The Witching Hour

by Chaotic Ink

First published

A new pony comes to Ponyville, but she's not all that she seems. Will the town accept Midnight Storm, or will Ponyville run her out like all the rest?

Midnight Storm has had a hard life. She's wandered from city to city for the past three years, and they've all eventually run her out after they've found out what she is. Against her better judgement, she's placed her last hopes on the small town of Ponyville.

The residents here are nice enough, but when they find out what she really is, will they accept her, or drive her out like all the others? And when Celestia finds out about her, what plans does the Princess of the Sun have in store for the mare?


Cover image by Valkyrie-girl


Story now included in The Goodfic Bin

Ch.1 - Rolling In

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Not every day in Equestria is a beautiful one, despite what some ponies will tell you. It has to rain sometimes, but even so some days it seems like the local pegasi just don’t care and the gathering of clouds seemed to reflect that mood. For the new-comer to Ponyville, this kind of day felt most appropriate to her; reflecting her life up to that point. No, Midnight Storm had not had a very happy life up to then. For the past three years she’d just been wandering from city to city, barely setting down roots before moving on again, and before that… well… she wasn’t a pony who liked to talk about her past.

The cloaked unicorn mare trudged into town looking about as pleasant as the weather and, despite not knowing exactly where to go, was making for the town hall. She’d heard of the quiet little town before leaving Trottingham, and, deciding that she just couldn’t stand big cities anymore, had struck out to the village on hoof, all her remaining belongings in a small cart she could barely afford. Well, small for her anyway; she was actually an ear taller than Big Mac, which was big for any pony, let alone a mare. The black coat and blue, draconic eyes were also distinguished her from the average pony.

It had taken a good week and a half to get there on hoof, and now she was just plain tired. But, she couldn’t rest until she’d seen the mayor. Ponyville wasn’t very busy that day so any ponies that were out seemed to barely notice her; just trying to get whatever errands needed to be done before the perceived rain would come down. That was the main reason she liked these kinds of days: not many ponies out and able to stare at her. What Midnight Storm didn’t realize was that, no matter what the weather, a certain pink earth pony was always out strolling the town for one reason or another. It was just Midnight’s luck that, when her head was turned to admire some rather beautiful blue flowers growing in a garden, she, quite literally, ran into that pink pony.

“Oof!” Midnight backed up slightly, more to give the smaller pony space than from the collision. The pink pony, however, fell back and did a whole back flip before coming to rest on her stomach. “Sorry! Excuse me,” Midnight said, moving to go around the knocked-over mare. To her surprise, the pink pony literally shook herself into a standing position and waved her hoof.

“It’s okay. I’m just surprised my Pinkie Sense didn’t go off, but then it does act up on gloomy days like this.” Midnight stared at the pony in confusion, which she quickly regretted. “Oh! Wait! You’re new here aren’t you!?” she asked excitedly.

The cloaked mare backed up some more. “Y-Yeah, I just arrived in town, and I’m looking for town hall so –“

“I know where that is!” Before Midnight could protest, the pony began hopping away from her. “I’ll show you the way there! Then I can throw you a big ‘Welcome to Ponyville Party!’”

Midnight chuckled nervously. “Yeah, sure… listen; as soon as I see your mayor I’m going to be very busy, so-”

“Hey! You’ve got some strange eyes there! They almost look like Nightmare Moon’s, only a different color and not colored all the way through!” Midnight recoiled. Nightmare Moon? What in the hay was this pony smoking? Most ponies just got freaked out about her eyes and would make any excuse to run away, but this pony was just staring at her! And her voice was starting to grate.

“You got a problem with my eyes!?” Midnight growled back at her, revealing sharp front teeth.

“Nah. I actually think they’re kinda cool, since they match your mane and the blue really goes with the black coat.”

“Thank… you?” Once again, Midnight had been thrown for a loop. This was NOT how previous ponies had reacted to her, and while a bit of a welcome relief, it still really confused her. And her voice was still grating.

“You’re welcome. Oh! I never got your name! Can I guess it!? CanIcanI!? Ooo, ooo, is it Black Water!? Or, how about Blue Tar!? Oh, how about Black Blade, because of your tail and all!?” Looking back behind herself, Midnight pulled her tail back under her cloak. That was part of her anatomy she had really hoped nopony would see right away. “Aw, come on! Let me get a good look at it!” The mare went to look under her cloak, and that was when Midnight’s patience ran out.

Spinning around fast enough to almost break the wheels off her cart, she growled down at the pony. “Look! I just want to get to the town hall right now, not have a game of guess-my-name! So how about you just stop BOTHERING ME!?” With that, Midnight turned back around and walked away, leaving the pink mare behind. At first, it looked like she was about to cry, but then her face became a determined stare.

“I know what I need to do!” and with that, she galloped off.

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“Thank you for seeing me mayor.” Midnight said, bowing slightly out of respect.

“It’s no problem at all Miss Storm. We here in Ponyville always welcome new arrivals.” Mayor Mare said a bit nervously, slightly intimidated by the larger-than-normal pony in her office.

No kidding’ Midnight thought, remembering the pink mare.

“Now, what can I do for you today?”

“Well, you see mayor, I’ve just come from Trottingham and I’m looking to hopefully settle down here in Ponyville.”

A small frown crossed the mayor’s face. “Hmm… well, there is one house left, but it’s on the edge of town near the Everfree forest, and it’s fallen into some disrepair.”

Midnight smiled. “That’s alright. I actually plan on being a wood cutter, so I can provide my own lumber from the forest trees I chop down. I can also probably do most of the repairs on the house myself. I’ve done enough odd jobs over the years to be able to fix almost anything that comes up.”

It was the mayor’s turn to smile.“Then I guess there won’t be a problem in giving you a small loan to help get started, and we could use an in-town wood business. The company that brings us fire wood and such from out of town charges a lot of money. Oh, and we'll be sure to have the utilities on when you get there.” With that, Mayor Mare and Midnight began filling out the necessary paperwork.

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Great. The sky is clearing up.’ Midnight grumbled to herself as she hauled her cart to her new home, the keys to the house jingling slightly in a cloak pocket. A few pegasi were flying above, half-heartedly bucking clouds in order to clear the sky. Her mood picked up some when she finally arrived at the house. From the outside it didn’t look too bad, but still bad enough that mothers would warns their foals to stay out in case of a rotten floorboard or cracked support beam. It was close to the forest, but not in it, and she even began to smile when she saw that the back end of the house almost butted up to a cliff jutting out from the forest. Looking around, she could see that she didn’t really have neighbors per se; the nearest house was a good hundred yards away. On the other hoof, however, she groaned slightly when she saw she was the same distance away from the school. That was too close in her opinion. It was what it was however, and she opened the door and stepped inside.

The house, right off the bat, seemed to be just what she needed. The front door opened into what looked like a small store front; perfect for selling. Through a door behind the counter, she found herself in what looked like a kitchen, only in a worse state of decay than she thought it would be. The fridge was on its side with a door hinge broken off, the sink was almost as black as her coat and had a rather funky smell about it, and the oven had its door open and inside appeared to be a nest of some sort. The table was gone and the cabinets were either gone or rotting away, and the bottom half of the window over the sink was broken, letting just about anything in. A thick wall separated the kitchen from a living room with two small hallways allowing passage on either end. The left hallway had a set of stairs leading up to the second floor, while the right hallway had a side door to the house, from which there was a good view of the forest. The living room was mostly bare, with only an empty fire place and a broken coffee table.

She didn’t want to go upstairs just yet, if only because she wanted to make sure the first floor was secure enough that she didn’t fall through the ceiling when checking it out. There was electricity, to her surprise, but only the stove light worked. There was running water, so she began letting the water run in the sink, if only to let it soak so that hopefully that smell would soon be gone, and then she righted the fridge and plugged it back in. Immediately there was the hum of the cooling device, and then she secured the fridge door shut with her cart. She found a broom in a closet in the side door hallway and began sweeping filth from the kitchen out the side door. When that was done she pulled some soap out of her cart, along with some steel wool, and began to work on the sink. It took an hour, but finally the smell was almost all gone and the sink was now a light gray. She did the same for the inside of the fridge, and eventually it too looked useable. The oven would have to be replaced though; with animals living in it, it was probably not a good idea to use it anymore, so she closed it up and went onto her next job: the cabinets.

They, and eventually the broken coffee table, joined the dust and crud from the kitchen floor out past the side door in the unofficial trash heap until she could get trash bags for them. By mid-afternoon the kitchen and most of the living room and front area were relatively cleaned up. The inside of the fridge had gotten cold enough that it could now hold food, so Midnight decided it was the right time to head out to the market and get some food supplies, and maybe even look into getting a new stove and a repair kit for the fridge door.

What she didn’t notice was the pony watching from the shadow of a nearby tree as she left. “Okay; it’s time.”

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Midnight was doing her best not to throw off her cloak and start a scene. Why she thought anything would be better out here in the country instead of the city was a mystery to her. The entire time she’d been in the market, all the other ponies had just stared at her. Sure, it wasn’t every day a giant black unicorn mare with blue, or any color for that matter, dragon eyes and pointy snout walked through town, but you’d think that they’d have a bit more decorum than to stare at her the whole time she was there. The only thing that had lifted her mood in any sense was that she had found a repair kit for the fridge, a place to buy a new oven (though it might take some time to get enough bits), and even found an extra-strength cleaner for her sink. With the few items at the market she’d been able to purchase, she made it home and opened the door, and immediately knew something was off. Firstly, the light from the stove was off, even though she’d left it on. Normally she’d think the power just went out, and there was still that possibility, but she could hear the low hum of the fridge as she opened the kitchen door. There was definitely something off, because the window blinds were closed, and there definitely hadn’t been blinds on them before. Cautiously making her way into the room, her hairs stood on end as she made her way over to the blinds, which were making the room very dark, and her draconic eyes could only make out weird shadows for some reason. Her hoof slowly reached out towards the blinds. Bracing herself, she quickly pulled them, flooding the room with outside, along with the new overhead, light.

“SURPRISE!!!”

What greeted Midnight was a loud shout and explosion of confetti. In her terror at the sudden assault she reared up on her hind hooves, allowed something under her cloak to flare out, and then let out a thunderous roar of fright. Landing back on her front hooves, she saw that the confetti had cleared enough that she could see her assailants. Directly in front of her stood the pink pony from earlier, a smile still on her face despite Midnight’s roar. The other five ponies with her, though, were now looking at the newcomer with a mix of worry and fear in their eyes. Midnight quickly composed herself as best she could, mentally coaxing down whatever was under her cloak and trying to hide her sharp teeth. She could not, however, keep control of her fear turning into anger. “WHAT IN THE NAME OF CELESTIA’S GREAT GIANT PINK BEARD ARE YOU DOING IN HERE!?

At this the pink pony moved forward a bit. “This is your ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party silly!”

“And that gives you the right to break into my house!?”

“We didn’t break in! You left the door unlocked.”

“No I didn’t! I locked it when I left.”

“Yeah, you locked the front door. The side door was open.”

Midnight looked from the pony to the door and back before angrily face hoofing herself. “That doesn’t mean you can still just waltz in here.”

“I didn’t waltz silly! I bounced!”

“I don’t care how you came in, I care that you came in at all!”

“Well, I guess we could have had the party outside, but then you would have seen it coming, and then it wouldn’t have been a surprise! And then when we got in here we saw how run down the place was, and we thought it would surprise you even more if we helped clean the place up!”

Against her better judgment, Midnight took a quick look around the room. It defiantely looked cleaner than when she had left. The first thing she noticed was that there was now an overhead light hanging from the ceiling, which helped light up the whole room. The window behind her had been repaired and been given blinds. The sink was now a clean white, the fridge door had been repaired, and even the oven had been cleaned out, although she still wasn’t sure if she should use it for cooking. Why had they done all this? Midnight did her best to choose her next words carefully.

“Well... thanks for doing all that, but I already got a few things in town to fix them myself, and now that was a waste of bits I could have used on other things, and you still came into my home without even knowing if I'd have a problem with it, which I do.” She sighed. “Again, thank you for what you did, but I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. Now.

The pink mare’s face fell slightly. “But, I made you a ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ cake, see?” She rolled a cart over to show Midnight the cake emblazoned with “Welcome to Ponyville!” written across it. Midnight sighed again.

“Look, um…?”

“Oh, how silly of me! I’m Pinkie Pie, and these are my friends Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity!” Pinkie’s smile returned as she introduced her friends.

“My name’s Midnight, but Pinkie-“

“Ooo, Midnight! That’s a really good name. A lot better than what I came up with.”

“Yeah, well, listen Pinkie, I’m really not at all comfortable with you and your friends being here like this.”

“But if you join in the party, then we’ll all be your friends too, and then you’ll be comfortable.”

“And besides!” The cyan pegasus mare with rainbow hair rushed forward. “Not only is Pinkie Pie throwing this party for you, we all helped clean this place up! You could show us a little gratitude!” The pegasus was pulled back a few hooves by the orange earth pony.

“I am showing you gratitude; I’m not calling the cops or throwing you out with my bare hooves. Now, for the last time: thank you for what you did, but please leave now.”

Finally, the six ponies in front of her accepted defeat.

“Come on girls, we’re not wanted here right now,” the purple unicorn identified as Twilight said, motioning the rest of them to follow her out. Rainbow Dash and Applejack shot glares at Midnight while the white unicorn, Rarity, left with her nose part-way in the air, stirring rather deep, angry emotions in Midnight. Twilight and the other pegasus, Fluttershy, left with their heads down.

The last to leave was Pinkie Pie. “Is it okay if I leave the cake here, for you to maybe eat later?”

Midnight sighed yet again. “Pinkie, why don’t you take this home with you and save it for the next new pony to town? It’ll just get wasted here.” Pinkie nodded, and left pulling the cart behind her. Midnight let her head droop after the door closed. ‘Maybe I was too hard on them. Maybe we could have been friends…’ she shook her head and raised it up. ‘No. As soon as they find out what I am, they’ll just turn on me like the rest. Best to shun them now before they start shunning me.’ With that, she turned back to unpacking her things.

Ch.2 - The Next Morning

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Twilight Sparkle awoke the next morning with her mind still running laps. After being thrown out of Midnight’s house, the group of friends had all headed back to Golden Oaks Library to discuss what they thought of the town’s new resident. Rainbow, AJ, and Rarity were all in agreement that Midnight had been exceptionally rude by throwing them out, although everyone except Rainbow and Pinkie did agree they had been rude too by letting themselves into someone else’s house like that. At first Twilight was going to remind them that they had done the same thing when she first came to town and that both she and Midnight had every right to call the authorities, but then Twilight remembered that nopony had gone into the private living area of the tree and had only been in the library, which was a public area.

There was something else that was bothering her though, and it seemed like none of her friends either saw it or acknowledged it: Midnight wasn’t a normal pony. For one, she was huge, even bigger than Big Mac. Although she wasn’t THAT much bigger, that was still pretty big for a mare. Next were her eyes, which were just like Spike’s; the eyes of a dragon. But, while her coat was also jet black, Twilight doubted that she was Nightmare Moon in anyway, since Nightmare Moon and Princess Luna were one in the same.

There was also the way her cloak moved when she roared, which were two more things that weren’t normal. The cloak had moved as if she had… wings underneath it, but that would make her an alicorn, and only three were known to exist, and none of them had traits similar to Midnight. On top of that ponies don’t roar. The last thing she thought of was what Pinkie had told her about Midnight’s tail; how it had a blade on it. The whole thing was too weird.

Crawling out of bed, Twilight walked into her bathroom. Now that she was awake, her thoughts began to speed up. What if she was an alicorn? Should she write to the princess? Was Midnight dangerous? What if she wrote a letter to Celestia and Midnight found out? Her traits seemed familiar, so what if she was somehow linked to Nightmare Moon, like a cultist or something? Maybe she was trying to bring back Nightmare Moon? Maybe she was an assassin to take them out so the Elements of Harmony couldn’t work! Maybe she needed their blood for a ritual! Maybe she was just over reacting and she was just an odd looking unicorn!

Twilight sighed, calming herself down. “At the very least I should go over there and apologize for what we did, even if we did help her and she acted like a grump about it.”

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Midnight wiped the sweat from her brow and examined her work. The hole in the cliff she was digging was coming along nicely, and at this rate would be done by lunch time. The first thing she had done that morning was test out the stairs, and after the fifth one collapsed under her hoof, she decided that upstairs could wait some more. She was just about to get back to it when she heard a noise at the front of her house.

“Hello! Anypony home?”

“What is it?” Midnight called, coming around from the back. From the front of the house a familiar lavender face appeared. “Oh, you’re one of Pinkie’s friends form yesterday. Twilight, right?” The mare nodded. “Well, what do you want?"

Twilight grimaced for a second, but composed herself. “I just wanted to come over an apologize for how we basically broke into your house yesterday, but I also like an apology for the way you acted after we helped you out with your kitchen and helped Pinkie Pie with the party she wanted to throw you.”

Midnight snorted indignantly at her. They had the gall to demand an apology from her? Then again... they did save her some time an effort. 'Nopony’s ever apologized to me for something they’ve done to me before’ Midnight thought, a bit of guilt and a tiny speck of hope rising in her ‘maybe things will be different this time.’ Finally Midnight spoke up. “Well, thanks to you guys I can at least cook on the stove top, so sorry, I guess. You want some instant coffee or something?”

Figuring that was the best she was going to get, Twilight nodded and followed Midnight inside. In the kitchen, Twilight was surprised to see that there was now a table of sorts, made from what looked like poorly cut wood, along with cushions on the floor around the sides so they could sit comfortably.

“When I get more settled in and established I’ll be able to afford proper furniture. Anything specific in your coffee?”

“Just some milk and sugar please.”

Midnight nodded, then pulled out milk, sugar, and creamer and set it next to the two cups she’d pulled out for them. Twilight was trying to look interested in the table while at the same time trying to figure out how to steer the conversation to why the other mare was always wearing a cloak when she heard Midnight talking to her.

“Hmm?” she asked, dropping the table’s leg with an audible *thud*.

“I asked what you do in this town.”

“Oh! I’m the local librarian, but I’m only here because Princess Celestia tasked me, as her personal student, with learning the magic of friendship.”

Midnight looked at her like she had five heads, but simply turned back to her work with the coffee. “RRRRight, and I’m a spy for Nightmare Moon.”

Twilight frowned. “I’m telling the truth, and I know you can’t be a spy for Nightmare Moon because my friends and I defeated her with the Elements of Harmony this past Summer Sun Celebration, or did you miss the fact that the sun didn’t rise until a few hours after it was supposed to that day? And how about the fact that Princess Luna is back?”

Well, Midnight had to admit Twilight had her on that one, and she did recall seeing a newspaper article a month or so ago, but she had been in a hurry and hadn’t picked up the paper that day. But still, if she WAS Celestia’s personal student, why would she be in a town like this and learning about friendship? It just didn’t make any sense to her.

*BANG*

They both jumped. “What was that!?” Twilight yelped.

Midnight snorted. “It’s just a shelf I put up in the front; third time it’s done that this morning.” She moved towards the door leading to the front when she felt something pull her cloak. When Twilight had put down the table leg, it had landed on part of it, and when Midnight made the sudden move towards the door, the cloak caught and jerked her back, pulling her onto her back on the floor. “Gah! Stupid cloak!” In her rush to get back up, she twisted around and stood up, completely pulling the cloak off her. She froze, realizing what she’d done, and turned towards Twilight. The mare was gawking at her.

Ch.3 - A New Beginning

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WINGS. That one word kept going through her mind as she stared at Midnight. She has WINGS, and they are HUGE! A part of Twilight’s mind that wasn’t on lockdown quickly guessed, through some really complicated math equations, that the wings were in even greater proportion to her body than even Celestia’s, meaning that the pony before her technically had the largest wings of any pony. They were both large and leathery and had claws at the bend in the wings, like a bat, except with a single, LARGE claw. Pinkie had been right about the tail too. At the end was a large bone-like structure that wrapped around the end of the tail and was razor sharp. She could also see fangs in her bottom and upper jaw. Put the whole thing together, Midnight looked like a cross between a pony and a dragon.

Midnight stared back at her, panic etched on every part of her body. She’d exposed herself far sooner than she wanted, if she had ever really wanted to. In the past, this marked the time she needed to start packing to stay ahead of the angry mob.

“You’re… you’re…” ‘Here it comes’ Midnight thought, steeling herself for the inevitable screams of terror. “You’re not a cultist for Nightmare Moon, are you?”

For a full minute Midnight simply stared at the unicorn. “Seriously?”

“Well, I mean with the black coat and dragon eyes… and seeing what you really look like...”

“I look like this because I’m a kirin.”

Twilight looked even more confused. “A what?”

Midnight rolled her eyes, then walked back into the living room. After a minute of what sounded like searching, Midnight came back in with an old book gripped in her claws. Handing it to her, Twilight read the title.

The Detailed Guide to Mythical and Rare Creatures. I’ve never heard of this book before. Looks pretty old too.”

“Yeah. Got it as a present.” Midnight rubbed the back of her head nervously. “Anyway, turn to page 595.” As Twilight began flipping through the pages, Midnight took stock of the situation. The mare wasn’t yelling, screaming, begging, or cowering in fear in the corner, things Midnight had previously experienced when others found out what she was. If anything, Twilight actually seemed interested in what she was. It was both unsettling, and a relief. Finally, Twilight found the page and began reading the description out loud.

Kirin: a creature that is the product of a union between a pony and a dragon. While there are rumored to be reports of these creatures existing over one thousand years ago, this guide labels them as ‘Mythical’ due to lack of evidence and the fact that it is physically impossible for a dragon and pony to mate. Tales of these creatures give many variations on size and abilities, as well as what parts of the Kirin are pony and what parts are dragon. The one concise note is that they have the diet of both species. For safety reasons, in the unlikely event such a creature is encountered, it should be treated the same as its dragon cousins and avoided at all costs.” Twilight finished reading, then read it over silently to herself several more times, accompanied by the occasional glance up at Midnight. The book said that Kirins weren’t real, even impossible, yet here one was standing in front of her. “Sooooooo, you’re a kirin?”

“Yep.”

“Could you-?”

“Prove it?” Midnight deadpanned, to which Twilight nodded. She snorted, then, turning her head away from her, blew out fire the color of sapphire. When she was finished, she looked back a Twilight with the same deadpanned look, although there was a slight tinge if smugness in it. The unicorn’s mouth was open so far Midnight thought it would hit the floor. “I… also remember my father. He was a dragon, but he was also pony size, so…” she looked away, a painful look on her face.

“But, how can an adult dragon be so small?”

“I don’t know, he just was!” Midnight snapped.

“Okay, well…” Twilight brought the book up to shield herself. “You know, if you came out and just told everypony what you were, then you could change this. You could even help change the fields of biology and genetics!” Twilight was quickly exciting herself. “They would have to rewrite all the books and write all new ones!” she let out a “squee” at the idea of new books.

“Oh yes, because I simply imagined being run out of the cities.” Midnight’s response brought Twilight back down to earth.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you think I mean!? I wasn’t wearing that cloak for fun! I was wearing it because I didn’t want to get run out of town the minute I stepped hoof in here! Every where I’ve been, the moment they find out what I really look like they drive me out of town. They don’t care that I’m half pony; all they see is the dragon half!” Midnight fumed, remembering all the times somepony else discovered her.

“But, Ponyville isn’t like that!”

“My flank it ain’t!”

“You really think they’d drive you out just because you’ve got some dragon in you?”

“Buck yeah!” The argument was interrupted by a knock at the front door and a young, male voice calling “Twilight!” The unicorn smirked.

“I can prove you wrong.”

“I’m not walking out there without my cloak.”

“You don’t have to. The pony I want you to meet is at the door.” Midnight raised her eyebrow, but before she could say anything else, Twilight disappeared into the front. Half of Midnight wanted to run after her and drag her back, while the other half wanted to run out the side door and hide in the woods until it was safe. Before she could make up her mind, however, Twilight came strolling back in. “Midnight, I’d like you to meet Spike. Spike, this is Ponyville’s newest resident, Midnight Storm.” What came through the doorway was the last thing Midnight ever expected: a dragon. Well, a baby one, but a dragon none the less. She sat back on her haunches and simply stared at him.

“Wow Twilight, you weren’t kidding when you said she was big – hey!” Midnight had moved forward and was now circling the young dragon, inspecting him closely.

“He should prove I’m telling the truth.” Twilight said. Midnight’s eyes narrowed.

“He’s fake” she said flatly, refusing to believe that a real dragon was in the room with her. Twilight shook her head.

“I don’t know if even the princesses could make something that real with magic. I’m telling you: Spike is really a dragon.” Midnight’s brain slowly clicked to another possibility.

“Then you’ve kept him hidden! I refuse to believe that ponies around here simply accept that a dragon lives with them!” Both Twilight and Spike rolled their eyes.

“Fine then. Let Spike outside and I’ll show you that there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Midnight paced for a minute, fuming.

“Fine,” she huffed, “But no funny stuff.” They both nodded, and they all filed into the store front. Out the front window, Midnight could see a mare and her filly heading towards the school house and its playground. “Alright, Spike, there are two ponies coming this way. You just go out there and say hi.” She had a look like a cat that just cornered a mouse.

“Alright, alright, jeez.” Midnight nodded, and Spike walked out.

“I’m telling you, there’s nothing to worry about.” Twilight said, only for Midnight to silence her with a glare. When she looked back up, she could hardly believe it. Spike was talking with the two ponies, and they were smiling. He even showed off a bit of his own fire breathing. Twilight could see she was shocked. “Impossible…” she muttered. Looking back, she could see Spike saying goodbye to the two. Midnight’s face hardend, and she walked fully into the door way.

“Hey Spike!” the three outside look at her. There was a momentary look of shock on the ponies, but, to her amazement, it quickly went back to friendly smiles. “Twilight needs to ask you something!” He nodded, waved goodbye to the other two, and then came back. Midnight nodded a farewell to them as well, and, after it was returned, ducked back in with the other two.

“See? I told you- hey!” Midnight was walking back into the kitchen without a word. Twilight and Spike followed her back inside and found her starring at the table. Before either of them could say anything, Midnight swung around and smashed the table with her tail.

“I’VE BEEN IN TARTARUS ALL THIS TIME WHEN THERE WAS A TOWN LIKE THIS!? MY LIFE IS JUST A SICK GAME TO SOMEPONY!” Again and again she brought her tail down, breaking the table even more. After letting her vent some more, Twilight moved in to stop her.

“Midnight, I’m sorry that your life has been hard, but you’re here now, and maybe now things will get better for you.” The black mare looked down at the lavender one, the rage slowly dissipating from her face and being replaced by sadness and guilt.

“I guess… I guess you’re right. I’m just so angry at what my life’s been and I’ve got so few good memories that it’s hard for me to believe a place like this could exist.”

“Well, believe it.” Twilight gave her a determined smile, which Midnight slowly returned.

“So... what now?”

“Well…” Twilight picked her brain for a few seconds. “I think we should start with apologizing to my friends, and getting them to apologize as well, and maybe along the way we can meet other ponies.” Midnight gave the idea some thought before nodding.

“I guess it’s a good idea.”

“Good! First, we’ll stop at Fluttershy’s, since she’s the closest, then by Carousel Boutique to see Rarity,” Midnight silently blanched at this, “then on to Sugercube Corner to see Pinkie, then we’ll go to AJ’s apple stand in the market, and at some point along the way we’ll probably run into Rainbow Dash.” Midnight nodded, but was still nervous about going outside with no cloak. What if Twilight was wrong? Sure, Spike was a dragon, but he was the size of a foal and didn’t have anything really scary about him. She, on the other hand, was bigger than any other pony she’d ever met, had fangs and a blade on her tail, and her wings could provide cover for four ponies during a rain storm. She was just too different.

“Hey! Earth to Midnight!” The mare snapped her head up and look toward Twilight, who was in the door way. “Are we going out or not?”

“Yeah, I’m coming.” She followed Twilight and Spike back into the front area, but before any of them could reach the door, somepony outside knocked. Twilight, realizing that this was an opportunity for Midnight, backed away from the door and motioned for Midnight to answer it. She looked from the lavender pony to the baby dragon, then back to the door. Heaving a sigh, Midnight moved forward and opened the door. To both her surprise and relief, Pinkie Pie was the one on the other side of the door, but the smile on her face fell when she saw that Pinkie looked rather downcast.

“Hi Midnight. I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry about making you mad last night and I hope you can forgive me.” Midnight stood there, a bit stunned that Pinkie was here apologizing to her after she had yelled at her. Twice.

“N-No problem Pinkie; I forgive you, and I’m sorry I yelled at you when you were just trying to make me feel welcomed.” Pinkie looked up at her with a sad smile.

“That’s okay. Like I said, it’s scary moving to a new town.” They both chuckled. “So, does this mean you’ll have some cake now?” Pinkie looked up at her hopefully, and Midnight nodded.

“Yes Pinkie, I’ll have some cake now.” Without warning Pinkie bounced up with a “YIPIE!”, back to her usual Pinkie-self, and pulled the cart with the cake on it out from behind a tree.

“Awesome! I know you’ll like it too, because it’s full of gooey, chocolaty goodness, and chocolate always makes ponies feel better.” Pinkie licked her lips, and Midnight couldn’t help but share in that sentiment. Pinkie Pie cut off a corner piece of the cake and handed it to Midnight, which, to Twilight’s amazement, she took and held with her wing talon. She was right; there was gooey chocolate in the center of the chocolate cake, and the flavor seemed to explode when she took a bite of it. Midnight let out a deep, satisfied growl/purr after she swallowed her first mouthful.

“Wow Pinkie; that is some good cake.” Twilight and Spike, both of whom had joined the other two outside, nodded in agreement, bite marks in their own cake slices.

“I told you: chocolate always makes a pony feel better. Cool wings, tail, and cuite mark by the way.” Midnight froze temporarily. She… she thought she was… cool? Meanwhile Twilight's eyes had moved to her flank, where she could see an outline of a silver dragon as it seemed to rise out of her hind leg.

“T-Thanks Pinkie.” She nodded, then smashed her face into her plate and began eating her own slice. Midnight chuckled. ‘She isn’t really THAT annoying.’ Then she caught Twilight eyeing her. “What?” She snapped, immediately regretting it. “Sorry, I just don’t like being stared at.” Twilight nodded in apology.

“Sorry, it’s just that, why don’t you use magic to hold your plate?” Midnight gave her an equally confused look.

“I can’t do magic; I’m part dragon, remember?”

“But you’ve got a horn! And what does being a dragon have to do with magical ability?” Midnight sighed.

“My mom was a unicorn, okay? I got it from her, but dragons aren’t magical, so it’s basically useless.”

Twilight had a hard time believing this, since, after all, Spike was a dragon, and he breathed magical fire that could send letters. Thinking she had another chance to prove Midnight wrong about herself, and maybe give her another confidence boost, Twilight used a magic detecting spell on her.

A magic detecting spell allowed the user to identify what kind of magic a pony or other creature possessed, and in which part of the body it was prevalent. In unicorns it was the horn, pegasi the wings, and earth ponies their hooves. However after a minute of searching Twilight was completely baffled. She hadn’t sensed any magical potential in her except for the benign magic that all other creatures, like rabbits and birds, possessed. Before Twilight could say anything else, especially concerning her cuite mark, a shadow crossed over the group, then quickly materialized itself as Rainbow Dash.

“So, I see that you’ve apologized.” Rainbow said, a bit of smugness overlaid on her words.

“We’re also apologizing to her, Rainbow Dash.” Twilight told her in a disapproving tone. Rainbow’s jaw dropped.

“Why should WE apologize!? SHE was the one being nasty!” Twilight made to start arguing with her friend when Midnight blocked her with her wing.

“Somehow I don’t think arguing with each other is going to get us anywhere” she said gruffly. When she turned back to Rainbow, she saw her eyes were fixed on her wing. A playful grin growing on her face, Midnight flexed the wing open and closed, inwardly laughing at how Rainbow, and probably the others, were watching her huge wings in awe.

“Wait, I thought you were a unicorn?”

“Actually, I’m what’s known as a Kirin, a pony/dragon hybrid.”

“Right.” Twilight said distractedly, conjuring a tape measure and attempting to measure Midnight’s wing. “She’s half dragon and half pony.” Rainbow’s jaw dropped again.

“Wow, seriously!?” Midnight shifted uneasily.

“Yeah. To be more precise, my dad was the dragon.”

“Wow, that’s actually really cool.” Midnight froze again. That was the second time somepony thought that. Was this town really so different from the cities she’d been in?

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After Rainbow Dash finished her slice of cake and offered to go flying sometime, she had to leave for weather pony duties, and the three ponies headed for Fluttershy’s cottage while Spike headed back to the library. As the three walked, Midnight began to feel more confident. An angry mob wasn’t hiding behind every tree, the two ponies with her honestly seemed glad to be around her, and if she did start to have doubts again, well, Pinkie was still hauling that oh-so-delicious chocolate cake with them. After some time they began to see Fluttershy’s cottage, and as they got close they could see and hear all the animals that also call the cottage home. However, after they passed some invisible threshold, all the animals began to hide, hiss at them, or both, most of it directed at Midnight. Annoyed at their behavior, she growled back at them, which sent the rest into hiding.

“That’s strange; I’ve never seen them act like that before.” Twilight noted on the animals’ strange behavior. Midnight chuckled nervously.

“Couldn’t help ya there.” They continued up to the door of the cottage, and Midnight took another piece of cake. After a few short knocks on the door, the yellow and pink pegasus from the night before open it.

“Oh, hello Twilight. I’m afraid I can’t talk for long; my animals have all gotten scared over someTHING!” Fluttershy had just caught sight of Midnight and jumped back inside her house. Midnight rolled her eyes and stuffed the rest of her slice in her mouth.

“Fluttershy, it just Midnight from last night. She wants to apologize!”

“APOLOGY ACCEPTED!!!” Fluttershy yelled through the door. Twilight, feeling that Fluttershy was over-reacting, was about to force the door open when Midnight laid a hoof on her shoulder.

“It’s alright Twilight, I don’t think breaking and entering will help things.” Twilight was about to protest, but decided that breaking down her friend’s door probably really wasn’t the best idea, so she allowed Midnight to steer her back towards the road.

“Well, there’s some cake if you want any!” Pinkie called through the door, leaving Fluttershy a large piece of cake on her doorstep. The animals all watched the trio leave, evil glares following them all the way.

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The town was its usual busy self as they made their way over to Carousel Boutique, and just about every pony they met along the way was actually very nice, something that Midnight had never thought she’d experience. They soon made it to Rarity’s, and almost right off the bat things seemed to go south. While Rarity was trying to be nice, Twilight could tell that Midnight was being, while respectable, exceedingly cold toward the fashionista. She only seemed to get colder when, after finding out she’d been to almost every major city, Rarity began asking her to describe the grandeur of every one of them. Despite the coldness, Midnight at least answered nicely, telling her how the majority of the cities were areas were less fortunate ponies lived, and how the upper class was determined to not let them rise out of the squallier. The conversation basically nose-dived into silence after that, and soon they were leaving. As Pinkie was handing Rarity another slice of cake before they left, Twilight turned on her. “What was that all about?” Midnight refused to make eye contact.

“Twilight, I’ve met a lot of ponies in my travels, and I can safely tell you that ponies who try to pass themselves off as upper class soon start acting like upper class. I know she’s your friend, but someday she’s going to start looking down on you and everypony else. I’ve seen it too often to believe otherwise.” She moved off to follow Pinkie to Applejack’s cart, leaving Twilight and her thoughts to bring up the rear.

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Things went markedly better with Applejack. After AJ found out that Midnight was starting a wood cutting business, she told the black mare she was a Faust-send. “Ah can’t tell ya’ll what a relief it’ll be to finally have somepony local providin' us with some wood. Them snakes come ‘round at the start of fall and charge us out the bushel fur wood just cause they gotta bring it here! With us trying to save every cent we can fur Granny Smith’s hip, Big Mac’s plow, and the roof fur the barn, payin’ less for somethin' is a might helpful.” As the two began talking about prices over more cake, Twilight smiled inwardly to herself. She’d helped a new pony make some friends today, while she herself was still learning about friendship. ‘This is going to make an interesting letter to the princess.’

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The Princess of the Sun sighed contently as she nestled down next to her roaring fire place. Another long day in Day Court was finally over and her sister Luna had just raised the moon and her Night Court would start very soon. Even though it had only been a few weeks since her return, she adamantly wanted to help her sister run the country as they had a millennia ago, with Celestia ruling over the day and Luna the night, splitting the work load for both of them. Tonight was Luna’s first Night Court since her banishment ended, and Celestia hoped that things went at least somewhat smoothly.

She’d just picked up a scroll to look over when another one appeared before her with a flash of green fire. She smiled, gripping it with her magic and unrolling it. Another friendship letter from her faithful student Twilight Sparkle. She had only written a few so far, but the princess could tell her student was indeed learning. When she got to the bottom of the letter though, her face had gone from a contented smile to a worried frown. After her third time reading the letter she summoned her royal planner into the room. The unicorn mare noted her monarch’s look.

“Is everything okay, your highness?”

“Yes, but I need to know how soon I have a large enough opening that I can make a trip to Ponyville.” The mare instantly flipped through the planner in her magical grasp.

“I don’t know your highness. You were just there, and you know how the nobles are when you leave the castle, let alone the city.” Celestia nodded in reply. Even if it was for a holiday like the Summer Sun Celebration, the nobility of Canterlot were guaranteed to throw a hissy-fit if she wasn’t where they wanted her to be. The unicorn finally stopped searching. “Let’s see… I think you could get away with an afternoon visit…” Celestia smiled, “in about a month and a half.” The smile faded a bit, but she held it.

“Thank you, then could you please make it down right now before something else fills it up? I would very much like to see how my student is holding up in her new home.”

“Of course your highness.”

"Also, please get Sapphire Breeze for me as well. I doubt my sister will mind." The mare nodded and left, and the princess sat back down and began to work out what to do now that one of them had returned.

Ch.4 - The Derp and the Drunk

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Midnight yawned widely, exposing and extending her fangs and dragon-like tongue as she stretched out on her bed. Well, nest would be more accurate. Pillows, a blanket, and sheets were twisted and intertwined all over the place with her curled up in the middle. It had taken a few days, but the house was finally complete, with a new wing carved into the mountain that she herself had done. The wing included more space for the living room and her own bedroom, with her own private bathroom. The upstairs had also been finished; thankfully it had been in better shape than the downstairs. The second floor had two small bedrooms, one larger one, and a communal bathroom. For the most part the only thing wrong with it had been the lack of furniture, which she may or may-not address in the future, depending how things worked out. She had also built a small outside work place where she could lay out logs for chopping and organizing, and a shed a little further out and closer to the forest. As to why she had built it she was keeping close to the vest and not telling anypony.

With her morning wake-up routine finished she slipped off the bed and headed for the kitchen for some coffee and whatever pastry she happened to have. She passed the new couch in the living room, which Pinkie had given her, saying something about “couch emergencies”. She was a funny mare, but still very weird. The kitchen also had a new table and cabinets. These had come about in a more sensible way. The day before AJ and her big brother Big Mac (who had been startled to meet a pony bigger then himself other than a princess) had come over and asked if there was anything they could do to help. They’d ended up helping Midnight carve a couple of trees she’d fell earlier into the table and cabinets. Midnight had made a mental note to properly thank them sooner or later.

Just as she poured the boiling hot liquid into her mug she heard the muffled clank of her mail box being opened and closed. Entering the front store section she could see several letters on the floor near the door. Why would anyone write her anything? Tartarus, who even knew she was now here in Ponyville? Reaching down she scooped up the mail with her wing talon and looked at it.

It became quickly apparent a big mistake had been made. None of the envelopes had her name or address on them. “You have got to be kidding me.” She face-hoofed and let the appendage slide down her face. It was too early for this. Just because it was dawn and the day had officially begun didn’t mean she needed problems right off the bat. Letting out a large sigh/yawn, she placed her mug on the counter and walked out front to find the mail mare. Thankfully she was still in sight, heading in the direction of the school. “Hey!” Midnight called out feebly, tiredness still clinging to her. When it was clear the mare hadn’t heard her she sighed again and took flight, skimming along the ground until she caught up with her. “Hey!” This time the mare did turn around, startled by the sudden appearance of the much larger one.

She was a grey pegasus mare with eyes that matched her blonde mane and tail. She had bubbles for a cutie mark, and she had wall-eyes, with one looking down and the other one up. “Oh! Good morning!” she said cheerfully. How anypony could be so chipper in the morning was beyond Midnight.

“Morning” she replied back. “Look, I’m just here because you gave me the wrong mail.” The pegasus gasped, more than was needed to in Midnight’s opinion.

“I am SO sorry! I’m sure I have the right ones here somewhere!” The mare immediately began digging through her mailbag, letters and packages falling out as she did so. Midnight looked on with a mixture of annoyance and sympathy. When the mare turned her bag upside down to dump everything out, she finally decided to intervene.

“Look, I don’t think there’s anything in there for me; I just wanted to give you this mail back so it can go to the proper ponies.” The mare stopped panicking, but she still looked downtrodden.

“Oh, okay.” She took the mail from Midnight and put it back into her bag, then both mares proceeded to pick up the rest of the mail. “I’m sorry. If you want to report me, you can head down to the post master’s.” Midnight gave her a look.

“Why would I report you? You just mixed up some letters.”

“But I always do this at least once a day and ponies get angry at me for it.”

“Well, just take it a bit slower. You’ve got time.” The pegasus shook her head.

“I work another job after this, and the sooner I get this one done the sooner I can go to the other one, and I need both to help support myself and my little muffin. I try and get both done as soon as I can so I can spend the rest of the day with her. Schools over right now but I still like to get home as soon as I can.” Midnight simply stared at her as she handed over the last of the mail. Two jobs and supporting a kid, and she made sure they had time together. This mare was one Tartarus of a mom.

“Well, I’m not gonna report you, since it really isn’t that big of a deal, and if you can’t help but mix things up…well… just… you can take a quick coffee break with me over at my house. It’ll… help us both wake up in the morning.” Midnight felt completely weird. Twilight had said she needed to open up more, but this felt completely too far for her. The mail mare’s face lit up, and, before she knew what was happening, Midnight had been pulled into a tight hug.

“Oh, thank you thank you thank you! I promise I’ll do my best not to screw up until I get to your house! I’ve got to do something to thank you! Oh, me and Dinky can make you a whole tray of muffins! Oh, and my name is Derpy Hooves!” Derpy grabbed Midnight’s claw and shook it.

“I’m Midnight Storm, but, Derpy, that’s not-”

“Well, I gotta get back to the route! Bye Midnight!” Before she could finish, Derpy had finished shaking and had hurried off, this time with an extra kick, well, wing, in her step. A bit bemused, Midnight trotted back to her house. ‘Meh, muffins would taste better than leftover cake in the morning. *pause* I need to go food shopping.’

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With a loud *Crack* the last log of wood split, both pieces falling to either side of the chopping block. Midnight picked them both up, placed them on the newest pile, then wiped the sweat from her forehead. She’d just finished turning her first tree of the day into firewood, and if she kept it up she could have a third one downed and ready for tomorrow before the day was out. She’d determined that summer would be the best season to get as much done as she could, this way when fall and winter came, she’d already have a large stock and spend more time at the front counter collecting bits than chopping down trees for impatient customers. It was hot, dirty work, but come fall she’d barely have to do anything.

Deciding it was a good time to at least get a drink; she wandered back inside and came back out a minute later with a cold glass of water. The ice-cold water felt good as she drank it, and she chugged it down. As she was about to go back in for another cup, she heard voices coming from the front of her house. Placing the glass down on her work bench she went towards the front.

“I still don’t see why we can’t go to the playground too!”

“Like, because it’s like I said; we don’t want you two shooting off your magic and, like, burning it down.”

“We wouldn’t do that! And besides, Cheerilee lets us on all the time during the school year!”

“Well, like, Cheerilee isn’t here to put out whatever fires you guys make so we’ll, like, play there before you two do.”

Midnight came around the front of her house to see four fillies on the road. Two had their backs to her and seemed to be blocking the other two. The one closest to her was a pink with a white and purple maned earth pony topped with a tiara. The one next to her was also an earth pony, grey with a white mane and glasses.

The two unicorn fillies trying, and failing, to defend their right to the playground looked like they were getting close to tears. The one in front of the pink bully was a sort of purple-ish grey with familiar blonde hair and eyes. The other unicorn was pink in both mane and coat, although her coat color was closer to Pinkie’s than the muted pink of the bully. She also looked familiar.

“So, now that we’ve, like, explained it to you, again, you can just wait here or go home!” With that, the pink bully reached out and flicked the grey unicorn’s snout. Midnight snorted. She hated bullies, especially ones that thought they were entitled to the world, and that flick to the filly’s nose was too far.

“Hey!” All four fillies jumped and the bullies whirled around to see Midnight striding towards them, a look of anger in her eyes. They all had looks of shock and fear, which caused Midnight to slow some, but both bullies quickly recovered.

“And just what do you want?” the tiara-clad filly asked, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

“Well, for starters, you can stop yelling so loud. I don’t appreciate all the noise you lot are making. Second, you’ve got no right to tell other ponies what they can and cannot do. So either shut your trap and go play or get lost.” Any smart remark the filly was going to make died right there, and the other three fillies gasped.

“Excuse me!? Do you even KNOW who my daddy is!?”

“Unless he’s a princess, I don’t give a flying monkey WHO he is, now get off my property!” Midnight’s lip curled, exposing her fangs. The filly was turning a nice shade of red, but the fangs seemed to put her off.

“I-I’ll tell my daddy you threatened me! He can have you arrested!”

“I never made a threat, but I can have you arrested for trespassing.” It was a bluff, and a poor one, but it seemed to work.

“Y-Yeah, well, we don’t want to play anymore anyway, right Silver Spoon?” The grey bully nodded vigorously and they both slinked out from between Midnight and the two other fillies. Once they were away the one with the tiara called back, “I’m still telling my daddy you freak!”

There are certain buttons that should never be pushed when it comes to Midnight Storm. Diamond Tiara had just pushed one. In response, Midnight jumped up into the air and charged them, blowing out a long jet of flame. The two bullies disappeared with twin screams of fear. It had only been a mock charge, but it worked all the same. When she was done she went back to the other two fillies, both of whom were holding each other and seemed on the verge of crying.

“P-P-P-Please d-d-d-don’t e-e-e-eat u-u-u-us!” the grey-ish filly said, her voice cracking. Midnight sat down and folded her wings back in in an attempt to look less threatening.

“I wouldn’t eat fillies even if I was starving. I’m just really good at scaring bullies.” They both began to stop shaking, and the pink unicorn even managed to chuckle.

“It was kinda fun to see somepony finally tell those two off, right Dinky?” the grey-ish filly nodded.

“Would’ve been nicer if we weren’t so close.” All three ponies chuckled.

“I remember seeing you earlier this week” the pink one told her, “so you live here now?” Midnight nodded.

“I just moved into town this week. I’m Midnight Storm.” She extended a hoof, and the pink filly took it and shook.

“I’m Ruby Pinch, but everypony calls me Pinchy, and this is Dinky.” Dinky nodded and also shook hooves.

“You know she’s going to tell her dad, and you’ll really be in trouble then.” Dinky told her, a bit of fear working its way into her face.

“Well, is he rich or strong or both?”

“Rich.” Pinchy said. “Diamond Tiara’s family is the richest in Ponyville. They own the ‘Barnyard Bargains’ stores.” There was a pause, then Midnight began laughing.

“Barnyard Bargains!? That dump!?” She began laughing so hard she fell over while the two fillies looked puzzled. When she had enough composure Midnight stood back up. “Girls, that place is considered almost as bad as the One-Bit stores! The only good thing they sell is that whatever-apple jam they get in the spring.”

“Well, how are they so rich then?” Dinky asked. Midnight could only shrug.

“Well... now that I think about it, most of what they sell is junk, but it is cheap, and when you live in the city you do try and save as much as you can, so… maybe they do better than I thought.”

“That would make sense.” Dinky said.

“Still sells junk though. In any case I’m not worried about it, and you two have a clear road to the playground.” She turned to head back to work when something she just remembered caught her attention. “Hey, Dinky.” The filly turned to look at her. “You don’t happen to know the mail mare Derpy, do you?” Dinky’s eyes went wide.

“Whatever she did, she didn’t mean to!” In an instant Dinky was at her hooves begging. “She just messes up once or twice and she really needs the job! Please, don’t report her!”

“Whoa there kiddo! I’m not going to report her!” The filly acted just like her mother. “I was talking to her this morning and she just happened to mention your name, that’s all.” Dinky looked up at her with wet eyes. “I’m serious, that’s all.”

“Okay” she said quietly.

“Dinky, from what I heard your mom is a hard worker, and I bet anypony would love to hire her on.” That seemed to pirk the unicorn up.

“Speaking of jobs, shouldn’t you be at work too?” Pinchy asked.

“I work right here. I cut wood for a living.”

“How?” she asked. Then she saw Midnight’s tail and let out an “Ooooooh.” With a nod, Midnight began walking back around the house, then realized that both fillies were following her with curious, scrutinizing eyes. It was very unsettling.

“Um, didn’t you girls want to go to the playground?” They both nodded, but still followed her back to her work bench. Finally, Pinchy spoke up.

“What kind of pony are you anyway? You’ve got all those different parts.”

“And you’re really big and can breathe fire too.” Dinky added.

“Well, I’m what’s known as a Kirin.” Confused stares. “I’m half pony and half dragon.” Comprehension dawned on their faces.

“Wait, how does that even work?” Pinchy asked. “Dragons are HUGE, and ponies are small. Well, by comparison anyway. Applebloom’s big brother is pretty big for a pony.”

“She one of the Apples?”

“Yeah.”

“I met Big Mac just the other day. He and Applejack helped me with some furniture, and yes, he is indeed big for a pony. Also, my dad was a dragon, but you could say he was on the small size. I think he was a bit bigger than me, but then I was only about two the last time I saw him, and I don’t remember much.” Midnight fell silent, and the two fillies knew she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

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Sometime later two more ponies came walking down the path past Midnight’s house on their way to the playground. “That was really nice of her to do that Derpy. I’d have offered sooner, but since I’m near the end of your route…”

“That’s okay Berry, I know you’re still asleep then, so I wouldn’t want to bother you.” Both mares smiled at each other, but they soon lost them when they caught sight of an empty playground.

“Didn’t the girls say they were going to the playground by the school?”

“Yeah, and I don’t know of any other playgrounds in town.” They both quicken their pace, hoping the girls were just playing hide-and-seek just in the tree line, when they passed Midnight’s house and heard very familiar voices around back. Stopping to hear better, they recognized the voices of their daughters and another pony. They walked around the front of the house and saw both fillies sitting on a log chatting with a large black pony with a blue mane. “Oh, that’s right! This is Midnight’s house!” With that, Derpy bounded forward with Berry Punch taking a slower gate towards her foal.

“Mommy!” Dinky called out at the sight of her mom.

“Muffin!” Derpy scooped up her filly in a big hug.

“I thought you two were heading to the playground?” Berry asked.

“We were, but then we ran into Midnight Storm, and she’s really cool. She’s that mare that was with Spike earlier this week.” Berry could tell when Pinchy was lying; call it a mother’s instinct and that Pinchy had no poker face. Deciding she’d get the truth later, she turned to the mare called ‘Midnight Storm’, then drew back a bit. Yes, she remembered the mare from earlier in the week, but she was still somewhat unsettling up close, what with the size, slitted eyes, larger-than-normal wings, and bladed tail.

“That’s right, we did. How are you?” They shook hooves, and Berry noticed it wasn’t as strong a shake as she imagined it would be.

“I’m fine, thanks.

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“So that’s what happened. I knew Pinchy was lying about how they met you, but I can see why.” The three adults were sitting around the work bench chatting over some coffee while the two fillies played with a ball Berry had brought. Berry’s faced darkened. “Figures that two-faced brat and her equally snotty friend had something to do with it.”

“I take it she has a reputation?” Midnight asked dully. Berry and Derpy groaned.

“I’ll admit Filthy Rich isn’t that bad of a pony. A bit stuck up, but generally a nice guy. However, he can never seem to wrap his head around the idea that is precious daughter his anything but a well-mannered princess. I swear, that filly could get away with MURDER; literally.”

“And, how influential in the town is he?”

“He buys local goods and gives to some charities, but other than that he’s just another resident.”

“He does have a big house though!” Derpy told them, her front legs spreading out to emphasize how big it was.

“Big houses aside, I don’t think you have much to worry about Midnight. When he comes knocking about ‘how you’ve mistreated his little princess’, just take it with a grain of salt and do what everypony does.”

“What’s that?”

“Avoid the brat like the plague.” They chuckled. Midnight couldn’t explain it, but hanging out with these two felt… well, right. No uncomfortable feeling, no feeling ashamed, just a feeling of belonging. It felt really good. Just then Berry’s eyes flew open. “I’ve just had an idea! Midnight, how about you join us for Poker Night?”

“Poker Night?”

“Yeah, that’s a great idea!” Derpy said, her wings flapping happily.

“We haven’t had one yet, but that’s only because we’re looking for a fourth player. Lyra Heartstrings has been our third for some time, and she hasn’t been able to get her marefriend Bon Bon to join us.”

“I haven’t been able to get Carrot Top either.”

“Is she your marefriend?” Midnight asked.

“Nah. We’re just best friends. Have been since their age.” Derpy said, motioning to the fillies. “We also live in the same house; it’s cheaper than owning my own.”

“Well…” Midnight gave the idea some thought, then nodded. “I guess it’ll be fun.” Both mares cheered.

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It was past sunset when Filthy Rich and his daughter Diamond Tiara reached Midnight’s home. “Don’t you worry honey; daddy will take care of the mean lady” he told his pouting filly. After several wraps on the door, it opened to reveal a not-so-pleasant looking Midnight. After recovering from the shock of what she looked like, the stallion cleared his throat. “Miss Storm, my name if Filthy Rich, and I-”

“Hold it right there.” Midnight told him, raising a hoof. “I know exactly who you are and why you’re here, so let’s cut to the chase. First, your foal is a brat,” both ponies gasped.

“Now, see here!”

“And I’m standing by that.” Midnight spoke over him. “Second, if you don’t like what I’m saying, then you stay away from me, and I’ll stay away from you. Case closed, everypony’s happy, have a nice night.” With that, Midnight slammed the door in their faces.

Ch.5 - Crazy Craving

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“Are you two sure you’re okay?” Midnight asked as she followed them into town. It had been a few days since the whole “Sleepy Applejack Incident” during which Rainbow Dash had been sent sailing clear across Ponyville not under her own power, baked goods had become ‘baked bads’, and a stampede of rabbits had infested the town. While none of these things had affected her personally, her new friends had fallen afoul of the baked bads. Poor Derpy had suffered the most. While all the other ponies had taken a few bites and then gotten sick, Derpy had inhaled four whole muffins before realizing how nasty they were. Nurse Redheart had only just released her this morning, and all were thankful that none of the foals had gotten their hooves on them. The only one not affected by the bad muffins had been Midnight. Although, based on Spike’s reaction to them, it was probably a dragon thing.

“Yeah, we’re all good now,” Berry told her.

“Nurse Redheart told me to take it easy and not eat anything too big or too spicy, or that would upset my stomach again,” Derpy told them. They both nodded. By hanging out with these two she’d learned that, while Ponyville was accepting of ponys’ differences, rumors and reputations still got around. Derpy was made out to be clumsier than she really was and Berry Punch was considered a drunk.

“Just because I own a liquor store and drink a lot doesn’t mean I’m a drunk!” she had wailed when the subject was brought up. Midnight had to agree. She was a heavy drinker too but that didn’t mean they were alcoholics. A drink could be anything from simple water to the hardest liquor and everything in between, so when she and Midnight said they drank a lot it simply meant they drank a lot of liquids. “Besides, how can I be a good mother to Pinchy if I’m constantly drunk?”

“Or to Dinky if I’m always breaking things?” The rumors weren’t exactly the best but for the most part they weren’t said with malicious intent, just as run-of-the-mill gossip.

“So, where are we going again?”

“Well, remember how we were supposed to introduce you to Lyra at Sugarcube Corner except they happened?” Derpy held a hoof over her mouth. “Well, Lyra also ate one, so she’s been home sick as well. But since we’re all better now, we figured we could try and introduce you two again.” As the group made its way through town they spotted something out of the ordinary. “Hey, is that a griffon?”

“Yeah, I think it is. Weird, they don’t usually leave the Griffon Kingdom.” Midnight said, trying to remember what she’d read about them. The trio stared at the rare hybrid as it checked out a stall.

“This stuff ain’t fresh dude.” She told the mare managing the cart before walking away. The griffon turned a corner, and the trio began walking again.

“Well that was interesting.” Berry and Derpy nodded. They rounded a corner of their own and the earth pony and pegasus waved at a table set up next to a stall. Sitting there was sea-foam-colored unicorn mare that had a matching mane with a streak of white in it. She waved back at them and they all walked over to join her. When they sat down they saw that she had already gotten a veggiplatter with dipping sauce for them to share.

“Lyra, this is our new friend and poker buddy Midnight Storm. Midnight, this is Lyra Heartstrings.” They both shook hooves. “Lyra’s working on her musical career and Midnight’s the new town wood cutter.”

“Cool.” Lyra said, eating a baby carrot. “How’s that going so far?”

“Could be better I guess. I know not many ponies use firewood during the summer but I’m making as much inventory as I can now so that come fall and winter I’m spending more time indoors at the counter than out in the cold.” They all nodded in agreement. “And how about your music career? How’s that going?”

“Still nothing.” Lyra said disheartened. “But, as Celestia is my witness, I WILL make the lyre the next hit instrument!” Berry and Derpy rolled their eyes which was a funny thing to watch Derpy do. Midnight had yet to ask why her eyes were that way, but unless somepony else brought it up, she wasn’t going to ask; out of courtesy of course. Suddenly they heard a roar from a few blocks away and a few seconds later saw Fluttershy flying away in tears.

“I think I know why griffons don’t visit more often.” The three other mares nodded. Turning her attention back to the platter, Midnight grabbed a broccoli crown with her claw and dipped it in the sauce. When she looked back up, Lyra was staring at her claw. “What?”

“Your claw…” Lyra breathed. “…it’s just like a HAND!” Berry and Derpy face-hoofed.

“Oh, come ON Lyra! Not this again!” Berry moaned.

“But it grips like a HAND, minus four digits mind you, but still!”

“Would somepony like to fill me in?” Midnight asked, a bit lost.

“Lyra has a thing for some mythical creature called, uh, what was it again?” Berry looked to Lyra, already cringing.

HUMANS!” Lyra yelled. “They’re mostly hairless, walk ONLY on their hind legs, and their front legs end in HANDS that can grip anything!” As Lyra continued to rant, Berry leaned over.

“She’s not crazy, just… eccentric.”

“She does know about Spike right?" Midnight asked. "I mean, he stands on his back legs and has, well, claws, but they do what she says human hands do.” If Lyra heard any of that, she gave no indication.

“When I still lived in Canterlot, there was a rumor that Princess Celestia had a student before Twilight Sparkle. That student found an enchanted mirror that lead to the human world! Rumor has it that the student didn’t leave the academy but was sucked into the mirror!” The three mares looked at her.

“Lyra, even you have to admit that one is off the deep end.” Berry deadpanned.

“It’s true though! I found the mirror! I think; hard to tell with a bunch of royal guards tackling you to the floor.” Silence.

“Lyra, please tell me you didn’t.”

“It’s a conspiracy I tell you! Celestia knows!” It was at that point that Midnight decided that bowing out would be for the best.

“Well, I’m always interested in mythical creatures and such, but I really think I should get back to cutting wood. I look forward to our poker game!” With that, Midnight trotted off. Berry glared at Lyra.

“If she stops being friends with us because of your crazy conspiracy theories, I am going to BREAK that lyre over your head until all the crazy’s gone!” Derpy had simply gone back to eating her muffin. Where it came from only Faust knew.

-----------------------------

Despite Lyra and her humans, Midnight had had a fun time playing poker with her new friends. It was the day after and she’d just felled her first tree of the day when she began to feel hungry. At first she was puzzled since she’d already had breakfast and it wasn’t near lunch time but then she felt a very familiar craving. This particular craving occurred once or twice a month and was impossible to ignore. Sure, she’d tried to ignore it before, especially the first few months after she’d begun moving from city to city, but in the end each time she’d given in. Her current record had been three months, and it had NOT ended well.

After hauling the tree back and getting a drink of water, she returned outside sporting a very worn-out looking set of saddle bags that had turned black on the bottoms. She extended her wings and gave them a few test flaps, limbering them up for what was probably going to be a long flight high up. When they felt ready, she gave one giant flap of her wings and took off, making for a group of clouds just above the edge of the Everfree. When she reached them she sailed around them, feeling for updrafts and thermals to help keep her aloft with minimal effort. Just as she was about to bank deeper into the Everfree forest she heard a voice call out to her.

“Hey, Midnight!” Pulling back into her holding pattern, she looked towards the caller and saw it was Rainbow Dash. “Just saw you take off; still can’t believe how cool those wings are.” As Rainbow caught up with her, Midnight landed on a cloud where she quickly followed suit.

“Thank you Rainbow.” Midnight quickly covered the saddle bags with her wings as the cyan pegasus fidgeted a bit before talking again.

“You’ve been in a lot of different places, right?”

“I’ve been around.”

“Well, I was wondering if… you’ve ever met a griffon before.” Midnight tapped her mouth with her hoof as she tried to remember. Other than that one that was in town the other day, she couldn’t really say she’d seen another griffon, let alone met one.

“Can’t say I have. Does this have something to do with the one from yesterday? Me and a few others saw her walking around town.” Dash nodded.

“Yeah, it does. Speaking of which, why didn’t you come to Pinkie’s party yesterday?”

“Well, after a certain two someponies planted a few rubber trees, I’ve been trying to catch up on my work.” Rainbow snickered.

“You’ve got to admit that was funny.”

“Once: funny. Twice: hilarious. Sixth time: aggravating.” Rainbow waved a hoof.

“Alright, we’ve may have gone a bit over board on that one.” Midnight raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. “Anyway, the reason I asked was because I was wondering what other griffons were like, if you happened to know any.”

“Well, if I had to guess, I don’t think they’d all make Fluttershy cry.” Rainbow cringed.

“Yeah, I should go apologize again. Before I do that though, how about we go flying together for a bit? I could really use a flying buddy right now.” Midnight shook her head, her hunger beginning to return.

“Sorry Rainbow, but I’m actually up here for a bit of solitude at the moment, but I’m pretty sure I can get some flight time in with you tomorrow.” Rainbow nodded.

“That sounds good, although I could have really used a buddy today. Oh, and you can’t tell anyone else about this talk!” Rainbow suddenly looked serious. “I mean it!”

“Okay, okay! I swear by the Faust I won’t breath a word of it!” Midnight promised, hoping it would get Rainbow out of her face. The cyan pegasus gave a satisfied nod.

“Good. Well, I’ll see you later then!” With that she dove off the cloud and headed back into Ponyville. When she was out of sight Midnight dove off the cloud as well, but in the direction of the Everfree forest.

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Mr. Squirrel had had a bad day so far. He’d fallen out of bed and hit his head on a rouge acorn, Mrs. Squirrel had nagged him all morning about needing even more nuts for the coming winter, even though it was still summer, and his kids just wouldn’t SHUT UP. Finally, before he beat all their brains in with a rare cashew he’d gotten while foraging near the pony homes, he got out of the tree and took a minute to rest his ears and hopefully sedate the forming headache with a nut he’d gotten yesterday. Of course, since he lived in the Everfree Forest, he made sure there were no predators about before relaxing on his branch. After a few minutes he caught a flash of movement up in the sky. Jumping to his feet, he hid behind the tree trunk. After he got his heart rate back to normal, he chanced a peek around the tree to see the predator.

When he saw what it was, he sighed in relief. It was just one of those flying ponies, and they weren’t dangerous at all. As he chuckled to himself, he lost his grip on the nut he was holding and it bounced off the branch and fell to the forest floor. Turning to where it fell he scowled to himself. Damn pony made him lose his snack.

-------------------------

Midnight circled above the forest in a lazy clockwise arc. A few minutes after leaving Rainbow Dash she’d set herself up looking around for targets. She’d quickly seen a squirrel, but it ducked behind a tree. She cursed at herself, but within a few circles the rodent had come back out, apparently deciding she wasn’t a threat. When it dropped its acorn, it gave Midnight a perfect shot. Just as her turn faced her away from it, she folded her left wing in, causing her to drop and turn. As soon as she was aiming for her target, she folded her other wing in, but neither were in all the way as to keep some lift and control for the pull out.

The squirrel didn’t see what hit him. Midnight was on him so fast he didn’t even have time to react to her shadow on him. Surprisingly, the impact that killed the rodent barely made the branch it was on quiver. Midnight flew up and out of the canopy, her meal held firmly in her mouth by her, now extended, fangs. When she returned to cruising altitude she opened the saddle bags and dropped her first catch of the day in. It was going to take more than one measly squirrel to satisfy her; maybe if she caught a few rabbits...

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Two hours after she took to the air Midnight returned home, diving out of the sky and quickly running into the shed she’d made. She spent another hour inside the shed with unfamiliar noises escaping from time to time. When she was done she emerged, not with her saddle bags, but with a few opaque freezer bags gripped in her claws. When she reached the house she put the bags into the back of the freezer. Two squirrels and three rabbits; she’d eat well tonight, and there’d even be some left over.

Ch.6 - You're Kidding, Right?

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Midnight was having a good day so far. She’d finally caught up on her work, no thanks to Rainbow and Pinkie. The first tree of the day had come down quickly and it even looked like a thunderstorm was heading their way. She shivered with excitement; she loved thunderstorms. Something about the raw power they held just made her giddy. That said, she was also careful around them. She never went outside during one because she didn’t particularly like the idea of being struck by lightning. Kinda kills your day, your mood, and… well… you.

With her ears wide open listening for the sound of thunder, she easily heard Twilight Sparkle calling for her from the house. Figuring the storm would be on her soon anyway, she dropped the tree she was carrying and headed for home.

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She fervently wished she was back with the tree. “So, let me get this straight: those aren’t storm clouds, they’re smoke from a dragon?”

“Yep.”

“Who’s sleeping on a mountain outside of town?”

“Uh-huh.”

“And a student/librarian, a farmer, a weather pony, a party planner, a fashion designer, and an animal caregiver, NOT a platoon a soldiers OR the princess herself, are to go up there and get him to leave?”

“You got it. Oh, and the princess asked if you could come along as well.” Midnight raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, two things: how does the princess know about me and what have you been huffing?” Twilight frowned at her.

“Midnight, Princess Celestia trusts that we can get this done, and as her faithful student I won’t let her down. And she knows about you because I told her.” Midnight’s eye twitched.

“When and if you survive this suicide mission, I’m going to find a manticore and feed you to it.”

“It’s NOT a suicide mission, and you ARE coming!”

“It IS and I’m NOT”

“Yes you ARE!”

“No I’m NOT!”

“YES!”

“NO!”

“YES!”

“MAKE ME!”

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“I honestly and truly hate you and I will find that manticore.” Midnight fumed at Twilight. The purple unicorn had threatened that if Midnight didn’t come with them she’d send a letter to the princess asking her to convince Midnight in pony. She’d finally agreed to come along.

“Oh, come on Midnight; it won’t be that bad.” AJ told her.

“Yeah!” Rainbow agreed from above them. “We’ll just go up there and kick’em out!”

Midnight considered the future snack the same way one considers a pony that says a tarantula is just like a puppy: like a complete moron.

“Eh-hem.” They turned their attention back to Twilight. “Alright girls, listen up! I’ve mapped out the fastest route, but we’ve all got to keep a good pace if we’re to make it to the top by nightfall.”

“M-Mountain?” Fluttershy squeaked.

“The dragon is in that cave at the top.”

“Looks pretty cold up there.” AJ noted.

“You bet it is!” Rainbow said proudly. “The higher you go, the colder it gets!”

While the others discussed keeping warm Midnight rolled her eyes. Cold wasn’t the problem; the giant, flying, fire-breathing reptile in the cave was. It was then that she overheard Twilight and Fluttershy speaking.

“Um, excuse me, Twilight? I know you’re busy, but-”

“Uh-huh. Well, we could go this way.” Twilight said into the map.

“If I could just have a second-”

“Uh-huh. We want to avoid that!” It was quite clear Twilight wasn’t hearing the meek mare.

“So, um, I was thinking that, um, maybe I should just stay here at home.”

“Uh-huh.”

"Oh! Good, I’ll just stay here and-”

“And I’ll join her!” In a flash Midnight was next to Fluttershy, pulling her into a wing-hug. “You know, to keep her and the town’s morale up!” Fluttershy recoiled slight at the touch; she was still pretty scared of Midnight. Twilight’s head finally emerged from the map.

“Wait, you have to come! Your way with wild animals will surely come in handy, and you’re not getting out of this Midnight.” Midnight frowned and dropped the yellow pegasus. She had half a mind to bill the princess for the work she had fallen behind on. Again. If they made it back that is.

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They made it to the base of the mountain before stopping, courtesy of the booming noise coming from the mountain top.

“Whoa, what was that!?” Rainbow asked.

“THAT would be what a dragon snoring sounds like,” Twilight told them, looking up the mountain.

“I’m going to fly up there and check it out!” With the confidence of a suicide pilot, Rainbow began flying up towards the cave, but was thankfully stopped by a more realistic Applejack.

“I think we should all go up together. Safety in numbers and all.” The others nodded, and Midnight had to agree that it was the second smartest thing said today (the first was Fluttershy opting to go home).

“Oh, alright.” Rainbow huffed. As they made their way up the mountain, Twilight realized that somepony in their party was missing.

“Fluttershy?” They all began to search for the missing mare, then Rainbow called back down to where they had begun their climb.

“Hey, what are you waiting for!? An invitation!?”

“Ooo, I think I got one in my bag!” A second later Pinkie came back out of her saddle bags, confetti exploding out as she did so, nearly causing Rarity, AJ, and Twilight to lose their footing and scaring Rainbow and Midnight.

“It… it… it’s so… steep.”

“Well, it IS a cliff.” Rainbow huffed. “You could, oh, I don’t know, fly up here!?”

“Come on Fluttershy, you can do it! Flap those wings!” Pinkie called down. Her words of encouragement convinced the shy pegasus to start flapping, and in a moment she was airborne and heading towards the group.

*SNORE!*

Fluttershy’s wings snapped into her body and she fell back to where she started. “Uh! We don’t have time for this!” Midnight had had enough. She swooped down, grabbed the pegasus with all four legs, and began to fly back up.

“If carrying you all the way up this mountain gets this insanity done sooner, I’ll do it.” She warned her. Another loud snore and Fluttershy continued to be dead weight.

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Thankfully they were able to convince Fluttershy to stay conscious when they reached a place to rest for a minute. Getting her to move forward, however, took a bit more. Mainly, Applejack began to push her forwards until they reached a small gorge. It was small enough that the four non-flyers could just hop across. Of course, Fluttershy refused to move. “But… it’s so… wide!” Another snore assured her unwillingness to move.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of!” Pinkie told her. “It’s just a hop, skip, and jump!” With that, she began to sing a little tune, and it actually began to work. In a few moments Fluttershy was jumping across the gap.

“Just don’t look down!” Twilight called out. Midnight could have strangled both of them. At the words, Fluttershy, of course, looked down, freaked, and planted her front hooves on their side and her back hooves on the side they were just on. Rainbow, Pinkie, and Rarity pushed/pulled her the rest of the way.

“I hate my life; I really do.” Midnight moaned.

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A short while later they were away from the gorge and Fluttershy was FINALY moving under her own power. “Let’s keep it down.” Twilight whispered to them as they passed a tree. “My map says we’re entering an avalanche zone. The smallest peep could cause a huge rock slide!” Before Fluttershy could freak out both Midnight and Twilight shooshed her.

As the group made its way through the area, Midnight flew a bit further out over the drop, just in case there was an avalanche. They passed another tree and all seemed to be going well, until…

“AVALAN-!” Why Fluttershy freaked out they had no idea, but thankfully AJ had managed to stuff her hoof in the pegasus’ mouth before she could complete her scream. For a second, it seemed like no harm done, but then the ground started to rumble and again Midnight lamented her lot in life. As rocks came hurtling down, the rest of the group began running around, doing their best to avoid becoming pony pancakes. Rainbow flew in between the falling boulders (a mystery to Midnight as she could have just flew away from the side of the mountain) and Midnight used her fire to blow the smaller rocks out of the way and to change, at least somewhat, the direction of the bigger ones. Thankfully the ordeal lasted only a few seconds, and everypony made it out okay.

“Sorry.” Fluttershy mumbled.

“Aw, that’s alright Sugarcube.”

“Yeah, we’ll just… climb over it.” Twilight said, annoyance creeping into her voice. The group began climbing up when Midnight picked Rarity up and began to fly her over the debris pile.

“Midnight, what are you doing!? I can walk perfectly fine!”

“And add you complaining about your hooficure to Fluttershy’s… everything else? No thank you.”

“I am NOT going to complain!”

“So you’re saying that after walking through dust and rocks, you’re not going to say anything?” Rarity looked down at the debris.

“I’ll admit I may say something, but you don’t have to be so rude!”

“Sorry! My nice-o-meter ran dry over a half hour ago.” Midnight deposited the unicorn on the other side of the hill as the others made it down as well.

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Finally, much to everypony’s’ relief, they made it to the top. “Still think it was a good idea to bring Fluttershy along?” Rainbow asked Twilight, a sentiment Midnight agreed with.

“We’ll find out soon enough.” The group found itself in front of a giant cave. “We’re here.” She turned back to the group. “Rainbow Dash, you use your wings to clear the smoke.” Rainbow nodded, and then flew into the smoke cloud. “Rarity and Pinkie Pie, you’ll distract the dragon in case things get a little hairy in there.” They nodded, and Pinkie began swinging a rubber chicken, much to everypony’s’ confusion. “Applejack, you’re ready with the apples in case he decides to attack.” AJ bucked a couple into a nearby tree to show she was ready. Midnight silently scoffed. ‘Oh yes, apples, a dragon’s only weakness.’ “But it shouldn’t come to that, because Fluttershy and Midnight will do what they need to do to wake him up. And, between the three of us, we should be able to make him understand why he needs to go. Is everypony ready?” While the rest nodded, Midnight raised a hoof. “Yes?”

“What’s this ‘Fluttershy and Midnight’ and ‘between the three of us’ stuff you’re talking about?” Twilight frowned.

“Midnight, you and Fluttershy are our best chance! She knows how to handle wild animals, and you’re part dragon, so there’s a better chance he’ll see reason if you help explain.” Midnight snorted. “Okay,” Twilight turned towards the cave, “we’re going in!” Midnight begrudgingly followed the unicorn inside. “So,” Twilight asked when they were inside. “What is the best way to wake up a sleeping dragon without upsetting him?”

“Not wake him up?” Midnight offered. Twilight turned to make a rebuttal when she noticed somepony missing.

“Fluttershy?” Noticing their lack of a pegasus, Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on!” Outside they found the butter-yellow flyer with her face in the dirt in a poor attempt to hide. “Come on! We HAVE to do this!” Twilight pulled her out by the wing and began pushing her. Soon everypony but Midnight was trying, and failing, to push Fluttershy towards the cave entrance.

“I… I CAN’T go in the cave.” With that everypony dropped in defeat.

“Great, she’s scared of CAVES now too!” Rainbow moaned.

“I’m NOT scared of caves, I’m scared of *mumbles*.”

“What’s that Sugarcube?”

“I’m scared of *mumbles*.”

“What?”

“I’M SCARED OF DRAGONS!” *SNORE!* “Eep!”

“But Fluttershy, you have a wonderful talent dealing with all kinds of animals!”

“Yes, because they’re not DRAGONS.” Well, that at least explained why she always avoided Midnight.

“Oh, come on!” Rainbow yelled. “We’ve seen you walk right up to a horrible manticore like it was nothing!”

“Yes, because he wasn’t a DRAGON.”

“Spike is a dragon, and you’re not scared of him!” Pinkie offered.

“Yes, because he’s not a huge, gigantic, terrifying, enormous, teeth nashing, sharp scale having, horn wearing, smoke snoring, could eat a pony in one bite, totally all grown up dragon!” *SNORE!*

Twilight looked from her friend to the cave and back again. “But, if you’re so afraid of dragons, why didn’t you say anything before we got up here!?”

“I was afraid to.” Fluttershy said sheepishly.

“All of us are scared of that dragon.” AJ said, trying to help out.

“Not me.” Rainbow told them proudly.

“Almost all of us are scared of that dragon.” AJ corrected.

“The non-suicidal ones.” Midnight mumbled.

“But we’ve got a job to do. So, get in there with Twilight and show’em what you’re made of!” AJ and the others looked at her hopefully; praying the little speech had helped the pegasus.

“I… I… I just… can’t.”

“Oh, Fluttershy… I guess it’s just you and me Midnight.” Twilight said, turning back to the cave.

“Any chance I can join Flutters?” They all gave her damning stares. “Didn’t think so.” With that Midnight followed Twilight back inside.
“He… probably just doesn’t know what he’s doing… right?” Midnight nodded and the ones left outside agreed. Walking further in, Twilight called out “mister dragon,” then hit her head on his snout. Both she and Midnight backed up.

He was huge and Midnight guessed that if he stood up fully he’d hit his head on the high ceiling. He was blood red with a golden-yellow stomach, and smoke was pouring out of his nose. His giant spines looked about as long as his head. Twilight took a moment to compose herself, then continued. “Ex-excuse me, mister dragon.” The beast scratched itself, then its eyes flew open, focusing on the cause of the disturbance. “Oh, good, you’re awake. Please allow me to introduce myself; my name is Twilight-”

The dragon gave a massive yawn, spewing out the worst case of morning breath any of the mares, including Midnight, had ever smelled. “-Sparkle, and my friends and I are residence here in Equestria, Ponyville to be exact.” The dragon eyed the unicorn, then the ponies standing just outside the cave, then Midnight. He lingered longer on her than the black mare liked, but then turned his attention back to the purple unicorn. “We’ve come here to ask that you please find another spot to take your nap. It’s just, you seem to be doing an awful lot of snoring, and every time you do you send out a terrible cloud of smoke.” He snorted more smoke on her. “*cough* Equestria simply can’t survive a hundred years in a dark haze. You understand, don’t you?” The dragon got up, stretched, and scratched. ‘I honestly cannot believe that worked’ Midnight thought, relieved this crazy mission would actually be over with all limbs and lives intact. “So, you’ll find another place to sleep?” With that, the dragon flopped back down, causing the entire cave to shake, and blew another cloud of smoke into Twilight’s face. As she left the cave coughing, Midnight cautiously made her way forward.

“So, if, uh, you’re not going to leave, can I ask you a question then?” The dragon opened its eyes again and focused them on the Kirin. “You wouldn’t happen to know a dragon, well, wyvern,” the dragon’s eyes narrowed at this, “by the name of Windstorm, do you?” The dragon contemplated her for a minute, then gave her the same treatment as Twilight. Figuring any more attempts would be in vain, Midnight left the cave, and was passed by Rarity on her way inside. ‘And now we just pester him until he decides to eat us. How lovely!’

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“You know, being right surprisingly doesn’t make me feel any better!”

“Now’s not the time Midnight!” AJ yelled as they scurried away from the enraged reptile. Rarity had been close, but failed at the last second. Midnight had silently contemplated that her generosity could be replaced with another, more appropriate, G-word. Pinkie had gone next, saying that giving him a laugh would make him more reasonable. It had not. Finally, Rainbow had lost her cool, flew into the cave, and bucked the dragon square on the nose. Try telling Midnight now that the cyan pegasus didn’t have a death wish. That had also been the dragon’s last straw, and now he was emerging from the cave with a vengeance. With a roar, he was able to blast everypony, except Midnight who wasn’t frozen in fear, back into a rocky outcropping.

This was not good. All the way up here she’d warned them this would end badly, but of course nopony believed her, and now they were paying for it. But, as much as Midnight wanted to leave them to their self-inflicted fate… she just couldn’t. ‘There’s only one thing I can do, and I’d sooner let them find out I eat meat than do this… but… oh, BUCK IT!’ Steadying herself, Midnight concentrated, and blue flames began to lick around her hooves. Just as she was about to fully commit though, she heard a yell from off to her side.

“HOW DARE YOU!” Stopping whatever she was doing, Midnight looked to her left, and was amazed to see FLUTTERSHY staring down the dragon BY HERSELF. “LISTEN HERE, MISTER!” The pegasus flew up and landed on his nose. “JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE BIG DOESN’T MEAN YOU GET TO BE A BULLY!” Now she was right in his eye. Midnight could feel her jaw almost hitting the ground. “YOU MAY HAVE HUGE TEETH AND SHARP SCALES AND SNORE SMOKE AND BREATH FIRE, BUT YOU DO NOT, I REPEAT, YOU DO NOT! HURT! MY! FRIENDS!!! You got that?” Midnight just knew her jaw had not only hit the ground, but it was now currently burrowing through the mountain, and it only kept going when the dragon cringed in submission. A quick looked showed the others were slack-jawed in awe as well. “Well!?

“But… that rainbow one kicked me.” The dragon said in a deep, gravelly voice. And, like an idiot, Rainbow Dash nodded as if she was proud.

“I’m very sorry about that.” Fluttershy told him. “But you’re bigger than she is and you should know better! You should also know it’s bad to sleep were it could become a health hazard to other creatures!”

“But I-”

“Don’t you ‘but I’ me, mister! Now, what do you have to say for yourself?” *pause* “I said, what do you have to say for yourself!?” There was a pause, and then the dragon started CRYING. Midnight was sure… yep, her jaw had just hit the center of the earth and was still going.

“There, there; no need to cry,” Fluttershy told him when he was done. “You’re not a bad dragon, you just made a bad decision. Now, go pack your things. You just need to find a new place to sleep.”

Midnight registered nothing. Not everypony congratulating Fluttershy, not the dragon leaving, not a single thing. “Uh, Midnight? You okay there pard’ner?” As Applejack poked her, she simply fell over.

“Ugh! Please don’t tell me we need to carry her down now!” Rainbow moaned.

-------------------------

Derpy had been part of the pegasi group in charge of clearing the skies of smoke, but now that it was done she could go back home and enjoy some muffins with her little muffin. As she turned a corner though she saw Midnight walking by with a dazed look about her. “Hey Midnight! How you doin’?”

“Fluttershy… dragon… crying…” was all the answer she got as Midnight kept walking.

Ch.7 - Poisoned Stripes

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In the time since she’d first arrived, Midnight had rarely ventured into town. During those times she’d seen a good number of ponies going about their daily business of selling, buying, or transporting goods. Those trips into town had been mostly necessary, either for buying groceries, supplies, or the poker game she and her friends had. This trip into town today, however, was for pleasure. She had finally gotten tired of homemade celery-and-mayo sandwiches and the occasional piece of meat so she was heading into town to see if anything in the stalls or restaurants piqued her interest.

As she made her way to the market area however, she saw almost nopony in the streets, and those that were out quickly made their way back inside. Briefly, Midnight thought it was because of her and her pace slowed. Sure, Twilight and her friends, along with Derpy, Berry, and Lyra, all liked and trusted her, but it wasn’t like the whole town wanted to be her friend. She still got stares when she came to the market although they were more cautiously curious than fearful or resentful. Most stall keeps were nice to her but that was probably because she came bearing bits. Ponies also tended to give her a wide birth as well. It wasn’t her idea of an ideal situation, but it was better than ponies running away from her screaming or trying to drive her out of town.

When she finally reached the market area, she noticed Twilight and Spike jumping into Sugarcube Corner with the door slamming shut behind them. Now she knew something was up. For the first ponies (well, pony and dragon) who got to know her to be hiding from her like this… what if they had found out she ate meat? She began to move to the bakery when she heard somepony calling her.

“Midnight, are you crazy!? Get in here!” Turning her head, she saw Berry motioning her to come into her store. She changed direction and hustled inside, following Berry’s motions to move quickly. Once she was in, Berry slammed the door shut and locked it.

For a normal pony, it would have taken several minutes for their eyes to adjust to the darkness. Midnight, with her dragon eyes, had no such problem. Inside with her and Berry were Pinchy, Derpy, Dinky, Lyra, Derpy’s roommate and friend Carrot Top and, finally, Bon Bon, Lyra’s marefriend.

“Would somepony like to explain things?” Midnight asked the group. “Starting with why you all are in Berry’s shop in the dark?”

“We’re hiding from her!” Berry pointed out the window and Midnight went over to look. Outside was a pony in a cloak, one very much like what Midnight was wearing when she first came to town, who was pawing at the ground with her hoof. “Her name’s Zecora and she lives in the Everfree Forest!

Midnight raised an eyebrow. “And…?”

“And she’s a witch!” Lyra exclaimed.

“I think Lyra got into your good stuff Berry.”

HEY!” Lyra and Bon Bon yelled.

SHHH!” Everypony except Midnight said in reply.

“On the first hoof, Lyra can’t get into my good stuff; not anymore any way. On the second, this isn’t one of Lyra’s crazy conspiracy theories; it’s a fact!” Berry told her.

“I’m not crazy!”

“You can be sometimes,” Bon Bon told her.

“Anyway,” Berry spoke up again, trying to steer the conversation back to its original point. “Zecora comes into town once about every month or so, curses a stall or business, then heads back into the forest!”

“And, how does she curse them?” a still skeptical Midnight asked.

“She curses them by pawing at the ground in front of their shops and she probably says incantations too!” Derpy spoke up, her front hooves wrapped protectively around Dinky.

“And, have you heard her say anything?”

“Why in Equestria would we get that close!?” Carrot asked, some anger mixing into her answer. Neither Bon Bon or Carrot Top had really accepted Midnight. From the moment they’d been introduced both mares had been intimidated by the Kirin and weren’t pleased that their friends and loved ones were associating with her.

“Because then you’d see there’s nothing to worry about.” Midnight said coolly. “It’s impossible to cast a spell, curse, or hex without a horn.” The pony named Zecora had turned around and Midnight got a good look at her face. “And even so, a horn doesn’t instantly mean magical ability.”

“But she lives in the Everfree Forest, and that place isn’t natural, so it’s obvious she isn’t either!” Bon Bon pointed out.

“I live and work on the border of the Everfree!”

“That might explain a few things.” Bon Bon muttered.

“Will you stop that Bon!?” Lyra whispered angrily. “Midnight’s a great pony; I don’t see why you have to act this way!”

“Dragons are dangerous, and she’s half one! Next thing you know you’ll be inviting that Zecora over for a coffee!” As the two mares dissolved into arguing, Midnight looked over at Carrot Top.

“Anything to add?”

“Just don’t come around the house.” Midnight snorted and turned back to the window. After a minute Berry joined her.

“I know their favorite drinks; I’ll spike the prices on them.”

“Don’t bother Berry; I’ve had worse reactions, and besides… is that Applejack’s younger sister sneaking out of Sugarcube Corner?” Berry followed where she was looking, and sure enough a little yellow filly was out the front door of the bakery and following Zecora down the street.

“Has that filly gone insane!?” Berry’s outcry stopped the argument, which had sucked Derpy and the fillies in as well, and the rest ran to the window.

“Sweet Celestia, that filly’s going to get hurt!” Carrot Top wailed as Midnight brushed past her.

“I’ll get her, and hopefully stop this stupidity.” With that Midnight slipped out the door, slamming it behind her. Bon Bon let out a sigh.

“Finally. I honestly don’t understand how you tolerate such a thing; and around foals, too!”

“Bon Bon?”

“Hm?”

“That wine you like is thirty bits now.” There was a pause.

WHAT!?

-------------------------

Apple Bloom ducked behind another bush. She’d followed Zecora all the way from Sugarcube Corner to prove to her sister and everypony else that she was brave enough to do things on her own and that Zecora wasn’t a bad pony. Just like that Midnight her older siblings had told her about; supposedly she was even bigger than Big Mac. She’d never seen Midnight since she hardly came into town but AJ told her she lived near the school. So, maybe, she’d get to see the large pony for herself once school started.

Before the filly knew it they were at the edge of the Everfree and Zecora was walking right in. Once she was far enough down the path, Apple Bloom came out and readied herself. ‘I can do this, I can do this, I can-’ “Hey, your name’s Apple Bloom, right?”

“YIPE!” If Big Mac had been there the filly could have easily jumped over him. Spinning around, she came face-to-face with a black mare with dragon eyes who looked about as tall as her brother. “Who’re you!?”

“I’m Midnight Storm and your sister has told me about you.” Midnight smiled, making sure her fangs weren’t showing.

“YOU’RE the mare mah sister was talkn’ about!?” Midnight nodded, then her gaze went over the filly and down the path.

“Right now might not be the best time for getting to know one another. I figure we’re trying to talk to the same mare?”

“Oh, that’s right!” Apple Bloom hit herself on the head. “We gotta catch up to her!” Apple Bloom made to start running, but Midnight stopped her with a hoof on her tail.

“We’ll catch up to her together.” Midnight told her as she let go. “I won’t have a filly running around unsupervised in this forest if I can help it. There are a lot of dangers in here.”

Apple Bloom, now trotting beside the larger mare, looked up at her. “Yeah… um… we don’t need to talk about them.”

A small smirk formed on Midnight’s lips. It was nice that a filly was willing to go into the forest to help somepony, but she also needed to weigh the dangers a bit better. “Surely you’ve heard about Timber Wolves, and Manticores, and-”

“I know, I know! The forest is a dangerous place! But if Zecora can live in it and if you can work in it,” the filly gave her a smile, “then sure as apples it must be safe sometimes.” Midnight sighed. Yes, she worked in it, but she could handle herself against such dangers. Timber wolves at least were afraid of fire, being made up of wood and all, but manticores were harder to intimidate, and with a filly around they would just need to distract her long enough…

Thankfully the path seemed safe enough for now, and soon they were, slowly, catching up to the shadowy mare. Further in they began passing by clumps and patches of bright blue plants, and Midnight picked one for a better look. ‘Looks kind of like a sapphire.’ She gave it a few sniffs, then, deciding it smelled alright, she went to bite off a leaf. Thankfully, fate had other plans.

“APPLE BLOOM!” All three ponies jumped and spun around. Behind them were AJ, Rainbow, Pinkie, Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy. “YOU GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW!” Before anypony could say or do anything, an unfamiliar voice spoke up.

“Beware! Beware you pony folk! Those leaves of blue are not a joke!”

“Y-You keep your creepy mumbo-jumbo to yerself, ya’ hear!?” AJ called back, sliding Apple Bloom onto her back. The other ponies also called back to Zecora but talking all at once made what they were saying indiscernible. “ And YOU TWO!” AJ began again. “Midnight, how could you just let my sis follow you in here!? It’s dangerous!” Before Midnight could say anything AJ turned on her sister. “And why couldn’t YOU listen to your big sister! Who knows what kind of nasty curse Zecora just put on you!?”

“Seriously? You guys too?” Midnight was finally able to talk, although Pinkie singing something forced her to be louder than necessary. “She can’t perform magic of any kind unless she has a horn, which she doesn’t!

“And there’s no such thing as curses!” Twilight yelled, siding with Midnight. “It’s all smoke and mirrors, meant to scare!” Midnight snorted and moved forward.

“I’m also not happy with you guys about how you’re treating her either!” The other mares looked at her with confusion.

“Midnight, she’s evil!” Rainbow yelled.

WHY!?” Midnight roared, her temper suddenly flaring. “Because she lives away from ponies!? Because she’s rarely in town!? Because she looks different!? Oh wait, maybe I’m talking about somepony else!” Midnight pushed past them as she walked back down the path. Realizing they said something wrong, they followed after her.

“Midnight, we weren’t saying anything about you.” Fluttershy said quietly. The recent encounter with the dragon had left her somewhat less afraid of the large mare.

“Yes darling, we’re not saying you two are the same at all!” Rarity told her but Midnight wouldn’t hear any of it.

“Then tell me,” Midnight snarled, “one time that Zecora has actually done something evil. Just once and I’ll believe you.”

“She curses the stores and stalls!” AJ yelled.

“And what proof do you have?” Midnight countered.

“Nopony goes near them afterwards!”

“Because you think she cursed them which makes you stay away! No curse there, just superstitious nonsense!”

“She lives in the Everfree Forest!” Fluttershy eeped.

“I live and work on the edge of it!” Midnight had a feeling of déjà vu.

“Well, what is she hiding under that cloak? We can already see those dreadful stripes!” Rarity moaned.

I wore a cloak into town and you didn’t bother me about it!” Rainbow was about to say something, but Midnight slammed her tail into the ground. “Tell me ONE THING that is different between me and Zecora! ONE THING that makes you trust ME but fear HER!” She looked at each and every one of them daring them to say anything.

“Well, you just seem so much more friendly than she does!” Pinkie said, a smile returning to her face. Any argument Midnight was about to make died in her throat.

“But… but how could you possibly think I was friendlier? I yelled at you and threw you out of my house the first day I got here!” Pinkie nodded.

“Yes, but you just seemed so down in the dumps that I knew you didn’t mean it!” Midnight could’ve argued that, but she let Pinkie continue. “And after we all apologized you got happy and became our friend, like I knew you would!” Pinkie’s smile fell. “That Zecora, on the other hoof, never smiles and just has this mean look all the time! Who would want to hang out with a pony like that!? And how else can she defend herself in the forest without evil, enchantress-y magic?” Pinkie waved her hooves in front of her face to emphasize her point.

“Ah gotta agree with Pinkie on this one,” AJ spoke up. “Ya just seem really approachable compared with… her!” Applejack shivered, shaking Apple Bloom. “And y’all are part dragon! The forest shouldn’t be a problem fur ya.” The four others agreed.

“Midnight, darling, we’re sorry that what we said offended you, but we really don’t find you scary. Her on the other hoof…” Rarity shivered and another round of agreements went up. Midnight sighed. She wasn’t angry anymore, not after what they just said, but she still knew the whole situation was wrong.

“Thank you for that… I really mean it but this is still all wrong. You all know me because Twilight decided to get to know me. If she didn’t, can any of you honestly say that you would have tried after that?” One by one, each of them dropped their heads, ashamed that the truth was they wouldn’t have. “And that’s why the first thing I’m doing tomorrow morning is coming back out here and try to talk with her again, pony to pony. She at least deserves that much.”

“Actually she’s a zebra.” Twilight corrected.

The others looked at each other. “Alright Midnight, but Ah’m warning you: some things that seem like pony tales really are true.” With that the group began heading back to town.

-------------------------

Midnight awoke the next morning from a restless sleep. She’d been having nightmares again, most likely brought on from the previous day’s events. Her wings felt weird as if she’d slept on them wrong, and her fur felt different and hung down over her eyes. “Ugh, this is going to be a fun day.” She’d long since learned to power through her morning sleepiness and slid out of bed with few bodily complaints. However, before she could get to her bathroom, built further into the mountain and attached to her room, she heard the muffled pounding of somepony at the side door. She turned around and left her room yelling, “I’m coming!” hoping they’d quit hitting the door. When she opened it, Berry and Derpy were standing there.

“Hey Midnight, we just wanted to apologize…?” Berry stared at her friend in the door way, her apology dying in her throat.

Midnight tilted her head. “Are you alright there, Berry?” Berry continued to stare at her, but Derpy had a grin spreading across her face.

“SHE’S SO FLUFFY!”

-------------------------

“I don’t believe this,” Midnight moaned as she, Berry, and Derpy made their way into town towards Twilight’s library. Berry was convinced of two things: Zecora had indeed placed a curse on Midnight and Twilight Sparkle was the only one who could figure out a cure. Derpy, on the other hoof, was preoccupied with…something else.

“SHE’S SO FLUFFY!” she yelled again from where she was locked to Midnight’s side. Apparently the ‘curse’ had caused Midnight’s fur to grow so much that she now resembled a large puff ball with an equally poufy tail and her wings had shrunk to the point you could barely see them under the fur.

“That’s what you get for ignoring us.” Berry told her, a bit of smug in her voice.

“Berry, for the last time, she didn’t curse me!”

“Then how do you explain… this!?”

“I. Don’t. Know! But I can tell you that all she said was a warning, not a curse! Right now I’m just happy that it’s still early enough that nopony else is likely to see me like this.” The group continued along and soon they were outside the library. Oddly enough the door was already open and there were several signs of impact around the door. Looking nervously at each other, they stepped up to the door and looked inside.

I-I don’t want to talk about it.” In that short moment Midnight forgot about her own problems and did her best to suppress a laugh. Fluttershy, the meek, soft-spoken pegasus, had just talked with a deep, husky voice. Given what had happened with the dragon, Midnight had made a mental note to not do anything that would upset her, but what just happened was just too funny. Both she and Spike dissolved into fits of laughter, alerting the rest of the group, all of which had different things wrong with them.

“This is hilarious! We’ve got: Hairity, Rainbow Crash, Spitie Pie, Appletinie, Flutterguy, Twilight Flopple, and… eh… I got nothin’. Midnight Storm? Seriously, I can’t even work with that!” That got Midnight to stop laughing. While Twilight reprimanded Spike, Berry leaned over to Midnight.

“Zecora’s pretty powerful to do all this…” Midnight chose to ignore her.

“Ah see Zecora got you too, Midnight.” After a second of searching Midnight found the tiny Applejack that had spoken to her on the center table. “Ah warned ya, but Ah’ve gotta admit ya look a lot more friendly as a ball of fluff.”

“SHE’S SO FLUFFY!”

“Alright, that’s it! Derpy, would you PLEASE get off of me!? It’s embarrassing and what if Dinky saw you!?” Sheepishly the grey pegasus let go of the Kirin.

“Sorry,” she said with an equally sheepish grin.

“I think we’ll find the cure to this curse at Zecora’s place!” Rainbow had finally freed herself from the ladder she’d been stuck in and was ready for action, despite the fact that she was still flailing with her upside down wings.

“Ah agree with Dash.” AJ said, walking as close to the group as the table she was on would allow. “We’ll go to Zecora’s and make her remove this hex!”

“It’s not a curse or a hex!” Twilight yelled. As the group descended into arguing, Berry leaned over to Midnight.

“Well, if you guys are all heading back into the forest, I’m heading back to the store.” With that Berry left, leaving behind Derpy who had a guilty smile on. Realizing what she wanted, Midnight took a bracing sigh.

“Yes Derpy, you can hug me one more time.” The grey pegasus instantly impacted her.

“YOU’RE SO FLUFFY!”

“Yes, I’m a regular puff ball. Now get back to your mail route.” Derpy nodded and happily flew away. Unseen to both of them, Apple Bloom had snuck out past them during the hug. As Midnight turned back to the group she was immediately assaulted by Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie, what are you DOING!?” she yelled at the pink mare as she searched her fur.

“Applejack’s missing!” Rainbow told her. “You didn’t step or sit on her, did you!?”

“No, I think I would have felt that, or if she was in my fur!” Midnight finally succeeded in pushing Pinkie away.

“Apple Bloom is gone too!” Twilight noted.

“I bet they went after Zecora!” Rainbow said darkly. With that, the six ponies headed out the door to chase after their friends. Only Spike stayed behind, supposedly to try and find a cure.

“Fluffy Storm… Midnight Puff…?”

“You’re hilarious.”

Spike jumped and spun around, a guilty look on his face. “M-Midnight! I thought you were going with the others!”

“Somehow I get the feeling they won’t need me to make fools of themselves. Besides, you’re telling me Twilight read all these books and not one had a cure?”

“Well,” Spike shuffled his feet, “there is one she kinda refused to read.” Taking said book off the podium, he held it up for Midnight to read.

Super Naturals: Natural Remedies and Cure-alls That Are Simply Super.”

“Yeah, she couldn’t make it past the first part.”

Midnight rolled her eyes. “For somepony who’s Celestia’s personal student she sure doesn’t act like the sharpest tool in the shed.” At that she began leafing through the pages. After a few minutes she let out a cry of triumph.

“What is it!?”

“I just found an illustration of those blue plants we ran into yesterday! Let’s see here;

Poison Joke:

A distant relative of Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac, this plant infects ponies, not with an itchy rash, but odd magic that seems to have effects specific to individuals. Normal bathing and flushing of oneself has no affect as it is magic, not oils, that causes the ailments. Only soaking in a special blend of ingredients will alleviate oneself of the effects of this plant. Ingredients are listed below.”

“Wait, so there really is a cure for all this?” Spike asked hopefully.

“Yep, and from the looks of it most, if not all the ingredients can be found in town.” Midnight put the book down. “Come on Spike; we’re going shopping!”

-------------------------

“You know Daisy, I’m actually kind of surprised you let us in so quick.” Twilight noted as she paid her. “I figured the moment you saw us you’d run inside and lock the door.”

“Well,” the dark pink earth pony started nervously, “we kind of still wanted to when we saw you with… her,” she indicated Zecora, “but that new pony in town, Midnight Storm, she came in with Spike and explained what had happened to all of you. They showed me a book to prove it, as well as what they needed to fix it.”

“Wait, Spike and Midnight were already here!?” Twilight yelled.

“Yeah, they said they were heading to the spa with everything since they have such a large bath there.”

They thanked Daisy and quickly exited the store.

-----------------------------

*Bang*

“Velcome to die Spa-”

“Lotus!” Twilight interrupted, “are Midnight and Spike still here!?”

“Does Midnight look normal!?” Rarity added.

“Oh, ja! Zey are still here. Und ja, Midnight looks yust like her alt self. Ve must simply get zie recipe from her; it’s simply lucjurious!”
Lotus led them around the back to the large soaking tub. In it was Spike with happy and calm look on his face. Aloe was there as well, adding ingredients every once and a while.

“This is the life,” he said.

“Spike!”

“Oh, hey Twilight! You’re just in time; the cure’s all ready!”

“That’s great, but where’s-?” In answer to her interrupted question Midnight erupted out of the bath and clung to the side; her cured wings opening and closing lazily.

“Oh babies did I miss you.” They all stared at her. “Oh, hey Twilight; it’s about time you got here.”

“Why didn’t you come after us when you found out the cure!?” the unicorn demanded.

“I figured that either you’d come to your senses and ask Zecora for help, or she’d get fed up with how you were acting and kick you out. Either way, I get to laugh at a bookworm for judging the cover of a book.” Midnight pointed a wing at her. “Ha ha.”

“Oh, shut up and move over!”

-------------------------

The group of afflicted ponies spent a good half hour soaking in the large bath, enjoying their bodies returning to normal. More than once, Midnight flapped her once again large wings and even let Lotus comb her mane, now that it wasn’t a thick mess.

They all said their goodbyes after the treatment was over, wanting to get back to a normal routine after the day they had. On the way home Midnight stopped back at the flower shop and picked up a large glass case. When she got home with it, she immediately went into the living room and over to the window above the couch.

“Hehe… turns out you were the cause of all this ruckus.” On the sill was the bright blue plant she’d picked, and almost eaten, the day before, replanted in a bowl. Carefully, she slid the bowl onto the bottom of the case, then placed the lid over it, trapping the Poison Joke inside. Balancing the case with her wing claws, she brought the plant into her room and placed it on a shelf over her bed that had been carved out of the rock wall. She made sure to place it all the way in the back of the shelf so that it wouldn’t accidently tip over and out of the shelf. “In any case, next time Rainbow and Pinkie decide to plant a few fake trees, I’ll make sure they’re repaid in kind.”

Ch.8 - A Royal Intrusion

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*Thwack!*
*Thwack!*
*Thwack!*

With three last swings of her tail Midnight finished off her second tree of the day and began to bundle the last of the logs she’d just chopped. Summer was nearing its end, calendar-wise anyway, and ponies would soon be coming to her home to buy wood to help keep warm this winter. She also had a special pile set aside just for herself. She’d taken two logs from each tree she’d cut down for herself, and now she had a nice size pile near the side door. If it came down to it she’d sell wood from her own pile as well, but the huge amount of bundles near the shed under many blue tarps looked like it might support her through the winter and into early spring at least.

She frowned as she thought of having all that product just sitting outside like that. The tarps helped keep most of the rain off the wood, but rain water could still get in under the tarps if the wind blew right, and she was sure some of the bottom bundles were already ruined. Another worry was that if a pony needed some wood, what was to stop them sneaking around back and swiping what they needed and maybe some extra to sell themselves? Then she’d have to be out every day in the cold and sell as much wood as she could freshly cut. That idea did not appeal to her, especially after slaving all summer.

She looked up at the cliff and decided she could dig into the side some more to make a store house. That would take several days of dedicated digging to get done; days which she needed to cut up more wood. She let out a long, tired sigh as a result of realizing there was now a lot more work to do thanks to her poor planning.

She took a bite of the cinnamon muffin she had with her as a snack and was about to head back into the forest for another tree when she heard a soft cheeping noise above her. Looking up she saw what looked like a colorful tennis ball with four insect wings and small legs descend from the sky and hover right in front of her. “Hello there little guy. Where did you come from?” The bug chirped happily, then noticed Midnight’s muffin back on her work bench. “Oh, you hungry?” She turned back and was about to pull a small piece off for it when the bug flew up and ate the whole thing in one bite. Midnight felt her jaw drop. Something smaller than her eye had just swallowed almost a whole muffin.

Then it started making choking sounds. “Ha! Maybe that will teach you not to try and eat something like that!” Instead of falling to the ground, the winged insect coughed up a blue ball roughly the same size as itself, then began buzzing happily again, as if nothing had happened. On top of that, before the blue ball could start falling towards the ground it became another bug. Midnight snorted. “Nice trick.” She was glad that she didn’t have any more food outside, and that she’d left the windows closed. Figuring that would be the end of it she made to head back to her work when a series of pink-ish-purple hoops began flying around her and the strange insects stiffened up. The pulsing went on for a few moments, then stopped. The bugs stayed still, a look of confusion on their faces, then they began to move towards an unwrapped bundle near the work bench. Figuring that the hoops had done something to them, she watched to make sure they landed on the pile okay before heading back out. But, instead of landing on the wood, they stopped in mid-air a few inches away. She was about to go over and see if something was wrong when both bugs grabbed one log each and ate them.

“HEY!!” Midnight leaped over and scattered the two insects away from the pile, placing herself between the bugs and the wood. A couple of spit-ups later and she now had four of them to deal with. They buzzed all around her, looking for an opening to the wood. Midnight made sure to head off each attempt, occasionally sending out a small jet of flame to keep them back. She also noticed that if she kept flapping her wings that the smaller creatures would be blown back a bit.

She held up against the assault for twenty more minutes, and to her credit only lost two more logs. Unfortunately her wings were becoming tired and her throat was starting to become sore with the almost constant stream of fire emanating from it. She caught one with the flat side of her tail, sending it flying towards town, but it left an opening for one of the others. Just as it was about to swallow the log it dove in on, it, and all the rest of the bugs, froze.

They all could hear music from what sounded like a marching band coming from around the center of town. To Midnight’s amazement, the bugs began to bob and sway to the music and then began to follow it to its source, leaving her and her wood behind. Midnight followed them around front and watched them leave until she lost sight of them. “Um… okay.” Deciding to shake off the last half hour as a weird, random event, the Kirin went back to her logs and fixed up the bundles, using wood from her personal pile to replace the ones lost to the bugs.

-------------------------

The rest of the day had been uneventful. After the strange bugs had left Midnight had felled another tree and had gotten most of it done. It was dusk and only about three lengths of tree were left to cut into logs. As she was deciding on whether to finish them now or wait until morning, the bell above the back door rang. Back when she first opened the shop Midnight had set a wire from the front door to the bell above the side door to let her know there were customers in the front while she was working in the back.

With a weary smile Midnight headed in the side door and towards the front. In it were two pegasi mares, both observing the inside with casual interest. The mare closest to the counter was white with a pink mane and tail, magenta eyes, and a simple sun cutie mark. The other mare was a powder blue with a dark blue, almost black, mane and tail, brilliant orange eyes, and her cutie mark looked like a gem in the shape of a pegasus wing. She also had a set of saddle bags on, as well as a soft smile that seemed to Midnight to always have been there.

“Hello. Can I get you anything?” Midnight asked, taking her place behind the counter next to the register.

The white mare seemed to study her a bit, then smiled and trotted up.“Hi, my name is Sunny Skies and this is my friend Sapphire Breeze. We don’t need any wood, but we do have some things to discuss with you. Sapphire?”

Midnight’s smile fell and she looked over at the blue mare, who had begun digging into her bags. “And what do you need to talk about exactly?” When Midnight looked back towards the mare she was speaking with, she was no longer there.

“Just a few important things.”

Looking to her right she saw the mare had lifted up the gate to behind the counter and was opening the door to the kitchen. “HEY!” Midnight lunged towards her, but she slipped inside before she could tackle her. As she turned into the doorway, the other pegasus came up behind her. In a flash Midnight had whipped her tail and pinned the mare against the wall, the edge of her tail blade only a few inches away from her throat. “I don’t know who either of you are and I really don’t care! Right now the both of you are leaving, or else I’m giving your friend here some permanent marks!” Midnight let her tail blade slip closer to Sapphire’s throat.

Sunny watched this, her eyes fearful, yet determined at the same time. “I will tell you what’s going on, but first you have to release Sapphire; I doubt you want blood on your hooves.”

“Who says I don’t already?” Midnight snarled.

Sunny raised an eyebrow. “Do you?”

Midnight continued to stare at her, then she pulled her tail away, allowing Sapphire to drop to the floor.

Sunny rushed over to help her friend up, but Sapphire waved her away.

“I’m fine your High- Sunny. No harm done.” Sapphire still had on the soft smile she had when she walked in, although some pain did leak into it.

“Good, now you can both leave.”

The pegasi turned to see Midnight watching them intently. “I thought I was telling you what was going on?”

“I don’t want to hear it. I want you OUT.” Midnight held her fighting stance, ready to throw both of them out forcibly if necessary.

Sunny looked at Sapphire, then back to Midnight. “I guess I have no choice then.” Suddenly the room was filled with a blinding light, as if the sun itself had entered the kitchen.

Midnight and Sapphire shielded their eyes with their wings, but Midnight hadn’t been prepared for the blast of light, and her eyes stung from the brief pain it had caused. When the light finally began to fade she was able to open her eyes again, although she has to keep blinking the pain and tears away. When they had both gone away, Midnight continued to blink, this time out of shock. As her mind finally caught up with her, she hit the floor in a hurried bow. One didn’t need to see the golden crown, breast plate, and slippers to recognize the alabaster alicorn now standing in front of her in place of where Sunny Skies had been.

“P-P-Princess Celestia! Please forgive me! I-I didn’t know!” There were two reasons why Midnight knew this was the real Princess Celestia and not a fake or an illusion. The first and obvious reason was that pegasi couldn’t use magic. That is, they couldn’t use magic that allowed them to conjure illusions or transform themselves. The second reason was the powerful magic Midnight could feel radiating off her now that her disguise was lifted. She had felt it once before when she was still just a filly back in Manehattan. The princess’s procession had gone by her house, and even from five stories above the street Midnight had felt the magical power emanating from the alicorn that she simply didn’t feel in unicorns, who were as much dead zones to her as she was to them.

Now she was feeling that power again, only this time it was right next to her. She began to shiver as she heard the tapping of the slippers on the laminate floor come near her. She’d attacked the pony that was very likely the princess’s aid and had threatened them both. Midnight knew she must be furious with her and could smite her at any moment. The tapping stopped in front of her.

“Rise, my little pony; you’ve done nothing wrong. I was the one who entered your home without asking, though I hadn’t guessed you’d be so hostile to it.” Midnight slowly looked up at the white alicorn, surprised that the princess was apologizing to her. She was equally surprised to see her actually smiling down at her. She got up slowly, and even then still shrank away from the pony standing before her.

“W-What can I do for you, your majesty?” she asked nervously.

“As I said before, I’d just like to talk. Before we begin, however, how about something to drink? You wouldn’t happen to have any tea, would you?”

Midnight hesitated, then shook her head. “N-No, your highness, but I can run out and get-!” She was silenced by a raised, gold-clad hoof.

“No need; whatever you have will be fine I’m sure.”

“Well, a-all I have is some iced tea, apple juice, and coffee at the moment. Are you sure I can’t run out to get you some tea?” Midnight held hope that the princess would give her an excuse to leave, but she simply shook her head.

“I’ll have an iced tea, if that’s alright.”

“O-Of course!” Midnight practically leapt around her toward the fridge.

“I’d like some apple juice, please.” Sapphire had finally spoken up.

“Right.” She quickly poured the two drinks, then set them down on the table and offered them to sit down. Celestia seated herself on the cushion at the head of the table opposite Midnight and Sapphire took the seat closest to the front door. As they sat Midnight set the percolator on the stove and turned the heat on. “I’ll make some coffee as well, just in case you’re interested, your highness.” The stutter in her voice was gone, but Midnight was still scared. Why was the princess in her home? What did she want with her? Did somepony accuse her of being dangerous or the like?

“I suppose we should start with why I’m here.” Princess Celestia started as Midnight sat down. “As you know, Twilight Sparkle is my current student, and she writes reports to me about her findings on the magic of friendship. About one-and-a-half months ago she sent me a letter saying that a kirin had just recently moved into town. You can imagine my surprise when I read that, not having seen hide or hair of one in almost 1,500 years.” Midnight’s ears perked up at this.

“Are… are kirins really so rare?” A small frown appeared on the princess’s face.

“Before that time there was almost thirty kirin living within Equestrian society, but I feel that the story of what happened to them should wait for another time.” Midnight nodded then sat back, realizing that she’d leaned forward in anticipation. “What I DO want to talk about is, quite frankly, YOU.”

Midnight gulped and shrank further down in her seat. “W-Why would you want to talk about me, your highness?”

Celestia smiled. “My sister Luna and I were very good friends with the kirins of the time; some we almost considered family. After their disappearance Luna and I promised ourselves that we would one day befriend the next generation of kirins, when, if ever, more were found, and do our best to not let history repeat itself.”

Midnight seemed to calm down slightly at this. “So… what do you want me to tell you?”

Celestia took a long sip of her drink. “How about you start with whatever you’re comfortable with, and then I’ll ask questions I think are important?”

Slowly, Midnight nodded in agreement with the idea. “Well, I guess the best place to start, the only place to start really, is in Manehattan. It’s where I was born and grew up, and it’s the place I stayed for the first couple of months of this journey of mine.” She got up and poured herself some coffee.

“Can you tell us what made you start such a thing?” Celestia asked her as she sat back down.

Midnight didn’t look up from her mug.

“There… was a fight. I didn’t want to stay anymore, although I’m regretting it now.” She took a swig of her drink. “From there I went to Filly Delphia for a time, then I went to Baltimare, Vanhoover, and other cities. I figured that since small towns like this one were so tight nit, cities were places I could just disappear into. I was always a freelancer of odd jobs, learning a bit here and there from books, on the job, or even working alongside professionals who just needed an extra hoof for a day.” She took another swig. “Eventually I even ended up leaving Trottingham, and since I was out of cities at that point, I decided on Ponyville. For the record I long ago decided against Canterlot because I saw it as an even worse place than Manehattan, in terms of high society anyway.”

Celestia nodded and Midnight finished her drink. “Twilight wrote to me that you told her you were run out of all the places you lived at before coming to Ponyville. Is that really true? I’m surprised word about you never seemed to spread, as is usually the case with such things.”

Midnight’s ears drooped, about the only part of her that hadn’t so far. “Well… ‘run out’ might be a bit too literal a term in my case. Whenever somepony found out what I really was I always got one of two reactions: screaming and running away in fear, or trying to ‘defend’ themselves and attack me. Either way, I always packed up and left as soon as I could afterwards, which usually was that very night. I knew that if I stayed ponies would be both scared and hostile towards me and they’d want nothing to do with me. I’d never get a job in there again, so what was the point of staying?” The kirin continued to stare into her coffee mug after she finished talking. “My father hid at home with me while I was still a foal. Both he and my mother agreed that ponies would be fearful, even hostile, towards us and now I can attest they were right.” Midnight got up and filled her mug again. “I assume that word of me never spread because only one pony at a time would ever see me fully exposed, and then who would believe them? They’d think the pony was just drunk or crazy.”

Silenced reigned in the kitchen for some time.

“Midnight… I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that.”

Midnight looked up. Sapphire’s face had shock and sadness in it, but it was the princess’s face that shocked her. Princess Celestia looked liked somepony had just kicked her in the gut. “I would have thought fifteen hundred years would have changed the ponies of Equestria for the better. It’s obvious I was wrong.” Celestia said the second part in a whisper, but Midnight was still able to pick it up.

Before she could ask her what she meant, Celestia said, “You said you spent at least several months in each place. How were you able to convince ponies that you were… um…”

“Normal?”

“For the lack of a better term, yes, how were you able to convince them that you were ‘normal’?”

“*sigh *My father was a very large earth pony, I had a magical accident when I was a filly that left a hair-line crack in my horn which made it impossible for me to use magic, the same accident changed my eyes and scared my sides, which is why I wore a cloak, and I had some memory loss which is why I can’t remember which spell I was attempting,” Midnight rattled off, her tone betraying how many times she’d told ponies this particular lie. They all sat in silence for a time, it only breaking after Midnight refilled their drinks.

“It wasn’t all bad though, if I have to be honest.” The other two looked up. “I learned how to do a lot of things on my own, for one. I got to see and live in almost all the cities of Equestria, and I even got to see my favorite band, The Beach Colts, in concert while I was living in Baltimare.”

“Really!?” Midnight and Celestia looked over at Sapphire, who now looked embarrassed. “I’m a really big fan of theirs. Can I ask you which song is your favorite?” Midnight’s look of surprise gave way to one of concentration.

“Hmm… Do It Again, I guess. Baltimare Girls is a close second.” Sapphire nodded.

“I really love Kokomo. I’ve lived in Cloudsdale all my life and I’ve always wanted to visit a tropical island. Are there any other artists you like?”

“I like Bob Marely and Stallions At Work.”

“Not Sapphire Shores?” she asked.

“Not really. Maybe a song or two, but that’s about it.” Midnight raised an eyebrow. “Do you like her?”

“About as much as you do. Ponies figure I’d like her more because we share a name.”

“Speaking of music, I hear an artist is planning to make a song for Trotting King’s novel Rainbow Factory. I’m really looking forward to that.” Midnight told them.

“I’ve read one of his novels before.” Celestia said. “Not my cup of tea, I assure you, but I take it you like his work?”

“I do indeed your highness. He knows just how to make you enjoy wetting yourself with fear, even if he does a lot of exposition in between. Could do with a little less gore and foal killing.”

The other two nodded.

“Is there anything else you would like to tell us?” Celestia asked.

Midnight shrugged. “I guess if you still have questions you can ask them your highness, but I don’t know what else you’d like me to tell you.”

Celestia smiled. “Well, to begin with do you know what type of dragon your parent was?”

“A wyvern. His name is Windstorm.”

Celestia looked interested at the name. “From what I know about wyverns, a surname is passed down through the bloodlines. I take it yours is ‘storm’?”

Midnight shrugged, but a pained look crossed her face. “My father left on a dragon migration when I was two, and he hasn’t come home since. Since I was so young he never really talked about lineage or the like, but I do know he and my mother had argued about what to name me. Apparently they finally settled with my mother’s choice of ‘Midnight’ if I had to have ‘Storm’ in my name.”

“I knew of a wyvern named Firestorm right up to the point the kirins disappeared. But, if your father never told you of your ancestors, I don’t know if you’re related to him directly or not. If I may ask, who is your mother?”

At this Midnight flinched. “I don’t really want to talk about her your highness, so unless you have a very good reason to need to know, I respectfully ask that you not ask about her again. You could call it a private matter between the two of us.”

Celestia nodded in understanding, but she made a mental note to start poking around Manehattan. “I can take it she was a unicorn? I’ve never met a kirin with a horn who didn’t have a unicorn parent.” After a few seconds Midnight gave a nod. “Thank you. I guess then my next question is what are you doing about food?”

Midnight cocked her head at this. “I buy groceries at the market and stores just like every other pony your highness.”

But Celestia simply shook her head. “I’ve already said I’ve known kirins Midnight and I know what their diets are.”

At this Midnight began to look worried. “I-I have no idea what you’re talking about princess! What other foods could you POSSIBLY be talking about!?”

If her smile had gotten any faker Celestia would have sworn she’d stolen it off a toy. Why was the mare being so dodgy about this? Then the alicorn noticed Midnight’s eyes flash towards her pegasus companion before coming back to her, and it made sense. “Before we came here today to visit you I instructed Sapphire on kirins, including eating habits. I can assure you she’s assured me talking about eating meat is not a problem.”

“It’s true!” Sapphire spoke up. “Besides, most of the nobles eat meat at parties as well.”

At this little bit of news Midnight looked back and forth between them.

“It’s a habit they started about a century ago.” Celestia clarified. “I’m not aware just how it got started, but before long it became fashionable to eat meat hors d'oeuvres at social parties, such as pate’, shrimp toast, and caviar.” Midnight calmed down at this, though the shock of hearing what the upper crust ate was still plain on her face. “Speaking of fish, did you happen to have any while in Baltimare? I know there’s only one restaurant that serves it there, but they’re the best.”

Midnight tapped her chin in concentration. “Was it Long Line’s Seafood Emporium?”

“Yep, that’s the one.”

“I ate there whenever I could afford it. Had a seat right at the counter and talked with Long Line almost all day. To be honest I think he was the only other pony I ever felt comfortable around before getting here.”

Celestia nodded. “I’ve had the honor of meeting him once or twice while visiting the city. He’s as nice a pony as they come. But, back to what you do around here?”

Midnight’s face fell slightly. “Well, around HERE I’ve hunted exclusively in the Everfree Forest, but back in the cities it was whatever I could get my fangs into; mostly pigeons and rats.” Then she whispered “a stray or two if times were tight.”

“I see, and what about gem stones?”

Midnight’s face became forlorn. “I haven’t had a gem stone in nearly three years. I couldn’t afford a gem stone; it’d be like trying to eat at a five-star restaurant.” Midnight licked her lips with her dragon-like tongue. “I could really go for a sapphire right now.” Hearing a giggle, Midnight looked up to see Sapphire blushing slightly, in turn making her own cheeks warm.

“Well, it seems you have the food situation under control, although we need to see about getting you some gems, otherwise things may start getting awkward.” Both ponies continued to blush. After giving them a minute the princess cleared her throat for attention. “Midnight, the next few questions I have are a more serious matter.” Midnight immediately sat up straight; any sign of embarrassment or hunger gone in an instant. “The first one of these is how did you feel about the mission I sent you and the bearers on to get the dragon up on Smokey Mountain to find another place to sleep?” For the first time since the princess reveled herself, Midnight’s eyes flashed with anger.

“It was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard suggested. I would really like to know WHY you sent out seven mares with no combat experience up a mountain to face a full grown dragon who would most likely not be in a good mood after being woken up by what he considers snacks when a contingent of guards or even yourself would have been a more sensible option. Tartarus, the only reason I went is because Twilight decided to pull rank on me as your personal student and threaten to write to you to convince me personally. She apologized afterwards, but you can still understand I was pretty upset about the whole thing.” Celestia calmly listened to Midnight rant until she was done.

“Twilight has already told me about your unwillingness to help and what she said to get you to come along. I have already talked with her about it and it will not happen again. As to why I sent the seven of you up the mountain and not myself or the guard is because I only wanted you all to talk with him, not start a fight. Since all of you are still here and the dragon has left to find a new place to nap, I assume it was a success.”

Midnight huffed. “Yeah, but only because Fluttershy was somehow able to scold him into leaving right before he was going to roast us! I still can’t wrap my brain around that.”

Celestia raised her hoof for attention. “Midnight, I could have sent them up on their own. Do you know why I asked that you accompany them?”

“Not really” Midnight snorted.

“Well, before I answer that, I’d like to ask you another question.”

Midnight nodded, her attitude dissipating as she remembered with whom she was speaking with.

“What exactly do you know about the Elements of Harmony?”

Midnight thought for a minute. “Not much, to be honest. You defeated your sister-turned-Nightmare-Moon with them around a thousand years ago, but that’s about it.” Looking back up, she was met with a look of surprise on the princess’s face. “What? It’s obvious who the two alicorns in the story are. One that raises the sun and one that raises the moon? One sister with a sun cutie mark and the other with a moon? The exact same coat colors? The fact that Princess Luna has only now reappeared right after Nightmare Moon tried to take over? The fact that you’re the Princess of the Sun, not and the Moon? Anypony could have figured it out.” The other two continued to just stare at her. “Let me guess: Twilight didn’t even figure it out until you told her?” Celestia nodded and Midnight face-hoofed. “By the almighty Faust… anyway no, I don’t know much about the Elements of Harmony.”

Celestia managed to compose herself again before speaking. “Well for this discussion, let’s focus on how they work. For their power to function properly, all twelve parts must be present; all six elements and all six bearers. Not only do they all have to be present, but they must all be in sync with each other. If even one pony is not committed, the whole thing fails to work. So, the logical thing to do is to protect these critical parts that make up Equestria’s most powerful defensive force. I have the elements safely stored back at Canterlot Castle, but I cannot simply lock up Twilight and her friends. It would be both immoral and impractical, and such a thing would destroy their budding friendship rather than helping it grow. Of course then the best thing to do would be to assign them guards, but I feel that would also only cause a negative impact on them. So, as you can see I was in a bit of a quandary about how best to protect them without also interfering with their lives.”

Midnight raised an eyebrow. “’Was’ your highness?”

Celestia nodded. “When Twilight wrote to me Midnight, she told me that you were getting along fine with her new friends. After my amazement of finding a kirin after so many centuries finally ebbed some, I realized what else you being in Ponyville could mean. Midnight, I have a proposition for you: would you consider being the first Guardian of the Bearers?”

Midnight stared at her. “Say what now?”

“Midnight, you fit all the requirements needed to guard the bearers and yet not intrude on their lives. I could put undercover guards here, but, call it an intuition, I feel that would also blow up in my face. You are already friends with them, and as a kirin you are more durable than any guard I could possible assign here.”

Confusion ran across Midnight’s face. “More durable? What do you… mean… by…” Slowly, something clicked in her mind. “Are you telling me,” she began, her voice suddenly becoming angry and threatening again, “that you asked me to go along on that stupid mission up the mountain to act as a MEAT SHIELD for those six in case something went wrong!?" Her sudden outburst caused Sapphire to put some distance between them as Midnight slammed her hooves on the table and pulled herself up, wings flared out as far as they would go and fangs fully bared.

To her credit Celestia held Midnight’s gaze, not flinching a bit. “The thought never crossed my mind, and I never condoned the act of using another living creature as a shield. I’ll admit that I asked you to accompany them up the mountain as a bit of insurance, but only because I felt that, since you were part dragon, he might have listened to you more than Twilight or any of the others. Furthermore, by the look of your cutie mark, I’d say that if it came down to a fight you could have held your own easily.”

At the mention of the mark on her flank Midnight instinctively covered it up. “I don’t know what you think you know about my mark, but DON’T bring it up again.”

Both mares stared each other down for a full minute before Celestia nodded her head. “If it bothers you that much then I will not mention it again.” Once she was sure Celestia was telling the truth she sat back down and pulled her wings in. Sapphire also returned to the table once Midnight was calm enough that her fangs retracted. Celestia gave her another minute before speaking again. “It was not my intention to use you without your cooperation in anyway, and I am sorry that it seemed like I did. I’m only trying to do what I think is best for Equestria, the bearers, and yourself when I make this proposal, which is why I ask again if you’d be a guard.”

“Let’s say I’d accept; what would my new duties consist of, besides making sure they don’t break their necks falling or the like?”

“Simply act the same way you do with them now. If any threats arise assist in helping them fight them off and protect them from anypony or anything that tries to do them harm.”

Midnight raised an eyebrow. “That’s it?”

Celestia nodded.

Midnight got up and picked up the percolator as if to pour herself some more coffee, but instead chugged what was left after staring at it for a few seconds. Since she could breath fire, a bit of scalding liquid didn’t hurt, although she grimaced at drinking coffee black like that. When she was done she placed the coffee maker in the sink and turned back towards her two guests.

“Up to this point in my life all I’ve done is what I can to get by. Even after I got… this,” she indicated her cutie mark, “I haven’t had a clear goal or purpose in my life. Even what I’m doing now doesn’t really seem right, though I am happier in the woods cutting trees than being in some pony’s house fixing a pipe or floor board. I’m not sure I’ll really like this job either, but… I’m willing to give it a try, if only because it’s something I haven’t tried before.” A smile formed on Celestia’s face. “However, I have one condition: I want the option to back out if I don’t like it. I refuse to sign my life away for something I’m not 100% with going in.”

Celestia nodded. “I think that’s fair, but I also have a condition as well.” At this Sapphire straightened up. “I want Sapphire Breeze to move in with you.”

“I can assume there’s a reason?”

“Yes. As a guard, and a secret one at that, you’d need a way to contact me if something happens, and it’ll be hard to keep the secret if you’re sending letters via Spike. I’ve given Sapphire some dragon fire to use for sending letters to me should the need arise. Think of her as the liaison between the guard and myself, since you may be too busy with a situation to send a letter yourself.”

Midnight nodded. “Alright then.” She heaved a sigh. “I accept the position as Captain of the Bearer Guard.”

Celestia smiled. “Thank you very much Midnight Storm, you have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that. All I need to do now is finalize some things back at the castle. I’ll send Sapphire’s things here tomorrow, by which time I’m sure you two will come to a consensus on a cover story for her being here. I wish you both a pleasant evening.” With that the Princess of the Sun teleported out of the house.

“Well,” Midnight said as she cleared the cups off the table, “I sure wasn’t expecting that to happen today.”

“Those moments happen sometimes.”

Midnight turned to look at her new house-mate. “I guess so Miss Breeze.”

Sapphire waved a hoof. “You can call me Sapphire.”

“Alright then Sapphire do you have an idea for a cover story at all?”

“Well, I was thinking maybe a cousin?”

Midnight shook her head. “How about something that isn’t related to me? Long lost relation is a bit to cliché.”

“Umm… old foal-hood friend?”

“How about we get you settled in first.” Midnight motioned for her to follow her up the stairs when there was a pop and three objects dropped onto the table. Both mares moved over to them and noticed that each one had a letter attached to it. The letter labeled with a ‘1’ was attached to a sack, and Midnight read the note.

Midnight Storm,

As the new captain of the Bearer Guard, this is your pay, backlogged from the Smoky Mountain mission to today. You also receive a bonus for each time you accompany the bearers on a mission or protect them from a credible threat.

-Princess Celestia

P.S. – Yes, you are now officially a captain in the Equestrian Military, although your duties will be limited to protection of the bearers and their families. You are allowed to recruit if the need arises, but I will reserve final say on any potential new guards. If you wish I can send a royal fitter to make formal wear for you for functions that require it.

Midnight looked up at Sapphire. “Um… okay.”

Sapphire smiled and saluted. “Welcome to the force captain!”

“Hardy-har-har.” Midnight picked up the sack, opened it, and nearly fell backwards. The amount of bits inside could have choked a manticore.

Sapphire whistled at the loot. “Any idea what you’re going to do with it?”

Midnight finally found her voice. “Plenty! For starters I’m building a storage house for my wood, and I’m hiring somepony to do it, too!” She closed the sack back up and tried to pick it up. She could beat a manticore to death with it as well. Putting the sack back down she moved over to the second note, which was tied to a chest.

Captain Midnight Storm,

As I said when we talked earlier you should try and get more gem stones in your diet. While I believe your weekly pay should be enough for some, I’ve decided to give you a weekly allowance like Spike has, only bigger since you are an adult.

-Princess Celestia

P.S. – I threw in a few extra sapphires.

Without a word Midnight flipped open the lid and what met her eyes immediately made her start to salivate. The chest was full of gems of all kinds, from rubies to emeralds to diamonds to even her coveted sapphires. Midnight grabbed the largest sapphire she could see and stuffed it in her mouth. The explosion of flavor that she’d missed for over three years engulfed every single one of her taste buds as her tongue wrapped around it like a constrictor. For a full five minutes she simply sat there enjoying the taste of it while Sapphire watched her in amusement.

“Enjoying it?” Her answer was Midnight’s tongue sliding out to lick up some drool at the corner of her mouth before she finally began to chew the gem up.

Midnight made sure to savor every single bite. When she was finally done she licked her lips and closed the chest. “So… good…” With great effort Midnight pulled herself away from the chest and moved over to the third and final object and note.

Captain Midnight Storm,

I’ve sent this platter along with your pay and gem allowance as a sort of ‘welcome to the guard’ gift. On it you’ll find several different kinds of seafood from Long Line’s Seafood Emporium that arrived just yesterday. If you wish I can make a separate order for you when ever we make one; all you have to do is send me the necessary amount of bits. You can also go ahead and keep the platter if you wish.

-Princess Celestia

Midnight lifted the lid and there was indeed a nice spread on it. Shrimp scampi, lobster tail with butter, and fried scallops were just a few of the samples presented. Midnight picked up a lobster tail, dunked it in butter, then took a large bite out of it. When she was done she turned to Sapphire and offered her a shrimp, which she actually took and nibbled on.

“You know Sapphire; I think I might actually enjoy this.”

Ch.9 - So, I sit on them, right?

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Midnight picked up the mug of coffee and took a strong sniff of it. The smell of caffeine, milk, and flavored creamer filled her lungs and she let it out in a long sigh of contentment. It had been two weeks since Princess Celestia had visited and Midnight was finally getting used to having a housemate around. Sapphire Breeze was a nice pony, with a soft smile that she wore almost all the time and an up-beat attitude that Midnight felt would rival Pinkie’s. Well, if the pink mare was a few times calmer. And saner. Speaking of the party pony, she was true to her word at knowing everypony in Ponyville and had met and thrown a party for Sapphire the very next day. Thankfully by that time Midnight and Sapphire had come up with her cover story.

They agreed that it was alright for Sapphire to tell ponies that she was there on Celestia’s orders as an aid to Midnight. It was the truth, with the reason why Midnight needed an aid provided by Sapphire. “Princess Celestia simply feels that the only kirin currently around today should be entitled to some form of pampering, even if she feels it is unnecessary. Some company and aid with her business can’t hurt either.” Midnight could admit to finding her useful. She put Sapphire to minding the store front and register while she was out gathering wood, and so far she’d proven to be a capable employee and sales mare.

Just as Midnight was pulling some cereal out of a cabinet she heard a few raps at the side door. Smiling and picking up the second of the three mugs of coffee she’d made, she made her way over to the door and opened it. “Good morning Derpy.”

“’Morning Midnight!” The mail mare took the second mug from Midnight and eagerly chugged some of it down.

“So, how’s the route this morning?”

“Fine as usual. Still nothing for you though…” the pegasus’ ears drooped. Midnight waved the news away.

“Derpy, how many times do I have to tell you, all I’m ever going to expect is bills around the end of the month?

“I know… but it still seems kinda sad…” Midnight laid a hoof on her shoulder.

“I’ll consider a magazine subscription or two.” They both laughed, then slipped into talking gossip; mainly about what’s going on around town and how the new school year’s been for the foals so far.

“Oh yeah, that reminds me.” Derpy passed her empty mug back to Midnight. “I’m actually going away this weekend to Filly Delphia for a mandatory yearly orientation meeting.” Midnight nodded.

“Well I hope you can squeeze in some fun while you’re there.” Derpy’s smile wavered a bit.

“I try. The thing is, usually Carrot Top watches Dinky while I’m away at it, but she’s had to head up to Vanhoover for a family emergency. So…” the grey mare dug a hoof into the ground a bit. “I was just wondering if it was possible if you could babysit Dinky for the weekend? I can pay you!” Midnight leaned back as Derpy practically shouted the last part at her.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa Derpy! You don’t need to yell! First of all, I would never dream of asking you for money for a favor!” The grey mare visibly relaxed at this. “Second, I’m a bit shocked you came to me before anypony else. Like, what about Berry? Aren’t Dinky and Pinchy friends?” Derpy nodded.

“Yeah, but I haven’t gotten to her house yet, and she runs the liquor store all by herself. I didn’t want to give her any more stress since the weekends are her busiest time. But you’ve got somepony else helping you run your store, and you said that you were going to ease up on chopping wood soon, so I figured it would be best if I asked you first.” Midnight inspected her own mug for a second.

“Let me just refill first…” she said, turning back inside and heading over to the perculator. Derpy sat in the doorway nervously watching Midnight’s face for any kind of expression, good or bad. Finally Midnight came back over. “I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem.”

Derpy’s smile could have eaten her own head. “THANK YOU, THANK YOU!”

“GAH! DERPY, MY RIBS!” The wall-eyed mare released the kirin from the vice-like hug.

“Oops. My bad.”

“The only thing is…” Midnight started after taking in some deep breaths, “I don’t have any more beds at the moment, so she’s going to need to bring a blanket or a sleeping bag.”

“Oh it’s okay. I’ve got a set of cots left over from when Carrot fixed up the house, so I can bring one of them over!”

“That’s okay Derpy; I think the couch is a bit bigger and better to sleep on. Besides, if you need to pack I don’t want you wasting time bringing a cot all the way over here.” Derpy nodded.

“Alright, but I’ll still bring her stuff over though so she doesn’t have to bring it all to school with her.”

“Okay. I’ll see you later then. Have a nice shift.”

“Thanks Midnight! Bye!” The pegasus mare waved and flew off to her next stop. Midnight waved as well then turned back inside in time to see Sapphire enter the kitchen.

“What was the yelling about?” she asked, which was quickly followed by a yawn. Midnight had told her she didn’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn, like herself, and that she could sleep until around 7:30 since the front opened at 8:00. But, Sapphire had been insistent that she rise around the same time as her in case she was needed for any reason.

“Just Derpy. She’s heading to Filly Delphia this weekend for her job and Carrot Top’s out of town as well so she asked if I could watch Dinky this weekend.” Sapphire raised an eyebrow as Midnight placed a filled mug on the table in front of her.

“And what did you say?” Midnight raised the box of cereal up as well as an eyebrow and Sapphire nodded.

“I said that I would do it. Dinky’s a good foal and I don’t think she’ll cause to much trouble, if any, around here.” Midnight filled both bowls with cereal and milk, then placed them on the table with spoons for the both of them. “I told Derpy she needs to bring either a sleeping bag or a blanket with her since the only place we have for guests to sleep is the couch.” She took a bite of her breakfast and chewed slowly.

“What about getting beds for the other guest room? I’m sure your pay tomorrow could cover the cost.” Sapphire suggested. Midnight nodded as fast as she chewed.

“I should start doing something with those rooms since the storage space is done.” It had taken almost two weeks to complete and almost all of the money she had gotten from the princess, paid mostly to the workers she hired, but a storage space had been cut into the cliff side next to the house. She’d even saved some bits by using the rubble to extend it out some. “Anyway, Derpy’s coming by later this afternoon to drop Dinky’s things off so she doesn’t have to lug it all to school tomorrow.” Sapphire nodded.

“Well, I sure didn’t peg you as the kid-friendly type. I can’t wait to see how it pans out.” Midnight looked up from her cereal and at the blue pegasus. She expected to see a look of challenge or contempt there, as if to say ‘I can’t wait to see how this blows up in your face’. What she saw was an honest, hopeful smile which instead said ‘I sincerely hope this will be a good experience for you both’. It was a bit off putting, and Midnight began to dig into her bowl with a bit more gusto.

-------------------------

The morning passed quickly and without interruption. Midnight got one tree down, chopped up, and by lunch had another laid out and ready to be turned into firewood. Sapphire had diligently managed the store front, which was slowly becoming busier as the temperature was taking an equally slow dive. At 12:30 they broke for lunch, but when they finished making sandwiches Sapphire noticed that Midnight had placed hers on a napkin instead of a plate. “Where are you heading off to?”

“Berry just got a shipment of Mareabu Coconut Rum today and I wanted to get a pint.” Sapphire raised an eyebrow at this.

“Don’t you think it would be better to save what money you currently have for guest beds?” Midnight shrugged.

“I figured trading a bundle as part of the payment’s alright. I’ve set enough aside for us that we can replace it, no problem.” Sapphire’s smile curled into a slight smirk.

“It’s ’us’ now?”

“As far as I know you’re staying the winter,” Midnight said a bit sharply, her eyes locking on the pegasus’ “so for the foreseeable future I’ll be using words such as ‘we’ and ‘us’. When you’re done with lunch you can go back out front.” With that the kirin picked up her sandwich and walked out into the front, grabbing a bundle on the way and slamming the front door on her way out. Sapphire giggled and took a bite of her food.

-------------------------

“For the future I suggest paying the whole thing in bits rather than trade,” Berry told Midnight as she passed her the bottle. “When customers start doing that it’s a sign of alcoholism, which I refuse to feed.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I’m surprised that you’d keep a tab on something like that; I’d think they’d be your most valued customers.” Berry’s eyes tabled.

“I need bits, not the deed to a house, and it ruins lives, which I want no part of.”

“That’s pretty noble of you.”

“The hoof needs to come down somewhere.” Midnight smiled.

“I’ll toast to that next time we get together for cards.”

“By the way, how is that Sapphire Breeze working out for you?” The kirin shrugged.

“She works the front just fine, and since she still gets a paycheck from the princess it’s no skin off my muzzle.” Berry’s face fell slightly.

“Speaking of Canterlot, they’re having the annual Wine & Liquor Festival this weekend.”

“Are you going?” Berry shook her head.

“Me and my dad make it every year, but this time all of Pinchy’s sitters are doing something and can’t watch her. I did a quick run over to Derpy and Carrot’s, but Derpy’s still out on the job, and Carrot wasn’t home.”

“Well, Carrot’s out of town for a family emergency, and Derpy’s heading to Filly Delphia for her annual orientation.” Berry face-hoofed.

“Great, now what? … wait, if they’re both out of town, who’s watching Dinky? I know Derpy doesn’t take her to the orientation, and how did you know all that?”

“Derpy told me over the morning coffee.” Midnight said with a shrug. Berry face-hoofed again.

“Right, you two do that. What about Dinky?”

“I’m watching her this weekend actually. Derpy said she couldn’t get any sitters either and asked if I could do it. She said she’d have asked you, but you’re not usually up when she gets here, and she didn’t want to bother you during weekends.” Berry gave a long nod in understanding followed by a long pause.

“Well, I guess I’m staying home then this year. If I could take Pinchy with me believe me I would, but since only adults are allowed in…” While Berry mulled over any other possible avenues Midnight was doing her own thinking. She’d never baby-sat before, and while Dinky was well behaved, Midnight doubted she’d be content with sitting around the house with practically nothing to do. Midnight didn’t have any toys or games, not to mention she and Sapphire would be working most of the time, so Dinky really wouldn’t have anyone around to play with. But…

“You know Berry… I could watch Pinchy as well, if you want.” Berry waved a hoof.

“You’re already watching Dinky and Pinchy can be a… hoof-full at times. I don’t want to over-whelm you.”

“Well, to tell you the truth while I can give Dinky a place to eat and sleep for the weekend, I’m not so sure I can give her a good time while she’s staying over. I don’t have any toys or games and even if I had them, I don’t know if Sapphire or myself would be good playmates. But, she and Pinchy are best friends, you need to go someplace, and two foals can easily entertain one another…”

“More want than need in all honesty and two foals can also get into a lot of trouble."

“Look, Berry, I know it seems weird that I’m pushing this, but I think this helps everypony, and I really don’t think the two of them will be a problem.” Midnight gave an encouraging smile as Berry continued to sit and think.

“Let me think on it a little longer.” The larger mare nodded.

“Alright. If you’re okay with it, Derpy is dropping off some of Dinky’s things at my place this way she doesn’t need to bring them to school. You can come by then if it’s okay.”

“Okay. I’ve got things to sort through, so I’ll see you later Midnight.”

“See ya.” With the bottle safely tucked into her saddle bags Midnight left the store as Berry went into the back area.

-----------------------

“Are you still sure about this?” Sapphire asked, her normal smile replaced with a worried frown. Midnight, who was in the front with her watching the school, which would soon let out, waved a dismissive hoof.

“Even if I wasn’t, it’s too late now. Pinchy and Dinky will be here in a few minutes and both Derpy and Berry are already out of town.” Berry had indeed come by with Derpy to give her okay and to also drop off some things, including some games and toys Pinchy had picked out.

“Well, I hope everything goes smoothly then.” ‘Me too’ Midnight thought. Soon enough both fillies were bounding up the road with smiles the size of their overstuffed saddle bags.

“Hello girls” Midnight said as she held open the door for them.

“Hi Midnight!” Pinchy said as she barreled inside, stopping just short of running into the counter. Dinky was a bit more subdued.

“Hello” she said in a much more reserved voice, calmly walking inside.

“So what game should we play first!?” Pinchy practically yelled. “I’ve got Trouble, Sorry, and I think mom brought Mareopoly over last night-”

“Unfortunately Pinchy, all the boring stuff needs to be done first before anything fun.” The pink filly practically deflated right there.

"Awwwwwwww! But Midniiiiiiight!"

“No ‘buts’ young filly. Both your mothers told me your homework needs to be done tonight and not Monday morning. We also need to go over some rules about staying here.”

“UGH!” Pinchy flopped backwards, almost spilling whatever was in her bags.

“First, however, you may have said ‘hello’ to me but not to my new house-mate.” Midnight indicated the mare behind the counter, who gave them a small wave along with a smile.

“Hello, I’m Sapphire Breeze. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Hello Miss Sapphire” both fillies rang out.

“Just Sapphire will do girls.” Both of them nodded.

“Is it true that you worked for the princess before coming here?” Dinky asked.

“I still do. You could say both princesses and Midnight are my bosses.”

“Got any good dirt on them?” Pinchy asked. Normally such a question resulted in her name being exclaimed, a gentle smack to the back of the head, and an undetermined threat for the future. In this case she got laughter from both adults.

“I may, but if I told you we’d BOTH get arrested.” This time all four ponies laughed.

“Alright, time I bring you inside so we can get on with work.” Midnight led them around the counter and held open the door to the kitchen for them. Both fillies filed inside, Pinchy once again wearing a frustrated look. “Once I get them settled in I’m going to finish up that tree and start dinner, so if you need me you know how to get me.” Sapphire nodded.

“Good luck.”

“Thanks.” With that the kirin walked inside. ‘She actually handled that all very well. Maybe this will turn out alright.’

-----------------------------

“Alright, now for those rules.” Midnight and the girls were seated at the kitchen table with their homework laid out in front of them. She had already explained the sleeping arrangements and set them up in the living room. “Before you can do any of the following you must have permission: going into my or Sapphire’s rooms, leaving the house, or taking things from the fridge or cabinets. You can play with the fireplace but only if me or Sapphire is there to watch, and you are NEVER to go into the freezer or the shed. Oh, and if you need to go into the front for any reason make sure there are no customers first. Any questions?” Pinchy raised a hoof and Midnight nodded towards her.

“Why can’t we go into the freezer or the shed?”

“Well, the freezer is too high unless you climb on something or use your underdeveloped magic, both of which have a good chance of hurting yourselves or breaking something. On top of that things tend fall out whenever we open the door, so there’s also that bit of danger.” Midnight demonstrated by opening the freezer and a frozen bag of soup flew out and nearly smashed her tail. “You don’t want that hitting your head” she told them as she put it back. “As for the shed… let’s just say I don’t even allow Sapphire in there, so pretty much it’s out of bounds for everypony, not just you two.”

“Well, what’s in it?” Pinchy pressed.

“Homework!” Midnight exclaimed cheerfully. “Try to have it done by dinner you two!” With that she went out the side door.

“So, what do YOU thinks’ in there?” Pinchy asked Dinky.

“Something that can get us in uber-Nightmare-Moon-level trouble if we look.”

“Aw, c’mon Dinky! It’s gotta be more exciting than this!" Pinchy waved her hooves at the sheets in front of her.

“Well, what if it’s really important to Midnight and she doesn’t want anyone else to see it? You wouldn’t like it if anypony found out you still sleep with a blanky.” Pinchy’s eyes narrowed.

“You said you wouldn’t tell anypony!”

“I just said it back to you! Nopony else is here!” Pinchy snorted but had to agree. “C’mon, there’s only two sheets here. It can’t be that hard to finish up.” The pink unicorn looked down at the paper.

“This is going to take all night.”

-------------------------

Despite Pinchy’s prediction the homework didn’t take all night, but she was just finishing up the second sheet when Midnight came back in to start dinner. “Alright girls; how’re we doing?”

“I’m finished” Dinky said, giving Midnight both sheets to look at. A quick run through showed that Dinky was not only finished but also had all of her questions correct.

“I’m done too!” Pinchy said with a final scribble.

“Um, can I look it over first?” Midnight asked as the filly began to stuff her work into her saddle bags.

“Well, I’m sure I got them all right, so you don’t need to waste your time.” She put on what she hoped was a winning grin.

“Oh, but I love wasting time! It’s my favorite hobby!” The filly’s smile vanished, and for a second it looked like she was going to argue some more, but then she pulled the papers out and handed them over. To be honest most of them were right, but there were some glaring mistakes. “Well Pinchy, most of these are right, but,” Midnight flipped the sheets around for her to see, “six times eight doesn’t equal thirty-eight, nor is beach spelled B-E-T-C-H.”

“But we learned that rhyme in school! Six times eight is thirty-eight!" Midnight shook her head.

“Actually it’s forty-eight. Now, before you get too frustrated,” because the filly was going into pout-mode again, “why don’t you tell me how you solve problems like this, because you got almost all of them right.” The kirin pulled out another piece of paper from a nearby drawer and laid it out on the table.

“Well, for problems like this one,” she pointed to an equation that said 5 x 5 = ?, “I picture a row of five dots, then keep adding rows of five until I have five rows. It’s when I get past six dots and six rows that I have problems.”

“Well, that is a lot of dots, but I think I might know how to help. First, what is six times four?” Pinchy thought for a second.

“Um, twenty-four, I think.”

“No, you’re right. Now what is twenty-four plus twenty-four?” Then Pinchy caught on.

“Forty-eight! I see, so you just split six times eight into six times four plus six times four!”

“Pretty much. Actually another way to put it is twenty-four times two, but I find if you can break it down into addition it becomes a lot easier. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t always work." Pinchy nodded then picked up the other sheet.

“What about spelling?”

“Well, do you know how to spell ‘each’?”

“Yeah, E-A-C-H… oh.” Midnight nodded.

“A lot of times you can break down words into smaller words or two-to-three letter segments. Take the word “beautiful” for example. Start with “beau” which is B-E-A-U, then “tee” which is T-I, and finally “full” which is what it sounds like only with one less L.” Pinchy nodded again in understanding, then went over both sheets and, using Midnight’s advice, fixed the rest of her errors.

“Good. Now it’s time to start making dinner.”

“What are you making?” Dinky asked, standing next to Midnight and looking like she wanted to help.

“I was thinking home-made potato fries and brussels sprouts.” Immediately there was an “ugh!” from the table and even Dinky backed away a bit with a look of disgust on her face. Midnight raised an eyebrow. “Well, I figured fried with butter and garlic, then drizzled in cheese would at least make them a little appetizing.” After a second Dinky moved forward a bit.

“Do… do they taste good that way?”

“Hmm… I seem to find them a lot better that way then simply steaming and eating them nekid." That got both fillies to laugh. “How about I make a deal with you two? If you don’t like them even covered in butter and cheese and with potato fries, I’ll buy you something from Sugarcube Corner for each meal.” Both girls nodded vigorously. “And I want truthful answers!” The kirin held out both of her font hooves and the girls shook them. “Good, now, I need you two to get the following out of the fridge while I set up the stove…” With that the three ponies began making the evening meal, and soon the kitchen was filled with the smell of good, home-cooked food.

As to if the girls liked the little green balls of plant matter covered in butter, garlic, and cheese; Midnight went to bed happy in the knowledge that all she’d be going out for the next day was a couple of beds.

-----------------------------

Saturday morning passed quickly for everypony. Midnight was up at dawn like usual and brought back a tree before heading into town to get the beds. Sapphire was up just as Midnight left to get the tree and after breakfast was in the front with a magazine. The girls were the last to wake up and after some cereal waded into the many board games Pinchy brought over. By the time lunch had come and gone the beds in the second guest room were set up and the girls’ things moved up there, and Midnight had finished cutting up the tree and was now sitting in the kitchen with The Detailed Guide to Mythical and Rare Creatures open on the table. Just as she got done reading the entry for parasprites, something she wished she had run across earlier, Pinchy and Dinky walked in. “Hey girls, what’s up?”

“Well, we’ve already played through all the board games I brought.”

“So you want to go outside?”

“Actually, we were going to ask if we could use some pillows for a game.”

“What kind of game?”

“Pillow Fort!” Dinky said excitedly. Midnight tapped her chin for a second.

“Huh… I don’t see why not.” As the girls cheered Midnight got up from her seat and headed for her room. Both fillies followed, and not a second after Midnight opened the door it started raining pillows. “Just be on the lookout for one of them; I think I drooled a bit last night.”

“We’ll keep a look out for it.” Pinchy told her as she began shaping the fort, using the couch as the back wall. “Oh, can we also get some string?” Midnight raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes we make towers, and string holds the pillows together.”

“I think I’ve got some in the kitchen.”

-----------------------------

“Our fort is finished Sir Dinky!” Pinchy proclaimed as she placed the last pillow on top of the couch.

“Indeed Sir Pinchy! Our most extravagant yet!”

“Well, we don’t usually have so many pillows.” Pinchy jumped down and stood next to Dinky to admire their work. Both fillies also had pillows tied to their stomachs and backs to act as armor, a pillow each on their heads for a helmet, and they each held a pillow as a weapon. It was a testament to just how many pillows Midnight had that they could have armor and weapons and still have enough for a nice sized fort. “And now that our mighty fortress is complete, what is our next task?”

“I believe the only worthy action for completing such grand work is to fill it with loot Sir Pinchy!”

“A quest then Sir Dinky! But what shall we quest for?” Both fillies fell silent as they tried to think of something worthy enough for their grand abode. Then Pinchy got an idea.

“Sir Dinky, have you heard of the fierce dragon that lives in the mountains beyond our noble valley?” At Sir Dinky’s questioning look Sir Pinchy pointed towards the kitchen, which was actually a step or two above the living room. “It is a well known fact that dragons horde treasure! Our quest then is this: we will go and defeat the dragon and make it give us its horde!”

“But Sir Pinchy, nopony as ever faced the dragon and come back alive!”

“Then we shall be the first! Come Sir Dinky, glory and treasures await!” With that Sir Pinchy raised her weapon and charged towards the distant mountains, Sir Dinky in hot pursuit.

-----------------------------

After many trials and tribulations (the cave of fire and the steps of horrors were especially bad) the two brave knights finally made it to the mouth of the dragon’s cave. “Do you have a plan, Sir Pinchy?”

“Indeed Sir Dinky! I will go in and scout about, while you stand guard over the cave entrance!” With that Sir Pinchy ducked into the cave.

-----------------------------

Midnight didn’t so much as look up when Pinchy came crawling into the kitchen, but there was a large smile on her face. Hearing the girls play (how could somepony not hear them?) and deciding what to do next was just too amusing, and she’d actually given up reading to listen to them exclaim exposition as they moved around the living room. The only thing she was concerned about was what she was going to give them (spoilers!) when they defeated her. Perhaps she would bribe them with a trip to the Kingdom of Sweets (Sugarcube Corner) if they promised not to spread tales of her most humiliating defeat. Out of the corner of her eye she watched as the small unicorn knight from Pillow Valley crawled under the table.

-----------------------------

Sir Pinchy was beginning to think scouting was a bad idea. Sure, the great and terrible dragon was just lazing about with a book, but it was probably a cook book on how best to cook knights. She was underneath the rock face the dragon had propped the book on, not a stone’s throw away from one of her rear legs with a perfect view of her tail with an axe-like blade on it. Neither her armor nor Sir Dinky’s would be able to withstand a direct hit from such a weapon, nor could they hope to stand against the great beast’s fire, but it was distracted, and that was the key to victory. As slowly as she had entered she snuck back out. Thankfully no other evil creature had come by and taken Sir Dinky away from her guard duty. “What have you discovered Sir Pinchy?”

“The dragon is distracted with a cook book! If we move quickly and carefully we can ambush her!”

“Brilliant Sir Pinchy! Lead the way!” Bravely, yet quietly, both knights marched into the cave and soon they were back under the rock face. “She is even bigger and more ferocious than I imagined Sir Pinchy!”

“Indeed Sir Dinky! But we still have surprise! On the count of three we will rush her and defeat her! One… two…” *Thud*Both knights halted their attack when they heard the book slam shut.

I smell something…" a deep, ominous voice said, which was followed by the sounds of somepony sniffing. Sir Pinchy turned to Sir Dinky, who blushed slightly.

“I thought the Garlic Muffin of Power would help Sir Pinchy.” The nose of the dragon appeared below the rock face.

“Quick, under these large, flat, surprisingly light rocks Sir Dinky!”

I smell… PILLOW KNIGHTS!!!" The dragon roared as she stuffed her head under the rock face, but was met with only the flat rocks she kept under there. She snorted in anger. “I know you’re there pillow knights."

“What are you doing?”

-----------------------------

Midnight looked up from under the table to see Sapphire looking at her with a raised eyebrow. Midnight motioned to the two fillies currently hiding behind the seat cushions and winked. It took a few seconds but finally Sapphire caught on. Thankfully Pinchy decided to give some more exposition.

-----------------------------

“Sir Dinky, the dragon has captured Lady Sapphire of Snack Land!”

“We must rescue her Sir Pinchy!”

“Quick, while the dragon is distracted again, CHARGE!!!” The great dragon roared in surprise as the two knights leapt from their hiding spots, weapons flailing. However her roar of surprise soon turned into an evil chuckle.

Foolish Pillow Knights, your pillow-made weapons cannot harm a beast as powerful as me! I am the Storm Dragon! I raze kingdoms to the ground for fun and pick cows out of my teeth with trees! What can you possibly hope to accomplish!?"

“We are the Pillow Knights! We have braved many dangers and evils to get here! We are not afraid of you, right Sir Pinchy!?”

“Right Sir Dinky! We will defeat you, claim your horde as our prize, and rescue Lady Sapphire so she may once again make snacks for all!”

“Yes, please save me Pillow Knights!” Lady Sapphire called out. “I have been held captive here so long that I’ve almost forgotten how to make my precious snacks!” At the thought of no more snacks, ever, both knights redoubled their efforts to slay the dragon, but it was all for naught. The beast’s tough skin was just too much for their weapons to do any damage to. Eventually the great beast grew tired of their efforts.

I grow hungry." In the blink of an eye she smacked (gently bumped) Sir Dinky away with her wing and pinned Sir Pinchy with a claw. “Tonight, I will feast on your BONES!!!" Sir Dinky looked up to see her fellow knight and friend pinned and about to be eaten. Summoning her strength, she got to her hooves, grabbed her weapon, and made a final, wild charge at the Storm Dragon. With no better target in range she hit the only thing she could: the base of the dragon’s tail. The effect was immediate and unexpected. The Storm Dragon howled in rage and pain. “NO! The base of my tail! My only weakness!" Quickly recovering from her shock Sir Dinky began wailing on the weak spot, eliciting more cries of agony from the beast. Soon enough Sir Pinchy was able to free herself and she too began attacking the vulnerable area. Soon the dragon laid helpless on the floor of the cave. “Please, I beg you, no more!

“Do you surrender!?” Sir Dinky yelled.

"Yes! I will give you anything, just don’t kill me or let others know of my weakness or any mean thing will just come in here and hurt me!" Sir Pinchy tapped her chin as she thought about it.

“What will you give us in return?”

I know how to get to the Kingdom of Sweets! Spare me, and I will take you there!” The two knights discussed this idea between themselves.

“We deem this idea worthy. You shall take us there immediately evil-doer!” Sir Pinchy crowed.

“If I may, my pillow-y saviors?” Lady Sapphire asked as she walked up to them. “I thank you for saving me, but I fear Storm Dragon won’t be able to take you to the Kingdom of Sweets just yet.” Both knights’ faces fell.

“But, why can’t she? We already defeated her!”

“Yes you did Sir Dinky, but you defeated her too well. I’m afraid Storm Dragon will not be able to move for quite some time. I will tend to her until she’s better, then we can all go to the Kingdom of Sweets.” Both knights looked at each other.

“What do you think Sir Dinky?”

“I suppose Storm Dragon has learned her lesson Sir Pinchy. We will return to Fort Pillow and await your arrival Lady Sapphire. When do you think Storm Dragon will be able to take us?”

“I believe tomorrow afternoon is when she’ll be good enough to fly.”

“Then we shall await for thee on the marrow! Back to Fort Pillow Sir Pinchy!”

“To Fort Pillow Sir Dinky!”

-----------------------------

Midnight and Sapphire watched the fillies run back into the living room. “Well that was fun,” Midnight noted as she picked herself up from her ‘defeat’.

“That was really nice of you Midnight.” Sapphire said, giving the kirin a warm smile.

“Just because I’m an incurable grump doesn’t mean I can’t be nice.” She gave the pegasus a playful push. “Now I believe ‘Lady’ Sapphire has a job to do.” Sapphire gave her a flick with her tail as she headed back out front.

“You’re a slave driver ‘Storm Dragon’.”

Ch.10 - Stupid Dogs! You made me look bad!

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"Thank you Midnight!"

“You’re welcome girls.” Both fillies were currently walking three-legged while holding an ice cream cone in the other. “Are there any more adventures planned for the day?”

“Nah, we were thinking of playing outside today.” Midnight, Sapphire, and the girls were all returning from the promised trip to Sugarcube Corner. Both adults had needed to shop for some groceries so the whole outing had worked out nicely. As they left the first stall they nearly bumped into Rarity and Spike, the latter of which pulling a wheel barrel.

“Whoops! Sorry about that Rarity.”

“Oh, it’s no problem at all Midnight. Spike and myself are just heading to the outskirts of town to collect gems.”

“Out again huh?”

“Well that one piece I’ve been working on DID take up all the rest I had, but I need more because, and you’re never going to believe this, SAPPHIRE SHORES came to my boutique this morning!” Both fillies stopped eating their ice creams mid-lick.

"THE SAPPHIRE SHORES!?” They both screeched.
“Um, yes girls, and, please, lower your voices. She came into my shop and just loved the outfit. Of course I immediately sold it to her, but she wants FIVE more like it, each with a different jewel pattern. So I enlisted the help of dear Spike here,” the baby dragon swooned a bit, “to help me hunt for gems.” Both fillies looked up at Midnight.

“Can we join her too, Midnight!?”

“Yeah, can we help her get gems for the Sapphire Shores!?” Midnight looked from the girls to Rarity then Sapphire and back.

“Um… well girls I guess it’s okay if Rarity says it’s okay and if it’s safe-”

“CAN WE JOIN YOU RARITY!?” Both girls screamed.

“Well… um… to answer Midnight it is pretty safe. We aren’t going up mountains or in caves, but I’ll only say yes IF you promise to act like proper young ladies.” The girls looked back at Midnight, giving her the biggest puppy-dog begging-eyes they could muster.

“Um… well… uh… oh, alright! You can go with Rarity.” Both fillies looked like they were about to explode. “BUT! Only if she can get you back by dinner time.” The white unicorn waved a dismissive hoof.

“It shant be a problem Midnight I assure you. Come along girls, you’ll be part of history in the making!" As the new group of four left, Sapphire leaned over to Midnight.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Midnight waved her own hoof in dismissal.

“It’s Rarity we’re talking about here Sapphire. She’s the last pony to get into any sort of real trouble."

-----------------------------

All the way out of town the only thing the two fillies and dragon would talk about was the Pony of Pop. “She’s awesome!” Pinchy sang out.

“And really cool!” Dinky agreed.

“I know! She’s talented, amazing, beautiful…” Spike stopped when he saw Rarity looking at him. “… and not even half the pony you are Rarity!” The two fillies giggled.

“Spike, a lady is never jealous.”

“But you HAD to be flipping out that she was in your store, right?” Pinchy asked, looking a bit flippy herself.

“A lady does not “flip out” Pinchy dear. However, I was quite in awe of her, yes.” Then Rarity’s horn began to glow and pull on her slightly. “Oh, over here you three!”

“Did you find some?” Spike asked hopefully.

“Yes Spike, right there!” Immediately both the dragon and two fillies began digging. Both girls got only a few scoops in before both were pulled away by Rarity’s magic. “I believe Spike is more than capable of doing the digging himself and I doubt Midnight would like to get you back looking like you’ve been rolling around in the dirt.”

“Then, what can WE do to help?” Dinky asked, looking a bit forlorn.

“Well, how about I try and teach you how to find gems as well? Three horns are better than one after all!”

-----------------------------

Over the next hour the four of them continued to find gems, although it was more like Rarity and Spike were finding them. Pinchy never got a hang of the spell, and Dinky was only able to perform it once. “Don’t worry dears,” Rarity said comfortingly, “magic takes practice, and I’d say you’ve got in a good amount for the day.”

“Yippee.” Pinchy muttered.

“Not only that, but you’ve all been very patient today, and for that I believe a little reward is in order.” With a flare of magic Rarity lifted three gems out of the cart; a purple one for Dinky, a pink one for Pinchy, and a blue one for Spike.

“Wow, thank you Rarity!”

“Yeah, we can add this to our pillow armor next time!” Rarity raised an eyebrow.

“Pillow… armor?”

“Long story.” Pinchy told her. Spike simply stared at his gem with a look of bliss on his face. Suddenly Rarity’s horn flared again and really tugged on her.

“Oh, bring the cart around! I think we got a big one this time!” As they wheeled the cart over none of them realized they were being watched.

-----------------------------

“Yes, yes! Gems, gems! Precious gems! The purple and green one! He is the gem hunter!” said the mid-sized creature of the group watching the ponies and dragon.

“Yes, so many gems!” said the smaller one.

“We get dragon, we get gems!” said the larger one.

“You know you shouldn’t keep a lady waiting you three!” Rarity called back to the three young ones.

“Wait!” said the middle one, the apparent leader. “Who that!?” The three watchers… watched as the white unicorn directed the others to where the gem cache was. When Spike dug up the gems, a new thought came to them. “It not the dragon we want!”

“It the pony!” the smaller one observed.

“Big pony find gems, maybe little ones find gems too!” the larger one said, causing the other two to nod in agreement.

“Yes, let’s get the ponies!"

-----------------------------

“Alright everypony, I think we’ve got just enough gems for the outfits.” The other three were visibly relieved. “Now to get you all home and-oof!” In turning round Rarity slammed right into something. “What the -oh!” standing before the unicorn was a bipedal dog-creature. “I’m… ah… terrible sorry about that! Is there… uh… anything we can help you with?” The creature nodded.

“Yes, me Diamond Dog!” he began to move forward and the group began to move backwards away from him.

“I see! And… you’re also out hunting for gems?”

“Yes, we hunt! We hunt for gems! But you are better hunter! So now,” if they’d been looking where they were going they might have noticed the two holes rapidly digging up behind them. “We hunt for YOU!” Seemingly out of nowhere two more diamond dogs jumped down on them. Acting on instinct Spike bit the bigger one’s leg while Pinchy bucked the smaller one between the legs. The little one went down but the big one managed to kick Spike off him.

“Run!” the little dragon yelled as he flew a short distance away.

“Girls, get behind me!” Rarity pointed her horn at the two dogs now approaching her; the third one was gone.

“Now you listen here you ruffians! You lay so much as a scraggly nail on one of these foals or myself, you’re going to regret it!" Unfortunately, once again they were backing up and couldn’t see where they were going. Without warning Rarity found herself grabbed from behind and pulled down into the hole.

"RARITY!!" both fillies yelled and they wheeled around fast enough to grab a front hoof each. However they too were grabbed by the two other diamond dogs, and together all six disappeared down the hole as Spike ran up to try and help.

"NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

-----------------------------

Midnight was having a nice time chatting away with Applejack and everypony else who was with them at AJ’s apple stand, all of whom were her charges conveniently. That little bliss was shattered as Spike came running up to them screaming. “Rarity! Girls! Dogs! Gems! Foalnapped! Save them!” All seven ponies looked at each other in confusion, although three of those words got Midnight and Sapphire very worried.

“Um, could you repeat that one more time please Spike?” Midnight asked, afraid of the answer. The little dragon took a few more huffs, then a single large intake of breath.

“RarityandthegirlsandmewereoutcollectinggemswhenthesethingscalleddiamonddogsattackedusandtheytookRarityandthegirlsundergorundandweneedtosavethemrightnow!” The rest of them still looked confused, but Midnight had made out what he said.

"WHAT!?!?!?

-----------------------------

The six ponies hurried as fast as they could to the spot that Rarity and the girls had been taken with Midnight leading the charge at speeds that even Rainbow found impressive. She had told Sapphire to head home and prepare a letter of assistance to the princess if they didn’t return by nightfall.

The kirin was pissed and scared. Pissed that she had agreed to letting them go with Rarity and scared about what could possibly be happening to them. Pissed that these ‘diamond dogs’ had the nerve to foalnap two fillies in broad daylight and scared about what their mothers would say and think. Oh, and they Foalnapped Rarity too. Cherry on the cake. “You said there was only one hole, right Spike?”

“Yeah, they took all three of them down it!”

“Good, then we know where to… start… digging…” As they rounded the bend and came to the spot, they found the entire area covered in holes. "Buuuuck!"

“Holy mole-y, that’s a lot of hole-ies!” Pinkie said.

“Well, don’t just stand there! Start looking!” With that the kirin was headfirst down a hole, calling for the girls or Rarity to answer. The others began looking in holes of their own, calling down into them but receiving no answer.

Just as Midnight was about to start digging plumes of dirt began erupting out of the holes, filling them up two or three at a time. “We’ve got to get down one before they all fill up!” Twilight shouted. Each pony began trying to get in a hole, but each attempt was in vain. AJ and Midnight came the closest, each trying to muscle through with either raw determination or prolonged fire blast. All that resulted though was a face full of mud and a hole that looked really capped off. However Midnight would not let herself be discouraged. ‘As long as I’m up here and trying to get in, they can’t be down there doing whatever to the girls’.

With that thought in mind Midnight picked another hole and began digging. “Midnight’s got the right idea!” AJ called to the rest of them. “We gotta dig them out!” With that everypony started digging, but it wasn’t long until they each began to get distracted by the diamond dogs, which now were appearing above ground to either trip them, pull their tails, or act as decoys so the ponies would stop digging and chase them instead.

Midnight proved to be a real challenge for them. They’d pull her tail, she’d start whipping it so it would be too dangerous to grab. They’d pop up next to her; she’d try to slash them with her wing talon. Finally one of them got frustrated and ended up giving her a resounding kick in the back of a knee. This did cause her to stop, but it also caused her to shoot out a large plume of flame in the dog’s direction. Unfortunately he ducked behind a pile of dirt and it missed, but the message was clear. Midnight growled when it seemed that all the dogs had disappeared again.
Just as she was about to turn back to her digging she heard Spike yell “I got it!” and saw him running towards an open hole. In a single leap she blocked his path.

“Quietly! We don’t want them to know they missed one!”

“Right, sorry Midnight.” As they neared the hole, Spike whispered something to Twilight, and the unicorn summoned a fishing pole and gave it to the young dragon. Tying the gem Rarity had given him to the fishing line Spike gently lowered it down the hole and they began to wait. It wasn’t a long one. As the young dragon day dreamed about rescuing the fashionista they got a bite. Midnight figured it was all three of the diamond dogs because one by one they began getting pulled down the hole as they each tried to keep the others from doing so, starting with Spike, then AJ, then Twilight, Rainbow, Fluttershy, and finally Pinkie, who actually seemed to be holding on for the fun of it. Midnight grabbed the party pony’s tail before she went in as well, but with all the dead weight now on the other side it was pretty much assured the kirin would be going down with them.

Down, down, down they went, it seemed a great distance until they finally stopped at the bottom. “Ha-ha, it worked!” Spike crowed, proud that they could finally get to the actually saving part and not be toying around with those dogs. However, Twilight went and popped his happy bubble.

“Um, now which way do we go?”

"NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

"BUCK!

“Wait!” Spike yelled out, quickly regaining his optimism. “The diamond dogs collect gems, so all we need to do is go down the tunnel with the most gems! Twilight, you can use the same spell Rarity does!”

“That’s right! Rarity showed me how to do it a few weeks ago! Good thinking Spike!” The baby dragon blushed.

“Aw, it’s nothing for a number one assistant.” Then he hopped onto her back. “Now let’s go save Rarity!” With that the rescue party charged down a tunnel with Twilight and Spike leading the way.

-------------------------

Meanwhile, in a deeper section of the caves Rarity and the fillies were being confronted by their captors. “Please diamond dogs, let us go, or at least let the fillies leave. This is no place for foals.” Rarity begged, but the dogs refused to listen.

“No!” the small brown one yelled.

“You’re all our precious little ponies!” the big one crowed.

“Forever! Mwhahaha!” Both fillies ducked further behind the unicorn.

“But… whatever do you want with us?” Rarity asked nervously.

“Gems!” the leader answered.

“Yes, the gems! The jewels!” the smaller one agreed.

“Find them, find them all!” Immediately the fashionista’s mood changed.

“Oh, is that all?” Immediately the white unicorn’s horn glowed and she began trotting around the cave, followed closely by the fillies. “There,” she said finally, “a lovely cache of jewels right there.” She marked the spot with an X. “Now if you’ll be so kind as to show us the exit-” She was stopped when a guard dog pointed a spear at her.

“Good, now dig them up ponies!” Rarity gave the lead dog a disgruntled look.

“But I thought you wanted me to find the gems?”

“Yes! Find then dig!” the smaller one explained.

“Yes, dig!” Rarity looked from the dogs to the X to the fillies and back. Deciding that she couldn’t get out of it she did indeed begin to dig, but only the smallest scrapes she could manage. The girls waded in with bigger hoof-fulls of dirt, but fear kept them at a slow pace. Finally the big dog lost his patience. “What are you doing!? We said DIG!”

“Please forgive me, but prior to you all dragging us into this dirt pit I had a hooficure and I am NOT about to chip a hoof because you dislike my style of digging!” Rarity went back to her pathetic attempt at excavation. After another minute the head dog had had enough.

“Enough… just… stop!” He looked to a nearby group of guard dogs. “Dig dogs, dig!” The three burly dogs jumped on the spot and dug up the gems in no-time.

“Fine, ponies don’t dig, they pull!”

“And what, pray tell, do you think you’re doing!?” Rarity shouted as two of the dogs approached her and the fillies with harnesses and a wagon.

“Others will dig; you three will pull the wagon.” With that they grabbed each pony and stuffed her into a harness with Rarity in the middle with the biggest one.

“Well, somepony needs a hooficure! Those jagged things you call nails are scratching my coat and I can’t imagine it’s nice for the girls either!”

“BE QUIET!” Their leader yelled, his annoyance clearly heard. It was at that point that Pinchy began to feel less afraid of the dogs. If a little complaining could distract the dogs, maybe a lot could get them out.

“Good heavens, what is that smell?” Rarity asked, her nose scrunching up.

“It smells like old hooves!” Pinchy added, scrunching her face up as well.

"Smeeeeeell?" The dog asked.

“Ah, problem solved; it’s your breath.”

“Did you eat dirty socks for breakfast?” Dinky looked wide-eyed at her friend, but Pinchy just winked at her.

“ENOUGH! Search ponies!”

“Fine, if you insist.” Rarity and the girls did indeed begin to search, however Rarity and Pinchy complained about everything and anything that was a problem with the situation. It smelled, it was dirty, the floor was too rough, it was too cold, the cave didn’t look as nice as it could be. When the dogs didn’t tell the other two to shut up or punish them for the amount of talking Dinky started to get in on it too. “By the way, can we get some water? We’re all terribly thirsty.”

“Or some soda pop?”

“Or juice boxes?”

“Be quiet ponies!” the smaller diamond dog finally yelled, grabbing his ears.

“And that’s another thing; I would appreciate it if you’d stop calling us ponies. We are ladies and should be addressed so. So, you can call me Miss, or Rarity, or Miss Rarity.”

“And my name’s Pinchy!”

“And I’m Dinky!”

“ENOUGH!” the head dog cried out again. “Your whining… it hurt!” Rarity glared at him.

“We are not whining, we are complaining!"

“Yeah, complaining!” both fillies agreed.

“Do you want to hear whining? Thiiis is whining! Ewww, this harness is too TIGHT, it’s going to chafe!”

“My hooves hurt!” Pinchy added.

“Can’t you loosen it!?

“And I’m HUNGRY!” Dinky chimed in.

“Ahhh, it hurts, and it’s so nasty! Why couldn’t you clean it first!? It’s gonna leave a STAIIIN!”

“My mom’s going to be MAAAD!”

“The wagon’s getting heavy!”

“I wanted to make MUFFINS!”

“Why do we have to pull it!?”

“GAAAH! Make it STOP!” the smaller dog cried.

“STOP WHINING!” the leader shouted.

"BUT WE THOUGHT YOU WANTED WHINING!?!?!? " The head dog flopped on the ground with his compatriots; hold his paws over his ears like the rest of them.

“We-We’ll do anything ponies!” All three unicorns looked down at him with angry expressions. “Um, I mean, Miss Rarity, Pinchy, and Dinky, heh-heh.”

“Anything?” Rarity asked with a smile.

-----------------------------

Within minutes the cave was cleaned up, decorated according to Rarity’s instructions and all three ponies were given goblets filled to the brim with cold water. On top of that they were getting fanned while the three main dogs were made to pull the wagons full of gems. “Well, it’s hardly sparkling, but I guess it’ll have to do.”

“Yeah, I wanted soda.”

“And juice.”

While the three unicorns continued to drink and talk, the dogs hauling the wagons stopped when the leader came to a realization. “Wait, why are WE doing this?”

“To stop the awful noises from the ponies’ mouths, remember?” the smaller reminded him.

“Yes, yes, I know! This is ridiculous, letting ponies order US around!? Are we mice or dogs!?”

“Um… dogs?” his lackeys said.

“Dogs do not pull; ponies pull! Let them make the noises!” While the ponies talked the dogs came up behind them and forced the harnesses on them again.

“Hey, what are you doing!? Not so TIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!"

“You spilled our DRIIIIIIIIIIIINKS!”

“And I’m still HUUUUUUUUUUNGRY!”

“Hah! Make the noises all you want, but move while you make them! Yah mules!” he crowed, smacking Rarity’s flank.
“Did… did you just call us…mules!?" the white unicorn exclaimed. The dog had enough sense to look abashed, not knowing what was going to come next from the ponies. "Mules are ugly. Are you saying that, we too, are ugly!?" Tears had begun to fill up in Rarity’s eyes and the two fillies were also beginning to tear up, but more so to follow the adult’s lead than by actually being offended. Then Rarity fell to the ground crying, holding the two girls as they too began to cry in nice, high-pitched wails.

“What are these noises!?” the small dog asked.

"He called us UGLY!" Rarity wailed, pointing at the leader. The fillies began to ball even louder.

“No! I said MULE!”

"An old, ugly MULE! And the girls have faces only a mother could lu-ove!" Rarity squeezed the girls tighter, momentarily halting their own crying.

“No, No! You’re all still beautiful po- I mean, Miss Rarity, Pinchy, and Dinky!” the bigger one tried.

"You’re just saying that!"

“No, it’s truth! You’re still pretty and...”

“Oh! And nice!” the leader added, hoping to calm the ponies down.

"I don’t believe you! You never liked us!" The dogs once again covered their ears.

“I’ve had just about enough of this!” the leader growled.

-----------------------------

Midnight, Spike, and the rest of the mane six continued their drive down the gem-filled tunnel when they finally heard a sound. “It sounds like… crying!” Midnight ran harder and started to pull a lead on Twilight. The next thing they knew they were out of the tunnel and in a cavern with barred doors and other tunnels.

“She must be further in! Let’s go!” Just as Rainbow called for the charge guard dogs jumped the group, looping harnesses over their muzzles.

“More work horses!” one of them called out with a grin.

“Ho-doggies! If you can take this bull by the horn, you better be ready fur a ride!” With that AJ jumped forward and began to buck, attempting to throw the dog off her back. The others followed suit and within a few seconds all of the dogs had been thrown off. Well, all but one…

“Come on Midnight, we gotta go!” Rainbow called out to the kirin, who was just standing there with a bored look on her face.

“Come on horsey, go!” the guard dog agreed, kicking her in the sides. Midnight’s eyes instantly narrowed into a death glare that she slowly turned on the dog. “Um… nice horsey?” In the blink of an eye Midnight launched herself into the rock wall back first, squashing the dog on her back and causing him to let go. Immediately she grabbed the back of his breast plate with her now extended fangs and began to pummel him into the ground and walls, a painful “yelp!” escaping the dog each time. Fluttershy made to stop Midnight from hurting the dog, but AJ held her back.

“Might want to let her get it out of her system sugarcube.”

After about a minute of whack-a-dog, Midnight dragged him over and dropped him in the center of the group. Pinning him in place with her front hooves, she bent down over him. “Now, you’re going to take us to where you took the other ponies, and if we don’t find them in the next five minutes, I’M HAVING FRIED DIAMOND DOG FOR DINNER TONIGHT!!!” The dog coward under the kirin’s roar then pointed at one of the doors.

“Ponies in big cave! Ponies right there!” Midnight pulled him up again and followed the others through the door. On the other side of it three more dogs were running at them, and Midnight threw aside the dog in her mouth in order to fight, but the three of them landed at their feet and started begging.

“Too picky!”

“And critical!”

“They won’t stop talking!”

“And crying!”

“We, uh, give them back!” From behind the dogs came Rarity, Pinchy, and Dinky, all smiles and without a scratch on them. While Spike ran up to Rarity, Midnight made a bee-line for the girls.

“Are you two alright!? Did they hurt you!? I am going to have dog for dinner!” Midnight exclaimed, shooting a death glare at the dogs.

“Midnight, we’re alright!” Pinchy cried out from the crushing hug Midnight was giving the two fillies.

“They didn’t really make us do anything.”

“Yeah, they were just a bunch of push-overs! They’re even letting us take all these wagons home!” Looking past the three unicorns their rescuers could see several wagons over-flowing with gems.

“You’re letting them leave then?” Spike asked.

“They’d better be!” Midnight roared, jumping in front of the three dogs who had begun to back away. “And if I EVER see you three again,” she roared in their faces, some fire licking out for emphasis.

“Yes, yes, we understand!” the leader whimpered. “Now please just leave!”

-----------------------------

Back on the surface, the three unicorns took a collective breath of fresh air. It had been a lot easier to get back to the surface with the dogs digging a tunnel for them. Pinchy and Dinky were riding on Midnight’s back while the kirin hauled not one but two wagons behind her.

“There’s no chance I could get you to give me those for my outfits, could I?” Rarity asked her.

“I think six wagons full should do you Rarity. Right now I’ve got plans of my own for these little morsels. But, before I can do any of that, I think some sweets are in order. To help ease the trauma the girls have went through.” Pinchy and Dinky high-hoofed.

-----------------------------

“Alright girls, it’s time for school!” Pinchy and Dinky came out from the kitchen with their saddle bags on. It was the next morning and Midnight had made them a big breakfast which they just finished up. “Are you both ready?” They nodded.

“This weekend was really fun, even if we did get foal-napped by a bunch of dogs.” Midnight’s smile fell.

“I’m really sorry about that girls.” Pinchy waved a hoof.

“It’s alright Midnight, they were too dumb to be scary… for long anyway.” Some of her smile returned at that.

“And again, I’d really appreciate it if we could keep this to ourselves.” The girls nodded.

“What happens at Midnight’s stays at Midnight’s!” Pinchy said with a laugh.

“Thanks girls. Now, hurry up before you’re late!” Both girls waved goodbye as they hurried out the door.

“You got lucky.” Sapphire told her once the door closed behind them.

“Yes, and I’m never letting them out of my sight again when they come over.”

“Do you think they’ll keep their word? About not mentioning the diamond dogs?”

“I think they will. If they don’t I doubt Berry or Derpy will ever let me babysit them again.”

“Well, for what it’s worth I think you’re a great baby sitter and I hope you get to do so again. I’d like to see what happens to our Pillow Knights next time.” Midnight smiled.

“Me too.”

-----------------------------

As it turned out both girls did keep quiet about what happened, but Pinkie is a pony whose lips can sink ships. Thus Sapphire was treated to one of the rarer sights in Equestria: Midnight getting a verbal beat-down and taking it like a foal. Though to be fair it was Berry who did the yelling. Derpy just stood there with a muffin.

Ch.11 - On Squeaky Wings

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Sapphire awoke several days after Hearth’s Warming in her bed in Ponyville. She had returned from Cloudsdale the day before after spending the holiday with her parents to find Midnight back at work like there wasn’t a holiday. Before she left for home she had informed Princess Celestia that Midnight told her she was simply going to close the shop for the day and stay in. The princess had sent a letter inviting her to spend the holiday at the castle, but the kirin had kindly, yet flatly, refused. “I’ve spent the last three Hearth’s Warmings on my own; another won’t hurt” she had written back. Even this morning Sapphire had heard her get up at dawn like usual and head outside while she stayed in bed a bit longer.

She knew that a few months living together wouldn’t cause Midnight to open up like a floodgate; she knew that sometimes even married ponies wouldn’t fully open up and even take things to the grave. But for Midnight to want to be alone on a holiday celebrating friends and family and the bonds they shared… it made Sapphire wonder.

She had been better at Nightmare Night, hoofing out candy and even managing to scare a few foals, but near the end she’d retreated to her room and hadn’t come out until the next morning. Sapphire had seen some candle light and heard what sounded like soft singing, but when she asked about it the kirin had pretty much ignored her. Sapphire had become resigned to the fact that Midnight would most likely remain an enigma for as long as she knew her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try and, politely, poke through Midnight’s shell.

She let herself lay in bed for a few more minutes and enjoy her comforter before getting up and starting the day herself.

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For most of the day both mares hardly saw each other, let alone spoke. Midnight had a feeling Sapphire wanted to talk about her actions concerning the holiday but she didn’t want to. Sure, she’d heard that talking things out was better than bottling it all up inside, but Midnight didn’t care. That’s all her life had ever been; bottling up and hiding.

She pulled the ragged scarf she was wearing tighter as a cold blast of air hit her. She was almost done with cutting up the first tree of the day and when she was done with it she planned to at least get one more chopped down before heading back inside. The original plan she had made back during summer was that she’d be cutting very few trees by this time because by now she’d have enough wood to sell during the winter and because it would be too cold to work outside most of the time. But, she’d been bored to death after re-reading her novels to help pass the time. Three times. Each. And to be honest between her scarf and fire-breathing it wasn’t that cold out.

Just as she spilt the last piece of wood Sapphire came out the side door and flew over to her. “Midnight, Rainbow Dash just came by to let us know about the weather.”

“It’s cold and windy and there’s snow scheduled for tomorrow. What else is there to know?” the kirin responded a bit harshly. She knew it wasn’t right for her to snap, but she was still mad that Sapphire wouldn’t let the whole ‘staying home alone’ thing go.

“Well she told me that there’s a storm blowing in from the Everfree Forest and that the weather patrol is going to let it hit. So instead of several days of light snowfall there’s going to be a large, one-day blizzard. I just wanted to let you know in case you’re planning to go back out.”

Midnight nodded. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll just mark a tree then instead, then come back inside.” Sapphire nodded back.

“I’m going to make some hot coco; do you want any?”

“I’ll have some” Midnight said as she fixed her scarf again, “and while you’re at it pull out something for dinner; whatever is fine.” The blue mare nodded then went back inside, calling back “Be careful!” as she did so. With that Midnight headed back into the forest.

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The order in which Midnight cut trees down made a straight line, like a path, into the forest roughly as wide as she was long, and by now it went fairly deep in. By the time she made it to the end of the path and marked a tree, she could tell the storm Rainbow had told them about was going to be on her any minute. Once again pulling her scarf tight, she decided it would be faster to fly back then walk or even run. But just as she opened her wings she heard something that caused her to stop.

Having worked in the forest for nearly half a year, Midnight had become accustomed to the wildlife and the sounds they made. She’d even seen a pack of timber wolves. Well, seen and smelled them. The point being that she knew what was normal to hear in the forest and what wasn’t, and this wasn’t a normal noise. It almost sounded like… somepony crying. Like somepony was out here in the forest and was just blatantly crying as if they didn’t care who or what heard them. Part of Midnight wanted to leave the moron to their fate and head home to a warm cup of coco and a roaring fireplace, but she knew that she couldn’t just leave somepony out here without at least trying to help out. Besides, what if it was one of her charges? That would look real nice if she let one of the bearers freeze to death or get eaten by a forest inhabitant.

As she began walking into the trees she quickly marked them with her tail-blade, making a blaze* on each one that she could easily see. After about a minute she came around some bushes and into a clearing, and what she saw on the other side made her stop.

There, huddled next to a bush shivering and crying, was a foal; a filly from how it sounded. Her coat was the color of cream, and her mane and tail were a bright orange with a white stripe down the left side of both. She also had some additional features that Midnight hadn’t seen on any other pony before. The most obvious ones were her wings. Her leathery wings. They didn’t have claws like hers, nor were they the same proportions, being closer to a pegasus. She also had fangs, but they were thinner and didn’t seem to retract. Finally, there were tuffs at the ends of her ears, which also seemed a bit longer than normal.

After a minute of taking in the filly’s appearance Midnight finally decided to do something. She cleared her throat and the filly looked up at her with yellow eyes that seemed the same shape as hers. However, before she could even get a single word out, the filly screamed like somepony just ripped off her wings and bolted into the forest like the forces of Tartarus themselves were after her. Midnight remained baffled for a second before running after her.

“Hey! Hold on a second! I’m trying to help you!” she called out as she ran.

If the filly heard her she made no indication. She kept going, ducking under logs and pushing off trees to quickly change direction in order to shake the kirin on her tail. It didn't work as Midnight was big enough that she could simply jump over whatever the filly went under and using trees to change direction quickly was an old trick the kirin.

After a few minutes the chase ended when the filly burst into another, smaller clearing and nearly face-planted into the rock wall on the other side. Midnight was in the clearing not a second after the filly, but she had seen the rock wall ahead of time and had slowed down enough that she stopped in the center. In her desperation to get away the filly flapped her wings and jumped in the air, trying to fly away. But each attempt ended with her belly-flopping back to the ground. After the fifth attempt failed she simply backed up to the rock face and curled up in a sobbing ball.

Only then did Midnight finally approach her, satisfied that she wasn’t going to lead her deeper into the forest. The filly stared up at Midnight like she was some horrible monster come to eat her and the look pained the kirin but she also knew she needed to get this filly out of the forest and inside where it was safe and warm.

“Hey there.” Midnight said gently as she sat down in front of the filly and opened her wings in order to block out the wind and now-falling snow. “What in the name of Faust was that all about?” Midnight reached out a hoof to pull the filly closer to hopefully start warming her up, but the foal flinched away from it. “It’s okay, I just want to help.” Undeterred, Midnight reached out again, and like before the filly flinched away, but this time the kirin was a bit more insistent.

As she pulled the filly up against herself, she was shocked at how cold the filly was. It was as if she had placed a fresh ice pack to her stomach. “What in the name of all the alicorns are you doing out here?” the kirin whispered. The filly simply stared back up at her, some of the fear, thankfully, having left her eyes. “We need to get you out of here and inside where it’s warm.” Midnight began to lean forward so that the filly could climb up on her back for the flight home, but before she could get low enough she caught a scent and her body went rigid. Bolting back up she told the filly “keep your back to the rock wall and stay behind me!” She whirled around into a battle pose; wings out, tail poised, mouth open in a defiant growl and fangs fully extended.

Out of the forest came five timber wolves, each one as big as her. Up until that point Midnight had never run into them, usually only seeing them from a distance through the trees and only when she was hauling out the last tree of the day. Now though they were up close, and those piercing yellow eyes looked hungry.

“BACK OFF!” With a roar Midnight let out a long stream of blue fire at the closest wolf. It dodged the main part of the blast, but its tail and one back leg caught on fire, and it ran behind the others yelping and rolling on the ground. A second one leapt forward and landed next to Midnight, but the kirin was ready for it. As soon as its wooden paws touched the ground she smacked it with her wing, her claw cutting and pulling out several twigs as it raked across the wolf’s leg. Distracted by the blow and sudden weakness of one leg it didn’t get out of the way in time of her second fire blast, which engulfed the wooden predator. It flailed about for a few seconds and tried to roll on the ground like its partner, but soon it stopped moving as the fire, now burning a normal orange, consumed it.

The remaining wolves now faltered. The speed at which two of the group had been taken out of the fight (the first one’s leg had fallen apart) now made them second guess this choice of prey. Using the distraction Midnight lowered her hindquarters and whispered “hop on!” The filly, however, remained where she was, eyes fixed on the new danger. “Look at me!” Midnight hissed, louder this time and with some anger mixed in. It had the desired effect as the filly’s eyes snapped to hers. “I know you’re scared; I am too, but I know we can get out of here. I just need you to get on my back, okay?” It took a second but the filly finally nodded and began moving towards her lowered flank.

Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed by the timber wolves. Seeing their prey distracted they began to move forward again, and it was only by the sound of a wooden paw hitting a rock that she was alerted to the danger. Not even bothering to take aim Midnight whipped her head forward and let out a blast of fire in a long, sweeping arch. This had two effects. The first was that the wolves immediately backed off, but the second was that the sudden twist of her head made the filly believe her rescuer was taking off without her, causing her to leap forward and grasp on to the kirin, which Midnight took to mean that the filly was safely on board and took off with a sudden downward push of her wings.

It took not even a split second for her to realize it was a big mistake. Almost immediately the filly’s grip slipped with a scream and she was hanging onto Midnight’s tail with only her front hooves. The timber wolves, sensing that their prey was now in distress as well as preoccupied, immediately ran forward and began jumping up and snapping their jaws, waiting for dinner to fall right into their waiting teeth. Midnight pulled her tail up to try and let the filly slide down onto her back while at the same time blowing fire down at the wolves to hold them off.

By now the first wolf had joined its pack-mates under the kirin; however its destroyed back leg prevented it from jumping. It did not prevent one of the more clever of the group from getting an idea. Halting its own jumping this particular wolf ran behind its crippled friend then jumped on him. The surprised wolf did exactly what its compatriot wanted and bolted up in an effort to shake him off; giving him the extra boost he needed to jump high enough to reach the two ponies. Midnight spotted him right before they made contact. She twisted away, the movement whipping her tail and causing the filly to be launched upwards into the air.

Time slowed for Midnight. She dodged the wolf but its teeth caught hold of her scarf and its claws raked her flank and over her cutie mark. Ignoring the pain she yanked her head back to rip away the scarf while she let her wings go vertical, and she began to fall with the wolf. At the same time she twisted her head around and blasted it with fire, and continued the blast until it slammed into the wolves below as well. When she felt the heat from it touch her hooves she brought her wings down, catching the updraft from the blast and rocketing herself up from the inferno. The filly landed square on her back a second later. “Now let’s get out of here.”

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Sapphire stared out the kitchen window into the increasingly intense blizzard. Midnight should have been back by now, and the pegasus was beginning to get worried. She knew the kirin could handle herself, but if she was lost in the storm or a creature from the forest had found her first then she could be in real danger. She had begun pacing and staring up at the clock and out the window. If Midnight didn’t arrive back in ten minutes she’d write to the princess and hopefully get search parties going.

Nine minutes later she had the letter written and dragon-fire in hoof when she finally heard a sound outside, followed immediately by the side door slamming open and Midnight barging in. “Midnight! Thank Celestia you’re back!” But before she could say anymore the kirin bolted into the living room and a *fwoomph* sound could be heard, quickly followed by the crackling of a fire.

Sapphire hurried into the living room and saw Midnight slide something small and cream-and-orange-colored off her back while the fire in the fireplace was now roaring with a few blue flames licking at the edges. “Midnight, what is-?”

“No time! Get as many blankets and pillows out here as you can and then something hot to drink!” Hearing the panic in the kirin’s words Sapphire ran past her and into the kirin's room, pulling off the blankets and pillows and throwing them towards Midnight who began making a make-shift nest right there on the floor. When Midnight’s bed had been cleared, she ran upstairs and began pulling blankets and pillows out of the guest room. When she got back downstairs Midnight was already pulling a blanket over herself and the filly, which was now tucked under her wing. Midnight took the blankets and pillows from Sapphire and added them to the nest.

The filly’s shivers had lessened since they made it inside, but Sapphire noticed something Midnight had overlooked. “Midnight how long has she been out there!?”

“I don’t know; why!?”

“Her lips are blue!” Now that she wasn’t just trying to get the filly out of the cold Midnight could see that it wasn’t just her lips that were blue. The tips of her ears, nose, hooves, and wings were all a pale blue color. Pulling the filly closer into herself, Midnight breathed in as if she was going to breathe fire, but then seemed to swallow it. The effect was immediate, as the filly snuggled closer to her. “What did you do?”

“I swallowed some fire. It helps keep me warm and in turn makes me into a sort of oven.”

“Well, let me at least rub her wings to help start warming her up.” Sapphire made to reach out for the filly but Midnight’s wing knocked her hoof away.

“No! They’re blue because ice crystals have begun forming there! If you rub it you could damage the tissue! Warm water in a bowl would be better. Also, do we have any applesauce?”

“Um, I think so?”

“Then get some out and heat it up; she needs something warm on the inside as well.” Sapphire nodded and practically flew back into the kitchen. Applesauce was a good idea: solid enough that it would help fill her stomach, yet liquid enough to be easy to swallow.

Midnight tucked her wing around the filly again and swallowed some more fire. While flying back had been safer and probably faster, the direct exposure to freezing winds and driving snow hadn’t done the filly any favors. She could have flown her to the hospital but, as it was, her house was closer and her thoughts at the time were simply to get her inside and warm. Now that they were inside and it was Sapphire now doing the running around, Midnight could take better stock of the situation, as well as finally let questions start to pop up. Why had the filly been out there in the first place? How long had she been out there? Was she a run-away or was she abandoned? The questions halted temporarily when she noticed the filly was opening her eyes slightly; a good sign.

With a dazed looked the filly slowly took in her surroundings. First the roaring fire, then the fire place itself, then the living room, followed by the two entrances to the kitchen, then finally her head swung slowly back around to take in the pony she was curled up against. Thankfully there wasn’t any blood-curdling screams of terror this time, but the way the filly barely seemed to register she was there still worried Midnight. After swallowing some more fire, much to the filly’s liking, Midnight brought her head down and touched the tip of her snout to the filly’s. It was like touching an ice cube, but Midnight kept it there, gently snorting warm air on it to help warm it up.

After a few breaths Midnight noticed the filly was matching her breaths so that she was inhaling the warm air Midnight was exhaling. In an effort to help the filly, Midnight began inhaling with her mouth so as not to throw off the breathing rhythm they were now sharing. After about a minute of this, Sapphire came back into the room with a bowl of hot water held with her wings which were covered with oven mitts, and a wash cloth in her mouth. She placed the bowl next to the nest as close to the two huddling inside it as she could, then took the cloth and gave it to Midnight. “The apple sauce is heating up now. It shouldn’t take too long.”

Midnight nodded as she took the cloth and dunked it gently into the water. When she took it out she wrung it out then lifted the blanket covering the filly and exposed her wings, an act the filly frowned at while she squeezed herself against the kirin. Sapphire’s eyes widened as she got a better look at the filly, not being able to before thanks to gathering pillows and blankets.

Gently, Midnight opened the filly’s left wing and wrapped the warm cloth around it. The filly relaxed at the warmth enveloping her wing and Midnight allowed her to retract her wing back against herself. Sapphire quickly disappeared then reappeared with a towel that she laid close to the fire but also within reach of Midnight. With that she returned to the kitchen to check on the applesauce. While she was gone Midnight removed the cloth from her now-much-better-looking wing, heated the water with her fire, then repeated the steps for her other wing. It looked better even before the cloth was applied, most likely due to it being covered by Midnight’s warm side. After a minute she removed the cloth and was about to re-heat the water again when Sapphire came out with the applesauce in a bowl with a spoon sticking out.

“It should be fine to eat but I’d still blow on it if I were you.” She placed the bowl down next to the water then laid down on the opposite side of the filly outside the nest. Midnight nodded then wrapped one of the filly’s fore-hooves in the cloth. By now the scent of the mashed apples had reached the filly, and she squirmed a bit in an effort to get closer to it. Without a word Midnight scooped up a spoon-full of the mush, blew on it, and presented it to the foal who willingly opened her mouth to receive it. She held on to the spoon for a second, probably enjoying the warmth, then released it. Midnight made sure she swallowed the food before getting some more.

Silence reigned in the room while the filly ate. After every few bites of food Midnight would remove the cloth, heat the water, soak the cloth, wring it, then apply it to another body part. As Sapphire watched the two of them, she was struck at just how much they seemed almost like a mother and foal, but she told herself that was just because the filly was up against Midnight’s side to get warmed up and not for affection. By the time the bowl was half empty Midnight had wrapped up both tips of the filly’s ears in the cloth, and that was when the silence was finally broken.

“I’m surprised to find one of them out here.” Midnight’s eyes flicked from the filly to Sapphire. “I’ve only seen bat ponies up at the castle as Princess Luna’s guard.”

“Bat ponies?”

“They also go by thestrals. From what I’ve overheard it sounds like they only inhabit caves, not live in forests.”

“Do you think she wandered away?” Sapphire shrugged.

“She could be a runaway. Whatever the reason she’s not in any condition to tell us right now. The only other thing I can tell you is that her coat, mane, and tail colors are very different from what I’ve seen at the castle. All of the thestrals in the castle have very dark toned colors, while this filly has very bright colors.” Midnight only gave a half-hearted hum in reply. Silence returned for a few minutes while the kirin removed the cloth for the final time and dried off the filly’s ears. She wasn’t blue at all anymore and wasn’t cold to the touch, but both mares knew she had a while to go before she could be considered fully recovered.

“Sapphire, how long did Rainbow say the storm was going to last? She said a day but is that a full twenty-four hours or is the weather patrol going to handle it in the morning?” Sapphire shrugged and shook her head.

“She never gave specifics, only that it would be over by dinner tomorrow.” At the mention of a meal both of their stomachs growled. “I’ll make us some sandwiches.”

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The rest of the night drifted by quickly enough. The adults had some simple grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and while they ate, the filly continued to rest next to Midnight. Occasionally she would look around or twitch an ear or wing, but for the most part she stayed curled up against the kirin. For the two mares if anything was unnerving about the filly it was her silence; she hadn’t made a peep the entire time she’d been inside. That changed when she let out a small *squeak* when she yawned and pulled the blanket over her head, allowing only an ear to stick out. “I’m going to move us onto the couch for the night. If you could just give me some of the pillows and blankets after I get us settled on there I’d really appreciate it.” Sapphire nodded, then Midnight scooped up the filly, blanket and all, with her wing and trotted over to the couch, climbing and resettling on it. The filly barely twitched at the sudden change in position. “One last thing Sapphire,” Midnight asked as she fixed the pillows and blankets the pegasus had given to her. “Before we ate I was going to ask that, as soon as this weather clears up tomorrow, please go to Ponyville Medical and bring back either a nurse or a doctor. She seems fine now, but I’d really like a professional’s opinion.” Sapphire agreed.

“The minute the last flake falls I’ll be out the door.”

“Thank you.” Sapphire nodded with a smile and went upstairs to her own bed. Once she was gone Midnight laid back against the couch’s back and swallowed another small bit of fire. There was a small hum of approval from the sleeping filly and Midnight let her eyes begin to close.

Before she let sleep take her, she noticed something. A feeling she was getting from the sensation of the filly sleeping next to her. The feel of her resting against her side, her small breaths causing her sides to press then relax against her own, the occasional twitch of a wing, hoof, or ear. It made Midnight want to curl around her more, be more protective of her. She allowed her wing and tail to do so, but kept her head up and against the back of the couch. She needed sleep if she was going to be of any use to the filly in the morning, as well as whoever Sapphire would be able to bring.

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For sleeping on a couch, Midnight woke up the next morning feeling very well rested. She had managed, somehow, to stay put all night. Her wings and legs ached from it, but that was her only compliant. It seemed the filly hadn’t been as still as her, as now her snout was sticking out from under the blankets and wing, and Midnight could feel the blanket under her wing was twisted into a bundle. Midnight actually had to fight the sudden urge to bend down and playfully nip the end of the filly’s snout; it was just too cute.

She snorted and looked up and out the window. It was close to mid-morning, evident by how the clouds looked in the light of the recently risen sun. There weren’t many of them this morning, with a lot more blue than white or grey visible from where the kirin was looking. The world had been covered in a blanket of white from the storm, and it looked like they’d gotten a significant amount of snowfall, based on how much the shed was buried. There was even a large drift that reached almost to its roof.

The sound of the side door opening caused the kirin to whip her head around the other way, and she saw Sapphire coming in with a shovel and dressed in winter gear. The pegasus didn’t notice the kirin staring at her until she had pulled off everything but her scarf. When she did see her she let a warm smile spread across her face and went over. “Good morning.”

“Mornin’. Why didn’t you wake me to help shovel?” Sapphire looked down at the still-sleeping filly then back up at Midnight. “Oh, right. How is it out there?”

“We got a lot of snow.” Sapphire sounded tired. “I got the front and side doors shoveled out, as well as a path between the two. I wanted to at least get those cleared before I went out to get somepony to look at her.” At that both mares looked down at the sleeping foal. “How’s she doing?”

“Breathing calm and steady and she doesn’t feel like an ice cube. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

“You still want a doctor or nurse, right?”

“Yes, I want a professional to give her the clean bill of health.”

“Good, then I’ll get to that after I get something warm in myself. Do you want anything?”

“If you can heat up a large bowl of applesauce again that’d be great; so I can share with her in case she gets up before you get back.”

“Sounds good.” With that Sapphire headed into the kitchen and Midnight allowed her head to lie back on the pillows. She must have nodded off for a bit because it seemed like she was back with the bowl of applesauce after only about a minute. “Alright, I won’t be gone for too long, hopefully.”

“I think when you tell them it’s a foal they’ll send somepony right away.”

“See you in a bit then.”

“See ya.” With that Sapphire was out the side door and in the air. Midnight turned to her food and scooped a spoonful into her mouth. It was nice and warm with a hint of cinnamon. She ate the food slowly and took time with each bite, partly to savor the taste and partly because she figured the filly would wake up anytime now. A few minutes later her hunch was born out as she felt a stirring under her wing and lifted it to reveal the foal waking up.

The filly’s eyes opened slowly and as they rose so did she, lifting herself into a sitting position. With that done she opened her mouth wide in another squeak-yawn, then noticed she was next to something. Following the body the filly looked up at Midnight and the kirin gave her what she hoped was a warm, comforting smile. “Good morning.” The filly tensed up. Midnight’s ears immediately flattened incase the filly screamed again but this time she actually spoke.

“Where am I!?” The filly’s voice had a squeaky sound to it like her yawn. Midnight lowered her wing again to help calm her down; she was looking around with fast head jerks and Midnight thought she might try and run again.

“You’re in my house and you’re safe here. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Umm… I was… I was in the woods… and then something… I guess it was you, came after me and I couldn’t get away, and then wolves attacked and then…” her voice trailed off and she looked up at Midnight with a look of one whose is lost and had no idea how it happened.

“Can you tell me why you ran away from me like that?”

“Well… I kinda thought you were the grim reaper or something…” Midnight looked away and snorted. ‘Peachy. Just bucking fantastic’ she silently fumed. “You don’t look that way now though,” The filly added, “Now you look kinda like a dragon.” The filly was surprised when Midnight actually chuckled instead of giving her another angry or exasperated look.

“Well I am half dragon, so I’m what’s known as a Kirin. Now you,” Midnight gently booped her, inciting a small giggle, “are known as a bat pony, or thestral, correct?” The filly gave a slow nod.

“I’ve heard us called both names; I don’t know which one is right.”

“That’s okay for now. I think the more important question at the moment is your name.” The filly hesitated for a second.

“My name’s ‘Squeaky Wings’.” Midnight smiled down at her.

“Well Miss Wings, it’s nice to meet you. My name is ‘Midnight Storm’, however ‘Midnight’ is just fine.”

“Okay. Midnight, could you call me ‘Squeaky’ instead?” The kirin nodded.

“How does ‘Squeaks’ sound? It just seems to roll off the tongue better.” ‘Squeaks’ nodded. “Good. Now that we know each other, how about some breakfast?” Midnight motioned to the bowl next to her.

“Is that applesauce?” Midnight nodded. “There’s a lot of it!”

“Well it’s for the both of us, and I’d say I’m just a little bigger than you are.” Midnight chuckled again. Little was an understatement. Squeaks was already slightly smaller than Dinky or Pinchy, and even those two could stand almost straight up while standing underneath her. With a squeaky laugh of her own Squeaks moved towards the bowl, only to flop down once she got on all fours.

“My legs feel weird,” Squeaks said as she tried to get up again, only for Midnight’s wing to gently push her back down.

“You’re still recovering from hypothermia so you’re bound to still be weak. Here,” Midnight picked up the second spoon still in the bowl with her free wing-claw and blew on the mash that came up with it. “I’ll feed you for now if that’s alright.” Squeaks nodded and let Midnight put the spoonful of food in her mouth. After she swallowed Squeaks licked her lips.

“This tastes really good!”

“Well I think Sapphire put some cinnamon in it. I take it you like it?” Squeaks nodded, and Midnight fed her another spoonful.

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Squeaks ate only a quarter of the bowl before she was finished. Midnight quickly downed the rest, then, after placing the bowl on the floor and off to the side, laid back against the pillows. “So, what do we do now?” Squeaks asked.

“Now? We rest some more. My friend Sapphire is already out trying to get a nurse or doctor to come look at you.” She let out a yawn. “And I think that storm took some out of me too.” Squeaks shrank back a bit.

“Do… do I really need a doctor?” Midnight smiled.

“You were in pretty bad shape when I got you here, and while you may look and feel alright I’d still like somepony who knows what they’re doing to look at you. Try not to think about it.” Midnight laid her wing over the filly again like she had over-night, leaving only her face exposed. “Besides, a little extra sleep never hurt anypony.” Squeaks nodded and snuggled down next to her and the same feelings of protectiveness washed over Midnight. The kirin let out a soft snort and let her wing close around the filly a little more.

To be honest Midnight was anything but tired. Her left wing and all four legs were practically demanding movement and within a few minutes boredom had set in, and she wasn’t the only one to feel its effects. Just like any other child, Squeaks was fidgeting under Midnight’s wing. Midnight could tell she was trying to be discrete about it so as to not bother the older pony, but with them laying next to each other it was impossible not to feel all the moving and hear the occasional sigh. They could talk to help pass the time, but all the questions Midnight had in mind were ones the pony Sapphire was bringing would want to know as well, so she felt it was better to wait and only ask them once.

After a half hour, that felt more like three, had gone by Midnight finally heard voices outside. Squeaks apparently heard them as well because she sat up and out from under Midnight’s wing and her ears were swiveling in the direction of the side door. Midnight looked up from the filly as the door opened.

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Sapphire was all too happy to be back at the house. While the sun was out and there was barely a cloud in the sky, the wind was going at a steady and freezing clip, even by pegasus standards. Nurse Redheart had fared little better. While she wasn’t up in the air to be hit by the wind, she did have to wade through the snow almost all the way from the hospital to the house. Despite that Redheart barely made a compliant. The minute Sapphire had entered and said she had a foal at home suffering from hypothermia she’d grabbed her saddle bags, stuffed them full of supplies, and told the nearest doctor she’d be making a house-call.

As both mares entered and shook themselves off Sapphire looked into the living room. She expected to see Midnight sleeping, Midnight awake and relived, or, in the worst case scenario, Midnight looking panicked. Her second guess was right but she hadn’t expected to see a second, smaller face staring at her with wide, yellow eyes the same shape as Midnight’s. As Sapphire led Redheart inside the filly’s head ducked back under Midnight’s wing. “Alright, let me see her.”

Midnight raised her wing and exposed the filly to Redheart. When the wing came up the filly wriggled back against Midnight’s side more. “It’s alright Squeaks; this is nurse Redheart and she’s here to make sure you’re alright.” At the sight of Squeaks, Redheart paused slightly but then began digging into her bags.

“’Squeaks’?” Sapphire asked.

“Her name’s ‘Squeaky Wings’, but ‘Squeaks’ just rolls out easier.” Sapphire was again struck with how maternal Midnight seemed to be with the filly; already calling her by a nickname and comforting her. The pegasus shrugged it off as Redheart reemerged from her bags.

“Dang thing fell all the way to the bottom. Okay, let’s just put this under your tongue.” But as Redheart brought the thermometer forward Squeaks shrank back from it like it was a needle.

“It’s alright Squeaks. It’s just a thermometer.” The look of utter confusion she gave Midnight made all three adults look at each other with some concern. “You… do know what a thermometer is, right?” Squeaks simply shook her head. Now Midnight was worried. Did they not have doctors in the bat colonies? Sapphire did say that they lived apart from other ponies and had been doing so for at least a millennia, so it was probably natural for some things to be lost to them, but to not even know what a thermometer was… Midnight was at a loss. “Well, it takes your temperature and helps tell Nurse Redheart if you’re sick or not. It doesn’t hurt I promise. Here, I’ll show you.”

Midnight looked up at Redheart and the earth pony pulled out another thermometer and stuck it in her mouth. After seeing Midnight take it like it was nothing Squeaks slid forward a bit and opened her mouth. Redheart stuck the original thermometer in, a little roughly in Squeaks opinion, then quickly retracted her hoof. Midnight and Sapphire had noted that Redheart had been eyeing the filly warily ever since she first saw her. “What kind of pony is she again?” Redheart asked as she pulled a clipboard out.

“A bat pony; they also go by thestral.” Sapphire said and Redheart jotted the information down.

“So they really do exist.”

“Princess Luna uses them as guards, so yes they do.” All Redheart said was “hmmm” as she continued to write things down. When she finished she pulled both thermometers out.

“Huh” she said after looking at them and writing them down.

“What is it?” Midnight asked warily.

“She’s colder than she should be, which is indicative of hypothermia, but from what Sapphire told me on the way here she should be worse off. Truth be told I didn’t expect her to be active at all.”

“Well, she has been up against me the entire time she’s been here, and I have been swallowing fire. I get it from my dragon side” she explained when Redheart looked at her funny. “I can swallow fire instead of breathing it and it warms me, and in this case her, up.”

“Well, that explains your temperature.” All three adults smiled slightly.

“We’ve also been feeding her warm applesauce and last night we used a wet rag to warm up the places she was blue.”

“You didn’t try rubbing?” Redheart asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I got hold of a medical book once and I read that rubbing can actually cause harm. Was it wrong?”

“No, actually it was spot on. I’m just surprised somepony knew that.” Redheart took down a few more notes. “Well, it seems you’ve done everything right. Got her out of the cold, got her warm, and kept her that way and even got some food into her. Was she ever seemingly in a daze at all?” Midnight and Sapphire nodded.

“Last night she ate and looked around but didn’t seem to register anything.” She scribbled away again.

“And how long has she been asleep for?” Midnight looked over to Sapphire.

“What time did we turn in?”

“Right after she did, so about eight? I left around nine, so…”

“Thirteen hours.” Midnight shook her head. She’d never been asleep so long in her life. Had she somehow been in sync with Squeaks?

“Sounds about right” Redheart said after writing that down as well. “Hypothermia patients tend to sleep for long periods during recovery and sleep often. At this point I’d say she’s recovering from a mild case and should be right as rain in a few days. Now, however,” the two other adults looked at her, “I’d like to know how she got into the forest in the first place and how long she’s been there.” With that she began pulling out some other equipment. “I think I should also do a quick physical just to make sure nothing else is wrong.” Midnight looked down at Squeaks, who had been silent the entire time.

“Can you tell us how you got into the forest?” Squeaks’ ears flattened against the back of her head and she laid down on the couch like she did something wrong. A knot formed in Midnight’s chest. What had happened to cause this filly to be so scared of telling them what happened? “Squeaks, I promise you we’re asking only so we can help you.” Squeaks looked up at Midnight and the kirin could see her eyes were becoming wet. Without a word, she brought her wing down and pulled the filly against herself. Bending her head over she whispered “I know it must have been very scary being alone in those woods, but you’re here now and nothing is going to hurt you, I promise.” This time she let the protective feelings rule her and she nuzzled Squeaks, an act the filly returned all too readily. When she felt Squeaks was okay she pulled back to see the other mares giving her strange looks. Midnight coughed and made it look like she was inspecting her wing until Squeaks finally spoke.

“Me and… my daddy… we were flying over the forest on our way to see Princess Luna. There was thunder and lightning…” at this Squeaks curled up a bit more. “Then I was falling and landed in a tree. I… I think there was a hole I hid in…” she shook her head and Midnight’s wing laid down over her. “That’s all I remember.”

“Do you remember how many days ago that was?” Redheart asked in a soft tone.

“Um…” Squeaks scrunched up her face in concentration. “I think… six? Maybe five…” she trailed off and shook her head.

“I’ll round it up to a week.” Redheart made the note and put the clipboard down. “Now Squeaky, I’d like to take a few measurements and ask some more questions while I do them, okay?” Squeaks looked up at Midnight and the kirin nodded.

“She still seems a bit weak in the legs.” Midnight told the nurse.

“Well, I was hoping to weigh her, if you have a scale.” Midnight shook her head.

“Never cared enough about my weight to have one. Besides, being bigger than other ponies tends to make you heavier by default.” Redheart nodded.

“Then perhaps she can lay on my back? I won’t get an exact number, but I can tell you if she’s underweight or not.” Midnight nodded, then nodded at Squeaks when she looked up at her. With some help from Midnight, Squeaks made it onto Redheart’s back. Once the filly was safely aboard the white-ish earth pony Midnight took the opportunity to finally stand up and stretch. Her body never ached so much in her life and the cracking of joints that hadn’t moved in more than half a day signified the welcome relief she was feeling. She stretched forwards and back on her legs, extended her right wing, and even straightened out her tail in relief. With a slight wobble she hopped off the couch and onto the floor.

“Feeling better?” Sapphire asked with a grin.

“Just never stayed still for so long.” The only thing she really wanted to do now was some running and flying, but that would have to wait.

“Hmmm… a little light but you are smaller than other fillies your age.” Then she remembered something. “Squeaky, how old are you?”

“Seven?” she said nervously.

“And are other seven-year-olds the same size as you?” Squeaks shook her head.

“I never played with other foals. I wasn’t allowed to go outside.” The adults looked at each other again.

“Why weren’t you allowed outside?” Squeaks simply curled up and didn’t say anything.

“I think we should get the physical done.” Midnight said after a full minute of silence. Redheart went through the whole gambit from checking Squeaks’ heart and breathing rate to even her blood pressure.

“A clean bill of health is all I can say, which is amazing considering she was alone in the forest for about a week.”

“I did find some fruit trees.” Squeaks piped up from Midnight’s back, where she’d been shifted to after her impromptu weigh-in.

“Well you can thank Celestia you found them, because they probably saved you from starving.” Redheart began to pack her bags. “I’d say keep her warm and well fed like you’ve been doing. Keep her in bed until tomorrow, then have her exercise her legs and wings for a bit so she can get used to them again. If there’s anything special bat ponies eat I suggest she tells you because that might help speed things up.

“Oh, and one last thing” Redheart said as she pulled on her bags. “Hypothermia patients usually end up with a cold after they recover, so if she does start showing signs of getting sick just swing by and tell me and I’ll get you a prescription for a medicine made especially for cases like this one.” Midnight and Sapphire thanked her for her time, and with that Redheart went out the side door.

“I’m going to have some breakfast.” Sapphire said wearily after a minute and headed into the kitchen. Midnight had a feeling the pegasus was doing the same thing she was: mulling over what Squeaks had said. Why hadn’t she been let outside? For Midnight it was because she didn’t want anypony to discover her, and it was more her decision than her mother’s. And why hadn’t they heard about a search and rescue? A foal gone missing before Hearth’s Warming HAD to stir up some alarm. She was pulled out of her thoughts by Squeaks pulling gently on her mane. When she turned her head around Squeaks had an embarrassed look on her face.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

Ch. 12 - Our Guest is a Little Bat-y

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After tending to Squeaks’ bathroom needs Midnight brought her back to the couch and wrapped her up in a blanket. When she was done, Squeaks looked like a cross between a pony and a grub. “I’m going into the kitchen for something real quick. Are you still hungry or thirsty?” Squeaks shook her head as best she could. “Alright, just stay put until I get back.” With that Midnight turned and shot some fire into the hearth, getting a new fire started. As she walked out of the room, she noticed Squeaks inch closer to the edge of the couch in an attempt to get closer to the heat. ‘Hehe, she looks cute squirming like that. Maybe for Nightmare Night…’ Midnight shook her head and silently sighed. ‘By Nightmare Night she’ll be with her family again, not here.’ She felt a painful pang in her chest but shook it off and entered the kitchen. Sapphire was just pouring herself some coffee and Midnight picked up the perculator when she was done.

“Is Squeaky alright?” Sapphire asked before taking a sip.

“She’s fine. Got her wrapped up in a blanket and some fire going in the hearth; she’ll be warm until I get back.” They both drank a bit in silence, then Sapphire spoke up again.

“I wonder why she wasn’t allowed to play with other foals.” Midnight shrugged.

“I chose not to go out for the most part, so I really can’t say.”

“You don’t think-?”

“No, I don’t think she was abused. Even if she did find a fruit tree out in the forest, she’d be nothing but skin and bones if that was the case. She’d also have some suspicious injuries. She probably got in trouble before her father took her to Canterlot and thinks he doesn’t like her anymore. I’m sure you had moments like that when you were a foal.” Sapphire nodded and a small smile worked its way out.

“Yeah, I messed up once or twice and mom got mad enough that I would think that. But, why haven’t we heard anything about a search?”

“You said the bat ponies you’ve met were rather reclusive. Maybe they’re doing the search themselves and keeping it secret for some reason. Anyway, I’m going to get some wood to throw on the fire.” As she turned to leave Sapphire noticed something off about the kirin.

“Hey Midnight, what’s that on your cutie mark?” Midnight looked down at her flank where Sapphire was pointing. Three dulled streaks ran from the upper front to the lower back of the mark.

“Timber wolf scratched me before I got away with Squeaks. No big deal.”

“Don’t you think it might have been a good idea to let Redheart take a look at it?” Sapphire looked back at the mark with concern. In the all the mayhem that surrounded Squeaks’ arrival the previous night it had been easy to overlook Midnight’s wound, especially after she had gotten the blankets on.

“As long as it doesn’t get infected I’m not going to complain; I heal fast anyway.” Sapphire’s concerned look didn’t leave her face.

“And how long will that be?” Midnight inspected the wound more closely with her tail, rubbing it up against her flank.

“End of the week, I think. Like I said, I heal fast.”

“Princess Celestia said nothing about fast healing.”

“How about swallowing my own fire to make myself a heat source?” Sapphire shook her head. “Just because she’s an alicorn doesn’t mean she knows everything.”

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The rest of the day passed quickly for both Midnight and Squeaks due to both of them taking several naps each. For Squeaks this was because she was still recovering from her ordeal, but also because, Midnight suspected, as a bat pony she was nocturnal and thus her sleep pattern was currently a bit wonky. For Midnight, she had a theory that since dragons took naps on the order of years there was a good chance her dragon side was causing her to sleep more rather than just lay around and be bored. Now that Squeaks was recovering and no longer in immediate danger, Midnight felt that her initial feelings of protectiveness would ebb and she could feel a bit more normal around the filly, like how she felt about Dinky and Pinchy.

Dinner was, for Midnight and Squeaks anyway, bananas and orange juice. Sapphire had a cucumber sandwich with onions and ranch sauce. The reason for the fruit-filled meals was that Midnight felt Squeaks still needed to eat soft things and that with the warning Redheart gave about a potential cold she wanted the filly to get as many vitamins in her as she could. “You know, I think Redheart had a good point.” Midnight said when their food was done. “I think starting tomorrow we should get you on a proper diet. Do bat ponies eat anything specific, or do they eat the same things we do?” She looked down at Squeaks expectantly, but the filly just laid down like she had in the morning and looked between Sapphire and Midnight. After a few moments Sapphire got up.

“I’ll take the dishes.” Without another word the pegasus got up and swept the two plates next to the couch away with her own. Before leaving, she gave Midnight a meaningful look.

Once she was in the kitchen Midnight looked down at Squeaks. “You know Squeaks, you can say things with Sapphire around too. Trust me when I tell you, she’s not one to judge others.”

Squeaks squirmed slightly. “Daddy said I’m not supposed to tell anypony outside the colony what we eat. He said they would hate us for it.”

Midnight laid her wing over the filly and rested her head down on the cushion so they were at eye level. “You know, I don’t tell anypony else what I eat either, and pretty much for the same reason. Ponies and animals don’t exactly have fangs because they look cool.” Midnight booped her, and the filly let out a soft giggle.

“But, you don’t have fangs.”

“I guess you really don’t remember much from that fight with the wolves, do you?” Squeaks shook her head, and Midnight lifted her own and yawned. Squeaks watched in amazement as, at the height of the yawn, Midnight’s canines slid out into large fangs that made hers seem like tooth picks. When she was done, the fangs slid back into the gums. “I personally prefer rabbit, but I wouldn’t mind seeing what a chicken taste like.”

Squeaks giggled nervously. “I always liked fruit more, and we also ate meat, too, but…”

“But?” Midnight asked with raised eyebrows.

Squeaks braced herself. “But we always had it REALLY fresh.”

“As in, not cooked?” Squeaks nodded. “Is it because you needed to drink…?”

Squeaks backed further under Midnight’s wing. “I don’t like it, but daddy always scolded me when I wouldn’t have any. He’d get mad when I said I wanted fruit instead, but I really don’t like it!” Midnight’s wing closed more around her as she pleaded with the kirin to understand.

“I believe you Squeaks. I’m sure there was at least one kirin who didn’t like meat or gemstones.”

“You eat gemstones?”

Midnight chuckled. “Sapphires are my personal favorite.”

Squeaks thought about that for a second. “Kirins are weird.”

Midnight snorted then busted out laughing. “Oh, and ‘VANTING to SUCK my BLOOD’ isn’t?” Midnight mimicked being a vampire and took a couple of playful bites at Squeaks, who laughed and slid deeper under her wing. “You and me are more alike than you think Squeaks. And Sapphire is a lot more understanding than you give her credit for.”

“So, she knows you eat meat?”

“Eat it right in front of her, although the meat I eat is cooked, so…” Midnight’s face lit up. “I’m going to get something out for breakfast tomorrow. I’ll be right back.” Midnight got off the couch and made sure Squeaks was under her blanket before going back into the kitchen. She was surprised to see Sapphire still there, reading a newspaper. “You weren’t trying to eavesdrop on us were you?” Sapphire gave her a hurt look.

“Why Midnight, the very IDEA that I would do something like that!” She draped a foreleg across her head dramatically. “I can’t believe you think of me that way!”

“Well, what DID you hear?” Midnight opened the freezer with a sly smile, even as a bag of broccoli attempted to take out her hoof.

“Enough to know what you’re looking for.” Midnight pulled out a bag and placed it in the sink then turned to her.

“Thank you Sapphire, for understanding both our food preferences.” Sapphire waved a hoof as she went back to reading.

“There are plenty of ‘normal’ creatures that drink blood, like leeches and mosquitoes. And, from what it sounds like, they don’t get it the same way fiction says they do.” Midnight gave a contented sigh. Sapphire truly was different from any other pony she’d met before, and in a good way.

“Well, I’ll see you in the morning, and again; thanks.” Sapphire nodded.

“Say good night to Squeaky for me.”

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The next morning Squeaks woke up and felt something… missing. It confused her, then she noticed how empty the couch was and the lack of a protective wing over her. The filly bolted up and looked around in a panic. She was still on the couch with the blanket around her in Midnight’s living room, but the kirin wasn’t anywhere in the room. Then a sound from the kitchen caught her attention and Squeaks saw the object of her search calmly standing over the stove. The filly sank back into the blanket as she calmed down. She may have barely known Midnight for two days, but the thought of suddenly being without her, not having her nearby to comfort her… Squeaks didn’t like it.

Before she could lay back down and let her mind drift towards that possibility Squeaks caught a whiff of whatever Midnight was cooking. Her stomach instantly growled at the delicious scent. Unfortunately, it also drew her attention to another part of her body a bit further down. “Midnight?” The filly’s soft, plaintive call caught the attention of the kirin and, after setting the frying pan she was using off to the side, she came into the living room.

“Morning Squeaks. Did you sleep well?” The filly nodded.

“I need to go to the bathroom again.”

“Well, how about you try walking there yourself? Nurse Redheart did say you should try walking again starting today.” Squeaks looked over the side of the couch. If she were okay the hop up and down wouldn’t have given her a second thought, but with her legs feeling like rubber when she tried to stand up the distance seemed like jumping from the top of the house. Seeing her unease, Midnight took one of the pillows they’d been using and placed it on the floor below Squeaks. “Remember to take it one step at a time, and use your wings to help take some pressure off your legs.” The bat pony opened her wings up and stared at them like she just remembered she had them. With some more encouragement from Midnight, Squeaks got up from a sitting position to a standing one. Now the distance to the floor seemed REALLY far down.

“Maybe I could go down backwards?”

“Whatever makes you comfortable.” Squeaks nodded then turned around, nearly tripping over her own feet, but her wings helped her control the turn and stay up right. Once she was in position, she slid gently backwards holding onto the cushion tightly and flapping her wings until one of her back legs touched the pillow, then she eased the other one down. Before long, she was sitting on the pillow on the floor. Midnight spun it gently until it was facing the door to her room. “And now the walk to my room.” Squeaks pulled herself up with more confidence this time and, with Midnight next to her the whole way, she eventually made inside Midnight’s room and then into the bathroom. Midnight helped her get situated then left her to her business; it was something Midnight was thankful the filly could do on her own. The walk back through the living room and into the kitchen proceeded even faster, although Squeaks still wobbled from time to time.

“Good morning.” Sapphire said with a smile as they walked in.

“Good morning.” Squeaks squeaked back. “What smells so good?” Midnight’s chest puffed out slightly.

“Well, this morning I made us both something really tasty: eggs and squirrel.” Midnight picked Squeaks up and placed her in the fold-out chair they set up earlier. Already in front of her was a glass of orange juice with a straw and, after a few seconds, Midnight placed her plate down. Squeaks recognized the eggs easily enough, but the other stuff…

“This is meat?” Midnight smiled.

“Not used to seeing it any color but red?” Squeaks nodded. “Well, go ahead and give it a taste. Can’t knock it till you try it!” Squeaks picked up her fork and poked the meat a bit before finally picking it up. It smelled good, and she took a tiny bite. She chewed slowly, and for a second both adults thought she might spit it out. Squeaks swallowed, then stuffed the rest of the food on her fork in her mouth with an eager grin. Midnight smiled and dug into her own food.

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After breakfast, Sapphire went in the front to open the shop and Midnight led Squeaks back into the living room to exercise her legs and wings. She wasn’t going to push her like she was entering a marathon, but she did have her walk around the living room a few times. It only took Squeaks a half hour to get used to her legs again, but her wings were a different matter. When she told Midnight she hadn’t even tried flying before meeting her, the kirin got a dark look in her eyes. Snorting, Midnight told her that was going to change right there. “Should’ve had your first lesson by now” she grumbled as she set up pillows on the floor as a crash-pad.

“Daddy said-”

“Well, your dad was wrong this time. I don’t see anything wrong with your wings and you’ve proven you can keep them flapping. Flying is just… it’s just the best thing in the world. I’d give up almost anything to keep my wings.” Midnight fell silent for a second as she regarded the subjects in question then took a quick look out the window. It was another great looking day for such an activity. “Anyway,” she said as she pulled herself back inside, “I taught myself how to do it and I’ll teach you.” Midnight motioned for her to get onto the pillows.

“First lesson: your wings have to be strong enough to hold you up and keep you up for however long you are in the air. It’s just like learning to walk: your legs need to be strong enough to keep you up and moving. Second lesson: know your limits. The worst thing you can do is jump off the highest thing you can find and just hope it happens. This is why you’re on the pillows. All I want you to do is see how high and how long you can get up in the air and hover.” Midnight laid herself down in front of the pillows. “Whenever you’re ready.” Squeaks gulped.

“But what if I don’t-”

“It doesn’t matter if you take off or not; I’m not expecting you to suddenly get it because you won’t. Nopony walks perfectly their first time, or even really does it, but you have to try before you can.” Midnight motioned for her to start and Squeaks closed her eyes and began flapping as hard as she could. When she felt her back hooves leave the pillows her eyes flew open and she looked down. Her concentration broken, that’s the direction she fell. After she flopped onto the pillows she pulled herself up to apologize for failing so quickly, only to stop short when she saw Midnight actually smiling. “That was better than I thought you’d do. If you hadn’t been so quick to look at your hooves you might have actually stayed up longer. That brings us to the next lesson: never be scared. You should, of course, be concerned about falling, but you must never let that control you. Like with swimming, you need to trust both yourself and what you’re moving through to keep you up, and not let fear bring you down. Try again.”

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They continued her training until lunch time and while she never got more than two inches off the pillows for more than a couple of seconds, it was two seconds and two inches more than she had done when they started. Afterwards, Midnight began picking up the various blankets and pillows that had been scattered around the living room and putting them back where they’d been taken from. Before Squeaks had woken up, she and Sapphire had agreed that it would be better if the filly slept in a real bed (Midnight’s) for the rest of the time she was with them.

Squeaks closely followed Midnight around the whole time; a little too closely. As Midnight made her way towards the kitchen and the stairs to put pillows and blankets back in the guest room when her right hind hoof connected with something mid-step. In an effort to not step on it, Midnight immediately shot the hoof out to right and away from it, almost losing her balance in the process and dropping the blankets and pillows from her back. “Dang it Squeaks!” Midnight snapped when she saw the filly moving out from under her. Squeaks quickly moved to the side and Midnight collected the fallen items. Once they were again stacked on her back she turned to Squeaks, and her annoyance diminished. Squeaks was on the ground and looking like she’d done something really bad.

“Aw Tartarus” she mumbled. “Squeaks come over here.” At first the filly barely moved, but with a few more gentle waves over the filly finally crawled up to her. Midnight lifted Squeaks’ face with a hoof until they were looking at each other. “I’m not mad at you Squeaks, it’s just… you can’t be walking under somepony like that. I nearly tripped and I could have gotten hurt or fallen on you. If you want to follow me that’s fine, but just give me some room okay?” Midnight smiled down at the filly and soon enough Squeaks smiled back and nodded. “Good.”

After bringing everything upstairs Sapphire poked her head in the kitchen and asked Midnight to get more wood for the front. As it turned out it was the only time Squeaks didn’t follow the kirin. Squeaks stayed wrapped up in the only blanket Midnight had left out until she came back inside and then only moved to follow her when the side door closed.

In the front, Sapphire watched as Squeaks moved to stand directly under Midnight as the kirin stacked the wood bundles only to move back when she remembered what Midnight had told her. When Midnight finished she sat down with Squeaks sitting between her front legs and the two adults talked about groceries and dinner until three familiar faces walked in.

“Hey; haven’t seen you all since before the holiday.” Midnight greeted as Berry, Pinchy, and Dinky came into the shop.

“Hello Midnight, Sapphire.”

“Hi Midnight! Hi Sapphire!”

“Hi.”

“Baby sitting today?” Berry nodded.

“Derpy’s working late thanks to the snow, so I figured I’d bring the girls over and we could catch up.”

“Sure, anything new?” Midnight was happy Berry was there, mostly because as one of her closest friends she enjoyed her company and with everything that had been going on it had felt like forever since they last hung out. However, she was also hoping that she might have heard about a missing filly and if there was a search going on.

“Well, my dad visited us for the holiday.”

“How is he?”

“Good. He just delivered a large order of vodka to Van Hoover and…”

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Pinchy was bored. So far all the grown-ups had done was talk, and not even about anything interesting. She had thought that when her mom said they were going to visit Midnight and Sapphire they would at least be inside where she and Dinky could play, or they could all play a game while they talked. Instead they were still in the store front where all they could do is sit and listen. Dinky wasn’t much of a help either; she was just sitting off to the side and reading a boring old text book. School didn’t even start up until next week and her best friend was already studying. Her feeling of boredom was interrupted by a sudden need to answer the call of nature.

Doing like her mother had told her, Pinchy raised her hoof like she was in school and waited for one of the adults to notice. When none of them did she began waving it around, a motion that became more frantic the longer she waited for somepony to notice her.

“Yes, Pinchy?” Berry said as her daughter hopped in front of her and waved both forelimbs frantically in her face.

“I gotta go!” Berry looked down to see her foal’s back legs pinched together in the universal sign of “I have to go NOW.”

“You don’t even need to ask Pinchy.” Midnight said with a laugh, and the filly was past the counter and through the kitchen door.

When she came back a few minutes later (sweet relief) she turned to thank Midnight and stopped when she saw a pair of golden cat-eyes staring back at her. “Umm… who’s that?” Sapphire turned to look at Pinchy then looked in the direction she was pointing. When she saw that Pinchy was asking about Squeaks, who was currently trying to hide behind Midnight’s legs, she tapped the kirin with her wing. When she too saw the situation she let out a sigh.

“Could you come in the back? We’ve got something to tell you and a few questions to ask.”

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Squeaks watched the two other fillies from under her blanket. When Midnight had invited them all inside she suggested that the foals play in the living room while the adults talked in the kitchen. As soon as she could, Squeaks had grabbed the blanket off the couch and wrapped herself in it. She didn’t know these two and felt very uneasy since all they did was stare at her, but Midnight had insisted that she spend time with them while she talked with Sapphire and the pink one’s mom. Without Midnight around she felt very vulnerable.

“So,” the pink filly asked, “do you suck blood or something?”

“Pinchy!” Dinky cried out.

“Well she’s got fangs!” Squeaks pulled the blanket around her face.

“That doesn’t mean you need to be so blunt!” The grey filly moved closer to Squeaks as if to protect her.

“I’m not stupid!”

“I didn’t say you were! It means you’ve got no tact!”

“Why would I carry tacks around?” Dinky face-hoofed.

“I mean think before you speak! Maybe she’s sensitive to questions like that!”

“So… I shouldn’t ask her if she turns to ash in sunlight?” Dinky face-hoofed again.

-----------------------------

“That poor dear.” Berry had listened to how Squeaks came to be with Midnight and Sapphire, and the mare felt for the filly. “It’s definitely a good thing you found her when you did, but she’s been missing since before Hearth’s Warming and you haven’t heard anything about a search?”

“Have you?” Midnight asked with a hopeful look. It faded when Berry shook her head.

“Something like that would definitely get around in a town like this. I could tell Derpy and we could ask, but I doubt anything will come of it.”

“I would appreciate it if you did.”

“Then consider it done.” Midnight nodded gratefully. As they got up Sapphire leaned over.

“I think it might be a good idea to send a letter to the princess about this. She said they were heading to Canterlot after all.” Midnight nodded.

“That does have a better chance of succeeding.”

“I’ll write it right now.” With that Sapphire disappeared up the stairs and Midnight followed Berry into the living room. Inside Dinky and Pinchy were playing a game of tic-tac-toe on a sheet of paper while Squeaks watched. She was still in her blanket, although her head was sticking out of it with ears and eyes focused on the game.

“And I’ll put an “O” here.”

“Dang it!” Pinchy threw her hooves up and flopped back as she was defeated again. Both Dinky and Squeaks laughed at her antics. Seeing the little bat pony laugh like that made Midnight feel warm inside.

“Hey, Midnight?” Berry whispered as she leaned over. “You’re doing the right thing by looking for her father, but from what you told me about what she’s said…”

“You think it might also be a bad idea?” Berry nodded and Midnight sighed. “I don’t know what to think Berry. All I’ve got is the word of a child, but what kind of parent, even one in hiding, doesn’t make even some attempt at trying to find their foal, or let them go outside to play, or even teach them how to fly?” Midnight shook her head. “And what if he is looking and finds out I haven’t? That’s foalnapping. I’ve got nothing to stand on nor is it really my right to. I just… I just want what’s best for her.” Berry smiled.

“That’s all any parent or guardian wants for a foal.” They stood in silence as the girls played another round with Squeaks taking Pinchy’s place this time. She almost beat Dinky, too.

“Sorry Squeaky, but I win.”

“Girls, it’s time for us to go.”

“Alright mom” Pinchy called from the floor where she was still brooding about her defeats. Dinky packed away the paper in the saddle-bags she had brought with her.

“Maybe we can play again next time we’re over.” Dinky suggested.

“Sure!” Squeaks said with a smile. With that Pinchy and Dinky followed Berry through the kitchen and out the front. Midnight looked down at the bat pony as she resumed standing next to her.

“I take it you had fun?” Squeaks nodded enthusiastically.

“Can they come back again soon? Pinchy said she’s got more games we could play!” Midnight smiled down at her, even though she felt like doing anything but.

“We’ll… see.” She was saved further explanation by Sapphire, who had just entered the room.

“I just sent the letter to the princess. Hopefully she’ll get back to us soon.” Midnight nodded while Squeaks tilted her head.

“How did you send a letter to the princess?” Sapphire explained about the dragon fire she had.

“I actually work for the princess and Midnight.” Squeaks looked up at the kirin with wonder.

“You know Princess Luna!?”

“Actually I know Princess Celestia, but Sapphire did work for both princesses. We sent them a letter because we think they can help us find your dad.” Squeaks‘ ears drooped slightly when she heard that. “How about I teach you a game or two while we wait and see if she replies?” Squeaks cheered up a bit at that and Midnight led her into the kitchen to play Go Fish. However, before Midnight could even get the cards out, a scroll popped into existence on the table. Not wasting a second, Midnight grabbed it, opened it, and read it aloud:

Midnight and Sapphire,

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This is indeed a serious matter you’ve found yourselves in, but unfortunately the entire thestral population in Canterlot makes up the Lunar Guard, and thus I have little to do with them out of courtesy for my sister, Princess Luna. I will, however, send your letter along to her so that she may make inquires. With any luck she’ll have an answer for you by morning.

Best Wishes,

Princess Celestia

“Well, all we can do now is wait.” Midnight said to the room at large.

Ch.13 - Midnight Maternal

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For what seemed the hundredth time that night Midnight rolled over in an attempt to fall asleep again. Ever since Princess Celestia had let them know a letter would be sent in the morning with the results of Princess Luna’s search, the kirin had felt uneasy. On the one hoof, she was glad that Squeaks’ family would be found and the filly reunited with them. On the other, she recalled the short conversation she and Berry had about what Squeaks had told them.

From the moment Squeaks met her, the filly had attached herself to the kirin. She confided in her, looked for her approval, and even seemed to find safety in her very presence. Squeaks seemed to look on her like any foal would look upon a… a mother, and it both warmed and scared her deeply. What if, after finally reuniting Squeaks and her father, the filly decided she wanted to stay with Midnight and made a scene of it? Or what if her father was indeed as uncaring and hurtful or worse than the filly was making him out to be, unintentionally or not? She could run away the first chance she got and try to get back to Ponyville herself. She could easily get into the same situation Midnight found her in with nopony to be there to get her out in time.

That last thought made the normally stoic kirin shudder. Squeaks could get herself killed trying to get back to her if it was something she put her mind to. But she couldn’t just push her away, not now. She had been cold; Midnight knew how to warm her up. She’d needed comforting; Midnight was there. Such things had been so automatic and simple that the thought that they could end up meaning something more to anypony had completely escaped her. But to not acknowledge those feelings now would be like trying to ignore a manticore gnawing on your leg, and so the question for Midnight was how to deal with them. It didn’t help that every time she thought of the moment she’d be giving Squeaks up a small knot in her stomach would tighten.

As she rolled over again she heard a noise coming from her room. Slowly, Midnight got up and opened the door.

Squeaks was crying; not hard or loud, but crying all the same. Midnight moved to the side of the bed and pulled the filly close with a wing, stroking her mane with a hoof in an attempt to calm her down. “It’s alright Squeaks, I’m here.”

“I… I was in the woods…” Squeaks gasped between sobs, “and… and I was calling for you, but… but then timber wolves were chasing me, and… and I kept calling for… you, but… you never… and then… then the wolves…!” With that Squeaks finally broke down completely, her sobs muffled as she buried her head into Midnight’s shoulder. Quietly, Midnight closed the door with her tail and gently pulled herself onto the bed, making sure the whole time Squeaks still had a firm hold on her. The two of them stayed that way until Squeaks finally cried herself out. “You weren’t there, and I was so scared…”

“It was just a bad dream Squeaks, just a bad dream.” She hugged Squeaks even tighter. In her desperation to find something more comforting to say, Midnight found herself humming a tune and she began rocking Squeaks. As she continued she had a sudden sense of familiarity, and when she looked back down at Squeaks she could almost picture her with a black coat and blue mane with her own forelegs as white as the snow outside. A small smile crept onto her face and she could feel a slight wetness in her eyes. When she finished Squeaks was sleeping peacefully in her forelegs and Midnight gently untangled herself from the filly. Before she left she slipped a pillow she had been laying on into the filly’s grip, then went back to the couch. This time she fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillows.

-----------------------------

When Sapphire came downstairs the next morning Midnight was already in the kitchen nursing a cup of coffee. The pegasus noticed it was black, which wasn’t a good sign.

“So has a letter come yet?” Sapphire shook her head. “Didn’t think so; figured it would appear on the table.”

“All that might mean is that Princess Celestia was swamped first thing this morning and hasn’t gotten to look at Princess Luna’s report. Even if they don’t find anything they’ll still send word.”

“Perhaps Princess Luna wasn’t able to speak with all her guards last night.” Midnight said as she took a swig of her drink.

Sapphire shook her head again. “Princess Luna has few duties and even fewer nobles and petitioners coming to night court even after being back so long. Trust me when I tell you that she had time to speak with them all.” Midnight didn’t comment on that fact except to grumble a bit. For the next few minutes neither of them spoke.

“Me and Berry talked yesterday while you were upstairs writing the letter,” Midnight said finally.

“About?” Sapphire asked to which Midnight sighed.

“About this whole situation. I know the right thing to do is to find her dad and return her to him, but… but what if it isn’t?” Sapphire raised an eyebrow as Midnight got up and began to pace. “I mean, you’ve heard what Squeaks has been saying. He’s kept her inside and away from other foals, refuses to teach her how to fly, and scares her into keeping their own diets a secret. What kind of parent treats their foal like that?”

Sapphire shook her head. “I honestly don’t know Midnight. I agree that something isn’t right, but for now all we have is Squeaks’ word.”

“And the fact that she was in the forest for almost a week without a hint of a search party. I’m telling you Sapphire, her father had better have a damned good excuse for this, or else... or else…”

“Or else what?” As usual with Sapphire, it wasn’t a challenge but an honest question. Midnight’s only response was to kick one of the cushions across the room and leave with an angry snort. Sapphire let her go without a word. Midnight had brought up a good point that even the law couldn’t overlook. Unless Squeaky’s father had a valid, ‘a damned good’ as Midnight had put it, excuse as to why his daughter had been missing for at least a week with no search efforts made, then there was a good case to bring him up on charges of abandonment. But, it wasn’t just the kirin’s words Sapphire was contemplating on. Sure, it was normal for an adult to be worried about a foal, but Midnight almost seemed… desperate for Sapphire to agree something was wrong. The pegasus hoped that Midnight wasn’t getting too attached to Squeaky.

-----------------------------

Midnight spent as much time as she could in the living room with Squeaks flight training, playing, or reading for the rest of the day. The entire time Midnight kept an ear out for the sound of the letter from Celestia or Luna popping into existence. The small knot in her stomach had only grown with anxiety as the letter continued to become later and later. Her talk with Sapphire that morning wasn’t helping either. She had been so adamant for the pegasus to agree that something was wrong but she couldn’t figure out why. It was obvious there was and it would be sorted out when the princesses found Squeaks’ father, but then why was she so hung up on it?

Dinner was a quiet affair for the three of them. While Sapphire tried to get some type of reaction out of the kirin by telling Midnight some of the gossip she’d heard that day and that Berry had come by to tell them there hadn’t been any word of a search, the kirin would simply bite into another gemstone with a look of disinterest. The uneasiness between the adults wasn’t lost on Squeaks, who would periodically look up from her plate of fruits and rabbit at both Midnight and Sapphire, only to look down again when either of them made eye contact with her.

The tension broke in the house when, while Midnight was washing the dishes, the letter from the princesses finally popped into existence on the kitchen table. Midnight practically launched herself at the scroll and grabbed it with her wing-talons before Sapphire could even make a move for it. Unfurling it she read out loud for them all to hear:

Dear Midnight and Sapphire,

I apologize for the lateness of this letter and hope it has not caused any discomfort on your part. As Sapphire will tell you I am occasionally set upon by my duties even after I have just raised the sun in the morning, and thus am unable to discuss matters that may have happened during the night with Princess Luna. This is even more troublesome when her efforts have indeed bore fruit. Squeaky Wings’ father has indeed been found, so of course bringing her to Canterlot as swiftly as possible is expected. However, Princess Luna has also brought to my attention that something about the situation has her worried and she has asked that I be there as well when you reunite father and daughter. Since this is the case I ask that you come to the palace tomorrow morning promptly after sunrise. I understand that it is such an early hour, but such a meeting tonight is nearly impossible.

Good Night and Safe Travels,

Princess Celestia

When she was finished reading, Midnight looked at Sapphire and saw that she too had a look of concern. Squeaks’ father was indeed in Canterlot and had been found, but Princess Luna had misgivings about the situation. And if the princess had doubts without hearing what Squeaks had told them, then both mares really began to worry about what was going on.

“I think,” Sapphire finally said, “that if we’re getting up so early it would be best if we went to bed just as early.”

“Yeah…” Midnight agreed with a nod. Squeaks said nothing, only held onto Midnight’s leg as if it would be yanked away the second she eased her grip.

-----------------------------

Squeaks was unusually quiet as Midnight tucked her in for the night. In fact, she hadn’t said a word after the letter arrived. The filly looked so lost and afraid it was almost like they were back in the forest when Midnight had found her. The kirin could barely look the filly in the eye as she slid the blankets up to her chin. She sat next to the bed trying to think of something to say.

“Squeaks… I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow at the palace. I have no idea how it’ll all go, but…” Midnight looked up at Squeaks. The filly stared back as if pleading with her “but… just remember it’ll all work out in the end.” Even as she said it the words felt hollow. Squeaks only nodded and rolled over so that her back was to Midnight. With a silent, heavy sigh the kirin left the room and climbed onto the couch. She was doing the right thing, but why did it feel so wrong?

-----------------------------

“I’m up.” Sapphire drew back her hoof as Midnight sat up on the couch. The pegasus was the first one up and had come down to find Midnight still on the couch. By the look of her the kirin hadn’t gotten much sleep.

“Do you want me to get her or-”

“I’ll get her.” Midnight pulled herself off the couch and went into her room. Squeaks was still sleeping but woke up as soon as she felt Midnight’s hoof on her. She didn’t look in any better shape than Midnight. Before leaving the room Midnight wrapped her up in one of the smaller blankets so she’d have some protection from the cold.

“Are we all ready to go?” Sapphire asked when they entered the front.

“Yeah… how about we fly to the station; we need to get the first train out if we want to make it there on time.”

Sapphire agreed.

Once they were outside and Midnight had made sure Squeaks had a good hold on her and the blanket they took off. The first thing Squeaks noticed about it was how steady a ride it was. A quick look around showed that Midnight’s wings were holding steady for the most part and not constantly flapping like Sapphire’s. Midnight’s wings would only flap once or twice and then hold steady for a time. Looking past the two mares Squeaks could see the moon hanging low in the sky and dim light coming from the opposite horizon; it would be dawn soon. Looking down, Squeaks saw that they were now over the center of town which was marked by a large, three story building. A little ways in one direction was what looked like a house made of candy, and in another was what looked like a very large tree with windows in it. After less than half a minute in flight they arrived at the train station.

There was hardly anypony else there, and after buying the tickets they had a few minutes to wait and Squeaks used that time to ask about the town. After describing the buildings Midnight told her they were the Town Hall, Sugarcube Corner, and Golden Oaks Library respectfully. Sapphire offered to get them some hot chocolate from the station while they waited, which they both agreed to, and by the time she’d returned the train was pulling in.

-----------------------------

The train ride up to Canterlot was a quiet one. Sapphire sat alone on one side of the booth they were in while Midnight and Squeaks were on the other. It took a half hour for the train to go from Ponyville Station to Canterlot Station. That whole time Midnight simply stared out the window at nothing in particular except maybe the towers of the city as they came out of a tunnel. Squeaks simply stared down at her cup and then the seat when it was finished; Midnight had chugged hers down after they had barely gotten into their seats. Sapphire spent the train ride trying to come up with something to say to either of them, but nothing really came to mind. She knew both of them had only one thing on their minds and there wasn’t really anything she could say to get them to think of something else.

Canterlot Station was quiet when they pulled in, but as Sapphire explained that was normal for a Saturday. To Sapphire’s surprise, Midnight strolled off the train and followed her onto the street without a hint of worry or nervousness. She had thought the kirin would have shown some fear at being in the open anyplace but Ponyville, but it was clear that the filly riding on her back was taking up most, if not all, her thoughts, which left little to no room for her own fears and misgivings to take hold.

Once again, they flew to their destination but this time they stayed below the buildings. Sapphire explained that it was frowned upon in the capital to fly higher than the roof tops, and while Midnight felt that it was stupid she didn’t make a fuss.

The sun had risen by the time they reached the palace gates which apparently had changed guard before they arrived. Instead of the dark purple armor and dark coats of the Night (Lunar) Guard they were greeted by the Day (Solar) Guard who had white coats and golden armor. One was a unicorn and the other a pegasus. “Sapphire Breeze, Midnight Storm, and Squeaky Wings seeking an audience with the princesses. We are expected.” Sapphire said to the unicorn guard.

“Right, I have you right here Miss Breeze.” The guard lifted up a clipboard with his magic. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen you.”

“The princesses have me on duty down in Ponyville at the moment, but it is nice to be back even under such circumstances.” There was a loud grunt and Sapphire turned to see Midnight giving her a look. “Right. I’m sorry sergeant but we are in a hurry. Perhaps we can catch up again later.” The unicorn nodded and the three visitors walked passed him with the pegasus as an escort.

Once inside the pegasus returned to his post and Midnight followed Sapphire into what looked like a large waiting room. “This is where the nobles and petitioners wait to meet with the princesses. We’ll need to wait here until somepony calls us.” Midnight gave a snort but had barely began to look for a place to lie down before a side door opened and a white unicorn mare with a red mane done up in a bun popped her head in.

“It really is you Sapphire!”

“Ember!” Sapphire raced over and the two greeted each other like old friends.

“It’s so good to see you again! The princess said you were on an assignment, but wouldn’t tell me anymore!”

“I can’t tell you much about it either except that it involves Midnight over there.” Sapphire waved her hoof in the kirin’s direction. Midnight just stared at them with a look of annoyance.

“Not much of a talker is she? And what is she by the way?” Ember whispered.

“She’s a kirin, a pony / dragon hybrid. I’d tell you more but I really think it’s a good idea if we see the princesses if they’re ready for us.”

“Oh, yes, they’re ready! They’re waiting in conference room three.” Sapphire, Midnight, and Squeaks followed Ember out the side door and down a hallway.

“So I take it you’re Princess Celestia’s new personal aid?” Ember nodded.

“Yes. After you left the princess asked if I would like the position. Of course I said yes with the understanding that if you returned I would go back to my old one.” Sapphire nodded. The princess had told her that she was free to return to the palace if the situation with Midnight became… unbearable.

“Well, I think you’ll still have it by the end of the day.” Sapphire ruffled her wings nervously. “Anyway, how’s your sister?”

“She’s fine. She got a job in Manehattan recently.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, some fashion company called- oh, here we are!” Their group had stopped at a set of double doors with a sign on one saying “Conference Room #3” in silver letters. Ember stuck her head in and spoke with somepony on the other side. After a second, she pulled her head out and told them they could enter.

It was a spacious room with a high ceiling, large center table, and enough room around it so that two ponies could comfortably walk next to each other around the room. On the end of the table opposite them sat the Princesses Celestia and Luna. All three adults bowed. “Rise, my little ponies.” Pulling her head back up Midnight could see that Princess Celestia’s face was serine, warm, and inviting. On the other hoof Princess Luna’s dark blue face showed a look of annoyed curiosity.

Midnight gently lowered her hindquarters so Squeaks could slip off. Once she was settled next to Midnight, Celestia began the meeting. “I am happy to see you both well, and your charge also. Bringing her here to meet her father is all I would have had you do, except my sister says she has some concerns surrounding the events that led Midnight Storm to finding Squeaky Wings.”

“Yes, I do.” Luna sat up straighter as she regarded them. “I would like to hear how you found her and what you have done for her so far.”

Midnight and Sapphire launched into how Midnight found Squeaks in the forest, how she’d saved her from a pack of Timber Wolves, how she’d been hypothermic, and what Nurse Redheart had concluded from her examination, along with some input from Squeaks now and again. Celestia and Luna listened to every word. By the time they were finished Celestia’s smile had vanished into a frown and Luna’s face seemed even colder than when they walked in.

“Thank you for telling us this.” Luna said, then turned towards another set of double doors to her left. “Send in Private Dark Blade please!” The double doors opened and in strode a bat pony stallion in full armor. Midnight didn’t like him the moment she saw him. “Private Dark Blade, when I spoke with you, you told me that you had indeed lost your daughter. Is this her?” Dark Blade looked over at their group and Squeaks looked questioningly up at Midnight. The kirin nodded and Squeaks walked towards the stallion. Half way down the table, Squeaks stopped and looked up. Dark Blade hadn’t moved from his spot next to Princess Luna; in fact it looked like he had actually shifted himself so as to stand between Squeaks and Luna. He stared down at Squeaks like she had done something truly terrible and Squeaks sank to the floor. Luna eyed the situation warily.

“Private Dark Blade is this or is this not your daughter?” The bat pony nodded slowly.

“It is, your highness, and I request that I not be asked to be in the same room as that filth again, or that it be allowed in your presence.” The room became eerily quiet after that. Looks of shock were plain on the faces of everypony except Dark Blade and Squeaks.

“Guard…” Luna said slowly, “Thou shalt explain thineself post haste.”

“Your highness, ever since we became your loyal guard after your blessing, we have strived to keep ourselves pure. Unlike other colonies we kept true to you and you alone. This was easy even after… the unfortunate incident with your sister. Unfortunately over time some… flaws started cropping up. Foals started to be born with colors that belonged to creatures of the wretched daytime,” At this Celestia could have sworn he sent a nasty look her way, “rather than ones befitting creatures of your glorious night. Thankfully such abominations were few and far between, and when they did crop up they were dealt with accordingly.”

“And… by accordingly thou means…?”

“Left to the wilderness.”

Luna’s shock was quickly giving way to anger. The very bat ponies she created turning on their own foals just because they were born with light-colored coats. And to think they did this in her name! If she didn’t need to know how Squeaky Wings had managed to survive so long she would have smited him where he stood.

Celestia was equally as angry, if not more so. She and Luna had made amends over what had happened a thousand years ago but these ponies were acting as if there was still some sort of conflict between night and day. Not to mention that what they did with newborns who simply had lighter coats was appalling. Celestia looked across the table. Midnight’s face was reflecting Luna’s and her own anger and disgust, although she was sure neither of them were growing fangs.

Midnight glared at the stallion with a burning hatred. This… this monster had left Squeaks in the woods to die and she was going to give her back to him!? The kirin could feel fire creeping up her throat at the thought of it. ‘I would sooner cut my own wings off than let her stay one more minute with him!

Sapphire was silently pushing Ember back away from the kirin.

“And why has Squeaky Wings been allowed to grow whilst others… have not?” At this the bat stallion shot another damning look at Squeaks, which caused the filly to shrink back further and Midnight to take a step forward.

“That thing is alive today because my wife died in child birth.” Anger gave way to shock again. “She died before she saw what came out of her. Her final wish was for me to raise it with love and care, and for that reason and that alone I kept it hidden and allowed it to grow. I kept it at home and told it exactly what would happen if it went outside. Then we found out you had returned and while many of my brethren left immediately I could not. I had to figure out what to do about that,” he made another gesture towards Squeaks, “before I would even consider showing myself to you. I eventually realized that the Everfree Forest laid between our colony and Canterlot.”

“And that ist how Squeaky Wings ended up in the forest.” Luna finished, her eyes hardening with fury.

“Had I known it would survive, I would have endeavored to fly over a volcano or the ocean.”

*BAM**CRACK*

Luna and Dark Blade looked up to see Midnight staggering back slightly from a golden wall of magic that had suddenly sprung up. Cracks were forming from the impact. The kirin shook her head and glared at the stallion with a fierce anger while flames licked at her lips.

YOU MONSTEROUS BASTARD! SHE’S YOUR CHILD AND YOU’D KILL HER BECAUSE HER COAT COLOR? YOU SICKENING SON OF A BITCH!” She backed up and stood over Squeaks. “I WOULDN’T GIVE SQUEAKS OVER TO YOU NOW EVEN IF THE PRINCESESS COMMANDED ME TO!”

Dark Blade snorted. “And why would I want that embarrassment back?”

"EMBARRASMENT!? Luna thundered in the Royal Canterlot Voice. By the color of the magical wall she knew Celestia had raised it when Midnight had charged. "FROM WHAT THOU HAST TOLD US IT IS CLEAR THAT THE ONLY EMBARRASMENT HERE IS THYSELF AND THY BRETHREN! THOU THINK THE MURDER OF YOUNG FOALS, NEWBORNS, WOULD MAKE US HAPPY!? WE ARE SICKENED! THY KIND HAS BROUGHT SHAME AND DISHONOR OF THE HIGHEST CALIBER UPON THY HEADS! WE WOULD SOONER HAVE THY GIFT REMOVED AND THE NEW GUARD COLORED WHITE LIKE OUR SISTER’S THAN HAVE THEE AND THINE AS OUR REPRESENTATIVES!" Luna turned her attention to the double doors and away from the now cowering bat pony. "SOLAR GUARD!" The double doors opened again and a scared unicorn day guard poked his head in.

“Y-yes, your highness?”

"TAKE THIS VERMIN FROM OUR SIGHT AND PLACE IT IN THE LOWEST DUNGEON TO AWAIT ITS EXECUTION!" For a moment the day guard stayed rooted to the spot. Normally the princesses commanded their own guard and didn’t give orders to the other’s. From behind Luna, Celestia gave a nod and two more day guards entered the room and hauled off the stunned bat pony. Luna used her magic to slam the doors shut behind them. “My own guard…” she said as she sat back down. “Truly I am ashamed to call them that now that this atrocity has been revealed.” Celestia finally lowered her magical wall as Luna said this, and to her relief Midnight did not go out after Squeaks’ wayward father. Instead she was now comforting a crying Squeaks; holding her close and whispering assurances.

“Sapphire, Ember, I believe those two have had enough. Please take them to one of the guest rooms and let them rest. When you have seen to that please meet us in the throne room.” Both mares nodded and led Midnight and Squeaks, who was now perched on the kirin’s back, out of the conference room. With that the alabaster alicorn turned to her still smoldering younger sister.

“I shall endeavor to find any other culprits of such crimes and make them all examples.”

“Luna, you have read about the new laws put into effect during your… time away?”

“I admit I have not read all of them; a thousand years of changes is a lot to catch up on! I believe I have reached up to four hundred years after my… imprisonment.”

“Two hundred years more and you would have seen that the death penalty has been removed.”

Removed!?” Luna exclaimed. “Are you seriously suggesting that scum like that” she pointed towards the doors, “has a right to live!? When he and his brethren have been murdering foals!?” Celestia raised her hoof in a calming gesture.

“I agree that this time it would be a just punishment, but the law was put into place because an innocent pony was executed before the real criminal was discovered. I did not want such a thing to happen again.”

“And so we are to house and feed them for the rest of their miserable lives?”

“Only the bare minimum, unless you have another idea not including death.” Luna snorted and slumped slightly.

“Mayhap a turn on the rack a few times a week would suffice.”

“Torture was outlawed three hundred years ago.”

Luna snorted again as her frown grew. “Truly, you have taken the satisfaction out of punishment sister. Perhaps it would have been better if you had allowed Midnight Storm to carry out her own brand of justice?”

Celestia looked up in thought. “That is the reason I wish to talk with Sapphire Breeze. Midnight’s actions since they entered seemed very…”

“Maternal?” Luna suggested.

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “I was going to say protective. You believe otherwise?”

Luna nodded. “I do. Only a mother or a mare with similar feelings would so boldly claim she would defy even us to protect a foal. We must be careful how we proceed. I may not know all of what has changed the millennium I was gone, but I do remember what happened last time somepony got between a kirin and one she perceived as her own foal.”

Celestia nodded again and a shiver went down her back as she remembered the incident. Midnight had cracked her magically-created wall; a testament of how much maternal rage had been put into the attack. It had been so long since she had been around kirins that she only used a little magic to make it. Any less and Midnight would have smashed through. With any luck Sapphire would tell them what the situation between Midnight and Squeaky Wings was and they could proceed from there. The filly certainly wasn’t going back to her father, that much was sure. “By the way, Luna, what made you suspicious about Dark Blade?”

“When I made inquires and he told me his daughter was missing he acted like he’d lost a quill.”

As both alicorns got up to leave for the throne room one of the doors opened and a night guard warily entered the room. “AND WHAT DOES THOU WANT!?” Luna snapped. The guard shrank back slightly.

“Only a minute of your time, your highnesses, and to hopefully explain the situation further-”

“What further explanation could you possibly give to justify such crimes!?”

“Not to justify, your highness, but to condemn.”

At this Luna stopped yelling. “You would condemn your brethren? Why?”

“Justice,” he said looking her straight in the eye, “for my little sister.”

-----------------------------

Midnight followed Sapphire and Ember down the corridors of the castle without ever really paying attention where they were going. The scene in the conference room kept playing over and over again in her mind. It still baffled her just how callous and downright horrid Squeaks father- ‘no.’ Midnight gave herself a mental shake. ‘I will never call him that, and I’ll make sure Squeaks never does either. When we get home I’ll… I’ll…’ and that was when the weight of what she had said hit her. She had declared that she wouldn’t give Squeaks up, and deep down she knew it just wasn’t to him she was referring to; she didn’t want to give up Squeaks at all. If the princesses themselves had asked Midnight to turn custody of Squeaks over to them she would have refused. She didn’t trust them to know how to treat Squeaks right. They didn’t know what she liked or what she was scared of. Squeaks hadn’t sought comfort from or confided in them. But she knew, and Squeaks had come to her seeking comfort from her fears. And… and she wanted to be there for her. She wanted Squeaks to come to her if something was wrong. She wanted to make sure Squeaks was happy. She cared how Squeaks felt and was raised.

Midnight remembered the other night when she had been comforting Squeaks. She remembered how the scene felt to her. 'Like how mom comforted me. I… I want to be there for Squeaks like mom was for me. I want Squeaks… I want Squeaks to be my foal. I want to be Squeaks’…'

Squeaks had stopped crying by now and was simply holding on to Midnight’s mane. Every few seconds one of Midnight’s wings would come up and stroke the filly. After a few minutes they stopped in front of a door.

“You can stay here for the time being.” Ember said as she opened it. It led into one of the guest suites of the palace, complete with entry hall, living room with lounge chairs and two couches, a small kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. “If you need anything those ropes by the doorways can be pulled to summon one of the palace servants.” Midnight nodded but made a bee line for one of the bedrooms. Sapphire and Ember quietly exited the suite.

Inside Midnight climbed onto the bed and laid down before asking Squeaks to slide off. When she did Midnight gathered her into her forelegs and held her against her chest. “Squeaks, I am so sorry for what happened in there. If I had known… if you had just told me…” Midnight could feel Squeaks begin to shudder and felt the fur on her chest begin to get wet. “But that doesn’t matter now. You’re never going to have to deal with him again. I’ll make sure of that.” Squeaks looked up at her, sniffling slightly and eyes still wet. Midnight bent down and kissed her on her forehead as her own eyes began to tear up. “I’m always going to be here for you Squeaks.” With that Midnight pulled her back against her. “Good or bad, rain or shine I’ll be here.” They began to rock slowly.

"You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine;
you make me happy when skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear, how much I… love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

For what seemed like a long time Midnight sang, even as she felt tears slide down her face. Eventually Midnight felt the calm rhythm of breathing against her chest that told her Squeaks was asleep. Midnight kissed her forehead again and wrapped herself around Squeaks and joined the filly in sleep.

-----------------------------

Midnight’s ear flicked as she slowly awoke. She could hear voices coming from the living room of the suite. She slowly cracked an eye open as the door to the bed room did so. It opened only so much before Sapphire poked her head in. Seeing that the kirin was awake she gave her a small smile. “I just wanted to let you know it’s close to noon-time. If you and Squeaks are okay with it the princesses would like to talk with you and get some things sorted out. Princess Luna’s still up so I think she’d appreciate it if you came out as soon as you could.” Midnight gave a small nod and Sapphire backed out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Midnight stretched her wings out and yawned. The past couple of nights sleep had been very restless for her but now she felt better. There was still a flame of anger from what she heard that pony say, but it had been tempered somewhat by the knowledge that the filly sleeping next to her would never have to deal with him again. Once she had woken herself up she bent down and nuzzled Squeaks awake. “Time to get up Squeaks; the princesses want to see us.”

Squeaks was slow to get up even as she felt Midnight nuzzle her. In truth she’d only gotten an hour of sleep tops the previous night and the events of the meeting had only exhausted her further. She finally got up after Midnight abandoned the nuzzling and began nibbling her ear. Squeaks laughed and rolled away from her. Only when Midnight promised not to go after her ears again did she come over and get on her back. Making sure Squeaks was secure Midnight got off the bed and went into the living room.

Sapphire led them out of the suite and through the corridors of the castle until they reached the main waiting room again. After sticking her head through the very grand double doors she waved them inside. The princesses were seated on the dais at the other end of the large throne room. As it was now daytime, Princess Celestia was on the throne while Princess Luna stood next to her. Celestia motioned for Midnight and Squeaks to come to the front of the dais while Sapphire took a standing position on the opposite side of it from Ember.

“Thank you; there are still some matters that we need to discuss.” Celestia told them as Midnight took a seat and Squeaks slid off her back. “The most important is that now that Dark Blade,” Midnight snorted at the name, “no longer has custody of Squeaky Wings we need to decide where she’ll go from here.”

“Home with me.” Midnight said without hesitation. Celestia, Luna, and Sapphire raised an eyebrow.

“Are you saying you wish to adopt her?”

“Yes I am.” Squeaks stared up at Midnight and Celestia and Luna looked at each other. “Your highnesses, Squeaks and I have only known each other for less than a week, and I understand that doesn’t seem like a lot of time together, but now I can’t imagine going home without her. I don’t trust any bat pony right now, and I doubt any non-bat pony has the know-how to raise her properly. I don’t know how good of a… a mother…” Midnight choked for a second at the word, “… I would be, but for Squeaks I’m more than willing to do my best for her.”

Celestia and Luna silently contemplated the kirin who looked up at them with a mix of fear and determination.

“Umm…” All eyes moved to Squeaks who shrank back slightly, but continued none the less. “I want to stay with Midnight too. She’s really nice, and makes really good food, and she’s teaching me how to fly and she’s a really good teacher, and… and…” Squeaks looked up at Midnight and the kirin could see her eyes starting to get wet. “And she’s the first pony who really seems to care about me.” Midnight pulled Squeaks into a hug before the filly could start crying.

“It would seem,” Celestia began after Squeaks calmed down a bit, “that the two of you are truly adamant about staying with one another.” Midnight and Squeaks nodded. “While you were resting I spoke with Sapphire Breeze who told me of the fears you expressed to her; fears only one who truly cared would express. I believe there isn’t any further discussion needed.” Celestia turned to Luna, who in turn waved her horn and levitated a small stack of papers off of Ember’s back. “All that’s left is to fill out paper work that we’ve gone ahead and almost completed. The only thing you need to do is sign the papers and fill in a few indicated blanks.” Princess Luna also materialized a table, ink, and quills for them. Midnight and Squeaks signed where ever the documents asked in silence up until one of the last pages which asked for their ages and birthdays.

“You were born on Nightmare Night!?” Squeaks exclaimed when she saw the date Midnight put down, causing all attention in the room to be focused on the kirin.

Midnight smiled nervously. “Yeah, I kinda got lucky since that’s also my favorite holiday.” Luna smiled at bit smugly when she heard that while Sapphire had a look of both realization and confusion.

“Wait, so that was what you were doing that night after the candy ran out? Why didn’t you say anything?”

Midnight frowned. “Because I didn’t want it to be a big deal with you or anypony else. I come into town and I get swarmed by the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony. I tell them what I am and one of the rulers of Equestria itself descends on my house and makes me a Captain of the Guard. I’m not saying that I’m not appreciative about all that, but I wondered what the heck was going to come at me next if I told anypony about my birthday. For all I knew, somepony from Las Pegasus would come to town, discover me, and decide to make me the next sensation! Not to mention what Pinkie would do.” They all got a chuckle out of that.

“While I’m not sure I can guarantee that wouldn’t happen, I can tell you with certainty that we wouldn’t have done anything “big” for your birthday. I take it that is also why you declined our invitation for Hearth’s Warming?”

Midnight nodded. “Plus it just didn’t feel right spending it at somepony else’s place.”

Celestia smiled. “Maybe next year then. Can I ask how old you are now?”

“Twenty-one.” Midnight looked down at Squeaks who smiled up at her. “And when are you turning eight?” Midnight asked her as she booped her. Squeaks giggled, then her smile faded.

“The first day of spring. That’s another reason-” Midnight silenced her by pulling Squeaks into another hug and kissed her forehead.

“It’s a great birthday. Before we can think about that, though, we’re going to need to get you some things like a bed and winter coat.”

“I believe my sister and I can help with that.” Luna said and, with a wave of her horn, what looked liked two check books appeared.

“Ah, that is indeed a good idea Luna.” Celestia grabbed one of the books with her magic and lifted the quill and ink over to her. When she was done writing in it she passed the ink and quill over to Luna who wrote in her own. When she was finished the princesses levitated the books over to Midnight. “Consider these both as gifts from us for your birthday and Hearth’s Warming.”

Midnight took one in each wing-claw and opened them. They were indeed check books, with the one from Celestia signed “Happy Birthday” and the one from Luna signed “Happy Hearth’s Warming”, but each one had twenty-five blank checks in them each with the royal seal in the bottom right and upper left corners. “Those blank checks are linked to the royal accounts and are for you to use anywhere and anytime you like for whatever you want or need.”

Midnight stared down at the checks. “This is… wow… I…”

Luna and Celestia chuckled. “My sister and I know you will put them to good use and will not abuse them.” Luna assured her. Midnight continued to stare at the checks for a full minute before finally putting them down and finished signing the adoption papers. When she set the quill down, the papers were enveloped in gold magic and carried over towards Celestia. “And now that that’s out of the way there is one more thing we need to discuss with you and we ask that you remain calm.” Luna turned around and called for somepony to enter the room. Midnight’s confused expression turned into one of fury as a night guard entered from a side door. She didn’t roar, threaten, or charge him as the princess had asked, but her fangs did slide out and she pulled Squeaks close with her wing. “This is Sergeant Night Skimmer.” The sergeant removed his helmet and bowed to Midnight. He actually seemed a bit young to be a sergeant, but Midnight didn’t let that calm her down.

“Ma’am, I understand why you would not want to see me or any other Lunar Guard at the moment, but I wish to apologize for my colony’s most grievous actions. Furthermore, I want to thank you.”

At this Midnight raised an eyebrow. “For what exactly?” she said coolly.

“For bringing this to the attention of the princesses and saving that filly. Up until now those of us who have been opposed to this heinous ritual have been too few in number and we feared retribution from our own friends and family… and possibly the princess.” He glanced apologetically up at Luna. “I first learned about the matter when my baby sister was born. She looked very much like Squeaky Wings there, and a few days later she was gone. When I asked my father about it he acted like she never existed. I knew then something was terribly wrong.” He straightened up and put his helmet back on. “I have already pledged to help the princesses with their investigations and to bring those who’ve committed these atrocities to justice. If there any questions about our race that you have please feel free to send a letter anytime you wish.”

Midnight stared at him for a few seconds after he was done then made a curt nod. “Thank you sergeant, I’ll keep that in mind.”

Sergeant Night Skimmer bowed once again to Midnight and both princesses before leaving.

“The sergeant and I have already begun the investigation and feel we can wrap this up quickly. If you wish we can send you news when something of worth occurs.”

Midnight shook her head. “I’d rather not if that’s alright.”

Both princesses nodded. “Then we’ll leave you to get things sorted. Lunch is currently being prepared in the kitchens if you want anything, and of course you’re invited to dinner if you choose to join us.” Celestia said.

“Thank you your highness; we’ll think on it.” Midnight and Squeaks gave them a bow before they left, with Sapphire following them out. Midnight turned to Sapphire. “I don’t know what you told them, but thank you.”

Sapphire smiled. “Don’t mention it. Do either of you want some lunch?” Midnight was about to answer when both their stomachs made loud growls. “I believe that’s a yes.” Sapphire left and Midnight turned back to Squeaks.

“Maybe when we’re out after lunch we can get a few games to help pass the time.” She pulled Squeaks into another hug.

“Hey, Mid-um… mom?” Midnight felt a warmth at hearing Squeaks say that. “What did you mean when you said Princess Celestia made you a Captain of the Guard?”

Midnight face-hoofed.

-----------------------------

Over their food Midnight and Sapphire explained to Squeaks why the kirin’s position had to be a secret, and once she promised not to tell, Midnight explained how it had happened. Lunch for the kirin was a platter of various fish, shellfish, and gemstones while Squeaks had a plate of assorted fruits and shrimp. Sapphire noticed that every once and a while Midnight’s eyes would look over to Squeaks’ plate and eye the mango slices there.

When they were done Sapphire showed them to the royal tailor so Squeaks could be fitted for a winter coat. Both mares had to stifle laughs at Squeaks’ reactions to having a measuring tape magically wrap and unwrap itself over various parts of her body. When she was done the seamstress told them Squeaks’ coat would be ready by dinner. As they left, Sapphire pulled the seamstress to the side and asked her something, making tiny head jerks in Midnight’s direction.

After that Sapphire convinced Midnight that it would be a nice idea to take Squeaks to the royal hair dresser for a bit of a makeover. The minute they entered his salon he practically jumped on them, something he almost regretted when Midnight snapped at him. He quickly explained that a lack of state functions had made for a well paid, very bored, stylist, and they had been his first clients in a while. When they told him they were there just for Squeaks he shook his head at them.

“Mademoiselle, you simply must allow me to attend to your coiffure! It is like you have not brushed it at all!”

“I don’t,” Midnight said as she backed away from a comb he was levitating in her direction, “and if that thing touches me I’ll introduce you to early hair loss!” A small jet of fire escaped her lips and the stylist got the hint.

“Such a crime,” he mumbled as he turned back towards Squeaks. “So, tell me what it is you want me to do.”

“Something simple that even I could do in the morning.” Midnight asked as she eased up.

The stylist moved around Squeaks and occasionally lifted her hair this way and that to see it from different angles. “A-ha! I have just the thing!” Motioning for Midnight to come closer he began work on what looked like a bun.

“I think you missed some strands,” Midnight told him when the bun was finished, indicating two sets of loose hair on either side of it.

“Ah, mademoiselle, but I am not finished!” With that he levitated a small hair clip over, then picked up the two strands with his magic. First he pulled the two strands up and around the bottom of the bun so that the tips seemed to be sticking up and out of it, then he clipped them together so they stayed where they were. “Now I am finished! It is simple yet stylish, no?” Midnight had to agree, and from the look of it Squeaks liked it as well as she studied herself in a mirror. “Now, would it not be splendid you also had a little make over?”

“There is no way, no how, that I am letting anypony touch my mane, and the first one that does is getting bitten!”

-----------------------------

Sapphire and Squeaks stifled giggles as they left the castle to go shopping. Midnight’s face was a mix of anger and resignation. “The next time somepony mentions the state of my mane I’m biting them.”

“Oh, come on Midnight,” Sapphire said with a small wave of her hoof, “I think you look good with a Prance Braid.”

“Yeah mom, you look really pretty now!” Squeaks agreed from her position on Midnight’s back. It had actually been the little bat pony’s urgings that had finally worn the kirin down, and even though she hated every second of the process, Squeaks’ compliment made it a bit more bearable.

“Thank you Squeaks, but I think I pull off the rag-a-muffin quite fine thank you.”

“And Squeaks can’t?” Sapphire asked with a smirk.

“I think she looks much better with ‘simple yet stylish’. You pull it off well, too.”

“Thank you.”

Once they were outside the gates they once again took to the air. It was busier now and Sapphire was forced to continue reminding Midnight about the altitude restrictions.

“Who came up with these stupid flight restrictions anyway!?” Midnight yelled as they hovered behind a moving carriage.

“They were made for security reasons.”

Midnight snorted. “You mean some rich unicorns were afraid they’d get a load of garbage on their heads.”

Sapphire and Squeaks laughed. “Yes, I guess that was part of it.”

As they passed another intersection Midnight noticed she was getting a lot of looks, especially from pegasi. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Midnight said as she began going higher again.

Sapphire turned to tell her to come down again when she saw the look on Midnight’s face. The kirin looked genuinely scared. Taking a quick look around she saw an alley with a pegasi perch and motioned for Midnight to follow her. The perch was essentially a bench nailed to the side of a building, but it thankfully still held their weight.

“Is everything alright?” Sapphire asked when they landed. Midnight shook her head.

“I don’t do very well in crowds.” It was then that Sapphire remembered what Midnight had told her and Celestia about when ponies discovered what she really looked like.

“You don’t need to worry about that here Midnight. We get creatures like griffons all the time and nopony harasses them.” Midnight didn’t seem convinced.

“But they’re all staring at me! Especially the pegasi!”

“They are!” Squeaks confirmed. Sapphire looked around Midnight and saw that indeed some pegasi that were flying by and could see them were staring at Midnight. But from what she could see they were stares of curiosity, not contempt.

“Midnight… did any of your… encounters ever include pegasi?” Sapphire made sure to check herself as she felt that Midnight didn’t want to explain why she had been a drifter to Squeaks. Not anytime soon, anyway.

“No, pretty much just earth ponies and unicorns; why?”

“Well, we pegasi are very loyal not just to each other, but other flying races as well. If it’s got wings, we respect it, which is partly the reason we so readily incorporate creatures such as griffons into our flight camps. I know you don’t like being stared at, but they don’t mean any harm, I promise.” Midnight looked back over her shoulder at the main thoroughfare. A few pegasi looked her way and a couple actually waved at her with smiles. Midnight gave a little wave back then turned back to Sapphire.

“Are… are you sure?” Sapphire could see the tiny flicker of hope in the kirin’s eyes.

“I’m positive. Now, let’s go get Squeaks’ stuff.” With that Sapphire hopped off the perch and Midnight gingerly followed. The rest of the flight was uneventful as Sapphire had thought it would be, and Midnight even seemed to gain a bit of confidence every time somepony waved or smiled at her. Of course there were a few who would deviate from their original course to follow them and get a better look at the kirin, but they only did so for a few seconds before returning to their previous activities.

-----------------------------

The remainder of the day was a good one, all things considered. When they arrived at the bed store the unicorn there gave them a quick sales pitch on a few models, but in the end Midnight told Squeaks to pick out which ever bed she wanted. Squeaks proved that unlike most other foals, who would run up to the first thing that caught their eye, she was actually something of a real shopper. She looked over each bed type before deciding she wanted a bunk bed. “It kinda reminds me of a cave” she said sheepishly. Midnight used her first blank check to not only buy the bed and accompanying mattresses, but also pillows, sheets, blankets, and for somepony to deliver it and put it all together. The owner told them it would have to be delivered the next day since it was out of town and Midnight assured him it was fine.

The second place they went to was a toy store where, once again, Midnight let her loose to get whatever she wanted.

“Don’t you think you’re spoiling her?” Sapphire asked and they followed Squeaks down an aisle. Midnight looked at her with a sad smile.

“After what’s she’s been through I think she has a right to be spoiled for a day.” Sapphire agreed. In the end Squeaks picked out Celestia and Luna dolls, a Daring Do Action figure, a ball, several board games, some coloring books and crayons, and a few children’s books.

Dinner that night at the castle was a seafood salad sprinkled with emerald dust for Midnight, as well as some slices of mango on the side, and a fruit salad with a side of shrimp toast for Squeaks. They stayed only for a little bit afterwards, mostly to talk with Night Skimmer about what a bat pony could or could not eat. “Anything’s fine really except grasses and flowers, so basically things like hay fries and daffodil sandwiches are out.”

After that they headed back down to the royal tailor to pick up Squeaks’ coat. As the filly was trying it on the seamstress gave a box to Sapphire who presented it to Midnight. “It’s a bit late for your birthday, so Happy Hearth’s Warming.” Midnight gave her an awkward thanks and opened it. Inside was a brand new scarf; blue with the ends in black and emblazoned with her cutie mark. “I noticed you lost the old one and I figured I would get you a new one.” Midnight thanked her again as she put it on and then helped Squeaks get zipped up.

With that they left the castle and went to the train station. The ride back to Ponyville was much nicer than the one that morning, which felt like ages ago. Midnight played with Squeaks and her dolls while Sapphire read a magazine she picked up from the station. When they arrived back in town they flew back to the house through a clear sky, with Luna’s moon casting a bright, comforting light on them as they flew. When they arrived they entered through the side door and Midnight was struck with just how quickly everything had, and would, change. After unpacking they all went to bed; Sapphire heading upstairs and Midnight and Squeaks going through the living room.

After helping Squeaks onto the bed Midnight hopped up and curled around the filly. Squeaks snuggled up to her and Midnight nuzzled her gently. “Welcome home Squeaks.”

Ch.14 - A Bat Day At School

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The multitudes of blankets and pillows shifted as the bed’s occupant rolled over.

*Thoom*

The mare’s ear twitched as the sound of distant thunder gently woke her up. Midnight let out a contented sigh as her eyelids rose up slightly. She’d always liked thunder storms no matter how close or loud they were, and even the biggest booms woke her up as gently as a soft nudge. She even woke up feeling fully rested, despite only going to bed three hours prior.

This storm, however, was currently out over the Everfree and according to the weather patrols likely to stay there. Since the large snow storm a week and a half ago the pegasi were determined to keep any kind of precipitation, especially from the Everfree Forest, out of town. To that end they currently had a bank of clouds arranged on the border between the town and the forest to act as both a buffer and early warning system to give them enough time to assemble and beat any weather systems back.

A week and a half ago. Midnight was amazed how things had changed in such a short amount of time. She found a filly, nursed her back to health, brought her to Canterlot, defended her against the insanities of the filly’s colony, and adopted her. She’d even met both princesses, who were both investigating into the Lunar Guard to weed out all those involved in similar crimes. Two weeks ago she would have scoffed at the very idea of being a mother, now… now she couldn’t imagine not being one.

As she listened for another distant thunderclap she heard a pattering of hooves on carpet and then a series of soft, yet frantic, knocks on her door. “Mom?!” the voice of Squeaks called out just before there was another muffled boom. There was a loud squeak of surprise and fear from the other side of the door. Leaning over to the side of the bed Midnight extended her wing out and opened the door. With a dark blur of cream and orange Squeaks was through the doorway and up against the side of the bed.

“Squeaks, what’s wrong?” Midnight asked as she closed the door and brought her wing down for Squeaks to grab. The bat pony grabbed the wing and held on like a monster was out to get her.

“I-I don’t like thunder.” Another soft boom and Squeaks was now holding onto her mother’s wing with all her limbs. Midnight lifted her up and onto the bed. Once there, Squeaks let go of her wing and bolted up against Midnight, snuggling up against her like she was trying to squeeze under her. Midnight brought her wing down over Squeaks and curled around the filly.

“You know it can’t get you in here, right? And that it’s far into the forest?”

Squeaks nodded. “But it still sounds really scary. It’s almost like a dragon roaring.”

Midnight smiled down at her daughter. “So you go running to a pony that’s half dragon?” Squeaks smiled back, a bit embarrassed, and Midnight bent down and nuzzled her. “You know, I always felt comforted whenever there was thunder and lightning.”

“Really?” Squeaks asked.

Midnight nodded. “Yes. I always imagined it was my… my dad outside, roaring and breathing fire. It helped me feel safe and… happy.” Midnight allowed herself to think back to those nights back in Manehattan; lying in bed and praying that the noises were her father returning from wherever he’d gone. “Anyway,” she said as she returned to the present, “you’d better get to sleep young lady; you’ve got your first day of school tomorrow.”

Squeaks squirmed as Midnight laid her head back down. “Umm… mom?”

“Hmm?” One of Midnight’s eyes slid open slightly.

“Do I really have to go to school?”

“We’ve already been over this Squeaks.” Midnight said with a groan.

“But why can’t I be home-schooled like you were?” That caught Midnight’s attention.

“Where did you hear that?”

Squeaks squirmed again. “I heard you and Sapphire talking about sending me to school and you telling her about it.”

Midnight silently groaned. After arriving back from Canterlot, Squeaks had almost immediately come down with a cold like Nurse Redheart said might happen. The treatment had been plenty of liquids and rest as well as some medicine she prescribed them. While Squeaks slept in her new bunk-bed at night, during the day she rested on the couch. Apparently she’d been awake during one of the times Midnight and Sapphire had talked about sending her to school. “My mom felt that home-school would be best for me. You’re not me, Squeaks, and I think you’d do well and have fun at school. You’re already friends with Dinky and Pinchy; they go to school, too. Maybe you’ll make even more friends there.”

At the mention of her two friends Squeaks smiled slightly. Both fillies had come over while she was sick for a real play-date and they’d become quick friends. They even made her a “pillow knight”, although they couldn’t really do much since she was sick. “Do you know any other foals at school?”

“Not really. I’m friends with Dinky and Pinchy’s moms so that’s how I know them. Oh, Applejack’s and Rarity’s younger sisters go to school as well; maybe you can be friends with them?”

Squeaks thought back over the past week. Besides being sick she also had quite a few visitors. They’d all been very nice, but a few had also made her feel uneasy. The orange earth pony, Applejack, the first to visit, had been very nice; she’d even given her a fresh-baked apple pie as a get well / welcome to Ponyville gift. The white unicorn, Rarity, had been nice, too, but Squeaks had noticed how her eyes always seemed to drift back to her wings or fangs. The yellow pegasus, Fluttershy, who smelled like animals, had been very nice; she even kept her voice low around her, but from what Midnight had told her that was how she always talked. The purple unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, to be frank, made Squeaks very uncomfortable. The moment they met Twilight had begun bombarding her with questions about herself, her colony, and bat ponies in general. For a filly that had been told to be quiet and not be seen all her life the sudden perceived interrogation, even if Twilight had been wearing a friendly grin the whole time, was a bit traumatizing. Twilight had the second shortest visit since, after Squeaks had tearfully ducked under her blanket, Midnight politely threw Twilight out. The last visitor, Pinkie Pie, was both the scariest and most confusing. All Squeaks could remember of it, as she had been dozing at the time, was what sounded like arguing in the front, followed by being suddenly lifted up and spun around by a pink blur that began shooting off questions even faster than Twilight, then dropped her back on the couch and began rattling off all the things she needed to show her between questions. Thankfully, it didn’t last long as Midnight plowed into her, pinning her to the floor and laying into her how Squeaks was sick and didn’t like to be questioned like that. There was also some yelling about a party, but in the end Midnight also threw Pinkie out, literally this time. The next day two small chocolate cakes were delivered, one reading “Sorry I scared you!” and the other “Welcome to Ponyville! Maybe we can party next time!”

“I think I might like Applejack’s sister.”

“Good,” Midnight said with a smile. “Now, get some sleep. We don’t want to be late for your first day.”

-----------------------------

“Have a good day at school Squeaky!” Sapphire called out after them the next morning. Squeaks waved back then continued trotting along after Midnight. The morning was rather nice; very little wind and the sun would peak out from behind the clouds every few minutes. Of course, since it was still the middle of winter, both Midnight and Squeaks had something on. Midnight had her new scarf wrapped around her neck and Squeaks could see her swallow some fire as they approached the school. Squeaks had on her new winter coat; bright blue and complete with both wing muffs and slots in the hood for her ears. She also had a set of new snow boots Midnight had picked up for her. All in all, the only part of Squeaks that was really exposed was her nose.

Since the school house was the closest thing they had to a neighbor, the walk to it was very short. The whole way Squeaks kept up with her mother, but with each step Squeaks felt more and more uneasy. While back in her colony she had wanted more than anything to be playing outside with the other foals, now, however, all she wanted to do was stay at home with Midnight and Sapphire; ponies she knew and cared for her. Here were ponies that could possibly hate her just for what she was, and it was something she didn’t want to go through again.

There were still several parents and foals outside the school house when they arrived, and several heads turned and stared at them. Both ponies immediately began to tense up, but thankfully Midnight found a familiar face.

“Good morning Berry!” Midnight called out when she saw the purple earth pony, who waved them over.

“Good morning Midnight. Good morning Squeaks; are you all ready for your first day of school?” Squeaks shuffled a bit before giving a non-committal nod. “Don’t worry about it too much,” Berry told her with a smile, “almost every foal is nervous about their first day. But, sometimes they're even excited!”

“Or even nervous-cited!” All three ponies jumped and spun around to find Pinkie Pie standing behind them. “That’s when you’re so excited you just want to jump around but you also want to ball up and hide!” To emphasize her points she did each.

“Why are you here at the school house Pinkie?” Berry asked, “You or the Cakes don’t have any foals.”

“No, but Cheerilee did order a bunch of cupcakes for today!” With that she reached into her mane and pulled out a large box that was indeed full of cupcakes. “She said something about a new student and wanting to welcome her!” With that Pinkie hopped into the school house.

Midnight smiled down at Squeaks. “See that? Miss Cheerilee’s got a nice surprise for you on your first day.” Squeaks smiled a bit as well. “Where are Dinky and Pinchy, by the way?” Midnight asked as she turned back to Berry.

“Inside.” Berry nodded at the building. “They wanted to make sure Squeaky got a seat next to them, so they were one of the first ones in.”

As Midnight nodded the school bell began ringing and another purple earth pony stuck her head out of the building.

“Time for school everypony!” Miss Cheerilee called out to the crowd. Foals stopped what they were doing and began sulking over to the school house, occasionally being given stern stares or slight pushes from parents to hurry them along. Midnight and Squeaks said their goodbyes to Berry then headed over.

“Good morning Miss Storm; I take it this is our new student?” Cheerilee asked as they reached the front door.

“Yes, this is Squeaky Wings. Squeaks, say hello to Miss Cheerilee, your new teacher.” Squeaks looked up at the school teacher. She had a warm, welcoming smile that made her feel a little better about the whole situation.

Even so, she still stayed close to Midnight. “H-Hello.”

“Hello Squeaky. Why don’t you head inside and take your things off so we can get you introduced to the class?” Squeaks looked up at Midnight, who bent down and nuzzled her.

“It’ll be fine Squeaks, and I’ll be looking forward to you telling me all about it when I pick you up.” With that Midnight gave her a quick kiss on the forehead, then urged her to go inside with a push of her wing. “She… she will be fine, right?” Midnight asked Cheerilee as soon as Squeaks was inside.

“I highly doubt any of my students will give her any kind of trouble. She might get a few stares since she’s the first bat pony they’ve ever seen,” hers, too, to be honest, “but I think that’ll be the worst of it.” Midnight nodded, a bit solemn, then let Cheerilee return to the class.

-----------------------------

“Quiet down everypony!” Cheerilee called out over the din her class was making. As usual the class quieted down almost immediately, allowing the teacher to continue. “Alright class, today somepony new is going to start joining us. I’d like you all to give a very warm welcome to your new classmate: Squeaky Wings!”

At the sound of her name Squeaks slowly trotted out from the corner by the door she was standing in and made her way over to Cheerilee’s desk. The class’ welcome was about average; most simply applauded while a few called out half-hearted hellos and welcomes. Dinky and Pinchy were more enthusiastic in their applause and hellos; Dinky knocking on her desk a bit harder and faster and Pinchy even whooped.

Cheerilee motioned for the class to calm down again. “Squeaky, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?”

“O-Okay. M-My name is Squeaky Wings, and-”

"No duh.” Squeaks’ ears perked up and focused on a pink filly sitting near the back with a bored look on her face.

“-and I live with my mom, Midnight Storm, and her friend, Sapphire Breeze, in that house next to the cliff face near here. I’ve only been in Ponyville for about a week and a half, but almost all the ponies I’ve met have been really nice.”

It took a few seconds of silence before Cheerilee realized Squeaks was finished. “That was very good Squeaky, but is there anything else you’d like to tell the class, like your favorite food or favorite season?”

Squeaks thought for a second. “Um… I really like mangos and fall.”

Seeing that the filly wasn’t going to continue on her own, Miss Cheerilee decided to move forward. “Alright, well does anypony else have any questions for Squeaky?” A colt sitting in the back raised his hoof. “Yes, Snails?”

“Is she a vampony?” At this there was a general murmuring around the class room, with Squeaks picking out words like “fangs” and “weird wings”.

“Of course she isn’t!” The entire class turned and looked at Pinchy, who had pushed herself up to look out over them. “Me and Dinky have been over her house before and all she eats is fruit!”

“Well, what about garlic? Can she eat it?” asked a colt sitting next to Snails.

“And does she have a reflection?” Snails added.

“Snips, Snails, that’s enough!” Cheerilee scolded. “I’ve told you both many times before there are no such things as vamponies. Squeaky Wings is a bat pony, also known as a… um, thestral?” Cheerilee turned to Squeaks who nodded. “Right, thestral, and is no different than any other foal in this class room. Now, does anypony else have any questions that do not have to do with vamponies?” A filly with large glasses and a big, red, curly mane and tail raised a hoof. “Yes, Twist?”

“Can you thee in the dark?” she asked, her lisp coming through slightly. Squeaks nodded, and a positive sounding clamor went through the class.

"I wonder how good she can hear. Like, can she hear as good as a bat?”

“Well, I can hear you whispering.” Squeaks answered, shocking the filly who whispered it. A slightly less positive round of noise came out of this, but Cheerilee called for their attention.

“Anymore questions?” When there weren’t any Miss Cheerilee bent down behind her desk and reemerged with the box of cupcakes Pinkie had delivered. “In that case I’ll have Squeaky begin passing out cupcakes,” a few happy cheers went up, “and while she’s doing that we’ll start with our spelling lesson for today,” then immediately became groans.

------------------------------

By the time lunch / recess had come around Squeaks had decided that school wasn’t that bad. Yes, she could see how coming in every day in the early morning, listening to somepony talk all day, and stay seated in the same place the whole time could get boring and unpleasant, but on the other hoof one got to meet others, some of the subjects could be fun, and for Squeaks it was something entirely new for her, so she embraced it as much as she could. Add to the fact that her two friends were right next to her, along with Pinchy keeping a running commentary on how this was boring or that was stupid, and Squeaks was pretty sure she liked being at school.

For lunch she had apple and pear slices with a small thermos of orange juice while Pinchy had a peanut butter and banana sandwich with milk and Dinky had cranberry muffin and a juice box. “Wanna head outside and have a snowball fight?” Pinchy asked when they were done.

Squeaks looked outside and shook her head. “I-I rather stay inside; I don’t know if I’m feeling well enough to play outside.” This was technically true, as Sapphire had told her that morning that if she played outside she needed to be fully buttoned up, or else her cold could relapse. But, the real reason she didn’t want to go out was that she still didn’t like the cold; it reminded her too much of being left in the Everfree.

Thankfully Dinky found a board game they could all agree on. Before they could begin, however, several voices from across the classroom caught their attention.

“Gith it bath, Diamond!”

“Why don’t you, like, make me?”

Over by the arts and crafts area was the red-maned filly who had asked Squeaks if she could see in the dark, and she was arguing with the pink filly who had muttered during Squeaks’ introduction. The pink filly was giving a box of crayons to a grey filly standing next to her.

“I had the crayonth firtht!”

“Well, like, then you should have drawn faster; me and Silver Spoon are, like, using them now.”

“Yeah, like, they’re ours now!” Silver Spoon added.

“Can’t you at leath thare them!?”

“Alright Twitht, I’ll, like, share them, but only if you say: She sells seashells by the sea shore, as well as salt and sassafras.” Diamond told her with a smug smile. Twist only gave her an angry scowl. “I thought so.” With that Twist walked back to her desk dejected while Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon began drawing.

“Even with her cutie mark she can’t catch a break from those two.” Pinchy said darkly.

“Why did they do that?” Squeaks asked.

“Because they’re bullies.” Dinky said.

“They both have parents who are some of the most richest and important ponies in town, so they can get away with almost anything.” Pinchy clarified. Then her frown changed into a small smile. “Me and Dinky were actually getting the same treatment when we met your mom. We wanted to play at the playground here but Diamond and Silver kept telling us to get lost. Next thing we knew Midnight had scared them off and soon she and our moms were good friends!”

Squeaks watched Twist mope at her desk, then looked at the board, then back to Twist. “We have room for another player, right?”

Pinchy and Dinky looked at the board. “Yeah,” Pinchy said, “why?”

“Is it alright if she can play, too?”

The two unicorns thought for a few seconds. “Sure, she’s an okay filly, and there’s room for a fourth player.”

Squeaks nodded and got up.

-----------------------------

“Thupid Diamond; thupid Thilther.” Twist mumbled at her desk. Why did they always have to pick on her? First it was because of her lisp, then because she was a blank-flank, and now it was back to her lisp. At least before she had Applebloom as her only friend and source of comfort, but now that Twist had her cutie mark her old friend didn’t want to hang out with her anymore. Now she had to endure the teasing alone.

“Um… excuse me?” Twist jumped and so did the owner of the voice. Twist recognized her as the new girl from this morning. “We’ve got room for a fourth player, and we were wondering if you wanted to join us?” The new girl, Squeaky Wings, shuffled her wings a bit as she motioned to where Dinky and Pinchy were sitting with a board game laid out in front of them, keeping her head down and avoiding eye contact the whole time.

“You want me to play?” Twist asked, not sure if she wanted to believe the invitation.

“I-If you don’t want to that’s fine…” Squeaky said, shuffling back a bit.

“No, I lothed to!” Twist hopped down from her desk, a big smile on her face. “My name ith Twitht, by the way.”

“My name is Squeaky Wings,” Squeaks said, finally starting to make eye contact, “but you can call me Squeaky or Squeaks if you like.”
“Okay Theaky, but are you thure you want to play with me? I mean, I already got my cutie mark, and I know my lithp makth me hard to underthand thometimeth.”

Squeaks cocked her head a little. “Well, bat ponies don’t get cutie marks as far as I know, and sometimes I squeak a bit when I talk. Besides, I can understand you just fine.”

“Really?”

Squeaks nodded. “So… do you still want to play with us?”

“Thure!” Twist followed Squeaks back to the game board.

-----------------------------

“Midnight, calm down.”

“How can I be calm right now!? I may as well have thrown her back to the Timber Wolves!” A few of the other parents put a bit more space between themselves and the agitated kirin.

“I admit that,” Berry took a quick look around, “Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon aren’t the nicest of ponies, but I think you’re exaggerating just a little.”

“I told her it would all be fine!” Midnight continued, ignoring her. “I told her she’d love it! How could I forget those two went to school!? What if she never trusts me again!? What if she doesn’t want me taking care of her anymore!?”

With some effort, Berry grabbed Midnight and forced her to sit down. “Midnight; get a grip! She’s got Pinchy and Dinky with her, so even if she did run afoul of those two, she’s got friends to help her forget about them; maybe she even made some more friends! Either way, you have to calm down!

At that Midnight finally shut her trap and sat in silence, but she still had the look of one being led to the gallows. After what seemed like an eternity the school bell finally rang and foals began emerging from the school house. It didn’t help that Squeaks was one of the last ones to leave.

“Squeaks!” Midnight called out as soon as she saw her. Squeaks waved and came trotting over with Pinchy, Dinky, and… another filly Midnight didn’t know.

“Hi mom!”

“H-Hi Squeaks… how was school?” The kirin braced herself.

“It was fun! Miss Cheerilee’s really nice, and I made a new friend; Twist!” The new filly stepped forward at the mention of her name.

“Hello.” She said a bit timidly.

“Hello.” Midnight said back.

“Is everything okay mom?” Squeaks asked at the look of surprise on Midnight’s face.

“Your mother was just a bit worried that you might not have had a good first day.” Berry piped up. “But I think we can all see that you did and that some of us were worked up over nothing.”

Midnight shuffled her wings. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” They all chuckled.

“Hey mom, can Twist, Dinky, and Pinchy come over to play after school sometime this week?” Squeaks asked.

Midnight looked down and was met with four pleading faces. “If each of their moms agrees, then yes, they can.” The fillies cheered, and they all began walking home. “Now, how did you and Twist meet?”

“Well, there were these two fillies, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon…”

Midnight’s eye twitched.

Ch.15 - A Kirin's Power

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Spring time in Equestria. A time of perfect weather, fresh scents wafting through the breeze, and the natural restocking of game. Well, that last part was something Midnight was currently happy about.

The kirin was laying on the ground in the yard by the shed, wings outstretched and sunning herself while digesting a fresh meal of rabbit. As she sighed contently, a ball rolled up in front of her. Smiling, she batted it back to the two fillies that were playing with it.

“Thanks mom!” Squeaks called out as she collected her toy and kicked it over to Twist. The ball was a gift to Squeaks from the red-maned earth pony for her birthday. Midnight smiled as she recalled how both excited and nervous Squeaks had been; never having had a birthday party before. Thankfully her little girl had the time of her life that day.

While the fillies and some of the adults played party games the rest had conversed about how the party almost hadn’t happened that day, what with spring almost being late thanks to poor coordination between the Wrap Up teams. Midnight, Squeaks, and Sapphire had all been a bit confused how things were done, since the adults had lived in cities all their lives and Squeaks had never been allowed outside. In the end, they had simply wandered about helping whoever they could until Twilight had somehow brought the whole town together and got everything done on time. Almost immediately after everything was done, Pinkie had bolted back to Sugarcube Corner to get everything for the party.

Speaking of the pink mare, Midnight had been pleasantly surprised how she had kept her hyper-ness down around Squeaks, even in the middle of a party atmosphere. Pinkie had also made one of the best cakes Midnight had ever tasted. She had wheeled it out after the games and piñata and revealed it to be a mango cake with banana cream baked inside and covered in coconut frosting. The look on Squeaks’ face when she bit into it was priceless, as was the look she had when it was time to open her presents.

Twist had gotten her a bright red kick ball while Dinky and Pinchy had gotten her a new game and a kite respectively. Pinkie had unexpectedly given her a ‘Junior Prankster Kit’, complete with whoopee cushion, can ‘o’ snakes, directions for banana cream pies, and loads of other things. Midnight and Sapphire had waited to give their presents until everypony else had left.

Sapphire presented Squeaks with two gifts and explained that one was from her and the other was from the princesses. Sapphire’s gift was some kind of ball with wings and she explained that it was a toy parents in Cloudsdale gave to their foals to help them start flying. Apparently it hovered about two yards above the surface and foals could only catch it by flying up to it. “It’ll be frustrating at first,” Sapphire told her, “but it’s one of the best feelings in the world when you finally do catch it.”

The gift from the princesses was a gourmet candy apple that, according to the accompanying card, was made by their head dessert chef. First off this apple was huge; at least twice as big as a normal apple. Secondly it had two different candy coatings on it. One side was white chocolate with crushed up lemon drops while the other was dark chocolate with crushed up mints. The whole thing was topped off with lettering in peanut butter that spelled out “Happy Birthday Squeaky Wings” wrapped around it in two lines.

Midnight’s gift to her daughter was a book. It was easily twice the size of a normal book with the title “Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales From Around Equestria”. They had recently started a nightly tradition of Midnight reading to Squeaks before bed. With the only things to read her that Midnight had that she felt was appropriate being the mythical creatures book, Midnight had gone to the local bookstore and found the perfect alternative. That night Midnight read her the first two stories of the book while she ate a slice of her candy apple, which apparently had its core replaced with caramel.

Back in the present Midnight let out another contented sigh and looked away from the fillies and towards the tree line. She’d have to start cutting down trees again soon if she wanted to be sure of having enough for next winter. While it was true that her pay as a captain more than covered everyday costs and bills, she still needed to keep up her role as the town wood cutter. On top of that it felt a lot better to actually go out and do something to earn her keep rather than lazing about indoors all day, especially during this season.

As she laid her head back down and let her eyelids droop slightly, two blurs, one grey-ish, the other one pink-ish, flew by her and towards the girls. “Hi Midnight!”

“Good morning Midnight!”

Looking up she saw Pinchy and Dinky join the other two in kicking the ball around.

“Balls of energy this morning, aren’t they?” Turning her head Midnight saw Berry walking up to her. Midnight got up and stretched like a cat while her wings flapped several times before folding up against her.

“They are indeed,” Midnight said as she finished.

“How has she liked the gifts?”

“She’s made sure to play with or use them all at least once already.”

Berry smiled. “Even that prankster thing Pinkie gave her?”

Midnight nodded. “She hasn’t done anything she thinks is harmful or scary, but she did break in the whoopee cushion. Sapphire’s face was priceless.” Both adults had a good laugh at that.

“I’m sure Sapphire was amused.”

“She was; even more so when Squeaks failed to mention there was two of them in the kit.” Berry was silent for a moment before snorting out another laugh. Midnight smiled as well even as she was the butt of the joke. “Yeah, yeah, my girl has a mischievous streak. Laugh it up.”

“So… so what you going to do today?” Berry asked as she finished laughing.

Midnight shrugged. “I think I might as well start getting back to work since I don’t have a group of fillies to watch over for the day. Nothing much else to do.”

Berry nodded in understanding. “Alright girls, time to get going!” she called out. All four of them came over and Squeaks nuzzled her mother goodbye.

“Have a good time Squeaks; I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Bye mom.” With that the bat filly ran off after her friends while the kirin began heading towards the forest.

-----------------------------

“Tho, what are we going to do today?” Twist asked as they followed Berry through town.

“A treasure hunt, my fellow Pillow Knights!” Pinchy exclaimed, although she kept her voice low and kept an eye on her mother.

“A treasure hunt?” Squeaks asked.

“Yes! I have recently found out about an ogre who has horded treasure in its cave. We will find this cave and take this treasure for ourselves; by force if necessary!” As Pinchy reared up to make the whole thing more dramatic, she was derailed as something large, green, and slimy hit her in the face. “GAH!” she yelled, falling backwards. “Get it off! It’s trying to eat my face!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Looking up, the three remaining fillies and Berry saw Fluttershy above them, hitched to a cart filled with frogs. Landing, she quickly made her way over to the felled filly and pulled the frog off her face. “I told you, you need to stay in the cart until we get to Froggy Bottom Bog, Mr. Bullfrog! Remember what happened with Twilight a few minutes ago?” The bullfrog in question grinned sheepishly then hopped back into the cart. “I’m so sorry Pinchy, but they’re all just so anxious to get to their new home!”

“Why are you moving them in the first place?” Berry asked as she came over to stop her daughter from making more of a scene.
“Oh, well, you see the pond was getting just so crowded that the poor little dears were constantly hopping into each other! So, I decided to move some of them to the much bigger Froggy Bottom Bog where they’ll have lots and lots of space!”

“Well, that’s very nice of you. Come on girls, let’s let Fluttershy get these frogs to their new home.” The girls waved goodbye to the yellow pegasus and began following Berry again. Recovering from her slimy near-death experience, Pinchy grinned as they went. If everything went as she planned, they were going to have a great, chocolaty afternoon!

-----------------------------

It was supposed to be, anyway. That cookie jar had been practically in her hooves and out the door, and it would have been, too, if Squeaks and Dinky had just been able to distract her mother a little while longer. “It’s your turn Pinchy.” Dinky told her, passing her the dice. Ever since then they’d been playing board games up stairs. “And stop being a grump; the plan was a bad one from the beginning.”

“It was not!” Pinchy grabbed the dice and rolled them. “You and Squeaks just weren’t distracting enough.”

“At least your mom let each of us have one cookie. She could have not given us any at all.” Pinchy just grumbled as she moved her piece along the board.

“I wath kinda hoping we would be doing a lot more thingth outthide today, too.” Twist added. “Ith really nice out.”
It took about a minute for her words to sink in before Pinchy got another idea. A brilliant idea. Twist’s words gave Pinchy a brilliant, awesome idea. “Why don’t we go to Foggy Bottom Bog then!?” she cried, leaping into the air. The other stared at her.

“I think the failure of the cookie heist broke her.” Dinky said.

“Isn’t it near the Everfree Forest?” Squeaks piped up.

“And are we even allowed to go there?” Twist added.

“I’m not broke, kinda, and how can my mom not let us go there when Fluttershy is there by herself? That proves it’s safe.”

-----------------------------

“I said no, Pinchy.”

“But mom!”

“I am not letting you wander off willy-nilly into the forest!”

“It’s not the forest; it’s that bog Fluttershy was going to! And if she’s going there by herself, then it must be safe!”

“Even if Fluttershy is still there, I’m not letting you go there by yourselves!”

“You could come with us!”

“Pinchy, I have a business to run! And on top of that, it’s the busiest day of the week for me!” Pinchy looked over the empty store and then back at her mom with a raised eyebrow. “It’ll get busier!”

“How about just for an hour then?”

“Pinchy-” Before Berry could argue with her daughter anymore the bell for the front door rang. “We’ll talk about this later.” She turned and addressed her customer. “Welcomes to Tipsy Berry’s, how can I help you?”

“Can I use just any old rum for a cake, or is there a specific kind?” Sapphire asked, giggling slightly at Berry’s theatrical flair.

“Well, I’d only use flavored rum if you plan on adding anything else to it.” Berry led her over to the rum section and hoofed her a bottle. “This should work out.”

“How are the girls doing?” Sapphire asked as she followed Berry back to the counter.

“They’re doing fine. Pinchy decided to organize a raid on the cookie jar and is now pleading with me to take them over to Foggy Bottom Bog. First of all, I’m too busy here,” she rung Sapphire up, “or at least I will be soon. Saturdays are my busiest and I just can’t leave. Second is that, Fluttershy or not,” she gave Sapphire the bottle in an opaque bag, “I’m not about to let them just go wandering off someplace that I don’t know a lot about and is so close to the Everfree Forest.”

Sapphire nodded. “What’s Fluttershy doing there anyway?”

“Moving some frogs. She said the pond they were from was getting crowded and that moving them would be for the best.”

“She’s also there alone!” Pinchy piped up. “That means it’s safe to go!”

“Pinchy, Fluttershy walks into bear dens alone, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe!”

“Why would you even want to go there in the first place?” Sapphire cut in, “It’s nothing but muck and muddy water.”

“Because, we could… um…” Pinchy tapped her head as she thought. “Um… adventure? Yeah, we could go on an adventure! Maybe we could find a cave out there with a gemstone that grants whoever wears it the power of an alicorn, or something!”

Berry shook her head slightly. “Pinchy, I highly doubt that would happen. Now, if you want to go outside, that’s fine, but you are not going to that bog.”

Sapphire leaned in close. “Humor me a second Berry. What if I take the girls there? Then they can see that it really is just water and mud and come back here and play.”

“I don’t know, those four have good imaginations, and don’t you have work to do?”

“If I did I wouldn’t be here buying alcohol.”

“Good point, but I’m still not too thrilled with this idea. The last time the girls went off somewhere they got foalnapped by those horrible diamond dogs!” Berry shuddered. “I don’t want any of them to go through something like that again.”

Sapphire thought for a moment. “How about I write to Midnight telling her to join us? She’s working on a tree now but I’m sure she’ll meet us before we get there.” She opened her saddle bags and pulled out a paper and quill.

Berry looked down at her daughter, who was now attempting to make a pleading, puppy dog face. Thankfully, it looked more funny than heart-pulling. She looked back and forth between the two ponies for a minute before sighing in defeat. “Fine.”

“YES!” Pinchy jumped up and punched the air.

“BUT! Each of your friends HAS to agree. If even one says ‘no’, you’re not going, got it?” Pinchy nodded vigorously and dashed into the back and up the stairs. Sapphire quickly wrote down the note and sent it off with some dragon fire. “Tell me I didn’t just make a mistake?”

“Everything will be fine Berry. With Midnight there, what could possibly happen?”

-----------------------------

Midnight, where are you?’ Sapphire thought as she and the girls neared the bog. ‘You should have been with us since before we left town! Berry will kill me if you don’t show up!

“Hey, Sapphire?” The pegasus looked down at Squeaks. “Shouldn’t mom have gotten here by now?”

“I… I’m sure she’s on her way now. She must have just ran into somepony and stopped to chat for a bit.” Sapphire gave the filly what she hoped was a reassuring smile, and for the moment it seemed to pacify the young thestral. ‘Come on, Midnight! Even Squeaks is wondering where you are! You had better not be taking a nap!

-----------------------------

Midnight yawned as she walked into the house. Sure, she had only felled one tree, but it was a start, and that nap in the sun right afterwards felt heavenly.

She stretched her wings again as she walked into the kitchen and got herself a glass of apple juice. ‘Sapphire should have been home by now. Berry’s busy on Saturdays, so she can’t still be there chatting with her.’

When she finished her drink she saw a letter on the table. Opening it, she saw it was from the pegasus in question. “Midnight… got the rum… girls to Foggy Bottom Bog… said you’d join us there… see you in a bit. Hmm… sure, why not? Kind of bored around here as it is anyway, and if Fluttershy’s there it should be alright. Not like anything as big as a dragon is there or she’d be in her home under the bed.”

-----------------------------

Hungry. They were still hungry. There had been four ponies and what looked like a large lizard, and they had let all of them get away. All four heads grumbled as they felt their stomach growl again. If something didn’t come along soon they’d have to head into the forest; a very demanding task as prey could easily hide in the tree cover. Add to it that the many mountains and ravines that were there made it hard to maneuver, and it was small wonder they had stayed in the swamp for as long as they did.
As their stomach rumbled again and thoughts towards the forest became more acceptable, one of them heard something. Getting its compatriots attentions, they all listened, and after a minute they all licked their lips. It looked like they were going to get another chance.

-----------------------------

Sapphire looked around anxiously. They had made it all the way to the bog and Midnight had still not shown up. There was also no Fluttershy around as well, which meant that she was all alone with four fillies in a swamp without any clue as to whether or not it was safe to be here. It didn’t help that Squeaks was now practically glued to her or that Pinchy was running in and out of the tree line. Dinky and Twist were thankfully doing neither, but their faces clearly showed that they wanted to leave.

“Squeaky, sweetie, could you please let go of my leg? Pinchy, come over here; we need to talk.”

Squeaks obediently let go and Pinchy came bounding over. “Hey girls, I found this really cool looking burrow, and-”

“We’re going home.”

Pinchy stopped mid-stream and stared up at Sapphire. “But-!”

“No ‘buts’ Pinchy. Midnight never showed up like I told your mom she would, Fluttershy isn’t here either, and its plain nopony but you want to be here anymore. I’m sorry, but we’re going home.”

Pinchy looked around at her three friends and gave up when they all had apologetic looks on their faces. “Fine.”

"Alright, stay close, and-” Sapphire was cut off by a bone chilling roar and something massive rising up out of the swamp.

-----------------------------

“Midnight!”

The kirin wheeled for a second before diving down towards who called her. “Hey guys, what are you all doing out here?” She asked as AJ, Twilight, Spike, Pinkie, and, strangely enough, Fluttershy, came into view.

“Well, first Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense started a twitchin’, then we all headed out here ‘cause Pinkie said there’d be a doozy-”

“And what a doozy it was!” Pinkie interrupted. “Twilight finally believed in my Pinkie Sense!”

“Um… what’s Pinkie Sense?” Midnight asked.

“I’ll tell you later,” Twilight said, “but I’d stay away from the bog if I were you; we ran into a hydra out there.”

Midnight’s stomach did a few flips before disappearing entirely. “WHAT!?

The group recoiled at Midnight’s outburst. “We all made it out fine!” Twilight said, trying to reassure her.

“That's not... Sapphire, Squeaks, and her friends are there right now! They thought it was safe since she had gone there all alone!” Midnight pointed an accusing hoof at Fluttershy, who hid behind her mane. But, before she could continue yelling or any of the others could make a rebuttal, a familiar, bone-chilling roar sounded from the swamp.

“The hydra!” Fluttershy squeaked. Midnight was immediately up and speeding towards the source of the roar at speeds Rainbow Dash would have been impressed at.

“We better go, too; we out smarted him once, and we can do it again!” Twilight rallied, beginning to follow the kirin.

“T-T-Twi-li-li-ght!” The lavender unicorn turned around to see her pink friend bouncing and twitching around in a random fashion.

“Another doozy?” Twilight asked, afraid of the answer.

Pinkie only nodded.

-----------------------------

Sapphire continued to move deeper into the trees with the girls as the hydra continued to wade in behind them, one or more of its heads poking down under the canopy in an effort to find them. Back during her time as Celestia’s aid, she’d look in on the guards training for various different scenarios. The most common one was for dragon attack, but every once in a while they’d switch it up and try something else. One of these times Sapphire had looked in on just so happened to be about a hydra attack.

“… and if all else fails, your best hope of escaping is to head into any nearby woods. Hydras are large and need lots of space to maneuver in. Trees help to limit its movements and allow for an easier escape…” Or at least that what she remembered the sergeant saying. Either way, it was working so far. They were slowly pulling ahead of the beast, and with any luck the trees would last until they were out of sight of it.

*whump* “Ow!” Sapphire turned and saw Dinky flat out on the ground with some wire-y roots wrapped around one of her back legs. Immediately, they were all on her, pulling both on her and the roots to get her free. After some panicked pulling and grabbing, Dinky finally came loose.

“Are you alright, Dinky?” Sapphire asked as she did a quick check.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” The hydra chose that second to grab the tree next to them and rip it out of the ground, exposing them. It threw the tree away and stepped forward, while Sapphire and the girls, who were now huddled behind her, took several steps back. Even if they tried to run again, now it was close enough that if one head missed, one of the other ones would surely get them.

“Sapphire, I’m scared.” Squeaks said, grabbing hold of Sapphire’s wing. Sapphire rubbed the filly’s head but said nothing. Even if she flew up to try and distract it so the girls could get away, she wouldn’t last long, and it probably wouldn’t be long enough for them to get away.

The heads reared back.

DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH THEM!” Without warning a black blur passed in front of the hydra’s heads, spewing blue flames into their faces. All four heads reared even further back in alarm, and the creature even took a step back away from them. Just as the heads seemed to recover from the intrusion, the black blur was back, impacting one of the heads as well as sending out more blue flames at it.

“MOM!” Squeaks yelled out. Sapphire felt a wave of relief at seeing the kirin on the scene.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” She yelled down to them, hopping off the head she had been wailing on to avoid an attack by another. Sapphire nodded.

“Girls, we have to get out of here, now!”

“But, what about mom!?” Squeaks asked, looking back up at the kirin, who drove onto another head.

“She’s distracting it so we can get away; let’s go!” The three other fillies began to take off once again, but Squeaks stayed put, looking from her friends and Sapphire to Midnight. “Squeaky, your mom is putting her life on the line so you can get away to someplace safe.” Sapphire pulled the bat filly away from the scene. “She’ll be fine as long as we go, now.”

Squeaks looked up at her, tears already forming in her eyes. “You promise?”

Sapphire wordlessly scooped Squeaks up onto her back and began running after the others.

-----------------------------

Midnight stole a brief glance back towards where the others had been. She was pleased to see that they were gone. She only needed to keep the monster distracted long enough for them to get a safe distance away and hopefully find Twilight, who could teleport them back home.

She twisted and fell away as another pair of fang-fill jaws snapped at her. She let out a brief blast of flame before jinking around another’s neck. A head followed her, and with a flap of her wings she turned sharply upwards. The head followed her up, too fixed on its target to notice another head coming down on her. A quick twist to the side and she dodged the head coming down, letting it collide with the one under her.

Midnight was able to take in the sight of two of the heads now bickering with each other for only a moment before the other heads came roaring after her. She let loose another fire blast at one head and just dodged the second, whipping her tail to the side so the blade could graze against it. Both heads roared in pain and she flew up to get a better view of the situation with her new opponents. What she forgot was that while the other two heads were fighting with each other, they were still a threat. As she dodged the head she had just grazed with her tail, she failed to see one of the two fighting heads pull itself free from the other, flinging itself backwards.

Midnight caught the movement out of the corner of her eye a hair too late. The back of the head smacked into her, sending her flying away from the hydra. She hit a small cliff face some distance away, her left side taking the impact, then slid down to the ground.

It took the hydra a few seconds to realize its small tormenter was gone. When it finally did, it gathered its wits about it and looked around. Its prey was gone as well, but then it spied s few small bits of color run through a small clearing in the trees a ways away. Roaring as it resumed the hunt; it began to give chase once again.

As it began to smash through the trees, Midnight slowly got up from where she’d crashed. Her whole left side was sore, especially her rear left leg. Putting pressure on it showed it wasn’t broken, but she was pretty sure it had taken the brunt of the impact with the cliff. Her right side wasn’t feeling so hot either, but she simply shrugged it off. Thankfully both her wings felt mostly fine and she took off again to see the hydra once again in pursuit of Sapphire, Squeaks, and the others.

“Damn it!” As she began flying after it, she saw that this time the creature wasn’t picking its way through the trees like it had before. Now, it was simply marching through them. She roared, trying to get it to pay attention to her, but all four heads were looking straight ahead and none turned in her direction. At this rate it would be on them again in no-time, and all it would take would be one head to strike down… ‘NO!’ she thought angrily, ‘you’re NOT getting any of them! Not Twist, or Pinchy, or Dinky, or Sapphire! And ESSPECILLY not my SQUEAKS! I’m going to stop you no matter what it takes!’ With that Midnight stopped and hovered as she took a steadying breath. “No matter what it takes.” Blue flames erupted from her hooves and engulfed her body.

-----------------------------

Sapphire had just jumped over another log when she collided with something orange and blonde. “Dang, girl, y’all need to look before ya leap next time!”

“Applejack! Thank Celestia!” The two ponies untangled themselves, and the two groups gave their relief at finding each other.

“Where’s Midnight?” Twilight asked. “Last time we saw her she was speeding towards the way you came!”

“She’s distracting the hydra; she told us to run.” Sapphire looked over at Squeaks, now curled up on the ground next to her. “We need to get the girls out of here first. Twilight, how many ponies can you teleport with you?”

“Right now I can only teleport myself and one other; sorry.” Twilight did her best to look apologetic.

“It’s better than nothing.” Sapphire looked over the fillies. “Okay, first Pinchy goes, then Dinky, then Twist, and finally Squeaks -”

A loud, booming set of roars interrupted her. Spinning around, Sapphire saw the hydra starting to bear down on them. ‘What happened to…? Celestia, no!’ As the hydra closed in, each of the adults flipped a filly onto their back and prepared to bolt, when, for the second time that day, something black plowed into the beast. This second black object, however, was much bigger than Midnight had been. The impact sent the hydra rolling and sliding across the ground for a ways. When the creature straightened up onto its hind legs, they could all tell what it was.

A dragon. One as big as the hydra the way it was currently standing, but it was also significantly different from the one the Mane Six had encountered atop Smokey Mountain. To start with, this dragon was pitch black all over, including its belly. The head was shorter but thicker, and two horns stuck out the back instead of spines. Its wings and front arms seemed to be one and the same, and were enormous, with three talons capping the bends on each wing. The hind legs had three toes each, each ending in thick, sharp talons. Finally, the tail, which whipped around behind it, ended in a familiar looking tail blade.

The dragon let out an earth-shaking roar of anger and defiance at the hydra, which was trying to pick itself up. The dragon leaned forward onto all fours, then swung its head toward the group of ponies. “Don’t just stand there, GO!” it said with a rumbling, yet distinctly female voice. Everypony except Sapphire and Squeaks took the advice immediately and bolted. The pegasus and thestral stared at the dragon for a few more seconds before realization crossed their faces. Sapphire gave the dragon a determined nod and followed the others away from the scene.

“Sapphire, that was-!”

“I know, Squeaky. We need to do as she says so we can all get out of here together.”

As they made their escape, the dragon turned back towards its opponent. The hydra had finally gotten itself up and roared at the intruder, then charged.

-----------------------------

Flying, Sapphire easily caught up to the others. Only once the sounds of roaring became somewhat distant did they finally stop.

“Alright; I’ll take Pinchy back to town first, and hopefully those two will keep each other busy enough so we can all get away. Hopefully, Midnight will fly by and spot us.” Sapphire and Squeaks exchanged a look. “It’ll take about a minute for me to recover from such a long teleport, so just hang on. Pinchy, are you ready?” The young unicorn nodded, and the two disappeared.

“Hey Sapphire, what made you choose which filly goes when?” AJ asked.

“Well, Pinchy probably handles being alone the best right now,” she bent down and let Squeaks slide off, “Dinky will be the best one to keep her put, and I think Squeaky will do best being here with me as long as possible.”

“Huh, that’s some pretty smart thinkin’.”

“Thanks.”

While Sapphire and AJ talked, Squeaks looked around at the others. Nopony was paying any particular mind to her at the moment, and they all seemed preoccupied with their own thoughts. Backing up behind a tree, she waited a moment to see if anypony noticed. When they didn’t, Squeaks began making her way back towards the fight. ‘I need to make sure mom’s okay!

-----------------------------

Midnight jumped out of the way and blasted the rampaging hydra with another bout of fire. It howled in pain and frustration, this being the third time it had charged the dragon with nothing to show except being burned.

She flapped her wings and jumped back, once again putting distance between the two of them. She winced as she landed; her left leg still sore from the impact. As before she was just biding time for everypony to get as far away from the hydra as possible, but this time she was sure the beast in front of her wouldn’t simply knock her away.

The beast in question stared intently at her, growling as they did so. For the time being she was stuck on the ground since trying to take off from a standing position would take too long and leave her exposed to an attack. When the time came to leave she would simply start running away, which would give her enough time and momentum to get airborne.

The two stared at each other for a little bit more, then the hydra charged again. Like before, Midnight waited until the last moment to jump out of the way, but this time the hydra was ready for it. As she jumped the heads tracked her, ready for the maneuver. The pull of all four heads swung the body around, causing Midnight’s fire blast to miss and the hydra to slam into her. As they connected Midnight grabbed the main body of the creature with her talons and pulled it down with her, both of them snarling and snapping at one another.

Midnight managed to grab one head by its base while two of the others bit down on her shoulders, doing their best to ignore her wing talons clawing at them. The fourth head began trying to grab her tail, which was swinging up to try and hit one of them or the main body, which was currently pinning her hind legs, and more importantly the much bigger and sharper talons attached to them. She bit into the one head’s neck several times while the two heads on her shoulders began shaking back and forth, as if trying to pull her wings off. After a particularly hard shake Midnight used the head in her mouth to head-butt the one on her left. The left head let go in a daze and she let loose a torrent of fire on the right head. With three of its four heads in pain the hydra backed up and off her, but not before also getting grazed by her tail in the side.

Midnight pulled herself up and tested her wings. Both shoulders hurt a lot, and there was blood oozing out of the wounds, but she was still able to fly-jump back away from the hydra again. The hydra was in just as good a shape as she was; blood oozed from the bite marks on one’s neck and from the two heads that had gotten swipes from her wing talons. A little trickled from the gash mark in its side from her tail. One of the scratched-up heads had its eye closed from the direct blast of fire, while the other still looked somewhat dazed from the head-butt. Only the head that had been watching her tail had come out unscathed.

Once again they both stared at each other. However, instead of charging, the hydra began to circle; Midnight immediately copying its movements. She flexed her talons as they went, digging them into the ground with every step. If the hydra charged again, it was going get to all four sets of talons in it. She was so focused on the next attack that she failed to spot the small tuft of orange sticking out of the trees a little ways away.

-----------------------------

“Ah don’t like this. Midnight still hasn’t gotten back.” AJ said as she paced a bit. Twilight had just teleported out with Twist, and it had taken her a bit longer to get back and recharge than before. Apparently the long distance was draining her faster than she’d expected.

“I’m sure she’s fine Applejack. None of the heads looked satisfied, so I’m sure it didn’t get her,” Sapphire said, flexing her wings a bit nervously.

“Then what happened to her? Maybe it hurt her and it’s planning on goin’ back fur her? We all need to go back and look!”

“Applejack, that’s suicide! And even if I agreed with you, we still need to get all the foals out of here first! The only one left is Squeaky, so as soon as she goes, then we can think of something.”

“Um… where is Squeaky, if you don’t mind me asking?” Fluttershy piped up.

“She’s right… here?” Sapphire looked down at her side, expecting to see the small bat filly. All that was there was empty space. “Oh, no; she must have gone back for Midnight!”

AJ fixed her Stetson. “Now we definitely need to head back there!”

“Then Twilight will come back thinking something happened to us!”

“Me and Fluttershy can wait here for her while you two go look.” Pinkie offered.

Sapphire nodded. “I guess that works out…” then an idea struck her. “Hold on a minute.”

“What’re you doin’?” AJ asked as Sapphire pulled out a quill and paper.

“Getting some help, hopefully.” Once she was done she sent the letter via her dragon fire, and then followed AJ back towards the sounds of battle.

-----------------------------

Princess Celestia watched the late afternoon sun from her balcony as she sipped some tea. Day court had just ended, and it was only a little while longer until dinner, so the alabaster alicorn had decided to rest a bit. As she took another sip, her thoughts began to turn towards Ponyville. Twilight’s last friendship report had been a nice one, about how ponies should come together to help one another out, instead of going it alone. It had also been amusing to read about all the ways Twilight had tried to help out without magic. Celestia could barely remember the last time she had seen a season wrapped up without the help of magic; it had been so long ago.

Finishing her cup, the princess got up and was about to leave when a letter popped into existence above her. Catching it with her magic, she gently lowered it down to read it. ‘I see Twilight has already learned something new… wait, this is from Sapphire…’ Celestia carefully read the letter, and when she was done she read it again to make sure she understood everything. “Guard!”

“Yes, your highness?” asked one of the guards from outside her doorway, sticking his head into her room.

“Find Captain Hot Lance and tell him I want ten of his finest pegasi to meet me by my balcony, fully armored and armed, immediately. A situation has arisen in Foggy Bottom Bog and I plan to go there myself.”

The guardspony nodded. “I shall find him swiftly, your majesty.” The door closed behind him and Celestia could hear the sound of a unicorn teleporting.

Please hold on a little longer, Midnight. Help is on its way.’

-----------------------------

The hydra dodged the bladed tail, letting it soar past it only to allow its owner to shoot another blast of fire at it. Both the hydra and Midnight were sporting a few more battle scars now; Midnight several bite marks along her side and the hydra some deep rakes on its body’s stomach and sides. Blood oozed out of these wounds as well, but neither combatant stopped to nurse them.

Midnight could feel that her fire reserves were beginning to run low. Soon all she would have were her teeth and talons, and her left leg was still bothering her. She had a bad feeling that it was at least sprained now, and she was making sure to not put as much pressure on it when she could help it.

They charged each other again. Midnight feinted to the right, then threw herself left. The move worked, and she was rewarded when her tail blade sliced another gash in the monster’s side. The hydra howled in pain and staggered slightly. Midnight smiled.

The others were surely away by now. If she could just pull that feint one more time, she could keep going and make it into the air before the hydra could do anything else. Then she could get back to Squeaks and try and explain all this and hope that she understood.

But, before she could ready the next charge, something caught her eye. A bright orange patch in the middle of some bushes. As she looked closer she saw the head it was attached to poke out as well. ‘No!’

I told you to RUN!” She bellowed at Squeaks, who recoiled from her a bit. Midnight’s heart hurt when she saw that.

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay!” The bat filly called up to her.

“I’m fine Squeaks, but you shouldn’t be here! I’m only still here so it doesn’t-!” Midnight was cut off as she was slammed into, sending her sprawling across the ground. When she tried to get up something slammed down on her right wing, then her tail, left leg, left wing, and neck were seized and slammed into the ground.

Squeaks watched in horror as her mother’s limbs was picked up and slammed down again. “MOM!”

Midnight struggled to fight back in some way. Both her wings were pinned down, she was on her stomach and her right leg wasn’t connecting with anything, her tail was being held near the end, and the hydra’s fangs were deep enough into her neck that she couldn’t simply twist her neck and aim a blast of fire at it. She was slammed down again, and this time it was accompanied by a vigorous shaking. Her left leg was screaming in pain now. She let out a tongue of flame in defiance, but it was cut short when the hydra bit down hard on her neck, momentarily cutting off her air supply.

The hydra picked up her head for a fourth time, held it up for a second, then slammed it down again. A guttural groan of pain escaped her, but other than that she put up no resistance to it. Cautiously, the hydra relaxed its hold on her, until finally it pulled all its heads up. Midnight stayed down, bleeding profusely from her four new wounds and breathing in a pained manner.

The hydra leaned hungrily over her. It had started out the day chasing after ponies; bite size snacks at best. Now it had a whole meal laid out before it. It had been a lot more painful work to get it, but it would be worth it.

“NO! MOM!”

The hydra turned and saw one of the ponies it had been chasing earlier a little ways off, just standing there and looking at them. Looking back down at the dragon it had just fought, it grinned wickedly to itself. It was no longer a threat, and it certainly wasn’t going anywhere. Turning back towards the pony, it began advancing on her.

-----------------------------

Squeaks couldn’t move; couldn’t process that the hydra was getting closer. All she could see was her mother on the ground, covered in blood, and not getting up. ‘Get up!’ The hydra’s body blocked her view of her. ‘You have to get up!’ It began to loom over her. ‘Mommy, please!’ Squeaks looked up at the beast looming above her, tears spilling out of her eyes. “Mommy?” The hydra growled.

HEY!” The hydra turned, and without warning its left most head went sailing off, severed right above the main body. All three heads roared in agony as it staggered back and away from Squeaks. The bat filly looked over to see Midnight stumble as she completed turning, her tail blade covered with blood. Despite her injuries, Midnight charged forward and leapt onto the hydra, clamping her jaws around the stump of the severed head and letting loose as much fire as she could muster while digging her talons deep into the hydra’s body.

The hydra continued to roar in pain. The loss of one of its heads was a pain it had never experienced before. Add to that being bitten, cut, and burned all at once, and all the beast wanted was distance between itself and the dragon.

SQUEAKY!” Squeaks turned to see Sapphire and AJ running towards her. “What in Equestria were you thinking!? You could have…” Sapphire stopped when she saw Midnight and the hydra.

“By Celestia…” AJ whispered when she saw it as well.

Midnight pushed herself off the hydra before it could recover and the two backed away from each other. The stump had been cauterized by her fire, meaning that the two new heads that were supposed to appear after a decapitation would never grow. The three remaining heads stared down at the burned stump with a mix of surprise, pain, and confusion. Unfortunately, this did not last long and all three heads turned towards Midnight and let out bellows of pain and rage.

Midnight steeled herself as the hydra charged her. She waited a moment, then spun around, aiming her tail blade at yet another head. In her determination to fight back, however, she had spun about on her left leg. After all the abuse it had taken, this was the final straw; with a wet, sickening crack her leg broke. Midnight fell over with the loudest, most mournful roar of pain. While her shot went wide, it did have the effect of temporarily driving the hydra back. Immediately she tried to get up, but fell over with another roar of anguish when she tried to put weight on the leg.

Sensing that it’s opponent was truly beaten this time, the hydra slowly moved in for the kill. Midnight tried to let out a burst of flame, but only a little wisp that barely made it out of her mouth came out. She was out of fire, her leg was busted, and she was still bleeding. Another attempt at getting up ended in failure, and finally she simply looked up at the hydra with hate-filled eyes.

Without warning the hydra was hit by a golden blast of magic. It roared and fell back, only to be hit by another, and then another. Then it’s tail was enveloped in a golden aura which pulled and yanked it off its feet, spun it a few times, then launched it through the air and out over the swamp, landing somewhere away with a dull thud.

With the hydra now gone, Midnight slumped down and let out pain-filled groan before being consumed in blue flames again.

-----------------------------

Squeaks, Sapphire, and AJ watched as the hydra went sailing off towards the horizon. “Land sakes! What did that!?”

I know who did that,’ Sapphire thought. A flicker of blue caught their eyes and Midnight disappeared in a blue inferno.

“MOM!” Squeaks screamed, immediately running towards where the dragon had just been.

“Squeaks, WAIT!” Sapphire called after her, giving chase.

“Did she just say mom!?” AJ called out after them.

Squeaks burst out into a clearing and suddenly found herself face-to-face with a pack of heavily armored and armed royal guards, all of who immediately aimed their weapons at her.

“Stay your weapons!” A familiar voice called out. The guards withdrew their weapons, and parted to let a familiar figure through. “Are you okay, Squeaky Wings?”

“Princess Celestia!” Squeaks cried out, “my mom’s really hurt! You need to help her!”

“I know Squeaky,” Celestia said, “but I also need to know where the others are.” Sapphire and AJ burst out of the tree line not a second later.

“Princess!” Both adults quickly bowed. “Thank goodness you’re here!”

“Sapphire, where are the others?”

“Back in a clearing some ways over there,” Sapphire pointed in the general direction they had come from, “but they should be on their way here now. All the other foals are back in Ponyville.”

“Good.” Celestia nodded to her guards, some of which took off in the direction of where Twilight, Pinkie, and Fluttershy should be. “Now we can concentrate on-” She was cut off by a sharp grunt from the other side of the clearing. The remaining guards moved between the noise and the princess, and a moment later the noise reveled itself.

“MOM!” Squeaks cried out, a smile splitting her face.

The kirin looked like she had been through a meat grinder. Her fur was matted with blood, with still more spilling out from certain wounds. Scaled down bite marks covered her body, and her wings and tail were limp. Her rear left leg was lifted up, dangling slightly below the break. Her face was a mix of determination and pain. “Squeaks… thank Faust… I’m so... please… I’m not…” She convulsed, her eyes rolled up, and she fell over.

Midnight!

MOM!

Ch.16 - A Kirin's Mark

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Darkness. All around her was darkness. “Hello?” she called out, her voice having a higher pitch to it than she remembered. “Where am I? Is anypony there?” Midnight walked farther into void, her hooves not making a sound as they stepped on nothingness. After what felt like several minutes, something began to materialize out of the shadows. “Um… Can you tell me where I am?” The figure took a few more steps closer, finally revealing herself; a white unicorn mare with a mane the same color as Midnight’s, only with two streaks of white in it. “Mom!?” Midnight cried out, now running toward the figure. The mare stared down at her, or at least Midnight thought she was; there were no eyes or mouth.

“What are you doing here?” The mare asked angrily.

Midnight skidded to a halt only a few hooves away. “Mom, I’m so sorry I ran away! I never should have-”

“What are you talking about? You leaving was the best thing that could have happened to me! I can finally live my life again! No more need to live in fear and shame, no more turning down important parties to look after you, no more feeding you expensive gems so you won’t eat a neighbor’s cat, no more worrying that you’ll throw a tantrum and turn into that thing! I couldn’t be happier that you ran off!”

Midnight began to cower as the mare punctuated each reason with a stamp of her hoof. “Mom, please, I’m… I’m sor-”

“Oh, you’re sorry! That makes everything alright! You’re nothing but a selfish little freak! Well, I’m done; I have been for years!” She turned back the way she came. “Don’t ever bring your sorry carcass anywhere near me again!” With that she began to walk back into the blackness of the void.

Midnight watched her mother begin to go, then got up. “Mom, wait!” The figure didn’t stop, and the filly kirin began to give chase. “Mom, please!” But, no matter how fast she ran, the white mare still outdistanced her. “Please, come back!” Midnight urged herself even harder and soon she could feel herself growing; legs and wings lengthening, her now adult body allowing her to run at full gallop.

Her mother still outpaced her and soon she disappeared entirely. Midnight continued to run after her until two figures blocked her way. She came to a skidding halt when she saw who it was. “Squeaks! Sapphire! Thank Faust you two are -!”

“What do you want?” Sapphire said, stepping in between her and Squeaks. "We already told you; we don’t want to live with a monster!” Sapphire’s eyes, for both of them had faces, unlike her mother, burned with looks of hatred and betrayal.

Midnight took a step back. “What!? Sapphire, it’s me! I’m not a -”

“Don’t lie!” Squeaks yelled from behind the pegasus. “We all saw you turn into that thing! I don’t want a monster for a mom! I hate you!

Midnight took another step back. “Squeaks!”

“I’m taking her back to the palace with me where she can be with normal ponies.” Sapphire said, backing away with Squeaks.

“I think that’s a perfect idea.” Out of the shadows emerged Princess Celestia. “Had I known what she really was, I would never have allowed her stay in Ponyville, much less adopt a foal. Equestria doesn’t harbor abominations.”

“I am not a monster!” Midnight yelled feebly.

“Of course you are,” the princess said, “a monster.”

“An abomination.” Sapphire continued.

“And a freak!” Squeaks said finally.

Before Midnight could respond, others began appearing from the darkness. Some had faces, others did not, but all were chanting the same thing.

“MONSTER!”

“ABOMINATION!”

“FREAK!”

“Stop it! I’m not any of those things!” Midnight yelled. The mob only continued to grow louder as they began to march toward her, enveloping Celestia, Sapphire, and Squeaks into their midst. Midnight backed away from them, pleading with them to stop and understand. “I don’t know why I can do it, but I’ve never hurt anypony! I swear!”

“LIAR!”

“MONSTER!”

“FREAK!”

Midnight continued to back away from them until her back legs stepped into open space and she fell back, her front hooves gripping at the hole’s edge as the mob continued to move in.

“MONSTER!”

“ABOMINATION!”

“FREAK!”

Tears poured down Midnight’s face as she continued to try and pull herself up, her wings flapping uselessly. Then she heard something down in the pit. Looking down, she saw two large, blue draconic eyes staring back at her, then the head of a dragon, no, a wyvern, emerged from the pit, eyeing her hungrily. Midnight whipped her head forward and continued trying frantically to pull herself up. “Please, I’m not- I don’t want to-!” The crowd had reached her now, all eyes, existent and non-existent, were on her. “Please!” Midnight reached out a hoof to them. As one, they pulled back their hooves, then kicked her off the edge. Midnight fell back into the pit, shouting but no voice came out. The figures on the edge disappeared as the wyvern’s jaws closed around her.

-----------------------------

NO!” Midnight bolted up, or least she tried to, but sets of hooves pushed her back down. She tried to swat them away but both her front legs and tail seemed to be restrained. “GET OFF ME!” she roared, letting loose a burst of flame. The ponies holding her down disappeared, one of them yelling out in pain and immediately there was more yelling. As soon as they were gone she began twisting and tugging at her restraints. Almost immediately she let out a roar of pain when an obscene amount of it shot up from her left rear leg, forcing her eyes shut, but her efforts did bear fruit as her tail came undone and began to swing wildly.

“Some pony get her under again, before she-!” A series of crashes sounded from somewhere to the side as the kirin flailed about. Somewhere a door slammed open and the yelling increased. The flat side of her tail blade impacted with something and a dull *whump* told her she had knocked it into a wall. Once again she let out a blast of fire to drive whoever was there away, but this time something pushed back against it. Opening her eyes slightly, she could see a golden aura smothering the flame, then it turned on her, forcing her limbs to hold still. Looking to her side she saw an alabaster figure staring down at her with more of the golden aura floating around her head. Suddenly she felt very tired.

“You… you…” and the world went black again.

-----------------------------

Midnight let out a soft moan as she woke up. Her eyes cracked open slightly, and a golden aura met them. “Wha… where…?”

“Easy Midnight, everything is alright. You’re in Ponyville Medical.”

Midnight tried to move her head to see the speaker, but it remained firmly in place. “Why… why can’t I…?”

“The last time you woke up, there was… quite a scene. I need to know it won’t happen again before I let you go.”

Another voice scoffed.

Midnight’s head buzzed. How could a unicorn be holding her down with magic? Then everything slammed to the forefront of her mind. The hydra, the fighting, Squeaks in danger. “Squeaks!”

“She’s alright; everypony made it out safe, thanks to you.”

The kirin calmed down slightly at this but she still tried to turn and see what was going on. “Where is she?”

“Squeaky Wings is right outside but we need to make sure you’re okay first before you can see her.”

“I’m not dangerous!” Midnight yelled, redoubling her efforts to get loose. “I’m not going to hurt her! I would never hurt her!”

There was a pregnant pause from the voice. “Midnight, nopony here thinks you’re going to hurt anypony.” There was a touch of confusion in the voice.

“Then why am I being held down unless you think so!? I can control it!”

“I know you can. I’m holding you down so you don’t hurt somepony like last time.”

“Last time? What… what do you mean ‘last time’? It was a dream, a nightmare.”

“And a very vivid one. The doctors brought in orderlies to keep you down so you wouldn’t hurt yourself further or reopen your wounds. Then you woke up and, well, let’s say things quickly got out of hoof and I had to step in.” There was the sound of somepony walking towards the bed, and Princess Celestia came into view. “You managed to burn an orderly and knock a doctor into a wall before I could restrain and sedate you.”

A small knot formed in Midnight’s stomach. “How… how bad was it?”

“It could have been worse." Nurse Redheart came into view. "The orderly has a lot less mane and a first degree burn and the doctor may want to avoid strenuous activities for a bit but nothing permanent or long-lasting.”

The knot went away slightly and Midnight breathed a sigh of relief only to suddenly be confused. “But… how did I get here? I don’t remember anything after the fight.”

Celestia suddenly looked crest fallen. “You were very badly hurt Midnight. I used my magic to stop the bleeding and heal some of the wounds, but you had already lost a large amount of blood by the time we got you here.”

“Then… how am I still alive?”

“Sometime before my sister was banished, there was a unicorn doctor who learned how to make the body reproduce blood at an accelerated rate. Princess Luna and I learned this spell from him, although I haven’t used it in quite some time. For a little while I was afraid I might have forgotten it.”

“Couldn’t one of the other unicorn doctors show you again? It has to be standard for them.”

Celestia shook her head. “He was a very talented unicorn, and the spell he created was very powerful. Very few unicorns can perform it and, if done incorrectly, the results could be… messy.” Silence reigned again for a minute. “When Sapphire Breeze comes in with the others, I hope you’ll thank her. If it hadn’t been for the letter she sent about what was going on, I doubt we would be having this discussion right now.”

Midnight nodded. Of course she would thank her, although she also wanted to know why Squeaks had been back at the fight in the first place.

“We shouldn’t be.” Redheart said, lifting up a clipboard. “Besides the broken leg, you’ve got deep wounds all over your body and several of your major arteries have either been nicked or cut into. The fact that you didn’t die of blood loss before the princess got you here is a damn miracle.” Celestia gave her a look but Redheart just shrugged.

“Um… princess?” Midnight asked. “Why aren’t you afraid of me? You saw what I can become.”

Celestia ended her restraining spell and turned towards the door. “If I may, I’d like to talk about that with the others, if that’s alright with you. And you as well, Nurse Redheart.”

The earth mare shrugged. “If you insist princess, although I have to ask that you not jostle or excite the patient or I will ask you to leave.”

Celestia smiled at her. “Understood. Midnight?”

Midnight’s face fell. “I guess it’s alright. They all know about it now anyway.”

Celestia opened the door, and something orange-and-cream colored ran into the room. “Mom!” Squeaks cried as she ran around the foot of the bed and up onto the chair on Midnight’s right. “I’msosorryIshouldhavelistenedtoyouI’llnevernotlistentoyouagainI’msosorry!” With that Squeaks collapsed onto Midnight right foreleg and began bawling.

Midnight tried to move her wing to stroke Squeaks, but found that both wings were restrained in medical tape. Gently, she slid her leg out from under Squeaks and used it to hold her as she continued to cry. It took a few minutes for the filly to finally stop, during which time Sapphire and the Mane Six entered the room and Nurse Redheart left.

“I was so scared I was going to lose you that I just had to go back and look.”

“And I’m touched that you were so concerned for me Squeaks but I hope that from now on when I tell you to do something, you’ll do it.” Squeaks tearfully nodded and Midnight gave her a kiss on the forehead.

“I’m sorry Midnight; it was my fault.” Midnight looked around to see Sapphire seated at the other side of the bed, looking anywhere but at her. “If I had kept a closer eye on Squeaky, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I don’t blame you Sapphire.” The pegasus finally looked up at her in surprise. “I don’t really blame anypony, except maybe the hydra, and myself. If I hadn’t taken a nap, I might have read your letter in time to avoid all this.” Midnight smiled at her. “And, thank you, for doing your best to watch over, not only Squeaks, but all the girls. And for telling the princess what was going on. I owe you big time for that.”

Finally Sapphire smiled back at her. “That’s what friends do.”

Midnight raised an eyebrow. “You still want to be friends even after I turned into a wyvern?”

“Ya know, that’s somethin’ me and the rest have been wonderin’ about.” AJ said. “How can you turn into one of them dragon-wyvern-whatever thingies? I thought you couldn’t do magic?”

“I’ve been wondering about that myself.” Twilight added. “I performed a magic-scan on you and came up with nothing.”

Midnight made to start speaking when something brushed her legs. Looking down she saw Princess Celestia withdraw her wing.

“Perhaps I could explain a bit first?”

Midnight hesitated, then nodded.

“Thank you. Yes, Midnight can change into a wyvern, as I first suspected when I saw her cutie mark.” Celestia lifted the sheets to expose the mark in question. “I have only come across this kind of mark once before on a pair of kirin twins more than 1,500 years ago. They, too, could transform into wyverns at will, and as I suspect with Midnight, for a short time.”

“But, she has no magic!” Twilight insisted, “how can she do so without it?”

Celestia gave a knowing smile. “Actually Twilight, Midnight, like all kirins, does have some latent magical ability, but it is too hard for a unicorn, even one of your skill and knowledge, to detect. Only an alicorn such as myself or Princess Luna, can really detect it. Since both the twins and Midnight had a wyvern for a father, I suspect that is where the ability came from.”

“What do you mean?” Midnight asked, “what does my dad have to do with all this?”

“The same reason why such a large creature can mate with a pony: wyverns have learned to use the small bit of magical energy they posses to shift sizes. They can’t really control it more than going between normal size and being about the size of myself, but that is how you, and many other kirins, came to be. I suspect that somehow that ability passed on to the three of you.”

“Were they in control as well?” Midnight asked, a pleading look on her face.

“Marble and Quartz Stone were putting on air shows before the Wonderbolts themselves ever did. They had a nasty habit of scaring towns half to death when they would arrive but they never lost control of themselves. It was quite a shock when they first changed of course.”

No kidding,’ Midnight thought, remembering when she first changed.

“But, how do you know that was your special talent?” Rainbow asked. “I mean, did you just decide you wanted to be a dragon, or wyvern, or whatever, and BOOM, you were one?”

“The twins first changed during a heated argument and we suspected the intense emotions brought about the change. I can only assume that Midnight went through something similar.” They all looked her way but Midnight didn’t meet any of their eyes.

“Midnight, did something else happen the day you got your cutie mark? Is that why you thought I didn’t want to be friends with you anymore?” Sapphire asked.

Midnight stayed silent for a time, stroking Squeaks’ mane and not looking at anypony. Finally, she took a deep breath. “I did have one friend when I was a filly. Back then when I wanted to go outside, my mom dressed me up so that I looked like a unicorn. We explained away my eyes as the result of an advanced spell I had tried gone wrong, which also explained my lack of magical ability. Soft Glow didn’t care that I looked different; she didn’t have any friends either before we met. We played together all the time in the ally next to my house and we had lots of fun except when Shining Star and Crystal Goblet came around. Those two picked on us a lot like Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon do to you sometimes.” She patted Squeaks’ head. “One day they decided to get a little rough. They stole the toys we were playing with and pushed Soft Glow into a puddle. I got so mad and I just wanted them to leave us alone for once that I just…” Midnight shook her head slightly and tears began to well up in her eyes. “The next thing I knew I was almost three stories tall and those two were running away screaming. I turned to Soft Glow to see if she was alright and she bolted too, screaming about how I was a monster. She never wanted to be near me again. Nopony else saw what happened so they all felt the girls had been over-reacting to the way I looked. You all are the first ponies to ever see what I really am and still want to be my friends.”

Silence hung in the air as Midnight finished. After a minute Celestia finally broke it. “I’m so sorry Midnight. When the twins changed they had the rest of the kirins to fall back on, and all of them were very accepting of them. Yourself, on the other hoof…” The princess fell silent again.

“Well, she can always fall back on us, right?” They all looked up at Pinkie. “I mean, we’re all her friends, right? And friends stick together, like gum, or taffy, or syrup! Mmm… maple syrup…” Everypony smiled as Pinkie licked her lips.

“It’s true Midnight. We may not hang out together as much but we all think of you as a friend and as a friend you should never be scared to come to us with a problem.” Twilight said, with agreements from the rest. “And then there’s Berry Punch and Derpy Hooves; I’m sure if you tell them about this they’ll understand. And I already told you Ponyville is different from the places you’ve been.”

Even Midnight smiled now. “I doubt they’d stay calm at the sight of a wyvern descending on the market.”

“That might set off a few alarms.” Applejack said with a chuckle.

“And I’ll be there for you, too.” Sapphire said.

“And me too!” Agreed Squeaks.

“Thank you, I really do appreciate it. But, let’s just keep it between the ponies in this room for now; at least until I’m a bit more ready?” Everypony nodded. “Thank you.”

Celestia stepped forward. “Now that that’s settled, I suggest we leave Midnight to get some rest and begin recuperating.”

“But, she’s been asleep for three days; why would she need to rest some more?” Squeaks asked.

Three days!?” Midnight yelled. “Young filly, have you been missing school!?”

Squeaks rubbed the back of her head. “I’ve been getting my homework.”

“Tomorrow. School. No excuses.”

“Yes mom.”

“I’ll make sure she gets there.” Sapphire said.

“One last thing before I leave Midnight,” Celestia cut in. “I suggest a more draconic diet to help boost your healing ability. I’ll have the gems sent here and I believe Sapphire can handle the rest.”

Sapphire nodded. “We’ve got enough in the freezer for about a week and a half, maybe two.”

“I’ll see about sending more here if her recovery takes longer than that.” Celestia assured her.

“Um… excuse me princess but what are you talking about? All she needs is gemstones, right?” Twilight asked.

Midnight looked at her like she’d grown an extra head. “Seriously? You live with a dragon and you seriously ask that?”

“What? The only thing Spike eats that’s dragon-like is gemstones.”

“Spike is an earth dragon, Midnight. His kind rarely eats what other dragons do.” Celestia explained.

“Oh, that makes sense.”

“Of course it does, I mean, what else do… dragons… eat…” The gears in Twilight’s head finally clicked into place. “Oh.”

“Um… if it’s okay with you, your highness, I could ask my bear friend Harry and a few of my eagle and hawk friends if they could help get Midnight what she needs, I mean, if that’s alright.”

Twilight stared at Fluttershy. “How in Equestria-?”

“Well, um, she has fangs, and only carnivores and omnivores have fangs, so, I just figured-”

“But how are you okay with that!? Shouldn’t you be freaking out at the very idea!?”

“Well, some of my animal friends are carnivores, and I take care of them as well. I wouldn’t be very good with animals if I didn’t know what they need, even if I don’t like knowing sometimes. Also, a few of my animal friends have been telling me some stories about a black pony attacking from the sky.”

“Now wait a gosh darn minute, are y’all sayin’…?”

“I eat meat, yes.” Midnight finished for her.

“So, is that what that shed of yours is for?” Rainbow asked.

“I think that’s enough for now.” Celestia said, flaring her wings slightly. “Midnight has told us a lot about herself today and I believe she’s earned a rest. I’ll inform the staff of the food arrangements.”

They all said their goodbyes and promised to visit her in the following days. Squeaks took the longest to get out the door, of course. “I can come over after school, right?”

“Only after you’ve stopped in and made sure Sapphire knows you’re home and where you plan to go. You’re still in trouble, missy.” Midnight made sure to give her a big hug, though, and then only Celestia was in the room with her.

“I do have one more thing to ask. I think that, after such a close call as this, you should get in contact with your mother. I understand you and her parted ways years back but maybe now might be a good time to talk with her.”

Midnight turned and looked out the window, her eyebrows furrowed. “Princess, when Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon, did you want anypony else to be involved or did you want to keep what was happening between the two of you?”

Celestia frowned slightly. “I didn’t think anypony else could help her like I could. But, if I had asked for assistance from the few friends she did have, things may have turned out differently. In your case, you may have fewer nightmares of your own.”

Midnight whipped her head around and stared at the alicorn.

“Ponies who have gone through trauma such as your own tend to experience very vivid and horrible nightmares. When my sister learned what happened she used one of her powers to enter your dreams to try and head them off. She told me about the nightmare you had before waking up the first time.”

Midnight sighed and looked back out the window. “Having friends that know me, the real me, would make reconciling with her easier but I don’t think I’m ready right now. I definitely don’t want her to see me like this in a hospital after all this time. I will talk with her again, just not now.”

“Sometimes waiting a bit longer makes it too late.”

“That’s a chance I’m willing to take, Celestia. I’ve been doing so for nearly four years now.”

Silence. “Then I wish you good night, Midnight. I hope you feel well again soon.”

“Thank you, Celestia. Good night to you, too.”

Ch.17 - Meet The Captains

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Canterlot Train Station buzzed with activity as the final hour of the Saturday morning ticked by. Business ponies entered and exited trains, coming from or heading to meetings in the capital or in the majors cities. An occasional noble or two would saunter through, snouts held high as they made for private cars to whisk them to their weekend estates. Conductors and attendants zipped in and out of the disorganized herd, trying to make it to their respective trains on time after getting a quick bite or coffee.

Into this maelstrom of activity chugged another engine; its previous stop being the small community easily visible from any of the city’s many public balconies. Along with the other passengers, three certain ponies disembarked off the train. One wobbled and used her larger-than-normal wings to steady herself. “This leg is really starting to piss me off.” Midnight glared at her left hind leg, which was in a sling.

“It’s only for another week at most. At least the cast is finally off.” Sapphire reassured her.

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Two weeks of sitting around doing practically nothing and now Celestia is dragging me all the way up here for some dumb meeting.”

“Both Guards have just had new captains appointed to them and it’s very important that you meet your new peers. And it’s called recovery; you can’t fight a hydra and not expect it.”

Midnight grumbled as she and Sapphire made their way through the station. “At least Squeaks will have a fun time running around the castle, right Squeaks? Squeaks?” A quick look around showed the young thestral to be nowhere in sight.

“Mom!?” a voice drifted out of the crowd.

Midnight let out a loud growl, causing all the ponies around her, as well as a startled griffon, to give her and Sapphire some breathing room. Almost immediately Squeaks popped out of the crowd behind them.

“Sorry!” she said, running up to them.

“It’s not your fault; one of us should have put you on our backs when we saw all this.” Midnight brought a wing down and let Squeaks grab it. She winced slightly as she pulled Squeaks up and placed her on her back.

“Are you alright?” Sapphire asked.

“Yeah, it’s just my wing’s still a bit sore; especially the left one.”

“Then you shouldn’t be using it. Redheart said no strenuous activities that involve your legs or wings.”

“Carrying Squeaks isn’t strenuous.” Midnight began moving forward again. “Why is it so crowded today? Last time we were here there was barely anypony around.”

“How many ponies do you know that get up with the sun on a Saturday morning?” Sapphire asked.

“Well, there’s the princesses, then I normally would, and I doubt Pinkie actually sleeps…”

Sapphire playfully slapped her with a wing. “Smart plot.” They exited the station and the pegasus turned towards a line of waiting carriages. “I’ll get us one.”

“I can make it to the palace under my own power!” Midnight called after her. A soft tapping on her shoulder made her turn her head to face Squeaks.

“Maybe a ride through the city would be fun?” The filly grinned sheepishly.

Midnight snorted. “Sure, baby your poor mother some more. Maybe we can get me a throne with some pall bearers to start carrying me everywhere.”

Squeaks giggled.

-----------------------------

The ride to the castle was, for Midnight, thankfully brief, but the whole way she grumbled about not being useless and that she was well enough to take care of herself. Once again two guards met them outside the castle gates.

“Atten-tion!” The sergeant, a pegasus, bellowed as they came close.

Midnight jerked back as the two guards saluted her.

“The princess is expecting you captain,” said the private, a unicorn, next to him. “Miss Ember is waiting for you inside.”

Before Midnight could respond Sapphire nudged her and mimed a salute with her wing. It took the kirin a couple of seconds to get what she meant. “Oh, uh… yes, thank you private.” Midnight returned the salute, then walked past them and on inside.

------------------------------

Princess Celestia looked up and smiled as the doors to the dining room (one of several in the castle) opened and the kirin, thestral, and pegasus she had been talking about with her new Solar Captain entered. Her smile dipped slightly as she saw that Midnight’s left rear leg was still in a sling. “Welcome, my little ponies, and thank you for coming. Please,” she motioned to the cushions, and the three of them took their seats. Midnight seemed to have a bit of difficulty sitting down without wincing in pain, but when a servant moved to assist her she shooed him away, a bit aggressively, with her wing and a growl. Celestia waited until she was seated and comfortable before continuing.

“How has your recovery been going, Midnight?”

“The only thing left is the leg and a few sore spots, but other than that I’m fine. Doctors say I should be good as new by the end of next week. Probably going to have scars from the more serious injuries, but my fur’s covering them up well enough.”

The princess nodded. “It is good to hear that you’re recovering quickly. Now, to the matter at hoof,” she turned to the white unicorn in purple armor seated between herself and the kirin. “To get straight to the point, Captain Midnight Storm of the Bearer Guard, I would like you to meet the newest Captain of the Solar Guard, Captain Shining Armor.”

“Captain.” Shining Armor gave her a salute.

“Captain.” Midnight returned it.

“Captain Armor will join you today after lunch as you are fitted for your uniform.” Celestia said. At the word ‘lunch’, a servant appeared next to them, notepad ready to take down orders. “The captain is also the older brother of my faithful student and one of your charges, Twilight Sparkle.”

“Really?” Midnight asked.

“Yes, and since I’m her B.B.B.F.F., I’d like to discuss -”

“Her what?” Midnight interrupted.

“Her B.B.B.F.F., Big Brother Best Friend Forever.”

Midnight stared at him for a moment, doing her best not to face-hoof and ask ‘Seriously?’

“Anyway,” Shining started again after a few moments, “because of that I’d like to discuss with you, celery soup please, about the Bearer Guard. Namely, such things as size, strength, and flexibility.” Shining said with a smile.

“Of course,” Midnight said, still a bit put off by what he had said. “Sapphires,” she said to the servant.

“But… Miss Sapphire hasn’t ordered anything yet.”

“The gemstone,” she dead panned. “A whole bowl full… please.”

The servant nodded and jotted the order down amid giggles from the three other mares at the table.

-----------------------------

Lunch passed by in a mostly silent state; at least for the two captains. Sapphire chatted with Ember, who had refused any offers of food, about the current affairs the government was in and what the hot gossip among the nobles was this time. Celestia mostly engaged Squeaks about how school was doing, how her friends were, and other topics a filly her age knew about or was interested in.

Midnight and Shining Armor mostly stayed quiet during the meal, only occasionally adding two cents to one of the conversations.

Once they were all done Celestia stood up to leave, with the rest following her lead. “I will see you all again at dinner, as will Princess Luna and her new captain. For the moment, Day Court calls.”

Midnight cleared her throat. “Princess, may I speak with you for a moment in private?” Midnight gave Sapphire and Squeaks an apologetic look.

Celestia eyed the kirin for a moment. “Of course; a little delay shouldn’t be a problem.” She nodded to Shining Armor, who escorted the other two from the room. The servants left as well, leaving the kirin and alicorn alone together. “What’s troubling you, Midnight?”

The kirin began to pace. “Celestia, to cut right to the chase I don’t believe I should remain a guard, captain or otherwise. Twice now something has happened to at least one of the bearers, and both times I’ve only acted after the fact. Even worse, both times I was more interested in protecting others in the situation than I was my charges. It’s only by some miracle that one of them hasn’t… well, it’s a miracle that they’re all still around, and it’s in no way thanks to me and my actions. They should have a competent soldier like Captain Armor watching over them. I should be at home cutting wood and making a living for me and Squeaks.”

Celestia listened to the kirin confide in her and took careful note of her face as she talked. Midnight had spent some time thinking the situation over from the looks of it. The Diarch of the Sun waited until Midnight finished speaking before speaking herself. “Midnight, do you believe the royal guard, as a whole, really serves a purpose?”

The question was so far out of left field that it caused the kirin to stop pacing and look up at the alicorn with a look of confusion. “Of course they do! They’re there to protect you and Luna. Everypony and their pet knows that.”

“So, Luna and I, both alicorns with enough power to raise heavenly bodies with ease day in and day out, need protection in the form of guards that are no more than regular ponies? If a threat serious enough to harm us was to show up, do you believe that they could really protect us from it?” Celestia watched as the information sunk in.

“So… are you saying…?”

“I’m saying that when it comes down to it, the mares and stallions of the guard would do more good joining their local police force than coming here to guard us.”

Midnight was flabbergasted. “Then… then why even still HAVE a guard then!? Why didn’t you two stop it from forming in the first place!?”

Celestia sighed. “The royal guard is an institution going back all the way to when the three tribes were separate. It was started under the unicorns and to a lesser degree the pegasi. When Luna and I ascended to the throne we allowed it to continue because Equestria had just come out of a terrible, nightmare like time, and anything familiar from before was cause for relief. Being as old as we are, we’re also very nostalgic, and haven’t really entertained any serious thoughts of dissolving it.

“Speaking of nostalgia, that is also why I asked you to become a guard. Back during their hay-day, kirins acted, and were often appointed, as the knights of Equestria. You could say that when Twilight brought you to my attention I saw an opportunity to relive the past again and took it.”

“Okay…” Midnight let all that information sink in. “But what about the bearers? They aren’t alicorns, so why have only me watch over them? Why not just say ‘Sorry girls, but you’re just too important to be left unguarded’ and send half the royal guard to Ponyville?”

Celestia smiled. “When Luna and I first took position of the Elements, we realized that those who could wield them had to be extraordinary ponies; ponies who embodied those qualities of harmony. Ponies that could, say, scold a dragon into leaving a mountain, or work together to defeat a possessed alicorn all by themselves?”

Midnight got the hint. “So… then what am I good for as a guard? If you two don’t need protecting, and neither do the bearers, then what’s the point?”

At this, Celestia actually looked a bit ashamed. “I already told you that Luna and I are nostalgic, and that kirins were once in the guard somewhat. I figured we could have that again, even if it was, yes, only something to look at. But there is another reason that’s probably just as selfish. We made a promise that when the kirins returned to Equestria again, we would do anything and everything to have them stay and keep them safe. I thought that if you were inducted into the guard, it would make that promise easier to keep.” Here the alicorn took a steadying breath. “So, yes, in a sense we are simply using the guard story to keep you close. However, as extraordinary as Twilight and her friends are, they are not alicorns. They cannot simply toss a hydra out of their way or send dragons packing with a simple show of force. They do need you, even if it’s only that little extra muscle or seventh head, they still need it. As for throwing a bunch of guards at them and saying ‘tough, deal with it’, I could never do that. They have lives of their own to live and guards constantly following them around everywhere would only get in the way. That is also why I selected you, remember?”

Midnight sighed. “Yes, I remember. I also remember that part of our deal was that I could quit whenever I wanted.”

Celestia recoiled slightly. “And… are you invoking that right now?”

Midnight sighed again and walked over to a window. “I don’t know. I want to be useful, but how can I when my actions don’t seem to matter?”

Celestia moved over to her and draped a wing across her. “They mattered to Squeaks, as well as her friends. You haven’t even been a guard for a year, and already your actions have saved lives and begun righting wrongs that were long overdue. The actions you’ve taken matter far more than you give them credit.

“There is one more reason for your position: when your role is finally brought out into the light, you’ll be a beacon for other kirins out there. And trust me; sooner or later, there will be other kirins.”

The two of them stayed that way for a minute longer, mentally going over everything that was said.

Finally Midnight looked up at the princess. “One more time. If I can’t head off the next threat and any one of them gets in trouble, then I quit, regardless of the outcome.”

Celestia nodded. “You have that right.” Midnight nodded and turned to leave. “One more thing.” Midnight stopped and turned. “Captain Armor has expressed worries about his little sister not being in capable hooves, especially after what happened with the hydra. If he starts to become insistent on some matters, please do not be too harsh and remind him that you are both captains and he should respect your decisions.”

Finally, a small smile appeared on Midnight’s face. “Nothing permanent; got it. And… thank you.”

Celestia smiled as well and nodded.

-----------------------------

“All I’m saying is that one pony, err, kirin, cannot protect six individual mares from whatever evils may crop up.”

“Ow!”

“What if one leaves to go visit Baltimare while another visits Vanhoover? You can’t be in three places at once.”

“Ouch, damn it! Don’t pull!”

“And then what if a problem arises? From what I’m told you don’t even have the basic training required to handle such a situation. Simply put, you can’t do this alone.”

“DO YOU EVEN SEE THE SLING!?” Midnight swatted the magically flying measuring tape away from her and nearly into the seamstress’, Needle Eye’s, face. “And Celestia already spoke with me about this. I’m supposed to stay where the majority of the bearers are. If that means Twilight decides to go skipping merrily into the Everfree Forest without thinking, then I can’t do anything unless most of the other bearers go looking for her.”

“Ma’am, I need to use the measuring tape to make accurate measurements.”

“And that is a problem!” Shining shouted. “It only takes something to happen to one of the bearers for the Elements of Harmony to cease working, and so rob us of our most effective defense! We can’t entrust that to one mare, no matter what Celestia thinks!”

“If I can’t measure, I won’t be able to cut out the cloth properly.”

“Last time I checked she was your boss, and what she says, goes. She left it up to me to decide who to pick, if I even wanted to pick. From what I understand Twilight knows most of the veteran guard, which means once she notices them the whole ‘staying secret’ part of my guard falls apart, making it useless!”

“If I can’t cut properly, then the uniform will come out wrong.”

“So, what, do you want me to send you rookies straight out of basic!?”

“No, if anything I want veterans, which I can’t get because I already explained why!”

“And if the uniform comes out wrong, we’ll have to do this all over again.”

SHUT UP!” Both captains yelled at her. Taking the hint, Needle Eye finally stepped back and took a seat next to Sapphire and Squeaks who were quietly observing.

“They’ll let up soon enough.” Sapphire said, patting her on her shoulder. Feeling a tug on her wing, she looked down at Squeaks.

“Umm… but they’re both making really good points,” the young thestral said. “So, which one is going to win?”

“Neither Squeaks. I suspect Captain Armor will get tired of yelling and leave to try and get Celestia on his side. And there he goes.”

With a loud “UGH!” Captain Armor did in fact leave the room, and smoke-snorting Midnight watching him leave.

Needle Eye stood up. “So, can I continue?”

-----------------------------

“-and every bit the pig-headed and clueless civilian she really is!” Shining yelled, stomping about Celestia’s office like a trapped thundercloud. The alicorn behind the desk let her Guard’s Captain blow himself out a bit more. The weekends were some of the few days the princess could actually catch up with office work, as few ponies wanted to spend their weekends waiting in line for an audience with her. Again. However, this also lead to the reason the princess of the sun had a coffee mug on her desk that said ‘I Really Hate Mondays’ in bold, cracked lettering.

Celestia continued to keep her eyes down and quill moving until Shining Armor finally stopped to catch his breath. “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” she asked, not looking up.

“She smells like a hospital patient with a bit of ash mixed in.”

“That tends to happen when you take three or more weeks to recover from a fight with a hydra.”

“Princess, I’m being serious! She doesn’t give a mule’s behind about the ponies she’s guarding!”

“You mean she’s not caring enough about Twilight as much you would like.”

“O-Of course not!”

Celestia finally looked up from her paperwork and set her quill to the side. “Really?”

“Twilight is only part of the problem.”

“Twilight is the biggest part of the problem. Shining, when I sent your sister to Ponyville, she had already made several theses that could have gotten her Masters Degrees and PhDs. She isn’t even twenty years old yet and we could be calling her Doctor Twilight with all the dignity and respect that comes with the title. And let’s not forget that she and her friends saved us all from Nightmare Moon’s reign of terror single hoofed.” She let the information hang in the air for a moment. “What you need to understand is that, while she will always be your younger sister, she is no longer your baby sister. Do you think she would welcome a bunch of armed guards into her library? Do you think she would appreciate them practically breathing down her back at all hours of the day?”

“… she’d probably flip out on them after only a day and teleport them en mass back here.” Shining finally admitted.

Celestia nodded. “And the same would happen with the rest of the bearers. They might even blame Twilight for their inconveniences and no longer want to be her friends, and that would truly devastate her, as well as render the Elements useless. Neither is a risk I’m willing to take. Captain Midnight may not have the same background in training as you or other guards do, but she makes up for that in raw power and tenacity. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the right mare for the job.”

“But she can’t do it alone!” Shining insisted. “She needs a bigger guard, but she refuses to take any from the Solar or Lunar Guard!”

“That is a right she has as a captain. If I feel her actions are becoming a detriment to her assignment, I will address it.” Shining was about to begin to argue some more when Celestia held up a hoof. “I have made sure to go over this many times, Captain Armor, and have considered all the arguments you have brought up. This is the end result, and my decision stands. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”

Shining, finally realizing he was beaten shook his head. “No ma’am.”

“Then I suggest you return to your troops. I’ll see you at dinner tonight.”

“Yes ma’am.” He saluted and left.

Celestia returned to her paperwork and almost immediately groaned. “Again with this, Blueblood? Ponies cannot stay off the roads for an hour whenever you decide to go out!" She threw the petition into the fire.

-----------------------------

The dining room for dinner was bigger than the one they were in for lunch. Celestia was, again, at the head of the table, but this time there was an empty seat next to her, waiting for the princess of the night to occupy it. Next to Midnight sat Squeaks and next to her was Sapphire. Captain Shining Armor sat across from her, with an empty seat next to him for the captain of the Lunar Guard. The sun had just recently set, so they wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

“I trust the fitting went well?” Celestia asked, trying to get two of her captains to stop trying to kill each other with looks.

“They went fine after Captain Armor left,” Midnight said. “I think the seamstress even pulled on the tape measure less.”

Shining Armor looked like he wanted to hit her with the broad side of the castle. Thankfully, before an argument could ensue, the doors to the room flung open.

“Greetings and salutations Midnight Storm! We- I- no, we, are glad to see you again after your ordeal!” It may not have been the Royal Canterlot Voice, but all those present still checked their manes to see if they were swept back or not. “And how are you feeling today?” Luna asked in a calmer voice as she walked around the table.

“I’m doing fine, thank you.” Midnight bowed. “My leg is still in a sling and I’m a bit sore in places, but I should be all healed up by this time next week.”

“Splendid!” the night princess crowed.

“Luna, indoor voice, please.” Celestia said, her ears flat.

“Of course sister,” Luna smiled sheepishly. “But we are glad to see our kirin friend in such good shape in such small amount of time. I almost forgot about their healing ability. And my court has several new visitors tonight! Huzzah!”

“Umm… hi Princess Luna.” The dark blue alicorn looked down at the small thestral filly.

“And hello to you too, Squeaky Wings! I trust your time in Ponyville since you were here last has been enjoyable?”

Squeaks nodded. “I’ve made a new friend since then!”

“Even more splendid news! Has anything else happened?”

Squeaks shook her head. “Not really, except for… you know…” She motioned to her mother’s back leg. “I’m grounded until mom gets all better.”

“And she’s been a very good girl by sticking it out and not complaining.” Midnight said, stroking her mane. “Where is your new captain, by the way?”

“He’ll be along in a moment. He said something about making sure he was presentable before joining us.” Luna sat down next to her sister, and Celestia just barely saw the ghost of a smirk on her sister’s face. Before she could ask what was going on, an adult thestral stallion flew into the room.

“I apologize for being late, your highnesses.” He shot off a quick salute, his armor gleaming from being freshly polished.

“Captain Midnight Storm, meet Captain Night Skimmer.”

Midnight felt her jaw drop a bit. “Wow, straight from sergeant all the way to captain, huh?”

Night Skimmer shuffled uneasily. “All our higher officers have been… relieved of duty, as it were.” An uncomfortable silence followed, punctuated by a snort from a certain night princess.

“A topic for later, perhaps.” Celestia finally said. “For now, how about we eat and relax?”

“Yes, a good hearty breakfast!”

“Luna, indoor voice.”

Down the table Shining Armor took a sniff of the air. “Dude, are you wearing cologne?” He asked Skimmer.

----------------------

“Twice in one day.” Midnight groaned as she was measured all over again, this time for armor by the royal blacksmith.

“I be less invasive than that harpy un’ her tape, lass; and more considerate o’ battle scars.” The blacksmith told her, using a caliper to take measurements. “If she just used one o’ these babies, she’d cut her work time by half! But nuuu, she ‘af to have that bloody tape!” He snapped the caliper shut when he was done. “Give the ol’ lass some credit; yur uniform will be done ‘efore yur armor is.”

“Well, I don’t see a time in the near future when I’ll need it.” Midnight said, stepping down from the platform.

“Ya say that now lass, but words like tha’ usually court Discord, the ol’ snake.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Maybe erring on the side of caution would be the better part of valor?” Sapphire asked, nodding at the kirin’s still injured leg.

“Caution later, story time now.”

Awww!” Squeaks moaned. “But it’s a Saturday mom!”

“And am I still recovering?” Squeaks nodded. “And does that mean you’re still grounded?” Another nod. “Then story time missy.”

The old blacksmith chuckled. “Ya be a fine drill sergeant someday lass!”

-----------------------------

“I take it Squeaky is doing fine then?” Night Skimmer asked as he and Midnight walked the battlements around the castle later that evening. It was a pleasant spring night; nippy, but bearable for the average pony.

“She’s okay. She’s grounded for as long as I’m recovering, but I think she’s learned her lesson.”

“Then why not call it off tomorrow then if that’s the case?”

“Because I want it to stick; make her think a little more next time before doing something rash.” They walked pass another guard, Midnight noting that he was a unicorn and not a thestral. “There aren’t many of you left in the guard, is there? Thestrals, I mean.”

Skimmer shook his head, his dark blue armor reflecting the moonlight at odd angles. “There were nearly forty of us that came and offered our services. Now there’s only fifteen of us still in the guard.”

“FIFTEEN!?” Midnight yelled out. Skimmer’s ears flattened. “Sorry. Only fifteen of you are left? Is that why there are so many other ponies in the Lunar Guard now?”

Night Skimmer nodded. “Even for those of us that disagreed with what was happening, we are a bit unhappy about the inclusion of the other tribes. We still wish to serve Princess Luna, but as thestrals we feel a certain kinship with her and feel that it is our duty alone.” They walked in silence again for a few minutes.

“Maybe you could get in contact with those you trust back in your old colony? I’m sure they’d love to leave it for the comfort and safety here in Canterlot.” Midnight tried to put on a smile, but it faded as Skimmer shook his head.

“We were able to round up all but five of our former brothers and sisters in arms. They must have seen the writing on the wall and snuck out during the changing of the guard. They’d be back at the colony by now, telling them all about what happened. We all hope those back home with similar ideals have enough common sense to stay low and keep their mouths shut. If they’re caught communicating with any one of us… well, you know what they can do to newborns; Luna only knows what they’ll do to the rest of us.”

“Then what in Faust’s name are you doing!?” Midnight yelled, grabbing him by the collar and shaking him. “Don’t just pray to her; go to Luna and ask for help you idiot! Didn’t you say your colony worships her!?”

Skimmer twisted out of her grasp and backed away. “It’s not that simple anymore! The news that Princess Luna supported us will have certainly caused unrest and shake more than a few back home to their core! If she comes storming in she might set off infighting!”

“And that’s better than simply letting your friends and family back home be persecuted and possibly killed because of your actions while you sit here and do nothing!?” Skimmer didn’t answer. In frustration Midnight dived off the parapet and immediately began flying towards the throne room, Skimmer following close behind yelling for her to stop.

-----------------------------

Princess Luna eyed the two standing before her. Both had given very good arguments as to why they were right, and she had to agree that they both had merits. However, she could only choose one course of action. Taking a deep breath, she gave her decision. “We are sorry, Mr. Star Bucks, but from what we have seen thou have plenty of thine coffee establishments around the city already. Anymore and there may be no more competition.”

“That’s the point!” The brown stallion with a white mane and coffee cup cutie mark cried. “Why should I compete with this no talent hack and his disgusting doughnuts!?”

“I’ll have you know I make the best doughnuts in the city!” Doughnut Joe yelled back.

“Enough!” Luna yelled, silencing the two. “Mr. Star Bucks, we are sure thou are well aware that stamping out all competition makes what’s known as a monopoly, something our sister outlawed a century ago.” Star Bucks’ face fell. “And from the look of it, thou thought we might not know about it.” Luna’s frown turned into a scowl. “Thou are acting like a foal going to one parent for permission when the other hath given thee an answer of no, and we are not pleased. For wasting our time and Mr. Doughnut Joe’s, whose pastries we are quite fond of,” the pale yellow unicorn smiled, “Thou will pay him the equivalent of a full days earnings. Oh, and thine proposal to buy his shop and demolish it is denied.” She stamped her hoof, and an arguing Star Bucks was escorted out, followed by a still smiling Doughnut Joe.

Luna slumped in the throne and looked at one of her guards. “Is it too much to ask that they come to us with real problems and not simply to ‘go around’ our sister?”

“Of course not your highness.” The thestral mare said.

As she was about to call for the next visitor, Midnight Storm, closely followed by Night Skimmer, flew in.

“Hey!” The receptionist at the doors called out after them.

“There’s nopony else out there!” Midnight snapped back. “Princess Luna, I have to speak with you immediately.”

“What has you so troubled, Captain Storm?” Luna asked, her brow furrowing in concern.

Midnight turned to Skimmer. “Am I telling her, or are you?” When he didn’t respond Midnight took it as her cue. “I’ve just found out that five previous guards escaped your efforts to make them pay for their crimes.”

If the tone of the room hadn’t been so serious right then, Luna’s eye-twitch might have been funny. "WHAT!?" she screamed, the Royal Canterlot Voice shaking the walls of the throne room and certainly waking ponies around the castle. The eye-twitch continued as she pointed manically at the captain of her guard. “EXPLAIN!”

“Please forgive us princess, but by the time we found out they were missing we were sure they were too far gone to give chase.” Night Skimmer said.

“TOO FAR GONE!?” Luna bellowed. “Has thou forgotten we can TELEPORT ANYWHERE WE CHOOSE!? Thou needed to simply point us in the direction of thy colony and we could have intercepted them!”

LUNA!” The doors to the throne room slammed open to reveal a very agitated alabaster alicorn. “How many times do I have to say INDOOR-!” she stopped when she saw who her sister was yelling at. “What’s… going on?”

-----------------------------

Midnight conveyed the whole story to both princesses while the bat ponies stayed to the side, most with a look of shame on their faces. Once she was done, Luna, who was still on the throne, turned toward her sister, who was seated next to the throne, and began talking in private. It was a rather surreal moment for Midnight, seeing Luna on the throne while Celestia sat to the side. It had been an equal shock to Luna when she had offered her sister the throne, and Celestia refused. “You rule the night, sister. I am only here to observe and give counsel.”

There were several minutes with the only sound being Luna and Celestia whispering to each other, sometimes soft and careful, other times loudly and angry. Finally, the two princesses pulled apart from each other. “Lunar Guard, step forward.” All bat ponies in the room moved forward, every one of them still with their heads down. “To say that I am disappointed in you would be an understatement. I am furious that you would keep this from me.” They all flinched. “However, now is not the time for punishment. Now is the time to make amends and right what has been wronged. My sister and I agree, though not completely,” Celestia frowned slightly, “that myself and my thestral guard will go to your colony and set things right.”

“But, my princess,” Skimmer protested, “we are only fifteen strong. The colony is at least one hundred. We could not protect you if the colony were to turn on you.”

“My sister and I have faced down hordes of dragons in the past with nary a scratch on us; I believe less than one hundred thestrals would be a similar match. And if you are correct, more will rally to you if you are there.” Here she took a breath. “We will be leaving for the colony two nights from now. I want as much details about your colony as you can give me. Leave NOTHING out.” There was a chorus of affirmative answers. “Then leave and begin preparing yourselves.” All the thestrals but Night Skimmer left the throne room. Luna once again sunk into the throne. “One headache after another it would seem.”

“The end results will undoubtedly be worth it.” Celestia assure her.

“I am sorry that I will be leaving you again so soon sister.”

“Just don’t stay away for a thousand years.”

While the princesses tried to make light of Luna’s approaching departure, Midnight turned to leave. She suddenly felt very tired. On her way out she stopped by Skimmer. “I’m sorry, but something had to be said.”

“I know,” he said, letting out a long stream of air. “Deep down I secretly hoped for this, but I was scared what would happen, what WILL happen, when we finally return home.”

“I think there’s an old saying that goes ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’. I think that fits here.” Skimmer smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Midnight laid a wing on his shoulder. “With Luna with you, I’m sure everything will turn out alright; you’ll see.” Midnight turned away and exited the throne room.

-----------------------------

The next morning wasn’t exactly the happy affair they had all hoped it would be. Shining Armor was still a bit peeved, Night Skimmer still looked forlorn, the princesses ate with straight faces, and Midnight had her characteristic grumpy face on. The whole situation was very off-putting for Squeaks and Sapphire. “Did something happen last night?” Sapphire whispered to Midnight, leaning over Squeaks so that only Midnight could hear.

“I’ll let you know about it later.” Midnight said, biting into her gemstone omelet.

With nothing to do after their meal, later became right after breakfast back in their suite.

“So that’s what’s going on. That’s just terrible for them. First their ranks get decimated, now there could be a civil war within their colony. Is there anything we can do?”

Midnight shook her head. “Other than empty promises? I have to stay here and guard the bearers, not to mention the sight of me may make things worse. Me saving Squeaks started this whole thing, not that I wouldn’t do it all over again.” She nuzzled the bat filly curled up beside her.

They sat quietly around the suite for the next hour, unsure of what to do with themselves. They had just started a game of Go Fish when a knock came from the door. A messenger from the royal seamstress announced that Midnight’s uniform was ready and that they should head down to her shop immediately. With finally something to do, the trio were quickly out the door.

-----------------------------

“You look really good in that, Midnight.” Sapphire said as Midnight looked herself over in the mirrors provided.

“You really do mom.” Squeaks said.

“Thank you, both of you.” Midnight turned and looked at it from a different angle. The uniform itself was a silvery-grey color with silver buttons going down her front and stomach. It stretched down to her flank and covered her cutie mark, and a small slit up the back let her tail move freely, as well as slits on the sides for her wings to come through. Two chest pockets also adorned the front, of which the right one had a tag with her name above it. Her captain’s rank, which was a silver alicorn with a shield and sword, was pinned to both sides of her collar.

The most striking thing about it was the straps on her sides. There were three on each side, similar to shoulder straps, except easily three times the size. Each one was a different color and had a different shape on it. On her right side was an orange strap with slightly brighter orange apples, a cyan strap with red lightning bolts, and a pink strap with light blue balloons. On her left side was a purple strap with pink starbursts, a white strap with purple diamonds, and finally a yellow strap with pink butterflies. The Elements of Harmony with their wearer’s coat colors.

“Of course it is beautiful; I made it.” The Needle Eye said. “Oh, and there is one more thing.” She fished around her desk for a second, then came back with a small box. “The princesses have awarded you this.”

Midnight took the box and flipped it open. Inside was a purple medal in the shape of a heart with a pony’s head inside. Attached to it was a purple ribbon. “What is it?”

“A Purple Heart, given to those wounded during battle.” Sapphire said, standing up and inspecting it more closely. “They must have awarded you it for the fight with the hydra.”

“Didn’t they already pay my medical bills, as well as give me a rather large bonus?”

Sapphire shrugged. “Icing on the cake?”

Midnight snorted, but still pinned it to her uniform above the left pocket.

-----------------------------

“I had hoped this weekend would have gone better,” Celestia said as she and the rest of them finished up lunch. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay a little longer and see what happens?”

“Do you think Shining Armor will get off my back about my guard by dinner?” Midnight asked before taking the last bite of her meal.

“No, I suppose not. Still, for what it’s worth, it was nice to see you again.”

Midnight smiled. “It was a nice little vacation, even if I’ve been on one for weeks now, and I think I’ve caused enough havoc and civil unrest for the past twenty-four hours.”

They all got a chuckle out of that.

"Before you go, there is one more thing I'd like to give you." Her horn lit up, and what looked like two slips of paper floated out from behind her and settled on the table between Midnight and Sapphire.

The pegasus' eyes grew wide.

"Tickets?" Midnight asked, picking them up and examining them.

"To the Grand Galloping Gala. I have already invited the bearers, and I thought it would be nice if you joined us as well. I would give you a third ticket, but unfortunately children are not allowed at the gala; I'm sorry, Squeaky Wings."

"I could stay at a friend's house for the night!" Squeaks looked up hopefully at her mother.

"We'll see; thank you, Celestia."

“Well then,” the princess got up, “I’ll send a carriage for you and your things.”

"Wait!" Celestia stopped and looked down at Sapphire. "You're giving me a ticket as well?"

"Of course," the alicorn said with a smile. "I invited Twilight's friends, why shouldn't I invite Midnight's?"

As Celestia left the room, Midnight turned to Sapphire. “I just thought of something.”

“Hmm?”

“This is only the second time I’ve met Princess Luna, and both times she’s started yelling about something. Usually something that involves me. Is anypony else starting to see a pattern?”

“Well, maybe third time will be the charm?”

Squeaks was too busy shoveling the last of her pancakes to comment.

-----------------------------

Later that night, both Luna and Celestia had retired to the elder’s room, both to see if any of the items Celestia had collected over the years could help, and to simply enjoy each other’s company.

“I see… so Midnight Storm has had misgivings about her role?” Luna asked, taking a bite out of her doughnut.

“Yes, but she is willing to try her hoof at it a little longer. I believe she can, and will, be a great help to the bearers, as well as ourselves.” Celestia took a sip from her tea, then nearly dropped it as a letter popped into existence in front of her.

“It seems somepony is sending you a late night greeting,” Luna chuckled.

“It is not like Twilight to send me letters so late. I hope everything is alright.” She unfurled the letter.

Dear Princess Celestia,

Twilight got turned to stone by a cockatrice this weekend while I was up at the castle. Don’t worry, this time I blame YOU.

Your Captain,

Midnight Storm

P.S. – Tell Shining Armor you got his sister stoned.

P.P.S. – Please don’t, Twilight is fine. – Sapphire Breeze

Celestia proceeded to pummel her laughing sister with several pillows.

Ch.18 - Dances With Buffalo

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The land of Equestria, bathed in the light of the setting sun, blew past the windows as the train rattled on southward. From the bottom bunk of one of the beds in one of the sleeper cars, two eyes with slitted pupils watched the land become slowly enveloped in darkness.

“How does a train engine break down less than an hour after we leave? Aren’t they supposed to inspect it after each stop? Bunch of idiots,” the eyes’ owner complained.

From the top bunk, Sapphire Breeze stuck her head over the side to see the kirin bellow her. “Well, at least the engineer stallions are making pretty good time right now. Not to mention we’ve got more stallions that volunteered to help so they’ll be able to take turns and keep the train moving.”

“At least Squeaks is having a good time staying over at Derpy’s instead of being stuck on this train,” Midnight said, shifting herself to speak with the pegasus better.

Since she was no longer grounded, Squeaks was staying with her friends at Derpy’s for the weekend. The wall-eyed pegasus had promised that they weren’t going anywhere out of town or that they were going anywhere in-town without an adult. She also told Midnight that if they couldn’t make it back before Sunday night, she would make sure Squeaks got to school the next morning.

Finally getting into a comfortable position, Midnight looked up to continue their conversation, then began snickering. Sapphire’s mane, ponytail and all, were hanging down past her head as the pegasus bent over to talk with her. It was rather funny looking.

“What?”

“Nothing; you just look funny like that.”

Sapphire looked at her reflection in the window, then started snickering as well. “I bet you would look just as funny hanging upside down like this.”

Before Midnight could answer, the door at the rear of the car slammed open. “Can you believe it!? Applejack had the caboose reserved for the tree, and she talking to like it’s her baby!” Rarity fumed as she walked over and climbed up to the top bunk opposite Sapphire. “It would have been just fine in the baggage car! Now how am I going to get my beauty sleep!?”

“Come on Rarity, you know those trees matter to Applejack almost as much as her family does. She just wants to make sure it gets there safe and sound,” Twilight told her, trying to calm her friend down.

The white unicorn grumbled something that sounded like “…likes trees more than ponies…” as she began applying her herbal night mask.

A few minutes later AJ came in and went to her bunk next to Midnight’s. “Bloomberg’s all tucked away for the night, safe and sound.”

More grumbling from above, but this time there was some from below her as well.

“Can you guys please keep it down? I’ve spent all day making snacks for this trip, as well as packing and helping to move the tree. I’m pooped!” Spike stuck his head out from under the blankets and gave them all an irritated look.

“Speaking of the snacks, some of the popcorn kernels didn’t get popped.” Rainbow Dash said, turning her bowl towards him so he could see the remaining kernels without accidently pouring them out.

“…fine.” Spike shot out a bit of fire at the bowl, roasting the rest of the kernels, which proceeded to pop and hit some of them, especially Rainbow. “Now goodnight!” He retreated under the covers.

“Um… maybe we should all go to sleep, too. We’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.” Twilight said.

There was a resounding “awww” of disappointment, but Twilight turned off the lights regardless.

In her bunk, Midnight draped her wings over herself, having already made the bunk into a nest similar to the one she had at home by having taken the extra pillows and blankets from unoccupied bunks. Sapphire pulled herself back up and soon the squeaks and creaks from her bunk stopped, indicating she’d found a comfortable position.

As she tried to fall asleep, Midnight heard Rainbow and Pinkie whispering to each other. Or, it at least they seemed to be whispering; the kirin was sure the whole car could hear their conversation, especially after Twilight and Fluttershy joined in. Just as she was about to snap at them, somepony else beat her to it.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Spike yelled, marching out of bed and out the back door towards the rear of the train.

“Well that was kinda huffy.” Twilight noted.

“You would be too if you were trying to sleep.” Midnight grumbled at them.

Rarity, it seemed, had enough as well. “Will you all be QUIET!?” she screamed, her herbal mask and cucumber eye covers looking a lot more scary than funny in the glare of the flashlight they were using.

Twilight and the rest ducked back into their bunks and immediately tried to make it seem like they were all asleep. Midnight just snorted in the unicorn’s direction before covering her head with her wings again.

-----------------------------

Normally, Midnight woke either by alarm clock or on her own. This was the first time she woke up because her bed shook. Hard. Bolting up after the jolt, her wings whipping open, she looked around groggily for the source of the disturbance. Another jolt slammed her against her window, while above Sapphire yelped as one of her legs slipped over the side of her bunk.

“What in tarnation is going on out there!?” AJ yelled from the aisle floor.

“It’s a herd of buffalo!” Twilight called out. They all immediately joined her on her side of the train.

There was indeed a herd of buffalo running alongside them. There were enough of them running to kick up a large dust cloud behind them as they ran.

“They’re getting awful close to the train.” Twilight said, a hint of worry in her voice. It was a worry that Midnight shared. She didn’t need to be a wiz in physics to know that if enough of them hit the train at the same time, they could easily derail them.

Then one of the buffalo slammed into their car, sending them all sprawling around the car again. Another buffalo, another slam, another redecorating of the car’s interior. Midnight hauled herself up and started making for one of the car doors.

“Where are you going?” Sapphire asked.

“If they want to start something, I’m going to finish it. Anypony with me?”

“Count me in!” Rainbow said, getting up and zooming after her.

“Hey, now they’re doing tricks!” Pinkie called out as she got back near the windows.

-----------------------------

Midnight was starting to regret her decision to head out and confront the buffalo. On the one hoof, she couldn’t just sit there and hope everything would be alright. On the other, she wasn’t used to this kind of flying. She didn’t have the latent magic that pegasi did, which meant she flew like bird of prey did: riding thermals and not flapping too much. She’d only dived at the buffalo twice, but each time she would immediately fall behind the herd and the train and would have to fly extra hard to catch back up with them. Now she was just trying to keep up and figure out how to help.

Rainbow, of course, was zooming all around with apparent ease, startling the buffalo enough to keep them from ramming the train again or hopping on top of one another like they’d already tried to do several times already.

As they started trying it again, Rainbow dived down on them once more, only this time something streaked out of the dust cloud they were kicking up and slammed into her, knocking her away. Once Rainbow was out of their way, a smaller buffalo hopped onto the others, then jumped onto the train roof.

Still trying to figure out what to do without falling behind, Midnight watched as the other two flyers recovered from the impact. Then she saw Rainbow tear after the small buffalo on the roof, with the other flyer, which looked like another pegasus, in pursuit. As she watched, a plan came to her and she folded her right wing in, dropping and turning in a wide arc. If she was calculating properly, the loss in altitude would give her enough speed to overcome the turn and she would zoom past Rainbow and into the pegasus’ pursuer, allowing Rainbow to catch the buffalo.

The plan went perfectly; for the most part. While the loss in altitude did translate into enough speed to overcome the train at the end of the turn, Midnight had pulled over a bit too sharply, and was now heading for an intercept course with Rainbow rather than her pursuer. Without thinking, Midnight twisted onto her back, sailing over the pegasus and barely missing her by a wing length. This had the unexpected consequence of putting her briefly back on course and slamming into the flyer she had been aiming for.

The two tumbled away from the train and landed hard on the ground. By the time they had both stopped rolling, they had disentangled themselves from each other and laid sprawled out on the ground. The pegasus was the first to recover, jumping to her hooves and taking off as they saw the now detached caboose being pushed back down the track in the opposite direction by the buffalo herd. Midnight, almost glad to give her tired wings a break, was slower to get up and take off after them.

By the time the kirin had gotten back to the tracks, both the buffalo and the train were gone. All she found was Rainbow knocked out at the bottom of a sign post. A few hard pokes brought the pegasus around. “Ow… my head. Wha… what happened? Where’s the train and the buffalo!? When I get my hooves on those two, I’ll-!”

“Rainbow, all they got was the caboose, and that only had the tree in it,” Midnight said, trying to calm the pegasus down.

“Spike was in the caboose, too! I saw him! We have to go rescue him!” With that, Rainbow took off after the buffalo herd.

“Oh, come ON!” Midnight yelled, forcing her aching wings to haul her into the sky once more.

-----------------------------

Back on the train, the others were trying to figure out what to do.

“We have to go after ‘m!” AJ said. Sapphire agreed.

“We can’t just jump off the train! Think of how dirty our manes and coats will get from rolling around on the ground after we jump off!” Rarity said. “I want to save Spikey-whikey as much as the rest of you, but I will not have myself looking like I rolled around in dirt doing so!”

“Um… has anypony seen where Pinkie went?” Fluttershy asked.

“Everypony calm down! Once we arrive at Appleloosa we’ll gather some supplies and start looking for them!” Twilight said, trying to stop anymore arguing.

“That could be hours from now! Who knows what could happen to them all by then?!” AJ shot back. As soon as she said it the train slowed down, put on its breaks, and came to a stop.

“Now arriving at Appleloosa!” a conductor called out.

“Y’all saw it out the window, didn’t ya?” AJ deadpanned at Twilight.

The purple unicorn blushed, then they all proceeded to get their stuff and run off the train.

They didn’t get very far as a yellow earth pony dressed in western clothes jumped in front of them.

“Welcome to AAAPPLELOOOOSA!” The stallion called out, rearing up and kicking his front legs.

AJ sighed in relief. “Braeburn; thank Celestia! Girls, this is my cousin Braeburn, the one we came to see.”

“Nice to meet you all!” Braeburn said, a huge smile on his face. “I was going to complain to the train company about how y’all are late getting here, but I can see your engine broke down.” He motioned to four stallions at the front of the train greedily guzzling down water being given to them. “No matter, though, we can still do a tour of the town!”

“Braeburn, we don’t have-!” Applejack tried to tell him, but the stallion was already galloping into town. They all took a quick look at each other before chasing after him.

“Over here is the town clock!” He called out as they ran past a clock tower. “And here’s the Salt Lick, our local watering hole!” They dodged as a pony was thrown out of the cantina. “Over there is Sheriff Silver Star’s office!” They ran past what looked like a jail house.

“Braeburn!” AJ called out after him.

“Over here is where we have all our dances, mild and wild both!” They ran past an open area with a bunch of ponies dancing. “Over yonder is the carriage station!” He nodded towards it. “Still don’t know why they have it so far from the train station.”

Braeburn!” AJ called out again.

“And finally, our pride and joy!” He stopped just as he made it out of town, finally allowing the rest of them a break. Looking past him, they all saw that they were on the edge of a high incline at the bottom of which stretched an impressive apple orchard. “We put a lot of time and care into this orchard, and we should start harvesting soon, which is good ‘cause we need that stuff to live off of!”

BRAEBURN!” Applejack yelled.

“Yes cuz?”

“You’ve got a great town, and a beautiful orchard, but we’ve got a HUGE problem!”

“There was a buffalo stampede!” Twilight said.

“And they dragon-napped Spike!” Rarity said.

“Two of our friends went after them!” Sapphire said.

“And we can’t find Pinkie Pie!” Fluttershy said.

At the word ‘buffalo’, Braeburn developed an eye-twitch. “Did y’all say ‘buffalo’?” He sighed and turned back to the grove of trees. “Those buffalo came by one day and told us to tear up all these trees for no reason. We need these apples to feed ourselves and our families, and now some buffalo are telling us to just get rid of them. ‘Taint fair and ‘taint right.”

AJ sidled up next to her cousin. “Ah can see y’all got troubles of yer own, but is there anyway ya can help us out to find our friends?”

Braeburn smiled slightly. “What kinda Apple would I be if I couldn’t help my kin? Follow me back to my place so you c’n get your stuff put away and rest a spell while I get some supplies from town.”

-----------------------------

Back out in the desert, Rainbow and Midnight continued to track the buffalo. They were on the ground now as Midnight’s wings were now far too tired to continue. In fact, they drooped noticeably as she followed behind Rainbow, who was dashing from rock to rock in a poor attempt to hide. It was poor because there was no pony in sight to hide from.

“Seriously Rainbow, there is no pony or buffalo out here; quit hiding and let’s move it already!” Midnight groaned. She could really go for some water.

“No way! For all we know, they could be stalking us just like we’re stalking them! We need to have the element of surprise!”

SURPRISE!

“GAH!” Rainbow tumbled backwards as something pink and loud exploded into her face. “Pinkie Pie!?”

“Hiya Dashie! Hiya Middy! I came out here to keep you guys company!” the pink mare said.

“Do not call me ‘Middy’,” Midnight growled.

“Pinkie, are you nuts!? You got to get out of here!”

“I do?”

“Rainbow thinks you’re going to ‘blow our cover’,” Midnight said with a roll of her eyes.

“I am?”

“Yes, she is!” Rainbow looked over at Midnight. “I’m telling you, they’re out here watching us! It was already bad enough with you walking around like we were taking a stroll through the park, but now with Pinkie here they’re sure to see-!” Within moments they were surrounded by angry looking buffalo. “-us.” She shot an angry look at Midnight before getting into a defensive stance.

The kirin also took a defensive stance, fangs and tail bared and fire at the tip of her tongue. To be honest, the buffalo didn’t scare her so much; compared to the hydra, they would be a cake walk in her wyvern form.

What she was worried about was her two charges. While Rainbow could easily fly away, it was obvious she wanted to stand and fight. There was a chance Pinkie could actually do some good, but Midnight couldn’t be sure of it. Then there was the fact that just one buffalo could shake a train car with a hit. If they could do that, Faust only knew what kind of damage they could do to a pony.

Just as it looked like they were about to charge, a voice near the back of the buffalo rang out. “STOP!” Startled, they parted to let the speaker through. “Dash, Pinkie, Midnight; sup?” Spike asked strolling out from between the buffalo like it was no big deal. “I know these guys; they’re cool.” He told the buffalo.

“Uh, Spike? What’s going on?” Midnight asked.

“Oh, right. How about we head back to camp and talk? It ain’t exactly comfortable out here.”

-----------------------------

The buffalo camp was a simple collection of modest temporary dwellings set up in an open area. As their group made its way through the camp, they were all aware of the many pairs of eyes following them. On occasion they would connect with a friendly face, but most of the time they were met only with cold stares. Eventually they came to a fire pit on the far side of where they entered, settling down only after Spike did.

“All they wanted was the tree, but since I was sleeping with Bloomberg, they got me, too. Fortunately, they totally respect dragons, so they feel awful about taking me. As a way to make up for it, they’ve been treating me like an honored guest. I haven’t had this much turquoise since… well, ever!” Spike grabbed another clawful of the stones and stuffed them all in his mouth. As he had been telling them about what happened after the buffalo took the caboose, several of them had come over with bowls of what Midnight and the rest could only assume were supposed to be food, since Spike had been given a bowl full of gemstones. What they had received looked and tasted like wet paste made from various plants. Rainbow refused to eat any of it on the grounds it smelled weird and Midnight could only take a few bites before refusing the rest, saying it at least needed some salt. Pinkie, of course, had dived right in, licking her bowl clean. Eventually her face was covered in the stuff, especially after digging through Rainbow’s untouched bowl and what was left of Midnight’s.

“Hey, Little Strongheart, Windrunner, could I get another bowl?” Spike asked to somepony behind them. Turning around, the group found themselves face-to-face with the small buffalo and pegasus they had encountered on the train.

YOU!” Rainbow shouted, immediately jumping back up into a fighting stance.

Midnight got back up as well, but only to put herself between the two parties. “Rainbow, don’t you think it’s kind of a bad idea to start a fight inside their camp?”

“Don’t you think it was a bad idea that they stole a train car, an apple tree, and Spike!?” Rainbow shot back.

Almost immediately, Little Strongheart and Windrunner tried to put themselves between the other two. “Please, we didn’t mean to take mister Spike.”

“Yes, all we wanted was the tree!”

“But why would you want an apple tree when you already have that mushy stuff, whatever it was? Ooo, did you guys want to mix the two? I wonder how that would taste. What would you call it? Mushy Apple Stuff? Apple Mushy Stuff? How about Mushple Apuff?”

Midnight plugged Pinkie’s mouth with a hoof. “She tends to get a bit excitable, but she does bring up a good point.”

“I think it might be time they meet with Chief Thunderhooves.” Spike said as he waddled over. “If they know what’s going on they might be able to help.”

Little Strongheart and Windrunner looked at each other then looked back at them and nodded and motioned them to follow. Pinkie bounced up alongside Little Strongheart, Midnight fell into step with Windrunner, and Spike and a moody-looking Rainbow brought up the rear. As they walked through camp, a number of other buffalo joined them.

As they walked, Midnight could finally get a good look at the pegasus. Her coat and feathers were a dusty brown, almost the same color as the dust the buffalo had kicked up while they stampeded. Her mane and tail were a vibrant, fiery red, with her mane tied into two braids that went down both sides of her head. Her tail was covered at its base, with what looked like, a larger version of the green ties holding her braids. Black feathers adorned her head and tail, as well as freckles dotting her face under her green eyes.

“Umm… can I ask you something?” Windrunner asked suddenly, startling the kirin.

“Sure.”

“Are you… are you part dragon? It’s just that you seem to have the wings and eyes and such.”

“Actually, I’m half wyvern.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Midnight felt the air change around her. “Is that bad?” She asked, her wings shuffling uncomfortably.

“No! Actually, that makes you more of an honored guest than mister Spike.”

“We respect dragons but that’s because of their age and vast knowledge,” Little Strongheart said. “The wyverns live in groups like buffalo do, and are just as knowledgeable; even more so since they associate with other creatures. It’s said that the wyverns would help the buffalo if they were ever in need.”

“Unfortunately, the tribe hasn’t encountered any wyverns for quite some time. You wouldn’t happen to know why, do you?” Windrunner asked.

“No… I have no idea why.” Midnight began walking again, her hopes for a lead to finding the wyverns and possibly her father once again dashed. “How did you end up living with the buffalo?” she asked, trying to lighten the mood.

“They found me out here when I was just a baby. I don’t know why I was abandoned, but they raised me as one of their own. They’re my family. I am a bit glad ponies came here, if only to explain why I have this.” She motioned to her cutie mark.

“It shows what your special talent is! Are you really good at making tornados!?” Pinkie asked, hopping around her. “’Cause that would be so cool!” Even Rainbow was showing some interest in this.

“I don’t know about tornados, but I kick up dust devils really easily. Maybe that’s it?”

“You flew through that dust storm the buffalo kicked up pretty easily, so maybe you can control dust-filled wind easily?” Midnight offered.

“Well, what does your cutie mark mean?” Windrunner asked, looking at the dragon on the kirin’s flanks.

“That’s something we should wait for another time.” Midnight said, pointing up ahead towards a camp fire that was larger than the rest. A large bison with an equally large headdress was waiting for them on the other side of it.

Chief Thunderhooves welcomed them to his camp fire with a bit more enthusiasm than they expected, although the presence of a dragon and a half-wyvern probably had something to do with it. The pleasantries didn’t last long as they all wanted to get to the topic at hoof.

“To understand why we stole the tree, you must first understand what we have done on that ground, as well as other grounds like it. Our herd has a long and winding stampeding history on these lands. My father stampeded upon these grounds before me and his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him…” As he continued to go down through the generations, several of the buffalo that had gathered with them began to doze off.

“I think they get the idea chief.” Little Strongheart said, stopping him from going further.

“O-Of course. But now, because of these ponies and their trees,” he snorted angrily, “we can no longer run upon the grounds our ancestors did for so many generations before us! It is an insult to us and our forefathers!” A loud chorus of agreement went up among the members of the tribe present.

“What about trying to talk with the Appleloosans about all this?” Midnight asked. “Surely some type of compromise or solution could come from it?”

“We’ve tried,” Little Strongheart said. “Both myself and Windrunner have tried talking to the settler ponies, but both times we were ignored and told to leave the town. They have taken over the land and it is not fair!”

“You see Rainbow?” Spike pleaded with the pegasus, “They had a good reason for-”

In a flash Rainbow was up in the air looking down at all of them. “You’re darn right they had a good reason!”

Like flipping a light switch’ a chagrined Midnight thought.

“I guarantee they’ll listen this time! Come on, we got some apple-picking Appleloosans to talk to!”

A chorus of cheers went up among the buffalo, but Midnight stayed silent. If the settlers wouldn’t listen to those they were affecting, she highly doubted a pony with no stakes in the matter would sway them any better.

-----------------------------

Sapphire, Twilight, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Braeburn all stood on the outskirts of the town as they made their final preparations. It had taken Braeburn a bit longer than planned to get all the necessary equipment, but they were finally ready to head out and rescue their friends.

“Gently, please!” Rarity whined as AJ pulled the straps on her saddle bags tight.

“Rarity, we’re headin’ deep inta buffalo territory, and they ain’t been very kindly so far. We need to make sure that if sumin’ happens out there we won’t lose any of the supplies Braeburn’s worked hard ta get because of a loose strap. Now, are we all ready ta get going?” There was a series of affirmatives. “Then let’s get to it!” AJ immediately charged out into the desert, quickly followed by the rest of them, only to come to a screeching stop after the first outcrop.

“Dash, Pinkie, Midnight, Spike? What they hay y’all doin’ out here?” Indeed, all four ponies and dragon they had set out to rescue were standing right outside of town, no worse for wear than if they went for a stroll.

“How did you escape from the buffalo?” Fluttershy asked.

“We didn’t.” Rainbow said, moving to the side a bit with the others to reveal Little Strongheart and Windrunner. “We promised the buffalo a chance to talk.”

“Yeah, about what?” AJ said darkly.

Sapphire walked up to Midnight as the earth pony and pegasus started arguing. “What’s going on? Why did they take Spike and the tree?”

“What it basically boils down to is that the Appleloosans planted their orchard on land the buffalo use every year to stampede.” The kirin’s ears flicked as the other’s argument got ever louder. “Apparently the buffalo have been sending these two,” she motioned to Little Strongheart and Windrunner, “to try and explain the problem, but each time they get turned away. WILL YOU TWO STOP IT!?” Midnight rounded on Rainbow and AJ, finally tired of their loud bickering. “It has nothing to do with either one of you! How about you let the ponies and buffalo this affects talk it out!?”

“Wait!” Pinkie yelled, stopping them all. “They’ve already tried talking, so maybe it’s time they tried something else!”

“Pinkie,” Midnight did a slow face-hoof, “they haven’t talked properly yet. We need to try that first.”

“Awww, but it’s such a good idea! Please?” Pinkie put on her best puppy dog face.

“You’re going to keep doing that until I agree, aren’t you?” Midnight dead panned. Pinkie only kept up the look. “Fine, we’ll try it. It can’t make things worse can it?”

“Great! I just need to borrow Spike for a few hours to work on it! Bring every pony and buffalo to the stage just outside of town!”

“What stage?” Braeburn asked.

-----------------------------

“That girl sure can work fast,” Braeburn said with a whistle as they stared at the stage that had been built in the few hours Pinkie said she needed. Midnight was more impressed that both the buffalo and townsponies had actually agreed to sit so close to one another. She’d lived in Ponyville long enough to learn its number one golden rule: do not question the Pinkie.

They didn’t have to wait long for said pink pony’s idea as Spike wheeled a piano onto the stage and began playing. A clam appeared on stage, and it opened to reveal Pinkie Pie clad in a show girl outfit. Before any of them had the chance to give each other questioning looks, Pinkie began singing.

Now, back during Winter Wrap Up, the town had sung a little tune, and Midnight figured it was only to help make the work seem to go faster. She hadn’t joined in, but she could appreciate a good song. To be fair, Pinkie could sing well and the lyrics she was singing were appropriate, but there was just something about it that made Midnight want to act like an ostrich and slam her head underground. It was just the worst thing to come out of the pink mare’s mouth, and by the looks of it every pony and buffalo were in agreement with her.

Finally, the horror show of a noise ended, and Chief Thunderhooves and Sheriff Silver Star turned to one another and began talking in low tones. After a minute or so they came apart.

“It would seem Sheriff Silver Star and I have come to an agreement.”

“We have.”

All eyes were on the two leaders.

“That was the worst song we’ve heard. Ever.”

“Of all time.” The sheriff agreed.

“As such, the time for talk is over. The buffalo give the Appleloosans until high noon tomorrow to remove the orchard from our stampeding grounds. If they are not gone by then, we’ll flatten it AND the whole town!” The chief exclaimed.

“And we say bring your best! If you think we’d just turn tail and leave just ‘cause you say so, you’re DEAD wrong!” With that both sides left for their camps/homes, leaving the mane six, Spike, Braeburn, Midnight, and Sapphire alone at the stage.

“My song wasn’t that bad, was it?” Pinkie asked. The rest of them mumbled incoherently.

“Well, now what?” Twilight asked.

“Um… panic?” Fluttershy offered.

“We’re going to do what we can to stop them from fighting.” Midnight said.

“But how are we going to do that?” Rainbow asked her. “They seem pretty set on it.”

“We need to find a way for them to compromise. If we can figure out a way for the settlers to keep the trees but also allow the buffalo to stampede over their traditional grounds, we can stop it.”

“And how do you propose we do this all in less than twenty-four hours when they have been trying for weeks?” Rarity asked.

Something has to happen, because at noon tomorrow it’ll be too late. Pinkie, Rainbow, Spike, you’re with me. We’re going back to the buffalo camp and see what we can do on that end.”

“I’m coming with you,” Sapphire said, stepping forward. “Four heads are better than three, and we’ll still have five heads figuring things out on this end.”

Midnight nodded. “Then the rest of you see what you can do here in town. If there’s any way the trees can be moved to satisfy both parties, we need to know about it.”

Right!” They all said, breaking up into their groups and heading towards their destinations.

“Hey, Midnight?” Sapphire asked as they flew towards the buffalo camp, carrying Pinkie between Rainbow and Midnight and Spike on Rainbow’s back. “Why do you suddenly want to help them out? It’s not really like you.”

“Well, for one it’s something we should do since we’re here. I doubt either side really wants to fight. Secondly, just consider it me giving myself a test.”

Sapphire raised an eyebrow. “A test?”

“Good leaders need to be able to resolve conflicts, whether it’s between those under them or between two different groups such as this.” She leaned over more so that Pinkie, Rainbow, and Spike, who were currently in their own conversation, couldn’t eavesdrop. “After all that’s happened since Celestia made me a captain, I told her I didn’t think I was worthy of being one. She got me to give it one more shot, and I’m making this it. If we can’t get them to come to a peaceful agreement, then I’m quitting. That’s why I’m doing this.”

They flew the rest of the way in silence.

-----------------------------

The buffalo camp was alive with activity. Buffalo tested each other by head-butting, while others sharpened their horns and applied war paint. Buffalo getting ready for what amounted to a small-scale, all-out war was an impressive sight to the ponies, dragon, and kirin present.

“Is there really nothing else you can do to avoid fighting like this?” Midnight asked the chief.

“I don’t want to fight, Midnight Storm, but what course is left to me? They have taken our ancestral land and have refused to even listen to our side for even a minute. Am I supposed to just lie back and let them do whatever they please without consequence? What kind of chief will I be remembered as?”

“What kind of chief will you be remembered as if you destroy a whole town full of ponies? I don’t think you’ll be fondly remembered for that either. It’s still not too late to stop this.” Rainbow pleaded.

Chief Thunderhooves sighed. “At noon tomorrow, it will be.”

The group fell into silence again. Ideas were slow to come and every one of them had been shot down. Nothing they came up with seemed to work out for both sides, and as the night wore on, hope to prevent the fighting dwindled.

Spike’s stomach growl shook them from their thoughts. “Hehe… sorry.”

“Maybe some food will help us think.” Windrunner said as she and Little Strongheart got up. They returned quickly with bowls of turquoise for Midnight and Spike and bowls of the plant paste for the rest of them.

“What is this stuff?” Sapphire whispered, staring down at her bowl with about as much enthusiasm as Rainbow.

“It’s basically plant paste,” Midnight said, entertained by the look on her friend’s face. “I’d suggest putting a bit of salt… on it… first…”

“Midnight, are you alright?” Sapphire asked as the kirin trailed off, staring down at her bowl.

Suddenly the kirin sprang up. “How do you guys make this stuff!?”

Windrunner and Little Strongheart backed away slightly. “W-What do you mean?”

“This stuff is edible and it’s made from plants! Plants have to grow somewhere! Where do you get the plants!?”

“They grow all over the place; we just pick them!”

“Midnight, what in Celestia’s name is going on?” Sapphire asked her.

“The Appleloosans need the apples so they can eat something. What if, instead of relying solely on apples, they grew these plants, which can even grow on the outcroppings? You know, not on the only flat land in the area?”

The silence that hung in the air when Midnight was finished was thick. All of their faces had looks of dawning comprehension and disbelief.

“Can it…” the chief was the first one to find his voice, “… can it really be that simple?”

“That’s like… Twilight level genius!” Rainbow said.

“I wouldn’t go with genius, but, yes, I think it could actually be that simple. If they can grow and harvest enough of this stuff, they could even make their apples and apple products for sale, not just to eat. And, if that were the case, they should be open to the idea to take enough trees off your stampeding ground so you can run it again! It works out for both sides!”

“Yes…” Chief Thunderhooves stood up, “…yes, it just might work! Midnight Storm, I believe I’m willing to come to the peace table once again with that idea in mind. But do you think the Appleloosans will be so ready to agree?”

“It’s all we’ve got to go on right now. If the others can’t think of something on their end, then we’ll have to hope the town will.”

-----------------------------

“This is hopeless!” Rarity whined. “Nopony in this town will help us!” Braeburn gave her a look. “And all we’re doing is standing here in the dirt looking at trees!” Applejack joined her cousin.

“Taking another look at the orchard might give us inspiration, or we might notice something about it we missed before that could help.” Twilight said, her eyes never leaving the grove as they scanned it.

“A whole town’s on the line an’ all y’all can think about is the dirt?” AJ asked incredulously.

“Just because there’s a crisis doesn’t mean I still can’t be clean and decent looking,” the unicorn shot back. “And speaking of decent looking, this orchard could do with a bit of it.”

“Whatdaya mean?” Braeburn asked.

“Well, it’s simple really; the trees are all so spread out and placed randomly, so how in Equestria were you going to add more trees? It’s like packing a suitcase; if you place everything in neatly, then it holds a lot more things than if you just throw it all in. I would go with a checkered pattern, if you ask me.”

AJ huffed. “Rarity, Ah know y’all like to make everythin’ decent and pretty lookin’ but this is an orchard; decent an’ pretty lookin’ doesn’t work here.”

“Actually, she may be onto something,” Twilight said, pulling out a piece of parchment and quill. “Fluttershy, can you fly up and mark the location of each tree?”

“Okay.” Fluttershy took the items and flew up and over the orchard.

“What are ya thinkin’, Twi?”

“The gaps between the trees are all irregularly spaced; some are close together while others a distance apart. If the trees were planted in a set pattern, they could probably be condensed enough to allow the buffalo to run through without losing a single tree!”

“Do y’all think that could work?” Braeburn asked, a ting of hope in his voice.

“I’ll have to get the tree positions back from Fluttershy first, but I think it might just work. And I just thought of something else.” They all leaned in. “The buffalo said that this was one of their stampeding grounds, which means there must be more than one. If there isn’t enough space here even after the trees have been condensed, then maybe you can make a deal with the buffalo to place trees on their other grounds as well. The town gets to keep all the trees, and the buffalo can stampede all they want.”

“Twi, has anypony told ya yur a genius?”

-----------------------------

Sheriff Silver Star looked out over the town’s fortifications. Everything heavy enough to be used as fortifications was out and set up, with a few equipped with nasty surprises should the buffalo break through them. Piles of apple pies, fritters, and other baked goods were spread out to provide ponies with something to throw. Some of the town’s best rodeo ponies were hiding up in the buildings to jump down on any buffalo that got through and wear them out. If the buffalo wanted to flatten the town, they were going to have to earn every wood board they broke.

He checked the clock tower again. Five minutes until noon. Turning away from the tower he surveyed the hills outside of the town. Various brown lumps began appearing on them. “Everypony get set; the buffalo are here!” he shouted, getting to his own position. As he grabbed a pie, a shadow flew by, and the sheriff looked up to see one of their largest tables from the fall back positions being flown out of the town. “Hey!”

Midnight and Sapphire landed with the table midway between the town and the buffalo and took their seats at the head of it; the sides of the table facing both sides. Once they were set up the buffalo began making their way down the hillsides, not in a wild charge, but a calm walking pace.

“What in tarnation in going on!?” Silver Star shouted.

“We believe we’ve come up with a peaceful solution sheriff, and the buffalo are willing to meet with you half way one more time!” Midnight called back. “I doubt you want the rest of Equestria hearing how you were so quick to fight and not even try to talk things out peacefully! It might detour others from wanting to even visit here!”

Midnight had chosen her words wisely, as the whole town began murmuring. The town was still growing, and many still had family and businesses that wanted to move there. Sheriff Silver Star huffed, but had to concede that she had a point. “What do you want?”

“How about you meet with us out here? And bring some of those pies and fritters you all made; it’s almost lunch time! Oh, and some salt, too!”

For a minute, no pony moved from their positions. Then, Braeburn walked out from the barricades with a stack of apple pies on his back. Soon others were following him out, each carrying something edible with them. Eventually even the sheriff came out, following the proprietor of the Salt Lick, who was bringing a couple of large saddle-bags worth of salt shakers with him.

When he reached the table, he was presented with a bowl of green stuff. “What in tarnation is this?”

“One of the possible solutions to the problem, sheriff. Just add some salt before you dig in; negotiations work better on full stomachs.” To emphasis her point, Midnight bit into a piece of turquoise that was in front of her.

Silver Star added the salt, stirred a bit, then gingerly took a bite. It wasn’t as good as a fresh baked apple pie or fritter, but if he had to be honest the food before him wasn’t that bad. Looking up he saw Chief Thunderhooves digging into an apple pie with gusto.

“These apple pies are delicious!” He exclaimed when he finally came up for air.

“This… whatever it is, isn’t too bad either.” All around, ponies and buffalo had generally the same reaction. “But, how is this supposed to be the answer to our problem?”

“Glad you asked sheriff, but let me ask you a question first: you need the apple trees first and foremost to feed yourselves; correct?”

“Right.”

“And apple trees require relatively flat ground to grow.”

“Of course.”

“Then what would you say if I told you that the food you’re eating right now was grown from plants that grew on outcroppings and others bits of ground that weren’t flat?” Loud murmuring went up among the ponies at this revelation. It wasn’t lost on anypony what was being implied.

“I’d say that’s quite something. But, that still doesn’t answer about what’s going to be done about the trees.”

“Well, you wouldn’t need so many trees. And, any apples you have from a harvest that doesn’t go to feed yourselves can be sold, which will help bring income into the town, which you could then use to flatten other area around town, places that aren’t used by the buffalo, and plant trees there.”

“And what exactly are you supposed to do with the ‘extra’ trees right now?”

“I can answer that!” A voice called out from the town. They all turned to see Twilight and the rest running towards the table. “I’m sorry I took so long, but I wasn’t sure if there were any other patterns that were more effective!” Reaching the table, Twilight placed a piece of parchment on it, careful not to get food bits on it. “This is how your orchard is set up now. Please note how the trees are planted in a haphazard way.” Indeed, the X’s that marked tree locations were placed all over the place without any disenable pattern. “From my calculations, the trees really only cover about thirty-three percent of land you’re using. If you were to re-arrange the trees like this,” she laid another piece of parchment down on top of the first, “you would free up a considerable area of the land you’re using, allowing you to both keep the trees you currently have and allow the buffalo to stampede freely.” The pattern the X’s showed on the second parchment was similar to the checkerboard design Rarity had initially suggested, but Twilight had brought them a bit closer together, and had arranged the trees on either side of the land, leaving a large empty swath through the center.

“As you can see,” Midnight picked up, “there is a way you can both keep the trees and give the buffalo enough of the land back so they can continue to stampede through it.”

“Whatdaya say, sheriff?” Braeburn asked hopefully. All eyes turned toward him.

“I say,” there was a pause; “I think we got ourselves a deal."

Cheers went up throughout the crowd.

Chief Thunderhooves looked towards Midnight and her friends. “Thank you, all of you, for this.”

“Just doing what we can chief.” Midnight said with a smile.

-----------------------------

Midnight and the rest watched from the top of the rise as the re-planting of the trees moved along at a steady pace. Both ponies and buffalo worked to move them to the designated spots on Twilight’s map. Out in the areas around the orchard, buffalo showed ponies which plants to collect and how to make them into the mush. It was an impressive sight of cooperation.

Hearing the sounds of somepony coming up behind them, they turned to see Chief Thunderhooves, Little Strongheart, and Windrunner coming up to them. “We just want to thank you again for all that you’ve done before you leave.” Little Strongheart said with a bow of her head.

“Indeed. Without your help I doubt that this all would have ended as such; we are indebted to you all.”

“We’re just doin’ what we thought was rahght, Chief.” AJ said, removing her hat in a sign of respect.

“Besides, it was Midnight who really pushed us to find an answer.” Rainbow said.

“I just thought that there had to be a better way to settle all this.” Midnight said with a shrug.

“Well, we wanted to show you our gratitude for helping us, and we think we have an idea.” Windrunner said, stepping forward and bowing towards Midnight. “It would be an honor for myself and the tribe if I could accompany you on your travels and assist in any way possible.”

Midnight recoiled back slightly. “Excuse me?”

“The tribe owes you a great debt for what you’ve done, and I’ve always wanted to see what ponies were like, since I’ve lived in the tribe all my life.” She smiled at the chief and Little Strongheart, “I’ll miss them all, but this is something I want and have to do. Please, say you accept.”

All eyes fell on the kirin, who fidgeted nervously. “Well… I don’t… I mean…” she looked around nervously a bit more before her face changed to one of calm resolution. “If that is what you want to do… then I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let you tag along.”

Windrunner’s face brightened. “Thank you! I just would like to say goodbye to the tribe before I leave.”

“Of course,” Midnight turned to Sapphire, “we’ll need to talk about living arrangements for her.”

“R-Right,” the pegasus said, a look of confusion plain on her face.

As Windrunner left to say goodbye, Midnight led Sapphire up to a small cloudbank, allowing the others to go get the rest of their things.

“What was all that about? I was sure you’d refuse her offer.”

“Normally I would, however I think I could actually use her help.” Midnight said with a thoughtful expression.

“With what?”

“While they were attacking the train, Windrunner was actually keeping up with Rainbow. Barely, but she was. And she’s just as loyal. Top that off with her special talent along with some fighting skills I bet she has, and I think I could use her.”

“But for what though?” Sapphire pressed.

“What did I say this was a test for?” Midnight asked her, a ghost of a smile playing about her.

“To see if you thought you could still be a captain of the guard.”

“And what is a captain of a guard without soldiers to lead?” The smile was definitely there now.

Comprehension dawned on Sapphire’s face. “You mean…?”

“I believe Windrunner has just volunteered to be the first recruit of the Bearer Guard.” Midnight said, looking down towards the pegasus in question. “Of course Celestia will have to approve first and I want to train with her a bit myself to see how good she is.”

“It’ll also get Shining Armor off your back.” Sapphire said with a laugh.

“It’s the little bonuses in life that matter.”

Ch.19 - From Cloudsdale With Love

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Celestia’s sun shown down on Equestria without much interruption from the few clouds that silently and lazily moved across the sky. A gentle spring breeze blew over the hills and valleys of the land, and if one had asked any flying creature, they would have told them the day was perfect for flying. Two such creatures, a pair of pegasi, a mare and a stallion, were doing just that. The soft breeze also helped ease the burden of the suitcase they had held up between them. They had finally made it past Canterlot Mountain and their final destination was in sight.

“Dear, don’t you think it might have been a better idea to send a letter ahead this time? You know, incase they’re gone for another weekend?” The stallion asked.

“I wanted this visit to be a surprise, and a little hiccup is not going to stop that.” The mare said as if she were stating the obvious.

The stallion sighed tiredly. “Yes dear, but last time we flew this whole way, only to immediately come home as soon as we saw they were gone. Do you really want to do this a third time?”

“Oh, stop complaining; you don’t hear a peep out of me about it.” The mare said with a dismissive wave.

“And don’t you think it might be a bad idea to make another surprise visit? You do remember what happened last time, right?”

The mare gave him a mischievous smile. “The princess got a good laugh out of it.”

The stallion face-hoofed. No matter how long he lived he would never understand the mare next to him.

“Besides,” the mare continued, “I doubt there will be any guards around this time.”

“I’m not worried about guards dear; I’m worried how Sapphire will take it. Last time she nearly had a panic attack; a few more surprise visits at the wrong time and she’s going to become paranoid.”

“That’s you; Sapphy’s made of stronger stuff than that.”

Let’s hope so’ the stallion thought as they began their decent into the small town.

-----------------------------

Windrunner pushed herself off a tree as she made a sharp turn. Her lead pursuer hit the tree with a little less grace, but never the less stayed on her tail. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Midnight tangling with most of the others. Her fire was keeping them at bay, but for how much longer the pegasus had no idea.

They had been gathering wood deep in the forest when they had been set upon by the creatures Midnight called “timberwolves”. Almost immediately the pack had split them up with most of them going after Midnight while the rest had tore after the pegasus. As soon as they gave chase Windrunner had flew and run around the clearing they were in, refusing to leave Midnight but unable to get close enough to help.

As she made her third unsuccessful pass at Midnight’s group, she spotted something on the edge of the clearing: a patch of dry-looking dirt. A smirk appeared on her face as she jinxed towards it, causing one of her pursuers to over shoot her. As she passed over the patch, she whipped around and blasted the spot with a flurry of wind from her wings. Almost immediately a small dust cloud kicked up. It wasn’t as large or thick as ones she could whip up back in the desert, but it was enough to stop and confuse the wooden wolves. Flying above the cloud, she picked out a target. Without hesitation she dived down on it as it stumbled around in the small dust cloud.

The timberwolf hacked and coughed as it inhaled the dust, trying to find its prey. Unfortunately for the wolf, its prey found it first as the pegasus slammed down into it, splintering it into a pile of sticks and leaves. Before she could celebrate, the pegasus heard Midnight call out to her.

“Windrunner; move!”

The pegasus took off again, and a ball of blue fire enveloped the cloud. The remaining timberwolves burst into flames as the fire ball overtook them. As the dust cloud dispersed, Midnight appeared on the other side of it, piles of burning wood on either side of and behind her.

“That was fun,” she said with a small smirk.

“These timberwolves don’t like us, do they?” Windrunner asked as she landed next to the kirin. Ever since they had returned from Appleloosa, Midnight had been secretly training the pegasus by going down her previous cutting-path that led deep into the Everfree to cut trees and in the process run in to dangers she could pit Windrunner against. What Midnight hadn’t expected was a timberwolf pack jumping them the very first day out. Windrunner had proven herself capable of dealing with such surprises and used her dust storm talent to blind, confuse, and ultimately defeat the timberwolves. Midnight had left the wood piles alone, thinking they could use them for training again somewhere down the line. As it turned out, the wolves hadn’t taken kindly to being treated like gym equipment, and had come back almost every day. Today, Midnight finally had enough and had gone full flamethrower on the wolves, especially as they had somehow doubled their pack size in less than a week. She'd rather have no wolves to train Windrunner with than have them both drowning in a sea of them.

“I’d even take a manticore just for a bit of variety.” The kirin grumbled.

“Will they be able to revive from that?” Windrunner gently kicked some of the burning embers.

“Not in my experience. At least we’ll get a bit of a break for a few days.” Turning back towards the tree they had cut down, she picked up her harness that was attached to the tree. Taking the cue, Windrunner picked up and slid her axe back onto her foreleg (a timberwolf had yanked it off earlier), then slid into her own harness.

“So, are we coming back for another tree after this, or…?”

“No, this is it for today. We’ve still got to chop this one up and bundle the pieces, and by then it should be almost dinner time.” Both ponies took off; the tree trunk sliding behind them as they maneuvered between stumps to get out of the forest.

-----------------------------

Sapphire sat at her usual spot at the counter reading a magazine while waiting for a customer to come in. Spring was going to probably be their slowest season, since hardly anything was done with firewood around this time of year. Sure, ponies still bought it during early spring in case of a cold snap, but during the second half of spring there were no camp fires yet and the weather was perfect out so there was no need for wood for heat. And, since there was little chance a customer was going to come in, Sapphire had allowed Squeaks to stay up front with her.

Normally the filly would be out with her friends, but apparently they were all busy with something. Pinchy had, again, been grounded for bad grades, Dinky was having a day out with her overworked mother, and Twist was helping her family with chores at home. This left Squeaks at home with nopony to play with and very bored.

There was one upside, however: Sapphire had let her have one of the personal watermelons they had bought. Earlier in the week Midnight had bought a large watermelon for them all to share, and Squeaks had fallen in love with the fruit almost immediately. She had enjoyed the fruit so much that Midnight had gone back out and bought her several “personal” watermelons, which were somewhere between the size of a soccer ball and soft ball.

The fruit had an unexpected effect as well. Even though she didn’t like sucking blood, Squeaks was still a bat pony, and that meant she had occasional urges to suck on something. The personal watermelons were perfect for scratching that particular itch. Their rind was thin enough for her fangs to puncture through and the watery juice inside was sucked out very easily.

Sapphire smiled as she looked at Squeaks out of the corner of her eye. The bat filly had a look of pure bliss on her face as she suckled the fruit. Midnight had already said she was going to buy some each week just for her, and there was little doubt Squeaks was going to enjoy her first summer with them.

On top of that, Squeaks and Windrunner were getting along rather well after only two weeks. Of course, Squeaks had been completely shy and avoided the new pegasus as much as she could when Windrunner first arrived. But when she couldn’t, Windrunner was as gentle and respectful of Squeaks and her boundaries as either of the other two adults could have hoped for. It had only been yesterday that the bat filly had finally been comfortable being left alone with the pegasus.

As she turned the page in her magazine, she heard the bell for the front door ring. “Welcome to Storm’s Firewood, how can I…” As Sapphire looked up, the words died in her throat. Squeaks looked up from her watermelon to see Sapphire’s eyes the size of pinpricks. Then two red forelegs reached over the counter and enveloped the pegasus.

“SAPPHY! It’s so good to see you!”

“M-Mom!?” Sapphire choked out as her mother continued to try and suffocate her over the counter. “What are you- ack!? Choking!”

“Whoops! Sorry dear!” Over the counter came the owner of the front legs. She was a pegasus with a red coat and a mane and tail that matched Sapphire’s. She wore small glasses and had a green neckerchief on her head.

“Thank you,” Sapphire said, still sounding a bit choked, “but what are you doing here?”

“Do I really need a reason to come visit you?”

“I just saw you for Hearth’s Warming!”

Just saw us?” She turned to the stallion on the other side of the counter. “’Just saw us’ she says. Last time I checked ‘just saw you’ means somewhere around last week, not nearly five months ago young lady!”

“Okay, you have a point, but why didn’t you send a letter first? Did you forget what I told you the last time you paid me a surprise visit?”

“Did something happen last time? I don’t recall,” Sapphire’s mother said in a tone that said, quite clearly, that she knew exactly what happened and what was said last time.

“Mom.”

“Ruby, stop messing with the poor girl.”

“I am allowed to have fun at our daughter’s expense if I want, White; as her mother I have that right.” As Ruby turned to continue talking with her daughter, something by the door leading to the back caught her eye.

From the moment Sapphire had started getting hugged, Squeaks had begun backing towards the kitchen door. To start with, there were customers up front, and from day one Midnight had told her that when customers were up front she had to head to the back. Secondly, they were strangers, which she was always weary about. Finally, even though Sapphire was calling the strange pegasus “mom” she still sounded a bit angry. For Squeaks, this meant that there was a chance the pegasus was a bad pony, and she wanted nothing to do with her. Now, though, the pegasus named Ruby had seen her and was just staring at her.

Squeaks remained frozen on the spot, fangs deep into her watermelon as a form of comfort as they just stared at each other. After a few seconds a smile began forming on Ruby’s face; something that only freaked out Squeaks even more. By the time Ruby’s smile had become a full-blown grin, Sapphire realized too late what was coming next.

“Mom, don’t-!”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Ruby shot past her daughter, giving Squeaks only enough time to drop her watermelon and her eyes to shrink to pinpricks before being scooped up into the pegasi’ forelegs and brought into a bone-crushing hug. “You are just the cutest thing!”

Squeaks did her best to cover her ears. The volume and high-pitch of Ruby’s squeeing was actually causing pain to her sensitive ears, but the vice-like hug she was receiving was pinning her front legs, leaving her only defense to be folding her ears down as hard as she could. In fact, it felt like her ears were the only parts of her body that weren’t trapped in the confines of the unwanted hug.

“Sapphire’s told us all about you in her letters home but she never told us just how adorable you are! Those ears, those wings, and even those fangs! I could just keep squeezing you and never let go!” Ruby gushed.

As the mare squeezed the bat filly again, Squeaks could see over the mare’s shoulder and locked eyes with Sapphire. The filly looked as scared as if she’d just been caught by some savage beast from the Everfree. This finally got the blue pegasus to act.

“I bet you’d look even more adorable in a new outfit, maybe with a new teddy bear too, and-!”

Ruby suddenly found Sapphire’s hoof plugging her mouth. “Mom, enough. Squeaky has very sensitive ears and you shouting like that is practically scaring her to death right now.” Sapphire removed her hoof and allowed Ruby to look down at Squeaks. The little bat filly did indeed have the look of fear and pain on her face.

“Oh… oh, you poor thing; look what I’ve done!” Ruby proceeded to kiss the top of each ear. “I’m so sorry; I just couldn’t help myself!”

Both Sapphire and White Out rolled their eyes.

At that moment they all heard the side door open and shut. “Squeaks, Sapphire, we’re back!” the voice of Midnight called out.

Almost immediately Squeaks redoubled her efforts to get out of Ruby’s grasp. Now fearing the scared filly might actually hurt herself trying to get away, Ruby set her down. Almost as soon as her hooves touched the floor Squeaks bolted through the kitchen door.

“I better start damage control. Again.” Sapphire shuffled past her mom and followed Squeaks through the kitchen door.

-----------------------------

Midnight had just walked in the door when Squeaks came, almost literally, flying out from the front and bolted under her, attaching herself to whichever of Midnight’s legs was farthest from the door she’d just came through. “Squeaks, what in the world…?” Looking up from her daughter to the front she saw Sapphire enter with a pained look on her face. “What is going on?”

“It’s nothing really serious; my parents just dropped by and my mom… well… she gave Squeaky a really bad scare.”

As if to emphasize her point, Midnight could feel Squeaks shaking against her leg.

“She was really loud…” the filly croaked out, her ears still folded tightly back against her head.

“I’m sorry Squeaky,” Sapphire said as she bent down to look at the filly at eye level. “I didn’t think my mom would visit out of the blue like that. I would have prepared you for her beforehand if I had.” She straightened back up. “I also would have given her a list of rules to follow. This is the second time she’s done this,” she said with a scowl on her face.

Before Midnight or Windrunner could respond an unfamiliar face stuck her head through the front door. “Sapphy? Is everything alright? How’s Squeaky?”

Midnight did her best to hide the grin working its way onto her face. “Sapphy?”

Sapphire gave her a look. “Something funny about that, Middy?”

The smile on the kirin’s face fell. “Point taken.” She turned to look back at the mare she suspected was Sapphire’s mother when she felt Squeaks quickly shift to another leg and something fumbling with her wing.

“She does have big wings!” Ruby said, opening Midnight’s wing to its fullest extent and flapping it gently.

“Oh, for… Mom!” Sapphire yelled.

“Uh, do you mind?” Midnight said, pulling her wing out of the strange pegasi’ grasp.

“Oh, don’t mind me dear. And you’re big, too! Just like Sapphire said you were!”

At this Midnight looked over at Sapphire, who shuffled her wings a bit. “I write home, and I mentioned you and Squeaky in a few of them. And I made sure to mention what you were and were not comfortable with!” This last part was aimed at her mother, who was currently inspecting Midnight’s tail.

“Can you really chop down trees with this?”

“Yes,” Midnight said with a growl in her voice as she pulled her tail away. Sapphire’s mother or not, the mare was getting on her nerves.

“Oh, fangs, too! Can I touch them?”

“Ruby, that’s enough.” White came through the door, pulling the suitcase behind him and a disappointed look on his face. “Sapphire’s already angry, you’ve scared the filly, and you’re invading this mare’s personal space. You could at least get accustomed with everypony first before doing all this.”

“But honey, look at them! Squeaky is so cute and Midnight is so unique!” Ruby waved her hoof at the two of them for emphasis, but it did not sway the look on her husband’s face. Sure, she joked around at his expense a lot, but she could always tell when he’d had enough. She dropped her hoof and trotted over to stand next to him. “*sigh* I’m sorry everypony. My name is Ruby Skies and this is my husband White Out. We’re Sapphire’s parents.” White Out gave an expectant cough. “And I’m sorry that I dropped in unannounced and started poking you without asking.” She bent down so she could see Squeaks. “And I’m especially sorry that I hurt and scared you. I got a bit carried away.” That was the only part that sounded sincere.

Sapphire finally visually relaxed. “It’s alright mom. I should have known something like this would happen again and I should have said something earlier.”

Midnight gave a silent snort of annoyance, but said “Same here. I just feel uncomfortable when ponies do that.”

After a few seconds of silence Midnight bent down and looked at Squeaks. “I believe you have something to say as well?”

The bat filly stayed quiet a few seconds longer, but eventually popped her head out and let out a quiet “apology accepted” before ducking back behind her mother. Ruby looked like she wanted to run over and cuddle Squeaks again, but she stayed next to her husband.

“I know! How about we treat them all to dinner, as a way to say we’re sorry?” Ruby said.

White Out raised an eye brow. “How we’re sorry?”

“Oh, you and details!” Ruby shoved him playfully. “So, where are we sleeping for the night?”

“The night?” Midnight and Sapphire asked together.

“Of course! You two didn’t think we were just day-tripping now, did you?”

“Well, “Midnight said, “we kind of gave our last bedroom to Windrunner, and I doubt you’d like to sleep on the couch-”

“They can sleep in my room; I have no problem being on the couch for a night,” Windrunner spoke up, much to Midnight’s chagrin. “I can show you to it.”

“Oh, wonderful! Thank you dear.”

As Ruby and White Out followed Windrunner upstairs, Sapphire turned towards Midnight and Squeaks. “I’m sorry; I never imagined she’d come here. And I’m sorry I never told you about the letters; it’s just that we really don’t get to spend a lot of time together anymore.”

“I can see why,” Midnight said, her eyes returning to the stairs.

“She’s just gets easily excited and forgets herself sometimes; please don’t be too mad with her.”

“You seemed mad at her.”

“Well, she did something like this before already,” Sapphire said, sitting down at the table. Midnight and Squeaks joined her. “Back when Princess Celestia made me her personal aid, mom and dad came to the castle for a surprise visit. I still don’t know how, but she managed to slip by all the guards in the castle and made it to Celestia’s balcony to say hi to us. Thankfully, the princess has a good sense of humor, but I swear I nearly had a heart attack when I saw her standing there.” The pegasus sighed. “She hardly takes anything seriously and it’s just really aggravating when she acts like that at inappropriate times.”

“She’s kinda like Pinkie Pie,” Squeaks spoke up.

Midnight and Sapphire chuckled. “I think Pinkie is a bit more hyper than that. And, hopefully, showing mom around Ponyville might tire her out a bit.”

“And let us get used to her a bit better.” Midnight said.

-----------------------------

Ponyville was its usual busy self as the six of them walked through town. This was good, as it kept Ruby preoccupied with the goings in the markets instead of focusing on Midnight and Squeaks. Windrunner was also keeping Ruby blissfully occupied with her own questions about Cloudsdale and cutie marks. “So that’s what your mark means?”

Ruby nodded. “Yep. Sometimes it isn’t so easy to tell what they mean, like Sapphy’s, but others say it plain as day!” Ruby indicated her mark once again, a sculpture of a pony made out of clouds. “It’s also thanks to this little beauty that I met White Out. One day I was contracted to sculpt the walls of some of the departments of the weather factory, and while I was crafting one of the walls in the snow wing, I accidently knocked one of the pieces I was working on right into a worker pony’s head! Of course, I went over to apologize, and the rest,” she giggled and saddled up to White Out, “is history.”

“Wait, ‘snow’?” Windrunner asked with a look of confusion.

“Oh, that’s right; you grew up in the desert. Snow is basically frozen rain that falls during the winter months.”

“But, how do you make all that water freeze?”

“Technically, we don’t. The snow freezes in the clouds by the time winter rolls around,” White Out said.

“Then… why do you need a snow wing?”

White Out’s chest puffed out slightly. “Because technically we can’t control snow in its natural state. You see, first we collect snow from the previous season and condense it into small plates of ice. Then, we sculpt large snowflakes out of them, which we call “guide-flakes”. They use to be carved using pegasi feathers, a tradition started by our founder to infuse our magic with the snow so we can control it, but nowadays we use magic-infused carvers. When we’re ready for a snowfall, we release the guide-flakes into the clouds, which allow us to control the snow that forms naturally in them. I learned how to do it when I was young, and when this appeared, I knew it was what I wanted to do.” He motioned at his flank, which was adorned by a snowflake. “It’s a big, year round operation; you should visit it sometime.”

“Some of our friends where just in Cloudsdale,” Midnight spoke up, “I think they said they saw it. They sounded impressed.”

“Midnight!” The group turned to see two ponies walking up to them.

“Speaking of which, here comes one of them now. Hey Derpy! Enjoying your day off?”

The wall-eyed pegasus and her unicorn daughter caught up to them, both with big grins plastered to their faces. “You bet! It’s been ages since I was able to spend a whole day with my little muffin!” She bent down and nuzzled Dinky, which the filly returned.

“We were just talking about the weather factory and I remembered that you went to Cloudsdale to compete in the Young Fliers Competition. Did you visit the weather factory while you were there?” Midnight asked.

Derpy shook her head. “No, I didn’t go see it, but I remember Rainbow Dash and her friends went to see it; you should ask them.”

“You participated in the YFC?” Ruby asked. “How did you do?”

“I got second place!” Derpy said, beaming along with Dinky.

“Second!?” Ruby shouted. “That’s wonderful dear! Do you happen to know who came in first? Me and White Out missed it.”

“Rainbow Dash,” all the Ponyville natives present said together.

“So that’s the filly that saved the Wonderbolts, another competitor, AND created the sonic rainboom! So it’s true she’s from Ponyville as well?” They all nodded.

“I was wondering why Gust and Nimbus were sulking when they came to work Monday,” White Out noted. “Guess it’s a bit of a blow to the home town when the Wonderbolts need saving.”

“You’re not from Cloudsdale?” Windrunner asked.

“Nope. Born and raised in Van Hoover, but I moved to Cloudsdale to work.”

“Well, tell your coworkers she was born and raised in Cloudsdale; that might lift their spirits a bit.” Midnight told him. “We still on for Wednesday’s game night?” she asked Derpy.

“You know it! I’ve already got my dress for the Gala done, so that’s out of the way.”

“Wait, you’re going to the Grand Galloping Gala too!?” Ruby exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Derpy said, scratching the back of her head with a hoof. “First prize was a whole day with the Wonderbolts, and second prize was only an evening with them, but that evening is the gala! I kinda don’t really envy Rainbow Dash that much now.”

A gentle tap on her leg caused the pegasus to look down at the filly at her side. “Mom, if we don’t hurry, we might not get our snacks and get a good seat at the park!”

“You two go on,” Midnight told them. “We didn’t mean to interrupt your day together.”

“That’s alright; it was nice to see all of you! Bye!”

“Bye!” They all called after them as she and Dinky walked back out into the crowd.

“It’s good to see those two having a day together.” Sapphire said with a smile.

“Yeah, it’s been so long since- oof!” Something impacted the kirin’s side, causing her to stagger a little. Looking to her side, she saw it was none other than Spike who had run into her. Oddly enough he was also wearing a top hat, cape, and a fake mustache while carting a fake mouse. “Hey Spike, what’s the rush?”

“Oh, sorry Midnight!” the young dragon said as he got to his feet and dusted himself off. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“And why are you running, and in those clothes?” Windrunner asked.

REVENGE!” he crowed, laughing evilly while twirling his mustache.

Midnight raised an eyebrow at him. “Revenge?”

“I’d tell you more, but I have to get back to the library before Twilight gets back. MUUHAHAHA!” With another evil laugh, Spike ran off into another alleyway, only for them to hear him trip on his cape again with a loud *oomph!*.

“Was that a dragon?” Ruby asked.

-----------------------------

“I’ll have a Caesar Salad with the Broccoli Soup please.” Ruby said finally, giving her menu to the waiter.

“Very well, I’ll have your orders out in about a half hour.” The waiter said before disappearing. The group had settled on one of the more popular restaurants in town, which Midnight wouldn’t had minded so much except they had been forced to sit at a booth. An unforgiving, unmovable, tight seating arrangement for something her size, nor did it help that Windrunner and Squeaks were squeezed in next to her. The other side didn’t seem comfortable either, with Sapphire squeezed in between her parents. Pile on the facts that they all had wings and that Midnight was sitting on her tail, and it was little wonder they all had some degree of discomfort on their faces. The kirin was sure she wouldn’t walk or fly right for a few days.

“Well, now that that’s out of the way,” Ruby turned, as best she could, to her daughter. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, Sapphy dear.”

Sapphire gave her mother a questioning look. “What is it?”

With a completely serious look, Ruby asked, “Have you found a special somepony yet?”

Sapphire face-hoofed. “No mom, I haven’t,” she said with the air of one who’s answered the same question many times over.
Ruby, however, would not be detoured. “Well, why not? Don’t you want somepony to spend your days with doing whatever, enjoying each other’s company, making a family?”

At that last suggestion, Sapphire’s face went beet-red. “MOM!”

“Ruby dear, seriously.” White Out scolded.

“What? I’m just asking if she has a special somepony and pointing out the benefits of having one!”

“This isn’t the place or time to ask her that.” White Out’s eyes darted around quickly, noting that already there were several heads turned in their direction.

“How is this a bad time or place? All I did was ask a question and you’re the ones flipping out!”

As Sapphire and her parents broke out into arguing once again, Squeaks looked up at Midnight. “Mom, are we ever going to act like that?”

Midnight leaned back and prayed that dinner would come soon. “Squeaks, if I ever start asking you questions like that, especially in public, I give you full legal authority to silence me anyway you see fit, since I’ll have lost my mind.”

-----------------------------

The peace of sleep couldn’t come quick enough to the residents of the Storm Household, nor could morning delay itself enough. When Midnight woke up Sunday morning, all she wanted to do was go back to sleep. Unfortunately, she had house guests and, even though she disliked the idea immensely, part of her felt that she should run some interference for Sapphire. There was little comfort in the fact that the pegasi’ parents were only staying until late afternoon.

Entering the kitchen, she found everypony else already there. Squeaks was busy eating a bowl of cereal and keeping an eye on Ruby incase the pegasus leapt at her again. Windrunner had some toast and OJ, while Sapphire dug into a bagel. White Out was chewing slowly through an english muffin while Ruby slathered jam on a croissant. All the adults save Windrunner had coffee in front of them, and the aroma was enough to raise the kirin’s mood.

“So… what are everypony’s plans for today?” She asked as she poured herself a mug of the hot brew.

“Me and Twist were going to meet up at the playground today.” Squeaks said. “Pinchy’s still grounded and Dinky’s spending another day with her mom.”

“Rainbow came over a little while ago and asked if I wanted to race and help her try out stunts, if we won’t be busy with the tree that is.” Windrunner said after taking a swig of her juice.

“I can handle the rest of it.” Midnight assured her.

“I’m going to run some errands this morning.” Sapphire said with an unusual flatness in her voice.

“I can go with you!” Ruby said, a large smile growing in her face.

“How about I go with her; you know, have some father / daughter time?” White Out suggested. “You could stay here and keep Midnight company.”

Out of the corner of her eye Midnight saw Sapphire giving her an apologetic look, but the kirin merely shrugged. “I don’t think it’ll be a problem, but you two,” she pointed at Squeaks and Windrunner, “should be back in time to say goodbye.”

“Of course!” Windrunner agreed. Squeaks nodded as she continued to work on her food.

Breakfast ended soon after that, and even sooner both Squeaks and Windrunner were out of the house. Sapphire and White Out were a bit slower to leave as they needed to get on saddle bags and go over the mare’s list of things to do and get. It wasn’t a long list, but Sapphire said that the sooner she got the things done on it, the better.

“Let me know if you meet any nice ponies while you’re out!” Ruby said with a wave before they left.

Sapphire cringed slightly. “Will do mom,” she said as she left through the front, White Out close behind.

-----------------------------

“You’re letting her get under your skin.” White Out said as they flew over the town. “I know she’s acting a bit more hyper than usual, but she does mean well.”

“Dad, all she’s done since the two of you have gotten here is embarrass me in front of my friends and pester me about finding a coltfriend!” Sapphire said as she scanned the buildings.

“A ‘coltfriend’ and a ‘special somepony’ are two different things.”

“Not to her it isn’t!” Sapphire shot back. “Has she ever, even once, thought that maybe I never want one?”

White Out nodded. “She said she hopes to never hear you say that. She said it would be the saddest thing you could say to her.”

Sapphire raised an eyebrow. “And why’s that?”

“Well, because-”

“Hold on dad; this is one of the places.” Sapphire interrupted him, then glided down towards a building. Following her, White Out saw it was a construction company. “I’m only going in for a minute, so just wait out here for a bit.” After he nodded, she went in. From the window, White Out could see his daughter approach the stallion behind the main desk. After a few exchanges and a passing of some papers she had pulled out of her saddle bags, he saw her face droop a little, then it recovered and she came back outside.


“What was that about?” he asked as she got ready to fly again.

“Just an estimate on something Midnight said the house needs. It was a bit higher than she hoped.”

“So, what now?” White Out asked.

“There’s one more company here in Ponyville who might do it for less.” Sapphire took off with White Out right behind her. When they got up to altitude she turned to him. “Sorry; you were saying something before?”

“Yes, well, the reason your mother feels the way she does is because… well, she thought just like you did at one time.”

This nearly made Sapphire crash into a cloud. “Wait, are you telling me mom, miss ‘I ALWAYS need somepony in the same room as me’, the pony that is almost literally breathing down my neck for me to get a special somepony, used to think she wanted to be alone for the rest of her life?”

White Out nodded. “I know it’s hard to believe…”

Try IMPOSSIBLE’ Sapphire thought.

“… but she really did think like that at one point. She told me that all she used to ever think about was her work and how nothing else was important. Scoring one of the contracts to touch up the weather factory was supposed to be her ticket to bigger and better projects that would get her noticed all over Cloudsdale, and perhaps even further. Then one day she got distracted in the snow wing and… well, we know the rest.” He landed on a nearby cloud before continuing, Sapphire landing next to him. “Apparently I had some weird effect on her because after that, I kept working my way into her head. Mind you I did ask her out and she accepted, more as an apology than actual interest, but she told me after we got married that suddenly her work wasn’t that important anymore. She said that after she met me, she began to realize how empty her life felt. Nopony at home to say good night or good morning to, nopony to share in her accomplishments, nopony to simply spend time with. I was the somepony to fill that emptiness, and eventually you came along and helped cement it.”

“But I’m not lonely; I’ve got Midnight and Squeaky and now Windrunner to do all those things with. Why do I need to have special somepony when I already have great friends?” Sapphire argued.

“Well, what’s the difference between a special somepony and a best friend?”

“Umm… benefits?” She asked, feeling a bit embarrassed.

White Out nearly fell off the cloud laughing. “W-Well, that is a difference, but is that the only thing?”

Sapphire sat back and tried to think of what her father could possibly be eluding to. “I… I can’t think of anything else.”

White Out sighed. “Alright, tell me this: would two best friends want to have a baby together?”

“No.”

“Would you sacrifice a cushy promotion just so your best friend can peruse their passion?”

“I don’t think so…”

“Would you be willing to do whatever it takes, whatever it takes, to see them truly happy, even at the expense of your own happiness?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Love, Sapphire, is the difference. Love and everything that comes with it is what separates your special somepony from your best friend. You would do anything for them if it means their happiness, and they would do the same. They accept you for who you are, flaws and all, and they still want to spend the rest of their lives with you. Yes, you’d be intimate but not for the pleasure; you’d be intimate because it shows just how much you love and trust them, because how close you want to be with them. Your mother says the two of us are the best things to happen to her in her whole life, and when she pesters you to find a special somepony, it’s only because she wants you to experience it too. In her own kooky sort of way.”

Sapphire stared at her father for a minute. “Dad… that’s the best I’ve ever heard anypony explain it. Why can’t mom just explain it like that?”

White Out chuckled. “Because your mother is absolutely horrible with words. Why do you think she has me write stuff whenever she finishes a project or accepts awards?”

“Laziness?”

They both laughed as they took off again.

-----------------------------

They returned to the house a little while later after Sapphire had finally completed her errands. The second construction company had asked for even more bits than the first, and White Out had treated her to a milkshake at Sugarcube Corner when he saw it was eating at her. She told him that Midnight was thinking of expanding the house since they no longer had any guest rooms, however right now all she wanted was estimates, and even those were looking pretty steep. At least, steep for a wood cutter.

Sapphire’s other errands were more like a scaled down shopping list of a few things they either needed or wanted that couldn’t wait, such as a quick stop off at Berry’s for a pint of Mareabu rum and some mangos that happened to come to market that weekend. The whole while Sapphire and White Out talked and laughed and by the time they began heading back Sapphire realized that, for the first time in a long while, she wasn’t really dreading her mother’s comments or questions. It felt really good.

The sight that greeted them when they returned was both odd and hilarious. As they came in to land by the side door they caught sight of Midnight and Ruby out by where Midnight cut up the trees into firewood. Landing, they saw Midnight a twitch in her eye as Ruby talked with hardly a break. Seeing the two other pegasi as they landed, they saw her mouth to them ‘help me’ as her ear began to twitch as well.

Doing their best not to laugh out loud, they went to rescue the kirin.

“… and so I told her ‘no, it is not a metaphor for what’s wrong for society, it’s just a sign for a dentist office’! Oh, you’re back!”

“Yep. Errands are all done.”

“Meet anypony while you were out?” Ruby asked.
“Nopony special, but you’ll be the first to know when I do,” Sapphire said cheerfully as she walked past her to show Midnight what they had picked up.

“What happened while you two were out?” Ruby asked leaning towards White Out. “Did a spell hit her by accident?”

“No dear, I just did a bit of translating,” he said with a knowing smile.

Back with Midnight and Sapphire, the pegasus was glad to see the kirin had stopped her twitching. “That bad, huh?”

“You know, after you two left, I confronted her about all the pestering she was doing.”

“Oh?” Sapphire cringed slightly. Had they gotten into a fight?

“Yeah, and then she tried explaining to me why she did it.”

“And?”

“And I got the gist of it… at least… I think I did, but then she started asking me about any relationships I was in, and from there she just never let up!” Midnight’s eye began twitching again. “How did you survive childhood?”

“You’d be surprised how tolerant children are of other children, adult variety or otherwise.”

It took a cup of coffee and a mango for Midnight to finally relax again, and by lunch it was clear the mood in the house had changed since breakfast. The mix of mango and watermelon was enough to distract Squeaks from constantly keeping an eye on Ruby and the talk with her father had done wonders for Sapphire’s mood.

“What exactly did you two talk about?” Ruby asked White Out after Sapphire had replied calmly to another one of her probing questions. Her voice had a touch of accusation to it.

“I just told her what you really mean underneath all those teasing questions.” He said with a smile.

“But now she just sits there and smiles! What’s the fun in it if she doesn’t get riled up a bit?”

“Perhaps it’s her way of saying the fun’s over?”

Ruby pointed a hoof at him and opened her mouth to say something, but after a few seconds closed it, crossed her forelegs, and grumbled angrily at him instead. She kept the treatment up all the way until they had to leave. Honestly hardly anypony complained.

“Well, I guess that’s it then.” White Out said as he hugged his daughter. “Hopefully we’ll be able to see you again soon.”

“Like, say, the weekend after the gala?” Ruby said hopefully.

Sapphire turned towards her, a deadly serious look on her face. “Next time. Letter. BEFORE visit. No excuses.” She punctuated each line with a poke to her mother’s chest. Then her serious look broke and she hugged her too. “Maybe sometime next month. Cloudsdale can’t sculpt itself.”

“You’re absolutely right!” Ruby said with a determined look on her face. “Without my careful guidance and skill, it might just start looking like that dreary Filly Delphia or Manehattan!”

Midnight gave a loud snort.

“Seriously though mom, a letter before-hoof would be nice, and not the night before!”

“Oh… alright. Bye everypony!” She and White Out flapped into the sky and turned towards the general direction of Cloudsdale. “Hopefully next time we’ll really get to know you all!” With that the two of them ascended, and soon they were nothing but small dots in the sky.

“Well… this was an interesting weekend.” Midnight said, turning to go back inside.

“I just can’t believe that you understood what my mom was talking about. Dad had to sit down and explain it to me.” Sapphire said, following her in.

“Well… actually I just said that because I thought she might overhear us and start all over again. I have no idea what she was trying to get at.”

Sapphire let out a snort of laughter.

Ch.20 - Best Night Never

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Midnight, Sapphire, Windrunner, and Derpy glided over Ponyville as they headed for Carousel Boutique. “I can’t wait to see you in your dress mom!” Squeaks said from her place on Midnight’s back.

“I bet you all look really pretty in them!” Dinky said from Derpy’s back, squinting a bit from the force of the wind. Both fillies had insisted that they come along with them to the boutique so they could see them all in their dresses before they left.

“I still can’t believe we’re going to the Grand Galloping Gala!” Derpy said for about the fourth time. “I’ll get to meet the Wonderbolts and all kinds of big, important ponies! What are you two going to do?”

Sapphire shrugged. “I don’t really know. I know all the others have goals for the night, as well as you, but I’m just hoping for a good time. How about you Midnight?”

The kirin looked like she was going to be fed food that may or may not be spoiled. “Survive, pretty much. I don’t want to be a buzz-kill for you Derpy, but those stick-up-their-plots upper crust ponies would as soon spit as look at you.” Looking over at her friends, Midnight saw that Derpy had slumped and fallen slightly behind while Sapphire gave her a disapproving look. “But, uh, there’s a good chance some decent nobles will be there, so there’s that to look forward to.”

Derpy picked up some at that and Sapphire seemed to ease up.

“And even if it doesn’t turn out well, at least you’ll be able to look back on it and laugh, right?” Windrunner asked.

“That’s true, I guess.” Midnight said, a small smile finally making its way onto her face.

-----------------------------

When they landed outside of Carousel Boutique, they were immediately accosted by Rarity, who was pushing them and the rest of the bearers inside. “In, in, in! The carriage situation is taken care of, so it’s time for the dresses!”

Midnight was about to ask what happened with the carriage, but was instead shoved unceremoniously into the boutique, which appeared to have changed from a dress shop into a salon. Several hair driers, vanities, and sinks now adorned the inside of the shop in place of manikins and outfits, although all of their attires for the evening were hung around the room so that each of them would have enough room to change.

“Now, I’ll help you with the braid, but first I need you to wash your mane and tail and then get in the driers-”

“But we already showered and combed them!” Midnight said indigently.

“Be that as it may, I’m asking that you do it again so that I know it was done properly.” Rarity said as she trotted off.

Midnight snorted, but complied and followed Sapphire and Derpy to the sinks while Windrunner and the girls looked at the dresses hanging around the walls.

As they washed, Midnight focused on her dress hanging on the wall to her right. If you excluded the fact that the other bearers had stuck their noses into Rarity’s work the first time, Midnight’s had taken the longest to come up with. Her size had meant that more fabric than usual was needed, and Rarity had actually gone through several designs to incorporate her wings with the dress, but what had taken Rarity the longest to come up with was what to do with Midnight’s tail. When she had started, the unicorn had asked if Midnight would be comfortable with a gown similar to the girls. The kirin had told her that she would actually prefer it if her tail was allowed to simply stick straight out. While she had successfully hid it under the cloak she had worn for years, keeping her tail bent constantly was actually painful and Midnight wasn’t in the mood to go through it again, even if it was only for a night.

The first design the fashionista had tried was to simply make a hole in the back of the dress to allow her tail to stick out but still keep the dress’s original shape. The unicorn had voted against it almost as soon as Midnight had gotten the thing on. Her tail just sticking out the back end of the dress was just too distracting and lazy looking that one wouldn’t be able to appreciate the rest of the dress. Her second attempt had been to allow the dress to drape over Midnight’s tail as it stuck out, but this too was soon rejected. With this design Midnight looked like she was a walking tent and the unicorn had said it gave stallions a rather easy way to look up her dress. Rarity had gone through at least ten more designs, each one worse looking than the last.

“It’s not that it just sticks out like that,” Rarity said as she unwound the bed sheets she was using from the kirin’s tail, “it’s also that tail-blade of yours. At least the rest of it has that second mane to work with, but this,” she held the blade gently in her hooves, “if I could just cover this up…” The unicorn wrapped the blade in the sheets and stared at them for a moment. “Yes… yes, covering the blade up definitely improves the look, but how to do it…” As she thought, her eyes followed the sheets from the wrapped-up blade to the floor, then to where they ended by Midnight’s hind legs. Then her eye followed up to her cutie mark, where she suddenly stiffened up, then followed the path back to the blade and back, each time going quicker and mumbling even louder until finally she had yelled/sung out “IDEAAAAA! Midnight, hold these ends up here!” The kirin had complied and held the ends of the sheets up over her flanks as the unicorn adjusted them. “Yes, yes, yes! This is a perfect!” After a few measurements Rarity had told Midnight to come by later to see what should be the finished dress. The kirin had to admit that what the fashionista had come up with was actually rather brilliant.

She was pulled back to the present when Sapphire started to shake her. “Midnight, I think you’ve washed your mane enough.”

Giving them all an embarrassed smile, she followed them over to the driers. As she got herself set up, Spike walked into the room.

“Hey guys! You all excited about tonight?”

SPIKE!” Rarity shrieked. “We are still getting dressed!”

“Uh, Rarity, we don’t normally wear clothes. He sees us bare every day.” AJ pointed out.

The alabaster unicorn glared at the farm pony, but relented and went back to her station. “I’m sorry Spike, but some of us do have standards.”

AJ glared back at her, but held her tongue.

“Tonight’s gonna be so awesome! Especially since we’ll be spending it together!”

All the mares looked at each other. “I’m not so sure Spike.” Twilight said hesitantly.

“We’re all kinda busy with stuff pard’ner.” AJ told him.

The little dragon slumped slightly. “Oh… okay…”

“You can hang with me and Sapphire if you want.” Midnight offered. As soon as she said it the drier she was under *dinged*.

“Before you hang out anywhere with anypony, you need to get your mane and tail braided.” Rarity said, dragging the kirin over to a mirror.

Midnight grumbled but sat still as the unicorn first brushed, then began weaving her mane. Sapphire took a seat next to her and allowed Twilight to do the same. Both were getting their manes and tails braided; Midnight a Prench braid while Sapphire a Four Strand Plait Hair style. After a bit the pulling and twisting of her mane actually started feeling… nice. Almost like a rough scalp massage. By the time Rarity moved down to her tail to fix four simple, alternating side braids, Midnight had a contented look on her face and seemed a lot more relaxed, which stayed with her as they moved to get into their dresses.

Derpy’s was a tan and brown stripped dress with a muffin-shaped clip at her chest. There were two stripes running down each side. A few bubbles running down the tan stripes while a few muffins ran down the brown stripes. Her slippers were brown with a gold lining on the tops. Her mane, which was done up in a bun, had two clips with bubble patterns in it.

Sapphire’s dress was a bright orange with two blue pegasi wings acting as the clip on her chest for the dress. Blue lines that looked like air currents flowed from her shoulders to the bottom of the dress then met and flowed up the back of it. Her slippers, which were also orange, were topped with what looked like nines that were made up of thick blue lines on both the inside and outsides of her legs. Finally, a tiara of sliver olive branches adorned her head.

Midnight’s dress was silver and her chest-clip was a storm cloud with two lightning bolts coming out the lower left and right of the cloud. As the dress went over her wings, a large section stretched out over them, with loops going over the joint where her wing-talons were, as well as the tip on the wings. Not making loops for the “fingers” of the wings allowed the material to billow slightly whenever she moved them. After her wings, the dress curved sharply and followed her back legs down to only an inch or so off the floor while her tail stuck straight out the back. As the dress reached the floor it did another sharp turn and went parallel with her tail until it was almost even with the base of her tail blade, where it once again sharply turned upwards. The dress ended with a pocket of sorts that she slid her tail-blade into and closed it off with two tassels. Her blue slippers were more like AJ’s boots; they had a deep V-shape in the front that started farther up then normal, then went diagonally up the leg until they curved around the back of her legs. Finally, her head piece was a pair of clip on sapphire earrings in the shape of what could either be a claw or fang. They had been the only real thing she had argued about with Rarity, as the unicorn wanted them to be real earrings while Midnight refused to get her ears pierced for a dress she would hardly ever wear again. The fashionista had finally relented, though not without a great deal of complaining.

Midnight had paid for each of the dresses, including Derpy’s, with the royal checks she still had. She had made sure to use them sparingly since getting them in case a real emergency came up, but this time she felt that she could justify using them for pleasure. Sapphire and Derpy sure seemed to appreciate it.

“I know I said it when you finished it, but these dresses are amazing Rarity.” Sapphire said, examining herself in a mirror.

Midnight had to agree; the pegasus looked good in her dress. Really good, in fact. Before the kirin could figure out why she suddenly felt warm in the face she heard a loud squeak from her side.

“You look so pretty mom!” Squeaks said as she stared up at the kirin. “I bet even the rich ponies will like it!”

“I… certainly hope so,” Midnight said with a nervous smile as she bent down to nuzzle her foal.

“Of course they will; Rarity makes the best dresses in Equestria!” Dinky said, breaking away from the hug Derpy was giving her.

“Thank you very much for the compliment Dinky dear.” Rarity said as she put on the last parts of her own ensemble. She daintily tapped her glass-slipper-clad hoof on the floor to get everypony’s attention when she was finished. “Alright ladies; we’re cleaned up and dressed up, so who’s ready for their best night EVER!?

All the bearers, Spike, Derpy, and Sapphire cheered as they rushed out the door to their carriages. Midnight followed them out at a much more dignified clip and a decidedly unenthusiastic “woo-hoo”. Before boarding the second carriage with Sapphire and Derpy, she turned to Windrunner and hoofed her a bag of bits. “It’s not very fair that we get to go out and you three don’t. Go have dinner out tonight.”

The twin cries of “YES!!” from the two fillies were loud enough to cause the talking in the carriages to stop momentarily. After they both hugged and thanked her (profusely), they both gave a final farewell hug and kiss to the their moms and sprinted off to whatever restaurant they wanted, Windrunner close behind. ‘Well, at least those three will have a good night.

-----------------------------

The ride up to the castle was pretty uneventful, although the apple carriages were a nice surprise. Midnight even considered taking a nibble of the inside to see if it was really still made of apple. All the way to the castle Sapphire and Derpy talked about how the night was going to go while Midnight just stayed quiet in her seat opposite them. It didn’t matter how happy the other two were, the kirin refused to let any of it rub off on her. She knew what was going to happen and refused to get her hopes up.

If there was one thing Midnight had to admit to, it was that the whole event sure looked like it was going to be amazing. It seemed like the entire city was decked-out for the event, with ribbons done up in bows adorning every street lamp, as well as on every building they passed by. Fireworks exploded high over their heads in a rainbow of colors, while thunderstorm-like contrails, almost certainly the Wonderbolts, streaked the sky between them. Their carriages were only two in a vast parade, each decorated to the nines in what were most likely attempts by the nobles to one-up each other before even getting to the gala.

Despite the long train of carriages, they got to the castle gates fairly quickly. Stepping out of the carriage, they all gazed at the open entrance hall to the castle. It wasn’t really decorated for the event, but it was still the entrance to both the castle and the gala, two things most ponies didn’t get to see on a normal basis. Tearing her gaze away from it, Twilight looked at all of them and stuck out a hoof. “Best night ever?”

BEST NIGHT EVER!” The rest of them yelled, sticking their hooves in. Midnight joined in with calm “Oorah”, then watched as they split off into different directions in their excitement, only Sapphire and Spike staying with her.

“Oh, come on you guys! We’ve just got here and you’re not even going to try staying together!?” Spike called out after them angrily.

“Don’t worry about them Spike; you still have us.” Midnight told him as she watched Derpy trail after Rainbow. The wall-eyed pegasus might not have been as big a fan as Rainbow, but celebrities are celebrities.

“That’s true,” the dragon said, disappointment still evident in his voice. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to spend time with the kirin and pegasus; he wanted to spend time with all of them and show them around his and Twilight’s home town. Especially Rarity. “So, what do you want to do first?”

Midnight raised her nose and visibly sniffed. “Eat. If I’m going to be spending a night surrounded by pompous plot-kissers,” this earned a suppressed laugh from Sapphire, a loud laugh from Spike, and shocked expressions from those within ear-shot, “then I’m doing so on a full stomach.” With that Midnight led the way inside, Sapphire and Spike following close.

-----------------------------

“I’m bored.” Spike said as he stuffed a gemstone in his mouth.

“Me too.” Midnight said as she ate two crackers smeared with a seafood spread.

“Then maybe we should do something besides eating?” Sapphire suggested with a raised eyebrow. It had been a half hour since they arrived, and all Midnight had done was fill up a plate and eat in the corner. The pegasus guessed that Spike had joined her in the silent protest only because he was still sore about the others leaving them. And that he could eat as much as he wanted without Twilight curbing him.

To her relief, Spike actually brightened up at the idea. “Yeah, that’s a great idea! So what if the others aren’t here; I’ll give you guys such a great tour the others will be sorry they missed it!”

Sapphire frowned at his motives, but if it got Midnight to do something other than eat and shoot looks into the crowd, then so be it. Although, she had seen several ponies shooting glances at them down their noses.

Midnight shrugged at the suggestion. “I guess it couldn’t hurt. Any ideas about where to go first?”

Spike stuffed the last of his food in his mouth. “Well, the crown jewels aren’t too far from here, so we can go check that out first or the hall of historic window panes, or maybe…”

As they followed Spike through the crowd, Midnight started to feel uneasy. When they had first entered the hall they had received some looks from nobles, but as the buffet table was close to where they had come in there hadn’t been too many. Now, as they moved through the crowd, the kirin was getting uncomfortable. Every pony they passed turned to look at them, but she could feel their eyes stay on her as they passed. What made it worse was the feeling of not being able to get away, of being stuck there and stared at by eyes that silently, and unfairly, judged her. Being taller than everypony else only made her easier to see by even more ponies, and thus added to her worry. Her wings tried to flex as a show of anxiety but couldn’t due to all the ponies around them, which only made her more nervous.

“Midnight, are you alright?” Sapphire asked, turning to see the kirin with a panicked look on her face.
“Y-Yeah, why w-wouldn’t I be?” Midnight tried to smile at her, but even to the kirin it felt false.

Without a word, Sapphire slowed down slightly to allow Midnight’s withers to be even with her flank. The closer proximity to her friend seemed to calm her down a bit, and the two continued to follow Spike across the hall.

Relief began to flood Midnight as they got close to the other end of the room. There had been plenty of staring and she thought she had overheard a few comments, but nopony had screamed, yelled, or launched themselves at her. On top of that the crowd was thinning and she could once again extend her wings, allowing a sense of freedom and chance of escape to help ease her. Then something poked her.

“Excuse me.”

Midnight twisted around so fast she nearly sent Sapphire and a couple of other ponies to the floor, much to the laters’ annoyances. Withdrawing a hoof from her wither was a purple unicorn stallion clad in a brown suit with a white undershirt and a tie. He had a somewhat tidy white mane and tail, and his cutie mark looked like two strips, one yellow and red, the other green and purple, twisting around each other. A look of worry was in his blue eyes, but it was quickly replaced by a smile.

“Please, forgive me; I didn’t mean to startle you. But I simply have to know; are you Midnight Storm?”

Midnight stared at him for a minute. How in the name of all things good and decent in Equestria did he know her name? Finally, she was able to get back to her senses. “And who are you?” she asked, immediately becoming defensive.

“Oh, please, forgive my rudeness.” He bowed slightly to her. “Dr. Puzzle Mixer at your service, Miss Storm.”

“Aren’t you one of the professors at the princess’s school?” Sapphire asked as she began to recognize the unicorn.

“Why yes I am. Professor of genetics and vice-head of the science department.” He said, seeming to take great pride in the titles.

“More like doctor wackjob.” Midnight turned her head and saw a mare in a red and white dress turn quickly away. She snorted before turning back to the doctor.

“Um, what are genetics?” Spike asked.

“Ah, Mister Spike, I’m sorry I’ve never had the pleasure before; my class is one of the few Miss Sparkle never took.”

“Wait, there’s a class Twilight Sparkle has never taken?” Midnight asked, hardly believing such a thing was possible.

Puzzle Mixer nodded his head solemnly. “Alas, Miss Sparkle moved to Ponyville over the summer break for a special assignment from the princess herself. She was actually going to be in my class that fall semester.”

“So… what are genetics again?” Spike asked.
Puzzle Mixer regained his jovial look at the question. “To put it simply, Mister Spike, genetics are what determine what we are, whether it be colt, filly, unicorn, pegasus, or even, dare I say, kirin.” He gave Midnight a meaningful look, which was returned in the form of a scowl.

“And how exactly do you know who and what I am?” she asked, not bothering to cover up how unhappy she was.

“A rather interesting story in fact,” Mixer said with a smile. “I was here at the castle one weekend to discuss the science wing’s budget with the princess, Princess Celestia I mean, when I actually caught sight of you walking down one of the hallways. As I was in a hurry to see the princess I couldn’t very well stop and speak with you then, but I did get into a conversation with the guards outside the throne room and they told me about you.”

Really?” Midnight said through a false smile. Even if it wasn’t directly his fault, or against any rules that the guard couldn’t talk about her, she was still going to take a chunk out of Shining Armor’s horn next time she saw him. “How much did they say?”

“Only that you were part dragon, or at least that’s what I really paid attention to.” A few of the nobles around them gave the kirin another once over.

Midnight and Sapphire let out sighs of relief. Her secret rank was still intact, but Celestia would definitely be hearing about this slip-up. “And what’s so exciting about me being part dragon?”

She may as well have asked what the difference between a unicorn and a pegasus was by the look of amazed shock Mixer was giving her. “What is… Miss Storm, a pony that’s part dragon is a once in a multiple life times occurrence! The very chances of such an anomaly happening are beyond astronomical! You are nothing short of a miracle!”

In all honesty, Midnight had no way to respond to that. Beyond her parents, being called a ‘miracle’ by anypony was a miracle in of itself.

“So, Professor Puzzle Mixer,” Sapphire asked as Midnight continued to just stare at him, “is there anything specific you wanted to talk about with Midnight?”

“Actually, I was hoping she could indulge me in running a few tests on some future date; I think tonight would be a bit too short notice and a little rude to be taking Miss Storm away from the festivities.”

“Such a thing would actually be a relief.” They turned to see the mare in the red and white dress quickly look in another direction.

Midnight snorted again, but still turned back to Mixer. “And what kinds of tests would those be?”

“Well, as you can imagine, the offspring of a pony and a dragon would have extraordinary implications in the genetics community, and so I’d like to take a few samples, such as blood and hair, as well as…”
As Puzzle Mixer began going into all the tests he wanted to perform, Sapphire realized there was now a fifth member in their group standing right next to her. It was a blue unicorn mare, wearing a simple midnight-blue dress and had her light blue mane in a simple pony-tail. The mare winked at her, then said “my sister took the form of a pegasus last time, if I’m correct.”

Sapphire stared for a few seconds longer, then what she said clicked and a knowing smile formed on her face. The mare shared the smile, then turned back to the still rambling professor.

“Excuse me, Dr. Mixer?”

Mixer stopped mid-stream about how he hoped Midnight would be able to reproduce, despite her being a hybrid, and looked at the mare.

“Um, yes, how can I help you?”

“Forgive me, but I believe the countess of Hoofington had a few questions about some of her family members? She wanted to ask you but was stuck with some other obligations and can’t spare the time to fetch you herself.”

The confused look on Mixer’s face slowly turned into another smile. “Oh, yes, she does have some pegasi and earth ponies in the family, doesn’t she? Yes, I think I can enlighten her on how traits can skip multiple generations.” He bowed to Midnight. “Forgive me Miss Storm, but this is one of those itches one such as myself just HAS to scratch.” With that Puzzle Mixer turned and disappeared off into the crowd.

“I suggest we depart before the professor realizes the countess does NOT want that fact brought up in public.” The mare motioned for them to follow, and, with encouragement from Sapphire, they let the mare lead them out of the hall and into the gardens.
They continued along the castle wall for a minute before stopping amidst several rose bushes. The night air outside was nice and cool with a gentle breeze, and the night sky looked as beautiful to Midnight as ever. The best thing, though, was that there were very few ponies in the same part of the gardens.

“So, what are we doing out here?” Spike asked.

“I simply thought Midnight Storm would enjoy being outside with my night than inside with the nobles.” The mare said with a smile.

Your night? Uh, sorry to disappoint you, but Princess Luna rules the night.” Spike said, crossing his arms with a frown.

The mare, unfazed, looked at Midnight expectantly. “After the trick my sister pulled, are you telling me you wouldn’t expect me to do the same?”

“Your sis-?” Midnight stared at the pony some more. She was sitting next to Sapphire, who had that same knowing look as the day she first showed up with Celest- she almost face-hoofed that time. “I guess being one of the only pegasi in the crowd would have stood you out too much; right, princess?

Spike was about to ask what Midnight was talking about when the mare was suddenly enveloped in white light. When the light dimed, Spike felt his jaw drop. “P-Princess Luna!”

The dark blue alicorn nodded at him. “Just a little something to help move around unnoticed. I do not wish to be mobbed by advantage-seeking nobles, nor ‘accidently’ overhear a scathing remark as I make my way past.” She transformed back into a unicorn again. “It further helps to be one of their own, even if I would like nothing better than to kick them all out.” They all shared a laugh at the upper-crust’s expense.

“So, how can we help you, your highness?” Sapphire asked.

“I was seeking honest company to spend the night with, this being my first real social gathering since my return, and I happened to stumble across you being engaged with Professor Mixer. I’ve dealt with him before and I know how ‘long-winded’ he can be, so I found a way to ‘take out two birds with one stone’ as I believe the modern saying goes. I owe the countess of Hoofington after I heard her say the night court was ‘nothing but a pity project’ for my sister.” It was obvious that Luna had about the same respect for the nobility that Midnight did.

“Well, we’re out and away from them; what would you like to do princess?”

“I am perfectly willing to follow along with whatever you all are doing.” Luna told Sapphire.

“Well, if Spike doesn’t mind, I'd actually like to hear what happened with the thestral colony that you and your guard went to deal with,” Midnight said, throwing Spike an apologetic smile.

But the young dragon looked far from disappointed. “Whoa, a story about the princess and bat ponies? I bet it’s awesome!”

Luna’s face softened a bit at his words. “Yes, I believe it is right you should hear the tale, seeing as how yourself adopting Squeaky Wings was the catalyst to all that has transpired.” She motioned them to follow her down a path into the gardens, and when she was sure they were moving with her, she started.

“It was not long after your visit that alerted me to the issue of the colony that we made our way to it. It was a two night flight, and we spent the second day doing some reconnaissance before entering the colony…”

--------p------------p-------

Captain Night Skimmer stifled a yawn as he, Lieutenant Star Chaser, and Princess Luna edged through the forest at the foot of the colony’s mountain along the far eastern ridge of the Macintosh Hills. Two nights of flying almost non-stop and then staying up to perform recon with the princess was taking a toll on him. Add the nervousness he was feeling about being so close to home again, and all he wanted to do was be back in the castle’s barracks, curled up in his bunk. A part of him wanted to blame Midnight Storm for the possibly life-threatening situation he and the others found themselves in now, but most of him knew that this was long overdue. There was also the fact that the princess was on their side that seemed to keep morale up.

With Princess Luna on our side, justice IS within reach!’ he thought. ‘And then we’ll return triumphantly back to Canterlot, and Midnight will be so impressed she’ll come to see us. Of course, as captains, we’ll have our own private debriefing. She’ll be so impressed with how brave I was, she’ll just… just…

“I know you’re tired captain, but that isn’t going to help matters.”

A sharp poke to his side brought him back to reality. He realized he was rather close to the Lieutenant. A little too close, especially where his lips were concerned. He back peddled a few steps. Star Chaser continued to stare at him with a bemused indifference, while Princess Luna raised an eyebrow at him.

“I was only thinking of how to enter the colony when my mind must have slipped and -!”

“We can tell when ponies are dreaming, normal or day, captain. And while we may not know what thou were daydreaming about,” Skimmer felt his face go completely red at this, “we know that it does not matter. We must concentrate on the matter at hoof and devise a plan before nightfall.” Luna said sounding slightly displeased.

“O-Of course, your highness.” Skimmer shook himself and followed after her, cursing himself. ‘Justice now, Midnight later.’

They pushed closer to the bottom of the mountain, keeping weary eyes out for any scouts that might see them. As they reached it, they both swiveled their heads to their left and perked their ears up. There was a noise some ways off in the brush, which sounded like… “Crying?” Skimmer said.

“The cry of an infant.” Luna said, spreading her wings. “It would seem that we have arrived in time to stop another murder!” She took off into the trees with Skimmer and Star Chaser close on her tail. After about a minute in flight with not only the infant’s cries but the sounds of wild beasts as well growing louder in their ears, they burst into a clearing. There was indeed an infant, abandoned and wailing on the ground, but around it were three large timberwolves, crouched and ready to snap up the defenseless child.

The two thestrals got into a combat stance and were ready to launch themselves at the wolves, when Luna simply waved her horn and the beasts erupted into muffled explosions of wood, leaves and sap. The same flick put up a small barrier around the child, shielding it from the flying remains of its would-be killers. After sweeping and scattering the remains of the wolves, she and the thestrals approached the child.

She was indeed a thestral (Luna had confirmed the gender), and as expected she was several shades too light for the colony’s taste. Her fur was a bright pink and her mane and tail were neon blue, while her wings were just a few shades darker blue and her eyes bright orange. “She is barely a day old,” Luna said with anger in her voice as she used her magic to transfigure a clump of leaves into a blanket to wrap the infant in. The baby’s cries calmed somewhat now that she was out of the cold, but she still cried.

“She needs to be fed as well, your highness.” Star Chaser said.

Luna gave her a look. “Agreed lieutenant, but we are not producing at the moment, nor are any of the other mares in our guard as far as we know.”

“The colony grows a plant for just such an occasion,” Star Chaser explained. “There are times when, after giving birth, a mare is too exhausted to properly feed her child. There is a plant we cultivate which we call ‘milk-suckle’ to aid with the foal’s first feeding. With you permission I can locate them and bring some fruit back. It may not be milk, but it may help.”

Luna looked down at the wailing infant, then nodded. “Thine colony has had to do without the convenience of modern medicine; it only makes sense thou would find thine own method. Retrieve some of this plant for the foal, but do not be spotted doing so.”

Star Chaser nodded and took off into the brush, leaving Night Skimmer to guard the princess and the infant.

While she waited, Luna continued to examine the child, even as she continued to holler. ‘It does not look like she was mistreated; simply left here.’ She nuzzled the infant. ‘Left to die simply for what you were born looking like. Far too many have been unjustly judged for such a thing they have no control over. It may be too late for those that came before you, little one, but for you and those that come after, this wrong shall be righted.’ She realized vaguely that she could be talking about others she knew well, but that would have to wait for a later time.

Star Chaser returned almost as quickly as she left, several of what looked like plant bulbs cradled in her forelegs. “I hope this is enough, your highness.”

“It will do lieutenant.” With her magic, Luna took the plants and levitated the first one to the infant’s mouth. The foal hesitated a second, tasted the tip of the bulb, then eagerly took hold of it and began to feed.

“Your majesty, with your permission, I have an idea about what to do with the child.” Skimmer said.

“We are all ears captain.”

“Before I left to come here with the others, my sister was three months pregnant with her first child. She and her husband are sympathetic to our cause, and I believe she would have no qualms about taking her in as one of her own.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Did thou not tell us thine sister was abandoned as such when she was born?”

“My first sister was, yes. My parents had another foal after that, one which met our standards.” He growled out the last word.

The princess nodded. “Tis a noble idea, however we must still get inside the colony first, and we doubt they will allow the child back in to their midst.”

“From what we have seen, I believe the patrols have been severely stunted by our leaving to join you, your highness. We’ve only observed one patrol the entire morning when there should be many more and they hardly seemed as disciplined. May I assume that you know at least one invisibility spell, your highness?” Luna nodded. “Then I think we’ll be able to sneak into the colony before nightfall. Both my sister and her husband were early risers before-hoof; I think they’ll be even more so now with the baby.”

“Then we will meet back up with the others and rest for now.” Luna said standing up and removing the now empty shriveled bulb from the foal’s grip. She yawned and curled up into her blanket. “When the time is right, you two will lead us and the infant into the colony so we may meet with your sister. Your family may give us valuable insight on the current state of the colony before we officially enter it.”

Skimmer bowed. “By your will, my princess.”

-----------------------------

When her sister’s sun was about three-quarters of the way down to the horizon, Luna, Night Skimmer, Star Chaser, and the baby made their way up the mountain towards the colony. As it turned out, the foal had been both a morale booster and rallying point for the thestrals. She reminded them why they were there and served as a secret first blow to those they were ready to fight against. There had of course been protests against Luna going into the heart of enemy territory with only two guards, even if it was the captain and a lieutenant, but she had impressed upon them the need for stealth, and it was easier for three ponies to move around unseen than fifteen plus.

Getting in had been far more easy than any of them had thought. “Pathetic.” Skimmer said as they passed by the only patrol at the colony’s entrance. The entire patrol was out cold, weapons and even armor strewn about around them.

What fascinated Luna was their age. “Why are they all so young?”

“The teenagers are put on patrol duty as a start to their guard training. Even in these early hours they should still be awake and vigilant; if a true guard were on duty and found them like this they’d all be in serious trouble. It seems that discipline was the first to go when we left.” Skimmer told her.

The colony itself was located in a high valley between two peaks. On the floor of the valley were fire pits flanked by what appeared to be shops on either side, including what appeared to be a butcher shop and black-smiths. A set of buildings which Skimmer identified as the barracks was on the far side of the valley. Above them, the walls were pot-marked with doors which were entrances to homes. Some doors appeared more well-kept and dignified than others.

“That’s the governor-general’s home up there.” Skimmer pointed out a rather beautifully carved door near the top that also had lamps on either side of it.

“Do you suspect him of being involved in such crimes?”

“He effectively runs the colony, your majesty. If he didn’t approve of it he wouldn’t be.”

Luna nodded and followed him up to a home about a quarter the way up the opposite wall. Skimmer hesitated a moment, then knocked. It took nearly a minute for the door to be answered, and Skimmer even had his hoof out to knock again when the door creaked open slightly.

“Who’s… who’s there?” a mare asked though a yawn, not fully opening the door.

“Sis, it’s me!” Skimmer said in a raised whisper.

The mare looked into the space where her brother supposedly was, but all she could see was empty air. “Yeah, and I’m the princess. We all know he’s in Canterlot.”

“Night Sky, I’m serious.”

“Prove it.”

Skimmer sighed. “When you were five you walked into my room one evening to wake me up and saw me… snuggling with my pillow which I was calling… Moonbeam.”

There was a pause, then the door opened to reveal a confused and suspicious thestral mare. “Alright, I’ll believe it’s you, for now,” Skimmer grunted, “in which case you’d better get your flank in here now.”

“Just hold the door open ‘til I say; there’s more than just me here.” Night Sky narrowed her eyes, but stepped back and allowed her invisible guests in. “Alright, we’re all in.”

“Sky, who’s at the door?” A thestral stallion, Sky’s husband, came into the entrance way just as she was closing and locking the door.

As if to answer him Luna dropped the invisibility spell, revealing herself and her two guards.

There was a heartbeat of silence, then both Sky and her husband dropped to the floor, prostrating themselves before the princess. “P-P-P-Princess Luna! You do us great honor by coming into our humble home! We are not worthy!”

Luna motioned for the two of them to rise, which they nervously did. “If what thine brother has said is true, then thou are more than worthy and the honor is ours.” Sky and her husband looked over at Skimmer.

“You… aren’t here for the traitors?” Sky’s husband, Night Saber, asked.

“Do thou mean the five that have sought refuge here?”

They both nodded. “They were arrested as soon as they arrived and were branded traitors when they explained they had left your service.”

“Did they explain why they had left?” Luna asked.

“Only the governor-general interviewed them. When he was done he told us those five were traitors to you and that they were to be kept under the barracks until a suitable punishment was found,” Sky told her.

“They are indeed traitors, but not in the way your governor-general would have you believe.” Luna proceeded to tell all that had led up to that point. The kirin Midnight’s discovery and adoption of Squeaky Wings. Of Dark Blade’s admittance and the purge of the night guard and the five escapees. “We and our remaining guards are here to finish the purge we began back in Canterlot.” Luna finished.

Sky and Night Saber exchanged glances, then bowed to Luna. “How can we help, your highness?”

Luna nodded in satisfaction, then lifted a bundle into view. “We and our guard do not have the luxury of being able to watch out for this one. Thine brother said thou might aid us in this way.” She lowered the bundle into Sky’s forelegs.

“So, it’s true then.” Sky lifted part of the blanket up to reveal the foal Luna and her guards had found earlier. “We knew Night Dancer went into labor last night, but when there was no celebrating we knew it was either because it was still-born or light-born, what we call foals born with light coat colors.”

“Will you look out for the child?” Luna asked.

“Of course your highness. I’ll place her in the crib with Night Wind. Would Uncle Skimmer want to see his nephew?” Sky teased.

“Perhaps sometime later.” Star Catcher said, observing a nearby clock. “Your majesty, if we do not leave soon the rest of the colony will be awake and it will be hard to slip out and fetch the rest of the guard.”

Luna nodded. “Time is of the essence. We will return tonight publicly and we expect the governor-general to spin tales for us. Inform those thou trust of our true intentions; we wish as many first-hoof, unbiased accounts to be brought to our attention.”

Sky and Night Saber bowed again. “Consider it done, your highness.”

With a flick of her horn Luna, Star Chaser, and Night Skimmer disappeared again, the opening and closing of the front door the only indication they had left.

------------f----------------

“As expected the governor-general welcomed my guards and me with open wings, as did the rest of the colony. A feast was even organized to honor our arrival.”

The other three stood hanging on every word the princess was saying.

Midnight was the first to speak up. “Before you go further, is that filly, the one you found abandoned, is she okay right now?

Luna smiled and nodded. “Night Sky and her husband are wonderful parents and have already named her Pastel Dawn. She is in very good hoof, I assure you.” Midnight sighed in relief. “As is the other foal and his family we came across there, but I’ll get to that soon.”

“But,” Spike spoke up, “why didn’t you just blast your way in there? I mean, you pretty much already knew who was guilty and who wasn’t, so why not just go in and arrest the bad guys?”

“Ah, but you see Spike, I did not know who the ‘bad guys’ were at the time, not for certain, and making a mistake like that could have cost us our efforts. The best thing to do at the time was to let them think I was on their side. It’s easier to capture flies with honey than it is vinegar, as the modern saying goes.”

Midnight and Sapphire chuckled. “So, you were welcomed in and now could move around the colony freely, so what did you do then?” Sapphire asked.

“Well, I- what is that?”

They all stopped and listened. At first they heard nothing, then what sounded like frantic muttering met their ears. Following the sounds they came to a clearing, and on the other side…

“Fluttershy?” They all said. Indeed, Fluttershy was on the opposite side of the clearing from them, but she sure didn’t look like her normally timid self. Her dress and mane were askew, and there was something manic in her actions. There was also the fact that she was setting up a net.

“Yes, as soon as one of you birds, or squirrels, or deer touches this net, you’ll be mine, ALL MINE! MUHAHAHAHAwhoa-!” In the deranged pegasi’ eagerness to capture one of the garden’s animals, she had forgotten to take a few steps back from her trap, and coincidently set it off, capturing herself.

Luna, Midnight, Sapphire, and Spike watched her swing there for a second, her manic behavior seemingly curbed for the moment. “Should we assist her?” Luna asked.

“I’d actually bet if she broke down, then the animals would come to her.” Midnight said. “But, why are they avoiding her in the first place?”

“The garden’s animals are trained to avoid ponies. Celestia says it ends up being one less headache when she doesn’t hear that one of the birds took their leave on one of the noble’s dresses and such.” Luna explained.

Midnight and Spike stifled their chuckling as they moved away.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to leave her like that?” Sapphire asked with a nervous look back.

“She’ll be fine. The animals will get sorry for her eventually. It’s not like she can do anything else right now.” Midnight said.

Back in the net, Fluttershy had begun to gnaw at the ropes with a renewed passion.

“Anyway, princess, you were saying?”

“Thank you. We spent several nights there searching out the guilty ones. Our newfound allies in the colony were few, but their service proved invaluable, especially since my guards and I were rather… occupied, as it were, most of the time.”

--------p------------p-------

“… and so you see, your highness, if we could get a hold of some land here,” governor-general Moon Stalker pointed to the opposite side of Canterlot mountain, “we could begin construction of your own castle-city, out from under your sister’s hooves.”

Luna noted how he had strained at the very mention of Celestia. Three nights of almost unending praise and ideas on how to start bettering Equestria, with the colony’s help of course, and the alicorn was starting to see why her sister disliked her court. ‘And you’ve had to endure this alone for a thousand years. You have far more resolve than I, Tia, if you could stomach those sickening sweet false smiles they give you.’

As much as she wanted to end the charade, she knew she couldn’t. Her informants could tell her which families got rid of foals, but not the truly responsible party. A mother could have willing given up a foal to the horrible fate awaiting it, or the poor thing could have only watched as her foal was ripped from her hooves. The father could have been a willing participant or pushed to the side as guards took the child from its home. And as it was it was taboo to talk of light-borns publicly or even among family, getting a solid answer out of a pony was like trying to milk a bull. She needed a way to get the truth out of the thestrals and soon, otherwise simply bringing down the hammer and trusting her gut would be her only option; an ultimately unfair one, she felt.

“Princess, are you alright? Should I call for a doctor?”

Luna whipped her head up to see the governor-general looking at her with concern. “N-Nay, governor-general, we are fine. Deep in thought is all.” Luna said using the Royal Canterlot Voice. While inside Canterlot Castle, Celestia had imposed on her younger sister that The Voice was no longer used, the alabaster alicorn had failed to make sure that rule followed Luna outside the castle. Up to that point the princess of the night had held off on it due to the need for stealth, but now that she was out in the open she belted it out without a second thought. Her slip back into ‘ye ol’ timey speak’ also was a product of spending time solely with her guard, who never seemed to mind it; almost like one slipping back into a native accent when around family. It turned out to be a happy accident, as the volume kept the thestrals off balance and gave Luna the aura of unquestioning authority.

“If I may be so bold, your highness, may I ask what you were thinking about?” Stalker asked timidly.

“Our thoughts dwell on what punishments we will impose on the traitors when we return home. The colony’s hospitality has been so great as to let our mind drift from the matter.” She levitated a teacup to take a sip. The Voice had a bad habit of drying ones throat out, which is why if one were to travel back in time to when it was used regularly they would see a tea set was always present near them.

“Oh, well, I’m sure we can think of a proper punishment to be hoofed out here-”

“We do not require our subject’s input on how and when we will deal with those who have so grievously offended us.” Luna said, narrowing her eyes at him.

“O-O-Of course, your highness! I meant no disrespect!” Moon Stalker bowed low.

“Do not let it happen again. Coincidently, as I am missing five spaces in my guard, do you have any recommendations to make from your present guard?” It had been decided that they should go along with the idea that the five ex-guards currently in custody were indeed deserters and that the rest were back in Canterlot to ‘hold down the fort’. Night Skimmer’s promotion to captain had been a temporary one for the journey.

“There are some in our home guard that have exemplary performance, so possibly-” The governor-general was once again interrupted, but this time by one of the colony’s guard.

“Governor-General, Princess Luna, please, forgive the intrusion, but there is an issue.” The teenage guard bowed so low his muzzle was just touching the floor.

“What could be so important that you would bother the princess herself with it!?” Stalker yelled.

The guard looked from Stalker to Luna then back again, then walked over to him and whispered something. The look on his face went from fury to piss-pants scared so fast it was actually amazing to watch. “A-Are you sure?”

The guard nodded. “We have them out by the barracks as we speak, sir.”

“Is something wrong, governor-general?”

“Oh, no, no, no; nothing you need concern yourself with, your highness. Just some unfortunate internal matter.” He tried to smile and wave her concerns away, but it fell when she got up anyway.

“Even if a matter is internal, our presence may sooth our subjects and let rational heads prevail. We will join you.”

“T-There really is no need to inconvenience yourself, your-”

Luna looked him right in the face. “We insist.”

-----------------------------

A large crowd had gathered outside the barracks by the time Luna, her guards, Stalker, and the colonial guard landed. Luna looked around quickly to make note of the crowd as they walked forward. Some were yelling loudly, with words like ‘traitors’ and ‘abomination’ filtering out of the crowd. Others had faces showing concern, while still others looked impassive or simply disappointed.

As they reached the center, Luna could see a mare and a stallion with a bundle wrapped in the mare’s forelegs. Luna had a briefly odd moment of feeling anger and fear, as it was clear what was going on, and relief that it wasn’t Night Sky and Dark Saber who had gotten caught. On the second night they were sure somepony had saw Pastel Dawn while flying past the door. Still, her heart went out to the couple; they were only guilty of the crime of loving their child.

Moon Stalker marched over to them, rage clearly evident on his face. “Our great princess finally returns to us, and you two have the audacity to have that thing here in front of her!?”

The mare looked past him to Luna, her eyes pleading. “Please, don’t let them take my little boy!”

“SILENCE! HOW DARE YOU TRY TO SPEAK TO THE PRINCESS DIRECTLY!” Stalker brought his hoof up as if to smack her.

“Governor-General.”

Stalker stopped with his hoof in the air, then turned to face her. “My princess, these two are of no consequence to you. Please let me deal with them personally so that they may shame you no more.”

Luna took a deep breath, calming herself from flying at him and back-hoofing him herself. “Be that as it may, the mare is looking to us, and even if she has broken the law, she has done so as a mother, and we will hear what she will say regardless. The others below forfeited that honor when they lied to hide their crimes.” Luna walked forward until she was directly in front of the couple. She could see the fear in their eyes as they bowed.

“Your highness, please, forgive us, but our son was born this way.” The mare removed some of the cloth to reveal a foal with bright yellow coat and white mane. Some in the crowd yelled out, but were silenced by Stalker. “We know that this is an offence to you, but please, take it out on us! He cannot help the way he looks, so it must be our fault he’s this way! We’ll gladly take whatever punishment you’ll bestow, but please do not take it out on our son! He is only a baby! Please consider banishing him to another colony instead of condemning him to death, we implore you!” Shouts rang out from the crowd again, but this time Luna flared her wings for silence and as she did so gave the terrified couple a wink and a small smile.

“Governor-General; when we spoke tonight before this occurrence, we told you we had not yet thought of a way to deal with the traitorous guards. Seeing this couple defend their offensive child has given us an idea for them all that we like.” There were sounds of approval from the crowd. “However, it will take time to prepare. Tomorrow night we will pass judgment on those who have betrayed us. Send this family down beneath the barracks and place them in a cell away from the ex-guards; we do not want them to have any ideas of getting back into our good graces by disposing of the child themselves. Furthermore, the guards we brought with us will take over the watch of the prisoners, so that nopony will mistake their fates.”

Stalker bowed low, a triumphant smirk on his face. “As you command, your majesty! Passing judgment on the traitorous scum will be an honor to witness!” Agreeing shouts came from the crowd.

Luna turned and began walking towards Stalker’s home, her residence while in the colony. “Governor-General, our remaining guards and us will need privacy while we decide how best to execute our plan. It may take the rest of this night; is there any place else thou can lodge?”

“Of course, my princess. Use my home however you wish.” Stalker said with another bow.

Luna motioned for Night Skimmer and Star Chaser to follow her back to the house. Once there she let out a sigh she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“You have a plan, princess?” Star Chaser asked.

“Nay, lieutenant; twas merely a ploy for more time. We have no more idea what to do now than we did before, though now time is against us.” It looked like the hammer was going to have to be swung by her own gut after all. “Be sure to have our guards bring food and amenities to that family while they are confined.”

Star Chaser nodded and called one of the other guards over to the door.

“Princess, if I may, perhaps we should just get this over with tonight and catch them unawares?” Skimmer suggested.

“The princess wants to make sure the innocent and guilty don’t get mixed up. How would you feel if your sister and her family got caught up in that?” Star Chaser pointed out, returning to them.

As the two fell to arguing, Luna closed her eyes in concentration. ‘I cannot do this alone. Sister, though I’ve always hated to admit it, you were always the better one at handling disputes. I need your guidance.’ With barely a notable shift, her consciousness left the waking world for the one of dreams.

-----------------------------

Luna opened her eyes and found herself in a large field somewhere in Equestria. Looking around, she found a single large tree off to the side with a familiar figure sitting under it. The blue alicorn made her way over to the tree. When she got close she could see a picnic was arranged by its base, with several places set out. The figure she had seen from before had her back to her, shifting her attention from a book to out over the fields. “Celestia.”

The alabaster alicorn looked up at her and smiled. “Luna; tired out already? What will Firestorm and the others say?”

The blue alicorn shook her head. “I’m not part of this dream, sister.”

Celestia frowned at her a second, then the world seemed to halt and ripple. “Oh, I see… dreaming.” She looked away from her younger sister and Luna followed her gaze. Farther out was a group frozen in mid-play; not a single one of them were ponies.

“I am sorry for invading your dream like this, but I am in dire need of your help.”

Celestia saw the seriousness on her little sister’s face and pulled herself up. “Of course; how can I help?” The elder alicorn listened to her sister’s predicament, and she shared her worry.

“I cannot see a way to properly help them. I… I don’t trust my own judgment anymore, not after…” the younger alicorn confessed, looking over at the frozen figures.

Celestia reached out a white wing to comfort her. “There were times I did not trust my own judgment either, but I had nopony else to fall back on. We must learn to accept that we will not always know what to do. These are your charges, and you must make decisions here on your own.” Luna sighed and made to leave. “But, it is comforting to know there is help if you only ask.” Celestia bent her head down and allowed her horn to pierce the ground. When she removed it, a plant unlike any other Luna had seen before sprouted. It looked like it was made out of water or glass and was as transparent, but swayed in the breeze like any other plant.

“This is Veritum; a very rare plant that grows in such remote places that it wasn’t discovered until two hundred years ago. If you were to grind it up, leaves, flower, stem and all; you could make one of the most powerful truth serums I have ever seen. Not only will the drinker only be able to speak the truth, but will feel compelled to answer.”

Luna saw a problem in Celestia’s plan. “I only have until tomorrow night. I cannot go racing around Equestria looking for this rare plant, let alone try and figure out how to make the serum just right.”

Celestia gave her that familiar knowing smile of hers. “It’s a good thing then that one of the places it grows is in the castle greenhouses. I will wake the royal potion makers immediately and have them working on what you need immediately. How much do you need?”

Luna shuffled nervously. “Enough for almost one hundred.”

“A tall order, but they will only need a swallow each. You have the dragon fire?” Luna nodded. “Then I will send them to you as soon as the order is ready.” They nuzzled. “Have faith in yourself Luna. Even these zealots follow you for a reason.”

The world faded to black as her sister woke up, and Luna found herself back in her body.

------------f----------------

“Whoa, Princess Celestia has a plant that can make anypony tell the truth if they’re asked?” Spike said with an amazed stare. “Note to self: never eat Princess Celestia’s cake.” They all got a laugh out of that.

“That must have been a tough wait for the serum, and what about the family? Did you think they were in danger from the normal guards? Is that why you had your own guards patrol the prison?” Sapphire asked.

“I wanted them to be able to have food and drink for themselves and the foal; I knew only my guards could get it to them safely.” As soon as she finished her stomach gave off a loud growl. “It would appear I require some food at the moment as well.”

Chuckling, they began making their way back towards the hall. As they stepped out of the gardens, lo and behold there was Applejack with her cart. She wasn’t alone. In front of the cart were Rarity and a unicorn stallion Midnight hadn’t seen before.

“Oh dear, I hope the Element of Generosity knows what she’s getting into, courting our nephew.” Luna said, to which Sapphire nodded.

Spike simply snorted. “So that’s Prince Blueblood? Doesn’t look so special to me.”

As if to validate his claim there came a retching sound from near the cart. “Ugh! My royal lips have tasted mere carnival fair! I’m going to the buffet for some hors d’oeuvres.” With an angry huff Rarity followed after him.

“She is not having a good night.” Midnight observed as they walked up to the cart.

“Can’t say she would be, what with that fancy guy and his too-good-for-mah-apples taste buds.” AJ said with a scowl. “Then again, can’t say I’m havin’ a great night either. Ah’ve only sold one pie and just spotted Rarity two fritters. I really thought I’d be swimin’ in bits by now.”

“Well, there is a free buffet with all their fancy foods, so that could be a problem.” Spike said.

“Indeed, but experience had taught me that home-cooked foods taste the best.” Luna said, lifting up a bag of bits. “Now, what does everypony want? ‘It’s my treat’, as they say.”

It didn’t take long for them all to be scarfing down fritters, fries, and candy apples. AJ wasn’t exactly swimming in bits like she hoped, but she had a fare more now than she did before. “So Flutters is hogtied up in a tree? Guess hardly any of us are havin’ a great night.”

“I still say the animals will help her down when she starts crying.” Midnight said as she finished off her third fritter.

“Well, Ah’ve got one more idea on how to turn this here night around. I’ll see ya’ll later and thanks for the business!” With that AJ pushed her cart away and out of sight.

“I wonder what she’s got in mind.” Spike said as he ate the last of his apple fries.

“Well, I say we hear what’s left of Luna’s story; I’m a bit eager to hear how she saves the day.” Midnight said.

Luna blushed slightly. ‘After being Nightmare Moon, to hear that…’ “Well, as you can imagine, the wait for the serum was indeed a nerve-wracking one, but it finally arrived en mass just as I raised the moon that night.”

--------p------------p-------

Luna took several deep breaths to help calm herself. The serum had arrived, her guards knew the plan, and she had been in meditation to help prepare herself. If all went well; no, when all went well, the foal-killers would be in chains and the innocent would be free of them forever. Still, the nervousness remained. There was still that nagging in the back of her mind that if she failed, if even one innocent got mixed up with the guilty, she didn’t think she could live with herself for it. Then again, she and Celestia had lived with far worse burdens, real and imagined.

A knock at the door caused her to turn, and lieutenant Star Chaser stuck her head in. “Princess, all the thestrals are gathered. It’s time.”

Luna nodded, then followed her guard out into the night.

They were all gathered around the largest fire pit in a semi circle, set directly in the center of the valley. On the side Luna landed on were her guards, governor-general Moon Stalker, the five ex-guards, and the family with the light-born colt.

“Princess Luna, all the prisoners are accounted for and are awaiting your judgment.” Stalker said, a predatory grin on his face.

“We are pleased, governor-general, and pleased that you all came out tonight. This night, we purge ourselves of those who dare call themselves one of our own, yet shame us with their very presence.” A loud cheer went up from the crowd. “But, before we begin, as a token of my gratitude, I wish to share something will all of you.” She nodded to Skimmer, who produced a bag filled with what could have been covered shot glasses filled with a clear liquid. “In a rare display of honoring the moon, the ponies of Equestria have made a new drink while we were all away. Let us toast to our return with the drink known as Moonshine.” Another round of cheers went up as thestrals eagerly took the glasses. When the guards were done passing them out, Luna was about to make the toast when one of the ex-guards began yelling.

“Don’t let her trick you! She’s fallen under the sway of her sister! She’s trying to ruin us all! Fight ba-!” He was silenced when Stalker punched him across the face.

“Filthy cur. Please proceed, your highness.”

Luna nodded. “To the moon, to the night, to justice!” She drank her swallow to cheers from the crowd who followed suit when she was done. Luna nodded to Skimmer, and as one the guards moved forward a step. With a flick of her horn the family sitting near in front of her was pulled behind her and with another flick she produced a barrier, one similar to what Celestia had used to stop Midnight. This one, however, boxed the remaining thestrals in with Luna and her guard.

Before Stalker could even ask what was going on he was pulled in front of Luna by her magic.

“I have only one question for you, governor-general: how many foals have you personally left out to die?”

“Two.”

The air was still as her question and his answer hung in it. He started, trying to ask why she wanted to know, but she only threw him to her guards who pounced on him. When the struggling was done Stalker laid in the dirt, his hooves and wings bound.

“Let it be known that we are not here tonight to punish this family for the foal they bore. The five before us fled because we were purging our guard of those who dared do unimaginable atrocities in our name. We have come to find out that this colony has been sentencing its foals to death simply because they were born with coats you deemed as praise to our sister’s sun. WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS HOW DISGUSTED WE ARE BY THIS DEPRAVITY! THESE FOALS, WHO, AS THIS MOTHER HAS CLEARLY SAID, HAVE BEEN MURDERED FOR SOMETHING THEY HAD NO CHOICE IN!” Here she took a breath to calm herself. The look of fear on the faces of the crowd gave her some satisfaction. ‘They should be afraid’.

“Tonight, you will also have no choice. What my guards gave you to drink was not a beverage, but a powerful truth serum. We are going to ask each and every one of you about what has happened here, and we will know the truth. By the end of this night, you will either be in our good graces, or face our punishment.” She levitated another thestral out from the crowd, many of whom were now flying up and hitting themselves against the walls in a vain attempt to get out. “How many foals have you personally left out to die?”

“N-N-None.”

“And what of aiding those that have?”

“Y-Y-Yes.” And another thestral bound in chains.

-----------------------------

The night continued in the same manner. Interrogate, judge, place, repeat. With every thestral that went into the ‘guilty’ pile, Luna’s heart ached more. ‘So many tainted. Makers, please, do not make us do this again. So many gone in our name…’

Finally, after what felt like hours, the last thestral was sorted. A look around showed just how rotten the colony had become. Almost three quarters of them were found guilty, while only about twenty five adult and teenage thestrals were found innocent. Only three whole families were found to be innocent, including Sky and Saber and the family brought to trial. The rest, and this made it worse for the alicorn, had the majority of their families in chains. Wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, even parents and children.

Then there was the matter of the infants and young children whom Luna had not interrogated. As far as she was concerned they were all innocent or at least young enough that they could go to other families and have normal lives ahead of them. Many had to be forcibly removed from their mothers.

The trial was done; now for the punishment. Luna steadied herself for what she was going to do next by first breathing deeply, then drinking from a flask Celestia had sent with the serum after Luna told her what the punishment would be for the guilty. She felt a jolt go through her body followed by the magic around her horn strengthening.

“Now that we have discovered which ones are the true traitors, not only to us but to their own kind, we are ready to pass judgment. This has all come to pass due to the fact that thou all take great pride in being thestrals, a gift we gave to thine great-grandsires over a millennia ago. It was a gift that we could both give… and take.” Her words were not lost on anypony. “Thou are all no longer worthy of our gift, and so we revoke it.”

She blinked, and in an instant her eyes began to glow white with an arcane power. Winds kicked up as she lifted herself into the air, her horn glowing blue while the magic aura around it grew larger and larger. When she could feel her magic hit its peak she aimed it down at the shackled thestrals below her and let loose the arcane energies. The magic slammed into them like a tsunami, and immediately began its work. Grey coats began to change into every color of the rainbow while bat wings sprouted feathers. Fangs retreated into the mouth and were reshaped while irises widened and became circler and ear tuffs disappeared.

When it was done Skimmer and Star Chaser flew up to catch her. Once she was sure she was steady she looked down on her work. Below her could have been any crowd of pegasi in Equestria. She had done it.

“This is not all,” she called out. “While thou have been stripped of your gift, we do not trust thou enough to simply let thee out into the world. With thine backgrounds thou are a danger to ponies everywhere, and so will serve out your sentences in the dungeons. There may yet be leniency for the youngest of thine flock, but know for the rest of thou none will be given.” She turned to Skimmer. “Captain, send a message that we will need the prisoner transports, as many as they can send.”

Skimmer nodded. “Consider it done, your highness.”

------------f----------------

Midnight, Sapphire, and Spike just stared at her. It was making Luna a bit uncomfortable. “Do you wish to say something?”

Spike recovered first. “You changed them into pegasi!?

“Make no mistake Spike, doing so is something only a being of supreme magical skill and quantity has such an ability, and to do so to so many at once meant I needed a temporary magical surge. Even then I was extremely tired afterwards.” She bowed her head. “I performed the same spell back when I was starting to become corrupted by my darker half. The few ponies who followed me and not my sister I blessed by turning them into thestrals so they could be by my side when I made night last forever. It was a mistake that was long overdue for correcting.”

“And… what happened then?” Midnight asked.

“Those I found guilty were brought to the castle and are locked away in its dungeons where they will serve out the rest of their lives. Some of the teenagers are being looked at for early release, but that is about it. Those that were left chose to follow me back to Canterlot. They said their home was more a prison than anything else, and so when they had removed the last of their things, I destroyed the valley. Consider it a symbolic as well as physical end to it all.”

They all nodded. “Are any of them here tonight?” Sapphire asked.

“No, they aren’t used to the city yet; neither am I if I’m honest. But, they do want to thank you personally, Midnight Storm. They want to meet the mare who helped start the end of the killings.”

Midnight bowed her head. “I’ll be honored to meet them.”

Luna smiled. “Now that the story has been told, why don’t we head back inside and at least try to make merry? I think we could all use it about now.” There was a chorus of agreements and the group made their way back inside.

-----------------------------

They almost immediately wished they hadn’t.

“Miss Storm!” Midnight cringed as she looked around and saw Professor Mixer coming towards them. “There you are. After my little misunderstanding with the countess of Hoofington,” his impressive shiner spoke volumes about how little the misunderstanding was, “I searched for you all night!”

“Have you? I’m sorry, I just stepped out for a bit of air.” Midnight said with a forced smile.

“Oh, not this again!” Apparently the mare in the red and white dress was once again unfortunate enough to be near them; unfortunate for both parties. “The freaks that are getting in nowadays are simply-!”

“Come on every pony! Let’s PAR-TAY!” Out from the front of the stage shot Pinkie Pie, doing her absolute best to dance with anypony she could get her hooves on.

“This won’t end well.” Midnight, Sapphire, and Spike said together while Luna and Mixer simply looked on.

Then from one of the side doors came out Applejack pushing an impressively big cake. “Alright, here’s something that’s worthy of your hoity-toity taste buds, straight from Sweet Apple Acres; and it’s free too!”

“STAGE DIVE!” They looked away from the hole AJ was digging for herself to see Pinkie shoot up into the air like a rocket. Recalling that particular part of the night, Midnight would remember it as the point of no return where everything went to Tartarus in the funniest, face-hoofing-ist way possible. In fact she would say the only thing that could have made it more epic is if doves had flown by at that exact moment.

Pinkie came down to earth and impacted with the side of AJ’s cart, shooting the cake up into air in her place. As fate would have it, Rarity and Prince Blueblood were coming out of the opposite side door. One look up and Blueblood arguably did the funniest and stupidest thing possible in Midnight’s opinion. He used Rarity as a shield. The dress her friends had made for her, the one she had practically flipped out about keeping clean until that night, became completely covered in apple cake. Flipped out was putting her reaction mildly, and even Sapphire was chuckling at this point. Midnight and Spike were already on the floor, the young dragon praying Rarity wouldn’t see him.

They didn’t stay there long as, in his attempt to get away from the deranged mare, Blueblood slammed into the alicorn statue that was the centerpiece of the hall, which proceeded to start tilting over. Midnight was up like a shot, but Rainbow beat her to it, catching it before it hit the ground.

“Well, that’s amazing!” Mixer called out. Rainbow proceeded to lose her balance and knocked over a column, which then hit another, and another, until all the columns that were around the statue had crashed to the floor, quickly followed by the statue itself after breaking apart.

And as the cherry on the disaster sundae Princess Celestia and Twilight chose that moment to walk in and observe the aftermath.

“Yeah, could you please grab those oil-covered cheese balls for me professor?” Midnight asked. “I’d like something before this hits the fan anymore.”

“Oh, yes… um, these, right?” He levitated about ten of them off the nearby platter.

“Yes, perfect.”

And hit the fan it did.

Not a second later the doors to the gardens burst open to a stampede of animals tailed by none other than Fluttershy. In uber-god-pms-mode. “You’re... going to LOVE ME!!!

“And I’m really sorry about this.”

“Sorry about-?” Deciding to throw fire on this train wreck, literally, Midnight lit the oil-covered cheese on fire, then smacked Mixer’s horn. The sudden jolt caused his magic to fire the flaming cheese all over the place, with one landing perfectly on the back of the mare with the red and white dress.

A certain statue in the gardens felt the wave of chaos emanating from the now ruined gala, and would later admit that the chaos caused that night cut his sentence short by two months.

Sapphire turned on the kirin. “REALLY!?

Midnight shrugged. “She called me a freak. I draw the line there.”

“Hey guys, I think we need to follow Twilight!” Spike yelled to them. The unicorn was waving for them all to follow her.

“Go, Midnight Storm. The professor and I will cover you.” Luna said with a wink.

Midnight smiled and bowed. “By your leave, princess.” Both mares, with Spike on Midnight’s back, took off after the bearers.

“Are you alright, professor?” Luna asked, helping him steady himself.

“A simple ‘no’ to the tests would have sufficed,” he said slightly dazed.

-----------------------------

When the royal sisters found them again (Luna still disguised), they were all at Donut Joe’s nursing coffee and (what else?) donuts while telling each other about their night.

“The night may not have gone as you all had planned but I think we can all agree that we’ll all look back on this night with a smile.” Celestia said taking a bite of her red velvet donut.

“Yeah, I guess it wasn’t that bad.” Midnight said as she finished off her coffee.

“So miss doom-and-gloom admits she was wrong?” Sapphire teased.

“Only a little. But, you know, I keep thinking we’re forgetting something.” They stared at each other for a minute, then went back to their food.

DERPY!” They both shouted, spraying the others with bits of donut.

-----------------------------
“You know, you’d think after the gala was basically ruined they’d be begging for us to take them home,” one of the chauffeurs said.

“I know! I mean practically everypony else is gone already and we’re still waiting here!” The other one agreed.

“At least some fancy muffins made it!” Derpy said, happily biting into one.