• Published 26th Aug 2017
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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!

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Chapter 22

Acacia

I don’t know when you’re back from your leave, but since our shifts don’t collide until I’m done covering for Soft Strides, and I don’t have your home address, I’m leaving this for when you get back.

One of the other attendants found this scrap of paper clearing the Day Lounge and brought it to me. I’ve been debating with myself whether or not to bring this up to the Princesses, as they’ve been very busy lately. This is no normal detritus. The attendant in question would’ve thrown it away if not for noticing a magical aura about it.

Now, I don’t have a horn myself, as you are well aware, but I can clearly recognise the enchanted paper keyed to the lounge. This is the same paper used by Princesses for urgent messages, but it bears no message. I haven’t crossed paths with either of the Princesses today, and hope maybe you can bring it up if you think it seems important.

-TA


“Is there anything else we can do?” asked Fluttershy, leaning a little closer with her ears pinned to her head.

“I have hot water to wash my face with, cold water to drink, some quite frankly horrid… smelling oils? And, I have a soft bed,” said Rarity with a little chuckle. “Darling, I’m doing fine enough, though I expect I’ll get worse before I get better. My throat hurts a little, but it’s hurt for days.”

“You should have told us sooner,” Fluttershy scolded. “All those nights sleeping in the cold—”

“I didn’t feel very cold under the blanket,” said Rarity with a scoff. “Excepting my hooves, perhaps. It’s not your fault, dear.”

“No, it’s all of our faults,” sighed Fluttershy.

“Fluttershy, it’s a cold. She’ll sneeze it off or whatever it is other ponies do,” said Dash, rolling her eyes at the dramatics. Besides, the idea of a “cold” felt laughable in the daytime heat, even though peryton houses kept relatively cool compared to the outside.

Rarity had gotten the bigger room, a double bedroom with smooth stone walls, an abstract tapestry, and two soft beds not much different from any other. Here a toy wagon, there a few books, and by a wooden shelf, some puzzle items that probably required magic to solve. Dash had no idea.

She’d poked her head inside the single bedroom opposite a minute ago, and the floor of Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash’s designated room was covered in metal samples, scraps and tools. They’d had to meticulously clear a path to the bed just to put away their saddlebags without incident.

“Anyway, you just need to stay in bed until you get better,” Fluttershy said. “And you’ll let us know if you need anything, won’t you?”

“Yeah, and while you’re working on that getting better thing,” said Dash, scratching her snout. “We’ll… do what?”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Rarity. She leaned over the edge of the bed, scooting her saddlebags a little closer with her magic, levitating out her papers and her fabrics, then dusting off the floor before arraying them at the foot of the bed. “I don’t need you to wait on me.” She paused at her own words. “Well. Not every hour of the day, anyway, but there are things to be done.”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement. “If Neisos manages to get us an audience with the council, we should probably go as soon as we can.” She puffed out her cheeks. “I really don’t like the idea of going without you. I don’t know what we’ll say.”

Rarity snorted. “Oh don’t be silly, dear. The only reason we visit them is to be polite. Just tell them ‘hi’, I suppose. No, when I say things to be done, I mean a quite different kind of work. I will create a new set of dresses, and I need you to find some way to show them off. Some venue or other to see what the Vauhorn peryton think. They seem to have a far more varied approach to fashion than any of the other cities we’ve visited so far.”

“Hey, no fair,” Dash called. “If I can’t fly when my wings are busted, why do you get to do all your dressmaking stuff when you’re supposed to rest?"

“Oh for goodness’ sake, Rainbow, recovering is not a contest,” Rarity huffed.

“She’s right, though. You really shouldn’t overexert yourself,” Fluttershy chimed, narrowing her eyes at the nascent dresses in front of her. To Dash, it was a warning look, like she might take them away any moment.

“You either get the Rarity who does a little work to keep herself busy, dressmaking being second nature to me,” said Rarity matter-of-factly, lying still in her bed as her magic unrolled a small bolt of white silk, “or you get the Rarity who lies in bed with nothing to do and constantly complains about this fact.”

“Good luck with the dresses!” said Dash, grinning.

“I… I guess it’s nice if you have something to do,” Fluttershy sighed.

“Yes, it is,” said Rarity, nodding sagely. “And thank you, Rainbow Dash. Did you like the half-length skirt of the first dress, or the second one? Perhaps you would prefer a saddle? I have two designs, and I could fit both to either of you.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I don’t care as long as it doesn’t touch the ground.”

“Very well,” said Rarity. “Now, if you’ll graciously allow me to do work—”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” said Fluttershy, her tail drooping.

“—then honestly, if the two of you wish to go see the sights of the city, I will be fine by myself here,” Rarity continued, smiling at Fluttershy. “I know you didn’t mean to upset me, and you didn’t. I didn’t mean to be quite so rude either, but I can not lie here with nothing but incomprehensible books for company.”

“Well, if you’re fine,” said Dash, turning to Fluttershy. “Wanna go see if there’s anything fun to do here?”

Fluttershy chewed her bottom lip. “Can we at least wait until Neisos comes back from the city council? I don’t want to leave Rarity completely alone.”

Rarity shook her head, not looking up from her work. “That’s—”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Dash declared. No argument there. She walked over to one of the room’s high windows and pushed two layers of curtains aside, one heavy, one light as gossamer. She had to rear up on her hindlegs to look out at the city. The sun scorched the rooftops now, but compared to Stagrum, Vauhorn still slept. Rainbow Dash remembered Stagrum as a forest of antlers. Maybe it was just the narrower streets. Orto had been busy, too, but they’d visited during a festival. The Festival of Mironna, was it? Myrtella?

What the view from the second-story window didn’t remind her of was Las Pegasus, but a world apart, it still made her think of the view from the hotel room. The elaborate scrollwork, the tapestries and banners became the magically fluorescent signs of the Equestrian city. The streets were now cobblestone, the windows had glass, and the few peryon in sight became a throng of ponies excited to visit the City of Games.

Did she miss it? Not Las Pegasus. She missed half her friends, a world apart. They’d be fine. She also missed someone else, someone who wasn’t quite as far.

“Hey Fluttershy, you know what we should do while we’re here?” asked Rainbow Dash. She let the curtains fall back into place. “We should go on a date!”

“A date?” Fluttershy returned the words with a note of panic.

“Yeah! A date!”

“I—um, okay,” said Fluttershy. At length she nodded and spread her wings a touch, even smiling ever so slightly. “Okay, I guess that might be nice, actually. What did you have in mind? Maybe… maybe we could take a lovely evening flight together?”

Rainbow Dash grinned back at her. “I don’t know, maybe. If we’re gonna be around for a few days anyway, I’ll think about it for a bit. I just wanna look around today, but we should totally go on a date someday.”

Fluttershy nodded, her smile earnest now. “If Rarity doesn’t mind us taking a little time together, that sounds wonderful.”

At first, Rarity simply shook her head without looking up. “Mm, no, I told you I would be fine just a moment ago—oh, but I am happy to hear it, that’s wonderful,” she added, tilting her head. She put down the fabrics she matched together. “I’m curious, now. Is… flying considered a proper date?”

Rainbow Dash cocked a brow. “What do you mean proper?”

Rarity shrugged. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I know you have restaurants in Cloudsdale. Going on a walk together is hardly a romantic date, is it? Not that everypony necessarily enjoys the romance itself, I understand.”

“Okay, first off,” Dash said. “Walking and flying are totally not the same.”

“I don’t know if I understand what a ‘proper’ date is, either,” Fluttershy said, rubbing one foreleg against the other. “I know many earth ponies are fond of picnics.”

“Isn’t this the kind of stuff you should know?” Dash asked, pinning Rarity with a look.

“Why?” asked Rarity, frowning. “Just because I enjoy romance doesn’t mean I know everything. Besides, I’m a unicorn, and one who knows her tastes very well. A date in my mind includes very specific things. If flying is a date to you, then that’s wonderful. Anything can be a date if you wish it to be, I imagine.”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled at that, apparently satisfied, while Rainbow Dash’s attention drifted, and had been drifting for a while already. Fluttershy was down for a date, and that was really all she’d been asking. She moved over to inspect some open books on the floor, squinting at the curious scrawl while Fluttershy and Rarity talked about something or other concerning coughing and sneezing and being sick.

The book had pictures, too. Stylized peryton with exaggerated wings and antlers. Beautiful scenes of peryton with feathers spread in front of the rising sun or elaborate landscapes. Another one was mostly graphs and rows of similar signs repeated. She turned the page just as she heard the door on the ground floor open, movement at the edge of hearing.

“Am I interrupting?” a familiar voice called from below, steps halting at the bottom of the stairs.

“It’s your house, dear,” Rarity called back, covering her snout just in time to catch a sneeze, followed by a disgusted noise and a hastily applied handkerchief.

“That means come on in,” Rainbow Dash added. A few moments later, Neisos stuck his head in from the hallway.

“I return,” he said, twisting his head around to look across the hall. “And I see you have settled in there as well, good. These two rooms will do, but this state of Deimesa’s room, I apologise. She aspires to work as a water technician.”

“A water technician?” Dash asked, failing to see what all the junk in the other room had to do with water. “Like, with rain?”

Neisos tilted his head. “With the tools of the water technicians. With pipes and pumps, of course.”

“Right, never mind,” said Dash, shaking her head, instantly bored.

“It’s fine anyway,” said Fluttershy, smiling at him. “We’re the guests, and it’s not a problem at all. Did you find the city council? Did they want to see us?”

“Find?” Neisos asked. “There will always be one or more of them at the council-house. That is their duty, and there is not much of a formal audience to be had. They will see you at any time you desire, as though were you citizens. It is as I suspected: they had read and still remember the missive at the Ravenwall, and the council is right next to it, easy for you to find.”

“If you tell us where the Ravenwall is, whatever that is, probably,” said Dash with a grin.

“This, yes. Of course,” Neisos agreed.

“What is this Ravenwall?” asked Rarity. “I assume it is analogous to the… what did they call them in the other cities? Raven house? House of ravens? One of those things. Something of a post office.”

“I do not know what a ‘post office’ is, but if that is where your council communicates with other cities to share stories, and where the other cities chime in on our business—and where urgent matters are delivered—then yes, it is a post office,” he said, stretching out one of his wings half-way and scratching his belly with it.

“So, kind of a post office,” Dash concluded, mostly to herself. “Kinda but not.”

“To give you the full tale as I saw it,” Neisos added, almost as an afterthought. “The council member I spoke to seemed very pleased to hear of your arrival, delighted to hear you decided to visit.”

“D’you wanna get it out of the way right away?” Dash asked, glancing at Fluttershy.

“Maybe,” said Fluttershy, biting her lower lip.

“We could just go say hi or whatever, just like Rarity said,” Dash suggested. “If they’re as impossible to understand as the peryton we met at the edge of town, that’s fine, we can just leave. We don’t really need to ask them anything, like how to get to Cotronna, right?”

Fluttershy shook her head quickly and giggled. “No, not at all. It’s just along the coast, not very far away.” She looked over at Neisos, and the peryton raised a brow.

“When one calls the journey to Cotronna ‘not very far’, you stand before a traveller,” he said, dipping his head slightly. “She is our closest neighbour among sister-cities, and along the coast as you say. If you manage to lose your way there, you have closed your eyes.”

“It’s a little more than half the distance from Ephydoera to here, but we’re not going through a forest this time, so that’s something,” said Fluttershy.

“Yay for that, I guess,” said Dash. With the mention of Ephydoera, she couldn’t not glance back at her discoloured wings, swishing her tail quickly from side to side in annoyance. Just as she did, there was a small thunk. Dash whirled around, backing off a step. A small stone statue lay on the floor, and it took her a second to realise she recognised the statue of a rearing Selyria.

“Oh. I forgot I still had that tangled in my tail, jeez,” said Dash, wincing at the crack the surprisingly solid statuette had made in the floor. “Sorry about the, uh... It’s just a little hole. I’ll just put it back.” She pushed a tiny piece of tilework that had been chipped off back into place, patting it for good measure. “The rock. Not the hole. All good now.” Fluttershy gritted her teeth and sucked in breath between her teeth, and Rarity sighed.

Neisos didn’t really seem to pay attention to the chipped stonework. His eyes were on the creature that lay on the floor. “May I?” he asked, pointing to the dark stone statue with a hoof, momentarily balancing on two legs.

“Huh? Sure, go ahead, you can borrow it,” Dash said with a shrug.

“It’s not really ours,” said Fluttershy, shooting Dash a glance.

“Oh. Yeah,” Dash admitted, grimacing. “I guess we found it in some of your ruins. You can have it if you want. Heh, I thought my tail was just heavy ‘cause it was getting long.” She flicked her tail about some more, relishing in how much easier it was now.

Neisos shook his head slowly, turning the statue around in his magical grip before putting it down on the floor upright. “The statue interests me a little, yes, but the stone moreso.”

“The stone?” Rarity asked, cocking a brow. She hung over the edge of the bed, and the statue took on her particular magical glow, whisked over to her side. She squinted. “It’s just stone. It’s no kind of gem I know of.”

“Oh. Right,” said Dash. “You said you used to work at a quarry, and that’s like… a stone… place?”

Neisos nodded. “An amberstone quarry. This statue is not made from our local source of stone, but I know Perytonian stone all the same, and this strikes me as curious.”

“We found it in the Splitwood. It’s probably from there,” Fluttershy suggested.

“As far as I know, neither peryton nor quarries hide in there,” Neisos said, frowning. “But it is no matter. The stone is not from there, either, nor is this Ortosian, Stagrumite or Cotronnan stone. We trade samples by caravan every once in awhile.”

“Alright,” said Dash, nodding. “Cool. What the hay does that mean?”

Neisos smiled. “Nothing. The stone is not from Perytonia. This is curious, that is all.”

“D’you wanna keep it?” asked Dash. “We found it in some peryton ruins, and it is a peryton, so I guess it’s yours.”

“You think?” asked Neisos. He walked over to the nightstand where Rarity had left the statuette, leaning in close until his snout nearly touched the thing. “To me, it does not look like a peryton at all. It is strange stone, and a strange creature. I can do nothing with it. Thank you, but keep it.”

Rainbow Dash blew her mane out of her face. “Alright, it’s all the same to me. I’ll use it as a bookend or something—no, hang on, Twilight’s gonna love it! Strange and mysterious old artifact? Right up her alley.”

“It’s not magical, dear,” said Rarity. “I think we can rule out ‘artifact’”.

Neisos’ belly made a gurgling sound, and the peryton cleared his throat. “Speaking of mysteries, you mention the Splitwood, and I am eager to learn how your people commit events to story, to memory. If I were to ask how your journey here was, would you answer? Preferably over some…” he paused, tapping a slim hoof on the ground as he stared at a curtained window for answers. “Lunch? Dinner? I will start making food at once if you will tell me your preference—and offer a helping hoof or two, perhaps?”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled at Rainbow Dash. “I’m sure we can keep you company, at least. Maybe we can eat up here when we’re done?”

“Eating on a bedroom floor? Don’t be silly, dear,” replied Rarity. “Those traders we met last night were a little too insistent in their generosity when they shared their food, and I’m not particularly hungry. Besides, I’d like to get a little more work done. I’ll be here if you need me."

Rainbow Dash squinted at Rarity, but she didn’t really have any protests ready to go. She headed for the door. “As long as we’re not making kelp cakes, I’m in.


“I have spoken to Stagrumites on occasion,” Neisos said with a nod. “And yes, the hill you rested upon is known to me as well. It is the Northern Crown. If you look to the south at sun-up, the stone of its western face can be seen from Vauhorn.”

“That’s neat,” said Dash. She reached for the ladle, helping herself to an extra quarter portion of Neisos’ vegetable soup. He called it vegetable soup, anyway, but Rainbow Dash only recognised half the ingredients. Whatever the hay a fennel was, it tasted good. “So yeah, Rarity got all sneezy, so we flew all the way down here, end of story,” Dash said.

“Not the end,” said Neisos, smiling. “Never the end, and even where those exist, ends interest me little. In your case, some other pieces of the story are far more engaging than the chase for a conclusion.”

“Alright?” Dash asked, taking a sip of soup. Had she forgotten to leave out any of the embarrassing details beyond the wings? She was glad Fluttershy had headed up to check on Rarity. It let her omit certain near-disasters involving collapsing Splitwood treehouse-ruins, too.

“The ‘bird’ you say you met in the ruins,” said Neisos. He flipped his own bowl upright and placed it on the center of the table, then poured what little soup was left in Fluttershy’s bowl into the kettle again. “The defaced stele so far south. Your meeting with Khaird. Different things will stand out to every individual. We learn different things from the same stories.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t say anything to that, busying herself with her soup. Hooves on stone announced Fluttershy’s return, the other pegasus taking her seat next to Rainbow Dash. “She’s asleep,” Fluttershy said. “I put the water next to her bed, but she looks fine, and she’s breathing okay.”

“Mostly the bird,” Neisos repeated, his face blank.

“I’m sorry?” Fluttershy asked, looking a little bewildered.

“Dunno, he’s thinking about the bird,” Dash said, shrugging. “The creepy one in the ruins. I told him the rest of the story real quick.”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy, pinning her ears back. “I’m sorry if we sounded very… mean. I’m sure she’s a great bird and everything, whatever her—or his name is.”

Neisos shook his head. “You tell stories clearly and without prejudice. I respect that it is hard to share so many suns’ worth of travels and experience simply and quickly, but this part in particular seems to me an omen.”

“Great,” said Dash, finishing her soup. She flipped her bowl around and put it on top of the others just like Neisos had done. “So what’s the bird an omen of?”

“I do not know,” Neisos admitted, smiling. “Omens do not reveal their true purpose until they are fully illuminated.”

Dash raised a brow. “So basically, it’s completely useless.”

Fluttershy frowned. “Rainbow Dash, that’s not very nice.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “I’m not saying he’s useless, just that if you say something that means… that something means something, but that you don’t know what it means, what’s the point?”

Neisos nodded slowly. “Your words are not unwise. My reply is that stories have different meanings at any one point of their telling—but! This was not a dinner and philosophy. This was a dinner and a question of how you came here. I have my answers, and you wish to see the council, I understand.”

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” Dash agreed, getting up and stretching out her entire body. She tapped Fluttershy on the back with a wing even as the other pegasus rose to stand as well. “You wanna get going?”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled back at her, though her tail drooped a little. “I guess we’d better get it over with.”

Neisos grabbed the stack of bowls in his magical grip and stood. “I would offer to join you, but I understand you would like your friend to not go unattended.” He took a few steps towards the kitchen before he paused. “The council goes nowhere, mind you. Would you not like to wait for your friend to get well? You say you are diplomats, and it is not my purpose to pry, but if you would have word with Vauhorn, are these proposals too urgent to wait?”

“We don’t really have any ‘proposals’ or anything,” said Rainbow Dash with a short laugh. “Nah, we’re just gonna say hi, really, because… that’s polite and everything?”

“Khaird seemed to think so, at least,” said Fluttershy, nodding along. “It’s a nice thing to do.”

Neisos nodded at this. “Then I have received more answers than I even asked for. You remember the directions I gave you, yes?”

“I remember. We’ll be fine, thank you. Your streets are very organised, at least from what we’ve seen,” said Fluttershy.

“And we can always just fly up,” said Dash grinning. “But yeah. Right, then left, and straight ahead or something.”

“Um, right, then right again,” supplied Fluttershy.

“Same thing. Like I said, we got it,” Dash concluded.


“He seems really nice,” said Fluttershy, casting a look over her back, down the street. At least it wouldn’t be hard to remember which house on this particular street was Neisos’. Every one of them looked plenty distinct.

“Yeah. I want to say ‘but he’s a little weird’ too, but… you know. Peryton. So, duh,” said Dash with a grin.

Fluttershy shook her head slightly and smiled. “I don’t think you’re wrong, they’re just… different, and he’s a little more different. I guess we’ll find out if most of the peryton here are more like him, or if they’re like the peryton with the sashes who stopped us on the road.”

“I’ll take kooky peryton over angry peryton any day of the week,” said Dash, crinkling her snout as she thought. “I think.”

Fluttershy giggled. “Well, they probably don’t have to be one of the two,” she said, and Dash nodded her agreement at that.

If she had to guess, though, the peryton of Vauhorn were probably weird by default, simply because they didn’t look suspicious or skeptical in the least—nor did they look as intensely curious as the Ortosians. They came up on the end of Neisos’ little by-street, and a peryton watering some plants stared at them as they walked by, nodding to herself as though she drew some meaning from their passing. Two stags chatting by an open doorway followed them with their eyes, their conversation twice as animated when the ponies had moved past.

When they hit the larger street and took a right down the thoroughfare, there were more peryton about, but not by much. The few people out and about rested in shadow, or crowded around fountains and roadside water pumps. Most of them wore something, be it a sash, a tailband, a mask or something weird in their antlers. One in particular caught Dash’s eyes, her entire body coloured red from snout to tail-feathers. Other peryton stared at her, too.

“I guess they mostly stay inside during the middle of the day because it’s even warmer here,” said Fluttershy, her eyes skywards for a second. “I wonder if that’s because we’re further north, or if it’s the second part of the summer.”

“Hm? Eh, maybe both,” said Dash with a shrug, but she felt it too. They’d been on the move for mere minutes, and already she felt icky. At least there were some clouds out today. The sun would pass in shadow soon. The red doe passed from view, obscured by another peryton. “Jeez, it’s like everyone’s playing dress-up here. It’s like a costume party just without something... ” she trailed off, sticking out her tongue as she thought.

“Without a theme?” Fluttershy suggested.

“Yeah. They’re all just wearing different stuff.” Rainbow Dash watched as two peryton made a lie of her words, a pair of does wearing identical feathered half-masks talking in low tones in the shrinking shade of a building. Their heads turned to follow the ponies as they passed, faintly smiling. “Almost everyone,” Dash added, lamely.

Fluttershy shuffled her wings and smiled. “Maybe they think we’re just peryton in costume, then.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “If I was this good at costume making, I’d be—uh. Well, I guess I’d be Pinkie Pie.”

“I guess so.” Fluttershy giggled.

“Maybe I am wearing a costume,” Dash suggested with a smirk. “Maybe I’m wearing the coolest costume imaginable: a costume of me. It’s got a newly cut mane and everything!”

Fluttershy snorted with laughter and flushed for a second, probably as surprised as Dash was at the sound she’d made. She covered her muzzle with the nook of a leg. “Well, I like it,” Fluttershy said, swishing her tail over to touch Rainbow Dash. “And I’m sure that if you had help with the mane, the pony who helped did her best.”

“It’s great,” said Dash, simple as that. She extended a wing part-way, just to touch Fluttershy’s side. It was too hot to wrap a wing around or bother her otherwise, but she kept a feather in contact with her girlfriend just because. The broad street sloped gently down as it forged straight ahead. In fact, she could see a pier and the water far ahead. Clear blue water sparkled in the sunlight, almost half as bright as Fluttershy’s eyes in the corner of Dash’s vision. She wasn’t one for mushy stuff, sure, but she couldn’t not notice.

Of course, that also meant she noticed Fluttershy wasn’t looking ahead, trying to find the Ravenwall—whatever it was—that supposedly bordered on this road. Fluttershy stared right at Dash. Normally that’d be fine. Normally, ponies staring at Dash was awesome, but Fluttershy’s smile was stuck at three quarters. Dash tilted her head and fixed her with a look.

“What’s up?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Fluttershy didn’t startle or panic or any of the other things Dash might have expected her to do when caught staring. Instead she let out a breath so deep she must’ve held it all the way from Ponyville.

“I think we need to talk,” said Fluttershy.

“Alright?” asked Dash. “That’s… cool? Because, y’know, we’re talking right now. Like I said, what’s up?”

“No, we need to talk about being together,” said Fluttershy. She looked to each side of the street, her ears wilting. Peryton watched them lazily as they passed.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Yeah? You got an idea for the date? Maybe you can decide what we do the next time, but I got a plan for this one.”

“Um, that’s great, but that’s not—” said Fluttershy, pausing when one of the rare few peryton who walked the streets passed by them, the other pegasus’s eyes following the doe until she was gone. “Actually, maybe we can talk about it later, when we get back. I’m sorry for bringing it up.” She flashed an uneasy smile. “There’s a lot of people around.”

“Sure thing,” said Dash. She cocked a brow when she felt Fluttershy’s right wing wrap around her body. So much for it being too hot. She didn’t say anything, though, nuzzling Fluttershy’s cheek in return. Talking now, talking later—no difference. They crossed over another one of the plazas Vauhorn placed squarely in every intersection, this one crowded not just by tall three-story buildings surrounding it, but by peryton occupying it. Rainbow Dash set course for the central fountain without thinking, thirsty already.

“What do you think is going on?” asked Fluttershy, watching the one half of the plaza busier than the rest. There had to be at least five dozen peryton involved, and for a moment, Rainbow Dash thought most of them were wingless. At a second glance, she saw that they just had their wings bound tight with cloth the same colour of their bodies.

Rainbow Dash watched between sips, the scene changing every time she resurfaced after dipping her muzzle in the fountain. The wingless crowd parted to reveal four peryton with thick swaths of cloth bound around each leg. The next time she looked, a perfectly mono-coloured doe stood in the center with an ornate golden beak affixed to her muzzle. On her back were not one, but two sets of wings spread, the second one an elaborate pair of cloth or paper feathers.

Rainbow Dash wiped her muzzle and nudged Fluttershy softly in the side. “C’mon, you should drink a little too.”

Fluttershy didn’t say anything to that, just like Rainbow Dash didn’t really answer her question either. She had no idea what the hay was going on, and she liked to pretend that no one else did, either. It made the whole thing funnier, anyway. On the other side of the plaza, Vauhorn seemed an almost normal city. A friendly-looking stag sold tomatoes to a family of four from a stall not yet set up. Three peryton with strange tools worked on the stone steps of a storefront. A couple touched their antlers together on the opposite side of the fountain.

“Let’s find out what this Ravenwall thing looks like,” Dash said, casting one final look at the peryton throng. Where the wingless peryton had danced a moment ago—hopping from forelegs to hindlegs—now they talked amongst each other as though the performance was over, but the mood seemed serious. No one Dash could see laughed or smiled.

“Let’s,” Fluttershy agreed, nodding, though both their eyes were on the performers until they left the plaza behind.

They crossed another plaza, then another again. Each plaza and every length of the main street proved that Vauhorn didn’t lack in normalcy, many of the peryton who defied the baking sun doing very regular things in streets dressed up for a dozen different festivals. And then there were the peryton who didn’t do regular, normal, everyday things.

“Consider the auspices of the laughing bird,” said a doe walking past them. She wore a gauzy thin saddle-like cover in fiery reds and yellows and no expression at all. Her antlers were painted bright orange.

“Uh, I’m good, thanks?” said Rainbow Dash. She glanced at Fluttershy who looked equally helpless and turned back to the doe expecting a follow-up or an explanation, but she’d already left. A couple of paces behind them, she saw and heard the doe repeat the exact same words to a stag, who merely smiled and nodded, carrying on down the street.

“This really is a lovely place,” said Fluttershy, casting a worried look behind them, “but I am looking forward to getting home soon.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t know whether to laugh or solemnly agree, so she did both. “Heh, yeah. I could go for a nap in my own bed right now.” She scratched at her snout. “Or outside your house. My place doesn’t get cold enough in summer. I really need to make more windows.”

“You’re sure you’re not just saying that because it’s hot right now?” asked Fluttershy, tilting her head. “You’re welcome at my cottage anytime of course.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Right now I don’t remember what feeling cold is like,” Dash grumped.

“Well, you should come visit anyway, and once you’re visiting, you really should come inside. I’ll make some tea,” Fluttershy added, smiling faintly, her eyes on the ground as they walked. Dash closed her eyes for a moment, pretending she was back home.

“Sure. Hey, make that lemonade, maybe. Anything cold,” said Rainbow Dash, but the thought soured immediately. “Or cocoa if we don’t get back before winter. I’m not gonna bet against that—but hey, I don’t have to help set up the winter snow, so go us.”

Fluttershy frowned and bumped against her. “Don’t say that! We’ll be home with plenty of time left for fall, too!”

“Did you just… hip check me?” Dash asked, blinking.

“And you mean hot chocolate. It’s hot chocolate you like, not cocoa,” Fluttershy added with the tiniest huff possible.

Rainbow Dash felt her cheeks heat up a little, but it was eclipsed by the growing grin on her face. “No seriously, did you—”

“I think we’re here,” Fluttershy said, interrupting her.

“Here where?” Dash asked, but she had her answer when she followed Fluttershy’s gaze to the right, to where the various stone buildings disappeared in a large road-side square.

It wasn’t that it was really a wall. It wasn’t a raven either. Not actually, but nothing had ever quite been so you’ll know it when you see it as the jagged boulder almost as tall as any of the surrounding buildings. It cast shadow from feathers carved into its top half, stylized and sharp towards its tips, gradually less distinct as they merged to become one with the rock. The only other feature on the barely-a-sculpture was the polished square on its own shadow side, affixed with dozens of scrolls and the residue of glue evidencing hundreds more taken down.

The ravens perching upon the rock were another, less subtle hint. Black-winged birds sat wherever there was space, with many more hopping around on the ground below, where a peryton with a feed bag doled out birdseed. One of the ravens warked, and another replied.

“Oh. Yeah. That’s probably what a ‘Ravenwall’ looks like,” Dash said.


The two ponies paused by the roadside. Rows of ravens sat next to each other, one rustling its wings and taking off. The large message board upon the Ravenwall drew the eye, but it took up only a corner of the large, tiled plaza placed almost haphazardly in the otherwise structured city.

“If the city hall thing was supposed to be right next to the Ravenwall,” said Rainbow Dash, eyeing the large building set deeper into the plaza. Large, wide, and all columns and empty space, it reminded her more of a gazebo than a house. A small and shockingly green lawn guarded it, out of place amidst all the stone.

“That has to be it,” Fluttershy agreed, nodding her head, and Rainbow Dash set course for one of the entrances at random. It was hard to pick one. The building had more open arches than it did walls. A peryton left one of the far portals heading for the Ravenwall, a scroll clutched in her magic. The bird-feeder walked to meet her.

“I wish Rarity was here,” said Fluttershy, her ears drooping as they neared the council-house. Her head tilted back as they walked the narrow path through the little lawn, as though her eyes were stuck on the tallest point of the building, where the outer columns met the roof. “And I wish we’d asked what the council is like.”

“Relax, jeez,” said Dash, batting at her side with a wing, a feather-light prod. She stopped at the foot of the low stairs that circled the building. From here, they could see peryton walking to and fro inside the building—and straight through to the other side, too. Rainbow Dash exhaled. “Yeah, and me too. I don’t know what we’re gonna say.”

“You did say we should probably just say hello,” said Fluttershy. She smiled, trying to encourage Rainbow Dash with her own words. Dash snorted.

“Yeah yeah, I know.” Dash tossed her head to make her mane lie right. “But all the other times, we’ve needed directions, and we’ve had other stuff to say. We wanted to ask about the roads, or check about a boat or whatever, but Cotronna’s just down the road, right? This is small talk. Without Rarity.”

“Not right down the road, but we know where we’re going this time,” said Fluttershy, not sounding entirely convinced by her own words. “But… maybe not? We don’t know if the roads are safe, or if there’s anything wrong, so I guess we should ask about that. Goodness, are we getting careless? There are all sorts of things that could be wrong—”

“There we go,” said Dash, cutting her off and grinning as she mounted the stairs. “Exactly what I was looking for. Now there’s a reason to talk to these people. Come on, let’s go!”

“A reason?” Fluttershy asked, trotting a few steps to catch up.

“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash. “Like… if we’re gonna keep doing this whole ‘meet the mayor’ thing. Council. Whatever.”

“I always thought we were doing it because we promised Khaird.” Fluttershy slowed down as they passed between two massive stone columns, then an arch. They walked inside a large chamber, segmented off by large, solid walls with doors to either side. The ceiling was tall and painted in the colours of the sky, making Dash shift her wings to make sure she couldn’t feel a breeze that hadn’t been there a minute ago, ensuring that they were, in fact, inside. Their hooves echoed, loud on the hard stone floor.

Three peryton with simple, white face-fitted masks sat around a low table in the middle of the chamber, colourful pillows almost lost in all the space. Two more peryton conversed over by a column across the hall, and one walked past, seeming not to notice them. All of them wore the same masks, not a single one without.

Fluttershy’s mention of Khaird—and relating the tale of their meeting to Neisos earlier this morning—brought back the memory of that evening chat with the kindly consul and his map weeks ago, before leaving Orto. One particular thing he had said stuck out in particular.

“This was his ‘agenda’?” Dash asked, her voice low.

“I’m sorry?” Fluttershy whispered.

“If we’re here because of Khaird, like you said,” Dash whispered back. “And he just… wanted us to say hello and stay in each city, I mean. What kind of master plan is that?”

“Master plan? I… don’t think that’s what agenda means,” Fluttershy said, blinking. “Or, that’s probably not what he meant by it. He’s not some evil—”

“I know he’s not Ahuizotl or something!” Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “I just mean… I thought he barely knew these peryton. Why would he want—”

“Generous tidings and fresh winds!” a sharp voice declared. One of the masked peryton by the table looked their way, and his two companions did the same. As though the entire room woke from a trance, every set of eyes was on them.

“Right, showtime,” murmured Dash. “Uh. Hi,” she tried, waving a hoof. “We’re… here to say that. Hi. From Equestria.”

“They visit gently upon our shores. Their steps must be seen like Alargis’ first—” one peryton began, only to be cut off.

“Aw come on, not this again,” Dash muttered under her breath.

“No, pack away the tired words, this must be seen in different context,” said another. The three by the table stood, and while Dash wasn’t exactly scared by the confusing and chatty peryton who converged upon them, the white masks didn’t help.

“Do not see, listen only,” said a third. “Suppose—”

“Suppose nothing, that is my exact point!” said the second. The peryton furthest away hurried to catch up, and another one rose to stand from behind a column, clearly awaking from a nap. He, too, moved in their direction. Scattered peryton became a semicircle, slowly constricting around them.

“All that which is, is once something that has been—”

“You must give the present the space to become before it can connect—”

Rainbow Dash tuned them out. It wasn’t really something she meant to do, but Fluttershy’s silence was far louder than the confusing chorus of voices. The yellow pegasus shrank back against her.

She’d always known that unlike her, Fluttershy didn’t enjoy the attention of crowds. Right now, she remembered the vivid description Fluttershy had offered her long ago, trying to make Dash understand how an excess of attention made her feel. She didn’t want to—what was the thing Dash had suggested Fluttershy should do? An aerial trick for Dash’s parents?

Something dumb. She didn’t remember that part, but she recalled the words, just like how as of late, every pained admission—every doubt and fear Fluttershy confided in Rainbow Dash when Dash tried to push her to do something—she recalled it all with crystal clarity. Like a wall pressing in on you until you can’t breathe, Fluttershy had said.

As much as she tried to pretend otherwise, there were moments Rainbow Dash knew that feeling. Right now? She didn’t feel a scratch of that. Instead, the memory, coupled with the chaos of the chattering peryton called forth two simple thoughts.

One was that she wished Fluttershy wouldn’t feel this way. Dash wondered if she could help. It’d be cruel to step aside, to try to force Fluttershy to deal with this—she’d never do that. But at some point, everything she tried to do to help Fluttershy became just as cruel in her mind.

By comparison, the other thought, the other impulse was easier to act on. A relief, almost.

“Hey!” she said. Her second thought came out a shout. The peryton were crowding them, crowding Fluttershy, and they needed to back off. She stomped a hoof for effect. “C’mon, give us some space!”

To their credit, the peryton did. The noise died down, not immediately, but by degrees. Two masked does continued their discussion in lower tones, moving away from the pack. Where a moment ago, Fluttershy’s side had pressed against Dash’s flank, she now stepped to the side and took a deep breath.

“The ponies, of Equestria. We were reminded of your potential visit by a citizen,” said a stag, stepping forward—which brought him almost chest to snout with Rainbow Dash. “And we are as Khylari upon drawing the first line.”

“Some of us,” said a doe, raising her snout a tad. “Will rest in the shadow of Chorossa’s auspices for the time being, but your arrival will ripple pleasantly, Orsshur’s waters flowing over all.”

“Great,” said Rainbow Dash, her ears twitching in annoyance. Fluttershy didn’t have a lot to contribute right now, and Rarity wasn’t here. She tapped a hoof on the floor as she thought. “Hi, again. I guess I’m ‘like’ Rainbow Dash when she had to listen to a lot of names and stupid words she didn’t understand.”

Masked faces glanced at masked faces, the sudden silence a bigger question mark than any hidden expression could convey. Rainbow Dash took a deep breath.

“I—we don’t know half of those names. Can we just… talk normal?” Dash suggested, puffing out her cheeks. “No Chorossa this or Selyria that. I’m Rainbow Dash, and this is Fluttershy.” She grimaced. “I told you my name already. Whatever.”

“It is as I said,” spoke a brown stag with rust red wings following another pause, and Rainbow Dash instantly took a liking to him when he extended a foreleg to push the closest peryton back a step. “See this first freed from context, and understand it later. Or!” he said, raising his voice a tad to forestall protests. “In favor of a maskless day? They do not know the Aspects. Consider this for a brief moment.”

Another stag shrugged. “Then we must relate the stories in full, for a fuller understanding to be reached. What Aspects favor they in their Equestria?”

“I have only distantly heard of Equestria,” said a doe. “Do they call their Aspects by name—”

“They—”

“Silence, please!” the defending stag called. His antlers glowed, magic surrounding his simple white mask to remove it. He looked unremarkable enough save for a small scar on his lower lip.

“But… but it is reflection day,” protested a stag on the other side of the semicircle, sounding positively indignant. Others murmured their agreement, but a doe took off her mask, and another one followed suit. Soon all the peryton were unmasked, blank and expressionless masks replaced with the confused and annoyed faces of people. Dash let out a sigh of relief.

“It is reflection day,” the kindly stag agreed. He bent down until his head was level with the ponies. “Which is six days out of every week. It is rare that we have visitors. Who here remembers the last time we had guests? The zebra visitor how many seasons past? Who here were in council then?”

A few hooves raised off the ground. Less than half.

“Enough to share in this knowledge: let us not repeat the confusion of that visit. Wear no mask on your face or in your mind for now, and let us do as they ask.” The brown stag smiled at Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy in turn. “Please understand the nature of your welcome here today, as it is reflection day. Welcome, ponies of Equestria. I am Orssus.”

Rainbow Dash looked to Fluttershy. Fluttershy looked back at her and blinked. “Okay, thanks,” said Dash. “I still have no idea what ‘reflection day’ is.”

“Then we must explain,” announced a brown-white doe with a full-bodied shrug and a glance at the stag with the scarred lip. “I am Theissa. That story of what reflection day is, is one of three, maybe four turns. Will you allow such an extravagance of words?”

“Oh, do put away your bruised true self,” Orssus retorted. He pointed to the central table, a few of the peryton already drifting towards it. “Come sit. Voices will be calmed if you will tell us this one thing first; will you permit your story to be reflected upon?”

“Again, no idea what you’re talking about,” said Rainbow Dash absent-mindedly. She followed—and made sure Fluttershy followed her in turn—but amidst all this strangeness, the craziest thing of all was the only thing that wasn’t. She watched two of the peryton quarrel over an extra pillow, a supremely mundane squabble in a setting where nothing else added up.

“Maybe you can try to explain it… in a different way?” asked Fluttershy as they approached the table.

“Oh! So you do have a voice as well,” said Orssus, looking at her for a moment with genuine surprise. “Yes, hm. The irony is, you have answered your own question. What I ask is, when you leave, may we discuss the meaning of your visit? There will no doubt be much to reflect upon, no matter how few words are traded.”

“Uh, why wouldn’t that be okay?” asked Rainbow Dash, dearly wishing they had brought Neisos along as a translator. “I give up. Fluttershy, help me out here.”

The stag scratched a flank with his wing as he sat his hindquarters down on a pillow, gesturing for them to do the same. “Meanings change over time. Even that which is written in stone will not be read by the same eyes forever.”

Fluttershy sat down next to Rainbow Dash and rubbed a foreleg against another, chewing on her lower lip for a second. “Okay. That’s fine, I think. If you’re asking if ponies have a problem with that, I mean? I think the answer is no. You can talk about us as much as you’d like.”

“Sure,” Dash agreed, shrugging.

“You are generous, and we are off to a good start,” said Orssus, nodding at that, but Rainbow Dash wasn’t quite so sure. The chaotic debate that had met them at the entrance persisted. At least now the majority of the peryton were busy talking to each other rather than at them. Only two peryton gave the ponies their undivided attention, the rusty stag called Orssus and the skeptical doe, Theissa.

“Right. You just said words I understood, so I guess that’s good,” said Dash, nodding in return. “Let’s, uh, keep that up. I’ll bite. What the hay is ‘reflection day’?”

“It is the six days of Orsshur’s ascendancy,” said Theissa, her face and voice impassive. “Six days, in sets of three, twice every week, it is the council’s task to wear the masks to consider every story without judgment. It is also when we settle disputes.”

“So you discuss all the stories about the Aspects with each other?” Fluttershy suggested, saving Rainbow Dash from a headache. “You… discuss philosophy, and try not to let your personal feelings get in the way when you make decisions?”

The doe frowned and did not reply immediately, and all around the table, ears had perked up when Fluttershy spoke, though they did not offer comment either. They were clearly listening, but not partaking in the conversation. Orssus looked pensive for a moment, then nodded.

“Your frame is not the one I would choose, but I understand you are not entirely wrong. When we do not mediate conflicts, ours is not a work of philosophy, though. Philosophy is idle work. We gauge the value of stories that pass through this room.” He looked up at the tall, sky-blue ceiling. “We share our reflections, the links between stories, and the possible wisdom to be understood from them. Our words travel to every city by raven and by letter when kin seek answer.”

“So you are all claw-priests?” asked Fluttershy, tilting her head. “We met someone who used those words.”

Theissa’s stoic demeanour cracked at that, a tiny smile showing. “No, we are not claw-priests. They deal in the First Stories, and we deal in what comes after. That makes us storytellers, not claw-priests—but are we not all storytellers in the end? The word means so little.”

“Some more radical storytellers hold that belief,” retorted another doe across the table.

“Some less ‘radical’ kin,” said Theissa with a huff, “would do well to remember Selyria’s encounter with Morrashon.”

Nope. There was the headache in full. Rainbow Dash groaned out loud and threw her head back. “Can’t you guys say anything without using all these other stories?”

The peryton around the table didn’t look quite as bewildered as they had at Dash’s first outburst. If they argued all the time, maybe they were used to that sort of thing. Whatever the case, they mostly continued chatting amongst themselves, but the stag at their side nodded slightly. “We can and do, but let me try to explain.”

“I don’t even know if I want to hear an explanation,” Dash admitted with a sigh.

“You can tell me, at least,” said Fluttershy, smiling at him.

“Then you will have an example. I will tell you how this story relates to your question. Or, how it relates to our discussion on what a storyteller is,” said Orssus, shifting his seating a little to get comfortable.

“Morrashon is the Aspect of stalwart guardianship, the stone, the one who never blinks. I will give you the shorter, less florid tale. When Selyria came across him in her eternal wandering of all realms, he cried.” Orssus leaned a little closer, lowering his voice a touch. “You see, he was fraught with doubt and fear, because his entire life was spent guarding the gates—guarding every gate, the conceptual gates-of-gates themselves. When he came face to face with Selyria, the most travelled of all, he feared that he would have no story to tell.”

Rainbow Dash nodded along as he spoke. She tried to envision this happening, but it was hard when every statue of Selyria looked different, and she had no idea what this Morrashon was like.

“He shared these concerns,” the stag went on. “And bared his heart to Selyria, for such is her burden and her delight, to listen to the deepest fears of everyone, for all are kith or kin to those of the First Stories, and she is one of the two. He told her that he worried that when he opened his mouth to speak, he would have nothing to say, that he had seen so little compared to she who wandered the forever-paths. What stories could he tell, he who had stood rooted to the spot since his birth, he who had neither leg nor wing to move him?”

Dash felt one of Fluttershy’s wings touch against her side. She responded in kind.

Orssus closed his eyes and smiled. “Selyria did not offer him pity, but she instead asked him what he had seen. She asked him, where had his mind wandered? What did he dream? Who had he met—for the only way one meets no one by sinking root is if everyone does the same, and Morrashon was unique. She told him that she herself can never be Morrashon, she can never have sunk deep those roots of stone. She told him that for knowing what she does not, his stories are as large as hers, and she would not be the only to want to hear them.”

“And then what?” asked Rainbow Dash when Orssus had been quiet for a few seconds.

“Then Selyria left,” said the stag, his smile widening. “As she did, always does and never does.”

“That’s it? That’s the whole story?” Rainbow Dash asked, tilting her head. “That’s a lame ending.”

“That is their first meeting,” said Orssus. “And since then, the story has been told four times eight thousand times, again and again—until it was referred to today. Until today, Theissa invoked it to suggest to Cholaussa that, is it not an interesting juxtaposition? Is it not curious that we use this title of ‘storyteller’ to suggest that our stories are important, when we all have stories to tell?”

Orssus let out a long breath, shaking his head slowly from side to side. “But at the same time, are we not Morrashon, attached to this building where we discuss and decide on how to advise other storytellers to help people become sharp of mind? At least—” he said, looking askance at the doe. “That is how I understood Theissa.”

“You are ever keen,” said Theissa. “But there is more to be said and thought about it, I feel. Perhaps later.”

“A story told again and again,” Orssus repeated, turning back to the ponies. “Until finally today, I told it to the two of you to explain how we peryton use these stories in our debates. How the Aspects can aid in our growth. Tomorrow, perhaps I will use the story of the ponies of Equestria who were told the story of Morrashon’s first meeting with Selyria, if it is relevant. Or perhaps I will indeed tell the story of the Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy who understood not a word that was spoken, but listened with open ears despite. This, I think, would be a story of diplomats of a very kind people.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Thank you. We met people who explained the Aspects and the stories to us before, but it’s very nice to have an example of how you do it, too.”

Rainbow Dash nodded slowly. If she thought she understood it a little better now, she didn’t want to admit it. Someone would tell her she didn’t, that she was wrong, and she’d rather just pretend at this point.

“But, this has been a very large digression to a question,” said Orssus with a suppressed laughter that came out a muted cluck. “The short answer is yes. We are all storytellers who advise others, but we are also the council when we need to be, and in this radical old claw’s opinion, far too rarely do we get to act as the diplomatic branch of the city. What may Vauhorn do for you, and what can you do for Vauhorn, Equestrians? Would you like some water, or perhaps food?”

“I’m good,” said Dash, flicking her tail. She exchanged a look with Fluttershy. After all those words, it felt super lame to admit that they were really here to say hi.

“We just wanted to introduce ourselves, really,” said Fluttershy, her ears pinned back sheepishly. “I guess we’ve done that and more. We’re sorry if we disturbed you, or if you were busy.”

“Disturbed,” Orssus repeated as though the word held no meaning to him. “Disturbed… no, I do not think you understand. We are as—ah,” he paused with a toothy grin. “In simple words, our purpose is to debate, to discuss and disagree. This is restful to my ears by comparison.”

“I think I’ll stick with wrangling storms,” muttered Rainbow Dash.

“You say introductions, however,” Orssus said. “Does this mean you will be staying for a while and return to us, perhaps upon next sunrise?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Fluttershy admitted, her brow furrowed. “Rainbow Dash?”

“Yeah, no idea,” said Dash. “We’re waiting for one of our friends to get better, but we’re not really sticking around town for a very long time.”

Orssus tilted his head to the side. “Now I admit to some puzzlement. We are glad for the ripples you cause, but I understood the missive said you were diplomats of some sort. A delegation from Equestria.”

Fluttershy nodded. “That’s right,” she said, a half-smile tugging on her lips and her eyes on the table. “At least, that’s what we’re supposed to be.”

“Then,” said Orssus. “Do you carry no words for Vauhorn? Is your visit here not your intent?”

“Sure. We meant to come here, kinda,” said Rainbow Dash. It wasn’t like they’d ended up here by accident. “We’re just visiting, really. We’re obviously heading for the capital, for Cotronna for all the… can you say ‘diplomacy stuff’? Rarity would probably say, uh—”

“To handle all the diplomatic affairs?” suggested Fluttershy, shrugging helplessly.

“Let’s go with that, yeah,” Dash agreed. “Affairs. We figure we’re gonna talk to the princ—uh, the... head councilperson there, I guess you call them.”

Orssus nodded slowly, his gaze distant. The chatter around the table was a little less, now, ears perked all around. “Well,” he said, his voice a little lower at first, but it soon picked up, his smile returning—and with it, the noise in the room picked back up. “Then we are glad to guest you for as long as you stay. If you are not certain you will return to this house, perhaps you will tell of your home city of Equestria before you leave? There is sunlight still, and we love to listen.”

“Sure,” said Rainbow Dash when Fluttershy didn’t protest. “We can tell you about Equestria. It’s not our ‘home city’ though. That’s Ponyville, and we’re actually both born in Cloudsdale.”

“Then tell us of your Ponyville,” Orssus said, hovering over another pillow. Theissa shrugged and shuffled a little closer as well, and another peryton put a pitcher of water on the table.