• Published 16th Nov 2011
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My(stara's) Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring - JohnBiles



The Mane Six. Typical D&D Adventurer Hijinx. As told by an adventurer rescued by them.

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Short Story 2: 2000% Cooler

“Twiiiilight,” I said to her as I came into the library, my saddlebags bulging with books I’d been consulting.

Yes, books.

I feel like I’ve been possessed or something but these are half really interesting.

And half making me crazy.

“Hey, Dash, done already?” she said, surprised.

“I have questions,” I told her, busting out three of the books and quickly paging to my bookmarks. I’ve bought a ton of them because flipping pages with hooves isn’t easy. I normally don’t want Unicorn magic but I can see why Unicorns read so much… it’s got to be easier for them.

I could see Spike and Dinky shelving books; I didn’t know Dinky was working here. Good for her. Unicorns get lazy easily.

Also, it means Spike isn’t moping 24-7 like he had been. I hate it when people mope.

The books sat on the table, open to two maps of Blackmoor and a map of the current polar region with Blackmoorian landmarks printed in red over the black current terrain. Anyone with a keen eye like mine could, in fact, see that the three maps all presented *different versions of Blackmoor’s terrain*. Nevermind that I’m still trying to figure out where in Blackmoor the place we need to visit is; I can’t even figure out which Blackmoor to look in!

And Dawn Gleaming sent me a letter via Spikey indicating that she couldn’t find any useful maps inside the research facility. I am trying to go through the memory globes, but they’re full of references to *other* places. I could tell you where all of Dr. Birei’s children lived, where his son died… but they never are kind enough to say where *they* are. Other than near a town named Kozioko, which of course is *not on the maps*.

“What’s the… oh dear,” Twilight said. “These maps don’t match each other.” She frowned at them as if frowning at them would somehow *fix* them.

“Yes, that’s the problem. And they didn’t mark the town closest to the place, Kozioko!,” I said, feeling frustrated.

“Are you sure it’s near Kozioko?” she asked me. “Maybe there’s a translation problem.”

“I am really good at this now,” I told her. I think she’s a little jealous I can understand Ancient Blackmoorian better than her. Admittedly, only using my Element of Harmony. And it gives me a headache if I do it for long. But I’ve pored over the globes for all the clues they can give me.

She sighed. “There’s never enough time to know everything and just when you think you’d never need it, you need it.”

“Isn’t there some ritual you could use?” I told her, now feeling sorry for her; she just looked so mopey.

“Too expensive to keep using over and over,” Twilight said, frowning. She studied the books carefully. “I believe this overlay map is based on the most recent scholarship; Archmagister Molay is a leader in Blackmoor scholarship; he teaches at the Great School of Magic in Glantri; he’s kin to the Aendyrs, I think.”

That didn’t mean much to me beyond, “So you think he’d know.”

“Yes,” she said. “Hmm, we do know something. They had to be far enough away from any major Utherite reactor to avoid just blowing up when it all detonated.” She quickly made a copy of the map and began drawing circles.

That eliminated half the country. “Further, if it’s in this region, it’s now destroyed.” She pointed to the central hole which now leads down into the Hollow World. “Some of the globes show outdoor shots. Maybe we can narrow down the local terrain from that enough to eliminate more of this.”

“Cast the Walk on Clouds spell and I’ll carry you up to my place and we can look,” I told her. I have the spheres because I can understand them the easiest.

Twilight cast the spell on herself, then clambered onto my back, so I could carry her up to my house. We were soon airborne and Twilight was smiling.

“You look happy,” I told her. Not that it’s *bad*, I mean.

“Getting to do a research project with you makes me happy,” Twilight said. “And seeing you work so hard makes me happy too.”

“I work hard all the time!” I told her; I am not a Rarity but I’m not socially blind either.

She giggled and I grumbled the rest of the way up.

*******************

2000% Cooler

By John Biles

Part of the Mystara’s Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring canon.


*******************

Twilight stared at my spare room which I’d converted into viewing globe central station. There was a table with the viewer in the middle, and boxes of the globes everywhere. It was the messiest room in the house, if you didn’t know my organizing method. “This is chaos,” she said.

I ruffled her mane. “*This* is chaos. I know exactly where everything is according to my organization plan,” I told her, feeling proud.

“Which is?” she asked curiously.

“I work through the box under the table; once I have viewed them all, I move the box to the left of the table and get a box right of the table and view it,” I said proudly. “That way I don’t forget which ones I’ve viewed.”

“And?” she asked.

“And what?” I asked her.

She facehoofed. “I should have brought Spike. We’re going to have to organize this.”

“It is organized,” I said. I do not want to spend hours sorting through these to put them in alphabetical order… how could put these things in more order than this, anyway?

******************

“Next time, get Spike,” I said as we both laid on the floor, exhausted from sorting them by date. And making quick notes on the topic of each one. The sun was down and I was starving and too hungry and tired to get up and get food.

If this is how I die, I am going to be really mad.

The good news was that we had everything sorted and it would speed things up in the future.

If we have one.

Spike sending a letter about how he was eating over at Applejack’s place and how we’d miss it if we didn’t hurry did not help at all.

Before we could die, though, Tank, my pet turtle, finally made it back from the kitchen, dropping apples in front of each of us. That gave me enough strength to rise and try to carry Twilight to Applejack’s, though we ended up crashing into the barn and being buried in hay until Big Macintosh dug us out.

At that point, I would have likely eaten my way out if he hadn’t been handy, though.

****************

AJ was as AJ as ever, laughing at us when we came in with straw on us, though Spike and Big Mac were kind enough to help us get it off. Granny Smith, Applebloom, Dinky, and to my surprise, Scootaloo, were there also for dinner, crowded around the dining room table, which was laden with food.

Fortunately, I like apples, as you pretty much end up with a lot of variations on apples if you eat at AJ’s. To my surprise, we also had Ochelean rice and a carrot salad. I don’t think AJ actually dislikes carrots, but she and Carrot Top do have a rivalry over whose food is healthier and stuff. “Carrots?” I said.

“I brought it! It’s really good,” Scootaloo said urgently to me. “I had to work for Aunt Carrot Top all day, and she only pays me in carrots.” She sniffed herself. “I even smell like a carrot,” she mumbled.

“I’m surprised Dinky wasn’t working with you too.” I know Carrot Top often takes care of Dinky when Ditzy is working.

“I know! It’s not fair!,” Scootaloo said, frustrated.

“Twilight’s tutoring me and I help her out; Mom can’t train me in Magic and neither can the Doctor and Sparkler’s off at her school in Canterlot all the time now,” Dinky said, looking frustrated herself.

“You’re a big help,” Spike said to Dinky and now Dinky smiled widely.

I ruffled Scootaloo’s mane. “You and me, we’re not cut out for libraries.”

She smiled brightly and I smiled.

“I know. If you ran the library, it would be divided between books you’d read and books you hadn’t and that’s all,” Twilight said, sounding tired and frustrated.

“I guess that would just put all the books in one pile with Twilight runnin’ the place,” AJ said, sounding amused.

“I had it under control,” I said to Twilight. “You insisted we do all that work.” I frowned. I had it! I was handling it!

“Enough fightin’; you’re both exhausted. Git some food in you before you starve,” AJ said, then started eating.

One advantage of eating at AJ’s is that you can just stuff your face. Unlike when I was little. My mother is even more frou-frou than Rarity; she can be hard to deal with. The hideous outfits she made me wear…

Fortunately, she’s too busy to visit and so she’ll never meet Rarity.

Which would doom me.

“You gonna eat that?” Applebloom asked me, eyeing my fried apples.

“Yes,” I said, wolfing it down. That’s the flipside… you’d better eat fast so no one else eats it for you.

Dinky and Applebloom and Scootaloo were yammering about Oards. They’ve been running around trying to find them; I suspect they’ve been sent on a wild goose chase, but it’s funny to watch.

Sweetie still won’t explain how she got trapped in Fluttershy’s garbage can.

Scootaloo said, “It could be that it’s a tunneler, like those stupid rabbits who keep digging under Aunt Carrot Top’s crops.”

“What, again?” AJ said, frowning.

Then Scootaloo looked at her plate. “Okay, who made off with my carrot salad?”

“You probably ate it and forgot,” Applebloom said.

“I couldn’t forget eating it that fast,” Scootaloo said, frowning.

“In this house, if you look away, the food’s gone forever,” I told her.

“Hey, we *ask*,” AJ said. “It makes sure food doesn’t get wasted.”

Scootaloo got more salad, but then some of it went missing again while we were all talking. Now Twilight perked up. “Hmm, let me see if I can reveal something invisible.”

“Probably your food fell through a crack into another dimension,” Dinky said, then carefully studied the plate with some kind of spell.

“There ain’t no dimensional cracks in my plates,” AJ said, offended. “I paid good money for those.”

“Probably Big Mac’s fillyfriends snuck in and stole it,” Applebloom said.

“I don’t have no fillyfriend,” he mumbled.

You have *four*. I’d have to date most of the male Wonderbolts to top that.

Then Soarin’ would kill me.

I suddenly missed him; he has to work a lot, being a Wonderbolt.

A Wonderbolt.

It’s starting to look like I might never be one. But I hardly even have time to nap with all the work I have now. And if I really become Immortal…

Granny studied the plate intently. “Flip ‘er over,” she said.

“I’ll spill food on the floor if I do that,” Scootaloo said, looking confused.

Spike lifted it up so Granny could see under it. “Nothing there.”

“I’s rememberin’ one time, back in Wenbly… Wambly…Wistenwoot…,” Granny looked more and more frustrated.

“Wendar?” Twilight asked while weaving some kind of spell.

“Yeah, that place. Anyhoot, Steel Grip, he got this hideous thing in his ear from trying to listen to a door and it tried to eat through to his brain,” Granny said, shaking her head at the memory.

“I wasn’t trying to listen to my plate,” Scootaloo said, frowning.

I began laughing at the idea and she glared at me.

“Sorry, Scoots, I wasn’t laughing at you, just at the idea of listening to a plate,” I told her.

“Did he die?” Applebloom asked tensely.

“Fortunately, he didn’t have much of a brain for it to eat,” she said. Then she gulped down the rest of her food. “The moral of that story is to never draw to an inside straight.”

Applebloom flopped over, Scootaloo laughed, and Dinky said, “Hmm, that would explain a few things.” This got more laughter while Dinky looked confused at them laughing.

Twilight finished her spell. “Hmm, traces of shadow magic.”

“It waren’t me!” Applebloom protested. “I ain’t allowed to tamper with nature’s way inside the house.”

“Zactly,” Granny said. “Earth ponies monkeying around with shadow magic ain’t natural.”

“But I’m good at it,” Applebloom mumbled.

“Just keep your experiments at your clubhouse,” AJ said to her. She turned to Twilight. “Some shadow monster stole Scootaloo’s food?”

“It waren’t me!” Applebloom protested.

“Maybe Sweetie or Twist is playing a prank with their cloaks?” Spike speculated.

Twilight cast a spell; there was lingering magic near the window, which we now noticed was open.

Scootaloo rose, leaped out the window and gave chase, though I don’t know how she knew which way to go.

Or if she knew.

“It could be the Oard!” Dinky shouted and ran after her. Soon the kids were all running and AJ and Twilight and Spike were running after them.

I made sure to get all the food I needed to refuel before they got back. Man, I eat so much now. Because I’m so big.

****************

“Thanks for helping me with this fence,” Big Mac said to me a little later; I was helping him move boards into place to fix the fence. The others hadn’t come back yet and it was getting dark. But I assumed Twilight would have Spike mail me if it was a crisis.

“Not many ponies in this town could move these this easy,” I said. It’s not bragging, just a matter of fact.

“Yeah,” he said appreciatively. Is he checking me out? I am sexy but he already has more fillyfriends than is good for someone! But a second later, he was just studying the boards.

I wish Soarin’ was here.

“So which one of your harem do you like best?” I teased him.

“I don’t have a harem,” he grumbled. Then he dragged some more boards and I did the same.

“Are you telling me you don’t like any of them?” I said, finding this hard to believe.

“I didn’t say that,” he said. Then he studied the whole section of smashed up fence. Beyond it was an open field where cattle grazed and beyond that, the East River and beyond that, the Everfree Forest. “We need to add a gate.”

“Did they smash the fence because they were too hungry to go round to the gate?” I asked curiously. But it looked smashed in from the field side. “If you do like them, why not date one of them?” If he says ‘I want them all’, he gets clobbered.

“I dunno if any of them really knows me,” he said to the shattered fence sections. “And anyone I marry is gonna have to help run this farm. AJ and Applebloom, I think they’re gonna move on, down the line.” He sounded sad and I now felt guilty even though I’m not his sister and not leaving him. “Roseluck, Daisy, Lily, they have their own business and farmland and everything. I dunno how we’d make that work out.”

They have… I guess flowers do need to be grown and won’t just drift out of the sky.

Shut up.

I pay very little attention to those three. Or flowers. Other than eating them.

“And Celestia is, well, Celestia,” I said softly.

“Exactly,” he said. “I mean, she’s so… but she…” He started to get flustered and kick things. Then he was back to normal. “I’m just a normal Earth Pony. I can’t even tell if she’s just teasing me like she does to Marcus.”

I felt like I ought to help him but I am totally the worst person for this.

Not that I can tell him that.

“Well, you’re still young,” I said lamely. “Though… you are older than AJ, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Anyway, let’s fix this fence.”

We had it about half-fixed when everyone joined us. An embarrassed Ivan was with them, being carried in the air by Twilight. “Hey, everyone,” I said. “You have fun while we were working hard?” I teased them.

AJ looked like I’d hit her with a ton of bricks, while Applebloom said, “It was a training exercise.” She sounded aggravated.

“Man, you all run fast,” Ivan said, very tired.

“Well, now you get to help fix the fence,” AJ said, aggravated. “Keep your trainin’ out of my house.”

“What?” I asked.

“Scootaloo needs to become more alert, so she had to catch me making off with her food,” Ivan said as Twilight set him down. “Pass me some rope, I’ll start tying knots.”

Spike began cutting rope segments and Ivan nimbly threaded them in without even needing instructions. I’d nearly tied myself to the first set I had done.

“You cheated with shadow trick stuff!” Scootaloo protested.

“Monsters won’t play by rules,” Ivan said very seriously to her and she jumped back a step. “Sorry, Applejack. I won’t do it again.”

“You kids shouldn’t be tryin’ to find monsters,” AJ said sternly to them.

“We have to find the Oard and really, I’ve seen things that would make your hat fall off. *Forever*,” Dinky said, trying to sound spooky. She reared up and waved her hooves around, trying to act like… a ghost, maybe?

“Uh huh,” AJ said. “Hey, Dash.” She studied my hooves.

Now I studied my hooves. “What’s wrong with my hooves?”

“What? No, I mean, thanks for helping with the fence,” she said softly.

“It’s what friends are for,” I told her, smiling and she smiled back, cheering up. “Anyway, you fed me. And Big Mac needed a bodyguard to keep the ladies off him.”

“Dash!” he said, shaking his head.

“What broke the fence?” I asked, surveying our work and feeling proud of it.

“Some ogres used it as their target for a rock throwing contest,” AJ said, sighing. “From across the river. I guess they’re good at throwing.” She gestured across the field with a hoof towards the East River.

Man, I hope they never decide to use my house for that. “Did you get rid of them?”

“They won’t try that again,” AJ said. “Okay, let’s get ‘er done.” We all got down to work again, though it would go faster with more people.

*****************

Afterwards, we made the kids go home or go to bed as appropriate, then all had some of the orange brandy which AJ’s… well, we decided to use the word ‘twin’. It’s simplest. Anyway, Apple Blossom had sent AJ some of her best stuff and we had some and ate these really nice crackers Twilight got in Canterlot which are from some place I’ve never heard of.

Anyway, they were tasty and that’s all that mattered.

Ivan tried to make a dramatic exit and crashed into the wall and just slept on the floor. I ended up crashing at Twilight’s, too tired to fly home.

Thankfully, Spike did not moan about Rarity all night this time.

The next morning, I had to go over to Rarity’s in order to get fitted for my cold weather gear. Twilight says it’s far colder than Equestrian winter there. Given everything freezes over in winter here, I’m guessing that’s pretty cold.

“Rarity, I don’t need bows on my hood,” I told her, standing in her workshop with her and Sweetie doing the fitting. The outfits are actually rather like the Wonderbolt uniforms but with a hood instead of the head part. I expect it’s because a Wonderbolt uniform would probably mess up her manestyle.

You know Rarity.

Sweetie was here helping her, now using her magic to move tape measures around and cloth and just showing off. You know how fillies who just got their Cutie Mark are.

I didn’t need a fortune reading but I let her do one anyway, because, you know, kids.

“But Dash, daaarling,” Rarity said, dragging the word out. “Stallions like it when a woman pretties herself up and you do have a coltfriend now.” She pulled a seam around on the outfit, then frowned at it, looking dubious.

I wish Soarin’ could go with us but he can’t take that much time off. “Given I’m not out to seduce Ivan, Spike, or Marcus, that won’t matter,” I told her. That being said, I rather like the trailing lightning bolts and the deep blue color with flecks of white, like snow was coming down. “Take the bows off; it’s fine otherwise.”

She gave me the look, the look that says ‘remember the fashion show and those free outfits?’ The ones we fucked up by ignoring her advice. I began to sweat. “They’re too frilly. They’re not *me*,” I told her. “This isn’t pretty, it’s a work uniform.”

“Oh, but Rarity’s is totally gorgeous,” Sweetie said. “And nothing says you can’t look good while working!” She touched her pink visor; I don’t know why she was wearing one inside Rarity’s shop.

I paused, then put on my goggles. Not a problem, whew. I may need them if there’s thick snow.

“Hmm, good point,” Rarity said. “I’d better make everyone some snow goggles. But the bows, they are totally you. There’s one to match each shade of your hair!”

“Which makes my hair less unique,” I countered.

“It compliments your hair, darling,” she said to me sternly.

She knows this stuff, but I really don’t want frilly ribbons. I writhed, caught between hating ribbons and Rarity’s proven expertise at these things.

Sweetie shuffled her cards and began dealing, studying them thoughtfully. She laid out a spread, studying it. “I predict you’ll regret if you get rid of the ribbons.”

She’s got to be making it up.

That’s the perfect trick to just reinforce whatever you want by claiming divine… magical… whatever sanction.

“See? You’ll be glad they were there,” Rarity said, gesturing at the ribbons, then the cards.

They planned this.

I sighed. “Fine.”

I’d better not end up regretting my generosity in putting up with this!

*****************

I have to finish cracking the secret of where to find that place. I tried using the Element to guide me in throwing darts at a copy of the map but it didn’t work. I am drowning in information from the globes, but no one will just say ‘Hey, Dash in the future, we live HERE.’

Unfortunately.

So I went flying to clear my head. Also, I had weatherpony duties, anyway; we had to clear away clouds and push them south where they are needed. One of the reasons Ponyville has an unusually large weather crew is that uncontrolled weather blows in from the Everfree all the time. We’re getting a bunch of extra clouds.

Once the sky was clear, my head was not. I flew around aimlessly, trying to brainstorm.

Eventually, to my surprise, Fluttershy flew up to join me. “Hey, Dashie, what’s wrong?” she asked gently. “You’ve flown over my house twelve times.”

“I don’t suppose you know any druid magic for finding towns from two thousand years ago?” I asked her.

“Druids really aren’t into towns much,” she confessed. “I’m sorry, Dashie. This is about our trip, right?” She looked rather fretful and guilty now.

“Yeah,” I told her. “We can’t go until Twilight or I figures out where to go.” And I want it to be me. I mean, I won’t turn her answer down but I feel like this is my quest. I want this. I have to be the leader. And I can’t lead if I don’t know where I’m going. I gazed down at the landscape aimlessly, looking for clues I knew didn’t exist but needed anyway.

“Hmm, maybe if I turn into a penguin, I’ll think of something,” she said, spiraling down to the ground.

I followed her, though I was dubious. What good would that do?

She waddled around while I tried not to laugh *too* much. She didn’t seem to notice, looking intent.

“Hey, any chance you could talk to the building if we went back?” I asked. “Or something alive in it?”

“Nothing would be alive that was alive when the building got moved,” Flutterpenguin said, turning to face me; a pink and yellow penguin is just ludicrous looking and I had to fight the urge to laugh. “Did Ivan try asking Asterius?”

“Asterius said it was my task to figure it out,” I said, then flopped onto my back, studying the sky. “I’d totally recognize the area if it wasn’t frozen under ice. If I was flying over it or standing on it. It’s weird, I can see it all in my head from all those globes. I guess I wouldn’t recognize everything but if I travelled back in time, then I could get around it, even at night.”

“Ahah!” Flutterpenguin said, holding up a flipper. “Do the globes show the night sky?”

“Yes,” I said. “But what… oh!” The stars change when you move around the world. One of our flight school classes was basic night navigation but they warned us about that. “So we could line up the stars and figure out where it was!” I sprang to my feet, feeling excited.

A lot of the night sky is different but when I think about it, I remember a few constellations I know but in weird places. “Man, that was really smart, Fluttershy.”

“I’m so glad I could help you,” she said, smiling brightly and turning back to normal.

Twilight is ga-ga for stars, so I bet she has historical charts and maps and stuff.

“Let’s go!” I shouted, and we took off for Twilight’s, Fluttershy trailing after me.

*****************

Twilight was really happy that this was the way to do it. We did a lot of moving around maps and consulting books and drawing new maps and then we zeroed in with some checking of the globes. Bingo!

“And since you have time stamps on the globes, we can get it really precisely once we convert to modern timekeeping,” Twilight concluded. “And X marks the spot.” She tapped a location on the map.

“We can ship out in the morning,” I said excitedly.

“Now we can plan out the trip and figure out how to get us all there. My balloon can fly there but it’s going to be kind of crowded if we all cram into it for days,” Twilight said. “I have some ideas, but I need to plan the trip, we need to get supplies and we have to figure out how to haul everyone without having to practically sleep on top of each other.” She ticked off each clause with the same hoof gesture as if she was pointing to a list on paper.

“And how to keep the Crusaders from sneaking on,” Fluttershy pointed out.

Given Applebloom can buil… oh oh. “I will handle the vehicle. You get supplies and stuff.”

Twilight looked at me curiously.

“It’s in the bag,” I told her confidently.

***************

“I ain’t buildin’ another flying vehicle for everyone to take away from me and you can’t have our clubhouse,” Applebloom said, sitting back on her haunches so she could fold her forelegs in front.

Their clubhouse flies now but they’re not allowed to leave town with it.

I’m sure that stops them as much as my mom’s rules stopped me, though.

We were in the yard of her home, around one side of it for a privatish talk. One thing you learn, anything you say within a half mile of AJ’s house ends up being overheard by an Apple.

“C’mon, we’ll bring back frozen shadows for you,” I told her, trying to look heroic and trustworthy, which means standing in a pose I saw Daring Doo do on a book cover.

She began to look thoughtful and I hoped I wouldn’t regret that.

“I got chores to do,” she said, watching me with one eye.

“I’m sure I can talk AJ into letting you out of it so you can build us something big enough for everyone,” I told her wheedlingly.

“If AJ says okay. And you owe me some ice that hasn’t seen sunlight in at least a thousand years,” Applebloom said. “A thousand years,” she repeated very earnestly.

“I’m not sure if that exists.”

“You’d better *make* it exist,” she said, trying to sound tough.

“Fine. Now I’ll just go talk AJ into it,” I told her.

That’s how I got stuck with Applebloom’s chores for three days.

But I took it for the team in good grace, since this is really important to me.

*******************

I laid helpless on the floor of my house as Soarin’ sat on his haunches near me. “What’s a good place for us to eat in town?” he asked.

“Anything as long as I never see an apple again,” I moaned.

Ever sorted damaged apples? Did you know there’s four different kinds of problems and each has to be dealt with separately?

I bet you don’t know and never will, and I envy you with all my heart.

“So how’s the cold weather outfit? Does it look good?” he asked.

“I can put it on,” I told him, rolling onto my side and trying to muster the will to stand up.

“Sure,” he said, sounding a little excited.

I got off my living room floor, went to my bedroom, donned it, returned, *then* remembered the ribbons.

“Oooh, nice,” he said, circling me to study it from all sides. “You might want it in all white for camouflage, though.” He patted one of the ribbons. “Nice touch.”

I guess stallions do go for ribbons. They’re still not me… but if Soarin’ likes it… But he won’t be on the trip.

I hope Rarity and Marcus aren’t all mushy the whole time or I will go mad.

“Hmm, I’d say Soup Bowl but it’s more a lunch place, really,” I said to him, consulting a map of Ponyville in my mind.

“Whatever is good with you,” he told me. “I don’t know any place around here.”

Aaargh, if we go to the fancy place, we’ll overpay to starve but it’s likely more like what he’s used to, I thought. We could try the new Darokin style place but I don’t know if they’ll be any good… human cuisines are sometimes hard to adapt to what Ponies eat. They tend to rely on meat a lot.

Okay, be bold, I decided. “How about the Darokin-style place? It’s new and might be good.”

He leaped to stand up. “Sounds good to me!”

I took off the cold weather outfit; it’s too hot for normal weather, then we flew off to Summer Feast; I suddenly wondered if they would change names each season.

Not my problem.

******************

It turns out what you get at Summer Feast is fancy breads and lots of fruit and beans. And peanuts and soy. I was pleased with my meal until halfway through it when a swarm of people descended on us, all wanting a piece of *my coltfriend*. It was like those damn parasprites if they wanted Soarin’ instead of eating things. We were besieged in our table-cubicle. Booth. Whatever the word is.

“Oh, thank you so much,” Lily said, flipping her notepad into her saddlebacks and doing that thing where she kind of sways on her hooves. Like she’s sick but it’s meant to make her look feminine. “We’re so lucky to have a big hero like you here!”

Soarin’ laughed nervously and I said, “Shouldn’t you be raising your tail for Big Mac right now?” Don’t just hit on every guy in sight!

Lily glared at me. “I’m not that kind of girl!”

Soarin’ was about to turn back to his pears… they soak them in some kind of sauce and then fry them and they are so good!.. when Colgate slid a pad over his food. “Please sign!” she begged him.

So he got his pencil in his mouth and began signing; we were besieged by a horde. What is wrong with these people? Can’t they tell we’re on a date? Show some manners!

Oh man, I sound like Rarity.

So I stuffed my face while his food got cold and he tried to appease the hordes. Is this drive Rainbow Dash insane day? Is that it? Maybe this is one of Pinkie’s pranks.

Then I saw Bon-Bon coming. She’s not even into stallions. Am I cursed? Is this someone’s revenge because I am cooler than them?

It must be. As I ate, I began making a list in my head of people less cool than me who might be bitter and seeking revenge, then soon realized it was far too big a list. Maybe if I narrow it down to generally bitter ponies…

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” I said to Bon-Bon as she came up to us, pressing through the horde.

“What?” she said in confusion.

“Line on the left,” I mumbled.

“Pinkie asked me to tell you she made a special dessert for you two,” Bon-Bon said, studying me with one eye a little wider than the other, shrinking back on her hooves a bit. “When I was dropping off a load of my latest products.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” I said, burying my face in my hooves. “As you can see, even men are lining up to waste my coltfriend’s time.”

“It’s okay,” Soarin’ said softly to me. “I get this all the time, it’s part of my job.”

It would annoy me less if anyone wanted my autograph, but apparently saving Equestria doesn’t count for anything around here.

I finished my food and eventually the storm of fans ended and Soarin’ quickly stuffed himself. We paid up and fled to Sugarcube Corner.

***********

There were no fans in Sugarcube Corner, just Pinkie, the Cakes, and their kids. Who were trying to get into the oven while their parents tried to stop them.

“I have made my finest non-lethal pie *ever*, just for you two,” Pinkie said proudly.

Rainbow colored icing covered the usual tan colored pie crust with Soarin’s cutie mark in one corner. Soarin’ sniffed the air over it and made a happy noise. “I can’t place the smell.”

“It’s a rainbow pie! Zap apples combined with one fruit for each color of the rainbow,” Pinkie said proudly. “It even has gold at the end of the rainbow!” She pointed to…

“Pinkie, we can’t eat gold coins,” I told her, now that I saw them.

“Edible gold foil from Bon-Bon surrounding chocolate coins!,” Pinkie said proudly.

Mr. Cake began to laugh. We all stared at him; he mumbled something, then tried to get his son out of the oven.

I don’t get it. Maybe being a parent warps your mind.

It would explain Mom.

Anyway, Pinkie chopped the pie in half and we wolfed it down; Soarin’ ended up with the chocolate coins but gave me one; the edible gold foil tasted like lemon, by the way.

Now I wonder if all gold tastes like that.

There was a sudden uncloaking and we were surrounded by Crusaders with Dinky wearing a monocle and doing something magical and the rest trying to pin Soarin’ down. “Hey!” I said. “What are you doing?”

“Making sure it’s not an Oard infiltrator,” Scootaloo said. “Sorry, Dash, we have to be sure you’re safe.”

Soarin’ buried his face in his hooves and I said, “You know him! I trust him and he’s not a time-travelling monster!”

“It could be anywhere,” Twist said sagely, trying to look old and wise, which doesn’t work when you have a bit of a lisp and big glasses and you’re still at that totally awkward phase of growing up.

“We have to be sure,” Applebloom said, waggling a hoof at me, in a manner far too reminiscent of my Mom.

“I’m sorry,” Sweetie said apologetically. “Let me sing you a romantic song!”

To my surprise, she launched into the Pegasus ballad of South Wind and North Wind and how they could only meet once a year and made the most of that day. We danced together despite his messy mouth and mine and Mrs. Cake tried to dance with her husband, then had to chase the kids deeper into the house. Pinkie accompanied with her one-pony band and the rest of the Crusaders were dancing around.

I felt better after that, kissing Soarin’ messily and feeling this more romantic than anything else we’d done.

Thanks, Crusaders.

But never accuse my coltfriend of being a monster again!

*****************

Unfortunately, a little after that, he had to head back to Canterlot. I mean, I… umm… ahahaha.

I generally sleep on my own, anyway, so no big deal.

I could see lights on at Rarity’s.

Having a coltfriend who doesn’t have to be gone all the time must be nice for her.

Even if Marcus probably runs away screaming every so often for no reason.

I buzzed the house and heard him yelp inside; this made me feel better, so I flew home and got some sleep. Lots of work tomorrow.

I wish Soarin’ was here, though.

And that his fans would have left us alone!

****************

I awoke to the sound of someone eating breakfast in my kitchen. Given I live alone, this was not good news.

So I slipped out of bed, got a broom, and slipped up to peek in my kitchen. It was that idiot, Rainbow Crash, my not-exactly-evil twin. Basically, she’s me if I was a *total loser*.

I know, it’s probably very hard for you to imagine a version of me that isn’t the coolest person in Equestria, but she’s it.

Not only is she a loser, she was *eating my oats*. I need my fruit and oatmeal in the morning to keep me powered up for my work! And my training! And it's *tasty*. Especially with cinnamon.

“Don’t eat my food!” I told her, and she jumped.

“Oh, you’re here,” she said, sounding surprised. “Dawn Gleaming told me to send you some books since Twilight Sparkle was too sad and stupid to find them herself.” She pointed a hoof to the corner where books spilled out of a bag. “I flew all night, so I gotta fill up before I take a nap. Where were you?”

“On my bed,” I told her, then decided to get new locks. And maybe have Twilight mount a fool-zapping wand turret. “Did you just wander around my house???”

“Oh, you were under that pile of sheets on your bed?” she said, surprised. “No wonder you’re such a mess.” Then she ate more of MY food.

“You sound like Mom,” I told her and now she winced and grimaced. I still need to tell Mom about her but if I do, she’ll try to put us in matching dresses and yell at me for not writing more often.

I grabbed the barrel of oats and began making breakfast. “Don’t just barge into my house when I’m asleep; if I’d heard you, I would have whipped your ass on instinct.”

She began laughing at me, so we had to tussle, rolling around whaling on each other on the kitchen floor, wings beating wildly; unfortunately, this tipped our breakfasts onto us, as well as the cinnamon, turning us into a giant living floor of oatmeal with cinnamon and strawberries; we were a filthy, sticky mess.

“Look what you’ve done,” I said accusingly.

“Look what *you* did,” she glowered back and then we wrestled some more.

Finally, we gave up and tried having a shower, but we were still both a disaster and that wasn’t going to do.

This left us only one choice.

******************

“What’s this?” Crash asked as she followed me creeping up an alley towards the back door of a building.

“It’s a spa; they can clean anything but it’s not very cool to be seen, so we have to sneak in,” I told her. It’s far too girly-girly; my Mom loves spas.

She nodded in total agreement and followed me as we crept between it and the hardware store. I went up the wall with her on watch, then she followed after me as I poked the window open. We’d just slip through the office and then into the front room with no one the wiser.

In fact, it went off without a hitch, and soon we were finally getting the deep scrubbing we really needed. I had not realized oatmeal could get so deep into your wingfeathers until today.

So, of course, who shows up at the spa when we’re trying to be covert? Rarity and Fluttershy, of course.

“Why, darling, it’s so good to see you both here,” Rarity said. “Surprising but good.”

I winced and winced again when Crash winced with me, which set her off and for a while we both winced in alternation, until Fluttershy said, “Are you okay, Dashie?” She sounded worried.

“I am totally fine and don’t need anything, I’ll just be moving on, see you later!” Crash said, and started to take off, but Rarity stopped her.

“Now, now, there’s no rush; they’re still working on you,” Rarity said. “You can’t fly with… my goodness, what happened to you?”

“It looks like they had a fight in a strawberry patch,” Fluttershy said. She studied Crash. “Probably brought down from the plateau, though someone cut them up.”

“We were attacked by a huge pony-eating strawberry and defeated it only at the cost of becoming a mess,” Rainbow Crash said, shivering as one of the spa ponies worked her over.

The other was doing me, or had been, as she now rushed over to get Rarity and Fluttershy started. “The hooficures here are a miracle,” Rarity said, making a happy noise as pink-haired Lotus Blossom worked on her; her sister Aloe was busy trying to get Rainbow Crash clean.

I think that’s their names; I don’t see them much.

“I’ll be with you in just a minute,” Aloe said to me.

“It’s okay,” I told her. The soon Crash is clean, the sooner she’s out of here and I don’t have to put up with her.

“You never told us you had a twin, Dash,” Aloe said to Rainbow Crash.

“I’m Rainbow Dash, she’s Rainbow Crash,” I told Aloe.

Rainbow Crash grumbled. Losers don’t get to take my name, sister, I thought.

Rarity paused, then asked hesitantly, “Are the others in town?”

“Just me, running some books to Dash here, since she’s decided to become an egghead,” Crash said dismissively. “Really boring looking.”

“They’re not boring! Those people need to be remembered!” I said urgently. “And I am *not* an egghead.”

“You’d need a very large egg,” Fluttershy said thoughtfully.

Is *Fluttershy* mocking me? Surely not. She was just lying on a bed, waiting for her hooficure, with mangos or whatever those things are on her face. Kumquats? Cucumber, maybe?

Rainbow Crash laughed so hard that Aloe accidentally got hit in the face by her side. Crash didn’t notice, and Aloe just adjusted her stance and kept on scrubbing. “NERD!”

“I am not a nerd! This is important!,” I said angrily.

“Now, now, Crash, it’s good to see Dash improving her mind,” Rarity said, waggling a leg at Crash. “You shouldn’t mock her for it.”

I stuck my tongue out at Crash. She stuck hers out and we bristled at each other.

“You break it, you buy it,” Lotus Blossom said, then returned to filing hooves.

Dammit.

Fluttershy started to say something, then shut her mouth, opened it, then shut it again. Crash eyed her like she might suddenly breathe fire. It suddenly struck me that she and Dragonfly probably aren’t good friends like the two of us are. Though really, they’re all clones and their pasts only exist in their heads.

Also, Dragonfly is kind of crazy.

And dangerous.

Aloe finished off Crash and began working on me, shaking her head and humming as she worked. I wiggled; it kind of tickled as she scrubbed me.

“You should take a nice mud bath,” Rarity told me.

“Just going to get a regular one, then I fly home,” Rainbow Crash said. “You’re paying for this, right, Dash?”

“Me? You’re the one who got us filthy,” I told her.

“I will cover you both, since I expect you forgot to bring any money anyway,” Rarity said, pulling money out of her saddlebags with her magic. “And you should come here more often; a lady must look her best.”

“I’m… okay, I am female,” Crash muttered.

I laughed. “Thanks, Rarity.” As in fact, I had totally forgotten to bring any money.

I would have gunked up my saddlebags if I’d worn them, anyway.

“Glad to help a friend,” Rarity said, then made happy noises.

I managed to escape without a complete makeover and then Crash and I got an actual breakfast at a cafe. Once we’d eaten, I told her “Try not to get yourself eaten on the way home.”

“Ain’t nothin’ fast enough to catch me,” she said dismissively, rising from the table and stretching her wings; we were at an outside table.

Scootaloo now came into sight, pulling a small flying wagon full of carrots down… over… the street. She didn’t look too happy until she saw us, and then she waved, so we waved back. Working for her aunt again, I see.

“Hey Dash, Crash, good to see you!” she said cheerfully. “Is something big about to happen?” She hovered over the café, looking proud of herself flying.

“I’m about to remind Dash I’m faster than her,” Crash said, smirking.

“As if,” I said. “She brought me some… stuff.” The last thing I need is Scootaloo calling me an egghead.

“See you later! I have to go take these to Filthy Rich,” Scootaloo said. And she flew off.

Good kid.

Crash watched her go with an odd expression, then sighed.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said and took to the air. “I’m off. Good luck on your trip.”

“You too,” I said softly, wondering what that had been all about.

Then she soared off at high speed.

Not as fast as me, though. I headed home to finish my… studies.

*****************

Days passed; we accumulated supplies, figured out our route, and generally got ready for the trip; I could feel the end of the summer coming in a way I haven’t felt since I was in school. One of the weirdest things about being an adult is that summer doesn’t matter so much. I work the same amount all year long.

But we have to make our trip before the fall, since Marcus and I are both going to be committed to teaching.

Me, a teacher. I feel like I’m on the wrong planet.

I’m going to help coach the pegasi too. That’ll be fun.

But teaching… I can’t believe I committed to teach a history class.

There’s too much we’ve forgotten. I hope I can get across how I feel about it. I thought history was boring but now, I understand. It’s all about life and life is only boring if you’re boring.

And I’m never boring.

By the time we were ready to leave, I felt somewhat frazzled. Fortunately, I would have a chance to rest on the trip. Applebloom had built us something Pinkie says is called a ‘Zeppelin’. It’s basically a gigantic balloon full of magical gases with a house hung under it by ropes. You can blow it with wind or tug it with ropes or Twilight or Rarity can sit in this big chair and it runs off their magic if you can’t get the right wind. Of course with Fluttershy and I… with me… that won’t be a problem.

Dragonfly is kind of nuts but she’s a better weather pony than Fluttershy, I have to admit. Still, I’d rather have Fluttershy on my team.

“Who decorated my room?” Rarity wailed as we began packing everything onto our zeppelin. I could hear her deep inside the zeppelin.

“Sweetie Belle worked really hard on your room,” Applebloom said, sounding aggravated. “Because she loves you.”

“I’m sorry, I thought you’d like it!” Sweetie wailed.

As I hauled in my stuff on a small wagon, I wondered if they’d gotten Scootaloo to decorate my room.

It turned out to be covered with crude drawings of myself and the Wonderbolts. At least, I think it was me, as I rather resembled a rainbow-colored dog in some of the drawings. Paintings, technically.

*Technically*. But if a newborn foal can out-paint you, you don’t really get to call it painting, in my opinion. However, it did have a nice bowl / petbed for my cool turtle, Tank, so I set him down there to nap.

There was no sign of Scoots, though, to my surprise.

As I unpacked my stuff, I heard Scootaloo telling Twilight how to pilot. She sounded very jealous; I’ll have to cheer her up. They were somewhere upfront but sound seems to carry inside this thing, I noticed.

I stashed everything; I noticed the bookshelf and was grateful; it let me stash all my reference works. And I still have to finish going over several sources Dawn Gleaming sent me. Thankfully, she scribbled notes all over them and the half that aren’t about how awesome she is were very useful.

Twilight had a meltdown about writing on books the one time I showed her, so I won’t mention the other ones.

I’m grateful for a bunch of books. I paused in the hallway to feel confused, then Fluttershy found me. She was smiling brightly. “My room has a little tree for Slither to perch in!”

“You brought your snake?” I said, surprised.

“I had to leave Angel in charge of making sure all my little friends get fed,” she said. “Slither gets confused and tries to eat some of them if I give him that duty.” She sighed. “He’s a good boy but, well, he is a snake.”

Funny that.

“I am really excited,” I told her.

“I’m excited for you,” she said, smiling broadly. “Come, look!”

Her room was decorated with beautiful pictures of various animals including a painting of her and Angel having a picnic. It also had lots of potted plants, a birdcage with a canary and a very nice dresser drawers.

And a bed, tucked into the corner.

Who the hell did her room, while I got stick-people???

“I have to thank Dinky; she decorated my room,” Fluttershy said. “I hope your room is this beautiful.”

It’s a trainwreck.

Distantly, Rarity and Sweetie were wailing at each other, while Applebloom chewed out Rarity. I could hear Marcus trying to speak and being trampled on. Verbally, that is.

“Oh dear, I had better go clear that up,” Fluttershy said.

Not getting near Rarity wailing. I decided to go see Twilight and Scoots. They were up in the captain’s room up front.

The captain’s area was at the front of the Zeppelin; there were all sorts of mystical machine things which I didn’t know what they did and a huge pair of windows so you can see where you’re going. The Captain’s chair was flanked by two smaller chairs, painted red and blue respectively. They didn’t seem to have any higher purpose than sitting.

“Hi, Dash,” Twilight said, smiling. She was perched in the chair, a big mass of purple wood with stars on it; the chair was well made but ugly and I felt a little better. It had padding on the seat proper and I got an odd feeling from it.

“Hey, Dash,” Scoots said, smiling but with less enthusiasm than I was used to getting from her. Too much enthusiasm most of the time, really. It’s not wise to idolize other people.

Even if they are as awesome as I am.

Which is why I always liked the Wonderbolts; they’re the only people as awesome as me. Or they were; my friends can be pretty awesome too.

She’s probably trying to play it cool, so I ruffled her mane. “Hi, Scoots, Twilight. So this is some kind of magic piloting chair?”

“Yeah, you have to be a unicorn or me to fly it,” Scootaloo said, sounding proud.

Twilight said, “Because of her cutie mark, you see.” She pointed to Scoot’s pilot-wheel cutie mark as if I hadn’t been there when she got it.

I had guessed that, given Scoots isn’t an alicorn. Which is probably for the best.

“Just don’t let Marcus try it; he’ll crash the thing or fuck it up some other way,” Scootaloo said.

“Scootaloo, don’t use language like that,” Twilight said chidingly. “Ponies shouldn’t swear.”

“Dad swears all the time,” Scootaloo said stubbornly, getting down in that defiant crouch of hers.

“I’m sure Marcus would do just fine,” I told Scootaloo, gesturing vaguely off towards his and Rarity’s room. Though Twilight would likely pilot it better if it comes down to using magic to steer. But I gotta stick up for my pal.

“He’s an idiot. I think Sweetie wants to marry him or something, won’t shut up about Marcus taught me this and Marcus showed me that and blah blah blah,” Scootaloo said, now sounding even more sour; her face was all twisted up and bitter.

I began laughing at the image of Sweetie asking Marcus to marry her. Him and Rarity dating is crazy enough without adding a big age difference. Sweetie’s too young to date anyone, let alone an adult. But that’s not her goal, I’m sure. Sweetie is, well, sweet. She likes everyone.

Otherwise, she and Rarity would have probably killed each other on one of Rarity’s bad days.

I remember going over to Rarity’s and Sweetie just ran outside and yelled, “Run while you still can!”

I just took off and did not look back.

“Don’t mock me!” Scootaloo said angrily and stormed off into the living quarters area of the ship. Zeppelin.

“Dash, you shouldn’t laugh at her; I think she’s aggravated because we won’t take them, even though they made this for us.” Twilight sounded guilty. “They’re just too young.”

“I was laughing at the idea of Sweetie and Marcus dating,” I told her. “I guess she could have gotten the wrong idea.”

“You should apologize,” Twilight said, still sounding guilty and craning around to look out the back door.

“I’ll go find her,” I told her.

It took some effort but I eventually found Scootaloo pinned under Pinkie, who was trying to get her to listen to a joke. Pinkie’s room was, well, pink, with silly pictures on the walls and a nice looking bed with pink sheets. In fact, it was pretty pink pink pinkpinkpink.

Pink.

“Hey, Scoots, I wasn’t laughing at you, just near you,” I told her.

Before I could finish, she erupted out from under Pinkie, collided with my front half, rolled over me somehow and fled down the hallway, yelling angrily.

I don’t get it, I said I wasn’t laughing at her!

“Better apologize,” Pinkie said to me, rising and shaking dust off herself.

“That *was* an apology!” I told her.

“It didn’t work,” Pinkie said, shaking her head.

Scootaloo didn’t return before we had to leave, though. I’m sure she’ll get over it before we get back, right?

******************

This thing is pretty fast, but it means someone’s gotta sit in the chair most of the time. And somehow, sitting there doing magic stuff makes you tired, even if you’re just sitting on your ass. I guess magic must eventually wipe you out. Rarity, Marcus, and Twilight all pretty much had to go sleep after their shifts.

I stared down at the landscape below. It was a cold swamp, not that you could make out many details at this altitude; hills and mountains rose to the east and I could feel many knots of loyalty down below; I could hardly make out cities and towns with my eyes, but I could feel them by the concentration of my element there.

Twilight was on duty and Pinkie was sitting in the red chair, pretending to help. Or maybe she was, with her bard tricks somehow. I was just standing by the windows, looking out and down.

“We’re off past Wendar,” I said. “Right?”

“Yes, that’s the Swamp of the Beast and the Kingdom of Ghyr, a feudal state mostly home to humans,” Twilight said; she gestured and a glowing map appeared in the air of the area.

“It’s based on a toyline but someone jammed it into this world because they thought it would be cool,” Pinkie said, gesturing with her forehooves, though nothing actually happened.

“What on Mystara are you talking about?” I asked her.

“You’re claiming the Immortals jammed this entire region into Mystara, basing it on toys?” Twilight said, sounding dubious. “Oh, wait, you’re joking,” she said, facehoofing. She laughed a little and I laughed a lot.

As if people would do something like that.

“The Old Ones; the Immortals don’t have that kind of power,” Pinkie said, shaking her head.

When she starts getting on about the Old Ones, I generally tune out, so I pretty much forgot the next half-hour of our trip.

*****************

“Oh come on, the Heartstone is clearly a toy name,” Pinkie said, waving a hoof at Twilight. “And ‘Warduke’? Clearly a cheesy name for a villain toy,” she continued.

At this point, even my ability to zone out failed and I fled before Twilight could quote some book she probably just made up.

I have to admit I did try checking up on her once, but the book was so boring, I couldn’t finish it to find the quote. Then she found me and I had to lie about why I was looking at it and she made me read it all.

I never did see the quote.

So I went to see Fluttershy. Who was hiding under her bed. This didn’t work well since she is too big, which meant the bed was resting on her back and tilting up, which can’t feel very good. “Fluttershy, what are you doing?” I asked.

Slither was sleeping in his ‘tree’. I think. Sometimes he’ll sit still for hours and I think he’s dead.

You couldn’t hear Twilight and Pinkie arguing. Thank Celestia for that.

“It’s too quiet,” she said to me, looking around furtively.

“I thought you liked quiet,” I told her.

“So did I, but it’s never this quiet, unless something bad is going to happen; there’s always Angel moving around and Slither and my chickens and visitors and…,” Fluttershy paused and looked embarrassed. “I guess it’s not likely there’s a predator on board.”

You’d think the *druid* would know that.

“It’s just thick walls and windows you can’t open,” I told her. “Blocking the noise.” I gestured at the windows.

She looked embarrassed and curled up, hiding her head.

I gave up and went to find someone else to hang out with.

******************

Applejack was drunk and half-asleep and surrounded by playing cards. Ivan was asleep in the middle of the cards on the floor. Spike was asleep with his head in a tub of ice cream, so I pulled him out of it and put the ice cream away. By this point, I half-expected to find Rarity and Marcus dressing up as ducks or something.

Has everyone gone mad? Is that why no one ever went back? There wasn’t anything about insanity in the books! I tried to plan ahe…

I sound like Twilight. I’m going crazy too!

I decided to go see Rarity, hoping she wasn’t insane yet. Or Marcus.

Or at the least, they wouldn’t argue over whatever exactly Pinkie and Twilight are arguing over.

Or hide under the bed.

Or be wasted.

Man, they didn’t even invite me to drink with them!

I hope Luna doesn’t get jealous and turn Applejack into a bottle of brandy and drink her.

I tried to get the image to go away and I couldn’t, so I went to Rarity and Marcus’ room. I hesitated at the door, unsure if they might be doing something naughty; I couldn’t hear them but the walls are thick on this thing.

Distantly, I heard Pinkie say, “Norwold did *not* always exist! It too was…”

I would never find out; I did not *want* to find out what she was going to say. I ran into the room as quick as I could.

Marcus was fast asleep on the bed, while she tried to make adjustments to a fancy outfit she was wearing, all red and black satin and lace and gems. With a hugely brimmed triple-layered hat. With a tiny train which went around the third level.

I would rather die than wear that outfit.

“Oh Dash, darling, can you help me? Marcus is still clonked out from his shift,” Rarity said, then yawned. “And I just got up.”

I really don’t want to.

But I am bored out of my skull.

And I really don’t want to have to listen to Twilight and Pinkie debating whether I used to be a pink pony with green hair who liked to eat watermelon or something.

Probably everyone has that nightmare.

If it is just me, don’t tell me.

So I got trapped listening to Marcus snore and helping Rarity to make dresses. This is a terrible fate.

Rarity perked up a lot and was very chatty, though most it was her rambling on about things I don’t care about and people I don’t know or know only dimly.

Finally, though, she said, “Darling, it’s okay if you talk too.” She sounded a little guilty.

“I think everyone’s going a little stir crazy,” I told her as I tried to hold two pieces of cloth together with my hooves; Ponies can make things stick to their hooves but it’s very clumsy. They never lined up right and I had to keep trying and it was stupidly hard and embarrassing.

“I’m getting a lot of work done but sitting in that chair is terribly boring,” Rarity said wearily. “And tiring. And working all by myself all the time isn’t much fun. I’m used to having visitors and clients. It’s okay when I’m inspired but I wasn’t meant to be alone.”

“I know, I’m totally cooped up. I want to go out and fly,” I told Rarity, shuffling impatiently on my hooves.

She adjusted her work glasses and studied me. “Any reason you shouldn’t?” she said. “We’re over lands you’ve never flown over, right?”

Well, I do have the cold outfit. “Can you help me get into my cold outfit?”

“Of course, darling,” she said. “I just wish you’d let me fancy yours up.”

“No thanks,” I said quickly.

We got me suited up and I took off, feeling silly I hadn’t done this before.

*****************

I can say this. Whatever Pinkie thinks, the inhabitants of Ghyr don’t look like toys *at all*. They were perfectly ordinary people, though it did look like an explosion in a jeweler’s shop, sometimes.

They did stare at me a lot and I didn’t see any of our kind of Ponies to my surprise. Just ordinary horses and ponies. Who are always a little creepy to us. Like humans and monkeys; they’re just enough like us to give you that weird feeling.

I made sure to keep an eye on our ship; if I got lost here, I wouldn’t know how to get back to Equestria. They’ve probably never heard of us. I’d never heard of Ghyr.

I finally flew down to a very surprised looking human who was busy with some others harvesting wheat. “You’re not a giant toy, right?” I asked him.

He stared at me, mouth open wide, his bushy moustache quivering.

“A bit of a fool but not a toy,” another man said as he reaped wheat with a scythe. “I’ve never seen a real pegasus before,” the other man said; he was tall and strong with short black hair. “I didn’t know pegasi could talk.”

How could he know we exist and not know we could talk? “A friend of mine thinks you’re all toys or something,” I said, pointing at the zeppelin, then felt embarrassed. “Anyway, sorry to bother you.”

They clearly had not noticed the zeppelin, and now they stared at it in surprise.

“Hah! That’ll show Pinkie for being silly. Anyway, nice to meet you!” I told them and took off back towards the ship.

I’m sure they’ll be telling stories about this strange encounter with the coolest pegasus they ever met for a long time.

And maybe I can get Pinkie to stop being silly.

I was starting to rise upwards when I saw a little orange-haired girl running through the field, jumping up and down, trying to get my attention. Curious, I turned and flew down to her, hovering over a bush full of… tasty strawberries! They smelled so good but I could tell farmers were growing them so I couldn’t just eat them.

But I wanted to.

“My doggie fell down the well, can you fly down and save him?” she asked me. I could feel her loyalty to her pet. Smell it. I don’t know how to describe it but I couldn’t let her loyalty to her pet go unrewarded. And this would be better than going back to the ship so I could watch everyone slowly go stir-crazy.

“Hah! Show me the well,” I said proudly. “I’m the awesome Rainbow Dash and I’ll have your doggie out in no time. What’s your name, kid?”

“Lani,” she said, bowing to Rainbow Dash. “Let’s go!”

I followed her across several fields, through a grove, around a village, into some woods. They were dark and dangerous looking. Not dangerous to me, but little human girls are another question. One day she might be half as awesome as me, but right now, she was one percent at best. Two percent if she can cook well.

If she cooks like Sweetie, down to one half of one percent.

And I expect Sweetie could have rescued the dog herself.

Then the wolves began howling; I could hear a crackle of thunder and the little girl jumped, her pigtails flailing. “Don’t leave me,” she wailed.

“I won’t abandon you,” I said seriously to her, and she jumped again, then stared.

“But you just met me,” she said softly, looking surprised.

“It’s just wolves,” I said. “I can whip entire packs. For one thing, I fly.” I looked at her and landed. “Here, you can ride me,” I told her.

This took some effort; I’m rather large now, bigger than my boyfriend, and she was rather small. Too old for a diaper but probably not old enough to entirely dress herself without help. Even with hands. “Just hold on tight,” I told her.

Fortunately, she had a broad skirt so she didn’t have to ride side-saddle. Hey, I have a saddle! I got it out and we put it on quickly, then she mounted again, while the wolves howled and thunder kept crackling despite the lack of clouds in the sky; clouds were starting to gather, but nothing to worry about.

“You’re not a toy, right?” I asked her.

She froze up. “Why do you think that?” she said, stunned.

“Oh, Pinkie thinks everyone in this country is toys because, well, Pinkie,” I told her. “Not that you know Pinkie.”

We kept going through the woods past a crumbled farm house which had odd black scorchmarks on it and… bones. I grimaced. “Maybe I’d better take you home.”

“My poor doggie, we have to save him,” she wailed.

“Okay,” I told her. “You’re being very brave.” Kids eat that stuff up when you tell them that. They want to be adults before they’re half as cool as me, then they get in trouble.

Few things are more horrible than realizing you just said something your mother would say. But I guess I’m not a kid any more even if I’m not a mother.

I sped up, though I couldn’t go too fast or she got confused and we got lost. I could see flashes of ground-level lightning.

Timberwolves. They’re made out of wood and they produce lightning.

Do not ask me how, it’s magic.

I think they produce lightning.

Or are they summoned by lightning?

If you listen to Granny Smith for too long, your brain wanders and you begin to hallucinate.

If you rub wood together… no, that’s fire. It’s wool you rub to make sparks. But Timberwolves don’t have any fur, so they would have to make fire.

I could smell smoke and see distant glows of flickering firelight and then I heard a lot of wolves howl in agony and race past us, burning and burning and burning. They were made of timber and quite fearsome, except for their terror. I suddenly felt bad for them and wondered how the species survives if it catches fire all the time.

The thunder had stopped and now Lani was staring with her mouth open wide at the burning Timberwolves. I couldn’t blame her, I was staring too.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get to the well while they’re distracted,” I told her.

“I think they’re running to the well,” she mumbled.

We reached a clearing; the well was kind of narrow with a wooden frame now on fire; the bucket had fallen in and the well was jammed with now trapped timberwolves, some of whom were still burning.

This was like a too much pizza dream. I felt a little bloated and nauseous just thinking about it. Lina just couldn’t stop staring, eyes wide. I covered them. “Don’t watch,” I told her. This bothered me and I’m an adult and I know those things would eat us if they could. “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me here,” I told her confidently.

I flew high and stomped a cloud to make it rain, putting out the wolves; I could hear a dog whining piteously deep down. But how to get the wolves out?

I set Lani down on a tree branch, then got some rope and began crudely lassoing them and pulling them out; they fled once out of the well, then I flew down and got the little black dog; he latched onto my left foreleg, trying to eat it but my cold weather outfit stopped his fangs to his frustration.

He was like a little baby wolf himself but with actual flesh and fur and not on fire. Not very friendly.

Lani pried him loose. “I’m sorry, he likes to bite hands,” she said. As soon as she took him, he went from being hostile to be all happy and cuddly and licking Lani’s cheek as she smiled at him.

“I don’t have any,” I pointed out, waving a hoof.

He strained in her arms, trying to lunge at my hoof, and she said, “It’s why he’s so frustrated.” She hugged him tightly. “Fenny is a good boy,” she sing-songed.

Fenny gave up on me and began licking one of her hands. While he did that, she gently touched my necklace. “Is it magical?”

“It’s an Element of Harmony,” I told her. “The Element of Loyalty.” I could feel her loyalty to her pet.

“What a pretty gemstone,” she said, studying the lightning bolt. “It’s magic, right? Like the Heartstone?”

“Yes,” I told her. I only vaguely know about the Heartstone but you should never admit ignorance to a kid. “I’d better get you back to your parents.”

“Parents?… oh, *my* parents!” she said, first confused, then understanding. She must be shook up. Poor kid. But I’d best get back before I get chewed out.

Finding her house took forever but as the sun began to set, I got her home to her snug little home. Her father didn’t even come to the door but her mother did, wearing a red dress and began chewing her out.

“She just wanted to save her dog,” I said in her defense. “Pets shouldn’t be abandoned.” It’s why I brought Tank with me on this trip, since he can… I should have brought him with me! He must be stir crazy too! “Wouldn’t you go wandering out late if she got lost?”

Her mother stared at me, then said, “What on Mystara are you?” She stepped back warily.

“I’m Rainbow Dash, the coolest pegasus in Equestria,” I told her. “Or the world, really.”

“And the most modest,” Lani’s mother said dryly. “I haven’t really… you could have some hay if you want.”

So I had some hay and Lani got me some strawberries. I went up in the sky and…

And I realized I couldn’t see my friends at all and they’ve probably… no, they didn’t send me a fire message. Though Spike is basically drunk and unconscious. Too much ice cream but it’s the same thing for him.

But I know the way they were going. I think.

So I took off after them.

**********************

No letter from Twilight chewing me out. That was good.

But I was stuck in heavy cold rain and lightning and they apparently hadn’t noticed their weatherpony wasn’t with them to send me a letter. Given this could mean they’re totally off course and too busy arguing over whether the Ghyrians are *toys* to notice, this was a bad sign.

Given toys have no feelings and Lani did, I can now disprove Pinkie’s theory. Hah! So much for… okay, not brains, given Twilight, the smart one, agrees with me.

It has to show I’m better than something.

Though right now, I don’t seem very good at finding them, which worries me.

I dodged lightning bolts and hailstones and was glad for my cold weather outfit as it is really cold up here. Even for my kind. Should it really be this cold? It’s not even really fall yet!

Though Twilight and my reading did say it gets colder as you go North.

Assuming I am going North and not to the Moon or something. Though I would run out of air if I punctured the Skyshield.

I *could* puncture it and fly into space.

But having no air would cramp my style.

The storm got worse, and I nearly got hit by lightning. It outraced its own thunder but I spotted it in time, thankfully. The goggles Keraptis gave me were really, really helpful in this weather. They magically stayed dry and that’s a huge help as otherwise the water drops distort your sight by something or another Twilight would understand. Or Marcus. Then they’d lecture about it to show how smart they are.

I totally have no idea where I’m going and I’d be glad for any of them who could point me the right way. This storm is throwing off my sense of directions; I can’t see any landmarks. When I get back, I’m getting a compass sewn into this thing or something.

Or maybe a spell on my goggles. Having a little built-in compass in one corner would be awesome. Maybe with an altitude thing too.

Fantasizing about magical goggle enhancements caused me to take three hailstones to the face and I almost got lightning bolted again. I circled and rose, trying to see if someone was doing this deliberately.

I could feel the cloud rise with me and then I realized the problem. Someone’s messing with the weather and making this storm follow me so I can’t get out of it.

Well, two can play at that game. “Show yourself! I know you must be there!” I shouted.

Silence. Followed by lightning coming at me sneakily and silently. But I could feel the build up, so I dodged like a falling avalanche.

Okay, that’s not a good metaphor. Rarity’s good at metaphors.

But she’d be screaming about her running makeup and panicking in this.

I got me into this, I will get me out.

I should have stayed on the ship.

But if I hadn’t, probably those crazy burning wolves would have eaten her and her dog.

I had to do it. Had to. Probably my Element inspired me to.

Yeah.

Hail battered me but I swept it away and began pummeling the clouds, trying to drain them off so they would collapse. Someone was reinforcing them but I couldn’t see them. “Show yourself!” And where was he getting the water for it?

Or she. Could be a woman.

But it feels like a guy.

I hope I didn’t anger Thor by being more awesome than he is or something.

I think he’s the immortal of lightning. I kind of slept through Humanics.

As did most of my classmates.

I mean, how often do you run into humans in most of Equestria?

Now I regret it.

I’m regretting sleeping in class; I am getting old.

Fluttershy would know. And probably get him to have a tea party.

But I think I am going to have to kick Thor’s ass. “Dammit, Thor, jealousy is petty! It’s not like this will somehow make you as cool as me! I just rescued a puppy, what have you done lately?”

That sounded more awesome in my head.

Then another cloud spat lightning at me but I spiraled around it, trying to get to the source.

The source was more lightning and I got knocked for a loop, tumbling down. But I recovered, then dodged another bolt. Now my suit had char marks.

I need this suit!

Okay, I have to think. I’m no egghead, but I’m not an idiot either, like some people.

Could it be a lightning elemental? The best way to take them out is to disperse the clouds.

Like I was doing before. I began working my way through the clouds, dodging bolts and slowly clearing open spaces; a few clouds tried to reform but I kicked their ass. I’m not the best weatherpony in Equestria for nothing.

Unfortunately, my suit was going to need repair and I was horribly frazzled and the lightning kept coming. I had the feeling I must be missing something obvious.

Lightning jumps between positive and negative points, it makes thunder…

The lightning is silent.

It’s a TRICK.

I closed my eyes and reached out with my special sense. That the Element of Loyalty gives me. I couldn’t trust my eyes; someone’s put a spell on me or something. But I could feel my friends… I had been flying away from them, lured and driven by the bolts.

But now I knew. But why no sound? Wouldn’t an illusionist know to do that? I had to be missing something.

But the lack of lightning hitting me as I flew blindly towards my distant friends convinced me that whatever I had missed, it wasn’t kicking my ass. I win again, as always.

I finally reached the ship, opened my eyes and the storm was gone. Some punk had put a spell on me.

Probably jealous I can fly and they can’t. Hopefully, everyone isn’t worried but I can tell them about my heroic deed. It’ll be cool.

**********************

“I didn’t mean they were literally toys! They’re *based* on toys,” Pinkie said stubbornly.

Twilight buried her face in her hooves.

“How do you even know this?” I asked her, hooves crossed. I had come in and found them *still* arguing over this topic. Somehow.

“Hold on,” Pinkie said, whipping out paper and drawing on it; it was a decently designed ad for toys based on humans. Leaving aside no one would want that… okay, I guess humans might want such toys.

“Pinkie, advertisements you drew yourself are not proof,” Twilight said and I had to agree.

“I can see it. With my element,” Pinkie said stubbornly.

“Yes, but that means it’s a joke, right?” I said hesitantly.

Pinkie galloped off, looking frustrated and Twilight flopped over onto one of the armrests of the chair.

I suddenly wondered why Applebloom had put armrests on it and the other two chairs when only Marcus has actual ‘arms’. They’re not well positioned to help a pony. Maybe she copied a book design or something?

“I can’t focus enough to read, I am totally bored,” Twilight confessed.

Maybe I shouldn’t rub my freedom in her face. Or maybe it’ll cheer her up. I decided to tell her the story of my adventure.

“Dash, you shouldn’t run off on your own.” Twilight sighed and looked like my Mom when I tracked water into the house. Even though our house was a cloud. Made of water.

“Everyone else couldn’t leave or was sleeping or drunk or stuff,” I told her. “There’s way too much boring waiting in this adventure so far, so I *had* to go be cool.”

She studied me. “It sounds like you were right but there’s no traces of magic left behind.” She frowned. “I’ll try and do a scrying while I’m waiting.” Her eyes glazed for a moment. “Now your suit is a mess; get Rarity to fix it,” Twilight said. “I’m going to sit here pilot and try to find out who did that to you. If it was a spell.” She looked very intent.

I decided to get my suit fixed, take a nap and maybe everyone would be calmer later.

******************

“I will make this the most beautiful thing you have *ever* seen,” Rarity said eagerly, studying my damaged outfit.

“It just needs darning,” I said. I think that’s the right word.

“Nonsense. I do nothing without doing right, darling,” Rarity said. “You should go rest, you look exhausted.”

“I am not tired,” I told her.

Marcus chose this moment to snore. He sounded terrible.

Rarity didn’t seem to notice. “Go rest, I will make this lovely.”

I can’t fix it myself; Pegasi aren’t nimble with their hooves and my leg strength won’t help.

Time to go have a nightcap and go to bed. I hope it still fits; I haven’t worn it since last winter.

****************

My nightcap kept my head nice and warm and I slept really well, though I woke to nightmare visions of Rarity having turned my cold weather gear into a clown costume.

It’s not that I hate or fear clowns but I do not want to look like one.

I stuffed my face in a bag of oats to avoid having to find out yet but I soon ran out of excuses. Applejack wandered by looking like she’d been kicked by a mule. “Partied too hard?” I asked.

“Yes,” she mumbled. “I should be home getting ready for the harvest.”

“We’ll be back in time,” I told her. “You didn’t have to come.”

“I had to come,” she said, suddenly looking less a mess. “You’re my friend and I know how important this is to you.”

I know it makes her uncomfortable to think about what we found at that old lab. Luna is studying it now, I think. “Thanks,” I told her.

“I just ain’t got nothin’ useful to do and I can’t even catch up on chores,” Applejack said, then sighed. “We need somethin’ to do.”

“We can put on a show!” Pinkie said enthusiastically, suddenly appearing next to us. “I’ll dance, Dash can sing and Applejack can play the jugs!”

“Do what?” I asked. That sounded vaguely obscene to me.

“You know,” Pinkie said, producing some of Applejack’s empty cider jugs and blowing across the top to make horn noises.

Heck, why not? I *need* something to do. “Here, let me do it,” I said and manipulated the airflow with my wings, making beautiful, deep music.

Why Pinkie was making an odd face at me, I don’t know. My playing was *awesome*. Most Pegasi instruments involve manipulating air flow.

“I can’t sing worth a roll of hay,” Applejack said, frowning.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I told her.

“Umm, Dashie…” Pinkie began.

“It will be great!”

Jamming out while Applejack sang and Pinkie danced was pretty awesome. Applejack actually has a really good voice but it struck me that she sounds just like Apple Blossom when she sings. Applejack’s evil twin, not her sister Applebloom. She sounds like a Manehattanite lady, not a country girl.

“Did you study singing at your fancy school in Manehattan?” I asked.

She crumpled up and hid her face. “Yes.”

“You sound great,” I told her.

“That was great, Applejack!” Pinkie said. “You’re much b… you were really good.” She laughed nervously.

“Don’t make fun of me. I don’t sound like me,” Applejack said mournfully. “When I sing.”

“You sounded like you the last time I heard you sing, though you weren’t as good as this,” I said, then imitated someone singing badly. “Anyway, let’s try it again; I keep getting ahead of Pinkie.”

“You need to follow the beat,” she said weakly.

“I am good at beating,” I said, beating my wings. Hah!

Pinkie paused and laughed. “Ooh, I walked into that one! Yeah!”

Only Pinkie would celebrate being the straight woman for a joke.

Then I laughed; I’d nearly forgotten to, which was silly enough I laughed more. Then I realized Applejack was cringing. “Come on, you’re tougher than that.”

“You sing beautifully. Won’t you sing a song with me?” Pinkie said pleadingly.

“Only if Dash can stay on the beat,” Applejack said, peeking with one eye at Pinkie.

Man, why is she so embarrassed? She’s a great singer. “Come on, Applejack. You scared of a song?”

“I am not scared of a song!” Applejack said angrily.

“Then show me!”

“I’ll learn ya!” Applejack said, accent so thick you could cut a cake with it.

Or a hunk of wood. As cake slicing really isn’t very hard.

Pinkie showed me the tune and I got going on it.

o/~ This is the story of the pebble who changed the world!

Say what?

Applejack was soon laughing her way through a silly song about a pebble rolling downhill and how it caused someone to trip, so they had to go to the doctor and they fell in love with the doctor, so they bought extra roses and the rose-seller now could afford a new house and… it just escalates from there.

When we got to the end, Pinkie said, “I got you to sing that song so we could sing this,” and then we launched into the same tune but with totally different words, a love ballad about a soldier and his fair mare. They were parted by war and it was utterly tragic. By the end of it, Rarity had come in without us noticing and was bawling. Applejack was crying too, then saw Rarity and clearly wanted to die.

So I covered for her as a good friend should. “Hey, Rarity, is my outfit updated?”

“Yes, darling. I came to find you so we can try it on you,” Rarity said.

Please, don’t let it be all frilly and lacy now.

****************

I barely recognized it; it was a mass of lace and frills and pieces of satin and it now was eight different colors and half of them were shades of purple. I could see a few bits and pieces of the original fabric but this didn’t even look like it would hold off the cold. Also, it now had a hat which was bigger than my head and had my name on it in diamonds. Which glowed with a soft inner light.

I stared. I couldn’t even complain because I had forgotten how to talk. It was that bad.

“So, you like it?” Rarity said hopefully.

“I can’t wear that! Everyone in the universe would mock me!” I said in horror.

Then she threw it aside and started laughing.

I stared at her.

“I’m sorry, darling, I was so bored, I took the bits I had to cut off your suit and made this out of scraps I had.”

“…” I stared, mouth open wide.

Then she used her magic to pull over the real suit from next to the bed. It now had a cape with a hood; it was a nice red with RD on it in green. Otherwise, it was the same as before, just fixed. “This will keep your mane dry, darling,” she said. “And make your entrances more dramatic.”

“Oh man, you really got me,” I said ruefully, then put it on; it fit perfectly. Even if Rarity tries a thousand percent to girly-girly me, it always fits perfectly.

“This is a work outfit; it has to be practical,” Rarity said, clearly regretting that. “I will dress you up pretty later.”

“Where’s Marcus?” I asked.

“Piloting,” she said, then sighed. “Next time you scout, I may take on a human form so I can go with you. I am dreadfully bored.”

“That would be cool,” I told her. “But why would you need to go human?” I cocked my head curiously.

“Because a human can ride a pony easier than another pony can,” Rarity said. “Next time you want to scout, let me know.”

“See, that’s kind of weird. Why would one species be better suited to ride another than its own kind doing so?” I said. I mean, I know humans are jointed differently but it seems like ponies end up carrying ponies enough it would be useful to be better at it.

“Ponies don’t normally need to ride someone and Pegasi normally put passengers in a wagon but we have nothing to make a wagon with.” She sighed. “Next time, we should make a chariot or two so you and Fluttershy can fly people around.”

Wait… I bet those humans who modified us wanted to be able to ride on us. Though we’re normally too small for adult humans without magic.

And really, normal animal horses are… I guess it’s just a coincidence, though if I mention this around Pinkie, she’ll start claiming all humans are toys for pony children or something.

If we were much wider, though, humans couldn’t ride us any more than they ride elephants. But I am glad I am not wider.

I decided to go check with Twilight about the spell.

****************

“What makes no sense to me is why no sound. If you’re going to try to fool a Pegasus with weather, you would have to know they would notice,” Twilight said, frowning. Marcus was in the command chair, powering the zeppelin, while Twilight was on the floor with a half-dozen books, two maps and several charts of arcane symbols.

“I know. Unless someone was just testing me,” I said.

“Some Ghyr wizard may have hoped to get a Pegasus for his collection,” Marcus said.

Spike now walked in with more books. “You could feel the power of it, right? That kind of electrical sense of pegasi?”

“Yeah,” I told him. It’s part of our weather sense that lets us accurately manipulate clouds. Normally, it’s only useful for sensing lightning in a storm.

“Maybe he could only do so many senses and he had to give up sound to make it feel right,” Spike said. “Affecting a pegasus’ weather sense isn’t a standard illusion trick, is it?

Twilight looked embarrassed, then said, “You know, Spike, that makes good sense. Most of the time, illusions don’t cover the less well known senses, other than nociception, and maybe heat or cold sensing. And they usually miss species-specific tricks like that unless designed to fool them.”

“Than what?” I asked.

“Pain. Nociception is pain,” Twilight said. Marcus grunted. “Anyway, we still don’t know motive, but now we know why. Trying to manipulate the spell to work on your Pegasus senses made him lose one of the regular ones,” she said, making a note. “My efforts to scry who did it keeps giving me an image of giants picking their noses and other giant things and generally not looking smart enough to pull that off.” She frowned.

“Someone’s blocking you,” Marcus said. “They must be very powerful. I’m trying to keep an eye out for magic near us.”

This seemed to involve him grunting a lot.

“Anyway, you can work on material for the class you’re going to teach,” Twilight said. “While we work on this.” She gestured at her huge spread of eggheady stuff.

That probably wouldn’t hurt. “Could it be Thor? He’s likely jealous I am cooler than him.”

Having Twilight and Marcus give me the exact same look is disturbing. More so when it clearly indicates thinking I am an idiot. I felt like I was back home with my parents. “Not Thor’s style. He’d just hit you with a hammer,” Marcus said.

“It could be Loki,” Spike said. “This is more his style.”

“Isn’t he Celestia’s mother or something?” I said. I don’t know much about the Immortals. I suppose I should learn.

“Yes,” Marcus said. “He likes to screw with people when bored and he’s usually bored if he’s not screwing with someone. But if he was going to mess with any of us, it would be me,” Marcus said grimly.

“Sweetie,” Twilight said, sighing. “He did come by and ‘mess’ with me but only with words. But he’s got some long-term con going with Sweetie.”

Marcus frowned more at that.

“I’ll send her a letter,” Twilight said and began dictating to Spike.

I suspect he just realizes I’m already cooler than him when I’m not even an Immortal yet. It’s only natural he’s jealous.

********************

I idly petted Tank as he studied my efforts to write out some lectures. They all end up too long or too short and I really need access to more of the town library.

I winced at that thought. Gilda would probably mock me for wanting to teach.

I hope she’s okay. Everything just went bad when she visited Ponyville and she probably hates me now. But I don’t hate her.

But she isn’t grown up and mature like I am.

I touched my necklace; I’d signed onto this without thinking about it. Saving Equestria would be cool and that was good enough for me.

But even on our first adventure, I had to start changing.

But what am I going to change into? I suddenly wondered if I’d even be recognizable as me in a few years, imagining myself in a suit with glasses and….

No, my Dad just wears glasses so people will know he’s smart and even Twilight doesn’t wear glasses from reading; that’s just a myth.

Tank headbutted me gently and I petted him with a wing, smiling. He knows better than to worry.

I’m just cool in new ways now.

“Hey, Dash, can I come in?” Spike asked.

“Sure thing,” I told him, looking up from my mess of notes and scribbles… I can barely read my handwriting. And I made it.

“Twilight said to help you since she and Marcus and Rarity are busy collaborating on something and that your handwriting sucks,” Spike said. “So I should take some dictation for you.” He didn’t sound too thrilled.

“Thanks,” I told him. Probably Twilight is just trying to avoid him mooning pathetically over Rarity again. He needs to move on!

But I guess being loyal to your love is a good thing. I touched my element; it was happy with Spike.

“Okay, I’m starting here with the Half-Mile Quarter Races of 131,” I told him, shoving the notes his way. “Let’s beat this into shape.”

Tank crooked his head, ambling slowly over to the notes to study them.

“Don’t quarter-ponies train to run a quarter mile or less?” Spike asked. “It’s basically sprinting.”

“And it was a disaster due to a poorly measured track,” I told him.

“But why start there? That’s well into Equestria’s history,” Spike said.

“I have to get their attention with a cool story. Once they see how cool it is, then I can go back to all the begats,” I told him. You know, I’m still not sure what ‘begat’ means but my Equestrian history course started with some complicated list of begats that ended with Celestia. I guess she hasn’t been begetting. “You do know what those are, right?”

“It’s used in archaic speech to mean being someone’s parent. So you’d say something like Crystal Fire begat Heaven’s First Dawn,” Spike said.

“Those are names?” I said in confusion.

“Of two famous gold dragons,” Spike said as if *everyone* should know this.

“Oh, I didn’t recognize the translation,” I lied.

Spike sighed. “Sometimes I wish I had a dragon to hang out with.”

Tank now studied the notes I’d passed him.

“There’s lots of kids you could hang out with,” I told him.

“Are you going to tell me to chase Sweetie too?” He frowned, then stared at the crude line drawings on my walls.

Sweetie’s a bit of a dimwit. A nice one but all she needs to be Ditzy junior would be the eyes. Also, I think she has a crush on Marcus. Or something. “Didn’t your aunt recommend Apple Bloom to you?”

“Too country,” Spike said. “I like elegant women.”

No one Spike’s age is elegant. Even Rarity probably wasn’t.

“Anyway, some friends your own age, romantic or not, would be good for you.” He’s too young for romance, anyway.

I certainly would have rather worn one of the dresses Mom tried to force on me than do anything with boys at his age.

Now I feel old.

I am not old!

Just mature.

“You okay?” Spike said, worried.

“I’m fine,” I told him. “Just thinking deep, wise thoughts.” I tried to look wise.

He laughed and then said, “So you’re going to open with the race and then cut back to the beginning.”

“Yeah. I want to show them there’s cool stuff to come,” I told Spike, then launched into another story I’ve got ready.

You wouldn’t think it, but you can spend a long time on work without getting bored if it’s actually cool. Or will lead to coolness.

This thankfully took up the rest of the day until bedtime, but it was worth it.

*****************

Half the tribe had vanished and we didn’t know why. The winters had been rough and game was bad and we’d lost a few to that but then, bam, half the tribe vanished one night. Farwalker said he’d seen a strange lizard creature, shaped sort of like one of us, but leaning forwards a lot and still having a tail. And shrunken arms. And a lot taller.

So… not much like us at all.

But I knew what he meant.

It was harder now and sometimes we would spy bands of other strange creatures, like us but skinnier and taller, but not hugely taller. I don’t think they’re as strong as us, but they can *make fire*. We know how to tend it but we’ve never riddled out how to make it. But I think I understand it now, from watching them.

It had been very risky but I wear the sacred necklace that makes me the champion of my tribe; the shaman says our ancestors got it from the Immortals long ago. It is made of a beautiful shiny yellow kind of rock that is so much smoother than anything we can make.

Smoother even than the tools of the strange intruders; they are better than ours. Sometimes I wonder if the intruders slew half our tribe with their weapons but there would have been bodies and blood and some people had half their family vanish right out of their tent.

I earned this by showing my devotion to the tribe; only one who is willing to risk themselves for others may wear it; it is like a club but made of the yellow rock and so beautiful. It lets me do incredible things.

I carefully held the sticks the way I had seen and began to spin one of them over the other, back and forth, back and forth. To my surprise, it came faster than when I had observed the strangers. They’d struggled but I could easily make the flame, generating sparks and blowing them into a flame.

We could *make* fire. Wood is plentiful here; even if we moved, we could keep the secret of making fire. I taught everyone I could, and that night, we had a feast. I touched the necklace, talking about my mighty deeds, of how I had stolen the secret of fire from our rivals.

And then I realized, the necklace had changed; my beard got in the way of seeing it at first, but the others noticed too. It had become a red crystal tongue of flame, encased in the yellow rock. The crystal was shaped so perfectly, better than I could do it with even my best rock carving tools.

But maybe one day we’d learn that secret too. I took a brand from the fire and began to dance. We all danced. The world had changed; whatever happened to our kin, we would not perish.

I would gain as many secrets as I could for my people. I am their champion, and I will not fail them.

I am Dwaled, the Bringer of Fire! I have done a great thing and I will do many more, for the good of my people. All will remember my name!

******************

I woke up, staring at the ceiling, feeling alien in my own body, having apparently dreamed of being a… short human? Dwarf? Halfling? I’m not even sure. But I am pretty sure he’s totally forgotten.

Except by me.

I stumbled around my room in the dark, writing it all down, knowing that you forget dreams after a while if you don’t.

He wore the Element of Loyalty. He was some sort of primitive cave-person… not even having fire. Half his tribe *vanished*. What was that?

I resolved to ask Twilight in the morning.

Pinkie now stumbled in and fell down at my hooves. “Flashback…,” she mumbled.

“I’m sorry, Pinkie, I didn’t plan this,” I mumbled.

She sighed and dragged herself off moping.

“Try telling your Element to give you one,” I told her as she left.

I don’t know if she heard me but it was bed time, again.

*****************

“Oh wow,” Twilight said, looking a little jealous. “That’s a long ways back. Were you a human or a dwarf?”

“I’m not sure. They’re both kind of hairy in that weird human way,” I told her. “No offense, Marcus.”

He and Twilight were talking shop while Twilight piloted when I had come into the bridge. “None taken,” he said. “Did you have a really big beard?”

“No, I was just kind of scraggly. But really muscular.”

“A brute-man,” Twilight said, surprised. “I suppose they do go back beyond even the God’s War.”

“The what?” I asked.

“Something wiped out all but a handful of immortals before Ponies or humans even existed. Ixion, Thanatos, Valerias, Ka and a few others predate it. The Elements come from before that war,” Twilight said.

I touched my necklace, which isn’t easy. I felt the gentle thrum of its power under my hoof. It’s seen so much. Not that it has a mind. “I don’t know why I dreamed that. And why did the tribe vanish?”

“The brute-men couldn’t compete with the rise of the new races. Some of them were taken to the Hollow World to preserve them,” Twilight said. “And the rest either died or gave birth to the original dwarven race. Somehow. No one is sure what happened there.”

“Couldn’t compete? Compete at what?” I asked. I imagined a race where all the losers were killed. Man, that would suck.

Marcus mumbled uncomfortably into his hands.

Twilight shifted on her feet, clearly not wanting to talk about it.

“Come on, I’m an adult. I am mature,” I said.

They both began to laugh.

“Don’t laugh at me!” I said angrily.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Twilight said, waving a hoof and looking embarrassed.

“You just… reminded me completely of Sweetie and her friends,” Marcus said, leaning on the big chair and laughing.

I am not like that at all.

Not at all.

“Well, we can only guess what happened,” Marcus said. “From bones and artifacts, as they didn’t know how to write and eventually they forgot about their pasts.”

“So they forgot Dwaled, the Bringer of Fire,” I said softly. Why does everyone keep forgetting all the important things? Why forget the person who brought you fire?

But then I have no idea who brought Ponies fire.

I guess probably the people at the research station. I don’t remember any globes about fire but they likely took it for granted.

“Yes,” Twilight said softly. “A lot of the past is lost.”

I can’t learn everything about the past and yet… I can at least learn about the past holders of my Element. How did it get from whatever he was to Ponies?

“So about this competition…” I said hesitantly.

Twilight said, “Well, it seems likely they got too numerous for each other and fought over territory and lots of Brute-men died. And the rest became the first kind of Dwarves.”

“First?” I asked.

“They could use magic; most of that kind gradually died out on the surface after the fall of Blackmoor but some were changed by Kagyar into modern Dwarves, who now thrive across the world. And some of the original Dwarves live on in the Hollow World,” Twilight said.

So they killed each other instead of cooperating. No wonder Twilight and Marcus didn’t want to talk about it. I’ve heard some bad stories about humans and some good ones. But this is one of the worst ones.

But then, ponykind has fought over stuff too, I know now. Thinking about it made me uncomfortable.

We all shuffled about uncomfortably for a little while.

“PIES,” Pinkie said and wham, pies to our face. We now had a pie fight until the bridge was a disaster and we were all laughing.

Thanks, Pinkie.

Even if she probably thinks the Brute-men were a failed toy line now.

She then waved to people we couldn’t see; she does that sometimes. “Camera, follow me, I have a clever idea!” she said and ran off.

“Pinkie is *really* bored,” Twilight said, shaking her head and looking the way Pinkie went. “Or she wouldn’t be so… Pinkie.”

Pinkie stormed back in. “No, follow *me*,” she said, then raced out back the way she came.

“It’s just taking so long,” I said.

“I’m sorry, this thing really tires us out,” Twilight said, yawning. “You could take Marcus and scout; just be careful and don’t go off alone again.”

“I already promised I’d take Rarity or I would take you, Marcus,” I told him.

“It’s okay,” he said. “Once she wakes up, she’ll be fresh, while I’m kind of tired right now.”

Hmm, maybe Fluttershy will want to come; there’s probably animals here she’s never seen.

*****************

I tried to peel Fluttershy off the tree she was hugging. “What a good tree you are, sheltering those birds,” she said, smiling; we were into deep forest now and it was raining cold rain. Rarity had an umbrella magicked over herself; she rode on my back in human form.

What we’d found was that Fluttershy was desperate to talk to animals beyond her bird and snake.

And trees. We’ve reached the point where it seems to be nothing but endless forest with no signs of civilization. Just animals and trees. Which I think means we’re getting closer to the north pole. Beyond this should be grassland that freezes a lot and then just ice.

“Fluttershy, we can’t hug every tree in the forest. We need to finish scouting,” I told her.

She sighed. “Just a few more?”

“I let her poke around a bit more and talk to a few animals. Rarity was busy studying the trees and I flew around a little to stretch my wings.

And then I heard a huge howl and then other wolves answered it. But they couldn’t match the first one. Fluttershy’s ears perked up and Rarity frowned. “Perhaps that’s our cue to go,” she said.

Fluttershy, to my surprise, now became a really big pink wolf and rushed *towards* the howling.

For a few seconds, Rarity and I just stared, then I bolted after her. “Fluttershy, did you mean to run towards the wolves?”

“Yes, something is wrong, and I don’t think there are any other druids here,” she said very seriously.

Well, we can handle wolves.

*******************

Unless they’re the size of Celestia, anyway. And even then, we can likely handle it; the really big one was rather scruffy looking with blood on his fur and claws. Even though nothing was dead yet.

He was following a pack of wolves who were busy scattering a group of deer and running down one of them; a female deer, I think.

“Bad wolves, you take the weak and the old first,” Flutterwolf said to them disapprovingly, then frowned at the big wolf. “Was this your idea?”

Rarity made a noise and I stared. What?

The wolves now barked at her and began to circle as the deer ran.

Flutterwolf barked back at them angrily. They turned and began to flee but now the giant wolf barked at them and they circled in confusion in between them.

That giant wolf has no loyalty to them; they’re just pawns. But he’s very loyal to something but it’s hidden from me as to who. “Rarity, can you tell anything about him?” I whispered.

“He’s not very generous at all,” she whispered back. “The wolves are more generous than him,” she said, sounding surprised.

“Wolves share,” Flutterwolf said to Rarity, not turning from staring at the big wolf; the two of them began to circle round the wolves; I could see the deer bolting off into the distance. It looked back and I flapped my wings at it, encouraging it to flee.

The wolf growled at her and put its fur up, while now the other wolves clustered together, lowered their heads and pulled their paws over their eyes. I stared at them in surprise.

“He is such a filthy mess,” Rarity said softly, and now he snarled at her, and she nearly fell off me in surprise.

“Don’t even think it, big boy,” I said harshly to the giant wolf but Flutterwolf waved a paw at me dismissively. Then she barked at him.

Surely they’re not going to fight.

Or maybe she’s lost it.

“Go hunt your own prey,” Flutterwolf said to him, sounding angry. “I won’t let you push these poor little wolves around any more.”

They’d eat us if they had the chance.

I don’t really… I’ve hardly seen Fluttershy deal with predators beyond maybe scaring them off.

I never… why would a wolf that size *need* to use other wolves as his hunting gang? Or is he maybe forbidden somehow to hunt directly by his master?

No, he’s obeying his master in this. I think. I touched my necklace, trying to make sure somehow I was right.

He now stalked closer to Flutterwolf, who advanced on him. The wolves now scattered, fleeing the confrontation.

I started forward but Rarity gently tugged me back. “This is her balliwick,” she whispered to me.

Her what? Isn’t wick what candles are made out of?

But I get the gist of it. It’s Fluttershy’s fight.

This must be some kind of familiar, maybe? Or a monster wolf. I don’t remember anything like this in the books.

Oh man, I sound just like Twilight.

But she’d fall apart. I studied him. He’s big and bulky but he moves gracefully. Not deep footprints.

But… I tried stepping; I left deep footprints. Could he be another illusion? But no, unless he can fool my element, he’s really there.

But maybe he’s not so big as he looks.

I whispered to Rarity, “Can you dispel illusions?”

Circle, circle, snap, snap, growl, circle. He and Flutterwolf were stalking each other and it made me jumpy.

Rarity sighed. “Not unless they relate to clothing or fashion or jewels,” she said softly to me. “You think him an illusion?”

“His hoof… foot… clawprints are too small,” I told her.

I heard her breath catch.

Hopefully not a sign this is Wolfvarious the Wolf Immortal who is going to eat us. I assume there’s some wolf immortal, anyway. I don’t really know.

Though I think I could take him.

But it will be harder to cover Rarity too.

They were still snarling and I was still worried Fluttershy was losing it and wondering why they hadn’t gotten down to fighting yet. Wolves don’t normally wait for their foes to become exhausted from not doing anything, right?

That makes even less sense than it did in my head.

“Hey, Fluttershy, he’s not as big as he pretends to be. Look at his tracks!” I shouted.

Flutterwolf looked embarrassed for a moment for some reason, then suddenly spoke a few weird words, rearing to wave her clawed feet. Her foe howled and shivered and then…

That’s when it got weird. The giant wolf gave a huge howl and then he kind of shimmered and was like this glowing wolf thing only it wasn’t really a wolf, it was hunger. It wanted to eat us, eat everything. Fluttershy’s Element, mine, they were food for it.

But it hadn’t… it’s loyalty held it back. Not fear. Though now I could smell just a little fear on the wind. A little. But its master didn’t want it to eat Fluttershy. But what *did* his master want?

I wish Twilight was here, she’s the one to figure this out. She probably has a book about it.

Rarity… I could smell her anger. I think. Human smells are harder to tell.

I still don’t understand why Marcus smells like the air when you’re flying to me. That kind of clean, crisp smell. You know what I mean.

Even if Ivan thinks he smells like bacon. But he didn’t stay pony long enough to get it all straight. How would he know how bacon smells anyway? Humans have a terrible sense of smell.

I’m pretty sure cooked pork would not smell like clean air.

Now Rarity was really angry for some reason. Why? “Begone, foul creature!” she said angrily. “Go back to your home plane and trouble ours no more!” Her horn glowed and her element and the power rushed at him.

He turned and howled and then went poof.

Rarity slumped over onto me, nearly falling off. “So terrible,” she mumbled.

“You did great,” I told her. “Umm… I didn’t know you could banish demons.”

“He wasn’t a demon, but I’m not sure what he was,” Flutterwolf said. She now barked at the wolves, who were lurking nearby, scattered and watching. They formed a pack and she sent them off. “Beyond mean.”

“He was the opposite of generous. He wanted to just eat everything, suck it all down and share with no one. I couldn’t… once Fluttershy revealed him, he just… I hated him on sight,” Rarity said, sounding drained and amazed. “This must be how Twilight feels after she does something big. I could sleep forever.”

“Someone sent him,” I said. “He has a master.”

Flutterwolf frowned and became Fluttershy again. “We really have to get to the Pole before it gets even colder but this is something for druids to look into.” She looked around the forest, clearly displeased.

“We can come back after,” I told her. “Shouldn’t there be a druid in charge of the area?”

“Yes. I don’t know much about the area to find her, though,” Fluttershy said. “I’ll pray on the ship.” She sighed. “Poor wolves, they hadn’t eaten in days because he took all the prey they killed.”

My eyes crossed. Druids are so weird sometimes. But I guess it’s good Fluttershy loves all the animals of the forest. Even the ones that would… probably eat us.

Or try. I could kick that whole pack’s ass if I had to.

Fluttershy helped me stuff Rarity into one of my magical saddlebags so she wouldn’t fall off me; having bags bigger on the inside than the outside is very useful. And common in Equestria.

It was time to go, so we went.

**************

Listening to wizards talk shop will rot your brain. She and Twilight and Marcus and Fluttershy were all being very metaphysical. Blah, blah, daemons, blah, blah odyllic linebackers of farce, blah blah, five dimensional bingo, blah.

At least that’s what it sounded like to me. Pinkie was listening raptly and spewing nonsense at times. And Spike was pitching into the babble.

This left Applejack, Ivan, and myself to listen and understand nothing.

Then Ivan began talking about Titans and we lost him too. AJ and I decided to go play some cards.

“Next time, you can take me,” AJ said to me. “I could do with the feel of the ground; I feel all weird up here.”

“Yeah, I’m cooped up too,” I told her. “I wish we could get to the pole quicker.”

“I mean… I can’t feel the ground,” AJ said. “It’s an Earth Pony thing.” She frowned at her cards, then pushed three silver coins over. “I bid three.”

I had the two and eight of flames and the three and five of stones and a useless Queen of winds. I matched her three and then threw in my queen, the three and the five, praying for a pair or a flush; she discarded three. Ho ho, she must have a pair. Gilda was always better at counting cards than me, but I can manage that much.

Gilda…

I sighed. I’d grown up and she hadn’t. She was still all teenage rebel. Which is why I thought she was cool at the time. She was cool. So was I; we were the coolest kids in school.

Prance is full of Griffons, but she had kinda rejected that; she was too rough and tumble like their ancestors and modern Griffons tend to be really slick. Her father is named Anton and he’s just… he’s kind of like Rarity if Rarity was a Griffon and had a moustache. Or like my Mom.

I hope she’s okay; she didn’t have many friends because she was too rough for most Griffons and a lot of Ponies don’t like Griffons. I’d like to be her friend still but she’s mad at me. Because of Pinkie.

But Pinkie was just trying to be friendly. Sometimes she’s too friendly, though.

And Gilda really can’t take a joke.

“Sugarcube, you ever gonna see my bet?” Applejack asked.

She had put out another five silver. She looked confident. AJ can’t bluff worth a damn, so she likely has something solid.

I… wait, what did I get?, I thought. I wasn’t sure. Six of flames, nine of flames, jack of flames! FLUSH! Sweet!

Now I had to figure out quickly if I was ahead of AJ or not.

“You having a flashback?” she asked, sounding amused.

“Sorta. Thinking about an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. I hope she’s okay.” I touched my necklace and felt it pulse. I had a sudden feeling Gilda *was* in trouble and that bothered me.

But it was probably just guilt, so I focused on my cards. She probably can’t beat me if she just had a pair before unless she has four of a kind now. “I raise you three,” I told her.

“I see,” she said, pushing her silver coins over.

She had two pair and so I beat her with my flush! Yeah!

We kept on playing while everyone else distantly yammered about planes and inverted thunder souls or something.

Not my problem.

*****************

Being closely interrogated by Twilight in obsession mode is rather exhausting, especially when Pinkie puts a glowing gem in a funnel and then shines it in your face and keeps babbling about how she is the law.

With a bucket over her head with a slit for her eyes.

“So you could feel he was loyal to something, but not what,” Twilight said for the fourth, maybe fifth time.

“Yes. He just looked like a wolf to me until Rarity did whatever the hay she did to him. I don’t know any of this magic stuff,” I told Twilight, feeling frustrated.

“But you can tell I am loyal to Celestia,” she said thoughtfully.

“I don’t need magic to know that,” I told her. “I think he was able to partly hide it somehow.”

“And he didn’t fly,” Twilight said thoughtfully, circling me, while Pinkie continued to glower through the bucket.

“We’ll catch this perp,” Pinkie said darkly.

“Dahling, I think you’ll blind her if you don’t turn out the light,” Rarity said to Pinkie.

Thanks, Rarity.

“When you interrogate someone, you shine a light in their eyes and glower until they break,” Pinkie said. “Everyone knows that.”

Spike began shivering and then said, “I ate the cupcake, okay? It was ME. I ate them ALL.”

This got her to interrogate him and I was glad.

AJ was idly doing rope tricks and listening; I could tell she was feeling kind of bored. I would be bored if I wasn’t so sick of this.

“I told you everything I know,” I told her. How can answering questions be so tiring?

“If he can shield himself against an Element, he must be very powerful,” Twilight thought.

“I think he was afraid of Fluttershy,” Rarity said. “So not powerful enough to just hold us in contempt.”

“It was loyalty which held him back. But he wasn’t strong enough to stop Fluttershy and he could only partly block me. Maybe some druid summoned him for some reason?” I speculated.

“It’s possible,” Fluttershy said. “A druid shouldn’t go around summoning hunger spirits like that, though. And they can’t normally turn into a wolf.”

“I wish I had been there,” Ivan said, frowning. He touched his amulet. “This lets me detect things related to the Immortals.”

“I refuse to take the blame for that incident, I was teething!” Spike said loudly, drawing my attention for a moment.

“Pinkie, do you know any stories about hungry wolves?” Ivan asked Pinkie.

“Lots but they aren’t so magical,” Pinkie said. “Isn’t Petrov and the Wolf a Karameikan story?” She looked thoughtful. “This can’t be the Wolf Who Cried Boy either.”

That name doesn’t even make sense.

“Maybe the wolf form was just an illusion,” Rarity said. “Given it didn’t have the right weight anyway. So it’s just a hunger spirit with a wolf illusion.”

“My homeland has a lot of stories about wolves but not this wolf,” Ivan said.

I suddenly wondered if it had something to do with those poor timberwolves.

But that was hundreds of miles away from this.

“I will try and pray for guidance,” Fluttershy said. “I will be in my room with Slither helping me. If that’s okay with everyone.”

“That’s a great idea, and I will send Celestia a letter,” Twilight said.

“Can you send one to Luna for me?” Ivan asked Spike.

“I was *given* that soufflé,” Spike said to Pinkie. “And YOU ate it.” He pointed an accusing finger at her.

Pinkie nudged him gently and he said to Ivan, “Sure thing.”

“I suppose I should ask Helga to inquire among her kin,” Marcus said, frowning.

“Father might know something from his military experience. If you don’t mind sending so many letters, Spike. I don’t want to wear you out,” Rarity said hesitantly to Spike.

His eyes crossed and he sighed, then said, “It’s fine. It’s when I *get* a lot of letters at once that I can get kind of sick.”

She nodded and AJ said, “Wish I could help but I ain’t got no one unless Granny ran into one of these… I guess it can’t hurt to ask.”

I don’t… hey! “Time to write Soarin’, see if any of the Wonderbolts have run into something like this.” I should write my boyfriend, anyway.

“Don’t forget to put some hearts on Ivan’s letter to Luna,” Marcus said to Spike, grinning.

Spike glared at Marcus; Ivan said, “We are not like that!”

“Uh huh,” Marcus said, grinning. He now kissed Rarity, who was still in human form.

Ivan and Marcus then began wrestling around until Twilight made them get off the bridge before they broke something. Fluttershy then lectured them about… I don’t want to know, really. I went to my room to write my letter to Soarin’.

***************

An hour later, I’d discarded ten attempts as utterly terrible. Too soppy. Not soppy enough. Too many rambling diversions. And my effort to draw us together looked like something a five day old foal would make.

By drooling on paper.

Aaaargh, I am no good at this but I think the only people on here who are any good at this kind of thing are Marcus and Rarity, both of whom will tease me.

Or my Mom but I still haven’t told her I am seeing Soarin’ or she’d have me in dresses. Magical ones that glue themselves to you.

Even Rarity isn’t as obsessed with pretty dresses as she is.

“Hey, Dash, you ready to send your letter yet?” Spike asked from outside my room.

Tank gently nudged my side with his head. It’s his way of being comforting. I patted his head. “Good boy,” I said softly and he smiled. To Spike, I said, “Still revising!”

Five drafts later, Rarity came in. “Hello, darling,” she said to me. “Having trouble with your letter?”

“No, I’m cool,” I told her. The last thing I need is something so mushy that the sugar knocks Soarin’ out. It’s gotta be *me*.

But I’m not used to writing letters.

Which causes Mom to yell at me. By mail.

Dad’s more mellow about it. Because he’s lousy at letters too.

“It must be a very long letter,” she said, coming around to gently pet Tank and try to look at my letter, which I now flopped over onto in order to hide it.

“I have a lot to say.” I don’t even know what to say. I’m not good with words and when I try to say how I feel, I sound like a little kid.

“Just make it simple, like you,” Rarity said.

“I’m not a simpleton,” I said, frowning.

“No, I mean, you are bold and direct. So be bold and direct. No need for frills. Just say how you feel, how much you miss him, how you wish he was here. Not everyone need be as fancy as I,” she continued. “May I hold him?”

I let her pick up Tank; she was still in human form. He cuddled up to her. As much as a turtle can.

“I just feel like I have so much to say but I can’t get it into words,” I said softly. “I just think of him and I just feel so much.” It’s kind of scary, sometimes.

I have never had a coltfriend before but don’t tell anyone that. I was too tough for the guys at flight school; they just saw me as another colt. And I wasn’t interested, anyway.

I had my eye on being a Wonderbolt. I still do but I have a feeling that being an Element of Harmony is where I’ll be in ten years.

I bet Rarity had a ton of coltfriends in high school.

I glanced at her, and she was smiling and gently stroking Tank under his chin like he likes.

I wonder if Soarin’ would like that or if it’s a turtle thing.

“You going to stay human a while?” I asked her.

“Until it wears off, anyway,” she said. “Marcus and I are either sleeping or stuck in the chair most of the time when we’re awake.” She sighed. “You can’t imagine how draining and boring it is.”

I can totally imagine, I just remember them talking shop.

“Seeing Fluttershy face that thing down was kind of amazing,” I told Rarity. “I wouldn’t have thought she could do it.” I’m proud of her but I feel weird after seeing it.

“I can’t imagine caring about wolves like that, but I guess that’s part of being a druid,” Rarity said. “It’s strange. They’re not as frightening when I’m like this. It was a threat but normally, wolves make me very nervous and it was just… I felt much less scared of it.”

“I wasn’t scared but nothing scares me,” I told her. This wasn’t true, boredom scares me. Not being cool scares me.

But giant wolves? I’ve faced down an immortal and got away with it! Hah, I would have whipped his ass.

“I suppose being a wolf made her braver,” Rarity said thoughtfully.

“She should just turn into me,” I said and Rarity laughed. She has a pretty laugh.

“What did it feel like when you were human?” Rarity asked me, petting Tank’s head. He was licking her cheek and she laughed.

“Weird sense of balance,” I told her. “It is SO much easier to walk on two legs as a human instead of a pony that I could hardly believe it. And their forelegs are jointed weirdly backwards. That feels really strange.”

Rarity studied her forelegs. “You’re right, they are. Though you can rotate them around.”

“And your field of vision shrinks so much, though it’s easier to see movement,” I continued. “No sense of smell hardly at all. I didn’t get to eat anything but that would mess with your sense of taste, right?”

“I believe so; Pinkie would know,” Rarity said thoughtfully.

“Anyway, I felt the same in my mind but my body was totally different. It was harder to feel the air and my wings were bound under the clothing, which was kind of irritating. I doubt I could use my weather powers easily,” I told her. I rolled onto my back, splaying out and studying the ceiling. Which has badly painted clouds on it. “Do you like… I guess Unicorns would feel the field of magic everywhere, right?”

“Yes but most of us aren’t good at anything past their cutie mark magics and some basic things for polite society. But I can sense magic,” Rarity said. “And I know the theory, of course; I refused to get bad grades even if it didn’t seem so relevant to my future.” She sighed. “Now I wish I’d studied more but I didn’t think it would ever matter.”

I felt this bloom of recognition in my heart. “I know, that’s how I feel too. It just… my teachers really sucked on anything not related to flying.”

“Or you didn’t care,” Rarity said, sighing and studying Tank.

“They didn’t make me care.” I touched my Element. “I just feel this connection to things I didn’t used to. The things important to me are changing. I guess… I guess it’s getting older.” Which makes me feel weird.

“I know, darling, we’re all changing,” Rarity said softly. She put Tank down and now sat down by me, hand on my back for a moment, though then she removed it and looked embarrassed and I don’t know why.

“I won’t melt,” I told her, a little amused.

“It’s… nothing, darling.” She seemed to look around, not sure what to do with her hands. They ended up on her legs.

I stared down at my letter I was writing. I need to change into a me who is any good at this. Somehow. “Mom was always good at writing letters,” I mumbled.

“Your mother is an impressive woman,” Rarity told me. “She has quite a reputation.” Her cheerful voice made it clear to me about that.

“For not being satisfied with me,” I muttered.

“Oh, parents are like that. They want the best for you and can take a lot of effort to convince that their path isn’t yours. Mother always approved of me, but Father’s disappointed none of his children went into the military.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine you lasting five minutes,” I said. Me, I’d kick ass but all the officers are so *bossy* I would go mad.

Rarity sighed and looked a little guilty. “I did learn archery from him and I’m glad I did. But I wanted to be my own boss and I don’t like fighting.”

“I like fighting but I like being my own boss too,” I told her.

I was surprised when Twilight stuck her head in. “Need help with your letter?”

“Aren’t you flying the ship?” I asked.

“Fluttershy volunteered to pull it for a while so we could all rest,” Twilight said. “It was very kind of her.”

Wow, she’s… not that big on flying. But our unicorns have been doing all the work and… I could have volunteered and didn’t even think of it. Though this thing must be kind of heavy to pull. “Maybe I should go help Fluttershy.”

“Finish your letter first, darling,” Rarity said to me.

Twilight tried to pull my letter out from under me and I crouched over it instinctively. “I’ve got it,” I told her.

“You wouldn’t be hiding it if you did,” Twilight said and now I was embarrassed. How could she tell?

Distantly, I heard drums.

I tried to ignore them and said, “Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt if you helped.”

She scratched out virtually every word, rearranged the sentences and changed all the spelling. She even had better penmanship.

“Too precise,” I said. “He’ll think I didn’t write it.”

“You signed it your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle, darling,” Rarity said to Twilight.

Twilight stared, then buried her face in her hooves.

With them helping, I eventually managed to bang out a letter, though it sucked.

I guess sometimes you have to cut your losses.

I hate writing letters.

***************

The last thing I expected was Ditzy, in a scarf, a ski cap, and a sweater, banging on my window. So I opened it and she tossed me a sheaf of mail through it. “Here you go! Letters for everyone! The mail must go through and now it’s gone through the window! Mission… ACCOMPLISHED!” She now saluted my right shoulder.

“Ditzy, how did you get all the way here in frozenland?” I asked her, feeling the blast of cold air come in the window.

I could see snow falling all around us and some distant blue blur in the air, which I guess must be how she got here, some kind of ship. Zeppelin. Flying thing. We were over ice and snow now, very close to our target, beyond even the taiga. Or is it the tundra?

“I had to hitch a ride.” She stuck her head in her saddlebag. “There had better not be anyone hiding in here!” she shouted into her bag.

“You shouldn’t let your mouth sag or something will fly into it,” Ditzy said kindly. “Good luck on your mission, I have to take some mail out to the fifth planet.”

“Didn’t it blow up and turn into asteroids?” I asked.

She now looked embarrassed. “Hahaha. I didn’t say that, I meant the other fifth planet. Which didn’t blow up. It’s just… SHOES!” She darted off into the howling snow.

Shoes? I closed the window and sorted the mail. I had a note from Scootaloo, which opened with ‘I am not bitter at all’ and got more bitter from there.

Sorry, Scoots but this is dangerous and you’re still a kid.

I suddenly feared we’d reach the site and they would *already be there* somehow. I put the rest of my mail aside with Tank standing guard over the letter from Soarin’, then played mailpony to everyone.

“Lyra promised me she’d keep them busy,” Marcus told me. “And I’ve searched the whole zeppelin three times.”

“So how do we land this thing? As it’s too snowy for Fluttershy and I to land everyone,” I asked.

I was up front now; Rarity was sleeping but Marcus and Twilight were up in the pilot room; I expect they were busy talking magic shop before I came.

“If Ditzy could get here so easily, we should have used whatever she used,” Twilight grumbled, then sighed. “This makes a good mobile base, though. And yes, the fifth planet blew up in a battle between the Immortals and the Outer Beings, after Arik of the Hundred Eyes succumbed to their temptations. Of course, that would make Khoronous the new fifth planet. And it’s only named after the Immortal, before you ask.”

There’s an immortal named Khoronous?

That does make sense that you just renumber once one blows up.

But why is Ditzy delivering mail there?

***************

{Dear Dashie my Darling,

I miss you so much. We did a show in Shireton today for a charitable endi… endo… thing which our Ambassador there is sponsoring, rehabilitating halflings who got corrupted by Chaos in some sort of odd fighting club. Anyway, I wish I could be there with you.

Lightning Flash thinks he’s heard of thought elementals which embody emotions; hunger is sort of an emotion, right? Thunderclap says there are goblins that turn into wolves and vice-versa, but this doesn’t sound very wolfish. Maybe a very strange werewolf?

Spitfire says she has heard that magic fails if you get too close to the poles; it’s intended to keep away travelers. I hope that doesn’t happen to you.

Dawnstar says to remember to wear your cold weather outfit; she’s heard of pegasi’s wings freezing so they couldn’t fly when they tried to go that far north. PLEASE be careful.

I wish I knew something fancy to say or could be more help. Love you, Rainbow Dash.

Your coltfriend,

Soarin’. }

I hugged the letter, smiling. Some maybe useful advice and he loves me! And there’s no danger of hobbit women seducing him in Shireton.

Then I thought about Marcus and winced, then shook my head.

Marcus isn’t a hobbit. They’re like stomachs with legs.

Soarin’ wouldn’t go for that.

Spike now came in, holding a scroll. “Letter from Crash,” he said, tossing it to me.

I was a little surprised, but okay, that’s fine. Maybe I should send her an update.

It was hard to read her horrible scrawl, so I may be laying it wrongly for you here, but this is what I think I read:

{Deer Raynebow Dash,

I hate Thonia. I hate everything in Thonia. I especially hate Thonians, who are all crazy sighkicks who think you are out to steal their sandwich, therefour, they try to control your mind and steal your secrets and discuss all your thoughts about your coltfriend in front of everyone and then you just want to die.

Thonian Pegasi are terrible flyers and lousy at controlling weather, but they all have really strong sidekick powers which enable them to be even more obnoxious than the humans. The humans at least do not want to date my coltfriend! And he doesn’t flirt with the humans.

Dammit.

*The next paragraph was one big blur for some reason.*

Clarity offered to set me up with a pony she knows but I can’t be sure if he actually exists for real or is the way she remembers him or even if he is male. I wouldn’t give up so easy even if I was sure.

You are SO LUCKY, DAMN YOU.

*The next paragraph was a blur too.*

Dammit, a sighkid read my mind while I was writing this letter. I am going to go kick his ass. Hold on.

Dawn Gleaming said to tell you that she will pay 300 gold if you can secure her an ice core down to the bottom of the ice.

She did not explain what it is, but I assume Twilight will know.

Hold on.

Okay, back. Had to kick another person’s ass. I hate this inn so much.

It’s called the Temple of the Gorf. This is apparently the funniest possible joke to the locals but no one will explain it to a ‘hindbrain’. Isn’t a hind some kind of deer? Am I being mocked? Maybe I should kick all their asses on general principles.

Bloody hell, Clarity is freaking out because her wine was watered down. I will continue this later, when I stop Spikey trying to set the waiter on fire even if he deserves it so much.

Back. Hate sighclicks so much. I think Dawn Gleaming is joking about tinfoil hats, though.

Dammit, I had some reason for writing this paper and now dinner is here.

Back. Okay, the fried potatoes and mushrooms are really awesome and Dawn Gleaming assured us that they removed almost all of the poison, just enough to give it a tang. It was really tasty but the mushroom wine, so good.

*Three pages of illegible scrawl follow this*

That stuff really has a kick and now I can see dead people!

*One page of illegible scrawl follows*

Don’t ever drink the mushroom wine in Thonia unless you like… who scribbled this junk all over my letter? Dammit!

There are damn crazy sidlekick frog-people all over this damn cold swamp. Why did it have to be a black dragon who died? At least Cruisin’ isn’t hitting on them.

The good news is that I totally kicked the ass of the giant four headed frog-giant-lion-butterfly thing. Whatever it was. I ran rings around it until it crashed into a tree, fell over, and sank into the swamp.

Anyway, Spikey says I should send you this before we reach the cave. Wish us luck.

Kick some ass at the poles and be glad there are no killer frogs.

Or sighknids.

Your Elder Sister,

Rainbow Crash }

*I* am the elder sister!

But I’m glad she’s doing well.

I think.



*****************

“I am pretty sure we won’t be flying into the anti-magic zone,” Twilight said.

“Pretty sure,” Marcus said with his ‘we’re dead’ tone of voice.

“It seems awfully dangerous to have an anti-magic zone in a frozen wilderness,” Applejack said, frowning and looking out the window.

We were all up in the piloting room, talking and staring out the window at the endless snow and ice.

“It’s to keep people out of the Hollow World but we’re not going there,” Twilight said.

I would love to go there like Daring Doo did but I don’t have time right now.

“I can make sure your wings won’t freeze,” Fluttershy said to me. “I know a spell.”

“Thanks,” I said to her and she smiled brightly; she has a pretty smile and I am surprised she doesn’t have a coltfriend by now.

*Twilight* has a coltfriend.

That may mean the end of the world is on us.

I shouldn’t be so mean; she’d already dated Marcus or whatever exactly happened with them.

“I can keep us warm,” Spike said confidently.

“I will send Celestia a letter so she’ll know if something goes wrong,” Twilight said.

“Is there some way to sense it ahead of us?” Ivan asked.

“If I cast the flight spell, I could scout ahead for it,” Twilight said.

“That sounds like a way to end up falling to your death,” Marcus said, frowning.

“I can carry Marcus,” I said. He needs another bravery lesson. “He can sense it and I can dodge it.”

Marcus was wary but you know how he is; I soon got him suited up and we took off.

*****************

I shouldn’t fly upside down but I had to tease Marcus a little; he clung to me desperately and I laughed then got right side up and we flew around; there was no snow coming down, just endless ice. If this is later summer here, I fear what winter is like.

But it’s cool to see it. You can see the curve of the planet from up here with the terrain so flat and boring. I knew abstractly that it was curved but it’s usually not so obvious.

Damn, it is even colder here, though.

We’re really close. I could feel it now. “You sensing anything, Marcus?”

“I think one of my past lives went to one of the poles,” he told me thoughtfully. “Only I think it was the South Pole.”

“Was it like this?”

“More dinosaurs and we found this ancient Elven ruins; Haldir thought it was where the Elves were first born,” Marcus said softly, sounding thoughtful.

And then the ice cracked and the most hideous grinding noise went off and I could see the ice MOVE, very quickly, as we both stared. On one side, it suddenly sheared upwards, exposing rock; on the other side, it now was overhung by the left side rising. Marcus had us come down low to check it out.

Okay, here’s the freaky thing. When you got close to where the rock had sheared, you could see tiny shells and things embedded in it. Bones, and so on. But how could fish get into rock to get stuck and leave their bones behind? Or imprints of their bones?

I asked Marcus and he said, “Pinkie might know the details; I’ve seen this before but I don’t know how it works. Or Twilight.” He frowned. “I guess an earthquake just happened. Hopefully not a sign of a hideous monster burrowing up from beneath the ice.”

“Oh, I’d just dodge it,” I told him, then laughed.

When the hideous giant purple snake monster, its mouth big enough to swallow my house, erupted up through the ice and tried to eat us, I wasn’t laughing so much. Until it missed and smacked its head into the rock and *then* I laughed. It missed thanks to my very nimble flying and I now rose up out of its reach as it burrowed down through the ice.

“Okay, this is bad,” Marcus said, frowning.

“That we didn’t get eaten?” I asked.

“That it knew where to aim. Purple worms feel vibrations; it shouldn’t be able to aim at someone up in the air,” he said.

Now the ground cracked again and again; good thing I fly! Pretty soon, it was a purple worm party and two of them started trying to eat each other, bashing each other with their bodies and trying to wrap around each other.

I got higher and they gave up and all began digging down except for the two who were trying to kick each other’s… side. They really don’t have a butt, I guess.

Marcus frowned. “Let’s scout forwards.”

We encountered no anti-magic but a lot more ice and several more areas where the ground jutted up, freshly breaking the ice. So we gave up and reported back to the Zeppelin.

*******************

Even with ice over everything, you could see we were in a valley as we hovered over ground zero. It’s all so frozen here; we could see weird lights on the horizon, huge waves of light. In places a few spires of rock stuck up through the ice and I suddenly wondered how deep it was.

And why Rarity had covered half the meeting room’s floor with chalk marks. And ringed it with candles. And had Spike holding up a scroll for her. Why not use telekinesis?

Especially when Spike looks so embarrassed.

Twilight said, “I can do it for you.”

“No, darling, I can do this. I have to.” Rarity, back in pony form, licked her lips nervously. “The circle is right, isn’t it, Marcus?”

He had an odd look on his face, but he said, “Excuted with perfection as I’d expect of you. Don’t worry, Helga knows her stuff.” He sighed. “Better than me on air magic.”

“Air magic?” I asked.

“Hair magic? Let me help,” Pinkie said from the hallway; I now realized I was blocking the doorway and moved aside.

“I am going to summon an air elemental,” Rarity said, licking her lips.

“Isn’t that something for really powerful wizards?” I asked, and she glared at me. “I mean, you mainly just do your fashion magic and a little telekinesis, right?”

She drew herself up and tried to tower over me. Given she is only a tiny touch taller, it didn’t work all that well. “I am a unicorn,” she said, a little haughtily. “Magic is my blood. Any unicorn can become a great wizard if they set their mind to it.”

“You might be better off practicing with dust devils before you move on to a whirlwind,” Twilight said.

The gaze of Rarity caused her to freeze up and mumble about warmup exercises.

Marcus opened his mouth, then shut it as her gaze flickered to him. He began lighting the candles.

Pinkie stuck her head in her saddlebags. “Where’s that whirlwind costume…”

“Rarity, you ain’t gotta prove you’re a great wizard for some reason. What if it goes wild and wrecks the zeppelin?” Applejack said to her.

“Darling, you know as well as everyone how strong my will is. This will go smoothly, and Fluttershy can dispel it if something goes wrong,” Rarity said.

“Wouldn’t it be safer to summon it down on the ice?” I asked. I know hublis… whatever it’s called… when I see it.

“I cannot, in fact, easily get there under my own power to summon it, unless I first summon it,” Rarity said carefully, her eyes intense.

I looked at AJ, who looked at me, then said, “Rarity, this smells dangerous to me.”

“Anyone who is worried can go down to the ice without me,” she said tightly.

Can’t she just use that butterfly wing spell or get Twilight to cast it for her? Or ride in someone’s saddlebag.

“Don’t worry,” Marcus said calmly, though I think he was faking it. “Helga wouldn’t give Rarity a spell she can’t handle and she is very strong willed. And Fluttershy is a good druid. We’ll be fine.”

I guess maybe I can stuff everyone in my magic saddlebags and fly home with them but I have a bad feeling about this.

“Ra…” AJ began.

“I don’t tell you how to tend your blueberry trees,” Rarity snapped tensely.

“Blueberries grow on *bushes*,” AJ said.

“Exactly,” Rarity said.

What?

“You can do it, Rarity, I believe in you,” Spike said, though his voice strangled at the end.

“Spike, I can hold it for her,” Fluttershy said kindly.

“No, I’m good, it’s just paper,” he said, looking at Rarity while trying to not look at her.

Sorry, man. I’m not much on reading people’s faces but you would have to be blind not tell how jumpy Spike was around Rarity. I can’t blame him. Being dumped sucks.

Rarity and AJ stared into each other’s eyes deeply and I shuffled on my hooves. I glanced at Marcus; his loyalty warred with his other emotions but in the end, it outweighed the rest. I guess that’s one reason we get on well. Even if Rarity blew the place up, he’d go along with her on this. He felt he owed her. I guess it’s a love thing; I’d be on Soarin’s side if he wanted to… there’s really no way Soarin’ could blow this place up.

Maybe with a really big cloud…

I forced myself not to imagine us jumping on clouds to zap people with lightning much as I know a few ponies who could use a surprise zap.

Part of me suddenly wanted to prank Rarity but the other part worried that would blow up the ship.

I am getting old.

I will prank her once we no longer risk apocalypse; I can tell Twilight and Marcus are both worried about this. That makes me worried. Rarity can do a lot of stuff I know Marcus or even Twilight can’t, but she doesn’t do this kind of fancy wizardy stuff, right?

Also, AJ and Rarity were having a stare-off and I could feel the air between them crackling with power and it was making my coat stand up. Pinkie was deliberately getting close to get as fuzzy as possible and I couldn’t help it.

I just started laughing and everyone stared at me and I pointed a hoof at Pinkie who laughed too and now we both rolled around… all over the chalk so we got covered in it.

“Dash, look at what you are DOING,” Rarity said, aggravated. “It takes forever to draw all that!”

AJ let out a deep sigh. “Rarity, there ain’t no shame in lettin’ another pony help you.”

“Said the pot,” Rarity said tightly.

AJ now stared at the window, out at the snow. “Okay, maybe I ain’t the best pony to say that. I know all about wantin’ to be the best you can be. But is this really the best answer? I could probably make a rig so you could lower yerself to the ground if that’s what you want.”

“Oooh, I think I have something on that…” Twilight stuck her head in one of her saddlebags, trying to find the right book.

“I can do this. Helga gave me very precise instructions and if her daughter can do this, I can do it,” Rarity said firmly.

Helga lets her little kid summon air elementals? Surely not. Maybe she was bragging.

“That kid is really amazing,” Marcus said, looking embarrassed.

Oh I get it. Can’t let someone else outshine her. She probably took it as a challenge. I had a coach like that, claimed his kid could outfly anyone. Made you work harder.

I bet that’s exactly what Helga was doing, trying to push Rarity out of ‘I want to be a great wizard’, where you just talk about it, and into ‘becoming a great wizard’.

I’m not sure why she suddenly wants to compete in Twilight’s area, but hey, competition makes you better.

And I can totally understand not wanting to have to depend on others.

But sometimes, you have to.

She needs me and I’m going to help her.

“Then let’s do it; daylight is limited and I want to get to digging; the air elemental can help us dig down. I didn’t meant to destroy your runes, Rarity, I’ll help you redraw them.”

Rarity being Rarity, she ended up just about redrawing it all, but as I drew, I tried to put my Element’s power into it and to strengthen her work. Only I can’t tell if it worked or not.

I was weirdly tired afterwards and flopped down, watching as Pinkie cheered in this weird pink outfit with these weird bushy streamer clump things over her forehooves and Rarity began to chant. I expected her element to light up; the fact that it didn’t made me even more nervous, though her horn was glowing. Twilight was pacing around until Fluttershy hugged her to get her to stop moving.

AJ was idly doing rope tricks in the corner with her magic rope; I suspect she was ready to fight it; I was too exhausted. Man, I must have done something cool.

I put my goggles on, just in case. If nothing else, I’d look cooler.

Ivan now began throwing things through AJ’s rope hoops for some reason, only half watching the rite.

This spell, by the way, takes freaking forever. I was starting to fall asleep as the runes began to glow and my Element glowed; Rarity’s still wasn’t glowing and that worried me. I guess this is just for her but will she have enough power without it?

Rarity finished chanting with a bunch of nonsensical babble, “Mi pignarean hai go!” she shouted.

And then suddenly, my weather sense kicked in; pressure shifted and winds began to circle a central column. I watched with interest now; I could feel what was happening; this was like Pegasus magic. I just wished I was less tired.

It howled and tried to break loose and I felt the power flare in the runes and I concentrated on holding it still.

“Marcus, darling, the bottle,” Rarity said.

He floated a bottle of some orange liquid; it had a label which read ‘Happy Orange Farms: Orange Blossom Perfume’.

AJ’s eyes widened. “Dammit, Rarity, did Apple Blossom sell you that? We have a perfectly good line of perfumes my aunt Delicious makes, you know.”

I couldn’t help start laughing. What a name to stick your poor kid with! I wonder if her sister is named Tasty.

“I made her a nice dress and she gifted me with a selection of perfumes,” Rarity said, waving a hoof. “Mister Elemental, how may I address you?”

He howled and battered the barriers. I wonder if this is a big one; he was at least six feet across.

“He says he is the mighty Tree-Smasher and he is going to blow you to the Moon for summoning him,” Fluttershy said, then looked worried. “Oh dear.”

“She did send you the binding spell, right?” Twilight said in a sudden panic.

“Now, now, I couldn’t force a thinking creature to obey me,” Rarity said, doing her little strut thing. Which would probably get most stallions to obey her but I don’t think it works on Elementals.

“I have invoked thee in the style of the White Order, as instructed by a member of the order,” Rarity continued. She held out the perfume. “Aid me in this mine work and I shall pay thee with this, or more if thee likest it.” Her voice was all weird sounding now. And she seemed to pretending to be in a historical play. Her Element now began to glow.

Then they started haggling with Fluttershy as a translator. Seeing Fluttershy make weird wind noises is kind of spooky. Me starting to gradually understand them was spooky too; by the end, I could understand what they were both saying… okay, I already understood Rarity but you know what I mean. Rarity ended up throwing in three more bottles, but I expect she carries twenty or thirty, anyway.

Some of the wind now solidified into a bracer of ice which she clamped onto her right foreleg, with runes in it; he then vanished into the bracer. She stroked it idly. “What a lovely design; I had hoped to get an artist,” she said approvingly.

Marcus suddenly slumped and Twilight said, “Well done, Rarity.” She looked thoughtful and a little worried.

So I had to pounce on her and tumble around with her, tickling her, until we ended up in the hallway.

“You okay?” I asked her.

“I just… hadn’t really thought about it. But some elementals are intelligent,” Twilight said. “I don’t really do summoning much.” Now she looked guilty.

“It’s cool, right?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes. And nice job with the runes,” Twilight said, shifting to being happier. She touched her own forehead, stroking her element. “You’re getting good with it,” she said approvingly.

“Well, we all need to practice, right?” I told her, wondering what else cool I could do.

“Yes. Let’s get going; I need some fresh air; we’ve all been cooped up in here too long.” She trotted in place the way impatient ponies do.

“Bored of your books?” I teased her.

She looked embarrassed. “Not bored, I just… Even at school, I wasn’t stuck all the time in one small building. I love you all but being locked in here with everyone all the time is a little too much. I kind of envy you for being able to get out more,” she said slowly, maybe a little reluctant to admit it. “Also, piloting is really, really, incredibly boring.”

“Yeah, it’s not like real flight. You going to get some wings?”

BAMF, spell, wings. “Yes,” she said, grinning.

“RACE YOU TO THE GROUND!” I told her.

I won, of course. Oh yeah.

****************

Only after I landed on the ice, which stretched across and buried a valley through the hills, did I see what I had most dreaded to find here.

The Cutie Mark Crusader FLAG.

“Dammit, Lyra promised to watch them!” Applejack said and began looking around.

Twilight wrote a letter and had Spike send it, then we fanned out.

But we couldn’t find the Crusaders *anywhere*. Unless they buried themselves under the ice. No tracks, no sign of a vehicle, no traces of teleportation. But how else could the flag get here?

Lyra sent us back a letter after we’d done a long search; we heard music and Lyra singing about how the Crusaders were all building a really great two-seater catapult which would really hurl things a long way though she wasn’t sure why it needed actual pony-style chairs for the launching arm instead of a scoop.

“Oh wow, a Musical Sending,” Pinkie said. “Okay, we must stage a musical to send her back a message! Hold on, I have a barn in here somewhere.” She began digging in her saddlebags.

“The flag is itself mundane but there are tiny traces of telekinetic magic,” Twilight said.

“It’s a real flag,” Applejack said, studying it.

I now remembered. “Twilight, Dawn Gleaming needs an ice core and she’ll pay 300 GP for it. What’s an ice core?”

“You cut a cylinder of ice that runs down to the bottom of the ice,” Twilight said. “That might actually be useful to study the ice layers, which could help us to dig down more efficiently.”

“And we owe dark ice from the bottom that hasn’t seen sun in a thousand years,” I said thoughtfully. “To Apple Bloom.”

Marcus eyed the flag as if it would bite him.

Pinkie and Applejack stomped around the ice. “I’m thinking this is a hundred feet deep,” Applejack said hesitantly.

“And there’s water under it,” Pinkie said.

“Wait, a hundred feet? Polar ice is generally not more than twenty or thirty at most and usually more like ten to twenty!” Twilight said, frowning.

“The lake’s pretty deep, I guess,” I said. “This valley used to be a lot deeper than it is now.”

“Maybe something is making it colder here?” Fluttershy said hesitantly.

“This is a job for the greatest weather pony in Equestria,” I said. “Fluttershy, back me up. We’ll figure out why there’s so much ice.”

“Maybe the Crusaders somehow flooded the area and it froze so much,” Spike said.

Man, I hope Scoots isn’t frozen under all this.

“We’ll work on taking a core,” Twilight said to me.

I nodded to her and we took to the air, trying to take the measure of the wind but everything is a mess here; chaotic air currents, no stable regions of pressure, it’s clear the weather is totally unplanned here.

Which is creepy. This must be how Rarity feels when Sweetie messes up her workshop.

“Should there be animals or plants or something?” I asked Fluttershy.

“There may be fish under the water or anaerobic lifeforms, especially if there is any sort of hot vent, though that would melt the ice, I think,” she told me, sniffing the air.

“But it’s not unnatural for there to be just ice,” I said hesitantly.

“There is too much ice here but it’s otherwise normal,” Fluttershy said.

I wonder if something happened here during the battle to make more ice and it just stuck? Maybe there’s a Decanter of Endless Water?

The weather here is like trying to move molasses. And hard to read. I got Fluttershy to stir up a little wind so I could read it. Pretty much cold and getting colder, not much in the air; it’s really dead here.

We spent a long time working, while I could see them trying to drill down into the ice to get a core out and breaking a lot of ice in the process, in part because when Rarity’s elemental buddy tried to help it made a big mess.

Finally, I flew down. “I don’t think it’s natural for there to be ice so deep here but I can’t figure out for sure if maybe the weather changes in some other part of the year.”

“This should be the least deep time of year,” Fluttershy said. “I think.”

“The ice is exceptionally pure,” Twilight said. “Is there some way you can analyze it?” she asked me. “I am armed for drilling but my library is really short on water magic.”

I got her to slice some ice with magic, then Pinkie and Applejack stomped it, then I whipped it into the air and Fluttershy and I began shaping it into clouds; it was too pure; it wouldn’t cohere properly into clouds. “Someone purified this water to make it hard to manipulate with Pegasus weather control,” I said, frowning. “Maybe the Crusaders did something.”

“Maybe this is the wolf’s revenge,” Rarity said, frowning. “If it was connected to the earlier incident, it may now know who you are and be back for revenge,” she continued. “Or maybe it is Cunning Thought behind it all, interfering with you as she did with Twilight.”

“She just talked to me,” Twilight said. Then she frowned. “I think.”

“But she’d know Pinkie and I can break this ice up; it’s not like Dash needs to make it into clouds to accomplish anything, right?” Applejack said hesitantly.

Ivan took a tentative whack and did serious damage, forcing me to deflect ice shards. “Ack, sorry, everyone,” he said, embarrassed.

“This is some kind of trap. Once we break the ice, we’ll regret it but Dash and Fluttershy won’t be able to freeze it back over,” Marcus said, frowning. “Right?”

“I think we could handle freezing but not fast,” I said, then looked at Fluttershy.

She nodded.

“Hmm, perhaps someone had a Decanter of Endless Water and dumped it out for a while,” Twilight said thoughtfully. “That pulls water from the Elemental Plane of Water; it is very pure and it would then freeze; Cunning Thought likely has known a while we would come here,” Twilight said. “Maybe there are monsters hidden in the lake. I could try scrying.”

“Okay,” I said.

She did a ritual from one of her books, then frowned. “Lead particulate in sufficient quantities to block scrying. Someone is hiding something,” Twilight said, frowning.

“So we can’t feel nuttin’ through the water, you can’t scry and it’s too pure for the pegasi,” Applejack said, then looked at Marcus and Ivan. “Got any human tricks?”

“I can start melting it but I’m reluctant to drill a hole that a crazed water elemental might erupt through,” Marcus said, frowning.

“I can’t sneak through ice. I can break it up with some work but that could release whatever is in the way,” Ivan said.

I grimaced. “Dammit, Cunning Thought! Show yourself! Or Crusaders. Or whoever is messing with me!!!”

If anyone was there, they didn’t show themselves.

“Maybe we could make a periscope,” Applejack said. “I don’t rightly know exactly how it works but it would let us peek down without letting nothing big out, right?”

“There likely isn’t light down there for us to see,” Marcus said. “Which I guess is good for us getting Apple Bloom the ice we promised her.” He looked for something to sit on, found nothing and basically looked aggravated.

“So there’s a sheet of lead?” I asked.

“A layer of lead in tiny particles in the ice; not solid enough to trigger Earth pony senses but good enough to block scrying,” Twilight said.

“Fluttershy, any chance you could sense anything alive down there?” I asked. “Or does the lead stop you too?”

“I will try,” she said and began to pray, Element glowing softly.

Pinkie had galloped off and up the slope to the east and was stomping around thoughtfully.

“Hey, wait, can you do that thing your sister does with her drums?” I shouted to her.

“Not nearly as well; I have to bang my hooves,” Pinkie shouted back. “She’s really good at it.”

What would Daring Doo do?

Probably crash the zeppelin in a fight with ice gypsies and then the treasure would be revealed.

Which would be awesome but I don’t see any ice anything except ice ice.

“Do your weapons have any sensory tricks?” I asked Marcus and Ivan. Maybe they can power through this somehow.

“Hmm,” Ivan said and began walking around, waving his hammer. “I think I’m being blocked.”

Marcus studied his sword. “Magical sword, if you have any tricks for getting through this, you might want to tell me.” Then his eyes glazed over and Pinkie ran down at blinding speed, crashed at his feet and her eyes glazed over. Spike laughed, and I couldn’t help but giggle.

Then Pinkie sighed. “No music at all. No dancing.”

“The last thing I needed was a flashback to falling down that damn mine shaft,” Marcus grumbled. “Stupid flashbacks.”

Rarity gently nuzzled him and he put a hand on her back, sighing.

“Well, Dash, it’s your call,” Twilight said. “This is your quest. We can just drill down and see what we find or else we are stuck, I think.”

Normally, I would say ‘full speed ahead’ but whoever did this is counting on me rushing in headlong.

But how else are we going to find out?

“Can you get the ice core first and stuff before we risk everything going boom?” I said.

“Drilling the core will crack the lead layer,” Twilight said. “And we need to break through it to get Apple Bloom her old enough, dark enough ice.”

My gut says to break it.

But there’s a little Marcus in my head telling me to be careful; I glance at him and he’s talking softly to Rarity.

“Hold on,” I said and settled onto the ice, then concentrated; there should… I hope… be a way to sense the staff, since it’s connected to her loyalty; that would tell me we’re in the right place.

I began sweating inside my clothing; I could feel the ice try to stop me, feel it push back. It must be the lead.

I have to know if this is the right place. Or if I am wasting my time.

Our time.

Fluttershy put a hoof on my shoulder and prayed, supporting me. Thanks, Fluttershy. We’ve been friends ever since I stood up for her in Cloudsdale. Mostly just to show off. I knew her but I wasn’t impressed. But those idiots pissed me off with how mean they were.

It kind of surprised me. I guess I can be kind of mean sometimes, though I think of it as being honest. I don’t say anything that isn’t true, unless it’s a prank and those are all in fun.

Dad would come up with some brilliant idea to solve this. Mom would just somehow convince the ice to put on a dress and go to a dance and be a debutante, so Dad could get the staff. Then she’d make the staff a line of special boots or something.

Marcus would make a hat for the ice. Or steal its hat, maybe. Or talk it into something.

Focus. I tried to think of Barrel Roll. Of Dr. Iricia. The others who fought and died with them, who only I and Twilight really remember now.

But others will know. They will know. I will not let them be forgotten.

I could feel the lead; it was a wall, blocking my movement.

I don’t like walls.

It dug in its heels and I dug in mine and pushed, wishing my mind was stronger; Fluttershy’s gentle strength sustained me. I could break the barrier.

I *would* break it. I’m good at breaking things. I tried to feel it out like I would a storm; water droplets form around particles; these water droplets formed around lead then froze together.

I could work this; the pure water had nothing for me to easily handle to work it into shape. Not like making rain; but the lead, it was just what I needed and straining myself, I made it obey me.

Slowly the bits of ice began to move, bunching together to one side, making a small hole, slowed by the weight of the ice. I couldn’t do this without my element and even with it, I was straining myself. But this would be an awesome thing to brag about, how I made a tiny storm buried under ice.

Oh yeah, everyone will remember that!

I was sweating bullets and drained but it moved enough for me to poke through and I could feel it; everything was down deep. Deeper than the water; somehow dirt had covered the dead but their items were there. Things I could put in the memorial so each of them would be known.

Fluttershy now said, “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of various kinds of magically warped fish. They live on some kind of weird energy in the water but I’m not sure what it is.”

Twilight joined us, riding my power, extending her magic through it and peeking. Her eyes widened. “The water is thick with Utherite in particulate form.”

“Magic stuff?” I said.

“Utherite is more or less solid magic,” Twilight said. “The Blackmoorians powered their magical reactors with it and when they went up, it devastated the world in a rain of colorless fire. But buried under the ice, it can’t get loose and cause trouble. Someone deliberately buried this valley more to trap it.”

“But I need to get down to them so I can be sure they were put to rest properly and so their items can go in the memorial so people will remember them,” I said.

“I bet the ice worms burrow down to the water layer and eat the fish,” Pinkie said thoughtfully. “Maybe Fluttershy could turn into one and burrow down?”

“We can drill but it will be tricky doing it without causing the Utherite to get triggered and unleash a tide of wild magic,” Twilight said, frowning.

“If we just bash with heavy objects, it won’t send out a lot of magic, right?” Ivan said.

“I kin bash pretty good,” Applejack said.

Is it just me or is her accent thicker than usual lately? Twilight frowned. “And who put the Crusader flag?”

An idea hit me. “Hey, I need a bunch of busted ice; don’t need to go deep.”

Pinkie, Applejack, and Ivan ran wild, bashing up ice.

“Fluttershy, on my mark, follow my lead,” I told her.

She nodded and then I whipped the ice into the air in a spiral by flying around with Fluttershy trailing after, then whipped it outwards in an expanding wave.

Which left a large pony-sized hole in the wave when it HIT AN INVISIBLE PONY.

Who I now charged and knocked down. “GOT YOU!” I crowed.

“Why Dash, you’re so forward, but what will Soarin’ think?” Cunning Thought asked me coyly as I laid tangled with her.

I got FAR away as she rose, shaking the ice off; she was a bit of a mess now, mane bedraggled and little flecks of ice all over her.

She hadn’t worn cold weather clothing either.

“I am loyal to my coltfriend!” I said urgently.

“The Crusaders are safe; you may thank me now for talking them out of stowing away on your ship; the flag was just my little joke,” Cunning Thought said, striding up to everyone. “And you would be well advised to leave this alone. If the Utherite escapes it would be a disaster.”

She has to be tricking us, but how? We know that’s true, so where is the lie?

Dammit, Marcus, do your word magic!

“They had better be safe,” Marcus said angrily. “An Immortal toying with children? For shame, not that you have any.”

“Someone is jealous Sweetie looks up to someone other than him,” Cunning Thought said sadly, chidingly, to him. “Rarity, I hate to ask, but I am a dreadful mess from trying to adventurerproof this area and I could really use some help.”

“Of course, darling,” Rarity said, her gear coming out of her saddlebags. “This cold is not ideal for this but I will do what I can.”

Marcus stared and so did I. Rarity, what are you *doing*?

“Marcus, darling, assist me,” Rarity said firmly to him. He stared, then grumblingly began helping to brush out Cunning Thought’s mane and tail as Cunning Thought made happy noises.

Then she looked at me and I understood; she’s buying me time to do something.

But what? What can I do?

Gut says bash the ice open, deal with the Utherite stuff, then get everything we need and go home before we freeze to death or die of old age.

Brain says she clearly expects me to do that and why has she been screwing with me all this time?

Inner Mom says I’m a mess and need a bath. Sorry, Inner Mom, you’re useless to me right now.

As usual.

Ugh, I am sweaty and tired from my funky manipulation of the lead and the ice. I bet Prof Tailfeathers would be proud of me now.

“Did you open a portal to the elemental plane of ice or something?” I asked Cunning Thought.

“There is no elemental plane of ice,” Cunning Thought said. “It was the Elemental Plane of Water.” I could hear the capital letters. “It’s safer this way, anyway.”

Rarity was now trying to wash Cunning Thought’s mane, not an easy task in this weather. Marcus had to keep creating tiny amounts of flame so the shampoo wouldn’t freeze. It was going to take them forever.

I glanced at Twilight; she was frantically consulting two books at once, one of them sitting inside the other, like two pieces of bread with one on top of the other. But unless she has X-ray vision, she couldn’t read the bottom one so why do it like that?

Hmm, if I just boom the ice and tunnel down, then I could whip up a storm, suck up all the water and the utherite and form it all into more snow and ice flakes and that would ensure it wouldn’t go anywhere. Then Twilight could just do something or another to dispel it or we could haul it all up to the anti-magic zone which would kill it.

Assuming I could keep it under control; I’ve never had to handle water laden with flakes of unstable solid magic. I’m a good weatherpony but weather is easy to handle in Equestria. Whereas here, it doesn’t want to cooperate. I mean, I have handled storms coming in from the Everfree but I always had a team and this is just me and Fluttershy and she’s not good at this.

If I had my team, like we did when we got chosen to replenish Cloudsdale…

But I don’t. I have this team and I love my friends but they’re not weatherponies.

If I do this, it’s just me and that’s all.

I eyed Cunning Thought; she had her eyes shut and was babbling on some story about the time Luna got lost as a child and ran away from bunnies, thinking them a dangerous menace. Everyone was laughing, except for Fluttershy, who now said, “Bunnies are very nice!”

“Yes, but she didn’t know,” Cunning Thought said. “Listen carefully, Ivan, you won’t find anyone else to tell you embarrassing stories about your girlfriend’s past.”

Ivan grunted and Cunning Thought laughed softly. “You’re so cute when you hate me.”

Rarity and Marcus were still slowly working the mane over. They’d need to do her coat too. I had time but not a lot of it.

Actually, we should drill down, then let me suck it out; too much risk a rainboom would ignite all the Utherite. And I bet Cunning Thought was counting on that.

Then I’ll have to suck the water up and reprocess it into snow and do it without setting it off.

Something I expect no Pegasus has *ever* done before.

I imagined us all blowing to bits and I shivered. I couldn’t even keep from destroying my prom dress after Mom spent a week on it, can I really do this?

I think I dithered for quite a while as the next time I checked, Rarity and Marcus were busy trying to clean Cunning Thought’s coat and were half done.

Ivan looked close to just accidentally drilling down to the water with the vibrations from his feet as he kept tapping his foot impatiently while he glared at Cunning Thought.

Twilight now had ten books in five pairs and was frantically making notes and drawing charts while Spike assisted her. Pinkie was roaming around, looking for something, while Applejack paced around in a circle and kept glancing up at me. And Fluttershy lurked next to me, waiting.

“I believe in you, Dashie,” Fluttershy whispered to me, a hoof on my shoulder.

I shuddered and then relaxed. I can do it. I am the greatest weatherpony in Equestria. The best racer. The Element of Loyalty. I have to do it because otherwise, the fallen will remain trapped under all this forever and no one will remember them.

“Alright,” I said. “I have a plan.”

*******************

I expect without Cunning Thought present, we would probably have had a big fight over my plan. But we had to show a united front and, well, this is my quest.

If I blow it, we all die.

I am not going to blow it!

The drilling was, in some ways, harder than what I was going to do because we had to do it without magic. Or else we might detonate the Utherite.

We had to take apart two of the inner walls of the Zeppelin to get the raw materials to build a giant screw drill which Pinkie and Applejack would then use to drill through the ice. Cunning Thought had called us insane and retreated to the nearby heights to watch. I suspect she knows she’s lost but wants to watch in case we’re entertaining.

I licked my lips nervously, watching them drill. Down, down, down. We’d designed it so that it would extract the ice core that Dawn Gleaming wanted while also making a big enough hole for me to work my magic. Twilight lifted the core out and moved it up to the zeppelin before we broke the lead layer. Now we enter the danger zone.

I suddenly wondered how Twilight is going to keep the core frozen. Well, I’d worry about that later. We can take another one if we have to once it’s safe.

Once it’s safe.

I heard crunching noises and then we pulled the drill out. We had a hole, and I hoped it would be big enough. “Fluttershy, ready?” I asked her.

“I don’t know if I can be much use to you, Dashie,” she said, embarrassed.

“You’re a Druid of the Golden Circle,” I told her. “There’s nothing nature-y you can’t do if you set your mind to it.”

She looked uncertain anyway but that’s Fluttershy.

“And if you fail, Angel Bunny will cry,” I told her. A cheap shot but she needs the motivation.

Her eyes widened and now she looked determined to do better. “I won’t let him cry!” she said firmly, though for her a shout is like me talking normally.

I got Tank down with his flying rig on; it isn’t a lot but I need all the help I can get. Fluttershy cast a spell on him to make him gigantic. Man, I didn’t even think of that!

I hugged his head, which now was as big as my torso. “Yeah! Let’s go!”

And then we began spinning around the hole, forcing the air to spin and creating suction which began drawing out the water; it looked like water with a huge amount of pepper shaken into it and as it came up, the winds got faster. And faster. Some of the black flecks began vanishing and the weather magic got easier and easier and TOO EASY.

“Everyone clear out!” I shouted and Twilight teleported everyone to a safe distance, then flopped over.

I hope it’s a safe distance.

The ice was blowing apart and now there was chunks of leaded ice colliding with Utherite and a half-frozen hurricane and it was feeding on itself and if I couldn’t control it, it would just go rampaging across the landscape, spewing Utherite everywhere.

Fluttershy and Tank couldn’t handle it so I had to fly to them and get them rightside up again, so we could move in formation and I could protect them with my wake. My element shone brightly and we circled the storm, containing it, but it was exhausting and I was already tired from before.

I shouldn’t have drawn them into this but I didn’t want to do it alone.

And now the storm was getting bigger. It was too much. I couldn’t do it by myself and Fluttershy and Tank couldn’t do much to help me like this, hard as they tried.

But they tried.

Fluttershy was crying but she was flapping as fast as she could and Tank was just ambling along confidently like he always does. He never gives up and that’s an inspiration to me.

I have to change the game or I’m going to lose. We’ll go down demonstrating the value of friendship but not its SUCCESS. I’ve bitten off more than I chew.

Dammit! I can’t fail. Because if I do, this storm is going to hurt all my friends and probably turn us all into toys.

I could see a pink doll of Celestia, tumbling in the wind now. I stared, eyes wide and it said, “I’m a pretty princess!”

Several more dolls of my friends appeared and I realized that this thing…. There’s so much magic that even stray thoughts can trigger a chain reaction.

It’ll probably turn all my friends into toys! And then we’ll be buried in snow and never played with.

Which is even worse than turning into a toy.

I guess the Fluttershy toy would come with a bunny to hug and… I shouldn’t think or it’s going to happen.

Fluttershy, just for a moment, looked like a toy to me, but then she was Fluttershy again and it was probably my imagination but I was starting to panic.

And then it hit me. “Fluttershy, you have magical seeds, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “But they can’t keep this water under control.”

“And trees drink lots of water, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“I need you to get out of the storm, ring it with trees and have them suck up the water. The roots can dig down to the water, right?” Hah! Now Fluttershy can use what she’s good at! I am a *genius*.

Her eyes lit up. “I’m on it!”

She dove out of the storm, which now got even harder to control but soon she and Applejack and Pinkie and Twilight were busy raising huge trees which sucked up the water and produced… polished black apples? Apples full of Utherite? Man, I bet that’s a hell of a bite.

Rarity and Marcus were still keeping Cunning Thought subdued via makeover; I prayed she wouldn’t stick her hoof in and mess this up.

As the trees grew, the storm got weaker and I began freezing it into snowflakes, with a black fleck at the center and lacy white ice around them and letting them settle down gently into a huge pile of black and white snow.

It was easy now and my Element shone like the sun. Who’s a toy now?

Man, I bet I could turn Cunning Thought into a toy with all this.

But maybe she wants that for some crazy Immortal reason.

She is part of the Sphere of Entropy, I think. Who are crazy evil chaotic maniacs.

How she gave birth to Celestia, I don’t know.

“I love having my hair brushed!” talking pink Celestia said, blowing past me.

A Ditzy toy went by as well. For a moment, I thought it was a miniaturized Ditzy, which honestly, would not be surprising at all.

She came to a weather control emergency like that and wouldn’t explain why, one time.

In fact, she tried to claim we’d all been enlarged.

Now I’m wondering why she was on her way to Khoronous.

I shook my head. Focus. No…oh hohh

I thought really hard ‘PRINCESS CELESTIA TOY YOU NEED TO GO SAY HELLO TO YOUR MOTHER.’

“I love my mother!” she announced and flew around the storm and out of it; the other toys trailed after her and now Cunning Thought looked up and stared as they closed in on her.

“Hey, my hair isn’t like that at all!” I heard Pinkie protest. “It’s like I have a pony-tail on my forehead!”

Some of them are kind of weird looking. But I now focused on snow snow snow snow snow snow snow. Snow.

Tank and I went round and round and round and I was proud of him for keeping up with me. I couldn’t give up if he didn’t, so I pushed myself to my very limits and beyond.

By the time I finished, I was utterly exhausted and Cunning Thought kept shouting, “SHUT UP,” at the talking Celestia doll as it kept trying to hug her and prattle at her; but she was trapped as Rarity and Marcus were now fitting a dress on her.

Fluttershy had to catch me… okay, I kind of fell on her, really. I was utterly exhausted but I had a huge pile of salt-and-pepper colored snow, the Utherite was now contained in it or turned into talking dolls, and Tank now settled down next to me and tried to cuddle, which nearly squashed me, until Fluttershy turned him back to normal.

I think it’s naptime.

*******************

“I do not want to brush your hair!” Cunning Thought was still snapping at the doll when I finally woke up to find they’d dug a big hole down to the ground level with all the water now out of the way and Full Moon was here. For some reason, but I guess I slept through his arrival. Hopefully, he’ll keep Cunning Thought from causing me any more trouble.

Rarity was still trying to get Cunning Thought’s outfit to work, though, I noticed.

“My mother is the best!,” Pink Celestia doll announced and Cunning Thought sighed and worked on brushing her hair.

“That was an insane gamble,” Cunning Thought said to me.

“I go big or not at all,” I told her. I had to be me. “But having my friends backing me up made it work.”

“They should have saved themselves; Celestia would have been in trouble if all her Elements of Harmony died,” Cunning Thought said, chidingly.

“We would never abandon Rainbow Dash,” Applejack said firmly. She was busy studying the weird Utherite Apple Trees, which stood on the ice, roots sinking deep for water.

I hope they can get enough water with us sucking the lake out.

“That could have killed you,” Cunning Thought pointed out.

“Math is hard!” Pink Celestia now announced.

“It’s not hard! She’d never say that,” Twilight said, frowning. “You take that back!”

“Math is hard!”

I laughed as I watched Twilight yell at a toy.

Spike was busy cataloging the various items; he had a chart of where they had found them; man, how long did I sleep?

The sun was setting, so a long time. Dang.

“I went back and buried them all, before they were buried in snow,” Full Moon told me. “Their souls went on to rest before reincarnation, though Dr. Iricia still serves me as a Titan. And Barrel Roll, though likely she will go to serve Celestia whenever Celestia retires from this plane.”

“A what?” I asked. I ought to know this stuff.

Ivan, who now startled me by appearing from behind Full Moon somehow, said, “The Titans are semi-Immortals; they don’t have full Immortal powers but they live forever in service of the Immortals. Usually it’s a reward for people who didn’t succeed in their quest but didn’t fail completely either. Or for really valiant service. They have no worshippers and can’t grant spells, but have powers of their own.”

Ivan is really weird when he knows things.

I don’t know if that’s good or if you’d spend forever remembering you just weren’t *quite* good enough for the real thing.

“My mane is so beautiful!” Pink Celestia toy announced. Then she began flying. “Let’s fly to the castle!”

“I can’t fly while I am being fitted,” Cunning Thought said irritably.

“Sorry, darling but making clothing from scratch takes time,” Rarity said. “You will look smashing in this green but I can’t figure out if I should slash it with gold or not. What do you think, Marcus?”

“Her coat is solid but her mane has the color changing flame effect, so maybe give it a slashed hood and a solid body?” Marcus said hesitantly as if he wasn’t making a dress for an evil goddess.

“I would rather have a hat than a hood,” Cunning Thought said.

“A magnificent hat, then,” Rarity said grandly; I think Marcus looked jealous.

“Flying is so much fun!” Pink Celestia announced, flying around Cunning Thought’s head.

“Don’t taunt me!” Cunning Thought said irritably.

Best prank ever, I decided.

“I love to make new friends,” Pink Celestia announced, hovering over Cunning Thought’s head.

“Of course you do,” she said, frustrated.

“Any chance I could meet her?” I said hesitantly.

“I will arrange it,” Full Moon said.

“Cool.” Man, if I could get her to come to my grand opening of the memorial, that would rock.

“I guess you ensured the Element would move on,” I said, touching it.

“It found another bearer before I was able to come back,” he said.

“Hmm, I think this is the best felt I have,” Rarity said thoughtfully and began making a hat as Marcus stared and Cunning Thought stood trapped in half-made clothing.

“And we don’t know who made it,” I continued.

“I am far, far younger than the Great Interruption,” Full Moon said. “Only a handful of Immortals know of the world before it and they’re not telling. Neither your kind nor humans existed then.” He had a faraway look. “The world changed in fundamental ways. I once travelled to the distant corners of the multiverse in search of knowledge, penetrated the great whirlpool of stars and down Sinbad’s Funnel; only he had ever gone so far before, because I had heard there was an oracle there, who could answer any question.”

Twilight’s ears perked up and she stopped trying to lecture Pink Celestia about the glories of math. “You made it down Sinbad’s Funnel? Does it really lead to another Dimension?” she asked eagerly.

“He wasn’t the only one,” Cunning Thought said, looking smug.

Twilight glanced over at her and Pink Celestia now asked, “Are you a Princess too?”

Ditzy Doll now bounced off Tank, stumbling upwards, shouting about how she loved muffins. Tank rolled over and I flipped him back onto his legs.

“Of course I am,” Cunning Thought snapped at Pink Celestia.

“I make the sun rise in the morning!,” Pink Celestia announced, then circled Cunning Thought’s head as Rarity fitted the hat on her, forcing Rarity to dodge.

“This land is an echo of the beginning,” Full Moon said softly. “I did not exist in the beginning but now I do, and so does it here, an echo of higher things.”

Okay, I think we’re about to ride the Weird Metaphysical Stuff train.

But this must be important, so I tried not to just hallucinate music the whole time.

“Tell me you’re not about to say this whole land was a toy,” Applejack said, frowning.

“Celestia is my daughter,” Cunning Thought suddenly snapped angrily at Full Moon. “Stop taunting me with this damn thing! I can smell your power all over it.”

Wait, I thought I made it. By accident, but it was me.

“Rainbow Dash made it, by accident; having that much unstable Utherite around, she could have made almost anything with enough willpower and control,” Full Moon said. “It’s safe now as long as no one breaks the snow too much. An interesting control mechanism. I expect Celestia can put this to good use if you can keep it frozen.”

“Oh, I have a preservation spell,” Twilight said as if she hauled around huge piles of magical snowflakes all the time. I studied how she said it with that kind of ‘casual cool about being awesome’. I admire that.

“Liar,” Cunning Thought said tautly. Pink Celestia now attempted to cuddle her but her limbs can’t actually move except for flapping her wings.

“Let’s fly to the castle!” Pink Celestia announced.

Rarity was now knee-deep in sewing with Marcus holding threads and needles for her with magic.

“Mini-me, cooperate with your makeover,” Pinkie said, trying to style the Pinkie doll to look like her but it wasn’t working. Sorry, Pinkie, I didn’t mean to create them that way.

“If you are in a trap, Cunning Thought, it is one of your own making; not everyone can be Korotiku,” Full Moon said firmly to Cunning Thought.

Be who? “So what exactly did you find out down this funnel cake thing?” I asked.

Applejack started laughing for some reason.

“Just a little longer,” Rarity said apologetically to Cunning Thought.

“A toy is a tool for building the imagination,” Full Moon said. “There is great power in toys.”

He found toys down the space funnel thing?

“Would you like to comb my mane?” Pink Celestia asked Cunning Thought.

“I already did,” she grumbled.

“Okay, and done!” Rarity said, stepping back. I’m not sure how practical a fancy dress is for the polar ice cap but it was a pretty dress and Mom would have loved it. Especially the flame motifs.

Okay, I love the flame motif and she would have loved the layering on the hat to make it look like it was made of fire.

“I am the prettiest princess,” Cunning Thought said cheerfully, posing, though I’m sure she’s just mocking us or the doll or both. “Are you going to announce that therefore, everyone’s dreams can be real? We both know better than that,” she said sourly.

Here comes the metaphysical choo-choo.

“Pinkamena made her dreams real,” Pinkie said softly, sounding proud.

“You can do amazing things with Shadow Magic,” Twilight said excitedly. “I’ve been studying the books Keraptis gave me.” She chanted and now another Twilight appeared, though her cutie mark was a potato.

Applejack began laughing and Twilight looked frustrated. “But they never come out quite how I imagine them.”

“Potatoes were planted by ponies during the time of the Orcs as food because the Orcs were too lazy to dig them up if they got mad at the ponies,” Potato-Twilight said proudly. “There are over a thousand breeds of potato! Most unicorns don’t bother with farming but I have honed my talents to ensure no pony will ever go hungry.” Then she looked a little sad as if remembering something.

“Something you will learn by the time you are my age is that nothing ever comes out the way you imagine it,” Cunning Thought said kindly to Twilight and I wondered how she could snap between emotions so quickly. “Dreams never work out the way you hope they will, or plans.”

“Potatoes are very shy,” Fluttershy said to Potato-Twilight. “It’s hard to get them to open up.”

“Well, they like to talk about soil,” Potato-Twilight said amiably and they now launched into a complicated discussion of soil.

Twilight frowned. “That usually means you didn’t plan enough.”

“Dream on, my dear daughter,” Cunning Thought said kindly. “It’s good for the young to dream while they still can.”

“I still don’t know what you found down the funnel thing,” I said to Full Moon. I had a feeling we would never find out if I didn’t keep hammering on this.

Potato-Twilight and Fluttershy were excitedly discussing zinc. I don’t even know what zinc is.

Pink Celestia doll now announced, “I am the Queen of Hard Liquor! Do you like Hard Liquor?”

Cunning Thought stared at the doll.

Applejack and Ivan and I laughed loudly.

“The Oracle’s wisdom does not come cheaply but I learned what I came for,” Full Moon said. Light began to swirl in front of him and then it collapsed into a weapon. “With it, I forged my dagger.” The dagger had a blade of shimmering crystal inside which you could see a rainbow. The hilt was platinum and made to resemble two snakes, one with diamond-shaped scales, the other with lozenge-shaped overlapping scales. The first had a book on its forehead, the other a pair of lockpicks. “And with this, I destroyed the Spear of Destruction, which had begun the Godswar through its use to slay Kathan the Balancer. And with its destruction, I joined the ranks of the Immortals and prevented the Ahfridi from destroying Blackmoor in its infancy.”

Cunning Thought backed up slightly, but Pink Celestia flew over to the dagger. “Hi, I’m a pretty princess!”

“Oh dear,” Potato-Twilight said. “My time is up.” Then she evaporated and Fluttershy looked horrified.

“Sorry, the spells don’t last a long time, yet,” Twilight said, frowning. Twilight then had Spike make a sketch of the dagger for her.

“So you were still mortal, then,” I said softly.

“Didn’t the Ahfridi follow Zugzul?” Twilight asked.

“Zugzul is still a bedwetting idiot whose followers make useful patsies for the intelligent,” Cunning Thought said dismissively. “I expect a young foal could outthink Zugzul. Sweetie certainly could.”

Damn, that must be one stupid Immortal. “How did anyone that dumb become an Immortal?”

“He isn’t that stupid, he just rushes headlong into things without thinking about it or planning how to recover from disaster,” Full Moon said.

OWW. Hey, I *did* think this through!

“And he’s one of the few survivors of the Godswar,” Full Moon continued. “He knew the power of that spear, just not that Thanatos had wanted him to have it.”

Twilight looked over at Cunning Thought, who said, chidingly, “Celestia dear, you shouldn’t play with artifact daggers.”

Pink Celestia flew back to her and I wondered if she was just being silly or somehow can’t tell this is just a toy or… I really don’t understand her. “Would you like to comb my mane?”

Cunning Thought facehoofed. She must be trying to make us laugh for some reason. Then she sighed.

“So you can learn anything there?” I asked.

“That’s what it claims. Not everyone likes the answers,” Full Moon said, then sighed. “Anyway, the sun is setting, so I must go, and you will all likely want off the ice before it gets even colder than it is now.”

“Yes,” Ivan said, then came over to Full Moon. “I… umm…”

“Scootaloo is a perfectly acceptable apprentice if she wouldn’t rather be training with someone else,” Full Moon said.

Applejack kicked me in the ass for no reason at all and I nearly fell down. We started tussleing which actually felt pretty good as I needed some stress release.

But I got tired really quickly.

“Some people are kind of blind,” Ivan said to Full Moon. “They don’t notice the obvious.”

Yeah, I can’t stand people who can’t see what’s in front of their face. At the moment, that was Applejack, who I needed to whip before moving on to anything else.

“Dash, darling, you are going to be a mess if you don’t stop,” Rarity said.

As if I haven’t seen her throwing people around when she feels the need.

“Anyway, it won’t hurt to train her; I expect she has a big future ahead of her. They have chosen the high road, dangerous as it is,” Full Moon said. He spread his wings, stretching, then lowered them. “As have you. I am off to Corunglain. For now, train your apprentice and assist Celestia and Luna.”

“I will,” Ivan said very seriously.

“And continue your studies,” Full Moon said. “Luna will teach you well.”

“My daughter is very intelligent,” Cunning Thought said proudly.

“I understand your Hierarch is rather displeased with you over what happened,” Full Moon said oddly calmly. That kind of fake calm, you know the kind.

I was mainly focused on beating Applejack’s ass, while Fluttershy stared at us horrified.

We’re just playing, Fluttershy. It’s just for fun.

“They’re just having fun like Ivan and I,” Marcus said reassuringly to her.

“I’m rather displeased with her for changing her mind so quickly,” Cunning Thought said. “But it is quite clear that I was busy dealing with an intrusion from the Mythic Plane when it happened, as per orders from the Council of Intrusion. Nor was I the one who decided she ought to get herself bound for a *thousand years* by said Council for her little tantrum back at the start of this current age.” Cunning Thought sounded quite angry over that. “But then, we never get treated fairly by the councils.” She now sounded very bitter.

“I seem to note Thanatos voted for said punishment,” Full Moon said.

Twilight gasped for some reason; maybe if I knew who Thanatos was beyond ‘death immortal guy’, I would care but at the moment, I was focused on taking out Applejack.

“I love my sister Luna!” Pink Celestia said excitedly. Cunning Thought grimaced more.

Marcus blinked. “He did?”

“I believe he said something about how we’d be making people’s pet dogs into Immortals next, too,” Full Moon said calmly.

That made us all frown, and for a moment, I thought Cunning Thought was just going to leap on Full Moon and try to tear his throat out with her teeth. “Do not bait me,” she said harshly. “Not *you* of all people.”

I let go of Applejack, frowning. Something’s going on here and I don’t quite get it.

“Was that really necessary?” Ivan said, shuffling nervously.

Pinkie now ran over at high speed and interposed herself. “The day is late!” she sung. “We should all rest, so tomorrow, we can do our best, and not be… umm… in crates!” She wobbled a bit at the end.

Applejack reached for me, saw me frowning, and got up, then looked at me questioningly.

“Okay, what’s going on here? I won’t be happy if you two brawl and break all the stuff we came for,” I said, trying to be firm.

“There will be no brawl,” Cunning Thought said, regaining her calm. “I would hate to destroy Rarity and Marcus’ hard work. Or yours, Dash. But are you sure people want to know about this?”

I frowned. “Why wouldn’t they want to know?”

“People often don’t like a truth which is less glorious than the lies they are used to,” she said kindly. “Shattering illusions by telling the hard truth is not a way to get yourself loved and admired, as I know you wish to be.”

Marcus mumbled to himself and Rarity gently patted his side with a hoof. He put his hand on her back.

“They died for us,” I said flatly.

“Honesty is the best policy,” Applejack said. “I back Dash totally on this.”

“Now,” Cunning Thought said. “You were rather eager to forget it all, weren’t you?”

Applejack rocked uncomfortably on her hooves; her hat fell off and she caught it with her tail. “Yeah, but I changed my mind and saw sense. You ever gunna do that?”

“I am the very soul of sweet reason,” Cunning Thought said cheerfully to AJ as if she hadn’t been close to choking Full Moon a minute ago. What is with her?

“Lies have their uses,” Full Moon said. “But the truth and honest dealing is better. I endorse your plan, Rainbow Dash.” He now made the floating crystal dagger vanish. “Sooner or later, the truth always outs, anyway.”

“Not always,” Cunning Thought said. “Or so long that it doesn’t matter any more.”

“So why did you try to stop me?” I asked. “You sent your wolf twice and put a child in danger and… but now you’re not even trying to stop me.” I had the feeling I missed something.

“Now, now, that would be telling,” Cunning Thought said a little chidingly. It reminded me way too much of my Mom. “But as for why I am not trying to stop you now, I must embarrassedly confess you were just too good for me to stop. No point in embarrassing myself with another defeat.”

AJ snorted as I posed excitedly, feeling cool.

“Yeah, pull the other one. Why, really?” Spike said suspiciously.

“Her powers are limited in this form,” Ivan said. “We could beat her up, I expect. But it wouldn’t really kill her, as this is just a mortal avatar or she wouldn’t be allowed on this plane.” He touched his amulet for some reason.

“She probably just wanted to make it look like she was trying to stop us for some reason,” Marcus said.

“You do realize I can hear you,” Cunning Thought said, amused. “It was my duty to challenge you, Dash. You did better than I would have thought. You can believe that or not.”

Ivan snorted.

“Just remember, you will be my son-in-law one day,” she said cheerfully to Ivan, who now looked like he was choking on something.

“You know I’m awesome,” I said to Ivan, frowning.

“I know,” he said. “But she is an Immortal.”

“You can call me Mom if you like,” she said to Ivan, who grimaced, which amused her more.

“That’s enough fun for one night, I think,” Full Moon said to Cunning Thought.

Cunning Thought sighed, then tucked Pink Celestia into her saddlebags. “Anyway, we had best go and let them get up to where it’s warm and start their long trip home. I just hope you know what you’re doing, Rainbow Dash.”

“I always know what I’m doing,” I said confidently. This is going to be awesome even if I’m now basically sharing a room with AJ and Fluttershy. But that should be fine.

*********************

Waking up in the night with something crushing you is not fun at all. I flailed and shouted, trying to get loose, then I heard Fluttershy shouting, “I’m over here, Slither!”

Slither let go and snaked off into the darkness as I tried to relearn how to breathe.

“I’m sorry, Dashie, he likes to hug me when I’m sleeping!” Fluttershy said.

‘Hug’.

“South field needs fertilizer,” AJ mumbled *again*. She has been farming in her sleep for *hours*. She crashed like a rock and I don’t know if I’ve slept *at all*.

I want my walls back.

******************

“Look, I’ll be blunt,” AJ told me the next day after Fluttershy had gone to bathe. “Scootaloo is pretty disappointed that you won’t mentor her. I think she and Ivan get on okay but she is kinda jealous that all her friends have an adult or three they admire tutoring them and she doesn’t even get a pony mentor.”

“Her mom bit me one time,” I mumbled. “She doesn’t like me.”

AJ blinked. “Seriously?”

“Plus, if I train her, every pegasus kid in town is gonna want me to,” I told her.

“You ain’t gotta say yes, but I think she’d do good to have a Pegasus. Ivan’s a good guy but he can’t fly or nothin’. And ain’t you gonna be a teacher this year anyway?”

A good point. I just…

Well, I am going to teach anyway at the school. They already have someone for coaching pegasi, so I might not end up having to give all my free time to munchkins if I train Scootaloo some.

“She needs an art tutor too,” I said.

AJ rolled her eyes. “I could say that about you.”

Yeah, I kind of suck at art. “I guess maybe I’d better get some advice on how to make my memorial look good,” I mumbled.

“Yes,” AJ said. “And give Scootaloo a chance, okay?”

“Okay,” I told her.

****************

We got back to Ponyville without any more disasters unless you count days of me not getting any sleep because of friendly snakes or Fluttershy mistaking me for Angel in her sleep or AJ’s need to constantly discuss with her pillow about how the south forty was doing.

So I set out to find Scootaloo and offer her some training.

I could hear Dinky and Scootaloo busy singing about chain gangs as they worked on weeding Carrot Top’s endless fields of carrots. Carrot Top was practicing some sort of weird drill with a hoe in her mouth; it looked like a martial arts kata to me. “Hoe-fu?” I asked her.

“Getting ready for the usual rabbit onslaught,” she said.

“Better not tell Fluttershy,” I said, laughing.

“Hey, Rainbow Dash,” Dinky said to me.

“Hey, Dash, how did the trip go?” Scootaloo asked.

“It went great. Thanks for decorating my room, Scootaloo,” I said to her. Actually, no thanks at all, but Rarity spent eight hours lecturing me on manners and when to be more subtle during the return trip.

Eight hours I will never get back.

I tried to sleep through them but Marcus kept poking me.

“Anyway, I need a partner to practice some maneuvers with, so I thought of you,” I told Scootaloo. “If you can get out of prison, anyway.”

“YEAH!” she said excitedly.

“It’s okay,” Carrot Top said. “Just bring her back to finish when you’re done.”

“Sorry, Dinky,” Scootaloo said, not sorry at all and I can’t blame her. Nothing against Dinky but who wants to pull weeds when they could be *flying*?

Now I just have to figure out how to approach her Mom without getting bitten again. Man, she is cranky.

****************

Something I hadn’t really thought about was how I was going to actually build a monument; Celestia had kindly set aside some land in the Canterlot graveyard for us to move their remains to, though not much was left but a few bones, and some pieces of jewelry and a few magical things which had been frozen down there for so long.

I feel like I ought to make the monument but I can’t really make anything unless it’s made out of clouds and those won’t endure. I had been so focused on getting here, I just didn’t think about what came after.

“I can build you a monument,” Apple Bloom told me. “You can help me make it.”

I guess that means wood but that’ll do for a start; I don’t have enough money for stone anyway. Not yet.

This took days of work, but the good part was I could go see Soarin’ in the evenings when Apple Bloom was too wiped out to go on. She really works like a maniac when she wants to work.

“Celestia could just have her people build you a fancy stone monument,” Soarin’ told me as we dinned at the Fifth Horseshoe, a really nice restaurant which allegedly has Time Pony cuisine. It is run by Time Ponies, who all have that same hourglass Cutie Mark, which seems weird to me.

Time Pony cuisine seems to revolve around what looks like gravel but tastes like broccoli, which is fine as I like broccoli. And cheese sauces and mushrooms and peas.

A couple came up to us and got Soarin’s autograph. This is the *sixth* time tonight. If we go out in public, he gets swarmed.

But no one seems to know who I am, even though I am a heroine of Equestria!

“I want to do it myself,” I told him. “I guess I’ll pay for stone later, when I save up more money.” Bad enough Celestia had to pay for the land it’s going on. Land is *stupidly* expensive.

“Hi,” Twilight said, startling me. She was here with West Wind. “Mind if we join you?”

“We’re half done but sure,” Soarin’ said, then worked on scarfing down more food.

“Hello,” West Wind said solemnly. He shook hooves with Soarin’; we’d already met. “Nice to meet you. What’s your name? I’m West Wind; I work as a courier for Franich House.”

Soarin’ blinked and then he had a wide grin. “I’m Soarin’, one of the Wonderbolts.”

“They’re… a racing team, right?” West Wind said hesitantly.

Twilight blinked and I stared. He’s never heard of the Wonderbolts?

“And special agents for Celestia,” Soarin’ said.

“Dash hopes to be one of them one day,” Twilight said to her coltfriend.

They both had menus which they began studying.

Soarin’ and I glanced at each other; he knows enough. I don’t know. I may be a Wonderbolt but… I can’t really do that and do everything else I have to do. “I’m going to be teaching history this fall,” I told West Wind. “But right now, I’m building a historical monument.”

He was kind enough to let me ramble on about that and about the facility we’d visited earlier in the summer and the origins of ponykind; I couldn’t tell if he was interested or polite but it all just spilled out in this endless tide of words.

By the time I finished, Soarin’ was having dessert and their food had arrived. Our waitress, a yellow pony with a brown mane and the usual Time Pony cutie mark now said to me, “Well, that’s the origin of the Equestrian Ponies, but that wasn’t the only facility doing the research. Our Ancestors escaped from another one with the help of Khoronous and went back in time to before humanity and ended up helping to create them.”

My eyes crossed. “Isn’t that a paradox?”

“Wait, humans were created instead of developing from earlier human-like creatures?” Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure they and the Brute-Men developed from a common ancestor.”

“Time is a complicated thing,” our waitress said. “That may have originally been the case, but so many people have tried to interfere with that origin that it’s kind of a mess now.”

A tan pony wearing a hat with a red ribbon around the crown of it and a nice grey suit with a red tie now came up to her. “Don’t confuse the customers,” he said to her, then glanced at us.

“No, no, I’m really curious,” Twilight said. “Please go on,” she said excitedly.

“There are things best not lightly inquired into or talked about,” he said but I could see now Twilight was now *really* curious. You know how she is.

Telling her not to be curious will make her *more* curious.

“We shouldn’t stick our heads in,” West Wind said to her. “If he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“Table five, High Card,” he said firmly to our waitress.

She sighed and galloped off, grumbling.

“I’m sorry, she likes to act like she knows all the secrets of the universe, but she’s usually bluffing,” the stallion boss said to us.

“I hear your pot calling you!” High Card shouted from across the room.

He just laughed, then said, “Anyway, enjoy your meal!”

Then he galloped off to another table.

“Now I wonder how much else has been tampered with by time travel,” Twilight said thoughtfully.

“I thought it was impossible,” West Wind said.

“You need an artifact of the Sphere of Time,” Twilight said. “Going to have to study my giant hourglass more.” She tapped her cheek thoughtfully.

“Well, I will be busy getting ready for my class, since this is pretty much done,” I told them. Which is going to be a bunch of work but after seeing everything… I have to find some way to convey it to my students.

Hmm, if I could time travel, I could *show* them the important stuff. So it isn’t just words on paper. “Let me know if you figure it out,” I told her.

We hung out with them, then went off for a flight, while Twilight and West Wind went trotting. The Zeppelin is cool but man, we all about went crazy in there and I have to assume Cunning Thought was messing with us.

We were busy making out on a cloud when Luna showed up; Soarin’ was embarrassed, but I’m shameless. “Hello, your highness,” I said to her.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “I heard you had some trouble with Mother.”

“Yeah, she’s kind of mean.” Of course, evil immortal, you don’t expect *nice*.

Luna sighed. “She’d been leaving us alone but ever since Sweetie stumbled on her, she seems determined to stick her nose into everything. I think I finally calmed Ivan down so he won’t do anything foolish.”

We both grinned and she turned a little red and mumbled.

“The memorial is almost done,” I told her. “I just… why didn’t anyone do this before?” I asked.

“I could not have told you she existed,” Luna said. “We may seem all knowing but we are not. And neither of us are really historians.”

“Cunning Thought didn’t think this was a good idea,” I said.

“We would not have helped you go if that was the case,” Luna said. “Mother lies constantly and instinctively tries to turn people on each other. You must remember that.”

I still don’t know why Rarity decided to dress her all up and be so nice to her.

“Now, now, if I lied *all* the time, my lies would never *work*,” Cunning Thought said, still dressed up in the outfit Rarity put her in.

We all jumped. Where had she come from? She… please tell me wasn’t hidden inside the cloud we were on!

“Mother,” Luna said, sighing. “Haven’t you done enough damage for one year?”

“No,” she said cheerfully. “Dash, I just wanted to tell you that your monument looks very nice, but wood isn’t very long-lasting, you know.”

“It’s a temporary until I can afford stone,” I told her.

“If you like…”

I cut her off. “It’s fine, I want to do this myself,” I told her.

Soarin’ frowned at her but kept his mouth shut, just glaring.

“Don’t I look just lovely in this outfit?” Cunning Thought asked Luna, twirling in place.

“You look smashing, Mother,” Luna said wearily.

“Is your boyfriend here?” Cunning Thought asked.

“I don’t have a coltfriend!” Luna said frantically.

“Hmm, I can’t feel the heat of his hateful gaze. I will have to show off my outfit to Celestia. If she’s still awake,” Cunning Thought said. “If I’m lucky, I’ll catch her with her coltfriend! See you later, daughter!” And she dove down towards the city.

Luna watched her go, then sighed. “I had best make sure she doesn’t cause any trouble. I will see you at the opening, if not before.”

We waved and she dove down out of sight. Soarin’ finally said, “That woman makes me nervous. Celestia’s mother, that is.”

“She’s an ass,” I told him. But she’s… either she fakes it really well or I think she does care about her daughters. But it’s hard to tell, she’s so relentlessly cheerful, like Pinkie but without the whacky. Except when she suddenly gets mad.

“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!” I heard Pinkie scream distantly.

I turned and saw she’d somehow used coatls… winged serpents… to tie other coatls to herself or gotten tangled up in a jumble of them or something… and was now being carried off by them. “Okay, I renounce my title as god-empress!” she wailed. “Let me down.”

Time to save Pinkie.

Where did she get all those coatls, anyway?

******************

Only later, when I was having breakfast with Soarin’ at his place, did I realize I could have asked Full Moon about who was right about Ghyr being toy-people or not.

It’s just Pinkie being silly, I’m sure. Though I guess with all the planes of existence, there might be one where we’re all toys for kids.

I imagined a plushie version of Soarin’ and laughed.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, looking up from his oatmeal and fruit.

“Just imagining you as a doll,” I told him, laughing.

“Well, there are dolls of me,” he said, embarrassed. “For kids. I can get you one if you want.”

“Sure,” I said. I can hug him at night when he’s not there.

I had a Wonderbolt doll as a kid but I think it was just a generic doll, not any particular Wonderbolt. The team’s been around for a long time. And I guess when we’re all gone and I’m immortal…

It now hit me that one day, Soarin’ will be dead and I’ll go on without him, if I become an immortal. Maybe even if I fail, I might outlive him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, worried.

“Suddenly remembering that time goes on and everyone dies. I’ll be fine once I’m full,” I told him, then began eating.

I don’t like Time. Will I be forgotten?

Not if I become an Immortal.

Except even Immortals can die; most of the ones from the far past are long gone and only a few Immortals survived… something.

Something so horrible they won’t talk about it.

I suddenly could see Soarin’ as an old stallion and then…

No, I don’t want to think about it.

Dammit.

*******************

“It’s entirely possible you’d break up in three weeks, anyway, though I hope you won’t,” Celestia told me a little later. She was on the way to a meeting but I was walking with her.

“I just suddenly… I never thought about this before,” I said, feeling frustrated.

“To study history is to be aware how much we’ve lost,” Celestia said to me sadly. “And how change is the only eternal thing in this world. But if you lock yourself away, that will only bring you pain. You have to find the beauty in change or go crazy.” She swept a hoof grandly. “This palace is virtually completely different than when it was first built. One day, I will have to leave and it will change further, still.”

“I don’t want things to change,” I mumbled. “Not in bad ways.”

“Change will come, my little pony. You can ride the tide or it will pull you under and drown you. Don’t dwell on it; you have things to do; focus on those and the people who love you.” She patted my shoulder, then paused at a door. “I believe in you, Rainbow Dash. So you can believe in me, believing in you, if you can’t believe in yourself.” She had this oddly Pinkiesque look on her face.

“Is that a quote?” I asked.

“Something like that,” she said, laughing softly, then kissed my forehead. “Anyway, I have to go help figure out how to deal with an outbreak of violet fungi down in the West Marech,” she continued. “I will be at the opening of your memorial.”

“Thanks, Princess Celestia,” I said, turning a little red.

“You should talk to Octavia about playing at your opening,” Celestia said. “I’m sure she could compose something appropriate.”

Maybe I should ask Lyra too, though I know she’s in the throes of writing a musical but she does know stuff about humans…

“Thank you,” I said, then I bowed and went to go find Octavia.

*****************

My memorial is right next to the History of the Plateau museum, near the castle but not in it so everyone can get to it. I studied the Plateau museum a lot. It’s not a very fancy building but we had limited time even with people helping us.

Apple Bloom works like a maniac; so do the rest of the Crusaders if they *want* to help. I had ended up having to accept some money from Celestia to help pay for more workers; the building is going to be simple but it’s still too much for me and the Crusaders and my friends all have stuff that they need to catch up on. Soarin’ helps when he can, but he’s busy too; at least I can see him more with us in Canterlot.

I was pretty surprised when I heard someone yelp at the entrance. Apple Bloom said, “Hah! Intruder captured!”

“Apple Bloom, don’t trap the entrance!” I told her. This whole place would lock up all future visitors if I didn’t stop her.

I feel bad for her future coltfriends.

I flew over and to my surprise, a dun coated unicorn pony hung from the ceiling in a net trap; she had a long straight yellow mane and brown eyes. She wore four brown hoof boots, a blue shirt, black pants, and a long white coat. You couldn’t see her Cutie Mark but her companion had one.

Her companion, flying over her, was a red-coated Pegasus with a short blond mane and a cutie mark of herself executing a fancy aerial turn. She was gnawing on the trap. “This is why Pegasi are the best ponies,” she said chidingly to the unicorn.

“You are the best pony,” the unicorn said, sounding embarrassed.

My brain registered. It was Barrel Roll! And this must be Dr. Iricia Morin in pony form for some reason.

They came to see me! I was so thrilled I could hardly breathe.

“Hold on, Apple Bloom, release the net trap!” I shouted.

Apple Bloom now touched a wall stud and the trap released and I caught Dr. Iricia before she could splat.

“Sorry, Apple Bloom is a great architect but she’s training under a dungeon master,” I said apologetically.

“Uncle K understands I am a big pony now,” she said proudly.

“Please show me everything,” Dr. Iricia said warmly to me. “I am flattered you went to all this effort.”

“How could I not?” I said; how could she not see it as a big deal?

She moved fluidly once not bound; you’d only notice she wasn’t normally a pony by all the clothing she wore. I guess she’s done this enough times to be used to it.

I showed them around; keeping Barrel Roll from accidentally bumping things was a full time job. I guess she’s used to the skies and it is kind of crowded in here.

But land… How can anyone afford land when you could drink alcohol all day until you died for the cost of one little bit of land?

Kids, don’t try that at home, by the way.

Having her here was a huge help and I had a billion questions for her. Dinky was kind enough to act as secretary for me, writing things down.

I noticed Barrel Roll got really sad when we reached the pegasi zone; I had pictures as best I could, images from the spheres, of the various pegasi and she filled me in on all of them but it clearly made her a little sad to think of them.

Then it hit me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about… I guess you never saw them again.”

“I gave my life for them to live,” Barrel Roll said, studying them carefully. Her head hung down some. “It’s a mother’s duty.”

Dr. Iricia nodded and I now realized…

“Did you ever get to see your children again?” I asked softly.

“No,” she said and I grimaced. “But they must have reincarnated many, many times by now. It is not easy, sometimes. I will never forget them, but even if I found them now, they are not who they were.”

“Couldn’t you get someone from the Sphere of Time to help you go see them?” Dinky asked, frowning.

“Too much risk of changing things, time travel should not be done just to make yourself feel better,” Dr. Iricia said sadly, and Dinky grimaced, but didn’t comment.

“Anyway, I look to the future,” Barrel Roll said. “I think most pegasi are like that.”

I am, but now I can’t help but notice things I never used to.

I wonder… Soarin’…

I stared at the floor. No, I can’t just… There has to be a way even if I don’t know what.

Dr. Iricia patted my shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said. “Don’t let us old people get you down.”

She didn’t actually look old; she could have easily been my age or Twilight’s.

“You and Barrel Roll should go for a good fly; I’ll help your friends work,” Dr. Iricia said to me.

“I dunno if she can keep up with me,” Barrel Roll said.

Oh, it is ON.

********************

I easily outpaced her on the first race; I am hella fast and she’s clearly not been practicing for power all these years. But she’s really maneuverable and the obstacle course race, I lost to my frustration.

Also, the stupid bell pullers pulled the bell in the clocktower and I got rung!

When my head stopped ringing, we landed on a convenient cloud. “Did your generation walk on clouds?” I asked her. She must have gotten a cutie mark later.

“We’re tied to elemental air,” she said. “So yes. Each of the five kinds of us were based on one of the elements.” She frowned. “Including Entropy. I think making Entropy ponies was a *big* mistake but the Blackmoorians thought they knew everything, controlled everything and could just do anything without consequences.” She sighed and rolled onto her back. “They just rushed into things without thinking about consequences.”

Okay, universe, I get it! Let’s move on.

“So what do you guys do for Full Moon?” I asked curiously.

“Get in trouble,” she said, grinning and I laughed. “Mostly run around the cosmos dealing with problems that mortals can’t handle but are too common to call in full blown immortals. Iricia and I tend to be the leaders because we’re older than the boss’ other titans. She’s the brain and I’m the brawn. Dr. Moon has a couple of other titans, though sometimes we work with other people’s titans.” She paused. “I’m not sure how much of it I can talk about.”

But she launched into a long story about the time she had a race with the letter H. Too long to repeat here, but we traded stories for a while before we had to go back.

*****************

They both had to go but I was glad to have seen them and I expect I’ll see them again in the future. I hope.

So we worked our butts off and got everything set up for the big day.

On Opening Day, I was nervous but hopeful. We had a moderate crowd of curious ponies as I paced in my fancy orange dress Rarity forced me to wear, even though she and Marcus and Applejack *are not here yet*.

And Fluttershy had turned herself into a human for no apparent reason. Rarity had dressed her up in this fancy six layer Blackmoor style dress. I can’t imagine how she’s not overheating in it. But she was busy going around talking to the kids whose parents had dragged them here.

Octavia, Lyra, and some friends of theirs were busy playing what Twilight claims is Blackmoorian music; it was kind of spooky but seemed to go over well. I’d hoped for more people but maybe they’re late.

Then, to my surprise, Apple Blossom entered, leading a herd of fancily dressed ponies who looked kind of like her. Her relatives… well, Applejack’s relatives but they would be her relatives if she wasn’t a clone… man, I wonder if Rainbow Crash is coming. I did send her an invitation; she has to see how cool my memorial is!

*FLASH*, Dawn Gleaming, Sammy, and Rainbow Crash landed *on me*. “HEY!” I shouted.

“Don’t run into magical flashes,” Dawn Gleaming said irritably as she got up.

“You landed *on me*,” I said urgently.

“Piffle, my aim is flawless, especially with Rainbow backing me up,” she said, then helped Sammy up.

“So you’re saying you meant to land on Dash,” Twilight said, frowning at Dawn Gleaming.

She and Dawn Gleaming glared at each other, then Crash said, “My aim is per… hey, chips!”

I had to stop her eating all the potato chips I’d bought. Fortunately, I bought a *lot*, as I expected a good crowd and, well, everyone scarfs as much free food as they can, right? It’s how parties work.

Pinkie also made some; they’ve got ‘astral spices’, which seems to mean ‘cream and onion’ flavor. But that’s good too.

“Leave some for the other guests,” I told her. “Don’t be a glutton.”

Dawn Gleaming now went with Sammy to mill around looking at everything; she kept dictating notes to him for some reason.

Where is Rarity?

She’d better not be dressing up Cunning Thought to come to my grand opening!

Apple Blossom swept up to me. “This is Rainbow Dash, Aunt Orange,” she said cheerfully. She introduced me to a ton of Orange themed ponies, who showered me with bottles of orange brandy, perfume, cookbooks, brand hats, and even a tie with oranges on it, which might look good on Soarin’. I have never been so thoroughly ad-blitzed in my life.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” I said, shaking hooves until my hooves hurt. But I can be mannerly if I want to be. And this is a fancy occasion.

“Apple Blossom says you are a historian and archeologist,” Aunt Orange said to me once the blitz was over.

Oh wow, I am. Just like Daring Doo!

I felt this sudden huge surge of confidence. “Why yes, I am,” I said to her. It’s weird, I just never… Those books are so *awesome*. “Here, let me show you everything.”

I was busy giving my spiel as a horde of orange themed ponies followed me, when a huge horde of snobby looking unicorns flooded in the doors. You could probably rebuild this place in marble with what they spent on their clothing; they looked generally unimpressed, though I could now see Rarity and Marcus in stallion form, herding them. And Applejack, all dressed up like Apple Blossom. I laughed at that.

And hey, here’s all her relatives she snubbed to go back to Ponyville.

In my mind, I could see the entire memorial burning and Canterlot falling off the cliff and plunging down into the countryside. And into Lower Canterlot. We’re in Middle Canterlot, which is halfway up the cliff; there’s an Upper Canterlot on top of the plateau also.

Please, no apocalypse.

Now a group of Darokinian Pegasi, all wearing various houses’ colors, came crowding in behind the unicorns, leading to a traffic jam. I could make out Twilight’s coltfriend leading them in and felt a little embarrassed. Thanks, Twilight.

Then the junior dragons; I wouldn’t have thought the city had so many, plus various unicorns, mostly less impressive than Rarity’s group.

And the Wonderbolts. And a bunch of Pony Druids. And I just… I felt so happy. Whatever people may think of the past, they need to know.

And my friends had gone to a lot of effort to make my thing a success.

Inevitably, Applejack ended up face to face with her Manehattan kin, though I tried to keep them apart. Apple Blossom had tried to help me but it was like someone was conspiring against us and this place just isn’t all that big.

“Why, Applejack, it’s been so long,” her Aunt Orange said. “You look wonderful in that dress.”

Applejack shifted uncomfortably on her hooves. “Thanks, auntie, Rarity made it for me.”

Apple Blossom now nudged her subtly in several ways, causing Applejack to adjust how she stood. A posture thing, I guess.

“You look wonderful,” Aunt Orange said weakly. “I hope your farm is going well.”

“The apples are doing righ…,” Applejack paused, closed her eyes, then said smoothly, “We will have a fine apple crop this year. It’s close to time for the zapapples to come in, if we get any. When the weather changes, some of them will transform, as you know,” she continued, her voice sounding all cultured. “Apple Bloom helped to build this place; she got her cutie mark as a builder.” Applejack now described it and talked about the Moonraker.

“I haven’t seen her in so long. Is she here?” Aunt Orange asked.

Applejack turned and finally spotted the Crusaders; they were all showing Belcadizians around, dressed up in Belcadizian style clothing themselves.

“There we go,” I said, pointing her out.

“You should come visit us some time,” Aunt Orange said; I couldn’t tell if she meant it or was being formal.

“I reck… I should,” Applejack said softly. “Thank you for coming all this way.”

“Apple Blossom insisted and I see the elites of Canterlot are here.” For a moment, Aunt Orange sounded just like Rarity. “Oh good, Fancy Pants, just the stallion I need to talk to. I know he’s looking for some new drinks for his parties.” She looked gleeful and was about to rub her hooves together when her husband nudged her gently.

“I will make contact,” Apple Blossom told her, then dragged me along for some reason; I felt bad leaving Applejack with the sharks.

“Is that wise?” I glanced back at AJ and her relatives.

“They haven’t even talked in a decade,” Apple Blossom said softly. “I had a hard time even talking them into coming.”

“It was nice of you to come but if they riot…” I said.

“They won’t get violent but it was time to rip off the scab, I think,” Apple Blossom said softly. Then she changed and got the smile again; the one that says ‘I am awesome’. I studied it; given I am awesome, I need to be able to do that.

“Rarity, darling, it’s so good to see you again,” Apple Blossom said to Rarity, who was busy trying to tell a bunch of snooty unicorns about the model of the research center.

“Apple Blossom, you look smashing,” Rarity said, her accent even more accenty than usual.

They praised each other for several minutes, then they both introduced me to roughly three billion unicorns and I took over explaining everything while Apple Blossom seduced Fancy Pants into ordering a lot of orange drinks for his next party. Not literal physical seduction but you know what I mean. Though his skinny pale consort glared at Apple Blossom the whole time.

And once he ordered… everyone wanted some.

More people were flooding into the memorial and I began to suspect I would be really tired tonight.

***************

I was fairly tired but happy when a dozen angry ponies in blue robes strode in; half had Luna’s cutie mark on their robes, the other half had Celestia’s sun. They began haranguing the crowd about how this was all lies.

I bet Cunning Thought sent them.

I strode over and said, “I’m Rainbow Dash and all of this is true.”

“Ponies were not made by machines in a factory!,” one of them said angrily; she had a long blue wavy mane and a dark green coat with red eyes. She had hoof-boots like Celestia’s but done in copper. “Everyone knows Celestia and Luna created us!”

“That’s not true at all; they were born of a Pony father and could hardly have created their own father,” I said, trying not to yell at them. Some lunatic cult, I guess.

“Everyone knows their mother was an Immortal and their father Odin’s son,” the pony said haughtily.

Odin’s SON? I’m pretty sure Sleipnir… no wait, Sleipnir is the brother… and now I forget their father.

Which I should know but he has a weird name.

“You are quite incorrect,” Dawn Gleaming said. “The Book of the Sun and the Moon is nothing more than the ignorant blathering of a lunatic mind.” She sounded quite contemptuous and I wondered when she’d come up.

The what?

I wanted to avoid a fight but I’m only good at causing fights. But I don’t want anything to get broken.

Fluttershy, she’s good at avoiding violence. I summoned her over by desperate wing-flapping.

She approached and a wave of daisy smell flooded over me. I think she over did it on perfume. The robe ponies’ eyes all crossed.

“Priestess Goldenhair, I am Fluttershy of the Equestrian Druids, a pleasure to meet you,” Fluttershy said with her musical voice, shaking hand-to-hoof with her.

“Any relation to…” one of Goldenhair’s flunkies asked eagerly.

Wait, her hair isn’t gold, it’s BLUE.

I rubbed my eyes just to be sure.

“I am a human and she is a pony, so no,” Fluttershy said. “Just a coincidence.”

Goldenhair studied her curiously. “What an odd outfit.”

“It’s worn by Blackmoorian researchers,” Fluttershy said. “I wanted to help out with my friend Dashie’s premiere. Please don’t run around shouting, I want everything to be just right for her big night.”

“But she…” Goldenhair began.

“She’s a…,” Dawn Gleaming began.

“You can fight any time; but this is a night to remember the past and celebrate our present. Doesn’t Celestia say we should all get along and be kind to each other?” Fluttershy said gently.

“Yes,” Goldenhair said. “But she…”

“Shouting never persuades anyone,” Fluttershy said. “Now, let me show you the religious exhibit.”

She soon had them under her thumb, just like her animals and I smiled a little. You’re a good friend, Fluttershy.

I jumped when Crash suddenly was next to me. “Hey,” Crash said, spewing crumbs.

Onto my nice dress, so I tried to brush them off. “Enjoying it?” I asked.

“Mom’s coming,” Crash said, wincing.

MOM.

It took eight ponies to drag me out of the closet when she got here.

Then Rarity distracted her until Applejack of all people got me fixed back up with Apple Blossom’s help. It was mostly Apple Blossom.

How did Mom know to come????

I saw Gilda’s father, Anton, before I saw Mom as I hesitantly let them herd me towards Mom. He came all the way from Prance? Is Gilda here? Anton was busy talking to one of Rarity’s friends, one of the snooty unicorns, but he now saw me and eyed me in that Griffon way, the one that probably used to mean ‘I am going to eat you’ but now just means ‘I hold you in disdain’. Why is he even here if he’s mad at me?

Is Gilda here?

I felt twice as nervous now.

Anton wore a top hat, but wasn’t wearing his monocle, which I think is silly; he did have a nice brown suit on, though.

Our path came close to Anton, who said, “Mselle Dash, your dress is very nice.” He has this warm, cultured voice and I have to admit that maybe I kind of like it.

Soarin’ would sound awesome if he sounded like that.

He’s here, somewhere, but this place is *so full*. I saw Spitfire, for a moment, talking to Falling Lightning, another Wonderbolt; he once outraced a lightning bolt! *That* is awesome.

But they were hedged in by admirers and I was being herded and Anton wanted to talk to me.

“Thank you, Anton,” I said, doing my best to bow and fake culture. “I am very grateful you came to see the opening of my memorial.”

“I had not known you took an interest in history,” he said amiably and I wondered why he’d looked mad at me earlier.

“I had some adventures and read some books which convinced me there were things we need to remember but have forgotten,” I told him excitedly. Then I kind of rambled on about the research center and all the people there.

It’s like I was there for me now; seeing all those globes, I know more about some of these people than I do a lot of ponies in Ponyville.

He watched; it’s hard to read Griffon expressions because they have different facial muscles and also any time you talk to one, part of your brain is reminding you they used to eat horses.

But they’re civilized now, though I’m not sure why.

“We have a museum like this about our ancestors,” he said softly, looking around. “Not everyone took it well; they wanted to believe we were created by Vanya as noble warsteeds for her elite warriors.”

“Gilda told me that story,” I told him. About how Vanya had trained eagles but they weren’t big enough to ride and trained lions but her foes escaped by flying. So she bred them together… somehow… and got griffons, who were as mighty as a lion and flew as high as an eagle and then no one could escape her and her knights.

Part of my brain says chickens were somehow involved but I was probably drunk at the time when I heard the story.

“I tried to get her to come but I know you two fell out,” he continued, not quite looking me in the face, but studying my left shoulder; I glanced at it but it was still just a shoulder with a dress over it.

Now I shuffled uncomfortably on my hooves. “Is she okay? I mean, I know she must get into trouble but I hope it’s not too much trouble.”

“Herr Franz Lowenroth, Baron of Adlerturm now employs her as a bodyguard,” he said. “As I understand, he’s a wizard but with an interest in hunting and animal magics. She writes more than she used to.” He paused. “Is there some reason she would be in trouble? Beyond the usual?”

I froze, transfixed by that one-eyed stare thing Griffons do when they want to scare the shit out of you. “I just had a bad feeling,” I mumbled.

He sighed and settled back on his rear haunches. Then he blinked. “You and your friends are all quite large.”

“I was too awesome for a small body to hold,” I said, laughing and nervous at once; I’m not sure how much I can tell; I had my Element but I wasn’t wearing it because they’re supposed to be secret; it was hidden inside my outfit.

“Well, I see your handlers are impatient, so I will let you go,” he said.

‘Handlers’.

I feel weird.

“It was very gracious of you to come,” I told him.

“You should write your mother more often; she worries about you,” he said sternly. “She made sure I came.”

But who told Mom?

Probably Cunning Thought in a final petty stroke at me for beating her.

Punk!

I mumbled about letters and let everyone push me away.

Then I saw somehow Mom had found Crash and was looming over her, lecturing her. Mom’s not any taller than I… used to be. But she wears these high-heeled hoof-boots and likes to stand very straight and proud. Mom’s a very light blue and her mane is long and fancy and styled like Rarity’s, but it’s the same color as mine. She was wearing a long three-layered orange dress which flowed in all directions; I don’t know how she moved in it without stepping on it and falling down; only my super-nimbleness lets me move in this outfit Rarity made for me and it’s only one layer.

“Junior, how can you come to your own premiere without even wearing ANYTHING?” she was lecturing Crash. “You didn’t even brush your mane!”

“Mom, I…,” Crash began; she looked really shaken up. Especially when Mom pounced on her and pinned her down and began brushing out her mane.

“Now, look at this fine young lady coming to say hello to you,” Mom said, pointing at me. “Tall, elegant, graceful, and not slobbed out at an event where *everypony who is anypony in Equestria* will see her. And her face isn’t covered with crumbs and she doesn’t smell like cider, either!”

That’s because I haven’t had a chance to eat and I just had a quick sip of some cider, but I’ve been wall-to-wall schmoozing since the start of this.

Only when I got a few feet closer did I realize that *Mom didn’t recognize me*. WHAT?

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me in front of the entire universe,” Crash said, squirming. “I can brush my own mane!”

“I’ve seen little evidence of that,” she said chidingly.

I would be laughing my ass off if I wasn’t now reminded I kind of still haven’t told Mom about the twin thing. Clone thing. You know what I mean.

Ahahah.

I strode up trying to be graceful, my friends trailing after me. “Hey, Mom, I see you found my twin sister. This is Rainbow Crash.”

Mom froze, studied Crash, then me, then her eyes widened as she looked at all my friends and then everyone else and all the ponies watching her. “Rainbow Dash the Second, what have you done this time?” she said sternly to me.

“The second?” Twilight said curiously. I guess I had never actually said Mom’s name. I’m technically Rainbow Dash the Second but I want to be remembered for me, not because my parents couldn’t be bothered to think of a new name!

I don’t want to just be some cheap copy of my Mom.

I saw Crash staring at the floor and suddenly felt terrible for her.

“Your mother is an elegant pony,” Rarity said approvingly.

The world will now end, I know it. I’ll never be out of a dress, again.

“I was so awesome, even this body couldn’t hold it and I split off another me,” I said. It was intended as a joke, but Mother now buried her face in her hooves.

“Junior, playing around with magical items is unwise,” she told me sternly.

Crash had just curled up in a ball and looked miserable; being reminded you were made in… I’m not sure what Keraptis’ shadow creature clone machine things look like. It can’t be a happy memory.

I took a deep breathe and let it out. “Crash is a magical clone of me but she’s a person and she remembers everything I did up to when she was made. So she’s your daughter too and I want you to treat her like that. And we’re both big ponies now and she works for an *immortal* so you should give us some respect.” I waved my hoof around at everything. “I can’t be the daughter you wanted because Rarity already existed.”

Rarity blinked and studied me curiously.

“She’s a bit of a lazy idiot but so am I,” I continued. “We can’t be who you dreamed of us being. We’re just the we who is.” That did not come out right at all. “And you can thank my friend Rarity for my outfit. She’s a designer and makes all our best clothing.”

Rarity now did that little ‘I am Rarity, the best dressed, prettiest pony who all the stallions want’ strut. You know the one. She was wearing a purple dress with golden topazes set into it like stars and a crown. Because in her heart, she’s a pretty princess.

She’s pretty much Mom’s ideal of her perfect daughter.

Marcus stood by her; he’s in stallion form, all dressed up in a navy suit and looking pretty good. Not as good as Soarin’ but who can match him?

There was a shimmer of light and then a flash and Dawn Gleaming appeared, pulling Crash out of Mom’s grip and landing her on her feet. “Rainbow Crash is my friend and a valued member of our team which serves the all-powerful and wise Princess Marjorie.” She glared defiantly at Mom. “If she didn’t look a little rumpled, we’d mistake her for that grandstander, Rainbow Dash.”

I am not a grandstander, I am just *that awesome*.

My father now came out of the press of the crowd; he’s a very dark blue with a long blond mane; he wore a very light blue suit that I now realized basically matched Mom’s skin tone. He also wears glasses and is rather an egghead. “Ahh, you’re Dawn Gleaming, who wrote the article on comet-borne monster infestations in the latest Celestial Quarterly?” he asked.

The what in the what on what?

She smiled brightly. “Yes, it’s my first publication,” she said. “Studying Alphatian comet records finally enabled me to trace the causes of the 1180 and 1232 monster infestations in Haven and the causes of the Haunted Marshes. That’s in the Alphatian calendar which counts from Landfall, of course.”

“Of course,” father said. “I am Dr. Star Chaser, Rainbow’s father, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” They shook hooves and she practically squeed.

“You wrote _Volume Three of the Condensed History of Atmospheric Irregularities over Brun and the Alphatian Islands_, right?” Dawn Gleaming asked excitedly.

“Wait, Star Chaser is your *father*?” Twilight said to me, stunned.

This is why I never mention my parents, people get expectations. That I’m going to be *them* and not *me*.

Also, only they would get this happy over a book like that.

Mom stared at me, then sighed. “Dash, I just want what’s best for you.”

“And that’s something *we* decide,” I told her, standing firm as my legs tried to shake.

Crash now stood by me and nodded. “We’d write more if all your letters weren’t about how disappointed you are that we aren’t you,” she said, then stared at the floor, sagging.

Mom grimaced, then sighed. “Crash, come here.”

“I do…”

“COME HERE.” Mom gave her the stare and she came hither.

She gently embraced Crash around the head and shoulders. “I always wanted another daughter,” she said softly, brushing away… had Crash somehow gotten *more* crumbs on her?

Crash began crying on her shoulder and now I wanted to die of embarrassment. Fluttershy came up and hugged her gently too.

Dad, Twilight, Marcus, Sammy, Spike, Spikey, some griffon I don’t even know, three other unicorns, Dawn Gleaming, and some elf were now all embroiled in complicated argument about whether or not monsters could fall from comets onto the land and somehow make swamps.

I think.

Wouldn’t they all splat pretty hard unless they could fly?

Apple Blossom passed me a small bottle and I chugged down something orangey and alcoholic and then she carefully wiped my mouth with a handkerchief. Softly, she said, “Parents can be difficult.”

“I know,” I whispered back.

“At least you have some to argue with,” AJ said sadly, then she and Apple Blossom both stared off at one of the exhibits of a pony planting an apple tree. It was supposed to be Leaf Dancer but it looked suspiciously like Apple Bloom, I now realized.

If she was an adult with a slightly longer…

Did Apple Bloom do Leaf Blossom as her mother?

Now I couldn’t stop staring and wondering.

Crash now looked like she wanted to die as Mom gently wiped her face. “None of that matters,” Mom said kindly to her. “You are my daughter, so stand proud because we are the best ponies in Equestria.”

She glanced at Dad, then gently kicked him in the ass.

He started, looked at her, and Mom gestured my way with her head.

Father now apologized to everyone around him and strode over to me, then smiled at me. “I’m glad to see you doing something constructive,” he said to me.

“I work very hard,” I told him irritably. “Being an athlete is work too.”

“The body fades before the mind,” he said sternly, but then relaxed again. “Why don’t you show us around? I’m not familiar with the Blackmoor period, so I need a knowledgeable guide like you. You know more about it than I do.”

“Okay, Dad,” I said to him. Being able to show off intellectual stuff to him was, really, kind of cool.

Wow, I know something Dad doesn’t. That’s *new*.

A good kind of new.

**************

“You didn’t tell me your parents live in Prance! Your mother is so fashionable!,” Rarity said and ranted about this while I got a snack and a drink; I was very tired but I still had guests and I have shown people around here a billion times.

I don’t know how museum operators avoid dying of exhaustion. I hired someone Twilight recommended to run this place for me since it’s in Canterlot and I have other duties. But maybe I should have hired an Earth pony who wouldn’t get tired easily instead of one of her classmates from Unicorn School.

I also hope I can afford to keep it open even with Celestia helping.

I may need to go on a dungeon raid with Marcus to fund it or something.

“She may forget I exist now,” I mumbled to Rarity.

“What?” Rarity said in confusion.

“You’re everything she ever wanted in a daughter, but she got me. And Twilight’s probably Dad’s ideal daughter,” I said, sighing. The egghead brigade was over by the exhibit of the genetic thing machine; they were arguing over ducks and cows or something. Did someone actually make a duck-cow and why?

It’s not the real machine, just a model; Celestia’s people are studying the real thing but Apple Bloom made a really convincing fake.

It had better be a fake.

Crash was in a very simple red dress now which I am guessing someone made on the spot or maybe Mom just carries dress… of course Mom has emergency dresses for fashion disasters.

“Your mother and I made it for her,” Rarity said, following my gaze. “I had my kit but no material; she had some cloth samples but not her kit. A match made in heaven, though I could have done more if I had been ready. There’s really no excuse for me not being ready to sew at a moment’s notice.”

I sighed and had more cider.

“Don’t drink from the bowl, Dash,” Rarity said chidingly. “And your mother loves you very much and is very sad you never write.”

“She doesn’t write much either,” I grumbled.

I could see Twilight’s parents there, pontificating and talking to Dawn Gleaming and Twilight. They’re probably happy to have two of Twilight.

“I know, she has her fashion empire to oversee,” Rarity said, clearly envious. “Apple Blossom was telling me you helped her get a contract with Fancy Pants for her company; she was quite grateful.”

She did the work, I was just an excuse. “Better give me your element since I’m so generous,” I teased her.

“This place could do with some fancying up but I am very proud of you,” Rarity said warmly. “You’ve done something great.”

“It’s a start,” I told her. “I don’t know where I am going to get the money to keep paying for it, though.” Running Rarity’s business… she must be as much of a math genius as Twilight. I talked to an accountant Celestia recommended and my brain glazed over in three minutes and he was trying to keep it simple.

This is how we ended up in the office of the place with her going over the numbers with me and recommending things, like a souvenir shop. Mother came in and joined us and she was, as always, full of ideas.

They were just useful this time.

“And of course, you can do special exhibits, get various scholarly institutions to help sponsor you and you then help them by exposing their work to the public view,” Mother concluded. “I know students at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns do all sorts of research projects and the professors as well.”

They really had a lot of good advice. I just hadn’t thought about all the complicated parts of this before I built it.

I guess I do rush into things.

“So how did you get so big?” Mother asked me curiously.

“We’re all just so awesome, our bodies had to get bigger to hold it,” I told her.

“Magical side-effects,” Rarity said.

I can’t talk about our quests. So I don’t know what to tell Mom. “It comes from working for Celestia,” I told her.

Mom gave me the Mom look. The one that says ‘I know you’re not telling me something.’

“It’s sealed to the Crown,” Rarity quickly said.

“It’s because Dash is really a toy and now they need a new model to sell!” Pinkie said, sticking her head into the office.

Is she *still* on that?

Mom looked thoughtful in a way which now made me worry, especially when Rarity got the same look.

****************

They had a set of working model plushies by the time the opening party was over; they work fast, especially since they roped Clarity into it. I hadn’t even realized she was here.

Now I wonder if Marjorie is around here, but I didn’t see her.

Soarin’ kissed me in front of the Wonderbolts, who cheered and I turned red. “We’re going to go flying for fun,” he said. “You game?”

“YEAH!” I said and soon I was streaking across the sky, happy as a lark.

Spitfire and I did a double spiral together as the others cheered; she was trailing fire and I regretted I had nothing to trail. Unless I did a rainboom but it was night and I’d probably wake up every little kid in the city.

Then Soarin’ and I got some clouds and did some sky spelling, shaping them to spell out ‘Wonderbolts Rule’ in huge letters, then he got some of Rainmaker’s special stuff and threw it on the clouds; they changed colors to form a rainbow and I turned a little red and smiled.

Rainmaker does their special effects; he’s pretty cool.

Then we went to the Landfall Café; it has Alphatian style food and they have their own reserved room! So Soarin’ and I got to eat in peace with just the rest of his team and their coltfriends and fillyfriends, most of whom I’d never met.

“What’s with your friend thinking everyone in Gear is a toy?” Rainmaker asked me. He’s got a dark green coat and blue and white streaked mane, cut pretty short and curly so it looks like a cloud on his head.

“Pinkie… sometimes she’s a genius and sometimes she’s kind of crazy. She’s a bit of a visionary in all senses,” I told him. “Sometimes it’s really insightful and sometimes she acts like there’s people constantly watching us.”

“We’re the Wonderbolts, people *are* constantly watching us,” Thunderhead, Rainmaker’s fillyfriend, said. She’s pink with a striped white and green mane, long and flowing and very wavy. She’s an actual Wonderbolt; most of them don’t date each other. Soarin’ says it gets messy if something goes wrong.

I can totally see that. Every time Rainmaker glanced at our waitress, Thunderhead twitched.

“I like people looking at me,” Leo said. He’s a tawny gold with a yellow mane; he’s dating Windmachine. He studied me. “I wouldn’t have expected to see Soarin’ dating a brainiac,” he said.

Me? A brainiac?

“Dash is very smart,” Soarin’ said proudly.

“I’ve got it all,” I said proudly. “And the best coltfriend in Equestria.”

“Just don’t be too loud tonight,” Thunderhead said amiably.

EEEEEE.

*******************

I wished I could stay longer but after staying overnight with Soarin’, I had to head back home after a quick consultation with my new museum runner and a few minutes to cry over the shattered remains of my bank account.

I really should have thought about the cost of it all.

There were drunken, unconscious weatherponies still crashed out or moaning about hangovers all over my house when I got home.

“CRASH!” I shouted.

“Hey, you’d best not come in your bedroom for at least five minutes,” she shouted. “The floor won’t be sticky then.”

It’s not the first time this place has been like this but it *is* the first time it happened *without me*.

I eventually chased everyone out, made Crash help and Fluttershy came to help me get it back to where it didn’t smell weird and my hooves didn’t stick to anything.

“Don’t throw parties in my house without inviting me,” I told Crash sternly.

She stuck her tongue out at me, then said, “Your friends are cool,” softly.

“Yeah, we have a good crew,” I told her.

She glanced nervously at Fluttershy, who smiled at her, which made her more nervous. “Anyway, I’d best get back home. We’re going to the Wild Coast in order to investigate another attack on a dragon or something,” Crash said, waving a hoof dismissively. “By the way, if anyone suggests going to Old Thonia… kick their ass for me. I *hate* that place so much!”

“But Old Thonia has the prettiest snails,” Fluttershy said.

Crash, not looking at her, said, “They are on fire and they spit acid and read your mind and fill it with thoughts about how tasty you will be.” She shuddered.

“Not the big ones, the little cute ones,” Fluttershy said. “The swamps are lovely in spring time.”

“Psychic frog-men with temples that turn into giant murderous golems,” Crash said dolefully.

“But you kicked their ass, right?” I said.

“Oh, I kicked their ass, but Cruisin’ was checking out every pony in sight,” she said dolefully. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she continued, sounding grim.

“Kick his ass if he’s an ass,” I said.

“Oh dear, some guys are like that. Does he initiate combat with other men to try to take their mates?” Fluttershy asked.

I’m starting to think the reason Fluttershy never has a coltfriend is that she has some weird ideas about romance.

Rainbow Crash began to wail, and now Fluttershy looked mortified. So I shook her shoulders. “Pull it together,” I told her. “If he wanders around on you, kick his ass.”

“I can’t kick my coltfriend’s ass,” Crash said, then sighed. “Maybe it’s not meant to be, I mean we just… it’s because you and Soarin’…”

Maybe it isn’t meant to be.

But stuff that, we are awesome and we *decide*.

“Do you want him?” I asked.

“I was made to want him,” she mumbled to my hooves as she sat on her haunches.

“I suppose he is the only stallion there,” Fluttershy said thoughtfully. “That may be triggering overconfidence due to a lack of challengers.”

“That’s not an excuse. I was made with wings but I *choose* to fly,” I told her. “Secondguessing myself isn’t in my nature so it shouldn’t be in yours, either. Get up!”

She got up, wobbling.

“Be confident! There’s nothing a Dash can’t do,” I told her. “Decide what you want and go for it. That’s our way.”

“Get some other stallions to join your team, so he has competition and can’t take you for granted,” Fluttershy said.

That could be tricky, given the circumstances of their creation.

Crash closed her eyes, then opened them, looking stronger. I was relieved. “Thanks, Dash. Flu… Fluttershy. I’d best get going. Wherever exactly we’re going. See ya!”

And then she took off.


Have a good adventure, Sister, I thought.

“You should write your mother a nice letter,” Fluttershy said to me.

“I just saw her yesterday,” I told Fluttershy, who gave me the ‘you are disappoint’ look.

With her help, I wrote Mom a long letter about everything. Maybe we’ll get on better in the future. I think…

She really is proud of me.

I don’t even know how to live with a Mom who is proud of me.

But I feel proud of me too. This is just a beginning but it’s a good beginning. But one little memorial museum isn’t enough. People have to know. They have to remember.

Fluttershy and I laid out on my roof, soaking up sun. “Well, now I can relax a little.”

“Don’t you have training with Scootaloo?,” Fluttershy said.

A teacher’s work is never over.

Me, a *teacher*. I guess I am growing up.

But that’s not a bad thing.

The End.

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