Years before the 1000th year of Luna's exile the Mare in the Moon still loomed large over Equestria, looking down on the nation and world with a mix of malice and sorrow. The Princess was still remembered, of course; Equestria remained a Diarchic Principality, with her rule held in abeyance. It would remain so until Luna returned.
Some ponies barely thought of her, while others were consumed with the idea. Those who took the exiled princess most to heart were the descendants of her most stalwart supporters. The Roani. The wandering ponies. Near a thousand years of walking the roads, with a homeland a place of darkness and legends.
They were despised. Called gypsies and ribbontails and chased out of most towns, despite orders to treat them like any other pony group. Near Canterlot it was easy to enforce Celestia's decree. Her heart still ached for her lost sister and she saw protecting the Roani as protecting her sister's memory. But she was only one pony. Even with guards and constables as her eyes and ears she couldn't be everywhere.
The father from Canterlot a place was, the more likely it was that communities could get away with insults to the Roa. The royal sorts tried, but they could not do it. The Roa, for their part, took much of it in stride, because they had done so for a long time. They could survive good and bad fortune.
They were often painted as scoundrels. If not traitors (few dared accuse them of that; it risked a visit from the OCFG to investigate serious false accusations) they were regarded as still clinging to a pony that had tried to harm others. They noted it was Nightmare Moon, not Luna. The difference was largely ignored.
Jobs were few and hard, by and large. Few Roa could settle to get proper ones. They took any they could manage, building up a repertoire of abilities to function as generalists. Some managed to practice some settled craft as they went along, such as carving and carpentry. But most, by virtue of having to provide a bright life for their clans, chose entertainment. Singing, dancing, fortune telling, games of chance. It had become a stereotype, with some claim of truth.
The standard method of Roani travel was to remain in clans, or groups of clans, all of them living in single-room caravans. The caravans served as home, dressing room and occasionally stage or booth if they were the transformable type. The head of the family in the caravan drew it, unless they were too old, then the eldest child did it.
Children were educated together, when they couldn't enter Equestrian public schools. Roa were to be openly and freely accepted and not restricted in any fashion, but the nomadic lifestyle and general pressure often made that difficult. The government provided proper course materials, updated and distributed among the Roa bands for free at any town. All that was needed was an adult willing to teach.
The foals were taught Equestrian, and Roani, math, science, magic and other necessary academic skills. The traditions of the Roani were also emphasized, as well as some form of performance. Practical vocational skills could be taught, but many Roani accepted their lot. They knew what they were known for and they were genuinely good with performing, so they continued the family traditions.
Foals so raised tended to have a very strong bond. They were the best of friends. Given that non-Roa foals were often kept away by parents or held some vague family-induced prejudice, they were all that they could rely on. They studied together, played together and very often got into mischief together. With no set address and little danger of being remembered they could develop sticky, tricky hooves early on.
That may have been the origin of some of the rumors. All foals were mischievous, but the things Roa foals did was held to be 'typical of their kind.' So that mischievousness of youth was planted on the heads of older ponies, creating the impression that they were all thieves and tricksters. Not that some weren't. But the automatic assumption made it especially bad.
Several Roani clans had been going through a small forest town of mostly neutral folks, with some of the traditional epithets bandied about. Among them, the Lulamoon clan, a proud group of entertainers and mages. It was nighttime. Roani time. While they slept as any other pony, they had an affinity for the night. It was the time of their Phuri Daj, their mother's mother, the honored name of Luna in their tongue and traditions.
The clans had circled the wagons outside of town, with some singers and dancers providing entertainment for those there gathered. Most of the group was there. But many of the children were not. They were all in the age of bold, solitary exploration and boundary-pushing. They wanted to try their fortunes, and see what became of them.
Young Trixie Lulamoon had gone through the town earlier that day, wearing her most colorful cape and pointed hat, but without a tail ribbon. Her mother would have scolded her severely for failing to wear the sign of their loyalty to Luna and their heritage. But Trixie passed more easily when she looked non-Roani. She could freely walk around and see what there was to see.
The other children had told her to look through the place, to find any loose things they could take like colorful decorations or potted plants in nice pots or things like that. Though her clan was respected, she was not well-liked. The other children found her too timid and unwilling to do things. She didn't fit the mold of her family.
She had agreed to do it because she thought they would like her if she did. She really did want to be liked. She had the magical skill required of a Lulamoon, and showed it with her family. But she wasn't a natural performer. She didn't have the nerve to stand up. So she could easily be talked into things by those she wanted to like her.
With the night fallen and the children not missed they crept their way back into the slumbering town. Trixie took up the back of the group, still in her cape and hat. Flamboyantly dressed but silent. She crept along behind the procession of young unicorns, chancing a look at the sky. Clouds were scudding in, and gathering. “Hey, it looks... it looks like...”
“Sh! Quiet, Trixie! You did your job now just come on,” Moonglow whispered. Moonglow was the de facto leader of the foals. Pale greenish yellow with a white mane, she had long, graceful limbs that made her taller than the others, even if they were all the same age. She leveraged that and her strong personality into her leadership position.
“But... the clouds...” Trixie whispered.
“It'll be fine. Phuri Daj's light may not penetrate the clouds but the gadje have provided us with plenty,” Moonglow said, indicating the firefly lanterns and some lights still on in the houses.
“But...” Trixie began.
“Sh! We'll be in and out quickly. Now, everypony, go find the things Trixie told us of. And Trixie, stay here and look out for the gadje,” Moonglow insisted.
“O-okay, Moonglow...” Trixie said. She sat down on the cobblestone streets as the others spread out down the lanes. They munched on flowers as they passed, appreciating the fresh taste of buds they had never sampled before, and poked their heads up to look in windows at how the homes of the town ponies looked.
They found their little spoils, the takings that would make children proud. Colorful pebbles, yard signs with painted features, decorative flowerpots, watering cans. It was junk to most, or at least unimpressive utility items to most, but they were treasures to the little wanderers.
Trixie shifted her eyes around, glancing over the scene with great timidity. Every moment she expected some gruff constable to come charging up to ask her what she was doing. She also tracked the clouds as they rolled in. They were under the control of the town pegasi, set in motion before to create the weather they wanted.
Being mostly unicorns, most Roani did not have controlled weather. They took whatever weather the communities through which they passed offered. It worked out for them, as they had as an internal idea to bear the rise and fall of fortune, to endure the bad so they could savor the good. Weather was just another matter to endure.
Trixie recognized the signs in the clouds. She was quite well educated and understood that the town pegasi had essentially 'programmed' the clouds to roll together to form rain. She had suspected it when they began their excursion. Seeing how they moved finally confirmed it. There was going to be a storm, and a fair-sized one at that.
She sighed with relief when one of the foals returned. Drom. Moonglow's cousin. “Drom! Hurry! We need to leave!” Trixie insisted, practically prancing with nervous energy.
“Look at what I got!” Drom said, quite loudly, showing off a fair-sized painted flowerpot with a spray of celosia in it. “All the colors of a rainbow, in a pretty pot.”
“That's not important anymore! Find Moonglow and the rest and get them out,” Trixie insisted.
“What's your problem?” Drom asked, tilting his head in confusion.
“We're going to be trapped in-” Trixie began.
“Look at the great things we got!” Moonglow boasted suddenly, showing off some colorful lawn Breezies recently taken from a yard.
“Moonglow! We have to leave!” Trixie pleaded.
“Why? Did you see a constable?” Moonglow asked, suddenly looking paranoid. “They should not be out this late in a place this small.”
“No, we're going to be caught in the rain,” Trixie explained.
Moonglow snorted and shook her head. “'The rain'? Trixie, you had me worried it was something actually serious! Are you so timid that you fear a little rain?”
“It's not just a little, I can tell,” Trixie hissed, looking up at the gathering, thickening cloud cover.
“Don't get so presumptuous, it doesn't suit you,” Moonglow snorted. “We're still waiting for the rest.”
Trixie prepared to object, when things all seemed to happen at the same time. A cry emerged from down one of the roads, followed by the pounding of hooves on the stones of the street. The other foals came running, trailing colorful cloth while being chased by ponies that could be seen to be adults from the town. In that moment, the sky opened up and poured out a terrific deluge onto the heads of all who were outside, setting them to screaming and flailing.
“I told you! I told you!” Trixie cried, trying to hold up the brim of her hat to look at Moonglow.
“Never mind that! Run to the caravans! The adults will be moving out now!” Moonglow cried over the pounding of the rain on the stone streets.
The foals dropped what they had nicked and made a mad dash for the caravans, while the townsfolk sought shelter from the rain.
Trixie tried to keep pace with her fellow foals but the downpour drenched her body, soaking her cape and hat. She was greatly encumbered by the waterlogged garments, and flailed her way along, occasionally flopping desperately on the ground, as she well imagined the townsponies were hot on her hocks and ready to punish her for the crimes of her fellow foals.
She was so much slower than the other foals, never being close to them. She only heard their cries and calls as they ran ahead of her, which grew fainter and fainter as they outstripped her. She also heard the faint calls of the adults, and the groaning creaks of the caravans as they started to move away from the epicenter of the storm.
Weighed down by the hat and cape, scared out of her mind by the thought of pursuit and capture, and feeling almost betrayed by the other foals for leaving her behind Trixie cried out for help, an inarticulate, and properly foalish, wail of despair and fear. But with the occasional crash of thunder and the conversation of the adults her distant and small voice was lost in the environment.
She let her panic give her strength, as her magic lit the dark, cold and rainy night. She dragged her sodden cape through the muddy ground, through the place she knew the campsite had been. She could just see the wheel ruts in the hat-covered glow of her horn. She could have seen it better without the sagging hat, but it was a beautiful thing and she would never give it up, however heavy it became.
The tracks were practically melting as the rain rushed over them and slowly obliterated their trace. But with all the caravans moving in inclement weather they wouldn't be going that fast. Though slowed, she was using all her strength to move in their wake, and it paid off when she heard the calls of the others, and even caught her own name being cried.
“Daj! Here! I am here!” Trixie cried, pouring what dregs of strength she had left into her aching legs to propel her forward faster through the muddy mess she was slogging through.
“Trixie!” Her mother called, a sudden bright light piercing the darkness and cutting through the rain, as her magical force illuminated the sobbing, panting filly, lifted her up and pulled her to the caravan.
Trixie flailed in the air for a bit before she found herself wrapped in her mother's embrace. She pressed in against the large mare's chest and sobbed, neither one caring that mud was mussing and smearing over both of them. “Oh daj... it was terrible... I was left behind...”
“Yes. Moonglow told us...” Trixie's mother said softly. “She will be properly punished. Leaving you, to be captured by gadje or simply lost to us.”
Trixie really thought on the betrayal. The others had never respected her. They ignored her unless they wanted to appear to be in a good position with the Lulamoon clan. Moonglow especially. They had left her, like she was nothing. Abandoned her to save their own skins, after refusing to hear her warning.
She didn't need them. “I'm glad. They're all so terrible to me. I don't need them.”
“Trixie, my darling...” Her mother lifted her chin to look into her eyes. “We are ponies. And more, we are Roa. We need one another.”
“Not me, not if they treat me like this,” Trixie asserted.
“Someday you will see, you cannot live alone,” her mother said gently, hugging Trixie tight.
Trixie hugged her mother, drinking in the warmth and love. But in her mind she was certain and settled.
She didn't need anyone.
- - -
Gilda sen Electra O'Bald, Primus, occupied an enviable position among griffins. As a member of the powerful O'Bald clan she had the highest status in the Kingdom. As a Primus she was the firstborn of her father's first hen, and had the family honor. As the daughter of an ambassador to Equestria, she had a lot of status. And being in Equestria made her the envy of every hen that knew her.
It wasn't an unbearably intolerable existence, being a hen in the Kingdom. It was much, much better in the modern era, especially in the more liberal Duchies. But still, many a hen would have torn out their own crops just for the chance to live in the colorful, pastry-rich, female-slanted delight that Equestria represented.
Gilda had her own reasons for being so enthused about the opportunity her father's job offered. From her youngest days she had known she was different from the usual hen, who would gladly join with other hens all for one guy. She didn't want that, even if her mother tried to put a good face on it. She didn't want to be in a group, and she didn't want a male.
Gilda had been an Egg-Grabber as long as she could remember. She never claimed it, but she was called that a lot. That it was true made it no less annoying. She had some pride in being one, or at least did when she was in Equestria and she could enjoy it.
Being in Equestria afforded the young Gilda a chance to move about freely, especially when off the Griffin Kingdom embassy compound. She found the august and stately building just as stifling and repressive as the Kingdom itself. She took every opportunity to get out, such as being at an elite flight camp among elite Equestrian foals.
Junior Speedsters Flight Camp granted her something she never thought she could have had. A friend. A friend who seemed to be capable of lasting a lifetime. A friend who might even have been more than a friend.
That was why the contact had remained after Junior Speedsters Flight Camp was over. Why she was thrilled to know that Rainbow Dash lived in Cloudsdale, though far away from the sculpted cloud facility that housed the Griffin Embassy. She was thrilled because she could work the relationship, from friendship to more, especially as she grew older.
Grew older. But not matured.
“Gilda O'Bald you mind me, young hen!” In the embassy living quarters Ambassador Aurelio O'Bald was pounding on the cloud floors as he screeched at his daughter.
The teenage Gilda barely mustered the energy to show her contempt for her father, subtly scowling and blowing a puff of air up to move her long, hanging bang feathers from her eyes. “Good luck with that, da. It didn't work before and it sure as scat won't work now.”
Aurelio spluttered in a near-apoplectic fit of anger. “How dare you use words like that, and to your own father?!”
“Screech and squawk, da, they're just words, what's the problem with scat like that?” Gilda asked, giving a smug and defiant grin.
“Your perverse delight in being so improper only tells me I should never have taken you from the Kingdom,” Aurelio hissed, slowly trying to calm himself. He knew she was baiting him. He couldn't let himself rise to it.
“You'd have loved that. But you didn't know what bringing me here would do. Thanks for letting me out, da. It really means a lot,” Gilda said, smugly.
Aurelio seethed. “You... you really need to mind your tongue! You are my daughter, I am your father and I am...”
“An ambassador, a Bald, a bore, and a buaileam sciath... that about covers it,” Gilda snarked, with a smile on her beak.
Aurelio's neck feathers puffed up enormously and her turned a sharp, narrowed eye on his daughter. “Your mother is nothing like this, and your brother is much more agreeable! I'd rather have him as the Primus...”
“Do it, da,” Gilda demanded with a sudden fire. “The High King loves it when you try to shift a Primus, especially when a politician that Equestria knows tries to do it. One of the old ones made it hard to do, even when the Primus is a hen. Now King Padraigh would rather rip off his own dick than get Equestria to notice we're not as advanced as they'd like.”
Aurelio was being led in. His daughter knew how to push every button he had. “You... why can't you be more like Argentum? He knows his place in the world and works to make himself fit there properly!”
“I'm not going to grow a cock just because you want me to be like Arg,” Gilda spat. “You got a hen Primus. Deal with it.”
“Like you want me to 'deal with' you being an Egg Grabber? Oh I know. Your mother knows. I'd be amazed if the Kingdom didn't know!” Aurelio snarled, his eyes narrowing.
Gilda narrowed her own eyes right back. “This bunch of clouds may be the Kingdom but right outside in Equestria no one cares. That's the difference with Filly Foolers. In the Kingdom you say you're an Egg Grabber and every feic and báirseach flies over to tell you off. In Equestria if you call someone a Filly Fooler and they're not, they'll just say so. And if they are they'll agree and show you a picture of them and their wife and their kids, because they all have kids, which is dumb, but they do.”
Aurelio ground his beak and turned away from his daughter with a snort. “Their ways aren't ours and won't ever be. In fact... I don't want you meeting with that Egg Grabber pony. Whatever her name is, the blue one.”
“Her name's Rainbow Dash, da! You could at least remember it,” Gilda demanded.
“She's a terrible influence, destroying your connection to the proper things, making you spiteful and hard-headed and a drunk. You know it's only proper for men to have drop of the craythur,” Aurelio lectured.
“Sure da, Dash is the bad influence on me,” Gilda muttered, rolling her eyes and turned from her father. “Anyway, Dash and I have plans. I won't be home until... whenever. Tell the dorks at the gate not to give me a hard time or I'll make a big scene in front of the Equestrian news cameras.”
“Young lady we are not done here and you will mind me! I forbid you to go out!” Aurelio roared, hitting the cloud floor solidly.
“Whatever, da...” Gilda flippantly remarked, launching herself through the puffy floor and punching a huge hole in the cloud. She streaked down in a tight posture, talons forward, legs back, wings tucked. She gathered more and more speed from her free fall before suddenly opening her wings and pulling up with a slingshot motion, her gravity-assisted downward momentum pivoted by the resistance of her wings.
She winced a little as the gutsy move yanked brutally at the anchors of her wings. But she was a Junior Speedster, she could take it. She was the best of the best and could prove it. She had to keep in shape to keep impressing Dash after all.
She soared over the sculpted cloud homes and numerous cloud pillars of Cloudsdale, using her sharp gaze to scan for Dash. Dash tended to be a bit lazy, which she often called 'interested in conserving energy.' She would nap at any moment. She made up for it be being fast and talented when she had the inclination.
Gilda was scanning the tops of clouds for a blue blob when she was hit from behind by four hooves. She squawked loudly and rolled in her air, talons bared, lion claws unsheathed and beak parted to show her teeth. She was prepared to attack, but held back just long enough to recognize Dash's smug, scat-eating grin. “Dash! What the screech was that?”
“Chillax, Gilda,” Dash said with a dismissive wave of her hoof. “I saw you checking out clouds. I had to show you you wouldn't catch me napping.”
Gilda gave a lopsided grin and chuckled. “Whatever. I found you. We can go out cruising, maybe slobber all over each other for a while, tick my da off.”
“I'll never get that. My pops loves you, mom too,” Dash said with a tilt of her head.
“It's griffin scat. Don't worry about it. Just keep being awesome,” Gilda said with a wave of a talon.
“Being awesome is what I do,” Dash said with a proud off of her chest. “Wanna race? Skies are clear today, nothing new coming outta the weather factory that's gonna be used locally.”
“Sure! I could totally take you, since you haven't had your twenty hours of sleep,” Gilda teased.
“Says someone who is literally half cat,” Dash countered.
“Oh, it's on now, Dash!” Gilda cried.
The two too up a basic hovering posture, wingtips just a hair from touching. They focused on a distant pillar, which looked like as good of a finish line as any.
Before the race could get underway, Dash and Gilda were distracted by a call of, “Check it out! Rainbow Crash and that cat-bird!”
Though Dash scowled at the nickname, Gilda bristled, puffed her neck feathers and flexed her lion claws. “Who said that? What stupid dweeb said that?”
The muscle-headed idiots Hoops and Dumbbell swooped up to Gilda and Dash, giving them mocking looks.
“I said it. You got a problem with that?” Hoops questioned sharply.
“I've gotta problem with your face!” Gilda screeched, shaking a fist at the arrogant stallion. “But I'll be glad to rearrange it for you, no charge!”
“Shut up, cat-bird!” Dumbbell shouted.
“You shut your face-hole, and quit word-vomiting, dorkus!” Dash screamed at Dumbbell.
“That does double for you, ya drúichtín! Dulamoo!” Gilda screeched at Hoops.
Both Hoops and Dumbbell laughed cruelly and pointed at Gilda. Hoops flicked his ears and asked, “What was that? Speak Equestrian, cat-bird!”
Gilda snarled, her talons curling and lion claws flexing. “You... dweebs! Dorks!”
“Yeah! Dweebs!” Dash echoed, quickly flicking a hoof at the two while rapidly circling them.
The pair snorted, some of the wind taken out of their sails bu the clear menace they could feel from Gilda. She seemed a hair from making her objections more than verbal.
“You're not even worth it,” Hoops mumbled lamely as he and Dumbbell flapped quickly away.
“That's right! Cowards! Come back and face me!” Gilda shrieked, turning away in disgust. “Ol' buaileam sciaths, the both...” she muttered, catching sight of Dash's quizzical look. “We going or what, Dash?”
Dash quickly shook her head and grinned. “You bet! Come on, I got just what you wanted...”
Gilda flapped her way into space with Dash and looked aside. “So did you get some good Griffin whiskey? My da has that but he keeps it locked up. Dumb as I may think he is he knows me too well.”
“Well... no,” Dash confessed, scoffing as Gilda shot her a sideways stink-eye. “Come on! I may be awesome and radical and cool, but I'm also just as underage as you. Getting good booze takes more than attitude. Until we get some fake IDs the best I can do is some beer, and it's gonna take serious bits just for that.”
Gilda rolled her eyes and snorted but nodded her head eventually. “Fine, I already traded that scat-pile of shillings da calls an allowance for bits outside the embassy. I've got us covered.”
“H-hey, I get an allowance too! I've got the cost... most of it... we'll use yours if we need it,” Dash said firmly, look moving from wounded to determined.
“Sure Dash, whatever you say,” Gilda said with a grin.
They zipped through the skies, around, over and under the various levels of huge and permanent clouds which formed the great industrial city of Cloudsdale. They challenged each other to short races from one arbitrary mark to another, losing and winning in turn and having a wonderful time of the flight.
Around behind one of the larger cloud processing facilities Dash called for quiet, and began looking shiftily around as she approached a dun-colored pegasus wearing the jumpsuit of a factory worker.
He, too, was looking very shifty as the two females alit beside him. “You're late.”
“I had... stuff...” Dash said, somewhat awkwardly, thinking of the brief encounter with the stallions and the time-eating impromptu races. “You got it, or not?”
The stallion lifted up a burlap bag which rattled lightly. “Got it here. Now... the price is up. Double.”
“Are you bucking with me?!” Dash cried, pulling a bit pouch from her waist. “I got the money that you wanted, and that's it. We had a deal!”
“Look, you want this booze, and you can't get it for yourself. The price goes up now and then,” the stallion noted. “I read it in a book once. It was boring but now I know how to make way, way more money by doing stuff like this.”
“Being a total tool?” Gilda bitterly asked.
“No, doing anything that it takes to make money, and then raising the prices if I think you'll pay it,” the stallion proudly said.
“Let me carve this feic a new scat-hole, Dash! He needs it. The dweeb's completely full of it,” Gilda snarled, holding up her talons to the stallion.
“That's not a very sensible interaction between intelligent whatevers. I, sort of skipped around. Never mind! Fine, then what we agreed plus half,” the stallion insisted.
Dash grumbled, shaking the bit-pouch in her hoof. She finally turned to Gilda and asked, “Can you chip in? You're right about him being a tool but he's got what we want.”
Gilda rolled her eyes and pulled out her own pouch, spilling a few bits into her talons. “This would be so much easier if you just let me punch a hole through his face, dude.”
“That's not how ponies work, Gilda. It's kind of a hassle but it works out in the end,” Dash said, collecting the additional bits into one pile with her own and passing them off. “Now give us the booze and get the buck out of here.”
“All yours. I'll see you later for more. You know you want it,” the stallion said with a smile, passing the bag over and taking off with a nasty laugh.
Gilda spat after him but turned to the bag. “Forget him, dude. Let's get at that stuff.”
Dash opened the bag to reveal bottles of beer, almost all of them without labels. The one which did have a label drew her attention. “Grimalkin's Grog? What the hay is that?”
Gilda grabbed the labeled bottle and fixed it with a piercing, hateful stare. “That scat-barfing bastard! This is Golden-brewed piss, just barely above the nettlebeer pub owners serve to the ones who are too drunk to care!”
Dash regarded the bottles for a moment and stroked her chin. “Will it get us drunk?”
Gilda popped the cap off of two bottles and passed one to Dash. “Oh yeah, dude. Good and drunk.”
After nightfall, when they had choked back enough of the low-grade griffin beer to get a buzz, both of them were looking up at the sky while laying out on clouds. “Th-think we should go home?” Dash asked, speech low and just a little slurred.
“I don't wanna go home...” Gilda huffed after a moment of thought.
“Guess you'll stay at my place again,” Dash said with a suggestive chuckle.
“At least your dad and mom are cool. They hate when they figure out we're smashed but at least they give a flying fling about you... and don't even notice I'm a screeching egg-grabber!” Gilda shrieked, smashing her fists into the cloud on which the two were laying. The thing shattered into puffy peaces, leaving them both drunkenly flapping.
“Now what?” Dash asked.
“Hey...” A devious look crossed Gilda's features, and she chuckled to herself. “Follow me...” She zipped off, cutting a wobbling way while Dash attempted to keep pace, wobbling even more than Gilda.
They eventually ended up over Dash's school, Cloudsdale Cumulostratus High. The grounds were still, dark, silent and empty. The classroom buildings hung in perfect position, the main building stood gray and imposing, and the athletic area stood out, with the cloud stands and field in perfectly sculpted shape.
“What? My school? Ugh, what are we doing here? We gonna... gonna mess with the classrooms? Bust it up a little?” Dash asked.
“Nah... something better than that...” Gilda said, flying over the administration building and lifting her tail up.
Dash watched, in numb surprise and shock, as Gilda defecated onto the cloud building. “Wh-whoa! What are you doing?”
“I thought you said you hated this place! That it was stupid! Made you feel all... closed up!” Gilda screeched, continuing to soil the imposing edifice.
“Well... kinda...” Dash mumbled, sliding her hoof through her mussed mane. “But... come on...”
Gilda started to tear up as her guts churned with cheap beer and her own emotions. “This is what should happen to places like that! Hear that, da?! You keep those stupid guards there but... but this is... is...” Further comment ceased as she added the largely watery contents of her stomach to her violation of the school building.
- - -
Trixie barely looked to be concentrating as she wound a rope sinuously around standing sticks, avoiding them as she wound the line along in a complex set of twists.
The Roani band was resting in the middle of a coniferous forest, not encamped formally but just taking a rest in the shade of the trees. Trixie's family caravan was at the back of the group, and had numerous magical practice areas set up, so that Trixie could work on her technique.
“Most excellent, my chej, you learn well and quickly,” Trixie mother said, with pride in her voice. She strolled over to her daughter and adjusted the mare's stance with soft touches of her hoof. “You use your hat well to hide the action of your horn. It looks more impressive without the glow of magic.”
Trixie grinned smugly and bowed a bit. “Nais tuke, daj. I know where the gadje want to look. When there is nothing there they will be all the more eager to watch what I have wrought!”
“Your skill is growing nicely, and soon you will be polished and perfect,” Trixie's mother noted.
“Ha! There is no need,” Trixie asserted, dropping her concentration and letting the rope fall down lifeless. The roll of the freed rope bumped the loosely-rooted sticks which fell over as they were touched. “I am already excellent. My skill as an entertainer is unrivaled. Even that miserable Moonglow said so.”
“But... but my chej...” Trixie's mother began.
“What? You have said I am powerful. The others already know I am great. What more could I need to work among the gadje on their terms?” Trixie asked.
“There is more to being a success than being powerful and great,” her mother insisted, using her magic to bear away the rope and set up the sticks again. “You must be disciplined, focused, and practiced to a smooth perfection, capable of performing your feats perfectly despite any distraction. And then there is the thought about attitude and presentation...”
“Ha!” Trixie laughed, waving a hoof. “For one as... as... great and powerful as I, Trrrixie Lulamoon, such thoughts are needless. They will watch me with awe and amazement! I know the tricks, I know the secrets, and my attitude will not matter when they stomp their hooves and cheer my name with all their might!”
Trixie's mother regarded her daughter with a mix of pity and distress. “If you act so coldly, and so arrogantly... what will you do my precious chej? Stalk the land of the gadje, be a chovexani casting hexes and darkness to all who dare to say you are not as good as you think?”
“And would you have me stay here? Have me moaning out brigaki djilia, enumerating all our woes as I pitifully perform tricks and beg for bits?” Trixie snorted, with more vehemence than she intended. “Besides, I will always be as good as I say I am. Who could ever surpass my power?”
“There are always others, chej. Always. Even I have that slim sliver of power over you, and all thanks to practice, to patience and polish,” Trixie's mother assured her.
“Who needs polish when I have fireworks?” Trixie asked, using her magic to touch off a small burst of sparkles. “I'll work on the size of the explosions later. The gadje will never know the difference between polish and flash.”
“Please Trixie... work on perfecting your technique,” her mother pleaded, using her magic to effortlessly wind the rope around the sticks.
“I only need to tell a good story and look the part,” Trixie sniffed. “How could I ever lose out to any average unicorn?”
“Baxt may be good or ill,” her mother said ominously. “When the wheel turns you may find you are not on the side of it you believed. It will lift or-”
“Crush. I know,” Trixie said flatly. “But I can beat fortune itself. I will always win, no matter what.”
Trixie's mother sadly regarded her daughter as she turned to a boiling pot of pine cones harvested from the local trees. She watched as Trixie ignored her rope practice and went on to trying to create clouds, like a pegasus. She showed the strain with wrangling with the unfamiliar magic, but gave it her brute force best. She could manage, but would never have the easy naturalness of someone with practiced skill.
She would always be in danger of a fall
“Dash!” Gilda swooped through the skies of Cloudsdale, screeching out Dash's name as she flew. She bulled her way through clouds and bumped pegasi that happened to get in her way, leaving puffy fragments and angry ponies in her wake. “Dash! Come on, quit joshin' me! Where are you?!”
Gilda hit all the places she could think of, within reason. She couldn't zip through to every place, especially not in the daylight. She sought out their usual hangouts and even tried to shake down the guy that sold them beer, but he knew nothing.
She had been grounded for a few weeks, after an incident with underage drinking and making out with three mares, none of whom were Dash. She'd been completely out of contact the whole time and was eager to return to Dash's company.
Her last stop was at Dash's home, an imposing cloud structure like all the rest. Since clouds were easy to build with and effectively free everyone in Cloudsdale could have a place of their design, modified only by the amount of airspace they could buy from the city. Dash's family home was a large, narrow thing with columns that abutted the other similarly sized and styled homes beside it.
Gilda knocked at the door and was confronted a moment later by Dash's father, Spectrum. The imposing stallion typically had a soft and warm look. He had one in the moment between opening the door and seeing who it was. “Hello, Gilda.”
Gilda had never seen such an expression before, not from him. He sometimes looked exasperated by their antics, or even bemused or vaguely understanding. He had never looked so hard and so cold. “Uh, h-hey, Mister Dash. Can, you know, Rainbow come and see me?”
“Rainy doesn't want to see you right now,” Spectrum gruffly intoned.
Gilda tilted her head in her raptorish way. “What? What are you talking about? She always wants to see me.”
“Things change. Sometimes very quickly, and for good reason,” Spectrum noted in a bitter tone.
Gilda did her best not to scoff as she looked aside. “Look... we're best friends. Better than best friends. Can't I just see her for a minute or leave her a message?”
“She left a message for you,” Spectrum said. He passed along a folded sheaf of notebook paper and sighed, his expression growing to one of pity. “Go back home to the embassy, Gilda. I don't... I don't think you'll be hanging around here anymore.” With that he closed the door slowly, but deliberately.
The folded note trembled in Gilda's talons as she considered the words. She quickly unfolded it and read the sloppily scrawled note.
Hey Gilda. You know I'm crap with this emotional junk. It's not me and it's not you. But I have to say something. This... I don't know what this is. But it's not good. I liked having fun with you. Getting into scraps, getting buzzed, fooling around. But it was just fooling around. I realized that when you got in trouble. You weren't making out with me. You never felt committed. I can't keep going like that. I want more than that. I want better. I'm sorry. Please just keep away. -Dash.
Gilda stared at the brief note, feeling as though she had been stabbed in the gut with a talon pike. Dash... she had lost Dash. Through a note.
“S-she just needs some time to cool off...” Gilda mumbled to herself as she blindly flew in the direction of the embassy. “Th-that's all it is. That's all... we'll get together again. Someday. Soon. Someday soon...”
Gilda and Trixie, at separate points in time, regarded themselves in the mirror as they examined what they were, what their attire and looks said about them.
Gilda tore her fancy clothes from her body, shredding the expensive fabric, destroying the oryx-leather straps and brass fittings. She even threw away the clasp that had been securing the cloak around her neck. But with all of that destruction leaving her bare, she still had to look at herself. She couldn't tear off her Bald hide. She was, and would remain, a powerful clan. And however she felt about it, she couldn't do anything about it.
Trixie loaded herself up with color. Spangles, sparkles, glitter and flash. She was out to make an impression, to make herself known. She shone on any stage, while pyrotechnics bust behind her, and clever patter shored up any weakness in her skill. But the one thing she had taken away was her tail ribbon. Her Roani heritage gave her the inclination towards color, sparkle and performance, her family had been important in nurturing her talent, but when the time came to shone, she hid it away, not for her sake, but for the audience.
The two also purchased their own residences. Trixie a flashy performance vardo that could hold all the pyrotechnics that made her performances special and unique when her elementary tricks and fancy patter didn't impress. Gilda bought a run-down house on the edge of a pony town, subconsciously choosing a cheap place that was very evocative of griffin design aesthetic. The only improvement she made was to put in a practice course to work on her moves, rather than making it look nice.
Vardo or home, both would help them pull themselves up to their place in the world. They were absolutely certain. However they stumbled and failed, and however different their experience, they had the same certainty. Nothing would ever keep them down.