• 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 8

I write this having finished the dresses for tomorrow’s sortie. It is late, and I have kept both Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash up past sensible hours—Rainbow to fit her more complex dress, Fluttershy to help me with some of the stitches. I have high hopes that even if the peryton do not approve of these dresses, I shall get some opinions. I emphasised one of the hemlines simply to provoke a response. This time, at least, I shall be present to see how they feel about my creations.

I try not to think on how I may have had my last bath in a while now. It is getting late, and though I’ve worked past bedtime, I prefer the familiar exhaustion of a job well done to the more physical challenges as of late. My hooves still ache from the days spent on the road, and I remain convinced that unicorn hooves were not made for such things.


“No, no, the neck wrap goes on other way,” said Rarity, letting out an exasperated sigh.

“It fits this way, too,” Dash protested, straining to look down right at her own neck. The cloth choker with its weird little tie glowed with Rarity’s magic, shifting until the tie rested at the back of her neck instead.

“Like so. The knot isn’t meant to show. There’s a small decorative gem set in the front, you see? It’s the exact green of the Myrtellan scarves.”

“Sure,” said Dash. Instead of pointing out that Rarity had been the one to help her into her dress, and that the frazzled unicorn herself had tied the thing around her neck, Dash went for another sip of water and a bite of fried whatever-it-was with sauce. Their late morning meal might as well be called lunch, owing to a serious case of oversleeping. Already the sun was high in the sky outside, and the room was stifling hot, the dress hotter.

“There. Perfect,” said Rarity, wiping her forehead. She stepped back, her eyes sweeping over Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy each in turn, the latter of the two silent for the moment. Dash noticed Fluttershy’s head kept turning to the shuttered window through which the muted din of Stagrum penetrated with ease.

The unceasing hum was drowned out for a second by a knock on their door, followed immediately by Mirossa sliding the door open with her magic. “We should leave soon,” said the young doe. “This is what I told you long ago. If we wait much longer, the push towards the markets will be too much. The streets will be busy.”

“Are the streets ever not busy?” Dash asked, tilting her head.

“Yes. They are not busy now. You have not seen what I think are busy streets,” Mirossa retorted, deadpan. She tapped a hoof on the ground anxiously and leaned against the doorway while Rarity quickly drug a comb through her mane. A moment later, she looked something like her usual self rather than a pony who had been up half the night making another pair of dresses. And again—

“Nothing for yourself this time either, huh?” Dash asked, looking around the mess of fabrics and tools still covering one of the beds. She half expected to find a third dress somewhere amidst the small bolts and scissors.

“No dear, we’ve been through this,” Rarity replied, trotting over to the washbasin near the vanity. She dabbed at her cheeks with a wet cloth. “I’m trying to see if we can create fashion that will interest these peryton. They have wings, and so do you—I do not.”

“Maybe,” said Fluttershy, the other pegasus finally stirring. “But you have a horn, a lot like their antlers. It’s not exactly the same, but we don’t have either of those, anyway. We don’t know that they’re very worried about flying in dresses, so maybe wing-holes aren’t all that important to them.”

Rarity pursed her lips, nodding at that. “Perhaps, but we’ve hardly gotten comment from the peryton themselves about that, and until we do—”

“When I say busy streets,” Mirossa interjected. “I mean busy streets.”

Rarity frowned at the interruption, turning to face Mirossa, but it lasted only a second. “Oh,” she said, her brows raised. “I suppose it is rather silly to talk about what peryton want and what they do not when we might as well ask.”

The unicorn stepped up to Rainbow Dash, tugging at the side of the dress. “Mirossa, darling; what do you think? Do these dresses pique your curiosity?”

“Eh, I liked the other ones better,” said Rainbow Dash. She took a step away from Rarity, glancing back over her own flank. The cotton stuff around her barrel and the flared skirt didn’t scream awesome, but at least hers left her forelegs and her chest bare unlike Fluttershy’s more cumbersome full dress. Fluttershy smiled at her as though she’d read her thoughts, spreading and settling her wings on her back. Dash fanned her own sides with her feathers.

“‘Like’,” was all Mirossa said after an entirely too long pause for thought. Dash would’ve liked to say that she knew Mirossa tried, that her eyes simply glazed over when she tried to comment on fashion in the same way Dash’s did when Twilight spoke of maths or something—but there wasn’t even that. The young doe stared through Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.

“Yes,” said Rarity. “I don’t expect comment on the stitches or the balance of the dress, but do you like the allowance for the wings, or would something that accentuated your antlers make more sense?”

Mirossa blinked. “It is an ornament that one wears?”

Rainbow Dash raised a brow and looked over at Fluttershy. Fluttershy shrugged and stared back.

Rarity nodded slowly, with all the patience in the world, her voice a tad more flat. “In a sense, I suppose they are ornaments, yes. Like we discussed with your antler-wear. I used the Myrtellan colours of forest green, aquamarine, scarlet and what we call royal purple in Equestria, all because I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask you if there are colours more appropriate for Phostos. Would this be better if I had the right colours?”

Mirossa, shook her head slightly. “I do not think so? In the stories, Phostos favours silver and the amethysts where possible, but I do not understand how this would change this dress-thing.”

“But you know about scarves,” Fluttershy suggested, and as she continued, Rarity levitated out one of the thin Ortosian scarves, and Fluttershy nodded at Rarity. “Those ones, yes. They wear these scarves in Orto, scarves that they use to… well, I really don’t know what they do for Myrtella, but they really seem to like them.”

Mirossa nodded quickly. “Because then, the point of the scarf is their colours and what they reference, in the same manner that our jewellery reference other Aspects.” She pointed to Fluttershy, tilting her head as she did so. “What you wear is a complicated riot of angles and loops. Its point is not the colour—or if it is, then… what opinion can I have of a very strange Myrtellan scarf? You stand with Myrtellan stories. You speak of yourself. What do my thoughts on it matter? If it had carried symbols that mean something to me, then that would be its meaning, but it does not.”

Rarity drew a slow, audible breath through her snout, closing her eyes for a second. The exhale filled the room with its sigh. Mirossa pushed off the wall to stand upright, fidgeting. Fluttershy cleared her throat, and Dash tapped a hoof against the floorboards, punctuating the silence.

It wasn’t that Rainbow Dash didn’t like dresses, fashion and all that stuff. She’d just never had the passion for it, never made a lot of room for it in her mind. Not for wearing stuff, not for caring about it. Her interactions with clothes were by and large limited to where her life collided with Rarity—which was a fair bit, and that was fine. Sure, sometimes she fell asleep when Rarity wanted to talk about a cool outfit rather than put it on and just go, but whatever. By and large, Rainbow Dash thought that was about as little as any pony could care about clothes, that she was the best at caring the least.

Mirossa simply looked lost, like rather than not understand the issue or the question, she didn’t understand that there was a question at all.

“Well, we best get moving before the streets become ‘busy’, I suppose,” said Rarity at length. She slipped on the saddlebags she’d prepared earlier. “Hopefully we can get a variety of different perspectives if we find somewhere to showcase these dresses at the market. Any perspectives at all.”

Rationally, Rainbow Dash knew that there weren’t that many of them. The streets were narrow, and all the peryton around were taller than her—with the exception of children who somehow managed not to get trampled. For all she knew, there were only a dozen or so peryton in all of Stagrum, they just walked in tight formation around them, hiding the rest of the city.

Probably not, sure, but it wasn’t as though she could fly up and check. She couldn’t spread her wings without hitting someone else, the peryton of Stagrum stealing away all the air and any semblance of wind. It’d been uncomfortably hot ever since she stepped out into the daylight.

“It’s getting a little busy,” Mirossa said over the chaos of infinite peryton chatting as they walked. “The first shift at the docks is heading into the city, and those who live in the inner city are beginning to head to market. Keep to the right side of the road.”

“A little busy,” Fluttershy replied with a nervous glance at the stream of peryton walking in the opposite direction.

“Yes,” said Mirossa, looking back over her shoulder to give the pegasus a blank look. “There is still room to move. This is fine.”

Fluttershy looked like she very much disagreed with that singular use of the word ‘fine’, but didn’t protest. Dash busied herself looking at all the weird stuff the peryton wore. Chains hanging around the base of their wings, glittering with small gemstones. Loops and rings around their tails, like Applejack’s tail bands except shiny—and shiny was cool.

Mirossa took them forward and left, through an even narrower street where they had to walk single file for a moment, and then back to a street wide by comparison only. On a street corner stood a large stag with a booming voice. “Raven from Orto has arrived, and it speaks: The last trade-ship is safely in Orto’s harbour, none are wounded, all are safe! Raven from Orto!”

The peryton who walked near cheered, some waving a foreleg in the air as they passed, the speaker repeating the message a few more times, and just before they passed out of earshot, Rainbow Dash saw the stag levitate up another scroll. “Raven from Cotronna,” he said, passing out of view.

“What’s the deal with that?” Dash asked.

“The ‘deal’? With what?” asked Mirossa from the front.

“The guy on the corner shouting, reading… letters?” Dash said. Mirossa looked back as though she could see past the crowd to what Dash meant, but clearly she knew.

“The criers’ guild,” Mirossa said, taking a right turn, now onto the broadest street yet, still crowded. “They copy all that arrives by letter and spread it in service of the city. If an opinion is needed, they will tell Stagrum to attend. If news arrive, they will spread it. Everything that is important, they will share it.”

“That’s certainly one way to get your news,” Rarity commented, frowning ever so slightly. “I can’t imagine everyone will hear everything important in such a way, though.”

Mirossa laughed, a single, long, drawn out caw. “If you wish to hear all that there is, you go to the Dockmistress’ raven-house where we visited, I guess, but who has time for that? You hear some, you talk to others, and they hear some, and together you hear much. You trade words and news.”

“I still think I personally prefer reading my news, thank you,” said Rarity with a smile at Fluttershy. “Wouldn’t you agree, dear?”

Fluttershy made a vague noise of agreement, a hum accompanied by a faint smile in return.

Now Rainbow Dash was the one who frowned. The energy Fluttershy found to match the challenge of the city yesterday and the glow surrounding her in the evening as though the sea-creatures had worked some magic on her, it had all evaporated. Fluttershy had gone more quiet than usual ever since they left the Hymn—or perhaps more accurately, she’d gone exactly as quiet as Dash had expected her to in the face of this many people.

“You call it a trade, though,” said Rarity. Dash blinked. It took her a moment to realise they’d been talking. “Does that mean you would pay someone to tell you the latest news?” the unicorn added.

Mirossa shrugged, turning around to walk backwards, somehow without colliding with anyone. “Yes? No? The word ‘pay’ means so little and so much. If you ask a stranger or one of another House to share with you all news, you will trade them something. If you ask a friend to share with you what they have heard, you will also trade them, but you use that word like trade and greed are the one and the same. A trade of words is a trade, too. It is not about greed, but about fairness.”

Rarity furrowed her brow. “Hmh. I… will admit that I had not thought of that.”

“We have,” Mirossa replied, shrugging. Dash couldn’t help but grin at her tone, but another voice drifted in even as Rarity and Mirossa went on talking about trading and whatever. They passed by a small pocket by the streetside, like a tidal pool to the rushing waters of the street itself. On top of a bench stood a doe with a scroll, just like the crier they’d passed earlier—but here, in a little space of calm, peryton paused to listen rather than rush by.

“—she turned, and found behind her not a soul. Vestrus had pondered alone for days on end. Would Vestrus wander, he would wander alone too, and this he would not brook—”

Whatever else she said, Dash couldn’t hear, indistinct chatter overtaking and drowning out the solitary voice just a few steps further on. Dash had no idea how random stories fit into the criers sharing news from other cities, and everything supposedly important, but both Mirossa and Rarity seemed engrossed in a conversation of their own. She shrugged and tried to get a better look at the buildings at their sides.

At some point the tall three- or even four-story buildings had shrunk away, but she couldn’t get a good look at what was going on, some huge stag or doe always in the way. The most she could tell for sure was that the cobblestones under her hooves were worn and cracked. Maybe they had always been, but the space around her felt airier and more open, crowd notwithstanding. It made her want to fly.

“Heh, I feel bad that we’re missing some weeks of the summer vacation,” Dash said.

“Hm? How do you mean?” Fluttershy looked up, her ears the tiniest bit more perked.

“Scoots has been looking forward to flying lessons all spring,” Dash said, shaking her head. “I’m gonna have to make it up to her.

“I think she’d appreciate that a lot, but I’m sure she understands, too,” Fluttershy replied, smiling faintly.

“Maybe, but before we left, AJ was getting on my case because I cancelled on her once. Scoots told Apple Bloom, and Apple Bloom told Applejack.” Dash rolled her eyes.

Fluttershy shook her head. “Applejack knows you care about all your friends. Even if she was a little disappointed in you, I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that. And besides, Scootaloo would probably be sad if she heard Applejack said anything, because I know she knows you’ll help like you said. Applejack too, really.”

“Yeah, well, you weren’t there. You didn’t hear Applejack,” Dash retorted.

“Was this two days before we left? Before Applejack finally got that reply letter from Apple Fritter?” Fluttershy asking, cocking her head. “She was a little angry when she thought none of her family could take care of her duties while she was gone.”

“Yeah, I guess she had a pretty crummy day,” Dash admitted, chuckling. Fluttershy was right, of course, and the memory wasn’t half as annoying, now. It helped that Fluttershy smiled back at her, but just as Dash was about to comment on the annoying press of the crowd around them, she realised that it wasn’t half as bad as it’d been a moment ago. Rarity and Mirossa slowed down to a halt, and the peryton around them allowed for it. Finally, Rainbow Dash could stretch her wings out.

“Did you have any particular ideas on how we might do this?” Rarity asked, turning to Mirossa.

“I do not understand what ‘this’ is,” Mirossa replied, shaking her head. “But if you have something new to trade, you show it. An idea, wares, a promise or an act.”

Rarity lay her ears flat, deflating a tad. “You can’t possibly mean you expect me to start hawking my dresses as though I were selling apples.”

Mirossa stared blankly. “Do I not? Apples are known, even if they are rare, and so you do not need to show them—but I did have an idea. Do you remember Rohast?”

“I do,” said Rarity, nodding.

“Who?” Dash asked.

“A friend of Mirossa’s, we briefly ran into him at market yesterday while the two of you were bathing,” said Rarity, turning back to Mirossa. “He was very charming. What about him?”

Mirossa smiled at that and nodded. “It is perfect. We only visited the outer markets, but he rents a spot at the far markets, the innermost square of the Font. There, people expect to find the new. If there is such a Stagrumite as will understand your ‘dresses’, they will be there, and if we ask, he may trade us his spot for the day.”

“That is somewhere to start, at least,” said Rarity, smiling back at her. “Come, girls! Let’s find this ‘Font’ place.”

“Uh, okay,” said Dash, shrugging. She didn’t have much choice but to follow, and Fluttershy did the same, the other pegasus’s eyes flitting about the market much like Dash’s own. They walked for minutes that paired and doubled, left, right, left and right while Dash tried to ignore the growing heat. One portion of this ‘market’ place actually answered to the name, with peryton buying fruits and vegetables, with the occasional jewellery stand so large and elaborate it only needed a roof to be called a “boutique”. However familiar, it didn’t last. Crossing a broad and busy street not long after, suddenly there was only open space.

Here were carpets in a dizzying array of colours, shapes and patterns, upon which stood or sat peryton in lively discussion, but there was entirely too much noise for Dash to hear what any of them talked about. Soon after, they waited with a huge flock of peryton to cross another street, and passed into what Mirossa called the Font.

If the previous market-area existed as an apology for how cramped the rest of Stagrum was, with its open space and flat mats a perfect opposite to tall buildings and narrow streets, the Font provided a counterpoint to Dash’s growing annoyance with how samey the city was. Sure, most of the stuff around was just more stalls selling all kinds of strange stuff she didn’t recognise, but past a tall, painted wooden arc were also small gazebo-like structures neighbouring pavilions where peryton sang. A doe played on a bent guitar by plucking at the strings with her magic, and a stag posed while someone painted his coat gold.

At least Mirossa seemed to think that last one was weird. She stared while they passed him by, just like the others. For all the variety, the Font was every bit as busy as the rest of Stagrum. If the streets were rushing rivers, the markets were maelstroms of peryton walking every which way, and the Font especially was full of people wandering around staring at all the weirdness beyond the implied paths between the stalls and the performers.

“Rohast’s corner is here, this way,” said Mirossa, speeding up a little. Rarity uttered a wordless noise of protest, following after her, and Dash nudged Fluttershy ahead, the other pegasus nearly tripping over her longer dress in her haste. Past a stall with coloured globes of light, and another selling vegetables—why turnips were in this market of weirdness, Dash didn’t know—they came upon a small raised wooden platform upon which a stag danced.

There was no other word for it. The lithe brown stag, no larger than Mirossa and with feathers tipped rust red, leapt from his forelegs to his hind-claws. He rose up and pirouetted, then stretched out a his left foreleg and his right hindleg, his muzzle pointing skywards. Some peryton stopped to look for a while, while most rushed by, staring in passing, a massive audience with a dearth of attention and little patience.

“Rohast!” Mirossa called when the group drew up to the little platform of his miniature stage. In any other setting, perhaps her yell would’ve been distracting, but there was no calm to be found here in the first place. The stag met Mirossa’s eyes upside-down, supine for a moment on the floor before he rose and twirled around.

“Mirossa! Hi!” he said, one wing spread as he turned and twisted. Some of the watchers left. Another stopped to look. “And hello again, Rarity I think your name was? A meal together? Or you have found someone with interest in my dances?”

Mirossa cawed with mirth and shook her head. “Not now, and probably never. I need your spot!”

Rohast frowned. The smoothness of his moves broken, he trotted over to the edge of his stage and leaned down close to Mirossa. “You need my spot? What do you have? I did not think the markets were for you.”

“They are not,” said Mirossa, gesturing to the ponies with a hoof. “It is for them. You have met with Rarity, but she, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy have stranger ideas still. And, since you have not met him, this is Rohast.”

Rohast looked at Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy for the first time, his head at a tilt. While he looked curious enough, his eyes didn’t hold the same wonder that the Ortosians had. For all the weirdness of this place, that detail stuck out more than the Rohast’s neighbouring little stall trying to sell cabbages as though they were something special. Then again, he’d met Rarity, so he’d seen a pony before. That was probably it. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy said their hellos anyway.

“I have to say, I did not know you were a dancer,” said Rarity, smiling at him. “Yesterday, you said you were… ‘in trade’.”

“And I am,” said Rohast, smiling wide at her. He hopped off the stage with the rustle of chains hanging from his antlers, casually leaning against the woodwork while peryton walked past close by. “I hope some will wish to trade for what I offer. Perhaps some Head of House will see my capacity for inventing ways to move and hire me for it. Perhaps one will enjoy the particularity of my dance and trade for it, to have me dance at their House.” He shrugged. “It is worth trading for.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a… buyer?” Rarity asked more than she suggested. “Well, in time, regardless.” she smiled, and Mirossa let out a harsh cawing laugh.

“He will try for another three days before he gets it into his head that there is something else he wishes to do,” the doe said, grinning toothily.

“Either or both of those are true, but I appreciate anyone who believes in me,” said Rohast with a shrug, reaching out to give Mirossa a push. “How long?”

Mirossa looked at Rarity, who looked to her friends. Dash shrugged. How would she know how long Rarity wanted to try to… sell? Show her dresses? Dash herself looked over at Fluttershy for comment, but the pegasus had gone silent again, her eyes on the stage, now on the crowd rushing past.

“For as long as you can part with it, really,” said Rarity. She took a few steps around the stage as she thought. “Ah, there’s even a little shade and place for my bags. That belongs to you as well?”

“Yes. Without some place to take a break in the shade, this would be cruel,” said Rohast. “What do you have to offer in return?”

“I can—” Mirossa began to say, but Rarity cut her off, levitating a small dark gem out from her saddlebags.

“If you’ll take a gemstone, I’ll give you this. I have many larger ones, but I do not wish to offend,” she said.

Rohast frowned. “A gemstone. Hmh. Do you not have something more interesting? We are in the Font. Do you… ponies, was it? Do you have dances?”

“She is trading you for your spot,” said Mirossa, rolling her eyes. “Not your dances. The gem is enough for the season and more. Take it and never speak of it in Phostos’ stories.”

“One must eat,” said Rohast with a sigh. He brightened when he seized the gem in his magic, craning his neck forwards in a short bow. “Fair trade to you. Mirossa, are you staying with these friends of yours, or will you share a meal with me instead?”

Mirossa looked back and forth between the ponies and the stag, hesitant.

“We’ll be fine,” said Rarity, making a shooing motion with a hoof. “If you’ll come back a little later, that’d be lovely, but we’ll be fine.”

The doe nodded and smiled at that. “Then, Rohast will pay for food for the both of us, and I will see you later.” She gave Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy a long look, staring at the dresses they wore, her face unreadable. “Daros readies himself to hear of your ventures, at least. Good luck!”

With that, the two young peryton disappeared into the crowd, and both Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy followed Rarity around the little platform, in between the cabbage booth and the little stage stood a simple shelter made from two steel rods and a tarp stretched between the stage and the rods. A little bit of shade. Rainbow Dash planted her flank on the wooden pallet-like thing placed in the rare and precious shadow, and a moment later, Fluttershy sunk down at her side with a heavy sigh.

“You got a stage, at least,” said Dash. She smiled at Rarity feeling a little better now that it was a touch cooler. “It’s almost as good as a catwalk.”

“Honestly, when I asked Mirossa if she expected me to show my dresses as though they were produce, I thought it might come to that,” Rarity admitted with a chuckle. “This is better than it could have been.”

“What’s the plan, anyway? What do want us to do?” Dash asked, glancing back at the little platform. “Just get up there and strut about, show off the dresses and see what happens?”

Rarity opened her saddlebags and the little traveler’s jug of water Naressa had given them, taking a sip before passing it along and answering.

“I think that’s the long and the short of it, yes. I don’t expect to sell any dresses. I hardly have the materials to make more than a few more dresses anyway.” She pursed her lips and shook her head. “It’s not about sales, it’s about showing what Equestrian fashion can be, about sharing.” Her smile transformed into something of a smirk as she added, “And perhaps a little bit about showing something of myself, too.”

“I hear you,” said Dash, grinning. “I’ve always known you like to show off, but it’s nice to hear you admit it.”

Rarity huffed and looked away. “Oh please, Rainbow Dash. Showing off is your territory. I am content with merely showing.”

The silence lasted all of three seconds before Rarity looked back at Dash and her completely flat expression. The unicorn giggled first, and Dash joined in.

“I just wish to see what they think of the dresses, that’s all,” Rarity said. “I still don’t quite understand this market of theirs, but people are looking, at least. I didn’t get a response at all in Orto, so anything, even harsh critique will be welcome. Are the two of you ready?”

“Sure,” said Dash. She got up and stretched out her legs. Modelling wasn’t exactly something she did often, but Rarity was right about Dash: Showing off didn’t really get old. She turned to Fluttershy, giving her a nudge and smiling at her.

Fluttershy had remained quiet all the while as Rarity and Rainbow Dash laughed, and she didn’t budge at Dash’s touch. She sat on the pallet’s edge, her head turned sideways looking across the nearest pathway. When the people moving to and fro allowed for the occasional gap, Dash saw another peryton across the path. A doe performed on another small wooden stage, though whether she was dancing or posing, Rainbow Dash couldn’t tell.

“Hey, time to wake up,” Dash said, chuckling. She touched a wing to Fluttershy’s side. “Let’s go.”

“I think I’ll, um, just sit here, if that’s okay?” said Fluttershy, her wings shifting just a touch to lie tight against her body.

Rainbow Dash blinked and tilted her head.

Rarity gasped. “Oh. Oh no, no, Fluttershy dear, I designed these dresses to be a pair! Rainbow Dash’s dress is heavier on the colours, but lighter on the fabric—they accentuate each other on display. What’s the matter, is it too hot? You could take off the outer skirt! I… it would ruin the composition, but…” she sucked in breath through clenched teeth. “Ruin it quite a lot, actually—”

“No,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head quickly. Finally she turned to look upon Rarity, her ears splayed. The pegasus sunk down on the pallet and sighed. “Or, well, yes, it’s very hot, actually. I should’ve told you sooner, but that’s not it. I just don’t think I can do it.”

Rarity frowned. “But surely something is the matter. You didn’t have any problems wearing the other dress I made during the festival. I’m not asking for dances, darling, just for some simple poses and to give these peryton a good look!”

Rainbow Dash reached up to scratch at one of her ears while Fluttershy leaned forward, the two speaking past Dash.

“I know that. That’s the problem. It’s different when you’re on a stage, when… when you’re asking people to look at you.” Fluttershy wrapped her wings about herself for a moment. “I’m sorry, Rarity. I just don’t think I can do it.” She stared at the ground, dejected.

Rarity sucked her teeth and grimaced, holding up a hoof. “What if—”

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy muttered, her ears perilously flat against her head, and her eyes on her own forehooves on the ground, as clear a statement as Dash had ever seen her make.

“But if you don’t get up there, this entire trip will have all been for nothing!” said Rarity, gesturing to the platform while Fluttershy hung her head, mute. “You don’t even have to pose, or even look. You can close your eyes!”

“Rarity!” said Dash. “She’s not doing it. Just stop.”

“Sorry,” Fluttershy said again, looking away. Rainbow Dash rolled her shoulders in the ensuing silence, waiting. It didn’t take long for Rarity to let out another quiet sigh, walking over to Fluttershy to hug her around the neck briefly. The sound of the city around them became muted for a quiet moment.

“I’m the one who’s sorry, dear,” Rarity said. “It’s not right of me to put undue pressure on you.” She pulled back to look Fluttershy in the eye, smiling. “If you change your mind, I’ll of course be thrilled, but even if I did make the dresses as a pair, they can stand on their own.”

Fluttershy nodded, smiling back at the unicorn. “I’m really sorry, and I wish I could help.”

“Don’t be,” Rarity said. “There’s precisely nothing for you to be sorry about, and my dresses are entirely second to the well-being of my friends. Rainbow Dash, how about you?”

“Sure, I can strut my stuff for a bit. Or strut your stuff. Both I guess,” Dash said, grinning. She stood, dragging a wing along Fluttershy’s side as she did. Fluttershy reached out to touch back with her own, saying nothing. “Just want me to hop up there?”

Rarity shrugged, gesturing all around as though they could see the market in general rather than just the press of peryton around. “To all accounts, there’s no method to the madness of this place. I think there are some stairs in the back—”

Rainbow Dash spread her wings and flew up the snout-height platform in exactly two flaps.

“Or, you can fly,” said Rarity from below. “Now see if you can get their attention.” The unicorn stepped over to the mouth of the tiny backstage-alley space, biting her bottom lip as she scanned the crowds.

If there was ever a command Rainbow Dash loved, that’d be the one. Get their attention. Even if she only had an uncomfortably hot dress to work with rather than an open sky, she could work it. She strode up and down the wooden stage, striking a cool pose at the end, then flipped around and walked to the front again, rearing up to strike the exact pose Spitfire used on the cover of the 998’ Wonderbolts Calendar. It was a classic. Rarity apparently thought the same, impressed enough that she had to shield her eyes. Too much awesome had that effect, sometimes.

“Yes, that’s… wonderful,” said Rarity. “You keep doing, ah, that, and we’ll see if anyone has any comments on the dress eventually. Perhaps I can ask them a few questions.”

“Sure thing. I got a bunch of ideas for poses and moves,” said Dash.

She could no sooner forget a cool picture than she could forget a flight maneuver, and what most ponies didn’t know was that the Wonderbolts released three separate calendars for every year—and those were only the official ones.

Rainbow Dash lost track of her poses somewhere around the vintage calendars of 932, probably well before grandparents had been born. Maybe even her great-grandparents? She couldn’t remember. She’d been sidetracked by the realisation that she needed to ask Twilight some serious questions. Why were all the Wonderbolt stallions’ poses in the thirties nearly identical? Dash spread her wings and leaned to one side like Rarity had suggested—when? An hour ago?

Presently, Rarity sat with Fluttershy, the two talking in low tones while Rarity scribbled in her journal. Dash frowned as a thought—one she’d tried hard not to think about—crept up on her. Now she was annoyed.

Not by Fluttershy and Rarity talking while she strutted around. They’d even packed away Fluttershy’s dress, but Dash didn’t mind. Free attention might not feel as good as justified attention, but it was attention still. No, she found herself annoyed by something Rarity had said. She had said that Rainbow Dash pushed. The word returned, or stuck around. However she thought of it, she did think about it.

She could’ve tried to push Fluttershy to come along and model with her. It’d be more fun to be two about it. Everything was. She knew plenty of cool poses that required two ponies. While it wasn’t a big deal, she could have sided with Rarity.

Only, she didn’t. Of course she didn’t! Ten times out of ten, you did not push Fluttershy about this kind of stuff. Not when she put her hoof down for real, which was different from when she kind of put her hoof down.

So Rainbow Dash hadn’t ‘pushed’. Why was she thinking about it? Rainbow Dash made another slow walk down the stage.

Because sometimes she did want to push, and sometimes, she didn’t, and she’d never stopped to think why. The reason for this was simple enough: “Stopping” was not on Dash’s agenda any day of the week, and thinking, well. It wasn’t about being bad at it, she fancied, so much as disliking it when something came down to just thinking. Thinking about how to pull off a cool stunt? Great. Trying to think of something fun to do with Scootaloo when she got back home? Also great.

Thinking about why she thought what she thought? No thanks. Yet there she was, thinking about why she wanted Fluttershy to fly a cart across a brook. Thinking about why she wanted Fluttershy to try the silly bucking game in Las Pegasus, but didn’t feel a huge loss when Fluttershy hadn’t joined her on the silly little stage today.

Another turn. A slow walk to the inner portion of the stage. From this angle, she couldn’t see much of Fluttershy and Rarity, just the quill with which Rarity scribbled in her journal and a little bit of Fluttershy’s mane.

Because people watching Fluttershy didn’t matter. Because people watching Fluttershy wasn’t the point, and Fluttershy herself didn’t like that bit at all. Attention was the obstacle. Fluttershy being awesome despite obstacles, which may or may not be people watching, that was the point. If people were to watch, it was to understand how awesome Fluttershy was—and Fluttershy worked hard for her awesome. Rainbow Dash felt her snout frumple with… did it count as a realisation if you felt like you’d know a thing all your life, really? Probably not.

The sun crept towards the roofs of the buildings. From the stage, Dash had watched the Font and its chaos all day long until it no longer looked quite so… chaotic. It was just a market where people sold weird things that they didn’t sell in Equestria. Big deal. Just across from their borrowed stage, the dancer-or-peryton-living-statue doe from earlier had been replaced by a larger doe who sold wooden puzzles—and just below Dash’s own little spot, a group of peryton watched her move about. Dash posed on sheer automatics, flashing them a grin and receiving puzzled looks in return.

“Hey, Rarity,” Dash said, striking a particularly heroic pose, neck stretched out and a foreleg reaching for the sky. She’d probably done this one a hundred times now, but it was better than standing around like a mannequin.

“Yes, dear?” Rarity’s voice floated over.

“If you wanted to get some thoughts on the dress, I think now’s the time,” said Rainbow Dash. These particular peryton had been watching for a while now. Most moved on when Rarity approached them—a scene that had played out more than once so far. Dash took a short rest. She felt dizzy, her head throbbing. How long had she been at it, anyway? Her last break for a drink and a chat with Fluttershy must’ve been hours ago.

“Hm? Oh, so I see,” said Rarity, peeking over the lip of the wooden stage, trotting around to the front. “Hello there, gentle… sirs and ladies,” said Rarity, smiling wide at the peryton. “I see you’re showing interest in my creations?”

The group counted three, draped in glitter and gemstones, chains from antlers and bangles on legs. A lithe stag dipped his head slightly, smiling without showing teeth.

“You are willing to trade?” he asked, gesturing to Rainbow Dash. Dash moved to the very edge of the platform to give him a closer look, while Rarity beamed.

“Oh—yes, certainly,” said the unicorn. “I wasn’t planning on selling, but if you’re interested, I can absolutely part with it. I’ll have to fit it to your measurements—hm, probably make another one, really, no offence, and I’d have to buy more fabric—”

“Make… another one?” the stag repeated, pulling his head back, wide-eyed for a moment. He looked over at Rainbow Dash, and Dash didn’t know what to do, so she waved.

“Hey?” Dash said.

Rarity nodded slowly, one brow quirked. “Yes? If you want one like it done to your size, I am happy to help. If you want other colours, I can absolutely accommodate that as well, but frankly, just knowing that there is someone here who appreciates fashion does wonders for my mood.”

“I think you misunderstand,” said a larger doe at the stag’s side, her head at a tilt. “What Falmos wishes is for him to dance at our front hall. We have never seen these… expressions. We can offer much silver or bronze if he can make an appearance at noon every day for a season.”

“Her,” Dash said, flicking her tail.

“I see,” said Rarity, her ears as level as her eyebrows. “You are, of course, speaking of buying Rainbow Dash.”

Fluttershy’s head popped over the edge of the stage, staring wide eyed and confused at the proceedings.

“If that is his name, yes,” said the stag, this time smiling with all his teeth on display. The stag on his right stepped forward, levitating out a pouch from the bag around his neck. “You are responsible for hiring, his manager?”

Her, and you couldn’t afford me anyway,” Dash muttered under her breath. She walked over to sit next to Fluttershy’s head, the other pegasus’ ears perked as she, too, listened.

“Mm, no, you misunderstand,” said Rarity. “What I’m selling—or what I am displaying, to be exact—is the dress she is wearing. Her clothes. Have you no interest in them at all?”

The three peryton all looked at Rainbow Dash like Dash did the first year flight theory test before she met Fluttershy. Blank looks again.

“The colours are not part of the presentation?” came the question.

“No, the… the ‘colours’ are like your jewellery,” Rarity tried, her smile strained. “You would wear it as you do the ornaments in your antlers,” she added, gesturing to the gems and metals atop the stag’s head.

The stag looked at Rainbow Dash again, a quick glance only, and Dash felt herself dismissed not unkindly, but dismissed nevertheless. He craned his neck in a short bow.

“I do not recognise the symbols. I do not think Phostos would smile upon anything I can offer for this,” he said. “I am sorry for having taken of your time.”

“And I’m sorry for wasting yours, I suppose,” Rarity replied with a curt nod.

“Actually, if you’re interested in dancing and not just, um… the things Rainbow Dash were doing that probably weren’t dancing,” said Fluttershy, raising her voice a tad. “There’s a stag who usually performs here. Maybe you could ask him instead?”

The largest of the two stags and the doe exchanged looks and bowed to Fluttershy as well, turning to leave. Rarity walked with slow steps around to the little shaded area, sitting down without a word, taking a deep, loud breath. Fluttershy sat down at one of her sides, and Dash hopped off the stage to flank her.

“Want me to try the other dress instead?” Dash asked, rubbing the side of her head.

“I don’t think so, no,” said Rarity, shaking her head. “Somehow, I doubt a different dress would solve anything. That makes it twice now that they’ve not reacted at all,” Rarity commented.

Fluttershy rubbed her head against Rarity’s neck lightly, and Dash just leaned on her from the other side. Secretly, Dash was glad. Her headache wasn’t letting up. She glanced over at the empty water jug.

“It’s not really the same, though,” said Fluttershy after they’d sat in silence for a little while. “In Orto, it was like they didn’t even see the dress, but the peryton you just talked to sounded like they just thought it was part of the… performance I guess? At least they saw the dress?”

Rarity frowned at that, even as she nodded. “Well, you were the one who showed the Ortosians the dress, so if you say so, I’ll have to believe you. I did recently find myself thinking that Khaird never so much as commented upon the dresses, though—I just don’t know what to make of it.”

Dash shrugged. “That depends. You feeling okay?”

Rarity seemed to consider that for a moment. She looked at Fluttershy, who still rested her head against her, and Dash to sat flank to flank with the unicorn. Rarity smiled slightly and nodded.

“I am frustrated, more than a little confused, but I’ll be fine.”

“Cool, because that means we can talk about how I did what this Rohast guy was trying to do, in just one day,” Dash said, grinning. “Any of you ever gotten hired as dancers?”

Rarity snorted with laughter, covering her muzzle with a hoof, and Fluttershy laughed as well. When Mirossa turned the corner seconds later to peek around the stage, she found three ponies in giggling fits, and one neighbouring cabbage vendor giving them odd looks.

“I had thought to apologise for being late, but I understand things must have gone well?” Mirossa asked, her head nearly perfectly horizontal.

“Oh, no, it’s been terrible,” said Rarity, her laughter petering out. She shook her head, all ending in a little sigh, though she smiled still. “Absolutely awful, and I’ll have to adjust my approach, obviously.”

“I… see?” said Mirossa. She stepped past the ponies and to the far end of the shade of the tarp. Her antlers glowed and she levitated up the empty water jug. “I meant to ask you for some water, but it seems you have run out.”

“We really should have brought more,” said Fluttershy nodding.

“Brought—” Mirossa blinked. “You did not refill it at the wells? This is all you have had this day?”

“Yeah,” said Dash, shrugging. Now that she mentioned it, Dash didn’t just have a headache, she felt parched. “I could go for something to drink, actually.”

Fluttershy and Rarity both nodded their agreement before Dash had even finished her sentence.

“I believe that. That, or your people must need much less water than mine,” said Mirossa.

“Perhaps we could go find a café or some-such nearby?” Rarity suggested. “The walk back to the Autumn Hymn is longer than I’d like.”

Mirossa nodded quickly. “If it is food and drink you want for, I know a place not far away. It is Font-side, and they have the best akossyn in town.”

“I have no idea what that is, but I’m in,” said Dash. Rarity packed all their stuff in her saddlebags—minus Dash’s dress, which they didn’t have room for, so Dash kept it on. The group left the market stage inside of a minute, following Mirossa through the slowly thinning crowds. Soon after, they passed under another one of the painted arcs, leaving behind the large square Dash had spent so many hours watching from one spot.

“I thought this was the ‘Font’,” Fluttershy said when buildings crowded around them once more, replacing empty space with stone ground floors and wooden top floors, all studded with awkwardly high-placed windows and rife with signs and plaques Dash couldn’t read.

“It was the Font, and this—” Mirossa said, gesturing ahead to something Dash couldn’t see, unless she referred to the hindquarters of the doe in front of them. “—is the Font. The largest river-branch of the river Meronna. The Font is also the market close to the Font.”

“Clear as day, really,” said Rarity, her tone hard to make out over the sounds of the city.

Dash gave Fluttershy a flat look behind their backs, and Fluttershy giggled soundlessly. “Uh-huh,” said Dash. “So, I know this is our last day here in town, but you really should’ve written that down in your traveller’s guide to Stagrum.”

“In our what?” Mirossa asked.

“Also, you really need a traveller’s guide to Stagrum,” Dash added. “I didn’t even know that the tiny river-things had names.”

“From Meronna the flowing Font, the cleaving Claw and bending Beak the north presents, in south the Pride and sisters Tail and Toil relent,” said Mirossa, her eyes half-lidded. “Those are the parts of Meronna.”

“That sounds like a nursery rhyme,” Fluttershy said, smiling. “It’s lovely.”

“It has no tune, but if a ‘nursery rhyme’ is something you cannot get out of your head thanks to the efforts of the teachers, then yes, it is a nursery rhyme,” Mirossa retorted.

Finally they stepped out onto a crossing road, and now Dash saw what she’d been talking about. A broad and rushing river cut straight through the city, each side walled where the wide roads followed the water. Stone bridges spanned the gap at regular intervals, each one far fancier than the simple wooden bridges that had carried them into the city, and rather than walled storefronts with doors and windows, most of the buildings’ bottom floors were open-faced, thick stone columns supporting the weight of the top floors.

Mirossa pointed to one such nearby, peryton crowding around tables in the relative darkness of a ground floor restaurant, lit up only by glowing globes set in the walls. A bend in the river and the city at large kept it out of the fading sunlight, and the second they stepped inside, the last of the lingering heat faded. Dash let out a sigh of relief when they sat down by a corner table, only now realising how hot her flank had been under the fabric of the dress. Someone placed a bowl of water in front of her, and she drank it all, her throat no longer quite as raw. She sat back and waited for her headache to go away, letting the others handle food-stuff. Sure enough, the next time she opened her eyes, they had food.

“So ‘akossyn’ is…” Dash said, her words trailing off as she inspected the stuff floating in her bowl. She was pretty sure she saw a piece of carrot, and Fluttershy’s had something that looked a lot like an olive?

“Long-boiled vegetables and fruits in a stew,” said Mirossa, leaning forwards to sip from her own bowl.

“Sold,” Dash declared.

“Okay, you can add this place to the traveller’s guide,” said Dash. She pushed her third bowl away, leaving it half-empty. She covered up a tiny belch with a hoof, eliciting a mid-drink wince from Fluttershy and a rather flat look from Rarity.

“Again this guide for travellers.” Mirossa repeated the words, staring past Dash for a second. Rainbow Dash turned around to see what she looked at, but there was nothing much to see. The chefs no longer added stuff to the huge pot in the corner, resting and chatting instead, and half the tables were empty. There’d been a large rush of people outside a moment ago. Now, not so much.

“I think that just means ‘the food here was really good, thank you’, and I agree,” Fluttershy suggested, smiling at Mirossa. She reached over for the ungainly carafe, re-filling her own water-bowl with some effort.

“Pretty much,” said Dash. “I think that’s our first hot meal in… jeez, over a week, probably.”

“Not that an actual traveller’s guide would go amiss, either,” Rarity suggested without looking up, still furiously scrubbing at an errant stain on her coat. “We’d be lost without you and your mother, but while you’ve been wonderfully helpful, it would be a lot more comforting if we knew that each of your cities had some sort of brochure.” She stopped wiping, the handkerchief frozen in the air as she frowned. “We don’t even have those in Ponyville, do we?”

Dash scratched her head. “No idea. Ponyville is like… half the size of this place, anyway. Probably even less than that.”

“A lot smaller than that,” said Fluttershy, nodding. “I think Twilight wanted to make some leaflets, but Pinkie Pie heard about it and said she’d do the drawings, and, um, well. I haven’t heard her talk about it since.”

“For there to be a reason to tell those who visit Stagrum of our city, there would have to be visitors in need of learning,” said Mirossa. “Those who visit are here to trade or collect bronze, not to… visit. Visiting is for Wandering Day, when all in Stagrum leave their homes to visit others and learn to know them, but that is for Stagrum. To visit other cities? This is rare.”

“Except if you’re one of the Bent Feathers, right?” Dash asked, tilting her head. “Your mom said you were all over them.”

“Yes, except for the Bent Feathers,” said Mirossa. She looked away and yawned soundlessly even though she didn’t look tired at all. Maybe it was a peryton thing.

“Rainbow Dash, it’s very rude to share gossip like that,” said Rarity, scowling. “We don’t know if Naressa shared that with us in confidence.”

“It is no secret,” said Mirossa, shaking her head. “Mama knows, and she wishes her best. We talk of it often.”

Fluttershy bent an ear and cocked her head sideways. “If you don’t mind me asking, is there a problem with that? Isn’t it okay to like them? You don’t sound very happy about it.”

Mirossa looked back at Fluttershy, her expression unreadable at first, but after a moment, something in the young doe gave way and she softened—not just her carefully neutral look, but in the way she sat as well. She sank down until her muzzle nearly touched the table.

“To like?” Mirossa asked. “It is not a question about liking or not liking the Bent Feathers. Most do not think of them, like most do not think of Ephydoera unless danger lurks, or think of Vauhorn beyond the stories they create—but I do think, because I would like to join them, to step outside Stagrum and see.”

“Yeah, so you want to travel,” Dash suggested with a shrug.

“Yes,” said Mirossa, nodding sharply. “I have wanted to for a long time, and then you—” she halted, looking up at the three ponies each in turn, lowering her voice a touch. “Meeting you did not hurt my desire to see more. I thought I only wondered what lies beyond the forest, around the Sedgewall south past Orto, but I know there is more still. Not just… places, but people. Like you. I was late to return today because Rohast asked about—no, because I wanted to tell him about you, about your strangeness and your words and—and your strange dresses. It is still hard for me to understand.

“I cannot imagine myself in this thing,” she added, gesturing to the dress Dash wore. “Just like I cannot imagine myself stepping out of sight of Stagrum, but I wish to.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said Rarity. “Why is this a problem? Even if these Bent Feathers are uncommon, they hardly sound vilified. Why shouldn’t you travel? Is this about expenses?”

Mirossa’s let out a full-bodied snort. “From your words, it sounds simple, but it is strange to mama and to the families. That is fine. The issue is in the eyes of the Bent Feathers themselves. Getting their attention is difficult. I do not wish to hide under their tail-feathers and be a nuisance, so I speak to them only when they guest at the Hymn, and always to the same answer.

“To travel with them, I must show my desire or prove my ability. They also think me young, but I am of age.” She scowled. “The one who stayed with us earlier this summer said those words. Desire or ability. They do not take me seriously.”

Dash frowned. “Well, that’s a load of hay. They don’t believe you?”

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said, offering a sympathetic smile. “The Dockmistress contacted some Bent Feathers for us, so there must be more of them in the city right now. Maybe you could ask them?”

Mirossa shrugged. “There are always some, somewhere in Stagrum, but as I said, I do not wish to be a nuisance to them, and they speak to each other. One will not agree where another does not, I do not think, and besides, I have nothing to offer them.” She looked up from the table. Outside, the evening had well and truly settled over the evening, and they were one of two groups left at the restaurant. “If you wish for me to show you to the Hymn, we need to leave soon. I need to go home, anyway. Mama always worries even if she says she does not.”

“I’ll go settle our bill,” said Rarity, grabbing her saddlebags, halfway towards the bar before anyone else got up. Dash watched Rarity get directed over to some peryton by a table, deflected by the chefs. Fluttershy stretched, and Mirossa drained her water bowl.

“For the record, it’s not like we’ve been all across the world,” said Dash, tossing her mane. “This is a lot further than we’ve ever been before. People can travel wherever they want to here in Perytonia, right?”

“Of course,” said Mirossa.

“But you’re one of the few who want to?”

“I suppose so, yes,” said Mirossa.

Dash grinned. “I get it. You’re a bit weird to the rest.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Fluttershy said, smiling.

“Weird?” Mirossa asked, squinting. “Thank you?”

Rainbow Dash didn’t immediately reply. More power to Mirossa if she wanted to do something a little different, if she dreamt big or however the peryton chose to think of it. Dash certainly knew what it felt like to get odd looks.

“Sure,” said Dash, shrugging. “You don’t have a problem with us paying for the food, and you didn’t mind us taking you to the super expensive bath house yesterday, either. You just let us treat you for free.”

“Um, I don’t see—” Fluttershy began. “That… might sound a little rude.”

“What?” Dash asked. “All I’m saying is that everyone else is about fair trades and everything, and it’s weird that you don’t kick up a stink about it like everyone else—”

“Consider that maybe I find it fair payment for all your strange questions,” Mirossa shot, looking away.

“Yeah, very funny, good job, but seriously,” Dash said.

Mirossa stared intently at the wall to her side. “I have told you, not all of us live our lives as though our every move will be storied in Phostos’ name. If you wish to work with the trade Houses, maybe you do that. If you wish to impress, yes.”

“But it’s like you’re all all about that!” said Dash, throwing her hooves up in the air. “We haven’t met everyone in Stagrum, but everyone else we’ve met has wanted to make a trade of everything, that’s what I mean.”

“Is there a problem?” asked Rarity, returning to the table. Fluttershy sat very still with her ears flat against her head. Mirossa huffed.

“You make it sound like I do not wish to be fair in all my trades, like I turn left where Phostos turns right, and that is not true—but to wear the rings and caps dedicated to Phostos’ stories is mama’s life, not mine. It just doesn’t bother me much to accept what is freely offered.”

“That’s—” Dash tried, but Mirossa barely paused for breath.

“Phostos’ stories ring loudest in our city, but it is not as though we don’t give gifts to friends. Do you not understand this? But—but if you don’t know someone well, it can be rude to take when you do not give in equal measure.” She looked up at Rainbow Dash, a little more quiet all of a sudden. “I hope I have not done wrong? Have I presumed more than I should?”

“Rainbow Dash?” Rarity asked, frowning at her.

Dash slowly let out her breath, exasperated and frustrated at the same time. Better that than let herself be hurt by the frailty in the peryton’s voice. How young was she, anyway? Dash had no idea, but she felt a pang in her chest.

“I’m saying it’s a good thing,” Dash said, trying to keep her voice under control. “It’s cool. We wanted you to come along yesterday, and today, jeez. I’m just saying—ugh, that I get it. I know what it’s like to be the odd one out, and if you’re down with this Phostos stuff and being fair or whatever, that’s cool too.”

Rainbow Dash felt her eartips burning, and spread her wings a little to get some air under her feathers. “If I said something wrong, I don’t know, I’m sorry I guess.”

Mirossa hung her head and shook it slowly from side to side. “I think I’m the one who misunderstood. The apology is mine to make. I do not fear that I want something different, but I suffer envy. I hear you speak of travel, and I think of how I cannot even understand from how far away you come. You had good intentions.”

Rarity cleared her throat. Fluttershy licked her lips, her gaze flitting back and forth between Mirossa and Rainbow Dash. After exactly five seconds, Mirossa got up, smiling ever so slightly.

“Come, let us go back to the Hymn, I will show the way.”

“It wasn’t dancing,” Dash said. “I was posing. I don’t even know what you’re supposed to do when you’re showing off a dress anyway. It takes like… ten seconds to actually look at a dress, tops.”

“There are no rules for a catwalk, Rainbow Dash,” said Rarity. Finally they reached the top of the stairs. “You do whatever you must to show the dress in a good and varied light. Furthermore,” she added, bristling. “If you think anyone can appreciate all the qualities of a dress in ten seconds, then I don’t know what to tell you—oh, there’s our food.”

“She even put it in a box. That’s very nice of her,” said Fluttershy, pausing to pick it up by the ropes wrapped around it like a Hearth's Warming present, holding it in her mouth while Rarity opened the door to their room. Ligilia had put a large pitcher of water on one of the nightstands, too.

“Sure,” said Dash. “And that’s my point, I did do ‘whatever’. You can’t tell people I went up and danced to show off a dress when I didn’t! I just had to do a bunch of stuff because I was up on that stage half the day!”

“You’re making an entirely too big deal of it,” said Rarity. She shut the door behind Rainbow Dash and tossed her saddlebags onto one of the beds. “You were the one who made the joke about how the peryton certainly seemed to want to hire you on. As a dancer.” She giggled, and Fluttershy did as well. Dash groaned.

“I’m sorry, but it is a little funny,” said Fluttershy. “And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself.”

“It is funny, and of course there’s nothing wrong with it—until Applejack hears about it,” Dash grumped. She walked over to the windows, pausing for a moment to taste the air before she closed the shutters. No point in trying to predict the weather. More sun, of course.

“I’m sure Applejack will have her own stories to tell,” Fluttershy said. She giggled again and shook her head. “And some stories she doesn’t want to tell.”

“Yeah. You’re right. Stories that Pinkie Pie is gonna spill,” Dash said. She rubbed her forehooves together with glee.

“I’m amazed that even half across the world, you’re still planning how to ‘win’ your silly game with Applejack,” said Rarity, her horn lighting up to work Dash out of the dress, adding to the light of the dimly glowing globe over the vanity. Dash stood still until Rarity folded the dress and put it away.

“You don’t win if you take breaks,” Dash concluded. She hopped onto one of the beds, sitting down next to Fluttershy while Rarity cleaned up the mess of fabrics and tools on the bed opposite.

“Thank you, by the way,” said Rarity, pausing for a second to look over her shoulder. “Both of you.”

“No prob,” said Dash. She flopped onto her back.

“I didn’t really do much of anything,” said Fluttershy, shaking her head.

“You kept me company, and you tried,” said Rarity, huffing. “And I won’t have you say otherwise. I hope the two of you had some fun today.”

Fluttershy smiled at that, nodding. “It was nice to just relax and talk a little. I’m glad we got to know Mirossa better, too. She’s been ever so helpful.”

“Yeah, and I keep shoving my hooves in my mouth,” Dash said.

“You made up. It was just a little misunderstanding. You can’t beat yourself up over that,” said Fluttershy, frowning at her.

Dash rolled onto her side, staring back at Fluttershy. “It just keeps happening, but yeah, you’re right. She probably thinks I don’t like her or something. Whatever, I just wish these stupid Bent Feathers would let her join.”

Fluttershy nibbled her lower lip. “She really did sound like she knew what she wanted to do. I hope they let her come with them sometime. Maybe when she’s older?”

“Yeah,” said Dash. She let her thoughts wander, but they didn’t go very far. She lay there looking at Fluttershy, who looked back at her.

Fluttershy smiled. “Remember when you really wanted to use the fifth year aerobatics course when you were in third year? Your mom yelling at Ms. Sunbeamer is still one of the scariest memories I have.”

Dash grinned. “Remember when you told your parents you wanted to move to Ponyville as soon as you finished basic? Or when I told mom I wanted to do the same?”

Fluttershy giggled, and Rainbow Dash shook her head, stifling a yawn. “I just wish there was something we could do,” Dash said. She wiggled her way up the bed a little, rolling onto her stomach and trying to find a way under the blanket. The bed had been made very neatly.

“Rarity? Could you bring the blanket when you’re done?” Fluttershy asked. “Oh. sorry, I thought you were cleaning up.”

Dash looked over, and found that Rarity stood by the other bed, staring at her supply chest, completely still and quiet.

“Uh, Rarity?” Dash asked. “Blanket?”

Rarity turned her head sideways, brows knit in concentration, though she still didn’t look at either of the pegasi. The blanket hovered from one bed to the other, into Fluttershy’s waiting hooves.

“Actually,” said Rarity. “I think I have one more thing I need to do before bed. I’ll join you shortly, and I’ll be quiet.” Her horn glowed once more, and all her earlier cleaning was undone in moments, a parade of tools and fabrics flying out from her chest to arrange themselves on the bed.