• Published 30th Aug 2013
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A Stranger Among the Voices - Tystarr


The arrival of a strange creature sends ripples through the lives of several inhabitants within Equestria.

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Chapter three: Innocence

Dinky Doo was a big enough girl to admit she just may have made a poor decision to enter the Everfree Forest.

In fairness, it had seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time. Now? Now she was struggling to stay ahead of a nightmarish creature, yet, despite this she steadfastly refused to drop the flower clasped firmly within her mouth. Even in spite of her hooves thundering on the dirt track as she struggled to breathe around her prize, she continue to hold firm. The temptation to drop it and fill her lungs with oxygen was like a siren’s call to her, but she couldn’t. She wouldn’t.

It was, after all, the very reason she was in this spooky forest in the first place.

~~~~~~

It had all started when her mother had accidentally caused a mishap while assisting some pegasi with the weather. Dinky knew it wasn’t her mom’s fault, everyone knew she was just a little clumsy sometimes, but Derpy always meant well. Her mother had then tried to hide from Dinky how she was feeling after the event but it was clear to both Dinky and her big sister that Derpy was upset. Thus the filly made up her mind that she would do something to cheer her mother up; all in all it was a simple desire and conclusion to come to.

Now, however, there was a significant roadblock towards progress and the desired goal. Such as, just what exactly could Dinky get to make her mom smile?

It was this that had spawned the query being voiced towards her big sister while she stayed at Amethyst Star’s house, an everyday occurrence until Derpy finished her shift.

“Sis, what flowers does mom like?” The question posed towards the pink unicorn had caught her off guard. With a tilt of her head, Amethyst in turn offered her little sister a warm smile while in the midst of folding the laundry.

“Oh, mom loves lots of flowers Dinky… why do you ask?” Amethyst moved the folded towels onto the couch with her pink magical aura before turning to give Dinky her undivided attention. “Are you thinking of cheering her up?”

An enthusiastic nod caused an amused giggle to emit from the grown mare while she moved to sit beside her younger sister.

“Mom was really sad yesterday so I want to get something to make her smile.” Dinky gazed up with yellow eyes while her big sister hummed thoughtfully. Amethyst had moved out of home a few years ago and into her own place, but she still looked after Dinky every day after school while their mother finished up work. It was something the young filly enjoyed immensely, the simply pleasure of being able to spend quality time with her sister.

“That’s sweet of you and I am sure mom will appreciate it.” After a little more thought Amethyst gave a small sound of realisation, “Ah! I just remembered the name of her favourite flower.”

Dinky was beside herself with excitement as she almost bounced upon her hooves. Seeing the unanswered question her big sister smiled, and at the same time, ceased any sense of suspense that would be obtained by hiding the information from the overly-excited filly. Even Dinky could see that it had been a close decision.

“Gold-tipped Sapphire Roses.” Amethyst recounted from memory, a small nod following as the name sounded accurate. Dinky gasped and made to run outside only to find her limbs not making contact with the floor, quite possibly due to the fact she was being levitated within her sister’s aura. “Easy little sis, do you even know where you’re going to get them?”

Being settled back onto her hooves resulted in a small pout playing over Dinky’s face at the realisation she had absolutely no idea. With a giggle behind a fore hoof Amethyst lifted a small cream bag from off the dining room table to bring over to her sister. With the strings loosened, two bits were removed from the purse and gently levitated before the filly’s face.

“If you head down to the market, I believe that Daisy got a fresh supply in.” Amethyst’s words were almost not heard by the exuberant Dinky, yet a nod of understanding was given as the filly gently took the bits into her own golden aura.

“Thank you big sis!” Dinky wasted no time in galloping for the door before pausing, a look of guilt flashing over her face, “but I haven’t finished helping you with your chores yet…”

“I’ll be fine Dinky! Off you go, but come straight back okay?”

Dinky gave a firm nod to her sister before she turned and once more darted outside, Amethyst’s amused laughter following her out all the way.

~~~~~~

Trotting slowly away from the market Dinky’s mood was struggling with the substantial blow brought against it mere moments ago. It turned out that Daisy’s supply wasn’t due until tomorrow as there had been a delay, all due to the train bringing them all the way from Vanhoover hitting a snag, or so the mare had said.

It’s not fair… now what will I get mom?

Moving slowly through the village she mulled, she pondered, and she thought on every possible solution to her problem. The option was still available of another gift, but Dinky had her young heart set upon that particular flower; after all Amethyst had said it was her mother’s favourite and that was all she needed to know. Then there was also the problem that she had decided the gift simply must be given today; tomorrow was far too long to wait when her family was concerned.

But… whe-

Dinky’s thoughts were cut off immediately upon noticing just exactly where she had almost passed by. The large tree stood slightly out of place when compared to the other buildings of Ponyville but it was exactly what Dinky needed; and that thing was the town library, or more precisely the librarian within: Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight will know! She must do, she has all those books and she’s really, really smart!

Moving with renewed vigour Dinky trotted over to the door with hope flaring within her chest. About to use her magic to knock she realised her meagre skills were all tied up on holding onto the two coins, as such, she opted to instead use a hoof. Twice knocking, but no more; her mother had taught her proper manners after all.

“Just a second!”

Dinky sat herself upon recognising the voice of Twilight’s assistant, Spike. Seconds later the door was opened revealing the purple and green scaled young dragon who gave a rather surprised reaction to seeing Dinky seated before him. Recovering quickly he looked about almost as if expecting the filly’s mother or big sister to be accompanying her. Upon realising she was on her lonesome he addressed the young unicorn. “Oh, hi Dinky. What can I do for you?”

“Hi Spike!” A pause was given before Dinky tried to peek past him to see inside before returning her attention to the dragon before her. “Is Twilight in? I need to ask her a question, if… if that’s okay?”

Spike seemed to consider Dinky before rubbing the spines upon the back of his head, an apologetic expression passing over his features.

“Eeeh… sorry Dinky, but Twilight is out with the girls. Something to do with Fluttershy’s place and a chimera or some such.” A dismissive hand gesture accompanied his words before noticing the little filly’s sudden downcast look. “Hey, but maybe I can help?”

“Oh! You work in the library too Spike!” Dinky’s mood instantly rose as she perked both ears. “Can you help me find a flower?”

Spike blinked at the request before rubbing under his small snout. His eyes glanced to the side of the path beside Dinky, the filly following his gaze to see a few daffodils sprouting. Almost as if considering something the dragon seemed to change his mind and instead shrugged. “I… uh, well I guess I can. I mean, how hard can it be? Come inside and let’s see what we can do.”

“Yay! Thank you Spike!” Dinky voiced her gratitude before trotting inside with the door gently being closed behind her. “It’s… It’s a… Gold-tipped… Diamond Rose?”

Spike looked back at her before humming and padding over to a particular shelf.

“Do you mean Gold-tipped Sapphire Rose?” He waited for clarification while gazing back, one claw resting on the spine of a thick book. Dinky thought about it for a moment before giving a firm nod of her head.

“Yes! Do you know something about it?” Dinky trotted over while Spike huffed in the midst of tugging the large item down off the shelf. Staggering slightly he balanced the book over his head before gently placing it down, then – with only a momentary pause – started flicking through the pages before settling on one.

“Funnily enough, yeah. I remember seeing it in this book while Twilight was studying different plants for Zecora the other day. Rarity came in and I kind of lost track of-… ah-hah here it is!” With a claw tap he pointed to a picture displaying a particular flower. “It says here it can only be grown in certain areas such as near Vanhoover in the Galloping Gorge, although it does also seem to naturally grow in the Everfree. I wonder who the poor sap is who had to find that out?”

A pause was given before Spike emitted an impressed sounding whistle.

“Wow, would you look at that. Seems to attract-.” Whatever Spike was saying became lost within Dinky’s ears as she found herself now fixated upon one issue.

The Everfree. But mom said to never go there…

Dinky became aware abruptly of the dragon looking at her curiously, almost as if listening in on her inner thoughts.

“Soooo… why are you after this flower anyhow?” Spike’s asked innocently enough, arms folded over his chest. Dinky in response found herself wilting slightly under the dragon’s gaze despite being roughly the same size, nonetheless she still scuffed a hoof shyly while being scrutinised.

“O-Oh… um, well it’s mom’s favourite flower and I wanted to buy one for her to cheer her up… but Daisy is out of them.” Her voice took on a sombre tone which caused Spike’s expression to soften. Walking up to the filly he gave her a reassuring pat on the back before returning the book onto the shelf, albeit with some difficulty.

“Hey, I’m sure Daisy will have more soon.” Spike paused before he looked back at Dinky curiously, his eyes glancing back into the kitchen for a moment. “So, uh is there anything else I can help you with?”

A headshake met his question before Dinky turned for the exit.

“N-No thank you Spike, but thank you for the help you gave.” Dinky made sure to remember her manners before trotting to the door just as Spike walked past to open it for her.

“Hey don’t worry about it Dinky. I hope those flowers come in soon for you.” A smile was added to Spike’s words while Dinky trotted outside. With a wave of her forehoof she turned to continue her journey back to her sister’s place once more lost within her own thoughts.

Well… that didn’t give me the answer, all I know is that they’re hard to grow or they’re in-

Biting her lower lip Dinky found herself mulling over the other location, an absurd but tempting idea beginning to take shape. She had always been told it was both dangerous and that under no uncertain circumstances were she to ever set hoof in there. But… But she would be in and out quick and from what the book said the flower was common so it should be easy to find, in theory. With those thoughts in mind Dinky was soon trotting in the direction of the Everfree, purpose filling her young chest. She would get the flower for her mom and surprise her when she finished work; and, if she timed it right, would be back before her sister suspected anything was amiss.

Besides, Sweetie Belle and her friends have gone in there a few times and they’re okay.

With a broad smile now upon her muzzle at the well-thought-out plan, Dinky cantered past the last few houses on the way to Fluttershy’s home. Taking a detour lest she be discovered, as supposedly that was where Twilight and the others were, she instead slipped down a small side trail before coming to the edge of the dark and foreboding vegetation marking the beginning of the Everfree Forest.

Okay Dinky, this is for mom so gotta be brave!

Taking a deep breath the filly took one tentative hoof step into the shadows provided by the ominous and bleakly oppressive forest. Exhaling at the realisation she wasn’t going to be randomly gobbled up the second she entered Dinky slowly inched her way in, casting one last look back to see if she had been spotted. She was well aware she was breaking the rules with each additional step further in, but the desire to provide something for her mother outweighed the possible repercussions that could follow.

All the same, the forest canopy filled the sky and if not for the light provided by the two bits levitated before her horn, she would have difficulties seeing the muzzle before her face. Unfortunately, the very light that helped her see also had the unfortunate side effect of providing shadows, shadows and silhouettes that preyed upon her young mind. Tendrils seemed to creep over the path trying to snare her in their grasp while glimpses of demonic wings teased the corners of her eyes.

Just shadows… Just shadows...

Twice she had cowered in the bushes thinking she had seen a dragon, or even the bogeymare waiting to eat her; only steadfast determination moved her young legs forward both times, steeling her resolve. That didn’t mean Dinky was not having second thoughts about the whole affair, she would have liked nothing more than to run out of the forest and back to her sister but…

But, she had already come so far!

I can’t even see the entrance anymore!

The thought both thrilled and terrified the filly as she chewed upon her lower lip. Thrilled of course that she had been so brave and gotten so far, terrified for the obvious implication that she could no longer see the way out. Despite all this she pressed on, she had invested too much of her courage by this point that giving up now would feel wasteful, defeatist.

Plus, she was no scaredy-pony!

“I will find those flowers for mom.” Her voice was meant to sound wilful, brave, and confident like the heroes she read about in her books. The forest in reply – or at the very least its inhabitants – didn’t sound remarkably impressed by the bravado, as her declaration was met with a cacophony of various bird sounds, hisses, growls and something far more guttural and primal far in the distance.

Okay… I’m a scaredy-pony!

Swallowing loudly she crept nervously along the path, eyes darting left and right for any threat that may appear, or… or any of the very real monsters that possibly desired to eat her. Eventually however she came across something else entirely, a dim glow emitting through a gap in the trees. Curiosity got the best of the filly as she slinked off the path to peek through the foliage. What she saw caused her eyes to go wide and her heart to skip a beat.

The flowers!

In a clearing where the sun was allowed to pierce the oppressive tree line, sat an impressively large, and remarkably flat-topped rock. Yet the true objects of interest were the scatterings of a particular flower that ringed around the edges, each emitting a golden aura from their sapphire-petal-ringed flower heads. Cautiously Dinky crept out of her hiding place, inching forward along the tall grass as she made her way towards the desired prize.

Now, were she more observant she might have noted the claw marks along the edge of the rock. Then, if she was even more aware of her surroundings she would have noticed that the ambient sounds had ceased to be several seconds ago. However, focused solely upon her objective as she was, Dinky remained unaware of all these facts as she got close enough to inspect a flower. Much to her delight they were even more beautiful than the page images had dared to portray. Almost reverently she used her magic to pluck one from the ground, then, with a small smile of admiration, she moved it to join the two bits that remained in her magical grasp.

“Yay! Mom is going to be so happy!” Dinky eagerly anticipated seeing her mother’s reaction as she turned to leave came instead to a dead halt hearing something approach. That something was undeniably large, possibly monstrous, and sounding positively nightmarish to the filly which led to her immediately hiding within the grass. Three heads soon pulled through the thick vegetation lining the small clearing, all linking back to a shared bestial body that looked to be a conglomeration of three different species. With gigantic lion paws working in tandem with goat hind legs the equally scaled and furred beast made its way towards the lump of granite.

One of the three heads – the dragon to be precise – seemed agitated about something whereas the lion and the goat were yawning as if anticipating rest. Dinky for her part was petrified, wriggling and pushing her small body down against the rock to try and hide within the flowers. Heart pounding, breath stuck in her throat, all Dinky could do was suppress a whimper while severe trembling took hold of her form.

Please don’t eat me, please don’t eat me!

Quivering Dinky hid her head under forelegs while listening to the chimera approach. With a few growls there was the sound of fur and scales scraping against something behind her, most likely signifying a large mass sliding onto the rock to act as a makeshift bed. Silence passed while Dinky was too terrified to even move a muscle, her chest aching while she resisted even the need to breathe in case it brought attention to her hiding location.

I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I promise to never do something like this again! Mommy, big sis, help me!

Tears started to build within the filly’s eyes as nightmare scenarios of her being gobbled up or worse played through her young mind. It wasn’t until a warm breeze played over her ears that she hazarded peeking upwards, a muted squeal becoming caught in her throat immediately after. For as she looked up staring back at her and looking not in the least bit amused was the draconic head of the chimera. Immediately upon noticing the plucked flower a low growl begun as its eyes narrowed, Dinky in response curling tighter into herself.

“S-Sorry…” Eyes darting left and right Dinky timidly took the two bits she had carried all the way and sat them gently down on the grass before her. “I-I can pay for them?”

The response of a loud roar that woke up the two other heads was not the one Dinky was hoping for.

Run!

Deciding on a course of action she bit down on the stem of the flower and turned, transitioning to running as fast as her little legs could take her. Thankfully this proved to be just in time, the dragon’s maw snapping on thin air where once she had stood. With tears starting to impair her vision, the filly ran faster than she ever had in her entire life. Nimbly ducking through the treeline of the clearing, Dinky found herself back on the dirt path yet this posed a new problem. Momentarily disoriented on which way led to the exit and which did not, the answer soon became decided for her when the chimera ripped through the trees emitting a horrific sound of two outraged noises becoming one.

Just run!

Thankfully her body had begun moving her legs while her brain caught up, already galloping down the path as if her life depended on it… which, at that point it very well did. The beast snarled and chased, either angry for the flower being plucked, or simply because it wished to eat her Dinky didn’t know, and she didn’t at that point really care. All she knew was that she had to get away from the scary monster and that was precisely what she was trying to do.

This, ultimately, all led back to where the filly was wholeheartedly regretting the decision that had led her into the Everfree in the first place.

Please don’t eat meeeeeee!

She dared not risk looking behind her as she kept running, young heart thumping madly within her chest as she felt the impact of each hoof on the dirt. Swivelling her ears slightly she gave a whimper of fear at hearing the beast remaining far closer than she preferred. Without thinking she dropped the flower from her mouth, only partially mindful of her hind hoof stomping it into the dirt as she sought help; hoping beyond hope that Zecora or even the princesses would hear her and come to the rescue.

“Help!”

The desperate plea echoed through the trees but failed to bring salvation from above, preferably in the form of her mother but at this point she would have taken Discord and been just as grateful.

“Please! S-Someone help!”

She could now hear the beast’s heads snapping behind her as the distance was closed, each head trying to devour her in one big filly-consuming gulp. She knew she couldn’t run much faster as exhaustion nipped at her hooves, sapping her strength with each hoof-fall. That didn’t stop her; she pushed her body as hard as she could until she caught sight of something, or someone ahead. For a brief second her heart flared with hope she would be saved only to suddenly falter at what she saw.

A creature unlike any she had ever seen before stood on two legs before her on the edge of the path. The creature, presumably female – by the nature of the skirt Dinky’s mind dimly considered – wore filthy and torn-looking clothing along with one arm in a sling or sorts. And while those were all interesting features in and of themselves, and at any other time the filly might have given in to curiosity, being chased by a giant chimera desiring to consume her alleviated a majority of her inquisitive foal-like nature. Unfortunately what the new creature had managed to achieve was cause Dinky to slow down when she slightly misstepped upon having initially sighted it.

It wasn’t much; in fact it might have only cost her half a second all things considered. But, already barely ahead of the beast as it was this disruption that allowed the gap to close just enough the next strike would be within range. And… and, there was precious little she could do about it.

Mommy! Please save me!

The desperate plea from the equally desperate filly was the last thing she managed to think coherently before approaching near the strange biped. Dinky had no way of knowing what would happen, but even her young terrified mind knew the new creature was on first glance a substantially lesser threat than the one currently trying to eat her. Fear tore through her, stuck between one creature and another Dinky didn’t know what to do, so she simply ran as tears flowed from her cheeks. All she could do was beg for her mother or big sister to save her while feeling the bitter unfairness of it all ebb into her thoughts.

She had just wanted to make her mom smile.

That’s all.

Then, as she approached the other monster her world was abruptly and unexpectedly jerked to the side and began tumbling, shaking, and rolling before a loud scream tore through the air; and, most bizarrely, it was not Dinky’s own. Just like that, as soon as the chase had started it now ceased, Dinky finding herself breathing rapidly at what she now bore witness to. Before her stood the chimera, presently munching on and enjoying its meal which led to the conclusion she was presently being consumed.

But… then how am I…?

Her brain was struggling to understand just what had happened before she became aware of something against her back. Two mounds, warm and soft were pushing and retreating against her fur while she watched her own death play out before her. But… that didn’t really make much sense when she thought about it. Her vision blurred with tears, partially from the crippling fear but primarily from the relief as she came to the realisation she wasn’t dead. There was also the fact someone was holding her tight and she could hear muted groans of pain from what, or whoever her rescuer was. She had been saved, but the problem was she had no idea by whom.

I… I…

Dinky’s brain was continuing to have difficulty trying to comprehend just what was going on after her near death experience. That was not even taking into account the terror that had gripped her for the entirety of her ordeal still messing with her perceptions.

Of course, just as she was beginning to relax Dinky realised she wasn’t quite as saved as she first believed.

This isn’t fair!

She could make out the sight of the chimera, now finally aware of where its lunch had gone was beginning to snarl in anger. Yet, at the same time, she felt herself being moved, getting lifted further away from the ground as another soft feminine grunt came from above her. Tilting her head upwards Dinky saw the face of the strange biped wincing in clear pain, struggling to stand steady with one eye half closed. Dinky didn’t even need to see a wound to know the creature was hurt, she could smell the obvious, yet nasty scent of blood mixed in with the other… aromas coming from her saviour.

S-She saved me?

With three pairs of malicious eyes all attached to one beast now staring in Dinky’s direction, she felt the raw screaming terror clasp tighter at her chest. With breathing rate increased she also felt herself start to fall again into panic, the chimera’s bloodcurdling roar only intensifying the young filly’s fear.

Yet… just as the beast was about to pounce a green conflagration erupted against the side of the goat’s head, a bleat of pain issuing before the chimera turned its attention to the assailant. Dinky however found herself unable to see who had diverted the beast’s attention as the biped which held her turned to look down the path. Despite this, she could still hear the chimera’s roars of pain through her stupor, mind still struggling and reeling with what she had just gone through. Nothing was making any sense. Between the tears blurring her vision to the pounding of her heart dominating her hearing, the small filly was completely lost to what was occurring.

A-Am I safe?

The question slowly filtered into Dinky’s mind as she became acutely aware the creature holding her was running, that, and the distinct lack of heavy impacts that would imply they were being chased. As her senses slowly returned, Dinky felt the fear lessen its reign over her once more allowing rationality to catch up and take stock of her situation. Facts included that the sounds of the chimera were retreating further into the distance, she was being carried by the strange bipedal dirty-looking creature, and last but most importantly, she was hopefully being taken back to her family.

Yet… the creature was obviously slowing and it was evident that she had been injured, quite possibly badly, when helping Dinky escape. Gazing down the filly saw that the creature’s pace was faltering, clearly due to the pain of its injuries and yet it continued to carry her. The prickling of fear into her psyche was fuelled by the cruel idea that maybe she was being taken away as prey, but this was dispelled as light was seen down the path and getting closer with each step.

S-She’s hurt and she saved me and I’m thinking she could be mean and that’s not fair to her and…

Stirring within the arm Dinky moved enough to look upwards and caught the gaze of the female – or what she thought was such – carrying her. There was little Dinky could do, she found her voice had failed her so instead she smiled to show her gratitude. The biped blinked with a look of shock on her tired face before looking ahead with determination.

She really is saving me.

With that epiphany the floodgates opened. Dinky felt tears roll down her cheeks as she sniffled, the need to cry too overwhelming. She was safe, she would see her mom and sister and friends again and…

And…

She’s… she’s really really hurt!

Concern pushed her tears aside as they exited the forest, the creature in the process having stumbled and almost fallen. Dinky felt herself being held tighter and in some way she knew it was to protect her lest the biped actually fall. How she knew this she had no idea, but at that moment she was certain that the creature was helping her, would protect her. It felt almost like being around her sister… but the reason why eluded the filly.

“A-Are you okay?” Dinky timidly put the question upwards only to have the biped bite her lower lip and wince, a muffled sound escaping from the tall creature. She could see that her saviour was struggling, she could feel the chest to her back struggle for breath and the smell of blood was strong, too strong for the filly’s nose. Yet the creature uttered something that Dinky couldn’t understand just as the filly caught sight of a house in the distance.

Fluttershy’s cottage!

Dinky’s relief and jubilation was immediately smothered by a cry of horror as the creature staggered again. This time however there was no recovering. She felt herself being held tighter to the biped as they both fell, her eyes closing to avoid seeing the ground which looked like it undoubtedly hurt at the rate it approached. Instead, she felt herself be moved followed by a loud piercing scream painfully filling her ears. Opening her eyes Dinky was released upon her hooves, turning to see the creature who had saved her, who had carried her through the forest with a terrible injury upon its side where it had fallen to protect her; again.

“Are… are you okay? Please be okay!” Dinky said while nervously shifting her weight upon hooves. She saw the blood starting to form around the grass; she saw the creature had fallen upon her injured side to protect her… she saw the creature start to close its eyes. “N-No no no!”

“Help! Somepony please help!” Dinky cried out desperately while taking several steps forward, looking for anyone who may help her. She was undoubtedly still scared but, at that moment, her own problems paled in comparison to that of her rescuer’s. Indecision was causing a conflict, unsure whether to run and get assistance or remain nearby in case something happened.

Be brave!

Taking a deep breath Dinky looked back at the biped before biting her lower lip, her mind soon made up on a course of action. Running as fast as she could, the filly threw caution to the wind to get to Fluttershy’s home as fast as she possibly could. Dashing up the path she beat her hooves on the door, manners forgotten in her time of need.

Fluttershy is good with animals, please be home. Please be home!

“Miss Fluttershy! I need your help!” Several seconds passed and only silence was her answer. Considering whether to knock again, Dinky was caught off guard by a familiar voice accompanied by several sets of hooves.

“Dinky! There you are!” Amethyst paused to catch her breath while Dinky turned and galloped to her big sister. With a rub of her muzzle affectionately under the older unicorn’s chin, she was rewarded with a similar gesture in return before Amethyst took on a stern tone. “Where have you been? I was worried sick!”

Dinky wilted at her sister’s words, ears flattening before she noticed Amethyst wasn’t alone. Two other ponies were looking relieved, one in particular giving a long exhale before reaching up with a hoof to adjust the Stetson hat she wore.

“Well ain’t that a relief.” Applejack shared a grin with the tall red stallion beside her. The large pony in turn moved a stalk of grass slowly from one side of his mouth to the other before giving his heartfelt thoughts on the issue.

“Eeyup.”

“Spike said you were asking about the flower. He also mentioned you heard it grew in the Everfree and was a little concerned.” Amethyst paused before exhaling loudly, nuzzling her little sister again for good measure. “But you know better than to go in there, thankfully.”

Several seconds passed as Dinky fidgeted slightly, her lack of response causing a wary expression to filter upon the older unicorn’s face. Looking up sheepishly, Dinky was met with a disapproving gaze from Amethyst that made the small filly wilt even further.

“I-I’m sorry! I wanted to get mom the flowers so bad so I snuck in and I went into the forest and it was really scary but I found them in the end and then a chimera found me and I got chased an-“ Dinky’s attempt to explain everything within two seconds and one breath were cut short as a realisation caught up with her. “She’s hurt and needs help!”

A look of bafflement slowly came across the other three ponies before a loud scream interrupted any questions that might have been put forward.

“Help! It’s the Foal-Hunter!”

The female scream continued until a pink mare with blonde mane went past in a blur of motion, the sound trailing after into the distance. Dinky could only feel terror fill her at the noise. Not for herself, but for the wounded saviour that had assisted her.

“Now what in tarnation has Lily so spooked this time?” Applejack said with a perplexed look upon her face. Dinky however knew the direction that the mare had run from, she knew what was currently helpless in that direction.

“P-Please she needs help and she’s hurt bad!” Dinky repeated herself while leading the way, Amethyst trailing behind. All the while her big sister’s questions were ignored as nightmare scenarios played out within the filly’s head.

I shouldn’t have left her alone! What if the Foal-Hunter gets her?!

Ignoring her own exhaustion, Dinky led the others back to where the biped had collapsed. Much to her shock however the creature was no longer alone, several ponies now gathered about looking anxious around its prone body. Most were trembling, two in particular were holding each other while one – for reasons Dinky couldn’t fathom – looked about ready to poke the biped with a stick.

It was this group of ponies, upon sighting Applejack and Big Mac approach, turned to them for guidance. Then, much to Dinky’s confusion, they all started speaking at once.

“Applejack, you’ve got to do something!”

“Big Mac, save me from this beast!”

“It’s the Foal-Hunter! What’s it doing in Ponyville?!”

“It’s come to eat our foals!”

“I hear it breathes fire!”

“I hear it can fly!”

“I hear it has a poisonous bite!”

“We’re doomed! DOOOOOOMED!”

Dinky, upon hearing all this couldn’t help but feel anxiety continue to surge within. If the monster could do all those things then the one who rescued her was in even more danger than she thought. However, for some perplexing reason, when she tried to approach the unconscious creature she found herself restrained by her big sister’s magic.

“Dinky! What do you think you’re doing?” Amethyst’s words only served to confuse Dinky further. To the filly it was obvious what she was trying to do. She had to help get the creature to safety before the Foal-Hunter came and hurt her more. Ignoring the conversations going on behind her she gazed up at her sister, her expression matching the confusion warring within.

“She saved me!” A small hoof stomp was given before she tried to wriggle free from the magic keeping her in place. “A-And if the Foal-Hunter is here I need to get her to safety! She’s hurt! Please big sis!”

It was then that Dinky became very aware silence had fallen over the gathering, eyes now looking at her curiously. One of the mares, Starlight, who had been panicking just previous took a cautious step away from the biped to bend down, meeting Dinky’s gaze with her own.

“S-Sweetie… That IS the Foal-Hunter.”

The words refused to make sense in Dinky’s mind. No matter how she looked at it nothing about them seemed to add up. Why were they saying that the creature that saved her was a monster, a monster which breathed fire and ate foals?

B-But… she saved me… and she hurt herself to do so.

Dinky didn’t even realise the magic restraining her had been released as she struggled with the new information. It had been up until that point a simple equation in her head. The creature saved her from the chimera, the creature got hurt, the creature needed to be made better and then thanked. Now with the added implication that the very creature that saved her was something that spooked all the adults, well, that muddied the waters immensely.

“Dinky!”

The loud cry from above barely gave the owner of the name time to glance up before she was swept into two grey-furred forelegs. Having found herself held protectively and warmly, Dinky gazed up to see tear filled eyes gazing down at her. Well, one was gazing at her, the other was looking slightly elsewhere, but regardless it filled the filly with relief as she snuggled closer.

“Mom!” In her mother’s embrace Dinky was utterly safe and nothing could harm her. That, that was the one truth she always knew and could take solace in.

“Well, shoot. We can’t just let the critter lie there and bleed.” Applejack’s voice brought Dinky back to the present as she blinked, wriggling within Derpy’s embrace to try and see what was going on. Her mother was reluctant to let her go while Applejack attempted to initiate some form of order.

“But it’s the Foal-Hunter; we can’t let it loose in Ponyville!” The owner of the voice was impossible for Dinky to place, but she could see several nods assenting as if the simple sentence proved everything. Everyone seemed to give the body distance, wary at any moment the biped may leap up and attack them.

“Well I sure as sure ain’t gonna let it just lay here in that state and y’all should be ashamed of yourselves for think’n it. Don’t y’all remember about Zecora an’ the fuss that caused?” Applejack frowned before turning her attention at Derpy as the only pegasus nearby. To Dinky it looked like the farm pony was going to ask her mother something before thinking better of it and instead gazing at Amethyst instead.

“Amethyst, I need ya to go get a doctor from town pronto.” Applejack snorted softly from her nostrils as Dinky noted the other gathered ponies barely holding themselves together. “I can’t ask any of the others to do it, and Big Mac and I need to stay here in case anythin’ happens.”

Amethyst looked uneasy as she gazed at Dinky and her mother before looking back at the downed creature.

“But… if it is the Foal-Hunter, what sh-“ Her question was cut off by as Applejack stomped a hoof softly onto the ground.

“Look, I promise me an’ Big Mac here will keep everypony safe. But yer the only one hold’n it together that I can ask.” The mare’s words finally pushed Amethyst into action as the unicorn nodded to her family and then took off at a gallop, vaguely following Lily’s fading scream in the distance.

“I was so worried when I heard you might have gone into the Everfree.” Dinky blinked upwards as her mother spoke, pulled away from the other conversation. Her ears flicked once in a vain attempt to listen in before flattening as guilt slammed into her again. “You know it’s dangerous!”

“I-I was trying to… I was going to-“ Before the filly could formulate an answer – not that anything was forthcoming to alleviate how bad she felt for disobeying her mother and sister – Derpy moved to slide Dinky upon her back prior to spreading her wings.

“Shh, it’s okay. I didn’t mean to yell I was just so worried.” A tilt of Derpy’s neck allowed her muzzle to gently rub against Dinky’s own before the pegasus continued, “let’s go home and you can tell me all about it.”

The idea was tempting. To be safe, happy and warm back with her family. But…

“M-Mom, I really think th-…” Dinky begun only to be cut off as her mother gave a warm reassuring smile.

“It’s okay… Mommy is here now and I won’t let anything happen to you.” Derpy’s words which would normally soothe Dinky only worked towards annoying the filly further. Casting a glance at the assembled adults around the body, Dinky could feel the frustration blossom within. The feeling was only amplified when Big Mac gave a nod and gently nudged the creature onto its side with a hoof, Applejack wrinkling her nose at the sight of the injury as she examined it.

They’re not listening… they’re going to hurt her!

“Moooom! I really thi-…”

Once again Dinky was cut off as Derpy started to trot away, taking her further from the injured and unconscious biped.

“You’ve been so brave sweetie, but Applejack and the others can handle it no-…” As Dinky saw her mother about to flap her wings she felt something inside her snap. What came next surprised everyone, no-one more so than her own mother.

“STOP!”

Blinking the tears from her eyes, Dinky slipped off her stunned mother’s back to slam her front hooves onto the ground. The action was meant to symbolise her anger but all it managed to do was look cute. Regardless, her earlier shout had gotten the undivided attention of the others and that’s all she wanted.

“You’re hurting her! She helped me and no-one believes me!” Dinky shrugged off Derpy’s attempt to tug her in with a wing, instead galloping over to the downed biped. Sounds of alarm filled her ears before Dinky rested small hooves onto the uninjured shoulder, a loud sniffle following the action. “Leave her alone! She’s not mean! She… she helped me… she saved me.”

Tears rolled down Dinky’s cheeks as she slipped off to rest all four hooves on the grass, feeling the enormity of the words she was about to speak, of having to admit the guilt she felt.

“S-She saved me… and she’s hurt bad… a-and it’s… It’s all my fault!”

Slowly soft feathers slipped around her, but this time Dinky allowed herself to be embraced. Resting close to her mother’s side she sobbed gently, the events of the day catching up to her in a landslide of emotion. Burying her face into her mother’s fur she heard the soft soothing voice slip into her ears while she wailed.

I caused this!

Several long seconds passed before a voice cut through the din, the sound causing Dinky to sniff twice before looking past the feathers at the source of the voice.

“Now Dinky, we all ain’t disbelieving what you said.” A soft smile was given by Applejack as Dinky rubbed at her eyes to clear the tears.

“R-Really? You believe me?” Dinky’s voice was hesitant as she caught sight of Applejack scrunch her nose up for the barest of seconds before a larger smile crossed over the mare’s muzzle.

“Well shucks, you seem to be pretty darn earnest about the whole thing.” Adjusting her hat the earth pony gazed over at the downed Foal-Hunter before exhaling. “But we can’t do much until the doctor arrives. I aint never seen anythin’ like this here critter before.”

“Dooomed! Dooooooomed I tells ya!”

Applejack pushed a hoof to her muzzle before turning, “and can y’all jus’ keep it ta’gether at least until the doctor arrives?”

“Dinky… we really should get home.” Derpy’s voice pulled the filly’s attention away from the pandemonium growing before her to instead look up. Gazing back down the concerned visage of her mother filled her vision. “It isn’t safe here.”

Dinky however, was having none of it. Her head shook in a determined manner before standing steadfast.

“No! I am not leaving until I get to thank her for what she did!” Despite the outward bravado Dinky was quivering on the inside. She had never so firmly gone against her mother’s wishes before.

But… at the same time I’m not! I’m so confused…

“Heh, well can’t fault yer determination there Dinky but you an’ your mom best keep your distance anyhow.” Applejack gazed at Big Mac who gave a small chuckle, a nod showing his agreement with his sister’s comment. “Now where’d you learn such manners from anyhow?”

Dinky blinked before she felt her cheeks burn. Shyly pushing against her mother’s wing, the filly scuffed a front hoof bashfully.

“I… I learnt them from my mom; she always said to thank ponies when they did something nice.” Gazing over at the biped, Dinky chewed upon her lower lip. “W-Will she be okay?”

Unbeknownst to her, Derpy was blinking as tears built in her eyes. The wing embracing her slipped in closer while the mare digested what she had just heard from her daughter. Applejack meanwhile clucked her tongue before gazing back at the unconscious form lying on the grass. Thankfully by this point the others had calmed down enough. Now, the question of was it due to what had been said or the fact one stallion was currently wriggling on the ground hogtied and a rope about his muzzle, Dinky couldn’t say.

“Well, I ain’t a doctor and Fluttershy is out with the others or I’d get her to help…” Applejack sighed while Big Mac returned to gently rest a hoof upon the Foal-Hunter’s chest, pinning her to the ground. Dinky pulled forward, her mouth open to about protesting when the mare continued. “Big Mac is jus’ holding her down for her an’ our safety.”

A pause was given as Dinky reluctantly nodded, but she didn’t like it one bit. Seeing this was the clearly the displayed on the filly’s face, Applejack sighed and gazed at her brother who cleared his throat.

“Don’t want her harming no-pony.” A pause was given as Big Mac shared a small nod with his sister. “An’ don’t want her harming herself more none either.”

I-I guess that makes sense.

Dinky gave another reluctant nod as her mother gently nuzzled against her cheek. Blinking in surprise she gazed up and returned the gesture before a soft sigh left Derpy’s mouth.

“When did you get so grown up?” The words confused Dinky before she gave a small smile in response to the wary one directed down from her mother. “But… But at the first sign of trouble, we are leaving, okay?”

Dinky could only nod yet again. She continued to feel bad for disobeying her mom and sister and then yelling of all things, but… But she couldn’t just leave; she had to make sure the Foal-Hunter, if that was indeed what it was, was okay. It still confused her why something that everyone said ate foals would help her, would take her back towards Ponyville. That small fact alone was all Dinky needed to steel her resolve that the creature was nice, plus she had been protected by it twice no less; that last part was also somewhat important.

However any further conversation and discussion was cut short as a voice called out.

“There it is!”

Dinky looked over to see her big sister leading Doctor Carehoof and Nurse Redheart over towards them, the latter carrying a large white box via handle in her mouth. The filly also noted both Applejack and Big Mac deferred to the two new arrivals instantly, the doctor trotting closer as his horn lit up.

“Big Mac, can you please step aside?” Big Mac gazed at his sister before the two shared a silent nod, his hoof lifting off the Foal-Hunter’s chest prior to him moving back. Both he and Applejack remained close by while Nurse Redheart put down her container, flipping it open with her nose to show various odds and ends. The syringe in particular made Dinky nervously lean further into her mother.

By Celestia, she hated needles.

“I see multiple bruises, lacerations but what concerns me most of all is that shoulder injury.” A soft tsk escaped Carehoof as he levitated the Foal-Hunter up slightly before becoming satisfied and lowering her down. “However, I see no bite or claw wounds. Why was I told about a chimera?”

Amethyst, who had returned to stand beside Derpy and Dinky looked about ready to explain herself, well, when she was done regaining her breath.

“It… It was chasing me.” Dinky admitted, her ears folding down as she felt the guilt build again that it was her fault everything had happened. Doctor Carehoof however looked slightly perplexed before frowning at the biped with new suspicion.

“This creature did?”

“No!” Dinky shook her head before swallowing, tears threatening to spill from her eyes at everyone thinking the worst of the biped. “She saved me from it!”

The doctor looked ready to ask another question before Dinky clenched her eyes shut. She had to say everything; she had to get it all off her chest and into the open!

“I-I took a flower for mom in the Everfree Forest and the chimera didn’t like that. So… So it chased me and I was really scared and it wanted to eat me.” The wing tugged Dinky closer as she continued, the Doctor looking ready to interrupt but she wasn’t finished. “T-Then all of a sudden I saw her and she saved me from the chimera and used fire or something to distract it then… then she got really hurt and carried me to safety.”

A pause was given as Dinky sniffled.

“T-Then she collapsed here and I went to get help. Please help her, she didn’t do anything bad!”

Now everyone knows I did something really horrible…

Amazingly she felt herself be nuzzled softly by both her sister and mother, confused why they weren’t angry she instead raised herself up to return the love shown to her.

“Intriguing, it outran a chimera? Exhaustion would possibly have led to the collapse then along with the injury taking its toll.” Doctor Carehoof seemed to be mumbling under his breath before he gazed at the nurse. “First, we need to address that wound.”

Dinky watched as a roll of bandages was offered and gripped within the doctor’s bronze aura, quickly used to bind the nasty shoulder injury.

“Doc, do ya really think this ‘ere critter could actually be the Foal-Hunter?” Applejack’s voice was trying to be quiet but Dinky heard anyhow, her ears perking as she watched the Doctor spare a glance at the mare.

“Truth be told Miss Applejack, I have no idea what I am doing here. I have never seen a creature like this in my life, but I will do the best I can.” Brows furrowed as the stallion tightened the linen prior to emitting a long sigh. “And, quite frankly asking me based off what I have seen in the past several seconds, I in no way can give you an accurate answer. Once we get back to the hospital we’ll be able to take an in-depth look but for now? In its current state? Unless it is hiding some incredible magic potential from us I have no doubt a foal would clearly be the victor were it to try anything.”

Dinky could almost feel her mother and sister relax at his words, but she herself felt no relief while watching the doctor examine and fuss over the bandage he had applied. Whatever he did however seemed to cause a reaction from the Foal-Hunter as she winced and mumbled something incoherently. Instantly the assembled ponies went onto edge, a few mares quivered while the previously outspoken stallion tried to wriggle away on the ground. Failing that he opted to instead roll rather awkwardly away from the group and towards the village.

“Big Macintosh, if you could, please?”

“Eeyup.” Big Mac obliged, moving a forehoof back onto the creature’s chest as the doctor talked to the nurse. Procuring a syringe – which Dinky kept a cautious eye on in case it came anywhere near her – Doctor Carehoof slowly approached the biped.

“I need to administer an anaesthetic for when we transport it back to the hospital.” A furrow played over the unicorn’s face as he checked the dosage. “Given her size I am approximating the level given to be around that of a Diamond Dog, but…”

A gaze was given to those assembled before he observed over the Foal-Hunter once more.

“But, I have no real idea if it is a suitable amount or not. So I need it to be restrained in case it wakes or causes a negative reaction. Starlight, Applejack, Amethyst Star, could you all please help Big Macintosh in restraining her. Starlight, I need you to hold down the right shoulder. Applejack and Amethyst, can you take care of the legs?”

“Gotcha Doc.” Applejack immediately pressed down on one leg, Amethyst reluctantly trotting forward slightly to use her magic and restrain the other. Starlight moved far more hesitantly and pressed on the right shoulder, her eyes quivering with barely withheld terror.

“Now, I don’t see any horns, sharp claws, or stinger on her.” A nod to the ponies was given as Doctor Carehoof approached, lowering the syringe near the left arm. “I would recommend staying away from her muzzle though, in case she bites.”

“What?!” Starlight pulled off the shoulder immediately, eyes gazing down at the Foal-Hunter’s face as if it were the visage of Nightmare Moon herself.

“Starlight, please, it is merely a precaution tha-…” The doctor never got to finish what he said as all of a sudden the creature uttered something. Whatever it was caused the collected ponies – Dinky included – to gasp in shock. Starlight immediately pushed her hooves gently upon the right shoulder, but not before making her views known.

“I don’t want to die!”

“Miss Starlight, please! You’re perfectly fine, she can’t move!” Indeed, even as the doctor spoke Dinky could see his aura moving over the Foal-Hunter’s wrists and ankles holding them to the grass.

I-I hope she’s okay…

Then, without warning, the biped’s eyes opened and she tried to sit up. Another word was uttered, Dinky unable to understand the context, and from that point things escalated rapidly.

“Everypony don’t panic! She can’t move!” Doctor Carehoof attempted to calm down the ponies; Amethyst and Starlight in particular, as the others gathered around were too far gone by that point for words alone to assist. Dinky, strangely enough, was impressed that one of the mares had managed to climb a tree in the scant few seconds she hadn’t been paying attention.

By this point the Foal-Hunter was struggling openly, gritting her teeth and grunting as she fought against those holding her down. Dinky felt her insides turn to ice as she saw how frightened her saviour looked, how she fought against being restrained.

“You’re scaring her!” Dinky couldn’t hold back as she shouted but a wing quickly held her back from interfering, Derpy not wishing to allow her daughter to be in any danger. “Stop hurting her!”

Ignoring Dinky, or simply unable to hear her over the commotion as at that point the Foal-Hunter was screaming, Doctor Carehoof pushed the needle into the creature’s skin. Immediately the biped thrashed harder, blood starting to well up under the freshly applied bandage on her left shoulder.

“Please stop struggling! You’re only making your injuries worse!”

The doctor’s attempts were for naught as the Foal-Hunter moved her head to spy the syringe entering her skin, crying out in a fearful tone of voice even if the words themselves were gibberish. Undeterred, the unicorn continued to empty the contents and was finally rewarded with the creature slowing and finally ceasing its movements.

All the while Dinky shifted nervously on her hooves, desperate to go out and stop what they were doing. She knew they said they were holding her down to stop her injuring herself further, but it was so hard! It was even worse when the Foal-Hunter rolled her head to the side and gazed right at her before renewing her struggling.

S-She looks so scared!

“That’s it, just a little longer.” True to Carehoof’s word, soon the thrashing stopped as the anaesthetic did its job. Much to Dinky’s surprise though, everyone assembled had a look of bitterness on their faces as silence fell over the plains. “Looks like it worked.”

No… they look… guilty?

Dinky struggled to understand what she was seeing as Applejack tugged her hat over her eyes, refusing to look down at the biped as she trotted back. Amethyst, removing her own magical binds moved back over to Derpy shortly after, rubbing her muzzle against the pegasus’s own.

Is… Is sis… crying?

“Sis?” Dinky trotted slightly forward only to meet her sister’s muzzle as Amethyst gave a small smile, shaking her head.

“I’m okay Dinky… don’t worry.” Despite her sister’s words, Dinky frowned a little unconvinced. It was when the doctor asked Big Mac to carry the Foal-Hunter while applying fresh bandages to the shoulder that she saw why.

Tears glistened down the biped’s cheeks, catching the light as she was carefully levitated up onto the large stallion’s back.

S-She was crying?

Dinky felt horrible at that realisation but she didn’t have long to dwell on it as she noticed that Big Mac, Applejack, Doctor Carehoof and Nurse Redheart were all trotting towards Ponyville. Taking a step forward she felt her mother’s wing tug her back, but this time she would not be dissuaded. Much to her mother and sister’s surprise she trotted forward after only to feel herself be suddenly pulled back.

“No!” Derpy and Amethyst both blinked at Dinky’s outburst as the filly slammed both hooves on the ground, straining to pull herself forward. “She was sad and scared and that’s not right!”

“Sweetie… I…” Derpy struggled over the words before Dinky felt herself being released from the grip and instead slipped onto her mother’s back.

H-Huh?

“Mom… I don’t think you’re going to convince sis otherwise.” Amethyst’s tired voice caused Dinky to stare at her sister, the unicorn smiling slightly as she nuzzled affectionately. “She’s made up her mind and I think she’ll be okay.”

“But… I…” Derpy paused before looking over her shoulder. With a small uncertain smile given by Dinky, the mare exhaled and closed her eyes. “Okay…”

Okay? Okay!

“Thank you mom!” With an exuberant cry from the filly they were soon following behind on the way to the hospital.

~~~~~~

Dinky felt her jaw almost crack at the yawn that fought to be released. So far all the excitement of the day had passed and now the waiting begun. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing but now all she could do was wait, and wait and then wait some more. She had to admit though, the rhythmic beeping from the device on the small table was beginning to grow very irritating.

Stupid beepy thing.

After arriving at the hospital there had been a lot of talking between the adults and the doctor, most of which Dinky didn’t really pay much attention to. Whatever the outcome of the conversation was, it then led to Applejack excusing herself to go see Twilight Sparkle for some reason while Big Mac headed back to the farm. Not long afterwards her own big sis had headed off which left Dinky and her mom.

Doctor Carehoof initially had tried to convince Dinky to go home and while her mother was all for it she herself steadfastly refused. Derpy had tried to apologize but it had been dismissed with good grace, Dinky getting permission to remain. The Foal-Hunter – which she still found hard to believe was its name – had been taken into a room and cleaned, then treated. Eventually the doctor and a few nurses had left allowing Dinky access while her mom stood outside the door, vigilant and peeking inside periodically.

And now… waiting.

Dinky rested on the floor while fighting back another yawn. So far she had been waiting for at least two hours, possibly three before she stopped asking her mom how long it had been. Twice Nurse Redheart had checked in, and she had even seen Twilight visit briefly before wandering off with the biped’s clothing for… Well, she didn’t really know exactly why Twilight had done that but there had to be a good reason.

Dinky had even been asked a few questions from the mare, primarily about the initial appearance of the Foal-Hunter, the fire that distracted the chimera and how the biped had then carried her to safety. The last part had been met with Twilight looking thoughtful, which, come to think of it had led to when the clothing had been taken.

I wonder why?

Dinky yawned again finding it hard to stay focused on a particular train of thought. Looking up at the bed she saw that the creature had yet to awaken, just like the last ninety two times she had checked.

Not that she was counting.

I hope she is okay…

Resting her chin upon folded forelegs, Dinky felt her eyes close after taking another brief glimpse upwards bringing the total to ninety three. Under the sheets she knew that the Foal-Hunter’s hands were restrained while her ‘feet’ as the doctor had called them, were similarly tied down. Slowly but surely the filly felt her eyelids droop until she wriggled to get a little more comfortable. The temptation to nap was strong, especially after the day she had. But just as she was surrendering to the option a sound came from the bed.

What?

The quietly spoken voice – despite not understanding a single thing said – sounded nervous, scared, and desperate even to Dinky’s ears. Sitting upright the filly rubbed her eyes with a foreleg to banish the tiredness away pondering on just what exactly she had heard. It was then, as she looked up, that she saw two green eyes gazing down over the edge of the bed and the bit dropped.

She’s awake!

“A-Are you okay?” Dinky felt a mix of nervousness and excitement, the two emotions battling within her stomach. Suddenly recalling that she was to alert the nurse when the Foal-Hunter awoke she gave a little startled cry. Cantering quickly to the doorway she found her mother with a surprised expression awaiting her. Nurse Redheart sat nearby, the two probably talking until Dinky had interrupted them.

“She’s awake! She’s awake!” Barely able to contain herself, Dinky bounced upon her hooves while the two adults shared a look. Anxiousness passed over Derpy’s face as she peered into the room with Dinky before looking at the nurse.

“I guess that’s my cue to go in.” Nurse Redheart took a deep breath before releasing the oxygen. Shifting onto all fours the mare gave a warm smile at both Dinky and her mother before trotting inside. Dinky, watching from the doorway observed the nurse make a few steps inside before the Foal-Hunter screamed something out, the mare momentarily pausing. Struggling accompanied the bizarre language while Redheart gathered her courage.

“P-Please calm down miss. I… I just want to check to see if the healing magic is holding.” At the nurse’s words Dinky observed the Foal-Hunter struggle with renewed vigour against her binds. Thankfully this only lasted a few seconds before she relaxed and lay still, staring at the ceiling shortly after. Taking the opportunity presented, Nurse Redheart cautiously approached the side of the bed. Alarmingly a soft sniffle caught Dinky’s ears as the biped rolled her head to meet the nurse’s gaze. The filly couldn’t be sure from where she stood, but she could see and hear the nurse’s reaction.

“Shhh, it’s okay. I won’t harm you I promise.” Raising a foreleg the nurse was met with the Foal-Hunter flinching. Seeming to rethink her approach Redheart instead moved her head forward and bit the sheet, tugging it slowly back to reveal the body underneath. Checking the bandages the nurse seemed satisfied, tugging the blanket back up to cover.

“See? You’re okay… your wounds are healing but we will need to look at the shoulder some.” A pause was given by the mare before the biped looked at the ceiling again, seemingly ignoring her. “And… And… You can’t understand me can you?”

Watching this Dinky came to a decision. The creature looked so sad, so miserable in the bed that there was only one thing she could do. As Redheart and her mother talked, presumably about the revelation that the Foal-Hunter couldn’t understand them, Dinky put her plan into motion. Creeping carefully across the floor the filly made her way to the left side of the bed while listening in what was being discussed.

“So… How… How is the, you know?”

“The healing seems to have worked better than expected, although the shoulder still worries me.”

“Um… Do… Do you think what the others were saying is true? That… That she eats foals?”

“I… had my doubts initially but… But seeing her like this, I can’t really imagine her doing something like that. That’s not even getting into the fact I can’t see how she would, biologically wise.”

“Well… Dinky seems adamant that she saved her and-… Wait, where is…?”

Gazing upwards Dinky noted that the bed was higher than she was used to, but, but she was determined and nothing would stop her now! Of course it was at that point her mother finally noticed she was missing, which to be honest was far longer than Dinky suspected it would have been.

“Dinky?! Dinky where are y-…” A pause was given as Derpy finally noticed where her daughter had strayed to. “Dinky! Get away from there!”

Hunkering down Dinky pushed off with her hind legs and managed to scramble up onto the bed with a little difficulty. The Foal-Hunter seemed to also note her presence, rolling her head to look directly at the filly, the green eyes shimmering with nervousness which steeled Dinky’s resolve.

You can do this!

Creeping forward she tried to ignore the sounds of her mother reacting, although the Foal-Hunter seemed to be distracted by this turning her attention skywards before eyes went wide with fright. Biting her lower lip Dinky closed the distance, leaning forward hesitantly all the while. She had to thank the creature for saving her, but also she saw that the Foal-Hunter was sad and there was one thing that always made herself feel better when she was down.

It was with that thought in mind that Dinky brushed her small muzzle against the creature’s cheek, nuzzling her softly. Soon the head rolled back to look at her directly, Dinky feeling suddenly very foolish and nervous she may not had done the right thing. Nonetheless she offered a small smile, hoping beyond hope that it at least had helped cheer up the biped.

Seconds ticked over, no-body moved until in an unexpected move – but not unwelcome – a soft giggle escaped the creature’s mouth. Soon the giggles turned into a hiccup before continuing as the laughter grew. Emboldened by this, Dinky leaned forward and nuzzled more, enjoying the sound and happy that she was able to cheer up her saviour and in doing so, also thank her.

Yay it worked!

Bouncing upon her hooves at the smile given towards her, Dinky returned one of her own. With more words that the filly failed to understand – displaying such with an ear flick and tilt of her head – she watched as the Foal-Hunter smiled warmly. The filly couldn’t understand what was said, but the tone was soft, kind and as such it was all she needed to know.

“Thank you very much for saving me. I’m… I’m sorry you got hurt doing so.” Dinky beamed afterwards, happy to have finally gotten to say thank you to the one who had saved her in her time of need.

“I believe you have the answer to your question earlier Derpy.” Dinky blinked as she looked over at Nurse Redheart speaking to her mother, Derpy having landed and gazing in their direction. Dinky could see the relieved smile slide over her mom’s muzzle just prior to a clearing throat catching their attention.

Doctor Carehoof stood in the doorway and looked about ready to say something, but whatever that was he never got the chance. Almost immediately upon noticing him the Foal-Hunter froze, her eyes going wide as she released a tiny whimper, one fully saturated in fear. Dinky blinked in shock as she saw the creature who, seconds ago, had been smiling now looking terrified as she tried to free herself.

“Everypony get back, I’ll need to sedate the patient again.” The doctor had already procured another syringe from his coat pocket when he was interrupted from proceeding, amazingly from none other than Nurse Redheart herself.

“Doctor! You need to leave, now!”

The Doctor hesitated right up until the Foal-Hunter gave a fear-filled shout and resumed struggling against her restraints. Dinky became lost, confused and scared at what was going on. Readying the syringe, Doctor Carehoof gave a loud tsk.

“Nurse, we’ll discuss your conduct later but for now I need Miss Derpy and her daughter out of the room immediately.”

Why is she… is she scared of him? No! I-I can’t leave her to be scared! Not after she smiled!

“It’s okay; I won’t let him hurt you. You’re safe…” Dinky blinked as she noticed the nurse’s words calmed down the Foal-Hunter. Well, calmed her down so she wasn’t thrashing about at least, it did nothing to cease the terrified look given in the unicorn’s direction. Seeing that the doctor was about to take a step forward, the filly was most surprised when Nurse Redheart glared in the stallion’s direction.

“Drop that syringe right this instant! Can’t you see you’re the reason she is acting this way?! She’s terrified of you!”

The words almost seemed to physically strike the doctor as the syringe fell onto the floor. Evidently though, that was not enough for him to escape more of the nurse’s wrath.

“She was perfectly calm before you entered! Do you really think stabbing her with another needle will help still that fear?!” Now looking aghast at what his actions might have wrought, Doctor Carehoof looked at the creature before taking a cautious step backwards. Yet again the nurse spoke soothingly to the biped, settling her further.

What is?

Confusion warred over Dinky’s face as she watched the nurse lift the blankets back, her head lowering to tug at the straps.

“Wait… Nurse what are you do-“

The doctor was cut off with a withering glare as Redheart raised her head from where she was currently loosening one of the straps. All the while the Foal-Hunter sat silent, confused as if moving might disrupt whatever was about to occur.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m freeing a scared and confused patient from restraints that are detrimental to the healing process.”

With those words the strap was removed shortly after, then, moving around the bed, the nurse removed the other three while Dinky watched. Finally when the last was removed the Foal-Hunter moved, but not in a way anyone seemed to suspect except the nurse herself. Tugging her knees against her chest, the creature held them there with her good arm, shivering all the while.

S-She is scared. I was right; she’s not bad at all.

Leaning upwards Dinky rubbed her muzzle against the creature’s fingers then bumped her head reassuringly against the soft skinned lower arm. The texture felt odd, but not unpleasant with the absence of any fur or noticeable amounts of hair.

“There, is that better? You’re a patient, not an animal to be restrained.” Nurse Redheart smiled with her words before leaning up to follow Dinky’s example and gently brushed her own muzzle to the creature’s side. The Foal-Hunter in reply sniffled once, twice, and then gave a sorrowful wail as tears rolled down her cheeks. Feeling powerless, Dinky just stayed close unsure and unable to help stop the biped from crying. All she could do was rest closer to her side and peek upwards, listening to Nurse Redheart speak soothingly and try to calm her down.

W-Why is she so sad?

After a brief pause the nurse stepped back before rearing up on her hind legs, moving her fore hooves gently around the Foal-Hunter’s neck. The creature looked surprised before moving her right arm around to return the embrace, the sobbing ceasing as Dinky found herself smiling once again.

“All you need is a little kindness, don’t you? A little filly reminded me of this.” The Foal-Hunter spoke something in reply but again the language barrier prohibited understanding. What was able to be understood was the gratitude within the words. When the biped looked down, Dinky gazed back upwards and felt her heart soar seeing the warm smile given in her direction, one returned in kind.

Hmmm?

Dinky felt her attention be tugged aside as she saw her mother slowly approach. Derpy looked slightly nervous before leaning over the sheets to gently nuzzle at Dinky, the filly smiling and returning the gesture. Soon after her mother sighed, a tired smile directed at her daughter.

“See mom, I told you she was nice and saved me.” Dinky didn’t want to gloat and regretted the words as soon as she spoke them. Thankfully her mom didn’t find fault with it and instead gave a minute nod. Bouncing upon the sheets, Dinky couldn’t contain her excitement as she stood on hind legs to raise her front two high in the air. “And… And she is getting healed and is going to be okay!”

“Derpy, if I may be so bold…” Nurse Redheart interjected from the other side of the bed, all the while the Foal-Hunter watched with curiosity as the three conversed. “You wished to know if this creature, no, this female patient was a threat?”

A pause was given before Redheart spared a glance upwards with a smile before redirecting her attention to the pegasus.

“Do you have the answer now?”

A long sigh escaped Dinky’s mom’s mouth after giving another nod, conceding to Nurse Redheart’s views. Then, much to Dinky’s delight, her mother offered a smile up towards the Foal-Hunter too.

Yay!

Before Dinky could revel in the fact they were all friends now, a soft cough reminded her that the doctor was still in the room. Despite the fact he had scared her saviour Dinky couldn’t help but feel bad at how chagrined the stallion looked.

“I… I apologize for my actions earlier.” Doctor Carehoof rubbed at his mane with a hoof before settling on all fours again. “This has been a trying day and… No, no… I cannot give into excuses. I handled the situation poorly and caused a patient undue stress due to my actions.”

“I… I think we all did wrong.” Derpy gently spoke while looking ashamed earning another nuzzle from Dinky to make her mother smile again. “At least… to begin with.”

“Doctor, I think we still need to replace her sling, if you would do the honours?” Nurse Redheart offered a smile, any animosity between the medical ponies seemingly forgotten as Doctor Carehoof gave a small grin.

“Yes… and thank you Nurse Redheart, thank you for talking some sense into me.” With the apologies out of the way the unicorn had his pocket glow with his magical aura, in the process removing a folded piece of linen. Immediately the magic faulted causing the cloth to flutter onto the floor when the female creature reacted with fear again, all the ponies sharing their concern. Dinky, thinking quickly moved to nuzzle her hand which thankfully alleviated some of the terror, another incomprehensible word or two spoken with gratitude.

“It’s… not you she’s scared of I think Doctor.” Nurse Redheart looked upwards at the Foal-Hunter, one ear going askew. “Well, not you directly. I think she’s terrified of your magic or maybe even unicorns in general. She didn’t even react this way earlier when Derpy panicked. But… then why not the same reaction with Dinky there?”

S-She’s scared of unicorns? But why isn’t she scared of me?

Unsure on how to proceed, it seemed they had reached an impasse until the Foal-Hunter raised an eyebrow, an inquisitive expression if ever there was one. Redheart, upon seeing this, tilted her head back at the doctor and gave a reassuring smile. Slowly, carefully, the stallion once more lifted the cloth all the while watching for any negative reaction. When the Foal-Hunter started to panic, it was Dinky’s mother who calmed her down much to the filly’s delight.

“It’s okay, we’re here for you.” Leaning upwards Derpy accompanied her words with a soft nuzzle to the creature’s arm, Dinky and Redheart also giving smiles upwards. Seemingly reassured the biped relaxed enough for her arm to be gently encompassed within the doctor’s bronze magic, lifting it up as the cloth was manoeuvred into place. With a small knot tied above the right shoulder the sling was put into place, secure and keeping her left arm supported.

With a nod the doctor turned, slowly trotting out before pausing in the doorway.

“I’ll go finish up my notes, but Nurse Redheart, I would appreciate it if you remained as her personal nurse. I’ll take over your other patients for the time being, but she trusts you and frankly, I can see why. But for now I suggest we let her get some rest.”

With that Doctor Carehoof left, Redheart’s smile following him out before she shared a glance with Derpy. An unspoken agreement was reached before Dinky felt herself being gently nudged with a wing, tilting her head to see her mother smiling.

“Come on Sweetie, I think we should let her get some rest as the doctor said. Besides, you’ve had a busy day and it’s past your bedtime.”

I guess mom is right.

Reluctantly Dinky slipped off the sheets finding herself suppressing another yawn now that all the excitement had died down. As Nurse Redheart trotted over to the curtains, Dinky and her mother smiled back at the confused looking Foal-Hunter. With that the filly followed her mother out with warmth flowing within her heart. Even with all the twists, terror, and excitement the day had taken, Dinky had managed to make a new friend from it all.

And that was something that was always wonderful to have happen.

~~~~~~

Cuddled up on the bed, Dinky couldn’t help but feel a yawn escape her mouth as she wriggled closer under her mother’s wing. Upon getting home they had eaten a quick meal and gone straight to bed. Everything was once again normal except for the fact that Dinky was sleeping in her mom’s bed, currently curled under a wing. It was almost an unspoken arrangement but the filly didn’t mind, she loved being under her mom’s wing where it was warm, but most importantly, safe.

“Can we visit tomorrow mom?” The innocent question was put forward as she wriggled to get closer. The cross eyed gaze given down past feathers along with the smile was the expression Dinky adored, a nod quickly following.

“Of course dear. She did save my daughter after all.” A pause followed before Derpy laid her head down, peering at her daughter lovingly. “I am proud of you; did you learn how to act that way in school?”

Dinky yawned widely before pawing at the sheets, rubbing her head tiredly against her mother’s side.

“No.”

The answer seemed to confuse the pegasus as she gently nuzzled at Dinky’s mane affectionately, the filly further explaining as sleep started to claim her.

“I just did what you always told me to do. To thank everypony who is nice to me and…” Another long yawn escaped the filly before she snuggled in closer. “And… to show everypony a little… a little… kindness.”

Dinky would never see the smile given towards her, or how proud her mother looked at that very moment for the filly was already asleep. With the moon high in the sky, Derpy remembered what her daughter had said earlier about wishing to make her smile. With the thought fresh in her mind, the pegasus nuzzled gently at Dinky’s mane and watched over her slumbering filly.

“Silly filly… you and your sister are the ones who make me smile.” Curling up around her daughter, protective and keeping her secure, Derpy closed her own eyes. “You both always did, and you both always will.”

~~~~~~

Earlier within the day, in Canterlot, high within one of the castle spires something that would alter Equestria was unfolding. Within a certain room, one that very few had the privilege to look within outside certain palace staff currently resided two of the most powerful ponies in Equestria. Princess Celestia, the Solar Monarch, Keeper of the Dawn, The Sun’s Keeper – and several other titles she had long since forgotten – stood with a dilemma she had no idea how to face.

Unknown, or unwilling to be believed by many, Celestia was not omnipotent, she was not all powerful. There were in fact several things that even managed to perplex her. She may be immortal, and she might have the capacity for more magical aptitude than even a hundred unicorns, but she was not a god; at least not in her eyes. To the alicorn, a god was someone such as Discord; which, even the mere thought of the embodiment of chaos caused a nearly imperceptible shiver to run down her spine.

If that was what being a god meant, she was glad to be nothing of the sort.

No, Celestia was ‘merely’ an alicorn, a pony consisting of the three tribes and had lived for thousands of years and would, seemingly, live into the unforeseeable future. And that fact alone gave her experience spanning over many millennia. She had seen empires rise and fall, wars rage across continents, and dragon migrations the likes of which would possibly never be seen again in their splendour.

No, she was not omnipotent, but that did not mean she was not wise, sagely and intuitive. In fact, the only one closest to understanding her was her own sister, Princess Luna. Aside from just over a thousand year gap, the two had always relied upon each other for information, comfort and support. Luna was the more impulsive of the two, prone to more creative thinking and the more artistic of the sisters. Between the two of them they complemented each other, supporting their strengths and covering their weaknesses.

Yet Celestia was the more logical thinking of the two. She would solve problems by breaking them apart, working piece by piece towards a solution and, in the process, usually come to a conclusion that benefited everyone.

Which found itself a rare occasion indeed that Celestia was herself completely baffled on how to proceed on a matter. Such as now.

It had all started when she had been called up into her sister’s chamber with the utmost urgency. While that on its own was not completely unheard of – a certain issue pertaining to Luna, Celestia’s pet phoenix Philomena, and several pairs of newly charred socks coming to mind – this was a new matter entirely. When she had made her way onto the balcony she had come face to face with absolute carnage.

At first she thought her sister had been kidnapped, although any perpetrators foolish enough to do such an act would be equally too foolish to actually succeed in the first place. Then she believed some form of natural disaster had struck, or a spell miscast had wrought her dear sister’s room into something Discord, curse his name, would possibly be at home in. The truth, as it normally is, was far stranger than Celestia could have imagined.

“Luna?” Celestia tried to locate her sister amongst the books, scrolls, trinkets and other various artefacts she had preserved within the room over the thousand year absence. Although, if she didn’t know any better she might suspect someone was moving a library into her sister’s room and forgot to tell anyone.

“Sister!”

Celestia knew she heard Luna’s voice, but where the dark alicorn actually resided in the room was another matter entirely. Just as she was about to query just where her sister was she spied the ethereal star-studded mane flowing from behind an impressively tall pile of tomes. Making her way over she peered over to see Luna perusing several different books, all sprawled with no discernible order to their layout.

“Should you not be sleeping Luna?” Celestia meant to pose the question gently but something about how her sister looked created unease within the Solar Monarch. Luna looked restless, her horn glowing as pages turned and scrolls were moved. It was a feat of study that even her most beloved pupil, Twilight Sparkle, would be envious to witness. Ignoring the question, Luna put forth one of her own catching the other alicorn off guard.

“Dost thou know whatever became of Starswirl’s tome?” A pause was given before Luna turned her head to regard Celestia, the setting sun providing enough light within to accentuate the bags beginning to form under each eye.

“No, it was never located.” A pause was given, Celestia knew that Starswirl’s disappearance was always something that affected them all deeply, none more so than Luna herself. A stallion not only gifted in magical abilities rarely seen even in Celestia’s long life, he also held a love of the night, one which caught the attention of Luna herself. In time she took him under her wing as a student, one which Celestia was proud to accept as one of the greatest unicorns in Equestrian history.

Then… One day he, along with most of his tower, had simply vanished. Luna had been devastated at the news. For weeks, months even, she had spent searching for any trace of him but coming up with naught. Even Celestia could find nothing to give even a small clue as to his whereabouts, or even to his fate. It was as if he had simply ceased to exist on Equestria altogether.

“We… I, have a theory as to why.” Luna pushed herself to stand allowing her sister to see what she could not before. While the mare looked tired, almost broken, her eyes were alive with drive, with purpose. “While I was dreaming, I encountered a dream unlike any I have ever seen before.”

Celestia could only restrain a small smile at her sister trying to accustom herself onto modern Equestrian. While it was by no means perfect, Luna had at least become somewhat more fluent into its use. The dropping of the traditional Canterlot voice around the castle was also a big plus, especially for the castle staff that had to endure it.

“Please, continue Luna.” Seating herself Celestia couldn’t help but find her interest piqued. It was a closely guarded secret that she always was slightly envious of her sister’s ability to traverse dreams and aid their ponies from the nightmares that plagued them. Celestia would, and could protect them to the death from any threat she was able to face, but only Luna could guide them in their sleep. It was simply another example on how the two sisters complemented each other.

“It was… how do I describe it?” Taking on a thoughtful air, Luna instead trotted forward and looked at her sister for permission. When a tender nod was given their horns touched and a spark of magic passed between the two. Both fell asleep where they resided, only for a moment or two but from it Celestia got a glimpse into the memory and with it, knew why Luna struggled to try and find words.

She saw a presumably female bipedal-creature clad in clothing, furless except for a dark mane and a thin collection on each brow. She sat at a desk, drawing images of bunnies – which was perplexing if cute in and of itself – all while beside her sat a changeling. Both spoke in a completely alien language, and, surprisingly were acting in a cordial, if not friendly manner to one another.

Around them were shelves of books implying that it may be a library of sorts and Celestia could see several other similar biped creatures reading books or walking around. As the alicorn found herself trying to decipher what this all meant – as surely no such creature existed on Equestria as far as she was aware, and certainly not a race of them – she found the presence of Luna standing beside her.

Just as she was about to question her sister on just how she encountered this dream, she found herself noticing the book that the female creature was studying. With her breath catching in her throat, Celestia trotted closer and peeked inside noting the ancient Equestrian written upon the pages along with diagrams of plants, buildings, spells, and creatures she had never seen before.

“Luna… this is…” Celestia looked to see Luna simply nodding, trotting close as music began to fill the air. One of the small buds that was placed in the creature’s ears had been removed providing musical ambience as the two alicorns gazed down at the pages.

“Starswirl the Bearded’s style of writing.” Luna gazed around the library seeing where oblivion remained outside of the dreamer’s realm of creation. Celestia meanwhile furrowed her brow before looking at the changeling noticing that it bore a passing similarity to Queen Chrysalis. The neck frill was further up the head and beginning to resemble a mane of sorts, and that wasn’t even noting that compared to the other changelings this one was ever so slightly taller. Celestia made sure to retain an eye for detail after recent events, she would not allow such dire circumstances to come to pass again.

“So… this changeling is dreaming ab-“ The Solar Monarch was cut off by her sister smiling, Luna shaking her head as she trotted to stand behind the female biped.

“Nay Tia, the dreamer is not the changeling but this creature herself.” Luna’s words made Celestia look stunned, a feat that very few could ever boast they bore witness too. “This creature is in Equestria, somewhere, and within her mind holds perhaps a key as to Starswirl’s missing tome and with it, answers to what happened to him.”

Celestia mulled on the issue with the implications now presented to her. If what Luna said was true – not that she had any reason to doubt her sister’s words as absolute truth – then that meant an alien creature was in Equestria and possibly conspiring with the changelings. Finding herself watching the female and changeling converse she felt… conflicted on her previous assumption. They almost seemed too at ease, too harmonious to be a threat and this was after all, merely a dream.

“Something is driving her to work on the book in her dreams, I felt the faint tug of it but could not identify the source.” Luna noticed her sister’s expression and smiled. “Tia, I am… unsure if this is the changeling in her dream causing this, or something else. All I am aware of is that she trusteth that changeling implicitly, and that she is not native to this world.”

Celestia frowned slightly, there were too many unknowns for her to be comfortable with as she watched the dream play out. Abruptly the window behind the female cracked before the biped vanished out the window, screaming all the while. Then, with a flash Celestia found herself back in Luna’s room as she blinked to clear her head.

“Do you think she means harm?”

Luna blinked and then smiled at the question. She, after all, knew her sister more than any other pony and as such knew what Celestia was really asking.

“Nay Tia. I have not been completely honest with thee.” Noting Celestia’s raised brow, Luna quickly pushed on with a small bashful smile. “What I mean to say is that I have encountered some of the dreams beforehoof, but never in such clarity. Before they were disjointed, pieces floating within the ether.”

Celestia merely nodded as she felt a distracting sensation in her horn, the tingling that always signalled a scroll was about to arrive via dragon fire.

“Then dear sister, please, tell me what you know.”

Luna thought for a second before tilting her head, sighing softly prior to doing just that.

“She is… scared, terrified. Those are the emotions I have felt when glancing into her dreams previously. To begin with I could not get a clear view of the dreamer, her subconscious blocked to me through lack of familiarity. It was only today I managed to pierce through and glimpse within with clarity.” The Lunar Monarch bit her lower lip before gazing at her sister. “Tia… she is not from our world and we would say she is lost and confused, and something horrendous hath occurred to cause thus.”

Any further debate on the issue was promptly interrupted by a scroll appearing in a puff of smoke and green dragon fire. With a raised hoof to delay any question from Luna, Celestia unfurled the paper to look over the writing within.

“It seems Luna, that she is no longer lost.” The paper was turned so her sister might read of it, teal eyes moving to scan the page, greedily reading the words written by Twilight Sparkle. With a pause Luna looked up at her sister, a nod given in return.

“Ponyville...”