• 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!

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“It’s weird,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Hm?” Fluttershy’s question was a soft hum nearly lost upon the wind.

“Flying over Equestria isn’t the same. It’s… well, it’s weird.”

“What exactly is ‘weird’ about it?” Rarity asked, and even without turning, Dash knew one of her eyebrows was raised precariously high. “I agree it was a unique challenge to walk on those terrible paths the Perytonians called ‘roads’, but how is flying here different?”

“I dunno.” Dash shrugged, both as part of her response and to stop the harness from pushing against the bases of her wings. “We haven’t done a huge all-day cross-country flight over Equestria before, have we? All day in one direction like this? I don’t think we have. I don’t think I have.”

Fluttershy tilted her head slightly, giving her an openly curious look and clearly hunting for further explanation, but Rainbow Dash had nothing. Dash glanced behind them, off to the side, catching just a glimpse of a colourful train disappearing around a hill, further hidden by the dusk. Puffs of steam blended with the clouds, and when lantern-bearing engine passed from view, she had to strain her eyes to see evidence of the train that had been far ahead of them not long ago.

“I’m surprised they kept up with us for so long,” said Fluttershy, apparently reading Dash’s mind. She stared off into the distance behind them just as Dash did.

“I guess they get cookie points for trying, but we’re way faster,” Dash agreed, grinning.

“Well, maybe, but I really just meant that the western heartlands are very hilly,” said Fluttershy, giggling and shaking her head.

“Perhaps a little bit of column A, and a little bit of column B, then,” Rarity chimed from behind them, leaning against the rim of the chariot.

“Sure,” Dash said, waving a foreleg, dismissing the whole topic as her thoughts again drifted to what felt different about flying over Equestria as opposed to Perytonia, because it sure as hay wasn’t just the colour of the grass. It had long since ceased to be ‘evening’, now well into the deep of night. Under moonlight, the darkening mush of colours and shapes below could just as well have been Perytonia.

Well, that wasn’t strictly true. Here were more mountains and hills. More varied and smaller forests instead of infinite plains or an endless carpet of blue-greens. No weird rocks and sand pits. Small pockets of light glimmered here and there, evidence of villages and farmsteads, another always coming into view up ahead before the previous one faded behind them, an unthinkable sight on the other continent.

This was Equestria alright, down to the way the mild breeze blew and the occasional gusts tasted—and even if all those things hadn’t been there to tell her where they were, the lack of the once-inescapable shadows of the Cauldron’s mountains to give scale to the rest of the world drove the point across. They were nearly home.

Yet, for all they had seen, Equestria hadn’t shrunk as Dash had thought it would. It had expanded. Even in the night, every sight was as vivid and fresh as though she viewed them for the first time, and now that Dash spotted the familiar contours of Mount Canterlot in the distance, she wondered if maybe it was because she didn’t fly alone.

This night, Rainbow Dash flew with four wings instead of two. She never imagined that she would ever just fly for so long in somepony else’s company outside of weather duty overtime. They were simply travelling, yet it felt like so much more.

Travel. They really had travelled a lot—or was that journeyed? One of those words. They had gone from one place to the next, on and again, but it wasn’t all walking or flying with hooves or wings. There had been movement between the ponies, too. Metaphorical and stuff. Despite how close they were to home, they’d come a lot further than to just return where they started.

It wasn’t only about her girlfriend, either. Perytonia had thrown fuel on the fire that burned inside Rainbow Dash for her friends. Both she and Fluttershy were closer to Rarity than they had ever been before. Dash’s heart suddenly raced and she felt a tingle deep in her belly as her thoughts moved on to the rest of her friends.

“I can’t wait to see Twilight and the gang again,” said Dash, the words tumbling forth the moment she saw the first signs of Ponyville in the distance. There was Town Hall, the bell tower and a smattering of other buildings, none much taller than the horizon from this angle as they soared above the Whitetail Woods.

For just a second, she wondered if she had betrayed her friends a little by not missing them more. By not missing them more often. The doubt was a flash of a thought that lasted only for an instant, but she felt better for having considered it, at least. Was there such a thing as a good worry? Fluttershy might defend the idea of showing... concern, she’d call it. Maybe her girlfriend was rubbing off on her.

At Fluttershy’s silence, Dash glanced to the side and found the other pegasus smiling through eyes glistening with wet, and Rarity was similarly mute, all eyes on the town ahead. Ponyville was caught in the middle of fall, a full season after they left it.

“Guess I’m not the only one happy to be back,” Dash added with a brief chuckle to herself, earning a giggle, a sniffle, and a shake of the head from Fluttershy, and a smile from Rarity who leaned over the chariot to look down. Rainbow Dash kicked the speed up a notch, and Fluttershy followed her lead, the town’s outskirts whisking by. Sugarcube Corner lay dark and silent, and on the northern side of town, Sweet Apple Acres’ fields stretched on longer and larger the lower they descended. Applebuck season must have started by now.

Part of Rainbow Dash expected things to be more different, but she recognised almost every detail she could make out, all the way down to the tables clustered under the awning of Snowmelt’s ice cream parlour for the night, the perpetually grumpy pony clinging to her belief that the pegasi might create unscheduled rain at any moment. It only took Dash a second to decide that she was fine with the familiarity of it all. Ponyville remained the same, and that was just as well given how much the ponies themselves had changed.

Granted, she wasn’t sure of all the ways in which they had changed except for their outward appearances, down to the body paint she had almost stopped thinking about, but she’d figure it out. Right now, she just wanted to see her friends again, and this time it was Fluttershy who pulled them on, speeding them up like they were in a race. Dash would’ve applauded her initiative if they weren’t about to run out of town to fly over.

“Hey, slow down, girl,” Rainbow Dash said, laughing at herself the instant she said it. Those were two words she never expected to say to Fluttershy. “Where are we going?”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy, her momentum blunted and the chariot slowing down until they barely moved at all. Her ears drooped as she turned to Rarity and Rainbow Dash. “I’m sorry, I’m getting a little tired, and I guess I wasn’t really thinking. We’ve been flying and running and walking so much, and I really wanted to get home, but, um…” She blinked and looked down between her forelegs as they drifted above the heart of Ponyville. They were close to Town Hall, with the library just a short distance away.

“The very idea of being home seems really strange all of a sudden,” Rarity murmured, stretching. “Where do we go now? It must be well past midnight, and I left the key to the Boutique with Mayor Mare, but I suppose the back entrance will be open—oh, but I haven’t seen Sweetie Belle in so very long, either, and she won’t be there!”

Fluttershy’s head turned north to the orchards, past which lay her cottage. No doubt she thought of all her animal friends, but she said nothing, just like how despite Rarity’s words, the unicorn said nothing to suggest a course of action. Maybe they thought the same as Rainbow Dash: splitting up just felt weird. The idea of dropping Rarity off at the Boutique and going each to their own, just like that? Dash wanted to laugh at how absurd the notion was.

“We could go say hi to Twilight,” Dash instead said. She tried to make it sound as casual as possible.

“Let us,” said Rarity, a little too quickly, and the chariot yawed when Fluttershy turned to set course for the library tree faster than Dash could react.

“We probably beat the message from Las Pegasus saying we’re on our way home,” Dash said, grinning to herself. “I bet the Captain’s gonna wait until tomorrow to send a letter.”

“I imagine Princess Luna must have told everypony when she sent the airship to pick us up a week ago,” said Rarity, holding on to the chariot.

“Maybe, but Rainbow Dash said that Princess Luna wanted to keep all the dream-talking a little secret if she could,” Fluttershy countered. “I don’t know if they know we’re coming, I just hope Twilight is still awake.”

Dash snorted. “Are you kidding me? She’ll be up studying something.” She stuck out her legs and flapped against their descent. At her side, Fluttershy did the same with her larger wings, breaking their speed. The two of them worked together to bring the ponies to a gentle landing right by the library entrance.

Once they stopped, Dash worked the straps of her harness with practiced ease before turning to see if Fluttershy needed any help with hers. She didn’t, but Dash leaned in to yank one of the straps open with her teeth anyway, and Fluttershy touched a wing to Dash’s side in silent appreciation. “Besides,” Dash added, “if I don’t get to tell someone about at least one of the awesome things we’ve done, I’m gonna burst, and I’m not risking waking up Granny Smith or the twins, so Twi’s our best bet.”

“I’d just like to see… to see ponies, really,” said Fluttershy with a sheepish smile while the two pegasi waited for Rarity to open the rear latch and hop down to the ground, their much-abused saddlebags and ohron in her magical grip.

“I have to agree,” Rarity said, nodding once and closing the chariot door with exaggerated care. “I mean no offense to the sailors of the Vantage, but they were very busy people, and we hardly saw anypony at the skydock before we left, so I’d like to see someone, anyone we know before bed, too.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. “Yeah, except I was wrong. Guess she’s gone to bed.”

“How do you figure?” Rarity asked, cocking her head and pausing on approach to the library’s great oaken door.

“No light,” said Dash, pointing to the window one floor up. “That’s her reading spot.” She felt a frown coming on. The tell-tale candle-light glow that spoke of the unicorn’s disregard for bedtime was absent.

“What if they’re not home?” Fluttershy said in a whisper. “We didn’t really… ask anypony. Did you ask Luna? What if they’re not in Equestria?”

Rainbow Dash’s heart sank. Where Dash had first looked to the windows, Fluttershy’s attention was on their immediate surroundings, and her words were all too plausible. The flowerbeds, faintly lit by Rarity’s horn-light, were an untended and neglected mess even to Dash’s untrained eyes.

“You’re kidding,” Dash said. “No. They’ve got to be home. They can’t still be off in the middle of nowhere!” She glared at the dull and dark upper floor window, growling low in her throat. “Okay, you know what? Fine! Who’s up for heading to Canterlot tomorrow? The Princesses have got to know where they are, and we can bring the chariot. I don’t care if they’re on the other side of the world, we can go get them, bring—”

“Darling, do try not to wake up the entire town,” Rarity hissed. “Also, the door is open.”

While the pegasi talked, Rarity had advanced, and now she stood by the entrance, her magic holding the door slightly ajar.

Fluttershy licked her lips. “She… she locked the door before she left, didn’t she? She always locks her door so ponies can’t check out books without notice. Do you think maybe somepony snuck into the library?”

“Fluttershy, after all the stuff we’ve done, you can’t be afraid of a thief,” Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. She slapped Fluttershy on the rump with a wing in passing, heading for the door. “And besides, a book thief? That’s gotta be the lamest thief ever. Come on, let’s check it out!”

“Perhaps it’s simply Spike or somepony else come to clean the library,” Rarity mused out loud. “If the inside is as neglected as the outside, this place could certainly use it.” She held the door open for Rainbow Dash, and followed once it was clear Fluttershy meant to join them as well, the other pegasus rubbing at her flank with her own wing, frowning at Dash’s back.

“Yeah, cleaning. In a dark library in the middle of the night.” Rainbow Dash snickered. “I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I clean.”

“I think she meant that maybe they forgot to lock the door after cleaning,” Fluttershy said from the rear.

“Yes. That was precisely my point, but now I’m curious, when was the last time you cleaned your house, Rainbow?” Rarity added. “Do you even own a broom?”

“Eh, clouds are basically self-cleaning. Kinda,” Rainbow Dash replied, stepping inside the darkened entrance hallway, but it was hard to see much. Rarity kept her horn-light down to an absolute minimum, faint, blue-white light casting long shadows. Rainbow Dash perked her ears up, suddenly sure she heard whispers.

“Wait, hang on,” Dash murmured as she trotted further into the main chamber of the library proper. Her friends lagged behind, and tiny warning bells chimed in her mind, triggered by half-forgotten memories. Darkness, whispers, and a feeling somewhere between trepidation and foreboding. She had been in this exact situation before. “Oh, horseapples,” she breathed, taking a step back. “This isn’t a burglar, this is a—”

Surprise!” yelled a shadow before slamming into Rainbow Dash from the side just as the lights turned on.

Rainbow Dash rubbed the side of her head against the floor, suppressing a groan as she tried and failed to stand. She was held down something warm and heavy, and the curly hairs tickling her snout left no mystery as to who the body belonged to.

“Yep, this is exactly like the last surprise party,” Dash groaned, wiggling side to side, trying futilely to get up.

“You mean the last surprise birthday party?” Pinkie Pie asked, finally rolling off Rainbow Dash to let her stand up.

“It wasn’t my birthday! It was right before we left!” Dash retorted without thinking.

“Duh! That was the surprise!” Pinkie said amidst giggle-snorts. Dash got back up on all fours, only now noticing that Pinkie Pie wasn’t alone. Twilight and Applejack stood backlit by a single lamp, the unicorn’s magical grip still surrounding the little pull-string that had lit the table lamp. Both of the other ponies stood frozen, and Pinkie Pie’s laughter petered out into a weird silence as Rarity and Fluttershy finally stepped in from the hall. Despite the ambush, Twilight, Applejack and Pinkie Pie all looked just as surprised as they, the two groups of ponies staring at each other.

It was the rest of their friends, despite hints to the contrary. Applejack favoured one side, her stance a little unbalanced, and the hat that usually never left her head was nowhere to be seen. Pinkie Pie had a strange jewelry piece in one of her ears, and Twilight’s horn was dark, almost black at its very tip, and her eyes were slightly bloodshot. Adding to it all, their manes and tails were long and unkempt and their bodies showed the evidence of months on the road. That by itself would give Dash pause on a normal day—until she realised that Fluttershy, Rarity and she herself probably looked just as strange and changed.

In the mutually stunned silence, their friends stared at the evidence of their journey with all its challenges. The paint, the shape of their bodies, their short-cut manes and tails, the torn bags and ohron as well as the remains of cuts, bumps, bruises and the lines left by the tight chariot harnesses.

“What in tarnation—” said Applejack, and that was as far as she got before Fluttershy rushed forward, fording the gulf between the two groups and hugging the first thing she impacted with. She wrapped a wing and a leg around Pinkie Pie, who let out a startled and delighted squeal as she nearly fell over, and Fluttershy reached out with the other wing, stretching out as far as she could in an open invitation.

With that, the dam broke and the other ponies rushed in. Twilight’s lips wobbled in a shaky smile as she ran into the hug, and Dash launched herself towards her friends as well. She felt Rarity touch her side, somepony sniffled loudly, and suddenly one of Pinkie Pie’s legs were around her neck. Probably a foreleg. Dash covered as many of her friends as she could reach with her feathers, closing her eyes.

“I’ve missed you girls so much.” Fluttershy’s voice broke.

“Me too,” Twilight said, letting out a deep breath.

“And me three!” Pinkie cried. “Ohmygosh, you guys, I haven’t seen you guys in forever! I thought that maybe you wouldn’t want to come back, or maybe we’d have been gone for so long, everypony would be a Princess! Or that—”

“It’s good to have y’all back.” Applejack interrupted Pinkie with a sigh, her words simpler, shorter, but equally thick with emotion.

“And believe me, dear, you have no idea how good it is to be back,” Rarity replied, puffing out her cheeks. “Or perhaps you do.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled to herself, cracking an eye open to see Applejack’s face bearing a wide grin, the farmpony giving a slight nod before her expression turned quizzical and she tilted her head sideways.

“You can say that again. But really now, what the hay is up with your coats?”

“Long story,” Dash muttered. “A way long story, and we got a lot of those, but like… in a minute.” She clenched her eyes shut again and pressed her side against whoever stood to her left. The chill that swept in through the open door just made the warmth of touch that much comfier.

If Rainbow Dash was being a little sappy, for once Applejack didn’t leap at the chance to comment. No quips or barbs. Instead, Rainbow Dash felt a powerful foreleg rest over her withers, and Dash returned the gesture, tuning out the world while she enjoyed her friends’ presence, the six ponies wedged tight together in a confusing mess that soon toppled over with a collective giggle, forcing Dash down to sit on the ground on top of somepony’s tail. All was right.

“Alright, I think I said this before, but now I’m starting to feel like maybe we’re home,” Dash murmured under her breath, and she felt Fluttershy’s wing touch against her side, followed by a familiar cold snout touching against the top of her head.

The group hug broke up slowly into a series of smaller hugs, Twilight stepping up to Dash to cross necks, then Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie again while Rainbow Dash looked around for the first time since she stepped into the library. Just like Ponyville itself, the place looked well-worn and familiar.

Perhaps a little too familiar, thinking about it.

“You know,” said Dash, letting go of Pinkie Pie, “if this is a surprise party, you’ve really lost your touch, Pinkie.”

There were no streamers hanging from the ceiling, no balloons and no cake, and while Dash didn’t really think this was ever meant to be a party, it looked like the opposite of a party, like somepony had cleaned a party away with meticulous care—or at the very least regular cleaned. Desks that usually strained under the burden of stacked books stood bare, and a light cover of dust lay like a film over much of the library’s main room furniture outside of the most commonly used shelves.

The only place that showed any signs of life was the area around the fireplace. Blankets and pillows lay on the floor in a loose semicircle around the memories of a fire whose embers were lost in the lamplight. One single table carried a wealth of confusing items and an impressive spread of loose parchment burying open saddlebags, somewhat making up for the rest of the room and its vague sense of abandonment.

Pinkie Pie’s belated reply was a loud giggle, but it was Twilight who spoke up, both the unicorn and Applejack letting out a short laugh as well. “We probably all have a lot of questions, but if you’re wondering why the library is a mess—or why it isn’t—that one’s easy,” said Twilight. She walked towards the fireplace, her horn glimmering when she drew near, and the fire picked up as though it woke from a slumber. She turned on the spot and smiled at the ponies. “We just got back ourselves.”

“You returned only just now? You’ve been gone for as long as we have?” asked Rarity, blinking rapidly.

“Yep!” Applejack affirmed, nodding her head. She sauntered towards the fire as well. “Almost, anyway. We’ve been in Canterlot for a bit. Princess Celestia mentioned you were already on your way back, so we figured we’d beat you to Ponyville. Grabbed the last train home today.”

“I meant to make a surprise party, but we didn’t think you would get back before tomorrow,” Pinkie said. “But you did! You did get back before tomorrow!” Her face flipped from smile to frown to radiant smile again as she bounced towards the fireplace. “We got off the train this evening, and we just wanted to have a little chat before we all went home, but we were having such a nice time while Twilight was taking notes, I guess we all fell asleep!”

“Weren’t asleep,” Applejack grunted. “Was resting my eyes.”

“The sun was all, whoosh, bye now, and the moon popped up out of nowhere because it got late—I already said that—and then I heard you guys, and I said ‘turn off the lights’, and then Twilight woke up and said why, and that there weren’t even any lights on, and then I waited, and you came in—”

Applejack chuckled heartily and stilled Pinkie Pie’s rant with a touch to her withers, which honestly surprised Rainbow Dash more than anything else she had seen or heard so far. Pinkie Pie just smiled at Applejack rather than go on forever.

“T’aint much of a welcoming party, I think that’s what she’s saying,” she said.

Pinkie Pie nodded enthusiastically. “That’s totally what I was saying!”

“We barely got started on the unpacking,” Applejack said, gesturing to the area around the fireplace, a small island of life in the dark library. Some scraps of cloth like little scarves lay on a the messy table next to a bunch of tiny carvings Dash hadn’t noticed before, right next to a cork-stoppered bottle, all of it drowning in papers Twilight busied herself with stacking and organising even while they spoke. Despite the wealth of curios, the saddlebags on the back of the large table were full.

“Well, I think that’s okay, really,” said Fluttershy, smiling warmly. She headed for the fireplace, nuzzling Rainbow Dash as she passed her and tugging her along with a wing.

“What is?” Rainbow Dash asked, following. Applejack pulled out some more pillows from the stack in the corner, pushing them towards where pillows and blankets already lay in a heap.

“That there isn’t a party,” Fluttershy said with a giggle. “I’m okay with just… sitting down, really.”

“I have to agree,” Rarity chimed. She put down the mess of saddlebags and ohron she carried with her to help Applejack by rearranging the pillows so there was space for everypony. “But surely we can at least find something to eat. I don’t think we’ve eaten all day. All we have are some biscuits from the airship.”

Twilight placed the last stack of papers on the table, her brow knit in thought for a second. “I actually don’t think I have much more than that in the kitchen myself, sorry. We got back to Ponyville after market was over. All the shops had closed and everypony had gone to bed.”

“We had a pretty big dinner in Canterlot before we left, but I can always eat more, and I always have a candy-stash for emergencies. I just don’t always remember where I have them,” said Pinkie. She squinted at a nearby bookshelf with grave suspicion, then glanced sideways at a cupboard. A split-second later she perked up, beaming at the other ponies. “Let’s go hunting!”

A discarded bag of hard marshmallows from the depths of Twilight’s kitchen joined a half-full pack of ship’s biscuits and a trove of stale gummy bears Pinkie had somehow extracted from the romance section of the library. The haphazard collection of barely-edibles lay on the warm wooden floor in front of the fireplace, and while it didn’t exactly make for a complete meal to sate a rumbling belly, the short burst of activity while they scrounged for food only made the ensuing pause more poignant.

It was clear to Rainbow Dash that she wasn’t the only one who just now relaxed for the first time in a long while. It wasn’t just her, Fluttershy and Rarity, either. She imagined she could feel the aching of the hooves of the other three, too. They must have snuck in a quick bath in Canterlot or something, though, whereas Dash was keenly aware that she herself had spent half a week on an airship and half a day in flight. They were unkempt and unwashed, Rarity would say, and adding to that general discomfort, the library was not yet fully warmed by the roaring blaze of the fireplace. The blanket itched, too, and the water had gotten lukewarm while they got settled.

In short, everything was perfect.

Rainbow Dash lay back, resting against Fluttershy’s side with her hindlegs up on Applejack’s back. In the end, the extra space Rarity and Applejack had made for the bigger group was entirely wasted. All of them huddled together, except Pinkie Pie who shuffled, rolled, and moved around, now resting her head on Dash’s flank, now curled up between Twilight and Rarity as though it was impossible for her to decide where to sit—or perhaps just from a desire to be everywhere at once.

Dash might have done the same if she wasn’t bone tired. She stretched, hooking her neck around Fluttershy’s own and nuzzling into her coat while Twilight shut off the table lamp, the fireplace providing enough light by itself. The past few minutes had seen little talk outside of directions and discussions on finding bowls and cups for food and water, and now as they were all seated or laid down, silence settled again. Rainbow Dash had more questions than ever. There was a notch in one of Pinkie’s ears next to the weird jewellery piece, and why did Applejack favour one foreleg over the other? Was she hurt? What was up with Twilight’s horn, and was that a stripe in her mane?

“Alright, I’m gonna ask again,” said Applejack, beating Rainbow Dash to the punch. She glanced over the two pegasi, then to Rarity, staring pointedly at the unicorn’s dyed coat. “Why in all things good do y’all look like you’ve rolled in wet grass and then had a bucket of blue paint poured over yourselves? It is paint, isn’t it? It ain’t some magic?”

Fluttershy giggled, Dash shrugged, and Rarity nodded her head slowly and carefully.

“I’ve been led to believe that yes, it will wash away or fade—eventually.” She frowned at herself, and Dash expected that maybe she’d say something about regretting it, to bemoan being painted in weird colours for weeks unless the paint thinner worked. At length, the unicorn simply smiled, and that was that.

“Alright?” Applejack asked, tilting her head.

“I smell a sto-ry~” called Pinkie Pie in a sing-song voice. “How—”

That’s the biggest story here?” Dash interrupted her, frowning slightly. “Look at Rarity and Fluttershy! They’ve gotten super strong! Look at this!” Rainbow Dash bumped her snout into Fluttershy’s chest and pointed to Rarity with a free wing. “Come on, Applejack. If applebuck season isn’t over, we can do it for you!”

Twilight was the first one to laugh, but Dash was already moving on, distracted by all the other weird stuff. “What the heck is up with those things on the table, anyway? And Applejack, are you hurt? You were—no, wait, forget that, what the hay is Pinkie wearing?!”

Pinkie Pie stared back at Dash, her muzzle hidden behind a piece of cloth she had dug out from their saddlebags on the table. Despite the cloth covering her muzzle, Dash could tell she was smiling.

“It’s a Demagarran veil,” Twilight said. “We—”

“The mode motes?” Applejack asked at the same time, one eyebrow raised. She turned to look at the tiny carvings on the table as though there was nothing special about them at all. “Never mind that, you didn’t answer why you’re all blue and green! And what the hay happened to your manes?”

“Are you and Fluttershy dating and girlfriends and everything?”

Pinkie Pie’s voice shut out all the other budding questions, the confusing chorus brought to a wrenching halt.

“You noticed only just now?” Rarity retorted, one brow arched high, and now that Dash thought about it, the question wasn’t only warranted, it was a little late. She did lie draped around her girlfriend. As an afterthought, and given the spotlight, Dash rubbed at the base of one of Fluttershy’s wings with one of her own primaries. Twilight stared blankly, Pinkie Pie stared expectantly, and Applejack just plain stared.

“If you ask me,” Rarity continued after she had given the two ponies in question a polite tenth of a second to comment themselves, “it is wonderful, and the two of them are perfectly darling as a couple. Rainbow Dash is absolutely smitten with Fluttershy. It’s quite the thing to see, but you’ll hear all about it if we are to share all our respective stories.”

Rainbow Dash said nothing. She nuzzled into Fluttershy’s coat and grinned to herself, vaguely aware of Pinkie Pie’s exaggerated inhale and Applejack’s chuckle. She’d happily talk all day long about how she and Fluttershy were girlfriends, but she was also more than a little curious about what had happened to Twilight and the rest of the gang. Just thinking about Fluttershy right now made her want to bury her face in Fluttershy’s wings and disappear amidst the feathers, and that wouldn’t be very social.

“We sure do have a lot of stories to tell, but I sure know which one I’m the most curious about now,” said Applejack.

“Tell us!” Pinkie Pie near-screamed. “You are girlfriends? Tell me all your secrets!”

“Maybe it will help if we start at the beginning?” Twilight asked. She cleared her throat and levitated a curiously shaped bottle over from the nearby table. “Let’s start with you three, and after that, we can tell you all about our journey.” She smiled and locked eyes with both Applejack and Pinkie Pie, who both returned the smile.

“—which was why we had to stay in Canterlot for a while,” Applejack concluded.

“It let me look up some of these phenomena in the Royal Library, so I appreciated it, at least,” Twilight added, smiling. “Celestia didn’t mind us leaving today. We’ll pick up via letter. She ordered royal chariots to take us home, so we landed in Ponyville—”

Right after even Night Snack closed his food cart!” Pinkie Pie finished for Twilight.

“I reckon we could’ve gone each to our own,” said Applejack, “but with everypony closed up and gone to bed, not wanting to wake anypony up and all, well...” She hesitated, glanced at Pinkie and Twilight, then smiled. “Dunno. Twilight met her folks in Canterlot, and Pinkie and I both sent letters to the families in case we had to stay for another few days, so they know we’re safe. It just didn’t feel right to leave off, so here we are.”

“And then I started planning the surprise party for tomorrow, but you cheated and got home first!” Pinkie said, scowling.

“Then throw us all a surprise party when we’re not expecting it,” Dash said, stretching her hindlegs out and yawning. “Just stay out of my closets, jeez, you scared the rainbows out of my mane last time.”

“Oh I’ll surprise you,” Pinkie muttered, rubbing her forehooves together. “You can count on it.”

“Anyway,” Twilight said, clearing her throat, a sound that was almost lost amidst the rustle of paper as she rearranged her notes. “Could we go back to your story? I have some questions about the serpent and the bird you mentioned. I’d love more detail in general, actually, but I also think I misunderstood what you said about these heron. You said there were multiple heron cooperating in some fashion in this mountain city—”

Rarity held up a hoof to her muzzle to cover a yawn of her own, shaking her head slightly. “I don’t know if I’d call it cooperating. Or, well, I suppose you could, but I don’t see how that matters. What’s more—”

“—important is,” Pinkie said, picking up the sentence, “can we taste that chocolate you mentioned?” She eyed Rainbow Dash’s saddlebags hungrily.

“Seriously?” Applejack asked, chuckling low under her breath. “That’s what you got from all that? The chocolate balls?”

Fluttershy giggled. “They’re not really meant to be eaten as candy. They’re a cure of sorts, medicine. I think we’ll save those for a rainy day, but I’m sure you can taste just one a little later.”

“They’re like sugar pills,” Rainbow Dash added, grinning to herself. She glanced over at Twilight. “You know what those are, right?”

Twilight returned a flat look. “Yes, Rainbow Dash. I know what a sugar pill is.” She rubbed her eyes and shook her head, and Dash followed her gaze to a nearby window where the first rays of morning light hit the drawn curtains. “Perhaps we better pick this up sometime later, though. It’s getting… early.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Rarity said, downing the last of her drink. All around them lay empty cups and bowls, the evidence of a full night passed in each other’s company. Rainbow Dash’s wings were stiff and achey from resting on or around her friends or hugging her girlfriend close. “Mind you, I thought you, of all ponies, would be used to late nights,” Rarity added.

“We didn’t exactly keep to our regular schedules in Demagarra,” Twilight replied. “As you can imagine, we had to make some compromises with the place. And some between ourselves.”

Applejack nodded at that and touched a shoulder to Twilight’s side, and Pinkie beamed at them both, but no one offered to say much more as a thin line of sunlight crept across the floor, sneaking in between a gap in the curtains. Twilight yawned again, and that yawn turned infectious, making its rounds in front of the fireplace. Rainbow Dash was tired, too, and she really wished she wasn't. They had shared the short versions of their stories with each other, but it didn’t feel like an end. Rather, it felt like a beginning.

Even after sharing daring escapes and silly misunderstandings, awesome wins and crummy failures, Rainbow Dash still didn’t know how to put words to the most amazing thing she brought home from Perytonia. She knew it was something about sticking together, about closeness, but she couldn’t explain it. It was the sort of thing that had to be shown, like a really cool and complicated stunt that needed an example to be communicated. From the way Twilight, Pinkie and Applejack looked to each other to tell their story, maybe they had the same experience.

Whatever the case, they had all the time in the world, and all in all, things were looking up—which was weird, because Rainbow Dash always thought she was doing pretty good. Then again, there was no such thing as a ceiling to the sky.

“Well, if we’re all heading home, let’s at least get some breakfast first. Market should be on soon,” Applejack said, slowly and reluctantly getting up. “Any of y’all lazybones want to come with me?”

Rainbow Dash awoke in her own bed. She didn’t remember exactly how she got there, but it wouldn’t be the first time her last memory was launching into the air with a vague need to get home, only to wake up the day after, tangled in her blankets. Before she even opened her eyes, she spread her wings as much as she could. No hurt. She hadn’t stubbed her wings on the window frames coming in, then. Instead, the motion whirled up some dust that made her cough.

“Right. Change bed sheets,” Dash muttered to herself. Being away for a long time made things dusty. That made sense.

Waking up felt weird though. Which also made sense. It had nothing to do with waking up in a soft and cozy bed. Fact was, the clouds hadn’t been fluffed since the middle of summer, and by her old standards this was a lumpy and hard mess not fit to sleep in. Now, after so many nights on the ground, she felt like she was about to fall through the bed. All in all, waking up brought with it a lot of strangeness, but one thing stood out.

Alone was weird.

Rainbow Dash staggered upright, clutching her head when a mild headache hit her. Why? No idea. Too much sugar? What was in that stuff the rest of the gang brought back from… Demi-wherever? She groaned and stretched, vaguely remembering falling asleep again at the library. She knew she had slept through a clumsy attempt at breakfast. Applejack had made pancakes before everypony left to make sure their homes still stood, but now that Dash was awake, she didn’t spare her bedroom a single glance before she was out the window, pushed out, pulled away.

It was mid-day already. A lot later than Rainbow Dash usually got up, even when she slept in on purpose. Had Pinkie Pie said something about a party at Sugarcube Corner tonight? She probably had. She would. Everypony seemed eager to be together as much as possible, and Dash was glad. Twice as glad because she knew it wasn’t just because they still had a lot of catching up to do.

Rainbow Dash soared past the central market, hearing a singular voice call out over the din: “Apples! Git’ yer apples here!” She let herself drop a little and waved at Applejack in passing. Applejack smiled back and waved, though Dash could see her eyes were red with a lack of sleep, and her mane was even more frazzled than yesterday.

Even if some things had changed, even if more would change, some things would probably stay the same, too. Rainbow Dash chuckled to herself.

The rest of Ponyville whisked by, building by building. No queue outside Sugarcube Corner. Too late in the day for that. Carousel Boutique seemed closed, but there was no sign explaining it. Rarity probably needed some time to get things in order. A moment later she spotted three familiar fillies walking the road beneath her. She aimed low enough that she ruffled their manes in passing.

“Rainbow Dash!” shouted Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo in choru, the three little fillies bouncing as she flew past.

“Hey kids!” Dash shouted, flipping onto her back. “I owe you a flying lesson or something, squirt! Don’t get too busy this weekend!”

Whatever else they said, Dash couldn’t hear, already on her way out of Ponyville, following the familiar path over the brook. Some of the apple trees on the other side of the fence no longer bore apples, and though there had been no Running of the Leaves here yet, the Whitetail in the distance looked late-fall-y. She’d have to check in and ask when the Running was, perhaps ask what the rain plans for the seasons were, but that could wait. Now she flew low and fast, and before she knew it, she landed on Fluttershy’s doorstep.

The cottage was as familiar to Rainbow Dash as her own house. The door, specifically, wasn’t. Windows were better. They used to be open. Doors were closed. She couldn’t tell why she chose the door, but she did, and then she knocked. Three rapid taps on the red-painted wood, a wait of exactly two seconds, and then she flew up to perch on top of the roof above the door. Another ten, maybe twelve seconds, and the top half of the door opened. Fluttershy’s head poked outside, tilted left, then right.

“Um… hello?”

“Hey, girlfriend,” said Dash.

Fluttershy didn’t seem startled at all. She stepped outside and looked up at Rainbow Dash, and in her wake followed a cluster of animals. Rainbow Dash couldn’t have identified all of them if she had all the time in the world. A pair of otters milling around her legs, a duck, a bunch of smaller birds, more small mammals, a fox—all of them clung to her like their lives depended on it, and every second, more animals trailed out from the cottage, squawking, quacking and peeping.

It had been one night since they went their separate ways, but when Fluttershy met her eyes, it felt to Dash like they hadn’t seen each other for months.

There she stood, the same old Fluttershy with her cottage and her animals, Fluttershy who had Dash’s back, with her feet solidly planted on the ground. At the same time, there stood Fluttershy with her painted coat and short mane, Fluttershy who had travelled the world with her, her wingmare and the pony who led the way by example even if she didn’t know it half the time, and didn’t believe it the rest of the time.

All Rainbow Dash could think was that she couldn’t get enough of either. She could stand here on this roof watching her until the sun set, every day—and then Fluttershy smiled. Rainbow Dash had to smile back, she had to laugh even though she didn’t know why. She had to come down.

Dash spread her wings and sailed down to land right in front of Fluttershy. She gingerly stepped up in between some protesting critters and leaned a little closer. Fluttershy did the same, the slightly taller mare leaning forwards until their foreheads touched. When they parted, Rainbow Dash took half a step back and grinned wider still.

“Hi,” said Fluttershy, finally.

“Hey,” said Rainbow Dash. “Wanna hang out? Can I come in?”

Fluttershy giggled and turned around, heading inside. The animals scrambled to follow. “Of course. You don’t have to ask, you know.”

“What you mean by that is that I don’t usually ask,” Dash said, laughing as well as she trotted after her. “You got some cocoa?”

Fluttershy didn’t even break her stride, already on her way to the kitchen. “Mm. You can help me make us some hot chocolate and some food.”

“I’m surprised they recognised you,” Fluttershy said, giggling. “I guess it’s because of your mane. There aren’t many ponies with a mane like yours. If not, I bet the girls wouldn’t have realised it was you flying past.”

“Applejack and Rarity’s back home, they know we’re back in town,” Dash said, shrugging. “Anyway, I told Scoots I’d hang out with her this weekend, and, uh, I actually have no idea when the weekend starts. What day is it? Oh, you’ve got—”

“Middle of the week, I think—oh, sorry,” said Fluttershy. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Nah, I was just gonna say you’ve got something on your snout,” Dash said, pointing a hoof. “Bit of marshmallow.”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy, going cross-eyed as she tried to look at her own muzzle. Rainbow Dash leaned across the table and darted in, giving her girlfriend’s snout a quick lick.

Even as she laughed, Fluttershy’s cheeks flushed, barely visible through the green paint. “I didn’t actually put marshmallows in my chocolate. There wasn’t really anything there, was there?”

“Nah, just felt like it,” said Dash, smirking. She grabbed her own mug of hot chocolate and took a long sip, looking past her girlfriend to the clouds hanging over the Everfree. It was pleasantly cold, a light gust tugging at the tablecloth. Having... lunch? Breakfast? Having food at Fluttershy’s garden table was a great idea. Almost as great an idea as sticking with the whole journey to Perytonia.

“What are you thinking about?”

Fluttershy smiled at her from across the table, her oats half-eaten and currently being dug into by a small pack of birds. One of her hooves rested gently but insistently on the head of a fox who stared at the very same birds.

“About how all the best tricks need a few crashes before you ace them,” Dash replied, thinking as she spoke. “But like… as a metaphor. So about you, I guess? About us? Hey, do you wanna sleep together?”

Fluttershy lowered her eyes a touch. “Mm, I’d really like to. Waking up this morning alone was a little strange, but I can’t really leave the cottage and stay at your house all the time. I have all the animals and everything.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like beds that aren’t on clouds,” Dash replied, and Fluttershy’s ears drooped for half a second before she caught on to Dash’s tone and looked up to see her smiling. “Usually. I’ll manage. We could go half and half or something?”

“I think ‘or something’ sounds good,” Fluttershy replied, smiling back at her. “We can decide as we go. I’ll need to stay here for a few days, at least, because someone’s been naughty and gotten into the pantry while I was gone,” she added, frowning at the fox at her side. “Besides, the birds are quarrelling with the mice, and now that the animals are all back to living inside the cottage, I need to be there to make sure they don’t fight, so…”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Alright. I’ll grab a pillow and come over tonight. Deal?”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled brightly once more. “I think that sounds wonderful. Don’t forget about the party at Sugarcube Corner tonight, though. We can head home together, but you need to help remind me, Applejack wanted to talk about the rest of the applebucking season. Oh, and Rarity said something about… um, I forget, actually, but I know she said something.”

“Heh, there’s gonna be a lot of something going on, isn’t there?” Dash mused. She downed the last of her hot chocolate. A particularly strong gust of wind blew through the garden, the tablecloth flapping wildly.

Fluttershy didn’t ask what Dash meant. She just nodded as though she understood in its entirety, and where Dash might have once taken that for granted, now she paused for a second to enjoy that knowledge. The two pegasi stared at each other, smiling and saying nothing until another stray thought tumbled into Dash’s head.

“That’s tonight, though.”


“I thinking of sneaking in some trick flying before then. I’m thinking of it now, anyway,” Dash corrected herself. “I don’t know if I can even do regular stunts any more. We’ve been flying distance or pulling chariots all the time. Wanna come with me and see if I’ve still got it?”

“Oh. I have to finish cleaning the pantry, and I need to place an order for birdseed,” Fluttershy said, her ears splayed. She sighed. “I would love to come watch you, but I need to take care of this first, I really do.”

Rainbow Dash smirked. “Watch? Sure, or you can come fly with me, you know, but hey, that’s your call. How about I help you out, and then we both go flying?”

Fluttershy giggled and nodded. “Okay, I think that sounds lovely, and I’d really appreciate the help once we’re done with lunch. It won’t take long, I promise.”


The sat together for a few minutes more, Fluttershy keeping the animals that bounced around them in check without putting any effort into it, a wing scooping up a few birds here, a hoof nudging apart two quarrelling hedgehogs there while she finished her drink. The area around the cottage was as alive as it had ever been, and Rainbow Dash had seen more ponies on the way here than she had seen for months before today, yet—

“It’s a little strange without Rarity,” said Fluttershy, completing Dash’s thoughts. Her eyes were on Ponyville. Earlier that summer, Dash would have said that Ponyville was a fair distance away from Fluttershy’s cottage, and now it felt so close Dash imagined she could cross the distance in one single beat of her wings.

“Yeah,” said Dash. Her wings itched pleasantly as though they were electric.

“Do you want to go see if she wants to help, too?” Fluttershy asked, perking up. “Maybe she needs help at the Boutique.”

“And after we’re done at the cottage, she can come watch us fly. Or fly with us if she likes. She can do the body magic spell even if she just wants to watch,” Dash added, already standing up. “Let’s go!”

Rainbow Dash did not know what she dreamt. There was no monster, no fight, no nightmare. Perhaps, she thought, she had only just begun to dream when she became aware of the dreaming. If she had just fallen asleep, then that explained why everything before, everything outside the dream felt so close.

She remembered the heat of Fluttershy’s body on one side, a fireplace near the other. She remembered feeling warm and pleasant, fading out while draped in Fluttershy’s feathers with a wing-bone scratching her neck. She remembered Fluttershy apologising to Twilight for ruining the book she had borrowed, and Twilight telling her she had anticipated that, ordering a new copy before they left.

Twilight picking Rarity’s brains about the new forms of magic she had learned. Pinkie Pie losing horrendously at Vossos’ Vaunted Protocols against Applejack because she got too excited at the idea of all the peryton coming to visit. Applejack commiserating with Fluttershy who only now realised that she didn’t get to say goodbye to her little bird friend, Scarlett.

Dash remembered that she had meant to bring up the idea of a jousting tournament, to teach the others what Ephydoeran jousting was like, but the intent didn’t make it to her mouth before she dozed off. Tomorrow, then.

The day had been a blur, and now, at the end of the day, all Dash could think was that in the same way she had gotten closer not just with Fluttershy, but with Rarity, too, she had no reason to believe it would stop there. She had only spent two days reunited with the rest of her friends, and she felt their presence in her mind as keenly in sleep as she did when awake.

And now that she thought of presences—

“Should I be worried?” asked Princess Luna. “Usually when I find you, you are a blur of action. This dream has not yet been given shape.”

Rainbow Dash shook her head and looked up to find Luna standing in front of her. The rest of the world was grey. Not an utterdark void, but indistinct, shifting and morphing behind the princess, and even Luna herself didn’t seem quite as rigid as usual, standing at ease.

“Nah, I was just thinking.” She smiled at the princess. “What’s up?”

Luna smiled and looked around at the formless grey with apparent interest while she spoke. “I’ve come to ask what plans you have for Hearth’s Warming Eve this year.”

“You mean all of us,” Dash said more than she asked, continuing when Luna nodded. “I don’t know. We just got back, and it’s a long time until Hearth’s Warming. We usually have a get-together in the library before we visit our families. Breakfast at the Corner. That sort of stuff. Why?”

“Then you may ask all of our friends if they mind if I come visit for that ‘get-together’,” said Luna, her wings shifting on her back. “Sister also expressed that she would like to join, to see you informally. I get the sense that she may already have asked, however.” She frowned, just a touch.

“She has?” Dash asked, scrunching her snout. “Don’t get me wrong, that’s super cool—everyone’s gonna love it if you come visit—but Princess Celestia hasn’t asked me. How would she?”

“I do not know. Perhaps not you, specifically. Call it a sister’s intuition, but never mind that.” Luna shook her head from side to side with a bemused smile. “We wish to see you all in Canterlot sooner rather than later to hear of your travels in detail, and we may arrange the details then. Royal spare time is scarce enough that I did not wish to start planning this without knowing you were free, that is all.” She shrugged. “Perhaps this is needless. A letter might have done the same as this visit. After all, with you safely back, we no longer have need for these meetings in the dreamlands.”

Dash tilted her head. “You said you’d come visit, though. And hey, you owe me a cool fight with some monsters! Besides, this is way cooler than some musty old letters,” she added, sticking out her tongue.

Luna laughed, a soft and melodious chuckle. “I did say that, and I will make good on all those promises. Unfortunately, I am busy tonight. I suppose part of me wished to thank you again for your help, and to confirm that you were well, even though I know it is true.”

“Hay yeah we’re ‘well’,” said Dash, flashing a grin. “I still don’t get what you’re thanking us for. I guess we completed the mission you gave us, but I’m the one who should be thanking you. This has been the best trip ever.”

Luna’s shook her head. She smiled wryly, letting out her breath, and walked slowly off to the side, charting a path into the unshaped dream. “I think you misunderstand. While sister and I are grateful to you all, I meant that I thank you, Rainbow Dash. It was… soothing to walk some old memories and events with someone else, something that perhaps you can relate to.” Her dark eyes gleamed with those last words, and she turned, dipping her head slightly.

“Don’t let my thoughts distract you. I am making a note, perhaps mostly for myself, but this has been your task, and thus is your success. This has been the journey of you and your friends. Your story.”

Rainbow Dash scratched her snout. “Eh. Sure, but since you’re talking about peryton and stories, their stories kinda don’t belong to anyone. Or… they belong to everyone? It’s the same thing.” She shook her head. The entire discussion had started running away from her ever since they stopped talking about Hearth’s Warming, if she had to be honest. “I don’t know if that’s what you meant.”

Princess Luna blinked, frozen for an instant, then broke into a smile. “I had not meant to venture into philosophy, I only meant to say that the day belongs to you. However, if you wish to think of it like the stories the peryton tell today, and from what you have told me… then perhaps the prevailing wisdom is that the story belongs not just to those who live it, but also to its teller and its listener.”

“Sure,” said Dash, laughing. “I have no idea. I don’t tell stories, I just, y’know, do stuff. I’m gonna teach the rest of the gang how to joust tomorrow.”

Author's Note:

That’s a wrap, dear reader. Do you want to read a really long author’s notes? Well, I’m no cop, but if you’re on the fence, please consider at least scrolling to the bottom for the acknowledgements section. It would mean a lot to me.

But yes, we’re done for now. I don’t know how many people read this story, but you, dear reader, are likely just one person. The first thing I want to say is: I wonder how you read this story.

There is always a gap between any two individuals’ understanding of the same thing. Sometimes it’s a small stream or a river, sometimes it’s a vast gulf that separates interpretations. Me being the author makes it extra impossible to predict how anyone receives it, be it an individual or the great and fickle kinda-consensus of the internet. Besides that, each and every reader is unique. Every one of you hoof-ful of heroes who chewed through this brick.

Among other things, To Perytonia was written to be about stories. About what a story is, or can be, and how the progress from event to past—to memory, or to story—is not obvious. In that sense, it’s metafiction. Metafiction doesn’t have to engage with fic popularity trends or break the fourth wall with silly callouts. I believe that a story can talk about stories without ceasing to be a story itself.

Was that the primary “goal” of this story? I have many ways to say “no”. No, because I would never tell anyone what the “point” of a story is. No, because I didn’t write one idea for half a million words. No, because the contents of this story are too broad and matter too much to me to cheapen it by summarising, a courtesy I extend to anything I read or write, long or short.

It just makes for a nice opening to this author’s note, that’s all. You know, talking about stories. I’ve always loved fables and the mythical, and anyone who knows me well might guess that the peryton way of thinking is not a random construct. Their way of thinking includes ideas that are important to me.

Speaking of which, I predict a fair amount of people will have been frustrated with the ponies. Or perhaps frustrated with the Peryton. Perhaps even both. Again, I don’t wish to talk too much about the “intent” of the story. I’m not here to make excuses, nor am I really interested in critique. You decide on that for yourself.

I will say, however, that in meeting with each other, neither the peryton nor the ponies have the knowledge of cultural relativism that the average human reader will possess. Even as I decided on the story’s general design over a year ago, I must have understood on some level that certain readers would not enjoy the persistence of these foibles and failures, but I wrote it exactly how I meant to write it—just like how I am a deliberate, iterative writer who delights in foreshadowing and reinforcing points and themes.

That’s enough of me talking about what I say I don’t want to talk about! This story, though. This story.

I should tell you now that I’ve written four separate attempts at an Author’s Note, together totalling many a page. This section, where I talk about how the story came about, was mostly removed because venting does not make for good reading.

You see, I go through phases of writing. Often I try to say that I write “for” me. In fact, I return to this idea every time I finish a story, asserting that writing is something I do for myself. Sometimes that’s an ideal, sometimes that’s truth. Most—myself included—assume this stands in opposition to writing for you, the reader. The natural assumption is that those are the only options.

I have come to believe otherwise. I think now that I write for the sake of the story that is told, and all its inhabitants who come alive through the telling. This is not the same as writing because the story needs to be told. It is not just a pathological need to write, to talk, to “get it out”. I do it for the sake of the story as a separate entity.

In this sense, I have done the story a disservice by trying to explain even one small part of it, however briefly. I’ve already acknowledged that you will experience this story differently from me, and the entire story, as I read it, is also in part about that. Consider these Author's Note paragraphs the one and only concession to the tattered ego of an author who would really rather not be remembered. I’d rather you think of the story. These are the notes wherein I exist, and once they are done, I will cease to be. If you ever reread this story, skip these notes.

Two more things before I go though. First: Acknowledgements!

Kits, Adrian and Still Waters, three titans, and treasured friends of mine.

The words don’t exist that adequately describe how thankful I am. How grateful I am. How lucky I am to have you as friends. You know better than anyone what a mess my head is, and how stupid I can be when I write. I don’t mean in terms of my stories, but in how I relate to their writing. You keep up with me, you survive my idiocy, wait out my moods, and deliver useful critique as well as much-needed encouragement.

You also know the measure of my stubbornness, and that’s why I don’t want to lie and say “this story wouldn’t be possible without—”.

Sure it would. I would have written this story without you, but I doubt I would desire to ever write another. I would’ve written this story if I were locked in a room alone and had to scratch it into the walls—but it would be far lesser.

Each of you bring a different perspective to what you read, and your combined powers are tremendous. You push me on, only as much as I want to be pushed, and you are crucial to my enjoyment of this both for your feedback and for your friendships.

Carabas, Shutterflyyay and Themaskedferret:

Carabas holds the current record for speed reading the story. Thank you for your thoughts on the chapters as you went along. You were a great help! It was immensely comforting to be able to run some very big questions through someone who came into this fresh. Bless your soul for your efforts.

Shutterfly was the spelling/syntax/that-sort-of-stuff sniffer, and chopped embarrassing mistakes in half before publishing. I like to think that perhaps we both learned a little, but I won’t pretend this was an equal trade. Many a derp was given the boot. Thank you ever so much for your efforts!

Ferret did something in between what these two did, but had to drop out part way through. I don’t know whether this was because you got busy or if the story was no longer to your taste, but for as long as you read, your input was appreciated, and your comments provided a sorely needed morale boost. Thank you!

Finally, while I recognise this may be monstrously presumptuous, I mention this because this has been a problem in the past: if anyone does fanart, fan music, fan anything, please tell me! For goodness sake, it is endlessly frustrating to stumble over someone making something awesome but not telling me. I want to give you proper dues, links, and thanks! Looking at you, Thyrai.

Okay. We’re donesies for realsies. In an ideal world, there will be a post-fic blog post sometime in the near future. I have maps, I have dramatis personae and glossaries. I have art I’ve done and art that others have done. I have further thoughts on the fic’s creation for those curious, as well as potential future plans, but we’ll see where that all lands.

Here’s the truth, and I’m addressing you, reader. You’re already reading a type of story that isn’t as popular as some, and of those, you are the extreme minority. You’ve read through an Author’s Notes that is longer than some fics, so let me drop a tiny bit of frankness: I usually close out my fics with “thanks for reading, I read and reply to all comments and mails received at [my mail address]”.

It’s not that I’m not glad if you found this story worth reading ‘till the end. It’s not that I don’t like this story, either. Fact is, I think it is my best one yet by a country league, and it will be in my head until the day I pass from this world. All the same, this time, I think I’ll settle for “thanks for reading”. I can't be counted on to reply, at least not for a while, and if you review this story, you do so for the benefit of others. I mean no offence, but unless you are a close friend, do not feel like you have to tell me.

Comments ( 73 )

How long tuil the sequel?
What do you call a story that takes place during the same time frame but follows different characters?

if anyone does fanart, fan music, fan anything, please tell me!


And I swear I'll get to the post some day and mail that <.<

JMP #3 · Feb 6th, 2018 · · ·

Well this was absolutely epic. Never got so invested in a story I just noticed on the featured list that I felt the needed to power through 500k words in a few weeks. Job amazingly well done, and I'm very curious about the flip side of things. What kind of adventures did Twilight, Applejack, and Pinkie have in their travels? I suppose them summing up their travels to the Perytonia gang would probably do the stories a disservice.

I kept seeing this on the front page and I haven't decided to read it until today. Let's see how it is. From what I read of the comments it is a great story. I'm putting my faith in the people

There's the perspective of 3 other friends we haven't seen yet :ajsmug: , although I joined late to the party I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! I hope to see more stories set in this universe :raritywink:


Thank you so much for writing! I really enjoyed reading this story.

This is a wonderful tale :)

You do know you owe us the story of Twi's, AJ's, and Pinkie's journey, dont ya?

Ughh I was dreading these last few chapters because I knew we'd get teasers and hints of the Twilight/Applejack/Pinkie adventure that we might not ever see.

Still, this was an amazing work, and reading it has been one of the highlights of my past few months. This type of world building adventure story has sadly died off since the early days of the fandom, but I can't think of a better story to serve as both an exemplar and probably coda to the genre.

About the epilogue directly, I quite enjoyed the reuniting of both halves of the six. The little details making me wonder what Applejack, Pinkie, and Twilight had gone through. I then found myself looking at the culmination of what Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity looked like after their time from the perspective of the other three.

My thoughts on the overall story is that it is an incredible piece of worldbuilding. You created an entire other people and place that slotted seamlessly into the existing world of MLP without diminishing it in any way. I then got to follow a group of people into the world and experience a series of interconnected stories that constantly left me wanting more, in the best way. Often a tale will wrap up everything in a nice bundle when it ends, there is certainly nothing wrong with this. For myself, I love all the more when a fertile world is left with many seeds waiting to sprout new stories if only someone would record them.

For the peryton themselves, I've rarely seen such an engaging group in any book I've read. The stark differences and underlying similarities between the cities has been a pleasure to learn about. Now that we've left them behind, I find myself spinning up stories in my head about them.


Ah. Yes, that would explain it. Thank you.

First off, thank you for writing this epic journey. I very much enjoyed reading it. Secondly, though I can completely understand that you may not be feeling quite up to writing another epic such as this anytime soon, you have succeeded in raising my interest in what the other half of our Mane 6 have been up to for the three months covered in this story. I would most definitely be interested in reading such a tale, even if it were portrayed by way of drabbles or vignettes. Anyways, once again, awesome work!

It is closing in on 5 am ~doki
This story is just much too :heart: dokidoki :heart: to leave alone and the time between chapters left me in suspense, expecially when I was out of the Internet connection for weeks~doki
This story gets a 10/10, 5 star rating with all the excitement, drama and suspense one can only find from a true writer~doki
God's grace has truly shined on you to have you create such a compelling work of true artistry that can only shine a light on your creative brilliance~doki
All I can say is God bless you on your creative journey and I would love some writing tips if you ever find time to read my poorly grossing attempts at fanfiction~doki

Comment posted by nfreak deleted Apr 16th, 2019

8716730 If this is the author's "There and Back Again" (The Hobbit), wherein we only have the subtle hints of a great evil lurking in the background, what will the "Lord of the Horseshoe" be like, I wonder?

One shoe to buck them all... :rainbowlaugh:

A truly amazing piece of world building. I have to say quite frankly that this is what I'd hoped the television show would do with its world. The story illustrates, quite sadly, the terrible missed potential of the show to develop the characters beyond basic archetypes and send them on journeys to fantastic mythical lands (which was Lauren's original idea for the show, in fact. We chatted quite a bit in 2012, what with me being a producer of the brony documentary with the really long title.)

My sole issue was the intense focus on Dash and Flutter's relationship, mainly because romances bore the heck out of me. :rainbowlaugh: Those parts were quite tough for me to slog through, as it felt to me like the story progression frequently ground to a halt to focus on their interpersonal issues in some chapters. It's very tough to balance a travelogue of this scope with an additionally heavy focus on the relationships of the characters. In general, one should take precedence. I think this story did it better than others I've read which tried to do the same, yet there were still places my eyes glazed over. But then, most people would rather stab themselves through the eyes rather than read through the thousands of biomedical journals I've read in my time. Overall, it managed to hold my interest enough despite the heavy influence of a typical fanfic trope of lesbian ponies. That's saying something, as I've encountered so many utterly dismal and shoddily-written, wish-fulfillment and/or fetishized examples of it... Including Twilight Saga-inspired crap like "50 Shades" which never ceases to infuriate me; not so much that it exists, but that it's made so much money from the porn-loving perverted rubes of this world while amazing stories can't get off the ground... that it usually results in instant 'rage-quit' on my part now when it appears.

I do hope we find out what the heron are up to and what Dark Masters they're serving, because clearly they were up to something in this story and have enough of a danger inherent to them that even Celestia and Luna don't seem willing to give them a second chance. That's BIG OVER-ARCHING PLOT STUFF and the sort of thing that really grabs me in addition to well-crafted narrative and world-building.

8716905 I have decided it is an excellent fic. And if you've seen my critiques on here, I am VICIOUS toward anything that fails my literary standards. I never give out unearned praise for clichés and pandering. This story has only one typical fanon cliché, and it's one that usually annoys the hell out of me. However, the rest of the story is so intricately woven that I was willing to forgive the author's predilection for lesbian pony romance (ponies should really be extinct in fanfics... since apparently 99.9% are exclusively homosexual... except the Princesses... and they should have about a million foals by now. Lol, fanfic sex.) :rainbowlaugh:

Their lesbian because in the actual show have you noticed that the dominant gender is male? Besides, what other pairing would you have for a pony who's a flying gay pride banner?

Fuck. I meant Female

Cloudy, I don't know if you'll ever read this comment, but thank you so much for this story. I was crying at the end, and Alondro sums up my thoughts, "...this is what I'd hoped the television show would do with its world." The story had to come to an end sometime, and it did so in spectacular fashion, neither skipping over the friendships that we grew to care about nor overstaying its time. I know without a doubt that this is a story that I will return to, all 554,079 words of it, and I'm actively looking forward to when I do.

You should be proud of what you accomplished here, it's a task that you did well, and you achieved something special. Thank you for letting me read something that I will treasure. Thank you for helping me fall in love with the characters all over again. Thank you so much for reminding me why I love My Little Pony.

congrats on this creatoin.

8718653 Uhm, so? It's a trope. I find it annoying and repetitive. That is all.

“—which was why we had to stay in Canterlot for a while,” Applejack concluded.

*screams externally*
This requires denoodling!

I've seen this story get posted on EQD a ton, even alongside my own a couple of times, but now that it's done I'm gonna give it a read through. Congrats on getting it finished, btw!

spelling/syntax/that-sort-of-stuff sniffer

I'll add that to my résumé :moustache: Thanks for the mention, I'm really glad I was a part of this :twilightsmile:
The journey was LONG! fun, engaging and... teaching? Teachful? Taughtful? Thought—
It made me think about different perspectives, views, and how I would react in certain situations. :trixieshiftleft:
Thought-provoking! That's the one...

This wasn't only an adventure, word-building, and romance fic. It was, as you said, a story about stories. That is why I'd be okay with you not writing a sister story from the perspective of the other 3 of Mane6. It just wouldn't have the same depth to it, I think... Sounds like a challenge? Good!
Don't get me wrong, I'd read the hell out of it, I want you to write it, but unlike To Perytonia, it would be an adventure, word-building and romance fic.

It was finished before the prologue was posted here, though :raritywink:

Hey, I want a aftermath chapter for this story. Because it will be very cool for what Rarity, Rainbow Dash, & Fluttershy has to tell their friends when they went to Perytonia and all their adventures and stuff. So that will be cool. I know this story is complete, but what's a story without a aftermath chapter.

Oooh back to season 2! I’ll definitely give it a read.

This was an amazing ride, and a great journey, both over geography, cultures, and within and between the ponies themselves.

I'll admit, I was expecting it to go out with more of a "bang"; an epic battle involving some monster conjured by herons or something' so many unanswered questions still, but that's the way real journeys are, usually. (Yours is probably the only epic-length fic featuring Rainbow Dash, and not performing a sonic rainboom!)

I loved how everything came together in the end for the characters though. Because that was really your strong suit throughput the story; the characters. It's very hard for most writers to do good fan-made characters, but yours were fantastic! Each had a different set of personalities, but they still fit within their various city-cultures and also into their own family and inter-personal dynamics, which made them very easy to relate to, even when they weren't like the reader personally. Because they still personified somebody that the reader knew from real life.

Your world-building and mythology were also fantastic!

I would not mind at all if you did a "sequel" featuring Twilight, Pinkie, and Applejack's side of the journey!

I do have one question, though: what happened to Spike?

You rock :yay:

This story was beautifully woven from start to finish.

The motif of synthesizing a bridge across a gulf between the way different people understand things came through loud and clear. Everything in the story was about this motif, from the relationships between Rainbow, Fluttershy, and Rarity to the relationships between them and the peryton, to the relationships between Celestia and Luna and the cultures of old and new. However you never let the concept get stale; you always developed different aspects of the concept (literally) and phrased it in different contexts.

The story grew and evolved as Dash (and Fluttershy and Rarity) grew in their understanding of different understandings, and concluded beautifully with the implicit promise that they would continue to grow after the story ends.

Thank you so much for writing. I thoroughly enjoyed your story after many a tiring day, and I feel like I learned a lot by reading it.

So i uuh left this story for later when all the chapetrs are published.
Now its almost midnight and i see 550k words....
Welp, there goes sleep.:facehoof:

Thank you so much! This is a truly epic tale and has won an instant place in my all time favourites.
You created a whole other continent, filled with adiverse and very well thought out people, complete with an entire history.

Every single chapter was engaging from prologue to epilogue and at times I felt like I knew Perytonia from how well you build their world through your words.

As soon as the notification went out that this was completed, I downloaded it to my phone and binge read the whole thing in 3 days (who needs sleep anyway).

I know that I am far from being alone in my intense desire to know what adventures Twilight, Pinkie and AJ have lived through in the same time period. It sounds like they had a rough time. I hope that someday you write a sister story to this one detailing their exploits (and apparent injuries) as I would glady forego another weekends worth of sleep to read it.

It was a kind of refreshing to read a story with heavy romantic themes, that focuses solely on the emotional aspect of a relationship, rather the delving into the physical side as most stories often do. there isn't even a single kiss, all nuzzles,
Cuddles and a handful of playful licks

I can not praise this story enough, and it will always stay with me. I will end this comment as I began it, with a truly heartfelt thank you to the author.

It was good! Sorry that I can't really offer anything more in-depth than that.

I wish you mentioned what the read speed record was, I got 5-ish days. Could've been 3 maybe but for two of them I was busy, some other time post semester.

Took me longer than I expected. Blame annoying RL stuff :twilightblush:
That's one amazing story. You created a whole new world :yay: I'm bad with comments, so, uhm, thanks for telling the story. It felt so very real :twilightsmile:

It may have taken me a little while to read but that was one of the best stories I have read in a long time:yay:

I read this story as a traveller's tale with a romance. Then there was some personal growth, it switched around, and then again, and then it all joined into an adventure through a distant land with three characters and a supporting cast of many. I liked the world building, I liked the growth and the romance, and I liked that seeing something through a stranger's eyes can be really, really hard.

Incredible :)

This isn't RainbowShy is it

Oh of course. It's been so long since I've read Taken For Granite that I forgot you wrote it!
Of course this story is amazing!

It's times like these I long for a larger English vocabulary to properly portray my absolute love for this fic (luckily I have Google to help me) . Also sorry if my thoughts jump around a bit but I just wanted to mention some random aspects of the story.

I feel dejected about the fact that if not for the fact of Equestria Daily, I probably wouldn't have even come across this fic, or come across it at a much later time. It's unnecessary but it's there.

You've probably read this a lot in the comments by now and it's the same with me, I don't really find mane 6 ships all that appealing to my personal tastes, I don't understand it, but you've turned my perspective.The way your story is paced, how Shy, Rare and Dash are characterised, how they interact with each other and the people around them. It feels real. The hiccups they had during the story I could relate to, and that made this a lot more fun to read.

The most frustrating part of this story can probably be pinpointed to just before and during Vauhorn, where Shy and Dash just sorta talked past each other. I remember having to put my phone down ever 2 sentences just to take deep breaths and tell myself "The resolution will be worth it." over and over :rainbowlaugh: . And worth it it was. Tears are reserved for those fics that drive home the feels, and that last joust did it and was absolutely AMAZING.

Something I realised in your fic about what in regularly do in larger stories is I tend to forget details about earlier parts of the story, I have an overall outline, but pictures missing, like how I forgot earlier names like Phydra, it's not really relevant but just something I noted.

And all I have left to say really is thank you for this awesome read, I will be coming back to this fic in the far future.

Well, four days. Not bad time, eh?
Up on the "short list" bookshelf with this one, and time for another I think.

There's been a couple times where the sun has been shown to rise from the west, or set in the east.
Based on the map, in the first episode they travel North into the Everfree Forest, with the bridge of the Castle running roughly North/South. The windows the sunrise iz shown through are on the left or west side. Cutie Mark Chronicles also has Applejack looking inland for the sunrise rather than over the ocean, or west.
Lesson Zero as well, the sun tracks from left to right with Canterlot in the shot (i.e. facing North).

Great stuff!
Is that an understatement? Should I say amazing stuff? What would Phoreni do?
Did I enjoy the story? I would not say that I thought it any less than wonderful.

After reading this fic, I feel it would be an insult not to leave a comment just to show my thanks for all the time, effort and thought put into this work by all involved.

Until now, Lost and Found was my favourite fanfic that I’ve read, so I’d been following your account, eagerly waiting for more content, when I heard that this was in the works about half a year ago. After returning to the site later, I found that it had all been released, and immediately started reading, two or three chapters per week. Everytime I thought about this fic outside of reading it, I was filled with a great feeling. When I hit chapter 25, I decided that I was not going to sleep until I had finished the book. I did sleep, though, after 40 hours, so that I could concentrate enough on the last three chapters. And, what can I say? Not to offend Lost and Found, but this beats it by a long shot, and it might be the best fanfic ever written, for all I can say. I had no Idea what you could do with large-scale literature before reading this, surpassing my expectations of a fanfic, and of any sort of book for that matter. This is certainly crafted with so much detail, not just in the world that surrounds the ponies, nor just the ponies themselves, but how the themes throughout the story, link all of that together, with perfect setups, metaphors, and the philosophies of the different peryton cities. It might just break the site if I were to state and analyse the whole story, and it wouldn’t make sense to just repeat the story’s techniques, when you can simply read the story. This is definitely one that I will reread in the future.

Not that it counts as fanart, though I’d love to make some in the future, I couldn’t help but map out the ponies’ surroundings as I read. There are many inaccuracies present, of course, and I can see many of them myself, including, but not limited to the scale and my representation of bow, but I tried my best with what I read. In most cases, lighter colours mean higher up, with the exception of the forests.

(Pretty rough, might do another)

(Sorry for using a season 8 map for a season 2 story!)

(I think i might have exaggerated the pottery cove in the top right, but I liked the idea of being able to look down at it through an opening in the wall of the kitchen)

(Those rooms aren't very developed!)

The ponies were so very well represented here, and, as importantly, the peryton themselves. I hadn’t heard of Peryton before reading, as I suppose many hadn’t either, and without being aware of your deviantart, I often looked at this piece of art for an idea of their appearance while reading: cdna.artstation.com/p/assets/images/images/001/030/780/large/francisco-iglesias-perianez-peryton-fantasy-animal-bestiarium-deer-eagle-wings-horns-ciervo-aguila-mostruo-bestiario-cuernos-dragonesymazmorras-dungeonsanddragons-rol-d-d-fanta.jpg
Certainly, a splendid job was done by giving each city it’s loveable characters that manage to bond with the ponies through their culture gaps, that ultimately give them a better understanding of Perytonia as they go on. Each main character had their own arc, and it was wonderful to see these overlap with the other main struggles of the plot: getting in contact with the perytons, through both inviting them to Equestria, and through their struggle to understand the uses of the same language. With this story, at several points, I found myself reading it out loud, doing my best imitations of the character’s voices, as I was just so invested with them. Is there some sort of pronunciation guide for the peryton's names? Some of those, I found particularly difficult (I’m looking at you Deimesa!), yet I was still able to recall most of them by the end, due to that emotional connection associated with each.

And the end. Wow, the end. Their journey’s over, and as we travel back through Perytonia, revisiting each city, even Askonya, through the rainfall, I felt the most wonderful feeling of remembering all their journeys north, almost as if Odasthan had wormed into my heart, and produced rain of my eyes. And I could feel that of Rainbow Dash’s own when they are alerted of the airship come to collect them. Yes, I cried multiple times towards the end of this story. I cried twice in the epilogue. When they finally returned home, and bonded with their other half, who had gone on a journey themselves, I really felt the essence of friendship between the three and how they had bonded, and the six as a whole. It made me really think: “Friendship IS magic” just like the show was always there for. I can tell you, the reunion certainly wouldn’t have the effect it did, without the casual mentions of Applejack, Twilight and Pinkie every so often, that felt so natural. And secondly, I cried when I read the Author’s Note. I feel like there is a depth to the story that I missed the first time reading it, but the note at the end gives a meaning to all of the themes and the story as a whole, that I haven’t seen in many other places. What is the story about? Well, there are bound to be many answers for that, and that’s the whole point and I love its presentation here.

I certainly enjoyed reading this story, but I enjoyed, too, reading the comments after each chapter. Though the use of the word “frustrating” was, well, frustrating, there, it was really interesting to see the interpretations, jokes, and theories present. And I wonder if that shares some of the mentality of the fic itself. I love the cover art, I must say, on the topic of the medium, though it did keep me worried about Rarity’s foreleg. It’s a shame that this story doesn’t have more readers than it does! And I really hope that doesn’t dissuade you from making the obvious other tale everyone's after, cause I wanna know what they hay happened to the other three.

Sorry for the long comment, everyone!

Edit: I did do some fan art!

I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. This fic is great. I really hope you understand that.

Bravo, Cloudy Skies. Bravo

Not only have you managed to write a story with a completely alien culture and backstory and bring said culture to life, you also managed to throw in some pretty impressive character development! And who can forget the drama, either?!

Gonna say, I was expecting a story on the exploration of a new land and people. What I wasn't expecting was a story that would end up exploring relationships in the process.

Again, bravo. You deserve it.

I have just finished reading this. I saw this on my radar about two months ago and added it to my "Read Later" menu. A month ago I began reading it - culminating in me finishing the last seven chapters in a 12 hour period.

I loved this story so much. Your descriptions lacked for nothing - painting a stellar image of a whole new untapped world into my mind without me ever losing the immersion it had built up. I felt really invested in this new continent with all these different people - all of whom were unique and didn't feel re-hashed or recycled. Whilst I couldn't claim to remember their names off by heart with the exception of a few, the impact their presence made was what mattered.

On top of the amazing world building and side-characters, you were able to make a small cast of three - characters everyone is very familiar - into three ponies who each have a very deep well of emotions, development and conflict. The resolution between Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash remains my most favourite moment in this whole story. I could taste the passion and feel the electricity between this. And you did ALL of this without going too overboard into the romantic. There were no overdone kissy scenes (I don't even recall the word being used) and all the affection was very gentle and heartwarming instead of cringey. They felt like REAL people. Real best friends.

Each chapter I finished I would skim the comments and see people getting a bit frustrated with the blindingly obvious of how Perytonian society functioned. I never felt this. I knew that I come from a privileged perspective where we are exposed to many different cultures - and was able to see that the Ponies in Equestria wouldn't necessarily have this understanding - and that what they knew felt almost absolute, thus making it harder for them to understand until experiencing it.

No matter how much I write. I can never do this story justice. I picked this up thinking it'd be a nice cute Flutterdash fiction and what I got was so much more. I will definitely read this again - heck it's even making me want to break out my tablet and draw something for it. I have read many stories on this website over the last 6 years and this one has cemented itself as, if not my most favourite and inspirational one, then at least in the top three.

I know you were disappointed in the lack of attention this got. But from the bottom of my heart I say - and to quote Luna:

I thank you.

I think it really helps enjoy /any/ ship if it's well written enough for there to be character depth and immersion. Really lets you get invested in the characters and /care/. And it takes a writer with some skill and knowledge to pull it off and keep it feeling fresh and interesting.

You tooootally should do some art! Help us swamp Cloudy with pretty pictures :3

WOah, that's absolutely awesome! "Nothing amazing"?? This is too great!

That's preeeetty amazing! XD Definitely awesome, and keep up the awesome arts! (Assuming you have fun with it) :3

Oh man. You had to pull me back in here and give me flashbacks, didn't you? I think this was as far as I got before giving up the story, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Cloudy has a good sense for world-building, and I'll agree that Fluttershy's story was wonderful.

I will also agree that these protags have rocks for brains, and that he has a tendency to draw out certain things for tens of thousands of words longer than they require (miscommunication plot, prison, a certain "mystery" that was solved by the audience on day 1...).

I was right; you are good at this. Revisiting all the friends they made in the different cities, without any external pressures on them, was a great, satisfying way to cap off this story, and it's good to also get a glimpse of the rest of the Mane 6 and the return to life back home. I've seen excellent stories whose writers absolutely did not know how to write an ending that leaves the reader feel that their time was well-spent. This is definitely not a flaw you share.

I'm glad I stuck with the story, though I wish you'd made it a little easier to get to this point. It's no good to focus all your efforts on the big payoff at the end; you need to give people enough sustenance to get there. This was very nearly too hard to last through all the way to the end for me. If I wasn't familiar with your other work and knew for absolute certain that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I don't think I could have made it.

It's also unfortunately true that the darkness and long stretches of contrived idiocy (honestly, mostly this) will make it unlikely that I ever re-read this story in full. I don't think I could make myself suffer through those ~30 chapters from this willfully blind version of Rainbow's perspective again. The lack of insight into other cultures was only mildly frustrating on the whole, and I don't think it's worth complaining about. This story was a very effective portrayal of the difficulties inherent in trying to understand alien cultures, and I don't mind you going a little beyond what's reasonable at times to make your point.

No, my biggest gripe is that for the majority of the story, our pony protagonists (mostly Rainbow) fail to be true to themselves, to exemplify those best parts of themselves that make them such a joy to watch in the show's episodes or read about in other stories.

Stories, for me, are escapism. I want my protagonists to be just a little bit better than we often manage to be in our own lives, with forthright communication instead of tragic misunderstandings, determination instead of apathy, and just a little bit of serendipity every now and then instead of circumstances conspiring against them. I like my stories to be full of optimism, with characters who try to overcome their flaws instead of succumbing to them.

I think that still leaves plenty of room for both external and internal conflicts. Heroes need challenges to overcome, and that applies just as much to the kind of stories I like. If a more able protagonist needs greater challenges to make the struggle feel worthwhile, then that's only fair. But it's the challenge that should to be tailored to the hero, not the other way around. If the plot you have in mind is too easily solved by a character with a baseline level of competence, then I firmly believe that the plot is what must be adjusted every time, not the character's competence.

The lack of adherence to this principle is what made the middle parts of this story such an ordeal. Rainbow spent almost the entire time blinkering herself to what's going on in her own thoughts and psyche, and frequently enough also to what's going on around her. As someone who values awareness of both self and surroundings, I find this impossible to relate to.

Rarity seems underutilized, too focused on her fashion efforts to the point she became almost one-dimensional, with few chances for her characteristic determination and generous soul to shine. In certain stretches I was uncomfortably reminded of how she was portrayed in Legend of Everfree, which I think is pretty damning given how good of a writer you are. Rainbow's narrative tunnel vision sure didn't help with her portrayal.

EDIT: Okay, I guess the struck-out part isn't really fair. It's obvious enough that she is distracted and consumed by her own worries, not just running around cheerfully going "Fashion, fashion, fashion!". Still, I don't see much purpose in writing her to be this obsessed. It doesn't really make the big failure of recognizing the nature of Perytonia as a loose collection of city states any worse. It just deprives us of the most worthwhile parts of Rarity's character, same as Rainbow's characterization through much of the story.

Fluttershy's portrayal seems the least objectionable. While I think that part of the blame for the relationship problems must rest with her, not just Rainbow Dash, I found it easy to see that Fluttershy was trying her best to make it work and occasionally muster up her courage and communicate her dissatisfaction. It's not one of her strengths, but if Rainbow had been anything resembling receptive, it would have been enough to open a dialogue.

I have faith that you could have made the challenges of this story work without suppressing our heroes' most admirable qualities to such a degree. I don't understand why you didn't, why you chose to compromise characterization over your plot. The heartache this results in sucks a lot of the potential for enjoyment out of the story and forever puts the status of a story that can be re-read several times out of reach, at least for me.

If I do re-read it, I'll probably start with the private joust between Rainbow and Fluttershy, near the end of the story. From that point, it's like a switch is flipped - characters are allowed to be competent, communicate clearly, and Rainbow finally notices what goes on around her and acknowledges what is going on inside her. Rarity finally fulfills her role as a diplomat (and nails it, of course), and Fluttershy finally gets across to Rainbow what she wants their relationship to be. I wish you'd left a few more of the story's challenges for after they got their shit together. I'm surprised the thing with the herons left hanging, but I guess that's fine - that's not what the story is about.

If this is where you quit, I think you should give it another shot. It's only 1-2 more chapters until it all turns around, and things are great from there on out. The worst part is already behind you, and the big payoff is close. If you've read Cloudy's other stories, you know that he is good at writing satisfying endings, and this one is absolutely worth it, though I still think the price of admission was too high. But like I said, if you've made it this far, you've already paid most of it.

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