• 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 45


Deimesa and I have gone to the ravenry. We will fly, and so be there before you return and read this, but come to us, and quickly. We have brought slivers with which to purchase raven-wings, quill and ink. If you have not yet heard criers or visited the wall today, I will explain, but think on when Pelessa stumbled into Vestrus’ court and was denied. That will put you in the right frame of mind.


First Teacher Khyrast

The High Warden calls you to the lodge. Come to Helesseia’s Promise as soon as these words reach you.

This relates to the letter posted on the upper wall.

-High Warden

Mirossa, littlest feather mine,

I have gone to market. If you rise before I return, will you clean the kitchen?

Also, you went to sleep angry, and I think now that I was wrong to deny you. I have read and heard the same words as you. I think the missive from Cotronna is unjust, and I have been unjust as well. Phostos’ scales are never balanced by two unjust deeds. This means much to you, and even if a raven’s flight is not cheap, the Hymn earns enough slivers that we can afford it. On my way back from market, I will speak with the dockmistress of ravens and words.

I do not know this will do what you hope, but I will add my words to yours.

Your friend Rohast visited to give you all he has to help buy you this raven. I turned him away because his bronze is more precious to him than mine is to me, but I wished to mention it.



The Equestrians guested at your Heavenly Song upon first arriving in fair Orto, and I prepare to send today this letter that I should have sent long ago. As you spoke warmly of them when we last met, I thought perhaps you would like to add your words to mine before I entrust this missive to the ravens, but hurry. I wish to send this before the sun reaches its zenith.


“I cannot believe you, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said all in a huff, her voice muffled for a few seconds when she disappeared behind the heavy curtains. She returned from the kitchen a second later, sipping from a bowl of water. “—irresponsible and downright silly. Why haven’t you slept tonight?”

Rainbow Dash chuckled and rubbed at her eyes with the nook of a leg. “Because I was too… uh, excited and happy we’re all friends again?”

“Yes. That is it, I am sure,” said Rarity with a blank look. “Darling—”

“Because I have the coolest girlfriend ever, and stayed up all night thinking about it?” Dash tried, tilting her head, grinning.

Rarity rolled her eyes, while Fluttershy just shook her head and smiled, not even blushing this time. Maybe it was a little too silly. Fluttershy was still focused on the scroll that lay on the table anyway.

“Because,” said Rainbow Dash sticking out her tongue as she thought. “Oh, I got it! I felt really bad about los—er, about letting you beat me at this stupid game yesterday, and I stayed up trying to think of some new moves?” She pointed to the game board and the pieces scattered about. Vossos’ Vaunted Protocols was probably the lamest board game anyone had ever made.

Rarity just stared at her now, not betraying any emotion whatsoever. Dash flung her forelegs in the air.

“Fine! Because I didn’t want to tell Luna to get us back home, because I wanna see what’s up with Phoreni first,” said Dash, her cheeks flushing. “It’s our fault. Fluttershy’s the one who said that we should see if we can help, and I’m with her. I wanna help. There. Happy?”

Rarity sighed, deflating a touch and pushing the water bowl over to Rainbow Dash. “No, dear,” she said. “I’m not happy with it. Getting us home will take days even if they do have a fast airship ready for this express purpose, so I still think it’s silly to not even talk to the Princess if you had the chance, but,” she said, raising her voice and barreling on before Dash could defend herself. “I can’t really complain if your heart is in the right place. I certainly feel a little responsible for whatever transpired in the mountains as well, so consider my question retracted.”

“Yeah,” Dash muttered. “I just wanna go see what’s up, you know? Make sure that stuff’s gonna be okay. Then we’re done. Then we can go home. Speaking of which, any luck, Fluttershy? Is it a map?”

Fluttershy nodded slightly. “Sort of. I’m very glad that Phoreni remembered we can’t read their writing, and she was very good at giving directions to us when we were travelling through the Splitwood,” she said, the pegasus’ voice trailing off into silence.

“But?” Dash asked, leaning over to give the scroll another look, but she gave up before she even tried to understand the mess of lines and circles.

“But I guess they’re used to looking for very different landmarks,” Fluttershy said. “They haven’t drawn in any of the streets, just some buildings. We could follow the trail, but I think they’re in the inner circle, in one of the buildings. It would probably be faster just to go there and look.”

“Oh. Cool. The place with the council and stuff. We’re really popular there,” Dash said laying her ears flat.

“This would have all been a lot easier if they had simply knocked on our door and told us where they are,” said Rarity. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear them push this note under the door.”

“I said I didn’t sleep, that doesn’t mean I didn’t doze off once or twice,” Rainbow Dash replied, shrugging. “I woke up when my head hit the table though. I feel fine now.”

“It’s a wonder the table is unhurt, if you ask me,” Rarity muttered, shaking her head. “Shall we?”

Rainbow Dash wondered if she imagined it, or if there was something different in the air. At first she thought the news of their impending exile had finally spread, but with how well organised Cotronna was, every peryton in the city probably already knew, and somehow she doubted that the ponies were the cause of the nervous energy that flowed through the city.

The peryton didn’t give the ponies the stink-eye or anything, but people talked louder and looked around as though there was something to see. Though they saw no Ephydoerans, there was plenty evidence that their passing had left the entire city anxious. That, or there was some weird Perytonian holiday going on, but Rainbow Dash didn’t know of any holidays that made an entire city stand on edge. At least no pony holidays.

When they reached the great circular street that ran the outside of the large park, Dash knew something was up. When they entered the inner circle, she felt reasonably sure she knew what was up—or at least where.

“Guess we don’t need directions to find out where Phoreni and the wardens are, huh,” said Dash. “I have a hunch.”

The three ponies halted at the edge of the inner circle plaza. Just as before, the ring of large, official-looking buildings spread out before them. Unlike before, a disproportionate amount of the peryton were gathered around the building on the other side of the Hall of Scrolls from the Great Council Hall. The building was a little larger than the council building, a little less full of doors, but otherwise didn’t look entirely dissimilar—excepting the four wardens posted by the main door, their colours a stark contrast against the grey-white stone.

A semicircle of sash-wearing peryton stood between the Ephydoerans and the crowd, watching or talking to the other peryton gathered around them.

“It doesn’t look like a… a riot, at least,” said Fluttershy. She shuffled her wings nervously. “So that’s good.”

“It hardly even looks like a protest, if you ask me, but clearly they are concerned,” said Rarity, humming in thought. The peryton moving to and fro the Great Council Hall and the Hall of Scrolls were tiny gatherings compared to the sea of peryton outside this third building. “I wish the note from Phoreni explained—”

“‘Explained’ nothing,” said Dash, flexing her wings. “Let’s ask her ourselves, c’mon! Rarity, hop on!”

“Um, I don’t know if they’ll be very happy with us coming in flying really fast, actually,” said Fluttershy. She remained very still, glancing nervously at Rarity.

“I agree,” said Rarity, nodding. “If things are tense, perhaps we should just walk, dear. Surely you remember that the Ephydoerans in particular are of a… let us call it a cautious disposition.”

“Feh, fine,” Dash snorted, trotting towards the crowd. They made their way between a large group of peryton engaged in animated discussion, then past the rows of benches and the podium at the centre, ever occupied. Soon after, they had to walk single file to pass, more and more peryton gathered the closer they got to the unremarkable building.

“Coming through!” said Rainbow Dash, ducking between two peryton, nudging them aside. “Important business! Probably!”

“Sorry,” said Fluttershy at the rear-end of their echelon.

“Ow,” said Rarity. Probably because Rainbow Dash had stopped abruptly, making the unicorn collide with her. She didn’t really have much choice, coming face to face with a sash-wearing peryton who blocked her path without even looking at her, the taller stag staring straight ahead over and past her.

“No meetings for the public have been set up at this time,” said the stag in a voice clearly hoarse from overuse. “If you have questions, missives and declarations will be on the wall—and young little claws should not be here, it is dangerous to step between the legs of—oh. You are no children,” said the stag, staring at Rainbow Dash through a plain frown.

“Wow, figured that out, huh?” said Dash, sighing. “We need to talk—”

“No admittance,” said the stag in a bored voice, shaking his head and taking his eyes off her. “If you have questions, missives will be on the wall.”

“Is there a problem?” Dash heard Rarity’s voice from behind her, somewhere between the press of peryton. “Why have we stopped?”

“There’s no problem!” Dash shot back. “Hey! Maybe you didn’t hear me, because you didn’t let me speak. We’re here to see Phoreni, who’s apparently in charge of those painted peryton who are like… right over there! Hey!”

“Are those the Equestrians? Let them pass!” a voice called from by the door. One of the Ephydoerans waved a foreleg, and Rainbow Dash tried not to look smug when the sashed stag stepped aside. She probably failed, and the stag himself didn’t look very bothered anyway. She waited for Rarity and Fluttershy before they together made their way towards the door.

The Ephydoerans nodded at the ponies, but they were so out of place posted by the stone building, Dash wanted to laugh. The four wardens stood with the rigidity of the uncomfortable, not the stoic detachment of the royal guard. Dash pushed the door open since it didn’t really look like any of the Ephydoerans were about to do it for them.

An office-like room waited on the other side, all desks and scroll-cases much like the forechamber of the Great Council Hall, but while there was less noise inside than the buzz of the crowd on the other side of the door, there was plenty of activity in here as well.

On one side of the room, a small clump of peryton gathered around a table so tiny it nearly disappeared between them. On the other side, Phoreni and two others were engaged in discussion that abruptly ended when the ponies entered. Dash recognised the other painted peryton stood with Phoreni as the Ephydoeran ambassador from the council, a stag with no marks shaved into his flank, but she didn’t know the last of the group of three.

“I think perhaps it is good for me to leave,” said the unpainted stag with a glance at the ponies.

“Do I believe that is best? I think perhaps you should stay a moment longer,” said Phoreni, first holding a hoof out to still the stag, then waving to the ponies. Dash glanced at her friends and shrugged, walking towards them. The unpainted stag raised his head a touch and spread both his wings out from his body, giving them an arch look.

“You do not understand. These Equestrians have given Cotronna and all the cities grave offense. I do not bear them ill will myself, but they must leave by the morning day, and as a consul—”

“The letter has been read to me, I understand what has happened,” said Phoreni, shaking her head slightly. “Their visit to me has nothing to do with council proceedings and offenses, real or imagined.”

“While we speak of offense,” said the ambassador, his voice as gravelly as any Dash had ever heard. His eyes fell upon Rainbow Dash’s back. “One flies the paint. I have read letters from Ephydoera from one of my loved ones. I have read words of banishment and exile of guests from our city for thievery of paint.”

Rainbow Dash meant to reply. Her wings itched, willing her to fly up and thrust her face up in the stag’s grill, but Phoreni closed her eyes for a second, and though she made no sound, Dash saw her body move with a sigh.

“Then you must tell those you love to send raven-borne words more often, Parshos, and you would hear that the High Warden has reconsidered,” said Phoreni. “I expect you to follow her in this. And as for you, consul, I remind you that we are here now because Ephydoera, and by extension through our compacts, Perytonia has failed to protect diplomats who were, at the time, in all our good graces—” she paused only for long enough to extract a nod from the consul. “—and failed to protect them from our own kin, no less.”

Rainbow Dash slowed down, stopping the group of ponies a small distance away from the three peryton. Being around when other people argued was awkward. Being the subject of that argument was awkwarder—or was that ‘more awkward’? Both?

“I do not know how loudly this speaks in their defence,” said the consul, shaking his head slowly from side to side, one wing flicking at the air. “It is lamentable that Ephydoera has been neglectful. It harms us all. But whether this situation is something to be thankful for is yet to be decided.”

“Do I know the tone of the stories that will come from this? Not yet,” said Phoreni, flashing a scowl. “But while you decide, ensure that the fire in your heart is Helesseia-born, and not sourced in Esorys’ darkest stories.” She turned to face the ponies in full. “But Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity. You come at last.”

“Yeah, no thanks to your ‘map’,” said Dash with a grin, but she didn’t enjoy seeing Phoreni stressed out like this. She had never before heard the quiet and reserved doe talk this much in so short a time, and while Dash’d had a lot of time to learn to understand peryton, she now came face to face with the first doe who answered to the word haggard. Phoreni looked more tired than Rainbow Dash, and Dash hadn’t slept all night.

“We came as soon as we saw your note,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her. “It’s good to see you, but… if you don’t mind me asking, how are you doing?”

“Darling, you look awful,” said Rarity, eschewing Fluttershy’s gentle poke in favour of a mallet. Clearly, Rainbow Dash wasn’t the only one to have noticed.

Phoreni shook her head and let out a soft, clucking caw, her laughter momentarily silencing the talk from the other table. “Am I in good health? I live well, but my flight and I have flown much and hard lately, and this… this—” she said, waving a leg at the room and everything in it. “It is not restful to minds such as mine. We face an event that I do not even fully understand. I am bewildered. We have found lost kin who have harmed guests and stolen from us, kin who may have driven creatures from the Bow into our lands to harm us. It is hard to understand this. It is hard to understand them.”

The consul nodded. “There are no protocols that adequately cover these events. These kin are different from all other, we do not understand how to proceed.”

Rainbow Dash tried to hold back her laughter, but she didn’t put a lot of effort into it. It escaped her mouth as a guffaw become a snort and a giggle, earning her a raised eyebrow from Phoreni, a blank stare from the unusually stoic ambassador, and a frown from the consul.

“Um, Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy asked, tilting her head. “What is it?”

“If this is hysterical insomnia, I have to say, you could have timed it better,” Rarity commented.

“No, no, jeez, it’s nothing like that,” said Dash, still chuckling to herself. “It’s just… they’re different? Wow! Okay, have you not noticed how super different all of you are?” she asked. Rainbow Dash wrapped a wing around Fluttershy’s barrel and yanked her close, making the other pegasus yelp. “It’s funny because you guys are the ones who reminded me that that’s fine!” She scratched her snout. “Well, actually, Luna did, using you as an example, and maybe an old doe I talked to, but that’s not the point!

Now she had their attention at least. Dash shook her head as she went on. “Sure, the Morrowsworn are freaky and weird, and yeah, they acted really stupid, but they hurt us, not you. If they stole a few wagons of kelp or whatever, that’s really dumb, but so what? And monsters? You think they did that? Come on! They understand the Cauldron—which is what the Bow it’s really called by the way. They understand it way better than any of you, but they sure as hay haven’t sent any monsters your way!”

“Well, we don’t strictly know that,” Rarity murmured.

“We heard them talk about the cities. They really only seemed interested in learning. Or, well, spying, I guess,” Fluttershy replied. “And if they don’t talk to Yelgadar or Odasthan, I doubt they know about the ruined tunnel that was in Yelgadar’s territory.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Sure, but who cares about a little bit of ‘spying’?”

They might care,” said Rarity, her tone warning. “But I agree, really. From what we understand, or rather, from what we now hopefully understand, if your people generally enjoy this distant cooperation, unity at a leg’s length, then what is the issue?”

The consul’s gaze flitted between the ponies and Phoreni, and Phoreni herself smiled toothily.

“Now you see why I wished to see the Equestrians, Consul. Do you hear them? Nothing they say is false.”

“Except,” said the ambassador, beating the consul to the punch. “Do we trust their words on the matter of the Bow? I do not know that I am ready to seek counsel from them on this.”

Rarity scoffed. “Just because we are technically exiled, or waiting-to-be-exiled, doesn’t mean we are lying. I don’t see why the Morrowsworn would attack you by sending monsters your way.”

“And I trust them,” Phoreni said, her tone ironclad. “If they say our kin are not the cause of the creatures spilling from the Bow, then I have no reason to doubt.”

“From what we understand, the ‘glare beasts’ that trouble you travel through a tunnel, and the passage is supposed to be a ghastly place. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hydra and whatever other nasty creatures you struggle with come from the same place,” said Rarity. “If you’re truly interested, it should be in the southeast of the Cauldron, so if anyone has a map, Fluttershy could no doubt help you find the general area.” The unicorn gestured to a suddenly wide-eyed pegasus.

“Oh. Oh goodness, I mean, I guess we could try if we had maps of both the Cauldron and Perytonia and cross-referenced them, but it could be anywhere—”

“It matters less than some other things regardless,” the consul interrupted her, shaking his head. While he spoke, Dash turned her head to see a stocky, unpainted peryton slip inside through the main door. “This is an Ephydoeran issue, and if you wish to chase this, then you do so on your own authority, but the main issue remains unsolved—even if we welcome this perspective the Equestrians bring.”

Dash blinked, a little taken aback by the consul’s tone and words. He sounded genuinely appreciative and regretful both at once, and now he turned to face the new arrival who trotted over to the group.

“Consul Alagrass,” said the plump doe, her head bowed and one wing extended. “You said to let you know if yet more letters arrived.”

The consul sighed. “I did say this, and I suspected when I said it that I would find no rest.”

“Yet more letters have arrived.”

“I understood your point, yes, thank you,” said the consul. He bowed his head tilted sideways, offering Phoreni and the ambassador a weird nod. “We will speak more later.”

Phoreni nodded in return. “Do I think it likely? I believe it is inevitable we shall wear our voices out this day and the next. Farewell, consul.”

“I will leave and see about these letters myself,” Ambassador Parshos rumbled in agreement, following the consul and the messenger. Neither the ponies nor Phoreni spoke while the unpainted peryton all left, and the moment the door closed, the wardens over by the other table abandoned their work—whatever they had been doing—and moved to join Phoreni.

“Come,” said Phoreni to the ponies, blinking heavily. She pointed to a hallway entrance in the far side of the room, approaching at a slow walk while she turned to the Ephydoerans.

“Eirethyn, yours is the vigil in this room. Wake me if any should enter. Sleep two at a time if you must, but make sure the captives and those who guard them are cared for—and find something fresh for us to eat. Food that is plucked today!” she barked, leading the ponies away. Dash grinned privately as the peryton scattered and formed little groups right away, two of them disappearing out the door, two heading down another hallway, and two staying put.

“If you all want to be friends, and you’re not upset with them because of what they stole,” said Fluttershy, looking up at the taller doe as they walked down a wide and simple hallway, “then why is everything still so… well, why is everyone still worried?”

“I do not know the word ‘worried’ is what all of us feel,” said Phoreni. She pointed to the first room on their left, herding them all into a smallish chamber with rows of simple makeshift beds. Some other furniture had clearly been moved to make room, the stone tiles lighter in places where tables and benches had been moved. An apparatus of some kind still dominated a corner, a board placed over a large, empty vat.

“Even if Consul Alagrass sees the wisdom of your words, and I think he will, the disposition of the Cotronnan consul, this confusion and chaos and all things new—it is only half the challenge,” said Phoreni. The powerful doe walked up to the window and stared out for a second, but all Dash could see beyond was the Hall of Scrolls’ side wall. Phoreni turned away and sat down next to one of the beds, rather than on it.

“I will argue for the council to accept your words. In your words I hear the promise of making allies of these Morrowsworn, and of course kin wish to understand and help kin, even if they are new to us.” The peryton doe shook her head and smiled slightly at the ponies as Rainbow Dash sat down on the floor next to her, followed by Rarity and Fluttershy. “Once the fear has gone,” said Phoreni, “the cities will consider this. They will seek counsel in each other—or, as Cotronna does, vote in their councils.”

Rarity tilted her head sideways. “I don’t see the problem in any of what you have just told us, dear. Is there something we don’t understand?”

“Is there something you are missing? I will tell you,” said Phoreni, nodding. “For anything to happen, for this to move beyond occupation and captivity, we must of course also seek counsel with the Morrowsworn themselves, but they do not wish to speak. They have no consensus. No counsel-group as do we in the Grove, no council as they hold in Cotronna. We cannot talk to them.”

“Yeah, well, duh,” said Dash, snorting. “Because they don’t have a council.”

“They have one leader,” said Fluttershy, smiling at Phoreni. “Just like we had only one Princess until recently, they have a Guide. You should probably start by talking to her.”

“Even if she is a rather insufferable personage,” Rarity muttered under her breath. “But yes, I don’t see why this is so hard to understand. Your councils are very strange to us, but you report directly to your High Warden. You of all peryton should be able to grasp the concept of a single leader.”

Phoreni folded her forelegs in front of her, listening intently, but when the ponies said their last, she shook her head. “Do I fully understand this? I do not see how one person can speak for all. The High Warden is one leader, the roots of one tree in a grove that forms the counsel-group, much like other councils, even if it is far smaller than the Cotronnan council. To think that one like the High Warden should decide on matters that are not of safety? To decide on all things?” Phoreni snorted.

“Perhaps it can be imagined, but if that was our challenge, I would at least be aware of it. Instead, they are fractured. They argue and fight, and we struggle to keep them from harming each other. They do not speak with one voice. They speak in discordant voices. They do not seek counsel, but seek to warp the words of the other. We cannot make peace with those who can neither speak nor listen.”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy, her ears wilting. “That’s… different from what we saw. I guess something must have changed.”

Phoreni inclined her head slightly. “Still, as Consul Alagrass has said, your perspective may help. It may help convince the council that more kin are to be welcomed, not viewed with distrust.” She let out a low cawing laugh. “Politics. Did I think this would ever be my life? I did not think any of my days would ever be like this one, but now I must prepare for more of them. Already I long for the shade of the Khosta and soil under my claws.”

“I hear you, sister,” Dash said, shaking her head and chuckling. “And I guess it’s not just the ‘politics’, Cotronna’s a bit weird to you too, huh? I bet you’re twice as weirded out as we were when we first got here,” Dash grinned to herself, even though she already knew that Phoreni wouldn’t consider it a problem.

“Their methods of greeting are complicated, and I do not enjoy their city,” said Phoreni, shaking her head. “But do I worry about this? I make no assumptions, and I make no judgment. Theirs are different tasks from ours.”

“Heh, yeah. I knew you’d say that,” said Rainbow Dash, yawning and stretching. “Or something like that. I get it now.”

“Speaking of politics,” said Rarity, “shouldn’t the High Warden or the others in this counsel-group weigh in on this? Surely your superiors can help with these matters.”

Phoreni’s ears twitched. “Word has not arrived from the Grove. A missive already waited here when I arrived. The High Warden and the others say this is for me to deal with, but I struggle without competent counsel here and now.”

“You’ve got us, at least,” said Fluttershy, smiling.

Dash snickered. “Dunno about ‘competent’, but yeah.”

“For another day and no more,” said Phoreni, sighing softly.

“As we keep forgetting,” Rarity added.

“Have I enjoyed this moment? It has been good to see you,” said Phoreni. She gave them a head-only bow, tilting her head forward until her muzzle lay flat along her neck and smiled toothily. “I feared for a moment I would not get to say goodbye, and even now I will not say it. I will visit you before you leave, or if I do not get this chance, find you upon the road. I have one final matter I wish to discuss, and it cannot be that difficult to find your bright and colourful selves here for one eager to use her wings. All is open ground with nowhere to hide."

“What is it?” asked Fluttershy. “Is something wrong?”

“Is something wrong? No, nothing is wrong,” said Phoreni, pausing to let out an undisguised yawn. “Finally, I will speak again to the council when I have a moment. I spoke to Consul Alagrass about your exile, but he told me to send my ‘complaint’ in letter form.”

“Bureaucracy,” Rarity said with a sigh.

Phoreni shrugged. “I will have Eirethyn assist me in creating such a letter. She is strong with her words, and has written missives for the High Warden, but I do not think one voice alone will matter much.”

“That’s okay. It was our mistake anyway. I think we’re just going to ask the Princesses to send someone else to try again sometime,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head.

“Yeah. Thanks for trying anyway,” said Dash, smiling her thanks. “We didn’t really understand any of you peryton at first, and I think we kinda do now. Maybe we—eh, maybe Rarity and Fluttershy can write a book about do’s and don’ts for Perytonia or something.”

“Did I understand you when first we met? I did not, either, but now I would bond with you if only you roosted in the Grove as I,” said Phoreni, nodding gravely. “Now I must have my rest before I am woken to attend again. This is a challenge for Perytonia unlike any we have faced, but this is our challenge, not yours, and we will find our path. We will talk again later, hopefully not only to say our farewells.”

Rainbow Dash grinned at Rarity. “That’s totally what she said.”

“I would hardly be bothered if Phoreni had proposed to me—to us,” said Rarity with a huff. “But that is simply not what happened.”

“That’s what they called it in Ephydoera,” said Dash, cackling. “Phoreni was ‘bonded’ to Khyrast!”

“I don’t think that’s what they called it exactly,” said Fluttershy. She shook her head. “I think she said that they were bonded in love.”

“Details! I still think it counts as a marriage proposal,” said Dash, poking Rarity with a wing. “Why else would she say that stuff about if we lived in the Grove, huh?”

“It wasn’t a proposal,” Rarity snapped. “It simply was not!”

“Oh wow!” said Dash, gasping in pretend shock. “You are totally bothered by it. This is good.”

Rarity sighed. “No, dear, I am not. I am flattered, and Phoreni is wonderful, if a touch challenging to co-exist with, but I have ample experience in that department.” She shot Dash a look. “I simply do not accept that my first marriage proposal came in a casual conversation in some dusty and disused office building while discussing politics. Besides, bonding and marriage is not even remotely the same thing.”

“Eh, whatever,” said Dash, brushing the topic away with a wave of a wing, bored now that Rarity actually wasn’t outraged any more. She had teased the unicorn about it all the while as they had caught a quick meal at a café right outside the inner ring. Dash yawned and began turning right at the next street before she realised that the others were going left. She hastily corrected her mistake, pretending at nothing.

“Speaking of marriage, however,” said Rarity, arching one brow.

“Rarity, we’ve been together for barely a month,” said Fluttershy with a shake of her head and a laugh.

“Well. You will let me know if you want someone to help organise such an occasion,” said Rarity, leaving little room for discussion.

“Who marries these days anyway?” Dash asked. She trotted back into the street, walking side by side with her friends, accepting the mandatory smattering of odd looks from peryton when she defied their orderly lines.

“It’s not very popular outside of old-fashioned unicorns and royalty, I will grant you that,” Rarity replied with an arch look. “That doesn’t mean ponies of all kinds can’t decide they appreciate a lovely ceremony. I, for one, think it’s a wonderful way to display affection for someone.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dash. She glanced over at Fluttershy, but her girlfriend just smiled at her, and Dash smiled back. Dash didn’t much care for the idea, but for once in her life, she was in no hurry to decide, either. Rainbow Dash heard a cart approaching so she took wing and flew overhead while it passed. Another one followed soon after, forcing her to stay aloft for a bit, level with the rooftops. The sun approached its zenith.

Their last day in the city. Tomorrow they would be expected to leave. While it was nice to see Phoreni again—doubly so if they had helped kick some sense into the peryton trying to figure out what to do with the Morrowsworn—Dash couldn’t help feeling that it was sad this entire trip ended so simply, so quietly. She wasn’t exactly about to pick a fight about getting kicked out, of course not, but...

But what? She felt there was more they could do, obviously. The realisation came to her easily enough now that she had her confidence back, and Fluttershy was both at her side and led the way all at once. Dash’s brain wasn’t busy running in circles any more. She wondered how often she had been paralysed by doubt during their journey. How often had she let her own worries convince her that she, that they were anything less than awesome? When had she started believing that there was anything the ponies could not do?

Point was, there was time and space for more doing. Awesome ponies did not go out with a whimper. The second cart passed by underneath her, and Dash let herself fall back down to the ground next to Rarity and Fluttershy.

“—sleep at one of the farms, perhaps. Do you think that counts as the ‘city’?” Rarity was saying.

“I think we should leave the area, probably. Half a day’s travel marks their ‘demesne’, if you don’t remember,” said Fluttershy.

“You’re probably right, hmh.”

“Why is this a Perytonian matter?” Dash asked.

“Why, um, what? Sorry?” Fluttershy replied.

“Why is what a peryton matter?” asked Rarity.

“The whole thing with the Morrowsworn! Phoreni said it’s a Perytonian thing. Perytonia, not peryton. The place, not the people. She said it’s all about the cities, but Ephydoera’s mostly mad at them because they hurt us!” said Dash.

Rarity arched a brow. “I am not sure what you are saying, dear. Is this… a conspiracy theory, or are you trying to trap Phoreni in some sort of legal technicality right now?”

“No! None of that, jeez, I just… this is about us, too, that’s all I’m saying, so why can’t we help more? Why are we letting them deal with it?” Dash asked.

“I don’t understand what else we could possibly do,” Rarity said. “And darling, three Equestrian emissaries should hardly have equal say in what happens when these five cities are discussing what to do with a… I don’t know what the Morrowsworn are.”

“They were a sixth tribe,” said Fluttershy, swishing her tail as she thought. “We know that because we’ve been told what happened at the gorge a thousand years ago, so I guess they’re a sixth city, kind of.”

“Sure, yeah!” said Dash, nodding vigorously. “But do all these other peryton know that?”

“Well, likely not,” said Rarity. “That’s the issue. We only know because that ghastly echo told us, and the Morrowsworn likely haven’t told the Perytonians. That’s the issue. They refuse to talk to them.”

“Why?” Dash asked, frowning. “That’s stupid!”

“For goodness’ sake Rainbow, darling, I don’t know!” Rarity cried.

“Then let’s go make them talk!” said Rainbow Dash, ignoring Rarity’s tone. “This is our last day in Cotronna, and we can either spend it sitting on our butts eating and playing games, or we can make a difference! They’ve got Velysra and Caldesseia here, and even if the peryton haven’t talked to them much, we have!”

“We hardly know them well,” said Rarity, but now she sounded unsure. At some point they had stopped, forcing the Cotronnans to go around them, disrupting the traffic.

“They have Koltares here, too,” said Fluttershy, deflating like a punctured balloon. “I’d really like to not see him again.”

“He’s the least of our problems in this particular context,” said Rarity. “He can hardly hurt you now.”

“Oh no,” said Fluttershy, fidgeting. “I’m worried he’s angry because we hurt him.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. Rainbow Dash laughed.

“Whatever,” said Dash. “He asked for it. But come on, I don’t know if they need a leader, if they have too many leaders, or whatever’s going on up there, but if the peryton have such a tough time getting the Morrowsworn to talk, maybe we can fix that!”

“At the very least we should tell Phoreni all that we know, but I thought we had planned on doing that the next time we speak to her, after she’s had a moment to rest,” Rarity said, tapping a hoof on the ground.

“We can do better than that!” said Dash. “We know a lot more about the Morrowsworn than they do. We have to try to help. Come on, let’s fly there right now!”

Fluttershy licked her lips and looked to Rarity, and Rarity stared back at her. At length, Fluttershy smiled at Dash, and Rarity shrugged, climbing onto Dash’s back.

Wind in her mane. Fluttershy flying with her. The buildings of Cotronna passing by underneath, block by block, followed by the thin band of the inner circle park. The sense of doing something instead of just accepting things as they happened. Rainbow Dash had never been less tired in her entire life.

“I hope they’ll let us see Velysra and the others,” Fluttershy called over the wind rushing by Dash’s ears.

“It’ll be fine!” said Dash, more concerned with the way the wardens reacted to them coming in fast. The crowds were a little thinner now as they neared mid-day, and even as they flew over the outer edge of the inner circle plaza, she felt four sets of eyes sharply upon them from below.

When she picked her landing site in front of the building that housed the Ephydoerans, one of the wardens’ hooves and wings pulsed with magic. A second later, the warden next to him leaned in close and whispered in his ear, and the ponies landed without contest next to a very confused sashed peryton who turned at the noise of someone touching down behind her.

“Sorry, no time to chat,” said Dash to the Cotronnan guard, grinning while Rarity dismounted.

“May we come in? Um, again?” Fluttershy asked, and the only response the ponies got from the Ephydoerans was a shrug and a nod towards the door. Dash pushed the door open for the second time, and this time, the chamber held only two new Ephydoeran peryton and their ambassador, all stood around the smallest table in the room. Parshos, Dash thought he was called.

“Hey!” said Rainbow Dash. “We’re here to see the Morrowsworn. D’you have them in a cell or something?” She frowned at the thought. “This doesn’t look like a prison.”

“I do not believe you have been asked to do such a thing,” said Parshos, his face perfectly blank.

“We have not, in fact,” said Rarity, raising her snout a touch. “But I think if you ask Phoreni, I am certain all will be in order.”

“We know them,” said Fluttershy with half a smile. “Sort of. It’s complicated.”

Rainbow Dash scowled at the still stone-faced stag. “Hey, we’re just trying to help. If you don’t believe us, check with Phoreni. She’s like… pretty much your boss right now, isn’t she? She could come along! We kinda need to talk to her, too!”

“Would I wake Phoreni? She has not slept for days,” said one of the other peryton. “I will not let you wake her for anything less than a threat to the city, but the Equestrians have her counsel. If you will not take them to see the captives, I will.”

Parshos stared at the defiant stag for a second, then shook his head. “Do not bother her or yourself. I will take them. Come,” he said, walking towards a different hallway entrance than the one Phoreni had chosen earlier. “And,” he added, “is Phoreni my ‘boss’? She is not my flight-leader, but her counsel comes from the High Warden first, just as does mine. We are not opposed in any of these matters. Except perhaps on what we think of you.”

“Because you don’t like my wings,” said Dash, nodding. “Got it. Not my fault, not my problem. Get over it.”

The ambassador did not reply, but Fluttershy gave Dash a particularly concerned look at that. The three ponies followed Parshos in a silence broken only by the echoing clacks of hooves on polished stone tiles. Down the hall and to the left, an archway opened into a chamber larger than the entrance hall by far, though low-ceilinged and with narrow windows. At one point, this room had been used for something else, again with the bright spots betraying furniture moved, with a few large vats still along one wall.

It wasn’t much of a jail like the ones Dash had read about in storybooks, and even less dungeon-y than their own accommodations back in the mountains. Four Ephydoeran wardens sat in a circle by the entrance, chatting, and the inner half of the room was cordoned off by tiny chest-high poles tied together by velvet rope, making the Morrowsworn look more like an exhibit than prisoners. Simple beds lined the far wall, but two beds had clearly been moved, one to the far left, one to the far right. Velysra lay on one of them, and Caldesseia on the other. In between them, another four unpainted peryton talked or dozed.

“Let them do whatever it is that they do, so long as it neither harms the captives nor aids their escape,” said the ambassador, gesturing to the cordoned area. “There. You have what you wish. Leave when you are done,” he added, turning without another word. Dash caught a curious glance from one of the Ephydoeran guards and waved, getting a faint nod in return.

“Well, here we are,” said Rarity, clearing her throat. “To… do whatever it is we are here to do, as he said. Where do we begin?”

“Hey! Velysra!” Dash shouted, making Fluttershy wince. She galloped over to stand by the velvet barrier. The Ephydoerans would probably get annoyed if she leapt it, but it felt stupid to pretend the barrier would stop anyone.

Velysra stared blankly for a few seconds before she slipped off her bed and came to meet Rainbow Dash. Some of the four peryton in the main group looked over at Dash, too. She recognised Koltares, but ignored him just as hard as he probably ignored her. Caldesseia cracked an eye open, the Guide watching but saying nothing.

“I didn’t think you three would ever want to see me again,” said Velysra with a sad little smile. She stopped on the other side of the rope just as Fluttershy and Rarity joined Rainbow Dash. “Unless you have come to give me food or water in some great act of irony—and I am well cared for regardless—I don’t see why you are here.”

“It is an interesting role reversal, is it not?” Rarity asked. She reached out to touch the velvet rope, and even her gentle hoof made the closest fence pole shift a little.

“I suppose so,” said Velysra, nodding. “Do not think I don’t believe I deserve this. I do.”

“We’re not here to gloat, or to try to make you feel bad,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head.

Caldesseia stirred over on the bed opposite. “You should be. Why else?” The imposing doe’s voice was sharp.

“Then why are you here?” asked Velysra, her head tilted. She did not even acknowledge that Caldesseia had spoken. “You owe us nothing but your anger.”

“I dunno, if you wanna make it up to us, why don’t you start by telling us what happened?” Dash asked. She gestured to the prison-pen. “Obviously we know what’s happened, we got the short version, but like… with you guys.”

Velysra shook her head, smiling faintly. “Shortly before, but also after the attack, we Morrowsworn and our village were split in two. With Caldesseia’s silence stretching on, I found more and more heads turned to listen to me as the one closest to her, and I never agreed with our esteemed Guide on all things. I spoke out against her plans to leave the mountains. I disagreed with her ambitions for different lands. I never asked for soot-marked legs and strings of leaders’ amber, but… before I knew it, many of our home followed where I trod.”

Fluttershy shifted her stance a little, her side touching against Rainbow Dash. “The peryton here said you don’t want to talk to them,” said Fluttershy. “They’ve tried to speak with you.”

“They have,” said Velysra. “The Cotronnan leaders and those of other cities come to see us, to talk, to ask and to suggest, but when I try to explain that we wish to stay and be left to our mountain, Caldesseia raises her voice against mine, and when she says that she will not stop, that she will not make peace or rest until the Morrowsworn have the Perytonian plains as ours, would you have me be silent?”

Over on her bed, Caldesseia snorted and rolled her eyes.

“They expect us to reach a consensus,” Velysra continued, sighing. “They think we will together seek to find agreement, that this is our way of finding a path. They think we will find peace between us and, but we will not, and back in the mountains, those who listen to one of us will not see the reason of the other. I have betrayed our Guide, say some. The Guide has betrayed her purpose, say others.”

Fluttershy looked to Caldesseia, the stocky peryton mostly still on her bed, her amber necklace still around her neck, and her legs still carrying the faint tint of soot. “I thought you were friends,” said the pegasus, her bottom lip quivering.

“Very close, in fact,” Rarity added, frowning. “How could this happen?”

Rainbow Dash had no issues imagining how someone could decide they didn’t like Caldesseia, but her quip died in her throat when she saw the look on Velysra’s face. She hung her head, and what little conversational energy remained in her, the tiny spark in her eyes, all disappeared at once. Caldesseia shuffled around on the bed without a word, facing away, and when Velysra glanced over her shoulder to find that Caldesseia was pointedly not paying attention, she walked them along the cordon barrier, away from her, lowering her voice until it was barely a whisper by the far wall.

“You must understand, I beg of you,” she said. “You do not owe me this. You owe me nothing, and by all rights, you must think me the worst person alive—”

“Don’t say such nonsense,” Rarity said, scowling.

“—but she is… no. Blameless is not the word. None of us are ever blameless,” Velysra continued, shaking her head briskly. “But she has been on this path for her entire life. She has suffered from pressure ever since she was a little feather. From expectations.” The doe sighed. “I blame her father, but surely his path has missteps as well, and you do not come here to hear of family strife. Her father wanted her to find a path for her people, and I see now that she has dug into the past to try to find something good for them, for all of us. She has suffered the weight of her own expectations, of her inflated purpose.”

Rainbow Dash swallowed. She spread one of her green-painted wings and inspected one of her primaries, trying to appear only mildly interested.

“She made her own suffering into the suffering of all her people by listening to—no, by creating a past that does not exist.” Velysra took a deep breath. “We staked our own path from the cities long ago. Even if she regrets it, even if she wishes for something else for our own people now—and I can respect that—her zeal has blinded her. Wounded her.”

“Yeah yeah,” said Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes. Better to be annoyed than consider the obvious similarities. Dash had done the same thing. Or something like it. She made her own story from the past and made a mess. That sort of stuff. “So she’s had a rough time and she messed up.” She shrugged. “That doesn’t mean she gets to push people around. Or steal ponies.”

“On that we agree,” Velysra replied, nodding briskly. “But that is the lamentable past. We still wish different things, and of us, one,” she said, raising her voice so Caldesseia could hear. “One of us has chosen to further their goal by lies, theft, and mischief.”

“Good!” Caldesseia snapped from the other side of the room. “You ponies show your true colours. Not only have you come for vengeance and to gloat, you band together with her against the only one who wishes for something better for her people!”

Better!” Velysra spat. “How—”

“We’re not here to gloat!” Rarity said, silencing both of them. “We are here to talk, and that is what we are doing, but believe me, the more the two of you argue, the more I do in fact feel like gloating and pointing out who is behind bars!” She pursed her lips, running her hoof along the rope cordoning off the prisoners’ side of the room. “Well. Figuratively speaking. This is some lovely velvet. I didn’t know they had velvet here in Cotronna, actually, and they choose to use it like rope? Do you think we could buy—”

“We’re trying to help,” said Rainbow Dash, scowling at Caldesseia, who got off her bed and started walking towards them, her amber beads clattering.

“You mean you have come bearing pity, and we want none of it,” said Caldesseia, sneering.

“We?” Velysra retorted. “You do not speak for any ‘we’!”

“It’s not pity,” said Fluttershy, stomping a hoof on the ground. “Didn’t you hear what Rainbow Dash just said? We’re trying to help, and you are not helping us help you right now!”

Caldesseia’s mouth hung open for a good few seconds, her expression going from anger, through disbelief, finally landing on confusion.

“You are sincere,” she said, shaking her head. “Why? Why would you wish to help us? After all we—no, after all I have done to you, why would you wish to help? Velysra is sun-touched and blameless. Her wrongs towards you were ordered by me, but you have no cause to wish to help me and mine.”

Velysra stared at Caldesseia, taken aback. “I… no, I appreciate the intent, but I chose to act on your orders. You cannot take away my blame and guilt, Cal,” she said. “Caldesseia,” she corrected herself with a shake of her head.

“Ugh, whatever!” said Dash. “I don’t care which one of you is sorry or thinks the other one did what, you need to talk to these guys here in Cotronna. Talk to the council and to Phoreni and everyone else!”

“They expect them to speak with one voice,” Rarity added. “As a council, or at least as ‘kin’ who can reach a decision together, and if we are talking about the future of the peryton people, I understand why.”

“Then they will wait for a long time,” said Caldesseia, simply.

Velysra nodded. “That will not happen. Not for as long as half of our people are deluded into believing Caldesseia’s madness.”

“Not for as long as half our people believe that it is better to stay in the mountains than these fertile lands here, is what you mean,” Caldesseia snapped.

“You do not even wish to leave the mountains while the cities remain as they are!” said Velysra. “You cannot abide their Aspects, and you have scowled at every stone and statue we have passed! You mean to continue this meaningless struggle? You wish to fight?”

Caldesseia’s cawing laughter filled the room. “And you wish to give up? You wish to accept that the mountain is the best our people will ever have?”

“It is not merely sufficient, it is good, and it is ours! It is bountiful, and it is home, but if staying in a burning pit would keep you from meddling with fell creatures such as you have, I would do that instead!” Velysra replied.

“Both of you, shut up!” Rainbow Dash yelled, breaking into a hover to draw level with the quarreling peryton. When she landed again, the impact of her hooves echoed loudly in the otherwise completely quiet room. “Wow, you two just don’t stop!” Dash said, sighing. “Okay, uh, so how about this. You said ‘fell creatures’. You’re talking about the heron, yeah?”

“I did not think I let them see you,” Caldesseia said, frowning. “I gave an order for them not to see you, at least.” She glanced over at Velysra, who shrugged.

“We didn’t see them except for when we busted out of your dumb jail, but we figured it out, and lemme see if I remember this right, ‘cause Fluttershy, Rarity and I talked about this.” Rainbow Dash stuck out her tongue both trying to reorder her thoughts, and giving her friends a chance to jump in in case they knew where she was going with this, but they didn’t. Dash shrugged and went on.

“You probably know the heron are bad business now. We know stuff didn’t really work out with them. They were trying to get you to do really bad things, and they weren’t helping you much at all. Uh, you both knew all that stuff, right?” Dash asked, cocking a brow. Velysra nodded, while Caldesseia said nothing. “Right. Cool. Remember that, because, second point—” Dash raised a hoof. “You’re angry because the Perytonians made the Aspects and stories and everything. Helesseia instead of Celestia, Selyria instead of Luna, that sort of stuff. With me so far?”

Velysra nodded again, slower this time. “It is not offensive to me as it is to Caldesseia. I think they are wrong to do so, but I do not concern myself with it.”

Caldesseia sighed. “Where are you going with this? You know well what I think about the practice of annihilating Celestia’s sacred name. Why—”

“Because be quiet for a second,” said Rainbow Dash, glaring at her. “So! Back to the gorge where you all split off! What you don’t remember, or what you don’t know, is that Celestia and Luna were turned into these Aspects to help peryton remember the ‘stories’ you’ve decided you don’t like, even if you don’t know anything about them.” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Okay. I didn’t like them at first either, but some of those stories,” Dash said, drawing the word out because it made Caldesseia sneer, “they’re stories about the heron. Am I forgetting anything so far?” Dash asked, glancing askance at her friends.

“No, you’re doing wonderful,” said Fluttershy, beaming at Rainbow Dash and stroking her back with a wing.

“Go on, dear,” said Rarity, smiling at her.

“So basically, the other peryton created their ‘First Stories’ to remember the stuff Celestia and Luna taught them way back, like don’t play with the heron,” Dash said, propping herself up against Fluttershy in return. “Or if you need me to spell it out for you, the peryton here remember your ‘gods’ better than you do, and they have a bunch of stories about Celestia and Luna that you don’t have. Hay, stories we don’t have. Their First Stories are just really old history, and they have a lot of it!”

“That… is more than I think I knew,” said Rarity, arching a brow.

“Talked to a claw-priest, tell you about it later,” said Dash, grinning.

Caldesseia’s face had gone entirely blank, wiped clean of emotion. No sneering, no glaring, just an empty stare.

“This is much to understand, to take in,” said Velysra. She tapped the ground with one of her claws, looking to Caldesseia. “Do you now see? You cannot deny that to consort with the heron was a misstep. The three ponies are not our enemies.”

Caldesseia rested a hoof lightly on one of the posts of the barrier separating them. “Why should I believe these words?”

“Are you serious?” Rainbow Dash groaned. “I give up! Why does everyone have such a hard time believing us? Why is this even a thing?!”

“Because we have been truthful with you every time so far,” said Fluttershy, smiling patiently.

“Think,” said Velysra. “Why would they lie about this? And how do they know so much of the heron? They know things we do not. They have known so much of Celestia—think back to all that was said back in the mountains and assume just for a moment that all they said then was true. I know you believed it even then.”

Caldesseia sighed and nodded slowly, while Velysra went on.

“You no longer lead our entire people, Cal. Things have changed. Let go of this weight you bear for now, and look. This is where you have led us,” she said. “Here. To imprisonment and strife.”

Caldesseia, the Guide—whatever name or title fit at the moment, the stocky doe shook her head slightly at first, small movements that became a stern shake of the head. Rainbow Dash’s muscles tensed as she prepared for rejection, for another I don’t believe you. She was about ready to call it quits and fly out the door.

“Why?” Caldesseia instead asked in a croaky voice. “How? Forget these… forget these words on the gods for now. Why would you say these things instead of—” she clenched her eyes shut. “Why do you feel you owe us words instead of vengeance?”

“You know, the other peryton, your ‘kin’, they don’t look for vengeance either,” said Fluttershy, taking a small step forward until her chest pushed against the ropes. “No one is except… you, really. Maybe you’ve been looking for someone to blame for so long, you’re having a hard time stopping. You’re looking for vengeance for something you know didn’t happen at the gorge and vengeance for a fight between the Princesses that’s long in the past and forgiven by every pony in Equestria—”

“Mostly. Last Nightmare Night was crazy,” Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath, though not too loud. It probably didn’t help their case.

“—and forgiven by the two Princesses themselves, the only ones left who were actually hurt,” Fluttershy concluded.

“Yeah. Seriously, vengeance is dumb,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “Getting obsessed with all these… these scars is dumb. They stay around for as long as you let them. You can keep obsessing over something that hurt once, keep poking your hoof at a scar, and it’ll never heal. It’ll grow bigger!” She took a half step back and pointed to the scar on Fluttershy’s hock, earning a curious look from Fluttershy herself.

“I did that too! You know who taught me how stupid that is?” Dash asked, her eyes on Caldesseia, the wavering doe staring back. “Velysra. Well, okay, she said something like it, and I didn’t really get it at first, but I kinda understood what she meant later.”

Rainbow Dash cleared her throat. “Okay, fine, I figured it out right now. She said something really smart way about how you should stop poking your wounds and it was really, really cool. Fluttershy got hurt back in Vauhorn, zapped by lightning, and I kept thinking about that scar and some… I was gonna say something metaphor-y about old hurts that aren’t on your body, memories—it made a lot more sense in my head but shut up, not the point!” she said, flicking her ears irritably. ”Vengeance? Revenge? Who wants anything to do with that stuff? Me, I’m good if you have to stay on the other side of this rope for another hour or two. Call it even. Koltares can stay for a week because he’s a huge jerk, but I think all of this is stupid.”

Past the two does they spoke with, Koltares locked eyes with Rainbow Dash for a brief second, then looked away, his eyes on the ground.

“This is not a joke, is it?” Caldesseia asked. “You have forgiven Luna—”

“There’s literally nothing to forgive,” Dash groaned.

“But even if she had wronged you directly,” said Caldesseia, insistent, “if you believed as we did and gave the sun her dues, you would forgive Luna. I see it in you now.”

“For taking away the sun for like… half a day? If you mean back in year one thousand, we were there, and hay yeah, no big deal,” said Rainbow Dash, shrugging. “If you mean way back? Same thing. No big.”

“This is what we have been saying since we entered this room,” said Rarity with an exasperated sigh. “We are not here because we are angry with you. We are trying to help, but I don’t know how many ways we can rewrap those words until you accept them.”

“You were wrong about them,” said Velysra. She smiled at the ponies. “I have told you this at our home, too. You underestimate their capacity for forgiveness.”

“I may have been wrong about a lot of things,” said Caldesseia, her eyes shining like her necklace did in the sparse light admitted by the narrow windows. She settled her wings on her back anew after airing them out, and her gaze fell on Velysra.

“Still, I do not see how we will overcome these gaps between us. We have split our city not only from anger that may have been… wrong. It was not just malice and missteps. Though those who listened to me have had their hearts calmed after the Ephydoeran attack, and even if my desire for a fight has gone, we still wish for something beyond the mountains, but here in the lowlands they speak of different names for the gods, of Aspects, of stories we do not know. Even with soothed hearts, there is no city here for us. We are not as they.”

Fluttershy’s head tilted a near-perfect ninety degrees. “Who says you have to be? You don’t have to believe in, or like the same things at all.” No maybes, no uncertainties, she spoke in a clear voice and with absolute confidence. Rainbow Dash nuzzled into Fluttershy’s neck while her girlfriend went on.

“They all have the same Aspects, but they don’t have a lot else in common except wanting to work together in their own way. Why would you need to live in one of their cities? Living apart worked for you in the past.” Fluttershy bent one ear. “It’s not you and them, you’re just five cities, all different.”

“Yeah,” said Dash, grinning. “And hey, speaking of stories and junk, they probably don’t know everything about what happened at the gorge. Maybe they were too busy moving and thinking about other, older stories, but if you can drop the stupid lies, I bet they’d love to hear about it. I didn’t think they cared too much about history, but like I said, that’s what their First Stories are about, and if you know stuff they don’t, maybe you can help make the first new ‘First Story’ in a while. Share what you’ve got! That’s the fun part of getting along!”

Rarity nodded and stepped up to Fluttershy on the other side, smiling at Caldesseia and Velysra both. “And in turn, I am certain they will be happy to share what they know. If Celestia is so important to you, surely the prospect of learning more about her from the time when the ‘goddess’ was active here on your continent appeals to you.”

“Maybe you’ll come around and realise Luna’s pretty cool too,” said Dash. She held up a hoof when she saw Caldesseia’s instant frown and Velysra’s nervous look. “I said maybe!” she said, laughing. “Take it slow if you really wanna, but hey, I bet you didn’t know that most of those stories aren’t gonna be about Perytonia. Your people are from the Cauldron. The mountains you’re from, that’s like… your really, really old home.”

“Ancestral home, I believe is the term,” Rarity supplied.

“Sure, that,” Dash agreed.

“And we really did mean it when we said we can take a letter to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, you know,” said Fluttershy. “If you really believe us now, maybe you can think about it.”

The two does had been quiet while the ponies spoke, and now that they had no more to say, they looked not at the three friends, but at each other.

“We must find some compromise,” said Velysra, her voice urgent. “Cal, we belong in the mountains. All this talk of cities—we have our village. The mountains is as close as we can get to our past, free from all these poisonous ambitions!”

“They are not poison!” Caldesseia hissed, and for a second, Rainbow Dash thought they were about to start yelling at each other, but the Guide took a deep breath and continued, much calmer. “It is not about ambition. Forget the fight and the strife. Even then, the plains are so much richer, and here the sun shines down upon the ground all day long. I wanted to make a difference, to make something better.”

“Um, actually,” said Fluttershy raising a hoof before Velysra could reply. “You don’t have to be together to work together, really. If splitting up worked out well for the other cities when they moved from the gorge, it doesn’t have to be six cities. Why not seven? I’m sure you could talk to the Cotronnans and the Ephydoerans and come to some sort of agreement.”

Rarity nodded vigorously. “Talk to them. Make repairs. Phoreni is an absolute star once you get to know her, and her chief concern is that you kidnapped us. The poor dear feels responsible for us, and we’ve already forgiven you. Tell her you wish to negotiate. That’s all they want, you do realise. They wish to talk to you. As it stands, your quarrel hurts your entire people’s chances for the future. Together, you can stake out a course for your people.”

“One or two courses, or however many you like,” Fluttershy added.

“Yeah, and you should do so as friends,” Dash said, frowning at them. “If you two used to be super close, you can’t just give up on that! Even if you had your differences, you used to be super best friends, and you’re letting a whole load of nothing get in the way of that!”

“Reminds me of some ponies I know,” Rarity murmured. Rainbow Dash bumped against Fluttershy’s flank, making Fluttershy bump into Rarity in turn, but the unicorn recovered before she fell and put on a smug grin.

Caldesseia flicked her ears and glanced nervously over at Velysra, looking more like a bashful school-filly than anything else.

“Give us… some time to talk, I think,” said Velysra, stealing furtive little glances at Caldesseia in return.

“Then, we will call upon your Phoreni,” Caldesseia agreed, nodding and smiling just the barest bit.

“That’s wonderful!” said Fluttershy. She smiled so wide, Rainbow Dash wondered if she was about to hop over the flimsy barrier and hug the two does.

“Cool,” said Dash, grinning. “She’s probably gonna nap for a day, just so you know, because this entire thing’s driven her crazy, but… cool.”

“I believe you will do a marvellous job,” said Rarity, dipping her head.

“Thank you,” said Velysra. “And… thank you.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled and waved a wing while walking away. “No problem. We had some time to spare and we were in the neighbourhood, no big deal. See ya around!”

The four peryton sitting by the door looked up, traditionally stone-faced Ephydoerans giving them small smiles and nods as the ponies passed. They must have been listening in, Rainbow Dash decided. Hard not to when a good half of the ‘conversation’ was practically yelling. The two wardens occupying the forechamber waved on their way out, and the crowds had thinned out further, though the plaza was still packed with peryton. Rainbow Dash spread her wings and lowered herself a little lower to the ground.

“Hop on,” said Rainbow Dash.

“I think you’ve deserved a little break, dear,” said Rarity, smiling at her. “Fluttershy, if Rainbow Dash doesn’t want to walk through these crowds, do you think you could carry me instead, perhaps?”

“Of course,” said Fluttershy, nodding at her. Rarity climbed on top, and they were off into the air once more, followed by eyes from below. Rainbow Dash twisted and turned in the air, corkscrewing and looping on the ascent just to give them a little show before she levelled out next to Fluttershy.

She didn’t mind Fluttershy taking a turn. And she certainly didn’t mind the that Fluttershy seemed to carry Rarity with relative ease. No, that particular fact made her giddy, as did the fact that when she pushed herself to fly a little closer to Fluttershy than was strictly safe, their wingbeats synchronised of their own accord.

“There,” said Rainbow Dash, letting out a yawn she had held in since this morning. “Now we can go home.”

Fluttershy nodded and turned to look at her, smiling, and it was all Dash could think that she never wanted Fluttershy to stop smiling like that.

“I’m really proud of us. I’m proud of you,” said Fluttershy.

“I think we’ve done our best, and I’m sure things will work out.” Rarity chimed. She rested her head on Fluttershy’s, looking at Dash. “This was a splendid idea.”

“Yeah,” said Dash. She was sure her cheeks and her eartips were both on fire from the praise. “It wouldn’t have worked out without you two. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Fluttershy repeated, giggling.

“Is somepony having a difficult time accepting their dues?” Rarity asked, arching a brow and laughing. “Rainbow Dash, of all ponies? I hardly believe it.”

Rainbow Dash joined in the laughter, shaking her head. She flipped upside-down and grinned at her friends. “I didn’t think of half the stuff you said, I’m just being honest. But hay yeah it was my idea, so I get at least thirty percent of the credit!”

“Um, that’s less than a third, Rainbow Dash,” said Fluttershy.

“Yeah, well, uh,” said Dash, frowning. “I’m not only the best, I’m super generous too?”

Rarity stared blankly. Fluttershy snorted and covered her muzzle with a hoof. Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to try to come up with a less lame defense, or perhaps just double down—she hadn’t decided yet—when a dark shape whisked past her. Dash folded her wings and dropped down a little on sheer instinct, stabilising her flight right below Fluttershy.

“What the hay?” Dash shouted after the large raven that had nearly clipped her, heading for the center of the city. “Jeez! Somepony needs to give them flying lessons! You don’t pass that close, you just don’t!”

“Ravens can be playful, I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it,” said Fluttershy, her head turned to watch the bird aiming for the spires of the Hall of Scrolls. Just then, two ravens left the spire, heading south.

“Quite a few of those out today,” Rarity remarked, pointing ahead to another two ravens incoming, on approach to the city. “A busy workday, I imagine.”

“Probably,” said Dash, yawning again. Now that they were done talking about how awesome she was, and assured that she wasn’t being attacked by a flock of wild geese, the lack of sleep from yesterday made itself known. It was still just early afternoon, but flying when tired was never a good idea. “Okay, let’s get back. I need a nap, bad.”

“I think we could all use a good night’s sleep today,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe we can just land at the market, buy something good to eat and as much food and water as we can carry, and then go to bed early?”

Rarity nodded. “I think that sounds like a good plan. I think I’ll see if I can find that bathhouse before bed myself. Would you care to join me? If Phoreni truly meant that she would try to find us for a longer chat sometime before we leave Perytonia, I would rather prefer not to spend every minute being ashamed of my own appearance.”

“Bed,” Dash said, blinking heavily. “I’ll bathe in the grass when we’re out of town if I have to.”

“We could just bathe in the ocean, really,” Fluttershy giggled.

“Sure. Whatever. But right now, I wanna bathe in blankets. In a bed.”

Rainbow Dash woke up in the middle of the night. At first, she thought it was early morning, and that her tiredness came from the need to launch right into a bonus morning nap, but the near total darkness outside the open window said otherwise. If the moon was out, it hid behind heavy clouds.

Her sleep schedule had taken a little bit of a hit. That was one of the problems with staying awake for nearly two days straight, then crashing onto bed minutes after getting home from the market.

On the other hoof, she enjoyed the benefits of having a girlfriend, and of saving the day. Saving the day, or maybe just fixing half of their mess-ups. Dash wasn’t keeping track, and didn’t care. She felt good. For once she woke up lazy and had the luxury of closing her eyes and going back to sleep again instead of rushing along.

Rainbow Dash shuffled closer to Fluttershy, wrapped a wing around her girlfriend’s body and nuzzled into her chest-fluff until Fluttershy smiled in her sleep.

“Sure, it’s really clean,” said Rainbow Dash, landing again to walk next to Rarity and Fluttershy after the wagon had passed.

“It’s not merely ‘clean’,” Rarity scoffed. “It is brilliant. I swear, the soot from those ash-paths in the Cauldron worked its way into my coat all over, and I must have forgotten what actual white looks like. Why didn’t you tell me I had been a dusty grey?”

Fluttershy giggled as they crossed the street. “You weren’t grey, but you are a little brighter. I think my coat looks a little better too.”

“Before you say anything, I’m taking a dip in the first river we see,” said Dash, trying not to sound too defensive about it. “But no way was I gonna stay awake for a bath yesterday.” Now that Fluttershy had said it, though, and giving her a good look under the morning sunlight, Dash had to admit that her girlfriend’s coat and mane colours were more vibrant than before. Dash ran a single feather along Fluttershy’s side, and the other pegasus didn’t even blush. She just smiled at her and shuffled her own wings.

“I did not mean it as implied critique, dear,” Rarity said after a moment. She stepped out of the lines of peryton moving in the same direction as they, taking the ponies onto the stone stairs of a corner building. “This should be Ihassa’s office, if I recall.”

“I remember the plants,” said Fluttershy, nodding even as Rarity opened the door for them. The three ponies stepped inside the same cramped office, and a vaguely familiar-looking doe put down a scroll, dipped her hoof in the water bowl and shook it, bowing and extending a wing.

“I trust Vossos closes his eyes even at this second of our meetings,” said Ihassa Qual, smiling toothily at them. “That is to say, you wish to speak ‘plain’ again, however strange it is.”

“We won’t take up much of your time. We have come to return the key. Thank you for letting us stay,” Rarity explained, smiling back at her.

“You paid for the season,” said Ihassa, blinking in open surprise. “Is something wrong with the house? You do understand I am bound to fix any and all things that may break or go missing?”

“Nah, the house is fine,” said Dash. “But I guess you haven’t heard the news.”

Ihassa had one dainty forehoof halfway to the water bowl out of habit before she evidently thought better of it. “I have been to my brother’s farm at the edge of the demesne,” she said, nodding. “I have not visited my block’s wall since my return this morning.”

“It’s okay,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head. “We’re on our way out. Thank you again.”

They left the mildly confused doe behind, and a few more blocks down, the traffic of peryton dispersed to make for easy walking. Three ponies walked abreast, manes and tails cut short, laden with saddlebags and ohron. The blanket lay folded between Fluttershy’s wings, and both Rarity and Rainbow Dash carried some fresh food on their backs for a good lunch before they had to switch to the packed bread and biscuit-like things they’d bought. In short, they were as prepared for a journey as they had ever been. Rainbow Dash stretched her neck out when the last of the tall buildings were left behind and the sunlight finally fell upon them in full.

“Yeah, it’s absolutely getting colder,” said Rainbow Dash, smiling. She felt like she could fly anytime she wanted to, really.

“Maybe we’re so used to the heat now, we’ll get back to Ponyville and feel cold even in summer,” Fluttershy mused.

“You don’t truly think—” said Rarity, frowning.

“Like… we’d have to wear clothes all the time?” Dash asked.

“—actually, that isn’t the worst of fates,” Rarity said, her expression pensive now.

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Okay, but we’re still in Perytonia, Rarity. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get super cold at night right now.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t think so. The nights in the city were okay, weren’t they?”

Rarity nodded her assent. “They were milder, I think. I haven’t been very cold in a while, but I suppose that might just be me getting used to the cold just as we’re used to the heat. If you ask me, the greater concern is contacting Princess Luna if she didn’t talk to you last night, Rainbow.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “She’ll be around.”

“You say that, but I also believe you said you had an appointment with her that she missed,” Rarity replied.

“Because I didn’t sleep that night. That was the night before. We didn’t have a date tonight or anything, and yeah, I told her we messed up, but I didn’t say we were in trouble,” said Dash. “Well okay, I said we were in trouble, but not like… peryton trouble. Just being stupid trouble, lame trouble about awesome being in love stuff, and that all worked out.”

Fluttershy smiled at Dash and nodded, nuzzling in between her ears. “I think it worked out at least,” she said. Now they walked among the Cotronnan farms. A stag looked up from his work, stared at them for a second, and went back to inspecting the soil.

“Hay yeah it worked out!” said Dash, grinning and retaliating by bumping her flank against Fluttershy’s. Besides, Dash thought, Luna had been quite clear how she felt about Rainbow Dash trying to treat her dreams like it was a way to knock on the Princess’ private chamber doors. Dash had tried calling her name once last night in between kicking hydra butt, to no effect. Luna would pop up tomorrow or the day after.

“Well, if you aren’t worried, neither am I,” Rarity declared, smiling at the two. “Though I hope it doesn’t rain,” she said, suddenly frowning. “Did you see that shadow just now?”

“What shad—oh,” said Dash, looking over her back. It hadn’t been the large shadow of a cloud passing overhead. The sky was almost completely clear, in fact. No clouds. Just one peryton high in the sky, a faintly glowing blue shape that would have been invisible against the sky if she hadn’t been looking for something. A single peryton whose shape grew as the angle changed and they dove straight for the ponies. “Oh jeez,” said Dash, turning around to face it. “What?!” she yelled at the sky. “Are we moving too slow for you? Seriously? We’re leaving!”

“It’s an Ephydoeran,” said Fluttershy, squinting at the fast-growing figure. “Why would they worry about how quickly we leave Cotronna?”

“I don’t know,” said Dash, deflating a tad, abandoning all efforts to get worked up about it. She carried some very delicious breakfast soup on her back and didn’t care to fly up and drop it. She didn’t even know of any Ephydoeran peryton who had any problems with them. Maybe the ambassador? No. She recognised those antlers. “Wait. Is that—”

“That is most definitely Phoreni,” said Rarity.

She came in fast, but she didn’t look like she was in a hurry. Phoreni cut through the air effortlessly—for a peryton, anyway. She dove and broke the fall, then wove left and right, finally circling a little to shed the last of her height, her great wings spread in full as she finally touched down on the hard-packed dirt road right in front of the ponies.

“Yo!” Dash shouted. “What’s up? Worried you wouldn’t find us later? We’re just gonna camp down the road,” she said, gesturing down east. “Like, right outside the farms, probably. There are some cliffs and stuff a little way past the city demesne borders.”

Phoreni didn’t look worried. She didn’t look tired, either, but she definitely looked… excited? The peryton doe shook her head and pointed to Cotronna.

“Am I concerned with finding you later? I am relieved with finding you now. You have been called to the council.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. She looked to her friends, and Rarity and Fluttershy, but neither of them looked like they had any answers.

“I don’t believe we are allowed in the city any more,” said Rarity, one brow arched. “This exile is hardly being policed very efficiently from what I can tell, but I think we’ve done quite enough to harm the relationship between Equestria and Perytonia’s cities.”

“We thought we’d set up camp somewhere nearby, and we won’t leave for another three or four days at least,” said Fluttershy, nodding. “But… they want to see us?”

Phoreni inclined her head. “‘Want’ is a good word. Were you wardens, and were this the High Warden calling you, this would not be a question but an order, but there is no authority that can compel you to come.”

Dash shrugged. “Got that right, but what’s up?”

“Ask me if I like to speak in absolutes, and I will tell you that you should by now know that I avoid them when I can, and now all in my mind is even more in flux than usual,” said Phoreni, but despite her words, she smiled faintly, just enough to show teeth. Amused, almost. “But I am not unthinking, and I think you will wish to witness this. The message I bear from the council specifically is to ask your aid in understanding events, and I know you three. Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, you three love nothing more than to aid others. Will you come?”

“We’re hardly in a hurry to get anywhere. What do you say, girls?” Rarity asked.

Fluttershy nodded. “We can always fly if we have to hurry to get out of their lands by the evening. Of course we’ll help if there’s anything we can do.”

Rainbow Dash glanced at the paper-wrapped package on her back, her snout scrunched as she thought.

“Gimme me like… three minutes to finish this soup.”