Jewel of the Everfree

by sxcbeast

First published

A seemingly incapable Rarity survives along with her human companion in the middle of the Everfree Forest.

After a new spell goes awry, Rarity must find a way back home with the help of a strange alien creature. This 'man' certainly seems capable. They'll need each others skills to make it out of the Everfree Forest alive! That is of course, if they don't drive each other crazy first.

Conceptualized before the start of season 8, but may contain elements from later seasons.

Cover Art by Salterino

Prologue: Another Day in Paradise

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The nip of the cold morning air roused the hunter from his sleep. He stirred, desiring nothing more than to wrap himself up and catch a few more hours rest. The hunter knew he needed to use this opportunity to get up.

Food wasn't going to catch itself.

'Unless they wound up in one of the traps...'

He continued to lay in bed, while staring at the roof and mulling the thought over. Until he had to answer the call of nature, which forced him out. This was an important day, and he wanted it to be memorable, but couldn't help feeling depressed.

It was time to go home.

He moved and prepped his gear for the trip ahead. His knife was sharpened already, having done so the previous night until tired enough to fall asleep. He checked his bow over for any problems, as he always did before a hunt, and made a few minor adjustments it didn't really need in a poor attempt to keep from leaving just yet. Then finished his supplies by packing only what he thought would be essential for the short expedition. A fire starter, a canteen full of clean water, and the remains of a worn medical kit.

After a moment's thought, he put the medical kit back where it came from.

He exited a den and approached the treeline away from his camp, then pulled out his knife, and carved a final diagonal line across four vertical lines to complete the set of five. He stared at this particular tally mark much longer than he had the others before, for this group held more significance to him.

After a few moments he put away the blade, and with that, the morning routine was done.

He stepped into the forest and disappeared into the trees and brush, which swallowed his form in a welcoming embrace.

The air was still, making the grass and trees look as though they were frozen in time.

Not a single creature stirred, causing the forest to become deathly silent.

For the Hunter walked among them once again.

Fwip! Splash! "Finally," the hunter grumbled in annoyance, as he reeled in his latest catch.

A cat-fish.

This wasn't the bottom feeding delicious-when-fried-with-cornmeal catfish you're thinking of, mind you. No, this curious little creature was like a literal cat-fish.

Just imagine a mermaid, but instead of the top-half of an attractive red-head, it's a cat. Specifically, it's the head of a cat blending seamlessly over to the body of a fish.

Cat-fish were a little disturbing for the hunter to eat at first. They had fur on their heads and hissed when threatened. They purred and meowed, and a few would even come right up to him looking to receive pets, if he stuck his hand in the water. They also had whiskers, but they were much thicker than a normal cats, and were fewer in number.

Cat-fish also came in a wide variety of fur patterns and colors. Many of which the hunter recognized, and resembled a few cat breeds known to him. The majority of which he found were mainly domestic types.

He was hoping to find a Persian one this time... but oh well.

This catch in particular had white and blueish-grey fur. Its face was mostly white with a triangle ending just atop its head. It was white on its chin, cheeks, and gills along with half of its lower body. Its grey color covered the ears, back, and fins with a large round spot on its left side.

A cat-fish's fur mostly covered its face, which transitioned to shiny scales just pass the gills.

Oh, before I forget! If you're thinking about trying to catch some cat-fish by 'noodling' for them.


They still have their cat-teeth and fangs; and their bite hurts like a mother!

So there you go! That's what a Cat-fish is. Disturbing, I know; but they're just as tasty as the ones back home, relatively speaking.

The hunter shook the thoughts of his internal monologue, and focused on finding the next item on his shopping list.

His mood was sour from having so much trouble capturing his prize. Normally he could manage in a few attempts, but for some reason his aim was horrendously off today.

The hunter knew he was just stalling himself so he wouldn't have to go back home just yet.

Random thoughts filled his head, while he paid little attention to where he was going. His movements were automatic from having walked the same path many times before; stopping occasionally to forage for the various nuts and fruits near his route.

He detoured far from his course trying to find a plant he knew of in the past, but could'nt remember where it was.


The cat-fish he strapped to his waist made tiny yowls as he hiked through the forest. It was the only thing keeping him company. Until a loud crackling sounded near the hunter, and he immediately crouched down to hide himself.

It was pointless, he knew that, the sound and smell of his catch would surely give him away. He checked the trees above him, but none were suitable for climbing. He stayed crouched and walked low to the ground towards the largest tree in the vicinity.

Staying low and keeping his back to the tree, he listened and waited while counting the minutes...

Until a squirrel jump out and landed a few feet from the hunter. His bow was drawn and ready to fire in fractions of a second; right at its little body.

The squirrel was undeterred in picking up a nut and emulating the loud crackling noise the hunter heard from earlier.

The hunter chuckled lightly with his bow still brought to bear on the little critter, before finally relaxing.

The little squirrel foraged around a bit longer, before stuffing its bounty into its tiny swelling cheeks, and scampering off unhindered by the hunter's presence.

The idea of being done-in by such a tiny creature caused the hunter to cackle a sound that would've done a hyena proud.

Adrenaline and fear gave way to euphoria...

With the high of his 'near death' experience fading away, the hunter stood up and thought about what transpired.

His look turned somber, before brushing off the thoughts invading his mind.

He moved and was ready to call it a day, but not before he lucked upon the next item of his shopping list.

The plant he was looking for just happened to be right next to his hiding spot.

The hunter stood there unmoving, while staring at the lush green plant, which bore the seeds he'd really been looking for.

He eyed the tiny red orbs, which looked succulent hanging off the plant's sprigs...

"Home sweet home," the hunter sighed, as he entered his Den, while removing his pack and laying his bow by the entrance.

It wasn't much of a home. Just a large hill with a moderately sized cave inside it. His 'hobbit hole' as he come to call it; sat off-center in a short grassy meadow with nothing around it for several dozen yards. The hunter had a fire pit to the right of his home - where he would be cooking his meal tonight - and a small garden to the left a few yards away from the hill; which later he checked thoroughly for ripe fruits and vegetables.

To a fresh pair of eyes it was a beautiful sight, a true home away from home, and he's been away from home for a good long while.

Tonight, that was all going to change. He thought about it for weeks, months even, by his count; and finally felt it was time to return home.

The hunter made it back to his camp with daylight to spare, and set about completing his post-gathering chores in preparation for his meal later.

He cleaned and gutted the cat-fish, which went silent a long while ago, leaving the hunter alone with his thoughts in the wilds. Then buried the remains in the garden, more to be rid of the smell rather than the fact it was excellent fertilizer.

The cat-fish would be his main course for tonight.

He stoked a fire using the hot ashes from the previous night, then laid his meal--seasoned and wrapped in clay--directly on the hot embers.

He sat back and snacked on the various fruits and nuts he gathered from earlier, and waited for his dinner to cook thoroughly.

It was nearly sundown.

The yellow-orange orb was just barely touching the horizon, as the hunter ascended to the top of his home with his meal.

The hill's height not only allowed him to spot danger from any direction, but also allowed him to watch the sunset as it slowly dipped into the distant mountains.

It was a beautiful sight, despite the heat from earlier in the day, but now it was already beginning to cool off.

"Hey Mahoney," the hunter nonchalantly greeted his company as he settled himself in. Wanting to eat while admiring the natural artistry before him.

He brought two canteens with him. One was filled with clean water, and the other was a special drink he wanted to have later.

The hunter sat on the ground with his legs crossed, arranging the small feast around him. He placed the cat-fish directly in front of him, and the canteen of water to the right of it. The other canteen he kept behind himself; to keep the sun's rays from warming it before he was ready to drink. For the final dish, he placed a small clay bowl full of baked potatoes to the left of his main course.

"No, I didn't find any dog-fish today," the hunter started sarcastically. "You ask me that every time I come back from the river. It was funny the first time when we thought of it, but now I'm getting pretty fuckin' sick of it," he growled at his guest, his sour attitude killing the mood.

"Yes, I found what I was looking for; and before you ask, yes, I'm still going through with it," he mumbled grouchily.

Nothing else was said between the two 'friends', while the hunter ate his meal.


The hunter looked back in the direction of the howl.

Uninterested, he continued to eat while watching the sunset; ignoring the other howls that followed.

The spices, herbs, and minerals didn't quite cook into the the meat the way that he liked, but still enjoyed it nonetheless. He chewed slowly, savoring the flavor, and washed his food down with the fresh water in his canteen; all while feeling the warmth of the descending sun upon his face.

The sky was painted in a multitude of bright colored pastels. The burnt-orange color of the sun contrasted well with pink ribbons, and shades of green, while looking like the northern lights, only much more. The blue hues of the night mixed in with the others, as if gently laying the sun down to sleep.


That one was much closer than the others.

The hunter looked again at where the commotion was coming from. Something was certainly making them work for their meal tonight, and he silently wished whatever it was the best of luck.

The sun was nearly below the horizon. The last of its rays were peeking over the mountains. No thoughts entered his consciousness, while his blank mind allowed him to simply be. He stared into its dying light, letting it fill his soul.

It was time.

He picked up his special drink, having made it by crushing and boiling the seeds he searched for earlier that day. Making a sort of sweet drink.

The seeds, however, were not safe to eat, much less drink.

But that was the whole point.

"'m sorry... but I waited for as long as I could..." he whispered as his voice shook and throat tightened.

He held up his special canteen, giving one last look to his only means of getting home.

All he had to do was drink, he'll fall asleep, and it would all be over.

With his final toast done, he was ready. With his eyes tearing, a lump in his throat, and a weight in his heart; he brought the glass to his lips and poured the poison liquid into his mouth.


"Ppppttthhh!" COUGH! COUGH! Cough! Spitoo!

The hunter sprayed the liquid out in a brilliant mist, while coughing and spitting out what was left.

He whirled around with eyes wide in disbelief, while spittle leaked out the corners of his mouth. His eyes darted over the horizon, searching for whomever made the foreign sound.

His heart sped up, its thrumming he feared would drown out any other noise as he listened intently, while trying to pinpoint the direction of where the scream came from. Hoping beyond hope that he it didn’t imagine it.

"HELP! SOMEPONY HELP ME, PLEASE!" a woman's voice called.

The hunter sprang to action, while his muscles stretched and joints popped at the sudden burst of movement.

He knew where the call for aid was coming from, and jumped down from the top of his home, entering the den, and grabbing his bow, arrows, and blade.


The hunter raced off into the distance, using the other screams to guide him, as he vanished into the forest.

Spellward Bound

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"Swee-tie Belle, break-fast!" Rarity sing-songed, and started humming a tune about friendship, having a big adventure, a beautiful heart, being strong, sharing kindness, and having fun. The smell of pancakes and eggs wafted around her as she stood over the oven, and thought about how her day was going to proceed.

'Today is the day Twilight was finally going to show off the new spell she and Starlight Glimmer have been developing. Those two fillies have worked their tails off trying to get it to succeed. While it's perfectly fine to be passionate about something you love; the poor dears went and turned it into an obsession! Twilight looked worse than the time she tried to prevent a disaster of some sort.' Rarity thought, as she effortlessly used her magic to flip the flapjack in the air, and caught it within the pan she was using.

'I know just what those fillies need. A full day at the spa! Oh, wouldn't it be just divine. To soak in the hot-tub for a few hours and just relax...' Rarity let a dreamy sigh escape her, and swayed on her hooves while imagining the pleasant warmth of the soothing water around her.

"Sweetie Belle, get down here before your food gets cold." Rarity called again, this time her answer came in the form of tiny thumps as she followed the sound downstairs.

Sweetie Belle came through the kitchen doorway; just as Rarity finished setting the second steaming plate on her younger sister's side of the table. "Sorry Rarity, I couldn't find my sewing kit. Is it okay if I borrow one of yours? The Crusaders are going to be my backup singers at the talent competition, and our costumes still aren't right."

"Absolutely not young lady," Rarity stated primly. "I've told you many times before, that you need to start learning how to be responsible, and to look after yourself," she says while sitting down at the table, and placing a napkin in her lap.

"Says the pony who begs me to organize her work studio for her every time I visit," Sweetie Belle snarked with sarcasm while doing the same.

"I don't understand how you can do that for me so incredibly well, but can't do the same for yourself," Rarity sighed.

"I'm the little sister; it's sort of my job to be irresponsible," Sweetie Belle shrugged.

"You're not a little filly anymore, you have your Cutie mark now, which means learning to take care of things on your own, like a responsible mare would. You just need to retrace your hoofsteps; I'm sure you'll find it." Rarity said primly with a hint of finality, then taking a bite of her eggs. 'Perfection as always Rarity!' her internal reverie was cut short as her younger sister spoke again, this time, with a little more volume than necessary.

"Oh, come on sis, can't you help me out? At least let me borrow the kit you keep in your saddlebags," Sweetie Belle took a big bite of her pancakes, and continued to speak with her mouth full. "Shu'ly oo don eed i'd ahn a isit do dah cahstle?"she finished with a big gulp.

"One. That kit is for fashion emergencies only. Two. I don't recall ever giving you permission to go through my saddlebags. And three. A lady doesn't talk with her mouth full," Rarity emphasised, dabbing her chin with the cloth napkin, while keeping her composure befitting a lady of class.

"Well one. You never use it. And two. When I saw it, it was still all wrapped up in its package, which means you never use it! And three-"

"Young lady that is enough out of you! Now if your finished, go to your room and stay there until you learn respect and to take better care of your things," Rarity said firmly with her voice raised.

Sweetie Belle put her hooves down, and shoved herself away from the table; causing the dinnerware to shift, and their drinks to spill a little. "I'll gladly go back to my room, just so I can get away from you!" Sweetie shouted at her older sister, before storming back upstairs with heavy hoof stomps and mumbling something about 'lady this' and 'lady that'.

"I CAN'T WAIT FOR MOM AND DAD TO TAKE ME HOME; 'CAUSE WHEN THEY DO, I DON'T WANNA SEE YOU EVER AGAIN!" Sweetie Belle's squeaky voice shouted, before slamming the door to her room, and a muffled scream of frustration a moment later.

Rarity sat with her lips pursed and cheeks heated with anger. She stared at the kitchen door for a moment before lowering her head and laying her ears back. She stared down at her plate looking completely downcast. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath which turned into a sigh at little sister's attitude. She breathed again and again until she felt calm enough to finish her meal. Which she didn't really want anymore; her day already not going as well as she thought it would.

'Stay calm Rarity, keep your composure. Sweetie Belle isn't a filly anymore; she's a young mare now, and you need to be firm with her. You didn't do anything wrong...' Rarity's internal pep-talk did little to ease the pain she felt from her younger sister's words.

Rarity didn't have much to do that morning, choosing to halfheartedly work on a dress after doing her usual morning chores. What she really wanted to do was talk to Sweetie Belle, and was tempted a few times to go check on her; but knew Sweetie Belle had to be the one to decide when to come out of her room. Minutes quickly turned to hours, and it was time for her to go to Twilight's gathering at the castle.

Rarity went upstairs and stood outside Sweetie Belle's room, speaking softly at her door.

Knock! Knock!

"Sweetie... I'm sorry about this morning, please understand I was just trying to teach you a valuable lesson." No answer."Sweetie Belle don't be like this..." Rarity sighed, while sitting down and rubbing her temples to soothe the migraine that was building. "Listen, I'm going to Twilight's Castle to see the new spell she's been working on, please stay out of trouble. There's food for you in the kitchen, I'm not sure how long I'll be gone... Sweetie...?"

"Well...goodbye..." Rarity spoke softly, before going downstairs and picking up her saddlebags, then locking the door behind her and making her way down the road towards the castle.

Sweetie Belle saw her big sister leave home from the bedroom window, watching her as she cantered towards the castle until out of sight, before jumping on the bed and burying her face into a pillow.

Rarity met up with Applejack and Rainbow Dash who were also heading to the castle.

"I just don't know what I'm going to do with her." Rarity said, after telling the others of the fight she had with her little sister.

"Well it sounds t' me like the message jus' ain't getin' through, if Applebloom ever disrespected me, Granny, or Big Mac like that; then that filly's flanks would be tanned faster than you can say 'phonier than a two-Bit shill at a Flim-Flam flea market!'"Applejack finished with a nod and a stern face.

"That still takes awhile to say A.J." Rainbow Dash joked, while flying backwards in front of her friends.

Applejack smiled and rolled her eyes in admission of her poor choice of countryism.

"But yeah, if Scootaloo ever went off on me like that; I don't think I would be able to handle it like you did Rarity, in fact, I dunno what I would do. We'd probably end up shouting at each other until one of our voices gives out, or maybe she'll just avoid me like I used to avoid my parents whenever they'd have it out for me. I learned real quick that they can't punish, what they can't catch!" Rainbow Dash added while flying quick circles around the pair.

"While I appreciate the advice and your insight girls; I don't feel those are the best courses of action to take in this situation." Hearing about how her friends were taught right from wrong when they were fillies did little to help with her own sibling problem.

"Our parents usually took away our favorite things, but since Sweetie Belle is staying with me for the week, she doesn't really have anything other than her friends. I'd hate to be the one to take away the only thing she has." Rarity disheartened, looking downcast. She knew Sweetie Belle just needed some time to apologize, but also didn't want to become a doormat to her younger sibling.

Applejack leaned in support against the mopey fashionista as they trotted together, with the castle fast approaching ahead of them.

Rainbow Dash flew ahead to open the door and zipped inside leaving the others behind.

"I'll never forget the days when Granny would discipline me. She'd make me go pick out a switch from the orchard right before painting my cutie marks a new shade o' red." Applejack looked behind at her cutie mark--three ripe red apples--upon her flank, and winced at the memories of those days. "But what may work for some ponies might not work for others. I hope you find a way to get through to her Rare," Applejack finished, giving Rarity a reassuring smile as the two mares stopped short of the castle stairs.

Rarity gave a sad smile back, and was thankful for her support. "It's just that I know how important this talent show is to her. She's been working so hard on her singing and the costumes; maybe the pressure is getting to her," she finished in concern.

"Maybe so, but you can't let her talk to you like that; and for what it's worth, I think you did do a mighty fine job of handlin' it." Applejack gave Rarity a hug, knowing her friend was more of a mother to her little sister, just as she was to her own.

"ARE YOU TWO COMING OR WHAT?" Rainbow shouted from inside the castle foyer.

After breaking their hug, Applejack adjusted her Stetson hat and gave Rarity a confident grin."Well let's go see what this spell doohickey is that Twilight's been obsessin' over; mus' be somethin' good for her to keep it all secret from us like that," she said, before cantering off into the castle.

Rarity smiled and followed her lead.

Applejack and Rarity entered the throne room together. They were the last of their friends to arrive, while the rest were already seated in their respective thrones around the Cutie Map. Fluttershy gave the two a gentle, welcoming smile. Pinkie Pie poked herself around the corner of her chair, and gave a big wave of her hooves, motioning for Rarity to sit next to her (as if she had any other choice). Rainbow Dash was impatiently tapping a hoof on the armrest of her throne, looking as if she were trying to mentally push the two of them to move faster. Twilight sat straighter and acknowledged her friends arrival with a nod of her head to each of them as they took their seats.

Starlight Glimmer was the odd-pony out, although she didn't have a place to sit next to her friends, she still looked content with standing off to the side.

Once everyone was seated, Starlight Glimmer approached Twilight, and whispered something in her ear, and received a nod from her mentor.

Spike had a pen and parchment ready for taking notes on the meeting.

Everypony quieted down as if sensing the start of the meeting. Without a word they all directed their full attention on Twilight, ready to get the gathering underway. Twilight cleared her throat and spoke in what she dubbed to be her 'Princess' voice, emulating the calm, motherly tone of her most admired teacher.

"Thank you all for coming. First, I want to apologize to all of you for being more reclusive than I normally am-"

"That's the understatement of the century, hehehehue." Applejack chuckled.

Pinkie Pie started to giggle-snort, and Fluttershy smiled behind her pink mane; the others didn't look as amused.

Starlight Glimmer frowned, looking a little annoyed. Rarity was a little miffed herself, and Rainbow Dash placed her forehooves on the table to emphasis her point.

"Don't interrupt her Applejack. I've been waiting all day to see this super-secret spell Twilight's been working on, and I don't want to wait another second. So c'mon and make with the magic already." Rainbow Dash finished, while rolling a hoof at the two magic-talented unicorns in a 'lets move on' kind of fashion.

Rarity cleared her throat loud enough for the others to hear.

"Really Applejack, it is beyond rude to interrupt a Princess while she's speaking, and Rainbow Dash; please try to show a little patience and a bit more restraint," Rarity calmly said to each of them in turn, quickly putting the meeting back on track. She was always a bit more prim and proper when around Twilight. Supposedly to set a good example for her.

Rainbow sat back in her chair with a snort, and crossed her hooves over her chest with a little pout.

'Apparently somepony missed her morning nap today, she was probably just too excited about the meeting. Twilight doesn't normally keep things from us. Even I'm feeling a little giddy!' Rarity thought excitedly.

Applejack looked bewildered around at the others who reprimanded her; not expecting so much retaliation for her little joke.

"Sheesh, take it easy everypony. Twilight knows I was jus' pokin' some fun at 'er," she said, before turning her attention to Twilight. "Sorry for interruptin' ya, Twi, I really didn't mean nothin' by it, honest." she finished with true sincerity in her voice.

Twilight smiled knowingly, and nodded in agreement to her friend's statement.

"I know, Applejack; and it's okay. I deserve a bit of ribbing for my behavior these past few months, but I can tell you now; it was all worth it!" Twilight smiled excitedly with a big, toothy grin. "As you all know, Starlight Glimmer used the Cutie Map to travel through time and space, and... Lets just say she made a few poor choices in how she used that kind of power."

Starlight Glimmer looked down in regret. Twilight placed a wing on her shoulder and gave her a gentle smile, reminding her pupil that all was forgiven. Starlight looked up to her mentor, and returned a grateful smile back.

"Since we've repaired the Map to working order, I couldn't help but ask 'What else?' What else can we do with the Map which could benefit Equestria? And so I've asked my student, Starlight Glimmer, to recreate the spell she used to-"

Rainbow Dash flared her wings, and was once again leaning over the table. "Are you crazy!? She sabotaged my first Sonic Rainboom, like, a hundred times with that spell!"

"That don't make a lick o' sense Twi. That spell; spells nothin' but trouble," Applejack said, adding her two Bits to the growing list of opinions firing around the table.

"That sounds like a very bad idea." Fluttershy also added, though making a habit of not looking at anypony as she said it.

"That sounds super-duper funnerooner! I could go throw a party for my mom and dad when they were just little foals! GASP! I could give mom her first foal shower by me, while I'm still in her belly; and how cool would it be to show Twinkie-Pinkie how to smile! Not only that, but I could throw a party for all the parties they missed and- mmmhmphmm!" A cerulean aura closed Pinkie Pie's mouth shut, silencing the hyperactive filly.

The other Elements voiced their protests all at once, leaving Rarity time to share her opinion.

"Twilight, darling, while I'm not against magical experimentation; this does seem a tad extreme," Rarity voiced her concern, while cutting off the magic so Pinkie Pie could have her lips back.

"I know all of you must have concerns about my decision, which is why I think it's best that Starlight explained the spell in detail, of how it works, and what it has to do with all of you." Twilight gave a nod to her student, giving her the floor to speak.

"Twilight and I have been working on recreating the spell I used on the Cutie Map. Only this time with more emphasis on the 'space' rather than 'time' part of it. Since Starswirl's spell is probably lost forever, I've done my best to remember as much of it as I could. It'll allow us to send you anywhere-"

Rainbow Dash suddenly lifted off with a single, powerful thrust of her wings. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! You aren't planning on sending ponies to the moon, are you? That's just crazy! Who the hay would wanna go there? Count. Me. Out." Rainbow Dash emphasised by shaking her head to each word and crossing her hooves, while she hovered in the air.

"Going to the moon would be super fun! Everything floats up there! And bananas! There're bananas everywhere!" Everypony looked at Pinkie as if she was crazy-er."Whaaat? Princess Luna told me all about it when I asked her in my dreams, it's not like it's a touchy subject for her anymore." Pinkie finished, shrugging and rolling her eyes.

"Ladies please for the last time, let them have a chance to explain themselves." Rarity's cheeks were flush with red, and she started to empathize with how Rainbow felt. They weren't going to get anywhere with all these interruptions.

Starlight took a breath to relieve some of the frustration that built, and continued. "By using your connection to the Map and the Map's connection to Equestria. We've found a way to send you anywhere in the world. Just imagine getting a friendship quest, and instantaneously appearing where it is! Think about it. No more long train rides, no more dealing with monsters, no more spending so much time trying to track it down. Just check in with the Map when your Marks are up and 'poof', you're there!" Starlight finished with a proud smile, and her head lifted high.

The others worries didn't need justification. Teleportation magic was dangerous if used incorrectly. Otherwise Unicorns would be popping in and out everywhere. Magic in general was very difficult thing to master, even to those with the talent for it. But when it came to Teleportation, the risk of accidentally splinching oneself - or reappearing with missing body parts - was an all too common occurrence among untrained Unicorns.

Applejack adjusted her stetson hat, making like she was scratching her head to think. "That's all well an' good, but what's so wrong with the way we've been handlin' our Friendship Quests? Sorry Starlight, I don't mean to put down all yer hard work; but it sounds t' me like you're talkin' about teleportin' us half-way 'cross Equestria," Applejack emphasised with a wave of her hoof. "I may not be a Unicorn, or a fan o' magic; but even I know there's only a hoof-full of ponies who can come close to doin' that. An' two of 'em are in this room! Sorry again, Starlight, but I jus' don' feel right about it." Applejack finished looking sympathetic and worried.

Twilight turned to Applejack to address her concerns. "I know it seems a little unorthodox considering how well we've been doing with our Cutie Quests; but I can assure you it's perfectly safe, Applejack." Twilight finished with an understanding smile.

Rainbow Dash spoke next. "But, can't you just teleport all of us by yourself; you're a Princess for ponies sake!" she said while gesturing both hooves at Twilight.

"I could do that Rainbow, but there are a lot of variables to consider. I have to know exactly where I'm going, and to do that I need to have been there before, or make several smaller teleports in my line of sight. The Map is a better option since it connects to everywhere in Equestria with stunning accuracy. There are other things to consider as well. What if I'm not around? And even if I did teleport you all, I'd be so drained I wouldn't be of any help to anypony."

Rainbow sat back down and nodded her head in understanding; and looked down thinking over everything Twilight just told her.

"So how're we supposed to get back once we've gone? We'd still have to take a train ride home." Applejack still wasn't convinced. She was surprisingly asking the right questions, despite being a quite traditional Earth pony.

"That's the best part. Once you've completed your quest, the Cutie Map will lock-in on your location and bring you back! I even impressed myself with that one. It's my best work yet!" Starlight beamed with pride of her accomplishment.

The others didn't look as impressed.

Fluttershy was the first to speak. "So, um, does it only work when we have a quest? I know you couldn't of had that many missions, Twilight. Not that it's a bad thing." Fluttershy finished just barely above a whisper, as all of her friend's eyes were on her, causing Fluttershy to shrink and hide behind the forelock of her mane.

Starlight gave her a nod and a smile for such a excellent question. "It did at first, but now you can use the map to go anywhere you care to go, anytime you want!" Starlight's smile grew wider. The other ponies still looked a little uneasy. "Just think of it as one of the perks to being an Element of Harmony." she added.

The two magic-talented Unicorns waited patiently for more questions, until it seemed like nopony else had anymore to ask.

"I think if we do a demonstration that should erase any doubts anypony has." Twilight said more to her pupil than the group.

"I'll go first so you can all see how it works." Twilight stood up and placed her hooves on the table and spoke clearly. "Crystal library, Crystal Empire." The map appeared and scrolled north sending hills, valleys, rivers, forests, towns and finally a snowy tundra quickly passing by in a blur. The Map slowed to a stop with the magical hologram of the Crystal Empire showing at the center of the table. The others 'Ooh'd' at the astonishing detail, as tiny motes of light mingled up and down the snowflake roadway of the Crystal Empire.

Twilight's cutie mark faded into existence floating above the city for a few seconds, before shrinking down into the map a bit north of where the monolithic Crystal Castle stood in the empire's center.

A sudden gust of wind blew through the throne room causing the unknowing ponies to yelp in surprise as their manes were whipped around in the less than gentle breeze. A white dome covered in magic runes appeared above the Map, while Twilight floated up into the dome without the use of her wings. The dome shrank around her body and in a flash she was gone!

The tension in the air was palpable as the ponies waited for their friend's return. Starlight Glimmer just smiled and kept her eyes on where the magic dome disappeared.

Applejack rose up in her seat and sat straighter. "Now wait just a pony pickin' minute. You said that our cutie marks would bring us back after finishin' a Cutie Quest. But Twilight jus' went without one. How in the hay is she s'pose t' get back without usin' her own magic?" Applejack asked with a frustrated pout.

Starlight looked at her knowingly. "What makes you think she left without a quest in mind?" Starlight answered mysteriously; her smile pervading through the farm pony's glare.

The white dome was back as suddenly as it appeared, and with it the gust of wind as well. Twilight gracefully floated down without use of her wings from the concave, and landed gently on the table. The dome shrank in size and was once again gone in a flash, while Twilight sat back on her throne; then produced a book from under her wing.

It was the same book that taught them everything they needed to defeat King Sombra! 'History of the Crystal Empire' was etched in the book's cover on two golden plates - one on top and one on the bottom - with three gems arranged in a fan between them. She levitated the tome up with her magic, and floated it around for each of her friends to see.

Applejack leaned back in her seat, crossing her hooves over her chest. Looking none too impressed as the book passed in front of her, while following it with her emerald green eyes and a raised eyebrow.

"Remarkable." Rarity breathed with a hoof on her chest.

"Hee, hee!" Pinkie Pie laughed, while clopping her hooves together in excitement for Twilight's success.

Fluttershy leaned forward and smiled demurely, after brushing her mane out of the way; looking curiously interested as the book floated by her.

"That's so awesome!" Rainbow Dash praised and squished her cheeks together.

Applejack broke the revelry with a huff. "Can somepony explain t' me how she got back without a Cutie Quest?" She asked in frustration. Making it clear that she was not a happy pony.

"Oh, oh, OH, pick me, I know!" Pinkie Pie waved her hoof in the air like filly in school trying to get the teacher's attention. "Twilight just thought about what she wanted when she told the Map where she wanted to go, and when she got what she wanted it brought her back!" Pinkie answered while swaying her head to each word and finished with a happy squee; knowing she answered correctly, and couldn't wait for recess to start.

"That's right, Pinkie! When you tell the map where you want to go, just think of what you want to accomplish, and when you're done it'll bring you back." Twilight chirped as she brought the tome back to her and concentrated, in a poof of purple sparks the book was gone. Most likely returned to its shelf at the Crystal Library.

"So! Would anypony else like to be the first to try it out?" Starlight smiled brightly. It was her first time really contributing to the group. She practically vibrated in excitement, almost unable to contain herself as she waited for her friends to try her spell.

Applejack was the first to answer.

"Nope. Ah still don't like it. I'll ride a Zeppelin b'fore I use magic to get around," Applejack's said looking away with a haughty pout, and her hooves still crossed. The farm mare's infamous stubbornness was bound and determined to rear its ugly head today.

"Me too, it's wonderful what you've managed to do Starlight, but it still scares me a little. Sorry." Fluttershy apologized as she shunk further into herself; hoping she didn't offend her.

"It's cool and all, but I prefer to just fly wherever I wanna go. So you can still count me out." Rainbow Dash said as she waved her hoof around nonchalantly.

"Meh-yeah I dunno, I just nicely ask the animators to change the background for me whenever I want to go somewhere. They love my jokes! So, yeah I don't really need it either."

Rarity looked at Pinkie, then around at all of her friends. 'What was that all about!? Am I the only pony who's hearing this? Nopony was going to give the spell a try?' Rarity thought to herself.

"None of you have to use it if you don't want to. Just know it's there if you ever need it, and if you do, Starlight has my every confidence that it's safe." Twilight tried to put her friends' minds at ease, but Applejack only scoffed and looked away again.

Starlight's own confidence wavered the longer she waited. Nopony was willing to try the spell she worked so hard on. They weren't going to give her spell or herself a chance.

Rarity noticed her friend's melancholy mood, and suddenly raised herself up in her seat. "I'll be the first go, darlings; I'm feeling a bit bold and adventurous!" She exclaimed with a foreleg and a hind hoof raised; striking a pose.

"O-Okay! Just place your hooves on the table, then state the name of the location you'd like to go, and don't forget to speak very, very clearly, and be sure to have a clear goal in mind." Starlight's heart was beating so hard she thought it could explode. Twice.

"Nice knowin' ya." Applejack wasn't having any of it, but at least looked concerned as she watched Rarity activate the spell.

"I'll be sure to bring you all back something amazing, darlings!" Rarity strapped her saddlebags on and placed her hooves on the Map just as Twilight did, and spoke clearly:


"Rarity wait, yer cutie mark!" Applejack shouted suddenly.

Rarity felt like she'd been struck by lightning. In her excitement she didn't realize just how nervous and scared she actually was. The shock of Applejack's outburst faded enough for Rarity register what she said, before looking behind at her own flanks. Her cutie mark was glowing. A clear indication of a friendship mission in the works.

The map scrolled south and soon stopped with the mountain city of Canterlot at its center, with Ponyville to the southwest. Her three-diamond cutie mark appeared on the map, hovering above the capital.

Rarity was relieved to see that her Cutie Quest was in the same location as her own goals. She looked around the room to see if any pony else was going with her, but as she looked at her friends flanks none of theirs were glowing as well. Her mark then appeared in Ponyville, then Manehattan, Vanhoover, then everywhere. Her mark was disappearing and reappearing faster than even Pinkie Pie could keep up with. Dozens upon dozens of diamond marks dotted the landscape.

"Quick, deactivate the spell!" Twilight shouted as her and Starlight's horns glowed, filling the room with brilliant shades of pink and purple light. The gust of wind was back, only this time it was far more fierce.

Rarity was frozen in panic as her hooves slowly lifted off the table against her own will. She looked up into the white dome; the interior of which looked like an endless abyss. Rarity's panicking mind convinced her it was the maw of a beast about to gobble her up. Sensing the end, she called to her friends for aid.

"A little help, please, girls... Girls? GIRLS!"

"Hold on Rarity!" Applejack jumped and hugged Rarity's hind leg with both her hooves, as both ponies continued to rise into the rune-inscribed bowl. The spell was undeterred by Applejack's efforts.

Rainbow Dash grabbed Applejack's waist and pumped her wings for all she was worth. Then Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy joined the daisy chain of ponies trying desperately to save their friend from what was sure to be a terrible fate. Rarity was halfway past the bottom lip of the dome, and could feel her body stretching.

Applejack felt her slipping and tightened her grip; calling upon all her Earth Pony strength, until the spell whirred with power and Rarity was suddenly yanked from her grasp. Rarity was gone in a flash of magic; leaving the other ponies falling into a heap upon the crystal table.

Twilight and Starlight stood together gawking up in shock at where Rarity disappeared. Their horns were still alight and chiming with their individual magic, while they worked their mouths to say anything to break the silence which pervaded after the flash.

"What happened... What went wrong?" Twilight whispered, asking the question more to herself than anypony. Starlight answered her, only because she was only one close enough to hear her.

"The- she- she had a Cutie Quest appear right as she told the map where she wanted to go. It must've confused the spell. It didn't know where to send her so it- Oof!" Applejack tackled Starlight Glimmer dropping her to the floor. The angry orange Earth pony looked down at the pink Unicorn with fire in her green eyes.

Applejack shouted down at her, keeping Starlight pinned between her legs. "You couldn't leave well enough alone, could you!? Look at what you done! Rarity's gone! She's gone! She's-" Applejack choked as her eyes teared up. Twilight rushed over, digging her shoulder into Applejack's neck, and throwing a hoof around her in a comforting embrace. "I had her... I had her... and I let her go..." Applejack whimpered into Twilight's shoulder as she held her, while Starlight dragged herself out from underneath the upset mare.

"Let's not assume the worst just yet." Twilight tried to console Applejack and the others, while rubbing her back with a wing. "It's possible she just ended up someplace else. We just have to look for her." Twilight finished with rising confidence.

The others stood ready in an army line nearby with confident, determined looks upon their faces.

"We'll do whatever we can to find her!" Fluttershy spoke with conviction, which bolstered the others; who all stood straight as soldiers.

Twilight Sparkle held her head high, and spoke to her friends just as a princess would address her subjects. "Spike. Write a letter to the Princesses telling them everything that happened, and send them a transcript of today's meeting."

"Yes, mam!" Spike saluted with the quill in his hand, and immediately started scribbling furiously over a parchment.

"Rainbow Dash, I want you to spread the word around every town and city starting with Canterlot, it's the most likely place she will be found."

"On it!" Rainbow Dash saluted, and zipped off leaving a rainbow trail in her wake.

"Everypony else, start making and sending out missing pony posters, and ask everypony you come across if they've seen a white dome appear out of nowhere." Twilight Sparkle instructed the others.

"Right!" The group said in unison, before galloping off.

Applejack started to leave as well, but turned back to face the others staying behind. "You'll find her, won't you Twi?" she asked worriedly.

"Of course, Applejack, I'll do everything in my power to find her. She's not gone just... misplaced." Twilight answered with confidence; unwilling to show any of her own worry for her friend's sake.

Applejack nodded and gave Starlight a frown before galloping off.

"Twilight, I'm so sorry. I never thought a quest could-" Starlight tried to apologize before being cut off by her mentor, who kept her eyes locked on the map with her horn aglow.

"It's okay, Starlight, accidents happen. There was no way you could've predicted what the outcome would've been. We've never even thought of the possibility of a quest appearing while the spell was active. I never... Look, all we can do now is start eliminating all possible places she didn't end up."

Starlight wasn't sure if her teacher ever stopped channeling magic, and couldn't help but admire Twilight's focus. Until an idea struck her.

"I'll go get my notes. Maybe there's a way I can reverse the return tracking spell, and use that as a way to locate her. Maybe even bring her back." Starlight started to gallop out of the throne room, before being stopped by Twilight's voice.

"Good idea. And Starlight!?" Twilight called after her pupil.

Starlight looked back at her teacher, and their eyes met across the room.

"This wasn't your fault," Twilight reassured her.

"Yes it was," Starlight Glimmer said in regret, before galloping away and leaving Twilight alone with the map.

"Rarity, wherever you are, I'm so sorry; I promise I'll find you," Twilight whispered, while her eyes shimmered and tears threatened to fall.

She stared down at the map, still riddled with an uncountable number of three-diamond cutie marks.

"I'll bring you back!"


View Online

A white-runed dome appeared in the air, with wind gusts creating a circular barrier of dust and debris rising up and around the floating bowl.

"Wahhhh-OOF!" Hiss! Cough! Gasp!

Rarity was spat out of the concave, and landed hard on her chest; getting the wind knocked out of her. She tried to stand while coughing and gasping for breath, only to let out a choked yelp, and rolled onto her flank. She could feel a sharp pain in her left hind leg, and remembered Applejack hanging onto her hoof, futilely trying to save her life.

Applejack's incredible Earth Pony strength left Rarity with a sprained fetlock.

She stayed grounded for the moment, trying to catch her breath, while taking in her surroundings. It was a heavily wooded area with thick trees and brush in all directions. Celestia's sun pierced through the forest canopy, causing the seeds, pollen, and dust in the air to glow like tiny motes of light. A lack of wind made the various particles look as though they were gently floating in the shafts of light. Together, it all created a beautiful scene of nature.

Now that she could breathe normally, Rarity attempted to stand again, this time minding her injured leg. Once on her hooves she tried putting weight on it, which hurt, but not as much as she first feared. She took a few cautious steps, gingerly placing the tip of her hoof on the ground before setting the rest of it down. Rarity felt as though she could trot, but probably not very far; nor very fast without a bit of rest in between. Rarity looked above her for any sign of the spell which brought her here.

Wherever 'here' was.

"Twilight," she rasped and cleared her throat. "Twilight...? Starlight Glimmer...? Okay I'd very much like to come back now, please. I would really appreciate it, darlings...Twilight?"

Nothing but the ambiance of the wilderness answered her: birds squawking, locusts chirping, and the punctuating sound of cicadas in the distance.

"Well it was worth a try..." She pouted, and pivoted around, while hopping on her good legs to get her bearings. The sun was high in the sky indicating it was around midday. She looked at her cutie mark on her flanks and saw it was back to normal. Though she felt sad that some ponies somewhere were going through a trying time with their friendship, and here she was stranded in the middle of a fore-.

Rarity's heart skipped a beat and her eyes widened in fearful realization.

"No... no no no, no." She whispered harshly, while looking around in alarm. Not wanting to believe she was where she thought she was. But in the back of her mind she knew - in a way - exactly where she was. And fought to disprove her mind's eye.

She was deep in the place Ponies should not go. The place where even the outskirts of which harbored dangerous beasts that eat Ponies!

The Everfree Forest.

Rarity's heart raced as she hobbled her way through the thickets, stopping every few minutes to lean against a tree and give her injury a rest. She looked back to check on it again, and lifted her hindleg. Her fetlock looked fine even though there was an ever present ache. Rarity winced when she tried bending it again, and recieving another spike of pain for her efforts.

While she rested, she'd mentally argue with herself, asking if whether or not it was a good idea to leave the area she first appeared. Rarity knew how Starlight's spell worked, they could use that and the Map to bring her back home! So it didn't matter if she left. Especially when they can bring her back anytime, anywhere, right? At least that's how she understood it, still... Best to not leave anything to chance.

Rarity looked in her saddlebags and pulled out a red ribbon. She tied it to- What? Oh. Sorry. She left a cinnamon colored ribbon tied to the branch above her every time she needed a rest. Leaving a sort of fabulous breadcrumb trail.

Rarity knew enough about camping and nature between Applejack and Fluttershy to know she needed to find a place where she could be easily found. There was still the problem of actually being spotted, assuming she finds a suitable place for rescuing. She decided to file that thought away for later. Rarity may not know fire spells like her two magic-talented friends, but a few sparks from her horn and a little dry brush should do the trick.

Navigating the thickets proved challenging, but Rarity did her best and endured by picking the clearest routes she could find, and going as far as she could without causing further injury to herself. Which was also a challenge in, and of itself. She could step over most obstacles in her path, though the constant hurdles of timbers and growth made each little effort feel like climbing a mountain.

She eventually got stuck on top of a large, fallen tree trunk. The ground was much lower on the other side; giving it a longer drop going down than it did going up. The thick brambles around the trunk would've taken longer for her to navigate around rather than going over, or it looked that way before she got up there.

Either way. Going around wasn't an option, now that she was already up there, and could get a good look at the surrounding area. She thought about her predicament, while mentally testing a few ways she could go about getting down. All while shifting her body left and right atop the apex of the trunk; mock testing a few of her solutions.

Eventually she decided on her idea of lowering herself backwards, while hanging onto the trunk with her hooves.

"Mm-mmm-mhh." Rarity lowered herself while stretching out her right hind hoof, and flailing it around; trying to feel for the ground. She felt her delicate belly rubbing against the rough tree-bark, leaving fresh scrapes on her soft hide.

"Gasps! AH! OoF! Hiss! Aarrgg!" After losing her grip she attempted to claw her way back up the tree. Her smooth hooves were unable to find purchase, and she quickly descended with a few flecks of tree-bark falling with her. Rarity also misjudged the distance, and landed a little more forcefully than she would have liked. The fall was far enough to frighten her instincts into action, automatically sticking out both her hind hooves in an effort save the rest of her body from the plunge. Her injured leg buckled a moment after her hoof impacted the ground, causing her to land hard on her left side.

"Sssssh, haaa... Sssssh, haaa... Sssssh- Grrrgh!" The pain in her fetlock was unbearable, as she cradled it while hissing through her teeth and exhaling out her mouth.

She did this over and over, until the painful feeling ebbed to a dull ache.

'I need to be more careful, if this keeps up I'll become lame and need serious medical attention! I doubt I'll be lucky enough to find another Zebra like Zecora out here. All things considered...'

As she lay there and thought more about her predicament, she knew she'd be fine once she could find a safe place to recover. Preferably a place where she could be rescued, and there was no telling how long that would take.

"Ssshhh, aaah, i-it's okay Rarity jus-s-t a minor set back." She hissed through gritted teeth, trying to tend to her throbbing appendage.

"Any moment now Rainbow Dash is going to swoop down and take you right home! Why I wouldn't doubt if that filly wasn't combing the area looking for me right now, AhHA!" she laughed trying to convince herself everything was going to be okay, even checking the sky for a rainbow contrail. "I'll bet she can cover the whole Everfree forest in ten minutes flat!" she said with a crooked smile still looking at the sky and waited a few minutes... When nothing happened, she laid her head back down, and pursed her lips looking worried.

Ponies had complete control over their world, however the Everfree Forest was the antitheses to that world. It was a wild and untamed place, a thorn in the side of the Pony race who've tried to mold the world to their liking. Even if it was mainly to keep themselves safe. The forest was vast covering a quarter of the country the Ponies named their home. It sheltered an uncountable number of unknown creatures, many of whom could make a small snack out of a full-grown mare.

In leymare's terms it was a very bad place for a Pony to be, especially one who was alone and injured.

Feeling disappointed at her rainbow friend's tardiness. Rarity started getting up again, digging deep inside herself, scrunched up her face and pressed on.

"Fine then Rainbow Dash--huff--i-if you won't rescue me then I-i-'ll jus-t have to do it myself, and I'll nnngghn-ever let yo-u live it down no-knowing I beat you h-home with one hoof tied!" Rarity exclaimed with conviction as she put one hoof in front of the other while hopping on her good hind leg. Her white rump bounced out of the thicket every few seconds as she went deeper into the wilderness, her gait resembling that of a three-legged caterpillar.

Her croup occasionally bobbing over the undergrowth that surrounded her, her white rump was like a shark fin breaking the water, which were the green ferns that submerged her.

Rarity trotted for hours. Her white coat, though marred by the brambles and occasional tumble, was still a striking contrast to the verdant pastels of the Everfree Forest.

A white diamond in a sea of green.

Using the back of her pastern, she wiped the sweat away pouring from her brow. The humid climate made the heat stifling, the air thick and heavy. Which made her every breath, a laborious chore. Her mouth felt pasty, while her throat was dry. Rarity was feeling hungry, thirsty, agitated, and exhausted. The hot weather quickly sapping her strength.

"Great idea Rarity let's just give one of Twilight's enemies a chance to prove herself by trying out one of her spells! The same spell she used to try and destroy all our lives out of spite! All just because you felt sorry for her! Well when I get back she's the one who's going to be sorry! And Twilight too! She was the one who kept saying it was safe, Element of Magic my dock! If she thinks I'm still going to teach her proper royal etiquette after this, well then she's got another thing coming!"

Her tiny white body moved among all the plants like an ant searching for bounty. Having to double back a few times only to do so again when her direction was blocked by thick brushwood. Trying and failing to push her way through it caused her resentment to grow.

"Oh! Wait! I think I get it now! It's all a joke isn't it!"

"Aha! AHahHaHa! Ohhh Twilight! Youuu got me! Making me think you can't teleport me back! Oh! Ho! Ho! Thaaat's a good one! Did you, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash come up with that?! Ahehehaaa" She sighed.

"I swear if this is a sick joke I'm going to- Chickachikchicka!" Rarity's ears perked to the sudden sound of loud rustling nearby, and immediately stopped in her tracks.

She listened with wide eyes while independently swiveling her ears around like radars, trying to locate the source of the noise. Her eyes widened further as fear gripped at her heart, and her muscles tensed; though she dared not move, unsure of whether to run or hide.

A brown winged blur loudly fluttered out of the brush, ambushing a small patch of clovers just feet in front of Rarity.

"UahHAHA! Ahhhhhahaha! AHH! Uah!" Rarity closed her eyes and reared up kicking, screaming, and stomping at the ground to ward off the attacking beast. Then--switching tactics to confuse her assaulter--dropped flat against the ground and cowering with both hooves covering her head.

Moments passed as Rarity laid there shaking uncontrollably, before she was brave enough to move again; wondering why she was still alive and uneaten. She cracked one eye open, then the other, while peaking through the gap between her hooves at her surroundings, then down at her assailant.

"Huh!?" Rarity was stunned to find a wolpertinger in front of her, and not the sharp-toothed monster she imagined had come to gobble her up.

Wolpertingers were wild rabbits with smaller horns than a jackalope. However, wolpertingers also had a pair of wings on their backs to help them climb fruit-bearing trees. To say they could fly would be a stretch, but when threatened they can accomplish short bursts of flight to escape predators and avoid danger.

The little creature was unfazed by Rarity's efforts to defend herself and continued to happily munch on the delicious plants while it watched her with its big brown eyes.

"Doooohhfff! Don't you know it's rude to drop in unannounced!" Rarity growled at the tiny ball of fluff, while puffing up her red-tinted cheeks and pouting angrily at the little creature.

The critter only cocked it's head in confusion, before flutter-hopping away.

"Wait, come back, I didn't mean it!" Not wanting to be alone again, she picked herself up on shaking legs and followed the miniature chimera. They traveled a short distance to a tiny stream barely three hoof-widths wide, and only a hoof-length or so deep. It's crystal clear water washed gently over the smooth rocks and roots of the nearby plants and trees.

Rarity eyed the water. It's presence reminding her of how dry her mouth and throat felt. It'd been hours since she last had anything to drink, and lowered her head to the flowing stream with trepidation, only to immediately raise it back from within an inch of touching the water. Rarity did this several times, before stomping her hooves in frustration. Annoyed at her standards of cleanliness, which mentally blocked her from the refreshing liquid. The thought of all the dirt and nasty things which must be in floating in there, kept her from what was sure to be an invigorating refreshment.

"Oh, buck up Rarity! You aren't going to make it back to your friends if you collapse from dehydration." The great possibility of her words scared her, but she pushed those feelings aside for the moment. Focusing on what she needed now. "You'll just have to make do with what you find! Like this water for instance, even if it is a bit... dirty," She squeaked, as her face grimaced.

She lowered her head again, with her mouth feeling pasty. She licked her dry lips, before taking a sip from the stream. The cool liquid touched her lips, washed over her mouth, then finally soothing her dry throat. The feeling was next to pleasure.

"Mmm-mmmh, Gah. Oh, my, that is refreshing; I feel better already." Rarity mewled as she continued to drink, making gulping sounds as she did. She'd stop occasionally to take a breath, only to gently dive back in. Half suckling and half lapping at the water, being careful not to touch her tongue to the bottom of the shallow pool. She felt her water had enough minerals already, and would hate to accidentally add more directly from the source.

With her thirst quenched she took a quick look around, and noticed her new acquaintance was busy eating some berries from a nearby bush. Her tummy growled at the sight of the vibrant colored fruit, and magically picked a few of them. Floating them into the stream to wash.

Eager to solve her second problem, she took a bite of the now 'clean' fruit, and 'mmm'd' as it's sweet juicy flavor exploded in her mouth. "Oh, goodnessh I could get ushed to thish!" she said with her cheeks half-full of the sweet treat.

She took the time to check herself over. There were leaves, sticks, and bits of dirt stuck in her mane and tail. She magicked out a few burs that clung to her coat, which irritated her hide and caused her to feel itchy. She looked disheveled, her mane was sticking out in places and she could swear she had bags under her eyes. She whimpered while levitating out what she could, but knowing only a proper bath would do the trick.

'I guess that spa date is going to have to wait...' She thought, while grooming herself.

Looking at her surroundings she felt this was a good a place as any to catch a bit of rest. Her tiny companion was busy drinking from the stream, no doubt washing down the berries he just ate. Rarity wondered what else she could eat out here.

"Barely a day in the wilderness Rarity and you're already thinking like a cave-pony. What would your colleagues in Canterlot think?!" She wondered about her friends back in Ponyville too, hoping she'll get to see them again soon.

Rarity removed her saddlebags, her back sore from carrying it for so long. Then found a comfortable-looking spot near the stream. Setting them next to her and laid down on her belly, which stung from the scrapes she received hours ago. Placing her forehooves in the soothing water. She contemplated opening up her saddlebags, but knew there wasn't anything she could use at the moment, other than her hair brush, but she didn't want that to get dirty too. So she 'brushed' the thought instead.

She still needed to find a place to be rescued, and the thought of having to bed down for the night was as unappealing as it sounded. "Well if Zecora can live in this dreadful place then surely, I can too, if for a single night at least! That is of course if I have to..." She said with a bit of confidence, though silently wishing she really didn't have too.

Rarity counted the minutes while she soothed her aching hooves in the cool water, which where just a bit too big for the stream. Nevertheless, she enjoyed what little relief it brought her. Rarity rested while watching her little buddy continue to forage and drink around her. Even jumping on her back just to immediately hop off when Rarity stirred, "Ooh!" surprised at the sudden contact.

"I think I'll call you... Monty. Doesn't that sound nice?" She cooed to the little critter. Who turned to face her, rearing up on his hind feet, then bobbing his head up and down while wiggling his cute little nose. Rarity wasn't sure if he agreed or just searching for more food. Either way, it made her laugh.

"Hmmhmph! I think so too." She cooed gently. That was the last thing she said for awhile until the aches in her body dulled, and she felt rested enough to continue. She put her saddlebags back on and continued her journey. With every movement feeling as though there were thousands of tiny rubber bands breaking inside her tight muscles.

Rarity had followed the brook for about an hour before an obstacle caused her to temporarily abandon it. She tried to keep a mental note on where it was in case she needed to find it again.

"Huff! M-mmmffph!" Rarity pushed herself off the tree she was resting on and walked to the next one in her sights. Eventually falling into a pattern, she would pick a tree ahead of her and went as far as she could before taking a break. She kept this up for a couple more hours, her progress declining with every endeavor. Her legs felt like they were made of wet noodles and shook with every step, her body felt dirty and ached all over. Rarity felt she truly was on her last legs.

She tried her best to keep up with Monty, who curiously stayed with her even when she had to alter course for one reason or another. He was currently being quite selfish and impolite. Leaving her behind, and not listening to her whining- I'm sorry, complaining.

"I mean really, is it too much trouble to mobilize the entire Equestrian Army to come look for me?!" Her mood had soured over time. As a result, she was making easily avoidable mistakes which made the venture much harder on her. Once she didn't pick up her right fore hoof enough and ended up clipping a root sticking out of the ground, causing her to lose balance and stumble a few feet. Which forced her to put weight on her injury, sending sharp pains up her leg. It only served to feed into her foul mood, resulting in an ongoing cycle.

"AM I ASKING FOR TOO MUCH HERE?!" She shouted to the sky. Her loud voice spooked the nearby birds, causing them to fly away from their roost and escape through the canopy. She kept going for what felt like an hour, but may have only been a few minutes.

"My hooves are killing me! I'm tired, and hungry, and thirsty! I wanna go home and take a warm bath! I wanna lay on my bed and put my head on my comfy pi-hill-low!" She whined. Yes, she was definitely whining now.

Her movements had declined so much that she was barely making half-steps. It was nearly dusk, maybe an hour or so away, and now she had three more problems that had returned on top of the two she already had. She still didn't find shelter and never stopped to rest since she left the stream, pushing herself to find something she could use as a shelter before nightfall.

After seeing the sun hanging low below the canopy, she felt she could go no further. She looked at her surroundings, the image of her sleeping here on the ground entered her mind.

"I have to spend the the Everfree Forest..."

The weight of her own words caused her hooves to shake, before falling back on her rump. The very real possibility of never seeing her friends again flooded her mind. She never felt alone before, so exposed and unsafe. Sure, she's faced Diamond dogs, monsters, and villains before, and felt scared while fighting them. But she also had her friends by her side. They were what gave her strength, who pushed her to be her best.

Without them... she wasn't going to make it... Her eyes watered, and her lips quivered, as she prayed to the sky.

"Oh dear Creator, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Twilight, Starlight, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, everypony please...Get me out of here! I promise I'll be twice-NO! Four times the Element of Generosity I was before. I'll sell all my dresses at a fraction of the price! NO, WAIT! I'll give them away to homeless ponies, and to others in less fortunate countries!" She bargained with tears streaming down her cheeks, she sniffed and sobbed for a few minutes until her friends entered her thoughts again.

This time she thought of all the good times they had, of their smiling faces, of all the laughter and jokes! Her family and Sweetie Bell, there was so much left to teach her! Of the times they would have together, the times they will have together! She dried her tears and pursed her lips with determination etched on her face and a fire stoking in her heart!

"NO! Feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to do anypony any good Rarity! Now your friends and family are looking for you, and it would be disdainful of us to let them down by giving up!" Rarity stated with determination. The thought of returning to her friends and family strengthened her resolve.

"Plus it's not all bad, there're plenty of sticks around here to make a fire and, ooh, I believe I could make a lovely little stick hut, wouldn't that be grande!" Rarity said nostalgically, as her courage returned with every word she spoke.

"I can see it now 'Rarity the Everfree Survivor' --NO-- 'Everfree Conqueror'; I like the sound of that! If that's not bold, then I don't know what is."

"Monty! We've got work to do, darling." Rarity's voice sang. Her little animal friend would be all the company she'd need until then, now if only she could find him.

"Monty?" She spotted him climbing up a tree, pumping his little wings for all he's worth before clambering into a hollow. He poked his head out for just a moment to look down at her before quickly hiding again.

"Now what's got him all frazzled? The poor thing looked frightened." Rarity moved to pick herself up off the ground and maybe attempt to coax him out of hiding.

Just as she started to put weight on her front hooves she noticed odd indentations in the ground. There were so many of them, and of all the same pattern too. It looked awfully familiar, it was kind of like Winona's paw prints only hers were tiny compared to these. Rarity placed her hoof over one and guessed it had to be four times the size of her hoof.

"Oh my Celestia, that's a-"


Rarity's head snapped towards the haunting sound and slowly splayed her ears back in fear. The eerie howl resonated throughout the forest, as if answering her thoughts. Rarity could feel its sheer volume suffocating her as it passed through her body, the deathly wail turned her blood to ice as her hair stood on its end, and could swear her spirit temporarily left her body.

"Dire Wolf..." Rarity squeaked in fright, as if mentioning their very name would cause them to appear before her.

The most fearsome predator of the Pony race, of all Equestrian races. Carnivores that can think, plan, and execute together as a team. Easily three times the size of the average adult Pony, Dire wolves are bigger, stronger, and smarter than the average wolf. Timberwolves are easily turned to splinters, whenever they get into territorial wars with their far superior cousins, and as you know wolves-


-always hunt in packs.

She could already hear and feel the thuds of their heavy paws hitting the ground, the growls and snarls were also getting closer.

Rarity gathered her wits and tore off in the opposite direction; ignoring her screaming muscles and injured leg, as fear and panic consumed her.

Her primal instincts shouted at her to run, run, RUN!

The sun was less than a half hour away from setting, the base of the orange-yellow sphere was barely touching the horizon. Rarity feared every shadow that moved believing it was the beasts that were hunting her, monsters that were going to eat her. Her heart was thundering so loudly in her ears that it was all she could hear.

Rarity ran up to the perimeter of a deep creek who's concave formed a jagged 'U'. The large brook had a moderate amount of water running through it which muddied the area. The bank straight across from her looked too steep for her to climb, she stopped for a moment just short of the edge and looked for an easier path to cross. She didn't have much time. It would be dark soon and the wolves were right behind her.

Rarity took a quick look behind her before jumping into the mud and water without a second thought, her hooves sank alarmingly fast in the soupy earth, causing her to trip over and roll in it. Kicking and thrashing a torrent of muddy water everywhere as she fought to stand again. Every jolt of her legs sent lightning bolts through her, the pain fueling her instinct to run harder. However, the strain and the exhaustion were taking its toll, once on the other side she struggled to make it over the shortest ledge she could find. Her body rolled and dragged across the muddy bank as she tried desperately to jump over it.

Once her hooves found purchase she dragged herself over the boundary crawling as far as she could with her fore hooves. Mud, grass, and leaves caked her hide all over, even her beautiful purple mane and tail, which stuck to her body, weren't spared the atrocity. She took a moment to catch her breath but not for long, the howls and barks were getting closer.

The wolves had reached the creek, the four carnivores walked back and forth sniffing the air and ground searching for the scent of their quarry.

They were confused for a moment until the pack leader, a Black coated wolf, snapped at the Red furred runt of their group. The runt raced down the left side of the creek. Black then growled at the Grey furred member, and he broke right. Only the leader and the White furred 'second in command' were left. White sniffed at the air and ground where Rarity had crossed earlier, then took a step in her direction. Black noticed this and systematically bit, clawed, and snapped at White for breaking rank.

The two powerful beasts reared on each other, both with maws wide and bared teeth, each one trying to dominate the other for leadership. The fight was over as quickly as it begun, with Black securing his rank another night.

Rarity heard the nearby scuffle and fought to drag her aching body to a tree whose roots formed a cage-like barrier underneath it. She managed to squeeze inside just in time to see the two wolves bound over the edge where she climbed up just a minute ago.

They sniffed while moving around where she laid earlier, Black took off leaving White alone to continue scouting the area. Rarity held her breath as she watched the large predator serpentine across the path she crawled from. She could hear the beast's sniffing as it progressed towards her sanctuary. Rarity shut her eyes and dared not move nor make a sound, all she could do was listen to its every breath. The wolf was just a couple feet from her as it's searching nose came closer and closer, the sound of its inhaling becoming more deafening until it was all she could hear.

Her heart was racing as she silently prayed for a quick and merciful end, with the beast right outside her hiding place. Its breathing became slower and deeper.

Sniff-sniff-sniiiiif! The white wolf started to poke its snout inside Rarity's cage.


The white wolf snapped his attention in the direction of the howl and darted off.

"Gaaaahhh! Huff! Huff!" Rarity counted to ten before finally allowing herself to breathe, and took deep gasping breaths of air; nearly unable to hold it any longer. She could feel her heart thumping in her chest as its rhythmic beats slowed, before she let out choking little sobs.

"I want my mom--sniff! I want my dad--sniff! My sister--hic! My friends--sniff! I wanna go home--sniff-sob! I wanna go home right now. Hic-sniff-sob-sniff... I hate this place--sniff-cough!" Rarity whimpered and cried with eyes full of tears, and held herself while gently rocking back and forth inside the confines her sanctuary. Her thick tears cutting furrows through the muck below her eyes and cheeks, which fell dirtily to the ground.

Rarity had never been more afraid in her life. She had truly come close to death, and it frightened her. She continued to cry silently, and beg to be with her friends and family.

After sniffling and clearing her dry throat, Rarity felt she stayed in her refuge for long enough, and decided it was best to get as far away from there as possible. She checked to see of the coast was clear before squeezing through the roots and falling on her belly, which still stung from the abrasions she received earlier that day. She looked at her hooves, chest, and flanks, and grimaced. She was covered in a thick layer of everything. It pained and disgusted her to be so dirty, but she realized she was fortunate, for she smelled like dirt which was all that protected her.

So for now she called a mental truce between her and her war on uncleanliness. Though she still felt repulsed as she wiped a bit of the 'protective layer' off her face.

The sun was minutes away from setting, Rarity looked around to see where she should go when something odd caught her eye. Rarity looked up to the tree she was hiding under and right there, a little more than three pony heights up was an arrow carved into its trunk.

A carving like that means tools and a tool means ponies! Or at least somepony for sure! What!? Yes, I know it's confusing but officially every race be they Pony, Donkey, Griffon, or Minotaur are still somponys. Funny I know.

The carving was pointing away from where that howl came from earlier. Which works out smashingly for me! Rarity thought the farther from those wolves she gets, the better. She followed its direction keeping her eyes open for other markings as well as any sign of her pursuers, she didn't have go far until she found another one. It had a slightly altered course from the previous one, it still took her away from the direction the beasts went, so follow it she did.

She could feel her heart beating in her ankle, and took a moment to look at it after the third arrow pointer she found. It looked worse than it did earlier, no doubt all the rigorous exercise she just went through was the culprit. The swelling had a visible bulge around her poor fetlock. There was no question she would need weeks of recovery before it was safe to trot on again, thinking of it as a well deserved vacation she was going to have after all this. Until then she treated it as delicately as she could.

"Once this is over I'm going to tie my parents down and leave Sweetie Bell in charge, then I'll be the one on vacation for once!" Forget leaving Sweetie Bell in charge, I'd rather just take her with me then they can look after the boutique! She added as an afterthought and couldn't wait to see her little sister again.

I don't wanna see you ever again! The painful memory that surfaced made her stop. She knew her sister didn't mean that. It was just in the heat of the moment... Regardless, her lips quivered and a single tear still managed to escape her.

"I swear I'll make it back to you Sweetie, and together we're going to fix this! I know you must be worried sick about me."

The sun was almost completely below the horizon. The dimming light gave the forest an increasingly ominous atmosphere. All manner of insects came out of their burrows and started to swarm in their respective pods. Lucky for Rarity her 'protective layer' also helped immensely with that as well, though it was far from perfect as she proved when she'd occasionally slap her cheek with a hoof or whipped at her flanks with her tail. Her body was sore all over and the debris which clung to her, though grateful as she was for it's protection, gave her a constant feeling of discomfort.

Rarity pressed on finding one marker after another, it turned into a fun little game for a short time until she found the tenth one. It was on a tree that Rarity thought looked like a giant carrot sticking from the ground. Her stomach growled at the thought, great now she wanted a carrot-dog badly. The 'carrot tree' grew on top edge of a short rocky cliff which jutted out enough to create a shallow cave.

The carrot-tree had a completely different mark on it. It was a circle with two lines, one horizontal and the other vertical, crossing each other in the center, with neither line going beyond the circle.

She'd never seen a symbol like that before.

Rarity kept her eyes on the strange emblem as she walked closer to examine it, wondering what it could mean. The dried sticks and leaves littering the ground made tiny snapping sounds as she slowly trotted over them, her eyes still locked on the strange symbol. The ground must of been wet as she felt it sag under-hoof. Oh well, more mud couldn't do any more harm could it?

The cliff was about four Pony heights tall and arched all around her forming a horseshoe shape. Rarity currently stood in the top-middle of its contour with the carrot-tree above her. She looked around the large space and believed this is where she would have to stay for tonight.

"Good a place as any in the Everfree I suppose..." Rarity said begrudgingly, while thinking of her soft bed back home. Either way, she was looking forward to a long night's rest.

The sun had finally set, plunging the Everfree into darkness, only to be illuminated again later by the ghostly white light of Luna's Moon. It's luminous surface highlighted everything in a white silhouette.

Rarity heard something stirring behind her, hopping around to see what it was. Her eyes shrank to pinpricks. Her four knees started to tremble, and she nearly peed all over herself at what she saw standing just a dozen yards from her.

The black wolf.

"Gasps! AAAHHHHHHHH!" Rarity shrieked, while hobbling to the back and along the contour of the shallow cliff.

She was unable to move anywhere without getting closer to the predator, and started to hyperventilate.

Black was crouching by the open mouth of the horseshoe-like cliff face, blocking her only escape, his maw was pulled back in a snarl showing off his sharp, glowing white teeth. Black jerked his head and let out a short, powerful growl-bark. In a moment the rest of his pack jumped from the shadows and stood behind him.

She was trapped! Did they follow her, or did they just now get here? It didn't matter, she needed to find a way out now!

Black approached slowly up the middle of the arch, as the leader he would get the honor to taste her flesh first. His presence was terrifying as Luna's moonlight gave the wolf a silvery silhouette over its ebony coat, and his crimson eyes shone like rubies in the pitch black of his face.

"Get away from me you beasts! Get away!" She shrieked, pelting the wolf with small stones using her magic. Only succeeding in irritating the big, bad wolf, and receiving a deafeningly sharp growl-bark for her futile resistance. Her heart trembled at the black wolf's response, panicking as he stepped forward. Unable to defend herself, Rarity prayed for her friends to rescue her; screaming for somepony, anypony , to help her.


"PLE-HE-HEASE!" Rarity's weakening voice cried over and over, her dry throat quickly gave out as she cowered down with nowhere to go.

Her tears fell freely, knowing this was going to be the end.

The other wolves fought over who would get leftovers, after a quick snap from Black they stopped, and the dark wolf continued to inch ever closer its prey.

Rarity knew the wolf was going to tear her apart, knowing it was going to hurt. She was going to be eaten alive. It was going to be a bad death. A painful death.

Rarity pressed herself harder against the dirt wall of the shallow cave, trying to put as much distance between herself and the killer before her. Rarity was shaking in terror, while staring at the dark wolf with her pinprick eyes, so afraid she could barely breath. All she could do was watch as the black wolf licked his bared teeth, and continued to inch towards her step by step.

Black was just inside the opening of the horseshoe, and slowly lowered his rear, savoring every moment of his soon to be kill.

Rarity watched this, knowing the beast was about to attack.

Black let out a sharp growl before he charged her at full speed. Rarity shut her eyes and awaited the end.

She could feel the raw power the beast pressed into the earth with every stride. Rarity didn't know what possessed her to open her eyes in that moment, but what happened next she will never forget. Black only made it a few yards from her before the ground disintegrated beneath him! The air filled with a cacophony of snapping twigs and popping limbs, quickly followed by a pained yelp.

The earth had swallowed him whole.

The other wolves were cantering around back and forth, yards away from the pit, looking confused as well. What had happened to their leader? Did the ground eat them now?

The white coated second in command cautiously approached the pit between him and the prey.

Rarity did the same and was just as curious.

Rarity and the white wolf both looked into the hole to see what became of their mutual 'friend', and Rarity immediately regretted it. From what little she saw it looked as though poor Black had been impaled upon several spears when he fell.

All Rarity could see was red, everything was red.

The younger wolves weren't too happy about what just happened, baring their fangs at the little pony, blaming her for this transgression! White whipped around and tried to assert dominance over the others, but only managed to stop the red runt. Grey had whipped around White and the pit, half wall-running along the horseshoe and charged at Rarity once he had a straight shot.

"Ooh, noo; not this again!" Rarity dismayed, while hobbling along the cave's contour in the opposite direction, before tripping and falling on her side, her vulnerable belly exposed towards the maw of the charging beast.

"GAAAHHH!" Rarity screamed, while kicking out her hooves to protect herself, as the grey wolf pounced at her, then landed hard on the ground, with its shoulder digging into the dirt. The wolf's limp body stopped a scant few feet of her.

Rarity stared in disbelief, while trying to understand what just happened. She examined the body of the grey wolf from where she lay with her mouth agape and wide unbelieving eyes, then noticed an arrow sticking out from the back of the wolf's neck. Its fletching was a dead giveaway. No pun intended.

The two remaining wolves were already engaged with her rescuer. Red had two arrows sticking in his flank already, the rust colored wolf was crying, whimpering, and whining for help. White pranced, licked, and sniffed around him confused as to what was happening, and of what to do. Rarity could barely make out a large figure in the darkness as it hid within the trees.

Rarity's defender dropped from his perch and held something up, or maybe it was him--like it was a part of him--though she couldn't tell at all. She started to feel very sleepy and tried to fight against her tiredness. She wanted to thank her hero. It was only the polite thing to do.

Fwip! Fwip! Fwip!

White jumped in the air dodging the small barrage and shot off into the darkness when he landed, leaving Red to fend for himself. Rarity could barely keep her eyes open, her head swimming in fatigue.

"Take that you ruffian, and don't come back!" Rarity croaked out in a dry, scratchy voice. Watching as the white wolf ran away with its tail tucked between its legs. She took a bit of pleasure at seeing the wolf scared for a change, before she collapsed from exhaustion.

She struggled to hold herself up by her elbows, half-laying on her side, and looking towards the brave soul who saved her. The figure was crouched over Red, and was wiping something that shined in the moonlight on the still form of the rust colored wolf.

Her protector had a gait like that of a minotaur as he approached her. His build was even similar to that of one, but also not of one. As he neared her, she noticed he was significantly less bulky than one too. The dark silhouetted figure of her liberator checked the pit before looking her way with his glowing white eyes. Rarity laid fully on her side, too tired to keep herself up as her champion stood over her.

"Ththhank y-youuu f-for-" She barely managed a croaked whinny, before closing her eyes and surrendering to the darkness.

Meat & Greet

View Online

Tonight was the most important night of Rarity's life. The outcome of which would either make or break her. She's given her blood, sweat, and tears for years to be at the party of her dreams.

Fashion week in Prance, the largest, most luxurious fashion show of the year. Of the entire world!

Only the best of the best are invited to attend the event, and just a few moons ago she finally got hers. Fashionistas and clothing designers from all over Equestria were showing off their best work, and now it was Rarity's chance to show hers.

Rarity exited her alabaster carriage pulled by six white stallions all wearing gilded golden armor, and entered the ballroom. It's beauty and décor far out-shined that of the Grand Galloping Gala.

The flooring was made of black marble with striking white veins, like lightning arcs across a pitch-black sky. The walls and ceiling were made of pure gold, which shined with a faint pink hue. Five platinum and diamond chandeliers arranged in the pattern you'd find on the five-side of a die--the middle of which was half as much larger than its already over-sized brethren--all looking like wedding cakes turned upside-down with a single large diamond hanging below each of them. The windows were made of pure crystal, which shone the light from outside in a brilliant spectrum.

The trumpeters played their instruments, before the herald kindly added the title of 'Lady' in admiration of Rarity's own beauty, despite not being an actual noble on record.


"Now entering, Lady Rarity of Ponyville, Equestriah."

Rarity held her head high, relishing all the attention that came her way, and was giddy with excitement; admiring all the high-class apparel around her. Through it all, she kept her grace and composure as she strode down the velvet runway.

Rarity wore her ruby red lipstick and baby blue eyeliner with glitter-dust on her cheeks. Her ensemble consisted of multiple gold bands in each of her ears, along with the Fire Ruby--that Spike so generously given her--adorning her neck, and finally a set of golden slippers.

Rarity's attire was an enchanting red gown with same colored sequins that sparkled like a million tiny stars. The sequins would pulsate and fade as the she trotted across the ballroom, every movement sent shimmering waves of starry light around her. The gown was styled in a fiery motif, with the right shoulder and left flank flayed to resemble flames. While leaving the other sides exposed for others to view her delicate hide, and was made to enticingly show off her right flank; displaying her cutie mark and talent for the world to see.

Others watched with great interest as the hemline of her dress moved in an ethereal wind. The dress itself was quite literally enchanted and was definitely shimmery, and showy.

It was part of her latest line, and it was her greatest achievement. She did what nopony else has done before, many have tried and all have failed to accomplish what was considered the Holy Pale of fashion. A seamless blending of magic and artistry the likes of which the fashion world had never seen before!

Rarity channeled more magic into the spell, causing the otherworldly wind to billow her gown, thrashing it around wildly! She then reared up, while using her forehooves to push down the wayward frill of her dress, futilely trying keep it from exposing her thin red lingerie, which barely concealed her supple breasts and alluring buttocks. It was quite the seductive presentation, giving the crowd a taste of what's to come.

The other ponies "Oooh'd" and "Aaah'd" at her innocently lewd display. The stallions of the crowd paid closer attention to certain specific aspects of her attire more than others, along with some of the mares too. Who all put on looks of desire, while staring at her with lusty eyes.

Rarity felt naughty, and wondered if she'd gone overboard with the act. It was crucial for her to make a good impression, but she also couldn't afford to waste time sorting out suitors from potential business partners.

This was business after all.

Rarity milled about, while shaking hooves and socializing with the other elites, until it was time for her real show to begin.

Copper Pipes, Flywheel and Broken Gasket were all machinists turned fashion designers after their popular Steam Hooligan line took off. It looked interesting in a sense, but totally impractical and it looked quite uncomfortable, but Rarity could certainly appreciate their complicated designs. Despite others opinions, they were here, and that spoke volumes. They appealed to a younger generation.

Photo Finnish was cantering around taking pictures of everything and everpony. Hoity Toity and Prim Hemline were busy assisting the other judges. Canterlina Ferrier was most notable among them, being one of a very few group of ponies to personally attire the Princesses themselves! She got her start after inheriting and working her family's blacksmithing business, before she got into horseshoe design and other fashion ventures later on. Platinum Cuffs was present as well and specialized in stallion-wear, his suits and undergarments are the most sought after among the male population. He was most famous for being the first and most successful stallion in fashion history.

Rarity felt it would be the apex of her career if she could be counted among them, and after tonight she knew one day soon that she will be!

"Lady Rarity. Lovely to see you as always, enjoying the party?" Fancy Pants along with Fleur dis Lee greeted Rarity after she finished her little parade.

"Oh, yes, everything is just divine! It's been my fillyhood dream to attend this event." Rarity swooned as she twirled around, looking love-struck at all the fabulousness surrounding her.

"She's come a long way from that little filly we met in Canterlot; hasn't she, darling?" Fluer hinted while nuzzling his ear and giving it a nip. Fancy Pants, unfazed by his wife's ministrations, kept his posture squared directly at Rarity. A gesture which showed his full attention was solely on her.

"She has! I knew I had a good feeling about you, Rarity; I could feel it the moment you bumped into me," he reached down and held her right hoof in his. "And dare I say you look..." He kissed her hoof, while keeping his light blue eyes locked onto hers as he did. "Ravishing." He finished with passion in his voice.

"Oh, oh my..." Rarity's cheeks were burning, and fanned herself off with a hoof.

"I suppose you could say you've made quite an impact on me, yes? Perhaps, Fluer and I can return the gesture later tonight?" He said with a devilish smile. Fluer gave her a coy one as well, looking at her with bedroom eyes while licking her lips.

"Well, I- I- buah-" Rarity's cheeks flushed at the forwardness of her two high-society friends, before suddenly jerking out her hind hoof with a surprised yelp. For a moment she blacked out and was someplace else. The next moment, a poor unaware caterer was stuck neck-deep into the horderves.

"Oh, oh, dear I am so sorry!" She apologized over and over to the poor stallion. Even offering to make him a new custom suit of his liking at no charge if he'd come by her shop. Rarity continued to feel a tightness around her hind leg, but chalked it up to her nerves getting to her.

The lights dimmed allowing the light of the full moon to illuminate the stage, before the bright searchlights shone on the curtain, highlighting a stylized 'R' with a pair of cerulean eyes in the middle of the loop. The music played and the floor models trotted out, one by one. Each was adorned with one of Rarity's latest attire.

One had nature motif with an ethereal pair of orange butterfly wings on a layered green gown, worn by a yellow-blonde Earth pony mare.

A navy blue colored Pegasus, with a maroon colored mane, was wearing a bright frilly pink dress that had some semblance of cupcake frosting piled high. With a veil around her mane, tail, and wings which released sparkles and glitters of various colors as she cantered up and down the stage.

Behind her was a dark-pink unicorn wearing a light purple dress with an amethyst gem inset within a gold socket on her breast. The gem was the focal point for an array of other amethyst gems eerily flowing around the enchantress like tendrils! It made her look powerful and not one to be trifled with.

And the last was a simple Roam toga dress that shimmered with multi colored hues, and a hemline that had actual clouds doling around the Pegasus model's hooves. Nopony could tell where the gown ended and the clouds began! It was the most shocking of the line, and received the highest praise worthy of such a feat. Except... there was one in the crowd who disagreed.

"Those are my clothes, I'm the one who should be here, not her!" an angry mare called out above the crowd.

Rarity heard the ruckus behind her, and turned around only to be soaked by a deluge of spiked punch. Another black out, the air smelled musty with a distinct earthen aroma. She was back and completely soaked, watching her former 'friend' being dragged away by security ponies while kicking and screaming her claims to Rarity's dresses.

"Those are my dresses, MINE! Let go of me, it's her! She's the one you want, not me! She stole from ME! RRAAHH!" Was the last of what was heard of the sad pony, before Rarity regained her wits.

"Oh, my goodness, miss Rarity, are you okay?" Coco Pommel rushed to Rarity's side with a handkerchief, and dabbed it around her face and neck.

Her beautiful dress was completely ruined.

"Wha- what just happened?" Rarity asked in shock while Coco continued to wipe the damp cloth around her head and neck.

"I'm so sorry miss Rarity, I told security to keep a watch out for her; she must've found a way to slip in. Suri's been really unstable since she heard you were going to be featured in Prance's fashion week," Coco Pommel continued to wipe down Rarity's chest and shoulders; while gradually moving down her body to dry off the punch.

"I- I can't believe it, my dress... My big night... All ruined by a petty grudge and a- Ooh! Coco!? What are you doing!? Don't wipe there, that's not even wet! What are you- Stop that- What's gotten into you?!" Rarity squeaked and squirmed as Coco stroked her more sensitive areas with the soft cloth.

"Please, Mistress Rarity, I only want to help you. We all do!" Coco pleaded with big puppy eyes as she held Rarity's fore leg wrapped in the cleaning cloth, begging to give her assistance.

"I- wha- d-did you just call me 'Mistress Rarity'!? And who is this we-" Rarity was about to continue her tirade until she noticed the crowd of ponies encircling her, before they rushed in pulling off her dress, and systematically licked, nuzzled, and kissed all over her exposed body.

"AH! What's going on?! Why are you doing- Stop this at once- AH!" She shrieked, while being picked up by the crowd, and body surfed over the sea of 'helpful' ponies. Then was suddenly dropped to the ground without a pony in sight, save for the models on stage.

They looked at her with hungry eyes and toothy smiles, their normally flat teeth molded and transitioned to long sharp fangs before her very eyes. Their ears elongated along with their muzzles, which became more pointed at the ends. Their ears and hides became fuzzier as their bodies grew too large for their dresses, tearing out of them with their massive size. Ripping them to shreds when they burst forth.

Rarity felt pain and heartache wrestling with fear for what happened to her hard work, and from witnessing the monstrous abominations of pony and beast transforming before her.

The four were-ponies bellowed out the same haunting sound as their wolf brethren. The howls sent Rarity back into the dark forest where the wolves were chasing her.

Rarity tried running away, but tripped over her own gown. When she looked back, the imposing figure of the black wolf was charging straight for her. The ebony wolf pounced with its maw wide open and razor-sharp teeth bearing down on the vulnerable little pony; coming straight for her face.


Rarity screamed as the black wolf consumed her forever into darkness.

Rarity's legs twitched as she slept. Trying to run away from the phantom wolves who plagued her subconscious, before violently jerking herself awake.

"Buah! Huff! Huff, huff!" Rarity breathed heavily as she took in her new surroundings; looking around the dark, dusty smelling room with wide frightened eyes, and her heart racing. She took deep heavy breaths, trying to calm her frayed nerves left by the nightmare. Her thumping heart and breathing slowed as she calmed after a few moments, while blearily looking around the room from her- bed?

Rarity could feel the silky-soft fuzzy blanket she lay upon, made of a material she could not place in all her expertise. When Rarity moved she could hear and slightly feel the familiar rustling of grass beneath her, taking a quick whiff of it confirmed her suspicions. The room itself was too dark for her see other than the few shafts of light coming from the far entrance.

Rarity knew somepony cleaned her, the ever-present itchiness from last night was gone, along with the thick layer of dirt with it. Though Rarity felt she could use a good brushing. Thinking about her brush made her realize that her saddlebags were gone too, and her hind leg was wrapped tightly in a cloth. There were also several smaller bandages covering the numerous cuts and scrapes she suffered the night before.

It took a moment for her to remember how she got there, which only served to remind herself of the terrible trials she recently suffered. Rarity trembled at the memory of the terrible black wolf stalking her, of their howls and their sharp gnashing teeth. But most of all, she remembered the stranger who fought for her and came to her rescue.

What was that? I remember but he, or was it a she? It was a Minotaur, wasn't it? No It didn't look right... You know what? It doesn't matter, I must thank whomever it is for their assistance!

Rarity smacked her pasty mouth, her throat felt dry and scratchy on top of being incredibly thirsty. Not to mention starving.

Though I do hope that nice stranger comes back soon, I'm practically dying of thirst! But I'd hate to just leave after all the care he's given me and- hey! What's that?

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out a large wooden bowl full of crystal clear water sitting half-way between her and the entrance. Its life-giving liquid was virtually glistening within the dim light of the cave.

'Lucky me! Perhaps I won't have to leave after all, and I bet that nice stranger left that here just for me! How kind and considerate of him, surely he won't mind if I help myself.'

Rarity moved to get up only to be suddenly stopped and dropped back down on her side, after feeling something choke her when she rose, and noticed the crude rope tied around her neck.

'W-why would he tie me up! Gasp! Oh, no! It's going to keep me as its personal slave! I'm going to be forced to find valuable gems for it, and plow fields, and be its little comfort horse! I have to get out of here NOW!'

She jerked her head in panic, turning and twisting her body to chew on the rope tied to the wooden bed frame. It's fibrous strands tasted bitter as she nibbled on it, her dainty attempts were doing little damage to the binding around her neck.

Just as she started to gnaw her way to freedom, she heard a commotion coming from outside. Her heart sped up, and eyes went wide, while waiting on her captor to enter his domain. Not a moment later, light flooded into the small cavern, stinging her eyes from the sudden brightness. Her eyes adjusted, and what she saw... was decidedly not a Minotaur.

It had long lanky limbs, a broad torso, and it was huge like a Minotaur! It moved like a lumbering giant, almost too large for his burrow. It also had a pair of wings on its back, and clothing on its hind legs. Rarity was frozen stiff and couldn't make hide nor hair of the alien creature, because it had no hide or hair, save for the patch on its head.

The creature milled about, while muttering something to himself, and placed Rarity's saddlebags down in the opposite corner from where she lay. The creature then slowly turned its body towards her. Rarity didn't know what else to do; so she quickly laid down and pretended to still be asleep. She could feel the presence of her captor coming closer, and finally stopping next to her bedside just a hoofstep away.

It took a breath and let out a sigh, but to Rarity's panicking mind it sounded just like the wolf's sniffing! Her anxiety doubled as she felt the large, lanky beast looming over her. More frighteningly, it spoke softly in a low gravelly voice to another that remained completely silent.

"I know this is stupid and pointless, but... I could swear I heard her talk."


"Doesn't matter if she can't, what matters is the fact that she belongs to someone. They have their brand on her and the bags, and if there's bags like that, then there must be people somewhere."

'What's this he saying about me belonging to someone? Are there more creatures out there having other ponies enslaved and doing their bidding too?'

"We jus' have to wait until she wakes up, and then we'll know for sure."

'What!? He doesn't know that ponies can speak? Why would he even care, if he's just going to enslave me. Does he think I'll tell him where others are?'

"Well if she can't... then... bah! We'll figure something out for 'er. We always do, don' we?"

'What are you planning to do with me?'

"It's a freakin' unicorn, what makes you think I'm gonna to let 'er go?"

'There it is! He's not going to let you go Rarity! You have to get away. You have to get back home! Everypony is worried sick about you!'

"If she's dangerous then we'll do what we have to, like we've always done... Just like with everything else..."

'I'll show you dangerous, cretin!'

"Would be nice to have a pet unicorn don't you think? Assuming I can break 'er? Haha...heh-huff... Maybe it is just an animal after all, I dunno, we'll see."

'Oh, Tartaros NO! You're not going to break me, and I am not going be your little pet you monster!'

It took all of Rarity's strength, will, and resolve to remain perfectly still, while the foul beast touched her with its blunt digits; scraping them across her soft coat. She tensed under the beings contact, but remained unmoving despite the violation of her personal space.

"Hmm. She'll wake soon, after last night I wouldn't doubt that she's exhausted.

"Welp I'd better check the traps for the day before she does. One less thing to take care of... Hopefully."

'Please, just go away... Pleeease.'

Rarity cracked an eye open and watched as the unchivalrous 'hero' stepped outside his dwelling and covered the entrance, plunging the cave once again into darkness. She waited for the other to leave as well, but after a few moments nothing happened. She took a careful look around the room and could find no place for such a large being to hide.

'Was he talking to himself that whole time!? He must be completely unstable and dangerous considering how easily he handled the wolves. What kind of... being talks to themselves when they're alone... I don't count! I was in a very stressful situation! Whatever, it doesn't matter. He said he was going to check on his death traps, the vile beast, he could be gone for a while. Now is my chance to escape.'

Rarity tried for the rope again, this time with more fervor and tenacity poured into her gnawing, not caring if the fibers of the twine were getting stuck in her teeth. Rarity bit and ground at the rope, lighting her horn so she could see her work, bathing her little corner in a cerulean aura. Once it was thin enough, she pulled at the rope with her magic and neck until it snapped. Leaving only the loop around her neck, and a bit of twine hanging below.

Rarity picked herself up causing her muscles to stretch achingly, and hobbled over to the bowl of water drinking it all down greedily. She channeled more magic into her horn, brightening the room with blue light and what she saw made her sick. She had lied upon the fur of some large, unfortunate animal that must've crossed her captor, for now it was being used as the monster's blanket.

The rest of the décor was disturbing. The walls had crude paintings of a strange symbol with five points layered over each other, and of various other creatures in the Everfree. Rarity recognized a cockatrice. It had beams coming out from its eyes. A Manticore, its form unmistakable, and a dragon in flight. The last one was of a large bird with lightning shooting from its plumage, while carrying a boar in its talons. There were scratches and carvings into the walls that Rarity couldn't begin to make sense of save for one which chilled her blood.

'NEVER GOING HOME' was carved above what looked like a chimney place.

Rarity had enough of the creature's 'art' and disturbing words of oppression. She hobbled over to her saddlebags which were full of fruits and vegetables.

'I may be the Element of Generosity, but I don't feel like I'm breaking any rules by taking these. I mean look. They're already in my bags which I own. So it wouldn't be actual stealing if I wasn't the one who put them there, right?'

Rarity still felt a little sickness in her stomach from taking her saddlebags back with food that didn't belong to her. A quick bite from the corn stalk that was sticking out of the flap solved that problem. Rarity levitated up the saddlebags and strapped them on looking around. Only to be startled by the decoration sitting on a shelf across the door, a dragon's skull!

"Gah!" Huff! 'A monster who keeps its victim's skull as a trophy is definitely not one to be trifled with, especially if that victim was a fire breathing dragon. I need to get as far away from this place as possible!

Rarity pushed opened the 'door' made of thick sticks woven together with twine, out and to the side. The light of Celestia's sun blinded her for a few moments, but Rarity wished it'd been permanent as she looked upon the grisly sight before her.

The three wolves from the previous night were flayed open. Their pelts laid stretched out on wooden racks, while their corpses lay cooked and butchered nearby.

Rarity vomited from the smell permeating the air, her snack tasting worse coming up than it did going down. So she ran straight ahead, while holding her breath. Her eyes tearing from the smell, after taking only a moment to see if the barbarian responsible was in the vicinity. Her eyes moistened further after witnessing the results of what was sure to be her fate. She trotted lamely passed the treeline and into the forest.

'Oh, my, Celestia! He was going to do... that to me! No wonder my bags are so full of food. He was going to fatten me up and wear my hide around like some sick, perverted freak! Goddesses protect me...'

Rarity traveled until feeling like she'd put enough distance between her and that dreadful place. She took a break sitting on a log and floated her saddlebags off her back. Opening them looking to see the additional contents inside, taking a peach and a few nuts out for a snack.

Rarity sat there wondering what she should do next as she chewed her food. She still had the same two problems, to find a suitable rescue spot, and a shelter for rest and protection from the beasts plaguing the forest. Her other three problems were solved for a good while, given how much food supply was in her bags. Though water was still an issue, she would need to find a steady supply.

But now there was a fourth problem that was completely unavoidable, considering how much she ate and drank in the last half day.

She desperately needed to use the little fillies room.

Rarity rocked herself up on her hooves from the log, leaving her bags behind, before slowly trotting a short distance away. The binding on her leg, while helpful in relieving the pain, forced her hind leg to stick out. Making her gait a bit troublesome.

Rarity squatted down with her hind legs spread awkwardly apart, while raising her tail and using her magic to pull the loose strands of hair away. She bit her lip as she relieved herself, then relaxed her face in ecstasy as she released the liquid inside her overfilled bladder. Rarity smelled her urine, and felt a little disgusted at herself for using the bathroom like an animal, but let the thought slide as the pressure in her groin abated. The stream beneath her trickled down to nothing, and felt a few warm drops stray from her slit to the bottom of her vulva. She tried to wipe the moisture away using her magic, except in doing so, she managed to spread it around her mare lips; making her feel wet and unclean.

Magic was no substitute for good ol' toilet paper.

The feeling of uncleanliness was too much for her to bear, and looked around for anything she can use to wipe herself with. Rarity found a vine growing against a nearby tree with large leaves in groups of three, and proceeded to pluck a few from their stems with her magic. She brought the leaves in front of her and arranged them into the shape of a fan in hopes that it'll cover the entirety of her 'fanny'.

"Wouldn't use those if I were you," a male's voice called out.

Rarity dropped the leaves from her magic before they could be used, and whipped her head around looking for the source of the voice. She couldn't see anypony around, but at least they sounded friendly.

"W-who's there? Please, I need help, please!" she called out to the voice.

A large, dark, imposing figure stepped out from behind a tree a several yards from her.

"I knew it! You can talk!" The figure bellowed as he walked towards her.

It was the monster who tied her up!

"Ooh, noo!" Rarity cried as she backed away from the imposing beast, scuttling her hooves over the moist earth.

"Whoa, whoa, easy girl, easy!" The monster commanded, while moving towards her with its limbs and digits out-stretched.

'He's going to grab me!' Rarity thought in her panic.

"Please, just go away; leave me alone!" Rarity pleaded as she tried to make a break for it. Only to be cut off by the able-bodied beast.

"Look, i-if you'll come with me I can-" the beast started to say, only to be cut off by the cornered mare.

"I won't go back with you!" Rarity resisted angrily, while lowering her horn and scraping a hoof at the ground in a defiant stance. Rarity tried to put on an aggressive display, but the beast wasn't having any of it.

"GAHH!" Rarity squealed in fright, as the hunter quickly drew out a contraption the likes of which Rarity had never seen before. However, the arrow he notched she did recognize, and the beast was pointing it right at her!

Rarity flinched and raised a forehoof to protect herself from the unfired projectile, and could no longer meet her captor's face as she adopted a more submissive posture.

"I just wanna go home!" Rarity cried, shaking in fear. She couldn't run, couldn't hide, much less fight after seeing what the monster could do.

"You and me both." The hunter muttered, before dropping his weapon and charging at her.

"AHHHHH!" Rarity screamed as she braced herself for what was to come.

The villain picked her up and flew a couple yards away before tackling her to the ground. The impact of the landing was lessened with her laying halfway atop the monster's torso.

Rarity fought to get away from the hunter's grasp, and just barely caught sight of a large black blur streaking by in the spot she was standing just moments before.

A wild Pegaboar had appeared!

The fiend who tackled her jumped to his hind legs, and started running around while waving his limbs; trying to get the beast's attention.

"Hey! Hey over here! C'mon pig, pig, pig, here pig!"

The Boar flew up and around, pumping its wings like a hummingbird, before coming in for another dive. Her captor stood still until the very last moment, then rolled forward into the Boar's charge! He dodged it as the pegaboar swooped over him at a wide angle.


The hunter picked up his bow during the dodge-roll, while turning and narrowly missing the shot when the Boar veered off course at the last moment. The hunter stood his ground as the Boar charged in again, bellowing out an angry squeal. The hunter took aim and waited for the perfect moment with the Boar closing in on him at five dozen feet, then three dozen, one dozen! The hunter loosed his arrow, and pivoted around a moment later, dodging the heap of dead boar plummeting from the sky. The Boar impacted the ground with a loud 'crunch', and flipped end-over-end before a tree finally halted it.

Rarity laid on the ground in shock, watching as the hunter checked on his kill. The Pegaboar had mostly black skin and thick wiry hair you'd normally find on a wild hog. Except that a Pegaboar has wings and ridiculously long sharp tusks, as you very well may have known. They'll attack anything without provocation in the pattern Rarity just witnessed. Swooping in at full speed to gore whatever is in their path.

'Oh, Goddesses, th-that beast would have impaled me if he hadn't- H-he saved me... Again! I don't understand, I can't tell if- Is he good? Or evil? O-or what!?'

The hunter retrieved his arrow from the Pegaboar's chest. A crunchy-slurpy sound permeated the silence as he pulled it out, then shook the blood off its shaft. The hunter eyed the Unicorn mare from where he stood by the boar, while Rarity watched him the whole time from where she lay, her heartbeat quickened as he started to approach her, slowly.

"Please, don't!" Rarity flinched away, her voice and body were shaking in fear of the killer before her.

He stopped, and she calmed, but only slightly.

"Easy girl. It- it's okay." the hunter spoke to her gently.

"Okay?! Like that Pegaboar, or those wolves back there? I heard what you said, you were going to make me your slave!" Rarity yelled disbelievingly. The hunter balked and looked confused at her words.

"What?! Slave? I- I wasn't gonna make you a slave. I- I mean..." the hunter hesitated, and looked away.

"I- wha- You- You're not? B- but, all those things you said, about figuring something out for me, and making me useful to you, and taking care of me; if I wasn't!" Rarity argued.

"I- I wasn't completely sure if you were dangerous, or just an animal. I promise I won't hurt you!" the hunter pleaded.

Rarity thought for a moment before shaking her head in disbelief. "How can I be sure you're telling the truth?"

The hunter looked at the ground in thought, before looking back at her. He kept his eyes on her, while laying down his bow and taking off his quiver, then approached her slowly with his forelimbs and digits outstretched.

Rarity's heart sped up as he drew closer to her, slowly and carefully. Rarity lifted her hoof to protect herself once he stood before her. She watched him intently as he slowly knelt down beside her, then carefully reached behind himself and drew out a blade.

"Don't hurt me!" Rarity tried to jump to her hooves at the sight of the blade, but failed, landing on her side with a thump. The hunter moved swiftly to pin her down. Rarity was hyperventilating and started to panic. Only the giants gentle voice and light touch stopped her from thrashing.

"I'm not going to hurt you! Just... be still for a moment and let me help you." He finished in a calm voice, while looking at her in the eyes.

Rarity tensed and shook at his touch, then tightly shut her eyes, and tried to pull away while lying on her flank. The hunter gently petted her shoulder, until she calmed a little, before taking his knife and cutting off what remained of the twine around her neck. Rarity flinched after hearing the small 'shick' of the cut. Then flittered one eye open, then the other as she felt him pull away, while holding the twine up for her to see before tossing it aside.

The hunter backed away a step, allowing Rarity roll onto her belly and slowly sit up, still unsure of the beast's motives. Once she was up she almost made it to his eye level, while he remain kneeled and bent over before her.

Now that she could get a better look at him, he wasn't as scary as she first thought. His dark brown eyes could easily be mistaken as all pupil. A small button nose and reddish-tanned skin. His long hair, also dark brown-almost black, went just passed his ears and was slick and shiny with sweat and oil. His facial hair was thin and patchy, and he also had a distinct earthen scent about him, along with a secondary smell Rarity could barely make out.

The hunter smiled and chuckled. He was looking at her just as much as she was him. It shocked her to see that he had some pointy teeth. A given, considering what he had done to the other animals. It was thrilling to Rarity to be so close and converse with such a dangerous killer.

"Heh. Sorry I don' mean to stare, I jus', never seen a unicorn before. Never thought I'd actually see one out here." The stranger's country accent wasn't as thick as her friend Applejack's, but the familiar twang was present in the some of the words he spoke. The sound of his voice made her feel a slight more at ease.

"And I've never seen anything like you." Rarity said in awe of the discovery of a new race of Equestria.

"Y-you don' know what I am?" the stranger asked in a discouraging tone, and Rarity shook her head. "And you never seen or heard of anything like me?" Rarity shook again, and he closed his eyes, looking dismayed.

"I'm sorry if I upset you, but I swear there's nothing like you in Equestria that I'm aware of." Rarity tried to console him.

"I- it's okay, I jus'... I just hoped that maybe, if there were others... Forget it. It's not important." he sighed and whispered 'Equestria' to himself.

Rarity could tell it was important to him, whatever it was, but she kept that to herself.

"Yes, well, thank you for your help. I don't mean to be rude, but I must get back home to my family and friends." Rarity stood, and was about to walk away, when the hunter spoke with distress in his voice.

"H-hold on girl! Wait, jus'; please, i-it's been so long since I last just talked to anyone." He begged her with pleading eyes.

"You mean to say that you're out here all alone?" Rarity said in concern.

The hunter nodded. "And you? Yer out here by yourself too, aren't-chu?"

Rarity nodded slowly, looking somber.

"M' sorry about that. I know what that's like, prolly better than anyone..." He muttered."Listen. Why don't you come back with me? We can talk an- We'll figure out what to do from there."

Rarity looked away from him, while shaking her head, unsure of what to do. The hunter put a 'paw' on his chest and spoke softly with determination in his voice.

"I swear, I won't hurt you, or make you do anythin' you don't wanna do. Besides, you're already hurt; I cleaned you up as best I could with what I had left, but you need to give that leg some serious rest. If you go out there now, like this." He motioned to all of her. "You aren't gonna make it. Believe me, there's worse things out there than flyin' bacon." He finished with a nod towards the Pegaboar lying dead on the ground.

Rarity listened to his words carefully, and thought of her friends and family.

'I won't make it... He's right. All I've been doing is bumbling about without a plan or a direction to go in. Perhaps I should take his offer. He seems genuine... But I need to be sure he's not going to try anything.'

"Do you Pinkie promise?" she asked earnestly, while looking him in the eyes.

The hunter blinked and cocked his head in confusion, and took a quick look at his smallest digit.

"Cross your heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in your eye?" Rarity said while making the gestures.

"I- uh, I- I promise, I swear!" The hunter said while trying to mimic her movements.

"Okay, you Pinkie promised that you aren't going to hurt me, or make me a slave; and you can never break a Pinkie promise. So, alright, I'll trust you!" Rarity said with a stern face. "But if you break your promise, bad things will happen." she warned.

"Right. Right. Don't want anymore of that... Do you have a name, girl?" he asked curiously.

"My name is not 'girl', it is Rarity , and I am a Lady, a Princess!" she stated regally.

"You're a Princess!?" he blurted in shock.

"I-I wh-w-why YES! Yes, I am a princess and I wish to be addressed as such. You may call me 'miss', or Rarity, or Miss Rarity, or Lady Rarity, or Princes-"

"Okay! I think I get it, um, Rarity." He interrupted, while holding up both of his paws to stop her, and putting on a strained smile.

"And you? Do you have a name?" Rarity asked curiously as she stepped closer to him, genuinely interested in her new friend. She was starting to feel more comfortable being around him, though she still felt trepidation because of his large size.

"My real name may be a little hard for you to say, sooo you can just call me Atchmon." The hunter said with a half smile.

"Nonsense! I have to know the name of my rescuer. I'd be quite rude not to Ashmun." Rarity chagrined, looking at him with puppy eyes and a tiny pout.

"Well... My real name is Shahnkamo Okahahvmma." The hunter said.

"I'm sorry, but what?" 'What a strange name, it sounds alot like buffalo speak.'

"Shahnk-amo Oka-ha-hvmma." he mumbled slowly, looking a bit embarrassed.

"I... didn't quite get that."

"You know what, it's fine, just call me Atchmon. I prefer it anyway." He finished while scratching the back of his head with an embarrassed grin.

"Oh, well... Thank you again Atchmon. I really do appreciate your help. It's been a rough couple of days for me." she said while sticking out her bandaged leg.

"I can tell." Atchmon nodded while taking a glance at her leg as she lifted it.

"Yes, and thank you for this as well. I'm sorry you had to go through so much trouble on my account."

"Don't worry about it, not a problem." Atchmon said with a half-smile, and seemed to visibly relax the tension Rarity didn't notice he had as well.

The two new acquaintances looked at each other for a few moments before the hunter stood and cleared his voice. Rarity watched him stand, unsure of what else to say; she was too shocked at his size, and of how well he balanced himself on his hind legs. He stood a good two and a half pony heights up compared to her, making Rarity feel very tiny having to look all the way up to his face. Her head barely made it up to his waist.

"I see you've been enjoying some of my food." Atchmon said motioning over to the saddlebags still lying by the log.

"To be fair you took my bags and put your food in them, which makes it my food now." Rarity said trying to be funny. She was worried she had offended him after seeing the look on his face. Until he laughed, putting her at ease.

"Haha! Touche Princess! Well it was all for you anyway, hope you liked it. I wasn't sure what you could eat so a packed a little bit of everything." He grinned at her showing some teeth. It scared and excited her seeing his fangs. So kind, considerate and dangerous.

"Oh, I did enjoy it, very much so! And if you don't mind, I'd like to head back now and rest. And maybe have a little more if that's alright?" Rarity asked in the most polite, ladylike voice.

"Are you okay to walk, do you need me to carry you?" he offered.

"No, no, I'm fine thanks to you." She said showing off her bandaged leg again, blushing at his offer. 'Such a gentlestallion helping a lady in distress! Oh, this is like a dream come true! Perhaps I was completely wrong about him...'

Rarity walked over to her saddlebags, while Atchmon picked up his bow and quiver. When he looked over he caught Rarity levitating up her bags, who was about to put them on before she heard Atchmons excited voice.

"H-h-how did you do that!?" Atchmon stuttered, while taking a half-step back from the unicorn's unexpected power.

"D-do what?" Rarity asked, and wondered if she did something wrong.

"Th-th-the floating thing!?" he asked excitedly, while shaking a paw in the air. As if trying to mimic the magical aura.

"Oh! It's just basic Magic. All Unicorns learn Levitation at a young age, it's the easiest spell to grasp. With a bit of practice, some Unicorns can lift heavier objects, or manipulate multiple smaller ones." Rarity explained, while mimicking Twilight's lecture voice. Rarity felt a little giddy teaching him about magic, and could see the appeal having your own pupil could bring.

"Amazing." He breathed.

"You've never seen magic before?" she asked curiously.

"Nah..." Atchmon shook his head, yet kept his eyes on her, as if waiting for more magic to appear.

"You're not from around here are you? Where are you from?" she asked.

"I'm from... someplace else. I'll tell you about it later." Atchmon said as he kept glancing at the dead boar by the tree. "In the meantime let me carry your bags for you." He said hurriedly while grabbing them, and throwing them over his shoulder, before hissing loudly in pain.

"SSHH, MMMph! ...Aw dammit!" Atchmon grumbled, while removing the bags, and dropping them to the ground. He turned away from Rarity, who was surprised at his sudden profanity. She cantered around him and saw that his arm was bleeding from a gash below his shoulder.

"Gasp! Oh my goodness! Are you okay?! Do you need help?!" Rarity was shocked she didn't notice his arm dripping blood.

"Meh, I'll live." Atchmon shrugged. "Tsk! Stupid boar.." Atchmon whispered to himself, before putting the bags back on his other shoulder.

"Are you sure you don't want me to-" she said, attempting to lend her assistance.

"I'm sure! Now let's go, we need to hurry." He interrupted, taking another look at the boar.

"T-That's very kind of you, but you've done so much for me already." Rarity pleaded. Atchmon closed his eyes taking a breath.

"Don't worry about it. I been through worse. Now c'mon it's this way." He replied with finality, motioning her to follow.

Rarity worried she had done something wrong to irritate him. She only wanted to help; and felt uneasy as she watched the blood dripping from her wounded warrior. Atchmon left without saying another word and she followed.

Atchmon would occasionally check on Rarity, who struggled to keep up behind him as they walked. He'd give her a half smile whenever they made eye contact. Rarity would widen her eyes while perking her ears at him, giving him her full attention. She always expected him to say something, but he remained silent until they made it back to the meadow without further incident.

Rarity gagged when she smelled the stench of death in the air. Her eyes watered as she put a hoof over her muzzle trying to block out the smell. Atchmon noticed her distress and only shrugged in response.

"I need to take care of this first." He said while rolling his shoulder with the gash, Rarity only grimaced trying to bear the smell. Atchmon led her to his den holding the stick flap open for her to enter, then nodded his head, beckoning her inside. Rarity wasted no time, quickly hobbling inside to get away from the deathly aroma. She stopped short of the furry bed that lay on the other side, not too eager to rest on it just yet. Rarity was content with sitting off to the side seeing her friend tend to his wound.

"Pff, 's not so bad." Atchmon whispered to the dragon skull, before setting the bags on the floor, and rummaging inside. He pulled out the sewing kit Rarity kept there for goddesses knows how long, then tore open the packaging and pulling out a spool of thread.

"You aren't thinking about stitching that yourself, are you?" Rarity gasped, covering her mouth in shock after realizing what he was about to do.

"You got anything better, Princess? I told you I used everything I had left on you." Atchmon said nonchalantly.

Rarity looked at the bandages on her, and felt bad being the one to use up the last of his medical supply. She didn't say anything, and could barely watch as the hardened survivalist sterilized a needle with a device that produced fire. Then washed the wound with the water in his canteen, Rarity had to look away when he stuck the needle into his skin. His hissing and grunts were the only indication of his progress as she listened.

"Whew! Done!" Atchmon sighed in relief.

Rarity still couldn't look as he put the finishing touches on his wound by using more water to wash off the dried blood, leaving the floor tinged with red splotches; then smearing a pleasant smelling paste he kept in a gourd container on one of the shelves.

"Are you going to be okay, Atchmon?" She asked worriedly.

"Yeah, it wasn't that deep. This stuff is good for small cuts and scrapes like the ones you've got." She looked at her belly when he said that. The scratches did look much better than they did yesterday. "It'll be good for this too." He finished putting the gourd away, before getting Rarity's attention.

"Hey, I'm going back to get that boar, hopefully it's not too late, but I'll be cutting it under the wire as it is. A thing that size can feed me for a good week. I- what? Why are you lookin' at me like that?" he asked confusedly at Rarity with a raised eyebrow.

"D-did you say you were going to eat that boar?" Rarity gulped, looking at him warily.

"Umm, yeah? Why, is that a prob- OH! Oh, Rarity no you don't need to worry about that, I- I promised you, remember?" he reassured her, kneeling down to her level and placing an appendage over his heart.

"You did..." Rarity didn't know how to feel about that, sharing a room with somepony who was dangerous, a killer, and a carnivore. 'I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Considering everything I know about him thus far. It was foolish of me to hope otherwise... But, what if he gets hungry!'

"Look, can we talk about this later, um, please? I'm just going to assume your diet right now, so you don't have to worry about what to do for your food, since I've pretty well got'chu covered, but the wilds are an unpredictable place and I can't pass this up. Jus', please, don't leave again, at least not yet. Please." He pleaded with her, placing his paws like ponies would do in prayer.

"Very well, I understand." Rarity sighed in admission. "Ah- Atchmon! Before you leave, if it's not too much to ask, but could you remove that, mmph... fur off the bed, please?" Rarity asked uncomfortably, still repulsed by what she lied upon a short while ago. The bed itself was exceptionally comfortable, despite what was covering the grass.

Atchmon looked a little miffed at her request, but did as she asked, folding the pelt up quickly and making an inferior bed for himself.

She admired the simple craft her guardian had made, which was superior to her foreponies before her. Ponies centuries ago once slept on the ground, before adding piles of dried grass beneath them. The grass also doubled as food if times were lean. It wasn't until three hundred or so years ago when the first bed frames were mainstream. This bed was made with thick limbs as a frame, with dozens of smaller bendable sticks that were woven together with twine, forming a wide net in the frame. The stick netting would keep the grass from shifting around without the need to add more.

"You sure you're comfortable like that?" he asked, watching her as he placed the hide on the floor. Rarity stood on the bed and twirled around a couple times, before laying on the grass to get some rest.

"Oh, yes! I just don't like the idea of sleeping on something's... skin. Ick!" Rarity shuttered at the thought. "This may not be better than my bed at the palace, but it's much better than nothing. Thank you very much." Rarity finished, emphasising her gratitude.

"Where did you get that thing anyway?" She asked, watching Atchmon finish folding up the pelt.

"The previous occupant." He answered simply, not taking his eyes off his work.

"Ah." 'I should have known.'

Atchmon was about to make his way out, before a thought struck her.

"Wait! Are there any other monsters I should be worried about while you're gone?" Rarity asked nervously, her eyes shrinking as she looked warily around at how trapped she was in the small space.

"Well, you've already met the neighbors." Atchmon shrugged nonchalantly, while motioning to her leg. "They must've wanted you bad, 'cause they usually never go passed the creek. Other than that, I haven't seen anything come into the meadow in a good long while. I've got my scent all over this place, and the smell from my kills- sorry, umm, 'quarry' usually drives everything else off. So you should be safe here... but just in case-" Atchmon went outside for a moment and came back with a spear that had a sharp stone blade at the tip. "Jus' give 'em a goood poke." He chuckled, his dark sense of humor did nothing for Rarity.

She floated the spear over to her while looking at its tip. The thought of having to hurt something to defend herself disturbed her and served as a reminder of how much danger she was still in. Atchmon gave her a confident grin and a nod trying to reassure her.

Rarity had another question, one that's been gnawing at her now that she had time to think. She thought about everything Atchmon had told her. That he was alone, and how he knew about it better than anypony. About being from someplace else, and witnessing his expertise in the wilds. Knowing he must have been the one to dig the pit that wolf fell in. Building something like that would have taken a considerable amount of time.

She looked at the paintings on the wall, the bed she lay upon, and the spear in her magic. All these things would take time to create.


"Atchmon? I hope it's not to bold to ask, but... How long have you been here?" She asked, while looking him in the eyes from where she lay.

Atchmon stopped at the question, and stood bent over about to exit the entryway when he heard the inquiry. He turned back, and looked at her, then his gaze was directed upward to the cave ceiling before he finally answered in a somber tone.

"I dunno...I just ran outta room a few days ago." Atchmon answered solemnly, while still looking at the cave ceiling.

Rarity followed his gaze, her eyes taking a moment to adjust before she saw them. There were hundreds of them! All of varying size, yet many were consistent. Rows upon rows of tally marks were carved into the ceiling. A tarry of an uncountable number of days spent alone, afraid, and angry.


"There's one more outside... on a tree." Atchmon muttered, before leaving Rarity alone with much to think about.

Learning Curve

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It'd been several minutes since Atchmon left to collect his food for the week, and Rarity was already starting to feel worried that something had happened to him. There wasn't much she could do to help even if she wanted to. She was no survivor, had no experience being in the wilderness, and certainly couldn't harm a creature to the extent Atchmon could. Sure, Rarity could hold her own against a half-dozen Changelings, and wasn't afraid to go hoof to claw against a Dragon when her poor Spikey-wikey was in trouble. But to actually do what Atchmon does to ensure your own survival... It was the natural order of things.

Kill to eat, or to keep from being eaten.

"Don't worry yourself so much Rarity, Atchmon has proven himself capable of handling any trouble he may encounter. Best thing to do is to stay put until he gets back. Though... I'm not sure I want to stay here in this musty old cave. Still... he could prove useful to me, he could help me get back home!" Rarity finished excitedly.

The Griffins and other races throughout Equestria are known to partake in the flesh of other creatures. Usually critters like rabbits, squirrels, chickens, and mice; but have been known to slaughter pigs for their meat. Though Pigs are part of a very rare group of hoofed creatures that lack any sapience. The other larger races - like the Dragons - won't hesitate to turn any race into a quick meal. No matter how much they beg for their lives.

Ponies, on the other hoof, have a kinship with most of the creatures in the world. They raise pigs for finding truffles and the fertilizer they produce, and have business contracts with the Cows for their milk. Diplomatic ties with the Griffins have always been strained, especially with the Pegasi competing for territory in the sky. Luckily the Griffins prefer more mountainous terrain over building cloud-cities. The point being, the Pony race have actually known the Griffins for centuries, and have some semblance of peace between their races.

"But he's a predator; worse than the Griffins," she dismayed. "A Pegaboar, a whole Pegaboar can feed him for a week! I don't think I can take anymore death..."

This new creature was a complete unknown. His resemblance to the peaceful Minotaurs was the only anchor keeping Rarity from leaving. However, her current resting place inside the cave was a painful reminder of her experience being enslaved by the Diamond Dogs, and forced to hard labor while finding riches for the smelly beasts.

"Right now he thinks I'm a Princess, so he must be completely ignorant to the rest of the world. Maybe he isn't as smart as I first thought. Perhaps I can trick him, and make him think I'm valuable enough to keep alive. I could use him to get back home, or as protection until I'm rescued," she finished excitedly, looking up towards the ceiling. "Surely he knows how to navigate the Everfree Forest, he's been here all that time." A plan was forming in her mind, to use him as a means to survive.

Atchmon jogged through the forest with his bow in hand; dodging trees and bounding over any obstacle that blocked his path. He moved unhindered through the dense undergrowth, another staple to his experience in the wilds, while ignoring the tiny bumps and scrapes left behind by the small tree limbs he'd plow through. His mind fought to focus on his surroundings, knowing at any moment he could be ambushed. Fear and excitement wrestled together within his chest, not of the bounty which lay ahead of him, nor of the countless animals that could kill him, but of the person waiting for him back home.

"Un-freakin' real! A unicorn; and it talks!" he panted with a huge smile on his face, then slowed as he neared his destination.

Atchmon made it to the area with the boar, which lay only a dozen yards away in the open area, lying next to the tree that halted its crash. Grateful to see it was left untouched. He notched an arrow, keeping himself bent low as he neared his quarry. Stopping every few moments to check and see if the coast was clear, while looking around for any sign of movement, waiting, and listening for anything to jump out at him.

He finally reached the boar's body, crouching next to it, waiting another minute before relaxing. Then leaning his bow against the tree, leaving the arrow ready within, setting it all in such a way he could easily grab it and fire should any problem arise.

It was a huge risk to leave the boar behind, not only could he have lost it, but there could have been something worse waiting for him when he returned. Not to mention meat spoils significantly faster in hot weather. It was a judgment call, he needed to make sure the unicorn was safe. It would have only slowed him down with her injury, as she proved when she couldn't keep up with him when they walked back. The boar's location wasn't as far as he imagined, feeling confident he could bring it back with time to spare.

Not wanting to waste any more time Atchmon unsheathed his knife, getting to work processing the boar. All while dozens of questions raced through his mind.

"Rarity." You sure are. He thought while a toothy smile spread across his face after speaking her name.

Minutes passed while Rarity snacked on the food in her saddlebags. 'I'd kill for some Vanilla Oat Swirl ice cream right about now...' She thought, before widening her eyes for a moment then putting on a look of dismay. 'Oh goddesses, why did I just think that after everything!?' she immediately lost her appetite after that.

Atchmon said he used all of his own medical supplies on me. So, what if this is all of his food too? What if he can't find anything to eat after the boar is gone? What if he gets hungry enough to forget about keeping me safe; or I do something to offend him!? He seemed so cross with me when I insisted on helping him. What kind of- 'being' gets angry when you offer aid to it? Then again, he was hurt, and an injured beast is usually more violent. I really shouldn't trust it. I mean, I barely even know him! Rarity continued to look for any excuse not to stay with the stranger, but instead of finding one big reason, she came up with dozens of smaller petty ones.

Rarity got up with every intention of leaving, thinking she might actually stand a chance with the spear he'd given her, and the food in her bags. But the pleading look in Atchmon's eyes when he begged her not to leave entered her mind. She thought his words over again, and looked to the tally marks on the ceiling. And Wondered if he had been like that all along, or if it was just a result of prolonged isolation. Rarity couldn't comprehend spending that much time alone.

"He's lived here for years it seems, that could make him violent too, dangerous as he's proven to be. But he could just be a lonely soul genuinely wanting nothing more than somepony to talk to. He's shown to be protective, somewhat intelligent, and is generous enough to share his home, his food, and his bed with you... Oh, Celestia, that didn't sound right! Still, I hope he returns soon. I have a few questions I'd like to ask him. He said he wanted to talk, so perhaps it's best to hear him out first, before I make a final decision."

Ponies have an innate need to be around each other. They were herd animals, after all. The herding instinct compelled them to be social, to make friends, to seek safety in numbers, and any deviation from that rule was considered taboo. A pony without any friends, or a proper social upbringing would be considered defective, or deformed, and are tragically avoided by others. Rarity was fighting her common sense over the false social stigma, knowing that stepping hoof outside the sanctity of the cave put her at higher risk of encountering danger.

It's been a full day and a half since Rarity has seen, or heard from any of her own friends. She lay there wondering what they were doing right now, but knew they were doing everything they could to find her. Her parents were currently in Zebraca, visiting the city of Roam. There was little chance of them hearing about what happened to her, before they come back home to get Sweetie Bell. Rarity held the spear closer to her chest as she thought of her little sister.

Sweetie Bell. I wish I could hug you and tell you how sorry I am for being away from you. For not being there when you need me. Our argument seems so petty now, how could I tell you to look after yourself when I can't do the same for myself in a place like this.

Ponies also need as much physical contact as they do social interaction. They need to touch and be touched by others, there's rarely a time in a pony's life when they aren't in contact with somepony they care about. Whether it's to say hello, or leaning against each other during brunch with friends. Physicality was an integral part of a pony's life.

Rarity never knew it at the time, but she was going through depression due to her own isolation, searching for anything to fill the void that is usually filled by others. Now hugging the spear Atchmon had given her, still too repulsed by the pelts which lay only a few hoof steps from her. Briefly thinking about levitating a few over, just so she can use them as a faux body pillow. Yet she couldn't bring herself to touch such a thing again, even though she really wanted to. Remembering how silky-soft the fur felt.

Her mind dwelled a bit more on what she was missing back home, until she shook the depressive thoughts from her head. Rarity's eyes wandered around the walls of the bean-shaped cave, in an effort to distract herself. Atchmon had carved out holes in a few places around the walls which acted as shelving, like the one that held the dragon skull. The other shelves held various gems, bones, claws, and other treasures collected over the years. A small table near the bed held gourds, like the one used to treat his wound, along with her 'emergency' sewing kit Atchmon had placed before leaving.

Rarity felt the pang of loneliness creep into her heart at the sight of the kit, tearing her eyes away from it, looking for something else to distract herself with.

She looked upon Atchmon's paintings with newfound appreciation, finding Great Eagles, and a stick figure that must have been Atchmon catching dozens of fish over a fire with what looked like snowflakes over all of it. It must have meant that he caught and cooked many fish to survive the harsh Everfree winters. There was a faint white outline of a horse drawn within all the snow. No, not a horse. A Windigo! If he had seen such a thing, then the Hearth's Warming tale wasn't just a myth.

Her mind automatically put together one story after another as her eyes wandered around the walls, many depicted Atchmon felling various beasts with his arrows, and others where he trapped larger game by chasing them into a trap. Another showed him running away from Discord's Plunderseed vines. One disturbing claim of prowess depicted him chasing an owl-beast off the ledge of a cliff, where it fell to the bottom meeting its demise.

Rarity tried not to condemn him because of this, her own people weren't any better at one time. It wasn't like the Pegasi didn't flaunt their victories in times of war. Though history books nowadays took a more 'PG' approach on the subject. That was after her time as a school-filly, she still remembered the images of Earth ponies favorite 'drawn and quartered' style of execution during the 'Dark Times'. Of course her own tribe, the unicorns, would put themselves in the best light by burning any books that mentioned what they did. No right-minded unicorn speaks about how many hundreds of thousands of ponies, both Earth and Pegasi, were sacrificed to further study the dark arts. That was a long time ago, a thousand years of peace have softened her race, though they kept much of their fighting spirit through competition. However, the thought of ponies killing was abhorrent in her mind.

Rarity shook those thoughts and continued to eye his stories, wondering at what point he carved the depressive message over the hearth. She eventually happened upon the mural that showed when Atchmon claimed his home, and 'evicted' the occupant at the time.

His figure was waiting in a tree, while firing arrows down at a bear between him and a drawing of the cave. The beast climbed up the tree knocking Atchmon from his perch. He then ran with the bear chasing him, his arms waving in fear above his head. Rarity chuckled despite everything, then feeling disappointed in herself, forgetting for a moment how awful this actually was. The next image showed Atchmon kneeling down with the bear rearing above him, its long sharp claws ready to tear him to shreds. Atchmon lifted a long spear just before the beast bore down on him. Using the animal's own weight against it as the spear drove through its chest and out its back. Atchmon then stood by the bear's corpse, his spear held high in victory.

So that's what it was. Fluttershy would not approve. Rarity thought as she glanced at the bed of fur. Knowing that Barry the bear was one of Fluttershy's favorite animal friends. She rescued him when he was just a cub, his mother had died defending him from other more dangerous beasts.

"Bears aren't exactly gentle giants, they'll attack a pony just as indiscriminately as any other creature, but with a little kindness and a lot of food, you can earn their trust. Do that, and they'll be your best friend for life!" Rarity gave a sad smile at the memory of her animal-loving friend. She wondered how Atchmon could possibly have a kind bone in his body with the way he can kill without any hesitation.

Rarity looked around to the head of the bed, where there hung a strange looking charm. It looked like a spider's web with beads caught within. The 'web' was tied to a circle made of sticks, held together with strips of brown leather wrapped around them. With more strips hanging below decorated with light-brown fur, feathers, and more beads.

It looked ominous despite the colorful beads and feathers.

"I suppose it looks nice, if you like creepy." Rarity muttered, deciding not to dwell on it for too long. Later realizing what she just said. Remembering it was the same thing she said about Zecora's home, her Zebra friend who lived in the Everfree forest everyday.

'Have I really not changed since then? Am I really so xenophobic? No! This is different, he's not anything like a minotaur, much less a pony or zebra.'

It was a short while later when Atchmon finally returned carrying the boar on his back, its hooves tied to a long wooden branch. Atchmon grasped the wooden bar, leaving most of the weight resting on the shelf of his back shoulders. Carrying it much in the same way one would carry a couple pales of water on a sort of makeshift yoke.

Rarity heard him outside and went to welcome him back, only to freeze at the gory activity that was taking place before her. Rarity was used to her cat, Opalescence, bringing her a mouse or two as a present, but have never actually witnessed a slaughter before. She was stunned, too horrified by what she witnessed, and could only stand there imagining the bloody flesh as her own.

The animal had been cut open, it's entrails and head were removed; leaving much of Atchmon's backside soaked in crimson. He set down his bow before getting to work processing the meat. FIrst by moving the three tanning racks away from around the fire pit, then bringing over a different rack with multiple horizontal rows for hanging the meat. He then placed the new rack over the sizeable fire pit, the stands on the rack kept it well above the hot embers.

Atchmon moved back to the animal's corpse, then took out his blade, and cut into the boar. First removing its hide, and tossing it to the side. Then butchering the limbs, while removing much of the fat as well. He pulled the feathers off the boar's tiny wings, and tried to keep the ebony colored down in a neat little pile for some purpose later on. Every bit of meat on the boar was washed, removing any remaining blood and any debris that may have collected during the butchering.

Atchmon kept his water in large clay pots that were buried into the side of the hill, leaving only their covered tops above the ground. Keeping the water cool from the sun, while keeping everything else out. It sat behind the fire so he could boil any water, and quickly fill his supply without having to carry it far. Atchmon cut the meat into smaller slices that could be hung on the racks over the pit, but first they needed to be seasoned.

Rarity hadn't notice Atchmon looking at her, wondering what she must think of him. As he looked back down at what he was doing, cutting off another slab of meat. Knowing it wasn't anything good, it was necessary. They were two strangers from two different worlds, in every conceivable sense. They would need to get used to each other, he could handle it. His inquisitive mind had a million questions running through it, but for now survival was taking priority over discovery. Learn, adapt, survive, that has been the way of things, but now he has to do something he hasn't done in a very long time. He has to communicate with another person. He cleared his throat.

"Mmhmm, Rarity?" He called to her. She jumped and snapped her head to attention at the sudden sound of his voice. With mouth slightly agape, eyes wide, and ears perked in his direction, never realizing how fast she was breathing. Her barrel visibly expanding from his perspective. She's scared of me, she's got every reason to be.

"Could'ja do me a big favor and, uh, bring me the small wooden box that's sitting across the door, and the big bowl that's in there too, please?" He asked, pointing his knife in her direction, before turning his attention to the carcass again.

"What!? Oh! Oh, yes of course." Rarity almost didn't hear what he said. Too uncomfortable with the fact that a carnivore was feeding mere yards from her. At least he didn't seem interested in making her into a meal.

She found the package directly underneath the shelf holding the dragon's skull, and grimaced at it; wondering what vile thing resided inside the container. Rarity stayed near the entrance opting to float the box next to Atchmon, feeling too unsafe being around him. Then later doing the same with the bowl she drank out of not an hour ago.

"Thanks." Atchmon said passively, as he threw slices of clean meat into the bowl. Then dashing on the herbs and spices from the box, and used his hands to mix it all around, until every piece of meat was seasoned evenly and hanging on the wooden rack.

Atchmon got up and disappeared around the hill, later coming back with an armful of firewood, and arranged them inside the circular stone pit. He stoked a fire so that it had a nice low flame, which produced lots of smoke. Next, he brought the tanning racks back, and made a shanty pyramid to contain the smoke, and further treat the pelts.

"That should do it. Whew! Sorry I took so long getting back. Damn thing weighs a ton, haha! Still made for a darn good haul though. Huff! I had to gut and drain it right there and- Oh! God! Stupid. I'm sorry, uh, Rarity?" Atchmon tried to apologize after realizing he was making his company uncomfortable, only to catch on quickly to the subtle heaving motions of a pony about to hurl.

Rarity was made sick after witnessing the dual purpose her drinking bowl served, and hearing about the meat harvesting process along with the fresh smell of copper which emanated from him was pushing her queasiness over the edge.

"It's- hurk! Okay... Oh, goddesses." Rarity whispered and tried to calm her upset tummy, while taking heavy breaths to try and keep herself from vomiting again.

"Do you wanna come outside for some fresh air? The wind has blown most of the smell away," he offered in concern.

"I don't--blurp--know..." Rarity didn't want go where she knew the smell was worse. Her mouth salivated excessively, and what normally followed was sure to be unavoidable.

"Hey! If you're gonna hurl, do it outside. I don't care if you are a Princess, I'm not cleanin' another mess." Atchmon chastised, and pointed his chubby digit in the direction he wanted her to go.

That was motivation enough for her to jump up and scamper out the door. Atchmon watched her hobble by him, and soon she was dry heaving near the tree line.

"Hey!? You okay over there?" He asked, while staying kneeled near the fire pit.

"Yes... --cough-- I'm fine!" Huff! Rarity was laid out on her belly; taking in deep heavy breaths of clean air, before laying on her side and did her best to settle her upset tummy.

"Shit! Shut yer eyes, Princess; don't look at it!" Atchmon yelled at her, with panic in his voice.

"What? What are you talking abou-." Rarity tried to protest but was stopped by a pair of red eyes that seemed to go on into eternity. Rarity felt a numbness crawling up her hooves, and it hurt. Oh, goddesses it hurt. Yet she could not scream or move. She could only look at those eyes into forever, before an arrow pinned the vile beast to the ground, breaking the contact. Atchmon slid feet first next to the flailing creature, before pulling its head away from Rarity.

"Hissgrraaack-" POP! The hissing-squawk of the cockatrice was cut off by the snapping of its neck. Its wings beating and talons flailing to get away from its murderer, before finally relaxing into its death. But not without leaving Atchmon with some fresh scratches, which bled slightly.

"Shit! Hang on, whatever you do, don't move!" He instructed her while she lay on her side. Rarity's mind struggled to catch up to what was going on, feeling as though somepony had jammed their horn into both of her eyes.

Funny, I can't really feel my legs anyhow, and yet. Why do they feel so... heavy? Rarity lifted her head, her long neck arching enough to view the result of the beast's power. Her legs had been turned to stone. The milky white marble came up just passed her knees, before giving way to her flesh. 'Oh, Celestia, no!'

"Can you eat this?" He asked, grasping some of the meadow grass nearby. "Can, you, eat, this?" he asked a little more slowly, while trying to get her to look at what he was holding.

"Y-yes." She answered feeling more upset, and panicked the longer she laid there. The realization of what happened beginning to hit her.

Atchmon had returned with an apothecary bowl, taking a handful of meadow grass and grinding something together within. Then turning away from her, taking the dead cockatrice with him and pulling out his knife. All she could do was lay there listening to the grinding and small tapping noises as Atchmon crafted the 'medicine'.

"Here eat this, it'll be okay." he said hurriedly, holding up a ball of grass, which smelled of rosemary and copper.

"Why did you kill it!" she cried.

"I had to before it was too late! Just- here- this will help." He pleaded, taking the wad of bloody grass and holding up to her mouth.

The smell was vile as she turned away. "No, don't you understand!? Only cockatrice magic can undo the damage; you've doomed me!" she wailed.

"What? No! No- I- I know this looks bad, but I know what I'm doing. Trust me, this will work." Atchmon calmly tried to reason with her, and tried again to get her to take the remedy; only for her to pull away. "I know it's nasty, but it's either this, or you lose your legs!" he pleaded with her, and pushed the wad to her mouth; regardless of her protests.

Rarity shook her head more furiously to avoid touching the clump Atchmon held up to her lips. Tears formed around her eyes, knowing what was going to happen next. Eventually her legs would break off, and she'd live a life as a cripple. She's heard of it happening before, it wasn't an uncommon occurrence for a pony to cross paths with a cockatrice. Usually to be mildly damaged by its gaze, before it's scared off.

Ponies who possess a strong enough will can counteract the petrification magic, and even reverse it entirely. Rarity unfortunately, despite being quite a strong-willed mare, was caught off-guard by the animalistic gorgon.

Atchmon had lost his patience with the stubborn mare, cupping his hand over her snout, and forcing her mouth open, before shoving the clod into her muzzle. Then forcing her to swallow by pouring water from his canteen down her throat.

"Ack! Gag! Hurk! Cough! Uhgh!" Rarity almost immediately expelled the 'medicine', before feeling a tingling sensation in her extremities. She watched as her legs returned to normal, the marble flaked away like dried mud. Leaving her legs feeling stiff, yet unblemished. She laid there letting the magic do its work, feeling as though her legs had fallen asleep.

The prickly pins and needles sensation ebbed as she stood once again, grateful her hooves were back to normal.

"There, you see? All better now... How are you feeling, you okay?" Atchmon asked in concern, as he rubbed and patted her back, scratching where her mane met her neck. Offering her another drink of water, which she refused. Rarity could see the corpse of the dead beast; its eyes were missing.

Realizing what she was forced to consume, and repulsed by all the nastiness she had endured in the last forty-eight hours, Rarity had finally had enough. She delivered the complaint of all complaints, and raised her voice with every word she spoke.

Cough-Spit. "How dare you. HOW DARE YOU! I have--hurk--been away from home, wandering the Everfree forest for hours, with a sprain in my leg! Which is going to take weeks to heal, because I've had Wolves chasing me! Then covered head to hoof in every conceivable form of filth known in Equestria! Exposed to the most repugnant smell one could ever encounter! Which makes me wonder how badly I must stink, since I haven't had a hot bath in two days! My friends and family are worried sick about me, and they will probably never find me! Then forced to eat a- UHGH!" She turned away and nearly vomited again.

"Huff! Huff! Spit. Now I have some brutish-murdering-alien-monkey-creature asking me if I'm okay!? Well, the answer is no, I'M NOT OKAY!" Rarity yelled up at Atchmon's face, then pointed an accusatory hoof at him.

"You said nothing came into the meado- blurp!" Her stomach lurched, though nothing came out. She was beginning to feel a little sick.

"I also said this place is unpredictable! I'm sorry, but it was either that or-" He retorted, holding up his hands to calm the irate mare, before the angry pony pushed him away.

"Oh, what do you care? You just love it out here, don't you? So you can maim, and kill to your heart's content, just like the beast that you are! You- you- YOU MONSTER! If that's how you treat ponies, then maybe you deserve to be alone." Rarity finished with a huff and turned away from him, then dropped to her flanks while angrily splaying her ears back and crossing her hooves with a final harrumph.

Atchmon was silent for a moment after her tirade, before moving around and squatting to her eye level.

Rarity avoided his eye contact as she pouted. He spoke to her in a level voice, never taking his eyes off her own.

"Let me tell you somethin', and you better listen good. I was where you are right now. Scared, and cryin' about what I wanted, the people I missed, and wantin' nothin' more than to go home." Rarity looked at him angrily with her cerulean eyes. Her hooves still crossed, and ears splayed back.

"Crying isn't going to change anythin', or make anything better, and it sure as hell ain't goin' to get you home." Rarity dropped her forehooves to the ground, looking away after hearing that. Atchmon spoke through his teeth, barely concealing the hurt and anger he felt as he delivered his own rant, years in the making.

"You think I love being out here? Maybe I did at one point, but now I've had enough of this fucking place! I had a- I had- I had people who loved me. The life I had before is gone, I've got nothin' to go back to..." He Trailed off, before his ire was strangely directed in on himself.

"Because I just had to check out that damn portal. I just had to go through it, and I just had to stay in a 'brand new world' for a few days!" He exclaimed to the forest, extending his arms and waving them around at his surroundings. "I just had to be the first man here! The first one to explore it! Only to be trapped here, fighting every day to stay alive! So that one day, maybe, I can go back home, and start a new life."

Rarity couldn't bear to meet his misty eyes, and looked at the ground.

"Now I have to listen to some whiney-mythical-'princess'-horse tellin' me how bad she's got it. Well here's the deal Princess, I never had nobody taking care of me hand and foot in a castle. You think I'm a monster? You don't even know what a monster is! You don't know a thing about me! You don't have a clue what I've been through! You've been away from home for two days, boo-fuckin'-hoo, try over six years, Princess!"

Rarity hated it when he called her 'Princess', as if it were an insult; but his voice softened after taking a few deep breaths to calm himself. Rarity could only sit there with her ears splayed back, not in anger, but in shame. Taking in every word as it beat against her heart, while Atchmon raised an arm and extended his digit towards the forest. As if to hold it at bay.

"Out here, things can and will , always get worse. All it takes is a second." Snap! Atchmon brought his hand in front of her and snapped his digits, causing her to flinch and look up at him; her body trembling in the wake of his rant. Through it all, she kept a determined look, trying not to show how much he intimidated her.

"Just one moment, one mistake, and it's over." He reached down, and pulled up his pant leg. His flesh was marred halfway up his calf, and was separated by a clear line of smooth skin that ran the rest of the way up his leg.

It looked as though he'd been burned in a fire, but Rarity knew it was the result of a cockatrice attack. She looked at it for only a moment, her eyes widened in realization, before looking at the human's face. Listening to his calm voice.

"Yeah, I've killed my fair share of monsters out here, but I did it so I can stay alive. So that one day, when that door opens. I'll be here, alive and ready to walk back through it." He paused for a moment, both looking into each other's eyes.

"At least you're on the same world you came from. That's a pretty big step forward towards home, if you ask me." He shook his head. "But what do I know, I'm just some... monster after all." Atchmon stood up, taking the body of the cockatrice with him, leaving Rarity alone in the meadow.

She sat there for a minute before getting up and heading back inside the den, but not before looking in Atchmon's direction. He stopped midway from tearing off the scales of the cockatrice. Looking up at her from the bottom of the hill, with her standing before the entrance. Neither spoke as they both looked at each other from the distance separating them. Rarity hung her head before cantering inside. Atchmon tore into the beast with a bit more fervor, taking some of his frustration out on the carcass. Built from Rarity's hurtful words.

Rarity laid upon the grass bed, her stomach finally settled, with no thoughts entering her mind. Trying to avoid thinking about what happened, and what was said between them. She no longer kept track of the time, only focusing on having a pity party as depression set in once again. Atchmon entered the cave along with the fresh smell of dirt and copper which permeated from him.

He grabbed some of the furless leather, then left without a word, returning with them a short while later. This time the smell of cooked meat saturated the room, having wrapped the jerky with the leather. Rarity scrunched up her face at the powerful aroma, despite knowing what it was, she silently admitted it smelled good. Course she would never tell him that. He left once more coming back with the wolf hides wrapped up in furry rolls.

Atchmon approached her. She rose up, puffing out her chest and cheeks, as if daring him to do say something else. He looked at her for a moment before kneeling down, reaching underneath the bed and pulling out a pair of moccasins. Then grabbing the spear before making his way out. Atchmon poked his head back inside the cave a moment later.

"Come with me... we can solve at least one of your problems today." He said before retreating back out.

Rarity stepped outside the den, Atchmon was waiting for her at the bottom of the hill. The smell and the corpses were completely gone, and the tanning racks were put away, leaving only the meaty remains of the cockatrice over the fire.

Rarity looked at Atchmon expectantly, before he walked around their home and into the forest. Not bothering to check if she was following him or not.

Rarity followed, her head hung low, still feeling a tinge of anger from her compromised diet, and forced carnivore-ism.

The sun was low over the horizon, bathing the forest in an array of orange-yellow light. The pair walked for a while, long enough that Rarity's leg was aching again, until she heard the familiar sound of rushing water. They came up to a large brook, following it a short way down until they stood atop a wide waterfall that was half as much taller than Atchmon. There was a semicircular pool of water with a few flat-looking boulders sticking out of the middle directly underneath the falls. It looked as though it were once part of the shelf before time and erosion brought it down. Making it a perfect spot to sit and bathe under the falling water.

The trickle of water itself was nothing impressive, but was more than enough for their needs. To the side near some rocks there appeared to be a little nook of smooth stones with flakes all around. There were small piles of arrow heads and some larger ones which must've been used for spears.

A huge hole was dug into the opposite bank with several clay bowls and pots all around, along with the remnants of a fire which must have been used to heat-treat the ceramics. It looked as though Atchmon gave up on a particularly large vase, for it looked warped sitting off to the side.

This must be where he makes most of his tools and crafts. At least that's something we have in common, perhaps I can appeal to his more artistic side. Rarity thought as she took in the area.

"It's not a hot bath, but it's a lot better than nothin'," Atchmon stuck the spear into the soft earth and got undressed.

Rarity watched as he proceeded to remove his boots, socks, belt, and blue jeans. She couldn't help but admire the craftsmareship of the thick leather 'hoofwear', despite the material it was made. And Wondering how many miles they must have tread, the hardships they must have face; yet still only looked well-worn. Rariry could tell its craftsmare took pride her work, this 'Magellan' was truly a genius of her craft. She was amazed at its claims to being 'waterproof', as was written on the tags.
After seeing Atchmon's tiny, frail digits on the ends of his legs, Rarity could understand the need for such hardy hoofwear. His only article of clothing was a faded blue material, torn in some places, yet managed to remain mostly intact after all this time. It was shoddily maintained by a combination of twine, leather patches, and strips. No doubt from his past hunts. Rarity wanted a chance to examine the hardy fabric.

Atchmon was about to remove his undergarments as well, before glancing at Rarity, and running his eyes over her naked body.

"You don't normally wear clothes, do ya?" He asked, while remaining bent near her level.

Rarity only looked away from him, and shook her head. Still ashamed of herself or angry at him. She couldn't tell.

He removed those as well, then waded into the shallow pool while carrying his clothing. Leaving his belt, boots, and knife next to Rarity, and away from the water.

Rarity only caught a glimpse of his maleness, and now not only was her dignity as a pony ruined, but also her honor and pride as a mare. He was a male. She only just assumed based on the sound of his voice, for it sounded like a stallion. Yet she still held onto that little inkling of doubt in the back of her mind that he was actually a she. He was a male surviving out here all on his own; protecting and saving her, a mare, from the beasts of the Everfree Forest. It was always a mare's job to protect the stallion.

Rarity had always been a fanfilly of those trashy romance novels which upheld the views of patriarchy, unfortunately most of the male protagonists fell in love with another of the same sex. She could only read so many of those, before the thought of two males together did nothing for her. Now she only loved the ones that promoted monogamy between a mare and a stallion. Those were few and far between, it being a strange, taboo form of herding. Though it has always been her filly-hood fantasy to be rescued by a big, strong, handsome, Prince of a stallion. He would be hers and only hers. Not- this -thing in front of her.

The damage to her ego ebbed as she watched Atchmon make his way to the boulders underneath the falls. He sat upon them, and let the water wash off the sweat, dirt, grime, and dried blood from his body. All while washing his clothing upon the rocks, using them as a makeshift washboard. He scraped and slapped his clothing across the boulder's rough surface, before turning them over and repeating the process.

Rarity looked at her own reflection in the pool of water. The curls in her mane and tail were gone, leaving them flat and haggard-looking with split ends. Looking much like the time she pretended to be like Applejack to get Trenderhoof's attention. She sniffed herself, and recoiled a little from her natural odor.

Atchmon bathed himself underneath the falling water, and occasionally looking over at Rarity as she checked herself over.

She noticed him and promptly looked away with a pout.

"Better get clean quick, not much daylight left." He called out to her.

Rarity felt a pang of anger having been ordered by a male, but couldn't deny that he was right. Plus, she wanted desperately to feel clean again. So, she swallowed what little there was left of her wounded pride, and waded into the pool. She kicked at the water with a fore hoof before taking another step, causing the water to splash underneath her belly with every strike. She constantly checked its depth, not wanting to go in too deep.

"It doesn't get much deeper than that. Come on over. The waterfall will get'chu clean a lot faster." Atchmon called to her. His voice made her jump, and she looked at him with her angry cerulean eyes.

"I know what I'm doing!" She snapped at him.

"Fine, suit'cherself." He replied flatly, and turned away from her, listening to the 'ker-thunk' sounds her hooves made when hitting the water.

Atchmon didn't bother looking at her again until she made it underneath the falls a time later. Rarity sat across from him where the falls were less intense, letting the warm summer water wash over her aching body. She could practically feel the sweat, grime and stress of the last couple days falling off her coat. Rarity relaxed as she let the large droplets pelt and spatter off the top of her head, before raising up and letting the falls do the same for her face.

Atchmon sat facing away from her, she looked at his cutie mark upon his back, wondering what talent he possessed which were represented by such beautifully intricate wings. Surely, he could not fly.

Both bathed silently until Rarity felt she was clean enough, before splashing her way back to the bank. Atchmon watched her as she left, noticing her wet tail dragging behind her on the ground. Rarity shook herself off like a dog, causing water to spray everywhere leaving her mostly dry. She waited for Atchmon to finish, her damp mane left sticking to her neck and nubile shoulders.

"You might want to trim that, unless you want it to get dirty again." He said pointing at her tail. She followed where he pointing.

"And how would I do that? In case you didn't know, I didn't bring my scissors with me, since you never told me we were going for a swim." She growled at him.

"You can use my knife if you want, it's clean, so it's up to you." He replied, nonchalantly.

She looked at the sheathed knife resting on his boots, before levitating it up and pulling it out with her magic. It was a large, wicked-looking blade, more than half as long as her own leg. The shining silver metal practically glowed in the dim light of the forest. The back of the blade was serrated like a saw, and the blade itself looked sharp enough she could cut herself just by looking at it. Atchmon called it a knife, but to Rarity it was more like a shortsword.

'How many things has he killed with this?' Rarity thought before carefully cutting off the excess hair from her tail. The blade's sharpness parted the fibers long before she put any real pressure on them.

When Atchmon finished bathing, he placed his now 'clean' laundry on a twine tied between a couple trees, before pulling off another dry pair from the line. Putting them on, as well as his moccasins.

"Why on earth are you gathering my hair? Do you have some sort of weird hair fetish or something." She said nastily.

"Everything has its uses. I'll show you one later, when we get back." He said simply, washing them off and placing them in his pocket after wringing out the moisture, then leaving it at that. Atchmon gathered the rest of his belongings, and together the two headed back to camp.

When the pair returned, Atchmon placed his belongings back inside the den, then threw a few more blocks of wood on the smoking pile of embers, fanning it until another low fire was going. Rarity sat on the grass near the flames, letting the heat from the fire further dry off her coat.

Rarity slapped at her neck and flanks as the bugs ate at her. Whipping her short tail back and forth trying desperately, though ineffectively, to disperse the annoying pests.

Atchmon sat perfectly still near the fire, watching her with a smug smile on his face.

"By Celestia; I beg you to send this scourge to the moon!" She cried angrily after slapping herself particularly hard to emphasise her point.

"Hahe." Atchmon chuckled lightly at her misery.

"Stop laughing; It isn't funny! Oh, what I wouldn't give for some bug spray, and- Hey? Why aren't they biting you?" Rarity asked when she realized Atchmon hadn't swatted at himself not once since they left the waterfall.

"Stay near the fire and bathe in the smoke a bit, it'll keep the bugs off ya," he advised.

Rarity did as he said without question wanting to be rid of the vile insects, which never halted their assault on her flanks. They nearly instantly dispersed, their occasional bites eventually halted altogether. She had to move out of the smoke every once in a while, though grateful for the relief it provided from the swarming blight, it choked her and stung her eyes whenever she stayed in it too long.

Atchmon busied himself by rotating the cockatrice he placed on a spit over the fire. It's bottom half was mostly charred, but he didn't seem to care, wanting to get the other side done as well. He had the spit angled in such a way oil from cooking the meat drained into a small bowl he had placed within the fire. Another bowl was also placed in the fire, which was taken out as soon as the water inside it started boiling. Throwing a few strands of her hair in the hot water.

She could barely watch him feed, making her disgust known. Once he finished his meal he took out a strand of her hair from the bowl, and used it as floss.

"Ugh! You are the most disgusting thing I have ever had the misfortune to know." She snarled.

Atchmon frowned and decided to ignore her while washing his hands and mouth out with the warm water.

The smell from the cooked cockatrice had significantly dissipated. The remaining stench carried off by the wind until the only smell left was of the smoke from the fire in front of them.

Rarity and Atchmon sat for long while as the sun set, listening to the occasional pop of the firewood, neither speaking a word to the other. Nothing came to Rarity's mind as she observed the flames.

Atchmon picked out a few bones from the carcasses earlier that day. For whatever purpose he felt they could be used, and left them atop the stone barrier surrounding the fire.

"You're not a very nice princess." He said with a somber look, before getting up and wordlessly entering the den. Leaving Rarity alone with the dying flames. The quiet sound of his voice had taken her aback, and felt as though he had slapped her in the face.

'I'm not being very nice? Who does he think he is!?'

Rarity sat there watching the flames until the thoughts of the day's events entered her mind. Realizing she had no right to be so cross with him. True, he did violate her trust by force feeding her the eyes of a cockatrice, but that was only to save her from the misery of what would have happened if he didn't. Maybe even after all this time, he still just doesn't know how things work here. All he ever did was help her. Granted, it wasn't the help she wanted, but it was the help she needed. And what she needed to do now, was make amends. Not for fear of his ire, but as a pony who needed to set things right.

Rarity stood up, her hind leg still wrapped tight in the bandage, moving like a oar in a row boat, as she trotted up the hill. She magiked the stick barrier out of the way before cutting off the spell, and letting it rest on her croup.

Atchmon was laying on his bed with his back propped up against the wall. His head touching the bottom of the charm, causing it to bob around slightly whenever he moved. The fur blanket was resting underneath him, returned to its rightful place. Rarity watched him for a moment, only her head and neck were visible from the entrance, the opening angled just off from being a straight line to the back of the cave where Atchmon rested.

He hadn't noticed Rarity enter, or maybe he just didn't want to acknowledge her, she couldn't tell. Rarity approached him slowly, the soft clopping sound of her hooves against the hard rock floor, contrasted against the steady rasps of his blade as it slid across the whetstone which he held.

"If you think I'm giving up my bed after everything you said to me, you can forget it. I. Ain't. Budgin'! You can sleep outside for all I care," he glared at her, before returning to sharpening his knife.

Rarity sat there trying to think of what to say, as she waited, the setting sun sent rays of light through the gaps between the stick doorway, illuminating the final wall next to the bed. Rarity hadn't noticed it before; the back of the cave was always too dark earlier that day. Shafts of light shone on the final mural. The story started from the top where the wall curved into the ceiling, and ended near the bottom just above the bed.

It showed his figure walking through the wilderness, before coming up to a special pair of trees. Their trunks formed an archway, before spiraling around each other and shooting straight up into the heavens. Blue lines were drawn around its branches as if to depict a glowing effect. Atchmon had entered through the archway, only to be chased by a manticore.

Rarity wondered if the image was drawn to scale, because the beast was easily four times larger than Atchmon's figure. The next painting showed the beast with arrows in its shoulder, pinning Atchmon down with its stinger in his side. All while holding his bow in the beast's mouth, preventing the sharp teeth of his foe from delivering a killing bite. Atchmon held his blade up high as the monster lay on top of him.

The next image showed Atchmon walking away from the sleeping form of the beast. He was doubled over with wavy green lines over his figure, and a pool of red below him. 'He was poisoned and wounded!' The next was a slightly larger figure of himself sticking his knife into his side with green and red lines running down it. 'He drained the poison from his body, along with more of his own blood!' The next he built a fire and cauterized the wounds. The remaining images were of him returning to the archway, only now the lines around the trees were gone. His figured looked saddened.

The way home was closed...

The final image was his figure surrounded by the various beasts of the Everfree. Wolves, both Timber and Dire, bear, cockatrice, manticore, pegaboar, serpents, carnivorous plants, Chupacabra, and chimeras. He faced all with only his knife and bow in hand, as they closed in around him.

Rarity's heart beat in her chest after learning of Atchmon's hardships, shifting back slightly to take in the whole mural. She gazed over it once more before landing on Atchmon's back, which faced her. He had sheathed his blade, placing it and the whetstone on the tiny table next to the bed. As Rarity looked upon him she couldn't help but think how pathetic he looked. No, not pathetic... alone, he looked alone.

Out of all the powerful beasts in the forest, it was Rarity who brought low 'The Mighty Hunter', the 'Scourge of the Everfree', the 'Monster of Monsters'.

With nothing but a few harsh words, and some scorn.

It was then she realized he wasn't a monster, nor a beast. He was a thinking, feeling being. Just like her.... Rarity remembered how devastated she felt when the puppeteer disliked her first attempt at a puppet stage she had built for him. Trying to imagine what it must be like to never hear another pony's voice for years, only to be called such nasty names. She couldn't... she couldn't understand at all. Being the socialite, she was, Rarity was never without gossip or company.

"Atchmon?" She gently called his name, and spoke from the heart. "I'm sorry for the way I've been acting, it's- very unladylike of me... About what I said to you, I didn't really know you. You- You don't deserve that... nopony does. I didn't... understand. And I do appreciate everything you've done for me, you saved me, even though you had no reason to, and even though we're complete strangers. More than that, we're completely alien to each other." She paused for a moment trying to gauge his reaction. None came as he continued to face away from her, his ears never moved, making it impossible for Rarity to read him. "Atchmon? I-I gave you a chance to prove yourself to me, and you have. Please, give me a chance to do the same. You were right about me, I can't survive out here on my own. Please, I need your help, and... As Princess, I'll do everything in my power to reward you for your assistance. Please, would you help me get home?"

Atchmon was silent for a while, his silence served as a reminder of how she left things with Sweetie Bell back home. He stayed silent so long that Rarity started to think there was something wrong with her. He turned over just enough to look at her with one eye, then turned his back to her again.

"I can't help you Rarity, I can't even help myself." He spoke to the wall, his answer crushing her spirit. He sighed again before turning completely over to face her. Sitting on the edge of the bed with his knees resting on the frame. It was the first time she ever got a look at his chest, any other time he was always angled away from her, or bent over so far, she couldn't see, or she constantly looked away from him or directly at his eyes and face. Rarity couldn't believe she never noticed the large scars raked across his torso. Scars left from his first encounter with a beast of the Everfree.

"What you said earlier, about 'deserving to be alone'. That really got to me. This... life, if you could even call it that. I wouldn't wish it on anybody, Unicorn or otherwise. Nobody deserves to live like this." He said, while motioning around the cave. "You were half-right though, I did love it here. At first." He finished, speaking distantly.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that to you. I've been acting so uncouth towards you. You don't deserve be called those things, not after you helped me so much. I'm just- I never-" Rarity pleaded, wanting him to forgive her.

"Hey. I get it, but you understand now, right? Why I made you eat- that? If I hadn't, you know what would have happened?"

"Yes, I did, and I do, and... thank you again." She said while rubbing her forehooves, as phantom pains rose from the recent tragedy.

"Sorry I broke my promise already, was never very good at keeping those." He said distantly. "So what kind of 'bad things' can I expect from breaking it?" He asked.

"What? Oh! Oh, um, I think we can let it pass, just this once." She said with a sad smile. The two were silent for a few moments before Rarity spoke again.

"You forgive me... for being so mean?" Rarity asked quietly while digging a hoof into the floor, looking down, with ears drooping slightly. Worry etched in her voice, and on her face.

"I'll tell you what, this wasn't how I imagined my first conversation in years to go." And I ruined that for him. She thought as she dipped her head in shame. "But!" He caught her gaze before it fell too low, her ears perking to his cheery voice. "I'm willing to start over, if you are too." Atchmon reached his hand out to her. "Hi. I'm Atchmon, nice to meet you." He said, half smiling at her.

Rarity looked to his hand, then at his face in confusion. A smile grew on hers as well, when she realized what he was doing. He was giving her a second chance. Rarity reached out with a hoof, her heart speeding up as he grasped it, then lightly shook it.

"Rarity, a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She beamed.

The two friends, turned frenemies, turned friends again sat there for a moment, just smiling at each other, before Rarity broke the silence.

"Did you want to have that talk now?" She asked, feeling hopeful.

"Actually, as much as I really want to. And I really do want to. I'm just way too tired right now." He shook his head, and sighed. "I been up all night cleanin' you up, skinnin' those wolves, an' carryin' you all back... I just wanna go to sleep right now. So, first thing tomorrow sound good?" He shrugged, giving her an apologetic half smile.

Rarity could see the puffiness in his eyes, knowing he must've been exhausted from such an exciting day. "That sounds perfectly fine to me Atchmon, I feel my own tiredness setting in as well, though..." She trailed, eyeing the bed and biting her lip, while scuffing a hoof at the ground with a pleading look upon her face. Hoping to send the message that she really didn't want to sleep on the ground tonight; or outside for that matter. Given her behavior earlier that day, she wouldn't blame him for kicking her out of bed, and making her sleep on the metaphorical couch. Typical overly emotional males.

Atchmon caught her gaze and chuckled lightly, then scooted over on the sizable bed, with his front nearly touching the back wall; and made enough room for Rarity to lay comfortably next to him.

"Take it or leave it, Princess." Atchmon smiled over his shoulder to her.

It took a moment for Rarity to realize what he was doing, not totally forgiving her by completely giving up his bed, but offering it to share with her regardless.

She stepped forward with a bit of trepidation, having never shared a bed so intimately with anypony before, despite all the rumors to the contrary. Even when she had that sleepover at Twilight's library there was always plenty of room between her and Applejack. Though that space had shrunk significantly sometime in the middle of the night, who knew the tough farm-mare was such a cuddler. The memory of that time seemed ages ago.

Rarity recoiled a bit after feeling the fuzzy blanket with her hoof, remembering that it once belonged to a bear that probably used to sleep right where she was going to lay. She grimaced at the thought. Though, the fur was quite soft and comfortable... She took a breath, gathering her nerves and pushing her discomfort aside, before stepping up onto the bed. Standing atop it, then folding her front hooves underneath her one at a time, before dropping her rump, accidentally bumping into Atchmon's backside.

"Sorry." Rarity apologized when she touched him.

"You're okay." He said. Then, after a minute or so, he slowly relaxed pressing a bit of his weight into her. "Still okay back there?"

"Yes, I'm fine, thank you." She replied, feeling the smoothness of his back rub against her, and the warmth that seemed to radiate off of him as it seeped into her cold coat. After a while she relaxed as well.

"You're very warm, even though you don't have any fur. No offense." She felt a little worried that his furlessness was a sensitive subject. Forgetting how miserable life is for a pony that caught mange. Despite his scars, he didn't look diseased in any way.

"M' hot natured." He replied sleepily.

"Goodnight Atchmon, I look forward to our conversation tomorrow."

"Me too, g'nite Rares. See you in the mornin'." He yawned.

Rarity felt a tinge of sadness after hearing the nickname Applejack dubbed for her. And wondered briefly if there was some sort of cosmic bond between worlds, where beings with country accents acted so similarly. It was a cruel reminder to how much she missed her friend, and wanted to be with her more than ever. She turned, nuzzling into him, and rubbing her head into the back of his neck where it met his shoulder, and made sure to avoid his stitches.
His skin felt smooth against her coat, his scent smelled like the smoke from the fire mixed in with his own natural aroma, which teased her nostrils. Not too much, but enough to tickle her senses. His smell reminded her of chocolate. Ooh, what she wouldn't give for a bar of that delicious treat right now.

Atchmon gave one last big yawn which shifted her over slightly. Both content with their positions on the bed, which for the first time since its creation, was at full capacity. Rarity closed her eyes letting the steady movement from his breathing gently rock her to sleep.

New Friends

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Rarity woke shivering from a dreamless sleep sometime in the middle of the night. The bitter air had numbed her exposed hide with its coldness. She shifted tiredly, pressing herself deeper into the toasty body next to her, seeking out its warmth.

Atchmon had his arm over her, his warmness keeping the cold at bay where it rested on her. However, his own exposed, fur-less skin had numbed with cold too. Soon between the cold, her constant vibrations, and other movements, finally stirred him awake as well. He moved from her, the frigid night air quickly sapping away any lingering heat. Rarity mewled her complaints, before both of their forms were covered in a velvety-soft, cool blanket.

Atchmon returned next to her, stopping for a moment to pet her from the neck to her back, before carefully wrapping his arms around her, and held her close. After a few moments warmth radiated throughout Rarity's body, and she let out a contented sigh.

She dug her cold snout deeper into his warm chest, the long soft hairs tickled her nose, and let out a tired yawn, breathing in his sweet-smoky aroma, before finally settling back to sleep.

Rarity slowly trotted through a dark forest, within the dense fog that surrounded her. The doling mist parting from her as she moved onward, wary of all that was around her. The constant sense of dread was keeping her tense, ready to gallop away at any sign of danger. The menacing look of the trees bore down on her, and there were things hiding in the dark brush. Their glowing yellow eyes followed her every move, while every sound made her stop, listen, alert to any danger.

Fear and panic suddenly took hold of her heart, and she quickly galloped away from the imaginary beasts that were hunting her.


She could barely make out a voice in the distance, before a shimmery blue form appeared in her path. She stopped suddenly, her hooves skidding across the dirt, before halting feet away from the aberration.

"Rar-ity? Mis-s Rar-ty c-n -ou -ear me? Wh-re -r- yo-?"

"Princess Luna? Is that you? What's going on? Why can't I see you!?" She asked, her eyes wide in desperation.

"W-ere ar- yo- spe-- t- -e- -y- lit-le p-ny; I- c-n bar-y se- --u!"

Rarity could barely make out the form of the Princess of the Night. Her statically presence shifted, and waved about in front of her. In a moment she would be gone, the next she'd return, never fully becoming solid. Her transparent form struggled to keep the connection, moving jerkingly about, as if moving in a strobe light.

"Princess Luna? Princess Luna, I'm here, I'm here; are you going to rescue me!?" She asked with hope beginning to fill her heart.

"Ar- y-- o-ay -y de-r!? W-er- -r- --o!?"

"Please help me! Take me home! Save me! Please!" She begged, trying desperately to find a way to help.

"R---t- -e--l f--d --- - pr---s-! ...." Her figure flashed thrice, before vanishing entirely.

"Princess!? NO! NO Don't GO! Please! Don't leave me here all alone!" She shrieked, as terror consumed her.


Rarity immediately turned to investigate the noise, barely catching sight of the wolf's wide maw as it let out a sharp, savage growl.

All Rarity saw was teeth, before its massive jaws enclosed around her.


Rarity woke with a shock coursing through her system, her heart beat against her chest before she finally relaxed, and laid her head upon the bedding once again. Damning the beasts who hunted her within her dreams.

'Princess Luna was trying to speak to me! My friends are really trying everything to find me! She smiled as her heart raced again, knowing she was going to see her friends again soon. 'But wait, I could barely understand what she was saying. It wasn't like the other times I've seen her in my dreams; and those were always quite lucid. Not only that, but I barely had any control over myself compared to the other times,' She thought before shifting on her back, looking towards the ceiling, trying to figure out what was different about this time as her eyes wandered over the carvings. Briefly imagining herself in Atchmon's position, wondering how many countless days he must have spent staring up at that same spot on the ceiling.

Her eyes continued to wander until landing upon the charm above the bed, its beautiful feathers a scant few inches from her face. She reached up with a hoof, gently caressing the strange, yet pretty decoration with newfound appreciation. After the talk with Atchmon last night, she felt much better about being around him. Knowing that deep down they weren't that much different. As far as being artisans, and their societal needs go.

Perhaps I was just too far from her, no that can't be right. Princess Luna should be able to connect with everypony in the world, regardless of distance. But then again there aren't any ponies in the Everfree, aside from the very few I do know about. Perhaps it's the Everfree Forest itself, it has always been a place of wild magic. Maybe it's the cause for the interference, and if that's the case, there is nothing I can do about it. She finished her thought process, feeling a little disappointed in herself.

Rarity laid there for the moment, trying to remember anything she could about dream magic. Unfortunately her passion for fashion always took priority over her other studies. She was no idiot when it came to thaumatology, even though not being as naturally gifted as Twilight or Starlight Glimmer, nor having the privilege to attend Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. Her parents simply couldn't afford to send her at the time.

Though that happened a couple years after she finished her schooling, they were once struggling to provide for both of their children, so she could find it in herself to forgive them.

During that time she had taught herself transformation, transmutation, AND transfiguration magic through great effort, after she heard tales of the 'impossible enchanted dress'. However, she had limited herself only to fabrics, and other related crafts to achieve that dream. Getting the enchantments to 'stick' to the shifty fabric was always the most difficult part. She very nearly accomplished a mock version of that dream, that was until that vile Suri Polomare had stolen her designs, and her fabric.

Rarity also had a chance to display her prowess when Trixie first rolled into town, shivering at the memory of the green hair that the boastfully-uncouth-brute of an enchantress had hexed her with. It took Rarity a whole day to undo the magic.

Worst day of her life, ever.

That was until yesterday...

Her special talent allowed her to learn everything there was to know about gems, not just locating them, though she never particularly enjoyed the dirty work involved with finding them. She also learned how to enchant them, for whatever purpose they needed to serve, with little effort.

She had her relationship with Maud, Pinkie Pie's older sister, to thank for that. Though Rarity would always be insistent on updating the rock farmer's wardrobe, despite her constant refusals, she couldn't help letting the strange pony's passion for geology rub off on her. Rarity all but threw herself into learning about gems, and gem enchantments. Such endowments were usually just cosmetic, though she was embarrassed to admit her motivation for learning was fueled purely by her fantasies.

All these things she felt would be useless for surviving out in the Everfree.

Rarity lightly shook her head, trying to put her mind back on track from the tangent she trailed off of. Feeling regret for not expanding her magical abilities, knowing it wasn't as if she couldn't learn through effort. But she simply didn't have the time between managing her now three boutiques that she was very proud of, and worried what would happen to them if she didn't make it back soon. A strong teleportation spell would be quite useful right about now, though such a spell was the reason she ended up here in the first place. It wasn't all bad, at least she had much better company than she did on her first day in the Everfree. Even if he is a bit 'rough around the edges', so to speak.

Speaking of rough edges...

Rarity examined the furred leather 'blanket' that was atop her, feeling a little discomfort of knowing what it was made from. Its burning warmth protecting her against the cool morning air. Her coat was damp with sweat from the sweltering heat the covering provided, moving it away to cool off her scorching hide, the chilly air feeling quite refreshing. She watched in amazement as a bit of fog doled off her body, rising up into the drafty air.

Rarity's natural scent wafted around her, and silently hoped she didn't disgust her bedmate with her offensive feminine odor, as the cool air worked to dry out her stench. Rarity hated her smell, most mares did for one reason or another, but hers only served to remind herself of the terrible nickname she received as a schoolfilly.

She took a moment to examine the tanned leather, which was flawless, and lacked any blemishes other than the rough-dried edges. As far as she could tell anyway, never having an interest in learning about the furred-fashion that was currently all-the-rage in Griffenstone. That was until now, when she's getting a first-hoof look at the trend.

The 'blanket' was made from combining three different-colored furs, of what looked to be the same type of animal. Though probably not the wolves from last night, as it lacked any red coloring, and were crudely stitched together with a combination of twine and leather strips. Her heart ached at the botched knitting, a sudden compulsion overcame her, wanting to correct such a crime against sewing. 'Why am I actually admiring this? Sure, it's the most fantastic material I've ever felt but- It's something's hide for pony's sake!' Rarity caught herself before delving too deep into her thoughts, opting to gently remove the rest of the blanket off of her.

Rarity moved off the bed stretching out each one of her aching muscles, pushing her hooves out one at a time, her injured fetlock sending a jolt of pain up her leg. At least I can stand on it much better than yesterday, it doesn't hurt as much either, perhaps it won't take as long to heal as I feared. Rarity thought, as she finished her workout by arching her back like a cat. Her joints popped, and tendons stretched, feeling as though rubber bands were breaking off inside her. The light exercise rejuvenated her energy, making her feel wide awake.

Though she desperately wanted a much needed massage, not just for her sore muscles, but to relieve the stress of the last few days.

'I know exactly what I'm going to do when I get back home. I'm going to take Sweetie Bell, and bribe Aloe and Lotus to let us live in their spa for a whole day. Maybe even two, or three!' She smiled happily as she rolled her head, working the fibers around her neck.

Rarity's eyes had adjusted to the dim light of the cavern, and saw that her saddlebags were placed in the middle of the cave floor, along with a canteen and a note. Rarity knew the stationary came from the notepad she kept in her saddlebags, for the occasional clothing measurements she would take of ponies she met on the go. The message was pinned to her bags using one of the needles from her sewing kit, which she care fully removed with her magic, not wanting to damage the paper. Then unfolding it, as she levitated the sheet up to her eye level.

'It's all clean,

not the same bowl,

canteen is yours,

sorry about last night'

A little smiley face was drawn on the bottom, seeing the simple little drawing made her smile as well. Such a kind, considerate gentlestallion, if only some of the nobles back home would take a lesson from his example. She thought, briefly thinking of her first meeting with Prince Blueblood.

Rumor has it his 'Aunty Celestia' gave him a stern talking to, he apologized to Rarity about his behavior. Explaining that there's no shortage of noble mares who wanted to court him, and that he thought she wasn't any different. Well she proved him wrong when she simply walked away with a huff. He's been a little obsessed with her ever since. Sending her the occasional letter, all but begging for a second chance. It's true what they say, first impressions really are everything.

Both her and Atchmon made mistakes on their first meeting, wishing she had made a better impression on him. But all that was in the past now, and they have a fresh start to become good friends. She stood straighter, and felt more determined at the thought.

Atchmon had given her one of his spare canteens. Leaving it and her bags, which were once again full to the brim with food, in the middle of the floor for her to find once she woke from her slumber. 'Such a generous being. One after my own heart!'

She put away the needle where it belonged, her magic lingering on the kit for a few moments, before finally closing the container. So much for this being used only for fashion emergencies... Oh, Sweetie Bell, I'm so sorry. She read the note again to make herself feel better, before placing it neatly inside her saddlebag, then worked on fixing the bed.

Rarity magicked up the blanket, folding it in the air while shaking and fluffing out the furry bedding at the same time. Rarity had always been a natural multi-telekinetic-tasker, she had to be in order to keep up with the near ceaseless production of dresses her boutiques demanded. Sassy Saddles had really given her horn a workout, after taking all those orders for the 'Princess Dress' that first day.

Rarity effortlessly restored the bedding to its former glory, with a few improvements, it looked about twenty percent more comfortable than before. 'Dashie would be pleased.' She was surprised to find that the furred leather lacked much of a smell, save for her own recently added odor, and the faint smoky-sweet scent of her platonic bedmate. Feeling a little embarrassed for her behavior last night, there was no excuse for a mare to push herself on a male without his permission.

'At least he didn't seem bothered by it, or maybe things are different where he's from. I don't even know what might be considered a social faux pas to him. Today that's going to change, it's about time we had that talk. Now if only I knew where he went off to.'

"God, dammit!" Rarity heard Atchmon's distressed voice from outside, and went to see what was wrong with her new friend. She poked her head out the entrance of the cave, scanning the area, and could not see him anywhere in sight.

"Atchmon? Where are you? Where did you go?" She called out to him worriedly, her heart speeding up. He was silent a couple moments before answering.

"'M up here Rarity. Just go 'round t' the back, should be easy 'nough for you to walk up." His voice sounded above her.

Rarity cantered down and around the hill, her hoof feeling sore whenever she put weight on it, eventually the angle of the hill changed to a gentler sloping one. It was a little steep, but she could manage even in her current condition. Now Rarity was no layabout, however, she wasn't an athlete like Rainbow Dash, nor a hard laborer like Applejack, and neither a perpetual ball of energy like Pinkie Pie. Upon reaching the top of the hill; she was a sweating, panting, mess thanks to the 'short' climb up, if she could even call it that. Rarity silently swore to herself that she was going to cut back on the ice cream and emotional eating.

Huff. Puff. Puff. Mmmmph! Rarity pushed herself over the last leg of the 'hill'.

Atchmon watched as the white unicorn caught her breath. She stood up straighter atop the miniature mountain. The bright clear morning sky shined upon her, highlighting her presence, while her body and barrel shifted subtly with every breath. Rarity's poise was angled slightly from him, as ladylike as it should be, with her head held slightly up. A gentle breeze blew her straight mane and tail elegantly in the wind, completing the pose.

Rarity worried her stature came off as pompous, lacking the desired effect, for he stared at her unmoving and unreadable. His ears never so much as twitched, but his face and eyes were locked on her. He couldn't help but admire the unicorn, as he stared at the magnificently-majestic-mythical creature before him.

Atchmon was leaning over, sitting cross-legged on the grass, and wearing a furred vest to keep himself warm in the cool morning air, along with his long blue pants, and moccasins. A few broken sticks and pieces of stone littered the ground before him, along with a tiny fire near where he sat atop the mesa of his home.

"Hey... Mornin" He greeted her distantly.

"Good morning. What's wrong Atchmon, I heard you yell, is there something the matter?" She asked in concern. Her amazing cerulean eyes, bluer than the bluest blue, looked at him worriedly.

"What? Oh! Oh, no, I just can't seem to pull my head out of my ass, and get these arrows made right." He gestured around at the mess in front of him.

'His vulgarity is starting to become quite grating. No matter! It's just one more thing we can discuss. Perhaps I can sofisticate him, maybe teach him about Pony culture, and proper etiquette. Wouldn't that be something? 'Rarity the Everfree Tamer'!' She smiled to herself, and felt relieved to see he wasn't in any trouble.

"Didja get my note?" He asked, trying hard not to stare at her. Finding it difficult, as his eyes darted between his work and her.

"Yes, and are you sure you want me to have your canteen? You have so little already, no offense of course." She never felt comfortable taking something from others, she was always the one giving things away on a whim. Her special talent, and career afforded her that luxury. Equestria was quite ripe with no shortage of precious stones, though only the rarest gems held any real value.

"Yeah, it's alright, I have a spare. Plus I been want'n an excuse to make a waterskin, just to see if I can do it. So you can use it? The canteen I mean."

"Um, yes. The bowl is fine if you want it back, I don't mind." Please don't make me drink out of a bowl again.

"Nah, you keep it, I was more worried you couldn't read my note." He fiddled with some of his tools, as he spoke.

"You think I can't read?" She asked surprised, and feeling a little insulted.

"Nah, 'cause I got terrible handwritin', ahehe-heeeh." He chuckled, looking away from her with a big grin on his face, and rubbing the back of his head. 'Oh, goddesses he's shy! If not for his size, and fangs, he'd be absolutely adorable. Rarity cooed to herself.

'His attire leaves something to be desired as well, and there is nothing I can do about that. Unless- NO! Why did I even consider that!?' Rarity shook the thoughts entering her mind and focused on something else.

"So what are you doing up here by yourself, what made you shout like that?" She inquired, looking at the various bone tools, and arrows around him. Quickly answering her own question, though allowing him to answer her regardless.

"Try'n to make some new arrows, lost three of 'em saving your behind the other day. Two that broke from the wolves, and I never found the one that missed the boar the other day. Fuck'n sucks 'cause that was one of my good ones. He muttered at the end, while tapping some rocks together, before looking back at her. "It's important to stock up immediately when you lose somethin' valuable like that." You've got your work cut out for you with this one Rarity. She thought as she winced at his continued profanity.

"I'm terribly sorry, they must take an awful lot of work to make." Rarity said in concern, as she eyed the various bone tools, and leather pads around him. Along with flecks of stone, and the few broken arrowheads that littered the ground before him.

"They do, and a lot of time too." He sighed. "But it's not all bad. I've had plenty of time to practice. Course today's not really been my lucky day." He gestured to the broken pieces around him.

"Do you... wanna learn how to do it?" He asked after a few moments of silence between them.

Her artistic mind was intrigued to see how the 'stranger-from-another-place' made his craft, despite already knowing a little about the process from history books. Back when ponies settled in one place to grow crops, rather than continue being nomadic grazers, using stone spears to protect themselves thousands of years ago. Unicorns had much more primal magic to combat with, it was all brute force, and lacked any of the elegance of today's spells.

She trotted over and sat next to Atchmon, leaning some of her weight on him. He tensed at her contact, and she pulled away, mentally kicking herself for not asking permission first. Males always loved their space, and mares had to give it to them when they demanded, otherwise the mare would have a very bad time.

"You're okay, I'm- just not used to it, been awhile since I last been around somethin' that wasn't goin' t' kill me right away. Heh..." He grinned embarrassingly away from her. Rarity felt relieved he accepted her company, and felt a little sad for him after hearing that. She mentally forgave him for calling her a something, rather than somepony.

"Okay! So. First thing we gotta do is make the arrowhead." He picked up a large stone and got to work. From the start she could tell it was going to be a tedious process. She wanted to know more about him, and couldn't help asking questions while she watched. He broke the stone into smaller and smaller pieces using the various bone tools around him, until he had the desired shape. His progress slowed the sharper and thinner he made the arrowhead.

"So Atchmon... I don't want to sound rude for asking, but I'm curious. What are you exactly? I can't think of anything that comes remotely close to looking like you. Can you tell me about where you're from?" She asked gently, not wanting to push him. He paused for a few moments at her question. His expressions were very subtle, but she caught it, years of living among Canterlot's elites have made her an expert on picking up subtle body language, and other visual cues. Perhaps he's not so unreadable after all, most of his expression seems to be centered on his face.

"I- I'm a human," he answered without looking at her, completely focused on his craft. "or just a 'man' for short, and as for where I'm from," he stopped for a moment, looking towards the horizon, before continuing his work. "I grew up in a small hunting town, near two major rivers. There isn't much to say about it, very close-nit community. Everyone there knew everybody, it was a bustling little village whenever hunting season hit. The rest of the time we'd spend most of our days fishing, or tubing down the rivers, sometimes going as far down as the ocean they drained into." He finished, examining the new arrowhead.

Rarity looked closer to examine it as well, and could see nothing wrong with it. The stone's shape and thinness were perfect! So far as she could tell anyway. 'Oh, what do I know? It's pointy! That's all it needs to be, right?'

"That looks pretty good, next step is make'n a hole for the fore-shaft to settle in. I've already got these sticks treated, and ready to drill out the hollow. Compound arrows have always been my favorite, they take more work, but they're much more versatile." He grinned, extending his long legs out, and shoving a long bone-tool into the ground. Atchmon steadied the tool with his 'hind paws?', with the sharp pointed end of the tool sticking up. Then placing the tip of the shaft to the tool's point, and used his paws to quickly rotate it. Causing the bone-tool to carve a hole into the shaft.

"May I see one?" She asked, curious to see what 'treatment' one could give to a piece of wood.

"Sure." He reached over, grabbing one from his pile, and held it out to her, stopping for a moment to look at her hooves then her horn, before slowly opening his digits. Allowing her to gently levitate the stick from him.

"That feels- wow." He breathed in amazement as the magic enveloped the shaft. "I don't even know how to describe it. Fluffy, tingley, I dunno? Ha!" He stared in awe at the floating object, smiling at her, showing his canines, before returning to his task with a breath. "I measure them out at arm's length, or I can just use one of my good arrows as a measurin' stick." He explained while she held the stick up to her eye level, taking a bit of pleasure in how easily she 'wow'd' him.

She examined the shaft, finding nothing wrong with it. The stick was straight and smooth as can be, with a transparent brown twine wrapped around one end. She tried to bend the rod with her magic, and found that it had very little give.

"How did you learn to do this? You said you were from a 'hunting' kind of village? Do all- 'hue-mons', did you say? Are they all like you? Do they all survive like this?" Rarity asked, motioning throughout the camp with the stick. She could tell he was getting more comfortable being around her, becoming more talkative, while his voice spoke with confidence.

"Humans, and no, not really. There's a lot that just learn for fun, and I'm the only human that's like me. For me, it took lots of trial an' error mostly. Some of this stuff I only heard about, but didn't actually have a clue on how to do it. I could remember bits and pieces, so I just had to, uh, 'connect the dots' so to speak. But really, a lot of what I know is because of my mom."

"You're mother taught you all this?" Rarity said in disbelief, and wondered what kind of place mares had to teach their colts how to kill.

"...Nah, I doubt she even knew how to do a fraction of what I know; even way back when. No, she was always pushin' me to learn the old native traditions. Fancy dancing, basket weaving, beading; but I was always more drawn to the 'brave warrior' side of our traditions. You wanna know what's funny? She actually isn't a native herself, only by marrying my dad did she become part of the tribe. There's a name for people like her, but I can't remember what it was. Sifs, or serfs, er somethin'," his mood changed suddenly.

"Can't say I took to it too well, I was always more into computers... Technology and- inventions, that sort of thing." He added after seeing her look of confusion. "Doesn't mean I didn't pick up a thing or two. Plus I've always loved roughing it in the woods. That was always my choice of escape whenever things got too stressful." he smiled, before his look and voice turned somber. "I miss her a lot... dad too... and sis." He muttered.

'I don't know what I would do if I never got to see my family ever again.'

"mmm-mmmh," he cleared his throat. "We'd usually make the nock at this point for the string to go in, but I've already got that carved out." He pointed out the groove that was cut on the other end of the shaft.

"So after that the fletching goes on next." He reached over, pulling out a clay bowl full of black feathers. So that's why he saved those feathers from the boar. Interesting, in a disturbing sort of way. I suppose everything really does have its uses. She felt sorry as the memory of her attitude from last night flooded her mind. "I've got these ready to go as well, usually you have to split'em apart, an' dig'em out.

"What's that?" She asked as he pulled out some white strands of something from a leather satchel.

"This is sinew, or tendon from the wings and legs of our boar-friend from last night, who we have to thank for all this. Yeah I know, sorry." He apologized apathetically after seeing the shock on her face.

"W-what do you do with that?" asking shakily, feeling the sickness coming on again. Grateful she didn't eat anything that morning.

"You chew it." He answered simply.

Rarity watched in disgust as he placed a few thin strips into his mouth, and gnawed on the tendon. She looked away, immediately regretting ever asking the question. Her discomfort doubled as Atchmon explained away his reasoning for doing it.

"Yesh it'sh nashty, an' no it doeshn't tashte good, at all, an' no I don't like it. Like at all. But when thish shtuff driesh it's prolly better than the besht super glue for holding the arrowhead in plache." Rarity grimaced as he talked with his mouth full, and couldn't bear to watch as he'd tear a few strands away from his mouth, only to put them back in, his cheek rolling around like a cow chewing on its cud.

'The work just keeps piling up Rarity, perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew... Why did I just think that!?'

"Shpeaking off glue, thish is pine shap," he pulled out a stick with a thick glob of what looked like caramel around it. "this shtuff is even better than the onesh I ushed to ushe back home. Thish kind hash a bit of a shweet shmell to it; funny id'nt it?" he said more to himself. "We can ushe it t' hold the feathersh down flush wit' 'he shaft, an' t' glue the main an' foreshaft t'gether. I have quite a few of thoshe made already, lotsh of time to level up my widdlin' skillsh, heh."

Atchmon pulled out small threads of sinew from his mouth, and carefully wrapped them around the shaft then tied the feathers in place one at a time until all three were secured. He then brought out a spool of thread from Rarity's sewing kit.

"Hope you don't mind; but you have no idea how much easier this stuff makes things."

"Oh... not at all, after everything you've done for me, I'd like to help out in anyway that I can." Rarity finished happily, though feeling a little queasy from watching him work. That was by far her least favorite step of the process.

"I'm just glad I don't have to tear off any more thread from my own clothes," Rarity's heart sank after hearing that, unable to bear the thought of ruining her own clothing just to survive. "but some help would be great. Couldja take this, and stick in the flames for a few seconds, so I don't have to get up?" He handed her the goop covered stick.

"It would be my--gulp--pleasure..." Rarity tried to keep a straight face, imagining what damage such a sticky material could wrought on her mane if it ever got stuck.

She did as he asked; bathing the gunk in the flames, before floating it back to him. He had a huge grin on his face as he plucked it from the air.

'He's really so impressed with such a simple spell, I'm sure any one of Twilight's spells might blow his mind. Doubly so!' Then he gingerly dabbed the glue-sap onto the feathers, carefully setting them in place just so on the length of the shaft.

Rarity looked across at the horizon while he worked, eyeing the few unique landmarks that jutted out over the forest. There were several tall, rocky hills not too far away. A large waterfall in the distance, and nearly directly ahead of them was the tallest tree she had ever seen. It towered above the canopy, with no other tree bothering to challenge its heights.

There were the Matterhorn Mountains to the distant southwest, acting as the border between Equestria, and the Bad Lands. She could barely make out the short peaks of the Macintosh Hills to the south. And to the northwest, Rarity could swear she could see the teeny-tiny mountain spire of Canterlot.

While Rarity took in the scenery, Atchmon put the finishing touches on his arrow, gluing the fore-shaft in place, then wrapping the arrowhead with more sinew.

"There, all finished." He said somberly, twirling the arrow between his digits, giving the fletching one last look over. "Now all we have to do now is wait for it to dry... or decorate it, if we feel like...." He gave her a sad smile, before holding up his new arrow. "Mom would be proud..." He muttered.

"Don't worry Atchmon, I'm sure you'll see her again." She tried to console him, placing a hoof on his thigh. He jumped a little at her contact, before looking at her with a sad smile, and shaking his head.

"No, she passed away a long time ago, before I ended up here." He added after seeing her disheartening look. He petted her shoulder with the back of his palm, she lifted her leg a bit at the contact, before relaxing again. Allowing him to trail his digits down her shoulder a couple of times, before he dragged them all the way to her hoof.

Rarity's heart went out to the poor human, she would be beside herself if anything happened to either her parents. Feeling grateful they were still around, even if they were constantly away from home. She made a mental note to spend a little more time with them.

"How's your leg doin', feeling any better?"

"Wha-? Oh, yes! It feels phenomenally better than yesterday, thank you for asking."

"It's very important to take care of yourself when you're out here." He said distantly. "Don't want to get an infection, or anythin'." he said distantly.

"Atchmon? Would you like to join me for breakfast? I'm starting to feel a little famished." Thinking a meal might improve her melancholy friend's mood.

"You know what? That sounds pretty good, I could use a break. C'mon, I'll even help you get down, didn't think you'd have so much trouble getting up here." He moved to get up, and Rarity shifted to give him some room.

"Well... Alright, thank you for helping me, again, for- with everything." Atchmon didn't say anything, only giving her a half smile as a response.

The pair made their way down the sloping hill with Atchmon leading her.

"Easy, easy, you got this girl." Atchmon encouraged, as he steadied her down the hill, Rarity had shifted her body side ways and was making slow progress with her approach.

"I thought I asked you not to call me gir- AH!" Eventually she lost her 'footing' causing her smooth hooves to slide down the hill farther from her than she would have liked. Forcing her to over correct her balance, nearly falling on her side, which would have caused her to roll violently down the hill.

Luckily Atchmon wasn't too far from her, catching her with his torso, wrapping his arms around her chest and underbelly.

The shock of the short fall made Rarity rear her head suddenly to protect it, and felt something collide against her horn when she did. The pair stood stock still for a few moments, with Rarity feeling Atchmon's firm grip on her.

'Oh my Celestia, did I just-'

"Whew! Ahaha-ha, that could've turned out really bad." Atchmon started calmly; hiding his nervousness, while the tip of Rarity's horn pressed under his jawline. Rarity carefully lifted her head away from him, minding her horn.

"I am so sorry I didn't mean to- I- I just lost my balance, and it all happened so fast I- Oh, dear, are you all right, I didn't hurt you, did I!?" Rarity nearly panicked upon seeing the small nick on his chin, with a single tiny drop of blood leaking out.

"Eh. It's just a scratch. After everything I've been through, I wouldn't put it passed an accident being the thing that gets me, heh. Here, I got you." Atchmon decided it was best to carry her the rest of the way down, Rarity had frozen stiff when he lifted her with ease. Her body locked in place as her instincts compelled her to give up, surrender to the predator, and let him have his meal without a fuss...

Atchmon put her down just before the entrance of the cave. "You go on ahead, I gotta grab somethin' real quick, then I'll join you, m'k?" He told her while pointing his thumb behind him.

"Oh, ah, alright, sorry again for- you know." She tapped her horn with a hoof, and he gave an understanding half smile, before turning away. Rarity worried he was just hiding his real feelings, any other pony would be furious. "Oh, goddesses that was scary." She whispered, placing a hoof over her chest, trying to calm her beating heart, as she watched him disappear around the hill.

Atchmon returned shortly, along with the massive contraption in hand, leaving it leaning against the bed. With the stick flap left open there was enough light flooding into the cave for the pair to see what they were doing. Rarity was sitting in front of the small table with a rainbow-colored apple, and various nuts arranged neatly on a plate. Which was really just another bowl, but with an extremely shallow, almost flat concave. It was the closest resembling a plate that she could find in his collection. I wonder if he even knows about other dinnerware, or maybe his people customarily only use bowls.

"Where did you find this? It's not zap apple season yet, is it?" She asked, pointing a hoof at the fruit.

"Zap apple? That's not what I've been calling them," he muttered, "there's a small group of trees about a mile or so out, that's where I get'em."

"But they shouldn't be, it's not time for them to ripen yet, they need very specific conditions to grow. A friend of mine is an apple farmer, she told me all about it, quite passionately I might add."

"Maybe the conditions for growing are better for them out here, I dunno, that's my best guess." he shrugged. "But what I do know is that they grow instantly after a thunderstorm, and they're the most delicious apples I ever did eat!" he exclaimed, while pulling out one of the leather rolls, which covered some of the fresh jerky from yesterday.

The smell of cooked meat wafted inside the small cavern, the heavy smell teased Rarity's senses.

The pair made themselves comfortable for their breakfast together, Rarity decided to stay seated near the table, while Atchmon laid on the bed, with a chunk of the pork jerky. Rarity felt a bit annoyed he messed up the bed, and didn't bother to notice her efforts, but decided to let it slide.

"So tell me. What's a tiny lil' unicorn like you, doin' all the way out here in a dangerous place like this? Step through any weird trees recently?" He asked, tearing off a piece of meat.

Rarity looked at him confusedly, not understanding what he meant by that, before looking above him at the mural.

"You don't seem the type that likes to go campin' for fun."

"Oh no, I despise camping! All this nature," she squeaked. "Just look at what it's done to my mane." She brushed a hoof through her disheveled hair. She could smell herself, and him inside the small cave. Hoping her odor wasn't too offensive. 'At least he smells kind of nice.'

"So how'd you end up here?" he asked; stripping off a piece of meat.

"Well, it all started just a couple days ago..." she told him about the spell, and how it malfunctioned, as well as her other ordeals that day.

"Good thing I showed up when I did, otherwise you'd 've been dog chow. What are the odds..." he finished thoughtfully.

"Indeed." she agreed.

"Must be fate, then."

"I- suppose so."

"Hmmm, whelp, best thing to do when you're lost is to stay put, until others find you."

Rarity mentally kicked herself for abandoning the place she first appeared.

"Hey, none of that now, sounds ta me like you didn't have much of a choice."

"Yes, but still... I was foolish to think I could find my way out, without knowing exactly where I was first."

"Well I'm glad you did. The company here is infinitely better than it used to be." he said, brushing the back of his hand along where her neck met her shoulder. Then giving her a light, playful push to cheer her up.

She smiled at him, thankful for his attempts to make her feel better.

"So! What's it like bein' a unicorn? I'm dyin' to know!" He shifted so he could face her more directly. His curiosity and excitement picking up the longer he waited for her answer.

"Oh! W-well... what would you like to know?" She asked, caught off guard by the sudden, and unusual change in topic.

"I wanna know... everything! Tell me about your world, and where you're from." He gave her a toothy smile. The sight of his sharp teeth, and wild-looking eyes made her very nervous. He must've caught her discomfort for he relaxed his features, but she was more than happy to sate his curiosity.

Rarity talked for an hour about the Unicorn tribe, and about pony culture and class, as well as some of her most notable adventures. Embellishing a bit here or there, and maybe omitting a few embarrassing details entirely.

Atchmon was completely entranced as she spoke, hanging on her every word. Rarity felt a little embarrassed by all the attention he was giving her, asking very few questions, and listening intently to her every word. Good gracious, I'd say he's even more infatuated with discovery than Twilight! Even when she got a full grown Dragon to agree to an interview. If only more stallions would act this interested, but I suppose it's easier for him. After all, he's never seen anything like me before.

"Wow... so you 'ponies' live in towns and cities too? That's so cool!" he said breathily. "And you live in a castle made completely out of crystals in the likeness of a tree!? That sounds freak'n awesome; like somethin' straight out of a fantasy novel!" He beamed in amazement. "An' not just that, but a whole Empire too, Ohh, I wanna see that!" He sighed dreamily, as he flipped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling with a big smile on his face.

Rarity had to lie about the castle when he questioned why a 'princess' decided to lived in a boutique. "You'd think so about the castle, but a lot of others don't share the same opinion." Rarity said, shrugging her shoulders. "But you could see the Crystal Empire if you wanted to. IF you changed your mind about helping me. I'd be more than happy to arrange accommodations for you, upon my safe return."

Atchmon frowned, and was silent for a few moments before answering. "I can't..."

"If you could change your decision about helping me, I'm sure I can find some way compensate you for your assistance." She said gently.

"It's not about any kind of reward Princess, I simply can't help you. Just go outside and look around, everything you see out there is all that I know." he gestured halfheartedly around. "I couldn't get you back even if I wanted to. Not t' mention the fact the monsters get worse the further out you go." He muttered.

I guess my decision is made for me, I'll just have to stay put. My friends can't rescue me if I get myself swallowed whole by some monster.

They stayed inside the cave for the moment, enjoying the coolness it provided against the rising heat from outside, as well as the company they gave to each other. Rarity rubbed her hooves together, trying to think of anything to break the silence. She looked down at them, feeling grateful once again they were back to normal when a thought occurred to her.

"How did you know?" she asked him.

"Believe me princess, I've tried going as far out as I could. You aren't the only one here who's wanted to find a way out." he said, looking at her. "Stupid thinking I could find an end to this forest." he muttered.

"Sorry, that's not what I meant, I mean, how did you know about the cockatrice? How did you know that- you know, how that would have cured me?"

"Ah, hmmm," he thought for a moment, "I don't suppose you'd know anything about Ozzy Osborne do you?"

She shook her head in confusion.

"Mmm, then you're better off not knowin'. Trust me."

She looked at him still confused, and was about to ask the question, before he looked at her, and slowly bit down on the meat jerky, then quickly tore off an especially large chunk with his sharp teeth. Chewing at her for emphasis.

She widened her eyes, her own breakfast suddenly looked quite interesting, making a habit of not looking at him again. But the mental image was there, and she didn't feel like finishing the rest of her meal.

Rarity's eyes wandered around the cavern, looking for something else to converse about, before landing on the strange contraption he carried around so fondly.

"Could you tell me about your weapon? It's quite fascinating, I've never seen anything like it." She stared in awe at the complicated system of pulleys in Atchmon's bow, which rested against the post at the foot of the bed. "Did you make that as well, surely not, it's looks awfully complex."

"What? Oh, you mean my bow?"

"That's not like any bow I've ever seen before. It looks so alien, so advanced..." she looked at him cautiously, looking for any reaction. Nothing? Really!? hmmm....

"Nah, there's no way I could make anythin' like that. Maybe I could carve a simple one out of a tree around here, but you can only get somethin' like that back home." He reached over, holding it up for her to see, while pointing out the different parts, and explaining them as he went. "This is a carbon fiber reinforced aluminum alloy bow, with ninety pound cams."

"It can shoot an arrow at around three hundred and eighty feet per second, and it's my most valuable possession. This costs more than all my things put together. Well, maybe not so much now, but back then this was the best bow you could get." He finished, proudly presenting his possession.

"What did you do for a living that allowed you to purchase an item of such value?"

"What? Nah, I didn't buy it. I could never afford somethin' like this, I traded for it." He held it higher, beaming with pride as he gave it a quick look over.

"Traded? What did you trade for it?"

"My prize winning buck."

"Oh, you raised deer? A friend of mine likes to keep a few of those around."

"Raised? I hunted it down, Rarity. It's kinda my thing if you hadn't noticed."

"You mean you traded the--gulp--corpse of an animal you killed f-for that?" She finished pointing a hoof at the bow.

"Yeah, and there's actually a decent story behind it, if you wanna hear it. I'll even leave out the, um, unpleasant details, if you want." Atchmon offered.

"Well... alright." 'I might as well hear it, there's really nothing else to do around here.'

"Okay, so it was nearly the end of hunting season, I'd just tagged me a trophy that was sure to be a winner at the annual competition. This buck was glorious! It had twenty-four points on'em." He held his digits above his head, doing a poor impression of the creature he killed.

"I'm guessing a deer with larger, pointier horns is considered to be more desirable? I can certainly see that, we unicorns can be a little bit jealous of the multi-horned creatures of the world. I'm guilty of that as well. The only comfort comes from the fact that we can do magic, unlike most of the others."

"Yeah, the bigger, the better."

"Wait, would you have taken my horn!?" Rarity held her hooves up to protect it, looking at him with fearful, worrisome eyes.

"Rarity..." Atchmon sighed. "Come on, what's it gonna take for me to show that I'm not a threat to you?" he asked sympathetically.

Rarity gave him a sheepishly apologetic smile, and beckoned him to continue his tale.

"Anyway, this city-boy comes up offering to buy it from me, and I told him no. We got into an argument, and eventually he offered up this bow, and I wanted it. Bad. So I agreed, and he won first prize with my buck. Though later he wanted to trade it back, and I told him no, again. Well he wasn't too happy about that, apparently he wasn't used to not getting what he wants. So he swung at me, and we scuffled around a bit, until you wouldn't believe who showed up to break up the fight!" He paused grinning at her. Rarity hated to admit being enamored by his tale.

"Who was it? Who stopped the fight?"

"The city boy's daddy! So it turns out this kid begged his old man to buy him this bow, which costs thousands, I remind you. So he could give bow hunting a shot. Even though he knew next to nothin' about it, guy was barely in the woods a day, before he called it quits, didn't even bother getting up early, and I only know this because a buddy of mine who works as a park guide was hired by him. Anyway, the kid told him that he promised his daddy if he could win first prize, then he would get a year off from school. But if he came home with nothin', then he'll have to get a job, and the dad can take away his trust fund, which is some sort of monthly allowance for rich kids as far as I know. The guy even offered my friend extra pay to help him find a winning buck. He tried, but didn't get one close to as good as mine."

"Obviously you didn't part with it lightly, what happened next?"

"Not much, the dad broke up the fight, and asked me to explain what was going on, he got really pissed at his kid. Told him to wait in the car, and apologized to me. Even offering to pay for my pain and suffering, but I was a proud idiot, and refused the money, and we've been together ever since!" He finished, hugging his most prized possession. Rarity stifled a giggle at his silliness.

"You must have been very proficient with a bow, from what I've seen anyway."

"Oh, no, actually I wasn't all that great with it, at first. I just got lucky that buck was in the right place, at the right time. No, this," He held it higher. "started off as a hobby, then grew into a necessity..." He trailed off a bit. "I was stupid thinkin' I had everything I needed." He muttered to himself.

"So, Atchmon? Why do you keep a... ehh, dragon's skull in your home?" She dreaded to hear his answer. You'd think a trophy like that would merit a mural in his home, but I don't see a story about it anywhere.

"Oh, that? I found that almost a year after I settled here. Pretty cool huh!? Kept it as a good luck charm, and to remind myself of what's waiting out there... how it's no joke... I talk to it sometimes, keeps me sane... Sort of." He tailed off, looking a little ashamed.

"I- see... so does your, um, skull friend have a name?" She asked nervously.

"Mahoney." He said simply. "So it really is a dragon, I thought so too when I found it, and not a few days later I see a ton of 'em flying across the horizon..." He looked at her, then promptly looked away again. "I know how that sounds, you must think I'm crazy."

She placed a hoof on his arm. I shouldn't judge him. I was barely in the forest a day, before I was so desperate for company, I started talking to the first thing that crossed my path. She gave him a smile, letting him know it didn't bother her, and he gave a thankful one back. Both were quickly becoming more in sync with their expressions.

The two friends snacked in silence a few minutes longer, Rarity would look away whenever Atchmon would tear off another piece of jerky with his sharp teeth!

"Sooo... you eat... meat?" Rarity squeaked. Atchmon stopped in mid-chew, looking at her like a foal who got caught with their horn in the cookie jar! He glanced at the slab of cooked meat in his hands then back at her.

"Uhh... Yeah? I-I can finish this outside if it bothers you too much." He offered, though not in a hurry to move from his spot on the bed.

"No, don't bother yourself on my account, it's quite alright, I've just never been so close to a carnivore before." She said while taking a more submissive posture, taking a page from Fluttershy's book, while slightly hiding behind her mane. Thinking it would show she didn't mean anything rude by it.

"Well if it makes you feel any better, I'm actually an omnivore. So I can eat all kinds of things."

Rarity wasn't sure if that did make her feel better, or not. I guess it's a good thing he has such a wide variety of options.

"I should thank you for this though, normally I'd have to sit all day in a tree for hours to get something as good as this!" He exclaimed, holding up the pork jerky. "Your my new good luck charm, hehe! I haven't been this loaded with food in months. Not everyday you get to thank an animal for your food. Hehe- erk!" Rarity looked at him suddenly, with a hurt expression. "N-not that I think you're an animal, because you're totally not, an animal, I mean!" He finished hurriedly, trying and failing to make up for his mistake. "I'm sorry Rarity, this is all - so- weird to me." He said gesturing between the two of them.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little offended, hmph!" Rarity turned away with an angry pout, before looking at him again. "Why is it so weird to you, are there no ponies where you're from?" She asked while pursing her lips, yet curious to hear is answer.

"Well... There are, but!" He exclaimed, after seeing the angry look on her face. "They really are just animals. They don't talk, they don't think, they just eat, shit, and make little horses. That's it. That's all they do, aside from what we can train them for, labor mostly." He finished, visibly shrinking away from her.

Her friend was from a place, and part of a species who enslaves her kind, and doesn't even bother to teach them basic manners. Though he could have been referring to the horses, many scientists and thaumatologists believed we evolved from. We did share so many common traits.

"Please believe me Rares, there's nothin' like you, or me where I'm from." He emphasized.

"So you really were going to enslave me, and make me work your fields." She muttered.

"No! I-I wouldn't do that now! I would never-" He paused looking away from her worriedly, eyes darting back a forth, trying to think of what to say "J-just imagine your kind is the only ones who can talk. How would it make you feel if your cat, or dog, or whatever suddenly started speaking to you?"

"I guess, maybe, I can understand where you're coming from, but do forgive me for feeling a bit uneasy around you." She said, looking miffed. 'I can't believe it. He called me an animal, then compared me to a cat. The nerve!' "And that's another thing. Must you be so profane? You are in the presence of a lady, and I'd very much appreciate it if you would clean up your language around me. Please." She added firmly.

"Yeah, you're right. 'M sorry Rarity. I- bein' out here so long I've sort of lost my filter." He smiled sheepishly, knocking his fist on his head. "I'll try to do better, I wasn't always like that before, honest." He sounded just like Applejack...

She sighed, "Its okay Atchmon. But if you'd like, there's much I can teach you about proper manners and etiquette, if you'd be willing to learn."

"Huh? Oh! Sure, yeah, you bet. There's really not much to do out here. So really anything that can break up the monotony of everyday would be a good change."

Excelent, perhaps when we're rescued, he'll go back to his homeland and teach others as well. 'Rarity the Everfree Revolutionary'! Noo, that sounds too silly.

"Hey, I'm gonna check on my traps in the garden real quick, I'll be right back."

"Alright Atchmon, oh, wait. What should I do with my plate when I'm finished with it?"

"Here, give it to me, I'll take care of it."

Rarity levitated the ceramic to him, and he gingerly let it rest in his palms.

"Hah, I don't wanna ever get used to that." He said with a big grin, before leaving.

He returned a few minutes later with a cage made of sticks and twine. Inside was a furry little animal hopping around, trying to squeeze through the gaps in the bars. Rarity took a closer look, the animal had light brown fur, with a white bottom on his fluffy tail, and also had tiny little wings, which fluttered when it'd hop from one end of the cage to the other. And it had tiny antlers on its head.

"Gasp! Monty, is that you!?" The little wolpertinger shifted around to look at her, wiggling his little nose, before rising up on his hind legs, trying to poke it's tiny head through the bars of his cage towards her. Rarity jumped up, ignoring her sore muscles, to welcome her little animal friend.

"It is you; are you okay? Did you get hurt? Were you as frightened by those wolves as I was and- hey!? Wait a minute, you abandoned me! Why you selfish, incompetent, little beast. I thought we were friends, I- wait... What are you doing in that cage?" She looked at Atchmon. "Why is he in a cage!?"

"He got caught in the trap I set in the garden, keeps lil' shi-eh guys like this from eating all my food." He said holding up the container a little higher, getting a look at the critter himself.

"What are you going to do with him?" She asked in concern.

"Well I was planning on eating it later... Why?" He replied nonchalantly.

Rarity's jaw dropped to the floor, "But he's just a poor, innocent, little creature!" Not believing he said he was going to EAT Monty. "Is there anything you don't eat!?"

"Unicorn, but that could change." He muttered between his teeth while looking away.

"What? What did you say?" Rarity asked while narrowing her eyes suspiciously; almost daring him to say that out loud, though she didn't actually hear what he said.

"I said it's just an animal Rarity." he lied.

"He's not an animal, you are; and his name is Monty. Now, I demand that you release him at once," she ordered with a wave of her hoof. "What did he ever do to you?" she frowned at him, looking quite cross.

I could do it, nopony would ever know... Great, she's already got me thinking in her weird pony words.

Atchmon looked at Monty inside the cage. "Guess it's your lucky day little fella." He set the cage down and opened the door. Leaving it on the cave floor, then retook his spot on the bed.

Monty cautiously poked his head out of cage before hopping out, and carefully scouted the area, keeping at least one side of himself against a wall at all times. Before he was comfortable enough to travel to the center of the room, where rarity laid out a few berries for him. Which he happily munched on, while she poured a little water in a spare bowl for him next to his food.

"Thank you Atchmon, I promise you won't regret this."

"Yeah, welp, he's your pet now, so yer the one that's gotta clean up after 'em."

"Don't worry, I've kept pets like this before, you won't even know he's there."

"You're right Rarity, he's gone already, and it looks like he left a few 'thank you' gifts behind, just for you. Hahaha!" He laughed, and slapped his knee.

She looked down finding the 'presents' left by her fuzzy little friend.

"Doooh! Monty!"

After cleaning up Monty's mess, Rarity realized she needed to relieve herself as well.

"Atchmon? I-I need to use the- where do you go to- you know? The bathroom?" She whispered, her cheeks blushing in embarrassment.

"Number one, or number two?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"One, or two? Do you need to pee, or... you know, the other thing?"

"Oh, uh, the first one?"

"Go as far out to the tree line as you feel comfortable, and for future reference, if you gotta do the other thing. There's a hole near the garden you can go in, should make for decent fertilizer." He mumbled at the end.

Rarity understood what it takes to grow good crops. But like many others, she wanted to pretend like she didn't know were much of the ponies waste ended up. Much of Ponyville's went to the nearby farms for their fertilizer. Applejack's family was paramount in setting that system of 'waste not, want not'.

She was about to leave to do her business, before the memory of the recent animal attacks in the last few days flooded her mind.

"Atchmon? Are you sure it's safe for me to go out there? Alone?" She lifted a hoof up to her muzzle, looking worried, thinking she would be whisked away by some monster, if she strayed too far from her guardian.

Atchmon laid there thinking for a moment, before answering. "You do draw a lot of trouble... Actually I need to go too. C'mon we can watch each others butts." he paused realizing how that sounded, before quickly trying to correct his mistake. "I mean I wouldn't actually be watching your butt, because that'd just be weird and, uh, ahehehee..." He turned away from her looking embarrassed.

"It's okay Atchmon, I think I understand what it is you're trying to say, and I would feel much safer if you did 'watch my back'." she smiled, and he gave a sheepish one back.

Atchmon had lead Rarity to the farthest side of the meadow, she was having a little trouble going, as he watched her while she walked in little circles, trying to work herself up to do the deed.

"Don't look; you said you wouldn't look!" Rarity called him out.

Atchmon quickly acted like the clouds were quite interesting. "I'm not!"

"I can't go if you're looking at me."

"Fine, I'll go over here then." he said, deciding to lean against a tree to do his own business.

How strange, he doesn't have to squat, or spread his legs, or anything... Nice, real nice, Rarity. You complained so much about him looking at you, and now here you are observing him as he does what every other stallion does. Honestly, we need to rein in our social 'boo-boos' before this gets out of hoof!

The feeling of needing to go suddenly hit her, and she quickly trotted off behind a nearby bush. Atchmon waited patiently for her to finish her business.

"Atchmon..." She whined.

"Not looking, I promise." he replied nonchalantly.

"That's not it, what do you do for toilet paper around here."

"Toilet paper? What's that?" he teased, and she groaned in frustration. "I'm just kiddin', hold on I've got you covered." he pulled off a few leaves from the tree above him. Then without thinking, handed them over to the squatting mare as she looked up to him.

"You promised you wouldn't look!"

"Relax, we're the only ones out here."

"True, but I'd still like a little privacy. You at least know what that is don't you!?"

"Sheesh, say no more princess." he left her to finish her business alone, but not too far, just in case another animal got any bright ideas about disturbing her.

The pair returned shortly, Atchmon reclaiming his spot on the bed again, with Rarity standing near the foot of it. She stared at the empty spot for a moment, before looking at Atchmon who was watching her with a bemused expression. He moved his legs, allowing her more room to lay comfortably with him.

"You wiped your feet off didn't you?" he teased. Though she immediately stopped to check them over, before looking at his amused face, and shooting him a look, which just made him laugh.

She hopped up on the bed, turned around and laid with her fore hooves dangling slightly off the bed.

Rarity shuffled through her saddlebags, and pulled out her mirror. Her mane looked a little ragged, but nothing so bad a good brushing wouldn't fix. Her makeup was gone, revealing every flaw on her plain white face that it used to hide. Without her baby-blue eyeliner, she looked tired despite all the sleep she caught up on last night. Atchmon was one of the lucky few to see her 'Au Natural'. Rarity put down the mirror, and brushed herself without it. Not that she ever needed it, her movements automatic from the countless times she'd brushed herself before.

"Hey? Can I borrow that for a minute?" Atchmon asked, pointing at the mirror.

"Sure?" She levitated it over to him, and he gingerly accepted it with both hands, afraid of what might happen if he disturbed the aura surrounding it.

Atchmon took a breath, then slowly held up the mirror up to his face, and froze. He slowly brought his hand to his face, and poked and pulled at his skin.

"I look... old... older..." He muttered somberly, before sighing and letting the mirror hang limply in his grip.

"Atchmon? Darling, are you alright?" she asked in concern. I thought only I could look that distraught on a bad mane day.

"I don't know." He muttered. Rarity's mind raced to find away to cheer him up.

"If it's any consolation, you don't look old to me. What is your age, if I might ask?" She tried to give in a comforting smile, but he never looked at her.

Atchmon didn't answer for a few moments, before shaking his head, just realizing she had asked him a question. He looked towards the ceiling, keeping his eyes there while he spoke.

"I was twent- no I had a birthday coming up soon, so I'm twenty-seven now, and by the time this winter hits I'll be... twenty-eight years old..." He deflated upon hearing his own words, the color and any remaining joy drained out of him.

'Dear Luna... I thought only Pinkie Pie could pull off something like that, the poor dear looks so devastated!'

"Well that's good, we're almost the same age. H-how many years do humans live for?" she asked giving him a strained smile in order to cheer him up.

He thought for a moment before answering. "Usually about eighty if we're lucky, a hundred if we're really lucky." he sighed, "God help me if I live that long in this- effing place." he muttered.

That was impressive to Rarity. Unicorns lived an average of seventy, with Pegasi and Earth Ponies barely making it passed their fifties or sixties. It was always assumed that the more 'athletically inclined' pony tribes were shorter lived because of the physical toll their livelihoods strained their bodies. Whereas with Unicorns, they were more susceptible to diseases of the heart or brain because of their lack of physicality and excessive reliance on magic.

'Such long lived creatures... Think, Rarity, think! What would make you feel better in this situation?'

"Would you like a makeover? I'm sure I can work my magic and make you fabulous, darling! Won't that be fun?"

"Feh." Atchmon barely managed a chuckle, instead giving her a sad smile, and shaking his head.

That almost got a laugh out of him, I should've known stallions don't care for 'fru-fru' stuff. Let's see, what do stallions care about...? I've got it!

"I don't know about you but I getting tired of being cooped up in this dreadful cave, so, is there anything to do that's fun around here? Do you have any games we could play?" she asked while batting her eyelashes, trying to work her charm that she was infamous for.

Atchmon blinked a few times before answering. "Well... there is one game I've really missed playing, what all can you do with that magic of yours?" His mood starting to pick up.

Rarity slowly smiled in curiosity for what he had in mind.

"Alright! We got a ghost runner on first and third, you ready for the pitch?" Atchmon called out to her, holding the roundest rock he'd ever found during his time there.

"I was born ready, bring it on!" She exclaimed, lifting a fairly large stick that had been carved and sanded into the closest likeness of a baseball bat.

Atchmon had explained some of the rules about the sport, and adjusted them accordingly to fit her needs, and because of her handicap. They agreed that anytime either of them got a hit, it would count as a base, while the rest of the rules remained mostly unchanged. Balls were still called as such, as were strikes, and fouls. Rarity's 'home' plate was a large, flat rock Atchmon pulled from the fire pit. Which acted as one of the boundary's, while the garden acted as the other.

Rarity was never all that into sports, nor the 'garden party games' played among Canterlot's elites, but this game felt like it was tailored just for her. Its slow yet fast pacing, and turn-based styling, allowed her to enjoy every minute of it.

Thwack! And she oh, so loved the satisfying 'crack' of the bat.

"Nice hit." Atchmon complimented while watching the 'ball' fly towards the treeline.

Atchmon tried underhand pitching at first, before switching to a high arching overhand pitch. Allowing him to throw the 'baseball' exactly where he wanted it to go, while also being easy enough for Rarity to hit. Monty was being a good little helper, chasing after the rock, and scooping it up in his antlers, then bringing it back to whomever was pitching. Rarity made the suggestion to give him some food whenever he did, and the little critter was more than happy to offer his assistance. Atchmon took it in stride, never questioning the tiny critters motives, having seen similar intellect in other creatures.

"Oh, ho, ho, this is so much fun! I think I'm getting the hang of it."

"Hey, I gotta take a quick water break; I'll be right back."

"Alright Atchmon, I'll be right here, bring me some too, please." 'What a wonderful little game. Simple, yet so much fun!'

The two laughed and played, switching positions occasionally, though never keeping score, until the heat of the sun forced them to take a break. Atchmon suggested they spend the rest of the afternoon near the falls, saying they could cool off there and get clean while they're at it. Rarity agreed of course, wanting to wash the sweat from her coat.

Rarity was less afraid of the water this time as she happily trotted through the shallow pool, unhindered, aside from her leg, and confident she wasn't going to drown. Even if she was in any trouble, Atchmon was never too far away. Rarity magicked up globs of water, pelting him with them like magical water balloons. While he'd splash water on her using his hands.

After they had their fill of fun, the pair bathed under the falls, Rarity would occasionally catch Atchmon staring at her, which he'd promptly turn away, showing his back to her.

"Atchmon? What does your cutie mark mean?"

He looked at her with wide eyes "I'm sorry, my whut?"

"Your cutie mark, you know?" She asked pointing a hoof at her flank. "The one on your back, I wouldn't be surprised if you forgot about it. How can you ever see it when it's back there."

"You mean my tattoo? I got that after my eighteenth birthday. It was a present to myself after... well it was a present."

"Tatoo?" She blinked in thought. "Oh, I've heard of those, I've even thought about getting one. Some look really pretty."

"Really? You guys got a magic needle that changes your fur different colors, or something?" he asked, suspiciously.

"Wha? What are you talking about? A needle? There's not anything like that involved that I'm aware of. Don't you just dye your skin to look like that?" she pointed a hoof at his back.

"Uh, hehe, no Rares. To get one like this you... Have you ever had a shot before?" he gestured, pretending to push the plunger down on an imaginary shot into his arm.

She nodded her head, starting to realize where he was going with this.

"Well imagine that, but a thousand times over, really, really fast. With ink being jabbed directly into your skin."

"Doesn't that hurt?" she asked, horrified by the brutish process.

"Not really, after awhile you get used to it."

It wasn't too surprising to hear about, there were several races throughout Equestria that didn't have marks of their own. Hide dying was becoming more popular, lots of ponies liked having intricate symbols, and works of art painted into their fur. It was just a shame it wasn't permanent. Unlike 'branding' which was practiced among the Minotaurs, and Cattle races. Usually only those that belonged to a large clan received a brand, however, it was considered a poor emulation of the Pony race's naturally occurring custom. The Griffins and some of the younger ponies were picking it up as well, despite knowing that it actually was permanent.

"What's a- what'd you say? Cutie mark? What's that?"

Rarity explained what it was, what it meant, and how ponies go about acquiring their marks.


"Atchmon, language!" Rarity chastised him.

"Sorry, I mean, I don't believe it. You mean to tell me this thing" he pointed at her flank. "just appears outta nowhere, just like that?"

"You're always so impressed by my magic, how is this any different." She levitated another glob of water, before letting it splash on his face when he looked up to it.

Atchmon spurted out a stream of water from his mouth towards her, looking unamused. "Well... you got a point there. Magic is, as magic does, I suppose." he said.

Rarity waited a few minutes to see if he would say anything else about his tattoo. When it seemed like that was it, she left the falls and dried herself off. That's alright, not every pony is proud of their marks.

"Atchmon? Is it alright if we head back now? All this fun has made me hungry again." Rarity asked, while wringing out the last bit moisture from her mane with her magic.

"Yeah, sure let's- err-wait, there's something I need to check on first, since we're all the way out here, is that okay with you? I promise it won't take long." he pleaded.

"Well... alright, if it's not going to take very long; just lead the way." Rarity said standing straight as a soldier.

The pair walked a few minutes without saying much, Rarity was beside herself trying to think of what to say to break the uncomfortable silence. Atchmon would look back occasionally to see how she was doing, both smiled shyly whenever they made eye contact.

"Hold up." Atchmon said sticking out his arm, blocking her. "You see this here?" He pointed to the tree next to him, with one of the arrow carvings she found on her first night.

"Oh, yes. If it wasn't for those I might not be here now." Rarity nodded her head at the familiar carving.

"Really? Well you're lucky you didn't end up in one, I make them pretty strong for the bigger stuff out here. Don't want a jackrabbit mess'n up all my hard work, you know?" He grinned at Monty. "Anyway, if you see one of these you're at least thirty feet from the trap itself."

"And you mark the trees near a trap with a circle, correct?" Rarity answering proudly, knowing she was right. He smiled looking pleased at her answer.

"Yup, that's right. I have pits like the one last night spread all around the area, they're more for protection than actually catching food. If I'm out here, and there's a monster I don't think I can handle. I just lead it to a trap, and the rest takes care of itself." He grinned, looking proud of his cleverness.

Rarity knew the Everfree was a brutal place. The law of the jungle is eat or be eaten, but to meet somepony who lives out here following that law to the letter, and be happy about it... Then again if it wasn't for him, and his ways, she would be dead several times over right now.

That does it, I need him to protect me until my friends rescue us. Only temporarily of course, I'm not going to be some layabout while he does all the work. Though I'm still not sure what I can offer him, whatever it may be. Perhaps I can find someway to improve that drab cave of his.

The pair continued walking, soon enough Atchmon pointed out a tree with the circle emblem carved upon it. Then pointed at the ground where the trap actually was. Rarity was amazed at how well hidden it was, it took Atchmon lifting the hatch of limbs and leaves for her to finally see it.

Another minute quickly passed by, Atchmon stopped with a heavy sigh. Rarity looked around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary within the thick woods, until she followed his gaze. She looked over to a pair of trees whose enormous trunks formed a near perfect circle, if not for the ground. Their trunks met in the middle then corkscrewed strait up! The two trees were so tall they easily pierced through the canopy with another three hundred yards to spare 'That's the tree I'd seen from atop the cave. No, not just 'a' tree, but two trees!'

"What is this?" Rarity breathed in amazement of the strange natural growth.

"It's the way back home." he said somberly. Rarity was confused, and carefully thought his words over, until an image of the portal to the Breezies home came to her mind. "At least you're on the same world you came from..."

"It's a portal, isn't it? You really didn't come from someplace in Equestria, you came from a whole other world, didn't you?" she breathed in awe, looking back at him.

"You know what this is!? Can you open it!?" Atchmon whirled on her, kneeling down and grabbing her by the shoulders. He looked in her eyes as his own grew hopeful. His outburst had scared her, and his firm grasp even more so.

"I- I'm sorry, but I have never seen, nor heard of a portal like this before. I've only seen one that occurs naturally, but i-it's nothing like this," she said waving a hoof towards the tree. "Opening one takes a tremendous amount of magic, and... I'm sorry, but I don't have that kind of power." Rarity felt horrible after seeing the disheartening look on his face. He released her from his grip, and kneeled down looking utterly defeated.

"But I do know a pony who can help!" she said quickly, trying to make him feel better. It worked, he looked at her again, filling with hope as he hung on her every word. "My best friend, Twilight Sparkle, is the best there is when it comes to magic. I bet she can tell you everything there is to know about your portal problem. Not only that, I bet she can even find a way to open it for you too. Best of all, she and all my friends are looking for me, and once they rescue me, they can see about helping you too! Wouldn't that be nice?" Rarity finished excitedly to lift her friend's spirits.

"You really think she'd do that for me?" he asked, his smile growing wider by the second.

"Of course. Any friend of mine, is a friend of Twilight's, and Twilight helps all her friends." She finished with a big smile, which made him smile too.

Atchmon was beaming with restored hope. He sniffed; covering a hand over his mouth as his eyes started to shimmer with tears while he gazed back at the archway.

"Atchmon? Are you alright, I didn't mean to upset you I-"

"No! No, I'm not upset, I'm happy. Which is a big deal for me, I haven't felt like this in... I don't even know how long." He breathed, shaking his head. "This is it, this is finally it." he whispered, rising up and nodding his head towards the tree portal with determination in his eyes.

Atchmon looked down at her, and smiled a truly happy smile for a moment, before frowning with a worried look on his face. Looking once more to the portal for a moment then back to her. Rarity watched him, unsure of what to make of the exchange, or his sudden change in mood. He gave her a sad smile as he looked down at her.

"C'mon, let's head back, I bet yer as hungry as I am."



At that moment both their tummies let out a loud growl of confirmation.

Rarity and Atchmon both looked at each other with wide eyes, simultaneously looking at their stomachs, before looking back at each other again. They started to chuckle before it turned into a full belly laugh. Each hearing the other's amusement made the other laugh even harder.

"Mmmhmm ehhaha Ahahahaha...!" Rarity tried to stifle her giggles with a hoof, as she nickered.

"Pffftehehaha AhAHha haHAHAHA...!" Atchmon made no attempt to hide his, grasping his sides as they started to split.

The pair had returned to their home and were sitting near the fire pit, letting the heat from the flames further dry themselves off, and allowing the smoke to do it's work driving off the pestilent insects. Atchmon was roasting some potatoes and onions on a shish kebab for himself over the fire, and Rarity had cucumbers with carrots on hers.

Rarity had decided to watch Atchmon pick the ripe vegetables from his garden, not too eager to get her hooves dirty just yet. Applejack would have been impressed by the compact, yet productive little garden. Where he grew a medley of different fruits and vegetables. There were potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, watermelons, strawberries, pumpkins, and some bean plants. Nothing grew particularly large, as Atchmon had explained, but at least it grew fast. Which he stated he favored that, over having an unnecessarily huge meal.

He believed the soil must've been especially fertile, and considered himself lucky everything grew so easily. He explained that he was no farmer despite growing up surrounded by farmland.

"I pretty much just plant'em, feed'em, and water'em, and they do the rest." He said, when she asked how difficult it was to keep.

Rarity was busy thinking over everything she had learned about Atchmon that day, while she rotated her dinner with her magic. Almost burning her food just enough to give it that interesting 'grilled' flavor she used to enjoy her father making for the Summer Sun celebration. She watched Atchmon enjoying more of his jerky, who was sitting cross legged on the grass, looking as though all was right with the world, while she sat next to him.

"How do you do it Atchmon, live out here for so long with nopony to talk to? I couldn't even make it a day on my own." she asked pensively.

"What's up with you all of a sudden?" He said, surprised by her melancholy tone.

"...I don't know, I suppose I'm just curious about you."

"hmph... I just got used to it I guess. Helped I was kind of a loner even back home. Used to think it was a 'mark of pride' not to have others around, to do everything by yer'self, without no one else's help. Looking back on it now though... god I was stupid." He whispered.

"Atchmon?" She asked, getting his attention. "I just- I want you to know how terrible I feel for what I said to you yesterday." She leaned over towards him, wishing she had sat closer next to him.

"Well, I'd say you're only human, but I guess that wouldn't really apply to you, huh? Heh." He lightly shook his head, blowing on a small potato before taking a careful bite.

"I may be just a pony, but that doesn't excuse my behavior." She understood what he meant, and could appreciate his humor, strange as it was.

"You weren't that bad, you had every right to be angry." Atchmon said as he watched her with a calm expression.

"You don't understand, I wasn't just angry, and unpleasant. No, I was being downright mmm-mean and nasty!" she spat the words out, almost too painful for her to admit, but it was true, and still felt she needed to make up for it.

"A pony should never be like that, much less an Element bearer, or a Princess." She added, taking a moment to gauge his reaction, and seeing his ears staying plastered against his head. 'Does nothing ever bother him?' She cleared her throat and continued. "In fact, of all the worst things a pony could say, that was by far the worst possible thing a pony could ever say to anypony!" Rarity dismayed as she flourished her words, while dramatically holding a hoof up to her forehead, as if she were about to faint.

"Whoa, hey, easy." Atchmon tried to calm the drama queen, placing a hand on her withers. "Don't worry about that, it's okay, I mean sure words hurt, but it's not like they're a- a weapon of mass destruction, or anything. So, you know, water under the bridge, and all that." He gave her a reassuring half-smile, before returning his attention to cooking the kebab in his other hand.

"I should've been more understanding of your situation. Exile is the worst punishment a pony could ever face and-"

Atchmon looked at her curiously. "And... what?" he asked, wondering what made her stop so suddenly.

Rarity looked at him warily. "You weren't punished by being sent here, weren't you? A-are you a dangerous criminal, o-or something!?" she pointed her kebab at him accusingly, quickly shifting away from him.

Atchmon face dropped after hearing such an accusation. "Are you kiddin' me!? No! I've never done a bad thing in my life!"

"How can I be sure, huh!? How do I know you really are telling me the truth! That you are, what you say you are?" Rarity questioned never lowering her kebab defense or her suspicions.

"Well what about you!? How do I know you aren't going to kill me while I sleep, hell, maybe I'm just going crazy again. For all I know, you're just another figment of my imagination." Atchmon waved an arm as if to wipe the unicorn apparition away.

"What!? T-that's ridiculous!"

"Yeah!? Well... now you know how I feel," he finished with an annoyed huff, and turned away from her while shaking his head; unable to believe the things he was hearing.

After a few moments Rarity sat back down, feeling ashamed. "I'm sorry." she said simply. "I'm just... scared, I've been in a few situations like this before, but it doesn't make it any easier. You scare me sometimes Atchmon. When you had me tied up... I was so afraid."

Atchmons only response was to take an angry bite out of a hot potato from his kebab. Then immediately regretted it as he worked to cool it off within his mouth, before giving up and spitting out the steaming vegetable. Then took a quick swig of water to cool his burning tongue.

Rarity tried her best not to laugh. After what she said it wouldn't be right to make fun of him.

"I get it, alright, I'm sorry I tied you up; but I did it because you scare me sometimes too," he shot an angry look at her, before looking away at the fire again.

Rarity shook her head in disbelief, and looked away in shock after hearing that. 'I scare him, what- why- b-but he's so big! Why would he be afraid of me? What does he have to fear? After taking on all those dangerous animals, you would think he wasn't afraid of anything. she thought, and told him as much.

"I know I'm big and scary, even by human standards..." he sighed. "Hell, even my own family was afraid of me when I grew up... so was everyone else. I guess everyone fears what they don't understand, huh?" he asked with a ghost of a smile, before it disappeared.

Rarity thought his words over, and decided to give him a chance to explain himself. "So, how did you end up here? I mean, I know how portals work, but how did you end up through that one?" she asked, pointing a hoof in the direction of the Arc Tree.

"It's not a very exciting story; nothin' like yours." he said somberly, then blew on an onion to cool it off.

"I'd still like to hear it, if you want to tell me, that is. I did tell you mine after all..."

Atchmon was silent a while before answering. "I was goin' through some stuff, and I just wanted to get away for a little while. So I packed up enough supplies to camp out for a few days. I figured I'd rough it in the woods, like I always did when things got tough. Helps to clear my head, you know? I dunno why, but I decided to take a whole new route that lead into the 'restricted' zone of the wilderness. I think I just wanted to be sure no one was going to find me, I didn't even bother telling anyone I was going. I thought- I thought that no one would've cared if I was gone, there wasn't really anyone left who would've anyway...

"There was a few myths, and local legends about the place. People would disappear, most would be found dead, all chewed up in 'mysterious' animal attacks. Heh. No one would've ever guessed the animals were coming from a completely different world," he gestured around at the forest.

"The first day was pretty uneventful, so was the second, until I saw one of these little guys," he offered Monty the potato that burned him, which had finally cooled. After a quick bite Monty rejected it by tossing it away, before raising up towards Rarity's floating kebab of carrots and cucumbers. "The one I saw didn't have any wings. Jackrabbits is what we called 'em. Just like Unicorns they're supposed to be a myth."

Rarity looked at him when he said that. 'Unicorns, just a myth? I've never even heard of his kind before. So what would that make him? Wait, what was that one Unicorn's name that was always going on about 'Hummons', I think is what she'd call them... Oh, Goddesses, if she ever found out she was right all along-'

"Imagine my surprise when I saw one. I didn't want to kill it, I figured capturing it alive would fetch me a pretty big reward, maybe even make me famous. I already had plans to breed it with other rabbits that belonged to this one farmer I knew," Atchmon looked the unicorn over, while she was busy playing keep away with Monty.

"Hmph," he laughed, looking amused at the tiny creature's attempts to steal food. Until he fluttered up with his wings, and bit off a carrot from Rarity's stick.

"Monty! Is it too much for you to say please?" Rarity chastised the little critter. "Sorry Atchmon, please continue," she smiled apologetically at him.

"I tracked that rabbit for hours, until it lead me to the portal. I'll never forget what it looked like, or how I felt when I saw it. I knew right away what it was, but... I didn't want to believe it. It was like... trying to look through a mirror. Inside the portal you just saw more forest, but... it was all... different. Sorry I don't know how else to describe it. And when I stepped through... god I never felt so scared, and excited, and terrified all at once! I swear I felt like I was this tall," he brought his thumb and index finger close together to show her when she giggled. Though she was enamored by his recounting of his first few steps into Equestria.

"On the other side all the trees all looked about the same, so it didn't stand out like the one here does." he said as he nodded up towards where the portal-tree was. Even down on the ground you could easily see it above the canopy. "Every tree in the area was just as big as it. I remember one of the Elders talking about the area. That the forest around was full of magic... I never would have thought he actually meant that literally." he chuckled.

"I saw so many amazing things just in those first few hours after stepping through. You wanna know what the first animal I found was?" he asked, and she looked at him curiously. "A Turducken. It had the body of a turkey, with the head of a chicken, a duck, and of course a turkey. It had webbed feet, and it even quacked at me, HAHAhahehehe!" he laughed while laying on his back, and looking up at the first few stars that were appearing in the evening sky. He was silent a few moments before his voice turned somber.

"And then this happened a few days later..." he said dragging his hand across his chest, over his scar. "I just knew I was going to die, even if I did make it through the portal, I was days away from home. No one would ever find me in time... and when I did make it back, it was gone... I camped out around that tree for weeks, until I got brave enough to wander further out. Found this place, and I've been stuck here waiting for it to open again ever since..." he cleared his throat and rose up again.

"So long story short, I jus'- freakin'- walked into Equestria. Isn't that what you called this world?" he asked, though never looking at her. Only staring into the flames.

"Yes... so you ended up here by accident too, just like me... I'm so sorry for accusing you of being evil." she said somberly with her ears drooping in shame.

"It's okay, it's not the first time I've been accused of bein' a criminal. People've always told me I've got the look of one, so I can't really blame you. Especially considering how darn tiny you are, shoot, I've had dogs bigger 'n you!" he grinned at her showing a bit of his teeth, and making her heart race. His little jab at her small stature made her smile too.

'I guess I deserve to be made fun of; that's good he's making jokes, it must mean he truly forgives me... He's not evil... he's not evil. He's just- different, and that's all there is to it.' she thought over and over, trying to beat down the tiny bit of fear she still felt just from being near him.

"Could you tell me more about your people, we sort of got off track, when I told you my 'origin' story. heh." he chuckled lightly.

"Sorry about that, what was I talking about again?" she asked thoughtfully, while trying to remember for herself.

"Something about exile, then you accused me of being a criminal."

Rarity mentally kicked herself upon hearing the word, Atchmon noticed this and gave her a playful shove against her shoulder, which cheered her up a little.

"We have our fair share of bad ponies in the world, but exile is for the worst, of the worst. There are programs in place to rehabilitate those who have... 'strayed' from our way of life. There hasn't been a formal exile in centuries, thanks to Princess Celestia's rule."

"Hmm wow, I wish our own leaders back home could make such a lasting impact. She must've been really something."

"Oh she is." Rarity stated factly.

Atchmon stared at the fire for a moment, before blinking. "....Wait, what? You mean she's still alive!? How long do you unicorns live for?" he asked, while looking at her confused.

"Oh, she's not a unicorn, she's an alicorn, and she's lived for at least a thousand years."

"That's- impossible nothing can live for that long! An' what's a all-e-corn anyway, exactly?"

"Alicorn, and she like a unicorn, in that she has a horn like mine," she said as she tapped her head. "but it's much more grand, and she has the most beautiful wings, which are the envy of every Pegasus." she said dreamily, remembering the time Twilight gave her those beautiful gossamer wings.

"Did you say Pegasus? As in a horse with wings, pegasus?" he asked unbelieving, and mouth agape.

"Pony, darling, and yes of course." Rarity answered; her heart trembled in excitement at teaching him about her world.

"Wow, so is this Cell-es-tia, your sister?"

"Oh mmhmmph, no darling." she giggled at the idea. I wish...

"Wait, if she's a princess, and you're a princess... Oh, she must rule a different kingdom, right?"

"Oh no, she and her sister, Princess Luna, are the true rulers of Equestria. 'Princess' is really more of a title for those in the highest position of government."

"Any other 'princesses' I should know about?"

"Well there's Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor, who rule over the Crystal Empire. Sorry I never got a chance to tell you about them. And there's Princess Twilight who's the Princess of Friendship."

"Princess of Friendship? Sounds made up to me. Wait, that's not the same Twilight you told me about that can help me is it?"

"They are one in the same, and you wouldn't be the first to think that about her title. Regardless, Princess Celestia personally tutored her, trained her, and groomed her to become the ruler she is today. None are more deserving of the title than she is, and I'd argue against anypony who would say otherwise. And they are all alicorns as well, with the exception of Prince Shining Armor."

"You ponies have some weird names. So what about you? Are you princess of anything, why don't you have any wings?" he asked, taking another bite of jerky.

Rarity's mind raced to think of something. Anything! 'Why do I keep lying to him! It's not like he's some noble prince I'm trying to trick into bedding with me, not that I would ever stoop so low. "Oh-h, no I'm just a regular princess, I don't really have any special titles, ahehe. 'Nice Rarity, that totally didn't sound suspicious at all.' "Though if I had to choose one, it'd have be the 'Princess of Fashion'!" he laughed at that. "And as for why I don't have wings... a-alicorns are very, very rare you see, and... Well, now that I think about it, I know next to nothing about them other than that. Princess Cadence's baby, Flurry Heart, is the first naturally born alicorn in at least a millennium..."

"Huh... any other types of ponies beside Pegasus's, Alicorns, and Unicorns?"

"Pegasi, and there are also Earth ponies who don't have wings or a horn." she informed.

"Good to know there are some 'not' special horses- sorry, ponies out there."

"Oh, but they are special, in their own way." Rarity added. "They're physically much stronger than the others, and are much more attuned to the earth, so they mostly become farmers, but many are great artists. We Unicorns like to pride ourselves on being the ones who sophisticated the world, but in the last century the Earth ponies have pulled ahead, and now the vast majority of famous artists, designers, and inventors are all Earth ponies."

"You sound like you're in love with one, from the way you talk." he teased with a sly grin.

"W-what? N-no I'm not!" Rarity stammered defensively, while shaking her head and hooves.

"Keep tellin' yourself that." he said, smiling at the flustered pony.

"B-besides they lack any tack when it comes to politics. Though they can be shrewd business ponies, which is why most unicorns make their career in government, or constant study to advance our knowledge of magic, and other thaumatalogical studies. At first the nobility used to comprise exclusively of Unicorns, and very few Pegasi. Now nearly half are all Earth ponies! Though that's mostly due to the change in times, as more houses are starting to accept intermarriage between the races. However the oldest houses, like the Bluebloods and Pants houses, are sticking quite closely to old traditions." She felt giddy teaching him about her world, of all the wonderful things she could show him. It was only fair after everything he had done for her. She owed him her life, and he brushes it off like it's no big deal.

"And Alicorns? How special are they?"

"They have all the strengths of all the pony races, and they are magnificent." she breathed dreamily at the end.

"I guess bein' a pretty pony is a big deal to you, huh?" he teased.

"Oh, yes, without grace and beauty a Unicorn simply isn't a Unicorn."

"I would think the horn makes the Unicorn. On my world we just have regular ol' horses."

Rarity leaned in to more precisely place her kebab near the fire, while Atchmon leaned over towards her to do the same. Their shoulders connected in the middle, and they both looked at each other, and spoke at the same time.

"Sorry." he said.

"Sorry." she said.

"You first." she said.

"You first." he said.

"That's alright you- Hehe." he chuckled softly.

"That's alright you- Hehe." she chuckled softly.

Atchmons eyes trailed over Rarity's unique 'alien' features. From her short round muzzle, to the fine white hair covering her face. From her big beautiful blue eyes, to her lush eyelashes. Which there was no way those could be fake. He eyed her pretty purple mane, which looked very well kept, despite looking a little ragged, and seeing it was long enough to reach the ground. His eyes trailed over her mane's curvature and down to her scalp, and noticed how much it grew out like a mohawk.

His eyes wandered over her features again, this time taking it all in at once, before his gaze was directed upwards towards the spire atop her head. He unconsciously leaned in closer to examine the spiral fluting around her horn, the milky-white ivory shining like Mother of Pearl. Though, it was beginning to dull in small splotches all over; probably thanks to her recent hardships.

"You're staring at my horn dear... That's not very polite," Rarity informed him bashfully.

A unicorn's horn was a large part of what made them beautiful. The longer and pointier it was, the more attractive it was considered. Rarity was fortunate and blessed enough to be considered 'well endowed', despite her pedigree. She'd always been a little jealous of Twilight after her Alicorn transformation; and made every effort not to blatantly ask to 'compare size' with her like some immature schoolfilly who wanted to know for sure who has the best. Rarity was sure it was herself, of course.

"My eyes are down here, darling." she might've been offended if he were any other stallion staring at her 'assets' like that. Instead she smiled at his innocent fascination.

"Oh. Sorry, heh, I was just thinkin' you're goin' to accidentally poke me with it again," he grimaced realizing his mistake just before remembering her reaction to his tiny cut. Which could've been a sensitive subject to her, Rarity's concerned response had confirmed his thoughts.

"What!? Oh no, I would never purposefully do that. That's why it's so important for a unicorn to keep their head held high. We wouldn't want to accidentally gore one of our friends." Atchmon gave a strange look for a moment, before giving a gentle smile.

"Ouch, yeah I'd bet that'd hurt." He said, trailing a finger over the newest scratch on his face.

"Mmm indeed, but accidents do happen. Usually through no fault of our own." She gave him an apologetic smile.

"The other ponies think we unicorns are all snobbish, stuck up, inbreds, but really most of us unicorns are just trying to be polite by not injuring everypony around us, or ourselves for that matter."

"So, and I've noticed you do this a lot, when you have your head like this," he lifted his up slightly, almost failing to keep an eye on her, because of her tiny size. "you're just showing that you're being friendly, and not aggressive?"

"Ah, yes? I suppose I am, though it's more to be polite, and considerate of those around you. A fight would be unbecoming of a unicorn. Though if I wanted to initiate a challenge, I'd point my horn directly at you and scuff my hoof on the ground. As you've seen already."

"Mmm, can I touch it?" he asked reaching above her head while she was distracted with her food. "Wonder what it's like to do magic." he said thoughtfully as he reached up, with his hand just going past her eyesight above her head.

"Ah, ah, ah! Ehh, hehe. Sorry darling, but you really shouldn't touch a unicorn's horn when she's casting dear." she gently pushed his arm away. "Not to mention it's incredibly rude to touch a unicorn's horn without their permission." she stated firmly.

"Oh, cause it'll mess up the spell? What'll it do, blow up or somethin'?" He asked excitedly.

"Aaaeeehehe, it's actually a very private place to touch a unicorn. It's gets very sensitive, you see..."

"Hmmm, I guess that makes sense." he said simply, and leaving it at that.

"So why would others think you're inbred, from what you've told me about unicorn society, I'd pretty much expect the exact opposite from the wealthy and powerful."

"Pedigree is very important in unicorn society." she started, grateful for the change in subject. "In the not-so-recent past, many of those in the nobility sought to keep as much purity in their ancient bloodlines as possible. Which meant breeding with those of another noble family, or all too often mares ended up married their fathers, or any brothers that were born, if they were born..." she added.

"Euh," Atchmon said with a disgusted face. "What do you mean by 'if' they were born?" he asked curiously.

"Females are born more often than males. About four out of five births will usually be female, and that goes for all pony races, except for alicorns of course, but at the rate they're going we're overdue for a male alicorn! mhmph!" she laughed at her own joke, which made Atchmon smile too.

"Twilight has had to face such scrutiny too, she was born into a fairly well off family. Whenever she was assigned to do a genealogy report for the Princesses, she found evidence that she could actually be a descendant of the most famous, and most powerful unicorn in pony history!"

"Wow, sounds awesome. Who was it? Not that I would know who you're talking about, but still."

"Starswirl the Bearded, who also just so happens to be Twilight's idol, and I think she may have a little bit of a crush."

"Heh." Atchmon only chuckled as a response.

"You should have seen her when she told me about it. She was so excited and yelling, and she like" Rarity stood up and tried to bounce around like her friend, but because her leg was still sore, she could only manage to hop on her front hooves shouting 'OmygoshOmygoshOmygosh' and 'YesYesYesYes' doing a perfect impression of her friend. Which only made Atchmon laugh harder at her silliness.

"Anyhow back to talking about genes, do you see this?" she asked as she sat back down, this time much closer to him, and held up her hoof daintily in front of him.

"See what?" he asked, leaning in closer to inspect her hoof.

"The bit of groove I have on the tip of my hoof."

Atchmon gently grabbed her hoof without thinking, she tensed and almost pulled away, but stopped as she felt him trail the short, pudgy, blunt digit over her hoof.

"Oh yeah, I see it now, it's really noticeable when you feel it." It gave Rarity a short time to look at his own amazingly versatile appendages, before he let go of her.

"I'm very fortunate to have them. It's rumored that Princess Celestia's, and Luna's hooves are completely cloven, but they always hide them with their regalia, which they're rarely ever seen without, all because some uncouth 'Prince' from Neihgypt gave them a nasty nickname because of it."

"I think I get it, so... you're not married to your dad, or brother are you?" he asked, barely able to hold back a teasing smile.

"What! Oh no, no, no! I didn't mean to imply- I - I don't even have a brother! N-not that I would- I mean I would never- Oh, horseapples; just listen to me stammer on! You- you weren't being serious weren't you?" she asked him suspiciously.

Atchmon only stuck his tongue out between his teeth and gave her a smile.

"It's uncouth to make ladies panic like that!" Rarity exclaimed and swatted him with a hoof a bit harder than she meant to.

"Ow! Ahahaha!" Rarity feared she hurt him when he yelled in pain, but relaxed when he started laughing.

"Whew. So what you're saying is that you won the gene pool lottery with these, huh?" he said point down hat her hooves.

"I-I don't even know why I showed you that, not even my closest friends know I have them. They're just far too subtle..." she finished somberly.

"Rarity? Are you alright? You look so down all of a sudden."

"Oh! Yes, sorry, I-it's nothing, really, I just got lost in my thoughts. But to answer your question, no I'm not married, not yet anyway. Not that there are any current suitors..."

Atchmon watched as the melancholy pony took a few more bites off her food. Thinking about what all she told him. "There aren't enough males to go around, are there?" he asked, though know he must've been partially right.

Rarity was surprised by his correct statement. "Mmm, yes. We ponies are polygamists, it's the way we've survived for thousands of years. Though our population has tapered these last few decades, because of the ideals of cross species herding, and monogamy are becoming more popular. Which back then anypony caught engaging in such acts would've been shunned from society."

"What other species are there? I thought there were only four pony types?"

"Oh, there are many other beings in our world besides ponies. There are the Griffins, the Mules, and Donkeys. The Minotaurs, and their other Bovine cousins, the Buffalo, and of course there are those vile Dragons! Though I don't know why anypony would want to herd with such monstrous creatures! The Camels, the Antelopes, Llamas, and..." she sighed. "the Caribou. Who've been pushing their radical patriarchal views on our more female dominated society these last few years. And there are the mysterious Centaurs, and other ancient beings."

"Wow, an- and they all can talk like you an' me!?" he asked excitedly over the new information.

"Mhmph! Yes." she giggled at his awestruck face.

"Ohh." he gasped in awe, as he let the thoughts sink in. "Well... I can understand sticking with your own kind, but what's so bad about monogamy?" he asked, shaking his head.

"Well, since our gender ratio is four to one in favor of the females..."

"Ah, right, there's less to go around." he nodded his head in understanding.

"Precisely, and... please don't judge me too harshly when I say this." she begged.

"I won't." he whispered shaking his head, while giving her a concerned look, and leaning in a bit closer to her for support.

"I want to have a monogamous relationship when I'm married, just like my parents." she said gently while looking away, bracing herself for the verbal bashing to come.

"So? If that's what you want, then I don't see a problem with it." he said.

Rarity immediately looked back at him in shock. 'W-what!? It- it's like he didn't even care!' "B- but isn't it wrong? Wouldn't I be selfish keeping a stallion all to myself?" she asked in disbelief.

"I don't know about all that, but on my world monogamy is perfectly normal; so I don't see a problem with it." he said simply.

Rarity couldn't believe what she was hearing. A whole world where monogamy is normal, a place where beings can be fully devoted to each other, and nopony else. It was like a dream come true, the little voice in her mind tried to remind her their weren't any stallions in that world, but she didn't care. And spent a few moments reminiscing on all her old fantasies, of how she always wanted to court a stallion. No not just 'a' stallion. Her stallion...

"No." she shook her head "You're just making fun of me, aren't you."

"I'm serious Rarity, the number of males and females on my world is pretty much the same... not so much in my home town, but yeah." he mumbled. "And if you found that hard to believe, you're definitely not going to believe it when I say Polygamy is actually illegal. You could actually go to jail for having more than one wife."

"T-that's insane, throwing herds in jail just because they love each other?" she really couldn't believe in such a backwards thinking world. Atchmon only shrugged in response.

"I never thought I'd hear those words from a male. It makes most them feel like they're living in the old times, back when males were actually owned by their lead mares."

"Ooh, yeah, that doesn't sound too good."

"No, it doesn't, which is why I find it so fascinating, and so romantic. Just a mare and her stallion facing a world that's always trying to pull them apart, yet they remain together, forever, always!" she cooed, lost in her daydream.

Atchmon could only chuckle at her as she acted out a bit of her fantasy by waving her hooves around.

They decided to retire back inside the cave to cool off after their meal together. The sunset nearly fully illuminating the whole cavern, so they could still had enough light to converse with each other.

Atchmon shifted, positioning himself upon the bed much like he did last night, propping his back up against the wall with his head bumping into the charm which lay above it.

"Okay, so, serious talk now. I know we're pretty different as far as our food needs go. So I was wondering if there's anything else you need to live out here. Any special plants, fruits, or vegetables I should be on the look out for while I'm out and about?"

"I think you have me very well provided for, though if you come across any oats, I would really appreciated it if you could get some of those for me, please. Oh, and some flowers too, if you don't mind."

"I'll keep a look out for 'em. Anything else? Anything I need to do to take proper care of you? Do you have any special needs, I know it's really important to take care of your hooves, but that's pretty much all I know about ponies."

"Well... there is one thing you could do for me, if you don't mind." she said, feeling her body ache all over.

"Sure. What is it? What do you need? What ever it is you can count on me to do it for ya."

"Could I see your, um, 'paws' for a moment, if that alright?"

Atchmon blinked at her, before realizing what she was asking. "Oh, you mean my hands? Uh, okay, sure..."

She examined his odd appendages, they were not nearly as large, nor as clumsy looking as the Minotaur's, and had far more versatility and flexibility compared to a griffins, and were much softer than either, despite the few calluses he had. The right of which harbored far more than the left, especially along the sides of his first digit and the short pudgy-looking one.

"It's, ah, actually quite important for a unicorn to keep their magical chakras clear, otherwise we could become quite ill." She lied. At least they don't look dirty, no sharp claws, or anything which could cause harm.

"And how do you do that exactly." He asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Deep tissue massage!" she squee'd.

There's something different about her, she seems so much more... feminine than before. Atchmon thought as Rarity laid herself out on the bedding. Stretching and positioning herself in a way he knew should have been impossible for her species, and yet, somehow retained all the grace and flexibility of a person.

He started off giving her back a good scratching, which she absolutely loved, but that wasn't what she needed.

"Oooohhhh, that does feel really good, darling. But could you be a dear and start the massage, please, my muscles hurt so much." she begged him.

Atchmon was a little nervous about touching her in, what he considered at least, to be an intimate sort of way. To him this was something only couples do.

"Does it hurt when I do this?" he rubbed his thumbs along both sides of her spine, trailing them up and down. While admiring the long, sensual divot in her back. It's just like petting a dog... riiight, keep tellin' yourself that buddy.

"Oh, no, that feels absolutely divine! Darling, I believe we've found your, mmmmph, calling." she mewled.

"I don't think I could do this for a living. I'd rather go broke exploring the world." His discomfort increased the longer the session lasted, not from the length of time, but from the ever increasing moans, and mewlings of the one beneath him.

He continued to rub his hands and thumbs over her back, occasionally lingering on her shoulders a bit longer whenever she'd ask. "A little lower, now to the right- right there! Get that spot, would you?"

She'd tense for a moment when ever he'd work the tension out on a new muscle, before quickly relaxing again. She explained that he didn't need to be so gentle with her, and that she was quite used to a firmer treatment.

"Ohhhh-mmmph.... A little lower dear, get my haunches too, if you would please." she then wiggled her rump at the request. Her plump flanks brushing against his arms when she did.

"Annnd there's the line." he said while removing his hands from her, more to catch a break for his sore fingers.

"What!? Don't stop now, we were almost finished!" She protested, rolling on her side to look at him better. Her poise caused her tail to slide away down her rump. Atchmon couldn't help trailing his eyes along her curves, before snapping out of his thoughts.

"I'm just not comfortable with touching your ass- butt! I meant to say butt." 'Even if it does look like a girls, god how long has it been since I last seen one of those, and hers looks so round... so soft, so- stop that!'

"Flanks darling, or as I said, 'haunches', which are right here." she said pointing a hoof at her cutie mark. "Please, don't be such a- I'm trying to think of a better word for 'big bummer', but please, I really need this." she pouted at him, begging with big puppy eyes.

"I don't know," he sighed and eyed her flanks, lingering on her blue-diamond brands a moment longer.

"Please, won't you do this for me? Please, please, please, plee-he-he-heease!" Rarity begged desperately as she grinned toothly, while arching her back far enough to look at him backwards.

Atchmon sighed, "All right fine, if it means that much to ya."

Rarity squealed in delight, before laying flat on her belly again.

His thumbs rubbed over her tightly corded muscles, feeling the powerful mass beneath her soft hide, all while she made passionate moans. He couldn't help watching his thumb trail over her blue diamond brands, surprised to find they were flush with rest of her hide.

"Hmmm," 'Weird, there's no scarring. Maybe it's more like a birthmark, or a tattoo, but I don't see how a needle can change fur like that. Could just be dyed, or maybe it really does appear just like magic.'

"Ooooh, you're doing a marvelous job!" she mewled loudly. Rarity started to lose herself in the pleasure, unconsciously lifting her tail when he trailed his digits along the sides of its base, and into the small of her back, just above her croup.

Really going above and beyond, aren't'cha, ya freak... What the hell is wrong with you, stop looking!

Atchmon couldn't pull his eyes away from her sensual flanks, her soft hips rolling as rubbed his thumbs along her curves. It didn't help that he was sitting atop her hind legs. Allowing him to bend far over her, and causing his crotch to occasionally grind into her rump. Which he tried, and fail, to avoid at all possible.

Rarity's tail flicked back and forth in delight, the soft fibers of her hair whisked across his chest and over his arms; eventually exposing herself to him. It lasted just a moment, but he saw everything. The light charcoal, velvety-looking fuzz around her anus, and pussy. The puffy skin of her vulva, and the image of her slit going all the way down to a curious looking bulb at the bottom.

All the while, Atchmon couldn't stop thinking about what was suppose to go there. As his vision tunneled to view her sex once again. 'She's not even a person, dude!'

'Oh my god... whoa...' Atchmon panted slowly, as his excitement steadily rose.

Rarity's tail whisked to the other side, exposing her marehood to him again. He trailed his hands over her soft, slender flanks more firmly in his desire. Dragging them all the way down her hind legs, then pushing his thumbs up against her rump. He stopped for just a moment at the base of her hind quarters, before daring to go further. Letting his short, pudgy digits dig into her soft derriere, and spread her cheeks ever so slightly apart.

Rarity's tail whisked again, and she uttered a loud, throaty moan; far too lost in her bliss to notice the lewd things the human was doing to her body.

When her tail passed by, he could see a hint of pink of her insides, its coloring contrasting well against the darker outer sides.

"Ohhh, do that again, please dear. A little more, just a little harder, right there; Oh, that's perfect." Rarity breathed, nearly losing her breath from the pleasure she was receiving. Every pass of his hands sought out every bit of pain, and replaced it with bliss. Rarity felt she could drown herself in this feeling, his hand were like a gift from the Creator herself.

Atchmon stopped where she asked, letting his hands rest on her thighs, while rotating his thumbs around her sore spots. Then trailing his hands down, caressing her springy rump, before going back up to squeeze her delicious cheeks again.

His heart was racing, and his excitement grew, while feeling a painful pressure growing in his crotch. He watched Rarity's arousal leak from her slit, which was beginning to gleam with moisture.

"Oh, yes, I can feel my magic flowing already." Rarity moaned, as she approached the height of her relief. Feeling her endorphins course through her body; giving her a sense of gratification and renewed energy. She wallowed in the fuzzy after-feeling of what is undoubtedly the best massage she'll ever receive.

"That's not the only thing that's flowin'," Atchmon said idlly without thinking.


Rarity's heart dropped after hearing that, and she knew exactly what he was talking about. She could feel the distinct glide of her wetness against her skin, down in her nethers.

She then quickly scrambled out from underneath the human, and off the bed, with her tail pinned tightly between her hind legs.

Atchmon couldn't help associating her behavior to a dog who got caught doing something very naughty, as Rarity daintily scuffed a hoof at the ground with her ears drooped in shame, and looking like she couldn't bear to look him in the face with her worried eyes.

"Oh, dear! I am so sorry, please forgive me, I-I swear this has never happened before, i-i-it's just that it felt so good, and-and I know there is no excuse for a mare to do that, and I should know better, and I'm- !" she sat down and covered her face with her hooves, trying to hide her shame. "Ooh ponyfeathers! Stupid, stupid Rarity." Atchmon barely heard her whisper, her voice muffled by her hooves.

"H-Hey!" He interrupted her. Rarity flinched at the sound of his raised voice. "It- it's, okay. There're plenty other things to fret over than- than that." he swallowed the saliva he didn't notice had pooled in his mouth. "You seemed like you were really enjoyin' it at least. A little too much if you ask me." He muttered at the end, while subtly pulling at the crotch of his pants.

"Thank you." She whispered. "You don't know how relieved that makes me feel, and the massage too. I really do feel so much better; is there something, anything, that I can do for you?" She approached him lifting up a hoof, hanging on his every word.

'You better stop thinkin', what it is you're thinking, right now. What the hell is wrong with you, she's an anim-'

"There must be someway I can repay you for your help, and to make up for my... repulsiveness." She shrank away at the word.

"I, uh, I- I don' want anything, really. I'm just, uh, happy to help. Don't want you gettin' sick and all." He said with a strained smile.

"Right... sick..." 'Stupid Rarity, why don't you just turn around, lift up your tail, and wink at him while you're at it! What is it about being out here that makes you lose all common sense, and decency! At least he doesn't seem offended, nor going to take advantage of my offer, any other stallion would.'

"I'm, ah, gonna go outside an' get some fresh air for a little bit." He said getting up, and briskly headed out without so much as looking at her again.

"Oh, alright, I'm- sorry, again." He left the den, before she had a chance to finish her apology.

After a few minute of fretting, Rarity couldn't stand to leave things as they were, and sought to make amends with Atchmon who was sitting atop the hill.

"Atchmon? Is it alright if I join you?" She called up, while staying near the cave entrance.

"Sure Rares, come on up. You need any help?" he asked down to her.

"No, but thank you, I can manage this part on my own." she called above.

"Is- May I sit next to you?" she asked him, once she made to the top of the hill.

Atchmon only patted the ground next to him, giving her a smile and a nod, beckoning her over.

"Thank you." She said as she settled in next to him. "I sure miss having my seat cushion. Not to mention my drama couch." She smiled sheepishly at him, returning a half one of his own. Way to break the ice Rarity, you have all the grace of a big dumb rock when you're nervous.

"Hey, about earlier." He started to say, before Rarity cut him off.

"I know what you're going to say, and I completely understand why you're mad at me-."

"Mad!? I'm not mad, what makes you think that?" He said raising an eyebrow. "That's ridiculous."

"But I've done so many things wrong around you, not to mention I'm doing a horrid job of representing my species." She hung her head, looking disappointed in herself.

"No Rarity, you didn't do anything wrong." He shook his head.

"So you really aren't mad? You aren't just saying that to spare my feelings, are you?" She looked up to him feeling hopeful.

"No, not at all!" He turned a little more to face her. "No... and I didn't even get to touch your horn neither. I'm gonna start calling you 'horny'." He grinned trying to pick up the mood.

"D-don't you dare! Ehahaha!" She laughed despite herself, after all the stress of the last few days she needed a good laugh. Oh Pinkie Pie, I never thought I'd miss hearing you go off on one of your tangents, and all of your excitement. I need to let you know how much you brighten up my day when I back.

"Rarity," Atchmon's tone interrupted her thoughts, and she gave him her full attention. Wanting to know what bothered her dear friend. "When I woke up this morning, I couldn't believe you were there, just, right there. I got up and went through the motions like I'd always done. It was like everything was just a dream, and I was so afraid that when I woke up, you wouldn't be there. And I'd be alone again... I want you to know that today's been the most fun, interesting, and most amazing day I've had in ages! It's been so unreal, I mean, you ... Rarity, you are real. Like, really real." He wanted to pet her, but stopped short, instead leaving his arm resting on the grass behind her. But to Rarity it seemed as though he'd pulled a classic stallion move. Pretending to stretch but instead resting a hoof, or in some cases a tail, behind her. Even without the actual physical contact, it was very nearly identical.

"O-of course I'm real darling, do you not see me right here!" She said grinning at him, and shaking her head. Not understanding what he meant. Oh goddesses, did I lead him on!? Is he giving me a signal!? He couldn't possibly be interested in me, could he? After everything today, I can't blame him for thinking I was interested. Could I be- NO! He's not even a pony!

"You don't get it, on my world... you don't exist, you- unicorns, they're just myths, fairy tales, just stories..." He tailed off, looking melancholy. Rarity placed a hoof on his arm, gaining his attention.

"I can assure you, darling, I'm certainly no myth, and I'm quite real." She nuzzled into his shoulder, then smiled up at him. He smiled back, before looking towards the horizon.

"Are you- do you unicorns go into a, uh, 'heat' phase?"

"Oh, no, no, no!" She said trying to convince him. "I won't go into season for months, no, I- what I did back there was an accident, I swear!"

"It's okay! I was just curious. It's just all so- fascinating to me, it's surprising how similar you are to a pony back home, and yet you're also so much like a... well, human." He finished, looking mystified by her presence.

"I'm flattered to be such an object of interest to you Atchmon, but its very rude, not to mention quite embarrassing, to talk to a mare about her heat cycle, but I'll forgive you this time." she said, ending with a devilish smile.

"Thanks." He grinned. "Interesting to know what makes you feel good, you're just so- different from me, and I like that! It-it's new, it's exciting, it's.... amazing. You have no idea how amazing you really are, Rarity." He looked into her eyes, taking in her majestic presence.

"That's the sweetest thing anypony has ever said to me." She held a hoof up her to muzzle, with her cheeks tinted red, and looking at him with misty eyes, before rushing in and giving him a big hug!

It'd been a very nice day, and for a few moments she could forget where she was, as if the dangers around them were worlds away. The couple sat atop the mesa of their home watching as the sun set.

"Look at that, there's no place else you can see somethin' like this." Atchmon breathed, as he looked unto the horizon, while he held onto her.

Ribbons of pink, green, and orange whisked across the sky, as the two friends watched the yellow-orange sun descend below the horizon. The few shafts of light clinging over the mountain peaks, before slowly disappearing behind them. Luna's moon quickly ascended the sky, filling the void left by her sister. Its luminescence washing the camp in ghostly white light, save for where their small campfire lay dying nearby.

"That's the kind of stuff I live for, the reason why I stepped through that doorway between worlds." he smiled down at her.


Gasp! Rarity pressed herself tighter into Atchmon's side. While he pulled an arm around her and rubbed her shoulder, trying to comfort as he felt her start to tremble in fear.

"Hey, don't be afraid. They know better than to mess with me." he said gently, trying to reassure her safety.

"How can you be so sure?" Rarity looked up to him with big doe eyes, wanting to believe his words.

"A couple years ago... I felt like I was the king of this forest, I felt unstoppable." He flexed his arms, and Rarity could finally appreciate his physique, knowing the human must've been in his prime, as she gazed upon the firm muscles in his arms and chest.

"So one day, after a hunt, I find a wolf pack tearing up my camp. I managed to chase 'em off, but not before they made off with all of my food. So I tracked them down, all the way back to their den, and I... asserted myself to the alpha leader at the time. I don't know what it is about this place, but the animals here always seem to be so much smarter than the ones back home... Anyway, there was a- a moment, where, I could swear we had some sort of understanding, and from then on they stayed on their side of the creek, and I stayed on mine." As if to confirm his story, more howls sounded in the distance.

"They're probably just mourning their losses, it's their own fault though... should've stayed on their side. A lot of my leathers were from the ones that didn't pay attention."

Rarity pressed herself a little harder into him for protection. Atchmon only chuckled, before taking a breath, cupping his hands over his mouth, and bellowing out his own howl.


"Stop it! You're going to bring them here!" Rarity yelled in panic, and pushed him over to stop him. She looked down on him with anger clear on her face.

"Hey, it's okay, I'm just saying hello-" he tried to console her, while giving a confident grin only to be cut off.

“Do you think that’s funny!? You scared me half to death!” she shouted angrily at him.

“Well, no, but-” Atchmon moved to get up, but Rarity pushed him away again when he rose.

She stormed off down the hill, and later Atchmon heard the rattle of his stick-flap door being slammed back into place. Leaving him to listen to the hauntingly lonely song of the wolves.

After a few minutes he joined her inside the cave, without light the interior would've been pitch black. Though instead, a faint cerulean aura illuminated a corner of the small room. He approached her slowly, before she tucked away whatever she was looking at in her saddle bag, then floating it off to the side. She curled up on the bed facing away from him, and cut off her magic, leaving Atchmon to navigate the rest of the cave in the pitch black.

He reached the bed without issue, having moved within his home many times in the past while in the dark, before slowly climbing in himself. Rarity reluctantly relinquished a portion of her side allowing him to lay comfortably, though not as much as the previous night, next to her.

"Rarity, you're more than welcome to stay here for as long as you like until you're rescued. I'm sorry I can't help any more than that. We can talk about it more tomorrow."

Rarity only laid there, if she heard him, she made no attempt to let him know.

"Rarity? Look at me... please?"

She shifted over after a moment, only enough to look at him with a single blue eye.

"I wanna tell you somethin' that's helped me get through a lot of tough times here." she turned towards him a little more. "Sometimes... you have to become the thing you fear the most, so you aren't afraid anymore." he said quietly.

"...I don't think I could ever do that, Atchmon." she whispered.

He sighed quietly, "Then for your sake, I hope you can." He turned around, letting her think his words over, before she too turned around, and together they slept; back to back.

Great Outdoors

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Atchmon watched as Rarity twitched in her sleep, and gently stroked the back of her neck for her comfort, as well as his own. He wanted to wake her, but couldn't bring himself to do it. He listened to her tiny mewling's for awhile, which prevented him from catching any rest himself. It didn't matter, he wasn't ready to sleep anyway.

He carefully removed himself from the bed, not wanting to disturb her, and headed outside for some fresh air, as well as to sort out the thoughts that were buzzing around his head. He looked around the outside of his home, more to check for any nocturnal predators than to take in the sights. Which he'd grown accustomed to, and no longer held the same appeal as they did those first few months.

Except for the view that was above him, as he headed to the top of his home, where he spent so much of his time. Only the ghostly white light of the moon guided him, its brightness allowed him to see perfectly well in the dark.

The night sky was the only constant reminder of being on an alien planet, magical talking pony excluded, for the moon never went into phases like the one on his world. It was part of the reason why he had to keep track of the days. It would've been so much easier to count every new moon.

Atchmon shook his head. Not wanting to think about how much time would have to pass, if every tally mark in his home represented the thirty day lunar phase.

The stars were brighter, and the sky was clearer than any he'd seen back on his world. The stars looked as though they were tacked on, as if he could reach up and pluck them from the heavens. The same could be said about the moon, as he laid on his back, and gazed upon the detailing of its craters. Remembering the night so many of them disappeared!

And then there was the blackness of space itself. Something he once dreamed of visiting, but never had the skills necessary to accomplish such a feat. He grew numb from the nip of the cold night air, and still he laid there staring up at that infinite nothingness, allowing his mind to blank. It was his only means of escape anymore. To pretend that nothing, not even himself, existed. He stared up into that comforting void, as if he weren't already so far disconnected, watching the few falling stars whisk across the night sky.

His thoughts eventually wandered to the pony sleeping within his home. He wanted to help her, he truly did, if not for her sake, then for himself. If for nothing more than to see an end to his time stuck in the middle of this alien forest.

But then again, he had his own problems to deal with, as he looked towards the tree which stranded him there.

"Can I do this? Nah, the better question is, should I do this?" he asked himself in a low voice. "What if-" he sighed. "We'll try to cross that bridge if we come to it."

Eventually his hands grew too cold for him to stand, and placed them in his jean pockets for warmth. He felt something soft within, allowing his hand to warm first, before pulling out a few strands of Rarity's tail hair.

On a whim he smelled them, gracing his senses with a faint floral scent.

He examined the fine purple hair, amazed to discover it lacked any of the coarseness you'd normally find on an equine. Though they had a thickness, as you would expect. He twiddled the few strands between his thumb and forefinger, watching as they intertwined together.

Atchmon blinked as an idea came to mind...

Rarity woke the next morning feeling tired from the restless sleep she caught the night before. Princess Luna tried to communicate with her again. This time was every bit as bad as the first, if not worse. She still had no luck forming her thoughts coherently within the dream. It looked as though Luna was trying to force herself into Rarity's subconscious. Only once did Luna manage to make herself whole as she should be within the dream; but it only lasted for an instant - which was actually painful for Rarity - waking her and unfortunately breaking the connection.

Rarity wiped the sleep from her eyes, got up, and half-heartedly fixed the bed; not giving it the same level of care as she did the previous day. She stretched, and wobbly moved towards the open entrance to catch some fresh air. Seeing that Atchmon was busying himself with some of the bones he collected in the last few days.

"Mornin' Rarity." he greeted her. Looking up from where he sat by the fire pit.

"Good morning, Atchmon." Rarity yawned tiredly.

"Did'ja get some good sleep?" he asked, though he already knew the answer. She was tossing and turning so much last night, he had to physically move her further away, just so he could catch a few hours of rest for himself. He made a mental promise last night to make a bed just for her.

"Not so much I'm afraid, but thank you for asking." she replied, while blearily looking around the camp.

"So, um, did you wanna do anything today? I know you said you wanted to show me some manners, or somethin', right?" he asked, while sticking his hands in his pockets. Feeling the product of his late night inspiration within.

"Actually Atchmon.... I just want a bit of time to myself for today, if that's alright." she couldn't bear to look at him, and silently wished he wouldn't press the issue. Males can be quite pushy whenever they sense something is wrong, not that many would care anyway.

"Oh... uh, sure! I'm, ah, I gotta go check on my traps, and do some gathering anyway." he said, hiding his disappointment.

"Alright." Rarity sighed in relief, while rubbing a hoof, and looking away. Feeling a bit of shame for pushing away the only friendly being that was literally within a hundred miles.

"Right, so... anyway. I, ah, just have to get my things, and I'll be off." he pointed behind her. Rarity didn't realize she was blocking the entrance, and moved over to let him pass.

Atchmon went inside and knelt down by the bed to grab his things, but not before he looked back at Rarity, who was busy taking in the scenery outside. He opened up the side pocket of her saddlebag, and slipped in the gift he planned on giving her that morning. Then he gathered his bow, quiver, knife, and rucksack, before saying goodbye.

"I'll be back in a bit... so... don't go nowhere, heh-ha..." he tried to lighten the mood, giving her a strained smile, and looking away at the terribleness of his joke.

Rarity understood the humor, though she didn't find it the least bit funny. She never bothered to look at him again, barely managing to pull off a smile for his sake, which looked more of a grimace.

"Seriously Rarity, don't go anywhere without me, okay?" he pleaded in concern for the melancholy pony.

"I wasn't planning on it." she grumbled, her irritation spiking for a moment.

Atchmon watched her a moment before nodding, and left her there. He stood before the tree line, taking one last glance back at her. She watched him leave, before he stepped into the forest.

"Goddesses, what is wrong with me?" Rarity sighed, while covering her face with her hooves, and dragging them down, causing her eyelids to stretch.

She took a calming breath, before assessing her situation for the final time.

Rarity looked behind her, to the inside of the cave from where she sat, eyeing the primitive bed she would sleeping in for the foreseeable future. Her eyes wandered up towards the ceiling, taking in the small cavern all at once, with all of its crude amenities. Shelter...

Her eyes wandered around her new home until landing on her saddlebags. She made them herself using some of her most valuable fabric, and now it was brimming with food; along with the canteen Atchmon gave her sitting beside it.

'Food and water...'

She looked to the tree line, and at the thick brush surrounding her, suddenly feeling very exposed. Rarity held herself, and took a shaky breath at the thought of some predator watching her from where she could not see. Fire... she thought as she looked to the pit, knowing that it could protect her, should she ever need it, and hoped that she wouldn't have to.

Rarity looked to the garden. Watching as the gentle breeze blew over the meadow, causing the grass and plant stalks to move in waves like the ocean. A place to be easily spotted from...

She sighed. "I suppose we'll be staying here a while, may as well get used to it." she spoke to Monty, who hopped up to her from the bottom of the hill.

Rarity sat at the round entrance of the cave petting her little animal friend, while taking in the forest's horizon, and silently prayed for a swift rescue. Looking to the sky once again hoping to spot a rainbow contrail.

Atchmon returned shortly from his trip, he'd lied about needing to check the traps, having done so before Rarity woke up. Though he wanted to give his new acquaintance room to adjust.

He occupied his time by finishing the few arrows he planned on making yesterday, and piddling around on various projects, not really putting any work into what he was doing. Only wanting to make this day a lazy one, as he'd always done after a bountiful hunt. All thanks to the unicorn staying with him for the near future.

He'd occasionally check on Rarity, who remained in bed facing away from the entrance. Her long mane and tail were hanging off the edge. Only her ear swiveling in his direction gave any indication that she was awake. Hours passed, and still she lay there. He'd been in that position before, just wanting to lay there and give up when things got too hard. Eventually the need to eat kicked him out of bed to look for food.

"Rarity, you feelin' okay?" he asked in concern. Worrying she might actually be sick!

She nodded her head.

He sat next to her on the cave floor. She was trying her best to ignore him, and pretending to sleep, though her growling stomach betrayed her.

"Rarity? Did you eat anything today?" he asked.

She shook her head slightly.

"You should eat somthin', it'll make you feel better, I know." he said, while petting her neck, and letting his fingers comb through her purple mane. Taking a moment to admire her soft hair, and of how far it grew along the back of her neck, just like a pony back home.

"Don't touch me." she said, while pulling away.

Atchmon thought for a moment, before an idea came to mind to cheer her up. He went outside, and returned minutes later with a small bouquet of flowers.

"C'mon girl, eat your breakfast." he said, while prodding her mouth with a blue flower. His voice sounding like he was speaking to her as a foal.

"nck, nck, nck, c'mon lil' pony." he cooed, encouraging her to eat, but Rarity wasn't having any of it.

She batted his arm away, causing him to drop the flower, and turned on her belly while sitting up on her forehooves; facing the human with clear irritation on her face.

"Stop it! I'm trying to wallow in... well, I'm still not sure what it is I'm suppose to wallow in; but I'm wallowing, alright!? So just leave me alone." she finished firmly, throwing herself down on the bed and curling away from him.

"Hey, its really not as bad as you might think." he reassured, while scratching her back. Her coat was beginning to lose some of its softness, as pony dander and a few loose hairs fell away from her as he scratched.

"Mmmh." Rarity hated herself, and him. She hated him because he was so strong, and she... wasn't. It was her dream to be a princess, and here she was breaking down in front of a stallion, who probably thinks she's the most pathetic mare who ever lived! But as much as she didn't like him, she couldn't deny how good he made her feel.

Fluttershy disclosed to Rarity in the past about her fantasy to being the pet for a change. Rarity wondered if this is what it would be like, as Atchmon dug his blunt claws into her coat. If this is what Atchmon meant about becoming his pet, then maybe that wouldn't be so bad... she thought before mentally kicking herself as all the naughtier implications of that word filled her mind!

Visions of harnesses, mouth bits, collars, and tail wraps flashed before her, as he rubbed his palms over her sore muscles. Goddesses, that's what Twilight meant when she said those dirty books will rot my mind!

"Feelin' any better?" he asked, as he gave her a final rub down. Snapping Rarity out of her lewd thoughts.

"Mmm, yes, a little, I think." she sighed, then looked down at where Atchmon dropped the blue flower on the furred bed. Rarity levitated it up, then bit the top off, savoring the sweet, creamy flavor of its petals. The tiny treat worked up her appetite, and Rarity finally realized how much she was starving!

Atchmon reached over and pulled Rarity's saddlebag towards him, pulling out a clean carrot for her to eat. Rarity shifted around so she could better face him, while he sat on the cave floor leaning against the bed.

She tried to levitate the carrot from him, but he refused to let go. Rarity looked at him quizzically as he grinned and held the carrot up to her mouth, before she took a small, ladylike bite from it. Allowing him to hand feed her for the moment. After that first bite Rarity quickly devoured the rest of the carrot, and then Atchmon finally allowed her to levitate the last small bite from him, before he pulled out more treats from her bag.

Burp! "Oh, excuse me." Rarity's cheeks tinted red from embarrassment, and was surprised by the small, yet loud belch.

Atchmon snorted a laugh at her burp. "See, feelin' better now?" he asked, and put the bags away.

"Yes, much better, you were right, again... thank you." she whispered sincerely. "Though, I wish we had some bread for cucumber sandwiches."

"That actually sounds pretty good for a change. Even though cucumbers are mostly water anyway." Atchmon shrugged.

"They're still delicious though, don't you think?" she asked, looking down at him as he got himself a little more comfortable.

"Maybe, if I had some ranch dressin' to go with it. You wanna know what I really want right now?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at her.

"What?" she shook her head, curious to hear what he had to say.

"Ice cream." he cooed with a dreamy smile.

"Oh, don't get me started on ice cream!" she exclaimed, while laying on her side with her hooves towards him.

They talked about their favorite flavors. Atchmon preferred tangy sherbet ones, while Rarity enjoyed the more expensive imported brands from places like Bitally. Atchmon was intrigued to learn of the ponies interestingly unique flavors. Like Rose Petal and other floral kinds, and puns of ones he knew about, like neighapolitan for example.

"Could- heh- could you say that again?" he asked, barely containing his giggles.

"Neighapolitan?" Rarity repeated in perfect pronunciation.

"Pppff- One more time, please- mmch." he asked again, failing to hide his broad smile.

Rarity looked at him in confusion, before enunciating once more. "Neigh-apolitan."

"PppfftaHAHAHAhaha-" Atchmon burst out laughing, after recieving a very horsey 'neigh' for his efforts. Though Rarity couldn't understand what he found so funny about such a common word. Until he explained it to her, and she joined in the reverie.

Their laughing died down, and were silent a full minute.

"I'm starting to miss my home." Rarity said somberly.

"Mmm." Atchmon nodded in understanding.

"I'm sorry Atchmon, I can't even begin imagine how you must feel." she felt selfish asking such attention from him.

"Ohh, it's nothin', really. I've had plenty of time to get used to it... 'come to terms', I think is suppose to be the right way of puttin' it." he hid his feelings from her with a half smile, and a nod. "You just focus on gettin' better, how's your leg feelin' today, by the way?"

"It's doing fine, about the same as yesterday, if not a little better." Rarity could sense something was wrong with him, but decided not to push the issue. 'You have to give stallions room to open up, they're never ready to share their feelings all at once like us mares. It's a bit of a weakness, if you ask me, not to mention tedious. Why even try to hide it?'

"That's good, let me know when you need another 'chakra-clearing'." Atchmon chuckled lightly, as he stood up with a smile. "Here, let's take these bandages off, and let 'em breathe for a bit."

Rarity laid there as the human tended to her wounds.

"Yeah, your scratches weren't that bad, we can leave these off. Now let's see that leg." he grasped her fetlock and lightly rubbed his thumbs around her, before trying to bend it slowly. He bent it back and forth a little more each pass, before she reacted to his ministrations.

"Sssh!" Rarity gasped in pain, curling her hoof up towards her belly.

"Sorry." he muttered, and decided to leave it be, for now. "Still a little tender, huh? At least the swellin's gone down." he patted and rubbed her thigh, coaxing her to stretch the hoof towards him again. "An' you can flex it more than I thought you could."

Rarity wasn't sure how to respond, deciding to watch as he tended to her, and removed the elastic binding around her leg, before he sat back down on the floor.

"Do you want your bed back, darling? You can't possibly be comfortable sitting on that hard floor." she asked, feeling a little guilty for hogging his spot on the bed,

"Nah, you're fine. How was the bandage, not too tight?" he asked, resting an elbow on the bed.

"Really good, the pressure helps make it feel better, I think." she said, trying to get a closer look at the fascinating elastic fabric. "May I see it?" she asked, pointing a hoof at it.

Atchmon set it down for her to levitate, and watched with a smile as she stretched and examined the bandage in her magic.

"This fabric is incredible!" she breathed. "Who would've thought to weave rubber along with cloth! Do you know what possibilities this could bring!? Imagine never having to look for the correct size for your wardrobe! Everypony's clothes would fit perfectly, without the need to re-measure them!" she raved excitedly! "Imagine having clothing acting like a second layer of hide!"

"Congratulations! You've just invented sweat pants, an' spandex!" he laughed!

Though his slight did not deter Rarity from memorizing every possibility of her new discovery!

Atchmon smiled at her, watching Rarity play with the elastic fabric, until his eyes trailed over her legs and ending on the one closest to him. Without thinking he reached over and grasped her hoof, then started rubbing and digging his thumb into her, while scratching out the bit of dirt and grass trapped within the crevasses of her frog.

It was firm, yet soft, as it had a bit of give, much like the pads of a dogs paws. He helped care for horses once before, so he knew her hooves should've been solid as a rock under there. He found it very interesting, and quite fun to squish.

He checked to make sure his fidgeting didn't bother his company, while he played with her soft frogs. Until he caught Rarity looking at him, wondering what he was doing, and stopped.

"Sorry." he apologized and looked away, while flushing in embarrassment.

"Why? That was starting to feel really good. I've never had anypony do that for me before." she said, remembering the minotaur, and griffin run spa, who were famous for their hoof massages. Ponies simply couldn't compete with their large, blunt hooves. However past prejudices with such beings prevented Rarity from ever giving their establishment a chance. Now she wished she had; though somehow she knew Atchmon's versatile digits would be far superior.

"I been treating you like a pet." he mumbled, and looked away.

"What!?" Rarity was taken aback by his statement, wondering for a moment if he really did have alien mind reading powers. "You weren't treating me like a pet, at least I don't think so anyway."

"You sure? I've been puttin' my hands on you an awful lot, and I know you said yer a lady and all, but... I just have a hard time seeing you like that. To me you're just a pony, and I jus' can't help petting you. I used to take care of a few animals back home, but... I don't mean to be so touchy."

"Am I really so different from you, that you can't see me as anything but a mindless animal." her anger flared from the insult.

"NO! I- I just don't want you to be scared of me, I'm tryin' to make you as comfortable as I can, but... I don't know what else to do." he held his hands in front of him, trying to calm her down before things got out of hand.

I see, this is all because of what happened last night. He did scare me, he still does... especially after what he did. What was he thinking! Howling like that! she frowned at her thoughts. Then remembered what he told her right before bed. He was just trying to show me there wasn't anything to be afraid of. In his own... strange way.

"What does petting me have to do with anything?" she asked.

"It's just not normal to touch someone without their permission." he answered with a shrug.

The statement sent her back, sure there were times, and situations where ponies don't make physical contact, but to need permission... "You didn't seem to need it earlier when you fed me."

He thought for a moment, before nodding his head. "I can tell I make you uncomfortable, but since you're a pony..."

"You think petting will make me more comfortable around you... Atchmon..." she said getting his attention. "I never had a problem with you petting me, I actually quite enjoy it!" she perked up, making him smile and sigh in relief. "I'll admit your hands are... strange, but a good kind of strange." She reassured him, and remembered the little joke from earlier. "I look like a pony from your world, and there are times I sound like one too... it's okay Atchmon, I think I understand your confusion."

"'m glad you like it, I guess I jus' wanted to be sure I wasn't, mmmph, oversteppin' my bounds, ya know?" he asked, choosing his words carefully.

"Not at all! Can I show you how we ponies greet each other?" she asked, as she raised up on the bed.

"O-okay." he shrugged, wondering about the sudden change in topic. He faced her more directly, getting on his knees and leaning forward as she beckoned him closer with a hoof.

She reached over his shoulder, and nuzzled into his neck, before rubbing her cheek to his. He tensed after feeling her cold snout, then relaxed into the hug.

"Now show me how you do it." she said, pulling away. Atchmon simply stuck out his hand, and Rarity automatically reached her hoof out.

"That's it? A hoof shake? No wonder you were so concerned, how can you ever accept anyponys touch if you always keep everypony away at hoofs length." she said thoughtfully.

"Yeah, we pretty much only hug our closest friends, and family." he shrugged.

"That's... actually quite sweet. To know, and to show who your closest loved ones are, as if it were a message to others." she finished thoughtfully, more to herself than to him.

"So I'm not being too touchy? You're okay if I pet you every now an' again?" he asked, putting his hand on her hoof, and giving it a squeeze, before pulling away again. "Even when I don't think about it first?" he added, looking down at what he just did.

"Oh no, by all means, be as touchy as you want, dear. You have no idea how amazing that feels, after trotting all those hours out there." she said, laying her head down. She bit her lip, before extending a fore hoof out to him. "If you don't mind..." she begged him with her eyes.

Rarity watched him, and slowly closed her eyes, as he rubbed his thumb a bit harder into her hoof. Concentrating on the wonderful relieving feeling he was giving her, for her first hoof massage. Though he had his fill after the second hoof, he went ahead worked on her other two appendages; listening as Rarity groaned in enjoyment, and took extra care of her injured hoof.

"Oh, thank you so much for that. I feel ten times better than earlier... Atchmon? Are you sure there isn't anything I can do to return the favor?" she asked.

"Just you bein' here is enough for me, Rares." he said giving her a half smile.

Rarity's heart went out to the lonely human. She could sense there was something else going on, something she knew she didn't understand. But she just didn't know him well enough to guess what it could be.

"But since you asked..." he continued, biting his lip, and looking away.

Rarity sat straighter in anticipation of his request.

"Is there anyway I can get another one of those hugs?" he smiled in embarrassment.

That was it. There was a void to be filled, an age of loneliness, which only the company of others can overcome. It didn't matter what she thought of him anymore, she could never deny anypony of so small a request, and she hugged him all the harder for it. She decided right there, that she wasn't going to be afraid of him anymore.

"Thank you." he whispered with his chin resting on her shoulder.

"Is there anything we can do to help ourselves get rescued in the meantime?" she asked quietly.

"Just survive." he said gently.

Rarity held him until he had his fill of comfort, when he finally broke the embrace she could swear there were tears in his eyes. Though he quickly wiped them away, he would never allow her to see his weakness.

The pair spent the remainder of their day inside the cave, talking, and snacking until it was time to bed down.

However later that night, and every other night since...

Luna never visited Rarity's dreams again.

Some days were better than others, as the pairs natural curiosities for each other was enough to bide the time. Rarity made good on her promise to teach Atchmon some basic manners, as well as the historical backgrounds of some gestures.

"Do I have to keep my head up like this?" Atchmon complained, "I can't see what I'm eatin'."

"Of course! As a pony, our necks are our most vulnerable spot, by holding our heads high we are exposing ourselves, and leaving it open for attack. It's to show our bravery, strength, and fearlessness to others. And as a unicorn it's also a gesture of goodwill, our horns are kept away from any we wish not to harm."

Atchmon picked up Rarity's lessons rather well, but after awhile he'd grow bored, and would rather laze about than learn. He'd shown her that he knew how to act as a gentlestallion, however she expected such behavior nearly at all times.

"That's all well an' good, but I'm not a pony." he emphasized by slouching down, and taking a bite of jerky with his hands.

"This is a problem. Why do you only have bowls?" looking down at Atchmons quite limited dishware.

"What'sh sho wrong with bowlsh?" he asked with the jerky in his cheek.

"Well, for one, they aren't plates, darling, and please don't speak with your mouth full." she corrected him, and he swallowed what he had.

"So? Bowls are great! You can carry your food around without spillin' it, and-"

"I have no doubt about the merits, and advantages a bowl has over a plate, dear. But this is about using..." she thought for a moment, trying to think of a way to get through to him. "Ah! It's about using the right tool for the job. You wouldn't want to use that over-sized blade on everything, now would you?" she asked, pointing a hoof at the knife tied to his waist.

"No, I suppose I wouldn't." he said thoughtfully.

"There, you see? I'm glad we could agree." she said, while closing her eyes with a nod.

I didn't agree to anything. Is she always this pushy when it comes to this sort of stuff? Atchmon thought as his eyes wandered to her hooves.

"What about the others?" he asked.

"Others? What others?" she questioned, confused.

"The other ponies. You said there are Pegasus, and normal type ponies, right?" he said.

"Ah, yes, Pegasi, and Earth ponies." she corrected, wondering where he was going with this.

"And Unicorns, and Olly- Alicorns are the only ones who can lift things with magic, right?" he stated.

"Yes..." she said, realizing what he was about to say.

"So... what're they," he lifted one of the sticks that was suppose to be the salad 'fork' "suppose to do with these, using those." he finished, pointing at her hooves.

"I'm glad you asked dear, while many customs primarily come from the Unicorn tribe, there are many exceptions made to include those with... particular handicaps."

"So how're they suppose to eat then?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at her.

Rarity was about to tell him, before realizing how serious they were being for the last few minutes, and decided to let her 'Pinkie' side out to lighten the mood. She looked at him dead in the eyes, right before plunging her muzzle down on her food, and happily munched on her grilled carrots, before swallowing it all down in one big gulp!

Atchmons eyes and mouth were wide open in shock at how quickly Rarity attacked her food! Before he burst out laughing, and soon Rarity joined him in the merriment!

It was minutes later, before either one could breath enough to speak again!

The days following were quite boring, Atchmon explained to her about the importance of keeping busy, and coming up with projects to improve the camp, which helped the days go by faster. Today, Atchmon busied himself with stripping the bark off some saplings he collected.

"What are you doing with those?" Rarity asked, as she came outside to welcome him back from another one of his short expeditions.

"Makin' some new rope." He answered her simply, never stopping his task.

"What for?" she questioned.

Atchmon paused, and stared blankly ahead before answering. "Well, you know what they say, 'you can never have enough rope.'"

Rarity watched him skeptically as he pulled the bark into thinner, and thinner strips. Eventually dawning on her how he made all the twine that tied virtually everything he owned, together!

After a few minutes of watching him intently, Rarity had a spark of inspiration.

"Atchmon, is it alright if I borrow your knife for a moment?" she asked.

"Sure, what're you gonna use it for?" he asked hesitantly, before unsheathing it and handing it over to her.

"Oh, you'll see, I'm going to make something marvelous for your home." Rarity declared.

"O-kay." Atchmon said, as he watched her canter to the edge of the meadow, taking a moment to cautiously look the area over, before sawing off a few thin branches from the trees. She couldn't put any pressure on the knife like she wanted, her telekinesis just wasn't that strong, but the blade's serrated spine was more than sharp enough to do the work for her.

Rarity quickly stepped away as the branches fell, then levitated the materials back with her to the camp fire.

She stripped the thin bark off the new sticks, feeling the tiny fibers split apart in her aura, then in a whirl of magic she made a string far thinner than any twine Atchmon had ever made for himself.

Atchmon watched with profound interest as Rarity worked her magic, and newly learned survival skill.

"Is it alright if I use the rest of these?" she asked, pointing a hoof to the pile of saplings, though not taking her eyes off her craft.

"Huh? Oh, go right ahead." he encouraged, eager to see where she was going with this. Wanting to see more real magic!

In a short amount of time, Rarity made a primitive loom out of the small branches, and saplings. Then wove the remaining bark into a flat white square with brown letters woven in, which spelled the word 'WELCOME' into the mat.

"You made a- 'welcome' mat?" he asked in disbelief at her skill.

"Do you like it?" she asked excitedly, as she held it up for him in her hooves!

"Wow, Rarity..." he breathed. "You're awesome!" he laughed, as he examined the new decor.

'Ha! I'm awesome for once? In your muzzle, Rainbow Dash!'

"How'd you make that thin string from earlier?" he asked, and scooted closer to watch her work.

"Here let me show you. If you weave it together like this..."

Atchmon and Rarity were spending a lot more time at the falls. Atchmon suggested they make a new set of dishes to go along with the etiquette lessons Rarity was teaching him. Stating he was a much better visual learner, rather than pretending the various sticks and bowls were whatever 'silverware' and dishware Rarity assigned them to be.

Rarity wasn't too thrilled about it, but did her best to pretend she was back in art class working on a clay sculpture. It helped to ignore the icky mud that was clinging to her hooves, and coat.

Once the new dishes and 'glassware' were made, Atchmon built a fire nearby, so the heat could temper the clay and make it harder and stronger.

As they waited for the clay to dry, Atchmon showed Rarity small clay sculptures he made of her and himself. It was a child's attempt, lacking in everything but form, but Rarity felt intrigued to meet the challenge.

"Stand back, darling, and let the master show you how it's done." she stated confidently.

"Oh please, what're you gonna do? You can barely stand to touch it." he smirked at her skeptically.

"You just wait and see, I might surprise you." she said, sticking her tongue out between her teeth, and giving a sly wink.

In a whirl of blue magic, and in a flash she'd created a uncanny bust of herself! Atchmons jaw dropped at the sight of her artistic talent. The sculpture was complete with her signature curly mane, and looked as though she were pursing her lips!

"Wow Rarity, you're freakin' awesome, you know that?" Atchmon praised, as he took a closer look at the new sculpture.

"Oh, I'm nothing special to be honest, I have a couple friends who are far more talented in magic than I am." she said while waving a hoof, as if it weren't a big deal. Though she couldn't help smiling, and blushing from the complement.

Rarity was getting used to not having her usual amenities, though the constant feeling of not being totally clean ate at her.

"Goddesses, what I wouldn't give for some proper shampoo right about now." she said while scrubbing a fore-hoof.

"You think this is bad? Just wait till the cold weather hits. You'll have to decide between keepin' warm, or keepin' clean. I tried going for as long as I could without a bath, god that was a horrible mistake. You pretty much just have to deal with the cold water, helps to have a big fire going beforehand."

"Do you really think it could take that long for them to find us?" she asked in worry.

"Nah, I never had anyone lookin' for me, well, maybe not here anyway. From what you've told me about that map, it doesn't sound like they have an exact location on you, so... I dunno, it could take awhile." he answered truthfully, while trying to keep his hair out of his face. It grew too long again, though luckily Rarity's sewing kit came with a small pair of scissors. And with her help, he won't have to guesstimate how best to cut his own hair with his oversized Bowie knife for awhile, at least.

Rarity stared down at the water after hearing that. The idea of staying here indefinitely was a great possibility.

"Hey, you've got people lookin' for you. Friends who care about you, right?" Atchmon said, after noticing Rarity hadn't spoke in a while.

She nodded, a smile gracing her lips as she thought of her friends back home.

"There you go. See? Nothin' to worry about." Atchmon turned and continued to scrub out the oil from his hair.

"I know, they really are the best friends a pony could ever ask for. I remember the time I was pony-napped by a group of Diamond Dogs, and they all came running to my rescue!" she smiled at the memory.

"Diamond dogs? What're those? I don't think I've seen any dogs around here, other than the wolves, and branch-wolves." he said thoughtfully.

"Branch wolves? Oh, you mean the Timber wolves." Rarity spent enough time listening to him talk about the animals he's seen to know what he meant. He explained to her that it was his 'divine' duty as a human to name the creatures he encounters, whatever that meant.

"Ohh! Yeah, that's a much better name! We have Timberwolves where I come from, but they're more like a smaller version of those Dire wolves you told me about."

"Hmm. Well, to answer your first question. Diamond dogs are a bit like you. In that, they can walk bipedally, or on all fours if need be, and are canine-like in nature. They have paws which are quite similar to your hands, but also claws, which they use to dig tunnels for their homes. They are commonly burrowing creatures, and they spend much of their time underground, usually in search of precious gems. Hence the name 'Diamond' dogs, and before you ask, yes, they can talk like you and I." she nodded, finishing yet another lecture. Watch out Twilight I may have to find my own pupil at this rate! Though Atchmon has been quite the good student.

"Wow, hmmm, what do they use the gems for?" he inquired.

"Nopony really knows, most just assume they horde, or eat them like the dragons do. They're just far too territorial for anypony to simply ask." she answered with a shrug.

"Hmm, so how'd they get you out?" he asked.

"They didn't, not that I actually needed rescuing in the first place." she said.

"Uh-huh, sure you didn't." he said, giving her a skeptical half smile.

"It's true! Even though Diamond dogs are sapient creatures, they aren't that bright you see, and I managed to trick them into letting me go!" she exclaimed!

"Oh yeah? And how'd you manage to pull that off?"

"By whi- ehem complaining to them, until they agreed to let me go." she said, lifting her head in a dignified manner.

"...Okay, yeah, I can see why they'd let you go." Atchmon said, nodding his head.

Rarity narrowed her eyes, and pelted him with a glob of water with her magic. "Hey! ahaha!", but in the back of her mind she was hoping she wasn't being too pushy. Perhaps I should back off a bit, he's changed so much for my sake.

"So, Dragons eat gemstones?" he questioned.

"Mmm? Yes, but we ponies wish they would stick to just gems."

"Are dragons a problem where you're from?" he asked, turning to her.

"No, not really, dragon raids were rare even before our new diplomatic ties with Princess Ember."

"Please tell me that's not another pony princess." he groaned.

"Oh, mhm, no. She's a dragon, her father was the previous king before she earned the right to rule. Now the raids have nearly ceased entirely, though there are a few rogue elements. There were rumors of a dragon resistance, who're completely against starting relations with us ponies." I knew that Garble cause some trouble whenever they announced the news of our new relations, I just never imagined it would get that bad.

"You live in a much more exciting world than I do Rares. Dragons, Diamond dogs, Griffins... all we have to worry about is ourselves." he said thoughtfully.

"What do you mean by that? Don't you have some big scary monsters to worry about on your world?" she asked.

"There're some, but... they're nothin' like the beasts here. No, man is the most dangerous animal on our planet, Rarity." he said, tossing a rock into the water.

Rarity looked the human over. True, his size did intimidate her, but other than that, he had nothing on the beasts of the Everfree. "You don't seem all that dangerous to me. You don't have any claws, and your teeth aren't anywhere near as impressive as a Manticore."

"I have something far better than teeth and claws, Rares," he grinned at her confidently.

"Oh, what do you have, then?" She asked skeptically, wondering for a moment if he was going to say his bow.

"I have this," Atchmon said, tapping his head.

Though she understood what he meant, Rarity couldn't help making fun. "You have a really hard head to bash with?"

Now it was his turn to splash her with water.

Rarity was laying at the foot of the bed with her hooves draped over the side, which was the spot she claimed as her own.

"I just can't figure it out." she spoke suddenly.

"What's that?" Atchmon asked curiously, he was busy sharpening his blade once again, the whetstone in his hand warped from so much use, grateful for the interruption.

Rarity was admiring the art around his home again, and figured out much of the history behind it, just from her observations. She learned that at one point he tried to carve the images directly into the stone, but must've found it difficult for he barely managed to finish a single image. A wolf of course. Though she couldn't determine if the seemingly random shapes, and squiggles were from before, or after that time.

No, what really puzzled her was how he managed to 'paint' without anything to paint with!

"How did you do all this?" she asked, waving her hoof around at his art.

Atchmon looked at the walls, before understanding what she was asking. "I'm glad you asked!" he started excitedly, and quickly moved off the bed.

"Wha-!?" Rarity was surprised by his sudden burst of movement, and waited for him to return from outside.

"C'mon out here, I'll show ya!" he called back.

Rarity cantered outside, and sat on her haunches while he explained the process at the fire pit.

He explained that most of the pigment was from charcoal, clay, and bones. Which she wasn't too happy to hear that last part, nor the next as he continued. He found that using sap, or mixing animal fat with the 'paint', would help it stick to the cave walls!

"C'mon, I been wantin' to do this for awhile!" he said excitedly, while heading back inside their den with freshly made pigment, which he kept in several clam shells.

"What're we gonna do?" she asked curiously.

"We're gonna tell your story, riiiight here!" he finished, pointing a finger at the only part of the cave that was left blank! Which was on the opposite side from the head of the bed.

In a matter of minutes Rarity was sucked into the project, having that utter and complete focus she was famous for when making her dresses.

Rarity was well practiced in the art of fine precision telekinesis. She had to be in order to precisely sew with a needle using her magic.

In a few short hours, a brand new mural graced Atchmon's home. It started at the top with the opening of the dome, and a white Unicorn mare falling from it, then the chance meeting with a new animal friend, culminating to the terrifying wolf chase, and ended with a white pony holding 'hooves' with a red alien creature, as they stood side by side as friends. The detail was astonishing, showing that Rarity had a true artist's eye. She even used some of her own hair to work in the finer details into the paintings.

"Do you like it?" she asked, eager to hear his opinion.

"Nope, I don't like it." he spoke plainly with a disappointed frown.

Rarity's jaw dropped, her spirit was crushed, and she could feel tears coming on as her lips quivered. 'B-but I worked so hard on it. I did my very best to make it as good as possible... That was it, wasn't it? It was too good, I showed him up, and now he hates me for it.' Rarity was just about to run away dramatically wailing her eyes out, before Atchmon's loud voice broke her depressive thoughts.

"I love it!" he yelled, throwing his arms out in excitement. "I mean, look at this! You got my hair just right. An' the wolves are amazing; an' holy crap the trees! I never thought I'd be excited about seein' a tree, but look at this!" he raved, and praised her work.

"Well, I'm glad you like it." Rarity tried to keep a straight face like a professional, even though she was squeeing on the inside.

As the days grew hotter Rarity and Atchmon lazed about inside the cave. Enjoying the coolness it provided, while talking about this and that, and whatever else came to mind.

Rarity was having a harder time of it than Atchmon was. Though she could sweat, she simply wasn't as conditioned to the hot weather as he was. The fur of her hide contributed to the stifling heat which she found unbearable.

Rarity laid on her side panting against the cave floor, trying her best to cool off. She'd occasionally switch sides, and position herself on a newer, cooler spot in the den. Feeling the coolness of the stone floor seeping into her damp coat.

Atchmon lifted the stick flap, a wave a of heat entered with him, before closing it again.

"Oh, thank you. You have no idea how much I needed this." Rarity thanked him as he sat down a full canteen full of clean water next to her.
Atchmon watched as she drank at the water greedily, watching as water drops escape the corners of her mouth.

Gah! Huff! "Ohhh, mmph!" Rarity whimpered in frustration, as the last drop of water fell from her canteen to the floor. Rarity laid her head back down, not caring how dirty the ground was, only wanting to cool off her burning hide.

The next moment, Rarity heard something be set on the ground next to her head, and opened her eyes in time to see Atchmon pulling away from leaving his canteen next to her.

"Are you sure?" she asked, glancing at his canteen.

Atchmon was crouched next to her, and motioned for her to drink with a subtle nod and a flick of his hand. "It's okay, you need it more than I do."

"How are we doing on water anyway?" she asked, before taking a slower, more careful sip. Not wanting to waste such a precious gift.

"We got half a pot left, so we'll be okay for today, but tomorrow we need to restock. Think you can help me with that? It'll go alot faster if you can carry some water too."

"I don't know if I can... it's just too hot." she whined.

"It'll let up soon, we're overdue for some rain anyhow... which is really gonna suck." he grumbled.

"Why is that?" she asked.

"I'll tell you about it later, right now we need to keep you cool. Here, I'll get you some more water." he said, taking both of the canteens with him.

"Oh thank you." Rarity rolled on her other side, leaving a wet spot on the floor, and felt the wave of heat hit her back as Atchmon exited the den.

At night they shared their favorite songs and stories. Atchmon tried his best to remember anything that Rarity might like, but his preferences were limited to what he considered to be 'classical' music.

"It's Classic Rock, Rarity. Not classical, that's a totally different thing." Atchmon corrected her.

While most lyrics were disturbingly about death, insanity, and 'love-making' as a nicer word for it. She did enjoy the one Atchmon acted out for her called 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Its opera-style singing pulled her into the music, and she especially liked the 'Free Bird' one too.

Though Atchmon didn't have a great singing voice, he did try his best, and didn't try to torture her with his bad singing.

"Sorry I'm a bit tone deaf." Which he admitted was terrible, all the while Rarity encouraged him to continue. Wanting to learn more about his alien culture.

Rarity shared some of her favorite songs with him too. As he listened to her sing, there was something about those songs that made him feel happy. She had a lovely singing voice, deep--in a feminine sort of way--with a bit of vibrato. He liked the ones about smiling and wrapping up winter, which he was shocked to find out the ponies could actually control the weather. It took Rarity quite a bit of convincing and explaining, until he finally accepted it as truth.

"I always thought the clouds here seemed a lot thicker, than the ones on my world. Denser, I think would be a more accurate description." Rarity always found it intriguing whenever he'd start to analyse some new discovery, as it was an opportunity for her to learn more about his world too.

"Humans can't control the weather?" she questioned.

"Nope, if we could, that'd solve a whole lot of problems around the world." he said thoughtfully. "My home was right in the middle of what we called Tornado Alley."

"Ooh, just the name alone says it all. What do you do with nopony who can stop it?" Rarity asked, and remembered the twister Rainbow Dash, and Lightning Dust made together, which nearly cost Rarity, and all of her friends, their lives.

"Nothin'. All we can do is take shelter, an' wait for it to pass. We've had to rebuild our home twice because of those storms. Damn scary too, they say it sounds like a train plowin' through, but... I can tell ya, it's more like a lot of wind, an' you just can't hear anything else."

Rarity never thought about what life would be like without control of the weather. More severe storms drifting in from the Everfree was the first thought to come to her mind. Then of the crystal heart, which protected the Crystal Empire from being buried under a mountain of snow.

"I never realized how... fickle our survival is, just from our own world." she said thoughtfully. "Then again, I never expected the Everfree to be so calm. Is it always like this?" she asked.

"More or less. The weather'll probably pick up in a few weeks." he answered. "You're a really good singer, Rarity." he complimented.

"Oh, I'm alright, but others are much better. My little sister is becoming quite the rising star in our small town." Rarity smiled shyly at the compliment, and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

"You have a sister?" he asked curiously.

"Mmm, yes." she answered, looking sad.

"Rare? Ya alright?" he asked in concern.

"Hmm? Oh, yes I'm fine.... it's just... we had a fight, right before I left, and... I'm worried about her."

"Don't worry, kids are tougher than you might think, best thing you can do for her is to take care of yourself out here." Atchmon comforted, reaching over and petting Rarity up and down where her chest met her neck. Then finishing off with a final supportive grip of her leg.

"You have a younger sister too?" she asked, looking up to him, remembering he mentioned having one in the past. Thankful for the comfort he provided, and feeling better because of it.

"Older sister." he answered, staring at the flames. "She... she tried to help me, but I was too stupid, an' selfish to see it. Ended up fffuh-mmph, messin' up." Rarity gave a thankful smile at his continued attempts to clean his language, though he'd still slip every now and again. "We had a fight too... a bad one... a really bad one."

Rarity shuffled closer to him, wanting to comfort the stoic human. She knew he felt sad, but he refused to show it. It both shocked and fascinated her to see a male lidding his emotions so well. It served to remind her how different a world he came from. A world where stallions were taught to be independant, and strong, and to provide for their mares. Even fight for them!

"I was completely in the wrong, but even so, she still tried to help me. Even after everything I'd done... after everything I didn't do." Rarity leaned against him, and he leaned on her.

"Thanks." he whispered.

The pair watched as the fire died down, and the cool night forced them to retire inside the cave once again.

Bad Company

View Online

It's been little over a week since Rarity was thrust into what was decidedly the most mundane adventure of her life.

Atchmon wasn't kidding about the monotony of everyday. The days grew longer, and more dull as the pair did everything they could to pass the time.

They lost their 'baseball' when Atchmon got a particularly hard hit, which sent it flying over the trees and into the forest. They've yet to recover it. Atchmon was thrilled with his 'home run', but also very upset to lose such a precious item.

Much of their days were spent within the sanctity of the cave; mostly due to the increasing temperature of the summer sun.

"Wanna go again?" Atchmon asked as he removed all of the 'x' and 'o' shaped wooden pieces off the floor of the den.

"I can't believe I'm the worst tic-tac-toe player among two worlds..." Rarity sighed, shaking her head. "Best of seventy-one?"

Atchmon shrugged some of his responsibilities the first few days of Rarity's arrival, but now he needed to get back into his old routine; which mainly consisted of carrying water from the creek, since the garden was starting to look a little wilty.

It took eighteen vases of water to fully cover the entirety of his miniature farm, and in a few hours he would have to do so again.

Rarity watched him do this twice-a-day routine everyday from the entrance of the cave, as she flipped through her issue of Cosmare Magazine for the dozenth time.

If she read the article promising 'Bountiful Flanks through Natural Produce' or advice on 'How to Court Your Dream Stallion in Ten Days' again, then her head was going to implode from boredom.

The Den was the only place she felt safe, other than when they would sit by the fire pit. As she watched him, she couldn't help comparing him to the stallions back home. They certainly couldn't endure the heat of the day like Atchmon could, nor as long as he could.

Whenever she wasn't watching him, she was making improvements and cleaning the Den.

It made her feel like she was living in the 'old times'. Back when a stallions place was in the fields, and her's was at home. Managing the wealth, cooking the meals, and caring for the foals.

Rarity stopped herself whenever she'd start thinking like that.

Atchmon wasn't anything like the stallion's back home.

The stories and songs they'd share with each other helped pass the time. But day after day was nearly the same, with the only differences being in whatever subject the pair happened to find in common.

But today things were going to change.

The pair laid inside the cave, whose interior changed drastically since their first meeting.

Rarity took Atchmon's advice to heart, and busied herself by hanging floral decorations from the ceiling, which she praised on how much it brightened the room, made it smell better, and stated how his home needed a 'mare's' touch.

He was okay with it, at first, but now his home started to smell like decaying flowers. Not only that but they attracted unwanted insects into his home.

"And then I said, 'That's not a hat, darling. That's a natural disaster that somehow landed atop of your head!' Mm-hmph. I didn't realize what a bad joke it was until after I told them, but they laughed anyway," Rarity chatted away, while running her brush through her mane.

Most days were filled with good feelings, and good conversation.

Others... not so much.

Snap! "Uh-huh..." Atchmon spoke idly, while most of his concentration was on harvesting nuts for them to eat later.

"-friends showed up on my doorstep. So then I had to soak my poor Opal kitty in cold water, just to keep them from suspecting anything,"

Pop! "Mm-hmm..." Snap!

Atchmon wasn't too thrilled about the arrangement. Thanks to his tall stature he was constantly bumping his head into the hanging pinata-like décor.


It was better than hitting a hard ceiling.


Even though his 'man cave' was turned into a nightmare of girly-ness.

He did keep his promise and made a tiny bed for Rarity to sleep in. Though if he was being honest, he really wanted the rest of his own bed back.

It was position to the side, at the foot of Atchmon's own bed. Which Rarity currently laid content in, while she brushed herself for what must've been the tenth time that morning.

There was something oddly familiar about the arrangement to her. It felt like a reversal of roles, though she couldn't place, nor shake the feeling.

With the addition of Rarity's bed, he was forced to remove the table he spent countless hours creating, just so he could have enough room to move around inside his home.

At least, that was the plan until Rarity placed a sizeable flower pot of her own design right where his table used to be, which negated all the space saved.

Rarity's contributions usually went unnoticed. Though Atchmon did praise her newly crafted broom that she made from thick grass stalks a wooden stick and the sapling twine to hold it all together.

Rarity once spent an entire afternoon rearranging all the little bits of treasures Atchmon kept around, just to entertain herself. It was all for not, as Atchmon turned the cave upside down looking for his bone-tools. And gave Rarity an undeserved (she felt) scolding for touching his things.


Rarity flinched at every sound that emanated from Atchmon's harvest. She gradually focused on it, until it consumed all she could hear.


"Atchmon would you be a dear, and finish that outside please?" she asked.

"Seriously? It's too hot outside." he said, though not stopping his work.

"True, but do you have to do that now?"

"Um, yeah? Unless you feel like going hungry tonight?" he said with a fair bit of sarcasm.

"I'm sick of eating nuts."

"Me too." he replied nonchalantly.

"Can't you just stop that for an hour at least!?" Rarity exasperated.

Atchmon scoffed and shot her a look. 'After all the chatter she wants me to stop making noise?' "Fine." he resigned in a huff.

After a few moments of silence Rarity looked over to find Atchmon doing the thing that really got on her nerves.

The human's 'grooming' habits were quite disgusting to watch. He was picking at himself, biting his nails, and tossing his facial hair, and other nasty bits inside their 'perfectly' clean home.

"Ew! Don't do that inside our home; do that outside!" Rarity berated him in disgust.

"Oh like yer one to talk." he scoffed, before taking a breath and blowing on the ground.

A visible wave of white pony hair and dander was picked up in the gust.

"See that?" he questioned, pointing his finger around at the mess of hair on the floor, "That's all you." he finished, pointing at her.

"I can't help it. I've always been a late shedder. And it wouldn't be this bad, if I had my proper grooming supplies with me. My little brush can only do so much." she whined, holding up her brush for him to see.

Rarity was trying to pull out clogs of white and purple hair from its bristles, leaving it clumped and disheveled. She once explained to Atchmon in the past that because of the pony's control of the weather and the seasons, some ponies will shed their winter coat a bit later than others. And Rarity just happened to be one of these unfortunate few.

She'd been doing her best to stay as presentable as possible, despite lacking the proper equipment. Though her coat grew out quite nicely. The hair around her hooves, elbows, knees, and hocks were becoming long and elegant. And her chest fur gave her a bit of a 'fluffy' look. Though much of her hair came out in chunks around her back, barrel, and flanks, making her look patchy in those areas.

Atchmon tried to help her by offering his knife for her to use, but other than her mane and tail, which she now kept shorter, (but not too short since it simply wasn't 'in' this season) the blade just wasn't 'cut out' for use on her hide.

A few more days of vigilant brushing, and she'll have her beautiful, smooth summer coat. Once she finished shedding that is.

Atchmon sighed in annoyance, before reaching under the bed, and pulling out his leather boots.

"Ah, get outta here!" Atchmon scolded Monty while shooing the little horned rabbit away; who tried to sneak a few bites of the nuts that Atchmon just sat on the floor.

Monty quickly hopped away, and zipped outside the den.

"Must you be so harsh on him? He only wanted a bite to eat," Rarity said, looking a bit miffed. "Where are you going anyway?" she asked, watching him lean over the bed, while typing on his boots.

"Out," Atchmon started curtly; making it clear he didn't want to talk to her. "To gather more food. 'Cause apparently what we have here isn't good enough." he muttered.

"Oh! Can I come with you this time?" Rarity asked brightly; completely ignoring his slight.


"Why not!?" she whined. "My hoof's mostly all better, plus I'm sick of sitting in this cave all day. Every-day, in fact."

"Because unless it's fixing my pants, or making something 'pretty'. You don't do anything your worship. Not only that, but every time I try to get you to pitch in, you make up a dozen excuses about why you don't want to do it. Plus! The forest is all green, all the time, and you will get lost. So if something happens and we get separated; I doubt you'd be able to look after yourself. So, no, you can't come. And You're. Staying. Here." he finished firmly, and giving her a look, letting her know his decision was final.

"Well, I hardly see the point in teaching me anything; my friends are going to be here to rescue me any day now."

"And what if they don't, what if they never come?" he emphasized, hoping his serious tone would change her mind.

"They will come, I wouldn't be surprised if they showed up while you're away, and all you've collected will be made moot!"

"Well I wouldn't have to be looking for food all the time, if you didn't-" Atchmon stopped himself by pressing his lips together tightly, before he was about to say something he would later regret.

"If I didn't what? Go on. Finish what you were going to say," she warned, narrowing her eyes at him.

"You eat like a horse!" Atchmon narrowed his eyes, knowing they were about to have another fight. He didn't care, he was sick of her nagging.

Atchmon knew Rarity's eating habits were a sensitive subject for her. Having watched her stress eat so much those first few days. It really put a strain on his supplies, if not for the drought, it wouldn't have been an issue.

But Rarity was confident in a swift rescue, and Atchmon had nothing but doubts.

The pair shouted, argued, and yelled at each other. Each one's insults becoming more petty than the last, until Atchmon finally had enough, and stormed out the den. He carried his rucksack and bow with him, but not before he tore down a few of Rarity's floral decorations, after hitting his head on them for the umpteenth time, in a petty bid for revenge against the mare's far superior wit.

Rarity watched him enter the forest, then stomped her hooves in irritation and wiped away the hot, angry tears from her eyes. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction of hurting her feelings.

"I'll show him!" she snorted, while unconsciously scraping a hoof at the ground.

Atchmon returned from scouting. Some of his traps were set off, but with nothing to show for it, though many had only a few remains of what was suppose to be his prize. He couldn't determine the culprit, thanks to the recent drought. The ground was far too hard and dry to leave any tracks, but he did have a few suspects.

This didn't bode well for him, even though he was used to seeing a snare or two set off with nothing to show for it, and for his bounty to be taken before he had a chance to collect, but to have so many at once... but luckily he'll not be returning empty handed.

Atchmon had enough jerky to last him a day. Maybe even two or three if he really wanted to ration it. After Rarity's arrival he felt it was a good time to 'let loose', though now he was starting to pay for it.

This trip he managed to hunt a few unlucky squirrels, and some pheasants. Despite the drought, there was still no shortage of small critters for him to eat near the creek, though the flow of water had all but ceased.

Rarity wasn't happy about it, as the waterfall had a fraction of the flow it used to have. Atchmon didn't want them to move to his river location just yet, as it was far less secure than his 'hobbit hole'. If only he'd finished that 'tree house' structure he started all that time ago... would've come in real handy about now... only problem would be getting Rarity up there.

He set his things down near the fire pit as he thought, and looked forward to a bit of rest, food, but not so much his company. He sighed as he looked up at the round entrance to the den. Wondering what dozen and a half new requests Rarity had waiting for him. What witty remarks she had at the ready for that recent argument.

They got along fairly well, almost becoming fast friends. But there were times Rarity was just so needy.

"She's gotta start earnin' her keep." he mumbled as walked up the hill, completely unsure of what he was going to say, or do. Ideally he would prefer they'd forget the whole thing ever happened, but that wasn't the way things worked. No matter how much he'd try to make it work.

He entered the den, only to find it devoid of any unicorn.

His gut wrenched, and mind raced with all the possibilities of what could've happened. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence for a wild animal to wander into his domain out of curiosity, but that hasn't happened in a long time. There was no blood, no possible sign of a struggle, and no tracks...

Atchmon quickly exited the den, turned around, jumped, and grasped the rocky ledge of his roof, then ungracefully hauled himself over the top of his home, where he could see all around.

"Rarity!" he shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth, as he stood atop the hill. While he carefully scanned the area.

"Rarity!" his eyes darted around while he spun in place, trying to spot her brilliant white coat among all the greens and browns of the forest by the tree line.

"RARITY!" Atchmon doubled over trying to force every bit of volume into the shout. Only faint echoes answered him back.

He grasped his head in his arms as his eyes were blinded by tears, while the thought of having lost his only friend in this world took root in the deepest part of his mind.

His mind worked to control his feelings, with a vile part of himself trying to convince him it wasn't real to begin with; while another poisonous part of him said she left because of him.

"Atchmon! What's wrong!?" Rarity shouted from the edge of the meadow, as she cantered towards him while floating the spear in her magic, looking all around for danger with her wide, concerned eyes.

"You're okay! She's...okay..." he whispered while taking shaky breaths, trying to calm his frayed nerves. "Where did you go!? I thought I told you to stay here!" He shouted down at her in an angry tone once the shock had passed.

"And I thought you were in trouble!" Rarity admonished.

"God dammit, Rarity." Atchmon growled through his teeth, while placing his hands over his eyes and cheeks; working to cool off his burning anger.

"Don't you dare speak to me that way! I am a grown mare, and I can take care of myself." she argued. "Besides there hasn't been anything dangerous in weeks; not since that first day we met." she exasperated. Ever since Rarity's leg healed, she'd been getting increasingly stir crazy. This was the first time she'd left without his knowledge, or protection.

"I don't care! You. Don't. Leave. without me!" he stated firmly, pointing his finger at the ground to emphasize each word, as he made his way down from their home.

"I'm sorry, alright!? But I've been cooped up in that musty old cave for over a week straight, and I can't stand it any more! So I went for a little walk. Is that so wrong? Then I had an accident, so I couldn't come back right away and-" she said quickly, then looked away with her cheeks flushing red in anger and embarrassment, before being interrupted.

"Accident!? What kind of accident? Are you hurt?" he asked, alleviating much of his anger, and quickly kneeled before her, checking Rarity over for any injuries. She looked unharmed, though her coat, and especially her tail, were damp.

"I don't wanna talk about it." she said quickly, and turned from him, trying to hide her embarrassment.

"Rarity..." he warned, before taking a calming breath. "If there's something wrong, we need to take care of it. Now what is it." he asked evenly. Rarity only tightened her lips

"Is it your leg?" he asked in concern, after noticing she wasn't wearing the bandage like she was just the other day.

"My leg is fine!" she started defensively, before looking away again. "I just-" she sighed. "Really miss having toilet paper, or a bidet for that matter." she mumbled.

Atchmon stared at her for a moment, processing what he just heard, and sighed as he realized what was going on. "Couldn't you have waited to do that until I got back?"

"Excuse my bluntness, but you know those wild oats you found goes right through me..." she said, still looking away in embarrassment, with a tinge of red on her cheeks.

Atchmon took another breath, relieving the last bit of tension he felt, though his cheeks were still heated, before looking back towards the garden, where tall stalks of oat grass were now growing, along with a small pile drying in the sun.

Rarity had reassured him that it was safe for her to eat, though she was always insistent on it being prepared in a very specific way. Atchmon was sure she was just teaching him some more etiquette lessons. Though why everything had to be perfect was beyond him.

However, her body seemed to disagree, no matter how well prepared the food was.

He couldn't blame her, knowing it was going to take more than just a week or so for her body to adjust to this new lifestyle.

"So, did you enjoy your little nature walk?" he asked with a little more haughtiness in his voice than he meant.

"As a matter of fact, I did. And look, I even picked up some groceries along the way." she said giving her saddlebags a little bounce. The bottoms of which were heavy, and lumpy with foodstuffs. "No need to thank me." she stood with her head held high, awaiting praise for her work.

"Oh yeah? Let's see what you got then." he said, grabbing her bags while they were still strapped to her, and pulled them both towards himself. Rarity had to side step to keep from falling, and laid her ears at him in annoyance for not giving her time to take them off. But Atchmon paid her no mind.

Inside the bag were a medley of nuts, berries, a large sum of plum-like fruit, and a small bundle of very green grass tied together with a red bow. Typical...

"Where'd you find all this?" he asked, while sifting through her bags.

"Not far from our usual route to the waterfall. Don't worry! I didn't stray too far from the path, so I wouldn't get lost." she added, when he gave her a look.

"I figured you did. You see these." he held up a pair of succulently, ripe looking cherries. Their dark colored skin looked as though it were ready to burst with its delicious flavor. "Did you eat any of these? Any of this?" he asked shaking the bag.

"N-no. I had a big lunch, before I headed out." her confidence wavered, as she begun to shrink away after hearing how serious his tone had become.

"Good, because if you had, you'd be puking your guts out right about now." he said, then tossed the cherry, and any others like it, into the fire pit's ashes.

"These'll make you shit yer brains out." he said holding up a few of the plums. "And water is pretty hard to come by as it is so... It's already bad enough with your diet issues." he said as he tossed all the plums into the pit as well.

"W-what? N-no. Those can't be bad. Can they? Monty? Here Monty." she called for her little animal friend, and floated down one of the plums for him to eat, only to watch him toss it away, and start looking for something else.

"Poisonous, poison, bad, bad, bad..." Atchmon said idly as he tossed nearly every bit of food she had gathered into the ashes.

Rarity watched in dismay as Atchmon threw away all of her hard work. Once he was done, she stared down into the near empty depths of her saddle bag. Only blackberries, pecans, and the grass were left.

Now that Rarity was back and safe, Atchmon returned to the fire pit, and begun harvesting his latest prey.

"What do you think you're doing?" Rarity was shocked to see such innocent, little creatures about to be butchered.

"What now?" Atchmon groaned, wondering what he did wrong.

"Don't you have meat already? Why'd you kill all these poor critters if you don't need to eat?"

Atchmon scoffed, "Are you kiddin' me? Just because I have food now, doesn't mean I should stop lookin' for it." he stated firmly, then returned to his work.

"But must you do that here, where we live? Why can't you do that someplace further away?" she said, her nose curling from the scent of fresh blood.

"It's my home, and I'll work where I damn well please." he retorted, not in the mood to take an undeserved berating.

"Need I remind you that I am a Lady, you will do as I say." she commanded, hoping to channel some female dominance over him, as she raised her head high, and tried to make herself look as big as possible.

Rarity might not have been the 'high horse' of her friends, but that didn't mean she couldn't act like it.

"Oh, please 'princess'; you've got no power here." Atchmon said sarcastically, while waving off her new stature.

She barely made it to his eye level.

"You know what; if you wanna help so bad, why don't you go clean out the cave again? I'm sure that'll make you happy." he finished condescendingly.

"Happy? Happy!? fffmmmmhhh!" Rarity growled as her face contorted in anger and frustration, and gritted her teeth, and looked as though she was about to blow. Until a gentle smile suddenly graced her lips.

"Fine. I'll do as you ask, just to be helpful of course!" she fired back, and stomped up the hill towards the entrance.

"And don't touch my things!" he shouted as an afterthought.

Rarity was making a bit more noise than necessary for someone who was suppose to be house cleaning. Atchmon sighed and shook his head in frustration. "If it's not one thing; it's another." Atchmon muttered to himself, but stayed where he was; simply because he didn't want to deal with Rarity again, just yet.

A moment later Atchmon's world was suddenly plunged into darkness. He quickly pulled off the furred covering that was his bear-hide blanket.

"What the hell ? What do you think yer doin'!?" he shouted towards his home, then stomped his way after her, while carrying his furred blanket. Intending to put it back in its rightful place.

More shouting, more yelling, tempers rose, and things were broken in the struggle, until it all came to a head. Then pain, explosive, unending, excruciating pain reverberated throughout Atchmon's body.

"Oh, Atchmon..." Rarity whispered with a hoof covering her mouth in shock. "I'm so sor-" Rarity tried to apologize, as fear and sickness gripped her stomach from what she had done.

"Get. Out!" he growled at her, while he remained doubled over on the ground.

"Atchmon, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to!" she tried to plead with him. She stepped closer towards him, thinking she might be able to nuzzle him back up to his feet. It scared her to see such a large, tough being as Atchmon go down so easily. As he writhed on the ground.

"I said go away you stupid horse!" he shouted as he put a hand on her chest, then shoved her away. The force of his push sent Rarity scrambling backwards, and she nearly fell on her rump, but she managed to stay on her hooves.

"Fine! I will, you- you-" but Rarity was too hurt and angry to finish the insult, instead she turned and galloped away with tears welling in her eyes.

Rarity didn't know how long she ran. She just kept running, feeling as though she could out run the forest surrounding her. And somehow, magically, be back home.

After what felt like hours, Atchmon finally picked himself up off the floor, and sat on the ground with his back against his bed. Not caring that he was sitting on broken ceramic, flowers, and the nuts from earlier. Then slowly picked up the remains of Mahoney and sat the dragon skull next to him on the bed.

"Six years... and nothin's changed." he said, while staring down at the broken pieces in his hands, then looked around at all bouquets of flowers on the floor.

"Everything has to be perfect, everything has to be just so!" Atchmon exclaimed at Mahoney, trying to work up his fury again. Rather than the emptiness he felt growing inside. But nothing he did could stop the tears from welling in his eyes.

The skull kept its usual neutral expression, though now, Mahoney was missing a few teeth, and half a jaw. But to Atchmon it seemed like Mahoney was giving him a smug grin.

As if knowing this breakdown was a long time coming.

Rarity had stopped somewhere in the middle of the woods to catch her breath.

"Would it really kill him to act a little civilized!?" Rarity exasperated, while pacing back and forth in front of Monty. The little wolpertinger sat on a tree log bobbing himself up and down, expecting another treat. Though Rarity just took it as him agreeing with her, while she voiced her complaints.

"She- she- she just changes everything without tellin' me! And she's so demanding!

"All I tried to do is make a few improvements, but oh no, Mr. I'm-In-Charge thinks he knows best!" Rarity said, making her voice deep and overly twangy. "I mean really! All those heroic stallions in the books are so kind and caring! But he only cares about himself!"

"Why can't she just take care of herself!? I was doing just fine on my own! Why couldn't he do the same!? Why did it have to be me!? Why did I have to take care of everything!?"

"He keeps treating me like I'm some pack-mule! Sorry, I don't mean to sound racist; but that's how I feel!" she apologized, after Monty had turned away right when something caught his interest. "I know I shouldn't compare my current situation to their history. They did have a much harder life during those times..."

The pair ranted and raved at their compatriots, until their boiling rage came to a head once again.

"She's a stupid, spoiled, bitchy, horse!"
"He's a vile, vulgar, uncouth, brute!"

"I'd be better off without 'er!"
"I'd be better off without him!"

Silence reigned as they huffed in anger, while their compatriots stayed nearby. Each heated breath quickly cooled the fury burning within them.

After a moment they both knew that statement just wasn't true, and both felt ashamed for saying it.

"Oh, what do you know, yer just a fuh- freakin' skull..." he grumbled, while glaring at Mahoney, and took a moment to acknowledge Rarity's positive influence on him.

He remained seated on the ground, and just stared at the entrance. Minutes rolled by, and still he stared ahead, his mind blank, unthinking, unmoving.

Until slowly the pang of loneliness grew too much for him to ignore.

He wanted her back.

"I need her... I can't do this anymore." he whispered.

He got up, went outside, and called her name.

"What should I do Monty? Apologize? Stand up for myself? Make it up to him?" she asked the little critter, who only stared ahead with a neutral expression, while wiggling his tiny nose at her.

"RAAR-ITY..." Atchmon's voice called in the distance.

Rarity craned her neck in the direction of the call, listening to the faint echoes all around her, breaking the deathly silence of the forest.

"You stupid horse!" His hurtful words echoed in her mind.

Her hurt and anger flared again at the memory, and took a few steps in the opposite direction.

"You gelding!" Her past voice shouted back at him.

Then realized how foalish she was being, knowing she must be making him worried sick.

"Stop acting like a bitch!"

Which was exactly how she wanted him to feel. So she continued to trot, ignoring the other calls that followed.

"Sorry excuse for a stallion!"

"I'm sick of him telling me what to do! When to stay, and when to go! 'It's alright Rarity, I'll handle it'" she mocked. "I'm not some prissy pony like he thinks I am! It's been weeks, and we haven't seen anything larger than a squirrel in all that time. 'Oh no Rarity, the forest is unpredictable, anything could happen, I wouldn't want you to get hurt.', " she continued to mock.

"-princess needs more of her beauty sleep!"

Rarity sniffed as tears threatened to fall once again at the abusive onslaught of Atchmon's words and names.

"I just can't help feeling so cross with every little thing he does. Ever since Princess Luna last tried to contact me, I-" she stopped, then deflated as her thoughts caught up with her.

Rarity had thrown herself into improving Atchmon's home and lifestyle, without ever thinking if it actually made things 'better'. She was finally realizing how 'agreeable' Atchmon had been lately. Atchmon had once always resisted any change Rarity brought to him, but she never let him have a say in whether or not he actually liked those changes.

It was the same mistake she made with that puppeteer's traveling stage, and then the whole town suffered for it.

And now, Atchmon was suffering too.

"That's what it is... I'm taking it all out on him..." she spoke distantly. She knew it wasn't his fault, but her worry and anxiety manifested itself into aggression towards her fellow survivor. Her only connection to her friends was gone, and there was nothing she could do.

She hated feeling so helpless.

Every day she tried to ignore the sour thoughts bubbling in her mind. Thoughts about her friends abandoning her. Thoughts that stated they only liked her, because of the material gifts she would bestow on them. That they never actually liked her. She knew those thoughts weren't true, but they were there all the same.

"I can't believe I said those things to him... Oh goddesses. He probably hates me now. How could I ever look him in the eyes again." she dismayed, holding a hoof up to her brow.

"I need him... Even if my leg has mostly healed, I simply can't make it on my own..." she stood up, and wiped away the wetness in her eyes.

"Let's go back Monty, I believe we've made him worry long enough..." the little wolpertinger jumped down from his stumpy little perch, and ran a circles around Rarity, before stopping at her right hind leg, as if stating he was ready to go.

Rarity smiled at his energy, and started to trot in the direction she believed the call came from, after hearing Atchmon's faint beckons for what must've been the dozenth time, with Monty following closely behind her.

"ATCHMOOON! I'M OVER HEEEERE!" Rarity shouted, after trotting in the direction of his calls for a few minutes, with Monty riding atop her back.

"RARITY!? STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" his voice echoed back.

"I can't tell if he's getting closer, or- or maybe I'm going in the wrong direction!" Rarity spoke aloud, while swiveling her ears like radars, and trying her best to pinpoint the location of Atchmon's calls. But the echoes played tricks on her, and her heart beat faster as she fought her instinct to panic. She wanted to get back to her protector's side as quickly as possible.

She tried to get her bearings by looking around at the surrounding trees, which blocked her view of any landmark, and could not recognize anything nearby. Then begrudgingly remembered what Atchmon said about getting lost in the forest.

"All green, all the time, gotta stay where you are when you're lost." she whispered, though she did try not to mock his voice again.

Rarity looked behind her at the path she had been following, then at the ground, and at her hoof prints. Which, if anything, just looked like disturbed dirt to her.

Atchmon had tried to teach her how to track in the past, but she felt such a skill would've been lost on her. Now she wished she paid a little more attention.

Then she noticed an odd white fluff sticking to some brush she'd just passed by. She turned around to examine it, and quickly realized it was a patch of her own white coat.

She looked a little further ahead, and sure enough there was another one. A bit smaller than the first, but the white fluff was so out of place among all the greens, browns, and yellows of the drying forest.

'If Atchmon is tracking me, he'll probably be following my trail; and if I can retrace my hoofsteps, then I should be able to reach him in no time at all!' She smiled at her cleverness, and cantered back the way she came, confident she was heading in the right direction; then stopped before she made it a few steps.

"No. If I leave now, then there's a good chance we might miss each other. For all I know he could be following the path back to our bathing pool. After all, that was the only time he'd let me go anywhere with him. He might think that was the only place I might run off to." Rarity said thoughtfully, and started to feel incredibly exposed, and most of all, unsafe. "But if that's the case then shouldn't I at least try to find my own way back?"

"Stupid Rarity, why'd you have to go and run off without realizing what direction you were going in? Have you learned nothing?" she sighed in annoyance.

Rarity felt a pressure on her back, and heard some rustling behind her. Craning her neck around, she saw Monty trying to get into her saddlebags. The brown rabbit tried to squeeze his head through the gap in the flaps, but his tiny horns halted his progress.

"Poor Monty." she cooed at her animal friend. "It's been awhile since we've last had something to eat, hasn't it? Oh, I don't see why we can't part with one little piece of fruit. Here you go." she said cheerfully, as she opened the flap and levitated a blackberry out of her bag.

"Fluttershy would have a field day with you." she smiled, watching him munch on his treat. "I suppose it's a good a time as any for a little break." she said, and looked around for a place to sit that wasn't on the dirt covered ground. She soon found a tree root that had grown in an arch out of the ground and back down, and it was just her size.

She sat down and got herself comfortable, and checked her leg over.

It had healed nicely over the past week or so, but there was still an ever present ache. And that was before all her running around today. She lifted it up and stretched it out, moving her hind hoof back and forth and around in circles, trying to work out all the tenderness of it. It may be another week before she won't feel anything again, and felt relieved that she didn't become lame as she first thought.

The minutes rolled by as Rarity wiped the sweat from her brow, and looked up through the forest canopy, trying to use Celestia's sun to guide her. It was a little pass midday, but not long enough for her to determine exactly where it would set.

The heat was the least of her worries, as a pony she could sweat to keep herself cool, but the humidity is what really got to her. Luckily or perhaps unfortunately the heat had 'mostly' dried up all the moisture in the air. She smiled remembering Atchmon joking about 'chewing your air before you breath it', there was so much truth to that statement.

Especially if you were Pegasus.

She suddenly perked her ears up, and stood, carefully listening as she rotated her head and ears. Realizing it had been some time since Atchmon last called her name.

He wouldn't just give up on me... would he?

"ATCHMON..? ATCHMON, WHERE ARE YOU?" she shouted, and listened intently for his reply.

"RARITY, GET BACK HOME RIGHT NOW!" he sounded really angry.



"YOU KNOW, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT OUR PROBLEM IS! POOR COMMUNICATION!" Rarity replied back; putting as much volume and emphasis as possible into that last word.


"How rude!" she scoffed in disbelief.


"Bowls? What's he going on about bowls for?" she questioned in confusion, but now she was sure in what direction the call was coming from.



The wind picked up, and Rarity could smell an odd scent in the air.

Monty immediately bolted, and stopped just before a bush to turn around and look at her. He sat himself up on his hind legs and sniffed at the air, before disappearing into the brush.

"Monty!? wha-?" Rarity lifted her head high, flaring her nose while sniffing at the air, trying to identify the odd smell. Rarity noticed how deathly silent the area around her was, and the wind had died down to nothing. She stood with wide eyes, and swiveling her head and ears around as her tension, and sense of dread grew. Remembering exactly what Monty's fearful actions meant.

Another gentle breeze blew, carrying along with it a much stronger, muskier scent. A moment later she could hear rustling, and watched as the tops of plants parted ways for whatever large being was coming towards her.

Rarity stared ahead at where the smell was strongest. There was nothing there... nothing at all in the thick green brush. But her every instinct told her to run.

A young wolf emerged, panting in the heat of the midday sun. The juvenile beast was maybe twice her size, but to Rarity's fearful mind, it might as well have been a mountain of fur and teeth.

The wolf raised its head and sniffed at the air, curiously watching her.

Not bowls... wolves... Rarity stood stock still in fear, as the beast switched from intimidating growls to excited barks, as it pranced and hopped back and forth.

The juvenile was excited to have found the prey first.

"O-okay. Th-that's a good wolfy. You don't want to eat me, do you? I t-taste bad, understand? P-ponies taste baaad. Don't eat the p-pony..." her nervous voice didn't hinder the advances of the wolf. If anything, it encouraged it.

"Stay away!" Rarity and the young beast were in a mental tug of war. Every step the adolescent wolf would take towards her, Rarity would take three steps back. And when it got too close, she'd instinctively lunge at him with her horn. But it was a wasted effort, the wolf would barely shy away, and Rarity would jump back to keep her distance.


"Ah!" Rarity yelped in shock, as her back hoof suddenly dropped through the earth.

She quickly recovered her footing, narrowly avoiding falling into one of Atchmons pits. And quickly looked around for the tree which bore the trap symbol, confirming what she already knew.

"If there's a monster I can't handle, I just lead it to a trap, and the rest takes care of itself."

Rarity watched the eager young wolf, darting her eyes from side to side, and back to the beast. All the while the adolescent wolf whimpered, and pranced back and forth in anticipation of the hunt.

Rarity carefully shifted her way around the pit, placing it between her and the beast.

"That's right, come on over here; I dare ya! I'll turn you into a lovely little coat you flea bitten mutt!" Rarity taunted the wolf, and added insult to injury as she turned around and shook her flanks at the beast, while blowing a raspberry.

The young wolf cocked its head in surprised confusion at the pony's change in attitude, but crouched down and growled as if he understood the insults she was firing at him.

The juvenile started approaching her. 'That's right, just a little more.' Rarity thought, as her tension grew and heart raced faster as the wolf drew closer to the trap.

The wolf placed a paw over a hoofs length over the hatch, and the moment he put weight on it, the weak branches gave way.

But the animal reacted quickly enough to hop back, and avoid falling into the trap.

The wolf sniffed at the now uncovered pit; its deadly spears exposed for the wolf to see, then growled in annoyance at the little pony's trickery.

"Uh, Hehe..." Rarity laughed nervously while shrugging; then immediately galloped away leaving a trail of dust in her wake.



The forest hindered her movement as the lower branches, and spiky brush hooked onto her bags.

There! Rarity thought frantically as she galloped through the forest, while feeling the tug of lower branches and brush pull against her saddlebags.

As if the wolf wasn't bad enough, it was like the Everfree forest itself was against her too.

"AH!" Rarity could see the juvenile wolf was hot on her trail; dodging trees just as she was, and plowing through any brush that stood in the way.

Rarity then quickly dodged a low hanging branch, and gripped it with her magic, then a moment later she released it.

"Yipe!" The branch whipped back into position with enough force to knock back her pursuer.

"RAH!" The wolf shook itself out of its daze, and gave a loud, angry growl-bark.

Huff, puff, huff! The chase barely started, and Rarity was already feeling tired.

Rarity then tried to make a sharp left turn, but felt a sudden pain in her leg. It was enough to throw herself off balance, though she quickly recovered.

Her misstep was enough for the young wolf to catch up and to take the opportunity to pounce on her the moment a path was clear.

"AH! The savage beast bit into Rarity's flank; picking her up with ease, and thrashed her about like a rag doll.

"Whoa-gl! Wha-!" Rarity's world was turned upside down, to sideways and back again; until her saddlebags finally tore free.

Gasp! "Oof!" Her body was hurled through the air with enough to force to bounce off the ground, then rolled over from the hard landing.

Rarity's saddlebags had protected her hide, but now she was completely defenseless. She tried to get her hooves underneath her to run, but she was too disoriented. Her imbalance caused her hooves to slip and she fell against her flank again.

Rarity watched as the wolf tossed her bags to and fro, as every sound of fabric tearing mirrored itself in her fearful mind; imagining what was going to happen to her.

The brown wolf finally threw them aside, and set its hungry eyes on her.

Rarity heart thundered in her ears as she tried to run again once the world righted itself, but it was too late...

"AHH-gah!" Rarity barely managed a scream, before the wolf pinned her beneath its legs. She could smell it's awful breath on her.

"Unf! Ooah! Caff!" The juvenile wolf bounced its front paws playfully on Rarity's shoulder and flank; forcing the air out of her. Rarity feared she would suffocate as the borders around her eyes darkened, and she struggled to draw breath.

She curled into a ball, trying her best to protect herself, and was paralyzed with fear. Her instincts kicked in; compelling her to remain perfectly still. Hoping the beast would lose interest, and just go away.

"Mmm-mmph, ah!" The beast sniffed and pawed at her shoulder, and nipped at her neck and hooves. Every touch of the beast's sharp teeth and cold, wet snout issued a whimper or a yelp from the fragile little pony.

The young wolf didn't want the hunt to end just yet. It was just starting to get fun! But try as he might, he couldn't get Rarity to run again, so he could chase her.

"ARAROWOOOOOOAROOOO," the adolescent brown wolf howled atop her, calling out to its brethren.

A few moments later Rarity could hear and feel the familiar pitter-patter of the other wolves massive paws hitting the ground, and soon two more emerged from the brush.

One looked a bit older than the runt which had caught Rarity, and he had a much lighter shade of brown.

Rarity's eyes widened upon recognizing the one who was leading them.

The pack leader was far larger than the other two adolescent wolves. His fur a pristine white coat, and his eyes were a cold, icy blue.

The White wolf looked down at her regally. He didn't snarl, nor growl, or intimidate his defeated prey like his ebony colored predecessor.

White looked disappointed in their prey, hoping it would've put up more of a fight. Especially after this pony had caused him so much grief in the past. It seemed the young weren't going to get much practice hunting today.

With a single look the younger wolf pinning her down moved, allowing White to place his paw on her. The white wolf dug its sharp claws into her soft hide, leaving lines of dirt on her shoulder.

The White wolf looked down into her matching blue eyes with a calm, regal gaze, before lowering his head to finish her off.

Rarity couldn't do anything, but lay there as the beast lowered its maw to her neck. She felt the its hot, smelly breath on her as its jaws descended around her throat.

Time slowed as Rarity stared ahead, memories of a life well lived flashed before her eyes. A sense of calm, and happiness overcame her. Then horrifying realization as she felt the beast's sharp teeth nick her fragile hide.

'Oh, goddesses; I'm about to die! It can't end like this, not like this! I- I-' Rarity's eyes widened as she saw a familiar black shaft, with bright colored fletching sticking out of the ground a few yards from her.

Without thinking, Rarity reached out with her magic and yanked the arrow from the ground, then rocketed it towards the beast above her. The razor-sharp metal point dug deep into the white wolf's flesh.

"AI-HEEE!" White yelp in pain, while rearing back and away, releasing his hold on Rarity, and struggled to bite the arrow pierced in his shoulder.

Rarity took her chance and scrambled to get back up on her hooves. Half clawing at the ground, and half pushing off with her back legs, while digging shallow furrows into the dirt, and trying her best to gallop away as hard and as fast as possible.

In a moment the ferns swallowed her form, and she disappeared into the forest.

The younger wolves were stunned by the little pony's defiance, allowing Rarity enough time to escape, while they tended to their leader.

White gave a sharp growl-bark. Sending the younger, inexperienced wolves after her.

Rarity tore through the forest again, dodging trees and brush, pushing herself to go faster, and faster.

Where is it, where is it, where is it!? she thought frantically over, and over. Checking every tree she flew across for a familiar carving.


There! Rarity's ears guided her instinctively back to her herdmate's voice. A small adjustment, and she knew she was headed in the right direction.

Rarity took a second to look behind her, to see if the other wolves hadn't caught up with her, and smiled at her successful escape.

Her reverie was cut short as she plowed straight into a furry brick wall. Rarity and the mass of musky fur tumbled together into the ground.

"Oh, come on!" Rarity dismayed as she and a third dark, brown wolf shook itself off as it picked itself off the ground.

The beast recovered first and licked its drooling chops, relishing the moment as the helpless pony struggled to get its hooves underneath her. Rarity unwittingly kept her soft, tender belly exposed to the carnivore's sharp, bared fangs.

The beast was mere feet from her. Even if she could run, she wouldn't get very far.

The carnivore reared itself back, ready to pounce, but a split-second later a large, dark mass had dropped on top of the unfortunate beast.

Rarity watched in shock as Atchmon quickly dispatched the beast. She’ll never forget the focused look in his eyes, the quick succession of blows as he stabbed the wolf's flanks over and over.

Even more disturbing, as Atchmon took the animal's life... he never made a sound.

The fight was over before it had a chance to begin. The wolf laid dying as it struggled to draw a breath. The sound of its death rattle, and the lifeless look in its eyes, haunted Rarity.

Atchmon looked her way as she met his eyes. Her heart jumped along with her terror. The way he was hunched over his prey, the way he looked at her, the fresh smell of blood, and the specks of red on his face, arms, and chest.

"'re you okay?" he huffed.

Rarity nodded her head, before getting up on shaky hooves.

"The one time I don't bring my bow..." Atchmon murmured as he got up as well.

"C'mon we'll be safer up this tree until they've gone." Atchmon said as he took a step towards the disheveled, white pony, causing her to shy away. Not by much, but enough for the reaction to cut deep into Atchmon's heart.

Soon the other two young wolves leaped over the thick brush, and balked at seeing the larger being down from its perch.

The two beasts saw their fallen brother, and gave the murderous pair vengeful growls.

The two animals surrounded the pair, like sharks circling its prey. Atchmon and Rarity quickly backed into each other to keep as much distance apart from the avenging brethren.

Rarity tried to stick close to her savior, but Atchmon was too distracted by the wolves.

"HAAHH! YAH! GET!"Atchmon shouted as he lunged while slapping his hands and kicking out each time one of the beasts came in too close for comfort. Forcing the young wolves to move back, and making any racket he could to scare off the beasts.

Rarity didn't know what frightened her more, the wolves, or Atchmon's shouting. Ponies can hear incredibly well, it was their strongest sense, but every shout from Atchmon pained Rarity's ears. And nearly sent her into a panic at the chaos going on around her.

After every lunge Atchmon would immediately fall back, to keep as much distance between them and the beasts as he can.

But Rarity was getting in the way, and almost made Atchmon stumble over her.

The small loss of balance was enough for the wolves to make their move.

"RARE-!" was all Atchmon could get out before the wolves attacked. Rarity galloped a few feet before a pained shout stopped her.

The young wolves were nearly as massive as Atchmon, as they rose up on their hind legs to bite at his shoulders, trying to bring down the much slower biped.

The human may have been slow on foot, but his agile reactions were quick enough to throw the wolf off his back, and pivot around to keep both animals in front of him.

Rarity could only watch as the wolves struggled to trap the hunter between them. But Atchmon proved too agile, and experienced, until the younger of the two wolves grew impatient, and tried to pounce on him without the aid of its comrade.

The youngest, lightest brown wolf paid for its mistake with a blade to its ribs. The pup's sacrifice distracted Atchmon just long enough for the other to attack. The last wolf reared up and pounced on him, snapping its sharp fangs, and intending to go for the kill.

Atchmon lifted his arm up to protect his face and neck, allowing the beast to sink its teeth into his forearm and using its weight and momentum to tackle the large prey to the ground.

"NO!" Rarity screamed, while dancing on her hooves, and feeling completely helpless.

The shock of pain caused Atchmon to lose his blade dug deep into the assailing wolfs ribs, leaving him desperate to pull the final beast off him, while he lay trapped on his back.

Rarity watched, shaking in fear as Atchmon struggled to keep the wolf's maw at bay. The beast thrashed atop him, snapping its fang mere inches from his face. While Atchmon managed to pin the mongrel between his legs, preventing it from clawing him to shreds.

Atchmon fought the wolf off, shoving his arm into the wolf's throat, and sometimes receiving a bite for his efforts.

The beast and the human were locked in a fight to the death. Atchmon could do nothing other than hold the wolf at bay by its neck pelt.

This was survival at its most primal. Just two animals trying to kill each other.

"Grrrrah!" Atchmon matched the wolf's vocals with his own grunts, and growls.

He could feel his hands slipping as the large wolf bore down on him.

The beast snapped, bit, and growled at him as its shedding fur allowed the carnivore to inch ever closer to his face.

Atchmon knew he'd have to take a hit, if he was fast enough to reach his blade, and took the few moments he had left to look for his weapon.

The struggle between the man and the beast spanned barely a minute, but to Rarity's adrenaline-fueled mind, it lasted a lifetime.

Instinct finally took over, Rarity closed her eyes, and charged.

"AI-HEE!" the wolf yipped in pain. Moments later its body relaxed, then it fell limply atop Atchmon's chest.

Atchmon could feel the presence of another being standing next to him. Rarity was panting with her teeth clenched and her eyes sealed shut.

The white unicorn had gored the wolf through its heart.

"Atchmon..." Rarity whimpered through gritted teeth. Her lips were trembling, and eyes tearing as the reality of the atrocity she had committed begun to sink in.

"'s okay, just, just back up." he huffed in a calm breathless voice, as he placed his hand on her chest, and feeling her tense at his touch.

After a moment, and a little pressure, she moved. Slowly at first, until her horn was free of the wolf's corpse, which Atchmon held onto, preventing it from rolling towards the upset mare.

"There you go, atta girl, that's it." he encouraged her softly.

Once the dead animal was free of her horn, Atchmon rolled off of him to the opposite side from where Rarity was standing. Keeping her eyes sealed shut, until she heard Atchmon's tired breaths above her.

Rarity tried to not look at the beast's corpse laying on the other side of Atchmon. Her imagination ran wild with the bloody images of Atchmon's kills, and wondered what damage she had done to the beast.


A low, rumbling growl sounded off to the side, the bass of which shook the very ground beneath them, and rattled the pair at their very core.

The White wolf's shoulder was soaked in crimson, with half of the arrow's broken shaft sticking out of it. White looked around at his fallen pack, before his blue eyes fells on Rarity.

The wolf was watching them in the distance, staring at Rarity, seething with unfettered hatred for the little pony, until Atchmon pulled her behind himself. Keeping himself between her and the great white beast. Atchmon eyed the handle of his blade, which was nestled deep within the youngest pup's chest.

The hunter and the wolf locked eyes, a battle of wills waged between them for a moment, before Atchmon lunged for his blade, pulling it out of the wolf's corpse with an audible slurp, before rounding himself towards the white beast.

When Atchmon turned with his blade brought to bear, the White wolf had vanished like a ghost. Only an empty space remained where the wolf once stood, leaving no trace of where it may have gone.

"Ol' White Fang again..." Atchmon panted.

The hunter was exhausted, and relaxed, letting his arms dangle limply at his sides.

Rarity stood shaking on her hooves, looking down with fearful eyes. The blood on her spire had already dried to a dark crimson-brown color, with a single drop trailing below her horn, then following the outer contour of her eye, before resting on her cheek. She was covered in dirt, and her mane and tail were both frazzled with bits of debris trapped within.

Atchmon looked over his own injuries, and cursed, the beasts responsible.

"C'mon, let's get cleaned up." Atchmon rumbled, then took a few steps, before looking back. Seeing that Rarity never moved.

Atchmon briefly wondered if he'd have to make a harness in order to lead her. Then closed his eyes and took a deep breath to prepare himself for the hardest thing he was about to do.

"I'm sorry."

"Wha-" Hearing those words snapped Rarity out of her trance, she looked up confusedly into the crouching human's eyes.

"I just- I'm so used to doing things by myself that... I don't really take you into account too. If I hadn't-... If I wasn't-... I'm sorry I yelled at you, and... I'm sorry I pushed you away."

Rarity let his words sink in, before slowly approaching him, and gently pressing her head against his chest, and nuzzled him with a cheek. Atchmon wrapped his arm around her, and rubbed her shoulder in turn, while holding her close.

The pair made it to their bathing spot, the falls were even less impressive thanks to the drought, but the trickle of water would be just enough for one of them.

A very small one of them.

Rarity sat sorrowfully underneath the falls, her head hung low, as the droplets pattered against her back and mane.

Atchmon watched from the shore where he took off his boots. Noticing the blood on her wasn't going to wash off very easily.

"We're gonna have to start making trips to the river. Maybe even stay there until the dry season's over with." Atchmon said as he placed his things in the usual spot.

"We'll start headin' there tomorrow, it's a bit of a walk, if you're up to it?" Atchmon said, trying to talk for the sake of talking. Since neither of them have spoken a word after the recent incident.

Rarity didn't look as though she heard him.

It was quite the depressing sight, seeing the once beautiful white unicorn all dirty, with her dark purple hair covering her face, and the way she sat dejected underneath the falls.

"Rarity?" Atchmon tried to get her attention, though she remained unresponsive.

"Rarity." he said a little more firmly, this time causing her to jerk and look over at him.

"Oh. Sorry Atchmon, I sort of blanked for a moment." she said distantly, staring into the water.

"Do you want some help cleanin' up? Some of the- 'dirt', isn't coming off." he offered.

Rarity nodded slowly.

Atchmon waded into the shallow pool, the cool water felt good on his toes, and didn't bother to take off his jeans. Knowing he was just going to be dirty again in a few minutes. He sat next to her, and she shifted closer, while keeping her back to him.

Atchmon worked his hands up and down her back, watching as pony hair, sweat, dirt, and debris washed away from wherever he rubbed. Then used his fingers to workout the many tangles and knots in her mane, and occasionally scratching the back of her neck where it grew in a straight line. He'd grip and pull at her, shifting her mane one way then the other, taking his time and being thorough with his ministrations.

But to Rarity his pulling and gripping felt what she imagined a stallion would do during intercourse. Biting at the mare's withers while thrusting into her.

Rarity felt ashamed of herself for making such a comparison, especially after everything she just went through.

Her cheeks heated and face flushed. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't take her mind off the lewd thoughts and images flashing within her head.


Atchmon put an arm underneath her fore hooves, and lifted her up so he could wash the dirt from her belly. Rarity's breath caught in her throat, as Atchmon came dangerously close to rubbing her udders. Though he couldn't see what he was doing from his angle.

Atchmon took a moment to admire her incredibly soft underbelly, and trailed a finger around a divot located in what he imagined to be the center of her stomach.

"I never knew ponies had belly buttons... huh... neat." he said idly at his new discovery, but his touch coupled with his comment only made Rarity's cheeks burn red.

'I should stop him; this is so wrong.'

Rarity relished in the feeling of his touch as he washed her. Even going so far as to scratch her cheeks. He was never too firm, and not too soft, and always just right.

'What the buck is wrong with me!?' Rarity tensed as she felt a twitch beneath her tail and tried to pull away; fearing what would happen if Atchmon caught on to her reactions, and feeling how hot and bothered she had become.

Atchmon preempted her movement by placing an arm around her shoulder and holding her close, so she couldn't get away. "Hold on. We're almost done." he reassured Rarity, while rubbing her shoulder; then placed her belly across his lap so that she was half laying on him, and he could better reach her spire.

"It's okay... you're okay." he whispered encouragingly, feeling her tense at his touch again, before finally relaxing. That bit of reassurance, and the closeness she felt next to him is what she needed; as she finally relaxed into his embrace, completely at his mercy.

The tiny waterfall managed to do some of the work, but Rarity's horn was still stained with crimson. Atchmon started working his fingers at the base of her spire, watching as red rivulets ran between his digits.

Rarity's horn had lost all of its original shine, and was now a dull, milky white. Atchmon wrapped his hand around her spire, feeling the texture and smoothness of her spiral fluting. Then using his thumb and index finger to rub off the more stubborn flecks of dark red that refused to be washed away.

Curiosity got the better of him, as he parted Rarity's unique purple mane away from her white horn, while feigning like he was still washing her hair. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to see. The sight wasn't much different from the many deer trophies he collected in the past, nor a steers. The ring of flesh and hair surrounding the base of her spire was noticeably subtler - almost non-existent - and he noticed dry flakes at its base, much like the cuticles of his nails; and fought against his compulsion to pick at the trapped debris. Deciding not to push his luck, and realizing that Rarity trusted him with a precious part of herself; he moved on to cleaning the rest of her spire.

Rarity tried to sit as still as possible, but the feeling of his touch sent electricity through her ivory spire. Rarity twitched, gasped, and made tiny mewls at each new sensation, as his firm yet soft touch traveled up and down her horn.

"Rarity, you okay? You're really tense." Atchmon asked in concern, while petting up and down her back; hoping to calm and reassure her.

"I'm fine!" Rarity blurted, and tightly shut her eyes, taking a moment to regain control over her voice. "Just... please hurry." Rarity whispered in a rushed voice.

"Alright." he echoed, and continued with his ministrations. Rarity gave a small whinny, and pressed the side of her head into his chest.

Atchmon ran his fingers up, and down her spire, lingering a bit longer at the tip where the most stubborn of crimson refused to be washed away, before trailing his touch back down to wipe away the dirty water.

"Easy." Atchmon warned when he kneaded Rarity's tip between his fingers, and she pushed into his touch.

Rarity struggled not to thrust into his touch again; afraid she might accidentally hurt or upset him. But the tingling electrical feelings he was giving her, combined with the pressure building within her spire; was becoming too much for her to bear.

Atchmon noticed a faint blue glow about her horn, as his thoughts caught up with him. Between the glow, and Rarity's reactions; Atchmon quickly pieced together that he might actually be hurting her, and immediately quit what he was doing.

"We're done! It's okay, we're done." he said quickly, giving her back, neck, and cheek another reassuring rub, hoping to make her feel better.

Rarity released the breath she didn't realize she was holding, and was feeling a mix of relief, frustration, and shame. Relief that it was over, frustrated that she didn't finish, and ashamed that she wanted him to keep going.

The pressure in her horn slowly abated, and so too did all the positive feelings with it, as she sat quietly panting gently in Atchmon's arms, feeling his smooth skin against her body, their closeness calming her down further bit by bit.

"I'm sorry Rarity, from now on I'm not gonna let you out of my sight." he said, giving her shoulder another rub.

"I th-thought you said they never come this far?" she started to sob, as the guilt from her atrocity finally caught up with her.

"They usually don't, but that's how it is out here. Sometimes you might not see nothin' for weeks.... and then something like- that happens, and... all you can do is be ready for it... all the time." he spoke distantly, holding onto, and rocking the shaking pony as all the remaining adrenaline burned away in her body.

"I killed that animal... I've never... hurt anything like that before..." Rarity sniffed, and couldn't believe her own words.

"Rarity." he pulled her away and pulled her mane out of her face and behind an ear. Atchmon looked at her through those big beautiful blue eyes.

"You saved me." he said it so simply, as if it were just a matter of fact.

"I did?" she looked up to him with tearful eyes, as the idea of doing something good and noble took hold.

"Yeah!" he said with a bit more excitement in his voice. "If you hadn't done what you did; I probably wouldn't be here right now, or worse! Guess I owe you one now, heh-he," he grinned at her proudly.

"Actually I think I still owe you like three or four now." Rarity smiled bashfully while looking away.

Their light banter made her feel so much better.

"The first time's always the hardest. I know it feels... weird." he continued.

"Does it ever go away?" she asked while placing a hoof on her tummy. She felt sick, or maybe she just wanted to feel that way. She couldn't tell.

"Yeah, eventually. I know you must feel pretty empty inside, right? That's how I felt when I hunted my first deer." he spoke with such knowledge.

Rarity only nodded her head. Amazed he could guess her feelings so well.

"Just know that-" he paused and thought for a moment, before a brilliant childhood memory surfaced. "There's a circle of life out here, and you're part of that circle, whether you want to be or not. You're part of it the moment you landed out here. And it isn't always 'kill to eat or to keep from being lunch, blah, blah, blah', it's not like that most of the time. It's about balance. It's about being one with your environment. If I hunted down everything around me, every. single. day. I seriously doubt I'd have anything left to eat after a year or two. And the same goes for those wolves."

'He's been so strong for me. It's not fair that he should care for me so much, and what have I done? Just laze about, and complain while he does all the work! What sort of mare am I? Could I even call myself as much after crying into his shoulder like a foal? Well, no more I say!'

"Atchmon," Rarity started firmly to get his attention. It work, he looked at her worriedly; trepid at her sudden change in mood. "From now on things are going to be different. I swear it. I'm not going to be a damsel in distress anymore. That's a promise." she stated firmly with conviction.

He smiled, and was glad to see she got her 'fire' back.

"It's a cruel, unforgiving world out there Rare. I can show you what I know to survive in it. After today...I know I can't be there for you all the time."

"And you shouldn't have to be. I'm a mare after all; it's supposed to be my job to make sure you're safe." Rarity said after pointing a hoof at herself, then him in turn.

"Feh, ha, wha- really?" Atchmon looked at her confused with a raised eyebrow, and an unbelieving grin.

"Mares are the stronger sex, we're the protectors, and the providers in our society, at least we're suppose to be..." Rarity trailed off; looking disappointed in herself again.

"You shouldn't have to worry about that." Atchmon shook his head. "You were right about me earlier, I have been a pretty piss poor- heh, stallion." he grinned at himself for using Rarity's terminology, but in his eyes held only regret.

"Atchmon? I want to apologize for bucking you." Rarity said hesitantly, looking down in shame.

"Don't be. I deserved it. You'd think someone like me would know not to stand near the business end of a pony." he said thoughtfully.

Rarity smiled at him. Knowing he only called her a 'horse' whenever he was upset, or cross with her. It reaffirmed how sorry he really was. Her smile faded as she started to form her own apologies.

"I just got so mad because... well, I'm not used to being so useless, or helpless. I'm usually the one giving things away on a whim. But you don't have anything and yet, you've given me shelter, a warm bed, and food... and I've given you nothing but a hard time..." she sniffed, only to clear her nose.

"Is your- are they going to be okay?" she asked, trying not to look at where she kicked him, and hoped it wasn't going to be a sensitive subject.

"Uhhh...they're fine, hurt like hell for like a half hour; but I'll be okay." he sighed, smirking at her.

"Okay..." she sighed in relief. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to kick you there! I was afraid I really did turn you into a- gelding..." she said bashfully, while tapping her hooves together and laying her ears back in shame.

"So? Friends again?" he shrugged, smiling sheepishly at the pony in his arms.

"Okay, but from now on we're in this together!" she exclaimed, and extended her hoof out to him.

Atchmon gave her a toothy grin, and was about to shake it, before realizing there was something familiar about the gesture, then balled his fist, and gave her hoof a bump.

Being adaptable to your environment was needed in business. But this wasn't anything like the hustle and bustle she was used to.

She had conquered the concrete jungle of Manehattan, and now it was time she learned how to conquer the wilderness of the Everfree Forest.

And with Atchmons help, Rarity knew she could do it.

The pair had made it back to their home without further incident. After seeing the mess they both made, they only looked at each other and shrugged, both only wanting to take a much deserved rest.

"Ooooh, oof." Atchmon moaned as he laid down on his bed, while Rarity did the same. "Now that I'm down, I don't feel like gettin' back up... Hey, Rare, float me the medicine bottle- gourd- thing- whatever... you know what it is." he said tiredly as he covered his eyes with an arm to block out the evening sun.

Rarity smiled, glad to be of use, and did as he asked.

"Thanks," Atchmon cleaned, and treated his wounds, while Rarity pulled out her mirror and brush from her own little nook.

Rarity almost immediately dropped both, as her lips started to tremble.

"I'm not pretty anymore..." Rarity sniffed as dramatic tears threatened to fall. "I'm a complete me-he-hess!" she cried.

"What makes you say that?" he asked in a higher pitch tone. Sure, Rarity looked a little worse for wear, but a proper shower will get her looking right as rain... for the most part.

"Just look at me! No don't, I'm hideous!" Rarity tried to hide herself away by covering her eyes with a foreleg and waving the other to keep Atchmon's looks at bay.

"What happened to all that 'Not bein' a damsel in distress anymore' that you just said?" Atchmon shrugged in disbelief.

"This is different, if all this stress keeps up I'm going to lose my beautiful coat; and I have a scar now, and it'll never go away!" she bawled. "I used to be beautiful, bu-bu-but look at me n-ha-ow!"

"Hold on!" Atchmon yelled, getting Rarity's quivering-lipped, teary-eyed attention. "You think something like that," he gestured to her 'scar'. "Makes you less pretty than what you are. Well, I don't think so. I think it makes you more. I mean, jus' look at me," Atchmon extended his arms outward. "Every one of my scars has a story behind it," he pointed to his chest. "This one's from one of those Scorplion- No, manticores," then pointed at his arm. "This is from that cockatrice from when we first met, and that pegaboar." he pointed to each of his newest scars, telling her how he felt at the time of receiving them, and that they weren't an imperfection.

They were proof of an adventurous life.

Rarity looked him over; seeing his chest and finding his nipples a bit embarrassing to look at, and blushed. His torso; marred by a Manticore, and remnants of scratches and various other scars along his other appendages. Some that were small, others large, and many that crossed each other.

"Those prissy, hoity-toity, city-folk aren't going to have half the grit you've got after being stuck out here with me!" he finished, giving her a confident grin.

He was right, it wasn't like Rainbow Dash and Applejack didn't make a contest of showing off their injuries; and poor Twilight trying to get in on the fun with her surgery scar. The poor dear got teased to pieces over that. At least she took it all in stride. Then proceeded to lecture them on the seriousness of a bursting appendix.

Maybe there was some pride to be had in imperfection after all... even beauty.

Rarity's eyes widened as she realized something she had forgotten. Rarity craned her head around and stared at her cutie mark. 'I can always find the beauty in others, but not in myself.'

"And you see this one here?" he asked, interrupting her thoughts. She found him pointing to the middle of his chest, just shy of the manticore scar, while he tried to hide his coy grin.

Rarity squinted her eyes, but couldn't see what scar he was pointing at on the bare--yet hairy--middle of his chest. "I don't see it? What's it from?" she asked, cocking her head, still looking for it.

"Margaret Honeysuckle. She broke my h-heart. AHhahaha!" he finished with a barely contained chuckle, and could only hold back for a moment, before he burst out laughing.

Rarity was confused for a moment before realization dawned on her, and she joined in the laughter. Slowly at first before it turned into a full belly laugh, with little snorts. Hearing the snorts just made Atchmon laugh even harder.

After that joke Rarity felt leaps and bounds better about herself, and gave Atchmon a thankful smile.

"I don't believe I've ever seen you so... happy, Atchmon." Rarity kept a little smile on her face after seeing him so elated.

"Just glad to be alive, Rare...C'mere." Atchmon beckoned her over to him, as he moved towards her bed; and instructed her to sit upright so he didn't have to bend down too far to reach her. And applied a small glob of the medicine over her 'scar'.

"What's in that stuff?" she asked, more to distract herself rather than curious about its contents. Only satisfied with the fact that it worked.

"Aloe Vera mostly, I know the 'juice' from that plant is good for burns. My Mum used to use it on me all the time whenever I'd get sunburns, back when I was little. Seems to do good for cuts too." he spoke idly, his concentration fully on the task at hand.

Upon closer inspection, she was only missing a bit of hair which just made it look like she had a scar.

"What did you say earlier? White Fang? What is that?"

"Oh... That's the name I give to that big, white son of a bitch. Remember when I told you about the wolf pack that tore up my camp, and I went after them?" he asked, as he touched up her 'wound'.

She nodded her head, remembering the story.

"Well, they weren't only after my food."

Rarity gave him a confused look, and was about to ask for him to explain, but he already started.

"See... a while back, when I was exploring the area everyday. I did eventually find their den. And... I took one of the pups. A white one..."

"Why?" Rarity gasped. "Why would you take a Dire wolf as a pet? They're dangerous beasts!"

"I thought I could train it!" Atchmon started defensively. "I never would've guessed that half the pack would come lookin' for 'em." he tried to explain. "Not only that, but I was starting to miss that bit of- companionship." he looked away embarrassed. "That's why I didn't want you leaving the camp alone... They're always out there."

Rarity shook her head in thought.

"No, listen Rarity." Atchmon knelt down, and took her hoof in his hands.

She could sense he was going to tell her something important, as she looked all the way up to his eyes, and perking her ears at him.

Atchmon placed his hand underneath her chin. She tensed, wondering what he was planning on doing to her. He gently held her head in his palm, while rubbing her cheek with a thumb.

"I'm gonna take good care of you. I promise. I'm gonna teach you what I know, and we're gonna make it outta here. Together." he emphasized, before leaning in and planting a kiss on her nose.

"I'll be right outside if you need anythin'." Atchmon said with a smile, before heading out the den.

Rarity touched the spot Atchmon had kissed her with a hoof, causing her eyes to cross, and her heart to flutter.

"Let's not get ahead of yourself Rarity, maybe Atchmon only kissed me in a friendly sort of way."

"We only hug our closest friends, and family."

"Then... what does a k-kiss mean...!?" she squeaked, before fainting dramatically on her bed.

Later that night Rarity tossed and turned in her bed. Occasionally getting up, just to twirl around and try a new position, but sleep wasn't coming easy tonight.

It'd only been a couple days since Atchmon had gifted her with a bed of her own. And was very happy about the new sleeping arrangements, at first, but now it felt like there was something missing.

There wasn't anything wrong with her bedding, but she couldn't help feeling so empty... alone.

She looked over towards Atchmon who lay on his side with his back to her, and watched him with the dim light of her horn as his side rose and fell with each deep breath.

'How can he just fall asleep like that? After everything that's happened today... he must be exhausted. I shouldn't, but...'

She got up and sat next to his bed.

"Atchmon? Are you awake?" she whispered, while tapping him on the shoulder with a hoof.

Atchmon stirred, and turned suddenly while rising up with a sharp breath. Rarity flinched away and was spooked by his quick movement and loud breath.

"Rare- what?" he said groggily with a relieved sigh, and let himself fall back into the bed.

"Sorry. Can- is it alright if I sleep with you tonight?" she whispered, and watched him as he blinked sleepily at her, while trying to process what she asked.

"Sure, climb on in." he yawned as he beckoned her over, and shifted, putting his back against the cool cave wall.

Rarity lined herself up with the bedframe, then let herself fall in next to him. Atchmon put a hand on her belly and dragged her the rest of the way, so she rested comfortably against his chest, then placed an arm underneath her head.

Sleep came much easier that night.

She felt warm, but most of all...

She felt safe.

Mistakes Made

View Online

Spike sat at the dining room table in Twilight's Castle organizing multiple scrolls and reports from the various townships within Equestria; while finishing up the last bite of his ocean salmon salad sandwich, and a tea cake for dessert.

The young dragon felt a pressure build within his chest; and with a single, controlled breath he produced a tiny gout of green flame, which seemed to de-incinerate a scroll before his eyes.

The parchment dropped down into his awaiting claws, and his heart skipped a beat after seeing the midnight blue wax seal with a crescent moon emblem upon it.

Spike was tempted to break it open, and read the valuable information locked within. But this was a Princess's letter, for Princess's eyes only. He had never broken protocol before, and he wasn't about to start now.

Even though he really wanted to.

Instead, Spike cut his thoughts short, and immediately added the scroll to the top of the growing pile of documents.

He stood and collected all the scrolls, files, and folders in his arms, before taking the shortest path to his destination; which lead through the throne room.

The little dragon wasn't so little anymore. His chair nearly rivaled that of the other thrones surrounding the round, crystalline table.

Spike had learned to control much of his dragon instincts; the most difficult being his greed. After learning about his friend Thorax and his amazing transformation, along with the Changeling's loss of appetite for love. Spike wondered if friendship, and not possessions would help him grow into the big, strong dragon he'd always dreamed of becoming!

So he set about making more of his own friends.

Dragons usually collect gold, gems, and other random valuables for their hoard; but Spike managed to make the ponies of this small town his treasures, and it bore marvelous results!

His green spikes became more regal and less rending, and his purple scales shone like a thousand precious stones.

But there was one treasure he'd dearly like to have back in his hoard.

Spike thought of her as he gazed upon the white throne emblazoned with her three-diamond Cutie Mark.

The Cutie Map was deactivated for the time being. The throne room was crowded with thaumatalogical instruments used in the measurement and control of Magical energies. Leaving Spike to look for a new work-space. Though he'd rather be playing Ogres & Oubliettes on it right about now; for nothing else other than to distract himself from all the stress that had built in the past few weeks.

He briefly wondered if his chair would continue to grow with him, or if it would simply disappear once he became too big. The last thought scared him, as if the castle itself were to reject him, and he'd no longer be Twilight's number one assistant.

In the back of his mind, he knew, that time was still a long way off.

Spike eyed the large table and let out a growling sigh that held all the frustration, boredom, and anger towards the relic, and all the inconvenience it brought upon him.

He hefted everything in his arms, and walked through the cold, cavernous hallways of Twilight's Castle. The young dragon easily reached for the door handle - he once had to jump for - while cradling the documents in one arm and under his chin.

He entered the library, and navigated past a small maze of chalkboards whose heights matched that of the vaulted ceiling inside the impressive athenaeum. Only an Alicorn, or a keen-eyed Unicorn could ever make use of the towering blackboards. Nary a single inch of their surface was spared from being used as they spanned around the entirety of the library; virtually replacing the walls and shelves.

The book shelves spanning the walls were barren, their contents laying in heaps on the floor all around the rotunda. A 'miniature' model of the Smoky Mountains - made of books - served as the backdrop for Twilight Sparkle and Starlight Glimmer; who were already in deep discussion behind a large, ornate wooden desk. Whose surface was cluttered with compasses, protractors, and other navigational tools. A left over daisy and daffodil sandwich (stale), along with a half finished mug of black liquid (cold), added to the mess of organized chaos.

'Coffee' as the Bovines called it, was Twilight's new late-shift friend.

"...she can only spare half a dozen, I know that's a lot less than what you were hoping for, but since-" Starlight Glimmer said, while Twilight stared down at a book she was likely re-reading.

"Wow, Rainbow's covered this much of Equestria already?" Spike exclaimed, eyeing a large map of Equestria, and of lands beyond.

Much of the cartographer maps were covered in red markings and grid-like patterns to indicate Dash's progress, and of possible locations for her to search next.

There were also color coded pins tacked onto the maps as well. Blue pins represented Rarity's cutie mark as it had appeared on the Cutie Map, and larger Red pins were the location of cities and townships; whose territories were saturated in red markings. Many of the areas that were densely packed with blue pins had already been searched, and now all that remained were the countless thousands of others spread evenly throughout Equestria and beyond.

"Spike, don't interrupt while others are speaking," Twilight chided, while putting down the tome.

"Oops, sorry Twi. Hey, Starlight," he greeted the pink unicorn, with a sheepish grin.

"Hi Spike," Starlight greeted him back with a warm smile, letting him know his presence was welcome.

"So, where is she now?" he asked out of curiosity, while placing the parchments on the 'clearest' part of the table.

"Today she's covering most of the mid-eastern sectors of Equestria," Twilight answered. Her purple horn glowed a pink aura, levitating the newly arrived scrolls towards her, while quickly skimming through them.

Starlight looked between her mentor and the maps, while making a face like she knew something was amiss.

"Wait, that includes almost half of the Everfree Forest. Wasn't she covering the outskirts of Vanhoover just yesterday?" Starlight Glimmer asked, with a hint of suspicion.

That was some serious distance, far too much, even for Rainbow Dash; who had yet to break Wind Rider's Mustang Marathon record.

Even Spike felt there was something wrong with this picture.

"She couldn't have covered that much area in a day, can she?" Starlight Glimmer questioned. "I thought we agreed that she'd stick to doing standard A.S.R. routines," she finished suspiciously.

Pegasi who were trained in Aerial Search and Rescue would normally search a given area in one of many flight patterns; the most common being Plowing, in which a pegasus would fly in a grid-like pattern, and Circling, which required landmarks for the pegasus to fly around and gradually increase their distance away from the marker.

"I know it seems like a lot, but according to this report from the weather ponies at the Tempest Citadel, the storms over the Everfree forest are going to be picking up soon. I want her to check it thoroughly before they do. So it's fine, she'll stop to rest and resupply in Baltimare, before heading out again," Twilight informed her protégé.

"Has she?" Starlight Glimmer questioned. "I don't think she's stopped searching since the first night Rarity... How much rest has she been getting?" she asked after shaking the depressive thoughts from her mind to keep the subject on Rainbow Dash.

Twilight Sparkle didn't say anything, as she busied herself by going through the reports Spike had brought in order to avoid the question.

"Twilight, how much rest is she actually getting?" Spike asked a little more firmly than his own recent discipline. He knew Twilight had been avoiding this discussion for awhile.

Twilight winced, knowing she wasn't going to be able to weasel her way out this time.

"The same as when she was training full-time with the Wonderbolts. So... two or three hours a day." Twilight admitted.

Spike balked at that, while Starlight Gimmer didn't look surprised.

"Knowing Rainbow Dash she's most likely going days without sleep. You have to stop her. She's going to collapse from exhaustion if you don't!" Starlight exasperated.

"I've tried! She refuses to quit, until she finds Rarity. And she's so certain she will too..." Twilight flapped her wings in frustration, leaving them unfurled and on display.

Starlight Gmimmer put a hoof on the table to emphasise her point. "Not even the best Wonderbolts can function on threehours of sleep a day for a month straight! And this is Rainbow. Dash. we're talking about here, the pony who naps, like, twenty times a day. I swear ninety percent of our 'chillaxing' sessions were her just napping, and the rest was me listening to her talking about the Wonderbolts. At her insistence, I might add."

"I know. It hasn't been easy getting more support from capable Pegasi, especially since Queen Chrysalis is still at large. The majority of our guard is still on high alert. There just isn't enough to spare for a prolonged search and rescue." Twilight finished somberly.

"Especially since we still don't know where she ended up..." Starlight added, matching her melancholy teacher's tone. Though the silent question of 'if she ended up anywhere' lingered over their heads.

"Which hasn't made it easy on Dash, still, it was her idea to search every inch of Equestria for Rarity, alone. And that's not all..." Twilight trailed off, getting Starlight's attention. Who's dreaded to hear any more bad news.

"Spitfire sent me a letter stating she was going to have to dishonorably discharge Rainbow from the Wonderbolts, if she doesn't report for duty soon." Twilight sighed, feeling the weight of her friend's future on her shoulders.

"Why would they be worried about a single, rogue Changeling queen? She's not that powerful, is she? She still needs tons of love to even think about going up against us again. Plus, she doesn't have a way to efficiently feed without her drone army, and wasn't her whole hive converted when Thorax metamorphosed?" Starlight questioned.

"No, there were many that were still loyal to her, not to mention the countless number of scouts that were out looking for ponies to take back to the hive at the time of the 'Great Change', as they've come to call it." said Twilight.

"I thought Chrysalis' plan was to capture only the most loved of Equestria?" Starlight asked thoughtfully.

"Do you really think she would've stopped at just us?" Twilight questioned her pupil, with a raised eyebrow.

Starlight nodded in understanding.

"Can't you, or the other Princesses do something about it?" Starlight asked.

"I've already looked into it. The Wonderbolts are a part of Cloudsdale's Unification Treaty, it states that Cloudsdale is considered a sovereign nation, with their own rules, regulations, and independent military force. It essentially allows them government, within our own government. Well, since the Wonderbolts were created by General Firefly, who was still under oath of loyalty to Cloudsdale, the Wonderbolts are considered part of their military force. Though... they were originally made up of their forces to begin with." Twilight finished her lecture, looking a bit peeved.

"What about Captain Spitfire? Surely Rainbow can be given an extended leave of absence, o-or something, right?" Starlight asked, now grasping for any solution to come to mind.

"She has several higher ranking officials above her, pressuring her to kick Rainbow out! She's been covering for her as much as she can, but she can only hold them off for so long!" Twilight pleaded.

"So basically the Wonderbolts belong to Cloudsdale, and they have to follow the same code of conduct as their regular military. But the treaty states that Cloudsdale is unified with the rest of the country, but not really, and because of that, the Crown can't interfere?" Starlight questioned in an annoyed tone.

"Exactly." Twilight said, with a single nod.

"That's horseapples!" Starlight exasperated.

Twilight only frowned, and nodded in agreement.

Spike felt it was a good time to interrupt without upsetting anypony. "Princess Luna just sent in this letter." he held out the scroll in his open claws, anticipating the magical grab.

Twilight wasted no time in snatching the scroll from Spike, and breaking the wax seal.

Twilight's eyes darted quickly over the parchment, before scoffing and throwing the letter on the table.

Starlight Glimmer levitated it towards her, and read aloud.

Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle,

It is with heavy regret that I must inform you of my continued failure of a successful dreamwalk into Rarity's subconscious. While it is not unusual for me to have some difficulty in connecting with my little ponies, there are many reasons which can contribute to such a challenge.

My experience leads me to believe that outside forces are at work. Whether or not these forces are intentional, or simply natural due to the unpredictable nature of Magical forces, I have yet to determine either theory to be correct.

As you know, my first attempt to force myself into her dreams ended in disaster, as with the second. The third is most disturbing, as the 'doorway' to her mind is simply gone, and has yet to reappear in the weeks since its disappearance.

This leads to my second conclusion, and I regret to say that the worst may have happened to our dear friend.

I am truly, and deeply sorry Twilight, but there are many others I must tend to. Please understand that I have neglected my duties for a single soul, and cannot expend any more time, on any one pony.

Please note that I will not abandon our dear friend, and ask that you take solace in the knowledge that Rarity may still be alive. I am choosing to remain optimistic that wherever Rarity is, she is simply out of our reach, yet not beyond rescue.

With deepest sympathies, Princess Luna, Ruler of Equestria, Moon Warden, Bringer of the Night.

P.S. Our sister and I agree it would be in Equestria's best interest if the contents of this letter didn't reach the public. We cannot predict what the implications could be, if the kingdom ever found out an Element has passed on.

"No... she can't be..." Starlight dropped the letter from her magic, and stared distantly ahead.

Spike felt a weight forming in his gut. The thought of never seeing Rarity again started to take root, until Twilight's voice interrupted the depressive thoughts.

"We're not giving up, Princess Luna says she might still be alive." Twilight encouraged.

"Why did the Princess have so much trouble connecting with her?" Starlight asked thoughtfully, more to herself.

"I don't know, my only theory is magical interference. There are thousands of magical ley lines that run through the Everfree forest, and I've discovered many that connect directly to the Tree of Harmony. They could be the culprit."

"Do you really think she could be in the Everfree?" Starlight asked, thinking she could go with Twilight's plan if her reasons were good enough.

"Yes..? Maybe..? I don't know!? There are still lands far beyond our borders we haven't checked yet!" Twilight exclaimed throwing her hooves in the air! "The Griffin Commonwealth, Yakyakastan, the Dragon Lands, the list goes on and on!"

"And are you going to have Rainbow Dash check them all by herself?" Starlight asked with a tone in her voice.

"I know this looks bad, but I want Rainbow to check the Everfree over, before the weather hits! According to this report, this year's storm clouds are going to be harder to manage than any in the last decade!"

"And what are you going to do if Rainbow gets stranded out there too? Are you going to go out and find both of them by yourself? You know not even she can fly in an Everfree storm, much less you!"

"What would you have me do then!? I'm doing everything I can!" Twilight demanded, waving a hoof for emphasis.

"Call her back, and find a better way! Help me finish the tracking spell! Whatever you do, don't let Rainbow throw her life away on a lost cause!" Starlight exasperated, extending a hoof at each solution.

"Rainbow would give up everything, if it meant there was even a chance of finding her. And I feel terrible, because I don't want her to! She'll be labeled a deserter if she does, but at the same time she has her loyalty to her friends to consider. Why shouldn't I do any less!?" Twilight argued back, placing a hoof over her heart as it ached with the possible fate of one of her closest and dearest friends resting in her hooves.

"Twilight... we've- you've lost one friend already, don't lose another." Starlight begged her mentor to see reason.

"I haven't lost, nor am I going to 'lose' anypony else! Rainbow Dash knows what she's doing, and I trust her to take care of herself!" Twilight's argued back, her cheeks burning red in anger and frustration.

"Then what about her career! Are you really just going to let her throw away her life's dream!?" Starlight exclaimed, her own cheeks flushing as well.

"She's the greatest Wonderbolt who's ever lived! All the others can't deny it, they wouldn't dare kick her out. She has the support of myself, and the other Princesses." Twilight held her head high, trying to make herself as big as possible, hoping her mere presence alone would get Starlight to back off.

Starlight started evenly. "It's not going to matter... You said so yourself that they're independent from the crown." She reminded her, while flicking her ears back and forth, clearly annoyed by Twilight's futile gesture.

"Then maybe it's about time my status, and my power equated to something." Twilight stated darkly.

"You're starting to sound like me." Starlight warned, keeping her ears pinned back.

"Then maybe that's what I need to do. What I should do." Twilight muttered while looking at the maps with all the countless pins stuck in them.

"I know, and you know, you don't mean that." Starlight stated with a firm hoofstomp, letting her mentor know where she stood on the matter.

"Can I say something?" Spike stepped forward, hoping his presence will help calm them down, he regretting letting the argument go on for as long as it did. "I think we should get Dash back here for a bit of rest, and debriefing. Then we can leave it up to her to decide whether or not to keep going."

"We all know what she'll choose. Besides, she shouldn't be out there anyway. She's not even a certified rescue pony." Starlight Glimmer muttered.

"Spike. Go wait outside until we're done." Twilight glared at him, as if daring him to disobey her command.

Spike looked at her with a hurt expression, she'd never ordered him like that before; and the look on her face spelled trouble for him if he disobeyed.

"Pff, whatever." Spike wanted to keep arguing, but knew when to concede defeat. And removed himself from the room.

Spike thought about storming off to his room out of spite, but decided better against it, and leaned his back against the wall next to the library door, and crossed his arms, letting his temper stew.

He could barely hear their muffled voices, even as the steadily rose through the door.

"- ALL I'VE BEEN DOING IS TRYING TO FIND RARITY!" was all Spike could hear, before the door flew open, narrowly hitting his shoulder.

"Starlight, wait! I'm sor- wham!..." Twilight called out, but it was too late. The door had already shut. Spike watched in shock as the pink unicorn galloped down the hallway, and round the nearest corner out of sight.

The dragon entered the library once again. The chalkboards were shifted over, and some leaned against each other, clearing a straight path back to Twilight and her desk.

Spike was prepared to give Twilight a stern talking to, about how she's been treating her friends. But the melancholy look of his best friend and caretaker made him hesitate.

"Send Dash a letter... tell her to come home... then you can take the rest of the day off, Spike." Twilight said somberly, never bothering to look at him, as she slowly sat down. Looking completely lost.

"Twilight, are you- sure?" Spike asked, uncertain if he heard her correctly. She never gave him time off like that.

Twilight only gave him a single nod.

Spike did as she asked, without needing to check with her on how she wanted it written. He knew already, from his experience writing her letters after all those years, and continued to do so. He knew what her favorite phrases were, her favorite words to use, and the manner in which to use them.

If Spike wanted to, he could write anything he wanted, and nopony would know. He could make anything happen, but he learned his lesson about that a long time ago, when he pretended to be 'Princess' for a day.

Spike took a moment to look back at his caretaker, before sliding the royal letter into the post box out on the balcony of the castle, awaiting to be picked up by the afternoon mailpony. Who would see the royal wax seal of Twilight's cutie mark, and expedite it to another pegasus, or griffin who could deliver it over far longer distances. Until it finally reached its destination, The Royal Sonata Hotel in Baltimare where Rainbow would be staying, and awaiting further instructions.

"It's done." Spike said, simply.

Twilight didn't even react, choosing to stare blankly at the map, with all of it's countless blue pins, while sitting on a large cushion.

Until she felt the smooth scales of her once baby dragon gently wrap around her neck. She could feel the warmth of his body press against her, and with a little pressure, broke her emotional dam.

"I'm sorry, Spike" she barely managed to whisper.

"I know you are, it's okay." he reassured her.

"I'm not giving up, not ever." she said, with all the conviction of a crying foal.

"I know you won't."

"I'll find her."

"I know you will."

Spike felt her accept his embrace, by nuzzling her cheek against his chest, and letting the length of her horn rest just under the side of his chin.

"Is there anything else I can do?" Spike asked, not wanting to let go just yet.

"No, you can go Spike. I need some time to think about what I'm going to do next." she said, breaking the embrace, and letting her hoof linger on his shoulder.

She was so proud of him, he was her rock, her foundation to lean on, whenever things got tough. He was growing up to be the big, strong dragon she'd always knew he'd become.

Twilight put on a brave face for his sake, and waved their goodbyes. Wishing him a good day off. Once he'd finally left the room, she could finally vent her emotions.

"We're not giving up on her. I'm not giving up. Rarity isn't the kind of pony who would quit so easily. She can endure so much, how could I do any less." Twilight whispered, trying not to accept the inevitable truth.

"Not until I find a piece of her... just one piece. Then I'll know... I just want to know." Twilight whispered until her voice cracked, then covered her face, and cried silently in the empty library.


"Starlight? It's Spike." said Spike, speaking through the closed doorway of Starlight Glimmer's room.

The door cracked opened a moment later, revealing a puffy eyed Starlight Glimmer.

"Hey Spike... come on in." Starlight opened the door, and stepped aside for him to walk through. "Sorry about the mess." she apologized in a melancholy tone, with all the sincerity of a zombie.

Starlight Glimmer's room was a mess, worse yet, it smelled like she hadn't left it in days. Spike didn't mind, having been used to the smell of a ripe mare, any time Twilight would pull an all night study session. A habit in which she clung to whenever there was an event that needed planning, or an expected delegate.

There were more blackboards in her room, a near identical mirror to that of the library. They crowded the room, each filled with complex equations, which added a chalky smell to the air. Not even the castle's crystalline windows were spared from having mathematical, and thaumatalogical formulas written on them!

An uncountable number of pink teacups were stacked high upon the window sills, along with half-finished pastries, and their tiny plates.

Her desk was just as bad, if not worse. It was littered with used parchment, one unfortunate casualty had tea spilled all over it, and sat stained and wrinkled atop a pile of similar scrolls. While the waste basket in the corner by the desk was overflowing with crumpled wads of discarded notes.

"Just wanted to see how you were doin'." Spike said as he pulled out Starlight's desk chair, the only 'clean' (aside from the dust) piece furniture in the room, and sat across from her as she jumped up and sat on her bed.

"Spike, you know I would never ask you to go against Twilight, but-" Starlight started, but was surprised to have Spike silence her by lifting a claw.

"I know what you're going to say, and it's all okay. I've already sent a letter out to Rainbow, just as Twilight asked me to."

"Thank goodness..." Starlight sighed in relief.

"Things got pretty heated in there, huh? I wanted to say something, but it just didn't feel right."

"I'm glad you didn't, that fight was a long time coming... Sniff. Was I wrong, Spike; to have Rainbow called back? You care about Rarity probably more than anypony, what do you think should be done?" Starlight asked, hoping to reaffirm her decision to bring Rainbow back.

Spike was rarely ever asked for his opinions on important matters. Usually he just blurted them out when he felt they were worth hearing at best. Or hilarious at worst.

"I do care about her, and I miss her, but I don't think either of you were right, or wrong in deciding what Rainbow should do. It's her life, she should be the one who decides what to do with it."

"You're right, but we all know Rainbow is going to go with what her heart tells her. And her heart is telling her to scour every inch of Equestria! I don't care how 'loyal' or brave she is, a bad plan, is a bad. plan!" Starlight emphasised.

"Well, she doesn't call herself 'Rainbow 'Danger' Dash' for nothing." Spike shrugged.

They both chuckled at that, lightening the mood.

"I know what I did wrong. I insinuated that Rarity wasn't my friend, and she-." Starlight sniffed again, and put an arm to her mouth, trying to hold back her tears.

"Is she..?" Starlight wanted to ask the question, but feared what the answer would be.

"You know how Twilight is when pressure gets to her, she can't deal with it without the others around... Rarity was Twilight's first real friend after Princess Celestia decreed for us to live in Ponyville. The others took a little longer, but without Rarity as an anchor to everything back home in Canterlot..."

"I understand... but that's no reason to ignore what's right in front of her."

"She's always had problems with anxiety. Her freak outs were always so epic, but now..."

"It's scary."

"Yeah... this isn't anything like those times... I think she's getting desperate."

"And her other friends are paying for it." Starlight stated dourly.

"You know I'd be right out there with Dash, if I had wings. Instead I'm here... pushing paper." he snorted in annoyance, a puff of smoke blowing from his nostrils.

"Out of everypony, you've been the one coming up with some really good ideas. I just wish we could've built on them. Like your suggestion to use your dragonfire to send Rarity notes, and let her know we're thinking about her."

"A lot of good that did us. How was I supposed to know, it had anything to do with imprinting... I could get if it was just Twilight, but Princess Celestia too! That hardly makes any sense."

"It just goes to show how much we don't know about dragon magic. Other than it seems to defy all types of magical laws."

Spike still felt he contributed far less than everypony else, if anything, his 'ideas' only distracted those who could actually get things done.

Starlight Glimmer could sense Spike's melancholy thoughts.

"I know it seems like we don't appreciate what you do around here, Spike. But I want to thank you for helping me, if you weren't around, I know I would've went crazy at the start of all this chaos." Starlight smiled warmly at Spike, knowing she would've starved herself, if he wasn't around to remind her to eat.

Spike couldn't help letting himself swell with pride after hearing that! And for a moment he could swear he just got a little bit stronger.

"Chaos..." Spike echoed distantly, as another idea ignited in his mind. "That's it!" he exclaimed raising out of his chair! "Chaos! Why didn't I think of this before!? What about Discord!? Can't he figure out where she is? Or snap his claws to bring her back?"

Starlight nearly leapt back in surprise by his outburst, but soon put on a sad smile.

"I asked him not long after Twilight requested Princess Luna's assistance. He went on this tangent talking about 'powers beyond our comprehension', and something about 'upsetting the narrator?" she finished confusedly, even that last part sounded weird, even for Discord.

"Figures, just like him to come up with some cryptic reason about why he doesn't want to help." Spike said, while crossing his arms and sitting back down with a pout.

"Yeah, he said that he was too convenient of a solution, and that we shouldn't worry about it, because 'we ponies always have la dee da, goodie goody endings'. But he appreciates that somepony thinks of him, whenever we need somepony with powerful magic." Starlight added, trying to make it sound positive.

"So what does Twilight have you doing now?" Starlight asked, wanting to change the subject.

"She's given me the day off. It's weird, I really wasn't expecting it, I could really use the break, but at the same time I don't know what to do with myself." Spike shrugged. "Want some help cleaning up?" he asked, looking around at the mess.

"No, I'll take care of this, I wouldn't feel right making you work on your day off. Besides I really need to go through my notes again. I can't help, but feel like I'm missing some really important detail." she nodded in thought, already working on new solutions to her problem.

"Okay, but promise me something, would you?" Spike asked, as he stood up.


"Get some rest. Rainbow isn't the only one going non-stop around here."

"Only if you'll do the same, enjoy your day off, Spike."

"Will do."

They hugged each other goodbye, and Starlight gave Spike a longer, harder hug right before they were about to let go, just to emphasize how much she appreciated him.

Spike didn't have any plans for the day, he was hungry, but didn't feel like eating right away. Especially not after everything he'd just learned. So instead he decided to take a walk to clear his mind, and wandered into town.

Just like Spike, Ponyville had grown significantly since the appearance of Twilight's Castle, and the surrounding area bustled with the construction of half-finished homes.

Property values had skyrocketed since its appearance, especially those nearest to the structure, and ponies eager to cash-in were in much better living conditions, albeit, further away from the castle.

Rich nobles had bought out many of the properties surrounding the structure, in a pompous competition to have the biggest, most luxurious mansion nearest to the Princess of Friendship herself.

After all. Who wouldn't like to say they're neighbors with royalty?

Which was unfortunate for the few 'common' ponies who wanted that honor to themselves, as their homes lucky enough to be nearby, were dwarfed by their much richer neighbors, ruining their view of the castle.

Though when the wealthy petitioned to build a gate to keep the commoners off their property, which would've surrounded everything including the castle. Twilight immediately shut it down, stating that everypony is welcome to visit the castle, and strived to keep the main road leading up to it as friendly, and inviting as the nobles would allow.

Which they'd always immediately back off whenever they sensed Twilight's ire, wanting to stay on her good side.

Spike continued to walk until his mind blanked, allowing him to take in the sights. Until he spotted a white mare in the distance. His heart skipped a beat, before settling again once he noticed the mare was much younger than the one he missed. Her musical note emblazoned on a shield cutie mark, bore no resemblance to the three-diamond mark he used to follow everywhere it'd go.

The white filly was trotting backwards out the door of a music shop, waving her hoof and saying her goodbyes to the ponies inside.

"Hey Sweetie Belle, how's it going!" Spike asked a little more excitedly than he meant, causing Sweetie to jump and neigh in fright. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you." he smiled sheepishly, while rubbing his head.

"Spike!? W-what're you doing out here? Aren't you always working around this time?" she asked, surprised by the sudden greeting.

"Twilight's given me the rest of the day off." he shrugged.

"Really? So do you have any plans?" Sweetie asked, while adjusting her saddlebags. A faint lime-green aura surrounded the straps, and a second combed through her mane. As if she were touching up her looks.

"I'm not really sure, honestly, I don't really know what to do with myself." he said, while thoughtfully rubbing his chin.

"Same here. I was thinking about going home, and calling it a day." she said, while rotating the tip of a hoof back and forth on the ground.

"So what've you been up to?" he asked quickly, not wanting to end the conversation there.

"I just got out of my piano class." she said, with a nod towards the door she just came out of. 'Clef da Capo de Leitmotif's Music School' was written on the glass door, with various musical notes surrounding the title.

"Cool, cool... How's that going?" he asked, struggling to keep the conversation going.

"Pretty good, I think. Ever since I saw Countess Coloratura, well, 'Ra-Ra' now, perform at the charity show, I just really wanted to give it a try. Ms. Chopsticks has been a really good teacher, and I think my talent helps a little." she smiled, feeling happy he asked about the lessons.

"That sounds great Sweetie Belle. I-I can't wait to hear it at the talent show. I asked Twilight months ago for that night off."

Sweetie Belle only looked away and grimace.

"I mean, if you aren't ready, then that's okay. I'm sure it'll still be a great show." Tone it down Spike, she's obviously a little self-conscience about it.

The pair just stood at the doorway until Sweetie Belle had to break the uncomfortable silence surrounding them.

"So is Twi- is Princess Twilight mad at me?" she asked, and couldn't bear to look him in the eyes again.

"Nah, she's not mad, she never was, in fact I think she's worried you might still be mad at her."

"What? Really?"

"Yeah, she didn't sleep for three days straight after what happened." both winced at that. Spike knew he shouldn't have mentioned how much she had affected the Princess of Friendship. And Sweetie just felt worse for hearing it.

"Could you tell her that I'm sorry for what I said, and for my behavior. I just feel terrible, I didn't mean to call her an 'evil enchantress who took my sister away'. I was just so-." Sweetie said, struggling to finish her sentence, as all the negative feeling welled up again.

"I'll let her know. About the apology, not all the other stuff." Spike finished for her.

"Thanks Spike." she smiled regretfully.

Another uncomfortable silence.

"Did you have anything you want to do today?" Sweetie asked, as she shifted bashfully on her hooves.

"I don't have any plans. I really wasn't expecting to have the day to myself, kinda wish I brought my list with me." he said wistfully.

"Not the one where you smell your feet." she grimaced, and scrunched up her nose.

"Nope, that one's just for the weekends." he teased.

Sweetie just scoffed in laughter, and rolled her eyes, but couldn't help but smile at his little joke.

"Want me to walk you home?" he offered, wanting to be of use to somepony at least.

"Sure! I could use the company."


The pair walked until they passed by Sugarcube Corner, where Pinkie had a sign out advertising free baked goods, made by her, for anypony who found Rarity and brought her back.

'Free Lifetime Supply of Pinkie's Famous Cupcakes from Now On and ForEverrrr!', it had a foal's drawing of a pink pony munching happily on a cupcake, with a bite taken out of it.

"So what's everypony else doing to help find my sister, any news?" Sweetie Belle asked, as they passed by the sweet shop.

"Rainbow's still searching all over Equestria for her, and Starlight is still working on a spell to track her down." Spike caught Sweetie Belle making a face at that. "Twilight's been so bogged down with royal duties she's hardly been able to help, and I'm doing all I can to lighten the load for the both of them."

"I heard Fluttershy's trying to get her animal friends to help too, but it's mating season for most of'em, so they've been a little... distracted." Sweetie said.

That got a blush out of both of them, and they promptly looked away from each other as they walked along the town's main street. Sweetie felt embarrassed for making the situation awkward, and she couldn't bear to speak or look at him again, until they made it to the marketplace.

Buildings, wagons, and tents in a festival of colors lined the main road on both sides all the way to the train stop. Where the majority of the town's goods were imported and exported.

Ponies were bustling about buying groceries for the week, or simply shopping for pleasure. While others were selling their wares, and produce in their respective stalls. The pair casually browsed while listening to the sales ponies advertised their wares and prices.

"Would the filly like a pot? No finer pots in brass or silver!"

"Sugar dates! Sugar dates and figs! Sugar dates and pistachioooos!"

"Fresh fish, we catch'em, you never buy'em..." sighed a very grumpy looking griffin.

"Apples! Get'cher apples here! Sweet Apple Acres' crispy delicious treats! Only ten bits a bushel! Fifteen for two!" called a familiar farm pony's voice over the crowd.

"Well howdy there ya'll!" Applejack waved at the pair as they approached her stall, while she was busy with another customer. The Apple family's stall held not just apples, but fresh baked goods as well, like apple fritter, apple pie, apple cobbler, apple funnel cake, apple... you get the idea.

"Be with ya in a moment." Applejack reassured the pair, giving them time to browse.

Even from the distance separating them, they could smell the scent of alcohol on Applejack's breath.

Applebloom was there as well, looking a bit worrisome as she struggled to help her customer while keeping an eye on her older sister. Applejack was just finishing up with a mare who bought a couple apple pies, and a bushel of apples.

"Here, lemme help you with that." Applejack nabbed the basket full of apples, and tried to dump them all into the mare's saddlebags. Applejack's intoxicated mind caused her to sway and overfill the bags, causing the weight to tip the mare over, and fall to the ground right on top of a pie and splattering its sweet gooey goodness everywhere.

"Go home Applejack; you're drunk!" The mulberry mare yelled, wiping away the apple filling from her face and coat.

"Like yer one t' talk, Berry Punch!" Applejack argued back defensively, until Applebloom swiftly placed herself between the two snarling mares.

"Applejack! Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if you did go home, ya know? T' get some rest." Applebloom intervened, trying to calm the two irate mares. She helped Berry Punch with her bags, even giving her a few dozen extra apples, and an extra pie on top of her original purchase to satisfy her customer.

Applejack reared her head back, ready to deliver that stubborn Earth Pony pride she was infamous for, until she looked around at the mess she made, and after seeing the faces of her friends and the ponies around her, Applejack knew what she had to do.

"Ah surgarcubes.... You're right lil' Bloom. You sure you can bring the stall back home all by yerself?" she asked her little sister, her ears and face drooped in shame.

"We can help her out if she needs it." Spike added, hoping to reassure Applejack enough to get her to leave.

"Well... alrighty then, I'll see you back home." Applejack started to leave, but turned back, and faced Sweetie Belle. Applejack took off her hat, and held it to her chest as she spoke to the filly. "Sweetie Belle? I- I jus' keep thinkin' that- that if I didn't say anythin', then maybe- maybe she'd still be here..." Applejack finished soberly, looking down in shame; unable to meet the young mare's eyes.

"Don't worry, Applejack, my sister'll be back home before you know it!" Sweetie tried to put on a bright smile, and to feign as much enthusiasm as she could for the somber farm mare.

Applejack smiled and tipped her hat, before finally taking the long trek home.

"I'm sorry about that ya'll, Applejack's been hittin' the cider pretty hard." Applebloom explained, unable to meet her friends eyes, too embarrassed by her older sister's behavior. "I heard Big Mac talkin' to Granny about our dad, said that he used to have a problem with cider before... Well, now they're worried Applejack might have same problem," she finished somberly.

"I'm sorry to hear that Applebloom," Sweetie Belle consoled her friend, leaning shoulder to shoulder with her in support.

"Me too," Spike added, while doing the same on Applebloom's other side. Spike felt like he was leaning against a solid rock instead of the young farm filly he's known nearly all his life. Spike couldn't believe how much Applebloom had grown, she was bigger than Sweetie Belle by a large margin, considering their age, which was nearly identical. She was almost as big as a full grown mare, but the Apple family were always considered big ponies. Maybe not as big as other pony races such as Alicorns, nor as tall as Saddle Arabians, but big nonetheless. Spike was certain that Applebloom was going to develop the same lean, yet slender, musculature just like her older sister.

Applebloom broke the embrace and faced her two friends. "Not as sorry as my sister's gonna be when our brother gives 'er a stern talkin' to." Applebloom said with a steely face, then relaxing as she continued talking to her friends. "An' speakin' of talkin', have ya decided yet? About what we're gonna do?" she asked Sweetie Belle in a secretive tone.

Spike was perplexed at the change in topic.

Sweetie Belle put on a sad smile and shook her head. "I just don't feel right about it. 'm sorry Applebloom, I know you worked really hard on everything."

"That's okay, jus' remember we're behind you a hundred and ten percent. So if you decide t' change yer mind, even at the last minute, we'll be with ya." Applebloom gave a little salute and a smile, letting her friend know there wasn't anything to be sorry for.

"Did you want some help with your stall?" Spike asked, gesturing to her wares.

Applebloom shook her head. "Nah, I can handle this, ya'll go on ahead, I gotta get t' sellin' these here apples b'fore the market ends. Here, ya'll can have one on me," she finished, tossing each the pair an apple from her premium stock.

"Thanks Applebloom, see ya later," They said their goodbyes, and continued to look around at the other stalls while enjoying their apple treat.

"So how are you doing, Sweetie? With everything that's been going on." Spike asked.

Sweetie Belle took a bite of apple, more to give herself time to think, rather than sate her appetite.

"Not good. My parents and I have been helping as best we can, but we're nowhere near as good as Rarity at managing her shops. I've had to turn away several customers, simply because there aren't any clothes for them to buy at the moment. Sassy Saddles has been trying to pick up the slack, so have the sales ponies in Manehattan. But without my sister keeping up with the trends, and making new original designs... I'm not sure how much longer her shops are going to last with them reproducing all my sister's old work..." Sweetie's ears drooped, as she stared at the ground.

“Sorry to hear about that Sweetie, is there anything I can do to help out?” he offered.

“I don’t know. I don’t really wanna think about it right now... Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to, Spike? Have you ever thought about doing anything besides working with Princess Twilight?" she quickly changed subject, wanting to distract herself from all the problems she was facing.

"You know Twilight'll have a fit, if she ever found out you called her by her title?" he chuckled, making a joke for her sake. Sweetie only nodded, and rolled her eyes with a smile.

"Well, ever since I tried pretending to be a Princess for a day, I realized there was so much I didn't know about being a good leader. So, I asked Princess Celestia to write me a letter of recommendation, so I can go to a real school."

"Really? Have you picked out a school yet? Where do you want to go?" she asked excitedly, her eyes lighting up.

"Nowhere, nopony accepts dragons in their schools." he shrugged.

"Oh Spike, that's awful! I'm so sorry!" Sweetie felt sick that nopony would accept Spike.

"It's okay, it all worked out in the end." he said, giving her a knowing smile.

"What are you going to do; what happened?" Sweetie Belle knitted her brow in concern.

"Princess Celestia wrote me a personal letter one day, asking about how things were going for me. Well... I didn't want lie to her, aaand maybe I vented my frustration a little, but in the end she decided to tutor me personally, just like Twilight." Spike finished excitedly, with a big toothy grin.

Sweetie Belle lit up excitedly at the news as well. "Spike, that's great! I'm really happy for you. So what are you planning on studying?"

"Politics, government, and economics mostly. I love being Twilight's number one assistant, but ever since I met Ember, I figured who would be a better diplomat between the ponies and dragons than a dragon raised by ponies." Spike emphasised.

"Oh... Rarity told me about her." Sweetie Belle sneered with jealousy.

Spike caught her change in mood, and was going to ask her about it, until they heard a pony calling out for them in the distance.

"Hey you two!" Scootaloo shouted as she came skidding in on her scooter, kicking up a plume of dust and stopping just short of the pair.

The orange filly with the pink mane had her bottom lip pierced with a single, simple ring, along with a multitude of different piercings in each of her ears. Ranging from bands to studs, and spikes, including a sizeable gauge putting a hole in her left ear. She had her fur dyed recently, showing off a thorny rose on one shoulder, and the back of her hind legs had laces wrapped in a bow.

There was just something disturbingly sexy about the 'art' Spike thought as he looked her up and down.

Scootaloo was also dragging behind a small red wagon advertising a local restaurant. 'Parmesan Primo-Vera's Pizzeria: Delivered Hot in 10 minutes, or it's Free!' Spike wondered what Scootaloo did with the rest of the nine minutes and fifty seconds she usually had left over.

"Hi Spike, gosh, it feels like I haven't seen you in ages; how've you been!?" she asked excitedly, as she rushed in to give Spike a tight hug.

Spike welcomed the embrace and was nearly bowled over as she reared up and pushed her body against his; getting a whiff of her 'airy' scent from the sweaty filly. While she in turn smelled him, and didn't bother being very subtle about it, 'mmm-ing' as her snout pressed against the smooth scales of his neck.

Spike barely caught sight of Sweetie Belle bristling at the sight of their embrace, before he and Scootaloo broke the hug, and she went to give her best friend a hug too. The two fillies embraced each other while nuzzling their cheeks together as all close filly friends do, while Spike answered Scootaloo's question.

"Busy. Twilight's just given me the rest of the day off. It's good to see you too Scoots." he said with nervousness and butterflies in his gut from the intimate hug. Scootaloo was always the most impulsive of the group, never hiding her true feelings from anypony she cared about. Though lately things were getting a bit more physical than he was used to.

"So what's been going on? Any news about Rainbow Dash yet?" Scootaloo asked, taking off her helmet, and shaking out her damp messy mane.

The pair caught Scootaloo up on everything that was going on at the castle.

"What!? What a load of horseapples! They'd never kick her out! Do you know how many hundreds, no, thousands of fans in the Rainbow Dash Fan Club will be furious!?" Scootaloo asked them seriously.

"Um, hundreds?" Spike guessed nervously.

"Thousands?" Sweetie Belle squeaked, following his lead.

"A lot actually!" Scootaloo exclaimed, throwing both hooves in the air. "If there's one pony who can find somepony who's lost, it's Rainbow Dash!" She grinned confidently.

"Thanks Scoots, I just wish I was as optimistic as you are." Sweetie said, looking down with a sad smile.

"Don't worry, I know from experience." Scootaloo reassured her, remembering the night Rainbow found her lost in the forest, and became her big sister. Hoping to pick up her friend's spirits. "So what are we gonna do for the thing?" she asked with a hoof to her mouth, as if the conversation should only be heard by the trio.

Spike noticed the change in tone for the second time.

"It's not happening... sorry Scoots, I know you were looking forward to showing off all those cool moves." Sweetie Belle answered looking down, unable to meet her friend's eyes.

"Hey, it's alright, I totally understand." Scootaloo said supportively, while patting her friends back with a wing.

Sweetie gave her a thankful smile.

"Well, I gotta go collect my bits for the week. Here, you guys can have this. The last knucklehead stiffed me because I was too early, annnd also maybe because I walked in on them while they were doing things." she smile sheepishly, handing the pizza over to Spike, which was still pleasantly warm to the touch. "I mean, how was I supposed to know they were gonna be rutting when I got there?"

"S-Scootaloo!" Spike and Sweetie exclaimed simultaneously, with both their faces turning a beat red.

"Just sayin' you shouldn’t leave the front door open when you’re expecting a delivery, especially since our season's coming up soon, speaking of which, who're you planning on doing when the time comes?" Scootaloo asked with sultry grin, while holding her hoof up to her mouth, winking an eye, and nodding towards Spike. As if only she and Sweetie could hear the conversation.

"Scootaloo don't say things like that, what's gotten into you!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed in embarrassment, covering her eyes with her hooves, while her cheeks flushed an even brighter shade of red.

"Nothing yet! Bye you guys!" Scootaloo hopped back on her scooter, and took off with her wings beating like a hummingbird. Leaving the two alone with beat red faces.

Spike's hearing wasn't as acute as a pony's, but he heard every word, and promptly looked away, pretending he didn't, with a blush on his face too.

The couple decided to eat their free pizza at Creamy Delights Ice Cream shop, so they could enjoy some shakes with their meal.

"You don't happen to have any rubies you could sprinkle on there, do you?" Spike asked the blue-grey mare behind the counter, as she set the tray down with their drinks, and received an 'are you kidding me' kind of look for his inquiry. "Guess that's a no."

"It's my treat." Spike said, as he paid for their drinks with the bits he kept in a little pouch around his waist.

"Thanks, but no thanks Spike. I just don't feel comfortable receiving anymore favors."

"Ah, ah! No buts, it's part of my Dragon Code. 'A noble dragon always pays for the lady's meal!" he stated, with his head held high, and a hand on his chest, in an exaggerated emulation of regality.

Sweetie snorted a laugh, and rolled her eyes in surrender to his insistence. Knowing how he gets whenever he'd go on about his 'Dragon Code'. It was nice, yet a little awkward having him pay for her meal, but the feeling of butterflies in her stomach when her called her a 'lady' was a pleasant experience.

"Are you disappointed that nopony offers gemstones, still?" Sweetie asked, as they sat down in a booth with their shakes.

"Meh, it's alright, I've learned to cover for myself." Spike said as he dug around in his coin pouch, and pulled out a few small ruby gems. Then crushed and sprinkled them generously over his peppermint shake, before stirring them in.

"Sorry about Scootaloo, she should know better than to act like that."

"Nah, it's alright, I'm used to it from her. We're all friends, right?"

"Yeah, but some fillies should keep their hooves to themselves." she mumbled while laying her ears back, and putting on a steely face.

"Huh?" Spike asked in mid-bite.

"Nothing!" Sweetie brightened, and quickly took a bite of pizza to prevent herself from talking again.

Spike shrugged and took a big bite out of his own slice (tomato slices, spinach, and black olives, on alfredo sauce), then washed it down with a peppermint flavored shake. One advantage to being a dragon is, you never have to worry about brain freeze.

The pair ate in silence, doing a bit of pony watching, until Spike's curiosity got the better of him.

"So what were Scoots, and Applebloom going on about? Sounded like you guys were speaking in some sort of secret code."

"Oh, yeah... You know the talent show that's coming up?" she asked somberly, and dreaded to tell him about what was going on, but he deserved to know.

"Yeah, the one going on this weekend?" he nodded, noticing her melancholy mood, and worried he might have touched upon a sensitive subject.

"Yeah... I've decided not to compete in it." she grimaced, and shrank into herself, waiting for the inevitable verbal bashing to come.

"What? But why!? You've worked so hard on- everything!" he exclaimed, and feeling disappointed he wasn't going to hear her sing.

"I know, but the Crusaders left it up to me to decide what we were going to do. They said they'd be behind me no matter what my choice is. So, I decided we should hold off, and help find my sister in any way we can." she said with conviction, but in her eyes there was only regret.

"Sweetie Belle..." Spike admonished, not believing a word he was hearing.

"It's okay. I really wouldn't feel right performing while my sister is miss-ing. Sniff!" Sweetie choked, her eyes shimmered, and she quickly wiped them away.

Spike placed a claw on her withers to comfort her.

"Please Spike, I just really don't want to talk about this anymore. Can we just pretend that I didn't say anything."

Spike worked his mouth trying to think of something to say. He could tell she wasn't happy about her decision, from the way she'd take dainty, halfhearted bites of her pizza.

"What about the other Crusaders? Aren't they doing something to help out?" he asked, hoping to find a way to convince Sweetie Belle to change her mind.

"We've got Crusaders in every major city doing everything they can to help out, and spread awareness. They've really went above and beyond just for me."

Their little group had grown and extended throughout every major province and beyond. They even had chapters just for colts, and some were even mixed, with Gabby having her own chapter; not just for ponies, but griffins, minotaurs, buffalo, and even a few dragons.

Spike looked out the window by their booth, while his mind buzzed with ideas.

They finished their meal, and were once again on their way to Sweetie Belle's house. It wasn't much different from the other two-story buildings that lined the street, near the center of town. Nopony would ever guess a couple of multi-Bittionaires lived there, but Spike was one of the very few who knew the truth.

As the pair walked, Spike's eyes would wander over Sweetie Belle's features.

Sweetie had grown into a fine young mare. She was filling out in all the right places, and there was no doubt she'd be considered beautiful with her flawless white coat, and her two-toned pink, and light purple mane. Pretty enough to rival her older sister, not just in looks, but talent as well.

"Well, this is me." Sweetie Belle said as she fidgeted on her hooves, in front of the doorway.

"Sweetie? W-would like to go out with me tonight and... I dunno, do something? Like, together?" Spike asked, not wanting the day to end just yet. Plus, he still needed to figure out how to get her to agree to doing the talent show.

"You mean... like a date?" she squeaked.

"Well... yeah, sure! I mean, it doesn't have to be a date, but I just really wanna to do something nice for you." Spike said, while putting on his best smile.

His dragon fangs didn't bother her, in fact, she hardly noticed them anymore. Actually she couldn't remember a time she was ever afraid of him. The once baby dragon had teeth more akin to a cat than a giant pony-eating dragon. But now they were larger, and his fangs were longer to where he couldn't hide them for the ponies sake anymore, try as he might.

To her, it was just apart of him, and who he was.

Sweetie was in no condition to go on a date. Her hair was a mess, her hooves were sore from walking all day, and to top it all off, she felt dirty. Though she knew Spike would wait for her if she asked him to, but she never wanted to treat him like a doormat like all the other mares. She liked him so much better when he'd take charge, and not act like a pincushion.

"Maybe some other time. I'm just feeling really exhausted from today." she sighed tiredly.

"Oh... yeah, we did have a pretty big day today, huh?" he said, hiding his disappointment.

"But I'll be free next Moonday!" she blurted, then sealed her lips shut, staring at him. Trying and failing, not to sound desperate.

"Oh, sure, great! See ya then Sweetie." Spike agreed with a strained smile. Moonday was two days after the talent show. He'd have to try something now if he was going to help her. His mind raced as Sweetie waved her goodbyes and cracked open the door to her home.

"I think you should do it." Spike blurted out, before the door was halfway open.

Sweetie gave him a worrisome look, and darted her eyes around, as if searching for confirmation for what she had heard.

"Do... what?" Sweetie asked, as she tensed near the doorway, inching her way inside.

"The talent show, I think you should do it." Spike swallowed, knowing this wasn't going to be easy.

"Spike... we talked about this." she sighed tiredly.

"I know Rarity would want you to do it. Not only that, but you could use this as an opportunity it to help promote awareness." The reason wasn't good enough, he knew that. The whole town already knew Rarity was missing within the first couple of days of the incident. Sweetie Belle and the other Ponyville Crusaders helped with that. There really wasn't anything else they could do.

Sweetie winced, and was starting too look upset as she stood halfway through the doorway.

"If you can't do it for her, then do it for yourself. You're a great singer, Sweetie Belle." Spike said encouragingly, trying to convince her to continue on.

"I can't, Spike." Sweetie's voice caught in her throat, as it swelled shut.

"Why not?"

"I don't deserve to." Sweetie Belle whispered somberly.

"You know, Rarity would say something like 'The show must go on, darling!'; why can't you be more like that?"

"So is that all I am to you? A replacement Rarity?" she snapped at him, her eyes full of tears that were falling freely down her cheeks.

"What!? That's not it at all!" Spike balked at her, like she had just slapped him across the face.

"Maybe you're just looking for a new piece of flank to follow around!" She spat at him.

"What is your problem, Sweetie Belle." Spike fired back, his own ire beginning to show.

"You wanna know what my problem is?! I'll tell you! It's because I hate how everypony is going through their lives like nothing ever happened! Like my sister didn't matter! Do you know what the last thing I said to my sister was!? I told her 'I hope I never saw her again'. How can I perform at a show knowing that was the last time I was ever going to see her!?" she ranted, with the tears streaming down her face. Letting out all the pain and frustration the last few weeks had brought her.

"So what if it was!?" he shouted back without thinking, his eyes widened as the reality of his mistake became clear. Spike immediately regretted saying it, as a queasy feeling spread throughout his stomach.

Sweetie's eyes slowly widened as well, in disbelief and hurt.

"Wha- why would you say that..?" Sweetie whispered, while her eyes welled with hot, angry tears. "Why would you say that, Spike!?" she yelled.

He told her everything. About Luna's letter, about the royal gag order. Everything.

"That's not true, that's impossible! I don't believe you! No. NO! Rarity isn't- my sister would never give up! She's still out there, and I don't care what anypony says!" she screamed at him, a faint green aura engulfed the door, and slammed it shut. Causing the door knocker to fly upwards, and rap against its surface.

Spike tried to rush the door, but was too slow, and rested his fist against it. For a moment he thought about breaking it down, but instead he rested his head against his fists. Then mentally berated himself, while banging his head against his fists on the door.

After a few moments he gave up, and made the long trek back home to Twilight's Castle, with his head hung low regret.

Sweetie Belle cried herself to sleep that night, letting out all the pain of her mistake.

Hunter's Prayer

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The hunter moved unhindered through the thickets, guided by the lingering tracks of his prey. He stopped and observed his surroundings, while taking mental notes of their conditions. His prize sat mere yards from his position behind a downed tree trunk.

The white ears of his prey were peeking out above the fallen bough, a stark contrast to the dark browns of its bark and the yellowed-greens of the forest surrounding her.

The hunter was downwind, and his prey was still unaware of his presence. Good, he won't have to circle around this time. Doing so would only cost time, something that was always against him. Since he could lose his opportunity, or his prey could move on, or worse, he'd have to compete against other predators.

The hunter worked to control his breathing, while his heart raced at the thrill capturing his prize.

The hunter would not use his bow, for he didn't have a clear shot. Instead he snuck closer to his prey, keeping himself out of its line of sight, his footfalls were deathly silent.

Atchmon lunged over the top of the trunk, and instead of capturing his prize, he found nothing but a stick holding up a wicker pony 'head' made of some fibrous material. The ears, upon quick inspection, were a collection of white feathers fashioned together with string and glued with tree sap. The down must've been salvaged from a nearby cockatrice nest, most likely.

"Clever girl." he muttered, before looking to his left, and finding the blunt end of a spear pointing at his face.

A devilishly smiling little white pony held firm on the other end. She was cloaked in the reddish fur of a dire wolf, her legs were wrapped in tanned leather barding. To protect her from the unyielding undergrowth, should she ever need to run.

Together they created a new wardrobe for her to wear. Atchmon had made a joke, comparing her to 'Little Red Trotting Hood'. Considering her recent relationship with the local wolves, she didn't find it very funny, but could get the humor. Until Atchmon started making fun of her, saying things like, 'Rarity, what big eyes you have.' And couldn't hold back her laughter any longer.

Regardless, she did look very fetching in her red-furred garb. Even though Atchmon had tried to push for the newly acquired brown furs, stating they kept her better hidden, and blended in with the surroundings much better. But Rarity preferred the red one for her cloak, having stated that even if her garment was meant to hide her from the world, she should still look fabulous doing it.

"I believe they say, 'the student has become the master', in this situation." Rarity said with a coy smile, as she levitated her 'spear' away from Atchmon's face.

"Pff, I heard you comin' from a mile away. Remember heel, then toe." he instructed her with a dour expression, while motioning his feet back and forth.

"You did not, admit it, I finally got you!" she complained.

Atchmon took breath, and worked to control his emotions. He didn't want her to know how much it bothered him. Their time together had made him soft, and reckless. Then a grin spread across his face.

It was time to play a game.

"Nope, bad pony. No treat for you. Come back next time." he said while chastising her with a finger, before walking away.

"What!? I'll show you a bad pony! Grrrrrr!" she growled at him, and proceeded to poke Atchmon in all his sensitive areas.

Rarity's growl nearly made Atchmon jump and yelp in fright. For it sounded nearly identical to a rabid dog, until he felt the blunt end of her spear jabbing him in his pressure points.

"Hey! Ow! Knock it- Oof! You little shi- HA-haha! That tickles, stooop!" He tried to run away, only to have the glowing blue stick follow him everywhere, along with the assaulting pony not far behind. Until he had enough, and it was time to go on the offensive.

Atchmon whipped around and scooped Rarity up in his arms. The little pony didn't have time, nor room to change course. The human had cleverly brought her to a shallow scar of earth, trapping her in a narrow passageway.

"AH! Ahahaha!" Rarity squealed in delight, as her protector lifted her off the ground, and swung her around in circles, while he cradled her in his arms. Rarity kicked out her hind legs, in a poor attempt to free herself from his clutches. All while he tickled her soft, sensitive underbelly.

"Oh, no. My little pony has gone feral." Atchmon cried in feigned anguish. "What ever shall I do?" he continued, while holding a wrist up to his forehead; a parody to the one cradled in his other arm. "Guess I'll have to put'er down." he finished by sitting on the small ridge of dirt, never letting go of the giggling little mare sitting in his lap.

"Goodnight, sweet princess," he whispered, while holding the mare close to his chest and gently petting the back of her head.

Rarity was not amused while she sat in his lap as the little spoon, while Atchmon tried to lull her into a forever sleep. Then gave him one last thwack on the head to release her.

"Ow. Okay, game's over," he said nonchalantly, while letting go of her. Allowing Rarity to fall forward onto her fore hooves.

"Well?" she asked, still expecting a positive assessment, and hovered her spear up so he could see it. As if threatening him with another series of pokes. Not that it ever phased him.

"Fiiine, I'm a bit of a sore loser anyway... you got me Rares." he smiled, unable to keep up the façade, and gave her a proud grin. Regardless of how he may have felt, there was much satisfaction in teaching Rarity for a change.

Rarity lifted her head high and smiled, relishing the praise.

"But don't get cocky, there're plenty of monsters out there that'll set up a trap same as you." he warned, while motioning around at their current whereabouts. Rarity looked at the area, and nodded at his instruction, with a serious expression on her face.

"What kind of monsters, might I ask." she asked, while they walked.

"Let's just say not all my pits were made by me." he said, looking down at her.

"Must you be so mysterious? Why can't you just tell me what it is, before we, or even I, have an unprepared run-in with whatever it is?"

"You're right." he chuckled. "Big. Ass. Trapdoor spiders, and I'm not apologizing for cursing. I freakin' hate spiders." he growled between his teeth. "But you shouldn't have to worry about it. I haven't seen one of those in years, and I've cleared out the few that were around where I like to hunt."

Rarity regretting asking, now she'll have a tinge of fear every time she looks at the ground. Wondering if there was some monster lying in wait, ready to grab and eat her.

"Welp, you ready to do some gatherin', b'fore we head back to the river? It'll go faster if we split up." he asked with a coy grin, making Rarity immediately look up at him. The worry on her face was plain as day, no matter how well she tried to hide it.

She really didn't care for his sick sense of humor.

"I swear you are as mature as a yearling sometimes." she grumbled.

Rarity levitated her spear into the newly attached loops she modified to her saddlebag. After the incident with the wolves, Atchmon was kind enough to go out and retrieve them for her. Since then they've been her little restorative project. Repairing all the damage caused by the mongrel responsible.

At the very least, this crime against fashion met a swift, albeit not necessarily just end. Rarity still felt a torn bag didn't equate to a life, even if that life was a predator trying to eat her. After a long talk, she knew if it ever happened again, she wouldn't hesitate to do what she must to survive.

Thanks to her fellow survivor's support, it strengthened her resolve to make it home.

It took a bit of convincing, but Rarity finally got Atchmon to agree to give her a little more freedom. It allowed her to wander further off in order to better help with the gathering. Not to mention a lot more privacy.

Rarity giggled at herself over their recent 'horse play', while she plucked a few ripe pears from a tree. Atchmon had shown her where many precious food-bearing plants were located. They were heading to this particular location, until Atchmon decided it was time to play a little 'hide and seek'. She'd gotten much better at their little game.

"It's amazing... In just a few short days it'll be a month since Twilight's spell stranded me here." Rarity spoke softly to herself as she cantered around, while gathering any random foodstuffs her eyes deemed worthy of consumption.

Rarity had to be careful of how many sweet fruits she ate. While it was safe for her to eat, the amount of sugar could still harm her. As long as she balanced them with proper vegetables, and grains she'll be fine.

"Funny how things can change on a Bit like that. It's really not all bad, more of a happy accident, in fact. Especially for Atchmon..." Rarity thought of her human friend, as her mind and magic effortlessly worked to fill her saddlebags. "I should do something nice for him! Just to show my appreciation for all that he's done for me."

Rarity tried to think of things she could do, given her limited selection of supplies available to her.

"Atchmon?" Rarity called out, having lost the tall biped.

"Over here Rarity. C'mere, I need to borrow yer nose for a minute." he called back to her.

"What are you doing?" she asked, as she cantered up to him.

Atchmon was kneeling down examining a plant he'd been staring at for several minutes.

"You see this plant? Could you smell it for me, and tell me what it smells like to you?" he asked, while barely taking his eyes off the plant. As if it was going to come alive at any moment.

Rarity felt a little miffed at his request, it wasn't the first time he'd ask her to smell something. Using her as some sort of search dog. Though she knew he wouldn't be asking, if it wasn't for both of their benefits. They had a little fight about that, and he conceded to respect her more as an intelligent being rather than some animal to be used. Which he apologized sincerely for, admitting that sometimes he forgot just how 'human' she was.

She didn't know how to feel about that, whether to be excited that he saw her as more than just a pony. Or disappointed that he continued to struggle with her more 'animal' like traits.

"Is that- are those tea leaves?" she asked curiously as the familiar aroma filled her nose.

Atchmon grinned at her. "That's what I was thinkin'. Ohh, I could really go for some of Nan's Texas tea right about now. She always put about a pound of sugar for every gallon." Atchmon smiled wide and licked his lips at the thought.

"A hot cup of tea would be just divine." Rarity salivated at the idea of the relaxing beverage as well.

"Hot tea?" Atchmon questioned.

"Yes... what?" Rarity questioned back.

"We're gonna have t' have a talk later." Atchmon stated before getting to work.

Rarity scoffed. Apparently she found another social faux pas. Atchmon could be as conservative and narrow minded as an Earth Pony when it came to his beliefs.

Together they stripped every matured leaf off the plant, and placed them inside Atchmon's backpack. Rarity smiled at the many human puns of her own people's names for things.

"You hear that?" Atchmon asked as they finished up.

"Is that... buzzing?" Rarity swiveled her ears, and carefully listened in every direction.

"Yeah, but where's it comin' from?" he asked, while looking around.

"Over here." Rarity lead him to the source of the noise, and Atchmon followed. Trusting her far superior sense of hearing.

A short while later, they found it. A beehive sat above them on the lowest branch of a tall pine tree. The branch, however, was roughly the height of a two-story building off the ground.

"Our cup runneth over." Atchmon cheered while raising his fists to the sky, then smiled down at Rarity. "Now how do we get it down...?" he asked thoughtfully to himself.

"Let me try something." Rarity said as she lit her horn and concentrated. She tried to channel more magic into the the spell causing her horn to illuminate into a deeper shade of blue. It was useless, her range just wasn't far enough. Even with working her horn everyday to carry heavy firewood for them, it still wasn't enough. Even if she could reach it, Rarity doubted she'd have the magical strength to pull it down.

Atchmon notched an arrow and took careful aim at his target. He spent a fraction of a moment to admire the strength of the hive's stalk, and how such a tiny segment could hold such a large colony in the air. Then loosed his arrow, his experience told him his aim was true, but alas... not true enough. The arrow barely scathed the tiny stem, and Atchmon contemplated on whether or not he'd want to lose another arrow for this prize.

Luckily he wouldn't need to. The hive's stalk was beginning to give way, and inevitably fell to the ground with a satisfying crunch.

Soon the buzzing sound grew even more intense, before a swarm of bees coalesced above their destroyed hive. The bees who lived there, were pissed.

"Oh, crap. I did not think this through. Alright, we better get outta- here?" Atchmon looked down, only to find Rarity was gone.

Atchmon looked behind himself, and saw her white rump shrinking away in the distance, as she dodged the trees to get away.

"You've got this!" Rarity shouted back.

"Wait for me!" Atchmon took off after her, with the bees hot on their trail.

Atchmon's two legs were no match for Rarity's four, and quickly lost sight of her. Only the occasional sting from the bees motivated him to run faster, and he regretted not wearing his furred vest.

In a few short moments Atchmon caught up with Rarity, who was standing on the precipice of a steep drop leading into the river. Without thinking Atchmon threw off his gear and grabbed her.

"No, no, no, NO, WAIT-!" Rarity tried to stop him, but it was too late.

Atchmon picked her up with ease and together, with her cradled underneath his arm, they jumped into the river.

For a moment Rarity could hear the water rushing into her ears - and the next - silence. Aside from the muted sounds of her struggling to draw breath.

She kicked out, fighting to get to the surface for air, but Atchmon held her firmly in his grasp and fought to keep her down until he was sure the danger had passed.

The fresh water stung his eyes as he kept a lookout for the swarm of bees. When they came, he could swear they shaped themselves like a question mark, before flying away.

He could see Rarity's cheeks were puffed out to their limit, before climbing to the surface.

Rarity gasped violently when she broke through the surface, and accidentally swallowed some water, causing her to cough and breathe in more.

"Are you crazy!" Rarity coughed as she dropped to her belly on the shore. "I could've drowned!"

"Awe, you'll be fine." Atchmon waved off her complaints, as he laid back on the smooth, pebbled beach.

After a minute Atchmon got back up and waded back into the river. The cool, soothing water felt good on his sun-kissed skin. A price for usually not wearing anything to cover his upper body.

"C'mon out here, th' water's great," he called back to Rarity, who was busy wringing out the water in her mane.

"I'm not going back out there, it's too deep for me."

"Thought you said ponies can swim?" he questioned.

"Some can, I simply don't."

Atchmon swam back to her and climbed out, as she finished wringing out her tail with her hooves.

"Don't you think it's about time you learned how? I can show you, it's real easy." he offered.

"I said, no." Rarity stated firmly.

"Come on." he begged. "I promise I won't do anything to scare you, okay?"

Rarity's only response was to ignore him, and looked away with an annoyed expression.

Atchmon got up, leaving Rarity behind to finish drying herself off, and disappeared behind the steep hill of the shore.

"Hey Rarity. Watchiss!" he called down to her, before disappearing again from the ledge. A moment later he jumped over again, this time hanging onto a tree vine. He swung clear out over the river, and let go, doing a back-flip before hitting the surface. Causing a deluge of water to splash over Rarity, completely soaking her all over again.

"Atchmon!" Rarity called out angrily.

"OW! I hit the bottom!" Atchmon cried out, once he resurfaced.

"All this horse play is going to get you hurt, or worse." she shouted after him.

"C'mon little pony, come into the water," Atchmon cooed at her like foal. Then grabbed some tall grass and waved it around while nickering to her, as he waded further into the river.

"Excuse me!?" Rarity bristled in shocked offense.

Nic! Nic! Nic! "Here pony, pony," he clicked his tongue and cooed at her again.

"Oh. It. Is. On!" Rarity declared with her ears splayed back in defiance; and charged in after him. She quickly closed the gap and tackled him back into the river. The drop off was much steeper than Rarity anticipated, and paddled back to where she could stand again.

Atchmon resurfaced and the battle was on!

The pair splashed water at each other and laughed at their fun. Rarity's hooves just couldn't match Atchmon's technique, until Rarity pulled out her secret weapon. Atchmon's face dropped at the sight of dozens of levitating water orbs floating around her.

"How do you like me now, human! The Ponies reign supreme!" Rarity cheered, as she pelted him with a barrage of magical water balloons.

Atchmon took the brunt of the assault and let out a mighty roar, and lunged across the water grasping Rarity by her sides as he play wrestled with her. Then heaved her over the river with a big splash.

Atchmon realized his mistake and dove in after her when she didn't resurface right away.

"You okay?" he asked in fear of her wellbeing.

Rarity felt like a floating tea bag in his arms, but was thankful for the rescue. "I'm fine." she said, and snorted out some of the water in her nose.

"Ah!" Rarity yelped as she felt herself dip under the water, and kicked instinctively to keep to the surface.

"It's okay. Hey, I got you." Atchmon said reassuringly, and helped hook her hooves over his shoulders.

"Just breathe." he instructed.

"You were right, the water does feel really nice." Rarity said, as she struggled to decide whether or not to straddle her hind legs around his waist. She didn't have to debate for long for Atchmon ran his hands down her flanks, searching for and grasping her hocks and pulled them around himself.

"That better?" he asked.

"Mhmm. Much." Rarity flustered at their closeness.

"You swim better than I thought you would." Atchmon held onto her while she caught her breath.

"Thank you. Though I doubt I can hold a candle to a Seapony."

Atchmon chuckled, and brushed away some of the wet, purple mane that was sticking to her face. "I won't worry about'chu no more." he said, then leaned in and planted a kiss on her cheek.

"Atchmon!" Rarity half laughed. "That is not appropriate. Remember? We talked about this..." Rarity said as she placed a timid hoof on his chest.

"I know." he sighed. "Sometimes I forget you're your own person. And not some..."

"Pet." she finished for him.

"Y-yeah...hehe." He winced, and looked away. "Let's head back to the camp, and dry out our supplies."

The awkwardness was apparent as they casually meandered through the forest, back to their riverside campsite.

Atchmon decided to abandon rebuilding the treehouse altogether. Neglect had turned the structure unstable, and it would've taken more work just to fix it. Instead, they settled on staying on the ground and making the near hourlong trip back to the Den.

With Rarity's help and skills, it took no time for them to build crude lean-to shelter out of the forest.

The river itself was beautiful.

Patches of sandy banks broke up the flowing water, whose surface sparkled in the bright summer sun. There were two large areas where the water was deep enough for a good swim, and to cool off!

Rarity was sunning on a grassy knoll just off the bank near camp. She enjoyed the soothing warmth of Celestia's sun on her damp coat, while keeping a watchful eye on the fishing rods she had fashioned herself. The rods lay secured to 'forks' on a rack keeping any stubborn fish from yanking her hard work into the murky depths.

Atchmon sat next to her sorting out their newly acquired supplies, and laid them out in the sun to dry off. Rarity laid facing towards him, and he couldn't help admiring her majestic beauty. The way her still wet mane stuck her to shoulders and neck, the way it arched for her to view the river. The stark white contrast of her coat against the deep green of the grass.

Atchmon was surprised to find that Rarity was actually quite the accomplished angler. Though it confused him as to why she'd insist on using a fishing rod when, to him, she could just magic the fish out.

"Remind me again why you can't jus' lift'em outta the water?" Atchmon asked, as he secured a fishing reel attachment to his bow.

"I don't mean to sound like I'm bragging, but I am a master at fine precision telekinesis. Not only do I need to see what I'm levitating, but living creatures also have some level of magical resistance. Making them much more difficult to levitate, than ordinary objects. That's why it's so impressive whenever a Unicorn can lift multiple living beings with their magic."

"Not only that, but they feel all icky!" she said, and shook herself at the thought.

"Where'd you learn to fish anyway?" he asked "I never would think a pony would take up such a hobby."

"Father always wanted a colt to teach how to fish. It was always his favorite activity, but instead he got me and made the best of it." she explained to him.

"I think father would like you. You two would get along so well. He's a bit of a stallions' stallion, so I hope you like talking a lot about sports." she said, while reeling in an empty hook, then casting it back out again.

"Heh. I'd be alright with that." Atchmon said, and smiled at the thought of learning about pony sports.

"I've never thought such a skill could be so... imperative." Rarity continued.

"Yeah, when times are lean, I can always count on the river to provide." Atchmon said, giving the waters a gentle smile, silently thanking them for all the times it saved his life.

"I never really cared for the sport, but laying out here on this soft grass is incredibly relaxing." Rarity sighed, as she stretched herself out. Then later flipped onto her back and wriggled against the ground, letting grass scratch her moist, itchy hide.

She looked cute with the way she curled her hooves. There were times she had the elegant movements of a cat, rather than the rigidity of an equine.

Atchmon smiled at her, knowing this was one happy pony. No matter how many times he tried, she'd always do something to remind him of her adorable animal-like traits. And flushed, as his eyes trailed from her long delicate neck, to her bare chest, and down to her sensual navel, then ended at the pair of fleshy mounds between her thighs.

Rarity sighed contently, while resting on her back with her hind legs splayed out; revealing her soft white udders out for the world to see.

Atchmon couldn't help staring at her breasts. They really weren't that much different from a girls. They were more oval shaped than round, better adhered to her more streamlined body evolution had blessed her with. The faded charcoal ring of flesh at the center of each fleshy hill was a surprise to find.

They're like little footballs. He thought, and chuckled lightly to himself.

He continued to compare the similarities, while fighting his compulsion to reach over and rub her soft belly. Which lay flat, revealing the subtle contours of her ribs. Knowing he must still be in trouble from all the recent affections he'd been peppering her with. 'She's lost some weight already.'

Rarity opened her eyes, and shifted her head to see what her human friend found so funny. Even though her view was upside down, she realized almost immediately what he was staring at, and snapped her hind legs shut while rolling away from him. Even sticking both forehooves down to cover herself for added measure.

Atchmon had a sinking feeling come over him at being caught, and quickly turned away; Rarity kept glancing uncomfortably his way, while he did the same towards her. Atchmon couldn't bring himself to meet her big blue doe eyes.

"Sorry, didn't mean to stare." He apologized abashedly, while covering his face in embarrassment with one hand, and waving the other like he could wipe the situation away. "I'm gonna go walk around, an' give you some room."

Rarity watched Atchmon leave without another word, as he wandered into the forest.

"He was looking at me. Not just looking, but looking." Rarity whispered, almost not believing her own words.

Rarity was no stranger to other ponies sizing her up and giving her looks. She could almost always feel their eyes on her. She was guilty of that as well. In Canterlot there was no shortage of attractive unicorn stallions. Even those who lived in Canterlot's lesser districts looked high borne in comparison to the stallions in Ponyville. With a few exceptions. Even Canterlot's slums looked decadent in comparison to most homes in Ponyville.

"This is getting out of hoof. Perhaps it's time we set a few boundaries. Then again, it was my fault for exposing myself in front of him, can I really blame him for looking? But what if he thinks I'm some tail-raising floozy!?" she fretted.

Rarity got up, and entered the forest in search of Atchmon, thinking he couldn't have gone far.

A short while later, Rarity felt something move somewhere near her. Her newly trained senses told her she was being watched, and she quickly found a place to hide until the danger passed.

Something was moving behind the trees and breaking their limbs, something very big.

"An Elken..." Rarity breathed in astonishment as the creature emerged from the thickets; its massive bulk plowed through the undergrowth completely unhindered. Much of Rarity's fear were assuaged by the sight of the fellow hooved creature, and crawled out from her hidey hole.

The large creature noticed Rarity's striking white coat, and approached her at a lumbering gait. Rarity was left awestruck by the Elken's presence; watching as the great Lord of the Wood swayed its head to look at her. Rarity stood there listening to the Elken's low guttural sounds as its massive lungs pulled air inward in deep heavy breaths.

Elken were ancient creatures of legend. Some say just looking at one will bless you with eternal happiness. Others say they only approach those with pure hearts. Rarity's trepidation had her feeling far from happy, from the shear size of the massive creature, which she felt could possibly dwarf the Princesses. Its antlers could easily be mistaken for tree branches, and were covered in moss and hanging vines.

The creature looked down on her with an old gaze, and she could see a millennia of life in those eyes. The Ancient seemed to have taken a curious liking to her as it lowered its head to get a better look at Rarity.

"Hello there." Rarity greeted the Ancient, and lifted a hoof, wanting to touch such a rare creature. Rarity's tiny hoof made contact with the Elken's large snout and she smiled joyously at the rare opportunity.


Rarity shrank back as the Elken let out a pained cry and ran away with a short, dark shaft with black fletching sticking in its barrel. The wounded beast powered through the trees, leaving behind a path of broken branches in its wake.

"Rarity? What are you doin' out here?" Atchmon started worriedly, his movements torn between pursuing the creature and staying with her. "Never mind, c'mon!" he ordered, and chased after his quarry.

Rarity could only react in the confusion and followed after him.

"Oh wow. Oh wow." Atchmon breathed in amazement as he approached his downed prey. The hunt was over in minutes, the hunter had no doubt that his arrow had penetrated both lungs.

The Elken laid on the ground, lifeless, before them.

"Why?" Rarity questioned him, and shook her head; clearly looking upset.

Atchmon could hear the pain in her voice. The look she gave, made him feel like he had done something wrong.

"Can't you see? It wasn't going to harm me!" she snapped at him.

Atchmon looked between her and the animal he killed. At first he couldn't understand what she was so upset about. She stopped hounding him whenever he'd eat some small critter. And scoffed at his jokes about eating Monty, if the little pest got any fatter eating from his garden. But slowly he realized some inkling of her empathy towards the animal. He may never fully understand, but he did know something; at least.

He couldn't make this right, but there was something he could do.

"'m sorry." Atchmon started sympathetically.

"You should be." Rarity sniffed, as she let her sadness for this tragedy fall.

"I wasn't talking to you." Atchmon said, as he kneeled down before legendary creature.

"What are you doing?" she asked timidly.

Atchmon grasped his hands together and held them to his forehead. "Praying." he answered, keeping his eyes shut.

Rarity watched him, unsure of what to make of the strange ritual.

Atchmon clinched his eyes and grimaced as he struggled to remember the words. After a long while, he took a breath and decided to speak from the heart.

"Thank you Great Spirit for this bounty you've blessed us with.

"Thank you creature for dying, so we may live.

"Your flesh will nourish us. And your hide will give us warmth.

"I pray my strike was swift and my arrow true, and that your last breath, was not one of pain and agony. For I wish no suffering unto you.

"May your spirit run swift to join the Great One watching above.


Rarity studied Atchmon's face as he finished the sermon.

A predator honoring its prey... How can there be any honor in this? Rarity thought, wondering if Atchmon actually felt guilty about this.

Something has to die for him to live. So if he had any other choice, would he choose not to eat other living things? Rarity's thoughts buzzed with new questions, things she hadn't thought of, and wondered how they would affect the outcome of their rescue.

Atchmon then drew out his knife.

"Wait. W-what're you doing. Stop." she pleaded, and placed her hooves on Atchmon's arm.

"Rarity... it would be an insult to this animal, if I just left it, without using it." Atchmon said calmly.

Rarity shook her head. She didn't want him to do this. If some predator killed her, she doubted that 'feeling insulted' that it never ate her would be the least of her feelings. But she could see where Atchmon was getting at. She may not fully understand, but she could try to.

"I don't do this because I want to, Rarity. I know how upset you are... but I have to do this." He pleaded with her, begging her to understand his people's ways.

They remained silent a moment until Rarity gingerly removed her hooves from his arm.

"I don't- do I have to..." Rarity hesitated to ask, only wanting to be someplace else.

"It's too big... I'm gonna need your help... No, wait, you can go..."

"No, I'll stay... I feel responsible for this." Rarity shook her head in regret.

"You weren't."

"I know, but you should know that not every creature out here is a malevolent beast, Atchmon." Rarity stated with a sad look.

"I know... Alright let's get started." Atchmon said, lacking all the excitement of a hearty meal to come.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked, but she already knew a little about the process.

"I need you to go get the rope and the food we've gathered today, and bring it all back here." Atchmon said, as he got up and started inspecting some of the nearby tree branches. Including those that were torn down during the hunt.


"Rarity." Atchmon called after her. "Be safe."

"I will." Rarity said, before leaving at a full canter.

Once she returned. Atchmon had gathered a large pile of thick branches. Rarity noticed none of it was suitable for a fire, and watched Atchmon stripping off sapling bark as quickly as he could.

"I've brought what you've asked." Rarity started, interrupting Atchmon's work.

"Alright, come over here with me." Atchmon said as he waved her over, and kneeled down by the creatures head.

Rarity turned away at the first sign of crimson, and did her best to keep the corpse of the animal out of her sight.

Atchmon beckoned her closer, and opened the flap of her saddlebag. Then proceeded to place their food carefully on the ground.

"What are you doing?" she asked, not understanding the purpose of his actions.

"Its an offering. To its family and the forest." Atchmon said simply.

Rarity hoped there were others. The thought that there were no more Elken left in the world, that this creature was the last, pained her heart. Seeing him perform the sacred ritual put her little more at ease.

"I'll admit, it's been a long time since I've last done this. Guess I've been a pretty ungrateful bastard." Atchmon muttered in the end.

"What do we do now?" Rarity asked.

"I want you to make a sort of stretcher out of these branches. It's gonna look a bit like this." Atchmon said, and held his hands up for her to see. Forming a sort of pyramid with them.

"You mean, like a travois?" she offered, and tried not to think about what she was going to be dragging behind her.

"I don't know what they're called. Only what they're supposed to look like." Atchmon said, and felt stupid for not knowing what he was talking about.

"Do you want help with..." Rarity hesitated to ask what had been on her mind.

"No, I don't want you to see this part." Atchmon said as he grabbed the rope and threw it over a thick, low-hanging branch.

Rarity succeeded in making a pair of triangular stretchers for them to drag the carcass along.

"Follow me, I think I know where one of my pits is close by." Atchmon said, and continued on while dragging his half along with him.

It was a long process. Taking all of the day, and most of the night. Rarity had become accustomed to the smell of smoke, and cooking meat.

By the time they finished, the once beautiful creature was nothing but cooked meat and parts. Atchmon buried the remains that couldn't be used, and made a small burial shine out of its antlers. It was a little macabre to Rarity, but couldn't bring herself to make her opinion known.

Rarity was somewhat curious about hide tanning. She tried to view it as keeping up with the trends, but couldn't see Ponies wearing much in the way of fur. There were plenty of other creature that would, a market she had yet to tap into. However, once it came to 'braining' the hide, she couldn't keep the facade any longer.

Atchmon would have to do the rest without her.

Atchmon kept a watchful eye over her. Only, Rarity seemed to be punishing herself for something that wasn't her fault.

She truly felt responsible.

He had to make this right, somehow.

But what could he do?

Rarity asked Atchmon to give her a bit of space after the incident with the Elken. They never really saw much of each other over the next few days.

Atchmon was gone most of the time, and would usually return right after sunset.

Even when they were together, they barely talked to each other. They'd exchange the same old pleasantries, but their interactions became autonomous. A 'good morning' here, and a 'how are you' there, but there was never any warmth in the conversation.

Rarity was doing everything she could to distract herself. Even taking up some of Atchmon's responsibilities, which included aerating the garden, and filling the water pots. Even though they were mostly full to begin with.

Strangely though, Atchmon had taken a sudden interest in tailoring, asking her questions about the process, including the best ways to go about it.

Rarity was more than happy to share her knowledge. Anything to keep her from slipping into depression. It'd been years since she felt so bad that all she wanted to do was lay in bed all day.

It wasn't a feeling she welcomed at all.

With the chores done, there was nothing else to do but wait for Atchmon to return from doing whatever it is he does in the forest.

And wait she did.

Napping helped a little, though Rarity couldn't understand how Rainbow Dash could nap so much, as she nursed a newly developed headache. Rarity never knew too much sleep could be a bad thing.

The brightest part of her day, was when Atchmon finally came home. For all his faults and their differences, it was better having him around. Just his presence alone put her more at ease.

He left a bit later the next day. Leaving her alone again, and so she waited for him to return. With nothing but her thoughts to keep her company.

"Atchmon's been keeping himself awful busy lately, and sleeping in much later than usual. Which is strange, because he's usually up before I am. We actually awoke at the same time this morning. Funny, he isn't all that well balanced during that time from the way he was shambling about. Guess he's not as much of a morning pony as I thought he was." Rarity mused idly to herself.

There wasn't anything for her to do, at least, not until Atchmon came back. She assumed he went out on another hunt, though she couldn't understand why. He had plenty of food, and then remembered what he said about stocking supplies for the rain that's to come.

Their home was clean, the garden had been tended to, and food was well stocked for the both of them.

Rarity sat down on the larger bed, and tried to think of anything to help her pass the time. She didn't know how long Atchmon would be gone today, and eventually her mind blanked until her thoughts wandered back to her real home.

It's been a month now...

A part of Rarity wanted to be proud she survived so long in what Ponies believed to be the most dangerous place in Equestria. But that part was overshadowed by her longing to be back with the ones she loved.

But then there was the issue of Atchmon. How would she convince him to leave? How could she tell him that she didn't want to wait for a rescue any longer?

Every day she'd gaze upon Canterlot's mountain peak. Something she felt was so close, and yet so very far away. Of which Atchmon would remind her.

"He said it could take at least a couple weeks to make that journey. And that's assuming nothing hinders our approach. Little chance of that happening." she added sarcastically.

"I wonder how my friends will react... Pinkie Pie would throw a party, no doubt about that. And Twilight will want to know every detail of my experience. Rainbow Dash, the poor softy, would bawl and hold me and probably never let go. Applejack... she's never one to publicly show her emotions, I bet she'll tip her old hat, and give one of those knowing bows to me. And Fluttershy would be ever so attentive to any of my needs. I wonder what they'll think of Atchmon when I bring him along on our return..."

"Our return..." she whispered thoughtfully.

Then she wondered what her friends would think of Atchmon. Rarity was confident she could convince them to accept him as he was... But what about the rest of Equestria?

Even with Twilight's support, her word still didn't carry much weight among the nobles. Much less Rarity and the other Element bearers.

Suddenly the image of Atchmon being banished back into this horrible place entered her mind.

"What if the Princesses view him as some dangerous monster and threw him in the dungeon? Or threw him in a dungeon, in the place that he was banished to!?" she thought aloud, and could already see the look of betrayal on his face, as he shouted that painful question of "Why!?" at her, as he grasped the bars of his cage.

It was a silly thought. Atchmon was closer to a Griffin, as far as food needs go, more than anything else. And it wasn't as if Ponies weren't interacting more with them or the Dragons. Other than his size, he actually had far less of a threatening presence than either.

"Maybe convincing him just isn't enough. He's always been firm in his belief of staying where we are, and letting others find us. But I'm losing faith in that ever happening."

There was one thing she could do to get him to leave. Something she had been quite adept at, but never taken it to the next level. All Atchmon needed was a little motivation, and Rarity was sure he'd want to leave.

Rarity thought of their time at the river, of how she felt being so close to him. That same feeling of having butterflies in your stomach, but swore it was just the water.

Ever since he kissed her, Atchmon had been getting increasingly more physical with her. Not in a bad way. Just things like hugging and petting her more often. Usually it was in praise of whatever good thing she did for him. And that first kiss wasn't the last, he'd been doing that more often too. Usually it was a quick peck on the cheek, or head. But sometimes he'd lift up her hoof and kiss her pastern as well. And it was always so random, it's like he does it because the mood hits him.

It wasn't like Rarity never used her charm and good looks to get what she wanted. Only a few times she felt guilty doing so. But she couldn't do that to him, could she?

"I'll admit, I like the attention he gives me. No, I love it. But, ohh, he only sees me as his pet. Just some animal to be used. How could somepony like me ever court a creature such as him." she dismayed, and flopped back on Atchmon's bed. Smelling the unique scent of human on the furred sheet.

Rarity had played with the idea of courting Spike, should the little dear never lose his infatuation with her, and only once he was old enough, of course. She considered all the positives and negatives, but the age difference was just too great. She simply couldn't wait for him to mature physically, or mentally any longer. Besides, there was another pony who had eyes for him that Spike had yet to notice.

Rarity noticed this growing love. Being the good, observant sister she was, and decided to wait and see how things played out. Maybe even subtly help it along if she could.

But the thing that scared Rarity most, was the fact stallions tend to want more than just the 'promise' of affection. The sooner they got their rut, the sooner they'd make up their minds as to whether or not they'll stick around with the mare.

"This isn't at all what I imagined. What I always hoped for... What I wanted. Perhaps it's all too much of me to ask. My wishes really are the hopes of a naive little filly after all..." Rarity spoke somberly, paying respects to her dying fantasies as she mentally prepared herself for what she was planning to do.

Rarity was very familiar with Atchmon's touch, and stroked her body with her hard, rough hooves; they just didn't compare to his soft, yet firm digits.

She continued to lie in Atchmon's bed imagining what it would be like to lay with the human, while continuing to mentally prepare herself for her plans to come.

She wondered how he would feel compared to a real stallion. Not that she ever had one to compare him to; and felt the pang of loneliness creep in her heart at that realization.

Rarity held herself while curling into a tight little ball, seeking out any comfort she could provide for herself despite being completely isolated.

There were times in the past she'd close her boutique for the day, choosing to focus on catching up with the work from her special orders. Then later at night--like so many other nights--Rarity would lay in her Princess-sized bed cuddling tightly against her many pillows, trying desperately to fill the void she greatly desired to be filled by her special somepony.

Without her work to distract herself from the crippling loneliness she was feeling, Rarity couldn't help imagining herself with a companion once again. Only this time--like many other times--she didn't want simple companionship. She wanted somepony to hold her, to cuddle with her, and to comfort her. She wanted the company only a lover could provide.

She laid in Atchmon's bed feeling increasingly alone and... frustrated.

The idea of mating sparked a growing fire in her loins, and the prospect of making herself feel good was becoming more appealing the longer she dwelled on the idea. She'd done well to suppress her urges thus far, but now the thoughts were there again; and she didn't feel like ignoring them this time. That and the fact it had been a very long while since she last felt release. Rarity may have thought of herself as a lady of class, but that didn't mean she was a complete prude. She, like many other mares, loved to feel good and to satisfy urges.

And there was still plenty of time before Atchmon came back...

"This simply won't do." Rarity said, while examining her hooves. They had a bit of dirt on them, and were cracked and dry from neglect. She feared their condition worsening, if she never saw the local ferrier again. The thought of using Atchmon's crude blade to trim them worried her.

"Oh, what does it matter," she sighed in defeat, and turned over, laying flat on her back with her hind legs splayed out; before dipping a hoof between her thighs and rubbing her breasts. The sensation didn't do anything for her. Her hooves grew too much for her soft frogs to make comfortable contact with the bare skin of her udders, and were just too jagged for it to feel good.

Rarity tried curling into herself, hoping her little button was swollen enough for her to reach, but was unable to reach her sex, and whined in frustration at her futile attempts. She tried bending over as far as she could go, but no part of her was flexible enough for her to reach her vulva. After that, she shifted to the side and tried reaching over her ample flanks, with even worse results, the least she could do was spread her fleshy folds by pulling up her rump. All those ponlates classes were definitely not paying off.

Her pony anatomy just didn't allow for self pleasure.

Rarity flopped back on the bed in frustration, and thought about her predicament. Her marehood twitched mockingly for attention, as she tried to engineer a solution to her problem. The little nub of flesh swelled as Rarity hunted for anything remotely phallic shaped, and couldn't help forcefully flexing her sex muscle in an effort to derive some pleasure from it.

Looking around the cave she came upon the repaired skull of Mahoney looking at her with a creepy grin, and used her magic to make him face away. Unfortunately his creepy gaze didn't kill the mood for her, and she continued her search for a tool of relief.

Her eyes continued to wander around the den, until they landed on the spear she rarely ever parted with. Rarity magicked the pole over and examined it. The wooden shaft seemed smooth enough, and was fairly clean. Even by her lowest standards.

Rarity thought back and remembered a bit of filly talk she had with Applejack and Twilight, back when they had regular slumber parties. Applejack once said something about using the fence posts at her farm whenever she'd get urges, or a really bad itch.

'Maybe this could work.'

She got up and faced the bed, then lifted her tail, and positioned the spear's shaft between her flanks. She then pressed it firmly against the sensitive skin of her marehood.

With her magic, she hesitantly sawed the spear's shaft against her slit, kneading it into herself, and felt her lips part around the smooth, wooden pole with every stroke. The dry rod was a little uncomfortable to use at first, but at least she was becoming more aroused with each pleasant sensation.

Rarity bent lower into the bed, resting her head and fore-hooves into the furred mattress. Immediately getting a better sensation of the shaft grinding against her clitoral hood. She could feel her little button swelling with pleasure, and a moment later she felt a familiar twitch beneath her tail.

"Oh..." Rarity mewled, feeling the shaft become slick with her juices as it rubbed against her clit and between her folds. Sending sparks of pleasure with every involuntary wink. She bent down with her hind legs, sliding her flanks against her love pole, in long, slow strokes.

"Ah!" she gasped, as she worked her haunches, grinding faster against the spear. She swayed her hips to the side, letting it spread her lips open, and she could smell the musky scent of her sex in the air. She pressed harder into it, trying to get her mare lips around the shaft.

But it wasn't enough. Rarity tried to push back into the shaft, feeling it glide against her moist folds; but her magic was too weak to apply the pressure she needed. Instead, she tried to make up for it with her fantasies.

She was noblemare at the mercy of a handsome pirate, as they sailed away on the high seas.

She was a Princess, swept off her hooves by a rogue street-rat who would become her Prince.

She was a lowly maid commoner, fallen in love with a noble outlaw embroiled in a battle of wits against an evil sheriff.

In every instance, Rarity's mind replaced the stallions of her fantasies with Atchmon's own alien visage.

She imagined his smooth skin rubbing against her back. The weight of his body pressing down on her, while she struggled to hold him aloft as they mated. She smelled at the furred bed sheet, trying to fill her senses with his unique scent. Her world melted into one of fantasy and pleasure, but release still eluded her.

She wondered what it would feel like if he'd bite her withers with his sharp teeth, adding the pleasure of pain to their love, as he shoved himself deeper into her core. She could feel her vaginal muscles contract, kneading her absent lover's member, coaxing him to pour his seed into her; to dominate her, to claim her as his, to conquer her. To make her into a real mare.

Rarity's breathing and movements became more erratic as she searched for rapture, and felt a pressure growing deep in her groin. The familiar feeling of her body tightening grew too much for her to bear, as she worked fervently to bring herself over the edge, while the slickening wet sounds of her self-pleasure echoed in her ears. She could feel herself getting closer, and was so ready to explode; the bliss of release was near...

"Hey, Rare, I'm ba- WHOA!" Atchmon shouted in surprise, and stuck his hands out; futilely trying to block the image of Rarity's soaking wet marehood as it was seared into his mind.

"AH!" Rarity screamed, before she could hit her peak, and flopped sideways onto the bed; trying to find anything to cover herself, while the spear clattered to the floor; landing in a tiny pool of her juices.

"Rarity! I- ah! Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! I'm sorry! Sorry!" Atchmon apologized profusely over and over as he quickly made his escape, and accidentally bumped his head on the entrance in his panic.

"Out! Get out! Don't look at me! Get out!" Rarity yelled as she threw various little trinkets around the shelves at him with her magic.

Rarity pushed her disheveled mane to the side, and flopped backwards on Atchmon's bed while covering her face.

She laid on the bed feeling completely mortified, and even more frustrated than before.

Rarity poked her head outside the Den, and found Atchmon fidgeting with his fingers while waiting for her at the bottom of the hill.

"What're you doing back so early." Rarity asked curtly as she tried to magic her mane back into place.

"It's, ah, my turn to make dinner tonight, so I was wonderin' if you were ready to eat?" Atchmon replied nervously, feeling as though he were stepping on eggshells.

Rarity noticed he wore his furred vest, the same one he'd normally wear whenever it was too cold for him. It was late, but the heat of the day hadn't dissipated yet, and all Rarity could think about was how uncomfortably warm he had to be.

And... did he brush the fur on his vest? And his mane too!?

'He did! He even groomed his facial hair... I never imagined he could look so dapper. What in Equestria is going on? Did Tartarus just freeze over, or something?'

"Isn't it a bit early?" she questioned, while checking on the sun. It was clearly in the afternoon, yet far from evening.

"I got a lil surprise planned for you down by the river, if you think you'll be ready to eat in the next hour or so." he explained, while pointing a thumb in the right direction.

Rarity felt like she could use a snack... but considering she just 'musked' up their home. It was probably best they avoided it for a couple hours, and let it air out.

"A surprise? What sort of surprise?" she asked curiously while putting on her saddlebags.

"You'll see." Atchmon answered mysteriously, and left it at that.

The pair walked for what felt like hours. The trip would've felt a lot shorter if Atchmon would've revealed any of his secrets to her. But alas, he wasn't going to break.

"We're almost there, don't you worry." he said.

"Oh, will you stop saying that. You said that last time, and the time before that." Rarity fussed.

"Only if you'll stop askin' if we're there yet." he replied nonchalantly.

Rarity followed him northwest, taking their normal path to the bathing falls. Then they followed its nearly dry stream westward to the river, and their campsite. Then followed the water a long way downstream to the east, and diverted inland when the terrain became too rough. Until Atchmon finally stopped and turned to her.

"You ready?" he asked teasingly with an eager smile.

"Absolutely," Rarity started, feeling her tummy growl. "Even my hooves are starting to feel sore. Honestly, why did we have to come all the way out here just for our meal?" Rarity complained, and could barely see the light of a campfire through all the tall grass.

"For this." Atchmon replied, pausing for effect, before parting the tall grass for her, and revealing the river gently flowing around a large, sandy bank shaped like a teardrop, along with a fire and a table sitting near the middle of its 'bulb'.

"Oh, my..." Rarity gasped upon seeing the beautiful sight.

The sun reflected off the water's flowing surface, making it sparkle like stars in the sky. Atchmon carried his table all the way from his home, and placed a pair of 'cushions' covered in Elephant Ear leaves and a backing made of pampas grass on each side of the tiny picnic table. Rarity's had to be the purple ones, and Atchmon's the red, as their fluffy tops swayed gently in the breeze.

A quartet of torches were arranged to offer additional lighting. Rarity watched the shadows dance in the flickering orange light of their flames.

Atchmon took off his boots while she was taking in the sights, and led her across the shallow, hoof-high water.

A vase centerpiece adorned their dinner table, filled with an assortment of flowers. Rarity could tell Atchmon picked them only because they looked pretty. There was no theme, or color coordination to be found within the carnation, if anything, it was a small botanical menagerie. But she didn't care, the effort alone was breathtaking. The vase was filled with foals breath, heart's desire, cattails, and white rose lilies to name a few.

"Your dinner's ready, m' lady." he smiled brightly, showing off his canines to her.

Even after all this time, the sight of his sharp teeth still sent her heart a flutter. They talked about it before, and instead of being deterred from showing off his teeth, it only encouraged him. Rarity just assumed he was helping her get over her fears and more primal instincts. Atchmon seemed to think it was humorous.

Rarity was glad of it, she didn't want him to change on her account.

"You made all this... for me?" she asked, while motioning a hoof around at everything.

"Yeah. You like it?" he swallowed in anticipation, awaiting her approval. Seconds seemed to stretch on for hours, while he watched the stunned pony work her mouth. Unable to form words.

Atchmon deflated when it seemed like she wasn't going to say anything.

"Yeah, this was pretty dumb... I dunno why I thought this was a good idea." he chastised himself, and reached over to remove the table's center piece.

"NO, MIIINE!" Rarity cried out, and in a flash she was stretched over the table while cradling the centerpiece protectively in her hooves. She couldn't bear to let something so beautiful be taken away from her. She needed something beautiful right now.

"Sorry." Rarity apologized and backed away embarrassed, her cheeks colored a bright pink.

"Guess that's a yes." Atchmon chuckled lightly, and straightened the bouquet back where it belonged.

"Yes... Um, and, I think I'm a little underdressed. Give me a moment, would you dear?" she asked before prancing off back behind a wall of pampas grass above the shore.

"This is it. I have to make myself presentable. Oh, this won't do! Why'd he have to spring this on me now of all times." Rarity fretted as she scoured the contents of her saddlebags, and took a few of the fabric samples she'd kept for clients on the go. Then used them to clean the stickiness around her marehood. She fought to throw away the disgusting rags, but knew with a little hot water they'll be 'relatively' clean. For now, she'll have to carry her filth and shame with her.

"Oh, where is it, where is it." she continued to fret.

"Aha! Eyelash curler, don't fail me now!" Rarity cheered, before getting to work.

Rarity returned a long while later, watching Atchmon fighting boredom by flicking the leaves of the bouquet as she approached once again.

"Well? How do I look?" she asked, while lifting her head high and striking a pose, awaiting his approval.

Without product to style her mane, she decided to braid it for the sake of saying she put effort into it. Her dark purple hair cascaded over her neck and shoulder, a red bow adorned near the base of her tail; which she brushed thoroughly and left unstyled, hoping it'll cover her shame. Rarity didn't want to give Atchmon the wrong impression. If she left her sex exposed, it would've sent a strong signal of what she was after.

Though she doubted Atchmon knew of such subtle social intricacies. Considering they never talked of such things. Still, it was better not to leave anything to chance.

Her emergency makeup helped smooth out her facial features, leaving her face and cheeks a flawless white with a slight peach tone. To better color coordinate with Atchmon's tanned skin. Her standard baby blue eyeliner was also back to its rightful place.

Without proper clothing, Rarity decided to shirk her barding. Hoping Atchmon wouldn't mind her own natural beauty.

Atchmon carefully looked her over. It amazed him how pretty she looked, how feminine she looked. Even with her cute, little white muzzle, and her big blue doe eyes, with long, elegant eyelashes that seemed to beckon him with every slow blink of her eyes.

"You look... majestic." he breathed, after taking a moment to search for the right word. The perfect word. "Beautiful, just don't do you no justice." he smiled at her.

For the first time in weeks, Rarity felt like a proper lady.

She swelled with pride, and held a hoof up to her mouth to contain her giddiness and hide her emotions.

Nopony had ever called her 'majestic' before. She liked that word, a lot. More than any other compliment she'd ever received, and she's heard a great deal many in the past, a near ceaseless amount. And the way he said it, made her feel so special.

Rarity tried not to cry, lest she ruin her eyeliner. She felt like a ugly, smelly, dirty mess for so long, that she never realized how badly she needed that bit of reassurance.

Atchmon cleared his throat. "Mmm-mm, just for future reference, you really shouldn't wear your makeup when you're out gatherin', or anything."

"I know... it's because it'll attract dangerous beasts." she deflated a little at that. She wanted to pretend she wasn't in the Everfree at the moment.

"Can ya blame 'em?" he chuckled.

Rarity looked at him, confused by his comment, before realizing the joke behind it and gave a bashful giggle.

That's twice he's called me pretty.

"Yeah, but it's fine for now. Tonight's all about you Rari- your Highness." he corrected, giving her a low bow.

For the first time, Rarity actually felt guilty being called royalty.

"Rarity would be just fine." she said, as she crossed a hoof over the other in a bashful stance.

"Rarity." he echoed with a smile, and motioned for her to sit.

Rarity took her seat, and rubbed a hoof on the tables' surface, as if checking to see if it was real.

It was like a dream! Rarity could feel herself floating.

The setting, the scenery, the atmosphere. It was all just so lovely and beautiful.

Everything was perfect... until the familiar hiss of water hitting flames entered her ears.

Atchmon flew to the cauldron before it could boil over and completely extinguish the fire. He wasn't quite fast enough and was nearly lost in a huge plume of smoke.

Atchmon seemed to be in a bit of a panic, from the way he was triple checking what he was doing, and constantly double taking, while getting nowhere fast.

"Atchmon, is everything alright?" she asked in concern.

"Everything's fine, I just, ah shi-!"

"Do you need some help?" she offered, watching him battle with their dinner.

"No, I got this, Ah!" Atchmon yelped, while shaking his hand around, working to cool off the burn it received.

Atchmon, finally getting control of the situation, set a pair of carved wooden spoons on the table, and poured them some soup from the steaming cauldron.

The vegetable soup Atchmon made contained many of the common produce they'd normally eat together. Including corn, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, and some flecks of what must've been various herbs floating on its surface.

"I made tea!" he chirped, and rushed to pour her some of the brownish liquid from a carafe into a pair of clay goblets. And lastly, offered her a bowl of honey, before finally seating himself.

Once Atchmon sat down, he tried to gauge Rarity's reaction to everything. But there was one 'little' problem with his table setting.

The flower bouquet centerpiece was a too big for the small table, and the pair struggled to see each other.

"How's the-" Atchmon tried to ask, as he looked right of the vase, only to see Rarity leaning left.

"Would you like-" he started again looking to left, only Rarity was now leaning right.

Back and forth they went, even futility trying to look over the too tall vase, until Rarity decided to remove the flowers herself.

Rarity smiled graciously at Atchmon as she smelled the centerpiece and set it down beside her.

Atchmon looked away and smiled in embarrassment for not doing the obvious himself.

"Shall we toast?" Rarity offered, while raising her glass.

"Sure. Let's see, toast, toast..." he thought aloud, and struggled to come up with something.

"How about. To family, and good friends, may we see them again, sooner than we expect." Rarity suggested, after it seemed Atchmon was trying too hard.

"I can toast to that." he said, hiding his disappointment in himself.

They clinked their glasses together and took a sip, then both spat out the nasty beverage.

"Ugh, that didn't turn out right." Atchmon said in disgust, while tossing out the rest of his drink.

Rarity was working her tongue, still trying to get the taste out of her mouth.

"Sorry about that, at least I have a backup plan." Atchmon said as he emptied out the carafe into the river. Rarity watched as he cleaned it out and filled their cups with clean water.

Rarity continued to eat, and chastised herself for starting before Atchmon was ready. After a long moment of waiting, he didn't seem to want to touch his food. He stared melancholy into his bowl.

"I'm sorry Rarity." Atchmon resigned with a sigh, and rubbed his eyes.

"What's wrong, darling? You've done a marvelous job, so what if there's a few little hiccups?" she consoled.

"I just really wanted this to go off without a hitch." he said, giving her an apologetic ghost of a smile.

"Don't feel bad, darling. It's the thought that counts, you have nothing to be ashamed of," Rarity reached her hoof out in support.

Atchmon felt slightly better thanks to Rarity's kind words and smiled.

"So, I take it the accommodations are to your liking?" he asked, getting back into the role and fishing for further praise on his work.

The bait wasn't lost on Rarity, who spoke in an eloquent tone. "Oui, la présentation est magnifique. Bien joué,"

"Did you just speak French? 'Cause that sounded French." Atchmon chuckled in amazement, and surprise.

"It's Fancy, and I said the 'presentation is magnificent, and well done'." Rarity said with a nod.

"Sure sounds fancy." Atchmon replied.

"I must say, darling. Everything looks absolutely divine!" Rarity praised in her classy tone, while taking in the natural beauty around her again.

"Hah. Never thought I'd see that side of you come out again." Atchmon mused.

"Whatever do you mean, dear?" she asked, feeling a little hurt.

"Nothin', it's just, it's kind of like a night and day difference with you." he explained.

"Do you mean to say that you... don't like it?" she questioned, and started to feel a little self conscience.

"Nah, I think it's okay. I just don't understand why you do it. You didn't sound like that before now. So, why do it at all?" he asked with a shrug.

Rarity took a moment to think.

She'd been practicing such behavior for so long it was practically second nature to her. Atchmon never really asked about her before, at least, not when it didn't involve learning about each other's culture. He usually avoided such questions about his own life before the Everfree. It was only fair he didn't ask anything personal from her as well.

"When I was just a little filly, my parents took me to Canterlot during the Summer Sun Celebration. To watch Princess Celestia raise the sun at the start of the new year."

"Our capital city represents the best of unicorn sophistication, elegance, and culture. I so admired the city and the ponies living there, all trotting around in their fanciful garbs. I wanted to stay there, but alas, we couldn't afford even the simplest of amenities."

"Since that trip, I started reading books about proper etiquette and practiced every day to speak as they do, act as they do, eat, sleep, and trot. But there was one thing that always set them apart from other ponies."

"And what was that?" he asked, feeling himself drift into her story.

"Clothing. It is a luxury only the wealthy could afford at the time. Not only that, but it is a major symbol of status. Only those in wealth ever wore clothing on a day to day basis, and everypony else could only afford one or two articles per family, which were usually passed down."

"One night I was lying in bed thinking about my clothing conundrum, when it finally hit me! If I couldn't buy my own dresses, then I would just make them myself!" Rarity declared while curling her forehooves, as if grasping her idea.

"How were you going to accomplish that?" Atchmon asked, following along.

"Luckily for me Cloqué Jacquard, the local seamstress at the time, was taking in apprentices. But I needed to show my work before she would consider me, and fabric was very hard to come by at the time. Thankfully she was kind enough to lend me any fabric that she couldn't use herself."

"I tried so hard, and failed so many times to make an ensemble worthy of praise. But I finally got it right! Oh, it was a lovely periwinkle frock. I was so proud of myself, and couldn't wait to show it off. "

"But on my way there I ran across a fellow school filly named Rotten Tomato, she was always such an unpleasant critic, you see. And the poor dear was crying her eyes out, because nopony showed up to her Cutesinera party. "

Atchmon felt bad for her, knowing a Cutsinera was comparable to a birthday party. He knew exactly how she felt.

"Unfortunately her older sister, Spoiled Milk, was less than consoling. I felt so bad for her that I gave away my dress, and my only chance of an apprenticeship to help make her feel better."

"I'll never forget the look on her face. The way she lit up when I told her she could have it. It was the best feeling in the world, making somepony else happy like that. I knew right then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make other ponies happy."

Atchmon started in, "Wow, that was really cool of you Rare, but how did you learn to make clothes without someone to teach you?" he asked.

"Oh, Everypony knew Rotten Tomato was never one to give a good review on other ponies work, but she made such a compelling argument to Cloqué that she took me as her apprentice the very next day!" Rarity cheered.

"It was a magical thing, I learned that day that doing something nice for somepony, meant they were going to do something nice for somepony else! Not long after that, our school teacher offered me the job of making the costumes for our upcoming school play."

"That's neat. What was the play about?" Atchmon asked, more for the sake of showing he was paying attention.

"The food pyramid." Rarity started simply. "All my classmates were to be dressed in different food-themed costumes. You know, hay bales, fruits, vegetables, flowers, cakes, that sort of thing. Well, my first attempt was only average at best, Cloqué always said that 'if you're going to make something, make it spectacular!' and my costumes were anything but."

"How can you make a hay bale look good?" Atchmon asked as he laughed at the thought.

"I didn't have a clue at the time, but destiny has a funny way of showing us what we're lacking. Anyway, I found what I needed, the costumes were spectacular, I earned my cutie mark, and the rest they say is history."

"I never lost that desire to make ponies happy with my work, I still chase that feeling to this very day. It truly is better to give, rather than receive. But more than that, I dream to fill the world with beauty, even if I have to do it one dress at a time." Rarity finished with a proud breadth.

"Sounds just like mom. You remind me a lot of her." Atchmon mused.

"Really? How so?" Rarity asked curiously.

"It was always her dream to become wealthy, so much so, she could just give things away on a whim, and make people happy. Even though she was a stay-at-home mom, she never lost that dream, or her generosity. She always got involved with everything, tryin' to do good in our little corner of the world... I think she would've liked you, once she got passed the whole 'you-bein'-a-unicorn' thing." he smiled at the thought.

"A mare after my own heart, it sounds like." Rarity praised, while holding a hoof to her chest.

"I took after my mother, she's a bit traditional. Asked for my father's horn in marriage, and have been together ever since. Though, she won't allow any other mares into their herd. I suppose that influenced my preference as well. To me it was always just the way of things, I never knew how wrong it was for them to be together, alone, like that. But it just made it all so much more romantic." Rarity mused.

"So you got any boyfriends waiting for you back home, 'Marshmellow'?" Atchmon teased.

"I thought I asked you not to call me by my fillyhood nickname. It's not my fault I loved ice cream so much." Rarity whined. "Though it is my fault for telling you that story in the first place."

"Nope. You shouldn't of." he said with a devious smile, and a wink.

Rarity stuck her tongue out at him, but it just made Atchmon laugh. She felt more comfortable with herself. It was nice not having to put on airs, and just be herself.

"But no. No, I don't have a coltfriend." Rarity said, hiding her downcast look.

"Heh, colt-friend." Atchmon bemused. "Why is that? You seem like a really well put together woman- mare. A Princess no less. I would think all the boys would just be lining up for you." Atchmon stated.

Rarity stared melancholy into her bowl. As if waiting for the answer to emerge from the remnants of her soup.

"Rare?" Atchmon asked in concern, after noticing her melancholy look and ears drop.

"Sorry, I ruined the mood didn't I?" she asked somberly.

"No you... jus' forget it. It was a dumb question." Atchmon said while waving his hands, hoping to wipe the question away.

"The truth is Atchmon I... I can be a bit overly picky when it comes to whom I want to court. I'm a wealthy and successful businessmare, a heroine among my kind, and a former element bearer. Not to mention my continually rising career in the fashion industry, and... I'm widely considered to be a very attractive mare. I think it goes without saying that I am a highly desirable bachelorette." Rarity explained forlornly.

"So... Do you want to get married one da-" he asked, and nearly jumped back at her answer.

"YES!" Rarity shouted hysterically. Then cleared her throat and shrank back, embarrassed by her sudden outburst. "My apologies, but yes, I so very much want to be married. Preferably I'd like to be the first of my friends to do so."

"But lately I've been focusing so much on my career that everything else just sort of fell by the wayside. I want more than anything to be a famous fashion designer, to earn my own name to fame, and count myself among the Noblemares of Equestria. But there are certain... obstacles I've had to face." Rarity added sadly.

"What sort of obstacles?" he questioned.

"I'm not without without my flaws Atchmon." Rarity started guilty. "I told you once before that I wanted to be in a monogamous relationship. As you know, it's very rare to find a stallion willing to commit to such an exclusive courtship. And it's virtually impossible for me to practice such a taboo ideal among higher society."

Atchmon nodded as he followed along with her explanation.

"I could dash away my wants and accept any one of the many offers to join a herd. But I don't want to be part of some highborne stallion's collection. Just some piece a flank he can choose from in an afternoon." Rarity spat angrily, remembering Jet Set and Uppercrust's less than pleasing offer.

"So not even an equally wealthy stallion would interest you?" Atchmon questioned, trying to keep up with all the new information.

"My pedigree is also an issue. I'm a lowborn commoner, bred from lowborn commoners." Rarity said lowly, and clenched her eyes as a few painful memories resurfaced. "And there's the issue of my being raised in a monogamous family. I told you there's a bias against ponies who aren't raised in a proper herd." she mentioned.

Atchmon probably understood better than anyone Rarity's need for attention. Remembering all the times she'd ask the same twenty questions whenever he'd leave for gathering or came back. Not to mention all the times he found her sleeping beside him, or just staying nearby. He wondered if there was some truth to ponies turning out differently when they aren't raised in a proper herd, but chalked it up to a pony, just being a pony.

"Not to mention the biases against my career." Rarity groaned.

"Most ponies don't wear clothes, you see. Everypony told me I was foolish for pursuing a career in a niche industry. This is mainly due to the fact there's only one group of ponies who will continually buy clothes, and who are also the ones who decide which clothing designers are best. The Nobility. Everything flows down from them. I understood that better than anything when I was practicing business."

Atchmon tried to be attentive as he listened to her little rant.

Rarity took a breath continued on.

"The fashion industry is a highly competitive market. Only the absolute best succeed. But I always believed that one day everypony would be wearing my fabulous designs. Now, I own three successful shops and am highly praised throughout the community, and I did it all with my own talent and effort." she stated proudly.

"I don't understand. If you you've succeeded, then what's the problem?" Atchmon asked, still confused by the dump of information.

"Sorry dear, I suppose I didn't make it very clear." Rarity admitted. "Essentially my career is considered to be a highly unstable source of income. A stallion looking for a mare to support him wouldn't want one who can't guarantee a future." she explained.

Atchmon nodded in understanding.

"It used to be such a volatile market that, if I made a mistake, my career would've ended on the whim of a pony who is less than pleased. Which means I'd have lost everything I worked so hard to achieve. But anypony who still thinks that way is wrong. More and more ponies are wearing clothes more often, which is wonderful for my business. I'm hoping to make clothing more affordable to those who don't have the means to purchase fanciful garbs. Like I said, everything flows down from the Nobility."

"But most stallions can be intimidated by a successful mare, which they do tend to be quite traditional. Others have only wanted me for my wealth, while many more only want me for my looks. I am considered quite beautiful after all." Rarity finished somberly.

"You are? Wow, I never knew." Atchmon said in mock shock, only to receive a knock on the forehead with a glowing blue spoon.

"I'm pouring out my heart in front of you here, the least you can be is sympathetic." Rarity laughed despite herself. Knowing he was referring to all the times she mourned the state of her beautiful mane, and beautiful coat, and beautiful hooves, and beautiful everything.

"Hah. Sorry Rare, Jus' tryin' to lighten the mood for ya." Atchmon smiled and held his hands up in defense of Rarity's spoon assault. "You've mentioned traditional ponies before, what all does that mean?" he asked.

"Not long ago stallions were treated as second-class ponies, their only role was to provide labor and coitus to the mares they belonged to. Things have vastly improved since that time. Stallions are now treated more equally, but some mares still cling to old traditions. Mainly those who have the wealth and power to get what they want. Mares are still predominantly in charge of our society. So you can imagine my being a successful, wealthy mare would rouse some bias against me."

"I think I get it. It's pretty much the opposite on my world. Girls will chase after any guy they think has the money to spend on them. They don't even care how badly they're treated." Atchmon muttered, while trying to ignore the resurfacing memories.

"Unfortunately some stallions aren't any better. Their willing to subject themselves to mistreatment for the same reasons. Especially those trying to climb the social ladder." Rarity explained.

"Have you ever had a stallion approach you like that?" he asked, while raising an eyebrow.

"Mmm... yes, but I'm not like that. Excuse my language, but I don't want a lineup of studs, or some deadweight 'trophy stallion', or some amorous social climber, even if I am guilty of practicing that myself." she said, remembering the incident with Prince Blueblood at her first Grand Galloping Gala. "Besides, I've never been one to string along a pony I'm not genuinely interested in."

Atchmon nodded in understanding and waited for her to continue. Until Rarity suddenly chuckled as if remembering something.

"What? What's so funny?" he asked with a grin.

"Oh, nothing. I... Just thought of somepony who has a deep crush on me." Rarity smiled fondly.

"Oh? You gonna leave me in the dark here?" he asked with a grin, wanting to know more.

"Spike. He's a dragon I've told you about who's been very fond of me, ever since he was just a youngling." Rarity explained.

"A dragon is attracted to you? Talk about your bad romance." he muttered.

"I know I've been a little... vocal about my prejudices in the past. But that's only because our home was destroyed in a dragon raid when I was just a little filly. I'll never forget how much my parents weeped. But despite all that, I do love the poor dear." Rarity finished sincerely.

"I know what that's like." Atchmon mused, as he remembered the re-rebuilding of their home. "So would you ever...?" Atchmon wanted to ask, but wasn't sure if it was appropriate as he tried to physically form the question with his hands.

"Oh, No. He's far too young for me. Spike may act mature as a full grown pony at times, but he's still just a baby dragon." Rarity mused. "He'd have a much better time of it, if he'd just date my little Sweetie Bell."

"Really!? You'd let a dragon date your little sister? After everything you told me about them, I wouldn't think you'd want one near her." Atchmon stated matter of factly.

"Spike's different, he's not like other dragons. He's just the sweetest, most innocent, cutesy wootsey little dragon I've ever known!" she swooned. "Ah, but at the moment he's obsessed with me, I always believed it was because of my cutie mark. Haha!" She tittered.

"Why would he be obsessed with that? Other than what it's printed on of course. That I could understand. Heha!" he chuckled.

Did he just say he liked my flanks!? Could he actually be attracted to me? What luck you have Rarity, you easily captivate other species that have no business being interested. Yet cannot find a decent stallion for yourself. Still... Though he's still a bit rough around the edges, I believe I can make this gem shine!

"No, it's because because gems are like a candy treat to a dragon." Rarity explained.

"Speakin' of treats. I found a lil somthin' special." Atchmon said while he got up and brought back a plate covered by a large leaf. Rarity sat up straighter in giddy anticipation.

Atchmon set the plate down and removed the leaf, revealing a plate full of flowers. But not just any ordinary flowers.

"Are those... honeysuckles?" Rarity gasped, at the delicious treat they were about to partake.

"Yep, these're probably the only flowers I can eat with ya. Well maybe not the whole flower, but you can have the rest." Atchmon spoke, as he took one of the white-yellow treats off the plate, and nimbly pulled out the stem. Rewarding him with a nice dollop of its sweet nectar.

"But you're just eating the best part!" Rarity chagrined, before telekinetically grabbing the whole plate, and proceeded to pop one after another into her greedy mouth with her magic. Rarity barley ceased long enough to enjoy their delicious sweet, honey flavor, before devouring another one. As she 'mmm'd' and cooed at each new burst upon her pallet.

"Hey, save some for me." Atchmon chuckled. Only to receive the most adorable angry pout from the possessive white mare.

Eventually Rarity begrudgingly started to relinquish a few from her possession, before a thought struck her.

Rarity stopped mid way from placing another flower on his side of the table, and floated it up to his eye level. Then with telekinetic precision and ease, removed the stem herself and fed Atchmon its dollop of sweet nectar. He accepted the offering, and laughed as her magic tickled him.

Rarity played with the idea of courtship, her mind started imagining all the different scenarios she could share with the human.

"I've always kind of wondered why you took to me so quickly." Atchmon started. "I guess, bein' around so many different species and races would make you a bit more open minded." he said thoughtfully.

"You would think so, but actually, most ponies will fear anything that's different. I'm guilty of that as well. I remember when I was afraid of my zebra friend Zecora, just because her mane looked different from other ponies. If it weren't for my friends changing my mind, I'm not sure I would've taken so quickly to you."

"Mmm." Atchmon nodded in understanding. "So, out of everything you've told me, it sounds like you could have any stallion you want. I have to be honest Rare, if was in your position, I wouldn't be so picky. So what's holdin' you back?"

"I could have any stallion I want, but... I don't want just any stallion. I want-" Rarity hesitated. Unsure whether to reveal her deepest desire.

"I want a stallion who'll take care of me. Who will love me, for me, and not my wealth or what I can offer. But that's not the world we live in... It's a mare's duty to provide for her stallion, which I honestly don't mind, its just... I want a- I want..." Rarity struggled to find a word, but there were none to describe what she desired in a mate.

"A partner." Atchmon offered for her.

"I- yes, I suppose I do. A partner." Rarity finished thankfully. "I always imagined finding my perfect prince and living happily ever after, but now I realize how shallow that dream actually is." Rarity admitted, and waited for his judgement to come.

"Mom always told me that 'if someone doesn't like you, for who you are, then it's their loss.' You'll find your prince someday Rare." Atchmon consoled with a knowing nod.

Rarity lit up at the familiar advice.

"I think I already have..." she muttered, her voice far to low for him to hear.

"Oh, gracious me, have I been talking about myself this whole time!" Rarity chagrined. "So sorry, darling."

"It's alright, I liked hearing about your past and your dreams 'n goals." Atchmon said genuinely.

"So tell me darling, why are you doing this? Why go through all of this?" she asked, motioning around at everything.

"I just felt like it was time we had a civilized dinner for a change." Atchmon spoke eloquently, trying his best to lose his slight country twang. Instead it sounded a bit snobbish, which Rarity didn't like.

Is that what I sound like to him all the time? she thought, though knowing he was only trying to impress her, and not insult her.

"That doesn't seem like you, sorry for saying. I know you usually don't do something without a reason to." Rarity continued, unsatisfied with his answer.

"Then... I dunno... I guess I'm jus' tryin' to make up for killing that Elk the other day." he explained, while scratching his nails at the table. "It never even occurred to me that animal might be a... person." he added thoughtfully. His own words seemed to disturb him.

"But what scares me most," he continued. "Was the fact that I didn't even see you there. All I saw was food for months and... Rarity, you've no idea the number of ways that could've ended badly."

"I do know, and I want you to know that I appreciate you for helping me through this trying time. I know we've hit a few rough patches in the beginning." Rarity said, placing a hoof on the table to emphasis her point.

"Yeah... Pretty intense adjustment period, huh? Sorry for talkin' your ears off those first few days."

"I'm sorry too, for the same."

"Yeah, and I'm sorry for snappin' at you sometimes. I'm just used to it being so quiet around here." Atchmon said, while looking around at the forest.

"It's all right. All is forgiven." Rarity said with a wave of her hoof.

"Well, let's quit feelin' sorry for ourselves and dig in!" Atchmon cheered.

"Hear, Hear!" Rarity echoed in jubilation.

They clinked their wooden spoons together, and started their meal.

Atchmon seemed to have pulled out every vegetable for their soup. They didn't seem to have cooked long enough though. That was fine, Rarity didn't mind her vegetables being a bit 'al dente'.

After working halfway through her bowl, Rarity felt things were getting a little too quiet and tried to strike up another conversation.

"It's a lovely day, isn't it?" she started.

"It is for now, those clouds over there are makin' me a bit nervous." Atchmon said, while nodding to the east.

The river ran straight to the east giving the pair a clear view of the distant mountains, despite the growth of trees around them.

Rarity followed his gaze, and there, on the dark horizon were the beginnings of huge cumulonimbus clouds. Storm season was upon them, and all the weather from the coast would drift across the Everfree, and eventually spread throughout Equestria. With Ponyville, Baltimare, and Canterlot as its main targets.

"How's the soup?" he asked after slurping down another spoonful, and watched with a smile as Rarity tried to quickly finish her last bite to answer him.

"Very good." she replied, still trying to lick up what was left on her lips. A shame there's nothing out here we can use for napkins. I'll have to be extra careful. Rarity thought, right before Atchmon spilled a little soup on his furred vest.

He didn't notice of course.

"Is there anything in particular you'd like to talk about?" Rarity asked, while struggling not to focus on the stain.

"I can't think of anything. We've talked so much over jus' about everythin' in the past. We know about each other's worlds, and found they're nearly the same. Almost comically so." he mused with a chuckle. Remembering all the puns of their major cities and other common words.

"What do people usually talk about during these things?" Atchmon asked, leaning forward.

"What do you mean by 'these things'?" Rarity questioned, with a coy smile.

"You know, the thing where two people sit and eat at a nice place and talk?" he asked, completely clueless.

"You mean a 'date'?" she suggested.

"Whut?" he started with wide eyes. And couldn't believe he didn't notice what he was doing sooner.

Now it was her turn to play a little game, and to set her plan in motion.

"Atchmon, you don't have to play coy with me. Don't think I haven't noticed the looks you give me" Rarity said in a sultry tone.

"Nooo... I-I just wanted to show you how much I appreciate your company, and everything you've taught me. So what if it takes the form of a dinner date- thing!" Atchmon took a sip of soup to keep himself from talking, then quickly sipped some water to cool his mouth from his still hot soup.

"If you think I'm going to let you mount me over a single dinner." Rarity started, before Atchmon interrupted.

"Rarity, that's not what this is about, I swear! The last thing I want is for you to think I'm some kind of creep!" Atchmon explained defensively.

Oh dear. Perhaps I came on a little strong. Abort Rarity! Abort! Rarity thought quickly, then covered her mouth with a hoof and forced a few giggles.

"Oh, you are not right." Atchmon sighed in relief, then laughed once he realized she was joking.

This is going to be harder than I anticipated. Rarity thought, and tried to rethink her strategy, but was interrupted when Atchmon spoke.

"Well, since we're on the subject. If you need to start having some, ah, alone time... I think we should come up with a system so we don't have another incident from earlier." Atchmon explained, while uncomfortably shifting in his seat.

Rarity's cheeks instantly became red. This is it Rarity. If you're going to go through with your plan. Now is the time.

"Did you... see anything you like?" she asked, trying to force as much sultriness into her voice, instead it came out a bit trepid.

"Is this another joke?" Atchmon asked irritably, while dropping his shoulders.

"I'm being completely honest, darling." Rarity said looking in his eyes, but feared what he would say about her flawed coat.

"Rare" he sighed. "I know it's no secret that I like you. Because I do. But I don't want you thinkin' that I'm some kind of creep. Okay? I would never do anything to make you uncomfortable. I might pet you, or hug you, or give you a little kiss every now and again... You know how you're always sayin' that I treat you like a pet? Well, that's because I still see you as this cute little animal, and I can't help thinkin' of you as mine." Atchmon explained.

"I see." Rarity replied, while hiding her downcast look. I don't understand. Why do I feel so... disappointed?

"I just want you to know that I like you, just, not in that way." Atchmon finished.

"Could you?" she started. "Could you ever... be with a pony?" she asked curiously, but dreaded to hear his final answer.

"I'll admit, I've... thought about it." he started to say, then seemed to throw his thoughts away with a shake of his head. "I don't know Rare, to be honest, I only ever take things as they come. And right now, all I'm waiting on is either a rescue or... or somethin'." he finished, looking away.

Perhaps this was a bad idea. I don't know why I thought he'd act just like all the other stallions. He's not going to reciprocate, even though I'm practically presenting myself to him. He... has to make the first move. I remember him saying males generally initiate courtship, but at the same time he's told me how much easier it would be if more females approached first. Or... maybe he isn't attracted to me at all... I never even considered that possibility. I know he must be somewhat curious, but... how do I use that to get him to agree to leave with me?

The pair took a bite, and enjoyed their meal for a bit. Atchmon was struggling to add to the conversation. It felt like they've talked about everything over the weeks Rarity had been with him. And now, due to his isolation, he'd run out of things to talk about.

"It looks nice, if you really wanted my opinion." he said, then taking a sip out of his water. More to hide his embarrassment for continuing the lewd conversation.

"What? Nice?"

"Yeah your, ahem, privates. They look nice." he stated tepidly.

"Just nice." Rarity replied.

"Yeah, it looks a lot like a girls." Atchmon started nervously.

Rarity's brain took a moment to catch up to the conversation. Maybe there's a way to salvage this.

"I am a 'girl' darling, or did you forget?" she teased, hiding her nervousness like a professional, as her heart rate increased.

"You know what I mean." he sighed in defeat.

"Hmmhmmph! I do." she tittered. "Say... You didn't feel me up when you washed me that first night, did you?" she teased.

Atchmon just stared at her with a neutral expression.

"I seem to recall you knew right away what my gender was. You sure you didn't... sneak a peek?" Rarity teased, as she leaned over, batting her eyelashes at him.

"In my defence, ponies on my world are just animals. So I did what any sensible person would do when curious about an animal's gender." Atchmon stated matter of factly.

"So you did look, you naughty thing. Ogling a poor, defenseless mare." Rarity swooned while holding a hoof to her forehead, as if she were about to faint.

"Psh," Atchmon scoffed while looking away with a devilish grin. "Please, you can tease your dragon friend like that, but your 'mind tricks' don't work on me," he countered, while waving his hand around like the space monks of old.

She giggled at the reference to the story he'd been telling her lately.

"Hey..." Atchmon started.

"Hmm?" Rarity noticed the change in his tone.

"Say we do make it back to your home." he started, and hesitated at his thoughts, while drawing circles with his finger on the table.

"What is it?" she asked, encouraging him to speak.

"I 'unno..." he groaned in frustration. "I'm tryin' to figure out what kind of life I'd have there, if I did go with you." Atchmon said as he clenched his eyes as if struggling with an inner turmoil, then opened them skyward and placed his arms behind his head.

"Are you considering leaving?" she asked, unsure of what to make of the odd tick.

"Jus' a little." Atchmon said indifferently, never taking his eyes off the few stars beginning to peak out in the late afternoon sky.

"You can stay with me, until Twilight helps you back to your world. It'd only be fair after everything you've done for me." Rarity offered.

"Really?" he asked, looking at her again.

"Of course! What's mine is yours; it's the least I can do." Rarity reassured him.

"Hmph. Funny how things turn out that way, huh?" he bemused.

"Indeed." Rarity said with a nod.

Atchmon rose up and brought their second course.

"You found broccoli!" Rarity gasped in excitement at the wonderful morsels.

"That's not all I found," Atchmon hinted with a grin, and set down a milky-white, crystalline-looking rock.

Rarity examined the stone closely. It certainly was no gem she was familiar with.

"What's this?" she asked curiously, while poking at it with the tip of her hoof.

Atchmon brought a second, rougher stone and rubbed the two together, causing tiny white granules to fall from the first. "Go on, taste it," he encouraged in anticipation.

Rarity licked her spoon and dabbed it in the pile of grains, before hesitantly tasting it with her tongue.

"And a salt rock too; you spoil me, Atchmon!" Rarity squealed in delight, and started savoring her meal.

"Enjoy. You have no idea how hard it is to find salt in the middle of the woods," Atchmon explained, before he dug into his own meal.

After finishing half of her food, Rarity started to eye the second course of Atchmon's chosen meal. It was clear that it wasn't Elken meat. Atchmon was kind enough not to eat such a thing in front of her. She could tell the white, flaky dish had to be a fish. Then, a thought occurred to her as she watched him eat.

"Atchmon, darling?" She started, getting his attention. "If you had a choice, would you only eat fish from now on?"

Atchmon barely spent a moment in thought to answer. "No, I don't think I could. Why do you ask?"

"I was thinking that, if you went back with me, back to my home; then your food options are going to be severely limited. Why couldn't you eat only fish?" She asked curiously.

"I don't think I'd like it all the time." Atchmon said matter of factly as he shook his head.

"If you don't like it, then why are you eating it?" She questioned.

"It's not that I don't like it; because I do. It's that I'll get tired of eating the same thing all the time," he explained.

"I can understand that; but couldn't you just try different fish meats?" She suggested.

"No, because some meats are better than others," he countered.

"Really? How so?" Rarity asked curiously, a tiny part of her brain couldn't believe she was actually somewhat interested in hearing the culinary tastes of a meat-eater.

"There's more to it than just the meat; there's also the fat; which's always been my favorite part," Atchmon explained.

Rarity nodded along with the new wealth of information. "I've always heard that carnivores prefer plump ponies over skinnier ones, but I always thought that was because there was more meat to fill their bellies." Rarity felt a little guilty referring to her own kind as nothing more than little morsels to be gobbled up, but that feeling was overshadowed by her interest and curiosity. "So does it taste good too? The fat I mean?"

Atchmon smiled as he chest thrummed in excitement at talking to Rarity about his food preferences. She never liked seeing him eat his jerky strips, or showed any interest in what he liked; so far as food goes. "Oh, yeah," he started excitedly. "It's basically all flavor; and the best kind too, especially when you cook it just right..." His voice trailed seductively.

"I noticed that you never eat anything without cooking it first; is there a reason for that, or do you just prefer it that way?" She asked curiously.

"I kinda have to," Atchmon started to explain, after seeing Rarity shift with interest. "A raw piece of meat is no good for me to eat; mainly because it'll make me sick if I don't cook it right. Plus, cooking meat helps preserve it longer; it'll go bad in less than a day, otherwise."

"Is that right?" Rarity started in realization. "I never would've guessed it could cause you harm. I've known the Griffins to cook their meals, but they also partake in living mice as a delicacy during high-class social events." Rarity shuddered at the memory of witnessing a few poor mice being launched helplessly in the air, before disappearing down the Griffins gullets; their little tails being slurped down like spaghetti pasta. 'Buah...' Rarity shuttered, and she felt comfortable with not eating pasta ever again.

"Yeah, I would never eat somethin' raw if I can't help it," Atchmon shook his head.

"How bad would it be if you did?" Rarity was afraid to ask, but couldn't help being concerned. If anything, she could use the knowledge to help Atchmon, should he ever need it; but in the back part of her mind Rarity knew that'd never be the case.

"I could get anything from a stomach ache, and start taking more frequent bathroom trips," Atchmon hinted, and Rarity nodded in understanding. "Or... worse case scenario; I could get whatever disease or parasites the thing I ate just happened to be carryin'."

Rarity wavered at that. "I never knew there was so much risk involved from simply living as a carnivore..." She trailed in thought. "But I suppose it's a given; considering we Ponies cook our food for the same reasons."

"That's not usually the case, but it can happen," Atchmon informed her. "I'm not built the same way as other predators; I can't really digest raw meat, but cooking it does help with that as well."

"What else does cooking meat do for you?" Rarity wondered. "Is there a particular way you'd like it prepared, or is there any other way?"

Atchmon leaned in as he started to tell her all about his favorite food. "There's a ton of different ways to prepare meat and give it different flavorings; not to mention how you cook it; but when you do cook it, even jus' a little, it completely changes the taste. I like mine somewhere in the middle, between raw and halfway cooked; but doin' that out here," Atchmon gestured around at their surroundings. "Is pretty risky. Only fully cooking it is the best way to guarantee I don't get sick; but God, what I wouldn't give for a big, fat, juicy medium-rare steak right about now," Atchmon sighed longingly, and held up his fork with a slab of fish meat staked on the end; imagining it as his longfully desired meal as he delivered a monologue that would've rivaled the writings of Speare Shakes.

"I can already taste that bit of charred fat, and its juices dripping and bursting with flavor from the seasonings and marinade that soaked for hours into a thick cut of beef that's so well marbled and tender that it practically melts in your mouth when you bite into it; and the smell of that charred meat and sizzling fat; Oooh so good..." He mewled.

Rarity's mouth was held agape as her chest thumped in excitement after hearing Atchmon talk so passionately about meat, of all things. She had to admit, he sounded pretty convincing; and she guiltily wanted to try it... Only a tiny little bit.

"Stake? Who- er, what- wh-where does that come from?" She asked nervously with a smile; struggling to keep her composure.

"Cow." Atchmon stated simply.

Rarity's face dropped. "Some of my friends are Cows." She said in distant shock.

"Ooooh.... that's right I forgot they talk here," he whispered. "Well, then, give my condolences to Ol' Bessy." Atchmon joked with a shrug, but worried his humor came off as cruel.

"That's one of their names." Rarity said again in that odd, distant tone.

Atchmon worked his mouth before keeping it shut while staring ahead, completely unable to come up with a response.

"Pfff, hahahaha!" Rarity couldn't keep up the facade, and soon they both started laughing.

"So what do other meats taste like?" Rarity asked as she leaned forward and placed an elbow on the table, while resting her chin atop her pastern; genuinely becoming curious.

"Lots of times everything tastes like chicken; some meats are richer, like quail, or softer like pig, but the best kinds are when its well marbled, and juicy." Atchmon smiled dreamily, like he was imagining a particularly tasty dish.

"So what does..." Rarity's voice trailed as she was about to ask, before the Ancient Elken popped into her head.

"Oily..." Atchmon answered sympathetically, knowing what she was thinking.

"Do you ever get tired of it?" Rarity started quietly, while looking at her plate. "I mean, do you ever wish to be a vegetarian; even for a day?" She looked up to hear his answer.

Atchmon studied Rarity's expression and found it hard to read. Was it pity, or remorse, or concern? The answer was simple, and he couldn't lie to her; not about something that was an established part of who and what he was.

"No, I couldn't," he started evenly. "I've always liked everything about it; and there are some people who absolutely refuse to eat meat, and stay on a strictly vegetarian diet; even some who won't eat anything that comes from an animal; not milk or cheese, or eggs..." Atchmon voice trailed as he explained.

Rarity perked at that; not even she could give up those foods. 'Wonder if those types of people would think ill of me; I imagine so; there are ponies who are 'purists' that believe ponies should only eat what grows from the ground, and not consume what other beings produce naturally; they believed doing so changes the very nature of a pony. If that's the case, I shouldn't hold it against Atchmon for living in accordance to his very nature.'

A brief awkward silence befell the two, before Atchmon moved to grab something to his side.

"I made something for you," he said as he reached down and placed something brown colored in his lap. Rarity perked her ears and leaned in to see what he had for her.

"I'll understand if you don't like it," Atchmon started, while patting his hand on the parcel. "But just know that I would feel a lot better if you wore it," he emphasised before presenting her gift.

Rarity could tell right away what it was, and levitated the bundle over as Atchmon offered it to her. Rarity could still feel that slight bit of revulsion, but it was at a fraction of how she first felt upon seeing leather hide the first time. The leather barding was was thick and firm, yet soft to the touch as she held it in her hooves.

"I don't know what to say... thank you," Rarity said gratefully, and packed her gift into her saddlebags.

"It's the best I've ever made. I hope it fits. My knife almost wasn't sharp enough to cut it down to size, and that's sayin' somethin'," he mused.

"I may make a few minor adjustments." Rarity hinted as she packed it away in her saddlebags.

"It'll do you a lot better than those wolf pelts. Those are usually only meant for decoration. They'll tear too easily. This will protect you much better." Atchmon informed.

Rarity smiled at him, knowing he was just holding true to his promise. He's taking care of me, just like he said he would.

The pair returned to their meal, until Atchmon broke the silence.

"You wanna try some?" he asked, while motioning to his fish after catching Rarity glancing at it for the third time.

Rarity was taken aback by his offer, and leaned in, eyeing the flakey white meat on his plate. Rarity liked to think she was a pony open to new experiences, but this was too much. She's heard of some ponies enjoying fish meat, and remembered Rainbow Dash talking about adding salmon fish to her diet, after learning that's what the Wonderbolts ate to maintain their performance. So if she could do it, why not her?

"S-sure. Just a little piece though... Oh, not that much... a little bit less... that's perfect !" Rarity instructed.

Atchmon started off by cutting her a small piece the size of the tip of his pinkie. Then he cut that piece in half, then a tiny section off that piece, until all that was left was barely a speck.

Rarity ate the speck and lit up her eyes, while nodding and 'mmming' her approval.

Atchmon wasn't convinced.

"Oh, come on, Rare; get you a real bite," he said, and gave her a larger piece twice the size of the original first.

"Ugh," Rarity's face contorted in disgust, and begrudgingly staked the meat on her plate with a fork. Rarity could see the fish meats white fibrous musculature as she brought it near her mouth, and hesitated for a moment, before gathering her courage and took the bite.

It's texture was soft, and mushy against her tongue; coupled with a hint of grittiness as she chewed. But the mental knowledge of what she was eating caused Rarity to nearly retch, which overpowered any flavoring it may have had, and so she quickly swallowed just to be rid of it, and to satisfy Atchmon's request.

"What'd you think?" Atchmon asked curiously with a raised eyebrow, and smiled eagerly as he watched her reaction.

"Hmm... Not bad," she answered truthfully.

The pair ate together, picking topics to talk about at random, each one becoming more comfortable once again.

"I think I finally get why you want to be a Noblemare so bad. It's basically the same pursuit of success everyone strives to achieve."

"Mmm yes. Not to mention the wealth, the politics, and power they hold. Knowing those ponies are the movers and shakers of the country."

"But you're a princess. Shouldn't you be the one doin' all of that anyway?" he asked curiously.

"Y-yes, but even Princesses need help." Rarity said guiltily.

Rarity almost forgot about her little lie. And for a split moment she wanted to tell him the truth, but also didn't want to ruin their dinner with revealing all of her fibs. She could keep up the facade a little longer, besides, everything else was the truth.

"I still think it's crazy that you have five princesses all ruling the same kingdom, er, realm; I mean," Atchmon said thoughtfully.

"I don't understand how your 'democracy' can change your leaders every few years. How does anything get done when no-body is in charge for very long." Rarity said, feeling giddy talking about her favorite subject. Politics.

"You'd be surprised. Anyway sorry for interruptin'." Atchmon said, and motioned for her to continue.

"Where was I... Ah, yes. The Noblemares won't see you as one of them, unless you earn your place among them. You see, even Princesses need help. Money has to come from somewhere, and 'Bits help make the sun and moon go around', so they say. And whomever has the wealth also has the power to make great things happen."

"Well, I think if you've been elected to represent your people to get them what they need; then you as the leader should be tellin' those Nobles what to do; and if they don't, then you make 'em." Atchmon stated.

"That's quite the tyrannical viewpoint, darling." Rarity replied in concern.

"Those rich folks might call me a tyrant, but the people would call me a Saint. It's all a matter of perspective Rare. Besides, doesn't it all make it back to the rich anyway?" he asked with a shrug.

"Noblesse Oblige. When the realm prospers, the nobility prospers. I suppose I can't argue with you there."

"Yeah. Someone once said that the flow of money should start at the poor, because the rich are going to get it back the next day anyhow. So at least it passes through those that actually work." Atchmon explained.

"Mmm." Rarity nodded in understanding. "You really don't like wealthy... people, do you Atchmon? I seem to recall you speak with a lot of disdain whenever the subject comes up about them." Rarity stated cautiously.

"Let's just say they've never left a good impression on me."

"I hope that's not how you feel about me." Rarity asked in concern.

"Not at all Rare." he smiled truthfully.

"So what about you? Do you have a- a girl-friend back home?" Rarity asked, unsure of her correct usage of Atchmon's human terminology.

"Me? No, no I never really... tried. To be honest there weren't that many girls around. Not like any of them would ever give me a chance anyway." he stated pessimistically.

"I thought you said the ratio of males to females in your world was even?" she questioned.

"It is. Just... not in my hometown." Atchmon corrected her with a sigh. His mood quickly turning somber.

"Atchmon I didn't mean to upset you, oh, please don't cry." Rarity said as she tried to comfort him, noticing the slight shimmer in his eyes.

"I'm not cryin'!" he snapped at her, with an angry look.

Rarity was taken aback by his sudden outburst, and put on a hurt expression while holding her heart. She hated that look. It made him look more like a killer, rather than the gentle being she knew he could be.

Atchmon quickly relaxed his features and mentally berated himself, knowing he scared her.

"I'm sorry Rarity, but a man isn't supposed to cry. 'M sorry..." he sighed, while looking towards the setting sun. As all the time lost, suddenly caught up with him.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." Rarity put her hoof on his hand in support, and waited. The sun highlighting the mist in his eyes, which he quickly wiped away and steeled himself.

She'd only see him like this whenever she'd asked about his past. He'd always get so depressed, even if they were laughing jovially just moments before.

Atchmon was just as stubborn as Applejack when it came to his feelings. The stoic human simply refused to show any weakness.

Rarity let go of his hand, and sat downcast.


A howl sounded off in the distance, with more following it.


Atchmon nearly jumped to his feet at the nearby howl, only to find the sound coming from none other than the pony beside him.

Rarity looked at him expectantly, and smiled. She hoped to convey she wasn't afraid anymore, and that she was grateful to him, and his support.

However, her efforts were only met with laughter.

"W-what was th-ha-hat!? It sounded like a horsey neigh crossed with whale." he laughed uproariously.

"S-shut up! I'm trying to show you- s-something!" Rarity fired back, and looked away with a pouty face. Her cheeks a beet red from embarrassment.

"Ha, haha, Ah love you Rarity." he sighed, and smiled proudly at her.

"I'm fond of you as well, Atchmon." A declaration of love. I don't believe it! He loves me! He really loves me!

Moments passed, and when Atchmon finally spoke, it was barely above a whisper. He started in that low gravelly tone, as if afraid someone else might hear.

"It's pretty isn't it, the sunset." Atchmon started. "I ever tell you that's what I was named after?"

Rarity wasn't sure if she should answer. It didn't seem to matter, and continued listening to his musings.

"It's not actually the sunset I'm named after, but the feeling you get when your lookin' at it. Most people forget to appreciate things like that... Y'see in our tribe, kids earn their names from doing something unique. Kind of like your cutie marks. And I used to do some pretty stupid things." he chuckled. "That's all it took. My name went from meaning somethin' beautiful, to being an embarrassment."

"Atchmon was the name I took from my great grandfather. I've no idea if it means anything, or if it meant anything at all. If it is a meaningless name, then I chose a good one." Atchmon finished indifferently.

"It's jus'... I hate bein' reminded of how much time I've lost here." he continued.

"For as long as I can remember, I've always been lost. In my world, when you come of age, we don't have anything that tells us who we are. We don't have some symbol that appears on our skin that shows us what we're good at, or what we're supposed to do in life. We have to figure all that out ourselves."

Rarity nodded in understanding. Atchmon had so many questions about cutie marks, some of which never even occurred to her. Which, in turn, allowed her to learn about typical human development. It wasn't much different from ponies when they're in search of their destiny. That's why it was so important to find early on, it was not only a symbol of one's maturity, but nopony wants to be left with a cutie mark they didn't fully understand, and be stuck bumbling their way through life. Everypony, no matter what world they're from, is always in such a hurry to grow up.

"Sometimes I think about what I would've done, had I not gotten stuck here. I wanted to go to college and further my education, get a degree, in what? I don't even know, not even at the time. Instead I had to work..."

"But a girlfriend... there was just no way that was ever goin' t' happen. Nobody wanted to date the 'ugly embarrassment'." he continued to vent while staring into orange descending sun. For all the time lost to him.

"Eventually, I convinced myself I was never going t' be good enough. That, because I didn't have the right car, or the right job, or the right looks, or enough wealth, or smarts... But when it came down to it, I was really just a selfish jerk!"

Atchmon took a few calming breaths, and started again, looking forlornly at Rarity.

"I'm not a good man Rarity, I'm no catch, I accepted my fate here once. I really believed I was going to die out here, alone, and unwanted... But I held onto that one, little, stupid piece of hope, that maybe I can make it back. " He looked at her in the eyes, those deep cerulean irises, deeper and more blue than the oceans. And they were crying, he wouldn't cry, but she could cry for him.

He looked towards the sunset. Rarity could see sparkles in his misty eyes.

"I loved it here. It was just me, against this world full of monsters, showin' it what I was made of!" he balled his fists, while taking in a proud breath.

"And do you wanna know what got me through all this time?" he asked, as he looked to her.

Rarity straightened herself, letting him know he had her full attention.

"It wasn't really faith or hope, or anything like that. It wasn't even the promise of seeing my sister, or any of my friends again... It was fame and the promise of fortune, and the idea that when I got back, I was going to tell my story and get rich off it. I thought-" he choked, but continued strong.

"I thought, the longer I stayed here, then the better it was going to be. I'd take all this... Proof? Treasure? Whatever you want to call it. I'd take it all back with me to prove where I've been all this time. I'd tell my story, and become famous, and then I would have... everything." he finished, feeling as though a weight had been lifted.

Atchmon stopped and looked Rarity over with tearful, despairing eyes. Atchmon struggled with the pain in his heart while looking at the innocent unicorn mare.

"It's funny, really... I used to think about how much happier I would be, if I could just stay in those woods. Well, I got my wish." he chuckled sarcastically.

"You're wrong." Rarity interrupted.

Atchmon looked at her confused.

"You are a good man. Believe me when I say, that if you try hard enough, you can make your own name." Rarity said as she placed both hooves on the table, then leaned over and planted a kiss at the corner of his mouth.

The descending sun silhouetted their union. All he had to do was reciprocate, and the sparks would fly!

But he didn't.

"Don't. You shouldn't... I told you it isn't like that." Atchmon clenched his eyes, as if his words hurt him as well, and fought to control his emotions.

Rarity never experienced rejection before, and could feel her heart breaking. The fantasy was over, and reality came crashing in.

"O-of course, my apologies. That was a bit too forward of me." Rarity said submissively, and backed away while lowering her head. "Is everything alright between us?"

"Yeah... I jus' remembered something. Something I want more than anything." Atchmon muttered, never looking at her again.

Rarity waited to see if he'll say more, but instead he stood up, and dusted off the sand. Never looking at her once.

"Let's jus' go home." Atchmon said in that low, gravelly tone. And left everything but his gear behind.

Rarity gathered her things as well, and eyed the flower vase Atchmon made for her. Rarity picked it up, and cradled it in her hooves, then gave it one last smell, before leaving it behind on the table.

I don't understand... shouldn't I be happy he didn't reciprocate? I won't have to give myself to him. So, why do I feel as though my heart is tearing apart? Rarity thought, and struggled to sort out her feelings.

"Why are all the good ones not ponies." Rarity whispered somberly, and slowly trotted after Atchmon.

The pair made it back to the den, just before nightfall.

Rarity was in the lead on her way up the hill, as she watched Monty lazily hop towards the garden. Indicating there were no monsters inside. Rarity turned to check on Atchmon, the human still hung his head in thought, with the same melancholy look as before.

Rarity looked above him towards the northwest and seeing the near silhouette of Canterlot mountain. Her home felt further away than ever before.

Rarity slowly trotted up to the Den's entrance with her head hung low, and looked forward to a long night's rest. She was about to step through the porthole, until she sensed something was amiss, and looked behind her to check on Atchmon again.

She found the human staring off in the distance, towards the oncoming storm, with mouth slightly agape, and squinting eyes, as if he were trying to get a better look at something.

She watched him mouth a few words, though she couldn't tell what he said, before interrupting his thoughts.

"Atchmon? Aren't you coming?" she asked, and watched him jerk at the sound of her voice.

Atchmon picked up the pace while keeping his head down.

"Is everything alright? You look like you've seen a ghost." Rarity knitted her eyebrows in concern, having never seen the red-skinned human so pale.

"Y-yeah... jus' got a lot on my mind." Atchmon's eyes darted around, looking around at anything, but the white pony in front of him.

She stopped him with a hoof. "I know." she started, noticing his wide fearful eyes as his skin seemed to turn a shade paler. "I'm sorry for dredging up your past, and for... I don't know what I was thinking. It was just a little mistake, so, can we just, pretend it never happened? Please?" she begged, looking all the way up to his face. But he refused to meet her eyes.

"S-sure." Atchmon nodded, and waited for her to enter the Den. He followed after her, and placed a hand on the covering. He hesitated, while his eyes darted around in thought, before closing them and making his final decision. Atchmon entered the cave while dragging the covering behind him, sealing the entrance.

A moment later, the first sounds of thunder echoed in the distance.

Savage Storms

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"Rare, Rare wake up."

Rarity awoke to Atchmon shaking her sometime in the early morning, before the sun had yet to rise.

Atchmon urged her to move, stating he needed her help. When she asked why, knowing he had plenty of food as it was, Atchmon said he wanted to harvest whatever he could from the river before the rain flooded it all.

Rarity tiredly, and begrudgingly, gathered her supplies for the journey, and they headed out together.

Atchmon seemed distant with her as they traveled. Never saying very much, though he rarely said anything at all on their trips to the river.

Rarity was in no mood to return to the place where she got dumped, but continued on regardless, and gave no thoughts to her mechanical movements. Simply doing her best to ignore the tiredness she felt, and the sleep still stuck in her puffy eyes.

Eventually Atchmon started to break the silence. Giving his own random thoughts to how their worlds were so similar, and yet so different.

His best theory was their worlds had to have been connected by magic portals for thousands of years. If portals opened up all the time, all around the world, and they stayed opened for long enough. Then seeds, pollen, flora, fauna, virtually anything could travel between them and grow!

But, that didn't explain the existence of mythical beings on Rarity's world, and the complete lack on Atchmon's. Perhaps the humans had hunted them all down? So many human myths were centered around feats of strength and prowess, usually from ending the life of mythical creatures and keeping them as trophies.

Maybe they couldn't survive without magic from Equestria. Or maybe they never existed at all, and were actually animals what migrated from his world, then mutated from the magical emissions from Equestria itself.

Perhaps that would explain why so many mythical animals shared so many traits from animals back on his world. But that doesn't really explain how Rarity's world had normal things like rabbits, and squirrels and the like, unless they're simply immune or resistant.

"What if I wasn't resistant, or immune? Could you imagine if I turned into some kind o' giant?" he chuckled, asking behind himself at the white pony following him, though not expecting an answer, he continued on.

'Or a cave troll.' Rarity thought and smirked, as the mental image of a big dumb Atchmon bonked himself over the head with a giant club. She was feeling a little bitter from being woken up so early.

"I've had way too much time to think about this." he smiled sheepishly, after realizing his thoughts ran away from him again.

"Yeah... I don't know..." Rarity only smiled and shrugged, while feeling a bit lethargic. Unable to add to the one-sided conversation.

She only had a basic understanding of Thaumaturgical Biology. Twilight, or even Fluttershy would know far more than she did on the subject. Though she did find it endearing that Atchmon figured out so much on his own, just from his observations. Considering he had no prior knowledge of, or even knowing of the existence of Magic.

They made it to the river campsite shortly, and decided to take a break to eat and recharge before getting to work.

Once she got her energy back, Rarity started to voice her complaints, and felt a few extra hours of sleep was worth going hungry a day or two, a week down the road. Atchmon felt otherwise, and sent her to gather what she could from nearby food-bearing plants, while he fished.

The sun rose quickly as they worked, bringing with it another beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. Which just made Rarity feel as though the trip was even more of a waste of time and energy.

Rarity returned with a hefty stock of food for them, then left again, and followed the river to check on Atchmon's fish traps.

It was a curiously simple device. Just a bunch of sticks stuck in the muddy riverbed arranged together to make a cage, the lengths of the small branches erected well above the water level.

Some were of various designs. A couple were semicircular spirals, which Atchmon explained in the past that the fish would swim inside to get the bait, then get lost in the spiral, completely unable to find the exit, as they continually swam along the wall of branches. Of course, when he explained that, she watched a cheeky little fish manage to escape, to which Atchmon admitted embarrassedly 'it doesn't work all the time'.

Others were of simpler designs, like squares with a single opening, which funnily seemed to work best. The most complex setup was one where Atchmon tried to build a small dam and 'funnel' the fish into a basket. The only problem was Atchmon couldn't figure out how to make a strong basket for the fish to go in. Until Rarity show him how it's done, though he didn't have the patience for it anymore. Considering he could just spear the fish and be done with it.

However, that didn't keep the fish alive and fresh, which was the advantage of having fish traps, and holding pens.

Rarity brought what mature fish were caught, and brought them back to a holding pen near the campsite. Then started to feed a fire, while watching Atchmon as he bow-fished with practice, precision, and patience, upon a rocky perch near the river.

"Alright! I bet we got enough. You ready to help me clean'em?" he asked. Between what he caught and what Rarity brought him from the traps, they had a dozen to last him. Much lower than he wanted, but it didn't matter.

"But I'll get all icky!" Rarity whined. She was really not looking forward to her least favorite part, the smell of live fish alone was bad enough.

"Consarnit, yes, guttin' fish is nasty work, but if you'll help me we can be done and back home before the rain hits." he explained.

Atchmon had mentioned rain several times before, but so far it'd been the same hot, dry summer day as always. As soon as he saw a few clouds on the horizon nearly a week ago, he immediately started stocking up on food.

"Rain? It doesn't look like it's going to rain today." Rarity disagreed, while looking around the sky and holding up a hoof, as if expecting to feel a raindrop. The sky was partly cloudy from what she could see, and there was a mild breeze earlier that had slowly died down to nothing.

"Trust me it's comin', and it's gonna be a big one." he emphasized.

"How can you tell?" she asked skeptically. Rarity knew the weather over the Everfree was infamous for its unpredictable nature during storm season, and harsh conditions from what Rainbow Dash had told her. How not even the most experienced weather ponies can predict what it'll do next.

"Well, you've heard of the expression 'the calm before the storm', hadn't ya? You notice how 'still' everything's gotten?" he asked her.

"Yes, I have noticed that." she replied, waving a hoof around at the air.

"Well, that sayin' has never been more true than when you're out here. Have ya notice the temperature drop yet?"

Rarity balked at that. After taking a few deep breaths, she realized the air had gotten much cooler than it was an hour ago. "Now that you mention it, I do."

"And surely you've noticed how the air smells, ah, 'wetter' than before?"

True, she did notice the increased moisture, but she just thought that was from the water in the river. Thinking about it made her notice the current was starting to pick up as well! "The river..."

"Yup, that's the other big thing to look for, I can tell this is gonna be a big one. There's a good chance the river's gonna flood all the way up there." he pointed behind them, where there was a noticeable cliff high above. "might even flood overnight." he added.

"I see... okay, I want to help, what do you need me to do?"

"Here, just help me carry some of this back," Atchmon sighed as he slung a few of the hefty fish over her withers, thinking he may as well do it himself once they get home. At least this way they'll be sure to beat the rain back.

Rarity tried not to think about being used as a beast of burden, or the dead fish at her sides. "If we're lucky, this rain'll only last a week, maybe two." Atchmon continued.

"Two weeks!? I've never even heard of a storm lasting for so long." Rarity disheartened.

Atchmon chuckled. "Then you've never had real storm then. Shoot, even back home we'd get some nice summer rain that'd last a couple days on average."

"How do you stop it?" she asked.

"Stops on its own. No magic, 'member?" he shrugged.

Rarity nodded as she did remember humans lacked the ability to manipulate the weather. "Ah, that's right, no magic...hmm, but couldn't your people make a machine to control it for you? From what you've told me about your world, that should be possible, shouldn't it?" she asked curiously.

"Maybe in science fiction, but yeah, that'd be somethin' for sure." he said smiling as he briefly thought of the possibility.

"C'mon we got all we could get, let's go." Atchmon said, and together they soldiered on back home with their new supplies.

The pair traveled together through the forest, as time seemed to quickly pass by, while the clouds became more frequent. The clouds passed under the sun, causing the forest to darken under its shade, before brightening the day once again as they were swept away by the steadily rising wind. The leaves above seemed to roar with every strong gust.

The pair stopped in alarm as a branch snapped above them.

An adolescent manticore dropped down from its perch on a tall tree, landing several yards ahead of them, blocking their path. The beast immediately bared its impressively large fangs. Even if it was half the size of most full grown manticores, that didn't mean it was no less dangerous. Its venom would be more potent, and Atchmon wasn't about to put his own immunity to the test after surviving his first excruciating encounter.

The hunter spent nary a few seconds deciding the best course of action to deal with the predator. He was too loaded down with fish to quickly draw out his bow, which was also strapped to his back. The manticore could easily close the distance in a single bound, before he could ever get it over his shoulder.

He could try to scare it away, but doubted the hungry animal would be deterred from the pungent smell of fish for very long.

His knife it will have to be then... Lungs, heart, kidneys, brain, main arteries... which should be his first target?

Rarity caught sight of Atchmon slowly drawing out his blade.

'He isn't seriously going to- Of course he is... it's all he knows'. Rarity thought, while double taking between Atchmon and the beast in front of them.

The young manticore was readying itself to pounce in time with Atchmon's slow draw of the blade.

'Perhaps I can show him another way. Fluttershy, if I die, it'll be because of your example!'

"Wait." Rarity whispered sharply, while extending a hoof in front of his leg to stop him.

Atchmon froze with his blade barely an inch out of its sheath, and looked down at her with an expression she knew held several curses behind it.

Rarity trotted out in front and sweet talked the hungry beast.

"Hello there, darling. Feeling a little famished, are we?" Rarity said, while forcing as much honey into her voice, as she levitated a few of the more sizable fish off her withers and towards the hungry manticore.

Rarity could almost feel Atchmon's silent protests.

The young manticore growled and shied away at the floating food, but was drawn in by the smell. Rarity dropped the fish from her magic, causing the lion to flinch away, before it approached and took a cautious bite.

The manticore was torn between baring its fangs at them with intimidating growls, and eating its newly acquired meal.

Atchmon and Rarity took a wide berth, keeping an eye on the feasting beast, while it did the same as they circled around each other.

"Now, wasn't that better than fighting?" she asked, looking up to Atchmon. "It doesn't hurt to show a little generosity once in a while."

Atchmon just rolled his eyes and huffed. "Let's jus' hope the rain comes in time to wash away the fish smell, before it decides to follow us home. If not, it's gonna be your problem to deal with." he warned, and moved ahead.

Rarity frowned at that, but from the way the grateful manticore was purring, she hoped that wouldn't be the case. She really hoped.

As they hiked back to the Den, Rarity noticed Atchmon was keeping a constant eye on the trees above them.

I suppose an encounter like that would make anypony a bit paranoid. Rarity thought, and didn't think much else of it, until they made it back to the meadow.

Though it was clear of any trees, which would've concealed any number of monsters, Atchmon still kept his eyes on the sky.

"Expecting another manticore to drop from the sky?" she questioned him in concern, after noticing his slight hesitation before approaching the treeline.

The sky was completely covered by light, grey clouds, making the light dimmer than it was barely and hour ago.

"Jus' got a weird feelin'." he replied thoughtfully, as he scanned the atmosphere, while barely taking half-steps out of the treeline.

Rarity looked between him, and their home, then hopped out into the open meadow. "I'm all for being careful, but I really want to get this saddlebag off me now." Rarity said, while looking behind herself, then trotted out ahead. Only wanting to unload her heavy pack and to rest her sore hooves.

Atchmon followed, but still kept a vigilant eye on the sky.

Rarity could still sense Atchmon's unease, even as they made it to the Den, where they could relax and organize their newly acquired supplies.

The pair made it back just as the sky was beginning to darken. Though it was still midday, the cloudcover caused the temperature to drop rapidly. The cool air felt good, despite the ominus look of the greying sky.

Atchmon busied himself in the garden, trying to harvest what he could, before the worst of the storm hit.

Rarity kept vigil just inside the cave, while Atchmon gathered what he could from his garden. And couldn't help noticing he didn't look at the sky once while he worked.

"I'd love to help you Atchmon, but I really don't want to get wet, or dirty, or step outside the cave for that matter." she called out to him, and shrunk at the first sound of distant thunder.

Atchmon quickly finished his harvest, and brought in a much smaller than normal assortment of vegetables and dried herbs.

He let Rarity levitate the basket of veggies from him, while he hung the herbs in front of the hearth, obscuring the depressive message upon the fireplace he carved just months ago.

'N-v-ER -OI-G -O-E'

Rarity picked up her saddlebags to organize her haul, when she felt an odd shift in weight within one of the bags. "Monty, get out of there. How many times do I have to tell you, that's no place for you to hide." Rarity scolded her little furry friend.

The wolpertinger begrudgingly hopped out of her bags, then lazily hopped around the room, while flitting its tiny wings and sniffing around at the newly acquired harvest.

'Atchmon's right, he's gotten a bit heftier than I remember him being' Rarity thought.

Sniff! Ppptt! Rarity snorted the moment the sharp smell of rosemary hit her senses. Its painfully sharp aroma contradicting the soothing smell of sage next to it.

'I wish we found some more peppermint plant. My breath could use a bit of freshening up, especially after last night. Though I doubt that was the reason Atchmon rejected me.' Rarity thought, and tried to ignore the feelings of hurt bubbling in her chest.

"Sorry you have to put up with the smell, Rarity, I know how much it affects you," Atchmon apologized, as he worked on hanging his fish and herbs around and within the hearth.

In all honesty, the fishy smell was preferable to the sharp, overpowering stench of rosemary. Even a bare hint of it felt like somepony was levitating sewing needles up her nose.

"That's alright, it's really not as bad as I first made it out to be. I think I've grown accustomed to it," she lied, while trying to keep a straight face.

"I jus' hope this storm doesn't last too long, but it probably will." Atchmon stated in his usual disinterested, nonchalant tone.

"Why do you say that?" she questioned, though knowing Everfree storms were more frequent and difficult to handle, based on what Rainbow Dash would tell her about them.

Atchmon was reaching deep inside the 'chimney', trying to find where he could hook his fish within, and smoke them. Which strained his voice as he worked. "Whenever there's been a fairly dry summer for the year, the forest'll have a huge storm to make up for it. The year before last we had a- really bad drought, and I ended up setting half the area on fire." he explained.

"That must've been terrifying, what caused it?" she asked.

"I caused it." Atchmon said simply.

"What!? Why would you do such a thing!? What were you thinking!?" she asked exasperated.

"Ah, if you'd seen the size of the spider I ran into, you would've done the same. Seriously, this thing was as big as this darn cave." he exclaimed, while holding his arms out for scale around their home. "Anyway, luckily the rain came in time to put it out, b'fore it got out of control. It rained for a week straight after that." he added.

"Goodness, I usually can't stand being cooped up for a day, much less a whole week. I'm really not looking forward to that again... What did you do to pass the time?" she asked, hoping to come up with something new they could do together.

"Lots of different things. Mostly I just reenacted some of my favorite stories." he smiled sheepishly.

"I like the ones you've been telling me recently." she complimented, more to watch him turn red from embarrassment.

Atchmon smiled and chuckled in embarrassment, while rubbing the back of his head. Rarity smiled while watching his submissive posture.

"But I really don't care for all the explicitly violent details." she critiqued.

"Story's jus' not as good without a lil fightin' in it." Atchmon shugged. "It's more about the conflict, really." he added.

"I suppose that's true." Rarity admitted, knowing many of her own exciting adventures weren't without a little quarrel or conflict.

Rarity sat silently in deep thought, while Atchmon worked on stoking a fire to dry his fish. Atchmon didn't notice how silent she became, it wasn't like they didn't occasionally spend hours not talking to each other. Most of the time they talked just to break the boredom, or simply neither one of them had anything to say.

The wind outside was steadily picking up, causing the stick-flap to smack hard against the rocky entryway in infrequent intervals. Each time it sent a small breeze of cool wet air into the room. Rarity couldn't help noticing the 'goosey bumps' Atchmon would get in the presence of cold. The dark hair along his arm stood on end, but he kept on working, never acknowledging what was going on around him.

After a long while Rarity finally spoke up.

"Atchmon? I was hoping I could talk to you about something that's been on my mind for the last few days." she started carefully, getting his attention.

"Sure Rare, go ahead." he looked at her, and went back to his work, before stopping completely to listen to her. Satisfied with the progress he made. "Hopefully I've fixed the flooding issue with this, I haven't had a chance to test it since it hasn't really rained much. We're definitely gonna find out this week though." he muttered softly to himself.

Atchmon got himself comfortable by taking a seat on his bed, and leaning against the main mural. "What's up?" he asked, and noticed Rarity wasn't going to join him. Which told him they were about to have another serious talk.

Atchmon couldn't help thinking how sad she looked, sitting on his cave floor, all alone like that. He wanted to hold her, to pet and comfort her, but she wasn't his pet. She was a beautiful, intelligent... And then he clenched his eyes, just as Rarity looked away in thought, and buried his feelings deep down before his thoughts ran away from him again. He couldn't think like that anymore. Not after what happened last night, after the dinner.

"I just wanted to know what our plans are going to be, if we're never rescued. Shouldn't we do something about it?" she asked, more as a suggestion.

"Do somethin'? We are doing somethin', we're survivin'. That's really all we can do." he shrugged, as if the answer was obvious.

"I was just wondering because... it's been a month now, and I just think we should start reconsidering our options." Rarity said, her words gaining strength with each word she spoke.

Atchmon sighed while rising up, and seated himself at the edge of the bed. He hung his head in thought while resting his elbows against his knees.

Rarity couldn't see his face as he rested his forehead against his arms, nor gauge his expression because of it.

After a moment, Atchmon started to shake his head, before raising up to look at her. "I can't Rarity, I just- I can't, okay?" he begged her with a pleading look upon his face.

"Why not?" she asked in irritation. He never wanted to talk about it, only giving the same 'I've tried' and nothing more. "I'm sure we can make the journey if we just try!"

"Because you don't know what's out there like I do." he started evenly with her. "Huge wolves, flying boars, and manticores are one thing. But there's giant spiders, and plants that move like you wouldn't believe..." Atchmon trailed as all the horrors of the past caught up with him.

"But I'm sure we can make it if we follow the river upstream. Many of them flow from, and even pass Canterlot Mountain. I'm confident we'll find our way, if we just follow it." Rarity argued, making her plan sound convincing.

"Oh, the river, yeah, I had the same idea." Atchmon started sarcastically. "I made a raft, once upon a time, just so I could live like ol' Huckleberry Finn. Until I came across a giant 'serpent' thing thrashing around, and tore the crap out of my boat. I turned my butt right around and went back home after that 'little' encounter." Atchmon said with contempt toward the monster who ruined his hard work.

Rarity didn't know who this 'Finn' character was, but what Atchmon described about the serpent was oddly familiar to her.

"Giant serpent?" she whispered thoughtfully. "Did it have purple scales, and an orange colored coiffure?" she asked eagerly, while ignoring the tightness in her chest for using the incorrect color palette she knew the sea serpent possessed.

"A cof- what?" he asked back, while his face contorted. Atchmon was really not in the mood to discuss fashion, as he was suspect the strange word had something to do with.

"Its mane, darling. Did you notice the color of his hair?" she asked, remembering Atchmon's term of words, while waving a hoof around her head.

"Oh... I, ah, I think it did, why?" he asked back, and raised an eyebrow at her in confusion.

Rarity looked to the side in thought. "Steven Magnet, the poor dear must've had another bad mane day." Rarity muttered to herself.

Atchmon took a breath. "Are you tellin' me..." he started slowly, and closed his eyes at the inevitable truth. "That thing has a name, and it can talk?" he finished, looking at her.

"Yes." she answered simply with a nod.

Atchmon hung his head between his knees again at the answer. "Of course it does." he sighed.

"He's a good friend of mine." she continued.

"Of course it is." Atchmon sighed again, while keeping his head down, making his voice sound muffled.

"I'm sure he'll be very sorry for breaking your raft." Rarity started, though her voice lacked much empathy, this wasn't the way she wanted this conversation to go. "And I'm certain he'll ferry us up the river if we ask him, if we find him, that is." Rarity said, while taking a step forward, trying to get him to look at her. But he refused to meet her eyes.

Atchmon rose up with a scoff. "Yeah, that's the question, in't it? IF we find 'em." he echoed sarcastically, while rubbing his face with both hands, clearly looking frustrated for having this conversation again so soon.

Atchmon was right. It was a very big 'if'. The truth of the matter was she hadn't really talked to Steven since Cranky's wedding. And it was very likely he might not be in the Everfree at all. Rarity never asked much about his personal life, and started to feel like a very bad friend for not asking when he'll be near Ponyville, so they could catch up.

Rarity hung her head, completely downcast. He wasn't going to budge, and there wasn't anything she could say to convince him otherwise.

Atchmon started, after noticing her sad look. "Look, as far as I can tell, it's only gonna be a couple months until the anniversary of my getting here. Let's jus' wait until then." he said it more as a decision, rather than a question.

"Atchmon... you've been waiting on that portal to open for years! Don't you think it's time to move on? I promise I'll take care of you, my friends will help you, we'll all support you." Rarity tried desperately to find any reason to convince him to leave with her.

"Why do you want to risk such a dangerous trip anyways?" he asked, ignoring her offers.

Rarity put on a look of dismay. "Because, I'm afraid if I wait any longer, I'm not going to have a life to go back to. My shops are all going to close down, not to mention all the debt I'll owe for not making my payments."

"From what you've told me about your finances, you should have it covered." Atchmon said as a matter of fact.

Rarity wasn't about to be roped into another discussion about how frivulent she was with her Bits again. "I thought you, of all 'people', would know what it feels like to be torn away from everything you know and love." Rarity spoke somberly, in a low voice.

Atchmon looked at her sympathetically. "I do, but the portal could open any day now. I've got a good feeling about this. Let's jus' wait until after the anniversary, and then maybe I'll think about it." Atchmon said with a nod, and hoped giving her a day to look forward to, would satisfy her until then.

It didn't work, and Rarity's face scrunched and flushed red with anger.

Rarity held her hooves to her temples, and shook her head. "I don't want to wait any more!" Rarity started irritably. "I want to go home. Or try to, at the very least." she stated firmly, and pursed her lips.

Atchmon sighed and shook his head. "You'll see, give it a month. Maybe two at the most, and you'll see." he finished, and left it at that.

Rarity couldn't stand the idea of staying in the Everfree for another month, let alone two, or even three. Atchmon's company helped her through so many trying times, but he wasn't a pony, and she desperately needed to be with her friends. Part of her regretted what she was going to say, even before she said it, for it had been on her mind for awhile. And felt it was time Atchmon heard the words of truth, no matter how much it was going to hurt.

Rarity took a breath and told him what he didn't want to hear. "That portal is never going to open. It hasn't-"

"You don't know that!" Atchmon snapped at her.

"But Twilight can help you, I'm confident she'll have the answers!" Rarity argued back, her ears splaying as the pair started to fight.

"Oh, you mean the same Twilight that made the spell what brought you here to begin with? Yeah, she seems to really know her stuff." Atchmon's words dripped with sarcasm.

"That's not fair, and you know it! It was an accident." she argued back.

"Feh." he scoffed.

"Well, what about me? Are you really just going to just leave me behind to fend for myself. To abandon me in my hour of need?" she pleaded with him.

"What!? No, of course not. I mean- god Rarity this is- I don't..." Atchmon stammered, as he struggled justify his decision.

Rarity's frustration finally came to a head, and stomped her hooves as she stood up.

"Ah, ah, oh, fine! Go ahead and see your world again! Then if you have a change of heart, and happen to come back for me, maybe you'll get lucky and not have to deal with me ever again! 'Oh, look. There's poor, weak Rarity getting ripped to shreds!' Isn't survival of the fittest just magic!?" Rarity spat at him, and panted after her little rant.

Atchmon only scoffed and looked away, occasionally holding the back of hand up to cool his burning cheeks.

After a couple minutes Rarity finally calmed down enough to think.

Of the two, Atchmon had more reason than any to be the one to go home first. Rarity could never force him to stay for her. Even though she really wanted him to. She was confident her friends would find her... eventually. But she also knew how lonely she would be during that time. And wasn't a little loneliness worth it for a friend in need?

Rarity thought so.

She closed her eyes and sighed. "It's okay... I don't want to force you to choose between your home and me." Rarity spoke softly, as if accepting her own fate.

Atchmon looked at the melancholy pony, her droopy ears seemed to weigh her down.

"You could come with me." Atchmon echoed in his own soft voice.

Rarity looked at him. "What?" she asked, and hoped to only imagine his words.

Atchmon couldn't meet her eyes, and tried to look at anything beside the hurt look on her face. "You, you know? You could come back with me... to my world." Atchmon repeated, his voice growing more excited the longer he spoke.

Atchmon scooted closer to her. "You'd love it there. There's so many amazing things I could show you! An- and everyone wears clothes, all the time, everyday, you could be the next big fashion star without even tryin'!" he finished excitedly with a bright smile.

Rarity's eyes widened as he spoke, and slowly shook her head in disbelief. Until she couldn't stand to hear anymore.

"What!? Do you really expect me to just leave everything behind!? You can't be serious Atchmon." she cried. "My friends may think I've already perished. I couldn't live with myself, knowing I left them so devastated." Rarity argued back, and could feel droplets forming at the corners of her eyes.

"Why not? If you come with me, we could be set for life in my world. Everyone would pay anything just to get a look at you! Not to mention books and movies about my story of surviving here." Atchmon explained with a wide smile and eyes staying lit, as if it were all coming true before him.

"Our story" she corrected him, with a sour face.

"What?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.

"You meant to say 'our story', didn't you?" she repeated, not believing the sheer level of selfishness before her.

"Oh, well yeah, of course." Atchmon answered with a wave of his hand, as if it were obvious to him now.

Rarity shook her head in disgust and disappointment. Having finally witnessed the worst side of her 'friend'.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing, you... you really are just a selfish, jerk!" she barked at him, and proceeded to fill her saddlebags with necessities. Dozens of various items, engulfed in a blue aura, flew around the den. And all landed inside her bags, quickly stuffing them with necessities.

"If you won't help me then, then I-I'll just have to do it myself!" Rarity stuttered, while trying to hide the pain she felt in her chest, and wiped away her hot tears. Forcing her anger to prevent her eyes from producing any more.

"Fine, go then, I won't stop ya." Atchmon said nonchalantly with a wave of his hand, calling her bluff. And watched as she dawned the leather barding he made for her. The barding fit well enough, and covered her neck in a long collar along with her chest, shoulders, and flanks, which had extra leather pads around those areas. Then finished her equipment by packing the spear as well.

"F-FINE, I will. I-I can't believe I've wasted all this time with someone like you, when I should've been helping myself the whole time! I can't believe I figured it out so late, it's everypony for herself in this forest!" she fired angrily, while glaring daggers into him.

"I got an idea." Atchmon started mockingly. "Why don't you just teleport yourself back? Oh, that's right, you can't! God, if I could do magic, I wouldn't be wastin' my time making clothes. I'd be doing cool shit, like teleporting!" he fired back at her, only to lash out his own hurt. Not wanting to show any weakness. Not wanting to show how much her leaving scared him.

In the past he begged her to show him more magic. Mostly for his own entertainment and curiosity, to which he was sorely disappointed to find out Rarity could only perform a few spells, which all mainly pertained to clothing.

Rarity didn't want to dignify his hurtful words with a response. She knew, that he knew, how hard it was for a unicorn to perform magic. And she knew, he only said it to further hurt her feelings.

Rarity stopped before the entryway, the stick-flap was the only thing standing between her and the start of her journey home. It swayed back and forth with every gentle howl of wind, the cool air sent chills through her coat where her leather barding didn't cover. She stood there with her head held high in determination with her gear loaded down, looking like a survival veteran.

Rarity craned her neck around to look at her former friend, and put on a look of determination.

But Atchmon could see the pain behind her sad eyes.

"Goodbye Atchmon, I truly do hope your portal opens for you. I'm just sorry I won't be there to see you of-." her voice cracked and she faced away with trembling lips and misty eyes, and unwilling to show her weakness, before levitating the stick-flap to the side and galloped away.

"Rarity stop!" Atchmon shouted after her, while pushing himself off the bed, and ducked through the porthole. He stood with his back to the cave entrance at the top of the hill. Watching Rarity's small form as it shrunk away from him.

Rarity went straight as she could, while the strong wind tried to push her aside and buffeted her mane, causing it to whip in her face. The hiss of leaves in the gusts did nothing to diminish the sound of Atchmon's beckons, which forced her to slow to a canter.

"Rarity, get back here!" Atchmon commanded, but Rarity didn't slow her cantered pace.

"This is stupid, don't leave right when it's about to storm!" he yelled to her, "I'm tellin' you, it's gonna be a bad one, RARITY!" he called angrily.

Rarity slowed to a stomping trot, but didn't bother acknowledging him any other way.

"Rarity... don't go." he said softly, too soft for her to hear, yet he held firm. Not allowing his emotions to betray him.

Rarity's sparse ivory coat looked like a white beacon of light and hope, which drained from him the further she ran away.

Rarity gradually slowed her trot, before she finally stopped, just a few yards from the treeline.

Atchmon observed her as she took a few calming breaths, watching her saddlebags expand with her barrel a few times before craning her neck around to look at him. Her gleaming purple mane and tail billowed fully in the wind like a banner, before she turned fully to face him.

The wind died down to almost nothing, allowing her mane to lay calmly at her side, and the forest became eerily quiet.

Atchmon wiped away the moisture in his eyes, and his heart swelled with hope as she started to trot back to him.

Until that hope was snatched away from him, carried away on black wings.

"NOOOO!!!" Atchmon cried in a blood curdling roar.

"Atchmon, heellllp, aaaaaahhhhh!" Rarity screamed as she flew away, watching Atchmon's form run out to meet her, and quickly shrink away.



"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Rarity screamed with thrashing limbs, as the ground rapidly shrank away from her, all the while she could feel the firm grasp of the monster's talons along her flanks. If not for her current situation, she would've enjoyed the flight and the view of the forest canopy far below her.

The misty wind obstructed her vision, but she could barely make out the dark figure of the winged beast above her, even as she writhed in its clutches.

Within its black plumage Rarity could see tiny white-blue sparkles, but as she looked closer, those tiny lights were dancing. Miniscule lightning bolts jumped elegantly along the edges of its ebony feathers, from one to another, and between any split openings.

They had many names.

Storm Crows.

Lighting Rocs.


Mythical creatures that thrive within, and precede powerful storms. The Pegasi feared them as an omen of death. The Griffins hunted them for their rare plumage as trophies and decoration, for they never lost their staticky discharge. And the buffalo worshipped them, erecting totems in their honor for bringing precious rain to their lands.

Many believed they are what created storms to begin with. But they usually never come so far inland, choosing to roost on the islands far off the coast of Eastern Equestria, where storms are near ceaseless within the infamous Baymuda Triangle. Unless this was a stray, or perhaps Atchmon was right...

This was going to be a bad storm.

Rarity fought to calm herself, and assess the situation, mainly in fear of being dropped if she proved herself too much a burden for the black fowl to carry.

Every powerful flap of the its wings was like thunder to Rarity's ears, above even the deafening whistle of wind which muted her hearing.

The Thunderbird banked several times around the Arc Tree, the forest canopy below looking like a lumpy green carpet, and Rarity feared it would roost upon its branches. Instead the massive crow-like bird descended to a rocky outcropping. Rarity recognized the geography, and looked around to see if she could spot the Den. And there it was, maybe less than a mile away, she could see the small clearing and the lonely little hill in the center of it.

As they made their descent, Rarity's plan was to make it to the trees, thinking the forest canopy would protect her, and knowing the Thunderbird had to be far too large to pursue her within the tight confines of the Everfree Forest.

The Thunderbird released her from its talon high above the ground.

"Oof!" Rarity misjudged the height, but managed to roll onto her flank, avoiding injury to her legs. A situation she didn't want repeated again, given the circumstance.

The Thunderbird flapped its massive wings as it landed above Rarity, sending strong gusts of wind over her. The dusty debris picked up in the gust nearly blinded her, but she blinked away the dirt in time to see the dark fowl's plumage on full display before her. The static sparks of its feathers grew more intense with each flap of its wings, before it suddenly lunged forward.

"AH!" Rarity rolled to the side, a moment before the crow-like beak struck the ground next to her, leaving a shallow impression upon the dirt.

The impact like thunder to her ears, and could feel the power of its strike through the ground she lay upon.

The missed attack sent a ripple of static lightning throughout its ebony feathered body, beginning at the thunderbird's head and neck, then spread evenly throughout, and ended with a showy display of sparks between the tips of its primaries.

Rarity instinctively knew her leather barding wouldn't protect her from being pulverized. And screamed as she rolled to the other side, dodging a secondary strike.

The Thunderbird cawed in frustration and turned its head to the side, intending to bite her. Rarity wasted no time in levitating her spear out, and lodging it within its beak.

The Thunderbird backed away, angered that it couldn't close its beak around its prey, and thrashed its head around as it futilely tried to loosen the obstruction. The bird finally used a talon to pick out the annoying stick, which split like a toothpick within its mouth.

The beast extended its wings and gave a angry caw at its dinner, as Rarity took her chance and made her escape.

Rarity made a break for the trees, but the rocky, uneven ground slowed her progress as each shifting stone threatened to throw her off balance. That and the fact she was trying to gallop down a steep hill, something ponies generally weren't fond of anyway.

The Thunderbird gave a single powerful flap of its wings, and bounded over its prey, then landed directly in front of her path. Thunderbird then extended its massive black wings, as if to block her escape.

Rarity screamed and nearly fell onto her rump as the massive black crow crashed down in front of her. Rarity quickly threw a sizeable stone at her assailant, which bounced squarely off the Thunderbirds cheek, which only seemed to anger it further.

Rarity then charged as if to gore the beast with her horn. The Thunderbird, sensing danger, promptly jumped back and to the left, in an effort to dodge the attack.

Rarity's bluff worked and she took a sharp turn to the right, opposite the bird's retreat.

Rarity spotted a small, rocky alcove nearby, and dove head-first into the opening. Her plump flanks became stuck between the rocks covering the entrance and struggled to wriggle herself the rest of the way through.

"Come on!" she grunted in frustration, as her mind focused on staying alive.

Rarity's flanks finally gave way, and she turned within the tiny space just in time to see a large black beak spear towards her face!

The Thunderbird struggled to get after her, but its beak was too large to fit through the opening.

The Thunderbird withdrew then half clawed and half pecked at the boulders covering the entrance. Rarity screamed as the black bird shoved its beak between the opening again, this time a bit closer than the last.

Rarity curled herself into a fetal position, in an effort to put as much distance between her and the Thunderbird's deadly, sharp beak.

The bird thrashed at the entrance, its beak getting stuck in the tight opening, but it withdrew and seemed to have given up and gone away after a few seconds of tense silence.

Rarity panted in quick shallow breaths, half through her mouth and half her nose, and tried calm her frayed nerves after the frightening encounter.

The silence after such an ordeal was somehow far more frightening that the ordeal itself. But after a long moment, Rarity hung her head and doubled over in relief while standing on shaking forehooves, as they struggled to hold herself up. After another moment her heart rate slowed, and no longer thudded in her ears.

Rarity slowly poked her head out the tiny alcove. And just as Rarity felt she was safe. Her vision was filled with blackness, while a deafening caw filled her sensitive ears, and she was forcefully pushed back with a scream.

Thankfully the tiny alcove was too small for the Thunderbird's maw to open and grab her, and Rarity's barding protected her from being skewered by the sharp, pointed beak.

The Thunderbird chipped away at the tiny entrance with every peck of its beak, but was making slow progress. The bird of prey tried to force its way in again, twisting its maw back and forth in clockwise and counter motions.

Rarity hugged the back wall as tightly as she could, and felt pain at the back of her head from pushing back so hard, all while the sharp black beak of the Thunderbird bored closer to her chest.

She was trapped.

Rarity clenched her eyes and prayed, and could do nothing but listen to every thunderous strike made against her sanctuary, as it was chipped away bit by bit.

"Please, please Atchmon I'm sorry!" she cried, and begged for her protector to rescue her.

Rarity opened her eyes and screamed just as the Thunderbird's beak was within a mere inch of getting her. Then Rarity felt something flutter out of her bag, and looked just in time to see a brown, blurry streak, as it flutter-hopped up and along the black bird's nose.

The Thunderbird withdrew quickly and cawed out in pain as Monty attacked!

Rarity, having a faint clue on what was happening, took her chance to escape her prison.

What Rarity saw next, she hoped to never forget.

Monty was pumping his little wings as fast as he could while trying to protect his friend and avoid the Thunderbirds snapping beak. He flitted around the massive predator like a hummingbird fighting an eagle.

The little wolpertinger had injured one of the Thunderbird's eyes, as small rivulets of crimson fell from its socket. The little wolpertinger was darting in and out, using guerilla tactics to distract and annoy the much larger predator.

Rarity took her chance to run for the trees once again. She ran until she felt a comfortable distance away, then turned to call her animal companion back to her. The chubby wolpertinger was still putting up a hell of a fight!

"MONTY!" Rarity cheered in fear, amazement, and worry all in one.

In that moment, Monty hesitated at the call of his owner, and was caught between retreat and another attack.

The Thunderbird retaliated in that moment, and Rarity watched in horror as her pet and friend suddenly disappeared within the massive black beak.

The black bird casually ducked its head behind a boulder.

Rarity didn't need to see what was going on, in order to know what was happening to Monty.

Her friend was gone, claimed by the natural order of predator and prey.

"NO!" Rarity cried, while a pain welled in her chest, as all the cuddles, pets, and frustrating little messes flashed in her mind.

The Thunderbird raised its head at her, bright crimson on its ebony beak, and prepared for another assault on its other prey.

Rarity ran again, the treeline looking even further away than before, galloping over the rocks without heed to her own safety. Not wanting Monty's sacrifice to be in vain.

Rarity used her wide peripheral vision to check on her pursuer.

"AH!" Rarity immediately dropped onto her belly to avoid the swooping of the Thunderbird's sharp talons as they passed over just inches above her, then watched as it flew around for another swoop.

Rarity made for the large boulders nearby. They were her last line of defense, for there was nothing between those boulders and the treeline for several dozen yards. A distance Rarity knew she couldn't cross with a flying predator so persistently hunting her.

The big bird roosted above its prey. And a similar situation from earlier unfolded.

Rarity dodged this way and that between the passages of the larger boulders, while trying to avoid the crow's searching beak. Rarity did her best to keep the boulders between herself and the monster after her.

Rarity soon found herself cornered, and the only way out was back towards the beast pursuing her.

The Thunderbird seemed to sense it had won this game of 'cat and mouse' and skulked towards the white mare, blocking any path she could use to escape with its giant wings.

"Let's dance you and I, darling, what do you say!?" Rarity bluffed as she levitated another small boulder, and readied herself for a fight. She struggled to hold it steady within her magical grasp, as fearful tears threatened to fall from her eyes.

The Thunderbird hesitated for a moment, before deciding to call her bluff.

The crow inched forward, its beak open and ready to strike, before a dark shaft suddenly appeared in the side of its neck!

"Get away from her!" Atchmon's voice roared. "Rare, the trees, go!" he called to Rarity as he held the beast at bay.

The Thunderbird assessed the new threat by puffing up its plumage and putting its wings on display, trying to make itself as big as possible. But Atchmon was never fooled, especially after seeing the same trick so many times before, from all different species of animals.

Atchmon always seemed larger than life to Rarity, but the massive bird made him look small by comparison.

Atchmon loosed another arrow, but the Thunderbird quickly grew wise and shielded itself with a wing. The arrow dug deeply into the meat of its wing.

"Atch-" Rarity tried to inform Atchmon of her safety near the trees, but anything else she was going to say was lost in the ear piercing screech of the Thunderbird.

Atchmon clenched his eyes, and tried to cover his ears after receiving a full blast of the painful sound. Atchmon recovered too slowly, allowing the thunderbird time to hurdle over the rocks and quickly close the distance. The human was a much larger target than the pony, less agile, and far slower.

Atchmon turned to run and received a vicious blow for his mistake. Just as he started to retreat, the Storm crow hopped up and raked a razor-sharp talon across his back!

Atchmon cried out and half leaped to get away from his assaulter, causing him to fall forward onto the ground, writhing in pain.

The Thunderbird reared itself back, and Rarity knew it was going to deliver a fatal peck to Atchmon's incapacitated body.

"Stop!" Rarity cried as she charged forward. She was so far from him, knowing she wouldn't make it in time. But her bravery paid off, her white coat caught the remaining eye of the Thunderbird and it screeched at her to stay away.

The distraction was enough for Atchmon to recover his bow and notch another arrow.

Atchmon shakily fired another arrow as he remained laid out on the ground, while doing his best to push through the fiery pain in his back. Even as he drew back on the taunt string of his bow, it felt as though his flesh would tear itself apart.

But the Thunderbird managed to look back just in the nick of time, instinctively reading the trajectory, and dodged before the arrow could pierce its breast.

Atchmon took the opportunity to run again, while the massive bird recovered its footing.

The top-heavy human stumbled and was struck hard by a wing, and was sent flying from the power of its 'backhanded' strike.

"Atchmon!" Rarity watched as his body flew into a nearby boulder, his back impacted the rock first, only for his head to follow in a whiplash, then his limp body fell facedown onto the dirt covered ground.

The thunderbird didn't pay Rarity any mind, now that it had much easier prey to consume, and skulked towards the unconscious form of Atchmon.

Rarity started to feel helpless in that moment, as the unstoppable beast neared her dear friend. There wasn't anything she could do, and that thought chilled her very soul.

Just then, a single memory resurfaced in her mind. Not a particularly fond memory, but they were together. Rarity could remember it so vividly, as she galloped towards Atchmon in desperation, while the memory burned itself into the forefront of her mind.

"What're you gonna do?" Atchmon said mockingly to the white pony pinned underneath himself.

"Let me up, this isn't funny!" Rarity demanded, and started to feel her prey instinct to give up, and go rigid, well up from within herself.

"No, it ain't." Atchmon deadpanned. "You're caught by a wild animal, now what in the hell are you gonna to do about it?" he repeated with a firmer voice.

"You're hurting me!" Rarity lied, but Atchmon wasn't budging this time.

"Dammit Rarity, ya ain't gonna break me. Now do somethin', I don't care what it is."

"I can't! I can't do anything!" she cried, and felt her eyes mist over.

Atchmon didn't berate her after the lesson, but that didn't stop Rarity from feeling disappointed in herself.

Rarity got angry over everything that happened.

She didn't know any destructive spells, and could never find the time to learn a basic attack such as the Magic Beam. A technique she witnessed Starlight Glimmer perfect, prior to escaping after their first encounter together. That should've been Rarity's wake up call, but she only put it on Twilight, and those with the talent, to practice such brutish magic.

Perfecting a spell required a level of finesse most unicorns lacked. Even Twilight usually used her raw Alicorn power to overcharge most spells, but a perfect cast was far more powerful, and energy efficient.

Rarity did have one spell in her arsenal. An Engraving spell, very similar to the Magic Beam, yet smaller in scale and much shorter in range. It was a technique Rarity picked up while attempting some overly ambitious projects, but also doubled as a fallback if her career in fashion didn't take off. At the very least she'd be an excellent jeweler.

It takes a unicorn with an expert level of skill in fine-precision magic to succeed in using that kind of spell.

But Rarity was a Master of it!

Fury and rage burned like a firestorm in her heart and mind. She could feel the mass of magical energy culminating at the base of her horn. The pressure grew unbearably intense, and Rarity wanted nothing more than to unleash it all at once!

She was sick of being so weak, of being so small that everything was bigger and stronger than her.

Rarity wanted to lash out, because now, that beast had taken one friend from her. And with Celestia as her witness, she wasn't about to let it take another!

Rarity barely heard the subtle whir of magic powering along her horn, as her rage tunneled her vision into a single solitary point upon the beast. Then, in an instant, that fiery rage was quelched by an icy cold, and calm focus. A state of mind needed to properly cast the spell.

The spell fired forth from her horn, the sound of hyper-dense magic cut through the air like a thunderclap. Leaving the smell of ozone in its wake. Rarity could feel the intense warmth of magical energy quickly overheat her ivory spire, to the point it felt as though it were searing her mind.

The spell was like a needle puncturing through fabric. Rarity could feel her attack connect with the Thunderbird's flesh. She didn't know whether or not it was enough to cause serious harm, but she did know it was going to hurt, a lot. As was proven by the pained shrieks of her enemy. The beam sliced clean through the bird's thick feathers, leaving a visible trail along its ebony body. The Thunderbird took off with a single powerful thrust of its wings, and flew away to the east; back towards the ocean.

Rarity watched with vengeance, ignoring the glowing red tip of her horn, as the beast made a cowardly retreat towards the dark grey sky.

Krrrack-POW! A thunderbolt flashed, and temporarily blinded her a moment.

Rarity blinked away the brightness, and stood bewildered as she watched the smoldering remains of the Thunderbird fall from the sky in a heap of smoldering down, its corpse lost within the Everfree Forest.

It seemed karma was on her side today. Until Rarity remembered some of Atchmon's 'good' arrows were made of, and tipped with metal.

"Atchmon!" Rarity rushed to her friend's side, and hesitated at the state he was in. There was a crimson spot at the back of his head, but at least he was still breathing. The blow to his head was nothing compared to the gash across his left shoulder blade, which bled steadily.

An image flashed in Rarity's mind of Atchmon's harrowing survival story painted upon his cave wall, and she could still feel the waning heat radiating off her horn upon her face. Rarity hesitated a moment at what she believed she needed to do. Then swiftly and carefully positioned her ivory spire near where she believed the bleeding was the worst. Then eased her horn forward, not wanting to gouge her already injured companion, while pushing her discomfort aside as she listened to the sharp hiss of the cauterizing wound.

That seemed to slow the bleeding, but didn't stop it entirely. He wasn't out of the metaphorical woods yet.

Another flash caught Rarity's eye, and she looked in time to witness another bolt of lighting, only this time it touched the Everfree with a mighty crash and boom, and watched as debris and sparks fountained out of the forest.

She looked around for shelter, but doubted the rocky outcropping provided anything better than the tiny alcove which saved her life, yet was only for her size.

She needed to get Atchmon out of there.

Rarity placed her hooves along his side, and shook him bodily. "Atchmon. Atchmon, wake up! Wake up, we have to get out of here." It was no good, he was out cold.

Rarity's eyes darted around the landscape, and she could see the clearing just to the southeast from her position.

"Don't worry, I'll get us home!" Rarity reassured him, though she knew he couldn't hear her, it just felt better talking to him like he could.

"Please goddesses help us get home." she prayed, despite the ominous look of the heavens. And pulled out the rope from her saddlebags.

The rain started to fall, as the clouds took on every shade of grey all the way towards the eastern horizon, which was nearly dark as pitch.

The worst of the storm had yet to come.

Rarity soon found a familiar path and followed it home with Atchmon strapped to her back. It took a considerable amount of effort to hoist him atop herself, but she managed without wasting too much time.

She strapped his midsection to her flanks to keep him from sliding off. His long arms and legs dragged along the ground, while his head rested against her neck and shoulder.

"C'mon Rarity, you can do this! If you can carry a heavy boulder like Tom around on your back, then you can certainly carry him!" she encouraged herself, and focused on placing one hoof in front of the other.

'Your dying friend.' A venomous part of her mind whispered.

"He's not going to die! Do you hear me!? Oh, please don't die..." she rebutted against her subconscious.

Rarity's body felt numb from the exertion, but kept focused on the mass atop her back, and the mechanical steps of her hooves.

She persistently endured against the elements, while the cold rain pattered against her face, yet her barding managed to keep her mostly warm and dry. But she worried most for Atchmon, who'd foregone his furred vest in order to quickly find and save her.

The furless human laid unconscious, wet, and half naked on her back, while his long arms hung limply at her sides, and dragging in the dirt. Rarity accidentally stepped on his fingers, tripping over them, and immediately sending her falling into the muddy ground from the sudden shift in weight.

She struggled to breathe with Atchmon's heavy body lying atop her back. With great strain and shaking hooves, she picked up herself and Atchmon, then readjusted his position atop her back so that he rested more comfortably against her. And she continued on, step by arduous step, doing her best not to repeat the same mistake.

Atchmon's titanic height proved just as much of a burden. His legs alone were as long as Rarity's whole body, which caused his boots to drag across, and occasionally get hooked on any exposed roots. Rarity just had to push harder whenever she felt Atchmon's weight shifting back from the drag.

It felt like forever before Rarity could finally see the clearing through the treeline leading into the meadow. She smiled, knowing the hardship was almost over. But as she looked on across that wide open space, her fear and dread rose quickly as the memory of the recent animal attack resurfaced. The lonely hill in the middle of the open meadow appeared to stretch further away from her.

Rarity felt her hooves shake uncontrollably, whether from fear, exhaustion, or cold, she couldn't tell. She closed her eyes and looked away in shame, while trying to mentally motivate herself to keep moving, to overcome her cowardice. Rarity opened her eyes and saw Atchmon's face beside hers.

The human looked as though he were sleeping peacefully beside her, and if he wasn't so injured, Rarity could believe that's just what he was doing.

She nuzzled his oil-slick head, and sent one last prayer of protection to the goddesses and her friends to keep them safe, then put on a determined look, before taking a step into the open meadow.

Rarity's hooves threatened to give out on her with every step, even as her hooves sank into the muddy earth, but she kept going forward while focusing on the entryway into the Den.

The wind blew the cold rain with such force it stung her face. The fat droplets beat against her exposed hide, and soaked her to the bone, while feeling the adding weight of her damp mane and tail. As if the storm was trying to hinder her in any way it could.

The storm grew even more intense as she ascended up the hill, as if the Everfree itself wanted her to fail at the last possible moment.

Rarity stood before the entryway and magicked the stick-flap up, feeling a sharp migraine from over exerting her magic, then with hurried steps she entered the domain of their home. Their sanctuary seemed to magically erase the burden brought upon them by the storm, which had wrought on her the whole journey there, and finally offered respite.

Rarity turned her aching little body lengthwise against the bed, and undid the rope holding Atchmon to her. Then allowed his weight to roll off her back, and Rarity fell with him, as she collapsed from exhaustion beside her human. Rarity caught her breath as she listened to the ever increasing howls of wind, and the occasional roll of thunder.

After a few minutes rest, Rarity picked herself back up on shaking legs to check on Atchmon.

"Atchmon. Atchmon we made it!" Rarity said excitedly, as she shook him again, but he gave no reaction and her worry spiked. Rarity's eyes darted over his face before rolling him over towards herself, just to get a look at his injury. This left the human laying half off the bedding, with his head at the foot of the bed, and his left arm and leg hanging off the side.

Atchmon's blood slowly oozed from the wound on his back. There was so much of it. It smelled richer than the usual copper scent she was familiar with.

If Atchmon had been a pegasus, no doubt the resplendent wing on his back would've been severed, as it looked now. And she felt a little sad the work of art would be forever ruined.

Rarity knew what she had to do, as she eyed the gaping scar in his back, and levitated the sewing kit out from her saddlebags, and feeling a pressure behind her eyes that wasn't there before.

She did her best to ignore this feeling, knowing simple levitation wasn't going to cause her any more harm.

At first she tried to telekinetically hold the wound together, but stopped shortly as her migraine swelled from the extra effort.

Atchmon's body resisted her magic, as she tried to 'pinch' the wound together, only to watch as her magical aura glided across his skin. A given, considering larger beings were typically more resilient to magic.

Rarity lifted both her hooves, while forming an idea on how best to go about stitching his wound together, and hesitated when she saw how muddy they were.

The last thing she wanted to do was cause an infection.

Rarity bounded to the Den's entrance, ignoring her body's tiredness, and hesitated for a moment, before flinging open the stick-flap. She rushed down the hill, while taking quick glances towards the sky, looking for any signs of a black silhouette flying among the dark, grey clouds.

A raindrop landed directly into her eye and she lost her balance, causing her to trip over a forehoof and skidded the rest of the way down the short hill.

"Ponyfeathers!" Rarity cursed, while getting back up, ignoring the fresh scrape along her foreleg.

"Sugarcubes!" she cursed again, noticing how much dirtier she'd become after her little spill.

She quickly levitated the covering off the first water vase and discarded it to the side, then stuck her foreleg inside to clean off the dirt. The opening was too narrow for her to stick the other foreleg in, and in her frustration Rarity kicked open a larger hole for herself, breaking the upper half of the vase. Her insides twisted for damaging Atchmon's precious property, but the feeling was overshadowed by her desperation to save his life.

After washing her hooves and chest of all the dirt, she unbuckled her saddlebags and dumped all of its contents but the canteen onto the ground.

Then used her saddlebags as a makeshift covering for her hooves to prevent them from getting dirty again.

Once she was beside Atchmon again, she flung off her bags and washed one last time with the water from her canteen, and used about a quarter of it to rinse out his wound. The rain itself had done a good enough job on its own, but Rarity wanted to be sure.

A tiny part of her mind saw this as a bastardization of her craft. But that was squashed by the fact her knowledge was going to save a life for a change, rather than emotionally improve it.

"What, how should I..." Rarity muttered to herself, as her mind raced to decide what technique to use.

Backstitch, topstitch, cross stitch, double-over stitch, blanket stitch, buttonhole... A tack stitch would work great, if it can hold together, and not come undone, which is why it's meant to be removed later.

This wasn't fabric... this was living flesh. It would need a special kind of stitching. She's seen Atchmon do it before, with a loose definition of 'seen'. But her own vast experience hindered her aid.


The relentless thunder outside steadily increased its onslaught. The volume of which shook the very ground beneath her, and vibrated the various trinkets around the Den. Their tinkling sounds added to the symphony of the storm.

Atchmon was right, this was nothing, nothing at all compared to the storms she's ever experienced, as lighting fell as frequently as rain.

Rarity thought of Atchmon's anatomy, of how his body moved and stretched, and saw in her mind so vividly how he used his arms to push against his bow, and pull on the string, and raised to take aim.

She used her experience as a tailor to decide how best to close the wound, without fear of it tearing from activity.

The stick-flap flew erratically behind her, before being torn way! Bringing with it a torrent of wind and mist, which threatened to suction Rarity back outside. Rarity threw herself onto Atchmon, and held on as she stitched his wound.

The sound of howling wind filled her ears. The bright, white flashes of lightning illuminated the entirety of the cave in an instant, making the luminescence of her horn seem little more than a mere candle, and brought with it an earth shattering roar!



Her panic subsided with every crashing sound of the storm as she worked.

Needle in, needle out, twist, tie, and cut. Again, and again until the entire length of the wound was painstakingly closed, and the bleeding had ceased. Rarity stopped counting after twenty-three, as her concentration focused more on her technique.







Until it was finally done.

Rarity rose up to examine her work, and almost wept for what she had done to her friend. The stitching looked like something akin to Frankenpony's monster. She nuzzled around his neck in a poor attempt to apologize for her ghastly work, and balked. Rarity pressed her snout to Atchmon's forehead and stepped back.

"So cold..." she whispered, and immediately covered him with a fur blanket.

Now that she was done, and Atchmon was out of any danger, Rarity could concentrate on fixing the other large problem in the room. And looked for a way to cover the open entryway, as the wind buffeted her mane, and the rain easily sprayed through the porthole. Filling the cave with wet mist, and tiny rivulets that ran from the entrance to underneath Atchmon's bed, where he kept most of his food supply.

The rain became nothing but white noise to her ears, and every crack of lightning and every boom of thunder became a symphonious melody of highs and lows.

Paradise Lost

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The white wolf laid forlornly underneath the branches of its shelter, feeling the occasional water droplets falling from the leaves above, and patter against his damp body.

A curious pup approached the white wolf, one so young it still couldn't walk straight. The pup received a vicious growl-bark for its intrusion.

White watched the frightened youth scamper back home to the main den, before resting his head against his paws, and try to take a nap.

This wasn't where White imagined to be. Ostracized by the pack, demoted to the lowest rank of Beta, and forced to lay alone under the unrelenting rain. That thing which plagued his whole life did this. This was all its fault!

The White wolf dreamed of its youth - of being taken - and brought to the monster's lair. The little pup cautiously approached the monster with innocent curiosity and sniffed at the stranger, memorizing his odd scent. A smell he still knew to this day. The white wolf pup soon realized the monster didn't want to eat him, it only wanted to play!

White and the creature quickly became friends as they made their fun together.

Then the lessons began. White's friend wanted to teach him things. Learning wasn't as much fun as when they'd wrestle together. Though, White didn't like that he'd always lose to his much older friend. The pup didn't want to learn; he wanted to play! But his friend always had food, and White really liked food; but his friend wouldn't just share it unless White did something for it, and his friend always asserted his dominance over the pup.

The pup knew that was his friend's right, being older and stronger than the pup. White knew this from watching his older brethren behave, but even they eventually shared; and didn't repeat the same noises over and over again.

Soon White learned how to 'sit', before his friend would let him eat. Then he learned 'down', and to 'speak'. It wasn't all boring, 'geddit-boy' was his favorite game, his friend would throw a stick, and White would chase it down and chew it up! But his friend always yelled at him to 'bring-it-back', or 'c'mere', or make strange noises that tickled his ears. White never understood what it was his friend wanted, and kept chewing away anyhow.

They became the best of friends. His friend liked it when he'd howl, and they'd howl together, letting everywolf know where they were. The little pup could hear his brethren howl back, and then he realized how alone he was, and didn't understand why the others couldn't come and play too.

He tried to tell his friend, but he only moved White inside their new home. And then his friend would yell at him to 'shut up', whenever White called out for his mother. His friend never howled with him again after that.

White missed his family, and his 'friend' wouldn't let him see them.

Soon White's mother and father found him, and others came too while his friend was away. It wasn't nice that his friend tied him up so he couldn't play with the others, nor eat the food stashed under where he liked to nap. But he'd always let him go, and they'd play again whenever he got back! But his mother and father weren't having any of it, and the others helped themselves to his friend's food.

White tried to stop them, and told them they had to wait until his friend came back, that they didn't do what was needed to earn his friend's food. They needed to 'sit', and 'lay down', and 'speak' to get food. It wasn't the funnest game to play, but the others only growled in anger, and his mother and father took him away.

White was free, carried away in his father's maw, while his mother fretted the whole way back to their home.

The other pups wouldn't play with him, and avoided him most of the time, saying that he smelled funny. Others made fun of him, saying he was 'marked' by the monster. But they just didn't understand, until his friend came back for him.

White was going to show the whole pack how great his friend was! But White's mother intervened, and chased his friend up a tree.

White tried to plea with his mother, to get her to stop, then the unthinkable happened. His friend killed his mother with his magic!

White's father, the alpha, stepped forward and ordered the others away.

Soon, hunting the beast, his former friend and 'master', became a right of passage among the Pack. Even just entering its den and bringing back spoils proved one's own worth and bravery.

White's memories became a torrent of nightmares, as each memory flashed within his subconscious. Memories of fallen comrades, and overzealous friends wanting to prove themselves by hunting down the monster. Only to end up hunted themselves.

So many... too many.


The white wolf awoke with a vicious growl as hate consumed him. He was through with living in the shadow of his enemy.

White stormed up and through the pack's cave home, suffering jeering growl-barks from his brethren along with nips, and teasing whimpers as he marched onward through the deepest part of the den where the Alpha resided.

The old ashen wolf rose up, and growled long and low at his progeny; reminding him that his punishment for losing young so carelessly wasn't over.

White growled back, demanding to know why they don't hunt the monster.

His sire howled, 'makes us stronger'.

White growl-barked angrily, 'makes us food'!

Vengeance drove White forward and he initiated the challenge for pack alpha against his Sire.

The old, ashen grey wolf accepted.

A few days earlier...

Rarity stayed near Atchmon's side for hours on end, listening to the steady hiss of rain from outside, punctuated by rolling thunder.

Rarity looked her human over. For the longest time she believed him to be the epitome of strength and endurance, but now, seeing him like this... She could finally see just how weak and emaciated he truly was from the subtle gauntness in his face.

She checked the scar on his well toned back, only to wince at the ugliness of her work. Only the thought of Atchmon's backwards opinion on scars kept her from weeping outright. Knowing it was just the proof of one more adventurous story for him to tell.

She looked at his gently sleeping face. He wasn't all that bad looking when she actually thought about it. Rarity knew she was a bit of a deviant. Considering how much she debated waiting on Spike, and other species that nearly took her heart away.

Rarity almost forgot to breathe as her thoughts deepened further, and snapped herself out of it with a deep breath. She looked Atchmon over one last time, before something felt... off.

Rarity became concerned with how still Atchmon was laying and placed an ear near his face.

He wasn't breathing...

Rarity was beside herself, and readied herself to give Atchmon mouth to mouth.

"Ah!" Rarity yelped and jumped back when she felt something grasp her leg. Only to find Atchmon reaching out to her.

"Rare, don't go outside, 's not safe." Atchmon whispered groggily, then moaned and winced in pain.

"Oh, thank goodness you're finally awake!" Rarity reeled when she realized she spoke much louder than she meant to. Causing Atchmon to wince again and cover his exposed ear.

Atchmon smacked his dry lips and tried to speak again, while trying to clear his gravelly throat.

"Here drink some water." Rarity poured him some of the refreshing liquid by floating the canteen to his lips. The angle was awkward, forcing him to drink sideways and causing the water to run freely through the gap between his lips and the canteen's opening. The cool water felt good on his warm cheek, as it ran down his skin and soaked the bed underneath his chin.

Atchmon didn't seem to care, and swallowed what he could, before wiping his chin and laying his head down in the wet spot; further soothing his warm, aching head.

"Rary," Caff! Cough! "Ooh, my head," Atchmon groaned and rubbed his temple with the palm of his hand. "How long was I out?" he questioned, after clearing his throat.

"You've been in and out the last couple of days," Rarity gave him one last drink before putting it away.

"What happened? Wa'n't I jus'..." Atchmon trailed as he blearily looked around at where he was, realizing he was back home in his bed.

"Do you remember anything?" Rarity asked softly, as she magicked some of his oily hair out of his face.

"I r'member fightin' that huge bird, but after that it's jus' flashes. Sort o' like a dream... How'd I get back here?" he looked to her for answers.

"After you were knocked unconscious, I carried you on my back." Rarity explained, while dabbing a wet rag on his head.

"You did?" Atchmon looked the small unicorn over, and couldn't believe she managed such a feat all on her own. The little white mare was easily half his size. "What about the bird? What happen to it?" he asked, trying to piece together the scenario, despite his inflated mind.

Rarity smiled proudly. "I blasted that awful bird with my magic. I never knew I had it in me, but I managed to drive it off all on my own." Rarity laughed proudly, yet still halfheartedly.

Atchmon raised an eyebrow. "Whoa... wish I'd seen that."

"Me too." Rarity whispered soberly and took a breath to calm herself.

Atchmon noticed the stain coating the Rarity's horn, and licked his thumb to try and wipe some of the mess off. The tip of her spire was stained with dark coating of something, but the stubborn stain wasn't going to come off, and so he gave up, before trailing a finger down and along her cheek.

"I'm sorry, Rare. I didn't mean them things I said to you. I think it's really cool what you can do." Atchmon apologized sincerely despite the tiredness in his voice.

"I know." Rarity smiled sadly at his compliment.

"You know I'd give up both my arms to do half of what you can do." Atchmon continued. "I'd love to be able to float things around without touchin' them."

Rarity half-laughed. "How would you ever give me those amazing massages without your arms?" she joked.

Atchmon paused a moment before smiling. "Guess I'll jus' have to use my teeth like you ponies." Atchmon started playfully gnashing his sharp teeth at her. "Nom, nam, neighn!"

Rarity shifted away from him and laughed at his playfulness, but still felt that bit of hollowness within her chest.

Atchmon watched the melancholy pony as she stared silently at the ground.

"Hey, where's Monty at?" he asked, thinking the little horned bunny could cheer her up.

"He..." Rarity sniffed as she teared up, and struggled to tell him. Her broad purple hair hid her face from his view, but her emotions betrayed her, as her shoulders started trembling, while she tried to futility hold in her sorrow. "He saved me, right before you--sniff--c-ame, and the bird..." she squeaked, and started to sob.

"Ooh, Rare... c'mere," Atchmon cooed sympathetically, and reached out with his long arm to beckon her over. Rarity welcomed his embrace, as he held her underneath the pony's neck. "I'm sorry." he apologized and hugged her while caressing her cheek as she nuzzled against his for comfort. "He did good... he did real good." Atchmon didn't know what else to say. "I was jus' startin' to like the lil shit." he muttered, though he didn't mean for Rarity to hear.

Rarity made a sound half way between a guffaw and a snotty sob, and soon started to laugh heartily; because if she didn't, she wouldn't stop crying. Laughing was better than wailing her eyes out. Atchmon and Monty got along fairly well, so long as Atchmon didn't find any wasted foodstuffs that were halfway eaten and left behind the gluttonous critter.

Rarity sniffed. "I didn't mean what I said to you either. It's all my fault; I just wanted to go home, and I didn't mean for you to get hurt, and for Monty...' Rarity's thick tears fell from her cheeks. "I just wanted to go home."

"It's not yer fault." Atchmon disagreed with a gravelly tone.

Rarity looked at him, hoping he would explain how something like this couldn't be her doing. Despite him laying on the bed in his condition, Rarity could see the resolve in his words as he looked right at her even with a single eye.

"I'm the selfish one, 'member? I never once considered yer feelin's, and now... I jus' realized what I'd be doin' to you... You'd hate it there... My world would use you up and spit you out soon as it didn't need you anymore."

"It's alright, I'm actually not against visiting your world; I would like to ride around in one of those 'trucks' you mentioned before," Rarity smiled at the idea of riding in a self propelled wagon. "So long as there's a way for me to come back to my home." she added.

"Yeah, it'd be fun. The Portal-Tree ain't goin' nowhere; long as that's around I think we can make it happen." Atchmon smiled too, only his didn't seem to have much mirth. "Wonder if my sis kept our old truck after all this time." he muttered.

"I'd hate to be the bearer of more bad news, but there's one other thing I need to tell you." Rarity started after taking a calming breath.

Atchmon rolled his eye. "Lay it on me." he waved his free arm nonchalantly, as if things couldn't get much worse.

Rarity looked to the side and illuminated her horn, filling the small cavern in a soft, blue hue along with the subtle chime of magic. The unicorn turned as she brought over the mangled heap of his bow.

Atchmon moved to get up then flopped down on his face; feeling a resistance and pain lance through the left side of his back.

"Arrgh, son of a-mmmgrh." Atchmon growled into the furred bed sheet. He breathed heavily until the pain subsided enough for him to try again. This time much more carefully.

Rarity winced, and tried to offer him aid, but he waved her off.

The human sat straight up on the edge of the bed and cradled the remains of his closest companion.

"I'm sorry." Rarity apologized. "I think the bird stepped on it."

Atchmon gave a heavy sigh. "It's fine... I don't think it was goin' to last much longer anyway. I guess, I should be glad it happened now; rather than while I'm being attacked by another monster." Atchmon tried to cover his anger, though that didn't stop the feeling of loss from welling from within. The hunter laid his bow next to him as respectfully as he could; leaning it against the cave wall by his bed.

Atchmon looked up to see the cave entrance. It looked as if it were barricaded by a detritus of wood, grass, and mud. Like some beaver decided to dam up his home.

Rarity kept her horn lit to give them some light within the near pitch black cavern.

Atchmon noticed how much roomier the cave felt, and a moment later saw that Rarity's bed was gone. It didn't take long for him to piece together what happened to it.

"Where've you been sleepin'?" he asked while knitting his eyebrows in concern at the pony.

"On the floor." Rarity answered simply.

Atchmon never minded her sleeping next to him on his bed. Sure, there were times he wanted his space back, but hearing that just made him feel bad for her.

"Where's the mirror?" he asked while looking around for it.

"Here." Rarity levitated it from her little nook and gave it to him.

Atchmon took the mirror from her magic, and struggled to get a good look at his wound. Once he found a decent angle that didn't feel like his skin were tearing itself apart; he examined Rarity's work.

"Huh, kinda looks like a baseball thread." Atchmon muttered interestingly, and placed the mirror to his side.

"Sorry I didn't do a better job." Rarity apologized, and layed her ears back and waited for the berating to follow. Rarity could take an irate customer any time, but now she wasn't sure if she was ready to hear Atchmon's judgement.

"Jus' one more to the collection." Atchmon murmured.

Rarity relaxed, but felt she deserved more than Atchmon's nonchalant attitude. Then again, she's not surprised he wouldn't be mad at gaining another scar.

"Can ya help me get my shoes?" he asked.

Rarity backed away to give his legs some room. "Shouldn't you be resting? I don't think it's a good idea for you to be moving around so soon." she voiced in concern.

Atchmon grunted as he shifted position. "I gotta go Rare, unless you feel like lettin' me pee in your canteen, and you can go dump it outside." he smirked to her.

Rarity paused at the mental image. "Point taken; and saying you need to 'use the restroom' would have been more than sufficient." Rarity deadpanned. "I've already gone far outside my comfort zone for cleanliness since I arrived here, so I don't need you giving me anymore mental images of any more nastiness."

"Okay, I got ya." Atchmon chuckled at successfully frazzling the little pony once again.

The human felt around underneath the bed using his bare feet. "Where's my..."

"Here, let me help you." Rarity offered, and levitated his moccasins over from another one of her little nooks. "They were getting wet, so I had to move them, and most of your food too."

"My fish?"

"It was starting to smell."

"Probably went rotten anyway. Thank you." Atchmon caressed her cheek, then patted her shoulder in praise.

Rarity knew it was how he showed his appreciation, even though he was treating her like a pet again, she still welcomed his touch.

With little strain, Rarity levitated away the wad of debris plugging up their home.

The light outside was pretty dim with the clouds covering the entire horizon in their light, grey fluff. The rain had nearly ceased; the occasional fat water droplet could be seen like a glint of light, before it disappeared into the soil.

The grass was wet and shimmered with thick dew, the foliage seemed to have gorged itself on the desperately needed rain, for it looked greener than it did just a day ago. To the right, the garden was almost completely gone. Corn stalks and wheat grass were stuck yards away within the underbrush by the tree line. The straight line winds flattened most of the other plants like an imperfect crop circle.

Small colored orbs flitted around over the remains. A trio of Parasprites were picking over whatever was left. A yellow one must've found enough food to reproduce, for it hacked up a brown ball of ick. Then a smaller, blue sprite spawned forth before it could hit the ground and flitted up to join the others in the feast.

Rarity followed Atchmon out to the treeline to do his business, only this time, she was the one standing vigil for him, and kept a keen eye out for anything which may disturb them.

The human finished his business and zipped up his pants as they walked back together. Rarity wasn't going to comment on his bad habit of doing that in front of her this time.

Rarity watched Atchmon slow to a halt in front of her, and looked up to see what he was doing.

The human put on a look of confusion as he looked around; then spread his arms out as he twirled around in place, almost as if looking for something he lost.

"Atchmon?" she questioned him in concern, and watched as the human took off at a quick pace. "Where are you going?" Rarity called after him in worry.

The injured human ignored the stinging and stretching he felt in his back, even as the forest tried to hold him at bay with its resistant branches and thick grass stalks.

"Please talk to me so I can help." Rarity tried to plead with his as she tried to follow, but was slowed and had to dip, duck, and push her snout beneath the undergrowth just to keep up.

Atchmon stumbled over an exposed root, and Rarity rushed to help him, but the stubborn human ignored her assistance and pushed on.

On and on they marched, until Atchmon slowed his pace and finally stopped in his tracks.

"Oh, no..." Rarity whispered as she looked around the familiar grove.

Atchmon shambled forward a few more steps, before collapsing to his hands and knees.

The Arc Tree was destroyed.

The massive trunks were cracked, and jutted out from the ground like a pair of horns. The left of which was half as much longer than the right, and both were broken near the apex of what once formed a near perfect circle. The bark looked charred, indicating that it was stuck by lightning. The remains of the titanic trees cut a clear furrow through the forest, and replaced the canopy with its own dying branches. The main trunk of both trees were cracked down the middle, yet neither parted from the other in their spiraling embrace.

Chunks of wood and splinters littered the ground before them, and some had stuck into the nearby trees, either from being blasted out by the powerful lightning strike, or flung from the weight of the titanic crash.

Atchmon grasped a handful of charred bark as he rose up and sat on his legs. Then ground them up in his grip; letting the granules of char fall from his hand like the sands of time. The time he wasted on waiting, and hoping.

All for nothing...

"Atchmon? It'll be okay." Rarity tried to console him, as she approached his side.

She stared up at him, but he didn't look as though he was there.

Rarity worried for her friend. He wasn't angry or sad, which scared her. Him shouting or bawling would've been a welcome emotion rather than the empty, lifeless void she saw in his glazed eyes.

He looked hollow, and utterly defeated.

"I can't help you, if you don't talk to me," Rarity tried again to get him to look at her. Atchmon just sat there, looking through a nonexistent portal with his unblinking dead eyes fixed in a thousand-yard stare.

Rarity trotted in front of him, hoping to force him to look at her, and spoke firmly. "I'm sorry, Atchmon, I really am; but now there's only one direction to go and that's forward," Rarity hoped her words reached him. "Maybe it's time to let go." she finished sympathetically.

Atchmon barely gave her a sidelong look, then struggled back to his feet and turned from her, before lumbering off in the direction of home without a word.

Rarity hung her head, unsure of what else to do or say, and trotted after him.


Rarity paused at the foreign sound, and removed her hoof to examine what she stepped on. There was something metallic and wiry sticking up from the wet soil.

Rarity levitated out the small metal object, only to find a pair of broken spectacles. A piece of glass fell from its socket as she examined it, leaving one side with a cracked piece of glass, while the other was completely missing its lens.

The deformed frame of the lenses didn't look right, and were far too small for a pony to use, but maybe just right for a...

Rarity looked in the direction Atchmon had gone. The human's form was nearly lost to the forest as he shambled through the growth.

Rarity tried to find what little comfort she could within the confines of their abode, as she shifted positions on her portion of Atchmon's bed, while another torrential downpour of rain fell outside.

Another day passed.

And another.

Atchmon had barely eaten anything since seeing the Arc Tree, and never spoke; which left Rarity to entertain herself in anyway she could.

Any attempt to cheer Atchmon up proved to be futile. He would always turn away from her; never leaving the comfort of his bed. He slept most of the days away. Sometimes with Rarity by his side, but mostly without.

Today, Rarity was watching the sheets of rain wisk across the forest. Rarity closed her eyes and felt the subtle spray of mist on her face. Rarity knew not to sit like that for too long, lest she catch her death of cold; but it was already cold and dark inside the cave, so to her it didn't matter. Rarity didn't feel like running her magic just to have light inside the cave, not only that, but Atchmon was starting to smell unpleasant. His depression was starting to affect her as well.

Rarity heard Atchmon murmuring and unconsciously swiveled and ear in his direction. At first it didn't sound like anything until Rarity focused on the sound he was making. His voice had a certain melody to it; but it was slow and somber as she listened to him sing.

"Jus' a simple... kind o' man... Oh, won't you do this for me son... if you can?"

"Forget the rich man's gold. All you need... in your soul... You can do it... If you try... All I want you to be... is satisfied."

"Times are strange... it seems to be.... you couldn't have been a better friend to me..."

'He switched lyrics in the middle of a song again...' Rarity thought, and couldn't stand to hear anymore. 'I have to do something!' Rarity's thoughts and feelings were so strong she nearly clopped a hoof on the ground in frustration.

Rarity looked to the horizon; she couldn't see Canterlot Mountain through the rainy haze, but she knew where it was after staring in its direction for days on end. Imagining the time when she'll be rescued and could trot down the grand city streets of Canterlot once again.

"...took me in... gave me life... I can't stand to say goodbye... m'ma I'm comin-..." Atchmon was silent a long time before Rarity heard a snotty sniff and depressing sigh come from him.

"Selfish love... both alone... before the fall... got to have it all..."

Atchmon laid silent for a long time after that. Rarity, having gotten her fill of fresh air, went to nuzzle him for both their comfort.

Almost immediately she could feel the sweltering heat Atchmon's body was giving off.

He definitely had a fever, and his wound wasn't looking so good either.

'One more attempt, Atchmon... You've done so much for me, but it's time I lived up to my Element and give something back to you. It's time for me to mare up.' Rarity stood and started gathering supplies for her journey.

"Atchmon?" Rarity started, to get his attention. "I'm going." she said simply.

The light from Rarity's horn hurt his eyes; he squinted and struggled to see her near silhouette. She had her leather barding on again; along with her saddlebags full of supplies. Atchmon turned his head and faced the wall again; breathing a tired sigh.

Rarity felt hurt, she expected a little reaction, but never none altogether. It was like Atchmon didn't care anymore. Rarity knew that wasn't true; her friend was truly without hope, and so now she needed to be the strong one.

Just like she promised to be.

"I'm going to try and get some help. I'm going through with my plan; I believe following the river upstream and moving northwest will be my best chance of making it back to pony civilization." Rarity spoke with confidence in her voice, but in her heart there was nothing but doubt. "I know I should probably wait for the rain to pass... but you said so yourself it could last for weeks."

"What's the point," Atchmon whispered.

"I promise I'll come back for you." Rarity waited a moment longer for him to say something.

Once out the den she wanted to break down right there, a part of her was so sure he'd come with her. So sure he'd beg her not to go, or anything. Rarity held strong in her resolve to find help.

Back in the cave Atchmon turned his head to see if Rarity had really gone. He could've swore he felt her presence a moment ago. He didn't even hear her little hoof clops on the floor; or maybe he just couldn't remember.

'Get up... Get up... Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up you loser!' he shouted inwardly, and grit his teeth as he struggled against the the mental chains shackling his body and will.

But he still didn't budge.

Atchmon scanned his eyes around at all of his past accomplishments, the paintings on the walls, the treasures he collected. All utterly worthless to him now, save for one. His gaze landed on the newest mural to his grand collection. The one Rarity made all on her own, which outdid his others in quality talent by miles.

He stared at the bottom of Rarity's painting; where the two stood together, hand in hoof, as friends.

Atchmon moved like a man possessed, completely ignoring the stinging in his back as he bent over to put on his boots and latched the blade to his belt. Even as his mind went at war with itself; one side fighting to do the right thing, the other wanting him to give up and go back to bed.

The former side was fighting an uphill battle and somehow was winning; while Atchmon thoughts caught up to him.

'How long had it been since she left? Was it moments or hours ago? Was she ever there at all? It was all a dream, wasn't it? It didn't happen. NO. It was real and it did happen; she was real, and she's out there alone. Just a little pony all by herself. She left because of you. You deserve this. She's gonna get eaten. Something's going to get her. She's my responsibility! I told her I'd keep her safe! She's my... she's my...'

Atchmon felt like a force was carrying him across the meadow; he couldn't feel his steps along the soggy ground, much less his own legs as he frantically looked for his little pony.

"Rarity!" he called out to her.

Then he spotted her. Like a faithful companion returning to its master, the little white unicorn easily bounded out of the thickets towards him. Rarity's white face stood out like a beacon among all the greens and browns of the forest.

Atchmon shambled forward and collapsed to his hands and knees before the Unicorn mare.

Rarity came up to nuzzle him, but Atchmon preempted her and cradled the pony's head in his hands, before pulling her in for a tight embrace.

"Ah, god! Don't- don't go. You're the only thing I've got Rar-ty; I don't wanna lose you too! Please don't go," Atchmon's voice hitched as he bawled like a baby in her hooves, while thick, hot tears streamed down his face.

"There, there, darling. It'll be alright," Rarity didn't know what else to say as she tried to calm the inconsolable human.

After a couple minutes of incoherent sobbing, Atchmon finally calmed down.

"I'm sorry; I'm so sorry, Rarity," Atchmon's voice hitched as he apologized to her over and over.

For some reason Rarity got the sense he was apologizing for so much more, but let it slide as warm feelings filled her heart. Knowing her friend was going to be okay.

Atchmon sniffed. "I can't go home, but I can at least make sure you do," he petted Rarity all over her cheeks and neck, as if making sure she was really there. Rarity didn't complain and let him get his fill of comfort from her.

"Of course you can," she whispered. "Somehow I just know this is going to work out for both of us. Will you join me? I can't do this on my own, but if we work together; I know we can make it," Rarity held both his hands in her hooves and waited for his answer.

Atchmon gave a halfhearted chuckle, before he made a pained face. "Listen, there--sniff--there's something--sniff-- something I have to tell you," he breathed, trying to gather himself enough to speak clearly. "Rare, the other day, I saw-" he started to say, until he noticed the fearful look on Rarity's face staring passed him.

"Wolf," Rarity said idly at first.

"What?" Atchmon cocked his head in confusion at her interruption.

"Wolf!" Rarity shouted and pointed a hoof behind him.

Atchmon turned to look, then stood to his full height; and there, atop the mesa of his home, stood the great white wolf. The wolf's ivory fur looked dirty and ragged, as the Dire beast gazed regally down on them.

Atchmon knitted his eyebrows in confusion at the strange event.

Rarity moved to see around the human, but was blocked by his protective reach. She could see the white wolf baring its fangs through the gaps between Atchmon's digits.

White saw his enemy and wanted to take something precious away from the monster, just as it took something precious from him. It infuriated White to see the weak prey by the monster's side. Why hadn't the monster eaten it? Why did it protect the prey? Why did it only kill his pack?

White swooped his head down, then back up, bellowing out a massive howl towards the ominous cloud covered sky. White's eerily deep howl penetrated their souls, and all the forest could hear his war cry.

The pony, beast, and human stood motionless as they all stared at each other across the deathly silent meadow. Until the pair saw movement behind the white wolf.

A muddy-brown Dire wolf appeared next to White Fang's right; baring its massive canines, and growl-barking viciously at the pair in the meadow, while sending slings of drool everywhere.

Then another, an orange-rust colored wolf appeared next to White's left, looking down on them with menacing hate.

Another wolf appeared around the bend of the cave's hill, and another on the other side.

The human and the pony both took a step back at the movement along the entire tree line behind and around their home, as a semicircle of wolves appeared out of the thickets. Some of the oldest of the pack bore fangs as long as a saber tooth tiger; and all were fully grown, all were experienced in the hunt, and all were growling, panting, and looking at them!

"Atchmon? What do we do?" Rarity was no stranger to being in the presence of so many predators. But, instead of being unnoticed within the safe confines of a costume or camouflage, she was now out in the open, and feeling completely exposed as fear gripped her.

"Run..." Atchmon whispered, and turned to shoo Rarity away. "Rare, RUN!" he shouted.

Rarity turned and nearly stumbled over the thick grass, but caught herself in time before Atchmon could assist her.

"Where do we go!?" she shouted behind her.

"The waterfall!" Atchmon answered back, and struggled to keep up on his two legs. Fear and adrenaline masked the lethargy he felt in his body from not eating well the last few days.

Rarity's lithe form bounded through the forest like a deer; a far cry from the clumsy, bumbling mare she was a month ago. She looked back to check on Atchmon; he was so far behind, and couldn't possibly run any faster. A moment later she saw something else bounding through the thickets. It didn't take long for her to know what it was.

Rarity watched as Atchmon tripped and flailed out his arms to keep himself upright and running, but the effort proved futile as he fell to the ground. The dire beast quickly closed the gap; there was no way Atchmon could pick himself up in time to run or to defend himself. The downed human was struggling to draw out his blade, but could not unclasp it fast enough with the beast charging towards him just feet away.

In the moment as the beast bounded to land directly on top of him; he witnessed Rarity kick the cur away.

Rarity rounded herself away from the beast, and with great agility and strength; she jumped off the ground using her forehooves and delivered a mid-air buck to the beast's flanks that would've made both Applejack and her old Ewe-jitsu Master proud. The dire wolf was knocked off its course enough to miss pouncing on Atchmon, and in a happy twist of fate; found itself falling into one of Atchmon's death traps.

The pair met each others eyes, and a moment of wordless thanks passed from Atchmon before he scrambled back to his feet. Both the human and the pony were on high alert for any more wolves. Their dread grew the longer they went without seeing another.

Rarity wanted to move faster, but it was impossible in Atchmon's condition, and she couldn't simply leave him behind.

"Why don't we climb a tree like you always do?" she asked breathlessly.

"Not this time; there's too many," Atchmon panted back. "I don't think we can wait them out," he added.

"I see one!" Rarity shouted while looking to the left.

"I got one too!" Atchmon said; looking to the right.

"They're gonna flank us!" Atchmon tried to kick it in high gear, but his sides were beginning to hurt and his head felt like he was about to pass out. But with Rarity at his side he couldn't afford to be weak, and pushed through the pain like he'd done many times before; only this time it was easier, because he wasn't doing it just for himself.

But no amount of motivation could help them out run fully grown and experienced dire wolves. Soon, two more joined the hunt and together the four wolves worked to bring down their prey. The first two ran ahead while the others lagged behind; cutting off any chance of their escape. While those two stayed behind, the newer pair ran far ahead and rounded on them in the front; now they couldn't go forward, and they couldn't go back.

It was over.

Atchmon was sure Rarity couldn't see what was happening due to her short stature, but he could see over the undergrowth. He watched it play out like a picture show on an infinite loop. It didn't matter that he could think ahead of their moves, there was nothing he could do to counter it.

Atchmon gripped the handle of the blade at his side, and took that moment to admire Rarity for one last time.

It was amazing how elegantly she cantered over the forest ground. How little she bobbed with every step. Their eyes met, but instead of concern, worry, or fear; Atchmon only saw resolve in her beautiful big blue eyes. She saw him clutching the handle of his blade, and nodded to him.

Rarity dipped her head down; ready to gore anything in her path, while Atchmon let out a war cry of his own. Rarity joined him, and in a surprising turn of events, both dire wolves diverted from their course towards the pair; and running straight past completely ignoring them.

Rarity and Atchmon were both bewildered as they watched the wolves shoot passed them to aid their comrades who were already engaged with a yellow-colored beast with huge bat-like wings.

A young manticore battled against the pair of wolves before the other two joined the fray. The agile yellow beast used the trees to cut in and out of the fight; using its stinger to envenom and annoy the equally large predators.

"Thank you, darling! I won't soon forget this!" Rarity laughed hysterically as her and Atchmon continued running.

Atchmon looked back at the young manticore; it seemed the clever beast would win without much injury, if any at all.

There's no way. There was just no way that couldn't have been a coincidence. It couldn't have been the same one Rarity fed just days ago.

The tired pair finally made it to the creek, but they could already hear the thundering patter of oversized paws coming for them. The water flowed faster than Rarity had ever seen before.

Atchmon was the first to step into the creek and was nearly carried away by the current. He quickly angled himself against the force of the flow; then turned back to help Rarity slide down the gentle slope to join him. Rarity hesitated a moment before joining him. Immediately she could feel the force of the cold water try to whisk her away; it came up to her belly and soaked into her saddlebags, making them feel heavier.

Atchmon grabbed Rarity by her barding and trudged through the water with the unicorn close in tow. There was nothing Rarity could do, but trust him not to let go of her withers.

Together they moved with the current.

Moments later more wolves appeared. Three this time, with more on the way. The first three were fighting over themselves to get at the pair. But none of them were eager to test the depths of the large creek. They weren't deterred for long before one jumped in after them.

In the chaos they forgot to check where they were, and didn't realize how close to the waterfall they actually were. Rarity watched as Atchmon suddenly dropped beneath the surface with her following after him. The rain had completely flooded the waterfall with a few feet to spare!

The water rushed into Rarity's ears; muting everything but the gurgle of flowing rapids. Immediately she kicked out to stay afloat. She could feel her hooves make contact against something with every hard buck. The fresh water stung her eyes while she tried desperately to find the surface before she ran out of air. Rarity could feel herself sinking; her overloaded supplies were going to drown her!

Rarity felt something grab ahold of her mane, and in a moment she was painfully pulled back to the surface where she gasped for air. Atchmon was struggling to keep them both above water, while trying to swim away from the beast paddling towards them.

Rarity couldn't see much as her head constantly dipped underwater. On the first bob there was Atchmon trying to keep her afloat, on the second she could see a half a dozen wolves pursuing them along each side of the steep banks on either side of the creek; on the third she noticed how quickly the trees were moving passed them, and soon they found themselves in open water.

They had made it to the main river.

Many of the wolves pranced back and forth along the bank; neither one of them knew for how long that would last; both only wanted to put as much distance between them. Rarity tried to help pony paddle herself to the shore, but Atchmon wasn't about to let go of her while she was still loaded down.

From the mouth of the creek the river carried them further downstream than Rarity had ever gone. Atchmon lost sight of the one that followed after them long ago. After a long while they both made it to the other side before the river turned into harsh white water rapids. The pair held onto exposed roots growing out from the bank and caught their breath while listening to the howls and growl-barks of the pack pursuing them.

Atchmon helped push Rarity onto the steep riverbank, even as the rapids threatened to pull them away again. His knuckles were white as he tried to keep a tight grip on any exposed roots; saving their lives from a watery grave.

Rarity turned to lend her assistance, while struggling to keep herself from falling back in. The mare reached out to Atchmon with a hoof, a moment later Rarity saw the water explode as a wet matted fur and gnashing teeth pulled Atchmon away; and in a flash of foamy water he was gone!

"Atchmon!" Rarity shouted, after seeing his head and the assailing Dire wolf resurface several yards from her. The man and beast were struggling to get the best of each other, but before either could do the other harm, the white water rapids dragged them under once again.

Rarity couldn't keep up with them, the wet soil broke under her weight, slowing her down as she watched helplessly along the sheer steepening bank.

They resurfaced again; Atchmon had the wolf by its neck, but the beast managed to claw at his face and chest. Rarity feared his grip failing, and the monster's maw would close around her friend's face.

Rarity couldn't do anything but watch as the rapids swept Atchmon further away from her. Both he and the beast disappeared under the foamy white waters again. Rarity waited for them to resurface, but it was futile; Atchmon was just too far away for her to do any good.

Rarity's heart thumped in her ears as she waited.

They never resurfaced.

Despite everything that happened, despite everything she tried to do; she still lost him.

Even the rest of the pack had a moment of silence; none howled nor barked as they all stared at where the member of their pack had disappeared with their quarry. Eventually they dispersed; each one vanishing back into the forest.

Rarity moved to leave as well, until the lonely mare felt a presence across the flowing river.

On the other side the White wolf was watching her. Rarity could swear the wolf's eyes glowed a cold, icy blue; while others of the pack ran upstream, no doubt looking for a way to cross. Rarity climbed her way up the steep bank and looked back once more to keep an eye on her pursuers.

The great white wolf had disappeared once again like a ghost.

A chill ran down Rarity's spine before she hopped up over the outcropping; finally placing her on flat ground where she could think.

"Atchmon, please be okay." Rarity prayed quietly, and started looking for a way to follow the river downstream.


View Online

Rarity galloped swiftly through the Everfree Forest, jumping over large exposed roots like they were rodeo hurdles. Her dirty hooves splashed into the countless muddy puddles littering the ground, spraying bits of mud all over her. A month ago she would've been disgusted at the thought of being anything less than spotless. Now, the dirt and muck didn't even phase her.

The uneven terrain and thick undergrowth kept pushing Rarity further away from the river, while she constantly encountered sheer drops that were far too steep for her to slide down safely. The longer Rarity stayed away from the river, the more anxious she grew.

The forest itself was teeming with life. The plants were lush from the deluge of storms, making the air and every surface look saturated, clean, or clear. Until recently, it was always the same hot, dry, and dusty days. Now, the rain cooled the atmosphere, giving all manner of creatures a chance to drink, to migrate, and to hunt.

Rarity's senses were being overworked as she became acutely aware of every sound and movement around her. Something large was breaking limbs somewhere nearby, so Rarity adjusted her course accordingly; not wanting to encounter anything that could potentially harm her.

Rarity constantly witnessed reminders that she was also on the food chain, and watched as a parasprite was snatched out of the air by the sticky tongue of a Fae Dragon, the color changing winged serpent itself was eaten a moment later by a pitch-black carnivorous plant.

The plant, Rarity quickly realized, was a remnant of Discord's plunderseed vines. Why Harmony deemed such a thing worthy to be added to the ecosystem, she'll never know. What she did know, was to avoid it at all costs. She couldn't afford her magic to be hampered by its pollen--assuming it had any to spread--and quickly removed herself from area.

The rain fell in intervals at a light drizzle as she traveled onward, and Rarity could already feel herself getting soaked. She could hear nothing else around her, but the constant white noise of falling water hitting countless leaves. Which redoubled her anxiety; for without her acute hearing to rely on, there was no way for Rarity to determine if a predator was stalking her. Or not.

Rarity's horn chimed with magic, as she pulled out the red furred cloak out of her saddlebag. The same one that once belonged to a runty little Dire wolf. The same beast which hunted her on that first night she ended up stranded in the Everfree Forest so long ago. Rarity dawned the cloak and adjusted it over her head so that her ears fit comfortably through the slits she cut for them. She sighed in relief now that she couldn't feel the fat water droplets constantly pattering against her head, and continued her journey to find Atchmon.

It was such an odd thought. To think that something that had once died was now helping her to survive. The red pelt was keeping her warm and dry from the cold rain. Rarity couldn't believe at one time she was so repulsed by the idea of wearing something else's hide; but now she depended on it. Now she could understand some inkling of Atchmon's ways, and so she silently thanked her would be murderer for being there; even if it was just to be killed and used for its fur. Rarity couldn't wrap her head around it completely, but accepted it for what it was and tried not to dwell on it anymore.

Her scalp felt sore from when Atchmon pulled her above water to prevent her from drowning in the river. Rarity then paused in her tracks as she replayed the recent events over in her mind.

"He didn't have his vest on..." she whispered in quiet realization. "He's completely exposed to the elements!" Rarity dismayed, and started to feel like less of a mare.

'Every time I try to do something, he always pays for it. If I hadn't of taken off, then he wouldn't be half-naked and hunted right now,' Rarity mentally chastised herself.

Rarity moved to hurry and find Atchmon, but stopped herself short of running into a full panic; in order to save him before he freezes to death, or worse.

"Now, now, we mustn't rush headlong into things. Think, Rarity, think. What would Atchmon do in this situation?" she thought for a minute. "Stay calm, and focus on where you are and what's around you, if we run around blindly without a plan then we're more likely to run into danger completely unprepared." Rarity's voice spoke in tandem with the memory of Atchmon's instruction.

She took a breath, gathering her wits, and moved to find her way back to the river. The longer and farther she strayed away from the water, the more likely she felt she was going to lose him. Or worse, him losing her, assuming he didn't already rescue himself.

That thought scared Rarity most of all. The thought of wandering around the Everfree Forest completely lost and alone; forever searching for a friend, who she would never know was alive or dead. She didn't want to think about abandoning him right now, but that may be a choice she will have to face sooner or later. Or, she could find her way back to the Den, and wait for him there, or for a rescue if one should arrive.

'No... I don't think those wolves are going to let us live in peace any longer... there was something so wrong about that encounter, I just know it.'

Rarity's head buzzed with thoughts, plans, and ideas on what she should do if she never found Atchmon. The best decision--she felt--was to stick to her old plan. To follow the river upstream to Canterlot Mountain. Only now with the hope Atchmon would catch up to her. "When that time comes... I'll have no choice, but to trust him to take care of himself." she whispered, not wanting to trust her own words.

"Atchmon might've said he prefers the cold, but I've seen him shiver at night; and without fur covering his body, there's nothing to help him keep warm," Rarity then realized how hot she was underneath all her leather barding. She was still soaked from the river, but the covering kept her nice and toasty; which made Rarity feel guilty. Here she was, well off with food and protection, while Atchmon likely drowned--or worse--was shivering uncontrollably, and catching his death of cold.

"Now is not the time to punish oneself for her mistakes, Rarity; now is the time to correct them," she barely dissuaded herself from feeling like a failure of a mare. She was supposed to take care of him. Then remembered that wasn't how things worked in Atchmon's world. Rarity knew he had to be just as worried about her, as she was with him; if not more so. Rarity was glad she didn't lose herself so far into her silly fantasies that she'd forgotten what being a responsible mare meant.

This was her chance to prove her worth, not just to him, but to herself.

"No more am I a supporting role, starting now, I become the heroine of my own story!" Rarity stood straighter, declaring her promise to the sky, put on a determined face; and marched on with newfound purpose.

Rarity could barely spare a thought as her mind echoed Atchmon's instructions to her, skipping between things like 'stay calm', 'be quiet', 'keep alert'; with her own inner voice repeating 'find Atchmon' and 'don't lose river'.

Rarity stopped dead in her tracks and sucked in a breath to keep herself from yelling in fright. She spotted something huge covered in black and gold feathers lurking within the growth. The owl-beast stood eight pony heights up--as tall as the lowest tree branch--and luckily didn't notice her. Its feathered head turned, but far enough for its massive round eye to spot her before lumbering away. Its 'hoots' sounded as if they were echoing without the actual echo.

Rarity kept herself low and tried to move swiftly without making any noise.

Rarity finally found her way back to the river, the muddy water was nearly a solid brown color; carrying silt and other mineral deposits downstream. Rarity's reverie was cut short, as she faced a big problem.

The river forked into two paths.

Rarity shifted anxiously on her hooves looking back and forth between the two routes. "Which way should I go? Where could he have gone?" she whispered worriedly, wondered if this rescue mission was pointless. What could she do? She was just one little Unicorn in a land full of monsters.

'And Atchmon is a magicless, clawless, fangless, squishy human.' she thought, bolstering her resolve to find him no matter what. She studied how the river flowed, and found that most of the bits of debris caught within the current flowed more to the left than the right.

She tested this theory by throwing large sticks and logs into the water to see where they'd go. Three out of five sticks flowed left while the other two went right. Twilight would probably chastise her for doing the bare minimum for research, but Rarity felt time was of the essence, and off she went in the direction her hypothesis took her.

Hours passed, and Rarity still found no sign of Atchmon; even though she managed to stick closer to the river this time, but her legs were sore from trotting all day. Darkness was falling, and she decided it was best to rest and wait until morning. A decision she didn't make lightly, knowing Atchmon was still alone and injured from the Thunderbird.

She hated it, but it couldn't be helped; and she needed to use what daylight was left to find a place to hide.

"Guess this will have to do," Rarity muttered, finding a nice hidey hole surrounded by big bushy Stingbush hedges; their spikey seed pods littered the ground.

With a little magic Rarity cleared a comfortable space for herself. Then removed her saddlebags, and sighed in relief after removing the burdening weight of the bags from her back. She silently wished Atchmon was around to soothe her aching sore muscles.

She checked herself over, and removed a stone that was trapped within the crevice between her frog and hoof. All of her hooves felt sore, and were covered in muck. Rarity used her magic, and levitated out a metal hoof-file from her saddlebag, then proceeded to remove the clods of dirt that collected on her frogs.

The soft mud helped relieve some the pressure from her trotting, while protecting her hooves from collecting anything worse along the journey. Once the mud dried it could trap anything she may have collected and be removed along with the muddy hoof-pies. However, the dirt could also be carrying dangerous bacteria, and other nasty diseases that could infect her hoof alone; resulting in a condition known as 'mud fever'. So it was best to remove any and all dried dirt and debris, and let her hooves air out. Some of the older Stingbush seed pods had spikes twice as long as any needle, which Rarity used to help remove most of the stubborn dirt trapped within the tighter recesses of her hooves.

She took a drink from her canteen, then shook it, and listening to the remaining water slosh around the large empty space. Rarity tried her best not to drink so much throughout the day, but couldn't stand the feeling of her dry, itchy throat and pasty tongue begging for refreshment. 'I'll need to find a way to filter more water tomorrow.' she thought, before taking one last sip to satisfy her thirst for the night.

It was nearly completely dark as the sun rested, while the sounds of the forest steadily came to life.

Rarity kept a vigilant eye out for danger, and could see dozens of creepy yellow eyes watching her from beyond the abyss.

Rarity stared back, listening to the growing ambiance of the forest.

The longer the night went on, the more frightened Rarity grew. She was unable to see anything beyond her snout, and was too afraid of what lay in the dark to light her horn.

She was all alone in a cold, dark, and dangerous place, forced to listen to the forest ambiance as it consumed all she could hear; which caused her imagination to run wild.

All the things Rarity has ever heard stories of--from creepy crawlies, to things that go bump in the night--were all right outside her haven. She covered her eyes using her forehooves, trying to block out and hide away from the countless monsters that wanted to eat her. It was all she could do to keep from crying.

To cry meant to die; a single sound could give her away, and so she aspired herself to be brave using Atchmon's example. Knowing he was once in the same position as she, during his first few weeks. And did her best to recollect his brave tales.

Then the wolves chimed in. Their haunting calls never relented. Ever reminding her that they were hunting a pony for their next meal.

The forest answered back with its own calls, and the wolves song was lost in an ever growing rambunctious cacophony of tweets, bleeps, sweeps, creeps, howls, yowls, screeches, shrieks, cries, caws, cackles, whoops, whistles, hisses, ribbits, clicks, croaks, clatters, and roars; along with dozens of other indiscernible sounds.

Dying was bad, but being eaten alive was the most terrifying death a pony could ever imagine. A given, considering their role as a prey species. No matter how much they tried to match their world in strength, or magic; ponies were simply no match compared to the innumerable amount of monsters that plagued their land. Other than a Princess or an army of warponies.

Rarity curled tighter into herself for protection against the noise bearing down on her. She could swear every sound was getting closer, coming for her, hunting her.


Something very big had enough of all the noise. Its deep and guttural call for quiet quaked the very ground beneath Rarity, as she listened to the sound echo on forever throughout the forest.

Silence reigned in the aftermath, aside from a few cheeky crickets.

Rarity was grateful for the silence, and took a small bit of pleasure in hearing the wolves be put in their place; but was also petrified from the sheer volume of whatever beast commanded such fear and respect.

Ponies generally didn't need much sleep. It's a biological remnant from back when ponies were nomadic grazers, and they needed to stay alert for predators; even while resting.

Nowadays, ponies were more monophasic; choosing to sleep a single large period of the day. This was mainly due to Unification. When the Earth, Pegasus, and Unicorn tribes banded together to create a much safer land for themselves.

Without predators to worry about, the Ponies were able to sleep for longer periods of time.

Since the defeat of Nightmare Moon, many ponies have started a more biphasic sleep cycle, to honor the return of Princess Luna. Those who were biphasic slept when it was time--then wake for a few hours during the night--only to fall asleep again until morning, or after daybreak.

It's still considered normal for a pony to nap a few minutes every couple of hours, and getting themselves some deep sleep. So much so, they could be considered polyphasic just like their ancestors. Earth Ponies mainly still clung to old sleeping habits, and are considered the most productive ponies because of it. They're the only ones who don't require much sleep at all, despite societal progress over the years. They can even get plenty of rest just by standing, and not moving.

Rarity wished she could call upon her ancestor's sleeping habits right about now, as every less than perfectly silent noise kept waking her with a jolt.

Laying in the itchy dirt under her bushy hidey hole wasn't as safe, calm, or relaxing as the cave she's lived in for the past several weeks.

At least it was much quieter there.

'Just ignore it. Focus on what you need to do now. Just get a little shut eye, Rarity, and tomorrow we can move on before Celestia raises the sun. That's it, just sleep now... Ooh, how I wish I knew how to do a barrier spell, even if it pops like a balloon, at least it'll give me some warning before I'm attacked by a monster.' Rarity's thoughts continued to distract her more than the ambiance of the dark forest. 'Don't think about being completely alone. Don't think about dying, or being eaten, or-'

"Ooh, stupid brain; Why. Won't. You. Shut. Up!" Rarity whispered harshly, while knocking herself upside the head.

Hours passed as the night progressed in the pitch black forest. Rarity's eyes were feeling tired and puffy. She wanted to sleep, but fear kept forcing her awake. The howling winds constantly rustled the leaves above her, in an unending song of despairing spirits.

Rarity laid her head down atop her hooves, and curled tighter into herself to preserve as much of her own warmth from the damp, freezing cold of the late night air. Her body was still wet from both the river, and her profuse sweat from trotting most of the day. She stank worse than she ever had in her life, leaving it a wonder why nothing hadn't found her yet. Which just made her even more anxious than before. The river wasn't very far, she could take a quick dip to remove the sweat in her coat. But, she knew that was a terrible idea, and would rather be dirty and warm, rather than clean and cold; and did her best to ignore the gritty feeling of her dirty body underneath her covering.

Slowly her eyes grew too heavy for her to keep open, her body relaxed, and eventually she drifted off to sleep.

Rarity's dreams were a torrential nightmare of visions and flashes. Some were of the days events, such as her running endlessly throughout the forest, and her utter helplessness after watching Atchmon being pulled away from her. In every instance she was reaching out to him, only to watch as he was taken from her.

A dark, foreboding beast was looming over her, and sank its teeth into her flanks.

Rarity woke with a start, then blearily looked around her surroundings. It was still pitch black and completely silent. The crickets and bugs must've bed down for the night, since the night was much colder than earlier. Rarity's ears were frozen stiff and so she shifted her red furred cowl around to cover them. She could feel the cold air blowing through the ear slits and onto her neck, but that wasn't so bad so long as her ears were getting warm.

'Wonder how long I slept for?' she thought, and continued to lay there for hours listening to the wind and the silence, while laying in the pitch black darkness, before drifting off to sleep again.

She awoke again still in the dark after another nightmare. She laid there for hours longer unthinking, and unmoving; as the long night chipped away at her emotional barriers. 'I'm alone... I'm so alone... I hate this. Why does it have to be like this? Why hasn't the sun come up? Why did this have to happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Please, Celestia, let the sun up, please!'

Rarity wanted to make a fire, for the sake of having light and warmth to comfort her. But as much as she wanted to, Atchmon's voice reminded her that "it's better to remain hidden; unless you absolutely need it." Rarity let a tiny whimper escape her, and her tears followed soon after; hidden within the darkness behind her cowl.

Eventually her tiredness won out once again, and she drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

Rarity was roused from her sleep, and felt a weight pressing down on her flank. The weight shifted and put uneven pressure against her covered derriere. Little by little she woke from her slumber, and swiped her tail across her rump to ward off whatever insect was gnawing at her. But the pressure grew agitated and let out fierce, gargling little growls. Rarity swiped her tail again to drive off the persistent pest, only to be shocked awake by a sharp pain in her tail. Rarity tore off her red furred cowl, as she jumped to all fours from the intense pain on her tail end.

"Uuah!" Rarity gasped in fright at seeing her tail being devoured by some orange colored spiky hedgehog-like creature. Rarity immediately went into a panic. She bucked like a rodeo bronco by jumping, twisting and turning to shake the animal off her tail; her sharp-pointed haven constantly poked the exposed parts of her hide, galvanizing her to buck even harder. But the sharp-toothed critter wasn't letting go. Rarity had enough and pulled both her rear legs back, then bucked the creature hard. Her kicks connected solidly with the beast, sending it flying over the brambles along with a few of her tail hairs.

"Hah...ha...ha, hey!" Rarity panted after the rude awakening, and spotted two more creatures making off with her saddlebags. Rarity moved to intercept them, but was pulled back by her mane. In her panic, Rarity accidentally tangled her hair in the brush of the hidey-hole, and felt the distinct prick of spikes from the seeds against her scalp.

The spiky critter's short, stubby legs waddled quickly through the opening of her haven, dragging Rarity's bags between them and through the dirt in their equally short, stubby arms. The dark blue one gargled and rasped to the crimson one helping carry the bags, which made the Red one mad, and gargle-rasped something back to the Blue one. The Blue one argued back and threw its pudgy little arms in the air; the Red one did the same and the two started fighting each other. A Yellow one rolled up before uncurling itself from a ball, and broke up the fight by bonking both in the head, and ordering the other two to move on with the loot.

Rarity finally managed to free herself from the bush's clutches, and loomed over the trio of pukwudgies.

All three growled at Rarity and curled up into tight little balls of protruding spikes.

"Ah!" Rarity knew of these creatures, and gasped as she turned to the side while lifting a hoof to protect her face from their defense mechanism.

The pukwudgies shot a barrage of spikes at Rarity to ward her off their prize. Rarity felt the barbs pelting into her leather barding like hefty rain drops. After the assault was over, she opened her eyes and saw her flank covered in spikes, yet none managed to penetrate through her leather barding.

Rarity lifted a hoof, ready to scold the little critters for taking things that didn't belong to them, until she stopped and noticed a single needle sticking in her hoof. Her eyes glazed over, and she started to feel a little woozy, before collapsing to the ground from the pukwudgies paralyzing sleep darts. Her mouth remained slack jawed as she laid paralyzed on the ground, with her tongue lolled out and touching the dirt. She couldn't feel, or taste anything other than the numb, ballooning haze of nerves on her tongue and throughout her body.

Rarity watched helplessly as the red and blue critters licked their chops, and rolled their paws together, savoring a hearty meal to come; until their leader stopped them, and ordered them to move on with her bags. The pair begrudgingly obeyed, but not without mocking Rarity with jeers, before finally waddling away with her bags in tow.

Her vision blurred, as the dark corners of her eyes crept in, and she inevitably surrendered to the darkness.

Rarity woke up hours later smacking her pasty tongue and dry lips. She lit her horn to pull her saddlebags closer and drink from her canteen. She felt around with her magic, while groggily blinking the sleep away from her eyes. After blindly casting with no success, she looked over to find her saddlebags missing.

Rarity was in such haze that it took moments for her to register their absence, before jumping to her hooves in surprise and receiving a few good pokes from the surrounding sting-bush seeds.

Rarity darted her head around trying to find her missing possessions. Instead she noticed a trail of nuts leading out from her hidey hole. She looked around and saw there were no nut-bearing trees nearby. Plus, the very distinct trail they made suggested beyond a reasonable doubt that her bags were stolen. After that deduction her memory started to return in flashes. She looked at her flank, seeing numerous blue, red, and yellow spines stuck in her barding.

"Those petulant little beasts! I'll destroy them! They're going to pay for taking my things!" She stamped in anger. "I love my things!" Rarity bit the quill stuck in her hoof and yanked it out, she barely flinched from the pain of its barbed end being pulled out; and spat it on the ground, before storming off while magically yanking out the others from her flank.

Rarity huffed in anger, and didn't even think of the fact that she was still lost in the middle of the dangerous Everfree Forest. She was too focused on getting back what belonged to her. It wasn't about survival to her anymore; it was more about pride and dignity.

The day was much brighter than earlier; though due to the cloud cover and the thick forest canopy, it was difficult for Rarity to determine exactly what time it was. She guessed it was still before noon, and followed the trail of nuts she hoped would lead to her supplies.

The trail eventually dissipated, and Rarity could only find one or two of her nut supply occasionally on the ground. After losing the trail she searched the area for more clues, and noticed how disturbed the ground looked. From her observation she saw a distinct square path of overturned pebbles, flattened grass, and tiny furrows in the dirt. Something heavy was dragged through here recently, and Rarity could guess exactly what that something was. Any doubts she may have had were swiftly assuaged by finding tiny claw prints indented in the wet soil. Reaffirming her belief to being on the right track of the culprits responsible.

Much like the dresses she made, the tracks she followed told her so much about the ones who left them behind. Just like how she could tell a pony's wealth or interests by the style and quality of fabric that pony wore. She couldn't deduce things like age, weight, sex, or health like Atchmon could; and still doubted his honesty about the observations he made with squirrel tracks he showed her as an example. A female, carrying two babies on her back, with a husband that was sick with the flu; they had marital troubles, because the hubby got tired of moving their 'squirrel' couch around the house.

Then there was the advice about listening to the trees, and talking to the dirt to give her the answers she needed.

Rarity shook her head of the memories of Atchmon's ridiculous wisdom, and followed the trail for minutes on end. Eventually she started to find the occasional wayward poison spines that were likely shed by the creatures along the way.

After hours of following the trail, Rarity started to hear tiny voices in the distance. After carefully sneaking closer to the noise, Rarity found the beast's home along with the beast's themselves.

'There they are.'

The pukwudgies lived in a sizable crater of earth with several warrens dotting the concave. Many large roots from the nearby trees acted as ramps for the critters to move up and down the levels of their burrow. Half-eaten fruits, vegetables, and other spoils were strewn around crater, many of which likely belonged to Rarity's supply. Her face flushed with anger at the critter's wastefully gluttonous ways.

The pukwudgies were trying to push Rarity's saddlebags down into one of their hollows in the ground. Four of the critters were trying to push the bags in, while the Yellow leader of the group stood behind and helped them keep pace by gargle-rasping a 'heave' and pumping its tiny fist in the air with each cheer. One pukwudgie was jumping up and down atop her bags to help stuff them into the tiny hole. Her bags curved inward from being stamped into the tiny space, yet refused to give in.

Rarity didn't even bother introducing herself, before taking back her property by magically yanking them away from the little thieves. Causing the one atop her bags to flip backwards and land on its spiked rump, who then started gargle-rasping curses at her while shaking its tiny fist in the air.

The yellow one looked back and saw Rarity, then jumped in fright, curled into a ball, and rolled away to join the others in setting up a firing line. Yellow's raspy voice sounded out, and on his order of 'ready', 'aim', and 'fire'; the group shot another barrage of multi colored spines at Rarity.

"Ah!" Rarity screamed, and held her bags up like a shield to protect herself, this time minding her exposed hooves by laying low against the ground. She felt the barrage of spines pelt against her bags and withers; arcing over her protective barrier like arrows that nearly blot out the sun.

Once the assault was over, the surrounding area was peppered with multi colored quills sticking up from the ground, with a Rarity-sized hole in the center.

Rarity looked over her bags and gasped, after seeing the numerous sharp quills stuck into the fabric, with nary an inch of its surface spared from being punctured. 'I need to be careful, if one of those barbs hits me I'll be knocked out for hours again. And pukwudgies aren't exclusively vegetarian.'

"You got magic, Rarity; use it." she could hear Atchmon's voice echo in her mind. Despite how much she tried to convince him otherwise, he never ceased believing that she could do so much more with her magic.

The Yellow leader was about to order another salvo from his comrades, but Rarity interjected by wrapping the squad of pukwudgies in her blue levitational aura and facing them towards her. Where their soft, exposed bellies didn't have any barbs to shoot at her.

Rarity smiled smugly at the writhing creatures, as they gargle-rasped and flailed their protests from being caught. A bead of sweat traveled down Rarity's brow as she strained to hold them within her magical grasp. The pukwudgies weren't exactly 'small' critters, but holding all five of them simultaneously was taxing her magic.

'Great, now what am I going to do? They'll just come after me the moment I let them go,' Rarity thought, and looked again at the multitude of quills stuck in her saddlebag.

"Don't waste anything you can use; even if you don't have a use for it, yet." Atchmon's voice rang in Rarity's ears again. She blankly thought for a moment, as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place within her mind, before a devious smile spread across her face at the creatures.

The Yellow pukwudgie leader stopped thrashing, with the others following suit; and gulped at whatever fate the Unicorn had in mind for them.

Rarity released the critters one by one, as they were stripped bare of their poison spines.

Some of the pukwudgies grumbled in annoyance, others shook their tiny fists and gargle-rasped in anger at her, while the rest sat alone nursing their bald spots.

After removing the pukwudgies of their poison barbs as recompense for stealing Rarity's things, she bid them adieu and was on her way with a stockpile of knockout darts.

After getting some distance away from the pukwudgie hollows, Rarity decided to rest and to take stock on her supplies. She laid out her cowl on the ground so her fruits and veggies wouldn't get dirty, and checked everything over for dents made by the quills penetrating the fabric of her bags. She salvaged what she could and tossed the rest. She really didn't want to risk being knocked out again by ingesting the poison.

In her bags she brought out a bottle of expensive perfume, a can of hairspray, a coin purse full of Bits, her makeup, a Cosmare magazine, and the sewing kit.

Rarity made sure to keep the quills in a tight bundle away from her, and started making plans to craft a blow gun, before nearly facehoofing herself after remembering she has enough magic to poke anything within a couple dozen yards of her.

'Why do I keep over thinking these things?' She thought abashedly and moved on to her other supplies, which included her notebook she mainly used for taking commissions and measurements of ponies on the go. But now she was using it as a makeshift diary.

After laying everything out, Rarity only had about a quarter of the supplies she started with. And now a quandary was presented to her. Does she eat hearty, and have the energy needed for her travels? Or. Does she ration, and hope it lasts until she can resupply? Both choices had their pros and cons, and upon considering she was alone in unfamiliar territory; she settled with eating a few nuts and a pear for breakfast and drank half of her already low supply of water. Her growling tummy thanked her for the small meal, and her dry throat for the hydration.

While she ate, Rarity decided to read a few entries from her notebook.

Survival Log: Day 3

I've decided to keep a sort of diary of my time stuck out here in this wretched place. Atchmon thinks it's 'pointless' as his experience boils down to eating, sleeping, and I shunt mention the third thing, as it's too vulgar for me to write. Nevertheless, I feel this will be a productive use of my time. If anything, it'll help me de-stress at night whenever I'm feeling anxious, or worried. It'll be just like my schoolfilly days!

Survival Log: Day 7

Atchmon finished crafting my own bed today. As I lay in it now I find it's not too bad. I'm glad he followed my very reasonable, and not at all numerous specifications. No matter what he may say differently. I just hope we're found soon. It wouldn't be the first time I've went without luxury, nor the longest. I once slept on a bed without a duvet on the down comforter, and if I can do that, then I can certainly handle a few more days of sleeping on grass and fur. BLECH!
I should do something nice for Atchmon in return for his generosity. Perhaps a few flowers will help brighten up this drab, old cave. Atchmon removed that little table of his to make room in the cave, which is wonderful because it's the perfect spot for a flower pot. Oh, he'll just love that!

Note to self. Don't ever. ever. ever. EVER. Touch Atchmon's things. Being a guest in his home I conceded to his wishes. Though, I do wish he'd be a little more hospitable.

Survival Log: Day 9

A tick! I found a tick on me! That's it! I'm so done with this awful place! The last thing I want to do is put myself through a dip once I get back home! The smell of the alchemicals is horrid! Not to mention what it's going to do to my coat! There's no telling what color my hide is going to be; usually it'll be either green or yellow! YUCK! Luckily Atchmon was kind enough to lend his assistance in helping me find anymore of the parasites. Just the thought of those nasty little insects gives me the creeps! On a side note, I never have to ask him to give me a scratch. He's quite happy to oblige my needs... Most of the time.

After reading that entry, she started to feel a little buggy, and checked herself over.

Survival Log: Day 14

It amazes me how incredibly vulnerable Atchmon is, and yet he still manages to survive for so long out here. Today I felt confident my leg had fully healed, and he suggested we go for an extended walk to stretch it out. It still felt sore, but at least my worst fears were averted. During the trip he was so slow, that I kept having to stop and wait for him to catch up to me! I don't trot that fast, do I? Then on our way back he wanted to race me from the edge of the field to his home. I was hesitant at first, but once I got going, I left him in the dust! For such a tall creature he can't move very fast. However, I was far more winded than he was in the end. I wonder if there's something to that?

Survival Log: Day 23

Every once in awhile I catch Atchmon staring off into the distance. He never answers me when I ask him what he's thinking, usually he tells me it's nothing. I know he must be thinking of his home. Whenever I find him deep in thought there's a certain regalness to his look, and a strength born of patience and perseverance. But there's something else behind all that, a kind of heartbreaking pain and longing that would probably drive most beings into madness. As I write this, I realize I must be careful around him.

Rarity had to take a break from reading after that. It hurt her heart to speak ill of him, and couldn't believe that so recently she was still wary of him. He was her friend now, and she missed him.

Many pages were filled with doodles and design ideas, along with notes Rarity took when she'd ask about clothing from Atchmon's world; some were even crossed out in favor of other ideas. She felt many of these would be big hits for casual wear and relaxing. Far be it from her to get a leg up on the competition using alien fashion. Such things simply weren't fabulous in her eyes, but she could admit that wearing a thing called 'stockings' would look immeasurably cute on ponies.

'I hope we're found soon. I'd very much like to clothe him. His upright posture gives me such inspiration for some new ideas I'd very much like to try, it's just a shame ponies can't really trot upright and show our bellies. Many of my new ideas revolve around that area being presentable. '

She checked the interior of her saddlebags for anything that may have gotten trapped inside. Her bags were a shadow of their former selves. Before this tragedy, they were a beautiful alabaster made of the finest materials that were the envy of every other bag. Now they were brown and icky with tiny holes pockmarked all over, and repaired tears along its side.

Rarity spent a while reminiscing on all the good times they had together. How this wonderful bag of holding never let her down; even saving her life on more than one occasion. She trailed a hoof along the scar adorning her right-sided saddlebag; a wound she likely would be wearing now if it wasn't for her trusty bag. Rarity wasn't going to throw them away like they were nothing.

No, they deserved better than that.

"You've been so good to me, saddlebags. I'll be sure to give you a proper send off like the fallen warriors of the Mighty Helm. I hope the Valkyries find you worthy and carry you to Neighallah. Perhaps Atchmon would be willing to shoot the flaming arrow on your funeral pyre, as you sail away on your boat to the Everafter." Rarity spoke wistfully to her precious saddlebags.

Rarity upturned her saddlebags, and shook them out to be rid any dirt or debris trapped inside; until something foreign dropped from the sacks.

It was a charm just like the one adorning the head of Atchmon's bed back in his home. Only this one was tiny by comparison. Rarity levitated the object up, and let it rest on the flat of her hoof to examine. It was a much more simplistic design, but no less intricate with the spider web of twine- No, not twine. Rarity recognized the purple hair as her own. It was completely woven around the perfectly circular charm making up the spider's web. A tiny red bead was caught within the web just off its center. She wondered how he could've acquired her hair, and remembered him gathering it to keep, after the times she trimmed her mane and tail. More of her hair trailed below the round charm, adorned with feathers black as pitch and white beads all woven together.

Rarity admired the craft, though found the red bead a bit distracting; she still loved the color pallet.

Rarity looked inside the bag it dropped from, in order to find out where it was hidden. "Interior zipper pockets... what was I thinking." Rarity reproached herself, and smiled down at the charm, before putting it back where it belonged.

'I'll have to thank Atchmon for this gift, once I see him again,' Rarity thought, however, the words 'If I ever see him again' whispered in the back of her mind.

Rarity got up to relieve herself, lifting the backside of her barding up like the frill of a dress; her tail slipping through the opening made for it. The barding didn't cover her most private areas, but Rarity wasn't about to risk soiling herself because of laziness. She didn't care if Atchmon thought urine was 'clean', she still didn't want any on her.

She shifted back on her hind legs and lifted her tail, enough that she was sure nothing nasty would get on her, and did her business. Rarity could almost feel the warmth of her stream radiating as it flowed beneath her. She grimaced as she felt a few stray droplets splash onto her hind hooves. Once her bladder was empty she felt something else coming along, and took a moment to look around and make sure the coast was clear.

"Uhgn, mmph," Rarity scrunched up her face and grunted as she pushed out her pony-pies. Her ponut expanded uncomfortably, almost painfully, as the large pellets passed underneath her dock, and fell to the ground with an audible plop. Several more followed after the first, with each one further relieving the pressure within her plot. The horrid smell wafted to her, and she clenched to be sure there was nothing left sticking to her; then levitated leaves from the nearby branches to wipe herself with.

Rarity didn't bother covering or burying her mess. The thought of leaving her dung in the open bothered her. Even if she should, there wasn't anything she could use to hide it. She left the area, and put her barding back in place; wanting to get as far away from her leavings as quick and soon as possible.

Rarity strapped on her saddlebags, ready to continue her trek.

"Sssh, Ow! Ah, horse-apples," Rarity cursed after feeling a sharp pain lance behind her shoulder. She removed her bags and undid her barding, then levitated out her mirror. "Rain-Rot... uhhgh," she sighed in annoyance, after seeing the rash on her hide.

Rain-Rot wasn't a serious condition, but it was highly irritable. Rarity knew it was going to happen eventually. What with all the rain, moisture, humidity, and her barding constantly rubbing against her bare hide; not to mention the fact she hadn't used soap, or had a proper bath in over a month. She was stinky and dirty. She knew that. But, it amazed her that the wolves or anything else hadn't made a beeline for her already.

Rarity eventually came upon a large cluster of mushrooms growing along a huge downed tree trunk. Ponies could eat them, so long as they were the ones that were edible. Rarity stood there wondering if she should bother with picking the caps to help resupply her food, and thought of Atchmon's opinion on the matter.

"Don't bother." his voice echoed in her mind, back when Rarity asked about the red and white spotted toadstools she found a couple weeks ago. True, there were many varieties of mushrooms that were poisonous, yet, virtually identical to those that were edible.

"Perhaps having just one couldn't hurt, could it?" Her stomach growled, begging for attention. The tiny breakfast she ate earlier didn't do much to assuage her appetite.

Rarity took a tiny, lady-like bite off the cap of a multi colored mushroom. It was mainly pink in color, with lavender and green swirls, that gleamed with a certain effervescence. Rarity chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed. It tasted really good despite the mushy softness of its texture. Perhap she got the right ones after all.

"Hmm... I suppose we won't know for sure if they're dangerous for awhile at least." Rarity decided to pack a few more away, just in case.

As she picked more of the caps, her vision started to distort. The colorful mushrooms were much more vibrant than they were just minutes ago. And Rarity started to feel a pleasant fuzziness all over her hide. Every sore, ache, and pain she felt from earlier blossomed into pleasurable sensations.

"Oh, haha, my what pretty colors. Woohoho... Whoa- Weehehehoo..." Rarity swayed back and forth as her vision swirled, and watched as all the colors brightly mixed together. She lifted a hoof, and waved it in front of her face; watching in amusement as the afterimages of her forehoof faded from sight.

Rarity felt better than she had in ages. Everything felt good and wonderful. Everything was amazing and looked amazing.

"I don't know what I was so worried about. What was I thinking? The forest is so beautiful; why hadn't I noticed it before," she swooned, and closed her eyes as she danced and twirled in place. She reveled in the wonderful feelings of the light, cool breeze upon her face as every sensation became more enhanced.

While Rarity twirled around lost in her own little world; a dark, imposing figure rose ominously from behind the downed tree log.

Rarity opened her eyes and froze in place as she followed the dark creature's ascent.

"Good feeling's gone." Rarity squeaked as the blood drained from her face, and all the beautiful colors along with it; her ears laid back in fear at the monstrous abomination before her, while it settled the boney bone-white appendages of its legs on the downed bough of the tree.

It had a black morass body with a protruding rib cage, and a completely exposed skull. Rarity stared up at its lack of a face, seeing a pair of glowing pale white eyes within the pitch black sockets.

This creature was known as a bogheighst. They weren't dangerous to living things, but were highly territorial, as they mainly fed on rot and decay; but that didn't stop Rarity from hauling flank away from the nightmarish creature, as the beast let out a territorial 'roar' after Rarity ran away, which sounded like backwards screaming pony whinny. Its true scream is said to render listeners unconscious.

Rarity slowed to a stop and held a hoof over her chest to calm her thudding heart. She prayed that would be the most excitement she would ever have to face, but knew that was too much of her ask.

After she calmed, Rarity took a moment to get her bearings, and pressed onward in the direction she believed would bring her back to the river.

Rarity rested under a large slanted log that lay against a fairly tall ridge of earth; which concealed her quite nicely. It had a soft bed of moss underneath for her to lay on. "If there wasn't still so much daylight left, I'd love to rest here for the night," she mused quietly.


Rarity's ears homed in on the sound before she could register it, and made sure to conceal herself as she waited quietly.


Something was breathing heavily just above her, atop her log. Rarity nearly squealed in fright as a mass of dirty fur jumped down in front of her. And a second one a moment later.

Two Elder wolves were scouting the area, the smaller youth constantly sniffed at the bared fangs of the senior. Both wolves were fully gown, their elongated bottom canines curled upward like tusks. The elder of the two was a sizable amount larger than the other.

'Oh, Celestia, they've caught up to me,' Rarity watched the two ashen wolves bicker back and forth with high pitch growl-barks; until the larger one had enough and dominated the other by pinning the pup to the ground. The smaller of the two relented and dashed off, likely to join the rest of the pack. The larger ashen wolf watched his junior run off, before smelling around the area.

Rarity quietly casted her magic, and pulled out a few of the poison quills from her bag. 'I'm not sure what to do... If I stay here they might find me, and call the others; but if this doesn't work, then I'm going to be their next meal; either way doesn't bode well for me... I have to try and escape, if I can. Just one obstacle in my path...'

Rarity waited until the Elder Dire wolf was facing away. And just as she was about to make her move it snapped its attention towards her; carefully listening with its perked ears. Rarity's heart thumped loudly in her chest as she waited with bated breath, before the old Dire wolf finally looked away, yawning and pawing at its fluffy ears.

Rarity released the breath she was holding and snuck out of her hiding spot, with her red furred cowl still pulled over her.

The ashen wolf was trotting slowly away from Rarity, giving her the opportunity to sneak closer without being detected. She watched the old wolf from behind a tree, as it lapped at the water from a puddle. The area around them was devoid of undergrowth, making sneaking any closer a challenge.

Rarity took the quill in her magic, and started to float it towards the unaware wolf. Her heart thundered at the thrill of bringing down such a fearsome predator, while her fear pulled at her to run away, afraid of what would happen if she should fail. Those thoughts caused the tiniest slip in Rarity's concentration, causing her magic to chime at a slightly higher pitch.

Rarity quickly hid herself fully behind the bough of the tree, and tried to stifle her breathing while keeping her concentration on the poison quill; and willed her magic to bring the spine up and out of sight of the wolf.

The wolf's ears twitched at the sound and snapped its head to attention. He sniffed at the air, but could see nor smell anything else. The wolf snorted in annoyance and went back to drinking from the puddle.

Rarity slowly peeked around the corner of the tree, and silently sighed in relief at not being caught; then continued quietly casting her magic around the poison quill, bringing it ever closer to the beast.

Rarity's levitation spell was never very strong. She couldn't lift anything more than a full grown Pegasus mare, both due to things like weight, gravity, and magical resistance. Another thing to consider about levitation is range. A Unicorn's spell is only effective within a certain area, and the only way to increase that area is with practice, training, and a massive pool of magical energy. The further away something is, the harder it's going to be to keep casting on it. It's best to think of it as sound waves, a Unicorn's horn is the instrument, while the magic they use is the music. Eventually the sound of music will fade too much for the spell to function. And the only answer is to have stronger lungs, to blow more music through their horns. A Unicorn can cast more loudly, but that will usually muddy the spell. And Rarity was trying her best to be as quiet as possible, which reduced her effective range even further.

Rarity bit her tongue as she concentrated getting the quill as close to her target as possible. Sweat poured from her brow from the hot, humid air. Her furred cowl was stifling and narrowed her vision, she must see far and blinked to clear her dry eyes. Her saddlebags were heavy, bearing down on her back, while her target was so very far away; and looked as though it were getting further as the moments ticked by.

A gentle breeze blew behind her, and the wolf lifted its nose, smelling at the air.

Rarity couldn't get the quill any closer without an audible chime from her magic, and it was still yards away from its target.

The Elder Dire wolf whirled on her, while lowering itself for a pounce. Rarity's concentration faltered at being caught, as her heart stopped. The old wolf charged while savagely snapping its jowls at her. Rarity stepped out from behind the tree, and with all her concentration she rocketed the poison quill towards the carnivore.


The beast bucked around as the poison spike was jabbed into its rump, before continuing its charge towards its prey.

Rarity closed her eyes and flinched away as she felt the weight of the wolf pound into the earth.


Rarity's breaths were short and quick as she waited for the beast to tear into her. But after awhile nothing happened...

She fluttered one eye open, then snapped both wide as the massive beast laid slack-jawed before her with the quill still stuck in its rump. The Elder wolf whined pathetically beneath her.

"Mmm-Mmm-Hmm-Hmm!" Rarity danced on her tippy-hooves and covered her mouth as she tried to contain her giddiness for bringing down one of her pursuers.

'Hopefully the brute will still be out of the picture for a few hours at least. But now what? If I leave then there's no reason for them to not pick up my trail; I'll have to make sure this one can't be found first,' Rarity looked around and saw a growth of elephant ear leaves and down branches, then proceeded to cover up the Elder wolf's body.

Rarity checked her work over. "If I didn't already know you were here; I don't think I'd be able to see you myself, darling."

At that thought she checked herself over. "Hmm... these colors really do clash with the atmosphere," Her muddy-brown barding was the only part of her that blended in somewhat well, but her white hooves, face, throat, and purple mane and tail simply didn't compliment it well.

She looked down at the covered wolf. The camouflage was spot on; and she grimaced at the thought of covering herself head to hoof in muck. The leaves and branches stuck every which way, causing her eyes to lose themselves in the swirls of brown and green.

Rarity's eyes suddenly popped open as something came to mind. "Ideeaaa!" she sang, and brought out her sewing kit, before getting to work on her latest design.


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White Fang and his pack roamed through the forest searching for any trace of their prey, until one of the scouts came back whimpering in worry. It didn't take long for them to backtrack and find their immobilized comrade; still paralyzed and buried underneath a thick detritus of branches, leaves, and brush. The old wolfs head was uncovered, laying slack-jawed and whimpering pathetically before the new Alpha.

The unfortunate Elder Dire wolf endured the humiliation, while other members of the pack worked to dig out the rest of its body, while also cackling their fun at his expense.

White Fang, however, was filled with anger and hatred at the boldness and arrogance of the small prey. An attack on one of his own was like an attack on him. The lingering scent of their quarry was evidence enough that she was the one who did this.

White took his resentment and frustration out on the rest of the pack; breaking their merriment, as the white wolf viciously growl-barked, reared, and clawed at his brethren to 'find her' and 'bring her to me'.

The juniors of the pack didn't hesitate to follow orders, while the older, stronger wolves petulantly obeyed by taking their time and casting challenging glances back at their 'leader'. None dared to challenge the Alpha while the pair of bitches were by his side.

The two females--one, a bloody-rust color; and the other, a dark, muddy-brown--constantly flanked either side of White Fang in support of his campaign. Both recently lost their young to the beast they sought to end, and both wanted to avenge their fallen pups; along with a few other wolves of varying greyish coats who shared his ideal.

White gave each of his closest followers a single glance in turn, before they trod off into the forest to join the rest of the hunting party; leaving their indisposed comrade to ride out the poison that paralyzed his system.

White stopped short and carefully looked around the area suspiciously, before shaking his mind free of the instinctual thoughts, and left with the rest of his troop.

Unbeknownst to them, a pair of cerulean eyes watched everything from mere yards away; hiding in plain sight.

'Good, they're gone...' Rarity thought as she emerged from the bush she laid in; or rather, she was the bush she hidden herself in.

With quick needle work, Rarity fashioned herself a disguise out of the forest; a veritable ghillie suit of leaves and brush to keep her mane, tail, and saddlebags hidden. All she needed to do was curl up, and instantly she was lost within the forests palette.

Rarity used her magic to put away all but a few of the dozen-and-a-half poison pukwudgie spines back into her saddlebags that she readied in case they discovered her.

Rarity barely had enough time to finish her work before the scout returned to find his incapacitated comrade, then later came back with the rest of the wolf pack.

Rarity meandered out from her hiding spot while checking her work over once more and struck a pose in front of the paralyzed wolf, who still whined and cast his eye around at everything.

"Don't you just love it?" Rarity teased, before moving on to leave the poor wolf in peace and to focus on her dilemma.

The pack that was hunting her was now ahead of her path, which meant two things. One, that they were less likely to find her; and two, that they were between her and Atchmon; who--for all she knew--was still weak and horribly injured.

'He won't stand a chance against them. Even if he manages to climb up a tree for safety--which I doubt he'll be capable of in his condition--then he'll be stuck up there with no way to defend himself or survive.'

"I have no choice but to continue onward, and hope that I can reach him in time before they do." Rarity whispered under her breath.

Rarity took her time as she moved through the forest, while being wary of her surroundings. Every little sound was keeping her on edge as she checked around large swaths of open forest that were devoid of undergrowth; like a sneaky spy on a mission she slunk from tree, to bush, to rock, and hid under any scar of earth.

Time passed in a blur as she found her way back to the river; searching for any sign of Atchmon.

A few times Rarity thought she saw a poofy fur tail disappear just out of sight behind the thickets, trees, and underbrush, before she could ever focus her sight on the movement. She wanted to accuse her nerves getting to her, but knew it was better to stay alert, and not dismiss anything that would help warn her of danger before it descended upon her.


Rarity ducked down to hide herself, after hearing the sound of several snarling wolves nearby. She inched herself closer to a bend of earth that segregated her from the beasts, and peered over its edge to view what was happening.

Several of the oldest wolves were arranged in a circle listening to one whose fur looked black underneath white. They appeared to be in deep discussion, whenever one finished saying his peace, another would speak up. It terrified Rarity to think these savage beasts were capable of civilized discussion, until the youngest among the group spoke out of turn and was quickly put in his place as the older wolves dominated the young pup into submission.

'It worked once before; and if I succeed that'll be a few more wolves I won't have to worry about... for awhile at least.' Rarity silently opened her bag, and levitated out several of the venomous knockout quills; plus a few extra. Just in case.

Rarity was patient in arranging the quills far around the encamped carnivores, but the one in the circle furthest from her would be tricky. She couldn't afford for them to be alerted to her presence. She could sense the conversation was coming to and end, with the group seeming to be in agreement; minus the youngest who stayed silent and went along with the others decision.

She had to hurry, or Rarity will miss her element of surprise. With a final quick effort, she sent all the quills flying to their targets.

Doink! Do-Doink! Doink! Doink!

Each of the wolves bucked and yelped as the needles drove into their flesh; and one by one they fell paralyzed on the dirt-covered ground.

Rarity released the breath she was holding, then casually trotted out and passed the circle of wolves as they whined with their tongues lolled out on the ground.

She grinned toothily at them, while a new confidence swelled in her chest, before she cantered away; determined to find her friend.

Rarity fully immersed herself into the role of a huntress. Every wolf she encountered that stood in her way met a swift, paralyzing end. She snuck around and stalked her would-be hunters before driving more quills into their rumps. Some of their cries alerted others nearby, and Rarity backtracked in order to bring her quarry to the traps she quickly placed beforehand.

One such beast was easily twice the size of all the Direwolves she's encountered thus far; and it didn't go down so easily as the others. Even after jabbing two quills into its shoulder, the huge wolf still ran in hot pursuit of Rarity's flanks.

Rarity stood in the open and waited for her pursuer to find her.

The Dire wolf trotted between two trees, and spotted Rarity before she pranced off behind a rock. The wolf pursued and immediately felt a pressure around its forepaw.

A series of snaps sounded before the wolf was doused with a canister of foul-smelling hair spray. The wolf's eyes were nearly sealed shut from the sticky chemical, while it snorted to get the overpowering stench out of its nose.

"Over here, darling," Rarity cooed to the beast, as she appeared from behind the wolf.

The carnivore tried to trot after her, and nearly stumbled after blowing a huge sneeze out its snout.

Another snap sounded, and the wolfs ears drooped as another trap was activated. Rarity snickered and pointed upward with the wolf following her gaze. Then was immediately blinded by a poof of multicolored powder. The beast thrashed about and snorted to rid itself of the smelly dust; but it wouldn't come off, and the more the beast shook the more it spread it in the air.

Rarity finally put the poor wolf out of its misery by jabbing three more quills into its buttocks, before it finally lay still and whimpered before her.

Then as an added humiliation; Rarity tied a pretty red bow atop the Dire beasts head.

"Don't you look fabulous," Rarity cooed, before cantering off and leaving the wolf in peace.

Rarity rushed as she tried to pull ahead of the Dire wolves along the river. Somehow she just knew Atchmon was going to need her help. It felt like there was no end to the packs numbers, and eventually--to her dismay--she reached the end of the river.

The vast area of forest opened into a large marshland that was so big, Rarity couldn't see beyond the thick fog that lay across the boggy water.

The swamp smell was horrid as she gazed across the low, open growth amongst the bog; watching as its mucky waters burbled with gas.

'This is awful! This can only mean Atchmon wasn't swept this way.' Rarity dismayed, as the thought of having to turn back plagued her mind.

She spent several minutes frantically looking the area over for any sign of her friend.

'Surely he would've left something for me to find.'


Rarity's heart jumped in her chest as she looked for a place to hide; until an unusual odor caught her nose. She smelled herself, her senses were graced with a faint floral scent from her recent trap. 'They'll find me in no time...' Rarity looked to the yucky swamp water, and readied herself to jump in, before the sound of a growl-barking wolf caught her attention.

More Dire wolves came running forth from the tree line and chased Rarity along the swamps edge, before she found herself cornered before a wall of earth that jutted far across the marsh. The wall was too steep for her to climb, and going for the forest was impossible as more wolves emerged from the thickets, and some appeared atop the wall of earth above her; completely surrounding her.

Rarity found herself backed against a very large smooth-looking boulder, and turned to face her opponents.

Rarity took a moment to check on her armament. 'Only one quill left...' And readied herself to fight against the semicircle of enormous Dire wolves.

White Fang and his posse was in the center of the group, and skulked further towards their prize.

Rarity lifted the quill up threateningly, and watched as the wolves flinched back, except for White.

But it was all for naught as her futile attempt was met with low growls as the wolves continued their approach.

Rarity was scared, but she didn't let that fear control her; instead, she felt a feral need to survive well up from within herself as she reared up, forelegs kicking in the air, and bayed out a battlecry. Her whinny was long and loud as it echoed across the forest. The world was quiet as her cry faded, silencing all who would challenge her determination.

Then the wolves started to cackle at her pathetic howl, before it turned into a raucous laugh. All except for White and a few others of his posse bothered to join in the reveley, before the pale wolf silenced his pack with a sharp growl-bark.


A steady gurgling sound emanated from behind Rarity, coming from the massive smooth boulder she found herself backed against. Then the boulder sprouted four slimy, reptilian-looking legs as it rolled forward and shifted itself around to face the group who disturbed its slumber.

The wolves backed off, while Rarity crouched herself low to hide.

Two slits near the top of the boulder opened, unveiling two large eyes.

"Rrrrribit" The massive bullfrog croaked.

The bullfrog was exactly as its name describes: an enormous bull-sized frog with horns--not on its head--but on its nose; looking much like a tacky upturned mustache.

One of the wolves growled and charged at the new threat, only to be instantly swallowed whole by the massive amphibian; its tongue struck out fast as lightning.

Other wolves soon followed as they tried to avenge their fallen comrade.

Rarity took her chance to escape and ran towards the marshes, using what little solid ground there was, while the bullfrog feasted on the wolves.

White noticed their prize trying to escape; and growl-barked to one of his wolves to chase her down.

Rarity didn't make it far before the marsh water exploded in front of her as four muddy pillars suddenly burst upwards from the mucky swamp water; with roars bellowing from the pillars four mouths.

"Ah!" Rarity screamed as a giant four-headed hydra now stood in her path, and she had no other choice than to turn tail and run.

Rarity was surrounded with a hydra at her back, wolves on her sides, a bullfrog straight ahead, and nothing but thick marsh all around to hinder her movement.

The hydra lashed out at Rarity, just as the dire wolf pounced and the bullfrog launched its sticky tongue.

Rarity dove out of the dire beasts way--the most immediate threat--which sent her sprawling into the soupy earth. The hydra noticed the larger prey moving in, and adjusted its course to snap its jaws around the large wolf. The beast yelped in pain, but was dropped in a fatally injured state as the bullfrogs tongue latched itself onto the hydras eye.

The hydra swung its head up--along with the bullfrog in tow--and whipped the giant amphibian around like a ragdoll; trying to shake off its attacker. The bullfrog retracted its sticky tongue and chomped itself onto the side of the giant serpents face.

Rarity tried to run away from the four-headed hydra as its other three snake-like jaws struck out like lightning at the panicking pack of wolves. The 'fearsome' canines scattered all around, but not before a half dozen were snatched up and swallowed whole by the great mythical serpent.

Rarity continued to run away using the exposed stones and any solid ground she could find as she ran further out into the open marsh; it was her only chance to escape the growing chaos.

The rocks beneath Rarity started to shake violently, then the ground suddenly lurched, which threw her off-balance. Rarity gasped in fright and fell on her chin, while the path of stones beneath her hooves moved eerily, as the body of another creature emerged from the swamp.

An enormous ancient cragodile launched itself forward--faster than anything its size had any right to move--and snapped its massive, deadly jaws around the hydra's leg; eliciting a cry of pain from several mouths of the multi-headed serpent.

Rarity rolled bodily atop the hard rock-like hide of the cragodile during its charge. She slid down to the tip of its tail, then was sent flying into the shallow swamp after being flicked off the monstrous creature's tail. She resurfaced with a violent gasp for air and flailed to get herself far away from the battling beasts.

There was no solid surface nearby for Rarity to stand on as she slogged through the soupy earth; while the surviving Direwolves continued to hunt her down. Their larger bodies and longer legs allowed them to easily bound over the muck, as they closed the distance on their prey.

The cragodile started its deathroll while its maw was still firmly latched onto the Hydra's leg; sending fountains of muddy earth spraying across the battlefield. The multi-headed serpent cried out in pain and quickly latched its three remaining heads onto the narrow sides of the cragodile, preventing the stone reptile from completing its roll and ripping off the hydra's leg.

Rarity's strength was quickly being sapped as she tried to move through the deep muck. Her legs sank deeply into the soupy earth, causing her to virtually swim for the nearest 'solid' ground. She'd kick out with her back hooves to bound herself over the next length repeatedly, until her tiredness wore out. The mud was too thick for her to trot through, and Rarity feared if she stayed still too long that she'd sink and drown in the swamp.

Then the trees ahead of Rarity's path parted ways for an enormous blue-furred beast.

An Ursa Minor.

The colossal celestial bear with blue fur and a white eight-pointed star on its forehead spotted Rarity immediately and moved towards her.

"Oh, for Celestia's sake!" Rarity screamed in frustration, as she struggled to pull her hooves from the deep muck, before the Ursa could swallow her whole.

Rarity stumbled and fell to the ground covering her entire underbelly in thick muck, but she persisted in vain as the great bear stood beside her and swiped its massive paw over Rarity's head; sending a few of the pursuing Dire wolves crashing into the swamp.

Rarity's eye's shrank to pinpricks as she stared up at the Ursa's all-consuming maw and menacing red eyes, which bored into her; before a small figure peeked out from atop the back of the gargantuan beast.

"Found you!" Atchmon happily sang down from the back of the colossal bear.

"Atchmon!?" Rarity started in shock. "What are you doing up there!?" She screamed in an exasperated mixture of surprise, relief, joy, and fear.

"Grab the rope; I'll pull ya up!" Atchmon shouted as he threw down a long line of rope made of black vines with a loop on the end.

"Are you crazy!? I'm not going up there!" She shouted back while casting wary glances at the colossal beast.

Behind her, the hydra let out a massive roar, before clamping its mouths around the cragodile's head and midsection. The cold-blooded monster still trying to wrench the foot off the far larger serpent. The monsters struggled against each other until the hydra's strength and leverage won; twisting the cragodile's body until something cracked, and several chunks of rock launched forth from the stone hide of the massive reptile, before it finally went limp. The hydra's remaining heads quickly surrounded and dispatched the bullfrog still latched onto its fourth head, before one of the hydra's heads set its red eyes on Rarity.

Rarity rushed forward and dove through the loop of the black rope-vine that Atchmon cast down for her. "What are you waiting for!? Pull me up! Pull me up!" She desperately called up to him.

"Hurk!" Rarity grunted as Atchmon's strength quickly pulled her to safety.

The rope was pulled taut as it hooked underneath Rarity's shoulders above her midsection; and for once she didn't mind the ground shrinking below her.

Once near the top, Atchmon reached out to Rarity and grasped the hoof she was extending out for him. And with a final effort he pulled her over the Ursa's back and beside himself where he knelt atop the great beast.

"Atchie!" Rarity was so overjoyed with their reunion that she toppled the kneeling human over in a tackling embrace.

They fell together, and for a moment Rarity could imagine she was in a meadow of blue grass with her dear friend.

Atchmon laughed as he embraced his Rarity while she laid atop him with her wet, muddy belly; her hooves resting over his shoulders, and chest pressed against his.

Rarity's soft snout pressed against Atchmon's small button nose. The pair froze with bated breath at their closeness, while staring into each other's eyes. Atchmon, with his deep, dark, earthy brown; and Rarity's equally deep, blue, and endless as the ocean.

Both their cheeks blushed at their closeness. Their hearts thundered against each others chests, and for a moment they beat as one... before they both looked away sheepishly.

Rarity remembered herself and moved off the human pinned beneath her. "I'm, uhm, glad you're alright." Rarity sat on her haunches across from Atchmon, who also sat cross-legged before her.

"How did you know where to find me?" Rarity questioned curiously.

"When I heard all the commotion goin' on over here, I figured it had to be you." Atchmon quipped with a toothy smirk.

"Oh, ha-ha; you don't give me enough credit," Rarity started sarcastically, and tilted her head along with the fake laugh.

"Only where it's due," he cracked again with a manure-eating grin. "Now, whut are you wearin'; some kinda camouflage?" He half laughed at her wardrobe.

"Do you like it?" Rarity asked, while striking a pose. "It's the latest in my new line, I'm calling it 'Forest Chic', and I believe it'll be a big hit once we get back home."

"If you say so." He chuckled lightly, and gave her a fond smile.

The pair gazed at each other, both glad to be together once again.

"Atchmon?" Rarity sang, and looked as if she were waiting on something more from him.

"Hmm?" The human cocked his head, while looking totally innocent.

"Aren't we going to address the elephant in the room? The 'elephant' being the giant celestial baby bear we are currently using as a taxi?" Rarity suggested.

"Oh, yeah, isn't he great!" Atchmon started excitedly, while gesturing around at their surroundings. "Rarity this is Big Blue; Big Blue this is Rarity, and- wait... Did you just call him a baby?" He finished confusedly.

"Yes, darling, this is an Ursa Minor; a baby," she emphasised.

"How do you know that?" He asked, almost accusingly.

"Because this 'little one' attacked my village in a cranky rampage, once upon a time." As if to confirm her story, the Ursa lifted its head and uttered a few apologetic grunts. "It's alright, darling, all is forgiven so long as you keep us safe." The Ursa nod its head once and grunted in agreement. "Though, I seem to recall you looking much more, mmh, translucent the last time we met." The Ursa shrugged at that, and grunted a nonchalant 'Eh' to her.

Atchmon stared at Rarity neutrally after the exchange, and waited to see if she was joking...

She wasn't.

Rarity fixed him with a stare back with an unwavering expression of complete seriousness.

"Okay, so... If he's a baby," Atchmon started evenly. "Then where's his mom?" He finished in quiet realization.

Several roars sounded in the distance. The hydra was finished with the bullfrog and cragodile, and sought to challenge the baby Ursa for entering its territory.

"Get ready for a fight!" Atchmon pulled Rarity down so they both laid flat against the back of the giant beast. Rarity was about to complain about how painfully tight Atchmon was gripping her, but screamed instead as the Ursa reared up on its hind legs and bellowed out a challenging roar of its own.

The Hydra waddled across the marsh on its two legs, while its four heads whipped around and belted out more roars. The Ursa Minor delivered one more mighty roar before landing with a mighty crash on its forepaws, and charging across the swamp on all fours.

Atchmon held onto Rarity in a near-crushing embrace, while gripping tightly onto the Ursa's fur with his other hand; fighting to keep them from falling off.

But, before the two giants ever came within striking distance of each other, the hydra disappeared behind a titanic wall of purple fur and gigantic long teeth. The maw of a colossal beast chomped down the hydra, its massive jaws completely dwarfing the mythical multi-headed serpent several times over, as it suddenly enclosed around its entire body like a steel trap.

The pair atop the baby's back sat up to view their savior.

"That's its mother, darling, the dreaded Ursa Major," Rarity spoke with pride at seeing Atchmon's awestruck face.

The Ursa Major lifted its head back, and opened its mouth to reposition its meal; the hydra's heads flailed about within the Ursas maw while bellowing out terrified roars before it disappeared behind the Ursas massive jaws, then was finally swallowed whole with an audible gulp from the bears gullet.

The titanic beast towered far above them. The colossal celestial bear was like a living mountain of purple plum colored fur with white spots on its flank and a matching eight-pointed star-shaped spot on its forehead, just like its offspring had that the pair currently sat upon.

"So cool!" Atchmon exclaimed in exuberant laughter at the wonderfully amazing new discovery. Never in his life had he ever imagined such a colossal creature could ever exist. This creature would put even the dinosaurs from his world to shame.

In his excitement, Atchmon didn't realize how loud he was, and caught the ire of the mad momma bear. Clearly looking displeased with whatever pests were on her baby.

Atchmon and Rarity clutched each other tightly, as the Ursa Major pressed her disapproving face in on the pair.

"We, uh, w-w-we found your baby for you," Atchmon squeaked, and petted the fur beside him.

"Yes, no need to thank us, we'll be on our way, now." Rarity added, following his lead, and put on a very wide smile while patting the fur on her side.

"I don't think she believes you," Rarity whispered through his teeth.

"I don't think I believe me," Atchmon whispered back.

"He's a fine cub; so big, and strong," Atchmon continued.

"Absolutely! And so handsome too. Such a kind and gentle soul; he must get it from the mother," Rarity praised nervously, and added an 'I hope' through her nervous smile.

The Ursa Major squinted intimidatingly at them, and they stopped what they were doing and held each other even tighter as they awaited the mothers punishment.

Just as the mother bear was about to bare her fangs, her baby started grunting innocently at her, and stopped. She backed off and glanced at her cub; then gave one last look at the pair, before nuzzling her baby by placing her star-mark over the cubs forehead. Their star-marks glowed gently together, before the mother moved away with her baby following close in tow.

Rarity and Atchmon both released a breath they didn't realize they were holding, and inhaled the fresh, cool air.

The pair relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Watching as the trees moved swiftly passed them, as they sat on the back of their fuzzy chaperone.

Rarity closed her eyes, savoring the subtle rocking sensation; like being on a ship at sea.

The cracking sound of tree trunks and boughs being bent and broken in their wake echoed all around them. Their weak roots made way for the great celestial beasts. Any sheer drops they encountered were mear stair steps to the giant bears.

The cool breeze blew gently over the pair as they were escorted through the forest; heading just to the right of Canterlot Mountain. The Ursas long effervescent blue fur waved like grass in the wind.

Atchmon gazed westward towards the setting sun and his namesake. It looked so vastly different from the new height, as if he could reach out and pluck the ball of light from the sky, before it could settle behind the horizon. The sun looked as though it were within the world itself as it descended, like it was going to be cradled in the rocky mountains as it was gently put to sleep.

The pair looked all around as far as the eye could see, before their eyes met each other. Atchmon reached over and held Rarity close as they sighed in relief.

Atchmon watched the sunset as his heart swelled with a desire to see what else lay beyond that horizon; to witness more of what this amazing world had to offer.

Atchmon and Rarity had no choice but to go along for the ride. So long as the Ursas went in the general direction they wanted to go; they were fine with the escort.

The bears long, casual strides tread over the forest with ease. A few minutes traveling with them would've taken several times longer for the pair to navigate on their own.

"Okay, I have to know." Rarity started as she turned to face Atchmon fully. "How in Equestria did you end up taming an Ursa Minor to chauffeur us across the Everfree?" She asked curiously.

"I wouldn't say I 'tamed' him; we sorta found a bit of mutual respect." Atchmon explained, and the Ursa Minor lifted its head to the side and grunted cheekily. "Besides, you should know; I learned it from you." Atchmon said as he gave Rarity a playful push on the shoulder.

"Me!?" Rarity sounded surprised. "I don't recall ever teaching you anything remotely close to-" Rarity gestured and waved both of her hooves at the baby bear. "This." She emphasised. "Still, I have to know how you did it." Rarity pressed.

"Alright I'll tell you." Atchmon drawled. "Hmm, guess I should start at the beginning, huh?" He suggested, after a moment of thought.

"That's generally a good place to start." Rarity teased.

"Atchmon!" Rarity shouted, while reaching out a hoof as a stabbing pain of several sharp fangs lanced over Atchmon's shoulder.

He cried out, before his vision blurred as he was dragged violently beneath the gurgling waters; his hearing muffled from the calls of the one he was trying to protect.

He managed to wrench the beast off him as they wrestled beneath the murky rapids. Pain shot through his stomach as the Dire wolf clawed at the hunter's abdomen, while Atchmon kept his hands on the beast's throat; keeping it at bay.

Both surfaced together and took a breath before being dragged underneath the rapids again.

The pair tumbled around beneath the surface as the current carried them away swiftly. The hunter felt teeth on his arm--and without hesitation--thrust it forward into the wolfs gullet; causing the carnivore to choke and release its deathly hold.

The hunter managed to get away from the beast long enough to resurface for another breath.

He could see Rarity was nowhere in sight.

A massive ball of wet fur and claws exploded behind him; snarling, clawing, and gnashing to get closer and kill its prey.

Atchmon panicked as he tried to get away--not from the wolf--but from the jutting rocks that were rapidly approaching the downward flowing river.

The wolf turned and noticed too late the prey was looking past him, before being slammed hard into the first boulder, with the hunter landing atop the beast in turn. Its furry body managed to lessen the impact, but not by much.

Atchmon managed to grab ahold the Direwolves back after the impact, and rode the beast through the rocky, whitewater rapids. The beast thrashed and swirled in the water to buck him off, but to no avail.

Atchmon's plan didn't work flawlessly. As they struggled, he too hit a few rocks, but luckily not directly. He held on tight to the wolfs pelt, both by its neck and wrapping his legs around its flank. They constantly tumbled underneath the rapids; hitting rocks as they passed. He was struck hard on the side, enough to bruise his ribs and to cause his grip to falter and the two separated around opposite sides of the next rock.

There was no time to think ahead; only acting and reacting in order to survive the ordeal. Atchmon vomited the excessive amount of water he swallowed, and could finally breathe properly; he was grateful for the brief respite.

The wolf didn't look much better as it tried to paddle its beat up body for the river bank, ignoring its prey for the moment, and making no progress.

Atchmon didn't know how long he let the current carry him before finding the will to push himself forward and find a way out of the situation; and he had to act fast.

For up ahead, the earth seemed to end.

Atchmon willed his sore, tired body to swim for the nearest bank.

The wolf ahead of him managed to bite down on a dead tree branch sticking out over the water, its fallen bough located high above on the river bank, jutting over the rapids.

They were only a dozen or so yards away from the edge; and the water was flowing so fast that it'll pull them over that distance in mere seconds. Atchmon knew he wasn't fast enough to make it to the shore in time, and swam for the beast. He lashed out his arms to grab ahold of the Dire wolf by its tail.

The wolf yelped in pain, causing it to lose its biting grip on the branch for a moment before it lurched forward and bit hard with a resounding crack of wood being broken.

Atchon nearly lost his grip after the beast struck out to save itself; he held the wolf by its pelt as he climbed over the beasts back.

The branch snapped and the two fell deeper into the powerful rapids, threatening to pull them away. The branch was hanging on its bough by a thin strip of bark that was steadily tearing away from the long dead tree.

The Dire wolf tried lurching forward several times to bite the next limb, only to cause the thin strip of bark to grow ever longer.

"No!" Atchmon cried out as he tried to scramble over the wolf. The tip of his finger barely brushed the edge of the next thickest branch, before the desperate wolf lashed out to bite him.

Their heads dunked under the gurgling water once again, and their bodies were quickly swept away by the rapids.

Atchmon felt his world spin around him, before feeling a furry body next to his side. He quickly embraced the beast again, tightly shut his eyes, and prayed silently; before the sensation of falling, and the force of gravity churned his heart and stomach.

He fell into the water below the falls--a not so gentle landing--his body was stunned from shock as he blearily opened his eyes, only for them to sting from the murky water. He could make out the massive paws of the Dire wolf floating away above his vision.

The hunter closed his eyes, feeling incredibly tired and was ready to fall into a deep sleep.

"Mmm-mm-m Rrrrah! Rah! Rah!"

A garbled whimpering and barking noise shocked him enough to open his eyes; and he saw the unmistakable visage of a canine snout, a body of half fur and half fish scales, with fins for legs and a tail.

'Dog-fish...' Atchmon smiled weakly.

"I don't know how I ended up outta the water," Atchmon said, as he and Rarity snacked on what little supplies she had left in her saddlebags. "Next thing I remember was wakin' up on the shore."

"I'm really glad you ended up alright," said Rarity. "I'm certain I wouldn't have lasted another night alone. I was completely beside myself on what to do; other than to look for you." Her ears drooped and looked melancholy as she chewed her food.

"Thanks for lookin' for me," Atchmon reached over and pulled Rarity into a one-armed hug. "I was afraid of never findin' you again either." He whispered in Rarity's ear.

Rarity smiled and enjoyed the embrace while it lasted. She always liked his hugs, the human always nearly engulfed her in a smooth body of warmth. Of course now--thanks to Rarity--they both stank of swamp water, and dirt.

"Mmmph, thanks for that. It's been awhile since we were last intim- together... like this." Rarity quickly corrected herself.

Atchmon looked somber and gazed around at the horizon behind them.

Rarity was certain he was looking for the home he lived in for so many years; but without a unique landmarker as the Arc Tree jutting up from the forest, there was simply no way to tell exactly where it was.

"Everything alright?" Rarity concerned.

"Yeah, jus' can't believe how far we are." Atchmon replied distantly.

"Are you frightened of what lies ahead?" Rarity asked in concern.

"No," Atchmon started, then looked unsure. "Well, I don't know how to describe it. I guess you could say I'm afraid of the unknown, but that's what makes it so excitin' too, ya know?"

"Mmm," Rarity nodded her head in understanding.

"How are you so calm about all this?" Atchmon asked.

"Oh, this is hardly my first rodeo as some would say," Rarity smirked at him. "However, as far as adventures go: this easily makes my top five."

"Oh, yeah; what's number one?" He asked curiously.

"The time I gave away my most precious fabric to a competitor during a fashion contest." Rarity started. "Oh, yes it is a tale of broken promises, love, and betrayal the likes of which would shake the hearts of even the most stout of warriors." She continued, ignoring Atchmon's guffaws and raised eyebrow.

"So when are you going to tell me how you met this fine young fellow?" Rarity asked as she rubbed the Ursa Minor's back, eliciting murmuring grunts from the celestial cub.

"I'm gettin' to that part," said Atchmon, before starting back his tale.

The hunter woke up in a coughing fit; forcing out the remaining water from his burning lungs.

He felt the gritty texture of dirt, and the pungent smell of grass beneath him, along with the uncomfortably sharp edges of rocks poking against his soft belly.

Atchmon opened his eyes only for his vision to be filled with the fanged maw of a Dire wolf bearing in on him. The hunter startled violently only to realize the massive wolf was already dead. Its corpse locked in rigor mortis. Atchmon lifted his head and saw the wolf's body was contorted in ways it should never bend. The human counted himself lucky for not suffering the same fate the fierce rapids bestowed upon the beast. But, that didn't mean he came out completely unscathed.

His body felt all beat up and covered in scrapes, with several bruises from slamming into rocks while being swept away by the fast current. His shoulder was pocked with several coagulated holes in the shape of a dog bite. The pain of his wounds beat in tune with his heart. And to top it all off, he had a massive swelling headache, which made his head swim and senses feel bloated.

Turning on his back and ignoring the pain of his freshest wound, he stared up into the bright cloud covered sky; which stung his eyes even when they were shut.

"Not dead yet," he rasped while smiling and forced a little laugh, though his mirth quickly disappeared in the wake of all the pain he was feeling; especially in his head.

His stomach growled, and he felt lethargic. Atchmon forced his sluggish body to move, and started gathering wood for a fire. Everything was wet from the rain, which continued to sprinkle, but that wasn't going to be enough to stop him. There were many tricks he knew of, and many more he discovered for himself after spending so many years alone in the wilderness. It was times like these, when he could implement his knowledge; so long as it meant surviving another day.

There were plenty of dead branches and dry brush hidden away underneath detritus littering the ground. He gathered larger branches and logs, then stripped them of all their wet bark. The outer parts may have been soaked, but that didn't mean the interior wouldn't be dry.

With the combination of a angled stone and his blade, Atchmon wedged the logs apart and split them open to expose their dry interior. With another sharp rock he shaved off tiny splinters and shavings to make the perfect tinder. Couple that with the sticky resin from a tree, and you have the perfect fuel for a fire.

Now that the hunter had his woodpile and fuel, it was time to build the actual flame.

Atchmon reached into his pocket and pulled out a square metal object. He flipped the top open and flicked the ignitor repeatedly, and with no success... He turned the device over and shook it, before flicking the ignitor again; only for it to continue failing at producing a flame.

"Really? Six years, and you choose now to crap out on me..." Atchmon grumbled in mild annoyance, before shaking it once more beside his ear. After hearing nothing sloshing around within the device, he tossed it away to be forever lost in the Everfree. "Best thirty bucks I ever spent," he sighed, having lost another longtime companion. At least he still had his trusty blade.

Atchmon pulled out the knife strapped to his waist and twisted the cap off the bottom of its hilt. A hollow core within the blade's handle once sheltered various survival supplies that were long since consumed, but now only held a lonely piece of flint stone to help spark a fire.

A great advantage of living in a town full of hunters and survival enthusiasts is: that there were no shortages of craftsmen to create a custom blade for himself. The knife he used--with its serrated top and curved tip--was significantly larger than the usual survival blades one could purchase.

"I want ya t' make Rambo's knife, but bigger; as big as Crocodile Dundee's," Atchmon chuckled at the memory of his younger self talking to the best local blade maker in town; while rolling the only blunt part of his blade across the surface of the square piece of flint; causing as much friction as possible between the metal and stone. He watched as sparks cascaded like a waterfall between his tools, and down into the awaiting tinder.

"Boy, what you goin' t' kill out thar; a dern bear 'er somethin'?" Atchmon mocked in the gruff craftsman's voice. 'If only he knew...' Atchmon chuckled in mirth at the irony.

"What's so funny?" Rarity's curious voice called from the side.

Atchmon could barely make out the blurry form of a white mare near the edge of his sight. He turned to address her, and she disappeared; just as he expected... In that brief moment, her voice and presence were so vividly strong in his mind.

"Keep it together," Atchmon grumbled to himself. "She'll be fine." But nothing he could say would convince him otherwise.

After a few attempts, and despite the light drizzling rain, Atchmon soon had a nice little fire going, and continued to feed it until the flames roared to life.

He left to collect the Direwolves carcass, and started harvesting its meat. The meal ahead wasn't going to be a pleasant one. Atchmon never particularly liked eating canine meat, even though it was considerably tasty, but the mental aspect of eating a childhood best friend dulled his pallet.

"Oh, I don't know why I've never thought of predators eating other predators," Rarity started thoughtfully. "I always thought of carnivores as some sort of coven where they only ate us ponies."

"Yeah, when you're meat eats meat, and you eat that meat, it's like you're getting double the meat." Atchmon quipped.

"I don't see how that can be physically possible; but you're the meat-eater here, not I; and so I will defer to your expertise."

Atchmon chuckled at that.

While his food cooked over the open flame, Atchmon busied himself with the wolfs pelt by preparing it for use as a furry tunic. It took several hours between washing the fur so it wouldn't smell like death, and scraping off the thin membrane of flesh, before the hunter was satisfied with his work. It wasn't anywhere near the quality he learned to achieve, but night was rapidly falling upon him and he needed more than a small fire to keep himself warm through the night.

While his furry garb dried over the fire--along with his socks and boots--Atchmon made himself a new spear. Shaping a stone point would take too much time, even with his bone-tools to speed up the process; instead, he settled for a sharp pointed stick. He found a suitable tree for his needs. Its trunk was the perfect roundness for his grip, and it grew perfectly vertical; saving him time from having to shape or sand it down to size.

"I was worried about you..." Atchmon started somberly. The cold air of the approaching night caused the pair to huddle close together for warmth. "I was preparing myself for the worst, if I never saw you again..."

"I knew you wouldn't give up on me," Rarity said as she tried to comfort him.

Atchmon looked somber, and was silent.

Atchmon sat near the fire within his makeshift hidey hole. The light from the flames caused shadows to dance along the brambles surrounding him. The hunter sliced off another piece of wolf meat from the spit above the fire, and chewed slowly as he recovered from his injuries.

Everything reduced itself to a dull soreness. Whenever he moved a certain way, the fresh scar on his back lanced in pain. He'd stretch it ever few minutes, or until he could once again take the pain; to test his movements and to expand his flesh to allow for more rigorous motions. Every movement felt as though his skin would tear itself apart, but Rarity's stitching held strong.

No thoughts entered his mind as he sat quietly before the flames; other than the most simplistic and obvious of ideas.

'Follow the river upstream, and find her. If she's smart she'll stay put, and build a fire.'

"Oh, this is impossible!" Rarity whined in frustration, as she threw down the pair of sticks she was rubbing together. "How do you and Applejack make this look so easy." She huffed. "And why can't I use my magic, again? I've shown that I can use the sparks from my horn to make a flame."

"Because you need to know other ways how to do it; in case one way doesn't work, or you can't use it..." Atchmon spoke quietly to the phantom Rarity. "What if your magic doesn't work..?"

Atchmon mulled his memories over to be sure he taught Rarity what she needed to know in order to take care of herself in the wilds. He wasn't a great teacher; he knew that about himself, but he couldn't shake the feeling he could've done more to prepare Rarity for what's out there.

Throwing some of the thicker logs on the fire to keep it going for the rest of the night, the hunter laid on his side to get some sleep. The direwolves pelt was large enough to cover his torso, other than his arms; and used line of sapling bark tied around his waist to keep the pelt in place, and a hole in the center for his head to go through.

Atchmon listened to the numerous sounds of the forest. Its ambiance gently lulled him to sleep... until a massive roar echoed throughout the land silencing everything.

Atchmon couldn't hold back his fear, worry, or anxiety; not for himself. But for Rarity. As he tried to ignore the depressive thoughts entering his mind.

'It's hopeless...'

'She's not gonna make it...'

'Never gonna see her again...'

'We're never getting out of here...'

'It's all my fault...'


Atchmon woke with a start and a sharp breath.

Something massive was moving nearby. The tree branches snapped and cracked as it meandered through the forest near Atchmon's camp.

Atchmon readied himself by holding the spear in front of him, and securing the butt end into the ground. If something were to suddenly charge at him, then it'd run itself through; using its own weight and power against it. He watched a small puddle nearby as the water inside rippled across the surface with every stomp of the massive creatures gait.

The sound of its trek grew quieter as it wandered away; but Atchmon remained vigilant for a long while after the noise quieted to nothing.

Just as he started to relax, Atchmon noticed the undergrowth nearby was quietly parting for a much smaller creature. Soon, a slimy mass with undulating eyes and a hard shell on its back; wandered within Atchmon's camping area. The giant snail was about Rarity's size; maybe a little bigger.

Atchmon sighed in relief as he watched the curious gastropod use its two mouth-tentacles to feel around; before it shied away from the low flames of the campfire, then set its warbling eyes on Atchmon; its prey.

"Get outta here, snail." Atchmon nonchalantly commanded in a gruff voice as he pulled out a smoking hot branch from the fire; and tossed it at the giant snail.

The snail screeched in a quiet high-pitched squeal as it slowly ran away.

Atchmon barely slept until morning came; then gathered his things and followed the river upstream.

Without his rucksack, or any other means of carrying his food; the hunter used sapling bark to tie strips of meat around himself. He traveled for a several hours, until he came upon a tall cliff face with the waterfall Atchmon knew he must've fallen from. He looked upwards towards the rocky ledge which stood far above the tallest trees. The rocky shelf curved inward and bore down like a tidal wave at the apex of its crash. The cliff wall was pocked with caves that were nearly as big around as he was tall. The hunter looked left and right across the tall rocky shelf, which seemed to go on for miles in both directions.

Atchmon dropped his shoulders as the thought of having to climb his way up surfaced. He moved away from the river and sat underneath a tree as he viewed the obstacle before him.

"There's no way I can make it over that..." Atchmon said as the familiar feeling of defeat entered his gut.

"So you didn't even try?" Rarity asked; feeling a little hurt.

"Oh, I tried," Atchmon started. "But I know that I'm just too weak of a climber... I knew that even if I made it near the top; there was no way I could hold myself long enough to make it over."

"But I've seen how well you climb trees to get the fruit we need."

"Trees are easier, but this was too much of a challenge." Atchmon looked melancholy; before perking up again. "But luckily I got a little help."

"Is this where our intrepid blue hero comes in?" Rarity asked excitedly. The Ursa Minor turned its head to silently view its passengers.

"Not exactly..."


The river exploded as a massive fish launched itself from the water, flailing its tail for everything it was worth to make it over the waterfall; only to fall short and crash back into the river below.

Another followed suit soon after the first, only to fail as well.

It was that time of the year when the giant salmon started to swim upstream to mate.

Atchmon looked around as he took the area in. "This is a pretty good spot..." He mused, while contemplating staying there until his dying days. Then shook those thoughts from his mind.

He had to at least try.

The hunter got up and went to inspect the nearest cave on the cliff wall that was several yards off the ground.

"May as well check it out... Not like I can go anywhere; and maybe--if we're lucky--one of these might lead to the top," Atchmon grunted as he found his footing and climbed up the rock wall.

The hunter cautiously approached the cave entrance with his spear at the ready. The dank hole was moist from the constant misty spray from the nearby waterfall. The cavern appeared to be caved in as he gazed further into its depths, while his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

'Dead end... Deep enough for a decent shelter, though...'

Just then, the 'rocks' that Atchmon assumed were just a pile of stones, shifted inside the cave.

Atchmon's heart leapt in his chest as every instinct told him to run. He listened to his gut and jumped out from the height of the cave. The hunter landed and rolled on his side to lessen the impact from the fairly tall height. He turned to look in time before a massive snake-monster launched itself forth from the cave entrance; like a scaly red tongue sticking out from the rocks. It slithered to and fro and hissed in anger before retracting back into its hollow.

Atchmon laid on his back and watched as another fish launched itself from the river, only to be snagged out of the air by another one of the cliff-snakes. A giant cave-snake managed to bend itself around to snag its lunch, before slithering back into its own cave to devour it. Countless other cave-serpents peeked out from their hollows, awaiting their chance to snag a meal.

Atchmon gazed at the cliff again.

The wall of rock he needed to climb in order to find Rarity. He gazed upon its shear heights, seeing the countless number of holes which pocked its surface in a whole new, and terrifying way.

"Shit..." Atchmon squeaked as he stared up at the overwhelming obstacle before him.

What else was there to say?

"Language," Rarity sang in disapproval.

Atchmon frowned at her, before rolling his eyes. "Fine; and then I was like 'Shoot'; that better?" He drawled apathetically.

"Much better," Rarity nodded in approval. "Anyway, those must've been Quarray Eels you encountered from the way you described them," Rarity said thoughtfully as she rubbed her chin in thought.

"Don't eels usually live in water- You know what? Nevermind; I stopped trying to make sense of this world a long time ago," Atchmon said with a shake of his head.

"Well, you must've come up with something to help you overcome such a dangerous obstacle." Rarity suggested. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here." She added.

"You're right, I did; and the solution--you could say--kinda fell into my lap," He smirked knowingly.

Atchmon stealthily moved himself away from the cave entrance and the snake-monster residing inside. There was no telling how far they could reach outside of their hollows, and judging from what he's seen from them thus far; Atchmon guessed it was pretty far. That's excluding the idea that they could even leave their abodes and hunt him down.

Atchmon wasn't taking any chances, and traveled a comfortable distance away from the waterfall, while he tried to come up with a plan. He listened to the roar of the falls for several minutes, while his mind blanked and the falls became nothing more than white noise to his ears.

"I'm gonna need rope... lots of rope," Atchmon said after a long while. And moved to collect what he'd need.

After searching the nearby woods for several minutes, Atchmon's hope and courage quickly waned as he cut down one sapling after another; not even putting all his strength or effort into the task.

"What am I doing? There's no way I can make it up that wall, even without all the monsters... It's too steep and there's not enough places for me to grab onto, other than the holes, and those aren't even an option..." Atchmon continued to mutter his reasonings, until something moved nearby.

The hunter stopped what he was doing and quietly snuck around to investigate.

Atchmon leaned his shoulder against a nearby tree and listened, until the same rustling sound emanated once again.

He continued to slink from one tree to the next, until he found what made the sound.

A grove of pitch black carnivorous plants covered the area. Thousands of turquoise spikes adorned their black vines like sinister rose thorns as they slithered around the area, likely looking for prey to drag into the plants hungry mouth-traps.

Atchmon smiled knowingly as he carefully examined the area for any part of the plant that was separated from the main body. Three of the wicked looking mouth-traps were concentrated near the center of the black grove, while one was off to the side; separated from the main group.

"Why in Equestria would you bother with that?" Rarity's phantom criticised from the edge of Atchmon's vision.

"Because those plants there," he gestured to the growth with a nod of his head. "Their vines are super strong, pretty much completely unbreakable; I could use that to help me up the cliff." Atchmon finished above a whisper.

"If it's as 'unbreakable' as you say, darling, then how are you going to collect them, hmm?" The phantom Rarity drawled snootily in challenge to the hunter's brilliant plan.

"It's also really easy to cut," Atchmon explained simply as he drew out his blade; gripping it in one hand, while his spear lay in the other.

Slowly he moved around to the mass of vines that was separated from the main group, and inched himself closer until a thin, black, thornless vine slithered up to his foot and firmly wrapped itself around Atchmon's leg.

The hunter remained calm as he allowed himself to be taken by the hungry plant. The mouth-trap opened and its spindly 'teeth' moved in anticipation of its meal. Atchmon took a breath as he readied himself, before the plant doused him with a thick plume of gas. The hunter waited patiently, until the tension in the air grew palpable; the mouth-trap dripped with digestive enzymes as the plant salivated in anticipation of its meal. The plant's mouth shook in eagerness, before plunging itself forward to consume the hunter whole.

But Atchmon had experience with this kind of plant before; he knew the signs and choreography of its attacks. And in the moment the plant had committed to its assault; Atchmon thrust his spear forward and skewered the mouth-trap. A small amount of digestive fluids sprayed on the hunter's arm as the plant snarled and hissed in anger, while it wriggled and clapped its mouth-trap around the pole it was impaled upon; still trying to consume its prey despite its mortal wound.

Atchmon wrenched the writhing mouth-pod to the ground; and with the blade in his other hand he cut off its head. The vine around Atchmon's leg went slack, while the rest of the black mass stopped moving.

"One down; three to go," Atchmon huffed with a confident smile while checking his arm, feeling it tingle all over, before wiping most of the slimy juices on his furred tunic.

The other plant-pods drew themselves up and opened their mouth-traps as they hissed threateningly at the hunter.

One of the plants ducked itself down and quickly slithered over to Atchmon's position, and dodged as the hunter tried to stake the mouth-trap against the ground. The nimble human made a quick retreat after his initial thrust missed, and jumped over the thick vine connected to its head.

Atchmon ran for the nearest tree with the carnivorous plant in hot pursuit. The attacking plant followed its prey as they rounded the bough, until it suddenly jerked to a halt. Its body-vine was caught around the tree trunk with its prey just out of reach of its chomping mouth-trap.

Atchmon stopped a scant few feet away from where the voracious plant was caught around the tree. He stood there and watched as the black mouth-trap savagely hissed its gaseous breath and bit at him in a frenzy. The hunter thrust his spear forward pinning the plants head against the tree, before quickly slicing it off with his blade.

Just as Atchmon turned to deal with the remaining two plants, he was doused with a faceful of noxious gas. He doubled over coughing and retching, while his eyes stung and teared to remove the harmful chemical. He swung his spear in order to ward off his attacker, only for the plant to whip itself around and bat Atchmon's spear out of his hand.

The other plant moved in, and both mouth-traps worked together to douse their prey in a continuous fume of noxious gasses.

Atchmon was brought to his hands and knees as he fought for breath, while the plants continuously poured more of their gas over his back. The hunter's vision started to swirl and blur; he felt in a daze and knew he wasn't going to last much longer.

'I just need a breath!'

With a final push for survival, Atchmon suddenly rose up and hurled his blade into the mouth-trap in front of him; sending it away with a pained screech. Then body tackled the second with his weight, throwing every ounce of his strength to wrestle the wriggling vine down. Muscle memory took over as the farmer of the past rose to the forefront of Atchmon's psyche, and guided his hands around the black vine--that was the rope he used to truss up an uncountable number of calves in practice and in rodeo competitions--leaving the carnivorous plant in a knotted ball; completely unable to untangle itself.

The last mouth-trap recovered, and used its thorny vines to ensnare its prey. Atchmon struggled to get out of the carnivorous plants powerful tendrils, as the sharp points started to dig painfully into his skin; but the vines were unbreakable as they quickly wrapped themselves around his whole body.

The plant monster swiftly entangled Atchmon in its vines, and patiently continued to add more, until most of Atchmon's body was covered in a thick mass of black, thorny vines; with only his shoulders and head exposed.

Atchmon gazed blearily at the mouth-trap as it hovered nearby, savoring its victory; its spindly 'teeth' slowly waved as its mouth drooled in hunger. Then the mouth-trap casually shifted itself above the hunter.

Atchmon's eyes widened as he realized what the monstrous plant intended to do; and struggled harder against the unbreakable black vines, while the mouth-trap slowly descended upon him.

It was going to digest him; starting with his head.

"C'mon... C'MON!" Atchmon's arms felt like they were being torn to shreds as he flailed against the thorny vines; struggling to pull just one of them free.

The light of the sun dimmed as the slimy mouth of the carnivorous plant brought itself down on the hunter.

Atchmon shook as he pulled hard and managed to get his right arm free just as the mouth-trap started to enclose around him; then the hunter thrust his hand into the predacious plants maw, and gripped the handle of his blade. With one swift motion he sliced the mouth-trap in half, and fell into a mass of limp, thorny vines.

"Yea-ha!" Cough! Cough! Cou- "Ooh, god," Cough! Atchmon croaked in jubilation as he layed in the black mass.

The hunter removed himself from the mass of vines, and sat upon his field of victory; before getting up and dusting himself off.

"Piece of cake," Atchmon rasped, as he shambled away while wiping his teary eyes from the effects of the noxious gas.

"Why did you have to mention cake?" Rarity whined. "Now I want cake." She pouted.

Atchmon chuckled. "What kind would you want? We'll make it the first thing we eat once we get to your home."

Rarity thought for a moment. "All the cakes. I'm going to have my friend Pinkie bake every recipe she knows for us."

"Sounds good," Atchmon chuckled.

Atchmon dipped himself in the river to wash off all the slimy digestive juices from the black carnivorous plants.

He continued to wade in the cold river, watching as the giant flying salmon started to explode out of the water in greater frequency; while dozens of giant cave-snakes tried to snatch them out of the air.

Atchmon stared at that wall while his body numbed under the cold river water. He still didn't believe it was possible for him to make it over that cliff.

Suddenly, all the cave-snakes withdrew inside their hollows all at once; as if they were spooked by something.

Then Atchmon heard the crash of large foot-falls followed by the snapping and breaking of tree limbs as they parted for a massive creature.

Atchmon quickly swam to shore and gathered his supplies, before a gargantuan blue-beast emerged from the forest, as if the trees were nothing but tall grass.

Atchmon placed himself behind a tree for protection against the ginormous beast. He watched as the massive creature meandered by the river shore, while it made whimpering grunts at the water's surface.

"Holy moly that's big... that's really big." Atchmon gasped in shock as he studied the new creature. Its stout body and canine-like head told him it was a bear of some sort; that much, at least.

Atchmon watched curiously as the big blue bear pawed at the water. Then the bear stuck its nose down only for it to be slapped away by a cheeky fish.

The bear flinched, and seemed to be too scared to try that again, despite the rumbling growls of its tummy; as it sat forlornly by the waters edge. The bear continued to whimper and paw at the water sadly, as if some fish would take pity on the whiny bear and offer itself as a meal.

Atchmon looked from the bear to the cliff wall; and back again. The cave-serpents weren't bothering coming out while the bear was in their presence. A fact proven as Atchmon watched a few of the flying salmon soar over the waterfall and make it to the other side. The cave-serpents never bother to peek out of their hollows.

The dots connected easily in Atchmon's mind as he formulated a plan; albeit a very insane one, at that.

"It doesn't hurt to show a little generosity," Rarity hinted just outside Atchmon's vision, as he gazed at the sheer size of the great blue bear.

Atchmon thought of what Rarity did with the manticore, and how it protected them from being caught by the savage pack of wolves.

"You gotta be kiddin' me!" He dismayed, as he realized what he needed to do.

"So that's what you meant when you said I taught you to do that," Rarity said curiously.

"Yeah," Atchmon chuckled. "I went back and got as much rope-vine as I could carry." Atchmon said as he patted the loops of black 'rope' he tied to his waist. "It wasn't easy catchin' a fish for Big Blue, but I managed to pull it off usin' the thorns from the vines and tyin' those to my spear, so they'll hook into it once I manage to hit 'em. Some of the vines could stretch like rubber; so that made it a lot easier to launch my spear at 'em."

"And then you filled our mutual friends belly with delicious fish, and as a 'thank you' he carried you over the wall?" Rarity quessed.

"I wish it were that simple,"

Rarity frowned as she listened the end of Atchmon's tale.

Nearly an hour passed before the big blue bear gave up trying to catch its own fish, leaving Atchmon room to do the work himself, without worry of getting himself eaten instead.

Catching a fish was easy enough. The hard part was hauling said fish out of the water and dragging it to the bear.

Atchmon's solution was to tie a long piece of rope-vine to the spear, and tie the other end to himself. Then he would swim to the shore, and drag the fish out.

It was a pretty good idea.

In theory.

In practice, it went much more horribly.

Atchmon speared a nice fat fish that was nearly as big as he was, and it immediately took off swimming with Atchmon in tow. The giant flying salmon swam with unbelievable speed and power. Atchmon briefly wondered if this was how he was going to die; felled by his own stupidity.

Atchmon felt like his leg was going to be torn off, before the giant salmon went airborne; shooting to make it over the waterfall for the sake of saving the spawn it carried in its belly.

Atchmon screamed as his drag caused the flying fish to fall significantly short of its goal, and they fell together; all while cave-serpents took the opportunity to acquire a two-course meal.

Atchmon saw a flash of red as it swept over him and he suddenly stopped in mid-air. The cave-serpent quickly retracted into its hollow, but was stopped as a competitor came to challenge for the hearty morsels.

Atchmon was swung to and fro as a third serpent tried to sneak underneath the two that were fighting, and snatch the human out from under them.

Fate had other plans as the rope-vine was broken, and Atchmon fell safely back into the river, before the monster had a chance to nab him.

"Buah! Ha! Pfffsh!" Atchmon was delirious after surviving another near-death experience, as he resurfaced and spat the water out of his mouth.


The fish that was tied with him fell into the water with a line of black rope following after it.

Atchmon swam to collect the rope in hopes that the fish was too stunned to fight against him. The hunter grabbed the black rope-vine and gripped it tightly as he swam for all he was worth to the shore.

He made it to ground and tiredly dragged himself and the weightly line with him up the steep river bank. Atchmon pulled and tugged on the line with all his strength to reel in his catch. He could see the shiny fish scales just under the murky water, and slowed as more of the fish's body was pulled to the surface.

What was left of it, at least.

Barely half of the fish was left on his spear, leaving most of its tail fin for him to collect. Its gnarled remains floated tauntingly on the wavey river water. Atchmon threw down the rope in frustration, then cursed up a storm at the cave-serpent who took most of his prize.

Atchmon sat on the bank and let his anger stew for awhile before getting up and removing his spear from the fish corpse.

"Ass end is still an end; I guess," he grumbled irritably as he turned around, and froze in fear.

The colossal blue bear was staring hungrily at him just a few dozen yards away along the river bank.

Atchmon thought about making a run for it as he darted his eyes across the treeline. The river bank was too steep and covered in loose, muddy soil; he'd never make it before being overrun by the massive beast. Atchmon turned his head ever so slightly to gaze at the fish remains. It was an opportunity to put his original plan in motion. The giant blue bear stomped its forepaws and bellowed out a roar at the hunter; his long hair whipped behind him in the wake of the bears powerful lungs.

Atchmon tensed and gripped his spear tighter, yet remained perfectly still, despite his thudding heart and his legs turning to jelly.

Playing dead was never an option in his mind; lest he were to become dead, if the massive beast wasn't fooled by his charade.

He could swim for it, and hope the murky water would cover him until he made it underneath the waterfall and wait out the beast until it left the area.

'He'll chomp me up like a fish if I do that.' Atchmon thought, before finally making up his mind.

Atchmon turned to pick up the fish carcass. His movement caused the blue beast to fake a charge, and roar again to scare him off.

"Hay!" Atchmon pointed his spear at the beast defensively for a moment, before quickly kneeling down to pick up the fish carcass.

It was still a hefty chunk of meat, despite it being under half of its original size.

The big bear sniffed at the air, growled, and roared at Atchmon as he slowly approached with the offering.

"H-hey there, darlin', feelin' a lil hungry, huh?" Atchmon said, trying to repeat and copy Rarity's performance and charm with giant blue bear, just as she did with the manticore. 'God, that was so lame!' He thought, while straining to keep his nervous smile.

The humungus bear shied away as Atchmon stepped closer, and hesitated to move closer while also being drawn in by the fishy smell.

"You better not eat me," Atchmon muttered under his breath, and set the fish down on a small patch of grass a dozen yards away from the bear; then stepped back for the beast to eat.

The bear slowly drew closer to the offering, while occasionally looking towards the water, as if it were pretending to not see the morsel, before bending its head low and slurping up the fish with its tongue.

Atchmon felt he could relax after hearing the audible gulp of the bear swallowing its meal.

But that was a mistake.

The bear drew closer to Atchmon uncomfortably fast, and was forced to raise his spear to defend himself. "Hay! Hay!" He roared at the beast.

The bear roared back and reared itself up on its hind legs; towering nearly a hundred feet over Atchmon like a colossal shadow.

Atchmon shrank in fear at the display of power before him, before he regained his wits and noticed the bear raising its right paw for an attack.

The bears body weight came crashing down along with a swift claw strike that cut deep furrows into the earth with its claws.

Atchmon read the slow telegraph of the massive beasts strike and dodge-rolled away, before the ground exploded behind him as a chunk of earth was easily swept away like sand on a beach. His back lanced in pain as he landed directly on the fresh wound behind his shoulder. He writhed in pain for a moment, before focusing on the fight at hand.

The bear stood on all fours, and lifted its left paw for another strike.

Atchmon simply reacted and rolled into the fresh trench created by the giant bears first strike, just as the second attack landed and sent clods of dirt cascading over Atchmon's body.

The hunter couldn't blink away the dirt in time before the bears massive maw opened above him. The trench was too deep and narrow for the beast to chomp Atchmon up. The giant bears foul breath washed over him, as the hunter shifted in his haven; trying and failing to get further away from the beasts searching maw.

Atchmon yelled in fright as the bears floppy lips touched him, before finally pulling away and granting the hunter a brief respite. Then the bear clawed perpendicular of Atchmons trench, in order to dig out its meal.

Atchmon's haven was being worn away, before the bears maw returned to eat him.

Atchmon found his courage and thrust his spear up, and heard the beast roar in pain after the hunter felt his sharp pole connect with something fleshy. The barbs on the spear nearly caused it to be wrenched from his hands when the beast pulled away.

Atchmon's eyes teared to help wash away the dirt that blinded him, and in that moment of clarity; he saw the looming shadow of a giant paw bearing down on him. The hunter readied his spear and stuck the butt end of it firming into the ground by his side and pointed it straight up, just before the massive paw descended upon him.

The giant beast howled in pain as it leapt way from harm.

Atchmon was gripping his spear so tightly that he was pulled along with it when the bear retreated. The hunter's body was flung several feet above the trench, before landing roughly on his side with the spear still clutched in his grip.

The bears right paw was hung limply by the giant animals side while the beast limped away backwards; away from the hunter.

Atchmon got up and stumbled back down, before finding his feet again to stand firmly on the ground.

The bear seemed to have enough as it whimpered and grunted pathetically, while nursing the wound on its paw with tender little licks.

But the hunter wasn't done with it yet.

Atchmon's adrenaline fueled mind was blinded by fear and rage as he chucked his barbed spear at the massive beasts face, and watched as it soared and pierce squarely on the white star-shaped spot on the massive blue bear's forehead.

In the dim light underneath the cloudy grey sky, the white spot glowed brightly, before dimming back to its original state, as the Ursa wailed in pain and flopped on its side.

"I got your weak spot now," Atchmon growled breathlessly like a feral animal, while he drew out his blade and charged at the stunned bear as it lay dazed on its side.

Over the years Atchmon encountered dozens of magical beasts. In nearly every instance, there was some sort of weakness to be discovered in order to even the odds. Whether it be a soft spot, an opening to attack, weakness to fire, or simply grabbing it by the tail; the hunter would find out eventually and exploit it. Turning the great magical beasts own power against them.

Atchmon felt betrayed when the beast came for him after the offering of fish. He hoped the legend his people told about eating the heart of a beast you killed in order to gain its strength were true. He wanted that power. He felt as though he were owed something for going through so much pain and suffering; and the hunter demanded satisfaction.

Atchmon charged towards the downed beast, and ran up its left forepaw that was laid out on its side like a ramp. The bear stirred and jolted itself upright, causing Atchmon to fall on his belly and grip the fur on its head. The hunter recoved and sat on his knees while holding onto the bears fur, and raised his blade high above his head; ready to deliver another deadly blow to the massive magical beasts weak spot.

The bear thrashed its head to and fro trying to shake the hunter off its head; while Atchmon held on for dear life by grasping fur in his blade-hand too, while his legs flailed uncontrollably above and around him. The giant beast then tried to run through the forest, using the strong branches of trees to wipe Atchmon off its head; the hunter held tight and grit through the pain of bark scraping against his exposed skin.

The great bear had enough, and used a fore paw to swipe Atchmon off.

The hunter gripped the beasts fur in his left hand and rolled right, staring up into the bright, cloud-covered sky just as the massive bear claw swiped on Atchmon's left. Then he rolled left in order to avoid the swipe on the right.

The hunter quickly let go of his grip on the furry beast, before the next paw swiped over where he just was, and slid down the bridge of the massive bears nose. Atchmon straddled the beasts snout as it stared up at him with hatred burning in its red and yellow eyes.

Atchmon matched the beasts furious stare, while he grasped his blade in both hands, lifted it above his head, and plunged it deep into the weak spot. Another wail of excruciating pain, and another bright glow occured, before Atchmon was flung from the beasts head and crashed back into the river.

The hunter swam for the surface and gasped for breath, before wiping the wetness from his face. The bear winced in pain while shaking its head around. It nearly fell faint as it leaned against the trees trying to support the beasts massive weight, the cracking boughs echoed all around. The big blue bear shot Atchmon a quick glance before shaking its head once more and shambled away into the forest.

"That's right, you blether run away; that'll teash you not to mess with m'le!" Atchmon shouted at the retreating beast, while pumping his fist in the air with his blade still gripped tightly within his hand; and spat out the water that splashed into his mouth when he failed to keep himself afloat during his rant.

The hunter swam to the shore on the opposite side the bear went, and belted out a savage roar of victory for all the forest to hear.

Atchmon looked back at the unclimbable wall he still had to face, and cursed in frustration.

He wanted to give up. He thought about it; debated it. Weakly. But knew he couldn't do it... not this time. Not after all the other times, as he remembered every obstacle that ever stood in his path to salvation. Every time he hit an unscalable wall--not unlike the actual one before him--he always gave up when things seemed impossible to conquer. After every failure, Atchmon always went back 'home' with his tail tucked between his legs. Before now, he only had himself to worry about. It didn't matter to him how hard he tried, or if he failed, so long as it meant living another day.

And that mentality is what kept him stuck in the same place for six years...

But now things were different. Atchmon didn't have just himself to live for anymore. There was another who depended on him. One that needed him, just as much as he needed her.

He wasn't going to give up this time.

"Hold on, Rarity; I'm comin'," He whispered under his breath.

The Ursa Major rounded on Atchmon when he admitted to harming her baby.

Rarity and Atchmon both laid back in submission underneath the angry mothers scrutinizing eyes.

"Easy, I-I apologized to him and we're friends now, see? We're all good, right Blue?"

The Ursa Minor thought for a moment while uttering an extra long grunt as if he were mulling it over.

"BLUE!" Atchmon squeaked as the mother pressed in on him.

Big Blue grunted in affirmation, getting his mother to back off his friends; then Momma bear gave her cub a lick on the forehead to make his owies feel all better, causing Big Blue to shy away embarrassed as he grunted out a 'Mom! Not in front of my friends'.

"Aww," Rarity cooed sweetly at the loving display of affection between a mother and her child.

Atchmon, however, was still shaken. 'How can she go from scared shitless, to doughy-eyed, in no time flat?'

It was easy to pick up the trail left behind by the giant bear. A clear path of broken trees brought Atchmon right to the massive creature; who sat forlornly underneath a shallow cave that was eroded into the tall rock wall, and was just large enough to accomodate the colossal bears size.

The giant blue bear glared daggers into the hunter, and shifted away when Atchmon got too close, then roared threateningly as it pressed against the rock wall, before uttering whimpering little grunts while shifting back and forth on its forepaws. The bear swayed its head left and right, looking like it wanted to be anywhere else, so long as it was away from the creature who caused it harm.

"Easy, I'm not gonna hurt you; jus' wanna talk," Atchmon stepped one foot at a time as he tried to soothe the savage beast with his calm voice, while shifting himself closer to the gigantic bear laying beneath the jutting shelf of rock. The hunter kept himself angled in such a way that he could make a quick escape if things went badly. Atchmon's heart thudded in his chest, but kept his fear in check as he neared the beast. Doubt plagued his mind at whether or not the bear could understand him; but after witnessing the intelligence Monty displayed whenever Rarity spoke to him; he had to believe this could work.

The bear wasn't convinced as it moved to stand up, only to bonk its head hard against the solid stone ceiling of its cavernous abode, and causing a loose rocks to fall free around the cavern.

Atchmon flinched and backed away as he felt the solid impact through the ground he was standing on, and winced in sympathy for the bears misfortune as it whined pathetically. Any fear Atchmon had left was replaced with pity and remorse as he watched thick tears fall from the beasts heartbreakingly sad eyes and listening to it sob in choking little grunts.

Atchmon noticed a red puncture wound on the bears black snout. 'Must be where I poked 'em.' And winced again as he saw the bit of crimson marring the pristine white of the star-shaped spot on the giant creatures forehead.

Atchmon thought for a moment, before drawing out his blade and held it out for the bear to see. "Look here." He said, getting the beasts attention.

The bear lifted a paw to protect itself and wailed in fear, causing Atchmon's heart to ache as the Ursas blue fur flashed to a stark white for an instant; reminding Atchmon of his first encounter with the Unicorn he cared greatly for.

"I'm not gonna hurt you; it's okay," he said evenly and cooed gently to soothe the savage beast, before tossing his blade far away by the tree line.

The beast seemed hesitant, before it slowly relaxed while still casting wary glaces between the hunter and where the blade was tossed; and looked a little worrisome as Atchmon continued to make his slow approach.

"But I'll knock the fire out of you, if you try to eat me again." Atchmon warned sternly as he gave the beast a death glare.

The bear sat like a sphinx before lowing its head as they reached some sort of mutual understanding.

"I was tryin' t' help you, you know," Atchmon started with his voice increasing in volume. "Y' don't eat people who are tryin' t' help!" He yelled up at the bear.

The bear lowed its head dejectedly, uttering whimpering little grunts, clearly feeling sorry for its mistake.

"I know what its like to go hungry; so I understand where you're comin' from," Atchmon said sympathetically, evening his voice so it didn't sound like he was yelling at the creature.

Atchmon sat down, cross-legged before the great bear.

The Ursa shifted curiously to get a closer look at him, and pressed its snout to sniff at the hunter.

Atchmon stared up at the blue furry beast. A calmness fell between the two as they grew accustomed to each others company. As the human looked silently upon the melancholy face of the Ursa, he couldn't help but see himself in the great celestial bears eyes.

"I know what it's like bein' the 'big guy'," he started. "Everyone's either afraid of you, or wants t' fight ya jus' to prove their own self worth, or how tough they are..." His voice trailed, as old memories resurfaced. Though his words seemed to have an impact on the bear as it shifted closer to listen. "And I know how easy it is to be the bully. To push others around just to get your way, just because you can." He shook his head. "But you can't be that way forever. I learned that a bit too late; I always just assumed everyone was out to get me. No one wants to friends with someone like that..." He finished pensively.

The Ursa looked away with a little grunt, and laid its head down in a depressive state.

"Yep, I been there a time or two... It's tough to make friends when everyone assumes you're a monster, huh?" Atchmon spoke melancholy while watching the slow, sad blinks of the bear's eye.

"I'll still help you, if you'll help me too." Atchmon started sincerely. The Ursa raised its head, looking interested. "And I'll be your friend," he added, getting more of the bears attention. "I'll even show you how to get those fish, if you'll help me get over this wall," Atchmon said as he pointed straight up above the bear.

The Ursa glanced at him, looking a little unsure. Atchmon felt strange talking to such a giant creature. An animal no less. But after witnessing the little conversations between Rarity and Monty, talking to the great bear felt... oddly natural.

"So what do you say, bud?" Atchmon got up slowly, and cautiously stepped forward with his hand outstretched. His arm trembled in fear, excitement, trepidation, and anticipation as he drew closer to the Ursas head.

The massive bear shied away and uttered a low growl; causing Atchmon to draw his hand back slightly, but was otherwise undeterred.

"C'mon, we can help each other, because that's what friends do; right?" Atchmon suggested as he continued to draw nearer to the beast and closed his eyes with arm still outstretched, and left his life for fate to decide.

The Ursa gazed down at the strange creature, before lowering its head and nuzzling into the hunters hand.

As his hand touched the soft, warm fur of the celestial bear; Atchmon's eyes opened misted over in joyous tears.

He looked up in wonder at the gentle giant. "You are just the coolest thing I've ever seen," he croaked, as he was overwhelmed with emotion.

It was moments just like this that Atchmon sought out, desired, and longed for.

"C'mon get up, lemme get a look at you!" Atchmon waved his arms up in excitement, encouraging the bear to stand up for him.

Atchmon looked in awe at the sheer size of the massive animal as he circled several times around it. "Hah, you got the Big Dipper on your butt," the curious human chirped as he pointed at the Ursas flank, admiring the white spots that ran along the bears surprisingly long tail.

"I think I'll call you... Big Blue." Atchmon said thoughtfully as he looked up at the bears face. "Cause you're big, and you're blue," he explained. "How's that sound?"

Big Blue gave Atchmon a happy sounding grunt.

Atchmon walked away and collected his blade by the tree line, before sheathing it and turning to his new friend. "So, what d'ya say we catch some fish; sound good?" He suggested.

Big Blue uttered a long grunt, letting Atchmon know he was ready.

Atchmon started to walk back to the river, before a thought popped in his mind. "Hey, would you mind givin' me a lift?" He smiled toothily at his new pet.

Blue cocked his head, before raising its paw for Atchmon to climb on, then lifted the hunter onto its back.

"This is awesome!" Atchmon shouted to the world as he rode the colossal bear back to the river. His whoops and cheers echoed far throughout the forest.

"After that, we stuffed Blue's belly full of fish, and climbed right up that wall," Atchmon said as he held Rarity in his arms. She was doing him a favor by helping keep his exposed limbs warm from the cold night air, while she sat comfortably in his lap. "I had a sneakin' suspicion that Blue could climb up that wall himself, since I knew some bears could climb trees; I figured it wouldn't hurt to try."

"That was a wonderful story, Atchmon, and thank you Blue for being such a noble bear," Rarity complimented the Ursa.

Blue walked a little taller as his pride swelled with the compliment, while his mother seemed very pleased.

"So I guess the moral of the story is: Give a bear a fish, and you might get ate up. Teach a bear to fish, then you'll make a new friend, or sumthin'" Atchmon chuckled, as he butchered the wise old saying.

"Although, I think you were wrong about one thing, dear," Rarity started.

"What's that?" Atchmon asked curiously, hugging her a little closer to his chest.

"I didn't teach you anything... You already had everything you needed," said Rarity, gazing up behind herself to look the human in the face.

"What are you talkin' about? Of course you did; you've taught me about Friendship, and Generosity... Exquisite silverware placement." They both chuckled at that. "I've learned alot from you." He finished sincerely.

"Perhaps, but I would have never tried to make friends with an Ursa; not in a million years," Rarity emphasised. "I hope you understand I meant no offense, darlings," she explained to the Ursas present, as they glanced her way; then shrugged and grunted in understanding.

Atchmon chuckled lightly at the exchange.

Time passed as the night went on, and a long silence befell the two travelers.

"Hmm," Atchmon sighed in thought, while he stared up at the colossal momma bear.

"What are you thinking about?" Rarity inquired, seeing his thoughtful and mystified look at the Ursa Major.

"I was jus' wonderin' what other giant animals had to be in this world for somethin' like her to live," Atchmon gestured with a nod to the Ursa Major. "I mean, what else could they eat that's big enough for them to survive?" Atchmon questioned idly while admiring the purple mountain majesty that was the great celestial bear.

The Ursa Major glanced his way with a single eye. Atchmon sat straighter with great interest, and watched as the Ursa Major lowered her head to the forest canopy, and chomped up a massive swath of trees. Their leaves and bark turned to embers within the Ursa's maw as she chewed her meal.

"Oh! Well that answers that question," Atchmon mused at the new discovery, before his face dropped as he realized something. "Better not ask how much they poop..." He whispered. "I bet they poop mountains..." He added quietly.

Rarity scoffed as she rolled her eyes and shook her head at the human's strange curiosity.

Atchmon bit his lip as he motioned for Rarity to get off him.

"What are you doing," She asked while laying on her flank, and watched as Atchmon tried to wave down the Ursa Major.

"I wanna see if she'll let me ride on her; I wanna be up high an' get a good look around," He replied. "HEY MOMMA BEAR!" He shouted.

"Be respectful, Atchmon, I believe we're being imposing enough as it is," Rarity warned.

"Oh, c'mon Rare; it's jus' harmless fun," Atchmon pressed.

The Ursa Major lowered her head by Blue's withers, aware of what her son's friend wanted; and allowed the human to walk on her snout and up to the top of her head.

The air was chilly, but the sights were spectacular as he gazed at the world around him. Atchmon stood on his shaky legs and reached out to a low-hanging cloud, brushing his hand through its fluffy-wet condensed-ness.

"HEY, RARITY; BET'CHA I CAN BEAT YA TO THOSE ROCKS!" Atchmon's voice shouted down to her; his small form pointing far ahead to a rocky outcropping.

Rarity smiled knowing. "What do you say, darling; up for a little race?" She asked her chaperon, hinting the spirit of competition in her voice.

Big Blue nodded his head and gave a short grunt.

"YOU'RE ON!" She shouted up to Atchmon, and the race was on.

"Whoohoo, go go go!" Atchmon cheered as the two bears ran with surprising speed. Atchmon held tight against the Ursa Major's plume colored fur as the winds threatened to blow him off.

Rarity laughed and cheered for her own mount, as they neared the finish line.

The bears were neck and neck for a while, before Big Blue pulled away into the lead.

"C'mon c'mon c'mon; we can beat'em!" Atchmon pushed, but no matter how much he cheered; the mother bear stayed firmly on her babies heels, boosting her offsprings confidence.

Big Blue rounded the outcropping, clearly the winner, as he bounded and grunted happily in victory, while his mother uttered grunts of praise and sportsmanship.

"That was so not fair; I was sabotaged," Atchmon complained, as he was reunited with Rarity atop Big Blue.

"Never underestimate a mother's love for her child," Rarity said smugly as she smiled proudly at the defeated human.

The Ursas stood at the precipice of a massive crater that sank far below the forest; and in the center was a tall, rocky, five-pointed mesa, its flat top shaped like a star.

The Ursas carefully descended down into the massive concave; the depth of which was great enough to nearly match the center star-shaped point in height; leaving the towering natural wonder virtually hidden by the canopy of trees.

The smooth rocks made the small mountain look like the bark of a giant tree.

"Wonder what their doin'," Atchmon asked thoughtfully, as the Ursa's stopped before the small, vertically rising mountain. There was nothing else that filled the area other than the dense forest surrounding it. The area around the base of the mountain was clear of any growth for at least a hundred yards. Smaller rocks and boulders that must've eroded away from the main monument gently sloped up to the mountains base.

The pair could see numerous claw marks on the rocky surface leading all the way to the top.

"Hold on," Atchmon grabbed Rarity as the Ursa Minor made its ascent up the vertical cliff. Its long claws bore into the mountainside, cutting deep furrows into the stone; leaving fresh claw marks among the countless others. The youth struggled to pull itself up, until momma came to help by nudging her snout underneath her baby, and gave him a little push.

The pair crested over the mountain, and found the top to have a vast, shallow depression around the center of the star-pointed mesa.

The giant cub flopped onto its chest and shifted back to watch his mother effortlessly pull herself over the mesa.

The area was just barely big enough to accommodate the colossal purple bears size, before she laid on her side and sniffed at the cool night air.

The cub approached and laid next to its mother before looking behind itself, gazing at the pair expectantly.

"Looks like this is where we get off," said Rarity, looking above at Atchmon.

Atchmon went first and easily slid down the cubs furry shoulder, and turned to catch Rarity as she slid down as well.

"Take care, buddy; stay out of trouble for your mom's sake, okay?" Atchmon smiled fondly as he petted the cubs massive paw.

The Ursa Minor grunted its goodbyes to his friend.

"Thank you for helping us," Rarity said as she bowed in respect to the great celestial beasts. "You should be so proud of him." She said as she addressed the mother bear.

The mother bear looked on silently at the pair, before giving her cub another embarrassing nuzzle in front of his new friends.

"Aww, how sweet," Rarity cooed a the beautiful image.

Atchmon chuckled as the Ursa Minor grunted petulantly at his mother and tried to avoid her proud, loving nuzzles.

The pair moved away as the loving family settle close together for a long night's sleep, before a gentle blue and purple aura surrounded each of the celestial bears. The glow started off soft and faint; but steadily grew until their light cast a beacon across the Everfree.

Rarity and Atchmon watched in awe as the mother and child ascended into the heavens. They rose ever higher, as their furred bodies turned translucent, and the motes of light along their flanks shone brightly.

Then they became the stars.

Their constellations shined brighter than any in the night sky, before they settled among the other lights in the heavens.

The pair shared a look of wonder, and stared back at their sleeping companions in the sky; bidding them a pleasant hibernation.

Atchmon bent low next to Rarity and wrapped an arm around her, after witnessing the rare event.

After breaking the embrace, the pair looked around their surroundings atop the mountain.

"Sooo... how do we get down?" Atchmon questioned, while turning in place.

Rarity's shoulders dropped as she frowned in realization.

The pair pivoted in place as they tried to spot a part of the mountain that wasn't a sheer vertical drop from the top of the mesa.

Heart of the Mountain

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"This is so stupid; I hate this," Atchmon complained as he descended the mountain with Rarity strapped to his back. His white-knuckled hands tightly gripped the black rope-vine they were using to repel down the side of the vertically rising cliff. One end of the rope was tied to a solid chunk of rock at the top, while the other end was tied to the human's waist.

"Nonsense, darling; y-you're doing a wonderful job," Rarity praised nervously as she tried her best not to choke the life out of him, in fear of falling from the sheer height of their decent.

"Easy for you so say; I'm doin' all the work," he grunted in effort, and put a foot into the next tiny alcove below him, which were few and far between.

She could see his tiredness growing with every effort, as the human took a breath and pushed on; making little progress.

"Over there, I think I see an opening you can rest at," Rarity pointed a shaky hoof to their left.

Atchmon took her word for it, and shifted over to grip the next rock beside him; moving sideways along the cliff.

"That's it; easy does it now," Rarity encouraged.

"Are you seriously talkin' to me like I'm a pony, or someth-AH!" He grunted in exasperation, then lost his footing and slipped just enough to make the pair scream for their lives.

Neither dared to speak again, until Atchmon found his courage and confidence to keep moving.

They made it to the deep alcove only to find it was a cave leading far into the mountain. The pair shifted to look into its deep, dark abyss, while Atchmon kept his grip on the rocks beside the entrance; both were cautiously looking out for any Quarray Eels.

"What do you think; should we go inside and see where it leads?" Rarity suggested, and glanced at Atchmon's scrutinizing eye as he examined the cave.

Atchmon looked down and checked the rope around his waist. There was only a few yards of slack left, and about a few hundred yards of sheer vertical drop left to descend down the mountain.

"Yeah, looks clear," Atchmon grunted as he pulled them around the corner, and felt relief along with a small compulsion to kiss the ground after finally setting his feet on the solid cave floor.

Rarity used her magic to untie the binding keeping herself attached to him, and slid off the human's back. Her hooves clopped against the rocky surface, and echoed into the cave's interior. A moment later, the sound of rushing water emanated from the cave's deep, dark, depths, before a large colony of bats washed over them.

"Aah-ahhaha!" Rarity screamed and dropped to the ground in fright while covering her head.

Atchmon fell to his knees and did the same, until the colony emptied from the cave with a couple of strays lagging far behind the main group.

"Are they in my hair, please tell me they aren't in my hair!" Rarity squeaked as she tussled her mane with her hooves.

Atchmon checked her over. "Nah, you're good."

Rarity hung her head and sighed in relief, while staying laid out on her belly. "I thought you said it was clear!" She exasperated, and shot Atchmon a look.

"I said it looks clear," he retorted back incisively.

"Well, how does it look now?" She frowned.

Atchmon looked back into the caves abyss. "Looks clear," he grinned cheekily while cocking his head at her.

Rarity let out a grumbling sigh as the pair stood back on their legs.

Rarity illuminated her horn to see what's ahead of them.

The pathway narrowed and curved to the right, before the pale blue light of Rarity's horn was lost to the blackness. The pair moved to get a closer look, as they passive aggressively fought for who should be the leader.

"Excuse me, dear, but seeing as how I have the light, don't you think I should trot ahead?" Rarity suggested intelligently, silently hoping he wouldn't press the issue.

Atchmon thought for a moment before speaking. "Well, alright, but if there's trouble you get behind me quick as you can, alright?" He instructed more as an order, rather than a question or a suggestion.

"A-, oh, alright." Rarity conceded, and was about to argue, but decided to let him have his way, just this once.

The pair followed the pathway leading further into the mountain. The ceiling was too short to accomodate Atchmon's tall stature; forcing him to remain bent over, until the pathway opened into a vast cavernous space. The narrow path continued to spiral downward along the wall towards the black nothingness below them. The darkness seemed to consume Rarity's light, like the darkness itself were pressing in on them.

Atchmon kicked a loose stone down the enormous pit, and waited... After a few seconds, nothing happened. The pair tilted their heads and listened carefully, while inching their ears closer to the edge as the seconds ticked by; before the stones impact finally echoed back to them.

The pony and human shared a nervous look; each knowing it was a long way to fall; and both hugged the wall a little tighter to keep from accidentally falling over the edge of the narrow path as they continued their downward, spiraling trek.

"Does it seem really humid in here to you?" asked Atchmon after what felt like an hour of walking along the narrow path. The normally stale air grew wet with moisture the further they went.

"I was about to ask you the same thing, and look at this." Rarity pointed a hoof to the wall along their path. It glisented with moisture in the pale light of Rarity's spell.

Atchmon stuck close to Rarity as they continued to travel. Her spell was only effective within a small bubble-like range. Anything beyond her light could ambush them, with little chance for them to react, or counter their foe.

Downward they descended, until the first glimpse of a faint pale-green light illuminated from the bottom of the large shaft.

The pair started to encounter small glowing mushrooms growing along the cavern walls. Their spindly tendrils draped lazily below their caps, which jutted out from the stone walls. The glow beneath them grew ever brighter with every passing minute as they continued to follow the spiraling path along the deep pit.

The pair finally reached the bottom of the pathway, the circular room was filled with glowing foliage; including ferns with streaks of green luminessence outlining its leaves, along with other plants of varying types and unique lighting around their stems.

The couple wandered through a narrow winding corridor, and what they found on the other side was a breathtaking sight of natural wonder.

Several shelves of blue luminescent water pools cascaded downward into larger pools under the pale-green and purple light of gigantic glowing mushrooms and foliage; which grew out from both the walls and stemmed from the ground. Bathing the oasis in bioluminescent light.

"Oh, my... how gorgeous!" Rarity gasped in awe, and squealed in delight as she cut the light from her horn; allowing their eyes to quickly adjust to the natural light of the cavern.

The humidity was much thicker near its source, but still far from stifling as they approached the hot springs.

Above them, a steady flow of steaming water cascaded down the wall from a fissure in the rock, and poured freely into the awaiting pools below. The largest semicircular pool rested at the bottom, and was easily twice the length and width of Atchmon's height.

Atchmon knelt down by the rimstone barrier and held his hand above the steaming water, before carefully touching its surface to test out its temperature. He swirled his hand in the pool, before looking back at Rarity with a big toothy grin on his face.

"Ooh, you're gonna love this, Rare." He cooed.

Rarity cantered over, and stuck her hoof into the steaming pool as well.

Not too hot, and it was far from cold; if anything, it was just right!

The pair shared a bright smile and wasted no time in quickly stripping off their clothing and gear.

Atchmon only had his blade, belt, boots, pants, and socks to strip off, while Rarity's attire took a bit more work to get off herself.

She paused halfway through pulling off the straps to her leather barding, before seeing Atchmon's maleness in front of her face as he shuffled out of his pants and undergarments.

Rarity's face flushed at seeing it so fully; something she only saw glimpses of.

Normally he'd face away from her whenever they bathed together, and he always wore his pants or undergarments when not needing to clean himself, or when the weather was too hot for his comfort; but he must have forgotten his modesty in the rush to get into the awaiting hot spring.

Rarity had to rip her eyes away from staring at the human's dangling genitals, before he finally turned away and stood before the pool.

It intrigued Rarity to see that his body hair grew so oppositely from most other creatures. Having patches of hair in places where--with anything else--there would be none, or much finer hair at most. She stared up at his smooth back and the intricate pair of wings that adorned his shoulder blades, until a pang of guilt stabbed Rarity's heart at seeing the left wing ruined by the scar left from the Thunderbird; knowing it was her fault that it was there to begin with. She didn't find scars appealing in the least, but Atchmon managed to help her understand how they could be seen as attractive; and she couldn't imagine her rugged human guardian without his proofs of might and adventure.

Her eyes continued to trail along the divot in his back, until she stopped at his flanks, and bit her lip; then shook herself to be rid of the lewd thoughts entering her mind.

'Honestly, Rarity, did you already forget your standards and become an uncivilized cave-mare, after spending a single night in the wilderness!?' She mentally berated herself and undressed the rest of the way, while Atchmon started to wade into the water.

'At least his 'equipment' doesn't look so different from a stallions... Oh, for the love of Celestia, you need to cease thinking such thoughts, Rarity. Atchmon has made his intentions clear that he doesn't find us appealing in that way.

Her thoughts trailed as she watched his toned flanks disappear behind the smooth, round, rimstone barrier; his great mass causing a small deluge of water to spill over the edge.

Rarity pulled off her barding, and then proceeded to silently bonk herself on the forehead at the continued lewd thoughts; but the soft leather did little to help in disciplining herself.

"Ahhh," Rarity sighed delightfully, as she slid backwards into the awaiting pool. The water was so pleasantly hot that she could feel every pore in her hide opening up; blossoming to drink in the natural spring and its minerals, and to rejuvenate her spirit.

The pool itself was shallow enough for Rarity to sit comfortably on her haunches, yet deep enough to reach her withers.

"Mmmph," Rarity mewled, and relaxed, while crossing her forehooves over the smooth stone edge of the pool, before resting her head upon her forehooves.

She released another deep sigh that held all the tension, soreness, and stress of the past few weeks, and let it all melt away into the water; draining it out of her. The hot bath doing its magical work soothing her aching body.

Atchmon watched as Rarity slowly dipped into the steaming pool; her face smiling in pleasure as she sank into the hot water. His eyes trailed from her voluminously curvy purple hair, which looked attractively wild-looking and wind-blown over her pristine white hide. His eyes trailed down her smooth back and fuzzy hide, before ending at her curvaceous rump, adorned with three blue gemstones, until her body disappeared beneath the rippling water.

He sat cross legged, with his back resting against the cool stone barrier; his arms resting on the ledges beside him. His large size kept much of his upper body above the shallow water, even with him leaning back to relax for a soak; whereas, with Rarity, it nearly submerged her. The pain of the scar on his back dulled as he soaked in the soothing hot pool. The cold rimstone he leaned against also helped in easing the inflammation of his wound.

The couple shared a look of utter bliss as they laughed softly together. Each knowing this was a well deserved retreat, while every ache, sore, and overworked muscle washed into the hot water; their bodies melting into a dull, relaxing heat.

After soaking for awhile, it was time for them to clean the rest of their bodies, and tend to their gear.

Rarity pushed away from the edge and trotted around the pool's wide open center. She'd dip her head underwater, before rising up and shaking out the excess moisture from her mane; along with any dirt and detritus that may have collected in her hair.

Rarity felt cleaner than she had in weeks, as she sat down to wash her face with her hooves.

She turned to check on Atchmon, who looked completely relaxed as he rested his head against the smooth, round, rimstone wall that surrounded the steaming pool.

Rarity's mind blanked as she stared at his human features under the pale bluish-green light of the cavern. From his almost flat muzzle, to his tiny snout, and beady little eyes; to his broad chest, and rolling musculature along his limbs.

His demeanor was never like that of other stallions. He was strong, brave, bold, brash, and a tad coarse and boorish at times, but a true gentlestallion whenever he wanted to be. Not that there weren't any stallions like that, but none ever seemed to find their way to Rarity. And those that did, lacked any of the noble traits or charm that she found herself attracted to the most.

Atchmon's gruff, down-to-earth nature reminded her of a certain apple farming mare she was quite fond of; and if not for that analogue, Rarity couldn't say she would've become such good friends with the noble-savage human. He won her heart and her trust all on his own, and without sacrificing much of who he is. He was stubborn to change, yet still willing to better himself by listening and following Rarity's advice.

Rarity was a Lady, and an honorable Lady doesn't push a stallion into something they don't want to do. But like many powerful, strong-willed mares, Rarity was no different in her desire to claim a stallion; as was her right as a proper lead mare. However, she always found such roles trivial in modern society, and fantasized about finding a strong stallion who'd do all of the work, and make all the moves...

But that wasn't the world she lived in...

However, it was the world that he lived in.

But, Atchmon didn't covet her like many other suitors, and thus, Rarity had no leverage over him. She knew that if a stallion were ever to 'obtain' her; then she, herself, and her reputation would be cheapened and she would no longer be considered a priceless commodity among noble stallions. Which was why she saved herself for only her perfect stallion.

Her Prince.

Her one true love.

But now... after everything they've been through together...

Whenever she thought about it, Rarity always had eyes for her own kind. She always imagined settling down with a nice Unicorn Stallion, and having a couple Unicorn foals, and living in the Unicorn Capitol of Canterlot... But those fantasies were all during the time of her obsession with Prince Blueblood. Then, when that plan fell through, she set her eyes on other successful Unicorn stallions like Trenderhoof. Of course, Trenderhoof wasn't interested in her in the least; despite her best efforts to gain his attention.

Then there were all the non-ponies she met on her many adventures. Some were quite charming--like Capper--others were just plain handsome like Blackthorn; she so admired the many points on that guardsdeer's antlers. But, deviency like that was risky to practice among higher society, despite its slowly growing acceptance among common ponies.

'But there was a spark between us, wasn't there? I could've sworn I felt a connection back there.' Rarity thought back to their reunion atop Big Blue, the Ursa Minor; and the Ursas beautiful ascension unto Luna's gorgeous night sky. Remembering Atchmon's loving face looking at her in both scenes.

After everything Rarity has been through, he fulfilled her every desire and fantasy, but one. He rescued her, gave her strength, and encouraged her. He listened and learned from her, and took charge, and taught her what she needed to know. He didn't bend to her will, nor wilt. She'd seen him at his strongest, and his most vulnerable; just as he'd seen hers.

Above all, he respected her; and she, him.

Generosity was her Element, so...

Could she really give her most precious gift to this alien?

Should she?

Rarity continued to stare blankly at the man as he washed himself; watching him slide his body underwater, then quickly rose up while scrubbing his face with both hands; sending water spraying everywhere. Then watched as he ran his palms over his long, slick, wet, black, oily hair; leaving it mostly slicked back behind his ears with a few rogue strands hanging in front of his intense, regal-looking eyes.

Atchmon sensed Rarity's eyes on him, and found her staring at him with her lips parted. He gave Rarity a tiny smile, and shook his head at her. "Whut?" He chuckled, while subtly shrugging his shoulders; which snapped Rarity out of her thoughts.

"Nothing!" Rarity squeaked tersely and looked away bashfully.

Atchmon pursed his lips and tipped his head nonchalantly, before moving on to clean his jeans and socks. The only article of clothing that remained with him had certainly seen better days. His pants were a patchwork of soft leather and linens from other clothes he packed with him during his first arrival into Equestria. The Everfree forest was unrelentingly cruel against cloth.

Rarity looked back at Atchmon while he busied himself with cleaning his clothing. 'I'm not the least bit attractive to him, am I?' She thought and checked herself over.

Her mane grew to be completely unmanageable as it stuck itself wetly around her shoulders; all frayed, knotted, split, dry, dirty, and a dozen other things that no stallion would ever accept. The same could be said about her tail, which was shorter than she'd like, and every bit as ragged.

'I look like I've gone to a cheap, second-rate beauty school and let a talentless student have at me...'

Her hide wasn't as pristine as it used to be, either. At least it finally stopped shedding, leaving her with a thin, and very smooth summer coat. However, it was still overgrown in some areas where it grew naturally, which needed to be trimmed.

She lifted a hoof above the pool, and watched as the sparkling water cascaded off the long, wispy hairs of her unshorn fetlocks; which--to herself--made her look every bit like the 'scruffy country bumpkin' that she was.

She found nothing 'charmingly rustic' about her current physical qualities.

'Nopony would ever want a mare as haggard, bedraggled, and ugly as I am.' Rarity thought sadly, and looked over at Atchmon again.

Atchmon caught Rarity's look again, and waited for her to say something.

"Rare? Everything alright?" he asked in concern, and looked around behind himself; thinking for a moment that she might not actually be looking directly at him.

Rarity didn't seem to hear him, as she continued to stare a ways from him with the water up to her barrel. She watched as droplets of water dripped and rolled down his smooth skin. Rarity stood motionless with her lips parted as she stared at his strong jawline, then along his wide neck, and across his broad chest, before being interrupted from her thoughts.

"Rare, yer starin' a hole right through me." Atchmon chuckled nervously, while looking at her with a raised eyebrow and a strained smile at her odd behavior.

Rarity winced as she turned away embarrassed again, then a moment later turned back.

"Do you like me, Atchmon?" She asked out of nowhere.

His face dropped. "You know I do," he answered immediately, as if such a fact couldn't be argued. Atchmon's look and voice was laced with concern, but was still confused by the strange vibe she was putting off.

"What do you think of me?" She asked randomly again, while lifting a hoof as she stepped towards him.

Atchmon knitted his brows as he worked his mouth before answering. "I think you're a really good pony, Rare; but what's goin' on; what's up with you all of a sudden?" He leaned towards her as his concern grew.

Rarity worked her mouth before asking him another random question. "Am I your friend; or your pet?"

"O' course you're my friend," he answered quickly; his brows knitted tightly in worry, unsure how to read the look on her face.

Rarity looked away and gave him a ghost of a smile at his sincerity, but it wasn't quite the answer she was seeking.

"But, sometimes," he continued.

Rarity gazed longingly with her ears perked towards him; hanging on his every word.

"Rarity, sometimes when I look at you, I don't see a Unicorn. I see a very strong, kind... sometimes annoying," Rarity tried to suppress her snicker at that unexpected bit, and Atchmon chuckled lightly with her; lessening the tension between them. "Very pretty Lady. But, other times I see you as a Unicorn, a pet that I have to take care of, and I care about you a lot... I'm just not sure anymore if that's the animal caretaker in me that's feelin' that; or if it's... somethin' else." He finished and looked away; like he was making sure himself if those feelings were true.

Rarity stood quietly by herself as she mulled his words over, but couldn't bring herself to accept or believe them. 'He thinks I'm pretty, but still sees me as nothing more than a four-legged animal... I can't blame him. I do look and smell like a wild feral horse, after all...'

"You wanna tell me what's goin' on now?" Atchmon questioned in concern.

"Just- nevermind," Rarity sighed as she deflated, and stared down at the pool; the water reflecting back her melancholy look. 'A good pony... Pretty... But not beautiful...'

"No. Not 'nevermind'; somethin's obviously botherin' you." Atchmon started firmly, before softening his voice. "C'mon, talk t' me; tell me what it is... Did I do somethin'?" He finished sincerely.

"You haven't done anything, I just-" Rarity started defensively, and worked her mouth several times before looking away again.

Atchmon watched her in concern, before his lips curled into a knowing grin as he relaxed. "S'okay, Rarity; I think I know what's goin' on." He said, looking smug.

Rarity prickled and her blood froze despite the hot water surrounding her. 'He knows! Oh, why did I stare at him like he's some juicy, delicious hayburger! He's going to think I'm a creepy pony!'

"You want me to help fix your hair for ya, don' cha?" He smirked knowingly.

Rarity nearly fell over. "I, ah, y-yes; if you don't mind." She said, and forced a nervous chuckle.

"Nah, I don't mind," He started nonchalantly, and waved it off like it was nothing. "Come on over here and I'll help ya out with your hair, m'kay?" Atchmon suggested as he motioned for her to sit beside him.

Rarity nodded her head. "That would be wonderful, thank you," she trotted over to him; the water sloshing around her legs as she neared his seated form.

She turned from him, and accidentally showed off her ample flanks in front of his face, before sitting close to his side; then noticed the blushing human was trying so hard to look at anything but her.

Rarity winced as she mentally berated herself for the mistake. 'Subtle, Rarity; really subtle...'

"Thank you again for helping me with my mane. You can groom it so much better than I ever could with my little brush." She complimented, and leaned over to rest against him. She liked the feel of his smooth skin against her coat, his body felt so pleasantly hot in the steaming pool, and Rarity hoped he wouldn't reject her need for closeness.

She still hadn't gotten her fill of company since being left all alone in the wilderness for nearly two 'whole' days.

It wasn't like she didn't go days without company, or have anyone come into her shop during that time, and she'd rarely leave home before a project was finished; but the situation just made it so much worse.

"S'all right; figured you were overdue for this sorta thing." Atchmon pulled an arm over her withers, and turned his body to better work on her purple hair. His nimble fingers sifted and ran through her mane; getting all the tangles, knots, and bits of stubborn debris out of it. "But I refuse to believe there's not a magic spell out there that can do it all for ya."

"Mmmph, yes; but I know first hoof that mane magic can be tricky," Rarity closed her eyes and melted into the wonderful treatment, while his blunt digit massaged her scalp. "Magic is a fickle and mysterious energy we've yet to fully understand, despite the fact that it's ingrained into our very being," she started to explain. "We can will it to do many things and solve many problems, but there are times it causes more trouble than it solves... I'm living proof of that, as you can see."

"Mmm," Atchmon hummed in understanding as he washed the mare.

Mutual bathing wasn't something Unicorns practiced; such a thing was reserved mainly for the Earth Ponies. Pegasi could get by with their somewhat dexterous wings. But once a Unicorn foal was old enough to use their magic; they were expected to act much more independently. At the moment, Rarity couldn't care less about social norms, so long as Atchmon kept rubbing her scalp in all the right places, and used his hands to trickle the steamy mineral water over her head.

"So... you seem like you've had a pretty rough day," Atchmon started in mock curiosity.

Rarity smiled brightly as they started to play her favorite game: 'Beauty Salon'. She, at one time, begged and pleaded with him for days to pretend like they were in a fancy spa whenever they bathed underneath their tiny waterfall back at the meadow; and all for the sake of sanity and a sense of normalcy for herself.

How appropriate that he'd want to play that game now, considering how against it he was at the time. Well, Rarity wasn't about to waste the opportunity, now that they were in the best possible setting for such a theme.

"Oh, yes; you wouldn't believe what I've been through, even if I told you, darling." Rarity easily slid into the role, adopting her usual high class accent to go with it, as she relaxed further while Atchmon used the blunt tips of his fingers to scritch at her scalp, before running his digits through her hair some more.

Atchmon almost couldn't keep up his own role, and chuckled at what he dubbed to be Rarity's 'fancy' voice. "Oh, really? Try me." He challenged, trying to contain his amusement.

Rarity could almost imagine the embarrassed grin he was sporting from playing such a 'girly' game.

"Where should I even begin?" She started, flourishing her words. "How about when I was whisked away from my home, and thrust out into the wild unknown with nothing but the hide on my back."

"No. Way." Atchmon gasped in mock shock, and tried to stifle his snickers.

"Oh, yes it was terribly dreadful; but it wasn't all bad though,"

"Yeah; how so?" He questioned.

"I was rescued by a rare creature known as a 'man' who brought me into his home, and under his protection."

"A man you say... What did you think of him?" Atchmon hesitated, but continued playing the role with a little more interest.

"I was absolutely terrified to be honest; after all, I'd never seen anything like him before; I thought for certain he was going to eat, or enslave me; but he quickly proved himself to me; and earned my trust." Rarity trailed as she recalled all her time spent with the noble human.

The pair shared a laugh and joked as Rarity recounted her harrowing tale of survival, filling him in on everything she'd seen and dealt with in the last couple days; until the conversation and revelry tapered, and the pair were left in silence once again.

"Hey, Rarity, you mind if I ask you a question?" Atchmon started hesitantly.

"Of course, dear, you can ask me anything." Rarity said reassuringly.

"You remember when you were tellin' me about how ponies could be in relationships with other species? Like Dragons, an' Griffins, 'n such?"

"I do recall telling you about that," Rarity cracked an eye open; having a small inkling in her mind, and was interested to hear where he was going with this, but decided to withhold any judgement until she heard more.

"I was jus' thinkin' that... Since the tree is... Gone," Atchmon spoke as though finally accepting the crushing truth. "Then there's a good chance I'm goin' t' be here for the rest of my life."

Rarity turned, and placed a hoof on his chest. "Don't say that, darling; I still have hope for you." She interrupted him; feeling the firmness of his body beneath her hoof.

Rarity's heart dropped as she realized her mistake.

Touching a stallions chest was a BIG no-no; but luckily Atchmon didn't seem to care where she touched him.

He gave her a ghost of a smile. "I wish I had your positive thinkin', but I'm jus' tryin' to be realistic." Atchmon said as he held Rarity's hoof against him, while reaching his other hand around the withers to stroke her shoulder on the other side.

Rarity turned towards him fully to stop his petting, and held Atchmon's hand in both of her hooves. "Atchmon, tell me what's on your mind." She looked up at him in concern.

Atchmon grasped and caressed at her pastern; it helped him to work out what he wanted to ask. "I was wonderin' if there might be someone- somepony out there that might... like me," he winced and looked away, as if regretting asking the question.

"You want a special somepony," Rarity voice drifted in shocked realization; but Atchmon took it as a question.

"Yeah, I-I guess I do... I don't wanna to be alone any longer than I have to; so I was wonderin' if you knew somebody out there that might like me. I mean, a pony or somethin' that would like--er--might like a- a thing like me, you know?" He asked while still looking away, unable to meet her eyes; and felt as though he were about to implode from the shame and humiliation, while his gut wrenched from asking such an idiotic question.

The answer was obvious. Why bother asking at all? Who would want some ugly-freak of an alien like him?

"I do..." Rarity said just above a whisper.

"Huh?" Atchmon looked at her hopefully.

Rarity looked away; unable to meet his eyes. "I- I do know a few mares who might be right up your alley," Rarity quickly recovered. "I'll check them over before giving them my 'Rarity Stamp of Approval'." Rarity half-laughed, faking her enthusiasm for his sake, and tried to ignore the growing ache in her heart.

"Oh... That's good... Maybe you could introduce me sometime once we get you settled in." Atchmon sighed in disappointment.

"Yes..." Rarity said solemnly as she turned away from him; and felt the human continue kneading into her mane.

Rarity clenched her teeth as the fresh pang of rejection ached her heart. 'He doesn't like me. He wants a special somepony, and it's not going to be me, and it's not fair!'

"What if there's one that I like; what should I do then?" He asked curiously.

Rarity buried her emotions deep in order to answer him. "You should follow your heart's desire, of course," Rarity craned her neck as she leaned over and put a hoof to her mouth, as if blocking anyone who might overhear what she was about to reveal. "I'll let you in on a little secret; mares love to be pursued. I know that doesn't coincide with our typical courtship rituals, but lots of mares would greatly appreciate a stallion who makes the first move."

Atchmon nodded in understanding. "So, pretty much jus' do what I normally would back on my world, right?"

"Precisely." Rarity smiled demurely as she gave a single nod of her head, before turning away.

Atchmon worked to put the finishing touches on Rarity's dark purple mane, and pulled it all over to one side so that the Unicorn mare's beautiful, long, white neck laid bare before him.

He admired her beauty. Her purple mane had always amazed him; it being such a new and different color from the dull browns he was always used to seeing on his own people's heads.

Atchmon lowered his body and leaned in to wrap his arms around Rarity.

Rarity closed her eyes and sighed at the warm embrace, before relaxing into him; letting her body further rest against his. She let her emotions drain out of her and contented to enjoy her time with him, for however long it lasted; and for good or ill.

"'m really glad you turned out okay," Atchmon whispered in her ear.

Rarity smiled as she felt a pressure behind her ear, followed by the tell tale sound of his gentle platonic pet kiss.

"I didn't get a chance to say it before... but I missed you,"

"Mmmph, I missed you too, and I'm glad to see you're unharmed as well," Rarity mewled in his embrace. She didn't care that he may always see or treat her as a pet; Rarity still enjoyed the feeling of being so loved and cared for.

"Well, for the most part, at least; how does your scar feel? Is it- Was it-" Rarity felt guilty for not asking about it earlier. There was just so much going on, and too much take in. 'The Element of Generosity... more like the Element of Selfishness...' Rarity clenched her teeth at the mental berating. 'It's no wonder why Atchmon didn't accept my courtship, nor offer me his.'

"It's fine; you did a great job stitchin' it for me; it doesn't even hurt at all now," Atchmon continued to whisper in her ear, while gently swaying with the small, white mare in his arms.

Rarity shifted with him, enjoying the calming sway of their bodies along the touch of his smoothness as all those negative feelings washed away; and were replaced by special love-butterflies that fluttered around inside her tummy and migrated throughout her limbs; leaving her body buzzing with warm feelings of affection.

How far they've come as friends that she'd let him do this; when weeks before just a light touch on the shoulder made her feel uncomfortable.

Compare that to now, and those days were like a distant memory.

Rarity's ear twitched as she felt a pressure behind it, followed by the sound of another kiss.

Ponies usually hated for their ears to be touched, or messed with in any way. Mainly because it was their strongest and most important sense that helped warn them of nearby predators. The fact that Rarity didn't mind his touch against her most precious sense, showed just how much she trusted him.

Rarity didn't mind his kisses or his closeness; instead, she welcomed it. She needed to feel loved and cared for, just like her friends would do for her during their group hugs.

Rarity felt Atchmon's cool breath blowing on her neck, contrasting the warm humidity of the atmosphere around them. Her brow knitted as she felt a pressure against her temple, followed by the sound of a kiss emanating from Atchmon's lips.

She felt his hand move from embracing around her shoulder, to caressing under her chin; subtly applying pressure to her jaw and forcing Rarity to lift her head.

Then those love-butterflies started to freeze in mid-flight as her blood chilled, despite the heat of the hot water surrounding her. Rarity's stomach tightened as she realized what he was doing. Just as Atchmon kissed her slowly on the cheek; just shy of her lips.

His hand moved from beneath Rarity's cheek to her withers and caressed down her back; a place she explicitly told him was off-limits for personal and private reasons; while his other hand stroked down her soft, exposed throat--another 'bad touch' zone--before continuing its journey down her bare chest.

He dared to go further down to her sensitive belly; her soft white hide felt like velvet under his touch.

Rarity's breath quickened as she felt the pressure of his touch sliding over her sensitive areas. Her face burned with desire, while her body flinched with each tender touch to her erogenous zones. Her limbs were stiff with tension, and stomach twisted with nerves.

His touch neared the rise of her soft mounds, sending intense tingling sensations through her tummy, while she felt his cool breath against her neck, before a pressure grew against her cheek as he gave her another kiss.

She felt increasingly claustrophobic as the amorous human crowded her, while dominating her senses with his ministrations, until a sudden panic overcame her.

"Atchmon!" Rarity yelped in shocked-surprise as she turned and pushed him away with both hooves against his chest; keeping the amorous human at bay, before she stood up and trotted away a few steps before turning to face him fully.

Atchmon felt Rarity's resistance and quickly released his hold on the mare.

Rarity stood before him and stared at his wide, beady little eyes, which matched hers in petrified shock.

But to Atchmon, Rarity's shocked face looked more like she was terrified of him; and he felt like scum for what he tried to do to her.

After a long moment of awkward silence, Atchmon was the first to speak. "Rare, I-I- I'm sorry... I-I thought- I don't know what I was thinkin'; sorry..." He finished just above a whisper, before looking away in shame. "I'm sorry."

Rarity almost didn't hear what he said, as she tried to sort out the millions of thoughts, feelings, and emotions buzzing around in her mind.

'I'm not ready for this! Am I ready for this? Of course I'm ready for this; I'm a grown mare; I have needs! Do I have needs? Are those needs needed now? He likes me! Wait. Does he like-like me, or just like me? Is it going to be a one time thing? What about after? Will we still be together?'

Rarity shook the thoughts from her head, and tried to put her mind back on track. 'I can't believe this! I've been thinking about this moment since I was a little filly, and I feel like I'm going to wet my tail! Calm down, Rarity, he's your friend; you aren't some immature school-filly. You can talk this out like grown ponies... EXCEPT HE'S NOT A PONY! AHHHHHH!' Rarity's mind did a few summersaults, before she regained her wits.

"Atchmon, I- bu- th-th-this is so sudden; so forward; I- I thought you didn't like me that way," Rarity stammered in confusion.

"I know, but the truth is, Rarity, I-" he tapped at his chest, looking for the right words. "Ahhh, shouldn't be havin' these thoughts an' these feelin's about you," he rebuked himself in a grumbling sigh, while covering and rubbing his face.

"I don't understand; what do you mean you 'shouldn't'?" Rarity concerned, feeling hurt; but did share some inkling of how he felt.

They were two beings from two different worlds...

"I mean jus' look at us," Atchmon despaired. "You're a Unicorn Princess and I'm-" He paused. "Nobody..." The human sighed as he deflated.

Rarity shook her head while looking worried. She took a breath, ready to tell him the truth; but Atchmon continued on with his profession.

"And you're smart too," he continued. "I always feel dumb as a stump when we talk about things together; but you always see things and think of things that I never would've thought about." His words sparked something in Rarity's heart as he spoke; she ached with longing and her yearning only grew as he continued to profess his feelings towards her. "And you're cute, an' pretty, and amazing. And I'm not just talkin' about your magic, that's awesome too; but more than that... You look at me in a way no one else ever has." He finished sincerely; looking at her.

Rarity sniffed as she held a hoof up to her lips, trying to contain her emotions. "You really think I'm pretty?" She asked, not wanting to believe his words. Rarity knew she looked awful.

Atchmon nodded his head. "You remember the night I first found you?" He started.

Rarity nodded and listened.

"I found this lil' Unicorn; that was wore out, roughed up, dirty, and covered in all kinds o' nasty," he chuckled weakly, but stopped himself short. "You wanna know what my first thought was?" He looked up to Rarity, who was subtly leaning forward and looking at him intently; hanging on his every word. "I thought you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen." He finished, looking at her sincerely.

Rarity held a hoof up to her mouth and sniffed as she tried to hold back her tears. "So, why...?"

Atchmon swallowed. "At the dinner... the 'date' that we had... I was jus' thinkin' about the way you were teasin' me, and I started to think 'maybe you weren't jus' playin' with me'; were you? Were you really tryin' t- t' court me back then?" He looked up to her, hopeful to hear her answer.

"No!" Rarity exclaimed, and realized too late how that sounded, as Atchmon put on a pained expression. "I mean, yes!" He looked hopelessly confused. "I mean I did, but it was for a different reason; and now I do again, but for another reason; and I-I-I'm just going to stop talking until I get the hoof out of my mouth." Rarity rambled on quickly, before another awkward silence befell them.

"You kissed me, and... I wanted to kiss you back... But I-" Atchmon paused as he stared at her working his mouth, but was unable to finish what he was going to say.

"So why didn't you?" She asked him gently.

"I liked you, Rarity... I liked you too much, and I still like you alot..." he swallowed the lump in his throat, while Rarity's heart swelled with his admitted feelings towards her. "But I was so afraid you'd think I was a creep, or a monster for liking you as more than a friend; that I didn't even think- I never thought that anyone could ever like me the same way... And every time I thought you did... I didn't want to believe it. I've always- I've never come anywhere close to somethin' like that, and I thought 'maybe I could try with you'... Sorry for bein' so stupid," Atchmon shook his head, as he lowered it dejectedly.

Rarity moved forward and put a hoof on his cheek; forcing him to look at her. "You are not stupid." She stated firmly. "You always berate yourself whenever you show the slightest bit of caring, intelligence, or emotion. There is nothing wrong with that." She emphasised.

Atchmon removed her hoof from his cheek, and held it in his hands as she sat down before him. "I jus' didn't want you to think I was weak," he said looking away again.

"You're a lot of things, Atchmon; but 'weak' definitely isn't one of them." Rarity reassured him.

Atchmon looked melancholy as he took her hoof from his cheek and held it in his hand. "Thanks, Rare; I know that a Princess like you could never be with someone like me... So I'll understand if you don't want anything to do with me after what I jus' tried to pull. I just hope you understand that I can't not try anymore." He finished, looking away. "I can't."

"Don't you think that's up for me to decide?" Rarity suggested, gripping his hand in her pastern.

Atchmon kept his eyes averted; unsure if she meant for him to answer the question.

"Do you really believe that you aren't worth knowing; that you aren't worth loving?" She paused, seeing him finally look at her. "I certainly don't believe that; I'm glad to have met you, despite our circumstances; and I'm sorry that it's taken me this long to admit it, but I've felt the same way about you too. I didn't say anything because I thought I was respecting your boundaries, but instead I was denying my heart what it truly wanted. And that's you... I love you, Atchmon."

A hollowness grew in Rarity's heart and stomach as she watched him stare at her with an shocked expression, while his mouth worked to form words

Atchmon took a shaky breath and caressed Rarity down her shoulder, before holding her hoof in both his hands. "Rare..." His tightened throat barely allowed him to whisper. "I love you too,"

Rarity took his hand and placed it over her heart. "As more than a friend... or as a pet?" She looked away with a hint of doubt still lingering in her chest.

Atchmon shook his head. "I really don't know anymore," he said as he hesitantly leaned forward and placed the back of his digits gently on her cheek. With a little pressure he forced Rarity to look at him, while still allowing her the chance to turn away. "But I'd like to find out." He whispered before touching the soft, cool, velvety skin on Rarity's small white snout with h