• Published 24th Oct 2012
  • 1,683 Views, 205 Comments

Absolution - BlackRoseRaven

A pony begins a journey to find his parents, lost heroes who vanished years ago.

  • ...

Turn Me On

Chapter Twenty Four: Turn Me On

The cold of winter clung on gamely for quite a while, but all the same seemed to fade quickly to Antares: then again, he and his friends were so busy with training and running errands and missions for Celestia that months passed by in a blur. Before he knew it, the snow was melting, and Winter Wrap Up had commenced: something that all the ponies of Equestria were given the day off to take part in. Then again, since the so-called festival was really just more work shoveling snow, it was hard to think of it as a day off, something that Avalon complained strenuously about.

For Antares and his friends, it was much more fascinating than it was for older ponies: the celebration gave them a glimpse of the old Equestria that had once been, where nature and everything in it had been controlled and regulated by ponies. In a single day, they made winter all but disappear and brought what felt almost immediately like spring to Equestria, and nature seemed to bow her head in resignation with the fact there was only one small snow flurry in the days after Winter Wrap Up before the weather began to warm up in earnest.

Antares felt like they had all grown much stronger over the winter, but at the same time, he was very well aware that they all still had quite a lot of room to improve, too. But he felt more confident now that they would be able to meet any challenges that came their way head-on... and that he wouldn't let himself screw up everything again.

Everypony had been putting their best hoof forwards, particularly as winter had started to close, like they all sensed that as winter ended, so would their safety; that Cancer would likely start moving again. Meadowlark had spent almost every day out with Zecora, learning everything she could about both their culture and their shamanistic arts... and Zecora had rewarded her with a potions kit and another zebra relic that Antares hadn't had a chance to see yet.

Rustproof was learning the finer arts of using a rifle from his mother, although thankfully he wasn't as trigger happy as Cowlick was. He was picking it up, slowly but surely, though... but more importantly, he and Cowlick had been working hard on the meteor and the channeling altar alongside Celestia, Twilight, and Prestige Luster, and had made good progress on assembling the strange and alien probe. It was very slow going, thanks to how delicate the work was and how the crystals all had to be fitted in very specific places, but thanks to what the Strange Ones had provided for them, they had a good idea of what they were doing. It would just take time, and require patience.

Prestige herself was honored to be working on the meteor, that Cowlick had finally let her into the inner sanctum of the engineering building... and the once-haughty unicorn truly seemed like almost a completely different person than she had once been. And her magic had only grown for it: even Twilight said she was surprised and perhaps a little proud of how far the young mare had come along, and how much she had grown... both as a pony, and as a mage.

Aphrodisia had become more mature, but also still had her quirks and childish moments: she was more excited about her upcoming birthday than the fact she had started to understand how to transform herself at will, for example. Not that anypony could really blame her: Pinkamena, Pinkie Pie, and Sleipnir always threw an incredible party for the young demon, and she was always showered with affection and compliments... things she cherished far more than the generous gifts she received.

Avalon was doing perhaps the best of them all, delighted to have been nominated for a junior position in the Starlit Knights. She was still running messages and doing courier services for Canterlot's Royal Court and between Starlit Knight units, but she had started to enjoy the job more openly. Not nearly as much as she liked to train, though: she and Antares sparred often during their free time, and while Avalon fought savagely, she also displayed courtesy and respect: something Fluttershy was delighted to see in her student, and that made her willing to continue to work with Avalon even as Fluttershy started to hesitantly teach the young filly more advanced and dangerous fighting techniques.

Antares himself had been working hard: he was developing his acrobatic fighting style out further with the aid of both Celestia and Sleipnir, trying to draw on his mother's magic more often, and he had begun to take time to himself every day to simply sit and meditate, to clear his mind, help his focus, and better understand himself. He always looked to his friends for advice and guidance, even if he was a leader... but he saw in each and every one of them things he wanted to one day exemplify himself.

Others were growing and changing, too: Nirvana and Fluttershy were as common a sight as ever, but they were open and clear that they were 'joined,' as Fluttershy gently phrased it. Most welcomed it, and even though Fluttershy now spoke of herself as part of the Phooka clan, she still lived in her comfortable cottage just outside of town... the only real difference was that now there were a few more Phooka visitors that moved in and out of the area, and could be seen helping out with chores.

And Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage were putting together a quiet little ceremony that was going to take place at their townhouse, a little later in the spring. They were both working hard: Apple Bloom aiding Cowlick with the meteor on occasion, but mostly working on other projects, like the new security system Cowlick wanted put up. Likewise, Scarlet Sage was either working at the clinic, or in the Ponyville hospital and sometimes even Canterlot, using her abilities to further investigate and study the strange, mutating infections left behind by Cancer, in the hopes that they could find an actual cure instead of being forced to rely on heavy-duty spellwork followed by hopeful infusions of various medications.

Burning Desire was doing everything he could to make Twilight Sparkle happy... and Twilight really was happier than she'd been in years. Still, she longed for Scrivener and Luna, but Burning comforted her, never held it against her: he had his own experiences with longing, after all, and knew it well as both friend and foe. But that was perhaps part of why the two meshed together so well... and could be so understanding with each other, in spite of everything.

Antares had also heard that Scutum had been transferred to Canterlot, which was good... but he'd furthermore received a message that Rosewood would be coming to Ponyville on business for Baroness Caprice, which had the young stallion a little concerned. But only a little, as he walked slowly down the street beneath the warm sun, his star necklace glinting as he smiled up at the blue sky and closed his eyes at the feeling of warm rays on his face, as a soft breeze kissed through his mane: on a day like today, it was impossible to be too stressed about anything, even if he felt strangely like he'd forgotten something rather important.

The young stallion opened his cyan eyes to gaze towards the library at the side of the square, smiling to himself as he approached. He had the day off today, and when he'd gotten up, Prestige Luster, Burning Desire and Twilight Sparkle had already been gone, so he had lingered for a while around the house before deciding to come to town. If he was lucky, perhaps Celestia could spare some time with him... or maybe he'd find the others here, and he could help with magical studies or something.

Antares pushed the library door open... then stared in surprise at the sight of not only the family he'd hoped for, but also Discombobulation, Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom. They were all seated around the table, and Prestige Luster looked up with a bright smile, waving at him as she trilled: “Antares!”

“Uh. Hi?” Antares said lamely, looking awkwardly over at Prestige before he cleared his throat as he walked into the room, looking dumbly back and forth. Burning Desire and Twilight were almost leaning together, and Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom were holding hooves without shame, the Pegasus wearing a beautiful silver bracelet that matched the golden band around Apple Bloom's own forelimb. Celestia was sitting back, smiling, but her eyes had a look of lingering longing as Prestige gazed with bright affection towards the young stallion that seemed a little... intense today...

“Oh look, he doesn't know what day it is. See, Celestia? This isn't that important a day to be alone on after all. You know, like you always are.” Discombobulation remarked, and Antares cocked his head dumbly as the other ponies glared over at the Draconequus, while Celestia only sighed tiredly. The chimerical creature flinched a bit at the glares, then he held up his hands with a huff, mumbling: “So touchy, on this, the most commercial of all commercialized holidays. You know, if you need a reason and a specific day to show how much you care about someone, then you probably really don't care about them at all, do you?”

“Oh, come now, Patches, there's no need to be so cynical! I prefer to think of it as an excuse to put my hooves all over a particular pretty mare in this room.” Burning Desire said cheerfully, throwing a foreleg around Twilight, who sighed and rolled her eyes but only smiled after a moment, settling a little against his side. “See? I like this... Hooves and Hearts Day.”

“Hearts and Hooves Day.” Twilight corrected automatically, and Antares started, his eyes widening in surprise before the Lich smiled slightly despite herself as Prestige stared at the young stallion. “Don't tell me you forgot, Antares?”

“I... I've never really... had a reason to remember the day before so... and... I mean...” He cleared his throat, turning beet-red before looking almost desperately back and forth, then hurrying forwards as Apple Bloom grinned and Scarlet Sage hid a smile behind a hoof. “Prestige, I.. uh... I know, let's go out right now and uh... we can... date! Dinner, no... lunch, breakfast... brunch! How about brunch? Brunch?”

“Horses of Heaven, you remind me of Dad.” Scarlet Sage remarked, and Antares have her a consternated look that only made the Pegasus giggle loudly, as Twilight worked hard to repress her own laughter and Prestige only sighed and looked grumpily at Antares. “Now you really remind me of Dad!”

“Scarlet! I... Prestige, I'm really sorry, I had no idea what day it was, I... let's figure something out, okay?” Antares asked almost desperately, and Prestige huffed a little at him before reaching out and firmly shoving a hoof against his muzzle when he ran forwards, before he could speak again.

He blinked and crossed his eyes dumbly to look down at her hoof, and Prestige shook her head grouchily before saying dryly: “If you're done, hero... I believe that Miss Twilight had plans for us all tonight. We can figure out what we're going to do with the rest of the day once she's done telling us about them.”

Twilight half-nodded, replying after a moment: “Well, technically they're Pinkie Pie's plans. She wanted to throw some kind of party at the karaoke bar, apparently she's already over there setting up for tonight. Older ponies and couples mostly, but of course there's always a chance to meet somepony there.” Twilight smiled after a moment, glancing amusedly over at Burning Desire. “That's not an invitation, though, are we clear?”

“I only have eyes for you today, my sweet.” Burning Desire said kindly, then he added mildly, glancing over at Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage: “Mostly because they already turned me down. And rudely.”

The Lich only sighed tiredly, rolling her eyes and absently adjusting her thick black sweater, before she blushed deeply as Burning Desire tugged lightly at this and added kindly: “And tonight, darling, you are going to wear something far nicer than this.”

Twilight grumbled and shoved at him a bit, and Antares blushed as he looked lamely at Prestige, who pulled her hoof away from his muzzle, then smiled at him and said quietly: “Brunch would be fine, Antares. Perhaps... your uh... sister and her... friend... would like to come?”

Prestige looked almost lamely across the table, and Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom looked almost as surprised as Antares, before the Pegasus blushed and nodded once, and Apple Bloom smiled a little, asking in a quietly-entertained voice: “You don't have a problem with a slave hoof lesbian and her shorn wing bride-to-be?”

“Please don't make this more difficult than it already is.” Prestige mumbled, but it was only greeted by laughter before the young unicorn mare looked up and said finally: “I understand that if I want to be with Antares, I... I have to get used to certain ideas not so widely held in the north. I figure this is... as good a day as any to... move forwards.”

Antares smiled warmly, gazing adoringly over at Prestige as his blush faded slowly, before Twilight Sparkle glanced over them and smiled: “Do you have room for us, too, then? I don't want to make things awkward, either, but...”

“No, Mom, you never do. Aunt Tia, Bob, do either of you wanna come too?” Antares asked curiously, glancing up, but Celestia only shook her head with a small smile as Discombobulation rose his hands grumpily.

“No, that's fine, Antares. I think I'm going to stay here and... finish up some work.” Celestia replied quietly, and the young stallion nodded hesitantly, studying her... but it was hard to see past her amethyst eyes, her emotions complex and hidden, but... she was a little sad, for all the positivity he felt coming from her. “Go on ahead, all of you.”

“Yes, go ahead, and enjoy yourselves.” Discombobulation paused, then leaned back, a notepad appearing in one hand and a large quill in the other, as he checked something of and said pleasantly: “And that's one of six impossible things to believe in before breakfast.”

Scarlet Sage rolled her eyes, looking entertained as Apple Bloom huffed a little, but Twilight only rolled her eyes and stood up. Then she grumbled when Burning Desire burst into flames beside her before transforming into a bird that cheerfully flew up high into the air, doing a loop before zooming down and landing on Prestige's head: the young unicorn immediately looked sour at this, and Antares hurriedly turned away to hide his grin as the firebird preened and then pointed a wing forwards, declaring: “To the mortal cuisine! It has been such a long time since I've sampled good fare!”

“And it'll be longer still if you don't get off my head.” threatened Prestige, even as she began to walk towards the door, and Antares laughed as his sister and her fiancee followed. Twilight hesitated for only a moment, glancing over her shoulder... but Celestia smiled and gestured quietly for her to go on, while Discombobulation pointedly ignored her, jotting something down on his notepad.

The violet mare nodded after a moment, then turned her eyes back forwards, hurrying after the others as they left. The only sound was the closing of the library door, and the silence spiraled out as Celestia sat quietly back in her chair and Discombobulation simply stood, looking moodily at her until he finally sighed and stepped forwards. “Now stop sulking, Celestia. I thought you were into jazz, not blues.”

“I like both, and they have their similarities.” Celestia said after a moment, smiling over her shoulder at Discombobulation before she shook her head slowly, then glanced awkwardly down again. “I suppose that it's just... I feel alone these days. I don't want to be jealous of Twilight... but sometimes it even borders on anger, and that just makes me feel worse about being-”

“Don't care!” Discombobulation tossed his notebook and quill into the air, the former exploding apart in a flurry of papers that floated all around them as he waved his arms wildly, and Celestia looked at him flatly for a few moments before the Draconequus sighed, then slowly reached up and rubbed moodily at his forehead before saying grumpily: “Alright, Celestia. Because I utterly refuse to take part in a chick-flick and sit down and eat buckets of ice cream with you while sympathizing over how sad it is you can't find a boyfriend, I'm going to be proactive instead.”

He held out a hand towards her, raising his head imperiously as he gazed down at her seriously. “Come with me if you want to live.”

Celestia only looked up at him suspiciously... and the Draconequus sighed and slumped, reaching up to rub at his forehead again. “Great. Great way to ruin everything. Okay, fine: in the words of an animated hyena's voice actor, it's time for you to get your groove back, sister. That means I'm going to take away all your sharp objects and give you a slight makeover so you don't go scaring the hell out of all the pony boys. Most stallions, Celestia, won't date a mare that can kill them just by looking at them and make them look like gnats in physical comparison. Scrivener Blooms and Luna were not a normal couple.”

“But they were better for it. Discombobulation, look, that is a very nice offer, but I think I'll just spend today working and finishing this up. Let the young mares and stallions have their fun, and-” Celestia was cut off when Discombobulation reached down and firmly shoved a metal finger against her lips, looking at her pointedly.

“No. I'm going to put you in a dress, and then I'm going to give you the tools to knock the socks... stockings... horseshoes... whatever ponies wear, you're going to knock them off. And no, you're not going to use a sword or your hooves or magic or anything, you're going to do it with your killer good looks.” Discombobulation halted, then hurriedly added: “Metaphorically killer. You are not going to kill anyone tonight, Celestia. I want you to understand this.”

“I'm not Luna.” Celestia grumbled, shoving his hand away from her mouth, and then she softened and shook her head, muttering: “I'm not Luna. Luna could do this, I don't know if I-”

“Stop talking!” Discombobulation almost screeched, grabbing at his head and shaking himself wildly, and Celestia stared at him. Slowly, she opened her mouth, and the Draconequus glared at her as his face puckered as if he'd bitten into a lemon, then he grabbed his horns and threw his head back, howling: “Unacceptable!”

This was followed by him waving his arms wildly as he continued to yowl, and finally Celestia winced and rose her hooves, shouting over the din: “Alright, alright, if you'll just be quiet I'll play your damned game, Discombobulation!”

“Good, because this is all for your benefit.” the Draconequus said mildly, immediately becoming as calm and serious as he normally was, and he polished his metal claws against his chest as he studied the ivory equine as she glowered at him. “This will be my greatest challenge yet. We go.”

With that, Discombobulation calmly reached down, grasped the table, then simply threw it off to the side, sending books and papers flying in all directions as it lazily half-flipped before crashing loudly down to the floor. Celestia stared at him, and then she looked slowly up at the ceiling as if praying for patience and a quick end as the chimerical creature calmly strode towards the library door, one hand raised up by his head and a single finger pointing at the exit.

Then he paused to look over his shoulder at her insistently, and the ivory mare sighed loudly before simply climbing to her hooves and following morbidly, muttering: “Mimir's head, why didn't I just go out for brunch...”

That night found Mike's Karaoke Bar to be the most crowded place in Ponyville. It had formerly been a nightclub run by Vinyl Scratch... before an attack by a Clockwork Pony had scared off most of the club's posh clientele, and the massive damages done in an ambush by another that had followed had finished the job of gutting the business. It had been bought about five years back and converted into a friendlier karaoke restaurant, and the business had been booming ever since.

Singles milled around the large bar area that was off to one side, some looking a little desperate, others simply seeming bored: likely those who had been dragged here by friends who already had dates. Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie was bouncing happily across the squat wooden stage as a large, brown earth pony tried to explain something to her for the hundredth time, but she only pointed again towards the mass of round tables filled with happy couples, saying excitedly: “Almost everypony is here! Oh, we're gonna have so much fun and sing so many songs!”

“Please don't break anything. Please. Please.” begged the earth pony: Mike Bass, the owner of the club. He looked nervously over Pinkie Pie, dressed in a half-tux and a red bowtie, with a top hat on her head. “I did this as a favor to you and because your sister scares the hell out of me, so please be gentle with the equipment.”

He gestured over the stage: there was a small, tilted screen slightly to one side, where the lyrics would scrawl over, while enormous speakers were mounted on the back wall and matching but smaller speakers sat around the room. Several microphones and stands sat in a rack by the back wall, and to one side of the wide stage was a beautiful grand piano, polished and sparkling, clearly one of the prize jewels of the club.

Pinkie only smiled over at Mike, winking at him and saying kindly: “Oh come on, look at them! They're all so happy!”

Mike winced as he looked out over the floor: almost every table was full in front of the stage, all the way to the crowded booths at the back. His servers were running back and forth, taking all kinds orders, and while this was great for business, he saw several faces he'd learned were synonymous with disaster among the group, and he sighed before dropping his head in a hoof, groaning: “Just don't let the happy ponies smash up anything, okay? And please don't dance on top of the piano. Don't. Don't even let anypony touch the piano.”

“But you gotta touch a piano if you wanna play it.” Pinkie said positively, and Mike stared at her before he slowly turned away and headed off the wide stage. Pinkie only giggled at his back, then she glanced quickly around, making sure everything was in place before leaping forwards and grasping the mic stand that had already been set up at the front of the stage, spinning herself around it once before saying cheerfully into the microphone: “Hey everypony! Let's get the party started!”

Cheers and laughter rang through the crowd... and from one of the booths in the back, Sleipnir and Pinkamena both roared and rose their flagons of ale, and Aphrodisia laughed and clapped brightly, her eyes glowing. Beside the young demon, Avalon looked grumpy before she quickly peered back and forth, ensuring that neither Rainbow Dash nor Applejack were in earshot. Then she leaned forwards, asking Sleipnir: “Hey, can I uh... go get a whiskey?”

“What, whiskey?” Sleipnir looked surprised, and Pinkamena only snorted as Aphrodisia giggled and picked up her own flagon of ale, sipping at it greedily. Then Sleipnir frowned thoughtfully, asking curiously: “How old art thou again?”

“Sixte- uh... seven?” Avalon said dumbly, looking lamely at the enormous earth pony, who frowned and leaned forwards pointedly.

“Sixty-seven? I think not! Bah, thou liar! As punishment, I decree thou shan't be permitted whiskey, but must instead join myself and mine family in a round of solid ale!” Sleipnir said firmly, and Avalon leaned back and brightened before Sleipnir smiled cheerfully and rose a hoof, calling to a nearby waitress: “Another flagon of ale, and with it another pitcher!”

“Idiot.” Pinkamena said almost tenderly, and then she leaned out of the booth and grinned at the seats behind her, where Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage were sitting across from Twilight Sparkle and Burning Desire. “If you tell your Mom, it was his idea, not mine.”

“I didn't hear nothin'.” Apple Bloom said pointedly, turning her eyes upwards, and Pinkamena grunted before the golden earth pony smiled amusedly over at Scarlet Sage, who gazed at her with warmth and a quiet laugh. “Hey, she's my niece. I can let her have a little fun now and then... 'sides, ain't like I can say I never done nothin' stupid.”

“I'll say, Red.” Scarlet Sage replied, and then she laughed when Apple Bloom punched her shoulder lightly, before the Pegasus gazed out across the booth towards one of the tables in the distance, where Antares and Prestige were talking warmly with Fluttershy and Nirvana, Rarity and Spike also seated at their table and smiling. “Look at him, growin' up so fast...”

Twilight Sparkle nodded, gazing affectionately over at the young unicorn stallion, and then Burning Desire grinned as he pointed at another table, where Big Mac, Soarin', Rainbow Dash and Applejack were all sitting and having easy conversation. “Now tell the truth, violet and cute fillies: are there two couples at that table or only one? Because what a blessing it is for me if there are two less handsome males to worry about competing with over mares in this room!”

Twilight sighed at this, rolling her eyes and glaring at Burning Desire, but he only pasted an innocent look on his face before Apple Bloom remarked mildly: “You really are one big flaming demon, aren't you?”

“The filly-fooler is making a joke about me being gay? This is precisely why I don't like lesbians.” Burning Desire retorted, then he leaned forwards and fluttered his eyes at them. “Unless you'll spend some quality time with me. Then I'll like you a whole lot.”

Twilight Sparkle smacked the back of Burning Desire's head, making him yelp, and Apple Bloom snorted in amusement as she grinned widely and said mildly: “Y'know, I'm a mare who likes mares, and then there are colts out there who like colts. Seriously, how are we supposed to get along? Discombobulation said something like that to me once... guy ain't so bad if you just remember not to take everything he says seriously. Right, hon?”

“Right, Red. I knew you'd start liking him more eventually.” Scarlet Sage smiled, then she and Apple Bloom leaned a little against each other before the Pegasus laughed quietly and murmured: “I guess I just wish that Aunt Celestia had her own special somepony, too. If only for today, you know... I look around and it seems like half of Ponyville has paired up...”

Twilight smiled a little, opening her mouth to respond before Pinkie Pie's voice echoed out through the speakers again, as she said cheerfully: “Our first song is gonna be by a special guest, and the music's going to be provided by none other than our very own Discombobulation!”

Pinkie Pie turned, clapping rapidly as the Draconequus stiffly strode on stage dressed in a simple black suit. He turned and bowed almost solemnly, and a few ponies in the crowd cheered and clapped awkwardly before the Draconequus turned and headed to the piano. He sat down at it and played a short flourish along the keys before a second figure strode on stage, and Pinkie glanced over her shoulder... then simply stared along with the rest of the crowd.

Celestia strode forwards, a slender, tight red dress that was cut high up one back leg flowing elegantly around her, leaving her back bare and wings free. Her rainbow mane flowed radiantly, amethyst earrings that matched her eyes gleaming in either ear. She seemed to almost sparkle as she walked slowly up to the microphone, saying softly: “I'll take it from here, Pinkie Pie, thank you very much.”

Slowly, Celestia looked up, then smiled as she leaned back a bit, all eyes staring at her before Sleipnir cheered gleefully from the back booth, as Pinkie Pie hurried off stage with a fit of amazed giggles before the ivory mare leaned forwards and said softly: “This is a song that a dear friend found for me to sing, saying it fit me... and I couldn't agree more.”

Celestia closed her eyes, and Discombobulation began to tap softly over the piano keys, visibly loosening up as a slight smile spread over his features, swaying a little with the music. Celestia breathed slowly in and out, her own smile sultry, her eyes closed even as she leaned forwards and sang in a throaty, low melody:

"Like a flower waiting to bloom,
Like a lightbulb in a dark room,
I'm just sitting here waiting for you,
To come home and turn me on.

Like the desert waiting for the rain,
Like a school kid waiting for the spring,
I'm just sitting here waiting for you,
To come on home and turn me on..."

All eyes stared at her, Celestia's strong, surprisingly deep melody drawing attention from as far as the bar as ponies stared towards the stage; her eyes opened, her expression coy, making her beautiful form all the more seductive as she shifted lightly as Discombobulation continued to calmly play. She licked her lips briefly, then continued, her emotion, the wanting in her voice deep and vibrant, hitting like a bass tremble, an echoing quiver:

"My poor heart, it's been so dark since you been gone...
After all, you're the one who turns me off...
You're the only one who can turn me back on."

She leaned back, taking a slow breath, swaying her head slowly as her ephemeral locks swirled tantalizingly around her body, her form moving slowly to the rhythm of the piano. A front hoof reached up, stroking slowly up along her breast, then along her own cheek as she tilted her head slowly to the side, before calmly reaching forwards and resting on the microphone as she leaned forwards, amethyst eyes opening and gazing longingly into the very souls of those they drew over, her powerful voice making bodies tremble and hearts stutter:

"My hi-fi's waiting for a new tune,
The glass is waiting for some fresh ice cubes,
I'm just sitting here waiting for you,
To come on home and turn me on...

Turn me on..."

The piano slowly began to wind down to a finish as Celestia's tongue flicked over her lips, giving a single wink out into the crowd as she tilted her head seductively away, and then Discombobulation finished with a flourish of the keys. For a few moments, there was only silence... and then loud cheering erupted from across the floor, and Celestia blushed a bit as she bowed her head forwards, looking both honestly surprised and delighted as ponies clapped, stomped their hooves, and yelled raucously.

She stepped backwards, blushing and bowing her head, closing her eyes as she shifted a little, then gazed up warmly over the crowd. They continued to cheer for her, and Celestia shook her head after a moment before stepping forwards, leaning towards the microphone... and then she looked over her shoulder in surprise as Discombobulation played a quick burst of notes over the piano.

She looked at him as he gazed back with a wink, then he rose a hand and snapped his fingers, and the lights across the hall dimmed as spotlights flashed on across the stage. Music began to play from the speakers, a backbeat and some high, sharper sound, and Celestia shifted in surprise as the spotlights centered on her before one roved quickly to Discombobulation, as he leaned forwards and said gently: “With apologies, of course, to Lily Allen.”

He leaned forwards, then tapped a quick set of chords out over the piano, before leaning forwards and singing in a strong, deep voice that carried throughout the room with ease, gazing over at Celestia, his tone soft:

“When we were growing up, you always looked like you were having such fun...
You always were and you always will be, the taller and the prettier one...
People seem to love you, they gravitated towards you,
That’s why I started to hate you so much... and I just completely ignored you.”

He smiled a little as took a short breath, then sang in a sharp, quick rush, his eyes locked on Celestia's surprised amethyst irises as his fingers danced over the piano keys, his words in perfect time to the beat of the music around them:

“I don’t know why I felt the need to keep it up for oh so long,
It’s all my fault, I’m sorry, you did absolutely nothing wrong,
I don’t know why I felt the need to drag it out for all these years,
All the pain I’ve caused you, the constant flowing of the tears...
Believe me when I say, that I cannot apologize enough,
When all you ever wanted from me was a token of my love,
And if it’s not too late, could you please find it deep within your heart...
To try and go back, go back to the start?”

Discombobulation closed his eyes, fingers dancing over the keys as he leaned forwards, shaking his head as he continued in a softer voice:

“I’ve been so evil, with my constant invasions,
But you made it so easy for me, you'd always rise to the occasion,
I’d always pull you up on every stupid thing that you said,
But I found it so entertaining, messin' around with your head.”

He looked, up, then suddenly shoved himself up from the bench, stepping quickly around the piano as he half-sang, half-spoke the words, half-circling around Celestia as she gazed after him with amazement before dropping down on one knee beside her:

“I don’t know why I felt the need to keep it up for oh so long,
It’s all my fault, I’m sorry, you did absolutely nothing wrong,
I don’t know why I felt the need to drag it out for all these years,
All the pain I’ve caused you, the constant flowing of the tears...
Believe me when I say, that I cannot apologize enough,
When all you ever wanted from me was a token of my love,
And if it’s not too late, could you please find it deep within your heart...
To try and go back, go back to the start?”

He reached up, taking one of her front hooves gently into both of his hands, smiling softly at her as he spoke the words more than sang, as the music softened to match his tone:

“This is not just a song, I intend to put these words into action...
I hope that it sums up the way that I feel to your satisfaction.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, bowing his head forwards as the music echoed in the quiet... and then, as the spotlights flashed, the Draconequus leapt back to his feet, firmly yanking Celestia up on her rear hooves, and the ivory equine allowed herself to be pulled up against him as he pulled her into a sharp, quick dance, looking down into her eyes, smiling as they spun together, the mare able to do nothing but move with the Draconequus as his voice rang out:

“I don’t know why I felt the need to keep it up for oh so long,
It’s all my fault, I’m sorry, you did absolutely nothing wrong,
I don’t know why I felt the need to drag it out for all these years,
All the pain I’ve caused you, the constant flowing of the tears...
Believe me when I say, that I cannot apologize enough,
When all you ever wanted from me was a token of my love,
And if it’s not too late, could you please find it deep within your heart...
To try and go back, go back to the start?”

He spun with her, then dropped forwards, bowing low and dipping her as her front hooves automatically grabbed into her shoulders, the Draconequus breathing hard as he supported her easily with his metal arm with his other flung out beside him, the music around them dropping down into echoing, blurring tones before the spotlights flickered out and the lights returned to normal, the speakers giving a final buzz of static as the two locked gazes... and the two smiled at each other before the Draconequus said gently: “Happy Hearts and Hooves Day, Ce-”

Celestia leaned up and kissed him firmly, and Discombobulation's eyes widened stupidly for a moment before they slipped closed, as cheers and laughter and clapping echoed through the bar, Sleipnir's voice rising up gleefully: “Oh Celestia, what a foul creature thou art, seducing the wits out of that poor chaos entity!”

The kiss broke after only a few moments, but the applause continued even as the two hurriedly drew apart, and then looked awkwardly at each other before the Draconequus cleared his throat and offered his hand to her. She reached up to settle a hoof in his palm with a smile, and then the two leapt forwards and off the short stage, both smiling and blushing a little.

It took a little while for things to settle down after the two sat down at a table, joining Cowlick and Ross as Ross continued to clap brightly and Cowlick only laughed and hammered a hoof on the table, saying cheerfully: “I guess opposites must attract, eh, Ross? These two are almost as weird a couple as me and you!”

“Oh, no, nothing weird at all, nope. You can't help but like someone who makes you smile.” Ross replied kindly, and Cowlick grinned a bit, then nodded after a few moments with a grunt as the applause finally began to die out, before he added: “You look very pretty, Miss Celestia. Not like a schoolteacher at all.”

“Thank you, Ross, I appreciate that.” Celestia said softly, smiling and shifting a little as her eyes roved to Cowlick, studying her rough denim vest and the bandanna tied tightly back around Cowlick's forehead, before she said mildly: “But I must say, Kilby Kwolek. You're very fortunate to have such a loving husband all the same.”

“I know, right? He's handsome, a real sweetheart, and best of all I don't have to prostitute myself out to get his attention.” Cowlick agreed with a wink, and Celestia couldn't help but laugh before the engineer mare grinned as several other ponies approached their table, including a jovial-looking Sleipnir, and the piercing-studded mare turned her eyes towards Discombobulation. “Careful there, looks like you're going to have to fight off a whole bunch of horny studs if you wanna keep your marefriend now.”

“I'm a lover, not a fighter. Actually, I'm... not even a lover, technically speaking. She should be the one fighting for me.” Discombobulation said mildly, jerking his head towards Celestia, and the winged unicorn laughed before gazing over at him kindly, reaching a hoof up to touch his arm, and the chimerical creature huffed and shifted awkwardly as a faint blush rose in his cheeks. “Stop that.”

“Yes, do not molest the Draconequus in front of us, Celestia, 'tis most disturbing. Although I do wonder of what matter of sword he has sheathed away, and whether or not 'tis as madcap and mismatched as the rest of him.” Sleipnir said thoughtfully, peering at the chimerical creature, who blushed and then grumbled, crossing his arms and turning away as Burning Desire giggled behind his hooves, and Twilight sighed and shook her head slowly. “Oh come now! Thou art all thinking it!”

Sleipnir glared around at the group, and Celestia smiled despite herself before Twilight reached up and touched the winged unicorn's shoulder, saying quietly: “Your song was amazing, Celestia... I... the way you sang it...”

Celestia only smiled, turning her eyes towards Discombobulation and saying softly: “Well, I had a lot of help... without which, I wouldn't have even come here tonight.”

Burning Desire smiled warmly, glancing towards the Draconequus before he said kindly: “Then I suppose we all owe you quite a vote of thanks, friend... and perhaps I speak on behalf of many of the stallions here about how angry we all are that you brought her in, let her sing like the most gorgeous of songbirds, and then promptly stole her away in front of all of us.”

“I fell in love with my own creation. I'm Henry Higgins.” Discombobulation muttered, and then he blushed when Celestia turned soft eyes on him. “I meant the other L-word! Lesbians! And even then I'm definitely not in lesbians with you, definitely not, stop... putting words in my mouth!”

“Actually, 'twas sister's tongue that invaded thy mouth earlier, I do believe.” Sleipnir said blandly, and Cowlick and Burning Desire both cackled, the demon falling over and Cowlick collapsing over the table as she slammed her hoof against the surface. Celestia blushed slightly as Discombobulation fixed the enormous earth pony with a horrible look, but the vine-maned stallion only smiled childishly as Twilight slapped her forehead.

Antares cocked his head curiously as he approached with Prestige, but just as Sleipnir began to turn towards them, there was a loud thud and the huge male squeaked before slowly keeling over, hugging his stomach. All eyes stared at Pinkamena as she calmly drew a hoof back, and Discombobulation wheezed in relief before the demon looked moodily over at him and said mildly: “Never say I didn't do anything for you. And of course you owe me a favor, which you're now going to repay by getting back on that stage and giving Slippers here a song to sing. Preferably something stupid and sappy and about me. Don't worry, he's got a good memory, he'll remember the words if you repeat 'em once or twice.”

Sleipnir giggled between his pained wheezing, and Discombobulation looked meditatively at Pinkamena before he said thoughtfully: “I think I have just the song in mind. It's not usually done to piano, but... we'll make it work. Celestia, if you'll excuse me.”

The Draconequus climbed to his feet, and then he glanced down in surprise as the ivory equine grasped his wrist and looked up at him with a tender smile, her intense amethyst eyes focused on the chimerical creature's as she said softly: “Just come back once you're done, Bob.”

“Of course... Tia.” A slight smile twitched at Discombobulation's mouth, and then he bowed his head towards her before turning and hurrying onwards. After a moment, Sleipnir wheezed and hauled himself to his hooves after the chimerical creature, giggling stupidly still as he half-stumbled cheerfully towards the stage.

Antares laughed and shook his head slowly, then he gazed over at his aunt, saying warmly: “Me and Prestige just wanted to say... I mean, wow, Aunt Tia! I never knew you could really sing... I mean, I mean I knew you could sing, but not sing like that, that was really amazing and... just... we're glad that...”

“We're glad you're able to enjoy yourself, Baroness.” Prestige finished, and Antares nodded a few times quickly as Twilight smiled softly. Celestia smiled warmly in return, a faint blush tinging her cheeks as she awkwardly smoothed out her red dress, and the young unicorn mare added after a moment: “You look absolutely stunning, by the way. I don't think even I ever owned such a fine dress back home.”

Celestia only shrugged, seeming almost shy for a moment as she shifted a little in the beautiful scarlet gown, and then Twilight nodded in agreement, gazing softly at the ivory winged unicorn before she reached up and squeezed her shoulder firmly, smiling at her friend and former mentor. “Luna would be... so proud of you, Celestia.”

The rainbow-maned mare smiled warmly at this thought, nodding slowly, and for a few moments the quiet spiraled before the Lich finally cleared her throat, then glanced over at Pinkamena, asking hesitantly: “Not to... you know, question anyone here or anything, but uh... do you think it was really such a good idea to let Discombobulation come up with the song that you signed Sleipnir up for?”

“The only reason I signed for him is because the idiot barely knows how to read or write. Besides, what's the worst song he could get that lunkhead to sing?” Pinkamena said dryly, and then she frowned a little as music began to play through the speakers and Discombobulation stared to hammer away at the piano, which the Draconequus had somehow tuned with his powers to sound like a guitar.

Then Sleipnir bounced happily on his hooves before he leaned forwards and sang brightly in a cheerful, uneven voice, his eyes locking on Pinkamena as she stared and turned bright red: “Well, I wanna hump you, that's the only thing I wanna say... I wanna hump you every night and every day... so don't get mad at me 'cause that's the only thing I wanna do... 'cause listen up baby, this song's for you!”

“I'm going to kill them both.” Pinkamena muttered, and then she reached up to slowly rub at her face as Twilight and Antares gaped, Cowlick and Burning Desire once more dissolved into laughter, Ross smiled brightly, and Celestia hid a smile behind a hoof. The demon groaned, dropping her head forwards as Sleipnir started in on another verse, continuing to almost burn red through her gray coat as she mumbled: “I don't even care that he sounds almost normal. I'm going to kill them both.”

“You did tempt fate, Aunt Pinkamena.” Antares said finally, and Pinkamena growled at him, making the young stallion wince a little before he looked awkwardly towards the stage at the repetitive chorus, adding lamely: “It could be worse?”

Then Sleipnir cheerily started in on the next verse, and Prestige looked morbidly up at the stage as Pinkamena turned around and stormed back to her seat, before the young unicorn mare remarked dryly: “I believe it just got worse. Do you see why I always thought slave hoofs were inferior, Antares? Do you see how I believe in a greater and a lesser class of pony?”

“Oh, believe me, Prestige Luster. My brother is usually among the most... honorable, dignified and best of...” Celestia halted as Sleipnir began to dance around on stage, making awkward little thrusting motions, and then she sighed, reaching up to rub at her forehead slowly as she muttered: “Nevermind.”

When the song came to a very awkward end, Sleipnir cheerfully hopped off the stage and pranced back to the booth where his family and Avalon were sitting. Avalon, a little tipsy from the ale she had been guzzling, cheered loudly for him, and Aphrodisia giggled and did the same. Pinkamena just glared at the enormous earth pony until the stallion leaned forwards and delicately kissed her forehead, saying kindly: “And I do wish to lay with thou, sweet phoenix. For there are none in all the layers of Midgard prettier than thou.”

Pinkamena only sighed tiredly, then grumbled under her breath before Avalon whooped loudly as Rainbow Dash flew up on stage, laughing as Pinkie Pie waved at him excitedly. Discombobulation, meanwhile, had sat himself back down by Celestia, and Antares and Prestige were sitting with them as Cowlick yelled loudly up at Dash and Ross gazed back and forth, seeming to enjoy the warmth of the atmosphere and all the singing.

The night went on, and almost everypony performed a song, with varying degrees of success. Burning Desire actually succeeded in dragging Twilight Sparkle up on stage for a duet, and Prestige and Antares ended up doing the same, the young stallion laughing almost the whole time as Prestige blushed deeply but sang away with determination.

No one left the party until at least one in the morning: then Cowlick had left with Ross and a few treats for Rustproof, and other couples had begun to filter out. Rainbow Dash carried his stupidly-drunk daughter on his back as Applejack simply rolled her eyes and muttered that the hangover would hopefully teach her a thing or two, and Prestige and Antares left shortly after that, both deciding they had enough energy for the long walk back to the cottage.

Twilight and Burning Desire stayed with Celestia and Discombobulation and the others until past closing time, singing now and then, but mostly chatting around the rearranged tables, enjoying each other's company, gazing at the way they had all grown up, grown together. The Lich and the fiery stallion accepted an invitation from Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage to stay at their place in the guest room, as long as Burning kept his hooves and eyes to himself.

Couples found their way home, and many found their way once home to bed: some, like Cowlick and Ross, simply curled together, the unicorn gazing tenderly down at the earth pony engineer as she snored and drooled a little on his neck, clinging to the stallion she adored; others, like Pinkamena and Sleipnir, found themselves moving together, breathing in rough time, making their love physical in the deep of night.

Prestige and Antares, meanwhile, wandered through the darkness of the Everfree Forest together, smiling as they took their time with the walk. It was almost three in the morning now, and Antares knew by the familiar landmarks – so clearly recognizable to him, even in the dead of night, beneath the shadows of the trees – that they were nearly home. Then he cocked his head curiously as Prestige halted, hesitating before she smiled a little at him and gestured towards a fallen tree, murmuring: “Let's stop for a minute, hero.”

Antares hesitated, and then he nodded a little, striding over to her: they sat down together, side-by-side, and Prestige slipped a little closer and he put one forelimb around her. She simply dropped her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes, and he looked at her softly, studying her through the darkness, the two ponies breathing quietly as they listened to the sounds of the night: chirping and softly-calling birds, crickets playing their high-pitched violins, animals quietly sliding beneath the trees, rustling leaves and grasses as they passed.

For a little while, the two simply listened to the sounds of nature around them, and then Prestige shifted a bit, pulling herself a little closer as she said quietly: “Antares... I know that we've had our ups and downs, our... bad moments, as well as our good. I know sometimes you still get worried about me: about what I'm doing here, about whether or not we'll be together for weeks, months, or years, and I know that most often you worry about... what I'm giving up.

“But I've met your friends and most of your family, I've come to know you intimately, in ways I never expected to... I've changed from who I was.” She hesitated, then looked down and said quietly: “But I've remained the same, too. I still think – I almost know – that unicorns are superior, but... I've realized more and more from experiencing you and Miss Twilight and Baroness Celestia and even Burning Desire, the way they treat other ponies... I've seen that superiority does not mean we are permitted to simply... do whatever we like. We can be superior without treating others as inferior. Perhaps that is what makes us truly superior: recognizing they too have value, are considered... the norm, the necessary median. They are not animals or slaves... they... just are. We're better than them but they're not worse than everyone else.”

“You're so...” Antares shook his head, smiling a little before he asked quietly: “Are you ever going to let go of those beliefs, Prestige? I still... can barely believe that here I am, dating the most racist unicorn in all of Ponyville.”

“Oh stop it.” Prestige muttered, shoving at him a bit, and Antares laughed despite himself before the young mare sighed and lowered her head, hesitating for only a moment. “You... you and I... we're strange together, but I think we're good together. Unicorns live long lives, especially the pure-blooded like us. I wonder sometimes, what would it be like, to wake up beside you every day? And Antares, I... I like that thought. I like the answers that come with it. I like thinking that... together... maybe we can make things work for the long run. Maybe...”

She looked slowly up at him, and Antares softened as he gazed back down at her, reaching up and taking her face gently in his front hooves. “Prestige... I love you. I do. From the bottom of my heart, and I would do almost anything for you... I just... I don't know what the future holds for us either right now. All I can concentrate on is trying to push forwards, trying to find my parents, and trying to put a stop to Cancer. I know he's still out there...”

Prestige sighed a little, bowing her head forwards before she hesitated, then glanced up and asked quietly: “And what about Meadowlark, Antares? None of your hesitance comes from wanting to be with her?”

Antares was quiet, looking at Prestige, studying her, reading into her as she looked up at him silently... and then he closed his eyes, bowing his head forwards so their horns brushed together, sending up a quiet spark as their foreheads touched. For a few moments, they both remained silent... and then Antares said softly: “I care about her, Prestige, that would be stupid of me to deny. And I know you two... I know you both try, but you both are... awkward with each other because you're on very different ends up the spectrum with most things. But...”

He shook his head slowly, murmuring: “I'm with you, Prestige Luster. I'm here, with you, right here, right now, and I don't plan on ever abandoning you. I want things to last for as long as possible, too, I just...” He smiled a little, shifting a bit as he sat up and then gazed up through the thin canopy of leaves above, at the starry night sky and the glowing, quiet moon. “Don't you think that I'm insecure about things, too? You're beautiful, you've grown from a snobby, flashy unicorn with a few spells to an exceptional young mage. I'm... none of that. I'm still just a kid who misses his Mom and Dad, and is doing everything in his power to bring them back. I'm supposed to be the independent leader, but all I can do is rely on the help and hooves of everypony around me. I feel like... I feel like such an idiot all the time. I feel like I should be doing harder, striving to be better, and yet this is the best I can do already, do you understand? But all of you... especially you, Prestige... you're growing. You're getting better. And all I can think about is the past.”

Now Prestige was quiet, looking up at him for a few moments before she closed her eyes and dropped her head against his neck, squeezing him fiercely as she murmured: “But that's one of my favorite things about you, hero. You never, ever give up on anypony... you've never, ever given up on your parents, in spite of the fact that so many other ponies have told you to stop, that they can't be alive, that... that have just humored you, which I know to you is all the more insulting because of the way you see into people. And yet you still don't stop. You still refuse to give up or give in. I wish all the time... that I could be half as strong as you: that I could believe in something as much as you do.”

“Don't you believe in me?” Antares smiled a little, tone teasing, and Prestige laughed quietly before she pushed him onto his back, and Antares let himself fall over the log, feeling the bark crunching beneath him, smelling moss and leaves and soil and sweat as Prestige leaned over him and pinned him by the shoulders. Then he softened, reaching up and touching her face as he asked quietly: “Don't you believe in yourself?”

“I have better things to believe in than that.” Prestige murmured, leaning down and kissing the side of his neck. Antares closed his eyes in pleasure, then he smiled softly as she settled down against him, wrapping her forelegs around his neck. He embraced her fiercely in return, holding her closely down against his body, gazing at the stars up above as a soft wind rustled the trees, as if the forest was whispering its promise of protection to the young couple.

Prestige felt so safe, so warm in the young stallion's embrace that she eventually fell asleep, murmuring a quiet 'I love you' before her eyes slipped closed and she curled herself close. Antares was glad to hold her tightly, feeling strangely comfortable, smiling a bit as he relaxed in the natural surroundings of the forest before his own eyes slipped closed, and he breathed slowly in and out, gradually dropping off into a deep rest of his own.

He awoke only a few hours later, before sunrise: Prestige had shifted a little overnight, half-curled up beside him now, and he was half on and half off the log. He grimaced a bit as he carefully slipped away from her, leaving her on the bed of the fallen tree-trunk as he stood and cracked his back loudly, then smiled despite himself. Curled up like she was, smiling and content, Prestige Luster looked like some wild forest princess instead of a noble unicorn from the north... and then Antares looked over his shoulder with a curious frown as he felt a tingle run through his mind.

For a few moments, he tried to ignore it... but the feeling quickly grew too strong, and the young stallion finally turned, striding across the beaten path and into the wild forest. After only a few moments, he realized he was on some hidden path: not a game trail, not a hunting path, but something different. Something almost beneath the layers of reality, and he breathed slowly as he carefully strode forwards before smiling a little despite himself as he emerged into a small clearing.

There was a natural well here that looked like the gaping jaws of some drooling beast, the ground and roots torn up around it and forming earthen teeth. And in front of the well, Allonym was sitting, his cane across his lap, prayer beads in one hand and a photograph in the other that he was studying quietly. He didn't seem to notice the presence of the young stallion, so Antares hesitated before he cleared his throat quietly, and the Draconequus flinched before hurriedly stuffing the photograph away as he glared over his shoulder at the young stallion. “Hey! Privacy!”

“What are you doing here? “ Antares asked curiously, and the Draconequus mumbled a little before the young stallion hesitated, asking awkwardly: “It's just... don't you have somewhere else you usually hide out between... you know...”

“Tormenting you?” Allonym asked sourly, and when Antares gave him a look, the chimerical creature grumbled and muttered: “Sorry, sorry. I hate today or yesterday or... whatever. Anyway, I... well. I kind of do. But I spend a lot of time here. Here, there, everywhere; anywhere I am, I can also be here, thanks to my handy-dandy notebook.”

Allonym paused, then he straightened and smiled a little, rubbing slowly at the back of his head. “Okay, so... I was wondering if we'd bump into each other, even though I didn't expect you to be here so early... but you have a bad habit of surprising me. A really annoying bad habit, at that...”

The Draconequus hesitated, and then he shook his head slowly, glancing down at the mala in his hand before he played his fingers through the long string of onyx beads, then closed his eyes as he tucked this carefully away. “Something bad is coming. I'm going to go against the rules a little bit, here, Antares, and I'm going to give you the help I can... but I need you to understand something, something your friends still don't believe.” Allonym picked up his cane, pointing it at the young stallion as he said softly: “I can't solve all your problems. I can't magically just make things vanish. I wish that I could, because we'd never be here. The story would be much happier, with a far-more-positive outcome. Everything would fall a little neater into place and gods above know there wouldn't be so many secrets left in the fabric of the plot.

“I think... I think there's still time before things get really bad. I think there's still time to prepare, and you'll have forewarning... but Antares, the days ahead won't be pleasant.” Allonym halted, then he leaned on his cane and closed his eyes, bowing his head forwards as he said softly: “Ultimately... they will lead to you finding your parents, I believe that. I have a lot of reasons to believe that. But I know you're smart enough to recognize that... there will be a cost. Are you prepared to pay it?”

“I want to pay it myself, I don't... I don't want my friends to suffer. I'd die to save my parents.” Antares said quietly, and Allonym chuckled softly as he shook his head slowly. “It's true. I would, I would do anything to-”

“What a kind way to return their generosity, Antares. Dying for them after they died for you.” Allonym murmured, and Antares flinched before the chimerical creature quietly held up a hand. “Sorry. Figure of speech. Look, you still need to get things in order in your head. And remember, above all... remember what you meant to them, what you mean to them even now. Don't screw that up, kid.”

Antares hesitated, and then he nodded slowly, grimacing a bit all the same, and the Draconequus smiled before he strode forwards, reaching into an inner pocket of his jacket and pulling out a large, black can of something. He held this out to the young stallion, who frowned a bit as he awkwardly sat back before reaching up to take it, glancing lamely down at the beverage... and then scowling when Allonym ruffled the pony's mane firmly, smiling down at him. “I'll be around, kid. Things are going to get messy, but you have my word I'll do what I can to interfere here and there. Just gotta be careful... if I screw around too much, I could just make things worse, after all. But you take care of yourself, and Prestige. You're going to need all your friends in the future, especially if you want to force your way through Clockwork World in one piece.”

The young stallion nodded awkwardly, looking down at the large, black can in his hooves before he glanced up and asked finally: “With all due respect, can you stop calling me 'kid?' It's just... kind of weird coming from you. And you say it a lot.”

“A kid is a goat and a dude is a pimple on a donkey's butt.” Allonym remarked, and Antares didn't know how to quite take this before the Draconequus shrugged and turned around, striding off into the woods. “You're gonna go far, kid.”

“I'll take that as a 'no.'” Antares muttered, and then he sighed as he looked down at the can in his hooves, studying the odd label before shrugging and popping it open before sipping at the cherry-flavored beverage. He thought of the warning that the strange entity had just given him... and then he sighed and shook his head morbidly, wondering if there would ever come a time when the future would be filled with kittens and puppies instead of lurking, imminent doom.