• Published 25th Sep 2012
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Sororal Instincts. - Reptilicus

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We're swimming in the frozen sky.

Centuries upon centuries ago there had been a rather important argument. Perhaps argument isn't the correct word. A scuffle, maybe? A scrimmage? A brawl? A rag-tag hootenanny? Doesn't really matter, actually. It was bad. Having two omnipotent beings that controlled the climate and cosmos suddenly trying to kill each other tends to end badly. Nobody really knew the full story, since history is usually written by the victors. In this case Celestia and the Royal Guards. The legend was that at some point, the goddess of the night Luna got really jealous. For good reason, as few would admit. Back then ponies fled from shadows and the night, believing in superstitions and monsters. Ironically they were correct most of the time. These days modern ponies enjoyed a rather healthy nightlife. In some cases too healthy. But back then? The moment shadows started to stretch across the ground, ponies were diving into their houses, barricading the doors, curling into fetal positions, and such. It was embarrassing but that was how they lived.

Anyway, Luna gets fed up with this crud. Everyone hated her because she was the queen of the thing they feared most (the dark) and treated her like a monster. They loved Celestia though. They worshipped the ground that mare walked on. This made Luna jealous, and jealousy over long periods of time tends to turn into bitterness, anger, and eventually hatred. Luna grew to hate the only other being on the planet who could ever lover her: her big sister. And so, just to teach the cowering citizens a lesson in respect, she decided not to lower the moon one day. Not the best idea, but anger makes you do weird stuff. Celestia asked nicely to stop apparently, but it was a pretty no-can-do situation. Lore was they had a tussle of sorts. Meteors, moons, planets, etc all exploding and smashing into Equestria as the two Goddesses tried to annihilate each other. Pretty spectacular, most likely if you'd been alive to see it. Long story short, Luna got sent to the very same moon she once controlled. Celestia felt a thousand years would be enough time to cool Luna off. She ended up being wrong. Some ponies just can't let go of a grudge.

After that Celestia controlled everything. Her castle became the main mark of the city of Canterlot. A great shining beacon of white, yellow, and royal purple. Progress, science, cuisine, culture, literature and more; everything moved forward in a rapid pace there. Even today the place is pretty wicked awesome. On the other hoof, Luna's half of Equestria kinda....decayed. Her Royal Guard of fuzzy purple bat-ponies all fled to the moon to be with their queen and start over. And without anybody to take care of her place, the whole thing pretty much fell apart. Nature re-claimed the land that once had been hers and the castle became ruins. A hobo lived there briefly but found it too creepy to stay in. When Luna managed to break free of the moon and return, she immediately tried once again to get rid of the sun. Twilight Sparkle and her happily hued horse horde put a stop to that relatively quick. The twist was that the showdown took place in the very ruins that had once been Luna's part of the kingdom. It was in a rather sad state and once Luna had learned her lesson, in a moment described by any as 'touching', the place had been abandoned again.

Everyone figured Luna would try to renovate the place. Polish some of the uglies out of it. Make it nice again or maybe sell it off. It was still a decent piece of real estate despite the thousands of years of decay and overgrowth. But it never happened. Luna had made a new kingdom on the moon and no longer cared about her old castle or the rather sad memories it carried with it. Let's be honest, if you had to choose between living in your traumatizing childhood home where you lost everything you ever cared about due to your anger issues, OR living in a cool new world you crafted by yourself like a fine artisan on a giant floating space rock.....c'mon. You know what you'd choose. Don't lie to yourself. So that was that. Eight ponies now knew the location of the old castle. Celestia, Luna, and the Elements of Harmony.

Two of which were there right now. One hoping she was alone and the other attempting to remedy the alone-ness. Will the two ponies make up? Will they engage in poorly-written drama unfitting of a story based around colorful toy horses? Will this story ever end? Find out next time on: Sororal Instincts.


*************************************************


Rainbow Dash swished her polychromatic tail angrily. She was angry at a lot of things at the moment. Angry her friends had so little faith in her ability to care for others. Angry she'd been embarrassing herself so much lately. Angry that it was so cold and it was her fault it was cold. Angry that one of her best friends was apparently completely bipolar and extremely depressed and had hidden it away for so long it was literally making her frighteningly insane. Angry that somewhere out there was a group of pegasi who had gladly abandoned their child because they thought she would never fly. Angry that her other friend felt the need to trash her every time they talked. But mostly she was angry it had all happened at once. Had any of these things occurred during separate time periods, it would have been easy to work through them. But everything was snowballing. Even in winter, everything snowballed.

"Dash! I need to talk to you!" cried a voice in the night. Dash picked up the southern drawl immediately. Here was Applejack again, either here with a half-hearted apology or a new lecture. Well she can go and talk to the snow. Dash had way more important things to think about

At the moment Dash was sitting on one of the ancient parapet walls of the ancient castle that had, at one point, belonged to Princess Luna. At the moment it was a musty filthy piece of architecture, still retaining a bit of its beautiful design through all the plants and weather that had piled upon it over the centuries. During the warmer months, what was left of the decrepit castle was usually covered in a thickets, vines, moss and jasmine. The vines stretched their way across the gables and over the battlements, almost making a sort of roof that kept the inside of the keep very dry. The rain and ice had turned all of these vines and thickets into sharp spears of ice and glass that felt no pity for any living thing. Any animal passing by would be wise enough to steer clear of this place. One wrong move could send you sliding into a sharp harem of frozen thorns, or bring an icy stalactite down onto your head. It was a gothic funhouse of danger.

The roof however was still somewhat safe, if quite slippery. It hadn't been the first time Dash had sat on this roof, contemplating things. She wasn't a very deep pony, barely literate actually. But she found the silent ruins soothing when her mind was troubled. A place to meditate for a while before her body grew weary of sitting still and she found herself lacing through the skies again. There would be no meditation tonight, however. Applejack was as stubborn as Dash and was determined to talk to the pony, even if it meant getting through the ancient maze of frozen stone.

"Dash, please." Applejack shouted. She could barely make out the wisps of rainbow hair peaking out over the pinnacle of the castle, almost invisible when framed by the moon. It had been more than an hour since Rainbow had disappeared from the den room of the bakery. After finding the Rainbow Pony in none of the usual spots she tended to sit in around Ponyville, Applejack had decided check the castle. The place that solidified that all six ponies would be friends for life. Whether they liked it or not.

"Go. Away." came the sharp reply from the roof, echoing through the catacombs of the old building. Even the brief soundwaves were enough to send small sprinkles of ice falling off the frozen vines and branches that had made their home inside the building. Applejack took a step back, not wanting to be in the danger zone if a small avalanche went down. She knew after what had happened earlier, Dash wouldn't be eager to rescue her.

"I know yer upset n' all. I just want to apologize to ya." Applejack squinted her eyes, trying to detect any movement.

"I'm sick of your apologies."

Applejack nodded to herself. She knew she'd gone too far this time. She knew now she had angered Dash far beyond what the pegasus was capable of controlling. She rested on her haunches and folded her forelegs under her chest.

"I ain't leavin' til you come down."

Honesty was Applejack's thing and she kept her word. For a full hour she sat on the frozen floor waiting for Rainbow to come down. Two stubborn ponies, neither willing to admit defeat. Eventually there a quiet flutter of wings. Silence, then a quiet click as four hooves carried a pegasus out of the darkness of the castle, until she was a few feet away from the earthbound pony who was sitting diligently on the cobblestone. There was a gleam of resentment in her eye, and a subtle scowl dancing across her face.

"Hey, Dash." Applejack said as calmly as possible. Any emotion could provoke Dash into losing her temper and Applejack was determined to keep this civil. She was treading on thin ice, and this conversation could determine if she and Dash ever spoke again.

"I don't care about anything you have to say."

"I know, but I'm gonna say it anyway. I'm sorry."

Dash sneered, feeling anger broiling inside.

"No you aren't."

Applejack raised her eyebrows, somewhat surprised at the answer.

"What do ya mean, no I ain't? 'Course I am."

"No. You aren't. If you were you would stop doing this. You would stop talking to me like I'm dirt. Like I'm some sort of idiot."

"Dash...I don't..."

"Shut up. I'm talking here." Rainbow flared out her wings, marching boldly up to Applejack. "You know I get it now. What your deal is, AJ. I disgust you. You hate my lifestyle, you hate what I do for a living, you hate my personality, and you hate the idea that I might feel the same emotions you do. You don't think of me as a friend. You think of me as a stupid animal."

"...."

"But you know what, AJ? I don't care anymore. I LIKE what I do. And I like me, as a pony. I LIKE that I'm not perfect. I LIKE that my family is broken. I LIKE that I'm not as friendly or pretty or smart as you and can show it off without even thinking about it. And you know what else? I LIKE taking care of that little pony. I LOVE caring for Scootaloo. And I'm going to keep taking care of her, AJ. We're gonna be a happy broken little family. And if you try to stop me, so help me Celestia...."

Rainbow coughed loudly, her wings shaking with anger. She wanted desperately to hit Applejack in the face. Some force of habit holding her back.

"Dash I don't want to stop you. I want you to be happy. I want you and Scootaloo to be happy. Together."

"Then what's your deal? Why do you hate everything I do? Why do you keep treating me like this? Why are we even having this stupid conversation?"

"You scare me."

There was a quiet roll of thunder that echoed across the night sky. Cold rain began to sprinkle down, freezing as it hit the snow. Dash was quiet, trying to understand what was going on around her. Scared? Applejack was scared of Dash? How could you be afraid of something you once called your friend? How could you be afraid of something you took time out of your day to scold? Dash sat on the ground, folding her wings back to her sides, the rain bouncing off her waterproof feathers.

"Dash you remember a few months back when you hit that tree?"

It was an odd question. Dash had hit a lot of trees in her life. A fact that often upset Fluttershy who was sure trees could feel pain.

"Depends."

"Remember when ya couldn't leave the hospital? And Twilight gave ya those Darin' Doodly books to read while you healed up?"

"Yeah." Rainbow was still too upset to correct Applejack on how badly she'd mangled the title of perhaps one of the finest written works in existence.

Applejack stood, her coat sticking to the ground a bit now that rain and ice were intermingling on the floor. With a few gentle steps she had sat down next to Rainbow Dash. For a few minutes the two sat in silence as rain and snow fell to the floor, like bits of frozen confetti, collecting on the brim of the brown stetson that Applejack always kept on her head.

"I remember that day really well. I remember hearin' Rarity scream real loud. I'd seen you, ya know. Fallin' out of the sky after doing some sort of fancy loop-de-loop. I figured you'd just landed clumsily. Went back to rakin' leaves. Thought nothin' of it. It was like a normal day. Then I heard that scream."

The two equines sat solemnly, neither looking at one another.

"Rarity never screamed like that before. I remember bein' real scared when I heard it. I remember runnin' real fast. Faster than I think I ever managed to. Rarity was stumblin' around like she was 'bout to faint. Fluttershy came runnin' up from the river wonderin' what the noise was. I remember askin' Rare what happened and she just pointed a hoof. I remember feelin' my skin gettin real cold as I got close to the tree. Like I knew somethin' real bad had happened. Twilight was just standin there, with her lil mouth just hangin open. Like she'd seen a ghost. And Pinkie was makin' these noises like she was trying to scream but they were comin' out too fast. She was tryin to climb the tree."

Applejack shuddered slightly and gulped.

"Then I got to see what Pinkie and Twi had been lookin at. You were an awful sight, Dash. Yer neck was all twisted around in ways it shouldn't. Your legs were all....weak and dangling from the tree branch you'd hit. And that wing of yers was bent. Like bent in a way I can't even....it was like it'd been pulled backwards all unnatural-like. There was this white stuff pokin out from your feathers. I remember stoppin' and realizin' it was your bone. I've never been so scared."

With a flick of her head, and a shower of snow, Applejack adjusted her hat.

"Twilight pulled herself together and dragged you out of the tree with some magic. Put y'all on my back and carried you into town. I could hear your insides cracklin' from all your broken parts slidin around. We thought you were dead, Dash."

Dash turned over to glance at her peach-colored friend. This was a side of the story she'd not been familiar with. She'd woken up in the hospital feeling terrible, but the world seemed fine. In a way Dash had been thankful for that day. It had opened the gateway to a world of books that Dash would never have voluntarily experienced. It had helped her understand Twilight's vices more. She'd come to think of it all as a very positive event in her life, despite the injury.

"Rarity cried the whole way back to town. She was hysterical. Twilight kept trying to keep your head up as we ran. Pinkie was the worst. She just kept howlin' and shrieking and asking me if you were ok. If I could feel your heartbeat. Tryin to talk to ya and tell ya she was there and it was gonna be ok. She started losin' her lunch at one point and just laid on the ground and cried. Fluttershy didn't even come with us at first. She just sat there starin' at the spot where you'd hit the tree. Her eyes were like.....she wasn't even there. Like a part of her was stuck up in that tree."

Applejack's voice began to crack. The rough and tough farm pony was never the sort to get very emotional. She could count on one hoof the number of ponies who had ever seem her cry.

"I was so scared. I thought I'd lost ya. I thought I'd lost another pony I loved. When the doctors took ya in I just laid there on the ground next to Pinkie and we cried and cried and cried. Rarity had passed out by then, right in the lobby. Twilight started goin' through their books, seeing if she could fix it all with magic. Fluttershy wouldn't talk to anyone when she finally got to the hospital. She just sat on the floor and stared at the wall. She didn't say nothin' til ya woke up."

Rainbow's eyes conveyed an emotion of pure shock as she processed this tale.

"AJ. Why didn't you guys tell me about this?"

"We didn't want ya to feel guilty, Sugarcube. We spared the details so you'd keep doin' what you love. We knew you'd be afraid to fly for our sake and we didn't want that for ya. You belong in the sky. We wanted you to be happy even though you scared us so much. For a while there ya know we talked about askin you to stop training. Just cause every time you were in the air we all felt so uncomfortable. Just waiting for something bad to happen."

"I'm...."

"The others got over it, ya know. But I never did. Stuff never went back to normal for me. It reminded me of how things were after my parents were gone. Every time Granny or Mac went on a trip I'd just be worrying. Wondering if they'd ever come back. Even these days I still feel like that sometimes. Every time Applebloom is late comin' home from school I just can't....ya know...function. I can't think or eat or breathe proper. It's like someone is chokin' me."

"So....you're afraid I'm going to get hurt."

"I'm afraid that one day....Dash.......I'm gonna hear a knock at the door and it's gonna be Twilight or Pinkie lookin' at me and tellin' me you're gone. That you went down and didn't get back up. I.....I don't think I could handle that."

"I would never put you guys through that."

"I know, sugar. I know. That's why I don't say nothin' or ask ya to be safe or tone it down. But it's different with a child, Dash. What's gonna happen if Scootaloo finds out one day you got yerself killed and now she's got no mom again? What happens when she sees ya during one of those days where you strain yourself so hard you're coughing up blood? Those days where you collapse in my lawn makin them horrible wheezin' noises after doin' all them fancy moves for hours without rest. That's the stuff that makes me so scared, Dash. I've been there, before."

"I guess I kinda go overboard sometimes."

"I want you around, Dash. I want you and me and the others to be old nags one day. Where we just sit around and play cards and gossip like Granny does. Where we're just a bunch of looney old coots havin' the time of our lives bein' all wrinkly and dusty."

"I'm sorry I've worried you guys that much, AJ."

"Don't you dare apologize to me Dash. I'm here cause I want you to know I was wrong."

Dash blinked. Applejack was rarely wrong.

"When I was lookin for ya, after me and Pinkie scared ya off I started runnin' around town and the first place I looked was your cloud house. I had Twilight give me a little magic boost so I could walk around up there and Dash...."

Applejack shook her head, a small smile spreading onto her face.

"I....saw what you'd done. You made your house so nice and clean. You got rid of all yer dangerous flight trainin' equipment. I like how you made that little rope ladder down to the ground so that lil' filly can climb up and down it. I like how you added a whole section of yer house just for her. That little 'Welcome Home Scootaloo' sign hangin on the doorway. It was all just....perfect."

"Yeah I spent most of the day just trying to finish that. I've been workin' on it for a while." Dash grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of her neck. "I didn't really want you guys to see it til' I'd worked up the nerve to tell you I wanted to adopt."

"I'm sorry, Dash. I didn't have faith in ya. I didn't trust you to be responsible. And I let my old fears get the best of me and it's made me....just....be so hard on ya. Specially these last few months since the accident. I shouldn't have said what I said at the bakery. I should never have told ya it was a bad idea. I should never have acted like you mean nothin' to me and...."

Applejack turned and hugged Dash tightly. The peach-colored mare sniffled as she embraced her friend, knowing she'd hurt her.

"Sugarcube, don't you ever EVER think I don't love you. Don't you ever think for a moment I hate ya cause I don't. You're like a sister to me, Dash. You're kin. I could never hate my own kin."

The two separated as Applejack smiled and took her hat off to hide the tears threatening to fall from her emerald eyes.

"I'm so proud of ya, Dash. I know I don't tell y'all much how much ya mean to me. You've treated that filly like she was your own. Like a mother should. You and Scootaloo deserve to be a family and to be happy and y'all have my blessing. You'll always be mah friends."

"It's ok, AJ. Believe me, I'm gonna take better care of myself. For Scootaloo. And everyone else. I already asked for a new position at work today. I want to have more free time to raise Scoots. It'd suck if she was at home while I worked all day. I want to give her all the attention she needs. Give her what my mom couldn't for for me, ya know?"

"Who's boss of the weather ponies, then?"

"Thunderlane is the new smug chief."

"Oh, that mighty handsome feller."

"Ugh." Dash gagged loudly.

"I'm just havin' a laugh on ya, Rainbow. I saw him flirtin' fierce with somepony else a few days ago. That one green pony who likes to sit all funny in the park."

"Told ya he was a horndog."

The two horses wearily stood and made their way out of the frozen castle, their friendship repaired. At least for now. The rain had come to a stop and what little water had fallen to the ground had frozen immediately, making the surface very slippery. As they exited into the icy forest that surrounded the castle, Rainbow began to realize just how long she'd spent outside.

"Did everyone go home already, AJ?"

"Only Twilight and Rarity did. Twi wanted to make sure Spike was ok and Rare wanted to get plenty of sleep 'fore her trip tomorrow."

"How's um....Pinkie?"

" Mr. n' Mrs.Cake and Fluttershy calmed her down. She clung to the missus for a while there just sobbin' and snifflin'. Mewlin like a newborn."

"I feel really terrible, causing all this. I should have waited."

"Shoot, it's my fault it happened Dash. I think all my yellin' made her get real defensive of you. She's real sweet on you, ya know. Likes you somethin' fierce. Probably felt it was her duty to make sure you hadn't changed your mind and ruined everythin' thanks to me."

"She didn't have to.....do it like that."

"Panicked, probably. If I'd been through what she had, I 'spose I'd do everything I could to make sure it didn't happen to somepony else. Even if it meant hurtin' myself n' causin' a ruckus."

Rainbow fluttered upward. Before this night was over, she was going to get as much advice as she could gain from her friends. Applejack called to her from the ground.

"Where in the hay are you goin'?"

"Scoot's gonna be up soon, AJ. Before I do this I want to be sure I know whats gonna be best for her. I'm gonna go around and talk to everyone."

"At four in the mornin?"

"I'm losing control of my life here, AJ. If I do this I wanna make sure I do it right the first time."

*********************************************



Most of the time the Ponyville library was a calm and serene environment where anyone could walk inside, pick up a good book, and immerse themselves. Content in knowing they would never be disturbed or interrupted.

At the moment its silence was broken by the sound of a nerd looking for a glutton.

"Spike! I know you've been eating caramel corn even though I told you no more sweets! Why are you munching on junkfood at this time of night?"

"Oh yeah? Wheres your proof? You ain't got nothing on me, sister!"

"Spike, there are kernels of corn all over the floor. And it stinks of caramel in here! If you were trying to hide the evidence you've done an awful job."

"You have no proof those are my kernels! Maybe they aren't there! Maybe you are still asleep and this is a dream!"

"SPIKE! Get down here right now!"

With a small hop the tiny dragon leaped down from his perch on top of one of the bookcases. He was small enough that simply curling up on top of one of the oaken structures was enough to completely hide him. He walked forward looking annoyed. Falling to his knees, and sticking out his hands like a prisoner about be arrested, he gave Twilight one last defiant look.

"Okay, Warden. You caught me. I'll go quietly."

Twilight failed to suppress her laughter at the melodramatic dragon. Spike never failed to make her laugh.

"Oh, Spike. What am I going to do with you?"

"Let me eat more caramel corn?"

"Oh so you admit to it, now?"

At that moment, in a rush of colors, Rainbow Dash came sweeping through the tree limbs that made up the roof of the library. She landed delicately between Twilight and Spike, a small storm of leaves and snowflakes in her wake which fell to the ground amongst all the corn kernels. She grinned slightly at the perfect landing but soon noticed the mess on the floor.

"Aw geez. I'm sorry Twilight. I'll clean this stuff up."

"Don't worry about it. Spike should do it as part of his punishment."

"Where exactly is Spike?"

Spike was young and his education had consisted mostly of reading storybooks in the Canterlot library. However he possessed an infinite amount of cleverness and had taken advantage of Rainbow's entrance to slip out. He sat gleefully on the windowsill upstairs, glad that someone was providing a distraction for Twilight. He pulled a box of lemon mints out from one of the branches of the tree, taking note not to disturb all the other candies he had crammed into the abandoned birds nest near the window. If Twilight wasn't going to let him keep treats inside the house, then he was just going to have to bend the rules. It had worked for months and tonight had been a very close call. He chewed thoughtfully as the voices shouting his name from inside the house grew quiet. The search for the scaly fugitive was over. He had won. His prize? Small crunchy lemony candies that he loved so very very much.

"Sorry about that, Twi." Dash meekly said as she pushed a small broom across the hardwood, collecting all the leaves and seeds into a dustpan. "I just needed to talk to you about something."

"It's fine. Spike just keeps breaking the rules I've set up." Twilight lifted the dustpan with a bit of magic and flung its contents out the window and into the frozen grass under the tree.

"How do you do it?" Dash quietly asked, settling down into a chair.

"How do I do what?"

"How do you....well...like I was talkin to Applejack a little bit ago..."

"Oh good, so she did find you."

"Yeah, we made up I guess. Anyway she was telling me how whenever Applebloom is gone for too long or Mac or Granny are on a trip all she can do is worry."

"That's understandable."

"But Spike is gone for weeks sometimes, doing stuff for Celestia. And you don't ever seem to be bothered by it. How do you manage to not get freaked out wondering if he's ok or not?"

"I'm bothered by it. It bothers me a lot actually, Dash. But despite my worry I know he's ok and safe no matter where he is."

"How?"

"Because he's prepared. Spike's a much better fighter than I am. I can teleport away from danger but Spike can take it head on. He is a dragon, after all. Even large monsters know not to mess with a baby dragon. Even one as silly as Spike."

"That's it?"

"Well, no. Spike's responsible. Sometimes, anyway. Celestia trusts him enough to meet dignitaries and ambassadors and stuff. If she has enough faith in him to let him do stuff like that, then so do I."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense."

"Dash, you know if Scootaloo managed to take care of herself all this time and avoid getting hurt, you being there for her just means she's THAT much more safe in your care. She's smart, Dash. You're going to be fine."

"Thanks, um..." Dash climbed off the chair and trotted up to Twilight. "I actually need to ask you for a favor, Twi."

"Oh?" It was a rare event when Dash asked for anything.

"Yeah I was thinkin....that...if I wanna adopt Scoots I should make it...you know...like..... official. But I need papers and stuff. Like notaries and letters of recommendation and documents and egghead things."

"So you want to see if I could help?"

"You're the only pony I know who is into that sort of thing. I want to do this properly and legally."

"Well I'd happily help you, Dash but why are you asking me this now? At this time of night?"

"Well....." Dash grinned sheepishly. "I wanted it to be a surprise for Scoot. For Hearths-Warming."

****************************************



The door to the Ponyville Library creaked open as two ponies, one blue and one purple, galloped out into the cold night air. They didn't make it very far when a small yellow piece of lemon candy took flight from a library window, gracefully spinning through the air before it hit, with a small thud, the flank of the blue pony.

"Ow! Oh hey, Spike." smiled Rainbow as she turned around and glanced up at the third story library window.

"Hey Rainbow! Twilight told me you were gonna take care of Scootaloo."

"Spike! We are going to have a long talk about your snacking habits when I get back." Twilight shouted, stomping her hoof to try and signify she was being serious. Spike rolled his eyes.

"Rainbow, for the record, I think you're gonna be great." Spike flashed the two ponies a thumbs-up. He was glad he could since very few creatures in this part of the country even had thumbs.

****************************************

The two colorful ponies ran through the town, stopping briefly in front of Rarity's shop and home, the Carousel Boutique. Aptly named because it did indeed look like a carousel. It was one of the more decorated buildings in the town. Pristine in it's elegance, almost royal. The inside of it was often a whirlwind of flying bits of fabric and scissors as Rarity hemmed and sewed like a madmare, filling orders and such. However right at this moment she and her little sister were asleep. At least they were until a hoof rapped sharply on the window outside their bedroom.

This prompted Rarity to awake, adjusting her nightcap. Well more of a night-beret really. Even when sleeping, the fashionista went to great lengths to look as good as possible. Extremely annoyed she kicked the window open and peered out at the two smiling faces in the darkness.

"Twilight? Rainbow? Do you have any idea what the hour is? Most civilized ponies are trying to sleep!"

"Sorry, Rarity, but me and Twi have a whole night of busy stuff ahead of us. And probably most of today. I wanted to wish you and Sweetie a nice Happy Hearths-Warming before we left." Rainbow smiled and flew off with Twilight sighing and following after her on foot.

"I'm sorry Rarity! I told her you'd be upset!" Twilight shouted, glancing behind her at Rarity who looked very sour.

With a loud hmmph the white unicorn slammed the window shut as her friends galloped into the night. The nerve of some ponies.

***************************************

The door to Sugarcube Corner was shoved open by Rainbow quickly entering the building, a mare on a mission. Followed shortly afterwards by a breathless Twilight and a minute later by a bemused Applejack. Despite it being late, and despite being in sort of a rush, Rainbow was determined to talk to one last pair of ponies before she set out on her journey: The Cakes. Rainbow glanced around the bakery, glad that some lights were still on and some ponies were still awake after the chaotic events earlier that night.

Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were in the den. An empty mug of cocoa was in front of Fluttershy while a cold mug still brimming with drink was in front of Pinkie. They had clearly been sitting there for quite some time. Fluttershy waved a yellow hoof wearily as her friends entered. It had been a long night.

"Did Applejack find you, Dash.....oh there she is."

"Hey there, sugarcube. How's Pinkie doing?" Applejack trotted over to where Pinkie sat. Her hair had returned to its curly neon state, and her bright pink sheen had returned. Yet the pink pony was still slumped somewhat lazily in her chair staring at the table. A sad expression plastered across her round features, still reeling from the earlier anxiety.

"She's....doing ok?" Fluttershy gave Pinky a small nudge in the shoulder with her hoof.

"I've been a bad pony." Pinkie muttered, staring at the table. She looked up at Dash who was slinking across the bakery, hoping not to provoke another emotional outburst. "I'm sorry, Dash!" she cried, in a voice laced with grief.

Dash sighed and backed up. She wasn't eager to get into any more conflicts with her friends. Particularly if they involved "feelings" and other unpleasantries. She'd already been through enough tonight with Applejack. But at the same time, Pinkie was Dash's friend. Probably her best friend. She couldn't just leave her hanging. Dash sighed loudly and trotted into the den and up to Pinkie who was slumping even further down into her chair then before. Dash gave Pinkie a small tender nuzzle to her ear, causing the pink pony to sit up straight immediately and blush.

"Pinks, you aren't a bad pony. Just a crazy one." Dash said with a small grin, but quickly adopting a serious face. "But if something is bothering you, REALLY BOTHERING YOU, don't let it get bottled up inside you. It just makes it hurt more when it comes out. I learned that with AJ, tonight. So promise me, Pinky."

"Promise what?" she replied, looking confused and cheerful all at once.

"Promise me you'll tell us about your problems from now on, Pinky. Let US know if you're hurting. We love ya, Pinks. It's what friends do. I don't want you making yourself sick or crazy again. Alright? Promise me."

"Alright, I promise!"

"Pinky promise?"

"Yup!" Pinky shoved her hoof into her eye. It was all a part of the ancient ritual of the Pinky Promise. Scholars would write great tomes for centuries on the various complexities of this particular ritual. Many would go mad trying to understand it and fathom its depths. Others would go madder when they did understand it.

"Y'all should try to get shut-eye, Pinkie. You'll feel better when ya wake up tomorrow and tear into all them gifts your gonna get." Applejack gave Pinkie a hug.

"Why are you here at this time of night, Twilight?" Fluttershy inquired. She yawned loudly, shattering the mundane and dark atmosphere with her ridiculous cuteness.

"I'm gonna have a chat with the Cakes, Fluttershy. Then me and Twi are going on a bit of an adventure."

"An adventure? For Hearths-Warming Day? At five in the morning? What?" the face of Fluttershy contorted from an expression of sleepiness to an expression of perplexity.

"It's...a secret, apparently." replied Twilight with a small roll of here eyes.

Dash gently tapped on the door to Mr. and Mrs.Cake's bedroom only for it to swing wide open, creaking loudly on its old hinges, its archway framing a very upset-looking Mr.Carrot Cake in his polka-dot nightgown. He darkly beckoned Dash to enter then closed the door behind her with a loud click.