• 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 31

I really think I’d like to bring the birds to the Summer Sun Celebration. I thought about it a little more, and it’s just not right to tell them that I won’t help.

Okay, that’s a little lie. I really would like to try for myself, too. I think Rainbow Dash has picked up on that. She doesn’t just want company. She’s being very supportive. In her own way.

I’m very glad I have her anyway. I know we’re very different ponies, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less close. We’re apart, but together. I think about that a lot, really. Maybe more than I should? Oh goodness, I never thought I might be thinking about it too much.

Oh, Fluttershy. You should have been asleep long ago. Go to bed, please.

Good night, Diary,


“Rainbow Dash.”

That was her. That was the name she had. The name she’d been given. Rainbow Dash groaned and clenched her eyes shut tighter, wanting to go back to—back to what? She wanted to sleep, but she absolutely didn’t want to dream. She’d felt for a moment as though she remembered exactly what had happened in her dream. Gone, now. Gone the second she tried to think about it.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy hissed again.

“I’m awake,” Dash said, sighing. No, she decided. She didn’t want to go back to sleep right now after all. “What?” she asked, but even as she asked, she realised it wasn’t just Fluttershy who was talking.

“—been withholding information from me,” a voice drifted in from above. Now Dash was really awake. When she opened her eyes, she saw Rarity stood under the air shafts, staring straight up against the moonlight that filtered in. Fluttershy held a hoof to her muzzle and made a sign to be quiet. Dash followed her the scant few steps up to Rarity’s side.

“We both knew that, I think, but there is even more than I first thought,” the same person added. Rainbow Dash thought she recognised the voice.

“Is that…” Dash whispered.

“These ponies. They have said many strange things, and some of them do not… make sense,” said Caldesseia. That was definitely the voice of the Guide. “They have spoken of the Goddesses, and their words do not match yours—and they fill gaps.”

“Who is she speaking to?” Dash asked.

“I don’t know,” said Fluttershy. “All she said so far—”

Whatever Fluttershy had been about to say got cut off by sounds that did not register as speech to Dash’s ears. The discordant set of noises were sharp and unpleasant. She flicked her ears as the bursts of sound grated against her, spaced with brief silences as though they were words.

“Why trust them?” a voice said. “You must focus on what is im-portant. Your kin still be-lieve in the As-pects. You must con-vince them this is folly. You know the true name of the gods.” This third voice came a sharp croak, the words halting and broken. Rainbow Dash leaned left and right peering up through the air holes, but all she saw was a darkened sky and plants in shadow. Where were these people?

“Is that what is important?” asked Caldesseia. Dash could practically hear the sneer in her voice.

Another burst of sharp noises, shorter this time.

“You wish to unite Pery-tonia. We all wish you to do this,” said the harsh and ungainly third voice. “We all wish you do cast down these false As-pects.” Was that the same one who made the strange noises? Rainbow Dash strained to hear.

“Yes!” Caldesseia snapped. “To aid Celestia, and now I wonder if this is truly your intent. They said—”

The strange sounds interrupted her, first like crackling thunder, and then like stones thrown against a wall. Was it a language at all?

“What the hay is that,” Dash whispered. Rarity shook her head mutely.

“Do not lis-ten to them. You are clear-ly in pain from their lies,” said the third, or maybe second speaker. For all Dash knew, the conversation consisted of Caldesseia, a very hoarse peryton and a supply closet tumbling down a stairwell.

“I think it’s an interpreter,” said Fluttershy, frowning ever so slightly. “You know, like when I tell you what the animals are saying.”

“You wish me to think you care? You, who plunder our past with wild abandon?” Caldesseia asked. “I am giving you a chance to explain.”

“Who is she talking to?” Dash asked in a hissed whisper. Rarity hushed her, but if there had been a reply, it must’ve been very short. For a long few seconds, silence held, and Caldesseia continued.

“We are not without methods of our own. If you don’t know by now that I visited Burning Stone Fortress, I will be shocked—oh, do not bother pretending at surprise. You know what it is. I know you followed my steps this summer. I know you have taken something!”

Nothing. Rainbow Dash tilted her head and stretched her neck out as much as she could. Did the others say anything? Had they left?

“Fine. Damn yourself with silence. There will be consequences for this,” said the Guide. “You say to focus, but we make no progress. Weakening Selyria’s hold on the cities is not done by harming her stele, and our efforts to spread stories of our own in Vauhorn yielded nothing. How are we to do this?”

The first reply came like hooves against a chalkboard. Coals burning, and wood splitting, then the follow-up croak. “You have al-ready struck the big-gest blow by cap-turing these cre-atures. They can no lon-ger spread word to the pery-ton of gods who are weak like their As-pects. We must see them.”

“Not once in a thousand years,” said Caldesseia with a laugh. “If there is even the smallest chance they have communed with the goddesses—” she paused. “You know the nature of these gods. You know so much more than you tell.”

Boulders down the mountain. A wave crashing against the shore, grating against Dash’s ears.

“Yes. This is ob-vious,” said the croaky one. “If you will not bor-row our tools, casting down the As-pects will be hard. You must re-consider. You—”

“Forget the Aspects! If you keep me in the dark, tell me why I should let you stay,” Caldesseia interrupted the speaker. “My faith that you wish to help us is wavering. Convince me.”

A spray of molten rock, and the wind uprooting a tree. The chaotic noises sounded less and less like sound, and became images, bit by bit.

“We have gi-ven you gifts.”

“Yes,” said Caldesseia. “The stones were helpful, as was your advice on how to snare the ponies, but that was not for us. You wanted the ponies gone, you did not want to help us, you used us, and now we are at risk. By raiding the trade roads, we chance bringing Ephydoera down on our heads. Our claws in Vauhorn were nearly discovered!”

Rocks split in two. “Did you ever think we were cha-rity?”

Something snarled. If that was Caldesseia, Rainbow Dash had never before heard a peryton make such a feral noise. A second later, the earth shook, the mountains trembled and the wind howled—or none of these things happened, but it was all the longest burst of sounds yet. It hurt Dash’s ears not because of how loud they were, but for their sheer wrongness. Fluttershy and Rarity looked uneasy as well.

“If you need cha-rity,” said the staggered, awkward croak of a voice. “Give it to your-self. Do not lis-ten to them. Your peo-ple were once uni-ted. The fu-ture you wish for is a pos-sible out-come. We have many items that can help you ach-ieve this. Let us talk terms.”

“Terms!” Caldesseia yelled, loud enough that Dash swore she could hear her through the hallway door, too. “Again with your terms. How hopeful you must be to think—” she sputtered. “You know I visited the fortress, but you still hope that I learned nothing there? How weak and stupid do you think we are? When you came to me, you did not tell me any lost truths a thousand years past. You told me what I wished to hear! You told me that I was right, that we were betrayed, that Luna split our people and that we were driven away!”

When Caldesseia went on, she lowered her voice, but it was no less intense. “That is what I had thought,” she said. “That is what I wished to hear, and so you told me, but it is not the entire truth at all. I have heard the echoes of the past. You lie, and you lie, and now you wish to talk terms.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. Just when she’d been convinced that there would be no reply—just when she wondered if Caldesseia had walked away and that the conversation was over—the sounds washed over her and she thought she would fall. The earth split asunder and a vast tornado sucked trees out of the ground. Mountains toppled, and now they liquefied and took on strange new shapes, all to the tune of the roar of a burning forest. Rainbow Dash felt sick, struggling to hear the words that came next.

“If you are set on lear-ning the na-ture of the gods through these crea-tures, you learn lies. And how will your peo-ple think of you if they learn you have mis-led them? You pro-mise to-getherness, but with-out us, you do not have the means. Have you told them what you lear-ned at the fort-ress? Of your cle-ver spell? Do they not re-ly on you for truth?” The croaking voice let out a hoarse laugh, a harsh but mercifully normal sound. “Do the on-ly thing you can if you will not speak terms. Wea-ken or cast down the As-pects with your own fee-ble means. You have told your peo-ple He-lesseia and Se-lyria need to be tram-pled into dust. You set this in mo-tion. This is good. Agree-ing with us is good. Agree-ing with us is bet-ter than dis-agreeing.”

Rainbow Dash’s breath still came ragged. She had a headache, and felt like someone had run over her with a cart. At her side, Rarity sat, and Fluttershy’s wings sagged. How could sounds do this to her?

“Is this a threat?” asked Caldesseia. If the noises affected her in any way like it did the ponies, her voice betrayed nothing of it. “Pathetic. Do you wish for me to show you what a good threat sounds like, frail little creature?”

A tree fell over with a crack, punctuating the conversation with absurd petulance.

“We will de-part now.”

“Yes. You will,” said Caldesseia. “I will get you if I need you.” Rainbow Dash didn’t hear hoofsteps or anything of the sort, but after the ponies had stood and sat in silence for a good half minute, Dash swore she heard a loud, tired sigh or an exhale, then nothing more. Or maybe that was Dash herself.

Rainbow Dash closed her eyes for a second. She felt Fluttershy lean against her, but she wished the she hadn’t done that. The motion didn’t help. Dash was tired, icky and queasy, the entire world wobbling and her head throbbing.

“What,” said Dash. She didn’t even bother completing the question. Rarity shambled over to their bed and lay down.

“I don’t know,” said Fluttershy, her voice thin. “But… no. I don’t know. Rarity?”

Rarity simply shook her head, eyes shut tight. She looked like she was trying to hold back a sneeze or something.

“Yeah. Talk tomorrow,” Dash agreed, making for the bed as well, curling her tail around Fluttershy’s forelegs to give her the slightest of tugs.

Proving that waking of her own accord was a thing of the past, and that ‘five more minutes’ was outside the realm of even dreaming, Dash awoke again to peryton filing into the room, and they weren’t being quiet about it at all. Sure, it was just Velysra and Koltares, but they made enough sound for two dozen peryton. Dash’s head felt clear outside of sleep, but the memory of the craziness last night lingered, even if the effects did not.

“Hey, you’re back,” Dash murmured. She reached out to nudge Rarity in the side to wake her. Fluttershy stirred as well, wincing as she retrieved her wing from around Dash’s back.

“Oh. Good morning?” said Fluttershy. She smiled at Velysra—or perhaps at both of them. Velysra’s return smile was obviously strained. At least she wasn’t all grumpy-frowny like Koltares. Pinkie would have her work cut out for her with him.

“Breakfast?” asked Rarity, stifling a yawn. “Mh, I suppose not.”

“No,” said Koltares. Unlike Velysra, he had a bag around his neck. His antlers glowed and he opened it up, levitating out two vaguely familiar stones, one by one, putting them in an empty water bowl which he then held out. Dash hadn’t gotten a good look at them when they were captured, but the two small stones were roughly cut, with symbols on each side, none of which meant anything to her. They didn’t look like peryton script.

“Ah yes. Hello again, my old friends,” said Rarity with a look of clear distaste. “I can’t say I’m very eager to do this.”

“Please,” said Velysra. “It will make everything a lot easier. Just surround the two stones with your magic if you can, and we won’t have to worry about this.” She offered Rarity an apologetic smile, indicating the two stones with a thrust of her antlers. Koltares stepped up and hovered the bowl by the bars.

“And if she can’t?” asked Dash, raising a brow.

“Then they’ll have to come back, but come now, dear,” said Rarity. She turned up her snout. “There’s no point to duplicity. I am fairly certain I can, but I really, really would rather not. Surely we can come to a better arrangement.”

“Hold,” said Koltares, floating the bowl with the stones closer to Velysra, who sheathed it in her own milky white magic. The gruff stag took a step closer to the bars and lit his antlers up again, a faint glow surrounding one of Rarity’s legs, tugging at her. “Come. You really have no say—”

“Do not touch me,” snapped Rarity. Her horn pulsed briefly, and the glow around her leg—as well as the light surrounding Koltares’ antlers—scattered like a puff of snow. Koltares took a quick step back, then another, backing up towards the door with a clear look of shock on his face.

“Don’t,” said Velysra. “No others. Let me.”

The stag halted in his tracks, took a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded, shooting Rarity a foul look. Rarity did not so much as look at him. Velysra stepped a little closer to the bars, proffering the bowl with the stones.

“As much as I do not like saying this, he is right,” said the doe. “Consider, we do this for our own safety. If you do not help us with this, we will have to find another way, and already we know these stones are safe. Clearly, your magic—” she paused to give Rarity’s horn a long look. “Your magic is returning, so this does not hurt you. Please. I will bring you food and water afterwards—”

“Wow, classy,” said Dash, snorting. “You’re gonna starve us out?”

“It is not extortion,” said Velysra with a sigh. “If that is how this sounded, I apologise.”

“Extortion would work,” offered Koltares from the doorway. “I am not going near these fell creatures again.”

Creatures?” Rarity asked with a gasp. “Excuse me?”

Velysra rolled her eyes. “Excuse him. I will attend your needs regardless of how many challenges you place in my way. If you wish, I can bring you food and water first, as a gesture of goodwill.”

Rarity glowered, but finally she let out a long, drawn-out sigh, walking up to the bars. “So, the… effect happens when I touch both of these stones with my magic, correct?” she asked.

The doe nodded. “That is what happened last time, and how it… ‘should’ happen, I suppose.”

Rainbow Dash scrunched up her snout, staring at the innocent-looking stones. They looked like dice with too many sides. Rarity’s horn glowed softly, but winked out again. She winced.

“You do realise it was not a very pleasant feeling?” the unicorn asked.

Velysra nodded again, slower this time. “I don’t imagine it was pleasant, no. I have not felt it myself, but I believe you.”

Rarity licked her lips. Rainbow Dash walked up to the bars herself, leaning her head against them. “This is dumb,” she muttered.

“I hope you are ashamed of yourselves,” said Fluttershy, the reproach in her voice far eclipsing any of the anger Rainbow Dash had been nursing. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d seen Fluttershy look this—angry? Hurt? Disappointed? The usually demure pegasus had a way of packing so many of those things into one look. Rainbow Dash always thought it was just she who saw it all. Maybe she wasn’t: Velysra looked away as if she’d been struck.

“Will it help if I say I am?” Velysra asked, quietly. Koltares said nothing, his eyes closed. The only movement was his chest moving with quiet breaths. Rainbow Dash swallowed, the tension in the room palpable until Rarity spoke.

“Fluttershy, darling,” said Rarity with a shake of her head. She reached out to touch the pegasus with a hoof, twice as gently as her tone was soft. “I appreciate the support, but it’s not painful, just… deeply unpleasant.”

“Yeah. That’s why it’s okay to ask someone to swallow a slug,” said Dash, making her voice as chipper as she could. “Because it’s not painful, it’s just stupid and unpleasant, so that makes it fine!”

Rarity laughed at that, though neither of the peryton would meet their eyes, and Fluttershy simply shook her head, turning away as well.

“Alright,” said Rarity. “I never thought I would say this, but that’s enough of the dramatics, I think. Let’s get this over with so we can have breakfast. Or lunch. Whichever it is. Catch me if I fall.”

Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to protest, just realising that the last time Rarity had done this, she’d been knocked out of action. She got as far as an incredulous “If you—” before the stones in the bowl were surrounded by a soft blue glow and the room flashed bright white. Fluttershy eep’ed loudly, and Dash hissed in pain as she reflexively tried to spread her wings to shield herself, the chains digging into her wings.

“Warning!” Dash groaned. “Warning first, then magic! I told you.”

“Oh dear,” said Fluttershy, rubbing her eyes. “Um, that was… very bright. Rarity, are you okay?”

“There, all done,” said Rarity with endless nonchalance, stretching her neck from side to side, ignoring her friends in favour of effecting a bored look at the squinting peryton. “And would you look at that, I’m still conscious this time. Nothing is ever quite as wonderful the second time around, I suppose. Are you satisfied?”

“It has nothing to do with satisfaction,” Koltares grunted.

“Thank you,” said Velysra, dipping her head. She emptied the bowl of stones into Koltares’ ohron, the stag disappearing out the door. Velysra herself quickly stacked up the other empty bowls. “I will return in a moment.”

“Seeya,” said Dash, blinking rapidly still. She couldn’t get rid of the bright white spot in the corner of her eye.

This time, Velysra did return as she had said she would, bearing a tray with water bowls, as well as peeled and unpeeled fruits. Some of them were new, including something that looked like a larger kind of banana. She’d scarcely put the tray down by the bars before Dash slipped a hoof through and grabbed one, biting it open to reveal the white mush inside. Banana, or banana-like. Good enough.

“I will not ask you not to hold this against me,” said Velysra. She sat down in her usual spot halfway between the door and the bars, sinking down on her haunches.

Good, Rainbow Dash wanted to say. Because I do. But she didn’t know if she meant it, and a quick glance told her that Fluttershy wasn’t angry anymore, either. Her tail hung low and her wings sagged.

“I don’t think saying that you’re just ‘doing what you are told’ helps your case, if that’s the defence you are trying to mount here,” said Rarity, abandoning her efforts to sip water from a bowl on the floor. “Acting on orders is a poor excuse.”

The doe shook her head. “We need some safety—but that is not a defence. That is… no, it is nothing. I have nothing. This is not explanation. It is an apology. I am sorry.” She reached up to cover her face with the nook of a leg and sighed.

Rarity pursed her lips and nodded slowly. She looked to Fluttershy, who smiled ever so slightly at this, and to Dash, who didn’t know what her face showed. She knew she felt annoyed, but annoyed was better than peeved. The peryton doe seemed sincere enough.

“That is quite alright,” said Rarity, at last. “If nothing else, I understand, dear. Your apology is accepted.”

“Accepted,” Velysra repeated, as though the word held no meaning to her.

Rarity leaned down for a long draught of water, wiping her muzzle afterwards as she always did. “Yes?” she asked more than said. “I forgive you, that’s what I mean.”

Velysra let out a nervous laugh. “Forgive. You… are not joking. It is this easy? To forgive all these things—”

“Now,” Rarity interrupted. “I did not say everything, but I won’t begrudge you this latest little indignity. I still expect you’ll come to your senses and let us out sometime soon, but why would I not forgive you?”

The doe looked straight up at the roof and took a shaky breath. Rainbow Dash thought she heard a sniffle. She feigned interest in her almost-a-banana, munching down instead. She did not feel like watching anyone cry right now.

“Then, will you extend your forgiveness to Koltares as well?” Velysra asked, her voice cracking. “He is only angry because he is afraid.”

“So you keep saying,” said Rarity with a frown. “This is all about fear, but we still haven’t done anything worth fearing, I don’t think.”

Velysra shook with a soundless snort of laughter. “That depends on how much of what you say one believes, and he has heard enough to fear, and not enough to understand. You threaten our lives. This is our roost. We have our way of life, our homes are here. By now, despite the Guide’s efforts, most know what you represent. That you threaten Celestia.”

“We would never!” said Fluttershy with a gasp.

“That’s… the exact opposite of what’s true. We’re here because of her, haven’t you been listening?” said Dash, rolling her eyes. “If she’s threatened it’s because when I get back home, I’m gonna tell her what I think about sending us to this crazy place!”

“Darling, you will not be rude to either of the Princesses,” said Rarity, scowling at her.

“Yeah, well, I’m telling Twilight at least. She can put it in one of her stuffy letters,” Dash grumped.

Velysra shook her head, smiling. “I… think you misunderstand. What you threaten is that which we built our homes on. Our history. What I spoke of yesterday. That is how most here see it. That you carry night-granted power. That you are as the Aspects.”

“Afhs fhe’ afhphefks? How?” Dash asked around a mouthful of fruit, ignoring Rarity’s horrified look. If manners didn’t get a break in prison, they’d never get a rest.

“In that you present a different version of the same goddesses. Weaker. False. I do not think you asked, or that I spoke of the Aspects—”

“We figured it out,” said Dash, swallowing. “You don’t like them because the cities made the Aspects instead of… telling stories about Celestia and Luna, I guess? We kinda heard something about that from an old doe way back. That they made the Aspects, anyway—not that you’re all bent out of shape about it.”

Velysra snorted and shook her head. “It is how we know things to be. You clearly know things differently, as do the cities of our kin—and before you ask, no, I do not feel as strongly about this as most. The others, our Guide included, evidently believe this strongly enough that you are kept here.” She tapped the ground with the hoof. “That, and perhaps another thing. The knowledge of what we have done.” She gave Dash a grim smile and gestured towards her with a hoof before continuing.

“I understand you have visited Ephydoera. You bear their paint, and you will know they are not ones to easily forget a misstep.”

“Yeah, thanks for that,” Dash muttered, glancing back at her chained, green wings. She grimaced. They’d started to ache for real, now. She wished Velysra hadn’t brought it up and reminded her.

“You’re afraid of facing the dues, as it were,” suggested Rarity.

“That may be one of the reasons, yes,” said the doe. “Fear of reprisal.”

The unicorn frowned. “I trust it has not escaped you that you spend an awful lot of time speculating out loud about why you think we are not let free. I understand you likely do not have a say in this, but it is not the first time you recognise the injustice.”

Velysra rolled her jaw, silent for a moment before she nodded. “At first, I was angry enough at what you had done to Caldesseia that I… did not think as much as I should have.” Her smile was decidedly sour. “Now, I will keep to my task of guarding you because I have begun it, and because others will not do so willingly. I will not say this in public, but even if I do not believe you, I do not think you should not be imprisoned, either. I do not know Caldesseia’s mind in this, neither as the Guide, nor as my friend, Cal.”

“Uh. We kinda do know, though,” said Dash, her snout scrunched. She had more than one idea after what they overheard last night. “We—”

“All we have,” said Rarity, staring very intensely at her, “is speculation as well, of course.”

“No we—”

Speculation,” Rarity repeated, holding her with a stare. “Rainbow Dash does so love to speculate and wonder.”

“Bunches of speculation,” Dash said, rolling her eyes and taking the cue. She pointed to the cluster of banana-likes she’d grabbed. “See that? Those bunches? That’s our speculation. We have bunches of it. All bunched up.”

Velysra blinked, and Fluttershy coughed. When nopony spoke up again, the doe simply shook her head as though she brushed the conversation away. Rarity, happy to do the same, smiled at her.

“While we’re all talking—I would love to hear your take on all this… debacle around the Aspects,” said Rarity. She stifled a small yawn and sat by the bars. “We have nothing but time. Surely it’s a little much to wish these Aspects gone simply because they are different from your… shall we call them beliefs?”

“A ‘take’ on this?” Velysra asked. “The memories are thus: in the Gorges, we did not have the Aspects. The peryton people lived by the guidance of Celestia and Luna’s words from their visits. When Luna betrayed Celestia and the Nightmare came, driving our people apart, some of our people created the Aspects, and among those, they hid Celestia within Helesseia and made her their own. They enshrined Luna within Selyria, and did not throw away her tainted wisdom when her true nature was shown.”

The doe snorted loudly. “You understand, all of this was thought to be metaphor or allegory until recently. Now we understand that the Nightmare’s influence on our people, through Selyria, was what split us all apart. The distance from Celestia is what keeps us from this truth. Keeps us from being united and happy once more.”

Velysra gave the ponies a humorless smile. Dash saw the change in her demeanour instantly, her body relaxing with an unvoiced sigh, a full-bodied slump before she went on.

“That is what the Guide has said, at least. That is the growing fervor in the hearts of the Morrowsworn. Three years ago, our departure from the gorges so long ago was an afterthought, knowledge without need for action. Scar tissue, as I have earlier said, but you ask me about the Aspects. You ask me.”

The doe slowly paced back and forth as she spoke, her brow knit. “Me? I am unconcerned with Helesseia, even if I find it sad, perhaps even insulting to Celestia whose light we praise, but more than this, I do not know that I think that Luna has anything to teach us.” She frowned. “I do not know that I can abide the existence of Selyria, whether the Nightmare is allegory or not, whether a goddess exists who fought the sun or not, whether she is still the darkness I suspect, or whether she has turned her wings against the wind for the second time. Luna, Nightmare or Selyria, how can I trust such caprice?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged to herself. “What’s the problem with that? Everyone makes mistakes.”

The first part of a laugh caught in the doe’s throat, her smile frozen, then fading as she stopped her pacing. “You say this not in jest. If I make myself believe your story of origin, if I believe your letter for even one second, you are the ones who should fear her the most. If you hail from where she makes her roost, how is it that your lands were not ravaged by her passing? How is it that you speak of her so simply?” Her scowl deepened. “How can I believe you are truthful now? You speak with Luna’s voice, and you say she is the Nightmare as we have told you, but you walk carrying her word alongside Celestia’s.”

“Was,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head briskly. “She was the Nightmare—or, Nightmare Moon. She isn’t any more.”

“But you say she has been!” Velysra said. “Did her passing not scorch your Equestria? Did she not cast your lands into darkness as well? Were you not closer to Celestia than any others when the Nightmare betrayed her?”

Rainbow Dash blew her mane out of her face. “Sure, maybe, and we don’t know?” Dash said. “Who cares! I guess it got dark and everyone was scared a long time ago or whatever. Twilight read a book about it, but who gives a hoot about the details, who cares what exactly she did a thousand years ago? Who the hay is angry with someone after a thousand years! That’s a really, really, really long time. I don’t even think they had Wonderbolts back then!”

“I suppose one should be careful about not repeating history,” said Rarity, frowning slightly. “But—”

“Sure!” Dash said. “But again, a thousand years? If she was still all evil and stuff, yeah, I wouldn’t exactly want to write a book about her top ten hot mane styling tips, or make a storybook character of her, but she’s not evil!” Rainbow Dash tried to shift her wings on her back, and hissed when all she got for her trouble was a stab of pain. “I’m not gonna go rub that stuff in her face and try to tell her how bad she was when she’s doing good now, anyway.”

“Just one little mistake doesn’t—or, well, shouldn’t ruin everything else you’ve ever done,” said Fluttershy, nodding her agreement. “As long as she’s changed, why wouldn’t we forgive her? If we didn’t forgive her, why, she might never get better, and besides, I don’t even know that I feel like Nightmare Moon was really her at all.” She pouted and ducked her head a little. “So many ponies are still afraid of her. Sometimes, even I am. It’s not easy, but more ponies come around every day.”

“Princess Celestia certainly appreciates Luna’s return,” Rarity added, a little more quietly. “I’ve never heard of a princess crying before then, and she’s not had cause since.”

Velysra stared at them in silence for a good while, her face blank and emotionless, but Rainbow Dash didn’t have anything to add. She could believe them, or she could not, but Dash had been there. She’d seen Nightmare Moon, and she’d seen Princess Luna. She leaned back against the bars, the metal pleasantly cool against her body.

“One prong of my being believes you, I think,” said the doe, finally. “You are perhaps… I do not know if this is naivety, or if this is something else, but this is how we were able to capture you, is it not? You do not hesitate. You do not stop to think back, or consider a thing with suspicion. That is why you are here behind bars.”

“Yes,” said Rarity, her voice prim and precise. “I suppose it is, but if I run across another stranger in need of my assistance once I get out of this gruesome prison, I will help them without a second thought about it.“ Rainbow Dash just shook her head and reached out to touch a hoof to Rarity’s side. She knew the unicorn meant it, and Dash honestly didn’t know what the alternative was. They’d talked about that yesterday, or the day before, hadn’t they? Treating every peryton they met like they were their enemy? That’d be twice as dumb.

Velysra laughed, a low, almost clucking sound that petered out into nothingness. “I believe you will blunder into a second trap if someone sets it, that I do. And I believe that when you forgave me for the indignities of this morning with your magic, you were sincere.” She shook her head. “To believe in goddesses changing like people, that is more difficult. Can you convince yourself that the sky is water, and that the water is sky, simply because I tell you?”

“Maybe you’ll get to meet her one day,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her. “Maybe you’ll realise that even if she’s a princess—or… a goddess, I guess, if you like that word better, she’s still a person. She’s still people.”

“Another thing that is difficult to think, but I believe you believe this,” said Velysra, exhaling loudly. “I also hope you will find the capacity to believe that I feel bad for preying on this good nature of yours. I also do not think I deserve this forgiveness you offer me.”

“‘Thanks’ would have worked fine too, you know,” Dash said. “Or you could thank us by letting us out.”

“If it were my decision, things might be different,” said Velysra. “I have lingered longer than I should. I must attend my office as soothe-prong soon. Life goes on. I have to attend the hurts of my people.”

“Speaking of hurt,” said Dash, licking her lips. The little pause got a raised brow from Rarity and a worried look from Fluttershy. “You’re like… our doctor, too?”

The doe nodded slowly. “I must be considered thus. Another reason I am here. Are you hurt?”

Dash sighed. “The chains are really tight, and my wings are getting… achey. In a bad way. Can you get them off of me so I can stretch them out, at least?”

The doe looked pained before Rainbow Dash completed her sentence, and the pegasus’s heart sank.

“I have very clear directions not to remove the chains for any reasons,” she said. “That does not mean I agree with it, but I believe the Guide has seen or heard that you are a threat. Or perhaps Koltares bent her ear, not because he is vengeful, but because he has more fear than many.”

“Great,” said Dash, forcing a smile. “Yeah, okay, no problem. Cool.” Thanks, Koltares.

“That’s not okay at all,” said Fluttershy. She walked up to Rainbow Dash and leaned in close to her wings, nudging the chains with her snout ever so slightly. “I don’t know if they are tight enough to cause real damage to pegasus wings, but this is really not fair.”

Rarity frowned at Rainbow Dash. “What was it you said just this morning? Swallowing slugs? Darling, this is really awful.”

Velysra closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out through her nose.

“I’ll be fine,” Dash grunted. Fine, and after another day or two, probably crazy from not getting to spread my wings.

“No, you won’t,” said Fluttershy, her voice hard and absolute. She turned to the doe on the other side of the bars. “This really is not okay. I realise it’s not really your fault, and it is unfair of us to be angry with you, but she’s in pain.”

“No I’m not,” Dash said, her words and her partial lie completely ignored.

“There are many things I may, and will tell the Guide, and try to help with, but on this, I do not even have the key—”

“That,” said Fluttershy, glowering, “is not really our problem. I’m sorry, Velysra, but if you really want to help us, and if your job is to take care of us, there must be something you can do. It’s just not good enough.”

Rarity gave Fluttershy a worried look, and Rainbow Dash didn’t bother protesting or saying anything. Sometimes, ponies needed to not get in Fluttershy’s way. This was one such time.

“I do not think—” the doe said.

“At least find something to make it a little more comfortable,” said Fluttershy, no less resolved, but a little softer, now. “Maybe you can find something to put between the chains and her wings? Please?”

Velysra gave Dash’s wings a quick look, and after a brief moment’s hesitation, nodded and disappeared around the corner.

“I suppose we could have used the blanket,” said Rarity, scowling at the chains around Dash’s body. “But without my magic, I don’t know how we would’ve worked it between your body and the chains. And it’d be itchy. And it would leave us one blanket down.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” asked Fluttershy, frowning at Dash.

“I did! Just now!” Dash replied. “It’s not that bad,” but she could tell Fluttershy didn’t buy it in the least. Rainbow Dash splayed her ears and looked at the wall, waiting and avoiding Fluttershy’s gaze until she heard steps on the return. Velysra entered the room, unfurling a long piece of cloth that hovered at her side. It looked like a scarf of some kind.

“I think perhaps this will help,” said the doe. “Since I do not have the key, I will try to work it under the chain if you will help.” She strode forward until she reached her usual spot halfway between the door and the bars. There, she halted, rocking on her forelegs as though she’d hit a wall.

“You know, I can’t reach, and Rarity doesn’t have her magic, so we kinda do need your help,” said Dash. “I’m guessing you’re not gonna come in here, though.” She turned her side to the doe and looked over at her.

“I will have to move closer to reach through the bars with my magic,” said the doe, as though that was not obvious.

“Is… that a problem?” asked Fluttershy. “I can try to do it with my hooves and my mouth.”

“No, there is no problem,” said Velysra, shaking her head slowly. She took one step closer, then another, slowly as though she expected something to happen. “Even if I do not trust your words—or rather, what you speak of as truth—I believe I have come to trust you.”

“What’re we gonna do anyway?” asked Dash with a laugh. “Grab you? Bite you?”

“I think at this point the trust is mutual by necessity,” said Rarity with a wan smile. “You have told us quite a few of your concerns with regards to your Guide, and any secrets you tell us are safe.”

“Secrets?” the doe asked, stepping up to the bars. She levitated the scarf-like thing through the bars and slipped one of the ends through the gap under Dash’s wings, wiggling and tugging gently at it. “Secrets,” she repeated. “You assume that I have not told Caldesseia most of what I have told you. I am not shy with my concerns when we speak, but you are right regardless. We have shared much, and freely. Too much.”

The cloth didn’t help much. After a short while, Velysra had it packed in between the chain and Dash’s wings and body, but it didn’t really relieve any of the pressure, the need to spread her wings. It did make sure the chains didn’t feel like they dug into her, though.

“Thanks,” Dash muttered. With all this talk of forgiveness and fear, Dash knew that it was stupid to be angry with Velysra for much longer. It didn’t make them friends until Velysra let them out, but you took wins where you could get them, right?

“If that is all, I must be going, but you will tell me if you have other worries, and if you are in pain, will you not?” asked Velysra.

“We will,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her.

“Mm, one more question, if you don’t mind,” said Rarity before the doe disappeared out the doorway.


“If I understand you right, you wish to remove these Aspects and, I presume, ‘unite Perytonia’,” said Rarity with a simple smile. “How are the two related? Or, to be perhaps indelibly blunt: what is it that you plan on doing, or how will this ‘help’ Celestia?”

Velysra sighed. “That is a good question. I wish I could tell you that we have some plan that is secret, a Morrowsworn plan of which I cannot tell you.”

“But?” Dash asked, tilting her head.

“You know I am one who doubts much,” said Velysra, shrugging. “I do not know how much I believed Celestia needed our help even before you showed up, but many do, and those listen to Caldesseia. She tells them she has a plan.”

“I’m certain she does say that,” said Rarity, nodding.

“If she has a plan, and I must believe she does, then I do not understand how you factor into it if she does not wish to see you. Her visit to your room was very brief. I will ask her again to explain this to me, and if she cannot—if she still believes you must be kept imprisoned?” She paused and flexed one of her talons. “Then I will ask that at the very least, she explain to you what she cannot explain to me. I worry much about her.”

“It would be wonderful to get to see her again. Well, informative, if not pleasant,” suggested Rarity. “Thank you.”

The three ponies all waited in complete silence, three sets of ears perked and waiting while the sound of Velysra’s steps faded away down the hall. The very second all went silent, Rainbow Dash rounded on Rarity.

“What the hay were you hushing me for?” she asked. “We know Caldesseia doesn’t have a plan! What’s the point in asking—”

Exactly, dear,” said Rarity, smiling back at her. “We overheard many things we likely should not have, and it would behoove us not to tell anyone before we decide how to go about it. And besides, we now know that Velysra—one of her closest friends—does not know what we overheard.”

“Oh,” said Dash.

“It feels awful to keep quiet like this, especially when Velysra is finally starting to trust us,” said Fluttershy, scuffing the ground.

“I don’t enjoy duplicity and such, either,” said Rarity with a huff. “But even Applejack would agree that it’s foolish to simply tell everyone everything you hear, all the time. Granted, this is hardly a white lie, you’re right in that.”

“I didn’t mean that I think you’re doing something bad,” Fluttershy replied with a muted sigh. “I just don’t like it.”

“I didn’t take offence, dear,” said Rarity. “I just want to be clear on this—we should probably think before we speak, that is all.”

“Maybe we should talk about what we heard last night,” Fluttershy suggested. “We haven’t really had a chance. We just went right to bed, and we woke up to this awful mess of magic stones and everything.”

“Yeah, okay,” said Dash. She trotted over to the corner of the cell, grabbed one of their blankets, and put it in the center, then pushed some of the fruit bowls and water bowls next to it. She planted herself in the middle of the blanket. “Caldesseia doesn’t have a clue what she’s going to do. She doesn’t have a plan at all.” Dash said.

“And she sounds like she does believe us,” said Fluttershy, taking a seat next to Rainbow Dash. “She believes we were sent by the Princesses. Even more than Velysra, she sounded like she wanted to hear what we have to say. She told us she didn’t believe our story, but it sounded to me like she keeps us here because she does believe it,” she said, grabbing a slice of fruit.

“I agree. She knows we’re telling the truth, or at least she has cause to believe it,” said Rarity, frowning as she, too, sat. “As to the ‘plan’ thing, it sounded like she had a plan, but rejected it because of what she learned and because she doesn’t want to accept these awful-voiced strangers’ help.”

“Yeah, about that,” said Dash, grimacing. She didn’t even like thinking about the memory of those chaotic sounds. “I don’t know if that was a ‘voice’. It sounded like a heap of noise to me.”

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” said Fluttershy, her ears flat.

“And I would love never to hear anything like it again,” Rarity chimed. “What awful noises—but Caldesseia didn’t seem to mind. Did you notice?”

Dash shrugged. “We couldn’t really see her face.”

“I would struggle to speak, much less keep a straight face under that onslaught, I don’t know about the two of you,” said Rarity, her snout crinkled. “But yes. My point is, it sounds almost like… blackmail. Whoever these creatures are, they clearly know she has no plan without their help, and they hold her hostage over it. These others also know she’s lied to her own people.”

“I don’t know if she was held hostage or whatever,” said Dash. “She was all ‘get out of my face’ and stuff.”

“That could have been her trying to sound strong,” suggested Fluttershy.

“Eh, maybe,” said Dash. “Again, couldn’t see her face or her wings or anything! But yeah, Caldesseia wasn’t super keen on the whole ‘stamping out the Aspects’ thing.”

“She did sound less... intensely interested in that than Velysra suggested,” Rarity said with a nod. “In fact, much of what they discussed ran contrary to Velysra’s expectations. She seemed mostly concerned with this business with the fortress. Getting rid of the Aspects was on these other creatures’ agenda, not hers. Well, I say ‘creatures’. We don’t know the translator wasn’t a very hoarse peryton, I suppose.”

Fluttershy pushed an empty water bowl away. “Velysra did say that the Guide had travelled a lot. If she went to the fortress we visited—if she made the spell that created those magical echo-peryton, that actually makes a lot of sense. I remember thinking that the echo was interrupted a lot, and Caldesseia acted like that with us, too. Just a little bit.”

“A little,” Dash repeated, her voice flat.

“Or a lot, maybe,” Fluttershy admitted, sighing. “She was angry because she learned that the migration didn’t happen the way she thought it had.”

“Mm, she was rather desperate to have us confirm this story she’s told her people, even though she knows it is wrong,” Rarity agreed. “It’s conjecture, certainly, but it fits.”

Rainbow Dash shook her head slowly. How Rarity and Fluttershy got all that, she didn’t know, but it did add up. “Fine,” she said. “Then why is she so angry with us?”

Rarity nodded, swallowing a draught of water. “Her anger did seem misplaced.”

“I don’t think she really ever was angry with us,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head. “She’s angry that she got something wrong, and she knows she’s told her people something that’s wrong, too. I don’t think she really wants to hurt us. She even sounded a little… protective? She didn’t want to let these other people see us, and I think I’m glad to hear that.” She shuddered.

“I guess there’s that,” said Dash, snorting. “I’m not gonna thank her for keeping us here anyway. Maybe we should just tell everyone she doesn’t care half as much about this whole Celestia and Helesseia business as they think? That’s what she’s told the people she’s supposed to lead, right? That she thinks this Celestia versus Helesseia business matters—and that’s a lie, too.”

“To what end, dear?” asked Rarity. “The best you could do is try to tell the guards who accompany us when they let one of us outside for air, and I don’t know that it will help. They’re hardly inclined to listen to us. Besides, I think she cares about Celestia, at the very least, if not about this whole Aspect debacle.”

“She cares about who, or what they think Celestia is,” Dash retorted. “Velysra said they dance under the sun or whatever. What’s up with that? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if they’re having fun, but they act like they know Celestia, and they don’t! They’re not the ones who have had tea with her!”

“Well, they know the sun, at least,” said Fluttershy, smiling at that. “I don’t know if it matters what they think as long as they’re not…” her voice trailed off and she frowned ever so slightly.

“Not hurting anyone?” Rainbow Dash finished, deadpan and with one brow arched. She pointed to one of the bars for extra effect.

“...Yes,” Fluttershy finished, lamely. “I just feel sorry for them. For Caldesseia and the people, too. She made promises she can’t really keep, and that hurts everyone.”

“Yeah,” said Dash, looking away. As bad as Caldesseia was, Dash herself knew what it was like not to hold up your end of the bargain.

Rarity finished up the fruit in one of the small bowls and stretched. “Hopefully, Velysra can convince Caldesseia to come talk to us again sooner rather than later. If she believes us, we can tell her—”

“What shampoo Celestia uses?” Dash hazarded, interrupting Rarity.

“That’s the second time you’ve suggested the same thing, and I don’t believe you do know that,” said Rarity, furrowing her brow.

“I know what shampoo Twilight uses, and if anypony knows what shampoo Celestia uses, it’s Twilight,” said Dash, grinning. “And I bet you five bits that Twilight would use the same shampoo once she found out.”

Fluttershy giggled, and Rarity stared, unblinking for a moment.

“I admit, that is impressive reasoning,” Rarity admitted with a shrug. “How do you know which shampoo Twi—no, nevermind, that is completely irrelevant. If Caldesseia does believe that Celestia and Luna did send us, and that they do in fact live in Canterlot, we can send a letter on her behalf if she has any questions that need answering. I don’t understand what else she would want us for.”

“Without the airship to take us back home, I don’t know how we’d even send a letter,” said Fluttershy.

“Yes, well, they’d have to deliver it themselves, I suppose,” said Rarity, shaking her head at that. “Directions to Las Pegasus, then. Goodness, sailing there would take quite a while.”

“Yeah, well, we got time. It’s not like we’re gonna make it to Cotronna in time to meet Neisos’ brother now anyway,” Dash said. She meant to laugh at that, to let out a dismissive chuckle, but even as she spoke, she realised it wasn’t funny to her at all. They had no plan on how to get out of here, and even if they did, they had no plan that would get them home—at least not while her dreams eluded her.

“I win again!” said Dash, grinning as she placed the third upturned bowl in a row. “Go again?”

“Sure,” said Fluttershy.

“I’ll go first,” said Dash. She grabbed the top empty bowl from their stack and placed it upside-down on the middle of the floor, motioning for Fluttershy to place her upright bowl. “Your turn.”

Rarity yawned over by her comfy little blanketed corner. “If you don’t actually have a playing field or a grid of some kind, I don’t understand how you can play the game properly.”

“Exactly, that’s why it’s awesome,” said Rainbow Dash with a snicker. After a moment’s deliberation, she placed down her second bowl.

“It’s better than doing nothing,” said Fluttershy, smiling as she blocked Dash’s easy three-in-a-row.

“By all means,” said Rarity, waving a hoof. “I’m mostly just impressed that Rainbow Dash managed to lose once if she always goes first.”

“Eh, you have to let someone else win once in a while to get them to keep playing with you,” said Rainbow Dash. “You wanna play next round? Dibs on going first.”

“Darling, what’s the—ah, why not. It beats staring at the frayed ends of my mane,” she said, giggling. “I’ll go next.”

“Oh. Um, that’s… outside the board if it’s a three-by-three,” said Fluttershy. “I don’t know if you can place a bowl there.”

“Sure I can, that’s three in a row, another win for me,” Dash announced, scooping up her bowls again.

“I guess?” Fluttershy said, blinking. She turned to Rarity. “Maybe you could ask to let them have your mane styling items?”

“If you agreed that my mane needs a touch-up, I’m sure you could have said so with more tact, dear,” said Rarity, arching a brow.

Rainbow Dash perked her ears. She heard something down the hall, for sure.

“Oh, I’m sorry—” said Fluttershy.

“I’m joking, dear,” said Rarity with a laugh. “I’m well aware my mane requires constant care, and I’ve done it on and off, but I have no illusions that they’ll just give us my scissors.”

“We got company,” said Dash. Lazily she rose to stand on all four, pushing the empty bowls towards the bars. If Velysra came to get them fresh water, she wouldn’t turn it down. Where the doe got icy cold water in this heat, she had no idea. If not for the draft from the air holes and the open hallway, they’d melt in their cell, and the idea that there was anywhere cold within a hundred leagues was laughable.

“Maybe you can ask about the scissors,” said Fluttershy, eyeing their bags. “I’d love to check that our things are alright.”

Rainbow Dash tilted her head as the steps grew louder. “What is it you’re so worried—”

“Oh,” said Rarity.

“Velysra has made a very insistent case that I see you,” said Caldesseia. The stocky doe strode into the room with confidence this time. She barely looked at them at first, and her body was unadorned this time save for a single necklace of the fiery stones she’d wore the last time, though her legs still looked as though they had been… dipped in soot? Dash had no idea.

“Yeah? Well—” Dash began, her mouth hanging open for a second. “That’s… good, I guess,” she finished, lamely.

“In all honesty,” said Rarity, sidling up to the bars. “We expected perhaps you would want to see us. After all, we are the guests here. At your insistence.”

“This is true,” said Caldesseia with a nod. “You are here because I arranged for you to be here. If I have not attended you, it is because I’ve had other matters to attend to lately.”

“If?” Dash asked. “You were here yesterday, but you left in a huff.” She shrugged.

“I am aware of my own comings and goings, thank you,” said the doe with a half-hearted glare. She seemed a different creature from yesterday entirely, and more composed by far. “I have taken some time to consider how best to deal with this situation, and I think I have a solution.”

“Is the ‘situation’ you ponynapping us for no reason at all?” asked Dash. “‘Cause I’d call that a situation.”

“Let’s not antagonise our host more than we must,” said Rarity, elbowing Dash in the side.

“Just saying,” Dash grunted.

“What’s the solution you’ve come up with?” asked Fluttershy, her ears perking a little.

“I can let you go,” said Caldesseia. The doe walked close to the bars, looking down at Rainbow Dash as she spoke, though Dash didn’t get the feeling that she really spoke to her. “I have no need to keep you here, but I require your help.”

Rainbow Dash bit down on her tongue hard, trying not to comment on the Guide’s method of getting help.

“After the return of the Nightmare, and after realising that the gods still act upon our world, I travelled Perytonia,” said Caldesseia. “I saw what even the pathfinders who watch the cities do not. I saw the vastness of Perytonia. I saw their fertile lands, and I wanted something better for my people.”

“Tried asking?” said Dash. “‘Cause why wouldn’t they share?”

“Perhaps they would,” said Caldesseia, shrugging. “But how can there be unity when we are divided by the gods? The return of the Nightmare was a grim reminder of this. They still carve statues to the one who split us apart, and they still insult Celestia by forgetting her true name, by telling stories of her that are untrue.”

Rainbow Dash glanced at Fluttershy, who returned a helpless shrug.

“The war in heaven reminded me,” said the doe, her gaze distant as though she saw straight through Rainbow Dash. “It reminded our people of what we lost. We had a better life united in the gorges under Celestia’s light, before Luna betrayed her and tore our people apart. Before the cities turned their face away from Celestia. Before they erected statues to Selyria, to Luna. We can, and we will unite, but first, we need to understand one another. That is where you will help.”

“How, exactly?” asked Rarity, her voice carefully neutral. Dash shifted her weight from her left legs to her right, rolling her jaw as she listened.

“Surely, you are not so deluded as to think you talk to, or are sent by the gods themselves,” said Caldesseia with a faint smile that neither reached her eyes nor showed teeth. “You must see that everything would be better if we would only see eye to eye. You were on your way to Cotronna, I understand? To make treaties, as you spoke of in this letter? Is this, at least, true?”

“For sake of argument, ignoring that we have spoken no ‘lies’, yes,” said Rarity, her snout creased.

“Then make this treaty on behalf of whomever truly sent you, not under the false authority under Celestia, and make it on the condition that Cotronna decrees that the Perytonian people discard the false aspects of Helesseia and Selyria. This may not mean much to your ears, but—”

What?” Dash snapped.

Rarity huffed. “We have explained this time and again, though I suppose you may have have missed it: we do not have the authority to negotiate. We aren’t here to negotiate. We are here to invite them to a conference, a summit.”

Caldesseia frowned, tapping a hoof on the stone floor. “Then you will make these be negotiations regardless. You represent another people. There must be some authority upon which you can call to do this, to help. We Morrowsworn are one place, a small people, but if anything of what you say is true, you must—”

“We must what?” Dash asked. “I don’t even know what you’re asking! Do you seriously think we can convince the Perytonians to stop using their Aspects? Even two of them? If you think that for even a second, then you’re crazy!” she said, raising her voice. “I thought you said you keep an eye on the cities, but if you think they’d agree to anything like this, you don’t understand anything. We’re just visiting, and even I know that’s not how it works!”

The doe’s frown deepened, but Dash didn’t even give her a chance to reply. Her blood was up, and she couldn’t stop.

“Their Aspects are everywhere, it’s part of who they are, and you think we can change that?” She let out a harsh bark of laughter. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! They annoy the hay out of me sometimes, and I still think it’s weird, but you know what? Even if we could change that, why would we?” she hissed through gritted teeth. “So what if they want to talk weird? And if they want to call Celestia ‘Helesseia’ instead, that’s fine by me, and no stupid stinking ponynapping person is gonna change that!”

Dash’s chest heaved with breath. She wanted her wings back, and she wanted to spread them. She wanted the bars to be gone so she could fly up in the doe’s face. Instead, her sides just itched. She kicked at the ground. “How the hay would making them stop talking about two names, and use two other names matter anyway,” she spat. “What’s the difference? How does that ‘unify’ you, huh?”

The silence held for a moment in the aftermath of her rant, but Caldesseia didn’t look angry so much as she just looked bothered.

“If we’re talking about unifying Perytonia,” Rarity muttered to herself, “they’d need some help just ‘unifying’ themselves without the Morrowsworn, and that begins with a better road plan if you ask me.”

“Then you have made your choice,” said Caldesseia with a shrug. “I do not see why I would let you go.”

“Because it’s the right thing to do?” asked Fluttershy, tilting her head. “And because you don’t really have a reason not to?”

It was a simple enough sentiment. Rainbow Dash could see in Caldesseia’s eyes that she knew it too, but she turned around and made for the door.

“But you won’t,” said Rarity, to no effect.

“No, because I need you to do this for me, and you will not,” said the doe, not stopping.

“Yeah, that’s a load of hay,” said Dash, snorting loudly. “You don’t need us to do squat. You know we’re not lying. You know, or part of you knows that everything we’re saying is true. You know that you’re wrong, and that you weren’t chased off from that fortress by Luna doing whatever. You left.” Dash sneered. “You know the truth, you just don’t want to admit it to yourself. Or to anyone else.”

“You’re keeping us here so people can blame us instead,” said Fluttershy, frowning. “You don’t want us to leave because that way, your people can think we’re bad.”

“You’re buying yourself time,” Rarity added, inspecting one of her forehooves, looking thoroughly bored. “Because you don’t have a plan at all. Your cart is stuck in the mud, so to say—if you’ll permit a very useful, if country colloquialism. How droll.”

That gave the Guide pause. She halted halfway out the door and hung her head low, taking a deep breath. “I will not ask you how you learned this. I know I have not been betrayed by my closest.”

Fluttershy shook her head and lay her ears flat. “No, I’m sorry. If you’re asking if Velysra told us any of this, she really hasn’t.”

“I believe you. As you say, I know you do not lie.” Caldesseia snorted hot air. “Well. Now, you realise, I truly cannot let you go.”

“Oh please,” said Rarity, rolling her eyes. “You made us an impossible offer because you did not want us to accept it. You had no intentions of letting us go when you realised that we were right, and—I believe Fluttershy is correct about this as well—that you have in us a perfect set of three scapegoats. Let your people think about how we’re associated with this scary evil Nightmare Moon Luna who no longer exists and attack the Aspects rather than realise you are floundering.”

Caldesseia sucked in breath through clenched teeth. “My people need a Guide. They need a direction. To tell them that they have been served a lie is the one thing they do not need. It is suffering.”

“Sure, yeah, it’s about them, not about saving your own fluffy butt,” Dash said, sticking her tongue out.

The doe flashed a scowl and shook her head. “It does not matter what you believe. I do this for the Morrowsworn. You will stay here until I have solved this. I will not return.”

“Or you do what you should do and let us out!” Dash yelled as the Guide disappeared around the corner. “This isn’t our problem!”

“It’s pointless, dear,” said Rarity, shaking her head.

“Get back here!” Dash yelled, as loud as she could make it, her own ears ringing with the force of her own voice. She raised a foreleg to hit the bars, but it was just as pointless. Just as meaningless as trying to work her wings free from the stupid chains. Nothing worked and she met unyielding iron wherever she turned. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on Fluttershy’s touch against her side. Thankfully, that touch was just as solid.