• Published 11th Mar 2019
  • 985 Views, 80 Comments

The Pegasus who Kicked the Changelings' Hive - A M Shark

After being injured during the events of "The Ponies who Played with Fire" a now-captive Discord is facing trial for murder, while Fluttershy and her small band of allies are in a desperate struggle both to clear his name and avoid their own capture.

  • ...

Chapter 4. Psalm 22:24

Chapter 4
"For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help."—Psalm 22:24

Skywishes let out a soft "Hmm" of acknowledgment, which was promptly drowned out by a loud groan from Highflyer as he rolled away from Dinky and stretched his forelegs out. Either this groan was far louder than the ones he'd made the previous night or the remaining guests were no longer in as deep a sleep because they began stirring as well.

Fluttershy started to move away from the wall, and winced as pain shot through her body. Clearly she was now paying the price for falling asleep in that awkward leaning-against-the-wall position. While she tried to get the kinks out of her back, she heard Skywishes murmuring her offer of cocoa to the other ponies as she distributed the rest of the blankets among them. By the time Fluttershy had managed to get on her hooves, Skywishes had already disappeared into what was presumably her kitchen area, and the other six ponies and one dragon were up as well.

Despite the warm blankets they were all now wrapped in, an air of apprehension hung over the group as they waited for their host to return. Sure Skywishes had offered them warmth and the promise of a beverage, but after last night was this some sort of last luxury before sending them away? Then there was this very noticeable drop in temperature. Was it only due to winter's arrival, or were the changelings once again strong enough to affect the weather? To possibly cause another blizzard? And had their lashing out at each other the night before been enough to help fuel that?

After what felt like hours but was more likely only minutes, the scent of chocolate drifted toward them and Skywishes flew into view, holding a tray with about a dozen ceramic mugs on it. She set the tray down in the center of the room and motioned for her guests to join her there.

"Pick out the mug you like while I bring in the cocoa."

"Um, Skywishes?" Twilight said after they had all taken a mug. "Why do all these mugs say 'World's Greatest Grandpa'?"

"Three-for-one sale," said Skywishes before flying back into the kitchen and returning with a large soup pot. Taking out the ladle, she began serving the soup pot's contents—a concoction of hot water, powdered milk, cocoa powder, and sugar—into the aforementioned mugs. "No marshmallows I'm afraid. You'll have to make-do with cinnamon or cayenne pepper," she added, sprinkling some of the latter into her own drink.

She took a careful sip of her cocoa and held it in her mouth for several seconds before swallowing and looking around at the group. "Okay. I've had some rest and things don't look as bad as they did last night."

"Really?!" The tension in the room visibly lessened, and Skywishes quickly raised a hoof for silence.

"Don't get me wrong, things still aren't great, but we do have a few options that might give us a better chance of surviving this situation. For starters, Twilight you remember that invisibility spell you used to hide us from the changelings?"

"Yessss," said Twilight, reluctance showing in the way she drew the word out. "But if you're thinking I should put it on all of us so we can sneak around Equestria, that won't work. The more you move around the faster the spell wears off, remember?"

"Yes, I remember. But it occurred to me: Couldn't you do that same spell on an inanimate object?" She paused a beat before adding, "Like the TreeHAB?"

"Oh!" Twilight's eyes lit up in comprehension, then narrowed thoughtfully as she muttered, "Let's see, I'd probably have to test it. Make sure it doesn't just turn the TreeHAB's outside invisible while leaving everyone and everything inside it still visible ... but in theory it should work."

"Well, if it does," said Skywishes. "That will make the HAB, and by extension us, a lot harder to find. Now, our next issue is supplies like food and water. We could be staying here for some time, and callous as it may sound we can't help anypony out there if we don't take care of ourselves first.

"The good news is we don't have to worry about trying to find a water source since my water-reclaimer," she gestured to the network of pipes and tubes covering the ceiling, "daily collects water and stores it for me to use. Now that doesn't mean we should all just go about splurging and using a bunch of water for every little thing. We'll have to be frugal, maybe ration out how much water we use per day, but if we do that we shouldn't have to worry about running out of water."

Screwjob looked up from his cocoa. "So does that mean things like shared showe—?"

"Don't even finish that thought," Applejack growled into her own cocoa, cutting him off.

Skywishes just rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Now as far as food goes, before Fluttershy found me at the post office, I'd just finished stocking this place with enough supplies to last me a month aka thirty days. However, with nine of us now here instead of one, those same thirty-days-worth of supplies will only last us a little over three days. If we all went on half-rations we could probably stretch it out to a week, but considering several of us are injured and need to recover, we'll probably need all the strength we can get."

She looked around the group. "So in other words, we've got three days to figure out how we can increase our food supply and put that plan into action. At this point I'm open to any suggestions." She paused then added, "And you might want to drink your cocoa before it gets cold."

The whole group began drinking their cocoa—some taking it plain and some adding the cinnamon and/or cayenne pepper Skywishes had suggested—partly to get some warmth in their bellies, and partly to give themselves something to do while they mused on the dilemma Skywishes had laid out before them. After several moments, Rarity spoke.

"Suppose I use my talent for finding gems?" When this drew puzzled looks from the rest of the group she quickly added, "I mean, I know we ponies can't really eat them, but it would at least give Spike another food source—"

"Hey, you might have something there," said Applejack.

"How so?" asked Skywishes.

"Well, I'd have to see what sort of supplies you have, but if you have the right ingredients, we could use some gems to make that potion I used to disguise myself as a Crystal pony—"

"—and use it to disguise ourselves as Crystal ponies," Skywishes guessed, narrowing her eyes speculatively. "Do you still know the recipe?"

Applejack snorted ruefully. "Sure 'nuff. I spent far too many years brewin' that stuff up."

Skywishes cast a quick look over the group. "That would make it easier to sneak into the surrounding towns and spy on things..." Her pinions flexed idly. "Of course, some of us might have to hide wings or horns, but staying all bundled up may be enough to take care of that. Especially since wearing a bunch of layers won't look too suspicious if the weather stays as cold as it is now."

"You really should let me tailor these outfits when we get back," said Rarity, plucking at the shapeless camo she and Spike were now wearing. Skywishes had quite a collection of camouflage coats, cloaks, jackets, jerkins, shirts, and pants, so all her guests had found something to wear, but it was clear Skywishes's wardrobe was built on the one-size-fits-all principle. One Rarity heartily disagreed with.

"Yeah, yeah. Sure. Whatever you want," Skywishes muttered, her attention clearly focused on dragging one of her pulley-system suspended baskets to the edge of the floor panel she had opened. Scarcely had she settled it on the edge of the hole, then Twilight flew back into the TreeHAB through the same hole.

"The spell worked," she reported. "Now you can't see any sign of the TreeHAB from the outside, even if you put your face right up against it." Then she turned to Spike. "Now, tell me again: What's the plan?"

"I've got it, Twilight," Spike said, sounding exasperated. "Rarity and I go into the forest. She tracks down a bunch of jewels, and while she's looking, I plot our coordinates and send them back to you so we can find our way back here, I know! We've been over it five times!" The group had discussed tactics for some time but had finally decided it would be best to send out a small gem-hunting party (namely Rarity and Spike) while Dinky, Highflyer, and Screwjob got more rest, and the remaining ponies searched for more solutions to increase their food supply.

"And your code words?" Twilight prompted.

"She's Regal and I'm Seconds, I got it!" Spike snapped.

Twilight looked hurt. "Well, I'm just worried about the two of you going out there alone!"

"I know," Spike sighed, his irritation seeming to lessen. He reached up and wrapped an arm around her withers. "I know there's danger out there, Twilight, and I'll be careful. We both will be."

"I know you will," Twilight murmured, wrapping a wing around his back.

Applejack watched them, then turned to Rarity and blurted out, "Rarity, I'm sorry about what I said last night! I was worried about Apple Bloom and I—"

"Oh, it's all right, darling," Rarity said quickly. "I'm worried about her as well."

Applejack lowered her eyes. "I know," she said softly. "You were there for her all those years when I wasn't."

The unicorn seemed touched by this, and moved to put a hoof on the earth pony's shoulder. Then she and Spike climbed into the basket and Skywishes lowered them through the open panel. After a few minutes there were several tugs on the rope and Skywishes pulled the basket up, now empty.

Twilight sighed at the sight of it. "I know Spike's not a baby anymore, but he's still so little and—"

"So is Highflyer and he's legitimately one of the toughest guys in Equestria," said Screwjob from his makeshift mattress. "But don't tell the runt I said that."

"They don't have to, I heard," Highflyer muttered from his own makeshift mattress.

"Plus, Spike's got the added advantage of thick scales and the ability to breathe fire. Not a bad arsenal," Screwjob went on just as if Highflyer hadn't spoken.

Applejack lifted her head at the sound of the wrestlers' voices. "Uh, Highflyer ... about last night. ... I know I accused you of not having any family to worry about, and I..." She seemed to fumble for words then asked, "You ... don't have any family out there, do you?"

The masked stallion hesitated. "Uh ... no! No, I don't." But there was something about the hesitation that made Fluttershy suspect he wasn't being completely honest. Especially when she noticed Screwjob giving him an odd look.

Highflyer, however, ignored this, sat up and gave himself a shake. "Don't worry about it, Apps. If having no family is your idea of an insult..." He let out a short laugh. "Trust me, I've heard a lot worse than that."

"Boy howdy," Screwjob declared before putting his head down and shutting his visible eye. Fluttershy wondered about the look he'd given Highflyer, and what if anything the tiny stallion might be hiding, but decided now probably wasn't the best time to pry. And considering Applejack hadn't even objected to his use of the nickname, she was probably currently feeling too relieved at his quick forgiveness to be nosey.

"Come on, Applejack," said Skywishes. "Let's see if I have the rest of the ingredients you need to make that Crystal pony potion."

"Hey, Skywishes," said Twilight. "That just reminded me. When you mentioned thirty-days-worth of food supplies, were you including those bags of seeds I saw in the greenhouse area?"

"No, why?"

"I thought you might not have, since plants tend to take a while to grow, but I got to wondering: What if we planted those seeds and I used magic to speed up their growth?"

Skywishes considered. "Hmm, that might help solve our food problem ... but it might also be like that whole situation where trying to heal a non-magical injury with magic makes it worse than just letting it heal naturally..." She looked to Applejack. "You're the farmer. Do you know if there are any downsides to using magic to speed up plant growth?"

"Well, it can make plants grow faster, but it also strips out some of their nutrients and exhausts the soil a lot faster than letting them grow normally."

Skywishes nodded thoughtfully. "In other words, not a very sustainable system in the long run. Still, less nutritious food for a short run is probably better than no food at all in the long run. Tell you what—we'll keep that in reserve for now and hopefully won't have to use it."

Meanwhile deep in the Everfree, the little equine awoke shivering. She couldn't remember the last time she had ever felt so terribly cold, and there was nothing pleasant about this new sensation. She huddled into a ball but her skeletal frame was no good at holding in heat.

Suddenly she was distracted from this discomfort when she heard a rustling sound. She looked about wildly for its source, when she heard a shrill screech above her and looked up to see an unknown dirty white shape shooting straight down at her. The little equine let out a frightened trill of her own and rolled away. Coming up on her hooves, she hissed at the shape and spat a ball of fire out at it. The fireball missed and struck the ground in front of her instead. The dirty white shape shrieked and flapped away, disappearing into the trees above. The little equine watched the foliage above warily, braced for the shape's return. As she watched, she felt heat wafting from the patch of ground her flames had struck, and shivered as it caressed her chilled body. Looking down, she noticed that the fire was going out and the heat was leaving with it. Now the cold felt even worse. She wanted the fire back, both for its heat and because its presence seemed to have frightened off whatever that thing was. She hissed and spat a second ball of fire onto another patch of ground.

With Twilight, Applejack, and Skywishes checking the contents of the greenhouse, and with Dinky, Highflyer, and Screwjob all resting, Fluttershy was left feeling a bit superfluous. Not sure what else to do, she began taking inventory of her own injuries. Her right front hoof was tender and blistered from that unknown liquid she had accidentally put it in, her middle was bruised where it had slammed in her cottage door, and there were the puncture wounds Discord's claws had made in her left shoulder. The shoulder still felt sore, but the bandaged wounds already seemed to be scabbing over.

Then she looked down at the stump that was her tail. While none of the other ponies had commented on it, she had been feeling ridiculous with such a long mane and such a short tail. Hmm, maybe that was something she could fix...

"Skywishes?" she asked when she noticed the other ponies were returning from the greenhouse. "Do you have a knife or some scissors I could possibly borrow?"

"How about this?" Skywishes pulled a folded knife from her pocket and flipped it open with three rapid clacks.

Highflyer's ears pricked up at the sound and he lifted his head. "Ah, butterfly knife. It's been a while since I've seen one of those."

Fluttershy took the offered knife, and as Skywishes moved with Twilight and Applejack to check the supplies in the kitchen, Fluttershy began sawing at her mane and forelock. The results were rather rough and choppy, but it left her with enough cut-off hair to make a new set of tail extensions. When she was finished, her new "tail" had the same rough choppy look as her mane and was a good deal shorter than her original extensions but still a decent length. She swished the new tail experimentally, enjoying having the familiar weight back. It might be miniscule in the grand scheme of things, but she felt a good deal less self-conscious now.

She carefully folded up the knife and was about to go return it to Skywishes when Highflyer called out to her. "Hey, can I see that knife?"

Seeing no harm in the request, Fluttershy held the closed-up knife out to him.

Highflyer took it with a murmured, "Let's see if I can remember how to do this..." and flipped the blade out just as quickly as Skywishes had but with a lot more flourishes, causing Fluttershy to flinch back reflexively. Highflyer flipped the knife closed, then flipped it back open again, this time throwing in some showier moves. The blade and its two handles were a trio of clacking, flashing blurs as he switched them from one hoof to the other, and even tossed the knife into the air, deftly catching it as it came down. Fluttershy watched apprehensively, fearful that he would accidentally slice his hooves open, but he handled the blade like one accustomed to using it. Come to think of it, he had shown the same competency when giving Dinky knife-handling pointers back at the cottage...

Fluttershy glanced toward the young unicorn who was currently fast asleep under a bundle of camouflage. After examining Dinky, Twilight had said she would eventually recover her magic and physical strength, but not without a lot of rest. Speaking of rest...

She turned back to Highflyer, who was still entertaining himself with the butterfly knife. "Shouldn't you be trying to sleep? To build up your strength?"

"Not tired," he replied, still flipping the blade about. Then his tone darkened. "And I want to make sure I stay in fighting shape." He punctuated the sentence by flinging the knife down in front of him, burying its blade deep in the wood floor.

Fluttershy gulped as the knife quivered there with one handle sticking up and the other hanging down. She couldn't help imagining how nasty it would be to see that same knife imbedded in flesh rather than wood, so when Highflyer moved to retrieve it, she blurted out, "If you want to stay in fighting shape, how about letting me check how your wings are doing?"

Highflyer paused in wrapping a hoof around the upright knife handle. "Good idea," he said, jerking the knife free and flipping it closed with a quick motion. He didn't seem to be in a hurry to resume his knife play so Fluttershy quickly moved to his side. She was just helping him ease his splinted wings out of his bulky vest when he suddenly reached under the camo jerkin she was wearing and ran a hoof up her spine. Fluttershy froze at the unexpected surprisingly intimate touch, wondering what had prompted it.

"Did it hurt?" he asked. "Losing your wings I mean."

Oh. Fluttershy felt her face flush and looked away while she considered the question. "I guess it didn't really hurt ... but it was scary at the time because I didn't know what Discord's magic was going to do to me."

Highflyer withdrew his hoof. "Have you thought about having Twilight try to magic them back?"

"She tried it," said Fluttershy as she began unwinding his bandages, "but she couldn't undo Discord's magic." That was the short answer, but there was actually more to it than that. When Twilight had failed to restore Fluttershy's wings, she had mentioned there was a chance Discord's death would automatically undo his magic. Of course, it was only a theory, but since then Fluttershy had been secretly dreading the idea of her wings spontaneously reappearing. If it was a choice between them and Discord's life, she'd rather remain flightless forev—

"Shy? You okay?"

She jerked in surprise, unintentionally tugging on the bandages and drawing a pained grunt from Highflyer. He peered over one shoulder at her. "Zoning out back there?"

"N-no, I..." As certain as she was about her feelings for Discord, she still had no idea how, or even if she should reveal those feelings to the other ponies, so she swiftly cast about for another subject. Her gaze lit on the skeletal tattoo that spanned Highflyer's now-unbandaged back from shoulder-to-shoulder and neck-to-tail. The tattoo combined with the scrapes he'd gotten fighting changelings made it look unnervingly like his actual spine was visible through some horrific wound. "This is some impressive tattooing you've got on your back. Really detailed. Did getting it take a long time?"

His mouth twitched in a faint smile. "Yeah, it did actually. Especially since it was designed so that all the ribs and vertebrae in the tattoo match up exactly with the bones in my actual skeleton."

Fluttershy's eyebrows went up at this. "Why go to all that trouble?"

"It makes the chiropractor's job easier."

"No, it makes it easier for me to hit him where it hurts the most," said Screwjob without bothering to lift his head or open his visible eye. Fluttershy chuckled at his comment, but her amusement quickly faded as she went back to tending Highflyer's injuries. Not because of the severity of his wounds—actually the tiny wrestler was in remarkably good condition considering the throttling he'd taken over the past few days—but because looking at his tattoos kept making her think of another set of much more lively tattoos. What would happen to Discord's tattoos if he died? Would they freeze up and become as stationary as Highflyer's? Or would they shrivel up? Or fade away? Or—

"Is that smoke?" Highflyer asked, jerking her out of her musing as he pushed himself up onto all fours.

"Where?" she heard Skywishes ask, and hastily tucked the last of Highflyer's new bandages in place before looking up to see that the coral-colored pegasus had come back from the kitchen along with Applejack and Twilight.

"Out there," said Highflyer, pointing to the window.

Skywishes moved to check. "Hmm. That's odd. The wood shouldn't be dry enough to burn easily this time of the year..."

"What?!" All the ponies—with the exception of Dinky who could still barely even get her hooves under her—rushed to join Skywishes at the window. Sure enough, dark smoke was rising up from a forest of burning trees!

Fluttershy felt fear seize her heart. What would they do?! How could they hope to escape?! How—?!

"It's no big deal," said Skywishes, her dismissive tone snapping Fluttershy's mind out of panic mode. "This tree has survived much worse forest fires than this, and we're high enough up that the flames can't reach us, so if we just keep everything tight shut so the smoke can't get in, we should be fine."

"But what about Spike and Rarity?" Fear filled Fluttershy once again, this time for her friends. "Spike might be fireproof, but Rarity isn't!" And even if Spike was fireproof that didn't make him immune to things like getting squashed by falling branches!

"Oh. Yeah ... them..." Skywishes didn't raise her voice, but her calm demeanor seemed to waver as she frowned down at the smoke and flames.

"We have to get them out of there!" Twilight lunged for the TreeHAB's entrance panel, only for Skywishes to seize her tail and yank her back.

"Don't open that panel!" Skywishes gritted through clenched teeth. "We might be out of reach of the flames, but we're right in the path to get plenty of smoke inhalation up here if we're not care—"

Twilight jerked her tail free, shot Skywishes an angry glare, and vanished in a flash of light.

"—ful." Skywishes groaned. "Oh, great." Then she quickly positioned herself between the floor panel and the remaining ponies. "Don't any of you even think of trying to go after her!"

"But Spike and Rarity—" Applejack started to argue.

"We don't know what direction they went, so we'd just be putting ourselves in danger if we try to go down there looking for them. Especially with all that smoke between us and the grou—"

Suddenly a singed and smoke-blackened Twilight reappeared, coughing violently. Floating next to her was a scroll with charred edges. "Hit's from Spike," she rasped, and her friends clustered around to read it.

"Twilight, we're okay. We found a cave to hide in where the fire and smoke can't reach us. Don't try to come looking for us, at least not until the fire dies down. Trying to put it out with magic doesn't seem to work."

"Yeah, I found that last part out the hard way," Twilight got out between coughs.

What followed were several agonizing hours of watching the Everfree burn and wondering how on earth the fire had started in the first place. Spike had made no mention of causing the fire either by accident or intention, so that ruled him out. Then there was also the fact that Twilight hadn't been able to extinguish it by magic, indicating that it might not be completely natural. Could the changelings have guessed they had taken refuge in the Everfree and set it on fire in an attempt to drive them out?

Finally as it began to get dark outside, the fire died down and the smoke thinned out.

A second scroll flashed into existence in front of Twilight. "It's from Spike again," she reported, holding the unfurled message in her magic. "He says they're still okay; that the fire has gone out in their area, but they don't know where their cave is in relation to the TreeHAB. They were heading east at the time they had to make a run for it, though."

"Well, that settles it," said Skywishes, moving toward the TreeHAB's entrance panel. "I'll go find them."

"I'm coming with you!" said Applejack.

"No," said Skywishes as she lifted a coil of rope off a hook in the wall. She didn't shout but there was a lot of steel in her words. "No, you're not."

"Hey, if you think I'm going to sit back while they're out there, you—"

"You're staying here," Skywishes shot back as she lifted an ax from the wall as well and rested it over one shoulder. "You and Twilight."

Twilight frowned at this. "Wait a minute—"

Skywishes turned to face her. "We'll need both of you to work the greenhouse if we're going to use that speed-up-the-plant-growth plan. Plus, you're the only other flyer we have. We can't afford to lose you if something happens to me."

"Well, if you think something will happen then you definitely need some backup," said Twilight.

"Fine." Skywishes sounded resigned. "I'll take Fluttershy."

"That's not what—" Twilight started to say while at the same time Applejack said, "Look, if this is about last night, I'm—"

"It's not that!" Skywishes snapped. "It's that I need the both of you here more than I do out there. So if I'm taking any other pony along, it's Fluttershy or no one."


"It's all right, girls. I'll go with her."

Twilight and Applejack both gave Fluttershy startled looks.

"It'll be okay," she tried to reassure them, then whispered, "Let me talk with her alone."

Understanding dawned on both her friends' faces. While Skywishes hadn't mentioned Applejack's harsh words from the night before, that didn't automatically mean she'd forgiven the earth pony. In fact, despite her claim to the contrary, she was likely still seething over them. We'll have enough problems to worry about without being at each other's throats, Fluttershy thought. But maybe if I talk with Skywishes privately, I can convince her to forgive Applejack. After all, Skywishes had unbent a bit at Fluttershy's gentler approach the night before.

The other ponies backed off, and Twilight jotted down a quick note to Spike, telling him and Rarity to stay where they were, if it was reasonably safe, so that Fluttershy and Skywishes could find them and guide them back to the TreeHAB.

Now Skywishes was flying stealthily through the charred forest with the rope and ax strapped around her middle under her camouflage, and Fluttershy perched on her back. Fluttershy had added a hooded camouflage cloak over the jerkin she was wearing, but the hood kept blowing back, forcing her to hold it in place with one hoof. Maybe she should have chosen a watch cap like the one Skywishes wore instead. Well, it was too late to go back and change that now. She squinted through the haze of smoke that hung over everything. Any time she or Skywishes spotted a cave, they would swoop down in front of it and call their code words into its mouth, but they had yet to hear either Spike or Rarity reply back with their own words.

They had checked at least a dozen caves before Fluttershy felt now might be the time to speak of something besides their code words.

"Skywishes ... please don't be mad at Applejack. She's just really worried about her family. She didn't mean what she said last night. We all know that losing Sunny Daze was hard on you and—"

"Fluttershy, I'm mad with Applejack but not for the reason you think."

"What do you mean?"

Skywishes landed on a tree branch and allowed Fluttershy to dismount so that they were perched side-by-side. Fluttershy glanced down at the forest floor far below and felt a wave of dizziness wash over her. She'd never been a very strong flyer, but it was only now with her wings gone that she realized just how much of a safety net they had actually been for her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she clutched the branch and felt Skywishes wrap a wing around her to steady her.

"Thanks," she whispered, turning her head partly to look away from the ground, and partly to try reading Skywishes's expression. However, when she opened her eyes, it was to see that the coral-colored pegasus was looking away from her. "Skywishes, what's wrong?"

Skywishes remained silent for several seconds before finally answering. "Fluttershy ... the truth is ... Sunny Daze and I ... We weren't close. That picture of us on the HAB wall ... That was the exception rather than the rule. Maybe it would have been different if we were identical twins instead of fraternal ones, but as it was we were just too different in some ways and too much alike in others to get along much as fillies. And as we grew up we drifted even further apart..." Skywishes trailed off as she looked down at her front hooves which were scraping a shallow groove in the tree bark. "Fluttershy, I saw just how worried Applejack was ... is ... about her family and I..." She finally turned enough to meet Fluttershy's eyes, her expression pained. "Fluttershy, I didn't even know Sunny had died until four months after they'd put her in the ground."

Fluttershy couldn't think of anything to say as she tried to digest this new information.

Skywishes looked away again. "And on top of that, I never really made the effort to see her much before that. I always found other things to do..."

"Are you now wishing you had spent more time with her?"

"I don't know. Maybe. ... But at the same time looking back at those instances where we could have gotten together, I just remember feeling like making the effort to try and get along with her was just asking for a headache."

Fluttershy's own feelings had been whipped up into a confused swirl at this. Are you saying ... your sister wasn't that important to you? But if she meant so little to you, why did you put so much time and effort into building the TreeHAB? ... Into making her dream a reality. Aloud she finally said, "Skywishes ... you might not have been very close to your sister, but I'm sure you still cared about her. I'm sure it still hurt to lose her. To lose that chance to ever build a deeper friendship."

Skywishes inhaled audibly, but took care to avoid the smoky haze around them. "You can't lose what you can't attain, Flutt—"

She suddenly went silent as there was a rustling sound below them. Then she looked down and grimaced, which prompted Fluttershy to chance a quick look down as well. Several timber wolves were creeping through the forest below them, all sniffing at the ground and the charred trees.

"I was afraid of this," Skywishes whispered, her wing tightening around Fluttershy. "I've noticed that after a forest fire, a lot of the animals that escape it come back to eat the carcasses of the ones that didn't. And they're not too choosy about what else they find along the way." She pushed herself into a standing position on the branch. "Come on, we've wasted enough time on my moping. As much as I hated to hear it, Applejack was right. My sister has been rotting in the ground for over a decade, and we can't change that."

As they continued searching the burned forest, Fluttershy's mind kept wandering back to Skywishes's revelation regarding her sister. If Skywishes had been intending to clarify things, she had failed because now Fluttershy was second guessing everything she had observed earlier about her fellow pony's behavior.

Just like a certain non-pony you know and love? Or thought you knew?

At the thought of Discord, Skywishes's interrupted statement flashed through Fluttershy's mind: You can't lose what you can't attain.

Well, she had definitely lost her friendship with Discord. Why else would he have gone from saving her life to avoiding her with no explanation for over a year? But what about his love? Had there ever been any chance of him viewing her not just as a friend, but loving her in the way she now knew she loved him? Or had that never been a possibility? Never been ... attainable?

Then she caught sight of a dark shape dragging itself along the ground below them.

"Skywishes, look."

The little equine dragged herself painfully along the ground, wondering just what had gone wrong. She had only wanted some warmth. That was why she had started hawking out flames. How could she have guessed that they would spread to surround her, and that their heat would go from pleasant to painful?

What had followed was a terrifying blur of trying to escape the fire. She could vaguely remember tumbling into a short tunnel that had provided her with some protection from the smoke and flames, but had also gotten hot enough to coat her hairless body in foamy sweat.

Now as she crawled from her hiding place, the foam on her body had dried into a dirt-caked shell. Cold smoky air sent a chill through her far worse than she'd felt before the fire, but she didn't dare try to warm herself the same way again.

Skywishes spiraled down cautiously so she and her passenger could get a better look at the shape Fluttershy had pointed out. The thing was shaped like a pony, probably about the size of a young filly or colt ... but so badly blackened and shriveled.

As they neared the ground and the burnt-looking pony crawling along it, pity welled up in Fluttershy. The poor little thing must have been caught right in the middle of the fire to have ended up so thoroughly burnt from head to hooves like that. What terrible pain it must be in. The fact that it was even still alive was a miracle in itself.

Then just as Skywishes landed, the burnt pony collapsed and lay motionless. Fluttershy jumped off Skywishes's back and was just rushing forward when Skywishes wrapped a wing around her and dropped flat to the ground, taking Fluttershy with her.


"Don't. Move."

At the urgency in Skywishes's voice, Fluttershy immediately froze. Then she heard a rustling sound all around them and a horrible odor reached her nostrils. She fought the urge to cover her nose, then fought the even more overwhelming urge to jump up and run away screaming as the huge wooden paws of a timber wolf appeared in her peripheral vision. The wolf lowered its head and sniffed at the ground. Had it caught their scent?! The wolf lifted its head out of her line of vision and she heard it sniffing at the air right above her. She could also hear what sounded like more timber wolves moving about behind her, and wondered if they were the same ones she and Skywishes had seen earlier. Not that it mattered. Her heart was pounding so hard she wondered if any of the wolves could possibly hear it—

At that moment there was a loud snort above her, and foul timber wolf breath washed over her, forcing her to try breathing only through her mouth. Then the paws in her peripheral vision moved forward as if their owner was walking past her, and Fluttershy felt a tiny flicker of hope. Maybe she and Skywishes would survive this encounter after all. Maybe the timber wolves had caught their scent, but if both ponies stayed absolutely still and let their camo do its job, they might be able to fool the wolves into thinking the scent was from some long-gone ponies who had passed through the area earlier.

Then Fluttershy's flicker of hope was replaced with a jolt of horror when she noticed the burnt pony was stirring and trying to push itself up onto all fours.

No! she screamed inside her head at it. Stay down! Don't move! Don't let them see you!

But it was already too late.

The timber wolf's huge splintery jaws came down and closed on the pony before lifting it high and tipping back as if intending to swallow the pony whole! Fluttershy let out a noise that was half-gasp, half-hiccup, but at that very moment the burnt pony unleashed a far louder sound that was half-hiss, half-shriek ... and spat fire straight down the timber wolf's throat!

The timber wolf jerked back with a startled yelp, and as it did, Fluttershy saw the tiny pony go flying from its mouth. The pony whirled helplessly through the air and came down to slam painfully into the trunk of a tree. Fluttershy didn't get a chance to see what happened to the pony after that because at that moment Skywishes pulled her close and launched the two of them into the air. Below them now was utter pandemonium! The wolf that had tried to eat the burnt pony was now tearing about wildly with portions of its head on fire, and in the process it kept knocking into the other wolves. Those other wolves either caught on fire as well, or dissolved into piles of logs, branches, and twigs. All the while the air was filled with yelps, howls, and snarls until finally there wasn't a single wolf left standing.

The two ponies landed in a bit of a daze, stunned at how swiftly their situation had changed. As Skywishes released her, Fluttershy caught sight of the burnt pony—which she wasn't so sure was actually a pony anymore given what she'd just seen—lying at the base of the tree it had struck. Fluttershy ran toward the pony-thing as it struggled to its feet, intending to give it aid, but skidded to a halt when the creature turned its orange eyes on her and let out a vicious snarl. Its jaws opened and Fluttershy realized with shock that it had no tongue! Then it hawked a fireball at her. She dodged and the fireball struck the already-scorched earth before quickly dying out. Then the creature stumbled and Fluttershy noticed it was favoring its right front leg. The creature made a thrumming sound in the back of its throat that seemed to express irritation, and Fluttershy wondered how it managed to do that without a tongue.

She took a cautious step forward, and the creature snarled at her again. At this point most ponies would likely have left the creature to its own devices but not Fluttershy. The creature was clearly injured and she knew from personal experience that physical injuries would often turn even the most docile of animals vicious when they didn't know if the pony approaching them was a threat or not.

"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you," she murmured, but got only another snarl in response. This wasn't completely unexpected. Sometimes her voice was all that was needed to calm an animal, but there had also been plenty of cases where the animal had needed more than that to convince it of her good intentions. Unfortunately this was probably going to be a case where the animal wouldn't believe she meant no harm until after she had set and bandaged its broken leg. Which was going to be tricky considering the creature clearly wasn't going to let her anywhere near its vulnerable limb. Of course, she could always use her stare to force the creature to obey her, but she preferred to use that only as a very last resort. Maybe she could use Skywishes's help with the creature...

"Wait here, I'll be right back." Considering the way the creature had been dragging itself along earlier she doubted it would be able to get very far on its three good legs, but one never knew. She turned back to the other pegasus. "Skywishes, could you—? What are you doing?"

What Skywishes appeared to be doing was chopping up several of the largest timber wolf logs into smaller pieces with her ax. "It's not my first choice, but food is food."

It took a few seconds for that to click in Fluttershy's brain and when it did, she was shocked. "Are you saying you ... eat timber wolves?!"

"Like I said they're not my first choice for multiple reasons, but yes. I have eaten them on occasion when food is short. And given our current food situation, I'd rather we have them and not need them, than need them and not have them."

"Well, as a menu item that certainly sounds less than 'Regal,'" said a familiar fancy-accented female voice.

"I 'Seconds' that," said an equally familiar male voice before Spike and Rarity both poked their heads out from behind a tree. "And you are?"

"Oh, Wasp," said Fluttershy unable to come up with a quick way to conceal the code word in a sentence.

"And Cardinal," Skywishes added, pausing in chopping up timber wolf remains. "Were the two of you behind that tree this whole time?"

"No," said Rarity. "We were several yards away, but then we heard the noise and came to investigate."

"Well, at least we found you, or vice versa," said Skywishes. "By the way, I'm going to need those gem bags from you."

"We didn't find any gems yet," Rarity warned.

"Doesn't matter," said Skywishes, taking the bags and loading them with the chopped-up timber wolf remains. "With a bunch of hungry animals prowling about, it's too dangerous to keep hunting for gems right now. We'll have to try some other time. For now, let's get back to the HAB before—" There was a rumbling sound behind them. Skywishes looked in that direction and muttered a resigned, "Oh, darn."

The rest of the group turned as well, and saw several cragadiles lumbering their way.

"I hate those things," Skywishes muttered as her eyes darted around the forest, searching for a tree that was still reasonably intact and with branches both strong enough to support them and high enough to be out of the cragadiles' reach. "This way!" Still holding the bag of chopped-up timber wolf, she took to the air and darted toward a tree that seemed to meet her criteria. As the other two ponies and the dragon raced along the ground after her, the cragadiles broke into a sprint, barreling after them. When they reached the tree, Spike leapt up onto its trunk and began scaling it easily thanks to his claws. However the same could not be said for Fluttershy and Rarity as their hooves scraped uselessly at the bark. All the while the cragadiles were thundering steadily closer.

"Here, I'll give you a boost," said Fluttershy, shoving her head under the slightly smaller unicorn's hindquarters before Rarity could argue.

"Come on! Give me your hooves!" Spike shouted from above them. Fluttershy felt Rarity standing up on her head, and she tried to stretch her own body farther to give the unicorn more height. Then something struck the back of her hind legs, and she cried out, expecting to feel a cragadile's sharp teeth sink into them.

"Gotcha!" she heard Skywishes grunt underneath her, and looked down to see the pegasus boosting her up just as she had been doing with Rarity. Except that Skywishes was also using her wings to try and propel them upward. Then Rarity's weight suddenly vanished as Spike caught hold of her hooves and pulled her up onto the branch next to him. With the extra weight gone, Fluttershy and Skywishes shot up the side of the tree and not a moment too soon, as a cragadile lunged upward and would have caught Skywishes's tail and hind legs if she hadn't tucked them both up at the last possible second. Several more cragadiles lunged upward to snap at their treed prey, but the branches the group was perched on were at least a good foot or so beyond cragadile jumping height.

Skywishes breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay, now we—"

"Skywishes!" Fluttershy cried. "That pony-thing from earlier! They're going after it!"

"What?!" Skywishes looked in the direction Fluttershy was pointing to see that several cragadiles at the back of the group had turned away from their tree and were moving toward the burnt pony-thing that was now huddled against the base of a tree, snarling and spitting flames at them. But the flames weren't hot enough or long-lasting enough to hurt the cragadiles.

"It's hurt, Skywishes! I think it broke its leg when it hit that tree! We can't just leave it there!"

"Not going to," said Skywishes, jumping off her branch, and shooting toward the cornered pony-thing. She dropped down to land on one cragadile's back then shot back into the air when it and several others snapped at her. She darted this way and that in the air, luring the cragadiles away from their prey on the ground before zipping back to where the burnt pony-creature huddled. She snatched up the creature only for it to snarl and struggle in her grasp.

"Stop it! I'm trying to save you!" But the creature just wrenched itself free, and fell back to the ground where it howled in pain as it landed on its broken leg. The cragadiles Skywishes had managed to lure away had already turned back and were now only a few feet from where the injured pony-thing lay. Deciding now wasn't the time to try explaining her intentions to her little rescuee, Skywishes zipped back down toward it, and brought the blunt back of her ax head down on its skull with a sharp bonk! As the creature collapsed, she scooped it up and draped it over one shoulder before flapping her wings wildly to get out of the cragadiles' reach.

"What is that thing?" Rarity asked as Skywishes landed on the branch next to them and handed the unconscious creature off to Fluttershy.

"That I don't know," Skywishes panted, fanning her wings out as she leaned over to catch her breath. "At first we thought it was a pony who got all charred up from the forest fire, but I've never seen a pony spitting fire like a dragon before."

Rarity's gaze flicked to the creature. "You don't suppose ... that was what started this forest fire?"

Skywishes shrugged her fanned-out wings. "I suppose that's possible."

Meanwhile, Fluttershy was examining the little creature in her forelegs. It seemed to be roughly about the same size as Highflyer but felt much lighter because every place that Highflyer sported thick muscle, this creature seemed to sport no more than thin skin stretched over bones. Even its face was so bare of flesh it looked more like a skull than a face, with that dark cavity where its nostrils should be and its sharp teeth permanently exposed in its lipless mouth. Then she noticed something she had missed before. What she had originally thought was burnt flesh was actually a layer of dirt and dried leaves plastered to the creature's body with dried foam. She gently pulled away some of the covering, revealing not flesh or hair, but a smooth hard black surface, almost like a scale or a shell. "Everypony, come look at this," she whispered, wiping away more of the dirt and leaves, to reveal the shell-like substance beneath.

Suddenly something slammed into the tree's trunk, causing it to shudder and forcing the ponies and dragon to cling to the branches. Looking down, they saw the cragadiles slamming themselves against the tree, trying to knock it down.

"We better get out of here," said Skywishes. "I don't know how much more this tree can take. I'll probably have to fly us one or two at a time to another tree and from there to the HAB."

"Hey, why doesn't Fluttershy use her Stare to just send these cragadiles packing?" Spike asked.

"Good idea," said Fluttershy, passing the pony-creature to him to hold, and leaning over to look at the cragadiles below them.

However, as she looked down and suddenly saw just how high up they really were, she was suddenly seized with vertigo. A quick glance down was one thing, but this prolonged staring, coupled with the tree swaying under the cragadiles' blows...

She felt sweat break out on her forehead, and her chest tighten up as she continued looking down. I'm slipping! I'm going to fall! her body screamed as she clutched the branch under her and squeezed her eyes shut.

"Fluttershy, what's wrong?" she heard Rarity ask, and tears of humiliation leaked from her closed eyes.

"I'm sorry! I can't do it! I—I just feel so dizzy, and—"

"It's her fear of heights," she heard Rarity whisper.

There were several painful seconds of silence before Skywishes said, "Well, it'd probably be faster if I just started flying us back to the HAB anyway." But that did little to ease Fluttershy's sense of guilt. She had had the perfect opportunity to help out, to ease some of the burden off Skywishes, and she'd flunked it.

The little equine surged into wakefulness as pain shot through her right front leg. She thrashed out with her remaining limbs in a desperate attempt to fend off those monsters that had been closing in around her. At the same time her eyes snapped open and she found herself not surrounded by smoky darkness, but bright light. For a brief terrible moment she thought her captors had found her and forced her back into that unmoving state she had been forced to exist in for so long. But then she realized she was still able to move.

Rolling onto all fours, she yelped as she accidentally jostled her injured leg. Tucking it protectively against her body, she looked up to see herself surrounded by several different-colored ponies, all staring at her. She scrambled backward away from them, trilling a warning as her head whipped this way and that, trying to keep them all in sight.

"It's okay. You're safe here," said a soft voice she recognized from earlier, as its owner stepped forward. "We're not going to hurt you."

The little equine trusted this pony's words as much now as she had before.

Not. One. Bit.

How many times had her captors appeared to show her compassion by offering her hope of freedom, only to cruelly snatch it away before she could so much as taste it?

Far, far too many times.

No, she wasn't about to be lured in with false kindness just to be imprisoned again.

Fluttershy mentally sighed in defeat. When they had finally made it back to the TreeHAB she had intended to splint the strange creature's leg before it woke up, but that plan had gone out the window when the creature hadn't so much slowly stirred to consciousness as instantly snapped awake in full fighting mode.

Her words still had no effect on the creature and judging by the way it was currently eyeing everyone, enlisting her friends' help in subduing it while she treated it would likely only panic it more.

Which left Fluttershy with only one other option. She may have failed to use her Stare earlier but she wasn't going to fail this time.

As she turned the full power of her Stare on the creature it flinched and cowered as expected, ready to submit to her as so many other animals had. But then its cadaverous face twisted in a look of fury and it lunged at her, teeth bared. Startled, Fluttershy recoiled, instinctively throwing up her forelegs in self-defense. The next moment she felt two rows of sharp jagged teeth fastened on her left one! As pain seared through the limb, Fluttershy let out a scream of mingled shock and agony. She tried to pull free, but the creature only bit down harder as if not intending to stop until it hit blood, bone, or possibly both. Through the haze of pain, Fluttershy was vaguely aware of the others swarming around her, trying to help. She saw flashes of blue and magenta magic circle both her leg and the creature's jaws, trying to separate them, and she saw Spike trying to pry those same jaws open with his claws. But all this seemed to do was drive the creature to bite down even harder until Fluttershy felt sure it would take her leg clean off.

But then Highflyer darted in and went not for the creature's jaws, but its hind legs. He caught ahold of the left one, and gave it a good hard wrench. There was an audible pop! from that leg's hip joint, and the creature let out a muffled cry of pain, causing its grip on Fluttershy to loosen slightly. Highflyer gave the now-dislocated leg another yank, and this time the creature was torn free of Fluttershy. She fell back, clutching at a foreleg now soaked with blood. Through the pain she felt her friends crowding around her, all trying to offer aid or encouragement, when suddenly she heard Skywishes's voice cut through the hubbub.

"Stay back! All of you!"

From her position on the floor, Fluttershy looked through the other ponies' legs to see that somehow during the confusion, Skywishes had gotten ahold of the creature. She had managed to get behind it with her front legs on either side of its head, grasping a piece of pipe that was thrust horizontally between the creature's jaws like a gag. The creature's teeth were gnashing against the pipe, clearly trying to get free, but it didn't seem able to flame with its jaws forced open like that. Skywishes also had her wings wrapped tight around the creature's two uninjured limbs, making it for all intents and purposes helpless, yet still it tried to get free.

"Stay back!" Skywishes repeated, her words coming out in a grunt this time as she hauled the struggling creature toward the floor's entrance panel. "Until I ... get this ... thing ... out of here!"

Suddenly Fluttershy shoved her way through the ponies surrounding her, disregarding the pain it sent through her injured foreleg. Skywishes had just kicked the panel open and gotten the creature positioned over it, when Fluttershy screamed at the top of her lungs, "NO! SKYWISHES, DON'T!"

The room went silent except for the mystery-creature's continued strained groans against the pipe between its teeth. All eyes turned to stare at Fluttershy. She stumbled and clutched at her bleeding leg, but kept her eyes trained on Skywishes and the struggling captive. "Please, Skywishes. Don't throw her out there in the cold."

When Skywishes turned to meet Fluttershy's eyes, her expression was somehow equal parts incredulity, contempt, and admiration, but when she spoke her tone was pragmatic. "What else do you expect me to do? We can't have this thing attacking us and spitting fire all over the HAB. We've got enough dangers to worry about out there; we don't need one in here as well."

"She attacked out of fear, Skywishes. I know she did. I've seen animals do it again and again. I know the difference between one that's normally always aggressive and one that's just doing it because it's injured and afraid. Please, Skywishes."

The coral-colored pony's expression had gone from uncompromising to torn. "Fluttershy, we can't—"

"Wait, Skywishes," Twilight cut in. "I might have a way for us to let that thing stay here without it being able to attack us."

Skywishes cocked an eyebrow at her. "How exactly would you keep it from burning the HAB down if you can't put its flames out with magic?"

"By blocking its flames from reaching any fuel. That way they'll just die off naturally. I know it doesn't sound that different from trying to put a fire out, but trust me there's a subtle difference."

"Please Skywishes..." Fluttershy pleaded.

Skywishes closed her eyes and exhaled before looking back to Twilight. "What do you need me to do?"

"Just let the creature go, put it where it's not near the rest of us, and I'll take it from there."

Skywishes nodded once, then spun around, lifted the pipe out of the creature's mouth, and used her wings to shove said creature forward, causing it to stumble away from both herself and the open floor panel. The creature tried to twist around and spit fire back at her, but at that precise moment Twilight fired off her own spell. A glowing bubble surrounded the creature, and the fire struck the inside of the bubble's wall, dissipating when it found no fuel to feed it.

"There," Twilight breathed. "Now it won't be able to attack—"

Inside the bubble, the little creature went ballistic, throwing itself against the shining barrier, tearing at it, clearly trying to get free, but as it moved the bubble just rolled along with it.

Skywishes glanced at Fluttershy. "Well, now what?"

"Uh, let's ... um, let's give it some space," Fluttershy advised. As much as she hated to just leave an animal alone and in pain, interacting with this particular one only seemed to agitate it. And after how it had reacted to her Stare, it looked like the only chance they might get to mend the creature's injuries were when it was too weakened and exhausted to fight them any longer.

Fluttershy winced as the antiseptic she'd swabbed her leg with began to do its work. When she lifted the cloth to examine the bite, Highflyer took a peek at it as well and let out a low whistle.

"My thoughts exactly," said Screwjob, also taking a look before settling back in a sitting position. "My goodness," he muttered, scraping at the side of his teeth with one front hoof. "Ponies have told me I've got a set of chompers on me, but that is impressive—Hey!" He had just felt someone jerk several long black hairs out of his tail. However, his indignation vanished when he saw the perpetrator was Applejack. "Getting a little familiar back there ain'tcha, Apps?"

She snorted. "In your dreams. I just took your hair because it's the darkest we've got and Fluttershy needs it to stitch up her leg."

His grin took on a challenging air. "You sure it wasn't just because I gave you permission to yank away on my luxurious tail?"

"Without a doubt," she deadpanned.

He chuckled. "Keep telling yourself that, Apps. You know I'm a handsome hunk of horsemeat."

"Good thing I'm a vegetarian then," she muttered under her breath.

His grin only widened. "As am I. And I'm particularly fond of apples if you catch my drift."

"Oh, I'll catch it and hogtie you with it."

"Well, you do owe me a sparring match, so bring it on."

"I don't owe you—!"

While this was going on Fluttershy knotted the pilfered hair and began stitching up her leg wound. As she listened to the verbal sparring, she suddenly felt an unexpected twinge of envy toward her farm pony friend. While Applejack had done nothing but reject Screwjob's advances, at least she knew where she stood with the stallion. Fluttershy thought of what she would have given to be certain of where she stood with Discord. But then again, he probably wouldn't be him if he was that clear-cut.

By the time she had finished stitching and bandaging her wound, she noticed how quiet the HAB had become. The mysterious pony-creature was no longer hissing, snarling, or tearing around the place. Spotting the glowing bubble at the other end of the room she saw that the creature inside was lying on its stomach with its good legs tucked under it and its injured ones stretched out awkwardly. In spite of her own injury, Fluttershy felt a wave of pity for the creature and the pain its broken and dislocated limbs were doubtless giving it. Moving to the bubble, she murmured softly, "It's okay. I never wanted to hurt or scare you. I just wanted to help. I still do."

The creature's only response was to snarl at her, its great orange eyes full of hate.

"Give it a rest Fluttershy," Skywishes sighed, coming over to her. "That thing doesn't want to be friends with you."

"But I've seen so many animals who've behaved like this, who I was finally able to get through to."

"Yeah, and there's plenty of animals that don't care as well. You don't even know what that thing is, Fluttershy. None of us do."

"That doesn't mean I don't have to try." She went back to studying the little creature as best she could through the captive bubble. It looked so painfully thin, but now she suddenly wondered if that thinness might actually be natural like a greyhound's as opposed to being a result of being underfed. In the HAB's light she could also see that where most ponies had manes this creature had only a few scant strands of hair and an equally sparse crop of hair at the end of its thin bony tail. But apart from that, its entire body was covered with a sort of black exoskeleton like an insect ... or now that she thought about it ... like a changeling. But she'd never seen or even heard of a changeling with such ridged bony-looking armor and a skull-like face. The whole effect was ... well ... almost as if the creature were a pony with its skeleton on the outside.

Fluttershy suddenly had a wild thought. Could this strange creature be something Discord had whipped up? That would certainly explain why she had never seen anything like it before. And if Discord had created it ... could its design have been what inspired the changelings to murder Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie in the gruesome way they had?

Before she could voice these thoughts to the other ponies, she was startled by a loud thunk! against a window. In split seconds something flat and dirty white squirmed in under that window, rolled itself into a tube, and sailed through the air to smack Skywishes in the back of the head, causing her to flinch forward with an indignant "Hey!" The tube then bounced across the floor and as it bounced it reconstructed itself into the familiar shape of a two-headed, five-winged parrot. But with a lot more paper than Fluttershy remembered now added onto his body, wings, and crests.

Author's Note:

Ah, and here marks the return of our little old Deus ex Max-ina. Unfortunately we'll have to wait until the next chapter to get his report on Discord's situation.

Also we might not have learned too much more yet about our mystery equine, but at least the other characters now know she exists and will doubtless be trying to figure out what exactly she is.

Thanks everyone for your patience, and as always a huge thank you to Nightwalker for his suggestions, editing, and especially for helping me improve several elements in this chapter.