• 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 23

Rainbow Dash was right. In hindsight, walking all day was, in fact, getting easier before I came down with this awful cold, so I suppose I won’t be needing yoga for a while when I get back.

At least I have something to keep me busy. I doubt these dresses will go over well, but I relish the challenge of my limited materials remaining. Working on new designs is always pleasant work, especially when I know my friends will like them.

Friends. Now, I know my isolation here is my own doing, but what else can I do but give them room to grow as they’ve become so much more than friends?

Ah well. I should enjoy making these dresses while I can, even if that enjoyment is rather tempered when I realise I’ve failed before I even tried. Remember, Rarity, these are mostly just to test a theory.


“I hope Rarity hasn’t worried too much about us. That took a lot longer than I thought it would,” said Fluttershy, glancing skywards. It was already well into the evening hours, and though the moon was large and bright, the added glow of magical street-lamps faded the stars. “They really enjoyed hearing about home,” she mused.

“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash, shaking her head even as she laughed. ”C’mon, just try and tell me you don’t think that’s weird. I’ve never met anyone who was so excited to hear us talk about Ponyville.”

“They would probably love to get a copy of all the friendship lessons. They’re all stories, too,” said Fluttershy. She pointed down a side street. “Oh, it’s this one, I remember the masks hanging from the corner wall.”

“Probably, but they ate up all the normal boring stuff, and didn’t care about some other things,” Dash countered, following as Fluttershy led the way. The streets were nearly empty in the mounting cold, and only the cover of the buildings shielded them from the wind. Finding their way back was quick and easy enough, though. She could see Neisos’ house ahead, just past the house with all the landscape paintings on its walls.

“Like, okay, I get that not everyone’s crazy about trains and stuff, but they were creepy silent sometimes,” she added.

“I don’t think they didn’t care, I just think they didn’t understand,” said Fluttershy, shifting her wings on her back. “I don’t know for sure, but they don’t move a lot, remember. It’s got to be strange and exciting for them to hear about someone who moved from one city to another. They didn’t really seem all that interested in Cloudsdale, though, not after we told them that Ponyville was ‘our city’.”

“Moving cities. Not exactly the thing I want to be famous for,” Dash said, laughing. “And besides, how’s that crazy compared to travelling here all the way from Equestria? We should’ve asked how they feel about the Bent Feathers. Shouldn’t they be excited about peryton who travel a lot, too?”

Fluttershy pushed the door open slowly, nodding to herself and giving it a shove when they both heard familiar voices inside. “That would make a lot of sense, but we don’t actually know they were excited, exactly. They just listened closely,” she said, holding the door open for Rainbow Dash. Inside, the room was warm and bright, owing to magical lights along the ceiling and a fire burning in the small fireplace. Heavy drapes hung in front of the shuttered windows, and Rarity sat swaddled in blankets by the table, playing some sort of board game with Neisos.

“Oh, you’re awake,” said Fluttershy, smiling at Rarity. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m just fine, darling, but thank you for asking,” replied Rarity, sounding a lot more nasal than earlier this morning. Next to a stack of small wooden game pieces lay a collection of well-used handkerchiefs. “Well, I’m managing, at any rate,” she added, following Dash’s eyes to the little cloth-pile. “How did it go?”

“Hey, before we answer that,” said Dash, kicking the door shut, “Neisos, what do you think of the Bent Feathers?”

“Weren’t they called the Broken Feathers?” asked Fluttershy, taking a seat by the table.

“Nah, Bent Feathers, I’m sure,” said Dash.

“They are curious and rootless kin, and I say this without much judgment,” said Neisos, still staring at the game board—a richly painted miniature world with intricate pieces to go with it. He frowned and placed a tiny wooden house on an island, nodding to Rarity. “Your turn,” he said, looking up for the first time since Dash and Fluttershy returned. “Why this question?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged and sat down next to Fluttershy. “Just wondering. We talked to the council a bunch, and they really wanted to hear about Equestria. Or, well, about Ponyville, anyway.” She rubbed her forelegs together for warmth. It was cold outside for how early in the evening it was, and pegasus or no, she appreciated the fire in the hearth right now.

“We do have the advantage here,” said Rarity, sniffling into a handkerchief. “We’re in their lands. We can see how they live with our own eyes, but they have to ask. It’s natural they’d be curious to hear about us.” She levitated a wooden ship onto a dotted line between two islands on the game board and placed a tiny cube next to it. Neisos scowled.

“You built up to seizing that trade route all along,” said the stag.

“Of course I did, dear. It’s a game of business, as I understand it, and business rewards meticulous planning and attention to detail.” Rarity rubbed at her eyes. “How many points is that?”

Neisos collected a mound of small wooden chips from his side of the board, sweeping them up with his magic and dropping them into a tiny bag. “Enough to win the game. Uncanny.” He shook his head and flashed Rarity a smile before he turned to the pegasi. “I am sorry, my head was in another place—you say your dealings with the council bore fruit?”

“I don’t know about fruit. We just talked a bunch,” said Rainbow Dash.

“I see,” said Neisos, tilting his head slightly. “Was this your intent?”

Rainbow Dash frowned. “They asked that too. Or, they were all… I don’t know, ‘is that all’ and stuff. What gives?”

Neisos drew back, silent and with his mouth slightly open for a moment before he replied. “I… did not mean to cause anger. I do not know what a diplomat of Equestria, a foreign delegate, an ambassador—whichever of these titles you hold—actually does, or is supposed to do. I ask for my own sake.”

“Right,” said Dash, flicking an ear. “I’m not angry, I’m just, eh. I don’t know. Whatever. Like I said, we just talked a lot about Ponyville, really.”

“It was very interesting, but a little exhausting, too,” Fluttershy added, blowing her mane out of her face. “I think my throat is a little sore.”

“You better not be getting sick, too,” said Dash, shooting her a glance. “But yeah, you guys make a little more sense now, so that’s cool. We forgot to ask about all the crazy masks and the dances and stuff though, ugh. Fluttershy, you were supposed to remind me!”

“I’m sorry,” said Fluttershy, sighing. She, too, looked to Neisos. “But if everyone in the city does it, it can’t be a big secret. We saw a very strange dance in one of the squares here. A lot of strange dances, actually, and… I think I understand some of it, but it’s still really confusing.”

“It’s a reenactment of sorts, dear.” The answer came not from Neisos, but from Rarity. The unicorn stacked all the pieces and folded the game board while she spoke. A large group of islands painted on sea-blue bent once, then once more, neatly squared away. “They get closer to the Aspects’ stories by dressing up like them. Like an interpretation. We discussed it before you came in, actually.”

Neisos nodded. “The word ‘reenactment’ strikes me as clumsy, but the rest is correct enough. Forty-nine Aspects by count, but more stories by far, and for all those stories, it is easier to remind one of them and to understand their purpose with paint, mask and other trappings.”

“So it’s like a play?” asked Rainbow Dash. The image of the Ephydoeran jousts sprang to mind immediately.

The stag furrowed his brow and made a clucking sound. “I… the answer to that question is complicated. My first answer is ‘no’, that it is not a play, but it is life, history and potential futures. Maybe I can give you a longer answer later if that is not sufficient—”

“But right now, Neisos, dear,” Rarity interrupted, “you are running late.”

“You are right,” said Neisos. The stag rocked himself to a side before he stood up, balancing on his single hindleg. He hobbled over to a wooden cupboard, producing a small collection of tiny jars which he put into a bag slung about his neck.

“While you were at the council, an acquaintance visited to remind me that I had promised to mind their children while they did some work,” said Neisos with an apologetic smile. “There is still soup left—you will not think me unkind if I leave you for the night?”

“You should’ve left long ago, I would have been fine by myself,” said Rarity, waving a hoof. “You’ve been very kind, please, don’t worry about me or us.”

“Thank you for taking care of Rarity,” said Fluttershy, dipping her head.

“You do what you gotta do, we already owe you one,” Dash said, waving as well.

“I will return deep in the night, I expect. Crossing town is a little slower for me, as you may see. Make yours my house,” said the stag, making for the door as swiftly as he could.

“If walking’s hard, why don’t you just fly?” asked Dash on a whim. “Not all the time, but it’s not too hot out when the sun’s down.”

Neisos paused in the doorway, gazing into the open air for a second. “Another good question. The heat is certainly part of it.”

Rainbow Dash tilted her head and waited for an actual answer.

The stag sighed and returned a helpless smile. “I could, but I have not flown much since my work at the quarry ended, that is the simple truth. For now, I am late.”

“Alright, good luck,” said Rainbow Dash. She didn’t protest. There were limits to how much she could badger someone they just met anyway. Neisos disappeared out the door without another word, and Dash arched her neck, stretching and yawning. She got up and walked around a bit rather than risk falling asleep where she sat.

All the decorations of the room seemed different in the aftermath of their visit to the council. Were all the little paintings, the masks, the shawl hanging on a wall—was all of this connected to some story or other? Even the wooden cupboard by the stairs had engravings on it.

The idea that nothing in the living room could be simple and exist just for itself made her head spin. Suddenly she appreciated the creepy blank masks the council wore a little more. With everything else so steeped in meaning, the white masks were the only thing they had seen that she knew for sure didn’t have to mean a bunch of other stuff. Rainbow Dash shook her head to herself and walked further into the room.

“Have you been up for long? Did you talk to Neisos all evening?” Dash heard Fluttershy ask. She herself slipped into the kitchen proper and opened a cupboard with some effort. Cups and bowls of varying sizes, nothing else.

“A while. He was happy to explain some things about Vauhorn that we wished to know, but I expect you’ve heard most of it from the council by now,” came Rarity’s reply. Dash tried another cupboard, and found only cloth and a few scrolls. She slammed the door shut and snorted. Who kept that stuff in their kitchen?

“Oh. Um, well, we didn’t really listen so much as we talked, really, but we learned a lot about how they use their stories,” said Fluttershy.

“Mmm, I understand there is nuance to it, but as I think I said earlier, it helps to think of it as extended simile.” Rarity’s voice sounded hollow and distorted when Dash stuck her head inside a closet. Nothing edible here either. “They just place a lot more value on it, and their indirect take on history is fascinating,” Rarity went on. “Did they tell you about the waterfront here?”

“No? Why?”

“Oh, just that they, like all the cities save for Ephydoera, have ships of their own, and Neisos has family in trade,” said Rarity. She paused to blow her nose and made a sound of obvious disgust. “Ugh. Where was I—yes, he said that we might actually be able to catch a ship back to Orto if we wish. One of his brothers has a trading ship that recently left for Cotronna, and it’ll head back here soon to take some cargo there.”

“We still don’t know that we need to go to Orto,” Fluttershy pointed out. Even from the other room, Dash heard her clear her throat in that barely-audible way she did when she was nervous. “We don’t really know how we’re getting back home at all.”

“I just need to remember to bring it up to Luna!” Dash called. She opened the stove’s door and frowned. She could probably re-heat the vegetable soup, but starting a fire was a chore.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, dear,” Rarity’s voice drifted in from the living room. “But yes, anyway, it’s an option if we think it’s a better idea to wait for the airship in Orto in case they return to where they left us. Apparently this relative of Neisos will stay in Cotronna for a while, so I don’t think we have to hurry too much, but I hope to get well soon.”

“I hope so, too,” said Fluttershy.

Rainbow Dash took a step back and gave the kitchen another look. Without her head stuck in cupboards and drawers, she realised why she didn’t find any food. She rolled her eyes at herself and groaned. At the other end of the long chamber stood the door to the pantry. She pushed the door, but nothing happened.

“I’m glad you’re taking some time to rest. It’s good for you,” Fluttershy said, her voice a little more quiet now. “Does that mean you’re done with the dresses, or are you just taking a break?”

“Hm? Oh, no, dear, I am nowhere near done with the dresses I’ve planned for Cotronna, but I am all but done with the ones I wanted you to model for me here in Vauhorn,” said Rarity. “In fact—Rainbow Dash? I wanted to talk to you about that. Both of you. Could you come in here?”

“Yeah yeah, give me a minute,” Dash shot back. The door didn’t have any handle or knob. Many of the Vauhornite doors did, just not the drawers or this one particular, and very important door. She pushed it a little harder, but drew breath through clenched teeth when all it got her was an ominous creak. A sliding door, then. Rainbow Dash put a hoof to it and pushed sideways, finally getting it open.

The pantry was full of fruits, vegetables, unlabelled jars and much more, a full family’s worth of food. She spread her wings a bit, nosing some stuff off the shelves and into the keeping of her feathers. Some fruits she recognised, some she didn’t, but soon she had a collection of edibles all nestled safely on her back between her wings, noting once again that she’d almost forgotten their colour.

“D’you think the reason they didn’t say anything about my wings is because they thought I was playing dress-up like the rest of them?” asked Rainbow Dash, rejoining Fluttershy and Rarity. She let the fruits spill loosely onto the table and sat, grabbing a strange yellow thing. A probably-fruit of some sort.

“Maybe?” said Fluttershy, glancing at Dash’s painted feathers. “We haven’t seen anyone get very upset over it, but you did get a lot of looks when we walked to the council.”

“Wait, really?” asked Dash.

Fluttershy tilted her head. “You didn’t notice?”

“I was busy looking at other stuff!” Dash flicked an ear, wincing when Rarity loudly cleared her snout. Louder than was strictly necessary, she was pretty sure.

“So,” said Rarity, sniffling. She shuffled the items on the table around, separating the fruit from the game board and its pieces, re-stacking the stuff Dash had knocked over. “Another interesting little tidbit Neisos shared with me—because he was excited for it, I think—was the event the day after tomorrow. Did the council mention it?”

“No?” said Dash, cocking a brow. The yellow fruit resisted eating. It was like biting down on rubber.

“I think one of them mentioned that they would not be working, or not reflecting two days from now. I thought that was just something like their weekends,” said Fluttershy, grabbing an apple for herself.

“They have this custom—” Rarity began.

“Do they even have weekends?” asked Dash. She finally managed to bite off a piece, but it didn’t taste anything at all. She spat it out and stared at the yellow chunk. Maybe not food after all?

“They—huh. I don’t actually know,” said Rarity, scratching at her snout. “I never thought to ask. They clearly think in terms of weeks, even if they are a day longer than ours, but...” She shook her head. “We’re getting off topic—”

“I don’t think we ever got on topic, actually,” said Fluttershy, laying her ears flat when Rarity groaned.

“They have a custom,” Rarity started anew. “Called the Alluvium, or the Rippling. Both of those, apparently. I think the Alluvium is a Rippling, or the Rippling is the Alluvium, I honestly didn’t catch that, but as far as I understand, it’s something of a… contest?”

Rainbow Dash perked her ears.

“Or, no,” said Rarity her snout crinkled. “Not a contest, a… judgment? It sounded to me like a fireside gathering of sorts where they share stories—”

Dash exhaled and grabbed a grapefruit, discarding the stupid yellow rubbery thing.

“—except they cannot, for that one day, be old ones. Or, how did he put it? ‘Only stories not told, though certainly stories experienced, lived or heard’.” Rarity furrowed her brow. “How a story can be heard without being told I couldn’t tell you. It’s about telling new stories.”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled at that, apparently pleased. “I think that sounds very nice. They spend a lot of time with the same stories, discussing them and interpreting them in different ways.”

“So what you’re saying is that they’re just looking for new stuff?” Dash chanced.

Rarity graced them both with a tired smile in turn. “Something like that, yes. I think you two have summed it up better than I ever could.”

“But… it’s not a contest?” Dash asked, eyes narrowed.

The unicorn let out an exasperated sigh, making a big show of rolling her eyes and all even though she still smiled. “No, darling. There are no prizes, no pedestals, no medals, and no—well... alright, I will grant you this, I don’t know that there is no cheering, but Neisos emphasised that they just listen to stories and decide for themselves which stories they add to their canon of stories, so to say. The storytellers of their council have a lot of sway in this, but it’s really for peryton to decide for themselves.”

Rainbow Dash let out a yawn, making sure to be as loud as possible about it.

“Charming,” said Rarity.

“If it’s just a sort of story festival, that could be wonderful,” said Fluttershy, swallowing the last of her apple, scrutinizing the remaining fruits on the table. “If it’s more like… ghost stories, then, um, maybe not so much.”

“I didn’t ask for specifics. I don’t know if there’s a big stage or anything like that,” said Rarity.

“Mh-hm,” hummed Dash, spitting out some grapefruit skin. “What does that have to do with us?” she asked.

“I’ll definitely have the new dresses finished by then,” said Rarity. Her horn lit up, and the discarded grapefruit peel floated over to a corner of the table. “I hope I’m well enough for us all to go, but if not, would the two of you mind attending? All I need is for you to wear the dresses I’ve made, ask a few of them what they think of it—if they can think of a dress as a dress and not a mere costume. Mostly, I’d need you to see if they wear anything else, if there is anything that isn’t specific to certain stories.” Her brow furrowed in thought. “Perhaps there’s something that more than most of them wear? Some nugget of what they consider fashionable like the jewellery in Stagrum, even if they don’t think of it—oh, or one part of the dress that does stand out to them, something they appreciate.”

Fluttershy looked over at Rainbow Dash, smiling expectantly. “I’m sure we could try our best.”

“Sure,” said Dash with a grin, grabbing a cluster of grapes. “If they’re gonna share poems or anything, I’m gonna fly back to the Splitwood and do something fun instead, like… sit in a canyon or something, but listening to people tell stories when that’s the point? I’m down for that.”

The path to bed was still a minefield of metal parts and tools, and the lack of light didn’t help. With neither magic nor a clue on how to otherwise light the globe hanging from the ceiling, the room stood dark, and Rainbow Dash would have to carefully measure each step.

If she didn’t have wings, that was. Dash hopped into the air and flew over to the single bed, wobbling precariously on the touch-down. Mattresses were terrible landing sites. Fluttershy sat on the other side, still awake. Dash had wondered if she would fall asleep while Dash herself went for a quick pre-bed snack.

That was a long day,” said Rainbow Dash. She leaned over the side of the bed, stretching to reach a nearby windowsill and nosing the heavy curtains aside for a peek outside. A narrow alley ran between Neisos’ house and the one opposite. A peryton sat with their back to the open window right across from her. Light spilled from the neighbouring house still, but otherwise it was as dark outside as it was in their borrowed room.

“Mm,” said Fluttershy. Her eyes were on everything and nothing, wandering the room as though she could see clearly in the darkness. Rainbow Dash suddenly remembered something.

“Hey, you told me to remind me you wanted to talk to me about something,” said Dash, tossing the words into the air while she tried to figure out the bed. They were definitely sitting—or standing, in her case—on a cover of some sort. No pillows, apparently.

“I did,” Fluttershy said, looking over at her. “I mean, I do.”

Rainbow Dash paused her efforts to will a pillow into existence. She locked eyes with Fluttershy for a second, and that was enough. Never mind the particular way Fluttershy’s voice had gone soft and quiet, or how her ears were neither splayed nor perked, either. She could tell from the way Fluttershy looked at her that she wanted to say something big, or something difficult. Maybe something annoying. It didn’t matter.

When Fluttershy got like that, Dash knew she just had to listen—which meant to say she needed to wait and shut up for a moment. Rainbow Dash folded her legs under her and lay down in the middle of the bed, neither far away from nor close to Fluttershy. She stretched her wings out and poked at her feathers, busying herself with some mindless cleaning.

“I… don’t want you to misunderstand me—I hope you won’t,” said Fluttershy, pausing to nibble on her lower lip. “But ever since we decided we should try this, being, um, being more than friends, you’ve been acting different.”

Rainbow Dash licked her lips and folded her wings as she thought. “Uh, okay? Didn’t we talk about this? Isn’t… that kinda the point? Is this about all the touching and stuff? Because if you don’t like it—”

“Oh no!” said Fluttershy, her cheeks lighting with a faint blush. “No, that part is good. Very good. I like all the cuddling and everything. I like that. I’d like more of that, and I hope you do too.”

Dash shuffled sideways across the bed until she lay side to side with Fluttershy. “‘Kay, good,” she said when their flanks touched. Touching was good. She’d be disappointed if that was the problem. Dash stole a glance at Fluttershy’s wings. More touching would be even better. Hopefully one of these days Fluttershy would get over whatever it was that made her not want help with her preening. She’d gone silent now, though.

“But?” Dash asked, tilting her head.

“It’s not just you. It’s us, and it’s not about the new things that we’re doing now, like cuddling,” said Fluttershy, sighing. “It’s the opposite. I wanted to talk about… what we used to do, and how we used to do it. Things we don’t do any more.”

Rainbow Dash let out an internal sigh of relief. Was that all? She saw Fluttershy already working on a way to explain further, or perhaps to take back what she’d said, to apologise for what she thought was a terrible thing to say, but in truth, Dash was glad to hear her say it.

“Yeah, I know,” said Dash.

“Y—you know?” Fluttershy echoed, big eyes trained on Dash’s own.

“Yeah, of course I know,” said Rainbow Dash, flicking an ear in annoyance. Admitting fault was never fun, but it wasn’t like she was blind to Fluttershy being unhappy, either. Dash knew she’d pushed harder than she should have, harder than the best girlfriend ever should have.

Being girlfriends was different from what Dash had expected—or perhaps that was a lie, actually. She hadn’t considered it a lot, but trying not to push Fluttershy around all the time wasn’t a big ask, right? If that frustrated Dash every now and then, that was Rainbow Dash’s own problem.

“I haven’t been as awesome a girlfriend as I could’ve been, I get that,” Rainbow Dash added, swishing her tail uselessly against the wall.

“I… didn’t mean to—” Fluttershy muttered. “I didn’t say that.”

“Well, you didn’t,” said Dash, darting in to nuzzle her cheek. “I did.” That earned her a soft giggle and a shake of the head from Fluttershy.

“Okay. I just… what I meant was that I want us to do more things together. Like we used to. As long as you understand that,” said Fluttershy. She reached out with a wing to touch against Dash’s side. “Because I really love you for who you are.”

“Yeah, I think so too. That’s why we’re going on a date tomorrow,” said Dash, a grin spreading across her face. “It’s gonna be great.”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy, smiling back at her now. “I… I didn’t think you understood, but if you do, that’s wonderful.” She pushed her mane out of her face and shifted around to pull the cover up over her back, leaving room for Rainbow Dash. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, but we should probably get some rest, then. You were right, it’s been a very long day,” she concluded with a soft laugh.

“No kidding,” said Dash, yawning and lying down next to her. She rested her head against Fluttershy’s neck and murmured a good-night.

She’d lied a little bit. She didn’t have a clear plan for a ‘date’, but she had the beginnings of an idea, and that was all she needed. The obvious point of Princess Luna’s advice still stuck with her, to find some sort of neutral ground.

This was the exact reason Rainbow Dash wanted to turn her house around. Years ago, it’d taken a young pegasus one night in her house-in-progress to learn that no matter how many layers of curtains, shutters, or random pieces of furniture piled up against a window, a single ray of sunlight would inevitably find its way to your face when you wanted to sleep.

“Come on, I fixed this,” the sleepy pegasus mumbled, cracking an eye open to receive the blinding glare head-on—as well as the realisation that this house probably wouldn’t rotate.

Not without a very big tornado, anyway. Some smaller tornado must’ve whisked away Fluttershy, though. That was the ruling theory until she heard familiar voices from down below. Familiar and unfamiliar ones, actually, and more than a few of the latter.

“What,” Dash grumbled, twisting around under the covers. She was uncomfortably hot. When she spotted the tiny peryton child stood in the doorway staring at her, she was plain old regular uncomfortable, too. The little thing was barely more than half her size, talons too large for its legs and tail-feathers nothing but a short tuft.

“Uh. Hey,” Dash offered.

The child ran off, wings flapping uncontrollably at her side. His side. Dash thought she caught some colour in there. She let out a great yawn and stepped off the bed—straight onto an upright piece of metal tubing. She didn’t even acknowledge the pain, instead closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. One of those days, she thought. Guess they happen outside of Equestria, too.

Downstairs, the morning was already well underway. Rainbow Dash paused at the bottom of the stairs to shake off the last dregs of sleep, one foreleg on the railing and her head resting on top of it. Two children—the little stag she’d seen earlier, plus an equally tiny doe—quarreled in the middle of the large living room. By the kitchen door stood Neisos and a tricoloured doe with large wings, and next to them, a third and slightly smaller doe, grey with white flecks on her flank.

Whatever the three peryton talked about was lost to Dash in the shrill quarreling of the two children. Rarity sat by the table as she had yesterday, sewing on a dress of some description, still packed in blankets and with cloths for her snout and red-rimmed eyes. Only when she stepped down into the room proper did Dash spot Fluttershy over by the gathering around the kitchen door on the far side, half hidden behind the larger peryton bodies.

“Good morning, dear,” said Rarity when Dash sat next to her. The unicorn didn’t look up, but smiled all the same, a needle busy at work in her magical grip. “Slept well?”

“Yeah. Sure,” said Dash, letting out a great and final yawn to cap off the whole waking up thing. She shook her head and cuffed her mane. “Eh, actually, no. I don’t know, I don’t feel like I slept at all, really. Don’t remember what I dreamt,” she said, forcing the lie. She had a vague sense of what she had dreamt, but she would rather not think about it.

“And you usually do?” asked Rarity.

“Yeah. I think I told you,” said Dash. The children, finally done yelling at each other, disappeared behind the painted screens that separated the pottery corner from the rest of the room. They moved about as gracefully as Twilight on sugary cider.

“And Helesseia’s rays find their final mark,” said Neisos, grinning at Rainbow Dash. The little party by the kitchen turned to look at Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy smiled and waved, and Dash extended a wing by way of greeting to the new people.

“Hey. Name’s Rainbow Dash. Pleased to meet you?” Dash asked with a lopsided smile. “I guess you live here, and we stole your beds, huh.”

“I am Ohrinna,” said the larger doe, dipping her head slightly and making for the table at a slow walk. “I was told your name, but I do not know you have stolen from us unless you are as Pelessa whose gifts are often seen only in the coming seasons.” She cocked a brow.

“Probably not. It’s a figure of speech. I’m just trying to say thanks for letting us stay.” Dash shrugged and pointed to Neisos. “So, the two of you are together? A family?”

“They call it being ‘linked’,” said Fluttershy, sitting down next to Rainbow Dash. Dash wrapped a wing around her without thinking.

Ohrinna nodded her head, a faint smile on her lips. “As with the two of you, all stories about one of us is a story about the two of us, and of Myrtella,” she said in a tone suggesting agreement. She glanced over her shoulder at Neisos and the smaller doe. “And this morning in particular holds a shared story of the eternal breakfast bureaucracy particular to our home. Love, are the two of you decided?”

“I believe we are,” declared Neisos. “Deimesa, so swift of claw, will go to morning market and find something for us to eat with all authority to choose anything she likes, and I will begin making dough for—hm. For something to go with it. I am not decided. Phela-bread?”

“Starvation avoided, we live to see lunch,” said Ohrinna with a caw-like chuckle that ended when the younger doe tried to run past her. Ohrinna’s wing was out in a flash, forcing Deimesa to a halt.

“Why this?” asked Deimesa, glaring at the wing that blocked her passage.

“Because a custom we share with these ponies is to introduce ourselves,” said Ohrinna.

Rainbow Dash managed not to laugh, but she couldn’t keep from grinning. She waved at Deimesa. “Rainbow Dash. Hi.”

“Yes, Deimesa is my name, you were told, and now told again by me,” said Deimesa, flashing a forced but not impolite smile before looking up at Ohrinna. “Mother, may I go? Is it not more polite to feed our guests?”

Ohrinna nodded her head slowly. “Yes, yes, you may go, little gem.”

“Thank you,” Deimesa replied, ducking under her mother’s wing before she could fold it, slinging a bag around her neck and disappearing out the door.

“She has found an extra set of wings and legs both this week, has she?” drifted Neisos’ voice in from the kitchen. “Has our daughter decided she is no longer young?”

“If impatience is the mark of age, then you will never grow old,” Ohrinna retorted, rolling her eyes. Rarity chuckled and turned the dress around to inspect the other side, and Fluttershy smiled.

“Finally, there are two little creatures I spy inside my place of work—where they are not supposed to be,” Ohrinna added, turning to stare at two heads poking out from the pottery nook. They disappeared in an instant. “They are Berissa and Teilos, and should know better. Say hello.”

Two muffled hellos were had.

“Yeah, I saw one of them when I woke up,” said Dash, chuckling and addressing the corner of the room where the paper and wood screens failed to hide the children’s shadows. “Hi again.”

“I told them not to stare,” said Neisos returning from the kitchen, his chest white with flour. He leaned against the doorframe and brushed at the mess with a foreleg before he joined them at the table. “They are quite taken with the colours of your hairs.”

The two young peryton burst from their hiding spot, barrelling into Neisos just as he lay down by the tableside, nearly pushing him over on his side.

“Khylari!” one of them yelled, the red-brown, almost copper-coloured doe butting him in the side with short and blunted antlers.

“You lie!” said the other, pushing at his flank, the stag almost identical, but with blue on his wings and his tiny tuft of feathery tail.

“Do I lie?” asked Neisos, rocking a little with each shove, looking down at the assaulting children with a smile. “Or do Khylari’s stories cry at the abuse they get? Do you think it is proper to call upon a story falsely when you know the telling better than this?”

The doe continued her assault, her eyes tightly shut as she pushed and pushed at her father, but the young stag glared up at him.

“You said you wouldn’t tell!” he cried.

Dash caught the surreptitious looks cast by the children, and she had no idea what to do with her part in this. Fluttershy looked ready to burst into laughter, Rarity chuckled while she worked, and Ohrinna watched the children with rapt interest. Dash settled for confused silence. Children often warranted confusion—even though it was understandable in this case. Her mane was awesome.

Neisos leaned down, craning his neck until he nearly touched his muzzle to the stag’s, and now the little doe went quiet, too. “No, Teilos,” said Neisos. “You and your sister told me you thought her hair looked curious. I then told you not to be a nuisance to her. Tell me now, is this a lie? Is calling me a liar how I am greeted after not seeing you for days?”

Peryton ears were tiny things compared to pony ears, but now Dash had confirmation that they could in fact be bent backwards. Two very sheepish peryton children looked away. Or rather, one very sheepish stag, and one subdued but still frowning doe.

“You still shouldn’t have told,” piped the doe, spreading wings entirely too large for her body. Berissa huffed and turned, running for the stairs. “I’m going to read you Eakus’ stories!”

Neisos puffed out his cheeks and watched the little doe disappear upstairs, and a second later, Teilos followed after her, yelling for her to wait.

“I believe you do this on purpose,” said Ohrinna, her face unreadable.

Neisos wore a wry smile. “You think I would do that? To commit such rudeness, just to make Berissa interest her brother in Eakus, that they might find the inspiration to tell me what is obvious to us—that this little harmless secret was not mine to tell, and that I should, and will apologise? Would I do this?”

Ohrinna shot Neisos a perfectly deadpan look. “Yes,” she said. “Besides, I think seeing Deimesa’s return might be enough. They have asked her questions every step of the way home. You do not have to worry.”

“Deimesa,” said Neisos, smiling at the ponies and proving that the peryton had not, in fact, forgotten that they were there, “has just completed the forty-nine-fold path.”

“Which is what?” asked Dash. She recognised the number, at least. “That’s something related to the Aspects, right?” It was a safe bet. Most things in Vauhorn were.

“Yes. One week spent studying and contemplating each Aspect,” said Neisos, the pride obvious in his voice. “There are carvings around Vauhorn’s demesne, and most young peryton undertake the journey when they are ready to be children no more. Ohrinna and the twins collected Deimesa at Mehros Landing to the east, where Anhori’s first story is engraved in stone, the latest Aspect to be found.”

“If it’s not inappropriate to say, then congratulations,” said Rarity, smiling at Neisos and Ohrinna both before turning away to blow her nose.

“That’s wonderful,” Fluttershy agreed.

“Yeah, congrats,” said Dash, interested despite herself now. She tilted her head. “So, there are even more statues around the place than usual? Is this some sort of treasure hunt all over the countryside? I didn’t think you travelled a lot.”

“From your perspective, does anyone?” asked Neisos.

“‘A lot’”, echoed Ohrinna at the same time. “What is to travel ‘a lot’? Is it to be listed among those who walk in Ryshalos’ company?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. She looked for support, for anything to back her up while she thought. Fluttershy cleared her throat softly.

“I think that Rainbow Dash means is that other peryton we’ve met don’t travel between cities unless they are traders, so I guess we assumed that you didn’t really like travelling in general,” said Fluttershy. “I’m sorry.”

Rarity huffed and pulled her blankets tighter about her. “Come now dear, that can’t possibly be insulting,” she said, her brows creased. “Or… is it?”

“Mehros Landing is past the quarries,” said Neisos. “The demesne of Vauhorn is such as can be travelled in half a day—to walk west, south or east, or to sail north, and make it back before next sun. Anhori’s shrine is the farthest, and I know many visit even after this one formative journey. Does that make us travellers?”

“What makes a traveller,” said Ohrinna, frowning slightly at each of the ponies in turn as she spoke. “How far is ‘far’. You spawn the most curious questions, but they are good ones.”

“Thank you, I think,” said Rarity, one brow raised.

“I will leave you for a moment. I think the dough is ready for the oven,” Neisos announced, making his way to the kitchen again. For a little while, the only sound around the table was the rustle of fabric and the occasional sniffle from Rarity. Rainbow Dash folded her wing again and leaned against Fluttershy for a second, but any touch was uncomfortably hot. That probably meant it was even hotter outside right now. Dash awkwardly poured a bowl of water from a decanter set on the table. As per usual, the thing was made neither for hoof nor mouth.

“This is all talk of us and our people,” said Ohrinna. She shuffled her wings on her back in a very pegasus-like way, shifting her weight where she sat. “All this morning, Deimesa and I have asked only the simplest questions of you ponies—” she shook her head, looking from Rarity to Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. “It is still strange for me to think you the same people—”

“We are, but we’re not,” Dash interjected.

“—but the question I would ask is how today would be told.”

Fluttershy blinked. Rarity kept working, and Rainbow Dash pretended not to have heard her, focusing on her water-bowl. At some point, somepony else would have to ask the stupid questions. She was running low on her “huh?” and “what?” quotas, and she hadn’t even had breakfast.

“My love asks, in her infinite curiosity,” Neisos said, his head poking in from the kitchen, “what will you do today?”

Ohrinna pitched her head forward a tad. “That is what I said.”

“I’m taking Fluttershy out on a date, for one,” said Dash, bumping her flank against Fluttershy to make her squeak and nearly fall.

“Courtship of sorts?” guessed Ohrinna.

“Something like that,” said Fluttershy, shooting Rainbow Dash a look. “I think. Rainbow Dash said she had something she wanted us to do. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind just going for a flight, but it sounded like you had something special planned for us to do together.” She smiled.

“Yeah, I got an idea,” said Dash, grinning back. It wasn’t a lie, really. She did have an idea, it just wasn’t completely clear yet.

“Meanwhile,” said Rarity, folding her dress over again, “I intend to put some finishing touches on some dresses for this… Rippling. Or Alluvium. Which is it? The story festival meeting… thing that you do.”

“Tomorrow’s Alluvium will be a Rippling, a shaping event,” said Ohrinna, as though this much was obvious. “You intend to share a story?”

“Hm? Oh, I don’t think so,” said Rarity, raising her brows. “I don’t think we have any stories to tell, really.”

“We have tons of stories,” said Rainbow Dash, tilting her head sideways. “There’s that time we saved Equestria—oh, wait,” she said, gasping in mock surprise. “That wasn’t one time, it keeps happening. Even here in Perytonia we scared off a hydra, just the three of us. Fluttershy’s done that twice. She’s basically a veteran hydra-vanquisher now!”

“That’s not true at all!” Fluttershy protested. “I haven’t vanquished any hydra. If you mean the one in Froggy Bottom Bog, we ran away!”

“Yes, yes,” Rarity said, waving a hoof in dismissal. “I suppose there are some stories, but I don’t know that any of them are appropriate! These peryton stories and their Aspects, they’re not about fighting and vanquishing, now, are they?”

Thinking about it, Dash didn’t know that she could remember any peryton stories that were about someone being “like” or “as” someone who vanquished great beasts or whatever. No words or protest came from the kitchen at Rarity’s assertion, and Ohrinna looked very carefully neutral while Rarity drew breath to continue.

“If my dear friends wish to share some stories, that’s wonderful,” Rarity said, flashing a smile at Fluttershy, whose entire body said no to that, and at Dash, who hadn’t really decided yet. “But in my case, I really just wanted a chance to show the peryton of Vauhorn some of my dresses and make some observations.” She hovered up the green dress-in-progress. It didn’t look as shiny and silky as the other ones, but that was all Dash could say for sure.

“You say you have no story you wish to tell. You have a ‘dress’, but no story for it to feature in,” said Ohrinna, words simple and flat, stated as fact.

“I suppose that is true, yes,” said Rarity. Her saddlebags floated past Rainbow Dash from under the table, and the unicorn rooted around until she found a measuring tool. “Is that a problem?” Rarity asked, almost as an afterthought.

Ohrinna neither nodded nor shook her head. “It is strange to me. It feels purposeless. But then, many things can be pleasant without having purpose, like art. I simply do not know that dresses are the same.”

Rarity froze, her magic winking out for a second. Her horn pulsed as she grabbed a hold of her tools again. “I—buh, alright, I… I will chalk this up to a—a misunderstanding. Darling, fashion is art!”

The peryton blinked and drew back slightly even though they sat far apart. “Have I upset you? To me, that which is worn is not that which is appreciated for being seen. What you wear is used to prove a point.”

“Couldn’t that point be to look good?” asked Fluttershy. She glanced nervously at Rarity, as did Rainbow Dash, fearing Rarity might explode or just fade away from the force of disagreement.

“The concept… could be discussed?” Ohrinna allowed, cocking a brow. “It is not something I have heard before. No stories come to mind.”

Rarity did not explode into a million pieces. Instead, she simply drew breath and exhaled slowly, clutching a hoof to her temple, then nodding along. She hovered the dress up for another critical look and resumed her work. “Well, that is… different from my experience, and I would love to have that discussion when I am less busy, perhaps,” she said. “But I believe that you have solved a mystery for me.”

Rainbow Dash scratched at her cheek as she thought. “Hang on. Does that mean that if we figure out a story to go with a dress, or a dress to go with a story, people are gonna go crazy about it?”

“I don’t know about that,” said Fluttershy with a sigh. “They probably won’t think of it as fashion even then, just as a costume.”

“Yeah. How do you even make a story about a dress?” Dash asked of no one.

“Rarity, I’m sorry—” Fluttershy began to say, cut off when Rarity shook her head briskly.

“It doesn’t really matter in the end, does it?” she said, her voice breezy. “This was always going to happen. These normal dresses I’ve made for Vauhorn were never going to go over well. As long as the two of you bring back some observations on the most popular things they wear here, it… no, it really doesn’t matter.”

“Love, are you upsetting our guests?” Neisos called from the kitchen.

“I think they are upsetting themselves this moment,” Ohrinna replied, pursing her lips. “In all seriousness, if I have acted as Khylari upon first meeting Eakus, then I apologise.”

“Khylari delivered truths to Eakus,” came Neisos’ voice again, the stag explaining before Rainbow Dash could even decide whether or not to ask. “Truths that were not only unneeded, but unwanted. An excess of honesty.”

“You really needn't apologise for telling me the truth,” said Rarity with a shrug. She covered a cough and smiled at Ohrinna.

“So… you’re okay?” Fluttershy asked, just as the front door opened to reveal Deimesa returning with her bag full and a cluster of grapes in the grip of her magic. She crossed the room at a run, dashing for the kitchen.

“I will be after we’ve had some breakfast, even if I can’t taste much of anything right now,” Rarity replied.

What worried Rainbow Dash wasn’t that Rarity might be upset. Rarity getting upset was a thing that happened, just like Twilight blathering on about boring things, and Pinkie Pie doing… whatever. No, what worried Rainbow Dash was the fact that Rarity genuinely didn’t seem upset about this whole fashion talk in the end. She shook her head. Whatever was going on, she herself had a date to plan, somehow.

“What’d you call this again?” asked Rainbow Dash, squinting at the last of the filled bread left on the table. She couldn’t take another bite, and as the Vauhornites did not believe in platters, the table was smudged with purple and red, particularly around Dash’s spot, but the twin children gave her some competition in making a mess before they ran upstairs again.

“Phela,” said Ohrinna, refilling her cup. “Made with jicama, filled with grape jam and a hint of—” her words trailed off as she looked to Neisos, clearly expecting him to finish the sentence for her, and when he did not, she frowned. “Some nuts.”

“Is the nuance of my cooking lost on you? Hazelnut, and pear, too.” He shook his head and stretched.

“Well, it was delicious, thank you,” said Fluttershy, dipping her head in a little bow. Rarity and Rainbow Dash said their thanks as well, and Deimesa gathered the leftovers without a word, carrying them off towards the kitchen.

“Mom! Dad!” The shout from the upper floor raised more than a few brows. Dash looked towards the staircase and saw a reddish peryton head, upside-down by the topmost stairs. “Berissa broke it! I didn’t touch it!”

“You helped!” Berissa protested, the little stag’s head disappearing from view, followed by the obvious sounds of a scuffle. Neisos sighed and shook his head.

“You or I?” asked Ohrinna.

“I have not seen them for days,” said Neisos, getting up. “I will see what chaos they have made this time.” He hobbled towards the stairs and mounted them with obvious effort, his one hindleg forcing him to hop every step.

“I guess they’re not so different from pony foals,” said Rarity with a sympathetic smile at Ohrinna.

“Then you and all your kin have my deepest sympathies,” said Ohrinna with a low warble of laughter. “You have children?”

“Oh, goodness, no,” said Rarity, shaking her head. “I don’t know that children are, ah, for me. Still—”

“Would one of you come upstairs, please?” Now it was Neisos’ head poking down from upstairs, the peryton looking worried. “I think we may have broken something of yours.”

“Did… I leave any of my tools up there?” asked Rarity, her eyes widening. She threw off her blankets and made for the stairs.

“I’ll go see if everyone’s okay,” said Fluttershy, trotting after her to catch up, the two ponies disappearing upstairs in a moment. Deimesa returned from the kitchen with a washcloth hovering at her side. She started wiping down the table, but the cloth was snatched away by a slightly brighter magical glow, Ohrinna taking over.

“Play the part of Salhalani. Rest for a moment,” said Ohrinna. She stood and moved around the table slowly, scrubbing at it as she went. Rainbow Dash scratched at her own snout. No sound from upstairs any more. No screams of horror meant that anything Rarity deemed precious was safe.

“You said you were going to perform a courtship ritual today?”

Deimesa’s question almost passed Dash entirely by before she realised it had been aimed at her. “Huh? Court—oh yeah. I’m taking Fluttershy on a date.”

“What is your intent? What passes for courtship among your kind?” asked Deimesa. It was a simple enough question, but the raspy-voiced peryton’s stare was a little more intense than Dash had expected.

“I have no idea,” said Dash, who felt a little bad for not having a good answer. She knew what she’d like to do, of course. Just going for a flight with Fluttershy was always a good time. Fluttershy had even mentioned that as a possibility, but she had to find a good middle ground. Fluttershy probably suggested flying exactly because she knew Dash would love it.

“You… are planning something, but you do not know what?” Deimesa said, her head slowly tilting.

“Something like that,” Rainbow Dash admitted with a shrug.

“Then, would you explain what a ‘date’ is, this curious ritual of courtship,” asked Deimesa. “Or does it defy explanation?”

“Such hunger for stories of Myrtellan themes,” said Ohrinna, her eyes gleaming. “Do you ask because you have been touched? Are you building the courage to show interest in someone particular? Did you meet someone during your journey?”

Deimesa returned a blank look. Ohrinna held up a hoof and folded the washcloth. “I will say no more. Ask your questions of our guests, and I will not even listen.” She stacked empty water-bowls and tossed the washcloth over her back, making for the kitchen.

Their talk had given Dash some time to think about it, anyway. Dates were more of a unicorn thing, sure, but she’d homed in on the word “date” exactly because it felt so strange to her. It certainly wasn’t part of Dash’s usual regimen. Maybe they could grab some dinner together and try to… be romantic about it? Rarity mentioned dinner as an option, and Dash vaguely remembered that Fluttershy had told her she’d thought some of the romance novels Rarity shared with her were “okay”. It didn’t get more middle-ground-y than something solidly okay, right?

“Dates can be anything,” said Rainbow Dash, glancing towards the stairs as she parroted Rarity’s words. “It’s just a stupid word for doing something together—but I guess sometimes ponies try to do very specific things. Like eating dinner and talking.”

Deimesa nodded once and cast a quick look over her shoulder, but her mother was out of sight. She lowered her voice a little. “Then, you should consider the House of Mist and Song. It is the best place to hide away together. From the midday sun, that is.”

“Uh-huh, hiding from the sun,” said Dash, smirking. “Not from nosey parents, huh? I’m guessing you’ve been there.”

The doe shifted her weight from one side to the other. “Perhaps.”

Dash chuckled. “Relax, I’m not gonna tell anyone. Anyway, what is it?”

“It is a low-dwelling—” Deimesa began, and perhaps she saw Dash’s confused look, because she immediately corrected herself. “A cellar-house? An underground floor of entertainment. Sometimes, displays of magical skill, sometimes conflicts of words, sometimes artists will show their works or create them while others watch.”

“Alright,” said Dash, spreading her wings to let some air in before she furled them again. That sounded perfectly averagely fun and not at all up either Dash or Fluttershy’s alley. “I’m listening. Do they have snacks? Any food?”

“Mm, the antlers I got in the grove,” said Fluttershy with a nod.

“How’d they break them?” Dash asked. “They were made for jousting and smashing into stuff!”

Rainbow Dash squinted and glared right back at the sun, but it was a futile battle that almost made her see the purpose of hats. At its zenith, there was no shadow to be had in the streets. More now than ever were they alone in walking the streets. Everyone else sat by fountains or kept indoors at the peak hour of sunlight.

Fluttershy shook her head. “They didn’t really break them, they just broke off a small part on one side. They were ever so sorry, the poor little things,” she said, but Dash thought she sounded not just sympathetic, Fluttershy always did, but sad as well. Rainbow Dash had never asked why she insisted on bringing the awkwardly large wooden antlers. Rarity hadn’t quarreled about the space they took away from her fabrics, though, so she probably knew what she was doing.

“Well, that’s not cool at all. Sorry,” said Rainbow Dash. She extended a wing meaning to try to hold it over Fluttershy’s head to shield her from the sunlight for a second, but she couldn’t reach. Instead she just poked a feather in her mane. Fluttershy giggled.

“It’s alright, um—what are you doing?”

“Nevermind,” Dash said, snorting. She slowed down a little as they exited the second plaza heading seawards. So far, they had followed the exact same road they’d walked yesterday on their way to the council by the Ravenwall, but this time she looked for something else, something very specific.

“You’re still not going to tell me where we’re headed?” asked Fluttershy. She didn’t sound entirely displeased.

“Not a chance,” said Rainbow Dash. The good thing about Vauhorn was that it was easy to get specific directions. You couldn’t go wrong with “the alley flanked by scrolls with eight waves, on the corner of a building painted with Glandros’ full form, the charging stag”. The issue was finding it among a thousand other scrolls with pictures and texts, hundreds of painted houses, and a dozen alleys between one plaza and the next.

“Is what you have in your saddlebags also a secret?” asked Fluttershy, glancing at Dash’s side.

“Nah,” said Dash, grinning. “I traded Deimesa a gem for some bronze slivers just in case. It was her suggestion.”

“I guess that means they’re a little more careful about what they trade here,” Fluttershy mused. “And it also means we’re going somewhere where you can buy things first?”

“Stop trying to figure it out!” Dash laughed. Finally, she spotted a set of huge canvas scrolls waving in the faint wind. She’d been looking at the wrong side of the street, of course.

“Sorry,” said Fluttershy, smiling and clearly not very sorry at all. Rainbow Dash crossed in front of her, heading for the alley. She could see stone steps heading down to the cellar under some kind of shop.

“Finally. This way,” said Dash, triumphant. Ten minutes in the midday heat had been enough to make her dizzy, and the promise of a reprieve made her speed up. Somewhere cool to kick back would be great, but she wasn’t too keen on the whole underground part. She had no idea what to expect from the ‘entertainment’ either, but she was sure that even if she would probably not love it, neither of them would dislike it, either. It was perfect precisely because it wasn’t.

Rainbow Dash stepped down the stairs, noting with satisfaction that the door wasn’t some stupid sliding door, but yielded to a light push. They stepped inside and Dash nudged the door shut behind her, pausing for a moment next to Fluttershy. After the blinding light outside, everything was pitch black down here, and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She spotted a lot of small tables around the room, some almost as tall as she was, some low, circled by pillows for seating and made of wood rather than the otherwise dominant stone. Small groups of peryton occupied most of the tables. A dozen stags all clustered around one, sitting flank to flank.

Deeper inside the room, a large section of a corner contained what Dash could only understand as some sort of bar, two peryton walking to and from behind a tall counter. One of them magicked a bowl from out of sight, seized by a stag who nodded his thanks.

Along all the walls hung pictures with no common theme, and in the corner opposite the bar stood a low stage of well-worn, rough wood. A doe with washed out colours juggled three shiny spheres. They jumped up and down in the air with small bursts of magic keeping them aloft whenever they started to fall.

Some of the peryton talked amongst each other, and some watched the performance with rapt attention. When Rainbow Dash pointed to a free table and stepped further into the room, most heads turned to look at the ponies with obvious curiosity that lasted only a minute.

“What is this place?” asked Fluttershy, her voice a little lower than usual.

“The House of… Mist and Song? Something like that,” said Rainbow Dash. She took a seat by one of the low tables, nudging a few pillows over to make a comfy stack. Her eyes wandered over to the stage again. The spheres had to be glass. When the peryton doe’s magic touched them, they lit up in a myriad of colours. The entire room smelled like fruit.

“The House of Mist and Song. Okay, that’s… helpful,” said Fluttershy, her tone suggesting otherwise, and Dash couldn’t help but giggle.

“Hey, if I had a better answer, I would’ve told you. Honest,” Dash admitted, still grinning. They’d barely sat down when one of the peryton behind the bar tossed an apron over his back and wended his way towards them. The stag’s colours were muted in the dim light provided by the occasional globe along the walls, but his curiosity was not.

“Does Chorossa stand upon the deck of Ilyra’s ship,” asked the stag with a smile, his voice clear but low. “Or does Ryshalos’ stories usher you to our House?”

“Right, so, I know I heard the word ‘Ryshalos’ before,” said Dash, squinting.

“Have you travelled here by land or by sea?” the stag went on—or possibly explained? “I cannot count the years since last I had antlerless at my table.”

“We’ve travelled across both, really,” said Fluttershy, smiling at him. “I’m Fluttershy. Nice to meet you.”

“Aikurros,” said the stag, his head tilted forwards in a head-only bow.

“Rainbow Dash,” said Dash, clearing her throat. She tried to remember the words Deimesa had suggested she use. “We’re here on… uh, Myrtellan business. Or, her story is our story tonight, or something, so…”

The stag raised his brows, silent for a moment, then nodded again, deeper this time. “I see and understand. In that case, if you are not opposed, I will bring you something as refreshing as I can find but otherwise leave you to yourselves, hoping that you enjoy today’s entertainment.”

“Thanks a bunch,” said Dash, waving at him as he turned to leave. She caught the strange look Fluttershy gave her and her grin redoubled. “Myrtella’s the Aspect of all the lovey—”

“I remember who Myrtella is,” Fluttershy interrupted with a brief giggle. “I just, um, didn’t expect that.” Her smile mixed with a small frown as she looked about as though taking in the room for the first time. “I didn’t expect any of this, to be honest. I just thought we’d go for a flight or something. At least it’s dark. My mane is a mess, and I haven’t had a proper bath in forever.”

“Your mane’s fine,” said Rainbow Dash. “I like it when it’s really long, but you gotta try a short mane someday, too.”

“Maybe,” said Fluttershy, eyeing her own tail critically. “You should try growing yours out long, too. At least the back of your mane. Your tail looks great.”

“It does look great,” Rainbow Dash agreed, smiling lazily at Fluttershy. She’d wanted to make Fluttershy blush, maybe make her laugh, but Fluttershy’s eyes still roamed the room, distracted.

“Maybe when we get back,” Dash added. “Eh, it’s gonna get in my eyes though.”

“Not if you fly really fast,” said Fluttershy.

Rainbow Dash tried to find a counter to that, but in the end all she could do was giggle. The bartender returned with a tray holding a decanter of orange liquid, two water-bowls, and another large and almost flat bowl of some purple jelly, garnished with red berries and some leaves arranged in a hook-shaped pattern.

“Add to her stories with your own,” said Aikurros, giving them another slight bow before returning to the bar. A set of clacking noises made Dash look up, and it took her a moment to realise that the sound was hooves on stone applauding the performer on stage as she stepped down.

“You know, I think Rarity or Twilight could’ve done that while asleep,” Dash whispered, grinning.

Fluttershy gave her a stern look. “Peryton magic is different. They seemed very impressed with it.”

“Hey, I’m not complaining,” said Dash, shrugging. “It looked cool, and I’m sure there’s stuff they can do that unicorns can’t.”

“And if there isn’t, it doesn’t really matter, either,” suggested Fluttershy with a faint smile. She leaned in to sniff the jelly-like substance. “They’re very good at making different fruit pastes and jellies here in Vauhorn, for example. This smells very good.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dash, catching a whiff of sweet berries. “Now, how do we eat it?” she asked, eyeing the small probably-a-utensil thing they’d been given, a small wooden wedge. “I guess they don’t realise we don’t have magic. Again.” She grimaced.

“I… guess so,” Fluttershy agreed, her ears splayed. “Maybe we could ask—”

Rainbow Dash planted her muzzle into the bowl and licked up some jelly. Whatever it was, it had grapes in it, but there was obviously a lot more. Currant? “It’s great,” she said, licking her snout clean. “If we’re eating it wrong, I don’t care. If they don’t realise we don’t have horns or antlers, that’s their problem.” Fluttershy let out a soft giggle and leaned down for a taste as well, her snout stained purple afterwards.

They couldn’t really talk while they ate, and Rainbow Dash was too hungry to sit around taking delicate little bites and chatting in between. Fluttershy didn’t seem inclined to do anything like that, either, so the jelly didn’t last very long. Soon after the juggler stepped down from the stage, a set of six stags left the large group by the other side of the room. As they walked, the sextet of lithe peryton magically unfurled coloured cloths and draped them about each other’s necks. Rainbow Dash shuffled over to sit closer to Fluttershy’s side. The other pegasus had gone especially quiet since they finished eating.

“The five!” announced one of the stags. He was the smallest by a margin, and the scarf-like cloth around his neck was grey where the others wore different bright colours.

“One whose voice is a chorus of few,” said another with a green shawl. Some of the other patrons stopped their conversations to watch. Others ignored the stage entirely.

“One whose voice is myriad,” the grey one retorted. He unwrapped his scarf and in his magic, it passed around the neck of the green-garbed one.

Rainbow Dash glanced over at Fluttershy, and caught Fluttershy looking back at her.

“This is, um, different from the jousts,” Fluttershy whispered.

“Morrashon, as of yet undiscovered—” said the grey one.

“Daros!” called the yellow one. “His wings cannot spread in a space so small.”

“If you wanted to use the word ‘lame’ once in your life,” Dash shot back at Fluttershy, “this would be a good time.” The six stags barely moved at all, at most spreading a wing half-way for emphasis, their every word addressed to an invisible spot in the middle of the semicircle they marked. Dash turned her eyes and ears away from the stage.

Fluttershy shook her head, a wan smile upon her muzzle as she gave the performers one more look. “Maybe we can agree that it’s very…”

Different?” Dash supplied.

“That’s a better word,” Fluttershy agreed. “I’m sure they draw a lot of meaning from it.”

“I hope someone does. I’ll pass,” said Dash. The food was gone, and she didn’t particularly feel like ordering more. She grabbed a sip of the sweet fruit juice, stealing another covert look at Fluttershy. Was it the terrible play that made every one of her smiles so short-lived? No. She’d been full of energy when they left the house—as full of energy as any of them were these days—but now she looked weary, like the shade and the food had had the opposite effect.

“Hey, if you want to get out of here, we can do that,” Dash suggested. “Maybe they have…” she wracked her brain trying to imagine where else one might go. Restaurants? Did they have cafés? What other date-y things were there to do? Anything else that wasn’t so Fluttershy that the other pegasus might say no, just like she had wanted to keep the animals to herself now. Something that wasn’t so Rainbow Dash that it would be selfish to drag Fluttershy along.

“No. It’s fine. I’d like to stay here for a minute longer,” said Fluttershy. She shifted around, turning to look at Dash full on and clearing her throat as softly as only she could. “Do you remember when we talked yesterday?”

“Yesterday? Oh jeez, I don’t know, Fluttershy. When was that?” Dash asked, staring at her deadpan. When Fluttershy sighed, Dash rolled her eyes and let out a raspy chuckle. “Of course I do.”

Fluttershy nodded once, keeping her voice low even though the peryton who didn’t watch the play talked without care. “Okay, I believe that you remember, but I don’t think you understood what I meant. I… I think maybe I did a poor job of explaining what I meant, really.”

Rainbow Dash squinted. Or frowned. She felt her face do a squinty thing, anyways, her brow knit. “Alright?” She tried to think back to what Fluttershy said, exactly, but she came up short, and it wasn’t because she didn’t remember the details. “You didn’t really say much at all, actually,” Dash said.

Fluttershy did that thing where she looked somewhere between annoyed and disappointed. “Yes, because I didn’t really get a chance to speak at all,” she said. Dash winced, flicking an ear, but Fluttershy’s expression softened right away. “I’m sorry. That’s not fair towards you. What I mean is, you said you knew what I meant, so I didn’t explain. You said you understood what I meant about you acting different.”

Dash nodded as slowly and patiently as she could make herself. It wasn’t very slow at all. “Right, yeah. Because I did. Or I think I did,” she admitted. If Fluttershy hadn’t meant to tell Dash to get off her case and find something new for them to do, then she didn’t know what she meant, but she knew that needing to talk twice in a row this quickly was probably bad. She lay her head perfectly sideways when Fluttershy didn’t immediately reply. “Just let me know what’s up, lay it on me.” Rainbow Dash scooted a little closer.

Fluttershy opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came. Whatever courage Fluttershy had built up evaporated in a long sigh, the other pegasus mare looking away, fixing her eyes on a weak light-globe mounted on the nearest wall. Rainbow Dash said nothing, trying to be patient, but she couldn’t keep from tapping the stone floor with a hoof for a satisfying little clack clack clack.

“Could you maybe not do that?” Fluttershy asked, closing her eyes.

“Right,” said Rainbow Dash. She stopped and instead focused all her attention on trying to block out the nearly perfectly monotonous voices drifting over from the stage. The grey-scarfed one sat in front of the other five who stood perfectly in line with each other. Fluttershy swallowed and finally looked at her again, the beginnings of a smile on her face, obviously strained.

“Did you know Neisos is afraid to fly?” asked Fluttershy. It took Rainbow Dash a moment to re-adjust. She’d expected Fluttershy to say something different. What, she didn’t know, but not that. Why were they talking about Neisos?

“I, uh, I guess not?” Dash said, blinking. “Didn’t I ask him why he didn’t fly, earlier? It would be way easier for him to get around flying. With the leg and all, I mean.”

“I think it has something to do with the accident that hurt him,” said Fluttershy, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Rainbow Dash. “He doesn’t seem very traumatised, but before you woke up, Ohrinna mentioned that he used to fly a lot compared to most peryton.”

Rainbow Dash said nothing. What could she say? That was stupid. Not stupid of Neisos, but a stupid thing to have happen. She absent-mindedly nodded.

“Neisos himself said that he was happy with us,” Fluttershy went on. “He’s glad that we don’t treat him like some sort of wounded animal. A few peryton do that to him, and he doesn’t like it at all. Maybe he wouldn’t like me telling you this—I really hope he doesn’t mind—but he was almost glad you were curious, because you didn’t treat him different. None of us have, he said.”

“Well, duh,” said Dash, snorting loudly. “It’s not like he’s less cool just ‘cause he had an accident or whatever. If he wants us to be sad for him or something, that’s fine, he’ll tell us, but I’m not gonna start crying just ‘cause he lost his leg. That’d really annoy me, anyway.”

Fluttershy locked eyes with Rainbow Dash then, nodding slowly with her ears perked. She licked her lips before she went on, each word measured. “Everyone has weaknesses, and some—like a missing leg—are a little more obvious than others. But I don’t think I know anyone who wants to be pitied, coddled or handled like they’re fragile, even if you think they are. There’s a difference between pity, encouragement, and support.”

“I’m sorry,” said Fluttershy after a moment of silence, as though she had read Rainbow Dash’s mind. “I said I wanted to talk, but I probably sound like I’m trying to tell some sort of story.”

“Yeah, well, we’re in the right town for that,” said Rainbow Dash with a helpless burst of laughter. It was true, Fluttershy could’ve been any Vauhornite peryton right now—except the words were even more confusing exactly because they shouldn’t be. Everything Fluttershy said was plain and simple, except for the question of why she was telling Rainbow Dash.

“Seriously, I never said I didn’t like stories,” Dash said when Fluttershy’s silence stretched on again, the other pegasus staring at the table now. ”They get bonus points if they begin with Daring Do and the Something or Other, I just think it’s silly to say something that’s… that’s not what you’re really trying to say, and yeah, I know ponies do that all the time, too, I know! It just gets weird when it’s some—I dunno, some crazy fable or whatever. I get what you’re saying about Neisos, though. I didn’t know he was actually that bummed out about the flying thing.”

“I don’t know how ‘bummed out’ he is,” said Fluttershy. She puffed out her cheeks, casting Rainbow Dash these furtive little glances that Dash didn’t know what to make of. Dash was vaguely aware that the sextet of peryton left the stage. Someone entered the cellar—or maybe someone left. A bright burst of sunlight marked the door opening and closing.

“You know, sometimes, I’m glad that not everypony knows we’re the Elements of Harmony,” said Fluttershy all of a sudden.

Rainbow Dash cocked a brow at the sudden topic shift. “Okay? Heh, I wonder if the peryton even know what the Elements are, but I’ll bite. Why?”

Fluttershy shook her head, disappearing behind the bangs of her mane. Dash heard her sigh. “I’m sorry. I’m trying to say something, I guess, but—”

Dash waited, but there was no follow-up, no explanation, no real “but”. Was that all she had to say about Neisos? Was she that worried about him? Why suddenly bring up the Elements? When Fluttershy spoke up again, her words came faster, almost conversational.

“I’m glad people don’t know, because we’ve all worked so well together, we’ve become such great friends, and even closer than before, and it feels wrong to say that the Elements did that,” said Fluttershy, her ears splayed. “These have been the best years of my life, and it kept—keeps getting better.”

Rainbow Dash meant to interrupt. She meant to speak up in agreement, which was easy—and to say things had been even better since they tried out the romance thing, which was a harder sell. Fluttershy went on before she could speak, anyway.

“The Elements are just a small part of who we are. Do you know what makes Twilight Sparkle special?” Fluttershy’s eyes peered at her, half-hidden behind the pink hairs of her unbrushed mane.

Dash squinted. “Is that a trick question? Eggheadedness?” She held up a warding hoof. She could tell from her expression that Fluttershy wasn’t messing around. “Okay, fine. She’s smart and everything, great at all the magic and writing and reading stuff. You don’t want me to say that she’s just a huge head to put a magical tiara on, I get it. I know that.”

Fluttershy interrupted her with a quick nod. “She’s wonderful in many ways, but she’s a lot more than just the Element of Magic. The Element chose her—or came to her, I don’t know which—because she brought us all closer together. She does that to everypony she meets, somehow.”

“Sure. I hadn’t really thought about it like that, or, uh, at all, but yeah, I guess that’s true.” Dash tapped a hoof on the floor again, but stopped when she realised what she was doing. “Okay, what’s that got to do with us? You’re gonna tell me that you’re more than ‘kind’? Because… duh?”

Fluttershy didn’t even acknowledge the compliment, maybe because it was obvious. Or maybe she was trying very hard to carry on with what she tried to say.

“The Elements are just… a word, one thing,” said Fluttershy, her eyes fixed on the table again. “I don’t think they’re fair. Not to any of us. Yes, we’re all more than our Elements, though sometimes I don’t think I’m even that—”

“That’s a load of hay, you’re amazing,” Dash interrupted. She hadn’t even meant to say it. It burst from her, accompanied by a surge of warmth in her chest. Now, Fluttershy did smile, but it didn’t last.

“—and that means you’re a lot more than just ‘loyal’,” Fluttershy went on. “Sometimes, I think you don’t realise that. That you don’t think about it. You joke about how great you are at flying, and you are, but I don’t know if you’ve even noticed how you bring out the best in people.”

Rainbow Dash had been called awesome in a lot of ways, and knew a hundred ways to gracefully receive applause, be it by bowing, cheering, or simply letting others know that she knew that yes, thank you, she was in fact amazing. Now, she had nothing to say. All her words fled, and her ears itched like mad.

“You make m—” Fluttershy said, pausing for a shuddering breath. She lost momentum, but her words carried on even though her voice faltered and broke. “You make people better. You make them overcome obstacles and do things they didn’t think they could do. I think you could make a boulder sprout wings and fly if you just tried.”

They sat together in complete silence for a while. The door opened and closed again. Some peryton sat down at a nearby table that had been unoccupied until now, but if they spoke, Dash didn’t hear any of it. A clatter of pottery briefly penetrated the wall of quiet that surrounded them, but the rest of the world might as well not have existed. Perhaps it didn’t. Dash barely remembered the last time Fluttershy had spoken this much in such a short time. Maybe they were back in her cloudhome bedroom years ago, sat on the foot-end of Dash’s bed talking about everything that didn’t matter and mattered the most.

Fluttershy’s wings hung loosely at her sides, her primaries touching the floor, and her head was bowed. For Dash’s part, she didn’t know how to deal with this. What to say or do, where to look or what to do with herself. Where part of her glowed with pride, another part didn’t know if she deserved it.

“I… alright. I don’t know about that,” Dash muttered under her breath. She felt uneasy. It made sense for Fluttershy to care about the three-legged peryton if she thought he might have a problem. Fluttershy always cared, but that couldn’t be all Fluttershy wanted to say. That alone didn’t explain why Fluttershy had been… moody? Cagey? Whatever she’d been since Ephydoera, this didn’t explain all of it, but if Fluttershy was right, if Rainbow Dash really could motivate anyone, then she could certainly look to this one problem. Getting a peryton up in the air couldn’t be too hard.

“I just don’t know if butting my head in everywhere—” Dash tried, frowning. It sounded like self-doubt to her, and that was never fun, but there was a reason she hadn’t immediately jumped on Neisos when he said he didn’t feel like flying that one night. She hadn’t thought about it until now, but there had been a reason. “I don’t know if it’s always my business, y’know?” she admitted with a helpless shrug.

Fluttershy let out a soundless snort, her head bobbing. She smiled a little, but it wasn’t one of the weak, flighty smiles that fled the second Dash blinked—it was the beginnings of a real thing, a cautious smile that touched each side of her muzzle.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” Fluttershy said. “But that doesn’t sound like you at all, and that’s kind of the problem. When you see something that you think is… wrong, or could be better, you usually just go for it, and it works out, because you have a good heart.”

Maybe Fluttershy was right. Or rather, Rainbow Dash knew that Fluttershy was right. The more she thought about it, the more sense it made. She flicked her ears, and just like that, the House of Mist and Song poured back into the world. On the stage, a doe set up an easel for painting, and the cellar was almost deserted. Dash grabbed a hoof of bronze splinters, tossed them onto the table and stood.

“Alright. Okay, you don’t have to tell me twice. I guess I didn’t get it the first time, but I hear you. Let’s go,” said Dash. She had somewhere to start, something to do, and that energised her more than anything else—and now Fluttershy smiled back at her, eyes bright. In that moment, everything was alright again.

Maybe it was that simple? Maybe Fluttershy had just needed to get that off her chest, and they needed some time to themselves to talk. When Rainbow Dash shook her wings out and finally managed to open the inwards-swinging door, Fluttershy spread her wings as well, stretching, and they were as they had always been, the closest of friends. Rainbow Dash reached out with a wing to brush against Fluttershy’s neck as she passed her and grinned. More than friends, and Dash had come to enjoy that.

“Do you want to fly back?” asked Fluttershy as they ascended the stairs back to the alley. The sun wasn’t quite as scorching, now. Dash grinned.

“Would I,” she said, off the ground and hovering in an instant. Fluttershy followed, bright as sunshine herself.