• 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 42

Note for the little wall

A matter for consideration by the small council.

Three ponies of Equestria visited the Hall this morning during shedding-day. They seek a formal audience with the council to deliver an invitation, though I do not understand the specifics. Names of places I did not know flew between my prongs, and their ways were strange.

The only way I can make sense of their visit was by accepting that they have protocols of their own that they wish to observe, and so, I recommend that the council convenes and observes what they wish us to understand, and that we treat this event with the utmost gravitas.

They have specifically requested the presence of the Head Consul. I would suggest that whoever is Head Consul presently is made aware. Also, I recommend that the ambassador-residents who are in Cotronna be invited to attend, as they stated that their message pertains to all cities despite this previous mention of the current Head Consul.

Whether this will make for a story of Chorossa’s confusion or I act the fool and must call upon the protection of Pelessa’s naivety, I do not know, but I sit at this desk to record messages, and so I do. I hope the first council member to arrive at the Hall tomorrow is wiser than I and finds the correct scrolls to consult. Has a raven from Orto been lost along the way? I am vaguely familiar with the decisions the council reached two seasons ago, and feel as though there is a gap through which words have been lost.

Under-Consul Kalastyn Quyl

“If you really want me to,” said Fluttershy. She clenched her eyes shut, her wings trembling as she edged forward towards the open air. Two more steps, and Fluttershy would fall.

“Don’t,” said Rainbow Dash. “Just don’t.”

No matter how many times the scene played out, she could never keep herself from trying to stop Fluttershy.

“I’ll do it,” Fluttershy whimpered. “Since you really think I have to.” The tall pegasus took another step, teetering at the very edge of the cloud. The crowd cheered. The cloud far, far below rumbled. One more step, and Fluttershy fell off the cloud. Her wings spread and closed one at a time, sending her tumbling down, spiralling towards the ground.

No matter how many times she had the same dream, Dash’s stomach lurched when Fluttershy fell. Last night she had just known she’d had this dream. This night, she watched it in full again.

“This is stupid,” Dash murmured. “I’ve stopped doing this. We even broke up. Why can’t I stop having this stupid dream?” She closed her eyes, but it did nothing. She could still see Fluttershy falling. Because she had told her to jump.

Rainbow Dash sat by the kitchen bench, spinning a wooden water bowl on the edge of a hoof. Two nights, and she was already sick of their rented house. There was nothing to do. Rarity had returned late last night and finished the dresses-that-weren’t-dresses or whatever, and the morning after crawled by.

Twice, while Rarity had been meticulously packing their stuff into her saddlebags or otherwise preoccupied, Fluttershy had tried to corner Rainbow Dash. Do you want to talk about it? She would ask.The last time, Dash hadn’t even said no. She had just ignored her, which was easy, and ignored the hurt look on her face, which was way, way harder.

Rainbow Dash didn’t want to talk. Rainbow Dash wanted to head outside and fly until her wings fell off, but she couldn’t even do that. They had given the consul their address, and they could receive word any moment now that it was showtime. Time to go back to the Grand Council Hall. The Great Council Hall. One of those. They waited to hear when they should go there so they could put on some weird costumes and amaze the peryton with fashion. That way, Rarity would be happy, at least, and Dash had to believe Fluttershy was happy, too, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. She was the one who had broken up with her. Once the ponies finished their mission to Perytonia, everypony else would have what they wanted.

Finally, a knock on the door.

Rarity perked up instantly. She had sat in silence for the past few minutes, staring at the jumble of items in her saddlebags, and now she was over at the door before Dash had so much as blinked. The door slid open to reveal a serious-looking brown doe. She inclined her head slightly at an angle while locking eyes with Rarity and levitated out a scroll from the ohron slung about her neck. Rarity seized it in her own magic and smiled, leaving a slightly frowny doe. Rarity probably hadn’t made the correct signs or whatever.

“Thank you, dear,” said Rarity, unrolling the scroll. “I don’t suppose we can trouble you to tell us what it says? I assume this is a summons from the Head Consul?”

The doe blinked. “No?” she said, clearly confused. “It is a summons to the Great Council Hall. It says, the Ponies of Equestria to give their announcement before the council at noon.”

“But—” Rarity stopped herself and took a fortifying breath. “The Head Consul will be there, will he not? We’re not being foisted onto some functionary, are we?”

Again the doe was a treatise on the many forms of confusion one could paint on the canvas of a single face. “I am only a messenger, but I can tell you yes, that the Head Consul is with the council. Why would he not be?” She shook her head and stared at the scroll Rarity held up. “The full council and all ambassadors in session, written, and now read.”

Rarity nodded and smiled. “Wonderful. I suppose we should begin moving right away then. Thank you. You say you are a messenger—is it common to tip messengers in Cotronna?”

“To tip a messenger,” the doe repeated. She looked past Rarity, as though she hoped to find someone else to talk to, but clearly she didn’t feel a lot better about her chances with Rainbow Dash or Fluttershy. “I do not understand—”

“Here,” said Rarity, levitating over a small ruby from the table, slipping it into the very puzzled doe’s ohron. The peryton staggered away shaking her head as if she’d just woken up from a dream. Rarity didn’t close the door, putting on her saddlebags instead. “Shall we?” she asked.

“Sure, let’s get this over with,” said Rainbow Dash, yawning, while Fluttershy simply nodded.

“I suppose that in Cotronna, the council takes the form of the court of the Head Consul,” said Rarity, locking the door behind them before they started down the street. Rainbow Dash vaguely remembered the path they had taken yesterday, but it was a lot busier now, owing only in part to the peryton walking double-file along the buildings again. A cart rushed by, pulled by peryton at a full gallop.

“Maybe,” said Fluttershy, nodding her assent. “But she also said ambassadors. Do you think they are like the friendship ambassador Ponyville sent to Hoofington?”

“Lilium?” Rarity chuckled. “She moved there to be with her boyfriend, as I recall, and Mayor Mare just decided to declare it a friendship exchange. I don’t see why someone like that would be at a royal function.”

“What else could ‘ambassador’ mean?” Fluttershy asked.

“Don’t we have a griffin ambassador in Canterlot?” Rainbow Dash said, idly staring at peryton who passed by going the other way, across the street. She vaguely remembered talking to some griffin the last time they all visited the castle.

“We do, but that’s a different kind of ambassador. The griffins kingdom is a different princ—well, a different… kingdom,” said Fluttershy. “They call their leader a ‘king’, but they have their own border and their own people. It’s a little strange to invite ambassadors from other places to a little meeting like this, isn’t it?”

Rarity sighed. “I couldn’t tell you why she said that then, darling. I honestly couldn’t. I don’t know why, and I’m certain that whoever they are, and whatever other nation they represent, they’re lovely people. Now, let’s try not to be late.”

Fluttershy nodded and splayed her ears, and Rainbow Dash decided not to point out that they couldn’t really move faster than the slow walk of the crowd anyway. They took a right, a left, paused for a cart to pass, then passed through the café-lined ring that circled the park. Here, peryton moved freely instead of double-file, but there were a lot less peryton about today. Most of them passed through one way or another, and Dash soon saw where they were coming from—or going to.

The inner circle, with its ring of large and impressive buildings, was full of noise and people. The rows of benches that had yesterday been empty were now completely full. Peryton walked around and between the giant stele-circle, and each and every one of the buildings were in use. Peryton were lined up outside the Hall of Scrolls and all the other places that were probably also called the “Hall” of something or other. The Great Council Hall in particular was busy, a dozen large doors all wide agape and people bustling to and fro.

“Oh dear,” Fluttershy muttered. She fell behind for a tiny moment as though a great wind pushed her back, but hurried to catch up lest she be left behind, her tail-tuft drooping. “That’s a lot of people. Do you think they are here to see us? That can’t be right.”

“If they were here to see us, why would they be leaving before we got there?” Dash said. She pointed ahead. “There’s just as many peryton leaving the tiny palace thingy as there are people heading towards it.”

“That’s true,” said Fluttershy, letting out a sigh of relief. She stepped aside as a particularly large group of peryton walked past going in the opposite direction. “I guess that’s… well. No, there’s still a lot of people there.”

“Yep,” said Dash. Far ahead and above, a peryton sailed down from a spire atop the Hall of Scrolls to land by one of the many doors to the Council Hall. Dash nodded appreciatively and gave a private little cheer for the first peryton she had ever seen flying in Cotronna. The only other creature in the sky was a lone raven heading for the same tall spire.

With every step towards their goal, Fluttershy seemed to shrink, sinking down until it wasn’t a pony who walked at the other side of Rainbow Dash, but one of the Ephydoeran wardens in their stalking gait. By the time they approached the main doors of the Great Council Hall, Fluttershy’s head was lower than her tail, her eyes darting about, and once inside, matters didn’t improve.

What had been a empty hall populated by ghosts yesterday was now full of life and activity—but not chaos. All of the desks were now in use, each with a monocled stag or doe attending a small line of peryton. Along the sides of the room, peryton chatted by the scroll racks and desks, and the great wings of the buildings with the scroll-laden stele were full of people reading the messages affixed to the rocks, coming and going through the many doors lining the airy hallways in relative order.

“And there you are,” said a thin voice right next to the door they had entered. A stag bowed low with his eyes on their hooves, lifting his wings slightly in a greeting Dash hadn’t seen before. “I am small-consul Madarast Quosh, and it is fortunate that my gambit has paid off.”

“Your… gambit?” Dash asked. “What the hay is that?”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Quosh,” said Rarity, smiling at him. “My name is Rarity. You know of us?”

“I do,” he said with a brief nod, rising up again. He walked towards the wall opposite of where they had entered, motioning for them to follow. “My gambit was that you would stand out in a crowd enough for me to notice you and lead you past the lines, that is all. It would not do to make you to wait, especially when it is the council’s error sending your message so late. We should have given you more warning.”

“It’s hardly a problem,” said Rarity, shaking her head. “We were waiting anyway, and I’m impressed you could arrange for a meeting with the Head Consul on such short notice. Is… is this it?” she asked, staring ahead.

Madarast had led the group between the desks that separated the two halves of the room, and the large, bench-filled chamber Dash remembered from yesterday was now chock full of peryton. There was no door to close, so they had a clear view of long rows of benches, a row of tables, and behind the tables, even more benches. Peryton sat at every level of a tiered chamber, with the lowest part being a narrow space in the middle. It looked more like a lecture hall than an audience chamber, but Dash couldn’t see all of it from where she stood. Whatever they were talking about, the sound was lost in the chatter of the outer hall.

“Yes. We are just now done with the previous discussion,” said the stag, nodding. “This way.”

“Actually, may we have a moment?” asked Rarity, smiling sweetly. “We need a little time to prepare.”

“Of course, time is the smallest of elements,” said Madarast, not even breaking his stride. “You may enter when you are ready. I will tell the council you have arrived.” He disappeared through the archway, and Dash just barely heard his voice trailing off. “The ponies of Equestria have arrived, they should be with us—”

“Alright then,” said Rarity, taking a deep breath. She looked around and sighed. “I must admit, I had expected an antechamber, if not a changing room, but I have worked under worse conditions.”

Dash saw her point. Though they were behind the row of desks occupied by clerks of some kind, they were still in plain view. The occasional peryton walked past them, wandering from one wing of scroll-bearing stele to the other with curious glances at the ponies or the council inside the room. One paused for a moment, then turned and entered the large chamber as though she did so on a whim, turning left along the wall and disappearing out of sight.

“I don’t think I can do it,” said Fluttershy.

Rainbow Dash didn’t say anything at first. She had seen it coming a mile away. A huge audience and a lot of pressure, not a single peryton they knew well, a new situation and so many unknowns. Of course Fluttershy would think she couldn’t do it.

“There are so many peryton in there, and all their eyes are gonna be on us, and they’re waiting for us. That’s the worst part,” Fluttershy added, sighing.

Rarity levitated out all the parts of their costumes. Fluttershy looked to Rainbow Dash as though she expected her to say something. Dash shook her wings out and folded them again as Rarity helped her into her dress, the weird Cotronnan jewellery now affixed to the top like a pattern, and with a heap of symbols Dash vaguely remembered from the flank shavings in Ephydoera sewn into its side.

“Then don’t do it,” said Rainbow Dash, simply. “It’s probably fine with just one of us.”

“It most certainly isn’t fine,” said Rarity, frowning. “It would ruin the symmetry. I’d like for one of you to walk at each of my sides. They’re also expecting all three of us, and it presents a very poor image to betray expectations.”

Fluttershy sighed, fidgeting with her hooves. “Okay, I understand it’s important, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.”

“We’re all going in together, surely that helps,” Rarity said without looking at her, leaning in close and squinting to secure the straps on Rainbow Dash’s antlers. Dash moved her head from side to side. She had forgotten how weird it felt to nod or shake her head with the antlers on. Unsurprisingly, they were getting weird looks from passers-by now.

“I don’t know if it will help,” Fluttershy said, swallowing. “I could try. Maybe. Or, I could try to do my best—I am, of course I am!”

Part of Dash’s brain insisted that was her cue. She wanted to shout that of course you can. That’s a room full of peryton who don’t even know you. They don’t know what you can do, and you can walk in there and let them stare and whatever, because you’re Fluttershy, and you’re amazing, come on, grab my wing and let’s go.

Rarity fixed the jewellery in Dash’s antlers, making sure it lay right, and finally, she gave Dash the blank Vauhornite mask. She didn’t put it on right away, since the mask made it really hard to see—and speaking of seeing, Fluttershy stared straight at her, a pegasus the very picture of hesitance. Fluttershy stood stuck between doing and fleeing. Rainbow Dash looked past her, taking a very keen and extremely feigned interest in a peryton clerk who stared at them, neglecting his work. What are you looking at?

She still saw Fluttershy, even if she didn’t look straight at her. She caught the look of betrayal on her face, even if she didn’t understand it, Fluttershy slumping as she turned her side to Dash, her head hanging low. What had Fluttershy expected? That now that they were just friends, Rainbow Dash would go right back to acting like an idiot? Was that why she was sad? Did she feel like she was being thrust into this by Rainbow Dash? Was this just like the bonfire in Vauhorn where she felt pressured into performing just because Rainbow Dash was around?

Rainbow Dash didn’t even want to think about it anymore, but she couldn’t shake the way Fluttershy deflated, either.

“We really haven’t the time for debate, Fluttershy, I am very sorry,” said Rarity, sighing as she broke the silence. “If you can’t do this, you can’t do this, but you’re still standing here, so I’m going to help you into the dress and assume you’ll be okay. You can cower or run away if you wish, but we simply haven’t the time. The show must go on, after all.”

Fluttershy said nothing. Rainbow Dash put on the mask, wishing she had another mask for her ears. Maybe a third one for her brain. With the blank face-mask on, she could really only see forward and up. She heard the sound of straps, the rustle of fabric and the tinkle of jewellery, and finally, Rarity drawing breath, releasing it very slowly.

“There. I’ll leave the saddlebags here. They’re an eyesore after all the damage they’ve received, I’ll just bring the sigil,” Rarity said. “As long as I remember the things we were supposed to say, I think that’s all. Are you girls ready?”

“Sure,” said Dash, the only one of the pegasi to reply.

“Then let us make our grand entrance and dazzle these peryton,” Rarity announced, chipper in an instant. “Come along, now.”

Rainbow Dash followed. She had to point her snout almost down to the ground to be able to see even the tips of Rarity’s ears. She didn’t know how Fluttershy managed. Forward, right, and ahead. She passed under a stone arch, and into a chamber with a slightly lower ceiling. Someone had engraved a simple repeating pattern near where the walls met the ceiling. Tiny hoops that barely touched, like but also unlike a chain.

“A little bit more to the right, Rainbow,” Rarity whispered. Rainbow Dash took a step to the right and carried on.

“The pony delegates from Equestria! Fluttershy, Rainbow Dance and Rarity!” a barely-familiar voice said. It sounded a lot like the stag they had just spoken to—Madarast, was it?—but he wasn’t much of a herald. The names were thrown into the air casually, and the easy chatter in the room died down slowly, settling on a low murmur. Dash decided to ignore the part where they got her name wrong.

“Thank you, thank you so much,” said Rarity, raising her voice to fill the growing silence. She walked them further ahead, and Dash nearly tripped at the sudden step down. Another step down followed soon after. They had to be in the center of the room now. Through the eyeholes of the ill-fitting mask, she could just barely see the top row of peryton many steps above them. Someone nearby murmured something about protocols.

“I have the absolute pleasure of bringing word from Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, the royal sisters of Canterlot Castle in Equestria,” said Rarity, and Dash could hear how much she enjoyed this moment, her excitement plain in her voice. “We have come to deliver an invitation to a summit, a peaceful meeting to discuss potential treaties between Equestria and the other peoples of the world.”

Rainbow Dash couldn’t see any throne on the top row. She turned her head left and right just the tiniest bit, running her eyes along the crowds of stags and does, and only two stood out among the rows of unadorned peryton. One wore elaborate antler-jewellery, another was painted forest green and sky blue. A warden and a Stagrumite? They stood in a small group of four behind the furthest benches. Were the other two from Vauhorn and Orto, then? What were they doing here?

The room had gone almost completely silent now. Dash could have heard a pin fall in between the occasional whispers. Instead, she heard Fluttershy’s rapid breath behind her mask.

“Now—” Rarity hesitated. “May I ask, is the Head Consul not here?”

“I am here,” said a voice to Dash’s left. She turned her head. A tall and lanky grey-white doe like any other rose on the top row.

“Oh. I had expected—well, then,” said Rarity. “It is an honour to meet you, your highness.” She passed in front of Rainbow Dash, her ear-tips and short-cut mane disappearing for a second—to bow, perhaps.

“Well. This is a little… awkward,” Rarity continued, her voice receding to Dash’s left. “This room wasn’t very well designed with logistics in mind, if you don’t mind me saying. Excuse me. Coming through—there, yes, thank you. And, here! From the hooves of the royal sisters, please accept this sigil. I understand that the location and the time of the meeting I mentioned are both magically inscribed upon the sigil, and it should be understandable to all. If you can’t read—”

“Are we to stay silent until Helesseia’s light fades upon this hall?” one voice asked, far behind Rainbow Dash. “I raise an objection at this.”

“I beg your pardon?” Rarity asked, indignant.

“No, Alaisyn, you are correct. This is ill advised,” said the Head Consul. Her antlers glowed briefly, but Dash couldn’t see what happened below her. “Here.”

“You’re giving it back? I… don’t understand why? Perhaps I wasn’t clear: Attendance isn’t mandatory, and the sigil is a gift. If you don’t wish to attend, we’ll tell—”

“And what of their adornments?” said a new voice. “What is this?”

“You recognise—” began another.

“I do! That is why I ask!”

“What, these?” asked Rarity, her smile evident in her tone. “Why, I am glad you asked! I’ve put together a… I suppose dress isn’t the right word, believe me, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and that word means nothing to you now, does it? Consider it a showcase, a display! I’ve gathered elements from each of your cities to show you how beautiful they can be when they come together in harmony.”

“How are we to understand this—” began yet another unfamiliar voice, and many other like it, angry voices growing in number and volume. The few peryton Dash could see pointed and talked over each other, none louder than the group of peryton from the other cities. Three of them pointed at the ponies and shouted, while the warden remained grim and silent. Rainbow Dash couldn’t see Rarity anymore, but she knew Fluttershy was close. She felt a flank touch against hers.

“Silence! Silence!” the Head Consul roared. “You will shed these thoughts and we will approach this matter anew! Silence! Khystos, you—above all, in the name of every story ever told of Aspects found and forgotten—will be quiet!

“I will not be quiet while you are singled out thus!” snapped the bejewelled Stagrumite on the top row. “This is—”

“An outrage! Yes, ambassador, and Cotronna, as hosts, will respond to this outrage,” the Head Consul shot back. When she continued, it was in a normal speaking voice, but all other noise in the room had ended. “And if you are not satisfied with the results, you will petition, and I will step away, rest assured.”

“Your highness,” said Rarity. “I do not understand—”

“I am not a highness,” came the reply like the crack of a whip. “I am the same height as all my kin. Mine is the position of Head Consul for this week, and this means that my vote breaks a tie, that my voice is the gavel to bring order to the council hall, nothing less, but nothing more! It is for you to listen.”

Rarity scoffed. “If you do not enjoy the dresses, or if I’ve caused offense, then I can explain—”

“No,” the consul hissed, cutting Rarity off. “You will not explain, you will listen. When you present Cotronna with this sigil-invitation, your expectation that we should accept it says that you believe Cotronna’s star shines brightest in its sky. You say that ours is a story that can be told in a single voice. This offends us.”

On the top row, the Stagrumite closed his eyes and nodded slowly. The painted warden was as impassive as ever, and for a moment, Dash could swear that their eyes met Dash’s through the tiny eye-holes in her mask.

“That is your chief offense before the sight of all cities. That is what you have done, and these… adornments you have put together in such a way were strange to me when you entered, strange and unseemly with the wounded khalraar upon your kin’s backs, blank masks mixed with meaning-laden symbols and whatever else all this is, but now that you tell me what this means—Esorys’ flames, it burns my eyes to see already, and then you suggest that the cities are ours? That our sister-cities are chained and belong to us?”

Rainbow Dash didn’t really have the time or the spare attention to process all the words, but she felt Fluttershy press closer to her, and this time Dash shook a wing free from the dress to lay it against Fluttershy. When the shouting picked up again this time, the Head Consul did nothing to stop it. Her voice was just one among many, but still distinct.

“You have three days to leave Cotronna,” the Head Consul declared, pointing a hoof at Rainbow Dash and her friends. “Letters will be sent to every city declaring that you are not welcome for eight seasons, until this passes into story, and story becomes lesson!”

Dash felt a lump of ice form in her belly. She pushed the mask off her head and came face to face with an ashen Rarity who stared at her in abject disbelief. Fluttershy still had her mask on.

“Odryssa! You will aid in drafting another letter to Orto! I see accord from the ambassadors, but we will discuss this matter further immediately, then recess for a meal,” Dash heard, but the words of the peryton rapidly merged and became one single buzz to her ears. Madarast—or some other peryton, Dash wasn’t really paying attention—walked up to their side and pointed to the huge archway out, as though it wasn’t obvious.

Three days. Three nights. Or was that three days and two nights? Whatever. Rainbow Dash didn’t really think that the specifics mattered too much. She didn’t want to be in this stupid city any longer than she absolutely had to, anyway, so on that, she and the Head Consul were agreed.

Tonight, she would tell Princess Luna that they were done and wanted to go home. She would wait here in Cotronna, or outside the city if it took more than three days. She would get on the airship, and she would wait for that airship to take her to wherever they were getting off it—Las Pegasus again, maybe—and then, then she would fly back to Ponyville. After all this walking and flying, Las Pegasus to Ponyville couldn’t be more than a short jaunt in comparison, and she could use the time to herself. Yes. She would fly back to Ponyville, and then go home.

And then?

And then Rainbow Dash didn’t know what. Lock herself in her bedroom and bawl her eyes out when nobody could see, probably.

She could forget about the stupid peryton, about Perytonia and everything about it. That part bothered her, sure. Mucking up a royal mission? Ruining a super-important special task given them by the Princesses themselves? She would never live that down, and the whole matter left a sour taste in her mouth, but she could live with that.

No, the thing that made Rainbow Dash want to curl up under her blanket and never come back out was the look on Fluttershy’s face when she had taken off the face mask. Rainbow Dash already struggled with the sad looks Fluttershy gave her ever since they broke up, a weight atop the knowledge of all the times she herself had made Fluttershy sad or worried by being Rainbow Dash, but after they left the Great Council Hall, Fluttershy had looked betrayed and defeated. Her oldest friend, her earlier girlfriend, had looked as though somepony had turned off all the lights in her world, and Rainbow Dash didn’t think it had anything to do with them being banished. It was the same expression she had before she put the mask on. Before they entered the hall and were told to leave.

While Rainbow Dash lay on her back in one of the beds, staring at the ceiling, Rarity still paced downstairs, sharing thoughts and ideas with herself, talking out loud. Why did they not give me a chance to explain? What did she mean Head Consul for the week? Where did it all go wrong?

Rainbow Dash didn’t know where it all went wrong, either, and she really wanted to know. With Perytonia, too, sure, but mostly she wanted to know where had it all gone wrong with Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. How had they come to this? Fluttershy lay on the bed on the opposite side of the room. She lay on her side, facing away from Rainbow Dash.

Maybe the mystery right now was how things had ever not been wrong. To Rainbow Dash, it felt like she had spent the past few months discovering more and more problems between them, more irreconcilable differences, like she had been flying fine until she decided to look over her shoulder and realised she wasn’t a pegasus pony after all. Was the whole girlfriend thing a terrible idea altogether? It couldn’t be.

“If they didn’t want me to bring fashion,” Rarity wailed downstairs. “They wouldn’t have sent me!”

Whatever. Rainbow Dash had a plan. A plan to get to her own bedroom and sleep for a thousand years.

Her stomach rumbled.

Rainbow Dash had two plans. A plan to get out of this stuffy, gloomy house and find some food to make sure they all ate. Then she would get to her bedroom and sleep for a thousand years before she figured out what had gone wrong. Rainbow Dash slipped off the bed and made for the stairs.

“Gonna go get us some food,” she said. Fluttershy didn’t reply, but her head moved slightly with a nod. Now it was Fluttershy who wouldn’t even look at Rainbow Dash. Dash swallowed and trudged on, sailing down the stairs. Rarity half sat by, and half lay draped over the larger table. She looked up at Dash with a desperate, red-eyed smile.

“Darling! You’re up! Wonderful—I’ve been thinking, perhaps we could go back to the Great Council Hall, all together—”

“Not gonna happen, Rarity,” Dash said, snorting. She grabbed an ohron and filled it with a few gems, and, as an afterthought, their two remaining bronze slivers, just in case some baker decided to throw a fit over gemstones or something.

“We have to try something to clear up this misunderstanding!” Rarity said, wiping her eyes with a foreleg.

“We really, really don’t,” said Dash, slipping the ohron about her neck. “They’ve said we have to leave the city, Rarity. Wake up. I’m gonna go get us something to eat—if anyone even wants to talk to us any more.”

Rarity’s lower lip quivered ominously, but she just planted her face onto the table and moaned. “This is the worst possible thing! I don’t understand—”

“I don’t understand either,” Dash snapped. “I don’t understand why the Princesses didn’t come here themselves instead, I don’t understand what Princess Luna meant when she said they didn’t want to come here again, I don’t understand why we listened to Khaird, and I don’t understand why we couldn’t just have waited in Orto for a month or even an entire year if it meant we could take a boat straight here and save ourselves the trouble if they were just gonna throw us out anyway!”

Dash closed her eyes and tried to steady her breath, keenly aware she’d been shouting towards the end, but Rarity hardly seemed fazed at all. Dash reached up to tousle her own mane to make it lie right and sighed.

“Like I was saying, I’m getting some more bread or something. Pear and grape phela okay with you?” Dash asked.

“Pear and grape sounds good,” Rarity muttered, her tone nasal with her muzzle against the stone table.

Either word hadn’t spread yet, or the peryton at the market didn’t care. Rainbow Dash had a paper-wrapped bundle of sweet-smelling bread and the profuse thanks of a bread merchant who she had probably overpaid ten times over. Good enough. Dash spread her wings and took to the air, rising slowly to keep the bundle from falling off her back. She didn’t feel like going back right away. Stepping out the door and onto the market didn’t do anything to clear her head. With no reason not to do so, she flew.

Two seconds, and the curved roofs and cupolas of Cotronna levelled out all around her. Ten seconds, and the ocean to the north came into view, the docks still hidden behind the buildings. Thirty seconds, and she could see the inner circle at the very center of Cotronna, the grey-white filling to the green donut of the park that ringed it.

A very large donut, really. She wasn’t that high up, still easily able to spot the peryton below, but there was something to be said for being above your problems rather than among them. In the company of clouds. Rainbow Dash touched down on a large, drifting cumulus, a lagging tuft torn free from a cloud-bank that sailed along the coast going west.

“Mind if I tag along?” Dash asked, touching down. She adjusted the package on her back. “Didn’t think so.”

She had half a mind to fly up higher still, but she knew that if she pushed it any further, someone in the city below would receive a grape and pear-filled surprise at very unsafe velocity. You only dropped baked goods onto people’s heads from high altitudes once in your life. The stallion had recovered anyway. Eventually.

She looked east, squinting. The sun-baked coast with its beaches and plains stretched on forever. How high would she need to fly to be able to see Vauhorn? Would she ever, or was it so far she’d never see? She wished she could ask Fluttershy. They hadn’t walked the full road from Vauhorn to Cotronna, so Dash didn’t have a good feel for it, and Fluttershy was the better judge of that kind of stuff. She wondered what Neisos would say if he knew how they had messed up. She wondered how their landlady in Stagrum felt about them encouraging her daughter to travel. Was Phoreni still mad at them? What had happened in the mountains after they left? Had they done anything right?

Rainbow Dash spread her wings and sailed off the cloud. She would be happy never to see any of these plains, shores, forests and mountains ever again. Everything reminded her of—well, of everything else, of course. Enough thinking. She landed in the middle of the street and quickly joined one of the lines going... west, said her snout. West was probably not the way back home. She had flown for all of a minute, and she was already a little bit lost, but that was fine. She was in no rush.

Rainbow Dash must have followed the peryton for a long while. One hoof followed the next, chasing the peryton in front of her at a slow walk. When the road split, she took a right, and then a right again—until she rounded the block once and reconsidered her methods, tossing in the occasional left and straight-aheads, too. The sun continued its merry journey, and Rainbow Dash her own. As long as she just kept walking, all she had to think about was the buildings and the peryton who lived here.

Her annoyance slowly drained away, drop by bitter drop. She couldn’t be angry or even upset with an entire city all at once. She passed an area with some really tall buildings, some towering as many as five stories tall. Wagons ran thick in the streets, and two blocks further on, the buildings no longer bore signs to futilely try to explain their function to a pony who couldn’t read them.

No wagons here. Peryton milled about chatting, smiling, gesturing, bowing and laughing their particular cawing and trilling laughs. Rainbow Dash passed an open-faced building where stags and does gathered around an large oven of some kind, making food together. Whatever they were making, it smelled good enough to stop Dash in her tracks. She turned around a few steps further down the road, outside another building lacking a front wall, wondering if she should head back and ask if she could have a taste.

“—had planted a seed, and these were Helesseia’s words: ‘Her fall will not be for nothing, and where she fell, you will find a home if you are brave enough to seek it out. This is my promise’,” said a melodic voice. “With the seed planted, she again joined with the sun.”

“What did the council say then?” asked another, high pitched voice.

“The council said no things at all. This was before there was a council. Before there was a Cotronna, and before there was a Perytonia as you know it, little claw,” the other voice responded.

The building Dash had stopped in front of was no eatery or café like its neighbour. A single ageing doe sat on a mound of pillows in a room empty save for carpets, pillows, a small stove in a corner, and a staircase near the back. Around the speaker—who was clearly a storyteller of some kind—sat a crowd of young peryton. The smallest were smaller than pony foals who had barely found their legs, and the oldest ones were a little larger than Rainbow Dash.

Dash glanced left, then right. The streets were nearly empty. She shrugged and stepped right inside the open-faced building, sitting down at the back of the little gathering.

“The First Stories are important for the simple truth of the events as they happened,” the old doe said. “Events that we tell to remember. That is all. Truths to be remembered, agreement of the events. That is my task as claw-priest. To tell you. To teach you. Tomorrow, we will speak of the Ousting, another one of the First Stories. It is a short one, but I wish for you to listen well then, too.”

“So there is nothing to learn from them?” asked one of the younger stags of the group.

“That is a keen question, little claw,” the doe said, nodding slowly. It looked like the sway of her large antlers moved her head rather than the other way around. “We learn from them by remembering them, unlike every other story spoken. As you well know, every other story spoken is important not for the truth of the event, but for the lesson to be learned, and the multiplicity of those lessons. The malleability.” She grinned. “Perhaps to the youngest of you, this is not known. Some of you have claws too small to grasp this today, and some of you barely hear my words—and I see your eyelids droop, Galrynna! I understand when I have spoken too much. Go!”

Rainbow Dash stood when all the other peryton did, a little disappointed that she had just arrived at the end of… of whatever that was. If that was the very end of one of the peryton’s First Stories, she had to admit she expected more. The audience, the class, or whatever else they had been, all dipped their heads to the old doe and turned to leave in small groups, some of them gasping in surprise when they found a strange blue pegasus standing at the edge of the room. Some turned their heads to look, walking into others, and some stopped to stare openly, but eventually, all the peryton left. Dash turned to leave as well.

“And some have no claws at all,” said the doe, her soothing voice arresting Dash’s movement.

“What?” asked Dash, frowning over her shoulder. The doe hadn’t moved, still sat in the middle of the carpeted room. Though her voice was soft and her tone almost breezy, she stared directly at Rainbow Dash. There wasn’t much else to stare at.

“I explained to the flock that some truths may be too large for little talons to grasp onto, and now, unless my eyesight fails me, one stands before me who has no talons at all,” said the doe, smiling toothily.

Rainbow Dash scratched her head. “Uh. Okay. You used some kind of… metaphor? Is that a joke? I have no idea what you’re saying.”

The doe nodded slowly, languidly. “It is a metaphor and a joke. A very funny one, should you ask me, and you should. But perhaps it is truth, too. You are a stranger who wanders into a telling of the First Stories, stories that all kin of age know, but you do not look a child to me.” Her eyes bored into Dash. “Talons or no, clearly you struggle with understanding stories yourself.”

“What are you, some kind of mind reader or something?” asked Dash. She spread her wings and settled them anew on her back, squinting at the doe’s dark eyes.

The peryton doe smiled wider, looking like she laughed except no sound came out. “I can not read what goes on inside your head, but I can read a face, even one as strange as yours. If my meaning is not plain: you look distressed.”

Dash’s snout was well and truly frumpled. Maybe it was true, and she had walked around with her frustrations on display. Even if there was nothing freaky going on with this peryton, it was still annoying to be called out.

What really kept Dash from leaving was how simple it was to talk to this doe. No stupid introduction stuff like with all the other Cotronnans, no long story about the Aspects, no quarreling about not using yes and no or anything else—and not a water bowl in sight.

“You’re not like the other peryton,” said Dash. The words came out sounding almost like an accusation. “You don’t sound like them.”

Now, the old doe did laugh, shaking while she let off a low warbling sound. “Tell a claw-priest she is not like her kin? You are strange, or you would know that is perhaps the cruelest thing one can say. You wound me.”

Dash lay her ears flat. “Okay, whoa, I didn’t mean it like that, you just sound different from the peryton here in Cotronna. When I open my mouth there’s like… a fifty percent chance I end up arguing with them. Or the ones in Vauhorn. Or most of the other places. Where are you from?”

“Vauhorn,” said the doe, shifting her seating a little bit. “But I am a claw-priest, and so I must travel to bring the stories to all. I have visited all cities and met all kin. And you have mounted no answer to my metaphor, my joke. Or, as you seem to like your words plain: you offer no answer to my question of your distress. Maybe I misread you, and you have no troubles—you may leave if you wish. You are not kin and do not need to honour me and the stories I carry.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t have a reply right away. She tapped a hoof on the soft, carpeted floor. She wasn’t about to lay her problems at the hooves of a complete stranger, but there was no harm in sticking around either. She was just an old peryton doe in a random house in a different part of town.

“Of course,” the doe added, “it takes very little knowledge of the most-told stories to be curious about your appearance, so perhaps I wish you would stay and explain why you carry the wings of the Ever Soaring.”

“What, these?” Dash asked, glancing back at her own green-painted wings. She didn’t look upset about it, so Dash decided not to be, either. “Heh, yeah, well, we’ve travelled Perytonia a bit ourselves,” she said with a half-smile. “Name’s Rainbow Dash.”

“And I am Ealesta,” said the doe, inclining her head.

Dash took a few steps closer and took a seat on the pillows of the front row where some of the peryton children had sat earlier. “That was one of the First Stories? The one you told about Celestia, or Helesseia, whatever. You said something about Helesseia planting a seed and then going back to the sun?”

“You are still evasive,” said Ealesta. “You speak of me and my words, not yours.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged.

“Very well,” the doe said. “I do not know that the First Stories would be of use to you, and it is bad luck to paraphrase them—but since you are not kin, and I can not be responsible for your schooling, I do not see the harm in saying that yes, you are correct. That is one of the First Stories. They speak of the simple lessons, such as when Helesseia banished the heron, from which spring the stories that teach us to do the same. Such as when Selyria planted the first harvest, and kin learned to better grow the plains.”

Rainbow Dash’s brows rose of their own accord. “That’s it? We’ve heard about the First Stories, but you’re telling me they’re just basic history? I thought they were like super stories.”

Ealesta tilted her head and peered at Dash from an angle, not frowning, not exactly, but when she spoke, her words were careful and precise. “They are history, yes. They tell us one set of things. Other stories teach us other things. They are neither less nor more important than the stories that spring from Vauhorn’s Alluvium, or from every kin, every city, circle and community.”

“Right,” said Dash with a snort. “That’s what you meant with all the ‘multiplication’ stuff and the grasping with talons. You have lots and lots of stories, we’ve heard that. I get it.”

The doe shook her head slightly. “If by ‘get’ you mean ‘understand’, I do not think you do. The multiplicity I spoke of is not the multitude of the stories. It is the multitude of understandings. From one single story springs many lessons. One event can be understood in many ways.”

“Yep, you lost me,” said Dash, shaking her head. She didn’t know she had signed up for a lesson in… whatever this was. She should probably just go.

“We agree that the story of Vestrus meeting Ryshalos upon the rainy shore is a story of joy. It is called upon to evoke this joy. However,” said the doe, raising a hoof, “we do not necessarily agree upon the details of the joy. And that is just a gentle example. A parent calls upon Eakus to coax a child to eat her food, and the clever child may find in the same stories the opposite message, that Eakus shows it is graceless to eat one’s food. One event can make many stories. Many truths. And we uncover hidden meanings as we use them.”

“Yeah, okay, I understand that bit, at least,” Dash murmured. Her thoughts had already been drifting under the torrent of words. “Heh. I had a few ‘stories’ I thought I remembered right, but I was wrong. The more I think about those, the worse I feel about them.”

Rainbow Dash trying to coax Fluttershy into joining the Hurricane effort. The week leading up to the Summer Sun Celebration before Nightmare Moon returned, Applejack rightfully yelling at her for bullying Fluttershy. Pretty much every instance where she had recently realised she had been an ass to Fluttershy.

“Perhaps your memories work differently from ours,” said Ealesta, her eyes fixed on Dash’s own. “And personal memory is not the same as stories, but they are the same in this: neither should be contemplated alone. In doing so, you fight yourself.”

“I’ve done a lot of fighting in Perytonia, actually,” said Dash with a weak chuckle. “You should’ve seen the hydra.”

The doe frowned. “I do not think your humor is as good as mine. No, what I mean is that a single mind cannot take infinite lessons from a single event. That is why stories involve the Aspects. Because wisdom comes from dialogue, not from a lonely room empty of people. Echoes of your own words are not wisdom.”

“Cool,” said Dash, sighing. She clambered up on all four hooves and shook her wings out. “Thanks for the chat.”

“I do not think it was very much of a ‘chat’,” said the doe with a look of bemusement. “I do not think you listen.”

“Sure I did,” Dash replied with a great snort. “I just don’t think it helps. Sometimes you discover you did something you shouldn’t have, and you don’t need a committee of people, or Aspects to tell you that you’ve done something wrong.”

Dash heard a touch of rancour in her own voice, but the doe remained unfazed as ever. “Perhaps,” she said, nodding. “But if you are trying to discover ‘truth’ about your own wicked deeds by retelling your own story until you find your own wickedness, you can only go astray.”

Rainbow Dash shook her head. This was starting to get uncomfortably close to a counselling session, and the doe’s eyes were intense. She turned to leave. “Yeah, well—I don’t know about that. Maybe the way ponies and peryton think is way different, but look who’s talking,” she said. “You said you’re from Vauhorn?”

“That is where I took my first steps,” Ealesta confirmed with a nod.

“Yeah? So don’t you think the whole craziness with the water and the bowing and everything they do here in Cotronna is strange?” Dash asked.

“It is,” said Ealesta. “I have had to learn their customs during my visit now, and still we struggle to understand each other sometimes.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. There it was. Finally she met a peryton in a city where they didn’t belong, finally she had proof that they didn’t even understand each other.

“Exactly!” said Dash. “Jeez, even you peryton are so different from each other, you’re so far apart you don’t even understand each other!” Just like Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. Worlds apart.

“Yes, we are,” said Ealesta. “We are very different.” She smiled wide and nodded her head, her voice finding no issue at all.

Rainbow Dash found her way back to the house right before dark. A half-remembered address, a good look at the city from up high, and some high quality guesswork all combined with a lot of flying around until she found three houses in a row, all painted a dull red in the understated colours that graced some of the buildings in the southeastern part of town.

Dash touched down and put a hoof to the door, but it just slid along the wood. She frowned and lifted a leg to inspect a forehoof. Fluttershy had been right. Opening these doors with hooves covered in street dust was a pain. She would have to knock. Dash raised her foreleg again, but paused when she realised she picked up voices from inside.

“—know how sensitive she can be!” Fluttershy yelled, loud enough to be heard through the door. If there was a reply, Dash didn’t catch it, and the next thing she heard was a set of hoofsteps, louder and louder, then some more muffled words punctuated by “—not a doormat!”

The door slid open in one quick, smooth motion. Rainbow Dash barely caught a glimpse of Fluttershy as the yellow pegasus galloped past her down the stairs, spread her wings, and soared away. In the space of a long blink, she flew up into the sky, and then disappeared amongst the buildings the next block over. Rainbow Dash ran a hoof along her mane and sighed, stepping inside.

“Hey,” said Dash, waving at Rarity. The unicorn sat by the small table, quiet and unmoving, staring at the wall. Dash let the paper-wrapped bread slide off her back and onto the other table.

Rarity turned her head slowly, gave her a long look, and then went back to her staring. Now Dash felt a touch of worry. She expected Rarity to cry, whine, and generally raise a fuss for a while before she… before she did whatever Rarity did after she was done wallowing.

“I got us some food,” said Dash, hoping that would get a reaction. “And what the hay was that about? Where’s Fluttershy going?”

“Now that Fluttershy is quite finished accusing me of everything that has gone wrong since Equestria’s founding,” said Rarity in an awkward, indignant croak. She reached up to rub at her eyes. “I believe Fluttershy is going for a walk.”

“Fluttershy?” Dash asked, arching a brow. “Accusing you?”

Rarity sighed and rested her muzzle on the table. “I don’t blame the poor dear, and she’s likely right. I do not think I could have failed more spectacularly in just about every endeavour since we arrived here, Rainbow.”

“Yeah, well, join the club,” Dash grumbled, rolling her eyes. She nosed the paper package open, revealing the slightly squished and now very cold phela, deciding that despite what her aching stomach suggested, she wasn’t very hungry. She couldn’t eat, anyway.

“Specifically, and mostly,” Rarity continued, poking at one of the costumes spread out over the small table, “she accused me of instigating a change in you, and insisted that she was not weak or brittle, as though I had ever said anything else.”

Rainbow Dash moved over to sit opposite of Rarity, the slightly too tall table awkward between them. “Heh. All the stuff I’ve messed up isn’t your fault. And yeah, duh she’s not weak.”

“Of course she is not,” said Rarity with a faint smile. “But I do recognise that while I know that, I also sometimes forget it. I suspect most ponies tend to underestimate Fluttershy no matter how long they have known her. Most ponies except you.”

Also true, so Dash didn’t have a reply for that. Rainbow Dash shrugged and spread one of her wings, reaching around to inspect her discoloured primaries. She had almost forgotten that her wings weren’t supposed to be green until the claw-priest had pointed it out. Rarity, meanwhile, filled a bowl of water and took a small sip. The unicorn stole a glance at the untouched food, clearly no more interested in it than Rainbow Dash was.

“Fluttershy was really worried about the costumes you were making,” Dash said, shaking her head. “I thought they were really weird too. I had a bad feeling, but I told her we should just shut up and see. I shouldn’t have. I should have told you.”

“Darling, I felt nauseous looking at these atrocities,” said Rarity, letting out a full-bodied snort as she picked at the cloth of the dress. “Even if I still couldn’t tell you exactly why, I knew I had made something awful, but I doubt any words could have changed my mind. It doesn’t matter now, but at the moment… I suppose I was desperate for some success.”

Rainbow Dash smiled a humorless smile. “Right. That’s why I didn’t stop you. I had already messed up so bad with Fluttershy, or Fluttershy had messed up with me—I still can’t tell, I don’t know, I just… I just figured you could get a big win with the fashion stuff, but that didn’t work out.”

Rarity let out a short, bitter laugh. “We’re a little alike in that sense, aren’t we, dear? Ignoring everything while we focus on something, chasing these imagined victories to the exclusion of all else, battling these constant, senseless feelings of being insufficient.”

“Yeah. I gue—wait, no,” said Dash, frowning. “What do you mean ‘insufficient’? I don’t feel insufficient.”

Rarity didn’t say anything to that. She just shook her head from side to side, jaw brushing back and forth along the edge of the table while she watched Rainbow Dash.

“And besides, why do you feel—it’s the same thing as insecure, right? Insecure, insufficient, all that? Jeez, I get it if you’re feeling bad that nothing worked out, and today stinks, but are you seriously still thinking about all those other peryton who didn’t like your dresses?”

Finally Rarity lifted her head off the table, as though she was pushed upright by the force of a heaving sigh.

“First,” she said, “my dresses are never just dresses. They mean a lot to me, and I don’t appreciate the insinuation that they don’t, in fact, matter.”

“Right,” said Dash, flicking her ears.

“Second, and to your question, my dear Rainbow, I saw the two of you, you and Fluttershy happy together, at least at first, and it exacerbated all my failures. The dresses never being well received, struggling to keep pace with you on the road, every time my being a unicorn got in the way of our travels—I was a failure in every way, and I thought I could make up for it all by making a dress!

“Except, of course,” she added, her ears splayed as she sunk down towards the table again, “You broke up, and I wasn’t even there to support the two of you. And the dress, well, we saw how that was received. Everything is a disaster!” She planted her face back down on the stone table.

“In my darkest moments, I thought maybe I even wanted the two of you to break up, jealous,” said the unicorn, letting out a shuddering breath. Dash saw Rarity’s eyes seeking her own, peering up at her through the shorter mane that fell in front of her face. “I didn’t. You have to believe that, but I was jealous, and I’ve been an awful friend. This is the worst. I am the worst.”

Rainbow Dash swallowed and looked away. “You’re not the worst,” she murmured, though she couldn’t deny she felt a twinge of annoyance. Maybe she was even angry, but she had been angry at herself so much lately, it didn’t amount to more than a short-lived scowl.

“Fluttershy is right to be angry at me, at the very least,” Rarity muttered. “I treated both of you horribly towards the end, these past days.”

Dash thought back, then nodded. “Heh, yeah. You kinda did.” She laughed, because the alternative was to say more, to go on about how Rarity really had been a bit of a butt. The unicorn didn’t join in the laughter, but Dash thought she could see Rarity smile faintly, shaking her head to rub her snout against the table.

A particularly noisy group of peryton walked past, their laughter drifting in through the open door Rainbow Dash hadn’t closed coming in. An antlered head turned to look straight into the living room, and Rarity’s horn glowed, shutting the door without even looking up.

“Do you want to tell me what happened between you and Fluttershy?” Rarity asked. She gestured to the other table, wiping one of her smaller scissors off on the hem of some of the spare cloth. Before she had even sat down at the larger dinner table, she began cutting the phela into convenient pieces. “Why did the two of you break up? And why haven’t you… made up, I suppose? This isn’t just some temper tantrum of yours, or some notion Fluttershy has gotten into her mind, is it? It seems serious.”

“As serious as it gets, I guess,” Dash said. She grabbed a water bowl and plonked it down at the other table while Rarity magicked over her own.

“Is this it, then?” Rarity asked. “I thought you two were absolutely darling together.” She levitated over a piece of the filled bread and grabbed a bite.

“I don’t know,” Dash said. “Probably.” She spoke out loud as she wondered herself, thinking back as far as she could remember, bouncing the words against Rarity. “Jeez. This stupid trip’s lasted forever, but it feels like I barely had time to get together with Fluttershy before we broke up. I dunno. I guess I was annoyed that Fluttershy doubted me. And you, too. It felt like you didn’t think I was serious, so I guess I started thinking I was doing something wrong, I don’t know exactly. I don’t go around remembering this sort of stuff.”

Rarity nodded, offering a sympathetic smile before she took another bite. She levitated over another piece of bread, and, after a quick glance about as if to ensure that they were in fact alone, she grabbed yet another, filling both their water bowls with a carafe all the while. Dash poked at a piece of bread herself, pushing at it so the filling leaked out.

“I started thinking something was wrong, so I tried to do right, or something. I was just… ugh,” she flicked her ears in annoyance. “I wanted to be the best girlfriend I could be.” Saying out loud, it sounded really, really lame.

Rarity swallowed a large chunk of bread, took a draught of water, and coughed, covering her mouth. “Ack, excuse me,” she said. “Well, I can’t exactly speak for Fluttershy—and certainly not right now, given that I need to speak to her, at the very least to offer her an apology—but… I don’t know that she necessarily wanted a ‘perfect girlfriend’ of any description.”

“Yeah, well, I’m the coolest pony ever, right,” said Dash, frowning at how untrue those words sounded right now. “I’m the best, and I wanna be the best, and that means doing best, but yeah, okay, I get it. That plan backfired. Heh, like it was even a plan. Whatever. Fluttershy just suddenly didn’t want to do the stuff we usually did together. I tried cutting out all the stuff I liked so we could do the things she liked best, but she didn’t wanna.”

The carafe refilled Rarity’s water bowl again, and the unicorn shook her head. “Darling, it took cooperation for us to finally break out of jail. You don’t have to have a lot of experience with relationships to understand that romantic relationships are about cooperation, too. You can’t only give. You have to take, as well.”

“Why?” Dash demanded. “That’s like saying eating dessert all day wouldn’t be tastier than eating it only for… well, dessert.”

Rarity raised a brow. “That is both an atrociously terrible and ill-fitting metaphor, and true, dear.”


“Pinkie Pie, as wonderful as she is,” said Rarity, rolling her eyes, “is not the best role model for eating habits, and yes, you may quote me on that. I’m just giving you some very, very basic relationship advice, that’s all. If you wish to be happy together, you’ll need to work together in some respect, that’s obvious.”

“Sure,” Rainbow Dash said, snorting. She grabbed the teensiest, tiniest little bite of food possible, and her stomach rumbled at the promise of something substantial. “But she’s not very happy when we try to ‘work together’. Are we talking about the same pony? Have you see how she gets when I try to bring her along for something?”

Rarity tilted her head. “Even if she’s made giant leaps the past year, Fluttershy is reluctant to do anything slightly dangerous, frightening, new or otherwise even remotely challenging, bless her gentle heart.”

“Yeah? Well, most of you don’t bully her around half as hard as I do. That’s me. Rainbow Dash the bully,” Dash grunted. “I think even you said something like that.”

“You are nothing of the sort!” Rarity said, drawing back, her brow knit as she stared at Dash. “You—I… you are simply not. Now, when it comes to how the two of you work together, you have your very own dynamic, and I can’t say too much about it. You should talk to her.”

“I tried talking. We tried talking,” said Dash, waving a hoof in the air. She devoured the piece of bread in one swallow. “It doesn’t work. It’s a disaster. Forget about it. Let’s just eat. I’m starving.” She reached out and dragged a good portion of the first bread she’d brought over to her side of the table. Rarity nodded, but didn’t look entirely satisfied with the conclusion.

Nor was Dash happy, either. She found that once she had started explaining this to Rarity, she couldn’t stop.

“I just want to make Fluttershy realise how awesome she is,” Dash said. “She’s awful at that, but if I like doing that, and it hurts her, that makes it selfish and stupid, and it makes me a bad pony.” She lay her ears flat and shovelled more food into her mouth. She didn’t know whether she expected or wanted Rarity to agree or disagree, but Rarity did neither at first, simply staring at her for a moment.

“One thing I do know for certain is that if you keep eating like that, you’ll make yourself sick,” said Rarity. When Rainbow Dash reached for another bite, Rarity whisked the bread away, moving everything over to her side of the table instead. Rainbow Dash sighed and wiped her mouth, her foreleg coming away stained purple and green.

“And I suppose I have a different perspective,” Rarity added. “At first, I must admit I thought that it was one of those ‘your heart is in the right place, but your methods are terrible’ affairs that you read—well... that I’ve read about in quite a few, ah… Twilight calls them unhealthy romance novellas, but I beg to differ.” The unicorn’s cheeks glowed, and she cleared her throat. “Well, at any rate, if I said anything to the effect of you being a bully, then I apologise, and you must either have misunderstood me, or I must not have been thinking very clearly. Regardless, you two worked fine together before, did you not?”

“I thought so,” Dash said. Her stomach still hurt. “Before we became girlfriends.” She deflated. “I really started liking that part. I’m gonna miss it.”

Rarity made a small noise, like a whine or a creaking hinge, her eyes sparkling now. “Dear, you’ve really fallen for her. You really do love her,” she said.

“I’ve told you that,” Dash snapped, her heat up in an instant. “Why is that so hard to believe?”

Rarity shook her head briskly. She smiled. “That wasn’t my point at all, I’m just… I suppose I am happy for you.”

Rainbow Dash couldn’t stop a burst of laughter. “Happy? The whole girlfriend thing was great, but it ruined everything, too. I didn’t realise how different we were before we got here. I didn’t think it was a problem before we got to this stupid place.” She headed for the stairs. All day, all week, all month and ever since they left Equestria, she had flown full out, as fast as she could, and only now did she feel like her brain was catching up. “Forget it. I’m gonna go take a nap.”

Rarity nodded, and still she smiled slightly. Tired, with red eyes and her short-cut mane in what she could call ‘a state’, the unicorn still smiled at her as she waved. “I understand. Sleep tight, Rainbow. I’ll wait for Fluttershy.”