Noctis wakes up still leaning against the pinto mare, who is wide awake.
"Did you sleep well, little filly?"
"Ready to go home?"
"I... don't know. I kind of like it here with you..."
"That's sweet of you. But a little foal like you isn't ready to live wild. You're too young, too small. I don't want to let you stay and get hurt."
"Tell you what, how about you come back here when you've grown up some and are stronger? We could definitely use the help."
"Good girl. Now hold still while I get you cleaned up. You'll want to look nice on your return."
Noctis stays still as Storm grooms her fur.
"Ready to go?" asks Storm once Noctis is cleaned up.
"Okay... I still wish I could stay though..."
"Shh, don't worry. We'll meet again sometime. But for now, let's get you someplace where you probably won't die."
"Will you need me along?" asks Goldfeather.
"Probably not," replies Storm. "After all, we don't have a very long journey."
"Very well. I'll stay here then. Kind of glad you won't need my help-got a meeting soon."
"Sounds like it all worked out!"
Storm quickly nuzzles Goldfeather, then signals Noctis to come with her.
Travel through the Everfree is uneventful for once, perhaps due to Storm's size. But when the two near the borders of Equestria, Storm halts and turns to go back.
"Why are you leaving?"
"Let's just say I'm not well liked in Equestria."
"But why? You're so nice and so brave..."
"But I'm a wild horse. Most ponies can't see past that."
"Why don't they like wild horses?"
"Because of our different way of life."
"But why would they not like that?"
"Surely you've heard the stories they tell their foals to keep them away from us? The lies about us killing foals and having harem slaves?"
"...Maaybe... But why would they lie about such things?"
"We wild horses do not follow their Harmony culture, and think their way is the only way. So if any culture is different, they lie about it and try to 'convert' those of that culture. Even when those of the other cultures are happy with the way things are."
"That's not right."
"I wish the adults of your culture felt the same way. Unfortunately, they don't. They try to 'convert' us by talking if they can, and if we refuse, they use magic to force us to obey them. And if even that doesn't work, they send us to prisons or, if they are more militant, kill us."
"That's just wrong."
"Yes it is. But now you see why I can't go any closer to Equestria."
"Surely there's another reason than plain speceism..."
"Nope. While I do admit I'm a bounty hunter, and used to have to steal to afford food and shelter, I seldom went to Equestria."
"Why couldn't you afford shelter? And weren't there plants to eat?"
"For your first question: I was banished from my village, and the ponies attacked the wild horses that were raising me- I had to run. As for plants, I wound up out in the arid Badlands- only plants that grow there are covered with thorns."
"Who did you end up having to steal from?"
"Dragons and Diamond Dogs, usually."
"How did you survive..?"
"That's a story for another time, little one. You better get your tail home."
"Good luck, little foal, and may the Great Hawk watch over you," says Storm as she returns to the forest and fades into the shadows.
Noctis runs out of the woods and into the Lunar Guard barracks, full of enthusiasm.
"Noctis, you're alive!" cries Nightshade. "I'm so glad you made it! But why are you so bandaged up? What happened?"
"I met an amazing mare!"
"You did? What was a pony doing in the Everfree?"
"I don't know, but she was amazing! A really pretty pinto, and she was huge- she was almost as tall as Luna! And she saved me- I've never seen anyone so brave or strong! She started a fight with Discord! And-"
Noctis is cut off by Nightshade pressing a hoof against her muzzle.
"How did you get your cutie mark? And how did you survive in the wild?"
Nightshade turns Noctis loose.
"I stayed alive by running and hiding! And I got my cutie mark when I helped my new friend and then beat a manticore!"
"How in Equestria could you beat a manticore?!"
"The pinto I met told me that if you bite off a manticore's stinger, they run away! And she was right!"
"What is the name of the mare you keep mentioning?"
Noctis is about to answer, but then thinks back to what Storm said about the ponies, and decides not to tell all the details.
"Uhh... I never got her name...."
"I see. Well, I better call upon Luna for your guard ceremony."
"You sound disappointed..."
"Oh, it's nothing..."
After a while, Nightshade comes back.
"Luna wishes to see you in the throne room. She has your armor ready."
Noctis gets to her hooves and heads to the throne room.
"You have survived the Everfree," says Luna.
"Yes I have."
"Are you willing to uphold Equestrian Code for as long as you live?"
"Will you do whatever it takes to protect the kingdom, even if it costs you your life?"
"And are you willing to spread Harmony wherever you may go?"
"I'm not sure..."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you mean just being a good pony, or do you mean making everyone follow my path?"
"Why do you ask?"
"It's the former, little Noctis. Just be good. Though I am still curious why you asked such an odd question."
"Uhh, never mind..."
Noctis is getting a little nervous.
"I suppose I'll wait til you want to tell me, if you ever do," says Luna. "But enough on that. Are you ready for the royal armor?"
"Yes! Er, I mean, if you wish it, your Highness..."
Luna levitates some armor onto the young foal.
"This is magicked to grow with you, so you won't need replacement armor unless it breaks. Let us hope that never happens..."
"Because it's expensive, or..."
"Be brave and bold, little Noctis. Do Equestria proud."
The ceremony now over, Noctis returns to the barracks.
"You must be tired," says Nightshade. "Best to get some sleep."
"Maybe just a few more minutes?"
"Very well, but not long."
Noctis looks out the back window at the darkened Everfree.
I've gotten what I wanted- I'm a guard now- but why am I not happy? For some reason, I want to go back out there, back in the wilds and the darkness, and run free. Even though I know I won't live long. Maybe it's just wanderlust... Still, I should probably go see Dr. Bobtail sometime, see if he can help me.