Party Favor buried his face in the soft neck fur of his coltfriend. It was warm for some reason. The air he could feel around him, that is. It was assumed, of course, that Double Diamond’s body was warm. But the air being warm must mean that the sun...
“Gah!” Party Favor bolted upright in their bed. “We overslept!”
Double Diamond turned over below him and rubbed his eyes. “Huh?” he mumbled in a groggy state.
Party Favor fought to detangle himself from the sheets as well as his coltfriend. “I told you we shouldn’t have been up so late,” he shoved Double over to free his tail caught beneath.
“Heeeeey,” Double groaned and squinted at the light peeking through the blinds of the bedroom window. “You were the one who started it, you little minx.”
Party shot him a quick glare and ran to the door. “We’ve got ten minutes! The carriage won’t wait!”
Night Glider rubbed her marefriend’s shoulders. They were both in the city square, resting on a plaza bench with the townsfolk around them going about business as usual. Some of the other ponies gave their “Happy Birthday” to Sugar Belle as they went by.
“What could be keeping them?” Sugar’s smile waned. “Party is usually more punctual than this.”
“Bet Double Diamond kept him up,” Night Glider soothed the birthday girl. “We’ve still got a few minutes and you know how Party can show up literally at the last second.”
“They missed breakfast, though,” Sugar frowned.
Night Glider finished her massaging and sat down next to the mare, their hooves touching. “Yeah, I’ll rough ‘em up for it.”
“Nighty,” Sugar scolded.
“Kidding!” the dark mare defended herself.
“Happy Birthday~!” called out the familiar voice of the town’s prize party pony.
Sugar brightened and got out her word before Night did. “You guys slept in, didn’t you?”
Party blushed as they finished walking up to the mares, who got up from the bench. “Maybe?”
“Well, the cinnamon rolls will keep,” she winked at him. “Still, thanks for setting this up. A trip out of town is just what I needed.”
“This is nothing!” Party insisted. “Your birthday will be amazing. I promise! But it’s not like I did a lot. You were the one that set the destination. I don’t even know what that place is.”
“Don’t look at me,” Sugar defended herself when the others passed her their gaze. “It’s a surprise.”
“Considering it’s your birthday, I find that ironic,” Double grinned.
A deep-toned horn sounded off nearby and the four ponies looked around the plaza to see a sleek pony-drawn carriage moving through the thin crowd towards them.
“Our ride is on time,” Party Favor hopped up in cheer, shaking off the last of the morning groggery.
Sugar Belle jolted in her seat in the carriage, though it was not because of her own movement. The carriage ride was bumpy because of their northern direction. Night Glider stretched her wing out to stabilize and comfort the mare.
“Why’d you want to go this way?” Double Diamond asked from his side of the carriage cabin.
Sugar Belle moved her foreleg up to shield from the hearty morning light that was stabbing through the carriage window and glaring into her eyes. Another bump in the jagged road made the task difficult.
“I wanted to do something special for my birthday,” she replied simply. “Spending a day out with my best friends, doing what we would all enjoy. That’s what would be memorable, you know?”
“Which would lead us...?” Double tried to encourage an answer.
Party got to it first. “I do know one thing. There will be snow at some point. Didn’t see me pack your skis, hot stuff?” he nudged his companion playfully from his spot next to him on their cabin bench.
Double’s slight happy-it’s-somepony-else’s-birthday smile turned into a I’m-totally-going-to-shred-snow smile. “Yes!” he cried out in excitement.
Sugar giggled while Night shook her head.
“Adrenaline junky,” the pegasus breathed out.
“That’s funny coming from you,” Double crossed his hooves and frowned.
There was silence for a time, punctuated only by the bumps in the road.
The stallion and mare then began laughing.
“I was afraid for a second that I was going to have to separate you two,” Sugar giggled.
Party favor made a quick dagger-shaped balloon. “These two are as thick as thieves,” he said in a sneaky tone.
“You could hurt somepony with that,” Double leaned back from his coltfriend.
“Like you?” the blue unicorn poked him with the harmless weapon. “Take that. And that!”
“Come on, guys,” Sugar tried to settle down the feisty and energetic Party Favor.
Night Glider’s eyes took on a suggestive gaze as her wing drew in Sugar Belle against her more snugly. “Yeah. You guys do enough roleplay in the bedroom.”
Double Diamond gave Night a dead gaze. “You know I'm used to hearing that from you, right?”
The carriage hit a particularly bad bump and sent the ponies within hurtling against each other. Though no pain had stricken, the group was slow to sort themselves back into their benches. Sugar Belle was sandwiched beneath Double Diamond while Night Glider was sprawled sideways with Party Favor in a way that did not seem physically possible.
“Does that hurt?” Party blew her feathers out of his eyes and smiled like a foal.
“I'm flexible,” Night replied while trying and failing to right her body.
Double crawled onto the mares' bench so he could help get Sugar up. Another jolt from the road almost sent him back to the floor. “What the hay kind of trail are we on?”
“Told you already,” Sugar stated. “Secret.”
“You know,” Party said casually from his pinned position beneath Night Glider, “as soft as your wings are, I just don't think it would work out between us.”
Hearing the stallion's playful giggle just made her mumble a “maybe I should have flown after all.”
Before any more rough riding could give them reason to second guess the trip, the carriage stopped. One of the drivers called back to them that they had arrived. Sugar, being the only one who really knew where they were before opening the door, was the first to it. She scurried out of the cabin with as much enthusiasm as a birthday girl had a right to.
Double Diamond was next to peek out of the cabin, shielding his eyes from the early noon light. His breath caught in his throat, though. He had never imagined that only a few hours ride from their town there existed such a place as this.
Sugar Belle twirled around in the plush grass field that stretched out from the side of the road they were stopped at. A rich forest crowded in on the field and a low series of stone buildings further in the field. Though the air still had a coolness to it that Double Diamond was used to around their town, the bite of it was gone. A temperate climate was in its place.
“What is it?” Party shoved himself around his coltfriend and popped almost literally out of the cabin.
“Fresh Heights,” Night Glider concluded once she too was out of the carriage. “I've been here before, but I didn't know this was our destination.”
“What's Fresh Heights?” Double asked casually as the three of them started walking across the grass to Sugar, who was already running enthusiastically towards the buildings.
“I'd think you would have come here at least once,” Night rose a brow.
“Oh oh oh!” Party interjected. “It's a spa house!”
Night's flinch was telling. “Not quite. But more or less.”
“Why's this place so special?” Party Favor risked the question while watching Sugar skip ahead of them with a curiously high spirit. “I know the different grades of happy and Sugar's is more than just her birthday outing.”
Night Glider kept walking with them rather than hover on her wings. “Sugar knows the owners. They’re kind of old friends.”
“Ooooh,” Party drawled out.
The field was quite large before thinning out to the flowerbed front of the single-story stone buildings. Something about the way the close forest trees cast their shadows on the buildings made it feel cozy and welcoming. Especially in contrast with the warm glow of the morning sun, which still glared on and gave the air a soothing temperature.
Sugar stepped back from the door after knocking. Her happy smile only grew when the door opened. Two ponies came out: one stallion and one mare. Both looked neutral at first, as if expecting a delivery pony, but then brightened as much as Sugar when they saw her.
“Teaspoon!” they both cried, coming out and hugging her.
“It’s been so long!” the mare added.
“Teaspoon?” both Party and Double looked to each other at the same time.
The dark brown mare pulled Sugar into the building without another word and the sky blue stallion nodded the other three in with him. “Come on then. We’ve got to get you all comfortable,” he welcomed in an unusual accent that the stallions didn’t recognized.
The stallion interrupted as they walked through the doorway. “Party Favor. And Double Diamond. I do know. Sugar has mentioned you two in great detail in her letters. Perhaps too much,” he explained with a wink back at them.
“Oh dear,” Party blushed.
“I’m Subtle Stream,” the white-maned stallion greeted as he turned again to face them now that they were inside. “And this is Peace Forest Natural Therapy.”
Double gave a “whoa” of appreciation as he took in the sight. The inside of the building was far more impressive than it looked on the outside. In fact, the ceiling was high enough that he wondered why it looked only like a single-story from the outside. Plants were as present here as they were around the exterior and the near-natural stone walls were covered in what appeared to be deep green moss and vines. A single thick tree trunk grew in the middle of the room, where it stretched beneath the floor and through the roof.
“Knock on wood,” Party giggled as he tapped the trunk.
“Natural therapy?” Double asked and noted the distant sound of the mares talking somewhere in another room. Night Glider headed that way, seemingly familiar with the way of the place.
“Yes,” Stream led them next to a seating lounge on the other side of the trunk. Cushions were laid everywhere and were so soft and thick when the stallions stepped onto them that it made them reconsider using a sofa back home. “This is a place ponies, griffons, or members of any species can find their balance and rid themselves of the dark auras that haunt them.”
“So that’s why Sugar is so cheerful all the time,” Double noted in awe.
“Not quite,” Stream chuckled. “She was already a very optimistic pony when we met as foals.”
“Built into her genes,” Party fell backwards into the plush seat and rolled on it happily.
“And yours,” Stream observed and then turned his attention to Double. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen her, so we were elated when she said she was bringing her friends over for her birthday. Cocoa Dream shouldn’t keep her from us for too much longer. She did have plans, after all.”
“Did you guys add more rooms?” Night Glider asked as she calmly walked back out of a nearby hallway.
“Just for guest sleeping quarters,” Stream responded. “Is Cocoa getting the water?”
Night shrugged as she half-glided into a cushion of her own. “If she and Sugar stop talking about the cake then sure...maybe.”
“Cake?!” Party couldn’t help bouncing up from his seat.
“Here we go,” Night Glider slapped her hoof to her forehead.
Double Diamond looked from one stallion to the other, unsure what to do.
“How about you see to the cake while I get the water out and get them started on the trip supplies,” Stream suggested.
Seeing the host get up, Party followed. “You trust me with a birthday cake?”
“If Sugar trusts you with such things where you live then I see no reason to object here,” Stream replied and led him to the kitchen down the hallway.
Meanwhile Double got up and began following them too, not wanting to be left behind. A glance to Night, who waved him on, told him it was best. When they got to the kitchen, they witnessed the largest flour fight they had ever seen. Both Sugar Belle and Cocoa Dream happily blamed each other for starting it while giggling with ghost white faces.