The Seventh Element

by PaisleyPerson

First published

Thestrals are thought extinct. But what will happen when one moves to Ponyville? Disguised as an earth pony, Acrylic does her best to fit in. Can she keep the secret, or will she expose her entire race?

EDIT! This series is now open universe! You want to make a spinoff version? You totally can! You want to self insert yourself into their shenanigans? You can do that too! The characters and story are now completely public domain. I've lost interest in the series but if for some reason you actually like it enough to write your own take on it, you're more than welcome to! I'd love to read them, so feel free to link back and please remember to credit me/the story as the source!

Thestrals were defeated by the Princesses Luna and Celestia a thousand years ago, and are thought extinct. But what will happen when one moves to Ponyville? Disguised as an earth pony, Acrylic does her best to fit in. The burden of hiding her wings weighs heavily on her, and keeps her from becoming truly close to anypony. Can she keep the secret, or will she expose her entire race?

Chapter 1: Blending

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Chapter 1

“Here we go,” I muttered quietly to myself. The birds chirped around me, and a cool wind blew through the hills as I approached the quaint town. The only other noise was the loud thumping of my bulky cart as it rolled over the cobblestone road.

My silvery coat almost glistened, especially with water droplets still clinging to it from this morning’s fog. However, the humidity had done nothing for my already frizzy mane. In fact, I had to hold the top portion out of my eyes in an elongated bun. Still, the small white band wasn’t enough to contain the critical extra two inches, so a second tie was required. This one fell over the side of my neck, and draped down my shoulder. The rest of my wild mane cascaded down the same side, making the bundle hard to distinguish. My tail had grown so long that a similar style was required. I used a third white tie to loop it back in on itself to keep it from dragging on the ground. Still, there was so much excess that it continued to escape containment and drape back down to tickle my ankles.

In contrast to my fuzzy hair, I had otherwise sharp and distinct features. My nose was particularly curved and pointed, and I had ears to match. My deep sapphire eyes were crystal clear. I was long legged though not particularly taller than most ponies, but I maintained a slim frame. My cutie mark looked large against such petite features. It portrayed a simple paintbrush, tipped with an unusual tongue of white flame. It stood out in front of the dark purple paint puddle backdrop.

I wasn’t like most ponies. I didn’t belong to any of the four known types; I was not an earth pony or pegasus, unicorn or even an alicorn. I was a thestral. That meant I was a pony with dragon wings. For centuries, all the other pony types thought of us as evil creatures. It wasn’t my fault that my ancestors had attacked Equestria. While I didn’t take pride in what they had done, I knew why they did it. They were caught in the middle, never belonging to either dragon kind or pony kind. Ponies never full accepted them due to their fear of dragons, and dragons wouldn’t accept them because they were the ‘weak halflings.’ They wanted acceptance, so they went about taking it by force. Of course, Celestia and Luna responded in kind, banishing them to the farthest corners of the Everfree Forest. That’s where I was brought up.

Fortunately, I had the ability to disguise myself by hiding my wings. All thestrals can. Most just hated the other pony types so much they would not go anywhere near their towns. Back with the other thestrals, hate hung thick in the air like smoke. It was pointless. I, on the other hoof, wanted to move amongst these other ponies permanently. I would appear as a simple earth pony here in town. If I looked like one of them, I could build up a life for myself here. This was my chance to start over.

I’d packed up my few belongings and left. This small cart was inadequate for the large, awkward size of the canvases in the back, making it appear like I had more inside than I really did. A few jars of paint clanked at the bottom, and brushes rolled to and fro with each bump. I had found my talent in the arts. There was a small house on the outskirts of this town that I had my eye on. It was peaceful and quiet, but not too far for ponies to come out to. It was just large enough for me to live in while converting the front half into a shop. While I was a great artist, there wasn’t much demand for paintings, so I intended to start up an art supply store instead. Growing up in the Everfree, I’d had to make most of the paints myself. I had just enough bits saved up to purchase the house. It was a bit run down, but I’d soon fix that.

The name of this town was Ponyville. I’d chosen it mostly because it was so close to the Everfree, but I also liked the small size. When I spied on it from afar, I always appreciated the tightly knit community that resided here. They were very accepting, and more or less friendly. If I was going to join the other pony types, this was the place to do it.

I took a shaky breath as I entered town. I instantly put myself on the defensive, just waiting for one of the locals to cast me a funny look. Then I chided myself. I looked just like any of them. They had no reason to cast me any dirty glances. If they did, it was obviously because I was new. Even I had stopped to stare if I spotted somepony unfamiliar back at home. The town was just waking, but the streets were soon bustling with activity once again. I smiled back whenever I received a friendly nod or “Good morning.” My spirits soared as I headed to the address of the realtor selling the house I was interested in.

To my delight, he was friendly, and made the whole matter easy. After briefly negotiating the price, the deal was closed before I knew what was happening. I got the impression he just wanted the place off of his hooves. That suited me just fine. Now that I had secured a place to sleep tonight, I was free to explore my new hometown. I stopped at my new home just long enough to deposit my load. As much as I would have liked to settle in, I was itching to meet my new neighbors. Besides, my stomach was pleading for breakfast.

I trotted back into the plaza, taking in my new environment. I took care to note where a few of the important stores were before stopping at a bakery, Sugar Cube Corner. They had pastries I had never heard of, and some that were considered delicacies in the far reaches of the Everfree. I ordered a slice of cinnamon crumble cake and a glass of milk for breakfast. These were delivered rather promptly by the pony who introduced herself as Mrs. Cake, a slightly pudgy blue earth pony with a pink mane and tail. The way she kept her hair twirled reminded me of cupcake frosting. I learned that she co-owned the bakery with her husband, Mr. Cake. He was just the opposite from his wife, being a tall lanky stallion with a yellow coat, orange mane and tail and rigid, square features. I took a seat at the small table by the window, relishing each bite of sugary cake.

It wasn’t long before a bright pink pony bounced noisily into the bakery. Her cutie mark consisted of three balloons, blue and yellow. Her mane was a darker shade of pink than her coat, but it was incredibly frizzy, as was her tail. She seemed intent on making sure everypony was aware of her presence.

“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Cake!” she squealed. Her voice was high pitched, only adding to the effect. Mrs. Cake was just bringing out a fresh batch of scones.

“Good morning, Pinkie Pie. I’m afraid there isn’t much for you to do this morning; we just finished the first batch of brownies… but I do have a fresh muffin basket sitting on the counter in the back. Would you mind taking it to Ditzy Doo before it gets cold?”

“Sure thing, Mrs. Cake!” I assumed the mare must work here, because she bounced right on into the back. I couldn’t help but smile at her energy as she bounded past with her eyes closed. It wasn’t long before she returned with the basket in her mouth. However, she stopped dead in her tracks as she came back around, eyes locked on mine. The entire basket dropped from her mouth, leaving her jaw hanging agape. Fortunately, it landed right side up and no muffins were spilled. However, I was beginning to become uncomfortable under her wide-eyed stare. I felt my ears flatten involuntarily. Finally, she gasped like she was trying to fit an entire oxygen tank’s worth of air in her lungs. My eyes widened further, if that was possible, when she zoomed up to my side in half a second flat. I brought my hoof instinctively up to my face, which was probably the only thing keeping her from touching noses with me.

“Hi! You must be new here. I’m Pinkie Pie! What’s your name?”

“Uh… Acrylic,” I finally managed, putting my hoof down. She likewise backed off ever so slightly. The way this pony talked a mile a minute was throwing me off, as if her hyperactive personality wouldn’t do that.

“Acrylic, huh? You must be a painter pony! I like your cutie mark. I haven’t seen one like that before.” She was now intently staring at my flank, scrutinizing the flaming brush.

“Uh, thanks.”

“What does the fire mean?”

“Well… I like to think it symbolizes my burning hatred of blank pages,” I chuckled. I knew the fire on my paintbrush really represented white thestral fire, but she didn’t.

“Ha ha! That’s funny! So, Acrylic, what are you doing in Ponyville?”

“I just moved here, actually,” I truthfully answered, downing the last few drops of milk from the glass. Pinkie’s eyes grew large once more, and she sucked in another tankful of air.

“Gotta go!” she exclaimed, zooming back out the door. She returned just as quickly to retrieve the forgotten basket, but was gone in a flash. I took a moment to recover from the sudden meeting before good-naturedly shaking it off.

After breakfast, I took my few meager coins to Sofas and Quills in search of reasonably priced furniture for my new residence. I was just about to make a selection when an orange mare trotted into the store alongside a buff red stallion and a small yellow filly. The stallion seemed to know exactly where he was going, and headed straight for the back where the storekeeper had disappeared. The filly chased after him, and the mare waited out in the lobby. I was the only other pony in the shop, and spotting me, she trotted over.

“Nice day, ain’t it?” She had a strong southern accent, which was reinforced by the worn Stetson sitting atop her blond mane. It was loosely tied at the end with a red band, as was her tail, and raggedy bangs hung over crisp green eyes. Freckles gave her a cute but kind appearance. Three red apples formed her cutie mark. At first glance, she appeared to have a rather average build. The longer I looked at her, though, the more I got the impression that serious power rippled through her muscles.

“Very nice,” I agreed with a nod.

“My name’s Applejack. Say, I haven’t seen you ‘round here before.”

“I just moved here. I’m Acrylic,” I affirmed, offering a hoof.

“Ya don’t say! What brings you to Ponyville, Acrylic?”

“I just liked the area,” I shrugged.

“Well, you’re just in time for the Summer Sun Celebration. Can you believe it’s just two weeks away? Princess Celestia is comin’ here this year, ya know.”

“Is she?” My eyes widened at the fact. I genuinely hadn’t known, but why would I? Thestrals had no reason to keep track of such things.

“Sure is. Us Apples are in charge of the food this year. Everypony’s so eager to lend a hoof for this here celebration that I’m gonna have the whole Apple family packed into my place! It’s tight quarters as it is, and I need an extra couch for ‘em to sleep on.”

“Well, tell me if you need an extra hoof,” I offered.

“I think we’re covered, but thanks for the offer, sugar cube. If you really wanna help, you can check in with the mayor. I’m sure she’ll have some use for an artsy pony like yourself.”

“I’ll be sure to do that,” I nodded. “I don’t suppose you could show me where that is?”

“Sure thing.” I was led to the doorway, where she stopped and provided directions. “If you just take a right there, you’ll find the marketplace. Turn left after you see the asparagus stall. It looks like a back alley, but that’ll eventually join up with the main plaza. Town Hall’s right at the center of Ponyville, so just follow the shops ‘till you find it.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“It sure was nice meetin’ ya, Acrylic. We Apples love makin’ new friends. I’ll have to introduce ya to the rest of the family sometime.”

“I’d like that.”

“Well, if ya ever need us, we’re down at Sweet Apple Acres. You can as anypony for directions, if ya need.”

“Thanks again, Applejack.” With that, I abandoned the sofa for another day and headed off in the direction she indicated while the directions were still fresh in my mind.

The mayor, Ivory Scroll, was nice enough, but instantly warmed up to the newcomer upon learning that I wanted to help out with the Summer Sun Celebration. She didn’t know exactly what I was capable of, other than the fact that I was crafty, but that was enough for her. I was assigned to give somepony called Rarity a hoof with the decorations.

I found the white unicorn and her boutique at the far end of town. In fact, it wasn’t far from my new place, just down the road a bit. She was a real fashionista, and wore her purple mane in curls that announced it to the whole world. She had the cutie mark of sparkling blue gems painted on her flank. She currently wore fashionable purple reading glasses. I found her busily sorting garments at the back.

“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” she cheerily announced upon hearing hoofsteps echo through her shop. Though she wasn’t looking my way, I nodded and waited for her to finish. “Oh, that won’t do… just add glitter, perhaps? No, gems! Gems always do the trick. Now then, how can I help you?”

“You’re Rarity?” I clarified, just to be safe.

“Yes I am. Oh, but I don’t know you. Are you new here, darling?”

“Yes, in fact. I just moved in this morning. My name is Acrylic.”

“Is that so? Well, Ponyville can always welcome another friendly face, for sure. Where are you from?”

“Way, way out in the country,” I stuttered, caught off guard. “The place doesn’t even have a name.”

“Well, it must be nice to finally get back to civilization!” she exclaimed, trying to sound polite but failing to muffle the somewhat horrified expression plastered on her face.

“I like it so far,” I jokingly agreed.

“Now, then. Can I help you find something?”

“Actually, I just came from speaking with the mayor. I wanted to help set up the Summer Sun Celebration with everypony else, and I was assigned to help you with the decorations.”

“Is that so? Well, I must admit, I’ve been procrastinating a bit. I had an idea for a new line of dresses that simply couldn’t wait. I would appreciate the help. In fact, I was just getting set up. Would you care to join me in the back?”

“Of course.” I respectfully nodded and started off in the direction she indicated. I was halfway there when she suddenly screamed.

“WAIT!” I froze, caught mid-step with two of my legs still in the air. I eyed her nervously, wondering if I’d done something wrong. She looked almost comical, about ready to pounce with her glasses slowly sliding off of her nose. She suddenly jumped up and rushed over to me. “That hat… it’s perfect!”

“What hat?” I was answered when a dark purple plaid beret from the mannequin behind me was suddenly levitated over my head and deposited between my curled ears. From her vantage point, I must have been lined up with the mannequin just so it looked like it was already on my head.

“Oh, darling, you look absolutely stunning in it!” I figured it must be her sales pitch until I was practically thrown at one of the many vanity mirrors around the room. Even I had to admit, it looked really cute! “It accents your cutie mark just perfectly!” she went on, admiring me from afar. “You must take it!”

“It does look good,” I giggled.

“I should say ‘good’ is an understatement!”

“How much do you want for it?”

“What? No, no, no. It fits you so well, consider it yours.”

“Oh, I couldn’t, Rarity.”

“Nonsense! Consider it my welcoming gift to you.”

“Well, thank you, then. That’s very generous.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, come along. The banners won’t decorate themselves.”

Rarity enjoyed the kind of harmless gossip I had grown up without. I enjoyed the chit chat, but kept my guard up. She seemed intent on prying information about my past from me. I often had to reply with, “I don’t seem to be able to recall that,” or, “That wasn’t one of my best memories.” I had to make up a lot of the information to keep her from thinking I had a miserable past. I hated lying, but I couldn’t have her knowing I was a thestral either.

I quickly picked up on Rarity’s sophisticated mannerisms, and found myself mimicking such a style after only knowing her a few hours. She came to appreciate my style of artwork, even if it wasn’t her forte. While she was called to the front several times by customers, she made it a point to introduce me to every one of them. She lingered a little longer with those whom I presumed were her closest friends. They included two pegasi, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. I got the idea she was close to Pinkie Pie and Applejack as well, but the cowgirl didn’t come to the boutique that day. On the other hoof, when the pink mare came bouncing into the shop, she froze upon eyeing me. Avoiding me like the plague, she called Rarity over to talk privately. Though even Rarity looked slightly offended after I was denied admittance, she came back smiling, and I tried to dismiss it.

Rarity called it a day at around three o’ clock. She offered to walk me home, but I tried my best to refuse. Rarity was a sophisticated mare, and the shack I now called home was in no state to be seen by her critical eye just yet. She was relentless, however, and insisted. Before I knew it, she was leaving without me. I hoped that the brim of my new hat could be pulled down far enough to hide my face when she set eyes on the place. That method worked only too well. Hidden under the beret, I now had a very limited line of sight and had to follow the shuffling of her hoofsteps to guide me. I could only see the ground immediately ahead. I was surprised when she made no comment whatsoever about the state of my living space. She didn’t even seem surprised. Thrilled by this fact, I fumbled with the key, and failed to notice when she didn’t leave. I also didn’t instantly notice the many faces packed into my living room. That’s why I nearly had a heart attack when the light was switched on and they all jumped out.

“SURPRISE!” Pinkie jumped out of nowhere blowing loudly on a noise maker.

“Hi again! Remember me?”

“Of course, Pinkie Pie,” I quickly recovered, still too stunned to show any emotion on my face. The whole town must have been packed in here!

“So, were you surprised? Were you? Were you?” I wasn’t given time to respond. “See, when we were talking at Sugar Cube Corner, you said you’d just moved here. I realized that you must not have many friends if you just got here, and that made me really, really sad! So I decided to throw you this super-duper party and invite everypony in Ponyville! See? Now you have lots and lots of friends!”

“Pinkie… I don’t know what to say!” I finally stuttered, a smile blooming on my face.

“Aw, you don’t have to say anything. NOW WHO WANTS TO PLAY PIN THE TAIL ON THE PONY?!” she excitedly screamed out to the crowd. A few ponies clopped off to join her, but most just stayed put and continued socializing.

“It’s a quaint little place,” Rarity noted, rejoining me and looking around. It looked much better with so many ponies packed inside to hide part of the clutter. “It’s about time somepony bought it. I’ve watched this place rot in neglect for years. It needs a bit of cleaning up, of course, but I’m sure you could tidy this place up to look absolutely dazzling!”

“I’ve got plans,” I promised, prying a paper cup loose from the top of the stack and filling it with a purple punch.

“There she is- mare of the hour.” I instantly recognized the thick accent, and turned around to see Applejack pushing through the crowd with her little sister scuttling along at her hooves.

“Applejack, you made it!” Rarity greeted. “I was worried all of that apple bucking you needed to catch up on would keep you at home.”

“I wouldn’t miss one of Pinkie’s parties for all the apples in the world!” she declared. “And besides, I never got to introduce ya to my little sister Apple Bloom.” The young yellow filly looked up at me, the pink bow in her red mane doing nothing to keep the strands out of her eyes. She tossed the bangs aside before looking up at me with big, golden eyes.

“Hiya! My sis told me you’re a painter pony. Is that true?”

“It sure is,” I affirmed with a wide smile. I wasn’t sure what it was about them, but I felt myself more at ease around young fillies and colts than with mares or stallions my own age. Apple Bloom looked around suspiciously, and finding the area clear of eavesdroppers, beckoned me close. I let loose an amused look before bending over to accommodate her.

“Do ya think you could paint me a cutie mark for the Summer Sun Celebration in two weeks?”

“No, she can’t,” Applejack whispered, having bent over to join us.

“But big sis,” she whined.

“Now, Apple Bloom, we talked ‘bout this. Your cutie mark will appear when and only when you’re ready for it.”

“I’m tired of waiting,” she pouted, crossing her fore hooves.

“But it won’t be you. Ya know how I feel about lying to other ponies. Besides, what’ll your classmates think when your cutie mark washes off?”

“Well…” Apple Bloom rubbed the back of her head. She hadn’t thought about that.

“Your sister’s right, Apple Bloom,” I smiled. “I was a blank flank for a long time, too. It’s nothing to be so ashamed of you feel you need to hide it.”

“Oh, okay,” she finally relented.

“Now why don’t you go over there and join Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon?” Applejack suggested.

“Uh, no thanks,” she vigorously shook her head.

“Oh, don’t be silly. Go on, now!” I saw how anxious she was about approaching the other fillies, even if Applejack didn’t. I cut in just as Applejack began shoving her in their direction.

“Actually, if you really don’t want to go join them, maybe you could introduce me to some other ponies?” I hastily offered an escape route. Her eyes practically shone with glee at my rescue, and she jumped out of her sister’s reach.

“Sure thing, Acrylic! Let’s go say hi to Ditzy!” I found myself being dragged around my new and unfamiliar house to meet lots of new and unfamiliar ponies.

Pinkie’s party lasted for the greater part of the evening. I greatly enjoyed the games and other events that had been planned. Applejack’s sister got us through introductions to everypony rather quickly. While Apple Bloom stopped briefly to introduce me to Diamond Tiara and her friend Silver Spoon, I was under the impression they didn’t get along too well because of how short our visit was. She was a little more at ease under the protection of an adult, but I was still only given seconds to say hello. Of course, I didn’t have long with anypony at the speed she was moving us, so the games served as a way for me to more thoroughly socialize.

Everypony was finally heading home at about nine for those with young ones, but some of the older ponies stayed until ten. Rarity had to leave with her little sister Sweetie Belle early, as did Applejack, but the pegasus Rainbow Dash was ‘too cool for bedtime.’ Fluttershy kindly offered to stay up with her, though she barely said a word the whole time. I finally made a comment about her cutie mark, and then it was hard to get her to be quiet. She kept going on and on about her animals. I listened intently and nodded now and then, but I knew next to nothing on the subject. This rambling earned a few snide comments from Rainbow Dash, but we all knew it was in good fun. Before we knew it, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and I were the only ponies left. It was quite late, but they all offered to stay and help clean up after the party. It was midnight when we finished. I don’t know when they left. I must have fallen asleep on the armchair. It was the best first day I could have ever hoped for.

Chapter 2: Nightmare Moon

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Chapter 2
Nightmare Moon

I quickly fell into the regular routine of eating breakfast at Sugar Cube Corner before heading back to the Carousel Boutique to help with the decorations. Some days were longer than others, and sometimes we didn’t work on the Summer Sun Celebration decorations at all. Sometimes I helped her with a new line of dresses. I wasn’t much of a fashionista, but I toiled over the detailing until it was perfect. On these occasions, she paid me with a small gem despite my protests. I earned generous wages in such a manner, even though I was only supposed to be volunteering.

The money I earned was readily put to use in refurnishing my house. My evenings were spent fixing the place up. On a few occasions, Rainbow Dash even offered to come over and help. I was forced to accept her assistance in replacing the many missing shingles on the roof; even my ladder wouldn’t reach high enough. She also painted the highest points I couldn’t get to. Once the white basecoat was down, though, I rejected any offered assistance in working on the exterior designs. That was the fun part! It took me the entire weekend and then some, but I finally got the front outer wall finished. Then and only then did I bring Rainbow Dash back to help coat it in fixative to protect the paint from the elements.

The image it displayed the stunning colors of both dawn and dusk, with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna positioned at either end like in the old days. Between them lay the beautiful landscape of Equestria, with every type of pony I could think of positioned somewhere in between. The traditional earth pony, unicorn and pegasus were stationed dead center, standing dutifully in the middle of it all. Off in a river I added a hippocampus, or merpony, if you will, and a hippogryph out at the borders of gryphon territory. You could barely notice the mythical aponi amongst the flowery meadow. They were tiny ponies with butterfly wings only thought to exist in legends. Disguised back in the far reaches of the Everfree I even camouflaged a thestral, though I doubted anypony would notice. It was a risky move, but I couldn’t resist. Everypony marveled at the work, and my five new closest friends in particular offered praise that made me feel like I was flying.

Speaking of flying, I was developing a problem. My disguise kept trying to give out on me. Suddenly, I would get the sudden urge to grow my wings back out. It wasn’t voluntary, but occasionally, they just sprouted. I called it a wing spring. Whenever I got the sensation, I had to excuse myself and run to find a private spot to hide out until it had run its course. It typically occurred once or twice a day, and once at night while I was asleep. This made life particularly difficult for me. On top of that, I was feeling the effects of staying on the ground for so long. I missed the sky, and longed to jump back up to soar among the clouds. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. Maybe a quick night flight wouldn’t hurt every now and then.

Before I knew it, the Summer Sun Celebration was upon us. Rarity had postponed one too many decorating days, and we had to pull long hours the day before to move the banners from her boutique to the rest of Ponyville. Still, it was getting done, and we’d be on time. There hadn’t been much talking going on today, which was unusual for Rarity. She was too focused.

“No, no, no, goodness, no!” she said again and again. I heard hoofsteps, and noted that she had a new visitor. For once, she was paying her customers no mind as she sorted through the adornments for the banners.

“Good afternoon,” the purple unicorn began. She had a darker purple mane and tail, streaked with pink and both were currently frazzled as though she had just lived through a tornado. Her cutie mark displayed a pink six-pointed star surrounded by smaller pricks of light. Her purple eyes were kind but businesslike as she spoke. She was accompanied by a baby purple bipedal dragon with green spines.

“Oh, Acrylic, could you get that, please! I'm 'in the zone', as it were.”

“Sure thing, Rarity. How can I help you?” I turned my attention to her customer, doing my best not to stare at her wind-matted mane.

“I was actually hoping to speak with Rarity about the decorations,” she said.

“I see. She’ll be with you in a moment.” I set myself to work with another banner in an attempt to keep from staring.

“Oh, yes! Sparkle always does the trick, does it not? Why, Rarity, you are a talent. Now, um, how can I help y- OH!” She squealed upon looking her visitor over. “Oh my stars, darling! Whatever happened to your coiffure?!”

“Oh, you mean my mane? It’s a long story, but I’m just here to check on the decorations, and then I’ll be out of your hair.”

“My hair? But what about your hair?” Rarity instantly abandoned her work and dragged the newcomer out the door.

“Wait, where are we going? Help!” The young dragon followed them in a rather dazed state. I also put down my ribbons and joined them to see what I could catch of the conversation.

As it turned out, Rarity had brought the unicorn out to the boutique. Along the way, I’d managed to introduce myself, and learn that her name was Twilight Sparkle. Rarity’s usual chit chatter hadn’t allowed me to say much else, however. I was instantly put to work by Rarity to go fetch different clothing items for Twilight, as I had come to know the shop quite well. While I had procured everything she told me to, none of the outfits were accepted. Luckily, Rarity’s makeover had included hairstyling, and Twilight’s windblown mane returned to normal. It was kept straight, and cropped so perfectly that it looked recently cut, though by the split ends I could tell she needed one soon.

“No, no, uh-uh. Too green. Too yellow. Too poofy. Not poofy enough. Too frilly. Too... shiny. Now go on, my dear. You were telling me where you're from.” Rarity was putting poor Twilight through all of the costumes in an attempt to find her one that would suit her. I assumed she wanted to welcome Twilight with some accessory as she had me. Now she tried tightening a corset that barely allowed Twilight to breathe.

“I've… been sent… from Canterlot... to…”

“Huh? Canterlot? Oh, I am so envious! The glamor, the sophistication! I have always dreamed of living there! I can't wait to hear all about it! We are gonna be the best of friends, you and I. Well, you me and Acrylic of course.” Rarity had come to think of us as best friends, even closer than our group of six. She had scooted closer to Twilight, but then made the mistake of looking down on her work. “Emeralds?! What was I thinking? Let me get you some rubies!” Rarity dashed off in search of the desired outfit.

“You’ll have to forgive her. She likes dressing up models when she’s stressed. I’ll go make sure she doesn’t pick something too…extravagant.” I trotted off to find Rarity among the sea of clothes. I’d seen a dress I personally thought would look great on Twilight, so I took it off the rack and tried to talk Rarity out of the excessive ball gown dappled in the red gems. By the time we got back, we found her to have disappeared anyway.

“Oh, dear,” Rarity fretted. “Do you think it was something I said?”

“No, no,” I assured her. “She did say that she was sent to check up on the preparations for the entire Summer Sun Celebration. She’s probably busy, and needed to get back to it.”

“Yes, you’re quite right, Acrylic. Well, we’d better get back to Town Hall.”

“I think we’ve about finished there. If you do the last finishing touches, I’ll gather the remaining supplies and meet you back at the plaza.”

“Alright. We should start at Sugar Cube Corner and work down the street. All the shopkeepers want their stores to look fabulous for the Princess’s arrival.”

“HEY GUYS!” Pinkie Pie burst through the door, seeming to hover in the air as she screamed for us.

“What is it, Pinkie Pie? We’re quite busy.”

“There’s a new pony in town! We’ve got to plan a welcome party for her!”

“You mean Twilight Sparkle? Yes, we’ve just met her. A charming pony, and from Canterlot, no less!”

“Ooh, a city pony! Anyway, I’m planning a welcome party for her, but I don’t know where she’s staying.” Pinkie Pie pouted, drawing circles on the ground with her hoof.

“She’s staying at the Golden Oaks Library,” I offered, recalling the bit of information Rarity pried from her during our conversation. I wondered if that was how Pinkie found out where I was living.

“THANKS! Pinkie bounded back out the door, but returned momentarily. “Oh, and you’re both invited for a surprise party there at three o’ clock sharp. Don’t be late!”

“You think we’ll be finished by then?” I asked.

“Well, we can certainly try. Come on, then. We don’t want to be late for Twilight’s party.” Indeed, I didn’t. The ponies had been so kind to me at the time of my party that I wanted to be sure and return the favor.

The street decorations didn’t take so long because of how spread out it all was. After we dashed back to the boutique to put things away (and by put away I mean pile in a corner for later), we headed straight for the Golden Oaks Library. Rarity had to lead the way because I didn’t know where it was. According to her, it hadn’t been open for years. We were the last ones in, and accidentally triggered a false alarm. Everypony jumped out and confetti spewed everywhere. When the lights came on, though, there was a painfully loud “Aww,” throughout the audience. Pinkie Pie was perhaps the most disappointed by our appearance instead of Twilight. I flattened my ears.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Pinkie bounced right back up. “Okay, everypony! R-r-r-r-reset!” She rolled her R’s dramatically, as if she were directing a show. She even had the loudspeaker for it. I took part in sweeping up the confetti and stuffing it back into the cannons. The lights were turned back off, and everypony huddled in the shadows. I’d taken a spot between Rainbow Dash and Rarity, and though we were supposed to be quiet, the white unicorn kept whispering the whole time we waited. It wasn’t until the door opened that she shut up. This time, we waited to make sure we had the right pony before jumping back out.

“Huh. Rude much?” I heard Spike the dragon mutter. Their voices were muffled, as I was all the way at the back.

“Sorry, Spike, but I have to convince the Princess that Nightmare Moon is coming, and we're running out of time! I just need to be alone so I can study without a bunch of crazy ponies trying to make friends all the time. Now, where's the light?” Perfectly on cue, Applejack hit the switch and we all jumped up.

“SURPRISE!” As per the norm, Pinkie was the first to greet the party guest.

“Surprise! Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie, and I threw this party just for you! Were you surprised? Were ya? Were ya? Huh? Huh? Huh?”

“Very surprised. Libraries are supposed to be quiet.”

“Well, that's silly! What kind of welcome party would this be if it were quiet? I mean, duh, bo-ring! You see, I saw you when you first got here, remember? You were all ‘Hello’ and I was all,” she inflated her lungs to their fullest extent, “remember? Ya see I never saw you before and if I've never saw you before that means you're new, 'cause I know everypony, and I mean everypony in Ponyville!” Twilight only let out a barely audible groan. My guess was that Pinkie’s mile-a-minute speech was getting to her. “And if you're new, that meant you haven't met anypony yet, and if you haven't met anypony yet, you must not have any friends, and if you don't have any friends then you must be lonely, and that made me so sad, then I had an idea, and that's why I went,” she sucked in another of her famous deep gasps. “I must throw a great big ginormous super-duper spectacular welcome party and invite everypony in Ponyville! See? And now you have lots and lots of friends!” Our little clique had gathered behind her, and Pinkie bounded over. Twilight had just finished pouring herself a drink, and took a big sip. When she turned around, her face was becoming flush and her eyes watered.

“Are you all right, sugar cube?” Applejack asked. Without answering, Twilight took off, storming up the stairs.

“Aww, she’s so happy she’s crying!” Pinkie Pie beamed. Spike picked up the jar Twilight had taken a drink from.

“Hot sauce?” he read. “Ooh.” Pinkie Pie tipped the bottle over to dump the stuff until it completely coated a cupcake. She then proceeded to stuff the whole thing in her mouth.

“What? It’s good!” We all rolled our eyes at her.

I waited for Twilight to come back down for a good ten minutes before giving up and returning to the games. I hadn’t really gotten a chance to actually socialize with her. Rarity had kind of taken over the whole operation. Her dragon Spike, on the other hand, I found to be extremely fun, and he took part in all the activities Pinkie Pie had planned. There was no shortage of those, because we were staying up all night in order to be ready for the Celebration early in the morning. Pinkie Pie had saved her favorite for last: pin the tail on the pony.

“I wonder where that Twilight’s gotten off to,” Applejack wondered as the blindfold was tied around her eyes.

“Yeah. She’s missing out on all the fun!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“I’ll go see if she wants to play,” Spike dutifully offered, marching off. He looked rather comical with an excessively oversized hat he’d won as a prize seated over his head. He kept bumping into ponies’ legs along the way with the cover over his eyes.

Spike returned just as we were all filing out the door.

“Twilight didn’t want to play. Hey! Where’s everypony going?” he asked disappointedly.

“It’s time for the Summer Sun Celebration. We’re going to Town Hall to watch the Princess raise the sun!” I gleefully offered. Rarity had me worked up over the event. This was my first Summer Sun Celebration. I wanted it to be the best ever!

“Oh, okay! I’ll get Twilight!” he dashed off faster than the first time; partly because his hat flew off in his haste. Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and I all waited for the new girl by the door, and we headed out together.

We found a good spot in the center of the crowd, where it wasn’t quite so packed. Rarity was not with us on the floor; as head of decorations, she had the honor of lifting the curtain for none other than the Princess herself. Fluttershy had gone to conduct her birds for the opening ceremony, but even Rainbow Dash took to the air to conserve floor space. Pinkie didn’t seem at all concerned about saving space, and earned herself a wide bubble of open floor by her erratic bouncing.

“Isn't this exciting? Are you excited, 'cause I'm excited, I've never been so excited-- well, except for the time that I saw you walking into town and I went,” she swallowed about as much air as I had seen her do yet. “But I mean really, who can top that?” I giggled out of excitement, though Twilight groaned. I tried to ignore her. I wasn’t going to let her negativity spoil my first celebration. Fluttershy started her birds, and the spotlight shifted to the center of the stage. All went quiet as we waited for the ceremony to begin.

“Fillies and gentlecolts,” Ivory Scroll began, “as mayor of Ponyville, it is my great pleasure to announce the beginning of the Summer Sun Celebration!” I stomped my hooves as loudly as I could along with every other pony in the Town Hall. “In just a few moments, our town will witness the magic of the sunrise, and celebrate this, the longest day of the year! And now, it is my great honor to introduce to you the ruler of our land, the very pony who gives us the sun and the moon each and every day, the good, the wise, the bringer of harmony to all of Equestria...” Fluttershy prepared her birds and Rarity yanked on the curtain. As the spotlight moved to the balcony platform, though, nothing but empty space was brought to light. I nickered in confusion. Everypony else was letting out frightened murmurs and gasps. The mayor was worried, so I was worried.

“This can’t be good.” Twilight flattened her ears and sank to the floor.

“Please remain calm, everypony,” Ivory Scroll attempted to soothe. “There must be a reasonable explanation.”

“Ooh, ooh! I love guessing games! Is she hiding?” Pinkie bounced.

“She’s gone!” Rarity reported, returning to the balcony from checking the back.

“Ooh, she’s good,” Pinkie declared, brows furrowed in a determined, mischievous manner. Her expression changed to one of fright as her baby blue eyes returned to the balcony. She led us in squealing in terror as the swirling, writhing mass of a blue shadowy entity began to form. From it soon burst a dark black alicorn with slightly bat-shaped wings. Purple eye shadow lined her turquoise dragon-like eyes. She wore menacing, cold blue armor that left no space for her mane and tail, though that did nothing to dissuade the blue masses from sticking to her. The blue entities were formless, but gave the impression of constantly blowing hair. Her cutie mark was that of the crescent moon behind a swatch of night sky that looked suspiciously like my purple blob of paint. Even more conspicuous was how closely the mark as a whole resembled that of Princess Luna’s of old. I tried desperately to remember the old pony tales my parents told me, but failed to recall anything helpful.

“Oh no! Nightmare Moon,” Twilight gasped. Spike promptly fainted and toppled off of her back.

“Oh, my beloved subjects,” the alicorn, hissed in an attempted sickeningly sweet voice. “It's been so long since I've seen your precious, little sun-loving faces.”

“What did you do with our princess?” Rainbow Dash instantly accused.

“Whoa, there, Nelly,” Applejack got a grip on her tail before the pegasus charged off to do something she’d regret. The alicorn only chuckled with dry amusement.

“Why? Am I not royal enough for you? Don’t you know who I am?”

“Ooh! Ooh! More guessing games!” Pinkie elatedly cried. “Um, Hokey Smokes! How about... Queen Meanie! No! Black Snooty, Black Snooty!” Applejack promptly shoved an apple in her mouth in a successful attempt to get her to be quiet. The alicorn shoved her face almost up against Fluttershy’s, scaring off the birds and making the young pegasus wish she could turn invisible.

“Does my crown no longer count now that I have been imprisoned for a thousand years?” She switched over to Rarity; coddling her chin with the incredibly malleable mass of energy she called a mane. “Did you not recall the legend? Did you not see the signs?”

“I did.” Twilight stepped up, and all eyes turned to her. “And I know who you are. You're the Mare in the Moon- Nightmare Moon!” We all gasped. I’d heard her say that, but I thought it was just some kind of Canterlot outburst. I didn’t think she really meant it was Nightmare Moon in front of us! Even I knew she was bad news.

“Well, well, well, somepony who remembers me. Then you also know why I'm here.”

“You’re here to… to…” She couldn’t seem to be able to bring herself to finish the sentence. She let out a loud gulp instead. Nightmare Moon only laughed.

“Remember this day, little ponies, for it was your last. From this moment forth, the night will last forever!” Maniacal laughter then ensued, and thunder crashed from above. Lightning ripped across the sky for emphasis as a swirling vortex of wind surrounded Nightmare Moon and made her look more terrifying than ever. I shrank back, shuddering in the alicorn’s commanding presence.

Chapter 3: The Everfree Forest

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Chapter 3

The Everfree Forest

“Seize her!” the mayor commanded. “Only she knows where the princess is!” Three of the royal guards present for the event obeyed, all of whom had wings. They charged through the air at our new queen. She didn’t like that idea much.

“Stand back, you foals!” Nightmare Moon tossed them back like crumpled pieces of paper with a mere wave of her mane, bringing lightning down to do the work for her. After another round of haughty laughter, she imploded on herself, transforming entirely into a swirling ball of mane energy. That done, she slithered out the door, causing everypony to scatter in her wake. I was included in that number, ducking behind a table in terror.

What happened to me now? Thestrals wouldn’t be very affected by the everlasting night; we were nocturnal anyway. We had adapted to the night life. Should I go back home? Then I realized how foolish I was; even thestrals would be impacted by this dramatic change, perhaps even more so than the rest of Equestria. We didn’t farm in the Everfree, we merely lived off of roots and whatever else we could gather. Without sunlight, nothing edible would grow even in the tough and hardy forest. And besides, that was no longer my home. I lived here now. I wasn’t going to abandon my new friends just because times got a little tough. I’d chosen my side, and I was sticking to it. That left only one option: we had to stop Nightmare Moon.

I straightened back up, conquering my fear in coming out from behind the table. Not many ponies were left in Town Hall. Rainbow Dash had been one of the first to leave in an attempt to chase down the queen. Twilight was right on her heels, though she had another destination in mind. I charged out to catch up with Applejack, who was following the purple unicorn. Rarity didn’t often risk sweating, but even she put such thinking to the side in this time of need and joined us. Pinkie Pie joined in the fun by bouncing along behind us, somehow still keeping up.

Applejack led those of us on the ground into the library, though Rainbow Dash had already zoomed in. Twilight had not yet noticed our presence. She was scrutinizing the shelves instead.

“Elements, elements, elements... Ugh! How can I stop Nightmare Moon without the Elements of Harmony?” she muttered.

“And just what are the Elements of Harmony?” Rainbow Dash demanded in a somewhat accusing voice. She had locked noses with Twilight, forcing her back. “And how did you know about Nightmare Moon, huh? Are you a spy? Whoa!” AJ yanked her from the air to calm her down.

“Simmer down, Sally,” she ordered. “She ain’t no spy. But she sure knows what’s goin’ on, don’t ya, Twilight?”

“I read all about the prediction of Nightmare Moon. Some mysterious objects called the Elements of Harmony are the only things that can stop her, but I don't know what they are, where to find them; I don't even know what they do!”

“The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide,” Pinkie distractedly read.

“How did you find that?!” Twilight exclaimed, pushing her way over.

“It was under ‘E!’” Pinkie happily bounced.

“Oh, right,” Twilight blushed. She proceeded to levitate the book and read a passage from it. “There are six Elements of Harmony, but only five are known: Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Honesty and Loyalty. The sixth is a complete mystery. It is said, the last known location of the five elements was in the ancient castle of the royal pony sisters. It is located in what is now…” she gasped in the place of the actual location.

“What is now…?” I prompted.

“The Everfree Forest!” she stammered. We all gasped, but while everypony else’s was out of fright, mine was in surprise. My eyes widened. That was my homeland!

Twilight nervously headed out, the rest of us trailing after her. My mind was working through this whole mess so quickly I didn’t notice we’d arrived until I bumped into AJ. The dark shadows of the Everfree forest was looming over us.

“The Everfree Forest!” we all said in unison.

“Whee! Let’s go!” Pinkie exclaimed, starting off for the dark woods.

“Not so fast.” Pinkie stopped dead in her tracks. “Look, I appreciate the offer, but I'd really rather do this on my own.”

“No can do, sugar cube. We sure ain't lettin' any friend of ours go into that creepy place alone. We're stickin' to you like caramel on a candy apple.

“Nun-uh,” we all agreed, trotting in without her. Pinkie was the only one that remained.

“Especially if there’s candy apples in there!” I heard her add. “What? Those things are good!” Pinkie then trotted up to join us, and Twilight reluctantly followed with a heavy sigh.

“So… none of you have ever been in here before?” Twilight nervously asked. I felt my heart skip a beat. Should I lie, or give a half-truth? I let the others answer while I considered my options.

“Ugh, Heavens no! Just look at it- it's dreadful.” Rarity declared.

“And it ain't natural. Folks say it don't work the same as Equestria.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nopony knows,” Rainbow Dash said in a ghostly voice in an attempt to scare our company. I rolled my eyes, mostly because I was familiar with the woods and didn’t find it frightening at all. “You know why?”

“Rainbow, quit it!” Applejack demanded as she started to creep along the forest floor.

“Because every pony who's ever come in has never come out!”

“I did,” I sarcastically interjected, mostly to spite her.

“WHAT?!” everypony else exclaimed. I flattened my ears. Whoops.

“WHOA!” we all screamed. The ledge we had just been standing on gave out, sending everypony but our two pegasi companions sprawling down the steep slope. Rarity was lucky, and managed to stay upright as she attempted to slide to a stop. I was hopelessly bouncing down, getting more bruised and battered with every bump in the surface. Rainbow Dash grabbed Pinkie while Fluttershy slowed Rarity down by yanking on her tail. I really needed my wings, but I couldn’t let them see. Come out bruised and possibly broken or come out safe but friendless? I opted for broken. They couldn’t know what I really was!

I had finally gotten a grip on the whole sliding issue, though I was now sliding backwards. I dug my hooves in, failing to get some traction. I saw Applejack hanging on a root as I slid down, finally slowing. Twilight hadn’t been so lucky, and was now dangling off the side of the cliff. I was heading her way, and only just managed to avoid her as I toppled off the side.

“Acrylic!” she screamed upon learning that my predicament was worse than hers. This was it. I had to show my dragon side or die. I began to angle myself, but narrowed my eyes instead. Maybe not. I angled myself so that I was now diving headfirst for the rock face. Once I was parallel with it, I stretched out my hooves until I was running down the vertical slope.

I focused on the task at hoof, eyes narrowed, pouring all of my energy into it. I had to, if I wanted to stay alive. It was nearly time. The treetops were getting close. I heard my friends yelling for me. Even Rainbow Dash wasn’t fast enough to catch me now. I closed my eyes. This was it. In a literal leap of faith, I jumped off the rock face, landing on a tree branch. As I’d hoped, it bent like rubber under my weight, and sent me shooting back off into the sky upon rebound. I had enough time disguised in the trees to briefly use my wings to angle myself the right way, but barely had time to retract them before shooting out of the thick canopies. I clutched at my beloved hat which I hadn’t taken off since Rarity gave it to me, only to find that it had already been blown off. Ugh. Figures. Distracted by this discovery, I barely had time to remember to hold my breath as I landed in the pond below.

I pushed off the bottom and scrambled for the surface, hooves flailing. I finally surfaced soaked to the bone and shivering with cold, but alive. I dragged myself into the grass and shook off as much water as I could. I let my friends come running over to meet me, panting with the exertion. That could have been so much easier with wings. Still, I had to smile; the extra effort paid off in the concerned faces still crowding around me.

“Are you alright?”

“Oh, you poor thing!”

“That looked fun!”

“Should I get you anything?” Fluttershy quietly offered.

“What are you going to get her? We’re out in the middle of the Everfree Forest!”

“Acrylic! I’m sooo sorry! Fluttershy wasn’t strong enough to handle Twilight by herself, and I wasn’t fast enough to get you both...” Rainbow Dash bit her lip in guilt.

“It’s okay,” I assured. “I’m fine.”

“Really?” Rainbow criticized every inch of my body, double checking to make sure there wasn’t a scratch on me. Realizing I spoke truth, she backed off. “Oh, yeah, of course. Hey, wait a minute. That. Was. AWESOME!” she burst, doing excited loop-the-loops in the air. “Did you guys even see that? I didn’t know you were such an athlete!”

“That was not awesome, that was CRAZY!”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“Alright you guys, cut it out. Acrylic’s right. Everypony’s safe, and that’s all that matters right now.”

“Can you walk?”

“Of course I can walk.” I stood up from my warm ball to demonstrate, but regretted it as soon as the bitter cold bit into my legs.

“Alright, then. We’ve got to keep moving. I saw the castle from up above. It’s this way.”

“Oh, by the way,” Rainbow went on, hovering above me as we moved on, “I thought you might like to have this back.” She displayed Rarity’s beret from behind her. I almost jumped for joy.

“My hat! Thanks, Rainbow!” I eagerly snatched it out of her hoof and returned it to the top of my head like a treasure being displayed on a pedestal.

“That was truly awesome! You zoomed right down the side of the cliff like you were defying gravity! Then BAM, you turned a tree branch into a diving board! How’d you do that, by the way? It takes a lot of skill to get the timing and angles right. I don’t even know if I could do it! And no offense, but you don’t strike me as the most athletic pony in town.”

“Just lucky, I guess,” I quietly answered, not letting on how much knowledge I had in that field. Luckily, Rainbow didn’t seem to notice.

“And what about me and Fluttershy, eh? We were pretty good too. Once Pinkie and Rarity were saved, WHOOSH! Me and Fluttershy loop-de-loop around and WHAM! Caught you right in the nick of time.” Twilight rolled her eyes as I noticed for the first time just how much Rainbow Dash liked using onomatopoeia.

“Yes, Rainbow, I was there, and I’m very grateful, but we’ve got to-” Her sentence was cut off by a loud gasp. We all stopped dead in our tracks behind her as a ferocious beast appeared on the path before us. “A MANTICORE!” Twilight exclaimed. The lion-like creature reared up, releasing a thunderous bellow that seemed to shake the whole forest.

I was the first to recover from shock, and thrust my head low with a loud snort to hold my ground. We dealt with these all the time back at the thestral encampment.

“We’ve got to get past him,” Twilight declared. The manticore didn’t seem too happy about that. First, he charged at Rarity, who surprised me with incredible agility as she dodged the blow and planted a pitiful lady-like kick to his snout. I shook my head in disappointment, but she seemed quite proud of herself, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Take that, you ruffian!” she proudly snorted. It returned with a roar so close to her face I’m surprised she didn’t blow an eardrum. The force of his screech did cause slight damage to her mane, which seemed to trouble her more than the beast itself. I knew he wouldn’t stop at merely destroying her hairdo, so I leapt forward to protect her. Rearing in defiance, I delivered a crushing hit on the top of his nose, the most sensitive part of a manticore’s face aside from the whiskers. He howled as I ushered Rarity to the sidelines. Applejack mounted the beast and rode him like a true rodeo pony before he could come back on us.

“Yee-haw! Get along, little doggie!” she gleefully cried. It soon kicked her off, but she flew through the air with such grace that she swiveled to land back on her hooves. “All yours, partner,” she winked to Rainbow mid-arc.

“I’m on it,” the blue pegasus saluted before diving at the manticore. She spun in such tight circles around it that all we could see was a rainbow colored blur. He grumbled and gurgled in frustration, unable to catch her.

“WHOA!” Finally, he stuck a scorpion tail out in her path. She just missed the stinger, but was thrown back to the ground. Landing with a hard thud, she skidded to a halt at our hooves. Those of us remaining narrowed our eyes and formed a tight wall. The manticore scraped the ground anxiously. We did the same. Twilight led us in a charge as we prepared to ward off the menace.

“WAIT!!!” Fluttershy screamed, louder than I’d ever heard her. She had flown between us and the monster, causing us to skid to a halt before we bowled her over. Having gotten our attention, she then proceeded to calmly walk up to the manticore. It snarled, and raised claws as sharp as daggers to swipe her off of her feet. We all gasped and hid our faces, too petrified to move. No scream ever came.

“Shh. It’s okay,” a soft voice cooed. “Oh, you poor, poor little baby.” I opened my eyes along with everypony else, astounded to find her tenderly nuzzling the massive paw with a giant thorn sticking out of it.

“Little?” Rainbow sarcastically echoed.

“Now, this might hurt for just a second.” Fluttershy gripped the intruding bur between her teeth and gave it a hard yank, tossing it to the side. The manticore furiously yowled, bringing Fluttershy up to his level.

“FLUTTERSHY!” we all screamed. Our fear was short lived, for the manticore began purring contently and fondly licked her mane in gratitude.

“Aw, you’re just a little old baby kitty, aren’t you? Yes you are! Yes you are!” she giggled. Relieved, we all trotted past to let her deal with the manticore. She had it under control. Twilight hung back to receive her after the miraculous feat.

“How did you know about the thorn?”

“I didn’t. Sometimes, we all just need to be shown a little kindness.” I shook my head, amazed at her bravery. She could make a great thestral.

The others’ legs were beginning to grow weary from so much walking. The stress was getting to us. Rarity had the shudders.

“Eww... my eyes need a rest from all this icky muck,” she shivered. As if on cue, we entered into the thickest part of the woods, and we became shrouded in shadow. “Well, I didn’t mean that literally,” she quietly whimpered.

“That ancient ruin could be right in front of our faces, and we wouldn’t even know it,” Twilight grumbled. I blinked my eyes a few times, allowing part of my thestral physiology to take over. My irises turned to slits, and the blue pupils glowed slightly. They were better equipped for the dark, but I kept my eyes to the ground so no one noticed the shining dragon eyes. I almost gave myself away when I looked back as Rarity bumped into me.

“Oh, I didn’t see you there. My apologies.” I just nodded, but our whole train suddenly broke into a clamor as ponies started tripping on roots or bumping into each other.

“Is that you, Rainbow?”

“No, I’m right here. That’s a tree. Guh!” I heard her clunking into something.

“Oops, sorry.”

“I can’t see!”


“Oh, wait, I think I stepped in somethin’.”

I took a minute to step back and watch my friends colliding with each other, unsure what to do. I couldn’t take the lead without exposing myself, but we wouldn’t make any progress this way, either. Fluttershy’s scream brought all eyes around, and I barely had time to shut my glowing eyes before they attracted attention.

“It’s just mud,” Applejack tried to assure. When the rest of them screamed as well, AJ realized it wasn’t about the puddle. I blinked back to reality with standard pony eyes, and jumped myself at first. We were in a grove of trees with luminescent bark, and the swirling patterns they created almost implied snarling faces.

I screamed with the rest of them at first, heart pounding. I’d never seen anything like this before, and I was raised here! A series of giggles brought me out of my thoughts. Pinkie was making goggly faces at them.

“Pinkie, what are you doing?” Twilight urged. Pinkie Pie just giggled again.

“Oh, girls, don’t you see?” Pinkie did a little shake, and began swishing her hooves to inaudible music. However, to my astonishment, faint music did start to play, coming out of nowhere, and then got louder and louder, as if by magic. It played in perfect time to Pinkie’s dancing. I’d never encountered anything like this in the Everfree before, either. I really wanted to know where it was coming from. “When I was a little filly and the sun was going do-o-o-own...” She sang.

“Tell me she isn’t,” Twilight begged.

“The darkness and the shadows, they would always make me fro-o-o-own!” Pinkie concluded the verse.

“She is,” Rarity sadly affirmed.


"I'd hide under my pillow,

From what I thought I saw,

But Granny Pie said that wasn't the way

To deal with fears at all!”


“Then what is?” Rainbow interjected as though this was an ordinary conversation. I had a bad feeling I was going to be getting this a lot.


“She said: ‘Pinkie, you gotta stand up tall.

Learn to face your fears.

You'll see that they can't hurt you;

Just laugh to make them disappear.’

Ha! Ha! Ha!”


We gasped as Pinkie’s laughter caused the menacing glowing veins to vanish, leaving an ordinary tree in its wake. Motivated to get rid of the creepy faces, the others opted to take a few extra minutes and join in the singing.

“So, giggle at the ghostly!"

“Guffaw at the grossly!"

“Crack up at the creepy!"

“Whoop it up with the weepy!"

“Chortle at the kooky!"

“Snortle at the spooky!"


“And tell that big dumb scary face to take a hike and leave you alone and if he thinks he can scare you then he's got another thing coming and the very idea of such a thing just makes you wanna... hahahaha...” Pinkie somehow got all of this out in one breath, so she took a deep breath to replenish her supply after the long spew. “Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuugh!”

Pinkie’s grand finale found her rolling on the grass along with the rest of us, sides aching from the laughter. Even I had gotten into the spirit of things, bouncing around with everypony else and even singing along. To my disappointment, the music faded as Pinkie had finished the song. I’d have to try that sometime.

“We have to... keep moving,” Twilight gasped between cackles.

“Okay,” Pinkie agreed, pounding the ground with her hoof in an effort to calm down.

When Applejack and I finally lifted her to her hooves, she recovered, but continued to bounce with glee. Her energy made my smile stretch ever farther. Everypony else caught on, and soon we were bouncing after her, still in a fit of giggles. Pinkie took the lead this time.

We had barely rounded the first row of bushes before we stopped again. We had failed to noticed the loud rushing of water over our laughter. Luckily for us, Pinkie did, and stopped in time. We all collided with her on accident. Fortunately the new predicament had gotten our giggles under control. I furrowed my brow. I didn’t mind getting wet, as I had demonstrated with the pond dive, but these rapids looked hazardous.

“How are we gonna cross this?” Pinkie cheerily questioned. Over the deafening crash of water, we somehow picked out a distressed wailing. Twilight again took the lead as we pushed through some bushes in the direction of the cry. From there, we could see an immense purple sea serpent thrashing in the water, kicking up the deadly waves.

“What a world! What a world!” it wailed, pounding the water once more.

“Excuse me, sir,” Twilight stepped forward. “Why are you crying?”

“Well, I don't know. I was just sitting here, minding my own business, when this tacky little cloud of purple smoke just whisked past me and tore half of my beloved mustache clean off, and now I look simply horrid.” He resumed the horrid, screeching wailing that had drawn our attention in the first place. Unfortunately, this came with another flop into the water, sending a tidal wave crashing down on us. I shuddered, soaked once more.

“Oh, give me a break,” Rainbow Dash grumbled, shaking the water off.

“That's what all the fuss is about?” Applejack grouchily agreed. Even I had to admit, he was overreacting.

“Why, of course it is.” Rarity continued forward to coddle his head, now beached on land while the rest of his spindly body continued to writhe in the water. “How can you be so insensitive? Oh, just look at him. Such lovely luminescent scales!”

“I know,” the serpent agreed with a sniff.

“And your expertly coiffed mane,” Rarity continued, using the flattering tactic she was so well known for.

“Oh, I know, I know,” the reptile went on, vanity taking hold.

“Your fabulous manicure.”

“It's so true!”

“All ruined without your beautiful mustache.” This reminder triggered a fresh flow of tears.

“It's true, I'm hideous!”

“I simply cannot let such a crime against fabulosity go uncorrected.” Eyes narrowed, she leaned in close to the serpent and took a big bite out of his chest, wrenching one of the giant purple scales out of place. This earned a loud yelp from the serpent.

“OW! What did you do that for?” He looked about ready to cry again as she prepared the scale’s pointed tip.

“Rarity, what are you-” All of our eyes bugged out as she used the scale like a blade to slash her beautiful, perfectly kept tail down to a stump. The serpent howled in anguish, as though this crime was as terrible as slashing off the other half of his mustache.

“Oh-hohohoho!” He promptly fainted. Rarity then proceeded to take the purple curls from her tail with levitation magic, and somehow affixed it to the stump of the serpent’s mustache. While discolored and the curls mismatched, it returned to its proper length. “My mustache! How wonderful!”

“You look smashing,” Rarity assured.

“Oh, Rarity, your beautiful tail...” Twilight sympathetically moaned.

“Oh. It's fine, my dear. Short tails are in this season. Besides, it'll grow back.

“So would the mustache,” Rainbow hissed. Applejack giggled, but I was still struck dumb. Rarity had just parted with her tail. Her cherished purple locks were gone!

“We can cross now!” Twilight realized with a gasp. “Let's go. Ah!” She squealed as she was tossed off balance and lifted out of the water by the serpent’s coils.

“Allow me,” the serpent offered with a bow. I gratefully hopped along with everypony else, glad I didn’t have to get any wetter than I already was.

Chapter 4: Ancient Ruins

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Chapter 4
The Ancient Ruins

“There it is! The ancient ruins that contain the Elements of Harmony! We made it!”

“Twilight! Wait for us!” Applejack called as the purple unicorn charged off. I sped to a gallop to catch up.

“We’re almost there! WHOA!” Just as she turned back to call to us, she failed to notice that the bridge was in fact broken, and practically ran off the side. She struggled to push herself back, but the speedy Rainbow Dash was there to pull her back up.

“What is it with you and falling off of cliffs today?” she teased, spitting Twi’s tail out of her mouth. Rarity and I silently giggled at the jeer.

“Now what?” Pinkie Pie burst.

“Duh,” Rainbow called, flying over the precipice and showing off her wings.

“Oh yeah!” Pinkie happily cheered as Rainbow dove beneath the fog forming in the chasm to retrieve the other end of the rope bridge.

“Way to go, Rainbow!” I cheered, high-hoofing Applejack when Rarity gestured that she didn’t want to get her hooves dirty. I noticed shame-facedly that my hooves were still covered in grime from my dip in the lake, and tried wiping off the muck in the dewy grass while we waited for Rainbow. I suddenly noticed that we should be crossing by now, and though there were still a few specks of dirt clinging to my ankles, joined the others to see what the holdup was.

“Rainbow, what’s taking so long?” Twilight called, peering with the rest of us out into the ever thickening fog. I only got a glimpse of three mysterious pegasi speaking with her at the other end before the fog became impassibly white. “Oh, no!” she gasped. “Don’t listen to them!” Twilight called, voice muffled in the white.

“Why? Who are they?” I inquired.

“Well... I don’t know...” Twilight admitted.

“But they can’t be good, whoever they are. Did you see those uniforms?” Rarity shuddered at the disgrace to fashion.

“Anypony from the Everfree is bad news,” Applejack agreed. My ears flattened, and I shrank back.

“Are you okay, Acrylic?”

“F-fine,” I stuttered, shivering to cover up my shame.

“You get cold easily, don’t you?” Pinkie Pie chirped.

“Yeah,” I blushed. I wasn’t lying. The dragon-blood in me required a hot environment. A gust of fresh air brought me out of it, and I looked over to see Rainbow clearing the fog with a few flaps of her feathered wings. We all cheered for her.

“Great job, Rainbow!”

“See? I’d never leave my friends hanging!” Twilight again took her place at the front as we crossed the rickety rope bridge, and I brought up the rear. Fluttershy took a few tentative steps out over it, but noticing how creaky the old thing was, hovered above it so it wouldn’t crack under her weight. I longed to join her and Rainbow in the air, but I fought back the urge. Applejack’s words kept ringing in my ears. ‘Anypony from the Everfree is bad news.’ Was that really what they thought of us? Even after all these years?

Twilight fell back in sheer awe of the castle. I joined her, soaking in its ancient beauty.

“Whoa,” Applejack gasped, taking in the overgrown ballroom. “Well, come on, Twilight. Isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for?”

“The Elements of Harmony! We’ve found them! Careful, careful!” she barked as Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy began moving them from the pedestals to the floor before us.

“One, two, three, four... there’s only five,” Pinkie counted.

“Yeah, where’s the sixth?” Rainbow demanded.

“The book said that when the five are present, a spark will cause the sixth to be revealed.”

“What in the hay is that supposed to mean?” AJ furrowed her brow.

“I’m not sure, but I have an idea. Stand back; I don’t know what will happen.”

“Come on, y’all. She needs to concentrate.” Applejack led the way out, providing a quiet work environment for Twilight. I had just gotten settled on a stone outside to pick the rest of the dirt off of me when a squeal brought us careening back.

“TWILIGHT!” Rainbow was fastest, and led the way as we charged back.

“The Elements!” The stone spheres had been raised up in a swirling blue vortex, obviously not caused by Twilight’s magic. She jumped into the swirling void just before it vanished.

“Where’d she go?”

“What happened?


“Twilight?” Everypony started babbling at once.

“Everypony, calm down,” I tried, Applejack stomping a hoof in emphasis.

“Acrylic’s right, y’all, we won’t find her sittin’ ‘round down here.”

“Well, what do you suggest we do, Applejack?” Rarity demanded.

“I... uh...” struck at a loss for words, Applejack bashfully hid her face with the trusty leather stetson. Ponies resumed running around in panicked circles. “Twilight, where are you?” Applejack pleaded to the open air.

“Look!” Rarity called, positioned at a crumbling window lacking its glass cover. A tower off in the near distance was glowing, shining with magic like a beacon.


“Well, what are we waiting for, y’all? Twilight needs our help.”

“YEAH!” Pinkie exclaimed in a battle cry, charging ahead. I was determined not to be found at the back this time, but again ended up forced into the rear as everypony fell into a single file line up the stairwell.

It was a long climb up, and the ascension seemed to take an eon. Pinkie Pie and Applejack were in front, and began calling for Twilight as soon as they saw the top of the steps. The rest of us followed suit.


“Don’t worry Twilight; we’re here!”

“We’re coming, Twilight!” We found her facing off with Nightmare Moon, Elements shattered to crystalline chips.

“You think you can destroy the Elements of Harmony just like that?” Twilight whipped around, having found new energy in our arrival. “Well, you’re wrong, because the spirits of the Elements are right here!” The shards at Nightmare Moon’s hooves began to rattle, glow, and finally hover in the air around her.

“What?” she gasped.

“Applejack, who reassured me when I was in doubt, represents the spirit of Honesty!” A few of the crystals flew through the air and began spinning around the orange earth pony. She gasped with glee as Twilight went on.

“Fluttershy, who tamed the manticore with her compassion, represents the spirit of Kindness!” At first, the pale yellow pegasus shied away from the crystals encircling her, but accepted them as Applejack had.

“Pinkie Pie, who banished fear by giggling in the face of danger, represents the spirit of Laughter!” Pinkie eagerly bounced as she received her batch of crystals.

“Rarity, who calmed a sorrowful serpent with a meaningful gift, represents the spirit of Generosity.” I found myself beaming as Rarity received her crystals. I furrowed my brow when I remembered that there were only six elements, but seven of us. Who would go without one? Twilight wasn’t bothered by this as she went on.

“And Rainbow Dash, who would not abandon her friends for her own heart’s desire represents the spirit of Loyalty!” Rainbow’s chest puffed with pride.

“The spirits of these five ponies got us through every challenge you threw at us!” I took a step back, not wanting to bask in their glory.

“You still don’t have the sixth Element,” Nightmare Moon reminded, suspiciously eyeing the two of us remaining ponies, wondering who would wield the sixth element. “The spark didn’t work.”

“Oh, but it did,” Twilight smiled. “A different kind of spark. I felt it the very moment I realized how happy I was to hear you, to see you, how much I cared about you. The spark ignited inside me when I realized that you all... are my friends!” In a flash of light, a sixth Element appeared over Twilight’s head, faintly resembling the shape of her six-pointed star cutie mark. “You see, Nightmare Moon, when those Elements are ignited by the... the spark, that resides in the heart of us all, it creates the sixth Element: the Element of... Magic!”

The lights were so bright I could barely see. I did notice, however, that the glowing crystals were all converging on my friends’ chests, forming beautiful amulets. Well, all but Twilight’s. That stone sphere, still intact, descended on her head, forming an intricate crown. The power of the Elements lifted them all up until they were hovering above the floor without so much as a wing beat. The light became blinding, and I retreated to a dark corner to shield my eyes. I just caught a glimpse of a twirling rainbow linking the Elements before shooting out to wash over Nightmare Moon.

“No! NOOOOOO!” she wailed, the Elements destroying her once and for all. The surge of power rippled to my wings, and I felt them shooting out of my back. Horrified, I gave two powerful flaps that brought me to my feet before the grinding of bones told me that they were shrinking back down to stubs. Heart still racing, I looked over, expecting the horrified expressions of my friends. Instead, I found them all collapsed, possibly unconscious on the floor. Another alicorn lay where Nightmare Moon used to be, and I recoiled. Princess Luna? Even more shocking was the presence of another, even more powerful white alicorn, Princess Celestia. She gave me a queer look, and I tried to shrink back into the shadows, but ran out of space. Had she seen my wings? Would I be destroyed as Nightmare Moon had been? Luckily, she was distracted as the group of six recovered on the floor.

“Oh, my head,” Rainbow whined, giving it a firm rub.

“Everypony okay?” Applejack voiced.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Rarity exclaimed, now flaunting a long, curly tail even more perfectly formed than the last.

“Why Rarity, it’s so lovely,” Fluttershy quietly put in.

“I know! I’ll never part with it again!” After waving it around, she cradled it like one would a foal.

“No, your necklace,” Fluttershy clarified. “It looks just like your cutie mark!”

“So does yours!” Rarity put in after noticing that everypony but me wore one.

“Look at mine! Look at mine!” Pinkie chimed, bouncing around to flaunt it about.

“Oh, yeah!” Rainbow grinned, falling in love with the red lightning bolt across her chest.

“Gee, Twilight. I thought you were just spouting a lot of hooey, but I reckon we really do represent the Elements of Friendship.”

“Indeed you do,” Celestia said from the window, glowing with light as she raised the sun to emphasize her appearance. Everypony fell to their knees in her presence, and dumbstruck and frightened as I was, I did the same in my dark corner.

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight gasped, the only one not kneeling. Rather, she trotted right up to her mentor and received an affectionate nuzzle.

“Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student! I knew you could do it!”

“But... you told me it was all an old pony tale.”

“I told you that you needed to make some friends,” Celestia corrected. “Nothing more. I saw the signs of Nightmare Moon’s return, and knew it was you who had the magic to defeat her, but you could not unleash it until you had let true friendship into your heart. Now if only another will as well.” For a moment, I feared she spoke of me, until she did in fact turn to the crumpled alicorn on the ground. “Princess Luna!”

The young mare woke up and gasped in the older one’s presence, and feared the worst. “It has been a thousand years since I have seen you like this.” She knelt to the blue one’s level. “It is time to put our differences behind us. We were meant to rule together, little sister.”

“SISTER?” everypony else burst. Not me. I was too petrified to comprehend her words, let alone react.

“Will you accept my friendship?” The girls leaned in close to hear her answer, but Pinkie Pie leaned too close and fell over with a light whumph.

“I’m sooo sorry! I missed you so much, big sister,” Luna teared, taking Celestia up on her offer of a tender hug.

“I missed you too,” Celestia joined in the tears. A loud blowing could be heard as Pinkie bawled her eyes out at the reunion. The river of salty tears instantly stopped and she perked up.

“Hey, you know what this calls for? A PARTY!”

“Are you all right, sugar cube?” I nearly jumped out of my skin when Applejack jabbed me in the side.

“Fine, fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine? I guess we should be heading back,” I quickly excused, getting to lead the way down the steps this time. I tried to keep away from the rest of the group, but soon found Rarity trying to cling to me like glue.

“Are you sure you’re alright with this?” she asked, joining me at the fringe of our train.

“Alright with what?”

“Well, you’re the only one of us who didn’t get an element,” Rarity timidly pointed out, hoping not to insult or rub salt in fresh wounds.

“I don’t need an element so long as I have friends,” I assured. Then my ears flattened. I didn’t represent any element of friendship. “I can still have friends, though, right?”

“Why of course, darling!” Rarity said so loudly she attracted all eyes once again. I pressed low to the ground under the Princesses’ gaze. I was still receiving suspicious looks from Celestia, and wondered if she suspected anything. Twilight saved me when she demanded the royals’ attention once more, going on and on about what she’d learned. I slunk along behind with Rarity. “Whatever is the matter? If it isn’t the Elements, or lack of one that’s eating at you, then what is?” Rarity demanded.

“I’m just... not used to being in the presence of real princesses,” I breathed.

“Oh, I know they’re royalty, dear, but you’re acting like... well... guilty. Being around royalty is even more reason to walk with your head high. Come now, dear, flaunt that beautiful smile of yours. That’s it.” In truth, I had only managed a smirk after noticing Pinkie trying to impress the sisters with her acrobatic antics in the background. I felt ridiculous trying to trot with Rarity’s natural grace, and resumed my position slinking along in the back.

While I had been truthful to Rarity when I said that I didn’t mind not representing an element, I couldn’t help but feel slightly dejected, even cast to the side. I felt like the six would share an understanding I would never know, even though they had only known Twilight for a short time. That day, a small seed of jealousy was planted in the pit of my stomach. I should have uprooted it then and there. Instead, it began to grow and fester.

With the daylight pouring through even the thickest boughs of the Everfree canopies, the way home was swift, especially with the two princesses in the lead. All obstacles we had faced before were avoided with a pulse of Celestia’s magic. Pinkie Pie dashed ahead of us, and in record time, had the town back in the festive spirit we’d started out in. Spike smothered Twilight with hugs, and the young fillies crowned Luna with a flower wreath. I was already feeling more comfortable, and allowed myself to become lost in the sea of faces gathered around. The Elements of Harmony received special commendation, but I was not needed for this honor. Rarity whispered something to Celestia just as I was pulling away. She must have been dying with excitement; talking to the most important pony in Equestria!

“I have just been reminded that another pony requires a special mention. Would Acrylic please come forward?” My heart stopped, and all eyes turned to me. I winced, but even hiding under my hat, I could feel the crowd splitting to form a path for me. Reluctantly, ears down, I crept to the front and knelt before the Princesses. “Thank you, Acrylic, for your bravery and courage in assisting your friends to take a stand against Nightmare Moon. Equestria will remember you.” The crowd erupted with cheers, and even I felt a small smile flicker onto my lips as I gazed up at my superiors. They both smiled back, and I didn’t detect so much as a hint of suspicion on their faces. Just then, my friends tackled me, and I found myself sitting at the bottom of a dog pile, still blushing with embarrassment.

Twilight was standing off to the side, watching the festivities unfold. Celestia finally noticed. “Why so glum, my faithful student? Are you not happy that your quest is complete, and that you can return to your studies in Canterlot?”

“That’s just it. Just when I learn how wonderful it is to have friends, I have to leave them.” The Princess, kind as she was, took immediate action.

“Spike, take a note, please.” A scroll and quill protruded from nowhere, and the baby dragon was ready. “I, Princess Celestia, hereby decree that the unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, shall take on a new mission for Equestria. She must continue to study the magic of friendship. She must report to me her findings from her new home in Ponyville.” Another dog pile ensued, but this time, I wasn’t at the bottom of it. When Twilight broke free, she bounded up to her mentor in thanks.

“Oh, thank you, Princess! I’ll study harder than ever before!”

“Isn't this exciting? Are you excited cause I'm excited I've never been so excited, well, except for the time that I went” her lungs inflated once more, “but I mean really...” My laughter drowned them out.

It was great that Twilight was staying; that was, in fact, what was making me so giddy. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be pushed to the side. Would a newcomer make me less interesting? I shook my head, banishing such thoughts. Friends didn’t abandon each other. But could I ever be a real friend? I didn’t represent any of the elements. Could I really belong? The thoughts were foolish, but to me, relevant. I knew my thestral side would be exposed soon. Would I still be their friend? Would I be cast out like Nightmare Moon? Though what she had tried to do was wrong, I could relate to her. She wanted love, but she tried to force her way in. Isn’t that what I had done? Was I any different from Nightmare Moon? The questions boiled furiously in my head as I headed home early from the festivities. What I didn’t notice was Princess Luna eyeing me from afar.

Chapter 5: Princess Luna's Visit

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Chapter 5
Princess Luna’s Visit

Luckily, I’d headed off just in time for my first wing spring of the day. I rushed back to the gallery as they began to force their way out, slamming the door behind me. This far out, there was nopony to see anyway, but better safe than sorry. I decided to let them hang out in the privacy of my home. My back had been feeling stiff where I kept them restrained. With a final stretch, I folded them and resumed my work around the house in an attempt to forget the questions raging through my head.

I began to arrange the empty glass bottles on a bookshelf I’d recently purchased. Applejack and Big Macintosh had been kind enough to find the time to make me a countertop to divide the front of the store from the back. The plain wood had been sanded down to a smooth finish at my request, as I wanted to paint it myself. I lifted the gate barring entry to the back and trotted behind it, looking out at the shop. It was coming together.

Empty shelves lined the left wall, filled with a few empty jars but no merchandise as of yet. A long table stretched across the adjoining wall, only to be stopped by the door. Another two tables were positioned in the middle of the floor to display merchandise. Scattered at various heights on the right wall were hooks, placed among the two windows providing the main light source. This was where I intended to sell a few paintings at a time. The tables could be piled with sketch books and drawing tablets, blank canvases and larger equipment. The shelves would house paint jars and brushes, or anything small enough to sit atop them. I had a little extra space in the bookshelf behind the counter to store empty jars and excess merchandise.

The room behind me would soon be the ideal workshop, flaunting windows stretching all the way to the floor. The glass wall curved to form a whole two sides of the rectangular room. A few easels stood proudly around it like sentries, while a large, angled work desk had been posted at the back of the room, almost right against the glass where the light was best. A long, stout side table accompanied it to house supplies I needed easy access to while I worked. There was plenty of room to hang paintings on the inner walls, and I could lean more against the glass to dry.

The right wall gave way to a brief hallway leading back into a restroom, small kitchen and laundry room. A short flight of steps led up to the very small upper level, leaving room for only a bedroom. This had been refurbished with a fresh bed, a side table with a clock and a tacky jar of flowers, an armchair I somehow managed to drag up the steps, and a wardrobe that was mostly empty. It housed only my beloved plaid beret and an old, raggedy cloak from back home. No, back with the thestrals. I had to keep reminding myself that this was home now.

A loud knocking on the door broke me from my thoughts. I dashed down the steps, almost forgetting to retract those dragon wings in my haste. It was a good thing I remembered- who else but Princess Luna stood in my doorway.

“Princess!” I almost screamed.

“We hope we are not intruding,” she bowed her head in greeting. I looked around her, though she was unaccompanied. I found it odd of her to refer to herself in the plural tense, but didn’t dare correct or even question her choice of grammar. Though she did not look threatening, there was something demanding in the loud tone of voice she used. “Something important must have taken thee away from the festivities so early.”

“No, not really...” I blushed, finding myself trembling in her presence. “I’m just... trying to whip this place into shape.”

“We see.” I backed away as Princess Luna entered my half-finished art store, taking in the barren shelves and empty surfaces.

“I only bought it a few weeks ago, you see, so it’s not fully operational as of yet,” I quickly stammered, scrambling to make the place look a little more presentable for royalty.

“We understand,” was all Luna said. I looked up from inventory when she did nothing more than look around.

“Can I help you?” I timidly asked.

“It’s just all so strange,” she sighed, voice suddenly quieting. “We have been gone a thousand years. Ponyville did not even exist when we were banished to the moon. We are unable to recognize anything.”

“Oh...” I muttered, still unsure what that had to do with her being here.

“Twilight Sparkle saw the signs. She knew of our return. But thou seems to have known as well.”

“Oh?” I squeaked this time, voice cracking.

“The mural on thy outer wall. Did thee paint it?” Her voice was loud, and even intimidating. I shrank back

“Yes,” the almost inaudible reply escaped my throat.

“Thee has no reason to fear us, Acrylic,” Luna boomed.

“Sorry, it’s just...”

“Just?” she prompted.

“Can you not be so loud? I feel like you’re yelling at me.”

“Oh. Right.” Her voice softened tremendously, and I melted. “Times have changed, and we must adapt.”

“Of course,” I timidly nodded. “You were asking about the painting?”

“Yes.” She purposefully walked outside, strutting with such power and radiance that she demanded respect. I slunk behind her, slowly warming up to the moon princess. “It is a beautiful piece.” I felt my cheeks grow hot.

“Thank you.”

“How did you know of me? Did this Twilight tell you?”

“Oh, no. I haven’t known her that long. My mother would tell me stories. Everypony knew them back home.”

“And where is that?” I could have face-hoofed myself then and there, but I didn’t for my dignity’s sake.

“Way, way out. It’s a small settlement. Doesn’t even have a name.” My answer came out in one breath, and wasn’t at all believable. I mentally kicked myself.

“We see.” Her abrupt tone of voice told me she wasn’t buying it, but she continued to find herself lost in the brushstrokes of my mural. I looked at the ground, playing with a blade of grass as I waited to be addressed. “These ponies here. What are they?”

“That one is a hippocampus,” I tentatively reached out with my hoof, almost bumping Luna’s as she retracted her own. Breaking into a sweat, I narrowly avoided contact. “They’re legendary ponies that live in the ocean. A-and those are aponies, tiny ponies from myths who have butterfly wings and live in flowers. There’s a hippogryph...” my eyes widened as I realized I couldn’t shut my mouth, and proceeded to explain every detail of the work. “And this is a thestral.” I finally clapped a hoof over my mouth as I let the last bit slip.

“Thestral?” Luna had sat stock still in the grass up until now. Her eyes were wide in surprise, then narrowed slightly.

“Yes,” I croaked, trying to act like they were just another of my depicting fairytale creatures. “They’re part dragon, part pony.”

“We know what they are,” she almost growled, glaring at the ground. I trembled, seeing fiery hate burn at the mere mention of their name. “Thestrals are not merely from legend. They are as real as we are.” She stomped a hoof meaningfully. “They tried to attack Equestria by stealing the Elements of Harmony early in their development. We vanquished their evil alongside sister.” She looked on, chest puffed out, looking more regal than ever.

“Oh?” was all I could manage, shuddering again.

“Yes. That was before even the time of Discord, when the Tree of Harmony was a mere sapling.”

“Tree of Harmony?”

“The Elements grew on the Tree of Harmony like fruit. Its power was enough to keep the balance, but then the thestrals attacked it in an attempt to control the balance; to tip it in their favor. They were destroyed, but they caused enough damage to upset the balance, allowing Discord to take over. When the elements finally matured, we returned with sister to properly harness the elements and trap the tyrant forever in stone.” I looked down at the ground, wide eyed and shaking. So this was how we were remembered. We were listed among those who tried to destroy Equestria. I closed my eyes, salty tears stinging the corners. A liar would always be caught. How much time did I have until I too was locked in stone for an eternity? Until my friends thought of me like a criminal? Until the world saw who I really was?

“Though... the painting is still lovely,” Luna tried, noticing my distress.

“Th-thank you,” I haltingly spat, rising to my hooves. My fate was hanging in the balance, and she thought this was about a painting? “I really should get back to it.” I marched back into the shop, thundered up the stairs and buried my face in the sheets, body racked with sobs. Luna did not try to return or press further.

No one came to check up on me, and I was okay with that. Everyone naturally assumed I was sore about not getting an element, though I tried to assure them this was not so. Every time the subject was brought up, though, I felt myself becoming more envious, and my answers became snappy. It was a full week before the subject was dropped completely.

We fell back into the normal routine of life. Of course, life is never ‘normal.’ We had a good deal of excitement packed into the month to follow. I’d been busy stockpiling enough inventory to open my store, which Pinkie Pie had already dubbed ‘Acrylic’s ArtLife.’ I was finally warming up to Twilight, though a few shreds of jealousy still remained. I’d tried to weed out most of it, but the roots had grown too deep to be completely removed. I was always polite, but it prevented us from really bonding. So when Twilight appeared in town one day with two Grand Galloping Gala tickets, I just knew it wasn’t going to be me accompanying her.

I was purchasing a fresh arrangement of flowers for my bedroom, and another two baskets of those with intense colorings I could dry and grind down to a pigment for paint. I already had starch to use as a binder, but my next stop was to pick up linseed oil. I found that it produced a better texture. I was wondering whether I should use citrus thinner or turpentine as a solvent in the next batch when Pinkie squealed so loudly behind me I jumped, my wings almost sprouting then and there.

“AH!!! Bats! Bats on my face! HELP! Get ‘em off, get ‘em off! Wait! These aren’t... tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala?! It's the most amazing incredible tremendous super-fun wonderful terrifically humongous party in all of Equestria! I've always always always wanted to go!” With that, Pinkie began bouncing around, dancing and interacting with imaginary characters from her imagination. Carnival music played to her vocals, and I again looked around to find the source of the music.

“Oh the Grand Galloping Gala is the best place for me,

“Oh the Grand Galloping Gala is the best place for me!

“Hip hip,


“It's the best place for me,

“For Pinkieeeee!

“With decorations like streamers and fairy-lights and pinwheels and piñatas and pin-cushions. With goodies like sugar cubes and sugar canes and sundaes and sun-beams and sarsaparilla. And I get to play my favorite-est of favorite fantabulous games like Pin the Tail on the Pony!

“Oh the Grand Galloping Gala is the best place for me,

“Oh the Grand Galloping Gala is the best place for me!

“‘Cause it's the most galarrific superly-terrific gala ever

“In the whole galaxy


Her musical ended, but she continued bouncing.

“Oh thank you, Twilight, it's the most wonderful-est gift ever!”

“Um, actually...” Spike retrieved the tickets, just in time to catch Rarity’s eye as she walked by.

“Are these what I think they are?”


“Yes! Twilight’s taking me to the Grand Galloping Gala in Canterlot!”

“The gala? I design ensembles for the gala every year, but I've never had the opportunity to attend. Oh, the society, the culture, the glamour! It's where I truly belong, and where I'm destined to meet him.”

“Him! ...Who?” Pinkie Pie asked, head cocked.

“Him. I would stroll through the gala, and everyone would wonder, ‘who is that mysterious mare?’ They would never guess that I was just a simple pony from little old Ponyville. Why, I would cause such a sensation that I would be invited for an audience with Princess Celestia herself, and the princess would be so taken with the style and elegance that she would introduce me to him, her nephew: the most handsome, eligible unicorn stallion in Canterlot. Our eyes would meet; our hearts would melt. Our courtship would be magnificent. He would ask for my hoof in marriage, and of course I would say, ‘Yes!’ We would have a royal wedding, befitting a princess, which is what I would become upon marrying him, the stallion of my dreams. Twilight, I simply cannot believe you would invite Pinkie Pie so she can... party, and prevent me from meeting my true love. How could you? Hmph!” I rolled my eyes, sliding the coins across the booth countertop to pay for the flowers before joining them.

“Hey!” Spike exclaimed, a little white rabbit whisking by and taking the tickets.

“Oh, Angel, these are perfect!” A familiar voice sounded, telling me I didn’t have to chase down the rabbit after all. I now recognized the bunny as Fluttershy’s pet, whom she had introduced me to at the first chance she got. The rabbit wasn’t nearly as pleasant as his owner, so we didn’t get along very well.

“Listen, guys. I haven’t decided who to give the tickets to yet,” Twilight voiced.

“You haven’t?” Pinkie and Rarity both exclaimed in unison.

“Um, excuse me, Twilight? I would just like to ask, I mean, if it would be alright...”

“You? You want to go to the gala?” Rarity sounded shocked at Fluttershy, who painfully noticed this and shrank back.

“Oh, no. I mean, yes, or, actually, kind of. You see, it's not so much The Grand Galloping Gala as it is the wondrous private gated garden that surrounds the dance. The flowers are said to be the most beautiful and fragrant in all of Equestria. For the night of the gala, and that night alone, would they all be in bloom... and that's just the flora! Don't get me started on the fauna. There's loons and toucans and bitterns, oh my! Hummingbirds that can really hum, and buzzards that can really buzz. White-blue jays, and red jays, and green jays, pink jays and pink flamingos!”

“Gee, Fluttershy... that sounds... beautiful.”

“Let me guess. You want the extra ticket too,” Twilight’s flat voice sounded, turning to me, looking frustrated.

“Now wait just a minute!” Rainbow Dash swooped in from the roof of a building we currently stood under.

“Rainbow Dash! Were you following me?”

“No! I mean, yes. I mean, maybe. Look, it doesn’t matter. I couldn’t risk a goody four-shoes like you giving that ticket away to just anypony.”

“Wait just another minute!”

“Applejack! Were you following me too?”

“No. I was followin’ this one to make sure she didn’t try any funny business. Still tryin’ to take my ticket!”

“Your ticket?!”

“But Twilight’s taking me!”

“No, me!”

“But Twilight said-” As they argued over who would get the extra ticket, Twilight sunk to the ground and tried to bury her face under those long bangs of hers. My eyes narrowed. I reared back, coming down hard to send an earth shattering CRUNCH through everypony’s ears.

“STOP!” I neighed, leaving impressions where my hooves had smashed the ground.

“Thank you,” Twilight sighed, getting over her shock. I nodded, cheeks hot as all other eyes were still on me. My hooves shuffled as I attempted to fill the hoof prints back in with dirt.

“I just don’t get why you’re all going gaga over tickets,” I bashfully shrugged.

“Tickets? TICKETS? These are no ordinary tickets, Acrylic. These are Grand Galloping Gala tickets. It’s only the most prestigious event of the year!” I still shrugged. I’d never heard of the event, secluded as I was with the thestrals.

“Girls, there’s no use in arguing.

“But Twilight-” Rarity tried.

“Enough!” Twilight boomed. “This is my decision, and I’m gonna make it on my own! And I certainly can’t think with all this noise.” Her stomach growled rather loudly. “Not to mention hunger! Now go. Shoo!” Everypony else grumbled, but I felt my lips curling into a smile as I trotted off. That was certainly one way to handle it. Twilight was growing on me. “And don’t worry! I’ll figure this out,” Twilight called after them.

I finished my errands and walked back with Rarity, as our shops were almost neighboring. She kept going on and on about the gala and what a great event it was. She was so sure that Celestia’s nephew, Prince Blue Blood, was her one true love, and kept ranting that Twilight was trying to keep them apart. I only rolled my eyes. These scenarios she posed were highly hypothetical, and what’s more- she’d never even met the guy! I had nothing against finding that very special somepony, but honestly, this was a bit melodramatic.

My thoughts began to drift as I tuned Rarity out. Could I ever find a very special somepony? Rarity was rubbing off on me, and I envisioned myself in a grand ballroom at the Grand Galloping Gala. Perhaps I could bring a sketchbook, and capture my evening with good old fashioned pencil and paper. As I looked up for the next one, he’d be standing there, my perfect stallion.

I shook myself out of it. I could never find love. I was a thestral. Nopony liked thestrals but other thestrals, and I had never met one that wasn’t full of hate and contempt for Celestia and her subjects. I didn’t want to be any part of that. Perhaps I was just meant to be alone.

These thoughts were torn from my mind when I realized that Rarity was now plotting a scheme to convince Twilight to give her the ticket.

“It’s perfect! All I have to do is convince Twilight that she looks absolutely smashing in the dress I’ve made for her. When she sees how fabulous the two of us will look in our matching outfits, she’ll have to choose me!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I stopped her. “You’re forgetting that these are Twilight’s tickets. You heard her. She’s going to make the decision by herself.”

“Well, well. Aren’t you a party pooper? Are you trying to keep me from my prince, too?”

“What? No, no, Rarity! Look, I respect that you really want to get together with this guy, but let’s face it: you’ve really never met him.”

“But I know it in my heart that we’re destined to rule together!” She huffed angrily and trotted off. “Though I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tears stung at my eyes as I looked back at her, horrified. My curved ears flattened so much that I felt their tips touching my neck. Rarity realized the weight of her words.

“Oh, no, dear, I didn’t mean it like that,” Rarity tried, offering a consoling hoof. I pulled away.

“Forget it.”

“Oh, my.” I left her by herself in the road as I hurried home. She was right, and I knew it, but coming from her, my closest friend, the words stung.

I was so sore with her that I hung my hat up in the closet for the rest of the day. Somehow, I felt like I was getting back at her by not wearing it. Before going back downstairs, I emptied my saddlebags and replaced the dead flowers in my beside vase with fresh ones. That done, I trotted out the door around the back where I had been drying flowers. I took down the last batch and hung up the new ones. Depositing these on the countertop inside, I hustled back up the steps when I realized I was missing my mother’s old mortar and pestle. It was a family heirloom, and had intricate thestral carvings at the base. While it was more decorative than I needed, it was perfectly adequate to allow me to start grinding the dried petals to pigment.

It was almost evening when a sudden flash of light resonated from the center of my shop, and I reared in fright. Oh. It was just Twilight and Spike. Wait. Twilight and Spike.

“O-o-oh, warn me the next time you’re gonna do that,” Spike woozily bumbled. They had landed on the center table, which he promptly fell off of.

“I didn’t even know it was gonna happen. Now- Oh, Acrylic.” I was staring blankly at them from behind the counter. “Thank goodness! Sorry to drop in on you like this, but now everypony in Ponyville wants my extra ticket, and since you’re the only pony who wasn’t interested in going to the gala, this is the only safe place I knew to go and... wait, you didn’t want the ticket too, do you? I never actually got a straight answer from you.”

“Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want it,” I finally answered. She groaned.

“Ooh, not you too! I just can’t decide!”

“Let me finish,” I interrupted. “I would like to go- I’ve never really heard much about it, but the way everypony keeps talking it up makes it sound amazing. But, I don’t expect you to give me your one ticket either. After all, that’s what best friends do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m just facing the facts. We aren’t as close as some ponies. I respect you and you respect me, but I wouldn’t expect you to choose me above everypony else wanting the ticket.

“Oh, I see,” Twilight angrily snorted, jumping off the table. I was caught off guard by her sudden mood swing. “You’re trying to guilt me into giving you the ticket, aren’t you? Well, I really don’t appreciate it, especially not now. Come on, Spike.” She marched to the door, levitating the baby dragon onto her back. She turned from the doorway. “And for what it’s worth, you are one of my closest friends.” She bolted away, leaving me wide eyed inside.

My heart pounded in my chest, and tears pricked at my eyes. Did she really think of me as one of her closest friends? I’d never really been close to anypony before. Rarity and I spent a lot of time together, sure, but there were times when I thought she just kept me around because I’d put up with her gossip. And when I was together with the rest of them, I couldn’t help but feel like I was going unnoticed in the background. But Twilight… she was my friend.

“TWILIGHT!” I threw the door aside and gazed out into the night. She’d already disappeared, probably headed for the library. My jaw was set in determination. I turned back only long enough to retrieve my hat. Then I went after her. After all, she was my friend, and I had to make things right.

Chapter 6: Flying

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Chapter 6

“Twilight!” I panted, racing through the dark streets. The sun was already going down, and the streets were mostly clear at this hour, so Twilight wasn’t being swarmed again. I could see her ahead. Though she had a decent gain on me to begin with, I was catching up.

“Go away!” she yelled back. “I’ll decide when I’m ready!”

“I know! Please, just wait!” I begged.

“No!” She jerked open the door to the library, but I stuck my hoof to catch it before she could lock me out. In my urgency, I didn’t notice the pain. She kept trying to use her magic to push me out, but I held firm. I couldn’t bear to lose this newfound friend.

“Please, just let me in. I need to talk to you! It’s not about the tickets!” Twilight hesitated.

“What is it?”

“Can I come in?” After what seemed like an eternity, the door swung open.

“Alright.” I gratefully stepped inside. “Now, what’s this all about?”

“Um… Twilight?” Fluttershy whispered.

“Yaaaarg!” Twilight whipped back in fright. Our other five friends sheepishly smiled down from her balcony.

“UGH! No, no, no! No more favors! I can’t decide! I just can’t decide!” Twilight whined. “It’s important to all of you and I just can’t stand to disappoint any of you and giving me gifts and doing me favors isn’t going to make a difference because you’re all my friends and I wanna make you all happy and I can’t. I just can’t!” She lay on the ground with her face buried in her hooves, trying to hide from the whole situation.

“Twilight, sugar?” Applejack began, coming down from the balcony. “I didn’t mean to put so much pressure on you.” She stretched out a hoof to stroke her bangs. “And if it helps, I don’t want the ticket anymore. You can give it to somepony else. I won’t feel bad. I promise.”

“Me too,” Fluttershy spoke up. “I feel just awful that I made you feel so awful.”

“And me too. It’s no fun upsetting your friends,” Pinkie agreed.

“I’m sorry too” Rarity’s eyes watered with sincerity. “Twilight, it was unfair of me to try and force you as I did. In doing so, I not only hurt you, but Acrylic as well. You know I didn’t mean it that way, dear, but I am sorry.” I tried a smile, but it came out crooked and wavering. I bit my lip so I wouldn’t cry.

“Twi? I just wanted you to know that I really wasn’t trying to guilt you into anything before. That’s just plain low, and I’d never do that. I truly never thought of us… any of us… as really close friends.”

“Now what in Equestria would make ya think that, sugar?” Applejack sadly smiled.

“Every one of you is great and all, don’t get me wrong. It’s just, back at home, everyone’s ‘friends’ with everyone, but you never get very close to anypony in particular. Ponyville isn’t like that. Tonight you made me realize that I have… real friends. I came back to apologize, but also to thank you. What you said was worth so much more than some old gala ticket.” Twilight’s eyes watered, and she brought me into the biggest, warmest hug she could manage. It wasn’t long before the rest of them pressed in, most of us crying tears of joy.

“YES! That means the ticket is mine,” Rainbow giggled, the only one not joining our group hug. “I got the ticket, I got the ticket!” she sang. Glares from all around shut her up. “You know, I haven’t perfected my signature moves for the Wonderbolts anyway. I don’t need that ticket either.”

“We all got so gun-ho about going to the gala that we didn’t see how so un-gun-ho we were makin’ you,” AJ apologized.

“We’re sorry, Twilight,” we all said in unison.

“Spike, take down a note,” Twilight called, sitting up with a smile. The dragon was ready in an instant, pen poised. “Dear Princess Celestia, I’ve learned that one of the joys of friendship is sharing your blessings, but when there’s not enough blessings to go around, having more than your friends can make you feel pretty awful. So, though I appreciate the invitation, I will be returning both tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala.”

“WHAT?” the rest of us burst.

“If my friends can’t all go, I don’t wanna go either,” she declared.

“Twilight, you don’t have to do that,” Applejack tried to assure.

“Nope, I’ve made up my mind. Spike, you can send the letter now.” The purple dragon opened up one of the windows, took a deep breath, and evaporated the letter in a gust of magical green flame.

“Now you won’t get to go to the gala either,” Fluttershy reminded.

“It’s okay, girls. I couldn’t possibly enjoy myself without my best friends there with me, so I’d rather not go at all.” Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie led the girls in another group hug. However, disgusting gurgles were coming from across the room, ruining the moment. Spike proved to be the source of the noise.

“Well, wallop my withers, Spike. Ain’t that just like a boy? Can’t handle the least bit of sentiment.” With one final and tremendous belch, a letter was spewed out of his mouth and to the ground. “WHOA, Nelly!” Applejack reared in response. It was our first time seeing how this system of sending and receiving letters via dragon assistant worked.

“A letter from the Princess? Well, that was fast.” Spike caught it before the scroll hit the ground, opened it and began to read.

“My faithful student Twilight, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” His eyes widened. “Seven tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala!” He held them up for all to see, and the shimmering sparkle of an extra for me made my stomach tickle with excitement.

“Now we can all go!” Twilight cheered. The rest of us followed suit. Twilight’s stomach gurgled again. She sheepishly giggled.

“Allow us to treat you to dinner,” Rarity offered.

“What a great way to apologize!” Rainbow agreed.

“And to celebrate!” Pinkie put in. “Come on, everypony. Cupcakes are on me!” I was the last one out the door, mostly because one of the books on the library shelves caught my eye. I didn’t spend much time at the Golden Oaks, so I hadn’t seen it before. My eyes became glued on the cover of Legends of Equestria. A thestral was plastered right on top.

“You coming or what, Acrylic?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah! Coming!” I hurried out the door after them. One of the unicorns in our company was kind enough to levitate the last ticket over to me. Spike suddenly looked disappointed.

“How come I don’t get a ticket to the gala?” He pouted, but was interrupted by another enormous belch. “And one for you, Spike,” he read, pulling another golden ticket from this second scroll. He giddily skipped out after us, stopping when he realized AJ and I were still watching. “I mean, I have to go too? Gross.” But AJ and I knew the truth. We laughed as we headed out for dinner at Sugar Cube Corner.

I toyed with the cupcake Pinkie supplied, not really interested in food. My mind was elsewhere. That book, for instance. It was the only one I had seen on thestrals. I would have to go back for it. I wanted a better understanding of how thestrals were viewed.

“Equestria to Acrylic,” Rainbow waved a hoof in front of my face, jolting me back to reality. “You phase out a lot, don’t you?”

“Occupational hazard,” I blinked. “Got to keep the creative juices flowing. What are we talking about?”

“I asked what you were going to do at the gala, now that we’re all going.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find a nice quiet corner and make a few sketches.”

“You should bring a portfolio to the gala, Acrylic.”

“What a grand idea, Twilight,” Rarity agreed. “All of the most important ponies will be there. A portfolio to show off your work is sure to attract good business for your shop. What were you calling it? ArtLife?”

“Acrylic’s ArtLife,” Pinkie corrected, taking a big chomp out of the cake. “I came up with it!”

“Well, that explains it, then,” Applejack giggled.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, now slightly concerned. “Too cheesy?”

“No, no, not at all. I like it,” Rainbow giggled. I flattened my ears. Were they laughing at me? I decided I could just simplify it to Art Life.

“I can’t believe I’m going to meet the Wonderbolts!” Rainbow went on. “After they see me at the Grand Galloping Gala, there’s no way they won’t let me into their team!”

“Sorry, Rainbow,” I sighed. If only she knew.

“For what?” All eyes turned to me. Did I say that out loud?

“I mean... I just wish I had wings. Then we could start our own flying group or something. That would be sure to catch their eye.” I sagged at relief at my own quick save.

“A flying group of our own? Hey, maybe we still can! Er, I still can. But yeah, it’s a shame you don’t have wings. You’d make a great flyer, the way you managed yourself back in the Everfree.” My expression became pained, but I didn’t let anypony see. What right did I have to keep this secret from her? I knew Rainbow longed for a flying partner. If I could just show her, she would have the choice to accept my dragon wings or not. I knew I couldn’t. Especially not without knowing what was in that book. While Rainbow worked out her new plan to form a flying team to impress her greatest-heroes-of-all-time, I zoned back out, falling victim to the depressing mental battle of should I, should I not.

I suddenly felt the all-too-familiar itch in my back. My eyes shot open, pupils shrunk down to pinpoints.

“I’ve gotta go.” I sat next to Rarity and Twilight both in the booth, pressing me against the wall. This was a bad time for a wing spring. Before Rarity and Twilight had time to scoot over, I’d jumped on top of the bench’s backboard, and balanced atop before jumping to the floor.

“Wait! You didn’t finish your cupcake!” Pinkie reminded.

“Not hungry,” I called back as I rushed out the door. I didn’t have time to make it home. I could already feel the nubs sprouting. Instead, I dashed into a dark alley behind the bakery, and huddled among discarded boxes as I heard Rainbow busting out the door after me.

“Where’d she go?” came her squeaky voice.

“She didn’t just disappear,” Applejack snorted from below. I cowered deeper into the shadows. This was a rather late dinner, and night had already descended, which helped to mask my figure as well.

“Well, she isn’t here, either. Has she been acting funny to you?” There was a long pause that caused my heart to sink.

“Maybe that’s just Acrylic. We wouldn’t question Pinkie if she ran off like that.”

“So you have noticed. There’s something weird about that pony, and I don’t mean Pinkie Pie weird. This is like she’s-hiding-something-weird. And I want to find out what it is.” She started flying off.

“Where do you think you’re goin’?”

“She probably went back to her shop. I’m going to see what she’s up to.” A loud whistling told me that Rainbow was on her way. I was just leaving when I accidentally upset the stack of boxes I was hiding behind.

“Hello? Is somepony there?” I heard hoofsteps approaching, and matched them with Applejack’s heavy accent. She was going to find me! How would I explain this? I didn’t think I had time to retract my wings, but even if I did, the crunching of bones was sure to raise questions. Unless... no, it was too risky. “Acrylic? Is that you? What in the hay are you doing back there?” She was getting closer. I had to make up my mind. I closed my eyes. It was time to take a leap of faith. I concentrated. The final changes took place, and luckily, they didn’t cause any more noise. My eyes glowed like search lights, pupils reduced to blade-like slits. Even my coat darkened by a few shades of gray. I ripped the ties out of my mane and tail, letting it all hang loose. Finally, I removed the plaid beret. Clutching it to my chest where it was out of sight, my wings snapped open.

I was thirty feet in the air in a second flat, my huge wings easily catching air. Applejack clutched her own stetson as the huge gust of wind I produced nearly took it off. She looked up, wide eyed as the mysterious figure took off. I couldn’t tell if she’d recognized me specifically through the horror already plastered on her face. “Well, some ponies just don’t have any consideration. Watch where you’re flyin’!” she yelled back at me, waving a hoof angrily. I did a triumphant twirl of success. She hadn’t identified me. Unfortunately, the thunderous crack of wings and zooming streak of gray had attracted other eyes. There were still a few ponies out at this time of night, so I glided into the clouds for cover.

“Hey, you!” Rainbow was hovering in the air below, admiration gleaming in her rosy eyes. “Come here. I wanna ask you something!” Oh no. I knew that look. Why couldn’t I have kept my mouth shut about the flying team thing? With a heavy heart, my wings snapped back into action. “Hey, wait!” Rainbow called. “I’m talking to you!” As I expected, she zipped after me in rainbow blur. My thestral wings kept me in the lead, much to her astonishment. She was so caught up in trying to keep pace and dodge the clouds I spun around that she didn’t notice where I was leading her. Folding my wings, I dove right into the canopies of the Everfree. “WHOA!” she shrieked, trying desperately to stop in time. Her angle was completely off. That would be a hard landing. Shoot, Rainbow, why do you do this to me?

I broke into an all-out sprint, trampling the bush I’d intended to be my cover. With a crack as loud as thunder, my wings brought me soaring back towards Rainbow Dash. There was no way she could ignore my wings now, and I felt her eyes drawn to them. I couldn’t tell if she saw my face just yet, because I had been doing everything in my power to hide it. I let my mane fly into my eyes in an effort to conceal myself, which almost threw off my aim. I managed to catch her in time, though I had to spin underneath her so I could haul her up by the elbows. This angle also made it harder for her to twist around and identify me. The wind was blowing my incredibly long mane away from my face, but I urgently tried to keep it in place. I knew my cover was blown, but I couldn’t accept the fact, and kept postponing it for as long as I could. Depositing my load on the ground, I circled back to the Everfree. As careful as I had been, there was no way to tell if she’d seen or not.

I stormed through the Everfree, crashing through the underbrush like a mad pony. Tears streaked my cheeks, my sapphire eyes turning red from the salty water. They were the first to return to normal. Then my coat lightened, and my wings retreated back to their rightful place. I couldn’t keep this up. If my friends didn’t find out, it was still tearing me apart. Though I was fleeing for my life, I’d finally tasted the sky for the first time since arrival. These pegasi took it for granted. I wasn’t like that. I needed to fly. It was part of me. Once you touched the sky, and I mean really felt it, your heart never came down.

I ran until I could run no more, finally collapsing in the dirt. I fell asleep in the Everfree that night. I couldn’t help but feel like this was where I belonged.

I woke up in a much better mood. Though I slept on the cold hard ground instead of a comfortable bed, I felt refreshed. I’d forgotten how nice it was to wake to the first rays of dawn. Stretching, I looked fondly back at my wings. I’d neglected them for a month. Stretching them had felt so good last night. Last night. My face fell. Did they know, now? It was time to find out. I started off back the way I came, marked by a line of trampled undergrowth. My gaze again flicked to my wings. Maybe a brief flight couldn’t hurt. Smiling, I eyed an opening in the thick tree branches and made for it. No one was flying nearby. With this all-clear, I began the return flight back home, keeping low to the trees should I need to make a hasty escape.

Now that my reputation wasn’t at stake, I was able to enjoy myself. I glided over the tree tops, letting the tips of my wings unfurl so low that they brushed the leaves. Wind ruffled my mane. It felt so good to let it down again. Speaking of which, I needed to pull it back up before I got into town. I didn’t worry about it. I had all the time in the world; the sun was just rising, creating a warm sensation on my back as I soared through cool fog.

I touched down behind my home, making sure there still wasn’t a soul in sight. I stopped only long enough to make myself presentable for the day; I quickly brushed off the leaves and dirt still clinging to my coat after a night in the forest, fixed my hair, and of course, retracted my wings. I picked up my moth-eaten saddlebags and money on the way out too. There were errands to be run, and I might as well do them while I was checking up on things. Twilight would be opening the library by the time I got there. I could finally go back for that book.

No one gave me funny looks on my way, which was a good sign so far. Then again, Rainbow could have had enough sense to keep it in our circle of seven. Eight, counting Spike. I tried to put it out of my mind as I came up on the library. Twilight typically kept the door cracked to let ponies know when the library was open. It gave way just as I was lifting a hoof to knock.

“Oh, hi, Acrylic. Come in.”

“Thanks.” I steadied my breath when I followed her inside. She wasn’t acting strange. Now I just had to make sure Rainbow wasn’t keeping my secret to herself.

“Is everything okay? The way you ran off last night made us wonder.”

“Everything’s great,” I answered. “I just got really sick all of a sudden. A night’s rest did me a world of good.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that! But... I’m glad you’re feeling better. Do you know what caused it?”

“Probably just too much time making paint. The fumes get to you after a while.”

“There’s got to be a way to reduce that,” Twilight thought. That gave me an idea.

“Actually, I was just coming to see if you might have any books on that,” I fibbed.

“Oh! Well, if it’s a book you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. I’m sure we have something here.”

“Great. What do you suppose it would be under?”

And so we checked F for fumes, G for gasses, and even S for symptoms, but Twilight finally uncovered one hidden in the N’s for Natural Paints. As she filled out the checkout slip, I pretended to browse the other shelves. I quickly happened upon Legends of Equestria, and plucked it off the shelf, casually leafing through the pages.

“What’s this?” I asked as though I was really clueless. Twilight finished signing off on the sheet and looked up. Lifting it with her magic, she rifled through the pages.

“It looks like a reference guide to all the creatures from Equestrian Legends and folklore. Legends of Equestria. Huh. I’ve never read it. It looks interesting, though.”

“It sure does. You know, my mother used to tell me stories about these guys. You know, aponies, hippocampi, thestrals and such.”

“Oh, really? Well, maybe you’d be interested in taking it, too.”

“Can I check out two at a time?” I smiled, triumphant. Twilight was so pleased to be sharing her beloved tomes to notice my smirk.

“Of course! Just let me amend this slip, and it’s yours.” I felt like hoof-pumping the air. Unfortunately, I hadn’t succeeded just yet. Rainbow Dash flew in like a hurricane, producing so much force that the door slammed open in her wake.

“Twilight, quick! I need a book! What are you guys looking at me like that for?” She took one look around at out stunned faces before zoning in on the cover of Legends of Equestria. “Aha! Perfect. Thanks, Twi! I’ll bring it right back.” Rainbow snatched the book out of Twilight’s levitational hold and took off, just like that.

“Hey!” Twilight complained, landing face-first on the floor when her lost grip on the book caused her to fly forward. “Ugh. Sorry, Acrylic. I’ll hold it for you when she comes back with it, if you like.”

“That’s okay. Thanks, Twilight.” I stuffed the other book in my saddlebag, practically dancing on the spot. I ran out after the rogue pegasus before she could get another word in edgewise.

Luckily for me, Rainbow settled down on a cloud overlooking a meadow on the outskirts of town to read it.

“Rainbow Dash?” I practically screamed.

“Oh, hey, Acrylic. Sorry, I can’t talk now. I’m busy.”

“Since when do you read books?” I tried.

“Since a thestral saved me last night.” I shut up, and Rainbow took it for shock. She smirked, thinking she knew something I didn’t. She brandished a hoof on her chest. “Yep. A thestral. And here we thought they didn’t exist. I’m telling ya, one of these guys saved my life last night.” She purposefully gestured to the leather cover, the rearing imprint of one of my kin stamped into it. “Hey, you were about to check this out when I flew in, weren’t you? My bad. Here. I’ll come down so we can look at it together.”

“Don’t bother.”

“Are you sure? Because I don’t mind-”

“Rainbow, you have to promise to keep a secret for me.”

“What? What kind of secret?”

“A secret that might mean life or death one day. You can NEVER breathe a word of it to another pony so long as you live.”

“Okaaaay,” she rolled her eyes unbelievingly.

“Promise me, Rainbow. You have to swear on your life that you’ll never tell anypony.”

“Okay, okay. Tell you what, I’ll do better than that. I’ll Pinkie Pie Swear.”

“Pinkie Pie Swear?”

“Yeah. You can never tell anypony something if you Pinkie Pie Swear.”

“Alright, then.”

“I cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” she vowed.

“Alright.” I broke into a gallop.

“Hey, what are you-” Her eyes widened in horror as wings sprouted from my back, sending me into the air hurtling right for her cloud.

Chapter 7: Secret's Out

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Chapter 7
Secret’s Out

Rainbow practically screamed as I braced my hooves on her cloud and shoved it farther and farther from town. When I thought we were far enough from civilization, I topped, leaving us dangling over the forest.

“Y-You! You’re-”

“A thestral? Yes.”

“And you-”

“Saved you from breaking a wing last night? Yes.”

“But you-”

“Didn’t say anything? I know.”

“But why? Why lie to everypony?” Her voice came out in frightened, confused gasps. My eyes were pained, and this time I didn’t hide it.

“Look at what the book says, Rainbow. Look at how we’re remembered.” Her rose colored eyes flicked to the open pages of the book, then back to me. I painfully nodded, and she crawled back to it. Trembling, she began to read the passage.

“Before the time of the tyrant Discord, ponies lived in peace. Pegasi, earth ponies, unicorns and thestrals all shared the bountiful land of Equestria. The powerful magic keeping the balance had begun to take root in the form of a young sapling, the magical Tree of Harmony. It kept the balance between these four types of ponies so that none became greater than the other. The thestrals had been living in the dark, cramped forests for hundreds of years, but when they saw the beautiful farmland earth ponies worked, the open skies pegasi patrolled and the plentiful resources controlled by the unicorns, they felt cheated. They wanted more for themselves, but no pony else was willing to share. So, they attacked the Tree of Harmony in an attempt to upset the balance and turn it in their favor. Ponies became untrusting of one another, and split into factions according to species. The alicorn sisters Luna and Celestia eventually destroyed the thestral menace, restoring the balance. Unfortunately, the balance had already been uprooted long enough for the tyrant Discord to take hold, trying to throw Equestria into eternal chaos.”

“The alicorn sisters had to wait until the tree had matured enough to stabilize,” I said, head bowed. “Then they could return for the elements and defeat Discord. But if the thestrals had never attacked the sapling tree of harmony in the first place, Discord would never have been able to take hold. It was our fault, Rainbow. Don’t you see? This is how we’re remembered. This is how ponies will think of me if they knew. I’m just a criminal to them.”

“But you didn’t rise up to break the balance. That was your ancestors.”

“I’m glad you see it that way, Rainbow, because they won’t. They’ll take one look at my wings and label me as that ‘thestral menace.’ The book says it, Rainbow!”

“That’s not true. It can’t be true.”

“Think of it this way. If I say ‘alicorn,’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

“The Princesses, of course. Celestia, if you want specifics.”

“Right. The one that stands for good and justice. But Nightmare Moon was an evil alicorn. But you don’t instantly think of alicorns as evil because Celestia came first. It’s the same way with thestrals, I guess. My evil ancestors came before me, and that gave us a bad name. I’m stuck with that label, like it or not.”

“Well, I don’t think of you that way,” she offered, moving next to me and attempting to wrap a wing around. She soon found it impossible, given the size of my huge wings.

“Thanks, Dashie.” I instead wrapped one of my massive appendiges around her, swallowing her up and then some. Tears welled up in my eyes. At least one of my friends could accept me for who I was.

“This does mean I have a new flying partner, right?” she clarified teasingly.

“How do you feel about night flying?” I tearfully smiled.

I found out that Rainbow had told only Applejack about the thestral sighting, though the earth pony hadn’t believed a word of it. My new flying partner promised to lead everypony off my tail if it was brought up again. Though she tried to change my mind about keeping the whole thing a secret at first, I remained firm. After sharing my theories about what might happen to me if the Princesses caught word of a thestral sighting, even she agreed that it was best to keep quiet.

She talked me into flying back. After all, it would be a long walk for me. At my request, we kept low to the treetops. As soon as we took off, though, I noticed that Rainbow’s eyes never left my leathery dragon wings. I tried to igore it, but after a full minute, it became unbearable.

“You’re going to crash if you don’t watch where you’re going,” I huffed, swerving to avoid hitting another branch. She had almost knocked into a particularly tall tree herself.

“Sorry,” she said, pumping her wings until she was clear of the trees. I was much more accustomed to dodging the branches than she. Rainbow was too frustrated from dodging the high branches to remember our agreement, and soared several feet higher so she was safe from hitting them altogether. I, on the other hoof, remained only inches from the leaves. The silence that ensued was slightly awkward.

“So, you really aren’t from out in the country, are you?”

“No. The thestral encampment where I was raised is deep in the Everfree.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You came from the Everfree?”

“I know you Ponyville folk think that everypony from the Everfree is ‘bad news,’ but it’s my home,” I sighed, recalling Applejack’s words from our first adventure together.

“You’re not like other ponies from that place, Acrylic. But now I want to know everything! What’s it like?”

“Well... it’s kind of like life in Ponyville. But we use gems as currency. A few merchants who make trips to other cities trade gems for bits, which is how I got enough money to start myself off here. All thestrals can hide their wings like me, so they could just stroll into town, cash in gems at the bank and come back with goodies for us.”

“But... if you can all just disguise your wings, why haven’t you all just come back to join everypony else?”

“For one thing, we can’t permanently hide our wings. Sometimes, my wings just suddenly start growing back. It usually happens twice a day and sometime in the middle of the night, because I always wake up with them. I call them wing springs.”

“Pffft! Wing springs!” Rainbow laughed, flipping upside down to clutch her stomach as she laughed. I rolled my eyes. She finally recovered, ever so sheepishly. “So... was that why you took off last night?”


“But if it’s such a huge risk, why did you come in the first place?”

“Because the other reason most thestrals stay in the shadows of the Everfree is exactly what drove me out. They hate. It’s like a disease. They hate Celestia for keeping them in the dark. For taking what they think was their only chance at a happy life. Thestrals live in the dark and dangerous forest, grounded for fear they’ll be discovered. They can’t farm. They can only gather what grows. They blame it all on the alicorn sisters. Even after a thousand years, they won’t let it go. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I saw what hate was doing to them. It was consuming them. I just didn’t want that to happen to me.” My head hung.

“Well, it sounds to me like the rest of those guys need to get a life,” Rainbow snorted, failing to console me at all.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. Not everything there is centered around hate and revenge. My parents did a good job of showing me that it was history, and nothing more. Not everypony thought that way, but it’s how I was taught. My friend Tanzanite Miner has accepted it too, more or less. She thought I was crazy for wanting to move to Ponyville, but she has nothing against other ponies. Neither do the twins, Soprano and Spinning Solo.”

“Were those your friends from the... encampment?”

“We were never really close, but they were the closest thing I had back there.”

“But something still doesn’t add up. If you’re all supposed to be grounded, how come you’re such a good flyer? You’re as good as any Cloudsdale pegasi!” I smiled.

“My dad, Wind Storm, was the best flyer anypony had ever seen.”

“So your full name is Acrylic Storm?” I grinned. My parents always simply called me Acrylic, but there was something about carrying his name that I liked.

“I guess you could say that. You know he was the first thestral in four generations to earn a cutie mark for flying? At least, in our sector he was. He taught me everything I know.”

“Sectors? Now you’re just confusing me.”

“A sector is basically a thestral village. Well, they look more like refugee camps, but it’s the same thing. I grew up in Blade Wing Sector 4.”

“Oh, my head,” Rainbow joked. So, I proceeded to explain the sector system in further detail. Blade Wing was the name of the thestral who founded our sector. It had grown so much that the encampment had to split into another two divisions, Blade Wing Sector 1 and Blade Wing Sector 2. Now there were five, and there were rumors of a proposed Sector 6. There were other sectors besides Blade Wing, of course. They were all sparsely populated and located a good distance from one another. By the end of my explanations, Rainbow had concluded that thestrals were paranoid, angry loners who talked a good fight but never came out of their shells. Except me, of course, as she explained it. I was the odd ball. In a good way. I convinced her to be quiet before she said something she’d regret.

I lighted down at the edge of the forest, retracted my beloved wings, and trotted out into the clearing. I was shocked I hadn’t lost my saddlebags in all the hubbub.

“So, meet you tonight for our first pegasus-thestral flight?” Rainbow grinned.

“Sure thing,” I agreed. Before we had time to arrange a date, we were interrupted by Pinkie Pie. She was sprinting across the field for us at top speed.

“Hey guys!” she exclaimed, not even breaking a sweat.

“Hey, what’s up, Pinkie?” Rainbow casually greeted.

“I’ll tell you what’s up! We have a new party to plan!”

“What kind of party?” I asked, looking at the stack of invitations Pinkie had just shoved into my hooves.

“A baby shower! Mr. and Mrs. Cake just announced that they’re having foals!”

“That’s wonderful!”

“Here, I need you guys to help me pass out invitations. Pretty pinkie please?”

“I don’t have much else planned for today,” I consented.

“Yeah, might as well,” Rainbow agreed.

“Great! Come on!” Pinkie somehow managed to yank Rainbow out of the air and drag both of us behind her.

Somepony jabbed me in my sleep.


“Wow. You really do grow wings in your sleep. I heard a lot of cracking and popping on my way up here. Honestly, it was kind of gross.” I rubbed my head, having fallen off the bed.

“Rainbow Dash? What are you doing here? Do you know what time it is?”

“Time for some night flying!” she proudly announced. “I guess you forgot.”

“I didn’t forget. Fluttershy told me that you were going to be practicing for an upcoming competition all night. I thought you were busy.”

“Yeah, busy practicing with you. Now, come on, sleepy wings. Up and at ‘em!” With a groan, I pulled myself back to my hooves. I didn’t bother with doing my mane, as it could only give me away sooner if we were caught. Wings dragging on the ground, I stumbled down the stairs. A gust of the cold night air instantly refreshed me. Rainbow Dash was already waiting for me, wings poised. “Ready?”

“Only if you are.” She snapped into action, leading the way into the dark night sky. My wings brought me level with her in half the time.

“I scouted around Ponyville after helping Pinkie deliver those invites. That forest from this morning looks completely abandoned, and nopony should be around this time of night.”

“What’s wrong? The Everfree too creepy for you?” I joked.

“N-No!” Rainbow indignantly stuttered. “It’s just... I want you to help me practice for my performance at the junior flight competition next month. The trees in these woods aren’t so thick, and it’s better for weaving.”

“I’m only teasing,” I chided. “Race you.” I took off without waiting for a response.

“It’s ON!” Rainbow had the upper hoof, since she didn’t have to stay in the clouds for cover. However, I had the upper wing, and I used the extra altitude to my advantage. Just as she was coming up on the tree line, I tucked in my wings, going in for one of my signature dives. The altitude brought me down, down, down at an incredible speed. Just when I looked like I was about to crash into the ground, I flipped around, my back to the ground. I used the exterior membrane of my wings, (a webbing located in the crook of my wing’s outer elbow), to repel the air, making me arc sharply upwards. Twirling upright once more, I folded my wings altogether and landed neatly on the ground. Rainbow looked on with an open mouth. I smirked.

“These wings might look big and clunky, but thestrals are the most agile ponies you’ll ever come across.”

“That. Was. AWESOME! Can you teach me to do that?”

“Not unless you spontaneously grow an outer membrane like this.” I ran a hoof over the extra skin. Rainbow pouted. “Now, go on. Show me your routine.”

“Alright. I’ll only show you the first two stages; the third involves a sonic rainboom. I have to wait until it’s light to practice that one.”

“Don’t want to attract all of Ponyville,” I agreed.

“Here goes nothin’,” she sighed, taking off again. I switched to glow light eyes before perching on the tallest tree to watch.

The first part of her routine involved tight weaves through a line of trees. It was impressive, but that’s not how I would have done it. I nodded, leaving myself a mental note and continued to watch. She made a smooth transition from the weave to shooting for the clouds in a neat arc. She targeted three specifically, and spun around them in tight pinwheels. If she could hold a sharper poise, it would decrease her drag and shoot her twice as fast. She pulled up from those, zooming back up into the sky. I almost thought she’d forgotten her resolve to save the sonic rainboom practice for daylight when she suddenly whipped around for a neat bow. I jumped into the sky, the branch below springing back up, released from my weight and planting a nice scratch on my ankle. I responded by crinkling my nose at the brief pain, but continued to make for Rainbow.

“So? What’da think?”

“Impressive. Tight turns are bound to catch somepony’s eye. The Wonderbolts, maybe?” I teasingly elbowed her. She grinned.

“You really think so?”

“Just maybe. But might I add a suggestion?”


“When you’re pin wheeling the clouds, angle yourself even more. Point your wingtips until they’re perpendicular with the ground.”

“Perpen... what?”

“Straight up and down.”

“I can’t go any straighter. If I do, it throws me completely off balance.”

“Here’s the trick.” I made for one of the clouds she’d been using, angled myself sideways, and while the wing on top was nearly straight, I stretched the bottom one to be parallel with the ground until it brushed the edges of the cloud. “Use your bottom wing as an anchor,” I yelled above the whistling wind. “Let your feathers dig into the cloud. It’s weightless, so it won’t provide any drag, but it sure will give you a better grip.”

“I’ll give it a try,” she doubtfully agreed. We switched places in the sky, and I hovered to watch. She did just what I’d told her to, spinning shakily a few times before she got the hang of it. When she finally did, though, her face lit up. “Oh, YEAH!” she screamed, whipping around it with not twice but thrice the speed.

She pulled out of the cloud just as I was diving for the trees to demonstrate my methods. I wove through them at the same speed she had accomplished, but instead of manually adjusting my angle, I folded my wings to turn, letting the wind pull me in the right direction before recovering for the next turn. After my first helpful hint, Rainbow was more than willing to try this method. As soon as she went in for the first turn, though, she found her wings weren’t big enough to catch the required air, and tumbled to the dirt. I flew back to land at her side. “Maybe I should go back to my method for that one,” she blushed. I had to agree.

We practiced for another three hours before I decided I needed to get back to bed if I wanted to be presentable in the morning. Rainbow Dash reluctantly agreed, and flew me home.

“Acrylic?” She shuffled her hooves in the dirt as I opened the door.


“Will you come to Cloudsdale to watch my competition?”

“Cloudsdale? I thought we agreed I couldn’t show off my wings.”

“But you can still walk on the clouds without them, right? I mean, you’re still a thestral underneath.”

“Well yes, of course, but no earth ponies can walk on clouds, remember?”

“We can tell everypony that it’s some kind of cloud-walking spell. Please, Acrylic? If you don’t come, the only other pony there with me will be Fluttershy. I appreciate her support, but let’s face it. Her cheering is awful.”

“I’ve still got to fly to get there. Somepony will see my wings. My dragon wings.”

“That’s easy. I know the quietest places around Cloudsdale borders. Sneaking you in won’t be hard.”

“What do we tell Fluttershy when she asks how I got there?”

“Oh, uh, well... maybe you could take a hot air balloon?”

“A hot air balloon? Really?”

“Okay, maybe some strong stallions gave you a lift. Please? Do this for me?” Rainbow’s puppy dog eyes were terrible, but I caved.

“Alright, alright. I’ll be there,” I promised.

“Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!” she squealed, choking me in tight embrace. ‘You’re welcome,’ is what I meant to say, but it came out more like garbled croaking. “Fluttershy’s helping me practice this Friday, and every weekend up until the competition. Will you come help out?”

“Sure,” I coughed, released from the smothering hug.

“Great! See you then!” She was gone in a flash. I was left to get as much sleep as I could.

Morning came all too soon, and though I slept in by an extra hour, I still had bags under my eyes.

Chapter 8: Sonic Rainboom

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Chapter 8
Sonic Rainboom

As promised, Rainbow got me into the yard of an old, abandoned factory unseen in the dark few minutes before sun up, but then had to zoom back to fly over with Fluttershy. I’d been helping her practice all month, but she was still shaking like a leaf with nervousness.

Left to myself, I wandered the collapsing structure aimlessly until I was let out into sunlight, thrust into a bustling plaza full of pegasi. I was given astonished stares as the pegasi watched an earth pony stroll along the cloudy roads. Rainbow said that I couldn’t miss the stadium, but in the end, I still had to ask for directions. I approached a young stallion getting a booth ready to open up for the day.

“Excuse me?” he looked up from unpacking the boxes, but upon seeing a wingless pony, his jaw dropped. “I was hoping you could point me in the direction of the Cloudeseum for the junior flight competition. I’m looking for a friend.”

“Oh! Um, of course. If you get down to that flagpole, it’s a straight shot to your right. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.”

“Um, miss?”


“Can I ask... what happened to your wings?”

“Oh, I’m not a pegasus. Long story short, a friend gave me a zebra potion that allows me to walk on clouds for my friend’s performance.” The stallion looked relieved.

“Oh, well, have a good day!” he waved.

“You too.” I followed his instructions, and face hoofed myself for not seeing it in the first place. Word must have spread about the potion, because within half an hour, I stopped receiving strange looks. I was getting worried; Rainbow Dash was taking an awfully long time to get back. I knew Fluttershy wasn’t the fastest flyer around, but she couldn’t be slowing them down that much. I even had to duck under the bleachers for a few minutes during my first wing spring of the day. Was this the right stadium? My questions were answered when Rainbow finally entered the stadium. It was clear why she’d been late. Pinkie, Applejack and Twilight trotted in behind her and Fluttershy. Rarity now hovered above them all with incredibly delicate butterfly wings. I felt like my jaw was about to touch the ground, and my eyes bulged. Theirs did the same upon seeing me.



“How’d you get here?”

“I was gonna ask you the same.”

“Twilight found a spell to give Rarity wings for three days.”

“It was too hard to repeat, so I found a simpler one that lets us walk on clouds,” Twilight nodded. “We tried to find you yesterday, so I could complete the spell on you too, but it looks like you found the same one. But who’d you get to complete it?”

“It was more like a zebra potion,” I nervously giggled. Would they buy it? “There was only enough for one pony, and I didn’t want to make everypony else jealous, so I didn’t say anything. Some of Rainbow’s friends gave me a lift up.”

“A zebra potion? Why didn’t we think of that?”

“I guess it doesn’t matter now, since we’re all here.”

“She’s right, y’all. We better go find our seats. All these other ponies are.”

“Applejack’s right. Good luck, Rainbow Dash.”

“You don’t need it!” I put in.

“Yeah!” Pinkie chimed.

“Kick some tail out there, partner!”

“Yay.” Fluttershy quietly cheered. Rainbow nervously blushed, and then glided over to the competitor’s stage. I watched silently as Rarity followed.

“Where does she think she’s going?” Twilight sighed.

“Everypony loves her wings so much that she decided to compete.”


“I know, I know. We couldn’t change her mind, and now Rainbow’s more nervous than ever!” I shook my head. Of course I’d be here for her, but Rarity should have been in the stands with us, too. Rainbow had it in her to win this thing as long as it didn’t go to her head. I bit my lip and took a seat. I’d done everything I could for her. It was up to Rainbow Dash now.

The show started with a celebrity welcoming for not only the Wonderbolts, guest judges for the competition, but Princess Celestia too. The contestants came out, one after the other with amazing performances. There was still no sign of either Rainbow or Rarity, and I worried for her. If it’d been me, I would have wanted to be first and just get it over with. Now Rainbow had to watch all the amazing acts before her. I’d been in one such competition as a filly in the Blade Wing encampment. My stomach turned knots until it was my turn. I always managed to convince myself that the last act was better than mine. If I knew Rainbow, the same thoughts were surely churning in her mind right now.

“I loved number seven. Doing fifteen barrel rolls in a row can’t be easy.” Twilight’s comment tore me from my worries.

“My favorite is number ten. She just seemed like a nice pony.”

“What about you, Acrylic?”

“Hm? Oh. I liked thirteen. I know for a fact that those dives and pivots aren’t easy.”

“You do?”

“Sure. I have lots of flying experience. Remember the time I decided to catapult off the cliff and do a swan dive off the tree branch in the Everfree?” We all erupted into giggles at the dry joke.

“Hmm... I wonder why we haven’t seen Rainbow Dash or Rarity yet. The competition’s almost over.” I looked up at the scoreboard, and furrowed my brow. There were only fifteen slots, but two competitors left. They were, of course, our very own Rarity and Rainbow. I assumed the lack of positions was because of how Rarity spontaneously decided to join. If there was only one slot left, then who got it?

“And now, for our final competitor of the day, contestant number fifteen! Uh... and apparently, contestant number four.” I had a bad feeling as soon as the wrong music started playing. I’d personally helped Rainbow select what she deemed to be the perfect rock and roll track. This was a slow classical number, by the sounds of it. It must have been Rarity’s doing, because she twirled magnificently in the air in perfect time to it.

Regardless, Rainbow began her routine of tight weaves. The spacing of these obstacles was a little different from what we’d practiced, and that must have thrown her off. Her timing was off by a second, but that was enough to send her careening into the cloud and bouncing into the side of the stadium. Some rude pegasus stallion jeered at her for it, and I gritted my teeth. She made a more or less neat recovery, zooming back up to the clouds for phase two.

“Look! Phase two is working!” Fluttershy pointed out, cuing the rest of us to cheer. I wasn’t sure if it was my tip to dig her wings into the clouds or just bad luck, but a small tuft broke free and hit her square in the maw, causing her to spin out of control and fling the larger cloud straight for the Princess. Though the Princess ducked in time, I winced for Rainbow. That couldn’t look good to the judges. Her only hope was phase three; the sonic rainboom. If she could do it, that is. Out of every practice session, she hadn’t been able to perform one rainboom.

Rarity was flying up for her big finale at the same time as Rainbow. Only, Rarity didn’t get too far. While the sun filtered down through her wings, casting dots of light down to the stadium below, it was too much for her delicate wings to take.

“Oh, no! Rarity’s wings evaporated into thin air!” Twilight wailed. Indeed, our friend was tumbling to the world below. Was this it? Did I have to give myself up to save my friend? I looked back at the Princess and gulped; she would see first hoof! I closed my eyes. That didn’t matter. Not with Rarity’s life on the line, that is. I was bracing myself to leap down when a hoof stretched in front of me.

“Acrylic, what are you doing?! You can’t fly either!” I looked over just as the Wonderbolts were leaving their judging balcony and diving to catch the unicorn. I sat back down, ears flat in embarrassment.

“I wasn’t gonna,” I quietly mumbled. I jumped back up, rigid once more when Rarity’s flailing knocked even the Wonderbolts unconscious, sending them all into a freefall.

“Hold on, Rarity! I’m coming!” The next best thing to the Wonderbolts dove down to save them; Rainbow Dash herself.

“I can’t look!” Fluttershy squealed, hiding her eyes. I anxiously shifted in my seat. Come on, Rainbow. At this point, they were too far down for me to reach even if I did show my wings. I wasn’t that fast. I joined Fluttershy in hiding my eyes, but the girls’ gasps brought me out of it. The air was bending around Rainbow as she pierced it. She was about to break the sound barrier! She might pull off this sonic rainboom after all! Static electricity crackled around her as she dove faster and faster, farther and farther. Come on, Rainbow! Another ten seconds and they’d all hit the ground! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three... I couldn’t watch, but my eyes were locked onto the scene. The loudest BOOM I’d ever heard rattled through my body, ringing in my eardrums as the sky exploded in rainbow colored light. The sonic rainboom. She’d pulled it off. While the rest of us were struck dumb, Rainbow’s cheering lessons with Fluttershy must have paid off. She was screaming louder than anyone in the stadium.


Rainbow made a clean arc over the stadium, painting a magnificent rainbow over it before circling back to deposit her passengers. By then, we’d all been knocked out of our stupor, partly due to Fluttershy’s cheering, and spat confetti at them.

“A SONIC RAINBOOM! WHOO! YEAH!” Fluttershy screamed again. Applejack and I ran to fetch the hot air balloon the girls had arrived in for Rarity. The pegasi currently supporting her were thankful for the weight to be removed from their care, and quickly eased her in.

“I just wanted to apologize to all of you for getting so carried away with my... beautiful wings,” Rarity said once we were alone. “I guess I just lost my head.”

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy assured.

“Don’t worry about it, kiddo.”

“We still love you.” I only smiled, knowing how easy it was to get carried away in the air. I, too, had gotten lost in flaunting off my father’s flying tricks more than once.

“And I'm especially sorry that I was so thoughtless as to jump into the contest at the last minute after you had worked so hard to win it. Can you ever, ever forgive me?”

“Aw, it’s okay. Everything turned out alright, right? I just wish I could have met the Wonderbolts when they were awake.” Speak of the devil. Spitfire, the leader of the flight group, tapped her shoulder. “Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!” Rainbow lolled.

“So you’re the little pony who saved our lives. We just wanted to meet you, and say thanks,” Spitfire spoke.

“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!” Rainbow repeated. I nudged her.

“Say something besides ‘oh my gosh.’ Introduce yourself!” I hissed.

“Hi,” was all she had the sense to squeak.

“Princess!” I whirled to find the tall white alicorn standing over us. I shuddered. She’d seen me nearly jump down to save the falling pegasi. Would she say anything?

“Hello, Twilight Sparkle,” she greeted after a brief bow. “And hello to your friends, too.”

“Princess Celestia, I’m sorry I ruined the competition. “Rainbow Dash here really is the best flyer in Equestria.”

“I know she is, my dear. That is why, for her incredible act of bravery and spectacular sonic rainboom, I’m presenting the grand prize for the best young flyer to this year’s winner, Miss Rainbow Dash!” This was announced to the entire stadium, which promptly erupted into congratulatory cheers.


“So, Twilight Sparkle, did you learn anything about friendship from this experience?”

“I did, Princess, but I think Rarity learned even more than me.”

“I certainly did. I learned how important it is to keep your hooves on the ground, and be there for your friends.”

“Excellent. Well done, Rarity.”

“This really is the BEST DAY EVER!” The group of pegasi stallions that were teasing her before now approached. I hurried to her side to give them a piece of my mind if they started acting up. My ears were back and eyes narrowed to slits, letting the whole world know about it.

“Uh, hey, Rainbow Crash.”

“Dash!” his friend hissed.

“Oh! Uh... Sorry. Rainbow Dash. Uh, we just wanted to congratulate you on winning the competition.”

“That sonic rainboom was awesome!”

“Heh, thanks, guys.”

“Uh, we're really sorry we gave you such a hard time before.”

“Aww, that's okay. Don't worry about it.”

“Hey. Do you want to hang out with us? Maybe you could show us how you did that incredible trick!”

“Sorry, boys... But I've got plans!” Rainbow let the Wonderbolts escort her off into Cloudsdale, leaving them open mouthed. I grinned after her. Their jaws dropped even further when the Princess walked over to address me.

“Hello there, Acrylic. How nice to see you again.”

“Princess! I- um- er- it’s nice to see you too.” She smiled, amused. I kicked myself.

“That was a daring attempt you made out there,” she began. I quietly groaned. So she had noticed.


“Though I’m not sure what you could have hoped to accomplish, I’m sure it was meant as a thoughtful gesture.”

“It was,” I assured. “I wanted to help, but sometimes I forget that I’m not built for some things.” In reality, I was built for exactly that, but she didn’t know.

“Good. It sounds like you’ve learned a valuable lesson as well. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to Canterlot.” I nodded, slightly relieved.

“Come on, Acrylic! You can get a ride home with us.” I nodded farewell to the Princess and hurried for their hot air balloon.

“What a day,” Applejack commented as Twilight untied the balloon.

“Yeah. I’m ready to go home and take a nap,” Twilight agreed.

“Oh, not me,” Rarity sighed. “I have a big order of dresses to fill. With the gala coming up in a few months, I’ve been working double shifts all week trying to keep up with them!”

“I’ve got to work on a new paint formula before my shop opens,” I concurred.

“You’re getting close, then?”

“It should be ready to open to the public by the end of the week.”

“WHAT? You’re getting ready for your grand opening but didn’t tell me?” Pinkie squealed. “I wanted to arrange the party!”

“You still can, Pinkie,” I assured. “I’ve seen you set up parties in an hour.”

“She’s right, Pinkie,” Rarity cooed. “You put my boutique’s grand opening together in a day flat.”

“Oh yeah,” she giggled.

“I’ll do the decorations for you, of course,” Rarity added.

“I can arrange a snack table for ya,” Applejack put in. And so, they began arranging my grand opening for me. I just stared out at the open sky.

Chapter 9: The Dresses

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Chapter 9
The Dresses

My shop had been received better than I had expected. Most ponies came for the association, if nothing else. Needless to say, I sold a good portion of the inventory, most of which to Cheerilee, the local school teacher. I soon found myself scrambling to replace it all. It had only been three days since the opening, but I was having a hard time grinding enough pigment to satisfy customers. My hoof-made paper was a hit, too. I turned the wood into a pulp myself, and set them out in the sun every day in the screens Rarity had made for me. I wished the sun could dry them faster.

“Acrylic!” Rarity burst into my shop just as I was pouring the next batch into the screens.


“Come out from there and hold still for me, won’t you?”

“Hold st- Whatever for? What are you doing?” Rarity had brought her trusty measuring tape around her neck, but now she was busy jotting down measurements.

“Twilight gave me a grand idea just this morning. She brought in this drab old dress in hopes that I could repair it for the gala, but it simply wasn’t salvageable, I tell you. I insisted on making her a new dress for the occasion. That’s when I decided to make all of you a new dress for the gala. But before that, we’re going to throw a fashion show, featuring us!”

“We are?” This was news to me.

“Of course we are. Now hold still, please. Just for another moment.”

“You’re making new dresses for seven ponies, on top of all your other orders?

“Those orders are nearly complete, dear. And besides; it will be such fun! Now tell me, what do you have in mind for your new gown?”

“You’re sure?”

“Of course I am. I’m thinking a blue hem to compliment your mane. What do you think?”

“Well, in that case, thank you, Rarity. As for the dress... that’s your area of expertise. Go wild. But... not too wild. You know my budget; it’s got to be something I can afford.”

“Of course. Of course. Hang on.” She eyed a parcel behind the counter and rushed over to it through the gates. “What’s this?”

“Oh, those are my new saddlebags. You saw what a state my old ones were in. With the extra cash my grand opening brought in, I could finally get some new ones. The solid white bags were on sale, but I thought they could do with a little extra flare. You like?” I’d fastened flaming paintbrush symbols to the straps that matched my cutie mark. Everypony else had customized their bags in such a manner, so now I could match. But the bags themselves had caught her eye. I’d tie dyed them in rainbow colored bursts, inspired by Rainbow’s sonic rainboom.

“Like them? I love them! This is perfect! I know exactly what your dress is going to look like!” She flipped to an empty page in her notebook and jotted down a few quick notes. When I tried to peek over at them, she snapped it shut. “Ah, ah! No peeking.”

“Oh, alright,” I laughed, resuming mixing the paper paste.

“There! Now I must be going. You were the last pony on my list for measurements. Now I can finally start on them! Oh, this is so exciting!” She performed a little dance on the spot just as Bon Bon and Lyra entered the shop. They gave her blank stares as she did one last twirl. “Oh, um, he-he. Goodbye now.” She ran off, leaving me to my customers.

* * *

“That’s it. Keep them closed. Don't look.” Rarity had brought all of us down to the Carousel Boutique for the unveiling of our new dresses. Eyes shut, she led everypony into the back. “Okay, you can look now! These are your new outfits. What do you think of your old duds now, Applejack? Pretty swanky, are they not? And Twilight! I made this dress for you and I designed each outfit theme to perfectly reflect each pony's unique personality. Oh, it took me forever to get the colors right on this one, Rainbow Dash, but I did it. Oh, and it turned out BEAUTIFUL, don't you think? Oooh, and I know you are going to love yours, Fluttershy. It just sings spring! Pinkie Pie, look! Pink! Your favorite! This is yours, Acrylic. Your new saddlebags inspired this one, with a blue hem, as promised! Aren't they all amazing?”

“Wow... They're...”

“Yeah, they're...”

“They’re beautiful,” I crooned.

“Do you think so?” Rarity beamed. I walked over to further examine the dress intended for me. The top half was white, and silky to the touch with short, dark blue sleeves to match my mane. The hem was covered in shiny blue ribbon, ruffled by her stitch strokes. The seam attaching the skirt to the top was covered by a thick blue ribbon belt tied to a perfect bow. The skirt was in two layers, the first overlaying the bottom half like a cape. Both were covered in the same tie dyed color bursts I’d put on my saddlebags. The dress came with delicate blue slippers, the ribbon frill tied off with small bows on each one. While I was planning to wear my purple plaid beret to the gala, there was a white headband resting on top with a feather arrangement off to the side, a paintbrush sticking from it. While it sounded funny, Rarity somehow made it work.

“It’s beautiful,” I said again.

“Oh, I’m so happy you think so! And the rest of you?”

“They sure are... somethin’.”

“Yes! Something.”

“I love something! Something is my favorite!”

“It's... nice.”

“But what's the matter? Don't you like them?”

“They're very nice...”

“And we're plum grateful 'cause you worked so hard on them.”

“Mine's just not as cool as I was imagining. What? She asked.”

“I guess what we're all saying is that they're just not what we had in mind.”

“Yeah,” the rest of them agreed.

“But that’s the whole point of having somepony else make a dress for you. You want their artistic touch on it. Otherwise, you might as well have made it yourself.”

“No, no. That's okay, Acrylic. Not a problem. There's plenty more where that came from. They were only a first pass. You're my friends and I want you to be 110% satisfied. Not to worry, I'll redo them.”

“Oh, Rarity. You don't have to do that. They're fine,” Fluttershy hummed.

“I want them to be better that just fine. I want you to think they're absolutely perfect.”

“Are you sure? I mean, we wouldn't wanna impose.”

“Oh, it's no imposition. Really, I insist.”

“Well, in that case... Thank you again, Rarity,” Twilight smiled, leaving behind the girls.

“Are you sure yours is exactly to your liking?” Rarity inquired, turning to me before I could follow the others out. “So long as I’m redoing everypony else’s, I’d be happy to do yours too.” I rolled my eyes.

“It’s like I said, Rarity. It’s beautiful. I don’t make expectations, because then it leaves no room for the artist to breathe. You did a fabulous job. On all of these, not just mine. The others see that, but they don’t think the same way artistic ponies like us do.”

“Oh, I’m so happy you like it! Now, I just have fix these.” She took a deep breath, looking around at the rejected gowns. “What have I gotten myself into?”

“I’d be more than happy to help,” I offered. “I have a little experience.”

“No, no, Acrylic, now you have your own shop to attend to. And from what I can tell, you’re incredibly busy as it is. No, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“Okay, but don’t hesitate to call me after hours.” I finally walked out of the shop, leaving my payment for the gorgeous gown on the counter.

Since I knew Rarity wasn’t going to come to me, I waited until after work, and I went to her. She kept denying that she needed help, but I could tell she was relieved to have the extra hooves. She’d already consulted with most of the ponies to find out exactly what changes they had in mind. Knowing my skill in the little details, she taught me a rather particular stitching method before setting me loose to fix Applejack’s outfit. Since she sewed with levitation magic, I found it rather difficult to mimic her example at times.

Rarity kept calling our friends back in to approve or decline their next dress, and after they all declined the second dress, just had them stay through its completion to show what she was doing wrong. I only half-listened in on Twilight giving Rarity an astronomy lesson, but realizing how particular Twilight was going to be with the constellations featured on the new gown, Rarity called me in. I had been grateful when Rarity noticed my difficulty with the needle after poking myself for the fiftieth time and moved me over to the machine, but this dress was going to take a lot of hoof embroidering, I could tell. Maybe I should just mark where Rarity needed to stitch... One look over at my frazzled friend told me that was out of the question.

When I was seen assisting in the creating of the dresses, almost every other pony offered to lend a hoof too. Rarity reasoned that it would spoil the surprise, working on their own dresses, but suggested that they instead began organizing the fashion show itself. Pinkie readily took to this, and zoomed off with Fluttershy in tow to arrange it.

In the end, I’d completed only one dress, leaving Rarity to redo four. It was still a big load off her shoulders, or so she told me. But as we looked around at our work, we both winced. These weren’t exactly the most glamorous of outfits...

“Well... the client is always right...” Rarity tried to convince herself. I cocked my head.

“Most of the time,” I corrected. Our friends weren’t exactly fashion designers, and I definitely wasn’t a seamstress. Twilight’s skirt hung flat and cockeyed, though the constellations were in perfect order. The rest of them were made properly, but they just didn’t look... right.

“Oh, let’s face it! These are the ugliest dresses I’ve ever made!” Rarity’s beloved pet cat, Opal, hissed agreement, batting at the streamers Pinkie demanded be added to hers.

“Should I call them all in?” I asked.

“These are what they asked for... yes, be a dear and fetch everypony.” With a nod, a galloped out to round up our ponies.

This was not a difficult task, as they had all been waiting around for this moment anyway. I had to pull Twilight from a book and Rainbow from a practice session, but they all came willingly. We didn’t bother with closing everypony’s eyes, as they more or less knew what theirs looked like anyway. Once they were all gathered around, Rarity opened the door to reveal the monstrosities within.

“Okay. I did exactly what each of you asked for. Now don't hold back. Let me know what you really think.” Delighted oohs and aahs ensued, and I hid behind a mannequin to shake my head. This was exactly why ponies came to Rarity for style advice and not Pinkie, Rainbow or Fluttershy and especially not Twilight or Applejack.

“Oh my!”

“It's... perfect!”

“It's so cool!”

“Why, they're the best duds I ever did see.”

“It's exactly what I asked for!” they all said in such perfect unison it had to have been practiced.

“Thank you, Rarity.”

“Are you as happy with them as we are? Huh? Huh? Huh?” She looked over at me, and I shook my head, swiping a hoof to and fro as a cut sign.

“Well, I'm... happy that all of you are happy. I'm just relieved to finally be done.” Spike suddenly burst into the shop, panting heavily.

“You are never gonna believe this! You've heard of Hoity Toity?”

“The bigwig fashion hotshot in Canterlot?”

“Uh-huh. He heard about your fashion show. Well, maybe I happened to mention it to him... He's coming here all the way from Canterlot to see your work, Rarity!”

“Whoa, Nelly! You could sell a ton o' dresses to this guy. Your business will be boomin'!”


“That's so cool!”

“I don't believe it!”

“Hoity Toity? He's coming here? To see these dresses?” She shied away from them like they might bite her at any moment.

“Yep! Get ready for all of your dreams to come true.”

As soon as everypony else had left, Rarity practically fell down at my hooves.

“Acrylic! You’re my only hope! I need you to flaunt that dress like your life depends on it! Because mine does.”

“Well, I’m not the most glamorous model around, but I’ll do my best, Rarity,” I promised, looking over at the one remaining original gown sticking out like a sore hoof among the five other redone ones. Wait, one, two, three, four, five, six. Just six? I thought we were all being featured.”

“Aren’t you in the show too, Rarity?”


“The show. I thought everypony was getting a new gown, but there’s only six here. We’re seven ponies.”

“Oh dear. I’ve just been so busy, uh... perfecting everypony else’s gowns that I haven’t had time for my own. Well, that’s all right. I still have time before the gala to do it. And as designer, I can simply host the show. You know. Make my appearance at the end to take credit for... these.” She sighed, collapsing on me for support. “Oh, what am I going to do? Hoity Toity is going to see these things! They’re so hideous! He’ll think I’m an amateur! Just a fashionista wannabe! My career will be ruined!”

“You don’t know that, Rarity. Maybe he’ll see the original you made for me and understand that the other dresses were... special orders.”

“Or, he’ll think the only good one in the batch was a fluke! I can’t go out there! I just can’t!” She proceeded to fall to the floor and weep at my feet, terrible wailing sounding from her mouth. I reached out a hoof and smoothed her wilting mane.

“Alright, it’s alright. You’ve got to go out there, Rarity. Everypony else is expecting you to. Just think how disappointed Pinkie will be if you decide to chicken out.” She sniffed, realizing that I was right. “Now, come on. You need to fix your hair before you make a grand appearance. Have you looked in the mirror lately?” I knew she hadn’t, so when she flew over to one of the many wall length mirrors around her shop, she almost shrieked.

By the time Rarity was fixed up, it was time to begin preparing for the show. We switched places at the sink so she could now do my mane. She removed the white ties from my thick head of hair and brushed out the waves where they’d been restrained for so long. The ties were decieving; though they kept my hair up at half the usual length, my hair almost reached the floor by now. The top even looked a little longer than the bottom. Rarity used this to her advantage as she gathered most of it into a thick bundle. Pulling a light blue ribbon from one of her drawers, she demonstrated what it would look like tied it off at the bottom almost like Applejack did. The rest of my mane now lined up more or less evenly, and it was allowed to cascade down the side as usual. Rarity wanted to get me in my dress before tying it for real.

I gingerly slid the silken slippers over my hooves while Rarity lovingly pried the dress off the mannequin. She levitated it overhead so I could slip into it, and adjusted the bow. That done, she could tie my hair for real, but covered the vanity mirror so I would be surprised. When I felt the headband fall into place between my ears, I scurried back and uncovered the mirror. I jumped. This wasn’t the same mare I knew looking back at me.

“Oh, you look wonderful, dear!” Rarity squealed in delight. And I did. I jokingly flitted my eyelashes at the mirror. “Splendid! Do that at the fashion show, and even Hoity Toity can’t deny the genius of it!”

“Seriously? You want me to bat my lashes at him?”

“Please? Do it for me?”

“Okay...” I reluctantly agreed. Was this really how models acted? I was suddenly very glad I hadn’t entered that field professionally

“Acrylic?!” The door squeaked open, revealing five stunned ponies currently gawking at the fancy getup I was in. I was going to start off with a simple ‘hi,’ but their ridiculous expressions were making me uncomfortable.

“What... what’re you staring at?”

“You look... AMAZING!” one by one, they all cast a glance at their own original dresses, wondering if the changes they requested were really necessary. I tried to encourage this behavior by fluttering my lashes as Rarity demanded.

“You think?”

“We know. This is sure to attract business for ya, Rarity!” Applejack whinnied.

“Let’s all get into our new dresses!” Pinkie squealed, making a mad dive for the hideous batch. I sighed. So much for that idea. I shrugged at Rarity as if to say, ‘I tried.’

“Everything’s set up, Rarity,” Twilight promised, pulling the droopy skirt over her head. “Pinkie borrowed a stage from the acting school, and we’ve got it set up in the plaza. Vinyl Scratch agreed to DJ for us, and Rainbow and Fluttershy passed out invitations to everypony in Ponyville! They’re all coming!”

“Everypony in Ponyville?” Rarity gulped.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Oh, um... that’s excellent!” she fibbed.

“Well, after you worked so hard on this, we just wanted it all to be perfect,” Fluttershy explained, pulling a bird’s nest themed hat over her ears.

“Alright, girls. Should we rehearse once before the real thing?”


“Alright. Acrylic, do you want to go first?”

“NO!” Rarity screamed. We all stared at her. “Um, what I meant to say is... she just underwent such an extreme transformation from a simple artist to ballroom dancer that I think she should be our grand finale. I mean, the rest of you girls look splendid too, but I hardly recognized Acrylic after she put her dress on. What do you girls think?”

“Is that okay with you, Acrylic?”

“I guess so.”

“Alright then. I guess I’ll go first.”

“Wait!” Spike interrupted, running in late for the second time.

“Now what?” Rainbow groaned.

“I made up a speech to introduce you all to the stage. Whoa, is that you, Acrylic?”

“Yeah... let’s hear your speech, Spike,” I suggested, shuffling uncomfortably. If I couldn’t handle my friends going gaga over Rarity’s dress, how would I deal with all of Ponyville staring at me? A second glance in the mirror gave me the confidence boost I needed. Rarity had truly outdone herself with this.

“Ahem,” he coughed, holding up a script. “Since the beginning of time, the elite of Equestria have longed for pony fashions that truly expressed the essence of their very souls. Patiently waiting decades for the perfect pony gown. Today, at long last, Equestria, your wait is over! Let's hear it for the breathtaking designs of Ponyville's own Rarity!”

“That was great, Spike,” Twilight congratulated. “Well, I’m up.” She walked out, face dramatically blank, followed by AJ, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and finally, me.

“Great practice run, girls.”

“You know, it’s going to be jam packed as it is with all six of us out at once. Rarity gets the catwalk to herself, but I still don’t see how we’re going to fit everypony,” Rainbow noted.

“Should we pegasi fly overhead?” Fluttershy quietly suggested.

“Or, we could fit one more at the back.”

“But then she’d just be facing the stage. Nopony would see her face.”

“That’s not necessarily true. What if we could rotate the stage so everpony gets showed off to the audience?”

“That’s a great idea, but would it work?”

“I could probably hook it up.”


“What time is the show due to start?” Rarity inquired.

“In just half an hour.”

“Alright, girls. I’ll go check and make sure everything’s in order. We all need to get out of our dresses so nopony sees them ahead of time. Can one of you help Rarity move them backstage?”

“I’ve been with her most of the day. Another few minutes won’t hurt,” I offered.

“Great. Rainbow, I heard that they need help with the lights. Can you cover that?”

“I’m on it.”

“I’ve got to finish the decorations,” Pinkie added.

“See you girls in half an hour, then?”

“See you!”

I hung around backstage until it was time without anything else to do. I probably could have run home and made another round of paints, but I didn’t want to risk getting messy for the show. Rarity was depending on me, so I did everything in my power not to appear rumpled or dirty. Sitting still seemed like the best option. I didn’t notice when all the other models arrived.

“Is everypony ready?”

“I am.”

“Me too.”

“I guess.”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.

“Let’s do this!”

“Alright! Let’s go out there and make Rarity proud!” I took a deep breath. Here goes.

“Since the beginning of time,” Spike started, cuing the start of the show, “the elite of Equestria have longed for pony fashions that truly expressed the essence of their very souls. Patiently waiting decades -- no, centuries -- for the perfect pony gown. Today, at long last, Equestria, your wait is over! Let's hear it for the breathtaking designs of Ponyville's own Rarity!” The curtains were pulled back, and the spotlight glared on us. Twilight took the lead down the catwalk, giving me time for another few steadying breaths before it was my turn.

I held back an extra second before strutting out into the open, eyelashes fluttering at Rarity’s request. I painfully noted the disgusted looks my friends were receiving, but then all eyes turned to me. Their faces lit up, and a hundred eyes locked onto my dress as though it was a relief from the ugly gowns ahead. My ears quivered, wanting to flatten, but I forced them even straighter. I turned around, taking my place on the stage, and braced myself as it started to rotate. Some arrogant pony, the infamous Hoity Toity Rarity was so concerned with pleasing wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He downplayed Rarity’s hard work with every word, at least, until I was rotated into his view.

“Why’s everypony lookin’ at us like that?”

“Oh dear.” Twilight finally realized just how ugly their designs were.

“You think we overdid it?” Rainbow whispered from behind us.

“Nah,” Applejack denied. With a second glance down at the clunky galoshes, she blushed and amended, “Okay, maybe a little.

“Oh, those amateurish designs look like a piled-on mishmash of everything but a kitchen sink! It's a travesty, it's what it is. Those outfits are the ugliest things I've ever seen, oh for shame. Oh, goodness!” My bright tie dye rings caught his eye. “Surely somepony else designed this one. Tell me, my young model, who designed your gown?” I’d been careful to look ahead, but now that I was being addressed, I looked down at the overly groomed earth pony below.

“Rarity designed all of our dresses,” Twilight told him from beside of me.

“This Rarity, as you call her, must have lost her head when allowing these abominations to come into existence. Where is the mare responsible for subjecting our eyes to these horrors? Not to mention wasting my valuable time.”

“Come on out and take a bow, Rarity!” Spike called. The unicorn reluctantly shuffled out, mane beginning to wilt again under the stress. “Yeah, alright! Whoo! Go, Rarity!” Spike clapped. No pony else clapped, not even for mine. Instead, troubled murmurings swept through the crowd, and I felt my knees weaken. I still managed to make a proud retreat off the stage, still ‘flaunting’ the dress for Rarity.

Chapter 10: Making Amends

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Chapter 10
Making Amends

Rarity had locked herself at home for three days. The rest of us were getting worried, so we banded together and paid her a visit. Or, tried to. Pinkie knocked on the bedroom door.

“Rarity? Are you okay in there? You haven’t come out for days!”

“I’m never coming out! I can't show my face in Ponyville ever again! I used to be somepony. I used to be respected. I made dresses. Beautiful, beautiful dresses! But now everypony is laughing at me. I'm nothing but a laughing stock!” Loud sobs came from inside.

“You’re not a laughing stock, Rarity,” Twilight tried.

“She kind of is,” Rainbow pointed out. I cuffed her behind the ears. “Ow!”

“Hush, you!”

“Rarity, please come out and talk to us.”

“Leave me alone! I want to be alone! I want to wallow in... whatever it is that ponies are supposed to wallow in! Do ponies wallow in pity? Oh, listen to me, I don't even know what I'm supposed to wallow in! I'M SO PATHETIC!” Horrible screeching wails drove us away.

“Now what do we do?”

“Uh... panic?” Fluttershy mumbled

“That's your answer for everything!” Rainbow huffed.

“Well, we can't just leave Rarity like this.”

“She'll become a crazy cat lady!” Pinkie fretted.

“She only has one cat,” Twi pointed out.

“Give her time.”

“Hmm.” Twilight peered through the door at Rarity’s workspace. “I might have an idea. That is, if we can get in there. I’ll be right back. I’m going home to see if I can find a lock picking spell.”

“Don’t bother,” I shook my head. “Rarity always keeps her keys in the drawer by the door.”

“Great!” Twilight dug around until she found them, inserted them into the lock until she found the correct one, and let us all inside.

“What are we doing in here?”

“We’re going to make it up to Rarity by finishing her dress,” Twilight announced, gesturing to the sketch still posted on the wall.

“Her gala dress!” I exclaimed. “That’s brilliant!”

“Alright. This isn’t really my area of expertise... Acrylic, you worked with Rarity before Art Life was open, and you helped make our dresses. Do you have any suggestions on, oh, I don’t know, where to start?”

“You should probably start by pleating this,” Fluttershy interjected, feeling the fabric Rarity had selected. “Oh, I mean, if you want to.”

Fluttershy soon stunned us all with a surplus of sewing know how. Where and how she learned all this remained a mystery, but she soon found herself organizing us as we pooled our efforts together to complete Rarity’s dream dress. I offered my services to toil over the details, making sure the gems glistened just so. Twilight cut out the patterns precisely while Applejack held them in place for Fluttershy to sew. Once the bits were all cut out to a perfect T, Twilight took over the sewing machine with Rainbow’s help, and Pinkie danced around double checking measurements with her photographic memory. With the six of us working, it was done in record time. Now all we needed was to draw Rarity out of her room.

First I tried to ease her out by approaching her by myself, but when that didn’t work, Rainbow came up with a much more ambitious plan. I completely disapproved, but I wasn’t left with much of a choice. Rainbow hunted down Opalescence herself, deposited her in a tree by Rarity’s window, and flew back to watch.

“Opal? Opal! How did you get up there? Hang on, you poor dear. Mama’s coming!” The window slammed shut, and everypony high hoofed each other. Not me. She was going to be furious.

“RAINBOW DASH? How DARE you strand my poor Opal in a tree?”

“Well, how else were we going to get you out here to show you this?”

“ What is it? It's not... You...”

“We all finished your dress for you.”

“Thanks to Fluttershy's freaky knowledge of sewing.” Fluttershy beamed.

“Do you like it?”

“Like it? Like it?!” Rarity critically began to circle our creation.

“Uh-uh. She doesn't like it.”

“No, I don't like it.”

“Awwww...” we all disappointedly moaned.


“Yay!” we cheered.

“You ponies did an amazing job! It's exactly the way I imagined it.”

“We just followed your brilliant design.”

“Like we should have let you do for our outfits. Those first dresses you designed were perfect. Acrylic saw that right off the bat.” I blushed.

“We're so super sorry,” Pinkie apologized.

“You worked really hard to make our dresses exactly the way we wanted them. We all saw how well that turned out.” She brought Opal back down to the ground, who now jumped onto her owner’s back.

“Oh, I forgive you.”

“Well, that's mighty big of you.”

“But my whole career is still ruined!”

“Oh, right. That.” I grinned. Here comes our guest of honor.

“Maybe not,” Twilight muttered.

“All right, I haven't got all day,” the bigwig Hoity Toity huffed. Rarity’s eyes grew wide with hope, and quickly ushered us all inside. Without the grand setup from before, we had to improvise curtains, and Rarity’s horn provided lighting with special effects. One by one, we came out to the small stage for the viewing. I was still wearing the same outfit, but Rarity wanted to get one last showing out of it.

Twilight was up. Rarity’s horn provided purple and blue swirling lights, stars twinkling in the air until they settled on Twilight’s skirt, providing an extra sparkle.

“Hello... this can’t be the same designer,” Hoity Toity said to himself, removing his sunglasses for a better view. As Twilight walked off the floor, Rarity provided an apple orchard backdrop for Applejack’s appearance, mane and tail now neatly braided. “Simply magnificent!” Hoity Toity exclaimed. I grinned. Way to go, Rarity. “And I suddenly have a fierce craving for some Dutch apple pie, candied apples on a stick, apple turnovers, apple cobbler...” Uh, way to go Rarity, not so much for Hoity Toity.

The room glowed with pink for our next mare’s appearance. This provoked a simple but passionate “Brilliant!” from our critic of the hour, but he jumped back upon a loud crackle of thunder meant to emphasize Rainbow’s turn. Rainbow colored spotlights glinted down, matching the stripes on her skirt perfectly. “Oh, spectacular!”

It was my turn. For me, Rarity threw blotches of rainbow colored light all over the stage that were meant to imply paint blotches. It was so convincing I even stepped back to avoid being splattered. Then, a paintbrush came to sweep up the spills before depositing them into the rings of my dress, the brush merging with the one in my headband. As before, I flitted my eyelashes for our audience of one. “Astounding!” he burst. Rarity had prepared a few shreds of green fabric for this moment, and she now spread them across the stage, lifting them by the tips to make it appear as though grass was sprouting on the floor. Fluttershy was the last one out, looking incredibly gentle and serene surrounded by scattered flower petals and grass.

“Now this is a fashion show! All of these dresses are absolutely amazing! Who is responsible? Show yourself!” Rarity was our grand finale, displaying stunning disco lights as she removed the curtains, stepping out ahead of us but revealing her hard work for a final bow. “Brava! Brava! Magnifico! Encore!”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much,” Rarity beamed. My heart melted for her.

In the end, it all worked out. Hoity Toity struck a deal with Rarity to feature her gowns, Twilight got in her friendship lesson to the Princess for the week, and everypony else came out with beautiful gowns for the gala. The experience had made me think about my own business. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to bring a portfolio to the gala. Of course, that meant that on top of keeping up on refilling stock, I’d have to find time to work on real pieces, too. But hey, if Rarity could manage all that work in record time, I could definitely whip up a portfolio. I still had plenty of time, didn’t I? The gala was months away, and Art Life sales were finally falling into a happy medium. The only question was what kind of paintings to make.

We all went out for a celebratory dinner. We all wanted to treat the others out, and since we never made up our mind, we all ended up paying for ourselves. Pinkie still managed to sneak in a box of cupcakes for us all.

“I’m so happy for you, Rarity,” Twilight said for the third time.

“It was all thanks to you six,” Rarity smiled.

“We’re going to be the prettiest ponies at the gala!” Pinkie declared. “Now I’m even more excited!”

“Is that even possible?” I laughed with everypony else. We resumed sharing our dreams of the gala, and I finally voiced my plan to show off a portfolio. Rarity was thrilled that I was taking her suggestion, and instantly started offering ideas. She described magnificent landscapes, scenes depicting the Princesses’ greatest triumphs, grand parties and the like. Rainbow was suddenly struck with an idea.

“Hey, Acrylic? Could you do one of me performing a sonic rainboom? The Wonderbolts will get a kick out of that!” I thought about it.

“I suppose...”

“Say! So long as you’re doing one of Rainbow, could you put Sweet Apple Acres in a good light? It sure would help business. I’m thinking a poster for at the gala?”

“Oh, I could also do with a flier. You know, to help my reputation recover from... Well, you know.” I was suddenly bombarded with commissions.

“STOP!” Twilight screamed, causing the whole restaurant to fall silent. Blushing, she lowered her voice. “There’s no way Acrylic is going to have time for all of these. You saw how Rarity was scrambling to finish our gowns, and I’m sure painting takes even longer. The paint has to set, and I can’t imagine how many layers you must use.”

“It’s okay, Twilight. It’s not that many, and I’ve been working on a new formula for faster drying paint. I’m sure it’ll all get done.”

“Are you sure?”

“Listen to Twilight, dear. We won’t be able to help you, this time. I can turn out a few sketches, of course, but painting isn’t quite my forte. While I would love fliers, I wouldn’t want to put you under the stress I experienced.” She shuddered at the recent memory.

“I’m positive. I have plenty of time. Business isn’t a constant flow anymore. I’ll have time to paint during and after store hours. I work on several paintings at a time to give each coat a chance to dry. It’ll be a piece of cake.”

“Cake? Hold on a sec. I’ll go get one!” Pinkie bounced back to the counter, leaving us all giggling.

“Get a red velvet one!” Rainbow called after her.

As I’d predicted, there weren’t many customers streaming in and out, so I had plenty of time to work. A very rough first layer of green grass came down on Applejack’s fields, a rich but light blue backdrop fell into place to support Rarity’s shop, and epic gray thunderclouds outlined Rainbow Dash’s flying form. I was only interrupted three times all day at the checkout, and one of those times was Rainbow just checking up on her portrait. She didn’t believe me when I told her they’d look good in the end. All she saw was the blocky brushstrokes barely implying a pegasus, rolling hills and who-knows what for Rarity’s.

After I closed the shop for the day, I rummaged under the bed for the finished canvases I’d brought with me to Ponyville. The one I was looking for was at the bottom of the stack. Lighting a lantern for extra light, I sat on the bed looking at it. This was the picture that earned me my cutie mark. I was one of the last fillies in our sector to earn my cutie mark. I’d been so frustrated that I brought out the paints and took it out on the canvas. This inspired my own style of portraits. I secretly named the line Soul Searchers, but when everypony laughed at the name, I changed it to Flipside Reflections. The portrait was always split in half. It was all the same pony, though lining it up could sometimes be awkward; the left side depicted how everypony viewed that individual, and the right showed what lay underneath. This was the first of the line. The left showed a proud, slightly arrogant filly with head held high and an expression to criticize the viewer, daring them to make a jibe about her blank flank. The right side was a little lighter in color, a scared expression with its ear flattened, eyes watery as it searched for forgiveness. The filly looked just like me.

I wondered briefly if this should be included in my portfolio. While it was done in my younger days, it was almost as good as any work I’d do now. I quickly decided against it. This needed updating. The two sides should be reversed. I was a meek, quiet pony on the outside, but inside, something still raged, though it wasn’t pride. It burned hotter than pride. I didn’t want to think about it, and covered it up with this mask so I never had to find out. Perhaps it was time to explore those emotions through paint?

A spark of anger and hatred ignited and ran through my bones the second I tried to narrow it down. Hurling the canvas aside with a shriek, I recoiled from it like a would a snake. That was out of the question.

I panted, repressing those thoughts while clutching my head. My mind raced for something to take my mind off those ideas. Okay, let’s stick with the Flipside Reflections idea. Who would be a good subject to test it out on? I didn’t want it to be anypony local, in fear they wouldn’t agree or be upset with the end result. The first pony who came to mind was Princess Luna. That’d be easy enough. Half Nightmare Moon, half Princess. I focused on this and this alone as I scrambled to get supplies together.

I holed myself up in the workshop, busily working on four projects at once. This new quick drying paint formula worked wonders, but I stuck to slow-drying oils for rich hues on my three commissions. Luna’s dark colors needed that same vibrant iridescence, which ground progress to an agonizing snail’s pace. It didn’t help that I’d selected an ambitious 16x20 inch canvas size for each of them. Luckily, word had spread that I was now taking orders, and received several minor orders from other businesses for fliers. The quick dry formula came in handy here. I turned out fifteen a day, which quickly got them covered. Gradually, the oil paintings started to take shape.

While Rainbow had come for a sneak peek on the first day, I now denied any requests to preview the work. I wanted them to see the before and after pieces. This made Rainbow regret more and more that she asked me to do a piece of her. She thought the reason I was hiding it was because I needed time to redo the whole thing. She didn’t understand that oils just took a long time to dry.

I found myself busy again once it came time to add the details. This work felt long and drawn out, but it was my favorite part. This was where the brushstrokes really mattered. Being the top layer, I had to add the necessary texture and volume, blur the shadows, add highlights and the works. I thought that they’d love their orders, even though they’d learned not to be overly critical from Rarity’s dress fiasco. After almost a month of waiting, I was able to unveil all of the commissions at the same time. Though Fluttershy, Twilight and Pinkie hadn’t placed an order, they came for the unveiling too. Everypony was lined up in my workshop. I’d moved the three easles to the center of the floor, the old cloak draped over them like a curtain.

“You ready?” Everypony eagerly nodded.

“Uh huh!” Pinkie loudly declared.

“These aren’t even your pictures,” Rainbow reminded.

“I know, but I still want to see!” With that, I whipped the cloak off, releasing the vibrant glow of the paint from underneath. Delighted gasps from my friends told me that they’d gone over well.

“Look! It’s my gala dress!” Rarity exclaimed. The poster depicted her in her shop, the gala dress I helped make resting on a mannequin as she levitated the finishing gems over to it.

“How awesome is that sonic rainboom? The Wonderbolts are sure to let me in when they see this! They were knocked out when I did the real thing, but this is almost as good!”

“And how about this here apple orchard? I feel like I could reach right in and pick one off of one of those trees!”

“So you like them?”

“We love them!”

“They’re all beautiful,” Fluttershy agreed. “In fact, it’s making me want to place an order.”


“Oh, if you’re not too busy, that is,” she quickly added.

“No, I’ve got time. What’d you have in mind?”

“Well, I just think a portrait of Angel and I would just look so nice in our little cottage.”

“You know, the library could do with a little decorating, too,” Twilight agreed. “Could you do one of Spike and I?”

“Oh, I want one, too!” Pinkie squealed. “Okay, let me think... hmm... how about one of me at a party? Playing pin the tail on the pony!”

“Okay, okay, slow down,” I laughed, trying to note all this down on a sheet of paper.

“Hey, what’s this?” Pinkie bounced over to the fourth easel, still in its place by the window and pulled the cover off.

“Wait!” I begged, dropping the pencil. The other girls reeled back. Even Pinkie hid from the monster underneath. I groaned. How was I supposed to explain this?

“What in the hay?!”

“What is that?” Rarity couldn’t find better words to express her thoughts.

“Is that... Princess Luna?”

“No, it’s Nightmare Moon. Right?”

“It’s both,” I sighed. The snarling, devilish, half-finished monster hissed from the left side of the canvas while a proud but teary eyed Luna was partially welded into the right side.

“But what is this? Why would you show her off like this?” Twilight seemed personally offended by my interpretation. “She’s changed. She’s not... that anymore.”

“That’s exactly what this is trying to show. This is my own style of painting. This line of portraits is called Flipside Reflections. See? The left side depicts how that pony is viewed in society, or in this case, how history remembers the Princess: as Nightmare Moon. The right side shows who that pony is underneath; who she is now.”

“Well its certainly a... unique approach.”

“Very unique.”

“Look, I know this may not be your favorite style, but I earned my cutie mark doing this kind of painting. It’s special to me.”

“You... did?”

“Do you still have it? I wanna see!” Pinkie chimed, recovering from the shock of Nightmare Moon’s picture.

“Unless it looks like that,” Rainbow sniffed. I sighed.

“It’s upstairs, Pinkie.” She scrambled down the hallway to find it. Upon deeming it safe to show around, she carefully moved it down for everypony to see. I, on the other hoof, glumly wandered off. I was disappointed that even Rainbow disapproved of this side of me.

I set myself out in the woods to clear my head, wings curled around me to absorb the sun’s warmth. My preferred method involved flying as high as I could straight up in the air before plummeting back down in a freefall, pulling up just before I hit the ground. Since I couldn’t show off flying skills here, this would have to suffice. Gentle flapping sounded from above, and I peeked open an eye in time to see Rainbow land on the cloud next to me. She looked down at the white fluff and played with it for a moment.

“It really was pretty good,” she tried.

“We both know that I’m the only pony who thinks so, Dash.”

“But it was. It was too good. Scary good. Not my style, sure, but still art, I guess.”

“Your confidence is very reassuring,” I dryly stated, flipping over onto my back. My wings stretched out. “I don’t know, Rainbow. They say thestrals are full of hate. Even I saw it in my own encampment. Maybe the evil in me is creeping out through my art. I know that was one of my darker pieces, but it was one of the best, too.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” she stomped. “You aren’t evil. Not a bit.”

“You don’t know that.” I shut my eyes. “I felt it, Rainbow. Just before I started on that Nightmare Moon portrait, I felt hate spark in me. I’ve been trying so hard not to let it out. Not to show everypony.”

“Is that why you’ve holed yourself up for so long?”

“You noticed? I kept telling everypony I was just busy with the paintings.”

“I bought it for two days. But two months? That’s excessive.”

“I am busy, though. The gala’s coming up, and I still don’t have anything to show. Those posters were good enough, but they go home with you all tonight. The Princesses will be at the gala, and there’s no way I’m showing that Nightmare Moon one. They might get the wrong idea. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Well, you can take my sonic rainboom piece to show off.


“Sure. Just make sure the Wonderbolts see it.”

“Thanks, Dash.”

“I’m sure the others won’t mind if you borrowed theirs for the night. I’m sure you’ll have time to do some more in between orders, too. Just... don’t make them as dark as the last one.” I offered a half grin.

“I guess. I have been wanting to do a dragon piece for a while. Guarding a treasure trove. What do you think? Red or green scales?”

“Definitely red,” Rainbow answered. “Red dragons are much cooler.”

“Right. I’ll just add a few extra rubies in the hoard for accents, maybe some emeralds to compliment...” The image began forming in my mind, and my eyelids snapped open in perfect time with my wings. “Gotta go!” I bolted home while the image was fresh in my mind.

Chapter 11: The Grand Galloping Gala

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Chapter 11
The Grand Galloping Gala

Though I had once made fun of those ponies who were preparing for the gala nearly a year in advance, I soon found myself doing the same. All of my friends were more than willing to loan out their orders for my portfolio. Applejack reasoned that showing it around instead of keeping it in one place might attract more customers. Fluttershy was reluctant for her face to be shown off to the whole world, but the radiance of the finished product combined with peer pressure from the others caused her to cave. As Rainbow had predicted, I had time to do several more, including the gleaming red dragon lying in mountains of shining gold coins and gems. I did a few landscapes too, most of which I put up for sale in the shop. A valley with towering snow topped mountains made it to the portfolio along with a forest ablaze with the colors of autumn. Rarity readily consented to my painting an 8x10 portrait of her, and just for fun, I’d completed an even smaller one of all of us together. They convinced me to add it to the collection, too. In all my haste to get the pictures ready, I’d forgotten that I needed to find an actual portfolio to carry them in.

As always, my friends looked out for me. They’d purchased one for me, a sleek and sturdy brown leather. (Not real leather, of course. The artificial stuff. I promise, no cows were hurt in the process.) A side strap would allow me to tie it around my waist and wear like a saddlebag, though it almost dragged on the ground. Still, its large size would accommodate even the 16x20 inch canvases.

“What do you think?”

“Do ya like it? Huh? Huh? Huh?”

“You... you all did this for me?” My eyes watered with joy.

“Well, duh! After you made us all those super-duper pictures, we wanted to give you something artsy to say thanks! Only, we had a hard time trying to figure out what to get you, since you have your own art shop and all. Applejack suggested it be something you can really use, and realized that you didn’t actually have a way to carry these to the gala. So, Rarity ordered enough leather with her other fabrics to make this, and we all got to help. See? We even signed it, just like you do!” I looked as the presented gift was flipped over. They’d all signed their names on the back, and Twilight offered me a marker to do the same.

“Go on,” she smiled. There was space left for me in the dead center. I took the marker as Fluttershy and Rarity set the portfolio down flat. I lay on the floor so it wouldn’t be such an awkward reach, and hesitated before signing my name.

Acrylic Storm

“Acrylic Storm?”

“But that’s...” Rainbow remembered our conversation and smiled.

“My full name,” I finished. “Acrylic Storm.

The months had flown by. Between work and the crazy adventures we always found ourselves getting into, days turned into weeks, weeks into months until finally, the eve of the Grand Galloping Gala was upon us. Rarity wanted us all at her boutique by three so we could start getting ready. Applejack thought that was a bit excessive, but Rarity insisted on full makeovers this time, including mane washing, hoof polish, and makeup.

Since I lived so close, I put off my arrival until just before the clock struck three. Pinkie, Rarity, Twilight and Spike were already there with Fluttershy and Applejack on the way. Rainbow was zooming in from the other direction, so I broke into a gallop to catch up. This earned a scolding from Rarity.

“Slow down, Acrylic. You’ll leave sweat stains on your gala dress!”

“Perfect. We’re all here. Spike, I’m ready.”

“For what?” Spike brought forth a shiny red apple, and placed it carefully on the ground.

“An apple! Are we having pie?” Pinkie guessed.

“Shh! Just watch,” Spike hushed. With a powerful surge of magic from her horn, the apple began trembling, shaking, bouncing, until it burst out into a beautiful carriage.




“Thanks, but that’s just the start. Fluttershy, did you bring your friends?” Four white mice scurried out of Fluttershy’s long, pink mane.

“Yes. Will they be safe, Twilight?”

“You have my word.” After another surge of magic, the mice were transformed into great big... horses? Not quite. They still had whiskers, mouse ears and twitchy noses. “Ta-da!”

“Oh, uh...”

“Um, okay...”

“Interesting choice.”

“Neat, huh? And don’t worry. They’ll be mice again by midnight.”

“Opalescence, no!” Fluttershy cried. We looked over in time to see Rarity’s persian cat jump out and attack one of the mouse-horses, scaring them all off.

“Wait! Come back! Those horses were supposed to pull our carriage. How will we get to the gala?”

“Oh, whatever shall we do?” Rarity sarcastically whined. She proceeded to trot over to a group of strong looking stallions gathered off in a nearby field. “Uh, ahem. Excuse me. Would you boys mind pulling our carriage to the gala?” They were no match for Rarity’s flirting.

“Oh. Yeah. Right.”

While Rarity finalized arrangements with the boys, the rest of us stepped inside to begin preparing. Three of us split off to wash our hair while the other three gathered makeup, hair curlers, brushes, hoof polish and the works. I was one of the first ones for a mane scrubbing along with Pinkie and Twilight. Fluttershy’s mane was so thin and breezy that it didn’t really need a wash, but Rarity insisted. She stepped in the bathroom with Applejack and Rainbow to put her mane up in curlers just as I was coming out to dry. Pinkie’s frizzy, curly mane was impossible to work with and almost seemed waterproof, because it took hardly any time to dry. My thick blue mane, on the other hoof, required a heavy duty blow drying. I barely heard Spike pounding on the door, demanding to be let in over the sound of the powerful fan.

“Come on, you guys. Let me in!”

“Sure thing, Spike.” Applejack and Rainbow were both starting for the door when Rarity zoomed in front of it.

“Heavens, no! We’re getting dressed.”

“Dressed? Uh, beg pardon, Rarity, but we don’t normally wear clothes.” Rarity sighed in defeat.

“I’m sorry, Spike. Some of us do have standards.” I shut my blow dryer off and moved onto the hoof polish station. Since we all had shoes of some sort that would cover it up, I wasn’t sure why this was necessary, but I didn’t feel like starting an argument with Rarity either.

“I still can't believe we're gonna be at Canterlot tonight. Our home town, Twilight! And the best part is that we all get to hang out together all night long!”

“Uh... I-I don't know, Spike.”

“We'll just have to see.”

“We're gonna be a mite busy.”

“Busy having fun!”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Don't worry, Spike. We'll all get to spend some time together.”


Twilight helped me with my makeup, and I braided Applejack’s mane. Rarity had even prepared a suit and tie for our chaperone, Spike. We slipped into our dresses, fixed any hair that had come loose in the process, and scuttled out to the waiting carriage. While the stallions pulling us were perfectly capable of driving themselves, Spike held the reins. Big Macintosh was going to bring his sister’s apple cart to her, and he’d been kind enough to transport my awkwardly sized portfolio while he was at it.

The rest of us girls eagerly chattered inside, worked up over the prospect of such an important event. I was shaking with excitement, clutching my stomach as we joked to pass the time. Our expectations of the night were modified again and again in the conversation. When Rarity made the joke about the idea of the rest of us finding true love too, even my gears began churning. I’d resolved that I wouldn’t put myself through the pain of even considering it, since I knew that it could never be. But what if? For the rest of the ride, I dreamed of finding my very special somepony.

“We’re here!” Twilight gasped. All of us scrambled for the window, knocking heads in the process. Pinkie finally made it, and gasped with excitement. There was only room for one of us to stand in the center, and Pinkie claimed it to do a happy dance.

“Pinkie! What did I tell you about sweat stains?” With a sheepish grin, she returned to her seat.

“Finally! I’ll get to meet the Wonderbolts!” Rainbow dreamily sighed.

“I’ll get to meet my prince,” Rarity added in the same romantic tone.

“I’ll get to talk with the Princess all night!” Twilight squealed.

“Here we are!” Our carriage came to a halt, and Spike opened the door. Rarity was the first one out, followed by me, Twilight, AJ, Pinkie, Rainbow, and Fluttershy.

“Whoa! You all look... AMAZING!” Spike exclaimed.

“I can't believe we're finally here. With all that we've imagined, the reality of this night is sure to make this... The Best Night Ever!” I’d never broken out in song before, but Twilight led us in an improvised melody I felt I had to join into.

“At the Gala,” she began. Other guests decided to join in as the chorus.


“At the Gala!”


Fluttershy took the lead in her own verse.


“At the Gala

“In the garden

“I'm going to see them all

“All the creatures

I'll befriend them at the Gala!”


“At the Gala!” the chorus cried again.


“All the birdies

“And the critters

“They will love me big and small

“We'll become good friends forever

“Right here at the Gala!” Again, came the chorus.


“All our dreams will come true,

“Right here at the Gala!”

“At the Gala!”

It was Applejack’s turn.


“At the Gala

“I will sell them

“All my appletastic treats.

“Hungry ponies

“They will buy them:

“Caramel apples, apple sweets

“And I'll earn a lot of money

“For the Apple family!”


“All our dreams and our hopes from now until hereafter,

“All that we've been wishing for will happen at the Gala!

“At the Gala!”


Rarity was up.


“At the Gala,

“All the royals,

“They will meet fair Rarity.

“They will see I'm just as regal at the Gala!”


“At the Gala!”


“I will find him,

“My Prince Charming,

“And how gallant he will be!

“He will treat me like a lady

“Tonight at the Gala!”


“This is what we've waited for to have the best night ever.

“Each of us will live our dreams

“Tonight at the Gala!

“At the Gala!”


“Been dreamin'

“I've been waitin'

“To fly with those great ponies:

“The Wonderbolts, their daring tricks,

“Spinning round and having kicks.

“Perform for crowds of thousands;

“They'll shower us with diamonds!

“The Wonderbolts will see me right here at the Gala!”


“All we've longed for;

“All we've dreamed;

“Our happy ever after

“Finally will all come true

“Right here at the Grand Gala!

“At the Gala!”


“I am here at the Grand Gala,

“For it is the best party,

“But the one thing it was missing was a pony named Pinkie!

“For I am the best at parties, all the ponies will agree.

“Ponies playing,

“Ponies dancing,

“With me at the Grand Gala!


“Happiness and laughter at the Gala!

“At the Gala!”


A lull in the song briefly ensued before I took the opportunity to pitch in my verse.


“At the Gala,

“I will show them;

“Everypony will then see

“The talents I possess

“Are unmatched here at the Gala!”


“At the Gala!”


“Months of work

“Will pay off;

“Keeping busy was the key.

“And perhaps tonight

“The one will appear

“Who can make my life complete,

“Tonight at the Gala!”


“At the Gala,

“With the Princess

“Is where I'm going to be.

“We will talk all about magic and what I've learned and seen.

“It is going to be so special,

“As she takes time just for me !”


“This will be the best night ever!

“Into the Gala we must go

“We're ready now, we're all aglow

“Into the Gala, let's go in and have the best night ever

“Into the Gala, now's the time

“We're ready and we look divine!

“Into the Gala.”


“Meet new friends!”


“Into the Gala.”


“Sell some apples.”


“Into the Gala.”


“Find my Prince.”


“Prove I'm great

“As a Wonderbolt is.”


“To meet!”

“To sell!”

“To find!”

“To prove!”

“To whoop!”

“To show!”

“To talk!”


“Into the Gala!

“Into the Gala

“And we'll have the best night ever!

“At the Gala!”


Chapter 12: The Best Night Ever

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Chapter 12
The Best Night Ever

“Yeah! This is gonna be the best night ever! You know why? ‘Cause we’re all gonna spend time at the Gala to... gether. Or not.” Poor Spike was left to himself as the rest of us dispersed. I didn’t have much of a choice, though. Applejack was already hurrying out to find her brother, and I needed to follow her so I could retrieve my portfolio.

“Thanks, Big Mac!” I called.

“Eyup,” he called back, starting his return trip home. I carefully fastened the leather case to my side, trying not to rumple my dress as I made my way to the ballroom. I felt a little silly, lugging a big case around with me while most of the guests had brought nothing with them. I took a deep breath. This was it. I’d promised to show off my work, and that I would. But where to start? I guessed finding other art ponies who could appreciate my depictions would work. I looked for paintbrush or paint palette cutie marks not covered by a dress skirt or suit tail. I finally found a whole group of them clustered around one of the many statues stationed around the room. Here goes nothing. I slowly came up on them from behind.

“What do you think of this year’s decor, Graphite Sketch?”

“I thought these sculptures were going out of style, but apparently not. I still think you could have done a better job, Golden Mural.”

“I don’t think so. You see this gilding? I never could quite achieve this level of detail.”

“I find that the secret is really in the burnishing. Nopony notices these tiny etches.”

“I do.” The prestigious artists before me turned to see who had spoken. “Though, since you pointed it out, you must have noticed as well.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“No, we haven’t. My name is Acrylic. Acrylic Storm.”

“An artist’s name if ever I heard one!” the stallion Graphite Sketch exclaimed. He was a strong, buff stallion with a dark gray coat and lighter mane. His cutie mark depicted a pencil busily swirling across a yellowed page. He currently wore a stark black suit with a bright green kerchief tucked in the pocket to match his eyes. “I am Graphite Sketch, from Vanhoover. This is Golden Mural, my associate from Filly Delphia. Pristine Gallery here is from Manehattan. This young mare is Painted Gale of Las Pegasus, and this is Pish Posh from our very own Canterlot. My! You two look just alike, don’t you?” I looked over at the gray mare with a start. She did look a lot like me. However, the older mare’s short mane had faded a few shades lighter than my blue, and it was kept short. Her nose wasn’t as pointed as mine, and her eyes were golden. I couldn’t see her cutie mark beneath the yellow dress she wore. The mare looked her twin over critically, but I didn’t let that intimidate me.

“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Pish Posh.”

“Yes, good to meet you too. What was it? Acrylic? Now, if you’ll excuse us...”

“Oh, no need to be rude, Miss Posh. Acrylic’s only just arrived. I say, what is this parcel you’ve got?”

“Hmm? Oh, this is my portfolio. I’ve done some commissions for a few friends of mine, and I’m supposed to be showing them around.”

“Well, please do!”

“As you like.” I unlatched the buckle, allowing the leather to make a loud clunk to the ground. Wincing from the heavy thud, I pulled back the zipper and revealed the first of the large canvases. Of course, they’d been peeled from the wooden frames so they’d fit, and I had to unroll it for their viewing. This was Twilight’s, the purple unicorn wrapping a hoof around Spike as they smiled from the scroll. Pish Posh’s jaw almost dropped as the vibrant colors reached her eyes.

“My my! You do have talent! I was afraid you were just another student of the fine arts, but I dare say this is a masterpiece. Who is this pony you’ve depicted so lavishly?”

“This is Twilight Sparkle and her assistant Spike, two of my closest friends. I would introduce you, but I believe she’s gone off to speak with the Princess.”

“The Princess?!” They all exclaimed. I casually rolled the canvas back.

“Yes. She’s the Princess’s private student, but she currently lives in Ponyville on an assignment to study the magic of friendship.”

“And have you yourself met Princess Celestia?”

“More than once, yes. Princess Luna, too. Why, the moon princess has even visited my shop!” Something made me feel good about seeing the arrogant Pish Posh’s mouth hang ajar. I suffocated the feeling, forcing it back to the pit of my stomach. What was wrong with me?

“Why, you are an important pony! I can’t believe your art hasn’t been featured in any local galleries! My dear Acrylic, would you give me the honor of displaying one of your pieces in my own gallery in Vanhoover?”

“Yes, me too?” Pish Posh piped.

“Of course,” I answered with a wide smile, containing a squeal of excitement. And so we all exchanged contact information, and I got to show off my entire portfolio to not only this small group but to everypony else they managed to get ahold of.

“Acrylic, would you join us in the garden? As artists, we couldn’t resist bringing a tablet and a few pencils.”

“You read my mind!” I agreed, displaying my own sketchpad among the canvases in my portfolio.

“Excellent! I’ll have my assistant bring our materials. Oh, dear. Where has he gotten off to? Excuse me. I must find the elusive colt.” He agitatedly marched off while the rest of us settled down off to the side in the gardens. The rose bushes caught my eye, and instantly, my pencil touched down. We all exchanged tips and techniques between strokes, gossiping the night away. Graphite Sketch finally returned, slightly flabbergasted.

“He’ll be just a moment. I also asked him to bring the blenders you requested, Pristine Gallery.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sketch,” the indigo pegasus mare nodded.

“Sir? Your tools. Miss? Are you in need of these?” I looked up from my work into the face of the most handsome stallion I’d ever laid eyes on. My sapphires locked onto his dark brown coals, and I felt my cheeks grow hot. He was very tall- not quite Celestia’s height but easily matching Luna. His coat was dark but rich brown, and a black mane was brushed to the side. It was streaked with pinpricks of blond, and he had a short tail to match. His ears were slightly large, but not curved like mine. As he was only here as an assistant, he didn’t wear a full suit, but a collar and black bow tie rested around his neck. I found myself staring at him, and under normal circumstances, I’d have been embarrassed. I didn’t need to be, though, because the best part was that he stared right back.

“No, no. I said Pristine Gallery, you oaf!”

“My apologies. Here you are, Madame.” As he turned, I noted a cutie mark of a simple torch, but the edges of the orange flame were tinged with unusual green.

“Thank you,” Graphite Sketch sighed in relief. “Now, to get down to work! Might I see your most recent work, Acrylic?” I reluctantly handed over the sketchbook, my attention torn from the stallion before me. While he had been dismissed, he hadn’t moved from the spot. Graphite didn’t notice as he looked my rough, quick sketches over in amazement. “Magnificent. You’ve done it again, Acrylic.” Now I knew he was just flattering me, because these lines were barely decipherable, even for me. As he started to return the notebook, a particularly strong gust of wind blew in, ripping the page out. Luckily, he was there to catch it for me.

“Here you are. Miss...?”

“Acrylic,” I breathed as the page was handed back.

“Miss Acrylic,” he finished.

“Oh dear, I’m afraid I’ve left my T-square behind,” Graphite rudely interrupted.

“I’ll get it for you, sir,” his assistant offered, catching the hint. Reluctantly, he left me to obey his employer.

“Good lad.”

All evening, Graphite Sketch tried to impress and flirt with me. He even drew a sketch of me in my gown, presenting it later in the evening. I never did see his assistant again. I thought I’d spotted him among the multitudes, and was trying to pull away when none other than Pinkie Pie jumped on the stage and took over.

“Come on, everypony! You wanted a partay? Now it's paaartaaay! Yeah! Uh! Now that's a beat, yeah! Uh! C'mon, dance! Yeah, woo hoo!” I’d lost his assistant in the crowds again, so now tried to hide my face and avoid Pinkie’s gaze. It was rather hard to do without a hat.

“Okay, all you high-class ponies. Here's a highfalutin apple cake for your hoity-toity taste buds.” Applejack entered, pushing a cart hosting the tallest apple cake I’d ever seen.

“STAGE DIVE!” Oh, no. She jumped right onto AJ’s cart, sending the cake flying across the room. Rarity was standing with her prince, who ended up using her as a living shield to protect himself from the oncoming cake. That was the last straw.

“You, sir, are the most uncharming prince I have ever met! In fact, the only thing royal about you is that you are a royal pain!”

“Ewww...! Uh, stay back! I just had myself groomed!”

“Afraid to get dirty?!” She got up close before shaking as violently as she could, flinging icing all over the prince. He danced away whimpering, knocking into a statue on the way.

“This is my chance!” Rainbow cried, making a mad swoop for it. The thing landed on her back. “Yes! Whoa!” While she succeeded, it proved to be too heavy, causing her to knock into every other pillar in the room, which promptly crumbled. The noise had attracted the Princess and Twilight.

“Well... it can't get any worse.” She jinxed it. A thunderous rumble rippled through the air, and the ground vibrated beneath us. A stampede of animals crashed inside, finally throwing everypony into an uproar. Our pale yellow pegasus stormed in after them.

“You're... going to LOVE ME!”

I felt lost in the confusion, unsure which way to run. I looked for Twilight in hopes of instruction, but I was promptly knocked over by an extremely inconsiderate pony.

“Run,” somepony whispered. I opened my eyes to see Graphite’s assistant pulling me up and ushering me outside.

“Thanks,” I said, eyes shining as he let go of my hoof.

“I couldn’t let a pretty mare like you get trampled underhoof,” he smiled.

“It was good to meet you, Acrylic, though I wish it had been on some other occasion.” Graphite Sketch came along.

“You t-” I froze when he stopped to kiss my hoof farewell.

“Goodnight, my dear. I shall most definitely be in touch about the paintings. Come along, you ungrateful colt! We need to get a move on” Graphite Sketch barked, stomping past. I was horrified by the terrible treatment he received. I caught him on his way out.

“Thank you again.” he smiled.

“My pleasure.” Once he left, I found my friends waving for me to come over. With a sigh, I moved to join them. What a night that’d been!

We all gathered at Twilight and Spike’s favorite donut shop where she guessed we’d find her assistant. Sure enough, the baby dragon was already there, chowing down his fifth donut and chugging a second mug of hot chocolate. After we ordered a similar meal, we all sat around the table to exchange stories of our worst night ever. While I listened, I found it hard to believe that any of them could feel worse than me, but their dreadful experiences soon leveled the playing field.

“Your night didn’t sound so bad, Acrylic,” Applejack offered when I was done.

“In fact, it sounded downright extravagant compared to ours,” Rarity agreed.

“But you don’t get it!” I wailed. “I think that artist, Graphite Sketch fancies me.” I still hadn’t come off the sophisticated speech I’d been using for that night.

“Isn’t that a good thing?”

“No! I don’t have feelings for him whatsoever. His assistant, on the other hoof...” I let myself gaze dreamily off at a bit of wall. “Him I like.”

“Wow, Acrylic. I didn’t take you for the gushy, lovey-dovey type.” Rainbow received a sharp elbowing from Applejack. “Ow!”

“Didn’t ya at least talk to him, then?”

“Just briefly. Graphite kept getting in the way. He treats that poor stallion like trash. Oh my goodness! I just realized! I don’t even know his name! Ugh! Why do love complexes have to be so hard?!” My head clunked to the table.

“Isn’t that why it’s called a love complex?” Rainbow jibed.

“That does sound like something out of a fairy tale,” Rarity sympathetically sighed.

“Wow. It sounds like you all had the worst night ever.”

“We did!” Pinkie laughed. The others smiled with her, but for my sake, didn’t laugh.

“I just hope Princess Celestia isn’t upset with us for ruining the gala,” Twilight sighed.

“That was the best Grand Galloping Gala ever!”

“Princess Celestia?!”

“Pardon me, Princess, but tonight was just awful,” Twilight corrected as the alicorn took a place at our table.

“Oh, Twilight. The Grand Galloping Gala is always awful,” the Princess chuckled.

“It is?”

“That is why I was thrilled you were all attending. I was hoping you could liven things up a bit.” Great. So we’d been invited just to be a laughing stock? “And while the evening may not have gone as you planned, I'm sure you'll agree that in the end it didn't turn out so bad for this group of friends.”

“You're right, Princess. Friends have a way of making even the worst of times into something pretty great.”

“Yeah! Hanging out with friends!”


“Laughing!” I smiled. These were all the things we’d been doing on the way to the gala. That had been a lot more fun than meeting that Graphite character. And maybe, if I’d stayed put with my friends, I’d never have met his assistant. Then at least I wouldn’t be going through so much heartache.

“You mean doing exactly what I wanted to do the whole time?”

“Yes, Spike. You were right.”

“As horrible as our night was...”

“...being together here has made it all better.”

“In fact, it's made it...” Pinkie began, cuing us all. I knew what she wanted, and gave way.

“...the best night ever!” we all cried in practiced precision. Even the Princess joined in the giggling. As a reward for providing a source of entertainment at the gala and to emphasize the lesson learned, the Princess stayed for some idle chit chat. I appreciated the personal attention we all received. It was taking my mind off things. In all honesty, though, all I wanted was to go home and mope. I’d tell Rainbow that I wasn’t feeling up to our nightly session tonight.

Chapter 13: King of Chaos

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Chapter 13
King of Chaos

Half of Graphite Sketch’s orders were in progress, but I still had time on my hooves before the first layers finished drying. With nothing much to do, I found my mind wandering. Not surprisingly, it drifted back to the nameless face from the Gala. I’d never seen him before that night, but something about the stallion seemed familiar. I couldn’t put my hoof on it, but I was uncannily comfortable around him.

Stepping out into the open air to clear my mind. My thoughts switched to the sky. How nice it would be to free fall a couple of times about now! If only. Then a pang of guilt smacked into my chest like a hammer. What right did I have to be daydreaming about love when I knew I’d only break his heart when he found out about my wings? His and mine both. I sighed, and flopped into the grass, half wishing a rain cloud would start drenching the world below. It was too sunny and happy to be thinking about such painful thoughts, but if it was dark and cloudy? Wishing wasn’t going to help me here, either. It wasn’t scheduled to rain until tomorrow. I was going to reschedule a time for these thoughts when a cold drop landed on my flank. It jolted me out of my daydreams altogether, and I opened my eyes to the face of a... pink? thundercloud. Did I wish that hard?

I hadn’t wished for it to be raining chocolate milk. Yet, the brown milky substance was flooding the grass. Shoot! I’d left a couple of paintings out to dry! I made a mad dash for them, but thankfully, the small clouds had not yet hit these. I dragged them inside, shook the milk from my coat, and watched out the window. What was this? A spell gone wrong? Twilight would know. Unfortunately, that meant I had to return to the sticky rain outside. I supposed an explanation would be worth it, though.

I locked up the shop before running into town, which had only sprinklings of the rain. I checked the library, but neither Twilight nor Spike was there. Bon Bon thought she’d run out to check on Sweet Apple Acres after the milk storm hit. I thanked her and headed out. It made sense. There was no telling what damage chocolate milk rain could do to AJ’s orchard.

I hadn’t gotten too far when all six of my friends came storming out from that direction. They stopped before they ran into me, but just by a hair.

“Whoa, guys! Where are you all off to? And what’s with this chocolate rain?”

“Nopony’s sure, but Princess Celestia is calling us to the castle. Chances are, we’ll get some answers there.”

“Right,” I said, heading off for the train station. When I didn’t hear hoofsteps behind me, I turned back to see their sympathetic but uneasy expressions.

“Well... it’s more like an Elements of Harmony thing...”

“Oh.” My face fell. Invitation only.

“Twilight, there’s no reason Acrylic can’t tag along for moral support, whatever this is,” Rarity spoke up.

“No, that’s okay,” I tried to smile. “Really. You all go on.”

“Are you sure? We’d be glad to have ya,” Rainbow tried again.

“It’s okay,” I repeated. “You guys go ahead.”

“You heard her, girls. Come on! We don’t have time to loose!” I heard Applejack chide Twilight before they left earshot.

“That was mighty rude of ya,” she hissed. While they charged off to the train station, I watched them go with a heavy heart. There go the Elements of Harmony without me. Dejected, I returned to my shop. At least I could take a warm bath to wash off all this chocolate milk.

I’d been afraid something like this might happen. That was the problem with being friends with all the Elements of Harmony when you weren’t one yourself. Celestia called them all out but me. Equestria didn’t need me. But I needed them to need me. Still, Rarity had wanted me to tag along. If I could have come, why did Twilight say anything about the elements? Was it just that she didn’t want me around?

My heartache washed away with the rest of the chocolate milk. Warm water did wonders for the troubled mind. After rinsing the sticky brown droplets from my coat, I lay back in the tub. Maybe I should just take off work today. A flight over the Everfree couldn’t hurt. Then again, work kept my mind busy so it didn’t have a chance to wander to... other subjects. Subjects like the stallion I fancied or my exclusion from the Element assignment.

In the end, I compromised and went out for a walk in the Everfree to collect more flowers for pigment. I was reluctant to get out of the warm bath, but finally pulled the plug. I let my mane dry for a while before putting it up in the ties, finally topping it off with my hat. I left my saddlebags and chose a simple wicker basket instead. I didn’t want the new saddlebags to become dingy in the mucky woods. Now ready to face the dark forest, I started outside. I wasn’t prepared for the sight that met my eyes.

The grass had been turned into a checkerboard of different colors, fish swam through the air, a chocolate milk rain storm was on its way, and off in the distance, I could see a herd of buffalo all wearing tutus as they performed a ballerina’s routine. My jaw dropped, depositing the wicker basket on the ground. This must have been what the Elements were called out for. I was frozen to the spot in shock, taking it all in. But then a smile sprouted onto my face. It was beautiful! Not what most were used to, sure, but it had its own beauty. You just had to look for it.

I abandoned my flower gathering altogether and ran back inside. I tore my last canvas off the shelf, balanced a couple jars of paint on my back, and dragged an easel outside. I knew the Elements of Harmony would soon defeat whatever was causing this, so I wanted to capture it while I had the chance. I had just finished setting up in record time when the sun and moon suddenly switched places. That’s strange. It was only two in the afternoon. I decided not to question it and quickly hurried to fetch a lantern.

It changed from night to day every few minutes, but I didn’t let that keep me from painting. When it was dark, I relied on lantern light to provide enough illumination for me to keep going from memory. In the light, I kept my eyes out for any new unusual landmarks I could add to the picture. Rolling hills of pale pink, blue and purple checkerboard anchored mutated flora and fauna while flying pigs soared overhead. Herds of stampeding long-legged rabbits trampled popcorn fields, and a cotton candy cloud storm thundered in the background. I even captured the image between constantly changing night and day, one side of the sky black as night with the other a faded sky blue.

“How strange,” a mysterious voice echoed overhead. I only briefly looked up from my work, but seeing nopony, went back to my painting. Perhaps it was just a side effect of the chaotic landscape around me. I was proven wrong when the voice echoed again. “Most ponies try and run from my beautiful chaos. But not you. Here you are, right in the middle of it. And what’s this? A painting of my handiwork? Finally! A pony who appreciates my disharmony! I must say, it’s about time somepony noticed how beautiful chaos can be.” I was still unable to match a face to the voice. It didn’t help, either, that the sun had gone down.

“This is your doing?” I called out to the air. “Well, then show yourself. An artist should take credit for his work, after all.”

“An artist? Why, I suppose you could call me that.” The sun finally came up. I suddenly felt somepony wrap an arm around my shoulder, and turned to look right into the eyes of the most mismatched creature I’d ever seen. His face was gray, and almost resembled a pony’s. His eyes were yellow with red pupils of different sizes. Thick white eyebrows lined them, and a matching beard trickled down from his chin. A cream colored antler marked the left side of his head, while the right was burdened with a heavy looking, curling horn with a pearly blue sheen. A short black mane lined the gray neck of his, but that drab color soon switched to a vibrant chocolate brown coat. His body was long and lithe, brining him to Celestia’s height. The massive paw curled around me was that of a lion’s, while his other arm resembled an eagle’s talon. Two wings sprouted close to the center of his back, one a purple bat wing and the other a bright blue bird’s. My eyes moved down the long curling body to find a green scaled dragon leg and a tan cleft goat hoof. The brown fur eventually yielded to a shining red snake tail, topped off by dragon spines and tipped with one last white tuft of fur.

“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Discord, the spirit of chaos and disharmony. But tell me, my dear artiste, what is your name?”

“Acrylic. Acrylic Storm,” I cooley replied.

“And you aren’t bothered by the sudden... shall we say... renovations I’ve made to your lovely town?”

“As an artist, I’ve learned to find beauty in everything. I can... appreciate the majesty in something even as wacky as this.”

“But it makes no sense. How is it that a pony like you appreciate this level of chaos?”

“There’s no sense to be made of it, so why try?” I retorted. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d really like to finish the popcorn patch before the sun goes down.”

“Oh, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to find somepony just like me!” he went on, ignoring my request.

“I’m not much at all like you. I don’t create chaos,” I pointed out, retrieving my brush from the palette.

“Not with magic, you don’t. But if not chaotic, what do you call this?” Somehow, the Flipside Reflection painting I’d made of Luna had been teleported into his arms. I was greatly perturbed by what he implied, but quickly wiped the shocked expression off of my face.

“That piece simply depicts both sides to Luna. At one end of the spectrum, you have her dark side, Nightmare Moon. At the other extreme, you have the young princess hidden underneath.

“Oh, don’t try to deny it. We’re just alike, you and I. Two misplaced souls in a world we don’t belong in. We were meant to be alone.” Was that a jibe about my thestral side? How did he know?

““I’m nothing like you.”

“Well, let’s see how long you can keep that up. Tell you what. As the new ruler of Equestria, I’ll be needing royal staff. How would you like to be Equestria’s new royal artist? We’ll need somepony to capture scenes of the glorious changes I’ve made to Equestria, and I’d prefer that they be a volunteer.”

“Thank you, but no,” I flatly answered, returning my brush to the palette as I waited for daylight to return.

“Well, if you change your mind, I’ll be gloating at the new chaos capital of Equestria!” He began waddling off. “Oh, and so long as you’re painting my wondrous handiwork, I’ll give you exclusive privileges, hmm?” With a snap of his fingers, a bubble suddenly formed around my working space. While I could tell that it was still nighttime outside the bubble, I could see perfectly fine. Looking down, even the checkerboard had returned to grass. I had my own bubble of sanity lost amongst a world of chaos. At least I could finish the painting, now.

It was missing something. I took a step back to try and figure out what it was. Upturned houses floating in midair? Check. A rhinoceros trio throwing a tea party over a giant mushroom table? Check. Plants walking around on the tips of their roots? Check. So what did I need to add? Of course! The one who started it all. I hadn’t completely filled in the sky, so I quickly brushed in the colors of Discord between night and day. He looked regal, flying over his ‘renovated’ domain with no opposition whatsoever. Speaking of which, how come the Elements of Harmony hadn’t defeated him yet?

“Acrylic!” I turned around. Speak of the devil. Twilight ran up the hill for me, sticking to the grass so she didn’t slip on the soapy roads. The others were behind her, wresting in the grass. Their coats looked strangely dull. “Oh, thank goodness! I need your help! Discord’s loose, wrecking havoc in Equestria, and he’s turned everypony against their element so they can’t be used against him and... wait a second. How’d you do that?” She stopped in front of my bubble, and tentatively stretched out a hoof. For whatever reason, she couldn’t pass through it. Instead, I stepped outside, feeling only a tingling of magic as I exited the safety of my barrier.

“I didn’t. Discord put it up for me.”

“Discord was here?! Look, I don’t know what he told you, but you can’t trust him.”

“I know, Twi.”

“You do? Then what’s that?” She jabbed a hoof in the direction of my painting.

“A work in progress?” I guessed.

“But you made his chaos look... beautiful.”

“It is beautiful, Twilight.”

“No, no, no! Acrylic would never say that. You’re not fooling anypony, Discord! What’ve you done with Acrylic? The real Acrylic?”

“What? Twilight, it’s me!”

“Stop playing games, Discord!”


“I said give. Her. BACK!”

With that, Twilight tackled me. She tried to get me in a headlock, and I instinctively started fighting back. “Fight! Fight! Fight!” The ponies below chanted. I bucked, kicked, lashed out for all I was worth. She had a tight grip, but I finally succeeded in loosening her from my back. She was still hanging onto my neck, and kicked back. I saw a hoof heading for my face, and tried kicking her off first. I was too late. I was thrown back with great force, landing in the soapy slide covered in cuts and bruises. I kept sliding all the way down the hill, bowling into four other ponies before stopping. My eye felt swollen where she’d planted a punch. No doubt it was black. I hadn’t taken so much damage the whole time we were in the Everfree.

I was now faced with four anti-element ponies who wanted to join in the ‘fun.’ Fluttershy tried to swoop down to dive bomb me, but I ducked in time. Applejack took the chance to whip a lasso out, knocking me over. Pinkie jumped on top of the dog pile as though she was doing a stage dive. I jumped out of the pile before she landed on me, clunking into a large boulder in the process.

“Hiyah!” Rarity cried, kicking me away. “He’s mine! All MINE!” I’d had enough. With an earth-shattering bray, I came down hard on the ground to create a shockwave that knocked everypony away from me.

“BACK! STAY BACK!” I thundered. My coat always looked gray, but a few strands of hair fell into my face. They were dull compared to the saturated sapphire they used to be. At this point, I didn’t even care. Twilight was standing on top of the hill, looking horrified. Now she knew that it was really me.

“Acrylic, I-” she choked on her own words, tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I thought...” I didn’t want to hear any more. I stormed back to my shop, locking every door and window in the house. How was I supposed to forgive this? Attacking me for being who I was? They didn’t even know I was a thestral, and outright assaulted me! No, these weren’t my friends. Not anymore, they weren’t.

I was hiding under the sheets, tears in my eyes. Maybe Discord was right. Maybe we were just alike. I knew now that I didn’t belong here. But I couldn’t return to my family with the thestrals, either. Where was there left for me to go? Discord... the only one who understood. I knew that he had tried taking over Equestria before, but even he seemed preferable to going back to those so-called ‘friends’ of mine.

I stayed holed up in my bed until sunlight seeped through my closed blinds. No, that couldn’t be right. Even with constantly changing night and day, no light come through as of yet. I drew back the curtain, and in a flash of light, the landscape returned to the familiar setting I knew and loved before Discord’s sudden appearance. So they’d done it. The Elements of Harmony had finally banded together to rise up against him. I shut the curtains angrily. He’d been my only other option, and now they’d taken it away from me, too! Were they trying to ruin my life? I stormed back to the bed and tried to hide from it all.

It wasn’t long before I heard a knocking on my door.

“Acrylic?” somepony softly called. “Are you home?”

“Go away!”

“Please, let us in. We just want to talk,” the voice I now recognized as Twilight said.

“Please? I mean... if it’s okay with you.”

“We’re all really, super-duper sorry!” Pinkie tried, sounding more glum than I’d ever heard her.

“Can you ever forgive us?” Rarity tried. I gritted my teeth. My very closest friend had betrayed me, hit me, even, and now she came back thinking I could forgive her just like that?

“Please? We all feel mighty awful ‘bout what happened,” AJ put in.

“Come on, Acrylic. I’m going to get lonely out here!” Rainbow called out.

“Acrylic, I’m sorry. I should never have said those things. I should have let you come to Canterlot. I wish you’d have been there with us. I can’t change what we’ve done, but please... just come out and talk?” I sniffled, wiping my eyes on the sheets. I had no choice. Nowhere else to go. I had to forgive them if I wanted any chance at getting my old life back. I dried my eyes, though the redness was still evident. Slowly, I dragged myself downstairs, moping the whole way. I glanced over at the mirror to see most of the color return to my mane, but it still seemed a shade too gray. I still didn’t care. I opened the door to the hopeful ponies waiting outside, and tramped past them without a word.

“Look, we’re all really sorry about what happened.”

“Forget it,” I sagged.

“So... that means you forgive us?”

“There’s no changing it now,” was all I said. They took it to mean yes, and stopped me in my tracks for a celebratory group hug. Once released, I just continued on for my work station. I’d play nice, but deep down, I hadn’t forgiven them. I hadn’t forgiven them at all.

Spike soon informed the girls that they were invited to Canterlot for a special thank-you ceremony. All of Equestria was invited, and several of the locals from Ponyville came up for it. Rarity dragged me along when I tried to refuse arriving. They thought my refusal was just because I hadn’t represented an element to help defeat Discord. They didn’t want me feeling left out. Needless to say, I felt more out of place at the ceremony, lost in the crowds who’d come in honor of the special occasion. Even Spike got a place on the stage up front, but I was left behind in the sea of faces. I couldn’t even work up the excitement to cheer with the rest when their stained glass window was revealed. Again, I’d been left out of the mural.

I felt myself being isolated from the group over the following months. My night flights with Rainbow were growing fewer and father apart. I always found an excuse to stay home from going out to dinner with everypony else. I even skipped a few of Pinkie’s parties. No pony noticed my absence. Discord’s words kept ringing in my ears. ‘We were meant to be alone.’ My friends seemed farther away than ever, and they managed to have a high old time without me.

They moved on after the Discord incident, but I didn’t. I kept to myself, busy with Graphite Sketch’s now regular placement of orders. We kept the mail ponies busy as letters, paintings and payment were sent back and forth. I was informed that I had my own spot in his gallery where the paintings I sent were always displayed. According to him, they sold well. I was running out of canvases, and had to turn to a supplier in Canterlot to keep me stocked. I was so caught up in managing my business that I’d quite forgotten about the world beyond my shop. That is, until a certain pony paid me a visit.

“I have a delivery for Miss Acrylic Storm,” a voice called from the door.

“I’ll be just a moment. If you could set it on the counter, it would be quite helpful,” I called from the back. I heard the clunk of a package being placed as directed, and set my brushes back on the table. I didn’t have time to wipe the paint off my coat, so I went out as I was. I instantly regretted it. The chocolate coated stallion from the gala stood in the lobby.

Chapter 14: It's a Date

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Chapter 14
It’s a Date

He offered a warm but crooked smile as I appeared, and I foolishly found myself mimicking it.

“Graphite Sketch wanted to make sure these got to you himself, but unfortunately, he had an important meeting to get to today. I offered to take them instead.” He gestured to the bulky package on the counter.

“Uh huh,” I dumbly replied, lost again in his eyes.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Oh! Of course. I just... wasn’t expecting anything from Mr. Sketch. His order isn’t due until the end of the month.”

“Oh, it’s not payment. As he put it, it’s a small gift for his ‘favorite artist.’” He forgot I was watching, and rolled his eyes. I blushed realizing that the package was obviously too big to hold the few meager bits he owed me, and pulled at the twine binding the brown paper. Inside the box I found several large jars of some of the most expensive oil paint in Equestria. These were made from the purest minerals in Saddle Arabia!

“I- I can’t possibly accept this!” I gasped.

“Mr. Sketch was very firm in making sure you received it.” His assistant smiled at my refusal. I sighed, shutting the box.

“I’m afraid Mr. Sketch has been mislead into believing that our relationship goes beyond business. Please tell him that I have no intentions of entering a romantic affiliation. No, scratch that. I should probably do it myself.” I began trotting past him, getting it in my mind that it had to be done then and there. Thankfully, he dragged me back out of the clouds and into reality.

“So, you aren’t involved with Mr. Sketch at all?” he exclaimed.

“Only professionally,” I answered, still not stopping.

“Oh, thank goodness!” That finally got me to freeze, and I turned around to his flushing face. “Er... what I meant was...” He gasped. “Your cutie mark!” I self consciously looked back.

“Yes?” He shook his head.

“It’s just... we match.” I glanced between his flaming torch and my fiery paintbrush.

“We do,” I realized with a grin.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to stare. It just... reminds me of something from long ago.”

“Reminds you of what?” Rarity saved him when she entered the shop.

“There you are, Acrylic! Rainbow Dash has been looking all over for you. I told her you’d be in your shop; you’ve been holed up in here for weeks. Now, go on! She wants to meet you ‘at the tree line.’ I’m not sure where that is, but she said you’d know. Go on! Off you go!”

“But Rarity...” I groaned, trying to push past and reenter my shop.

“No buts! you’ve locked yourself in here for so long, fresh air will do you a world of good. Off with you! Shoo!”

“Excuse me,” the stallion called from the corner.

“Oh, hello there. I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

“You will?!” I burst.

“Of course I will. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of things while you’re gone. You don’t want to keep Rainbow Dash waiting, do you? Go!” I was finally shoved all the way out, locked out of my own shop. I banged on the door.

“RARITY!” I still hadn’t gotten his name.

“Right, then. How can I help you?” Rarity asked, moving to the counter.

“My business was with Miss Storm,” the stallion sighed. “Thank you, though.”

“Storm? Oh, that is what Acrylic’s calling herself now, isn’t it? So sorry to take her away like that, but she’s been holed up in here for weeks. We just had to get her out of this shop before the paint fumes got to her head, you know.”

“What do you mean, ‘calling herself now?’ She didn’t always go by Acrylic Storm?”

“No, as a matter of fact. The first time I heard her called Acrylic Storm was the night we gave her that portfolio. She changed her signature, then and there. Come to think of it, Rainbow Dash seemed to know what she was talking about. It must have come up in their conversation at some point. Those two have been spending quite a bit of time together, recently.”

“Who is Rainbow Dash?”

“She’s one of our best friends. Personally, I believe that she’s the best flier in Equestria.”

“I see,” he sighed. Narrowing his eyes, he searched his memory. “Is she the pegasus who performed a sonic rainboom?”

“Why, yes! She’s been trying to get into the Wonderbolts flying group her whole life. You know, she even had Acrylic do a portrait of her performing a sonic rainboom in hopes it would impress them enough to let her in.”

“I saw it,” he nodded. “That’s how I knew about her. I met Acrylic at the Grand Galloping Gala a few months ago, and she showed me all her work. Ever since, my employer Graphite Sketch has been ordering one painting after the other from her.”

“Graphite Sketch, you say?” The unicorn sucked in as much air as Pinkie in a tremendous gasp of realization. “You! You’re the assistant from the gala! Acrylic would go on and on about you!” She zoomed across the counter, hoping for juicy tidbits. “The nameless knight in shining armor come to retrieve his princess! Well, forget the shining armor bit. Ooh! This is so exciting!”

“She’s talked about me, then?” the stallion hopefully inquired.

“Oh, you were all she could think about after the gala! She doesn’t constantly babble on anymore, but sometimes she still gets a dreamy look in her eyes. How romantic!” Rarity shivered with glee. “So, where do you plan to take her on your first date? A picnic dinner at sunset? A Bridleway musical?”

“Whoa! If I may, Miss, you said she doesn’t even know my name. Isn’t it early to be thinking about asking her on a date?”

“Oh, you do share feelings for each other! But you’re quite right, you must get to know each other better first. What is your name, pray tell?”

“Torchwood,” he stated.

“And you?” he pressed. “I don’t know yours, either.”

“Rarity,” she sighed with a batting of eyelashes.

“Of course. Now I recognize you from her paintings.”

“Hmm? What are you still doing here? Off with you! You have a date to get ready for.”


“Leave it all to me. Just be at the park at eight tonight. I wouldn’t go for formal attire, personally, but be presentable.”

“Ponyville Park? Eight?”


“This had better be important, Rainbow Dash. The stallion of my dreams is back in my shop waiting for me.”

“What?! Then what are you doing here? Go to him!” the blue pegasus exclaimed with wide eyes, jumping off her cloud.

“Rarity kicked me out,” I growled. “Want to tell me what I’m doing here?”

“We’re all just getting worried about you, is all. You’ve been cooped up for weeks. I wondered if you wanted to go for a day flight over the Everfree, but hey! Don’t let me keep you from your ‘true love.’ What’s his name again?”

“I still don’t know!” I cried, flopping on the cloud next to her.

“GO!” Rainbow shrieked again, knocking me off. I just caught myself, and glided to the ground. I took her advice, and retracted my wings as I stormed back. Rarity was just closing up.

“Oh, back so soon?” she sweetly sang. “I thought Rainbow would have kept you longer.”

“Where is he?” I asked, bursting back in before she could lock the door.

“You mean that customer of yours? I took care of him. He’s gone by now.”

“No...” I groaned, sinking to the ground. “Did he leave anything, at least? A name?”

“Yes, in fact, he did.”

“TELL ME!” I towered over her, crazed eyes staring into hers.

“Why don’t you find out yourself? He left a note on the counter.” I zoomed over to it at what must have been a super-sonic speed. There was a card leaning between two bottles by the checkout. I greedily snatched it and opened it up. It read:

To the Lovely Acrylic Storm,

I haven’t been able to get you off my mind since the night we

met at the Grand Galloping Gala. While that meeting didn’t

have the most pleasant of endings, I hope we can leave off on a

better memory of each other tonight. Would you do me the

tremendous honor of meeting at Ponyville Park tonight for

dinner at eight?


“Torchwood,” I quietly echoed. My love’s name was Torchwood!

“Oh, how romantic,” Rarity sighed, suddenly appearing over my shoulder. “You simply must go to meet him!”

“But... I’ve never been on a date before. What do I say? Oh, Rarity, what do I do?!” I completely forgot that I was supposed to be angry with them, and dramatically sagged.

“Oh, just be yourself, darling. Y-oh! Just... be yourself with a little less paint.” I looked down at my green and white speckled hooves. I blushed with an embarrassed smile before scrambling upstairs to wash up.

Rarity proudly pranced out of Art Life. Acrylic had taken the bait. Now she just had to get things ready for tonight. For that, she’d need to recruit all of their friends. She knew they’d be more than happy to help; their friend had been so sullen since the Discord incident, they were constantly trying to find ways to cheer her up. Even Pinkie hadn’t produced a smile from her. For the first time in weeks, Acrylic had not only showed herself, but she’d smiled. Really smiled! If this stallion Torchwood could put that smile back on her face, then Rarity would do everything in her power to make sure it stayed there.

She hurried into town, heading straight for the library.


“Rarity?” Twilight looked up from her book, and Spike instantly jumped from his bed in the corner.

“What’s wrong? Can I help?” he offered.

“You most certainly can. I’ll need everypony’s help. Do you remember that stallion Acrylic met at the gala?”

“I remember her talking about him. How could I not? He was all she talked about for a week!” Twilight laughed, returning the book to its place on the shelf.

“Well, he’s come into town. I’ve arranged for them to meet for dinner at the park tonight at eight, but I need everypony’s help to set up.”

“Rarity, that’s...” Twilight sounded about ready to scold her friend for meddling in Acrylic’s affairs, but she stopped.

“I know you might not approve, Twilight, but you didn’t see the smile on Acrylic’s face when that stallion came into her shop. She was so happy!”

“Rarity, that’s brilliant!” Twilight finally finished.

“I know!” Rarity gloated. “Now, where’s Applejack? I was going to ask her if she’d prepare dessert for them. Do you think Fluttershy would do the main course? Applejack makes fantastic pastries, but given the amount of apples she tends to work with... I just don’t want to overdose them. What do you suppose we should fix them? Sandwiches? Soup? Torchwood is from Vanhoover. That’s a rather busy area; he’ll be used to city food, but that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare something a little more refined. Do you think horderves would be going too far?”

“Rarity, slow down!” Twilight exclaimed. “I get that you want to give them the perfect night and all, but don’t you think that’s a bit excessive?”

“You’re right, Twilight. Scratch the horderves.”

“F... F... F... Ah! Here it is! The First Date: Do’s and Do Not’s,” Twilight called, pulling a book from the shelf. Both unicorns scrutinized the pages as Twilight flipped through them. “Dinner!” Twilight read the chapter title. “Do Nots: For your first date, stay away from leafy greens, corn on the cob, or any food that may get stuck in your teeth. Everypony will agree that it’s very unattractive.”

“Hmm... that leaves salad off the menu, then. Nothing with seeds, either. Does it have anything against cucumber sandwiches? That’s a traditional picnic food. You can’t go wrong with soup, either. Acrylic knows not to slurp, and Torchwood must have refined manners if he works for a pony invited to the gala. Fluttershy makes a fantastic carrot soup for her sick animal friends. That wouldn’t get stuck in your teeth. But how do you take soup to a picnic dinner?”

“Also stay away from foods that leave a lasting odor; cheese, garlic, onion, etc.,” Twilight went on. “Tip: choose a familiar restaurant or food you know your date will love.”

“Oh!” Rarity squealed. “I don’t know anything about the foods Torchwood likes! I normally would never agree to this, but I think perhaps it’s time to set Rainbow loose with a spying assignment.”

“Rarity...” Twilight warned.

“But what if we serve them something he’s allergic to? How foolish that would look! Acrylic thinks he’s setting the whole thing up!”


“Oh, don’t worry; he’s in on it.”

“If he’s in on it, why don’t we just ask him?”

“Oh... that does make more sense, doesn’t it?” she blushed.



“There’s a new pony in town! Quick! You have to help me set up a welcoming party!”

“No parties today, Pinkie,” Rarity warned.

“Why not?” Pinkie whined. So the two unicorns explained the situation, Pinkie’s eyes growing bigger and bigger each second with excitement. “YES! I love surprise parties!”

“Not a surprise party, Pinkie. This is a romantic surprise dinner. No streamers, and certainly no balloons.”

“Ooooooooh,” Pinkie gasped. “I’ll get the chocolates! What? You can’t go wrong with chocolates!”

“Pinkie, that’s surprisingly a great idea!”

“I’ll take care of the decorations,” Rarity declared.

“I’ll keep everypony organized. Let’s see, Rarity’s doing decorations, Pinkie’s getting candy, Applejack has the dessert, Fluttershy’s cooking, Rainbow is going to find this... Torchwood, was it? to get dinner orders. But you do realize that we have to actually get them all to agree, first?”

“I’m sure they’ll all be more than willing to help. Let’s just keep this hush-hush, agreed?”

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” they chanted in unison.

As Rarity had predicted, they were all more than happy to oblige. Rarity returned to the Carousel Boutique to prep the decor, Pinkie gathered the best chocolates she could find, Twilight gave Fluttershy a hoof with the soup appetizer, Applejack decided apple pie was more romantic than a cobbler, and Rainbow flew overhead in search of the mysterious stallion Torchwood. He seemed to have fallen off the face of Equestria! The pegasus couldn’t find him anywhere! She even checked Art Life to see if he’d paid Acrylic a visit between now and dinner, but he was nowhere to be found. He hadn’t chickened out and returned to Vanhoover, had he? She narrowed her eyes at the thought of her friend being stood up. Not on her watch, he didn’t!

She zoomed in the direction of Vanhoover as quick as she could. Most ponies, even pegasi would take a train, but she didn’t have time to waste. Her flight would shave off only a little of the time, but at least she didn’t have to wait for the train to come back into the station. Rainbow thought back to Acrylic’s blubbering the week following the gala. What had she said Graphite’s gallery was called? The Painted Page? It sounded right. She stopped and asked for directions several times before finding the extravagant building right in the middle of Vanhoover. No wonder this guy had been invited to the gala! He must be the most prestigious artist in the whole city, by the looks of this place! She entered the gallery, though it looked more like a museum.

“Can I help you?” a receptionist lazily asked.

“I’m looking for a pony called Torchwood,” Rainbow told her.

“Mr. Sketch’s personal assistant?” The receptionist peeled off her glasses in curiosity.

“Yeah. He’s got a date tonight, and I can’t find him anywhere! I’ve gotta make sure he’s not chickening out. Oh, and I need his dinner order.” The disbelieving receptionist pointed to the doorway on the far side of the room.

“That’s Mr. Sketch’s office. I don’t know where Torchwood is, but if anypony knows, he will.”

“Thank you.” Rainbow headed for the office, barely stopping to knock at the door.

“Come in,” Graphite Sketch sarcastically invited, seeing he already had a visitor. He swiveled in his rolling chair to slide out from behind the desk. “How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for your assistant, Torchwood,” Rainbow flatly stated. She gave this guy the death glare; Acrylic reported poorly on his treatment of others he viewed ‘below him.’

“That incapable butler? What business could you possibly have with him?” Graphite huffed, walking indignantly by to pour himself a cup of tea.

“He’s got to be somewhere tonight, and I can’t find him anywhere,” Rainbow gritted her teeth. “I’m just trying to make sure he hasn’t got cold hooves.”

“Well, you’re out of luck. That colt has a history of skipping out on other ponies, at least in my experience. Always running out in the middle of a meeting or just not showing up at all.”

“Look, could you just tell me where he is?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. I sent him off to Ponyville this morning to deliver a package to Miss Acrylic, one of my finest suppliers. He hasn’t come back since.”

“Could you tell me where he lives? Maybe he went home early.”

“I hope for his sake that he hasn’t. He already owes me three double shifts! Here’s the address. Make sure he reports back in, if he’s there.” Graphite gave her a good looking over. “Wait just one moment. You’re Rainbow Dash, are you not? Acrylic did a fine job on your portrait. I’ve put in a good word with the Wonderbolts for you, young lady.” Rainbow almost stopped in her tracks at the chance to gloat or even just talk about her all time heroes. For Acrylic’s sake, she kept going out of his office. It was five already. She had to get Torchwood back on the 6 o’ clock train in time for his dinner date.

The address given to her by Graphite led the blue pegasus to a run-down apartment building. The bricks were cracked, and mortar was missing or peeling in some places, but the ponies were friendly enough. An elderly earth pony was more than happy to direct her to Torchwood’s floor. He was on the top level in room 50 G. He was on the outer wall; the ones with balconies, she said. Rainbow took one look up at the spiraling, rickety stairwell.

“Forget this,” she muttered, returning outside. Taking to the air, she flew around the building in search of 50 G. Unfortunately, there were no room numbers on the outside. Still, only one of the balconies had an open window, so she lighted down there. It was not in fact a window, but a glass door. She knocked gently on the pane, but nopony came to the door. “Hello? Anypony home?” The loud clanging of metal from what appeared to be the bathroom greeted her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Ya know, you’re balcony door is open. But... since I’m here, do you think you could tell me where a pony named Torchwood lives? Dead silence ensued. “Hey, are you okay in there?” she called again.

“Go away,” the pony inside demanded.

“Come on, pal, help me out here. You know Torchwood?”

“Of course I know him. He’s me.”

“You’re Torchwood? What are you doing here? You’ve got a date in two-and-a-half hours!”

“I know. Somepony named Rarity told me to leave everything to her, so I came home to get ready. Now would you please leave me alone? I’ll be there.”

“Well, you better hurry up, pal. You’ve got half an hour until the next train to Ponyville. So unless you’re suddenly going to sprout wings and fly the whole way, you’d better make that train. Got it? I won’t let you stand my friend up.”

“Okay,” the exasperated voice came.

“Oh, but I still need to know what you want for dinner.”


“Your dinner! My friends are cooking, but they don’t know what the main course is.”

“Oh, I don’t know... whatever Acrylic likes.”

“Well... I know she likes geranium sandwiches.”

“That’s fine.” Rainbow waited by the door for him do come out, but the stallion never appeared. She heard the occasional cracking, letting her know somepony was still inside. What was that? Could he be stepping on something? She sure had made him spill, but what he spilled was still a mystery.

“Would you come out of there? No stallion I know takes this long to prep for a date.” She flew over and opened the door herself. A tall brown stallion with a black and blond mane stood, still tangled in a toppled shower curtain. A few decorative marbles had clattered to the floor from a copper bowl on the sink. No, not marbles. Mints? That would explain the crunching. “Oh, did I do that?” Rainbow sheepishly grinned. “Here, let me help.”

“No! Just leave!” he demanded. This time, Rainbow didn’t argue.

“Sorry.” She shut the door, sagging against it with a deep breath. That hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as she’d hoped. “Just... don’t miss your train.” With that, she zipped out before she could cause any more trouble.

Chapter 15: Torchwood

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Chapter 15

I anxiously watched the clock. It had to be slow. I had to wait an eternity just for the minute hand to tick once.

“Ugh!” I finally flopped on my bed. Maybe Rarity’s was working properly. I couldn’t be late for my first date! I made a dash for the Carousel Boutique, taking care to keep myself ‘presentable,’ as Rarity put it. “Rarity?”

“Acrylic!” Several levitated items suddenly dropped. “W-what are you doing here? I thought you were getting ready for your big night!”

“I am ready. What time is it? do you know?”

“It’s only six, dear.”

“Oooh,” I groaned. “Why does time crawl when you need it to speed up?”

“Beats me. Now, off you go. Maybe you should have a hooficure down at the spa before dinner, yes?” I found myself being pushed outside.

“But...” I protested.

“Ah, ah! Go on, now. You look so frazzled, a spa treatment will do you wonders. You don’t want Torchwood to see you stressed, darling, believe me.”

“Well, I guess...” I really didn’t feel like a spa trip at a time like this.

“Excellent! Off you go!” The door was suddenly slammed in my face. I still didn’t want to go to the spa. Maybe I could help Twilight reshelve books or something first. That would give me work until it was time that wouldn’t effect my appearance. It would also soothe my nerves.

“Twilight?” I knocked on the library door, only to have it creak open. Only Spike and Twilight’s pet owl Owlowiscious remained. He looked up from a comic book to greet me.

“Oh, hey, Acrylic. Haven’t seen you in a while,” he casually called.

“Hey, Spike. Is Twilight home?”

“She and Fluttershy are in the kitchen,” he jabbed a claw.

“Thanks.” I nudged open the door blocking off the smaller room to find the two cooking something. It smelled heavenly, whatever it was. “Guys?”

“Acrylic!” they both spun, trying desperately to cover up their work.

“W-what are you doing here?” Twilight asked, not a sheepish but a sly grin creeping onto her face.

“I’m just so anxious for tonight, I need to keep my mind busy. I wondered if I could help with anything.”

“And what are you so anxious for, huh?” Twilight almost teasingly pried.

“Well... I’ve, uh... got...” I mumbled the last bit.

“What’s that? I didn’t quite catch you,” Fluttershy pried. I knew she was teasing me, because we usually had to tell her to speak up.

“I’ve got...” I mumbled again, playing along.

“One more time,” Twilight gleefully put in.

“I’VE GOT A DATE TONIGHT!” I squealed.

“Aww,” they both cooed.

“How cute!”

“Who’s the lucky stallion?”

“Remember the one I met at the gala? Not Graphite Sketch, but his assistant?”

“How could we forget?” Spike grouchily put in from the corner. “You talked about him for a week afterwards!” I blushed. Had I?

“Well... it’s him. Torchwood.”

“Aww,” they both sighed again.

“I’m meeting him tonight at eight for dinner. Now can I please have some work until then? What are you cooking? Can I help?”

“No!” they both exclaimed.

“I mean...” Twilight recovered, “I think Spike could use some help running errands, if you really want to help with something.”

“I could?” Spike exclaimed. It was news to him. Twilight elbowed him, causing the baby dragon to jump. “Oh, yeah. I could.”

“Great. It’s settled, then. You both can go out and run some errands. There’s some bits on the front desk. Spike, would you go get the shopping list?” I stumbled out to fetch the pouch, but Spike was held back another minute. I narrowed my eyes. They were up to something.

“Spike? You coming?”

“Of course! Be right there!” It took him another minute to run out with a long scroll streaming out behind him. I shook my head, and followed.

I spent most of the afternoon running errands to keep myself busy. When the clock struck seven, I was back home double and triple checking my appearance. I wasn’t sure if I should leave my mane as it was or fix it some other way. Should I wear my hat? Or maybe I could get Rarity to fix it in bows like she did the night of the gala. When I went over to her shop, she’d already left. This left me to fix it myself, and after several failed attempts, finally resolved to hide under my hat. By that time, it was seven fifty. Better early than late, right? I went ahead and left for the park.

I guess Torchwood had the same idea. The stallion was already waiting at the top of the hill, a beautiful arrangement in place. The few surrounding trees were wrapped in twirling ribbons, branches topped off with bows. Torchwood sat on a red and white checked blanket with a picnic basket at his side. Plates, cups and bowls were already set out. A candle stuck out from a bowl of what I later learned to be chocolates to provide some illumination against the already dimming sky.

He smiled upon eyeing me, and stood. I smiled back, and continued up the slope.

“I’m so glad you came,” he began, taking a seat again.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Neither of us were sure what needed saying next, so Torchwood reached into the basket and presented a thermos of soup, a sealed water pitcher, and two geranium sandwiches. My favorite! He expertly poured our glasses and ladled the carrot soup without spilling a drop. I guess he performed similar duties for Graphite as the butler.

“Thanks,” I said as he finished pouring.

“Of course.” I awkwardly dipped the spoon into the bowl, unaccustomed to using silverware. I usually ate right from the bowl. Since he’d set them out, though, I used it. I finally achieved a sip without dribbling. It was good! I looked over to tell him so, only to find him busily sipping from his bowl. With one disgusted look back at the spoon, I set it aside.

“The soup is wonderful,” I commented.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said, looking up. He turned his attention to the sky so as not to stare. I looked with him. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Quite,” I sighed, breathing in the cool air. “Most ponies don’t think of Celestia and Luna as artists, but they are. They just use a different kind of canvas. Even the finest oils can’t capture the majesty of the real thing.” Even on date night, I found myself bringing art into the conversation. I was sure he got enough of that as it was, but he didn’t seem to mind. He even joined in on the subject.

“Mr. Sketch doesn’t seem to think so. He orders only the finest paints. According to him, they make his work look ‘more realistic than the real thing.’” I laughed at the quote. He smiled as well. “Personally, I can’t tell a difference between the fine paints and the regular ones. Of course, I’m not much of an artist, either.”

“The most expensive isn’t necessarily the best,” I agreed.

“You’re living proof to that statement. Don’t tell Mr. Sketch I said this, but your pieces are far better than his. That’s why they keep selling out.”

“I have a hard time believing that,” I blushed. “Graphite is such a prestigious artist... how did he get where he is now if he doesn’t turn out exceptional work?”

“The same way everypony does. He knew somepony.” I nodded. Sadly, that was true. “So, how’s your business been since your work was featured at The Painted Page?”

“I have been getting a lot more orders recently,” I admitted. “Most are just mail orders, but it keeps me busy.” He nodded, and silence ensued. “What about you? How’s work?”

“No worse than usual,” he finally answered. He had nothing better to say about it.

“But how do you like it?”

“It pays the bills.” He was still avoiding the question.

“You don’t?” He guiltily looked at me, hoping I wouldn’t tell Graphite. I zipped my lips in a promise to keep quiet. “Hey, I get it. I see the way he treats you. So my only question is why do you even stick around?” He sighed.

“There’s no other work in Vanhoover. I was just a nopony wandering the streets when Graphite approached me with an offer. He was just starting out at the time, and needed somepony, anypony to lend a hoof around his studio. He was nice enough back then. Not so self-centered, you know. When his business took off, though...” he shrugged. “What can I say? Fame and fortune changes even the best of us.”

“Well, if you ever get tired of the big city, Ponyville will always welcome a new friendly face,” I half-jokingly offered.

“Is that so?” The look in his eyes told me that he was seriously considering it.

“Always,” I hopefully affirmed. He sagged.

“Mr. Sketch would never go for it.”

“Graphite signs your paychecks, sure, but he can’t tell you how to live your life!”

“You don’t understand... he’s got dirt on me.”

“What is it? Torchwood? You can tell me anything.”

“Not this, I’m afraid.”

“Alright,” I consented. “But if you change your mind, you know where to find me.” We’d barely touched our dinners, but I felt awful for making him look so shame faced. What could be eating at him? Did he have a criminal record or something? I couldn’t have cared. I’d never think less of him.

“Do I smell pie?” I asked, trying to change the subject. He eagerly took the bait, perking up at once.

“Apple,” he affirmed, pulling it out. I offered my plate as he cut me a piece, but looking over his shoulder, I noticed a stetson poking out from a bush. I chose to ignore it and enjoy the rest of my evening.

“Acrylic! How’d your date go?” All six of my friends entered my shop first thing in the morning. I sighed in content.

“Wonderful! But you already know that, don’t you?”

“I... don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout,” Applejack declared.

“Oh, please! I know for certain you were there. Bushes don’t wear stetsons, but you do.”

“Oops,” the cowgirl winced. The rest of them glared at her, telling me that they were all there too.

“And those decorations? That’s your style, Rarity.”

“Aww,” Rarity disappointedly groaned, having been found out.

“Look, Acrylic...”

“Thank you all.”


“Thank you. I know you all played a part. You tried so hard to make sure I had the perfect night! And I did, so thank you.”

“Aww,” Pinkie sniffed, eyes watering with happy tears as they all moved in for a group hug. Realizing she was missing out, Pinkie jumped right into the middle of us. We landed in a heap, laughing and giggling. After that day, my mane seemed to return to its bright blue color.

Chapter 16: The Thestral

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Chapter 16
The Thestral

Though I now not only had my best friends back, but my own very special somepony, I knew life wasn’t going to be sugar and spice and everything nice. I still had to cut things off with Graphite before he got the wrong idea. Of course, secrets complicated things, too. My wing springs had more-or-less stopped ever since I started flying with Rainbow. Stretching them out for a while must help. The wings, though, weren’t the secret I was referring to. There was the “dirt” Torchwood was so afraid of me finding out about, and the fact that he didn’t want to tell Graphite about our relationship made things a little harder. He lived so far away that we wouldn’t get to see each other too often, making letters the best solution. I had to use his home address instead of the gallery’s so Graphite wouldn’t suspect anything. Though it had only been a few days since the picnic dinner, I already felt the weight of our secrecy crashing down.

I received an invitation from Graphite asking me to lunch. I wanted to decline, but I needed the chance to clear things up. Evidently, returning the paints hadn’t been a clear enough message. He was more than willing to meet me for a ‘business lunch.’ I had to break the news to him then. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but it would be a relief to get it off my chest. I was getting ready to leave when the bell rang to tell me I had a customer. Oh, timing.

“Sorry, I’m just closing up,” I called.

“That’s okay. I can come back.” I dashed to the front to greet the familiar voice. As I predicted, the smiling stallion hadn’t actually budged.

“Torchwood! What are you doing here?”

“I took your advice,” he answered. “I quit my job. There was a house available for rent here, and I took it.”

“You’re moving?!” I gleefully exclaimed.

“Not moving. Moved. It’s already settled.”

“But I thought work was going to be an issue. Did you get a new job?”

“Not yet, but I’m looking,” he nodded.

“Well, if nopony else takes you, I will,” I declared.

“Would you, now?” he smiled. I realized the weight of my statement with a sheepish grin, but gave an affirmative nod.


“I may take you up on that.” Excitement drained from my face as realization hit me. “But... what about Graphite Sketch?”

“He’s not too happy about it, but it’s like you said. He can’t run my life for me.”

“What about the... thing?” His ears flattened.

“Just do me a favor. If he ever says anything about me, don’t listen to him, alright?”

“I cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” I vowed.

“What’s that?” he burst out laughing.

“A Pinkie Pie swear. You can’t go back on them,” I grinned.

“Alright, then,” he chuckled.

“I’m actually just heading out. Graphite invited me for lunch. I just need to make sure he knows our relationship is strictly professional.”

“So you haven’t done it yet.”

“Not yet. Why?”

“I just thought I made a clean escape. I just hope he doesn’t put two and two together and realize I left for you.” I blushed.

“I’ll see if I can lead him off, if you want.”

“No, there’s no point in it now. Besides, I’m tired of secrets. Go ahead, if you like.” I smiled, and continued to the door. He followed close behind. “I’ll walk you to the station.”

“Miss Acrylic! I’m so glad you could join me,” Graphite exclaimed as I approached the table. Without a butler to do the work for him, he stood and personally pulled out a seat for me. This was one of Vanhoover’s finer restaurants, and not many others were here. I found the quiet unnerving, being used to bustling shops. Of course, Graphite had reserved a private room sectioned off by a glass wall, which only contributed to the quiet.

“Thank you,” I quietly said, taking the chair.

“Now, what will it be?” A menu was shoved into my hooves. “And don’t worry about the price; I insist on buying for you.”

“That really isn’t necessary,” I tried, but he cut me off.

“Ah, ah! I won’t take no for an answer. Let’s see... I hear the stuffed squash here is just divine!” It was also the day’s special.

“Alright,” I sighed, briefly glancing over the menu. Graphite proceeded to flag down a waiter to get two orders of the special in while I nervously shifted in my seat.

“Now then,” he panted, rather frazzled from the uncooperative staff. “We finally have a chance to talk! Tell me, Miss Storm, how’s your business faring?”

“Quite well, thanks to you,” I admitted. “Orders have almost doubled since The Painted Page started displaying my work.”

“I’m so glad to hear it!”

“And what about you? Torchwood mentioned that the gallery was booming.”

“He did, did he?” His happy, gentlecoltly disposition changed. Now he seemed dark, angry, but frighteningly calm. “I must ask, Acrylic. Are you romantically involved with Torchwood?” This was the first time I’d ever heard Graphite call him by name.

“Mr. Sketch, I was led to believe that this was a business meeting. I don’t see how my personal life has anything to do with it.”

“Forgive me. I just thought...”

“Graphite, our relationship is strictly professional.”

“Yes, I got that when you sent the paints back,” he almost chuckled. I was shocked at how well he was taking this, but not in a good way. I felt like he might explode at any minute. He stood and walked to the window, looking out at the rest of the restaurant. “You must understand, I only ask because I fear for your safety.”

“My safety?” I repeated. “What does my relationship with Mr. Torchwood have to do with my safety?”

“I know things about Torchwood.” Graphite’s eyes burned as he circled back to me. I was becoming extremely uncomfortable.

“I have to stop you right there, Mr. Sketch. I’d rather not hear anything negative you have to say about him.”

“But Acrylic-”

“He’s already told me,” I fibbed, trying to end the conversation. ‘If he ever says anything about me, don’t listen to him,’ Torchwood had said. I intended to keep my promise.

“He has?! And you’re okay with that?” His jaw fell.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Why... Because he’s a thestral, for Celestia’s sake! A thestral!”

“A what?” My eyes grew wide.

“Oh. I see he hasn’t told you this bit,” Graphite’s smile morphed into a sly grin. My heart beat fast, and I looked down at my hooves. Could it be? The corners of my lips curled into a smile. Luckily, Graphite didn’t notice. “The thestrals attacked Equestria before Discord’s rule.”

“Yes, I know how the legends go, thanks.”

“He was always running off in the middle of work,” Graphite went on. “I finally decided to find out where he was going, and followed him on one such occasion. It wasn’t long before I realized that the fool couldn’t keep his wings hidden for very long. He didn’t pose a threat to Equestria at the time, so I kept quiet about it.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” I said. In truth, my mind was racing. It all made sense! The green tinge of fire on his cutie mark? Thestral fire was colored, just like dragons’.

“I’m afraid it’s true, my dear. I urge you to ask him yourself when you return home. He did move to Ponyville, didn’t he?”

“Assuming you’re telling the truth, it’s no wonder you treat him so horribly,” I clenched my teeth.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You can get away with treating him like trash, because if he says anything about it, you threaten to expose him!”

“Acrylic...” Graphite was taken aback by my reaction. “He’s a thestral. That filth has no place in our society.”

“Not anymore, but they used to. I’m going to tell you a story, Graphite. Once upon a time, pegasi, earth ponies, unicorns and thestrals all lived in harmony. Who’s to say they can’t come together again?”

“Acrylic, please calm down and listen to yourself. Your feelings for Torchwood are blinding you.”

“You think I’m out of my mind? Well, I very well may be, but I expect you to stay quiet about it. If and when I believe Torchwood poses a threat to Equestria, I’ll inform the Princesses myself. Understood?” I’d struck him speechless. He recoiled from me like a snake into the corner. “Well, I hope so. If you breathe a word, I’ll make sure the Princesses know how long you’ve been blackmailing him. Thank you for lunch, Mr. Sketch. I’ll have your order sent through next month as we agreed. Good day.” I left just as the waiter was returning with the food.

My hooves never carried me so fast. I jumped on the train just seconds before it pulled out of the station. Even then, I couldn’t sit still. I trembled with excitement, wanting nothing more than to get back and confirm the rumor. Each second crawled by, and my hooves jittered ever faster. I played with the loose thread on my hat, chewed my hair, and went through all the stress relieving rituals I knew. I could have been back by now, had I just flown. What was taking this train so long?

An eon later, we arrived back at the station. I made sure I was the first one off, and shot like a bullet into town. I slid to a stop in the middle of the plaza. He said he’d moved here, but where?

“Hi, Acrylic! What’s up?”

“Pinkie!” The pink pony was bouncing right behind me. “Quick, Pinkie! Do you know where Torchwood is?”

“The stallion you have a crush on?” My face turned red.

“Yes. Him.”

“He was at Sugar Cube Corner a minute ago. He said that he moved in to Ponyville! That means I finally get to throw him a welcome party! Hey, since I don’t know where he lives, can I throw the party at Art Life?”

“Sure, Pinkie,” I breathlessly panted, taking off again for Sugar Cube Corner.

Torchwood was just stepping out of the bakery when I whipped around the corner.

“Whoa!” he teasingly exclaimed, backing up at my sudden arrival. “What’s the rush?”

“I need to talk to you. NOW!”

“Alright,” he barely managed to say before I started dragging him behind me. He finally wrangled his hoof out of my grasp, but sensing my urgency, fell into step with me. “What’s wrong?”

“Hopefully nothing,” I panted, flying into my shop. It was still closed up from when I’d left, so we were left to ourselves. Once he was in, I turned off the light, made sure the ‘Closed’ sign was still facing the right way, and locked the door. I didn’t want anypony to think I was in.

“What’s this all about?” he curiously inquired, a hint of worry in his voice.

“I have to know,” I panted. He knew what I was going to ask, and turned away. “Are you a thestral?”

“I thought you weren’t going to listen to Graphite.”

“I tried so hard to change the subject, but he told me anyway, so please. Please, tell me,” I begged. He refused to face me, and I knew the answer. My heart leapt for joy.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied. The irony of it was, a loud pop echoed through the room. I recognized that pop. That was the beginning of a wing spring. His wild expression told me he knew it too. “I have to go.”

“No, please wait,” I pleaded, barricading the door.

“Acrylic, I have to go!”

“WAIT!” My wings sprang from my back as I reared, completely blocking his way and causing us both to freeze. Even his wings momentarily paused mid-growth. “Please?”


“Like you? Yes.” His great, leathery wings finally finished exposing themselves. We each waited for the other to react, folding our wings with blank faces. Then, almost at the exact same time, we both exploded into a fit of laughter and questions.

“What sector are you from?”

“How long have you been here?”

“WHAT are you doing here?”

“I’m from Blade Wing Four!”

“I’m from Midnight Armor Two!”

“Wow! Isn’t that at the farthest end of the Everfree?”

“Yep. And you’re one of the closest.”

“I know. I crossed the borders all the time, and just loved to watch the ponies in town. That’s why I came!”

“I came because a whole group of us decided to split off. I thought, hey, why not?”

“More? There are more thestrals in Equestria? How many?!”

“Five came with us, but two went back. This... wing problem presented an issue.”

“Stretching them out once in a while helps. I started going on night flights with my friend Rainbow Dash...”

“Wait, the pegasus knows?”

“And she’s fine with it. But she’s the only pony who knows. She can keep a secret. But she doesn’t know about you. Oh, she’ll be thrilled!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t know how I feel about telling somepony else about this. Graphite was bad enough.”

“She’s nothing like Graphite, I promise!”

“I know, but just... don’t tell her about me, okay? She came so close to finding out before... and I still have to get over the last pony who knew.”

“Alright,” I reluctantly agreed, not wanting to blow it with my new stallion friend. Now I knew he was the perfect one for me, and I didn’t want to ruin it. He was the only one I could be really and truly honest with, now. Some things I couldn’t even talk to Rainbow about. She just didn’t understand. One look into Torchwood’s eyes told me that the feeling was mutual.

“Wait, she almost found you out?”

“She thought I was skipping out the night I asked you to dinner, and flew all the way back to Vanhoover to make sure I was still coming. I’d accidentally left the window open, and right in the middle of one of my episodes, she welcomed herself to my living room. I had to wrap them in my shower curtains and act like I was stepping on mints to mask the noise.” I couldn’t hold in a note of laughter at the image.

Chapter 17: The Visitor

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Chapter 17
The Visitor

Months had gone by. I’d promised Torchwood a job, and that I provided. I taught him how to mix the paint, to set paper out in the screens, and how to do all the tasks he didn’t need to know with Graphite. Speaking of whom, the earth pony’s orders were becoming fewer and farther between. I took it to mean he was still sore with me. I couldn’t have cared less. I was getting new orders from the customers who used to buy my work through him. Now that he didn’t carry them any longer, they had to purchase directly from me. It kept both Torchwood and I quite busy.

It was also extremely convenient for him to work with me since I understood the wing spring situation. The windowless bathroom was always open if he felt one coming on. It wasn't as though we were bustling with activity for anypony to notice his sudden disappearances.

I’d resumed my flights with Rainbow, but couldn't convince Torchwood to join us. I didn't say anything, and since no royal guards had come crashing through Torchwood’s door, Graphite must have kept his word as well. At least, that was what I thought until I caught word that Princess Celestia was coming to Ponyville.

“You’ve got to get out of town! Just for a few days,” I begged after reporting the news to Torchwood.

“What about you? They’ll be looking for any thestrals, not just me!”

“She couldn’t know about me. Graphite only knew about you. If he’s leaked the news, he’ll only be able to report on one thestral. I can stay.”

“I want you to come with me.”

“I want to, too, but one of us has to stay behind and find out just how much they know.”

“I only fed Graphite false information about the thestrals. We don’t have to worry about that.”

“But we don’t know if they’re coming to attack the Everfree Sectors or just making an arrest. I have to stay and learn their plan to warn the others!” He sighed in defeat, realizing I was right.

“Okay. But be safe. And come find me when this is over. You know where I’ll be.”

“Midnight Armor, Sector Two. I’d fly across Equestria if I had to,” I promised. He nuzzled my neck. We hadn’t quite made it to a first kiss, but affectionate hugs and nuzzles had become commonplace.

“Come on, Acrylic, you’re going to miss the Princess! Oh, hiya, Torchwood. Do you want to meet the Princess too?” Pinkie sang.

“No, that’s alright,” he hastily excused. “I actually have to run out of town for a bit. Hopefully I won’t be long. Take care, Acrylic.”

“I’ll see you soon.” I barely had time to close up before I was dragged out to the far fields where Rainbow and I sometimes flew. Most of the others were already waiting. Pinkie never did stop bouncing. She was too excited for that.

“I love it when Princess Celestia comes to Ponyville! I got my hooves shined just like Rarity for the occasion. Ya like?” She stopped long enough to display them to Rarity.

“I certainly do!” the white unicorn declared.

“I'm surprised she's not here yet,” Twilight commented.

“I wonder what's taking so long?” Spike agreed.

“And where are Applejack and Fluttershy?”

“Fluttershy's detained helping Applejack with a mishap at Sweet Apple Acres. They'll be along,” Rarity promised.

“But, I still don't get why the Princess would be so late,” Spike pouted.

“She's bringing an important visitor. That could be part of it,” Twilight suggested. Important visitor? If it was that Graphite Sketch come to turn us in, I’d-

“A visitor who's important and slow,” the impatient Rainbow groaned.

“Maybe it's somepony so terribly important, she still had many more terribly important things to do before she got here,” Rarity put in. Spike let out a horrified gasp.

“Maybe the visitor has a deer antler, a goat leg, a bat wing, and a snake tail!” I rolled my eyes. That was likely. Twilight had the same idea.

“Yeah, right. That's Discord.” Rarity was horrified at the prospect.

“Why in the wide, wide world of Equestria would Princess Celestia bring along someone like that?”

“M-m-maybe you should ask... her!” Spike stuttered.

“Huh?” We all looked up for the arrival of two royal chariots. One contained the Princess. The other held the cold, stone form of Discord. My breath caught in my throat. Perhaps this wasn’t about the thestrals after all. But what could it be? With Discord here, it couldn’t be anything good. Twilight knew it, too.

“With all due respect, Princess Celestia, how could you bring Discord here?!” she screamed at her mentor. Realizing that was probably out of line, she cleared her throat. “Your majesty.”

“I'm fully aware that the last time Discord was here, he created serious havoc,” the Princess assured.

“If by ‘serious havoc’ you mean ‘turning Ponyville into the chaos capital of the world’...”Rainbow put in.

“...and tricking us all into being the opposite of our true selves,” Rarity added.

“And making yummy delicious chocolate milk rain all over the place without a single dollop of whipped cream to go with it anywhere in sight! Not a single dollop!” Pinkie squealed.

“Yes, I understand. But I have use for Discord's magic if it can be reformed to serve good instead of evil. This is why I've brought Discord here, because I believe that you are the ponies who can help him do just that.”

“This will never work! This is a disaster! How will we ever control him?! We're doomed!” Spike wailed.

“Need I remind you that you are the ponies who turned him back into stone like this in the first place?”

“I suppose we can just use the Elements of Harmony against him again if he gets out of hoof...” Twilight caught on.

“Uh, w-w-we probably need a volunteer to run away from here right away to get them. I'll do it!” the baby dragon offered, trying to scurry away.

“No need, Spike. I have them right here, and I've cast a spell so Discord can't take them and hide them again. Now where is Fluttershy? I believe she may know best how to begin reforming Discord.”

“Fluttershy? Really?” Rainbow gaped.

“And while you do not wield any of the Elements, Acrylic, you may also have better success in changing Discord for the better.”

Me?” I exclaimed.

“It is precisely because you do not wield an element that you may gain Discord’s trust.” I didn’t want to admit it, but it made sense. I reluctantly nodded. “Good. Now, as for Fluttershy...

“Well... Fluttershy’s at Applejack’s right now. There was a problem at Sweet Apple Acres, so they were going to be late,” Twilight confessed.

“Ugh, I’ll go get her,” Rainbow sighed before taking off in a multi-colored blur.

“So, Twilight, how have things been for you in Ponyville?” I shook my head as the Princess initiated idle chit-chat just before we were about to release Discord. How could they remain so calm and collected at a time like this? I sighed, and decided I was safer standing out in the background. It was from this safe distance that I considered the draconequus.

Sure, Discord had tried to take over Equestria and subject it to eternal chaos, but for some reason, I wasn’t afraid of him. As an artist, I’d taught myself to find the beauty in everything. That included Discord and his chaos. But it was something deeper than that. Perhaps it was how our ancestry intertwined. Or maybe it was even as simple as my hard-headed thestral side snuffing out the fear. I could try and convince myself with these lies all I wanted, but deep down, I knew the answer. It was because Discord and I were just alike. Not in the way he hinted at, but in a different way. I was a thestral, misplaced and misunderstood. I couldn’t help being the monster they all saw me as; neither could he. Wings or no wings, I was still Acrylic. Underneath that mismatched stone skin of Discord’s lay something better than the King of Chaos. We just had to bring it out. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted Discord to change. I wanted to help him. If I didn’t, who would? The others didn’t look too sure about the whole thing. Fluttershy might go for it- in fact, she probably would, in her own timid, cautious way. But I had to do everything in my power to help. I took the situation more personally than any of the other ponies. It weighed on me like a personal responsibility.

It wasn’t long before Rainbow had dragged Fluttershy back. Applejack chased behind them from the ground. The Princess smiled at the shy young pegasus, and presented the incredible task at hoof. Fluttershy looked uncomfortable upon first laying eyes on the statue, but was even more frightened upon learning what we had to do.

“I realize that this is a tall order, but I wouldn't ask if I weren't confident you could get him to use magic obediently of his own free will.”

“And... you really think I'll know best how to do that?” Fluttershy unbelievingly gasped.

“I do. Now, I must return to Canterlot for Equestria's royal summit. You may release Discord when ready.” With that, she left us for her royal chariot, which promptly took off. I took a second glance back at the statue. This time, I felt... pity. He looked so frightened. So helpless. I never wanted to feel that way. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to help him so badly. Because if I could pull him through this, then I could get through it, too.

“Okay, ponies, guess it's time to get started. Let's just hope this releasing spell works.” I took position off to the side with Spike where I was out of the way.

“Or... let's not...” my companion whimpered. I reassuringly nudged him.

“He isn’t that bad,” I whispered.

“Let’s see... he almost took over Equestria, turned everypony against their elements, and made Ponyville the Chaos Capital of the world. Yes, he is!” Spike hissed back. I rolled my eyes.

“We'd best keep our elements on at all times 'til further notice,” Twilight instructed.

“Check!” the rest of them agreed. Twilight’s horn began to glow, and the sheer power lifted them off the ground. Spike and I protected our eyes against the light produced from the rainbow explosion as the Elements were activated. Discord exploded from the cracking rock with a mighty roar, which eventually changed into a yawn. He stretched and shook grouchily.

“Oh! Ooh! Oooh! Well, it's about time somepony got me out of that prison block. What a relief!” He pretended to stretch to the right in a failed attempt to mask the snapping of his lion paw. The rest of them gasped as a nearby squirrel transformed into a giant hulk.

“What do you think you're doing?!” Twilight burst.

“Nnnnnnnnngh– Why, stretching, of course. When you're a creature of chaos, stone bodysuits aren't your typical go-to fashion choice. Nnngh...” Another snap of his tail brought about a screeching hulk of a rabbit. I expected Fluttershy to have a fit, but it was Pinkie who didn’t like that at all.

“Make that bunny cute again! Now!” she demanded.

“Oh...” Discord snickered, “he's adorable the way he is.” That excuse was blown when the mutated rabbit tried chomping off a finger. Discord blew a raspberry to get even. “You know what else is adorable? You ponies truly believe that you can reform me, and that you're putting your faith in these two here to make it happen. Makes me wanna pinch your little horsey cheeks...” He leaned in to Fluttershy in an attempt to do so.

“How'd you know about that?!” Twilight demanded.

“Being turned to stone doesn't keep me from hearing every word Celestia says. Although I admit it makes rolling my eyes a challenge.” He proceeded to literally remove his eyeballs from his head, roll them like dice, and cast them into holes in the ground. He then reappeared from the grass, the holes representing his eye sockets.

“That’s gross,” I flatly commented.

“Oh, hello again to you too, Acrylic! Our last meeting was brief, but quite enjoyable. Although, you never did take me up on my offer, did you? Still, it seems you’re the only pony here who can appreciate my chaos. Perhaps that’s why Celestia thinks you have a chance at reforming me.”

“I don’t know why she thinks so, Discord,” I replied in a business-like tone. I didn’t want the others to know how close I’d come to accepting his offer.

“Well, no matter. Where shall we start?”

“Start what?”

“A new masterpiece, of course! Now, I always forget; do you put in the foreground or the background first?” He stretched out his cleft hoof and poked the ground, causing the grass beneath to change to pink checkerboard. I didn’t budge, and kept my eyes locked on his, stern and purposeful, but not commanding. He seemed to be bored with my unresponsiveness, and turned to watch the other ponies back away from the changing ground.

“Discord! Unless you want us to turn you back to stone, you'll zap everything back the way it was, pronto!” Twilight threatened, finally realizing the checkerboard was safe to step on.

“Oh, you wouldn't dare turn me back to stone and risk disappointing your precious princess,” he mocked.

“Try us, ‘Dip-cord!’” Rainbow sneered.

“You think you can treat poor defenseless animals like that and get away with it?!” Fluttershy was finally getting angry.

“Yeah! You go, Fluttershy,” Rainbow encouraged.

“You'd best watch your step, buster, or I'll give you... the Stare!”

“The Stare? Oh no, please, not that! Anything but your disapproving eyeballs!” he sarcastically laughed. “Oh no! No no no, stop! No, no! I can't! Stop! I can't take it anymore! I'll do whatever you say! Because...” He burst out laughing, rolling on the ground and then in the air. “You are hilarious!” I couldn’t help but let out a small giggle. He was rubbing off on me. I straightened out after I received dirty looks from the other ponies. “Well, at least somepony gets my sense of humor, eh, Acrylic?” I coughed in embarrassment.

“If it turns out we need to use our elements against you, I'm sure we can convince Princess Celestia it was for a good reason!”

“Mmm... I suppose that's correct.” With another snap of his fingers, all animals within our sight were returned to normal. “Well, it looks like I know where I'll be crashing while I'm being ‘reformed’... With you, Acrylic.” I expected him to teleport behind me, but instead, I was brought to him. Even his skillful teleportation powers left me in a dazed stupor, and I couldn’t argue when my hat was knocked aside for him to give me a noogie. The rest of the girls gasped in pity upon realizing my predicament. I batted Discord away, causing him to let go and allow me to drop heavily to the ground.

“Well... you heard the Draconequus. Art Life ho,” I sighed, retrieving my hat and taking the lead.

“Art Life? Oh, that’s just the most adorable name I’ve ever heard,” Discord cackled.

“Thought you might like that,” I rolled my eyes. Rainbow almost bowled me over as she pulled me to the side.

“Are you sure about this?” she hissed.

“Why not?”

“Why not?! This is Discord!”

“Yes, we’ve been introduced, thanks. Look, this is what the Princess wanted, isn’t it? So what’s to be afraid of?” Rainbow was silent. “Exactly! Nothing. Now would you ease up on me? Him, too. I know I wouldn’t want to change for somepony who wouldn’t let me be myself.”

“Discord’s self is a powerful psychopath who will stop at nothing to take over Equestria!”

“We’re not here to change Discord completely, just to tone him down a little. Remember how I had to tone it down?” My glare caused her to drop the topic. Discord winked at me from above to tell me he’d heard the whole thing. With a heavy sigh, I hurried back to the lead so I could unlock the door.

“Hey, Acrylic? What does Torchwood think about Discord staying here?” Twilight asked, jumping as the draconequus leapt out from beneath a table in the dark room.

“He’s out of town,” Pinkie bounced.

“Who is this 'Torchwood'?” Discord inquired, levitating an unreal number of pencils and creating a couch for himself with them. “Oh, how cute. Does Acrylic have a boyfriend?”

“Yes, in fact, I do,” I sniffed, turning up my pointed nose.

“Well, excuse me,” he huffed, sensing my indignation. “So tell me, is Fluttershy staying over as well? Celestia is counting on the both of you.” I looked at her, and her expression told me that she would be willing if I requested it. I looked back at Discord resolutely.


“I suppose I should start making you more comfortable, then. Those pencils must be terribly uncomfortable,” Fluttershy offered.

“Thank you, Fluttershy, for your concern. If only your pony friends could be as considerate...”

“Don't listen to him, Fluttershy! He's just trying to drive a wedge between us like he always does.”

“Now why in the world would I ever try to do a thing like that?”

“So we can't unite and use the Elements of Harmony against you, that's why!”

“I never thought of that...”

“You big liar!”

“Now, look who's a liar. Anyone can plainly see that I'm not big at all.” To demonstrate, he shrank to the size of a rabbit before springing back to full size. Unfortunately, there was a little too much spring, and he knocked several paint jars off the table. They shattered, sending dye every which way. I only just dodged the glass shards. “Oops.” With a snap of his fingers, the mess was gone, leaving some odd creation behind. It looked like a glass sculpture, but the paint had been used to partially stain the glass. It almost resembled Discord himself. “There, all better.”

“I can't watch...” Applejack groaned.

“That’s alright; this is an art store, after all. It’s kinda cool, actually.” I tried looking at it from a lower angle, letting light sparkle through the rough shards.

“We'll be outside,” disbelieving Rainbow informed.

“Are you both sure you're okay with this?”

“Of course,” I affirmed.

“I know it's not gonna be easy, but Princess Celestia's counting on us. And... I think I actually know what to do.”

“You do?”

“You do?!” I echoed.

“I think the key is to befriend him. Being kind to him and letting him be your house guest is probably the best way to do that. That was so nice of you, by the way,” she added.

“And you really think that'll work?”

“I think it's worth a try.”

“I know it’s how I’d want to be treated if I had to go through rehab.”

“Okay, but if you need us, all you need to do is call... or whisper ‘help,’ and we'll be back here with our elements.” She turned back to Discord accusingly. “So watch that goat-legged step of yours, pal!”

“Wh-what?! Look at me! I'm practically reformed already.” He transformed the pencil couch into three fancy tall backed chairs. A round coffee table was placed between them, a steaming teapot sitting atop. He had created a suit for himself, complete with gloves and monocle. Fluttershy were both teleported into the two remaining seats, a dizzying sensation returning to my head. Shaking myself back to alertness, I found Discord offering me a cup. “Might I interest you in a spot of tea?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” I playfully agreed as Fluttershy hurried back to the door. (Discord was thrilled with my enthusiasm.)

“It’ll all be fine. You’ll see,” she promised, closing the door behind her. And so, we were left alone with Discord.

Chapter 18: Midnight Armor

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Chapter 18
Midnight Armor

“Um, Acrylic? Discord? I’m sorry to leave you both, but I really need to check on Angel. He doesn’t know I’m going to be out, and I have to make sure he’ll be alright. Do either of you need anything while I’m... um, are you eating... paper?” I’d been in the workshop priming the latest shipment of canvases, too busy to take notice of Discord’s antics. Now that I looked back out into the lobby, though, I saw him still on his thrown of pencils spearing paper shreds with a fork. I sighed. There was going to be a lot of inventory to replace after this ordeal was over.

“Am I? Huh. How odd of me.” He just took another bite. Fluttershy cast him a queer look before heading to the door.

“Well, I was just heading out. If that’s okay with you, I mean.”

“Go ahead,” I waved, returning to my canvas. “Everything’s under control here. Right, Discord?”

“Oh, of course! Buh-bye, have a nice time! Everything is fine here. Bye bye! Bye bye!” Discord gave her the last push she needed out the door before closing it after her.

“So, Discord. You wanna spill?”


“NOT the paint, mind you,” I quickly added, catching the gleam in his eyes. “What’s up with this ‘King of Chaos’ thing you’ve got going on?”

“I still don’t know what you mean,” he sighed, flopping back onto the pencils and brandishing his claws.

“I think you do.” I put the brush down and surprised him when I shoved the displays aside and stationed myself on the table to be level with him, if not slightly above. “What made you become... this?”

“You want to know my history?”

“Yeah! See, it’s this thing friends do to learn more about each other, called talking...”


“Yes, friends. Don’t you have any friends?”

“Well... no.” He turned away with a new look in his eyes. I didn’t recognize this. Something had finally clicked inside him.

“In-cor-rect,” I enunciated. “You have me and Fluttershy both, for starters. The others would be more willing if you just weren’t so... extreme.”

“I- I’ve never had friends before.”

“Well, now you do. So indulge me: where’d Discord come from?”

“Oh, I don’t think you want to go down that road. It’s a dark past.”

“Mine’s darker.”

“Oh, please. You ponies can’t even handle the Everfree, let alone the Frozen North.”

“I was raised in the Everfree Forest.”

“Come again?”

“You heard me. I’m an Everfree. Is there a problem with that?” He held his arms up in surrender. Satisfied, I nodded. Another moment of silence allowed me time to think. “How are you at keeping secrets?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had secrets to keep before. But, I did manage to keep my plans to rule Equestria quiet enough. Does that count?”

“Listen here, Discord. I’m about to tell you something I’ve only told two other ponies in my whole life. But you have to swear to keep your lips zipped. Got it?”

“Oh, how does that rhyme go? I cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye?” He jokingly summoned such a sweet and smacked it onto his head.

“I’m serious, Discord.” The icing splat disappeared.

“Alright, alright. I promise.” Something told me he really meant it.

“Okay. But if you tell anypony else, I’ll never speak to you again.”

“That’s rather harsh, isn’t it?”

“Don’t worry. Rainbow Dash got the same treatment.”

“If that blue pegasus friend of yours is one of the two ponies, who’s the other?”

“My boyfriend.”

“Oh, right. Him.”

“I hope you play nice around other guys, Discord, because we’re about to go meet him.”

“We are?”

“Come on. Let’s take a walk.” He hadn’t noticed that I’d been writing a note to Fluttershy to tell her where we’d gone. I didn’t leave him much of a choice, because I started off without him. I knew he could teleport right to me if he wanted, but a coat appeared on a hook by the door out of nowhere. He dashed for it as though we were running late to play along.

“Alright, you’ve dragged me all the way out to the Everfree. Now what’s your ‘big secret?’”

“I’ll show you as soon as we’re inside.”

“Some long lost childhood treasure, then?”

“No. I just need cover.”


“Do you remember the thestrals in the early days, Discord?”

“Why of course I do! It was thanks to them that I was able to take over Equestria in the first place. It’s too bad they were wiped out.”

“Yeah, well, don’t get your hopes up.” With a loud CRACKLE and a POP! my wings stretched out. I groaned with pleasure as they were released from confinement. Discord had dramatically and quite literally dropped his jaw to the floor, eyes bugging out. “Oh, much better. Hiding these things aren’t as bad as being encased in stone, I’m sure, but it feels good nonetheless. Shut your mouth, Discord. You’ll catch flies.”

“But you’re a-”


“And still-”

“Yes, Discord, we still exist. Get over this quickly, please. I tend to get this a lot, and it’s getting old. Just remember, tell NOPONY. Especially not the Princesses, but since you’ve already got a grudge against them, I don’t think that will be an issue. Come along. Into the air we go.” He obediently snapped back to his old self. With a snap of his fingers, he wore a suit, and I was in a breezy ball gown.

“Shall we?” He offered the crook of his elbow like a real gentlecolt.

“We shall.” I was going to take his arm and play along, but I soon found my wings were too big for that. I couldn’t get into the air without hitting him. A sheepish grin found us separated once again. “Race ya,” I tried instead, zooming into open air. Discord barely had to flap his wings, as a magically summoned gust of wind carried him most of the way. Our formal attire was changed to a sports announcer costume for him, complete with an announcer’s cloud platform, and a Wonderbolt uniform for me. I looked down at the suit with a start. Why a Wonderbolt? That was Rainbow’s dream. I knew for a fact that thestrals wouldn’t be accepted to the flight group anyway. Maybe that was his point? I shrugged it off. It was Discord, after all. Nothing made sense with him. As if to emphasize this fact, he rattled off a spew of indecipherably slurred words coming so fast it made me dizzy. He finally tossed the microphone aside, and our clothes vanished as well.

“Well, well. For somepony thought dead for thousands of years, you make quite a good flyer.”

“You’re not too bad yourself. A thousand years encased in stone and you’re not even breaking a sweat!” He contradicted my statement by clothing himself in exercise bands, and started to run through the air completely drenched in sweat. I dodged a few of the flying droplets with a disgusted, scrunched up face. “Nice,” I sarcastically groaned.

“Why, thank you,” he took a bow mid flight, just as sarcastic. I grinned mischievously.

“Come on, Discord, keep up.” I folded my wings into a dive, heading right for a break in the trees. He tried to follow, but had to teleport several times to avoid crashing.

“Is this really necessary?” he asked, teleporting around the branch I was just gliding over to avoid hitting the tree itself.

“Oh yes. They don’t like being approached from the air.”


“Hurry up! We’re almost there.” I folded my wings to perform a neat spinning dive through some low hanging branches. He gave up flying altogether and simply began teleporting to keep up with me, sometimes forming a hoop or other obstacle to make things even more challenging. I took on everything he threw at me with glee. I loved extreme flying sports almost as much as I loved to paint.

I finally allowed my hooves to touch down in a more or less open patch in the trees, using my enormous wings like a parachute to slow me down. Discord finally teleported next to me, arms crossed at being left behind in the fast-paced trip. I grinned teasingly, panting even heavier than he. It was a long flight, and speed cut down the time tremendously. “This way.” I continued pushing through the underbrush, not so much looking for landmarks as just following my instincts. I’d never been to a thestral sector besides my own, but I could almost sense that they were close. The undergrowth was becoming thicker, much to Discord’s annoyance; I was surprised he hadn’t shrunk the plants or turned them into candy canes yet. Maybe he really was changing for the better. This thought lifting my spirits, I finally broke through the thick wall and into a crater-like clearing.

Below me, thestrals were everywhere! Okay, not everywhere. We tended to be nocturnal creatures, and being around noon, most had gone to bed. Still, some worked a day shift, and were scattered about the clearing. Most of their tents were set up around the perimeter, but a few were scattered in the center. A huge bonfire rested at the center, illuminated by multicolored, smokeless flame, telling me that several ponies had contributed their fire. It wasn’t all that different from my sector, though we traditionally took turns lighting the fire.

I pulled myself completely free from the brush and met with empty space. I glided down from the ledge, looking for the one familiar face. I received curious, intrigued looks from some of the locals, but nopony said anything. After all, I wasn’t a threat. As my companion, Discord wasn’t questioned either. I doubted many of them knew who he really was, if any.

A familiar brown coat was just disappearing into one of the tents on the far side. Unless he had a twin brother, I’d found Torchwood. I rushed to the tent, careful not to make much noise. I wanted to surprise him. Voices inside told me he had company, and I wondered whether or not I should wait. After all, he’d been gone longer than me. He probably wanted to catch up with those he’d left so many years ago. Against my better judgment, I found myself knocking on the decorative stone placed outside the tent to request entry. (Since tents didn’t exactly have doors, we’d come up with the universal system of using rocks as doorbells.)

“Come in,” somepony’s voice called. It wasn’t Torchwood’s; he must be at a friend’s place. I tentatively stuck my head through the flap as identification. Of course tents couldn’t hold many ponies at once, but I was surprised when I found only three inside. Two unfamiliar faces stared back, but Torchwood’s eyes were locked on the ground. “Oh! Hello there. Who might you be?”

“Torch,” I hissed. He finally looked up and recognized me, eyes displaying a flurry of emotions: joy, confusion and worry all at once. He’d jumped to his hooves in an instant.

“Acrylic! I’m so glad you made it. That was fast. What happened?”

“False alarm,” I sagged. “This time, anyway. I was so sure!”

“This is Acrylic? As in, Acrylic Storm?”

“Oh, uh, Acrylic? Meet my parents.

“Your...” My eyes grew wide in realization.

“It’s so good to meet you,” his mother smiled. “We were so glad to have Torchwood back home. He’s only been here a few hours, but he’s barely talked about anypony else since he got back! I’m Rose Petal.” Torch’s ears flattened with embarrassment. His mother was a rather beautiful pony. She was thin as a twig, and a little taller than me. Her coat was a splendid teal, and her eyes were a stunningly clear grass green. Her cutie mark displayed a flourishing blue rose, it’s green leaves almost blending with her coat. Her mane, too, had just a hint more green than her coat, making the colors almost indistinguishable. Bright green highlights to match her eyes ran through the curly locks. A faded blue bow had been inserted somewhere at the back of the tangled mass, and a matching ribbon hung simply around her neck.

“You’re even prettier than I imagined,” his father put in. I felt my cheeks grow hot. He’d had expectations? “I’m Meteor Strike. It’s wonderful to make your acquaintance.” The stallion was buff like my father, but not quite as tall. Even his broad jaw line and slightly turned up nose added to his strong appearance. His coat was a pale red-brown color. In fact, everything about him was pale. His mane was short and brushed back, though his tail was longer than most stallions in Ponyville, reaching his hocks. Both were a solid gray in color with just a tint of red that almost gave it a pink appearance. His eyes were rounder than most with clear gray pupils. His long legs soon gave way to shaggy fur that partially covered stone colored hooves. His cutie mark displayed a faint orange streak curling in a half circle, trailing after a falling meteor encased in pale yellow flames as it pierced the atmosphere. Even that seemed paler than it might have been once.

“Oh, well... thank you...” I stammered.

“It must have been destiny that brought you two together. How else would two thestrals find each other hidden in a world among other ponies? How is that life suiting you, anyway?”

“Fair enough. It’s the little things that spoil you rotten. They have easy access to pastries every morning for breakfast! Everypony smiles at you just walking down the street... so long as you hide your wings. But when everything’s said and done, I think it was worth it.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so. From the letters Torchwood sent us when he first started off there, we were so worried about him. He didn’t like his job working for that earth pony... oh, what was his name? Graphite Page, was it?”

“Graphite Sketch, Mom. I worked at The Painted Page Gallery.”

“That’s right. Anyway, I can’t imagine holding an occupation that doesn’t allow you to use your special talent! It must be absolutely dreadful! Although, it seems he’s quite content working with you. Perhaps the employer makes a world of difference.”

“Mom, I’m right here,” Torchwood reminded. I knew what it was like to be talked about as though you weren’t there, but I couldn’t suppress a smile.

“Why, you’ve been hiding so long, I doubt you’ve had a chance to practice! When was the last time you put on one of your shows?”

“Shows?” Even after nearly six months of dating, I hadn’t even bothered to consider what his special talent was! I always assumed the torch represented something deeper, like his bright personality.

“You’ve been dating this lovely mare and haven’t even told her about your gift? Shame on you!” his father scolded.

“You go on out there right now and show her,” his mother demanded. “Go on, both of you! Why don’t you put on a show for the young ones? There hasn’t been a fire dancer as skillful as you around here for decades! They’ll be thrilled!”

“Torchwood, there’s something you should know,” I hurriedly began, finding myself being shoved out of the tent.

“Yes? What is it?”

“There you are, Acrylic.” Discord had been entertaining the young colts and fillies with his chaotic magic, but on a smaller, more controlled scale.

“Who’s this?” Torchwood asked. I didn’t have time to answer.

“It’s about time you got back. So this must be Torchwood, eh? Hmm... I expected somepony a little... shorter. I didn’t think you’d be dating a giraffe, Acrylic.”

“Discord!” I reprimanded.

“Discord?” Torchwood echoed. The whole encampment fell silent.

“Torchwood, meet Discord. Discord, meet Torchwood.”

“Can I speak with you for a moment?” My stallion friend pulled me aside after briefly staring the draconequus down. “How could you bring Discord to Midnight Armor?!”

“What’s the problem?”

“What’s the problem? That fiend took advantage of us!”

“That was a thousand years ago, Torchwood. I thought we were over that.”

“We’ve changed, sure, but Discord hasn’t.”

“But he has! That’s why the Princess brought him to us!”

“The Princess did what?”

“Celestia wants him reformed, and she thinks that Fluttershy and I are the best ponies to do that. She went out, so I took him on a friend-to-friend flight.”

“Oh, so we’re friends with him now, are we?” Torchwood took a few steps away and began pacing angrily.

“Yes, we are,” I quietly said. “Torchwood?”

“You promised me you wouldn’t tell anypony else.”

“Well, he isn’t exactly a pony...” I tried to lighten the mood.

“You KNOW what I meant,” he boomed. I shrank back. I’d never seen him so angry.

“He’s just like us,” I squeaked, trembling.

“He’s NOTHING like us.”

“He’s lost. Misplaced in a world he doesn’t belong in. Remind you of anypony?” Torchwood froze. I sighed and turned away to mask the tears stinging my eyes. “I should take him back now.”

“Yes, you should.”

“I just wish you’d give him a chance,” I sniffed. Torchwood noticed for the first time that I was teary-eyed, and his whole disposition softened. I hurried back to the crowd forming around Discord, pushing purposefully through. “It’s time for us to go,” I called to him.

“I suppose your boyfriend will be flying back with us?”



“No! Now, come on!” I briefly met the startled gaze of Torchwood’s parents before my wings snapped open, shooting me into the open air. Discord teleported his way behind me.

I had no reason to weave through the trees now, so I just kept low to the canopy. Discord was currently flying above me without any clouds to teleport to. Torchwood never appeared behind me as I half-hoped. Discord had fallen startlingly silent. “What’s the matter? You don’t have any smart-alec comments?”

“Who, me? I thought you ponies wanted me reformed. I have a whole list of jokes I could make, but I was going to humor you and keep quiet. But if you really want to hear them...”

“I’m sorry,” I hung my head. “I didn’t mean that. I’m just so... angry...”

“With that bloak, Torchwood. You’re better off without him, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you. And I’m not mad at him, or even you. Just at myself. I don’t know why I ever thought I could belong to two worlds. I can’t please the ones I love in one without hurting somepony in the other.”

“Now, what’s the appropriate response a friend would say to the other? Perhaps something like, ‘do you want to talk about it?’”

“Friendship can’t be learned from a textbook, Discord. Don’t try and pull quotes from one. Just speak your mind... to an extent.” I cocked my head as I flew. From this new angle, I eyed a relatively large cloud high above. “But sure, we can talk about it.” I readjusted my wings to catch the wind, pulling me upward. I landed on the cloud and got comfortable as I waited for Discord. From here, I had a nearly perfect view of the distant thestral camp. Discord coiled up beside me, and for a moment, we just looked out at the camp.

“I should’ve known it was coming. It’s just... we’ve never fought before. And knowing that it was my fault just makes me feel worse.”

“How was this your fault? From what I heard, he was the one yelling.”

“I deserved it. I had no right to tell anypo- er, anyone else. It’s not just my secret anymore. Then something made me think that it was a good idea to take you to him. It wasn’t even my home, it was his. I was so caught up in trying to make friends with you that I forgot how important it was to preserve my relationship with him. Oh, what have I done?” Torchwood’s words rang again and again. I covered my ears in hopes it would somehow tune them out.

“Do I feel a letter to Celestia coming on?”


“Doesn’t she like you ponies to write to her when you learn a lesson about friendship?”

“Well, yes...”

“Go on, then. Twilight has her secretary Spike; I’ll volunteer to write for you. Let’s hear it. Tell me what you’ve learned.” A scroll and ink-dripping quill appeared in his hands.

“Not now, Discord. And when and if I write to her, I’ll do it myself.”

“If? You aren’t going to let Celestia down, are you?” he jokingly nudged me.

“I’ll have to think of a way to put it without giving the thestrals up.

“Very well, very well.”


“Where are you?” I looked down from my cloud in hopes of Torchwood coming back. Instead, I found all six of our friends searching the woods for us.

“Perfect,” I growled. I couldn’t get down without risking them seeing.

“Allow me,” Discord mockingly bowed. A snap of his fingers brought us to ground level, where I hurried to retract my wings.

“This way,” I ushered. We headed in the direction of the ancient ruins in hopes of veering around unseen. Unfortunately, it didn’t work quite as I hoped.

“Acrylic!” Rainbow spotted us. I turned, trying to look happy to see her.

“Rainbow! Pinkie Pie? What are you all doing out here?”

“We came looking for you!”

“What were you thinking, coming out into the Everfree with him?!”

“Well... Fluttershy’d gone out to check on Angel, Discord and I got to talking... long story short, he expressed an interest in the ancient ruins and I took him out to see them.”

“The ruins are that way.”

“We got a little turned around.”

“Or maybe he was trying to get you lost in the Everfree!” Rainbow accused.

“Okay, Rainbow, knock it off. That’s not what happened.”

“How do you know? He’s a thousand years old; surely he knows where the castle is. What could possibly interest you there?”

“Let me answer your question with a question. Don’t you like to revisit things familiar to you, Rainbow Dash? The world has changed just so much since my rule, it’s nice to look back once in a while,” he retorted. I received a wink, and could have wilted with relief. ‘Thank you,’ I mouthed.

“I still have a hard time believing you’d just take off like that,” Twilight agreed with Rainbow Dash.

“Guys, look. It doesn’t matter much now, does it? Let’s all just go back.” So we did, the distrusting ponies hanging around the back.

“Um... maybe we should go to my place this time...” Fluttershy suggested as we breached the tree line. I guess she’d noticed my gloomy disposition. I couldn’t get Torchwood’s angry words out of my head. They kept replaying like a broken record.

“That might be best,” Twilight spoke up when I didn’t answer. “Discord?”

“Oh, very well. I guess I’m moving.” He picked up two leather suitcases, and tramped off in the direction of Fluttershy’s cottage. I moved to follow, but Twilight held me back a moment.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.” I bit my lip.

“Look, back there... I didn’t mean anything by it,” Rainbow tried to apologize.

“We were all just so worried about you.”

“There’s no need to apologize to me. To Discord, maybe.” I let out a dry huff of a chuckle. “But we made great progress out there.”

“You did?!”

“Sure. He just needs somepony to be his friend, just like Fluttershy said. He’s changing, Twi. I know he is.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Just then, Torchwood walked by. I could tell he was coming out of the Everfree, but he angled his path to look like he was just passing by. His head hung low, ears drooping, eyes never leaving the ground.

“Look! Torchwood’s back! That should cheer you up,” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Oh, hi, Torchwood,” Twilight waved. He glanced dejectedly in our direction, but eyeing me, decided against coming up. He only nodded acknowledgement. I, too, turned away.

“Oh,” they quietly gasped in unison. All but Pinkie.

“What? What’s ‘oh?’”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.” I tried to pull away for the cottage again. Rarity blocked my way.

“Come on, dear. The last thing you need is to trouble yourself with Discord. And from what you’ve told us, you’ve made incredible progress already. I’m sure Fluttershy can handle things herself.” One look from the others caused her to change her statement. “Well, we can, I mean.”

“I appreciate it, but I’m fine.”

“I insist! Let me walk you home.” I hated to leave Fluttershy hanging, as well as my new friend, but I didn’t feel like dealing with anypony at the moment. I let her lead me away.

I left the closed sign hanging in the window, and didn’t bother to turn on the lights. I felt so miserable, all I wanted to do was sleep.

“You’re sure there’s nothing I can do to help?”

“Nothing, Rarity. But thank you.”

“Alright, but if you need anything, anything at all, just come on over. And if you need somepony to talk to, any and all of us will be listening.” I just nodded, and she shut the door behind her. I looked back hearing the lock click, left alone in the dark. I had no trouble navigating with so much light pouring in from the glass wall in the workshop, and moped my way up the steps. I kept it together until I was under the sheets. Then, I wept.

Chapter 19: Reformed

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Chapter 19

“Acrylic, come quick!”

“What?” I got out of bed, eyes still red. I soon found that it was Twilight in the lobby.

“There’s trouble down at Sweet Apple Acres! Discord’s out of control! I don’t know what you did before, but we need you to do it again.” And so I ran out with her, finally putting all other thoughts aside.

The sight that met my eyes was unreal. An enormous beaver dam had been constructed in the middle of Sweet Apple Acres, causing the water flow to reach the tree tops.

“I've never seen the floodin' this bad! They've built dams 'round here before, but never like this!” Applejack wailed. “What's goin' on?” I looked over to find Fluttershy trying to reason with an angrily chattering beaver.

“Such language! It's no use. They won't listen to a word I say!” she woefully sighed.

“You see Discord's behind all this, right?” Rainbow Dash said.

“Oh, of course I do! Do you all think I'm a silly, gullible fool?”

“Only in the sense of being silly and gullible...”

“Um, well...”

“Uh... uh, no, not exactly...”

“I've just been trying to gain his friendship any way I can, so he'd come to trust and listen to me!” I sighed with her.

“Where is he?”

“Hey there, Fluttershy, you want a turn? Oh, and Acrylic’s back! I was wondering where you’d gotten off to. Come on in! The water's great!” Discord whizzed by on water skis.

“Time to see if it worked. Acrylic, are you coming?”

“Of course.”

“Fluttershy, oh, there you are. And you’ve found Acrylic, too. Oh, my. You are a sight for sore eyes, aren’t you?”

“As you can see, there's a big mess down here at Sweet Apple Acres,” Fluttershy took the lead.

“Oh, yes. Awful business, that. Mm.”

“It is awful. This is Applejack's home, and it's being destroyed by innocent creatures who would never be acting this way if it weren't for your reckless behavior. You need to fix this.”

“Oh, yes, very well, I will fix it. I only ask one thing in return.”


“I ask that you never use your Element of Harmony against me. As a sign of our friendship.” The others were urging her to say no, but she ignored them.

“I will never use my Element of Harmony against you,” she vowed,

“Excellent!” The next snap of his fingers should have cleared up the mess, but instead, the flood waters froze over. Discord teleported onto the ice with skates. “There, much better! I do prefer ice skating to water skiing! Don't you?”

“Discord! That's not fixing it! Why, I oughta...”

“Discord, I thought we agreed that this needed to be toned down a little.”

“I never agreed to anything, as you’ll recall.” I shook my head in disgust and started walking away over the ice, Fluttershy floating in the air at my side.

“Where are you both going? What's wrong, pal?”

“Don't call me your pal!” Fluttershy snapped. I started sliding as I tried to stop, and Discord appeared in front. I wasn’t sure if he meant to time it so, but he had to catch me so I didn’t knock him over too.

“Oh, pfft! Why don’t you both come skating with me, and we'll let bygones be bygones.” Two sets of skates were offered to us.

“Here you go, Fluttershy! Game on!” Spike appeared with her element. Just the sight of it stung me, knowing what they were going to do. I’d failed him.

“He fixes this or he goes back to being stone! Princess Celestia will understand!” Fluttershy looked at the jewel encrusted necklace, then at the skates, and I turned away to reject them altogether. There was a snowy treetop where I wouldn’t slip and slide on nearby, so I headed for it.

“I made a promise not to use my element against him, and I'm going to keep it,” FLuttershy decided.

“Ha ha! You see? She wants to have fun with me because we're friends. She can't use the elements against me because we're friends. I'm free forever!” he cackled.

“Not. Your. Friend!” She spat the skates out onto the open ice. Discord looked like a knife had been stabbed into his back. He tried to ignore it, but couldn’t.

“Who cares? I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I'm Discord, the master of chaos! You think you can boss Discord around? You think I'm just going to turn all this back because you say so? Because if I don't, I'll lose one of the only friends I ever had? Well, I hate to break it to you, pal, but I still have Acrylic. Right?” I sat atop the tree, giving him a blank staring down. Then, I mustered up the four most painful words you could ever tell a friend.

“I’m disappointed in you.” Leaving it at that, I turned away and refused to face him, letting him know that he had one last chance to save our friendship. There was a long pause.

“Oh. Oh. Well played, girls. Well played.” A pulse of white light emanated from his heart, and Sweet Apple Acres was restored. The girls cheered, and Fluttershy blushed. I, meanwhile, was falling out of the tree. Discord appeared below in time to catch me. I smiled at him.

“You’ve done good.”

“Well, I liked it better my way, but... I guess when you're friends, you can't always have things exactly your way all the time, eh?”

“The Princess will be thrilled! Spike, will you inform Princess Celestia that Discord has been successfully reformed?”

“I’m on it!” The little dragon ran off to go fetch a scroll and quill.

“So, how do you girls... and guy... suggest we celebrate?”

“A dinner party?” Discord suggested.

“NO!” they all screamed. Discord sniggered, but I missed the joke.

“Fluttershy? Acrylic? What do you girls think? You’re both our mares of the hour; I think you should get to decide.”

“Well... a desert at Sugar Cube Corner would be nice,” Fluttershy suggested.

“Is that okay with you, Acrylic?”

“Forgive me, but I’m not much in a celebrating mood.” I started on my way back home so I could wallow in my own grief.

The seven friends watched as the eighth of their company skulked away.

“That’s it, then?” Pinkie confusedly spoke up.

“We aren’t just going to let her walk away, are we? She’s earned this!” Rarity pressed.

“We aren’t finished yet,” Discord agreed with a mischievous look in his eyes.

“Discord? Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is no,” Twilight declared.

“What? I was simply saying that as friends, it’s our job to get Acrylic and Torchwood to make up,” he winked.

“You think he’s taking this whole ‘friendship’ thing a little far?” Applejack whispered to Rainbow Dash.

“A little, but he’s actually right. We’ve got to get them back together. Although, it would be a lot easier if we knew what they were fighting over in the first place.”

“I can help with that,” Discord said, appearing between the two girls.

“YAH!” Rainbow squealed with fright.

“Unfortunately, I believe I caused their argument.”

“You? I should’ve known!”

“I didn’t do it on purpose! Torchwood and I just don’t see eye to eye, to say the least.”

“Well, that makes things a lot less complicated,” Twilight cheerily smiled, turning to start heading for Sugar Cube Corner.

“It does?” the rest of them exclaimed.

“Of course it does! Discord just has to apologize to Torchwood, and convince him to get back with Acrylic.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you started this whole thing, that’s why. You said yourself that it’s part of friendship. Consider it your first assignment as a reformed draconequus.” Glad to be rid of not only the weighty assignment but also Discord himself, everypony but Fluttershy pranced away, eyes closed in a somewhat stuck-up fashion. Fluttershy turned back to Discord.

“I don’t know what happened, but if you did cause it, you’d better fix it!” That said, she flitted around to join the others.

“Oh, alright,” Discord groaned. With a snap of his fingers, he was gone.

“Hello? Anypony home?” Discord was coiled around the thatched hay roof of one of the many houses in the square, hanging upside down as he knocked on the door. The wooden gate soon slid aside, revealing Torchwood behind it. He frowned upon seeing his visitor.

“Go away. Don’t you have somepony else’s life to wreck?”

“I am the spirit of chaos, but this time, it wasn’t me who made you yell at sweet, sweet Acrylic.” Torchwood started to shut the door on the draconequus, but Discord teleported inside the dimly lit room before he had a chance. “You have a torch for a cutie mark, so why is it so dark in here?” Discord offered a magically summoned lantern in emphasis.

“GAH! Get out of my house!”

“How rude of you, Torchwood, and after I came all this way to apologize.”


“I know we don’t see eye to eye, Torchwood, but that’s no reason to take it out on Acrylic. Why don’t you make it up to her? Take her out to dinner or something? Do whatever it is you ponies do.” He was currently reclining on a hammock suspended by nonexistent hooks. Torchwood sighed.

“I keep forgetting that she’s not like me. I’m perfectly fine with keeping to myself, but she’s incredibly social. That was the whole reason she came out into civilization. I just tagged along with some pals for the experience. She needs somepony, or someone to confide in. It can’t always be me. I forget that sometimes.”

“So what are you waiting for? Go sweep her off her hooves!”

“You still gave thestrals a bad name,” Torchwood pointed out.

“You ponies should have known better than to try and upset the balance in the first place. But, for Acrylic’s sake, I won’t argue. I’m sorry. There, I said it. Though, I don’t see the point in it. Even the spirit of chaos can’t change the past.”

“That sounds like something she would say,” Torchwood chuckled. “I’m sorry too, Discord. The past is in the past. Its a good thing Acrylic forgives more freely than I do.” Torchwood started on his way, but returned almost instantly. “I still expect you out of my house, Discord.” With a disappointed sigh, Discord and his hammock vanished. Torchwood gave a nod of approval, but locked the door to be safe. This done, the stallion headed for Art Life.

The lights were off in my room, but I kept the windows open to let the air circulate. The blue, flannel sheets I’d wrapped myself in felt like a protection from the rest of the world. I’d played about a hundred possibilities in my head to try and figure out how I was going to apologize to Torchwood, but in my current state, they all came out as worst case scenarios. This was doing nothing for my confidence. Still, I knew that even if he refused to forgive me, it had to be done. Tomorrow. I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed, let alone put myself through such emotional trauma. I rolled over, burying my face in the pillow before a fresh flow of tears could surface.

Something warm and comforting tickled my shoulder. I sniffed, and turned back around to see what it was. To my surprise, a small orange flame fluttered on my shoulder like a feather.

“Discord?” I didn’t know anypony else who could perform such a feat. This assumption was nullified when I noticed that the flame was tipped with green. It danced through the air, fluttering across the room until it came to rest among several other tongues of fire. Now having gained my attention, they twisted and curled until they formed two simple words.


I felt tears sting at my eyes. But these were happy tears. I tossed the covers off so I could slide to the floor. Moving to the window, I pushed the curtains aside and looked out. Torchwood timidly waved from below as the fire dissipated. Then, he beckoned me to come out. I vigorously nodded my head, and he moved to start heading for the door. I couldn’t wait that long. I dove out the window, wings catching me just in time. Shocked but amused, Torchwood came back. He let me clamber into his arms, weeping though I was.

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry.”

“Shh. Don’t be,” he cooed, rocking us gently. “It was my fault. I’m the one who should be sorry.” I pulled away, pleadingly searching his eyes.

“But... I took Discord to your sector! It was your home, and I didn’t even ask. I had no right to make that decision. I’m so... sorry.”

“And I wasn’t thinking about you. You need other friends to confide in, not just me. I should’ve trusted your judgment when you brought him to us. I’m sorry too. Can you forgive me?”

“Oh, Torchwood! Only if you forgive me!” I straightened up, moving in for a real hug, (not just throwing myself at him).

“You know, neither of us have had dinner. Discord tells me that your friends are meeting at Sugar Cube Corner. Shall we join them?”

“Okay, but I’m buying,” I warned, trotting around front to get my hat and wallet.

“That’s not fair!” He ran after me. But I stood firm, and wouldn’t let him. I had to start treating us at some point in our relationship, and so far, he hadn’t let me. This also made it easier to forgive myself, knowing that I could do just that little bit more to make up for my mistake.

Back in the square, the six ponies and their draconequus guest were waiting by the central fountain. As always, Pinkie was the first to jump up.

“You guys made it!” The rest of them bounded up, smiles plastered on their faces. Only Discord hung back, grinning slyly to himself.

“Good job, Discord. I’m so proud of you,” Fluttershy beamed.

“You girls really did reform him, didn’t you?” Torchwood said, more to himself than to anypony else.

“It was all Fluttershy and Acrylic,” Twilight smiled.

“Oh, I didn’t do much,” Fluttershy blushed.

“I should say you did quite a lot, my dear,” Discord countered. “You extended your friendship to me.”

“Thank you, Discord.” I came up to give him a grateful embrace, but it took him a moment to recover from the shock and return it.

“It is true, then? Discord has been reformed?” A familiar silhouette approached from the sky, finally coming to rest on the cobblestone square.

“Princess Celestia!”

“Yes, Princess, I'm ready to use my magic for good instead of evil. Most of the time,” he added under his breath.

“Congratulations on your success, ponies. I definitely sense a big change in Discord.” She bent over to quietly address Twilight. “I'll leave the Elements of Harmony with you, Twilight. Just in case.”

“You were right when you said Fluttershy and Acrylic would be the ones to find the way to reform Discord. By treating Discord as a friend, they got him to realize that friendship was actually important to him. And something that, once he had, he didn't want to lose.”

“Go on. Say it,” Fluttershy instructed.

“Alright,” he painfully groaned. “Friendship is magic,” he quickly spat out.

“See? He can be a real sweetheart once you get to know him. The others dubiously murmured amongst themselves.

“Alright, everypony- and draconequus- inside. Cupcakes are on me!” I ordered.

“I won’t say ‘no’ to that!” Pinkie smiled, bouncing inside. The others filed in after her. Over all, it was a good day.

Chapter 20: Dragon Quest

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Chapter 20
Dragon Quest

The day was slowly crawling by. All of my orders had already been filled and shipped out, leaving me without much work for the rest of the day. I resolved that I needed to work on the series of portraits I’d been doing of my friends. I’d long since completed Flipside Reflections of each of them, even including Discord, but now I was working on some I could actually present. I’d started with Rarity, then moved onto Rainbow, Applejack and Fluttershy. I only had two left, three if I did one of Discord, though in all honesty, I really wanted to paint Celestia next. So, I abandoned that project to start on the royal Princess’s image.

While I worked, Torchwood took the opportunity to impress me with his fire dancing skills. Thestral fire, like dragon fire, had certain magical properties. It could be manipulated less easily than dragon fire, but wasn’t necessarily hot. Hence, it was usually smokeless and typically felt warm and tingly, unless the thestral intended for it to burn. However, it took lots of training to be able to accomplish such things. It came more naturally to some than others. Torchwood excelled in this so much that he’d earned his cutie mark from it. We called such skill in manipulation ‘fire dancing.’ Few could do it.

I watched and laughed as figures appeared from the flames and danced around the shop. All flames were extinguished when the door opened.

“Hey, Rainbow,” I called from the back, stomping out a stray spark.

“Hey, guys. What’s up?”

“Absolutely nothing. You’ve saved me from my boredom! What can I do you for?”

“I just wanted to see if you two wanted to come watch the dragon migration this weekend. We’re getting a group together, so, you know, if you wanted to come...”

“Thanks for the offer, Rainbow, but Torchwood was going to take me himself.” This was our one chance all year to catch up with the dragons we knew. Thestrals got along with dragons better than with ponies, and Torchwood and I both wanted to visit with some friends there.

“Oh! Well, that’s okay... you guys have fun with that.”

“You too. Maybe next year. You guys still are coming to dinner with everypony, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Torchwood promised. With a satisfied nod, Rainbow left rather abruptly. “You know, we could’ve gone with them to watch.”

“Not if we wanted to get a chance to catch up with our friends. I don’t remember the last time I got to talk to Ignition and Sparks.”

“I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Flintstone,” Torchwood confessed.

“You want to leave bright and early?”

“I actually have a few things to catch up on in the morning, but we’ll have to leave right after lunch if we’re going to catch up with the dragons.”

“How does ten sound? We can have an early brunch before heading out.”

“That sounds fine. Oh, I have to go!” he looked at the clock behind me. “I promised Mr. Cake I could help deliver a particularly large catering order this evening.”

“See you at dinner?”

“You bet.” He quickly pecked me on the cheek before hurrying out.

I’d only received a few such gestures of affection in the entire eight months we’d been together. Though it wasn’t a real kiss, my heart fluttered every time I received one. I’d even summoned the courage to plant one of my own, once. I loved him. I loved him with all my heart. Though we hadn’t been together very long, I waited for him to ask the question. When and if he did, I’d say yes.

Dinner came and went; so did the sun. Time was slipping right between my hooves. Before I knew it, the sun was going down, and I found tidying up around the shop before it was time to head out. That is, until the bell jangled to let me know somepony had entered. Normally, I would have just called back to tell them we were closed, but it flew open with such force I felt the need to investigate. It wasn’t actually a somepony, but a somedragon. Spike was breathing hard, as though he’d been running.

“What’s wrong, Spike?”

“Acrylic, am I a lame dragon?”


“Be honest. Do you think I’m a lame dragon?”

“Why... of course not, Spike! Why would you think such a thing?”

“Rainbow Dash said so.”

“Oh, Spike, you know Rainbow.” I smiled and turned back to the bottles on the shelf.

“But then all the others agreed that I didn’t act like other dragons. If I don’t act like other dragons, then what am I?”

“But, why come to me with this? Why not Twilight?”

“She was there. And she doesn’t know anything about dragons. Aren’t you an expert on legendary creatures?”

“Sort of, but-”

“So do you know anything about dragons?”

“Well, sure...”

“Tell me! Tell me everything! Please, Acrylic? I need to know my destiny!”

“I’ll tell you what your destiny is, Spike. It’s to live alongside Twilight. To stay her number one assistant.”

“But other dragons don’t write letters, or shelve books, or cook meals for their friends, do they?”

“No, Spike.”

“You can’t know what’s it’s like not to know where you come from. Where you belong. All my life, I’ve been separated for my own kind. You can’t understand that.”

“But I do, Spike. I left my own kind.”

“Your own kind? But you’re an earth pony. There are plenty of others in Ponyville.”

“I mean kin. I left my own kin. Same difference. The point is, I know what it’s like to feel all alone, lost in the crowd. Misplaced in a world where you don’t belong. You’d like another dragon to confide in. I get that. Really, I do. I was thrilled when Torchwood came into my life. He makes me feel at home, even though I’m far away from my family. But I‘ll tell you something, Spike. This is your family, right here in Ponyville. This is where you belong.”

“I know that. But it’s easy for you to say. There’s no species difference.” He started skulking away, only to find Torchwood filling the doorway.

“You might as well tell him.”

“Tell him what?”

“You know what.”

“But... you said...”

“I know what I said, but I think we can make an exception here.” Torchwood smiled down at the baby dragon.

“What? Tell me what?”

“Spike, can you keep a secret?”

“What kind of a secret?”

“You have to Pinkie Pie Promise, and you can’t tell anypony, EVER. Not even Twilight, or Rarity, or the Princesses. No matter what. Lives could possibly hang in the balance. Can you do that?”

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

“And one more thing. Just... don’t freak out.” I looked back at Torchwood one more time for permission. He laughed at my uncertainty and took the lead. Spike flew across the floor and hid behind me at the first snap of bones. He peered out from between my legs in terror as Torchwood proudly spread his mighty wings.

“Y-y-y-you...” he stuttered, clinging to me.

“It’s okay, Spike. I can do it too.”

“No... no...” was all that came out of his mouth. He backed away from me, bumping into the wall. I let my wings loose, and after giving Spike a quick look, folded them.

“It’s still me, Spike. I’m still Acrylic. This is who I’ve always been.”

“Please tell me this is some kind of cruel joke. Did Twilight put you up to this? I bet she knows some kind of weird dragon mutation spell or something...”

“Sorry, Spike. What you see is what you get.”

“But... you never told us!”

“I told Rainbow Dash.”

“You told Rainbow Dash and haven’t been discovered yet?”

“She can keep quiet when asked. But don’t tell her about Torchwood, okay? She only knows about me.”

“We’re thestrals, Spike. Born and raised in the Everfree.”

“The Everfree?”

“See how you reacted? Imagine what the others would say if they knew! And that’s not the worst. Equestria has a rather... unpleasant last memory of us. Thestrals are supposed to be extinct, and as far as everypony else knows, we still are. Do you understand, now?” His eyes searched the ground for answers, but at last, he snapped into a salute.

“You can count on me. I won’t tell anypony. Not even the Princess.”

“Thank you, Spike.”

“Now can I have a dragon story? You must be full of them, having dragon wings and all.”

“Well, Spike, we were just on our way out...”

“Oh, the dragons can wait, Acrylic. Let him hear one.”

“You haven’t seen the dragon migration yet? I hate to break it to you, but the dragons have already gone.”

“We know, Spike. We’re going to follow the migration and catch up with some old friends.”

“You know other dragons?! Can I come?”

“Whoa, there, Spike. Twilight would never agree to let you go tramping around with other wild dragons, and remember? She can’t know about us.”

“Well, I’ll convince her to let me go on my own. I can meet up with you.”

“That’s even more improbable. But, if you do somehow manage to convince her, you’re welcome to join us.”

“We’ll be spending the night there, so you have until tomorrow.”

“You’re spending the whole night with dragons? You have to let me come!”

“That’s up to Twilight, but just in case she says no, we can at least leave you with a story.” And so all three of us huddled up on the floor, then and there, making sure the windows were closed and the door was locked.

“Where do we start?” Torchwood wondered aloud.

“Our dragon benefactors?” I suggested.

“Dragon what-nows?”

“Alright, but you start. I don’t quite remember how we came to know Flintstone’s family.”

“Okay, Spike. The first thing you have to understand is that not all dragons are rowdy, rough, fire breathing brutes. Some have soft spots, just like you. It’s especially common among mother dragons to be more sympathetic and kind than others. It was one such dragoness that first came across my great, great uncle. Her name was Ignition, but I’ve quite forgotten my uncle’s name.” I paused in thought in an attempt to recall the title. Giving up, I soon resumed my tale. “Anyway, he was just a colt at the time. He was trying to earn a cutie mark in exploring, but got himself lost in the process. When he came across Ignition, she brought him back to his parents. She was so fond of the young colt, and the parents were so grateful that Ignition was accepted as the family benefactor.”

“Whoa...” Spike breathed. Then his eyebrows furrowed. “One question: what is a dragon benefactor?”

“Oh, I’d nearly forgotten! Of course you wouldn’t know... silly me. A dragon benefactor is just a fancy word for a dragon who’s a family friend. The only real difference is that they feel they have a vow to look out for one another, usually because an old debt hangs in the balance. At this point, most have forgotten the debts they owe to the dragons or vice versa, but we still consider each other family. Some families might even have more than one benefactor due to inter-marriages. Ours was a relatively recently gained benefactor, so we only have three. That’s Ignition, her husband Sparks, and their son Garble. Though, we may have more than that by now. Ignition and Sparks were preparing to have their second clutch of eggs the last time I saw them. That was five years ago!”

“That’s so cool! So... does that make me Twilight’s dragon benefactor?”

“I guess it kinda does.”

“Alright, then it’s my turn, isn’t it? I’m afraid I don’t have a valiant tale like Acrylic; Flintstone’s been with our family for so many generations his connection to us was lost to time. Maybe we can ask him when we get there.”

“Speaking of which, we really need to leave if we want to get there before dark,” I reminded.”

“I’m afraid she’s right, Spike.” Torchwood stood, and so did Spike.

“Oh, that’s okay. But can you tell me more when you get back?”

“You bet, Spike. But if you somehow do convince Twilight to let you come, you’d be better off asking the dragons themselves. Most of them still remember how it happened, whereas the stories we tell are a little garbled after repeating them after so many generations.”

“Don’t worry! I’ll be there!” he promised. I chuckled, watching him dash out the door.

“You think he’ll really come?”

“If I know Spike, he’ll somehow convince Twilight,” I nodded. I turned my attention from Spike and swiveled to face Torch. “You ready?”

“Only if you are,” he winked, unfurling his wings. We checked once more to be sure the coast was clear, snuck into the woods behind Art Life, and took off.

It was nice to feel the wind ruffling my hair again. I’d become accustomed to letting my hair down before a flight to slightly mask my appearance, and it wasn’t a hard decision to leave my hat at home. If I’d taken it along, I risked it being burnt to a crisp by dragon fire or one of the many lava pits. While thestrals were fire resistant, the hat wasn’t. I was looking forward to a soak in the lava pits, too.

It was a cloudy afternoon, and we had plenty of cover. The air was a little thinner up this high, so conversation was kept to a minimum. That didn’t bother us too much. We were focused on trying to see through the thick white blanket for familiar landmarks, or better yet, the dragons themselves. Nopony should be watching this far out, especially if they knew dragons were nearby. Even if they were, it would be easy enough for us to slip into the thick swarm. Our dragon wings would disguise us to the untrained eyes.

We didn’t dare come out of the clouds even we caught the occasional glance of a spine, a tail or a wing. Torchwood finally led us down into a dive when the crackle of flames was heard and smoke drifted up to us. At first, we dove into a patch of young ones who had probably never even heard of a thestral, let alone seen one. These dragons weren’t too keen on flying alongside any kind of pony, and we received a few angry shrieks and even a few stray fire blasts. Torchwood appropriately retorted with a lashing of orange-green flame himself. After that, the young ones let it go, but gave us a wide girth. Fortunately, we were soon able to push ahead to the older dragons, which also meant familiar faces. Those were more than happy to provide extra cover, and the rest of our trip went smoothly.

Chapter 21: Valley of the Dragons

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Chapter 21
Valley of the Dragons

“We’re here!” I finally sighed, taking in the familiar charred scenery and the sulfur-ish smell that went with it. The dragons always settled in the same volcanic craters. Torchwood folded his wings a few feet away from me, also drinking up the surrounding landscape. I looked around in hopes of seeing other thestrals who had come to see kin. I knew that the dragons typically visited the thestrals so they wouldn’t be seen, but I’d heard of several thestral families who made the migration as well. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to have traveled this year.

I waited for one of the dragons to pass by before shuffling closer to Torchwood. “Any sign of Flintstone?”

“Not yet,” he absentmindedly replied, still scouring the rocky terrain. “And you? Have you spotted Ignition?”

“No, but I thought I saw Sparks during the flight.”

“There!” Torchwood jabbed a hoof near the top of the cliff. I looked in his direction and noted a huge hulk of a dragon with rough gray scales. It was just the way his spines had knobbed, but it almost looked like he was covered in boulders.


“Yes. It looks like he’s about to dive into story time, though. Perhaps I should catch him later.”

“He tells stories to the young ones?” I’d noticed a large quantity of hatchlings gathering around his area, but I hadn’t thought anything of it.

“Yes. He’s one of the oldest dragons here. He has one of the best memories, too.”

“Well, why don’t you try to catch him before he starts? Have him tell the story of how he met your family.”

“I suppose...”

“Go on! I’ll be right behind you. I just want to say hello to Sparks and Ignition first.”

“Alright, then. I’ll see you up there.” He gave me a farewell peck on the cheek before taking off. I smiled after his silhouette shrinking in the distance before turning back to the crowd of fire breathing lizards.

Ignition had yellow scales, creamy colored spines and a feminine physique. Her husband Sparks, on the other hoof, was small yet muscular and had orange scales and red accents. I looked for either color combination among the multitudes, but the constantly shifting crowds made this rather difficult. I’d almost resolved to take to the air and search when I spotted a patch of orange scales at the center of the ever shifting mass. Finding my way blocked by an endless sea of claws and tails, I decided the only way to attract his attention was to glide overhead. Upon circling around, however, I saw not Sparks but Bran, his brother, tail wrestling some blue dragon. Rather put out at this disappointment, I found a perch to overlook the crater.

While Bran was part of the family, he wasn’t exactly friendly. He and Sparks had both had an eye for Ignition, and Bran never let go of the fact that he hadn’t been the one to win over her heart. It was especially ironic since he was the bigger and stronger of the two. That also meant that he could easily give Sparks a hard time about it, though. And that he did. The two never got along.

I took one more look around from up above and still didn’t spot either of them. I eyed the still-flowing string of arriving dragons. Perhaps they hadn’t arrived yet. It would still be almost half a day until they’d all settled in. With this in mind, I flew back to the other side of the crater where we had found Flintstone. The playful hatchlings had settled in, so I assumed it was nearly time to start. I quietly tried to creep around the side to Torchwood so as to not disturb them, but I did not escape Flintstone’s watchful eye. The massive beast’s neck lolled around, displacing rolls of skin as he looked me over with old eyes.

“My, my, my. Two thestral visitors this year. Aren’t we popular?”

“Flintstone, I’d like to introduce you to Acrylic,” Torchwood stepped in.

“Got yourself a lady-friend, have you?” he chuckled. His voice was dry and the gargle of age was evident, but it was a kind voice. He turned to some of the dragons more his age grouped some distance from the hatchlings. “You hear that, boys? Torchwood’s got himself a lady-friend!” Amused gurgling erupted from the cluster, and two even waddled over to examine the visiting couple. I blushed deep red upon having so many eyes turned to us, but Torchwood was evidently used to such behavior, because he only smiled good naturedly and struck up a conversation with the old ones. The hatchlings groaned with impatience, recognizing that it was going to be a while before story time began. I somehow managed to escape from the dragons and found a seat among the youngsters.

It wasn’t really a successful escape because as soon as I got away from the old dragons, I found myself mobbed by the hatchlings. They were curious about the strange hybrid, and with nothing better to do until the older dragons dispersed, attempted to entertain themselves by investigating the visitor. I welcomed the first few with a friendly smile, but soon realized what a mistake that had been. Before I knew what was going on, I had one or two climbing on my back, claws prodding my wings, one playing with or in my mane (I couldn’t tell which) and gentle flame even licking my side.

“What is it?”

“It’s not an it, it’s a she!”

“These wings are as big as my mom’s!”

“She’s not a dragon...”

“It looks like a pony.”

“No pony has wings like these.”

“Can it breathe fire?”

“Where’d it come from?”

“It’s a SHE!”

“I wanna see!”

“Easy there!” Even though I was already laying down, I was unbalanced and tipped onto my side, sending hatchlings sprawling every which way. An eruption of laughter sounded from above, and I looked up through a tangle of claws and spines at the elder dragons looking down on us. Torchwood grinned down from the center. I responded with a smile of my own. I wasn’t entirely comfortable around older or unfamiliar dragons, but I could handle the young ones.

“It talks!”

“It’s. A. SHE!”

“What are you?”

“What’s your name?”

“Do you eat gemstones?”

“One at a time!” I laughed, shaking the last hatchling off my back. “I’m a thestral. That means I’m half pony, half dragon.”

“My dad says you can’t trust ponies,” one of them sniffed.

“My mom knows about thestrals!”

“I’ve never seen one in real life.”

“Can we keep her?”

“I wanna call her Rocky.”

“That’s a boy’s name!”

“My name is Acrylic.”

“Eh... Rocky’s better.”

“Where are you from?”

“The Everfree.”

“My mom went to the Everfree to visit a thestral!”

“Really? What’s her name?”


“Oh, I know Crispy.”

“Do you know Grit?”

“What about Buffy?”


“Flicker?” I was so overwhelmed with names that I instinctively started tuning them all out. I couldn’t hear myself think.

“Alright, that’s enough, young ones,” Flintstone scolded. Why don’t you all settle in for a story about how I met a thestral?” Wide eyed, they all settled down instantly. I was trying to pay attention, but there were so many baby dragons snuggled in by me that I was becoming sleepy. Their warm bodies pressed by mine had a soothing effect. I was exhausted from the flight. I could fight it no longer. Slowly, I found myself nodding off to sleep.

“Hey.” I felt a nose prodding my side, and my eyes flickered to life. Torchwood was nudging me back to the real world. “Have a nice rest?” he chuckled.

“Oops,” I contently sighed. Sagging back to the ground, I looked up at the darkening sky. “It felt good, though.”

“Well, you can sleep for real once you introduce me to Ignition and Sparks. It’s getting late, and I haven’t met them yet.”

“We can look again, but I never found them the first time,” I yawned. I stood and shook the dust off my coat. Two of the hatchlings still remained, sleeping soundly. Sensing my absence, one rolled over until it found the other. Now pressed together, they settled down again. I smiled at the adorable sight.

“Are they not here yet?”

“Well, let’s see.” I took a running start off the cliff, though I was so drowsy it came out more as a trot. I spread my wings and soared over the crater. Most of the dragons were now gathered around an immense tower of gemstones for dinner, and so we checked there first. Ironically enough, we finally found Ignition among the few not fighting over gems. She was settled beneath an overhang near the top of the ridge.

“Ignition!” I exclaimed, wings whooshing as I slowed enough to land. As soon as my hooves touched the rock, I broke into a gallop to meet her.

“Acrylic? Is that you?” It took her a moment to recognize me, but when she did, her large wings stretched out to catch me in a hug. While she was one of the smaller dragons, I found it slightly amusing that my wings had filled out to nearly match the size of her’s. “You’ve grown so much since I’ve last seen you.”

“How long has it been? Five years?”

“It’s felt like ten.”

“Ignition, I’d like to introduce you to Torchwood.”

“Ma’am,” he respectfully dipped his head.

“It’s good to meet you, Torchwood. I don’t recognize you from Blade Wing. Are you from another sector?”

“Midnight Armor Sector Two,” he affirmed.

“Ah, that explains it. I must admit, I’ve never had the opportunity to make my way over there. Not with young ones, anyway. Garble can take care of himself, but Blaze?”

“Oh, Ignition! Congratulations!”

“Thank you,” she smiled.

“Torchwood! Head’s up!” We looked just in time to see a large blue dragon dive in and scoop him up. I laughed as he was dragged away to a gathering on the opposite ridge. I waved with a sly grin, watching him try and worm his way out of Smite’s grasp.

“Where is the little guy?”

“Down with his brother. You see them down there?” I looked where her claw pointed, and found the red scaled teenage dragon I knew to be her son. He’d hit his teenage years by now. His snout had become unnaturally rounded, and flimsy looking orange fins ran down to the nape of his neck. He’d inherited his mother’s pale yellow underbelly and wing membrane, though it’d become ragged and torn. As I watched, I realized that he’d inherited his uncle’s bold and unpleasant personality; he bashed his way through the crowd to get at the food, and even seemed to lead his own gang of dragons. “Blaze is the little orange one,” she purred. Garble was currently blocking my view, but when he finally moved, I noticed a little guy standing in his the shadow of his big brother. This one looked to be about Spike’s age, though he was a little pudgier. He had vibrant yellow-orange scales and bright red spines. They were pointier than Spike’s, and almost looked wind blown by the way they curved back. Like his brother, they only reached as far as the back of his head. He had long ears tipped by three points, but formed in such a way they resembled flames. His solid orange wings hadn’t yet filled out, and didn’t look large enough to lift his soft frame. His tail was topped with a spade like Spike’s, but it was wavy and reached a sharper point. His belly was light yellow, but it was unusually plated with thick, sturdy plates which reached a point at the tip. He’d inherited his mother’s bright yellow eyes.

“Ignition, he’s beautiful!”

“I worry about him,” she sighed. “Even his brother rejects him.”

“What does Sparks have to say about that?” Her eyes looked pained, so she closed them. My eyes widened. “Ignition... I- I’m so sorry! How? When?”

“A landslide, so they say,” she growled. “But Bran was the one to find him.”

“You don’t think...”

“I do think, but they say I’ve gone crazy with grief if I even begin to suggest it.”

“I knew the two were sore, but I didn’t think it was that bad.”

“Nor did I.”

“I just... don’t believe it. I’m... so sorry!” Tears pricked my own eyes, and I bit my lip. Her tail curled around me in understanding, and her eyes dampened. I leaned in against her as we silently watched the world below.

“He looks a lot like his father, doesn’t he?” Her eyes sparkled as she watched her youngest son chase after the teenaged group, trying to fit in. “Acts like him, too. Those boys are all I have left. I wish I could take them far away from these... monsters.” Her gaze turned cold when Bran came into view.

“So why don’t you?”

“Garble fits in here. I can’t just take that away from him. And Blaze... like it or not, he needs to learn to fend for himself. If I take him away and shelter him all his life, I’m afraid he’ll become... domesticated.”

“There’s nothing wrong with domesticated. I know a young dragon who lives in Ponyville and has been raised by the unicorn Twilight Sparkle. He may not be the fiercest dragon you’ve ever met, but he’s by far the kindest.”

“Is that so?” Ignition raised an eyebrow.

“Possibly the most noble, too.” I knew Ignition didn’t care about the things most dragons did, like strength, fearlessness and what I viewed as an obnoxiously bossy and commanding persona. They called it ‘leadership.’ If Ignition valued those qualities in a dragon, she definitely would have chosen Bran over Sparks. Rather, she valued bravery, courage, and essentially all the good qualities that made up that one, whether it be pony or dragon.

“Well then... perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst idea.” My gargling stomach broke the silence. I let out an embarrassed chuckle.

“I guess that’s my cue. Have you eaten, Ignition?”

“No, but that’s alright. Garble said he would bring me something.” I looked down at the rough teen as he competed with his buddies, having forgotten about all else.

“It looks like he’s busy. Come on, why don’t we go together?”

“I don’t know...”

“What do you feel like? Sapphires or diamonds? I haven’t been able to find any good topaz in a while, myself.” Without waiting for a response, I unfurled my wings and glided down to ground level where the ravenous dragons were still eating. I waited at the base of the cliff when I realized she wasn’t right behind me as I’d thought. Almost reluctantly, she stood and shakily glided after me. Somehow, she looked frail out in the light. I thought nothing of it as we searched for an accessible opening to the gemstone mound. I was also too thick to notice the dirty glares we received.

I finally cut in as one of the dragons started retreating. Ignition slunk low to the ground after me, keeping careful watch of the other dining lizards. When the silver-scaled hulk beside me finally noticed her approaching the food store, he whipped around and snarled in her face. The red one on my right also turned on her. I didn’t know what was going on.

“Get out of here, Ignition!” the silver one hissed.

“There’s no place in the flock for defects like you,” the red one agreed.

“Then what are you doing here, brute?” I snapped, jumping between them. In my experience, dragons wouldn’t respond to anything less than an insult, though I always felt odd when I hid behind an angry mask.

“The defect’s a traitor, too!” Silver snarled.

“This is no place for a pony,” a green one joined in.

“I just so happen to be a thestral,” I snapped.

“Oh, how scary!” By this time, a sizeable crowd had gathered around us, forming a tight ring. I eyed Garble and his gang off to the side. The red teenager was at the front of the ring, giving me a clear view of his face. I was almost surprised at what I found, though I shouldn’t have been. I didn’t see the bully of a gang leader that had stood before us a few moments ago. Fear was painted on his face. He was afraid of these dragons; afraid for his mother. Blaze appeared at his side.

“MOM!” he cried, trying to make a break for her. Garble held him back. My attention was drawn away from the children as the three dragons began to circle us. Ignition hunkered low, and I pressed against her, standing my ground. I felt rage beginning to bubble up inside. Rage, anger, fury, hatred. I wanted revenge.

A snarl as fierce as any dragon’s bubbled up from my throat. My piercing gaze was as sharp as a blade, and the white flames that exploded from my hooves were so forceful that my mane and tail seemed to flow like Luna’s. The dragons were taken by surprise, giving me time to direct scalding fire careening in their direction. The whistle of wings alerted me of an aerial attack, so I turned my attention to the sky. Rather, it was reinforcements. Torchwood smashed into the ground beside me, sending green and orange fire melding with mine. The two dragons he’d previously been conversing with also seemed ready to support us. While small, the teenage dragon gang wanted in on the action. Garble was the last one to come out, but ended up at the front of his team. Luckily, Blaze was still being held back where it was safe. The three opposing dragons were seriously outnumbered, and turned to the crowd in search of supporters. They were all too busy chanting, “Fight, fight, fight!” to be bothered with actually joining in. With an angry shriek of defeat, the three retreated into the multitudes. I wasn’t going to let them go that easily. I tried to chase after them, but deafening victory cries from all around knocked me back to my senses. Literally. The incredible volume caused me to stumble, but by the time I recovered, all thoughts of revenge had dissipated.

I found myself being lifted up onto the shoulders of a tubby brown teenaged dragon and a tall, lanky purple dragon of the same age. The teens scuttled back up the cliff face to Ignition’s previous nesting spot, the dragoness herself being ushered along in a protective bubble of young teens. Torchwood’s friends also chaperoned us.

“That was amazing!”

“Those guys took off like a bunch of little hatchlings!”

“I’ve never seen anyone stand up to Sear like that; especially not a pony!”

“Yeah. You’re not too bad, for an equine,” Garble rubbed his chin in thought.

“Would someone like to explain what just happened?” I dug my hooves into the dust, jaw set as I glared at the dragons.

“You just put Sear, Ember and Inferno to shame!” one of the youngsters triumphantly roared. His buddies crowded around and continued to cheer.

“But why? What happened? Why did they all turn on you?” I marched up, eyes ablaze. “Defect? Traitor? What does it mean? Someone explain!” Ignition had been shrinking away from my fuming form back behind Garble’s group up to this point. Now she stood tall, weak and frail, but still proud.

“Because I’m sick.” The whole group hushed. By cold eyes softened as I looked up shamefaced at my old friend. Her thin frame stood out more than ever. Her eyes were dark, ringed with exhaustion. Her bright yellow scales appeared dull, and a few were even missing. I hadn’t recognized how ill she looked. “There is no place amongst the flock for the sick and weak. You know that. And since Sparks died...” Garble’s face fell, but he didn’t let his friends see. “They think I’ve gone mad with grief. I’m no longer welcome here. I stay for the children’s sake, but Blaze is nearly old enough to fend for himself. Then I’ll have to leave.”

“Mom...” Garble was horrified, letting me know that he hadn’t been alerted to this fact.

“Mommy! Don’t go!” Blaze had been forgotten in all the excitement, and was left to climb the steep slope by himself. Now he’d finished pulling himself up over the edge, and ran to cling to his mother’s leg. She rested her head on his shoulders in consolation. I could have kicked myself, I felt so ashamed.

“Maybe we should go,” one of the gang whispered to another.

“Yeah... uh... see you tomorrow, Garble.”

“Yeah, whatever.” The put out dragon shuffled deeper into the overhang and settled into what seemed to be a familiar nook. It was well worn, and conformed to his body almost perfectly. He shut his eyes, pretending to go to sleep.

“I’m sorry, Ignition.” I slumped to the ground, making no move to catch myself. Torchwood wrapped a wing around my crushed figure, joining me in the dirt. “I didn’t mean a word of it. I was just... scared.”

“Scared?” she nudged Blaze along with her as she curled around us.

“I don’t like being angry, and facing those three dragons made me angrier than I’ve ever been. It scared me, and I started yelling. I’m sorry. Please, can you forgive me?” I buried my face in the dust, mane pressing into her hide in repentance.

“Of course I do, Acrylic,” she purred, tucking us closer. “I’ve known you and your family for half a century. Thestrals are prone to bursts of anger. I know that wasn’t the Acrylic I know. And you, sir.” She moved onto Torchwood, who gazed back into her wizened eyes. “Thank you.”

“It was only right,” he simply stated. Ignition drew the three of us ever closer, Blaze included. At first, the hatchling’s breath came in short, panicky breaths upon being pushed so closed to the monster he thought was taking his mother away from him, but when I nuzzled back, he relaxed.

“You too, Garble.”

“Me? Me too what?”

“Get over here.”

“For a group hug? No thanks.”

“Oh, come on now, my big boy. No one will see.” To demonstrate, Ignition turned until her back was facing the crowd. We must have looked very inviting, because Garble begrudgingly got up and took part. He was only there for a moment, but it was still something. He soon returned to his nook, and Torchwood had a spot saved with Flintstone, but I fell asleep then and there with Ignition and Blaze.

The second day there was much less eventful. I got up early and scooped up as many gems as I could carry before the multitudes swarmed. Almost immediately after breakfast, Blaze left to join the other hatchlings for Flintstone’s story telling. Garble didn’t even bother stopping to eat. Rather, he took off to join his pals for their morning meal. Torchwood ate with Flintstone and the elders, but stopped by Ignition’s overhang to pick me up. There were a few friends we hadn’t gotten to get with hanging around the lava pits. They ended up excluding me from the conversation, but I hadn’t had a lava bath in years, so I wasn’t complaining. It felt good to soak.

It was approaching midday, but I didn’t want to get up. The sun combined with the thick warmth of the lava pool felt incredible against my hide. Then, all of a sudden...

“Whoo!” I opened my eyes just in time to see five silhouetted forms crashing through the air, down to the pool next to me. Luckily, I was on the far end, but Torchwood and his friends got splashed. I was laughing until the bulky brown teenager careened down into the pit.

“CANNON BALL!” His splash was so huge that even I was drenched. That was enough to earn laughter from Torchwood and his friends.

“What’s wrong, Spike? You afraid the lava will hurt your soft pony hide?”

“Huh?” I looked around until my eyes settled on Spike, still way up above us on the cliff they’d used as a diving board. I grinned up at him, but didn’t have time to attract his attention before he was diving after Garble’s gang. While he’d maintained the diving poise, he faltered at the last second, ending up splatting on the lava’s surface in a harsh belly flop.

“Ooh,” everyone in sight groaned. I was among those at first, but I was soon scrambling to switch pools and make sure he was okay.


“Ugh... was I that bad?”

“No, dude. That was awesome! No pony could live through a belly flop like that!”

“I could.”

“Acrylic!” Spike jumped out of the pool to greet me.

“You know each other?”

“Sure I do. He’s one of my best friends! You putting’ him through that initiation ritual of yours?”

“How’d you know about that?”

“I’ve known you since you were this high, Garble, even if you don’t remember me. Plus, your mother tells me everything.” I let my hoof splash back into the lava as his buddies laughed.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Now if you’ll excuse us, we haven’t officially dubbed Spike yet.” Before I could object, he was yanked away. He waved from the confines of Garble’s arms. I chuckled. I still couldn’t believe Twilight would have let him come alone. My smile faded. Was he really alone? I sank deeper into the lava pit, and retracted my wings. Then I hastily jumped out. I needed to secure the perimeter and make sure there weren’t any ponies on the premises. I also trotted over to Torchwood and alerted him of my fears. He wasn’t worried, but I made him promise to duck under the lava if he spotted anything suspicious.

I was just about to climb the rocky cliff face by hoof when somepony gripped my waist and yanked me to the side. I thudded to the ground on my back with little more than a ‘thunk,’ but I blinked back into the face of a rather cross Rainbow Dash.

“WHAT are you DOING here?” she demanded.

“Me? What about you?”

“Why do you think? We followed Spike.”


“Rarity and Twilight are here, too.”

“Did they see anything?” I panicked.

“No, but they heard Spike calling for you. I only just managed to convince them that he said ‘Skillet’ instead of ‘Acrylic.’”


“What? It sounded like a dragon name. You try coming up with something that rhymes with ‘Acrylic’ on the spot like that!”

“Okay, okay, fair enough.”

“You’ve got to get out of here! I can only cover you for so long.”

“I... can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve got good friends here that I haven’t seen in years! I can’t just take off like that.” I didn’t mention Torchwood.

“Well, you better wrap it up quick!”

“You think you can keep them away from the lava pools?”

“I guess...”

“Okay. I’ll just hang out there until you leave.”

“We’re here as long as Spike is. That might be a while.”

“Well... think of something! Just keep them away!”

“I’ll do my best... just avoid the dragon they all think is Crackle’s cousin.”

“Let me guess. Rarity’s costume?”

“It’s a pretty bad one, if you ask me, but we’ve passed so far.”

“Rainbow, where’d you go?” Twilight hissed.

“Gotta go!”

She whooshed away, and I waited until she’d attracted their attention before making a run for the lava pools. I headed straight for Torchwood’s group, broke through their circle and tackled him head-on. I pulled him under just before the ponies walked by in their costume. Torchwood didn’t understand what was going on, and irritably scrabbled back for the surface. I desperately yanked on his wings. When he finally noticed that mine were already gone, he seemed to realize what had happened, and stopped fighting me. The lava muffled the noises of crunching bones, but I waited until the last ‘pop’ before surfacing. I just let my eyes stick out above the broiling pool.

“They are here, then?” Torchwood asked in a hushed voice.

“Yep. There,” I gestured to Rarity’s costume off in the distance.

“We’ve got to get out of here.”

“I know. Rainbow promised to keep them away from the lava pools. Don’t worry, she doesn’t know about you.”

“We can stick to the west side; wind our way up those rocks. We’ll come scott free once we hit the ridge.”

“Leaving so soon?” Torchwood’s buddies looked down on us.

“We... can’t be seen.”

“A smuggling job? Say no more.” Before we could protest, we were both picked up and carried off, disguised under their large wings. I never did get to say goodbye to Ignition.

“That was too close,” Torchwood shouted over the wind whistling in our ears as we flew over the woods.

“I know,” I called back, looking over my shoulder for the fiftieth time. I wasn’t so much afraid of being followed as just thinking back to Ignition. “I just we’d been able to say goodbye.”

“Oh, Haze and Flare promised to tell them what happened.”

“I know. It’s just not the same.”

“I know.” He sympathetically brushed his wing tip against mine. “But it’s better than being discovered.”

“Is it?” I looked at the shades of green rush beneath my hooves. “I’m not sure anymore.”

“How can you say that?”

“I can’t bear lying to them, Torchwood. I wonder, did they come too close to finding us or not close enough?”

“Acrylic, you know why we have to stay extinct.”

“I know why, but this has been going on far too long. We say that we don’t hold anything against the ponies, that we’ve forgiven them. Isn’t that why we ventured out while they all stayed behind? But we can’t truly forgive them unless we’re completely honest.”

“You’ve already been honest with three of your friends.”

“All of which have been accepting and only one of which was a pony.” He fell silent. “I don’t know how much longer I can take it, Torchwood.”

“Maybe what we need is to spend some more time around our own kind.”

“Our own kind? Ponies are our own kind! We’ve separated ourselves for so long we’ve forgotten that! We were meant to live together, Torchwood!”

“But that’s just not the way things are.”

“Maybe it’s time for things to change.” I spotted the roof of Art Life, and folded my wings into a dive. Torchwood followed, landing not far from me. The familiar but still sickening crackle of bones sounded, and I followed suit.

“Hang in there,” was all he could manage. The rest he expressed through a warm nuzzle. Then he was gone. I was left all alone. Again.

Chapter 22: The Royal Gallery

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Chapter 22
The Royal Gallery

It had been almost a month since the dragon migration. Spike came back from the experience unscathed, but with a new appreciation for the simple Ponyville ways. He and Torchwood were bonding like never before at their shared but newly discovered ancestry. Spike was rather cross with Garble, but though I understood why, I kept defending Garble. In my eyes, he was still a good kid. He felt powerless with the adults, and rightfully so, but with the other teenagers, he had total control. I’d only made things worse by forcing his mother to admit that she had to leave soon. From what I understood, he was still in denial about that fact.

The trip was meant to be a happy reunion, but it only reminded me of how I had to keep lying. That reminder caused me to begin straying from the group once more. Every time I looked at any of them, I only saw the heartache I would cause when they found out. They would find out. All liars were discovered eventually. I was hoping to heal the wounds at the group picnic Fluttershy invited me to, even though Torchwood wanted me to come back to Midnight Armor with him. He’d been making frequent visits in an attempt to get me to go along with him, but I refused. I didn’t need any more reminders as to why I could never be completely honest.

“It’s just gorgeous out!” Rarity declared. Everypony else was quiet, so I didn’t feel odd staying silent. The only sounds were the chirping birds, the soft rustling of leaves in the wind, and the slurping of drinks. I looked over at Applejack to pinpoint this source. Then, the rushed pitter patter of feet could be heard. It was Spike, and he was obviously out of breath.

“Twi... light! ...I... have... Lemme just...” he panted. Taking a moment to catch up with himself, a loud belch came out instead of words. A letter appeared from the green flames. Twilight eagerly picked it up.

“Dear Twilight, I am sure you are as excited as I am about the upcoming wedding in Canterlot. Wedding?” She looked up at us as though we had the answer. “I will be presiding over the ceremony, but would very much like you and your friends to help with the preparations for this wonderful occasion. Fluttershy, I would like you and your songbird choir to provide the music.”

“Oh my goodness! What an honor!”

“Pinkie Pie, I can think of nopony more qualified than you to host the reception.”

“Hip, hip, hooray!” She did a cartwheel over the picnic blanket, landing one hoof in the cake but somehow not crushing it.

“Applejack, you will be in charge of the catering for the reception.”

“Well, color me pleased as punch!”

“Acrylic, I would request that you paint the bride and groom’s portrait to be placed in the royal gallery.” I almost choked on my sandwich.

“Say what now?”

“Rainbow Dash, “the blue pegasus yawned at her name, “I would very much appreciate it if you could perform a sonic rainboom as the bride and groom complete their "I do"'s.


“Rarity, you will be responsible for designing the dresses for the bride and her bridesmaids.”

“Princess Celestia wants me to...” she babbled something indecipherable “ dress? For a Canterlot wedding... I, ah, ooh, oooh!” She fainted in a happy heap.

“And as for you, Twilight, you will be playing the most important role of all: Making sure that everything goes as planned. See you all very soon. Yours, Princess Celestia. But... I don't understand. Who's getting married?”

“Oh, wait! Uh, I was probably supposed to give you this one first.” He sheepishly offered a second scroll.

“Princess Celestia cordially invites you to the wedding of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and...” she looked more shocked than she’d ever been. “My brother?!”

“Your brother's getting married? Congratulations, Twilight! That's great news!” AJ moved toward her.

“Yeah, great news,” she sarcastically grumbled. “That I just got from a wedding invitation! Not from my brother, but from a piece of paper! Thanks a lot, Shining Armor. I mean, really, he couldn't tell me personally?” She picked up a sandwich and began flapping it like a mouth. “Hey, Twilight, just thought you should know I'm making a really big decision that changes everything. Oh, never mind, you'll hear about it when you get the invitation. Ugh! Princess Mi Amore Cadenza? Who in the hoof is that?!”

“Um, Twilight? Are you okay?” Fluttershy whispered.

“Sorry, it's just that Shining Armor and I have always been so close. He's my B.B.B.F.F!” I looked at the others, wondering if I was supposed to understand that. “Big Brother Best Friend Forever?” she clarified.

“Ohhh!” we all hummed.

“Before I came here and learned the importance of friendship, Shining Armor was the only pony I ever really accepted as a friend.” Music started playing in my head. Here we go again!” Twilight started off in a solo.

“When I was just a filly, I found it rather silly

“To see how many other ponies I could meet.

“I had my books to read; didn't know that I would ever need

“Other ponies to make my life complete.

“But there was one colt that I cared for

“I knew he would be there for me.

“My big brother, best friend forever!

“Like two peas in a pod, we did everything together;

‘He taught me how to fly a kite.

“We never had a single fight.

“We shared our hopes, we shared our dreams.

“I miss him more than I realized

“It seems...” At her gloomy expression, the rest of us tried joining in to cheer her up.

“Your big brother, best friend forever!

“Like two peas in a pod, you did everything together.”

“And though he's oh so far away

“I hoped that he would stay

“My big brother best friend



Applejack again tried her hoof at consolation. “As one of your P.F.F.'s...” Our expressions went blank. What was with all the acronyms? “Pony Friends Forever,” Applejack corrected herself.


“I wanna tell you that I think your brother sounds like a real good guy.”

“He is pretty special. I mean, they don't let just anypony be captain of the Royal Guard.”

“So let me get this straight,” Rarity squealed. “We're helping out with the wedding of not only a princess, but a captain of the Royal Guard?”

“I guess we are.”

“Ooh, ooh, oooh!” Twilight just managed to slide a pillow under her head before she fainted, a joyful smile plastered on her face.

“I’ve got to go tell Torchwood!” I realized, jumping up.

“I’m sure Shining Armor wouldn’t mind us bringing another guest along. Why don’t you invite him?”

“Really?” My eyes shone.

“Of course!”

“Thanks, Twi!” I gave her a quick hug before dashing off for his cottage.

Strangely enough, he wasn’t home. I didn’t recall him telling me that he’d be gone, and promptly asked around town. Finally, Mr. Cake thought he remembered him saying that he was going to visit his parents. Grimacing, I headed for the Everfree border, but was saved when his silhouette appeared gliding overhead.

“How was your visit?” I called over the loud whooshing of wings.

“Not so great,” he sighed, looking heavy-hearted.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Mom. She’s come down with something. Normally I wouldn’t be too worried, but Dad thinks it’s pretty bad.”

“Torchwood... I’m so sorry!” I moved in for a consoling hug, which he readily accepted.

“I’m going to stay with them for a while, just to make sure she’s okay.”

“Do you want me to come?” His eyes lit up.

“Would you?”

“Of course I will. Just let me tell Twilight I won’t be able to make the wedding after all.”

“What wedding?” he stopped me. I turned back around.

“Her brother is getting married this weekend. I was asked to paint their wedding picture for the royal gallery, but I’m sure they can find somepony else.”

“Acrylic, I can’t ask you to give that up. It’s such an honor!”

“Your parents are more important than fame and fortune, Torch.”

“I still think you should go,” he argued. “Mom isn’t deathly ill. She’ll still be there after this weekend. You can meet up with us then. They’ll understand.”


“No ‘buts.’ You need to be there for your friends. It’s a big day; you should be there to support them. I can stay with Mom until then.”

“Are you sure?”

“Mother wouldn’t have it any other way,” he nuzzled me. I sighed, looking away as I bit my lip.


* * *

Canterlot was growing ever nearer in the distance. I watched out the window, letting the breeze ruffle my hair; my beloved beret had been safely set to the side. I squinted as something bright pink twinkled in my eyes. What was that? All of Canterlot was surrounded in some kind of pink film. A feeling of dread balled up in the pit of my stomach as we neared it.

I slowly stumbled back, trying to avoid the wall as it finally started coming at me through the train. It passed through everypony else just fine, so I shouldn’t have had reason to worry. But for some reason, I just got this feeling that I wouldn’t be let off so easily. It was just an inch away. I wanted to run, but I was petrified in the middle of the aisle. The pink bubble began passing through me, but it only got past my nose before pain tore through my chest and seemed to rip me apart. I felt like I’d slammed into a brick wall as it flung me back. I hit the wall in a crumpled heap, but the force field finally washed over me with a few residual pricks of pain.

I slowly lifted my head, ears ringing and body trembling from pain. Everypony was staring at me. Time seemed to stop for a moment, and I was sure I’d be found out. Then they all jumped on me.

“What happened?”

“Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I squeaked, trying to find my balance after being yanked back to my hooves.

“Do you have any idea what that was, Twilight?”

“No, but I’ll bet Shining Armor will know.” The train screeched to a halt.

“We're here, we're here!” Pinkie squealed, jumping out like nothing had happened.

“Whoa, what's with all the guards?” Rainbow wondered aloud, supporting me on one side as I stumbled out. Applejack had my other side.

“I'm sure they're just taking the necessary precautions. Royal weddings do bring out the strangest ponies,” Rarity assured. As if on cue, Pinkie let out a loud sneeze that almost sounded like a kazoo. Confetti spewed from her nose as well. “Now, let's get going! We've got work to do! Except for you, Acrylic. I think you should be checked out by the nurses here.”

“No, no,” I hastily declined. “I’ll be fine. It was just a quirky spell, is all.”

“Speaking of which, I’ll go find Shining Armor and find out just what that was,” Twilight declared.

“And to congratulate,” Applejack reminded.

“Yeah. Congratulate. And then give him a piece of my mind.” She trotted dutifully off.

“Excuse me, sir, but could you be so kind as to direct us to the courtyard? We’re here to help with the wedding, and I believe Princess Celestia wanted a word,” Rarity flitted her eyelashes at one of the guards.

“Certainly, Miss. Follow me.” Rarity fell into step behind the gray-coated guard, the rest of us falling into a train after them. Rainbow, Applejack and I brought up the rear. One of the white guards noticed my two “crutches” with a start.

“Miss, please, allow me to bring you to the infirmary,” he offered.

“I’m fine,” I growled, nudging my supports away and limping indignantly off by myself. This was Canterlot. Ponyville checkups were one thing, but I wasn’t going to risk any Doctors finding out about my thestral side. I had no doubt that was what nearly crushed me on the train.

The steps ascending to the courtyards proved slightly troublesome to my already sore limbs, but the knots were finally working themselves out. As Rarity predicted, both Princesses were waiting for us at the pavilion.

“Welcome, my little ponies! I’m so glad to see that you could all join us for this momentous occasion.”

“Why, your highnesses, we wouldn’t miss it for the world! Isn’t that right, girls?” While they nodded vigorously, I gave a half hearted dip of my head. Part of it was because of my headache, but I still felt guilty coming here while Torchwood stayed behind with his sick parents.

“I would have thought that you would bring that stallion with you, Acrylic. Torchwood, I believe his name was. The invitation extended to him as well, of course.”

“I did invite him, Princess. His mother is ill, and he had to go home to help his father take care of her.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that! I’m sure we could find somepony willing to fill in for you, if you don’t feel up to this assignment.”

“It’s fine, Princess. I was going to stay behind, but he wanted me to pull through with this. I’m doing it for him.”

“As you wish. Now, on to your assignments-”

“Um, Princess Celestia, your highness? Can I ask you somethin’?” Applejack stuttered.

“But of course, my dear Applejack. What is it?”

“What exactly is that sparkly pink bubble do-hickey around the gates?”

“That is a protective shielding to keep out any ponies that would cause harm to us. A threat has been made against Canterlot. The Captain of our royal guard has been charged with the responsibility to maintain it,” Luna answered

“But that doesn’t make sense,” AJ muttered. “Acrylic doesn’t mean any harm to Canterlot, and that spell just ‘bout crushed her.” The Princesses both turned to me, and my stomach knotted.

“But that makes no sense,” Luna protested.

“I don’t know why Shining armor’s spell attacked you, Acrylic. I’m sorry. Are you alright?”


“Guards, would you take this young mare to the royal infirmary?” Luna requested.

“No! I’m fine,” I insisted, ducking away from the grasp of the two summoned pegasi. “It was just a quirk. I’m alright. And besides, I need to get a jump on this painting. It’ll take hours for the oils to dry between layers. The sooner I start, the better.”

“I believe your health is more important than the painting,” Celestia concurred with her sister. “After our doctors give you a clean bill of health, you will be permitted to begin working. I’ll have all the supplies you will need sent to the gardens for when you are ready. Guards,” she nodded to them again, and the two advanced once more. I shoved their hooves away.

“I’m quite capable of walking on my own,” I snapped, angrily sulking away. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the Princesses exchange worried glances. I hissed at myself. I had to keep my temper in check. The anxiety the event was causing made it difficult for me to keep it under wraps.

The doctors poked and prodded, and one of the unicorn surgeons even used a couple of spells in his diagnosis. I held my breath, praying that one of the spells wouldn’t trigger a wing spring. One of the nurses happened to mention that Shining Armor had been experiencing migraines ever since he set up the shielding, and the doctor decided that the headaches were causing flukes in the spell. In the end, I was given a mild painkiller and led out to the gardens.

The station set up for me included all the finest paints, the best quality brushes, a pre-primed canvas, and all the reference pictures I could hope for. Even so, reference pictures could only do so much. I really needed to take a good look at the bride and groom first-hoof. I was sure they’d be along soon to check up on progress, so I set out a few light guidelines in graphite pencil so I could have something to show for.

I’d never been to the royal gallery, so I didn’t know what a royal portrait was supposed to look like. So, I just jotted down the first thing that came to mind. The bride was on the right, neck curled as she touched noses with her groom on the left. It was an unusual angle; while they bent close to each other, they still faced the viewer. The arch of their necks formed a natural heart shape, which gave a sense of good old fashioned cliché to the image. I began brushing Celestial Gold into the background, their light colored coats barely outlined in Midnight Blue- the Canterlot colors. The Midnight Blue added a stunning contrast, but I let it fade out around where Shining Armor’s similarly colored mane would be. Then I could block Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’s form in with a soft pink, and redefine the white glow of Shining Armor’s coat. I was getting to the undercoat of their manes when a stern voice sounded from behind me.

“What is that?” I turned into the face of the very mare I’d just been painting.

“Princess Cadenza!” I ducked into a low bow.

“Please, call me Princess Mi Amore Cadenza,” she huffed, striding past with extreme dignity. “Don’t tell me this is our wedding picture,” she snorted.

“Uh, well... it’s just a practice canvas. I need to get my ideas down in a rough draft before doing the real thing, see.”

“Well, make sure the ‘real thing’ doesn’t look anything like that. It needs to be a full body picture, not just head shots. And we should be standing hoof-in-hoof in the ballroom, not in front of golden muck.”

“Of course,” I stuttered, jotting down the notes.

“The pillars should be marble, and add the Canterlot symbols into the floor tiles. Sun filters in from the top right, not the left.”

“I understand.”

“And make sure we’re both wearing our wedding attire.”

“I’ll consult with Rarity for the designs,” I assured.

“Good. I want a second ‘draft’ ready before dinner tonight.” Nose turned up, she began to prance away just in time for her fiancé to arrive. “Shining Armor! I thought you were going to be busy all day,” she greeted in a sickeningly sweet voice.

“I am, dear, but when I heard that somepony had been injured by my protection spell, I had to come and make sure she was alright personally. Are you Acrylic?” he looked past his wife-to-be at me.

“Yes,” I nervously affirmed.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what happened. I’ve had to keep this up for so long, I guess it’s becoming faulty.”

“You were attacked by Shining Armor’s force field?” the Princess disbelievingly asked, expression softening.

“It’s fine; I’m fine. But thanks.”

“I still say it’s strange. Hey, you’re the pony painting our wedding picture, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” I nodded.

“I’m so honored that you came with your friends even after your friend’s parents fell ill.”

“I did want to stay,” I admitted, “but he wouldn’t hear of it.” The Princess raised an eyebrow.

“So, is this it?” Shining armor peered past me at the half-finished canvas.

“Oh, no, no, no. That’s just a practice board.”

“It sure doesn’t look like traditional portraits...”

“Well... that’s because I’ve never been to the royal gallery to know what they look like,” I blushed, scratching my neck. “But Princess Mi Amore Cadenza was just giving me her input for the finished piece.”

“I love it!” Shining Armor went on.

“You do?” the Princess and I both exclaimed together.

“It’s so unique! And the Canterlot colors give such a nice contrast.”

“But Shining Armor,” his fiancé argued, “You said it yourself. It doesn’t look anything like a royal portrait- at least not like one that belongs in the royal gallery.”

“Exactly! I don’t want our picture to look like all the others. I want ours to be special.”

“Are you disagreeing with me?”

“I guess I am.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I interrupted. The two of them turned to stare at me. I nervously cleared my throat. “If I may, I can finish both versions and leave it up to you both as to which one makes it into the gallery.”

“I don’t want to put all that extra work on you,” Shining Armor started.

“Please do,” Princess Cadenza countered. “Perhaps then Shining Armor will see how ridiculous... that looks next to a real portrait.”

“Of course, your highness,” I sighed with a dip of my head. Once she’d sauntered off, I set my tools to the side and sent for a new canvas.

Chapter 23: The Wedding

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Chapter 23
The Wedding

It was a lot of extra work, doing both canvases. Of course, I had time between layers, but the second one was extremely detailed, and required much more patience. I was also struggling to keep to Princess Cadenza’s deadline. I soon learned that Twilight knew her on a much more familiar level as Cadence, her old foal sitter. However, the stress of the wedding was weighing on them both, because there seemed to be a great deal of tension between the two. It was evident, because I only saw Twilight for two minutes when she came to get me for a smoothie night. Unfortunately, I was still working on the painting. Princess Cadence would have to settle for a half-finished piece to review as it was.

I waited for her for the greater part of the evening. I was still working, but there was no sign of the alicorn. Her absence was becoming painfully evident. The sky was growing dark, but I still dutifully waited. Perhaps she’d meant after dinner? I waited for such a long time that the gardeners finally had to ask me to leave before they closed for the night. Castle maintenance workers took care of my supplies, so I was left to stumble bleary-eyed out the gates. I was stopped at the hedges by a messenger. He stopped only long enough to give me a small slip of paper. Then, he was gone. Baffled, I looked down and squinted at the small print in the dark.

Meet me in my chambers

-Princess Mi Amore Cadenza

She wanted to see me? Me? This couldn’t be good.

I showed the slip to the guards, and was promptly shown to Cadence’s chambers. I found the hallway leading to her room strangely vacant, especially for the bride-to-be. If a threat had been made against Canterlot, I would have thought Cadence would have the best guards at her door. I didn’t question it, but knocked on the heavy double doors instead. They creaked open on their own.

“Come in,” came her voice. I timidly nudged the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside.

“You asked to see me?”

“Yes, I did.” She turned from her place at the window to face me. Her voice suddenly sounded distorted and echo-ey, aside from being much too deep. “So, my dear changeling, what news do you bring?”

“I’m sorry?” I froze. I knew about changelings.

“You can drop the act now, dearest. there is nopony here tonight. I made sure of that. Though, I am quite curious as to how you managed to breach the protection shield at all. Have your fellow changelings been conducting research?”

“Y-yes,” I stammered. It was best to play along and find out her plans.

“Intriguing, but pointless,” she huffed, loosing interest in me and returning to the window. “Soon enough we will have unlimited access to Canterlot. Though, since you have put so much effort into finding a more... subtle way in, I suppose I should hear you out. What have my subjects got to say to me?”


“They did send you with a message, did they not? Why else would my army take such a risk as to visit me the night before the invasion?”

“Oh, uh, of course, your highness. About that... we think that the invasion should be put off.”

“What?!” her metallic voice screeched. “Have my subjects lost faith in me? Is my army inadequate to conquer the foals here in Canterlot?”

“I’m sorry, your majesty,” I shrank back. “These aren’t my words. I’m only the messenger.”

“Very well, ‘messenger.’ Perhaps you have heard the disloyal murmurings. What do they say? Why is there unrest when we are so close to achieving our goal?”

“I don’t pay much attention to that...” I struggled to find the words.

“Tell me,” she boomed.

“I don’t know,” I whimpered.

“Very well. Then satiate my other inquiry: how is it that you were able to pass through the shields?”

“I... uh...”

“Transform for me, changeling,” she spat.


“Revert to your natural form,” she ordered.


“Just. Do. It.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea...”

“There is nopony around. Do as your queen commands.” I was trapped. If I didn’t spontaneously transform into a changeling, her suspicions would be confirmed. That wasn’t an option. My only way out was to make a run for it. My eyes turned to slits.

“You’re not my queen.” I tried to whip around for the door, but it slammed shut before I got to it.

“You ponies are more clever than I thought,” she sneered. “How many others know of our plans?”

“By the end of the night, I’ll make sure everypony in Canterlot knows about you and your changeling army.”

“Oh, how delicious. Our plans are still safe; you are disposable.”

“My friends will know I’m gone.”

“Oh, of course they will. As I recall, you have a friend back home who has fallen quite ill. It would be my pleasure to deliver the message. I’m sure they will understand.” My ears flattened as I realized the weight of the situation. But I still knew something she didn’t. She may be a changeling, but I was a thestral.

“I can’t let you do this,” I growled, feeling my hooves grow warm and tingly. Torchwood had been teaching me fire dancing techniques. It was time to put what I’d learned to use.

“But you can’t stop me,” she cackled. Before I could summon my flames, green changeling fire surrounded me. I reared, trying to counter it with my white fire. It was no use. Changeling fire was sticky. My flames didn’t have enough time to devour the goo before I was sinking through the floor in a teleportation bubble.

I woke in a dark room practically carved from crystals. Their weak glow was the only light source available, and I look refuge in it. My head was throbbing, but I sat up nevertheless. I felt fuzzy. What just happened? The sickening cackle that ensued reminded me of previous events. The changeling queen. She still appeared as Cadence as her reflection shimmered into place on a smooth, crystalline surface of the wall.

“Where’ve you taken me?” I demanded.

“These are the crystal caves beneath Canterlot. They once housed the greedy unicorns who wanted the gems. Now it’s your prison. Most ponies don’t even remember that they exist.”

“How clever,” I snarled back, beginning to pace. “Hidden in the one place they’ll never think to look: right under their hooves.”

“Exactly,” she boasted.

“You haven’t met Torchwood,” I threatened. “He’ll never stop looking for me, once he finds out I’m gone. My friends won’t, either.”

“By the time they’ll realize you’re gone, it won’t matter. My changeling army would have already overtaken Canterlot, and then all of Equestria!”

“Why is it that they always want to take over the world?” I muttered to myself. “You’ll never get away with it,” I called out.

“Oh, but I already have,” she jeered. “I have the groom under my complete control.”

“What do you need him for? Are you going to marry into the throne? I wouldn’t have thought that your style.”

“How would you know anything about me?”

“I keep secrets older than you, Chrysalis.”

“Uh-huh,” she mumbled, slightly shaken. She left while she still held the upper hoof. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must prepare for my wedding day.” The image on the wall faded, leaving me in the dark. I tried to conjure a flame to provide more than an eerie glow for lighting, and finally succeeded in lighting a spark. I coaxed it over to a pile of dust and dried leaves in the corner, where it set ablaze. After gathering what little kindling there was, I could finally get a clear look at my surroundings.

The room was entirely coated in crystals. I didn’t see any way out. Could they be bashed down? I experimentally tapped on the surface to estimate how thick it was. Pressing my ear to the wall, I thought it was hollow, but it was awfully thick. A thestral’s smashing might be able to put a crack in it, but even that was doubtful. Before I could really try to smash it down, though, my ears twitched. I’d definitely heard something clattering. I jumped into a defensive position, ready to attack the intruder. But then the noise came again. It wasn’t a clatter, or even hoof steps. It was a knock! A response to my own tapping, perhaps? I again shimmied closer to the wall, and rapped the wall. I again received a response. Enough was enough. I snuffed out the flames to keep my identity safe.

“Who’s there?” I called in the most demanding tone I could achieve.

“Is somepony there?” a very faint, soft voice came.

“Yes!” I cried.

“I’m Princess Cadence,” came the voice.

“Cadence,” I gasped. The real Cadence. This was where she was being kept. It all made sense now!

“My name is Acrylic,” I shouted through the barrier. “I’m one of Twilight’s friends.”

“Twilight? Twilight Sparkle! Is she here?”

“No, not here. She’s still up in Canterlot helping to organize your wedding day!”

“It was going to be my wedding day,” she sighed so softly I could barely make out her words.

“It’s still going to be. You have to get back and stop Chrysalis!”

“It’s no use. I’m not strong enough to take the wall down.”

“I might be. Stand back.” I heard the faint shuffling of hooves on her end. Then, I reared back for all I was worth and brought the entirety of my weight down on the wall. It did little more than make a thud. I shrugged off the failure and tried again. This time, a faint crack was all I had to show for my efforts. I pounded and hammered, smashed and thrashed, but the crack barely grew. I was left wheezing from exertion at the base of the wall. “It’s too thick,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. You did your best,” she cooed. It did nothing to console me. In fact, it just made me angrier. I felt so useless. I continued ramming my exhausted body against the crystal in a futile attempt to prove myself. “Acrylic, stop! You’ll hurt yourself.”

“Better broken than dead,” I gritted my teeth, colliding again with the surface. I finally stopped when I noticed a fuzzy blue glow from the other side of the crystal. It was barely visible and the crystals slightly warped the image, but I squinted at it nevertheless. I suddenly felt the tingle of magic and an extreme calm wash over me. I sagged to the floor, completely relaxed.


“Yes,” I thrummed, balling up in the floor. The anger had instantly subsided. Twilight had told me that Cadence specialized in love spells. This wasn’t a love spell per say, but close enough. It made me realize how tired I’d become. My eyelids fluttered as I struggled to stay awake with the imprisoned Princess. Even through the barrier between us, she somehow recognized this.

“Sleep,” she soothingly ordered. “We both need our strength.” I didn’t need to be told twice. Though the room was already dark, I let my world fade to complete black.

Chapter 24: Exposed

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Chapter 24

“No! Wait!” I bolted upright from sleep at the sound of Cadence’s voice. It was accompanied by loud crashes and sounds of a struggle. “P-please don’t hurt me.” I pounded on the barrier.

“CADENCE!” I screamed. “Are you okay?” My voice was drowned out by the ongoing clattering from the other side.

“No! Twilight, it’s me! Please, you have to believe me. I've been imprisoned like you and Acrylic both.”

“Acrylic’s here? What’ve you done with her?”

“What’s going on over there?” I demanded.



“I thought you had to go home because of Torchwood’s parents!”

“That was the imposter Cadence, remember?”

“So... this is the real one, then?”

“Now you’re catching on.”

“Are you sure?” Cadence answered for me.

“Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake. Clap your hooves...” the Princess recited. It must have meant something between them, because Twilight even joined in to finish the poem off.

“...And do a little shake,” they ended.

“It is you! You remember me!”

“Of course I do! How could I forget the filly I loved to sit for the most?”

“What just happened?” I tried to joke. They didn’t answer; the changeling queen’s nasty cackle again echoed through the halls.

“How touching,” came the voice. “Too little, too late.”

“We have to get out of there,” Twilight declared.

“Do you think you can use your magic to break this wall down?” Cadence asked.

“It’s worth a shot. Acrylic, stand back.” I huddled in the corner, but suddenly realized that my wings were still visible. That must have been the fastest retraction I’d ever accomplished. A loud CRACK! followed by an earth shattering BOOM! rang in my ears. I opened my eyes to two figures silhouetted in the resulting dust cloud. There was no time to wait for it to settle. I jumped up and dashed between them.

“What are you waiting for? There’s no time!”

“We have to stop her,” Twilight concurred. With a nod of agreement between themselves, they followed me as we charged out into the rest of the crystal caves.

We had been running for a while, but I felt like we were in an infinity loop. The walls hardly changed, and I felt like we weren’t moving at all. Cadence and Twilight felt it too. Even the repeated clopping of our hooves repeated so many times was getting to us. Cadence had to break the silence. She just decided to do it in song.


“This day was going to be perfect,

“The kind of day of which I've dreamed since I was small.

“But instead of having cake

“With all my friends to celebrate

“My wedding bells, they may not ring for me at all...


“We must escape before it's too late;

“Find a way to save the day.

“Hope, I'll be lying if I say

"’I don't fear that I may lose him

“To one who wants to use him

“Not care for, love, and cherish him each day.’


“For I oh so love the groom,

“All my thoughts he does consume.

“Oh, Shining Armor, I'll be there very soon!”


“Oh, the wedding we won't make,

“He'll end up marrying a fake!

“Shining Armor will be… gone.”


We’d made it through seemingly never-ending tunnels, roller coaster mineshafts, and nearly fell into a deep dark abyss I nearly crashed down, but we’d finally made it. Or so we thought. The main entrance was blocked, but we were so close to the surface that the wedding organs could be heard from the palace ballroom.

“Mares and gentlecolts, we are gathered here today to witness the union of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and Shining Armor,” Celestia began the ceremony.

“Oh, we’re never going to save him,” Cadence wailed. I was desperately looking for an exit, running up and down the narrow outcroppings along the wall while Twilight scouted from the larger platform.

“We will,” she assured. “We just have to find... there!” I jerked my head to finally spot the light about fifty feet away in the air.

“But how will we-” I started to protest. Before I could finish my sentence, Twilight’s teleportation spell engulfed us, landing everypony just in front of the exit. “You did it!” I gleefully squealed, twirling in my excitement. I scared myself for a moment; that sounded like something Pinkie Pie would do. I’d have to be more careful. But more importantly, when I finally made the full 360°, I turned right into the face of a hypnotized Colgate. Wasn’t she one of Cadence’s bridesmaids? Well, she used to be. Now all three bridesmaids’ eyes glowed green from changeling influence, and their voices sounded mechanical.

“You’re not going anywhere,” they all robotically chimed. Cadence quickly summoned a flower bouquet with her magic, and tossed it. Even under changeling control, the bridesmaids dove for the flowers. I almost laughed at the comical sight.

“Nice,” Twilight congratulated.

“Let’s go!” This time, Cadence led the charge back to the castle. No guards were outside; everypony was busy guarding the ballroom where the wedding itself was taking place.

“Princess Cadence and Shining Armor, it is my great pleasure to pronounce you–”

“Stop!” Twilight received many disappointed, astonished and disdainful glares as she charged into the ballroom, but those looks also changed to shock and horror when I slid to a stop beside her. Nervous chattering filled the room.

“Ugh! Why does she have to be so possessive of her brother?” Cadence’s imposter growled. Noticing Celestia’s perturbed expression, she changed tactics and pretended to sob. “Why does she have to ruin my special day?”

“Because it's not your special day! It's mine!”

“What? But how did you escape my bridesmaids?”

“Easy enough,” I snorted. “Even hypnotized bridesmaids still chase after the bride’s bouquet.”

“Hmph. Clever. But you're still too late.”

“I-I don't understand. How can there be two of 'em?” Applejack stuttered.

“She's a changeling. She takes the form of somepony you love and gains power by feeding off your love for them.” Chrysalis finally gave up her act. Those sticky green flames roared in a circle around her, engulfing Cadence’s form and reverting it back to the horrifying black body. Everything about her gave the impression of an insect; the buzzing, torn wings on her back, the iridescent shell to protect them, and even her metallic, clicking voice implied a cockroach.

“Right you are, Princess. And as queen of the changelings, it is up to me to find food for my subjects. Equestria has more love than any place I've ever encountered. My fellow changelings will be able to devour so much of it that we will gain more power than we have ever dreamed of!”

“They'll never get the chance!” Cadence shouted. “Shining Armor's protection spell will keep them from ever even reaching us!”

“Oh, I doubt that. Isn't that right, dear?”

“Mm-hmm,” Shining Armor mechanically hummed. Cadence was horrified, but then tried to run to her beloved. Chrysalis made sure that wasn’t going to happen.

“Ah, ah, ah. Don't want to go back to the caves, now do you? Ever since I took your place, I've been feeding off Shining Armor's love for you. Every moment he grows weaker and so does his spell. Even now, my minions are chipping away at it. He may not be my husband, but he is under my total control now.” Everypony in attendance gasped. “And I'm sorry to say, unable to perform his duties as captain of the Royal Guard.”

“Not my Shining Armor!” Cadence cried.

“Soon, my changeling army will break through. First, we take Canterlot. And then, all of Equestria!”

“No. You won't.” Celestia stepped forward. “You may have made it impossible for Shining Armor to perform his spell, but now that you have so foolishly revealed your true self, I can protect my subjects from you!” Her horn glowed to take Chrysalis on, and the changeling queen was forced to do the same. The odds looked unbalanced in Celestia’s favor, until a sudden burst of magic from Chrysalis sent the Princess flailing. Horn charred and crown displaced, she lay in a crumpled heap on the ballroom floor. Ponies began to panic.

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight rushed to the Princess’s side.

“Shining Armor's love for you is even stronger than I thought! Consuming it has made me even more powerful than Celestia!”

“The Elements of Harmony. You must get to them and use their power to defeat the queen,” Celestia gasped to her student. The six friends charged off without me; I wasn’t needed. With a sigh, I turned back to face the ancient menace. Perhaps I could make myself useful here?

“You can run, but you can't hide!” she screamed after them. The loud shattering that followed told me the protection bubble had been broken.

“Oh, no,” I gasped. Soon, Canterlot would be crawling with changelings. I tried bolting for the door, only to be swarmed by Chrysalis’s minions. Everypony finally lost it, running every which way in search of an escape route. I was among the unlucky number. Dragged to the side by the disgusting bug-creatures, I was tossed to the side with Cadence for personal judgment by the queen herself. When we offered resistance, our hooves were incased in revolting green goo. Celestia was given her own cocoon of the stuff. Cadence was held on the opposite side of the room as me so we couldn’t try helping one another to escape like the last time. She was also tortured with being mere feet away from her groom, just out of reach.

“You won’t get away with this,” she screeched. “Twilight and her friends will...” The doors banged open, and a changeling squadron deposited the elements of harmony, lacking their elements.

“You were saying?” Chrysalis sarcastically gloated. “You do realize the reception’s been cancelled, don’t you? Go! Feed!” Her subjects buzzed out the door, leaving us alone with Chrysalis and only one or two soldiers. “It's funny, really. Twilight here was suspicious of my behavior all along. Too bad the rest of you were too caught up in your wedding planning to realize those suspicions were correct!”

“Sorry, Twi. We should've listened to you,” Applejack groaned.

“It's not your fault. She fooled everypony.”

“Hmm, I did, didn't I?


“This day has been just perfect

“The kind of day of which I've dreamed since I was small

“Everypony I'll soon control

“Every stallion, mare, and foal

“Who says a girl can't really have it all?”


“I do.” All eyes turned to me.

“What? You? Ha! What can a simple earth pony like you do to stop me?”

“Who says I’m an earth pony?”

“What?” I looked over at my friends, tears in my eyes. Rainbow realized what I was about to do and motioned for me to stop.

“I’m sorry.” A tear dripped to the ground. “I’m so, so sorry.” My eyes turned to slits, and I let them glow. The piercing daggers were aimed at the unsuspecting Chrysalis. Heat welled up inside my chest, and I let it explode through my hooves. The white fire melted through the goo like tissue paper.

“WHAT?! You are a changeling! A traitor?” Chrysalis gasped. Then, like Torchwood taught me, I directed the flames with my mind to remove the gunk from Celestia and Cadence. The snapping of my bones couldn’t be heard over the roaring fire, but when the flames finally died down, the real me stood in their wake.

“No. I’m a thestral.”

Chapter 25: Changelings Away

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Chapter 25
Changelings Away

Celestia’s eyes grew wide with realization. So many connections were being made that she couldn’t comprehend them. I didn’t want to look back at my friends. The horror on their faces would be too much to bear. I just bit my lip and kept my eyes trained on the baffled changeling.

With Celestia stunned to shock and Cadence trying to revive her groom, I was left to face off with Chrysalis. I directed a stream of fire at the queen, but she recovered from her disbelief and extinguished it with green goop from her horn. When it recharged, directed at me, I waited until the last second to snap open my wings. The goo landed harmlessly on the floor where I’d been. I expertly maneuvered through the decorative columns to dodge the queen’s attacks and deliver a few of my own. Celestia had also recovered, and now joined in the fight. Even two against one could not match the queen.

An explosion from the center of the room ended it all. Cadence and Shining Armor had combined their strength, and their love, to recreate the repelling spell.

“NOOOOOOO!” Chrysalis wailed, thrown off balance. She was hurled out of the hall along with her changelings. Canterlot was free once more. Unfortunately, the spell had an effect on me as well. It was a weaker repelling, but I was still blasted to the wall.

I saw doubles when I again opened my eyes. One would have been more than enough. Celestia looked down on me. And she was very, very cross. I flattened my ears, and looked back as frightened as a filly. This was no act; I was scared out of my skin.

“Acrylic?” a timid voice squeaked. Unbelievably, Fluttershy was the first to speak up.

“I-is that really you, darling?” Rarity followed. The only one not shocked was Rainbow Dash, who hung her head in defeat. The secret was out, and I was at Celestia’s mercy. Spike wasn’t sure what to expect, and could only stand in the corner, petrified.

“It’s me,” I blinked bleary eyes. “The real me.”

“But... you never said anything before.”

“You lied to us!” Applejack thundered. “Ya flat out lied! How could ya do such a thing?”

“I’m sorry,” I wept.

“‘Sorry’ ain’t gonna cut it this time, Sugarcube. What else have ya not told us? Has anything you’ve said really been true?”

“Applejack,” Rainbow tried to soothe.

“Don’t you ‘Applejack’ me! And how come you ain’t cross with her like the rest of us?”

“Because I’ve already told her.”


“But you’re a... thestral...” Twilight repeated.

“I know.”

“Thestrals are evil! You tricked us all!”

“I had to! I knew you’d react like this!” I screamed back. “This is why I never told anypony. Because you’d think of me as a criminal. But you didn’t think of the other Acrylic as a criminal, did you?”

“You lied!”

“I had to!” I squawked again. My body racked with sobs as I screamed my replies. “I had to.”

“So what were you after? Chrysalis wanted Equestria. Is that what you want? To rule us all?”

“What would I do with Equestria? I wanted friends. Real friends. Friends who wouldn’t think of me like this. Is that not enough for you?”

“Because the best way to get friends is by lying to ‘em, right?”

“Applejack, enough!”

I sniffled, regained my composure, and turned to the stern-faced Princess Celestia. "I acknowledge that I trespassed onto Equestrian soil, and that I'm now at your mercy. So pass your judgment, if you will." I knelt at her hooves, refusing to make eye contact. I felt her eyes boring into me for a good minute longer, but they finally turned on the silent audience.

"We will not let this... event change our plans. Everypony, please resume your duties. There's a real wedding to be put on. In the meantime, I don't want a word of this getting out. If you'll excuse us, I must have a word with Acrylic." By her tone of voice, I could tell that no such activity would be taking place. So the Princess was lying now? What was going on? I had no choice but to skulk along after her.

I was led down unfamiliar corridors. Celestia didn't speak a word, and I did not attempt to strike up a conversation. Even when it became evident where I was being led, I did not protest or try to resist. Only when the clanging of the prison cell locking into place rang through the dungeon did Celestia speak.

"This is only for the safety of my subjects," she assured.

"You needn't fear thestrals, Princess. We mean no harm." The Princess cocked her head.

"I will deal with you after the wedding," she promised. For the second time that day, even though this time it was for helping to save Canterlot, I was left alone in a prison.

I released a heavy hearted sigh, and looked back at the troublesome appendages sticking out from my back. They were more trouble than they were worth. Why couldn't anypony see past them? They were just wings, weren't they? I settled myself onto the uncomfortable cot, trying to remove my friends' horrified faces from my mind. Why did I ever think this would work? Now I'd lost the best friends I'd ever had, and caused even more heartache than Chrysalis had. Because while the real Cadence had been recovered, there was no earth pony Acrylic waiting to be rescued. This was the real me; there was no escaping that. Now my fate rested in Celestia's hooves.

Celestia returned to find everypony back to work, just as she'd requested. With a sigh of relief, she headed for their royal chambers to consult with Luna. Upon crossing the courtyard, however, she was confronted by Rainbow Dash.

"Where's Acrylic?" the pegasus asked. Celestia bowed her head, trying to come up with words to explain her decision.

"She is waiting to be interrogated by Luna and I," was all she finally came up with. It wasn't a complete lie.

"Interrogated? But she hasn't done anything wrong. You really are treating her like a criminal! In fact, she just helped to save Equestria, in case you hadn't noticed... your Highness.”

“I am aware, Rainbow Dash,” the Princess assured. “I am simply taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of my subjects.”

“Acrylic would never hurt anypony!”

“I know it is difficult for you to comprehend, but please try to understand,” the Princess begged. “This is not easy for me, either, but it is my royal duty.”

“So... what’s going to happen to her?”

“I don’t know yet,” she admitted. “Now please, let me consult with Luna.” The pegasus had no choice but to float aside, out of her way. The Princess plodded on, but the weight of her crown again weighed on her; this was evident to Rainbow and to any onlookers.

After the changeling incident, Luna was already waiting for a debriefing in Celestia’s chambers. She stood upon hearing the heavy doors slide open.

“I must congratulate you, Sister,” the moon princess began.

“Save your congratulations,” Celestia interrupted. “A new menace has arisen.”

“Have the changelings not been defeated?”

“The changelings are gone,” Celestia answered, “but a foe older than Queen Chrysalis herself has returned. One we thought extinct long ago.” Luna’s mind raced, searching for a nemesis that fit such a descriptions. “Thestrals still live.” Luna’s blood turned cold.

“But how is that possible?”

“I do not know, but they live among us even now. They have learned how to conceal their wings, and appear as mere earth ponies.”

“How have you learned of this?”

“One has revealed herself.” Celestia looked pained, and choked on the name.

“Who is it, sister? You must speak up,” Luna demanded.

“It is Acrylic.”

“From Ponyville? But that’s-” Luna stopped as she recalled the first day she had returned from exile. A celebration took place in Ponyville, but one left early. Acrylic had left. Then she recalled the mural on the side of Art Life, which depicted all sorts of ancient and mythical pony types. Acrylic had painted it. Luna tried to tell the story of the glorious defeat of the thestrals, but it had sent Acrylic away in tears. Twilight had helped her see the changes she needed to make in her conduct after a thousand years of isolation, and had assumed she had frightened the mare with her booming, demanding voice. But she ran because she was a thestral, and feared her. All along, that pony had deceived them. Luna sat rigid. “Where is she now?”

“In the dungeon,” Celestia mournfully answered. “She is waiting for interrogation, which I arranged for after the wedding.”

“Very well.” Luna’s jaw was clenched tight. She still couldn’t comprehend that Acrylic, one of Twilight’s closest friends, was a traitor. “I will send guards down to secure the cell.” The dungeons hadn’t been used in decades. The local police forces kept the criminal rate down to a minimum, and would use their own jails if a prisoner really needed to be held. Dungeons were reserved for those rare cases like Acrylic which concerned the royal sisters.

“As you wish, Sister.” Celestia turned to leave.

“Am I correct in assuming that this matter must be kept quiet?”


“Then you may want to liven up, Sister, or morale will soon plummet.” Celestia paused, and allowed herself the indulgence of a small smile.

“You are right, Sister. Can I expect to see you at the wedding?”

“After today’s excitement? No, Sister. As much as I would like to attend, I must watch over the city.”

“As you wish.”

After Celestia had exited the room, Luna too stood to leave. However, rather than following the sun princess to the ballroom, she turned to the armory. As she had expected, most of the royal guard was returning to replace their weaponry or to end their shift. “Do not put away your weapons just yet,” she thundered, causing all of the soldiers to snap to attention. “Defiant Clash and Stronghold, please come with me.”

“Yes, your Highness,” they both recited, marching after her with practiced precision. The remaining guards took up arms once again, baffled at the request but not questioning it.

Alone in the hallway, Luna lead the guards to the dungeon. “I speak to you in confidence. Is this clear?”

“Yes, your Highness,” they repeated.

“Very well. I have an exclusive assignment for you both, in the dungeons. An ancient foe, a thestral, has returned to Equestria. She is currently being held in the dungeons. Your assignment is to make sure she stays there. Is this clear?”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Good. And do not believe a word she says; she is a master of trickery, which I have experienced firsthoof. I will send Pumpkin Harvest down three times a day with her meals. Unless Princess Celestia or I tell you otherwise, she is not to receive any other visitors.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Alright, then. Your shift will end at midnight tonight. Then I will have Iron Maille and Golden Blitz come to relieve you.”

“Understood.” The trio had arrived in front of the said cell. Luna didn’t want to believe any of it, but the dragon-like wings hanging off the side of the cot were undeniable. She took a breath to steady her nerves as the guards gaped on, which caused Acrylic to flinch. Her ears flipped back to catch what was being said, but didn’t move any further. Luna couldn’t see her face, but something still felt wrong. Even completely exposed as she was, the mare didn’t look dangerous. Luna shook herself back to reality. Looks meant nothing.

“I’ll leave you to it, then.” She strode off, and the two guards positioned themselves on either side of the cell. Acrylic turned long enough to eye the two new sentries stationed outside her room. One cast a pitiful glance back.

Chapter 26: Judgment Day

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Chapter 26
Judgment Day

I waited a full day, maybe two. Boredom almost instantly overtook me, throwing my perceptions of time completely off balance. The terrified faces of my friends kept playing over and over in my head, which made time crawl even more slowly. There were no windows underground, so my only markers of time were the meals brought to me. Dinner consisted of dry oats and water, but breakfast brought a more palatable salad. I couldn’t eat the apple spread brought for lunch; it reminded me too much of Applejack. The second dinner ration marked a 24-hour cycle with a plain daisy sandwich. Somepony must have said something to the cook, because while simple, these weren’t typical prisoner rations. I wasn’t complaining, of course. Lunch the next day brought carrot broth, and a visitor.

“How are you holding up?” I was currently facing the back wall, but I didn’t have to turn around to recognize the voice.

“Are the others too afraid to look at me?” I asked Rainbow.

“Celestia hasn’t granted them ‘visitation privileges’ yet. You have no idea how long I had to work at her so I could come early.”

“Thanks, Rainbow,” I sighed, finally turning around. I plodded over to the bars, and settled on the cold cement. “What’s new back in the real world?”

“I don’t know if things are looking better or worse. After the wedding, both the Princesses locked themselves away in the library, doing as much research as they can on thestrals.” So I had missed the wedding.

“How was it? The ceremony, I mean?”

“It went smoothly, this time around. But... they hired somepony else to do the portraits.” I nodded. I’d suspected as much.

“Who did them?”

“Somepony called Graphite Sketch. Apparently, he was a really prestigious artist or something.” I clenched my jaw. It was enough that this had happened, but giving Graphite my assignment? My honor? That was almost too much to bear. Rainbow noticed my displeasure. “For what it’s worth, yours were way better than his.” I changed the subject anyway.

“You said that the Princesses were reading up on the thestrals? But they were there. How come they need to look it up?”

“Beats me, but Twilight got in on the action, too. She’s searching through every library in Canterlot, and now she’s sending for all the books possibly related to them from the Golden Oaks back home.”

“Has everypony gone back to Ponyville?”

“Twilight insisted that there was no point in staying until Celestia gives the okay to come visit, but she’s still here to help the Princesses for the time being. Spike is with her.” I nodded.

“How are they all taking it?”

“Well... not so well. Rarity’s been pacing in her boutique, trying to convince herself that none of it ever happened. Applejack’s been working herself harder than ever, but Fluttershy hasn’t said a word. I’m not quite sure that Pinkie completely understands what happened. She just sees that everypony’s been upset, and has been throwing more parties than ever to cheer them up. She’s being... Pinkie.” I huffed my laughter.

“Sounds about right.” I paused, and closed my eyes. “Does Torchwood know?”

“I rounded up every pegasus in Ponyville to help me search. We’ve combed Vanhoover and all the surrounding towns. Nopony can find him. If you tell me where his parents live, I’ll tell him for you.”

“I don’t know,” I had to lie. I bit my lip. I knew that if Torchwood caught word of the situation, he could save me. But there was no way I could expose the entire thestral encampment just to get a message through; especially not in front of the guards. Not even Rainbow knew he had wings. I’d just have to wait for the media to finally catch onto the rumors. Regardless of my lockdown, the newspapers always found out some time or another.

“Well, we’ll keep looking. He’s bound to come back sometime. Do you... do you really want me to tell him? You did kind of lie about the whole thestral thing to everypony... there’s no telling how he’ll take it.” I sighed, acting depressed at the reminder.

“He still deserves to know.”

“Okay,” she shrugged.

“Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” one of the guards interrupted.

“What? But it’s barely been five minutes!”

“Sorry. I’m just following my orders.” The gray guard I believed to be Stronghold started leading her away.

“I’ll see you soon, Acrylic! I heard the Princesses planned to ‘interrogate’ you today. Maybe then we can all come visit!” My heart stopped in my chest. It had finally come. Judgment day.

I abandoned the soup altogether and began pacing with anxiety. It was making the remaining guard outside nervous. Every time my wide wings scraped the walls, he jumped. I started purposefully yet subtly clanking them whenever possible to escape from boredom. At least it took my mind off things. He was relieved when his fellow soldier returned, escorting both of the Princesses.

“Stronghold, Defiant Clash. You are dismissed.” The guards eagerly trotted off.

“I hear you’ve been reading up on me,” I started. “All bad things, I presume?”

“What makes you say that?” Luna almost sarcastically inquired. It was rhetorical, but I answered anyway.

“Because your history books are biased.”

“Is that so?”

“Get the story from a thestral firsthoof, and perhaps you’ll see things our way.”

“Go on, then.”


“I know of no other thestrals.”

“Alright then. Long story short, they were tired of being cooped up all on their own in the woods. Nopony else wanted to intermingle. Each pony type was sectioned off, thestrals from earth ponies, pegasi from unicorns and so on. Of course, now it’s impossible to find a town reserved exclusively for any one kind of pony. I guess all it needed was time.”

“But you did not ‘give it time,’ as you say. You tried to disrupt the balance.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. It wasn’t me. It was my ancestors. I can’t control their actions. I’m not saying what they did was honorable, or noble. I’m just saying that we’ve changed. I know it was selfish, greedy and flat out wrong. But what do you want me to do about it? I can’t change the past. But we could change the present.”


“There are more out there like me. I just wanted to come out of the woods. So do they.”

“Just like your ancestors?”

“If you think about it, they weren’t asking for much. They just wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger. We’ve been isolated for so long, we’ve forgotten what that means.” The Princesses looked to one another. “What have I ever done? The only reason I’m here is because of these things.” I flapped my wings. “What did I do worthy of a life in prison?”

“To be honest, this would be easier if you had done something wrong, Acrylic,” Celestia sighed. Even Luna looked unsure, now. I realized that I’d been pacing all this time, and finally came to a stop. “Do you know exactly what happened when the thestrals were defeated a thousand years ago?”

“No,” I admitted. “Nopony does.”

“We do. We were there.”

“The Elements of Harmony used to have... a defense mechanism, if you will. They are purposed to uphold balance. Back when the tree was a mere sapling, the elements were still developing. They were not complete, and still had many flaws which had not yet worked themselves out. I like to think of them as children that had not yet developed a complete sense of right and wrong. More importantly, there were no ponies capable of wielding them in their raw state. The defense mechanism was the only way it could maintain the balance. The thestrals triggered this mechanism.”

“What happened to them?”

“They became evil.”

“I thought they were already ‘evil’ by Equestrian standards.”

“No. They were lost souls, as you described. Luna and I did our best to convince them it wasn’t the only path, but they did not listen. When the elements’ defense mechanism activated, it amplified that desire, and planted a seed of unstoppable evil inside them.”

“I thought the elements upheld balance, not tip the odds.”

“You must remember that the elements were still flawed at the time. They saw the purely evil thestrals as an even match for Luna and I. We were balanced.” My eyes widened. It was just as Celestia had said. To a child, good defeats evil. That’s how the elements saw the situation.

“Even after a thousand years, I fear this remnant of evil still exists in you.”

“NO! I’m not evil. I’d never hurt anypony!”

“Not intentionally, you wouldn’t. The thestrals we defeated were uncontrollable and unreasonable. The darkness within them would have been passed down through the generations. Down even to your time.”

“That was a thousand years ago! It must have worn out through all those years!” I shrank back, pressing myself against the wall. I tried to deny it, but I knew in my heart it was true. The hatred radiating in the camps; the revolting emotions I’d forced into the darkest corners of my mind; the temper I had to keep in check at all times. It was all because I was a thestral.

“I’m sorry, Acrylic, but it’s true.” I leaned against the wall to catch my balance. I was falling through a dizzying reality. Everything crashed down.

“What’s going to happen to me?”

“We have been trying to find a way to get rid of the evil within you,” Celestia assured. “Until then, you must remain here.”

“But I’ve lived in Ponyville for over a year, and I’ve never hurt anypony!”

“Do you realize the heartache you’ve caused your friends?”

“I- I...”

“You will stay here,” Luna repeated.

“I have sent a letter to your friends. They will be permitted to visit you tomorrow, if they so wish.” I only curled up on the cot, and ignored them for the remainder of their stay.

“Come on, you guys,” Rainbow agitatedly called as her friends stumbled out of the train car that had brought them. Today they were all able to visit Acrylic. Pinkie was as bouncy as ever, but Rarity frantically stroked her mane to keep from going crazy from nerves. Twilight was trying to keep everypony organized and calm. Applejack skulked at the back. She didn’t want to be here. Neither did Fluttershy; Rainbow had to drag the two along. Now she was leading the way, trying to hurry up the troop. That is, until a guard stopped them on their way to the palace.

“Are you Twilight Sparkle?”

“That’s me,” the purple unicorn stepped up.

“The Princess will receive you in the ballroom.”

“Thank you.” Twilight switched places with Rainbow, and took off without the guard to lead the way down familiar corridors. She knew the castle as well as her own home, and certainly didn’t need an escort. The six friends found only the white alicorn standing in the room, looking exhausted and weary. Twilight decided to make no mention of this. “You wanted to see us, Princess?”

“Yes, Twilight. I’m glad you could all make it.”

“Yeah... we’re all here,” Applejack ruefully stated. Rainbow shot her a dirty look.

“Where’s Acrylic?” Twilight asked.

“You will see her shortly,” the Princess promised.

“What’s going to happen to her?”

“That is what I wish to consult with you about.”

“Us? You want us to decide her punishment?”

“If ya ask me, I think she needs ta leave. Can’t banish her to the moon too, could ya?”


“I do not seek a punishment,” Celestia intervened, “but an antidote.”


“I will explain to you what I explained to Acrylic. During the original thestral uprising, the elements were still developing. There was no pony to wield them as you do now. They maintained the balance themselves. To the elements, the way to balance the thestrals was to create pure evil within them, and pure goodness within Luna and I. That is why we have lived for thousands of years.”

“You’re saying that Acrylic is thousands of years old?!”

“No. But the same seed of evil planted in her ancestors has been passed down through the generations to Acrylic herself.”

“Acrylic is not evil!” Rainbow screeched, hovering to get eye level with Celestia.

“I know it is not her fault,” Celestia agreed. “It was the actions of her ancestors that created the evil, and now she bears its shame.”

“The elements of harmony created the evil...” Twilight thought aloud. “Can’t they take it away?”

“I have considered this possibility, but I fear that instead of destroying it, they may reactivate its full potential.”

“I thought the elements weren’t capable of creating evil.”

“Not anymore, they can’t. However, the magic that created the darkness came from before the elements were fully developed. It is ancient, and unpredictable. There is a chance that it could remove the evil, but there is also a chance it could be reignited.”

“Whoa, whoa. Let me get this straight. You want us to use the Elements of Harmony on Acrylic with the chance of making her completely and totally EVIL?”

“Even I don’t want an uncontrollable evil runnin’ ‘round,” Applejack agreed. “Especially not one who used to be our friend.”

“She’s still our friend.”

“I will ask no such thing of you. I believe I may have come up with another solution. Follow me, please.” The six ponies were promptly lead away to the royal library Twilight was so familiar with. Luna was already seated, leafing through a book. Upon looking up to find her visitors, she shut it and stood to welcome them.

“It is good to see you again, Twilight Sparkle. I just wish it could have been under better circumstances.”

“I think we all do,” Twilight bowed.

“Show them what we have found, Sister,” Celestia requested.

“Of course.” Luna opened one of the books, and enlarged its contents by projecting it onto the wall for all to see. Her magic added stunning effects and animation as well, while the page was mundane and static.

“This is an ancient transformation spell.”

“We believe that this particular spell could destroy the evil within Acrylic,” Luna went on. Celestia should have been encouraged by the possibility, but remained glum.

“So what’s the catch?” Twilight pressed, noting Celestia’s expression.

“The ‘catch’ is that the spell would also remove her wings. Acrylic would become an earth pony.”

“No way. Bad idea,” Rainbow declared. “Flying is everything to her.”

“What about art? I thought art was her life,” Rarity interjected, looking a bit hurt. Art was the one thing that they really had in common. The thought of that being a ruse too was almost too much to take.

“Well, if no flying makes more room for her friends, I say it’s worth a shot.”

“What is wrong with you, Applejack? You’re taking this waaaay too personally. She fooled everypony, you know, not just you.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You knew all along, didn’t ya?”

“It took a while for her to tell me, and I was just as surprised. But she’s still Acrylic.”

“Rainbow,” Twilight scolded. “I know you want Acrylic back. The rest of us do, too. That’s why we all came, isn’t it?” The others, who had been silent all this time, slowly nodded. “I think that if there’s a chance at getting the real Acrylic back, we need to take it. Even if it means taking something like that away from her.”

“Spoken like a true leader,” Luna proudly yet solemnly nodded.

“You’re talking about her like she’s changed, but she’s always been this way!”

“I’m sorry, Rainbow. We have to do what’s best for her. Right, girls?”

“I do want Acrylic to come home,” Fluttershy quietly admitted.

“She’s been missing out on all the parties!” Pinkie concurred.

“Wings or no wings, she needs to come home,” Rarity declared. She had only recently accepted the reality that Acrylic really had lied about her identity. She was still quite sore at the fact that Rainbow Dash had been let in on the secret while she had been left out of the loop, though. Otherwise, she may have put more thought into what she was agreeing to.

“Then it is decided,” Celestia stood.

“But-” Rainbow protested. A flick of Celestia’s wings silenced her.

“The spell will take a few days to prepare. Until then, you will be free to visit her as often as you wish.”

“Who’s going to break the news to Acrylic?” The Princesses looked at one another. Rainbow read their minds, and wouldn’t stand for it.

“She deserves to know. You can’t just trick her into giving up her wings! That’s almost as bad as Chrysalis trying to trick Shining Armor into marrying her instead of Cadence!”

“You are right, Rainbow Dash. I will tell her after your visit concludes.”

“I want to tell her,” Rainbow declared.

“You do?” Rainbow only narrowed her eyes in determined affirmation. She wasn’t going to risk them going back on their promise. This way, she could make sure Acrylic got the message.

“Very well. I will have Iron Maille escort you to the dungeons. I believe he almost ready to begin his shift.”

“You keep her in the dungeon?” Fluttershy shuddered.

“Well, that’s no fun,” Pinkie pouted.

“How horrid!” aghast Rarity exclaimed. “I can’t imagine having to reside in such dark, dreary, icky muck!”

“Even I didn’t think she was that dangerous,” Applejack stated, shocked at the news. The only one who stayed silent was Twilight, who trusted her mentor’s reasoning, even if she did not understand it. Celestia was grateful for this as she summoned the guard from his lunch break.

Chapter 27: The Great Escape

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Chapter 27
The Great Escape

“Hey,” a gruff voice called from the front of the cell. The guard’s hoof knocked against the bars, as if he didn’t already have my attention. “You have visitors.”

“Acrylic!” Pinkie happily chirped.

“Pinkie!” I galloped to her, only to be stopped by the iron gate. She took a glance at the things sticking out of my back, and her happy composure faltered for a moment. The smile she put on afterwards was obviously forced.

“How are you?” Rainbow started, the only one genuinely happy to see me.

“Fine,” I lied. I looked past her at the five other ponies in the hallway. “I didn’t think you’d all come. Thank you.”

“Aw, come on. We couldn’t leave you here.”

“I coulda.” Rainbow scowled at AJ, but I tried to ignore her.

“It’s okay, Rainbow. I can’t blame her for being angry.”

“Angry? I am furious,” Applejack boomed so loudly the guards even looked over. “You tricked me into likin’ you! To bein’ friends with you!”

“I liked you right back, AJ. Why can’t we be friends now? What’s so different?” Applejack looked around at the expectant faces around her, and regained her composure.

“Well, maybe we can try again when this gets done an’ over with.”

“You mean it?” She didn’t answer. I searched Twilight’s grim face for an explanation. They all seemed to know something I didn’t. Yet, no pony spoke. “What’s wrong?” They still didn’t say a word. “What is it? What aren’t you telling me?” Twilight nudged Rainbow forward a pace or two. “Rainbow?” Now, even she couldn’t meet my gaze.

“Acrylic, there’s something you gotta know...” she rubbed her arm, trying to find a way to cushion the blow she was about to inflict.

“Rainbow, just spit it out.”

“Celestia decided what she’s going to do.” I my back went rigid, and I slowly straightened up. My fate had been decided.

“Go on. What’s the sentence?”

“Acrylic, I-”

“Don’t sugar coat it. Just give it to me as it is,” I demanded.

“She thinks she’s found a way to get the evil part out of you. But... it’s going to...” she choked on her words, voice fading out into Fluttershy’s inaudible level.

“Rainbow, speak up and just tell me!”

“It’ll take your wings, too,” she tearfully spat. I froze. My wings? Gone?

“No. No, no, no, no, no! Anything but my wings. Keep me in prison the rest of my life. Banish me to the Everfree. Turn me to stone! Anything but that!”

“I’m sorry. It’s out of my hooves.”

“You can’t! You have no right!” I screamed.

“You had no right to keep this from us in the first place.”

“It was my secret to keep! Rainbow, you have to talk her out of it. Please,” I begged.

“I can’t. I just can’t. No pony will listen to me,” she bit her lip. I angrily shoved off and away from the bars, huddling at the back. They had no idea how much flying meant to me. I couldn’t give that up!

I looked back at my wings, so many emotions whirling inside me that I couldn’t keep them straight. Limited to the confines of my cell, I couldn’t have thrown a temper tantrum if I wanted to. There seemed to be no other way to release the hurricane of emotions. Not once since coming to Ponyville had I broken out into song. Sure, I’d joined in my friends’ musicals on occasion, but I’d never poured myself out into my own melody. That was about to change.

I settled into the cot, looking up at the slivers of light filtering in through the bars. The walls sang a mournful tune in perfect timing to my grieving heart.


“I used to be the one

“Stuck on the sidelines;

“But lately things have started to change.

“I would've never thought

“That being the way I am

“Could make everything end up this way.


“This is never what I would have expected;

“There’s nothing wrong, but they still want me corrected.

“Why can’t you just let me do what I do?

“I’m not hurting anyone, so why are you?

“Why are you?


“How could you try and change who I've always been?

“What did I do wrong?

“I never wanted any of this.

“I’m sorry if I ever offended any of you,

“But I am who I am,

“There's not much more that I can do.

“A wise mare once said that friendship was magic.

“The way I see it, it’s been nothing but tragic.

“I tried my best and it wasn’t quite there.

“A fairy tale but no happy ending for this mare?


“I just don’t know what went wrong.

“They don't love me anymore; I’m so alone.

“Now I’m left out, on my own.

“I wish there was somewhere for me to call home.

“Is it not enough that I’m in the background?

“You wanna drop me because of the wings I found.

“Well, I apologize if I ever made you sad,

“But I will not be sorry for being who I am.

“This is who I am.


“How could you try and change who I've always been?

“What did I do wrong?

“I never wanted any of this.

“I’m sorry if I ever offended any of you,

“But I am who am;

“There's not much more that I can do!


“A wise mare once said that friendship was magic;

“The way I see it, it’s been nothing but tragic.

“I tried my best and it wasn’t quite there.

“A fairy tale but no happy ending for this mare?”


I looked back at my friends, teary eyed. Their eyes, too, were soggy. Some still refused to look at me. I pounded the wall, breathing heavily from exertion. How could they do this to me? How could they not see through this? I needed them more than ever; I was more frustrated, scared and angry than I’d ever been.


“How could you try and change who I've always been?

“What did I do wrong?

“I never wanted ANY of this!

“I’m sorry if I ever offended any of you,

“But I am who I am;

“There's not much more that I can do.

“A wise mare once said that friendship was magic.

“The way I see it, it’s been nothing but tragic.

“I tried my best and it wasn't quite there!

“So will there ever be a happy ending for this mare?”


Without looking back, I could tell that they were all horrified. Slowly, one by one, they all filed out. Even Rainbow Dash left me. I could have screamed.

My pillow was soaked with tears. I’d cried myself dry. Everything was gone. My wings were going to be taken from me; my friends had already left me. The only thing I had left was Torchwood, but even he may not want me after Celestia’s transformation spell. He didn’t even know what was going on to be able to come and save me. Spike couldn’t deliver the message; he didn’t know where Midnight Armor was, and I couldn’t even get him alone to tell him without risking the guards eavesdropping.

After I’d heard that Celestia intended to remove my wings, I’d taken to hiding them once more in hopes it would inhibit her spell. Without night flights, wing springs had resumed. They greatly disturbed the guards who kept constant watch over me. It wasn’t my bones popping so much as the startled clanking of armor that woke me up in the middle of the night. I gave an annoyed growl, and tried to tuck myself back in the scratchy sheets.

“Well, what kind of a way to greet a friend is that?” I jumped, and the rusty cot squealed in protest. I looked around the cell, heart pounding. The guards had gone limp outside. Then came... a snore? No royal guard I knew fell asleep on the job. Unless...

“Yoo hoo! Up here.” Discord was reclining on the ceiling.

“Discord!” I gleefully shouted. “Get down from there!”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Because even with wings, I can’t give you a hug up there.” He gave a ‘reluctant’ sigh before twirling to the ground. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard you’d been... found out, as it were. I thought I might stop by; provide moral support, you know.”

“You didn’t have to knock the guards out. Celestia’s allowing me visitors now.”

“Oh, how kind of her. Even so, I’m not too fond of royal guards.”

“I’m with you there, pal,” I sighed, sliding back against the cold wall. Silver moonlight filtered in through the ventilation screens. There were no windows, but tiny barred slits near the top of each cell allowed fresh air inside. It danced along the floor, and played along the bridge of Discord’s nose as well as the tip of my hoof.

“It’s not fun, being imprisoned, is it?” Discord good-naturedly stated. “Of course, becoming a statue is much more uncomfortable. You can’t ever scratch when you get an itch.”

“I wish that was the worst that could happen to me.”

“Oh, that’s right. Celestia passed her sentence today, didn’t she? What has she decided to do with you?” Even for Discord, his tone of voice seemed all too casual.

“Did she send you to get it over with?”


“Are you here to take my wings?”

“What?” Real, actual concern showed on his face for the first time. “Is that what she’s going to do?”

“Sorry,” I bit my lip. “I remembered Twilight once told me that you had the ability to remove her horn back in the Canterlot Labyrinth. I thought maybe Celestia sent you to take my wings, too.”

“I’m sorry.” He slouched against the wall with me in pity. “For what it’s worth, I’d never take your wings.”

“I know, Discord.” I shut my eyes. “I’d rather be encased in stone for an eternity than lose them. Flying... it’s everything. It’s freedom. It’s an escape from the world when responsibilities become too much. When everything else is gone... the sky is always there.”

“I never thought about it that way before,” Discord admitted with a cock at his head, looking back at his own wings. Most aerial creatures took them for granted, him included. “No, this just won’t do.”

“What won’t d-” I was cut off as Discord snapped his eagle claw. Bright light filled my mind, and the next thing I knew, we were standing in the ballroom.

“Now, go on. Get out of here before somepony sees you.” That was it. I was free. No more bars stood in my way.

“Discord, I...” happy tears welled in my eyes. I jumped on him, burying my face in his fur. It took him a moment to return the embrace.

“What are you waiting for?”

“Thank you. Just... thank you. I’ll never forget this.”

“I would hope not.” I cast him one last smile before turning for the balcony.

“HALT!” My blood turned cold. I was so close to freedom. I was not about to be stopped by some random patrol.

“Go!” Discord yelled. “I can take care of them.” As promised, the two guards almost instantly shrunk down to the size of dolls. Their high-pitched protests were quite amusing to Discord and I both.

I completed my journey to the balcony, and took to the air. What I wasn’t expecting was an entire platoon of Luna’s guards on night shift, as well as a renewed protection spell to surround Canterlot. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the moon princess herself glared down at me from her tower.

Before I knew what was happening, horns were blaring, and soldiers poured in from all directions. I gave a powerful flap of my wings, propelling me away. I had nowhere to go, but I refused to return to that cold, dark cell. I only hoped that Discord could somehow save me. Still, I didn’t think he was powerful enough to take on Canterlot’s entire royal guard, Luna and the newly arrived Celestia all at once. I just had to keep moving.

I felt the tingling of magic whizzing by as spells were cast by the unicorn guards. A couple of spears came close to home, but Celestia instantly called those off. I was needed alive. I twirled through the houses, dodging all the spells conjured up. I was much too fast for the pegasi, so they weren’t hard to dodge. Now the problem was staying out of sight. All this commotion was causing the city to rouse. I couldn’t let them see! Or could I? I had been wishing for my situation to leak to the newspapers, hadn’t I? This could be my chance. Even Torchwood would eventually catch wind of tonight’s events if it turned out in print. I started letting the public catch the occasional suspicious glimpse of my silhouette while I pinpointed the liveliest areas. Then I gave them good views of the creature before them. I wasn’t satisfied until the first camera clicked. Then I just had to concentrate on my game of keep away.

I soon realized that I’d only been running from the guards. Where had the Princesses gone off to? And where was Discord? Wasn’t he supposed to be helping me? My heart dropped like a stone. What if he’d lured me out? Surely he knew about the protection spell? Why would he leave me to such a fate? Was he reverting back to his old chaotic self? Looking at the panic in the streets, it seemed reasonable enough. This was chaos for sure. That is, until I remembered that he was my friend. Discord would never do that to me, of this I was sure. But where was he? A flash of bright light from the castle balcony reminded me that I had bigger things to worry about. The Princesses were on their way.

My mind still whirled. If Discord knew about the protection spell, why hadn’t he teleported me straight home? Was the shielding blocking him from doing so? He’d gotten in alright. Then a thought came to me. Celestia had said that this spell kept evil out, but would it keep evil in as well? Looking back at the fresh squadron of pegasi soldiers coming after me, I didn’t see how I had a choice but to find out. My mighty wings took me higher and higher. Luna and Celestia’s horns were charging. I let flames flutter out from my hooves to show them that I was prepared to fight back. I wouldn’t need to; the barrier was too close now. I held my breath; closed my eyes. It was time to take a leap of faith. One more mighty stroke of my wings closed the distance.

Chapter 28: Wingless

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Chapter 28

The last thing I remembered was crashing into something. Hard. The force field, no doubt. Then, I fell. I fell through open air for what seemed like an eternity. At the time, I couldn’t comprehend that this would be my last free fall. Caught in a bubble of levitation magic, somepony led me away. I assumed it was one or both of the Princesses. I couldn’t tell after I blacked out, but when I woke, I faced them both.

“Go back to sleep,” Celestia crooned. “It will all be over when you wake.”

“What? What’s going-” the clanking of chains cut me off. My hind ankle had been encased in a shackle. My pupils turned to pinpoints of fear. “No.”

“Do not attempt to resist,” Luna warned.

“I would have rather put this off until the morning, but now I see that it can wait no longer,” Celestia sighed.

“No, please!”

“I’m sorry, Acrylic, but this is for your own good.”


“It’ll be okay, Acrylic. We’re right here.” I whirled to the comforting hoof of Rainbow.


“It’s going to be okay.” I kicked her hoof away.

“You betrayed me!”


“Some ‘Element of Loyalty’ you are! You abandoned me!”

“No! I didn’t! I just-”

“You’ve all betrayed me! You’re no friends of mine!”

“Acrylic,” Twilight tried to step forward.

“You stay away from me,” I warned, hooves flaring up. The others were behind her, all bearing their element amulets. The elements? I thought they weren’t required for the procedure. What were the elements doing here?

Rarity was in terrified tears. Fluttershy trembled in the corner. Applejack glared at the floor, apologetic tears in her eyes. Denying that I was her friend was one thing, but me saying that she wasn’t mine was something else. Pinkie’s mane had completely deflated. Rainbow’s expression, though, was perhaps the most pained. She ran from me like she might a nightmare, and eased Fluttershy into a sad hug of consolation.

“ACRYLIC!” Spike burst through the door, terrified at the realization of what was about to take place. Twilight moved to hold him back. She trusted her mentor too much. No pony made a move to stop the Princesses. Though it was apparent that neither took pleasure in what had to be done, I resolved that I hated them. I hated them more than the thestrals of old could have ever thought possible. I’d come to their world in search of love and peace. A home wasn’t much to ask. But this was what I had to show for it.

“Let us begin,” Luna thrummed. She set down the book she was studying, and charged her horn. Celestia did the same. I tugged at the unmoving shackle.

“You CAN’T!” I begged. They weren’t listening to my cries. I tried retracting my wings, hoping to inhibit their spell by denying access to the appendages.

At first, nothing happened. But then my wings were drawn back out, against my will. “No! NO! STOP IT!” They were being yanked gruffly out, and they were beginning to hurt. “NO!” Next, the white flames flickered up from my hooves. But for the first time in my life, I was burned by the fire. “GET OFF!” The flames had no intention of leaving me, no matter how violently I writhed. Rather, it accelerated their speed in succeeding to engulf my entire body. My wings were the last to be consumed by the flames. “NOOOOOO!” They burned. They burned hotter than desert sand. Hotter than magma. I could feel the fire dissolving my wings. They were fading away into thin air, just like my strength.

It was all over. Or, at least I thought. I lay in a broken heap in the floor when one last stripe of fire rose up. It traveled from my head all the way down to my flanks. That was where it really did damage. It felt like a hot iron being pressed against my hips. When I looked back to see what had happened, I let out a horrified scream. My cutie mark had all but faded away.

Time had stopped in the room. I panted, glaring back at the shameful hard-to-see imprint staining my flank. My cutie mark was so faded it could only be seen by squinting.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?” I screamed, coming nose-to-nose with Celestia. The intense heat had burnt the shackle away to mere ashes. Everypony was astonished. This must have been an unexpected side effect. I didn’t care. They had done this to me. Not only were my wings gone, but now my destiny was too. Who was I supposed to be now? Only a faint outline of where my paintbrush and puddle used to be remained on my hide. Barely visible scars stretched down my side where my wings used to be. Otherwise, I looked like an ordinary earth pony.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” I repeated. For once, Celestia didn’t have the answers.

“I-” I cut whomever spoke off with a thunderous whinny. My hooves came down hard on the ground, though the earth-shattering effect was null without my thestral powers. It still silenced the room. The force of my landing had thrown off my precious purple beret, causing it to tumble to the ground. I stared at it, almost brought back to my senses for a split second. Rarity had given me that. It was a sign of our friendship from day one.

No. No more. I had no friends. I was alone. Rearing, I stomped again to completely crush the limp fabric before storming off. This time, no guards stopped the charging mare blundering through the castle. I came to a stop of my own free will near the balcony. “Oh, no.” There stood Discord, still as a statue. They had been wearing the Elements of Harmony. They turned him back to stone. Even Fluttershy, who had publicly sworn never to use her element against him, had gone back on her promise.

My whole world was turned upside down. I draped my hooves over his shoulders, and wept. “I’m sorry. This was my fault.” I heard hoof steps finally pursuing me. I reached up close to Discord’s ear. “You said that you can still hear everything when you’re petrified, and I hope that’s true. When you’re released, come find me in the Frozen North. But come alone, and don’t tell anypony where I am.” I nuzzled his cheek. “I’ll miss you.” With that, I ran for the balcony.

“Acrylic, DON’T! You don’t have wings anymore, remember?” I ignored Rainbow Dash as I jumped over the edge.

Before Rainbow could reach me, I angled myself and used the shop tarps as trampolines to bounce unharmed down to the ground. I ducked and swerved through dark alleyways in an attempt to lose her. I finally slid to a stop beneath a wagon, but she didn’t notice when I disappeared. The dark skies didn’t help either. While she was trying to pick up my trail, I slipped off and headed for Canterlot’s train station.

The barrier posed no resistance to my presence any longer. I was able to sneak aboard a cargo car to the Crystal Empire unseen. From there, I could find a place to stay in the Frozen North, the one place they would never think to look for me. Rainbow knew that thestrals preferred hot climates. I was no longer a thestral, and I barely felt the first chill as snowflakes began floating up through the wooden slats. Even Discord himself had said that the Frozen North was worse than the Everfree. What pony in her right mind would settle up there? One as desperate as I to get away, I supposed.

I had to make a hasty escape from the train car before workers came to unload it. Upon stepping out of the wooden box, I was greeted by a sharp, cold wind. Without the wooden planks and cargo crates to buffer the freezing air, the cold finally seeped down directly into my bones. I shivered. One of Rarity’s scarves would do me good about now. I instantly put the name out of my mind, clenching my jaw at the memory.

The piercing wind erased my hoof prints almost as soon as they were made, which was all the better for me. With luck, nopony would know I was ever here. I trudged through the icy landscape, heading for the mountains. There had to be a cave I could use as shelter there. The explosive fire had burned away my hair ties, so now my mane was at the wind’s mercy. It was lashed to and fro, but the cold made it felt like whips were striking me. While it was in the ties, I hadn’t realized how long I’d let it grow. Now most of it dragged on the ground, allowing the tips to become soaked from the now. When they finally froze solid, I didn’t have to worry about them stinging me anymore.

Lost in an endless white wonderland, I lost all track of time. My frosted limbs felt frozen solid. I could almost hear them creaking. The cold was draining my energy at an extreme rate. I forced myself on. Still, there was no sign of any cave. Even trees were sparse. My entire body trembled from the cold. If I didn’t find shelter soon, I’d freeze to death. And yet, still, there was nothing. One hopeful thought still remained at the back of my mind. Discord knew I was out here. Though he was currently encased in stone, I doubted Fluttershy would agree to keep him that way for long. He knew the Frozen North. He would find me. I could only hope he would find me in time.

My limbs were growing weary. I could barely keep my eyes open. The howling wind whistling through the mountains had an almost soothing effect on my exhausted frame. I could fight it no longer. I collapsed into the snow then and there. It almost felt warm against my frozen body. The soft cushion was too welcoming. I lay down and went to sleep.

Chapter 29: Abrupt Motherhood

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Chapter 29
Abrupt Motherhood

I wasn’t all that sure that I would wake up at all. But that I did, on a cold, hard floor. For a moment, I feared that I had somehow been returned to that lonely Canterlot cell, but the crackle of a fireplace told me otherwise. I sat upright, noticing a thick woolen blanket wrapped around me. A puddle of water had formed around my head from where the ice had thawed from my mane. I swept the drenched blue hair out of the water, and wrung it dry. I pulled the blanket closer, and moved to the rug before the fire. Where was I? Who brought me here?

“Discord?” I hopefully called. There was no answer but my own voice echoing off the tall stone walls. The place almost looked like a castle, but it somehow seemed much too homely for that. Simple red tapestries hung from the wall, and torches offered illumination to the cracked stone bricks. I seemed to be in one of the main branches, where a warm hearth had been erected. An old woven rug lay before it, offering me some cushion as I thawed. Three massively long couches were stationed on each exposed side. They were so long they had to be placed a good distance from the fire, so I remained on the ground. Beyond the middle couch, though, I eyed a long hallway. A thick and heavy looking wooden door locked the snow out. A long window had been cut out on each side. I was reluctant to leave my warm spot by the fire, but finally made myself get up.

I’d started down the puddle-ridden walkway when something shifted behind me. I jumped at the sudden noise. Who- or what- was watching me? “Who’s there?” The form shrank back even further, creating more noise. It was coming from behind one of the couches. There was a side table beside the right one, pressed against the wall. My view was blocked by the bricks making up the fireplace, but I noted the flower vase atop shift as the figure beneath bumped the top of the table. I slowly and quietly crept around. Pressed into the corner beneath the table was a shivering, orange-scaled baby dragon. His eyes were shut tightly, as if that would make him invisible. My heart melted.

“Hey, there.” He jumped, hitting his head on the table. Realizing he couldn’t go up, or out without running into me, he tried to squeeze under the couch. He soon found it impossible, considering how heavy and low seated it was. He just huddled up in a quivering lump instead, hoping I was friendly. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” I bent over to his level, trying to get a clear look. He cast a distrusting glance my way. I gasped. “Blaze?”

“H-How do you know my name?” he sniffed.

“Blaze, it’s me. Remember, from the dragon migration? It’s Acrylic.”

“Mom’s friend?”

“That’s right. Come on out of there. You’re freezing.” He finally crawled out, though I had to lift the side table about an inch to give him more headroom. I drew him closer to me, letting my body heat warm his cold scales. “What are you doing back here when there’s a nice warm fire just on the other side?”

“My brother says you can’t trust ponies.”

“I know what Garble thinks, but most ponies aren’t evil. Especially not after they’ve just been rescued,” I teased, nuzzling my gratitude. “Did you not recognize me, hon?”

“You don’t have wings anymore,” he pointed out. “And your cutie mark is gone.”

“I know,” I sighed, gently lifting him back up onto my back. “Truly evil ponies did this to me.”

“Ponies took your wings?” he tried to hide in my mane, looking back at his own wings.

“They thought I was dangerous. So they tried to make me like them,” I answered, bringing him to the fireplace and wrapping him in the woolen sheets. “But I’m nothing like them. And I never will be.”

“What about the pony who came with you the first time? Where’s he?”

“I wish I knew, Blaze.” I bit my lip, refusing to let the hatchling see me cry. “What about Ignition? Where’s the rest of your family? And what are you doing so far away from the dragon craters?” Blaze huddled closer to me.

“Mom didn’t want to leave us, so she took Garble and I with her. We were going to find a new home where no one would bother us again. But then we got caught in a snowstorm. Mom crashed, but got us here. We couldn’t find Garble. He must’ve got lost in the storm. She told me to stay here while she went out to look for him.”

“You mother is out in that?” I looked out the windows at the snow being dumped from the sky. If I thought I had a hard time out in the snow, a dragon would freeze twice as quickly. If Ignition was still ill, she’d never last!

“I tried to go out to look for her once, but I only found you.” I nuzzled him once more.

“Thank you, Blaze. You saved my life.”

“Garble might not approve, but I knew it was what Mom would do,” he blushed. The doors smashed open behind us, and I whirled to face the intruder.

“GARBLE!” The teenaged dragon was shivering, and almost completely covered in icicles. I jumped up and ran to close the doors behind him, shutting out the cold. His steps were small and stiff, and he was barely conscious. It looked like hypothermia. That was not good news for a dragon. I supported him on one side, and he finally collapsed altogether. Even Blaze tried to help in holding up his other side. Together, we brought him to the wooly bed Blaze had previously occupied.

“Quick, Blaze, I need you to round up every blanket and sheet in this place,” I ordered.

“Okay,” came the worried yet willing answer. He was reluctant to leave his injured brother, but would do whatever it took to save him. Meanwhile, I began scouring the halls for a large bowl or a tub. In what appeared to be a kitchen or mess hall, I finally identified a suitable basin. I sprinted outside, gathered as much snow as it would hold, and carried it inside. Blaze had erected a large mound of every cloth he could find, from low hanging tapestries and washcloths to blankets and rugs.

“Can you melt this?” I offered the bowl, wrapping the shivering dragon in the largest and warmest fabrics.

“I can try.” He dragged it over to the stone floor where nothing flammable could be ignited, and summoned as much ruby red dragon fire as he could manage. After a lot of huffing and puffing on his part, we were left with a steaming bowl of clean water. I dipped a few of the washcloths in it, wringing out access water. Blaze clutched his brother while I slowly but gingerly dabbed small amounts of warm liquid onto his scales. Dip, drip, dab, repeat. Dip, drip, dab, repeat. I kept this up until all of Garble’s scales glistened with moisture. Then I dried him back off. I didn’t know what else I could do for him.

“Let him sleep now, Blaze,” I directed.

“He’s going to be okay, right?” Blaze asked, tucking another pillow under him.

“Right,” I half-heartedly answered. I couldn’t convince myself, but it seemed to give the hatchling courage. He crawled under the sheets next to Garble, offering what body heat he had. I took a place on the velvet couch, keeping watch over the two. He had to pull through. I couldn’t bear to lose anyone else so dear to me. I was worried about Ignition too, and I really wanted to be out searching for her. Still, I couldn’t leave her boys in this condition. The minute Garble woke up, I‘d go out searching.

“What happened?” My eyes fluttered open from my nap on the couch. Garble was now sitting upright, still smothered in the sheets, rubbing his head in an attempt to clear the haze filling it.

“You’re okay!” Blaze joyfully squealed, jumping up into his arms. Garble began to return the embrace, but eyed my tender smile from the side.

“Of course I’m okay. I’m no crybaby.” He removed the hatchling, clearing his throat from embarrassment.

“It’s good to see you again, Garble. How’re you feeling?”

“Fine, fine,” he huffed. “Where’s Mom?”

“I don’t know,” I honestly replied. I picked up a discarded cloak from the heap. It was wrinkled, but would serve as ample protection from the cold.

“She went out looking for you,” Blaze answered.

“She didn’t come back?” Garble looked worried.

“I’m going to look for her. You both stay here. Understand?”

“But that’s what she told me, and she never came back,” Blaze protested.

“You two will freeze the minute you step out that door. I’m best suited for the cold; I‘m going.”

“I’m going with you.”

“You especially, young sir, are going to stay right here. You nearly died of hypothermia from staying out in the cold so long. Stay here with your brother and rest.” Garble looked down at the pleading eyes of his younger sibling, realizing that he did have a responsibility to watch over him while his mother was gone. “I’ll be back soon.” I picked up a scarf, tucked it beneath my cloak, and made for the doorway. The dragons only looked on as I left.

Bitter cold again greeted me. The hood of the cloak shielded my eyes from the stinging missiles we called snowflakes. The sun reflecting off the snow was almost blinding, and I eventually had to fashion my scarf into a snow visor. A few trees had provided enough shelter from the wind for a few footprints to remain intact. These looked like Garble’s prints. I followed them, hoping to get the general idea of the direction I should be heading in. I picked up a couple of sticks to poke into the snow covered soil as markers. If the wind picked up any more, I’d need something more reliable than snow impressions to mark my way back. I silently cursed Celestia. Wings would make this go three times as fast, if not more. My only consolation was that the downfall of snow had lessened. At least now I could see where I was going.

How long had it been? An hour? Two? The sun provided a little warmth, so I walked on the outskirts of the tree line where the evergreens couldn’t cast cold shadows. I was still headed in the general direction of where Garble’s footsteps had led me before I lost the tracks. I was running out of twigs I could use to mark my way, so I started back into the woods for more. However, something bright and golden sparkled in my eye as I bent down, catching me off guard. It had twinkled from beneath a bush. It was a dragon scale. My heart caught in my throat. This belonged to Ignition, I was sure of it. I abandoned my search for the twigs and galloped off.

“IGNITION?” I screamed to the mountains. My voice bounced back as an echo, but I received no real response. I ran on. The trenches in the snow my hooves created served as my only marker, now. “IGNITION!” Despite my cries, no one answered. Nevertheless, I eventually found the yellow dragoness by following a trail of previously shed yellow scales in the snow. She was unmoving in the snow at the bottom of a valley. I slid down the side of the hill down to her side. “Ignition?” I nudged her head. “Come on, come on! Get up! It’s Acrylic. See? Remember me?”

“Acrylic,” the weak voice escaped her lips.

“Yes! Yes! You’re okay. You’re going to be okay. Come on, get up! There’s shelter not far from here. We have to get you warm.” She could hardly move her head, let alone her entire body. I was not giving up on my friend like this. I jumped over her and tried pushing her to her feet. “Get... up...” I grunted, pushing with all my might. There was no way an earth pony like me could lift a ten ton dragon. Actually, it was more like seven tons, now, she’d lost so much weight. Either way, I couldn’t get her to budge.

“Stop,” she finally moaned. “Leave me.”

“I am not giving up on you so easily, old girl. Come on, you have to get up! Do it for your boys!” Her eyes became pained at the mention of her two beloved sons.

“I can’t.”

“They’re waiting for you! Both of them! Get up!”

“I can’t be there for them anymore.”

“Yes, you can. Blaze needs you. Garble will never admit it, but he does too.”

“I’m too far gone, baby.” She used the last of her strength to offer a wing as shelter. I tearfully crawled under it, pressing close to those golden scales in a futile attempt to warm her up. My tears drenched her hide.

“Don’t leave,” I sobbed.

“I’m sorry.”

“MOM!” I peered out from under her wing in time to see Garble swoop down.

“Garble,” she tearfully sighed.

“I told you to stay with Blaze.”

“Mom?” He noted my shaken, quaking form beneath her wing. Everything crashed down on him in a tidal wave of realization. “No... no! Mom, get up!”

“I’m not strong enough, baby,” she crooned, welcoming him to her other wing. The rough and tough bully of a dragon broke down and wept, right then and there. He hugged his dying mother tightly, as though he’d never let go. “Acrylic?” Ignition finally groaned.

“I’m here,” I answered, rushing to her head again.

“I need you to promise me something.”

“Anything,” I vowed. “Tell me.”

“You have to take care of my boys for me. Promise me that?” I looked up at Garble’s defeated form opposite me. He met my eyes, but I saw only sadness in them. He looked away, a fresh flow of tears cascading down.

“I promise.”

“Thank you.” She lay back down. “Garble?”


“I love you.” She closed her eyes for the last time. “Tell Blaze I love him, too.”

Chapter 30: Discord the Mediator

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Chapter 30
Discord the Mediator

Her body was already cold and dead. I bowed my head in grief, tears dripping down to melt the snow. Garble had held it together well enough until now, but he finally broke down. He sobbed uncontrollably, trying to bury himself in his mother’s scales. I slowly moved to the other side to be with him. I removed my cloak, and draped it over his shoulders. He was my responsibility now. Him and Blaze both. I didn’t expect to receive any kind of acknowledgement whatsoever, but in his distress, he welcomed himself to my open arms. I stroked his scales, repeating that everything would be okay. I wasn’t sure if he believed me, but letting him mourn helped a great deal.

I’d have let him stay put, but now I had to think as a mother did. That was more or less what I’d become. If I let him stay here for too long, he’d freeze to death.

“We have to go,” I reminded, gently prying him off. He sniffed, wiped his eyes one last time, and nodded. I was grateful that he offered no resistance. “I’ll come back to bury her tomorrow.”

“Don’t bother.” Garble shuffled forward a few steps, headed for the cliff base behind his mother’s body. Before I could stop him, he’d pounded an immense boulder out of the way. A rumbled from above. My ears flattened. I knew that sound. Avalanche.

Garble took to the air without me. “WAIT!” I cried. I had no wings; getting out of the valley before the landslide overtook me was next to impossible. What was Garble trying to do? Did he somehow blame me for her death? Was this his way of getting back at me? By killing me? Even so, I had to try to escape. Blaze was waiting back home.

I sprinted for the hillside, the tremors caused by the avalanche stumbling me at times. I could feel the cold waves of loose snowflakes beginning to come down on my neck. I’d only just reached the base of the hill. I wasn’t going to make it!

I found a few hoof holds in the rock face, already covered with snow. They were buried almost as soon as I’d pushed off by the snow now pooling up over them. It was coming up too fast. I couldn’t keep up. “GARBLE!” I called. “HELP!” I was still climbing, neck deep in snow. I couldn’t find new hoof holds. I was drowning in a frozen pit. “GARBLE!”

In a flash of red, the dragon swooped down and dragged me back to solid ground. I was unceremoniously dropped to the surface, where I lay in a panting, shivering heap. I was about to let him have it, but then I realized that he was just as exhausted as I. I probably was much too heavy for him. He looked out over the white sea.

“Dad ended up at the bottom of a landslide, too. It only seemed fitting.” I moved closer, finally realizing the purpose of the avalanche. “I know Mom probably told you that Bran was the one who killed Dad,” he went on.

“She did,” I sadly confirmed.

“That was just the grief talking. It really was the landslide that killed him. I was there.” I almost went limp.

“I am so sorry.”

“So was I.” We looked on, paying our last respects at the impromptu funeral. I couldn’t believe all that this kid had been through. Watching his father die, and now his mother? No wonder he was so troubled! I had a lot of work ahead of me. “Are you really going to take care of us, now?”

“I will, Garble. I promised your mother, and now I’m promising you. I will always be there for you.” He only nodded, eyes still trained on the snow. When he shivered, I knew it was time to go. “Come on. Blaze is waiting.”

“What am I going to tell him?”

“The truth,” I finally answered, adjusting the cloak to cover his wings. “He has to know.” I looked him over. “Do you want me to tell him?”

“No. She was our mother. It’s my responsibility.” His head remained bowed, disheartened at the unpleasant news he knew would have to be delivered. I would respect his decision. I stood, but turned to wait for him to join me. Drawing the cloak tighter, he shuffled along behind.

I took the markers down as we went, though I knew I would never forget this trail. Not after today. Garble wouldn’t, either. The bare trees’ bowed branches almost seemed to weep with us. Even the pines somehow looked sad. The wind sang a sorrowful tune. Nothing was said during the trip back. However, we soon spotted Blaze waiting outside the castle’s doorway.

“There you are!” he ran up as fast as his little legs would carry him to his brother. “You left me! I was afraid you weren’t coming back!”

“Get inside, Blaze,” Garble tried to order. His voice, for once, had faltered. The confident youth was no longer there. A scared, uncertain dragon stood in his place.

“Where’s Mom?” The baby dragon looked around for his mother.

“I said get inside,” Garble said, a little more forcefully.

“Where is she?”

“Please, Blaze?” I tried. He seemed to already know that something was wrong, but Garble still had to tell him outright. His tail dragged and his wings drooped as he moped back indoors. The fire had been renewed with Blaze’s own ruby red flame, and we all crowded around it to dry off. No one said anything for a long while.

“Mom’s still coming back, isn’t she?”

“She’s dead, Blaze,” Garble outright but insensitively told him. The hatchling’s eyes grew wide and wet with fear.

“No...” he whispered. “Mom can’t be dead! Where’d she go? Garble, where did she go?”

“SHE’S GONE!” Garble shouted, grief taking hold. “She’s gone,” he repeated more quietly. Tears welled up in Blaze’s eyes, and I pulled him close.

“Shh,” I cooed. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! She’s gone!”

“I know, baby. I know.” I let him cry, rocking him in my arms.

“Who’s going to take care of us now?” I cast one last look at Garble before answering.

“I promised your mother that I would.”

“You? But you’re a pony.”

“That makes me no less capable of taking care of you.” He still looked unsure. “Blaze, I can promise you this. As long as I live, I will always be here for you. Okay?” He searched my face for honesty before finally sniffing.


“Any sign of her?”

“No! It’s like she fell off the face of Equestria!” Rainbow swooped in for a landing from her last patrol. The six friends had combed all of Canterlot looking for the gray earth pony. Even Celestia had commissioned ‘missing’ signs to be posted around Equestria. She hadn’t returned home, but she wasn’t anywhere else, either. Rainbow Dash, who thought she knew her so well, had checked every place she thought she may find her, including the edges of the Everfree.

“My animals haven’t seen her, either,” Fluttershy spoke up, greeting a committee of the forest critters.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Twilight groaned. “Where could she be?”

“Um, I have an idea,” Fluttershy started.

“She couldn’ta gone far,” Applejack muttered.

“Uh, excuse me?”

“Well, she’s nowhere in Canterlot or Ponyville. How much farther could she have gone?”

“Could I just-”

“She’s had two days of travel time. I might be able to whip up some calculations to estimate...”

“Hey!” Fluttershy murmured at the top of her lungs. Such a dramatic increase in volume from a whisper to a murmur finally attracted the attention of her friends.

“What is it, Fluttershy?”

“Uh, well, I thought we could ask Discord.”


“He might know some kind of way to track her. He’s her friend, too.”

“I don’t know...”

“He did attack Canterlot...”

“He was only helping Acrylic. And besides, you promised we could release him as soon as Princess Celestia performed her spell on Acrylic. That was too days ago, and he’s still locked in stone.”

“Fluttershy’s right. We did promise,” Twilight sighed.

“I still don’t like it.”

“This could be our chance to get Acrylic back. Don’t you want to take it?”

“I guess...”

“Alright, girls. Let’s get our elements and head back up to the balcony.” Most of the ponies had forgotten to take theirs off, but Acrylic’s harsh words had caused Rainbow to leave hers behind. Rainbow didn’t cause any delay in the procedure, for she zoomed back to her room where the element had been left and made it back just as the others did.

“Alright, ladies. Formation!” Twilight directed. The six mares formed the V shape without delay, and Twilight activated the elements. Somehow, the flashing lights and rainbow seemed rushed and unceremonious as they freed the draconequus from his stone prison for the third time. He bellowed upon the release.

“You girls must stop doing that,” he complained, stretching out the kinks in his neck. “Especially you, Fluttershy. I thought we agreed you would never use your element against me.”

“And I thought we agreed you were going to stop spreading chaos,” she countered.

“I changed the guards back to their proper size in the end, didn’t I? And this time, I do believe it was you ponies spreading more chaos than me!”


“There’s nothing more chaotic than changing who somepony truly is. Especially when that somepony is your friend.”

“That’s exactly what you did to us when you turned us against our elements,” Twilight realized with a start.

“I never thought I’d say this, but... they’re right, you know,” Rarity sorrowfully put in.

“Yeah, well... now we need you to help us get our friend back,” Rainbow indignantly put in. She refused to accept that she’d done such an awful thing.

“Aw, chased her off, have you?” Discord rolled over in a cloud hammock. “That’s not my problem. Why don’t you find her yourself?”

“Because none of my tracking spells are working,” Twilight begged.

“Well, that’s because you’re searching for a pony that doesn’t exist anymore.”


“Think about it. The Acrylic you knew is the one your spell will be searching for. But then you changed her. She’s not the same, now. You won’t be able to find her like that.”

“Then how am I supposed to know who she’s become to be able to find her?”

“You won’t.”

“Please, Discord. Can’t your magic detect her?”

“Sorry. Not even I can do that.” He was surprised to look down on the genuinely mournful faces of the ponies. He sighed in frustration. What a softie these mares had turned him into! “But, I may be able to get a message through to that stallion friend of hers. Porch Wood, wasn’t it?”


“Whatever. What’s the note?” Reading glasses suddenly appeared on his face, a scroll and ink-dripping quill in claw. The ponies looked at each other, hoping they wouldn’t have to be first. “Well, come on. I haven’t got all day.”

“Dear Torchwood...” Rainbow began. Then she came to a stop, tapping her chin.

“Ooh, such poetry, there. Shall I leave it at that?”

“Look, it would be a lot easier if I could just tell him myself. Can’t you bring us to him?” Rainbow asked. Discord rubbed his chin.

“I can bring you to him,” he finally decided.

“What?” With a snap of his paw, Rainbow Dash and Discord were gone.

“A little head’s up would be nice,” Rainbow growled, rubbing her head.

“As I recall, you’re the one that requested it,” he shot back. “And look at that! We’re already here. Make this quick; I’ve got quite a busy schedule planned out for today.” He glanced down at a wrist watch and referred to a planner for emphasis.

Rainbow finally had a chance to look around her. The scene almost caused her to melt. Thestrals of every shape and size were gathered in the clearing. Tents lined the tree lines, with a roaring, multi-colored bonfire placed in the center. It was a pitiful sight. This was where Acrylic used to live? It looked like she’d been brought up in a refugee camp. Perhaps most astounding of all was seeing the chocolate coated stallion Torchwood sitting off in the distance, dragon wings spread wide for the world to see. One by one, locals began staring at the stray pegasus. Discord was nowhere in sight. The disapproving glares caused her to gulp. She finally headed to the one place she knew would be safe.

“Hey, Torchwood!” The stallion turned around, and froze. Quite a group had gathered to see what the outsider was doing in thestral borders. She attracted even more attention upon calling out the name of one of their own.

“Rainbow Dash? What are you doing here?”

“I-” She was taken aback by his angry tone.

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m here because of Acrylic!” Even more gasps rippled through the crowd. Rainbow realized her bad choice of words as soon as they came out of her mouth.

“No... she promised me she wouldn’t tell you!”

“No, no, no, she didn’t tell me. It’s just... there’s been some... trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“See...” her voice cracked.

“Come now, Torchwood. Don’t you read the news? Your girlfriend has made the headlines of every newspaper in Equestria!” Torchwood yanked the offered newspaper out of the draconequus’s claws, not questioning where he came from. His eyes grew wide at the featured picture, then even wider upon reading the matching article.


“I’m afraid so,” Discord hummed, swinging up onto his back in the air. “Though in my defense, I did try to stop it. It only got me turned to stone again.”

“You deserved it!” Rainbow shouted back. Angry murmurs were sweeping through the crowd as the Ponyville Confidential paper, Canterlot Daily, Vanhoover Gazette and many more of Discord’s offerings were passed around. Torchwood was unmoving, petrified in sheer shock. His parents gasped upon reading the headlines: Wedding Gone Wrong. Thestrals are BACK? Dark Duo: Changelings and Thestrals Crash Royal Wedding. On the front of every paper, an image of frightful Acrylic in full thestral form could be seen fleeing royal guards.

“She exposed us!” an angry voice called from the crowd. An angry mob would have formed if it wasn’t for Rainbow’s interruption.

“She saved you! If it wasn’t for Acrylic, the Changeling Queen would have taken over all of Equestria by now! That means you, Mister.”

“Where is she now?” Torchwood demanded.

“That’s just it. We don’t know,” Rainbow admitted.

“How can you not know?”

“Long story short, these ponies thought they could ‘purify’ Acrylic by removing her wings, and now she’s fled the city. She’s quite good at disappearing, if she can even fool the Princesses,” Discord unceremoniously blabbed but in an almost congratulatory voice.

“What?” Torchwood gasped.

“...and her cutie mark kinda... disappeared in the process,” Rainbow winced.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” Torchwood looked about ready to tear into the pegasus. Indeed, he reared, ready to smash into them. His comrades were more than willing to do the same. Discord teleported both of them out of Midnight Armor Sector Two before they were mobbed.

Torchwood’s hooves dug only into the swampy soil. Angry flames crackled where he landed, instantly sucking all moisture from the surrounding ground. It looked cracked and dry where he left it. He snorted in fury. How dare they? Before, he’d been willing to accept the ponies as Acrylic had been, but this was the last straw. This was proof that they would never be accepted into their society. Acrylic and her hope to rejoin society had become something of an icon to the thestrals. A symbol of hope. That hope was dead. They would never be welcomed by the other ponies as his dear mare had dreamed. So, Torchwood thought, we’ll just have to take it ourselves.

After dropping Rainbow Dash back off with her friends, Discord was left to his own devices. Of course he’d heard Acrylic when he was trapped in stone. Now it was time to visit her. The first place in the Frozen North he’d check was his own castle, of course. That run down ruin was where he used to reside before he ruled Equestria. Unfortunately, the spell that had caused his being turned to stone... normalized the place. Rather than going to the trouble of fixing it all up when he returned, he’d decided to start fresh in the Everfree (or rather, over the Everfree on a floating island of a palace) where he was close to the thestrals. He found that they quite an enjoyable breed, once you got to know them. But that was beside the point. The point was that his old castle would serve as the perfect shelter from somepony so desperate to hide, and it would be the first place he looked.

It was day three of living in the dusty old mansion. So far, the boys and I had been treating each other more like roommates, though on occasion I sometimes did have to mediate when things got a little rough.

Though the mansion was immense and seemingly infinite, it felt like close quarters. None of us wanted to leave the warmth of the fireplace. We’d all been camping out there. Whenever the boys did leave the room, though, I asked that they at least wear a scarf to wrap themselves in. Garble complained at first, but then realizing that no one was paying him any mind, seemed to find a black scarf he wasn’t completely embarrassed to wear. Blaze had a smaller red scarf, but sometimes went as far as to add mittens and a toboggan to match. The hat did have to be rather long and stretchy to cover his spines, however. I, on the other hoof, had done my best to hem the cloak to my tastes. I was no Rarity, and the edges seemed ragged where I tried to shorten it to keep it from dragging on the ground. I’d taken to wearing the cloak even in the living room; its long cape covered all but my legs, which meant that I wasn’t constantly reminded of my missing cutie mark and wings.

There was a little preserved food in the mansion’s pantry, but that wasn’t going to last long. The dragons didn’t care for the vegetarian diet, either. Surprisingly, I found no jewelry in the entire castle they could pry gemstones from. A bachelor must have lived here.

I was trying to fashion a set of boots out of some old scraps so I could go out and see what food I could find when a voice interrupted my work.

“Yaah! I sure hope you aren’t thinking of wearing that getup.”

“DISCORD!” I abandoned my work and pounced the draconequus. My cry had attracted the attention of the dragons, who now looked on from the doorway. “You got my message!”

“Of course I did. You don’t quite know how to ‘whisper,’ do you?”

“I guess I hadn’t quite come off of yelling at Celestia,” I blushed. Discord had been eyeing my cape all this time. He couldn’t hold back any longer.

“May I?” I knew what he wanted. I shut my eyes and nodded. He gingerly picked up the edge of the cloak and peeled it away. “I didn’t quite believe it when they told me it’d taken your cutie mark, too.”

“Well, it did,” I accidentally snapped. He dropped the cloak and backed away, claws raised to signal for peace.

“Who is this guy?” Garble demanded.

“Oh, look! You have friends to accompany you in your exile. How adorable!” He pinched Blaze’s cheek before he was swatted away.

“Blaze, Garble, this is Discord.”

“Spirit of Chaos,” he added with a mock bow. Garble wasn’t quite sure what to make of the creature.

“Yeah... okay.”

“Now I’m curious. What are dragons doing this far north?”

“We were moving away.”

“Isn’t it a bit early for the next dragon migration?”

“We left the flock.”

“Ah, drifters, I see. Running away?”

“I’d never run from anyone!” Garble indignantly stomped.

“Mom wanted to move,” Blaze sadly recalled.

“Where are you hiding a dragon that size in a place like this?” Discord asked, looking around as if expecting to see the dragoness pop out of the shadows.

“Discord,” I hissed. Upon attracting his attention, I shook my head to tell him to cut it out. He finally realized what I meant.

“Oh.” Blaze shivered, and took a step closer to his brother. Garble slowly accepted him under our watchful gaze. I pulled Discord aside.

“Their mother charged me with the responsibility of their upbringing before she died.”

“Oh, poor you.”

“This is no joking matter, Discord,” I chided, dead serious. “I can’t care for them properly here. There’s no food; they have to wear those ridiculous clothes indoors just to keep from freezing to death. Do you know of anywhere else I could take them? And a safe way to get them there?”

“Hmm...” he thrummed in thought. “Safe for them, yes. But not for you. It would be all too easy for somepony to find you. No, I’m afraid if you want to keep a low profile, you’ll just have to stay here.”

“What am I supposed to do for them?” I sighed.

“I didn’t say that I couldn’t help,” he interrupted. “Infinite food supplies aren’t too hard to conjure up. And heating? No problem.” A smirk was plastered on his face as he snapped his fingers to perform the magic trick with his eyes shut. Rather sophisticated looking ventilation ducts appeared out of nowhere on the walls, and a gust of warm air washed over us. Garble instantly yanked the scarf off, realizing what had happened. “I believe you’ll find a fresh food store in the pantry. You dragons prefer gemstones, right? I’d check the cellar, if I were you.”

“What cellar?”

“You mean you haven’t explored my marvelous castle yet?”

“Your castle?” Garble snorted, folding his arms.

“Too cold,” I answered, choosing not to question his choice of words.

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore. Follow me!” Discord practically dragged the three of us around the palace, giving us the grand tour. I got the idea that he lived here long ago, which was reinforced by how well he seemed to know the castle. Every so often, he stopped and made a few renovations, disappointed to see what a state it had ended up in after so many years. Blaze seemed quite entertained by the magic, and started making special requests. The first time Garble tried to make a ‘suggestion,’ he was answered with a flat “No.” Those two weren’t going to get along.

“And this used to be the office, but if you give me just a minute, it will be the most extravagant art studio in Equestria!” he grinned, looking down at me.

“Thank you, Discord, but no,” I declined.

“What? Why not?”

“That’s not who I am, anymore.” I sadly looked back at the cloak, and uncovered my blank flank. “I used to be a great artist. No more.”

“Sure you are. And you don’t need a tattoo to tell you that.”

“It’s more than just a tattoo, it’s a cutie mark! You know that.”

“Same difference. The point is, you earned your cutie mark because you painted, not the other way around. You’re still more than capable of wielding a brush.” A suit of armor materialize on his lithe body, and behind the protection of a tiny metal shield, tried sparring with me using a long-handled paintbrush.

“It hurts,” I shook my head. “It hurts too much.”

“Well, you’re going to need something to do in your spare time. And it looks like you’re going to have a lot of it.”

“It’s a big place. Somepony has to maintain it. And kids are a lot of work; I don’t think I want to know how much harder dragons will be,” I teased, nudging indignant Garble.

“Oh, all right,” he caved. A mischievous look gleamed in his eyes. “But now that you mention it, I do believe it’s about time to begin preparing dinner for the young ones.”


“You’re the one who wanted to be the stay-at-home-mom.”

“Uh... okay.” Baffled that Discord of all creatures would bring up such a trivial matter, I stumbled off. Since when did he think about dinner times and... structure? Even the reformed Discord liked disorder and chaos. Still, he had one thing right. I’d chosen this, so I needed to start thinking about those ‘trivial matters.’

I found my way back to the kitchen, slightly overwhelmed at the idea of cooking. There was a reason why my special talent hadn’t been in cuisine. Still, I knew a recipe for gemstone casserole. My jaws would no longer take the incredible strain of crunching a gemstone; I’d just add extra green beans for myself.

Chapter 31: Exile

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Chapter 31

“Listen here, and listen well,” Torchwood thundered from the center of the clearing. A makeshift stage had been formed out of a large tree stump, which every thestral in the Midnight Armor encampment now swarmed. “Thestrals have been exposed to the entirety of Equestria by the mare Acrylic Storm. She is one of our own.”

“Then she is a traitor!” one called.

“She is an icon!” Torchwood countered. The murmurings hushed. “She saved Equestria from the changeling menace. And in return? Her wings and cutie mark both were removed by the alicorn princesses!” Horror ripped through the multitudes in the forms of angry gasps and whispers. “This is the proof we have been waiting for that thestrals will never be welcomed back to Equestria. So tell me, then. Will we cower in the shadows of the Everfree for the rest of our lives?”

“NO!” came the powerful and unanimous response.

“Or will thestrals rise up once again?” Torchwood suggested.

“YES!” the crowd screamed.

“We will take it by FORCE,” he declared.


“The changelings failed, feeding off of the most powerful love known to pony kind!” a young pink mare from the group spoke up. “What do we have that the changelings didn’t?”

“The changelings were fools,” he bellowed back. “They sent their queen in alone to bring down the protection barrier. Even when they had Canterlot secured, they again divided, making themselves weak and exposed. But there is strength in numbers. Are we not many?” The audience roared in agreement. “And what’s more,” he added, “is that the Princesses trust me. In fact, they are looking for me as we speak. To deliver the ‘tragic’ news of Acrylic’s disappearance, no doubt. I can lead you all into the city, and when the time is right, we will strike back!”


“The Changelings demonstrated that Celestia can be defeated. First, we send our best fire dancers in to counter the Princesses’ power. We take them separately, when they are alone. Then, we separate the Elements of Harmony.”

“What about Cadence and Shining Armor? Their love defeated Chrysalis.”

“Divide them too! Then who will be left to challenge us?” The thestrals cheered beneath Torchwood. He stood proud from the tree stump where he stood. “Rally our brethren from every encampment in the Everfree! Tell them of our conquest! We need to ready every able stallion and willing mare for the battle to come. Be patient, my comrades. Equestria shall not be subdued in a day.”

The thestrals dispersed, excited chattering filling the valley as every messenger took to the air to spread the news. Meanwhile, Torchwood returned to his tent to catch up on some much needed rest. Planning revenge on Equestria had drained his energy. He circled the mound of pillows he called a bed, and looked over at the single picture in his ‘home.’ Acrylic had painted it for him long ago. The ponies in the picture were so happy. It depicted them at the beginning of their relationship. He wished he could feel that way again. “Don’t worry, Acrylic,” he yawned, laying his head down on the cushions. “We will avenge you.”

Rainbow was overwhelmed. There was an entire camp of angry thestrals somewhere in the Everfree, and Torchwood was one of them! Should she tell the Princesses? Torchwood didn’t seem like the megalomaniac type that would come back to take over Equestria, but what about his friends? Now that they knew, would they come to avenge their lost mare?

“Rainbow Dash?”

“Hey, Spike.” Rainbow glided to the ground from the cloud she’d been lounging on. “What’s up?”

“I was just thinking...”

“About Acrylic?” he nodded. This was the first time the two had actually talked about the matter of thestrals together. Acrylic had informed them both that the other knew, and that it was okay to speak of it amongst themselves, but they were too afraid of letting something slip to say a word. “What’s on your mind?”

“She asked me not to say anything, but I don’t see how it matters now,” he sighed. “She’s not the only one.”

“No kidding,” Rainbow huffed.

“You know?”

“I found out by accident. When Discord teleported me to see Torchwood, he landed us right in the middle of an Everfree camp full of angry thestrals.”

“I was just thinking... what happens to the rest of them now?”

“What do you mean?”

“The whole world knows about thestrals, now. Are the Princesses going to take all of their wings, too?” Rainbow was struck silent.

“I... don’t know...” she mumbled. “They better not; they’ll have an angry mob after them for missing cutie marks and body parts.” She looked at her own feathered wings and shuddered. “Maybe she’ll have us try using the elements?”

“It’s too risky. Acrylic’s... sentence... already made them mad. I don’t think Celestia would risk them turning an entire army’s worth of ponies completely evil.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“But what else is she going to do?”

“We could always ask,” Rainbow prompted. “You can write a letter!”

“Twilight told me not to,” he blushed.

“Oh, come on. You’re just as curious as I am.”

“Twilight says that Celestia’s been beating herself up over the whole incident. She says we need to let her recover.”

“Well, fortunately for us, I don’t have to listen to Twilight.” Rainbow spread her wings.

“Wait! Where are you-”

“I’m going to Canterlot, Spike. Are you with me or not?”


“SPIKE! I have to do this. If we don’t get her back soon... I’ll never forgive myself.” Her sad eyes said it all. Then, she took off without the dragon.

Canterlot wasn’t nearly as far a flight as Vanhoover, and she was there within the hour demanding an audience with the Princess. Guards had to hold the pegasus back, she was getting so worked up.

“Let her through,” a deep voice boomed from behind them. The princess of the night stood at the top of the stairwell, watching the scene unfold below her. The guards instantly released the pegasus, and she indignantly flew to Luna’s side.

“What brings you here today, Rainbow Dash?”

“I’ve been... thinking...”

“The thestrals weigh on your mind, as well?”

“Yeah,” she admitted. “What’s going to happen to the rest of them? Acrylic’s family?”

“Sister and I have been pondering the same question,” Luna told her. “Celestia believes she has made a mistake in attempting to change the thestrals. She is barely able to keep up with her royal duties.”

“What do you think?”

“About what?”

“Do you think you did the right thing, taking her wings?” Luna’s expression softened, revealing how tired and stressed it really looked underneath.

“No.” Luna’s horn illuminated the hallway they stood in to open the door to Celestia’s chambers. Upon realizing where they were, Rainbow took a deep breath. She’d never been on such familiar grounds with royalty before. But she soon saw why Luna chose to bring her here. Princess Celestia looked like she had encountered many sleepless nights since Acrylic’s disappearance a week ago. The white alicorn was stationed on her bed, looking absentmindedly out the immense stained glass window in front of the balcony.

“Sister?” Luna called. Celestia barely flinched.

“Your Highness,” Rainbow cleared her throat. Celestia finally turned around.

“Rainbow Dash. It is good to see you.” She got up and slowly plodded for the side table where tea had been set out.

“You too, your Highness.”

“Are your friends here as well?”

“No, your Highness, just me.”

“I see. What brings you to Canterlot alone?”

“I just had to know.” Celestia turned her back to the two, pretending to fix her tea while she was really avoiding the question. “What’s going to happen to all the others?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “They cannot be permitted to rejoin Equestria, but they can no longer be ignored, either.”

“But why can’t they come back? They haven’t done anything wrong!” Celestia pondered this for a moment. “You sentenced Acrylic before she ever committed a crime. We all saw how that turned out. Shouldn’t we at least give the rest of them a chance? You did as much for Discord, and he didn’t turn out so bad.” The Princess had been defeated.

“You are right, Rainbow Dash.”

“I am?”

“She is?”


“But sister, do you not recall what happened a thousand years ago?”

“The memory is fuzzy because it was a thousand years ago,” Celestia retorted. “We tried to vanquish the same enemy from arising again when there was no enemy to be vanquished. It is time to move on, Sister. We must forgive the crimes of long ago and make up for our own mistakes in the present.” Luna bowed her head.

“Then we are agreed.”


“So, the thestrals...”

“Will be welcome to come back to Equestria.”

“We must wait for them to come to us,” Luna reminded. “We do not know where they are.”

“I do!” The Princesses turned in surprise to the elated Rainbow Dash. “They’ve been camping in the Everfree for generations! I don’t know exactly where... just somewhere deep inside.”

“Thank you, Rainbow Dash. I will dispatch my finest messengers immediately with the offering of a peace treaty.”

“YES!” Rainbow did a happy flip midair, bringing the first real smile to Celestia’s face since the wedding.

“Blaze? Garble? I’m going out for more firewood. I won’t be long,” I promised, grabbing my cloak from the hook. As it turned out, Discord had chased me away so he could make a few last minute renovations behind my back. Even my cloak had been upgraded to a heavy coat, light blue in color with thick insulation. (I still had a much lighter breezy blue shawl to wear inside to cover my flanks.) The pitiful rags I’d called boots turned to heavy duty snow boots to match when I returned. I now slipped them over my hooves, wrapping up in the fleece-lined clothing.

“Need help?”

“No, thanks. You know how I feel about you going out there.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The adolescent huffed, and returned to whatever it is he’d been doing before I interrupted him. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and grin. Teenagers. I tucked my scarf in closer and headed out the door. There was a sled waiting for me. I slid into the harness and headed out.

The snow drifted lightly to the ground, much to my delight. At least I didn’t have to drag the logs through a blizzard again. We’d lived out here for nearly a month now. This could be a rather hazardous task in a heavy downfall. There was a cave where I left them to dry just ten minutes from the mansion. I had a tarp to keep the dried wood from becoming soaked again from the snow, but in this light sprinkling, I didn’t think I’d need it.

The logs weren’t heavy individually, but I liked to stack an entire day’s supply onto the cart so I only had to make one trip. I was finally getting a taste of what Applejack went through day after day. I bit my lip. Those names kept resurfacing, no matter how hard I tried to force them down. I shoved the last log onto the stack when a loud hissing sounded from behind me. I turned back to the stack of stored logs. A long black snake was coiled on the mound.

My first thought was to run, but then I identified the reptile. It was an eastern garter snake, a non-venomous breed. They were extremely cold resistant, and barely hibernated through the winter. How fitting that one would be here.

“Hey, little guy,” I said, looking it over. Yellow scales rippled down his back in more or less neat stripes. He blinked his beady brown eyes open and looked at me. Apparently, I’d interrupted his nap. “Cold out, isn’t it?” I expected no response whatsoever, but to my surprise, he nodded back. I found myself suddenly attached to the snake. Sure, he was a snake, but he was almost... adorable. And he provided good company. I had the dragons in my care, but it dawned on me that I didn’t have a pet. Almost everypony in Ponyville had kept one; even Rainbow Dash had recently adopted a turtle she called Tank. Perhaps a pet could do me some good. I never knew what to do with my spare time anymore, after all.

“Come on, little guy.” I prodded his side, urging him to slither up my hoof. “I’ll take you where it’s warm.” He liked the sound of that, and quickly slithered up my leg before coiling himself around my neck. He was a good three or four feet long, but didn’t feel all that heavy. He burrowed himself in my scarf while I hooked up the loaded harness.

The sled was parked just inside the door for the firewood to be moved.

“GAH! It’s on you!” Blaze shrieked, shying away.

“What’s on her?”

“A snake!”

“I know. Guys, meet Heckley.”


“I don’t know. Just came off the top of my head.” I let the snake slide down my hoof and find a cozy spot by the brick fireplace.

“Where’d he come from?”

“He was hibernating in the wood stack. I woke him up.”

“Is it poisonous?”

“He’s a garter snake. No, he’s safe.”

“How do you know that?”

“I guess I must have been paying too much attention to one of Fluttershy’s woodland critter spiels,” I shrugged. There was that name again.

“You’re really going to keep it?” Garble groaned.

“Why not?” Blaze didn’t seem to mind, now that he knew it wasn’t poisonous. He shuffled over to where Heckley lay and watched him, finally summoning up the courage to stroke his scales once or twice.

“Where’s it going to sleep?”

“With me, I guess. Or... just... right there.” I looked on as Blaze poked and prodded the snake for a reaction, but Heckley didn’t budge.

“What’s it going to eat?”

“Not my gemstones, that’s for sure,” Garble declared before I could give a proper answer. “I’m going to my room.”

“His room?” I turned to Blaze.

“He decided that since the whole house is warm now, he should get his own room.” Blaze rolled his eyes and turned back to Heckley. “Stupid, if you ask me.”

“Not at all,” I countered. “Everyone needs to feel like they can have their own space. Celestia knows-” I stopped myself. The foal Celetsia knew nothing. “I mean, Discord knows we have plenty of room for that.” It was a true statement- he knew better than any of us, having resided here before. “In fact, it may not be a bad idea for all of us to pick our own room.”

“You mean... sleep there? All by myself?”

“You’re welcome to sleep with Heckley and I if you like. Or Garble, if he’ll let you.” Relief washed over Blaze.

“But if I don’t sleep in it, then what am I supposed to do with my own room?”

“Whatever you like. Let’s call that your own space to be you.” I tapped his nose, and he refrained from sneezing. “What do you say, Blaze? Shall we wander these lonely halls together?”

“Okay!” he suddenly seemed very enthusiastic about the idea of having his own room. As soon as we started off together, Heckley’s head shot up. I guess he didn’t want to be left alone either, because he zipped over to where I stood and wormed his way up my body. Settling around my neck like a scarf, he watched my face to see if I’d object. Realizing I didn’t mind, he worked himself into a position where he could pretend to sleep. I only smiled, slightly amused.

“Lead the way, Blaze.”


“Don’t worry; the castle is only so big. We won’t get lost.” He realized I was right, and looked around trying to decide what direction to start off in. He chose to start down the right hall, where Garble had disappeared. I trotted after him, Heckley in tow.

Blaze had chosen a smaller room just a few down from where we found Garble. He was so caught up in deciding what to do with the place that he didn’t even notice when I left. I left him staring at the blank stone walls. Now, where would I bunk? I didn’t want to be too far from Blaze, lest he started to worry. When I turned to Heckley, he decided that he could care less and completely ignored me. I’d almost settled on the room next to Blaze when the door at the end of the hallway caught my eye.

It was no different than any of the other doors. Just an ordinary wooden entry. But something drew me to it. Discord’s magic? Probably. Might as well humor him.

It creaked open for dramatic effect. I was rather disappointed at what I found. Just an ordinary room. What was I expecting? Some grand chamber designed for royalty? I backed out and began returning to the previous bedroom. That is, until Heckley shimmied to the floor and zoomed across the tile.

“Hey! Where’re you going?” His tongue flicked in response, and he proceeded to slither under the bed. I trotted over to investigate, and sank to the floor so I could see. What he’d discovered wasn’t actually under the bed, but behind it. There was a rather small doorway concealed behind the backboard. Heckley looked to me, pleading for permission to investigate. I lifted him out from under the bed and set him atop while I shoved it aside. Then, he corkscrewed his way down the bedpost to beat me back to the door. I didn’t realize how fast he was, and almost stepped on him. He was too intrigued by the door to notice.

I tugged on the iron ring to get the door open, and Heckley slithered through. I followed more slowly; this door was more Blaze’s size. I had no trouble getting through, but I still had to crouch low. The sight that met my eyes was mind blowing. The room was almost completely white with an immensely high ceiling. Intricate steel moldings protected the corners of every wall; even the ceiling. It almost reminded me of the finer picture frames sold in Canterlot, each showing off a blank canvas. Only one wall wasn’t entirely white. It was broken by a second doorway in the dead center. Heckley’s tail disappeared beneath that one. Even if I wasn’t chasing after him, my curiosity would have dragged me over soon enough.

A brightly illuminated room was on the other side of the door (though the source of the light remained a mystery), walls lined with shelves. Each rack held canvases of every size; colors I didn’t know existed, and every known type of brush. Then there were sketchpads, pencils, pastels, inks, pens, the list went on and on! The first thought that came to mind was that I should be upset with Discord after asking him to leave the studio out of the picture. But as I wandered down the hallway, I found that to be impossible. This felt right. Besides, after going through all that effort to make me comfortable, how could anypony be cross with the spirit of chaos?

The clanking of jars brought my attention back to the entrance. Somehow, Heckley had managed to bring three jars of paint down from the shelf, and now juggled them in his coils as he slithered slowly for the main room. A few brushes were caught between his teeth. “What are you doing?” I laughed. The fact that a snake was trying to carry anything at all was amusing, but even more so was the amount of effort he poured into it. Moving three jars at once couldn’t be easy for him. When I moved to help, his independent stubbornness drove him to abandon this effort and corral each jar individually to the center of the room with lightning speed. Surprisingly, he didn’t spill a drop.

Now he looked down at the supplies he gathered, unsure of what to do next. He’d chosen a red-violet jar with an unusual shimmer, a metallic looking dark green bottle, and an ocean blue hue. He tried dipping the brush in the blue with his mouth, and swept the dripping utensil over the previously sterile floor. The paint came out blobby and clumped. He decided he didn’t like this method, and tossed the brush aside. The splatters it created looked sort of interesting, but he didn’t take notice. Instead, he dipped his entire tail in the jar, and dragged it much more naturally. I watched in stunned amusement as the garter snake created an amateurish painting of a pony on the ground. Of all the pets out there, I couldn’t have chosen better. A snake who could paint? I wouldn’t question it.

After a while of watching him, Heckley paused long enough to give me a look as if to say, What are you standing there for? Get a brush! So, I did. An easel was quickly set up, and paints were gathered. Black, yellow, brown, white, gray, blue. I selected a small canvas; it was roughly a 8x10 inch. I intended to leave the background white, so I didn’t have to bother with that. I could just jump right in. I got Heckley’s black coils in first. Brown eyes protruded from his scaly head, and I made the yellow spots stand out. A touch of white to these added a beautiful shine to his pearly scales. I waited for the gray of his shadow to dry while I recreated his blue masterpiece. A few additional streaks of white depicted the paint as still wet. I briefly borrowed the colors in his two other jars to show them in the background.

Heckley slithered around to me in a routine update on his portrait, taking care not to drag blue all over the ground. When he didn’t go back, I assumed he was finished, and moved to check out his own work. “You can’t leave it like this!” I exclaimed. He hissed in surprise, wondering what he did wrong. He was at my side in an instant, looking over the painting. “You didn’t sign it! Every artist needs to sign their work.” After cocking his head in thought, his tail was again dipped in the blue. A small squiggly line appeared at the bottom corner. After squinting at it, I found it recognizable as a snake. “Better,” I approved with a nod. But then Heckley returned to my piece and teasingly pointed to it with his blue covered tail. “What is it?” I looked at my work before laughing. I’d forgotten to sign my name.

I became engrossed with the canvases, filling one after the other. It was like I’d been deprived of the privilege, and was now falling into a relapse. First, Blaze appeared. Then Garble. And Ignition. And Discord. And of course, Torchwood. All the familiar faces appeared either in miniature or on grander scales. I wasn’t sure when Blaze and Garble wandered in, but the next thing I knew, we were all over the place, dumping paint on the canvases and walls (and sometimes even each other). Garble, who had wings, was given permission to decorate the ceiling as he pleased. He wasn’t much of the ‘artsy’ type, and acted reluctant to paint at all, but we finally convinced him to attempt an outline of his own form on the ceiling. Granted, he was doing it upside down, but Heckley could have done a better job. In the end, I introduced him to abstract painting, and the ceiling was repainted in overlapping streaks of orange, green, blue and red. I encouraged him to add a few ovals for some variety; these were done in yellow.

Before I knew it, I was even painting my old friends. Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Applejack all appeared on a rather large canvas together. When I realized what I’d done, I expected to feel a tinge of anger. But none came. Rather, it was good to see their faces again. Not as good as having them here with me, of course, but it was a relief nonetheless. I felt so happy, I could scream.


Chapter 32: The News

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Chapter 32
The News

We lost all track of time, holed up in the windowless studio. Dinner was very late, and Blaze wasn’t asleep until almost midnight. I had to be better about maintaining a structured routine for him. Perhaps the kitchen clock could be moved to the studio.

Discord hadn’t been back since his initial visit; he explained that if he came too often, it could attract the Princesses’ attention and expose us. Still, it had only been a week. I was quite surprised when he appeared in the art studio the next day, critically looking over all of our work through a monocle. “Well, well, well. You’ve certainly been busy; especially for somepony who at first refused to let me add a studio.”

“That didn’t stop you,” I smiled, trotting up next to him. “You were right; it felt good to paint again.”

“Obviously,” he casually yawned, gesturing to the collection of paintings large enough to fill a museum around him. “But who’s this?”

“You don’t know Heckley?”


“Oh. Sorry. He was acting so strange I thought you might have influenced him. He’s an eastern garter snake I found in the woods. I brought him in where it was warm, and then he did... that. I named him Heckley, and now he’s my pet.”

“That is rather odd, but I had nothing to do with it, this time. Sorry to disappoint you.” He moved away from my first work. “I particularly like this one.” He coiled his elongated body around the easel still supporting his own portrait.

“I thought you might.”

“Though I was quite surprised to find these.” He moved on to the ones of the very six ponies I’d run from.

“So was I.”

“I thought you never wanted to see them again. Now you have them plastered on your wall!”

“It’s actually a canvas, not a wall.”

“But where does a painting go? Do you hang yours on the ceiling, too?”

“Fair enough.” I searched the painting again. “I don’t know... I just... miss them, I guess.”

“Come again?” Discord stuck a finger in his ear to clear it, not believing that he’d heard me correctly.

“I tried to stay angry with them, Discord. I really did. But that was the thing; I had to try. That’s too much work. And a lot of stress. I figure, what’s done is done, and there isn’t anything anypony can do about it. I don’t have to like what happened, but it is what it is.”

“They say my chaos makes no sense, but I have a harder time figuring out you ponies sometimes.”

“Let me put it this way; I don’t want to be angry anymore, Discord.”

“How odd.” He finally shrugged. “Your choice. I assume this means we’ll be taking a trip to Ponyville?”



“I can’t face them. Not after what happened.”

“So you haven’t completely forgiven them, yet.” Comforted by the realization that he was still following me, Discord curled up on a cloud he’d plucked from the painting.

“I have,” I corrected. “I just don’t know if they’ve forgiven me.”

“Forgi-” he exclaimed, jumping off the cloud in frustration. I’d lost him again. “Oh, for Celestia’s sake! What do you have to be sorry for? They took your wings and cutie mark, remember?”

“I lied about who I really was. And I left them when I needed them the most.” He only shook his head, confused.

“I must still be new to the whole ‘friendship’ thing. I don’t see what you have to be sorry for.”

“I hope you never have to find out,” I sighed. “You only truly understand when you’ve gone through it yourself.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“You haven’t come for a social visit, have you?” I prompted.

“What? Don’t friends drop by every now and then?”

“Well, sure, but you told me your visits would be few and far between because of the whole Princess issue. It’s only been a week. You must have a really skewed idea of what ‘few and far between’ means.”

“Alright, you got me. I came to say goodbye.”

“Where are you going?”


“Just... home?”

“Where else?”

“I don’t know. You made it sound like you were going away for a while.”

“Well, I figured I could cut my visits down even more if one of your dragon friends was taught how to send and receive mail. Then we could still keep in touch.”

“You mean like Spike did for Twilight?”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“Well, if you could not only convince one of them but actually teach them, be my guest. I haven’t the first clue as to how that might work.”

“It would be my pleasure.” After a brief bow, he teleported out of the room.

I situated the clock, and returned to the kitchen to fix breakfast. Blaze was now awake, and was being drafted by Discord to be our intermediary. I had a feeling Garble wouldn’t consent, but he still listened in on Discord’s lessons. I tried to do the same from the pantry, but Discord’s logic was indecipherable. Blaze must have been getting something out of it, because by the time he sat down for gemstone-sprinkled cereal, his red flames were tinted with the sparkle of the magical properties allowing teleportation of small objects.

I left them to it in the living room. I wanted to return to the studio. I’d allowed Heckley to sleep late this morning, and he now slithered out to meet me halfway. He didn’t do much painting today, but proved to be a big help in retrieving brushes for me. When I had nothing for him to do, he began cleaning up the remnants of yesterday’s mess. I’d gotten it semi-clean before falling asleep on my hooves. I wasn’t sure who reminded me of Spike more; Blaze or Heckley? Blaze might be a baby dragon the same age, but Heckley was a surprisingly capable assistant. Discord got a kick out of my pet snake, anyway.

Recalling my feelings toward the group portrait yesterday, I experimentally painted Luna and Celestia, curious as to what emotions they would evoke. I was a little stiff, looking up at their stern expressions, but no more hatred bubbled up. There was no more anger. Whether their spell to remove the ‘evil’ in me had worked or not I didn’t know. I just knew that what had happened, happened, and there was no changing it. Dwelling on those ugly bits in my past only made me miserable. Why live like that when I could be happy again? I’d achieved a natural high yesterday, painting and playing with my adopted family. That’s what these ponies had been to me before it happened. Family. Could I ever have that with them again? Could I ever have that with Torchwood?

I longed to know how he was. I couldn’t go to him without risking somepony seeing me and giving up my location. There was no way he could come here; it was bad enough that I was in exile, but the freezing climate would be hazardous for him. Even indoors where it was warm, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see him. Was it better to keep pretending that he missed me or to find out for sure whether I’d been rejected? I longed to know, but what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. I’d surely gone through enough pain to last a lifetime.

The addition of the clock did wonders for my schedule; I had lunch prepared on time, even though I was cooking for four. Heckley snaked off to prey on small insects for lunch. The rest of us ate daisy and diamond sandwiches, mine lacking diamonds. Discord, however, decided that he wouldn’t allow gemstones or flora in his diet, and instead feasted on a spread of numbers taken off of a clock, the clock itself serving as the bowl. Garble helped himself to the extra sandwich portion. While the dragons finished their meal, I got Discord alone.

“I’ve just got to know one last thing. How’s Torchwood taking this?” Discord looked as though he’d rather have been asked something else, but obliged.

“Not well. The last time I saw him, he kicked Rainbow Dash and I out in an angry fit. Judging by the barriers erected around their camps, I’m no longer welcome.”

“So Rainbow knows about him now?”

“And all the others.”

“Has she told the Princesses?”

“Yes, though I don’t see how it matters, now.”

“Neither do I. I really messed up, didn’t I?”

“Not at all!”


“The Princesses are looking for the thestrals now.”


“To ask them if they would rejoin Equestria,” he quickly finished. Hope flickered in my chest like a candle light in a dark hall.

“What?” I softly repeated. “Thestrals... they’re coming back?”

“That’s what I’ve been told, along with the rest of Equestria. Messengers have been sent out to scour the Everfree, carrying peace treaties.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Thestrals? Coming back? Even after what had happened?

“But I thought the Princesses had their minds made up that we were evil.”

“I believe it was meant more as an effort to right the wrong.” He stared at my covered, wingless back as a hint.

“You think they’re trying to make up for taking my wings?”

“Perhaps.” The look on his face told me I’d hit home.

“What if it’s a trap? What if they’re luring them out so they can all be reverted to earth ponies?”

“Come, now! I know taking your wings was a bit extreme, but even I couldn’t picture Celestia taking to such... unethical tactics.”

“You’re right. Still... I think I’d better keep laying low until they’ve been reintegrated into the system of things.”

“Suit yourself,” he shrugged. “But I’m only a letter away. You can always write me if you feel like paying your ‘friends’ a surprise visit.”

“Is Blaze ready?” I cocked an eyebrow, almost surprised at Discord’s incredible teaching skills.

“He’ll need some practice to perfect the technique, sure, but he has the ability.”

“Thanks, Discord. I owe you one. Well, more like a lot. Keep me posted?”

“Of course.” The draconequus promptly teleported away, not even bothering to bid the dragons farewell.

Chapter 33: Excuses, Excuses

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Chapter 33
Excuses, Excuses

“My comrades, it is time,” Torchwood announced. “I realize that things have changed since we began planning our conquest. The Crystal Empire has reappeared, and Cadence now rules over it with her husband. Not only that, but there is also a new Princess to be dealt with: Twilight Sparkle. These recent events have foiled our original plans, but never fear! The odds are still in our favor. This latest development, especially, is fascinating. We have rediscovered an ancient magic as old as Discord himself; it is, in fact, his own plunderseeds, a parasitic plant designed to drain and feed off of pure energy. This kind of energy only radiates from the Tree of Harmony and alicorn magic. Thestrals once subdued the spell to keep Equestria safe from its destruction; it is now under our complete control. Those other weaklings do not know it yet, but it will soon cause the Everfree forest itself to invade Equestria, not only breaking the harmony but taking Celestia and Luna down with it. We will wait for the spell to do the work for us. When Twilight next ventures into our borders, we will take her. Without the elements, she will be powerless. Then we will be free to take back what is ours. Even as we speak, this brilliant plan is in motion.”

“But that leaves Cadence and Shining Armor free to fight back.”

“They are now charged with the responsibility of the Crystal Empire. By the time they do leave their posts, it will be too late. We will have taken back Equestria.”

“Where will we keep the Princess? With the others?” Eyes turned to the pit where they had imprisoned the wandering messengers and guards.

“No, Torchwood decided. “They may rally. It would be best to keep her away from the other prisoners… anywhere but there. Preferably somewhere she will never be found.”

“The Tree of Harmony has been lost to time,” one suggested.

“And it will also be where the other Princesses are held captive. The magic will be too powerful for Celestia and Luna, let alone Twilight. It will soon detect her alicorn presence and entrap her as well.”


An eternity had dragged by. Well, it had actually only been eight months, which was still a long time. Blaze was becoming an avid secretary, which earned mild teasing from his brother. The youngster didn’t seem too bothered by it. In fact, he seemed eager to test the limits of this newfound ability. He asked if I would write a letter to somepony else, just to see if it could be delivered. I tried to humor him by writing to Twilight; I knew Spike was capable of taking the letters. Every draft ended up crumpled in the trash can and later burned in the fireplace. I couldn’t find the right words. What could I say? Then I tried to write to Torchwood. I wasn’t sure if he could take letters via magical delivery, but he was such an amazing fire dancer that I figured it was worth a shot. I still couldn’t express what I wished to say. In the end, I had Blaze try to send blank slips of parchment to Twilight and Torchwood so he could practice. Strangely enough, those sent to Torchwood always bounced back, as though it couldn’t be received. There was no way to tell if Twilight got the papers.

Discord’s letters often summarized the latest adventures of my friends; Trixie had returned and almost taken over Ponyville with an extremely powerful amulet, banishing Twilight in the process. Twilight had, of course, come back in the end. Then a bit of good news: Rainbow had made it into the week-long course for the Wonderbolts Academe in Cloudsdale. I also heard that they had saved Equestria by defeating King Sombra and bringing back the Crystal Empire. I was perturbed when I realized how close they’d come to finding us here in the Frozen North; we even felt the tremors from the final battle, though we didn’t realize what they were at the time. Princess Cadence and Shining Armor now reigned there. Later on, I was informed that thanks to those six, the Equestrian games would be held in the Crystal Empire itself.

I should have been happy for them, but I found the news disheartening. They were moving on. Moving on without me. And Discord had made no mention of thestrals returning to Equestria. In fact, every messenger Celestia had sent out came back without news or didn’t come back at all. The squadrons sent out after the missing didn’t always come back either. This was obviously rousing suspicion, but there were so many other dangers in the Everfree that the Princesses had chosen to turn a blind eye for the time being. I wondered if the lack of news had something to do with the barriers Discord had spoken of. If they were keeping even him out, who knew what else they were doing?

The most shocking news came after almost a year of hiding: after a mishap with a spell and her friend’s cutie marks, Twilight Sparkle had become royalty! A pair of wings sealed the deal. She was now an alicorn princess. The shock was replaced by both nervousness and joy when I read the following statement- she had made it known that the focus of her royal duties would be turned to the matter of the thestrals, which weighed heavily on everypony’s minds. Especially in Ponyville where the thestrals were closest, there was unrest. I was tempted to tell Blaze to write back to Discord asking for a trip back to the town. If Twilight was going to look into the thestrals, it was probably my duty to help. There was no pony more qualified, after all. Still, I refrained. How could I show my face now? It had been so long. It was no longer anger that kept me here, but shame.

“But I don't understand! Where are they?” Princess Twilight Sparkle had awoken to Equestria’s latest crisis. The High Princesses were missing, and the sky was evenly divided between night and day. Nopony knew what was going on. Now royalty, it was her responsibility to handle the matter. Two of the royal guards had whisked her away from the concerned swarms to brief her.

“We don't know. It seems that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have simply... vanished.”

“Vanished?!” The baby dragon Spike could take no more, and promptly fainted.

“This is why we have come to you.”

“We await your command,” his comrade agreed.

“My command?!”

“We are officers of the Royal Guard. We take our orders from royalty. With Princess Luna and Princess Celestia gone, and Princess Cadence overseeing the Crystal Empire now, that means we take our orders from you.” Spike had newly recovered, but fainted a second time upon realizing the weight of his friend’s responsibility.

“Princess Twilight, there's no time to waste. We need to know what you want us to do,” the first guard urged. In Equestria’s time of need, Twilight managed to compose herself, if only for a minute.

“I want you to continue the search for Princess Luna and Princess Celestia. We have to find them before ponies start to panic. There must be some clue that can tell us what's happened to them. I also want renewed rescue patrols over the Everfree. Tell them to maintain communication at all times. Whether thestrals are involved or not, we’ve been losing ponies around there. Perhaps the Princesses went to investigate. If you find something- anything- let me know immediately.” The guards gave her a respectful salute, and marched dutifully away.

“Way to take charge, Twilight,” Spike congratulatingly elbowed. It was just in time for the doors to slam open once more.

“Your Highness! News from Ponyville! The Everfree Forest appears to be... well...invading!” Twilight gasped while Spike fainted one last time. Twilight lost faith in his center of balance, and levitated him onto her back.

“Thank you, sir,” Twilight nodded. “Please inform the royal staff that I’ll be leaving. I think we’re due for a visit to Ponyville. Come on, Spike!”

It was just the night before the Summer Sun Celebration. It was also my second full year away from Blade Wing Sector Four. This would be my first celebration without my friends. Though, it wouldn’t be much of a celebration here for us. What was there to celebrate?

It started out as just another ordinary morning. Though we weren’t really preparing for anything special, I’d cleaned the place up just a bit. The dragons didn’t understand what the Summer Sun Celebration was, so they didn’t suspect anything, which was fine by me. I intended to finish up my latest piece in honor of the occasion. It was enormous, even by my standards. Luna was on the right, Celestia to the left, both hovering midair. Celestia’s light embraced Luna, and Luna’s night surrounded Celestia to give a beautiful contrast. However, I had properly matched the sun and moon to their respectful princesses by using implied lines in the light radiating from the entities, making sure the glow from each sent beams of light sprawling across the canvas and embracing their bearers. I had a few minor details to attend to today before I could declare it complete. Even so, I wanted to get the household chores done before I allowed myself to become engrossed in the work.

Like any other teenager, Garble had allowed his room to become an atrocious mess. I still wasn’t sure how that was possible, considering how little we owned. I was always lecturing him on how he needed to start taking responsibility for his own things, but today, I even straightened his den. The heavy, dusty curtains allowed no light into the room. The irony of inadvertently preparing for the Summer Sun Celebration without allowing any sunlight into the place was too much. I dragged the curtains aside, letting dust particles fly every which way. I suddenly wished I’d let them be. There were no trees this close to the castle, meaning that the skies were always clear, give or take a few clouds. The sky didn’t look right. It seemed to come right out of my painting where the sun and moon both resided in the sky, for half of it was dark, but the other half was light. If it wasn’t for the clock on the wall, I wouldn’t have known if it was midnight or noon.

I shot out the door and down the hall. As usual, the boys were all gathered in the living room playing some game or another. Heckley was wrapped around Blaze’s neck to watch. My panting and rushed footsteps instantly aroused their attention.

“What’s going on?” Garble stood.

“Have you boys looked outside?”

“No. Why?”

“You have to see this.” I ushered all three of them to the windows by the front doors. Garble took the one on the left while Blaze, Heckley and I crowded around the right one.

“What in the name of gemstones...” Garble muttered. Our breath formed condensation on the glass pane, which Blaze constantly had to wipe away.

“What does it mean?”

“It means I finally have an excuse to go back to Ponyville.”


“You’re leaving?”

“But what happens to us?”

“Well, the way I see it, you have two options. One: stay here in a warm castle with an infinite food supply but not much to do. Two: come back to Ponyville with me. Ponyville isn’t far from the dragons’ migration site, Garble. You could fly back, if you wanted. Rejoin your crew. You had a nice circle of friends back there, didn’t you?” Garble looked at the floor, recalling fond memories of those times.

“I do miss ‘em,” he admitted.

“I don’t wanna go back,” Blaze sniffed. While his brother was the popular jock, Blaze had ended up rejected. I lifted his chin before he could start crying.

“I won’t make you,” I promised.

“So what’s he gonna do? Stay with you?” Garble almost sounded disdainful, now that it had become a matter of custody rights. “He’s my little brother. He should stick with me.”

“I think what happens to Blaze should be his own decision,” I stated, trying to stay as unbiased and neutral as possible. Garble couldn’t argue with me. “I won’t make you go back to the other dragons, and I won’t make you stay with me. You choose your own path, alright?” He finally nodded. “Good. But you still have time to think about it. If Garble’s going back to the dragons, let’s all get back to Ponyville to start. Blaze, could you send that letter to Discord now?”

“Okay.” He wasn’t like Spike, who always had a parchment and quill handy. He had to go fetch it. When he returned, it was with tools I hadn’t seen before. This quill was a blue feather. In fact, it was the exact shade of Discord’s single blue jay wing. The slip of paper was tinted pink with intricate embossing making up decorative borders.

“Where did that come from?”

“Discord told me that when you wanted to go home, I just had to write the names of whoever was teleporting back. That way he didn’t have to do it himself.”

“I suppose that’s kind of genius. Write Heckley down, too. I want him coming along with us.” Blaze nodded, dipping the quill in an inkwell. My name was the first to appear on the parchment. As soon as it had been written, I had just enough time to see the ink be completely absorbed by the paper before I was whisked away.

Chapter 34: Back to Ponyville

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Chapter 34
Back to Ponyville

“Ooh,” I groaned. I never would get used to teleporting. I finally got a chance to look around. I recognized my surroundings; I was right in front of Ponyville Square, just on the borders of the town. Or, what was left of it. The... Everfree Forest?!... was just behind me with thick, black, horny creepers oozing from it like a disease. The borderline between Ponyville and the Everfree had suffered a dramatic change. The Everfree’s sickly flora was now completely overtaking Ponyville. I’d come to find out why the sky was split, only to find Ponyville in an uproar!

“Drop the act, Buster! We’re onto you!” Voices. I recognized that voice. Pinkie.

“Ladies, ladies, I'm innocent. Would I lie to you?” And Discord? What was he doing here? Common sense told me that he was probably the source of this uproar, but my better judgment got in the way. He wouldn’t. I knew he wouldn’t.

“YES!” five voices screeched.

“Um, maybe?” I finally stood up, and wove my way through vines to find the ponies belonging to the familiar voices.

“Well then, it seems we've reached an impasse. I'm telling the truth, but you think I'm lying. What do friends like us do in a situation like this, Princess Twilight? Congrats, by the way, on the promotion. You totally deserve it.”

“I say we blast him back to stone!” Discord? Back to stone? NO! After all he’d done for me, I couldn’t let him go back that way.

“Works for me!” AJ concurred.

“Hear, hear!” even Rarity spoke up. By now, I’d broken into a run. I could see them in the distance. All six wore their necklaces, though only three of the mares were powering up their elements. Three out of the six meant that it probably wouldn’t work, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

“NO!” I ground to a stop right in front of the draconequus, not permitting any clear line of fire at Discord.

“ACRYLIC?” Nothing else was said. I was met with only wide eyes and open jaws from all around. The three powered elements dropped like stones. I glared back for a moment longer, letting them know that Discord was off limits. Then I straightened back up, expression softened.


“She’s BACK!” Pinkie screeched, trying to choke me to death in a ‘welcome back’ hug. Spike soon joined her, veering around Twilight so he couldn’t be blocked this time.

“We missed you!” he declared, hugging my leg so tight I thought he’d never let go.

“You’re... but...”

“How dare you?” Applejack was angry with me again; I expected that. But it wasn’t the earth pony who’d spoken. This time, it was Rainbow Dash. I was taken aback by her reaction.

“Ah! Acrylic, so good to see you! I gave that teleportation parchment to Blaze ages ago. I expected you to have returned by now. Oh well. Better late than never, I suppose.”

“You knew where she was all along?” Twilight accused. I looked on with envy at her new feathered wings. Discord had told me before, but seeing it with my own eyes was something else entirely. How was it that she got wings and became a Princess, but mine made me a criminal?

“Of course I did. I helped her stay hidden.”


“She wanted to disappear. Friends help each other, don’t they?”

“That was different! You had no right to keep her from us!”

“You had no right to take my wings, either, but that didn’t stop you.” I looked back, still wearing the breezy blue shawl. I flipped it aside to remind them of their work. Everypony in our company winced. I quickly replaced the fabric.

“So why’d you come back?” Rainbow now quietly asked. Her anger had been excreted in the salty tears sliding down her cheek.

“The sky’s split in half all over Equestria. That tends to raise questions, even from an old dope like me.”

“You aren’t a dope,” Fluttershy quietly put in. She looked like she wanted to come up and welcome me back like Pinkie, but was too afraid.

“He is,” Rainbow snorted, pointing back at Discord.

“I’m telling you, it wasn’t me!”

“Well, if it wasn’t him, then who’s got the Princesses?”

“The Princesses are gone?” Twilight’s solemn nod confirmed my prediction. Then she turned back to Discord.

“Rainbow does raise a good point. If you're not the one responsible, then help us figure out who is!”

“I suppose I could, but after all the hoof pointing and besmirching of my good name, I just don't know if I'm up to it.” He took to knitting the long strands of out-of-control vines, apparently too busy to lend a hoof.

“Ugh!” She seemed to remember that I had finally come back. “You don’t know anything about this, do you?”

“I don’t know anything! I’ve been in exile for a year, remember?”

“You put your own self there,” Applejack snorted.

“You could’ve come back,” Rainbow sadly added.

“You didn’t even write.”

“I tried,” I turned away. “Look, can we deal with this later? When the fate of Equestria isn’t hanging in the balance, maybe?”

“Acrylic’s right, but we are coming back to this,” Twilight declared, glaring at me to let me know she meant it. I submissively bowed my head. “But first we have to find out what’s going on.

“Why don't you ask your zebra friend if she knows anything?” Discord’s knitting had grown large enough to produce a recognizable shape: an arrow pointing to the Everfree’s own...

“Zecora!” they all shouted. I lingered, staying several paces behind them as they rushed to the zebra. I’d grown rather fond of Zecora. We shared the same home, and therefore had an unspoken connection. She was hauling what looked like all of her belongings with her. Twilight removed the harness, relieving her of the load’s excessive weight.

“From my home I have had to flee. The forest has grown too wild even for me!” The zebra always spoke in rhyme. I found her poetic tone somewhat soothing. “But now what is this I see? Acrylic has come back? I was not aware of this fact.”

“You and the rest of us,” Rainbow dryly complained.

“Still, it is good to see your face again. You grew tired of solitude, then?”

“I wasn’t alone,” I shook my head. “Gar-” I cut myself off. “Wait, where are they?”

“How should I know?” Discord innocently shrugged.

“Because it was your teleportation spell,” I reminded.

“If you didn’t teleport all at once, it probably landed you all in slightly different locations around Ponyville. Nothing to worry about,” he casually assured. “They’ll be along soon.”

“Any idea why all this is happenin'?” Applejack turned back to Zecora.

“I'm afraid it is a mystery to me as well, but I may have something that, if combined with a spell...” A bottle with a magenta colored solution was brought out of the wagon. “I do not dare to use it myself, the results would be tragic. It only responds to alicorn magic. Princess Twilight, you can turn the potion from purple to white. After a sip, you may see why the sky is day and night.” Twilight looked unsure, but saw no other solution to our predicament but to give it a shot. It required a great deal of energy, which was proven by the amount of grunting she let loose.

“Oooh!” Pinkie squealed, watching it finally turn from a watery solution to a milky pulp. Twilight tentatively took a sip.

“It doesn't seem to be worki-” her eyes flashed bright light. Then the mutterings began. The rest of us could only watch. My heart was pounding. My mind wasn’t on Twilight, though I was vaguely concerned for her safety. Mostly, I worried about my boys. What if Blaze and Garble chickened out and decided they weren’t going to come at all? Or what if they were landed in all of these vines? Garble would probably start a fire trying to keep away from them, or Blaze could be completely overpowered. And what about Heckley? He lived in the Frozen North all of his life. He wouldn’t know which way to go. In fact, he’d probably instinctively go for the forests, where he was used to. What if I never saw him again?

My thoughts were torn away from my three companions when Twilight began to weep. She was still under the potion’s influence, judging by the glow from her eyes, but she was trembling uncontrollably.

“Twilight?” Pinkie called from the group. There was no answer. I took a few steps for the purple alicorn.

“Stay back!” Zecora commanded. “Let the magic run its track.”

“But just look at her,” I protested. That was what I looked like a year ago. I didn’t want her to have to be alone, too. Despite the zebra’s warning, I shuffled up beside the weeping alicorn and sat down. I received a few glares and worried looks from the zebra, so I kept my eyes trained on either the ground or Twilight. Fluttershy, the closest thing to a caretaker we had, eventually joined me. She moved slowly and timidly under the critical gaze of Zecora, but even more so around me, as though she was afraid my wings would sprout back at any moment. If only. We had taken the lead; the others were soon pressing in to comfort their sobbing friend. It did no good, as she was oblivious to the rest of us, but it reminded me of the loyal bond I used to share with these mares.

Soon, the sobbing stopped. Twilight dizzily stumbled around for a while longer, flitting her wings one way or another. We again dispersed to give her room to wander. The mumblings continued, but grew quieter and sparser. Zecora’s cross glare told me that I’d better not try to ‘interfere’ again. The others got the same idea. I stood up, depressed and droopy. “I’m going to look for Blaze, Garble and Heckley,” I stated.

“Who now?”

“I told you,” Discord triumphantly declared. “That name...” he couldn’t help but break out into a fit of giggles at my pet snake’s ever so amusing title. I rolled my eyes and strolled off.

“You don’t mean... that Garble?” Spike joined me.

“Yes, Spike, the same one.”

“But he’s a real bully! What were you doing with him?”

“It’s really not my place to tell you. But he really isn’t all that bad, you know.” I picked up the pace just in time for him to scuttle back to Twilight, who was recovering from the effects of the potion.

Wings would have made the whole process a whole lot easier, and faster. A fly over would have only taken a minute or two, and I’d be back with my boys. Instead, I had to scour the whole town on foot, possibly passing them by as I swerved and ducked to stay out of sight and avoid astounded stares from any who may recognize me. Not that the vines didn’t block off enough shortcuts as it was.

I wasn’t seeing them anywhere. I’d managed to climb up a coil of vines without becoming entirely entangled to get a bird’s eye view. Where were they?

“Hey!” Rainbow yelled from the distance. She swooped down and hovered just in front of me. “You aren’t trying to run off on us again, are you? We need you over at the Everfree border!”


“You know the Everfree better than anypony else; even better than Zecora. Congratulations. You’re our navigator.”

“No!” I protested. “I have to find my friends!”

“These friends need you down in the Everfree pronto,” Rainbow countered. The look in my eyes told her that I wouldn’t budge until I knew they were safe. She sighed in defeat. “Okay, okay. If it makes you feel better, I’ll do a quick fly over.”

“It would. Thanks, Dashie.” I watched her take off, high above the town. She was only a pinprick of black against the glaring sun. I lost her when she melted into the night side of the sky. It hadn’t been five minutes when she circled back.

“There’s nopony new in or around Ponyville... besides you, anyway.”

“They aren’t ponies, they’re dragons, I desperately corrected.

“There’s no one down there,” she insisted, slightly aggravated. “Now, come on! We need you!” I supposed they could be tracked down later. Ponyville may not be here later.

The vines I climbed up to get here had significantly overgrown since I first made it atop the roof. I wasn’t going to risk climbing back down those things. So, I jumped. I almost forgot that I didn’t have wings to buffer my fall, so my landing was a bit rough to say the least. I stumbled a couple of feet until I regained my balance. “You okay?” Rainbow folded her wings upon landing beside me.

“Fine.” I couldn’t help but stare at her wings. She had no idea how lucky she was. I gritted my teeth to disguise the embarrassment from my fall and hurried ahead.

“What took you so long?” Twilight chided.

“I couldn’t find them.” My pained eyes and droopy disposition kept her from scolding me further. I continued forward to head them off.

“Seems like only yesterday we were heading into these woods to find the Elements of Harmony,” Rarity commented.

“Seems like only yesterday I was foolish enough to think I should go after them on my own,” Twilight continued. “I don't know what we're going to face in there. But whatever it is, I know we need to face it together.” The rest of them hummed agreement. My eyes were trained on the ground ahead, and I gave no response. “That means all of us,” she noted, playfully nudging me with a wing. I gave a halfhearted but grateful smile in return. It faded when I eyed the wing she’s bumped me with. They were trying to welcome me back, even if they didn’t know just quite how to do that. I still couldn’t help but envy her wings. She took for granted what I’d lost.

There was a fork in the path coming up. “Which way, navigator?” Applejack addressed.

“That depends. You all dragged me in here, but didn’t tell me where we’re going.”

“Oh, right,” Twilight blushed. “Do you know anything about the Tree of Harmony?”

“Just stories and legends,” I shook my head. “Is that where we’re going?”

“Only if you know where it is.”

“I know where it’s rumored to be,” I offered.

“So? Which way?”

“Uh...” I looked between the two paths.

“I thought you said you knew!”

“It all looks so different from the ground. And with all this overgrowth, I’m surprised I recognize anything!”

“Take your best guess,” Twilight pleaded. “You know the Everfree better than anypony. There has to be some way to get there from the ground.”

“I... I do know a way. It’s a longer trip, but it’s almost guaranteed to get us all there safely.”

“Lead on!”

“But,” I went on. “It means stopping at a thestral encampment for directions.” The others all looked at each other.

“What do you think, Twi?”

“Ya sure do have enough on your plate as it is. Nopony’d blame ya if ya don’t feel like dealing with those fellas today.”

“What other choice do we have? It may be our only chance at getting the Princesses back. And now that Acrylic’s with us, we might even reach them, this time.”

“I heard you’ve been losing scouts to the barriers,” I apologetically nodded.

“Barriers? What barriers?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? Discord told me that they’ve set up semi-magical barriers and won’t let anypony, or draconequus, in.”

“He did, did he?”

“Yes. He did.”

“Come on, you guys. Let’s not argue. Let’s just get this done. We’ve lost enough time as it is.” I turned to her.

“How do you feel about a shortcut?”

I led them off the path down routes I was quite familiar with. Even the thorny creepers couldn’t obscure this familiar landscape. We tripped over them a couple of times, though. I knew where we were, but I’d forgotten one slight detail. The swamp.

I used to play here with the other thestral fillies and colts. The little grove was secluded, and more or less safe. That is, until the cragadiles decided to move in.

“We can use these to cross,” Twilight suggested, noting a few rocks sticking out of the water. Those weren’t rocks.

“No, WAIT!” Too late. The alicorn had already stepped out over them.

“Whoa, whoa!” she screeched, the creature beneath beginning to wake. It bucked her off as it rose out of the water.

“A cragadile!”

“Run for your lives!” Rarity dramatically screeched. Everypony scattered. Thestrals were pretty good when it came to dealing with Everfree wildlife, but even I didn’t dare take on a full sized cragadile. Not alone, anyway. The huge, rocky crocodile was bigger than some dragons, and it had Twilight and Spike cornered.

“Applejack!” I called. “I need your rodeo skills!” She seemed to get my meaning, and began fashioning a lasso out of the flexible, thorny vines. I’d have preferred her powerful kickers to land a firm blow to its flank- we needed to get its attention. Still, I could handle that diversion, but nopony handled a lasso better than AJ.

I imagined that I was helping her to buck apples at the orchard when my hind legs snapped into action, kicking its not-so-exposed underbelly. Being made of rock, the collision did nothing more than distract the creature. My legs, on the other hoof, already felt sore. While I ran circles around the beast with a slight limp, Applejack aimed her lasso, which found its mark around the creature’s mouth. All of the girls tugged on the rope, dragging it back and away from me. Applejack handled the actual throwing of additional ropes, catching it by each of its legs, but the rest of us could still tie off the other ends to keep it from returning. Soon, the cragadile was restrained, and couldn’t advance on us anymore.

“That was close,” Twilight panted.

“A little too close, if ya ask me,” AJ concurred. “Ya sure you’re alright?”

“I'm fine. I just can't seem to get these new wings to do what I want them to do when I want them to do it,” she grumbled.

“Aw, you'll figure it out eventually,” Rainbow consoled.

“Eventually isn't soon enough.”

“You have been having an awful lot of trouble with those things. And, well, who knows what else is gonna to come after us? Ya know, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea for Twilight to go back to Ponyville and let us look for the Tree of Harmony without her.”

“What? Why?” Twilight indignantly gasped.

“For starters, you just about got eaten by a cragadilly,” AJ obliged.

“We all did. He wasn't after just me,” Twi pointed out.

“Sure, but... well, the rest of us aren't princesses.”

“What's that got to do with anything?”

“She’s basically saying that we’re disposable and you’re not,” I indignantly clarified.

“What I’m sayin’ is that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are gone. If something happened to you, I-I just don't think Equestria can risk losin’ another princess.”

“Applejack does make a valid point. Even if we manage to save the Tree of Harmony, it won't necessarily mean Princess Celestia and Princess Luna will return. Equestria will need somepony to lead in their absence.”

“But the Tree of Harmony! I'm the only one who has seen it and knows what it looks like.”

“Huge tree, cutie marks on the trunk, probably being attacked by something hideously awful? Yeah, I'm pretty sure we'll know it when we see it.”

“And Acrylic does know a lot of old legends. Her friends are even going to point us in the right direction.”

“Hey! Don’t you be dragging me into this.”

“So you think I should stay?” Twilight hopefully asked. I tilted my head in thought.

“When Celestia took my wings, I was so angry with you all that I drove myself into exile. I would never want to make you feel the same way I did- like the only option you had left was to leave. No pony should ever have to go through that kind of heartache. But this is different. There are more ponies at stake than just us seven. You have to think about the rest of Equestria now. It’s your decision, but it will affect the rest of the world.” She seemed to grasp my reasoning, but that made the words no less painful.

“All of you feel this way? Feel like I shouldn't be here?”

“It is probably for the best,” Fluttershy quietly contributed. Twilight cast one more look at us before tearfully wandering off.

“Ya think we did the right thing?” Applejack quietly asked when she and Spike were out of earshot.

“I sure hope so,” I answered, glumly reorienting myself and heading for Midnight Armor once more.

Chapter 35: War of the Thestrals

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Chapter 35
War of the Thestrals

“Is anypony else starting to feel like this is a lost cause?” Rainbow wondered from the air.

“How much farther is it, Acrylic?”

“I don’t understand. Midnight Armor should be right here!” I exclaimed, circling the area for the hundredth time.

“Maybe they moved?” Pinkie suggested.

“You can’t just break down an entire encampment and move it.”

“It has been almost a year since you’ve last been here. Ya sure they wouldn’ta moved so nopony would find them after... Canterlot?”

“I just... don’t understand,” I mumbled. “How could they just move? You’d think we would at least see the barrier Discord was talking about.”

“You don’t suppose it might be an invisibility barrier, do you?”

“Or an infinity loop?”

“I...” I stuttered. Had I led them right into a trap?

“Are we even sure that this Tree of Harmony actually exists?” Rainbow went on. “What if what Twilight saw when she took that crazy potion wasn’t real? Maybe-”

“Maybe it’s right there.” Everypony jerked in the direction Applejack indicated. A deep gorge cracked open the ground before us. The vines were at their thickest here.

“But how are we supposed to get down there?” Rarity huffed. A lot of banging and clunking attracted our attention as Pinkie tumbled down a long stairwell.

“Take the stairs, silly!” Pinkie called from the bottom.

While I was relieved we’d made it, I wondered why we hadn’t come across the thestral encampment. Granted, we strayed as far as to find the Tree of Harmony, but I knew where we were the majority of the time. How could I have missed it?

The vines were growing ever closer, ever denser. A disgusting ooze soon coated the walls, and a vile smell wafted to our noses. All these signs let us know that we were on the right track before we ever saw the tree. It was pale and colorless, draped in a cloak of parasitic vines and dripping with the green sap.

“I think it's dying!” Fluttershy diagnosed.

“So let's save it already!” Applejack took the lead, being our most experienced in agriculture, and started yanking on the weeds. It proved too strong, and flicked her away.

“Nice try,” Rainbow snorted before charging head on at a vine. “Heh- Whoa! Oof!” She was knocked back as well. The parasites were defending their host.

“Valiant efforts on both your parts, but the tree remains in jeopardy,” Rarity reminded.

“And I suppose you've got a better idea?” She remained silent. “That's what I thought.”

“Now what?”

“Thestral fire might be able to counter this,” I guessed, squinting at a weed. “If we could find them, we might be able to get some help.”

“But we haven’t exactly been able to find them, have we?”

“And anyhow, why’d they wanna help us? We haven’t exactly been on good terms as of late.”

“I know who would know what to do. But we sent her home,” Fluttershy moped. Rainbow realized the weight of our call, and desperate not to feel the same guilt from chasing me off, tried the blame game.

“It was your idea, Applejack!”

“We all agreed it was the best thing, Rainbow Dash! We were tryin' to protect her.” I whipped around when I thought I heard movement behind us. Nothing was there. I chided myself for becoming so paranoid, but a certain feeling of dread never left the pit of my stomach. I was drawn out of my thoughts when Spike tumbled down the stairwell.

“Oof! Ow! Ugh!” Hoping Twilight was with him, everypony crowded around. All he managed to spit out was, “Twilight! Trouble! Help!”

“No! Get off of me!” Twilight shouted. I barely heard her voice over the sound of my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. “STOP! Let go! Where are you taking me?”

“Stop asking questions,” a gruff voice shot back.

“Move it,” another agreed.

The smarter tactic would probably have been to regroup unseen and find out what they were up to. But in our time of panic, all we could think about was Twilight’s safety. All of our company shot out of the trees and into the clearing to face Twilight’s attackers. I was frozen solid when I saw who we were about to battle. Two very large, strong looking ponies held Twilight. The dragon wings were what stopped me in my tracks. Even Twilight’s magic was useless against their thestral fire. Their focus snapped onto us, pupils like daggers piercing us all with a critical stare. These were trained, deadly thestrals that we were up against. Even worse was that I recognized one.

“Let. Her. Go,” Applejack demanded.

“They’ve seen us. Seize them!” Before I could scream, “Wait,” ponies were flying every which way. While Rainbow was the first in the air, she was also first on the ground. AJ lasted a little longer, but soon was sent sprawling across the clearing. Fluttershy tried to avoid the fight altogether and worked on freeing Twilight. She was almost instantly subdued for her efforts. Rarity wasn’t used to this kind of behavior, and it didn’t take much for her to be caught. Pinkie was the only one really doing any real good. Her crazy antics kept her away from the goons for the most part.

Our ponies kept bouncing back whenever they were thrown off, which elongated the battle. I’d been petrified, glued to the spot all this time. Now I had to move if I didn’t want a black eye. The hooves of the green one I didn’t recognize were flying right at me.

I ducked, and lashed out with my own hooves, swiping his legs out from under him. I stood over the thestral as he landed with a thud. “STOP!” I screamed... or tried to. From below, he bashed me off balance, knocking the wind out of me. I was thrown across the clearing, cloak discarded. Everypony froze. The second thestral with Pinkie Pie, Rarity and Rainbow all hanging off of him batted the ponies away and squinted.

“No...” he breathed. “Acrylic?”

“Meteor Strike, WHAT is going on?” I demanded, shaking the dirt out of my coat.

“You know this earth pony?” The other growled.

“She wasn’t always an earth pony,” Meteor retorted. His companion took a second look at my faded cutie mark and glinting scars.

“This is...” he began, lost for words.

“SOMEPONY TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON!” I boomed. The two thestrals looked at one another.

“We have to take them to Torchwood,” the one said.

“Agreed,” Meteor reluctantly concurred.

“Torchwood? What does Torchwood have to do with any of this?” Applejack called, now being yanked to her hooves and forced to walk.

“Oh... didn’t I tell you guys? He’s a thestral too,” Rainbow sheepishly blushed.


“Torchwood’s attacking us now?”

“No! He would never!” I roared.

“Hate to break it to ya, sweetheart, but he’s the one leading this whole operation,” the green thestral disrespectfully drawled.

“No,” was all that I could manage. “No, no, no! Not Torchwood! Meteor Strike, it isn’t true! It can’t be!”

“It is,” he remorsefully sighed, nudging me into line with the others. I noticed that I received gentler treatment than my friends.

What was going on? We were up against Torchwood? The stallion I loved? Who cared for and loved me back? I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it! He had to be under some influence... could the same evil that kidnapped the Princesses be somehow controlling Torchwood? It had to be. I would accept no other explanation.

I was too numb to comprehend what was going on, and the others were too exhausted to fight back. We allowed ourselves to be led away. Luckily, we were being led just where we wanted to go anyway: back to the Tree of Harmony. At least, I thought this was lucky. The sight that met my eyes was worse than any nightmare. I’d been right when I thought I saw movement. There was no way this many thestrals could have arrived in the time we were gone. They must’ve been hiding in the shadows, out of our sight. An army’s worth of angry thestral ponies lined the edges of the tavern, unfazed by the huge black creepers curling amongst them.

“Ah, her majesty has arrived,” an all too familiar voice scornfully called. The stallion I used to know mockingly bowed to his prisoner. His coat was darker than any transformation I’d ever seen. His pupils were just slits. Though he was already tall, he’d shot up almost another foot. Despite these minor changes, I still recognized him. “How nice of your friends to join you in your imprisonment.”

“Torchwood,” his father scolded. He shook his head to tell him to stop.

“What’s wrong, father? Are you finally feeling the weight of what we have done?” Meteor gently, even kindly nudged me forward. I took a few more strides on my own until Torchwood had a clear view of my face. The haughty sneer vanished. For a moment, even his pupils rounded back out. “Acrylic, my dear! You’ve come back!” He ran to greet me in a tight embrace.

“I have,” I squeaked, nervously nudging him away.

“I didn’t quite believe it when I first heard you had returned, but here you are.”

“Who told you I was back?” He ignored my question.

“You’ve come just in time to help us complete our conquest of Equestria!”

“I have?”

“Come with me, and I will show you all that we have accomplished in your name.”

“My name?!” I shrieked.

“Is this so surprising, Darling?”

“Yes! What’s going on? Why are you doing this?”

“Why, I thought you’d be pleased.” He honestly looked aghast. “After what they had done to you,” he gestured to my friends, “we have plotted against Celestia. We did this for you! To avenge this crime.” His eyes ran over my bare sides, which became damp with pity.

“This isn’t what I would have wanted,” I pleaded. “The colt I knew would know that!”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“My Torchwood would never do this. He would never wish harm upon anypony!”

“What would you have me do, then?”

“Forgive,” I begged.

“Forgive? After all they have done to us?”

“To me, Torch. They did this to me and me alone. You say that you fight for revenge in my name,” I argued. “I have forgiven them for what they have done to me.” I looked over at the six mares still being held back, eyes shining. Theirs, too, reflected joy as they looked right back. Pinkie was about to break into happy tears. “I’ve forgiven them,” I repeated. “The least you can do is to do the same.”

“But my sweet-”

“STOP CALLING ME THAT!” I neighed. He stepped back in surprise. “You aren’t the stallion I fell in love with.” Torchwood’s eyes turned cold.

“First you disgrace our kind, and now you turn my love against me?” he boomed at Twilight. “EQUESTRIA WILL PAY FOR THE CRIMES IT HAS COMMITTED TO THESTRAL KIND!”

“Stop this right here, Torchwood,” I pleaded. “Nopony has to get hurt. Please!”

“Never fear, my sweet. You will not be harmed. Father, please take her to join her two young dragon friends.”

“Blaze and Garble are here? What have you done with them?!” I screamed. Meteor Strike’s pale coat approached from the left while the other thestral from before took my other side. “Get off!”

“Please don’t try to resist, Dearest. Your dragons are safe. I intend to keep all three of you out of harm’s way until this is all over. You will love me yet; you’ll see. Perhaps you only need time to remember your feelings.” He pecked my cheek as he walked by. My heart didn’t flutter as it used to. It remained as hard and unmoving as a rock. My whole body clenched in his presence. The green thestral shoved me forward. “Do be gentle with her, Earthen Flame,” Torchwood almost kindly scolded. The thestral Earthen Flame obeyed his orders and prompted me to walk with a light tap to my hindquarters. I tried to whip around him, out of reach and back to Torchwood.

“No!” I cried. “You can’t! PLEASE!” Meteor had to catch me and hold me back.

“Please don’t make this harder than it has to be,” he whispered. I still fought back, trying to escape their grasp.

“Acrylic!” My friends, too, were trying to pull away. A ring of thestral fire kept them blocked in. Those with wings were held down so they couldn’t get away. I finally stopped struggling when I was dragged back behind the Tree of Harmony and could no longer see my friends.

It seemed that this whole vine business was their doing. The creepers had been bent to their will for sure. How else had a perfect prison been formed from the thorny vines? Two prisoners already resided inside.

“Blaze! Garble!” I finally ran of my own free will to the cage where the boys were. Garble got up and gripped the bars upon my approach. The vines parted as I advanced, but before the boys could slip out, I was shoved in. The gap sealed itself behind me. I hugged my boys, just glad that they were safe. “I was so worried,” I tearfully sniffed.

“You’re the one that disappeared,” Garble half accused.

“Discord’s teleportation landed me in a different part of Ponyville,” I assured. “I looked everywhere. Even Rainbow did a fly-over for me. We couldn’t find you anywhere.” Meteor Strike cleared his throat from outside the cell. Blaze hadn’t let go of me, so we both swiveled to see what he wanted.

“Torchwood wants you to let me know if you need anything.”

“Please don’t do this, Meteor,” I begged.

“I’m sorry,” he wilted. Earthen Flame had already exited the corridor.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” I pressed, moving to cling to the vines. “Just let me talk to him. We both know this isn’t the real Torchwood. Maybe I can talk some sense into him.”

“I wish I could.” He turned and began down the same passage. Then he stopped and looked back. “But I’m only a call away.”

“METEOR STRIKE!” I screamed, banging on the cage. The vines didn’t like that, and wound themselves around my hoof. I couldn’t yank it away. It was crawling farther up my arm, and I was beginning to panic. Then, in a crackle of fire, Garble burned it away. I was nearly hysterical at this point; Garble had to drag me to the center of the room, away from the vines. I wept uncontrollably, holding Blaze tight. Garble eventually let me cradle him, too. The thestrals had started a war, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

“Now what?” Rainbow asked, tugging on her binds for the hundredth time.

“I don’t know,” Twilight sobbed. “I just don’t know. We were so focused on making up for what we did to Acrylic by making peace with the thestrals that we ignored the possibility they could be hostile. I don’t know what to do!”

“This ain’t your fault, sugar cube,” Applejack consoled.

“But it is. I promised that I would take on thestral negotiations as my own responsibility. Now look what’s happened.”

“All may not be lost just yet, Princess Twilight,” a deep voice thrummed from the side. All six girls turned to spot Meteor Strike’s form amongst the shadows. “I know we have not given off a good first impression, but please realize that not all of us are this way.”

“You’re Torchwood’s father, aren’t you?” Twilight sniffed.

“I am Meteor Strike,” he nodded. “I don’t know what’s gotten into my son. He’s been like this ever since he first heard of Acrylic’s punishment. He wanted to protect her, but now I see he’s gone too far.”

“You can still help us stop him,” Twilight pressed.

“He will listen to nopony,” he sighed. “I myself have tried reasoning with him, but to no avail.”

“He’ll listen to one pony,” Rainbow spoke up.

“Acrylic,” Meteor nodded, realizing what she meant. “But I cannot get to her without being missed at my post.”

“There must be some way to get a message through, at the very least,” Rarity thought. Just then, a long black and yellow snake dropped in from the roots above. Rarity squealed with fright, which roused some amusement from nearby thestrals. Applejack poised herself to stomp the snake away.

“No! Don’t hurt him.” Fluttershy squealed, pulling the snake to safety. “It’s just a little garter snake. What did he ever do to you?”

“How did it even get in here?” Twilight wondered.

“It must have dropped in from the vines,” Pinkie commented, stating the obvious.

“Hey... that snake made it past the weeds...” Twilight thought. “Fluttershy, do you think you could convince that snake to get a message to Acrylic?” The snake needed no bribery; it vigorously nodded, accepting the assignment. This done, Twilight turned to Meteor. “Will you help us?”

“Tell me what you need.”

I must’ve fallen asleep at some point or another, because I woke to something crawling up my leg. Thinking it was another vine, I jumped up to try and kick it off. A startled snake was all that came free.

“Heckley!” The garter snake recovered within a few moments, and realizing the misunderstanding, slithered back. “How’d you find us?” I asked, drawing him close. The dragons were also waking up from their nap. Heckley only hissed, opening his mouth wide. A small roll of paper lay inside. “What’s this?” I removed the parchment from his maw, and he coiled himself around Blaze’s neck while I read what was written.

“Thestrals move to attack in fifteen minutes. You have until then to talk some sense into Torchwood,” I read aloud. The questioning look on my face changed to one of realization as pale orange flames streaked down the corridor, circling back to the prison. The walls were slowly engulfed in the fire, and ultimately burned down. Meteor Strike was giving us a second chance. A chance to stop the war.

“So... does this mean we can go?” Blaze hopefully piped up. I turned to Garble.

“Take him and get out of here.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going to stop Torchwood.”

“We’re going with you.”

“No.” I looked him square in the eye. “I promised your mother that I would keep you both safe. So please, go and... be safe. Do it for her sake, if not mine.”

“Will we ever see you again?” Blaze whimpered.

“I sure hope so, baby,” I sighed, giving him what I somehow knew would be a last nuzzle. As much as I wanted to extend the embrace, I couldn’t let on to him that I thought we may never see one another anymore. I straightened, and prepared to make a more formal goodbye with Garble. To my surprise, he initiated the hug. He knew, too. I fondly squeezed back.

“Take care.”

“You too.”

“What about Heckley?” Blaze lifted the snake up.

“Take care of him for me, yeah?” I sniffled. Blaze coddled the snake fondly. It was there that we split ways. I ran down the corridor, but Garble lifted Blaze and Heckley onto his back and took to the sky.

Chapter 36: The Seventh Element

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Chapter 36
The Seventh Element

“Finally, our time has come,” Torchwood gleefully announced. I was crouched behind a tangle of vines, listening in. How was I going to talk to Torchwood? As soon as he saw me, he’d just have some of his followers bring me back to “safety.” I needed a diversion. One to keep his soldiers busy while I approached him.

“What are you waiting for?” a voice hissed behind me. I almost jumped out of my skin as Meteor crawled out of the shadows.

“I can’t approach him now; his goons will just drag me back. I need a diversion to keep them busy,” I gasped, relaying my thoughts.

“Leave that to me,” he promised, leaving me again. I watched as he crossed the room, nodding respectfully yet casually to any thestral he passed. He was heading over to the corner where the other girls were tied. He bent over long enough to whisper something to Twilight. Then, a small peach tinted fire sparked from his hooves. It was just enough to ignite the vines, and within seconds, he had freed Twilight and her friends. Amazingly, nopony else had noticed. Not until Rainbow screeched out for them all to hear, anyway.

“Hey, Bozo! Come get me!” Instantly, fire, ponies and spells were flying every which way.

“Don’t forget about me!”

“Yoo hoo! Over here!”

“Ya snooze ya lose, pal!”

“What? Who released the prisoners?” Torchwood bellowed.

“Torchwood,” I appeared behind him. He jumped at the sound of my voice.

“Acrylic, Love, what are you doing out here? Go back before you’re caught in the crossfire!”

“I can’t let you do this. Taking over Equestria? That’s not you, Torch. The stallion I knew liked the quiet life. He just wanted a small place out in the country. Remember Ponyville, Torch? You loved it there.”

“Yet if I go back, I am faced with reminders of their crimes.”

“You think I wasn’t left with reminders? Look at my cutie mark. I have to walk around a blank flank. An adult blank flank for the rest of my life. You think that’s not going to attract attention? And these scars... I know I’m going to get some strange looks when I walk by from here on out. But I don’t care, Torch. I let it go. So can you.”

“It is too late for that.”

“It’s never too late! The Princesses were planning to offer a peace treaty. To bring thestrals back to Equestria! That’s what we wanted all along.”

“I will not share this land with them.”

“Why not?”

“Thestrals will reign supreme. This will be our home! Let the other pony types fend for themselves in the Everfree as we were left to do for a thousand years!”

“Can you not hear me?”

“Father, take Acrylic back. I will deal with this nuisance once and for all.” I looked to my right and realized that my friends had again been subdued. I pretended to walk with Meteor for a few paces, but he led me no further. I wasn’t going to leave my friends again.

“You ponies have proven quite bothersome,” Torchwood went on, pacing from his platform of vines. “No more.” He charged up his fire, more powerful than I’d ever seen. It burned hot and intense, surging with power. What was he doing? He wouldn’t hurt them, would he? I hadn’t thought he’d take over Equestria, either, but here we were. Torchwood wasn’t a murderer. I could say that no longer by the look in his eyes. He was going to hurt them. Badly. Or worse, if I didn’t stop him.

An orb of magical fire was hurled. It was headed straight for Twilight. Vines held her down so she couldn’t move. Not even her magic could stop the thestral fire. It was getting closer and closer to her... so was I.

Before I knew what was going on, I charged at Twilight, hoping the collision would knock her over low enough to avoid being hit. I couldn’t tell which would hit her first; me or the fireball. I ran faster than I ever had before. I doubted wings could have sped me up much more. I just knew that I had to protect Twilight. And Torchwood. If he went down this road, it would be a long, hard journey back. I might not get him back, for that matter. I couldn’t lose him this way. I wouldn’t.

I felt like I’d run into a brick wall when my shoulder finally collided with Twilight’s otherwise unharmed frame. The fireball was so close it blinded me. The world seemed to move in slow motion. I saw that Twilight was safe; she was almost to the floor as it was. But then the realization hit me that I wasn’t, in the form of a fireball.

It knocked me square in the chest. While my momentum should have carried me to the left, the impact sent me sprawling clear back.

“NO!” Somepony screamed. A clamor of muffled and echo-ey voices met my ears as I dropped to the floor. It seemed to take an eternity; the world was frozen. Time didn’t return to its proper perception until I hit the dank and dirty ground. I skidded for a few feet, and then simply stopped.

I had no energy left. I felt hooves curling around my neck as I was turned over, and my head was raised up. It was Rainbow supporting me. The residual effects of the fire must have been enough to free them. Either that or Meteor had ordered for their release. Torchwood was no longer in control. He had sagged to the floor, accompanied by his father. He had already been defeated. My view of them was blocked when the rest of my friends crowded around.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Rainbow assured. She couldn’t even convince herself, let alone me. “You’ve gotta be okay.”

“You saved me,” was all the stunned Twilight could sniff.

“Couldn’t let Torchwood... go down... that road...” I gasped.

“Shh,” Rarity cried. “Be still.”

“Equestria’s safe now, right?” I went on, ignoring her orders.

“Yes,” Twilight nodded, tears running down her cheeks. “You saved us.”

“Good.” I let myself sag back into Rainbow’s arms.

“Don’t worry,” Pinkie piped up. “As soon as we get back to Ponyville, we’ll throw you the best Get Well Party Ponyville has ever seen! Right after the Welcome Back Party! Right, girls?” Even Pinkie knew that no such event would take place.

“Right, Pinkie,” Rainbow humored her.

“Fluttershy,” I whispered.

“Yes?” The yellow pegasus pushed in close.

“There’s a baby dragon out there somewhere. Blaze. I need you to make sure he’s alright for me, okay?”

“Okay,” she mournfully nodded. Normally she would never agree to scouring Equestria for a dragon of all creatures- not even for a baby. But she would honor my last request.

“Acrylic, ya know I didn’t mean any o’ what I said afore,” AJ sniffled, removing her stetson and clutching it to her chest. “I was just angry, and scared. I’m so, so sorry.”

“I know,” I touched my hoof to hers. “It’s okay.”

“It ain’t okay!” she insisted. “This is my fault! If I hadn’t said those things, maybe you’da stayed put. This all coulda been resolved ages ago.”

“It was all our faults, AJ,” Twilight wept. “We should have never tried to change you in the first place. We all drove you away. We’re all sorry.” Heads bobbed agreement all around us. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know what we could have possibly been thinking. Changing you? That was no better than Discord trying to turn us against our elements. I’m unequivocally mortified of what we did,” Rarity let her head hang in shame, allowing those beloved curls of hers to drag into the grime of the dirt.

“We’re all soooooo sorry,” Rainbow snuffled again.

“Really super-duper sorry!” Pinkie emphasized.

“I am too,” I wheezed. “I shouldn’t have left. If I’d just stayed here, none of this would’ve happened. Now I get that you were just trying to protect the rest of Equestria. I just wish you’d done it a little less… dramatically.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for! What we did was unjustifiable… downright unforgivable.”

“It’s okay,” I softly insisted, closing my eyes. I didn’t have the strength to keep them open. “I forgive you.” Then, I died.

Everypony knew it when Acrylic was gone. The gray mare was completely limp, and her previously labored breaths had stopped altogether. Pinkie’s mane deflated. Everypony was in tears; even the surrounding thestrals bowed their heads in honor of their fallen member. Rainbow still cradled the body, refusing to believe that their friend was gone.

“What’ve we done?” Twilight sobbed.

“You did nothing,” came a deep voice from behind. Torchwood finally stood. “This was my doing. I killed her.” He stumbled over, looking so weak and frail that not even Rainbow did anything to stop him. He lay at the mare’s side, and lay his head over hers, tears dripping into her long blue mane. “I’m sorry.”

A soft hissing interrupted his final farewell as a black snake bobbed up from inside the tangle of hair. “Get away,” Torchwood demanded of the creature.

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy sniffed. “That’s the snake that brought our message to her.” At this, Torchwood decided the reptile could stay.

“NO!” another, much younger voice screeched. The heavy wing beats suggested a thestral arriving, but when all eyes turned a second time, two young dragons landed instead. Spike recognized the older of the two. It was that bully from the dragon migration, Garble. He didn’t recognize the younger orange hatchling now running to the body. Spike was already emotional, and was getting ready to lay into Garble. What was he doing here? He didn’t care about ponies. Did he? Acrylic’s words came to mind. ‘He’s not as bad as he seems,’ she’d said. Spike stayed put, prepared to give him a chance. Rarity and Twilight, too, recognized the dragon, but said nothing in their sorrow.

Blaze passed those already gathered around and buried himself in the thick blue curls. “Please get up,” he begged.

“Are you Blaze?” Fluttershy timidly asked. The dragon barely nodded, drying his tears. Fluttershy outstretched her arms to receive the child. She’d made a pledge to make sure he was okay, and now it was time to make good on that promise. The baby dragon didn’t know this mare except from Acrylic’s paintings, but her loving, comforting stance reminded him of his foster mother. He practically leapt into her arms, allowing the mare to comfort him. Garble angrily marched up, eyes damp. He wasn’t so tough anymore.

“You LIED!” he shouted at the corpse. “You said you’d always be there for us! How am I supposed to take care of my brother now?” Even he was crying. The mane six looked at each other. Twilight finally shifted her gaze to the ground, another tear splashing in the dirt.

“Acrylic may have forgiven us,” she began, “but I won’t ever be able to forgive myself.” Her coat began to turn a drab shade of gray.

“Me neither,” Rainbow whimpered. One by one, the six friends all nodded, coats and manes fading. Torchwood’s pelt didn’t change colors, but he already looked broken.

A soft rattling disrupted the silence. Twilight finally opened her eyes and noticed that her friends’ elements were all glowing, even shaking in their golden sockets. The pink six-pointed star in her own crown was shining the brightest.

“What’s goin’ on, Twilight?” Applejack worriedly called.

“I don’t know! I’m not doing anything!” Twilight answered. What was going on with the elements? She wasn’t harnessing their power. So what was?

The familiar rainbow-tinted light began to unfurl, locking all the elements together. The black vines didn’t like this, and began shooting towards the girls in an attempt to stop them. Just when Twilight thought they were toast, the thestrals stepped in, keeping the rogue vines at bay with a technicolor array of fire.

The elements had activated all on their own, but none of their wielders protested. Blaze shrank back to his brother, not sure what was going on. Garble looked to the hatchling Spike for guidance. While he didn’t like the little pest, he knew more about what was going on than they did. Spike didn’t seem very concerned, but stayed a good distance back. Garble led his brother away so they could do the same. Even Torchwood shied from the elements’ power. No doubt they were acting on him, to extinguish the villain once and for all. He shut his eyes, coming to terms with this fate, and prepared himself for whatever came next.

An explosive booming commenced, but nothing hit Torchwood. He opened his eyes to a blinding light focused on where Acrylic’s body lay. All the spectators shielded their eyes from the light, giving the group an even wider girth. The light only intensified, becoming more and more concentrated. Then, it could condense no more. It exploded into a huge pulse of light that would soon envelope the entire Everfree. All of the invading weeds were disintegrated on the spot. The dragons in attendance were unaffected, and neither were the element wielders, but the impact slightly jarred the thestrals. Garble watched on in confused amazement as the thestrals’ coats lightened a shade or two. The blade-like eyes were done away with, replaced with standard round pupils. Some even shrunk down a few inches- Torchwood was among this number. They recovered almost instantly, barely fazed.

Then, slowly and gradually, the light faded. Twilight and the other Elements of Harmony were set gently on the ground from where they were hovering in the air. The light was still receding around Acrylic’s body. Everypony and dragon leaned in close to see what the glowing orb concealed. A pair of dragon wings shot out of the light and into view.

Okay, so maybe I was a little melodramatic about the whole ‘dying thing.’ It felt like dying, anyway. Even the elements of harmony couldn’t bring back the dead; I must have passed out. Even so, I didn’t think I would wake up. But I did.


“ACRYLIC!” My head exploded into thunderous cheers and screams, causing my eyes to shoot open. Loud noises usually meant danger. Where? I couldn’t tell when a multitude of bodies pressed in and smothered me.

“You’re alright!” I was, wasn’t I? Torchwood’s shot had hit me. So why wasn’t I dead?

“Wha hapn?” I mumbled, slurring my words in the confusion. There wasn’t time for an answer before the ponies were broken up and a second wave washed up. Pointed claws dug into the back of my neck, and I felt warm, wet tears dripping down my coat. I was astonished to find Garble of all dragons in my arms.

“I thought I lost you,” he muttered. I held him close.

“Hey, hey,” I cooed, happy tears welling up. “You aren’t getting rid of me that easily.” He finally pried himself away, relieved to be laughing with me. Then he turned to look at the ponies and purple dragon giddily watching from behind.

“Not one word, Rookie,” he ordered, pointing a claw at Spike. Spike finally seemed to understand what I meant when I said Garble wasn’t so bad, and waved it off good-naturedly.

“That’s some improvement,” Rainbow beamed.

“What?” What did I miss? She pointed at my neck, where something golden glinted out of the corner of my eye. I froze. It was a golden necklace just like my friends’. It was just the same, right down to the white jewel in the center. It was gleaming white, curled in the shape of a tongue of fire. It looked almost what my cutie mark used to be, though the ends were even more curled, almost forming an uneven heart. Then my head snapped around to my back, where my breath was caught in my throat. I was looking for a cutie mark, but my view was blocked by two huge, leathery wings.

“They’re back!” I happily cried. I temporarily moved them aside to check for a cutie mark to go with them, and was greeted with such a reward. It was all still there. The purple puddle and the flaming paintbrush. The fire on the brush had been changed just enough to match the amulet around my neck with the same heart theme. I’d never been so happy in my life. I wanted to perform a celebratory flight then and there. I’d only gotten as far as a giddy twirl before I was stopped.

Before I could take to the sky, my gaze shifted ever so slightly, and finally happened upon the familiar form of Torchwood. He wasn’t as tall as he had been when he attacked, but back to Luna’s height, and his coat was back to its usual bright chocolate hue. His ears were flat; eyes sad and apologetic. He didn’t know where to begin. My heart skipped a beat. This was my Torchwood.

He didn’t get a chance to say anything before I threw myself at him. He was too shocked to move for a moment, but soon drew me even closer. “How can you ever forgive what I’ve done?” he whispered, trembling with a hurricane of emotions.

“It wasn’t you,” I promised. “It was an ancient evil. But it’s gone now. You defeated it.”

“She is quite right,” a commanding yet loving voice sounded. I knew that voice. I stiffly turned into the face of Princess Celestia, accompanied by Luna. For a moment, I was almost afraid they’d try to take my wings away from me again, but their joyful expressions told me that no such transformation would take place.

“Princess!” Twilight happily squealed, sprinting to greet them. Both Princesses returned her hug, but everypony else dropped into a low, respectful bow. That included all thestrals in sight. Even Garble felt a little awkward being the only one standing upright, and subtly dipped his head. Torchwood practically crawled forward.

“Your Majesty,” he gulped, “I take full responsibility for my actions. I surrender myself, but please do not place the consequences of my wrongdoing on my kin.”

“No!” I bounded forward to his side. “Please, Princess! That wasn’t the real Torchwood that kidnapped you. You said yourself almost a year ago that an ancient evil exists in all thestrals, passed down through the generations. You tried to change me because you were afraid it would flare up. It just flared up in the wrong pony.”

“I am aware, Acrylic,” Celestia assured.


“I have no intention of punishing Torchwood, or anypony else.”

“But I led an attack on Equestria!” Torchwood whimpered. “And almost succeeded.”

“It was the same evil we faced a thousand years ago that controlled your actions,” Luna cut him off. “And now, it has been vanquished once and for all.”

“It has?”

“I saw all the thestrals turn a few shades lighter,” Garble offered.

“And a few shrunk,” Blaze put in.

“The seventh Element of Harmony has removed the evil.”

“I represent an Element of Harmony?” I assumed as much, finding the band around my neck, but hearing it spoken finally caused the realization to sink in.

“But what element does she represent?” Rarity asked.

“I’ve never read about it in any of my books,” Twilight agreed.

“That is because it did not exist until now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Acrylic, do you recall the fail safe mechanism I told you of a year ago?”

“You said that when thestrals tried to control the elements a thousand years ago, the fail safe mechanism backfired and turned them all evil.”

“That’s correct. I believe the fail safe was activated again.”

“But how? I thought the fail safe only existed because there was no pony to wield them at the time.”

“You must remember that the elements exist solely to maintain the harmony. This original evil was first created before there were proper wielders. Should the elements’ new wielders be unable to perform their duties, the elements must take matters on themselves to right the wrong they themselves created in the past.”

“Why wouldn’t we have been able to control the elements?”

“You said that you would never be able to forgive yourself just before your coats turned gray,” Torchwood realized, beginning to work things out on his own.


“And so the Elements of Harmony created a seventh element to fix the balance!” Twilight finished. “The Element of Forgiveness!”

“Element of Forgiveness?” I repeated, looking down at the gem glinting on my chest. I smiled. “I like it.”

“So what happens to all the thestrals now?” Pinkie wondered, looking around at the multitudes that had barely moved all this time. Celestia too noted the huge quantity of frightened faces around her, and reassuringly beamed.

“Thestrals belong with the rest of pony kind. They will all be welcomed back to Equestria!” The entire crowd broke into cheers. I jumped up and down, unable to contain my excitement. “And,” Celestia went on, “To formally welcome thestrals back to Equestria, I invite everypony to the Summer Sun Celebration in Canterlot!” Most ponies stomped their hooves in light of the invitation. I felt something soft being placed on my head, and the world went dark. I removed the adornment covering my eyes so I could get a good look at it.

“My hat!” I exclaimed. It was the same purple plaid beret I threw away last year.

“Rarity has been obsessing over that hat since you left!” Rainbow exclaimed. The white unicorn blushed.

“I was just holding it for you, dear,” she stated. I wasn’t sure how she transported it all this way without me seeing, but didn’t concern myself with that minor detail.

I couldn’t contain myself any longer. My wings snapped open and shot me into the sky. Now I had room to properly celebrate. I seemed to have led the charge, because I was momentarily joined by Rainbow Dash, Twilight, Meteor Strike and even Garble carrying Blaze along with hundreds of thestrals I didn’t recognize. I twirled midair, giving me the chance to look back down at the ground. Rarity, AJ and Pinkie were the only Elements left on the ground, though the Princesses looked on as well. I noticed Torchwood still guiltily positioned on the ground, and waved for him to join us. Some prodding from Luna finally motivated him to get up.

He was soaring right for me, so I playfully twirled around him. Just getting up in the air seemed to lift his spirits, but realizing that nopony blamed him for what had happened did wonders for his self-esteem. In fact, his comrades welcomed him into the flight formation. I felt something smooth and cold drop onto my back, and felt Heckley winding himself around my neck. His tongue stuck out of his mouth, sticking out as the breeze hit his face as a dog might. I laughed at the sight. A heavier form was deposited on my back, which I soon found to be Blaze. Garble glided overtop of me. He was probably glad to be rid of the extra weight. I didn’t mind the additional passenger. I grinned up at the red adolescent, and though he tried to ignore me, I noticed that he couldn’t help but grin back.

We were finally joined by not only the Princesses flying point but by Rarity, Applejack and Pinkie Pie as they were towed behind in levitation bubbles.

“Ooh, I do see how you find this enjoyable,” Rarity sighed, letting the breeze air dry her perfect curls. While the levitation bubble was carrying her, she moved her hooves so it looked like she was trotting on air.

“It is awful relaxin’, ain’t it?” AJ agreed, letting the levitation bubble do the work and reclining on her back.

“Awful FUN!” Pinkie gargled through a snorkel, abandoning both of their approaches and swimming through the air past us all. I wasn’t sure where she’d gotten a snorkel and pool flippers on such short notice, but I decided not to question it. Pinkie would always be Pinkie.

Chapter 37: Return of the Thestrals

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Chapter 37
Return of the Thestrals

At first, the dark, silhouetted swarm of thestrals frightened Ponyville’s citizens, but when the Princesses came into view out in front, panicked screams turned to cheers. The previously imprisoned messengers and scouts had also been released. The Princesses swooped low at the edge of town to land. There wasn’t enough room for all the thestrals to land in the town, so most circled around the edges of Ponyville to find a landing spot just inside the Everfree. A few perched on the clouds, but fewer actually had the courage to come into town. Torchwood landed with me and the others in town.

“Bravo, ladies,” Discord congratulated. “A job well done. How ever did you save the day this time? Blast the beastie with your magic necklaces, I presume?”

“I’m no beastie, Discord,” I beamed. He started to smile, noting that my wings and cutie mark were back. But then he laid eyes on my element. His expression fell, un-amused.

“You mean I have another one of those things to worry about now?” he huffed, crossing his arms. “I don’t get it.” And so, we all briefly summarized the night’s events for him, taking turns telling the story. Celestia took it upon herself to explain the creation of the seventh element in terms he would understand. Just as she finished, she and Luna were called away by Mayor Ivory Scroll. Once they were gone, Discord was free to smile to himself.

“The Element of Forgiveness? I see. So you wouldn’t use your element against me, would you, Acrylic? After all, you’ve forgiven my attempt to rule Equestria, right?”

“I have, Discord.” I chose my words carefully. There was still a mischievous glint in his eyes. “But don’t force me to make that decision, okay?” Ironically, Fluttershy noticed my indecision, and stepped up to put her hoof down.

“But our friendship remains. And if you want to remain friends, you'll stop thinking whatever it is you're thinking and help us clean up.”

“Fine. But I don't do windows.” He vanished momentarily, and then returned in a maid’s uniform, sauntering off to Ponyville with a feather duster in his paw.

“There’s still one thing I don’t understand,” Twilight said, turning to Torchwood. “I get that Acrylic’s transformation made you angry enough to spark the ancient evil, but where’d those creepy crawlers come from?”

“You mean my beautiful saplings? I must admit, I’m rather disappointed in them as well.” We were rejoined by Discord. “Those seeds I planted should have sprouted up ages ago.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” Twilight screeched.

“Oh, why should I try to explain it when you can see for yourself?” Discord offered the white potion from before. In her frustration, Twilight didn’t hesitate to sip from it. She stared off into the distance, and her eyes turned white. Torchwood looked to me for answers. I only shrugged.

“Alicorn thing.” Discord still explained it for those of us who couldn’t watch the scene play before our eyes.

“I planted those seeds just before Celestia and Luna first turned me to stone to ensure my rein, but obviously things didn't go according to my original plan. My plunderseeds should have stolen the magic from the Tree of Harmony and captured Princess Celestia and Princess Luna thousands of moons ago.”

The residual effects didn’t last quite as long this time, and Twilight was soon shaking her head in recovery. She wasn’t too happy. “You do realize this is information we could have used HOURS ago?!”

“And rob you of a valuable lesson about being princess? What kind of friend do you think I am?” he snickered.

“That’s not the full version,” Torchwood spoke up. “Your plunderseeds would have sprouted sooner if it hadn’t been for our intervention. Thestrals have been renewing the magic barrier to the tree for decades. We just recently found a way to harness the weeds to obey our command, and unleashed them on the rest of Equestria.”

“That would explain a lot,” Discord sighed, crossing his arms in irritation. With nothing more to say, the draconequus teleported away.

“Attention, citizens of Ponyville!” the mayor called, attracting a rather large crowd. “It is my great pleasure to announce the return of the thestrals to Equestria! Her Highnesses, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have asked that we take on the great privilege of temporarily housing their personal guests.” Celestia took over from there to briefly explain the situation.

“I am aware that many of you will not be comfortable with allowing strangers into your homes,” she continued. “I will assure you that while this would be appreciated, it will not be necessary. I propose to construct a temporary camp on the edges of your town until a more permanent solution is brought forward. However, any who are willing to open their homes to these ponies should sign up to be paired with as many thestrals as they are capable of holding. Please see the mayor to do so. Any and all thestrals not placed in a home should see me in one hour. Thank you for your cooperation.” While they hadn’t actually been left with a choice, excited chattering rippled through the crowds. I was shocked yet delighted at the huge swarm of volunteers soon encircling the mayor.

“I wonder what’s become of Art Life?” I speculated aloud.

“The mayor didn’t think you were coming back,” Fluttershy timidly said, “so it defaulted back to the realtor. Somepony called Graphite Sketch bought it.”

“Graphite?” I couldn’t believe my ears. My first instinct was to become frustrated. He had tried awfully hard to make my life miserable. Torchwood’s, too. I stopped myself and took a deep breath. He had every right to purchase the place, if it had been put up for sale.

“Come on, Acrylic. You’ll stay with me for now,” Rarity called, splitting from the clusters. She paused in thought. “Your... snake... is welcome to join us, too.” I knew she wasn’t too fond of the reptiles, so this was a big sacrifice on her part.

“Wait,” I called. Garble and Blaze were still off to the side. I moved over to them, first. “Are you sure you won’t stay here in Ponyville?”

“Nah,” Garble shrugged. “Not my thing.”

“I’ll miss you.” I could finally give them a proper sendoff. We seemed to have mutually agreed that Blaze would go back with Garble. At least, until he spoke up.

“Do I have to go too, then?”

“I told you that you could make up your own mind,” I slowly recalled, exchanging glances with Garble. Blaze nodded.

“I think I want to stay.”

“You do?!” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked to hear this decision. I had taken care of him for a year, but surely that hadn’t been enough to pry him from his brother? Garble almost looked hurt, but I could tell that he’d been expecting to hear such an answer.

“Can I?” Blaze asked again. I turned to Garble once more, who glumly nodded consent.

“If you’re sure, of course you can stay.” Instead of hugging me, Blaze turned around and clung to his brother.

“I’m sorry,” he sniffed. “But they don’t like me there.”

“Whatever,” Garble mumbled, doing his best not to cry in front of everypony.

“We can still visit him, right?” Blaze looked to me.

“As often as you like,” I promised. Garble seemed to perk up a little at this proposition, as though he hadn’t realized there was such a possibility. “The Summer Sun Celebration is tomorrow, so maybe we could swing by Wednesday?”

“Sure,” Garble casually shrugged. I could tell he was actually thrilled.

“See you then,” Blaze beamed.

“Yeah. Bring Heckley too, would ya?”

“Sure thing, Garble.” We all watched and waved as the red dragon took off, heading back for the dragon craters.

“You don’t mind Blaze staying with us, too?” I turned to Rarity.

“It would be my pleasure to have all three of you,” she assured.

“What about Torchwood?”

“I think Mrs. Cake is out of town for a dessert contest today,” Pinkie remembered. “I’ll go see if Mr. Cake wants a guy’s night out!” Twilight levitated her element off of her as she happily bounced away, dragging Torchwood behind her. I laughed as he helplessly looked back at me.

“See you tomorrow!” I called.

“I have to go, too,” Twilight excused, removing all of our elements and giving them over to Spike. “I have to go put our name down on the list.”

“I’ll go with you,” Fluttershy offered. “Our cottage has room for a few more ponies to stay over.”

“We’ve got plenty o’ space at Sweet Apple Acres,” Applejack said, “and the family loves company. I might as well go see if Big Mac hasn’t put our name down yet.”

“I guess I wouldn’t mind having company tonight either,” Rainbow decided. “As long as they don’t snore.”

“If you get a choice, ask for Tanzanite Miner,” I suggested, recalling my only friend from Blade Wing Four. “You two would get along fine.”

I began to turn after Rarity when a booming voice cut me off.

“Acrylic Storm?” I slowly pivoted into the face of the moon princess.

“Princess Luna, your Highness!” I exclaimed, dropping to my knees with everypony else.

“Rise,” she demanded. Slowly and respectfully, we all did so.

“Princess Luna, I didn’t get a chance to say how glad I was that you were safe,” Twilight greeted.

“Thank you, Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Luna nodded. “It is good to be back.”

“What brings ya back down this way, your Highness? Didn’t Princess Celestia already take off?”

“That she did, Applejack, and I shall be joining her soon. However, first I seek a word with Acrylic, in private, please.”

“Me?” My heart dropped.

“We’ll leave you to it then,” Twilight confusedly consented, leading the rest of them away. Blaze, too, hung back with our hostess Rarity. I reluctantly trotted after Luna out into the peaceful countryside. Admittedly, it was rather difficult to find a vacant area with so many new faces around. At last, we came to stop in Ponyville Park, which the thestrals hadn’t found to be a landing ground just yet.

“I believe apologies are in order,” Luna prompted. I gulped.

“Of course, your Highness. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for impeding on Equestrian territory. But you must understand, all I wanted was to find friends. I just wanted to feel like I belonged to something bigger. To be loved.” Luna gave me a sad smile.

“Nightmare Moon wanted nothing more.”

“Your Highness?”

“Long ago, I too felt betrayed by my own sister. I know what it is like to be cast out. That is why I of all ponies should have understood your circumstances. Instead, I was blinded by my eagerness to right the wrongs I committed in the past. I should have sympathized with your situation, but instead, we tried to respond to a nonexistent threat by snuffing them out altogether. For this, I offer our sincerest apologies. I know I speak for Celestia too when I say that we are sorry.”

“Indeed, you do.”

“Your Highness!” I exclaimed. The silhouetted form of none other than Princess Celestia herself appeared on the distant horizon, slowly and regally making her way towards us. I fell to the ground in a bow to acknowledge her. Luna, on the other hoof, greeted her sister with a warm smile.

“Rise,” Celestia kindly commanded. I obediently returned to my hooves.

“I thought you had returned home, Sister,” Luna commented.

“How could I put my mind at ease without personally apologizing for our wrongdoing?” the sun princess countered, turning to me once more. “Words cannot express the shame and remorse I have felt since the day I passed my sentence upon you. I thought I was protecting my subjects from a danger that in actuality did not exist. Today’s events have proved just how wrong I was. It was not just the creation of the seventh element that negates my former reasoning; your actions have spoken for themselves. It took great courage to stand up against Torchwood in that state, especially considering your personal relationship with him. It was even more courageous to put your life on the line for Twilight. I don’t know what could have come over me to make me do the things I have done. Please, can you ever forgive me?” She dipped into a bow so low and respectful that I felt uncomfortable.

“Why… of course, your Highness! I already have!” Luna smiled an understanding smile, and knelt down with her sister.

“Thank you, Acrylic. You carry your new title as the Element of Forgiveness well.” My eyes watered as I dropped to the ground with them.

“Thank you, Your Highnesses. You have no idea how much that means to me.”

“Actually,” Luna interjected as we all rose, “I think I do.”

“Rest assured that I shall do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again,” Celestia promised.

“And Acrylic, Sister and I both owe you a great debt. Feel free to come by the castle anytime, lest you need anything at all. Canterlot Palace shall always be open to you.”

Rarity and I were starting off for her home, Heckley curled around my neck. Blaze was trailing along beside me, but a fifth voice piped up. “Hi! I’m Spike. You’re Blaze, right? We haven’t actually got a chance to talk, but I know your brother. He might’ve told you about me. I can’t tell you how cool it is to have another dragon living in Ponyville! And one my own age! Funny how that works out, huh?” He’d returned from replacing the elements in record time to finally get a chance to meet his fellow dragon.

“Uh...” Spike had been talking so fast that Blaze hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise. This pause, too, was brief.

“Anyway, stick with me. I’ve got lots to teach you about being a pony!”

“But I’m not a pony,” Blaze protested. Spike’s expression turned flat as though he suddenly found his newfound friend uninteresting.

“Come on, pal. It’s a figure of speech.”

“But I’m not a pony,” Blaze repeated.

“Alright, alright,” Spike sighed. He perked up, and I could practically see the light bulb going off over his head. “But I can still teach you how to be an assistant! You are Acrylic’s new assistant, aren’t you?”

“Uh... sure.”

“Great! I can teach you everything you need to know. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m kind of a pro at it myself. I’m Twilight’s Number One Assistant!”

“Princess Twilight’s assistant?” Blaze’s eyes suddenly gleamed with respect.

“Yeah! Except, she doesn’t like to be called ‘Princess.’ Hey, I’m sure she’s going to want to straighten up the library before we have company. Come on! I can start teaching you what it takes to become Acrylic’s Number One Assistant.” Blaze turned to me.

“Can I?”

“Sure!” I agreed. “Spike, can you show him back to the boutique when you’re done? He’s never been.”

“You got it!” he saluted. “In fact, I can show him all around Ponyville!” Then he took Blaze by the wrist and dragged him back to the library. Rarity and I exchanged smiles before continuing on our way.

Even after the sun and moon had returned to their proper places in the sky, it was only noon. Rarity suggested that I go to catch up with some old friends, but I was too exhausted from the day’s events. Rarity understood, and led me right to the boutique.

It was good to be back in the familiar shop. Sweetie Belle was at their parents’ house this weekend, but would be back soon enough, I was told. Until then, I was welcome to her room. I made a quick trip up there to familiarize myself with the area, but then returned to help Rarity fix lunch.

I almost accidentally knocked a mannequin over on my trip down, but caught it in time with my wing. I noticed that Rarity stiffened at the gesture, watching from the kitchen. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“You flinch every time I move my wings,” I pointed out. She stayed guiltily silent. “Do you want me to retract them?”

“You mean make yourself look like an earth pony again? No, that won’t be necessary, but I appreciate the gesture. Like you said, they’re only wings. I’m going to have to get used to them at some point or another.”

“You’re positive that you’re alright with me staying here? I don’t want you uncomfortable in your own home,” I repeated.

“It’s my pleasure to have you here!” she exclaimed. “I just need time to get used to seeing you with those.”

“If you say so.” Despite her reassurances, I caught her staring at me the whole time we prepared DLT sandwiches (daisy, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, to be exact). It didn’t help at all when Opalescence spotted Heckley and tried to find out if he was a play toy. I had to shield him with my wings, and Rarity yanked her cat back. She turned to apologize, but found herself lost to the leathery appendages again. I finally made up my mind. “I’ll be back,” I promised.

“Where are you going?”

“Wing retractions aren’t the prettiest things to watch. I’ll go outside to do it.” (At the time, I wasn’t aware that the hideous process of wing retracting had been altered to a more bearable method by the elements’ transformation.)

“How am I supposed to get used to your wings if I can’t see them?” she argued. I stopped. She did have a point. “I’ve got it!” she exclaimed. She dashed to her work room.

“What have you got?” I exchanged glances with Heckley before hurrying after her.

“A way for me to get used to you thestrals,” she simply answered, levitating her sketchpad and pencil from a cluttered desk. I caught a glimpse of the forming image over her shoulder. It was the typical pony base she used when she was designing a new dress, but she added wings to this one. Dragon wings.

“You know, designing a thestral dress isn’t going to be easy. Dragon wings aren’t as flexible as pegasi wings. They won’t fit through those little slits you usually add. And they’re a lot bigger. You’ll need a larger gap, and some pretty sturdy material, if you don’t want the fabric to sag.”

“I do love a challenge,” she answered, engrossed in her work. “I intend to begin a whole line of thestral designs! It’s sure to help me get over this paranoia I seem to be experiencing. Oh, Acrylic, would you please model for me?”

“If you recall, I’m not much of a model... but I know of some thestral girls really into that kind of thing.”

“Well, that would be fine... but it sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?” I suddenly understood. She wanted to get used to my wings.

“One dress,” I promised.

Chapter 38: A Proposal

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Chapter 38
A Proposal

I was gathered in the front row by the stage with everypony else lucky enough to attend this special event. Ponyville had done a good job of keeping the whole thestral thing hush-hush so the rest of Equestria would be in for a big surprise. There was a loud clamoring; rumors had been going around that this would be like no other Summer Sun Celebration Equestria had ever seen. Rarity had finished the first dress in record time, and had begged for me to display it during our grand appearance at the festival. Currently, all thestrals had positioned themselves around the crowds, wings hidden. There were a few more backstage to help Twilight with her big finish. Celestia stepped up onto the stage, and everypony hushed.

“Citizens of Equestria, it is no longer with a heavy heart but with great joy that I raise the summer sun. For this celebration now represents not the defeat of Nightmare Moon, but the return of my sister, Princess Luna.” Luna took it from there. I readied myself.

“It now appears that I am not the only pony of old who has returned,” the moon princess announced. I prepared myself for story time. “Before we begin the opening ceremony, I am going to tell you a tale long forgotten through the generations. Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, there were all different types of ponies, who lived in separate worlds, not caring what became of the others. There were earth ponies, who cultivated the land. Unicorns used their magic for all sorts of purposes. Pegasi maintained the weather. They lived in a fragile balance forged amongst themselves. You all know this story. But what your books do not tell you is that there was once a fourth pony type. Thestrals used to reside over the forests, and watch over the woods no other pony dared to enter.” Gasps rippled through the audience. I smiled to myself. I appreciated the valiant depiction Luna gave of us. This would greatly help the integration of thestrals back into society. “However,” she went on, “the thestrals were growing tired of the woods. They longed to join the pegasi in the skies, or use their magical fire alongside the unicorns. They were a strong breed, and would have been well suited to farm life with the earth ponies. They tried to mingle with the others, but no pony would share their land with them. Rejected even by their counterparts the dragons, they became jealous, and thought that the only way they could belong was by controlling the Elements of Harmony. My sister and I defeated them a thousand years ago, and thought them to be extinct. The appearance of a thestral at Princess Cadence and Shining Armor’s wedding last year proved us to be incorrect. Today, the ancient evil within the thestrals we failed to defeat all those years ago has finally been vanquished. It is my great honor to cordially welcome thestral kind back to Equestria!” That was my cue.

Ever since the evil had been removed, I found wing retractions to be a lot less disgusting. We could still hide them at will, but rather than the nauseating crunch of bones, they appeared and disappeared in a quick, painless flash of fire, tinted to our own personal colors. Mine was still simple white. I felt them sliding through the wide slits in Rarity’s dress, which was held firm with a thick black leather hem for support. Gasps rang through the audience, and I was given a wide girth as my wings sprouted. I looked around to notice other wide bubbles around my fellow thestrals.

Luna leapt into the sky to lower her moon. Next, Celestia followed her into the air to lift the sun. Now it was my turn. In perfect time with the others, I jumped into the sky, performing graceful twirls and spins as we’d practiced. I parted in time to make way for the backstage formation streaking across the sky. It was time for Twilight’s big finale. She shot up above all the rest, using her magic to conjure a pink star shaped firework to envelope all of Canterlot. The crowd went wild. That was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. They would accept us. That wasn’t to say we wouldn’t face the occasional bump in the road, but we were back. And this time, we were here to stay.

Due to the special guests, the celebration was extended from a brief morning ceremony to a day-long festival. This was Pinkie’s doing, of course. Before the party could begin, though, Celestia again requested our attention.

“In light of recent events,” she started, “we must make a special announcement.” Luna took great pride in delivering the good news.

“It is my great honor to announce that thestrals are formally invited to partake in this year’s Equestria Games, to symbolize their official reintegration to Equestria!” The crowds roared. I, too, jumped with glee. We were going to the Equestria Games? “In just a moment, I will leave you to your festivities. But first, my friend Torchwood has a special message to be delivered.” I cocked my head. He hadn’t told me about this. Luna moved to the side, and Torchwood took the mic.

“Thank you, Princess Luna,” Torchwood formally began. I gave him my full attention as the crowds settled down. Though the whole celebration had started to focus on the return of the thestrals, a few ponies seemed uncomfortable with one actually up on the platform. Torchwood sensed the tension and tried to lighten the mood. “Are you all having a good time?” A chorus of stomping hooves and whistles confirmed this assumption. “Good. I’d like to start by inviting the beautiful Acrylic Storm up on stage with me.” I froze. Me? Up there?

“Come on, Acrylic. Don’t be shy,” he playfully chided. Blushing a deep shade of red, I timidly mounted the stairs. I was feeling a hint of stage fright, feeling all eyes turn to my wings. “You all remember Acrylic, don’t you? The one who crashed your wedding?” This roused good-humored amusement from the audience in the form of chuckling and giggling. I should have been upset, but I found it surprisingly relaxing to know that they took it so lightly, and laughed along with them. “Alright, now to get down to business. Acrylic, I have something to ask you.” I searched his eyes, hoping for a hint. My heart stopped when he knelt down to the stage. He was so tall, it only brought him just below my eye level. He turned around, nodding to the curtains. Blaze, fitted in a smart-looking suit, scurried out with a small box. Blaze pried open the lid for him, just to reveal a sapphire encrusted ring inside. My breath caught in my throat. The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed as they realized what was about to take place.

“Acrylic, you believed in me when even I didn’t believe in myself. Now I see that I can’t live without you. You’re my other half; you’re the pony I want to spend the rest of my life with. So, Acrylic Storm, I ask. Will you marry me?”

“Yes!” I eagerly exclaimed, blinking joyful tears out of my eyes. The ring was removed from the box, suspended from a silver chain, and placed around my neck. The crowd whooped for us. “Yes,” I repeated more softly as he drew me near. I heard one pony weeping more loudly than any other, and looked down at Pinkie in the front row. A waterfall of tears poured out of her eyes just like the Princesses’ reunion in the Everfree. She loudly blew her nose in a hankie. I giggled, too elated to care about her absurd antics.

“Hey, you know what this calls for?” she asked, happy and bubbly once again.

“A PARTY!” everypony in attendance cried. Vinyl Scratch hit the music, and the festivities could officially begin. I welcomed Blaze onto my back, tenderly nuzzling him for a job well done as Torchwood’s wing colt. Or in this case, wing dragon. Torchwood started to lead me off stage when a familiar voice attracted my attention. I was finally able to match the voice to a dark gray coat. Graphite Sketch had showed up after all. I looked at Torchwood, and we exchanged mutual looks. It was better to settle matters here and now. We could at least see what he wanted. I was already in front, so I led the way backstage to meet the stallion.

“Congratulations on your engagement,” he began. “It was a beautiful speech,” he added to Torchwood.

“Thank you,” Torch simply stated.

“You didn’t just come to congratulate us,” I probed.

“No,” he agreed. “I also wanted to give you this.” A familiar key was displayed, and then deposited into my hoof.

“The key to my shop?” I observed.

“When I heard it had gone up for sale, I wanted to hold it for you,” he explained. “I believe you’ll find it untouched, though perhaps a mite tidier.

“Graphite...” I was too stunned to even begin expressing my thanks.

“I can’t change the past, but I can try to make up for it now.”

“Is that an apology?” Torchwood cocked an eyebrow. Graphite had to swallow his pride for this one.

“Yes,” Graphite finally gulped. “It is.” Torch moved in to give him a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Then I forgive you,” he said.

“You do?” Graphite looked surprised.

“I’m marrying the Element of Forgiveness! I have a reputation to uphold, you know.” I giggled at the comment. He smiled back.

“Well... good luck to you both, then,” Graphite said, still slightly dazed. Torchwood finally led Blaze and I back to the festival.

Our friends were waiting for us. We were swarmed as soon as we appeared from behind the curtains.

“Congratulations!” Twilight exclaimed.

“I can’t believe it!” Pinkie happily squeaked.

“I’m so happy for you,” Fluttershy put in.

“I do believe this will be the first thestral wedding Equestria has seen in a millennium!” Rarity realized.

“I can already tell that this is going to be the coolest wedding EVER!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Can I do a sonic rainboom at yours, too?”

“And you must allow me to design the dress,” Rarity pleaded.

“Whoa, whoa! Isn’t it a bit early to already be planning? Torchwood just proposed. Literally. About five minutes ago, remember?”

“Acrylic’s right,” Twilight chided. “Let’s just enjoy ourselves tonight. Details can be taken care of later.”

Torchwood and I got a dance or two together, but then one of the young thestrals approached and asked if he would put on a show for them. A few were so impressed with the small scale display that the stage was prepared once more so the whole audience to watch. I turned to refill my cup at the snack bar, and got together with Rarity. Surprisingly, she was all on her own when I found her.

“Hey,” I called.

“Oh, hello, Acrylic. Where’s Torchwood gone off to, then?”

“He’s getting ready to dazzle the crowd with his fire dancing skills,” I chuckled.

“Fire dancing?” she sighed. “I do have a lot to learn about you.”

“You’ll get used to it,” I promised.

“So, does the whole world make more sense now that you’ve found your very special somepony?” Rarity asked.

“No, actually,” I answered. She looked surprised, but said nothing as she waited for me to explain. “It makes less sense than ever. I have so many questions about what happens next that only time can answer. Not to mention questions I still have left over from the whole thestral mishap.”

“Well, I don’t know that I can answer anything about marriage,” she said, “and I know very little about thestrals. But let’s hear one anyway.” I thought for a moment, sifting through the sea of inquiries swimming through my mind. My questions about marriage and my new life seemed too hard to really be put into words. I finally found the thestral question I realized had been weighing on my mind for a year.

“My cutie mark,” I slowly stated.

“What about it? It’s back, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but why did it disappear in the first place? A transformation spell shouldn’t have removed it. Unless there’s something more to my special talent. Part of my thestral side that I’m supposed to incorporate in my art?”

“I’m afraid I’m not following you,” Rarity fretted. “The spell changed who you were. Isn’t it logical that it could change your talent, too?”

“It changed what I looked like, but not who I was,” I corrected. “What if there was a part of me that couldn’t perform my special talent after the thestral was removed?”

“Perhaps it was just a spell gone wrong,” Rarity suggested.

“Maybe,” I agreed, “but I can’t help but feel like there’s something more to it than that.”

“Don’t worry yourself too much, dear. You have enough on your mind as it is.” I smiled in agreement, watching Torchwood appear up on the stage. It didn’t matter here and now. He did. And I knew that eventually, we could figure it out together.

Rarity and I joined the others to watch the show. The lights dimmed to give good contrast, but the stage lights flicked on from above for emphasis. As Torchwood appeared on stage, the curtains parted, revealing an unusual background that I instantly recognized.

“But that’s my-” I began to protest. It was the one I’d been preparing for the Summer Sun Celebration with Luna and Celestia.

“Your masterpiece?” Discord finished from behind me. We all jumped at the sound of his voice. “Yes. Yes it is.”

“What’s it doing here?” I hissed.

“You sound surprised. It was far too extravagant to leave in that dusty old castle, so I brought it here. I think it belongs someplace special... the royal gallery, perhaps?”

“Don’t you dare,” I warned. “You’re going to get me in so much trouble!”

“Oh, you wouldn’t want to disappoint the Princesses, would you?”


“Are the ones who requested it be moved,” he interrupted. I paused. Was he being serious? “I may have also heard something about a second royal portrait being moved to the gallery. Maybe one of Shining Armor and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza? Maybe the one you made a year ago?”

“What about Graphite Sketch’s painting? They already moved his in.”

“Yes, well, unfortunately that has to stay too. But your original piece is being added.”

“Oh, this is just a night for good news, isn’t it?” Rarity quietly shrieked. (The show was starting, and she didn’t want to disrupt the audience.)

“Were you here when Torchwood proposed to Acrylic?” Pinkie excitedly asked.

“No,” he answered. Even so, he didn’t look half surprised to hear the news. “But it’s about time that stallion made his move. I’m only surprised he didn’t ask sooner. You did say yes, didn’t you?”

“Of course!”

“That’s a good girl. Ah, I can hear the wedding bells already.”

“Will you stay for the show?”

“Me? No. I have some more paintings to move.” Dressing himself in a mover’s uniform, he trotted outside carrying a package slung over his shoulder. I rolled my eyes, and trained my focus on the stage. Once that draconequus had his mind set on something, there was no stopping him. Where was he even going to put all the canvases I’d completed? I suddenly felt guilty for leaving him with such a large task.

Green and orange flames lit the stage, outlining it in a dim, eerie light. Spike and Blaze took turns narrating old legends while Torchwood formed figures from the fire, depicting the stories in stunning accuracy. I wasn’t paying much attention to the legends, as I soon became lost in his gaze. The Element of Forgiveness and the Fire Dancer. Now that was a story waiting to be told.

The End