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

To Perytonia - Cloudy Skies

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

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Chapter 29


Find me when you wake up. Before your breakfast. We may have a problem.


The splitting headache told Rainbow Dash the difference between ‘waking up’ and ‘coming to’. At first, she wasn’t sure she had done either. She had to open and close her eyes a few times before she accepted there was at least some light nearby, and initially, that was all she got. Flickering light, and a loud rush of water. Something hit her in the back of the head. Not hard enough to be painful, but very annoying.

“Who—?” Dash said, but the question died in her throat unformed. She reached up to rub her head, but her legs were stuck. She pulled at them to no avail. Her forelegs were stuck together, and now she realised she couldn’t spread her wings either, and not just because she was on her back. Something slapped against the back of her head again, too.

“You will wish to lay still,” said a voice only partially succeeding in sounding gruff.

“Stop it, just—just hang on a sec,” said Rainbow Dash, gritting her teeth. “I gotta fix something.” She rolled onto her side and strained against whatever was in the way, but she couldn’t get her wings open no matter how hard she tried. Another light slap to the side of her head. Whatever jerk was responsible for—no, there was no one hitting her. Something hit her. The floor?

“I said, lay still,” the voice repeated, louder. Rainbow Dash squinted as the world around her slowly gained detail and her eyes adjusted. The night sky rushed by above, and that didn’t make any sense at all. No stars. A dark ceiling? She spotted some of those pointy rocks she couldn’t remember the name of, some of them hanging awfully close. Were they in a cave? What was up with the wood around her?

“Why are we in a boat?” Rainbow Dash croaked. She managed to lift her head just off the floor of the small vessel, peering over its rim. Far to each side she could just barely make out the cave’s walls through the light granted by a torch tied to the boat’s prow, its flames trailing overhead. She saw other lights around her, too. Three more boats barely bigger than the dinghies in Whitetail Lake, long and slim craft, all chasing torchlight.

Water rushed past them, the fire hissing with the occasional spray. Occasionally, foam splattered the back of the boat where a grim-faced peryton doe sat on her haunches, staring at Dash. Where was she? Where were they? Rainbow Dash’s heart skipped a beat.

“Where’s Fluttershy?” she asked. “Where’s Rarity? Where are my friends?” She strained against her bonds, pulling madly and wriggling as best as she could. If only she could slip one leg free, or better yet, a wing—

“Your friends are safe,” said the doe. Her antlers glowed, arresting Dash’s forelegs. Still dazed and weak, Dash redoubled her efforts to free her hindlegs. When the doe shifted her magic to her hindlegs, she tore at her forelegs instead, the boat rocking with each pull and throw.

“Cease this moment!” the doe snapped, her voice tinged with fear. “Are you mad?! You will throw us both in the river! Your friends are in the other boats, you can see them—stop!”

A splash of icy water hit Dash’s face, and she froze. Her heart beat wildly, but she forced herself to lay still even though her breath came ragged. She could swim just fine, but with her legs bound? Best not to take the chance. A quick glance showed ropes around her legs and her body, too. That’d be why she couldn’t move her wings. She let out a deep breath, and the doe visibly relaxed as well.

Peering over the rim of the boat again, the light was still faint, but she could see a snippet of pink hair hanging over edge of the closest boat. It was enough to calm her. It had to be enough. She leaned back down just as they hit another wave, the hull slapping against her head yet again.

“Fine. Water’s going the wrong way, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she said, frowning. “Or your boat is. Also, ow.”

“Clearly you ponies are great thinkers,” said the doe. She shifted her wings on her body. “Try to lie still. The river is violent. I would rather not you doom us both. You may wish to sleep. This journey will take a while. Too long,” she added with a sigh.

“Sleep. Right, yeah, cool, I’m totally gonna take advice from someone like you right now,” said Dash. “Where are you taking us?”

“Listen or do not listen. It makes no difference to me,” said the doe, ignoring Dash’s question. Her antlers were dead and dark, so whatever pulled them along against the flow of water, it was not her. The low ceiling of the cavern rushed along. They were moving fast.

“Do you fear the dark?” the peryton asked after a moment.

“Pff, no,” said Dash, rolling her eyes.

The doe nodded. “Good. When we leave these vessels, we must shadow your eyes, and I would rather you did not lose your other senses when we do.”

“Shadow?” Dash asked, scowling. “What the hay does that mean?”

The doe tilted her head forward, her antlers glowing with magic as she pulled some cloth out of the bag around her neck. “I am to put this bag over your head while we move for a little while,” she said.

“Right,” said Dash, sighing. She tried to shrug as best as she could. “That’s not gonna be fun.”

“You will have to forgive us for this,” said the doe, nodding.

“No I don’t,” Dash retorted. “I really, really don’t.”

At some point, Dash had slept. Despite wondering where they were going, despite the boat smacking her head, and despite how uncomfortable she was laying on her back, she could only stare at the darkness for so long before she dozed off. When she awoke, it was to a multitude of voices.

“—move them. You said yourself that they are quick as glare-beast,” said one voice. “Ahead of us when we did not expect it. What fell powers guide their steps, we do not know. They may slip.”

“If one of them runs, or even two, they will not leave the third,” said another. “That is not their nature.”

“That is what we were told, but I do not know I trust it,” said the first. “We know little of these creatures except their harmful lies. This is foolish!”

“We have our task, now still your voice. No more words than necessary when we move. Let me speak if we must,” said a third, deep and gruff voice. “And she is right. I trust the Guide’s words in this, but even if I did not? They weigh more than their appearance suggests. I have no desire to carry them. My back is bad enough as it is.”

“Well, if that isn’t the height of rudeness,” Dash heard a familiar voice mutter. “I weigh exactly as much as I—oh, good morning, Rainbow. Or, possibly evening,” said Rarity.

Rainbow Dash grunted and squinted. First, she only saw what she first thought were rows of candles. The glittering lights revealed themselves as strings of small stones studding the underside of four vaguely familiar upturned boats, reflecting the light of torches mounted on a wall.

Also, there was a flat wall, so that was new.

Apparently, she lay on the floor of an underground landing, large and flat steps carved into the side of the cave. Nearby, the river roared and foamed, the cave narrow enough that she could see the wall opposite, but outside of the simple platform there was little else except water and darkness. A group of peryton stood near a tunnel set in the far wall, talking. Rarity sat right next to Rainbow Dash, and to her relief, Dash saw Fluttershy on the opposite side of the unicorn, too, though it was hard to tell if she was awake. The other pegasus leaned against Rarity with her eyes closed.

“You guys okay?” Dash asked, clearing her throat.

“As much as can be expected,” said Rarity. She turned her head and nuzzled the side of Fluttershy’s head.

“Fluttershy?” Rainbow Dash frowned. “How about you?”

“Sorry. Yes, I’m fine,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head. “I mean… I’m not, but I’m here.”

“Right. Good.” Dash sighed and closed her eyes for a second, her heart no longer in her throat. With a little effort, she managed to sit upright without tumbling into the water. “Where’s our stuff? Any of you figure out what’s going on?”

“Someone carried our things through that tunnel just before you awoke,” said Rarity. “And the stag who kept me company wasn’t very forthcoming at all. I demanded answers, but he kept telling me to be quiet. I’d say it reflected very poorly on him.” She sniffed, turning her snout up.

“And I just woke up, sorry,” said Fluttershy, her ears splayed. She leaned in front of Rarity to look at Rainbow Dash. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good. Head hurts, though,” Dash admitted, looking up when two peryton broke from the group and approached them.

“We are going to remove the bonds around your legs and cover your heads, and you will follow us. It is not a very long walk,” said a stag, levitating out a simple cloth bag from the pouch around his neck.

“I see,” said Rarity, giving him an arch look. “And you tell us this because we have the option to decline?”

The doe who had sat with Dash nodded. “You have an option. If you wish to remain bound, we will carry you. It will be unpleasant for everyone involved. Will you please walk?”

“I think I’d rather walk, at least,” said Fluttershy, her eyes on the ground.

Having a bag put over her head was unpleasant by itself, but at least it was big and loose enough that she could see her own legs. It’d be hard to walk otherwise. Rainbow Dash didn’t like the idea of being blind at the best of times, so she hurried up until she could see Fluttershy’s tail for guidance. It helped her keep moving, so she told Rarity to follow hers in turn. It was simple and monotonous enough—until they reached the top of the stairs.

After an endless ascent to the tune of dozens of hooves and claws, the stone steps suddenly ended. Rainbow Dash trod on soft soil, and a wall of heat and humidity slammed into her like a kick to the chest. Her head spun, and sharp birdsong chattered in her ears. She tried to spread her wings for any number of reasons—to fan herself, to taste the air, or just to try to fly away and escape the unrelenting warmth, but she was still bound, of course. She’d nearly forgotten the ropes around her midsection.

Dash stifled a sigh. Below her hooves she saw dark soil lit by shafts of reddish sunlight. She stood on a narrow path bordered by thick and darkly green plantlife.

“Let’s keep moving,” she heard a stag say. “Quickly now. And quietly.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t even have a reply for that. She’d thought northern Perytonia was as hot as any place could possibly be, and now she learned she’d been wrong. Having a bag over her head didn’t help matters in the least, and the air was as humid as a raincloud core.

“I can barely breathe,” she heard Rarity’s muffled voice behind her. “Not to mention what this is doing to my mane!”

“That is why we want to be swift,” said the same stag. “You must forgive us this, but it is not far.”

“Then tell us where we are going, and take off these unsightly bags!” Rarity snapped.

“You may notice that speaking, particularly yelling, means more breathing, which means less air,” said a doe’s voice. “If you feel faint, tell me at once, but otherwise, let us keep moving. For your own sake.”

Dash moved. She put one hoof in front of the other, trying to focus on the singed hairs of Fluttershy’s tail that bobbed ahead of her. She caught the occasional glimpse of colour amidst the greens, strange plants by the path-side, sometimes clinging to rock. Just as Rainbow Dash wondered at how strange the light was—it couldn’t just be the bag on her head—the heat lessened. Her neck no longer felt like it was on fire at least, and she stepped on wood. Logs? They’d hit a wider path, no longer going slowly downhill, and something blocked out the sun. She tilted her head slightly to the side, making the edge of her bag move. If only she could just see—

“Eyes ahead,” a sharp voice snapped.

“Right, whatever.” Dash had barely caught a glance of hooves by the side of the path. They were climbing a gentle hill, walking through an eerily silent crowd. Now that she knew, she thought she could hear them faintly whispering. It was impossible not to think of their forced march out of The Grove weeks ago, but even without the shame of that particular memory, this silence struck her as far more—what? Creepier? Heavier. It was the difference between a crowd watching her have a bad performance, and a crowd watching her sleep.

Occasionally, stray rays of sunlight pierced the cover, and she saw outlines through the cloth bag, shadows of what had to be buildings. Now they turned left, now a right turn. Sometimes they walked on hard-packed dirt, sometimes on small, stubby wooden logs half-buried in soft soil. After a long time walking upwards, the shadows to her sides disappeared.

“Are they—” someone said to her left.

“Hush!” said another.

“Hey there, what’s up?” said Dash, swishing her tail.

“Quiet!” said the same grumpy stag who did most of the talking. A second later, Rainbow Dash walked into Fluttershy’s tail just as the very same stag called for them to stop.

“Sorry,” Fluttershy muttered, barely audible.

“Why are we stopping?” Dash asked. She caught a glance of well-worn talons to her side as someone walked past her. The same stag again. She snuck a peek, tilting her head up, but all she could tell was that he walked all the way to the front. Past Fluttershy, at least.

“You will want to move out of our way,” said the stag, clearly speaking to someone else.

“You ma-ke a mis-take,” a voice croaked, each word glottal and heavy as though it cost the speaker greatly to voice them. “Why here?”

“It is not a question for you to ask. Not a decision for us, or for you to make,” the deep-voiced stag said. “Talk to the Guide if you have a problem with this. Or do not, because you decide nothing. Now move. We have her ear in this.”

A moment passed. Rainbow Dash imagined that the whispers nearby got louder—or maybe it was just the lack of any other sound, the missing hoof-steps and the lack of her own heavy breathing, given a moment’s rest. It didn’t last.

“Let’s move on,” said a voice to Dash’s left. Fluttershy’s tail disappeared out of view, and Dash hurried to follow. She barely caught a glance of another taloned leg, brightly coloured and too thin to be peryton, and then it was gone. They took a left. They walked, and the sunlight returned for a second. Right, then left again. The path got a little smaller, climbed, then widened, and suddenly she stepped on stone again. The light dimmed, and though breathing was still uncomfortable—hot beyond belief—it got better. She tried to spread her wings, and again she met the ropes, this time letting out a growl from the back of her throat.

“Who said we were to use this?” asked a high-pitched voice in front.

No. Speaking,” the stag growled. “Try to remember. This way.”

“I—I still can’t see, sorry. I think I lost you.” Dash barely heard Fluttershy’s voice.

“Here,” said another, the voice of the doe from the boat slightly familiar to Dash’s ears now. “Mind your step, and careful not to scrape yourself against the wall.”

Now Rainbow Dash saw thick walls passing by to either side. They moved through a portal, a strong sweet scent wafting past them, and then through another narrow arch. The distant echo of voices faded, and again they were told to stop. A soft magical light made everything too bright, and the bag was pulled off her head. Rainbow Dash took her first deep breath in far too long, and she heard Fluttershy and Rarity do the same.

The ponies and no less than seven peryton all stood clustered inside a small room of roughly hewn stone, a far cry from any of the neat and smooth Perytonian stonework of the cities they had visited. Iron bars separated the furthest half of the room from the rest, running from the uneven floor and all the way to the ceiling, and shafts of sharp light spilled in from hoof-sized holes in the ceiling at the back of the room. It cast a strange glow over the entire scene, and the many shadows of the backlit iron bars striped their faces.

“Inside,” said one of the peryton, pointing a hoof to a simple, open metal door set in the iron bars. Dash recognised the voice of the gruff stag. He didn’t look half as scary as he sounded, unremarkable except for white splotches flecking his muzzle. None of them looked scary, really. They could’ve been a group of peryton from the streets of any Perytonian city.

Rainbow Dash shook her mane out and stepped closer to Fluttershy, pushing her against Rarity so they clustered together. Again she tried to spread her wings without thinking, straining against the ropes and wincing when her efforts yielded nothing. She stole a quick glance over her back, but she couldn’t see the knot.

“Alright. Enough playing around. Rarity, cut the rope and free me,” Dash said, widening her stance a little. She snorted hot air and pawed at the ground. “Let’s go.”

The peryton glanced at each other. One of them took a step away, forcing another one back. There was barely enough space for the crowd of peryton in this half of the room to begin with.

“I can’t, dear,” said Rarity. She didn’t even look at Dash, glaring at the peryton instead. “I can’t use my magic at all. I don’t know what these ruffians did, but I demand some answers! What did you do, and why are we being arrested?”

“Get the chains for this one!” snapped the stag in front, pointing to Dash. One of the peryton does stuck her head outside the room and hauled a length of heavy chain links towards them, yelling at another one to help her. “One of you go alert the others, close every door on the way out, and post guards until we have them behind the bars in case there’s trouble!” he added. A third peryton pushed a fourth, who nodded hesitantly and disappeared out the chamber.

“My wings are tied, too,” said Fluttershy, her tail low between her legs. “Rainbow Dash, maybe we should just—”

“There are hundreds of us just outside, don’t be a fool,” said the doe from the boat. “Step inside, and this does not have to be a quarrel in earnest. Please.”

Rainbow Dash sneered and took a step forward, delighting in their reaction. Despite being twice as many as them and almost twice their size, the peryton were clearly nervous. The doe tensed up, and most of them stared at her bound, green wings. Even the grouchy stag’s jaw was taut, and he said nothing—but they gave no more ground. A doe pointed her antlers at Dash in an open challenge.

“Maybe,” said Fluttershy, a little louder. Her ears were glued to her head. “Maybe we can just go along with it.”

Rarity huffed. “Rainbow, dear, I think Fluttershy is right. There is not much we can do for now—but I will have answers,” she added with a glare.

Rainbow Dash felt a gentle hoof against her side and sighed, relaxing a tad under Fluttershy’s touch. There was no room to fight. Even if she could get her wings free, the peryton blocked the doorway. It was barely big enough for the peryton to fit through—as though whoever had made this room was too lazy to dig a good-sized room for peryton, accidentally making it appropriate for ponies.

“Alright, fine, whatever,” said Dash. She turned a small circle on the spot, kicking imaginary dirt at the peryton.

“Chain her!” the stag snapped. “I will not have a warden-creature run wild in here!”

“They are meaningless,” said another when some of the peryton pushed forward, emboldened. “Those are false wings. It was part of their capture, you heard—”

“I do not care!” the stag replied, gesturing wildly with a hoof, ordering forth two does with a heavy length of metal chain between them. Rainbow Dash stepped back, but there was nowhere to go. Her flank hit the cold metal bars behind them, and her wings were already bound. She caught a wide-eyed look from Fluttershy, and for a moment it looked like the other pegasus might do something. Fluttershy moved towards her, but Rarity had a hoof to her chest, stopping her in an instant.

“Yeah, well, if my wings are ‘false’, whatever that means—” said Dash, grunting and twisting as they threw the chain over her back. She paused to snap her teeth at one of the does. She reeled and dropped her side of the chain. “—why are you so scared? What are you afraid of, huh? Come on, I can take you!”

She kicked out with her legs, a hoof ringing out against one of the metal bars behind her. The other doe grabbed onto the chain and tightened it around her barrel, and when it was wrapped around her twice, the grumpy stag stepped up and secured it with a large but simple padlock of sorts. The click of the lock echoed in Dash’s ears long after they worked away the no-longer-needed ropes from her body, and she slumped, breathing heavily.

“Now, inside. Please,” the stag said, the last word drawn out impossibly long. Three of the peryton moved towards them side by side, herding them through the opening, and soon the metal door slammed shut with a resounding clang. The stag who’d padlocked the chains produced a key, locked the door, and walked away without another word, most of the peryton leaving the room with backwards glances and unpleasant looks. Only the brown and white-speckled doe from Dash’s boat lingered, waiting by the door.

“You happy? Wanna tell us what’s going on now?” Dash asked. She braced her hindlegs and pushed against the iron bars. Nothing. They were solid. Maybe if she kicked?

“Before I go: If you need to relieve yourselves, call out,” said the doe, watching Dash’s efforts with utter impassivity. “The stag you just… met—Koltares—or I will take you, whichever one you are comfortable with. We will take you one at a time, but do not abuse our attention or you will go ignored, and none of us want this.”

“Wonderful, but we do not intend to stay,” said Rarity. “On whose authority are we detained? And what, exactly, did you do to my horn?” she added through clenched teeth.

“I don’t think we’re here on anyone’s ‘authority’,” said Fluttershy, folding her ears.

“I am not here for your questions, and I am not to talk to you more than I must,” said the doe, shaking her head. “But since I told you Koltares’ name, I will tell you mine to preserve balance. My name is Velysra. Velysra of Auspicious Spring. Again, do not abuse—”

“Don’t abuse?” Rarity interrupted her, the unicorn’s voice shrill. “You worry about us abusing you? Miss, is this a joke?”

“Whatever,” said Dash, walking over to Fluttershy. She bit onto the ropes around the other pegasus’ barrel and tugged. It was a lot easier when she could actually reach and get proper purchase.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to do that,” said Fluttershy, but she didn’t move away or tell her to stop, so Dash kept tugging and chewing.

Velysra shook her head. “This is the truth. Do you not realise we will have to bind your friend again if she is ever to leave this cell even for a moment? You have only made more work for us.”

Finally the knot came apart. Rainbow Dash yanked the loose ropes away and tossed them onto the ground. “Cool. I don’t care, though, but since we’re talking,” she said, tapping a hoof as she counted. “Fix Rarity’s magic, get my wings free, tell us why are we here, and tell us where our stuff is. That’s four questions. Let’s start there, huh? Oh, no: why don’t you just let us out? That’s five. Get answering.”

The doe gave Rainbow Dash a long look, then turned and left.

“Fine! Don’t answer us!” Dash yelled, her every muscle tensing until she felt Fluttershy nuzzle into the mane at the top of her head. The other pegasus spread her wings and stretched them out.

“Thank you for untying me,” said Fluttershy.

“Yeah, no problem,” Dash muttered, exhaling. She stared at Fluttershy’s wings and pushed uselessly against the chains with her own. Already they started to itch. “No point in us both being grounded. Not that there’s a lot of room to fly here, huh,” she said, looking up.

The holes that afforded the room light and air were long, narrow shafts cut through solid rock, all of them at the same angle. Most of them showed open sky beyond, and a few were partially covered by leaves or large, blue petals.

“Not a very lavish prison facility at all,” Rarity muttered. “There’s nothing here. No beds. Barely even dust,” she said, and she was right. The entire room was utterly bare.

“I don’t think this is a prison at all,” said Fluttershy. She stood by the far side of the cell now, her muzzle poking through the bars to stare out the open doorway leading from the room. Dash moved to her side, but there was nothing to see except the wall opposite.

“It’s not a hotel, that’s for certain,” said Rarity, frowning. “I wonder what we could possibly have done to be interred here. Did we break some law or other? Their method of enforcement is very brutal. Whenever our hearing comes up, I have every intention of telling them exactly what I think of this treatment.”

“What I mean is—” Fluttershy said.

“Rarity, it’s not a prison,” said Dash, interrupting her with a groan. “Come on.”

“Yes,” Fluttershy agreed. “We’re not even in Perytonia any more.” She moved over to stand right under the shafts in the ceiling, looking up as Dash had done.

“Obvi—wait, no,” said Dash, blinking. “That’s not obvious. We’re not?” She squinted up through one of the shafts. The sky was still blue, at least.

“What… do you mean, exactly?” asked Rarity.

“I don’t know,” said Fluttershy. Finally, she stopped her questing around the cell and faced Dash and Rarity. She licked her lips and took a deep breath. “But the birds I heard, the plants and the humidity—I think this is a tropical forest, a rain forest of some sort, and I don’t think there are any of those in Perytonia. I don’t know where we are, but… we’re probably elsewhere.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her shoulders and shifted her weight from one side to the other. She looked to Rarity, waited for someone to say something that explained things. That made sense of this. In the end it was she herself who asked. “Okay. We don’t know where we are, but who are they, what do they want with us, and why do they want us here?”

“I wonder,” said Rarity. She had that subtle frown she sometimes got when she was thinking, not entirely different from when Rainbow Dash tossed an impossible or stupid question at Twilight just to see what she’d say. “Allowing for our… internment here being a little non-standard, yes—I can see it now. Peryton or no, they don’t seem very Perytonian at all. They’re very different.”

“Uh okay, that’s not what clued me in. I was thinking about the whole ponynapping thing, because newsflash,” said Dash, flicking an ear, “none of the peryton we met were alike. That’s why this place is so annoying, difficult, confusing and—okay, I could go on. Do you want me to go on?”

“Oh. Hi, again,” said Fluttershy. She looked up, and Dash followed her gaze to the same peryton doe as before, returning again. Velysra strode into the room carrying Rarity’s saddlebags in her magical grip, her antlers glowing brightly. She put them by the far wall of the room.

“Those are personalized, and very precious,” Rarity said, narrowing her eyes at the doe, but she disappeared without comment, returning a few moments later with Rainbow Dash’s saddlebags, Fluttershy’s, and next, their ohron. When she finally brought the blankets, she put them next to the bars.

“I do not think you will need these for warmth, but you may want them for comfort. Stone is not friendly to joints,” said the doe, her face blank. Rarity stared at the blankets for a split-second before suddenly sighing.

“Right, no magic,” she muttered, still looking at the blankets as though she could will them to move. Fluttershy poked her muzzle between the bars and pulled the blankets through.

“Great, can you push the saddlebags through, too?” Dash asked. “Careful with mine.”

“No,” said Velysra, simply. “The blankets are harmless, but I am just placing your things here so they are out of the way.”

“I trust you did not so much as touch any of my personal effects,” said Rarity, staring at the doe.

The doe shook her head. “I have touched nothing, and I assume the Guide found nothing interesting either. She told me he does not care for what’s left.”

“What’s left?” Fluttershy repeated. “Did anyone else take anything?” She looked back and forth between the doe and the pile of saddlebags. Dash glanced over at her girlfriend, frowning at the note of fear in her voice. As far as Dash knew, Fluttershy didn’t keep anything precious in her bags.

“Still I do not know, and if I did? You may ask as many times as you like, but I am not here for your pleasure,” came the reply. “I will return with some food and water soon.” She turned to leave.

“When will we get answers?” Rarity asked, her voice rising, but the doe did not miss a step.

“Here. Take these as well. They should both be safe for you to eat,” said Velysra. Rainbow Dash cracked an eye open, watching some large, purple spiky fruits roll between the bars to accompany the smaller, yellow ones and the many small water-bowls the doe brought minutes ago. Finally, Dash got up and walked over to sniff at the offering. She grabbed a purple whatever-fruit.

“O-kayy, how much is it?” asked Dash, cocking a brow at Velysra. The peryton waited by the bars, saying nothing, and it weirded her out. “Ten bits for everything sound good?”

The doe tilted her head in open question.

“Rainbow,” said Rarity, a single word in a tone that bespoke weariness rather than warning.

“What? She’s standing around like she’s expecting to get paid—ugh, never mind,” said Rainbow Dash. She sat down on her haunches with her fruit, shooting the doe a dismissive look. “If you’re waiting for us to say—”

“Thank you,” said Fluttershy, giving the doe a muted smile.

Velysra blinked. “I just do what I must, but I suppose you are… welcome, of course?” She stared at Fluttershy for a split-second, shook her head and left at a brisk pace, her tail-feathers disappearing around the corner.

“What, are you best friends now?” Dash asked, scowling at her.

“No, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be mean to her,” said Fluttershy, frowning back at her.

Rainbow Dash bit down on the fruit. The spikes weren’t hard at all. Both the shell and the meat was tasty, and she was ravenous enough to eat banana peel anyway. The first one went down easy enough, so she grabbed one of the yellow fruits as well.

“Okay, I know that it doesn’t help exactly,” said Dash at length, rolling the yellow ball-like fruit up and down her foreleg. “But she was one of the peryton who tricked us!”

“Was she?” asked Rarity, leaning down to sip from one of the bowls. Watching the unicorn lean forward to drink like an earth pony or a pegasus would’ve been funny if it hadn’t been so weird. Unsettling, almost. “I must admit, things happened rather quickly, I don’t remember,” she finished, wiping her muzzle with as much nonchalance as she could muster.

“She was in my boat. Or, I was in her boat,” said Dash shrugging. “I don’t know if she’s the one who put us here, but she’s not letting us go! Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t suppose so,” said Rarity, shrugging. “Make no mistake, I’m not feeling particularly warmly towards her, either.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “It’s okay. I hope you’re not angry with me if I’m not mad at her right now, that’s all.”

“Of course I’m not angry with you,” said Dash, her voice rising a tad. “Come on. I just don’t have to like anyone who acts like this. Not her, and not that grumpy stag either. They haven’t really given us any reason—wait,” She blinked. “Hang on a minute. When they tossed us in here, they said something.”

Rarity poked at a fruit as if she expected it to hover up to her mouth. She cast Dash a sidelong glance, while Fluttershy wiped some purple juice from her muzzle and tilted her head.

“What is it?” Fluttershy asked.

“Nothing any of them has said has provided any answers or excuse that I’ve heard,” Rarity added.

“No, that’s not it. They called my wings ‘false wings’, yeah? They said they were ‘part of the capture’, did you hear that too?” said Dash. She squinted, trying her best to look like she was thinking hard while she tried to pin down this fleeting, elusive idea. She was pretty sure looking thoughtful was half the job, but her thoughts were all over the place.

“You don’t think they just meant you were not a threat with your wings tied up? That wings that are tied are ‘false’?” asked Rarity, but she shook her head at herself. “No, that’s nonsense. They clearly meant the colour.”

“You think they were the ones who sold me the ointment,” said Fluttershy, her voice hollow.

Hearing Fluttershy say it, Rainbow Dash’s breath quickened and her mouth went dry. “That’s it,” said Dash. “They got us kicked out. They tricked you. They tricked us. Whoever these jerks are, that was their fault!”

“Why—” Rarity said, but Dash cut her off, realisation flooding her.

“The strange peryton I kept seeing all over Vauhorn, the two stags who asked about us. Fluttershy, you remember those, right?” she asked.

“I do,” said Fluttershy. Her face was ashen, now.

“Yeah, well, I saw them all over the place!” Dash cried. “They were following us!”

“But—” Rarity tried again.

“No, no, hang on! There’s more!” Dash said, slamming a hoof on the ground. “Do you remember when I saw a peryton in the woods? I saw someone before we got to the Grove, and Phoreni didn’t believe me. She said it wasn’t one of them, that they never travel alone, and I thought I remembered it wrong, too, but I bet that was these guys! They’ve been following us all the way since then!”

“You think they’ve been stalking us?” Rarity asked, scowling. “Why? Whatever for?”

“That’s what we still don’t know. This doesn’t explain anything,” said Fluttershy. At some point she’d started shaking her head slowly from side to side, tiny movements like a pendulum always on its final swing. “I don’t understand at all.”

“If we hadn’t taken Phoreni’s advice and gone off the roads, we would’ve probably run into them way, way sooner,” said Dash throwing her forehooves up in the air. “This is crazy! We should’ve kept off the roads all the way to Cotronna! She said there was a chance we were being followed, how could we be this stupid?!”

“I don’t think blame will help at all,” said Fluttershy, regaining some of her energy. Dash knew that she tried to get Rainbow Dash to look at her, that the other pegasus tried to make a point, but Dash barely heard her.

“Phoreni was right all along,” Dash said, snorting in disbelief. “She was right.”

“Do you know, now that I think about it,” said Rarity. “I should have picked up on how peryton in the middle of nowhere, peryton we’ve never met before probably wouldn’t know that I can use magic. It is more obvious the longer I think about it.” She scoffed. ”What loathsome and underhooved tactics.” Rarity stuck her tongue out like she’d swallowed something foul.

“Yeah,” said Dash. “Stupid trap. That’s cheating. I could’ve flown circles around them all day if they hadn’t sprung that ambush on us.” She strained against the chains on principle.

“Even if they have planned this,” said Fluttershy letting her wings hang loose, as though it were Dash’s wings on her back, reacting to Rainbow Dash’s efforts. “Even if they’ve been following us for weeks, goodness, months—” she splayed her ears. “I don’t know that helps us. It feels awful, but we’re just back where we started. We don’t know anything.” She planted her flank on the ground and sunk down before she continued.

“And you were the one who said the peryton are all so different,” Fluttershy added, one of her lips tugged up in a smile for Rainbow Dash, a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “We all know that now. There was no way for us to tell that they weren’t really gathering some strange stones or something, not unless we wanted to be suspicious about every peryton we met.”

Rarity chewed her cheek and nodded. “You have a point there, dear. Don’t misunderstand me, I have no regrets. I don’t think being paranoid for the full duration of our journey was ever an option, I just feel a little foolish in hindsight. That’s usually the case whenever something goes wrong, is it not?”

“Yeah, well—” Dash started, but she didn’t have a follow-up. Just like Fluttershy had said, all she had were more questions, and she didn’t feel any less angry. Especially when she didn’t have anyone around to be angry at.

“Whoever these peryton are,” said Rarity, touching her mane, “what we do know is that we have to believe this is a misunderstanding. I don’t suppose they’re some sort of group who took a very big offence to our little misstep in Ephydoera?”

“Why would they be mad about it? They were the ones who set that whole trap up,” Dash pointed out, rolling her eyes. “That’s like putting a bucket of water over somepony’s door and then yelling at them for spilling water when they walk in.”

“And if they’ve been following us since before we got to the Grove, that doesn’t make sense,” Fluttershy added.

Rainbow Dash nodded her agreement with that, smiling just a touch at Fluttershy’s vote of confidence. No question on whether or not she’d been sure she saw someone in the woods.

“Very well,” said Rarity, nodding simply. “Then clearly they have the wrong people.”

“I don’t know. There aren’t any other ponies in Ephydoera right now that we know of, and I don’t understand what kind of misunderstanding it could be,” Fluttershy replied, shaking her head.

“A really long, complicated, dumb stalk-y misunderstanding?” Dash said. “It’s creeping me out. I don’t get why they don’t just explain.” She walked up to the bars and slammed a forehoof against the iron. “Hey! Can we get some answers?”

“I don’t think that’s going to help,” said Fluttershy, her voice nearly lost when Dash banged on the bars again. “They’ve already said they don’t want to talk.”

“We have to try something, dear,” said Rarity, moving over to stand by Dash’s side. They didn’t have to wait long before the gruff stag’s head showed in the doorway, staring at them.

“Hey, we have—”

“Velysra!” the peryton called, disappearing again before Dash could finish her sentence. Rainbow Dash growled.

“Wonderful. Not only are we detained against our will, we’re being subjected to bureaucracy,” Rarity muttered. Dash tapped her hoof impatiently until she heard another set of steps preceding the increasingly familiar-looking doe who stepped just inside the room.

“You understand, when I said not to call upon me frivolously, I meant it,” said Velysra. Dash knew ‘subtle displeasure’ on peryton faces well enough by now to recognise it.

“Yeah yeah, the colt who cried timberwolf, I get it,” said Dash.

“The what?” the doe asked, frowning now. “If you have needs, voice them plain.”

“The colt—right, you probably have some Aspect who did the same thing,” said Dash, groaning. “You know what I mean, don’t cry for help if you don’t need—”

“No, we do not have such an Aspect,” said the doe, glaring with sudden venom.

“Oh my gosh, I don’t care,” Dash snapped. “We want to know why you’re keeping us here!”

The doe shook her head. “No, what you want is to waste my goodwill. I am not to talk to you more than I must.” She glanced at the fruits and water near the bars of the cell. “I will return with more water later.”

“You can’t just leave us—” Dash shouted, her voice cut off and trailing into nothing when the doe did exactly that. Again. Rainbow Dash bit back a snarl and a yell—and the urge to slam her hooves against the bars until her legs or the iron rods gave in. She felt Rarity take a step to stand side to side with her, leaning against her, and a moment later, Fluttershy moved up to her other side, nuzzling that one particular spot by the base of her right ear.

Stone walls, a few rays of light, their stuff out of reach, and down a horn and a pair of wings, that was their situation now.

“I’m all out of ideas,” said Rainbow Dash. “What do we do now?” Her voice sounded weak to her own ears. She knew they were all thinking it. She knew neither Fluttershy nor Rarity had anything to offer, but she had to ask.

Fluttershy rested her head atop Dash’s. “Maybe you’d like another fruit?” she asked. “And you should try to drink a little more.” She felt her girlfriend’s warm breath against her scalp, the tiny vibrations when she spoke with her head atop Dash’s.

“We’ll try getting some answers again later,” Rarity added. “They can’t keep us in the dark forever, whoever is responsible for all of this. If it is not a misunderstanding, they must want something, and that means they need to communicate with us.”

Responsible. There was a word. Sure, casting blame was stupid, but if anyone was to blame, it was Rainbow Dash herself. She should’ve found a way to outfly all the peryton. She could’ve reacted faster and dealt with it all by herself. But she hadn’t. Rainbow Dash nodded weakly, pretending she agreed with Rarity, pretending that she thought food or water sounded good to her.

Rainbow Dash barely noticed Velysra return again. Though it was always her, the doe’s comings and goings over the past few minutes created a persistent echo of hooves and claws in the caves that made it hard to nap. Assuming they were in caves. It might just be the one cave. Maybe they were inside a hollow rock in a circus. Maybe they were on a huge boat carrying stupid rock prisons.

Probably not a circus, actually. She would’ve seen the canvas tent through the shafts.

For now, Dash went with Fluttershy’s theory of some tropical forest or other. One with caves and purple fruit. Caves, purple fruit, and a peryton doe on another return trip, all made in quick succession since the light outside began fading. She carried another awkwardly small bowl of water and put it front of the bars by the others. They had over a dozen, now, and the third or fourth time she’d left the room, Dash had given up trying to ask her questions. Still no answers. Not even to “why don’t you just bring a tray?”

This time, she stuck around. Dash opened her eyes fully and stared right back at the doe, waiting for something to happen. She noticed Rarity and Fluttershy both perking up. Ears swivelled and glances were cast while the unicorn kept fussing over Fluttershy’s tail, all despite the latter’s insistence that she was fine.

“I hope this will keep you well though the night,” said the doe, gesturing to the water. “If you will push the empty ones through, I will take them away.”

“They’re right there,” said Dash. She rolled onto her side and waved a hoof in the general direction of a scattered few wooden bowls. The blankets made the hard floor a little more bearable.

“Yes, I see them just fine,” said Velysra, not budging, still stood halfway between the doorway and the bars. “If you will push them through, I do not have to come any closer.”

Rainbow Dash caught Rarity looking at her. They both knew that sullen anger would yield nothing. In two seconds, Fluttershy would get up and do it, so instead, Dash beat her to the punch. With practiced and precise little kicks, she shoved them over to the other side. She sloshed a little bit of water knocking into one of the full bowls. She takes aim, she shoots, she scores! And the crowd—the crowd is probably a million leagues away, so who gives a hoot!

“There,” said Dash, raising a brow. What now?

Velysra nodded, her magic latching onto the rim of the bowls, pulling them along the ground towards her one by one, carefully stacking them atop one another. “I will bring you cold water as often as I can.” The peryton doe looked up at the ceiling, towards the shafts that served precious little purpose right now. Most of the light in the room came from the hallway, and that wasn’t much. Dash herself had barely noticed how dark it’d gotten.

“Would you like a torch?” she asked.

Fluttershy looked at Rainbow Dash, who looked back at both of them.

“There is enough air, good ventilation here,” Velysra added. “The smoke will vent.”

“I wasn’t worried about that,” said Dash, scratching at her snout. “I dunno. I sleep with the lights off anyway, and I know Fluttershy does, too.”

“I like a little light, but yes,” said Fluttershy, nodding ever so slightly.

“And I have no preference, though I am perpetually surprised at the things the two of you know about each other, given you weren’t an item before we left,” said Rarity, giving Dash a dubious look.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. It wasn’t her fault that Fluttershy decided to sleep at night, and that Dash sometimes had questions or thoughts or wanted a drink and happened to be closer to Fluttershy’s cottage than her own home. What was she supposed to do? Not fly into her bedroom and wake her up? Didn’t happen that often anyway.

“Does this mean you do not wish for me to set up a torch?” asked the doe. “The plainer you speak, the easier I may help.”

“Help,” Dash repeated under her breath, but she doubted anyone heard her. She had run out of venom for the day anyway. “Can you at least tell us why we’re here?” she asked. The chains clinked softly as she shifted where she half sat, half lay on the blanket. She tried her best to make it sound like she thought it was a reasonable question and not a demand.

The doe rolled her jaw, but did not walk away, so that was something. Instead she just looked at them for a while, her eyes on Rainbow Dash, now on Rarity, and next on Fluttershy.

Rainbow Dash wondered what she was looking for, because there couldn’t be much to see. Dash lay on their folded blankets lazing about, neither thirsty nor hungry. Rarity, without her grooming magic, just… touched Fluttershy’s singed tail as though she could smooth the burnt bits away. Fluttershy occasionally glanced up through the aerating shafts, otherwise silent.

All in all, if they were the Equestrian exhibit at a zoo, Dash wouldn’t give them the time of day.

“I think our answer to the torch thing is ‘no thank you’, but it’s very nice of you to ask,” said Fluttershy when the silence stretched on. “And it’s kind of you to bring us cold water, too.” She smiled at Velysra. “It’s really hot here.”

“It is,” said Rainbow Dash, her voice full of suspicion. She felt her snout scrunch. “Both, I mean. Yeah, it’s hot, but you are being nice. Why bother?”

The doe shrugged. “Why would I not be nice? There is neither sense in, nor room in my prong for acting cruel, even towards such as you—now, will you push the omresh shells through, too? They will smell if left too long.”

Rainbow Dash looked at the little pile of the yellow, awful-tasting peels, as foul as the juicy fruit was tasty. They lay close enough to the bars, meticulously gathered by Rarity’s hooves.

“They’re right there,” said Dash. “Can’t you just magic them through the bars?”

“I would have to get closer,” said the doe.

“Yeah?” said Dash, shrugging, but predictably enough, two seconds without an explanation later, Fluttershy got up and pushed them through the bars, letting Velysra gather them in one of the empty bowls. Rainbow Dash frowned still.

“Why won’t you come closer? Are you afraid of us?” Dash asked.

Predictably, she got no answer, which was an answer, too. From the wrong side of the bars, knowing the doe was afraid of her wasn’t much of a victory anyway. Rainbow Dash rolled onto her back, toying with the idea of charging at the bars just to see if she could make Velysra jump. She couldn’t be bothered. She’d almost gotten comfortable, and besides, Fluttershy was right. It wouldn’t change much.

“We don’t want to hurt anyone,” said Fluttershy, lowering her head a touch. “And we never did—or at least, we still don’t understand if we have done anything wrong. You don’t have anything to be afraid of, I promise. We just want to go home.”

“We’re not the ones who are in the business of attacking strangers,” Rarity added with a small huff. “We don’t know why we are here, but clearly you think you know. What do you mean by ‘such as you’?”

“And seriously, why don’t you just bring all the bowls on a tray if you can’t carry them all at once?” Dash asked.

Rarity arched a brow, staring at her, and Fluttershy blinked.

“What? It doesn’t make any sense,” Dash said, shrugging. “I get tired from watching her make all these trips. Don’t you?”

“Because I am not to bring anything to your room that may be a risk,” said Velysra, shifting uneasily. “I do not know what you may do with a tray. These wooden bowls are necessary for water, and you must eat. These are risks we must take, but we will not court disaster.”

“See? My question got answered,” said Dash, grinning. She filed the fact that peryton thought they could destroy iron bars and stage an escape with a food tray under ‘awesome’. No need to correct her, there.

“Yes, wonderful,” said Rarity. “Well, it would be very nice if you would tell us when we can expect an explanation, at least. I hope you understand how frustrating this is for us.” She stood up and walked up to the nearest water-bowl, once again staring at it for a second before she remembered she didn’t have the use of her horn. The unicorn closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“And scary,” said Fluttershy, leaning over to rub a hoof along Rarity’s side. “I guess that makes all four of us here scared, and that doesn’t seem right to me.”

Rainbow Dash wanted to protest that, but she didn’t. She watched the peryton give Rarity a long look, her eyes wandering from Rarity’s horn, to Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and finally back to Rarity again before lowering her gaze.

“You understand this is not what I normally do. We do not have… guests, like you,” said Velysra, for once speaking instead of staring. “I am not trained to do this. None are. The task fell to me when—no. This you do not need to know, but if I make wrongs, it is because of this.”

“You are clearly not a constable of any sort,” said Rarity affably.

“What do you usually do?” asked Fluttershy. She moved up to the bars with the almost unnaturally slow gait she used around animals. She seemed to float up to the border of their prison, resting her head against one of the iron bars.

“I mend those who are hurt,” said Velysra. “I am in the prong of soothing, working to salve hurts and set bones. Cal—the Guide, she… needed some to collect you, and of those, two to take this task of shielding the others from you. I volunteered, as did Koltares.” She tilted her head sideways. “I should not say even this much, but telling of myself, that is for me to do, and so I say this as well: I also wanted to see for myself.

“Others fear you for what you represent or what you may do. Koltares will not look upon you unless he must, so keeping you fed is now my task alone. Personally, I fear you not for what you may do. I fear you for what you have already done.”

“That explains very little, I am afraid,” said Rarity, shaking her head.

“I did not mean to explain. I have said many times now, I am not to tell you anything. I meant to answer one question about myself, and anything else that spilled from me is to give it a frame, to suggest I am not capricious or malicious, that there are reasons,” said the doe with a small shrug.

“So you are a doctor,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her. “A healer.”

The doe blinked at the return to the other topic. “Yes? Yes. That is correct. I heal.”

“Heh. Well, congratulations anyway,” said Dash, grinning to herself. She hadn’t really expected to get answers, but she caught one thing buried in the words that she could certainly appreciate. “The doctor’s the only ones who dares to feed the scary, bloodthirsty ponies, huh? Bet that gets you a lot of hoof-bumps and stuff. Good on you.”

“Hoof-bumps,” the doe repeated, the words awkward from her mouth.

“I’ll show you,” said Dash, laughing. She got up and stuck a foreleg through the bars. “C’mere.”

Velysra took a step back, her head turned sideways. “No. I will not fall to deception so easily.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and put her leg back down. “Right. That’s what I’m doing. Tricking you into a hoof bump.”

“What Rainbow here means is that if you’re all so very afraid of us, it is brave of you to volunteer,” said Rarity.

“Then you misunderstand. It has not served me well. Now I am feared as well,” said the doe, shaking her head simply, her face blank.

“Even if you don’t believe that we don’t mean to hurt you, maybe you’ll understand if you get to know us,” Fluttershy said, her serene smile showing a little crack now. “Um, hopefully quickly, because we’d really like to leave.”

“I doubt this. I should not be speaking to you,” said the doe, though she made no motion to leave.

“If you’re feeling generous with answers, there are a few others I feel we are entitled to, if you don’t mind me saying,” said Rarity, softly clearing her throat. She went cross-eyed as she pointedly looked up at her own horn.

Velysra took a deep breath. “Perhaps… I will be allowed to explain what can do no harm. The Guide can only expect so much of me, only blame me so much. You worry about your magic—”

Is there reason to worry?” Rarity interjected, her pupils shrinking to pinpricks.

“No. It will return within days,” she said. “This is not the work of our magics. We were told the stones we used were temporary. The charge of the stones should deplete your… unicorn magic, is it? I do not think the Guide would permit their use if it brought you true harm.” She frowned slightly, chewing her cheek. “I must believe this. Regardless, we will need to have you touch the stones again in a few days for all our safety.”

“Yeah, that’s gonna happen,” Rainbow Dash muttered.

“That is more than I should have said, all together. You ask for greater answers. Our Guide will visit you soon. She has confided this in me.” The peryton doe shook her head. “I do not know that you will have the answers you seek, but she will come visit soon, or perhaps tomorrow. She is busy much of the time, but this is… important to her. She tasked us to find you for a reason.”

“That’s good,” said Fluttershy, nodding. “I’m sure she’s very nice, and we can all work out what the problem is, or clear up the misunderstanding.”

“And then we can be on our way again soon,” Rarity agreed. “You have the wrong people, I’m convinced.”

The doe tilted her head. “I do not think we do.”

“You got something wrong, at least,” said Dash. “Seriously, what do you think we’ve done, anyway? Did we step on the magical grass?”

“There is no think, and no ‘I’ in my thoughts on what you claim to represent,” said the doe. She shook her head briskly. “This is not a conversation we will have, but I… am conflicted. You are not what I expected. I must speak to the Guide and make sense of you for myself. If nothing else is true, it is my duty as soothe-prong to learn what I am allowed to tell you, since this not-knowing seems to distress you in earnest.”

“Yeah. And you don’t want to distress us,” Dash deadpanned.

“Rainbow Dash, she’s being very kind to us,” Fluttershy said, pinning her with a look.

“I do not wish to distress you,” the doe repeated with a nod. The wooden bowls stacked in front of her hovered off the ground, secure in her magical grip. “Sleep well.”

“Good night,” said Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash sighed and watched their only source of answers disappear out the door. At least they had a promise of someone else to talk to tomorrow.

“Torches,” said Rarity when they were alone again.

“What?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“They use torches. Not firefly lamps like civilized people, nor the quaint little glow-globes they had in the other cities. Not even the plant fluids they used in Ephydoera, but torches.”

“It makes it feel a little more dungeon-y,” said Fluttershy, shuffling her wings. “I don’t like it, if I have to be honest. This place really didn’t need to be any scarier.”

“Yeah, well, apparently she, or they are even more scared than we are,” said Dash, snorting. “I don’t get that.”

“She didn’t show it, but sometimes it’s really easy to hide—” Fluttershy started to say.

“No, I believe her,” said Dash, waving a hoof in the air. “If she says she’s scared, sure, whatever, some of the peryton are great at being all stone-faced and stuff, I just don’t get why. It can’t just be because my wings have a weird colour.”

“From what Fluttershy told me, Deimesa showed a healthy respect for you pegasi and your weather magic and such,” Rarity offered.

“Uh, yeah, but we haven’t really talked about the weather stuff a lot.” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “At least, we didn’t before we got to Vauhorn. I don’t think anyone else got scared—no, actually, even Deimesa wasn’t really scared, she just thought it could be dangerous. You don’t ponynap someone just because of that!” Dash squinted at Rarity’s horn. ”They really don’t want you to have your magic, though.”

“My magic, yes,” said Rarity, letting out a heavy breath, her eyes half lidded. “Such as it is. If they’ve been spying on us, they should know that it hasn’t been much help to us at all. I can’t say it makes a lot of difference whether I can use my horn or not. I may as well not have it at all.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. Rarity was putting herself down again. She looked to Fluttershy, wondering if maybe she’d say something to make Rarity feel better. Fluttershy looked right back at her, as if she expected the same—or rather, the opposite, for Dash to tell Rarity how stupid that was, but Rarity already went on. A second had passed, enough to let her draw breath to let out another little sigh.

“I suppose we can add that to the pile of things that don’t matter. None of the other peryton strike me as the sort who’d trap us just because we can do things they cannot,” said Rarity. “None of them have been scared of us like this. Can you imagine Princess Celestia ordering peryton jailed in Equestria because—ah, I don’t know quite what, because they have this freakish ability to handle the heat?”

“‘They don’t get cold as easily as unicorns? Throw them in the dungeon’!” said Rainbow Dash. “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.” She let out a bark of laughter.

Rarity nodded. “My point precisely, and if Fluttershy is right in that we’re no longer in Perytonia—”

“I’m not sure,” Fluttershy interjected.

—then there’s no real point in trying to make sense of this until we learn more,” Rarity went on. “None of the peryton we’ve met so far have done anything but put their best hoof forward: Nothing we’ve learned about peryton helps here, that much is evident.”

“They even talk differently,” said Fluttershy. Now she, too, looked all frown-y and thinking-y. Maybe Rainbow did, too. She couldn’t tell without a mirror.

“I dunno if that matters. The Ephydoerans talked all strange, too,” Dash said. “They were all ‘don’t say yes or no’ and stuff, and none of the others cared about that.”

“Huh. No, I think Fluttershy is right,” Rarity said. “It’s strange, isn’t it? We’ve had some trouble understanding all the other peryton because they emphasised different Aspects, or they’ve had different rules and such, but from what little we’ve seen here, nothing here stands out at all.”

“What’s different is that nothing is different.” Dash squinted. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Fluttershy rubbed at a foreleg with the other. “Actually, it does. Velysra got angry when you mentioned an Aspect. At first I thought maybe you just misunderstood the Aspect, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a peryton talk so much without mentioning any Aspects at all. I think that’s a little strange.”

“Oh. Yeah,” said Dash. She sat down next to Fluttershy with a heavy thump. “Okay, I guess that is weird. So we don’t know where we are, and we don’t know who they are except that they’re probably not from any of the five cities.” She exhaled and groaned. “What does that mean, anyway? This is pointless. None of this helps!”

“Understanding our situation is the first step to—” Rarity frowned. “Well, to whatever’s next. I think Twilight said as much, once.”

“Just think of the rules of flight,” said Fluttershy. “All maneuvers begin with proper wing positioning.” She smiled. It was a faint little thing, but a smile nevertheless, and that helped—until Rainbow Dash realised her wings were chained. Fluttershy must’ve realised, too. Her eyes slipped to Dash’s back for a second.

“Yeah, well, it’s a start,” said Dash, but her own smile wouldn’t stick. “I really wanna talk to this Guide-person, whoever she is. She better have a good reason to keep us here.”

Rarity joined the two pegasi, but didn’t say a word, and in the silence that followed, any anger Dash may have felt became slippery, hard to hold on to. The air was stuffy and the room felt more cramped by the minute. She heard the rustle of feathers and felt Fluttershy’s wing drape over her and Rarity both, glad of it.

She nosed into Fluttershy’s coat and closed her eyes, vowing to find a way out of this mess she’d made, all by herself.