now you show that you think it wise to accept strangers into the village during troubled times.”
“What the hay?” interjected Rainbow Dash. “We come all this way, just for you to turn us down? What kinda horse-apples place is this?”
“I will not suffer your indignance, pony,” snapped Rosemary, before returning her flashing eyes to Fuzzhead. “Were I not mistaken, I would think you to be overly attached to these outsiders for having just met them.” She glanced down at Fuzzhead’s splinted leg. “Did they do this to you?”
Fuzzhead hesitantly lifted his injured hind leg for everydeer to see; eyes sparkled at the cobalt brace which supported his weight.
“They did indeed. The edges of the forest have proven deserted these past weeks, owing to the persistent frost and snow. But I maintained my vigil, on the off-chance. Then, earlier today, I saw a light. Now, lights just don’t pop in out of nowhere, I thought, and I approached, seeing this band − apart from Twilight Sparkle.”
“I was checking that my heliogenesic sun around Ponyville had not gone out,” Twilight cut in.
“Do not interrupt a Deer in his speech!” barked one of the elder stags. Twilight recoiled with flattened ears as if struck.
“Thank you, Sir Birch,” droned Madam Rosemary. “Continue, Fuzzhead.”
“Well, Madam… I had grown anxious, you see, all this nighttime eternal nonsense, with my antlers shedding and no proper outlet for my troubles. So, I got a bit overzealous in my resolve to drive them away and…” He looked ruefully back at his bad leg. “But the Pegasus over there, Fluttershy,” he motioned towards her with his antlers, and said Pegasus blushed pink and wrapped her mane around her face in alarm, “she tended to me despite my hostilities and… and my pride. She showed me that kindness should be shown even towards a most bitter foe.
“I do not know how I can atone for my hubris before you and Harthind, but I do not ask you for much. I ask for one day, maybe two, that these quart-and-two ponies and their drake be sheltered in this village. It can be in my own hut, it will be no burden! It is all that I ask of you, village elders, to lend me this one last favor. One, and I shall not presume myself greater than anydeer else ever again.”
He inclined his head low, and a sudden stillness and quiet fell over the entire village. Not even a fawn cried out. The villagedeers looked back and forth at each other questioningly. They had never heard their Fuzzhead speak so contritely before, which presented his request as seeming all the more reasonable.
“You speak highly, Fuzzhead, as if one of the Stag-kings of old. Be that as it may,” replied Madam Rosemary sternly, “my decision is final. Your pony companions must find somewhere else to―…”
The crowd parted once more, but not to admit further village elders, but a pony, a young Earth Pony stallion. He had a butter-yellow coat paler than Fluttershy’s, a curly cotton-white mane that stuck out in every direction, and a cutie mark of an egg sunny side-up. He was surprisingly wiry for an Earth Pony stallion, and he had a pair of branches tied onto the top of his head in imitation of a stag’s antlers. His bright blue eyes were currently trained upon Madam Rosemary in indignation.
“Madam Rosemary, you can’t just kick ‘em out! Look at them! They’ve been through Maker-knows-what, and we’re gonna turn them away? That just ain’t right!”
Cobnut made for the pony, “Butter-And-Eggs, please don’t get yourself involved.”
“Butter’s right!” cried out a stag in the herd. “That Twilight Sparkle said she’s looking to save the world! Why can’t we help them if we can’t?”
“It can’t be for more than a few days, can it?” reasoned a doe.
“Come now, my little deer,” snapped Rosemary. “Listen to yourselves. You’re sounding like a bunch of spoiled fawns!”
“And if you don’t mind me saying,” spoke the third elder doe, almost hissing in Rosemary’s ear, “you’re sounding like a crotchety old hind.”
“Oleander!” gasped Rosemary in indignity.
“Look at these Deer, dear Rosemary,” smiled Oleander, her emerald-green eyes traveling over the Deer in the village center. “Look at the hope welling in their eyes. They can see the light awaiting them at the end of the tunnel, the light of a new dawn over us! Would you want to be the doe who snuffs out that light? And look!”
She gestured towards the heliogenesic sun hovering at Twilight Sparkle’s side.
“That purple Unicorn has her own miniature sun with her! Our field of springtime has been weakening, and its deterioration will only accelerate. I foresee that our resistance to the encroaching night will not last another week. Would you really want to turn that miniature sun away from our people?”
Twilight watched warily as Madam Rosemary look back and forth from the herd of milling stags, does and fawns to Twilight and her band, while another elder − evidently named Madam Oleander − attempted to persuade her colleague to see reason. It was nice to know that they had one ally amongst the village elders at least, but from what Twilight had seen so far, it seemed as though this was a highly traditional village (Butter-And-Eggs notwithstanding) which placed more value on the decisions of its elders than on the voice of its people. Even if the bulk of Harthind’s Deer-folk thought it preferable to let them stay, there would still be the issue of the village elders putting their hooves down and preventing such.
“I see no harm in allowing them to have refuge in Harthind,” mused the other stag amongst the elders.
“With Sir Silverwood, that makes two amongst the elders in favor, Rosemary,” Oleander said with a hint of triumph. “Mayhaps this time of emergency is reason enough to bend our ‘no outsiders’ rule.”
“What’re you talking about, ‘no outsiders’?” Rainbow Dash cut in, pointing at Butter-And-Eggs. “That guy ain’t from―!”
Applejack snatched Rainbow by the foreleg, pulling her in face-to-face.
“Keep yer muzzle shut,” Applejack hissed crossly. “Ah reckon that that colt there thinks a’ himself as a Deer. So ya better not be sayin’ anythin’ that’d ruin his day.”
The palomino Earth Pony offered a nervous smile to the village elders, who were giving her a curious expression, as though they had a rather canny idea as to what her interruption was all about. After a tense moment, Madam Rosemary gestured towards Applejack and Rainbow Dash.
“Appreciated, Lady Applejack,” she said shortly. “Now please see to it that your Pegasus friend holds her tongue while we deliberate.”
Rainbow Dash gave Applejack a mutinous look, but the Earth Pony pointed sharply at the ground and drew her hoof across her mouth. Rainbow Dash alighted roughly beside Fluttershy and crossed her forelegs bitterly.
As it transpired, Madam Amber had become rather indecisive as to whether or not Twilight’s band could take refuge in Harthind. In her mind, neither option was preferable, and she would need time to make this decision. With the remaining four elders split down the middle, they had reached an impasse on a decision that needed to be made promptly.
“After all, we cannot not make a decision here, or we may as well allow them asylum here in Harthind,” Rosemary explained to her fellow elders.
“We are at a stalemate. We may need to bite the arrowhead, and ask the villagedeer themselves to make the decision.”
Almost immediately, Madam Oleander and Sir Silverwood faced the Deer of Harthind.
“All in favor of allowing the band of Ponies to stay in our village, take a step forwards,” said Oleander.
Butter-And-Eggs took a step forward, as did Cobnut to their astonishment, and Fuzzhead who took a step forwards from his spot by Twilight’s band. The branch-wearing Earth Pony was swiftly joined by over three-and-a-half-dozen Deer; more than half of the village! The stags, does and fawns looked about each other, at first intrigued and then beaming. Oleander, who had herself stepped forward with Silverwood, faced Rosemary with a look of triumph on her face, and the latter sighed.
“All in favor of sending the band on their way, take a step back,” grumbled Rosemary.
Fewer than a two-dozen Deer stepped backwards from the herd of assenters. Many among them had taken on expressions of resignation.
Rosemary did not even need to take a head count to know where the decision laid. She took in a deep breath and said, “It would seem that the Ayes have it. Now that we know that these young ponies will be calling our Harthind home for the time being, where shall we have them quartered?”
Her brown eyes searched the faces of the Deer for any sign of assent or acknowledgement. Though she was admittedly bitter that her motion had not passed, letting the ponies stay would be the preferable path in the long run. All that Rosemary had to do was to smile and nod and strive to ‘remind’ ponies of how she had gladly welcomed the ponies into Harthind. She still had a good long life ahead of her, and fawns were impressionable. They could be persuaded that they merely misremembered her thoughts on the matter of the quart-and-two pony outsiders.
Twilight’s heart unclenched at the notion of having a place of relative comfort to stay at for the present. The desert leading up to Mzingile was, looking back, physically and emotionally draining; the idea that there were Giraffes who were so hateful towards Zebras that they would skin them and wear their coats ate away at her inside and filled her with an empty terror. The world was full of great problems even without NightMare Moon, though the Night Queen’s presence doubtlessly exacerbated many of them. Passing through the quantum mazes of the Minotaurs was a welcome reprieve, but the frosted chill of their arrival in Equestria renewed her feelings of dread of that inevitable confrontation with NightMare Moon. The Headless Horse and her relentless pursuit wore away at Twilight’s energy at every level, building upon the drain she felt coming out of the desert. Rest would be a blessing from the Maker Himself!
A doe with a pale coat stepped up to Cobnut.
“Cobby, darling, perhaps we could allow Twilight Sparkle and her company houseroom? We can allow space in the living room, can’t we?”
Cobnut gave the doe, evidently his wife, a curious look.
“Strawberry, dear, we already have a mouth to feed. And now you ask that we take on quart-and-three more, not knowing how long they will stay?”
“Please, sir,” Twilight implored, “we don’t mean to stay longer than a day or two. At the very least, we will need time to rest and to gather our thoughts. We haven’t had a decent rest in days, and there is much that I need to discuss with my friends about a revelation I’ve had just before Fuzzhead brought us here.”
“Only a day or two?” piped in Butter-And-Eggs, who suddenly galloped up to Cobnut. “Please, Dad, can we take them in? Please? I’ll let them share my room!”
Cobnut looked from Strawberry to the young stallion wearing branches, and let out a soft breath through his nostrils.
“I suppose it would not be a terrible proposition.”
He faced the village elders.
“Village elders, I Cobnut and my family accept the responsibility of quartering the pony outsiders and their drake within our home.”
The five of them inclined their heads at the one-horned stag.
“You do your Deer-folk a great service, Cobnut,” said Oleander gently. “Make sure that they sleep well.”
Cobnut nodded, and turned to face Twilight and her company.
“Come with me.”
“Thank you, Mister Cobnut, but I just need a moment.”
With a flourish of her alicorn, Twilight set the heliogenesic sun to hover over the bonfire in the middle of the town.
Cobnut and his wife Strawberry, along with their adopted son the pony Butter-And-Eggs, led the band of ponies to their home, one of those in the circle around the bonfire, with a door flanked by two windows facing the village square. It stood two stories tall, a balcony at the top floor overlooking the bonfire and the recently placed heliogenesic sun. The windows were dressed with snapdragons and strawberry flowers, providing a fragrance that gave a wholesome aura to the already homely house.
Stepping across the threshold into Cobnut’s home brought Twilight and her friends into a wide space that acted as a living room and a kitchen all at once. Mats woven from cotton were placed in a circle in one half of the room, obviously arranged for any sort of company that the small family would keep. On the other half was a brick-oven and a stove, with an ice-box to its side (the drip-pan was bordering on overflowing). Around the walls wound a ramp leading up to the top floor, along with hangers to place cloaks on; the six mares and drake drew off those given them by the Labyrinthine Minotaurs and set them upon the hooks.
“So, where shall you all sleep?” Cobnut asked curtly.
Twilight looked intently about the ground floor of the Cobnut-Strawberry household, pondering.
“Well… I think that we can all rest easily down here in the living room. It wouldn’t do to make any permanent arrangements for us, so… we can rest here.”
“Fine by me,” Rainbow Dash said with a very loud and obvious yawn. “I can sleep anywhere.”
“She really can,” Fluttershy whispered to Twilight. “All she has to do is close her eyes for ten seconds, and she’s out like a candle.”
Twilight snickered lightly at Fluttershy’s comment. Such openness was something that she, in retrospect, realized was uncommon for the yellow Pegasus. She must have indeed thought of Twilight as a dear friend.
“Very well,” Cobnut said, before casting a light look on Butter-And-Eggs that was very unusual to see on the one-horned stag’s face. “Looks like they won’t have to share your room afterall, Butter.”
The pony-passing-for-a-Deer looked slightly put-out.
“Would any of you like some dinner?” offered Strawberry.
“Thank ya kindly, Ma’am, but Ah think we’re all fixin’ fer some rest,” Applejack replied, looking about the group.
“You said it,” yawned Spike. “I’m exhausted from riding on Mom’s back all day.”
Twilight snorted. Leave it to Spike to get tired from laying around.
“I could not agree more, Applejack,” added Rarity. “A mare needs her beauty rest. And Celestia knows I’ve been lacking it lately.” She shuddered, looking down at her hooves, worn and rough.
In short time the band of ponies had set their saddle-shells aside, chosen their favored mats in the living room, and either laying down upon them or (in the cases of Applejack and Twilight) rotating their patellas so as to stand upright while resting. No sooner did Twilight set her legs in position than she felt herself drifting into a dark, empty sleep.
Twilight was roused from her oblivious rest by the sounds of argument.
“I’m tellin’ ya, AJ, he’s gonna find out eventually. We’ve gotta let him know that he’s not a Deer; he’s a Pony!”
“An’ who’s ta say that he wouldn’ta found it out bah now? Now, Butter-’n’-Eggs don’ strike me as th’ brightest candle in th’ chandlery, but Ah reckon he’d have cottoned on to sumthin’.”
“Well, maybe he hasn’t! And it just ain’t right that somepony who’s a pony thinks that he’s somedeer! He’s gotta learn the truth!”
“An’ Ah think it ain’t none a’ yer business, Rainbow Dash! If’n his folks think he’s fit ta know, he’s fit ta know. An’ Ah don’t rightly see Cobnut ‘r Strawberry rarin’ ta tell ‘im anytime soon.”
“All the more reason for somepony to tell him! I mean, it’s so obvious that he’s not a Deer! Did you see those antlers he stringed up on top of his head? He has to think that something’s up!”
“An’ what if he doesn’t? Then ya’d be raisin’ Tartarus fer no reason!”
“It ain’t for no reason! He thinks he’s a Deer, for pony’s sake!”
“An’ what’s so world-endin’ ‘bout that? What if you thought that ya were a Griffon or sumthin’? Would ya want somepony ta tell ya that yer entire life has been a lie?”
“Of course! That wouldn’t be cool to think that I was one of those revvie birdbrains!”
“Well… still, Ah don’ think it’s our place ta be meddlin’ in that kid’s life! It should be his folks what decide if’n he should know!”
“You already said that!”
“That don’ mean it ain’t important! An’ besides… Oh! Twilight, Ah didn’ know you woke up.”
Twilight rubbed her eyes ruefully, her ears flat.
“I just woke up. Do you girls realize how loud you argue?”
Rainbow Dash scratched the back of her head nervously.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I tend to get loud when I’m arguing with somepony who just won’t concede…!” She finished with a slightly hostile tone.
Applejack bared her teeth, “Are ya sure ya ain’t talkin’ ‘bout yerself? ‘Cause it sure looks that way from where Ah’m standin’!”
“What good could possibly come out of not letting that kid know who he really is?”
“Girls!” Twilight shouted, her alicorn glowing pink and her dwimmer shimmer glowing around the arguing Earth Pony and Pegasus and pulling them apart from one another. “With you yelling at each other like this, it’s a wonder that this whole forest doesn’t hear you! Hay, Butter-And-Eggs probably hears you arguing like this from down here!”
“Good!” Rainbow Dash snapped. “He needs to know!”
“Even if he did, not like this!” Twilight replied. “You really better hope that Butter-And-Eggs isn’t up there, because if he is…”
“He ain’t here, Twi,” Applejack offered calmly. “Cobnut an’ his wife an’ kid went out ta th’ square ta discuss sumthin’ with th’ elders, an’ ev’rypony else decided ta tag along. Ah didn’ think it was right ta leave ya here alone, what with Spike taggin’ along after Rarity an’ all.”
Twilight gave a small sigh. That much was good at least. Pulling her thoughts together after a murky rest interrupted by a very impassioned argument, she looked back and forth between the burly, scarred Earth Pony and the lean, wiry Pegasus.
“Now, I agree with Applejack on this matter. We didn’t come here to cause any identity crises, and we’re really not in any place to be telling anydeer − or anypony − what they are supposed to be. If Butter-And-Eggs thinks of himself as a Deer, then he should be treated as a Deer and respected as such. It’s not like he’s been brainwashed into being a Deer, right?”
Applejack gave a grateful smile to Twilight as she was lowered to the ground, while Rainbow Dash looked rather spiteful.
Harthind’s village square was less full than it had been on their arrival. Then again, it transpired that they had arrived relatively early in the “morning” of the village, and it was now a dozen hours later. Most Deer were asleep at this point, excepting Fuzzhead, Cobnut, Strawberry and Butter-And-Eggs, who had all taken to accompanying Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity and Spike in a meeting with the village elders by the light of the fading bonfire.
“In light of this grand circumvention of protocol in Harthind,” said Madam Rosemary lowly, “there will need to be further rationing of food and water for the duration of your stay here.”
“What?” cut in Spike. “Why?”
“Because, little Dragon,” added Sir Silverwood, “our village has no contact outside of this forest, so we must tend to our own sources of food, dwindling as they may be.”
“That’s dreadful!” replied Fluttershy.
“Indeed,” Sir Birch said. “On a brighter note, though, this sun summoned by your Unicorn friend will do wonders in ensuring our continued warmth, and potentially restoring proper growing conditions for our crops. But, we will also need to ensure that we are doubly successful at catching all of the snow melted by this, so that we can improve our water quotas as well.”
“Ooh, ooh, ooh!” squealed Pinkie Pie, bouncing up and down on her hooves which made high squeak!s as she hit the ground. “I got lots and lots and lots of candy and treats and sweets in my saddle-shell-bag! I bet you guys haven’t had a tasty treat in a really, really long time!”
“Candy…?” echoed Madam Amber. “We don’t need sugary treats; we need proper grains!”
“Aww, but I’ve got cupcakes, chocolate-chip cookies, pralines, sugar cookies, bonbons, chocolate cookies, éclairs, lemon cookies, lollipops, oat cookies, cider donuts, wheat cookies, jawbreakers, vanilla cookies…”
“And churros?” asked Butter-And-Eggs eagerly.
“I was just getting to those~” giggled Pinkie Pie excitedly. “I just can’t wait to share them all with you!”
Faster than blinking, the pink Earth Pony zipped straight back to Cobnut’s home, leaving a negative after-image in the eyes of everyone who was looking at her. The village elders gave a look of mild alarm to Pinkie’s companions.
“You get used to it,” Rarity explained.
“Or not, ‘cause it’s fun to be surprised!” added Spike.
“A Dragon after my own heart~” bubbled Pinkie Pie, trotting back with a veritable tower of all manner of sugary sweets and treats balanced on top of her head, the plate of pink cupcakes on top barely below the lowest of the tree branches over Harthind. Flicking her head back sharply, the tower of plates and baked goods and treats soared up into the air − the village elders all cried out in alarm − before landing perfectly in a circle around the bundled pile of singed twigs and branches.
Eyes blinked in befuddlement.
“Do your saddle-bags really hold such large quantities of… luggage?” asked Fuzzhead. “Is this… normal for you Ponies?”
“More like ‘normal for Pinkie Pie’,” Spike responded. “She does all sorts of weird, amazing stuff that other Earth Ponies can’t―!”
Rarity slipped her hoof over Spike’s mouth, smiling nervously up at the village elders and offering a similarly nervous chuckle.
“I’m afraid we needn’t be regaled by tales of Pinkie Pie flagrantly breaking many rules and dare say some laws in the process. In any case, these are a sample of several wares from Pinkie Pie’s employers at Sugarcube Corner.”
The village elders craned their necks down at the sugar-laden treats to eye them with fascination.
“Such bright colors…” mused Madam Oleander.
“I’ve never seen such food that looked like this,” said Sir Silverwood.
“Are these muffins with sugar coating…?” asked Madam Amber.
“We ponies call ’em cupcakes! C’mon and try them!” beamed Pinkie Pie, offering an eager smile to the village elders.
“I… I would rather not,” responded Rosemary, literally turning her nose up at them. “It is unbecoming of a village leader to lower herself be eating such… Madam Oleander!”
The addressed village elder had bent down more fully and taken a chocolate-chip cookie in her mouth, eating it with every indication of satisfaction. Her four fellow elders watched her trepidatiously, almost as though they feared the cookie to be poisonous. After swallowing the cookie, Oleander’s wrinkled face split in a wide smile.
“It’s delicious! I have not tasted something so… strongly sweet… in cubades!”
Madam Amber cast her eyes down on the sweets herself, now wearing a curious expression. Tentatively, she took a cider donut in her mouth and took a small bite from it. She chewed. Her eyes widened, and with a smile she took the rest of the donut into her mouth, eating it with relish.
As Pinkie Pie’s smile broadened, the remaining three elders took up some pastries of their own and ate them with varying degrees of enjoyment. Madam Rosemary seemed to be rather resistant to the idea of enjoying her éclair, but Sirs Birch and Silverwood smiled at one another as they ate their respective churro and praline.
“I think that our little deer could use this to lift their spirits!” suggested Oleander brightly.
Three of the others nodded deeply. Rosemary merely sighed.
“Quart to one.”
Amber faced Pinkie Pie, “You do have more, don’t you?”
Pinkie nodded smilingly.
“Of course! You don’t think I’d bring out all of my sweets, do you? I got plenty more stashed away, for pastry emergencies~!”
Rarity chuckled edgily.
“Perhaps we should… go back with her, to make sure that there is no shortage come daybreak… figuratively speaking, of course.”
“Very well,” Cobnut replied, turning to face the elders with a light smile. “It seems our food rations may yet be postponed.”
“That remains to be seen,” replied Rosemary cryptically.
The trio of ponies, the drake, and the family of Deer (and their Pony son) made their way away from the elders. Fuzzhead took a step after them.
“M-may I stop in myself?”
The departing group turned towards Fuzzhead, Cobnut and Strawberry in mild shock, the ponies and Spike in curiosity, and Butter-And-Eggs in excitement.
“Really? You wanna come over, Mister Fuzzhead?” he said eagerly. “Please, Dad, can he come over? Please, please, please?”
Cobnut looked down at his son amusedly.
“This is just to feel the fuzz on his head, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” Butter-And-Eggs replied happily and shamelessly, prompting snorts of laughter from those around him.
“At least your son is honest, Mister Cobnut,” Rarity offered.
Cobnut snorted in amusement before beckoning towards Fuzzhead.
“Come along, son,” Cobnut said soberly. “You’re welcome to whatever pastries Miss Pinkie pulls out of thin air next.”
Rainbow Dash was still refusing to speak to Twilight and Applejack when the door opened to admit the remainder of their party, along with the family offering them space and… Fuzzhead?
“Mister Fuzzhead?” Twilight wondered aloud. “I didn’t know that Cobnut would let you in the house. I thought he didn’t like you.”
“I didn’t,” answered Cobnut with a wry smile, “but my son wanted to play with Fuzzhead’s head-fuzz, so I invited him in.”
Rainbow Dash waved airily, “Way to go, little colt.”
Applejack’s eyes flashed at the cerulean Pegasus, but Butter-And-Eggs just blinked in confusion.
“Colt? I’m not a colt. I’m a fawn, is what I am!”
“No, son,” Cobnut said lowly, leaning down to meet his son eye-to-eye. “You’re not a fawn.”
A pregnant pause filled the house, tension leaving no room for air.
Cobnut bumped his nose against Butter’s.
“You’re a big, strong stag, just like your old man!”
Butter-And-Egg’s face split wide in a grin, pawing at the ground and lowering his head to charge his dad.
“You bet I am, Dad!”
He smacked his head against one of his dad’s legs, the branches tied to his head bouncing ineffectively off. Cobnut, for his part, feigned a cry of agony and fell bodily to the floor.
“Alas, you’ve slain me, great warrior,” he groaned in fake pain.
Butter’s ears flattened, but a cracking smile betrayed his amusement.
“Dad, stop it.”
“Everything is… going dark…”
“Remember who you are…”
Cobnut’s head went limp, his eyes gazing unfocused up at the ceiling.
Butter-And-Eggs hung his head, standing over his dad…
Then began to run his hooves vigorously across Cobnut’s midsection. The stag’s hind legs began to twitch, then his forelegs, then his lips quirked into a smile, and before anyone knew it, Cobnut was rolling about on the floor laughing with all the mirth in the world with his son relentlessly tickling his belly. Finally, he rolled onto his belly and cupped Butter-And-Eggs between his forelegs.
“Well, well! It seems that the tickle doctor’s worked his magic again!”
Butter-And-Eggs nodded quickly, and Cobnut beamed.
“Well,” Twilight said abruptly, “now that everypony’s here, perhaps we can discuss what came to mind before we arrived here in Harthind?”
Her friends all offered statements in the affirmative, though Rainbow Dash’s seemed to be rather unenthusiastic. The small herd of Deer stood beside cautiously.
“You don’t mind if we listen, do you?” asked Strawberry.
“Of course not,” replied Twilight. “You offered us houseroom, and it’s not like our goal is a big secret.”
“Secret?” Butter-And-Eggs asked, his curiosity piqued. “What’s the secret? I can keep a secret!”
“Well, Butter,” Twilight began, “you know how it’s gotten all dark and cold the past few weeks?”
The yellow kid nodded.
“Well, it’s because a big evil mare has taken over Equestria and taken the Queen of Light captive. I’m the Queen of Light’s student, and I was given the task of bringing back the Elements of Harmony: the only force capable of defeating that evil mare, NightMare Moon.”
“N-N-NightMare Moon? The Dark Mare? But… I thought she was just a spooky story.”
“Oh, we all thought she was, Eggy,” said Fuzzhead.
Several pairs of eyes focused on the young stag, who shrugged his shoulders.
“It just came to me. The nickname. It’s not bad, is it?”
“No, not really,” replied Cobnut. “But… It just that I’ve never heard it before.”
“There are a lot of things that none a’ us had heard of ‘fore we all set off on this quest,” commented Applejack. “Heliogenesis spell, Crystal Mountain caves, sirenomelon, grootslang… an’ the list jus’ keeps on growin’.”
“Well, hopefully, if my hypothesis is correct,” Twilight interjected, “we won’t need to hear very many more of these ‘new things’.
“I think that I’ve figured out the trick behind reactivating each of the Elements of Harmony, and which Element each of us most likely carries.”
“And, how does it work, Twilight?” asked Fluttershy.
Twilight faced her alabaster Unicorn friend.
“Rarity, do you remember when you gave up your razor at Canterlot?”
“As if it happened yesterday,” recalled Rarity. “It was a noble sacrifice of a noble instrument, but I do not regret it in the slightest. Your need was greater than mine, Twilight, and I stand firmly by that.”
“And that,” Twilight smirked, “is the trick. From the moment I’ve met you, you were always so generous. Using your own materials to craft new dresses for me as inspiration struck you, disregarding any notion of repayment… Rarity, I think that you bear the Element of Generosity!”
Her eyes widening in wonder, Rarity’s periwinkle dwimmer shimmer lit up her saddle-shell, the latch unlocking and the glowing purple shards of her Element floating out to her seemingly of their own accord. They hovered around her head as if a halo.
She looked up at them.
“The Element of Generosity…”
The shards flashed brightly at Rarity’s words, which seemed to Twilight to be affirmation enough.
So far, so good.
“Pinkie Pie?” Twilight asked.
“Yes, Twilight?” replied the pink Earth Pony with batting eyelids.
“Remember at the library in Ponyville, just before we left for the Crystal Mountains? I found out then… just how much you really love to make ponies smile and laugh. You throw parties for new ponies in town, to make sure that their first impression is a joyful one. You bake the most delicious pastries that I’ve ever tasted, and you don’t even ask for a single bit’s payment. You want to be friends with as many ponies as you can so that you can make as many ponies as possible happy! I don’t doubt it in the slightest that you, Pinkamena Diane Pie, bear the Element of Laughter!”
Pinkie’s saddle-shell, lying opened on the floor, streamers and party-poppers strewn about, began to emit a blue light from within. Shards of rock, Pinkie’s Element, levitated themselves out and floated around Pinkie’s head just like with Rarity.
Pinkie giggled, “I really do love laughter!”
The Element’s shards flashed brightly.
“Applejack, remember down in Aquastria, when you learned that the Nightmare Guard had set up a garrison in Ponyville? How did that make you feel?”
“Like mah blood was runnin’ as hot as th’ Sun,” Applejack seethed. “All Ah wanted ta do was ta march back home an’ learn ‘em a thing ‘r two ‘bout messin’ with th’ Apples.” Taking a deep breath, Applejack smiled at Twilight, “But Ah knew that Ah wouldn’ be doin’ th’ world any favors bah throwin’ in th’ towel.”
“But I did give you the choice, Applejack. Nopony would have blamed you if you went back.”
“Ah would’ve. Ah wouldn’ta been able ta sleep knowin’ that Ah’d cut ‘n’ run on y’all when y’all needed another helpin’ hoof. Ah’m loyal t’ mah family like nopony’s business, but… Loyalty ain’ just about standin’ beside somepony, is it? Least not in th’ literal sense. It’s also about… standin’ up fer a cause, standin’ up fer somepony even if that pony’s dozens a’ grosses a’ miles away, if ya unnerstand what Ah mean.”
Emerald eyes widened in realization.
“Twilight… are you sayin’ that Ah…?”
“I am, Applejack. I’m saying that you bear the Element of Loyalty!”
Applejack’s saddle-shell began to quaver as if in protest, and Twilight quickly flipped it open with her magic. The shards of Applejack’s Element hovered up to the palomino Earth Pony, illuminating the scars and freckles on her face as they hovered around, glowing a bright apple-red.
“Apples, loyal to the core!”
At Applejack’s proclamation, the shards flashed even more brightly.
Twilight was elated. She had not felt such joy since Queen Celestia approved of her thesis on Star Swirl the Bearded’s amniomorphic spell and further studies on how it could affect future golemcraft. This was progressing swimmingly! She already had very strong ideas about who bore the last two Elements they had on hoof.
“Fluttershy,” Twilight continued, “this takes us to the present. When we entered this forest, I generated a fake sun to ward off the Headless Horse.”
Butter-And-Eggs squealed in alarm, “The Headless―?”
He threw his hooves up to his muzzle in shock, his pupils constricted. Twilight’s heart jumped; she had almost forgotten that they had a younger audience member. While Spike was about this colt’s − this fawn’s − age, Spike had had a first-claw encounter with the Headless Horse.
Taking a deep breath, Twilight continued.
“Anyway, the fake sun did its job, but I was scared that the one in Ponyville was compromised. I winked out there to check on it, and winked straight back after seeing that it was indeed still in order. But when I arrived… I found that in the small time I’d been away, you had all been charged… by Fuzzhead here.”
Three pairs of eyes swiveled over to Fuzzhead, who looked ruefully down at his splint.
“And even though Fuzzhead here insisted that he did not deserve such kindness, you mended his injury and helped him to get back here to Harthind.”
“Well…” Fluttershy smiled sheepishly, her ears going limp against her head. “I really couldn’t just leave him there.”
“And that is part of what makes you such a good pony, Fluttershy. You are kind even to others who don’t seem to deserve it. Remember the chimericals in the Everfree? You weren’t frightened of them or hostile towards them; you just kindly asked if they could let us pass. Now, at the time, I thought that that was pathetically meek, but… now I see. You are not a weak pony at all, Fluttershy. You saved us all from that hemolupe with that Stare of yours! I have no doubt that you bear the Element of Kindness!”
Before she had even finished speaking, Twilight had already unlatched Fluttershy’s saddle-shell, allowing the glowing green shards of her Element to hover out and over to Fluttershy. She withdrew slightly in fright at the rocks floating towards her, but relented at the calming feel that she got upon looking at the levitating pieces of her Element.
“I just feel so much kindness right now…”
The Element flashed bright-green. With red, green, blue and purple lights dancing about, an atmosphere of serenity settled upon the ponies, drake and deer in the room.
The Elements of Harmony were coming back together.
Four for four.
That left only one pony.
Well, two, really.
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight began, but the cerulean Pegasus interrupted her.
“I know, I know. You’re gonna tell me that I’m the Element of Honesty or something like that. But how can I be the Element of Honesty if I can’t even be honest?”
(“‘Element a’ Bluntness’ is more like it,” murmured Applejack.)
“First off, none of us are the Elements of Harmony, but bearers of the Elements,” replied Twilight crossly. “And secondly, I don’t like what you’re implying. You’ve been far more upfront with the truth than anypony else this entire journey, and you’re complaining now that nopony’s letting you speak your mind?”
“Aww, don’t be so grumpy, Dashie-washie~!” cooed Pinkie Pie, holding out a party popper. “Here, I’ll let you fire one of my special party poppers. Just remember to cover your ears~”
“Maybe I won’t be grumpy, when I’m free to say what I want. I mean, I can’t fly where I want, when I want, as fast as I want. And now I’m being told that I can’t talk how I want? I swear I’m gonna climb the walls!”
Twilight was astonished at the change that unfolded in Rainbow Dash. Before they’d arrived in Harthind, she still had her brash streak going strong. Now, she was accusatory and antsy, all because somepony else did not want to break the happy world that a colt lived in as a fawn?
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight reached out imploringly, “you have to understand that there’s a time and a place for telling the truth. I’m not saying that you should never tell the truth. I’m just suggesting that we put the truth on hold for a little while, at least in this case. We can come back to this village later and… well, please, just know that it’s really not our place to say.”
“Say what?” asked Butter-And-Eggs inquisitively.
“Nothing, darling,” answered Strawberry, nuzzling the top of her son’s head. “It’s nothing, really.”
Rainbow Dash looked like she wanted to throw something, but she gritted her teeth and instead settled on a look like she really had to relieve herself.
“Fine. We’ll do things your way, TS.”
The remainder of the day was spent in forced splendidness. Though the Elements of Harmony which were active helped to fill the home with an air of wholesomeness that made one feel joyously optimistic, there was an air of tension about the festivities that mostly hung around Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy did her best to boost Rainbow Dash’s mood, and though she did get a smile out of the cerulean Pegasus, it was all too clear that she was just putting it on for her fiancée’s sake. Even Pinkie Pie’s cupcakes did little to affect Rainbow Dash’s mood, which put Pinkie in something of a funk.
Surprisingly, though, it was Butter-And-Eggs who helped to bring Rainbow back to some semblance of normalcy. It was all too apparent that, colt or fawn, he was a perfect little gentlecolt (or rather, gentlestag). He kindly offered to Rainbow Dash whatever pastry had caught her eye, he scampered to and fro to refill glasses of water and (pink, naturally) lemonade, and he always said please and thank you whenever it was appropriate.
“You really raised an awesome son here, guys!” she said brightly to Cobnut and Strawberry.
The Deer parents smiled in return.
“Well, he does take after his mother,” replied Cobnut.
“Oh you,” Strawberry chuckled, resting her head against her husband’s.
And of course, Butter-And-Eggs got to mess with Fuzzhead’s head-fuzz, just as his dad had promised him.
Finally turning in for the night, Butter-And-Eggs said goodnight one by one to each and every one of his parents’ houseguests. He shared a hoof-and-clawbump with Spike and accepted a goodnight hug from Fluttershy before he and his parents doused the oil lamps, closed the curtains and went upstairs.
Deciding to settle down to the floor this time and wrap herself in a blanket tonight, Twilight found herself being Psst!ed at. The culprit was Rainbow Dash. Though she did not look as sour as she had after the Elements had been identified for their four other friends, she definitely looked much more pensive than Twilight had ever seen on the honest Pegasus.
“You really think lying to him is the answer?” asked Rainbow Dash in a soft hiss.
“No. Not when you put it like that. But… He’s happy, isn’t he? You’ve seen it. Would you really want to ruin that?”
Now it was Rainbow Dash’s turn to falter.
“Well… honestly, no. But he’s gonna find out at some point. Do you think he’ll feel better if everyone around him just lets him find out, or he gets clued in?”
Twilight had no answer.
“Let’s talk about this later, okay?” she responded, before settling down into what would become a very fitful sleep.