• Published 17th Nov 2011
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Fallout: Equestria- The Last Sentinel - Adder1



It's hard to kill memories when you remember everything.

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Reflection Eleven: Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

Reflection Eleven: Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

“Don’t know where he’s gone.

Might be gone for good for all I know.

Wherever he is, it's somewhere I never been.

Somewhere I never want to go.”

I told her. Everything. I told her about how I was bullied, never let up because of how much of a failure I was, about Zoleks, about Lying, Parliamentary Style; about the comeback, the inception, the birth of an idea. I told her how it all started at that lunch table, the dealings with Vani at The Lazy Dog, about Prop Four, how I gathered support and silenced opposition. I told her about the creation of the Mumei, its under-the-table dealings, about the bloody dagger behind the sunny smile. About my backstabs, about my rise to power, about the start of the gang war with the Cruds, about my own downfall. I told her. Everything.

“And then I erased it,” I finished.

“Erased it?” Hummingbird stooped forward toward me, confused. We were seated in on my bed, door closed. She kept herself distant.

I nodded. “I told Pick that I gave him ten days to disband the Mumei. Each day he delayed, I would do something to break his morale. It started with just being annoying- replacing the drinks with ketchup, releasing a frog or eight in a juvie-joint.” I sighed, “Then I got... nastier.”

“You... you didn't hurt anyone did you?” Hummingbird looked worried.

I should tell her the truth, I thought to myself. I should tell her the truth. The other part of me told me to hide it. It would spare her, and you'd get to keep her. I wanted her. I wanted this to work.

Pledge allegiance to neither side but instead strive to strike a balance between the two.”

“I had some of Zoleks' friends add an alchemical agent to the drinks that would make people ill for a few days,” I said to her. “That was the worst that it got.” She still looked unsettled. I added, “After replacing some of the inner circle's... things... with itching powder, that was it. Afterward, Pick did himself in from paranoia.”

She turned away from me, lips pressed thinly together. She looked deep in thought.

“Hummingbird, I-I know my mistakes,” I said, trying to sound as earnest as possible- because I was. “I know what my ambition can lead me to do. I know all of the people I've stepped on, all of the deals I've cheated, all the officials I corrupted. I can't forget, Hummingbird. I simply can't because I remember everything I've gone through. I've tried to make amends and put all of that behind me now. Look at me? Please?”

The green pegasus mare turned to me. We made eye contact. I kept it like that and moved closer, taking her forehooves in mine.

“I'm trying to be better, Hummingbird,” I said. “I really am.”

She looked at me for a few seconds before closing her eyes and letting out a sigh. She took her forehooves away and wrapped them around me, head tucked over my shoulder in a warm embrace. I let out my own breath and hugged her tightly.

“The eyes never lie,” she whispered. “You know, when you said you had all this baggage, I wasn't expecting anywhere near this much.” She chuckled wanly and then exhaled through her nostrils. “Are you still in danger here, Frost?”

“I don't think so,” I answered her. “Pick was the only wild card. For all intents and purposes, the rest of them are keeping to themselves now or moved on.”

“You think any of them are still angry with how you acted during the gang war?”

I huffed, “Well, they took me down and they found somepony even worse to replace me. I think at this rate, they hate Pick more than they do me. People are quick to forget. It's one way how I got ahead.”

“You're sure you're safe here, right?” Hummingbird asked, pulling away and holding me at foreleg's length.

“I'm sure we're safe here,” I said. “It's been a long day and a longer night, Hummingbird. We should get some rest.” I sprouted an ice arm to toss away my trusty fedora onto my desk. Then I flinched and pulled away. “Uh... that is, unless... uh... unless you want to sleep alone tonight.”

Hummingbird wrapped her hooves and drew her wings around me, causing me to roll my eyes up in bliss as she tugged me down. “Nah, I'd miss my favorite pillow too much. Just try to keep your hooves up this time.”

The storyteller smiled this embarrassed smile.

I didn't. I'm only equine, folks. Even now.

* * *

“All rise,” the buffalo bailiff uttered. I stood tall and firm as the room filled with the sound of hooves and feet rolling to the floor in near-unison. A black-robed mule molly strode swiftly and with purpose down the aisle, pivoting on her hooves as she ascended to her seat. “The Court of General Sessions, Fourth Judicial Circuit is now in session. Judge Girder presiding. Please be seated.”

The room filled with the squeak of rubber against wood flooring as we sat back down- again in near-unison. I took a moment to look about the courtroom, my eyes falling on my parents, on Zoleks, on Namira, on Hummingbird close by- and Pick Pack to my side on the other table as well.

And the few other members of the Mumei's inner circle scattered throughout the room. Maybe this wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlefolk,” Judge Girder spoke. “Calling the case of Frostbane Hokkaido Windchill and Hummingbird versus Pick Pack.” She banged her gavel with her mouth. “Are both sides ready?” I admit I grimaced for a moment. I didn't like having my full name used.

Our family's lawyer, a Hokkaidan earth pony stallion with a fiery coat and a cool mane by the comforting name of Bluff Call answered, “Ready for the Prosecution, Your Honor.”

Pick's public defender, a griffiness, likewise answered, “Ready for the Defense, Your Honor.”

Judge Girder looked to the side. “Will the clerk please swear in the jury?”

The middle-aged buffalo cow stood before the panel. “Will the jury please stand and raise your right hoof or hand?” She waited for them to do so. “Do each of you swear that you will fairly try the case before this court and that you will return a true verdict according to the evidence and the instructions of the court, so help you Goddesses? Please say 'I do'.”

“I do,” rang out the members of jury.

“You may be seated.”

Bluff Call rose and addressed the jury. “Your Honor and ladies and gentlefolk of the jury: the defendant has been charged with threatening Mister Windchill and Miss Hummingbird with a BB gun disguised to look like an actual firearm. He is also charged with intent to harm or murder. The evidence will show that the defendant indeed threatened my clients in such a manner on the night of December seventeenth. There exist multiple witnesses of the defendant demonstrating premeditated intent to harm or murder Mister Windchill and multiple eyewitness accounts of the exchange itself. The defendant's DNA was found from the saliva was on the weapon used to threaten my clients. The evidence I present will prove to you that the defendant is guilty as charged.”

I have to admit that my inner rhetor wanted to berate him for using passive voice over active, even if by accident.

The fiery earth pony stallion took his seat and Pick's lawyer now addressed the jury. “Your Honor and ladies and gentlefolk of the jury, under the law Pick Pack is presumed innocent until proven guilty. During this trial, you will hear no real evidence against my client. You will come to know the truth: that Pick Pack was under the influence of the illicit substance known as marijuana, and he was thus cannot be charged for this crime except that of narcotic abuse, which will be settled in a separate court and case. Therefore, my client is not guilty under the preceding charges.”

I maintained a straight face as she returned to her seat, but on the inside I may as well have been scowling. Pick was trying to take the easy way out.

The storyteller leaned closer to the audience.

Are you hearing me, folks? This was how the judicial system worked back then. No judge-and-executioner in one, no trial by wood, fire, and steel; no punishment by death. It's almost alien, isn't it? That's how things worked back then- civilly, calmly, deliberately. There were mistakes made, yes- innocent labeled guilty, guilty labeled innocent. But at least they didn't have to worry about judgment being delivered by a bullet to the head.

“The prosecution may call its first witness,” the robed mule molly declared.

Bluff Call spoke, “The prosecution calls Sunny Days.”

I widened my eyes. I wasn't notified at all of this and looked to Hummingbird in confusion as she did the same to me. The bailiff led the big, orange buck with the blue mane to the witness stand nonetheless. I looked at Bluff Call in askance.

He only whispered, “Trust me.”

The other buffalo approached Sunny and said, “Please stand.” He did. “Raise your right hoof.” He did. “Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you Goddesses?”

“I do,” Sunny said with a stout nod, locking eyes with me. It had been a long time since I heard his voice. I heard no enmity or animosity in it, nor did I find any as I searched his eyes in that brief moment.

“You may be seated.” And so he sat, and the clerk drew away.

Bluff Call stood and strode for the witness stand. “Mister Days, you are a friend of Pick Pack, correct?”

“Was,” Sunny corrected curtly. I arced an eyebrow at that.

“And when was the last time you saw him?” the fiery stallion inquired.

“December thirteenth,” he answered. “Around seven-thirty P.M.”

“What was going on at that time?”

Sunny looked at the jury. “Should I... censor the curse words or something?”

Oh this was going to be good.

* * *

Sunny wasn't the only one to testify against Pick Pack. So were Blustery Days... and Song Spinner. Pick couldn't hope to dig his way out against their testimonies, much less the eyewitnesses' or mine and Hummingbird's. His lawyer even knew it.

Five years of prison on top of a year, possibly longer in drug rehabilitation. That was a relatively light sentence, but as long as he got put away, I was fine with it. I wanted to be done with the Mumei. That's all that mattered in the end.

When everything was said and done, we left the courtroom and exited the building. As we did so, I looked across the crowd over to Sunny, Blustery, and Song. We met eyes again for only a few seconds, but I couldn't really read them. Thinking back, I still can't tell what was on their minds. The better part of me hoped it was regret. The worse told me it was bitterness. Sunny gave a stout nod, which I returned. And then we parted.

I didn't know back then whether or not we were on good terms again. I didn't know if they still hated me. If they did, I knew one thing.

They hated Pick more.

* * *

The storyteller leaned back.

I don't think I need to go into too much detail about what happened after that. In the interest of time, I'll breeze over the rest of the happenings during the break.

Hearth's Warming went very well. I spent the days leading up to it making a necklace for Hummingbird as her present. (He smiled and exhaled softly.) Made completely of ice. Had a, well... hummingbird pendant. She loved it, just absolutely loved it. As for her gift, uh, heh... (He blushed just a little.) I never noticed her sneak out to go shopping. Just, uh, expected her to cuddle with me throughout the night. Well, she... she got a very... very nice dress with some stockings, and, uh...

Someone in the audience called him out.

Yeah, okay, maybe I'm not done with the little white lies. This is more for my sake than the interest of time. Okay, uh... you know how I said I'm still a virgin, right?

He twiddled with his hooves a little.

Well... doesn't mean I haven't gotten bedroom action.

Several complaints rang out from the crowd. The storyteller looked unimpressed.

Oh come on, folks. Really? Really? “Think of the children?” I go through whole torture scenes, graphic dismemberment and disembowelment, and probably the most depressing shit you'll hear in a story ever, and you get a little upset about me talking about bedroom activity? I'm not even going into detail or anything! I'm just implying it!

They quieted down after that.

Okay... better.

Someone asked if they could maybe have an adults-only session where he went into detail abo-

Get out.

Some of them chuckled. So did the storyteller and especially a little filly from earlier.

Heh, n-no, seriously. Get out.

* * *

Well, with that out of the way, we can move on. Rest of the break went great, but there wasn't really anything else to really talk about. Nothing notable at least. Had more get-togethers with Zoleks and Namira, Vani and Alden. Heh, we definitely hit The Lazy Dog several more times while I was back. It's kind of a funny feeling, you know. The juvie-joints were meant for kids, and you have people like us partying like we were nine there. Just imagine all the looks we got... anyway, I also met with Professor Shinespark for more talks on cryomancy and legal stuff on giving her credit as well- okay, I'm trying to give her credit. I don't know what the problem was, but she told me the legal system would be in the way even for that. Because, folks, apparently paperwork ran the world back then.

It was a lot of fun, being back home and finally back on track with my parents. It was a good feeling. Even more than on the dance floor, I felt truly happy. I had the world at my fingertips with a path before me. Everything was going to be okay.

* * *

“Wow... yeah, I definitely know what you mean with Canterlot being like a whole new world,” Hummingbird said as we left Canterlot Royal Station, a gigantic structure that managed to combine the busyness of a train terminal and an airship port with the regal air of the City of Hopes and Dreams. “It's a whole lot... quieter here.”

“'Sterile' is the world I use to describe it,” I sighed. Even as we left and reveled in the fresh layer of mountaintop snow that glossed over the city, accentuating its porcelain-white tones, I couldn't help but think aloud, “Miss home already... and spring break's too short for a trip to Manehattan by train.”

“Yeah, airships are expensive,” the green mare mumbled, then pat my back with a wing. “Hey, why don't we take a walk for a bit? Lemme show you something new here for once.”

“Another special place of yours?” I inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, not just for me,” she chuckled softly. “Come on. As a history major-to-be, I think you might find this pretty neat.”

That certainly perked my interest. I followed her along into the inner ring of the city, heading toward Castle Canterlot. As we strode down the snow-lined sidewalk past the upper-crust ponies in their lavish- and almost wholly fashionable rather than functional- winter attire, I couldn't help but wonder where she was leading me. We finally neared an enclosure blocked off by a high wall of hedges, the archway of which was flanked by two Royal Guards. I couldn't help but stifle a snicker as I saw that in their stillness, they had acquired a light layer of snow. It also made me curious- Royal Guards were only stationed around areas of great importance or ones that required protection. And yet, ponies just walked in and out of the entrance without being stopped. Just what was this place?

“These are the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens,” Hummingbird answered me as we passed through and headed down the walkway. “You'll see sculptures from through the ages here. Some even date from before the War of the Heavens.”

“That far back?” I huffed in surprise.

She nodded. “That far back. Just take your time to enjoy them.”

And so I did, looking at the statues around us. They were of all sorts of ponies in all sorts of poses and depictions. Some of them held banners or flags in festive Canterlot fashion. I wasn't very educated in art history at the time, but I saw a clear progression of style as we moved further down through the circuit that took us through the gardens. The first ones were very rigid, their design more geometric rather than realistic like the ones further down. As one who worked hard to get where he was today, I couldn't help but appreciate the finer details. Even with magic, it takes a lot of skill to shape bronze, stone, or marble. It was especially the case further down the walkway, where the musculature on some of the ponies became very, very lifelike and the statues themselves seemed to convey a sense of motion. One such example was the Diskobolos, apparently a peace offering from the griffins. It depicted an earth pony in mid-spin, preparing to throw a discus.

Hooves and hands went up.

Uh, Roanoke, help me out here. Thanks. Consider these the... first mementos of this segment. Just take a look at that image. You get a sense of balance between tension and relaxation in different parts of the body. The tension is clearly biased toward one side, one direction- and the eye is drawn there. It's not perfect, of course. The Diskobolos was meant to be viewed from a specific, frontal angle. Look at it from anywhere else, and it feels... awkward. Clumsy, even.

Then there were sculptures that really engaged the viewer, and it took Hummingbird to help me appreciate this one. It's called the Seated Boxer. Made by Bitalian hooves and bronze, just... just look at it- in your head, of course. Amazing, isn't it? Not only is the musculature incredible, but look at the pose and attention to detail. The stallion is clearly fatigued. The muscles are bulging from overwork, he has this slumped, heavy pose, and his mouth is open as if to pant for breath. He has a broken nose, cauliflower ear, and he even had a copper finish in some parts of the face to show bleeding. Most of all, look at the expression. Imagine that you're trying to get a feel for this in real life, walking around it- I know, it's a foreign feeling to people like us, so accustomed to the Wasteland. But think on it. At one point, you look down on the Boxer as he looks up to you. This is a sort of artistic interaction going on here. The sculpture is reacting to your presence. It's as if you've caught him right after a match and... what is that, irritation? Maybe? Regardless, you get the feeling as if you're invading his personal space. Fascinating, I think.

Amidst all these sculptures, something struck me as odd. A few of the sculptures seemed... out-of-place. Some of them were incredibly detailed, incredibly realistic for their artistic era, especially when you could compare them to other statues nearby. Such sculptures had no plaques to describe them. They had no documentation, no names- nothing.

One of them especially struck me as... chilling.

It was unlike any other statue in the gardens. For one, it wasn't a sculpture of a pony. It was this... utterly chaotic mishmash of body parts. It had a long, serpentine torso ending in a horse's head, jaw filled with long, sharp teeth with one particularly long fang. There were two horns- a goat's on the left and a deer's antler on the right. It had the forked tongue of a snake and the beard of a goat. The wings were mismatched- one looked like it could have come straight from Hummingbird while the other looked leathery, skeletal- like a bat's. It had the right paw of a lion, the left of a bird-of-prey; one leg goat, one leg reptilian. It even had a horse's mane running along the back of its head, leading to a serpentine tail with a tuft at the end. Just looking at it made no sense. There was no order, no sense of continuity to it. And yet, it looked so realistic... as wild and fantastic as this creature appeared, it looked as if it could spring to life at any moment. It looked almost ecstatic, mouth open and eyes squinted tight as if singing out to the world in joy.

I recognized it immediately, the words and images flashing into view as my memory sifted for a name.

“Discord,” I whispered. “Huh... what's a sculpture of him doing here?”

“Beats me,” Hummingbird said with a shrug. “None of the Royal Guards answered me when I asked about that. Not like they answer anyone much anyhow, but you get the idea.”

I frowned. Just looking at the statue caused my gut to twist and turn. Odd, convoluted thoughts plagued my mind. Unbidden thoughts, raw and animal, rushed forth. It felt...

intoxicating...

intoxicating...

intoxicating...

intoxicating...


I didn't want to stay there. “C-Can we... keep going?”

“Yeah, sure,” she said a little quickly. I got the feeling she got the same disturbing sensation just being there.

As we headed down the walkway, nearing the time period leading up to the War of the Heavens, we found another of such undocumented, lifelike statues. There wasn't just one, either. Not two, not three, not four.

Eight. They were definitely ponies, but they didn't look like any ponies I've ever seen before. They were clearly a lot... furrier than the typical pony, and they had these strange tufts on their ears. The pegasi among them had leathery wings in the same vein as a bat... or a dragon. Their eyes were what struck me most- their pupils were slit much like those of a dragon, a reptile, or a cat. The eight demonic ponies wore similarly nightmarish armor lined with way more sharp edges than should be allowed on any sort of uniform. I counted them off. Four pegasi, all stallions. One of them had what looked like a leather eye-patch. There were two unicorns, two earth ponies- one mare and one stallion each. Interestingly, the earth pony mare seemed to take the lead of the group. Of them all, she looked the most grim, and yet her expression was unreadable. One of the unicorns gritted his teeth while the other bared them- and they were sharp!- as if in grudging acceptance and defiance respectively. The earth pony stallion bore a tense frown, as if anticipating pain. All four of the pegasi looked... bitter.

“Who are they...?” I asked in a whisper.

Hummingbird looked at me and shook her head. “Nopony knows.”

* * *

Professor Egan, a well-groomed and well-dressed mule john, entered the lecture hall quietly, tugging an old projector unit behind him that he plugged into a wall outlet and set up. He was a bit on the older side (if the projector wasn't evidence enough), but he definitely looked like he aged well. The gray hair looked good on him if I do say so myself. By now, all novelty and incredulity of non-unicorn, non-pony professors at Princess Celestia's School had worn down. He simply made a 'settle-down' motion with his forehooves to get us all to quiet down.

With a jovial, sunny Kansass tone, he began, “Hello, everyone. Welcome to the noon Monday-Wednesday-Friday section of Equinpology Two-A. That's 'Intro to Sociocultural Equinpology'.” He looked around. “Everyone in the right place?” He smiled once nopony got up. “Righty-o, let's get started.

“First, what exactly is equinpology?” He strode away from the podium at a slow, methodical pace, turned away from us. Notably, he pursed his lips as if in thought. “Well, we can put the root words together. 'Equine' and 'study of'.” He stopped and faced us, eyes bright and friendly just like his smile. “Simple, right?” He flattened his lips and glanced away, bobbing his head from side to side as if in contemplation. He was the animated sort of professor. I liked that. “Wellllll, not always.”

He started pacing again. “In basic biology, you study cell structure, organ systems, how the equine body works.” He paused and made eye contact with us. “Does that make it equinpology?” He gave a shrug. “Maybe. Not exactly.” He turned away. “In history, you tend to study people, what they did, how they shaped the modern world, and how they'll shape the future.” Back to us. “Does that make it equinpology?” Again, he seemed to mull it over. “Mmmmmm, no, not really. Maybe.” Then a more questioning expression. “So what exactly is equinpology, then?” A purse of the lips, an earnest nod. “It took many years to actually answer that question. Equinpology might have a succinct definition now, but not always. More on that later.”

Professor Egan finally approached the projector and switched it on, writing out with his mouth and then repeating, “Equinpology is the study of equine diversity.” He set the marker down and began to pace once with at that slow, methodical stride. “In a more specific sense, equinpology is the study of equine diversity in terms of biology, social organization, culture, and linguistics.” He paused and turned to face us. “It's a pretty broad area of study, actually. Biology? Yeah, there's biological equinpologists. History? Yeah, we call those archaeologists. You even have mythographers if you want to get into details. Equinekind is extremely diverse. So too, then, must be the study of it. But equines also change over time. We also move around from place to place, exchange ideas, blood even. There is a lot of conversation, interaction, conflict- a lot of social dialogue between equine species. That must be taken into account. And so, if we want to make as simple a definition of equinpology without losing meaning, equinpology is the study of equine diversity across time and space.”

And so he wrote that down too. “Now then. We're focusing on sociocultural equinpology. That means we've got to answer another question.” He shrugged. “What the hay counts as 'culture'?”

Oh yes. I was going to like this professor.

* * *

“So, what do we have here?” Hummingbird asked, curious. We were standing in one of the alleyways near school grounds- funnily enough, the same one we used to 'sneak' onto the campus several months ago. If it weren't for my memory, I wouldn't have recognized it with all the snow.

“Ice muscles,” I replied. “Or something close at least.” I gave each of my legs a wiggle, displaying the thick, sinewy fibers that more resembled the actual horse leg muscles than the ones I use today.

“You're trying to... actually augment your own strength instead of relying on another limb?” the green mare inquired, sniffing a little. Hm, maybe she was starting to get sick again.

“That's the gist of it,” I said with a nod. “Might not have enough space, and maybe this might give me some extra running speed too.”

“Sooooo, what are you gonna do to test it?” she asked, already with a partly-worried-mostly-skeptical look.

“Gonna buck a wall and see what happens,” I answered without missing a beat.

“You sure this is such a great idea, Frost?”

“Nope.”

“Well, come on,” Hummingbird facewinged (cutely) and then gestured to me with the same wing (again, cutely). “You're the one with the eidetic memory here! Don't you remember what happened last time we went through this?”

I winced and grimaced for a moment. “I ended up in a much thornier-than-expected bush.”

“Soooooo, maybe there's a safer way to do this?” she suggested.

I sprouted an ice arm to rub my chin in thought...

* * *

Hummingbird watched as I kicked another soccer ball down the field at the school's recreation center. “That looks like around ten meters again.” She looked at me with a chuckle. “No offense, but that's not very impressive.”

I nickered, “Well, those were just the control runs. Now I'm gonna try with the ice muscles.” Then I flattened my lips and bobbed my head dully from side to side. “And yes, I'll do just one leg.”

She closed her eyes and nodded stoutly, satisfied. (The storyteller sighed.) She was just so cute...

Oh, uh... sorry. I... got a little lost there.

Ice muscles. Right, right. (He blew out a deep breath.)

I fired up my horn with that ice-blue glow and snaked the sinew down my legs, using my memory to get it as close as possible to actual pony musculature. I took a moment to admire my hoofiwork. The level of detail was something I took pride in- remember, my... personal vice. Then I settled back down on all fours, bent down a little.

And kicked.

* * *

“He... he tore out all of his leg muscles?!” Hummingbird exclaimed.

The cream-colored unicorn stallion by the name of Doctor Chock Full took a moment to telekinetically (cheater) wipe off the spittle from his face before answering, “Yes. All of them.”

I was lying on a hospital bed. Again. You know, hospitals were much nicer in pre-war Equestria. Bright, sunny wallpaper, dainty furniture and furnishings, and good service. Oddly enough, I didn't seem too bothered with the idea that I was in a hospital being treated for tearing all of the muscles in my right foreleg. Maybe it was the powerful painkiller spell the cast on my right foreleg earlier. Cheaters. Ah, hay, who was I to complain? Just fifteen minutes before, I had been in such excruciating pain that I'd almost gone into shock. The doctor had thankfully healed up the teeth I cracked while gritting from the pain.

Yes, it was pretty freaking painful, folks.

Her voice cracked several times as she tried to muster up something to say. Finally, her vocal chords seemed to work again, and she again exclaimed, “How?!”

Chock again wiped his face free of- oh, that was mucus. Oh dear, she was sick again, wasn't she? Taking an exaggerated step back, he replied, “Well, if your friend's description was any indication, his,” He paused to cough in a polite, 'proper' manner, “'ice muscles' moved his foreleg with a force that was more than sufficient enough to rip the actual muscles beneath.”

Hummingbird winced and looked a little squeamish. “Will he be alright?”

“Oh most definitely. He'll be good to go in anotherrrrr,” He paused to check a fetlockwatch, “forty-seven minutes. It's actually something we see happening every so often when of you novice students attempt to use a teleforce spell to amplify their muscle movements. We're very experienced in this regard. It's honestly just medical protocol that's keeping him here. Need to know how he reacts to the painkiller and mending spells and make sure there's no adverse reaction or anything. Magic is strange like that.”

“So... nothing too serious?” she asked, starting to look relieved.

The doctor nodded. “He'll be sore for a week in that leg, but he should have full mobility.” She slumped down to her haunches in relief, falling flat on her back afterward. Chock looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Lightweight, isn't she?”

“Kinda,” I grunted as I shifted into a more comfortable position.

“You know, I'm impressed,” he huffed. “With a stunt like that, I would've thought you'd broken your foreleg.”

“With how much pain I was in... I think I would've rather had that,” I grumbled.

“Oh, come now,” Chock nickered with a roll of the eyes. “You should see who we have next door.”

“What happened?” I asked.

Doc-Chock snorted, “He was hit by a soccer ball which, according to him, was traveling at a rather extraordinary velocity.”

“I'm... afraid I don't-”

“Broke his pelvis.”

Gravity started pulling harder on me, and I suddenly wanted to curl up and be as tiny as possible. I know I definitely narrowed my hindlegs to that.

“I'm going to court for this, aren't I?” I finally managed to mutter.

* * *

The gavel banged. “Court is now in session.”

“Celestiadammit,” I muttered.

* * *

“Celestiadammit,” I muttered as I tossed away a snot-lined tissue paper, wrinkling my nose. I was lying on our bed, stooped over my history textbook. Thankfully, I used the tissue just in time before my mucus stained the pages.

“Sorry for getting you sick...” Hummingbird said meekly, turning away from the terminal, her voice dulled from her inability to breath through her nostrils.

“Eh... it was bound to happen,” I sighed. “I don't blame you.”

She made eye contact.

“... okay, I sort of blame you,” I sighed. I couldn't get away with her.

Hummingbird merely smiled a little and walked over to give me a nuzzle, which I gladly returned. As I formed an ice arm to flip to the next page, a thought occurred to me. I kept my horn fired up as I froze and then sublimated my nostrils clean of snot. It worked! It... took a while for me to freeze it, but it worked!

“Wow.” The green mare blinked. “Could you do that for me?”

I shrugged and...

“Wah!” she cried out. “Cold! Cold! Cold! Cold! Cold!”

I just bawled out laughing, and soon, Hummingbird joined in, too.

And then came a knock at the door. We both fell quiet, covering our mouths. Ohhhh, so not good. I motioned for her to steal away into the bathroom while I cautiously approached the door and peered through the porthole. I gulped.

It was the RA- the resident assistant.

I put on a... smile... and opened the door. “Hi there, Dustbin,” I greeted the appropriately dusty unicorn. “What can I do for you?”

“Okay, jig's up, Frost,” he said, adjusting his glasses with his magic. “Where is she?” Oh dammit. He even knew it was a she. Hiding her up immediately went out the window. Okay, relax, Frost. Just use what you know in How to Win Friends. Put that Carnegie to use. Admit error quickly and earnestly.

“In the bathroom,” I said, dropping my 'smile'. I saw Hummingbird peek out, looking worried- scared, even. Eyes back on Dustbin, the buck looked surprised, as if he expected me to deny it. That was good. That was what I wanted. “Look, I know the rules. I'm not supposed to have anypony else in here, and I willingly broke that rule.” I tilted my head forward for a moment, trying to look modest. “I get that. But I did it wholeheartedly because Hummingbird's been my first and thus far only friend here in Canterlot since I first arrived by train, because she's backed me in my studies and endeavors ever since, and because she's homeless.” I flattened my lips. “And because I love her.”

Dustbin rubbed at his forehead and sighed, clearly trying to think this over. Don't let up. Keep pressing him. First, get him to say 'yes'. The brain likes repetition. Keep him saying 'yes'.

“Look, Dustbin,” I continued. Use his name. Names hold power. There is no sweeter sound in any language than the sound of one's name. “Would you agree that these dorm rooms are, if anything, extremely spacious?”

That seemed to be an easy thing to answer for him, an easy way out. He let out a relieved breath. “Yes, yes they are.”

“And quite lavish?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Does it strike you, then, as odd that all of this would be reserved for just one pony?” I asked him. He looked hesitant to answer. So I pressed. “Come now, you have to agree there, even if you grew up in Canterlot!”

Dustbin sighed out, “Yes, I agree.”

I didn't say anything now. Give him a chance to come to the conclusion himself. It makes the decision much more resolute.

The dusty unicorn adjusted his glasses again and sighed out, “Alright, alright, she can stay.” My heart soared, and I let myself show it as I smiled wide and gratefully. “But!” Oh shi- “Keep the noise level down to a minimum, okay? I don't want to let everypony else I'm doing this for you. More than they already have. And you owe me.”

“Deal,” I said a little too quickly. “Thank you, and we'll keep quiet.”

Dustbin just grumbled and shook his head as he trotted back down the hall, and I closed the door and leaned back against it, exhaling out a deep breath as I slid down to my haunches. Hummingbird sat down as well, and we both looked at one another with expressions that said, “That just happened. That just happened!”

We cheered. Quietly, of course.

* * *

“New plan,” I said to Hummingbird. We were out in the field again, soccer ball before me. “I'm going to work my way up with thin ice muscles, thickening until I start to feel... something, okay?”

“You're pretty persistent with this thing,” she remarked. “We gave up on ice wings, if I recall.”

“Well we didn't with the thicker ice arms,” I argued. “And ice wings took multiple attempts. I want to give this a few more gos.”

“Hmph, maybe you're just being stubborn,” the green pegasus mare grunted.

“Well, breakthroughs aren't made by the easily-discouraged,” I countered... stubbornly.

“Just try not to hurt yourself again... please?” Hummingbird sighed.

“I'll try, love,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. She flushed red. She always did that when I called her that. She said it made her feel old, like she was back in the times they spoke Old Equestrian. Personally, I think it might have been a fantasy of hers in a sense. I don't know. My thinking was... different back then.

I bit my lip as I drew the icy sinews around my left foreleg this time, heart beating faster. Was I really going to try this again, even if I risked ending up in horrible, agonizing, excruciating pain? Well... discoveries weren't for the faint-of-heart either. I scowled and grunted as I committed myself to it, giving my leg a test punch.

Okay... nothing painful. Great! I looked over at Hummingbird with a smile and noticed she had covered her face with her wings. She peeked between the tips of her feathers with a single eye. “You're okay?” she asked. Just... so... cute...

“Yep!” I smiled at her. “Now then... let's see if this works...” And with that, I gave the ball a solid kick, watching it sail away. “... hm, distance could use some work.”

* * *

“'Ice arms are an ideal substitution for telekinesis when it is either impossible or infeasible to use it,'” Hummingbird muttered aloud as she read what I typed down on our terminal. “'Like telekinesis, they do not provide a sense of physical contact or sensation. However, they allow for a level of fine-tuning beyond what hooves are capable of- somewhere approaching or at least between griffin claws and telekinesis.'” She bobbed her head to the side for a moment. “'The process for creating ice arms is similar to forming ice in and of itself. One must-' Okay, see what you're doing here?” She turned to me. “You're using a lot of 'one does this' and 'one does that'. Maybe substitute for 'you's for a more personal feeling. You're trying to talk to the other pony. Er, person. I just feel using 'you' would feel more personal is all. It's still good, just...”

“No, no, I like that suggestion,” I said to her, giving her encouragement. “Let's keep on reading. Anything else you have to add?”

“Okay, sure, no problem.” The green mare turned back to the screen. “'One must imagine flowing and freezing the water just as with creating shapes, this time forming a physical limb rather than a shape. Accurate anatomy isn't important- just that there is an arm itself with fingers...'”

* * *

Winter was rolling out and spring was rolling in, the seasons changing hooves in Canterlot like the drawing of curtains- much like the cycle of night and day. The days grew warmer and longer, the ponies and animals more lively and outgoing. Well, a little more anyway. I woke up well-rested, sighing in content with the feeling of Hummingbird snuggled on top of me, snoring squeakily as usual. I smiled endearingly at her, idly stroking down her wing as I glanced at the clock. Well. Looked like I had to disturb Sleeping Beauty.

So I... (he coughed into a hoof) gave her flank a smack.

Hummingbird let out a squeak of surprise, those lovely crimson, violet-splashed eyes flashing wide open. “Urgh, you know there are better ways of waking me up!” she grumbled, betraying a grin nonetheless.

“Like... this?” I snickered, giving her rump a good rub.

She smacked me playfully on the head, causing me to cry out softly more out of reflex than pain. We fell into chuckles, hugging each other- but only briefly, only briefly.

Because we both startled as a new, unfamiliar sound filled the air.

Mmhmheheheheheh...”

Even the storyteller looked unsettled as he repeated the sound.

Still chills me to this day...

Hummingbird and I bolted upright in bed. “What was that?” she whispered.

“I don't know...” I muttered.

“Should we be worried?” she asked quietly.

“I hope not,” I answered, heading to the door. It was worth investigation. I sprouted an ice arm to turn the handle and push it open...

… and then I was knocked off of my feet as the hinges swung inward. I cried out in surprise, then flailed as I realized I wasn't falling down. I was falling sideways to the wall, knocking over the coat-rack in the process. My eyes bulged in surprise as I found myself lying flat against the wall as if gravity decided to take a day off. What the buck was going on?!

“Hummingbird, what's going on?!” I cried out, starting to panic as shouts of surprise filtered through the walls of our room. This was completely new to me! And it made no sense!

Hummingbird flew up to me and sat on my snout. Uh. Wh... Hummingbird was... was... she was a hummingbird! She was literally a very wide-eyed, surprised-looking hummingbird! What the buck!

Mmhahahahah!” that sinister laughter thundered out. Then in a voice slick and sinister, filled with both malicious playfulness and playful maliciousness: “Hoooooooheeheeheeheeheeeeeee! Movement! Hoooooeeeee, movement! I can move again! I can wiggle my toes, I can wiggle my eyebrows, and-” There was this absolutely hideous grinding noise. “Oh, ohhhhh, yes, and now I can finally scratch that itch. Oh, you wouldn't believe how long I've been waiting to do that!”

The only words running through my head right now were: What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck- hooooly shit my bed just turned into an ostrich! Hooooly shit my ceiling fan just turned into a ceiling chair! Whyyyy do I suddenly feel like spitting out pickles while hula-hooping and drinking cheese? Yes, drinking cheese!

Good morning, fillies and gentlecolts! I am today's entertainment! Oh, please, please, please hold your applause! Now, I've been planning a wonderful show for all these centuries! And guess what? You're going to be the stars! Oh, just look how marvelously you fit your roles! Mmmeeeeheeheeheeheeheee! It's almost delicious! I could just drink it up right- okay, you know what? I will drink it up!” There was an exaggerated slurping sound as... something was sipped up. Followed by an explosion of all things! “Whhhhoopsieeeees! Oh dear oh dear oh dear, uhhhh... property damage. Rates go quite high here in Canterlot. Ahhhh, I don't give a lizard's foot anyway! Haaaaahahahahahahaaaaa! Discord's back, baby! Now everypony get your dose!”

Son of a bitch.

Okay, somepony's cussing too much out there!”

I froze.

Then, in a sick twist of fate, I literally froze over. Hummingbird's beady little eyes bulged as she hovered away from me in surprise.

That's better. Come now, don't you know this is a G-rated television show?”

What... what? What the fuck?!

Okay, that's enough, you there. Zip it.”

I let out a muffled grunt of surprise as my mouth somehow zipped shut. While I was frozen. Then a padlock appeared at the end, was locked by a key, and then the key darted through the window- shattering it from the outside-inward by the way- whereupon I felt the entire dorm complex lift up and slam down on the ground.

Now that that's out of the way...” Discord boomed, still out of view. “No no.” The walls and floors blew away, turned into a myriad of flying cards, causing everyone in the buildings nearby to fall to earth. Now we could behold the wicked draconequus in all of his sinister glory. With his eyes open now, I could tell they were mismatched... but they both held this unsettling hunger to them. “Now that that's out of the way, let's put on a show!” He started pointing around. “I want a garbage truck,” The Canterlot Bazaar- all of it- turned into a gigantic garbage collector wagon that let out a loud hiss of pressurized air, “a mime on a dime- oh what's a dime, you ask?” And then one of the unicorns turned into a mime precariously balanced on top of a tiny, silver coin. “That's a dime! Now a whale with a pail, a bucket on a musket, a water main on a daughter's mane...” The items popped up all over the place, all taking the place of everyday objects- and ponies! A green unicorn mare wailed and ran around in circles as a water main started discharging gallons of water from her hair. “Now some passes and grasses and lasses and basses- and let's not forget- chocolate raaaaaaaaain! Some stay dry and others feel the pain!”

Good news, I wasn't frozen anymore.

Bad news, I fell under the, uh, “lasses” category.

I felt something very off about my body all of a sudden and then looked down and between my le- holy buck I was a mare! My higher-pitched scream joined those of thousands as we ran and panicked across the reorganizing streets. I watched as I suddenly began moving backwards even as I galloped forward, policeponies suddenly pirouetted on sheets of ice... cream, everything started turning into random objects or exploding, and finally, to top it all off, the sky turned pink with brown clouds raining... chocolate milk on us all. It was just as Discord would have wanted- utter chaos. And he was reveling in it all, giggling and guffawing at our expense.

Then the world seemed to shake as a bowel movement-inducing voice completely unlike Princess Celestia's boomed, “Enough!”

Discord blinked. “Oh snickerdoodle.”

A wall of darkest black burst from Castle Canterlot, enveloping everything in blinding darkness.

* * *

I blinked my eyes open and groaned as I picked myself off of the floor of our room. Wait, my voice was deep and grave again! And I was standing up in our dorm room! I looked over to find Hummingbird steadily getting up to her hooves, and she did the same. We both cheered and hugged one another tight.

“Jeez, are you alright, Hummingbird?” I asked worriedly as we pulled away from one another.

“Y-Yeah, I think so,” she sighed in relief. “You?”

“Yeah, back to... stallion me.” My hindlegs twitched involuntarily as I shuddered from the recent memory.

“Hey, do you hear all that?” the green mare asked, looking toward the window. There was some commotion outside, and I headed over to open the window and swing out the shutters. There was a gathering of Canterlot ponies and Royal Guards, now all congregating about Princess Celestia as she seemed to look around in relief.

“I'm glad all of you are alright,” she said softly, gently, “but I'm afraid we have a matter of national security on our hooves now. Please remain sequestered to your homes, my little ponies. Run your shops and do your errands as necessary but only if necessary. An ancient evil known as Discord is free from his prison, and while my sister is working on protecting Canterlot from his influence...” She looked off to the pink skies in the distance. “I'm afraid the rest of Equestria may not be as fortunate. Stay safe, my little ponies.” And then she disappeared in a flash of yellow light.

Murmurs of questions filled the air as everypony headed back to their homes and businesses. I had a few of my own as well. How did Discord break free? What was that about her sister, Princess Luna? How long would it take for this situation to be contained?

I had one answer, though. I had a nagging idea of what all those unmarked statues were...

* * *

As it turned out, it took less than a day for the six new Bearers of the Elements of Harmony to repetrify Discord. It allowed us all to breathe easy now, though the psychiatric wards certainly had their hooves full with the traumatized ponies left in the wake of his very brief rule. Hummingbird was one of them, though it left her under more physical duress than emotional. She was a frail pony, after all, and she was in the hospital for a few days just to make sure her body was checking out alright after all that stress. I was with her the whole time, leaving only to get her food.

“You... you got caramel?” Hummingbird squealed, wriggling in delight as she undid the twine around the plastic bag and started chewing on a morsel, melting just like the square in her mouth. “Mmmmm... oh meh gush...”

The storyteller smiled softly, sadly with the memory. And then he blinked his eyes rapidly and moved on.

I couldn't help but find myself... a bit disturbed. No, not at what just transpired but my... lack of response to what just transpired. I wasn't fazed by any of it. Sure, the experience itself was traumatizing, and to this day it still scares me... a little. But only a little.

I didn't think too much of it at the time. I just focused on what needed to be done. Hummingbird needed to be tended to, especially since her illness did, in fact, get worse as a result of all that stress. She needed antibiotics and shots. She needed somepony to keep an eye on her. I knew she was frail, yes, but I didn't know it was because she had not one but two immunodeficiency syndromes. She still had an immune response, but it was about a third the capacity of a normal pony.

When I did have time to think of it, I just brushed it aside. I was mentally tougher than most ponies, I thought to myself, because of my near-death experience at a relatively early age- and by the hooves of other ponies. That was how I rationalized it. That was how I rationalized it for a long time after that.

Folks, you know what I'm like today. You've listened to what I did to Sewn Britches, Langson, Snake Charmer, Kaden, raiders in general. You know, you know that I talk to Her. You know... you know that I have these, these nightmares, these memories that... won't leave me, these... all of these, these... (he contorted his lips and wavered a little, trying to put it all down and out) all these scars.

He stilled.

I'm not sound of mind. That didn't happen overnight. And I might say I'm crazy, I might say I'm damaged. Does that mean I'm any less crazy, any less damaged?

* * *

“Zoleks? Zoleks, are you there?”

“Yeah, I'm here. Hoooooly shit, buck, that was some real bucked up stuff we all went through...”

“Are you and Namira going to be okay?”

“Yeah, we're going to be okay, Frost. Zebras are tough, heh. But what about you? You okay? You and Hummingbird?”

“Yeah, we'll be fine. Hummingbird's in the hospital right now, just to make sure she's okay after all that. Want to say hi to Zoleks, dear?”

Hi, Zoleks!”

“Heh, well she sounds fine to me, buck.”

“Mm-hm. She should be cleared for leaving soon. How's everyone else down in Manehattan? How're my parents? Yours?”

“Our folks are fine, Frost. Don't worry about it. Your mom's a little shaken up, had a bit of a heart attack-”

“What?”

“She had a heart attack, but she's stable. She's alright. She's just fine, Frost.”

“Jeez... do you know what hospital they went to? I want to give them a call.”

“She's already checked out, buck. Like I said, she's just fine.”

“Oh thank Goddess... well, guess it's 'Goddesses' now, huh?”

“Yeah... hey, look, I gotta check on downstairs again, okay? Talk to you later?”

“Okay, okay. Call you later.”

See you, Zoleks.”

“Peace, bro.”

* * *

Hummingbird and I headed back toward the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens a few weeks after she was cleared for leaving the hospital. I felt a sense of worry for her as we neared, even as she strode forward ahead of me with a confident, level head.

“You sure you want to do this?” I asked her quietly.

She nodded stoutly. “I have to get over this. I just have to.”

I nodded slowly, keeping an eye on her should anything happen. As we neared the rows of hedges, though, there appeared to be quite the commotion near the gateway. A pair of Royal Guards were holding back a small crowd, a cacophony of mixed, irritated voices making it difficult for me to tell exactly what happening.

I moved forward and tapped one of the ponies on the shoulder. “Excuse me, ma'am, but what's going on?”

“They're not letting us see Discord, that's what,” she snorted angrily. “Frankly, I couldn't imagine even Princess Celestia herself forbidding us to spit on his feet, let alone the Royal Guard.”

“What?” Hummingbird stared incredulously past the crowd at the pair of guards keeping the mob at bay.

“I'm quite as surprised as you are,” a unicorn stallion close by grumbled. “I bought these specific tomatoes to pelt that bucking statue! Specifically! I don't even like tomatoes!”

The green pegasus mare groaned, rubbing her face with a wing. “Well no way we're gonna be seeing the statue.”

“Hang on, let me handle this,” I said to her with a soft smile. I turned back and let out a shrill whistle. That certainly got their attention, though I suddenly had twenty-plus pairs of irritable eyes on me. “Folks, we're all agreeable ponies here. Look, I can understand your anger. We all went through the same experience together-”

“He turned me into a newt!” one of them cried indignantly, causing them all to snap angry remarks at me and start turning away.

“Well you got better,” I countered, then looked at everypony else. “Right?” The lot of them grumbled in affirmative. Good. Already had them saying 'yes' with me. “Again, we're all angry at Discord for what he did. Be that as it may, do recall what started this whole mess. It was a few fillies displaying a profound sense of disharmony. Now, if you directed your anger at this statue...” I rolled a hoof to them, letting them come to the conclusion themselves. “Well, even if he was sealed away again by the new Bearers of the Elements of Harmony, it wouldn't be a good idea to risk another outbreak for the sake of a petty display of vengeance. Wouldn't you agree?”

There were more grumbles in affirmative, and the crowd began to disperse. Many of them did so reluctantly, but after a few minutes, we were left with alone with a pair of very relieved-looking Royal Guards. The brilliant-white pegasus stallions nodded stoutly in gratitude and resumed their posts. Hummingbird looked at me with a thankful smile, but as soon as we tried to pass, the guard pair shot out their wings between with a sound not unlike the clash of swords, barring our passage.

“Apologies, ma'am and sir, but we cannot allow public entry into the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens at the present,” the one on the left said firmly.

“Sir, we don't wish to cause any trouble,” I explained. “Hummingbird here just wants to face her fears. She needs this.”

“Our orders stand,” he said simply. “No public access.”

I frowned, but his partner pushed down their wings and added, “What my partner is trying to say is... while we appreciate your help, we just can't allow anyone into the gardens right now. If you really must know, we are moving his statue to a more secure location to ensure that such an outbreak cannot occur again. I hope you will understand.”

I looked at Hummingbird for her reply to all of this. She sighed, “We understand, sir. Come on, Frost. Let's go.”

“And cue that,” the more friendly guard spoke as a procession of Royal Guard unicorns marched by, their magical fields working in concert to lift a massive, tarp-covered object past us as we hastily backpedaled out of their way.

I squinted my eye in scrutiny, however. The object was a lot... longer than Discord's statue as I remembered him. One particular unicorn looked like he was straining a little harder than the others. There was a thud as something dropped out from the tarp. With the low levitation height, I couldn't see much.

But I could see a set of four stony legs, each hoof covered in a very particularly armored horseshoe completely unlike any of the Royal Guards.

I looked back up to see the lead unicorn glaring daggers at one who slipped up as he hastily levitated the other statue back under the tarp and they proceeded toward Castle Canterlot.

It confirmed my suspicions. The Canterlot Sculpture Gardens weren't just an open-air gallery.

They were open-air prisons for enemies of Equestria.

* * *

You know what? Let me fast-forward a little. Summer came and went. I returned home to Manehattan once more, glad that I was finally able to return to a home where I could be accepted with open forelegs... and to see Zoleks again.

This time, instead of helping him out, I came to him seeking my own.

“Really?” he chuckled at me as we sat down near the fountain square just like old times. “You're coming to ask me for help?”

I only nodded at him. “I really want to learn more Zebrikaans. More about zebras in general, really. It would really help later on.”

The chill zebra buck smiled and pat me on the back. “Ja soos altyd, my vriend. Come on. Let's head back home. Walk n' talk, walk n' talk. You'll wanna chat with my folks, though. They know more about the Denipulo tribe than I do.”

“Chiefdom,” I corrected.

“Huh?”

“Chiefdom. Tribes have no central leader. Chiefdoms do. Therefore, every single buffalo 'tribe' we learned about in elementary is actually a chiefdom.”

“Heh, whatever buck,” Zoleks chuckled. “Whatever.”

And then after all that? Princess Luna had her first public appearance since her return, funnily enough on Nightmare Night in the place she first tormented in her return as Nightmare Moon- Ponyville. That caused quite the ruckus, of course.

The storyteller huffed softly, looking over his armor for a moment as he smiled with the memory. He removed another newspaper and set it down. The front page article displayed a cloak-wrapped alicorn descending from darkened skies atop a streamlined yet archaic and very much intimidating chariot lined with spikes and an eye design on the front. It was pulled by chains connected to a pair of leathery -winged pegasi dracoponies- two Lunar Guards. The headline: “WHAT A NIGHT, WHAT A FRIGHT”.

I remember when I looked at this way back when. I didn't know what to think. Those unmarked sculptures were all petrified ponies- and a draconequus. I always thought Equestria to be a relatively peaceful place outside of maybe the gang wars in Manehattan. Those were the only two Lunar Guards that anypony, anyone had ever seen for a long time. Whatever happened to the rest, Hummingbird and I could only guess. Any questions we asked were ignored, avoided, or dodged. We didn't see any harm, so eventually, we stopped asking.

He looked at the cover again. He pointed from the one in the front to the one in the back.

Anvil. Hammer. Not the same Hammer Toss from Manehattan with the Mumei, no. I... I still can't believe that... no, I'll save it for another time.

He set the paper down and sighed out a cool mist.

I'll save it for another time.

Another Northern Lights Festival came and went- another year of remembrance, tears, and hope. Now that I actually had some formal education in equinpology and history, I had the opportunity to really appreciate the similarities with and differences between the surviving Northerner peoples. In truth, the Northerners- the Thulians, Haysians, Hokkaidans, and Horwegians- were actually very different in terms of lifestyle and culture. They were extremely diverse and often led independent city-states. It was The Great Exodus that really brought them all together. They... we all shared a common tragedy, a common event that changed our lives forever. It was a powerful experience that created a bond between Northerners stronger than any other.

Life was good, for a time. Life was really good.

The old unicorn dracopony leaned back.

I touched on me being... different from other ponies a few minutes ago. Not just magically- mentally. Let me... let me give you another example of my... of my difference from other ponies. I need to make time for this especially. See, things back then weren't... perfect. We like to imagine pre-war Equestria as this idyllic society free of worry, free of fear, free of danger. We tell tales of how great things used to be back then, stories about “the good ol' days”. In truth, things were less than perfect. There was worry, there was fear.

And there was danger.

* * *

Early springtime in Canterlot. We were in our dorm room then. Hummingbird was at the terminal browsing music, and I was testing out my ice muscles, sitting on my haunches and shadow boxing. I'd long since refined them. They were no longer these sinewy, realistic structures. In the end, all I needed was a wraparound structure that moved with my legs.

A crackling filled the air as he formed them.

I only needed overlapping tendrils, like these.

And then they sublimated.

There was a knock at our door, and as one we turned toward it. There was a shuffling sound and a dainty little envelope pushed under the door. Hummingbird was the first there and picked it up, looking it over.

“Huh, it has the Equestrian Royal Seal on it...” she muttered, then looked at me. “Expecting any summons from Princess Celestia?”

“No, not really,” I said with a shake of my head as she tried to open it. “Here, let me handle it.” I fired up my horn and sprouted an ice arm to demonstrate.

The green mare hoofed it over and smirked. “Fingers make it so much easier, huh?”

“Sooo much easier,” I chuckled, taking the envelope and opening it in a swift, fluid motion. I read aloud: “'Princess Celestia cordially invites you to the wedding of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and Shining Armor, Captain of the Royal Guard'.” I blinked. “Huh. How about that?”

“Wow, a royal wedding?” Hummingbird trotted in place excitedly... and cutely, of course. “When and where? When and where?!”

“Let's see... 'at the Castle Canterlot Keep on Saturday April Twenty-First... starts at noon... free food and drink... formal attire is recommended but not required...'” I looked up and turned to Hummingbird. “I don't know about you, but I wouldn't mind going.”

“I'd love to!” Hummingbird squealed. “Ohhhhh, I still have that dress, but...”

“Uh... I... I think that's a little... racy...” I said with a blush.

She rolled her eyes and grinned. “I could always go in it to make everypony else jealous...” Then she snorted and laughed, “Haaaaahaha, oh gosh, I'm so terrible at doing that...”

I looked away. “Yeah... sure...”

* * *

I looked at myself in the full-body mirror, admiring myself. With the fedora and the simple black tie, I looked more like a reporter for the event than an invited guest. I was even wearing a small set of saddlebags. I just liked the ability to carry things with me and have some extra space. Still, I didn't want to be too formal even if the stallions of the Canterlot elite attending would no doubt be attending in tuxedos and sport coats.

“I don't know why I'm bothering with the mirror,” I chuckled, looking back at Hummingbird. “It won't change how I look all that much anyway.”

Hummingbird was wearing a cheap, er- (the storyteller coughed and then spoke in a haughty tone) 'less expensive' cream-colored dress. From what I heard, it was a new option made available as a new line of clothing from Rarity from Ponyville, this fashionista and supposedly also the Bearer of the Element of Generosity. It was simple and looked more like a nightgown, but Hummingbird didn't mind. That it was comfortable was all that mattered for her.

“Yeah, move over so I can... what, do it all over again for the sixth time?” she chuckled.

“I think you look just beautiful, love,” I said. “Come on, let's go. Don't want to be late for something like this, do you?”

“But... but do I look presentable?” Hummingbird flustered. “It's been so long since my last formal event! I have to be presentable! Is my mane okay? I haven't even styled it!”

I gave her a kiss on the cheek and hugged her. “You're fine, Hummingbird.” And she was... I pulled away and we headed out.

The first thing we noticed? The gigantic pink-colored bubble formed over the city. And the increased presence of Royal Guards.

“Uh, e-excuse me, sirs?” I said, quickly approaching a pair. They always came in pairs. “What's going on?”

“Princess Celestia has declared a state of emergency,” the pegasus answered. “There is evidence of a credible threat to Equestria, and so there are additional security measures in place.”

My heart raced. “What about the other cities? Is Manehattan protected?”

He shook his head. “We believe that this threat is directed specifically at Canterlot. Regardless, the royal wedding is scheduled to continue at the request of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and the Captain of the Royal Guard.” He then muttered something under his breath.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing, citizen,” he said to me a bit more firmly than necessary. “Move along.”

I kept my eye on him as Hummingbird and I headed away from the guardponies. “Did you catch that?” Hummingbird asked me.

“No, you?” I turned to her as we proceeded toward the center of the city.

“Something about how he agreed with the other Captain of the Guard on postponing the royal wedding,” she answered. Wow, was her hearing really that good, or was my hearing really that bad?

“'Other Captain of the Guard'?” I blinked. “I wasn't aware there were more than one.”

“Me neither,” she said, shaking her head. “So, what's the plan?”

“I guess we're still going,” I replied. “After all, once-in-a-lifetime event, right?”

“Right, but...”

“Hey.” I gave her a nuzzle. “If anything happens, I'm here for you.”

“Heh, as much as that means if something manages to get pass the shield and the Royal Guards,” the green mare snickered. “It's good to know I have my knight in shining armor, though.”

The storyteller smiled softly, looking at his own armor.

Not yet, Hummingbird. Not yet. “Heh, choice words considering the groom,” I chuckled. “Hey, look, I'm going to call Zoleks and make sure everything's alright, okay?”

“Sure, sure, no worries,” she said with a nod.

I took out my cell phone, but a glance at the display told me I wouldn't be calling anyone. I scowled and pocketed it, breathing out a sigh. “No reception,” I hissed. “Dammit...”

“You okay, honey?” Hummingbird tilted her head down to look at me at eye level.

“Yeah, just... I'll be fine,” I lied. “Must be the shield.”

“You really care about him, don't you?”

I only nodded. “Let's... just get going. Let's just get going.”

We definitely weren't the only ones invited to the wedding. All of Canterlot, from the workers to the nobles, the rich and the poor, were heading to Castle Canterlot. It reminded me of how the Northerners of Manehattan were coming together for the Northern Lights Festival albeit on a much, much smaller scale. Still, it made me happy to see that nopony and nobody from the city was excluded from such a once-in-a-lifetime event, even if most of the aristocrats were... less than enthusiastic. At least they had the decency to attempt to hide it. The additional security measures were all too apparent, however. It wasn't limited to increased Royal Guard presence. There was a security checkpoint just before entering the keep, where guests were magically scanned before they were admitted in. A Royal Guard unicorn even had to take special time to remove and scan my cell phone before allowing us through.

Another unfortunate security measure was that only close friends and family of the bride and groom were allowed in the chapel. The rest of us remained outside in the keep, though there were more than enough food and festivities to keep us occupied. Heh... Hummingbird and her food. In the meantime, I managed to catch up with a certain mule while at the banquet.

“Hello, Professor, Egan,” I greeted.

He turned around and smiled at me. “Hello, Frost! Nice digs.”

I smiled as I realized that he'd only come wearing a tie himself. “Not one for being too formal, professor.”

“Heh, I get where you're coming from. Enjoying the wedding so far?”

“Well, at least I have my-” I glanced to the side as Hummingbird smirked and teasingly raised a wing as if to slap me, “marefriend here with me.” She smiled happily and relaxed, going back to eating. “To be honest, my mind is elsewhere. It's tough not to worry about things with a big pink dome over our heads.”

“Know what you mean,” Professor Egan sighed. “But, let me take your mind off of things. You're a Northerner. I trust you've been to both of the Northern Lights Festivals these last couple years?”

“Oh definitely,” I said with a nod, grateful for the change in subject. “It would've been a sin to miss it. Have you been to them?”

“Absolutely, oh!” He clasped his forehooves together and smiled brightly. “I went to the one in Burrlin last year, the one in Little Shanghay this year and oh my Goddesses you Northerners are such amazing people! I just finished sifting through what our department learned last year, and then the next year's festival was upon us! It's incredible how much we're learning after all these decades of hardly anything at all!”

Hummingbird gave me a little nudge with her elbow. “Frost here's aspiring to become an equinpologist himself, Professor. Any pointers you can give him?”

He gave a short laugh, eyes bright. “Really? Well, where to begin? You have your four-year plan in order?”

“Ah, yes, professor.”

“Take any languages?” he asked.

“Zwahili and Bise,” I answered. “I have a friend back in Manehattan teaching me Zebrikaans.”

“Manehattan? Is that where you're from? Oh, that's...” He paused, looking confused as he raised a floppy ear. “Do... do you hear... pinging?”

I looked to Hummingbird who perked her ears up, and looked up. Her eyes widened and her mouth went agape. I slowly turned my gaze upward.

What I saw high above Canterlot was a swarm of black, winged shapes ramming against the shield encircling the city, far more than I could ever hope to count. There could have been hundreds, possibly thousands of them, all trying to break in. Conversation quickly muted and murmurs took their place, ponies and the scant few people backing toward one another by instinct. We began to exchange worried looks between one another. A new series of sounds filled the air- Royal Guards shouting orders back and forth and preparing for battle.

“Should... we be worried?” Hummingbird asked very much worriedly as a pair of Royal Guard pegasi flew by. “We've got the shield, right? It was made for that, right?”

“Don't worry, ma'am,” one of them answered back. “They're going to need a lot more firepower to get through Captain Shining Armor's shield.”

A loud crackle sounded off as a discharge of magical energy ran up and down the pink-colored dome, which flickered ominously. With a final, concerted ram, fractures ran along the top of the shield as it spider-webbed, shattering like glass and collapsing into nothingness.

For a moment, I thought one of the guards murmured, “Well fuck.”

And then chaos.

“Assault! Assault! Shield breach-”

“Guards, to your stations! Repel the inv-”

“Alert the Sky Archons! Get them airborne! Go, go go!”

“Battlemages, defensive perimeter, now! Move, move, mo-”

“Too many! There's too man-”

“Go!” the other guard shouted as us as the crowd devolved into a cacophony of flailing legs and panicked shouts. “Get to the barracks! Get into cov-”

And then he was slammed into the ground as a streak of green fire sent him cratering into the ground. We could finally see one of the things up close as it rose from the limp body of the guard. Whether he was dead or merely unconscious, I couldn't be certain. It was more bug-like than equine, having a smooth, black carapace rather than a fur coat. Its legs were spindly and were pockmarked with gaps. A set of frighteningly long fangs protruded from its mandibles, and it had both a set of filmy wings and a sharpened horn. Its eyes were a pale, seamless sky-blue with only hint of melded white in the center.

Whatever the fuck it was, it scared the living crap out of me, and I, along with the rest of the crowd, ran away as fast as we could. In my panic, I just galloped off as fast as my legs could carry me, stumbling over tables, chairs, and toppled food containers as everything went to hell. I just had to get away- and get away fast. Nothing else matt-

Wait. Wait wait wait. I realized I completely lost track of Hummingbird and looked around frantically, heart racing into a frenzy. There was a gray stallion with a monocle and top ha- old mare with a beady neckla- younger mare with a filly on her back, eyes shut ti- guard pony unicorn trying to move past, casting a defensive ward over-

Hummingbird!” I shouted desperately, my voice lost over the others.

Orange pegasus trying to fly over the crowd and tackled down by a blitz of green fi- colt running, slowly turning as he did, crying for his parents- blue, red, red, white, gray, gray, gray, white, blue, red, mare, stallion, stallion, stallion, mare, stallion, mare, mare, filly, colt, mare, filly, mare, mare, colors, shapes, on the ground, in the air, fallen down, trampled over, too many, too many, too many-

Hummingbird!” I shouted again to no avail. Too loud. Others shouting. Could not match. Could not overcome. My eyes were wide with fear, breath frantic huhhuh huhhuh huhhuh huhhuh, heart badumpbadumpbadumpbadump-

Shapes, colors, mare, stallion, tall, small, young, old, child, adult, light, dark, earth pony, unicorn, pegasus, rich, poor, together, alone, too much too much too much too much!

Hummingbiiiiiird!” I shouted uselessly. No hope. Not a shred. Not a chance. Not a sliver.

I was pushed back by the crowd. Tried to fight back. Couldn't. Pulled away, reaching out. I swore I saw her out there. I swore I did. I reached out. No... no. No. No! No!

I stumbled over, fell to the ground, felt a hoof slam into me. Trampled over. Another. Another. Another. Snap. Another. Another. Crack. Another. Another. Pain. So much pain. Just wanted to curl up, just wanted to curl up. Just let it end. Just let it all be over...

No!

I roared as I pushed back up to my feet. Instinct took over as I toppled over an older stallion that made the stupid mistake to step on top of me as I bolted up. Move. Move. Move. Don't care about anything else. Move. Live. Survive. Get to safety.

I ran with the crowd. I ignored the streaks of horrible green as they slammed around and ahead of me. I ignored the shouts of dismay, pain, for shouting's sake. I move forward. I didn't let up. I finally reached the guard barracks. I scrambled inside. I was safe. I was alive. I was pained. I would live. I was going to be okay.

And then... amidst the panting, the relieved sighs, the slumped bodies, I realized.

“No...” I panted faster as panic seized me. “No, no, no, no, no!”

“Easy, son, you made it out ok-”

I swatted the hoof that tried to touch, tried to comfort me away and scrambled up. I didn't care for the faces, the identities, their survival, what the barracks looked like, what anything looked like. Hummingbird wasn't in here. She was still out there. And I left her out there.

I.

I alone.

Guilty.

So fucking guilty, you idiot! You idiot! Why did you leave her out there?!

Desperation seized me, motivating me, moving me.

The faceless stallion shouted back, “Help me keep him down! Hey, help me out over he- ungh!”

I bolted up from the floor, pushing him away from me.“Hummingbird!”

“What the hay! What's he doing?”
“What just happen-”
“What's going on over-”
“What was tha-”

“Huhh, hahh... Hummingbird!” I made my way to the door, breath heavy with panic, fear.

“Wait, is he...?”
“What?! Stop him! Don't let him out! Stop him!”

“Move! Move! I have to save her!” I broke into a gallop even as a mare stood to block me.

“Whoa there, kid, just ca- guh!”

I roughly shoved her aside, growling,“Move, damn you!”

This time, the lone pair of Royal Guards that remained inside blocked me, wings clanging together.

“Halt! Citizen!”
“Halt!”

“Out of myyyy wayyyy!” I roared over the low murmurs of the others. They easily barred my progress, keeping me at bay. Dammit! Celestiadammit! Lunadammit! Why was I so weak?

No... I wasn't weak.

I fired up my horn and let the tendrils slide down my legs.

“What th- ahhh!”
Nngh!”

I let out a shout as I forced them apart and bucked the door open with my new strength. I raced outside into the porcelain city, into chaos. There were green streaks everywhere, and the swarm blackened the skies with countless specks. The guards were losing. Many were stuck, immobilized by green amber. I ignored them all.

Hummingbird. I had to find her. I ran, starting just in time to avoid the bug-equine thing cratering behind me. I heard it and spun around, saw it leaping at me.

Smash.

I didn't turn back again. I didn't get pounced; I thought no more of it. I had to move. I had to find Hummingbird. I could move fast, so much faster from the ice muscles. Thank Celestia...

Celestia. Where was she? Why was this going on so long? Princess Luna?

Hummingbird. Only she matters. Focus on her. No one else matters.

Guard pony, one of the few remaining. He was in my way.

“Halt!”

I ignored him and bashed him aside. I watched the green flames burst around him as he turned into one of... he was one of those things? How? They could disguise? Find Hummingbird. Get to safety.

Hummingbird.

I saw more of the creatures dragging ponies away. Disguised as them. They saw me and transformed back into their bug-like forms as I rushed at them.

That was a big mistake.

I took the first hit as one of them rushed toward me in kind. Cracked rib pushed deeperrrrrrrr, so... much. Pain!

I roared. Pushed forward. Ignored it. Somehow. Didn't care. Smashed it down. Crack. Gush. It let out a hideous shriek. Deep dent in its carapace. I stomped on its head. Splatter. Felt wetness. Disgusting wetness against me.

Slammed on the back. Me. One of them tackled from above. Pushed me down. Barely. Ice muscles held up. Reared back with their strength. Bucked the thing on top of me. Came down hard on its back. Wasted no time. Ran over and stomped its chest in. Watched its eyes bulge. Mandibles flailed. More disgusting wetness.

Pain.

I was hurt.

Ignore it.

Hummingbird.

I turned to the last pair. Scared now. They were. I knew. I could see it. I roared. Weakly. Pathetically. But I backed it with force. Tackled the one on the right. Stomped. Many times. So many shrieks. So much wetness. Felt it dripping from me. Legs felt weird. Felt shaky.

Pain. I was hurt.

Ignore it.

I turned to the last one. It flinched and let out a shrill, stifled cry. It was shaking. It was scared. Good.

Hummingbird.

I pounced it and kept it pinned.

Where are you taking them?!”

A new voice. Not my own. But from my mouth.

No response. It looked so weak. So fragile.

Where?!”

It weakly pointed shakily. Voice submissive. Voice crackly. “I-I don't... I don't.”

It looked so weak. So fragile.

So useless.

Stomp.

So dead.

Ran. Left the limp ponies behind. Didn't care. Only one thing mattered.

Hummingbird.

Ran. So fast. Legs ached. Yet felt numb. Ignore it. It doesn't matter. She does. Hummingbird.

Ran past alleyways. Checked as I went. Two creatures. Heard me. Moved to attack. Smashed the face. It tried to pounce me. I just smashed. The face. Green splat. Other one. Scared. Flew away. I pounced. Tugged to ground. Only caught by legs. Couldn't wait. Smashed. Stomped. Its legs. Shrill cry. Worked my way up. Tears? I saw tears? No matter. I silenced.

Looked around.

Hummingbird!”

I wheeled around. No. No. She had to be here. She had to be here.

Hummingbird!”

“Frost!”

Her. That was her.

Hummingbird! I'm coming!”

Didn't ask where. I knew. I heard. Followed sound. Ran past two Royal Guards. Both immobilized. Stared as I passed. Gawked. Why?

Don't care.

Only she mattered.

Moved on.

Found her. Flying. Fast. Trying to escape. Dress torn. Shredded. One chasing her. Now another.

Toward me! Toward me!”

She heard. She listened. Her eyes bulged. Even if she just passed by. Raised my hooves. Swung at them as they flew by. One- head caved in. Two, sent into wall. Crumpled on ground. No chance to escape. Don't let up. I ran over. Smash. Stomp. Crush. Cry. Piercing cry. Rip. Silence. Pieces.

I finally turned back to Hummingbird. I found her. I won. I succeeded. I did it. I headed for her. She backed away.

“H-Hummingbird!” Weaker. My own voice now. “Come on, we need to get to... to...” I suddenly felt so slow, so... sluggish. I gasped as I felt the numbness start to peel back, giving away to pain. So much pain. I staggered to the ground, looked down. I panted hard for air. Air, air. I needed air. I looked back up. She was still there. Frozen. Why did she look so scared? “Come on... need to get to... safety...” Every breath felt labored. I was winding down.

She still backed away from me. Why? “F-Frost, you...”

I panted quickly for a few seconds then groaned as I forced myself to move. Mind over matter, magic over physical strength. I forced my legs to move even as the ache spiked in protest. I've been through worse, I told myself. I've been through worse.

I hadn't. Not by a long shot.

“Come on, Hummingbird...” I gasped, squinting my eyes even and fighting forward even as my gut heaved. “Ugh... ohhh... we can't stay out here...”

“You... b-but... you...” she stammered, looking at me with eyes full of fright.

“Hummingbird... please...”

She looked back at the creatures swarming in the air and descending on the helpless ponies of Canterlot and then back at me and groaned. “Alright, let's go!”

I staggered around, hissing from the pain. Move... move! I howled in agony as I pushed forward, baring my teeth and breathing haggardly as I galloped back toward the barracks with Hummingbird flying low and with me. Every step sent bursts of pain pinballing through my body, racking me all over. I grit my teeth and snorted with each painful exhale of breath.

“Frost, look out!” Hummingbird cried out suddenly, veering into and out of view.

I stupidly looked around to see what was the matter. A changeling with green fire fully enveloping its body tackled into me from above. I howled in agony, my concentration finally breaking and causing my ice to shatter. I was slammed and pinned against the ground, my body refusing to cooperate as I tried to move, tried to fight back. Everything felt wrong, broken. I could only gargle as I finally and violently vomited, my bile leaking out and clinging around my muzzle as I laid there. I creaked my head up to find the... thing perched atop me, hissing angrily as it exposed its fangs and-

-was then blasted away as a wave of pink energy washed over us, bursting from the center of the city. It left a tingling feeling over me that caused me to surge with new-found energy. I felt powerful, clean, wholesome...

Well. Before I breathed in the stink of my vomit and fell back into it. My body and mind finally surrendered to the overwhelming tide of fatigue and all faded to black.

* * *

“Just to let you know, Mister Windchill,” Doctor Chock Full said as he entered my hospital suite, “I don't pride myself in repeat business.”

I just sat there in bed. Bandages covered most of my body and gauze pads were taped to both of my cheeks. All of my legs were splinted. I gave him a wry smile. “Very funny, doctor.”

“Anyway, your marefriend is here to see you,” he spoke after flipping through papers on his clipboard. “Just thought I'd let you know.”

“Hummingbird?” I jolted a little, causing a dull throb of pain to course through my flanks. “Is she alright?”

“Yes, yes, she's just fine,” the cream-colored unicorn said with a sigh. “Just a few scratches and cuts, a few bruises here and there. Nothing too serious. I can't say the same for her mental well-being. I'm only a doctor of the equine body, not the equine mind. Anyway, she's absolutely intent on seeing you, so I'll just leave you two be. Good day.”

With that, he headed out the door and Hummingbird slipped inside, looking... I thought she looked tense, but she also appeared worried at the same time. She didn't speak at first and pursed her lips as if unsure of what to say.

I eyed the few bandages on her body and broke the silence for her. “How are you doing?”

She sighed through her nostrils and sat down at my bedside. “I'm okay, I'm okay... you?”

“I feel... like... shit,” I chuckled softly. “Definitely an improvement, though.”

“Still sore?”

“Oh definitely still sore,” I wheezed. “Other unicorns are lucky, being able to put ribs back into place without having to put me through surgery or anything. Wish I could do that sometimes... a lot of times.”

Hummingbird let out another sigh. “Frost, are you okay? I mean... other than physically feeling like shit.”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” I said with a smile at her. “I'm just glad you're safe. I heard others weren't so lucky...”

“You mean... you're sure you're fine?” she asked, persistent. “Nothing wrong or anything?”

“I'm fine, Hummingbird,” I repeated, just a little firmer to get the point across while trying to remain as gentle as possible. “I'm fine, really.” I saw her bite her lip and asked, “What's wrong? Tell me.”

The green pegasus mare sighed sharply and said in a way that sounded like she was on the verge of tears. “You killed those changelings! H... how?”

I shrugged. “It wasn't hard. They were attacking everypony, everyone in the entire city. I had to defend myself. You too.”

She flung her hooves up in frustration. “But you killed another living being!” She let out a distraught groan. “Not just one, either! You were covered in that... all that green... blood of theirs! How many did you kill, Frost?”

“Eight, maybe nine,” I said calmly.

“Eight!” Her eyes bulged at that and she actually staggered back. “Ei... eight? Nine, even?! How are you saying that so calmly?!” She looked almost hysterical.

I sighed softly, “Hummingbird, I had to find you and bring you the safety no matter what. I-”

“Is that why you put two other ponies into the hospital?” she growled, glaring at me. “Is that why you're being charged with assault against them and two Royal Guards?”

“Hummingbird, I just-”

No, Frost!” She gripped her head, gritting her teeth. “There's no 'just'!” She sighed helplessly and let her hooves fall. “Why? Why did you do all of that, even for me? What's wrong with you? Was it something I did, something I said, or-”

“Hummingbird,” I sighed. No. Think carefully before you say anything. I paused and drew in a deep breath. “Hummingbird, it's not you. Okay? Okay, I-I wasn't thinking clearly. I... I-I panicked, okay?” I saw the look of desperation fade into worry now. But it was better. “I...” Think back. Tell her the truth. “I just... I was so selfish. I thought only about getting myself out of harm's way, and by the time I realized you were gone, I... I just panicked. I left you behind, and because of that, you... I could have killed you.” I broke eye contact and bit my lip, ears tucked back. “I just felt so... disgusted with myself. I just had to save you. I just had to. I couldn't let anything get in my way.”

I looked back at her now- and she at me.

I whispered powerfully, “I love you, Hummingbird. I could never forgive myself if you got killed because of me. It's why I tried so hard to make up for it, praying that I didn't fail.”

Hummingbird slumped but looked at me with painful love, loving pain. She leaned forward and rest her head in the crook of my neck, and I gratefully nuzzled her back. “Please... you have to believe me.”

“I...” She hesitated, sighing. “I believe you, but... how can you just kill another living being like that and not feel anything...?”

I just kept her there, nuzzling against her soft mane. “I don't know, Hummingbird. I just don't know.”

And I didn't.

“Will you be okay?” she asked, pulling away a little to look up at me with those determined, red-violet eyes.

“I'll be fine,” I said quietly. I thought on that for a few seconds. Was I really ‘fine’? I had no problem with killing those changelings, yet Hummingbird... and the Royal Guards, even... “I mean it.” I didn’t. I didn’t. And when I realized what I just did, I kept her from making eye contact. I added, “I'm more concerned about you. Will you be okay?”

She nodded slowly and nestled her head against me. “I'll be fine,” she said weakly. She and I were quiet for a long time. I was still trying to piece together just what her problem was with me killing those changelings. It was as if she expected me to be shaken up. Now that I saw her disgust and dismay over it, I was starting to feel a bit worried myself. Was there something wrong with me?

No. I didn't feel off. Everything I did felt natural. Panicked, maybe, but natural. Perfectly natural. Yes. It was perfectly natural to use excessive force in a desperate situation where lives were on the line.

Yes... that's it.

"You know, I hear they're reorganizing the wedding with the real Princess Mi Am- Princess Cadance, I mean,” I said to her. “Still feel up for going?”

Hummingbird let out a sigh.

"I hear they're bringing a DJ from Ponyvilllllle...” I said encouragingly.

"Oh alright, you,” she finally chuckled, relenting.

I smiled to myself. Everything was going to be okay.

* * *

Footnote: Frost- Level Up! Level 11 Reached!

Ice Elemental Union (Rank Three)- Things may start to feel... different. You are now 45% more resistant to colder temperatures and cryomantic spells are 15% more efficient. However, your body's core temperature is 30% lower and you are 60% weaker to sources of heat and incur a -150% penalty to fire resistance. These bonuses and penalties stack for each rank of this perk.

Spell Mastered: Ice Muscles- You are able to form a second set of artificial muscles around your legs with ice. Your STR, unarmed damage, movement speed, and jump height are doubled with this spell (STR capped to 10). You can also ignore crippled legs provided your strength of will is high enough. However, you will incur limb damage as long as this spell is sustained without horseshoes. When using horseshoes, their CND will degrade three times as quickly. Note: The STR bonus from his spell does not apply to equipped weapons.

Unlockables added: Inspirational Art- Diskobolos

Inspirational Art- Seated Boxer

Soundtrack- No Documentation

Soundtrack- Perfect Chaos

Soundtrack- The Changeling Invasion

Soundtrack- Perfectly Natural

Author's Note:

Sorry for the wait this time, everyone. I blame Skyrim and three different types of chemistry this quarter. Graah... anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this chapter. As always, many thanks to the wonderful FoE community and especially my pre-reader, Lazer726. Give him some encouragement to take up writing again, will ya?

Thank you for reading as well. Feedback and especially critique are always appreciated if it's no trouble. And check out the Ask Frost Windchill tumblr!

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