• Published 26th Aug 2017
  • 4,913 Views, 778 Comments

To Perytonia - Cloudy Skies



Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity are tasked with establishing ties between Equestria and the strange people of Perytonia. Understanding and connecting with your own friends may yet be the bigger challenge. Updates every Tuesday and Saturday!

  • ...
12
 778
 4,913

Chapter 10

We are travelling again, and it is every bit as horrid as I had imagined. This very moment, I can only think that for all of its flaws (lack of heating, a criminal disregard for hot water in our room, and beds a tad too hard for my taste!), I would happily spend another week in Stagrum. Or a month.

Somehow I am the first one to wake up today, probably on account of my poor, poor aching hooves. My first stop when we get home is the spa, and the first item on the list, a pedicure. My mane is truly in a state as well, but that much is obvious.

I make no progress in trying to think of an expression of fashion to woo these peryton. There must be some essential element of a dress that they can appreciate. With the stress of trying to keep up with Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, I did not need an artistic drought—but, I hear them waking up now.

-R


Scarlett tweeted sharply. Fluttershy could read a lot into those little tweets and chirps, but all Dash could tell was that she seemed happy enough. She could hear no deeper meaning, and certainly no answer to her question.

“So, what did she say?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“She says she doesn’t know exactly when the peryton usually stop,” Fluttershy replied. She giggled when the little red fluffball flew off her head to sit on the rim of their cart instead, still chirping away with her high-pitched trills. “Their wagons stand still mid-day whenever she follows them for scraps, but she can’t tell time very well, you know. She’s just a little Wibbler.”

On their right, they passed more peryton wagons by. It was the biggest trade caravan they’d seen yet, and Dash counted eight wagons so far, all parked by the road-side under the ascending sun. She had no idea how many more there were. The road curved ever so slightly to follow the river’s bend, obscuring the path ahead. All around, jewelled peryton rested in the shadows of their large wagons, and some moved to and fro the nearby river. She could hear some of them splashing around in the water.

“Regardless, even if they stop a little earlier than we had planned to stop ourselves, perhaps we should follow their example,” said Rarity with a glance overhead. “I think it is a little more than an hour until the sun is at its peak.”

“Sure,” said Dash. She moved the cart to the left side of the road, opposite of a peryton wagon-team. Two does and two stags rested there, some with half-lidded eyes, some asleep with their heads resting on the others’ flanks. One of the does snored loudly.

“You don’t mind, do you?” Rarity added once Dash slipped out from the cart’s harness. She sought Dash’s eyes, and it was all Dash could do to shrug. She felt about as tired as Rarity looked herself, and she leaned down to wipe sweat her forehead with the nook of a leg.

“No? Why would I?”

Rarity shook her head. “It’s quite alright, never mind. I’ll go fetch us some water, perhaps?”

“That would be very nice of you,” said Fluttershy. “But I can do it if you don’t want to. Or maybe we could take turns when we take our mid-day rests from now on?”

“I think that sounds fair, but I’ll go first,” said Rarity, smiling at her. She secured two wooden bowls with her magic and made for the river, saying her hellos to the peryton she passed. Fluttershy grabbed her book from the saddlebags on the cart, and Rainbow Dash lay down to rest next to her in the meager shadow offered by their small cart. They’d taken a food break not long ago, so she didn’t feel particularly hungry.

“I think there are supposed to be Wibblers of every colour,” said Fluttershy, leafing through the pages. Scarlett hopped down from the cart to fly off into the forest. “Have you seen any of the blue ones so far? They’re only supposed to come out at dusk and at dawn.”

“Don’t think so,” said Dash. She turned left, then right, looking up and down the length of the road as far as she could see. None of the wagons had tarps over them, and there didn’t seem to be much need for it anyway. “All their wagons are nearly empty,” she mused.

Fluttershy made a little noise by way of a question, but didn’t look up. Dash poked her with a wing and pointed to the wagons, earning her a curious look from one of the peryton who lay by the wagon across the road.

“Their wagons are all nearly empty,” she repeated, in case Fluttershy hadn’t heard.

“Maybe they’re on their way to pick up things?” Fluttershy suggested.

“Maybe.”

“Oh, no, wait,” said Fluttershy, frowning. “That doesn’t make sense. Unless the Ephydoeran peryton also wear jewels in their antlers, I think these are all from Stagrum. Maybe you could ask them?”

“Nah,” said Dash. “They’re probably gonna be all secretive about it like the other guys were. They’re super careful about their trading stuff, and even if they’re not, I don’t care that much. Whatever. Thanks, Rarity,” she added when the unicorn returned, drinking greedily from one of the water bowls. She’d been nursing a growing headache for a while. Rarity smiled back and brought out the tarp they kept in case of rain.

With a little magic, Rarity stretched the tarp out over them, fastening it to the cart and tying it to the nearest tree with a simple knot from a silken ribbon. Soon, the tarp stretched out overhead, providing enough shade for the three ponies without needing to huddle by the cart or in the imperfect cover of the trees themselves

“That’s a neat trick,” Dash admitted.

“I saw some of the peryton down by the water do it,” Rarity said, laying down and closing her eyes. “Now, wake me when we need to move again, please, and not a moment sooner. I swear, all this walking is going to ruin my figure.”

“You’ll be fine,” Dash laughed. “You’ll be the fittest unicorn in all of Ponyville.”

“That’s precisely what I am afraid of.” Rarity snorted, but did not stir.

“Well, thank you anyway, Rarity,” said Fluttershy between drinks. She glanced up at their makeshift cover. “I guess the peryton have had some practice walking in hot weather, so taking a few pages out of their book is a good idea. Since they are larger than us, they probably move faster, though, so they can afford longer breaks.”

“Move faster on the ground, maybe,” Dash said. “Still bet I can outfly them.”

“I just think we’re being a little reckless moving so much,” said Fluttershy without acknowledging Dash’s cocky grin. “Taking a longer break mid-day is probably smart. I’m sure it’ll be fine anyway.”

“Honestly, all this talk about walking is getting dreary,” Rarity muttered without opening her eyes. “Enough that we have to deal with it every hour of every day, but I could stand not to be reminded that I’m slowing us down as I drag my hooves.”

Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy exchanged glances. Dash shrugged. She didn’t have much more to say on the topic anyway. She spread one of her wings and started cleaning her feathers instead, having wanted to do that ever since her little flight that morning. Perytonian trees were even better at hiding than Equestrian trees, and that one particular branch she’d clipped came out of nowhere.

“Hey, Fluttershy. Did you dream anything tonight?” Dash asked.

“Not that I remember,” said Fluttershy, looking up from her book. “Why? I’m sorry, did I talk in my sleep?”

“Nah, just curious,” said Dash, working a small twig out from between her primaries. “What do you usually dream about, anyway?”

Fluttershy tilted her head and bent one of her ears. “Um, I don’t think we’ve talked about that since flight school.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dash. She strained her neck and tried to get at one of the feathers at the base of her wing, but she just couldn’t. A single leaf stuck between two of the very few feathers she couldn’t reach. Typical.

“Nothing very special, I think,” Fluttershy went on, lowering her voice a touch. “I usually don’t remember. I dream about flying, sometimes. Really high up. It’s scary, but I don’t think they’re nightmares.”

“Flying,” Dash echoed, staring at her.

“Really, really high up,” Fluttershy said. “That’s the only dream I remember that I’ve had many times.”

“Heh, alright, cool,” said Dash. She made another push for the one feather she couldn’t reach. “I wonder what Twilight and the others—agh, come on—are up to.”

“I hope they have better weather than we do,” Fluttershy said, sighing softly. “And I really hope they’re okay.”

“Of course they are, I just wanna know what they’re doing.” Dash grinned. “Do you think they’ve been to a big festival, or had a swim with some weird toothy sea creatures?”

Fluttershy smiled at that. “Probably not. Do you think they’ve had a fashion show that was also a dancing routine?”

Dash glowered. “Seriously, you’re not allowed to call it dancing. When I try to dance, you’ll know it, but that wasn’t it.”

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m sure they’ve had some fun, too, anyway.”

“With Pinkie there, probably,” Dash replied, stretching her wing out in full. “Hey, help me out. One of the feathers near the edge is bent, d’you see it?”

Fluttershy leaned a little closer and squinted, reaching out to point at it. “This one?”

“Yeah. Can you yank it?”

Fluttershy raised a brow. “You don’t have to worry about those little feathers at all, you know. They’re not used for guidance or for anything else, really.”

“Hey, it’s not about worrying or whatever, it’s about perfection,” Dash protested. “I can’t reach it, and I want it gone. Just bite and yank.”

Fluttershy shook her head slowly. “I don’t think I can, I’m sorry.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Do you have teeth, Fluttershy? Yes, yes you do. You absolutely can do it.”

“It’s not that,” said Fluttershy, frowning at Dash. “It’s really close to the base of your wing. That one’s going to hurt a lot more than the feather I pulled from my own wing yesterday.”

“Yep. Going to hurt a lot.” Dash flexed her wing in Fluttershy’s face. Rarity shifted where she lay, and Dash lowered her voice a little for the unicorn’s benefit. “But it’s fine.”

“It’s not fine. I’m not comfortable hurting anyone,” Fluttershy hissed back. “And especially not you!”

Rainbow Dash groaned. She really needed that feather gone, and Fluttershy wouldn’t mind half as much if she knew how much it meant to Dash—once it was done.

“You can’t hurt me, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow Dash. “I’m asking you to do it.”

Fluttershy looked left, right, everywhere but at Rainbow Dash, breathing a little faster. “Rainbow Dash, you care more about your wings than any pegasus I know. If I don’t do it right—what if I make a mistake?”

“There’s no way to make a mistake, and don’t worry about it! I’m just asking you to pull a feather!” Dash said.

“I—I don’t know—”

“Please?” added Dash, and finally Fluttershy met her eyes. The other pegasus puffed out her cheeks and let out a long breath.

“Okay,” Fluttershy whispered, finally nodding. She shuffled around and leaned in closer to Rainbow Dash’s wing, her snout right by the mischievous feather. “This one?”

“Yep!”

Fluttershy bit down on the feather and looked askance at Rainbow Dash one more time.

“Just do it! Come o—oww oh wow that stings,” Dash hissed between gritted teeth. Her wing snapped shut on reflex, and Fluttershy froze, wide-eyed with terror, the loose feather in her mouth. Dash took a deep breath, then another, and the pain was gone, replaced by the knowledge that her wings were in perfect order once more. She spread open the wing again and smiled lazily.

“Thanks, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow Dash. She rested the wing on Fluttershy’s back for a second. “I couldn’t have done that myself.”

The fear in Fluttershy’s eyes melted away, her ears perked up, and her wings loosened again. She spat out the feather, licked her lips and nodded, tentatively smiling back.


They started moving when the trade caravan did, and that was mostly because the hustle and bustle of dozens of peryton all shouting orders and rousing each other made it rather hard to sleep. The ponies received a few waves, some smiles, and the occasional greeting in passing the Stagrumite wagon teams going the opposite way, and the three were happy to return them. They met no other traders the rest of the day, and kept to the plan of moving a little faster as they got closer to sundown. Dash meant to ask how so many peryton fit inside the single statue they rested at that night, but Rarity pointed out subtle signs of the peryton having parked their wagons all over the place and put up shelters of their own.

“Yet still they cannot keep their roads in a decent state!” Rarity exclaimed when Dash pulled the cart over a particularly large rock embedded in the ground. The cart jumped, and Rarity winced. “I have half a mind to bring this up before their princess-person.”

The weather got hotter still. Each day, their pace slowed, they extended their mid-day breaks little by little, and they upped their pace in the mornings and the evenings to compensate. Dash wasn’t too worried. Even if they hadn’t made it to the shelter statues shortly after sundown, it wouldn’t be a huge problem. It neither rained nor froze during the nights, and the forest floor was infinitely more comfortable than the hard dirt of the coast.

All around them, the forest grew thicker. It took Fluttershy pointing it out for Rainbow Dash to really notice, as it happened by degrees. The trees were denser, larger, and today—though Dash had no luck convincing the others—she swore they got twistier too.

They were definitely larger, though, and every day they found new plants in the undergrowth they hadn’t seen before, flowers, berries and grasses all. Over the past few days, what had begun as a flat road following a mainly straight river became a twisting and turning path that climbed small earthen banks and hills more often than not. The river Meronna dropped out of sight every now and then, and in other places it flowed like a torrent so close to the road Dash could feel the spray of water upon her face.

Rainbow Dash was content pulling the cart to make sure they kept moving, but whenever one of the others took a turn, she flew to give her hooves a rest, and even Fluttershy took to the air once in a while. Rarity did not have that luxury, and it didn’t help that for the past few days, she had tried hard to keep herself awake after they stopped, working with her sketches and fabrics in a daze. Presently, Rarity fiddled with the straps of the harness during the first short break of the morning leg of the day’s journey.

“She said she was fine with doing it,” Dash said. “What’s the problem?”

“There is no problem. We are all doing our part, and when it is my turn to fetch water, then I’ll fetch the water,” Rarity retorted. She blinked heavily, and the glow of her magic fizzled out before the straps were fully undone. She lit her horn and tried again.

Dash rolled her eyes. “You’re pulling the cart. It’s just a short stop, so don’t worry about it. Fluttershy can get the water. I can do it. You don’t have to if you’re tired.”

Rarity said nothing, finally freeing herself from the cart and grabbing their wooden water-bowls, setting off towards the river.

“It’s okay. I can fetch water next time,” said Fluttershy with an uneasy smile. “Rarity? Are you—”

“It’s not okay,” said Dash, stomping a hoof on the ground. “Rarity, what the hay is going on with you? Last time we stopped, I told you Fluttershy and I could set up the shade with the tarp and everything, but you got all mad!”

Rarity turned on the spot, her legs lost in the tall grasses of the forest. “Nothing is going on, except that I am tired, and I’m fetching water!” she snapped.

Rainbow Dash glared right back at her. She didn’t give the unicorn a chance to take it back, to mutter an apology, or run off in a huff. This particular scene had played out entirely too many times over the past few days, and it was grating.

“You’re not fetching water, you’re being dumb,” Dash said. “Who the hay spat in your oats? You keep, I don’t know—”

“Whining?” asked Rarity. She let the bowls fall to the ground and drew herself up, staring through narrowed eyes. “I know I am holding us back, Rainbow Dash, and I am sure the two of you have your own problems with sore wings or what-have you, but if you are still not happy with the pace we are keeping because of me, then I apologise for that.”

Dash blinked. “What?”

Fluttershy pawed at the ground. “Rarity—”

“I know you would rather we run all the way to Ephydoera—a place I am coming to dislike before I have ever seen it,” Rarity said, raising her voice. “But I am just a unicorn, and a unicorn who doesn’t have Twilight’s repertoire of magical spells, at that. I’m sorry, dear.”

“I... don’t have a problem with our ‘pace’ or anything,” Dash said. “I told you days ago, didn’t I? Are you still on that?” She looked to Fluttershy for support, for an explanation, for anything to help her make sense of this. Fluttershy made a soft little noise that could mean anything and started moving towards Rarity, and Dash followed. She stopped a stride away, while Fluttershy hugged an unresisting Rarity.

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Fluttershy. “We’ll listen.”

Rarity leaned into the hug and closed her eyes, deflating. She looked past Fluttershy’s mane at Rainbow Dash, her face unreadable for the moment.

“I haven’t said anything about you being slow,” said Dash. She frowned. “Okay, not that I remember, but I probably haven’t said it a lot, anyway.”

“But you’ve been thinking it,” said Rarity. She shook her head and gave Fluttershy a squeeze before letting her go, muttering her thanks. “I know I’ve been a little irritable lately. It’s not just the wear and tear of the road and the heat. I don’t relish being the one holding us back.”

Fluttershy nuzzled Rarity. “That doesn’t sound like you at all. I mean, not that I think you would like holding anypony back, but… you know what I mean, I’m sure. Is there something else bothering you?” She gave the unicorn gentle a smile and a look full of concern.

“All this talk about trotting and moving faster, trying to get to this city before the storm—” Rarity sighed and rubbed at her eyes. “It is not very pleasant coming at the tail end of my failure to create anything of use. The more I think about the way my creations have been received so far, and with myself not being half as athletic as you two, I rather feel like dead weight.”

Fluttershy gasped, her mouth hanging open. Where she looked aghast, Dash felt a fire growing in her own heart.

“That’s stupid,” Dash said. She jabbed Rarity in the chest with a hoof, stepping closer to force Rarity back. “You’re the one who’s done most of the talking and everything—and who cares about the walking and whatever? You’re trying your best!” Her breath came quicker and quicker, and her heart hammered in her chest. Rarity was a lot easier to deal with when she whined. These days, she barely complained at all, and for all that it made Dash respect her, Rarity usually worked as hard as any other two ponies. This nonsense just made Dash angry.

“I think you’re maybe even trying a little too hard,” added Fluttershy. “I worry about you, Rarity.”

“Yeah!” said Dash. “I don’t give a hoot about how fast we’re moving. You’ve got to take care of yourself. You look like you’re about to fall over!”

“I’m f—” Rarity began.

“You’re not fine!” Dash cried. She plopped her rump down on the grass and crossed her forelegs. “That’s it. We’re taking an extra break, right now! A long one.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. Dash thought she could see the beginnings of a smile lurking, but the unicorn schooled her face, slowly walking towards the cart, unfolding the tarp.

“Let’s at least rest in the shade if you’re going act like a foal about it,” said Rarity.

When they had shade and water both, Dash felt a little more calm, and it looked like Rarity had cooled off in both senses of the word as well. It was as good a time as any to get some stupid apology out of the way if she had to.

“Alright, I’m sorry,” Dash said. There. Over and done with.

“For what?” asked Fluttershy and Rarity in chorus.

“If I’m trying to hurry you two up or whatever, and I’m being a butt about it,” Dash said, flicking her ears.

Fluttershy took a sip of water. She looked over at Rarity, but the unicorn didn’t seem inclined to comment, so she cleared her voice. “I don’t think you’ve been unreasonable. But, um… if Rarity thinks so—”

“I haven’t. You haven’t,” said Rarity, looking pointedly at the ground in front of them. “That was never the problem. Or, well, of course it is a problem, and I do wish I had Twilight’s magical talent or something to help me keep up with the two of you—but I am afraid giving my best is still not very good.”

“The only thing that’s not ‘good’ is you complaining about yourself,” Dash said, suppressing a growl.

“You said there was something else bothering you,” said Fluttershy. She shuffled a little closer until she lay side to side with Rarity, and the unicorn reached out to lay one of her forelegs across Fluttershy’s.

“You’re very kind, but it’s nothing new. I’ve mentioned I’m having something of an artistic crisis trying to decide on what to create. A fashionista’s work is never done, but in Ponyville I at least had the luxury of—” she hesitated, crinkling her snout. “—of hiding myself away during my more unsavoury moments.”

“You’ve been pushing yourself,” Fluttershy said, leaning against her. “And you’ve worked very hard. Maybe you could give it a little time? You don’t need to stress yourself out over it. Maybe you could try taking a break from fashion-related things? We could watch some birds together.”

Rarity drew back. “Darling, fashion is why I am here. To show the peryton the wonders of my work, of Equestrian fashion altogether. I realise that planning ahead is a little challenging when we don’t know what’s in front of us, but if an opportunity arises to create something that appeals to peryton sensibilities while also showing off Equestria’s fashion potential, I must be ready!”

“That’s not why we’re here at all,” said Dash, tilting her head. “We’re here to give their leader an invitation to Canterlot, remember?”

“Yes, yes,” said Rarity, nodding along. “Of course, that is our task as a group, by all means. That’s why we are travelling to Cotronna, I haven’t lost sight of that.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her jaw and kept her silence. She met Fluttershy’s eyes, and the other pegasus said nothing, either. Arguing with Rarity about the importance of fashion—or the lack thereof—was something you did once, and never again. Dash just let it drop and instead settled for a companionable silence once it was clear everypony was okay. She lay still for approximately six seconds before she got bored.

“Okay, if we’re cool, I’m gonna go for a flight, seeya later!” Dash declared. She spread her wings before she’d even fully stood up, jetting towards the canopy in a flash. She looped around the top branches and flapped her wings hard, catapulting herself into the open air, flying straight up and exulting in the rush of wind against her face. It was still early enough that the sun didn’t punish her too much for it, so the only reason she stopped was to make sure she could still see her friends far below. She memorised the rough shape of the river nearby and flew on, chasing any interesting change in currents that she could use, gliding and flying, corkscrewing and flipping around.

It was all forest. Greens, yellows, almost-blues and the occasional patches of more vivid reds in between the trees, visible only when she let herself fall closer to the ground before she inevitably climbed again. When she was at her highest, she could see the change in the forest in a different way. Far, far to the east, where they had been days ago, the forest was flat—or more flat, at any rate. Below, and to the west and south-west, the Khosta was lumpier than Dash’s bedroom floor after a storm. The entire forest seemed to rear up, climbing to mimic the mountains in the distant west. She thought she saw something glitter near the grey mountaintops, but she couldn’t find it again. Probably a trick of the light. With sunlight this sharp, everything gleamed.

The landscape was as complicated and foreign as the sky and the air itself was familiar to Rainbow Dash. She closed her eyes and hovered in place, imagining she was back home for a moment. Without sight, there was only ever one sky, always known to her, always there to hold on to. Nopony could take that away from her. As much as she loved her friends, sometimes you just had to fly. Not that she’d mind if her friends came flying with her, though. She should’ve asked Fluttershy to come along.

They’d spent a lot of time close together, like a really, really long slumber party, and so far, it had mostly been awesome. At least now that Rarity was better. Dash hoped she was feeling better. Fluttershy seemed to hold up well, too, most of the time.

Most of the time. Dash flicked her tail in annoyance and splayed her ears. She let herself drift, flying in large, lazy circles in a thermal rising from a forest clearing below. Still she couldn’t stop thinking about what Rarity had said the day after they left Orto. Every time she saw anything but happiness on Fluttershy’s face, Rainbow Dash found herself back on the cliffs overseeing the shore, Rarity telling her that she could be a bit pushy.

Most recently, Dash couldn’t forget the look of worry in Fluttershy’s eyes when she’d been asked to yank out one of Dash’s feathers. She’d looked pained, scared, worried—a combination of those things, or maybe all of them. Unhappy, was the point.

Dash had been right about the end result. Afterwards, Fluttershy seemed truly happy she could help Dash out, and Dash herself was happy that Fluttershy could forget about ever hurting her. It’d seemed simple enough to her. Fluttershy needed a little push, just like she needed a little help to get on board with the idea of flying the cart over the brook. She hadn’t put her hoof down like when she didn’t want to get up on the stage in Stagrum. Things had worked out in both of those cases, so why couldn’t she stop thinking about it?

Was it different from when they had gone swimming with the snickersnouts? Probably. Then, Fluttershy had just needed Rainbow Dash’s help to do something Fluttershy herself wanted to do in the first place—and she’d been really happy then, too. There was no pain when Fluttershy did the things she obviously wanted to do, only when Dash tried to get her to do things that she thought Fluttershy wanted to do. Or were they things Dash wanted Fluttershy to do?

Rainbow Dash upped her pace, annoyed and confused already. She followed the outer edge of the thermal, angling herself downwards against it, picking up speed. She’d seen Fluttershy uncomfortable and scared a lot recently, but that was hardly news. She was Fluttershy. Dash just hadn’t thought about it much until now.

Did that make her a bad pony? Dash snorted loudly. She let herself drop, then pulled up again, weaving up and down in the air like the snickersnouts through the sea. Still faster, ever faster.

She couldn’t shake the images of Fluttershy worrying, of Fluttershy in pain—and the idea that she was the one causing it. Before, she’d only cared about the smile that came at the end of her pushing Fluttershy along. No. That was a lie. Of course she’d always cared. She’d only noticed everything else recently, perhaps.

Rainbow Dash veered sharply to the left and shot off back towards her friends, her mane straight out behind her, hurtling through the air on momentum alone. Whatever. I can’t read minds, she thought. She could read the weather, though. Far to the west, beyond the mountains, a huge layer of clouds rested uneasily on the other side of tall peaks, and unless the wind worked differently here in Perytonia, they were heading this way.


Rainbow Dash was right, of course. The clouds were heading their way. She honestly wasn’t completely sure at first, but when she convinced Fluttershy to come up and have a look—she was great at all the visual weather stuff—they both agreed that they would be in for some heavy rain. The evening was dry and hot, and so was the entirety of the next day, but Rainbow Dash could tell that the day after would be a wet one. Today, it would rain. Then again, Rarity could’ve said as much even without feathers to tell her the air pressure was dropping. As they followed the road ever west, the clear blue skies were gradually eaten up by a grey blanket that brought with it a wave of humidity.

“And you are certain this is not the storm that all the peryton have been so nervous about,” Rarity asked, not for the first time.

“Yep, and nope,” said Dash.

“It’s just rain,” Fluttershy said, and from atop her head, Scarlett tweeted something that might have been agreement. The little bird never strayed far, and today she’d nested in Fluttershy’s mane all day long.

They were moving at a speedy trot now, and Fluttershy laboured hard to move the cart while Dash took a flying breather to give her legs some rest. She’d pulled their heavily loaded cart all day except for their noon break. They even risked a brief canter earlier to cover more ground, spurred on by Fluttershy’s breakfast comment about how getting caught in the rain might be a bad idea. The cart getting stuck in the mud wasn’t anypony’s notion of fun.

Running for a bit, on the other hoof, had been fun, even if it had taken its toll. Rainbow Dash’s legs ached, and even her wings were feeling it since she flew any time she didn’t pull the cart. At least Rarity did well. The unicorn hadn’t even broken a sweat.

“If you breathe a word about this, Rainbow Dash, I will not forgive you,” Rarity said. Apparently Dash had failed to hide her grin when she looked over at her.

“Relax! Who am I gonna tell?” asked Dash, wiping sweat from her brow. “And what am I gonna tell? Everything’s completely normal!”

Rarity’s only reply was a glare through half-lidded eyes, but her heart wasn’t in it. Rainbow Dash flew a little closer to Fluttershy.

“Hey, Fluttershy. Let me know if you need a break. Give me like ten minutes and I can pull the chariot again. Er, the cart. I meant cart, honest.” Dash snickered.

“Somehow, that is even less funny than the previous five times,” said Rarity, holding on to the rim of the cart. “I only hope that we haven’t broken some sort of no-littering law or taboo by leaving the empty water jugs behind.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” said Dash. “You wouldn’t fit on the cart otherwise, and we have the river for water anyway. Just enjoy the ride!”

“Enjoy?” Rarity asked, shooting her a deadpan look. “I have serious issues with the seating arrangements, so enjoyment is not in the cards. If you move any faster, I’ll fall off!” She sighed. “All the same, thank you. Both of you,” Rarity added, her annoyance quickly spent.

“It is—” said Fluttershy between breaths. “—no problem. No problem. At all.”

Dash flew right above Rarity, flipping upside down. “Hey, at least there are no peryton on the roads to laugh at us if you think it’s that embarrassing. I still don’t see the big deal. We’ve all flown in chariots before.”

Rarity furrowed her brow and hummed. For a second, the wagon rattled along the road in relative silence outside of Scarlett’s occasional bursts of song. Dash had already started to tune out the fluffball’s noises anyway.

“We haven’t seen any peryton for days now, thinking on it.”

Dash’s ears perked at Rarity’s words. “Huh. Yeah. I guess it’s because of these ‘seven days of storm’.”

“Seven suns,” said Rarity. “I believe that’s what they called it, but as far as I gather, yes, that’s the same thing. I suppose if anyone left either of the cities now, they wouldn’t make it to the next city safely in time.”

“Yeah,” said Dash. “And speaking of time, we’re running out of it. We’re still not fast enough.” She pointed up above—or, well, below, what with the flying upside down and all. The clouds were closing fast, and the sun disappeared behind the cover of grey, quickly muting the light. Fluttershy’s little bird-friend clambered down from her head to hide under her mane.

“Rarity, can you put the tarp over our stuff and still stay on top without crushing my saddlebags?” Dash felt a plan coming on. It was a one-step plan, but a plan nevertheless.

“To stop it all from getting wet? Of course, but I think I’d rather walk,” answered Rarity. She shuffled to the side and opened her chest, but closed it again when the cart shook ever so slightly. “If you just stop the cart for a moment—”

“Fluttershy! Are you good to fly?” asked Rainbow Dash, wiping her brow and touching down next to her. “Let me have the cart!”

Fluttershy brought the cart to a halt, perhaps sensing the urgency in Dash’s voice. Rarity yelped and clutched the rim of the cart, but whatever complaints she had were lost to Dash, who only noticed with satisfaction that the unicorn set to covering the cart.

Rainbow Dash worked Fluttershy free from the harness, and Fluttershy neither protested nor asked any questions. Probably because she was breathing hard, too exhausted to speak at the moment. Her expression bore a loud question, really, but Rainbow Dash didn’t bother commenting. They could stay and get their cart stuck in the mud over and over—probably listen to Rarity whine about getting dirty for hours on end—or they could get out of here.

Dash leaned in close to Fluttershy. “Okay, nod once if you’re good to fly, shake your head if you don’t think you can fly at all.” Predictably, Fluttershy did neither of those. The other pegasus hesitated.

“Good enough,” said Dash. “Rarity, how’s the tarp coming?”

“It’ll keep the rain out,” said Rarity, clambering back atop the covered cart with exaggerated care. “But it’s even less comfortable now. I’ll dismount the moment the rain hits. What are you—”

Rainbow Dash put a foreleg around Fluttershy’s neck and leaned closer still. She couldn’t stop from grinning wide. “You just hold on to the cart and spread your wings. Fly if you can, let me glide you along if you can’t. Alright?” Dash didn’t wait for an answer. She strapped herself in just in time to feel the first raindrop hit her face. “This is gonna be awesome,” she added, just to herself.

“Rainbow Dash? What are you planning?” asked Rarity. “No, actually, forget I said that: are you planning anything? Because I find I don’t like the prospect at all.”

“Oh, and Fluttershy?” Dash asked.

“Yes?”

“If Rarity falls off, you gotta catch her. Cool? Cool.”

Rainbow Dash kicked off straight into a gallop. Her hooves ached and her wings were still tired, but it didn’t matter. Two seconds of run-up was all she needed. Her passing left a dust-storm ending in the middle of the road to become a rainbow trail pointing to a little two-wheeled cart rocketing off in a skywards arc with a high-pitched cackle and an un-ladylike scream of “Rainbow Dash!” on the wind.


“This may just be the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Rarity called over the driving rain. “I am revoking your planning privileges!”

“It’s fine!” said Dash. “Everything is fine and amazing, and more importantly, fast!”

“Which is wonderful, except if the entire point was to avoid getting wet, that ship has well and truly sailed,” Rarity retorted. “In fact, I would be less wet if I fell off an actual ship!” Rainbow Dash glanced over her back to where Rarity clung to the cart, her mane soaked and a trail of droplets becoming mist in the cart’s wake.

“The idea was to avoid getting stuck,” Dash replied. She wiped her face and trained her eyes ahead again, grinning despite the way her wings stung, despite the fact that she could really go for a pair of flight goggles right now. “Whoa, sit still,” she added, adjusting when the cart shook. Rarity shrieked.

“I am sitting still!”

“Guess it’s the wind then,” Dash said, taking the cart a little lower still. Darkened tree-tops rushed by below, the river’s flow frenzied under the heavy rainfall. Anything more than that, Rainbow Dash couldn’t see clearly. Great big drops smashed against her face, and though the wind wasn’t too bad, certain other factors made the flight a fair bit more challenging.

“Just so you know, this isn’t the easiest thing I’ve done,” Dash shouted. “This thing wasn’t made for passengers. Or flying.”

Really,” said Rarity. “I never noticed.”

“Yeah,” said Dash, nodding to herself. Another small gust of wind. She banked slightly to make up for it. “The profile’s all off, and it’s too heavy for how big it is, I think. It drags too much!”

Rarity scoffed. “Yes, that is the issue with your plan. I am too heavy.”

Rainbow Dash groaned. “You can’t be angry at me for saying you’re getting fit from all this walking, and be angry with me for saying that you’re heavy—which was not what I was saying anyway!”

“I absolutely can!” Rarity snapped. “It’s not as though those are mutually exclusive, either. One can be large and still have room for more distinction in one’s figure. Look at Applejack!”

“Whoa!” Dash said, glaring at Rarity over her shoulder. “What the hay does that mean?”

Rarity stared right back at her. “It means that Applejack has a wonderful body, Rainbow. That was not an insult, and she’s beautiful, but just because it is perfect for her does not make it the body type I wish for myself!”

“Right,” Dash said, snorting. “Fine, but stop yelling at me so I can focus—”

“I am yelling, snarking, and generally being difficult because I am scared, Rainbow Dash!” Rarity replied, her voice shrill.

“So don’t be!” Dash retorted. She scanned the horizon quickly, and thought she could see a familiar speck of yellow ahead. Fluttershy on the return, finally.

“Oh yes, that helps—oh, oh dear,” said Rarity.

“What?”

“Something fell off!” Rarity called.

Sure enough, Rainbow Dash saw something spinning as it fell towards the forest below, already far behind them. She sucked in breath through clenched teeth. “Okay, that’s bad. Uh, should we turn around? D’you see what it was?”

“I think it was the compass I bought in Orto,” said Rarity, sighing loud enough to be heard even over the downpour.

“Oh. Whew, never mind then,” said Dash. All the talk wasn’t helping the growing fatigue. Her wings had stung for a good while now, and that wasn’t a good sign, but now the rest of her body caught up and she genuinely started to feel tired.

Never mind?” Rarity asked.

“I told you! You’re travelling with two pegasi! I never understood what you wanted with that!” Dash said. Fluttershy fell in at Dash’s side, turning around and matching her speed.

“It would’ve made a wonderful souvenir, or something for the mantelpiece,” Rarity huffed.

“Rarity, you don’t have a mantelpiece!” Dash countered.

“Did—did I miss something?” Fluttershy asked, clearly still trying to catch her breath.

“No!” said Rarity and Rainbow Dash in chorus.

Fluttershy blinked, shook her head, and pushed her rain-slick mane out of her face. “Okay, the road still follows the river, and I think there’s a landing spot up ahead. Do you see the cliff?”

Rainbow Dash strained her eyes. She couldn’t see a cliff, but up ahead, the dark shadow of the forest rose up.

“I think so,” Dash said.

Fluttershy nodded, flapping her wings a few times to keep from drifting behind Dash, whose wings worked constantly. “It’s where the road meets the cliffs.”

“Cool,” said Dash, grinning. “Up high.”

Fluttershy smiled back and held out a hoof. Dash punched it lightly and put her head down, flying on. Having Fluttershy as an advance flier was invaluable for making sure they were on the right track—just in case the road drifted from the river—but she could tell the other pegasus was tired as well. It should be late afternoon or early evening at worst, but in the heavy rain and under the total cloud cover, it was impossible to tell. They’d been in the air for a while anyway.

“How’s your little bird friend?” asked Rarity, sounding a little more calm now. When Dash looked over at Fluttershy, she could just barely spot a touch of red peeking out from the tresses of Fluttershy’s drenched mane.

“She’s fine,” Fluttershy replied, flying a little closer to the cart. “Are you okay, Rarity?”

“I can tell you ‘no’, or you can look at the state of my mane and my tail for a summary of my well-being,” Rarity retorted. Fluttershy just smiled and shook her head at that.

Up ahead, the hill, ridge or cliff—the bit where the forest rose, anyway—closed in. As they drew near, Dash could spot rock amidst the forest colours, showing a sheer cliff separating the lower and the upper forest areas, along with her first look at the road in a while. Even flying low, the riverside road hid beneath a still denser canopy, but ahead of them, the road wound its way up the cliffside. Not far away, Dash spotted a bare patch of ground.

“That it?” Dash asked, pointing.

“I think so!” Fluttershy replied. “I didn’t get a close look, but I think that’s a good place to stop.”

Rainbow Dash turned the cart a little bit, heading towards the clearing by the cliffside. She didn’t ask for specifics. She didn’t really care what the place was, because they really needed to stop. An overloaded cart was certainly not a chariot, and her wings were getting stiff from not being able to glide at all—and from constant work of fighting the wind and rain. The wind would pick up, too. She could tell.

“Are all the other animals going to be okay?” asked Rarity, her head down against the rain now. “I remember you having to help evacuate animals in Whitetail Woods last fall during that awful downpour!”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re okay,” Fluttershy replied. “Scarlett says—” she paused for breath. “She says all the birds hide in between the tree-trunks with the little rodents. This is the furthest west she’s ever been, but everywhere she knows of, they’re used taking care of themselves.” She sounded a little saddened by that. Dash just shook her head at the weirdness of it all.

“If you say so, dear,” Rarity replied. “Any other interesting animal details to keep me from thinking about how my hooves are going numb? I don’t know if I can hold on forever.”

“We’re nearly there,” said Dash, slowly letting them drop. Finally, she’d get a moment’s rest. If she’d known they’d be flying this far, she wished she had thought to switch places with Fluttershy at some point. Not because she needed to, of course, but because she was sure Fluttershy could pull it off, too.

Then again, the missed opportunity didn’t sting that bad. They’d get another chance, probably, and this way, she didn’t have to deal with seeing Fluttershy nervous or scared at the prospect. She didn’t have to try to convince her.

“Alright, landing! Hold on to your flanks!” Dash announced. The clearing closed quickly, a hole in the dense forest nestled in a nook between river and cliff, right next to a waterfall where the river Meronna rushed off the top of the cliff in a torrent.

The rain whipped against her face and her hair became a trail of colour behind her. Despite the weight of the rainwater, Rarity’s mane stood out straight as a flag in a storm, and Fluttershy easily kept pace. Dash felt good about that. Really good, in fact. The warmth from that realisation lingered. Who the hay trusts wingpower measurements anyway.

“Darling, we’re going faster,” said Rarity.

“We are,” Dash replied.

“We’re supposed to go slower when we land, aren’t we?” Rarity asked, louder.

“Usually!” Fluttershy said.

“Hang on!” Dash yelled, every feather working against their descent, her ears pinned and her teeth clenched as she braked as hard as she could. One second they cruised just over the treetops, the next they came down in an arc over the clearing. A moment later, wings burning with the effort, Dash brought them to a perfect, gentle stop near the edge of the clearing. Gentle enough that Rarity didn’t say a single word of complaint. Gentle for everything involved other than her wings. While Dash hissed in pain, Rarity let out an appreciative gasp.

“This is certainly a step up in aesthetics, at least compared to the rest of our stops. Whomever planned this place is—ah!” Rarity cried out as she nearly slipped stepping off the cart. Dash was glad for the roar of rain covering her giggle while Rarity recovered her balance to avoid falling on the rain-slickened grass.

The very short wet grass, Dash noted while Fluttershy steadied the unicorn. Though it was well underway to becoming mud right now, the clearing looked trimmed or grazed compared to the rest of the forest floor. Even more curious, Dash had been wrong thinking there was nothing here. There was a statue of Selyria, but rather than being carved out of a boulder, the bird-monster’s shape jutted out from the cliff-face upon which the clearing bordered.

The shelter was carved into the sheer stone right where the clearing met both cliff and river, creating something between a hut and a small cave. The nearby waterfall’s spray added to the rain, occasionally splattering against one of the shielding wings.

“This is super weird,” said Rainbow Dash to nopony’s protest. The forest had changed, too, as though they had taken off from one forest and landed in another one where the trees were larger and more imposing. While there was still plenty of open space for flight, the undergrowth held more than tall grasses and flowers. Vines hung from trees and heavy moss grew everywhere.

Fluttershy moved over to the far edge of the clearing, opposite of the waterfall. She tilted her head as she approached the largest of the trees—a top-heavy oak-like thing with long reams of leaves like so many party streamers.

“What is it, dear?” asked Rarity. Carefully watching the ground as though she expected to slip again, Rarity picked her way after the pegasus, and with a grunt to get the cart moving, Dash joined them, the cartwheels creating furrows in the grass and mud.

“I don’t know,” Fluttershy admitted. The bark had been removed, and someone very skilled had carved a flame-wrought spike. A mountain, perhaps, or an antler tip? For all the skill that went into the deep and smooth carving, it lacked in detail.

“I think I saw an even simpler version of this on one of the trees by last night’s rest stop, actually,” Rarity mused. “It wasn’t half as elegant as this one.”

Dash shrugged. If her friends wanted to ponder strange symbols, they were welcome to do so. Her own eyes were on the clouds above. They were moving fast, but that only made working with them harder, not impossible. She wiped the rain off her face again and again, trying to get a good look at their movement.

“Speaking of yesterday’s stop, where is the road?”

Rainbow Dash looked around at Rarity’s question before she remembered. “Oh. Yeah, the road is a little bit further south, I saw it climb the, uh… cliff? It wasn’t as cliff-y over there. No way the road could go up here.” She gestured to the near-vertical rise that loomed above them.

Fluttershy hummed her agreement, poking at her drenched mane to a peep of protest from inside. “The road turned away from the river east of here, so I don’t know if this is one of their usual rest stops. Maybe it is.” She frowned. “I don’t see a path leading away from here though.”

“That probably means there’s a statue on the road ahead of us, then,” said Rarity. “A good rest now will make tomorrow easier if we’re behind schedule and need to rush to catch up.” She sighed as she watched Fluttershy try to attend her own mane and looked back at the mess of a tail she dragged in the grass behind her. Rainbow Dash was glad she had a short mane: Fluttershy’s and Rarity’s manes were plastered to their heads, and their tails all drooped with the weight of water. Rarity shook her head and moved over to the cart, lifting the tarp up a smidgen.

“Yeah, I don’t know about that,” Dash said with a shrug, following. “We’re probably ahead of schedule, actually. The statue should be on the road way behind us, not in front. We’re good to relax.”

“We were flying very fast,” Fluttershy said. Dash noticed a touch of something in her voice. Satisfaction, pride—whichever of those or whatever it was, she sounded pleased with it, and Dash met her eyes, holding out a hoof to go with her own smirk.

“Hay yeah we were fast. That was awesome,” Dash said. “Come on girl, hit me again!” She laughed when Fluttershy giggled and slapped her hoof light as a feather with a barely-audible clop.

“It was very impressive. And you’re not tired at all?” asked Rarity, lifting the tarp a little more. She found her saddlebags and started rooting around.

“Oh jeez, you have no idea,” said Dash with a burst of laughter. There was no point hiding the fact that she was working on adrenaline alone. She’d crash soon, and her wings were hurting, but admitting it had taken its toll was fine: fully loaded cart cross-country during a rainstorm? There was awesome to spare. “I don’t know that I’m up for this again. Even if we’d gotten above the cloud layer, flying this cart is a nightmare, and if I had to fly when it’s hot, too? I—”

“Oh, make no mistake, darling,” Rarity said, frowning. “You are not getting me on top of this cart ever again. We were lucky we only lost the compass.”

“You lost the compass?” Fluttershy asked, one ear bent in question.

“It fell off,” said Rarity, nodding. “What if it had been something more important? What if I had fallen off the cart? This has all been tremendously risky, surely you can see that.”

“Eh, Fluttershy would’ve caught you, and if you fell when she wasn’t near, I’d just ditch the cart and grab you. I saved you once, I can save you again,” said Dash, shrugging and grinning. Mentioning the mess at the Young Fliers competition always brought out a smile from Rarity, and sure enough, she sighed and smiled this time as well.

“You do understand I am grateful, I hope,” Rarity said, lowering her voice a tad. “Not just for that time last year, but for now, too. Though I’d never wish to repeat it, today did work out rather well, and we are not stuck on the road with our cart mired in the mud. Well done, dear—and you, too, Fluttershy. On behalf of my hooves, thank you.”

“I’m just glad you’re feeling better,” said Fluttershy, smiling.

Dash shrugged. She already knew all that, of course, but it was nice to hear Rarity say it. She spread her aching wings in full and nuzzled in under to give herself a good sniff. “Heh, if it wasn’t raining, I’d probably smell pretty bad right now. I’ve been sweating like you have no idea.”

“And just like that, the charm is extinguished,” Rarity said with a roll of her eyes. She worked a brush free from her saddlebags.

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head. “Let’s just all hope the rain stops by tomorrow. If the hot weather dries everything quickly, we won’t have to worry about mud.” She pointed to the cliffside statue-shelter. “Let’s get to somewhere a little more comfortable?”

“Sure,” said Dash, walking the cart towards the cliffs. “Just so you’re warned, what I’m saying is that when we dry up, I’ll still be dripping. And smelly.” She slapped a soggy wing onto Rarity’s back.

Rarity snorted, the corners of her mouth tugging upwards. “If you’re trying to gross me out, I’m afraid you have stiff competition from the mud around, and I’ve been soaked to the bone for hours.” She gave Dash a wan smile. “In all seriousness, as much as we’ve been too close for too long for you to really over-share, I will admit that I’d be grateful if you cleaned up at least a little.”

“Yeah, I was gonna take a dip in the river anyways,” Dash said, rolling her eyes. It was no fun when she couldn’t get a rise out of Rarity.

“I was thinking of just filling a bowl with rain water and cleaning my hooves and tail inside, but whatever works for you, dear,” said Rarity.

“If you’re going to wash in the river, you’ll be careful, won’t you?” asked Fluttershy. She shook her wings out and folded them on her back. “It’s really dangerous when it’s flowing this fast. Maybe we could go together? I need to clean my mane and my tail, too.”

Dash shrugged. “Sure. I just gotta check something first, it’ll be quick.” She trotted all the way over to the shelter-statue and quickly slipped out of the cart’s harness while watching Rarity make her own way over at a slow walk. “Heh, you’re not exactly running for cover, Rarity. Do you like being out in the rain now?” she asked.

“Rainbow, darling,” said Rarity with a deadpan stare. “I can not get any more wet at this point, but that does not mean I am happy about it.”

“We’ll all feel better once we’re dry, and if we can get a good night’s sleep, that will help too, I’m sure,” Fluttershy suggested. Once she drew close to the shelter, Scarlett zipped out from beneath the cover of her mane into the darkness beneath the stone wings ahead. “What was it you wanted to do, Rainbow Dash?”

Dash blinked. “Huh? Oh! Yeah, I just wanted to go see if I could kick a hole in the clouds. I know they’re moving, but I was thinking I could make like… a furrow or something? I’m just curious about how their clouds work.” She looked straight up at the tantalising grey mass that hung far above. Her wings still ached, but it wouldn’t take long to get up there. Dash hopped off the ground and managed a simple hover for starters.

“I’ll be back in a second,” said Dash, but she didn’t make for the clouds just yet. The second Dash declared her departure, Rarity began moving between the cart and the statue, ferrying little odds and ends into safety, but Fluttershy neither headed inside to take cover from the rain, nor did she help Rarity. Instead, the yellow pegasus waited, occasionally glancing up at Dash.

Did Fluttershy wait for Dash to ask her to come along? Should she? Even if she didn’t plan on doing much, flying close to fast-moving and heavy rain clouds wasn’t the safest thing in the world, and Fluttershy would be tired, too. This wasn’t at all like her wanting to hang out with the snickersnouts in the ocean. If Fluttershy didn’t take the initiative, that probably meant she needed some encouragement.

Half an hour from now, Fluttershy might be thrilled to know that she could wrangle foreign clouds, but along the way, Dash would have to push and prod and pull and drag Fluttershy along. However good Rainbow Dash was at ignoring it up until recently, Fluttershy would get nervous. She’d get scared, and she might fail.

Dash felt a vague sense of queasiness, probably just from too much awesome flying in one day. She’d have to make this quick, then. She could ask Fluttershy to come along the next time.

“Alright, be back in a flash and we’ll head to the river,” Dash said. She smiled at Fluttershy, and Fluttershy smiled back with a nod, moving towards the cart without a word. Rainbow Dash climbed straight up.

It took her half a minute to reach the cloud layer, but she knew long before then that it was pointless. Once she cleared the treetops and the shelter of the cliffs, the east-going wind tugged at her wings, still picking up. The clouds would simply be moving too fast. She should’ve been able to tell from ground level, honestly, and it didn’t help that the clouds were dense at the core, but wispy towards the edges.

Of course, if any pegasus could work with this, it was her. She had to check it out, at least, tired wings or no. Down below, she could just barely spot Rarity and Fluttershy engaged in conversation by the cart. There wasn’t much else to see in all this rain. She couldn’t even see the road that she knew lay nearby. Unless that was the road. She squinted. There was definitely a path, and she could swear she saw a lone figure walking along it. When she blinked, it was gone. She could find neither path nor person again.

Whatever. Dash zipped up with her forelegs out straight, creating a nice and wide tunnel through the clouds. Despite the rough going, she punched through the top seconds later, violently shaking the water off when she landed on the edge of the hole she’d made, hissing with the strain as she folded her wings.

Topside, everything was calm in the way that only the world above weather could be. Lumpy grey clouds formed a carpet below a darkening blue sky, and the sun shone on uninterrupted. The only irregularity was the hole she had made. Everything had been perfect until she meddled with it.

The hole no longer pointed down at the campsite. If she was going to give them any respite from the rain at all, she’d spend more hours clearing clouds than they’d get minutes without rain. Dash sighed and dove back through the hole, spreading her wings to glide down towards her friends. They still stood by the cart, just like she’d left them. Rarity pointed up to her and finally disappeared inside the shelter with the last of their stuff, leaving Fluttershy to wait for Dash to land by her side.

“Alright, I don’t even have to try to see it’s not gonna work,” said Dash. Looking up, she couldn’t even find the hole any more. She tried to flick her tail, but all she accomplished was to drag it around on the ground like a wet mop on a muddy brown floor. “Let’s go clean up.”

Fluttershy said nothing to that, simply nodding and following along when Dash started them towards the nearby river. Around the waterfall, the river’s edge was scoured down to rock by falling water, so Dash led them downriver a bit, looking for a likely place to take a bath. Though she wasn’t much of a river-ologist or whatever, she could tell that simply hopping into the rushing river would be a bad time. The Meronna was less than half as wide here than it was when they followed it yesterday, a roar of foam rather than a sedate flow. After a minute or two, Fluttershy took wing and flew over to the other side of the river, calling for Dash to follow. The river had overflown into a pool with still, but clear water.

“Hey, nice catch,” said Dash. Fluttershy sat on a rock by the little pool’s edge, but Dash didn’t bother waiting. She hopped in, splashing Fluttershy with water and cackling, but her laughter only lasted until she noticed Fluttershy didn’t react. She didn’t splash her back or even scold her, she just soaked her tail in the water and worked her hooves to try to clean the worst of the mud off.

Well okay then. Dash sighed noiselessly. Was something up? Fluttershy would tell her. She didn’t look upset. Worse. She looked pensive.

“I wonder if these statues are all over the forest,” Dash said instead of asking. She ducked under the water, soaking her mane. The water was already getting a little muddy, but it was still an improvement. Her tail floated to the top of the water, colour returning at last. “If they don’t fly their wagons, I don’t get how they’re supposed to reach this place.”

“Maybe it’s for people who don’t have carts or wagons,” mused Fluttershy. She pulled her tail out of the water and slung it over her body.

“Maybe,” said Dash, shrugging. “I don’t know who’s using them, then. We only ever see peryton travelling with wagons. If we’re supposed to be close to Ephydoera, we haven’t met—”

“Did you know Rarity used to think we were, um… together?” Fluttershy cut in.

“Yep,” said Rainbow Dash. She made waves with her wings in the pool. Was that all that had Fluttershy all quiet? She’d almost forgotten all about it, and now she regretted she hadn’t made a joke about it. “Wait, hang on,” Dash added, tilting her head. ”Why? Did you think we were, too?”

“Oh, goodness, no,” said Fluttershy with a little burst of laughter. Dash chuckled along and shook her head, but the silence settled again, twice as heavy. Rainbow Dash let out a breath underwater, blowing bubbles that were lost among the heavy raindrops that whipped the water. She was starting to get really cold.

“Did you ever want us to be together?” Dash asked, though she honestly didn’t even know what she meant by that word. She hadn’t even planned to ask, but the question hit her mouth long before her brain.

It made sense only in hindsight. Had Fluttershy’s laughter been a little nervous right now? Knowing Fluttershy most of her life meant she noticed little things—just like having a pair of eyes and ears meant noticing that this time, Fluttershy didn’t laugh in response.

Fluttershy kept working her mane, scrubbing the pink and perfectly clean hairs against the rock she sat on. “Fluttershy?” asked Dash again. She moved a little closer, drifting in the waters of the little river pool until she looked straight up at her.

With her mane out of the way and nothing else to hide behind, Dash saw that Fluttershy’s pupils were tiny little pin pricks, and she could hear her rapid breath.

“I—I have to go see if—if Rarity is okay,” Fluttershy blurted, her cheeks a bright red and her ears splayed. She took off with enough force to send Rainbow Dash’s mane flying, a yellow and pink blur heading across the river.

“Alright. Seeya,” said Rainbow Dash to nopony at all, swimming around the little pool on her back.


Rainbow Dash let her mane soak a little more before she headed back. The mud and grime on her hooves loosened and came off, and she felt at least slightly less icky. Instead she was cold. Pegasus or no, spending any more time in the cold river water during a rainstorm would do her no favours at all. No wonder that even Rarity, fastidious as she was, decided against a bath today. Rainbow Dash slowed down to a hover when she got close the shelter, folding her wings mid-flight to land just inside.

“And not a single bit of mud on my hooves, how’s that for precision?” asked Dash, grinning wide. She shuffled her wings slowly and painstakingly to make sure they lay right, and she had to suppress a groan of pain. Even just rustling her wings hurt.

“Very impressive, dear,” said Rarity, and somewhere in the relative darkness, Scarlett sang. “Now come sit down and have something to eat—and please try to refrain from shaking the wet off your mane inside!”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and tried to pretend she hadn’t been about to do exactly that. She settled for dripping. “Well, duh. Do you have towels or something?” She squinted, her eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light that Rarity’s horn provided. Rarity herself sat on the far side of the support column of inscribed stone in the middle. In the back, under the cliffs proper, images of wings were simply etched into the stone rather than sculpted separately. It was a snugger, cozier statue than the others they had seen, and this particular one only offered two entrances rather than four. Right now, Dash didn’t mind the lack of a draft.

“I have a towel, and it’s nearly dry,” said Rarity. She sat by her trusty supply chest, wringing and heating the small towel with her magic over a bowl of water, her mane wrapped in some spare fabric or other for drying. Fluttershy sat next to her, arranging food on top of the chest for lack of proper plates. She was making quite a spread of different treats, and one of them had filled bowls with clean water to drink, too.

Dash smiled appreciatively and took a seat by her friends. She leaned forwards to grab the towel intending to dry herself off a little, but the unicorn whisked it away.

“Let me, dear. Hold out your hooves one by one and I’ll dry them like I did for Fluttershy. I’ll take care of your manes after we’ve eaten.”

“Alright, sure,” said Dash, stifling a laugh. She held out one of her forelegs and let Rarity rub her down, leaning over for one of the rutabaga treats while trying not to move too much. They ate, drank, and talked about nothing much. Fluttershy bemoaned the state of her book, which had gotten a little wet on one of its corners, and Rarity said something about the state of all their manes and her aching hooves, but it was hardly complaining so much as it was fact.

When the food had all disappeared, Rainbow Dash opened her eyes to find herself leaning against Rarity while the unicorn worked on the tangles of Dash’s mane with comb and magic. She must’ve drifted off for a second. Rarity just smiled and kept grooming, and Dash stretched languidly. It felt better than it had a right to do. When she woke up again, Rarity was hard at work combing through Fluttershy’s tail with a blue light that lit up the shelter. Dash blinked and rubbed at her eyes.

“Thanks, Rarity,” she murmured. She looked down at her tail. It looked just right, colours no longer randomly mixed together. She didn’t realise until now how bad it had gotten before Rarity worked her magic.

“It was my pleasure, dear,” said Rarity without looking up. She gently shooed away Scarlett when the bird hopped onto Fluttershy’s tail and started pecking at the glow wherever Rarity worked.

“No, I mean it. I was a mess.” Dash shook her head and stretched out all her legs, leaving her wings be for the moment. She grabbed another bite of food. Someone had put out another few bits of rutabaga, and she was still hungry despite having eaten.

“It’s really amazing what you can do with barely anything at all. All you have is a comb,” Fluttershy chimed, making Rarity blush ever so faintly.

“Well, some soap, water, and a little grooming magic can go a long way,” said Rarity. “I might not be able to start a fire, but I can heat some water, and combing is an art, you know.”

Fluttershy nodded and nuzzled Rarity without another word.

“Oh, do stop,” Rarity said, but her cheeks glowed still. “I still wish I’d thought to pick up some material for proper head-wear while we were in Stagrum. Some good hats would keep the rain out of our faces, and ward off the sun. If I’d known it would’ve gotten this hot and this rainy, I would’ve made it a priority. I don’t even have material to make some rain-proof clothes.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t bother commenting on that. Rarity wouldn’t be happy until she could fix every single one of their problems, preferably with fabulousity. It was the reason Dash hadn’t voiced how much her wings ached right now. She stretched the left wing, then the right one, but every hoof’s length of wingspan hurt more than the last. She met Fluttershy’s eyes by chance, the other pegasus watching her with some concern.

Fluttershy hadn’t said anything about what happened in the river-pool. Rainbow Dash hadn’t brought it up, either. Fluttershy seemed perfectly content to pretend it hadn’t happened—that, or she thought Rainbow Dash was too stupid to understand what had been left unsaid.

No. That wasn’t it. Just having thought that made Dash’s stomach clench, made her head hurt with how wrong that idea was. Fluttershy didn’t think she was stupid. She was the last pony who would ever think Rainbow Dash was stupid, one of the few people Dash knew she could trust never to say or think that.

Rainbow Dash just needed to make her own mind up about what was going on and decide what to do. As much as it annoyed her, that meant she had to think about it—and she would. Just not right now. She was tired, hungry and she ached all over. Thanks to Rarity and Fluttershy, she had food, and she was well groomed. She could fall asleep right then and there. She just didn’t want to. Not yet.

“Rainbow Dash?” asked Fluttershy.

“Yeah?”

“What do you have in your saddlebags that you were so worried about?” Fluttershy lay one of her ears flat and tilted her head.

Rarity ran her magic through Fluttershy’s tail-tip with a flourish. “You were worried about me sitting on it, as I recall.”

“Oh. That,” said Rainbow Dash with a shrug. “I guess some of it could be fragile, it’s just some junk I grabbed before we left. Nothing useful.” She grabbed a long draught of water and brought a kelp cake with her over to where her friends sat, leaning against Fluttershy’s back while Rarity finished her grooming. She closed her eyes and let out a long breath.

Sure, they were in a strange country, stuck in the middle of a rainstorm in a huge forest, and she was a little bit confused, but she had two of her closest friends with her. She’d figure out what was up with Fluttershy. She’d decide on what to do, and things would work out. She just needed to do a little thinking.