• 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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Chapter 5

A quick note for myself before bed: Tomorrow, or whenever a moment of opportunity arises, I think I might have a word with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy each in private.

I’m of course thrilled that two of my very best friends are taking an interest in each other, and I think it’s important to tell them that I support them one hundred percent. At times, I worry that Rainbow Dash comes on a little strong at times, but then, that is quintessentially... Rainbow.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything about that in particular. Then again, I am sure Rainbow Dash will take my meaning well, even if she does not enjoy hearing it. She is hardly the type of pony to fly off the handle at or obsess over simple advice.


Well, that chat went about as well as expected. Maybe I should strike this out? No. Even if I do feel very silly right now, crossed-out text is so very unsightly.

Though the day came to a close, light still lingered when they entered what Dash refused to call a forest. The thin, ash-like trees and the darker, top-heavy ones both failed to provide anything like the Whitetail Woods’ canopy. What was the point of trees at all if they didn’t block out the sun?

Even if she hadn’t held a grudge against the little patch of woods for refusing to provide proper shade, it was a ‘forest’ in the same way apple bobbing was a sport, a half-league’s stretch worth of trees providing a footnote to the vast expanse of green to their northwest. Every time she took to the air, the forest in the distance seemed as vast and solid as the mountains further west.

If she still had her turn with the cart, Dash could’ve moved straight ahead off the road and closed her eyes, knowing she probably wouldn’t hit any trees for a good minute or two. No, it wasn’t a forest. Just like Fluttershy hadn’t stopped their cart in front of a brook.

“Rivers are big, brooks are small. This is not a brook,” Dash said. “It’s not complicated.”

“This might be a brook to the peryton,” Fluttershy suggested, dipping a hoof in the flowing water. It had to be at least eighty paces across, Dash guessed. Or three solid flaps of the wings and a good glide. “I thought brooks were supposed to be streams you can cross on hoof without trouble,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe their wagons can make it across, or they make rafts? Either way, I don’t think our cart will make it.”

Rarity shrugged. “This was beneath their notice regardless, and it is here now. If the map is supposed to show all major rivers, this is not one of them.” As happy as Rarity was to discuss the water ahead, she hadn’t moved a single hoof. The unicorn lay down in the softer grass by the bank the moment Fluttershy stopped, now resting her hooves in the water with her eyes closed.

“Yeah. Doesn’t matter anyway,” Dash said, flexing her wings. “It’s not a problem for us. We can just fly across, even if they can’t.”

“And what makes you say they can’t?” asked Rarity, popping an eye open.

“Because if they could fly their wagons, why would they use roads?” Dash countered.

“Indeed, why are we using the roads, then?” asked Rarity, raising a brow, turning around to look at their cart for a half-second before she answered her own question. “Well, I don’t suppose there is anywhere to sit.”

“Yeah, duh,” said Dash, snorting. “That was like… the first thing I thought about when we left the city.”

“And besides,” said Fluttershy. “I think flying in this heat would be very hard. A lot harder than walking.” She wandered all the way up to the water, leaning down close. A fish popped its head up and stared back at her.

“And that,” said Dash, frowning.

“Are chariots pegasus magic, then?” asked Rarity. “I never thought about it.”

“Uh, I don’t really know what’s ‘magic’, I think it’s really just, eh.” Dash paused, scrabbling for words.

“Technique?” Fluttershy suggested, though she didn’t sound entirely sure either. “I guess the peryton don’t know how to do it. Their wagons didn’t look like they were made for flying.”

“Yeah. Maybe they have pegasus magic, maybe they don’t, maybe they all have some magic that lets them walk on water, I don’t know, but I don’t think they fly their carts anywhere. They’re terrible fliers—”

“Rainbow Dash, that’s rude!” Rarity chided.

“—but as I said, it doesn’t matter,” Dash finished. “We can get this baby across in no-time.” She gave the cart a tap. Fluttershy began loosening the harness, presumably to let Rainbow Dash take the cart over as the strongest flier present. It made a lot of sense.

“Hey, hang on,” Dash said. Fluttershy paused with her teeth on one of the straps and one brow raised in question. “Why don’t you take it across?” Dash asked. “You’ve flown your own cart around before, haven’t you?”

Fluttershy loosened the final strap and stepped out of the harness even as she nodded. “Well, yes, but never with more than a few small animals in it. I usually just pull it if it’s fully loaded. This cart is a lot heavier than anything I’ve ever flown with before.” She looked at the cart with the chest, their supplies, the saddlebags, the heavy water jugs and all.

Dash tilted her head. “So you don’t even do any funneling, you just hold it up on the weight of the harness?”

“Um, yes?” Fluttershy asked more than she answered.

Rainbow Dash scratched at her own snout. Sure, she could do it herself. It would be the simplest thing in the world. Fly the cart across, pick up Rarity and ferry her over as well. Done in a minute.

“New plan. I’m not doing it. You’re doing it,” Dash declared.

Fluttershy lay her ears flat and shrank back a little. “Oh. I, um, I really don’t think I should.”

“Why not?” Dash asked.

Fluttershy scuffed the ground with a hoof. “The cart is really heavy. What if I drop it?”

Rarity let out a sigh. “Rainbow, dear, would you please just fly the cart across?”

“You won’t drop it! You can do it, and come on, you seriously haven’t lifted a cart by funneling before? It’s awesome, and you need to try it!” said Dash. And because I’d really like to see you do it, she thought.

Fluttershy shook her head, glancing nervously back at Rarity. “No, really, I think it’s a bad idea. I’m probably going to land too hard. It’s okay.”

“Fluttershy, just stop worrying so much and try,” Dash said, laughing. “I know you know how, you just haven’t tried it.” She stepped up to the cart and nudged the straps of the harness apart a little, grinning at Fluttershy.

Again Fluttershy shook her head, but she looked at the harness, at least, even if she took a step back and hid behind her mane. “No, I don’t think—”

“You do think! That’s the problem,” Dash said, pulling the cart a little closer to Fluttershy. “You need to not think for a second. You can totally do this! Just funnel the draft from your wings under the cart, stronger on the downbeat than usual, but don’t overdo it. Come on!”

Fluttershy sighed, one eye on the ground and a hoof poking at the dirt. Rarity shook her head in the corner of Dash’s vision, and Rainbow Dash didn’t care. Fluttershy needed to know she could do this. She would love it.

“I’ll be right behind you,” Dash said, smiling at her, and now she knew for sure Fluttershy would say yes. The other pegasus nibbled her lower lip, wavering. “Give it a try. You got this. I’ll take the cart over the next hundred rivers or whatever, just try it once.”

It took a minute to get Fluttershy fastened securely. It took another two to convince her that she didn’t need that much runway, and that no, there were no rocks on the path leading up to the edge of the brook, river, whatever it is. Rainbow Dash heard Fluttershy swallow nervously, watched her spread her wings, furl them, then spread them again. All her feathers were in order, and she looked great—ready to go.

“And you’re sure—”

“I got your back,” Dash said with mock exasperation, smiling at her. She nodded towards the opposite bank.

Fluttershy started off right into a gallop. The contents of the cart shifted precariously with the sudden jolt, but she bolted off, and Dash grinned as she bolted up as well. When Fluttershy went, she really went. The yellow pegasus’ wings worked hard, her beats powerful yet somehow still imbued with grace that Rainbow Dash had never seen in another pegasus.

She soared across the water in a perfect arc, and Rainbow Dash felt her heart surge. No backwards glances, Fluttershy simply did it, with only one small hiccup. Halfway across the water, a too-strong stroke of Fluttershy’s wings gave the cart a little jump and something fell over the rim. Dash followed the glimmer of glass with her eyes as it fell, remembering that she was supposed to be right behind Fluttershy, not stare like an idiot. Right.

Rainbow Dash outraced Rarity’s startled exclamation. In truth, it all happened at the same time, and Dash didn’t know if Rarity reacted to the explosion of dust from Rainbow Dash’s take-off, or if she’d also seen the bottle fall. Dash’s wings went from rest to ache as she shot away, sketching a rainbow trail from one side of the water to the other, skidding across the opposite bank and kicking up dirt a split-second later, the precious cargo clutched between a foreleg and her chest.

Fluttershy touched down next to her half a moment later and brought the cart to an abrupt stop, the cargo rattling with the impact.

“Did I—oh no, I dropped something?” Fluttershy asked. She let out a gasp and turned to look over her own back, then over at Rainbow Dash.

“Nah. I said I got you covered,” Dash said. She brushed some dust from her coat and shook out her mane, but Fluttershy’s eyes were fastened upon the bottle she held.

“That’s the dragonfire. That could have been terrible!” Fluttershy said, her voice thin. “If I had dropped it—I could have ruined everything! What if I crashed the entire cart into the river? I was so scared! That was terrifying!” she said, her chest heaving with rapid breath.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and walked over to the cart, tucking the bottle into Rarity’s saddlebags. “Oh, come on,” she said. “That could have happened to anypony. Relax!”

Fluttershy did anything but relax, but Rainbow Dash held her gaze for a moment, smiling confidently until the panicked breaths subsided, at least. When Fluttershy finally looked away, it was to stare at her own fully spread wings like she didn’t believe in their existence, her eyes big and her muzzle parted in an incredulous smile.

“I did it,” she said. “I, oh—oh my goodness, I did it!” she added, a little louder.

Now Rainbow Dash let herself grin in earnest, laughing out loud. She held out a hoof for a bump. “Hay yeah you did,” Dash said. “I told you you’ve got it. That was awesome!”

Fluttershy ignored the hoof and leaned over to lay her neck against Rainbow Dash’s, hugging her close with a foreleg, squeezing with more strength than Dash had expected.

Rainbow Dash hugged back. Fluttershy’s heart still hammered in her chest, and Dash could feel it. She also knew her own heart beat just as fast, and not from the near-accident. Far cooler than any little save-the-day stunt of her own, Fluttershy proving just how awesome she was—even if just by a little cart-flying—that made her hooves tingle just like she’d won any number of prizes.

“Are you quite done? Is this ‘moment’ going to go on much longer?” asked Rarity, her voice carrying across from the far bank. “Because it’s a little exclusionary with me all the way over here, I feel!”

“Sorry!” Dash called, laughing, and she let go of the still-giggling Fluttershy.

“I’m sorry I nearly dropped the dragonfire,” Fluttershy said.

“It all worked out, darling, I don’t see the issue,” Rarity replied. “And congratulations on… a very good-looking flight? Could one of you come pick me up?” she asked, tilting her head.

Fluttershy shook her head, though the smile still lingered. “It was no big deal. I’m sure any pegasus can do it, really, but thank you.”

“Pft, yeah, sure,” said Dash, a little lower so just Fluttershy would hear. “Flying a cart loaded with a bunch of junk without wind is one thing, but the takeoff and the land isn’t easy, and you did it.” She flashed Fluttershy a private little smile, and from the look on Fluttershy’s face, the other pegasus didn’t need convincing. She still glowed.

Ferrying Rarity across took no time at all. As awkward as it was to carry someone on her back, it was a short enough flight—barely a jump for Rainbow Dash, all told, and she took Rarity’s turn with the cart just to get them moving again. Though the little break and a drink from the brook helped a little, Rarity had enough trouble keeping up today even without pulling the cart.

Dash said nothing. When the sun faded from view, they badly needed the light from Rarity’s horn. None of them wanted to trip on a rock in the dark, and there were plenty of small pits in the road that could badly hurt a leg.

“Careful,” said Rarity, pulling the scarf tighter around her neck. “There’s a hole there.”

“I see it,” said Fluttershy. “There are some very sharp rocks, too. Maybe try the left side of the road?”

“Got it,” Dash replied, yawning. She closed her eyes for a second, the cart rattling when it bumped against something.

“If the next hole in the road is a little larger, I may just lie down and have a nap in it,” Rarity muttered. “I swear, every step I’ve taken may just be my last.”

They all wanted to stop. Fluttershy had taken to flying to rest her legs and worried for Rarity’s sake about the cold, and Rainbow Dash had had enough of pulling the cart. She was tired, too. What drove the trio on was Fluttershy’s theory that the peryton had more of these rest stops. Sleeping under the open sky with all this wind would make even a pegasus cold, at least in winter. If the peryton had made a statue as a natural rest stop about a day’s journey from Orto, they might have made more.

Rainbow Dash was just about to suggest that they give up on that idea when they mounted a hill and spotted the glow of a campfire just down the road. She poked Rarity in the side and sped up a little, and her friends followed suit, trotting towards the promise of warmth and rest.

The campsite rested near a small wooden bridge that spanned a gap in the seaside cliffs. It looked like a giant pony had dragged a hoof from the beach and so far inland that Dash couldn’t see its end in the darkness, a tear from sea into land. The bridge was in good repair, but the shelter was not. Even before they got close, Rainbow Dash could see that the shelter-statue, otherwise identical to the last one, missed one of its four wings. A broken-off section of stone wing lay nearby, and a large wagon stood parked by the road.

“It’s broken,” Dash said, frowning. “What’s up with that?”

“It is still quite a bit better than nothing,” Rarity said as they slowed down on approach, though the unicorn looked like she’d settle for a ditch. Her eyes were half closed, and she winced with every step. They were down to a slow walk now, peering curiously ahead. Obviously, they weren’t alone.

“Um, maybe we should say hello, first, and ask if they don’t mind sharing?” Fluttershy whispered.

Dash stepped into the campsite proper. No one minded the fire outside, but an antlered head poked out from the cover of the damaged statue.

“Hey!” Dash called.

“Hello,” said the shadow in a low and clear voice. Dash could see more shapes inside, two of them moving about.

“Do you mind if we borrow your fire?” Dash asked.

“Unless to run away with it, you are free. If you would put some wood on, twice better.” The head disappeared.

“Cool. Thanks,” Dash said. She waited for a reply, but the person inside said no more. Clearly they were less chatty than the other peryton they’d met. She glanced at her friends. Rarity stood with her eyes closed, shivering. Fluttershy poked Dash in the side with the tip of one of her wings, giving her a little nudge.

“Oh yeah. Is there room for us in there, too?” Dash asked.

“Selyria judges none who desire rest,” came the reply, the speaker hidden from view now. “But please, lower your voice. Some of us sleep.”

“Alright,” Dash said. She looked at Fluttershy again, but she was no help, busy gently easing Rarity to lie down by the fire. Rainbow Dash cleared her throat. “That’s… a yes?” she tried, a little more quiet.

“It is a ‘yes’.”


Dash let their cart rest where it stood, and grabbed a bag off the top. She tossed it to the ground next to Rarity.

“Eat,” Dash said.

“Darling, eating is the last thing on my mind right now,” Rarity murmured.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t eat last time we stopped either. You’ve got to be hungry.” Dash stepped back over to the cart and filled a bowl of water as best as she could, trying not to spill. The jugs were awkwardly large and clearly not made for ponies without magic.

“Eating hurts,” Rarity said with a soul-wracking sigh. “Everything hurts.”

“Tough. Eat,” Dash repeated, taking a sip from the water bowl before she placed it in front of her friends.

Rarity looked about to protest, but before she got a word out, Fluttershy scooted a little closer and nuzzled the unicorn to divert her attention. She held up a herb-laden cake-like thing, and Rarity levitated it over for a bite with a sour look of resignation.

Rainbow Dash let out a sigh of relief, glad for Fluttershy’s help. Maybe Rarity was right. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash made a good team in moments like these. Dash doubted she’d win a shouting match with Rarity, and didn’t have a follow-up if she refused to eat. For all the unicorn’s expertise with all the talky stuff, she didn’t seem to understand that she needed to eat if she was going to keep on the move.

Rainbow Dash tossed some wood onto the fire, some of it driftwood, some of it what few dead branches they found in the little patch of forest. Satisfied, she stretched and lay down next to Fluttershy.

Rarity was all kinds of smart as long as it didn’t come to athletics, really. Unless something had prompted her to be dramatic, unless she was crying or had that manic gleam in her eye that bespoke an excess of inspiration, the stuff Rarity said was usually right. She wasn’t wrong in saying that Rainbow Dash could be pushy earlier today either. Probably.

Pushy. Whatever. It was a dumb word, but Dash knew what she meant. Saying that Twilight was an egghead—and she totally was—just meant that Twilight read a lot of books. Rainbow Dash didn’t mind the assertion that she could be a little forceful, but the idea that Dash acted unfairly towards Fluttershy? That annoyed her.

It wasn’t even the fact that Rarity had said it. It had nothing to do with Rarity, and it wasn’t Rarity’s fault, Dash had just never really thought about it like that. Sure, she’d seen that Fluttershy was uncomfortable with the idea of trying to fly their cart over the river earlier today, but it didn’t matter so long as Dash knew Fluttershy would be happy in the end—and she had been!

Even now, Rainbow Dash couldn’t forget the way Fluttershy lit up when she landed and stopped worrying. Dash also remembered how good she herself had felt when Fluttershy pulled it off on the first try. She grinned and looked over at Fluttershy. She imagined she could feel the pride still radiating off her, even if it didn’t show. Fluttershy leaned down for another sip of water, then looked up at Dash in question.

“A bit for your thoughts?” Fluttershy asked, smiling. On the other side of her, Rarity rested her head atop Fluttershy’s back, already fast asleep.

“Just thinking about the most awesome cart flight Perytonia has seen,” Dash replied, shrugging. Fluttershy blushed ever so slightly and shook her head.

“If they don’t fly their wagons, it’s probably the only cart flight Perytonia has ever seen.”

“That doesn’t make what I said wrong,” Dash retorted, her grin widening, and Fluttershy giggled in reply. There was no trace of the panic that Fluttershy had shown right after landing, only cheeks tinted pink and a laughter she desperately tried to quell so as to not wake their friend or the sleeping peryton.

It took Rainbow Dash forever to fall asleep between the sharp snoring from two of the peryton and all the other strange new noises. Insects and animals sung, chittered and made all sorts of noise that the rain must’ve masked or stopped the day before. The only familiar sounds were her friends’ steady breathing, occasionally drowned out by random gusts of wind that cut through the missing stone wing of the statue. Dash leaned over to give Rarity a little more blanket. The cold wasn’t half as big a deal for a pegasus, at least.

She had no idea exactly what she dreamed, but that was mostly because nothing new happened. She’d had a blast fighting hordes of changelings again, so there was nothing important to remember. No visit from Princess Luna, and no manticores frozen in time. The only detail that stuck around was that part of the sky was open. Of course, the sky was always open, but one section had simply been more open than the rest. It didn’t scare her or worry her—it didn’t even make her curious. It just was.

Rainbow Dash woke first, and that was a new experience all right. Their little nook of the stone shelter hadn’t changed at all since she closed her eyes: Fluttershy and Rarity lay tucked in under the blanket sleeping soundly just like they had done when Dash finished packing up their food last night. The three lay opposite the missing wing of the statue, a respectful distance away from where four peryton had slept in two pairs. They were gone now, but Dash heard voices outside. Yawning, Dash snuck out from underneath the blanket and trotted out into the open.

“Good morning,” she said, waving at the peryton.

“Good sun to you,” one of them replied, nodding matter-of-factly to her. The grey peryton—a doe, judging by her mono-coloured wings and short tail-feathers—shook out and folded a blanket while her companions rearranged some weirdly shaped jugs on the back of their cart.

“Where are you guys headed?” Dash asked, smiling at her. “Are you going north to Stagrum, too? Maybe we’re heading the same way?”

The doe gave her a long, scrutinising look, and then turned her eyes on their cart. For a moment, Dash thought she wasn’t going to reply at all.

“You do not look like competition, I don’t think,” said the doe. “You are not traders?”

“What? No,” Dash said, frowning. “We’re, well, uh, ‘diplomats’, I guess.” The word felt odd and ungainly. Decidedly uncool. She wished she’d said they were on a secret mission instead. Too late.

“Ah,” the peryton said. “Well. Then, no. We are from Stagrum, and we make for Orto. We are in trade, but I will not give you details beyond this.”

“O-kayy?” Dash said, raising a brow. “You look different from them.”

And they did. It wasn’t just the fact that the doe’s tail-feathers were muted compared to the painted and exaggerated spectrums of the festival-ready peryton in Orto. Where the peryton they had seen so far walked naked save for their paints and scarves, this doe and her companions were clad not in clothes, but in a myriad of trinkets. She had gold, silver and jade hoops through her small ears, delicate chains like a spiderweb between the prongs of her antlers, and curious bangles around the base of her tail and wings.

“Yes. As I said, we are from Stagrum,” the peryton said. Dash waited for her to elaborate, but she turned and continued packing. Dash snorted and shuffled her wings, trotting over to a stag who stomped at the embers of the campfire with his powerful hind-claws.

“Hey, name’s Rainbow Dash! What’s yours?”

“Anhast,” said the stag. This one gave Dash a smile in return, at least. “Though I will keep my house to myself, with pardons to you. You are no peryton. Diplomats, you said?”

“Yep!” Dash said. “We’re ponies from Equestria. We’re on our way to Cotronna. You ever been there?”

Anhast shook his head with a rustle of silver from his antler-decor. “No, I travel this road and a few others. I am sorry, I should not answer too many questions.”

“Why?” Dash asked, drawing back. “Do you think we’re spies or something?”

The stag laughed a harsh, cawing laugh, cleaning the soot off his claws in the dirt. “No, not at all, unless this is a very unusual and unsubtle act of espionage, but all words on trade are secret-bound. All know this. It aids in keeping trade fair. There is no malice in this.”

“Right,” said Dash. “I don’t know that, but okay.”

“Discussing most anything else is fine, Rainbow Dash,” said Anhast, smiling toothily. “And I can tell you favour Daros’ stories, but we must be moving soon.”

“Alright, cool,” Dash said, nodding. She was sure she had a thousand things she should ask, but nothing really sprung to mind. She looked about, and her eyes fell upon the broken statue behind them. “Hey, so, these statues, are they everywhere?”

“Selyria? Her story echoes throughout the land.” He followed Dash’s gaze. “You will find her shelter a sun’s travel apart along the main roads. She will accept diplomat and trader, peryton and pony, if that is your kind. Please do not quarrel under her gaze.”

Rainbow Dash scratched at her own snout. “So, uh. That’s a yes? There’s one statue every day?”

“That is ‘yes’,” Anhast said, nodding. “And most of them are whole, unlike this one.”

“What happened to this statue, anyway?” Dash asked, staring at the broken-off wing on the ground. She received no reply right away. Anhast stared at the large stone shell with obvious concern.

“Oh come on, is that some ‘trade’ secret, too?” Dash asked, tapping her hoof impatiently.

“No, not at all,” Anhast said, shaking his head. “I simply do not know. This is the second defaced stele I have seen this year. They have stood for a long time. It is not weather, and I do not know what would drive anyone to do this.”

Dash snorted. “Well, that’s stupid. Kinda ruins the point of keeping the wind out, if that’s what they are for.”

Anhast nodded vacantly, looking over his shoulder to meet the gaze of the doe Dash had tried to talk to earlier. The two remaining stags were fastening themselves to the wagon, tightening their harnesses with a glimmer of magic while they chatted. “Are we ready to go?” Anhast asked.

“Waiting for the last one of us,” the doe returned.

“Well, then I must go,” the stag said. When his three companions started moving he craned his neck in a peryton bow to Dash, his muzzle flat against his neck. “Tell the tales of Phostos, Daros and Khylari with your steps.”

“I don’t know what any of that is,” Dash said, trying not to let her annoyance show. “Seeya!”

Anhast gave a warbling laugh as he went. “Fair trade, daring ventures and lines drawn in the sand, Rainbow Dash. Farewell!”

Rainbow Dash had to fight her urge to wake Rarity and Fluttershy. Every instinct she had, every fiber of her body wanted to move. A quick dive to explore the narrow gulch below the bridge was good for a few minutes of almost-excitement, but hardly a challenge. There was nothing to do. Rainbow Dash was trying to decide whether to trip over her friends or crash into the statue by “accident” when Fluttershy stuck her head outside, rubbing at her eyes.

“Good morning,” said Fluttershy, blinking heavily. “Did the peryton leave already?”

“Yep,” said Dash. “I guess they’re early birds or something. You know, just like me.” She chuckled at her own lame joke, glancing over at Fluttershy when she sat down next to her. “I think the last time I woke up before you was before the final flight exam at juniors level.”

Fluttershy’s muzzle curved in a trace of a smile. “I don’t really think that counts. You didn’t sleep at all. And Twilight said you were there at library opening hour when the last Daring Do novel came out.”

“Heh, yeah, okay, but I bet you were up before then anyway. Library opening hour isn’t exactly at sunrise, you know—”

“And every cider season,” Fluttershy added.

“And—uh. Yeah, okay, that doesn’t count, either,” Dash said, flicking her ears.

Fluttershy made a noncommittal hum, looking over at the statue. She re-settled her wings on her back and got up, stretching her legs out, and Dash sighed internally. She had meant to say something about getting going, but she could see that Fluttershy’s movements were still stiff, and that meant Rarity would probably be aching even worse.

“I’m sure she’ll feel better soon,” Fluttershy said, echoing Rainbow Dash’s thoughts. Maybe she’d seen Rainbow Dash looking in the direction of the sleeping unicorn, a snippet of tail visible through the closest opening of the statue.

“Yeah,” said Dash. “You’re okay, though?”

“I’m okay,” Fluttershy repeated with a faint smile. “Probably not a lot more than okay, if I have to be honest, but it’ll get better. For all of us. We just need to get used to it if we’re gonna travel for a while.”

Dash nodded emptily at that. She was used to being tired, she was used to working hard, but she definitely wasn’t used to travelling all day like this. Only now did she notice that she had a faint outline around her body where the girth of the harness went. She touched a hoof to it, and winced at how sore she felt.

“If you look at the map, we’ll be travelling for more than a while, actually,” Fluttershy went on, the pegasus’s eyes pointed north, past the gulch and to the coastal road that stretched on and on. “The road to Stagrum is the shortest one.”

Fluttershy had the same faint ring around the front of her barrel, right behind her forelegs. Rainbow Dash shuffled a little closer.

“Well, except maybe the road between… Vauhorn and Cotronna, I think it is,” Fluttershy said, glancing towards their cart. “I could check—eep!” Fluttershy jerked away when Dash touched her side.

Rainbow Dash pulled her hoof back, frowning. “Is it that painful?” she asked.

“Oh, no,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head and letting out a soft laugh. “You just startled me.”

“Right, right,” said Dash. “That harness is really a pain, huh?”

Fluttershy puffed out her cheeks. “I’m sure it’s a very good harness, but… I think it’s the same thing. I’m just not used to it—oh goodness, yours looks a lot worse. Lie still for a second, please.”

Before Dash could ask what Fluttershy meant, the other pegasus turned around and lay a hoof to her side, brushing against the grain of her coat in short little strokes. Dash sucked in a hissing breath through clenched teeth, and Fluttershy pulled back.

“Oh, I’m sorry—”

“No, keep going,” Dash said, grimacing. “That’s good.”

Fluttershy nodded and reapplied herself, now with a tentative smile. “Applejack told me that they rub down at the farm all the time, massaging the sore parts after a hard day’s work.”

“Hey, I’m not new to being sore,” Dash said, grinning. “Just… not like this. I’ll do you afterwards, and then we’ll wake up Rarity, okay?”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled. “That sounds like a good plan. I’m sure she’ll feel better soon.”

Rarity showed an impressive variety of complaints, at least, and that meant she was in better spirits. They made a little better speed than the previous day, and though they were still slowed down to a crawl around mid-day when the sun was at its highest, the unicorn took her turn without comment, the three ponies trudging on with steps that slowed as their mouths went dry until they were forced to take a break.

“Do remind me of this moment if I ever suggest the steam room at the spa again,” said Rarity, wiping her forehead as one slope gave way to another.

Fluttershy let out a weak giggle, pushing at the cart from behind. “I’ll try to remember. I know I feel a little tempted to borrow a few rain clouds for myself when we get back home.”

“More like try to kick off winter early,” Dash suggested. No clouds in sight, and to their right, the sea held infinite golden sparkles too bright to look at.

The next few days passed in something of a blur. As comfortable as Rainbow Dash was with the sweet pain of aching muscles, the sheer sameyness was twice as bad. They found the next Selyrian statue not long after sundown, having spent the entire day at a slow walk under the baking sun. The shelter-stele stood unharmed, identical to the first, and this time, they had the energy to eat together and take care of the worst of the soreness from all the chafing. Fluttershy lent her hooves to soothe Rarity’s aching muscles while the unicorn scribbled away in her journal.

The day after, they passed another wagon on the road shortly before midday. Rainbow Dash stopped the cart and waved, but the peryton simply inclined their heads and kept moving.

“Wow, that’s a little rude,” Dash said, her eyes still following the large peryton wagon as it trundled away in the opposite direction, two peryton pulling the wagon, and the other two walking at their side.

“Mm, it wouldn’t hurt to stop for a little chat, surely,” Rarity agreed, arching a brow.

Fluttershy nodded. “Not only that, I think it’s strange, really. I don’t think any of the peryton we met so far would ever want to not talk.”

“Exactly,” said Dash, giving the cart a tug to set it rolling again. “They looked like they think it’s normal to see ponies walking along their roads.”

“I suppose they take their trading very seriously,” said Rarity, taking a deep breath and following in Rainbow Dash’s wake. “Or perhaps,” she added. “Perhaps they think it’s too hot to talk, and I may agree.”

They found the next statue with daylight to spare, though only just. Clearly, Rarity made an effort to keep up with the pegasi, and after she’d nibbled on some slightly stale jelly-treats, the unicorn fell asleep over her notes. The insect noises and the occasional bird calls were no less strange to Dash that night. Each day some creature made a new noise she hadn’t heard before.

Every night, Fluttershy leafed through her book before she fell asleep, but her luck in actually finding the animals didn’t improve much after that first rainy night. Some squat creatures disappeared over a hill when they spotted them, and outside of the occasional birds picking around the beach below, the only other life on the Perytonian coast was a third wagon-team, asleep when the ponies arrived at the fourth stele, gone when they awoke late that morning.

Presently, they made their way down a long and gentle slope. The height of the cliffside road gradually and reluctantly released its tension, declining to where the rocky wall against the sea ceased, ending in a large plain below. Thus, it was well past mid-day on the fifth day when they finally spotted Stagrum. What Rainbow Dash figured had to be Stagrum, that was, because it didn’t look much like Orto at all.

Where Orto was an unbroken, sprawling mess that covered an entire valley, Stagrum was smaller, straddling the many arms of a massive river delta. Even from a distance, Dash could tell that the buildings were larger, taller, and more tightly packed. On the far side of the delta lay a forest with a host of colours ranging from light greens to bright yellows, and all around the plains were small clusters of buildings.

Some were obviously farms, others seemed to be groups of houses, too small to be a village, too many to be a single large farmstead. Few were very far away from Stagrum, and ever since they began their descent, the roads had been in good repair. Every so often, there was a roadside stele, a stone embedded in the ground carrying unintelligible scrawl.

“—and then he just said goodbye, with a bunch of weird words. Probably more of their Aspects,” Dash said. She’d told Fluttershy and Rarity of her conversation with Anhast and the peryton traders right after they woke, days ago, but Fluttershy had wanted to hear it again. “Seriously. The next time I see one of these guys, I’m not giving up until they explain those stones.”

“Do you think they’re all like that?” Fluttershy asked with an odd mixture of hope and worry.

“The peryton? I didn’t say that. Or, uh, I mean, I don’t think so? I don’t know,” Dash said, shrugging. “All I said was that they didn’t seem like the Orto peryton. Ortoians? Ortovillians?”

“Ortosians, I think,” came Rarity’s voice from behind the cart. “Careful, dear.”

“I got it,” Dash said, easing the cart down a slightly steeper part of the slope.

“You did say they didn’t seem as nice,” Fluttershy suggested.

One of them was a little grumpy, but they just didn’t ask as many questions. They weren’t all ‘hi, how are you, can I taste your mane and buy you dinner?’ like the other peryton, that’s all. Jeez, stop worrying about the peryton and start worrying about how we’re gonna get to the city before it’s dark!”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy, taking her eyes off Dash and looking to the distant city. “It is still far away, isn’t it?” She cast a worried look backwards, too, to where Rarity fell further behind their cart, her walk slowing a little.

“Well, we all have to share the blame for oversleeping,” Rarity said with a sigh. “I woke up when the peryton were leaving, but I thought I could close my eyes for just five... more minutes.” Her voice trailed off into nothing.

Dash smirked and leaned closer to Fluttershy with a conspiratorial whisper. “Yeah, see, the trick is, you just need to plan to get up a little earlier, then you can nap right afterwards instead of sleeping right through nap time. Way better.”

“Um, we were the ones who had to wake you up by splashing you with water today, but sleeping a little longer was nice,” Fluttershy admitted. Her ears were splayed, and Rainbow Dash said nothing exactly because she agreed. She wasn’t half as tired as Rarity, though. The unicorn practically sleepwalked at this point, and the last rays of sunlight revealed no new statues along the road. There would probably be no more statues before Stagrum.

“Maybe we should just stop,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t think Rarity can go on for much longer, and it’s dangerous to walk in the dark.”

“I’m still awake,” Rarity muttered.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” Rainbow Dash said, breathing out through her nose. She ignored Rarity, pulling them to a stop outside the first of the many houses that dotted the road. This particular house stood alone, one of the few buildings on the slope itself. The dome-shaped house looked similar enough to any of the smaller Ortosian abodes, but it had a proper door, albeit an odd one with no handle or doorknob. It was obviously not a farm, but whoever lived here kept something in the back yard, evidenced by the fence.

“Do you think they’ll let us sleep in there? Maybe they’re not as friendly as the peryton in Orto,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe they’re even more friendly?” She swallowed hard, shrinking back.

“Well, let’s at the very least make ourselves somewhat presentable,” said Rarity. She recovered a smidgen of her usual vim and vigour, but not much more than that. With eyes half-closed and under the light of her magic, she had the Myrtellan scarves out and the ponies decorated inside of a minute. “There we are. Go on, dear.”

“What? You’re the one who’s good at talking,” Dash said. “Why do I have to go?”

“Because if my eyes were any puffier, I could use a mirror to cure myself of the hiccups forever, and any efforts to restore my mane to its rightful state with only a brush are wasted. I am simply not presentable. Go!”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Right. Fine,” she said. She undid the harness, wrapped a wing around Fluttershy’s neck, and made for the door. Fluttershy followed her past the low, mismatched stone fence, but stayed a few steps behind when Dash mounted the stepping stone in front of the door and knocked. Moments later, the sliding door opened in full to reveal the tall shape of a peryton with its head tilted at an angle. The peryton’s antlers glowed, and magic sheathed the handle-less door.

“Hey, I’m Rainbow Dash,” Dash said. “Can we come in?”

The peryton stared for a second, unmoving. Past the doe—Dash guessed it was a she—Rainbow Dash could see a stag with coloured wingtips and another doe seated around a low table set for a meal in a relatively small, cluttered chamber. All attention was on Rainbow Dash, and the pegasus cleared her throat under three sets of staring eyes.

“Like, come in for the night. Please? It’s getting really late and stuff, and we need a place to sleep. Do you have room? Or, uh, maybe you know of somewhere else to sleep and okay this silence is starting to creep me out, we’ll just try the next door maybe?”

The doe who had opened the door shook her head briskly and stepped aside so quickly she nearly lost her footing, hooves and claws scrabbling against the stone floor. “Of course! Yes, enter. Leave your belongings outside, perhaps, but do enter. It would not do to offend when Selyria carries gifts.”

“Or portents,” spoke the stag, receiving a poke in the side from the other, seated doe. All three peryton were otherwise silent, saying nothing more while the ponies nodded their thanks, threw Rarity’s tarp over the cart, and guided the tired unicorn through the messy, busy room. The tall and lanky doe held the door open into an adjoining chamber, and Dash winced as Rarity bumped against the doorframe coming in. The unicorn was asleep the moment she lay down, before Fluttershy could tuck her in.

While Fluttershy took off Rarity’s scarf and made sure Rarity was well covered in blanket, Dash glanced about the room. There wasn’t much to see. Carpets and another door leading to who knew what. At least the window had shutters. It’d keep the wind out. She wasn’t all that tired, though, and Fluttershy made no move to lie down and sleep either. Their hostess lingered by the door.

“Um, thank you very much for letting us sleep here,” Fluttershy whispered, smiling at the peryton.

“Yeah, seriously. Thanks,” Dash added, nodding along. “I’m just gonna pop outside and get some of our food. I could go for a bite. I’ll be right back.”

The doe nodded in return and led them back into the main chamber, sitting down at the table with the other peryton, whispering to the others. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were halfway through the front door when the other doe spoke up.

“Do go on, do not miss an opportunity,” she said in a loud, rusty drawl. “You would have them eat travel fare when we have food on our table?”

The first doe looked down at the table, her face tinted with the slightest of red. Was she younger? She sounded younger. “I, ah, she is right. Would you like to dine with us? Please?”

Thus Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy found themselves seated around a crowded table in a small room that acted as a curious combination of kitchen area, living room and bedroom. A number of odd steel and wood tools hung next to the front door, the beds were collections of blankets and stuffing, and the rest of the room was a mess of … pottery? Dash had initially thought it was kitchenware, but no one, pony or otherwise, could possibly need this many urns, pots, bowls and vases. All of it was elaborate stuff with pictures or patterns on display.

The room smelled of kelp and metal, the former scent owing to the kelp soup on offer, but neither the bowls they offered the ponies nor the ones they used themselves were half as fancy as the stuff stacked and hung around the room.

“Thank you, again,” Fluttershy said, ducking so low she nearly disappeared behind the table when the stag ladled up kelp soup for her.

“She’s Fluttershy, I’m Rainbow Dash,” Dash said, mostly to say something that wasn’t thank you for the kelp soup, since that would be a little dishonest even according to her standards. Still, food was food, and they had eaten all the good stuff from Orto anyway. All that remained were kelp cakes. Always with the kelp.

“Neretar of the House of Two Claws,” said the stag, the smallest of the tree.

“Alaesta,” said the more soft-spoken of the two does.

“And you eat at the table of Phydra, being my name,” finished the sharp-voiced one without looking at them, a doe with a mottled grey coat to Alaesta’s brighter white and brown. She took one final sip of her soup before pushing it to the center of the table. “Tonight, Selyria has given us a gift. Please, tell me, where has your path gone, and what have you added to her stories?”

Dash blinked.

“I, um, I guess you’re asking where we come from?” Fluttershy guessed. She looked askance at Rainbow Dash. “We’re from Equestria. I’m sure we could tell you all about it.”

Dash stared at her soup. She was two sips in and had already decided that even talking to confusing peryton was better than eating kelp soup.

“Listen,” said Dash. “I’ll trade you. If you tell me what these ‘Aspects’ you have here are, and why you have names for stones, I’ll tell you the entire story of my life if you want.”

Phydra laughed. It was a full-bodied laughter that came out a crow-like chattering cackle, and Rainbow Dash thought it would never end. Alaesta flashed a smile and kept eating uninterrupted, while Neretar’s face was blank. If Dash had to guess, he looked bored. When she finally stopped, Phydra grinned broadly.

“I am not blind to what it is like to bumble into the unknown, traveller. I am full of sympathy. Now, I am told you wear the colours of Myrtella around your necks, so it is a small wing’s guess to tell which end of this road you come from. I wonder only what brought you from Orto to my doorstep, or from your doorstep to Orto. Leave out as much as you like. Good stories are made up of the choicest bits, after all. Here in Stagrum, the story of Phostos is told again and again.” She held up a cracked forehoof as if she had known Dash was about to interrupt her and ask what the hay Phostos was.

“I can hear you are creatures strange and from afar. I will try to explain the Aspects as I would to a new-born, if only you will tell me how you came to sail through here on Selyria’s wings. This I promise.”

Phydra’s eyes were glossed over. She was blind, and only now did Dash realise. The reason she never looked at them was because she didn’t have to, or because she couldn’t. Regardless, when Fluttershy began explaining that they were here as diplomats on their way to Cotronna, Phydra listened without interrupting. Had her unseeing eyes not been open, Dash would’ve thought her asleep, which was more than could be said for the other two peryton.

In the short time it took the two ponies to give a brief recount of their travels, Alaesta did fall asleep, the doe struggling to keep her eyes open until finally she excused herself and retreated to the next room. Neretar’s particular brand of silence was different. From the moment the ponies explained that they had been sent by Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, right up until they finished with admitting they had overslept and planned today’s journey poorly, the stag remained stone-faced.

“So, I guess tomorrow we’re going to see if anyone in Stagrum were told that we would be coming,” Fluttershy concluded. “Khaird said that someone had told everyone, so maybe we’ll find some help in getting to Cotronna, but we need some more food and water at least. Does that answer your questions?”

Phydra nodded once. The only time she had reacted in any way at all was when Dash mentioned that one of the statues had been damaged. She’d frowned, but said nothing, and Neretar seemed uncomfortable at the mention of a broken shelter statue as well. Now, Phydra sat up straight.

“My turn?” Dash asked.

“I don’t like your story,” Neretar said. Dash rolled her eyes and stared at him through half-lidded eyes. If he didn’t like it, that was his problem. He didn’t look particularly upset, though. If anything, he looked bored still, or like a peryton variant of Rarity when she tried to look bored and uninterested.

“Why?” asked Phydra. “Do you expect travellers from a faraway land to come telling the same stories as us?”

Neretar rose to stand, shaking his head. He barely stood taller than Fluttershy at his full height. “No, of course not, but I will not add this story to my own. It is too outlandish.”

Phydra made a shooing motion with one of her wings. “Go to bed, then, young one.” She sipped from a small bowl of water and said nothing until Neretar had left the room in a huff, leaving Dash and Fluttershy alone with the ageing peryton.

It had taken Rainbow Dash a while to see the signs, but after some time spent up close, she could tell that Phydra was ancient, or at least older than any other peryton they had seen. Her colours were faded, her un-adorned antlers were cracked and chipped, and her muzzle flecked with dull spots. Neretar and Alaesta showed none of these signs, but Alaesta was not only larger than the stag, Neretar’s antlers were simpler and his coat-fur longer, like a young pegasus.

“You will forgive him and Alaesta both, I hope,” said Phydra. “In a short time, you have given me stories and thoughts to think on for long days to come.”

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy said, smiling. She looked a lot more comfortable with just the three of them in the room. “If you don’t mind me asking, are you, um, family?”

Phydra cackled. “No, I should be cursed to have such impudent children! Alaesta is my first apprentice. Neretar is my second, of one of the large houses, a gesture of respect from Two-Claws, but that will mean little to you.”

“Apprentice?” Dash echoed. “Is that like a... helper? Because you’re, well—”

“Sightless? No. Apprentices who are here to learn my craft. Convenience and skill called profession by Stagrum, not family. Alaesta does not have the discipline for this, but she has passion. Neretar, hm… He is far too serious for his own good. He has no laughter in him.” She took another sip of water and stared blindly at the door to the other room, sighing.

“You must forgive. Though your accents and words are strange to me, it is quick to forget you are foreign when I cannot see you. It has been decades since last I spoke to one not of my kind. You have given me what I wanted, and now you may ask your questions.”

Dash breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. “I just wanna know what the ‘Aspects’ really are. Are they the stones with all the weird signs on them? You keep saying all these weird names, like, ‘travelling with Selyria’. What does that mean? And what is your ‘craft’. Do you mean a special talent? No, wait, actually, scratch that, what the hay got that stag’s wings all crossed? Did he say we were a ‘portent’? What does that mean?”

She counted her questions off on her primaries, her tongue sticking out of her mouth as she did. A moment later she felt an icy stab of terror. Was she becoming Twilight? That was a lot of questions, and her only defense was that she didn’t care about these things as much as she was annoyed that it was hard to find someone who would explain it to them. Now she wished they had stayed in Orto a little longer, pinning Khaird down, but she doubted it would’ve made a difference. The consul seemed happy to answer, but reluctant to give clear answers.

At least Fluttershy didn’t seem embarrassed by Dash’s little rant. Rather than hide behind mane or wing, Fluttershy eagerly waited on the peryton, just like Dash did.

“I will answer the last question first,” said Phydra. “I ask again that you forgive Neretar. Insulting a traveller is bad luck, and his claim is… too easy, I think. Anyone can declare bad omens when they spot something out of place. To predict change, to be afeared when something odd happens, or someone new appears, it is the simplest thing one can do. I have lived through stranger things than you, and I say that without having seen you with my eyes.”

The peryton doe clicked her tongue. “No sky-creature descended from the mountains to drink the seas dry when twenty heron descended upon Stagrum to seek those who wished their wares, and had Neretar been born then, he would have declared Stagrum’s end. You are the first to visit since his apprenticeship began who are not peryton. As to the other questions—can you read?” Phydra asked.

“Of course,” Dash said, frowning.

“Actually, um, no,” Fluttershy said, giving Dash an apologetic smile. “Your letters don’t make sense to us. Sorry.”

“Oh,” Dash said, sighing. “Yeah, those. No, they’re not the same letters we use. I don’t know why you don’t use the real alphabet.”

“A pity,” Phydra said, stretching her neck to each side. “Then all I have are my words. My profession, the stories, it all comes together. I used to be a claw-priest. One who told the oldest stories.” She lit her antlers, and even without sight, she sheathed a small nearby urn in her magic, placing it in front of her. She faced the urn as though she could see it. “Were you peryton, I would now tell you the First Stories. I remember them as well as ever, but you do not know their place. To explain the Aspects to those who do not know them—answer me, then, do you believe in gods?”

Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy exchanged glances.

“People mean different things when they say that, I think,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t think so?”

“I don’t even know what you’re asking, so probably not?” Dash said with a shrug. She hadn’t really thought about that word a lot.

“Just as well. It is not something most peryton consider, but a claw-priest will brush up against this truth in her training. There used to be gods, but there are no longer any left,” Phydra said. She lowered her voice, taking on a softer, song-like cadence, sounding like a different person entirely. “Once, gods walked the land. However rarely the greatest of them touched upon the fates of peryton kin, their graces were felt forever, and their immeasurable power flared in singular acts of kindness. It was all lost. Godhood faded, lost to time and calamity.

“But the gods left something behind. The gods had taught us. When their disappearance was made plain, we understood that they had showed us there was room in the hearts of kin for something to inspire. Stories of their acts remained, and in place of gods rose the Aspects.

“Where first were few, many more soon followed. From the First Stories woven on ancient memories, our people found more wisdom, treasures and insight. We discovered more Aspects, and we still do. We discover stories nested within stories, and today, forty-nine aspects are they who guide us. The youngest of these, Anhori, was discovered within my lifetime.”

Phydra closed her eyes as though it made a difference, smiling. “The Aspects aid in all things. If one invokes Khylari, Aspect of the forthright speech and lines drawn in the sand, all will know that what is spoken next is only a lie if the speaker is the vilest sort. Myrtella’s stories give hope to the mother who expects young, and if your stories are true, you have witnessed for yourselves that she helps peryton find love.

“We call them stories, because wherever peryton meet, they together negotiate the truth of the Aspects, and they add to them. Only the First Stories are unchanging. They belong to the claw-priests, are entrusted to them—to us to tell, because the words from which all other spring must be exact. But when you travelled to my doorstep tonight, yours was a story that added to Selyria’s own. When tomorrow you venture into Stagrum, your barter will join the songs sung and stories told of Phostos, aspect of fair trades and promises given. My job as a claw-priest was to tell the First Stories that all must remember, and in time, my apprentices will carry those stories on. Now, as a story-teller, I am as all the rest. I gather stories and I etch them into stone and clay. I make new stories from what I hear and experience, and so do all peryton. So do you, with your lives.”

“But who is Phostos?” Dash asked, frowning deeply. “How did you ‘find’ these Aspects?”

“Come,” said Phydra. With visible effort, she rose to stand and made for the front door. Though her steps were slow and pained, she made her way around the furniture and pottery more gracefully than the ponies did. Clearly she was used to this route, and her life was not confined to a single room. Once outside, Phydra turned and walked the three around to the back of the house without a step missed.

Rather than a vegetable patch, Phydra nurtured a stone garden behind her house. A small, flat area contained a number of stele as tall as she was. Most were filled with unintelligible peryton letters or simple symbols and pictures, and some were bare. By a simple bench next to a back door were a variety of tools, and a few bowls that smelled strongly of metal.

Phydra kept walking until she stood by a stele at the edge of the back yard. Far beyond and below, Stagrum glittered with innumerable pinpricks of white lights. The moon shone clear through a hole in clouds blowing in from the sea, but the stars hid. The wind picked up and rustled Dash’s feathers.

“To you, they may not ‘exist’, and many peryton will struggle not to feel insulted by that. You, the brash, loud one, you sound like you seek a truth I cannot give you. What is truth? Our truth is that everything is a story, one way or another.” Phydra reached out to lay a hoof on the nearest stone, tracing the writing with a hoof. “The Aspects themselves cannot be touched, but the stone upon which their stories are etched can. In the same way, though you will never meet Selyria, she can aid and guide. All peryton know this in their hearts.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. She glanced over at Fluttershy, who looked back at her. At length, she spread her wings and settled them on her back again. “So they’re not actual people.”

Phydra gave a warbling laugh, a mess of sounds Dash thought she would never get used to. “If I say yes, you will think I lie because you do not understand. If I say no, then I lie to my own ears. They are real, but this is the limit of what I can explain. If it helps order it in your mind, think of them as peryton who never lived, or as people who live far away about whom we learn new things every day, but it is not a perfect understanding. I know only to make that comparison because I have had this conversation with a particularly stubborn traveller decades ago, and I do not think even she understood.”

The doe turned her head to look towards the moon, staring in silence for a few seconds.

“Tell me,” she added. “Is the moon clouded?”

“There are a few clouds, yes,” said Fluttershy, tilting her head. “The moon is clear right now. Why do you ask?”

“For no reason other than that she loved the moon,” said Phydra, motioning to the house. “Come. Let us go inside. I am an old doe and need my sleep.”