• Published 8th Apr 2013
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Dusk Dawns - AlphatheGriffin17



Book IV Now taking up lessons with the Princess of the Night, datingthe student of the Princess of the Sun, coping with some bad memories and being the Seventh Element, Dusk certainly has a lot on his plate. And that's just stuff to do with hi

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May The Best Pet Win!

Dusk was whistling brightly as he walked towards his destination, with his pet owl Ophelia bringing up the rear behind him. He usually was in a good mood, but today he was sure that everything was absolutely as it should be and better.

The past few weeks hadn't exactly been the best of times: he'd barely seen much of his friends, Twilight and he had, of course, had their two scuffles in their relationship, his lessons with Luna had been taxing and he had been suffering from near constant headaches as a result. That was on top already of him coping with his memories and the whispers of him…

But even today, not even the foulest deed that Blackhole Doom had done could stifle his mood. Just over a matter of days, a week to be precise, it felt like everything had improved. Twilight and he had their issues, but they'd learned from them and were still learning, getting better all the time, his headaches were leaving him and Luna's lessons were much more enjoyable than they had been and he actually felt like he was improving and making proper progress.

Due to these issues, however, several things had been neglected. He hadn't seen much of the others, but that was usually because he and Twilight were working together in the library, both to make up for his lessons and because they liked spending time with each other. Though Twilight had been hinting on moving on to different ways of sharing their time soon enough. He'd also been neglectful of Ophelia in that time, he'd just been so exhausted.

But now, he was about to make up for that, making their way to the edge of town together. He would now spend time with both his friends and his pet now they were going for one of their pet play dates, which he'd been missing out on recently, among other things. It was this thought that made him pick up his pace as fast as he could, bounding almost at Pinkie Pie level.

He soon saw them over the hill, already gathered with all of their pets and waiting for him. All heads turned in his direction as he approached.

"Hey, an' there's our favourite stallion, on time as always," Applejack remarked, upon seeing Dusk crossing over a hill to meet them.

"Afternoon, ladies," Dusk greeted, tipping his hat to them, whilst Ophelia, his pet snowy owl, gave her usual shy hoot. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Sure is, perfect weather for our play date," agreed Applejack, her dog Winona bouncing around her in excitement. She bounded over to Dusk, jumped up and licked his cheek, wagging her tail in delight.

"And hello to you too," Dusk laughed, scratching behind her ears. "Who's a good girl, huh?"

"Well, you certainly seem to be in a good mood today," remarked Rarity, Opal nestled on her back lazily.

"I agree," Twilight added, as he bestowed a quick kiss on her lips. "A very good mood."

"Why shouldn't I be?" He beamed around at them. "It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining, I'm here with my friends and marefriend and my lessons are no longer giving me skull-splitting pains."

"Yay, somepony else who's got a grin to match mine!" Pinkie bounced over with Gummy clamped to her head. "Did you also try to make a batch of cupcakes that ended up having too much of one ingredient, so they ended up exploding when you took them out of the oven, meaning you had to crawl around and lick everything off the walls and floor, making feel like you were in a house made of cake?"

Dusk's smile barely faltered from this question. "No, but that does sound delicious… and a little bit unhygienic."

"Eh, what harm has a little germ done to anypony?" She let out a rather loud belch and Dusk could smell the cakes on her breath.

"What indeed," he replied happily. "Right, shall we get going? I know Ophelia has been missing her friends."

"One in particular, I think," Twilight remarked, pointing to his own pet and Owlowicisious, who were both rather close to each other.

"How fitting," he agreed, smiling at her and following the group as they made their way towards their regular park.

Fluttershy flew tentatively next to him whilst her rabbit Angel ran off with the other pets. "So um, how's things been going with your lessons? Twilight was telling us how they've been getting better. It's not that I think she's lying, but um… I just wanted to ask…"

"It's okay and yes, they've been going marvellously recently." He smiled all the more at the thought of it. "I think we both learned something from a week ago and I'm certainly learning more. At least, I think I am."

"Don't be so modest," Twilight beamed proudly. "He's really been picking up better since Luna started this new teaching regime. He's still got more to learn, but he's definitely getting there."

"Yeah, playing games in lessons sounds like heaps of fun!" Pinkie agreed. "Show us what she's been teaching you, go on!"

"Well… I don't know…" He didn't want to feel like a show-off in front of them.

"Come on now, don't hold out on us sugarcube," prompted Applejack. "Ain't no shame in showin' what yer good at."

"I um… wouldn't mind seeing," Fluttershy put in. "In fact, I'd love to see it."

"If you don't, I'll just tell them anyway and make you blush even deeper," Twilight warned. "I might do that anyway though, you look… cute when you blush."

"Okay, okay," he finally gave in. "Right, well… she's sought to improve my levitation, which is… pretty good, I guess."

To demonstrate, he lifted up some pebbles and some larger rocks, using his own dark blue aura for the smaller ones and a lilac aura for the larger ones. He caught Twilight's eye at this, who smiled gratefully at him.

"She's also helped increase my reflexes slightly regarding levitation, in case something comes right at me very quickly." As he said this, he heard a loud squeak, whipped his head around and caught Angel mid-kick in the air.

"Now, that wasn't very nice Angel bunny…" But he'd already stomped off past Fluttershy by the time Dusk had put him back on the ground. "Sorry about that…"

"It's fine, he provided a good demonstration at any rate."

"Impressive," Rarity remarked. "What else?"

"Well that was stuff from our lesson last week. Just last night, she's also introduced to me how better to improve my solid light magic, some of it applying to my own body. There are things like this…" He held one of the rocks before him and fired off a series of cyan coloured balls from his horn, reducing it to dust after sustained fire.

"Oh my…" Fluttershy eyed the dust warily, like it might bite her.

"Yes, I need to be careful with that one," he agreed. "There are also these." He conjured up four colour 'shoes' around his hooves. "These are like um… what did we call them?

"Shock absorbers," supplied Twilight, "used for his hooves to reduce the opposing forces acting on them when he moves."

"What she said. I can make them harder, so my hits have more of an impact." He turned them peach to show this. "Or make them softer, so I can do this." Shading them pink, he jumped high up into the air with them, higher than he'd usually do and landed back down, barely feeling anything on his legs.

"Whooee, ya'll could enter a rodeo with a spring like that," said Applejack. "Ya seem ta keep mentionin' how they can help ya in a fight? Thought ya weren't big on that sorta stuff."

"I'm not, but she said it was necessary to learn, just in case the situation arises where I need to fight again" he explained, with a little disdain. "She's told me these spells are effective as a defensive or offensive moves, ones that I can build on with my own way of thinking."

"I suppose that makes sense, though I certainly hope it never comes to that," Rarity said honestly. "Is that the end of the show?"

"There's one last thing she's teaching me to do. This one was a little harder for um… obvious reasons." He conjured up a white colour cloud, stepped on it and used it to lift himself into the sky, right next to Fluttershy, though she wasn't flying very high to begin with.

Despite this, his adopted sister seemed ecstatic at the prospect. "Oh my goodness, you can fly! But… aren't you scared of flying?"

"That's where the difficulty comes from." He quickly returned to the ground. "I need to try and get over that and I'm still in early stages with this stuff anyway. I need to get used to how much energy I end up using on the spells and try and prolong or conserve them."

"But, despite that, I think we can all agree that this is a tremendous leap forward," Twilight put in.

"Still need to learn more though… improve on it," he replied, shaking his head a little from the slight dizziness he felt from the use of energy for the spells.

"But that'll come with time, focus and practice and, for now, you're doing great." She nuzzled his cheek and kissed it. "I'm proud of you."

Dusk only blushed and lapsed into an embarrassed silence, though with a small smile already growing from all of the praise.

"Ah jus' got one other question," Applejack put in. "How come ya keep changin' yer spells different colours like that? Ah thought unicorns could only cast, like, their fur colour or somethin'."

"Traditionally, yes, but Dusk has proven to be something of an exception for that rule, as we all know," Rarity reminded. "Might it be something to do with that?"

Dusk was still in an embarrassed silence, for he knew the subject would come to this. He'd discussed it with Twilight already and, while she was fine, he wasn't entirely sure what the others would think about the subject.

Sensing this, Twilight took over again. "In a sense, yes. Princess Luna told him that it might be easier to perform his magic if he had something to associate it with, so his imagination can go to work. I suggested colour association, considering the subject and he suggested…"

He took it up tentatively from the silence she provided. "I chose… you girls…" Looking away from their stares, he tried to explain. "Twilight's the most powerful magically, so she enhances my spells. Applejack, you're the strongest of us so… my hooves and feet are for you. Rainbow is the fastest… for my faster attacks. Pinkie, you're… well, Pinkie. And Rarity, your grace makes it seem like you're flying at times, so… yeah…"

When he dared to look back up, they weren't all looking at him like he was a silly dreamer. They were all beaming at him and that just made him blush all the more.

"Ain't you jus' the sweetest thing?" Applejack remarked. "A lil' cheesy, but ain't nuthin' wrong with that."

"Once again, my dear, you continue to be full of surprises," added Rarity.

"Mr Psychic Pony has done it again! New bouncing buddy, yay!"

"See, told you it would be fine," Twilight said.

"Yeah… it's nice…" Fluttershy looked disappointed and Dusk could guess why.

"Although, when she teaches me to do shields, I intend to do those a creamy yellow." He smiled in Fluttershy's direction. "Protected by the same love you have for your animals."

Fluttershy blushed and mumbled her thanks, but Dusk could see the smile already growing on her face. The others all gave him proud looks too.

"Hey look, we're here!" Applejack pointed out, seeing their animals gathered around a tree. "Let's get this thing started!"

Now that Dusk was closer, he could see that some of the animals were up in the tree, along with Rainbow Dash, who looked as if she'd been disturbed from something. Napping, most likely. He walked over with Rarity, who allowed Opal to hop back down onto her back.

"Ah, doing what you do best, I see," Dusk called up to her.

"Heh, you know me Dusk," she replied with a smile. "If I'm not flying, I'm sleeping getting ready for flying. Keeps my strength up, you know."

"Well, you're certainly not lacking where strength is concerned and you always fly as good as any Wonderbolt."

To his surprise, Rainbow actually blushed and laughed it off nervously. "Well, you know how it is. Thanks though, means a lot, even if I do know it's the truth, right?"

"My pleasure." He noted too that her eyes seemed to be flicking between him and elsewhere, usually lingering for a little when they did settle on him before looking away again.

"Sincerest apologies, Rainbow, if our pets were bothering you. Say you're sorry, Opal," she added to her cat. She hissed angrily and turned away. "She's... sorry."

"What are you all doing out here?" asked Rainbow.

Applejack threw Winona a stick with her tail as she ran by. "Why, we always round up our critters for a regular ol' Pony Pet Playdate in this park."

"Uh, you do?"

"Same time every week."

"I thought you knew. You didn't know? She didn't know?" Fluttershy shifted her hoof shamefully in the dirt.

In a bid to make her feel better, Twilight spoke up. "Well we had initially planned on inviting Rainbow, of course, except– "

"We were totally gonna invite you, Rainbow," Pinkie cut in, "then Twilight remembered that you don't even have a pet, and Rarity remembered that you really like to take naps in the afternoon, so Applejack figured you wouldn't be missing out on anything anyway and Dusk said that you'd feel like you were being left out even if you did come along, and Fluttershy and I nodded our heads in agreement like this." She performed the gesture on the two of them.

"Oh, please don't be mad at us," begged Fluttershy, her head still bobbing.

Rainbow just seemed to shrug it off. "Oh, I'm not mad. You all are right. Not much point of a Pony Pet Playdate for me if I'm a pony without a pet, right?"

"Eeexactly," agreed Applejack. "So, if'n you'll excuse us..."

They all left Rainbow to start individual activities with their pets, while she went back to the pillow she'd placed in a tree. While he was making Opehlia chase after his colour swirls, Dusk, however, could see Rainbow watching from the tree with a distant longing in her eyes, trying to shut out the noise.

Feeling sorry for her, he crossed over to the tree and looked up. "You sure you're okay with this, Rainbow?"

"Psh, sure, no problem," she said unconvincingly. "You guys already said there's not much point in bringing me along, even if it does look like fun, and I totally agree with you."

"It's just… well… I know how it feels, you know, watching from the wings but never joining in," he said to her. "I didn't want that for you."

"Yeah I, uh, really appreciate that." For a second there, she lost her confident demeanour before regaining it again, her cheeks still a little red. "So yeah thanks, but it's not like I need any comforting. I mean, it's me."

"If you say so," he said unsurely. "If you did want to join in, all you'd need is your own pet."

Rainbow pressed her hoof to her chin in thought. "Well, I guess it would be pretty cool for me to have one…"

With ears like the bats she looked after, Fluttershy overheard them and an expression of sheer joy crossed her face. "Oh, really? You really want a pet? Really? 'cause I've got so many wonderful choices at my house. Oh, and I know you'll just love them, and they'll love you, oh! And you'll be best friends forever and ever! Oh!"

Picking up Rainbow, even though she just ended up dragging her hooves along the ground due to her strength, Fluttershy flew off with her fellow Pegasus, who looked a little exasperated while she excitedly chatted away. She rarely ever talked that much in such a tone and Dusk knew, for the last time she'd done that, it had been for his pet.

"You think we should go along?" he asked the others.

"I think she's in expert hooves now, dear," Rarity said. "Sweet of you to show concern though."

"She'll be fine Dusk, just enjoy yourself for today. You've earned it," Twilight said to him, if a little pointedly.

"Fair enough." He glanced back at his own pet. "Looks like you might be getting a new friend, my pet."

The owl hooted unsurely and flew off his back, to group around shyly with some of the others, who all started barking, mewing and hooting to each other. Too bad Fluttershy wasn't here, for Dusk would have liked to have known what exactly they were saying…


As usual, Ophelia found herself hanging around on the fringes of the group of animals, not sure whether to completely join them in the fold or not to add her own input. Though they were all different, they all understood each other and each were having their own reactions to the news that had been heard by their owners

"Ma stars, did you guys hear that?" Winona barked excitedly. "A new friend for us ta play with! Ain't it excitin'?"

"Eh, I guess, just so long as the punk knows who's boss around here," Angel put in toughly, in a voice that didn't really match his small size.

"That's sweet of you to say so, Angel darling," Opal mewled imperiously, "but I should have no trouble in asserting my superiority with the newcomer."

The rabbit waved his little fist at her, which made Ophelia want to giggle. "Oh yeah? You wanna go, huh pussycat? You wanna go?!"

"Really, Angel? I would have thought your little rabbit rump would have learned its lesson from the last time we sparred," the cat quipped, not even looking while she licked her paw casually.

"Don't call me little!" shouted Angel, but the comment was enough to keep him quiet, which the owl was thankful for. She didn't like it when their friends fought, even though those two regularly came to blows.

"All mutilated hind quarters aside, it should be thrilling to have a new face to add to our conglomeration of compatriots," commented Owlowiscious. "I shall be glad to welcome him or her to our fold of friends."

"Yeah, yeah, keep them fancy words to yourself, beaky," grumbled Angel.

"I merely strive to add eloquence to my speech wherever I find it necessary," her fellow owl replied intelligently. "Speech is a lost form of art that I strive to keep as interesting as possible."

Gummy just blinked, one eye after the other and remained silent. It was always hard to tell what the alligator was thinking, for he rarely spoke and when he did, it was usually something completely unrelated to the subject. Or he just tried to clamp is jaws around one of them.

Ophelia hated that. She stepped a little further away from him for good measure.

"Ah knew you'd be happy about this, Owly," Winona said brightly.

Owlowiscious sighed. "Winona, my canine comrade, how many times must I implicitly remind you to address me by my full and proper name?"

"Always and every day!" the dog responded happily. "Yer name's a mouthful anyway."

"But it sounds so… condescending," he sighed again.

"I think it sounds sweet." All eyes turned to her and she fought the urge to hide behind her wing. "I mean um… Owly… it just sounds… sweet. Sorry, I... I shouldn't have said anything."

Her face burned and she turned away. Like Gummy, she didn't really talk much and then, only when asked. She'd always been shy, which was why she'd been attracted to Fluttershy and later Dusk in the first place, though Dusk was always helping her get better, as were her fellow animal friends, though some more so than others.

She didn't really say much of her own accord, for she didn't want to sound silly.

Owlowiscious though, who was standing closest to her, placed his wing around her, a gesture that still made her face warm.

"Ophelia, my dear, if it is your wish to know me as Owly, then I shall deem it necessary to be addressed by it, if you so desire."

"You… you don't have to…" she mumbled.

"Nonsense, my dear! With such amber pools as yours, you could call me Fluffy Feathers and I would not be inclined to say otherwise."

"Well… okay then… Fluffy Feathers." She giggled and they rubbed beaks affectionately.

"Get a room you two!" shouted Angel.

"Aw, come on, ah think it's real sweet," defended Winona. "Makes me wanna run around and roll around. Then maybe roll around again! Wow, that'd be fun!"

"I like Swiss rolls," Gummy commented randomly, lapsing back into blank silence.

Theirs truly was a strange group and they didn't always get along, but Ophelia liked them and, in the end, they all liked one another. Their owners were all friends, so what was stopping them? Each was different in their own way, not just out of species.

Ophelia, though she still had trouble with fitting in, were very grateful of how well they integrated her and included her. Shy, reserving and quiet, the only thing she was really proud of was her feathers, which she made sure always looked clean and presentable. She didn't want to boast, but she'd even seen Opal look at them with a bit of a jealous look. Apart from that, she wasn't really anything special.

Owlowiscious was the cleverest among them, always having something witty and insightful to bring to any discussion and was almost always right. She found him very attractive, with his sharp beak, refined intellect and neatly pruned feathers, though it was him who put forward they become closer after their respective owners became mates. Not that Ophelia was complaining. He'd always been kind to her and she enjoyed his company.

In the same way, so was Winona, but she was usually nice to everyone. Nothing ever seemed to get her down and, while she was an adult dog, she acted with all the bounciness and happiness as the puppy she'd once been. Sometimes though, she got a little too excited about things and had to be encouraged to calm down. To this day, Ophelia marvelled at how much joy she found in running after and retrieving a piece of dead wood her owner threw. But she enjoyed every minute of it for some reason and never tired of it.

In contrast, Opalescence found such activities to be, as she termed it, deplorable. She always aloof, uptight and, frankly, a little snobby, though Ophelia never dared say that to her face. She didn't like her very much, but she could be at least tolerable. Though she could usually act superior around them, deep down she could show herself to be caring enough to her friends, or associates as she preferred to say, without being completely insensitive.

Angel was usually in conflict with her because of their attitudes and was a little touchy about his height, to say the least. He would usually try to act tough and, for the most part, he was. Ophelia certainly didn't like being on the wrong end of his temper when she, inadvertently, set it off. Despite this though, he did have a strong sense of right and wrong and would always stand by them when it came down to it.

And Gummy was Gummy. They just all left it at that and didn't ask questions.

"So, Ophelia darling, you've yet to voice your opinion on the subject." Opal paused in licking and glanced at her. "How do you feel about having a new… associate in my group."

She ignored the possessive word she used and looked away. "I… I don't know really…"

"Oh, don't give us that," Angel insisted. "You gotta think of something."

"Clearly, since you never think, someone else has to think for you, I suppose," Opal drawled.

"Watch your mouth kitty, or I'll stuff my fist in it!"

"Sticks and stones, dear, sticks and stones," she replied, returning to her grooming.

"Yeah, so come on Ophy," encouraged Winona, her tail wagging. "Whaddya ya think, huh? Won't it be great to have a new friend to play with? I think it will, do you? Huh? Huh?"

"Calm down, Winona, let her speak." Owlowiscious gestured with his wing. "Go ahead my dear, we'd all like to hear what you think."

"I… I guess it would be nice, yes," she finally said. "I mean… I think it would."

"As would I!" agreed her fellow owl. "I think it would be absolutely spiffing to have a new friend to partake in amusing sessions with."

"What do you reckon it'll be?" asked Angel. "Maybe something nice and small, like a mouse or a cricket or something?"

"In other words, something that will make you feel a little better about being so insubstantial?" Opal chuckled.

He rounded on her again. "Hey, what you sayin' about me?!"

"You know perfectly well what I am saying," she replied. "Besides, if it were any of those two, you'd simply have to name him my starter course." She blinked at the looks they all gave her. "What? I'm only feline."

"Maybe she'll get a dog! Something really fun and happy! Like a westie, or a dachshund or, or, or a collie!" Winona ran around out of sheer excitement at the prospect.

"I think that…" Ophelia fell silent, unsure whether to continue.

Her mate nudged her gently. "Go ahead dear, what's on your mind?"

"Well… I think that, you know, because she likes to fly… maybe she'll get something that can fly… you know, so she can… fly…"

"Exactly what I was thinking," agreed Owlowiscious. "It would only correlate to that conclusion, that the sky born equine would desire a companion that would not impede her own flight."

"That would make a whole lot more sense," nodded Winona.

"Yeah, I guess that's fine… just so long as it's not like, you know an eagle or a falcon," Angel said a little worriedly.

"What's the matter, bunny?" asked Opal. "Scared the big bird would carry you off and gobble you up?"

"I'm not scared! You shut up!"

"Well, if that were to happen, you certainly would and perhaps I would finally have a little peace."

"All right, that's it, let's go! Right here, right now!" He brandished his fists at her menacingly.

Opal flexed her claws. "Bring it on, long ears."

Ophelia retreated away a little, not wanting to be caught in the middle of anything.

"Now, now, you two," Owlowisuocis placated, sensing the danger. "Let's not come to blows about this…"

"Yeah guys, lighten up!" Winona added. "Come on, let's have a little fun!"

"Oh believe me, Winona, I'm going to find this very enjoyable," Opal replied, arching her back.

"Finally, something we agree on," growled Angel. "Let's do this!"

"Oh Opal, I have something for you." They all looked to see Rarity, holding aloft Opal's toy mouse.

The cat's eyes travelled back and forth between Angel and the mouse, before putting away her claws and turning her back.

"Hm, perhaps another time. I have far easier prey to hunt," she dismissed.

"Yeah, that's it, run away!" Angel folded his arms and grinned. "Heh, sure showed her, right guys?"

"Oh, Angel, will you ever learn?" asked Owlowiscious rhetorically.

"Yeah, you two always- ooh, oh boy! Stick! Mine!" With a loud bark, Winona ran after it.

Looking back to Dusk, who had his leg held out, as Twilight did hers, Ophelia knew this conversation was over. Oh well, at least she could still have fun. Chasing those colours helped her fly better and really helped her with hunting.

"Well, my dear, shall we?" asked Owlowiscious.

"Yes, let's," she replied with utter surety, taking off with him towards their owners.


They'd let their pets have their little get-together, until they noticed that Opal and Angel seemed to be getting a little hostile with one another. Rarity had quickly stepped in and broken it up before it got serious, resuming their individual playing sessions with their respective critters.

Later on, Rainbow Dash returned from Fluttershy's cottage with a wide array of different creatures accompanying her. She'd then announced to them all that she was going to hold a competition for her choice of pets, to determine which of them which of them would become her official pet, based on different events to make her choice. Leaving them all wondering at what she could possibly have in mind for such a thing, they passed the time with more activities with their pets, while she set everything up.

A few minutes later, once she was done, they'd gathered back at the town, where Rainbow had redressed herself in a cap and hung a whistle around her neck, with the complete look of a sport's coach. Dusk, quite excited at the idea of this contest, even if he had a small doubt, was cheering along with the others, until Rainbow blew her whistle to silence them.

From there, lining her pets up like in a boot camp, including a falcon, an eagle, a toucan and even a flamingo, she proceeded to tell them that only one had the chance of being her pet and that it certainly wasn't going to be easy. The way she was addressing them made Dusk's little doubt grow a little as she gave her speech, right after forcing a poor monarch butterfly to flap its wings even faster than normal.

"There's only room on Team Dash for one of you, and my future pet needs to be able to take it to the extreme!" She shot off into the sky and glared down at them. "Any questions?"

"Ah got one," whispered Applejack. "Does she understand what a pet really needs?"

"Yeah, like care and attention, love and affection- ugh! And breath mints!" Twilight added, when Winona licked her cheek.

"That's what I'm thinking," agreed Dusk, wiping Twilight's cheek with a tissue. "Still, this is the way she wants to do things, I suppose."

"Ah guess, but still…"

Things were about to get underway, when Fluttershy brought in an unexpected contender in the form of a tortoise. "Now, you just pay attention, and try your best, and-"

"Seriously, Fluttershy! The turtle? What did you bring that thing here for?"

She polished his shell, undeterred. "Technically he's a tortoise, and he's always dreamed of being somepony's pet. He just wants a chance to compete, he won't get in the way. You won't even know he's here."

Rainbow glanced down at the tortoise, who blinked very slowly back up at her.

"No."

"Oh, just let him try," encouraged Fluttershy.

"Ugh, but there's no way he can possibly keep up. Look at him!" She rolled him onto his shell to prove her point.

"It won't hurt to let him try."

"But—"

"Just let him try?" She pushed the tortoise right into her face, smiling her widest.

"Rainbow," Dusk called, empathising with the reptile and remembering him from last time, "just give him a try. What's the harm?"

He noted the flush in her cheeks when she conceded. "Grrgh, fine! But don't say I didn't warn you! This isn't a game, you know!" She turned back to the others. "Alright, now these games will determine which one of you has the most important qualities I'm looking for in a pet. Speed!" She darted off into the distance. "Agility!" She ran circuits flawlessly around them. "Guts, style!" She made a sculpture in the sky. "Coolness. Awesomeness. And radicalness."

"Aren't those all the same thing?" asked Twilight.

"You would think that, Twilight. And that's why you would never qualify to be my pet," she said with a condescending pat on her head.

The first contest was speed, where they all gathered at a race circuit near town. It was quite an amazing spectacle, watching all of those birds and insects dash around the circuit with mane-blowing results. Dusk's hat was almost blown off from the force. In the end, the falcon claimed victory, the tortoise having just crossed the starting line by the time he'd finished.

The next course was agility, where the pets had to make their way through various obstacles in order to prove how good they were in this particular field. Some were better than others, the tortoise again failing by not even making it off the ground and was eventually won by a humming bird, who whizzed easily around all of them in seconds.

The rounds went on and on, each animal showing something that made them unique and great in Rainbow's eyes, all the while the tortoise failing each time. He couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor thing.

The more he watched, the more Dusk came to question even more what Rainbow was doing. While it was impressive, watching all of these animals show off what was best about all of them, he couldn't help but feel that this wasn't the best way of choosing an animal companion. He certainly hadn't done it for Ophelia and he knew the girls hadn't done it for their own pets. Was this really how Rainbow should be doing it?

He kept it to himself mostly, until what she called the coolness round.

"Hey dude, what's up?" she asked, after judging the eagle to be the one to make the coolest noise.

"Forgive me for asking, Rainbow, but is this really the way you should be doing this?" he voiced.

"What do you mean? Like, should I have a panel of judges? This is what I think's cool Dusk, not what you think," she reminded him.

"No, no, just this contest in general," he elaborated. "It all seems a little… extreme."

"Well, of course it is, it's me," she said, posing for emphasis. "And you know how extreme I can be, right?"

"Of course, but I just think that… well, your pet should be chosen more about who they are, not what they are."

"Huh? Wha… what does that even mean?"

"Take me and Ophelia, for example." She landed on his rump and hooted. "When I chose her, it was because I connected with her on a personal level. The two of us just fitted together, almost like when you make a friend. Actually… exactly like that."

Rainbow laughed a little at that. "Dusk, this isn't exactly like that at all. I want my pet to make me look as cool and radical as I know I am, that's all. Don't tell me you didn't pick your pet because of her feathers."

"That's one thing, I suppose," he admitted, "but are you saying that's how you'd determine anypony? Just by how good they make you look?"

"What? No, I… I never said that, what are you saying?" she asked, becoming flustered.

"I'm sorry to seem like I'm broaching, but you did say that," he noted. "Is that how you see me? How you see us?"

Rainbow, again, seemed to be at a loss from this, something he rarely saw from her. She was always confident in her decisions and choices, following them through no matter what. Now, it looked like she was questioning herself a little.

Not exactly what he'd intended.

"Wha… what do you… I-I-I… what's it matter to you?!" she demanded. "This is my choice, this is how I'm doing things, so what does it matter?!"

"Rainbow, I was only asking…"

"Well, don't! Now… just, got back and watch with the others and don't ask stupid questions!" She whipped around and stalked back to the contenders. "I got a competition to judge, which I don't need help with!"

A little ashamed he'd made her angry without meaning to, but a little more curious as to why she had suddenly lost her temper, Dusk made his way back to the others, who looked just as confused as he did by Rainbow's reaction.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw the Pegasus staring at his retreating back.

The contests continued on, moving on to awesomeness and radicalness, which Dusk still wasn't sure was an actual word, with the tortoise continually failing at each event. Each of the other animals, however, were managing to show off some very impressive skills. As much as he was against it, Dusk found it incredible that the eagle managed to knit Rainbow a multi-coloured sweater, apparently using only a ball of orange yarn and the wasp was able to pull of shadow puppetry.

All the while, Rainbow still seemed to be in a sore mood with him from what he'd said before, but she was still acting rather strangely. Not Pinkie strange, but still... Every now and again, when he diverted his eyes away from the contest, he'd catch her eyes suddenly darting elsewhere when his passed over hers, a slight red tint in her cheeks when she did. If he caught her staring at him, she would glare at him before furiously turning her head away again.

What had gotten into her? Was it something he'd done before? Was there something else wrong? Dusk didn't really know and he knew he wasn't exactly going to find out anytime soon.

Eventually, five finalists were picked out of the bunch: an owl, a falcon, an eagle and a bat. Dusk was surprised to see that, even though he hadn't made the cut, he was still trekking on with the others. That was quite admirable, even if it did look like he didn't stand much chance, especially with the final challenge Rainbow had lined up for them.

A race through Ghastly Gorge.

"Actually," Rainbow explained, "Ghastly Gorge isn't scary. It's fun. Heh. I've flown through it a million times myself, so, obviously I'll be at the front of the pack." Once again, he saw her eyes flicker to him for a moment. "But whichever of you make it across the finish line with me will have proven you can keep up with me, and will have earned the honor, and glory, of getting to be my pet! Ready? Setgo!"

In the blink of an eye, she was off, followed closely by her finalists. Even the tortoise hopped down into the gorge and began to make very slow progress through it.

"Off they go and so do we." Twilight's horn glowed and she teleported all of them to a point further up ahead, so they could watch them go by.

"Now, ah don't much agree with this whole shindig, but this is still pretty excitin'!" Applejack confessed, watching the race through a pair of binoculars they each had.

"Oh dear, the bat's been blown off course at the wind tunnel," commented Rarity.

"Literally!" added Pinkie.

"Ooh, here comes the thorn valley," said Fluttershy. "Oh dear, most of them are getting snagged on the thorns. The poor things!"

"And the bat's catching up, while the rest all seem to be caught up," put in Dusk.

"Literally!"

"Wait… are those Quarray Eels?" Twilight asked incredulously. "Good gosh, this is getting very dangerous!"

"Well, they don't call it Ghastly Gorge for nothing," reminded Spike, who had showed up to watch the rest.

"Thank you for the stating of the obvious, but still Rainbow is going a bit far with this." She gasped suddenly. "Oh, some of them are getting close to being snapped up!"

"Literally!"

"Pinkie, ya don't have ta say literally ta everythin' we're sayin'," Applejack finally said to her.

"Fair enough, I don't even know what it means." Nopony chose to comment on this, as Twilight readied to teleport them to the finish.

Just as she did, Dusk happened to move his binoculars up the canyon and glimpsed something in them.

He couldn't be entirely sure, but he could have sworn that he saw somepony else standing further up the canyon. He couldn't quite make it out… was the fur red or orange? He saw something flash on the wall of the canyon and was about to focus, just as the purple light consumed them.

He shook his head from the daze of the teleport, swallowing down his lunch as it threatened to come back out. He whipped his binoculars back towards the canyon, trying to find where he'd seen the figure. But he couldn't remember where… which part… had he even seen anything? And why did it make his spine tingle?

"Dusk, there's not much point in using your binoculars here," Twilight said to him. "We can't really see much from this angle."

"I know but…" He decided not to make a fuss about it, especially if he hadn't seen anything. "Never mind, it's just a feeling…"

"She'll be fine, you know how Rainbow is," she said. "Now come on, I don't think it'll take long for them to cross the line."

Dusk was going to move his eyes away from the lens and turn around to watch, but something kept him looking... that feeling of unease he had. He scanned the canyon, not really sure what he was looking for. He could see the racers coming into view, all crossing the line one by one, to the reducing applause of the others, but no sign of Rainbow… where was she?

Then, he saw dust rising from the gorge and a large pile of stone further up where it came from that certainly hadn't been there before. That could mean only one thing.

"Collapse! There's been a collapse in the gorge!" he yelled.

"What? Let me see…" Twilight raised her own pair and gasped. "You're right! Oh my goodness, you're right!"

"Oh my gosh, Rainbow!" Fluttershy's eyes were wide with panic. "She could be trapped in there!"

"Now, let's not lose our heads here," Applejack tried to calm.

"Rainbow, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Pinkie screeched at the top of her lungs. "We gotta help her!"

"I agree. She might be in trouble! Trapped, between a rock and a hard place!" Rarity screamed.

"Literally!" They all glared at Pinkie. "Oops… sorry."

"She might be fine, but we can't take that chance," Twilight agreed. "Some of us should head out to check it out."

"Why can't we all go?" asked Rarity.

"In case there's another collapse and we all end up trapped," Dusk reasoned. "If that happens, the others can run back to town and get help. Good thinking."

"It's what I do best," replied Twilight. "Applejack, Dusk and I will go and check it out. Rarity, Fluttershy, Spike, you all stay here."

"You're asking me to stay here, nice and safe, while you all risk your lives in a dangerous, scary gorge?" Spike shrugged. "Good luck guys!"

"Your concern is touching," Dusk commented. He swallowed the fear that was growing inside him and sprinted with the others into the gorge, Twilight teleporting them as they ran.

They arrived to see Rainbow, with one of her wings hanging limp and the tortoise, who had finally caught up, moving slowly towards her, hoisting her onto his shell.

"Rainbow! Oh dear, that looks bad," Twilight fretted, seeing her wing.

"Yeah, a rock fell on it and I was stuck." But she suddenly beamed at the tortoise. "Then, outta nowhere, this little guy shows up, hoists that rock offa me and tries to help me along. How cool is that?"

"Very, but we gotta get y'all outta here. Ah don't much like the look-a these here walls," Applejack commented. "Ah'll get Rainbow, Twah, you bring the turtle."

"Tortoise."

"Whatever," she replied to Dusk, who assumed he would be on some sort of look-out for any further danger.

As she was hoisted onto Applejack's back, Rainbow looked at him. "Hey Dusk, I just wanna say-"

"No offense, Rainbow, but I'd rather wait until after impending death isn't hanging over our heads," he replied, watching the cracks in the rocks.

"I know, I know, but… I just wanted to say that… I'm sorry and… I guess, you were right."

Again, Dusk was surprised by this. How often did Rainbow admit she was wrong? She hated losing and, in her eyes, doing something like this was pretty much along those lines.

"Yeah, yeah, less broodin', more movin'! Now come on!" Applejack ordered.

Dusk nodded and stood ready… he saw something, another white flash, a crack…

"Right, I'll just teleport us back and-"

"Incoming!" He pushed Twilight aside, just as another rock smacked the spot where she had been standing seconds before.

"Oh no, it's starting again!" She levitated the tortoise and screeched, "Run!"

"Ya don't need ta tell me twice!" At a slightly slower pace, Applejack set off, Dusk in the middle of them both.

He whipped his head up. Boulders the sizes of houses were tumbling down all around them, stones as big as his hoof. Crashing, smashing all around them. They had to move, get out of here. His heart was pounding as he ran, dodging rocks as best he could. A few near misses, keep moving.

He darted his head up. A few were shooting towards Applejack and Rainbow. They weren't fast enough, he had to act.

And he could. He hadn't been taking these lessons for nothing! It was time to see what he could do.

He stopped them, just in time, tossing them aside quickly and sprinting on, along with a few others he could see. Levitation was a definite improvement then.

Another boulder slammed in front of him, blocking his progress, the shadow of another directly above him.

Clumsily, but quickly, he used his pink absorbers to bound over it, just as the other rock smacked down where he had been. Stumbling a little from the fall, he pressed on.

"Move, move, move!" Twilight called out and he doubled his speed, lungs burning and legs aching.

"Twi, look out!" Rainbow warned.

Another rock was tumbling towards her. She stared at it, unable to deflect it due to the tortoise she was already carrying. Sprinting ahead, Dusk turned the hooves orange and swung his hoof at the stone, not really thinking-

CRASH!

It was just enough force to divert the boulder away, but even more force to make Dusk yell out in pain from the impact, clutching his hoof desperately. He'd never be able to run on this.

"Dusk!" Twilight was at his side, as were the other two. "No… right, I'm gonna have to try this. I need to try teleporting."

"Twilight, you'd never do it in time!"

"I have to try, I'm not leaving you here!" She warmed up her horn, the energy gathering around them all. The boulders were getting closer, they would be crushed. Dusk shut his eye, gripping Twilight's hoof with his good one. This was it, they'd die…

But they didn't.

The next time he opened his eyes, he was back at the finish line, breathing in fresh air and the pain in his hoof lessening from Twilight's healing spell she was casting.

"Once again, you've proven you can be a complete idiot at times," she remarked.

"I know… I… I couldn't…"

"I know." She kissed his cheek and helped him up. "Thank you. That was some great magic you were performing there."

"Still practicing…"

"Still great." She smiled warmly at him and moved off. "Come on, let's see how she is."

There were some mild twinges in his hoof from the impact of his hoof hitting the boulder, but Dusk knew it would be fine. If he'd tried that with his bare hoof…

He had to be more careful with his magic. He was still learning, even if he was improving.

Rainbow looked up as he approached, a sheepish look on her face. "Hey Dusk… how's the hoof?"

"Not bad, could be better. How's the wing?"

"Same." She looked back out at the canyon. "I thought we were done for, for a bit."

"Me too, but we made it."

"Yeah…" She looked back at him. "I meant what I said, you know, back there…"

Dusk didn't say anything, he just listened.

"It's just cause… what you said, it reminded me… when I first met you, I judged you, like I judged them. I just saw what made you what made you cool to me, your colour stuff. And that… that was wrong of me. Shallow, I guess. It's not just that that makes you cool, or anything else that those animals had." He could tell this wasn't easy for her, with quite a few pauses in her words. "I guess, it's like you said… it's not what you are, it's who you are…"

Dusk stared, again, at her sudden change, but eventually smiled. "It's fine, Rainbow. I'm sorry I upset you. Apology accepted."

"Don't sweat it, you got nothing to be sorry for. I was just getting mad 'cause I thought you were calling me a bad friend." She shot her head up and glared. "You weren't, were you?"

"No, no, not at all," he assured her. "You're far from it. You're the best friend anypony could have… Rainbow Crash."

"Hey, don't push it," she warned. "But… you're a great friend too. Thanks for coming to rescue me."

"We all did, it was a team effort."

"Yeah, but…" Her eyes seemed to linger on him, staring at him with an intensity he'd never seen before. What was it…?"

"Rainbow! Your new pet is over here waiting for you!" Fluttershy called, gesturing to the falcon.

Everypony watched in awe as he flew onto Rainbow's back, standing tall and proud.

But she didn't look as sure anymore. "Oh... right... yeah. That."

"What's the matter?" asked Spike

"You got your perfect pet, right?" added Pinkie.

"The best of the best like you wanted, remember?" put in Fluttershy. "It can fly and it's not a squirrel! Should we sing about it again?"

"A falcon sure looks good on ya, Rainbow," complimented Applejack.

Rarity snapped a picture of the moment, scaring the tortoise back into his shell. Rainbow glanced at Dusk again, who just replied with a look saying exactly what he thought.

"Easy, fella. Nothing to be afraid of," she said to the reptile, glancing back at the bird. "The falcon sure does looks cool... he's absolutely everything I wanted in a pet."

"Yay?"

"But I said whoever crosses the finish line with me gets to be my pet."

"You did! You did say that! She did say that, that was the rule!" cried Pinkie.

"And the only racer who crossed the finish line with me, was the one who stopped to save me when I needed help. The tortoise!" she announced, looking at Dusk again, who was now beaming at her proudly.

Her cheeks became tinted with red again.

"But what about the—"

While he was upset, the falcon was a gracious loser. He shook wings, or rather wing and leg, with the tortoise and turned about in a dignified manner. The tortoise gazed up at Rainbow, a watery smile creeping onto his green face.

"Wouldja look at that? He even smiles slow."

As they laughed from Applejack's comment, Dusk looked back out at the collpased gorge, that uneasy feeling returning. He didn't know if the others had seen it, if he should be worried or if he should tell them, but there was one thing for absolute certain.

That wasn't an accident. Somepony had made that gorge avalanche around them. Somepony had tried to hurt, maybe even kill them.

And that scared him. A lot.


"After all that fuss, all of that bother, the Pegasus settles on a tortoise?" Opal commented. "Honestly, I thought she had some standards."

"Yeah, you're just ticked cause he managed to take your favourite toy," remarked Angel.

"It is not a toy! Toys are for kittens. It is my hunting tool," she insisted.

"Uh huh, sure," Angel nodded, a satisfied smile on his face. "I'm sure you had plenty of hunting practice on that ball of yarn there too."

Opal just growled in her throat and said nothing, glaring at the rabbit who smiled in satisfaction.

"Well, I for one think he's an excellent addition to our group," Owlowisicous said. "A fine specimen of Testudo graeca."

"Yeah an' he's a mighty fine tortoise too!" Winona agreed.

"That's what I said."

"I… I think he's good too," agreed Ophelia. "Especially with that flying harness he has."

"Yes, quite fortunate that. I remember hearing Pinkie saying that she knew somepony who made it for him, some sort of doctor I think," her mate commented thoughtfully. "I think it's admirable that the fellow has achieved flight."

"Oh, look, here he is! Hey Tank, how are ya?" Winona asked the tortoise, as he landed in the midst of them.

"Great… thanks…" he replied slowly. He did everything slow. "Thank you… for… the welcome."

"No problem man, always nice to have a new buddy, right?" Angel said, punching his shell affectionately, before gasping in pain.

"Thank you." He turned his head to Ophelia. "I remember… you. From… the farm."

"Oh." Ophelia blinked in surprise. "You do?"

"Yes. Your owner… was right. I did… find someone." He smiled even more brightly at her. "So… did you."

"I… I guess I did. And more," she added, looking around at them. "Now, you have too. I'm glad to have you with us Tank."

"As… am I," he replied. "Do you… think… we shall… be friends?"

"Yes," the snowy owl nodded, happy that he appeared to be so positive, "I think we will."

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