• 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 24

Ohrinna confirmed what I suspected. I’ll still finish these dresses simply because it would be a shame to waste all this material, but it is clear that the very concept of a dress is pointless.

Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are on a date, and I wish them the absolute best, but as for me? I need a better plan if I am to make a splash in Cotronna. Clearly self-expression and creativity are not the most important factors in achieving this.


Vauhorn looked a little less like a mess of simple geometric shapes from above. Having seen Orto and now Vauhorn, Dash caught herself thinking that Twilight would appreciate the rows of streets and the square plazas all in perfect order, but soaring above the rooftops, she could see that the waterfront was a little less orderly. The docks had to obey the shape of the shore—unlike Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, who refused to obey the commands of the summer weather.

It was hot. It was atrociously hot to fly while the sun was still up, but still Rainbow Dash wouldn’t have it any other way, and from the way Fluttershy smiled at her when their eyes met, the feeling was mutual. In that very moment, Rainbow Dash was happy. Things were better between them, and it felt so very good to fly. In the streets below, a couple of peryton looked up as they flew past. Perhaps they thought the ponies were crazy for flying in the middle of the day. Let them.

And, thinking on flying, Dash had promised herself now that she’d talk to Neisos to see if she could help him out somehow. She didn’t really know what was up, if anything was up, but she was sure she could help. Fluttershy certainly seemed to think so. Dash looked over at her girlfriend again, flying a little closer. Almost too close, almost unsafe, but Fluttershy didn’t complain. They were both steady enough in the air that she had to wonder if they would match their wingbeats to fly a single wingspan apart. She wanted to try.

“I think I’m going to need a drink when we get back,” said Fluttershy with a giggle, slowing down for a moment to wipe her brow before she continued on.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Dash agreed, laughing. It was a mercifully short flight anyway. They passed another plaza. The House of Mist and Song was close to Neisos and Ohrinna’s place by air. Everything was close by air.

Amazing what a little time to themselves could do for a relationship. If there was anything else on Fluttershy’s mind, it was probably just homesickness. It wasn’t like Rainbow Dash was immune to that herself. Her eyes drifted north. Equestria may lay more east than north from here—she trusted her hunch there—but the endless blue waters were what separated them.

Rainbow Dash wasn’t homesick herself. Perhaps she never had been. The vast gulf between Perytonia and Equestria almost felt comforting. Once they got back home, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy would need to figure out what they could and couldn’t do together.

Maybe Fluttershy would let Dash preen her now that they were okay again? Maybe there were other things Dash liked to do that Fluttershy could join in on without hurting her or making Rainbow Dash the worst girlfriend ever. Awkward dates were clearly not a success, so even though she had figured out what made Fluttershy sad, she hadn’t figured out what they could do as a couple, yet.

Rainbow Dash frowned at herself. Somewhere behind her lay Cotronna, far beyond the Vauhornite farmlands barely visible from the low angle. These cities lay so far apart, with nothing in common, barely functioning together. Had Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash always been this way? Had Rainbow Dash just never noticed? Part of her wanted her friend back—no. Dash snorted. Now that she knew how to fix Fluttershy’s sadness, she didn’t need to be thinking about pointless stuff.

And she had figured out what made Fluttershy sad, hadn’t she? She was worried about Neisos, Dash was almost entirely sure, and if there was a difference between almost entirely sure, and entirely sure, the comfort of having something to do made up the difference. In her distraction, Fluttershy pulled ahead a little. Rainbow Dash sped up, caught up and overcompensated.

“You’re being very quiet,” said Fluttershy, struggling to catch up in turn. Her head was at a tilt, and without another word, she started their descent, making for what Dash presumed was the entrance to the alley of Neisos and Ohrinna’s house. Rainbow Dash followed.

“Yeah, just thinking, don’t even worry about it,” she said, putting on her most cocksure grin.

She still struggled to accept the strange praise and weird compliments Fluttershy had given her, but whatever. She had a plan. She had to talk to someone, and fix something. “I think I’m gonna have a chat with Neisos,” said Dash.

Fluttershy gave her a curious look at that, as though it wasn’t obvious, as though she hadn’t practically asked her to do exactly that, but it lasted only a moment. When they landed at the entrance to the alley, she gestured ahead. “I guess he’s home—he’s right over there,” said Fluttershy.

“Oh, cool,” said Dash. Neisos stood in the doorway of his house talking to two other peryton. He must’ve seen them, pointing at the ponies a moment later. The other peryton nodded and took off down the narrow street in the opposite direction. Neisos said something Dash didn’t hear, leaning out the door, and the two strangers sped up to a brisk walk, not looking back.

“What was that about?” asked Rainbow Dash when they got closer. Neisos waited for them, leaning against the doorframe.

“What was it about, who were they, or what did they want?” asked Neisos, gazing up at the sun as though there were answers to be had there. “Chorossa clutches the answer—or you do.”

“Who’s Chorossa?” asked Dash, stopping just outside.

“And why would we know?” Fluttershy added with obvious confusion.

“Chorossa is the Aspect of the known becoming unknown, simply put, of obfuscation and confusion, and only potential future understanding,” said Neisos with an inscrutable look. “Or simply put, another way to say… I do not know. They asked for you not by name but by species, and I thought perhaps they might be friends of yours, someone you’ve met during one of your wanderings here.”

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow. “Were they from the council, maybe? They did sound like they’d like to see us again if they got the chance, and they seemed to enjoy talking to us.”

“No. Or, I doubt it,” said Neisos, clearly chagrined. “I want to say they are not from Vauhorn, but I did not get their names, and when I told them that you did indeed visit us, and that you were just down the street, they said hasty goodbyes, like Daros before the threat of the hearthrug.”

“Oh. Okay, that’s officially weird,” said Rainbow Dash, her snout crinkling of its own accord.

“Yes,” said Neisos, his dark expression softening by the moment. “Yes, but while it is strange, it is also time for evening meal, you are just in time to help with preparations. Come!”

“You are certain you are not hungry?” Neisos asked not for the first, and likely not for the last time. “The Ever Soaring did not make his questing flight on an empty stomach.”

“Nah, I’m good, thanks,” said Rainbow Dash, distracted. She gave a little ground, letting Berissa push her a tiny bit before she pushed back—gently but firmly. The young doe was surprisingly strong for how thin her forelegs were, but Dash couldn’t shake the fear of hurting her.

Berissa shared no such restraint. Her soup stood half-finished on the ground next to her in the middle of the living room floor. Teilos stared at the two hoof-wrestlers over the rim of his bowl, almost as fierce and focused as his twin sister herself.

“Come on, try harder,” Dash said, grinning. She pushed a little more, bringing Berissa’s knee perilously close to the floor.

“It is no use,” Teilos piped. “You always win!”

Berissa pushed back as hard as she could. Rainbow Dash could tell she gave it her all, the child’s wings lifting while she yanked at Dash’s foreleg. Surprisingly strong, sure, but nothing compared to Applejack. Or even Apple Bloom. Dash moved with the push and let her knee hit the ground, gasping in mock surprise.

“I lost? Wow, kid. You got me!” Dash said, shaking her head. She smiled at the triumphant doe who stared at her own hoof as though she didn’t quite know what had happened. “I’ll quit while I’m still ahead. That’s four to one, but I don’t wanna take any more chances.”

“You beat her!” Teilos said, gaping.

“I beat her!” Berissa repeated. “I am as Selyria when she split the world!” The little peryton bounced from forelegs to hind-claws and cheered along with her brother as she danced. Rainbow Dash got up and headed for the table, trying to hold back a snicker. Neisos laughed and left the table to hug Berissa, starting some profound story or other about an Aspect, while Ohrinna shook her head with obvious mirth. Even Deimesa cracked a smile.

“That was nice of you,” said Fluttershy when Rainbow Dash sat down at her side. Fluttershy flipped her empty bowl upside-down and put it in the center of the table, as was apparently custom here, and nuzzled Rainbow Dash right below the ear.

“Yeah, well, you don’t get to tell Applejack or anypony else,” Dash retorted, relishing the touch. She let out a breath and closed her eyes for just a second. A pleasant, almost cool gust of wind snuck in through the one open window.

“Good afternoon,” said Ohrinna just as Rainbow Dash heard hoofsteps. Rarity slowly descended the stairs, a thin blanket wrapped around her.

“Oh, hello,” said Fluttershy, one ear tweaked in question. “Are you feeling any better?”

“Better,” Rarity repeated, blinking heavily. She stopped at the foot of the stairs. Neisos and the children continued talking and playing unabated. Rarity smiled at the sight. “Perhaps a little. I suppose I should eat something if I wish to be back at my best anytime soon.”

Ohrinna nodded sagely. “Food and rest. And water, always water.”

“In that respect, I suppose being sick in Perytonia isn’t very different from being sick in Equestria,” said Rarity, covering up a small cough as she stood by the table. “What is this? I’m sure it smells heavenly, but all I can say is that it looks good.” She sniffled.

“Sweetened fiddlehead and onion soup,” said Ohrinna. “Neisos prefers to take his time making it, but someone bought an excess of these things, leaving us with a clear and short path to dinner.”

“I like fiddlehead onion soup,” said Deimesa, unrepentant as she filled her bowl for the third time. Neisos did not comment. He had one leg hooked about each of his children’s withers, leaning in close to whisper to them.

“It was delicious, really,” said Fluttershy, nodding to the pot stood on the table.

“C’mon, sit down,” said Rainbow Dash. “You can use my bowl. I wasn’t hungry.”

“Mm, yes, that’s very kind of you,” said Rarity, rubbing at her eyes. “But I think I’ll take my dinner upstairs. I am making some progress, finally.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t try to mask her sigh. “C’mon, stick around for a bit. We haven’t seen you at all lately.”

“If you’re going to stay upstairs, could you try to rest, at least?” asked Fluttershy.

Rarity frowned. “I’ve just slept half the day away. I’ll be fine. If you don’t mind, I’ll just grab some of this no doubt delicious soup and be out of your manes in a moment.”

“Feel free to take as much as you like,” Ohrinna said. Rarity said her thanks and soon hovered a helping of soup at her side.

“Before I go, though,” said the unicorn, pausing with one hoof on the stairs. She looked over her shoulder at Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. “How did your date go?”

Dash snorted and grinned all at once. “The whole House of Mist and Song place was—uh,” she stalled herself, keenly aware that Deimesa was in the room. “It was… not our kind of thing, but I think the date went okay anyway.” She looked askance at Fluttershy, and the other pegasus nodded, one side of her muzzle tugged in a half-smile.

“I think it was good, yes,” said Fluttershy, and it sounded to Rainbow Dash like she meant it. “I think we’re going to be better than ever.”

Rarity nodded. “That’s good, I’m happy for you two,” she said, smiling at the pair, but she didn’t ask for details like Dash expected. The unicorn disappeared upstairs, tasting her soup as she went.

“The House of Mist and Song, is it?” asked Neisos, laboriously rising to stand. He hobbled his way back to the table, sitting down close to Ohrinna, but his eyes were on his eldest daughter as he spoke. “I wonder, where did you get the idea to go there?”

What Rainbow Dash hadn’t told anypony else was that Twilight had given her an extra special super secret one-on-one ‘diplomatic brief’ teaching her the essentials of official conduct. This was the perfect time to perform the most amazing diplomatic maneuver of all.

Rainbow Dash said nothing at all.

It didn’t help much. Deimesa’s sudden interest in her soup bowl spoke volumes.

“Vestrus sought to know all,” said Deimesa when more curious eyes landed on her. “Is it now a crime to wish to know where one might hide from the second summer’s sun at its peak?”

“Oh no, of course not, little gem,” said Neisos, his face blank and his voice full of sympathy for a moment. The curiosity and the smugness had transferred over to Ohrinna, quickly, invisibly, and convincingly.

“Of course,” added Ohrinna, flipping and putting away bowls as she spoke. “One has heard that at this house works a particular stag that one’s daughter took an interest in since long before she went on her journey, and rumour has it that he, too, has returned from his own—”

Deimesa threw her head back. “Mom!”

The table erupted in laughter, and when Deimesa tried to get up and leave, Neisos wrapped a wing around her back and spoke to her in low tones. Rainbow Dash hadn’t seen peryton blushing before, but Deimesa clearly had the capability for it.

“The place itself was very nice,” said Fluttershy when the noise died down a little. “It’s really clever to make these little hiding places for when the sun gets too hot.”

“It is tradition of sort,” said Neisos tugging at Deimesa with his wing, receiving a half-hearted glare. “A place to show what you have to offer, what you have thought of, what you have found—though usually, peryton travel as far across the city as they can. The idea is an exchange of local cultures. It is easy to get stuck in one way of thinking if you are friends with all your neighbours. Few visit their local corner clubs.”

“Without good reason, at least,” Ohrinna added, nodding. Deimesa shrugged off Neisos’ wing and grunted.

“It really did feel more like a theater of sorts than a café,” said Fluttershy, chewing on her cheek, thoughtful for a moment.

“Yeah, uh. Some of the stuff was really… something else,” Dash added. It was about as nice as she could be without lying. “The juggling was okay.”

“They used a stage just like we do in Equestria, or… almost like it,” said Fluttershy, her brow furrowed. “Does that mean there’s a stage at the Alluvium tomorrow?”

“No one stage as such, no,” said Ohrinna, shaking her head. “There are many. Stories are told by fires, and the stories that kin agree are worth keeping are brought to the next. At the height of the Alluvium, the stories that are not discarded are brought to the sunrise.”

“Wait, so… it’s some sort of competition after all? Like a tournament?” Dash asked.

“No,” said Ohrinna. “It is consensus, it is agreement. If you seek to win, you’ll have better luck throwing your slivers at a Shersang pile.”

“Which… I’m guessing is not a good idea,” said Dash, snorting.

“It is great, if your aim is to get rid of the slivers,” said Ohrinna with a chuckle. “No, but then, perhaps I do not give you enough credit. If the idea of winning motivates you to find a profound story, why not?”

“Profundity surfaces from the strangest of angles,” said Neisos, nodding slowly.

“But anyone is welcome?” asked Fluttershy. “How do you decide who tells a story?”

“There is no ‘process’, if that is what you expect to hear,” said Deimesa, shrugging. “There is fire enough for all.”

“Sometimes too much,” said Ohrinna with a caw of mirth. “You should have seen the last Alluvium. A great many ships needed loading or unloading during moonup—Tyvessa had suggested on a whim that they might make an extra round-trip before the storm. I saw not a single kin from the docks, and with so many busy during strange hours, many fires heard not a single story.”

Dash scratched at her snout. She honestly couldn’t decide whether the idea of some story not-competition excited her, but she’d have to check it out because of Rarity’s dresses anyway—if Rarity even cared about that any more.

“Okay, and the only rule is that the story can’t be… old?” Fluttershy asked.

“Cannot be told,” said Deimesa. “You do not bring stories already told.”

“Um, okay but what makes a story told?” said Fluttershy, deflating. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand.”

Rainbow Dash cocked a brow at Fluttershy’s sudden interest in the Alluvium, but whatever had her curious, Ohrinna and Deimesa did most of the talking now, anyway. While they went on, Neisos got up and surrounded the soup pot with his magic. Dash rose as well.

“Hey, I’ll help you out,” said Rainbow Dash. She grabbed the stacked empty bowls and tossed them onto her back, following Neisos towards the kitchen.

“This is very kind of you,” said Neisos, smiling at her. “And unwarranted. You did not even eat.”

“Yeah, well, I ate breakfast, and we’re still staying at your house,” Dash said. She frowned. “Huh, actually, now that your family’s back, what do we do? Do you have a spare mattress or something?”

Neisos shook his head and put the pot on the bench, gesturing for Dash to do the same with her cargo. “No, you will stay as you have, unless you object. I have spoken with two of my children’s uncles. My brother and his love have spare beds for them, and they live nearby. This is a special occasion, and it is no problem at all.”

“Sweet,” said Dash. “We owe you, thanks.”

“You offer fresh perspectives and insights,” said Neisos, shrugging. “The thanks are mine to give, though if you wish to help out with washing dishes with me, that, too, would be welcome.”

Rainbow Dash tapped a hoof on the ground. It wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Besides, washing dishes was a chore on the best of days.

“Yeah, uh, maybe afterwards, but I was hoping I could talk to you for a bit,” said Dash, rustling her wings.

Neisos paused with the pot hovering right above the bench. He gave Dash a curious look, then slowly lowered the pot back down, nodding. “These would be the perspectives and insights that I alluded to? You do not sound like you are about to ask for another blanket, or like you changed your mind and are hungry after all.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Insights? Don’t get your hopes up, heh. Hey, d’you have a roof or something?”

“Would you believe it is deceptively hard to build a house without one?” asked Neisos. “But no, if you looked up, you would find mine is not suitable for even the smallest amount of philosophy. It is a curved roof like most.” He left the kitchen without further explanation, hobbling across the living room.

“We will be back,” he said as he passed the table. “Rainbow Dash and I must away to explore some architecture.”

Rainbow Dash smiled at Fluttershy in passing, the other pegasus mare tilting her head in question, but she soon went back to her discussion with Ohrinna and Deimesa—both of whom seemed entirely unfazed by Neisos’ crypticisms. Dash nudged the door shut once outside, and spotted Neisos across the street, waving at her from a narrow stone staircase set on the outer wall of the house opposite of his. The entire staircase was painted a garish yellow, painfully bright even in the shadow of the alley between houses.

“Mahoryn is very good and lets all his neighbours borrow his roof,” said Neisos when Dash drew near, taking the lead up the stairs, one awkward hop at the time. “In turn,” he added, grunting with effort. “He is welcome in any of our homes when the weather is too hot for his house.”

“His house is hot?” Dash asked. The narrow staircase was awkward, and she couldn’t even spread her wings here. She climbed onto the railing and leapt off, coming up next to Neisos in a hover. The peryton gave her a sharp-toothed grin—or a grimace.

“Yes,” said Neisos, pausing for a second before he resumed his climb. “The domes help much like do windows. Ask an architect, they may explain it. I cannot—ah, here we are, finally.”

The top of the two-story house was utterly unremarkable, a flat space with low walls and a tiny chimney that even now puffed smoke and smelled faintly of baking bread. Dozens of other roofs stretched in every direction, equal in height aside from the occasional three-story building. The southern hills were dark, and Rainbow Dash could just barely see the sea past the city to the north. Not too much of a view in her opinion, but Neisos stood by the wall facing east, watching the distant grey cliffs that marked the shoreline. A peryton flew low over the buildings, great wing-strokes carrying it ahead in the slowly fading light.

“You have questions,” Neisos suggested. “This has been the case since you arrived, always asking about things I did not think anyone would ask, and rarely asking about the things I imagined a traveller from a faraway land would ask. Not ‘what do you think of Anhori’s emergence’ or ‘what can be learned from the notion that nothing can be learned from Chorossa’, but ‘what do you think of the Bent Feathers’ and ‘why do you speak as you do’.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. She did recall asking those latter two questions. She didn’t remember getting great answers, but she was satisfied. “I don’t even know what Anhori is,” she said. “Probably another Aspect.”

Neisos nodded. “The recent-most Aspect found, yes, and one whose full purpose is yet to be unearthed through stories told. Every few generations, this happens. The purpose of the Aspects in general is temporarily thrown into question by those who are confused by such an undefined quantity before it settles—but that was not your question, that was mine. Yours was not even a question.” He let out a low warble-like laugh. “You would not have asked me here if you did not have something to say.”

Dash rolled her jaw. She reached up to rest her forelegs on the wall, hooves dangling over the side.

“Or perhaps you did,” Neisos quickly added. He smiled at that. “I cannot pretend to know you very well just yet.”

“Nah, you’re right,” said Dash. “How come you don’t fly?”

Neisos cocked a brow. “I told you this.”

Rainbow Dash snorted hot air. “No, you didn’t. I know you peryton can’t fly like us pegasi, and I know flying around when it’s hot is stupid anyway, but I mean really why. You used to fly a lot, didn’t you? For a peryton, anyway.”

Neisos didn’t smile any more, now. Just like Rainbow Dash, he rested his forelegs on the wall. “To ask when you have already asked is one thing, but to ask when you already carry answers means that someone has told you something.”

“Yeah.” Dash spotted another two peryton coming into view for a second, flying down a by-street. It wasn’t cold just yet, but it wasn’t as hot, either. “Sorry. Fluttershy told me, but it didn’t sound like a secret. If she wasn’t meant to tell, don’t blame her. I’m the one who can’t keep her mouth shut.”

That got a chuckle out of him, at least. “It is not and was not a secret. You did not offend.”

Rainbow Dash rapped the backs of her hooves against the other side of the wall. She counted the seconds until she got bored and decided the silence stretched on for too long. Two. Three. “So?”

“The accident at the quarry affected me, you surely can guess, but I can create stories filled with wonders that need no more than three legs,” said Neisos without looking at her. “I am happy.”

“Well, duh,” said Dash, resettling her wings. “I can tell that you’re doing good. That’s not an answer.”

Neisos sighed. “You are relentless. Are all among your kind like this? No—I know you are not. Your love understands the value of a softer touch.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t reply. She stared at him until he talked or told her to leave it. Eventually, he did the former.

“Flying at this juncture feels to me like a defeat. If you knew the story of Glandros who ran but could not walk, you might sympathise.” He twisted his neck around to scratch at his side with his antlers.

“Yeah, I don’t,” said Rainbow Dash. “Give me the short version.”

“The short version,” Neisos repeated, as though the words were foreign to him. “It does not carry the same weight. I would rather not, but suffice it to say that to do something because one has no option is not the same as doing something of one’s own volition. No—that sounds wrong to my ears.” He sighed. “A story of another is not justification for my own decisions alone. Or indecisions. Perspective, but not justification.”

Rainbow Dash rested her head on her forelegs, looking over at him with one eye. “So you don’t want to fly because you can’t walk as well?” she asked. “You don’t want to fly because you ‘have to’ fly? That doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t, does it?” Neisos said, breezily. “You are right. I used to enjoy flying, often to my detriment. I had one little accident in the air, long ago, but it never tempered the joy I held for flying. The attention… I enjoyed less.”

“You keep talking about how it used to be,” Dash said.

“Yes. And I talk in circles around the issue,” Neisos agreed. He pushed himself away from the wall. “When you have been wounded like I have, you get sympathy. When you fly, you invite the eyes of others, even if just in passing. I want neither sympathy nor attention, and I especially do not want both.” He curled his upper lip in distaste and looked away. “I have not been forced to think of it so simply before, and now I am annoyed that it sounds almost surmountable. But only almost. Perhaps to different kin.”

Rainbow Dash moved past the peryton before he could get into a proper sulk, stepping in front and staring up at him. “Hey, you know, that’s fine,” she said. “Not wanting attention, not wanting people to look at you or whatever,” Dash frowned, “that’s cool if that’s you, I just think it’s really crummy if you want to do something, but decide not to do it just because… because of people—”

“There is nothing untrue about your words,” Neisos allowed.

“—and jeez, it’s not like you’re afraid of people in general, right? Because when you met us, you faced down a bunch of guards—”

“Citizens,” Neisos interjected.

“—like it was nothing!” Dash said. “If you don’t want pity or whatever’s the problem, I get that, that’s fine and all. I don’t know you that well either, but I saw you be awesome, so I know you can be awesome.” She paused for a moment, shuffling her wings. “Besides, it’s a waste.”

Neisos arched a brow. “A waste?”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash, grinning and gesturing to his missing leg. “You’re way more aerodynamic with only three legs! If you can manage the lopsided draft, you’ll be faster than any other peryton.”

Neisos stared at her, blank-faced at first, as though the words hadn’t registered. A second later, the laughter hit him like a lightning bolt, his head arched back and a rattling caw of laughter shaking him, echoing into the evening sky. When Dash’s own laughter petered out into a chuckle, he still laughed on. Dash started to feel a little awkward when he finally looked down at her again, wiping his eyes with the nook of a leg.

“It wasn’t that funny,” Dash said with a half-smile tugging on her muzzle.

“First point of order, I disagree,” said Neisos, grinning wide. “As for the second, I do not remember the last time someone made fun of my leg. Allow me this.”

“Hey, sure.” Dash giggled. “Anyway, I just think it’s stupid. Fly if you wanna fly, but if you can’t, whatever. Just don’t beat yourself up over it either way. I just wanted to say my piece.”

“Well, your ‘piece’, be it a piece of wisdom or chaos belched forth, has been received,” said Neisos. He leaned against the low wall surrounding the roof, half sitting on it, half reclining against it. “I do not know whether or not to thank you for it quite yet, but I hope you weren’t expecting me to spread my wings and fly off in response.”

“Eh,” was all Dash said. “Expect” was a strong word, but she was open to the possibility. She’d take “not being yelled at” for the moment.

Neisos peered down at the street below. He waved at something, calling a good afternoon to someone Dash couldn’t see. Rainbow Dash stretched. Her body felt clammy under her wings.

“From where this fire?” asked Neisos.

“Come again?”

“All of you ponies have travelled so very far on Selyria’s wings, and all of you walk in her shadow with passion to shame Helesseia’s stories. It is plain for all to see.” Neisos tilted his head, wearing a subtle and barely visible smile, even for a peryton. “I can see you and your friends standing on top of the mountain, ready to split it, but now especially you carry fire in your eyes and words that weren’t there yesterday.”

“Okay, in Equestria, we just say ‘what’s up with you’ when somepony’s acting strange,” said Dash.

“Then,” said Neisos, his eyes gleaming with humour. “What’s up with you?”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Forget I said anything, keep talking all peryton-like, please.”

“Now who is the one who evades a question?” asked Neisos. Was that a smirk? It was already gone, the stag shaking his head briskly. “Forgive me. I should not pry. We are maybe not so familiar—”

“No, jeez, I dragged you up here to give you a lecture on flying and stuff, didn’t I?” said Dash, sighing. She drug a hoof through her mane. “Sorry. I don’t know,” she said. “Gotta do something, right?”

It wasn’t entirely true. She knew she’d talked to Neisos in part because she thought Fluttershy had wanted her to. Rainbow Dash had wanted to do so herself when she heard about Neisos’ self-imposed flightlessness, too, but that wasn’t why she’d done it.

“Unless one’s life is an unbroken story of Salhalani, one has to do something,” Neisos agreed, standing next to her. “Maybe I, too, must do something, even if I am not born to tell stories that resonate with Helesseia. Thank you for your insight, and for lending me your clarity.”

“Heh. No problem,” said Rainbow Dash.

What she hadn’t counted on was how good it felt to help someone, to make a difference for a little bit. There hadn’t been a lot of that lately. Even though she had won the joust, there hadn’t been a lot of things that had felt like wins.

Dash slung a foreleg over the wall again. The light would soon begin to fade in earnest, the sun reaching for Vauhorn. The few clouds that dotted the western sky were lit from below with a pinkish tint.

Rainbow Dash hopped onto the bed, marvelling at how the most consistent feature across all the peryton cities so far was their beds. Apparently they didn’t have springs here. Another thing to miss: Equestrian non-cloud-beds were a lot more fun to jump on.

“Is something wrong?” asked Fluttershy, her head askew. The other pegasus climbed the bed in a more sedate manner.

“Nah,” said Rainbow Dash, poking at the bed again. “Think anyone minds if I sneak a cloud in here instead?”

Fluttershy giggled and cast a glance out the window. They’d decided to leave it open. Better cold at night than suffocating in the morning. “I don’t think there are many clouds out,” she said.

“Yeah, I know,” Dash muttered, ducking under the blanket and surfacing on the other side, comfy and covered. Fluttershy lay down next to her, pulling the blanket over her body as well. She smiled at Rainbow Dash and leaned over to nuzzle her cheek. Dash laughed.

“Your snout’s cold!”

“Sorry,” Fluttershy replied, lowering her voice a little. Rainbow Dash retaliated by grinding the top of her head against the side of Fluttershy’s neck. They said nothing more, leaning against each other with eyes closed, but Rainbow Dash remained awake for another few minutes.

Is something wrong? I hope not, Dash thought. I don’t think so. Fluttershy had been happy to hear when Rainbow Dash told her she’d spoken to Neisos, but that was all. Happy to hear it, as though she’d just learned of Dash helping Applejack paint a barn, not as though something had been fixed.

A harsh raven’s cry startled Rainbow Dash awake, and she popped one bleary eye open. She caught a shadow passing by the bedroom window and the faint rustle of wings not her own, but it was already gone. Birdsong from the Whitetail usually never bothered her back home, but ravens were to birds what a healthy “breakfast muffin” was to a real muffin with sprinkles and glazing.

Rainbow Dash rubbed at her eyes and yawned. Muffins. Why was she thinking about muffins? The metaphor made no sense and was entirely too Pinkie Pie. Maybe she’d dreamt of Pinkie? No. If she’d dreamt of Pinkie Pie, she’d usually remember it, just like she tended to remember when she’d had awesome dreams about kicking monster butt. This morning, fragments of a particular bad dream fled from her, scattering under her attentions, and she was entirely okay with that. No Luna this night, either. She slipped off the bed and stood next to it, expertly avoiding the clutter on the floor.

Fluttershy still slept, her body moving with quiet breath and her snout making a faint whistling noise. The blanket shifted a little, the pegasus’s wings pushing against it.

“Guess it’s getting a little hot already,” Dash muttered to herself. Reflected sunlight spilled in through the window. It was the kind of early that Rainbow Dash made a point of sleeping through, and though normally she’d close her eyes and simply sleep harder, that ‘normal’ hadn’t existed in a long while. At some point, she had to let go of what she ‘used to do’. Regardless, going back to bed in this heat wasn’t exactly tempting.

She leaned over to pull the blanket away from her girlfriend, receiving a faceful of feathers when Fluttershy spread her wings and immediately folded them again. Dash giggled and blew her mane out of her face, making for the living room. She needed some water first anyway.

Downstairs was just as quiet, but brighter and busier. A few of the light-globes were lit, and both horn and antlers aided the morning light to brighten the room. By the large living room table, Rarity had a needle out, working on her craft whilst talking in low tones with Deimesa, who held a section of a dress for her.

“Morning,” Dash offered, heading for the kitchen. Rarity looked for a moment like she’d seen a ghost—something Rainbow Dash could say with authority, having witnessed that exact face.

“You’re up early,” said Rarity, her work momentarily forgotten.

“Yeah, I know,” said Dash. She stuck her head inside the kitchen, found a clean water-bowl and trotted back to the table. Deimesa filled it up from a decanter before Dash had a chance. She nodded her thanks. “Feeling any better?” Dash asked. She motioned to Rarity. “You’re not sitting here wrapped in blankets like some… uh, like an egg roll or something.”

“An egg roll,” Rarity repeated, squinting at her needle as she went back to her work. “Really?”

“Maybe like a burrito?” suggested Deimesa.

“What the hay is a burrito?” asked Dash. “Actually, no, never mind, jeez. I’m just wondering what you’re doing up so early, and if you’re better.”

Rarity smiled, but only barely. “I am better, yes. Either it was a mild cold, or Neisos’ horrid oils helped, but my sleep pattern is still more than a little ruined. I’ve been up for a while.”

“Right,” said Dash. She jammed a hoof in an ear and rooted around for the source of an itch. “What’s your excuse?” she asked, shooting Deimesa a glance.

“I woke with the sun every day for my journey,” said Deimesa. “It helped keep my mind on the task. I don’t know if I’ll go back to sleeping in, now.”

“If sleeping in is an option, you sleep in,” said Dash with a grin.

“We’ll see,” Deimesa replied with a smile. She got up and grabbed the decanter with her magic. “I’ll get more water and see if I can find some fruit.”

“Sure,” said Dash. She watched as Rarity… attached some dress thingy to some other dress thingy, lost in her dressmaking. “So,” said Dash. “You’ve been very busy lately.”

“Uh-huh.” Rarity didn’t even look up.

Dash cleared her throat. “You doing good? Like, not just the sneezing and the dresses and stuff, but… you know, generally? You wanna talk?” she asked. The words sounded exceptionally lame to her ears.

“Lately,” Rarity said after a moment’s silence. “The ‘sneezing’ has been a good portion of my time, and asking how I am aside from, as you so wonderfully put it, ‘the dresses and stuff’, is like me asking how you are, aside from the ‘flying and stuff’.”

“Hey, I do a lot more than just fly, that’s just what I’m best—er, one of the things I’m best at,” said Rainbow Dash, frowning. Besides, you haven’t asked how I am, she thought, and she both wished Rarity would, and was glad she hadn’t, because Rainbow Dash had no idea. “And that doesn’t make sense,” she added. “I’ve barely done any flying at all. I use my hooves more than I use my wings now, ugh.”

“That is a good point, and I fear I’ve used a terrible example,” Rarity allowed, putting down her dress and rubbing her temples. She sighed. “I am sorry if I’m snapping. I myself have certainly been working a lot lately. Finishing up these has been the easy part,” Rarity said, rustling the fabric of the dress. “As for the dresses I’m planning for Cotronna, that project is definitely causing some consternation, but you’ve no cause for concern dear, I assure you.”

“Okay, what’re you planning, exactly?” Dash asked, rubbing her hooves together. “Hit me!”

“I don’t know exactly quite yet,” said Rarity, looking up when Deimesa put down a fresh pitcher of water, returning soon after with a cluster of purple grapes, and then a bowl of peaches, sitting down next to them. “I’ve been asking Deimesa here some questions about Cotronna, but I don’t know that it’s something I can use input on beyond that, really.”

“You don’t know until you try,” said Rainbow Dash, grinning. Sure, fashion stuff was lame at times, but helping out Rarity wasn’t. It sounded like just the thing she herself needed. “Whatcha got? I’ll tell you if it’s cool or lame.”

Rarity pursed her lips. “I’ve been trying to tell you gently, dear. I think I’d rather work on this alone. I’m not always in the habit of taking… feedback at this stage.”

Rainbow Dash flicked her ears. “Right. Fine,” she said. “Anything new about Cotronna?”

Rarity glanced at Deimesa. The peryton cocked a brow. “I think you expect more from me than I have to give,” said Deimesa. “I explained only what all here in Vauhorn know, that they make ceremony and ritual out of the simplest of things, and both expect and wish to give respect in all things. Traders I met by Helesseia’s western tablets leaned heavily on symbols, too.”

“Symbols?” Dash asked.

Deimesa nodded. “All four of them imbued every item with importance. To me, they seem to emphasise symbols. Symbolism.”

“Coming from a city where literally every piece of clothing is a costume?” Dash asked.

Deimesa simply shrugged at that, offering no snappy comeback, but Rarity stopped her work, staring at her needle for a second.

“I had similar thoughts,” said the unicorn, her brow furrowed. “Deimesa, dear—do you have any reason to believe that traders are any different from the rest of Cotronnans?”

“I do not know, but I also don’t know why they would be,” said Deimesa. “Wagon teams are as all peryton, only perhaps with a greater desire to wander in Selyria’s shadow, hooves made for Pyn’s work rather than Ilyra’s.”

Rarity nodded at that, going back to her work, while Rainbow Dash grabbed a peach and smiled gratefully at Deimesa when she refilled her water-bowl. “Thanks,” Dash said. “Hey, if you’re so good at paying attention to what people say about other cities and everything—”

“I don’t think I am,” Deimesa interjected.

“—what d’you think of Ephydoera? Stagrum? What about Orto?” Dash sat up straight.

Deimesa nonchalantly flicked a grape towards her mouth with her magic. She missed. “Why do I deserve this interrogation?” she asked, turning around in search of the missing fruit.

“If you’ve been around the countryside talking to all sorts of peryton traders, you probably know this stuff better than anypo—any...peryton else,” said Dash. She grabbed a few grapes herself, rolling one towards the table’s edge and flicking it into the air. She caught it balancing on her snout, smirking at her before she ate it. “C’mon, shoot.”

“I met travellers from Cotronna by chance because Helesseia’s western tablets are close to the road at the edge of our demesne,” Deimesa retorted. “If you wish for something as low as gossip on other cities, you would have better luck at a resting house.” She brushed the grape off on her coat and tried again. It bounced off her snout and landed in the middle of Rarity’s work.

Rarity said nothing. A blue glow surrounded the errant grape, perfectly peeling it and then cutting it two. She ate one half and put the other half with the skin on the table, all without taking her eyes off the dress, looking almost bored. Deimesa blinked once.

“Sure,” said Rainbow Dash. “But I don’t know any resting houses nearby, and I don’t care that much, I just wanna hear what you have to say.”

“If you wish,” said Deimesa. “Ephydoerans ward the Khosta, and I expect they are as they must be to do their work. The only one I ever met was reserved but pleasant in his own way. Stagrumites will always walk with Phostos’ every word, and you can rely on their sense of fairness, just like Ortosians will bathe in Myrtella’s love and likely birth the most intrepid Bent Feathers.” She tilted her head. “You understand this is common knowledge, except perhaps the last bit, which was opinion given me by Aleissus.”

“Sure, sure,” said Dash, waving a hoof. She grabbed another grape, this time bouncing it on her snout two times, three times, four times. She kept it going as she spoke and thought. “Huh. You sound like you like them just fine, though.” Sixteen, seventeen.

“I don’t think we’ve met any peryton who said they didn’t like each other.”

However soft it was, Fluttershy’s voice startled Dash. She hadn’t heard the other pegasus approach, and the jolt of surprise sent her little pet grape high into the air. The questing fruit—or were they berries? Whatever it was, the purple missile descended at a perfect angle towards Rarity’s head.

The unicorn’s horn flashed. The grape pinged off a faint blue barrier and shot straight back at Rainbow Dash ten times as fast. Dash’s head jerked back at the impact that splattered her forehead with bits of grape.

“Good morning,” said Fluttershy and all the others.

“Ow,” said Rainbow Dash. She leaned over to rub her snout against Fluttershy’s side, making sure to share the grape stain, too, earning a giggle from Fluttershy.

“Have I ever said that I dislike kin who live in other cities?” asked Deimesa, her gaze pinning Rainbow Dash.

“Nah,” Dash admitted, leaning against her girlfriend. Fluttershy had been right. It wasn’t about dislike. “You all just sound so… lukewarm? Maybe you wouldn’t feel that way if you knew them better? Like, it’s confusing enough that you can know them a little, and know that you don’t dislike them, but you also don’t like them. I don’t get that.”

Deimesa knit her brow. “But I don’t know that I don’t like them.”

“Exactly!” said Rainbow Dash. “Because you don’t know them. Your cities are so far apart!”

“And you propose we… move our cities?” Deimesa asked with a deadpan stare.

“Yes? No?” Dash grunted. “I don’t know. Travel more? Hang out!” She puffed out her cheeks and let out a breath. She didn’t even know what she meant, what she tried to say or do any more, but she couldn’t help the idea that the peryton would be happier—or somehow better off if they were more like Equestria. She had no idea how their leader could understand all these different peryton if they barely understood each other, or how they functioned beyond sending trade caravans around.

Deimesa didn’t seem to have anything to say to that, but Fluttershy didn’t protest, either, the other pegasus casting furtive little glances at the peryton that Dash didn’t miss, as though she, too, wanted to hear the answer. At length, Deimesa grabbed another grape, this time placing it securely in her mouth.

“I don’t know that I understand your question entirely,” said Deimesa, at length. “It comes from a strange place, but I know this: With all your strange thoughts, you should give us a story at the Alluvium.”

“Did Neisos and Ohrinna already leave?” asked Fluttershy, glancing towards the stairs.

“No, the opposite,” said Deimesa, smiling. “They sleep in on the day of the Alluvium. They are very fond of it, and stay until the end.”

“When does everything start, anyway?” Dash asked. When Fluttershy reached for a grape, she grabbed a small cluster and put it on the table between them.

“I told your love much of this yesterday,” replied Deimesa, and Fluttershy smiled and nodded, but the peryton went on regardless. “When the light starts to fail, fires are lit in every plaza and where flames will fit. Most of town will be out in the streets.”

“You still don’t think you’ll be joining this year?” Fluttershy asked.

Deimesa shook her head. “Someone must watch Berissa and Teilos. My uncles are bonfire tenders tonight, and if left alone, Berissa will enact every story of Glandros until there is no house left. While I wandered, my parents have needed to call upon favours if they wished to join the Alluvium together. The least I can give them is a night to themselves, free of guilt.”

“Heh, that’s really cool of you,” said Dash.

“I don’t mind. I can think on the old stories I’ve read for another few weeks.” Deimesa let out a low, warbling laugh. “Maybe I will head out when my siblings go to bed.”

“If you wish to pass the time with some sewing, do let me know,” Rarity said, proving that she was actually still listening. “I can set aside some fabric and such.”

Deimesa smiled. “Maybe you can show me what it is that you do, but if taking care of the little Esorys-spawn does not exhaust me, I have another project best done when the house is as empty as can be. I may disassemble our water pump to understand its parts better and see if I can improve them.”

“Oh. You were studying to become a water technician, right?” Fluttershy asked.

“That is correct,” said the doe. “Water is important, and thus, so are the underground channels that carry fresh water.”

“Huh. I almost forgot,” Dash admitted, chuckling. “Thought you were gonna be a storyteller or a claw-priest or something. Guess not.”

“If the forty-nine-fold path makes a storyteller of one, then I suppose all of Vauhorn are storytellers in your mind,” said Deimesa, but the humour in her voice lasted only a second. “And you are not amused. Huh. That is what you think.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I don’t know about that whole journey thing, but you all talk the same way, at least compared to peryton from other places, so… yeah?”

Fluttershy fidgeted with her mane. “It’s not a bad thing, it’s just noticeable. We talked to Neisos about it a little.”

“It’s your culture,” Rarity added, turning her dress over on the other side. “Or your speech, I suppose. It’s interesting, that’s all, though you seem to use less of these similes than others.”

“If you say so,” said Deimesa. “I could not tell you. I do not think most of us consider how we say what we say—or maybe that is just me. If I speak unstoried and plain, it is because the journey has tired me, and I have many Aspects, many stories to think about before I speak of and in them.” She glanced at Rarity’s work in-progress. “What of you? Is this your… profession? Are you not diplomats?”

This time Rarity did look up. Glances were exchanged.

“I… I don’t think diplomat is really a profession in Equestria. Or, it wasn’t, but maybe it is now with the Princesses’ initiative?” Fluttershy asked, but Rainbow Dash had no good answer. All she really remembered and cared about was that the Princesses had sent a lot of ponies out to do what they did.

“I sure as hay don’t want that job title, anyway,” Dash finally said. Her attempt at laughter smoothly transitioned into a weariness at the very idea of doing this all the time. Even if she wasn’t always as homesick as the others, the idea of leaving again once they got back home threatened to change that.

“Since you asked, dear, I’m a fashionista by trade,” said Rarity with a brief but radiant smile. “I make all things fashion. In preference, dresses and other accoutrements to order—and for pleasure.”

“This is really strange to me,” said Deimesa, drawing back right after the words left her mouth. “I am sorry. I mean no offence.”

“And none was taken,” Rarity said without so much as a huff, working away on the dress.

“I take care of animals. I get a grant from Ponyville for it, I think,” said Fluttershy, dipping her head and smiling.

“You think,” Rarity repeated, her voice flat.

“Well, um, I haven’t really checked. Or collected. Or needed it after the modelling fiasco,” Fluttershy replied.

“You mean your success?” Rarity asked, arching a brow.

“If you want to call it that,” said Fluttershy, her ears bent.

Dash chuckled to herself and nuzzled into Fluttershy’s mane. “And I work—eh, I… do part time stuff for the weather service, I guess,” said Rainbow Dash. She crinkled her snout. Something about the word ‘work’ had always vaguely disgusted her. “I don’t know if it’s a job really. I mess about with the weather and get paid for it. Storms on commission are my favourite!”

“I understand that I do not understand ‘fashion’, but at the very least, I comprehend the work you do to create these dress-items,” said Deimesa, frowning with consternation. “I can also understand taking care of animals. We have farms, and some of them have animals, but… ‘weather work’? Do you divine weather, or clear up after storms, then?”

Rainbow Dash felt a budding grin coming on. “We have a bunch of time to spend before your parents wake up, right? A whole day before this Alluvium thing. Did we have anything else we wanted to do?”

“I don’t think I have anything I’d rather do,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her.

“I only came here thinking to grab some time alone before my uncles bring my siblings here,” said Deimesa. “What do you intend?”

“Why tell you what weather work is, when we can show you?” Dash asked, getting up in a flash and tapping Fluttershy on the side with a wing to get her moving.

Rarity raised a brow, but remained seated. “I think I will sit this one out and focus on my projects. Ah, and try to get better, of course.” She let out a sigh and fixed Dash with a flat look. “Do try not to start a hurricane, dear.”