• Published 12th May 2014
  • 8,815 Views, 545 Comments

Rescue on Diamond Mountain - moguera

Dawn Lightwing's home life with Fluttershy is threatened after his story is spread across Equestria.

  • ...


Chapter 1: Publicity

Tension hung thick in the air of Ponyville's public library. It was the kind of tension that darkly hinted of things to come, of premonitions of brewing storms, of anticipation of approaching battles, of the spark that could ignite a massive conflagration. The source of all that tension was a single young colt, currently seated at the library's table. His appearance was mostly considered unremarkable, with a pitch-black coat and silvery mane. As he was, even his flank lacked the typical sign of distinction that most ponies carried with pride, for this colt had yet to earn his cutie mark. What did stand out were his eyes, orbs of vivid blue-green color, framing their most unusual feature, a pair of slit-shaped pupils that gave the impression of a cat, a snake, or even a dragon. It was the resemblance that these eyes held to the eyes of another pony that had been the source of so much of the pain and misfortune that had marked the colt's life until recent months.

Dawn Lightwing had spent most of his life on the run, his peculiar eyes having marked him out as a freak to some ponies and a conniving demon to others. It was this latter group that had proved the greatest thorn in his side. The agents of the Cult Solar had hounded him from town to town, pursuing him relentlessly until, in an act of desperation, the colt had been forced to hide within the depths of the Everfree Forest, living a life of privation as he scrounged for edible plants and fought for his life against the monsters that called that forest home.

All that had changed recently. After a chance encounter, where he managed to save a timid, yellow pegasus by the name of Fluttershy from being killed by a pack of timberwolves, the mare had managed to bring Dawn out of the forest and into her home, later adopting him as her son.

In spite of such a favorable turn of events, Dawn's struggles were not fated to end there, as he struggled with the scars, both physical and emotional, that his previous experiences had left within him. In spite of that, he persevered and began to thrive in Ponyville. However, recent events, namely an attempt on his life by a hired assassin, had brought his past with the Cult Solar once again to the fore.

Which was why Dawn found himself seated across the table from a particular chocolate-colored mare, who was regarding him with careful eyes as she set her notebook and quill down on the table in front of her.

"So," said the mare, Limelight, a reporter from the Equestrian Times, "Ready to get this interview started?"

"I suppose," said Dawn, a little bit of nervousness making it into his voice.

"Relax kiddo," said the mare, breaking into a friendly smile, "This is an interview, not an interrogation. But I suppose we can wait 'til your mom comes over."

Dawn nodded. Given what he and Twilight Sparkle were about to attempt, Dawn had to admit that he felt infinitely more at ease knowing his mother would be there to support him. Granted, Fluttershy was not exactly thrilled with their plan, but then, neither was Dawn. However, it was the most expedient course he could discern to bringing about something resembling a true end to this conflict with the Cult Solar.

"I'm sorry," said Twilight as she took her own seat at the table and set out cups of tea for the three of them, with an additional cup set aside for Fluttershy when she arrived, "This is probably going to be something of a sensation once it gets published."

"I don't know," said Limelight, "It's gonna be pretty tricky to work this into the front page without it sounding like some tabloid-level fabrication, especially now. Canterlot's all in a tizzy over the disappearance of Viscount Eventide."

"Oh...that's right," said Twilight, blinking as she turned to regard the reporter. Twilight had read the news, of course. Somewhere around two weeks ago, Eventide, Viscount of Everhue, had vanished from his estates. While that would have been sensational enough in its own right, the entirety of his mares at arms had vanished with him. The question of what could make a member of the Noble Court and some two-score trained soldiers disappear into thin air was on everypony's lips. Speculation was running rampant.

However, that news was of little consequence to those in Ponyville. The only reason it had interested Twilight at all was because, as a member of the Noble Court, it was entirely within the realm of possibility that Viscount Eventide had been one of those ponies with his own designs for her and her friends. In fact, Twilight sometimes found herself wondering if it was the consequence of some such design that had led to the Viscount's disappearance to begin with...although that seemed an unduly paranoid and self-centered way of thinking about it to her.

"But you distribute to all of Equestria, do you not?" Dawn pointed out.

"Yeah, but our offices are in Canterlot and the disappearance of some hotshot noble, especially one as loaded as this guy is bound to dominate the headlines for a while yet," explained Limelight, "After all, there's the matter of the Guard search for him, when or if they'll declare him 'presumed dead,' what's gonna happen to that fortune of his...it's gonna be going on for weeks."

Seeing Dawn's pensive expression, Limelight gave him an encouraging smile. "That said, there are definitely going to be gaps in between headlines that your story can fill. I get the feeling that this is gonna push all the right buttons with my bosses; a story of tragedy and triumph, a shady conspiracy by some kind of shady cult, you're gonna be headline news kid...though it sounds as though you're gonna be borrowing a lot of trouble."

"I suppose," admitted Dawn with a shrug as he exchanged glances with Twilight, "But, then again, I believe that was our original intent."

"I think I'll keep that part out of the published story," said Limelight quickly.

"Good idea," said Twilight.

A few seconds later, the door flew open and Fluttershy came stumbling in, gasping. "I'm here," she said, in between panting breaths, "I hope I'm not late."

"No problem," said Twilight, "Fluttershy, this is Limelight, an investigative reporter for the Equestrian Times. Limelight, this is Fluttershy, bearer of the Element of Kindness and Dawn's adoptive mother."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," said Limelight, smiling at Fluttershy. Twilight and Dawn were impressed that Limelight had softened her tone and reined in her previous enthusiasm, having apparently taken timid mare's measure at first glance and moderating her responses to help Fluttershy feel more at ease.

"Oh thank you," said Fluttershy, sinking behind her mane a bit, out of reflex. Rather than going to the place Twilight had set for her, Fluttershy instead settled in directly behind Dawn and wrapped her forelegs and wings around him before nuzzling into his mane from above and behind, keeping her eyes tightly closed as she breathed in her son's scent to help her calm down. Dawn simply closed his eyes as well and leaned back into her embrace.

Limelight's eyes went wide and her magic immediately dropped her quill. A second later, her camera came up and a flash lit up the library. "Beautiful!" she squealed, "Oh that picture's gonna be such a hit with the readers-" she stopped when she realized that Fluttershy was now cringing away from her, ducking her head to hide it behind Dawn's. "Sorry..."

Twisting in Fluttershy's arms, Dawn turned and wedged his head back under Fluttershy's chin, gently levering her face upward until it was once again pointing at the reporter. Sensing the mild reproof in his motion, Fluttershy pried her eyes open and looked across at Limelight, who still looked rather worried by Fluttershy's behavior.

"Oh!" exclaimed the canary-colored pegasus, "I'm s-sorry...I didn't mean to do that. It's just...I u-used to model and I h-hated it. Seeing cameras go off like that gives me f-f-flashb-backs..."

"I'm really sorry about that..." said Limelight. In truth, she was already aware of Fluttershy's brief stint as a model and had even attended a few of her photo-shoots. However, seeing Fluttershy's discomfort with the situation and, seeing as it was not related to Limelight's actual reason for being here, the reporter had already decided not to bring the matter up if Fluttershy herself wasn't of any mind to.

"How about we get this over with then," said Limelight, using her magic to slowly slide Fluttershy's teacup from its original place to over in front of Dawn, so that she could drink it without having to abandon her comfortable position.

Letting go of Dawn, Fluttershy reached out and picked up the teacup and lifted it to her lips. As the motion took the cup directly over Dawn's head, the colt watched it warily, careful not to make any moves that would startle his mother as she drank the cup of hot liquid and set it down. "Yes," said Fluttershy when she finished, "We should get started."

"Alright then, could we start at the beginning then?" asked Limelight, levitating her quill once again, "How did the two of you end up meeting...?"

From there, the interview dissolved into a fairly mundane recollection of the events that had brought Fluttershy and Dawn together, along with the story of Dawn's slow, and sometimes troubled, integration into Ponyville life. Twilight piped in frequently to help clarify what details she could, including going into a brief overview of the Eyes of Nightmare, their history, and her theories on their nature. It was a little tricky for the lavender unicorn, as she had to take care to keep her snippets of information informative, without being out of the grasp of the average laypony. She also went into a recounting of the Cult Solar's history and happily shared the knowledge she had gained from her audience with Princess Luna.

While they tried their best to be earnest and honest over the course of the interview, Fluttershy and Dawn, by mutual agreement, had decided to keep certain details to themselves. While they talked briefly about Dawn's conflict with Applejack, they decided not to mention the fact that Applejack had put the colt in the hospital at one point. They also opted to forgo details on just how severe Dawn's emotional issues had become at one point, as well as opting to gloss over the more-than-a-little-questionable manner in which they had been resolved.

They also spoke of Dawn's involvement in the Cloudsdale affair, which was of great interest to Limelight, as she was looking forward to conducting some interviews with Spitfire and some of the other Wonderbolts in order to corroborate Dawn's story.

From there, the topic moved onto more recent and troubling events, including the assassin Willow's attempt on Dawn's life and its fallout, which included the arrest of Fleetfoot as the pony responsible for giving Dawn's location to the assassin. Limelight was especially moved by the story of how Scootaloo had gone to great lengths to show Dawn how important he was to the ponies that loved him and earned her cutie mark in the process.

Finally, the conversation arrived to the topic of the most recent events, revolving around the farmhooves that had come to town to help with the harvest and the conflict that had occurred as a result, though they avoided giving names.

Once Dawn and Fluttershy had finished their story, Limelight let her quill fall with a sigh. The feathery utensil had been moving nonstop throughout the conversation. "Wow," she said, "This story's gonna be huge." She grinned at Dawn and Fluttershy. "I'm not gonna have any trouble at all getting this on the front page."

"Oh..." said Fluttershy, looking less-than-pleased to hear that, "That's...nice..."

"Something wrong?" asked Limelight, raising a curious eyebrow.

"Mom's not exactly happy with my decision to agree to this interview," Dawn explained, "Your story is going to serve as a provocation to the Cult Solar, which will undoubtedly be a source of difficulty to us in the future."

Limelight nodded, glancing down at the notes she had taken from the information that Twilight had provided. "Yeah, I can see why that would have you worried," she said with a grimace.

"But I am more than capable of protecting myself," said Dawn, before smiling up at his mother, "And I've been taught that I can believe in my friends and family. With their help, I feel that I can persevere."

"Ooh, I'm gonna have to make a quote out of that," said Limelight, quickly transposing Dawn's words into her notebook. Looking up, she grinned at the colt and his mother. "Now then, there's one last thing to do before we finish. We've talked a lot about your life in Ponyville, but I feel that we're gonna need some more history, such as some details about your life before you went into hiding in the Everfree."

There as a noticeable pause before Dawn nodded. "Very well," he said.

"Now, you mentioned that you were taken in by a pony, whom you've referred to as your Master. From what I understand about your martial arts training, your use of that term is in a teacher/student sense, correct."

Dawn nodded.

Chuckling, Limelight jotted some more notes down. "I thought so. I just had to make sure, since there are all sorts of ways that ponies could draw the wrong conclusion from the fact that you're using that word to address him. What was his name?"

"Dark Wing," said Dawn, his words drawing a gasp from both Limelight and Twilight Sparkle.

"You mean the Dark Wing?" exclaimed Twilight, conjuring up a notebook of her own, "The hero of St. Canard!"

"The very same...I guess..." admitted Dawn, "My Master never spoke very extensively about his past exploits. But I do know that he had been a pony of some note before taking me in."

"Some note...!" Twilight barely even mouthed the words. "He's legendary!"

Dawn blinked, stunned for a moment. "Well, Spitfire told me that she regarded him highly. However, wherever we went, he was unrecognized."

"Well..." said Limelight, "This was unexpected. Dark Wing disappeared a few years ago. He must have gone to ground in order to take care of you...But you left him?"

"Yes," said Dawn, "Because he died."

"Oh..." said Twilight, her mind connecting the dots. She remembered Dawn saying that his Master had died. However, she'd briefly forgotten that fact.

"So he's dead," whispered Limelight, her tone shocked.

Dawn nodded. "I was there for his final moments. He died of a debilitating illness. I believe that he may have contracted it even before he found me. Fortunately, whatever it was, it wasn't contagious. He assured me of that much."

"I guess that explains why he disappeared," said Limelight, "This is huge!"

"I suppose," admitted Dawn.

Ever the professional, Limelight decided to get their conversation back on course. "In other words, since you referred to him as your Master and say that he found you, then Dark Wing is not your father."

"That is correct," said Dawn.

"So you were an orphan, even then," said Limelight, "Did something happen to your parents?"

Dawn shrugged. "Not that I know of. I don't know who they are. However, as far as I know, they are still alive."

"Have you made any attempt to find out who they are?"

Dawn shook his head. "I have not and I have no intention to. They made it very clear that they did not want me."

A chilling silence descended on the group as Dawn spoke. The only thing that broke it was a slight whimper from Fluttershy as she tightened her hold on the colt.

"What makes you say that?" asked Limelight, getting the feeling that she was treading on dangerous ground.

However, Dawn's tone remained level, relaxed even, as he spoke. "I was very young at the time, so I only have the vaguest of memories about that portion of my life. I can't even recall the appearance of the mare that foaled me."

"Your mother, you mean?" clarified Limelight.

Her blood ran cold as Dawn fixed her with a look that could almost be called a glare. However, it was too cold to be an outright expression of anger. But combined with intensity his unique eyes lent the look and the fact that it was the first time Dawn had expressed clear displeasure over the course of the interview, the look was downright terrifying, even to the experienced reporter.

"My mother," said Dawn, putting a very careful emphasis on the second word, "Is the mare currently sitting behind me. I will not refer to any other pony by that title for so long as I live, least of all that mare."

Limelight gulped. "I...s-see..." She shivered and had to set down her quill for a moment. As she did, Dawn's temper seemed to abate somewhat and he returned to his previous calm.

"I'm sorry about that," he said softly.

"It's fine," replied Limelight, "Everypony has their buttons. Sometimes you can only find out the hard way if you've been pushing them. Anyway, you were saying..."

"Yes, as I was saying, I couldn't recall that mare's appearance," said Dawn, "They may have been fairly well off, because I hardly saw either of them. From what I can remember, my care was passed to others, whom I believe might have been servants. I know quite clearly that they didn't want me, however."

"How do you know?" asked Fluttershy softly.

"Because, that mare gave me my first flying lesson when I was barely old enough to flap my wings," said Dawn, his relaxed tone somehow more disturbing than his brief bout of anger, "by throwing me out the window of their cloud house some four-thousand feet in the air."

Once again, the room descended into a horrified silence as everypony digested Dawn's words. The colt continued on without pause. "That was how my Master found me. By sheer chance, he had been traveling beneath when he heard screaming and looked up to see a tiny foal plummeting from on high. He caught me and carried me up. At the time, I was too hysterical and too young to articulate what had happened to me, so he carried me back up to where he had seen me falling from.

"He told me that he gained entrance into the estate of whatever family that it was and asked if somepony's son had fallen off. He was greeted by a servant who declared that the lord and lady of the house denied any knowledge of any spawn and was thrown out. However, as theirs was the only house in the vicinity, my Master came to the conclusion that, because of my eyes, my parents ultimately decided to dispose of me and deny my existence to erase the perceived stain to their name that came from giving birth to me. He opted to take me with him and raise me himself."

"A-are you sure that that's the case?" asked Fluttershy, looking down at her son.

Dawn shrugged. "I am not certain, nor was my Master. But he could say with certainty that the mansion he brought me to was indeed the house I had fallen from. My own memory of that event is the most clear and vivid memory I have of those years of my life. And I can say with certainty that the mare that threw me out was indeed the mare who gave birth to me."

"Can you really be certain?" asked Twilight.

Dawn nodded. "Granted, there is a great deal that I cannot be certain about. However, I do not intend to waste my time or efforts grasping at shadows."

"Even if you say so," said Limelight, "You realize that, once this story is published, there's a very good chance that those ponies will read this article and recognize you, particularly if your eyes are so distinctive and are the reason they rejected you. Who knows what they might do."

Dawn shrugged. "I haven't the faintest idea who they are though," he said, "My Master would only tell me that they lived in a mansion, but never whose mansion it was supposed to be or where it could be found. He said that I shouldn't bother trying to tie my life to those that threw me away. I doubt that they would feel threatened by the article, as I cannot recall enough information to identify them and have no real proof otherwise. I have no intention of pursuing the matter further and will not seek them.

"However, if they choose to act on the knowledge of my continued existence and seek me out, then, much like the Cult Solar, they will know where to find me." Dawn's voice took on an icy tone that made the three mares in the room shiver. "And if they come here, I will deal with them appropriately."

Fluttershy hugged Dawn a little bit tighter, drawing her wings even further about him as she unconsciously tried to warm the colt against the chill of his own emotions. "M-maybe we shouldn't talk about this anymore," she suggested.

"I concur," said Limelight, setting her quill down with a sigh, "Geez, that was tense."

Twilight was the only pony who looked mildly reluctant. "It's a shame," she said, "If your biological parents are still alive, then that means we could conceivably trace your line of descent and determine whether or not you inherited the Eyes from them."

Dawn shrugged yet again, "Much as I dislike inconveniencing you, I would much prefer to keep them out of my life...whoever they are."

Twilight sighed. "If you insist," she said.

"Well, I have plenty for a story in any case," said Limelight, closing her notebook and tucking it away into her saddlebags.

"Are you returning to Canterlot then?" asked Dawn.

Limelight grinned and shook her head. "Nope. I'm gonna be in town for at least a couple more days. With a story this big, I need to talk to some other ponies, get some other points of view. I hope you'll understand if I air the views of ponies who don't think so highly of you by the way."

Dawn nodded. "Miss Cheerilee has taught us about that thing called objectivity."

"Good," said Limelight, "Granted, not all views are of equal value, but I'm trying to get as much of a complete story as I can.

"I'll also be ranging further afield to get some other viewpoints. I'm gonna do some investigating into the Cult Solar as well and I need to talk to some Cloudsdale ponies to get the point of view on what happened there. Then there's the actual writing of the article; the drafts, the editing, the formatting, etcetera...

"I'm just saying, don't expect this thing to be in tomorrow's edition. It could be a week or more before I get this thing out to the press."

"That's understandable," said Twilight with a cheerful nod, "We're all very grateful for your help and cooperation. I hope this works out well for you."

"P-please be careful," whispered Fluttershy, "Especially when you're investigating the Cult Solar. Th-they m-might d-do something to you."

"I'll be as careful as I can be," said Limelight, "But I've handled touchy investigations before. I once did an investigation into organized crime in Manehattan. Let me tell you, that was no picnic." She lifted one of her saddlebags off her side, revealing a scar that ran down the length of her barrel that was barely noticeable otherwise. "That's how I got this baby."

"Oh!" gasped Fluttershy, "How in Equestria did you get that?"

Limelight sighed. "I thought I was going into an interview with a low-ranking member. That turned out to be a trap, then the trap turned into a Guard sting. I ended up with this scar and spent three days cooling my hooves in prison while the Guard verified my credentials as a reporter by contacting my publishers in Canterlot." She snorted and turned her head away. "Those jerks still billed me for postage afterwards," she groused.

"Well, we hope that you'll be careful anyway," said Twilight, "I'm not entirely certain of the members of the group as a whole, but some members have clearly proven themselves to be extremely dangerous, even to ponies aside from Dawn, especially if they are under the impression that said ponies might be working against their interests."

"Don't worry," said Limelight, "I will."

Dawn walked out into the waning afternoon to see his friends anxiously waiting for him on the other side of the door.

"Did it go alright?" asked Scootaloo, quickly trotting up to Dawn.

"It went fine," assured Dawn with a chuckle as he exchanged an affectionate nuzzle with his fillyfriend, "It was an interview with a reporter, not something to be terrified of."

"I guess," said Scootaloo.

The door opened behind Dawn and the chocolate-brown unicorn came trotting out. "So these are your friends," observed Limelight, smiling as she cast her eyes over the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

"Yes," agreed Dawn, reaching out to drape a wing over Scootaloo's back.

"Oh..." Limelight raised a hoof to her mouth to cover her growing smirk as she looked from Dawn to Scootaloo, the latter averting her gaze with a blush, "So this is your special somepony?"

"Yes," said Dawn without the slightest trace of hesitation or embarrassment, causing Scootaloo to blush even harder.

Limelight giggled. "I may have to interview her as well. This is turning into a very interesting article."

"Oooh! Does this mean we're going to be in the paper?" asked Sweetie Belle.

"Maybe," said Limelight, flinching back a little at the little unicorn's enthusiasm.

"And this time it won't be 'cause 'o our crusadin'," commented Apple Bloom wryly.

Limelight raised an eyebrow, wondering just what Bloom was talking about. "Well, since you're all here, why don't I go ahead with your interviews right away."

The group of friends looked to one another. "Ah think we've got time," said Apple Bloom.

In the end, it was three days before Limelight concluded her work in Ponyville, having talked with a fair number of ponies about Dawn. Being the insightful mare that she was, she had noted some inconsistencies in different ponies' stories that indicated that Dawn had not told her everything about the less savory occurrences of his integration into Ponyville, but opted to mainly stick to writing the things she did know for sure. She left Ponyville with the promise to conduct some further investigations before writing and publishing the article in the Equestrian Times. For Dawn, and those who cared about him, there was nothing left to do but wait.

As the days continued to pass, Dawn and his friends spent more time working at the teahouse, now that they no longer had school to occupy their days. Dawn and Scootaloo were also able to extend the hours they spent training in the morning and afternoon. Rumble was also working harder. When he wasn't working at the teahouse with the others, he was often with Storm Front, learning how to wield the meteor hammer. With their friends otherwise occupied, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom spent most of their free time together, a large amount of which was spent in Sweetie's room at Rarity's boutique.

Sweetie Belle wouldn't admit it, but she was feeling anxious, especially since, of the three original members of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, she was the only one left who still hadn't found her own cutie mark, something Apple Bloom's cutecenera had driven home for her. Sure, Dawn and Rumble still hadn't found theirs either, but the boys seemed strangely untroubled by the fact that they still hadn't yet found their calling in life. Neither Rumble nor Dawn seemed to be in any particular hurry and were simply taking their time to do the things that appealed to them. Sweetie wished that she could share their patience.

She was also starting to feel lonely. Even the free time that she shared with Apple Bloom was beginning to dwindle as Bloom was called upon more and more often to help out at the farm, helping with repairs to the house and barns as the Apple family prepped their home for winter.

Sweetie did what she could to occupy herself in her free time. She helped out as much as she could with her sister's work at the boutique. Fortunately, the continuing development of her magic, along with the patience and finesse that working for Arkenstone at the teahouse had fostered, kept her from being a nuisance and enabled her to actually be an asset to Rarity. But Sweetie had to admit that she no longer yearned to follow in Rarity's hoofsteps, so helping out at the boutique was not exactly the calling that she had been looking for.

"Sweetie Belle, could you set these displays?" asked Rarity gesturing to a trio of ponyquins that she'd outfitted with her latest designs, "Please be careful when you move them."

"Sure," said Sweetie, hefting the first of the three displays with her magic. Fortunately, the ponyquins were hollow, which made them light and easy to move. Sweetie's practice in levitating kettles and cups full of boiling water ensured that they would make a smooth trip out into the showroom. As she worked, Sweetie was singing softly, something she often did when she was alone to make the time go by faster.

She set the first of the ponyquins out in the showroom, setting it gently onto the floor beside a window, carefully orienting to the display to best show off the dress both to somepony coming inside to look and somepony passing by the windows outside. She was so absorbed in her singing, that Sweetie didn't even notice the soft tinkling of the bell as somepony came into the boutique. Whoever the visitor was made no sound or protest as Sweetie unwittingly ignored her to return to the back room for the next ponyquin, still singing as she went.

Sweetie returned to the front room and her eyes widened when she realized that a customer had come in. "Oh! I'm so sorry," she said abruptly. Her magic cut out, but Sweetie realized her mistake before the ponyquin and its dress could fall to the floor, managing to catch it and set it down gently. "I'll go get Rarity right away!"

"That's alright dear," said the pale-yellow pony, smiling cheerfully as she regarded Sweetie with warm, orange eyes, "You have a lovely voice. Did you know that?"

"O-oh..." said Sweetie, unconsciously shrinking back, "Thank you." In truth, Sweetie was very self-conscious about her voice. For some reason, whenever somepony brought it up, she always felt some sort of strange pressure, as though they were suddenly weighing her down with expectations she had no intention of fostering. She was quite tired of ponies suggesting that she should try singing, especially in front of others. "I-I'll go get Rarity now..."

Sweetie quickly dashed back into the back room, where Rarity was hard at work on her sowing machine. No wonder she didn't hear the customer come in.

"Rarity," said Sweetie, waving her hooves to get her sister's attention.

Rarity lifted her gaze up from her work and regarded Sweetie through the lenses of her red-rimmed glasses. "Yes dear?"

"There's a customer here for you."

"Oh!" Rarity switched off her machine, "Thank you very much for informing me. I'll be right out."

Setting her glasses down, Rarity trotted out into the boutique's showroom. Her eyes widened as she recognized the pony waiting for her. "Miss Sapphire Shores! It's a pleasure to see you again."

"Likewise," said Sapphire, flashing Rarity a happy smile.

"I must say," commented Rarity as she moved to adjust one of the displays Sweetie had set out, "I almost didn't recognize you without your outfit."

"Yes," said Sapphire, "Well, it's pretty convenient, in all honesty. So many ponies only see the outfit that, when you take it off, you're practically invisible; makes it nice for going out without causing a major disturbance."

"I can understand," said Rarity, "I also notice you're not as bombastic as you were last time."

"Yes well..." Sapphire chuckled. "When you develop a stage personality, ponies often expect you to act that way, even off stage. It always seems to throw ponies off when I don't act that way all the time. I'm actually glad that you're taking this in stride."

"Well," admitted Rarity, "It's easier to talk to you like this. A stage personality is perfectly fine for the stage, but off the stage, it's easier to deal with a normal pony. So, what can I do for you?"

"Straight to business," said Sapphire, her eyes glittering, "I like that. I'm here for another commission for our next tour." Her eyes roamed over the outfits on display.

"Oh! That's wonderful!" said Rarity. Her business had taken a bit of a dip when she'd decided to suspend any business with members of the Noble Court and, while it wasn't in any danger of going under, getting another commission from Sapphire Shores would mean an upswing. "I'm terribly sorry though. I don't have anything to show you right now that might work. I'm afraid I'm a bit low on gemstones at the moment."

"That's perfectly alright," said Sapphire, already giving one of the dresses and admiring look, "While I absolutely love the outfits you provided last time, I'm afraid that the reviews took issue with them." Sapphire winced. "So I was hoping that, this time, you might provide something...less 'gaudy.'"

Rarity winced in agreement. After all, the design had originally been her own, even before Sapphire had looked at it.

"As it is, I felt that this was a wonderful opportunity," said Sapphire with a smile, "I have six wonderfully talented backup singers who require their own outfits. I thought this would be a good chance for them to come in and do custom fittings so that you can create something for the whole group."

"That sounds lovely!" exclaimed Rarity, clapping her hooves together, "I'll be happy to get started as soon as you are ready."

"Then we have a deal," said Sapphire, "I'll bring my girls in tomorrow and we can get started." She turned to exit, but paused. "By the way, that filly from earlier...is she your sister?"

Rarity nodded. "Sweetie Belle is my younger sister. She's quite adorable, but frequently a hoofful."

"As younger sisters usually are," replied Sapphire, "But I notice she has a lovely singing voice."

Rarity nodded in agreement. "Sweetie has a wonderful ear for music and a voice to match. She's been listening to music since she was just an infant and always trying to imitate what she's heard." Shaking her head, Rarity flashed a sad smile at Sapphire. "I know what you're thinking, but Sweetie has absolutely no interest in singing for an audience; the voice of an angel, but a fear of showing it off."

"Talent and temperament in opposition," noted Sapphire, "I suppose that happens sometimes. It's a shame. She has the potential to be an amazing singer. I would have been happy to give her some pointers."

"I'm afraid I'll have to pass, for Sweetie's sake," said Rarity, "I will let her know about your offer though. Maybe someday she'll be willing to take that step outside her comfort zone and try to use that marvelous talent to try something new...Celestia knows she's certainly tried plenty more reckless things with those friends of hers."

"Alright then," said Sapphire with a chuckle, "I'll see you tomorrow."

As Sapphire Shores left the Carousel Boutique, Rarity cast her eyes back towards the back room, where Sweetie was apparently waiting. Forlornly, Rarity wondered just what it was Sweetie seemed to have against performing.

Going into the back room, Rarity saw Sweetie quietly playing with Opal, the filly gently prodding a ball of yarn so that it rolled into the cat's grasp. Opal would roll and tussle about with the ball for a little before sending it rolling back to Sweetie, who would push the ball once again towards the surly cat.

"Sweetie Belle," said Rarity softly.

"Yes sis?" asked Sweetie, looking back up at Rarity.

The alabaster mare settled down next to her younger sister, resting on the floor. "Can you tell me why it is that you seem so uncomfortable with showing off your talent? You have such a wonderful voice and you love singing."

"Um...I'm not sure I can," said Sweetie with an uncertain tone, "I've thought about it. But whenever ponies talk to me about singing in front of an audience...I don't know...It just doesn't feel...right...like it's not like what I really want to do. I love singing, but I don't really want to be a singer."

Rarity pondered over that for a moment. "I see..." she said, though she really didn't. It was apparent that Sweetie Belle was having difficulty finding any direction in her life. She was, quite honestly, at a bit of a loss. Simply trying different things at random wasn't going to produce a result. However, if Sweetie's talent for singing showed no signs of truly drawing her interest, then Rarity wasn't sure what else there was that Sweetie could try.

Rarity was drawn out of her reverie by a sniff. Looking over, she realized that Sweetie was sniffling, tears running down her face as she stared forlornly at the unmoving ball of yarn in front of her, no longer having the will to send it back to Opal, who had clearly lost interest in any case. "Sweetie! What's wrong?"

"It's just..." Sweetie sniffed again. "...It's just...I don't know what to do! Scootaloo and Apple Bloom already have their cutie marks. They're so happy about it. But I still have nothing. I don't even have the slightest idea what I want to do with my life. I feel like I'm being left behind!"

"What! Of course not!" exclaimed Rarity, "Your friends aren't leaving you behind. Besides, what about Dawn and Rumble? They haven't found their cutie marks either."

"I know," whimpered Sweetie, "But...I can't help it. I don't know how they're able to be so calm and cool about it. But I still want to find it...somehow."

"You will," said Rarity, "You will someday. Don't give up Sweetie." Rarity pulled her little sister into a hug, not minding that Sweetie's tears were soaking into her coat.

Author's Note:

And so it begins...as I promised, this story is going to be shorter than most of the others. However, it also has some very nice action sequences that I'm quite proud of.

The recap at the beginning is probably the biggest effort I've put into trying to make a story's beginning into a legitimate beginning since the very first installment in this series. Since all of these stories are actually lumped together into a single document as one story, the most I've tended to do was designate certain chapters as end-points and then pick up where I left off with the next story. I don't know...I think the infodump in the beginning of this chapter may be a bit much. Oh well...

We also get some more details on Dawn's backstory, particularly the events under which he met his Master. Don't expect much from those little tidbits though, as I'm saving the payoff for that for the final story arc.

Next chapter: Twilight grows a tree inside her...tree...?