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

To Perytonia - Cloudy Skies

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

  • ...

Chapter 47

Rainbow Dash

Ponyville, Equestria

I met a Bent Feather at the docks here in Cotronna who said she would take this letter to some creatures called the Sought. She said that they can take a message to anyone, anywhere, but that they couldn’t say when. If that’s true, you could get this letter next week, or you could get it in many years.

Maybe you won’t even remember Cotronna by the time you get this. I know that a little earlier tonight, I was in a hurry to forget about Cotronna and all of Perytonia. I was really angry. At Rarity, and then at you, and now I feel very bad about it. I was very sorry. I wanted to run back and apologise to Rarity, but I didn’t. I got really hungry, and I found this little café by the docks. They call it Ryshalos’ Rest, and I’m probably going to stay here for a little while. You probably know that by now, and hopefully I’ve remembered to tell Rarity I’m very sorry for yelling at her.

I don’t want to forget Cotronna. I don’t regret anything, and I don’t want to forget Perytonia, because one of my best friends, my oldest friend, she taught me that sometimes you have to try even if there is a chance you can fail. Or, as she would say, sometimes you have to break a few wings to pull off an amazing stunt.

Right now, I don’t feel very amazing. I feel like I broke us. I ruined everything. We don’t work like we used to, and I don’t know how to fix it. I’ve tried to talk to you, but… well, that didn’t really help, and it’s not very surprising. That was never how we worked.

I feel like I broke us, and maybe you feel the same. Maybe we broke us together, but you’ll find a way to fix this. Or maybe I will. One of us, or both of us. We will fix this because you are strong and clever, and you always figure things out. You are strong, and I am, too.


“This is awesome!” Rainbow Dash shouted. The tug of the harness was lighter than she ever remembered from pulling the cart. The chariot eagerly followed, gliding effortlessly across the open sky owing to the two pegasi pulling it. One set of wings beat fast and urgent, the other slower and more deliberate, Fluttershy’s wing-strokes more akin to Phoreni’s than Dash’s own. It took a little work to keep the pull even, but the chariot’s wiggles and shifts were no worse than the bumps of cartwheels upon a dirt road.

Rainbow Dash grinned hugely and glanced over her back, finding Rarity standing comfortably at the back of the simple, unpainted chariot. She had one foreleg over the rim for balance, and with the other she waved goodbye to the Cotronnans and their council who rapidly receded below. Phoreni waved as well, and Rainbow Dash added her own with another whoop and a cheer as they soared up and east, away from the inner circle plaza.

Fluttershy did not seem inclined to celebration. She focused on the beats of her wings, on flying straight. She obsessed with basics that Dash knew she could do in her sleep. Her ears were not bent back to mute the rush of wind, but splayed with tension as her eyes flitted from the city below to Phoreni who flew at their side, then to Rarity as though she expected their friend to fall off.

“Chariot’s doing great,” Rainbow Dash announced to nopony in particular, still smiling to herself. Cotronna receded behind them, below them. She noticed a tiny shift in their ascent as Fluttershy subtly levelled their course, clearly thinking they had enough height, and Dash yielded. Still Fluttershy said nothing, wincing with every shift in the air currents, her jaw taut.

“I am very impressed,” Rarity replied, conversationally. “I don’t know how much goes into chariot design, but there’s room for me to stand, and a darling little latch attached to the door at the back to keep things from falling off.”

“Also,” Phoreni added, “this cart flies.” The powerful doe’s large wings flapped once for every five or six of Dash’s beats, the subtle glow of the Ephydoeran magic nearly lost in the bright sunlight of the morning, and her eyes were glued to the chariot, gleaming with subtle but undeniable delight.

“Well, duh,” said Rainbow Dash, laughing. “That’s kinda the point! The carpenters did good, but I think the shafts with the harnesses are a little too close,” she added, looking to Phoreni while she gestured to Fluttershy who flew at her side. “Our wing-tips nearly touch. Feathers brushing against each other is really distracting.”

“Oh! I’m sorry,” said Fluttershy. “Maybe I can… well, no, there’s not much I can do.”

Rainbow Dash ignored her, talking strictly to Phoreni and Rarity. “Like, distracting in a good way. I like it,” Dash said, still grinning. “It’s really nice.”

“Well, that’s… good?” Rarity chanced, and in the corner of her eye, Dash spotted Fluttershy smiling faintly, her cheeks reddening a touch.

“Yeah! It’s good,” said Dash. The tips of Dash’s outer primaries just barely touched Fluttershy’s every time their wings crossed paths. Their beats were completely out of synch. Dash had to force herself to slow down her beats a little, to try to get even more out of every stroke. That, or she’d have to tell Fluttershy to do the opposite.

Or, of course, she could do neither of those things, because she strictly didn’t have to say it.

“Besides,” Dash went on. “I’m more worried about the paint and everything. Fluttershy, do you think the animals are even gonna recognise you when you get home? You don’t think they’re gonna just run away wondering who this strange new pegasus is?”

Fluttershy blinked. “What? I… um, I’m pretty sure, yes. Most of them go by smell, or movement, or my voice, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Cool,” said Rainbow Dash, fishing for anything more to say, however inane. “Even the geese?”

“Even… even the geese,” Fluttershy said, sounding a little confused.

“Geese,” Phoreni repeated.

“‘Cause I figure, maybe they always go after me because they’re jealous of my colours. I’ve always been an awesome blue, and I got green in my mane, and now you’ve got both blue and green on you too, even though your mane is still the usual colour.”

“I think it’s more likely that they attack you because you’re bothering them, if I have to be honest,” Fluttershy replied, one brow raised. “They can’t understand what you say, but they understand body language. If you stopped being rude to them, maybe that would help.”

“Pff, I’m not rude. They started it,” Dash said with a snort. “Think you have a lot of mail waiting? What about you, Rarity?”

Mail? Darling, what are you going on about?” Rarity asked.

“I’m trying to distract Fluttershy, duh,” Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. “I’m trying to get her to stop worrying or thinking about flying, ‘cause she’s amazing at this. Now that she’s not thinking about flying, she’s helping funnel air under the chariot to keep it up, and that’s why we’re flying smoother. Obviously!”

“Oh,” said Rarity, mollified in an instant.

“Do I think that is obvious? I did not think so,” said Phoreni with a cluck of low laughter. “I wondered if you were beginning to suffer heat stroke, but it is late in the year for that.”

Fluttershy herself just laughed, pure and wonderful giggles rolling forth, her flight steady all the while as she shook her head. “I guess it is working,” she said, smiling at Rainbow Dash until her laughter ended in a soft sigh. “It really is. Thank you.”

“Good!” Dash declared. The chariot’s shafts were rigid and didn’t let her move closer to Fluttershy, denying her a nuzzle or a touch, so she settled for a smile. For a few seconds, silence reigned. Dash caught Rarity shaking her head and chuckling to herself, while Phoreni flew silently at their side, occasionally glancing down at the farms that now passed by underneath them. The peryton doe didn’t seem inclined to tricks or fancy moves, and the two pegasi were tethered to a chariot, but right now, Dash didn’t mind just flying low and steady.

“You truly don’t have any chariots at all here, do you?” Rarity asked after a moment.

“In winter, flying is challenge for the untrained, and in the summers, flying too much risks heat stroke,” Phoreni replied, shaking her head. “That denies us half the year of easy flight, and flying is only half of the two vital modes of movement, the flight and the stalk. Besides, when all have wings, who would we carry?”

“You could carry all the things you trade, of course,” Rarity countered.

“Ephydoera does not have much to trade. Trade comes to Ephydoera,” said Phoreni, matter-of-factly. “Ours is the concern of warding, and as such, the other cities offer a share of their excess to us. Regardless,” she said, gesturing to the chariot. “I think none of this matters, because though crafting is not my calling, I remain convinced this thing would not fly if I pulled it.”

“I’m fairly certain there’s some magic involved,” said Rarity.

“Pegasus magic, yes,” Fluttershy agreed, nodding.

“Awesome magic, pegasus magic, same thing,” said Rainbow Dash. Now that Fluttershy did her part, the cart flew almost completely smooth outside of the constant subtle banking left and right as they negotiated the differences between their wingbeats.

“I see that this contraption of yours works, at least,” Phoreni allowed. “For now, I must turn and go back, knowing that you are safe.”

“Of course we’re safe,” said Rainbow Dash, smiling. “If I headbutt my own butt and fall unconscious, Fluttershy will catch us. We’re good.” She winked at Fluttershy, who just shook her head and smiled back. “We’ll catch you later.”

“You will and you must,” said Phoreni, tilting her head forward in a head-only bow, smiling toothily. “I think I have said this in many ways, and many times, but to meet you has been a great joy. I understand you are used to different expressions of trust and love, but I hope I have made you understand that my respect for you runs deep.”

“Hey, right back at you,” said Rainbow Dash.

“I think we’re all very glad to have met you,” Fluttershy agreed, smiling wide. “I look forward to seeing you again. We’ll tell Khyrast you said ‘hi’ and that you’ll be back home with him soon.”

“Let’s not say farewell then, but rather, until next time,” Rarity said. “And thank you. For everything.”

“And you,” said Phoreni. “I hope all three members of your flight stay well.” She locked eyes with each of the ponies for a moment, closed her eyes and nodded to herself, then dipped a wing and broke off.

Never got to race her, Rainbow Dash realised, but she’d get another chance, and she didn’t really care to know who was faster, she just wanted to fly more with her. Dash watched the large peryton arc away from them, pull a great turn, and set course back towards Cotronna. Seeing the particular way she tucked her talons in when she flew, the way her wings negotiated the air, Rainbow Dash knew that she had to get to fly more with her. She had barely completed the thought when she frowned, wondering if it was okay to think about it so much. After all, she had a girl—

“She’s really beautiful,” said Fluttershy, the other pegasus’s eyes also on Phoreni’s rapidly receding form.

Or maybe I’m thinking too much again.

“She really is,” Dash agreed, simply. She grinned. “Can’t wait for her to come visit. Not just her, but everyone we’ve met.”

“Well, before that, we’re the ones doing the visiting,” said Rarity, leaning with both her forelegs on the front rail of the chariot, smiling.

“Mhm,” Fluttershy hummed in agreement. “We can say hello to everyone we’ve met while we’re delivering all these invitations.”

“Sure, but I wanna show them Ponyville, too!” Dash said, smirking. “And maybe I wanna see them all be super confused about silly stuff where we live, too.” She giggled. “Imagine taking Neisos and the gang to a fashion show in Canterlot. They’re not gonna get it. At all. Oh, and Mirossa’s gonna throw a fit about how small our market is, and at all the free samples!”

Fluttershy giggled, and Rarity chuckled with a shake of her head, halfway disappearing behind the rim of the chariot for a second to root around in their saddlebags for something. Rainbow Dash closed her eyes for a moment, relishing the feeling of wind under her wings, breaking on her chest, tousling her mane and tugging at her short tail.

There was something to be said for just flying sans loops and corkscrews. She’d probably go crazy if they were flying slowly, but they weren’t, not by any measure. Fluttershy matched her pace even though they hadn’t really talked about how fast they meant to go. Dash popped an eye open at that thought, watching Fluttershy.

Her girlfriend was a marvel. Her legs, chest, the front of her neck and the underside of her wings were coloured blue, while her topside was painted green, including one or two flecks of forest green in her short-cut mane where Dash had spilled some paint, but no amount of paint could hide the pony underneath or make her stranger to Rainbow Dash, nor could any amount of exercise.

Well-toned wing muscles worked effortlessly, but her legs still moved with the subconscious little steps they always did when she flew, like she was simultaneously on the ground and in the air, and her legs wanted to run. The little tuft of tail still swayed in its own particular little pattern.

In a flash, she remembered something a flight instructor had said, long, long ago. She had called Fluttershy’s wing-strokes hesitant and urged her to change them, to be quicker on the updraft, straighter on the way down. Dash scowled at the memory of a pony whose name she had long forgotten. Fluttershy wasn’t hesitant in the least. She had found her own wing-strokes, and they were efficient. Perfect. Rainbow Dash could watch this all day. Legs wiggling slightly. Wings up, wings down, muscles working beneath her coat. Neck slightly forward, and then back again—and then turning to look at her.

“Is everything okay?” Fluttershy asked, tilting her head, smiling at her.

“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash. Her cheeks tingled, and she ignored it, grinning back. If she was blushing right now from getting caught staring, she decided to own it. “Everything is way, way more than fine.”

Fluttershy simply nodded and looked ahead again, and Rainbow Dash didn’t bother pointing out that their wingbeats were perfectly in synch now, the chariot gliding through the air like it was smooth ice. She glanced over her own back at Rarity. The unicorn stood tall and proud at the back of the chariot, restored to her confident and wonderful self, the same green-and-blue coat of paint worn with an almost regal air. When she noticed Rainbow Dash staring at her, she simply quirked a brow in question and, with no explanation forthcoming, looked ahead at the coastal landscape, at the beaches and the plains below.

Maybe one of them would suggest they apply the paint thinner liquid sometime soon. Perhaps right after they got back to Equestria. Right now, though, Rainbow Dash enjoyed the gesture, not just because it pretty much screamed mission success, but because they all wore the same paint. Sure, trying to be the same pony and like the exact same things didn’t work out, she knew that now, but even with all their differences, and though Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were girlfriends, it was nice to have something extra in common, something together.

“A bit for your thoughts?” said Fluttershy, now looking at her again.

“Mm, you’re staring,” said Rarity, fluffing her own mane. “Clearly you’re thinking about something, dear. Nothing terrible, I hope?”

Rainbow Dash chuckled. “I’m thinking about how awesome I feel, that’s all,” she said. “Fluttershy, let’s kick it up a notch. Vauhorn next! Again! Think we can land on the roof of the council building?”

“Rainbow Dash, no,” said Rarity, glaring at her. “Outside the city will be fine.”

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head, speeding up to match Rainbow Dash. “Maybe we could make a compromise? I’m sure we could find an empty plaza or a road.”

“Deal!” said Dash.

“Hold your thoughts and voices just a moment,” said Neisos, his antlers glowing as he levitated up the empty carafe. “I will be right back with more water, and perhaps some more fruit!”

The stag shifted onto one side, leaning against Ohrinna to stand up more easily. He moved towards the kitchen in his usual three-legged gait, leaving Ohrinna, their daughter Deimesa, and the three painted ponies sat around the familiar stone table just inside the main room. While they waited for Neisos to return, Dash cast a quick glance out the open door, catching a glimpse of Berissa and Teilos, the twins still hopping around and atop the chariot parked outside the family’s home. She grinned and shook her wings out as a pleasantly cool breeze blew through the house.

“While we’re waiting,” said Fluttershy, smiling at the very same sight, “you’re sure the chariot’s not in the way, parked out there? It’s just for a day or two.”

“There is little traffic in our street,” Ohrinna replied, smiling back. “It is not made for wagons.”

“I am more concerned with the two little terrors breaking something,” Deimesa added, the younger doe frowning at her siblings’ efforts, looking like she was perpetually half-way to standing up and rushing out the door. “Berissa! This thing is not a vessel for acting out Glandros’ stories!” she shouted.

Rarity chuckled. “I’m sure it will be fine. It’s just wood. We’ve moved all our possessions inside regardless, just in case it rains, but I don’t expect that’s very likely here.”

“Speaking of rain,” Dash said, seizing upon that word with a grin. “How’s that all going? You managed to make rain or do any fancy cloudcraft yet?”

Deimesa let out a short caw of laughter. “No, not yet, perhaps not ever, but for all our efforts trying over these past weeks, the twins will be the strongest fliers in Vauhorn.”

“They spend hours in the air these days,” Ohrinna supplied with a slight shake of her head. “More every day now that the weather turns. Perhaps I will lose my daughter to go seek wardenship with the Ephydoerans as you have done.” She laughed.

Rainbow Dash chuckled and spread her wings to tug Rarity and Fluttershy a little closer, getting a small protest from the unicorn who was in the process of extracting her journal from her saddlebags, and a nuzzle on the cheek from Fluttershy.

“I doubt that,” Deimesa retorted with a roll of her eyes. “I am not in the sky half as often as dad, so if anyone here is to do as these ponies, it is him.”

Rainbow Dash raised a brow at that, but any follow-up question was cut off by Neisos’ return, the stag hobbling back into the living room carrying a large bowl with a carafe of water wedged in the middle like it was yet another fruit amongst the others.

“You were trying to cross the mountains,” said Neisos, taking a seat and placing the bowl on the table. “Unfathomably tall, snow-capped mountains.”

“Right, we were,” said Dash, sitting up straight. “So, Rarity was gonna get cold, so she made—”

“We found a dress,” Rarity corrected her.

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head. “Yes. Under a rock. So, the mountain pass was really high up…”

“And then we basically ended up marrying or bonding with or hooking up with Phoreni. You know, the warden from Ephydoera,” Rainbow Dash concluded.

Rarity just rolled her eyes. Clearly Dash couldn’t get a rise out of her on that point any more. Fluttershy laughed, though.

“Okay, fine, the council told someone to make us this chariot, Rarity hopped on, and we started flying here yesterday,” Dash said, stretching. She picked at the fruit bowl, but couldn’t find anything else that looked interesting.

“We caught a quick nap at a Selyrian statue on the way,” Fluttershy added, smiling. “It was getting dark when we saw Vauhorn, and we didn’t want to fly all through the night, wake you up, and then fall asleep ourselves.”

“Yeah, that,” said Dash, shrugging. “Anything else you wanna know? I’m sure we missed something about the whole business with the Morrowsworn. You seriously had no idea there were peryton in the mountains?”

“None,” said Ohrinna, shaking her head. She looked at Neisos, who also shook his head. “Though we will be paying close attention to the wall now that there are important things about this to know. I have no more questions, though, but thank you for sharing this.”

Neisos nodded. “Clearly this business concerns all cities, and if they settle on the highlands to the south, then, well… We may not be much for travel by your standards, as we have much discussed, but it is a comfortable feeling to have more neighbouring kin. Always.”

Deimesa tilted her head. “If I have one question, it is… what are you doing, Rarity?”

“I’m wondering, too. Rarity?” Fluttershy asked. Ever since their story drew to a close, Rarity had her journal out, flipped upside-down and backwards, furiously scribbling. Now that her name was called, the unicorn paused, looking up.

“I was struck with an idea of this traveller’s guide I think we discussed long ago,” said Rarity, frowning at her journal and grabbing a quick drink of water before she cleared her throat. “How about this: Vauhorn is a riot of cultural expressions. Stories, people and items, the only common denominator is that peryton here, by and large, agree that things happened, or may have happened—or at the very least that the idea of happening is far more productive and interesting than the denial of such a possibility.”

Rainbow Dash tilted her head. She glanced over her shoulder and out the door again. Just across the street she could see the richly painted wall opposite of the family’s house, and they had been reminded of the sheer variety in Vauhorn when they came in to land earlier this morning. Still—

“If you mean the Aspects and everything, you know they do that all over Perytonia,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Mm, yes, but never more than here,” Rarity retorted. “I thought travellers might appreciate some help.”

Deimesa shrugged. “They are strange words, but not untrue words.”

Ohrinna nodded. “None of us have travelled much, but while the way you say it is strange, what you say is true for all who seek storied speech or stories to guide at all.”

Rarity chewed her bottom lip and nodded, putting her journal away. “Perhaps you are right. I just found myself enamoured with the phrasing, I suppose. I’ll use it somewhere, I hope. Never mind that for now. There will be plenty of time for memoirs later. Fluttershy, dear, what are our plans for the day?”

“Oh, well, we have to deliver the invitation, at least,” said Fluttershy. “Maybe there is something else?”

“If you liked the corner club, there are many like it,” Deimesa said, shuffling her wings. “I can show you another I found recently.”

“Um, oh. That’s… nice,” said Fluttershy, her ears splayed.

Rainbow Dash chuckled, turning to Neisos instead. The stag watched and listened to the talk around the table with rapt interest, but when Dash looked at him, he turned to face her and smiled expectantly.

“You were totally trying to give advice even when I said I didn’t want advice,” Dash said, delivering the accusation with a grin.

“Did I?” Neisos asked, one brow raised. “When?”

“The whole thing about how stuff goes weird if you wanna talk about something, but you don’t?” Dash said, trying to remember. “I don’t know exactly what you said, but you said something about how it builds this wall, and then you can’t talk about it. You were talking about your leg.”

“Ah. I did say this,” Neisos agreed with a nod, smiling at her.

“Yeah!” said Dash. “Like, whether you like or believe in talking about problems or not, it gets harder the less you do it.” She snorted and looked over at Fluttershy who was still engaged in a discussion with Deimesa, Ohrinna and Rarity. Dash licked her own lips and shook her head. “Trust me, I get it now. And the story about Vestrus was kinda clever too. Talking about how… how something can mean a lot of things and… just thanks. I’m trying to say thanks.”

Neisos nodded again, a small and shallow nod and a muted smile. “You do not owe me thanks. I was only trying to fill the silence with stories, and I did mean what I said about my leg. That story has no place here anymore. As for advice?” He chuckled with a low and warbling sound. “The story of Vestrus is generally always applicable. Anyone can appreciate the fact that new perspectives are helpful. If you found something particularly useful, then that is owed to your sharp mind and desire to find use, not on mine for trying to covertly help you or somesuch. I did none of this.”

Rainbow Dash believed none of that, of course. It was about as likely as Pinkie Pie saying that of course she didn’t have anything special planned for your birthday.

“If we are speaking of friendly advice, or simply words among friends,” Neisos went on, his voice softer. “Then I think I myself preferred the bluntness of yours. I found our little talk on the roof deceptively useful.”

Rainbow Dash grinned, staring at the large wings folded on the stag’s back. She swore she could spot a feather or two slightly out of order from use.

“Yeah?” said Dash. “I hear you’re out flying lots now, huh?”

“Enough that neighbours have begun to talk,” he said, his smile wan for a second before it widened. “Not that I am concerned. Not unpleasant talk. At least, I do not think so anymore.”

“That’s awesome,” said Rainbow Dash. She felt a little warmer from her own smile at that. “I didn’t do anything, though. You’re the one who decided to get back in the air.”

“I suppose, then, that we are thankful to no one for nothing, both of us.” He chuckled. “Or perhaps we can both be thankful for each other.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “If you wanna thank someone, thank Fluttershy. It was her suggestion. Kinda. It’s complicated.” She shrugged and smiled at her girlfriend when she looked over at the mention of her name, leaning over to touch her snout to a very confused Fluttershy’s muzzle. The fuzzy tingles in her chest redoubled, and doubled again when she thought about this one little act of friendship to get Neisos flying not as her own win, not even as Fluttershy’s, but as theirs.

“What are you talking about?” Fluttershy asked, giggling and rubbing the side of her two-tone dyed muzzle against Dash’s. “Everything okay?”

“We’re fine,” said Dash, grinning back at her. “Just talking about stories and stuff. Speaking of stories,” she said on a whim, turning back to Neisos. “The council here in Vauhorn told us a story the last time we came by. D’you know it? It wasn’t as cool as yours about Vestrus, something about Morrashon feeling bad that he didn’t know anything ‘cause he couldn’t move, so Selyria came by and talked to him a bit.”

Neisos nodded and smiled, his head at a slight tilt. He levitated a peach in his grip as he spoke. “It is a well known one, yes, not that I understand its relevance to your visit then or now.”

Dash shook her head. “I don’t remember either. That’s not my point. Did you know it actually happened? I talked to Princess Luna. Or, Selyria. Same thing, actually. She lives in Canterlot, but yeah. She remembers him.”

Even as she spoke, Rainbow Dash knew how Neisos would react, and she immediately saw she had been right. Neisos cocked his head the other way and smiled still, as though he waited for the follow-up. No, for the point, his interest largely polite. Unimpressed with the fact that Selyria, one of their first two Aspects lived and breathed. Dash knew he wouldn’t be amazed, because she got it now. The stories were what was important to them. The stories and the learning. Most peryton probably wouldn’t care that Helesseia was Princess Celestia, either.

“I see,” said Neisos. “Princess Luna was one of the two of your kin who sent you?”

“Yep,” said Dash, chuckling. “Just, you know, throwing it out there.”

“If that is the case, it’s an interesting fact. I suppose that means our two cultures have met before,” Neisos said, nodding along. Unimpressed, but politely interested, so utterly unlike the Morrowsworn upon their first meeting. Princess Luna would certainly appreciate that, at least.

“Yep,” said Dash again, laughing. “Never mind,” she said, waving a hoof and turning around when she caught Fluttershy seeking her eyes.

“If you don’t mind, Rarity suggested that we could go visit the council now,” said Fluttershy, smiling bright. “We could give them the invitation, and maybe tell them a few more stories they might like, and then come back to pick up the others and go eat dinner together.”

“And on the topic of stories,” Rarity added, her brow knit. “Deimesa here told me about a quite interesting story that they’re telling here in Vauhorn now, as well as a potential fiftieth Aspect.”

“And… and that,” said Fluttershy, her ears splayed in an instant.

“Ah yes,” said Neisos, grinning toothily. “There was one story that stood out during the last Alluvium that I thought I would ask you about.”

“I must say, I don’t envy those poor dears down there the climb,” said Rarity.

Rainbow Dash looked down between her forelegs and saw what she meant. Four wagon-teams worked hard to pull their great wagons up the long, long slope that led from Vauhorn to the little hilltop. The Northern Crown, wasn’t that what it was called? Already they gained on the little nub of rock and grass ahead of them. They’d pass it within the hour, probably.

Not for the first time, Dash silently gave thanks to the combination of weather, their chariot, and the sheer strength of pegasus wingpower that let them soar south. Soon they would begin their trek along the Splitwood. They had spent over a week travelling through the forest going north. Now it was a journey of one or two days according to Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash was ready to go for one. She grinned to herself and glanced over at Fluttershy.

“I still can’t believe your story won,” Rainbow Dash blurted, the words escaping her just as she thought them. “Not just a winning story that’s being sent all across Perytonia, but maybe an Aspect made after you!”

Fluttershy’s cheeks reddened, but she said nothing, her eyes ahead and her focus on the climb. As the road climbed, so did the chariot, but it wasn’t nearly hard enough work to consume the pegasus entirely. When she held her silence despite, Rarity spoke up.

“Honestly, it almost beggars belief,” Rarity said, the unicorn rubbing at her green-painted horn and staring critically at the edge of her hoof. “You never told me any of this. Not that I asked much, I understand—that is on me, of course, and I am glad to have the full story of that evening—but I… well, no, I am still quite frankly amazed you wouldn’t tell.”

“You're amazed that Fluttershy wouldn’t brag about something awesome she did?” Rainbow Dash asked, cocking a brow.

Rarity frowned. “Point taken, dear,” she said.

“I left before the biggest bonfire at the Ravenwall,” Fluttershy said, a little quiet.

“Yeah, you mentioned,” said Dash, squinting at her. She knew Fluttershy wouldn’t lie, of course.

“Surely you must have known part of it,” Rarity said.

Fluttershy sighed, her ears wilting. “Kind of. Vulenos said he thought it would go all the way, and the night I spent alone in Cotronna, I actually overheard someone telling the story, even if it’s, um… a little different the way they tell it, but that’s okay.”

“Okay, but how is that not awesome?” Dash pressed.

“Because it’s a story I told when I felt really bad, Rainbow Dash,” said Fluttershy, finding some of her energy again. She locked eyes with her. “Because I told the story when things weren’t great at all, and then, I thought… that was when I thought maybe you—” she exhaled noisily, fully. “That’s when I didn’t know if I believed you wanted to be with me, or if you wanted something I didn’t want. It wasn’t a very happy time for either of us, was it?”

Rainbow Dash winced. Nothing Fluttershy had said was untrue. She wished she wasn’t harnessed to the cart, wanting to reach out, to touch Fluttershy because she didn’t know what words to use or to say. Rarity didn’t miss a beat.

“That’s how we learn, dear,” said the unicorn behind them, her voice soft. “Maybe it’s a little more explicit in the way the peryton handle stories, but mistakes and the memories of those mistakes are a way to improve. Memories of worse times only hurt if you let them. If you sit on them, hoarding them alone.”

“You have no idea how true that is,” Dash murmured.

“This way,” Rarity continued, smiling, “others will learn from the little… hiccup the two of you had, but even though you told the story, it isn’t necessarily about you. I think it’s quite wonderful, really. One pony’s experiences can benefit everyone, and you yourself feel better now, don’t you? You know that Rainbow has always believed in you.”

Fluttershy chewed her bottom lip and nodded slightly.

“Nope,” said Rainbow Dash. “That’s not true at all.”

She felt Fluttershy’s worried, hungry and curious stare, as well as Rarity’s nonplussed look boring a hole in the back of her head while she herself kept her eyes on the Northern Crown, the statue of Selyria slowly coming into view as they climbed.

“Got plenty of times when I didn’t,” Dash said. She didn’t like admitting it, of course. It burned her throat to say it, but shutting up hurt worse. “Remember the whole business with the dragon the summer before last? I totally didn’t have your back, then. Didn’t think you could do it at all. That’s on me.”

“Two years ago?” Rarity asked. She folded her forelegs over the rim of the chariot and rested her head atop as she thought. “I don’t know that I do, exact—oh. The smoke and everything, no, I do. You’re still on that?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. She didn’t know what it meant to be on it, but she certainly hadn’t forgotten. She looked at Fluttershy, looking for any trace of hurt in the wake of Dash’s admission, but there was none. Fluttershy smiled faintly, her eyes unfocused for a moment as though she, too, remembered.

“Of course she remembers,” Fluttershy said, nodding at length. “And I do, too. It wasn’t fun at all, and I was very disappointed, even if I never told you.”

Dash felt a pang in her chest, but Fluttershy still smiled at her, like she had put the balm on Rainbow Dash before Dash even realised she was hurt.

“I think you can believe in me without saying it all the time, really,” said Fluttershy her ears perking up. “Just like how I can say that I think you are one of the most sincere and honest ponies I know, and really mean it, even if I, well… slip up once or twice.”

Fluttershy tilted her head sideways, leaning towards her as though she strained to touch Rainbow Dash. Dash missed her regular wingstroke rhythm on purpose, rocking the chariot just the tiniest bit so their feathers would brush against each other once.

“Sure,” Dash said, smiling back. “We can be great together even if we mess up. I guess you’re right. Heh, you’re always right.”

“No, that’s my point,” said Fluttershy. “I’m usually right, that’s all. Just like you are.”

Rainbow Dash giggled and said nothing to that, again not knowing what to say. Fluttershy just looked at her for the longest time, and it made Dash want to keep grinning. And so she did. They flew in silence for a while, the two pegasi climbing and climbing until finally they passed the Northern Crown and soared above the road that ran along the Splitwood. Rarity leaned on the rim of the chariot, now watching the two pegasi fly, now staring off into the vast and unending plains to their east, now to the forest on their west.

Idly, Rainbow Dash wondered what they looked like from below. If the paint did its job, and if they bothered to fly a little higher, any onlookers from below would just see a wooden chariot hurtling across the sky. She looked down at her own chest, still not used to the different shade of blue.

“Gotta remember to pick up more paint for our ‘flight’,” Dash said, chuckling to herself. “That’s what Phoreni said.”

Fluttershy nodded. “She said that if we wanted more jars, we could get them in the Grove since we’re wardens now.”

“She used the word ‘requisition’. On the condition that we guard them with our lives, might I add,” Rarity commented. “And something about promising to use them in furtherance of warden activities, though I don’t know how serious she was about that particular part.”

“Yeah yeah, sure, that,” said Dash, waving a hoof in dismissal. “But she said the three of us were a flight. Like they talk about their… units, I guess? Is that what you call a group? Oh. Uh, okay, so our group then.”

“I—” Rarity began.

“No, unit. Unit sounds way cooler,” Dash corrected herself.

“I believe she did say that, yes,” Rarity said.

“I guess that’s what we are, yes,” Fluttershy agreed, nodding and smiling. “A three-pony flight.”

“Some with more capacity for flight than others,” said Rarity with a dry chuckle, levitating up a bag of water for a quick drink, turning her head away from the wind.

“As long as you’re with us, you can fly anytime you want, really,” Fluttershy offered.

“Hay yeah,” said Dash, grinning wide. “Back in the Cauldron, we proved that Fluttershy and I can outfly anything with just two wings between us. We got plenty of wings left for you.” Rarity said nothing to that, but she her smile was warm and genuine, so Dash left it at that.

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Fluttershy said after a moment. “You don’t feel airsick at all, do you?”

“Not at all, dear,” said Rarity, shaking her head. “I think I’ve had more airtime than just about any other unicorn in existence.”

“You’re basically an honorary pegasus,” Dash said, laughing.

“I’ll accept that, little miss flaming tornado,” said Rarity. “Somepony should be a unicorn, if you ask me. Not that unicorns are defined by their ability to start fires at inopportune moments.” She lowered her voice a touch, frowning as she finished under her breath. “That specific talent belongs to my dear sister.”

Rainbow Dash blinked, then grinned so wide her face hurt. “Sure, but okay, hold that thought for a second. Remember when we talked about ponies changing names? Do you think—”

“Rainbow Dash, no,” said Fluttershy, giggling all the while. “No!”

“Because I’m thinking ‘Flaming Tornado’—”

“No, dear,” said Rarity, sighing. “Just no. Coming home with two colours added to your coat atop your already ridiculously loud mane and tail is enough, don’t you think?”

“You mean awesome,” said Dash, smirking. “You’ve already said you like my mane. You can’t take that back.”

“Nor would I ever,” said Rarity, flashing a smile. “But in all seriousness, I wonder what ponies will think of this paint if we wear it back in Ponyville.”

Fluttershy touched a hoof to her own chest. “I kind of like it, really.”

“Oh, by all means, and if they will let us have another jar of the paint, I won’t turn down the offer,” said Rarity, nodding her agreement. “My point is that there’s a reason ponies don’t usually go for two tones even in those rare moments when they decide to dye their coat, and no—”

“What about—” Dash began to say, but Rarity beat her to it.

“—Pinkie Pie’s ‘popsicle week’ does not count,” Rarity concluded. “And that was food colouring, I am certain.”

“I guess,” Rainbow Dash allowed, chuckling.

“Mm, maybe,” said Fluttershy. “I think the paint is only half of what I like about… um,” she paused, her attention momentarily seized by a flock of birds flying in the opposite direction, a small distance away. “About… the paint. Okay, that didn’t sound right.”

“What?” said Dash, giggling. “Try that again?”

Fluttershy shook her head and smiled. “I’m sorry. I like the paint and everything, but I really liked putting it on together, that’s all.”

“It was a rather nice gesture, truly,” said Rarity. Dash glanced back at her and found her stretching her forelegs out.

“Not just the gesture,” said Fluttershy, frowning slightly as she thought. “She made it feel like applying the paint is a little intimate.”

“Yeah. I guess it’s not just wearing the paint that’s a big deal to them, huh,” said Dash.

“Exactly,” said Fluttershy, her ears at half tilt to go with her sedate smile. “It just felt… special. Like making a bond together. All of us.”

“Been thinking the same thing,” Dash admitted, grinning. “I like it.”

She looked back at Rarity again, but the unicorn was silent, her gaze drifting through the air in front of her, nodding absentmindedly.

“You know, I joke a lot about the whole ‘married to Phoreni’ thing, but—” Dash added.

“You really do,” Rarity interjected, and Dash chuckled. She’d probably milked the last of the fun out of that, but then again, that was kind of her point.

“—I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not completely a joke, but who knows. Even if I think I get the peryton a bit, and understand the Ephydoerans a little, I kinda still don’t,” Dash said.

“Well, whatever she thinks we are, I’m very glad we have her,” Fluttershy replied, smiling wide.

“You two are certainly taking the notion in stride,” Rarity commented, shaking her head, though she didn’t look entirely unamused herself now.

“Yeah, well, you’re not freaking out over the idea of some weird sort of four-po—err, three-pony, one peryton thing either,” Dash retorted, laughing. Rarity just rolled her eyes and rested her heads on her forelegs again, shifting her stance a little.

Rainbow Dash looked to the west when the silence dragged on again, wondering if they could catch a glimpse of the Morillyn gorges from the road. Probably not, she decided. The sun hid behind a light cloud cover, and the plains rushed by below. They had found a comfortable pace and a decent height, the wind at their backs for now.

“Speaking of speaking,” Rarity said, pausing to let out a great yawn, “your capacity for discussing emotions and relationships and such has clearly changed.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I guess?” she said, glancing over at Fluttershy, and her girlfriend’s smile suggested that maybe that was a good thing. No, it was a good thing. That was kinda the entire point of their discussion slash mutual concussion thing in Cotronna, wasn’t it? She stared at Rarity, waiting for the point.

“I just notice you haven’t talked about the Wonderbolts or anything like that in a great while,” said Rarity. She shrugged, then smirked ever so slightly, the wry little smile that Dash knew so well, a smirk that presaged a little barb. “I just never imagined you’d become a family mare, that’s all.”

Rainbow Dash’s laughed. It wasn’t much of an insult, if that was what Rarity had tried for. She didn’t even bother to answer. When Spitfire had praised Rainbow Dash at the hurricane effort earlier that summer, she already knew she could probably outfly them already. If anything, Dash’s ambitions were higher than ever, she just didn’t know what they were. Not yet. And that was fine. Just like she had no idea what lay in store for her and Fluttershy except copious amounts of snuggles and preening.

Now, if she could get Fluttershy into a Wonderbolts outfit. She licked her lips and swallowed, her mind going blank for a second.

“Rainbow Dash? Are you okay?” Fluttershy asked, her head tilted sideways.

“Huh? Oh, uh, yeah,” said Dash, clearing her throat. “I’m fine. Uh, what I meant to say was… I don’t remember. Something about how I’m still me, I just figured out that I’m pretty okay at encouraging others, too, I guess?”

Rarity arched a brow. “That… is a very insightful response to what I assure you was a joke, but I’m still worried that you treat the whole idea of you being a very inspiring individual as news, darling.”

“I’m going to keep telling her, don’t worry,” Fluttershy said, smiling at Rarity.

Rainbow Dash grinned. “And Rarity, if you think I’m losing my touch—”

“It was a joke, darling. Again, flaming tornado mere weeks ago,” said Rarity, frowning at Dash.

“—then how about I make it up to you? I’m like… fifty-five percent sure we can do a corkscrew with this chariot without you falling off!” Rainbow Dash cackled.

“It was a joke!” Rarity screamed when Rainbow Dash jostled the chariot a little. “Rainbow Dash, no!”

“So thunderclouds can simply spontaneously appear like that?” Rarity asked, frowning deeply. “That sounds unpleasant. I can see why you moved from Cloudsdale.”

“Oh, no. Not at all. There had been an accident at a nearby cloud laboratory,” Fluttershy said, shaking her head quickly. “It got stuck in my bedroom wall. I just didn’t know that at the time. I was very young. I’ve been terrified of them ever since.”

Rainbow Dash scowled at their chariot. Once they crossed the wooden bridge, it was back to rocks and pits. Whatever advantage they had being two ponies to pull the chariot was lost by having such tiny wheels. Every now and then something scraped along the bottom of the chariot.

At least the awful road was familiar. This was definitely the same bridge, and there was no mistaking the river for anything but the Meronna. They were back under the canopy of the Khosta, a forest so dense that even in the middle of the road—even while some of the trees dropped their leaves all on their own—the dark blue-green trees on one side of the path reached for the trees on the other side, as though they sought to swallow all sunlight. She kept her eyes on the bushes to their right.

“Given your stunt with the thundercloud and the lightning bolt that freed Rainbow from those awful chains, I imagine that’s a fear of the past,” Rarity said shaking out her legs as she walked at their side. Three ponies, side by side on the road again, and Dash couldn’t be happier.

“Not at all. I’m still scared of thunderclouds,” said Fluttershy. Rarity blinked.

Well. Not strictly true. Rainbow Dash could be happier. She would be, once they found the entrance to the path. Phoreni’s description had been as exact as ever, but looking for something as generic as “three trees with a dense purple glowing moss” was proving hard, despite her insistence that they would find it soon after the bridge.

“Really, the escape from the prison, and setting off a lightning bolt inside a tiny little cave didn’t help at all,” Fluttershy said, her ears bent flat with the admission. “We just did what we had to do.”

“Did what you had to do,” Rainbow Dash repeated with a snort of laughter. “I’m not buying it. Sorry, Fluttershy. That whole thing was pretty much the coolest, bravest, most amazing thing anypony has done in the history of Equestria.” She grinned to herself, swishing her tail when she realised how good it made her feel. Her girlfriend had done that, and that made them both more awesome.

At the silence, Dash finally looked up from the roadside, finding Fluttershy staring at her with her wings half-spread, nibbling her lower lip.

“I was just trying to help,” said Fluttershy after a moment. “That’s all. We all did—”

“We didn’t all figure out the best plan ever, grab a thundercloud without anyone noticing, and then zap the chains off,” Rainbow Dash pressed. “No way, Fluttershy. No getting out of it. You did way more than what you ‘had’ to do, you kicked butt!” Dash hopped into the air at that last word, making the chariot jiggle.

“And as true as that is,” Rarity said, smiling, “that wasn’t really the topic at hoof. We were discussing Fluttershy’s fear of thunderclouds—as much as I appreciate your input reducing poor Fluttershy to a puddle of blushing matter.”

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head, her cheeks cherry red now. “It’s okay. I didn’t have anything more to say about what happened in the mountains. I was just going to say that if there was anything that made me a little less afraid of thunderclouds, it was when Rainbow Dash and I played around with clouds together with Deimesa in Vauhorn the first time we travelled through it.” She tilted her head slightly, her smile and those big bright eyes trained straight on Dash’s own. “That meant a lot to me, even if I think Rainbow Dash didn’t understand it at first. I think that was amazing, if you ask me. It’s not easy for me to get over my fears, you know, but you helped.”

“Oh. Yeah. That,” Dash muttered, her own face heating up a little as Fluttershy turned the tables on her. “That’s no big deal. We both had fun then, I guess. That’s good. I’m glad.”

“And so am I,” Fluttershy said, nodding slightly. “And thank you.”

In Fluttershy’s eyes, Dash saw the same the same desire for touch that she herself felt. Dash wanted to bury her muzzle in that tantalisingly short mane, but still they were tethered to the chariot. Rainbow Dash reached out with a wing, stretching it as far as she could, and Fluttershy did the same, their primaries just barely touching.

“I wish I could take a picture,” said Rarity with a faint, wan smile. “To show to anypony who ever doubts how sweet the two of you can be togeth—ack!”

“Get over here,” Rainbow Dash laughed, snaring Rarity with a wing, pulling her to her side. “Come on, there’s room for you to walk in between us, you know.”

“Here?” Fluttershy asked, pointing.

“Those are definitely three trees,” Dash agreed, nodding and halting the chariot by the roadside just as Fluttershy did the same. “Alright, and there’s loads of the mushy bits. The moss is supposed to be purple, though.”

“I think that’s the moss that glows purple when it gets darker,” Fluttershy suggested. “It’s a little purple now, isn’t it?” She leaned a little closer to the innocuous clumps of moss adorning the cluster of trees nearly completely lost among all the other hundreds, thousands, millions of trees and the carpet of undergrowth.

“Yeah, well, I don’t see the path,” said Rainbow Dash, frowning. “But I don’t recognise anything. It’s just forest.”

The Khosta looked different in this second summer—or fall, probably—but the changes weren’t nearly as dramatic as they had been in the Splitwood just after the storm. There were more colours, but not in the trees. The canopy remained nearly completely unchanged, yet the flowers and grasses had streaks of yellows and oranges mixing with the same green that matched their lower bodies perfectly, and the few trees that shed their leaves disappeared in the mess.

“This has to be it,” Rarity said. She stepped out from between the two pegasi, approaching the trees. Her horn glowed, and she shifted some ferns and other grasses about, pushing them left, then right, finally thrusting her head in amidst the growth. “Oh. It is here!” she announced. “Bring the cart!”

“Chariot,” Dash corrected her, sighing. “This is gonna be terrible to drag along their crummy little dirt paths.”

“I suppose you are right,” Rarity replied, staring back at their very useful, very awesome, and sadly, larger-than-their-old-tiny-cart chariot.

“Maybe we should just follow the road and wait at the trader rest stop the Ephydoerans mentioned?” Fluttershy suggested, remaining still while Rainbow Dash tried to turn the chariot around. “Someone’s bound to come pick us up there.”

Waiting?” Dash scowled. “Really?”

Fluttershy shrugged helplessly.

“You will ruin the path,” said a sharp voice. “You will make it plain if you pull that wagon through the brush, and we will have to abandon it.”

The peryton stag came wandering in from the bushes on the opposite side of the road, sauntering out of the forest almost nonchalantly, just like how Rarity strode into the shop area of her boutique when Dash came to visit, before the unicorn realised Rainbow Dash was not, in fact, a customer. At his back were another two stags and a doe, all four of them painted just like the ponies, giving the group unabashedly curious looks.

“Oh, hello,” said Fluttershy, smiling at the wardens. “You’ve been watching us all the time, haven’t you?”

“Have we watched you? We have been aware of your approach only just now, but others on sky-stalk have told us of your arrival over the brush earlier,” the stag said, nodding. “I see now they were making no jest. You are indeed the new wardens we have heard about.”

“That’s us,” said Rainbow Dash, grinning. “I guess we’re still in training or something.”

“You must be. Or else you would not stand by one of the Grove-paths and render it insecure,” said the doe, frowning ever so slightly.

Fluttershy nodded quickly. “We’re sorry. We just wanted to get to the Grove. Perhaps you could help us get there? Our… flight needs some supplies,” she continued, smiling wide at Dash and Rarity, “and we’re here to see some friends.”

The stag at the head of the wardens inclined his head slightly. “Let us find a different and safe place for your wagon, and then we go by ground. Come.”

“I have long hoped you would return,” Khyrast said, climbing in wide but steep circles. “You cannot leave tomorrow. That will be entirely too cruel!”

“We were really only planning on staying a night or two,” Fluttershy replied, glancing over at Rainbow Dash and Rarity on Dash’s back, smiling slightly. “I’m sure we can make it two nights, right girls?”

“Do make it two,” said Loriessa. The small and nimble doe was unpainted, just like Khyrast, her flank adorned with more symbols and script than any other Ephydoeran Rainbow Dash had ever seen. She climbed almost as sharply as Dash herself, her wings and hooves glowing bright. “We have only just met!”

Rainbow Dash smiled. “I’m down for two nights.” As they ascended to the treetops of the Grove, what had been anonymous platforms from below gained purpose. Open-faced nests with strange, large beds, peryton making crafts, the occasional shops or café-likes, all with lanterns dull and unneeded in the indirect yet bright mid-day sunlight that warmed the canopy above.

“You owe me to speak at length of magic,” said Khyrast, smiling toothily at Rarity. “And you must tell me of our dear Phoreni.”

“How is she?” Loriessa asked, her eyes fixing upon the ponies in an instant, her breath quickening. “You must tell me she is safe and well. Khyrast has told me from what we hear that you have met in Cotronna. The flight to the Bow did not end in disaster? We guessed, from what we heard of these new kin—”

“Loriessa, it is Phoreni,” Khyrast said with a cawing laugh as they finally levelled out among the tallest platforms and dwellings. “Of course she will be safe.”

Despite his words, Khyrast’s eyes lingered on Rainbow Dash, now on Fluttershy, clearly hoping for an answer, too.

“‘Course she’s fine,” said Rainbow Dash, chuckling. “She’s drowning in like… talking and making nice and diplomacy stuff, and she doesn’t like it, but she’s fine.”

Fluttershy giggled. “She’s maybe a little grumpy about it.”

“Bureaucracy can do that to the best of us,” Rarity added, holding on a little tighter to Rainbow Dash as they sped up. Khyrast took them northeast among some smaller trees—smaller by comparison only. “But,” the unicorn added, “I agree. I think we can spare two nights, surely.”

“S’what I said.” Dash grinned.

“We spent two days in Vauhorn, so I think we can probably do the same here, yes,” Fluttershy agreed, smiling wide. They touched down at a small landing platform at the edge of a simple house half built into the trunk of a tree, and even before they landed, Dash saw that the house was a single room. A lone chamber with a wide opening, occupied mostly by a large and simple bed.

“I have already had the pleasure of introducing you to Loriessa, loved by Phoreni, Aoras and me,” said Khyrast, trotting ahead to gesture to the bed, the shelves and simple cupboards. “Now I welcome you to our home. If you wish to leave your ohron somewhere, this is a good place, and we will make room in our nest for you to sleep.”

“Cool, thanks,” said Dash, already halfway out of her saddlebags.

“It’s very nice of you,” Fluttershy agreed, dipping her head.

“‘Very nice’,” said Loriessa, the small monocolour brown doe smiling wide, “is what I would call all you have done for our kin. What we offer you in return is for our own pleasure, for Khyrast to see you again, and for me and Aoras to meet you.”

Rarity shook her head and chuckled while the ponies shed their baggage on the floor. “I think we can spend all day thanking each other and all such, and perhaps we should, but while I am very eager to get to know you better, we must not forget to deliver the invitation and these maps with the supposed location of the tunnel to… I suppose the High Warden can coordinate the Ephydoeran side of things, don’t you?”

“Sure,” said Dash, shrugging, looking to Khyrast. “If we get a meeting with the High Warden and ask her nicely, d’you think she could ask all the other leaders here to handle the whole ‘being invited to Equestria to a meeting’ thing we mentioned?”

“Actually,” said Fluttershy, tilting her head. “Khyrast, aren’t you the head of teachers? Could you take the invitation to the… if I understood Phoreni right, you have a ‘counsel-group’? Is that like a council?”

Khyrast nodded. “Do we have such a group of kin who seek the counsel of others? We do, but this invitation of yours should go to the High Warden, who will meet with us.”

“And you do not need to ask for a meeting with the High Warden,” said Loriessa, nodding at Khyrast and the ponies both. She gestured to Fluttershy, who stood closest to her. “You carry the paint. The Promise is yours as much as the High Warden’s.”

“Cool,” said Dash, shuffling her wings. She looked to Rarity and Fluttershy, to Khyrast and Loriessa, all five of them stood around the simple, messy and unlit bedroom. “Okay, guess we don’t have to worry about that. What do you guys wanna do today then?” she asked.

Khyrast grinned. “This is a place for resting, not for being,” he said. “Rarity, would you believe there are those who still speak of your skill at shaving symbols?”

“Truly?” Rarity asked, one brow arched.

“I guess you made an impact,” Fluttershy said, giggling.

“I can see those who have received your attentions, and tell them apart from those who have not,” said Loriessa with a lopsided smile. “There are rumors that some are considering doing nothing but shaving, and trade for larger favours, to make a craft of it.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “That’s awesome! Are they actually gonna use magic for it, too?”

Khyrast crowed with laughter. “I do not think this will happen soon, but perhaps! I think what Loriessa is saying, with all the subtlety—”

“Khyrast, love—” Loriessa held up a forehoof.

“—is that she admires your craft and would be grateful if you would help her with her marks. Our little family has not before had one skilled in it.”

“Of course I would,” said Rarity, beaming just as Loriessa opened her mouth to protest, the doe’s cheeks flushed. “I would be delighted to help. This evening, perhaps?”

“Let’s hit town first?” Rainbow Dash gestured to the open portal that led to the treetop-city beyond, with its myriad of strange new sights and smells. “We need to pick up some new antlers.”

“And paint,” Fluttershy added with a smile. “We need to talk to the wardens about the paint.”

“Then let us all go together,” Khyrast suggested, grinning toothily.

Rainbow Dash opened her eyes and yawned groggily, but there wasn’t much to see. It was the dead of night, and she wasn’t entirely sure why she was awake at first, but then she noticed one of Khyrast’s hooves poking her sharply in the side. The bed barely deserved being called such a thing, a thick and slightly too hard mattress of some sort that fit the group only barely, especially now that they had picked up Aoras as well, the bulky grey-white stag sprawled out on the other side of the nest.

Dash chuckled to herself and pushed Khyrast’s foreleg away gently. At her other side, Rarity and Fluttershy lay close together, and Dash spread her left wing as far as she could to cover what Loriessa’s feathers did not, making sure both Fluttershy and Rarity were well covered against the cold.

All in all, it was probably the weirdest sleep Dash had ever had in her life. The most different night of her life, but she found that she didn’t mind in the least. She spread her other wing to rest it across Khyrast and touch Loriessa and Aoras too, just because, and closed her eyes, seeking sleep again.

“Jousting?” Fluttershy asked, her eyes widening. For a second, Rainbow Dash wondered if she would drop the water bowl she carried on her back when her wings snapped shut, but Aoras steadied it with a hoof. Both Fluttershy and Aoras managed to get the food onto the table without incident, rejoining Rainbow Dash and Loriessa by their table at the edge of the great tree’s cantina.

“Yeah! So, they don’t just do it during the big joust during their summer brush games. It’s all for fun, right?” Rainbow Dash explained while Fluttershy and Aoras sat.

“I don’t know if I did it for fun,” said Fluttershy, one of her ears twitching. “I just really wanted to do it with you, and I don’t know if I want to try that again. I thought we picked up the new pair of antlers yesterday for the memories, and as, um, souvenirs, I guess?”

“Alright, that too,” Dash agreed, chuckling. “But Loriessa told me there’s a brush-level drinking house—a place down on the ground that sells really great fruit juice—that also has jousts every night! No fancy stuff with singing and stories, just like… wrestling.”

“The exact brutish competitions that every brush games’ joust begins with telling us that we as a people have progressed past,” Aoras grumped as he sat, grabbing a root of some kind from one of the bowls he’d brought. “And their fruit juice is too strong. It muddles the head.”

“That sounds a little scary,” said Fluttershy, nibbling on her lower lip. “I don’t know.”

“There is nothing wrong with engaging directly with older customs,” Loriessa countered, rows of sharp teeth showing in a grin. “Aoras, come. It is too long since you have come with.”

“And is that a ‘no’, or do you kinda wanna try?” Rainbow Dash asked, grinning at Fluttershy. “Hey, it’s cool, but you could just come watch, you know. No pressure. But I’m gonna bring your antlers, too.” Dash smirked.

Fluttershy said nothing at first, but Dash saw the faint smile budding on her girlfriend’s face just as she heard Rarity and Khyrast walking down the nearby stairs, coming back from the Warden’s Fortress on the floor above.

“Hey, Rarity! Khyrast! I know what we’re gonna do tonight for our farewell party!”

Rainbow Dash’s head still hurt. Too much fruit juice. Too many head-on collisions. Too much loud noise, shouting and yelling. The notion that all Ephydoerans were grumpy and stone-faced had cracked long ago as they got to know Phoreni better, but Ephydoeran parties were something else entirely. Fortunately, the best cure for an aching head was air, and right now, Rainbow Dash had a lot of it. All of it.

The Khosta made up the entirety of the world below. The blue and green treetops were infinite and unmoving, and if not for the hills and bumps in the lumpy forestscape, it would have been easy to think that the movement came from the road or the river they followed, not from themselves. Two snakes, one blue, one grey-brown, both wiggling once in a while but otherwise remaining still.

They weren’t still at all, of course. The air tugged on Dash’s ears and mane. Her wings were like clockwork in concert with Fluttershy’s, two entirely different sets wings in synchronous beats, perfectly working together. Cool fall air, a gentle sun, a hint of rain from scattered clouds that would not release their cargo. The occasional snore from Rarity who lay out of sight at the floor of the chariot, fast asleep even though it was well past midday.

Rainbow Dash glanced over at Fluttershy, and Fluttershy looked back at her. They both smiled. Probably one of them had smiled and the other one returned it in kind, but Dash couldn’t tell who had started it. Rainbow Dash shared her sky with Fluttershy, and shared her silence, too. They had flown for nearly an hour just like this. Not speaking. Not thinking. In Dash’s case, not-thinking, a deliberate, pleasant emptiness of thinking about nothing at all, because there wasn’t much to say, but that part of the morning was coming to an end.

Now Dash was thinking. Random scattered thoughts about all they had done. All they were doing to do. She was glad they had met Khyrast and Phoreni’s other loved ones. Glad to have spent time with them. She missed Twilight, Pinkie Pie, Applejack and all the others. She wanted to sleep on a proper Equestrian cloud. She wanted one of Pinkie Pie’s breakfast muffins. Her winter coat was definitely coming in now, and so was Fluttershy’s. She stared at Fluttershy’s chest, noting that her coat-hairs were getting longer. Fluttershy herself looked down below.

“I think that’s where we met the hydra,” said Fluttershy. Her voice was soft, quiet, barely loud enough to be heard, perhaps for Rarity’s benefit.

“Yeah, you don’t get points for that guess,” Dash countered, giggling. The trail of bent and broken trees was hard to miss. Fluttershy laughed in reply.

“I’m glad, you know,” Fluttershy muttered.

“Yeah?” said Dash. Perhaps weeks ago, months ago, she’d worry. It should be obvious that Fluttershy was glad they were together, because they were happy together.

Okay. Maybe she worried a little even now, just a touch, but it never amounted to more than wanting Fluttershy to hurry up and explain. No panic. No pangs of insecurities.

“Mm. That you convinced me that ‘fine’ isn’t enough,” Fluttershy added, nodding. Her smile grew ten sizes. “At least not always. Not this time. Maybe you were right, actually. Maybe a small part of me did doubt you at first, because I know better—” she said, pausing to frown at herself. “Well, I like to think I know better than some ponies, at least, how… how big your heart is. How much you would do for a friend. I didn’t think we would be unhappy as friends, you know, but… thank you.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged as much as the chariot harness let her. The admission that Fluttershy may have once doubted her didn’t hurt at all. Ponies changed. Ponies made mistakes, and ponies were wrong. And Fluttershy wasn’t the only one.

“Yeah, well, I rushed into this headfirst without thinking, you know,” Dash replied, her ears painfully flat against her head. “I said I meant it, and I did, but I was still so much about… I mean, I just kept thinking about going, but I didn’t think about where we were going, what we were doing, so I messed up a lot, so whatever.” She shook her head. “Things are gonna be better now that we’ve found out what we want, I guess?”

“Or maybe decided what we want, instead of found out,” Fluttershy suggested, nodding in agreement.

“Heh. Yeah. That’s better,” Dash said. Together they could be more than just “fine”. They could be in each other’s lives forever, and do whatever they wanted. Together. It didn’t matter if that meant doing aerial tricks together or if it led to some silly unicorn marriage ceremony. They would find, or make their own brand of harmony. Maybe that meant Dash attending a bunny census once in a while and trying to not be bored out of her skull. She could watch Fluttershy instead of the bunnies. Maybe it meant getting Fluttershy to try out a cool trick or come ice skating more often. It definitely meant more touching.

Rainbow Dash sighed. The only bad part about flying the chariot was the rigid beams to which the harnesses were attached, denying her the chance to casually bump against Fluttershy, or even touch her with a wing. Fluttershy must have seen the way Rainbow Dash looked at her. Or maybe she just had the same thought at the exact same time.

“I can’t wait to land,” said Fluttershy, simply.

“Uh-huh,” said Dash, grinning back. “‘Cause the second we do, I’m gonna be all over you. I really want at those wings right now. And you’re not getting out of nuzzles.”

Fluttershy giggled, but she didn’t blush even the tiniest bit. She smiled, warm and calm before she pointed her muzzle east once again, the two of them soaring over the treetops. “I think I’m okay with that, really.”

Rainbow Dash ran the brush along the length of Fluttershy’s body again. She started at the side of her neck, went over her upper foreleg, down her side, and finally across her flank. The brush was awkward and ungainly, Rarity’s fine coat-brush designed for summer coats and for unicorn use, forcing Dash to bite onto a mostly decorative nub for grip.

Every pull of the brush, it threatened to slip from her grip. Every time she hit a bump following the contours of her girlfriend’s well-defined muscles, she had to readjust or bite down harder. Adding to that, cleaning the brush was a chore.

And there was nothing else Rainbow Dash would rather be doing right now. Whether it was grooming Fluttershy, listening to the little noises the other pegasus made when Dash nudged her wing out of the way or moved one of her legs, or if she was simply taking a break to steal a little nuzzle, rubbing their muzzles together, this was already an afternoon well spent. Their room at the Autumn Hymn was larger this time, but they only really needed the one bed upon which Fluttershy lay while Rainbow Dash attended her.

Of course, Rainbow Dash would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge that some of the pleasure came from knowing it was her turn next. She grinned to herself as she gently ran the brush over Fluttershy’s flank, imagining what it would feel like when Fluttershy set to grooming her.

For now, though, she was content with drawing soft and contented sighs from her girlfriend. When she heard the hoofsteps, she had already nudged Fluttershy over onto her side and started on a second pass on her belly. Dash cocked an ear, as did Fluttershy, cracking an eye open and smiling at her with all the radiance of the sun.

“Someone going back to their room, I guess?” Fluttershy murmured, sounding halfway to sleepy-town.

“No,” said Dash, tilting her head. The second set of hooves weren’t accompanied by the lighter taps of claws. “That’s Rarity.”

Sure enough, the door to their room slid open a moment later, drawing a pleasant draft across the room from the open windows, revealing the unicorn herself—and Mirossa in a dress. Rainbow Dash blinked. She looked to Fluttershy, who also blinked, then back to Mirossa.

The young doe stood in the doorway wearing a simple dress of greys and whites reminiscent of the colouration of many peryton, mixing well with her own white-speckled light brown, and accented with green. As was usually the case, Rainbow Dash couldn’t say whether or not it was a good dress beyond that she herself thought it was pretty cool as far as dresses went. If Rarity had made it, it was probably a great dress, and as the first peryton wearing a proper dress that Dash had seen, Mirossa chose to wear it with absolute confidence rather than hesitation, her head held high.

“What do you think?” Rarity asked, beaming. “Quite the thing, is it not? My measurements were perfect—she hasn’t had to adjust it in the least!”

“I wouldn’t know how to ‘adjust’ it,” Mirossa retorted, picking at the fabric on her own chest with a hoof. “This is the first time I have worn it. I told you I could not figure out how to put it on. It has been in my room until today.”

“Well, I think it looks lovely,” said Fluttershy, smiling wide.

Dash giggled. “Looks great! You’re gonna take the town by storm! Or, you know, have people be super confused and completely ignore the dress!”

“Likely the latter,” Rarity muttered under her breath, but she just shook her head and smiled still.

“Do you like it?” Fluttershy asked, tilting her head.

“It is strange,” Mirossa admitted. “Very, very strange, but I think I like it, yes.” She looked up, grinning at Dash and Fluttershy. “I understand strange may be good, just like you are.”

Dash raised a brow, then laughed. “Thanks?”

“I think I’ll say ‘thank you’, too,” Fluttershy agreed, giggling. “Really, it looks wonderful on you, and I think Rarity did a great job. I wish I had gotten to see it sooner.”

“Mm, well, I wasn’t quite sure about it even as I gave it away as a parting gift,” Rarity said, smiling and tugging at the fabric at the back of the dress with her magic. “Still, I am glad. I think it turned out well.”

“I can’t wait to show this to Rohast, he will be so confounded!” Mirossa declared, letting out a cawing laughter that sounded almost like a cackle. “I don’t think this will be a good thing to wear when travelling, so I will have to have my fun now before I leave.”

“Oh, you want travel wear?” Rarity asked, giving Mirossa a light push down the hallway. “Why, darling dearest, it’s not impossible to make a tear-resistant and waterproof outfit that is also fashionable!”

“The word, ‘fashionable’—” Mirossa said, the question plain in her voice even before Rarity interrupted her.

“Let us hit the markets and see what fabrics we can find before we deliver this invitation to the Dockmistress, shall we? Come!” Rarity nudged Mirossa out of view and followed. “Fluttershy! Rainbow Dash! Do finish your cuddling and join us, we’ll be downstairs with Naressa until you are ready to leave!”

Rainbow Dash laughed and shook her head while their steps receded down the hall. She leapt off the bed and closed the door with a little effort, and when the sliding door was finally shut, neither her nor Fluttershy could hold back their laughter.

“She’s going to be the most well-dressed Bent Feather ever,” said Rainbow Dash, hopping back on top of the bed.

“She’s going to be the only dressed Bent Feather, I think,” Fluttershy retorted, still giggling. “She did look really nice, though.”

Rainbow Dash just put a hoof on Fluttershy’s side, resting it there. Fluttershy still lay on her side, and Dash eyed the brush, but she’d put care and effort into every piece of Fluttershy’s coat to the point where her jaw ached with biting onto the brush.

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said. Dash felt one of Fluttershy’s hooves touch her upper leg, rubbing gently. “It was lovely. I nearly fell asleep.”

“Hey, don’t thank me, it’s your turn,” said Dash, grinning. “Actually, nah, if Rarity and Mirossa are waiting, I guess it can wait.” She leaned in to run her muzzle along the rigid hairs on the back of Fluttershy’s head and neck, where her mane was at its shortest. “If you wanna do my wings real quick, that’d be cool though. Think I lost a feather or two landing.”

“Of course,” said Fluttershy, sitting back up and smiling patiently while Rainbow Dash lay down and spread a wing. Dash was immediately rewarded with hot breath against her feathers and teeth grabbing onto one of her primaries, expertly adjusting it, cleaning it, and moving on to the next. Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and sighed.

“Heh, can’t believe I actually didn’t know you were any good at this,” Rainbow Dash muttered.

“I didn’t want you to stop,” Fluttershy replied. Unapologetic, for once. “It feels a little different now, though—in a good way,” she rushed to add.

“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash rested her head on her forelegs. “Think we talked about that, didn’t we? Or maybe I just thought about it.” She turned her head slightly so she could watch Fluttershy at work, watch while her girlfriend nuzzled in between her feathers, sending electric little tingles down her wing and all the way to her body. “I like it too,” she said, shrugging.

“Even just hugging,” Fluttershy said. She moved onto Dash’s secondaries.

“Yeah. Everything,” Dash agreed. “Heh, it’s kinda different with Rarity now, too, isn’t it?”

Fluttershy paused only long enough to tilt her head, then continued moving down Dash’s wing.

“Dunno,” said Dash. “The whole thing with giving Rarity a massage, hooves and everything, we hav—well, I haven’t done that with anyone else, ever. You?”

“Nph—” Fluttershy pulled back, wiped her muzzle and shook her head. “No. Not really. I help Applejack out with her mane sometimes, but I think that’s it.” She bent one of her ears. “I… don’t know what you mean, or what to think about that, actually.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Dash admitted with a chuckle. “Just thinking. We’ve always been close, all six of us, right? Everypony hugs and stuff, I’m just wondering what it’s gonna be like when we get back. What’s the difference between the way we’re friends and the way Phoreni, Khyrast, Loriessa and Aoras are?”

“I don’t know.” Fluttershy smiled. “But I know that even though we’ve spent a lot of time with Rarity lately, I care just as much about Twilight, Pinkie Pie and Applejack, and I’m excited to see them again, so I guess we’ll… find out?”

“Guess so,” said Dash, closing her eyes again when Fluttershy moved closer to her axillary feathers, stretching her forelegs out in front of her and deciding to savour each and every moment. She was in no hurry to do anything but enjoy herself.

Alaesta and Neretar’s eyes were still glued to the chariot as they had been from the moment the ponies came in to land, and all the while as the three friends shared their stories with the Phydra and her two apprentices. Presently they stood at the entrance to the small house at the edge of Stagrum’s demesne, crowded around the stone fence.

“Much of what you tell is irrelevant to a claw-priest, of course,” the old doe said, a faint smile upon her speckled muzzle. “But fortunately, I am no longer one such, and I can instead say that it is interesting. I foresee many trips down to the Dockmistress’ raven-boards in Alaesta’s and Neretar’s future to understand what comes of this business of new kin.”

Alaesta looked up when her name was called, and smiled. Neretar tapped a hoof on the ground impatiently.

“Not interested in the whole parts with Princess Celestia and Luna at all, huh?” Dash asked with an easy grin. “The bit with moving from the Cauldron to here, to the gorges and to the cities, all that stuff?”

Phydra laughed, a hoarse and long caw. “Yes, and no,” she said. “Yes because I am not incurious, no because it does not relate to the Aspects at all, even if it is their origin, in some strange way.”

“I don’t think most ponies are exactly voracious in their appetite for history, either,” said Rarity.

Fluttershy nodded. “I don’t really think it matters, but it’s interesting to know, isn’t it?”

“It is that,” said the ageing peryton, inclining her head, blind eyes on the road behind the ponies. “And in telling me this, you betray that you have come to a stronger understanding of the Aspects than you had when we first met, and that is impressive. It can not be easy to understand attributing learning to something you cannot touch, not when you, in truth, can. From what you tell me of your Princesses, you can touch that which you worship, those that some once called gods. To then understand those who cannot, that must be a challenge.”

Rainbow Dash shuffled her wings and shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe? They’re just people. Friends. They’ve moved away from the whole ‘gods’ or ‘goddesses’ stuff.”

“And so have we,” said Phydra, smiling wide. “And there, perhaps, we meet. Even if our Aspects are untouchable, they are forever our friends, because they are us.”

“And the stories of those Aspects can involve your friends, too,” said Fluttershy, smiling at her. “So they actually can be your friends.”

Phydra simply nodded. “And to confer a story to all peryton is to elevate it from kin-matter to Aspects.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled. “Yeah, okay, you lost me again, but that’s fine. I’ll be over here, weaving a story about Chorossa’s delightful confusion or whatever.”

Phydra cackled. “You understand it well enough for use, and then, you do understand. Now do not let me and mine bother you anymore, you have your own homes and lives to hurry back to, but you must come again if you ever tread upon our shores!”

Rainbow Dash squinted, trying to catch a glimpse of the ocean, but there was always a hill in the way. There was always a dry swell of land to hide the Perytonian shore from view, and in those rare moments she was afforded a clear look east, she could still only see yellowed grasses darkened by the fading sunlight. They would have to fly higher to see the ocean.

Not that they needed to. Even down here, cruising right below where the carefully tended Ponyville cloud layer would be, the cool coastal wind pushed and prodded the two pegasi, their chariot, and their passenger. A strong breeze to go with their overland flight. Fluttershy said that flying straight would let them reach Orto by evening, proving that however little Rainbow Dash liked them, maps had their uses.

“Anyway,” said Rainbow Dash. “What I’m saying is, if you wanna do something cool for my birthday, surprise me!” She tried to imagine what it would be like if Fluttershy suddenly announced that she had practiced some cool stunt on her own in secret, and her heart soared.

“What kind of surprise?” Fluttershy asked, tilting her head.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Okay, you’re not getting it—”

“I think it’s a perfectly valid question,” Rarity retorted, leaping to Fluttershy’s defense. “A theme. A motif.”

“Anything!” said Rainbow Dash. “That’s the point. Surprise me! Anything cool!”

“Okay, but… I really don’t like surprises myself,” Fluttershy said. A gust of wind pushed against the chariot. She rose up a little, letting Rainbow Dash bank against it, and Rarity held on tighter. “Maybe that makes me worse at making surprises?”

Rainbow Dash snorted and grinned. “Are you telling me that you wouldn’t like it if I… I dunno, did all your chores and fed all your animals for you or whatever?” She frowned, wondering if she should even have said that. She really would prefer doing literally anything else for Fluttershy.

“Um, I don’t know, but I think I would really like to do that myself, unless I was sick.”

“Okay, okay, bad example, fine,” Dash grunted. “But you know what I like, you can surprise me just fine, and I like it! Come on! Sweep me off my hooves!”

Rarity giggled to herself, while Fluttershy just shook her head and smiled.

“I know I don’t know how to do that, at least.”

“Yeah? Well, my birthday’s not for another few weeks.” Dash grinned, her coat standing on end with the excitement of the thought. “I’ll teach you how!”

Fluttershy laughed. “I guess you can try, but don’t try to surprise me by feeding the animals. Please.”


Nothing more to say about that, they drifted off into silence again. They weren’t lacking for things to talk about, but when they flew all day, they couldn’t talk all the time. Rainbow Dash glanced down between her forelegs at the boulder-ridden hills below, wondering if someone had rolled them up there. How were boulders made anyway? Or was that ‘how were they formed?’”

“Rarity? Did you come up with something nice for your traveller’s guide for Stagrum?” Fluttershy asked. Dash listened with one ear only.

“Mm, no,” Rarity replied, smiling back at her. “Most of my efforts to say something profound about the cities boils down to ‘you really just have to see if for yourself’.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I guess that makes sense. That’s what Khaird said, sort of. That the best way to learn about a place is to take part in it. I don’t think most people visiting here in the future are going to be diplomats bringing invitations or treaties, though.”

Rarity chuckled. “No, you’re quite right, dear, I just think I’ll wait with writing until I’m back in my study, that’s all. During our most difficult time in Cotronna, I had the thought that maybe the Cotronnans and the Ephydoerans had done something right in sending us to Orto first. Put their best hoof forward and such.”

Rainbow Dash tore her attention off a small abandoned house on a hilltop far in the distance, glancing back at Rarity. “Best?”

“Mm, as we now know, the intent was that Orto knew how to deal with us, and in a sense, they were right. Everything did work out, after all. Obviously I no longer believe that Orto is simply better than the other cities,” Rarity gripped onto the chariot tighter as another gust slammed against it. Rainbow Dash looked over at Fluttershy, and the two pegasi flew a little lower to the ground, adjusting without a word.

“No,” said Rarity. “They are all lovely in their very own way. Even if one does not need to reach some sort of ‘true’ understanding of Perytonia, a good start to comprehend the peryton is to realise the strength of their love. Strength evident in how they work together in their own way despite being so very different. You can see their similarities to us ponies, or you can choose to see the differences, but in truth, there are both, and it shouldn’t take a very charitable eye to admire both what is like us, and what is unlike us.”

Rainbow Dash smiled at Fluttershy, and received a smile in return. She couldn’t not think of her girlfriend at those words, and clearly Fluttershy thought something of the same, holding her gaze for a long, quiet moment. Up ahead, Dash was vaguely aware of glowing lights at the bottom of a long and familiar slope leading to a valley. The ocean came back into view.

“And I think,” said Fluttershy after a while, looking back at Rarity, “that it sounds like somepony has her opening to the foreword of a traveller’s guide to Perytonia.”

“And after that, we came back here,” said Fluttershy, smiling as she neatly concluded all that she, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash had explained. “When I said we left Stagrum, that was actually this morning.”

Dash nodded absentmindedly. It had been near sunset when they touched down upon the broad streets of Orto, but now it was full dark, owing to the length of the tale they carried with them. Rainbow Dash leaned against one of the stone stele of the Heavenly Song’s half-roofed garden, idly wondering how long she would have to stay here to see the weird stones as the peryton did. Even if she understood the Aspects, writing stuff she couldn’t understand down on a rock still struck her as silly—but that was fine.

“I expect you know at least some of what we’ve told you,” Rarity added, nodding graciously. “It’s been a week and a half since we left Cotronna. I’m surprised you haven’t interrupted us more often if we’ve told you things you’ve heard from letters carried by raven. We know for a fact a missive countermanding our exile went out.”

Khaird nodded slowly at first with a trace of a smile upon his lips, but his nods came quicker and quicker, his smile growing by degrees.

“Yes. Yes, no and yes. I have heard much since then, but to interrupt you, that would run contrary to all we have achieved so far, I think—but you came here as you travelled between all the cities? In this chariot of yours?” He turned to the street, where their chariot stood waiting, neglected and still not yet parked behind the resting house where it belonged.

“Oh, yes. It would take a very long time to get back if we had to walk,” said Fluttershy, nodding in return.

“Truly you are marvels, to bring this into the air.” Khaird cawed with unabashed laughter. “Wagons that fly, and at such speed, and now that we head into the windo fall season! You continue to amaze.”

“Pft, that’s nothing,” said Dash, waving a wing dismissively. “Bet that chariot could fly all through winter, easy.”

“At least if one has two wonderful pegasi to operate it,” Rarity commented. “And as it turns out, we do.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dash, grinning. “And hey, if there’s a hurricane or whatever, Rarity just casts her awesome spell, and we can probably fly straight through it.”

Fluttershy folded her ears. “Um, and while I’m sure that’s true, I don’t think we need to test that.”

Rainbow Dash giggled and snaked a wing around Fluttershy’s body, tugging her close. “I’m just saying that if we do see some cool weather—”

“Let us not,” Rarity suggested, chuckling to herself and smiling up at the slightly bewildered stag. Behind him, the hostess, Ligilia, continued her work meticulously cleaning the fountain that was the centerpiece of her inn’s frontal garden, both of them having listened to the full tale over the past few hours. However tired Dash was, the ensuing silence felt pregnant with a demand for comment. This was where it had all began, in a way. Rainbow Dash tilted her head.

“So, yeah,” said Dash. “I guess it worked out.” She waited for Khaird to explain. To talk, even though she didn’t know what she wanted him to say that he hadn’t already explained in his letter to the Cotronnan council. She didn’t blame him for anything that had happened, but felt like there was a question she didn’t know how to ask. Fluttershy and Rarity both seemed similarly impatient, all eyes on the consul, and either Khaird could read ponies as well as Rainbow Dash could now read peryton, or he, too, felt he needed to say something. He drew a deep breath and walked over to put a hoof on one of the garden’s stele.

“Indeed, it has ‘worked out’, if by that you mean that things are set right,” Khaird said. The brown-grey stag shuffled his wings and rolled his shoulders, blue and green feather-tips spread for a moment. “I think now, perhaps, it is for me to… is it an apology? It has turned out that my efforts to be kind and do good work has made me look duplicitous.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. She had thought that maybe she wanted to hear those words from him, but now she realised they were wrong. Rarity opened her mouth to reply, but Fluttershy beat her to it.

“You don’t owe us an apology at all. At least, I don’t think so.” She shook her head and smiled gently. “You weren’t lying, you were trying to help everyone.”

“Yet both you and Cotronna failed to understand my ploy—no,” Khaird scowled, his snout frumpled as much as a peryton snout could. “It was not a ploy. I wrote this in the letter. I simply wanted to let you see us with fresh and free eyes that were your own, but I think that perhaps there must have been a way to do this that did not cause so much grief.”

You didn’t get us kidnapped,” said Dash, rolling her eyes.

“I did not. But even without our misguided kin’s efforts, you may still have run afoul of Cotronna’s particular functions and habits in the same manner,” Khaird retorted with a shrug. A cold breeze swept across the little garden. “I find it easy to see how this is my doing.”

“Perhaps,” said Rarity nodding once. “And perhaps that gaffe, and our resolving that particular chaos is what has helped us understand you best of all.”

Fluttershy smiled and leaned against Rarity at that, and Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but laugh. She hadn’t thought about it that way, and she couldn’t decide whether or not she believed it, but it sounded cool and it made Khaird laugh as well, so that was a win-win.

“You offer me Iagasus’ sage advice when I stand about ready to condemn myself,” Khaird managed between caws of mirth. “I yield, I will take it and absolve myself. Thank you.”

“If you don’t mind though,” said Fluttershy, chewing on her bottom lip. She had been the only one not to laugh, her expression pensive. “Why was it such a big deal that we meet your people like this? I… I mean, we all agree it’s okay now, and I’m very glad, but what gave you the idea? Why did you want us to travel like this?”

“He told us, didn’t he?” Dash asked, tilting her head.

Rarity pursed her lips. “Mm, no, she’s right. He explained that he wanted us to see the cities for ourselves.” She turned to Khaird. “But why? Why was this so important to you, and where did you get the idea?”

Khaird yawned, his long tongue rolling out of his mouth as he looked off to the side, across the darkened street for a moment. Behind him, Ligilia briefly looked up from her labour before she went back to scrubbing at the fountain with some weird kind of hooked brush, evidently having little to add to their conversation, but clearly listening.

“Have you heard of Cotilla?” Khaird asked, at length.

Fluttershy bent an ear. “I think I remember someone mentioning that word, but I don’t know if it was a peryton or if the Princesses or Twilight said somepony else was going there to invite them to the moot too. Sorry.”

“Why?” asked Rainbow Dash. “What’s their deal?”

Khaird shook his head briskly, holding up a hoof. “There is no ‘deal’, though I do not know what you might mean by this, but I understand you have not met.”

Rarity shrugged. “Well, then who are they?”

Khaird let out a low, clucking laugh. “Ponies and questions! This is not my point. They are traders and travellers from the far south, but I speak not of they, but of our first meeting with them. Of what happened when their ships came to fair Orto. They are a people, like you, but unlike you. Unlike us. As happened with Equestria, Orto was tasked to meet Cotilla and establish an understanding. Like you ponies, Cotilla was strange to us.”

Rainbow Dash leaned against Fluttershy and covered up a yawn that would not be denied. She was listening intently, but her body made her keenly aware that she had been awake and flying all day. Khaird did not miss it, and smiled at Dash before he continued.

“All first meetings are difficult. That is why being a diplomat is hard. That is why my respect for you is as high as it is. So, they were a new people for us to meet, as you have been, but unlike you, with Cotilla we tried to explain to them the workings of Perytonia.”

“And it didn’t go so well?” Fluttershy asked, her wings sagging a touch.

“Surely there are limits to the disasters that can come from trying to talk to someone,” Rarity murmured.

“There are also—and this I have said—limits to what can be understood from talk,” Khaird countered. “But of course no cities fell, no continents were shaken off their foundations from this, but we talked past each other, not to each other. Our first accords were made on unsafe ground, and when Cotilla entered the other cities not knowing them, there were bones that had to be broken and set anew before things could proceed.”

Fluttershy winced, though whether it was due to the analogy, or the idea of two people not getting along, Dash couldn’t tell. Dash shrugged.

“Okay? But that worked out, right? You’re friends now, aren’t you?” She frowned. “I… haven’t seen a lot of other people, actually. Are you—”

“We are fast friends. They come only rarely, and stay on their great ships, their dromae, rather than at our resting houses. Out of preference, I must believe,” Khaird said, smiling. “But the paths we had to walk to find those friendships were long and difficult. I thought that this time, I had found for you and us a path less arduous.”

Fluttershy sucked in a hissing breath. “If this was the easy way, I don’t think I’d like to know what the hard way was like.”

Khaird tilted his head forwards in a bow, grinning wide. “But this path has led you to me again, and there is joy in all hearts now, I think, even if nothing has followed anyone’s plan this time, either.”

“Nuh-uh.” Rainbow Dash shook her head and grinned, curling her wings lightly around both Rarity and Fluttershy’s necks. “I planned on winning, and I think I’ve won, so my plan worked out.”

“As glad as I am, I will not take credit for this,” Khaird commented, gracing the three friends with a wide and warm smile. “And speaking of victories, you are back in Orto, and it falls to me as visitor liaison to entertain you until you leave. After you present the sigil to the council tomorrow, I would like to show you more of our city, a work I began seasons ago.”

“I think that sounds wonderful,” said Fluttershy, looking to Rarity and Rainbow Dash for support, both of them smiling and nodding in return. “Rainbow Dash talked to Princess Luna. The airship should be here in two or three days, and we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“Yeah, let’s hang out until then!” said Dash, covering up another huge yawn. “But I could really use a nap right now, no offense.”

The stag dipped his head in agreement and took a step back, towards the steps down to street level. Orto lay dark and silent for the most part, a strong breeze blowing down the streets to harry a few errant street-corner braziers.

“I think we are all long overdue our sleep. Until morning. I will return.”

“Indeed, but first,” said Rarity, “I have one more question.”

“Anything I can explain, I will answer,” came the reply.

“No, not you, dear. You.” Rarity took a few steps closer to Ligilia. The shy and usually quiet hostess put her brush aside and looked up with obvious and wide-eyed curiosity to match Dash’s own. What was Rarity on about?

“You need something? I have set aside rooms for you already, but if you worry they are not perfect—”

“Darling, the last thing I worry about is your rooms or your hospitality. No, it was something you said in your letter.”

“Oh.” Ligilia blinked and tilted her head expectantly.

“The letter to the council?” Dash asked.

Rarity nodded. “You said that I had shown the scarves that I gifted you to you. A plural. That they had been seen by ‘us’, not by ‘me’, and I found that a little curious.”

Rainbow Dash stared at the back of Rarity’s head. She always knew her friend had an eye for detail, but the peryton used words in weird ways, and if Ligilia had written something wrong, there was probably exactly zero significance—

Ligilia smiled and inclined her head. “I hope I have done no wrong in this, but yes, that is why I lingered here. I had thought to tell you when you had done speaking of more important things.”

—or maybe not.

“More important than fashion?” Rarity asked, scrunching her snout. “I think not. What is it?”

“My own Myrtellan band shows its age, so I wore one gifted by you, and Oura and Thelis did both so enjoy the way you twisted Myrtella’s colours. They vowed that when next they made their bands, they would do the same, and they spoke with their friends and loved ones, and now it seems that many others wish to do it as well.”

“Indeed?” asked Khaird, raising a brow. “This explains some of the curious bands I saw last weekend.”

“I have told all that these were generous gifts from the Equestrian delegation, you must believe,” said Ligilia, her eyes downcast. “Those words seem to travel only half as fast as the desire to twist the colours.”

“Huh,” said Rarity, and for a while, that was all she said. Idly, Dash wondered if she was mad that they had stolen her designs—if that was how this even worked—but after a moment, Rarity simply smiled and nodded her head. “I suppose I have had an impact here in Orto as well, then. I’m glad.”

“I don’t think we need to worry about not having made an impression, really,” Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath.

Fluttershy giggled. “I think she means fashion, specifically.”

“Yeah yeah, I get it,” said Dash, waving a hoof in dismissal. “And actually, I take it back. We barely got to make an impact on Orto the first time around, so let’s go get some sleep and fix that! Khaird! Any festivals tomorrow?”

Khaird laughed and took a step down the stairs, waving with a wing as he walked. “The next festival is on the other side of the full moon, but there is ever dance and song at the center plaza. Get your rest, friends!”

“I don’t know if I can,” said Fluttershy.

“But do you know if you want to?” Dash asked.

No answer.

“Like, do you wish you could?” Rainbow Dash added. “You don’t have to do this. Really, we can just do something else, but… that’s what you said. You said you wanted to try. Y’know. That you wish you could do this.”

“I think I do.”


“Mm. I just… I need to relax, I guess. It’s the crowd, or, um, the people. I guess it’s not a crowd, but...”

“Yeah. I get it.” Rainbow Dash gently ran her wingtip along Fluttershy’s side, smiling. “Need some help? Want me to say that you’ll be fine?”

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head slightly, not a no, just an idle shake of her head as she leaned against Rainbow Dash, trapping Dash’s wing between them.

“Because you’re gonna be more than fine,” said Dash, grinning at her. “You saw the way they looked at us when we landed the chariot in the middle of the street last night. They’re gonna be super impressed no matter what you do.”

“I know. That’s not really helping with the people problem, though.” Fluttershy bit her lower lip.

“Sure, but that’s what this is about, isn’t it? It’s about showing you can do it, and I know you can. Just jump to it! Spread your wings, fly up there and do your best without thinking.” Dash smiled and ground the top of her head against the side of Fluttershy’s neck, giving her a little push at the end. “Don’t look down, look up!”

Fluttershy didn’t exactly leap to it. She took a step away from Rainbow Dash, drew breath, and let it out again, her painted wings tight to her body for a second before she rustled them, shaking her feathers out.

“And before you say what if,” Rainbow Dash said with a lopsided grin, “nothing’s gonna happen. What if everything works out fine? Try that on!”

Fluttershy opened her mouth, but closed it again having said not a single word, and then she giggled and leaned in to nuzzle Rainbow Dash, spread her wings, and took off.

Rainbow Dash shuffled her own wings and did very little, feeling a blossom of warmth spreading across her cheek while she watched Fluttershy gain height. Graceful and wide circles led into a slight dive, which in turn became a simple, no-frills loop with a shaky ending. Fluttershy righted herself, shook her head, and climbed again.

Of course Rainbow Dash could have flown up there and done a triple-spin quadruple-twist no-wings dive into a vertical windmill, but applause and praise for what was basically nothing at all was pointless. Compared to getting your dues for something that took actual effort, anyway. If Rainbow Dash managed to coax a scared bunny out of its den or something, she would definitely expect a pat on the back.

When exactly had effort become cooler than results? Rainbow Dash had no idea. Before or after they left for Perytonia? It didn’t matter. Somewhere along the way, and right now, she watched Fluttershy, watched her girlfriend prove exactly why she was so much cooler than anypony ever gave her credit for. So much cooler than anypony else. Cooler than Rainbow Dash.

Even though Fluttershy was comfortable admitting that she was nervous with audiences and attention, even though that was a part of her, she also tried to overcome it. She was willing and eager, at least since this summer, to try to be even more than she already was.

Rainbow Dash watched Fluttershy twirl around in the air in something like a corkscrew, clearly not trusting herself to fold her wings completely. Her larger wings made it look very different from Dash’s own maneuvers, and the blue and moss-green paint made her half invisible against the sky, flickering in and out of existence if Dash didn’t focus. At the end of the spin, Fluttershy turned and looked down to the ground, just like Dash had told her not to. For a moment, Dash’s her heart stopped. She worried that maybe Fluttershy would see all the peryton looking up at the air, realise the size of her audience and lock up.

Fluttershy didn’t look at the crowd. Fluttershy’s eyes unerringly found Dash’s own, and she smiled. What could Dash do but smile back? She gave Fluttershy a little hoof-pump for good measure, and Fluttershy continued her simple routine.

Her girlfriend challenged herself, and that made her the coolest pony Dash knew. She did the things that she found hard.

Dash glanced over at a cluster of peryton standing nearby, each and every one of them looking straight up as Fluttershy did a few mock dives that weren’t exactly daring by Dash’s own standards, but it drew a few oohs and aahs from the assembled peryton, and Dash had to smile. All around the vast plaza, peryton in singles and groups stopped what they were doing to look up, pointing and alerting their friends to the curious creature putting on an air show. Here, a dance slowly ground to a halt, there, a peryton stared, her food hovering forgotten in her grip.

It was no festival with thousands of attendees, of course. It wasn’t the crowd Rainbow Dash had wanted months ago upon arriving in Orto during the Myrtellan festival, but just like Khaird had said, there was always something going on at the central plaza. When Rarity went off to talk to Khaird and some zebra about silk or whatever, Rainbow Dash had put forth that before they left, somepony had to show the notoriously curious and friendly locals what a pegasus with a good pair of wings on her back could do.

Somepony who needed a little push to test her fear of crowds.

Again Fluttershy looked down at Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash grinned wide.

“You’re crushing it! Keep it up!”

Fluttershy didn’t reply, but Dash saw Fluttershy’s smile, a faint touch of red on her cheeks as she circled higher again and did another loop, a little faster and tighter. Bolder.

Rainbow Dash kicked off the ground and made her way up to join with Fluttershy, her wings working half-time as she ascended in tight circles of her own. When she caught up with her girlfriend, she followed her lead. Fluttershy did another little corkscrew, and so did Rainbow Dash, doing her best not to upstage her, to follow.

Of course it wasn’t easy to hold back, but Rainbow Dash wasn’t lacking for times and places to show her own awesome stuff. She knew that the way Fluttershy acted around animals when Rainbow Dash was present differed from the way she treated animals by herself. Dash didn’t have to prove herself in the air all the time, and besides, Rainbow Dash usually only challenged herself with stunt flying. In the ways she knew how. That Fluttershy could step out of her comfort zone so boldly—

Another simple loop. Fluttershy paused and wiped nervous sweat from her brow, glancing over at Rainbow Dash before she took a deep breath and flew on.

Well. Perhaps not so bold, but that Fluttershy could step out of her own world, quavering and quivering, was the most amazing thing Rainbow Dash knew, and she felt cooler just for sharing the same sky as Fluttershy, even if it was just for a few simple loops and corkscrews to amaze a lazy weekend crowd of random peryton.

Rainbow Dash grinned to herself and hurried to catch up, her smile twice as wide when she followed Fluttershy through an immelmare turn into a reverse loop. Clearly she couldn’t rest on her laurels even in the air. Dash knew plenty of pegasi who couldn’t pull off something like that—nevermind the unsteady finish. She could feel her heart swell with pride, a warmth spreading through her as she pulled up alongside Fluttershy and cheered.

“You’re doing great! Come on, let’s fly backwards next!”

Fluttershy stared at Rainbow Dash as they both slowed down to hover on the spot. “Fly backwards?” she asked, her eyes wide. “Rainbow Dash, I, um, I can fly in circles or do a few simple tricks fine, but I can’t do backwards loops or any of the really difficult—”

“No, no, jeez,” Dash said, laughing. “Not a reverse loop, just, like, fly backwards!” She flapped her wings in reverse, flying back just a smidge, showing what she meant. “We’re trying to put on a show for the Ortosians, right? They’re terrible at… at this.”

Dash’s voice trailed off. At the mention of the word show, Fluttershy looked down below her forelegs, at the plaza. Maybe she hadn’t realised how many eyes were on them. In truth, and in the joy of the moment, flying with Fluttershy, Dash herself hadn’t really noticed either.

The great plaza at the heart of Orto was vast, and the smattering of peryton walking around, the groups around the huge stele in the middle circle and the haphazard markets—swallowed up by a space that could fit dozens of Stagrum’s major market squares—all combined made for hundreds of peryton, most of whom were looking up at them. Hundreds of delighted peryton faces watching strangers do strange things.

Rainbow Dash could hear Fluttershy lose her nerve. Her girlfriend let out a tiny shuddering whimper, her wingbeats suddenly unsteady, as though threatening to drop her out of the sky.

“Hey, let’s go over there,” said Rainbow Dash, pointing away. It didn’t matter what she pointed to. Elsewhere. When Fluttershy still stared down at the crowd of smiling and waving peryton, Dash ducked under her and came up in front, blocking the view. She put her face right next to Fluttershy’s, their snouts touching on a matching downstroke. “Fluttershy! Come on! This way!”

Fluttershy nodded briskly and followed. All she had to do was glide as Rainbow Dash took the lead, pointing them towards a quiet corner of the plaza. A small distance away, a large and unworked stele—just a boulder, really—waited by a low stone wall. Some buildings bordering on the plaza provided rare shade from the warm mid-day sun. Dash touched down a minute later, making sure to put some distance between them and some peryton who looked like they wanted to follow and talk to the pegasi. That would have to wait. Fluttershy landed right next to her and slumped, her eyes closed.

Rainbow Dash would have none of that. No slumping. Dash thrust her snout in Fluttershy’s face and nuzzled her, grinning wide.

“You did great!”

Fluttershy’s smile was faint, accompanied by a nervous glance over her back towards the plaza and its myriad of peryton and goings-on.

“Seriously,” Dash added, stepping around to throw a wing around Fluttershy’s back, rubbing her feathers against Fluttershy’s own, the paint making them hard to tell apart. “The Wonderbolts are so last year. We’ve got the coolest costumes, the coolest tricks, and the coolest ponies.” She laughed, and now Fluttershy laughed with her, returning a giggle and a shake of her head.

“I don’t know about that,” said Fluttershy. “I don’t… I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to having an audience, really. I don’t think I’ll ever really like it.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged, moving both their bodies. She leaned against Fluttershy with all her weight, taking a deep breath and rubbing her cheek against Fluttershy’s neck. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “You know I’m joking around. Like… if you wanna do this kinda stuff, that’s awesome, but you just hit the air and faced it, you know? Your fears or whatever. That’s what makes you the best.”

Fluttershy’s reply was a smile and a shake of her head. Rainbow Dash pulled away a little, then stepped back, bumping her flank against Fluttershy’s, a little harder than she intended.

“I mean it! And if you don’t wanna do something like this ever again, that’s fine, you’ll tell me, but—”

“I know,” said Fluttershy, interrupting her with the softest voice imaginable, nodding. “I will, and I know, sorry. I’m just… my heart’s still racing, I’m sorry.” She giggled.

Rainbow Dash snorted and shook her head, throwing a foreleg around Fluttershy’s withers, hugging her, and Fluttershy hugged back. Dash didn’t know how long they stood like that. The warmth of Fluttershy’s body became her own, and Dash closed her eyes. She could fall asleep like this, feeling Fluttershy’s coat brush against her own, the touch of her feathers against her side, her girlfriend’s breath against her neck.

“Heh, I think I just understood something, by the way,” Dash murmured.

Fluttershy made an inquisitive noise. Dash didn’t move at all while she answered, refusing to give up the touch.

“Back in the gorge, when you tried to fly the cart, I thought I was being a butt, and that I pressured you into trying it.” Dash frowned at the memory even as it lost its power over her, seeming less terrible by the moment. “You kept looking back at me, and I thought it was because… I don’t know, it was my fault.”


Dash snorted at her own silliness, shaking her head. Fluttershy had looked down at her just now as well, while she was doing tricks.

“I wasn’t pushing you into it. You were just looking to see if I had your back. And I didn’t. That’s why you crashed.”

Fluttershy giggled and gave her a squeeze. “I don’t know if I crashed because you wouldn’t look, and I tried to fly the cart because I wanted to prove to you that I wasn’t as weak or fragile as you treated me then. Maybe that was silly of me, but… but yes. Having your support means a lot to me. It’s important to me.”

“Yeah, well, same,” Dash muttered. “But you decided to come with us to Perytonia because I asked, right? Because I wouldn’t shut up about it, and really wanted you to come?”

From their hug, Dash couldn’t see Fluttershy’s nod, but she felt it. “If you mean that I probably wouldn’t have come if you hadn’t asked and insisted, then yes, but I’m glad I did. I’m glad you did.”

“Same. Because now I can do stuff like this,” said Dash, giving Fluttershy a light nip on the neck. Fluttershy eeped in surprise and stepped away, frowning at Dash and blushing furiously.

“Rainbow Dash!”

Dash grinned wide and waited. “That’s my name! What is it?”

Fluttershy’s mouth hung open for a good few seconds before she gave up, shaking her head, the two of them breaking into giggles and sinking down to sit next to each other, leaning back against the large boulder in the corner of the plaza.

“Thank you.” Fluttershy let out a deep breath and put her head on top of Rainbow Dash’s.

“Sure. For what?” Dash asked. “‘Everything’?”

Fluttershy smiled. “That too. But for not pitying me because I’m a little hesitant at times. For when I’m afraid.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “I told you. That’s what makes you awesome. You don’t stop. And hey, thanks, too. For listening. And for, I guess…” she felt her cheeks flush. “For being you and stuff.”

“I think Rarity would be proud of us,” said Fluttershy, giggling softly as she looked around. “This is a little romantic.”

“Oh no,” said Rainbow Dash, gasping in mock horror while moving exactly none at all. “Quick, let’s go do something cool to wash all this yucky mushy stuff away!”

Fluttershy’s giggles redoubled, and she shook her head.

“Seriously, whatever,” said Dash, waving a hoof in dismissal. “Wanna go do something else for a bit? Grab something to eat, see if we can find Rarity—hey, maybe we can find Aroris again. The doe I accidentally flirted with when we came here the first time, remember?”

“Oh, I remember her,” said Fluttershy, nodding and smiling. “That sounds nice. Maybe we could all grab a meal together. I think Rarity said they would be on the north side of the plaza, so we could begin looking there.”

When Fluttershy got up, so did Rainbow Dash, the two of them walking side by side towards the opposite side of the plaza. Fluttershy hummed to herself and swished her tail while Dash’s thoughts wandered. If she wanted to be as amazing as Fluttershy, to do something that truly challenged her, what could Rainbow Dash do?

Something related to animal care? No. She liked most animals just fine when they didn’t give her trouble. Some animals were even cool or awesome—a couple stepping into radical territory—but being some sort of animal person wasn’t her, challenge or no.

What was the hardest thing Rainbow Dash could imagine? The elusive quadruple no-wings thunderbolt spin? No. Hard, sure, but not a challenge in the same way it was for Fluttershy to do something she usually never imagined herself doing.

“Hey, Fluttershy?”

“Yes, Rainbow Dash?”

Her girlfriend looked over at her, head at a slight tilt, short-cut mane bobbing with the motion. Never mind the Ephydoeran paint. Take it away, and Rainbow Dash still wasn’t used to the way Fluttershy smiled at her these days. She hoped she would never get used to the surge of butterflies milling about her stomach. It took Dash a long, uncool moment to recollect her scattered thoughts.

“You said something about how learning to read and write Perytonian would be super hard, right?”

“Mm, that’s just what I think. They probably don’t have any learner’s books, nothing that’s Equestrian to Perytonian or Perytonian to Equestrian.”

Dash scratched at her snout with a wing. “But if we pick up whatever books they usually use to learn to read or whatever, maybe ask around a bit, I could probably try, yeah? You’re saying hard, but not impossible.”

“Lots of ponies are self-taught in other things, so I don’t see why not,” said Fluttershy, nodding. “I don’t think it would be impossible.”

“Cool. ‘Cause we’ve been telling everyone to send us letters, and if there’s actually gonna be mail between Equestria and Perytonia, and if Twilight doesn’t have a spell for it, somepony’s gonna have to learn to read the letters and maybe write back. I could give it a shot.”

“I think that sounds like a wonderful idea,” Fluttershy replied, her beaming smile bright enough to give Pinkie’s widest grins competition. “Let’s see what we can find after we eat. We should ask Khaird. I’ll help in any way I can, promise.”


It wasn’t the most boring thing Rainbow Dash could imagine, but it came pretty close. It would be hard in the way that Dash liked the least of all. It would be book hard. It would be thinking without doing hard. She would probably get bored after five minutes, but at least she would have tried—and what if she didn’t?

“Oh, and Fluttershy?”


“No telling Twilight. I’ll tell her later, maybe.”

Of course Twilight would be able to help. The instant Rainbow Dash stepped into the library with the intent of getting some help on learning, Twilight would be a tornado of books and sage advice, but it wasn’t just about learning a language.

Rainbow Dash liked the idea of being able to talk to their Perytonian friends, and she wanted to do that, but there was no point if somepony else was going to take over the job for her. If she needed support, she had Fluttershy for that, and if she failed because she wasn’t book smart enough? Whatever. She could put herself out there and try first. She could try and fail, however much she didn’t like the idea, and then Twilight and her infinity books could tell her what to do.

Fluttershy tilted her head, and then nodded. She didn’t ask why, and Rainbow Dash didn’t need to tell her. Of course Fluttershy understood.

Rainbow Dash shifted a little to the right, making sure she sat directly under one of the support beams. The Heavenly Song’s front garden didn’t have a roof so much as it had columns and arches with plants to make up the difference, but the verdant canopy warded off most of the rain.

Most of it. Another fat raindrop hit the middle of Rainbow Dash’s book while she was mostly occupied staring at the nearest stele, squinting at the weird crow’s-foot symbol.

“Okay, that’s the same as this one,” Dash muttered to herself. “And the symbol on the picture is Helesseia’s weird little flamey spike thing.”

“It does say Helesseia,” said Ligilia, nodding slowly. “But the way you have described your letters to me, it is clear you use them differently from ours. Each symbol is a clear sound. The upper and the anterior alphabets are on the first page.”

“Right,” said Dash, another drop hitting her hoof as she turned the page. “Thanks.”

Ligilia smiled toothily and inclined her head.

“For goodness’ sake, Rainbow Dash, take your book over here,” Rarity called from the table under the awning. “It’ll get ruined by the rain!”

“Yeah yeah,” said Dash, sighing. Ligilia’s magic surrounded the book and she looked askance at Dash, who nodded, and then ferried it over to where Fluttershy and Rarity sat, Dash following with some reluctance.

“I just wanna see what’s on the stones,” Dash grumbled, taking a seat next to a smiling Fluttershy who wrapped a wing around her side, rubbing gently.

“Maybe you can do that on a day when it isn’t raining,” Fluttershy suggested, nuzzling her.

The rain had been pouring down all day, thick and heavy clouds with just enough movement to make clearing the clouds above the Song impractical. It made for a cozy afternoon sitting under the inn’s awning, eating grass balls and chatting with their hostess. It made for a terrible literally anything else.

“You will find one story for each of the forty-nine Aspects at the end of the book,” Ligilia helpfully added, leafing through the book. “I can not even think what it is like to read this and not be able to understand it, but I hope it will be of help. It is the book for the first year of schooling in letters.” She gave the thick book a magical push back over to Dash’s side of the table.

“Alright. Cool,” Dash said, nodding. “Let’s just… remember to write down what it means in Equestrian before we leave, I guess.”

“If you run out of things to read, I’m sure we can send Ligilia a letter and ask for another book,” said Fluttershy, earning a deep nod from the brown-white doe. “Like she said, there are zebra here sometimes, and some of them can read Equestrian.”

Dash laughed. “Let’s not get crazy right away.” She grabbed a grass-ball and chewed noisily, pushing the book back towards the center of the table, done with it for now. Rarity smiled at her and took a sip of water, looking past the others to the driving rain splattering against Orto’s white stone streets.

“Do you get a lot of rain in fall?” Rarity asked.

Ligilia shook her head slightly. “Some. I do not know what ‘a lot’ would be, but this heavy rain? Not often.”

“I guess Odasthan was bored.” Rainbow Dash chuckled. “It’s coming from the the mountains.”

“Odasthan probably couldn’t create this much rain by himself, or send it this far,” Fluttershy replied. “Yelgadar must have helped.”

“Sure.” Rainbow Dash frowned, touching her neck. Though they had cut the burnt bits of her mane away, she swore the hairs still felt a little more stiff than they should. ‘Two halves’ this, ‘working together’ that, she wasn’t soon about to like the stupid fire chicken.

“I don’t expect they’re aware of where we are, really,” Rarity commented. “But it does feel like a farewell of sorts. I’m just glad it’s not a storm.”

“Not many storms in fall,” said a familiar voice.

“Khaird,” said Ligilia, smiling wide and tilting her head forward in a short bow. “The Equestrians’ visit brings many boons, one of them being to see you so often.”

The stag strode into the garden dripping wet and heedless of it, as cheerful as ever as he exchanged greetings with the ponies.

“And it is good to see you, but I think that this time, it is the last time, at least for a while. An airship has been spotted, a shadow moving through the clouds to the east of Orto, and I think this means farewell. I do not suppose you can convince the ponies of this ship to come say hello? Spend the night or the week with us?”

“I doubt they will be thus inclined,” said Rarity, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, dear, but I think this means it is time for us to go.”

Fluttershy puffed out her cheeks and nodded, her ears wilting. “I think so, too.” She gave Khaird and Ligilia a wan smile. “But we’ll come visit. Promise.”

“And when we come back, we’ll bring all our friends, too,” said Dash. She tried her best to sound cheerful, but at her own words, she felt a pang in her gut, a little sad not just to be leaving, but in realising exactly how much she missed her friends. She missed Pinkie Pie’s laughter, Twilight’s snarky comments, and Applejack’s banter, and now she found that she could not wait another second to see them.

“We will be waiting,” said Khaird with a wide smile. “Eager to see more of your kind. If they are friends of yours, they are friends of ours, and they must be wonderful to meet and learn to know.”

Ligilia nodded and gestured to the open doorway leading to the Heavenly Song’s main chamber. “And you have rooms here any time you visit. Come. I will help you pack and dictate at least a few of the Aspects’ stories for you to write down.”

“It’s definitely the same ship,” said Rarity.

“Yep,” Dash grunted. There was no mistaking the fat keel of The Vantage. As familiar as the feeling of pulling a cart up an awful road. Except this time, the cart was a small-wheeled and low-bottomed chariot, the road climbed a hill, and everything was mud. Rainbow Dash grit her teeth and pulled, just like Fluttershy did, while Rarity brought up the rear, her magic surrounding and pushing the chariot from behind.

“I think—ah!” Fluttershy called out, nearly slipping and just barely catching herself. “Uh, I was trying to say, I think it’s heading for the same hill where they left us off. We should probably just head up there.”

Rainbow Dash nodded, more focused on the pulling and the dragging and the mud. They all had more mud brown than green on their legs from less than an hour spent out in the rain. Dash’s own laughter caught her by surprise, earning a strange look from Rarity.

“What’s so funny, dear?” Rarity asked, frowning in distaste as she stared at some mud that had somehow made its way to her chest.

Dash shook her head. “Nothing. Just… there’s been so much mud.”

“There has been a lot of mud,” Fluttershy agreed with a giggle.

“And precisely why is that funny?” Rarity asked, tilting her head.

“It isn’t!” Dash said, laughing harder. “I just, I don’t know, I’m happy, I guess.”

Rarity just shook her head and smiled serenely at that, while Fluttershy giggled along, reaching out with a wing until Dash did the same and touched a wing-tip to hers. The hill where the airship had dropped them off over two months ago came into view.

“So, do you think anything we’ve done counts as an incident? I remember the captain was super worried about incidents.” Dash grinned.

“I think this entire visit has been an incident,” said Fluttershy, still giggling to herself as though she’d had entirely too much cider.

“Alright, so… how much of an incident do you think it would be if we just ditched all this mud and flew up instead and tried to land on the airship, only crashing a little bit, because no way are we making that landing in this weather and no space to stop?”

“Rainbow Dash, no,” Rarity groaned, drowned out by Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash’s laughter.

Rainbow Dash squinted. She frowned and she glared at the book until she went cross-eyed, trying to stare it into submission, but the arcane symbols refused to make sense. She pushed the book away and leaned against the wall, rubbing the back of her head against the coarse woodwork. After so much flying, so much air time, the passenger quarters of The Vantage were stupidly cramped.

“Is there a Peryton equivalent of learning how to spell ‘cart’?” Rarity asked, looking up from her own work sorting through all the gifts and little memorabilia they had gathered on their way back to Orto. “Surely you can find a simple word somewhere in there and try to find its equivalent in the notes we wrote down.”

“I can’t,” Dash snapped. “I can’t read any of it, and they don’t use normal letters! How the hay—” she closed her eyes and frowned, biting back the surge of annoyance.

“Darling,” said Rarity. Dash could feel the unicorn’s eyes upon her. She could hear the scowl.

“Sorry,” Dash muttered. “It’s really hard, and it’s really annoying that it’s hard.”

“You’re not just trying to learn a language, what you’re really doing is more deciphering than learning,” Fluttershy supplied. She rubbed a hoof against Dash’s side, and Dash smiled back at her.

Fluttershy made it sound so much cooler than it was, staring at stupid letters and trying to figure out what they meant, trying to remember. Letters were not, and would never be cool. Being able to read what their friends in Perytonia wrote to them, however, would be cool. Cooler than even that? Being a little bit more like Fluttershy, a pony who could try something she was terrible at. It wasn’t hard to try out a new sport when you were already great at most sports. This was hard.

Right now? A little bit too hard. Rainbow Dash closed the book and exhaled, grinding her snout against Fluttershy’s neck, eliciting a giggle and a nuzzle in return. She’d try again later.

“I believe we are home,” said Rarity, smiling.

Dash arched a brow, but Rarity made no reply outside of pointing to the small window set in the outer wall of their quarters. Where there had been only shades of blue for days, Rainbow Dash now spotted green. She was out of the bed in an instant, her face glued to the window.

The fall colours were familiar to her. Greens, reds and yellows, but mostly the bright green so very different from Perytonia’s particular yellow- or blue-greens. In the afternoon sunlight, Rainbow Dash saw fall colours that she recognised as Equestria. She felt Fluttershy move to stand side by side with her, and gave her girlfriend a little space, their breaths fogging the glass. Fall had come to Equestria in their absence, and somewhere waited friends they hadn’t seen in forever, the parts of her that Rainbow Dash had left behind, now sorely missed.

“Hey, what time is it?” Dash asked, even though she knew the answer.

“Late afternoon, from the looks of things,” said Rarity, abandoning her saddlebags and stepping up to Rainbow Dash until all three ponies stood side by side staring out the window, all in matching colours. “Why?”

“How fast does the train from Las Pegasus to Ponyville go?”

“Um, well, I’m sure there’s an overnight train—” Fluttershy began to say.

“And how fast does a chariot pulled by the two most awesome pegasi in the world go?” Dash pressed, grinning. “When they have the coolest unicorn in existence to cast some freaky amazing peryton magic on their wings?”

Rarity arched a brow. “Are you quite serious, dear? I mean no offense, but even standing on that chariot all day isn’t exactly comfortable.”

“You want to fly home? Tonight?” Fluttershy asked, tilting her head.

“Hay yeah!” said Dash. “You game for the fastest chariot ride in all of Equestria’s history?”

Fluttershy giggled. “I’m game.”


“Flying across half of Equestria tonight?” The unicorn tapped a hoof on the wooden floorboards, a faint smile breaking upon her muzzle. “Well, let us make sure they aren’t waiting for us at the airdock first, and then we fly.”