• 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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Going Long Distance

"Another spectacular, starlit sky," remarked Princess Celestia, beaming proudly at her younger sister.

"Thank you, Tia, I always strive to do my best," she replied, smiling equally as proudly. "I must say, I've always enjoyed winter, for this very purpose."

"Of course, it's your turn in the spotlight after all," agreed her elder. "Just don't go getting a big head."

"What? You were always the one with the ego," she reminded her.

"Ah, but times have changed. Now, I am a modest and humble ruler, content only to do her duty to her subjects."

"Indeed and I met extraterrestrials whilst in the moon." She gave her sister a sly look. "Surely, you must still feel some pride well up whenever they gaze on your sun."

"Not at all." She paused to think. "Perhaps a little bit."

The two sisters laughed merrily, pleased that they could make light of past events, good or bad. They'd never forget them, but that didn't mean that they had to weigh them down, especially in Luna's case.

The Princess of the Night cast her mind back to those days. She, of course, hadn't been the happiest of individuals when she'd been released from her imprisonment. Even when she was returned to normal, she still had issues, both what she had done and what her sister had done, what she could remember. It hadn't been as bad as it could have been, but it sickened her to the core when she thought about how much worse it could have gotten.

But now, after her consoling from her sister, making a new friend and Nightmare Night, she just felt that everything was finally going right for her. Her subjects loved her now as much as Celestia, she no longer felt resentment for her elder's glory and she was passing on her knowledge to another. Even those sessions were proceeding so much better and she found herself looking forward to them every time.

The very thought of it now made her smile grow, eager to help Dusk improve even more and still have some fun.

And yet… she still wished they had more time. She wanted him to be ready, to be able to defend himself if need be. She just didn't think they'd be able to achieve it in the time they currently had. They only had lessons on Tuesday and Saturday nights, giving him plenty of time to practise in-between and rest. He'd advanced significantly more than he had previously, but he could do so much more if they just had more time, more nights to practice.

Oh well, she thought, I'll just have to make do with what I have.

"Right, I had best get ready to depart," she said, walking with Celestia away from the balcony they had stood on. "I'm planning to teach Dusk how to make shields with his magic tonight."

"These lessons certainly seem to be proceeding a lot more smoothly," noted Celestia. "I'm very proud of you, Luna. You've proven yourself a very capable teacher."

"He's an equally capable student. Still…" She was about to bring up what was on her mind, but decided against it. No, she was in too good a mood to spoil it. "Actually, never mind."

Tia, however, didn't miss a trick. "Why, is there something wrong? I thought you'd figured out where you were going wrong."

"No, no, I have, that's fine," she said quickly. "Really, it's no big concern."

"Are you sure? The last time you didn't ask for my help, I think we both know how well that turned out."

"Yes, no need to remind me." She sighed huffily, knowing her sister wouldn't drop this now she knew. "I suppose… I wish we had more time."

"In what way?"

"I mean, two nights a week hardly seems sufficient for teaching him what he needs to know. I want to at least make sure he has the basics mastered, before we move on."

"You know, I've been meaning to ask, why are you so concerned with teaching him battle magic?" asked Celestia. "I thought we'd established the possibility that, with his magic and some time, he could be achieving the same things Twilight does."

"What, you mean growing moustaches and turning apples into oranges?" dismissed Luna. "Impressive, but hardly useful."

"Depends on the use," countered Celestia. "Are you dismissing my teaching?"

Luna realised she was accidentally being rude and became passive. "Sorry, Tia, I didn't mean to sound rude."

"It's fine, we both do things differently. I'm just curious as to yours and why you would do it," she replied. "Unless you think monsters are lurking around every corner."

"And they might be." Luna looked up at her sister. "For one thing, his magic has only ever been used to entertain and enthral ponies. We can use his will power and magical field to achieve alteration and conjuration as Twilight does, but their magics are different, by nature alone. Hers is more raw and powerful, his is more tamed and restrained. I know this, I possess it, but to a higher degree. Dusk will take more time to pull off those sorts of spells than Twilight."

"And simply altering his puppets a little is more simple than almost completely changing their nature, I remember," she nodded. "But still, why employ them in battle?"

"Because he'll need it. Remember when Discord came back?" Her sister nodded. "He was able to pull off something with his magic, but that was only because the fragments of Unity amplified the power. He can't wear his Element every day and his own physical strength is limited. He can establish where to strike his opponents weakest spot, that's his strong suit, but what if he doesn't have time? What if his opponent is stronger, faster, better trained? I need him to be ready for such an eventuality, so he can stand more of a chance than before."

"I thought he told you that he'd already proven himself in battle."

"Yes, but the diamond dogs are little more than brutes, he knew exactly where to strike that buffalo from his readings about them and he did tell me how ineffectual his physical strikes were against the Paraserpents. In case something else comes up, I need him to be ready."

"I see your point, but I think there's little chance of that happening."

"We'll see." They didn't mean anything much by this discussion, just teachers comparing notes combined with a little sibling rivalry. Not much, but a little.

"So, would you prefer it if Dusk were learning on a more regular basis for a while?" she asked.

Luna nodded absently. "Yes, just long enough so he's mastered what I've taught him so far. It should be fine from then on."

"Then I think that, you and I can agree, that there's only one way you could achieve that," her sister said a little grimly.

"What way is that?" Though Celestia didn't answer her question, the look she had on her face meant it didn't take Luna long to figure it out. "Oh no. No! I couldn't ask him to do that."

"You seemed willing to do so last time."

"Yes, but that was because I was disappointed and didn't know what else to do," she replied urgently. "I don't expect him to do something like that. He couldn't."

"I don't disagree with you. Ultimately though, you are his teacher and it's up to you to decide what's best for him in his education. Sometimes, being a teacher means you have to make hard decisions, as it does with being a ruler."

Luna knew she had a point there, for she spoke from experience. They both had it. It didn't mean she was willing to agree with it though. She remembered what happened the last time and it certainly hadn't gone well.

However, she did find herself seriously considering it, as it helped put her at ease that he would have more time to master what she had been teaching him. It was a conflict between her feelings for him as his friend and as his teacher.

"Well… I'll see how things go tonight and mention it to him, I suppose," she conceded.

"That's fair enough, give him some time to think about it." Her elder started to make her way to bed, pausing in the hallway. "Just remember, it may come down to having to do what you think is best. By any means. It sounds harsh, I know, but it is the right thing to do."

Luna didn't respond to this, nor did Celestia continue. She watched her go, stood thinking for a few more minutes and finally took off towards Ponyville, bathed in the light of her stars and moon and suddenly not as enthusiastic as she had been.

She still found herself torn between which action she should take. On the one hoof, she was asking quite a lot by suggesting that he do this, if she proposed it to him. She knew he wouldn't be happy about it. On the other, it wouldn't be permanent, just a few weeks at best, just long enough to teach him what she needed to, then he'd be able to return. Canterlot had once been his home too, so it wasn't too bad.

Still, this wasn't going to be easy. The burdens of being a princess, a teacher now, seemed even heavier when there was a good friend thrown into the mix.

The thoughts of what she should do were still weighing heavily on her mind by the time she arrived at the familiar abode, gently setting down close to the familiar pony who arrived to meet her, who seemed just as enthusiastic as she had been.

"Good evening, Princess," greeted the polite voice of Dusk Noir, who inclined his head to her in respect. "You're looking well."

"Thank you, Dusk, the same to you," she replied. "Life is treating you adequately?"

"Very much so, everything's great!" he responded happily. "You know, apart from the little things, but I'm coping. Mostly."

She nodded, knowing perfectly what, or rather who, he was referring to. "Good to hear. Now, shall we proceed?"

"By your leave, Princess," he said. "What's the subject tonight?"

"We are still expanding on your combat capabilities, as you know," she informed him professionally. "So far, you know how to provide attack and flight, but defence must also be incorporated."

"I understand," he said, a slight frown from the mention of violence, but not complaining. "So, I'm guessing… shields are what I'm learning?"

"Precisely. Now, in the case of one such as Twilight Sparkle, a shield is a hard layer of magical energy between you and your opponent, obviously to protect from magical and physical attacks. The shield, more than often, usually takes the form of a bubble, for wont of better phrase, surrounding the individual and can vary in size and strength, depending on how magically adept the unicorn or alicorn in question is, though you would be most unfortunate if you found yourself in conflict with the latter of the two."

"No arguments here," he responded, watching her. "So… you want me to surround myself in a barrier of hard light?"

"Not in the same way, simply because I don't think you'd be able to hold it for long," she told him. "Instead, I want you only to provide a barrier protecting the front of your body for, unless your opponent is a coward, that would be your most immediate defence against an attack."

"I understand."

"Excellent. First, show me that you can perform it."

He proceeded to, holding a cream-coloured wall in front of himself. Smiling a little when he knew who he was referring to with that, she checked its strength and it was, at least, solid. A little soft due to its size, but it would protect him.

Next, they moved on to seeing how well he could perform it in their usual fashion of playing a game. Dusk would stand ready to block an attack, whilst Luna, in her smoke form, would prowl around and attack him quickly, to see how fast he could react to the attack and, more importantly, if he could block it in time. The attacks would be in varying strength and duration and Dusk had to hold the shield long enough to keep her back from tagging him with her hoof.

He performed well, but she had the feeling that it wasn't well enough. While he was competent and on alert enough to expect her attacks, she only occasionally caught him off-guard, it was holding the shield where the problem lay. With short, quick attacks, he would only be able to block the first two or three before she shot through his defence. With the longer, more powerful attacks, he only held her back for a maximum of ten seconds before he wore out.

Dusk only seemed a little dispirited though, remaining positive throughout the exercise to the end and even Luna was still having fun, teasing him a little from how easily he let her slip through his shields and laughing good-naturedly along with him when he yelped from a spell that hit him or when she caught him by surprise. They were friends and, while they were learning, they were still having fun. That was a gift Luna didn't want to tarnish.

Even so, she had the growing dread inside her from what this meant. It was a game now, but what would happen when it was no longer just a harmless bit of fun between princess and subject? What would happen if it was something trying to hurt him, even kill him and he wouldn't be able to defend himself? His fate would be on her hooves and she would be responsible for any danger that would befall him because she hadn't taught him properly.

She'd still find it tough to ask him to do this, but, by the end of their session, she knew exactly what she needed to do. Once again, her elder sister was right and she needed to do what was right, not what was easy.

"That was fun," he said, still with a smile. "Sorry I couldn't hold it for very long."

"Apologies are unnecessary," she said. "You've only just started, after all. You'll get better, with time, as you will with everything else I've taught you so far."

She'd learned that the best way to teach Dusk was encouragement. If he was chastised, he'd lose confidence and falter more, generally do worse. She kept her patience with him, which was much easier than it had been before. He was still apologetic though, something she found rather sweet.

In truth though, she was delaying her news just a little bit longer.

"Thanks, Luna," he replied, returning to the use of her name now their lesson was over. "Same time next night?"

This was it. It would be so much easier to say 'yes, see you then and keep practicing' and just fly off back home, but she couldn't. This had to be done.

"Actually, Dusk," she said, "I need to speak to you about something. It won't take a moment."

"Okay then," he agreed, not noticing the unsure note in her voice. "What is it?"

"Right. Well…" She paused for a moment, trying to decide where to begin. "You have been doing brilliantly in our lessons recently. You've improved so much more than you had before and I'm very satisfied, both with your work ethic and your attitude towards our sessions. Not to mention I enjoy them greatly."

"As do I and… I try my best," he responded modestly. "I have a good teacher…"

"Thank you." That didn't exactly make it easier. "You really are an excellent student and you're coming along magnificently. But…"

His face fell a little. "But…?"

"But… please don't take this the wrong way, but I feel that… there's still a lot of room for improvement. Significant improvement," she added.

"But… but I'm trying my-"

"I know, I know you are and it has nothing to do with you, but it's with how much time we spend on our lessons," she explained. "You know why I'm teaching you this magic and you know how important it is, for the safety of Equestria and your own safety. I just don't think that two lessons a week is enough to cover that."

"I see…" He still looked forlorn, but at least he understood. "So, what do you want to do?"

"There's only one thing we can do. Please, understand, it won't be permanent and it won't be for too long, I should assume. But it is the only way."

When she did tell him, he reacted exactly the way she expected him to. She assured him that she would give him some time to think about it, to discuss it with the others, but she would expect a letter with his decision soon. She didn't let on that, even if he did say no, she would make him do it anyway. She didn't want to seem too cruel.

But even so, she was staring at his home for a while before she took off and it didn't really make her feel any better.

"I can't believe this!" Twilight cried the next morning, when he told her what had happened last night. "She wants you to move back to Canterlot?!"

"That's what she said," he replied sadly. "She said I'd improve more if I were learning my magic on a more regular and frequent basis."

"I guess that makes sense, but it still seems a bit much asking you to move back," she reasoned. "Why couldn't she just increase the number of lessons you have here?"

"It would conflict too much with her royal duties," he explained. "If I'm in Canterlot, we're in closer vicinity than all the way out here."

"All the way out here? It's only half an hour on the train, hour at best!" Spike shouted.

"It takes even longer when flying, apparently," said Dusk, a little angrily. "She still wants to be in Canterlot so she can do what she needs to do."

"Couldn't I just tutor you as well? If she'd explain it to me-"

"No, our magic may be similar, but it's not the same. Hers is a closer match. Compared to your levels and mine, plus the regular differences, she said it would be almost impossible for you to teach me what I need to learn to improve," he recited, almost word-for-word from the previous night.

"Well, when did she say you could come back?"

"When she thinks I've mastered enough of it."

"What the hay is that meant to mean?!" Spike asked angrily. "That's hardly fair!"

"I know, I thought I was doing perfectly fine in our sessions as they were," he agreed. "Apparently, that's not the case."

"Well… there has to be something else we can do," she tried to desperately reason. "We could… no, no… I know, how about…! No, that wouldn't work either… Or… or… I don't know…"

"I don't know either," sighed Dusk.

He didn't know what was worse. The fact that she had asked him to do this or the fact that it seemed perfectly reasonable, with virtually no way that he could argue against it. Everything she said made sense and he had no way of presenting any case against that.

That didn't mean they had to like it though.

"I really don't know what to do, but you can't go," she said. "Ponyville's your home now, you have friends here, and you have me."

"I share your feelings."

"What about our shared lessons on friendship, on us." She tapped her chest for emphasis. "How would do those things if you're in Canterlot?"

"I… I guess I wouldn't…"

"But you can't go. I mean, I understand your lessons our important, but you're important too." He felt her hoof being placed on top of his. "I'd miss you."

"Me too, I'd have to do more work! Think how much sleep I'm gonna miss out on!"

"Spike!"

"And I'd miss you anyway!" he added, under Twilight's glare. "Yeah, yeah of course I would, duh!"

"I'd miss you guys as well, especially you Twilight," he said sincerely. "I just… I don't see how we could change her mind."

"I don't know either," admitted his marefriend. "Maybe… maybe we just need some more time to think about it. Give ourselves a good few minutes, try and think of something, come back later with ideas."

"That sounds better than nothing," he agreed. "I'll take a walk and return if I think of something."

"Good idea, get some fresh air. I'll stay here and do the same, wait for you to come back." She stopped him just as he reached the door. "I hope you think of something."

"Same for you." He gave her one last, lingering look before stepping outside into the streets.

The sun was shining down on him from above, certainly not reflecting his current mood. He had dreaded the worst when Luna had spoken to him last night, but he still hadn't quite expected this. He knew that she meant well by what she had told him and she had given him time to think about his answer, before giving it to her. He knew his magic studies were important. But he still would have preferred it if she hadn't asked him at all.

He could at least see where she was coming from by bringing this up. Being here, in Ponyville, was quite out of the way for her, especially with everything else she was expected to do as ruler of Equestria. Even with the lessons they had, they could really only do an hour, at most, every time they met and it was practice in-between them, but he would usually spend time with his friends and Twilight more. Being in Canterlot would mean direct access for her and even more time to master what she had been teaching him.

But even though he could see the sense behind it, he still didn't like it. Though he was born in Canterlot, Ponyville was his home now. He had his house, he had the girls, Spike, Ophelia, Twilight and just the feeling of complete welcome and peace just being here. Though he did have his obvious bad memories, those far outweighed everything else that was good and there was so many things that were good about this place. He felt more at home here, in the humble houses of this town, than he ever had in the towering spires of Canterlot.

It wasn't like he had many reasons to go back home anyway. Not the least of which his parents. They could have been, but then they'd just…

Dusk shook those thoughts away, not wanting them to get to him. He didn't want those thoughts depressing him even more than his current predicament. He continued to wander around the town, his head still dancing around the issue and not really being able to think of any sort of solution to this problem. He only stopped to lie on bench next to the park, where just a few days ago they'd had their pet play date together.

That had been fun. Playing with Ophelia, protecting her from Gummy, getting pounced on by Winona, Angel stealing his hat. It had been Rainbow's first one, bringing along the flying marvel of Tank. She'd been playing with him, still staring at him on occasion, acting strangely when she was close or if he spoke to her…

He set aside those as well. Rainbow wasn't his concern and he needed to focus.

Dusk sighed and lowered his head. He didn't even know how long he would be gone for. Could he just say no? Was it too late to try and arrange something else? What could he do?

"Hm, wood's surprisingly comfy to lie on, huh?" He didn't even flinch from the sudden presence of Pinkie Pie. "Nice and smooth, like a milkshake. If you could have wood-flavoured milkshakes. How would that taste? Think that would taste good?

"I wouldn't think so," came the quite voice of Fluttershy. "I wouldn't mind being a tree, but it doesn't mean I'd like to eat one."

Dusk only glanced at them before diverting his eyes to the ground again. He didn't really feel like talking to them right now.

"Hey, what's with the frownie face?" Pinkie peered into his field of vision. "What's got you down Dusky?"

"Just… something with my lessons," he said, rather hoping they'd leave it at that.

"What is it? Is there anything we can do?" Fluttershy asked.

"I don't know…"

"Aw, come on, try us." Pinkie flashed him a grin. "Don't bottle it up, just let it out."

His first thought was to ask them to leave him alone, but then he also realised that he would have to tell them soon enough about what was happening anyway. He might as well tell them now.

Once he was finished explaining, Fluttershy looked horrified and Pinkie's mouth was wide open in shock. So much so her chin actually hit the ground.

"Oh my, Princess Luna wants you to leave Ponyville?" She wasn't quite on the verge of tears, but she was getting there. "That's… that's…"

"Bad! And when I say bad, I mean really bad! Really, really, really bad! Like, left-the-cakes-in-the-oven-too-long-so-now-they're -all-black-crispy-and-icky kind of bad!" screeched Pinkie. "And no amount of frosting could ever cover up the taste!"

"Those were my thoughts. Well, not exactly my thoughts but-"

"Dusk, this is no time to joke about your psychicness! This is serious!" Those were words he never thought he'd hear Pinkie say. "You can't go back to Canterlot, you just can't! What if it's your birthday while you're there? I won't be able to throw you a Pinkie party for your birthday and you won't get any cake or presents or get to see your friends, because you'll be in Canterlot and I'll be here in Ponyville. Did I mention that was bad?!"

"I know…" He blinked in surprise. "Wait a minute, you don't know when my birthday-"

"Oh shut up, of course I do! I know everypony's birthday!"

"But-"

"Dusk, you can't go." Tears were starting to well up in Fluttershy's eyes now. "We'd all miss you. I… I would…"

"I'd miss you too," he nodded, placing a hoof on her shoulder. "Twilight and I are trying to think of some way to change Luna's mind but…"

"Well, you can't just give up!" insisted Pinkie. "Any hydra'll tell you four heads are better than one and now you have four heads. We can think of something, together!"

"You… you would do that?"

"Of course, we're your friends and I'm not going to leave my big brother in a jam." She managed a warm smile and wiped at her eyes. "Right, let's try and think… did you ask her not to do it?"

"I did."

"Did you ask nicely?"

"I'm… fairly sure I did."

"Oh. Then I don't know…"

"We could throw her a surprise party!" suggested Pinkie.

He cocked his head at her. "How would that help?"

"She might like it enough to change her mind."

"I doubt it…"

"Hey!" She prodded his chest sharply. "Don't underestimate the power of the party, Dusk."

"But she-"

"Don't. Trust me, it's a mistake you don't wanna make."

"Right…" He softly pushed her away from him, her glare still fixed on him. "Still, I don't think a surprise party will do the trick."

"Oh. Well, how about a costume party?"

"No."

"Fondue party?"

"I don't think so."

"Political party?"

"What does that even mean?"

"How about a party with-?"

"Pinkie, no parties of any kind," he said with finality. "We need a more practical solution."

"Um… we could?" Fluttershy lowered her hoof and retreated a little. "Well, I don't know…"

"Go ahead," he prompted gently. "If you have an idea, let's hear it."

"Okay then. Well, you know how Luna wants you in Canterlot to improve your magic? I thought that, if we can find some way to prove that you've, you know, been learning it just fine as you have now, then maybe she'll… change her mind. It-it sounds silly, I know, but-"

"Fluttershy, that's a great idea!" he told her happily.

"It-it is?"

"Yeah it is!" agreed Pinkie. "I still think a party, even a tea party, would have been just fine, but that works too."

"But how do we prove that I've been doing just fine as I have been?"

"You said your magic is mainly used in fighting. We'll find you something to fight!"

Dusk cringed at the idea. "Pinkie, is that really necessary?"

"It's the only way to prove you don't need further lessons. I'm not talking about a pony, maybe just something scary, like a cockatrice or something."

"I don't know…"

"It's the only way!" she repeated desperately. She shook his shoulders. "Come on Dusk, would you rather move back to Canterlot?"

"No but… I'd also not fight without some sort of reason, not just because it's convenient," he said. "I don't just want to seek a fight like that."

Pinkie thought for a moment. "I know, let's go see Zecora! She gathers ingredients in the Everfree Forest, where all sorts of nasties hang around. We go to her, ask her if she needs something, go find it, fight a monster if we need to, then come back in time for dinner. That way, you do a favour for a friend and you get to stay here."

"I… I don't…"

"Dusk, I don't like fighting or the Everfree Forest either, mainly just because I'm… scared…" She whimpered, but put on a brave face. "But… I also don't want you to go. I'll go along too, to help if I can, but… can we just try? Please?"

Dusk tried to say no, but he just couldn't. He had his reservations, his doubts about this plan, not just the fighting, but the danger as well. But the look on Flutterhy's face just made him feel weak at the knees and he conceded.

"Okay then. But… we need to be careful, agreed?"

"Yeah, duh! Now come on, let's go!"

"Wait, one other thing." She looked back at Dusk again. "If we do have to fight some sort of animal, even a scary one… don't hurt it too much, okay?"

Dusk now actually felt a little better about this idea, just from that request.

"I promise, I won't harm it badly. You have my word." He got up off the bench and let the new vigour flow. "Right, lead on Miss Pie."

With Pinkie's signature bouncing, Dusk's sprinting and Fluttershy's gentle, but swift flying, or rather hovering above the ground a few metres, they made their way towards the foreboding trees of the Everfree Forest. Even just being close gave them all chills, their branches reaching out like clawed hands to grab them and the shadows hiding nameless, faceless creatures that dwelled in the depths of the darkness.

Luckily, with their speed and the size of their group, plus the fact they knew where they were going, they swiftly made it to Zecora's tree hut. The zebra, though surprised at their sudden arrival, was none the less pleased to have guests and welcomed them into her home, serving them a brew she made herself.

"Thank you Zecora," Fluttershy said, taking the cup from her and sipping it. She had to do her best to hide her grimace. "Mmm, delicious…"

Despite his respect for difference in culture, Dusk too found it a little hard to swallow. It was like somepony had taken some dirty socks that hadn't been changed for weeks and liquefying the texture and the smell.

"This brew, you see, is my own special recipe," she told them proudly. "It contains grass shoots, tree roots and a big helping of beetle juice."

Too polite to say anything, Dusk simply placed down his cup and did a strained smile in her direction.

Pinkie, however, was enjoying it immensely, slurping down her bowl. "That's great stuff! Got anymore?"

"With an appetite like that, I could make some more in thirty seconds flat," the zebra informed her.

Fluttershy, while Zecora had her back turned, deposited all of her own in a nearby jar and mirrored Dusk's smile.

"Oh, that's very kind of you, but um… we came to see you about something."

"Aw, come on! Can't we at least have a little more?" begged Pinkie.

"As um… unique as this is, she's right," agreed Dusk. "We wanted to ask you if you needed any help gathering potion ingredients."

Zecora looked surprised. "I am flattered by the offer, this is true, why the sudden interest in what I do?"

Fluttershy was about to tell her, but Pinkie silenced her with a look. Dusk had to agree, for he wasn't sure how Zecora would react if they told her the truth. She might just think they were looking for trouble.

"We just thought that you must be kept um… busy, you know, with all of your um… gathering of ingredients so uh…"

"We thought it would be nice to come along and help you out a bit. You know, as friends, just as a little favour for you." She hopped around Zecora and placed her hooves on her shoulders. "You know, let us handle some of your work while you stay here and relax a little. How does that sound?"

"I don't know…" She looked unconvinced, probably because of Dusk's poor attempt at deception before.

"Come on, think about it!" She started to massage her. "You can stay here, in front of the nice warm fire, take a little weight off, enjoy yourself and not have to worry about any pesky ingredients spoiling your day."

Her expression now was a lot more relaxed, though Dusk exchanged an unsure glance with Fluttershy at Pinkie's display.

"Not to sound like I have avarice… but that does sound nice…" sighed Zecora.

"Yeah, see, sounds great, doesn't it?" encouraged Pinkie, ceasing her massage and still beaming. "You tell us something for us to find, we go get it for ya."

"That would be a kind deed, but I have most of what I need," she informed them. "Although, if you wouldn't mind, there's one I wasn't looking forward to making the trip to find."

"What's that, huh?"

"One for a strength potion, an ingredient I must seek, the Brute Root, found deep in the Earthy Chasm, quite deep."

"The… Brute Root?" Dusk repeated.

"Yes, it grows inside the dark tunnels, so called because it looks like a flexing muscle," she explained. "A sample, if added right and true, will add power to any iron brew."

"Great! So, how do we find this Brute Root?" Pinkie giggled. "That's fun to say lots. Brute Root, Brute Root, zoot, poot, what a hoot!

"I suppose…" Zecora ignored this and went on. "To find the cave, to be seen, head to where the forest is most green. Cross over the deep pit, venture and brave into the dark cave and you should find it in quite a bit."

"D-d-d-dark cave?" stuttered Fluttershy. "Oh dear…"

"Don't worry, you'll have me."

"Oh yeah, I forgot…" She moved closer to him for comfort.

"Easy peasy, pony squeezey!" chanted Pinkie. "Come on guys, let's go."

"Wait a moment, first I must say-!"

"Yeah, we'll be careful, you just relax now!" Pinkie was already pushing them towards to the door. "We won't be long, you just chill out here."

"But the cave, there are-!" The rest was cut off when the door was shut on her.

"Come on, in case she changes her mind," Pinkie urged, not stopping until they were good distance away from the hut. "Okay, we're good. So, finding the Brute Root, huh? That's a great name!"

"W-w-what do you think she was g-g-going to tell us?" whispered Fluttershy. "About the cave?"

"I'm sure, whatever it is, we'll handle it," Pinkie dismissed. "You got me, you got Dusk, all we need is some chocolate cake!" She grinned, looked around and sighed. "Oh well, two out of three isn't bad."

"Are you sure we'll be okay?" asked Dusk cautiously. "There might be something dangerous in that cave."

"If there is, we'll fight it off with your magic and my me-ness," Pinkie said. "If we can't handle it, we grab the root and do what I do best in situations like that."

"Which is?"

"Scream and run." She shrieked at the top of her lungs, darted off and returned seconds later. "See what I mean?"

"I like that idea," Fluttershy said.

"I suppose that makes sense," agreed Dusk. "Right, do you know where we're going?"

"Well, my Granny did tell me stories about a part of the forest that's even greener than the rest, with lots more flowers growing and such. She said it was something to do with the wild, untamed magic in the forest that even the princess herself couldn't harness." She shrugged lightly. "I always imagined it was just a forest pony with really good manure that kept it growing."

"I… see."

"Good, now follow me. I know what to look for." Deciding not to question her thinking and methods, as everypony else usually did, Dusk and Fluttershy followed the prancing pony into the forest.

That sounded like a good name for an inn or something of the sort, Dusk thought, before blinking at the randomness of it. Pinkie must be affecting him somehow.

While they followed her, Dusk knew that he was still having his doubts about doing this and not just at the idea of having to fight something, even if it was for a good cause. He knew he'd been coming along well in his magic, but was it good enough to actually apply to a real combat scenario? Was he ready for it? What if he wasn't and they couldn't get away? What if something happened to him or Pinkie or Fluttershy?

He'd already caused them enough pain. He could be responsible for whatever happened…

But he was able to take some comfort from the fact the two of them had volunteered to come, even Fluttershy, because they didn't want him to leave Ponyville. It helped remind him of the strength of their friendship, how much he cared for them and how much they cared for him. It wasn't something he was willing to give up if he could. They'd do their best, find the root and get out if things got too tough. At least they weren't being completely foolish.

I have to have faith in my friends. We'll be fine, he thought to himself and imagining them emerging triumphantly from the Forest bolstered his spirits a little. To try and distract from that, Dusk began to ponder what Zecora would have said to them about the cave. Would there be something living in it? Hopefully, not another Paraserpent. If it was a dragon, perhaps they could try and reason with it or Fluttershy would be able to scare it off, he thought with a smile.

He hoped Twilight wouldn't be too worried and that he hadn't been gone for too long. He didn't say exactly when he would be back, that he would be gone until he'd tried to come with an idea and either succeeded or failed. Had she come up with an idea now, perhaps something that was a lot safer than what they were intending to do? There was no time to check now and they couldn't exactly turn back, since they'd already come this far, but still…

Eventually, Dusk could figure out that they were getting close to their destination when the forest started to change, the plant life becoming a lot more vibrant. It was still rather dark, but it truly was an incredible sight. The earth beneath their hooves felt softer, almost like a mattress, more alive. The trees here grew even taller than before, their branches almost as thick as the trunks they were growing from and the trunks were the same width as a house. The grass was wild, untamed and grew up to their knees. Beautiful flowers, of every kind and breed, bloomed all around them, even though they should be retreating for autumn.

They were also starting to see other signs of life. Some animals and insects, just rabbits or birds and butterflies, ran and flew through the trees and grass, stopping to eat the flowers, run away from the unexpected arrival of three ponies or even scurry up to investigate, much to Fluttershy's sheer delight. It certainly helped to calm her down, as it did with Dusk. It was very enchanting. He always knew the forest was strange, unnatural by pony standards, but this place truly belonged to nature, to the magic that had helped to give it life. He could practically feel it in the air, all around him, making his horn tingle.

It was enriching… and a little intimidating too.

"Come on, I think it's this way." Pinkie pointed to the entrance of a cave through a thicket of trees, open like the mouth of a great beast. "Honestly, how could Zecora not want to come to a place like this?"

"I know, it's lovely," agreed Fluttershy, rubbing noses with a rabbit. "How could this place ever be scary, huh? It isn't scary, is it Mr Rabbit?"

"It is very beautiful," nodded Dusk, watching some birds soar past his head while they twittered. "But appearances can deceive and we shouldn't hang around, in case predators show up."

"Talk about ruining the mood," pouted Pinkie.

"Just being cautious. I don't want to be here too long. Let's get this root and go."

"Okay then," Fluttershy said reluctantly. "You be careful now, okay?" The rabbit squeaked and hopped off with its fellows.

"Oki-doki-loki, just head down here and- whoa, mind your step!" she warned, stopping them with her legs.

Dusk looked around and saw she'd stopped them from walking right into a ravine. One with some rather sharp rocks at the bottom, glinting like teeth.

"Ah. Good call."

"Thanks. Well, at least it's not too far." With two springs, she bounded across and smiled across at them. "Come on, slow-pokes!"

"Oh… I don't think I can make that jump…" whimpered Fluttershy.

"Um, little sis?" He nodded to the wings, still folded on her back.

"Oh, right, yes." Her face flushed with embarrassment, she flew across, trying very hard not to look down. "Will you be okay Dusk?"

"I should be." He created pink shock absorbers on his hooves and took a few steps back. "Right, here goes nothing…"

He sprinted, tensed his legs and bounded into the air. He could see the other side, getting closer, Pinkie and Fluttershy waiting…

Then he looked down and realised, too late, that he wouldn't make the jump. He darted his head up, tried to reach out for the edge, but he was already falling, falling-!

"Gotcha!" Just in time, Pinkie grabbed him by the nape of his neck with her teeth. With a grunt, she hoisted him up onto the other side.

"Dusk! Oh my goodness…" Fluttershy latched onto him in a second. "You almost… I was scared you wouldn't…"

"I know, I was too," he said, his legs around her. "Thanks for the save, Pinkie."

"It was easy, like a mummy dog carrying a puppy. Except you're not a puppy. And I'm not your mummy, so maybe not like that." She shrugged and smiled brightly. "Oh well, let's get going."

Dusk nodded, glanced back at the ravine and pressed on. That was far too close. He would have to be a lot more careful in future, at least until they found this root and got out.

They reached the entrance to the cave and, swallowing their fear, they stepped inside, Fluttershy sticking ever closer to Dusk. Another obstacle stood in their way, in the form of another long drop down into the cave. Dusk felt a little giddy looking down at it, especially just after that incident. It was too high to jump down without injury.

"Right," he decided, "Fluttershy can fly down, I'll use colour clouds to carry myself and Pinkie. Does that sound good?"

"Sensible as high society sweets," agreed Pinkie. "That alright Fluttershy?"

"Um, I guess. I mean, it's not too deep, right?" She whimpered again, shutting her eyes, gently descending into the depths.

His fear of flying returning somewhat, Dusk allowed Pinkie to step onto a colour cloud before lowering themselves down into the depths. It might be a drop, but they could use this same method to get out again once they had the root. The light of the clouds cast eerie, tall shadows onto the cave walls, which were just as abundant with plant life as the outside was, even it was just moss and flowering roots, while they descended ever deeper into the cave.

Dusk made sure to hold his magic, putting in the strength to support both himself and Pinkie. Fluttershy was already waiting for them at the bottom, watching them float towards her. So far, so good.

They were about half way there when Dusk started to feel light-headed again. At first, he thought it was just a reaction from the heights again. Then, he started to feel tired and the clouds he and Pinkie floated on started to flicker like a candle in a gust of wind.

"Uh oh!" Pinkie looked up urgently. "Just a little further Dusky, almost there. Come on, you can make it."

He tried to manage it, to keep the spell up before it failed completely, but he knew he wouldn't be able to do it. He just wasn't used to carrying more than himself and certainly not for long. He had been moving slowly to conserve energy, but… he could do this.

He increased the speed to Pinkie's cloud, getting her closer to the ground faster than he did. He tried to keep his own going, but that was all he had left to give. His strength gave out, it vanished beneath her hooves and she dropped. At exactly the same time, his own was gone and he plummeted like a stone.

"DUSK!"

He heard them both cry out, his own scream and the wind rushing past his hair, almost taking his hat off. The ground was getting closer, he knew how much this would hurt. Would he break his legs? Or perhaps worse.

He shut his eyes, waited for the end-

Soft hooves looped under his legs, slowing and stopping his fall. He heard her grunt with exertion before dropping him to the floor and he looked, with utter relief, to see Fluttershy had caught him just in time.

They hugged each other once more, not even saying anything this time. They knew just what the other was feeling. Another close call and another stroke of luck.

"Well, that certainly wasn't fun." Pinkie smile was sincere and full of gratitude. "Thanks for saving me, Dusk."

"I couldn't just let you fall. Ponyville needs you."

"It needs you too." For a moment, she was serious, even a little sad, something he rarely saw from her. Then, as sudden as she could be, Pinkie was back. "Guess we're lucky you came with us Fluttershy. I've never seen you move that fast."

"Um, I can be quick, if it's an emergency. You know, if an animal's falling or a friend… or a brother." The look she gave Dusk made him all the more glad that he'd survived that.

"We were lucky, but this trip is becoming too dangerous for my liking," voiced Dusk. "I suggest we find this root, get out and return home as quickly as possible."

"I second that. Unless… you want to, Pinkie."

"I'm fine with thirding it, third's good," perked Pinkie. "Quicker we get this root, the quicker we can tell Luna you don't need to move back to Canterlot. Let's get looking!"

But even with that sentiment and her optimism, Dusk now had even more doubts than before about coming here, with recent events just adding to them.

So far, both the ravine and entering the cave had shown that his magic, while it was better developed than it had been, was still woefully inadequate for what he intended to use it for. Those faults had almost gotten himself and his friends hurt because of that. Again, they were both here because of him and now, he had more doubts than ever that they wouldn't be able to handle whatever was in this cave.

Have faith. Those words would seem rather empty if either Pinkie or Fluttershy got hurt. Or worse. But he had to move on, had to believe they would get through this together. Maybe they could just tell Luna about what happened in the forest and that would be enough without having to battle any creatures. After all, they both did and, so far, they hadn't encountered any hostile creatures or monsters. Things had been rather quiet for a while. Unless they encountered more pitfalls, Dusk knew he should be relaxed because of this.

So why did that scare him so much?

Their hoofsteps echoed off the cave walls, along with the boings that accompanied Pinkie's odd prancing and the steady beat of Fluttershy's wings. There were roots growing all around the lengths of the wall and it was when they emerged into a clearing in the cave, one filled with lush green grass and small trees, that they found what they were looking for.

"There it is!" Pinkie was the first to dash up to it. "Wow, it really does look like a muscle flexing."

"Well, that was easier than-"

"Don't!" hushed Pinkie suddenly.

"But I-"

"Nope!"

"I just wanted to say that this was-"

"Don't say it!"

"-easier than I thought," Fluttershy said.

"NO!" Pinkie shrieked. "Don't ever, ever say that! You've jinxed it now, something's sure to happen!"

"Oh… sorry…"

"Never mind," Dusk said, breaking off a chunk of the root and giving it to Pinkie to store away. "We have it now, let's go before anything…"

He stopped at the sound of a loud rumbling noise that echoed all around the cave. All three of them froze, eyes wide and pupils narrowed.

"What… what was that?" whispered Fluttershy.

"Might have been my tummy, I am kinda hungry." The rumbling echoed again. "No, that definitely wasn't me. Hubububububu!" Her head started to shake violently.

Recognizing her Pinkie sense, Dusk was on alert. "What does that mean?"

"Uh oh. Danger's coming. Really, really big danger!"

"That's all I need to hear. Time to…" He froze when he heard loud, resounding bangs in his ears. Regular, powerful and huge.

Footsteps.

"Wh-where's that coming from?" whimpered Fluttershy.

"I can't tell… it's all around us."

"Wh-wh-what is it? A dragon?"

"I don't know…"

"They're coming out of the walls!" screeched Pinkie.

"What? Pinkie, be serious-"

"I am, look!" She pointed with her hoof at a wall. Dusk squinted at it, adjusting his glasses to see better.

To his horror, he saw that she was right. Chunks of the wall were coming apart, falling down and rising back up, a green light whirling around them. It was the same story from the ground, green light lifting chunks of stone and earth from the very foundations they stood on.

"I told you so," Pinkie said to Fluttershy. None of them dared to move, watching the events unfold before them.

Soon enough, he saw them, fully formed in the clearing. There were five of them, as tall as Princess Celestia and as wide as the side of a house. They walked on two legs, huge hulking arms at their sides, with fingers as thick as a Magical Compendium, arms like tree trunks, in fact some of them were. Their faces were featureless, and blank but Dusk knew that they were looking right at them, with glowing green eyes like dots. Glaring at them with anger and rage. Like another set of eyes he was too familiar with…

Though their bodies were like those of a muscle builder, there was no flesh on them. Moss, roots, flowers and grass seem to sprout from the earth and stone that they were made from, the same green energy glowing the brightest on limb joints, where the neck, arms and parts of the legs should be. Like nature itself had come to life right before their eyes.

They stood there, just staring at them, flexing their fingers and making strange, groaning noises, like the sound of a great oak being cut down.

"What in the name of… what are they?" Dusk asked, completely at a loss.

"Golems," whispered Fluttershy in utter terror. "I've heard stories about them in the Forest, acting against invaders and trespassers."

"They don't look very happy," stated Pinkie. "Think it's 'cause we took that root?"

"Most likely," agreed Dusk. "They seem intelligent, maybe we can try talking…" He stepped forward a little. "Golems, I understand we have trespassed in your home. But understand, we don't want to fight you. All we want is to-"

He ducked as one of them lobbed a rock at his head, which shattered against the wall behind him. The one that threw it gave an angry roar, as did the others and they started to lumber towards them, their feet slamming against the ground.

"Okay, diplomacy failed." Knowing there was no other option, he let his magic flow through him and tensed his muscles. "You wanted to find something for me to fight Pinkie? We found something…"

"Yeah, I'm not feeling as great about this as I did," the party pony admitted. "We gotta get past them and get outta here with the root, but they're blocking the way." He glanced to see she'd whipped out her party cannon. "Never leave home without it."

"Good call," he nodded, though he wondered where exactly she kept it. "Fluttershy, stay behind us. We'll handle them."

"O-o-okay," she stuttered and Dusk felt her cower behind him. "Oh dear…"

Dusk gave her a smile to comfort her and screamed when he saw a golem's fist rocket towards him. He dived aside to avoid it, heard Fluttershy scream, but knew he didn't have time to help her when it swung the other one. He felt the wind blow over his head as he dodged that too.

Desperate, he let loose a round of colour pellets at it. They barely chipped the stone and didn't even slow its approach. Fortunately, it was slow, as were the others, lurching towards him like it was weighed down by its own feet. Dusk had speed, so that was one advantage he had, now it was time to see if there were anymore.

Looking it over, he could see that the chest was definitely the strongest point on the creature, it being a big slab of stone so that was discounted for any attacks. He noted the green magical energy that was connecting limbs to the rest of its body. It looked to be the only thing actually holding it together. Perhaps enough force there would suffice.

He let the golem come to him and raise its fist to bring it down on his whole body. Jumping aside as it came down, he scrambled onto the arm while it was one the ground and set more pellets, followed by a few punches, to the 'elbow' joint before jumping off and landing on his belly back on the ground. Dusk checked his handiwork, noting the energy had started to flicker so, when the golem raised its arm again, it left its gigantic fist embedded in the ground.

"Go for the limbs!" he called to Pinkie. "They're the weakest points!"

"Way ahead of you!" She raised her cannon and blew the head off one coming at her. "Get it? Ahead?"

Dusk didn't even respond to the terrible pun, returning to his own golem, who seemed to be trying to reattach his fist with more magic. Hopping on a colour cloud, he zoomed towards the creature's head, jumping off when he neared it onto the shoulder. Too late, it raised its good arm to try and swat him off just as his rear legs collided with it in a kick.

His strength was negligible, but the added shock absorbers did the trick. The head tumbled off, the magic that held it fading. He jumped off, again narrowly avoiding the fist and looked around to inspect the results. The golem, now without eyes, began to feel around blindly for him, swiping randomly, its fist grazing another one that stood nearby.

He whipped around to see another one already closing the distance. Ducking under its fist, he fired more rounds at its leg, dislodging it and causing it to lose balance. He was about to run in and finish it, when it clapped its hands together, sending out a massive wave of sound that made him clutch his ears and cry out.

His ears ringing and his glasses dangling a little, he raised his head and adjusted them, just in time to see the golem raising its right fist to squash him like a bug. He tensed his legs to try and dodge, not sure if he'd have the time when something collided with him, pushing him out of the way just as the fist smacked the ground where he had been seconds before.

Shaking his head to clear it, Dusk looked to see a shocked but relieved Fluttershy, standing next to him.

"Thank you," he said with sincerity. "Now, quick, go find somewhere safe to hide."

"R-r-right," she nodded. "Stay safe…"

She ran off to find cover and Dusk surveyed the battlefield again. Two of the other golems were recovering, but the one he'd knocked the head off of had replaced it and was now looming over him, beady green eyes locked on him.

Dusk was already feeling light-headed and weak from using his magic. He hadn't actually used it before in battle and now it was starting to show. Maybe he'd have enough strength for another spell, but would it be enough? Would he have the speed to move quickly out of the way with the strength he had?

"Hey, Rocky's uncle!" The golem swung its body around at the sound of Pinkie's voice, who was standing right next to it. "I'm gonna ask really nice here, but I won't ask again: step away from the stallion."

If the golem understood her command, it didn't obey or just didn't care. It turned back to Dusk to resume being about to crush him.

"Okay, now I'm gonna ask not-so-nice," she said dangerously. "Step away or I'll blow you away with one hoof." She held it up for emphasis.

Now, Dusk was sure that, if it could, the golem would be laughing. But he knew Pinkie and she wasn't joking.

"Last chance. I mean it. One hoof." The golem didn't move, save for raising its fist again. "Alright, you asked for it!" She slammed her hoof down on her party cannon.

BANG!

The golem teetered backwards and fell with a crash to the floor, shaking the very earth it was made from with the tremors. Dusk gave Pinkie a grateful look, which she returned and she whipped around to fight more.

So far, they seemed to be at least holding their ground against the golems. But they kept reforming and they were running out of steam, especially Dusk. Fluttershy was in danger, they all were. They couldn't stay here. They had what they came for, now it was time to leave.

"Let's go!" he commanded, Fluttershy popping up from a rock she'd taken shelter behind and Pinkie whipping around, rolling her cannon along.

The way they came, however, was blocked by two more of the earth monsters, who started to lumber after them, while the others either closed in or recovered what they had lost in the other fights.

"Dusk, go in-between them!" Pinkie shouted.

"Pinkie, what-?!"

"Trust me, follow my lead!" She sprinted ahead, with an unsure Dusk following close behind.

Dusk could see the golems raising their mighty arms as they neared and he had to fight the instinct to jump out of the way. They galloped ever closer, Dusk still not sure what Pinkie could possibly have in mind for this.

"Keep going, keep going!" she urged. The fists came up. "Wait for it…" They swung down. "Now, move your rump and jump!"

Dusk did so and leaped with all his might, hearing the sound of shattering earth as the golems fists missed and hit each other. Their bodies came apart completely, pieces of earth and stone scattering all over the ground, the magic fading with their destruction.

"Good plan," he said to her, her response in the form of a bright smile. "Right, time to go."

They sprinted back down the length of the tunnel, the sounds of the golem's feet echoing after them. They weren't giving up that easily. Rounding the corner, they saw the edge stretch up above them, preventing their escape.

"Oh yeah, forgot about this," Pinkie remarked.

"I… I don't have the energy… for another spell…" confessed Dusk, collapsing.

"I could fly you out, but I'm not sure I'd have the strength." Fluttershy squeaked as their pursuers rounded the corner.

Dusk was in a panic. What could they do? They didn't have the time or the energy to climb back out or fight the golems. This looked like the end… all because he wasn't strong enough yet, when he could have become stronger.

They were going to die… and it was his fault.

The golems closed in, sensing victory was close. They all huddled together, Pinkie shifting her cannon from one to the other, unable to decide on a target. Dusk tried to summon the energy for one, last attack. Maybe they could still run or hold them back… could they?

They raised their arms, groaning loudly. This was it!

"Heads up, jerks!" A cyan streak and a bolt of purple magic smacked into the closest two, making them fall back.

There was the sound of a teleportation spell and Twilight was next to him, placing something on the ground. "I've got Dusk! Rainbow?"

"Pinkie's ready to fly!" Rainbow Dash affirmed.

"Fluttershy, you fly out!" As she finished her command, Twilight teleported him away and, after a second of sickness, they were back at the top of the cliff.

They'd made it. They were safe… this time.

"Good, the offering worked, like Zecora said…" Dusk looked over the edge and saw what Twilight meant.

The golems were all gathered around something, a plant that she had left for them. One of them picked it up, examined it closely, nodded up at them and they all lumbered back inside the cave, until they were gone from sight.

"I see," Dusk whispered. "Replacing what we took to appease them…"

"Dusk! Thank goodness you're all safe!" Twilight's legs wrapped around him in a hug. "Looks like we got here just in time."

"Indeed," Dusk agreed, fitting his glasses as Rainbow, Pinkie and Fluttershy emerged. "Before you say, I know… that was stupid of us… of me."

"No kidding, lame brain," Rainbow chastised. "I'm supposed to be the reckless one here." He couldn't help but note a slight tone of admiration in her voice.

Twilight, however, was less than impressed. "What were you thinking, all of you?! You know how dangerous the Everfree Forest is! I only knew you were here because Rainbow saw you come in here-!"

"Totally wasn't following you!" she put in with an awkward glance.

"We figured out where you would go, found out from Zecora where you were and discovered that you came here, to Golem Gorge?!" she asked incredulously. "Honestly, what were you all thinking?!"

"That was kinda my fault, Twilight," Pinkie put in. "We didn't stick around long enough to find out where we were actually going or what might be here. My bad."

"We're really sorry…" Fluttershy pawed nervously at the ground, looking shamefaced.

"I know and I'm relieved you're all okay, but I still want to know why you wanted to actually come here in the first place."

Looking just as ashamed, Dusk explained the reason they had come here, to try out his magic in an actual situation, adding too that there was conclusive proof that he really wasn't ready yet and he needed more training from Luna. He hated to admit it, but he knew he was right.

"I know we said that we'd try to find another way, but… I don't think there is one," he finished. "We were lucky this time but what if there's a next time and we're not? I don't want to say this but… I think Luna was right…"

Twilight's expression softened and she sighed sadly. "I know and… I agree with you. There is no other way, although I've been told that… it might not be as bad as we thought."

"Really? Why?"

"'Cause I know how you feel." It was Rainbow that spoke up now. "You know how I wanna be a Wonderbolt and I probably will be one? Well, to get my training, I'd need to go to the Academy where they train them. That means that, when I apply and when I'm accepted, I'd have to leave Ponyville. Leave you guys."

"I see. And that doesn't bother you?"

"Yeah, of course. It's gonna be tough, but training only lasts for a week then I'm back home. One week, then I'm back with you guys. It's not like I'm going away forever, right? I know you couldn't live without me for more than a week," she added with a cocky smile. "I know it's not quite the same, but I don't think your training with Luna would take much longer. You go there, get taught and come back. No mess, no fuss."

"That's what she told me and I think she has a point," took over Twilight. "I would still miss you, but it's not like you're never coming back. I can wait for however long, which I don't think will be too long."

"Yes… I see her point too," agreed Dusk, touched by his marefriend's words.

"Me too," put in Fluttershy. "I mean, I'd miss you too but um, you'll be back before long, right?"

"Wait, Rainbow has to leave too!? What's happening to us?!" Pinkie saw they were all staring and calmed down. "I understand too, I guess…"

"Then… I guess that's settled." Silence hung in the air from Twilight's words. There was definitely no arguing against what had to be done now.

Dusk didn't like it and he knew how much he would miss them when he had to go, how hard it would be but… it was the right thing to do.

"Right," Rainbow said, breaking the silence, "not much point hanging around here, unless we wanna get eaten by something nasty. Let's book it."

"Agreed," said Dusk, staggering a little from the loss of energy before Twilight moved by his side to support him. "Thanks… and thank you, Rainbow. You've helped a lot."

"Eh, you know, whatever…" Her cheeks flushed red again and she looked away as they started to walk out of the forest.

"I suppose we'd better have Spike ready to take a note to Luna… right after I have some rest." He heard Twilight giggle and he leant gratefully against her side, feeling better already.


The train hissed steam into the station, covering the ground in a layer of smoke before dissipating like the train itself soon would. Ponies were either getting off and gathering their luggage, arriving at their destination, remaining on the train to travel further or getting on here from Ponyville to travel to Canterlot. Some were alone, some were being seen off by friends or lovers. For Dusk, he was the latter case and it was a little bit of both.

It had only been a few hours since he'd sent the letter off to Luna when he got the reply, telling him they were ready for his arrival back in the royal city. No time to lose then. His own cases were packed, his ticket ready, but he still wasn't ready to board the train. Not with his arms around Applejack in a hug and with the other girls to say goodbye to. They'd all come to see him off, something he was very grateful for.

"Sweetie wanted to come and see you off, but she had school," Rarity told him. "She apologises, but wishes you well."

"Same from Apple Bloom. We're gonna miss ya sugarcube," she said honestly. "It ain't gonna be the same without ya 'round here."

"That means a lot to me, AJ," he said to her, trying his best not to cry. "Thanks for the pie…"

"No problem, y'all jus' enjoy it an' come back safe now, ya hear?"

"Yes Dusk, if nothing else, remember to try and have some fun. After all, you are just going back home in a sense," Rarity said with a sniffle. "Take care of yourself, darling."

"R-r-r-remember to write t-t-to us," Fluttershy prompted, having already started crying.

"Yeah, every single day. Don't ever, ever, ever forget!" Pinkie caught him in a three minute long, rib-breaking hug before she let go. "And we'll send you a reply in minutes, no, wait, seconds! Get back to you in seconds!"

"I will," he assured her. "Thanks for your help, you two. Same to you, Rainbow."

"Heh, no problem." The hug she gave him was rather lingering and she became a little jittery afterwards. "Yeah uh, have a good time and stuff. Miss ya."

"The library's gonna be quieter without you and a lot harder to clean, but I'm cool with it," assured Spike, hugging his leg. "See you when I see you."

Twilight hugged him the longest, as well as kissing him softly. "You know, I read somewhere that a little distance is good for a relationship."

"Not too much distance, I hope." He cupped her cheek with his hoof and kissed her again. "I'm really going to miss you, Twilight."

"I will too. It really… won't be the same without you," she sighed. "I'll always be thinking of you."

"Me too, every second."

"All aboard for Canterlot!" the station master called, blowing his whistle. Time to go.

With one, last lingering look at the girls and hug from Twilight , Dusk, with a heavy heart, stepped onto the train. Placing his case in the rafters, he dashed to the window, as the train began to lurch out of the station. He opened the window and felt the steam pour past his face, waving to his friends.

"Bye girls, I'll miss you all!"

"We will too. Good luck with your studies!" Twilight called.

"Hopefully won't need it." He waved with his hat and actually managed to smile. "Until next we meet, my friends!"

They continued waving to each other, Pinkie actually pushing as far ahead along the station as she could, her hooves frantically waving. Eventually, the train rounded a corner and obscured them from view. They were gone.

Sighing again, Dusk closed the window and sat down, missing them already. Deciding to do something constructive with his time, he pulled out some parchment, ink and a quill and started to write a new report for the Princess.

Dear Princess Celestia

Sometimes, it seems that you have to make a difficult decision between choosing your friends and something equally important, if not more so, especially if it means leaving them behind. It can be so hard, you might not be able to make it at all at first and even take steps to avoid it. If nothing else, however, remember one thing: no matter what you choose, your friends will always do their best to support you in your decision and help you make the right choice.

Even if you have to move away from friends and partners, they're never far away if you keep them close in your heart and the hope that, someday, you'll all see each other again. Maybe sooner than you think. In that sense, it's not really 'goodbye'. Just 'see you later'.

Your faithful subject

Dusk Noir

Satisfied, he folded it up and stored it away. At least he could give it to her in person and along with that, writing it had given him some comfort. Even if he was moving away, he was definitely going to see them again. He didn't know where or when, but he would.

Plus, Rarity was right. In a way, he was going back home and he'd be seeing more of one of his other friends, perhaps a few more or even make some new ones.

And that, thought Dusk, while he listened to the steady clacking of the wheels on the tracks, wasn't so bad at all.

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