• 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 46

For the Quills of the Council of Cotronna

To Orto was given the task of greeting and reaching an understanding with the Equestrian delegation. Mine was the task of paving the way for a relationship between Equestria and all of our cities by understanding them, and by advising the cities on their ways until a story could be written of Deiasos and Myrtella met.

When the delegates met with me, I understood that they wished to meet our cities, but they also spoke of wishing to hurry to Cotronna, as one city to stand out among five. They said this even while they sang the virtues of shining Orto with their words and deeds. I understood one of two things had happened.

Either the words between the first Equestrian visitor, Red Sun Runner, and the Ephydoeran scouts had been ill reported, and these ponies truly only had interest in Cotronna upon the far shores. This, I doubted, for they knew nothing of Cotronna. Else, there was a failure of expectations and understanding.

Being ambassadors of Equestria—what we then thought was a great city, and that I now understand is a union of many cities great and small—it was not my place to tell them that they wanted something other than what they said. I would not be so reckless as to risk offending with forceful words.

From my conversations with the ponies, they seemed exceptionally cheerful and friendly, and possessed of their own wonderful intellects. Could I bring out my maps and ask, dig through meanings, explain and try to negotiate these differences between us that I barely understood at the time? Yes. Could I have done it well? Likely.

Could I have done it well enough to give these ponies a true understanding of Perytonia? Could I have give them an understanding upon which could be created the lasting relationship Cotronna must want when they refer them to Orto? The sun-touched relationship we all desire?

I did not think so.

In explaining what I know, I would misrepresent the cities that are not Orto. I would bring into speech a story of cities that are not my own home, with my limited understanding. As a member of Orto’s council, I have visited the cities briefly, but I do not truly know them as they themselves do. I would also invariably weave stories of Perytonia as Perytonia sees herself. That is not the truth of Perytonia. We would be lost in such a telling, that is my fervent belief. I can only try to make a stranger understand my understanding. Perytonia herself must be experienced, not explained, and her truth exists in between the resident and the visitor. This we have learned in our meeting with other cultures, most recently Cotilla.

We are sister-cities. I have heard from other tongues, from well-travelled zebra, that we are ‘autonomous and cooperative city-states’ as though those words explain all, but those are words given to me. They are not mine, and I hold no love for them. Any kin will have one thing in rich measure: a keen understanding of the forces that work upon them and their city. This, I sought to share with them. I set the ponies loose upon Perytonia and encouraged them to find those kin among us who would share their cities with them like the most vaunted stories of Myrtella’s love. Then, the ponies could render their own judgment as to whether or not they would speak with us, and how they would do so.

If your minds are swayed, I can add much of what I have learned of Equestria if the council will remember that my words are borrowed: across the eastern ocean lies a great land, and to hear it said, there are more cities in Equestria than there are ships in Orto’s fleet, distinct and distinguished, yet barely a circle-throw away from the next. Each city of kin should send their own to see it, and I hope that we will have this opportunity. I further hope your latest missive regarding the Equestrian delegation will be reconsidered, and you may expect another letter from the full Ortosian Council on this matter.

If my words are not well liked in your eyes: as per our compact, you may call for me to step down from the council. I will not urge our own council to contest this decision if you do, but I will ask you to read my words three times at the very least, and to consider that you called upon Orto to perform a task, and she has done so. If I have committed any errors in my own sight, it is that perhaps I should have sent a raven to every city explaining this. Not only have I been absorbed in my own journey of learning, but I also feared that to do so would hamper the entire point I have described above. To begin crafting stories in the sight of existing Aspects would be to deny the possibility for something new.

Attached: Another letter from an interested party.

-Consul Khaird of the Swaying Stalks, Visitor Liaison

For The Council of Orto

For the Council of Cotronna

Of all my friends and loved ones do I know none who have written to another city’s council in this manner, but Khaird of the Swaying Stalks is dear to me, and his was the suggestion that I should give you these words.

What you have done must be injustice, a mistake, or otherwise a wrong shrouded in Raella’s absurdities that is beyond my grasp to understand. These three ponies of Equestria stayed at the House of the Heavenly Song in Orto, and though our meeting was brief, I saw clearly in their hearts the songs woven like golden links between every one of Myrtella’s stories, or the colours mixing in the new scarves she showed us.

Orto honours its guests, and its guests honour Orto in return. As consul, Khaird cannot say this, but as one who has seen many visitors over countless seasons, I will say this: the Equestrians will have beds at my House until a missive arrives to Orto that gives a true and real cause to deny them my friendship.

-Ligilia of the House of Heavenly Song, proprietress.

For Cotronna

I heard your letter from the criers, and I read it for myself thinking the crier had copied a missive wrong. Someone has made a mistake, but it was not the crier’s guild. It is you.

In two seasons, I join the Bent Feathers. I had thought that one day, I would visit the ponies’ homes, to thank Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity for all they have done to remind me to be as Daros and seize the courage to do what I have always wanted. Still I plan on doing this. One day I will show up in their city and surprise them, to thank them, but first, I must thank you.

Thank you for taking them away from all other kin. Thank you for placing another sliver on my scales, for giving another reason to step outside the cities. If they will not tread in our cities again, I am happier for every step I will take outside our shared outer borders.


If your heads are still below your tailfeathers and you do not understand, I will explain: I am not thankful. This is sarcasm. You are all fools, and this kinsdoe is richer for them having set their hooves upon Stagrum.


To add to my daughter’s words, and with all the respect one can give you without respecting the decisions of you and the ambassadors, I do not understand this. I may just be one doe, but I will ask the Dockmistress if the Houses of Stagrum will at the very least ask for an explanation of what this ‘undermining’ means, and what the ponies are charged with. This is owed.

-Naressa, Proprietress of the Autumn Hymn Resting House, Free League of Unbound Houses

For the Council of Cotronna and all its members

In light of the missive explaining the expulsion of the three ponies of Equestria, we wish to share with the council a lesser known story. First, understand that we are not city officials, nor are any of us claw-priests or a hedge-claws. Still, we wonder: Have you heard the story of Iagasus’ three companions? It is a local story, so we suspect you have not. We will share it with you.

Iagasus travelled along the twilit western coast, and there came upon five nameless kin. He saw that his talents were needed. Here was ample opportunity for the Aspect of the Council of the Thirteenth Hour. Here was so many an ear that could benefit from the whispered word. Some needed healing, some wished delight, and some were young and would benefit from having their eyes opened to a larger world, a world that expanded until it seemed that Pyn would need to give them an extra set of legs if they ever wished to tread it.

But Iagasus despaired. They were too many, and the time too short. Iagasus visits when and where he is needed the most, but one Aspect is not infinite, and so he called upon his three companions. These companions went forth, and chaos reigned for a short time as they did their work. Words were whispered, encouragement given, and the very meaning of a horizon was redefined.

Iagasus himself spun in the chaos until he could not rightly say whether the words had been right or wrong, and he thought that surely Chorossa had seized a hold of his talons and made him do this—but if so, it was Chorossa’s Aspect not as befuddlement and despair, but delightful confusion. When the dust settled on the ground, how vibrant the world seemed! All had been shaken until Orsshur laughed with joy at how nothing was known for sure.

Iagasus departed having spoken not a single word, but in his silence, his presence had been felt, and problems had been solved that did not exist. He left the world brighter and more colourful than before, and even Iagasus himself understood that, in giving this task to his companions, his own existence had been enriched.

That is the story of Iagasus’ companions. In the beginning of this letter, we warned that this story is local, and we spoke no lie. This story is as local as a story could possibly be, belonging only to the house of Neisos, Ohrinna, Deimesa, Teilos and Berissa, citizens of Vauhorn, and you may share in it and understand from it what you will.

Of course, you may also wish to ensure you read the stories of the Alluvium. We do not know if the Council has time for such things, but we think most others do. If you did listen to the Pony and the Osprey, did you understand who told it? Do you understand the profundity of its impact?

What we understand is that the story told at the Alluvium likely is only one small part of the stories these big-hearted travellers leave in their wake, and your letter is an unkind ending.

-Neisos, Ohrinna, Deimesa, Berissa and Teilos of Vauhorn

Cotronnan Council,

I am Khyrast, and I respond with this to your letter denouncing the Equestrian ponies who left Ephydoera last season.

I am First Teacher of the Grove. I teach our small-feathers in our magic, and in doing so, I see a great many hearts bared before me. I see little claws who are anxious and afeared, frustrated, struggling and worried. I see young kin-to-be who, for their little size, have enormous hearts, stumbling as they walk the path before them.

Even as grown kin, we never truly put away this faltering step. That is all I will say on your missive, as I do not yet know the scope of the Equestrian delegates’ stumblings in the Cotronnan council, but a second letter will go to Ambassador Parshos to learn of it. I will not lie to you of this: I will put grim hours into learning until I am satisfied you have not wronged them.

The ponies’ visit to Ephydoera was brief. I cannot claim to have looked into their hearts as deeply as I would have liked. In the stead of such a claim, I offer what lies within my own heart, and the heart of one I love: Phoreni and I wish to have known them better, and the sincerity of this claim echoes in how Loriessa and Aoras—with whom they never met—regret that they never had the chance that Phoreni and I had.

Finally, as our ravens are all reserved or in flight, I will append this one note for Phoreni for lack of a separate letter, as the High Warden assures me she will be in Cotronna: All love from me, Loriessa and Aoras, please be unhurt, and do not forget to give Rainbow Dash my congratulations.


Councillors of Cotronna

The High Warden suggests that you give grave counsel to Phoreni’s words. I have no formal request to overturn your missive yet, but though Phoreni is not appointed ambassador for your council at this time, she has dealt much with this matter.

This relates to your letter concerning the expulsion of the Equestrians.

-The High Warden

The Cotronnan Grand Council Hall wasn’t any less stuffy the second time around. It seemed larger than ever, too. Without a mask obstructing her view, Rainbow Dash had a clear view of the rows upon rows of peryton seated on infinite benches behind endless desks, all of them looking down upon the ponies who stood at the centre.

Behind the desk facing them in the central front row of consuls, the ageing stag’s magic winked out. He put down the last of the many scrolls he had read aloud, finishing with the High Warden’s letter. Next to him sat a doe, and Rainbow Dash thought she recognised her as the Head Consul—not that the title mattered terribly much, of course.

“This,” she said, her surprisingly soft voice shattering the silence into a hundred whispered murmurs among the peryton. “This is what we seek your help in understanding. This is what has come to the ravenry in the Hall of Scrolls over the past days. This is what happened after we proclaimed exile. What does Equestria say of it?”

It wasn’t much, as far as accusations went. At her side, Fluttershy finally stopped quivering. She had stood oppressively close to Rainbow Dash ever since they entered the chamber, but now she seemed to breathe again. Maybe it was the silence that had scared her. The way everyone in the room—from the council to Phoreni who stood right next to them—had been utterly quiet while the stag read the letters. Now, life flooded back into the gathering, and the Head Consul’s frown was one of befuddlement. Of confusion.

“What do we have to say? I think Mirossa’s gonna be sad you spoiled her surprise visit,” said Rainbow Dash, raising her voice. She had to laugh. “We’re gonna have to pretend to be surprised, but she said she’s joining up with the Bent Feathers in two seasons? So like… in Spring? Yeah, I’ll probably forget. And what the hay is this congratulations stuff Khyrast said?” She looked over to Phoreni who simply smiled.

“Not now,” she said.

“I don’t quite understand what it is you want us to do,” said Rarity, her gaze roving among the assembled peryton. She shook her head helplessly. “I suppose that your decision was unpopular. We visited all the cities, and we made friends. Lovely friends who care enough about us to come to our defense.” Her smile wobbled a little. “Do you expect us to explain friendship to you? Or apologise for meeting wonderful peryton in the other cities?”

“I guess we could say we’re sorry if we made you feel bad, or if we made it difficult for you to exile us?” Fluttershy offered, her ears flat.

“Pass,” said Dash. “I’m not sorry. That’s dumb. Your opinion’s dumb—”

“Let’s not start another quarrel, Rainbow, please,” Rarity murmured.

“Yeah, okay, but what Rarity says is right,” said Dash, staring down the Head Consul. “What do you want? You want us to promise not to sneak back into Orto and sleep at Ligilia’s resting house? Sure. We won’t. We’re outta here, because that’s your call—”

“It was not our ‘call’,” said the Head Consul, interrupting Rainbow Dash. The lanky grey-white doe shook her head briskly. “If by this you mean to say you think this council made a decision by itself, you misunderstand even now. We are not the will of Perytonia. When we proclaim something on behalf of Perytonia, we are a voice. When we act on behalf of all cities at once, we do not do so to decide. We do so to put words to what we believe has already been decided, and we do so together with the ambassadors from our sister-cities.”

“And in this,” said the old stag at her side, unfurling one of the many scrolls that lay before him. “As First Teacher Khyrast suggests, we too may stumble.”

“Well… I must admit, I did wonder at the obvious hypocrisy of you banishing us from all cities in the same breath you claim not to be their leaders,” said Rarity, one brow arched. “But this is… a retraction?”

“You’re taking it back?” Dash asked.

The Head Consul nodded. “We are not afraid of debate or disagreements. We also have systems in place for when missives need to be overturned, however rarely they are used. We admit our mistakes. Our stumbles.”

“In this case, however, and before all else, we bow to Orto,” said a third peryton, a young doe sat next to the Head Consul. “Consul Khaird is correct. We suggested this task to Orto.”

“And we bow to the letters,” said the old stag, sounding almost confused himself as he gestured to the mess of scrolls littering the desk. “This is a second unprecedented event in few days. Letters from citizens. To the council. This is very strange, but poignant.”

“And we bow to events. To change,” said the Head Consul, raising her voice further, pointing to the ponies—no, to Phoreni who stood at their side, Dash realised. “Warden Phoreni here has explained to us that you three are the only reason we speak to the Morrowsworn this day to discuss future compacts and trade with a sixth city. Without you, we would not be talking of kin founding a seventh city upon the inland plains by the Splitwood.” She turned from Phoreni, raising her head to look to the upper rows of the concentric rectangles of desks. Rainbow Dash instantly recognised Velysra and Caldesseia stood amongst the other consuls.

Dash grinned to herself, whispering to Fluttershy. “They could’ve just said ‘yes, we’re taking it back, sorry’, ‘cause that’s what they’re doing, but I’ll take—ow.”

“Be quiet,” Rarity hissed, but none of the peryton seemed to hear them, most of the attention taken up by two stags who entered the room levitating a large bowl of water. They stopped by the top row, and the first consul they approached dipped a hoof in the water, flicking it off.

The two stags moved on, making the rounds until everyone on the top row had done so—including two very confused Morrowsworn does—starting on the next row right after. Soon, the two stags stood before the ponies with a half-full bowl of water. Phoreni smiled at the ponies and dipped a hoof in, flicking the water away, and the ponies followed suit.

“It’s like washing away the whole problem,” Fluttershy whispered, smiling. “I don’t mind that at all.”

“As this council discussed in the morning session, a new missive will be drafted renouncing the previous,” said the Head Consul. “If the Equestrians have further grievances regarding this, a letter of complaint will be considered with the gravest of sincerity. We move on to the next item. Gratitude.”

Rainbow Dash tilted her head, waiting. What now?

The peryton all stood up. Younger stags and does bounced up on all fours, while the older ones moved with groans or winces, but without further words, and with the noise of over a hundred peryton bodies in motion, the council rose—and then they bowed.

Eyes closed, heads tilted forward, and their wings dipping down to touch their primaries to the floor, all of the peryton performed the exact same weird bow. Phoreni remained upright, and Velysra and Caldesseia did their best to mimic the bow with covert looks at the others, but for a good few seconds of unnatural silence, the entire Council of Cotronna held their heads and wings low.

“We do not yet know how the last story of these events will be told,” said the Head Consul, opening her eyes again, sitting back down. “But all of Perytonia owes you a debt for helping give us a chance to weave stories together with our lost kin.”

Rainbow Dash looked up to the two Morrowsworn peryton up on the top row again. Both Velysra and Caldesseia smiled down at the ponies, nodding to them, and Dash grinned back, waving.

“This concludes all we had planned for this session!” the Head Consul announced. “It is time for lunch, but if the Equestrian delegation would like to put forth another item before we dissolve, we will allow it as a first step to repair relations between our people, and a first step on a journey to reward those who have offered our kin much.”

“The what?” Dash asked, blinking.

“Oh, I think we could probably ‘put forward’ something,” said Fluttershy, glancing over at Rarity.

“Why yes, dear,” said Rarity, smiling wide. She lit her horn and lifted the flaps of her saddlebags, rooting around. “I do believe we have something we would like to present to the council.” She levitated out the simple box from her saddlebags, positively radiant as she went on.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to discuss an invitation from the Princesses of Equestria. An invitation to all the cities of Perytonia to visit Equestria, attend a moot, and maybe to learn a little bit about us while you’re at it, just as we have had the pleasure of learning about you.” She magicked the sigil out from the box, the delicate eight-pointed star shining bright.

“We only have one invitation, though,” said Fluttershy, shuffling her wings nervously. “That’s not a problem, is it? Maybe you can share it?”

“I’ve got a better idea,” Dash said, batting the sigil out of Rarity’s magical grip with a hoof. It clattered to the ground.

“Well, that’s unnecessary,” said Rarity. “What are you—”

Rainbow Dash leapt into the air and put all her weight on the edge of one hoof, landing on the sigil with a loud crack and the squeal of metal on stone.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy squeaked, while Phoreni raised a brow but otherwise remained very still. More than a few of the peryton exchanged glances.

“And that is very unnecessary, dear,” Rarity said deadpan, louder than the murmuring peryton. “That was a royal invitation, and now it’s ruined. What has gotten into you?”

“It’s not ruined,” said Dash, lifting her hoof to review her work. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but the star had split into eight pieces of roughly the same size, separate from the magical plaque bearing the directions and details.

“We had one invitation, now we have eight. That’s one for each of you, and er, a spare. And don’t start arguing over who gets the biggest piece, either. Oh, and you’ll have to copy the directions, I guess, but you love organising here in Cotronna, right?” She chuckled and scooped the metal pieces up with a wing, trotting over to the Head Consul’s desk and depositing them in front of her. “I’m sure you can make a story of how Vossos had a great time working that out.”

The Head Consul levitated up the piece with the coordinates and smiled faintly, nodding, and when the peryton didn’t explode or re-exile them or anything, Rarity looked a little less like she was about to have an aneurysm. Fluttershy no longer hid behind her wings, either, which was nice.

“To copy these directions and make meaning of them is a task that Cotronna can undertake, and one of your invitations can find its home here with our thanks,” said the Head Consul. “As for the other invitations, that is a different matter. All this council would do is turn them over to the cities’ ambassadors, and I do not know if that is of help.” She turned around and looked to the top row where the four ambassadors stood together, next to the two Morrowsworn does.

“The Houses will take this opportunity to gather, and to be delighted at the prospect of Phostos’ songs of fair trade,” said the Stagrumite ambassador, nodding deeply with the rustle of the jewellery in his antlers. “This would best be presented before the gathered Houses with a provisory trustee to manage their cooperation in trade. Perhaps the Dockmistress may be helpful, but I cannot accept it on any House’s behalf.”

“With regret, nor I, for mine,” said the Vauhornite. She shook her head. “I do not trust a raven to carry this object, and I should think you would want to weave your own story of what it is you propose, directly to the sitting council. I am an ambassador to the Council of Cotronna, but my position is not part of the Vauhornite Council rotation.”

“Will I accept this on behalf of the High Warden? I can do so no more than Phoreni, and this is a matter for all of Ephydoera, not the High Warden alone,” said Ambassador Parshos. “I cannot take it.”

“And I know that the Council of Orto will be delighted to see you again if you wish to deliver this to their table,” said the Ortosian ambassador. “No sooner will you offer your friendship than will we accept it, but that offer is yours to make, not mine,” she concluded, smiling wide. “I believe you are acquainted with Consul Khaird, our current visitor liaison, and in light of his letter that we read just now, I think your return might be appropriate.”

Rainbow Dash rustled her wings and looked to her friends. Rarity was deep in thought, while Fluttershy puffed out her cheeks and looked right back at Dash.

“Right,” said Rainbow Dash. “Should’ve seen that coming. So, it’s getting colder. That’s because your summer’s done. It’s not gonna get super hot again—it’s gonna stay like this for a bit, right?”

The Head Consul blinked and looked to the rest of the council as if she needed some help in verifying exactly that. A confused scattering of nods all around culminated in a very certain nod from the doe herself. Phoreni tilted her head sideways, the very picture of curiosity.

“So, you said you were super grateful and all. Does that mean we get a reward?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Again, the Head Consul nodded, a little less sure this time. “I confess I do not understand this line of questions. If we can aid you, we will, but all we have said now is that none here can invite the cities to attend this event on your behalf.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that, and I figure we’re probably going to have to do that ourselves. It makes sense after everything Khaird wrote in that letter,” said Rainbow Dash, wrapping her wings about Fluttershy and Rarity both. “What I’m asking is, if there’s anyone in this city who knows how to use a hammer and some wood, can that reward be a really cool chariot?”

Rainbow Dash did her best attempt at the whole ‘gesture of grateful farewells’ bow that Ambassador Parshos had shown the ponies. She added a more normal wave for good measure, kicked off, and soared out the wide open workshop front, glad for the lack of sliding doors.

Even though traffic was thinning out in the western reaches of town, she decided to fly the short distance over to the weird little drinks-only café at the end of the street. She sailed towards the table she and Fluttershy had found a little earlier, spotting a pink-maned head—and two other familiar figures.

“You’re back!” said Rainbow Dash, waving at Rarity and Phoreni as she touched down and grabbed a seat by the small table, planting her butt on a dusty cushion perilously close to the traffic that flowed past the open-faced building. She tucked her tail-tuft under her to keep peryton from stepping on it.

“We returned only a moment ago,” said Phoreni. The doe shifted her weight a little, frowning at her flank as though she couldn’t get comfortable on the small pillows.

“The inner circle isn’t too far away, but yes—what did they say?” Rarity asked. The unicorn smiled her thanks when a stag walked over from the bar, putting four sweet-smelling bowls on their table.

“Did they think they could make it?” Fluttershy added, cocking her head sideways.

“Yep,” said Rainbow Dash, chuckling. She pushed her pillow a little closer to the others and sat down again, grabbing a sip from one of the bowls. Fruit juice, apparently. “They know how to make wagons, and I know what a chariot is, so, uh, I think we kinda ended up agreeing on what they were gonna do, but I have no idea how they hammer the thing together. I just know how a chariot works. Kinda. They wanted to make it too big, and I had to yell at them to make it the right size—oh, and they still complained that the wheels were too small.”

“Wheels are not the purpose of this thing, the way I understand it,” said Phoreni, one brow raised a smidge.

“Exactly!” said Rainbow Dash, laughing. “Just to make takeoff easier. The carpenters still don’t believe it’s gonna fly, but hey, council orders, so they’re gonna make it anyway.”

“Do I believe it will fly? I believe that if you say this wagon will fly, then it will,” Phoreni concluded, nodding to herself and taking a sip of fruit juice, scowling at the bowl shortly afterwards. “This is much, much too sweet.”

“Oh. I thought it was a little too sour myself,” said Fluttershy, giggling at that. “Different tastes, I guess. Did they say when they would have it done?”

“Tomorrow morning!” said Rainbow Dash. “That’s why I’m not complaining more. Those guys sure work fast, and they said they’re not going home before they’re done. They’re gonna make a copy of the old harness from the cart too, so that’s everything covered. We can probably leave tomorrow. How about you? Got stuff figured out?” She turned to her girlfriend and smiled expectantly, and Fluttershy nodded.

“We don’t have exact distances or anything, but I think it should be one or two days between each of the cities,” said Fluttershy with a lopsided smile. “If we keep a good speed, and the weather is nice, it’s one day to Vauhorn, but Ephydoera should be two. If we can fly for as long as we used to walk, that is.”

“Of course we can,” said Rainbow Dash, grinning wide. She pressed her snout under Fluttershy’s jaw and nuzzled, getting a proper, confident smile in return.

“If we struggle with progress, I am fairly confident I can handle the body magic spell a little more safely,” Rarity added, pushing her drained juice bowl away. “I talked to Phoreni a little, and while neither of us can really explain why I can’t use the spell on myself, nor do we know why it lingers, she gave me some suggestions on how to ensure it takes effect without overdoing it.”

Phoreni nodded. “Khyrast would be better suited to investigating this, but while ponies are not peryton, and peryton are not ponies, what she told me of your usage of this spell in the Bow is unsettling. I think you underestimate the value of a smaller application of magic.” She shook her head slowly from side to side and smiled toothily. “But then, I find you ponies rarely do things with subtlety, so I should not be surprised.”

“I choose to take that as a compliment,” said Rarity with a smile and a huff.

“How is it not?” Dash asked. “What about you guys? How’d your stuff go?”

Fluttershy nodded and looked to Rarity and Phoreni as well, fidgeting. “Did everything go well? They haven’t started arguing again, have they?”

Rarity shook her head. “Far from it. The only issue was that Velysra and Caldesseia didn’t quite like the idea of receiving separate invitations despite the fact that Velysra will stay in the mountains, and Caldesseia is founding a new city. We left them two of the… let us call them ‘invitations’, but I prefer ‘pieces of Rainbow Dash’s act of callous disregard for Royal craftwork’.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dash, sticking out her tongue.

“I guess they’ll have to decide for themselves if they both want to form some sort of council together, if they are going to be like princesses of different towns,” said Fluttershy with a sedate smile. “Or not lead at all. I don’t think we can help with that.”

“Sometimes one—or two—must find their own paths,” said Phoreni, nodding softly. “They will talk and seek counsel with each other and their people as they decide.”

Rainbow Dash nodded absentmindedly as she finished her juice bowl, watching the Cotronnan peryton flow past them, right outside of the café.

“Wait,” she said, pinning Phoreni with a look. “Hang on, talking of talking, actually. What was it you wanted to say?”

“You mean earlier, not now,” said Phoreni with rare precision and certainty.

“Yeah!” said Dash. “Yesterday you were all, ‘I gotta talk to you about one more thing’, and then Khyrast wanted you to tell me congratulations? What the hay is that all about?”

“You did say that,” said Rarity, frowning.

“You said it’s nothing bad, I think, and it can’t be all that scary if comes with a ‘congratulations’,” said Fluttershy, though her ears were at half tilt nevertheless, one wing questing to touch Dash’s side.

Phoreni took another sip of fruit juice. Either she enjoyed the anticipation, or she was thinking. For all her experience dealing with peryton, Rainbow Dash honestly could not get a good read on her right now. The powerfully built warden stretched her neck out and gave their surroundings a long look, but in the end, she simply nodded.

“I would have liked a better place for this than the hard and sharp chaos of these stone roads, but I have no choice,” said Phoreni. “What I meant to say was that yours was the winning joust this season.”

Fluttershy’s eyes lit up, and she smiled wide. “Rainbow Dash won the joust? That’s wonderful!”

“Oh, that’s marvellous! You were ever so concerned with not winning any of the contests at the games, but the joust was the most important event of them all!” Rarity added, beaming. “That’s quite the feather in your cap!”

“But you’re not looking very happy,” Fluttershy said, tilting her head, leaning forward to look Rainbow Dash straight in the eye.

“Yeah, no I didn’t,” said Dash with a snort. “Back in the Grove, I lost the joust.”

Phoreni raised a brow. “Perhaps you do not understand. At the closing of the games, your joust with Mhessa, the doe, was voted the strongest story, even though Khyrast recused himself from the counsel-group—”

“No, I get that,” said Dash, quickly shaking her head. “Sure, it was cool and all, but looking back at it, the joust was when I really started getting stuff wrong. I messed that up, hard.” She gave Fluttershy a glance, but they were past that now. It was just a memory. Fluttershy nodded in understanding and smiled, gently stroking her side with a wing, and Dash returned the gesture. Rarity said nothing, and Phoreni stared at her, uncomprehending.

“Girlfriend stuff,” Dash said waving a hoof. She smiled at Phoreni. “I lost my head. If I won the joust, that was two nights ago in the woods with Fluttershy.”

“Actually, you hit the ground first,” said Fluttershy. “I think I won that one.”

Rainbow Dash blinked, her brain shorting out for a second. The impish smile looked weird on Fluttershy, but she’d also been completely right. Dash burst into laughter, and so did Fluttershy.

“Okay, okay, but I still say that I won, even if I lost,” said Dash, her giggles petering out. “And hey, uh, we’re gonna need another pair of antlers. Let’s pick some up in Ephydoera on the way back.”

“I’m sorry,” said Fluttershy after a moment, shaking her head at their two confused companions’ faces. “We never told you how we made up. Maybe we can find some place to get some food? I’m sure we can tell you all about it.”

“I would appreciate that,” Rarity admitted, chuckling. “I did mean to ask, but there has been quite a lot going on lately. There are are a few gaps we still need to fill in, and that goes for you as well, dear,” she added, nodding her head in Phoreni’s direction. “I’d love to hear exactly what happened up in the mountains, and surely you and all the other peryton wonder why the moon covered the sun recently.”

Phoreni shrugged. “Do I wonder? I do not know any who think the movements of sun and moon are of particular interest, but I am eager to hear the story of this joust that I have not seen and anything else that has happened to you since you left the Grove. For all that we have grown close, there are many things I do not know, and food pairs well with talk.”

“But first, the reason I wished to tell you of your victory,” she continued, opening the ohron about her neck as she talked, placing a small jar on the table among the empty juice bowls. “If I understand you right, the joust of the Brush Games is a story of regrets for you, but for Ephydoera, it became an event to be remembered. A meeting of strangers. As winner, you are entitled to a prize.”

“Right!” said Dash, perking up. She had forgotten that part. “Sure, the whole ‘I lost’ thing is just kinda a figure of speech, you know.” She sat up and rubbed her hooves together. “If I won, I won, and if you wanna give me a prize, I’m down with that! What is it?” She squinted at the jar. It didn’t look like the jar of ointment they had used to paint Dash’s wings. It was smaller, and whatever was in it was clear, not white or green.

“This is a paint thinner devised by our foragers,” said Phoreni. She gave the little jar a brief glance, and shook her head. “The intent then was to aid in helping you rid yourself of your shame, and that this would be helpful to all of us.”

“Alright?” said Rainbow Dash. She looked from her wings to the innocuous container and back again. She barely remembered what it was like to have her wings be the same colour as the rest of her body. She even knew the location and size of the little green splotches around her wing-bases without even looking at them now. “I guess that’s cool.”

“Do I believe it is ‘cool’?” Phoreni asked with a full bodied shrug. “I do not know that I do. I do not see the need for it any more. Since then, you—all of you—have showed the wisdom of wardens, of warriors who understand that the only conflict won is the conflict avoided, and that the only good decision is the one that has no losing parties.”

Rainbow Dash licked her lips and waited for Phoreni to go on. She didn’t have anything to say to that. No funny quips. No protests. It was weird praise to get, but who was she to turn it down? Fluttershy’s cheeks reddened, and Rarity sat up a little straighter.

“If you wish to use it and return your own colours, I have been told it may help speed the process,” said Phoreni, spreading her wings the tiniest bit. “But I think I would rather do the opposite.”

“Oh?” said Rarity, blinking rapidly.

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked, though Dash could tell she had already guessed, just like Rainbow Dash herself.

Phoreni flashed her teeth. “You have done much not just for Ephydoera, but for the cities of the Perytonia that Ephydoera is sworn to protect. You have worked harder to uphold our integrity in the face of new challenges than anyone else, turning disaster into boon and new opportunities. The only way to keep you Equestrians from stealing our duties is to grant you three the paint and share in your victories. If you would have this honour, we would be honoured to give it, and I would like to help apply it.”

“No offense, but my blue is cooler than yours,” said Rainbow Dash, grinning. “But I’ll take a touch-up on my wings, at least. It’ll be nice to be able to tell people that my wings are all cool and above-board.”

“I… I think that sounds lovely, really,” said Fluttershy, chewing her bottom lip with obvious trepidation. “I mean, it comes out eventually, right?”

“In a season,” said Phoreni, nodding.

“If you aren’t offended if we take home the paint thinner as well, I think it sounds like we graciously accept,” said Rarity, her grimace and flinch so brief, Dash wondered if she imagined it. “Ah, and why not. I’ve already ruined my mane and will return to Ponyville as a stranger regardless. I have seen worse shades of green.” She rose up and stretched. “I suppose we have our after-dinner date as well then. I propose we eat at that darling little place by the docks.”

Fluttershy nodded, smiling at Phoreni. “Our treat.”

“Did you bring paint all the way here?” Dash asked, hopping up on all fours, following after the others as they joined the orderly Cotronnan traffic.

“Always,” the doe said, nodding. “Each flight carries two jars, and guards them well. They are for repairs, not for… situations such as these, because there has not been a situation such as this one, but... each new story must begin with the doing.”

“First time for everything,” Dash said, chuckling. “That’s what we say.”

“The words are different, and the message is the same,” said Phoreni, nodding slightly.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to join us on your way back to Ephydoera?” Rarity asked, looking over her shoulder as they walked.

“Oh, that would be wonderful,” said Fluttershy. “We’ll be passing by, and we’d love to have you with us.”

“Would I love to join you as well? I would,” said Phoreni, sighing, “but you leave tomorrow, and even if you delayed, after I ensure our business in Cotronna is resolved, I must then retrace our wingbeats and lead my flight back to the Bow to give word to Agaus and the others that three fresh-painted wardens have set all things right.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Come on, we didn’t do everything, we just talked some sense into some silly peryton. We just did words.”

“There is no ‘just’ about meanings, ideas, and other such things. About forgiveness and understanding,” said Phoreni. “Words are forever connected to action. Words spoken without action are empty, and your words contained much.”

Dash had no counter to that.

“And if I cannot fly with you now, all this means is that you will have to come visit Khyrast, Loriessa, Aoras and me again,” said the peryton doe with a shrug.

Rarity chuckled. “Well, I think I, for one, would love to do that someday.”

“Count on it!” said Dash.

“Or you could come visit us,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her. “Maybe you’ll be sent to Canterlot as the Ephydoeran delegate for the meeting.”

Phoreni shook her head, but her easy smile slowly disappeared, warping into a subtle frown.

“You’re likely the most qualified warden at this juncture,” said Rarity, the unicorn arching a brow. “You have the most experience dealing with ponies.”

“This is not untrue,” Phoreni said, looking like she did not particularly enjoy this fact, or perhaps the conclusion.

“Oh. It’s totally gonna be you, isn’t it?” Dash said more than she asked, cackling.

“I warn you, if this is to be my charge, I will not go alone,” said Phoreni with a huff. “If I were sent, it would not be as a warden, as wardens are only one branch of Ephydoera. I must represent all branches of Ephydoera, and if I am sent heedless of the paint, I will bring all my loved ones. If you will guest me and mine, you must make room.”

“You did say you would like for Loriessa and Aoras to meet us,” Rarity pointed out.

“That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me,” said Fluttershy, giggling and wrapping a wing around Dash’s side.

“Deal,” said Dash, grinning, sneaking a wing around Fluttershy’s neck in return.

Three quick wingbeats, and Rainbow Dash soared above the beast. The winged hydra retaliated with a blast of fire from each of its twelve heads, but they were all far, far too slow. Rainbow Dash wove around and between the solid beams of light, picking up speed as she closed with the creature. Instead of giving it a solid kick, she just soared in between its necks and hovered out of reach on the other side, giggling to herself.

“You’re making this too easy! Come on!” said Rainbow Dash, sticking out her tongue, but the beast didn’t rise to the challenge. Dash wondered if the hydra-thing was planning something big, but instead it slowed down, its efforts to turn around halted before it could face Dash again. Twelve scaled snouts fully frozen.

“Oh hey, there you are,” said Rainbow Dash. She let herself glide down to the ground. The plains that she and the hydra had fought above were featureless and uninteresting, a flat yellow-green grassy field by the shore. In the distance, the sky and the ocean’s particular shades of blue met, and on the opposite side the horizon remained bright where the sunrise still lingered.

“Why do you always stop whatever I’m dreaming about? Do you do that with everyone?” Dash asked nopony. She couldn’t decide if the waves of the distant waters were stuck and still, too. Too far.

“I simply assume that most ponies find it difficult to fight and speak at once,” said Princess Luna’s voice. “Am I mistaken?” A piece of ground like any other darkened, a patch of grass cast into shadow with nothing around to provide shade. The Princess stepped out of a fold in the air, smiling at Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash dipped her head in something like a bow and came up grinning. “I do some of my best thinking when I’m doing something else at the same time, really,” she said, glancing up at the weird hydra and its stubby little wings. It looked comical from below. “But eh, it’s fine. Leave it. That one was way too easy anyway. It’s not like I need to think right now, either. Just gotta tell you a bunch of stuff. I said we failed, right? I take it back.”

“Do you, now?” asked the Princess, one brow arched in earnest curiosity. She approached Rainbow Dash, and the closer she got, the more their surroundings warped. Gone was the frozen shape hovering above. The grass grew longer, trees sprung up at the edges of Dash’s vision, and the next time Dash blinked, she stood in the firefly grove. Princess Luna sat down near the center, faintly backlit by the reddening light of a sun nearly completely blocked out by the trees.

“You did not make it sound like there was a lot of room for ambiguity or doubt,” said Luna. “To guess from what little you told me, diplomatic relations with Perytonia were definitively soured.”

“Yeah, well, we fixed it,” said Dash, scratching an itch at the side of her muzzle against her neck. “Stuff… uh, stuff worked out. All of it, pretty much. Fluttershy and I are back together, and Rarity—I guess I didn’t tell you about that, really. We’re okay, is what I’m saying. We fixed Perytonia while we were at it, so thanks for the pep talk.”

“You are very welcome, Rainbow Dash,” said Luna, nodding and smiling. “I will take no credit, but I am glad for you and Fluttershy both.”

“Heh, me too,” Dash said, tossing her mane. “I’ll tell you all about it later if you want, but right now, or I guess tomorrow, we’re leaving Cotronna after breakfast. We’re crashing with Phoreni right now. We were hanging out and talking, and I guess we fell asleep. I think Rarity was breaking out that stupid board game, and I think the idea of a round of Vossos’ Vaunted Protocols knocked me out.”

“And this was after decorating yourselves with paints?” Princess Luna asked, tilting her head.

“Uh… actually, yeah,” said Rainbow Dash, blinking. “How the hay do you know that?”

The Princess simply pointed to Rainbow Dash. Dash looked down at her chest and now noticed that her blue was a little different, and all of her back was the same green as the top side of her wings. It didn’t register as wrong or weird to her. That was what they’d been doing before they started talking about bed or games, but still—

“Why am I like this in my dream?” Dash asked, turning back to Luna. If there was somepony who could explain that, it had to be the Princess of Dreams herself.

“Because your mind has accepted a change, and you see yourself thus right now,” said Luna, stretching languidly. She looked and sounded a little tired, a pleasant kind of tired, Rainbow Dash thought. Luna looked away and covered a yawn before she went on. “Conversely, those who are wounded but do not see their wounds as a part of themselves, or refuse to accept them, will not carry them in their dreams.”

“Huh. Cool, I guess,” said Dash, not knowing what to do with that particular piece of trivia.

“I also note that you seem to remember your present sleeping self quite well unaided,” Luna remarked, smiling slightly.

“Yeah, that’s not normal either, is it,” said Dash with a chuckle. “No freaky glass window thingies this time. I guess I’m just getting better at it?” Her laughter halted abruptly. “Uh. Unless… wait, is this something else freaky going on? Is this—”

“I think you are getting better at it,” Luna interrupted her with a soft laugh. “This is no mystery.”

“Okay. Not a mystery. Cool,” said Dash, feeling a grin coming on. “How about… a special super power?”

Luna rolled her eyes, but she still smiled. “If you wish, yes, it is certainly a power of sorts. In the same way that making a good cup of tea is a power. I would advise you not to exercise it too much, however. Your mind needs rest, and cannot get it like this. You may exhaust yourself unwittingly and wake up tired, and I will have to step in.”

“Uh-huh. I guess you’re going to have to stop by once in a while to make sure I’m okay, then, while I’m figuring this out,” said Dash, crossing her forelegs.

“I had every intention of visiting ‘once in a while’ regardless,” Luna retorted. “Not as often as we have as of late, but one day I would like to fight at your side again. Perhaps I could show you a true challenge with some creations of my own.”

Rainbow Dash smiled at that, but didn’t say anything. It all sounded pretty good to her. She sat down opposite of Luna, watching the fireflies mill about lazily in the air.

“You say you are leaving a city?” Princess Luna asked.

“Oh,” said Rainbow Dash. Questions. “No, no way,” she said, pointing a hoof straight at the Princess. “You first. I have a million questions!”

Princess Luna didn’t do the whole Princess thing of pointing out that making demands of princesses was strictly not okay, nor did she do the expected and very Luna thing of simply staring at Dash with one eyebrow raised a tiny, chilling smidge. The Princess held up a hoof and laughed loud and clear.

“I have promised you some answers, yes. Many times, I think. You have had questions for a while now,” said Luna, her laughter trailing off into a tired smile. “You may ask. I have a little time. For a friend.”

“Friends,” Dash corrected her. “I think all three of us have questions, really. We’re all your friends, you know, even if we haven’t hung out a lot. Not just Fluttershy, Rarity and me, but all of us. Twilight, Applejack and Pinkie Pie will say the same thing if you ask them. If you want us to be, anyway.”

Luna nodded slowly, then cocked her head slightly, staring off into the trees of the grove. Finally, she nodded again. “Yes. I understand your point, and you are right, but I will not toy with your dreams more than I absolutely must. We have discussed this before, too. Besides, one of them is not asleep at this moment.”

“Probably Rarity playing that dumb game with Phoreni or something,” Dash said, snorting with laughter.

“Perhaps. That is not something I can tell you, but you will have to tell Fluttershy and Rarity the answers to whatever it is that you all wonder about when you wake.”

Princess Luna looked up at her own horn as a firefly alighted on the tip, the very picture of serenity as she lowered her voice a touch. “We will talk at length when you get back, all of us. I, sister, and you all. But if there are burning and immediate questions that are still unclear to you, now is the time to ask.”

Rainbow Dash nodded and rubbed her hooves together. She had been waiting for this moment for a very, very long time. “Right. Okay, okay, uh. First, you’ve been here before. Like, across the ocean and stuff, and you’ve met the peryton before. Obviously. We know that now, but uh,” she scratched her head. “In the dream I had back in the mountains, just before I woke up and you were gonna help us escape, you said something about not wanting to do too much, and ‘again’?

“What the hay does that even mean?” Dash continued. “If you’ve been here before, why didn’t you just come here yourself? It’s not just because there are too many places to go and too little time, is it?” Rainbow Dash frowned. It wasn’t just one question. It all just became a huge tangle when she tried to ask.

Princess Luna waited a moment longer, perhaps waiting to see if Dash had more to add. She closed her eyes for a second and nodded once.

“We never meant to lie about this, and I do not think we did,” said Luna. “You ask why sister and I did not board the airship in your stead, and you know that it was not only about logistics.” She smiled. “Long ago—”

“Whoa, hang on, hold up,” said Dash, raising a hoof. “There are a lot of those to pick from. ‘Long ago’ as in, ‘the Bow is really called the Cauldron’? Or are we talking ‘peryton lived in a gorge’, which was a thousand years ago? Or is this ‘the Cauldron was called the Ask-whatever range’, which was even longer ago? There are a bunch of long ago’s to choose from!”

Luna inclined her head ever so slightly in a very royal nod. “You are right. It is an imprecise thing to say, but this is a very broad time period. I do not have exact answers for you beyond that it was before my fall, and before the final events of the Askonyan valley—which I suspect you will also ask me about.”

“You bet,” said Dash, nodding vigorously.

Luna smiled. “But to continue, this was long ago, before anything you will know of. Celestia and I were... different, and so was the world. At this time, we were more, hm. Let us say we were more free—no, that word carries the wrong tone.” Luna frowned and tapped a hoof on the ground, visibly uneasy. Rainbow Dash hadn’t often seen either of the Princesses struggle to articulate themselves without Pinkie Pie being involved, but now she hesitated.

“We were less restrained, sister and I, I think is the better word,” Luna said at length. “Unfettered. Not more ourselves. More different selves, and we were at the center of diplomatic relations, of contact with most of those peoples of the world who desired relations. In that time, Equestria—”

“But there was an Equestria?” Dash blurted, seizing on that. Maybe a few months ago that would be obvious, not something that was up for debate, but nothing could be taken for granted. It was very long ago, after all. “If there’s an Equestria, this was after the whole business that the Hearth’s Warming Eve story is about, right?”

Luna stared at Dash for a second, her mouth a thin line now with obvious annoyance at the interruption. “Yes. Well after then. Those events are very, very long ago indeed.” She shook her head. “And that is a very different story, unrelated and irrelevant. Long ago,” Luna began anew with a sigh, her usually rigid posture broken as she went on.

“Celestia and I were at the heart of close relations between many peoples. A network of trade and speech. I admit that I have forgotten much of this, but what remains is that where we touched, we all shaped each other. That, after all, is the nature of friendship.” The large princess pony’s lips curved upwards in a faint smile. “Pony culture bears the mark of this time in ways I can no longer fully trace to any one source, and other cultures bear the mark of our culture and those of others. Languages were shaped and aligned, something that persists to this day.”

Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to ask why the peryton letters were so weird, but decided against interrupting the Princess again not for fear of the Princess’ anger or annoyance, but because Luna had gotten more quiet, sedate and slow in her speech instead of her usual forceful self. Thoughtful, not bold.

“We learned of… issues with having such a large presence,” said Luna with a half-smile. “Issues with ourselves, not with the world.”

Rainbow Dash felt her ears droop with the weight of Luna’s words. She got the very real sense that in those two sentences lay more history and mysteries than she would ever get the chance to fully know.

“D’you mean… the Nightmare Moon stuff and everything?” Dash asked, taking a wild stab.

Luna stared at the ground. The firefly that had perched on her horn finally took off. “Yes and no. The Nightmare was the conclusion. A punctuation long after the issues had begun. My becoming Nightmare Moon was only a small part of the harvest of those issues. Much happened before that. Suffice it to say that things did not turn out well. The Nightmare is useful in this sense, because it gives you an idea of, well… It tells you that things did not turn out for the best,” she repeated.

Dash nodded glumly. She thought the Princess looked sad, such a simple emotion for a very large and intimidating pony, and Dash didn’t know what she could do about that. She didn’t have the time to consider it fully anyway. Luna looked at Rainbow Dash, meeting her eyes and perking up as though she sensed Dash’s thoughts.

“As I have said many times now, it was long ago,” said Princess Luna, reviving a little. “I am returned, and these things are the past. Now—”

“You are fine, right?” Dash asked, cocking her head. “Just… ‘cause if you’re ever sad again, you just know Pinkie’s gonna be happy to make you a party. You said you know we’re all friends, so we could have a sleepover when we get home or something. That’ll cheer you up.” Rainbow Dash grinned. “You can’t be sad when you’ve got friends all around you.”

Luna exhaled heavily. She seemed more tired still, but her smile grew by degrees until she finally closed her eyes in a long blink, nodding slowly, as though she was half asleep.

“I am better, Rainbow Dash. In truth, I have never been better in my entire life,” she said. “Two years is a short time to learn to live again, but I am better, and getting better still, not in the least because of the knowledge that as I reach out, I have those who are willing to be my friend. I am grateful, your worry is misplaced, and as for the offer of a sleepover, perhaps we may get back to that someday.” She smiled wider still. “May I continue my story?”

Dash felt a little better, a little warmer for her words, and nodded quickly, sitting upright. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Think nothing of it,” said Luna, nodding in return. “We come now to the bridge between the past and the present. That was the past, and now I have returned, and sister and I decided upon my return to see if we can’t rekindle, or create anew these old ties.” She took a deep breath, her usual volume creeping back into her voice. “We told you and all of Equestria as much at the banquet. We wish to foster stronger ties with both our neighbours and distant amenable nations, except this time, with one difference. We wish to do so as ponies of Equestria, alongside other ponies.”

Dash rustled her wings and tilted her head, waiting for an explanation. Luna cleared her throat before she went on, her every word deliberate as though they were hoof-picked.

“When last we forged these ties, we did so as the creatures we were at the time, with all the power we had and have. In some places, that gave us… undue attention. Undeserved respect,” Luna said with a faint sneer. “Some thought us gods, a word that has no place any more. Sister and I have spoken of this at length. Gods have tools and instruments. Princesses have subjects. And ponies?” She smiled at Rainbow Dash, bright and cheerful now. “Ponies have friends who help them, and that is why we sent you. We sent you to be your beautiful, wonderful selves and meet prospective friends as ponies.”

“Yeah, and not to make dresses or start shoving our own problems about being different from your girlfriend onto the peryton and make a big mess,” Dash muttered under her breath, chuckling to herself.

“I’m sorry?” Luna asked, blinking rapidly.

“Nothing, never mind, sorry,” said Dash, chuckling. “Okay. I… uh, I guess I get it? I hear what you’re saying, anyway, even if I don’t get why you want to talk to people differently this time. I don’t even know if I understand what’s different, really—uh, yeah, okay, I don’t get it at all,” she admitted.

“If it is all the same to you, I would prefer to wait to deliver the long version of multiple thousands of years of history, such as sister and I can remember, until you return,” Luna chuckled. “But I will try to explain.”

“Yeah, no, I don’t even think I care about the history of it, I’ll take your word for it,” Dash laughed. “I dunno. It got bad last time so you’re trying something new. I just think it’s weird, because we nearly messed up! We actually did mess up, we just lucked out and un-messed up, too.”

The Princess rose to stand, stretching her wings and her legs out. “But you did not fail. And even if you had ‘messed up’ irrevocably, we would make repairs and try again. I think you do understand, Rainbow Dash. There is no hidden meaning to grasp, no deceit. This is simply how we wish to go about making friendships with other peoples at this time, and we are glad—no, honoured—” she said, locking eyes with Dash. “—that you and our friends, as well as many others, wished to help establish these ties between Equestria and all who share this world with us. We placed our trust in you, and we were rewarded. Thank you.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged and smiled. “Hey sure,” she said. “Glad to help. I’ll tell Fluttershy and Rarity thanks from you, too.”

Luna nodded in return, satisfied, and looked to the side. Her horn pulsed, and the sunlight faded away entirely, in a second replaced with an equally bright moonlight from above, the suddenly dark sky aglow with brilliant colours and shifting bands of light. She lay back down and smiled.

“Now, I think I will ask a question myself,” said Luna. “You mentioned a ‘Selyria’ who the peryton regard as a part of me, connected to some statues. Would you explain this?”

“Sure thing. So, you said you’ve visited them a lot way back when? They actually remember a bunch of stuff about you and Princess Celestia,” said Rainbow Dash, scratching her snout. “Except they call you Selyria, and her Helesseia. At least, they think they remember a bunch of stuff about you, but, hey, before I explain that, can you tell me what the hay happened at the Cauldron, or the Bow, or Askonya? The mountains where there was a mess with the big beast and stuff?”

Luna shifted onto her side and nodded slightly. “You explained that you know some things, but I was busy last time we spoke. Perhaps it is best if you explain what you know?”

“Some terrible drawings said—” Dash began, frowning at herself. “—well, okay, they can’t say anything, but we found some crummy drawings that said the heron gave the peryton some stuff, and then the peryton summoned some big monster that Odasthan called The Fell. You and Celestia defeated it, I guess? Is that true?” Dash snorted. “And you made Odasthan and Yelgadar from it? A big wet snake and some dumb burning chicken?”

Luna chuckled. “I think that is the shortest and most efficient telling of it that I could possibly imagine, but I can’t correct you, because that is the simple truth of it. The peryton of Askonya were… perhaps a slightly wild and reckless people, but the events were the heron’s work, there is no doubt in my mind of that, even with all I have forgotten. I only remember so much, so unless you want fragmented and often private memories of that time, then let us settle for ‘yes, the last time I visited Askonya was to battle The Fell’.”

“Wild and reckless?” Dash asked, her snout creased ever since Luna said those words and the pegasus latched on to them. “They’re about as ‘wild and reckless’ as Fluttershy. They’re all super relaxed. They even use the word ‘reckless’ like it’s one of the worst words they know!”

Luna rolled her jaw. “Then perhaps that change is a result of the events within Askonya. I do not think that is very strange at all.”

“Right,” Dash grunted. “Okay. More importantly: do you know why Yelgadar is such a total butt?”

Luna smiled and shook her head. “I do not remember all, and I don’t even know that question has an answer. Clearly I must visit Yelgadar and Odasthan soon, but as far as I know, the two creatures were made to house the parts of The Fell. They are the same as each other, but different. Halves. From what sister has told me, Yelgadar is not malicious or cruel, but she can be unreasonable. Temperamental and… decisive, qualities Odasthan lacks.”

“‘Unreasonable’, huh,” Dash grumbled. “Yeah, I’d use different words.”

“Regardless, the visits Celestia and I made to Askonya and the peryton people became more infrequent towards that age,” Luna continued. “We had not seen them for centuries when the herons’ labour upon the peryton resulted in The Fell, and I know little of them after Askonya became the Cauldron. You know more than I of this,” she concluded, raising a brow.

Rainbow Dash nodded absentmindedly, still mulling that over in her head, and then nodded again when she realised the Princess had asked her a question without a question. Luna’s stare was expectant. Hungry, almost.

“They migrated to what’s Perytonia today,” said Dash, stretching her forelegs out and yawning. “I guess because the place got stormy and jungle-y, but the tunnel they used to leave became a really bad place, I don’t know what’s up with that,” she admitted, shaking her head.

“Then I guess they hid in the gorges from the monsters, but that could have been a long time afterwards. I dunno,” Dash continued. “But yeah, the Aspect stuff you asked about. They kinda just… put all the stories about you and Princess Celestia into these Aspects, and some of that’s their First Stories, which is like their history, except they’re really keen on learning from it. They’ve got a bunch more stories and Aspects, and they like to teach each other stuff by taking things that happen to them, and making it a story about someone else. Like storybook characters, I guess, and you’re really popular.” Dash chuckled. “But really though, some of those First Stories are about the heron and how you and Princess Celestia told them not to play with the heron. D’you wanna explain that?”

Luna shook her head. “I do not know what more to say that you probably haven’t guessed. Sometimes, I think the heron themselves are slaves to their own labours. I long ago stopped thinking of what they do as schemes, because I don’t think they plan. It is almost as if what they do is instinct.” She snorted. “That was not your question, was it? They created The Fell, and Celestia and I hardly needed to tell the peryton how vile the heron are, but we did. Both before and since then, the heron have tried to do many similar things.”

“So, they’re bad news,” said Dash, shuffling her wings. “Got it. But okay, if you haven’t actually visited Perytonia, the lands east of the mountains where you used to hang out with them, how the hay did you get sucked into my dreams and all that? And why couldn’t you reach me when we were in the mountains?”

“I do not know why my dreams joined with yours exactly,” said Luna. “But I have theories, now that you have explained these Aspects a little. If they tell stories of me, and they echo with my actions, a lucid dreamer calling my name sleeping under a stone dedicated to these memories, combined with my awareness that you are visiting a people of whom I have memories myself?” She shrugged. “I think I presented some of these thoughts to you before, but my own subconscious may have played a part.” The Princess smiled a lopsided smile, pausing before she continued.

“Or… perhaps this Selyria has a power of her own, even if I am no longer she,” said Luna. “As for the mountains, the powers at work during our battle with The Fell were considerable, and bled into many realms, including the realm of dreams.”

“I didn’t have any weird dreams while we were there or anything,” said Dash, frowning. “Is it dangerous?”

“Not at all,” said Luna. “But it is tempestuous, and to try to single out one lonely dream there is akin to trying to start a fire underwater.” Her smile waned. “No, that is a terrible metaphor, never mind. There is not much to say of the Cauldron except that the realm of dreams is wounded there, but you say the peryton people have memories of my actions? Of mine and sister’s? Is there more than the warnings against the heron? Nothing unpleasant, I hope?” she asked, and Dash didn’t miss the glimmer of hope in Luna’s eyes.

“Nah, like I said, you’re way popular,” said Dash, chuckling. “Especially in Ephydoera, I think. They were all over you and Celestia there. Oh, uh, I guess there’s one exception, but we’re working on that,” she added, not much feeling like going into detail about the Morrowsworn right now. “To most of Perytonia, Selyria’s all about… travelling and protecting and maybe a little bit about being nosey? We haven’t heard a lot of the First Stories, but the other ones are all cool. They have so many stories about Selyria, you have no idea. They’re talking about you like you’re still here. I guess that means you’re still friends with them, in a way.” She grinned and gave herself a mental pat on the back for the cool thought. “If you wanna hear all the First Stories, you should come visit yourself.”

“There was a time when I spent a lot of time with their people. Perhaps,” said Luna with a faint smile, shaking her head. She glanced skywards, and Dash caught the last glimmers of a meteor shower. “If those are your major questions, I have one more of my own, just in case I have to leave in a hurry, and so as to cover what I should have asked a lot sooner.” Luna stared at Dash, her brows furrowed. “How did you resolve the issues that plagued you? What happened, and what will you do now? Shall we arrange for your passage home?”

“Right. So that got a little complicated, actually,” she said, chortling with laughter. “We’re kinda on the other side of Perytonia right now, but hey, can you pick us up in Orto in like, uh, hang on,” she said, tapping her hooves as she counted five cities off on her primaries, times one or two for the days between each city as Fluttershy had said, but minus one since they were in a city. She extended her other wing to bring more feathers in to help—yeah, no. She was fine with pretending that it was the dream that made math hard.

“A week or two? Maybe?” Dash said. “Pony weeks, not peryton weeks. I’ll tell you when I know exactly, if you’re free? Yeah, probably closer to two weeks if we’re actually gonna say ‘hi’ when we visit the cities. We kinda have to go back to Orto through every other city on the way.”

“I see?” Luna asked, raising one brow like a pony who did not, in fact, see.

“Yeah,” said Dash, grinning. “You asked how we fixed stuff? Well, you’re gonna get a bunch of guests, not just one. Remember you told me they used to have a lot of cities? They still do, but they don’t have a meeting ground any more. They use one city, and it’s like they’re always having a meeting about what to do together, except it’s not their capital at all. They don’t even have a princess! So we invited like… six or seven of them.”

“Six or seven,” the Princess said.

“Cities. Like, probably way more peryton than that, though,” Dash agreed, chuckling and waving a hoof. “Phoreni’s talking about bringing all her girlfriends and boyfriends and whatever, and she said that Aoras has like… two stags he loves who Phoreni doesn’t know all that well, and I don’t know if this is gonna be like the Apple family reunion craziness where everyone brings everyone they know, but it sounds—”

Or seven,” Luna repeated.

“Oh! Yeah. The city stuff. We don’t know yet. They don’t know yet, but they’ll figure it out. They’ve got this.”

Luna was quiet for a moment, then shrugged and smiled back. “Well, we expected many challenges, and we hope to meet these challenges, to struggle to accommodate and communicate with very different peoples again, so this is not unwelcome or entirely unexpected.”

Dash nodded. “Sure. But, y’know, you could probably have fixed this, right? Like, if you’re crazy magical, I mean.” She frowned. “I don’t know what you did wrong the last time exactly, but… couldn’t you just pop by, talk to them for a second yourself and pretend you’re a normal pony? Magic yourself to each of the cities really quick and tell them not to make a big deal of it?”

The Princess had begun shaking her head slowly from side to side ever since Dash started making her point.

“It sounds like you have an understanding of present day Perytonia greater than what we could achieve by simply ‘popping by’, and what sister and I have come to realise is that exercising restraint with power is a grander task than using it. Derive strength not from power, but from your humility with it, especially when dealing with people who are not used to the power that we wield as Princesses.”

“I don’t get what the big deal is,” Dash admitted. “You’d still probably do a better job than we did.”

“First, I do not know that is true,” said Luna, smiling. “Second, you do not see what the issue is because you have grown up in a land that knows us. You are used to us, even if you do not know the full extent of the power we wield.”

Rainbow Dash snorted. “Like what? When you helped us escape, you just made the sun and the moon go weird, big whoop. I don’t care. We’re friends. You could have turned the mountains upside-down just to show off, but you’re still a nice pony, you and Princess Celestia. Who cares what you can do? How does that make you different?”

Luna laughed and touched a hoof to her own chest. “And that you say that, my little pony, warms my heart. I am lucky to have friends such as you, but again, you can only say that, you only have the privilege of not caring because you know sister and me. Not all have that luxury, and we do not wish to repeat our mistakes.” She smiled. “I do not care to go on about this all night, but while these Aspects are no doubt interesting receptacles for memory, history, learning and such, they are also an example of my point on consequence. We are guilty of shaping peryton culture even thousands of years later. Their culture still bears the mark of sister and me.”

“That’s a load of hay,” Dash said, feeling her snout frumple. “Like, okay, sure, the Nightmare Moon stuff made some problems, and yeah, I haven’t told you a lot about the peryton up in the mountains. They had some really weird ideas, but it’s fine now!”

Dash shook her wings out in annoyance. “You’re just two out of like… fifty Aspects. You said you’re not Selyria, and yeah, duh, but Selyria isn’t you, either. Selyria belongs to them.” She felt her ears twitch. “If you have some crazy magic, that’s part of who you are, but you can’t be afraid of inspiring or being inspired, and that’s what you and Princess Celestia did. You inspired them!”

She didn’t know if the reason she felt the heat in her cheeks, if the reason she cared so much about this was because had some very recent first-hoof experience with exactly the idea of being on both sides of the whole inspiring thing, but there it was.

“The Aspects are awesome for the peryton, even if they’re a little weird. They’re way different, but they found their own way. They figured out something that works for them,” Dash concluded, but her frustration was short-lived, evaporating twice as fast under the Princess’ look of mild surprise. The larger pony’s brows were raised, and at length, she simply nodded.

“Do not misunderstand. I do not regret the powers I wield,” she said. “And your reasoning is… solid—”

“It is?” Dash asked, blinking, surprised herself.

“—but how sister and I use our power is ultimately up to us, just as your gift of flight is for you to use. We desire to interact with the world as ponies first, however much your words are appreciated.”

“Right. I get that. Of course it is,” Dash admitted, sinking down on the ground a little. “Sorry,” she muttered.

“Perhaps you are right, ultimately,” said Luna. She walked over to sit at Rainbow Dash’s side, a hoof’s breadth apart and smiling down at her. “If nothing else, I choose to understand that something good has come from our interactions with the peryton, and it is nice to know we have not left behind a hurt and damaged people for our past mistakes.”

“Nah. They’re fine. And cool,” said Dash. She leaned against Luna, only realising after the fact that it might perhaps be a very, very weird thing to do, but the Princess said nothing. She stiffened a little at the touch of Dash’s head against her, but it lasted only a second, and now Dash was committed. She had to play it cool and pretend she knew what she was doing.

“I wonder,” Luna said, a little more quiet. “Sister was the last one to have visited them. When we discussed this upcoming moot, she mentioned that she had journeyed to the present lands of Perytonia once, and that she made them a promise, but she refused to elaborate, suggesting that one day I should visit for myself, after relations had been established.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Dash agreed. “If you do come visit, try the phela and the sour-grass, but stay away from the kelp. They probably won’t recognise you, if that’s what you’re worried about. At least not as long as you stay away from statues and don’t put on any antlers.”

Luna chuckled. “I will take this under advisement, but mundane details can wait until you return to us. Not that I can fool sister for a second into believing I haven’t talked to you extensively. I suspect I must confess my direct involvement sometime tomorrow. As you can imagine, she did not exactly miss the minor detail of the eclipse some weeks ago, and I can tell she wishes to know, even though for whatever reason, she has not yet asked.” She shook with a short, soundless burst of laughter. “Any final questions? I cannot stay for much longer, I think. I am as tired as you must be.”

Rainbow Dash frowned as she thought, trying to rack her brain, to squeeze out a lightning round of questions. “Sure,” she said, grasping at anything within reach. “Do you know anything of something or someone called... The Curinion? I think that’s it.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “I am afraid not.”

“The Ever Soaring? They talked about him a bunch.”

“Again, no.”

“Heh, never mind then,” said Dash, chuckling. “I think that’s… wait, no, someone told me a story about Selyria. One of the few stories I’ve actually listened to. Something about a, uh… Morrashon? The council guys in Vauhorn told me something… wait, I remember this. Selyria talked to this peryton who couldn’t move—”

“I remember Morrashon,” said Luna, nodding.

Rainbow Dash pulled away from Luna in a flash, staring up at her. “Wait, what? Really?”

The Princess nodded, smiling calmly. “A stag born crippled, with an unfathomably strong mind, and a very nervous disposition. I recall talking to him a few times. He lived in the western part of Askonya in self-imposed exile of some sort that I never understood.”

Dash still gaped. “So you… gave him a pep talk? And they still remember that?”

Luna shrugged. “I encouraged him, but I like to think we learned from each other—and why not? Stories live for as long as people care to tell them. This would not be half as old as the Hearth’s Warming tale.”

“Jeez,” Dash said, shaking her head and laughing. “I guess some of the stories that aren’t the First Stories are pretty old too. What about… Vestrus?” she asked, trying to remember the story Neisos had told her. “Did you send some trickster to help someone called Vestrus turn around or something? See the other side of things?”

Luna cocked her head sideways. “I… do not think so. I do not think I have ever ‘sent a trickster’ to do anything on my behalf, truly, and I do not remember the name.”

“Aw, alright. I guess most of them aren’t actually stuff you did. They’re probably gonna make a bunch of stories about stuff this new Fluttershy Aspect thing did that she didn’t do, and that’s gonna weird me out pretty much forever. I’m gonna have to come back next summer and check those out. Or, make that spring. Or fall.” Dash waved a wing. “Whatever. I guess that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. All questioned out!”

The Princess nodded her agreement. “I think it is time for you to wake up, and for me to turn my attention to other things. I feel better now knowing that you are all truly feeling well. I will have an airship stand by waiting for you to tell me when you are ready to return home.” She smiled. “No more lingering fears or insecurities that will turn to nightmares?”

At first, Rainbow Dash thought the Princess had made a joke, but her smile was sincere like nothing else.

“What? Pft, no, no way,” said Dash, laughing. “Of course not! We’re great now, thanks to you, and Rarity, and a bunch of peryton we’ve talked to, and some other stuff—” she scrunched her snout, “—point is, we’re doing awesome, and I’ll let you, or Rarity, or someone else know if I need some help again, maybe before it turns into a terrible nightmare.” She chuckled and shook her head. “And before that, I’ll tell Fluttershy. We kinda promised each other we’d try that.”

Luna’s horn glowed, and the grove scattered like grains of sugar swept away in a storm, the scene returning to Dash’s own shore with a frozen hydra-thing held still in the air above them.

“Changing the relationship between two ponies, establishing relationships with a new people,” said Luna, her head tilting left, then right. “You have done both, and I think in some ways, they can be equally great challenges.”

“Especially when you’re doing both at the same time,” Dash agreed, laughing. “Alright. Thanks again. I’ve gotta rest up for tomorrow. This is gonna be awesome.”