• Published 22nd Mar 2014
  • 11,409 Views, 872 Comments

Seasons Turning - moguera



The coming of autumn brings with it new trials for Dawn, his family, and his friends...as well as new feelings.

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A Plan

Chapter 1: A Plan

Scootaloo stifled a yawn as she came in the door to Fluttershy's cottage, Dawn just a few steps behind her. She'd like to say that she'd gotten used to getting up early enough for their before-school practice, but the truth of the matter was that the orange filly doubted that she would ever truly be a morning pony. Maybe if she spent a year living in the Everfree Forest the way Dawn had, she'd be able to learn how to wake up almost instantly, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at the slightest provocation. But until that time, the infernal task of getting out of bed at the morning was a chore Scootaloo rated as being even more arduous than her most intense training sessions.

"Good morning," said Fluttershy cheerfully as the two of them gathered around the kitchen table, breakfast already set out.

Scootaloo was surprised to see that Dawn had apparently worked his way up to pancakes. She'd gotten used to the colt's general disinterest in sweets, quite possibly the result of a bad experience he'd had with a cupcake fairly early on during his time with Fluttershy, but had never really thought he'd go for something like pancakes, which were generally fairly sweet in their own right. Still, she supposed that, since Dawn displayed no signs of dissatisfaction with the food laid before him, that he had any problems with them now. She did note that the ebony colt didn't so much as glance at the syrup bottle (compared to Scootaloo, who all but drowned her pancakes in maple goodness), choosing to go with just a small pat of butter and, surprisingly, a dash of salt on top of his.

"How is your training going?" asked Fluttershy as she took her own seat at the table.

Chewing and swallowing before opening her mouth, Scootaloo answered, "Pretty good. Dawn just started me on the Second Form. I'm still getting used to it though."

That was true enough. The Second Form was the strangest thing Scootaloo had done yet in her training. And this was considering that the very first thing she had learned to do was levitate herself off the ground without moving her wings. The movements of the Second Form were extremely atypical compared to how pegasi usually employed their wings, even within the scope of the Gale King that Scootaloo had already learned. In all honesty, the muscles of her wings, especially those on her back, were sore from being exercised in ways she'd never used them before. She'd spent the morning wheeling her wings in long, sweeping, circular movements, keeping them in synch as though they were joined by a bar that ran across her shoulders.

According to Dawn, this was to help her get even more used to using her wings in a manner that ran in contradiction to how pegasi instinctively used them. When one wing pointed up, the other pointed down, the two of them never occupying the same orientation from the beginning to the end of the form. It was further preparation for the later forms, where she would be expected to perform different, yet simultaneous actions with each wing, suiting herself to using each independently of the other. It had already been a tricky adaptation to make when she had been practicing the First Form, where many moves required that she keep one wing stationary while the other moved. Scootaloo wondered just how different it would be when she moved up to the next level of her training.

Normally, she would have protested the seemingly unnatural movements she had been forced to make. However, she was stopped by her memories of the fight between Dawn and the two mercenary stallions, Red River and Storm Front, her mind calling up the vivid memory of the colt parrying thrusts of Red's spear with one wing while deflecting strikes from Storm's meteor hammer at the same time with the other. That memory reminded her exactly what such techniques were for.

Dawn, as always, was just as methodical and deliberate in his teaching of the Second Form as he had been for the First. The couple days following Scootaloo's earning of her cutie mark had been followed by Dawn walking her through the individual techniques that made up the form before he had her start linking them together in the form itself, carefully critiquing her every motion until he was assured that she had it down, before adding it to her practice regiment. Scootaloo now had to do equal numbers of the First and Second Form for her practice everyday. This morning, Dawn hadn't called a halt for breakfast until he had been assured that she'd run through each one at least three times.

Scootaloo strongly suspected that Dawn was watching her very closely, even when he was supposed to be focusing on his own practice at times. It seemed that he was waiting for her to master the Second Form in the way that she had the First before he considered teaching her the next one in line. However, Scootaloo had the sneaking suspicion that it would take a bit more work for her to get a handle on this new sequence than it had the first time, the movements being that much more foreign to her. However, even with that thought on her mind, a smile crept on her lips. It would be worth it to see that smile of approval on Dawn's face when she did that she didn't mind the extra work at all.

"By the way," commented Fluttershy as she took their dishes to the sink, "I just heard from Spike that Twilight Sparkle should be coming back."

"She was in Canterlot, correct?" asked Dawn.

Fluttershy nodded. "Spike said she wanted to do some research on other ponies who might have the Eyes of Nightmare. She also wanted to ask Princess Luna about them. Apparently she was very...busy."

Dawn's eyes narrowed, his reptilian gaze fixing Fluttershy on the spot as she fidgeted nervously. "Is something wrong?"

Fluttershy averted her own eyes. "No...it's just...Spike told me somethings about Canterlot and...apparently...um...it might have been a little...uh...a l-little dangerous for Twilight to go up there the way she did."

"And she did that for my sake?" asked Dawn, his tone betraying a hint of worry.

"Y-yes..." Fluttershy turned to look at Dawn again, seeing him staring pensively at the empty table in front of him.

The colt only reacted when an orange hoof cuffed his ear. "Knock that off!" Scootaloo scolded him sharply, "We've already been over this. You are not gonna get all mopey and depressed when somepony takes a risk for you."

Rubbing his ear before glancing sidelong at Scootaloo, Dawn sighed before smiling wryly, "I guess I don't have much of a choice in that matter."

"You're darn right," said Scootaloo, rearing up and folding her forelegs with a triumphant "humph!"

"Although, at this rate, you might do more damage to me than I ever could myself," commented the colt.

"Hey!"

"Now now," consoled Fluttershy, almost automatically, "It's almost time for school. Do you two have everything in order?"

The two foals answered in affirmative before Fluttershy began the process of ushering them out the door for their day.


Spike's tail thumped an impatient tempo against the boards of the station platform as he awaited Twilight's arrival. She'd spent a great deal longer in Canterlot than he'd been expecting. The little dragon could only hope that she hadn't gotten herself in trouble while she'd been up there. I hope she got what she went there for. It'd be nice if she didn't have to go up there again for a while.

His ears twitched as he picked up the approaching train's whistle. Excited that his elder sister was finally arriving back in Ponyville, Spike ran up to the edge of the platform to watch as her train pulled in. By the time it had stopped and ponies were beginning to disembark, Spike was practically bouncing in place. Finally, his eyes caught sight of a familiar lavender coat and violet eyes.

"Twilight!" he shouted, throwing himself at the mare, who rocked back with the impact, laughing as she returned Spike's embrace, leaning down to nuzzle the little dragon. To her surprise, she could feel the protruding lumps of his still-forming wings twitching as well. Evidently some of the musculature for his new limbs was beginning to grow in. "Thank Celestia you're back!"

Twilight's smile melted away into a concerned frown. "Is everything alright?" she asked nervously, "You weren't hurt during Willow's attack, were you?"

"Nah, I'm fine," said Spike as he pulled away, "I didn't even really know that anything was wrong until it was already over. It's just been really boring in the library without you around."

Twilight giggled and nuzzled the little dragon again. "I didn't realize I provided so much entertainment."

"Like you wouldn't believe," said Spike smugly, "I even missed your little breakdowns over your checklists."

"Spike!" Twilight's cheeks flushed as she heard a light chuckling behind her.

Arkenstone moved to step up next to her. "You could stand to ease up on worrying about the minutia," he pointed out.

"Oh hush," Twilight shot back, turning and gently rubbing her neck against his for a moment.

Spike's hands went to his mouth to stifle a gasp as his eyes widened. It only took him an instant to see the way the two of them were acting. "No way!" he exclaimed, "You mean the two of you actually hooked up?"

Twilight blushed again and she looked sheepishly at her dragon assistant. "Well...yes..." Her eyes widened and she stepped back nervously when Spike suddenly took a deep breath, his little body swelling and looking to be on the verge of an emotional explosion.

"FINALLY!!" yelled the little dragon, leaping into the air with the force of his exclamation.

"Wha-what do you mean?" stammered Twilight, completely taken off-guard by his excitement.

"Do you have any idea what it's been like?" demanded Spike, almost glaring up at his big sister, "You thought things between the two of you were awkward. But what do you think it's been like for me? Do you have any idea what it's like to share a library with two ponies who obviously like each other but won't admit it? It's torture I tell you!"

"It wasn't that obvious, was it?" asked Twilight nervously.

"It was for you," groused Spike.

Again, Arkenstone chuckled. Stepping forward, he dipped his head and lifted Spike up. With a little bounce, he transferred the dragon to his back. "I apologize for all the distress we put you through," he said simply, "But for now, let's go back home."

The three of them set out for the library. It was at that time that Spike finally noticed the extra bag Twilight was hauling. "Hey Twilight, what's in the bag?"

"Oh...that? It's a gift from somepony we met in Canterlot."


"How are your ribs feeling?"

The colt with a cream-colored coat, decorated with flecks of gray, stretched his wings, flapping them experimentally, letting the motion work the muscles across his back and chest. A metallic rattling and grating sound emanated from the silvery feathers as they ground against one another. ”A little stiff, but that's probably from keeping them bandaged.”

The doctor nodded and disposed of the aforementioned bandages. "My apologies. Being a physician may have been my cover, but my skill with healing magic has never been at the highest level."

"Eh, it does the job well enough," remarked the cream-colored colt, working his wings through a series of thrusts and slashes, testing each mithril feather carefully, "It looks like my adjustment has been completed satisfactorily. My wings feel a little bit on the large size, but I suppose I'll grow into it before long."

"Quite true. We completed your latest adjustment a little ahead of schedule, so your wings may feel somewhat awkward for a little longer. I have no doubt that you will adapt quickly enough." A notepad levitated up in front of the unicorn and he began to page through its contents. "In fact, I believe we may only have three more adjustments until you reach your full growth. At which point, the only things we will have to worry about are maintenance and repairs, should you damage them again."

There was once a time when making such an announcement would have filled the doctor with trepidation. However, in the years he had known Perlin Bluestreak, the doctor had realized that the colt would not simply throw him away once he had served his purpose. Perlin truly held no attachment whatsoever to his family fortune and was content to let the doctor use it as he saw fit. The colt was not one to hesitate to kill if he had the slightest reason to. However, he was also not one to kill if he had no reason to. He would never take the doctor's life, so long as the doctor did not make himself an impediment. It was a strange working relationship, but one the stallion had grown used to in their years together.

"By the way," said the doctor, "This arrived for you today." He levitated an envelope up to Perlin, who slit it neatly open with the razor edge of one of his feathers before spreading it out on a table to read.

"Well well," commented the colt, "A new job offer…and in Canterlot no less..."

"Canterlot...?" The doctor shifted uncomfortably. In the past few years, Perlin had mostly sold his services to ponies around the outskirts of Equestria. The job with the tribalists in Cloudsdale had been the highest-profile work the colt had done to date. The thought of Perlin being summoned to the heart of Equestria made him more than a little nervous. "You don't think it's a trap, do you?"

An amused smile curled Perlin's lips. "If it is, then that would be interesting too. If it truly is a trap, then I would very much like to try my hoof at clawing my way out."

The doctor sighed and raised his hooves in an admission of defeat. "Do as you please then."

"Haven't I always?"


"Where are you going?" asked Scootaloo as she followed behind Dawn.

Once school had ended for the day, the colt surprised Scootaloo by flying, not towards the quarry as they usually did, but instead headed in another direction. Looking up ahead, she could spy the leafy boughs of Ponyville's library. "Oh..."

"You don't have to come with me," Dawn pointed out, "I can meet you at the quarry later. You still need to get a feel for the new techniques, right?"

"Huh?" Scootaloo blinked and then remembered what they were originally supposed to be doing. "Uh...yeah. But why are you going to the library? We didn't get a research project that I forgot about already, did we?"

"We didn't," said Dawn, "But Twilight Sparkle is supposed to have returned today. I wanted to see if she had made any progress."

Scootaloo was surprised to see him being so proactive about satisfying his curiosity. Normally, the colt would have been content to let Twilight come to him. Perhaps his experiences from the previous week had convinced him that simply waiting around was not the best way to deal with his problems, especially where the Cult Solar was concerned.

"I'll come with you," she declared, beating her wings a little harder to close the gap between them, "We're in this together."

"If you're sure," was Dawn's only response.

The two of them swooped in for a landing in front of the massive tree. Lifting a hoof, Dawn calmly pushed open the door that led into the trunk. Stepping inside, he looked around and spotted Twilight Sparkle seated at the table that dominated the center of the library's open space. Several pages worth of notes were laid out in front of her and the lavender unicorn was slowly muttering to herself as her eyes wandered over the scattered pieces of parchment.

Dawn slowly approached the table, his own eyes glancing over the sheets. The notes appeared to be regarding census information and catalogued the movement of ponies across Equestria. Looking back up, Dawn saw that Twilight clearly hadn't noticed his entrance. He pondered whether or not it was a good idea to interrupt her when she was in the middle of work like this.

Before he could make a decision, Scootaloo opted to break the silence. "Ahem..."

"AHH!!" Twilight leapt up with a startled yelp before spinning around to regard Dawn and Scootaloo, the latter of which was covering up a mischievous grin with her hoof. "You startled me."

"Sorry about that," replied Dawn earnestly enough, "I'd heard you'd returned and was wondering if you'd made any progress with your research." He eyed the sheets of paper scattered across her table once again. "I take it these are what you came up with."

Twilight relaxed with a sigh. "More or less," she said softly, "Lacking enough of a sample size, I realized that the best way to gather additional data about the Eyes of Nightmare was to find other ponies who are affected by it. But all the reports and records I got from Princess Celestia were hopelessly out of date."

"So...?" prompted Dawn, while Scootaloo sat back with her eyes spinning, already struggling to keep up with the amount of academic information that was coming from the unicorn's mouth.

"So...I decided to follow some advice I was given by Spitfire and operate under the assumption that the trait was an inherited one. I went through the archives in Canterlot to see if I could track down the descendants of the ponies reported to be affected by the condition. I...didn't have a lot of success." Twilight sighed in disappointment. "I only managed to find about three so far. I'm not sure if the records regarding them are completely current though. I'll find out once I start looking for them directly."

"I see..." mused Dawn thoughtfully, "But if the Cult Solar has been targeting ponies with my condition, then how did these ponies survive long enough and find partners to pass the trait on to later generations?"

"Because you're forgetting that your manifestation of the Eyes of Nightmare is unique," Twilight pointed out, "From what I learned from Princess Luna, which corresponds with the lore of the Cult Solar itself, the Eyes of Nightmare are thaumatically recessive."

"What does that mean?" asked Scootaloo, trying desperately to keep up.

"Recessive traits are traits that can be passed down from generation to generation," explained Twilight, "But they aren't displayed in every generation because they tend to be overshadowed by a dominant gene. But when a recessive gene meets up with the same recessive gene instead of the dominant one, the trait becomes prominent."

"And what does it mean that a trait is thaumatically recessive?" asked Dawn, wondering what Twilight was getting at.

"A thaumatically recessive trait doesn't appear, regardless of its genetic dominance or recessiveness. A thaumatically recessive trait is tied to the activity of a pony's meridians. When certain conditions are met, the meridians linked to the trait become active and the normally invisible trait becomes visible.

"That's how the Eyes of Nightmare work. When Arkenstone and I spoke with Princess Luna, we determined that, for her at least, the Eyes only appeared as a result of severe stress and agitation, often linked with anger or fear. If that's true, then it explains why the Eyes are only reported to emerge temporarily in the affected and then return to normal afterwards. Furthermore, it means that, depending on the lives lead by those ponies, the descendants of the trait could easily be carrying it, but never encounter the circumstances that would lead to them displaying it. Because of that, the trait could pass through entire generations before it was witnessed again."

"I...see..." said Dawn in that naturally hesitant tone of a pony who clearly didn't. He was regarded as a rather intelligent colt, especially considering his age. But he was having almost as much trouble keeping up with Twilight's lecture as Scootaloo.

Finally noticing their confusion, Twilight blushed and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, I got a bit carried away there." Then she relaxed. "I'm actually glad you're here Dawn. I wanted to talk to you about something."

"You did?"

Twilight nodded. "I have an idea. Actually, it was an idea I had a while ago, back when Applejack put you in the hospital." All three of them winced at the unpleasant memory. "Anyway, I heard that we got lucky with the assassin that came after you. Apparently word didn't get back to the Cult Solar's leadership that you were in Ponyville."

Dawn nodded. "And what exactly are you getting at?"

"Let's wait a little longer," said Twilight, "I asked Arkenstone and Spike to go and get Fluttershy, since she should be a part of this too. I wouldn't dream of leaving her out when it's your future that's on the line."

Dawn's eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to inquire further. However, at that moment, the door to the library opened again to admit Arkenstone and Spike, with a nervous Fluttershy in tow. From her behavior, it was obvious why Twilight had sent both of them, since Arkenstone was sufficiently unfamiliar to Fluttershy that she would normally do her utmost to avoid him. Spike was a presence she was more comfortable with, but with his rather short legs, the lengthy journey to Fluttershy's cottage would have taken more time than Twilight wanted.

"Hi Fluttershy," said Twilight cheerfully, trotting up to exchange a reassuring hug with the canary-colored pegasus.

"Welcome back Twilight," said Fluttershy, visibly relaxing in the company of her friend, in spite of Arkenstone's presence. Then she noticed Dawn and Scootaloo. "Oh my. I had no idea you two were here. Weren't you going to practice after school?"

"We were," said Scootaloo, "But Dawn wanted to see if Twilight had found anything out in Canterlot. And then she said she had some kind of plan that she wanted to talk to you and Dawn about."

Twilight nodded. "This would probably be Dawn's choice, but I didn't want to leave you out of it, since he's your son."

"What is it?" asked Fluttershy, her heart-rate already increasing. She had the nagging suspicion that Twilight was about to suggest something that she wouldn't like at all.

"Well...you see..." Twilight was obviously of a similar mind, given that she had become rather nervous as well. "I think I figured out a way to make progress with all our problems at once." She took a deep breath before launching into her explanation. "Our goals are: first, to find ponies who are affected by the Eyes of Nightmare; second, to study those ponies to find the source of the condition; third, to put an end to the Cult Solar's persecution of those ponies. Hopefully, if we're successful, we could undermine the Cult Solar's influence completely."

"And this plan of your would take care of all three of those problems at once?" asked Dawn.

"Theoretically," said Twilight, "Admittedly, there is a lot of speculation as to whether or not it would work." She glanced over at Arkenstone, who gave her an encouraging nod. "But I think that it would help us toward meeting our goals."

"But what is the reason that this plan troubles you?" asked Dawn, already getting a sneaking notion of his own as to what Twilight was about to suggest.

Twilight took a deep breath, putting her hoof to her chest before exhaling in the calming exercise that Cadance had once taught her. "Basically, I want to use you as bait..."


Perlin climbed aboard the train, shifting a little to better settle the cloak over his back. It was rare that he needed to really move undercover, or at least undercover in a social context. He had plenty of experience sneaking about under the cover of darkness and the like. But blending in with normal ponies was something that was a little bit more difficult to do when one's wings were crafted from silvery metal more valuable than the contents of a small town. Given that consideration, the doctor had been kind enough to provide the cloak for him. With it on, he looked like little more than a regular earth pony. However, a simple movement of his wings would shred the fabric, allowing the cloak to fall away.

Granted, it was only a trick that would work once. And once the cloak was gone, Perlin would have to find some other way to move about unnoticed...if such a thing was possible.

As he boarded the train, Perlin slid smoothly into the private compartment that he'd booked. The train ride from Trottingham to Canterlot was a fairly long one, stopping through several intervening towns along the way. Normally, Perlin would have simply booked an express trip. However, he noticed the name of one of the towns lying along the route, a town which, fortuitously, happened to be the very last stop before the train continued on to Canterlot itself.

Ponyville, here I come, thought Perlin, smiling smugly as he settled in to wait. It was the kind of stupid risk that could get him killed, given that he'd be stirring up trouble in a place very near his intended destination. He might even end up destroying his cloak before he actually needed to. It was the kind of stupid risk that could get him killed...

...And the cream-colored colt didn't mind in the slightest. It would be worth it if I get to see him again.


Dawn frowned as he felt a tremor run down his spine and got the uncomfortable notion that somepony was thinking about him.

“You want to WHAT?”

Fluttershy’s uncharacteristically loud outburst startled the colt from the strange sensation, prompting him to turn and look at his mother, who looked angrier than Dawn had ever seen her look. Her eyes were wide with a glare that she leveled at Twilight, while she bared her teeth in an almost manic expression that actually made the normally unflappable colt take a step backwards.

He wasn’t the only one. Twilight was shaking like a leaf as she backed all the way up against the wall. She’d known that Fluttershy wasn’t going to like her plan. But the last thing she had expected was for the butter-yellow mare to display an expression of rage that made her outburst at the Grand Galloping Gala look tame by comparison. Fortunately, Fluttershy still seemed to be keeping her Stare in check, or Twilight was fairly certain that she’d have been reduced to a blubbering pile on the floor in a matter of seconds.

Arkenstone stood off to one side, calmly observing the situation, but opting not to step in. Twilight had asked him not to intervene unless it was absolutely necessary, a promise he held himself to. Given that this was one of Twilight’s closest friends and not some manipulative noble with designs on her, it was a rather different situation from what had occurred in Steel Flint’s mansion…though Arkenstone couldn’t help but be reminded of the similarities in spite of that.

Spike, meanwhile, was cowering beneath Arkenstone’s legs, his teeth chattering as he stared up at Fluttershy with newfound awe.

Scootaloo, on the other hoof, had chosen to hide behind Dawn, utterly shocked by a side to Fluttershy that she had never seen before. Even the sight of Fluttershy scolding a cockatrice into submission paled in comparison to the sight of Fluttershy, the angry mother.

“How dare you suggest that Dawn put himself in danger like that?” demanded Fluttershy, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Twilight flinched away from Fluttershy’s words like they were physical blows. “I-I’m sorry Fluttershy! I j-just thought it was the b-best way to-“

“To what?” snapped Fluttershy, “To finish your research project? Is Dawn just another test subject to you? Are you just doing this so you can have another report to write to Princess Celestia?”

Mom!

Dawn’s voice snapped Fluttershy out of her rage. The colt seemed to practically materialize between her and Twilight, his wings raised in a protective gesture as he sought to interpose himself between the two mares. The expression of stunned disappointment on his face spoke volumes. Looking up, Fluttershy realized how vicious her last remarks had been. Twilight was huddled up against the wall and crying. At some point, Arkenstone had trotted over and was gently consoling her.

“D-Dawn…I was just…” Fluttershy trailed off, unable to finish her sentence.

“I understand…” said Dawn slowly, “…and yet…I don’t. Why are you so upset? You weren’t nearly this mad when Rainbow Dash asked you if I could come to Cloudsdale with her.”

“I…I…I just…” Fluttershy wasn’t sure what to say. Why exactly had she gotten so angry at Twilight and not at Rainbow Dash? Rainbow had known that going to Cloudsdale was a move likely to put Dawn’s safety at risk. Why had Fluttershy agreed to it so easily, and yet, had completely snapped at Twilight?

The most likely explanation was the way in which it had happened. Fluttershy remembered how frightened Rainbow had been, how she’d been practically begging Fluttershy to allow her to take Dawn with her to Cloudsdale. She’d been afraid and had seen Dawn’s strength as a something she could depend on.

In contrast, Twilight’s rational approach simply hadn’t clicked with Fluttershy in the same way. Twilight’s idea was based off of logic, an assessment of information and evidence, the result of her research and had emerged as the most efficient means of satisfying all her objectives in short order, even if it meant putting Dawn at risk.

And Twilight had been doing all of this for Dawn’s sake. She was trying to find the truth about his condition, to put a stop to the Cult Solar. She had been trying to help. And I just…

Fluttershy’s hooves came to her mouth. She couldn’t stop the tears that ran down her cheeks as she realized what she’d done. She’d lashed out at one of her best friends. Twilight was curled up and crying in a corner because Fluttershy couldn’t control her anger. “Oh Twilight! I’m so sorry!” She immediately rushed to her friend's side, gently nuzzling against Twilight, desperately trying to provide comfort.

It took a few minutes to get everypony calmed back down. Once Twilight settled onto one of the cushions on one side of the table, gently leaning against Arkenstone for support, while Fluttershy settled on the other, Dawn safely tucked up against her chest so that her chin rested on the top of his head. While Dawn couldn't object, even though he knew Fluttershy was using him mostly as an oversized teddy bear, he was troubled by how hard she was clinging to him at the moment. Scootaloo sat next to Fluttershy, still trying to wrap her mind around seeing the normally gentle and timid pegasus completely lose her cool.

"I'm really sorry for suggesting that," said Twilight, "But the way I see it, it's better than simply sitting back and hoping that the Cult Solar doesn't trip over Dawn's whereabouts again. It's practically inevitable that they'll find him at some point, and when they do..."

"But-"

"I agree with Twilight Sparkle," interjected Dawn, his voice cutting off Fluttershy, whose eyes widened in shock as she stared down at her son. Scootaloo stared at him in surprise as well.

"But Dawn...!"

The ebony colt sighed, tilting his head up slightly to meet his mother's gaze. "I want to end this. I don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering when the Cult Solar will find me or what they will do when they find me. I don't want to have to worry about others getting hurt, like you, or Scootaloo, or any of my other friends."

"Dawn..." Scootaloo frowned as she looked at the colt.

Dawn turned his gaze back to Scootaloo. "I'm not blaming myself for this anymore. But that doesn't mean that I should sit back and do nothing. I want to protect my family and my friends. I don't want to be afraid of what could happen to them because of those idiots with a vendetta against me."

"Are you sure?" asked Fluttershy.

Dawn nodded. "This is my decision...but if you don't want me to..."

A sniffle escaped Fluttershy before she buried her muzzle in Dawn's mane. "No," she said, "I trusted you when I let you go to Cloudsdale with Rainbow. I can trust you now. If this is what you want, then I won't stop you."

Dawn leaned against her, feeling wet spots form in his mane as Fluttershy's tears began to trickle down into it. He didn't protest when he felt his mother's grip tighten. Instead, he rested his hoof over hers, tilting his head to return her nuzzle as Fluttershy continued to cry silently.

"Just...please..." she said softly, "Stay with us, no matter what."

"I will," promised Dawn. He turned his attention back to Twilight and Arkenstone. "When do you want to start?"

"Well, the harvest season is coming up and I really don't want to stir up trouble while that's going on," said Twilight, "During the winter would be best. Hopefully we can get things settled before the planting season."

"I don't know if things will go according to any kind of schedule," said Arkenstone, "But it does seem like our best option."

"Then winter it is," said Dawn, "We'll carry out the plan as soon as the harvest is done."


They spent a little while later hashing out the details in the library. By the time they finished, Dawn realized it would be too late for him and Scootaloo to go to the quarry for their regular practice, so he called it off for the evening. They trotted out the door and came to an abrupt halt as a pale-blue pegasus stallion dropped down in front of them.

"Hey everypony," said Soarin' cheerfully, "How are things going?"

"Uh...well..." Fluttershy turned to hide her face behind her mane. "They could be better..."

"Huh?"

"Don't worry about it," interjected Dawn before Soarin' could inquire further.

"Oookay then," said Soarin', "Anyway! I actually wanted to ask you guys if you could do something for me..."

Author's Note:

Finally, Story 5 is ready to go and I have a title for it and everything. I'm aware that Twilight's explanation for dominant and recessive genes was a little bit clunky, but I don't think anyone wanted to sit through a whole lecture on the laws of Mendelian inheritance in a pony fic. I'm considerate that way. Besides, my biology courses were a long time ago.

Anyway, this story was originally gonna cover the fall and winter seasons, but that got shelved as I realized that I was going to end up having over twenty chapters take place in the fall alone. So I'm breaking it up, with the autumn shenanigans occurring in this fic and the winter ones in the next story.

The big thing I wanted to do with this story was add some additional dimension and character to some of the ponies belonging to the Cult Solar. Given the way the past stories have worked, the only ponies associated with the group that we've been exposed to are either blood-crazed zealots or, in Willow's case, hitmares in the employ of said blood-crazed zealots. So one of my major goals in this story was trying to introduce characters that'll help the audience to see why some ponies would actually want to be in a group like the Cult Solar. Hopefully I do a good enough job.

Next chapter: Rainbow Dash gets in biiiiiiig trouble.