Almost Grown Up


First published

Fluttershy takes Scootaloo on a vacation, in which she can leave her adulthood behind.

Growing up sucks, and Scootaloo knows it. It was Fluttershy who realised what she needed: A little vacation from it all.

This story contains ponies with a diaper fetish, who like using their diapers. It also includes romantic relationships, in which ponies share intimate moments in great detail.


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By all accounts, Fluttershy didn’t fly very good.

She was too scared of turbulences, and didn’t catch any updraft. The next cloud was far away, yet still she refused to accelerate her wingbeat in fear of losing her glide. A brash bolt may win you the race, but slow and steady reaches the goal.

Slow and steady also dragged the voyage out arduously.

There was no slipstream. Though Fluttershy had quite smartly locked her spine and midsection into an aspect of prolonged flight, their speed was way too slow for any magical effects to take root. The consequences were decidedly un-magical, as the howling winds blasted Scootaloo right in the face.

“How much longer?” Fluttershy called.

Communication worked surprisingly well, although less by audibility rather than the vibrations of Fluttershy’s throat.

“Uh, shouldn’t be much longer,” Scootaloo replied, checking the tiny needle again, “We’ve got a straight twelve o’clock heading for another five point three, that’s straight ahead on flat barometer. Closest cloud on your right in two point oh. Uh, other than the one in front of us.”

Holding the compass was difficult enough without the map constantly trying to flutter off into the sky. Scootaloo was confident she’d made the right reading regardless. She’d pretend-practiced this a lot in her spare time.

“Uh huh,” Fluttershy said. She might have made a gesture, but her scarf and goggles made it impossible to tell.

Scootaloo rolled up the map, more or less in a neat fashion. Turning around was awkward with her boots strapped to the saddle, but she managed to get the map stashed in Fluttershy’s saddlebags. Better not lose it. There was no telling where they went with all the clouds around and below them.

Though she was a sluggish flyer, by no means did that mean Fluttershy was a dangerous flier. On the contrary, not once had Scootaloo lost her balance, and she had been repeatedly told to hold fast to prevent the possibility of a slip and fall. Not even Rainbow Dash, with all her fancy wingwork and the speed to propel them halfway into the aether, was this safe a flier.

And the slow pace of their journey also had its upsides. There wasn’t much to look out for. Cumulus only as far as the eye could see, testament to clean, steady and wholly unproblematic winds.

Scootaloo tried to resist, but she had often found herself unable. Whenever Fluttershy wasn’t paying attention, Scootaloo carefully nuzzled into the back of her head. Fluttershy’s mane was so wonderful. There was nothing so soft in the entire world, and it smelled so delectably sweet. The gentle long hairs made her muzzle all atingle, the appetite became overbearing.

She would never sate on the sensation. For just a brief moment, only that one second, everything else just fell away, and there was this tiny, awesome piece of pure beauty, just for Scootaloo to enjoy.

Before long, Fluttershy and Scootaloo had reached the towering clouds. They surmounted the formation without any hassle, but beyond it lay, surprisingly, more open sky.

“Uh, correct me if I’m wrong,” Scootaloo said, “but that’s no city.”

“There’s still ponies though,” Fluttershy said, “look.”

Some pretty heavy traffic streaked the space from several directions. Most of it was headed towards where Fluttershy had indicated, direct lines from surrounding clouds towards the centre, some kind of structure.

It looked hobbled together, despite its apparent popularity. Scootaloo couldn’t tell where the artificial ended and the natural began. It was shaped like a drop, and most ponies were trying to land on the top. The others, like the huge caravan pulled by six pegasi, got routed directly to the plenty mooring docks coming out the bottom half. The traffic controllers could barely keep up with the influx, yet always seemed to have a free opening for everypony.

Two circumnavigations and Fluttershy was waved in.

She landed gently on the edge of the platform, clear of any stray equipment.

“Aah,” Fluttershy sighed after pulling down her mask, taking in the fresh wind.

Scootaloo unfastened one of her boots from the saddle and coolly swung over Fluttershy’s back. The cloud crunched under her weight, but her hind leg sunk in way too deep, and she toppled over, her other leg still bound to Fluttershy.

“Goodness, what are you doing?” Fluttershy said, reeling, “Here, let me help you.”

“So it’s apparently a natural cloud,” Scootaloo remarked into the clammy, moist ground, waiting undignified for the bigger pony to do her shoes.

“So it seems,” Fluttershy said, “Though there’s quite a bit that looks, natural, about this entire structure.”

She giggled at her little joke. Too bad. Otherwise, Fluttershy would have looked so incredibly cool as she adjusted the collar of her heavy journeypony’s aviation jacket.

She helped Scootaloo back up and, together, they made their way past the other ponies, towards the ramshackle commerce hub.

The commotion was deafening. Everypony was trying to go somewhere or talk to someone, but doing so was impossible unless you were louder than everypony else. The great hall was made up of various construction materials, including a couple of big stone slabs. The echo chamber was complete.

Somehow, however, the way they pushed themselves past the bodies never seemed arbitrary. In fact, between the orientation of the architecture, the light through the open window passages and the textures under their hooves, there was a strange sense of direction. Whoever designed this space must have been really clever. Either that, or they just really wanted the droves of ponies, and their money, to get into the establishment frictionlessly, and back out again. With less money.

Fluttershy and Scootaloo made it to a front desk. The staff were shouting at the customers shouting back.

“Welcome Sky Imperium!” somepony hastily resonated in Fluttershy’s direction.

“Um,” Fluttershy said, “we were trying to ask for directions-”

“Mapmaker, down the stairs, aft section, beside the dock! Why doesn’t anypony ever take the stairs! Next!” came the reply.

There were several ramps leading down, but due to their popularity, Fluttershy and Scootaloo decided to take the advice and descend the stairs around the large pillar in the center.

Nopony seemed to be bothered by the fact how incredibly dirty this place was. Scootaloo stayed as far away from the staircase’s walls as possible in fear of dirtying her neat windbreaker jacket from the untold layers of grime. Funny thing though, you usually never saw pegasus structures with cobwebs and actual spiders in them. Where did those come from?

The bottom level was filled with various crates and containers being pushed, pulled, lifted, dragged and shimmied every which ways. There were countless exotic fruits and spices Scootaloo had never seen, foodstuffs, clothes, materials and machines on their way to who knows where. Arcana and alchemy tugged at her essence in every conceivable flavour and dimension. And she pretended not to have noticed the tentacle swiping at her through a hole.

The aft section was quickly found, thanks to the signs tacked everywhere. Beside one of the dock exits illuminating the dank cavern, the mapmaker’s shop was quickly found as well. The shack was spilling with scrolls and books.

“Um, excuse me,” Fluttershy announced herself.

“Yes? How can I help you folks?” An old geezer with a crooked grin emerged from the paper.

“Oh, yes, hello,” Fluttershy said, “we were travelling to Skyview city, but it doesn’t, um, appear to be here.”

“Skyview!” the mapmaker said, “I’m afraid to say you’re at least an hour off course, my ladies. But, by the goddesses, Skyview! It hasn’t been in this quadrant for over a year! What ever map did you use to arrive at such a conclusion?”

“We, um, used this map here,” Fluttershy said, giving him the faded parchment.

“Ooh, oh my world! This map!” The sight of it seemed to hurt him physically. “This map is at least two years out of date. I recognize these formations. Woe is me! How can you fly with a map that is so old! It’s like you’re living on the ground!”

Fluttershy and Scootaloo both raised a brow.

“Alas, I must sell you a new one. However, hmmm … “ The grey old pegasus almost kissed the paper despite wearing magnifying glasses. “You know, I’ve got a party of gentlemares on the station who are attempting to reconstruct the magical streamline fluctuation history of this place. I’m willing to bet they’ll pay a pretty penny for this record of cloud formations. Tell you what, I’ll trade you a fresh copy of the current maps, hot off the presses, in exchange for this crumpled old thing.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said.

“I’ll even throw in--” the stallion began, “oh … um. Uh.”

Obviously not the reaction he had expected. Or even one he knew how to handle. Fluttershy took the new map while the old guy tried to will a word into existence.

It seemed they really had veered off course. Skyview was on the map, but it has obviously moved since. It was still one hour of flight away. Maybe two.

“Well, thank you very much for your help kind Sir,” Fluttershy said, giving a bow of courtesy before departing, “it is very much appreciated. Goodbye, and I hope you have a wonderful day.”

While he had been lost for words, the opposite seemed to be true now, as the old mapmaker stammered a goodbye, thank you, and something about a nice flight, simultaneously. Then he vanished back into his shack with seemingly impossible energy. Maps were urgently waiting to be made.

Scootaloo had become quite agitated in the meantime. There was constantly someone shoving through between her and Fluttershy.

They reached the dock, but a long cable slapped the planks in front of Scootaloo from a dock above. She jumped and tumbled back and severely shoved a large pony, who had been balancing huge ledgers in both her forehooves.

“Hey, watch where you’re going, kid!” the large pony shouted, catching her books.

“You watch where you’re going!” Scootaloo shouted back, “Not my fault you’re so big!”

“Oh you better hope I didn’t hear that, you squirt,” the mare fumed, “now bog off before I come after you!”

“You bog off!” Scootaloo shouted over her shoulder, “Jerk!”

Stupid big ponies everywhere. Can’t even walk straight. Everypony just shoving and pushing everypony else around. They’re so stupid. Don’t even know how to be friendly to each other. Blockheads.

Scootaloo caught up to Fluttershy. But that’s as far as her hooves brought her. Fluttershy was towering over her. The gaze could have cut a mountain in half.

Uh oh.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “you go back to that nice lady and apologize for what you said to her.”

Screw you.

It lay on the tip of Scootaloo’s tongue.

The words came so easily these days.

But it was Fluttershy. You don’t say something like that to Fluttershy. Fluttershy was so good and so pretty. Fluttershy was constantly looking out for Scootaloo, and Scootaloo wanted nothing more than to be together with her.

Especially in light of … the promise.

No, it was wrong. Fluttershy demanded satisfaction. Fate had went awry. It had to be reigned back in immediately.

Just as the large mare had righted her ledgers back into balance, her eyes grew huge to see Scootaloo’s scrambling return.

“Um, I’m sorry for calling you names, lady,” Scootaloo blurted, “I didn’t mean to call you a jerk. What I said to you was very mean of me. And I’m very sorry.”

The mare would have rubbed her temple had she had a free hoof.

“Look, just forget about it, kid. I accept your apology, okay?” she sighed, “Now, I’ve got things to do. So why don’t you scram back to your mommy, and you two have a nice day?”

“She’s not my mo-” Scootaloo choked.

“She’s not my,” she tried again. But the words wouldn’t leave her mouth.

The mare wasn’t even listening anymore. Scootaloo only had to say the words to herself.

“Fluttershy isn’t my …”

Scootaloo couldn’t say it.

Scootaloo had no mommy. She was different from other ponies, the fillies and colts at school. Parents were irritating. They gave chores. They dished out punishments and tongue-lashings. They demanded courtesy and diligence, and paid out responsibilities and duties. But Scootaloo’s school mates were always happy to see them at the end of the day.

The only pony Scootaloo was happy to see was that beautiful golden mare, standing at the end of the dock, patiently awaiting her return.

“Fluttershy, I’m sorry for calling that pony names,” Scootaloo spilled out.

“Yes, that was quite dumb of you,” Fluttershy said.

“Oh,” Scootaloo said.

“But you apologized to her in earnest, and you made it all good again,” Fluttershy said, “and I’m very proud of you for that.”

She leaned in and nuzzled Scootaloo on the cheek. In all of Equestria, there wasn’t a reward that Scootaloo would have desired more.

Fluttershy situated Scootaloo back on her saddle and did up the straps around her boots. Scootaloo didn’t attempt to do it herself.

“What’s the matter, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said, pulling her scarf over her face again.

“Oh, it’s just,” Scootaloo said, “I guess I didn’t expect you to be so direct with me.”

“Why not? I thought it worked out quite well,” Fluttershy said.

“You just told me what to do, and I did it. It was so easy,” Scootaloo said. She sighed. “The other grown ups aren’t like that. My young adults council keeps telling me what to do too, all the time, but she’s being so queasy about it. She’s always telling me to figure it out myself. It’s always so complicated. How am I to figure out what to do if I don’t know what she wants from me?”

“Young adults council?” Fluttershy said, “Oh, you mean Miss Fair Weather?”

“Yeah, her,” Scootaloo said, “I never know if I do anything right by her. She just keeps telling me to think about it.”

“Oh, I believe she does her job quite well,” Fluttershy said, “she’s trying to be kind with you. And a bit of kindness goes a long way.”

“But what’s that mean?” Scootaloo said, “What use is any of this, if it doesn’t work?”

Fluttershy stepped up to the edge.

“I just don’t believe that, right now, counsel on being an adult is what you need, Scootaloo,” she said.

She passed the threshold. Into the sky they soared.

“Quite the opposite, actually.”

Part 1

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Skyview city appeared.

Though calling it a city, singular, was a bit of an understatement. Skyview famously had undergone efforts to expand in large scale, a number of times, over many centuries. Its inhabitants however, seizing the advantage of living in a cloud city, hadn’t shown all too much regard for the constraint of physical dimensionality. The resulting metropolis was more like a loose stack of cities built on top of each other, three copious levels impaled on a gargantuan cloud pillar, exhibiting testimony to the passage of millennia from bottom to top.

“It looks really cool,” Scootaloo had described it so aptly.

Accordingly dense was the traffic, both commerce as well as tourism, but there was more than ample room to handle it all. Fluttershy got directed toward a landing platform at the very bottom, in the shade of the cities far above

They touched down among several other arrivals. This was noticeably the largest terminal along the city boundaries, and apparently meant for light travellers and small carts only.

“Wow! Look how many ponies there are,” Scootaloo said, “where are they all going?”

“Maybe in there,” Fluttershy said.

Beyond the terminal building rose the cityscape. Quite literally in fact, there was much cloudstock and air traffic above, prominently circling more densely around the cloud pillar, which was sprouting the subsequent city into the sky.

Scootaloo’s hind legs loosened as Fluttershy undid her boot straps.

Oh, right. She hadn’t even thought about that.

The platform floor was pleasantly smooth, and you could actually stand upon it. It wasn’t cloud marble, but actual stone marble. There was a fair share of earth ponies and unicorns among the passersby, and neither scarce was the sight of claws, scales, antlers, beaks, antennae, and other nameless exotica.

Fluttershy and Scootaloo traversed the terminal quickly. They carried no wares to tariff and fluttershy’s bags contained only light provisions. There were storage lockers however, perfect for stashing the saddle and their travel scarves.

“Ahh,” Fluttershy sighed deeply, shaking out her mane and her tail before quickly checking and preening her feathers.

Scootaloo also attempted to shake out her tail, but the sheer amount of clothing made her movement end up more like a confused stumble. Fluttershy fortunately came to the rescue and adjusted Scootaloo’s collar, before reaching back and smoothing the denim short skirt back down over her flank.

“Thanks, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “I’m glad I didn’t freeze out there, thanks to all this gear.“ She hadn’t understood why she couldn’t wear her own clothes, but the incessant wind made her realize quickly.

“I figured I’d choose for you this time,” Fluttershy said, “Travelling long distance isn’t a matter of dressing heavily, but of dressing smartly. I didn’t have a spare coat for you, but the jacket and skirt do the trick against the wind. A set of properly knit wool underclothes to keep your temperature up comfortably, and that’s all you need for your first time.”

Fluttershy was right. Though it restricted Scootaloo’s tail movement more than anything, the thick wool pantyhose kept her hind legs wondrously warm.

“I just don’t get why it has to be this queer shade of light red,” Scootaloo said.

“Light red?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, light red,” Scootaloo said. It was light red. Totally. Not pink at all.

“Okay, then, light red,” Fluttershy giggled. That obviously meant she agreed.

The deafening babble fell away. They exited the echoing terminal halls onto the entrance plaza. Almost everypony seemingly had somewhere to go, but there also were many places to go. Workshops, artisans, shops and merchants openly pursued their crafts half-spilled onto the street, like in the olden days of history, housed in constructions reiterating the mentality, complete with the squat south-east Equestrian classical pegasus architecture. To increase the appearance of antiquity, every building was utterly adorned with rows of fake prayer ornaments of the Gothic keeps.

Ponies of ancient eras likely wouldn’t have tried this hard to seem like ponies of ancient eras.

“I could really drink a coffee about now,” Fluttershy said. A sizeable amount of everypony was streaming into a huge cantina.

“I thought you didn’t drink coffee?” Scootaloo said.

“I don’t often,” Fluttershy said, “but isn’t a vacation the perfect opportunity to do things you usually don’t?”

The inside smelled strongly of sweat and spices. Small, seemingly random tables filled out the massive hall, stretching the fantasy of a cozy little restaurant to a bare thread. Everypony was happily eating and chattering all around, and the food did look pretty good.

Fluttershy and Scootaloo had barely taken their seat, and a waiter had already materialized to take their order.

“I’ll have a coffee and a glass of water, please,” Fluttershy said.

“I’ll also have a cof-” Scootaloo said.

“She’ll have a hot chocolate, with whipped cream, if possible,” Fluttershy said. The waiter was already attending another table, but signalled her order confirmed.

“I think you should have something sweet and yummy,” Fluttershy preempted Scootaloo’s question, “to make the day more fun. I’d love to take a comfortable stroll through the streets and do some sightseeing. Skyview looks to be a really interesting place.”

“A stroll?” Scootaloo groaned, “Isn’t that like, super lame?”

She was beginning to feel pretty foolish.

Had Fluttershy forgotten the whispered promise? Had Scootaloo dreamt that whole thing? Because it would make her feel fairly stupid if she had.

“I believe it’ll be quite fun,” Fluttershy said, “you’ll see, you’ll enjoy it. And it will be informative as well. Miss Cheerilee had hoped that you should also learn something.”

That shut Scootaloo up quickly.

“But I thought this trip had been your idea, Fluttershy,” she mumbled.

“Well, it was me who had brought it up initially,” Fluttershy said, “but everypony else thought it was such a good idea, they promptly went along with it. Miss Cheerilee said it would do you good to get out of Ponyville for a change.”

“I don’t want to talk about Miss Cheerilee right now,” Scootaloo said. There were rather many scratches on the table. Must have been at least a hundred under her hoof alone. “Figures they’d want to get rid of me, though.”

“Nopony wants to get rid of you, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “In fact, everypony has been trying to be quite supportive. Mister Home Stead has even given me some money that I’m supposed to give to you as a daily allowance. I’m keeping the money, though. I don’t believe you should need to worry about such things.”

Scootaloo should not worry? She didn’t think she’d ever heard those words in that order.

The drinks arrived. An elegant cup of perfectly smooth, pitch black, steaming coffee, and a large glass of water, for Fluttershy. The rich smoky fragrance laid like a blanket on the senses, and the mere thought of imbibing such immaculately roasted brew was enough to make your mouth water.

Fluttershy lifted the cup to her lips and merely allowed the tiniest of nips to transpire. Intense aroma visibly blossomed in her essence and mellowed her travel wearied form down to the very core. Blessed be whose soul experienced the exact quip of balance bestowed by such exalted substance.

Meanwhile, Scootaloo sat there with her lame hot chocolate.

She fought through the veritable mountains of cream and took an annoyed sip of the warm drink. The sweet chocolate richness suffused her taste, and made her feel decidedly indifferent. Her stomach was conferred with a deep, calming warmth, which was, admittedly, above average in terms of pleasantness.

She took another drink from the decent beverage and let herself relax into the creamy gentleness. Her face was all warming up as she drank from the pleasant cocoa goodness, and the delectable sweet cream made her comfortable with gentle strength. She didn’t seem to get enough of the sensation.

Fluttershy giggled. Scootaloo quickly wiped her lips free of chocolate in order to appear less enthusiastic.

“You’re so different from the other grown ups, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said.

“You’re also different from the other grown ups, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I’m not a grown up,” Scootaloo said.

“I’m sorry, Scootaloo, but you are,” Fluttershy said.

That warranted another swig of chocolate.

“You have your cutie mark,” Fluttershy continued, “that counts for a lot.”

“Lots of ponies have their cutie mark who are younger than me,” Scootaloo said.

“You’re old enough, too,” Fluttershy said.

“It wasn’t so long ago when I wasn’t,” Scootaloo said.

“All that’s left is one thing,” Fluttershy said, “you still have to finish school. And everypony told me that they’d really like you to do that, very, very much.”

“Boy, they’re really mad I didn’t take the graduation exam, huh?” Scootaloo said.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “you didn’t not take the graduation exam, you didn’t qualify for the graduation exam, not even close.” Serious coffee drinking. How Scootaloo hated that. “Your grades were so low, there was no way Miss Cheerilee could let you take the exam the same time as the others, without getting into trouble herself. She says the only way you’ll be able to graduate this year is by taking the Equestrian State Graduation Exam at the end of summer, where she won’t be able to help you. She gave you the materials for the exam, right?”

“Yeah. I had to take the cart because the books were so heavy,” Scootaloo sighed.

This was decent as far as scoldings went. She even got a sweet drink out of it. But this time, something was off. The instinct to shut up and put up wasn’t there. It was so weird. Scootaloo felt like every exchange with Fluttershy actually wasn’t horribly imbalanced.

“I just don’t know,” Scootaloo said, “What should I do?”

“I don’t know either,” Fluttershy said, “but we’ll figure something out.”

“I just don’t understand,” Scootaloo continued, “nothing makes any sense. Everypony keeps dumping their stuff on me. Mister Stead keeps giving me books and telling me to read them. His old textbooks from school, and stuff from the library. I can’t understand it. I haven’t even started with the exam books yet. All the dates and numbers and texts, I just don’t know what to do with them. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disappoint them. I didn’t mean to have that fight with him and his wife.”

“Yes, Scootaloo, that was also pretty dumb,” Fluttershy said, “but only because somepony does something dumb doesn’t mean that she is dumb.”

“I just couldn’t listen to him talk about my scooter like that,” Scootaloo said, “Mister Stead said that thing’s going to be my future if I keep wasting my time with it. I should be regretting lazing in the shed instead of studying. What am I to do? How else am I going to get anywhere without my scooter?”

“Everypony knows you’re an expert in scooters, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“It was the only thing that I could make sense of,” Scootaloo said. She had her work space lumbered up with books too, since she was running out of space in her room. Lots of formulas and diagrams were in those. “I really liked the book that’s about the Lombodrik force, though. That one was simple to understand. Twilight got a small crystal marble enchanted for me when I tagged along for Sweetie Belle’s magic lessons, and then I bolted together a shielding box for it. I use it as a break on my scooter. I call it the Lombodrik break. I tested it for quite a bit. Well, that’s where the last few months went anyway, when I should have been studying …”

“Um,” Fluttershy said, “you made … something. That’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “I guess so ...“

Nice. Yeah. That’s what it was. Polite of Fluttershy to appreciate the effort, even though it hadn’t been much. Scootaloo hadn’t done anything except copy from a book, after all. Nopony else had thought much of it, but at least Fluttershy had found some nice words to say.

“It’s … nice.”

Sip of her drink. Sweet mollification.

“Made a break for your scooter, huh?” Fluttershy said, “Isn’t that good? Maybe it’ll help against all the crashes.”

“Yeah … ” Scootaloo said.

“Come on,” Fluttershy said, “We’ll figure it out, together, okay? You’re almost grown up, Scootaloo. And that’s what grown ups do, after all. Figure stuff out.” She reached out and cupped Scootaloo’s forehoof in her own.

That little contact was the warmest ray of sunlight on the coldest day of rain. Fluttershy was so nice. She smiled so gently, only for Scootaloo. Scootaloo wished she could have given in to that smile.

But she lowered her head. She was almost grown up. Talking business. Eye to eye with an adult.

Well, being eye to eye was difficult when she was at least a head smaller. Scootaloo was barely level with Fluttershy’s shoulders. It strained her neck, physically, looking up to meet her gaze.

“I’m sorry I’m so stupid,” Scootaloo said.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I’m sorry I have such a stupid small brain,” Scootaloo said, “that can’t think properly. And such a stupid small body and such stupid small wings, for I can’t behave properly.”

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I’m like a stupid big foal,” Scootaloo said, “maybe that’s all I am.”

“Scootaloo, be still,” Fluttershy said with finality.

There was familiarity in those words.

Fluttershy leaned in and began nuzzling Scootaloo’s cheek. It was like, nothing else mattered, in that moment. Fluttershy’s nose was so soft, dabbing at Scootaloo so gently and pulling away all the worries. Scootaloo’s hoof tightened around Fluttershy’s, rapidly losing its tremble.

Her ears flicked as Fluttershy gave her face a good workover. The touch of those incredibly soft lips soothed Scootaloo’s aches in a fashion that she had never thought possible. So base. So primal. There was no trace of those adult responsibilities in it, those demons hanging over her every waking moment, just longing and instinct. Fluttershy’s warm breath enveloped her neck like a lavish blanket, her own little vestige of peace in which Scootaloo could roll up and calm down.

“Feeling better?” Fluttershy said.

“I …” Scootaloo said, “I really do. Thanks, Fluttershy.”

“Here, drink up,” Fluttershy said, and Scootaloo indulged in the last of the chocolate goodness. “What you said is not true, Scootaloo. You might be different from other ponies, but that doesn’t make you a bad pony. And it doesn’t make you a stupid pony. Like I said, we’ll figure things out, together. Okay?”

“Together?” Scootaloo said, wiping her eye.

“Together,” Fluttershy affirmed, “I promise.”

Fluttershy drank up, and then they finished the glass of water together.

“Thanks for cheering me up, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “it really means a lot to me.”

“You’re very welcome, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy smiled, “I just hope I didn’t embarrass you by doing that in public, where everypony could see.”

“Well I don’t care if they did,” Scootaloo proclaimed, “and, uh, I made sure that nopony was paying attention anyway.”

That sent Fluttershy giggling sweetly.

It was true, though. Nopony really had much regard for anything beyond their own table. There had been a scuffle between one of the waiters and a patron, and it was barely sufficient to tear ponies away from their newspapers and conversations for a brief covert gawk. Business partners, friends, colleagues, families. There certainly was a lot to talk about, even at the closest tables. No way Scootaloo had been caught indulging in the affection.

Many of the classical pegasus architectural tricks became apparent in managing the volume of customers in this place. Converging lines in the floor boards and support columns and the structured play of light and dark naturally guided the masses of ponies along the most efficient paths, and allowed the waiters to serve them without stressing out too hard. Skyview’s inhabitants really seemed to have many tricks up their sleeves.

The noise increased substantially when a family was seated close by. The mother had attempted to lift her foal onto a chair, but the baby whined loudly and squirmed until she was placed on the floor again.

She wanted to climb the chair herself, despite not even seeing the top of the seat. Nonetheless she struggled and fidgeted and clumsily clambered onto the furniture under her mother’s watch.

The little filly couldn’t even move her legs properly because her diaper was clearly too large. Still she succeeded, and she couldn’t have sat on that chair any more proud. She was really adorable …

Uh oh.

Scootaloo’s head snapped back to her own table. But it was too late.

Fluttershy was grinning straight at her, a glint in her eyes.

“That’s a really cute little foal, isn’t it?” Fluttershy said.

“Uh huh,” Scootaloo said, hiding behind her mane as best as she could.

“It must be kind of neat, being a cute little foal, don’t you think?” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo didn’t bring out a word, so desperate was she to hide away.

Fluttershy came closer so she could whisper. “Do you want to have a diaper, Scootaloo?” she said.

Her flush cheeks couldn’t produce a tone, so Scootaloo nodded vigorously.

Fluttershy chuckled. “That’s what I thought,” she said, “would you say it for me, please?”

“Yes …” Scootaloo squeaked.

“Yes, what?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes,” Scootaloo whispered, “I would like to have a d … diaper. Please.”

“Then I’ll gladly help you out, Scoots,” Fluttershy giggled. She couldn’t resist frazzling Scootaloo’s mane with a hoof.

It didn’t annoy Scootaloo at all.

“I’d feared you’d forgotten,” Scootaloo breathed, her heart still beating hard.

“Oh, I didn’t forget. I promised after all, didn’t I?” Fluttershy said, “Told ya, you’d enjoy the stroll.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “Thank you again, Fluttershy. For keeping your promise.”

“You’re very welcome, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “Very well then. Let’s see if we can buy some diapers around here, and then we’ll go explore Skyview city!”

Scootaloo eagerly helped clear the table. Together they departed the cantina.

Part 2

View Online

Taking the path of less travel turned out a good idea.

Scootaloo and Fluttershy got a nice view from an elevated walkway, of countless heavy cargo wagons crunching by underneath. The detour was a way of separating travellers from shipments and facilitating traffic to and from the terminal complex.

Beyond only the first decorative cloud, the walkway joined into a larger street, which looked marginally more normal. Ponies on the streets no longer looked like they’d fallen out of the sky just now, and the houses were beginning to look habitable.

There even was a store. Literally, it was a large warehouse with a sign that said store. The open doors gave the impression of public business.

The inside was, in fact, a warehouse, but stacked to the roof with crates and shelves. There was no apparent theme, other shoppers were seen carrying wheels, utility clothing, magic wands and paper. The store owner was only distinguishable because he wore a fancy hat that also said store. And the fact that he was the only diamond dog in the room right now.

“Welcome to the store,” he chirped, “don’t mind me, I’m just trying to help folks find what they’re looking for. So, what are you looking for, folks?”

“Um, hello,” Fluttershy said, “I’m looking to buy some baby diapers.”

“Baby diapers!” the owner said, “Oh, yes! Baby diapers! Snuggies, Cloudies, Softies, Cuddlies, and whatnot. We’ve got ‘em all! From your mommy magazines straight to our shelves.”

“Um, yes,” Fluttershy said, “what is the biggest size that you carry?”

“The biggest size? Hmmm … “ he made, “Well, we got all the regular sizes, but ... they send us all kinds of dust collectors, that much I know. How many years was it again? We got a shipment of baby diapers outside the range of your typical info flyers. There might still be some of those left. I got told to put them up as a size small adult diaper, but I never did. Because hey, the package says baby diaper, right? I hate it when things aren’t in the category where they belong. Anyway, back of the small room, right over there. It’s the small room. That’s why it’s called small room. Think you can find your way?”

“We’ll find it,” Fluttershy said, “thank you very much.”

“Creative names they’ve got here,” Scootaloo commented.

The small room wasn’t small, only cramped. Laundry detergent and paper towels took up most of the space. There was also an earth pony browsing air sickness pills.

The furthest shelf flagrantly carried the baby diapers. Countless brightly colored packages struggled to decide whether to display larger the image of the laughing foal or the schematic drawing of a diaper, but the message was unanimous. Comfy diapers make happy babies.

Scootaloo had never seen so many diapers in one place before. The only light in the room came from a few windows, but the gleaming packages still seemed to outdo each other in the war for attention. Scootaloo stuck close to Fluttershy, as they walked along the row, browsing the selection.

“Hmmm ... “ Fluttershy made, “Softies diapers. The touch you can’t feel. Size 1, 2, … hmmm … 6. No, too small. Let’s see. Snuggies diapers. There’s nothing like it. Size small, size medium, … oh, what’s this?”

Stashed behind a package, there were some with obviously different design.

“Snuggies diapers, size extra extra large,” Fluttershy said, “that’s it! Look, I think I found them. Where’s the size chart, um … waist size … body weight … Yeah! Seems like these will fit you easily, Scoots.”

“Wow, that’s so cool,” Scootaloo marvelled.

Showing through the packaging, a neat stack of diapers. And they were all just for Scootaloo.

“Ah, Snuggies. That takes me back,” the store owner laughed, “My better half is a Snuggies mom too, you know? And it was much needed. Can you believe it? An entire litter, in our tiny apartment? I’d been changing diapers from sunup to sundown. Couldn’t keep the little runts to stay inside. We moved pretty soon after. Ah, those were the wild days. Anyway, here’s your receipt.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said, stashing the purchase in her saddlebags. “Say thank you, Scoots.”

“Thank you,” came meekly from behind Fluttershy’s tail. The store owner was still laughing as they left.

The street continued to meander between varyingly jumbled assortments of buildings, although it couldn’t seem to decide between being a street or a plaza. There were ornaments and relaxing greenery adorning the cobblestone trail, but ponies were also pulling all manners of carts and busying themselves on, above, and sometimes even below, Scootaloo and Fluttershy’s level.

Squat passages opened up into little alcoves of free space, which ponies not only used to land and take off, but they also seemed to make trade and purchases inside apparently completely arbitrary buildings. It smelled of food everywhere, but Fluttershy couldn’t see, or recognize, any restaurants.

There was a little tug on her jacket. Scootaloo pointed toward a row of cloud benches. Beside them was a cleanly labeled public washroom building. The architecture didn’t fit at all, it looked wide and spacious and actually quite inviting.

“Good thinking, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “and look, they’ve even got a family restroom. That’s just what we’re looking for. Come, let’s go.”

Inside the building was remarkably clean. Everything was tiles and metal, and obviously well maintained. One of the doors led to the family room.

The family bathroom provided access to various washing equipment, as well as stools, toilets and basins of various sizes, for the younger colts and fillies. Everything a family with younglings could need. Especially the elevated niche in the wall lined with a smooth soft mat that Fluttershy was already inspecting with a hoof.

“Looks like this is the changing table,” Fluttershy said, “Come on, Scootaloo. It seems to be quite comfortable.”

It was a bit too high up. Scootaloo jumped, but couldn’t hold on and slipped back down.

“No, silly,” Fluttershy giggled, “foals don’t get onto the changing table on their own. Come here.”

With that, she grabbed Scootaloo under the forelegs, lifted her up and sat her down on the soft mat.

“Wow,” Scootaloo said. The mat was otherwise plain, but gave that amazing muffled rustle underneath her weight.

The package of diapers opened easily under Fluttershy’s pull. It squeaked ever so slightly as she slipped one out. The immaculate white plastic’s gleam was almost dazzling in its marvellous smoothness.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “it’s really pretty. And look, there’s little decorations along the sides. What could they be? Little clouds maybe, or powder puffs? This shade of baby blue’s just adorable.” She turned the diaper to its front and gasped. “There’s even cute little animals printed on. Look, Scootaloo. Can you tell me what animal this is?”

In the faintest pastel colors, the silly cartoon character was smiling with exorbitant enthusiasm. “It’s an elephant,” Scootaloo said.

“Good job, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “here, hold this for a moment.”

She reached around to undo the buttons around Scootaloo’s tail and pull off her skirt to the side. Meanwhile, Scootaloo stretched the amazingly soft bundle of plastic out as far as she could, but when she released one side, the diaper immediately curled back up.

“Look, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “how springy it is.” She pulled it out, and it bounced back together again.

“Let’s see what the package says,” Fluttershy said, “Extra elastic waist bands and leg gathers for extra tough playtimes. So, it seems to be so stretchy in order to remain snug even after heavy movement.”

Scootaloo willed herself to relax when Fluttershy held her head and hind legs and gently laid her flat on her back. Scootaloo could barely keep up. Was this really happening? The clouds, the street, the store. She felt like all of it deserved more attention, but in this moment, she had eyes only for that fantastically crinkly white plastic in her hooves. Fluttershy proceeded to roll up Scootaloo’s jacket and undershirt, past her belly button and up to her chest.

Then, Fluttershy reached around Scootaloo’s hips and pulled down her pantyhose, all the way down past her knees and to her boots. Scootaloo couldn’t have made herself any smaller if she had tried, the thin cotton layer of her underwear less than a laughable attempt at modesty. She got mad goosebumps all over.

Fluttershy grabbed Scootaloo’s panties along the sides.

“Do you want me to go on, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy asked earnestly.

Those word things. Scootaloo couldn’t seem to use them right now, so she nodded her head yes with such ferocity, she almost knocked the head board off the changing table.

“Okay, okay,” Fluttershy giggled, “Let’s get this done with and go have some fun, shall we.”

She pulled Scootaloo’s panties down, and gently guided them along her hind legs, downward, all the way to her hooves. Then Fluttershy gave Scootaloo’s belly a soft stroke.

“There, that wasn’t too bad, now was it?” Fluttershy said softly, “Are you feeling alright?”

“Yes,” Scootaloo squeaked, “Thank you.”

The calming effect of Fluttershy’s serene demeanor was miraculous. She moved and talked so normally and naturally, despite the fact that Scootaloo was blatantly and unabashedly lying butt naked in front of her.

“You’re welcome,” Fluttershy said, “Now, I’m going to need that diaper back.”

“Oh, sorry,” Scootaloo said. Nothing to hide her face behind anymore.

Fluttershy grabbed both of Scootaloo’s hind hooves and lifted them, and her rump, high in the air. Then she shook the diaper fully open with her free hoof and placed the back part under Scootaloo.

“Why’s it blue in the middle?” Scootaloo said.

“Hm, the package says,” Fluttershy said, “Super absorbent core with twice the absorbency and twice the thickness where it’s needed the most.”

Fluttershy lowered Scootaloo back down onto the unspeakably gentle fluff. It was like the endless mounds of supple softness were made specifically for the comfort of her buttocks. Fluttershy spread Scootaloo’s legs far apart so she could properly pull the diaper flat and adjust it.

“I guess it’s blue so that I can make sure it really is placed ... um, like they say, where it’s needed the most,” Fluttershy said.

She lifted the bulk of the diaper with a hoof and pressed it gently against Scootaloo. Indeed, the extra thick blue patch cupped her form perfectly.

The diaper smoothed out neatly on Scootaloo’s lower stomach. Broad, stretchy side wings came around her hips, and provided large sticky tapes, which were ripped open and affixed securely to the front plastic.

It sat perfectly. Soft, white, stretchy, comfy, secure. Surely this must have been the work of some higher power, because something so pure couldn’t have been from this world.

“Liking your new looks?” Fluttershy smirked.

Scootaloo had been gaping at her lower half like a plum. She cringed slightly, but Fluttershy was in no way trying to tease her.

“I couldn’t help it,” she said, “see, he looks so happy.” The elephant seemed pretty content in his new position. Fluttershy and Scootaloo giggled.

Scootaloo’s poor little panties stood no chance though. Not even halfway over the diaper, and the pair was already bulging at its limit, crinkly plastic copiously sticking out on every side.

Fluttershy decided to try her luck with the pantyhose instead. Despite being considerably larger, the woolen legwear only just about barely fit over the diaper, and Fluttershy had to pull out every trick up her sleeve in order to wiggle it over Scootaloo’s bulging butt.

“There,” Fluttershy said, “we’re done. How do you like it?”

Scootaloo was sat up, and Fluttershy reached behind her to stick the third tape shut above her tail, fully sealing her posterior, and quite a sizeable portion of her back, into the cushy padding.

“I ...” Scootaloo said, “I don’t think I’ve felt anything like it, like, ever before.”

It was way too much to take in at once. But it struck Scootaloo just how prominent the newfound plush thickness was. Her pants were bulging egregiously between her legs, and it didn’t seem like she would be able to fully bring them together anytime soon.

Luckily, the skirt was re-fastened around her and straightened over her flanks before anypony could see.

Fluttershy packed up and lowered Scootaloo back onto her shaky hooves.

All was well. She had her diaper, she had her clothes, and nopony had noticed. Now she needed only to act natural, and she would be all set.

A single step was as far as she got. Her butt exploded with muffled crinkles.

“I can’t go out like this,” Scootaloo said, “Everypony’s going to hear.”

But Fluttershy showed no mercy. “It will be fine,” she said softly, holding the door open, “Nopony’s going to think anything of it. Come on, Scoots, let’s go explore the city.”

The prospect of being found out was suddenly much less alarming than the increasing distance to Fluttershy, and so Scootaloo quickly waddled after her.

Scootaloo froze in horror, from the, fairly unsurprising, fact that the public restroom entrance wasn’t empty. There was another pony in the hallway. If Scootaloo just kept very, very still, maybe she wouldn’t be noticed. It would be just like she wasn’t there, and nopony would ever find out.

“Um, excuse me, little filly,” the stallion said, “but I need to get through here.”

Oh. Scootaloo was blocking the entire hallway.

With no way out but through, Scootaloo scrambled over to Fluttershy to hide behind her tail, rustling and crinkling furiously the entire way.

The stallion had already vanished without a second look.

“Calm down, Scootaloo, no need to get so excited,” Fluttershy giggled, “everything’s just fine, see? Nopony gives a second thought about a little filly being a little filly. Look, you can stay close to me if you want, and you’ll see everything’s going to be great.”

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer,” Scootaloo said with her mouth full of long pink hair.

Part 3

View Online

“You’re getting the hang of it!”

“I’m trying,” Scootaloo said, “I just don’t get how you’re supposed to walk in these things.”

“It’s not a walk, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “it’s a stroll. There’s no rush, we can take all the time we need.”

She slowed down demonstratively, although not so much to prove her point, but more to keep tabs on Scootaloo’s exceedingly adorable little waddle. Scootaloo had, in fact, improved her walking to the point where she could move almost normally, except she had to keep her hind legs a bit further apart. And it didn’t work very well when she was distracted.

“Wow!” Scootaloo exclaimed, stumbling sideways to a crinkling halt, “Look, Fluttershy, this one’s even bigger than the others!”

Indeed, beyond the countless arches and pinnacles decorating the houses, a massive airship sporting multiple balloons and propellers rumbled past.

“And it looks like it’s also headed in the same direction,” Fluttershy said, “We should go further up. Maybe we’ll find out where they are going.”

Fluttershy and Scootaloo deduced they had been walking uphill all the time, because they could look down on the arrival buildings. From the distance, they couldn’t tell which one was the terminal they’d landed in, but the sprawling structures weren’t the only points of crossing. There was an entire level of checkpoints and traffic above, among which airborne vehicles of various sizes and the fabled airships cast large shadows on the cargo roads, warehouses and factory chimneys.

It was debatable whether the area got more civilized the further uphill they got, but it certainly became more pompous. Obvious residences of increasing luxury seemed to outdo each other in painfully ancient classical ornamentals, countless decorative towers and pillars darkening the path. There even had been a strikingly eccentric garden full of buttresses.

The road snaked off to the side, but at the top of the hill stood a ridiculous house. It was the same building twice. A copy of the squat house stood on top of itself. The bottom door was open, though, and two ponies came out leisurely.

“There’s a sign,” Fluttershy said, “Skyview sights trail, former magistrate building. It seems to be open to visitors.”

The entrance to the small house opened up to an impossibly even smaller courtyard. There were tiny doors and empty storage alcoves all around, and a set of very narrow stairs leading to the second floor of the first building. Scootaloo went first, Fluttershy made sure she didn’t fall.

They entered a musty old room with old documents and tomes falling out of ancient cabinets. There was a grey old mare sitting at a desk, writing.

“Hello,” Fluttershy said, “what are you doing here?”

“What does it look like?” the mare grumped, “I’m working.”

“You’re working in a tourist attraction?” Fluttershy said.

“No, I’m working in the least attractive place for tourists,” the mare said, “which brings me to the question of why you’re here. You’re the second visitors on the same day.”

“Why are you here where ponies come in and disturb you?” Fluttershy said.

“I’m usually alone,” the mare said, “and besides, the place does have its upsides. I get to yell at ponies not to do things. Hey! Don’t touch that!”

Scootaloo quickly withdrew her hoof from the stack of papers with fancy hoofwriting.

“We’re trying to learn about the history of this place,” Fluttershy said, “why are there two houses stacked on top of each other?”

“Oh, there’s many stories about that,” the mare said, “Some say the last family in the monarchy bore a brilliant architect who would have changed the world had they not fallen out of grace. I say that’s a load of hooey. Somepony was trying to dump grant money way after the fact. It’s no secret that corruption was more a la mode than these days. Hey! Don’t eat that!”

Scootaloo promptly disengaged from the single potted plant.

“Look,” the old mare sighed, “why don’t you take your foal and go upstairs to enjoy the view. It’s the best thing about this joint.”

“We will,” Fluttershy said, “thank you very much.”

“Yeah, yeah,” came the reply.

A second set of stairs was inside the room. Scootaloo went first again, cheerfully climbing the creaking wooden steps.

“What’s a magistrate?” Scootaloo said.

“The magistrate is an important center of organization in every local community,” Fluttershy said, “it’s where ponies go to make important communal decisions and steer the future of their settlement.”

“It’s where ponies go to complain,” the old mare shouted after them, “remember, every great thing in history happened because somepony complained.”

“Um, yes,” Fluttershy said, “the magistrate is also responsible for keeping city services up and running.”

“So,” Scootaloo said, “the town hall is like Ponyville’s magistrate? If Ponyville were the district of a city?”

“That’s exactly right, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “good work.”

Scootaloo practically flew up the stairs, beaming, even though it took her a while to consciously realize she had just been praised.

They found themselves in a highly bizarre simulacrum of the courtyard below them. It looked almost the same, save for the cobblecloud in place of the cobblestone. The final set of stairs led them to the office room again, except there was nopony here. The wide balcony was pretty attractive though, as evidenced by the many hoofsteps in the dust.

Fluttershy and Scootaloo delighted on the magnificent view. The lower city sprawled before them, a boundless variety of pony made constructions spilling almost naturally across the vast expanse, flowing around and over the cloudscape, and gushing against, sometimes even far into, the open sky.

“Look, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo pointed out excitedly, “that must be where the airships go.”

They had moved considerably closer to the center, and were decently far along on the ascent toward the central cloud pillar. On the far side of the slope, they could finally see it.

Surrounded by several immaculate arcades and carved straight into the city, there lay an enormous harbor. Countless tiny skyships scrambled to navigate between and around several behemoth air vehicles that were moored to the great quays. The dock workers and sailors looked almost like legions of little ants, diligently servicing and supplying the incoming commerce.

“It looks quite monumental,” Fluttershy said, “we should try to see if we can’t pay it a visit. I don’t think I’ve seen a facility of this size before.”

More close by, the street seemed to be shortly leading into a fairly large plaza. It was actually really pretty and accordingly busy with activity, ponies obviously enjoying leisure and luxury. A decent next stop.

Scootaloo got to check out one of the ornamental decorations up close. Right next to the balcony, on the wall, there was one of those fake turrets. The facade was excessively lavish with superfluous carvings, and the fake windows were beset with common crystals in the stead of glass. It was crowned by an impressively rendered statue of a raven.

The point of contact between the two walls formed a dark little alcove which was noticeably less weathered than the rest. In fact, ponies had found use for the guarded spot. There were small rocks lying about, used to carve countless names and cutie marks all over the stone. So many friends had come here together, and immortalized their memory in this timeless little spot.

Scootaloo reached over and picked up one of the rocks. It was so awesome to be part of this amazing expression of friendship. And who better to remember than her amazing friend Fluttershy? She excitedly carved their initials into the wall.

“What are you doing, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo boldly presented her work. “Look,” she said, “I carved our names onto the wall of friendship.” The wall now proudly bore the letters S C T + F S.

Fluttershy’s eyes grew huge, and she immediately burst out laughing.

“Oh, Scoots,” she giggled, “that’s very nice of you, but I don’t think the wall is the kind of friendship you were thinking of.”

What was that supposed to mean? Scootaloo turned back and inspected the wall.

Her heart skipped a beat when she realized.

The pairs of names weren’t inscribed plainly, but there were little happy squiggles and heart symbols everywhere. Some entries were even adorned with dates of engagement … or marriage.

This wasn’t a wall of friendship.

This was a wall of love.

“I, uh … I … uh … ” Scootaloo stuttered.

“It’s fine,” Fluttershy mused, “I’m happy to be on that wall with you. I accept it as a sign of our strong friendship.” She smirked. “And I do think you’re a pretty cute little filly, Scoots.”

With that, Fluttershy leaned in and planted a gentle kiss on Scootaloo’s cheek.

Scootaloo immediately thawed from the unbelievable warmth of the soft contact. However uncool her mistake had made her look in Fluttershy’s eyes, that little kiss had been totally worth it. Her cheeks tingled pleasantly. Besides, she still had enough coolness to spare.

Fluttershy was bemused by her cute little filly, dreamily toddling on with a goofy grin plastered on her face.

They descended back down the building and emerged onto the street. Despite the street’s familiarity, they had only walked where their hooves had taken them, and it turned out difficult to figure out which of the meandering pathways would take them to the plaza.

Scootaloo was no help in trying to find out, her face still glued to her hooves, her head full of chivalry and adventure. Something caught her eye, though. On the ground, glinting brightly, lay a coin.

“Hey, I found a bit,” she announced and bowed down in an attempt to pick it up.

She jumped back up straight, however, when she felt the motion causing her skirt to ride up and, quite critically, expose her pants’ seat, the volume of which to conceal was quite a critical objective to her.

But hey, it was a coin.

Scootaloo bent down and picked it up as quickly as she could.

There was nopony around whom the bit could have conceivably belonged to, but there was a mare on the other side of the road. Scootaloo approached her.

“Excuse me,” she said, “did you lose this coin?”

“No, I did not,” the mare said, “but it’s very considerate of you to ask. I believe you have earned to keep it. The canoness approves.”

“Neat!” Scootaloo said and took the coin for herself.

“Say thank you, Scoots,” Fluttershy reminded her.

“Thank you,” Scootaloo said, but was preoccupied with putting the coin into her jacket’s pocket and closing the zipper. The two mares smiled warmly.

“Um, do you know how to get to the plaza?” Fluttershy said.

“Oh, I thought you guys were on the trail,” the mare said, “since I saw you come out of the old junk heap.”

“The trail?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, did you see the sign?” the mare said, “Skyview sights trail. They’re on every street sign and are supposed to guide the tourists through the city.”

“Oh,” Fluttershy said, “I hadn’t been able to make heads nor tails from the street signs. They’re pointing in every direction.” Literally, in fact. It was like the face of a clock.

“Yeah, well, the trail’s signs stand out,” the mare said, “and they’re connected, so you’re going to stay on track just by following them. And you should follow them, too, by the way. There’s some pretty cool sights still ahead.”

“We will,” Fluttershy said, “thank you.”

“Thank you,” Scootaloo echoed absentmindedly, still marvelling at her pocket. The mares giggled adoringly.

The signs led to the plaza before long. Fluttershy and Scootaloo must have come in through a side entrance, because they found themselves facing a huge fountain. Water jets rose fantastically into the air, willing glittering rainbows into existence that gleamed beautifully against the sunlit clouds in the sky, before passing as refreshing mist onto the faces of the admiring onlookers. The most enthusiastic of which were obviously many overjoyed fillies and colts running around with beads of water in their manes.

Populating the remainder of the plaza was a no less mystifying mix of pedestrians. Tourists and locals melded into a colorful audience where fancy costumes and jewelry were increasingly difficult to tell apart from exotic travel gear and trinkets. The plenty of reclining space was well occupied by ponies talking in countless languages with countless globetrotters. Most obvious was a pair of young dragons, browsing through the stalls of the small day market.

“Ahh,” Fluttershy sighed, sitting down on a bench, “I really needed to rest my hooves for a minute. We’ve been either flying or walking all day, after all.”

Scootaloo climbed onto the bench too and plopped down onto the seat. “Wow, what a cool bench,” she said, “it’s really comfy.”

“Um, it’s just a wooden bench,” Fluttershy giggled, “but I’m glad you’re being comfy.”

The realization of exactly why she was sitting so comfortably hit Scootaloo, and Fluttershy couldn’t resist, and gave her a hug to ease her confused embarrassment. They sat still together for a few relaxing moments.

A brief commotion came from the nearby stands as two ponies kept arguing increasingly louder. It was apparently a haggle, going on about the price of an item, and the two parties seemed unable to come to an agreement, as the disparities between their offers grew along with the volumes of their voices. They seemed about ready to jump at each other’s throats when one of them suddenly accepted and they amicably shook hooves before parting. Two police deputies stood nearby, barely paying attention as they ate their ice creams.

“Are you hungry, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said, “We haven’t had anything to eat in a while, and a little snack would sound about right just now. There seems to be enough food vendors here. How about a light sandwich or a little salad?”

“Let’s go to the deep fry stand!” Scootaloo said. She eyed the popular attraction with such intensity, Fluttershy just couldn’t say no.

Customers stood all around the greasy stand, and the vendor pony served them all simultaneously. He seemed incredibly skilled, distributing fat-dripping goods with his horn many times faster than it would be possible with hooves, the crowd cheering him on as he put on a show.

Scootaloo and Fluttershy had some fried elderberries. The fruit content existed in name only though - it was basically a small vine with copious amounts of batter on it, smeared with mounds of melting butter and heavily dunked into powdered sugar. Scootaloo devoured hers in sweet, sweet sensory bliss.

Fluttershy insisted on having a cup of lemon water together to counteract the outrageous unhealthiness, and then she let Scootaloo run off to the fountain to play.

Running around the fountain was wholesome fun - the water so pretty from every side. You could try to follow the random directions of the sprays in order to keep the rainbow visible for as long as possible, or you could just move slowly, and follow the path of the sun’s glints in the water. The cobblestone was also wet enough to make exciting slides. No wonder so many ponies were squealing and bouncing around joyously.

Except one, a little filly with a comically oversized sun hat, leaning over the rim of the basin with her forehooves in the water. She looked funny, because her hat had the same peachy pink color as her coat.

In the water, she had a colorful little ball. She pushed the ball under the water, and when she released, the ball would bounce back and spring up into the air. That was all she did. That was her game. Unbelievable. It was the kind of silly thing that toddlers would enjoy.

“Hey there,” the filly said, “do you wanna play too?”

“Um,” Scootaloo said. She walked to the basin.

“Look,” the filly said, “I gotta push the ball down and make it fly over to you.” She submerged the ball quite skillfully and made it come out at an angle, and it bounced over to Scootaloo and floated on the waves.

The air in the ball caused surprisingly much resistance when Scootaloo pushed it under. She carefully held it in place and angled her hooves appropriately, and then she released for the launch. The ball bounced high in the air and landed perfectly in front of the filly.

“Wow!” she said, “You’re really good at this.”

Scootaloo gasped. “That is so cool!” she said, “Can I go again, please?”

“It’s my turn, silly,” the filly giggled.

She overplayed the ball a bit, but Scootaloo blocked it with her hoof. Then Scootaloo took another shot and again scored with impressive accuracy.

“This is the coolest game I’ve ever played!” Scootaloo exclaimed, and she couldn’t help but laugh from the sheer joy, and that made the filly laugh too, and then they laughed together.

“I’m Magnolia,” she said, “what’s your name?”

“I’m Scootaloo.”

“Nice meeting you, Scootaloo,” Magnolia said.

“Likewise,” Scootaloo said.

They splashed around with the ball some more. Magnolia’s accuracy was actually remarkable too, and they soon moved a step apart to even further increase the level of skill in play.

“You have a cool hat, Magnolia,” Scootaloo said, “but it’s not very sunny, is it?” There was plenty of sun, but the skies were streaked with wisps of humidity.

“Thanks,” Magnolia said, “I like wearing it because my mommy always wears one too. Does your mommy wear a cool jacket like yours as well?”

“Umm,” Scootaloo said. There was that question again that she couldn’t answer. Fluttershy was still close by, relaxing on the bench.

“Wow!” Magnolia said, tracing Scootaloo’s gaze, “Your mommy’s jacket is almost more cooler than yours!”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said. She didn’t feel like correcting Magnolia right now. Scootaloo always found herself thinking pleasant thoughts when she thought of Fluttershy.

Magnolia really was bringing the heat now. Ball bounces became faster and higher, and both players were soon regularly trying to catch it out of the air before it hit the water. Magnolia delivered a shot that arced high, and Scootaloo tried to catch it, but bumped the ball further into the fountain with her hoof instead.

Scootaloo leaned over the rim as far as she could and just about managed to retrieve the ball with her hooftip.

That’s when she realized.

She had done that mistake before, bending over too far. The motion had made her skirt ride up high, and now she stood there with her butt plainly sticking out for everypony to see. Naturally, her new friend had noticed something looking peculiar, and was therefore staring straight at her flank. She didn’t dare move.

Magnolia beheld the outline of the thick baby diaper, visible through Scootaloo’s pantyhose, for a moment.

Then she turned back and happily splashed the water. “Come on, give me the ball,” she said.

Scootaloo gave a silly shot that left the ball skipping over the water.

“Wow, that was really neat,” Magnolia giggled, “let me try.” She also sent the ball skipping, and Scootaloo giggled.

Laughing was suddenly so easy. It was because Magnolia was such a cool friend. Scootaloo really enjoyed playing with her. It also felt kind of cool that somepony knew what she was wearing. Maybe there really wasn’t that much to it, after all.

They had opened a whole new world of trick shots with the ball. Fancy techniques were displayed as they made the ball spin or tried to hit one of the jets of water. So impressive were Scootaloo and Magnolia that other ponies stopped to watch, and sometimes join them in play, before running off again. The fun couldn’t have lasted long enough.

“Ready to go, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy eventually showed up, “hello, little filly.”

“Hello,” Magnolia said, “great, we can go back to my mommy together.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said, “Um, thanks for playing with me, Magnolia.”

“Also thanks for playing with me, Scootaloo,” Magnolia said.

Magnolia led Fluttershy and Scootaloo on, and together they crossed to the far side of the plaza, where her mother was waiting. The ridiculous fear of sunlight seemed to be running in the family. She wore a bandana underneath her sun hat, and even a light cloak over her wings.

“Have you made new friends?” she greeted them. “You’re tourists, right?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, “we’re trying to finish the sights trail.”

“Ah, the old trail,” Magnolia’s mom laughed, “it leads through this square now, right? Explains all the fresh blood showing up lately. Well, can’t get too lively in my book. I love trading for exotic junk, it’s a weakness of mine. Anyway, you should finish the trail, it’s not too long from now. Magnolia, sweetie, go pack away your toy so we can be on our way.”

“Oh, yeah,” Magnolia said, “come on, Scootaloo, I can show you my stroller.”

“You have a stroller?” Scootaloo said.

Indeed, closeby stood a stroller, and it looked quite fancy to boot. It was one of the sitting types for larger fillies and colts, was relatively heavy and sturdy and even had rubber wheels. Magnolia stashed her ball in one of the many bags and then threw herself into the seat, crossing her forehooves behind her head.

“I have the coolest stroller in town,” she said proudly.

Scootaloo was in awe. It looked amazing.

“Don’t you have a stroller?” Magnolia’s mom said.

“Um, no,” Fluttershy said, “we didn’t think of it.”

“Well, seeing how you’re with your little squirt,” Magnolia’s mom laughed, “You really should consider it. There’s even a decent stroller joint closeby. Place is a total tourist rip off, but their strollers are really good. Trust me, you’ll be most grateful for it, once the little ones are all tuckered out. Been there, done that.”

“That sounds like good advice,” Fluttershy said, “I think it would be wise to take. What do you think, Scootaloo? Do you want to have a nice stroller to ride in?”

Everypony was looking at Scootaloo.

Her own stroller.

“Yeah!” she beamed

Part 4

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The variety in strollers was absurd.

Finding the place hadn’t been as difficult as finding the entrance amidst the droves of fancy strollers in the yard. Every combination of wheels, handles, sun screens, wind protections, ergonomic cushions, bags and trays, hoofrests, headrests, and a thousand little decorations, was on display. There couldn’t have been any need left unfulfilled by the sheer variety of these strollers.

The store’s inside was almost disappointing. The small shop floor seemed to contain the more sensible, and decidedly less exorbitant, models, behind which a large workshop area, stacked with parts, wheels and materials, and noisy with the sounds of ponies working, took up most of the space.

“Hi there,” approached them a salespony, “let me guess, you’re looking for a stroller. Well, let me tell you, you’ve come to the right place.”

“Hello,” Fluttershy said, “we were hoping to rent a stroller for a couple of days. You see, we’re here on vacation.”

“Not a problem,” the young mare said, “I’ll just give you something to fill out names and dates on.” She crouched. “Why hello there, little princess. I’m guessing the new wheels are for you?”

Scootaloo drew further behind Fluttershy’s tail.

“Um, yes,” Fluttershy said, “she’s a bit nervous around strangers.”

“Not a problem,” the salesmare said, “our strollers will make her feel right at home. Let’s see, we’ll need something bigger for a strong filly like herself. I’ll show you the biggest strollers we currently have.”

Most of the strollers were the lying down, infant carriage, kind, which were obviously too small for Scootaloo. The remaining ones had seats of various heights and postures, and looked quite inviting.

Three of the four largest strollers, though decorated with pretty gadgets of questionable usefulness, turned out to be too impractical. The materials were flimsy, and when Scootaloo tried climbing on them, they threatened to tip over. The fourth one, though, looked much bigger and heavier, and more suitable for Scootaloo’s stature.

“This one looks rather nice,” Fluttershy said.

“Ah, the premium model,” the salespony said, “It’s too plain for most ponies, but I personally believe it’s technically our finest yet. What do you think, shall we give it a try? Come on, up you go.”

With practiced hooves, she grabbed Scootaloo under the pits of her forelegs and lifted her up, gently lowering her into the stroller’s seat.

Scootaloo was immediately enamored. The seat of strongly woven textile was tilted back just slightly, so she could sink into it comfortably, while the ergonomic cushioning supported her back, and helped her sit up straight. The stroller was very stable and didn’t tilt at all, and the rubber wheels had actual suspensions, for some bouncy fun if nothing more.

That was already more than solid, but there also seemed to be no shortage of nifty little surprises. The stroller had little pockets built into the fabric around the back, a tray underneath the seat, and a cushioned strap between the handles, which would allow Fluttershy to walk it effortlessly with her shoulders.

“And speaking of straps,” the salesmare said, “we’ve got every safety feature you’d expect in order to keep princess secure. The belt comes out of this … ” From a small flap, she unfolded the cushioned seat belt and clicked it shut across Scootaloo’s midsection. “ … and another one ... excuse me, but I need to get through here.”

It still felt weird, being the center of attention like this, but Scootaloo willed herself to let the mare push her hind legs apart. Despite the resounding crinkling of Scootaloo’s obtrusively bulging pants, a brief, and most casual, glance was the only attention the mare paid. She retrieved the strap dangling between Scootaloo’s legs and pulled it up to click it into the seat belt.

“There,” the salesmare said, “Now there’s no way little cutie here can slip out under the seat belt. Tucked in all nice and safe. What do you say, give it a whirl?”

The world began moving as Fluttershy began pushing the stroller. Scootaloo briefly tensed up and held on to the frame, but the wondrous comfort quickly lulled her in. Indeed, she actually was all tucked in, and the secure cushiness was so relaxing, it almost made her drowsy on the spot. The floor passed by on its own, and everything around suddenly became a fascinating curiosity to be leisurely examined.

It was almost better than flying.

Scootaloo turned her head up and found Fluttershy smiling down at her. The sight was so wonderful, Scootaloo couldn’t help bursting into bubbling laughter, making Fluttershy and the mare giggle.

“I think she likes it,” Fluttershy said.

“That’s a match if I’ve ever seen one,” the salesmare said, “very well, shall we?”

Fluttershy completed the purchase and left the store with Scootaloo.

Getting through the sales display was no problem whatsoever for the surprisingly nimble stroller. Only for the sharpest of turns did Fluttershy need to use her forehooves, but otherwise she could walk it quite comfortably the way she would usually walk.

“Boy, am I happy we don’t have any of that tacky junk,” Scootaloo said, “those dangling things and screens would be super annoying.”

“The other strollers probably aren’t suitable for windy weather,” Fluttershy said, shaking her mane out of her face, “we’re lucky we don’t have to take any decorations off of your stroller, Scoots. How do you like it? Are you satisfied?”

“It’s so awesome,” Scootaloo beamed, “So comfy and so much fun! Now I have the most awesome stroller in the world.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Fluttershy said, “I think it’s pretty nifty, too.”

“Thanks, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “Um, I hope it wasn’t too much of a bother. I don’t want to be … a burden to you.” After all, Fluttershy had been doing all of this of her own volition.

Fluttershy nuzzled the top of Scootaloo’s head.

“Don’t you worry about it, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “Let’s just enjoy it together.”

They quickly got back on track.

By now, the road was more deserving of its title as Trail of Sights. It really looked like a trail, as it snaked its way upward along the incline. There were far fewer ponies about on the scenic route, as opposed to the main streets, so much so that the path’s paving gave way to much prettier natural stone.

Scootaloo held on to the edge of her stroller and enjoyed the gorgeous view. This side of the city seemed much more vested in industry rather than trade. The sprawling expanse of efficient looking building complexes and transport pathways were sprinkled with precious metals and rare crystals shining and glittering magically in the late afternoon sun.

The count of at least three large gemstone capacitor arrays fed into several pylons, which noticeably formed a connection uphill and straight into the city pillar. The monumental cloud column was quite close now, and its dark side was aglow with arcanery. Figures. It must take a lot of energy to keep an entire other city overhead. The dark rumbling of raw magical power in the shadows was proof enough.

“Look, I think it’s some kind of ruin,” Fluttershy said, “The sign says, Skyview sights trail, The last keep of the Pendaros.”

On top of an overhang was a wide area sprinkled with remains and ruined walls, centered around some sort of impressively high stone pillar. The area was delimited by a steep trench spanned by a little bridge.

“Why do we have to go over this bridge?” Scootaloo said.

“It’s a cloud bridge, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “it’s there to make sure only pegasus ponies can cross. Looks like most of the ruins are standing only on clouds, which could be dangerous for non-fliers.”

The ruins showed the layouts of walls, rooms and entire buildings, which apparently used to stand there. There were several signs detailing the history of the place, but Scootaloo was too busy marvelling at the mystifying patterns of sediment and moss on the age old slabs of stone. She bent over to see around a corner, and looking straight back at her was a familiar face with a familiar sun hat.

“Magnolia!” Scootaloo said.

“Scootaloo!” Magnolia said.

Scootaloo tried to slide and squirm out of the stroller, but the belt and the strap between her legs kept her in place unrelentingly.

“Not like that, silly,” Magnolia said, “Somepony else has to open it up for you. Here, let me help.”

She unlatched the seat belt and opened the strap, and Scootaloo was free to hop out the seat and hug her friend.

“Had an inkling we’d catch you up here,” Magnolia’s mom said, “my little one just loves to come up here and look at the rocks.”

“They’re constructions, mommy,” Magnolia corrected her.

“You’re right, you’re right,” she said, giving her daughter an affectionate nuzzle.

“What is this place?” Fluttershy said, “It’s quite large. Feels like something important happened here.”

“Oh!” Magnolia bounced excitedly, “It was an ancient castle and the revolution happened here! Come on, Scootaloo, let me show you everything.”

“Hope you’re prepared for a lecture, Scootaloo,” Magnolia’s mom called after them.

“Um, what’s a Pendaros?” Scootaloo said.

“The Pendarors was the last family that ruled at the end of Skyview’s feudal age,” Magnolia said.

“Last family?” Scootaloo said, “So they were the ones who spent all that money on the magistrate building?”

Magnolia was almost taken aback. “You know about them?” she said.

“I just found out recently,” Scootaloo said, “but I didn’t know any names.”

“There were tons of ruling families before them,” Magnolia said, “the Pendaros family were the last ones, before them the vast Sciiana dynasty had taken hold of the city, and even before them the Bea Faan hegemony from far away sat on the throne. But, yeah, the feudal ages ended thousands of years ago, mostly because of all the money spending.”

“Wow, I never knew there had been so many,” Scootaloo said, “ponies must have been pretty mad with them in the end.”

“Yeah,” Magnolia said, “so mad they kicked their houses out of the clouds.”

“You mean, like, really kicked everything through the clouds?” Scootaloo said, “Wow.”

“Well, I don’t think they’d just let valuable stuff fall down on the earth,” Magnolia said, “but this is all that remains.”

Apparently even the ground had been forcefully evicted, which is why they stood mostly on clouds, surrounded by what was basically rubble. The level of destruction was quite impressive.

“That doesn’t mean they were bad through,” Magnolia said, “every ruling family tried to do its best, in the way they thought was best, and has left and mark on the city. There were so many, and all of them were different, which is why Skyview has the many different things that it has today. The Pendaros were famous for building this.”

She pointed toward the pillar. In fact, it wasn’t a simple pillar, but a high arch with a flat top spanning between two pillars.

“This is the last standing segment of the grand aqueduct,” Magnolia explained, “They built it across the entire city so that ponies who weren’t pegasi would have no more troubles getting water. They also supplied their own castle here with that aqueduct. Come on, I’ll show you the rooms.”

The castle had been amazingly intricate. Underneath every large room and staircase section were the remains of storage chambers and hidden cellars. Sometimes even the walls between rooms had served to squeeze in more storage space. The Pendaros must have had a lot of stuff to store.

The larder was huge and placed near the barracks, in order to provision the standing workforce efficiently. Rooms were situated deftly in general, there was clearly a high level of architectural prowess on display. Only the throne room was nowhere to be found, apparently the symbolic seat of power had been completely destroyed during the uprising.

“Look at that small building,” Scootaloo said, “it’s chock full of little signs and symbols. There must have been a lot of stuff in there.”

“It’s the most well preserved building on the compound,” Magnolia said, “and it’s still valuable for the archeological institute.”

“Well, I’ll say,” Scootaloo said, “looks like it’s held together by all that tape.”

“Hey, Scootaloo, wanna know something funny?” Magnolia said, barely able to contain her snickering.

“What?” Scootaloo said.

“That building, it was a toilet,” Magnolia said.

Scootaloo immediately burst out laughing. She didn’t know why it was so funny, but she could barely catch her breath.

“Are you saying,” Scootaloo howled, “the archeologists crawled around in there where other ponies went potty?”

Magnolia nodded, already in tears herself, raising Scootaloo’s humor even further, and the two friends laughed together until they were out of breath. The thought was just silly.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anypony so amused by ancient history,” Magnolia’s mom said when the two giggling fillies returned. “Look, if you like ruins so much, you might want to check out the amphitheater nearby. It was technically part of this castle, but it’s been somewhat restored. Just follow the little path over there.”

“I think we will,” Fluttershy said, “We’ve learned so much about the amazing history of this place already.”

“Then you’d better get going before the sun goes down,” Magnolia’s mom said, “I’m sure you’ll like it. Come on, squirt, let’s go hit the road, too.”

Magnolia could already clamber into her stroller on her own, like a big filly. But Scootaloo had to wait to be seated by Fluttershy. The fillies got buckled in, everypony said their goodbyes, and Scootaloo and Magnolia exchanged a hoof bump across strollers. Soon they had parted ways.

The amphitheater’s rounded shape was already visible at the end of the small path. Fluttershy held a secure grip on the stroller all the way downhill.

“You seem to have made a pretty clever new friend, Scoots,” Fluttershy said.

“Magnolia knows everything about this place,” Scootaloo said, “and the way she tells it is so cool. She knows some really funny or amazing stories that happened here.”

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said fondly, “kind of reminds me of Twilight when she speaks about Canterlot.”

Scootaloo gasped. “Do other places have cool stories too?” she said, “What about Ponyville?”

“I’m sure they have,” Fluttershy giggled.

“I need to bring a cool story for Magnolia the next time we meet,” Scootaloo said.

But there were so many places around Ponyville. She’d need to check them all out. Where had she stashed that history book from school again?

The path wasn’t too long, and soon they were on paved ground again. In fact, it wasn’t only paved, but there was soft earth and even a bit of grass underhoof.

The ancient amphitheater had been restored, but apparently into a green area instead of a building. The auditorium was intact, circular rows of seats in shining marble, except for the occasional dark patch, where the original stone was still intact. The steps all led down toward the center podium, but the area where the actors’ building would have been was greenery and more seating instead.

There were few ponies around, and most of them appeared to be young couples enjoying the privacy behind corners and decorative elements. Scootaloo quickly tore her eyes away before she found out what exactly that particular couple was doing behind that particular column.

She was lifted out of her stroller and placed on top of the steps. Fluttershy led the way down, and Scootaloo toddled after her, marvelling at the size of the construction.

“What grand plays they must have shown here,” Scootaloo said, “this place must have been able to hold hundreds of ponies. I can’t even imagine what it’s like trying to perform in front of them all.”

“Me neither,” Fluttershy said, “but looks like they can.”

In the middle of the podium, there was a young pony couple. He was up on his hind legs, wildly performing some kind of act, while she sat by and listened. Scootaloo could catch a few words as she walked by.

“ … leave me be,” he said, “no more will I be part of this insane ploy. Do not look me after.”

“I relay the throne to you, for I have become … for I have found … Ah, horse apples!”

“Doesn’t seem too successful,” Scootaloo said.

Fluttershy went to read the posters detailing the history of the place. This had been an influential place of entertainment, but also an important social contact area for ponies of ancient times. There used to be several plays in a row, and the rulers made sure the plays would be most dramatic and emotionally stimulating, such that they could they could coerce their malleable affiliates into important political decisions during the hour long breaks. How clever!

Scootaloo discovered broad grooves in the stone that led off the side of the building. That was where the Pendaros’ aqueduct had connected with the site and supplied water to the fountains and sanitary installations. The side of the auditorium went quite a bit further before it merged into the landscape. How could ponies back then have stacked those massive slabs of rock so high?

She went down into the arena and past the podium. The other side of the amphitheater was situated against a small cliff. The top of the delimiting wall seemed like a perfect place to sit and enjoy the view.

Scootaloo gathered herself, and jumped, and tried to reach the edge of the wall. But she couldn’t reach it.

She jumped again and even fluttered her wings, but her hooftips came just short. She prepared for her highest jump yet, when somepony giggled.

“What are you doing there, little filly?” she said. It was the young mare from the podium. “Oh my, aren’t you just the most precious little thing. Oh, just look at you! Were you trying to get up on that wall?”

“Um, yes,” Scootaloo said to the strange mare.

“Go ahead, try it again, little filly,” she said, “I’m sure you’ll succeed this time.”

The intense attention from the mare made Scootaloo nervous, but she nevertheless gathered herself as best she could and jumped into the air. The mare immediately caught her around the midsection and flew up, setting Scootaloo down on top of the wall.

“You did it!” the mare cheered.

“Wow,” Scootaloo said, “um, thank you.”

“Oh, you’re so cute!” the mare beamed, “You’re just the cutest, most adorable little filly. Oh, I could just … “ she made some more cooing sounds while ruffling Scootaloo’s mane with her hoof.

Thankfully, her partner appeared, and Fluttershy followed right after.

“Would you stop doing that to the filly’s mane,” the stallion said, “or the style is going to remain permanent.”

“Oh, she’s always had a bit of a stubborn mane,” Fluttershy said.

“Well, good evening there,” the stallion said courtly, “allow me to introduce us. Her name is Hera.”

“And he’s called Klieg,” she said.

“She is my muse, for when require divine inspiration,” Klieg said.

“And he’s my coltfriend,” Hera said, rolling her eyes.

“I’m Fluttershy, and this is Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “and we’re doing some sightseeing.”

“Oh, what better sight to see than this,” Klieg said, indicating the entirety of the amphitheater, “the place in which thoughts of monumental magnitude have sprung to life.”

“Right now, you’re the one trying to make a thought spring to life,” Hera said.

“It is so, for the accursed exam committee is aiming to force my hoof in this untimely fashion,” Klieg said.

“Exam?” Scootaloo said, “Are you going to school?”

“Yes, for I am a student of the school of life,” Klieg said, “and the academy of arts and theatre.”

“Which is why he needs to create a play, for the big exam,” Hera said.

“Tragically so,” Klieg said, “you can not force genius.”

“So you have a school of archaeology and a school of arts in Skyview?” Fluttershy said.

“That is but a small facet of the mosaic,” Klieg said, “this fair city of ours is home to many renowned universities and schools and centerpiece of vast trade networks, for it is founded upon the pillars of commerce and philosophy.”

“Which are also pretty much your only options, when you’re a cloud city that doesn’t specialize on weather,” Hera said, “still, it makes for a very interesting place to settle down in, don’t you think so? Huh, Klieg?”

“Excuse me for saying,” Fluttershy giggled, “but he doesn’t exactly seem the settle down type.”

“Oh, that’s another one of his acts,” Hera said, “why else would he always get all blushy whenever I mention other parents with their little foals?”

“I’m not getting blushy!” Klieg complained, crossing his forehooves and pouting.

“Especially blushy,” Hera said, “when they’re as cute as little Scootaloo here. Isn’t that right darling? Come here, dear, wanna give me a hug?”

Scootaloo wasn’t sure what to think about the two, but the prospect of a hug was pretty enticing. She moved closer to Hera, stood on her hind legs and leaned into the waiting embrace. Hera smelled intensely of perfume, but the hug was really comfortable, full of genuine admiration.

“You have a very pretty and cute little filly, Fluttershy,” Hera said dreamily, “I just wanted you to know that.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said, “I quite enjoy hugging her myself.”

“Hark, time have I naught for such worldly concerns,” Klieg said, “for I must create greatness, or drown my failures out of this world.”

“Yeah, yeah, Klieg,” Hera said, “we’re going to the Turnpike soon.”

“The Turnpike?” Scootaloo said, “What’s that.”

“It’s a popular nightclub in the city,” Hera explained, “the city, that’s the middle part of Skyview, right above us. And a nightclub, that’s where grown ups go to dance and have fun.”

A nightclub! Scootaloo was well versed in nightclubs, she’d be able to hold the pace. “That sounds awesome,” Scootaloo said, “can we go, Fluttershy, please?”

Everypony present giggled.

“I believe you’re a bit too young for that, Scootaloo,” Hera said, “the nightclub is way too loud, and all the adults are drinking icky adult drinks. You wouldn’t like that, precious little filly.”

“Hmm,” Klieg said aloud, “they do have an outside area at the Turnpike though, don’t they? You could come by and just relax for a bit.”

“Um, maybe,” Fluttershy said, “If it’s not too late. We were actually hoping to look at the harbour before it gets dark.”

“The harbour,” Klieg said, “most iconic of masterpieces. You are in luck, because it lies right on your way to the lifts. And, alas, there was a large mooring scheduled for this evening, wasn’t it?”

“I believe so,” Hera said, “these huge airships come in regularly. And you’ve got a bit of time left to catch it, too.”

“That sounds great,” Fluttershy said, “What do you say, Scootaloo? Do you wanna see the huge airship?”

Scootaloo gasped. “The airship! Yes, please! I wanna see the airship,” she said excitedly, clopping her hooves together.

Hera almost melted. “That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said, nuzzling Scootaloo all over the side of her head.

She gave Fluttershy directions and turned back to tend to her coltfriend.

“That’s it,” Klieg mumbled, “I will be no part of this ploy. Do not look me after. I abdicate the throne, for I have found the joy, of a foal’s laughter. That’s brilliant!” With that, he flew back down to the podium.

“I’d better get after him,” Hera said, “he never writes down what he says. Have a nice walk, you two, and maybe we’ll see each other again.”

Scootaloo and Fluttershy waved goodbye, but remained there for a moment longer. The evening sun was warm, making the top of the wall quite a comfortable spot.

Those ponies had been funny. Was everypony in Skyview like this? Was everypony in every new place like this? Scootaloo had never imagined travelling far away would be so exciting in such ways. Everytime she met somepony new, it was weird and awkward but also funny at first, and the more they talked, the more funny and exciting things seemed to get.

Luckily, Scootaloo was confident enough to meet new ponies easily. But even more luckily, she had Fluttershy close by, taking her to the coolest and most interesting places.

Suddenly, Scootaloo felt the most intense need to hug Fluttershy. She shuffled and crinkled over to her, and Fluttershy immediately knew what was up, embracing her tightly.

It was a very natural and worldly hug, not much more than the satisfaction of a need. But that satisfaction left them both happier when they parted.

Soon, Scootaloo was lifted off the wall and onto the ground. They crossed the ground and ascended the stairs back up to where the stroller stood. Fluttershy went first, but kept a comfortably slow pace so Scootaloo could pleasantly climb the stairs behind her.

It seemed there were quite a few stairs more upwards than had been when they had come down. Scootaloo wanted to take the time to look back on this pretty place, but her mind was on something else entirely. All this talk about water supplies and sanitation had made a very certain fullness to her stomach all the more apparent, and the urge was intensifying rapidly as she moved.

“Um, Fluttershy?” Scootaloo said meekly.

“What is it?” Fluttershy said.

“I … um, I …” Scootaloo stammered. The words sounded so silly in her head.

“What’s the matter, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said, stepping closer, “you can tell me.”

“I, um,” Scootaloo said, “I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh, okay,” Fluttershy said. When Scootaloo didn’t say anything, Fluttershy smiled. “I’m just wondering, because that question is rather unusual from a little foal. You know that, right?”

Scootaloo couldn’t bring out a word, so she nodded. Fluttershy was talking so amazingly normally to her.

“Do you want to go to the bathroom in your diapers, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said.

“Would … ” Scootaloo squeaked, “would that be okay for you?”

“Yes, that would be okay,” Fluttershy said, “because I wouldn’t have expected any different. I just had to make sure that you wanted it, too.”

Scootaloo could barely contain her excitement, but Fluttershy just smiled reassuringly. “In that case,” Scootaloo said, “c-can I go in my diaper, please?”

“Yes, you may,” Fluttershy said, “go ahead.”

They stood silently.

Right, this was the part where Scootaloo went.

Her tail twitched.

She moved her hooves.

And then, calm breathing.

Actually, she had no idea what to do, on the spot.

“Need some help?” Fluttershy giggled, “Okay then. Do you need to go pee pee, Scoots?”

“Um, yes,” Scootaloo said.

“Okay, come here,” Fluttershy said, “I’ll hold you.”

Fluttershy sat down on the edge of a step and beckoned Scootaloo over. Scootaloo nervously stepped closer. She was turned around, and Fluttershy hooked one foreleg around her chest, lifting Scootaloo up and holding her closely, wrapping the other foreleg around Scootaloo’s stomach for stability.

It quickly became obvious what Fluttershy was trying to do. Scootaloo was being held over the precipice of the step on which Fluttershy sat, her weight in Fluttershy’s secure hold and her legs kind of dangling limply.

“This is how you would hold a little foal who needs to go, but can’t yet move in the tall grass on her own,” Fluttershy said softly, “well, you’re not exactly going into any grass, Scoots, but you get the idea.”

Quite the opposite, in fact, as Scootaloo was still fully clothed, not even feeling the wind on her hind legs thanks to her woolen (light red) pantyhose. It was all the more unbelievable that it was actually about to happen. Fluttershy’s presence, and her gentle caress of Scootaloo’s belly had their intended effect.

The urge to relieve herself mounted, and Scootaloo willed herself to remain relaxed. She reflexively tried to lift her tail, but Fluttershy was in the way, so it just kind of remained limply between her hind legs.

Finally, a little bit of pee dribbled out and promptly stained her underwear. Scootaloo instinctively squirmed and nervously squeezed her legs together like a little filly who just realized she was having an accident in her pants.

“It’s okay, Scoots,” Fluttershy whispered, “just let it happen. It’s fine, you’re doing great.”

It was no use anyway, the thick bulk between her legs prevented Scootaloo’s thighs from coming anywhere near each other, and so she had to just kind of give up trying to hold it back.

Scootaloo crouched a bit, slightly sticking her butt out in instinct, and just began relieving herself in earnest. She relaxed into Fluttershy’s embrace, and focussed on enjoying the primal feeling of lightness and emptiness.

Scootaloo could feel a bit of the warm liquid splash back as she relieved herself freely, but all of it just amazingly vanished in the fluff of her diaper momentarily. It felt kind of really neat.

There were ponies around. She wasn’t alone. It was weird, but also kind of exciting, that Scootaloo was doing something so foalish right there where she stood. She was sure she had caught somepony glancing at them on the stairs, and it made her a bit anxious, so Scootaloo made sure to do her business quickly, and then kind of finished up.

“Are you all done, Scoots?” Fluttershy said.

“Um, I think so … I’m not sure,” Scootaloo said.

“That’s alright,” Fluttershy said, “little foals don’t have to finish up in one go. If you ever feel like it, you can just use your diaper again, okay?”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

Scootaloo was put back on her hooves. She immediately noticed the slightly increased weight tugging on her hips, but other than that, she felt absolutely fine. She took a tentative step, but there were no problems whatsoever.

“And?” Fluttershy giggled, “how does it feel?”

“It feels,” Scootaloo said, “it feels kind of the same as before, actually.”

She had to waddle while walking, but that had been like that always. The only real difference was the large, warm stain on her clothing right underneath her butt, but it didn’t actually feel too foreign, because her underwear was already quite warm and comforting.

“Well, that’s good,” Fluttershy said, “that’s what a good diaper is supposed to feel like. A good diaper is supposed to be pleasant and comfortable for the baby, no matter what.”

Scootaloo grinned, “Thanks, Fluttershy!”

“You’re very welcome, Scoots,” Fluttershy said and nuzzled Scootaloo a bit on the cheek. The giggles again came very easily. “Do you think you can go all the way up the stairs for me, so we can put you in your stroller?”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said excitedly.

She proceeded to waddle and crinkle up the steps, and Fluttershy was happy to keep an eye on her delightful little princess.

Part 5

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Good thing Scootaloo wore a jacket.

Temperatures had dropped noticeably as the sun went down. The densely packed buildings seemed to funnel the winds through the streets, where dust swirled in the air and passersby received a faceful of their own manes.

The houses here were decorated more tastefully, the veneers and ornaments seemingly flowing into each other from one building to the next. Buildings bore small turrets with crenels around the corners, although these didn’t appear to be only decorative, as Scootaloo spotted a pony looking out the window of one.

The opposite house had a statue of a black raven sitting on the top. Or so it had seemed. But the raven suddenly spread its wings and fluttered into the air.

It joined a second raven in circling over the neighborhood.

“Um, what are the ravens doing up there?” Scootaloo said.

“I don’t know,” Fluttershy said, “there must be an aviary around, because I haven’t seen any other place suitable for them to live in. Maybe they’re looking for food.”

But the ravens didn’t seem to be looking for anything. When Fluttershy and Scootaloo stopped, the ravens stopped as well and came down onto the street, offering a caw.

“Hello, mister raven,” Fluttershy said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t carry anything to eat.”

The ravens cawed and took off into a side street.

“They want us to follow,” Fluttershy said.

Around the corner, they were greeted by sight of the fanciest building they had seen yet. It was a large, otherwise featureless building, which sprouted a dense group of extravagant and relatively high towers on top. While the base building was more or less a big slab of rock with a little door on front and a scarce few windows, the towers were garnished with overflowing adornments in the shapes of golden vines and leaves and statues of ponies holding various riches.

There were also countless black ravens flocking around the towers, occupying every architectural feature and ducking into plenty of little holes and alcoves.

“So that’s where the ravens live,” Scootaloo said.

“Yes, but what is it?” Fluttershy said. The building was oppressively featureless, and would have blended into a ravine without problems, were it not for the decorative crest sprouting from its top.

“A prison? A bank?” Scootaloo said.

“We still have some time,” Fluttershy said “Wanna look inside, Scoots?”

Of course she wanted to. Fluttershy came around to unbuckle her, and lifted her out of the stroller and onto the ground. Upon closer inspection, the windows were inlaid with colorful glass, and the only door had decorative studs.

There were a few ponies milling about. Scootaloo paid attention that they were minding their own business, but that was only little reassurance. Walking had become considerably more difficult with the little saggy bulge that was now between her hind legs. But, more critically, her skirt wasn’t too long to begin with, and her pantyhose could barely hold up the added weight as it was.

She quickly crinkled after Fluttershy before anypony had a chance to take a closer look.

They entered through the door, and it was like another world.

The huge hall was of polished marble. Colorful windows illuminated the bountiful decorations, which mirrored the style of those on the roof in the most pretty ways. There were frescos, busts and statues on every wall and furniture piece, golden goblets splashing with wine, ponies in excessively luxurious clothes, images of powerful tomes, spells and artifacts.

Tables, couches and seating groups were arranged at varying levels of elevation, and while they tried to look somewhat casual, everything was more or less overtly centered around the huge altar in the middle.

“This isn’t a bank,” Fluttershy said, “it’s a church.”

“Astute observation.”

From one of the several groups of ponies sitting together and talking, one of the decorations came loose and moved towards them.

No, it was an older stallion, dressed in the most fancy clothing Scootaloo had ever seen. Draped in luscious coatings and materials, his entire form was beset with golden chains and shimmering gemstones. He even wore a towering hat with a gilded simulacrum of a scroll tacked to it.

“I take it you come from far away?” he said. His voice was painfully strong.

“Um, yes,” Fluttershy said, “we’re travellers touring the city.”

“Very well,” the stallion said, “allow me to welcome you, then. My name is Conductor Fair Pass, and this is the Choir. The Choir of Commerce. The name is attributed to her, whom you can see over there.”

Behind the altar was the biggest mosaic window yet, and it portrayed a huge, mystifying creature. It looked somewhat like a gryphon, but it was entirely black and had the upper body of a raven. It too was decorated in splendor.

“Wow, who’s that?” Scootaloo said.

“That’s the canoness, dear filly,” Fair Pass said, “and she’s the one who brought us the teachings that we honor in this place of worship.”

“Worship?” Scootaloo said, “You mean you worship her instead of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna?”

“Oh, no,” Fair Pass laughed, “nopony would worship anyone or anything, instead, of the Princesses. And nopony would need to, for the domain of the sun and the moon is as eternal as existence itself. But, you must know, there many, many more things that make up our world. And probably many other worlds too. The canoness, she is the patron saint of trade. She came to us a long time ago, in an age when ponies were blind in foresight and clumsy in enterprise, no good at handling wealth. Many of them still are! Just look at me, I assure you these clothes do not belong to me personally.”

“Wealth … “ Scootaloo said, “that’s like the Pendaros family, who ruled Skyview a long time ago.”

“Oho!” Fair Pass said, smiling underneath his beard, “This little filly knows her history. Well, do you know what came after the fall of the monarchy? A great time of loss, that’s what. Ponies did not know how to think for the long term, as the ruling families had done. Skyview was in the hooves of venal trading companies, and everypony kept getting exploited. They were poor.”

“That’s when the canoness’ song was first heard. Ponies were afraid, for she looked unfamiliar, but they soon began to understand. Trading is not the act of making a profit, but of finding a way to make all involved parties profit. The canoness’ teachings were of fairness, because in a world where commerce is done for the good of everypony, there are no losses, only gains. This new way of sustainable thinking was what the revolution was really about, and we still live it to this day. This building is as much a place of worship as it is a place of meeting and negotiation. Our doors are always open if you seek the canoness’ guidance.”

“That’s a very pretty story,” Fluttershy said, “I think the moral is very valuable.”

“It’s clear that not everything goes as ideally as one would want,” Fair Pass said, “There is still greed and inefficiency even in devout of a city as Skyview. But still, we do the best that we can to trade fairly, because that is what truly creates value. Isn’t that right, little filly?”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said, “I like it when ponies are fair to each other.”

“The canoness will be pleased with your cunning, little filly,” Fair Pass said, “Listen, there will be a public celebration tomorrow on the festival grounds. It’s a popular event in the city, but I would like to invite you anyway, as there will be games and we are collecting for charity. I believe the little one will like it.”

“Sounds like fun,” Fluttershy said, “we’ll see if we can find it.”

“That will be more likely than missing it by random chance, don’t worry,” Fair Pass said, “now if you will excuse me, I have to tend to the ravens. We have a fillies and colts’ singing group practicing over there. Join them if you like.”

The mound of jewelry known as Fair Pass hovered out a side door and began climbing some stairs.

“He must have biceps like steel if he’s trying to get up all the way to the towers,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, he does look fit for his age,” Fluttershy giggled, “Come on, let’s see what they’re singing.”

One of the corners of the hall held a large congregation of ponies. It was a sizeable number of fillies and colts, sitting in a wide circle on a plush carpet, with their accompanying adults sitting right behind them. Discussions were lively, everypony seemed to have a good time.

Fluttershy greeted the closest ponies, and they made room for her to sit down and join them. Scootaloo was beckoned inside the circle, and she stepped up and plopped down in front of Fluttershy.

Everypony could hear her rear crinkle loudly, but, luckily, there was an actual baby sitting beside her, obviously in diapers. Scootaloo could just say the crinkles came from the baby.

“Here,” a little filly on Scootaloo’s other side said, offering a book. It was a song book, and it seemed chock full of various verses and funny little drawings aimed at young ponies.

“Wow, those are a lot of songs,” Scootaloo said.

The filly made a gagging motion. “The conductress wants us to learn them all,” she said, “they’re pretty songs, but they’re starting to get old when you hear them a hundred times.”

“Alright, everypony,” the conductress said, “let’s sing the song of the wanderer again. That’s on page four, for the newcomers.” She winked at Scootaloo.

The conductress counted, and everypony began singing at once.

“The wanderer was alone, he carried his scraps and a bundle of wood, but he had no fire, for the night was so dark and he was so cold.”

“The powderer was alone, he had his bottles and lint and boxes of flash, but freeze he did, and see he could naught, since he did not have coal.”

“The wanderer and the powderer met, and they exchanged what they had, built a pyre so high, from distant they came, warm light for all.”

The amazing song repeated every verse twice. By the second time, Scootaloo had fully gotten the hang of it.

The second and third verses were about more ponies joining the wanderer and making a settlement. The story had Scootaloo so excited, Fluttershy had to hold her and push her hindquarters back down on the floor repeatedly.

In the fourth, fifth and sixth verses, the settlement became a city, and the city prospered from its sustainable commerce. An obvious allegory to Skyview itself.

Scootaloo was completely lost, bellowing out the verses as they came. She was flabbergasted when the song suddenly ended and everypony began applauding.

“Good job, everypony,” the canoness cheered.

“Nice singing,” the filly beside Scootaloo said. She held up a hoof, and Scootaloo bumped it, her grin so wide it almost fell off her face.

They departed from the singing group. Fluttershy guided the still giddy Scootaloo along to the exit.

“That was so awesome!” Scootaloo said.

“It was nice,” Fluttershy said, “I never knew you liked singing so much, Scoots.”

“That wasn’t singing, that was awesome!” Scootaloo said, “This was nothing like the boring songs in school, this was such a cool story and it was so fun to sing.”

“Well, you did sing pretty nicely,” Fluttershy said, “I could tell that you were enjoying yourself. Look, even the ravens seem to think so.”

Outside an open window, many ravens were bunched up, and it was possible that they had listened to the song.

Scootaloo was lifted into the stroller, and sat down into the soft bulk. Fluttershy buckled her in, and they resumed their original path.

The sun stood low fairly by now, enveloping the clouds and the houses in a brilliant orange and violet sheen. The cloud column rose into the sky just a few houses beyond, and there were a number of balloons constantly going up and down alongside it. That was probably the lift, as written on the street signs.

They were quite high up now, even above some of the clouds, and cloud constructions, cultivated by the lower city. Air traffic constantly passed by them, going up and down city levels by themselves, which was probably faster than waiting for the lift. Navigation was regulated by innumerable floating buoys, little balloons populating the skies with little signs and direction pointers and measurement instruments. Humidity was a bit higher than usual, Scootaloo read off a closeby buoy.

Something glinted on the horizon. The first stars had started to appear, but this was something different. It wasn’t just one thing, but several things bundled together. And it moved. And it was huge.

“Look, Fluttershy!” Scootaloo said, “Look! It’s the airship right there!”

“Great, we haven’t missed it,” Fluttershy said, rounding the next corner.

Their street was only one of many that led into the massive arcades. Several lanes of broad, perfectly smooth marble were separated by long rows of traditional cloud pillars and olive trees, forming part the vast transport network that was capable of servicing what must have been among the largest harbours in all of Equestria.

There was a smaller extra lane for the pedestrians, so they wouldn’t have to use the same lanes as the cargo coaches, tankers and squadrons of dockhooves, scrambling towards the piers in a miraculously orderly fashion, considering their impressive speed. Nevertheless, Fluttershy and Scootaloo had to wait in line among the many other sensationalist ponies where the lanes crossed.

The harbour had not one, but two control towers in opposite corners, lined by endless rows of harbour buildings and storehouses. All of which were abuzz, ponies running and flying everywhere, carrying ropes, cables and materials in preparation for the incoming airship.

Pedestrians were led to a different section, away from all the activity, much to Fluttershy’s relief. She followed everypony else up a ramp, and found herself on a huge gallery, the massive balustrade on one side just large enough to provide room for the crowds of spectators.

“Look how many ponies there are!” Scootaloo said, “And they all want to see the airship.”

“Must be a big and fancy one,” Fluttershy said.

As soon as Scootaloo was freed from her stroller, she immediately squirmed out of Fluttershy’s hooves and bolted off towards the railing. Then she stopped, turned around and came running back.

“May I go see the airship, please?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes, you may,” Fluttershy said, “but be careful.”

Scootaloo turned back and rushed into the commotion. The crowd had settled mostly against the railing, the early arrivers smugly occupying the best spots. However, the youngest ponies were given room at the front to stand under the bigger ones, so Scootaloo could wiggle her way past the hooves until her face met with the railing’s iron bars.

With the airship looming in the distance, the docks seemed to be wound up and ready to pounce. The spectator stand was located in the outermost corner of the entire installation, but still Scootaloo could see the endless armies of dock workers standing at the ready, and entire convoys of cargo vehicles in formation right behind them, ready to perform their freight transfer duties as efficiently as possible and hit the road straight after.

Scootaloo couldn’t stick her head out between the metal bars far enough to observe the spectacle. Neither could, apparently, the colt right beside her.

“Hey, move,” Scootaloo said, “I can’t see.”

“You move,” the colt said, but then he realized Scootaloo had no room either. “Oh, sorry.”

“You here to watch the airship too?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s always so awesome when a ship comes in, but the Nimbus is the biggest one we’ve had all year.”

“The Nimbus?” Scootaloo said.

“That’s what she’s called,” the colt said, “Everypony talks about her because she’s the pride of the city. The engines and the design have been developed here in Skyview, you know, and the Nimbus can match any other airship in Equestria easily.”

“That’s so cool,” Scootaloo said, “do you know a lot about airships?”

“My uncle works for the university institute for aeronautical engineering,” the colt said proudly, “he showed me the inside of the engines. Most of his students haven’t even got to see that! There’s many weights and wheels and magical couplings. It feels weird when you stand in there. But it’s so powerful, and they keep coming up with even better ideas.”

“But where do the airships go?” Scootaloo said.

“They go across Equestria as far as possible,” the colt said, “and then they reach the end, and then they go over the far sea, and then they come in on the other side of Equestria, through the Northern Spires, and then they cross the big tundras and fly south, and eventually they wind up back here.”

“Wow, that’s like,” Scootaloo said, “the entire world, that they get to see.”

“Oh, it’s just the tiniest fraction of what there is to see,” the colt said, “I was here last summer, and saw them leave. Now I’m here to watch them come back. And one day, I’m going to ride with them on the ship.”

“You, on the airship?” Scootaloo said, “Wouldn’t you need to be able to fly?” He was a unicorn.

“Who needs flying when you can have something so awesome?” he laughed.

“Who needs … flying?” Scootaloo said.

Meanwhile, Fluttershy had settled down on one of the quite pretty wooden benches in the back. She didn’t have to be at the front row. She could see more than enough from here, and she could take a moment to relax without the hustle along the railing, and the vendor ponies who had shamelessly set up their stalls and were offering overpriced snacks. Plus, she could keep an eye on Scootaloo, who enjoyed herself in such an endearing way.

Scootaloo watched the dock workers hanging up rows of navigation buoys. The buoys displayed the exact distance from each side, and the end, of the port. And the approaching ship looked actually huge enough to fill the entire thing out.

“Here you go, Scoots,” Fluttershy had approached them from behind, “I got you a juice box. Drink up, all the excitement’s going to make you thirsty.”

“Thanks, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said.

“Here, I got you one too,” Fluttershy said, offering a second juice box.

“Wow, thanks,” the colt said.

He and Scootaloo happily popped in their straws and drank away at the yummy apple juice.

“She’s really cool,” the colt commented.

“Yup, that’s Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “she took me here in the first place, and it’s the most awesome time I’ve ever had.”

“So, is she, like, your mommy, or something?” the colt said.

“Um, that’s kind of a long --” Scootaloo began. “Wait … shh. You hear that?”

They fell silent, and momentarily, so did the entire crowd. From on distant, a deep, oscillating rumble could be heard. It sounded like it was everywhere at once, though it was clear that it heralded the airship’s arrival.

“You can hear her!” the colt exclaimed, “She’s coming! The Nimbus is here!”

Scootaloo had thought the ship was still far away, and they were going to hang around here for a while. But nothing of that sort. The Nimbus was approaching at terrifying speed.

“It’s coming in fast,” Scootaloo said, “is nopony afraid?”

“Yep, that’s the Nimbus,” the colt said, “everypony’s been waiting for this. Do you know what kind of exotic riches you can pick up on this kind of voyage? They can’t wait to get on the ship. And I can’t wait to see him again.”

“Him?” Scootaloo said, “Who’s that?”

“My brother,” he said, “he’s a sailor on the Nimbus. He wrote me to meet him here.”

The Nimbus had arrived and flaunted her majestic form. She had an entire three massive balloons providing the updraft, but they weren’t the crude, bulky balloons of common airships. Instead they were flat and sleek, equipped with a multitude of steering fins and shining in the chromatic spectrum of highly specialized alloys.

She was propulsed by two massive auxiliary propellers and at least one slipstream funnel running across the long and elegant chassis from bow to stern. The propellers had huge curved blades that didn’t go very fast, but the sheer speed of the ship suggested the momentum was probably more magical than physical.

Then the airship appeared to drift dangerously far sideways, but everything was drowned out momentarily by the deafening hum of an almost completely clear, razor sharp diamond flame, erupting from the entire side of the ship, blanketing the whole area in its arcane warmth. The surreal lateral movement brought the ship perfectly back in line with the harbour, and it performed a buttery smooth entrance.

Whoever was at the controls of that thing had to be an ace.

The propellers reversed their direction of revolution, the signal for at least a hundred ponies to close in, carrying heavy cables and latching them to the Nimbus’ many-storied hull, ultimately securing the ship to the moorings.

The persistent drumming in Scootaloo’s ears finally cut out as the engines went silent. The ship drifted to a halt, its tethers were pulled tight, and several bridges were placed across the gap.

A second of pure silence, and the crowd erupted in cheers as the sailors began to spill forth. They looked tired beyond imagination, unkempt, malnourished and exhausted, but they held their heads high and wore their fancy uniforms with pride. Some of them even mustered the strength to wave to the crowd. Others simply moved out of the way quickly, as droves of dockworkers shoved their ways past and immediately began cataloguing and loading up the countless stacked cargo crates.

There was a sizable police presence, and nopony was allowed to go close for security reasons, but the sailors came out and conversed with those standing by. Maybe the colt’s brother was there too.

“Look, they’re here,” Scootaloo said, but he was already gone. Instead, Fluttershy was now beside her as the crowds began to clear up. “Look, how many there are.”

“Yes, there are many sailors down there,” Fluttershy said, “it must take at least this many to operate such a large airship.”

“It’s huge! Did you see how huge it is?” Scootaloo said, “Travelling for an entire year. Can you believe it? The ship must be able to fly through any kind of weather without even a sweat.”

“Oh my, I sure hope so,” Fluttershy said, “those poor sailors did look a bit haggard.”

Fluttershy let Scootaloo babble on in her excitement, subtly leading her back to the stroller in the meantime. She picked Scootaloo up, placed her gently in the seat, and fastened her in with the belt and the strap between her legs.

“But why can’t we go near?” Scootaloo said, “Did you see how many crates they had? I wanted to see what’s in there.”

“They likely need to store and index the wares first,” Fluttershy said, “or else everypony would get confused about what’s inside the city. They have to be especially careful about the exotic wares brought in from afar, because those could be strange or dangerous. That’s why they can’t allow any trade just yet.”

Except that the law turned a blind eye toward the coin and wares changing owner behind apparently every corner.

“Well, no legal trade at least, I suppose,” Fluttershy said, “Anyway, I’m getting a hunch why the Choir of Commerce would hold their celebration exactly tomorrow.”

They left the bustle around the Nimbus behind.

The sun had vanished behind the horizon in the meantime, leaving the streets noticeably clearer than when they had arrived. The moon had begun to rise on the other side, providing gentle illumination to light Fluttershy and Scootaloo’s path back onto the streets of the lower city.

It was barely more than two turns before the city ended, and they had reached the summit of their uphill voyage. It was the highest point of the lower city, and the point where the huge cloud pillar began. Its circumference was gigantic, Fluttershy estimated an orbit to take quite a while. But despite that, the pillar was completely still and quiet, and felt maybe only the slightest bit magical if you really paid attention. It was, in the end, only a gargantuan mass of cloud, stabilized by whatever arcanery that made it glow ever so pleasantly.

“The lifts, official end of the Skyview sights trail, enjoy your stay,” Fluttershy read, “Oh, that’s nice. It was quite a pretty trail, wasn’t it?”

“I thought it was rad,” Scootaloo said, “there must be so many more cool things here.”

A ramp led to the boarding platform for the lifts. Quite a number of ponies wanted to go up, most of them earth ponies and unicorns, and there was already a very broad balloon waiting for them in the station.

The operators waved everypony onto the deck in an orderly fashion. Fluttershy had to go to the frontmost wall, an area marked specifically for strollers. Scootaloo was parked beside another stroller with a filly inside. They both turned around and watched as the gates were closed, and the balloon took off.

The ascent was unexpectedly rapid, but the deck remained comfortably warm and windstill, thanks to the wonders of modern magic. Scootaloo leaned back into her cushioned seat and watched the stars on the horizon. She didn’t know many of the constellations, and neither did the filly beside her because she was still a toddler, but they quietly enjoyed the subtle beauty.

Then the vast underside of the city blocked the sky. Sporadic lights dotted the underside, as various cloud homes and cloud constructions were situated in its vicinity, and even those vanished when the balloon ascended into a tunnel.

It wasn’t dark or creepy, there was artificial illumination somewhere inside the clouds. And they promptly came out the top again. They had arrived in the city.

This part of the city looked much more familiar. The buildings were modern, the streets were broad and clean, street lights were aplenty, and ponies were dressed more normally, without trying to steal each other’s spotlight constantly. It looked almost like a more earthly Cloudsdale. Some of the houses were even cloud homes.

It was also distinctly quieter. When Fluttershy and Scootaloo stepped off the platform, the commotion of large crowds and the roar of industry and factories was gone. It was a nice moment to be still and just breathe.

“Wow, it looks boring,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, I think it looks nice,” Fluttershy said, “look how broad the streets are.”

“And the street signs make much more sense,” Scootaloo said, “Where do we go next?”

“I don’t know,” Fluttershy said, “Let’s have a look. Maybe we’ll find something.”

And something was found immediately. The first street sign they checked pointed to the Turnpike, right around the corner.

“That’s the locale that couple told us about, isn’t it?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said.

A night club! Where all the cool ponies went! Just what Scootaloo needed. She was so giddy, she almost couldn’t stop bouncing in her stroller.

“Let’s go check it out!”

Part 6

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The paved road was perfectly smooth to walk upon.

Scootaloo’s stroller was gliding on without the tiniest disturbance. The houses on every side were plain, multi-storied apartment blocks, and there were many young ponies arriving home, or just about to go out into the night. Still, the promenade was broad enough for everypony to fit comfortably, and the decorative shrubbery dampened every conversation down to a comfortable murmur.

It would have been almost monotonous, but the next intersection exchanged the houses for a neat little park area. It was obviously cultivated, likely the result of some clever urban planning, but the park was very quaint, lots of greenery interspersed with hedges and trees, a little path here and a small biotope there.

Halfway through, they could already hear the music. Thump, thump, thump. A group of party ponies caught up, and Fluttershy followed them.

At the end of the park stood the Turnpike, as indicated by a rather unremarkable sign. It looked less like a nightclub and more like a bunker, since only entrance into the otherwise plain building was a set of stairs leading down. The music was pretty loud though, since they had an open bar that apparently served both the dance floor on the inside, as well as the assortment of folding tables on the outside. No wonder they had to be in the middle of the park, where nopony could complain about the noise.

There was a bunch of bikes and skates on the corner, and Fluttershy parked the stroller there.

Scootaloo was unleashed, and she immediately toddled after the party folk. They looked so fancy, of makeup, jewelry, crazy mane colors and stylings, glow in the dark hats and neck ties with ironic slogans on them, everypony had at least a couple.

The stallion in the back had crazy tail extensions. They jingled whenever he moved, but they also glittered so pretty in all neon colors, even when it was dark. They had reached the entrance, and the neon tail vanished down the stairs.

Scootaloo stared straight up at the bouncer. He looked like he meant business.

The bouncer stared straight back at her. She was sure, although she couldn’t really tell.

Scootaloo stared at him. He had something intense about him.

He stared back. No way he would let her in, unless she could convince him how mature she was.

“Why are you wearing sunglasses at night?” Scootaloo said.

The bouncer sighed.

“Look, little filly,” he said, “I’ve got work to do. There’s a nice playground over there, you should go over and play.”

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “leave the gentlecolt in peace.”

“It’s okay, ma’am,” the bouncer said, “Lots of parents like to come here and take their kids, that’s why we have the outside area. Feel free to have a seat and unwind, you can see the entire playground from there.”

“That sounds nice,” Fluttershy said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the bouncer said. He visibly relaxed when Scootaloo was dragged off.

Calling the place a playground was a bit much, there seemed to be only a swingset in the grass, and various kinds of seating, for lounging around.

“You wanna go play?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, looks like fun,” Scootaloo said, “But what are you going to do in the meantime?”

“I thought I’d just rest here for a bit,” Fluttershy said, “Maybe I’ll have a drink.”

“Wow, I thought you didn’t drink,” Scootaloo said.

Fluttershy just winked, and Scootaloo shrugged before waddling off to the playground.

There was a group of youngsters standing about as close to the club as they dared, talking in less than clandestine hushes. They were obviously trying to devise a way to get in. They couldn’t have been much older than Scootaloo, which meant they were technically adults, but still too young to be let into any clubs. And there’s nothing more hurtful to a young adult’s pride than not being let into a club.

Scootaloo walked around her peers at a distance so they couldn’t hear her pants rustle.

Barely anypony else populated the playground. Near the seatings, another pony about Scootaloo’s age sat. She was kind of fat and wore an expensive looking dress, and she seemed occupied.

On the other side, there was a little filly, shyly looking at Scootaloo behind her long mane.

“Hi there,” Scootaloo said.

The little filly ducked away, but then smiled at her.

“Wanna play?” Scootaloo said.

The filly nodded and pointed at the seesaw.

“Alright,” Scootaloo said.

She sat down on one end of the log and pulled it up by the handle so the filly could sit down on the other end. She gently pushed herself off the ground so Scootaloo came down, and then Scootaloo pushed herself off until the filly came down again.

Up and down they went, and the constant rocking motion was really pleasant. Wow! Scootaloo had totally forgotten how fun this simple plaything was.

Meanwhile, Fluttershy had finished reading through the cocktail menu and still didn’t recognize a single name. Had it really been this long since she’d had a cocktail, that everything was so unfamiliar now?

“Hey there,” came a raspy voice.

There was only one other patron occupying the folding tables. The mare was gigantic. Her neck alone was more muscular than Fluttershy’s hind leg. She wore a utility jacket, its shade of blue matching her coat, and bore the obvious marks of manual labor.

“Um, hello,” Fluttershy offered.

“Name’s Victory,” she said, “and I work down at the foundry.”

“Um, I’m Fluttershy,” Fluttershy said, “and I’m the veterinarian of my town.”

“The vet of your town, huh?” Victory said, “Must’ve had a busy schedule to come here.”

“Oh, I’ve left my practice in the hooves of very special friends of mine,” Fluttershy said, “I know they’ll do their best to make sure everything goes well while I’m away. But, um.” She added more quietly. “I also have a professional associate of mine checking up on them, just to make sure.”

Victory laughed. “I like you,” she said, “come, sit down. There’s nopony else around anyway, so you might as well.”

“Seems like a decent enough place,” Fluttershy said.

“It’s usually busier too,” Victory said, “Guess everypony’s held up with those sailor folk. You see, I like coming here because it’s the least stuck up place around. Funny, right? Those snobby types, they think only common folk go here, being in the middle of the city and all. It’s not exclusive enough for them, they don’t like getting their hooves dirty, not like us working mares, am I right? That’s why I like coming here. Oh, and they also sell good tobacco.”

Victory pulled out a cigarette and lit up.

“Want one?” she said.

“No, thanks,” Fluttershy said, “I don’t smoke.”

“Better that way,” Victory said, “but you drink, right?”

“Um,” Fluttershy said, “but only one drink.”

Victory laughed heartily.

The youngster ponies had finally decided to make their move. Another group of partygoers came in, and the youths went over to mingle with them surreptitiously. Only one mare remained behind, looking on skeptically as her compatriots ducked into the group like stowaways, and gained entrance into the club.

Scootaloo and the little filly had finished playing with the seesaw. The remaining party mare walked over to the dress pony, who still sat hunched over in the sitting area, and Scootaloo and the little filly followed.

Dress pony noticed the others approaching. “Aren’t you going to go with them?” she said.

Party mare rolled her eyes. “Why should I?” she said, “those knuckleheads are going to get kicked out again anyway, just watch. Oh, look, who do we have here?”

“Hello,” Scootaloo said.

“Hello there, sunshine,” party mare said, “Looks my little sister found somepony to play with after all. See, dollies? It’s not that hard making friends.”

“Whatever,” dress pony said, “and stop calling me dollies.”

Scootaloo could finally see what she was doing there. Indeed, she had two soft pony dolls before her. The little ponies were clothed neatly in well tailored tiny pony garments, and came complete with a little purse containing small doll accessories, such as a little comb to straighten out the yarn roving manes. The sight was absurd, but Scootaloo couldn’t deny how immaculately groomed and well dressed the dolls were.

“Anyway, thanks for playing with my sister,” party mare said, “you can’t tell, but she’s a little shy sometimes.”

“That’s no problem,” Scootaloo said, “we had fun, right?”

The filly nodded.

“Oh, how well behaved your new friend is, sis,” party mare cooed, “isn’t that just golden?”

There was a commotion at the club entrance. Whoever stood there quickly jumped out of the way, as the young ponies who had previously snuck inside came scrambling out again. Chasing after them came the bouncer, his demeanor much less cool than it once had been.

“I told you the last time,” he fumed, “you can’t come in here until you’re old enough. Now scram!”

“This place sucks anyway,” one of them said, “come on, let’s blow this joint.”

“I can’t believe he wouldn’t let us in,” another one said, “we look old enough, don’t we?”

Scootaloo watched them leave at a rather impressive rate when the bouncer threatened to come after them again.

“That’s our cue to go,” party mare said, “Come on, sis, I promise we won’t stay too long this time. See you later, dollies!”

“Stop calling me that!” dress pony said.

The two sisters left, but the little one turned back and waved goodbye to Scootaloo. Scootaloo waved back.

“Do you know them?” Scootaloo said.

“Ugh,” dress pony said, “yeah I know them. We’re in the same class in school. By Celestia, I can’t wait until I can take the final exam and be finally done with that.”

“Being done with school is not all that pleasant either,” Scootaloo murmured.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” dress pony said, “are you even old enough to go to school yet? You have no idea the misery of which that place makes me submit to every day.”

“Err, what I mean is,” Scootaloo said, “It’s nice to have a place where the things you have to do are simple and you’re always told when you did something well. Everypony has to be there and it’s so easy to make friends. Wouldn’t it be a shame to lose that?”

“Well, if that’s the kind of friends you’re talking about,” dress pony spat, “then that’s the kind of friends I can do without, thank you very much. Everypony at school keeps making fun of me because of my dolls. I like having my dolls with me and spending time with them, but that’s just oh so strange. It’s just impossible not to laugh when seeing something so weird, isn’t it? Don’t you think I look very strange, too?”

“No,” Scootaloo said.

“Well why don’t you take your opinion and shove --” dress pony blinked. “Oh.”

“Are these your dolls?” Scootaloo said.

On one of the plastic stools fixed to the ground, the two dolls sat beside each other, much like dress pony sat in front of them in the grass. She had obviously been in the middle of tending to them.

“Um, yeah, these are my dolls,” dress pony said cautiously.

“Cool,” Scootaloo said, “what are their names?”

“The smaller one is called Skip, and the bigger one is Pip,” dress pony said, “they’re sisters.”

“Hi Skip, hi Pip,” Scootaloo said, “I’m Scootaloo. And who are you?”

“My name is Terry Cloth, of the Linden Family, royal bloodline,” Terry said. She rubbed her foreleg.

“Fancy,” Scootaloo said, “Your dolls are really pretty.”

“Um, thanks,” Terry said, “They’ve been restored recently, that’s why their coats are so clean. They’re my oldest, and they were a bit less … eminent before the restoration.”

“Oh,” Scootaloo said, “Looks like it worked pretty well then. Can I touch them?”

She stepped closer and ran a hoof over Pip’s coat. The sturdy felt really was almost like a real pony’s coat, but constant brushing and grooming had made it so smooth. The little dress she wore wasn’t a mockup either, this was an actually tailored piece of clothing, only small.

“Wow, the dresses are just amazing,” Scootaloo said, “where did you get them?”

“Um,” Terry said. She twirled a strand of Skip’s mane. “I made them.”

“Really?” Scootaloo said, “Wow, It fits her just perfectly. The little ruffles around her shoulders … and the bow on her back! It’s like a real dress. I didn’t even know you could make clothes so nice for dolls. You’re really good at this, Terry.”

“Thanks,” Terry said.

She pushed Skip closer to Pip and, herself, moved a bit nearer to Scootaloo.

“Um, do you want to play with them together?” she said.

“Yeah, seems like fun,” Scootaloo said.

“Great,” Terry beamed, “here, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. You’ll play Skip, and you’re the big sister, and I’m your little sister Pip. And this is the city.” She indicated the corners of the stool. “Over here’s the castle, and here’s the market, and here’s the park.”

“Cool,” Scootaloo said.

“But, oh no,” Terry said, “We have a problem. The princess has sent us to buy fresh fruit from the market. But look at this! Our manes and tails have begun to get all tangled and messy. We can’t go to the market like this.”

“But our manes look really neat,” Scootaloo said.

“Not everypony can sport your … um, energetic, style, Scootaloo,” Terry giggled, shaking her perfectly curled locks. “Here, look. Skip’s a very sensitive pony, and she could never find anything like this acceptable.”

Indeed, in the broad of Skip’s otherwise smooth mane, there was a single hideous tangle.

Scootaloo gasped. “That can’t be,” she said, “we need to visit the coiffeur immediately. We can go to the market after we’re presentable again.”

“But we can’t go, sister,” Terry said, “the way would lead us directly past the castle. Somepony might see us this way!”

“I know what we’ll do,” Scootaloo said, “come with me. We’ll go through the park, so we can hide behind the bushes when somepony’s there.”

Pip and Skip galloped through the park, and luckily, nopony was there to see them in their dreadful state. They enjoyed prancing around together, and how the wind played with their manes and dresses as they ran. Past the park, their goal finally came into view, the best mane and tail stylist in town.

Pip began running, but Skip held her back.

“Careful, Pip! It’s the main street. There’s lots of dangerously fast traffic,” Scootaloo said, picking up a rock and sliding it over the chair. “There. Now the cart’s passed, we can cross the street.”

“Thank you, big sister,” Terry said, “I’ll be sure to look left and right before crossing the street from now on.”

Scootaloo and Terry laughed. When they arrived at the hairdresser’s, Terry eagerly presented a little brush and a little comb from her purse.

“Here’s the professional equipment the stylists will use,” she said, “Look, I’ll show you how they do it. First, you’ll have to take off your dress so it won’t get dirty.”

Scootaloo carefully lifted Skip’s dress and pulled it over her head. How quaint, she even wore a matching set of underclothes beneath. Pip, however, didn’t. All she had on under her dress was a white piece of fluffy terry cloth, pinned around her waist with two little safety pins.

“Pip’s still a baby,” Terry explained, “Poor little thing still needs a diaper. But don’t worry, they also have a foal stylist here in addition to an adult stylist. Here, take this.”

Scootaloo received the comb. Terry took her hoof and carefully guided it along the length of Skip’s mane. As soon as the comb bit into the tangle, it came undone and the mane was left perfectly smooth again.

“You did it, Scootaloo,” Terry cheered.

“Wow, she’s so pretty now,” Scootaloo said, “this is amazing.”

She proceeded to revel in the satisfaction of combing her doll’s mane to utter flawlessness. Terry picked up the brush and complemented Scootaloo’s efforts with her own. Together they brushed and brushed until the dolls shone immaculately.

“This is amazing,” Fluttershy said, “but what is it?”

“I had a feeling you’d like it,” Victory said, “it’s called the Tailreed Trail. Funny name, that, supposedly invented a merchant travelling across an estuary domain in the far east.”

Fluttershy stirred around the bushy reed plume with her straw.

“It tastes of lemon and mint. But also, um,” Fluttershy said, “a bit like a tree, I’d say.”

Victory laughed. “Legend has it the emperors would chuck an entire bonsai in there just to make it look more fancy,” she said, “but I guess the merchant had to make do with what he had.”

Both took another sip from their drinks.

“So, I’m guessing you’re here for the first time?” Victory said.

“Oh, yes,” Fluttershy said, “I don’t usually travel this far too much. Scootaloo hasn’t been feeling very well at home lately, though, and I thought the change of pace would do her good. You know, to get around a bit and see new faces.”

“Oh, I know,” Victory said, “Little Terry’s all the same. She’s a good filly, she really is, and I bet she’d make a whole boatload of little friends if she just had the chance. Shame I can’t say the same about my sister. Keeps the poor thing locked up in that estate of hers. Could go on about her lineage until your ears fell off.”

“Your sister is royalty?” Fluttershy said.

“Let’s just say I’ve distanced myself,” Victory said, “and I haven’t regretted the decision either, if only for Terry’s sake. I’ll gladly take her along to this place after work, and she keeps wanting to come. Seeing her make new friends like this, warms my heart.”

“They do seem to be getting along rather well,” Fluttershy said.

They took another sip from their drinks. It had gotten dark now, but the city’s abundant lighting created an air of smooth tranquility.

There was another commotion at the Turnpike’s entrance, however different this time around. The music had stopped, and ponies were flooding out the door to catch some fresh air. Some of them looked pretty exhausted already, while others were more lively, carrying drinks and making conversation.

Somepony had brought a guitar. He sat at the edge of his audience and began playing. It was a happy, lively tune, and immediately had heads bobbing and bodies bouncing. The guitarist’s apparent bandmates joined him and stomped the ground and clopped their hooves to provide a jovial percussive underscore, and ponies cheered and moved with the rhythm.

“They’re dancing!” Scootaloo said, “Come on, let’s go dance!”

“Dance?” Terry said, “Us? Go dance? But, but, but, but, but, b-”

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” Scootaloo said.

She practically dragged Terry toward the impromptu dance floor, her spring already in line with the beat. Terry desperately sought rescue from her aunt, but Victory just raised her glass and winked.

Scootaloo squeezed between the bystanders and paved a way for her hilariously squirmy friend. Funny looking ponies with shimmering jewelry and glowing bands around their legs let them through, until they had reached the band.

The music was so pretty, Scootaloo couldn’t help herself and immediately threw her legs into the air, shaking her head and jumping from one side to the other. The partygoers cheered and began imitating Scootaloo’s natural, yet rhythmic movements.

Scootaloo bumped her chest against Terry’s. That was it. Terry couldn’t stand frozen in place any longer. Everypony was paying attention to her. She was lucky there was nopony she knew, or it would have been even more awkward.

Terry lifted a hoof, and then another hoof, and then she bobbed her head a little. This was ridiculous. Scootaloo was basically doing random flailing. How did she have such an easy time dancing?

Terry tried copying her, crouching down and jumping up, throwing out opposing hooves, and then the other two. The less attention she paid, the easier it became.

They spun in circles and came out standing tall, bouncing to the beat and snapping out their tails. This was amazing. Terry didn’t even have to think anymore, her heartbeat was the rhythm.

Scootaloo and her locked eyes, their bodies synching up, they moved apart and got in close, dancing around each other and standing up, clopping their hooves together as the crowd cheered.

A circle had formed around them in the meantime.

“Look at the fillies go,” somepony said.

“Isn’t that just so sweet,” somepony else cheered.

Even the band caught on and steadily increased their tempo, everypony following suit and dancing more and more wildly, jubilating into the night as if having the time of their lives.

The music eventually ceased and ponies were called back inside as the stage switch was complete. The excited crowd filed back inside. Somepony even ruffled Scootaloo’s mane as they walked past. Nopony dared touch Terry’s coiffure, but she received compliments nonetheless.

“That was so amazing,” Terry bubbled when they were alone again, “I can’t believe how cool that was. Did you see how everypony was cheering?”

“Yep,” Scootaloo said, “they were cheering for us because we danced so good. You’ve had dancing lessons?”

“This was my first time,” Terry said.

“That means you’re a natural!” Scootaloo cheered, “Isn’t that great? You’ll get to dance a whole load more.”

“B-but …” Terry said, “but I don’t even know anypony … why would they dance with me?”

“Because dancing’s fun,” Scootaloo said, “and there’s nothing better than enjoying yourself. Everypony knows that! I’m sure Skip and Pip would like dancing too, right?”

“I guess,” Terry said, “there’s only one way to find out!”

Together, they stormed off to get back to their dollies. Unsurprisingly, it turned out the dollies loved dancing, ever more so with their manes and tails groomed to such a degree of perfection. The venue of the plastic chair soon became too small to showcase their dancing prowess, but before they could go location scouting, there was a delicious interruption.

The bartender arrived, bringing Scootaloo and Terry a tall glass of juice. The drink came with a wave from Fluttershy and Victory.

“Only one glass?” Terry said.

“But two straws!” Scootaloo said. She took one in her mouth. “Come on, Terry, it’s no fun drinking alone!”

In a bout of recklessness, Terry closed in and took the other straw in her mouth. Of course, the glass was way too small, and her muzzle bumped against Scootaloo’s. Both were sent into a brief fit of giggles before they could begin drinking.

“Mmmh,” Scootaloo said, “this is very yummy grape juice.”

“And so cool, too,” Terry said, “didn’t realize how thirsty I was.”

“Isn’t that just the most adorable thing!” came a familiar voice, “I could literally just fall over, right here, right now, from how sweet you two little cuties are.”

“Um, hi, Hera,” Scootaloo said to the mare ogling them like a divine symbol.

“Hera,” Klieg called from the tables, “What are you doing? Let the fillies enjoy their drink in peace. You haven’t even said hello to dear Fluttershy yet.”

“Where are my manners, I’m coming,” Hera said and gasped, “Oh, and the little dollies! Oh my … oh my!”

“Oh my,” she swooned as she departed toward the others.

“Do you know her?” Terry said.

“Yeah, we met earlier today,” Scootaloo said.

“She seems to be quite enamored with you,” Terry said.

“Yeah, I guess she’s like that,” Scootaloo said, “but I think she also does it to impress her coltfriend.”

“Her coltfriend?” Terry said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo whispered, “That stallion over there. They’re going together.”

The fillies giggled behind their forehooves.

“I think he studies theatre or something,” Scootaloo said.

“Oh,” Terry said, “so he knew what to do when he finished school.”

“Are you going to study too?” Scootaloo said.

“I don’t know,” Terry said, “I don’t know if I’m going to study at all.”

“Have you already had a job?” Scootaloo said.

“Not really,” Terry said, “my mom says it’s unbecoming of me.”

“Hm,” Scootaloo said, “why don’t you try working at a daycare?”

“A daycare?” Terry said, “But … I wouldn’t even know how …”

“Ah, you’d be awesome as a caretaker,” Scootaloo said.

“You think so?” Terry said.

“Yeah I do,” Scootaloo said, “you really know how to have fun, and the way you take care of your dolls just shows your attention for detail. Plus, you already know how to make all the little clothes. Just try it out!”

“Yeah,” Terry said, “maybe I will.”

The glass was empty, but the two friends hadn’t moved away from it. There was no reason to, for silent companionship was enough, in this very moment of the long and tranquil summer night, in the skies.

Save for one small detail, that is. Terry had been acting rather weird these last few minutes. She stood ever so slightly curled up, and had been squirming with her hind legs.

“Is everything alright?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah, uh,” Terry said, jumping up suddenly, “I just really need to go to the bathroom. Excuse me for a moment.”

And off she was.

“I had a feeling we’d meet here again,” Klieg said.

“You were right,” Fluttershy said, “this is a very welcoming place.”

“Naturally I was right,” Klieg said, “for when I choose a place to visit, I always make sure to put forth my utmost competence and understanding to select only the most outstanding establishments, as sure as the sky is enveloped in the radiant gold of the life giving sun.”

“Um, the sky is black,” Fluttershy said.

“As is the inside of the wine bottle he downed,” Hera commented.

“Do not speak of me as if I were a common drunkard,” Klieg said, “for common I am not. Now come, let us go inside. Fluttershy, why don’t you join us for dance and merriment?”

“Um,” Fluttershy said.

“Don’t worry,” Victory said, “I’ll watch the girls. You go have some fun, dear.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said, “but only one song.”

“Auntie!” Terry had appeared beside the leg of the table.

“Hey there, Terry, say hello to Fluttershy here,” Victory said.

“Hello,” Terry said, “auntie, I need the bathroom.”

“Hello,” Fluttershy said, “Um, I can take her, if you want. I just don’t know where the bathroom is.”

“I know where it is,” Terry said, “let’s just go, please.”

Victory looked on as Terry practically dragged the three adults into the nightclub. She let out an impressed whistle and ordered another drink, waving over to Scootaloo in the process.

Scootaloo waved back.

The night was so wonderfully tranquil. The wind had died down, leaving the air with a refreshing frigidity. There was no song of crickets, this was an artificially cultivated park after all, but the distant movement of the nocturnal city still blended ever so relaxingly with the muted beats from the club’s dreamy electronic music.

Boy, was Scootaloo glad she didn’t have to make such a racket just to go to the bathroom. Not that she didn’t need to go to the bathroom, herself. Quite on the contrary, all the yummy juice she’d been given to drink had left her stomach awfully full, and by now she had to pee quite badly.

She just hadn’t felt like acknowledging the urge during all the fun she was having, very much the way she didn’t feel like going through the bustle of finding a bathroom and getting somepony to take her there. No, it was exactly like Fluttershy had said, Scootaloo should just relax and do her business when, and only when, she felt like it.

Right now, much more interesting was where she was going to play next. There was a distinct lack of options, so the swingset it was going to be. She couldn’t leave Skip and Pip alone, though, so she picked them up and gently carried them over.

She walked relaxedly, outright leisurely, a pleasant shudder running down her spine as her body made her keenly aware of what was about to happen. Scootaloo neatly put the dolls down on a patch of grass and made herself comfortable.

“Hi, Scootaloo,” Terry said.

“Hey, Terry,” Scootaloo said, “you’re back?”

“Yeah,” Terry said, “for whatever reason there was no line at the bathroom. But you won’t believe how loud the music is in there. Makes you want to get out as fast as possible again. So, anyway, what do you want to do next? Wanna sit on the swings?”

“Yeah, I’d love to,” Scootaloo said, but stood still.

“What’s up?” Terry said, “Is something the matter?”

“Uh, it’s kinda silly,” Scootaloo said, “but now I have to go pee.”

“Oh! Let me help,” Terry said with a worrying degree of enthusiasm, “Can I help you? I’m sure we’ll find a potty for you in there somewhere. Do you want me to take you to the bathroom?”

“Um, no,” Scootaloo said.

She reflexively stood her hind legs further apart, lifting her tail into the air.

“Uh, Scootaloo?” Terry said, “What are you doing?”

Scootaloo crouched her rear down low, making her skirt ride up all the way in the process. Her pantyhose tightened around the madly rustling plastic that enveloped her entire hindquarters. As if the characteristic outline of the lavishly ruffled seams delimiting the voluminous thickness under Scootaloo’s butt hadn’t been obvious enough, there were even bits of stark baby-blue plastic sticking out all around her waistline. And to top it off, the obvious weight sagging between her legs told the remainder of the story.

“Oh,” Terry said.

Scootaloo relaxed and promptly began doing her deed into her clothing’s soft folds. She reveled in the marvellous feeling, finally relieving that pressure in her stomach, as she comfortably let it out right as and where she stood. It was so cool that she didn’t have to worry about the warm liquid splashing all over the insides of her underpants, back onto her skin and soaking into her fur, because a little filly like her didn’t know any better, and nothing else was expected of her. And it felt kind of really, really neat. Scootaloo didn’t even have to worry about answering nature’s call, with another pony standing right next to her!

“Oh, sorry,” Terry said, “Didn’t mean to stare. I just didn’t know you still had a diaper. Um, aren’t you kind of a little big for that?”

“I guess,” Scootaloo said.

The relief was so sweet. Scootaloo’s hair stood on end, her hooves gripping the grass, as she thoroughly emptied herself. By the sheer amount that she went, she had soaked straight through her diaper’s super absorbent core. But that was perfectly fine, because it was exactly why her underpants were actually made of completely watertight plastic taped snugly around her waist, to keep safely inside whatever the diaper couldn’t take care of immediately. Scootaloo had everything taken care of, and all she had to do was to relax and enjoy the funny feeling of the hot puddle steadily rising around her buttocks.

And that was that. Eventually, Scootaloo was finished, and she pretty much just stood up and went right back to playing. No silly bathrooms or potties, just pure fun.

“You finished?” Terry said.

“Yep,” Scootaloo chirped, “wanna go to the swings now?”

“Sure,” Terry said, “But we have to take the dolls, because they wanna go too. Here, you take Skip again.”

Scootaloo took Skip and walked over to the swing. Her diaper’s thoroughly sodden bulk was sagging severely now, but the pantyhose kind of managed to keep everything in place, so she didn’t pay too much mind.

She sat on the one swing and held onto the chain with one hoof while clasping Skip to her chest with the other. Terry sat on the other swing and held Pip close.

The ground was kicked away cautiously at first, but it didn’t take much for the fillies to try and go higher than the other. Soon, both of them began working their shoulders and their bodies in the rhythm of the swing. It was so funny going higher and higher, the four of them, the two ponies and the two dollies, broke out into joyous laughter.

They eventually got over the thrill of being flung into ever greater heights, and toned it down to a more relaxed, even swinging, enjoying the pleasantly smooth rocking motion, as well as each other’s silent companionship. Though it wasn’t exactly warm, Scootaloo never froze because she always had something exciting to do, and whenever she wasn’t moving about, she could just hold Skip close to her chest and enjoy the warming contact.

“So, how are you liking Skyview so far?” Terry said.

“Being honest?” Scootaloo said, “I’ve only been here for a day, and it’s already the most fun I remember having in a long time. Everything about this place is so interesting, I haven’t been bored even once.”

“Yeah,” Terry said, “I’ve been enjoying myself too. Thanks, Scootaloo, I feel much better now. Things have been kind of a drag recently. Sometimes, everypony else can be kind of difficult to talk to, and it’s been exhausting for me. You’re really lucky you have a mommy who takes care of you.”


“Yeah, well,” Scootaloo said, “I’ve been going through a rough time with the grown ups too, lately.”

“You? A rough time?” Terry said, “Aren’t you filly cuteness incarnate to them?”

“Err, it’s kind of a long story,” Scootaloo said, “I just wanted to say that I’m glad I met you, Terry.”

“I’m glad I met you too, Scootaloo,” Terry said. “Friends?”

She held out a hoof.

“Friends,” Scootaloo said.

She bumped the hoof. They kept swinging for a bit longer in silence.

Part 7

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Fluttershy eventually emerged from the club.

The loud music had left her wobbly, and she was visibly sweating, but she still danced on dreamily, with the relaxed ease of a party pony in her element.

“So?” Victory said, “I’ll take it you’ve been having fun?”

“This music sure is bewildering,” Fluttershy said, “but the ponies inside do know how to make the best of it. I can’t believe they can go on like this for hours. That can’t be good for your hearing, can it?”

“You have to cut them some slack, Fluttershy,” Victory said, “they’re young, they’re full of energy, and they can still take take a beating. Speaking of which, how about another drink to cool your throat?”

“Um, no thanks,” Fluttershy said, “I’d rather finish up for tonight and get Scootaloo to bed. It’s getting late.”

Victory laughed. “Yeah, I can see you still have some sense in you,” she said, “Know what? I believe I’ll be taking Terry home now as well. Are you going to find that hotel? It’s not too far away.”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, “your directions were clear.”

“Good,” Victory said, “it’s a decent hotel, you’ll like it. Now then, let’s get.”

Terry and Scootaloo were called over to leave. They still had to pack up the dolls, however, so Terry took Skip and Pip and carried them over to their accessory purse.

Scootaloo slipped off the swing to follow her, but she stumbled a bit before catching herself. Standing up straight proved considerably more difficult than earlier, seeing how her diaper had swollen up so massively. Whereas the sodden fluff had previously simply been warm and heavy, Scootaloo’s diaper had finally caught up with all the liquid that it had been soaked with, distributing it everywhere from front to back, and swelling up to keep it in place. The diaper was way too full to be able to wick any of the urine out of Scootaloo’s fur, but at least the liquid wasn’t pooling inside the plastic anymore.

Scootaloo did the best she could do given the circumstances, and carefully moved one leg in front of the others, step by step, trying her best to work against the resistance of the sodden mass hanging between her thighs. She had it figured out soon enough, a skill every little baby needed to have, and Scootaloo toddled, not particularly quickly, but nevertheless happily, back over to her friend.

They packed up and stowed away the comb, the brush, and any additional accessories that had been required for doll grooming. Scootaloo was even allowed to carry the purse, while Terry took the dolls. They went over to the adults and stashed their stuff in Terry’s satchel.

Fluttershy was there too, so Scootaloo walked up to her and began nuzzling into the fuzzy collar of her jacket to get her attention.

“Oh, hello there, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy giggled, “are you all set to go? Let’s look for nice, warm bed, shall we?”

“Um, Miss Fluttershy,” Terry said, “I think Scootaloo needs a new diaper.”

“Does she now?” Fluttershy said, “Well, let’s have a look.”

Scootaloo was turned around so the big ponies could take a look at her butt. She would have protested the treatment, but it was Fluttershy, and Fluttershy surely knew what was best for her.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said. She had pulled back the waistband of Scootaloo’s diaper. Venturing a gander past her tail revealed the thoroughly mottled and glistening fur of her buttocks. “Seems we had better get her all cleaned up before bed.”

Terry had stolen subtle glances to see what Fluttershy was doing. And, in Terry’s case, subtle glances meant that she was practically standing on Fluttershy’s shoulders, ogling into Scootaloo’s diaper.

“Really?” Terry said, “How can you tell?”

“When you see moisture on baby’s skin,” Fluttershy said, snapping Scootaloo’s pants fast again, “it means that her diaper is full, and it’s high time for a new diaper. Good catch, Terry. Thank you for telling me.”

“You’re welcome,” Terry beamed, “I thought about it, maybe I could try to work in a daycare and take care of all the little foals.”

“I’m sure you’d be great doing that,” Fluttershy said.

Terry gasped. “Auntie, did you hear that?” she said.

“You? In a daycare?” Victory said, “I’ve seen crazier things happen. Tell you what, we can see if we can’t find a place, if you really want.”

“Yes! That’s so cool,” Terry cheered. She gave Scootaloo a hug. “Thanks, Scootaloo.”

“Um,” Scootaloo said, hugging back, “you’re welcome?”

Everypony said their goodbyes, and Terry bounced off at Victory’s side.

Scootaloo was tucked into her stroller. She couldn’t really feel the seat through the sodden bulk she was sitting on, but she was still pretty cozy, just snuggling in and watching the world pass by as Fluttershy walked her out of the park.

Finally, the Turnpike’s obnoxiously loud music began to fade away. The park wasn’t very large, and soon they were back on the way they had come from. Partying was cool and all, but it was high time to turn in. Scootaloo yawned.

“Terry seemed rather happy, didn’t she?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, we had a lot of fun playing,” Scootaloo said.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Fluttershy said.

“Did you have fun in the club too?” Scootaloo said.

“Oh, the ambience was quite exquisite,” Fluttershy said, “I do enjoy a brief mingle from time to time.”

“Kinda makes me wish I could have gone too,” Scootaloo said, “I would have rocked that party all night.”

“I’m sure you would have,” Fluttershy giggled, “but I’m sorry, Scoots, they don’t let little fillies in there.”

Scootaloo made to protest, but found that she couldn’t. Fluttershy’s logic was flawless. Instead, she earned a nuzzle on the back of her head. The gentle touch was so comforting, Scootaloo let out a sigh and promptly slouched back into her seat.

The city was way less pompous than the lower city, but that didn’t mean it had lost any of its grandeur. The plain buildings were now five or six stories high, instead of two, and the streets were paved so smoothly, the stroller rolled almost by itself. There was nopony outside this late, only the fewest windows shone with light.

The houses grew higher and higher in the distance, almost as if to mimic the far away cloud spire, rising up high and sprouting the upper city like a mushroom’s cap. The upper city must have been densely populated, it glowed like a mass of hundreds of little stars. The sight was quite elegant in its own right.

The side alley connected to the main street, which distinguished itself by the rows of dark shop displays and cleared menu signs that lay tranquil in the subtle moonlight. The moon was rather pretty today. It wasn’t quite full, just enough to please the eyes with its gentle radiance, but still faint enough to permit the sprinkles of galaxies to twinkle on the firmament.

But the beauty of the stars faded against the radiance of Fluttershy’s stunning face. Scootaloo couldn’t take her eyes off Fluttershy’s immaculate features. Her long and slender muzzle flowed with an elegance so flawless to surpass even the regal face of the moon itself. Her great, smooth mane tantalizingly shrouded her shoulders behind an intricate veil of rose secrets. And her cerulean eyes were an infinite depth so formidable, the vastness sparkling in them might have gone on forever.

Suddenly, Scootaloo felt very, very small.

“Is something amiss?” Fluttershy’s voice caressed her ears.

“No,” Scootaloo said.

She stopped staring at Fluttershy.

“Uh, thanks, Fluttershy,” she said, “for … for everything.”

“You’re welcome, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I don’t remember being this happy,” Scootaloo said, “like, in a long while. I hope I’m not … I hope I’m not being a burden to you.”

“Oh, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “why would you think that you were a burden to me?”

“Because,” Scootaloo said, “because you are doing so much for me. You’re putting in so much effort, just so that I can feel happy. You’re being so good to me. And I’m just … I’m just sitting here, and … well … “

Scootaloo squeezed together her hind legs to make her point, but the big, round, crinkly bulge in her pants wouldn’t even permit her knees to touch.

Fluttershy stopped and came around the front of the stroller. Cerulean depths, fixated directly on Scootaloo.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “you’re not being a burden. I’m glad I can do my part to help make you feel better, but, in fact, this was all you. We’re here because of you, and your curiosity tells me we’re on a good track. You’re the one who went out and talked to ponies. You’re the one who made new friends. I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time, but I’m glad I did.”

“But -” Scootaloo said, but Fluttershy came in and began nuzzling her.

Fluttershy’s amazingly delicate nose thoroughly searched around Scootaloo’s cheeks, behind her ears and down her neck, utterly mollifying her body and piercing straight through to her very essence. Her bitter thoughts were annulled by the all-encompassing sweetness of the thorough coddle, the touch bursting with affection, making Scootaloo feel at the deepest peace.

“There you go, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “everything’s fine. You’re doing just great. Do you want to have a kiss on your cheek?”

“Yes, please,” Scootaloo squawked.

Fluttershy planted her lips on Scootaloo’s cheek, and kept them there for long enough to make it really count, then she switched over and kissed her other cheek as well.

“There,” Fluttershy said, “Now, Scootaloo, I want you to know that I like you very, very much. And I think that you are a great pony. And it makes me very happy to see you enjoying yourself. I know you’ve been in a bit of a slump recently, but I think this will do you good.”

“I also like you very, very much, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “Can I call you mommy?”

Scootaloo slapped a hoof on her mouth.

Oh no.

That was the dumbest thing she could have said right now.

Fluttershy was taken aback.

Had Scootaloo ruined everything?

But Fluttershy promptly closed in and embraced Scootaloo.

“Oh, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, and held her fast. Weird. This hug felt much different than the previous ones. Whereas Scootaloo could have wiggled herself free at any moment, she found that she didn’t want to, in fact she didn’t even want to humour the thought. The contact was magnetic, it attracted Scootaloo, it made Scootaloo long for more, she hugged back, she pressed herself into Fluttershy’s fuzzy clothing, listened to her breath, tasted her aroma. It was raw and unburdened, unconditional, emotion. Fluttershy had said it herself. This was what Scootaloo needed, the antipole to the less than pleasant experiences in her recent past, a chance to let go, a chance to recharge.

“You are a very strong pony, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “I would be honored to be your mommy.” She smiled so softly. “Will you be my little baby filly in return?”

“I … I’d … ” Scootaloo said, “I’d like that very much … mommy.”

Scootaloo received one final kiss on the forehead. This one was the same, but also so different, because it was the first kiss she got from her mommy, and that alone made the warmth seem so much more all-encompassing.

“Thank you,” Scootaloo said, “mommy.”

“You’re welcome,” Fluttershy said, “my little filly.”

It was so awesome. Suddenly, she wasn’t only Scootaloo hanging around in messy underwear anymore, but now she was a little filly, completely entrusting herself to her mommy to get her nice and fresh, and to take care of her. She couldn’t help herself. Scootaloo loved the thought so much, it almost drowned out the heartbeat in her ears.

“Mommy?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes?” Fluttershy said.

“Are we going to the hotel now?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes we are,” Fluttershy said, “and I’m going to get my little filly all freshened up and tucked in for bed. Does that sound nice?”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said.

The hotel wasn’t too far off the main street. As soon as they made their turn, the building already stood out from the neighbouring houses. Scootaloo had to squint her eyes, so bright were the lights pointing onto the sign, The Cloud Home Hotel. There was a little shelter where a few scooters had been deposited, so they parked the stroller in there.

Despite its name, the hotel was not a cloud home, but quite an ordinary hotel with a large, airy lounge, furnished in modern simplicity and lined in clean marble and polished metal railings. The hotel manager had seemed asleep on the front desk, but snapped into a hearty welcome, possibly talking to somepony in his dreams, as soon as they entered.

“Good evening,” Fluttershy said, “I am looking for a room for me and my foal.”

He looked past Fluttershy to see Scootaloo waddling in behind her. “Ah, yes, of course,” the manager said, “We have a family room vacant. It has everything you would need to take care of yourself and the little miss. The kitchen also serves baby appropriate food, if desired. If that seems to your pleasing, you would only need to sign the guest book here.”

The manager led them through a desolate kitchen, the wooden paneling of which however smelled very much alive. Their room was the first one in the hallway. It was pretty, it had lots of little glowing spots in the ceiling.

“Here we are,” the manager said, “The room is equipped with a large bed and a couch, and here is the small bed for the little miss. You can pull up the sides to make a crib, if you wish. In the bathroom we have a changing table fully stocked with care products to your free availability. Please put used diapers in the labeled bin. Soap and toothbrush are provided, towel service is at noon. If you need anything, I’ll be at the front desk. Have a good night.”

The manager had spoken with perfectly practiced politeness, though Scootaloo still wasn’t convinced he had fully woken up. Without missing a beat, he retreated and closed the door behind him. Fluttershy immediately took off her saddlebags and put them in a corner.

“Wow,” she sighed, “about time I got rid of those. I could really use a hot shower right now.”

Fluttershy took off her heavy travelling jacket. Scootaloo stood there patiently and watched, seeing how she couldn’t really do anything else. The room wasn’t too large, but the furniture, along with a small night stand, fit pretty snugly. She could see the opposite house through the windows. Their curtains had dots on them.

“Okay, that’s better,” Fluttershy said, finally rid of her clothing. She stretched her wings and stood on her hooftips, shaking out her legs. “Now, on to you, Scoots.”

Fluttershy unzipped Scootaloo’s jacket and made her step out of the sleeves. Then her undershirt was rolled up over her belly and pulled over her head. The world briefly vanished behind the white cotton, and when it was pulled away, Scootaloo was looking right in her mommy’s face. The sight was so funny, she couldn’t help giggling.

“You like that, huh?” Fluttershy cooed, “Being undressed is funny?”

Scootaloo held her hind legs still so Fluttershy could untie her laces and pull off the boots. Then Fluttershy opened the buttons above Scootaloo’s tail. The skirt came away easily, but that left Scootaloo standing in her pantyhose, which was stretched to its limits, trying to contain her bulging and crinkling rear.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “This isn’t going to be so easy. Maybe if we …”

Fluttershy grabbed the pantyhose’s waist and began carefully working it over Scootaloo’s butt. She kept one side up and wiggled down the other, and Scootaloo helped by holding her tail out of the way and trying to squirm against Fluttershy’s rhythm. The fabric tightened one last time, but together they managed to overcome the resistance, and Fluttershy could pull the pantyhose all the way down.

Scootaloo’s diaper sagged. Severely. All the weight suddenly tugged at her hips, making it difficult to stand, but the weird sensation of the warm, bulging plastic, suddenly hanging between her legs, was even more surprising. Scootaloo’s panties were still barely above her knees, desperately trying to make a difference, but they stood no chance against the saggy mass.

“Wow, I didn’t expect it to feel this way,” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah, this pantyhose really did its job keeping everything in place,” Fluttershy said, “but, don’t worry, Scoots, it’s just a full diaper. Foals have them sometimes, don’t they? You’ll see, we’ll have you cleaned up in no time.”

Scootaloo had to step out of her pants and her panties, and then, finally, she too was free of her clothing, at least of the more grown-up parts of her clothing.

Fluttershy reached into her saddlebag and pulled out the pack of baby diapers. She went into the bathroom and put the bag into one of the changing table’s empty shelves. It had a whole lot of little trays and drawers filled with various kinds of packets and tubes. A fresh diaper squeaked against its neighbours, when Fluttershy pulled it out.

“Oh, look how cute!” Fluttershy said, “Can you tell me what this is?”

“It’s a turtle,” Scootaloo said. Indeed, the cartoon turtle looked almost happier than its predecessor, although the elephant still seemed all smiles despite hanging pretty much between Scootaloo’s knees at this point.

Scootaloo was picked up, and sat onto the changing mat on top of the table. It was a large changing mat, bigger than you would need for most foals, and Scootaloo would fit more than comfortably. The polymer surface squeaked on contact with the diaper’s plastic, and immediately they began trying to outdo each other for who could rustle louder. The mat was quite pretty though, white in colour, with a pattern of little toys on it, and it was much softer than the one earlier today.

Fluttershy reached back and ripped open Scootaloo’s tail tape. Then she gently lifted Scootaloo’s hind legs up, and lowered the increasingly littler and littler filly onto her back.

“Listen, do you need to shower today, Scoots?” Fluttershy said.

“Shower?” Scootaloo said.

“Because Victory told me of a famous bath house earlier,” Fluttershy said, “I thought we could go there tomorrow.”

“A bath house!” Scootaloo said, “That sounds cool.”

“I think it should be fun,” Fluttershy said, “being a big tourist attraction and all. Plus, it means we don’t have to get you all washed up tonight.”

“Okay!” Scootaloo said. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around what she had just agreed to, the crinkly plastic bliss all around her was just too distracting. She just loved to hear her mommy’s voice.

Fluttershy took a washcloth and soaked it with warm water from the sink.

“Ooh, that’s good,” Scootaloo groaned when Fluttershy began cleaning her face with it.

The wonderfully warm cloth traced her facial features, her cheeks, and her muzzle, before being pulled down her neck, and gently rubbed into her chest, leaving behind a prickly feeling of cleanliness. Fluttershy wrapped it around one of Scootaloo’s forelegs and rubbed it clean, and then came the other one, the moisture wonderfully refreshing in Scootaloo’s fur.

Scootaloo was lifted up for a backrub, and she giggled like crazy during the treatment of her ticklish tummy. Fluttershy pulled out a hind leg, frazzling Scootaloo’s fur with a good rub, and then the other hind leg underwent a similar procedure.

Fluttershy spread Scootaloo’s hind legs apart and pulled open the sticky tapes around her hips. She picked up the fresh diaper and fluffed it out, so it would be nice and soft. The elastics of Scootaloo’s used diaper tried clinging to her stomach with all their strength, but the diaper was just too heavy, and it kind of slid down Scootaloo’s crotch and fell open on its own.

“You poor thing,” Fluttershy said, “come, let’s get all that yucky pee wiped away from there, shall we?”

“Um, o-okay … ” Scootaloo said.

Fluttershy put the washcloth on Scootaloo’s lower stomach and, pressing on it gently, pushed it down between her legs. Scootaloo tensed up, but Fluttershy promptly had a hoof on her stomach, stroking it calmingly.

“It’s okay, Scoots,” she said, “It’s just a little washcloth. Everything’s fine.”

Scootaloo had been wrapped up in her diaper the whole day, her legs constantly squishing and kneading the diaper fluff in various states of sogginess, which had left her skin stimulated, and very, very sensitive. Her hooves tightened their grip around the changing mat, and she intently listened to Fluttershy’s voice, while Fluttershy rubbed the warm, wet cloth back and forth, and back and forth again, in order to get Scootaloo squeaky clean.

“There, wasn’t so bad, was it?” Fluttershy said.

She grabbed Scootaloo’s hind hooves and lifted her legs in the air, over Scootaloo’s head. The motion naturally spread Scootaloo’s buttocks, and Fluttershy used the washcloth to clean Scootaloo’s exposed skin very gently.

Fluttershy gave Scootaloo’s buttocks and her cutie mark a good rubbing down, and then the, by now slightly discolored, washcloth had fulfilled its purpose in making Scootaloo fresh and sparkly, and it landed in the washing basket.

She pulled the old, soggy and distinctly yellowed diaper out from underneath Scootaloo, and Scootaloo was granted the entirety of a second out of diapers, before the backside of the fresh one was slid back under. The exhilarating contact of the heavenly soft crinkly fluff was almost too much for Scootaloo to handle.

“Good girl,” Fluttershy cooed, coming in and stealing a quick nuzzle of Scootaloo’s cheek. “See? It feels much better being all nice and clean, doesn’t it?”

Fluttershy rummaged through the drawers and unscrewed a little tub, picking up a glob of the white cream onto her hooftip.

“W-what is that?” Scootaloo said.

“It’s skin cream,” Fluttershy said, “it’s needed to protect baby’s skin from the exposure to moisture, and also to make the skin smooth and soft. It’ll feel really good after being in diapers all day, just see.”

It was quite obvious where that cream was going to go.

“B-but … but I … I’m … but,” Scootaloo stammered.

“Relax Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “You really need to stop worrying now. Just don’t think about it. It’s okay to enjoy yourself, all right?”

With that, Fluttershy squished the glob of cream onto Scootaloo’s lower belly. She gently worked it into her fur and proceeded to push it down between Scootaloo’s legs, thoroughly smearing the soothing ointment onto her skin, and making sure to push enough of it between her folds to guarantee spotless protection.

Scootaloo almost exploded. She panted, and her trembling hooves curled up. Fluttershy was the most beautiful pony she had ever seen, and it was the pure unsulliedness of that beauty that made her hold on to the last shred of self control, and keep herself from bucking her hips into the hoof right then and there.

Fluttershy wiped her hoof off on the insides of Scootaloo’s thighs, and then pulled the diaper up, adjusting the extra thick superabsorbent core to sit just at the right spot, before pulling it tight and flattening the crinkly cartoon turtle against Scootaloo’s belly. She ripped the sticky tapes open and pulled the elastic sides snug around Scootaloo’s hips, rubbing them stuck on the diaper’s front.

Fluttershy embraced Scootaloo and pulled her up, sticking the last tape tight around her tail.

“There we go,” Fluttershy said, “All done. Feels pretty good to be fresh and clean, doesn’t it?”

“It feels so amazing,” Scootaloo said, still a bit woozy. She was lifted off the changing table and sat on the floor. Her old diaper landed in a lidded bin with a diaper symbol on it.

“I thought you’d like it,” Fluttershy said, “now be a good foal, and don’t go away while I shower. I’ll be quick, I promise.”

Scootaloo’s fresh diaper really did feel amazing. The thick pillow hugging her rear was now all dry and fluffy again, and even the plastic seemed to crinkle with a fresh spring, spotless white and baby blue of colour, save for the little cartoon pictures. It also smelled really good of sweet baby powder, and the earthy skin cream, protecting her most sensitive spots.

Fluttershy looked through the steamy glass and smiled. Scootaloo was still there. Fluttershy was such a pretty pony. Scootaloo had never noticed how tall she really was, and her wings were larger still, when fully unfurled. But her true majesty was in that subtle elegance that all of her movements bore, every flick of her tail and crane of the neck so calculated and so methodical, the grace of it was far and beyond any form of perfection Scootaloo had ever experienced.

Scootaloo tried crawling closer to the shower, but the first movement of her diaper’s incredibly arousing softness made her stop instantly, legs trembling, goosebumps all over, and she sat back down before it could go any further.

“Ah,” Fluttershy said, stepping out of the steamy shower, “that was so relaxing. I feel much more refreshed now, too. You’re a good girl for staying in my sights, Scoots.”

Fluttershy towelled herself off and took a fresh towel to dry out her mane and tail. She conspicuously didn’t bother covering up her nudity. And why should she? Scootaloo was just a little baby. Babies had no concept of embarrassment or shame, seeing how they needed to get cleaned up regularly. It was normal to appear comfortably natural around each other.

Scootaloo still did her the courtesy of looking away, at the door. Mostly. Except when she couldn’t help herself, and snuck a peek underneath that magnificent tail.

Fluttershy proceeded to brush her teeth, apply some lotion, and go through her entire evening toilette. Scootaloo’s evening toilette consisted of sitting on the ground and watching, being praised for being a good filly, and being appropriately dressed all the while.

Scootaloo had to take a small bit of mouthwash from a cup into her mouth, gargle it, and spit it back into the cup. Fluttershy emptied the cup, filled it with water and gave it back.

“Drinking water before bed?” Scootaloo said.

“Sure,” Fluttershy said, “drinking water is very healthy for you, and you should do it as often as you comfortably can.”

Scootaloo took the cup with both hooves and drank it down. Fluttershy filled it up again and drank one too. And why not? The bathroom was right next to the beds should she need to get up in the night. And Scootaloo didn’t need to get up.

“All done,” Fluttershy said, “And I’m getting tired, too. Let’s go to bed, hmm?”

Fluttershy left the bathroom, beckoning Scootaloo to follow. Scootaloo got up and followed on wobbly legs, the soft, bulky and egregiously crinkly fluff under her butt tantalizing her with every little motion.

After figuring out how to turn off the lights, a process which involved pulling a crystal out of a box, Fluttershy guided Scootaloo over to the small bed. Three barred sides were raised already, making it one short of a full crib.

“How about it?” Fluttershy said, “Wanna cuddle for a bit to help you fall asleep?”

“Yes, please,” Scootaloo said. The offer was just too good to pass up.

Fluttershy couldn’t quite stretch out in the foal’s bed, but it was large enough for her to curl up, and create a comfy little nest under the sheets, for Scootaloo to lie in. A little nest that was, quite critically, exposed to Fluttershy’s smooth, inviting, belly.

Scootaloo clambered onto the bed. She shuddered as the motion pulled her diaper tight against her body, but she got hold of herself and crawled over to Fluttershy. Fluttershy embraced Scootaloo under the blanket and pulled her in close, laying both of them down onto the plush mattress.

Scootaloo found her face buried deep in Fluttershy’s chest fur. She breathed in. Fluttershy smelled so good, a myriad of subtle aromas that coalesced on her freshly washed skin, creating a smell that was so intensely and unmistakably Fluttershy. Her fur was fuzzy and gentle, Scootaloo could twist her face and rub her nose in it, and still its soft caress felt uniquely distinct every time.

Fluttershy gently began stroking Scootaloo’s mane, while her other hoof was slung around Scootaloo’s back, holding her tight. Scootaloo couldn’t help herself, she embraced Fluttershy’s soft, warm tummy and pressed herself against its lavish comfort. She could feel how it moved, she could hear Fluttershy breathe, an entire body alive with warmth, so manifold it was impossible to take everything in.

A soft nuzzle began spoiling Scootaloo’s head and the bridge of her nose in luxury. The sheer impossibility to keep up with the pleasures had Scootaloo trembling, as the warmth began building up between their bodies. Scootaloo had lost control. She moved her hips forward, just a tiny little bit, humping her diaper ever so slightly, just to see what it would feel like.

Fluttershy’s hoof moved lover, past her tail, and began caressing Scootaloo’s buttocks through the crinkly plastic of her diapers. Scootaloo tensed up, but Fluttershy was immediately there to comfort her.

“Shh, it’s okay, Scoots,” Fluttershy whispered, “It’s fine, just relax.”

Fluttershy traced the shape of Scootaloo’s butt through the bulky fluff, ever so gentle, the affectionate massage, that left Scootaloo panting hard into Fluttershy’s chest.

She couldn’t.

This was Fluttershy.

Pure, beautiful Fluttershy.

She couldn’t do that. Could she?

Fluttershy moved her hoof further down and wiggled it between Scootaloo’s legs, coming to rest on the thick of the plastic-clad bulk. She applied just the slightest bit of pressure, and Scootaloo gasped hard.

“It’s fine, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “it’s okay. You’re doing just fine.”

“But … b-but … I’m g-gonna … “ Scootaloo stammered.

“I told you it’s okay,” Fluttershy said, “don’t worry about it. That’s what you’re wearing diapers for. They’ll make sure that everything is going to be fine.”

And Fluttershy was right. Scootaloo pulled her head back, a glistening imprint left where her mouth and nose had just been. The inside of her diaper was already slick with wetness, despite being changed just a few minutes ago. Scootaloo couldn’t help herself, because she was just too little, she didn’t know any better. That’s why she wore baby diapers, to take care of little accidents like these, and make sure everything was pleasant and comfortable for her.

“Just let it happen, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy whispered, “don’t worry. Mommy’s here for you.”

Scootaloo pushed into Fluttershy’s hoof, and exploded into fluffy, crinkly, fuzzy, warm, soft bliss. The highest of pleasures swept her up, and she convulsed, hard, leaving her mewling and whimpering into Fluttershy’s chest.

Fluttershy mercifully grabbed Scootaloo’s diaper, pressed it against her body and lightly began rubbing it back and forth, warm drool spreading in her chest fur as Scootaloo groaned and clambered tightly onto Fluttershy, completely lost in the thrilling delight.

Fluttershy embraced Scootaloo’s head and held it tight. Scootaloo twitched, and Fluttershy did the best she could do, provide her with the comfort of a soft body and her most affectionate warmth, to carry Scootaloo through the delectable afterglow of sensory luxury.

Strokes of the mane and gentle cuddles helped a lot to make Scootaloo breathe deeply and evenly again. Fluttershy just held her, coddled her against her breast, because she intuitively knew that was what Scootaloo needed and wanted right now. And Scootaloo relaxed, her body losing its tension, as she gave herself into the warm softness all around her.

“Mommy?” Scootaloo whispered.

“Yes?” Fluttershy whispered back.

“I love you,” Scootaloo said.

“I love you too, Scoots,” Fluttershy answered.

Fluttershy kept stroking Scootaloo’s mane, until the smaller pony’s movements ceased, and her breath became long and slow. Even then, she remained a while longer, just to indulge in the comfortable embrace some more.

Eventually, Scootaloo had fallen utterly asleep. Fluttershy extricated herself carefully and manipulated the little bed to raise up the remaining side.

She caressed the cheek of her little filly, sleeping soundly in the little crib, one more time, before turning in.

Part 8

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“I’m here, Scoots,” came from the bathroom, followed by the sound of rushing water.

Scootaloo flopped back down onto the mattress. She had been in such a comfy doze under her colorful fuzzy blanket, with the sunlight tickling her nose. But then she had heard movement, and Fluttershy’s whereabouts suddenly became top priority.

But Fluttershy was only in the bathroom, doing typical grown up things, like washing up and taking care of her appearance. All grown ups were wont to perform these bathroom rituals in the morning.

Scootaloo sat in her crib and waited. The crib wasn’t particularly large. It wasn’t actually a real crib rather than a bed for fillies and colts, with latticed sides, that could be raised to keep the most unruly sleeper contained. Accordingly, the bars didn’t go very high. A big pony of Scootaloo’s size could have easily climbed over them into freedom.

A big yawn overtook Scootaloo. She rubbed her eyes awake, and stretched out her forelegs, and then she got on all fours and stretched her hind legs, fully stretching her spine down to the tip of her tail, her plastic wrapped butt crinkling up in the air.

“Oh my, isn’t that a pleasant sight,” Fluttershy said, “good morning to you, Scootaloo.”

“Hi, mommy,” Scootaloo said.

Fluttershy lowered the side of the bed. Freedom!

Well, Scootaloo still had to wait until she was lifted out the bed onto the floor. But now, freedom!

“You seem very eager to get going,” Fluttershy said, “Don’t worry. We’ll just grab some breakfast, and then we’ll be off to the bathhouse in no time.”

“Yay,” Scootaloo said, “is it fun there?”

“I’m sure they have comfortable and exciting baths,” Fluttershy said, “But I guess we’ll have to find out. Come, let’s get you dressed for the day so we can get going. I think we’ll just leave the diaper on, since we’re going to get cleaned up later, okay?”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

A change wasn’t very urgent anyway, since her diaper was still mostly clean, except for the adorable little saggy bulge between her legs, that betrayed last night’s events.

Scootaloo’s undershirt smelled fresh. Which was good, since they hadn’t brought any spare clothing. Fluttershy left Scootaloo’s panties out this time, since they were mostly pointless anyway, Scootaloo had quite comfortable underwear as it was. Scootaloo stepped into the legs of her pantyhose, and Fluttershy skillfully wiggled the soft wool over her rear, securing the button above the tail. Thankfully, the skirt followed, giving Scootaloo at least a chance of hiding the bulk.

They left their room and went to the, by now pretty lively, kitchen. Many ponies populated the scattered tables, ranging from the most reclusive news readers hiding behind their papers, to the most chatty families storming the breakfast buffet. It gave the otherwise rather ornate hotel a feeling as rustic as the kitchen’s decorations.

There was a tiny table free, but it had only one chair. Next to the chair was a family with a baby seated in a bright plastic high chair.

“Um, excuse me,” Fluttershy said, “where did you get the high chair?”

“They’re over in that corner, dear,” the mare said, “Oh, hello there, little goldie.”

“Hello,” Scootaloo said.

“I think there should be one in your size too, darling,” the mare said, “Ooh, be careful … “ Her older child had almost spilled the orange juice.

The small foal was being fed formless brown mush from a small bowl. It looked positively revolting. There was a mess all over the tray, and the unidentifiable matter glistened in the sunlight in a less than appetizing fashion. Scootaloo had no idea how the tiny pony could be squirming and gurgling so happily.

Fluttershy retrieved the larger high chair, and seated Scootaloo in it. Scootaloo just barely fit in the plastic shell, but it was a very tight fit. She couldn’t move at all, and her hind legs were squeezed together snugly. Still, fair enough for taking breakfast, and the personal plastic tray was a big plus too.

“Hmm, I don’t think I’ll be able to lock the safety bar, since you’re sitting on the latch,” Fluttershy said, “but I’m sure you won’t slip out underneath, right?”

“Don’t worry,” Scootaloo said, “I’m on top of it.”

“I know, you’re very proficient at this,” Fluttershy winked, prodding Scootaloo on the nose.

The buffet was the most popular attraction in the room. Ponies were filed in shoulder to shoulder, loading up their trays with freshly served preserved and prepared foods, above and around each other, with only minimal hindrance and blocking. The uncanny efficiency of the process left the cooks hard pressed to keep everything stocked, but Fluttershy had no problem loading up her own tray.

“Baby food?” one of the cooks said.

“Um, yes please, if you have any,” Fluttershy said. How very observant.

“Only freshly made,” the cook said, “Reduced a batch just now, fresh fruit and grasses with lots of nutrients. Here you go.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened at the sight of the tray. The still steaming breads were mouth watering, a selection of rolls mixed with various grains, along with bits of butter and jam. The bread was complemented with fresh juicy fruit and sweet flowers.

And for Scootaloo, a bowl of unidentifiable brown glop.

“Really?” Scootaloo said, “Do I have to eat this? It looks weird.”

“Don’t worry, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, placing the plastic bowl on the tray, “it should taste nice since it’s fresh. Besides, there’s lots of nutrients in there, and you know how healthy nutrients are for you.”

“I guess,” Scootaloo said.

She reluctantly took the plastic spoon in her hoof. The matter wasn’t quite liquid, but almost, dripping from the spoon heavily, but still piling in the bowl. No wonder the baby had made such a mess, this seemed impossible to eat cleanly. Well, no point in putting it off any longer.

The spoon entered Scootaloo’s mouth, and the tastes veritably exploded. Apple, banana, citrus, kiwi, pear, grape, ananas, mulberry, strawberry, it was all there. But grass, wheats, sorrel and plantains separated the tastes and kept them all in check, so none would overpower the others.

“This is delicious,” Scootaloo gasped.

Not one, but two ponies laughed. The mare from the other table had been watching.

“Isn’t this just the best moment for a mom?” she sighed, “My little one had a very similar reaction. Almost makes me wish we could forget about it and try it again for the first time … Ooh honey, be careful.” Her husband had dropped cutlery to the floor.

“Is it really that good?” Fluttershy giggled, “Maybe I should try it too.”

Lacking a better alternative, Scootaloo picked up some baby food and held the spoon in Fluttershy’s direction. Fluttershy leaned over and ate it off the spoon without hesitation.

“Mmh … wow, it does taste good,” Fluttershy said, “These cooks are really working magic back there. Here, I have something for you too in return.”

She offered a small piece of bread with butter on it. Scootaloo knew what she had to do, she leaned forward and ate it out of Fluttershy’s hoof. The warm bread crunched deliciously.

Scootaloo ate a bit more of her baby food, until Fluttershy was ready again with another piece of bread, this time dunked in some jam. It was really neat eating like this, with the entire breakfast splayed out around her, either on her very own little plastic tray, or being held to her muzzle so all she had to do was to open up and enjoy it.

Scootaloo had never known breakfast could be this fun. And she had never known anypony could make breakfast as fun as Fluttershy did.

“Um, Fluttershy?” Scootaloo said quietly, “I’m … I’m sorry … you know, about, um. Yesterday.”

“Hm?” Fluttershy said, “What are you sorry for?”

“You know, uh,” Scootaloo said, “What happened … in the evening. I just wanted to apologize to you, um. I hope I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Oh, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Tell me, did you enjoy what happened yesterday?”

Suddenly, Scootaloo’s cheeks were very hot. “Um, yes …” she said, “ … I enjoyed it. Very much.”

“And I enjoyed it too,” Fluttershy said.

“R-really?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, “You are a very nice pony, Scoots, and I enjoy being together with you. I think you’re really cute, and you being my little filly only makes it so much better.”

“T-thank you,” Scootaloo said, “mommy.”

“You’re welcome,” Fluttershy said, “If something makes you happy, and everypony involved is happy too, then it’s all right to enjoy it. You don’t have to apologize for being happy, okay?”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

Her bowl was already empty, and they finished up what was left on Fluttershy’s tray. Fluttershy was the coolest grown up Scootaloo knew. True, she had friends who were really cool, but that’s just what they were, friends. Fluttershy was something else entirely. She was always calm and collected, and she always knew what to do. If Scootaloo felt unsure about something, Fluttershy was there with an explanation, and she always knew a good way of dealing with things.

Scootaloo hadn’t known grown ups could be like this.

“Can I have some more?” the colt on the other table said.

“Me too,” the stallion said.

The mare rolled her eyes and tried collecting all empty glasses at once. Fluttershy got up and went over to help her. They went to the dispensers together to get a refill.

“What can I say,” the stallion shrugged at Scootaloo’s inquiry, “I like the orange juice here. They’ve got their own supplier of fresh oranges, you can really taste the difference. Heard they got a shipment in yesterday, too.”

The mares returned, and Fluttershy also had two large glasses, one on her place and one on Scootaloo’s tray. The rich yellow juice glowed in the morning light.

Scootaloo waited until Fluttershy was seated, before taking her glass with her hooves. Together they raised their glasses and sipped. The juice was unbelievably ripe, a sour, bitter and sweet mixture taking up the senses. A chilly broadside of liquid, that left no thirst unquenched. The impression was so intense, Scootaloo immediately found herself drinking more.

“Mmh, tastes really good,” Fluttershy said, “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted oranges quite like this before. They’re much sweeter and more tangy than I would have thought.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Scootaloo said, “I guess they must be coming from really far away. Do you think they arrived yesterday with the … with … umm. Oh …”

“Is something wrong?” Fluttershy said, but the particular way Scootaloo squirmed in her highchair already suggested the answer.

“No,” Scootaloo whispered, “it’s just that I, um, I need to. Uh. You know.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Fluttershy whispered, considerately holding a hoof up to her mouth so the others couldn’t hear, “You didn’t even have a chance to do your morning pee yet. Here, I’ll make some room for you.”

Fluttershy took the empty bowl and the glass away from the highchair’s tray.

“You mean, um,” Scootaloo said, and twiddled her hooves nervously, “right here? In this chair?”

“Scootaloo, it’s a plastic high chair for babies,” Fluttershy said, “I’m pretty sure it’s been through worse before.”

That wasn’t exactly what Scootaloo had meant, for her concerns weren’t so much for the chair, as for the pony family happily chattering on not even a few strides away. But Fluttershy’s reasoning was valid, as the highchair’s occupant, Scootaloo was expected to find her morning relief in approximately this fashion. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the baby in the other highchair had already been through the same ordeal. And if a baby could do it, Scootaloo could do it too.

The decision was expedited by the pressing urge in her full belly. The orange juice really had woken her sleepy body up. Scootaloo relaxed just the tiniest bit, and her body promptly took the chance to release. The sudden warm liquid on her skin made Scootaloo tensen, but she steadied herself against the empty highchair tray.

Scootaloo was still jammed in the tight seat, and her legs were squeezed together snugly around the already voluminous absorbent bulk. Consequently, the whole process took rather long, as Scootaloo basically spluttered her pee all over the insides of her thighs. A rain of hot little droplets dripped down the inner plastic of Scootaloo’s leak guards, before they found some dry fluff to vanish into, or they splashed back onto her skin, and made their way down under her increasingly damp rear.

The relief was pretty nice for a while, but it just took way too long. Scootaloo eventually grew bored with the wait for herself to finish up, so eventually she just kind of stopped paying attention. The rest of the orange juice looked very inviting. She made a grabbing motion towards the glass.

“Do you want your orange juice, Scoots?” Fluttershy giggled, “You’ll have to say it for me.”

“Can I have my orange juice please, mommy?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes you can,” Fluttershy said, giving her the glass.

Awesome! Being a good filly really paid off. Scootaloo drank deep from her prize. The yummy juice tasted even better now that she had made, or was still making, new room in her belly.

The hall had grown less busy in just a few minutes. Everypony seemed to have somewhere to go, even their breakfast was on a schedule. Eventually, Fluttershy cleared off their table and lifted Scootaloo out of her highchair.

“Let’s grab our things and get going, shall we?” Fluttershy said.

“Awesome,” Scootaloo said, hot on her heels, back to the room.

They put on their jackets and Fluttershy tied up Scootaloo’s boots. However, the saddlebags remained here. Instead, Fluttershy pulled out a bunch of diapers from the bag. She also borrowed a pack of baby wipes, as well as a bottle of shower gel, from the bathroom. And she casually carried the stuff on her back, plain for everypony to see.

Scootaloo tried to think of a protest, but they were already out the door. Now, it wasn’t unusual for a pony to carry diapers, but these diapers in particular were of an unusual size, and the only pony in question who matched the size was the filly at Fluttershy’s side. It wouldn’t take much to put two and two together.

They would have to go fast and hope that nopony saw them. They passed through the kitchen again, and the entire family from earlier turned to wave them goodbye. Fluttershy happily waved back. Scootaloo also waved back, because she wanted to behave properly, but she quickly scampered out of the room afterwards.

The lobby was mercifully empty and there was nopony outside, so they could reach the safety of the stroller without further incident. Fluttershy unzipped a side bag and put the shampoo inside, but then she zipped it up again.

The diapers and wipes landed in the tray under the seat. In the open, fully visible tray. Right underneath the seat Scootaloo would be sitting in.

“Do we really have to keep them there?” Scootaloo said.

“Oh,” Fluttershy said, “I just thought we’d put your diapers where we can easily reach them when we need them. I wouldn’t want you to have to wait for any longer than necessary, like when I need to search through zipped bags first. You can tell me if you think it’s a bad idea to keep them there, though.”

It wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it made perfect sense, as Fluttershy’s ideas usually did. Scootaloo wouldn’t want to have Fluttershy rifling through the bags when changing her, and if Scootaloo could do anything to make things easier for Fluttershy, it was worth it.

And it wasn’t just one diaper in the tray, it was a whole bunch. You always take one extra for your foal, since you would probably be needing it. That’s what all the mommy magazines said. Fluttershy had been looking ahead in that regard, and Scootaloo’s (no longer particularly dry) hindquarters were evidence of the fact.

“No, it’s a good idea,” Scootaloo said, “thanks for thinking of me.”

“Of course I’m thinking of you,” Fluttershy said, nuzzling Scootaloo lightly, “I’m your mommy, remember? And besides, your diapers are really pretty. It would be a shame hiding them, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “it would be a shame to hide them … “ Nice white plastic, cute baby blue decorations, funny little cartoons. What was there not to like?

“That’s what I want to hear,” Fluttershy said, “no more hiding, okay? We’re ponies, and ponies aren’t meant to hide.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

She received another affectionate nuzzle, and was soon secured into the stroller.

It was kind of cool. Being a little foal, having diapers on open display in her stroller wasn’t anything unusual for Scootaloo. And, yeah, the diapers were obviously for her, but ponies wouldn’t care too much. Hopefully.

She could just relax and let Fluttershy take care of things. Fluttershy was looking out for her so sweetly. Fluttershy always knew what’s best. Why not embrace it, and enjoy the ride?

Not more hiding.

Yeah, she’d like that.

Part 9

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The structure was massive.

The decorative architectural elements, stylish rounded supports and angled glass coating, couldn’t hide what the building really was, basically a gigantic slab of concrete. Probably even magically infused, since there were no actual structural supports holding up the high roof.

The bath house seemed properly sized, smack on the main street’s terminus. Back at the intersection, a constable shouted loudly, managing the cart and wagon traffic, allowing droves of pedestrians to cross safely, not a negligible portion of which were headed past Fluttershy and Scootaloo, straight into the bath house.

Fluttershy and Scootaloo went inside. As soon as the stroller crossed through the entrance, it was like they had passed into another world.

Moisture. The warm air hung thick with humidity, and water condensed on the outside windows. Fluttershy’s hooves clopped on the tiles of the large entrance hall, every surface coated in ceramic. One such surface was particularly pretty, a mural of a beach with fishes and clouds decorating the largest wall.

The pony at the front desk looked funny, he was dressed in swimwear, despite sitting on an office chair. He constantly rubbed his skin with some kind of lotion from the impressively large assortment of bottles on his desk.

“Welcome,” he droned, massaging a spot with extra care, “oh, yeah, that’s the spot ...” Hard to believe he noticed anything other than his nicely toned legs.

“Hello,” Fluttershy said, “we’d like to go swimming.”

The receptionist spared a fraction of a glance at Scootaloo. “All foals must wear swim diapers or a form of waterproof cover as protection,” he recited a poster hanging on the wall beside him, “going in the pools is only permitted with floaties on. Would you like to borrow some?”

“Yes, please,” Fluttershy said.

He got up, went to a storage closet and retrieved a bundle of plastic. The bright orange color left no question as to what it was: foals’ floaties.

“Here you go. Enjoy your stay and have fun. Next please,” he said.

Scootaloo unwrapped the bundle. Out came a pair of floaties, little more than orange polymer sleeves for her forelegs, each with a soft valve on the side for blowing up. The clerk must have decided to give them the biggest size, one floaty almost covered Scootaloo's entire upper foreleg.

“Do I have to wear these?” Scootaloo said, “I know how to swim.”

“The staff said we have to put these on,” Fluttershy said, “So we probably should. Besides, it’s not so much about swimming, but about having fun. Wouldn’t it be nice to just float on the water all nice and comfy?”

“If you say it that way,” Scootaloo said, “yeah! I think that would be nice.”

She put the floaties aside and held up the plastic wrapping instead. The completely translucent plastic was kind of weird, because it was really thick and sturdy, but also very soft. And it had some really strong elastics on the sides.

“And what’s this?” Scootaloo said, “Why does it have holes?”

Fluttershy snorted and burst into giggles. Just when Scootaloo wanted to ask what was going on, the realization dawned on her, and she immediately crumpled the tough plastic back together, before anypony could see.

“These are your plastic pants, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “the holes are for your legs. The clerk said foals have to wear them too, remember?”

“R-right,” Scootaloo said.

They followed the throng of ponies into the locker rooms. The cheers of happy fillies and colts resonated against the lockers, along with the constant blubbering of rushing water. Ponies were coming and going simultaneously, showering, using the hairdryers, carrying clothes and towels to and from the dressing cabins, the air laden with the smell of lotions and shampoos.

The aisles between lockers were broader in the back, progressively accommodating larger groups and families with younger foals. The last row even had dedicated free spots for parking strollers. Fluttershy waited for a stallion to deposit his filly’s stroller (which was decidedly less cool than Scootaloo’s) in a free space, before Scootaloo herself was parked and unstrapped.

Her boots squeaked on the wet tiles as she followed Fluttershy. There were trays with fresh towels at every corner, and Scootaloo picked the fluffiest bath towel for herself. They found a free locker and Scootaloo sat down on the bench and waited while Fluttershy got undressed.

Most ponies seemed to prefer going without clothing, and most of the ponies that did wear clothes seemed of the sportive type, wearing stylish shorts or sleek swimsuits. Especially the youngest ponies flaunted their freedom to go without swimwear, proving to the world the fact that they were already old enough to go unclothed, without being naked, just like the adult ponies.

Fluttershy stored her jacket and boots in the locker. Now it was Scootaloo’s turn. Scootaloo helped as best as she could, holding out her hooves so Fluttershy could untie her laces, and stretching up her forelegs so her jacket and shirt could be taken off. She even lifted her rear from the bench so Fluttershy could pull down her pants.

But, ultimately, Scootaloo had to let herself be undressed by Fluttershy, since foals couldn’t undress by themselves. Unlike the filly from before, who was right next to them, taking off her vest and pantaloons all alone. She even had goggles and a snorkel in her baggage. Wow! She had to be a really good swimmer.

Rip! Rip, rip! Made the tapes around Scootaloo’s waist as Fluttershy pulled them open. Scootaloo squirmed, torn between squeezing her hind legs together so nopony could get a look, or spreading her hind legs apart so it would be over more quickly, as Fluttershy worked the soggy plastic inbetween. The filly heard the sound, and briefly glanced over, but found nothing noteworthy, only a foal getting her diapers taken off by her mommy, so she minded her own business instead.

Fluttershy wiggled the diaper out from under Scootaloo’s rear. Thankfully, she rolled it up quickly, before anypony could see the big yellow stain.

“We’re supposed to shower first, before going into the pools,” Fluttershy said.

“The showers must be over there,” Scootaloo said. The filly had just went through the side door.

“Looks like it,” Fluttershy said, “My, how organized everything here is! There are foal changing tables by the hairdryers, so we don’t have to go back and forth.” Scootaloo volunteered to carry the towels, and hide her face behind them, as Fluttershy picked up a diaper from the stroller.

The shower room was surprisingly ordinary. It was just one big shower floor with regular shower heads mounted to the walls. It was kept a bit darker, to give ponies some semblance of privacy, but there were many bodies inside.

Fluttershy sighed as she entered the warm spray of water. Only by the color of the liquid coming out her mane and tail became it obvious how much grime they had picked up on the way here. The city air was much drier and dustier than the cool countrysides or forests, and all the commerce and industry certainly took their toll on the climate. This must have been especially true for a sky city, floating above the humidifying presence of the clouds, like Skyview.

“You coming?” Fluttershy giggled.

Scootaloo had been staring at her again.


Scootaloo made a step, and Fluttershy pulled her in with a wing, immersing her whole body in the prickling warm water. It made Scootaloo’s skin tingle all over, as it ran down her head and her neck, soaking heavily into the fur on her back, dripping down her legs. And no less exciting was the silken touch of Fluttershy’s wing.

Fluttershy washed Scootaloo’s face off with a hoof, and rinsed out her mane. Fluttershy enjoyed playing with Scootaloo’s mane, because it was so much shorter than her own, and she spent some time just giggling and ruffling Scootaloo’s head. Scootaloo’s back and legs were cleaned off too, and Scootaloo held as still as she could, at first because she was so stricken that Fluttershy gingerly cleaned off her little wings, and then because she didn’t dare look at the surrounding ponies as Fluttershy went to town on her backside.

By the time they were done, Scootaloo was dripping wet. She found a surprising amount of joy in prancing around like that, shaking her head and spraying water everywhere, all over the floor, and the other ponies, who luckily didn’t seem to mind.

“Now, isn’t that something,” Fluttershy said.

“It’s a seal,” Scootaloo identified the little cartoon animal on the diaper. Fluttershy fluffed the diaper out thoroughly, and it crinkled accordingly.

“Oddly appropriate, isn’t it?” Fluttershy said.

There were ponies everywhere, some naked, some clothed, all dripping wet and excited to get in on the splashy fun. The changing tables weren’t currently in use, though, so this was their chance. Fluttershy picked Scootaloo up, and carefully sat her down on top of the open diaper. Scootaloo spread her legs a little (she made sure nopony was looking), but Fluttershy quickly pulled up the diaper, and covered her up.

“Would you hold this for me please?” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo held the crinkly fluff against herself patiently, while Fluttershy taped her up nice and snug. The sensation was pretty funky, Scootaloo’s fur was dripping wet all over, but where it came in contact with her diaper, her skin immediately became dry and warm. The inside of the diaper was dry, and the outside was wet. Funny, usually it was the other way around.

“Now, give me your little hoovsies,” Fluttershy said.

The plastic pants rustled in a completely different fashion than the diapers, more muted, but heavier and louder. Fluttershy shook the pair out. It was kind of big, but the elastics were obviously very stretchy. She held up one of the leg openings, and guided Scootaloo’s hoof in. Scootaloo’s other hoof followed through the other opening, and Fluttershy worked the shiny baby panties up Scootaloo’s hind legs, up to her knees.

Scootaloo was lifted onto the ground again, and Fluttershy pulled the plastic panties over Scootaloo’s butt, plastic squeaking against plastic. The leg gathers were very prominent, broad, wrinkled elastic bands sealing themselves tightly around Scootaloo’s flanks. Fluttershy did up the buttons that were tucked inside a pouch above Scootaloo’s tail, tightening the bond around her waist snugly, and completely sealing Scootaloo’s rear into the waterproof cover.

“And?” Fluttershy said, tucking in a bit of plastic peeking out from one of the leg gathers, “How does it feel?”

“It feels kind of weird,” Scootaloo said, “it’s like a second layer of waterproofness on top of the already waterproof, um. Diaper. Isn’t it?”

“Well, I guess so,” Fluttershy said, “but remember, your diaper is made to keep liquid on the inside from coming out, not the other way around. I suppose you have to wear these to keep your diaper from soaking up all the pool water. Wouldn’t that be silly?”

Scootaloo giggled. All the ponies suddenly sitting in the dry as soon as she entered the pool? Yes, her diaper soaking up all the water would be silly.

She lifted a hind leg and stretched it out. Not even air got past the leg gathers, the snug elastics isolated her flank fully from the outside world.

“Wow, you’re right,” Scootaloo said, “these things are impenetrable.”

“Great. It means we can go in like that, and don’t have to worry about getting you undressed and dressed for the water,” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “that’s kinda cool.”

“Come, let’s go inside,” Fluttershy said.

She gathered the towels, and they went through the main entrance. Scootaloo was rustling loudly with every movement, the echoes from the walls only amplifying her already prominent presence. And how else could it be? Everypony seemed to think it was a good idea to just slap more and more plastic onto her butt. And now, she had to run around with this crinkly, crackling mass under her tail. Attempting to hide it was a fruitless effort, so it didn’t make much sense to even try.

It was sort of liberating, really. The rules said she had to wear this, so why should she make a big fuss about it? No need for pretense, there’s no walking normally like this, waddling like a foal was much less of a hassle and much more comfortable.

Two towel-wrapped mares came the opposite way. They pointed at Scootaloo, and gasped at the cutely dressed little filly. Scootaloo gave them a bold smile, and the mares broke into adoring giggles, looking over their shoulders, as Scootaloo coolly walked off.

Hey, this was really fun!

The main hall was gigantic. Not one, but several huge pools occupied the ground, filled to the brim with ponies young and old, jumping, swimming, splashing and frolicking about. The pools were littered with awesome-looking floating toys and inflatables, and ponies swam around and sat on top of the toys, as they worked together to conquer the waters.

“Wow …” was all that Scootaloo managed to say.

Several massive pillars ensured structural integrity, though not so much for the building, rather than the huge network of water slides snaking past and inbetween. The slides went across the room and back again, raining their contents all over the place whenever a jubilating pony cut through one of their curves.

Ponies were flying all about, occupying numerous clouds and cloud structures hanging overhead, which fed water into the pools below. Some of the clouds seemed to be like fancy pools, judging by the groups of ponies who splashed around in them (they seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot), and they even had a large rainbow on the far side of the hall, lapping at the water.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Scootaloo said.

“It looks quite nice,” Fluttershy said, “I haven’t seen such a liberal use of clouds in a bath house before. Come, let’s find a place to put our things down.”

One of the walls was made of glass, permitting natural light to flood onto the countless deckchairs. Along with the fake palm trees and fake exotic decorations, they created a wonderfully fake vacation ambiance. Almost all chairs were laden with somepony’s stuff, but Fluttershy soon found a free one to stash their things.

Right next to the chairs was a little foal pool. It consisted only of a tiny little step leading into shallow water with some toys floating in it. A few parents or older siblings were sitting around in the water with their infants, casually making splashes and teaching them to swim.

“Come on, Scoots,” Fluttershy beckoned, “let’s go in this one first, to see if we’re ready for the bigger pools.”

“Oh, please,” Scootaloo said, looking after a bunch of fillies running towards a big pony slide. “I’m more than ready for any -- oof”

Scootaloo hadn’t quite anticipated the water’s resistance as she walked in. She bumped into her own hoof and caught herself, but lost balance with her hind legs and landed on her butt with a splash. Everypony turned their heads, and the little foals laughed, as they rode the waves from Scootaloo’s impact.

“Uh, oops,” Scootaloo said, “I didn’t think the water would be so … watery.”

“Eh,” a stallion shrugged, “happens to the best of us. Here, sweetie, why don’t you toss your ball over to that filly?”

“Ball!” his little filly said.

The filly emerged from the water’s surface to grab the miniature beach ball with her little hooves, and then she chucked it in Scootaloo’s direction. The foal was greatly amused by the ball going through the air, cheering with glee before it had even landed.

Catching the ball wasn’t difficult, since Scootaloo was sitting basically right in front of her new playmate. She held the ball up and tossed it back lightly, and the little filly squealed in delight, as she ravenously jumped the ball in the water. She picked it up and tossed it back at Scootaloo. The ball almost went wide, but Scootaloo bounded up and caught it out of the air.

“Ball!” the foal cheered.

“Heh, you thought that was cool?” Scootaloo said, “Here, watch this.”

She pushed the ball under the water and let go, making it bounce over to the little filly, who watched the spectacle with huge eyes. The ball landed, and the filly gasped, and immediately jumped on it, to try for herself. Keeping the slippery ball underwater for long enough wasn’t easy, but she eventually succeeded and launched the ball at Scootaloo. The shot was awesome, and it earned the filly clapping and cheering all around. She grinned like a catwalk star in the lamplight.

Scootaloo caught the ball easily. She was going strong on ball catches, though it was also easier than back at the fountain, because here she could just let herself fall into the water, allowing for much more dangerous tricks.

She returned the ball, and the foal shot back, but this time she missed, and chucked the ball to the edge of the pool, splashing a young colt who was hanging out there.

“Hey, what gives?” the colt said, but his eyes promptly landed on the ball. “Oh! Ball!”

“Sorry,” Scootaloo said, “Hey, do you wanna play too?”

“You bet,” the colt said.

He came over with the ball, and joined the game. His shooting was lean and accurate, and he wasn’t outpaced easily, but Scootaloo did her best to keep up, and even managed to one up him every now and then, with the special tricks she had up her sleeve.

Soon, the little ponies were playing together as three, splashing around in the little pool and bouncing the ball back and forth, laughing joyously.

“Seems like they’re getting along well,” Fluttershy said. She sat by the side, soaking in the soothing warm water.

“Yup,” the stallion said, “never underestimate how much a ball can bring ponies together.”

Fluttershy giggled. “We had planned to only warm up here, but it seems this could take a while, before we go to the big pool,” she said.

“Oh no, my sweetie’s not quite tall enough for the big pool yet,” the stallion said, “but you might be wanting to get suited up before the waves come.”

“The waves?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah,” the stallion said, “they’re gonna be making waves in the middle pool. The young ones enjoy it, you’ll hear all the screaming when it starts. Can’t miss it, or at least your filly won’t, I suspect.”

“Goodness,” Fluttershy said, “that sounds awfully exciting. I’d better go get Scootaloo’s floaties. Thanks for telling me.”

It was time for Scootaloo to finish playing. She’d hoped she’d get a chance for revenge, but the colt had consistently outplayed her. His passes seemed innocent enough, but then he made the ball spin, or slip out of her grasp when she tried to catch it. Too bad, she thought she was beginning to pick up on his tricks, but she had to leave.

Scootaloo and the colt waved goodbye to the little filly, and stepped out of the pool.

“You’re really good,” Scootaloo said, “I hate to admit it, but you’re better than me.”

“Takes a big character to say it out loud,” the colt said smugly, “but you’re pretty good yourself. You could be doing this as a sport when you’re bigger. I’m Circuit, by the way.”

“I’m Scootaloo,” Scootaloo said, “I like playing around, but I’m not sure ... about being bigger ... I mean, if sports are the right thing for me. Do you do any sports?”

“I’m in my school’s swimming team,” Circuit said.

“Oh,” Scootaloo said, “could have told me that before you started shooting cannonballs at me.”

“And miss out on all the fun? Nah,” Circuit said with a wink. Scootaloo stuck out her tongue. “Anyway, I’m going to the big pool. Come find me when you’re around, okay?”

“Sure,” Scootaloo said, “won’t be difficult spotting that bright red tail of yours.”

He smirked. “Alright then,” Circuit said, “I’ll be keeping an ear out when you come crinkling my way. Toodles.”

He was gone before Scootaloo could muster a response. Fluttershy laughed.

“You really had that one coming, Scoots,” she said, “now come, I brought your floaties.”

Truth be told, Scootaloo had kind of forgotten about her diaper. Her plastic pants were dripping with water and clung heavily to her legs and her rear, but the inside had remained mostly dry, the diaper underneath fluffy fresh as ever, except for maybe the one or other droplet of water that had snuck its way inside. The feeling was truly alien, because the plastic clung to her as if it was sopping wet, but the water just dripped out of its many little folds when Scootaloo moved, and her fur on the inside was clearly dry.

The rustling sound, however, was undeniably loud. Scootaloo’s plastic wrapped butt squeaked and crinkled with every movement. The little filly from before had had a diaper on too, but she had been mostly sitting or crawling, not prancing around like Scootaloo, and drawing everypony’s attention. Maybe Scootaloo should take a page from the filly’s book.

Fluttershy picked up the floaties and slipped them up Scootaloo’s forelegs. Taking one of the little valves between her teeth, she blew it up. One or two blows, and the little plastic sleeve was taut.

“Tight enough like that?” Fluttershy said, “It should be comfortable, but not too loose, or it’ll fall off.”

Scootaloo shook her leg, but the inflated plastic stayed in place perfectly. “It’s snug,” she said.

“Good,” Fluttershy said, and blew up the other one in a similar fashion.

They carefully moved between the deckchairs. Ponies were sleeping on many of them. How was that even possible with all the excited foals running about and causing a ruckus? Scootaloo wanted to take off as well, but she could hardly move with the bulky inflatables around her forelegs, and the no less bulky plastic between her hind legs. But the bulk was there for her own protection, so she had to suck it up, and keep waddling along beside her mommy.

Most ponies gathered around the big pool. It was decorated like a beach, the tiled floor ramping smoothly into the water. Scootaloo waded in, joining the other foals in the most shallow parts. Fluttershy walked past, and then turned around, picked Scootaloo up, carried her into deeper water, and let go.

Floating in the water. No ground. No weight. There was a brief moment of unease due to the lack of standing ground, but then the floaties pulled Scootaloo up, and kept her comfortably far above the surface of the water. She could splash and kick about as much as she wanted, but she always stayed on top.

“This is amazing,” Scootaloo said. It was like floating in a dream.

Fluttershy kicked herself away, and glided on the water, turned around and dove under. Ponies were splashing about. A pool toy floated past, and some fillies tried to climb onto it, but there were some other fillies on top and pushed the intruders off. Soon, Fluttershy emerged on Scootaloo’s other side, shaking water off her muzzle.

A group of youngsters had obtained a bunch of floating foam noodles, and tried to knock each other over with them, resulting in a large fallout zone of splashing water. Scootaloo prudently avoided them as she paddled a round.

Fluttershy swam elegantly, coiling and rowing under the water, and curling around other ponies in an impressive display of agility. Meanwhile, Scootaloo did her best to kick the water away with her hooves, and let herself drift towards her destination. It was the best she could do, her particular attire left her little choice in terms of propulsion.

Fluttershy walked out of the water and sat on the pool’s edge. Scootaloo drifted in her direction, but then she spotted a familiar red tail sharking across the surface of the water. She changed her course to intercept it.

“Hi, Circuit,” Scootaloo said as soon as he surfaced.

“Oh hey, Scootaloo,” Circuit said, “You made it in time.”

“In time for what?” Scootaloo said.

“Look, they’re getting ready,” Circuit said.

Three pegasi from the staff (including the lotion guy) had been doing work overhead. They had been gathering a large, ripe, dripping cloud, and maneuvered it towards the far end of the big pool, which had been cleared out. The three ponies didn’t touch the cloud directly, but rather held it with long shiny rods, and pushed it towards the water’s surface.

“Fillies and gentlecolts,” one of the staff addressed the pool-goers, “how are we feeling today?”

The young crowd erupted into a jumble of joyful cheers.

“That’s what I like to hear,” the pegasus said, “Now, I believe the tide is turning, and there’s a strong current coming in.” The other pegasi made some wind for effect. “Who’s ready for the waves?”

The crowd cheered even louder, a cacophony of foal screams so loud, Scootaloo had to hold her ears. The staff got to work promptly.

They grabbed their cloud with the sticks and flew down, pushing it into the water. The cloud was already at capacity, so it roiled, and bounced back from the surface. The staff pushed again, and this time it went deeper, and the cloud further repelled the water before pulling it back up. The cloud was pushed and pulled in a steady rhythm, going deeper and rebounding higher, and the water began circling out in smooth, even waves.

The waves rippled through the crowd, and heads began bobbing up and down on the water. Ponies grinned at each other, pulled each other over the waves, began paddling and trying to surf the crests. Circuit grabbed Scootaloo by the hoof and took her further inward.

Many ponies had sought refuge on floating toys and air mattress. They erupted into cheers when the waves began breaking, and shook them up and threatened to capsize them, but the turbulences were no match for their vehicle and its skilled crew, as they rode along the foamy crowns in wide arcs around the pool. The foaming waters were prickly and refreshing, dousing Scootaloo from the cresting waves, as well as crashing off the pool walls.

The wavemakers bounded deeply into the pool, the lowest point almost at its floor and the apex rising above the surroundings, ponies happily tumbling and bouncing all over.

Circuit indicated Scootaloo to follow him and dove into an incoming wall of water. Scootaloo was transported up and fell back down, and then she coiled and kicked herself into the next wave. For a moment, everything was only water, but her floaties immediately pulled her up and made her break out through the water’s surface. The wave carried her along and propelled her into its curve. She was surfing! She didn’t even need to paddle to keep up, like Circuit, because her floaties took over all the hard work. This was awesome!

They ended up being washed ashore, but as soon as they were on stable ground, they scrambled among all the other ponies to get back into the fray. This time, Scootaloo swam up a wave as high as she could and shot over the apex, enjoying an amazing moment of airtime. There, on top of the world, she was weightless, silent for a moment, awed by the sight. She could see the entire hall and everypony from above. Fluttershy was there, keeping an eye on her. Scootaloo waved to Fluttershy, but then she was enveloped by water again.

Scootaloo couldn’t get enough of the splashy bubbly chaos. It was just too much fun. Somepony gave her a foam noodle, and Scootaloo held on to it for as long as possible, trying to ride on it before she slipped off and ultimately lost it to the high sea. There were many more toys in the pool, foam boards and balls and floating sticks and bands, but Scootaloo found she liked the water’s unbridled and intimate contact the most, the liquid opulence streaming over her skin and her face and through her mane, suffusing her fur and her ears and her tail, cleansing her entire being in elemental magnificence.

The waves ended eventually, weakening gradually until they were gone, and the sodden cloud was finally released from duty and brought away. But the pool party never stopped, heaps of young ponies splashing and swimming around each other, fully utilizing the pool toys in high spirits.

Scootaloo found Circuit again, and they swam together to where most of the activity was. A bunch of ponies had commandeered a massive inflatable donut, and sailed it across the tides. It was literally a donut, it even had chocolate frosting and sprinkles painted on. Colts and fillies were slipping from it left and right and clambered up again, knocking everypony else into the water in the process.

Circuit swam up to the donut, and sprung directly out of the water, leapt over everypony (despite his feathers being dripping wet), and landed on top of the plastic inflatable. Wow. How could somepony fly like that? Even Rainbow Dash had trouble flying when she came directly out of the water.

Scootaloo wanted to be on top too. She climbed up the donut’s side and buzzed her wings as hard as she could, but she slipped back down into the water.

“Can you help me up? I can’t fly,” she called out to Circuit.

Scootaloo choked.

Had she really just said that?

The words had come out, just like that. And those particular words don’t just, come out like that.

The only time Scootaloo had felt like this was when she was together with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. Only her closest friends had been able to take the edge off. With them, Scootaloo didn’t have to awkwardly weasel out of social situations before attention was brought to her physical deficiencies. She didn’t have to constantly turn away in an attempt to hide her malformed wings. The Crusaders were aware, of course, but, considerately, they never talked about it. And Scootaloo was grateful for that, but, in all the world, the Crusaders had been the only ponies where she wouldn’t have minded.

Would Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom get along well with Circuit?

The crimson-maned colt flew back down to Scootaloo, grabbed her around the chest and lifted her out of the water, carrying her onto the inflatable pool toy.

Scootaloo was dropped off on top, her hooves sinking into the soft plastic. She was Circuit’s second in command, and helped him shout orders at the rest of the donut crew. Somepony gave her a foam noodle. A group of pirates had capsized a nearby vessel, and began heading for theirs, greed in their eyes. Scootaloo rowed for her life.

Fluttershy had almost fallen asleep. The bubbles droned on, rising all around her body, making their way along the sensitive curves and tingling creases before popping on the surface, stimulating her by now benumbed being in ways that she hadn’t thought possible. According to the sign, this was supposed to be a mineral bath, infused with essential minerals that were especially good for the skin, but Fluttershy had remained for the irresistible bubbly goodness.

Scootaloo and Circuit approached, both dripping wet from nose to tail, and panting from exhaustion.

“You two sure look like you’ve enjoyed yourselves,” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo sighed as she entered the hot tub. She let herself fall into the water and just relaxed, floating wherever the bubbles pushed her. “It was awesome.”

“Yeah, it was great,” Circuit said, “they don’t usually make the waves this high, but they went all out this time.”

The drift had carried Scootaloo straight to Fluttershy. Scootaloo suddenly felt like getting a hug, so she swam closer. No words were needed, Fluttershy immediately embraced Scootaloo, one hoof around her back and the other around her rear, and held her tightly. Scootaloo quieted down and rested her head in the fur on Fluttershy’s chest, the bubbling water in one ear and Fluttershy’s even breathing in the other.

“Are you here alone?” Fluttershy said softly.

“Oh … uhm,” Circuit said. He had tried not to look like he was sneaking glances at their display of affection, but he hadn’t been very good at it. “No, I’m actually here with my sister. She’s, uh, I think she’s up there. Somewhere.”

He indicated one of the bathtub-clouds overhead, and, indeed, somepony was laughing, and a wild tangle of hooves, wings and tails peeked over the edge. They didn’t even care that they were splashing water over the edge, so intensely were the cloud’s occupants engaged with each other. Scootaloo quickly looked away, before she could catch what they were doing up there in too much detail.

On the far side of the hall was the doubly-wound loop of one of the slides. A trail of water spraying out the top indicated the location of the current occupant.

“Whoa,” Scootaloo said, “These slides look amazing. Are they any good?”

“Why don’t you try for yourself?” Circuit said.

Scootaloo gasped. “Can we, mommy? Please?” she said.

“I suppose -- uh, okay, okay I’m coming,” Scootaloo already scrambled out of the tub, and Fluttershy was being dragged out by the hoof, leaving Circuit splaying across their spots.

The slide looked amazing. Amazingly high to be precise.

A flight of steps spiraled upwards to the entrance platform. A jet of water was hungrily consumed by the slide’s gaping entrance. The line of waiting ponies diminished rather quickly, evidencing the installation’s rapid throughput.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “It looks a daunting.”

“It looks awesome,” Scootaloo said.

“Um, I wonder if they even let little fillies ride on there,” Fluttershy tried.

“It’s fine as long as she’s accompanied by an adult,” the attendant said, “It’s your turn, so go ahead.”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said. She bounded ahead, dragging Fluttershy up the stairs.

The height was dizzying. Tiles and pools and water and deckchairs were laid out below like the map of some bizarre landscape. Staff and visitors were flying below their level, the collective warmth and moisture from the entire hall a distant echo of all that went on down there, as Scootaloo, for just a moment, timeless and aloof, stood on top of the world.

“Okay, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “but be sure to hold on to me as well as you can, so you don’t-- aieee!” Fluttershy squealed as they went into the slide’s colourful maw.

Scootaloo couldn’t stop laughing. The stream carried her away, and the feeling of weightlessness was bringing her stomach aflutter as she shot smoothly down the spiralling tube. The slide twisted and wound around itself, launching her up the sides in smooth arcs and splashing water all over her, each curve like an airy dream, up and down, glide and tumble, the unadulterated joy of motion.

The resonating echo fell away as they went down an open stretch. The cooling wind brazenly enlivened Scootaloo’s face, and it was carelessly refreshing to know that everypony underneath the tubes was being given a good shower right now. Even Fluttershy had stopped yelping and started to enjoy the ride, although she didn’t loosen her grip on Scootaloo. Soon came the ride’s highlight, a spiral downwards winding several times, the centrifugal force pushing them onto the wall vertically, as the world spun dizzyingly.

The slide ended, and Scootaloo was deposited straight into the water. Fluttershy followed right after, dousing her with the splash, both of them yowling as they disentangled from the chaotic mayhem.

“That was so cool,” Scootaloo panted, and let herself drift on the water, laughing.

Fluttershy shook her head, unable to decide whether to get the water out of her nose or out of her ears first.

“Well, it certainly was exciting,” she said, and pulled Scootaloo out of the way, to avoid collision with the other arrivals from the slide. They went toward the ladder. “Although I think we should sit down for a moment,” Fluttershy finished.

“Really? I thought you guys made a spectacular entrance,” said a familiar voice. It was the mare from the theatre, standing on the edge of the pool, watching them with uncharacteristically normal bemusement.

“Hi, Hera,” Scootaloo said.

Hera gasped. “Ooh, look at you,” she cooed, “isn’t that just the most adorable little swimming outfit? Oh, I just need to get a closer look. How adorable! Come here, you.” And there went the illusion of normalcy.

Scootaloo was lifted out of the water and put on the ground, dripping wet. The world was still spinning a bit, and Hera’s incessant fawning didn’t exactly help her regain her orientation.

“I can’t believe it! Just look at those adorable little floaties,” Hera said, “You’re tucked in just so nice and safe, aren’t you? Oh, and those cute little swim panties! Isn’t that just the best way to go out for my little sugar filly? Isn’t it?”

“Would you please refrain from talking so loud,” a newspaper on a nearby deckchair said, “the volume is ally to the pain in my head.”

“Oh quit whining, you grouch,” Hera said, “you didn’t seem to have any problems with the loud music yesterday. Would you do the polite thing and get up to say hello?”

Klieg groaned as he discarded the newspaper and sat up. “I do not remember you abstaining yesterday either,” he said, “but I am relieved to see friendly faces who can appreciate a spell of calm and quiet.”

“Well, more or less calm,” Fluttershy said, her head askew as she still shook water from her ear.

“The slide was so cool!” Scootaloo said, “We went up and then we went down, and it was so fast, and there was water everywhere!”

“I know, right?” Hera said, “And the best part about this slide is when you go in circles really fast like a big whirlpool. ”

“Are the other slides so cool too?” Scootaloo said, “Can we ride them too?”

“Uhh,” Fluttershy said.

“I know! I’ll go on the slides with you, Scootaloo,” Hera said, “how’s that sound? Klieg can take Fluttershy to the saunas in the meantime. It’s unbearably quiet there, they’d surely love it.”

“A sauna?” Fluttershy said, “that sounds rather nice.”

“And they do not allow wailing foals inside, which is a big plus in my balance sheet,” Klieg commented.

“Will you be alright?” Fluttershy said.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got everything under control,” Hera said, “right, Scootaloo? Uh, Scootaloo?”

“Come on! Let’s go! Please!” Scootaloo called from halfway to the next slide.

“Boy, that filly really knows how to have fun,” Hera said, “See ya later.”

Part 10

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A splash. Deep. Dull. Dark. Delightfully direct.

They resurfaced from the water. Hera tugged Scootaloo out of the way, before the next pony came out of the slide. They laughed all the time.

“Now this was a good one,” she said, “I don’t think we ever went this fast.”

“And we’re faster when we grab each other,” Scootaloo panted, “Because together we have more weight, or something … we should try it again.”

They climbed out of the pool, but Hera held Scootaloo by the tail before she could run away.

“Now hold on there for a moment,” Hera said, “I believe swimming rules say you gotta take a break regularly, before you wear yourself out. Look, show me your hoof.”

Scootaloo held her hoof out. It was trembling.

“What does it mean?” Scootaloo said.

“It means you’ve used up more energy than your body can produce,” Hera said, “Something like that is easy to miss when you’re having fun, because you can’t always feel when it happens. But you still gotta pay attention.” She leaned in close, looked Scootaloo straight in the eyes. “And in case it does happen, you very urgently need a cure.” She stared with debilitating intensity.

“W-what’s the cure?” Scootaloo said.

Hera leaned closer, their noses almost touching. Then she broke out into a grin. “Sugar!” she said. “What you need is a nice, fat, sweet treat!”

“Yay!” Scootaloo cheered.

Leaving everypony’s fun and games behind, they went to a small, secluded area in the corner of the hall. A few potted plants created a thin but surprisingly efficient sound barrier for the little tucked away cafeteria. There were a bunch of small tables, though no chairs, and tons of ponies sat around, and took their swimming rules really seriously.

Scootaloo’s mouth watered as Hera ordered. They went to a table holding a steaming waffle, dripping with butter and loaded with chocolate and cream, as well as a big chilled glass of sweet lemonade.

Hera settled at the table. Scootaloo wanted to take her seat as well, but Hera pulled her close.

“Where do you think you’re going, silly?” she said, “come sit with me.”

Scootaloo was cradled against Hera’s chest and sat down in front of her. Hera reached around Scootaloo to rip off a piece of the chocolate covered waffle and proceeded to happily stuff it into Scootaloo’s mouth.

Scootaloo felt an instinct to resist the infantile treatment, but then she came to her senses, and gluttonously chewed down the piece, licking her lips. Why would she refuse such a fantastic treat? Besides, Hera seemed to enjoy so much taking care of a foal. Scootaloo was just doing her a favor, really.

“Mmhh … tastes … so good …” Scootaloo said, holding her mouth open for the next piece.

The waffle was actually pretty basic, but never had a luxurious helping of creamy sugary goo tasted this good. The sweetness hit the spot perfectly, Scootaloo’s tired limbs waking up with new vigour with each bite.

“Of course it does,” Hera said, “you gotta treat yourself every now and then.”

“There are an awful lot of ponies here,” Scootaloo said, “are they also taking breaks from swimming?”

“Yeah,” Hera said, “What I said before was no joke, the swimming rules are there for a reason. If you’re going to put a lot of time into something, you gotta make sure you regularly take care of your basic needs. Always take a break and unwind for a moment regularly when engaged in physically or mentally demanding activity. It’ll make all the difference for how long you can go.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said, “makes sense.” And it was the perfect justification for this tiny excess.

They finished the waffle together. Now, Hera held the glass of lemonade to Scootaloo’s lips. The lemonade was very sweet, but the ice cubes made it chilling and refreshing. Scootaloo thought she had to drink excruciatingly slowly, although Hera would probably say her liquid intake would be the most optimal this way or something.

Either that, or she was just really enjoying feeding Scootaloo.

“And there, all done,” Hera said, “wasn’t too bad, was it?”

“It was really good,” Scootaloo said, “thank you.”

“Oh, you’re welcome, my little sugar plum,” Hera said, “here, let’s get you tidied up.”

She wiped Scootaloo’s mouth off with a hoof, and fluffed up her cheeks and her soaked mane a bit, for good measure. Then Hera stood Scootaloo up, reached down, and pulled up the waist of her plastic pants.

“Everything nice and snug down there?” she said, “How about your diapers, Scootaloo? They still dry in this thing?”

“Um,” Scootaloo said.

She did not dare move as her underwear was adjusted, and just kind of stood still, enduring patiently, as the grown up lightly touched her on the flank, which was evident only by the rustling sound, because Scootaloo couldn’t feel a thing through the mounds of fluff and plastic. Still, though the sensation was foreign, it became clear that Hera had little idea what she was actually doing. While Fluttershy had handled Scootaloo’s diapers with poise and experience, Hera was now captivated by the haptic details, crinkling a bit of soft plastic under her hooftip, and marvelling at the sturdy elastic bands of Scootaloo’s baby panties.

“J-just a bit of water got through, I think,” Scootaloo said before it got too awkward.

Hera snickered. “Just water, eh? Well, that’s good to hear,” she said, “you’re just the most well-behaved little filly, aren’t you?”

Hera eventually sated on filly cuteness, and they were ready to depart. Scootaloo led the way back into the action. Somepony splashed into the water and engulfed Scootaloo with the blastwave. There was a group of fillies repeatedly going down the one slide that Scootaloo and Hera hadn’t tried yet. They joined with the fillies, climbing up the ride as a group.

The slide wasn’t really a slide in the traditional sense, but rather a pipe that fed into a large funnel. The ride required a number of ponies to go together, so the water level within the funnel would actually rise, but the real fun was twisting and sliding in the inward spiralling motion, and tumbling all over each other, which was better in a bigger group anyway. The squealing fillies, and the equally squealing Hera, eventually reached the center and were flushed down the exit pipe and dumped into the pool below.

The second run was even better than the first, because Hera and Scootaloo had figured out how to ball up in a way to harness the centrifugal force optimally. They managed to stay in orbit longer than anypony else. It took a few tries, but they improved their technique such that none could best it, and the other ponies waited for them at the exit, cheering for the big and the small filly as they bombed into the water, local celebrities for all of two glorious seconds.

Such perfection could hardly be contained to a single ride, though. Unfortunately, the first slide was a lost cause, the long helix didn’t allow for any significant gain in speed at all. The slide with the loop-de-loop, however, allowed for incremental improvement, and they went again and again until they managed to nearly double the airtime. Scootaloo hung at the apex of the twisting tube, clamping down on Hera’s cool swimsuit in order to stabilize their combined centre of weight, the world upside down, the audience anticipating their explosive emergence.

“Whoa, can you do that again?” somepony from the pool said.

“I think Scootaloo needs a bit of a break from all the excitement,” Hera said, Scootaloo trying to escape her grasp toward the slides again. “But I’m sure you all can beat the record. Try going as pairs, it helps a lot if you work together.”

“Great idea!” the pony said, grabbing her friend, “Come on, let’s go!”

Meanwhile, Hera and Scootaloo finally climbed out of the pool for good. They rested for just a moment.

“You’re really a hurricane in a bottle, you know that, Scootaloo?” Hera said, panting.

“But this is so fun!” Scootaloo beamed, “You’re the best slide partner ever!”

Hera smiled. “I’m very flattered,” she said, “You’re quite pro in the tube yourself. I imagine if we keep at it, I’ll even be able to match --”

Somepony was banging drums.

On the far side of the hall stretched the racing pool. There was nopony actually racing, but this side of the tracks was occupied by a crowd of ponies doing the most bizarre contortions, hooves sticking out of the water, backs arching, joints bent unnaturally far. What kind of profane ritual was this? Some of them were even dunking little foals into the water.

“Uh, what are they doing?” Scootaloo said.

But hera was grinning, to a worrying degree in fact. “Water gymnastics!” she exclaimed, “And look, they even have foal gymnastics mixed in. Come, it’ll be fun!”

“Water gymnastics?” Scootaloo said, “Do we have to? Isn’t that just for little babies?”

“Don’t be silly, Scootaloo, everypony can do water gymnastics,” Hera said, “and it’ll give you a good stretch so you won’t get sore. Now, come on.”

It wasn’t like Scootaloo could say no anyway, she was dragged along so much like a floating pool toy. They entered the racing pool, and joined the gymnastics group. The drummer knew perfectly well what she was doing, dragging out the rhythm as slowly as she could, so that everypony would keep stretching for as long as possible. But nopony seemed to mind, and happily proceeded to writhe in the water. Hera pulled her hind leg over her head and remained there, perfectly in tune with everypony else. She really knew what she was doing.

The next bongo bang had them arching their backs and stretching out, making the pool into a colorful field of tails. Then, everypony stretched their forelegs toward the sky as if Celestia herself was flying overhead. Now they all bent to the left and bent to the right alternatingly, creating funny little waves with the movement.

“Okay, and now our little fillies and little colts,” the instructor said, “it’s your time to shine! Let’s do the little birdie first!”

Everypony picked up their little foal. Before Scootaloo knew it, she was grabbed around the waist and held on the water’s surface.

“What does the birdie do, Scootaloo?” Hera said.

The other foals were beginning to flap their forelegs, sometimes even their wings, like a bird would do. Scootaloo stretched out her limbs and pumped them up and down, but her flailing around was so out of tune with everypony else, the waves of water caused by their movement hit her in the face, and she almost fell over. This wasn’t working at all.

“Try listening to the drum, Scootaloo,” Hear said, “Don’t think about it. Just feel. It’ll make it much easier. Feel the beat.”

Scootaloo listened to the beat and slowed down. She lifted her limbs at the same time and slapped the water just when the drummer hit her drums. Then she carefully waited until the next beat to do her next flap. Soon, Scootaloo could play the rhythm by herself, and she was moving along the waves wonderfully smoothly.

“There you go, Scootaloo!” Hera cheered, “You’re really good at this.”

“Now everypony, it’s time for the doggie!” the instructor said, “How does the little doggie make?”

Every foal began barking and giggling as they pedaled underwater.

“Wauf wauf!” Scootaloo barked as she kicked her legs and laughed along with Hera.

“Aren’t you just the cutest little doggie!” Hera cooed.

The exercises were working. Scootaloo could veritably feel the tension leaving her joints, and all the barking made her breathing deep and even.

“Now comes the turtle, come on everypony,” the instructor said.

Hera lifted Scootaloo out of the water so she could do the turtle. Scootaloo arched her back and pulled in her legs, wiggling them exactly like a turtle would do when swimming. This was awesome! Scootaloo was the best turtle ever!

“And now we’ll finish with the froggie,” the instructor said, “show us how froggies swim!”

“You’d better hold on to her,” the mare closest to them said, “or she’s gonna race off.”

“I’m, uh, I’m trying,” Hera said, struggling to contain frog-Scootaloo from escaping. “Scootaloo’s a bit of a whirlwind.”

The mare giggled. “Oh, aren’t they just the cutest when they learn how fast they can move,” she said, “little Scout here is just the same, but he’s too small to make any trouble yet. Hey, why don’t we let them swim together? They’ll surely get along.”

“Good idea, it’ll help me rein Scootaloo in,” Hera said, “Hey, Scootaloo, come back here and say hi to Scout.”

“Hi,” Scootaloo said.

Scout gurgled happily in response and proceeded to wiggle his little hooves. He wasn’t going to be a match for Scootaloo’s gymnastic prowess, but he was also just a little foal, so Scootaloo was obviously way more mature.

“I love how he’s dressed,” Hera gasped, “Look at those cute little swimming pants. Where did you get them?”

“Oh, I sewed them myself so we wouldn’t have to borrow some every time we came here,” the mare said, “but they’re not quite as watertight as those adorable little plastic panties of Scootaloo’s.”

Both mares giggled in a way that only the proud guardians of very little ponies could giggle. Very little ponies, of which Scootaloo, clearly, remained the more mature. To prove how mature she was, she tried following along with the grow-up exercises, but couldn’t quite muster the balance to keep upright because of her floaties, and it turned out more frustrating than fun.

The foal exercises were more up to Scootaloo’s speed, and doing them together with Scout made everything doubly exciting. The little colt was too young to rightly understand what they were doing, but he attentively observed Scootaloo in her top form, and he did his best to imitate her movements. Scootaloo slowed down and helped him get the hang of things, and soon the two foals were splashing about happily, in sync to the tune of the music.

By the end of the exercises, even the big ponies were exhausted, but it was a good kind of exhaustion, the kind that leaves muscles pleasantly abuzz with the joy of exertion, and the entire body relaxed. Scout was soon taken back to the baby pool, so Scootaloo and Hera ambled back to the deckchairs for a break.

Hera was surprisingly muscular for a pegasus. Her light marigold coat was a bit longer and more fuzzy than Scootaloo’s as well, looking quite weighty as it dripped heavily with water. Regardless, Hera moved effortlessly across the tiled floor, and Scootaloo, usually so fast and nimble, couldn’t quite move as freely because of her floaties, so she had to pay attention and waddle quickly in order to keep up.

Scootaloo bumped into something soft.

“Uh,” she said, “a palm tree?”

It wasn’t the only palm tree, the entire area behind the deckchairs was decorated with exotic trees and bushes to make it look like a tropical paradise.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Hera said, “but they’re not real. They’ve been trying to decorate this place to make it look like a beach, though it seems a bit … plastic, for my taste. Anyway, what’s important is over there.”

“Whoa,” Scootaloo said. From high above, water came pouring down out of the clouds and broke up along funnels and artificial leaves, creating smooth, thin waterfalls that ended in the pool. “Waterfalls! And is that a rainbow?”

“Yeah,” Hera said, “it’s supposed to be the super healthy bath, which is why they sprinkle a bit of rainbow in there. But the waterfall is only there to keep the warm air in, it leads to the outside pool. Wanna go explore?”

“Outside pool? That sounds awesome!” Scootaloo said.

Hera led the way through the thicket, between fake leaves and branches, cutting short the marked pathways. Past a particularly colorful decoration lay a large and mysterious door. Hera pushed through the doorway, and Scootaloo found herself in a clean, white hall.

It was a restroom.

“Just give me a moment real quick,” Hera said, “I just need to visit the little filly’s room. I’ll be fast, I promise. Can you stay right here in the meantime?”

“Sure,” Scootaloo said, and Hera went inside.

Right. There was that, thing, that grown-ups needed to do. Scootaloo had kind of forgotten about that. But no reason to complain, it only meant a few more moments for her to chill out.

There was a tiny fountain on the wall, shooting a little jet of drinking water into a tiny basin. Scootaloo walked over and took a few refreshing sips, and then she plopped down onto her butt.

The waiting room was decorated quite tastefully, the white tiles on the walls interspersed with equally white sculptures of landscapes and clouds. There were several little fountains spread across the walls, and a section of the tiles was even running slick with water, some kind of modern decorative installation.

It was exceedingly obvious why the room was arranged this way. The constant glittering and splashing of little streams of water everywhere was stimulating, to say the least, and was supposed to encourage the ponies coming through here to be quick about their business. After all, they should finish up fast and go back to their swimming activities, and spend money at the bar.

The stimulation was working remarkably well. Scootaloo, sitting there and listening to the sounds, rapidly needed to pee.

Now, Scootaloo was perfectly aware of what transpired, she just quite simply didn’t feel like doing anything about it. Her tummy instinctively tightened and her body made to relieve itself, but Scootaloo just remained comfy and relaxed, and let it happen. Nopony expected any different from a little foal anyway, she didn’t know how to control it, or even understand it, so she did like she was supposed to, and didn’t pay any further attention as she felt herself become as relaxed on the inside as she was on the outside. The tiles were smooth under her legs, heated to a pleasant warmth, the sound of trickling water almost lulled her in, the muted noise of distant activity a reminder of all the adventures she’d had, but here was Scootaloo, unwinding alone in the clean white hallway, only briefly feeling funny as she began to go tinkle freely underneath herself, before easing into ultimate relaxation.

There were waiting benches on the walls, but Scootaloo didn’t need them, she sat quite well on the tiled floor thanks to the soft cushion that had been wrapped around her hindquarters. The little fountains, faux classical embellishments of polished metal shining brightly, continued to dispassionately expel their little splashing streams of water. Scootaloo watched the dribble of water dance in the magical light, and she shuddered in primal relief, holding still and fully enjoying the awesome sensation as her stomach became continuously more nice and empty, and the funny feeling as the warm puddle on the ground grew bigger and bigger.

Somepony came in through the door, in a hurry. Scootaloo pulled her tail aside so the other pony could pass. She received a thanks in return and the visitor hurried into one of the bathrooms.

How silly. In the time it took ponies just to walk in there, Scootaloo had already almost finished up, and even now, she folded her hooves behind her head, leaned back against the wall, and basked in that wholesome sense of relief, as the last bit dribbled out. And the other pony had seemed so stressed too! Meanwhile, Scootaloo did nothing but chill. It was clear as day. Not having to use the bathroom was awesome. She wouldn’t trade her place for anything.

And so, Scootaloo sat and relaxed until Hera returned. “You’re such a good filly for waiting here,” Hera said, “Such a good filly you are. Let’s go see what these waterfalls have in store for us, shall we?”

Scootaloo was being praised too. Just awesome.

The installation above the tropical forest was quite pretty, despite being fake. The water coming from the clouds broke up on the leaves and drizzled a fresh sprinkle onto Scootaloo’s face.

“The rainbow is so pretty,” Scootaloo said.

A manifest rainbow hung above the pool. It wasn’t strong enough to quite reach the water, but small rainbow droplets steadily pitter-pattered into the pool and infused it with their colorful essence.

“Yeah,” Hera said, “It’s quite an opportunity to have a rainbow bath. The magical properties of a rainbow are said to -- Scootaloo, wait!”

But it was too late. Scootaloo hadn’t been able to resist, she had stuck out her tongue and caught one of the appetizing drops. Her mouth immediately contracted from the intensely bitter sensation. The rainbow didn’t actually taste of anything, but it went past Scootaloo’s senses, and it was sharp, stinging, electrifying, all at the same time, and it made her entire body shiver.

“Sorry, Scootaloo,” Hera laughed, “but rainbows are not exactly known for their taste.”

“Ugh,” Scootaloo spat, “I noticed.”

“Here, why don’t we go outside to take a breather?” Hera said.

She waded through the water and into the waterfall. Scootaloo waded after her and stepped through the thin sheet of water. And suddenly, she found herself outside. The air was significantly colder, so Scootaloo and Hera both promptly dropped into the water, up to their noses. A slight current carried them out into the pool landscape, which consisted of a bunch of underwater seats and decorations, and some free space inbetween.

The pool had a nice view over the outskirts of the city. They were a bit elevated and could see the roads and streets snaking across the cloudscape, lined with all manner of progressively smaller houses, be they cloud homes, stone or brick houses, communal buildings or even extravagant mansions made of glass and steel.

Beyond and above lay a wonderful assortment of clouds, clearly not all of them natural, but even the domestic ones blended in beautifully with the cloud-patterned sky. While the streets were rather empty, there was quite a bit of traffic in the air, ponies traversing the city at high altitude, and oftentimes diving to the lower city or rising to the upper city, past the outskirts. So many ponies, and everypony had somewhere to go. Scootaloo hadn’t imagined there’d be so many things to even do.

Hera grabbed Scootaloo and let themselves be carried off by the current. The current went in a circle around the pool, past a bunch of ponies lying on bubbly massage beds, a few ponies showering under some clouds, the most resilient ponies lying outside on deck chairs, somepony rebelliously jumping into the water, and back to the entrance again. They didn’t even have to do anything, the current carried them around by itself, so they just had to take it for a few more spins.

“Whoa, what’s that?” Scootaloo said.

“That’s the weather factory,” Hera said.

“I didn’t know Skyview had a weather factory,” Scootaloo said, “there aren’t even any lands to till, are there?”

“Oh, it’s not that kind of weather factory,” Circuit said, “that’s the tail.”

“Hiya, Circuit,” Scootaloo said, “where did you come from? And what’s the tail?”

“I was right here,” Circuit said, “You floated past me three times. Anyway, the weather factory supplies Skyview with water and regulates its climate. That’s why you see those pipes coming down from it. They call it the tail because it tails behind the city like that. But don’t tell my dad what they call it, I think he’d get upset.”

The weather factory had the typical look, large tanks and machines attuned to weather magic to keep the gears going, a large intake rotating through the huge cloud stockpile as steam and rainbows came from pressurization valves. But, indeed, this weather factory wasn’t floating independently, but was tethered to Skyview by a set of massive chains and huge piping threads that vanished into the city, bridges and houses growing on top of the massive structures. In fact, the reason this whole bath house was elevated was one such lone pipe, too.

“Ooh, does that mean we’re in water fresh from the source?” Scootaloo said, making a splash.

“Yup,” Circuit said, “And the rainbow, too. Straight from the factory. You rarely get to see something like that unless you work in there.”

“Wow,” Hera said, “your little friend is quite knowledgeable, Scootaloo.”

“Uh,” Circuit said, scratching his head, “my dad kind of heads the weather department, so he took me all the time.”

“Really?” Hera said, “Doesn’t that mean he’ll be at the science fair tomorrow?”

“Sure will,” Circuit said.

“Science fair?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah, they’ll have a science fair tomorrow in the upper city,” Circuit said, “I can’t be there since I have training, but you should go.”

“I’d venture to guess you’d rather enjoy it, Scootaloo,” Hera said, “from what I’ve seen so far at least. It’s a bit fluffed up for the tourists, but it’s interesting nonetheless.”

“Sure, that sounds fun,” Scootaloo said, “I’ll talk to Fl ... mommy about it.”

“Great,” Circuit said.

A scuffle broke out by a nearby doorway. The door was knocked open and two squealing ponies came racing out. It was Klieg and Fluttershy, their hot bodies steaming as they ran through the fresh wind. They spread their wings, and Klieg even made a little flip, as they threw themselves into a bunch of cloud, rolling around in the quickly forming frigid slush. Then, the two arrivals got up and scrambled over to the pool, and jumped in with a big splash.

“Celestia, that was just supremely invigorating,” Klieg panted.

“Oh yes, I feel rather refreshed,” Fluttershy said.

“My skin had not been graced with anything like this hibiscus-honey infusion, that one really had my blood pumping,” Klieg said. Without missing a beat, he twisted around, and pretend-accidentally put a hoof around Hera’s shoulders. “Oh, why hello there, young filly.”

“Klieg!” Hera giggled, swimming into his embrace, “Not in front of the little ones!”

“Um, I believe we’re done for the day anyway,” Fluttershy said, “so, we’ll just give you some space. Come.”

Scootaloo waved goodbye to the entangled ponies and followed Circuit and Fluttershy back into the building. Things were winding down, the slides starting to become empty and deckchairs being freed up. Fluttershy wrapped Scootaloo in a towel, and Circuit departed to get his things.

“So, have you been enjoying yourself?” Fluttershy said.

“It was the most awesome bath house visit I’ve ever had,” Scootaloo said, “Well, I didn’t even know they had bath houses this large.”

“I take it you got to try all the slides?” Fluttershy said.

“The slides were the best,” Scootaloo said excitedly, “Hera took me on all of them. First, we went on the twisty slide again, but we didn’t figure out how to go fast on that one until much later, when we started going at the same time. But that one made my head spin the most, the spiral just went forever. Then we also tried the one with the loop, that one was way faster. No wonder they had a warning sign in front.”

Fluttershy led her blabbering little filly back to the busy locker room. She took Scootaloo aside, unwrapped her from the towel, and, holding up Scootaloo’s hooves in turn, pulled the floaties off, and opened the valves to squeeze the air out. Then she gingerly reached around Scootaloo’s tail and unbuttoned the covered snaps. She hooked her hooves into Scootaloo’s plastic panties and pulled them down her legs.

Scootaloo was still relaying her encounter with the indoor rainbow, but the movement of all the ponies in the cramped space created a sense of urgency, and Fluttershy decided to free her hindquarters from the remarkably bloated diaper now rather than later. Most of it seemed to be just water, but the diaper had clearly served its intended purpose down the middle as well, which didn’t come as a surprise seeing how adorably excited Scootaloo was, chattering on incessantly, without even noticing as her sticky tapes were ripped open.

Fluttershy held the saggy bulk in place with one hoof and opened the tapes with the other. Scootaloo absent-mindedly wiggled her rear free of the sodden bulk, and the diaper fell away between her hind legs, sagging heavily within Fluttershy’s grasp. Fluttershy had navigated them skillfully close to the foal changing tables, and she easily dropped the soaked bundle into a disposal bin.

“And that’s when we were done and everyone bunched up in the middle and got dropped into the water,” Scootaloo recounted, her eyes glowing with recollection, “so that’s when we decided to call it a day. It was really cool. Um. And how was your visit to the sauna?”

“Oh, it was delightful,” Fluttershy said, “they did have a bunch of rooms at different temperatures. We started out at the coolest and worked our way up to the hottest. Would you take the shampoo, please?”

Scootaloo grabbed the shampoo and they went into the showers.

“I never thought I’d be able to go into a sauna so hot,” Fluttershy continued, “but in the end, it always seemed like the next one wouldn’t be so bad after all. The temperatures really made us sweat, but after a while, all that was left was a wonderful sensation of calm and peace. The chambers were very nice and quiet, too. They had those lovely infusions for us to choose. First we put on some strawberry juice and pine needles, but we moved on to lemongrass ... in the end, we got a bit carried away with the hibiscus ... but my skin feels really clean now at least.”

There were other ponies in the showers, much smaller ponies, foals even, who proudly showered on their own, like so many big and mature ponies. But Scootaloo didn’t care. She sat on the little plastic stool, water drizzling down her head, as Fluttershy lathered her up, gracing her ears with that wonderful voice. Fluttershy’s hooves touched her so softly, yet were so thorough in their purpose, as she spread shampoo all over both of them.

Scootaloo couldn’t help herself. She threw her forehooves around Fluttershy, bubbles and all, and hugged her, soapy skin sliding against lathered fur.

“Thank you so much for taking me, mommy,” Scootaloo said, “I can’t remember the last time anypony was so nice to me as you are.”

“I’m just glad you’re enjoying yourself, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, and hugged her back. She took the strategic opportunity to clean Scootaloo’s back, and under the pits of her wings.

“All of this, it’s amazing,” Scootaloo said, “I wish our trip would never end.”

“It’s not over yet, Scoots, we’ve still got some things to do,” Fluttershy said, “Remember the choir? And the upper city? There’s still plenty of fun to be had. Besides, I’ve the feeling we’re taking more with us than just good memories. I’ve been hearing good things about you recently.”

“Really?” Scootaloo said, “Huh, I didn’t think I’d ever hear those words.”

“Really,” Fluttershy said, “we’re having a good time, and that’s what matters. So don’t you worry your little head. Everything’s going to be fine.”

The embrace of warm water left them both squeaky clean. They exited the showers, and Scootaloo’s world became towel, as Fluttershy rubbed her off with a fresh fluffy cloth, leaving her fur soft and fuzzy to the touch. Her mane got all frazzled, but, looking at it more closely, it didn’t actually look much different from before, so whatever.

Fluttershy began toweling herself off. “Would you go and get a fresh diaper for you?” she said.

“Sure,” Scootaloo said and happily trotted across the locker room. There were many ponies abound, everypony getting themselves and each other dressed and pushing their way through, to and from the lockers. Scootaloo walked past stallions and mares and families, to the last row, and reached her stroller.

There were her diapers, neatly placed in the tray under the seat. She selected the one with the little lion on it, because she was feeling proud like a lion, and also fuzzy, so it seemed appropriate. And she had all reason to be proud, seeing how she could go and fetch her own diapers, all on her own, like a big pony. Oh, how jealous the other parents had to be of Fluttershy.

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said. One of the changing tables was free, and Fluttershy picked up Scootaloo, and lay her down on top of it.

As relaxed as Scootaloo was feeling, the diaper change wasn’t going to be very peaceful. The foal right next to them just wouldn’t stop screaming her head off, despite the mother’s best efforts of pacification. Scootaloo tilted her head up just to see who could make so much noise, and found herself looking into a very familiar little face.

“Oh, hey there, Scout,” Scootaloo said, “it’s me! Scootaloo! Remember? We were swimming together earlier!”

Scout immediately stopped crying and looked back at the newcomer. Before long, a huge smile spread on his face and he began laughing, and Scootaloo didn’t have anything else to say and began laughing too.

“Oh, thank Celestia you’re here, Scootaloo,” Scout’s mom said.

“That’s what I always say,” Fluttershy said, “You know my little filly? I’m Fluttershy.”

“Merry Winds, and I’m glad Scootaloo saved my ears,” she said, “Scout seems to beside himself ever since Scootaloo left. Good to see he enjoys the company.”

“I suppose it takes a foal to understand a foal,” Fluttershy said, “Speaking of which, think we could have some of your baby powder?”

“Sure,” Merry said.

Fluttershy had lifted Scootaloo’s hindquarters in the air and slipped the freshly fluffed out diaper underneath. Then she took the powder and gently sprinkled a generous helping onto Scootaloo’s butt. The fine powder was almost too soft to feel, and Fluttershy’s hoof glided very smoothly across Scootaloo’s skin, spreading the powder and working it into her fur.

Scootaloo relaxedly enjoyed the soft sensations. She was lowered back down onto the clean diaper, and Fluttershy parted Scootaloo’s legs so she could sprinkle more powder onto her lower stomach and the insides of her thighs.

But that was as far as Scootaloo’s confident pride went. In the most exposed possible moment, Circuit walked by, turned around and came straight to the changing tables. He stood up and joined their little round.

“Hey sis,” he said, “do you think we could -- oh, hey Scootaloo!”

“Wait, you’re his sister?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah,” Merry said, “and I see you guys know each other too.”

“Oh,” Scootaloo said, “so you’re the one who was up there, laughing all the time. Up in that funny cloud, doing … uh … “

“That’s right,” Merry said, “you saw us? It’s where me and the others hold our regular foal meets, and take our little ones to splash in the water together. The meet was lots of fun, wasn’t it, Scout?”

She wiggled Scout’s hoof, and Scout gave a blubbering giggle.

“Right,” Scootaloo said, “A foal meet.” That was totally what she had been thinking. Seemed fun enough.

“So, Scootaloo, um,” Circuit said, “see ya soon, then?”

“You bet,” Scootaloo said.

“Great,” Circuit said, “and thanks. It’s been pretty cool hanging out with you.”

He went in for a hug. It was probably the most awkward hug of Scootaloo’s life, as he kind of embraced her while she was laying on her back on the changing table, in the middle of getting her diaper changed.

“Told you so,” Fluttershy mouthed silently. Mercifully, she took her time with the powder, thoroughly massaging it into Scootaloo’s fur, with a hoof perfectly in place for some decent covering-up, until the little gathering was over.

“Alright, catch you later then,” Circuit said and vanished into the crowd.

Scout was already finished, and he and his mother left, when Scootaloo got her diaper finally pulled up over her stomach. Fluttershy taped Scootaloo up snugly, and sat her up to finish off her tail tape, rubbing the crinkly spot flat with a hoof. Scootaloo was put down on the floor, and the changing tables were immediately taken up by the next ponies already waiting in line.

Scootaloo ambled in Fluttershy’s wake through the crowd. The fresh diaper felt wonderful under her tail, the powder making it really soft and dry, and giving it a very nice sweet smell. Other foals smelled quite similar, and they kind of looked similar to Scootaloo, too, with their stubby little hooves working against their thick bulks. In fact, nopony really batted an eyelash as Scootaloo crinkled past in nothing but her diaper, because she was just another cute little foal in their eyes. Even the filly with the swim goggles was there, and Scootaloo waved, and she waved back, and that was all there is to it.

In the time it took Scootaloo to pull her shirt over her head, Fluttershy was already fully dressed. She helped Scootaloo further things along, putting on the jacket and fastening the skirt around Scootaloo’s waist, but she cast the pantyhose aside.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself in your diaper,” Fluttershy giggled, “how about we leave your pants out today? It should be warm enough to be wearing just the skirt.”

Scootaloo stood up, her hind legs curiously airy wearing just her skirt and diaper. The soft padding was super fluffy, unconstricted by any clothing as it was. In fact, the skirt wasn’t even long enough to fully cover the diaper, a bit of clean white plastic peeked out from under the hem.

“It’s perfect,” Scootaloo said.

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said, and helped Scootaloo put on her boots.

They packed their things into Scootaloo’s awesome stroller, the very awesome stroller Scootaloo loved so much getting strapped into. They left the bath house, and Scootaloo felt cleansed of her worries, and what remained was nothing but clean, unmarred joy.

Part 11

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Scootaloo craned her neck. The skyscraper just went on and on.

Well, technically, every house was a skyscraper, since they were in the middle of the sky, but this towering behemoth of dark glass and steel made every other structure look like somepony’s hobby project. Though that didn’t stop the many ponies in expensive looking suits and outfits from creating a bustle across the huge square, every seat and bench a place for formal discussion and exchange of documents.

Not everypony was actually a pony. Most prevalent were the gryphons, who looked quite peculiar, wearing neat suits and ties, their feathers, neatly bundled and adorned with subtle jewelry, poking out every opening and seam. They perfectly mimicked the most peculiar of them all, the massive statue at the center of the place, depicting a griffin lord, standing tall and wearing something halfway between a formal dress and royal regalia, and proudly holding up a tiny sheet of paper and a quill.

“In eternal decency and respect, The great houses gryphon-pony trade agreement,” Fluttershy read, “Because Friendship is Profit ... Hmm. That’s one way to put it, I suppose.”

“Whoa,” Scootaloo said, “what are they all doing here? Why are they all wearing ties?”

“We caught them during working hours, I guess,” Fluttershy said, “must be awfully important work they do when they’re all going into that big building.”

“I’ve never seen a building so high,” Scootaloo said, “is it the highest building in Equestria?”

“Um,” Fluttershy said, “I guess that depends on where you stand.”

“Look,” Scootaloo said, “the sign says there’s a restaurant on the bottom floor.”

“You’re right,” Fluttershy said, “What do you say, Scoots? Are you hungry? Wanna pay it a visit?”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said. Her stroller rolled smoothly over the marble slates, carefully steering clear of business deals and annual reports.

If the court outside was unusual, the restaurant was the epitome of eccentricity. It was more of a huge banquet hall than a dining room, every visible surface covered in decorations and decorated decorations, illuminated by massive chandeliers. The style just screamed classical pegasus engineering, smooth, sleek surfaces, marble, clouds and decorative pillars, but at the same time it was not. Most materials were either black or obsidian, countless jagged torches and magical lights imitated the light of day.

Obviously it wasn’t real cloud, because inside were the same wingless tourists as everywhere else. The dimensions were quite impressive, Fluttershy’s hoofsteps resounded from the walls as they entered the garderobe. It had more than enough room to park the stroller, and Scootaloo was unbuckled and lifted out, finally able to stretch her legs and shake out her tail from the long ride.

“Good day, madame,” the receptionist said, “and good day, little miss.”

Being this close to a big, scary griffin would have been a bit unsettling under usual circumstances, but she was so decently dressed in her modest costume and tie, you were hard pressed not to display the most proper manners yourself.

“Um, good day,” Fluttershy said, “We’d like to have a table for just us two. If it’s not a bother, that is.”

“Of course, this is not a busy hour,” the receptionist said, “you will have free choice of your table. Please follow me.”

The table could have housed an entire dinner soiree, but it was the smallest they had. On the plus side, they could barely hear the conversation from all the way over to the next table, so it would probably be a quiet and peaceful meal. Except maybe for the company of the waiter, who was already standing attention.

“Very good,” the receptionist said, “Greyson here will fetch a high chair for the little miss, and the entree will be served.”

“At once, madame,” Greyson said.

He leapt through the air as silent as an owl, and promptly returned carrying with an elaborate high chair that matched the polished wooden furniture.

“Um, okay,” Scootaloo said, but Greyson had already picked her up very gingerly, his claws dull beneath samite gloves. The high chair sported a little rubber pad on the seat to protect the wood from any possible accident, though the pad was obviously unnecessary, as Greyson softly sat Scootaloo down onto her thickly protected rear.

“Oh, thank you,” Fluttershy said as Greyson pushed her chair to the table.

“Of course, madame,” Greyson said, “do you wish to see the wine carte, or would it rather be our selection of fresh juices.”

“Um, juice will be fine,” Fluttershy said.

“Very good,” Greyson said, “my colleague will bring the entree, and I will return with the menu.”

Without missing a beat, he went over to the next table and began making polite jokes and conversation there, all the while teasing out the guests’ orders. Another griffon appeared by the table and put down a plate in front of Scootaloo and Fluttershy each.

“Uh, what’s this,” Scootaloo said.

“Um, looks like a … salad?” Fluttershy said.

In the middle of the oversized plate lay a single salad leaf, garnished with a walnut and some kind of reddish sauce. Strawberry, it turned out, when Scootaloo picked it up and ate it. Fluttershy decided to forego the large selection of cutlery and eat hers with her hooves too.

“Was it to your taste?” Greyson said, appearing at just the perfect moment.

“Tastes really good, actually,” Scootaloo said, “but it’s so small. That all we’re gonna get?”

“Oh, not at all,” Greyson laughed dryly, “it’s but gryphon custom to serve a meal in small and varied courses. It symbolizes the luxury of choice.”

“Gryphon custom?” Scootaloo said, “Is this, like, a gryphon place?”

“Oh?” Greyson said, “you don’t know about this location? Why you’re in Obsidian Tower, the largest building in the business district and symbolic seat of power to the great gryphon family of the Obsidian Claw, of course.”

“Great gryphon family?” Scootaloo gasped, “So it’s like the Pendaros and the other great families?”

Greyson chortled and smoothly passed it off as polite cough. “You’re quite well versed in history for your size, do you know that?” he said, “but no, not exactly like that. The Pendaros wouldn’t have allowed anyone who isn’t a pony to join their ranks, for starters.”

“Really?” Scootaloo said, “That’s mean.”

“Yeah,” Greyson said, “but those days are ancient history. The Obsidian Claw was one of the families who helped the city’s growth long after the rebellion, in no small part with the famous trade agreement to which you can see the monument outside.”

“Cool,” Scootaloo said, “Are you Obsidian Claw too?”

“Oh no,” Greyson laughed, “I actually ended up here studying sociology. This is just my summer job. Which reminds me, I need to get back to it. So, madame. What would be the main course.” He leaned in to whisper. “You should take the day menu, it’ll give you the most bang for your buck.”

“Um, the day menu please,” Fluttershy said.

“Very good,” Greyson said and winked before transitioning to the other table again.

The waiter soon brought the first course. It was a crispy fried roll served with a splatter of sauce, tasting of fresh juicy vegetables but also yummy fried batter. Scootaloo was allowed to eat on her own. It went fairly well, she thought, but Fluttershy ended up having to wipe Scootaloo’s mouth and hooves off with a napkin to make her presentable again.

The second course consisted of a light assortment of fresh fruit and a glass of mineral water to cleanse the palate. It was followed by tomato soup and a slice of toasted bread, which was pretty funny to eat because it made those pretty red splashes on the tray. The meal was rounded off by a nice piece of sponge cake with a small helping of jam.

“Wow, it really was a nice meal,” Fluttershy said, “I’m starting to get --”

The next course arrived. A spicy chicory salad. Relentlessly the courses followed, an assault of exotic compositions and sensual aromas, served to the most appetizing of arrangements. Poached eggs, fresh grapes, fried noodles, and a bit of apple foam for variety. Scootaloo valiantly helped Fluttershy clear off the food, but they needed to order a glass of fresh grape juice to wash it all down.

“This juice is really good,” Scootaloo said, “All of it tastes good.”

“The secret is,” Greyson said, “most of the ingredients are grown locally. You can’t make it any better than growing it yourself, that’s what my parents used to say.”

“Grown locally?” Fluttershy said, “I didn’t think you could grow much on a cloud city.”

“You guys not from here, huh?” Greyson said, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you take a little detour along the ring when you go back into the city? I think you’ll like what you find.”

“Great,” Fluttershy said, “I believe we could use the exercise.”

“Don’t worry,” Greyson said, “you’re almost through.”

There was only another plate of vegetable slices, and then the meal was topped off with a serving of little chocolate plates. Scootaloo sat back and rubbed her full tummy, as the table was cleared. She gave Greyson a little hoof bump when nopony was looking. Hopefully that would let him know how cool he was.

“Oh boy, I’m stuffed,” Scootaloo said.

“Tell me about it ... oof ...” Fluttershy said. She strained to lift Scootaloo out of the high chair, and barely managed to heft her overfull filly over the wooden tray, Scootaloo’s tail and hind legs dangling.

“Hey,” Scootaloo said abashedly, “I’m not really that heavy ... or am I?”

“It was a joke,” Fluttershy giggled, and gave Scootaloo a kiss on the cheek. She lightly placed her on the floor, and slowly and comfortably, they ambled back to the stroller, got strapped in, and entered out the little palace back into the world.

Business ponies and gryphons were still abound, although most went about their work at a more leisurely pace, the stress and tensions of earlier going up in thin air, as meetings concluded and contracts were signed. Fluttershy followed the masses of ponies away from the square, since most of them looked like they had the same goal in mind. She was content to stretch her legs a bit, and Scootaloo relaxedly crossed her hooves behind her head and enjoyed the ride.

The streets between the corporate office buildings were remarkably faceless. Apart from the street signs, it was impossible to tell them apart, the same pavings and fronts of metal and glass repeating over and over, and Fluttershy felt like she would have been rather lost if not for the business ponies’ inscrutable clairvoyance, heads all buried in newspapers, but still apparently finding their destinations.

Now their voyage opened up into a gigantic avenue. A very broad paved street ran between rows of walkways and greenery, overflowing with the most lively bustle imaginable. Scootaloo had no idea how anypony could get anywhere amidst these solid walls of bodies. Within the commotion she caught glimpses of the horizon, the street stretched on in either direction, and was perfectly curved in the distance.

“This must be the, ring, Greyson was talking about,” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “Look at all these ponies! And they’re all here, bunched up on this street. What are they doing? Where are they going? And how does the cloud hold up all the ... Hey! What’s that? Look, that coach! It’s driving by itself ... ”

“That’s a cable car, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “it’s like a train, but it’s being pulled along the rails by a really long cable. Most big cities have them, because they can carry many ponies at once, and are quite efficient with space and energy.”

“Cool,” Scootaloo said, “can we ride it?”

“Um, maybe later,” Fluttershy said, “I don’t think anypony’s having much luck with that right now.”

The cable cars rumbled past, dinging their little bells at regular intervals, and they were completely and utterly brimming. There wasn’t a hair’s breadth of space left in the cabins, and still ponies jumped to and from, sometimes even on top of, the vehicles, in order to hitch a ride. So, walking it would be, then.

Almost every building was some kind of shop or store, huge colorful signs and decorations screaming for attention toward a matter of special sale or incredible offer that all came only once in a lifetime. In fact, most stores weren’t even sticking to their own premises, and spilled their stands and stalls out onto the street. It was like a bizarre rendition of a day market, where everypony was trying to sell egregiously useless junk en masse.

As Fluttershy navigated her way through the crowd, criers incessantly praised their wares, from raw materials and textiles at discount prices to spare parts and baubles and trinkets with the longest guarantees. There were still many gryphons among them, and boy, did they make good criers, Scootaloo noted, clamping down on her ears.

“They sure have a lot of junk around here,” Scootaloo said, “I wonder if we couldn’t find anything useful.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “how about we look around a bit? I’d love to find something to bring back as a souvenir for the girls.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “it’d be really neat if I could bring back something for Applebloom and Sweetie Belle as well.”

Empowered by a little bit of money that Fluttershy gave her, Scootaloo took off and plunged into the fray.

Ponies were gathered around a nearby stall. The merchant held up countless necklaces made from supposedly real opals found in the vast canyons of the badlands. Scootaloo could see the color coming off some of the so-called jewels, and decided to leave this offer to the ponies who were trying to climb on top of each other to get one.

The next stall had more sensible things on display, a few nice pens, quills and pretty bound notebooks, but this one was besieged by customers as well. And these ponies were much more economically inclined, more than one of them pressed heads together with the merchant and tried to haggle down the price in a shouting match of unreasonable numbers, and even more unreasonable counter-numbers. No, thanks. Scootaloo didn’t feel like it.

Most stores were like that, assortments of random junk or aggressive marketing strategies, employed by the merchants as well as the customers, and sometimes even both. That is, until Scootaloo came across one peculiar stall.

It wasn’t so much a stall than a crate providing shade from the sun. Sitting on the ground in the shade was a small drake, or maybe a lizard since he had no wings, completely still with his eyes closed. He wore simple clothes, and his only jewelry seemed to be some kind of spiritual symbol. Laid out were mostly raw materials in various shapes that told Scootaloo nothing, but one thing in particular caught her attention.
It was a small piece of reddish rock, but it was strewn with countless small, perfectly octagonal crystals, shining a strong and pretty anthracite color.

“I wonder what that is,” Scootaloo said to herself.

“Mineral,” the drake hissed. Wait. How could he have known what she was looking at without opening his eyes?

“Looks kind of valuable,” Scootaloo said, “where’s it from?”

“Dunfurrow mountains. Far east,” the drake said, “Mineralogy institute not interested. So I sell.”

A pretty mineral from a far away mountain? That was kind of cool. Scootaloo stepped up and carefully put the bits on the ground. Then she took the mineral. When she looked up, the bits were gone. The drake continued sitting motionless. That probably meant the transaction was complete.

The mineral was really neat. The little geometric pebbles felt faintly, but unmistakably, magical. They wouldn’t be able to do anything big with it, but it was a pretty decoration for the clubhouse, and maybe Sweetie Belle could make it glow at night. Scootaloo went back to the stroller and stashed her find in a side bag.

Something else had caught her eye on the way. An old mare was sitting behind a smaller display table. The table was about the height of a colt or a filly, and was laden with an arrangement of brightly colored little things that was sure to reel in any little pony passing by. There were scraps of colorful paper and differently sized stubs of crayons, little plastic figures and toys in various states of disrepair, dollhouse parts and decorations, a pile of unidentifiable slime, tattered books, and a wide range of different kinds of wholly useless trinkets.

That wasn’t what had caught Scootaloo’s interest, though. Her sole focus was on the prize perched atop the mountain of junk.

Glinting in the sunshine was the little plastic handle of a foal’s pacifier, the small plastic ring that was attached to a remarkably pretty mouth guard, elegantly curved to cover the lips and the outer mouth area. The soft, gentle rubber nipple exerted an irresistible allure, it’s shape was ideal, formed to perfectly fit and delight tongue and mouth.

The mere sight made Scootaloo’s mouth water. Literally. She had to swallow several times before she could muster up the composure to even think about how to get it. And the pacifier had to be hers. The old mare knew it, too, her eyes were already trained on Scootaloo, satisfied that she had caught another one.

But could Scootaloo just waltz up there and buy the pacifier? Surely the merchant would know that it was for her. Maybe she should buy something else with it? Then again, even if she did, the conclusion would still be quite reasonable by the way she was clothed. Maybe she should go back and have Fluttershy buy it for her.

Scootaloo’s decision was cut short when another pony appeared from the crowd. A little filly had stopped by the table, eyes alight on the very same pacifier as she set direct course on it.

“Mine!” Scootaloo said. She leapt forward and snagged the pacifier for herself.

“Hey! No touching, you rascal,” the old mare croaked, “you grab it, you pay for it.”

“Okay, okay,” Scootaloo said, hoofing over her money, “here, just take it.”

“What? You think you can just buy me out?” the mare said, coins already vanished, “Well, I’ll let it slide this time. But you’d better be glad I don’t charge you extra for your cheek!”

“Whatever,” Scootaloo said. She no longer paid attention, for she held in her hooves her remarkable prize. The little pacifier was the pure embodiment of luxurious delightful calm. Every foal had one. And it made sense, because, with a pacifier in her mouth, her adventurous journey through the world was completed with comfort and relaxation that made every little filly feel like she could achieve anything. The big city with all its wondrous sights and intense impressions would never again be a match for Scootaloo when she was armed with the soothing powers of her new pacifier.

Finally, it was time. She had been curious for so long. Now, she would find out for herself how one of these tasted. Scootaloo held up the pacifier and was about to bite down on it, but she couldn’t.

The little filly still stood there, making herself very tiny, ears splayed in dejection. Her big, wavering eyes never lost track of the pacifier she had been so close to having, yet, locked up in Scootaloo’s hooves, the stride’s distance between her and her prize was further than the length of the oceans.

The sight was gut wrenching.

“I’m so sorry,” Scootaloo said, “I didn’t mean to take it away from you. Here, you should have it. It’s only fair that way because I was so selfish earlier. Take it.”

She put the pacifier in the filly’s hooves. The filly beamed, brighter than the sun, gasping excitedly before she promptly plopped the pacifier in her mouth. Then she hugged Scootaloo and toddled away with a spring in her step.

“Well, ain’t that a sight for sore eyes,” the old mare said, though Scootaloo couldn’t tell whether she was being sarcastic or genuine. “Hey, Hunk! Where’d that box of foal stuff go again?”

“Trash pile two, box four,” came the reply from inside a building. The mare expertly reached into a pile of junk under the table and rummaged around in it before pulling out another pacifier.

The pacifier was breathtakingly beautiful. It was much bigger than the other one, but the rubber nipple curved with such a soft, supple elegance that it would have conformed any mouth. The plastic handle had little patterns engraved so as to delight the hooves that held it, and the mouth guard was curved to fit the shape of the wearer’s jaw snugly. And it wasn’t just boring, old plastic, but the violet material was half translucent and completely suffused with stunningly pretty little glitters.

The pacifier, still wrapped in factory sealed plastic foil, was dropped straight in Scootaloo’s hooves.

“Here you go,” the old mare said.

“But …” Scootaloo said, “but I don’t have any money left.”

“Way I see it,” the mare said, “you paid for a pacifier, so you’re getting a pacifier. I’m not a rip off, you know. Well. Not always, at least. Now git!”

Pushing through the crowd, Scootaloo bounded back to the stroller. Fluttershy was already waiting there for her.

“Mommy!” Scootaloo said, “Mommy look what I got!”

“Slow down, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, but Scootaloo wouldn’t be stopped. The big little filly approached eagerly, and presented her newest possession. “Oh my,” Fluttershy giggled, ”So that’s what’s got you so excited. That’s a really pretty pacifier you have there. Is it yours?”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said.

“It’s cute,” Fluttershy said, “and look how it glitters. Like the stars! And it looks really sturdy, too. I bet it was made for very excitable little ponies. Do you want to try it out?”

She needn’t have asked, because Scootaloo was already standing basically on top of her, wagging her tail furiously, a storm of crinkles coming from under her skirt. Fluttershy unwrapped the pacifier and shook it out in the wind. Scootaloo was fully fixated on the small thing of rubber and plastic, as Fluttershy lowered the pacifier to her level and touched the rubber nipple against Scootaloo’s mouth. Scootaloo parted her lips, and Fluttershy slipped the pacifier inside, until Scootaloo’s muzzle was flush with the plastic shield.

Nuk, the pacifier made when Scootaloo suckled on it. Nuk, nuk. The taste was simply delectable. Malleable soft rubber comfortably filled out Scootaloo’s mouth, constantly caressing and comforting her lips and her tongue as it rested pleasantly in her jaw. The plastic shield massaged her mouth so delightfully with every suckle, and the nipple teased her entire oral cavity, playfully sliding around her mouth when Scootaloo released again. Nuk, nuk, nuk.

When it became clear Scootaloo was too distracted to move, Fluttershy picked her up and sat her into the stroller. Fluttershy took her time strapping Scootaloo in, smoothing out her clothes and pulling her skirt back down over her diaper, as she watched the huge smile grow on her filly’s pretty face.

“So, do you like your pacifier, Scoots?” Fluttershy said.

“Fuf wo iff oow,” Scootaloo said.

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo was fully secured and preoccupied, giving Fluttershy a chance to pick up the pace. They appeared to be headed in the right direction, they could see the cloud spire towering in the distance ahead. They’d just follow the ring and arrive at the fairgrounds with time to spare. Traffic had thinned out somewhat, so there was room on the cable cars.

Fluttershy boarded one of the dinging moving platforms by its ramp, parking Scootaloo in a corner marked for strollers. From the outside, it looked like the rumbling vehicle barely matched walking pace, but it actually went surprisingly fast. The chain pulley mechanism inside the road dragged them past the pedestrians, as the wind played with Fluttershy’s mane.

With growing distance from the bustling office district, the houses became obvious dwellings again. Tinted windows were replaced by pretty curtains, smooth steel gave way to tasteful house fronts, and metal railings became nicely kept plants and trees. In fact, there was quite a lot of greenery. Almost every window seemed to have at least a herb tray full of supple green spices.

“Wooff uf fif,” Scootaloo said.

“What?” Fluttershy said.

“I fing dad fewf a wee,” Scootaloo said.

“Try again,” Fluttershy said.

“Wook,” Scootaloo said.

A tiny passenger had joined the top of the cable car’s cabin.

“A bee?” Fluttershy said, “In a cloud city? How? I didn’t think that was possible. And … oh my. What kind of birds are those?”

The little specks overhead were undoubtedly flocks of birds, and different ones to boot, some small, some big, some slow and some fast. Faintly, behind the bustle of the city, there was the pervasive melody of the birds’ songs.

“Wook over dere!” Scootaloo said.

A few streets ahead, the greenery took over. There was a bit of obvious landscaping going on, but the flowers around here looked quite healthy.

“Uh, I fink we should get off,” Scootaloo said.

“Oh, right,” Fluttershy said. She waited for the cable car to slow down, and disembarked via the ramp.

“I’ve never seen such pretty flowers in the middle of a city before,” Fluttershy said, “let alone a cloud city.”

“Maybe it’s a park or something?” Scootaloo said.

Around the next corner, the world suddenly became different. They stood in a meadow and a forest at the same time. A large, green field stretched on to the horizon, populated by the most various of plants and trees growing above, around and inbetween each other. That didn’t mean the houses ceased to exist, but there were fewer buildings far and inbetween, and most of them were obviously utilitarian, sheds, barns and seed storages arranged strategically along sprouting fields and farmsteads, brimming with fruit and vegetables.

The air had taken on a completely different quality, the smells were now earthen and ripe and mouth-wateringly tasty. There was life abound, bees and butterflies, little bugs and worms in the soil, and the birds came down from the sky to seek shelter in the trees and feast themselves upon the treasures in the grass.

“It’s cultivated land,” Fluttershy said, “in the sky. I’ve never seen anything like it. Just look at how many birds live here, and it seems the bees are doing their work with the flowers and the trees too.”

“It looks really cool,” Scootaloo said, “do ponies grow their food here?”

“Seems like it,” Fluttershy said, “but it’s not an artificial plantation, everything here grows on its own. Must have taken quite a bit of effort to get a stable ecosystem going in an isolated biosphere like this.”

They went into the field on a relatively broad and welcoming trodden road, leading past some fields and pretty wayside flowers into lush avenues between trees. There was nopony around right now, but the telltale sounds of agricultural work in the distance drowned out the city bustle. The familiar calm was a very welcome change to the otherwise high tempo of the journey.

The road didn’t long hold their interest, and Fluttershy veered off into a meadow. The stroller’s sturdy wheels had no problem handling a bit of greenery, though it also was clear this space was cultivated quite rigorously. None of the trees were particularly large or old, the meadow was trimmed, and there were the many scrapes and markings of forestry work.

They went up a little incline and stopped to look back on the city. So many little ponies, carts and cable cars going past the fields and busying themselves with their daily lives. How many of them even appreciated the wonder of a tiny bit of nature in the middle of pony civilization? After all, they were nature as much as nature was them, and the wondrous complexities from which all of ponykind had sprung even now held unfathomable mysteries eternally rewarding.

Scootaloo suddenly had an intense craving for her mommy. It was so awesome of Fluttershy to bring her all the way out here, to this little patch of earth, all on her own, without asking anything in return. Scootaloo was allowed to enjoy the little bit of calm and quiet in a fashion she could never have dreamed of, well protected and secured in the comfy seat of her stroller, calmed by the wonderful soft presence of her pacifier, and, most importantly, in the company of the most amazing and beautiful pony in the world.

Scootaloo reached out both hooves, and Fluttershy wordlessly leaned in and embraced her. Fluttershy’s fur was so warm and soft and made all the worries go away, as they watched the busy little ponies.

Part 12

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“Here little birdy birdy! Come on! Come to Scootaloo,” Scootaloo said.

She smacked her lips and made noises with her mouth to entice the bird to come closer. The bird just stared, unimpressed.

“Um, Scoots,” Fluttershy giggled, “Maybe you should let me try ... Good day, mister bird. We’re just here on a visit and happened to come across this path after we went through the big meadow.”

Fluttershy now had the bird’s attention.

“I see you have found some nice twigs,” Fluttershy continued, “do you happen to live closeby?”

The bird ruffled his feathers and trilled something, then he ran off.

“What did he say?” Scootaloo said.

“Um, you don’t want to know,” Fluttershy said.

“Quick, after him!” Scootaloo said.

Scootaloo thrashed against the seat belt as she tried to chase after the runaway. Fluttershy finally managed to get the restraints undone, but Scootaloo had already wiggled out of her hooves and shot off into the underbrush. It was unlikely that she would get lost, and it was unlikely that she would get the jump on that bird since her crinkling waddle drowned out the sounds of the forest, so Fluttershy took her time and followed her little filly on a path more suitable for the stroller.

Like lightning, Scootaloo zipped through the vegetation. The bird’s violet feathers glinted behind a root, but when Scootaloo arrived, he had just ducked beyond some dense leaves. On the other side of a bush, the tiny bird hopped over a stretch of grass, but Scootaloo’s sprint was only fast enough to see him crest a pile of dirt. Scootaloo followed him as he mounted a lone tree. The bird couldn’t quite fly with his stubby wings, but he hopped and fluttered along the trunk until he was halfway up. Then he vanished.

He didn’t jump or hide, but he vanished. From one moment to the other, the bird wasn’t there anymore.

“Huh?” Scootaloo said, craning her head, “What? But how? How’s it possible? Where are you, little bird? I just saw you running up that tree. You can’t just vanish into thin air.”

Somepony giggled, but it wasn’t Fluttershy. On the far side of the tree, another pony stood. She wore a lab coat, probably stark white underneath layers of dirt and earth, carrying similarly stained pens and clipboards.

“You’ll have to come over here to figure that one out, little filly,” the mare said.

Scootaloo walked, but the tree bark remained in place, allowing her a peek behind the scenes.

“Whoa,” Scootaloo said, “there he is!”

“Yup,” lab mare said, “his friend there is the Rainbow Jay. And you’ve been victim to its most powerful defensive capability.”

The tree bark hadn’t been a tree bark, but the long, elegant feathers of a second bird, mesmerizingly swimming with colors to mimic the shape and texture of tree bark. The feathers dripped back into many colorful hues as the bird realized its illusion had been blown.

“The little one’s right behind the big one,” Scootaloo said.

“Yes,” lab mare explained, “the little one’s of the family of the common runners. He’s allowed to seek shelter behind the Rainbow Jay’s camouflaging plumage because he brought some straw for their nests. The runner would be quite defenseless on its own, and the big one wouldn’t be fast enough to get the needed materials alone.”

“So they’re, like, living together?” Scootaloo said, “Because they can help each other, even though they are different birds?”

“That’s exactly right,” lab mare said, “this kind of thing happens all throughout nature, living beings dwelling together and covering each other’s weaknesses. Do you wanna know how they call it when that happens?”

“How do they call it?” Scootaloo said, eyes huge.

“It’s called symbiosis,” lab mare said, “these birds are such a perfect match, you wouldn’t be able to tell they’re from different parts of Equestria. The Rainbow Jay is from far north, where almost all animals have some form of magic, but the little runner can’t do any magic whatsoever. But, hey, they’re making it work.”

“That’s a fascinating story,” Fluttershy said.

“You think that’s cool?” lab pony said, “You should head back to the station and see for yourself.”

“The station?” Fluttershy said.

“Yep, local ecology research station and aviary,” lab pony said, “They should be preparing for a tour right now. We’re the ones responsible for the entirety of Field One, the largest of the Fields, so you know it’ll be interesting.”

Scootaloo bounced beside Fluttershy as they followed the mare’s directions, marvelling at the pretty vegetation. Most arrangements were composed a bit too perfectly to be natural, but the terrain sported a healthy mix of trees and plants of varying specializations, from plains over swamp, forest, highlands, glades to prairie biomes. None of them contained anything too exotic, but they were pretty nonetheless.

At the heart of it all, stood a large building, not dissimilar to the modern office buildings in the city, but surrounded by countless auxiliary stables and greenhouses. Some ponies wore lab coats or carried farming equipment, but most of the crowd were obviously tourists, streaming into the station with their funny hats and clothes and gawking fillies and colts.

The inside was surprisingly clean, somepony had to be on constant cleaning duty against all the mud being dragged in by the staff. It was a large showroom exhibiting various objects of historical significance in glass cabinets, except that birds were entering and exiting through the door as well, apparently undisturbed by the visitors, their nests in homely little alcoves in the ceiling.

“Okay, everypony, who’s here for the tour?” a mare in the only clean white lab coat said.

The respondent cheers came most loudly from the youngest ponies in the audience. Scootaloo only realized after the fact that she had been yelling as well.

“That’s great!” the guide said, “We’ll just need to wait a little more until we begin. We have prepared some apples and apple juice for you in the meantime. They’re grown and harvested locally, so why don’t you try them out? And the bathrooms are over there, please try to go before the tour.”

Great, that’s one thing crossed off the list. Scootaloo didn’t need to go to any bathrooms before any tours. And Scootaloo wasn’t the only foal there. There was at least one other infant, being carried by her family, who had her hindquarters obviously in thick diapers, like Scootaloo’s. Most of the visiting ponies went to wash their hooves, but Scootaloo and the baby got to hang back and chill.

The refreshment table was too small to service the entire crowd, so somepony made it her mission to dispense the drinks by hoof in order to expedite the process. The line moved quickly thanks to her efforts, which was good, because the baby was in front of Scootaloo and seemed rather thirsty.

“And one cup of apple juice for the foal,” the mare said, “here you go. Don’t knock it out of your daddy’s hooves while he’s trying to feed you. Oh, and who do we have here? Another little filly. Are you old enough to drink out of a cup by yourself yet?”

“Uh,” Scootaloo said, “Yeah, why?”

“Are you sure?” the mare said, “Aren’t you forgetting something in particular?”

“Umm,” Scootaloo said. What was she forgetting? She had to think really hard. Better calm herself down. Nuk, nuk, nuk. Oh. Yeah. Right. Scootaloo took the pacifier out of her mouth and placed it aside as she received her cup of juice.

“There. Much easier to drink this way, isn’t it?” the mare said.

The juice was decent. Naturally, it paled in comparison to the untouchable Apple Family apple juice, but it was pleasantly sweet, and the characteristic sour pang of freshness really hit the spot. Scootaloo drank it down in one go.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said.

“You’re welcome, cutie,” the mare said, “now go have some fun, will you.”

Yummy! The pleasant rubbery dessert of the pacifier tasted all the much better with a tummy full of fresh juice. Scootaloo waved goodbye to the juice pony and comfortably waddled back to Fluttershy, who was in the process of observing an exhibit in a little glass case.

“Ooh, shiny,” Scootaloo said, “What’s that?”

“Some kind of tool for analyzing chemicals,” Fluttershy said, “it says, enchanted lattice nucleotide sieve, a regular grid of arcane attractors attuned to individual chromosome transcriptors, used to gene sequence the first fungus indigenous to Skyview.”

The miniscule mesh hung in its stand rather plainly, but the way it twinkled in various colors witnessed the fact that the material was woven with varying enchantments.

“Cool,” Scootaloo said, “so there are plants which are only in Skyview and nowhere else?”

“Apparently yes,” Fluttershy said, “that’s quite a feat. Regular plants and animals don’t usually live in the clouds because there’s nothing to eat. They must have gone through a long process of cultivation to make something like this happen. Come, let’s look at the next one.”

The next exhibit looked a bit more otherworldly than the scientific tool. It was a rock, or, more like, a mineral, dull cyan extensions growing out in a direction like a little blue tentacle monster. It didn’t do much, but it was perceivably magical.

“The first magically reactive calcite formed upon enchanted rock into a cloud and recovered in one piece,” Scootaloo read, “Wow, this thing must be ages old. Minerals in a cloud? How silly is that?”

“Well, natural processes do tend to sway a bit into the ... extreme when magic’s involved,” Fluttershy said, “Although the color is kind of reminiscent of the sky, isn’t it? That’s fitting at least.”

The next item was on extravagant display, a blade fixated within a metal grill. It was like a set of sheep’s shears, except quite a bit larger.

“Now would you look at that,” Fluttershy said, “the dragon shears with which legendary Ogden the Travelled harvested the wool of the mythical sky dragon, whence she made clothes to retrieve Skyview’s first core clouds from the Frozen Fangs. Ooh, isn’t that exciting, Scootaloo? Look, they even have a poster detailing Ogden’s story.”

Fluttershy was completely engulfed in the wall of text beside the display case. As it turned out, Ogden appears multiple times in the ancient history of Skyview, before her daredevil trip into the rich wastes. Furthermore, she facilitated the city’s founding by playing the role of a messenger and an explorer for the ruling families that first began to lay claims on the skies.

It wasn’t like Scootaloo wasn’t interested in the story, in fact it was quite engaging. But she found herself a bit distracted. The other ponies had finished up with their bathroom breaks by now, and now it dawned on Scootaloo that they’d had the right idea. With all the fresh apple juice and everything else, her belly was beginning to feel kind of stuffed.

And that stuffing needed some relief. Sure, foals didn’t have to use any bathrooms, but that didn’t mean they didn’t appreciate a quiet moment in private to settle their business. And with Fluttershy silently studying the comprehensive historical text in a segregated corner of the room, why not seize the opportunity?

Scootaloo stood as still as she could, so as not to disturb her mommy’s concentration. Nopony was watching, so she allowed her tail to raise a bit, the instinctual motion encouraging her inner self to do the deed. Scootaloo didn’t really have to pee all that much, but, with a slight strain of her tummy, and a comfy chomp on her pacifier, she could squeeze out a bit after all.

Warm droplets rolled down her skin and left a little stain of moisture. Other ponies were close, they walked by and looked at the exhibits, but luckily, nopony could tell what Scootaloo was doing, even as she allowed herself a small sigh of relief. She gave a little shake of the backside, rubbing herself against the soft, absorbent fluff of her diaper, and her fur became all nice and dry again.

How cool! There was no trace of wetness to be felt - Scootaloo had gone to the bathroom, and her clothes were still dry, just like the big ponies! Of course, she had her diaper to thank for that (which she silently did), but Scootaloo was still proud of how mature she could be, and with her head held high, she rejoined her mommy in reading the very adult history texts.

“Here I am, everypony,” a stallion came through the door. He wore the lab coat with the most numerous pockets, overflowing with rulers and magnifying glasses that clattered when he walked. “Sorry for being late. I got caught up looking for a particularly fast bird who had stolen a sample of twigs from my desk. Anyway, everypony here for the tour? Good. Let’s get going right away.”

Everypony gathered around the guide and followed him through a side door. The group walked along a trodden path, through a landscape that tried to seem less influenced by ponies’ hooves than the fields, like if a painter had imagined a perfectly balanced wilderness.

“So my name’s Florence, and I’m the head of the ecology team here in Field One,” he said, “What you’ve just seen’s the administrative building, so no fancy lab equipment there, only dusty lecture halls and classy receptions. It does take quite a congregation to run the most diverse cultivated ecosystem in all of Equestria though, so we’d better not disturb the paper pushers in their important contributions.”

Scootaloo tried to follow Florence’s explanation, but something kept distracting her from the corner of her eye. It was a little bird that was hard to miss, its violet feathers shiny and colorful, and it jumped across tree stumps to branches to keep up with her. Scootaloo stopped to inspect the bird’s pretty feathers, and the bird stopped as well to gaze at her.

Scootaloo got closer. The bird got closer. And suddenly it flapped and made a move to grab her pacifier.

“Hey! No!” Scootaloo shooed the bird, securing the pacifier with her teeth, “go away!”

“I’d better hold on to my valuables if I were you, little filly,” Florence said, “you’ve just made acquaintance with our local Twinklestep populace. They settled near the office, since all the visitors come through here, and they know they can nab something that fancies their eye.”

“I doubt the bird would know what to do with a foal’s pacifier,” somepony said, to a round of laughter.

“Not that it cares, the Twinklestep wants anything that’s shiny or sparkly,” Florence said, patting the goggles in his pocket. They were attached by some string. “It decorates the nest with shiny valuables in order to make it stand out from the others and attract potential mates. More shiny stuff means the bird is more nimble and capable, producing better offspring to surpass them in turn. That’s the wondrous way in which nature works. And besides, who can resist shiny trinkets?”

“That’s kinda cool,” Scootaloo said, “but the pacifier’s still mine.”

“Don’t worry, Scoots, I think it learned its lesson,” Fluttershy said.

The Twinklestep sat on a branch and glowered at them, showing off its pretty plumage condescendingly. As if it had any need for Scootaloo’s silly little toy.

“You can probably smell it by now,” Florence said, “but we’ve reached the bee farm. Now, it may be tempting, but please don’t eat the flowers by the wayside, they’re carefully monitored for pollination activity. Which means they’re probably crawling with bugs. But a healthy population of bugs is the first step you need to take for a stable ecosystem, so our bees are important in keeping everything running smoothly. And look how industrious they are!”

The closest tree in the little clearing was bulging with bee hives along its trunk. Little insects were buzzing about everywhere, crawling around on flowers and carrying bright loads of pollen back to the tiny entrances in massive numbers.

“How can so many hives be right next to each other?” a filly beside Scootaloo said, “look, they’re not even crashing into each other.”

“Bees orient themselves using the position of the sun and directions they communicate to each other,” Florence said, “which is something they’re exceedingly good at. Our bees have become so good, in fact, they can adjust their rhythm of travel to be in tune with the neighboring hive. That way the bees don’t obstruct each other when they come and go. Amazing isn’t it? Here, have some honey for the good question.”

There was a little table prepared with a few honey scrapings and fresh dandelions for the visitors. Fluttershy took a flower, dunked it into the honey and ate it. Then she fed a second one to Scootaloo. The wax was crunchy and sharply aromatic.

“Mmh,” Scootaloo said, “tastes like when you eat a whole bunch of flowers all at the same time.”

“It’s really different from the honey in Ponyville,” Fluttershy said, “I like how sweet it is in comparison.”

After everypony had their fill, they trekked on past some more trees and began cresting a hill. When they stopped, Scootaloo found herself engulfed in the earthen smells and long, echoing sounds of the forest. A woodpecker tapped relentlessly somewhere in the distance as the crowns of the trees, bearing both leaves and needles, swayed overhead.

“The only thing we don’t produce locally at all is lumber,” Florence said, “this here is a designated forestry area meant as co-habitat for the fields and the meadows. We mustn’t forget that we’re in a sky city, and space is limited, so we use it to make living environments for as many plants and animals as possible. As you all know, nature favors diversity in life, and by respecting that fact we’re able to maintain our highly condensed ecosystem.”

By the time they reached the top of the hill, the city ponies had already begun panting from exhaustion, but Fluttershy and Scootaloo happily marched past the group and out of the forest, stepping into bright sunlight. The illusion of a densely vegetated, rolling green hill wasn’t quite perfect, since the city’s skyline was visible in the distance, but it still felt pleasantly fresh and airy.

“You had better stand still for this one,” Florence said, halting everypony, “you’re about to get a show.”

Somepony stood further down the path. She wore plate armor upon her upper body, and, an almost impossible sight, a huge bird almost half her size stood on her back, surveying its surroundings.

“This is Windslicer and her golden eagle Greif,” Florence said, “he comes from the Shrouded Peaks, and we suspect he has Roc blood in him given his size. Don’t worry, though. We won’t get on his bad side.” He coughed and murmured. “And we’ll try not to get on hers either.”

From underneath a side pouch of her armor, Windslicer unholstered a light crossbow. The weapon was small, but visibly took great strength to cock, the steel cables clicking under the strain. Out of the quiver around her shoulders, she pulled a modified bolt, and nocked it onto the groove. It wasn’t really a bolt, more like a small red ball impaled on a stick with some feathers for aerial stability.

Windslicer aimed downhill and fired the crossbow. The bolt whizzed through the air and vanished somewhere in the distance. With intense concentration, the bird watched and waited.

A single word, cold as metal. “Go.”

The bird turned projectile and shot off without as much as disturbing a single hair on his owner’s mane. The blade of feathery fury sliced through the air soundlessly, as Greif rode out his trajectory faster than the eye could follow. At a moment’s notice he had become naught but a speck in the distance, arcing in a long, graceful curve that perfectly intersected with the grass in a single point. He continued describing a wide loop through the sky that ultimately brought him back to his mistress and terminated precisely on her back, on the spot he had stood before.

In his beak, Greif carried the red bolt. Everypony stomped their hooves in applause as the bird hopped onto her shoulder and deposited the toy neatly back into the quiver. He didn’t care much for the applause, but he very eagerly received a hefty treat from Windslicer’s pouch.

While appreciative for the show, everypony, including Florence, preferred to steer clear of Windslicer and Greif in passing. The brooding pair paid no heed.

“Not all of our birds are ferocious hunters though,” Florence said, “if you look above and in the bushes, you’ll see the results of our ornithology department’s great work. Bonus points if you can name them.”

“You’ve got a pretty big flock of blackbirds under your wing,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes, that’s right,” Florence said, “and how did you know?”

“Um,” Fluttershy said, “their songs stand out from the others when they fly low during mating season.”

Indeed, the blackbirds trilled rapidly and with great variety, a contrasting backdrop to the rather smooth and, for pony ears, homogeneous songs of all the other birds dotting the sky.

“Whoa, you sure know your birds,” Florence remarked, “anypony else?”

Impressed by Fluttershy’s knowledge, everypony got rather engaged in trying to spot easily identifiable birds closeby. The classical sparrows and swallows populated the skies above the meadow in search for easy meals in the form of insects and seeds, while finches and even a wren preferred to huddle on the branches of a little tree and observe the visitors from a safe distance.

The further they went, the more exotic the birds became. An elusive alder gimpel was easily spotted once it stirred in the grass, foraging with its senses heightened by some natural form of magic. A bunch of pigeons nested in a patch of dirt, though Scootaloo couldn’t imagine their feathers staying such a brilliant white without the use of magic either. And, finally, there were increasingly more small animals which weren’t birds at all.

A little squirrel scampered along the path and quickly clambered up the bark of the massive tree ahead. The tree was positively gigantic, its trunk so broad as Scootaloo several times from nose to tail, and the top was high enough that even Fluttershy would have to fly for altitude for a while to reach it. And the plant seemed very old. Deeply furrowed and gnarled, countless limbs and branches sprouted from the weathered trunk, offering ample crevices and hideouts for the myriads of little birds and critters arriving and leaving constantly.

“And this,” Florence said, “is our tree of life. Well, it’s not a real tree of life, like what exists in different parts of Equestria, but still. Somepony had planted an enchanted seed here in the past, and it’s been the ecological enabler of Field One for the longest part of ancient history. The tree flourishes from whatever life happens in its vicinity, and so it grows and nestles to accommodate and feed pretty much everything you see around you right now. And the more plants and animals make their home here, the more the tree will grow in turn.”

“Symbiosis!” Scootaloo blurted.

Florence blinked. “That’s what I was getting at,” he said, “and can you also explain what symbiosis is, little filly?”

“Um,” Scootaloo said, tucking her tail from all the sudden attention, “symbiosis is when plants or animals live together and help each other. And it’s common in nature.”

“Very good,” Florence laughed, “the definition’s a bit of a point of contention, but it’s good enough for our purposes. Well then, seeing how we’re done here, let’s go have a seat.”

Scootaloo couldn’t stop wagging her tail from the praise, she practically bounced toward the tree. The air around the tree of life was cool and humid, and full of the sounds of countless little animals scurrying to and fro across the dome of leaves aglow in a rich and satiating green from the warm afternoon sun. Situated snugly in the shade was a seating arrangement, a big wooden stool in the middle of a sprawling collection of rather worn bean bags.

The young ponies happily bounced on top of the bean bags, as everypony took their seat around Florence. Fluttershy patted the pillowy surface beside her, and Scootaloo came crashing in, flopping onto the bean bag and stretching out across its yielding volume.

The break was welcome, Scootaloo hadn’t realized how tired her hooves had become from the hike. It wasn’t surprising, though, walking for longer stretches turned out rather difficult with the constant hindrance of her bulky underwear affixed to her rear underneath her skirt. The other foal didn’t have that problem, she was being carried in a sling by her daddy. Well, if a little difficulty walking was the price for freedom, Scootaloo was willing to pay it.

“And now comes my favourite part,” Florence said, shushing the audience, “where I tell you the story of the evolution of all life in our world. You see, the lands we call our homes haven’t always been the pieces of paradise that we know. Not by a long shot, quite a number of events had to take place on a global scale before any of this could be possible.”

“In the beginning, the world was naught but a roiling mass of heat, a crashing and exploding jumble of the most primordial of energies. This went on for a while, hundreds of millions of years, the sun and the moon and the stars, as they were, eventually feeding enough into escalating arcane processes to bring the elements into existence, and with the stability of matter came the dual stability of magic, both of which are necessary to support life in the first place.”

“A while later, again millions of years, the roiling storms and arcane surges ravaging the world managed to mix things up enough to produce stable compounds that could interact with sunlight, arcane charges, and other forms of raw magic. We can observe and test the very same compounds changing under external stimuli even today in the lab. These compounds eventually were capable of restructuring their surroundings to produce replicas of themselves, effectively creating a first form of procreation. Some would argue this is the first time we can call something life.”

“This went on for some time until it so happened that two or more such things stuck together. Now, obviously that wouldn’t be of any consequence unless they could also reproduce together, which didn’t happen until quite a while further. But when it did, oh boy, did it take the world by storm. Just think of it, several little things sticking together, each specialized in something, one for collecting surrounding elements, a moveable one for propulsion, and a third one encoding the process of recreating the entire group. Now, isn’t that cooperation kind of a recipe for success?”

Scootaloo was positively riveted by the tale. She was at the edge of the bean bag when the compounds figured out how to produce and distribute general purpose energy among themselves, creating the first form of proto-bacteria. She was flabbergasted as the little beings began utilizing the power of the sun and employing magic for the first time to reshape parameters of their environments to their benefit. She was exhilarated when enough lifeforms came together to create the first cellular organism, necessitating a whole bunch of crazy chemical ingenuity to establish something like a crude form of internal communication that allowed for coordinated efforts.

And, slowly but surely, Scootaloo was starting to get kind of uncomfortable.

Only now that she was lounging on the bean bag, and her body had begun winding down in the comfortable post-workout exhaustion, did the increasingly bothersome tingle in the back of her head become apparent. Scootaloo had been trying to ignore it, but she could ignore it no longer.

The journey that was their little adventure, specifically exploring new culinary experiences with exotic food and drink, had left her rather stuffed. Not that it hadn’t been worth it, her time with Fluttershy was the most fun Scootaloo had ever had, but the sad truth was that an abrupt end was near.

Scootaloo seriously needed to go to the bathroom by now. The sweet little game of pretend Fluttershy had played with her had been nothing short of exhilarating, but it wouldn’t withstand the crude interruption of Scootaloo doing her thing. Scootaloo would stop playing to be little, and she doubted they could get back into it afterwards.

She had dragged it out for as long as she could, but the call of nature was too imperative, and Scootaloo had to take care of it like a big pony.

“Um,” Scootaloo whispered, “mommy?”

Fluttershy didn’t hear.

“Mommy?” Scootaloo whispered louder.

“Yes?” Fluttershy whispered back, “What is it, Scoots?”

“Um, could you help me with … something?” Scootaloo said, “When we get back to the station … think you could, um … you could take me to the bathroom?”

“Why ever do you want to visit the bathroom?” Fluttershy said, “You know, you usually wouldn’t expect that from a foal.”

“Yeah …” Scootaloo said, “I kinda need to use the bathroom … and it’s, like, you know. Urgent.”

“Oh, poor Scoots,” Fluttershy gasped. Her voice was like silk as she brushed Scootaloo’s cheek with a gentle hoof. “There, there. How about you try to go potty now, hm? You’ll feel much better when you’re done, just see.”

Scootaloo swallowed. “I’m trying to …” she said, “but, like, the bathroom’s way back …”

“That’s true,” Fluttershy said. She put her hoof on Scootaloo’s head and gently began stroking her mane. “It’s okay, Scoots. Remember what we said. Go ahead whenever you’re comfortable.”

Scootaloo’s cheeks were getting warmer by the moment. “B-but … but I can’t … it’s like, I have to, like,” she said, leaning in close to whisper as quietly as possible, “I have to go number two.”

“Mhm,” Fluttershy said, continuing her mane strokes evenly.

Scootaloo was about to choke. “You want me to … in my … “ she said, “in my …”

“Yes, you can go in your diaper,” Fluttershy said evenly, “that’s why you have it on.”

“But … but … it’ll get all icky …” Scootaloo said.

“Yes, Scootaloo, foals can’t go to the bathroom like big ponies,” Fluttershy said, “that’s why they have a diaper to take care of it, like you. Now, finish up making your potty. I would like us to listen to the rest of the story, please.”

Scootaloo sought Fluttershy’s face for a trace of jest, but there was none. And she was right. Any concern Scootaloo had of her responsibilities was little more than a fancy thought. There was no false act, nothing played, no pretense involved.

Scootaloo was a little filly, that’s why Fluttershy took care of her. No truth was more real than this, especially not Scootaloo’s silly notion of doing things which she was much too little to do on her own.

Nothing counted except the crystal clear imperative of Scootaloo’s base instincts.

Do what mommy says.

Fluttershy picked up Scootaloo and put her down halfway on top of her seat, so that her upper body was lying on the bean bag while her hind legs stood on the grass.

“Here, it should be easier this way,” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo wanted to thank her, but her body was already way ahead of her in following her mommy’s directive. It felt entirely different than what Scootaloo was used to. She was aware that she needed to go, but because she was just a little filly, she had no choice but to relieve herself right here and now.

Her diaper had no special mechanism in place to make the process less awkward for her, no superabsorbent core to soak everything up, so special fabric to wick away the moisture from her skin. She was simply expected to push it into the seat of her underpants, because it was convenient, simple as that.

Scootaloo moved as gently as possible so the rustling of her diaper wouldn’t alert anypony in the audience. Guided by intuition, she couldn’t help assuming the same posture so typical for infants, bending her knees and sticking out her butt. While the motion made her stomach rather comfortable and relaxed, it also made her skirt ride all the way up and pulled the diaper tight against her backside. She’d better get on with it before anypony could see.

She prepared to do her part, but found that she was already about to go, needing only to relax and let her natural tension do its thing. Scootaloo waited patiently, her head buried in the woven surface of the bean bag, shuddering in the pleasant relief as she felt herself beginning to fill her diaper. The act felt very comfortable and appropriate, finally confirming the reason for why the diaper’s backside was wide enough to cover Scootaloo’s cutie mark on both sides and why it went so far up her back.

The urge suddenly intensified when the available space in Scootaloo’s diaper became filled out and nothing more would come. By pure instinct, Scootaloo tightened her stomach, raised her tail and began pushing against the resistance of her clothing, squishing more on top of what was already there, before the diaper pushed back and spread the warm mass evenly across Scootaloo’s buttocks.

Scootaloo got goosebumps from the pleasant relief as she gripped the bean bag tightly with her forehooves, a little grunt escaping through her nose. A mare sitting closeby turned around at the noise, but what she saw was ordinary enough not even to warrant a raise of the brow. What she saw was Scootaloo, just another little filly, her thickly diapered rear wiggling in the air, with her muzzle scrunched up behind her pacifier from the strain as she pushed and squirmed. Every parent instantly recognized what was going on, and the mare barely paused to count her luck not having to clean that one up, before turning away again.

“Ahh …” Scootaloo sighed, slumping on top of the bean bag. She was comfy, she was relieved, and she was now so wonderfully empty.

Fluttershy had been right, this felt more refreshing and natural to her than Scootaloo could have ever imagined. Her tummy, was so gratifyingly light, Scootaloo wanted nothing more than to relax and suckle on her pacifier, contentedly enjoying the pleasant feeling.

“Are you finished, Scoots?” Fluttershy said, patting her back with a hoof.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo mumbled.

“Good,” Fluttershy said.

Her hoof didn’t go away, though. In fact, it began moving further down, going all the way down Scootaloo’s back and across her backside, vanishing underneath her skirt and coming to rest square underneath Scootaloo’s tail. Fluttershy gave a bit of pressure and made the plastic yield, the back of Scootaloo’s diaper now completely filled out to a smooth roundness.

“Good filly,” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo was already engrossed in Florence’s story again. It was easier than she had anticipated. Sure, whenever Scootaloo moved, the warm presence underneath her tail made itself apparent, but all she had to do was to kinda ignore it and she could proceed as usual. And that was pretty useful, she would much rather listen to the tale of the kingdoms of life and how they came to be, because the story was really, really interesting now that she wasn’t distracted anymore.

And with her mommy by her side, she knew that everything else was taken care of.

Part 13

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“And so I said, the socks were always green.”

Everypony laughed. Scootaloo laughed too, though she didn’t get the punchline.

“So anyway,” Florence said, “that’s the story of how we, and by extension all life in the world, got here. I’d like to stay for some questions, but seeing how we’re running late, and I know you folks wouldn’t want to miss the festival, I suggest we handle it as we go.”

Everypony got up to stretch, some of them even yawning and blinking their eyes, and began to depart from the pretty refuge under the great tree. Fluttershy followed after the others as well, covering an increasingly large distance before stopping and waiting up for Scootaloo.

Scootaloo had rolled off her bean bag, but hadn’t been able to make much progress since. She’d been trying to walk after her mommy, but whenever she lifted her leg, her diaper shifted and mushed its contents around, the warm presence strikingly conspicuous, snugly secured against her rear. And the feeling was very strange.

Fluttershy had to hold up a hoof to hide her smile. The image of innocuous confusion standing there alone in the grass was almost too adorable to bear. “It’s okay, Scoots. Come,” Fluttershy said, “Come over to me and we’ll walk together.”

That was enough to push Scootaloo over the edge. She leapt up and rapidly waddled over into her mommy’s calming presence, munching on her pacifier as she did her best to ignore her diaper’s squishy shenanigans beneath her tail.

Scootaloo sidled up to Fluttershy, and they walked after the rest of the group, paced decidedly faster than when they had arrived. Boy, those ponies really had to be looking forward to that festival.

They descended down the other side of the hill. The thicket swallowing the path didn’t turn out too thick after all, rather than a merely functional barrier for where the trodden trail went down into the ground. Breathing distinctly colder air, the ponies walked down into the little valley, slight trickles of water making the earthen walls glisten on either side.

A brazen set of small brown caps sprouted from the wall, taunting Scootaloo to touch them. They were disgustingly slick and slimy.

“This is our mushroom cavern,” Florence said, “the climate is specifically controlled by a configuration of water, hydrophilic plants, and the isolating clay barriers. It’s the ideal environment for a diverse population of several fungus families, they’re experts in settling even in the darkest and most hidden nooks and crannies. Go ahead, the ones you see are edible.”

A colt gingerly plucked out one creased orange mushroom and ate it. Scootaloo looked on with a wrinkled nose.

“No, thanks,” she said, “Fungus? Do you sequence them too?”

“Yes, we sequence their genes,” Florence chuckled, “A lot, actually. There is much to be learned from monitoring the genetic composition of a continuously evolving population, and the ready availability of these fungi also makes for a good baseline for developing new and alternative methods. But, in practice, these walls serve mostly to torture students, since the process is not too complicated, but also not too easy, making for excellent practice.”

Cold water splashed about whenever somepony shriekingly stepped into a puddle, so enthralled was everypony with the pretty display of life adorning the slick walls. There wasn’t much variety in terms of color, all the mushrooms sported some off-white shade, but the variety in shapes looked alien at times.

There were small, elongated specimens with pretty caps, short and stout ones sporting reinforced outer layers, almost translucent light ones that grew together by the hundreds, huge wrinkled funnels that stood entirely on their own. And they only became more extravagant further inside, glowing little dots lighting up dark caverns on their own and shiny little seedlings exerting the unmistakable pull of magic.

The trench wasn’t too long, sunshine and warm, dry air greeting them on the other side. The permeating presence of magic didn’t diminish, though.

“And finally, this is the magical garden,” Florence said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you not to touch, eat, or come close to anything here. You know how tricky magic plants can be. They don’t really get along with anything else, or even with their own kind as a matter of fact, so we cordoned them off here. However, I’d like to tell you that we offer alchemy courses back at the institute, which will acquaint you with these plants more than intimately.”

There might have been flowerbeds and fences in this field once, but they had been long conquered by the vast flora growing everywhere. Long, spiralling stalks gripped onto everything and snaked their way high into the air, combatted at points only by rolling masses of fibrous strands and bulbous outgrowths adorned with glowing, reflecting and refracting fruit and bloom of only the starkest and most intense colors.

“Look, there’s a bubbleshell,” Scootaloo said, “we have those in Ponyville too, right?”

“Very good, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said. The little plant made itself some breathing room with the wide, oily bubble that protected the single tiny seed at the center.

“And look, it’s poison joke,” Fluttershy pointed out, “I’d rather not get too close to it.” The radiant blue petals were rightly being shunned by the surrounding plants.

Though fascinating, nopony in this group dared get too close to any of this garden’s intimidating denizens. Accordingly big was the relief when they found themselves standing in front of the station again.

“That concludes our little tour,” Florence said, “I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll remind you that we’ll be at the science fair tomorrow for those who are interested.”

The group quickly split up back in the entrance hall. It had been quite an inspiring tour though, Scootaloo had never known how neatly things fit together in nature. Whatever simple patterns emerged, like adaptation or symbiosis, kept repeating at every scale of grandness to form the complexity that was life. The concept wasn’t very complicated, and kind of droll, really.

“Hey, little filly,” Florence stepped up to her. His lab coat wasn’t so shiny white anymore and seemed to fit him perfectly now. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Scootaloo,” she said.

“Great work out there, Scootaloo,” Florence said, “You really contributed. Everypony learned something today.”

“Really?” Scootaloo said, “I don’t think I learned anything. I just loved listening to your stories. The tour was really fun! I didn’t know how amazingly everything works.”

“Whatever you wanna call it,” Florence said, “In either case, I can see you’ve got an eye for overarching relations, Scootaloo. Do you think biology is interesting?”

“This is biology?” Scootaloo said, “I never thought biology could be this fun. I always thought it was just confusing little symbols and arrows that make no sense.”

Florence laughed heartily. “That’s chemistry you’re thinking about,” he said, “and while that’s important for everything that goes on in nature, it’s not about the little symbols and arrows. The important part is what it means. The relations. Everything else is just details.”

“Oh,” Scootaloo said, “cool.” Huh. Where had she stashed her chemistry and biology books from school again? She would have to look up and confirm the difference.

“Anyway,” Florence said, “I think your mommy’s looking for you.” Indeed, Fluttershy was approaching them, blatantly carrying a clean, fluffy diaper and a pack of baby wipes, leaving no doubt as to the reason why she sought her filly. “You guys should come to the science fair tomorrow, I think you’ll be able to find something that interests you. See ya later in any case.”

“I think we will,” Fluttershy said, and they waved him goodbye. “So, did you enjoy the tour, Scoots?”

“It’s really interesting,” Scootaloo said, “how much thought they’re putting into keeping everything up and running.”

“I’m sure there’s much more than what we’ve seen today,” Fluttershy said, “Ecologic systems can get rather intricate. Maybe some other day, though. I think I need a bit of a rest.”

“Everypony else seems to have had their fill too,” Scootaloo said, “look, they’re all leaving.”

“Well, it’s getting kind of late,” Fluttershy said, “we’ll be going too, right after we get you cleaned up and into a fresh pair of pants, okay?”

Scootaloo was led over to the bathroom door. True enough, she needed to be cleaned up, but she had been kind of ignoring the fact, partly because everything else had been so interesting, but also because she was comfortable in trusting her mommy to take care of it.

They only had one bathroom, but it was rather well kept for its small size, and for how much traffic it saw today. Not everypony had taken precautions before the tour, so a few ponies passed through with apparent urgency. Luckily, there was a changing table, bolted to the wall out of the way, opposite of the other fittings. Unluckily, it was in use.

It was the little foal from the tour, getting her diaper changed by her daddy. “Just a moment,” he said, “we’ll be done in a jiffy.”

“It’s alright,” Fluttershy said, “we have time.”

The stallion was fast, clean and efficient at changing diapers. The little filly barely had time to catch on as she was being tidied up and dressed in a new diaper, so competent was his every move. However, while impressive, he lacked the leisure to drag out the process long enough to make the little details enjoyable. Fluttershy’s diaper changes weren’t as fast, but Scootaloo much preferred them.

Fluttershy picked Scootaloo up and lifted her onto the unoccupied end of the changing table. Scootaloo tensed up as she was sat down on top of a bunch of soft mush, but mommy knew what she was doing, so Scootaloo relaxed and suckled on her pacifier while snuggling into Fluttershy’s chest.

“There, there, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy cooed. She reached behind Scootaloo’s back and rolled up her jacket and shirt. “Here, can you hold this up for me?”

“Sure,” Scootaloo said. She loved helping her mommy.

Scootaloo’s skirt got pulled away and placed aside, leaving her sitting only in her diaper. Constantly being wrapped up in thick diapers over the last day had lessened the unfamiliarity of the sensation, Scootaloo could rest easy without being too nervous about other ponies seeing her special crinkly underwear. After all, the little foal beside her was dressed quite similarly.

However, when Fluttershy reached above Scootaloo’s tail and ripped open the tape that had been holding everything up, the backside of Scootaloo’s diaper sagged down severely under the weight of its contents, making it painfully obvious how urgent the change was.

“Now that feels all better, doesn’t it?” the stallion cooed, “alright, we’re done. Stage’s all yours.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said.

She grabbed Scootaloo and gently laid her down onto her back, giving her a moment to comfortably snuggle into place. Scootaloo’s hind legs were parted carefully, followed by two loud rips as the diaper tapes were unfastened around her hips. Scootaloo knew that mommy had a good handle on everything, but still she couldn’t help fidgeting in anxiety as Fluttershy’s hoof grabbed the front of her diaper.

“It’s okay, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “you don’t have to be nervous. We’ll be done before you know it, just see. Here, why don’t you go ahead and play with your paci in the meantime? You’ve got the prettiest little glitter paci of them all, isn’t that right?”

Fluttershy flicked the handle of Scootaloo’s pacifier, encouraging Scootaloo to pick up the pace and give the pacifier good, even and rhythmic suckles. Mommy’s calming voice and the soft rubber in her mouth worked wonders to calm Scootaloo down, presenting her with something pleasant to focus on while the world continued to turn. And there was nothing more pleasant for Scootaloo than being in her mommy’s care.

Scootaloo shouldn’t have been surprised that Fluttershy was amazing at what she did. She didn’t hesitate or make the endeavour awkward at all, but instead moved with such a confident grace to free the wonderful moment from any unease.

Fluttershy held the diaper front and wiped it across Scootaloo’s lower belly and down between her legs. In one smooth motion, Fluttershy grabbed Scootaloo by the boots and lifted her rear off the diaper, high into the air. She brought the relatively clean diaper front back up against Scootaloo’s butt, and tightly pulled it down between her cheeks, easily cleaning away most of the mess in one go. All that remained was for Fluttershy to pluck a few baby wipes out of the pack and thoroughly give Scootaloo’s buttocks a good rub, leaving in her fur nothing but soothing, cool freshness.

It felt wonderful. No longer was Scootaloo worried about her appearance and other such nonsense, so fully immersed was she in the joy of her hindquarters’ pampering. None of the passing ponies paid any attention anyways, except for that one time, when the door swung open and an older filly came in. She stopped briefly and looked at Scootaloo, wondering what somepony her own size was doing on the changing table. The mystery was quickly solved, however, as Scootaloo was, in fact, getting her butt wiped by her mommy. So it was just a little foal, doing little foal things. Without further ado, the filly went her own way.

Fluttershy fluffed out a fresh diaper, it was a little bunny rabbit, and slipped it under Scootaloo, lowering her down onto the incredibly welcome dry soft fluff. Scootaloo watched in amazement as Fluttershy took the old, dirty diaper and rolled it up tightly, re-using the sticky tapes to seal it into a neat little plastic packet. It was so small! And yet it had granted Scootaloo so many comforts. She couldn’t think of anything more selfless than that.

The used diaper heavily plopped into the waste container. Fluttershy turned back and grabbed the fresh diaper’s front, holding it closely against Scootaloo as she pulled it tight and flattened it against her stomach. Rip open one of the tapes, rip the other one, and the crinkly plastic was fastened snugly around Scootaloo’s waist.

Mommy embraced Scootaloo and lifted her upright, Fluttershy’s all-encompassing presence brimming with affection as she fastened the final tape above Scootaloo’s tail.

“Okay, you can let go now,” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo released her clothing and the jacket fell over stomach again. It looked so funny, the big coat covered everything, except for a small bit of white and baby blue plastic peeking out between Scootaloo’s legs. And even that soon vanished as Fluttershy fastened the skirt around Scootaloo’s waist.

“There we go,” Fluttershy said, “nice, isn’t it?”

Scootaloo was put back down onto the floor. She had to wait a few more moments while Fluttershy went to freshen up. It was only fair, why should Scootaloo be the only one to feel all nice and tidy? Besides, it gave her the chance to move around a bit, and relish the awesome crisp freshness on her backside, snugly encased within the comfy warm softness of her diaper.

She had done it. Scootaloo had made as little foals did, and it turned out, it was really, really cool. Little foals didn’t know how to take care of themselves, and so they got groomed and taken care of by big ponies, free to enjoy all the wondrous sensations brought on by the love and affection they received. And it felt amazing.

And all thanks to the most wonderful pony Scootaloo knew.

“Looks like we should get going,” Fluttershy said, “doesn’t seem like anypony’s here anymore.”

The entrance hall was deserted. Not even the staff was present anymore, probably went home, seeing how the sun was already low. The outside air was beginning to cool, but the bustle of the city was only beginning to pick up, the bright cones of floodlights waving through the sky and setting clouds aglow from underneath.

The path snaked between a bunch of fields, encouraging them to cross it back into the busy urban life. But no matter how tantalizing the glittering skyline was, Scootaloo had no eyes for anything but the beautiful pony that was with her. She had never felt as spirited as when she was together with Fluttershy, and despite Scootaloo’s awkwardness, Fluttershy had never made their time uncomfortable or weird whatsoever.

On the contrary, Fluttershy had brought her so much peace and comfort, Scootaloo could think of nothing more luxurious than burying her face in Fluttershy’s lavish fur and being cuddled in a tight and secure embrace. Fluttershy was cool, awesome, radical, amazing, and so very, very pretty.

Fluttershy secured Scootaloo in the stroller, momentarily rolled her shoulders, stretched her legs, and off they went down the trodden path.

Scootaloo laid back in her seat, holding on to the belt as the stroller rumbled across the earth. Her cheeks suddenly got very warm whenever she merely thought about looking up to her mommy. But she only managed to hold out for so long, and she eventually snuck a little peek at Fluttershy’s lovely muzzle, shining brilliant golden in the evening light. The softest and fuzziest bit of fur Scootaloo had ever seen adorned the tip of that muzzle. Was it really as silky as it looked?

Fluttershy’s eyes met Scootaloo’s, and Scootaloo immediately looked away. She didn’t want to seem like she was staring, so she looked straight ahead instead. The interesting grasses and rocks had obviously caught her attention, she had to inspect them all.

She waited for an appropriate amount of time to pass before looking back. But Fluttershy was still looking her straight in the eyes, accompanied by a light smile this time.

“What’s the matter, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said, “You seem a bit more quiet than usual.”

“Nothing …” Scootaloo said, “Just, uh … looking at the, um … clouds.”

“The clouds,” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo swallowed, desperately trying to succeed in making herself not look stupid.

“You … “ Scootaloo said, “um, you … you’re pretty.”

“Thank you, Scoots,” Fluttershy giggled, “I also think you’re a very pretty filly.”

Well, Scootaloo hadn’t succeeded.

“Do you want a kissy on the cheek?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes, please,” Scootaloo said. A kissy sounded like what she needed right about now.

Fluttershy stopped the stroller and came around. With a hoof, she gently brushed away an errant lock of Scootaloo’s mane and brought her lips up to Scootaloo’s cheek, planting on them a soft and comforting peck brimming with reassurance. The peculiar spot of fur was softer than a down feather. Scootaloo couldn’t help giggling from the wonderful feeling.

“Now that’s what I like to hear,” Fluttershy said.

She gave Scootaloo’s cheek another kiss and began nuzzling her behind the ear, making Scootaloo squeal in tickling delight.

Scootaloo turned her head and also began nuzzling the side of Fluttershy’s face in return. She was laughing by now, and the only thing that could make her feel even better were the sweet giggles she managed to encourage out of Fluttershy.

Fluttershy rubbed her nose against Scootaloo’s before brushing over it and nuzzling the other side of her face. She must have hit a ticklish spot, because Scootaloo was squirming and babbling in good humour.

Scootaloo tried to pay her back by twisting her muzzle underneath Fluttershy’s, probing around her chin with slight contacts, eliciting more of the wonderful sounds of bemusement she liked to hear so much.

Fluttershy attempted to touch their noses together again, but Scootaloo was trying to switch sides and return the kiss on Fluttershy’s cheek.

They ended up bumping into each other and Scootaloo accidentally kissed Fluttershy on the lips.

The marvellous radiance of the contact warmed Scootaloo down to her very soul.

Scootaloo broke away, panting hard as she feigned indignant shock.

She had lingered too long.

Oh no.

Fluttershy had surely noticed.

Had Scootaloo truly screwed everything up now?

But Fluttershy hadn’t moved. She reacted at all, really, her eyes still intensely interlocked with Scootaloo’s. But only Scootaloo could see the tiny change in the pony she had grown to know recently. Across Fluttershy’s lips played the tiniest hint of a coy smile, tantalizing, challenging Scootaloo for more.

Scootaloo looked around, but not a single soul was about. No interruption. No excuse.

Scootaloo let Fluttershy’s warm breath play across her muzzle for a moment. Then she pressed their lips together again.

The kiss was lithe and unburdened. Neither of them tried to make anything more of it than it was, a simple and unadulterated show of mutual affection, expressed in the warm contact both of them fully enjoyed.

Fluttershy looked Scootaloo in the eyes, clearly and effortlessly, making Scootaloo feel very at ease with herself.

And then, Fluttershy smiled. And Scootaloo understood how much Fluttershy’s smiles meant. She didn’t give them easily, nor to anypony, but when she did, the smile was pure and genuine, intended solely as a tiny comfort to the very pony who was the recipient, but lingering with the sheer power to grace a pony’s very essence.

And that pony was none other than Scootaloo.

The kiss ended. Fluttershy collected the pacifier and put it back into Scootaloo’s mouth. Then Scootaloo received a little pat on the head, and the stroller resumed its rumble towards the unknown.

Whatever the unknown held, Scootaloo was with Fluttershy, and that fact gave her quite a bit of solace.

Part 14

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The music was barely audible over the crowd.

Somewhere, somepony was playing a simple little tune, the benumbing trot of a marching band, but it got drowned out by the huge crowd gathering by the entrance. So many ponies were trying to squeeze through the alleyway, at least it was clear they had arrived at the right location.

“Thank you, mister raven,” Fluttershy said, bidding the imposing black bird farewell as it fluttered away, joining overhead the dark flock of animals scanning the streets for unsuspecting passersby who hadn’t been herded to the fairgrounds yet.

Not everypony arrived here by happenstance, as evidenced by the multitude of carts and wagons standing in line, both empty and filled with bundled wares. There was profit waiting to be made, from selling and from buying, the exotic merchandise that survived until today promising with potential turnover.

Luckily for Scootaloo and Fluttershy, the ponies who were only here to enjoy the show had a separate queue and got in quite a bit faster. But the crowd just never thinned, so much so that there even were traffic controllers past the entrance.

The entire enclosure was rather impressive. The questionable decision to establish a commercial event venue smack in the center of city had resulted in an interesting piece of property, the large area looking like it had been stamped out of the surrounding residential buildings by a huge cookie cutter.

The only really noteworthy landmark was a big round building at the center, obviously ages old, judging by the staggered window sills and lavish decorative pillars hewn into the equally obviously restored and well-maintained marble exterior. Apart from that, the huge concrete plaza was pretty flat, with a few smaller structures erected from modular supports and walls of metal and plywood, which looked like they had stood entirely elsewhere yesterday, and would move again by tomorrow.

Scootaloo was getting squirmy, so Fluttershy let her run free, following her with the empty stroller. All the ponies, and the many other creatures, around her were so tall and strange, Scootaloo couldn’t stop craning her neck and staring.

The gryphons, she had already seen. Even the occasional drake, or the dragons from yesterday, didn’t surprise her anymore. But there was such a vast multitude of folks present beyond those, Scootaloo barely kept up looking at them all.

Here, a group of zebras carried jingling bags painted with spiritual symbols, which were not unlike the unique shapes exhibited by the breathtaking stripes on their coats, their forms equally jingling with shiny golden jewelry. There, a bunch of hippogriffs’ claws clacked on the ground, bright and colorful plumage shining intensely where they showed through the dark and mysterious ritual wrappings.

Oh, and there was also an impossibly large dog. It was bulky and muscular like a mastiff, but even larger than Scootaloo, and it reeked of magic. The hound padded over to Scootaloo to check her out, wagging its tail in friendly greeting.

“Ew,” Scootaloo said, staggering from the faceful of warm slobber she’d received. She stumbled back and accidentally bumped into another pony and his crate full of clinking bottles.

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” the sleazy stallion said.

“Oh, excuse me, please,” Scootaloo said.

“Eh ... don’t sweat it, kid,” the stallion said, “no harm done.”

“What do you have in that crate?” Scootaloo said, “Sounded like a bunch of bottles. Are those magic tinctures? Potions?”

The stallion laughed. “Yeah, they’re potions alright,” he said, “a full shipment of the finest calimyrna brandy. They don’t make ‘em like this anywhere this side of the desert, that’s why I had to import them from far south. This baby’s gonna make me a good bit of coin tonight.”

“Yuck,” Scootaloo said, “I don’t like alcohol.”

“Smart kid,” the stallion said, retreating with the crate in tow, “You shouldn’t take up the habit, either. Only rots your brain.”

“He looks a bit too enthusiastic about his crate to be giving such advice,” Fluttershy commented, “but okay.”

The merchants stuck mostly to the entrances to set up their displays. As Scootaloo and Fluttershy trotted further inward, the steady stream of visitors became continuously devoid of carts and carriages in lieu of droves of curious pedestrians. Specifically, a remarkable number of younger ponies, fillies and colts, were practically dragging their families across the plaza, a different famous name on every tongue.

The first exhibition hut right around the corner seemed especially popular. Scootaloo wouldn’t even have noticed the plain structure if not for the throng of strollers parked in front of the door.

Something about a stroller was particular. Scootaloo came closer. She was sure she had seen it before. Was that … ?

“Mommy, look!” Scootaloo said, “It’s the second best stroller in Equestria.”

“The second best?” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, because mine’s the first best!” Scootaloo said, “Come on, mommy, we have to go inside.”

Fluttershy said something, but Scootaloo was already in.

The inside of the hut was much more muted. Murmuring adults stood in the corners, hidden in the soft shade of colorful paper lanterns, around a long table packed with little fillies and colts, all engrossed in the speech of the old mare sitting at one end. Finding somepony specific would have been difficult in any other circumstance, but Scootaloo shouldn’t have expected anything less ridiculous: most of the half-dark was being taken up by the imposing presence of a large sun hat.

Scootaloo squeezed herself past bigger ponies until she stood right behind the hat. She prodded the hat and whispered, “Hey, Magnolia, it’s me.”

“Scootaloo!” Magnolia whispered back.

She attempted a greeting, but there was no space to move, so the two fillies just kind of touched their hooves together. Scootaloo wiggled and squirmed between Magnolia and her neighbour for so long until she could sit on the bench herself.

“What’s this place about?” Scootaloo said.

“You gotta listen to Scribe,” Magnolia said, pointing at the old mare.

Scribe was quite a sight. She was obviously very old, but her slow and drawn-out movements seemed calculated and precise. Her dark coat shone with the radiance of a thousand groomings, and her long and delicate limbs were framed in the flowing fur of an ancient lineage. Most impressive of all, however, was her horn. The elongated and curved spike crowned her head proudly, its smooth surface exhibiting subtly proportioned spiraling patterns, the likes of which Scootaloo had never seen before.

“Which is why this has been tradition in the land whence I come,” she said, “passed down for generations before me, and generations before them still. It reminds us of how the small makes up the large, as much as the large makes up the small. For together, we can be both small and large, and it is through this unity that we make up the whole. Do remember this on your journeys, for the wise traveller looks both backward and forward.”

“Now, I have brought for you naught but the most basic of materials. I will demonstrate essential techniques for those who would learn. There are also matching pieces of wood for practice. Please help the younglings among you, and show them how to practice the craft.”

“Here, Scootaloo,” Magnolia said, “nice pacifier, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said, “What is this?”

Magnolia secured her a bunch of small wooden plates from the center of the table. The plates had simple, regular shapes that were notched on multiple sides. It was obvious they were supposed to go together in some way, though the disheveled pile didn’t give much of a hint by itself.

“It’s a practice puzzle,” Magnolia said, “you have to put it together to see how it works. Here, you can do it like me.”

Magnolia herself had a blank sheet of paper in front of her. She didn’t act immediately, looking at the paper for a while and tracing its edges with a hoof, before she consequently grabbed it and folded it cleanly across the diagonal.

One wooden plate fit in each of Scootaloo’s forehooves. She couldn’t bend them and they didn’t align in any way, but there was something about those notches.

Scootaloo brought her plates together. She tried doing like Magnolia, staring at the plates intently, taking in their shape as illuminated by the play of light and shadow across its surfaces, and their pose as she turned them in her hooves. She felt the weight of the wood, the roughness of the material, how the shapes joined and intertwined when she held them close. In a moment of illumination, the relations finally made sense, and the best course of action was revealed to her.

Scootaloo smacked the wooden plates together. They clacked and landed on the table.

“Aw, shoot,” Scootaloo said.

She took another two plates. The notches lined up well, but when she pushed them into one another, the plates would only go halfway and then get stuck. Scootaloo pulled them apart and tried again the other way around, but it still didn’t fit.

“Hey, I think mine’s broken or something,” she complained.

“Not so fast, little one,” Scribe spoke. She didn’t make eye contact, fully concentrated on the paper in her hooves, but for some reason, among all the other little ponies crowding the table, Scootaloo could tell she was speaking directly with her. “The studious wanderer does not hasten past a good opportunity. Some things deserve to be taken slow, observed from every angle, so that only the best choice remains as the clear course of action.”

Scootaloo held up the plates again. She carefully inserted the two notches into each other until they got stuck again. Then she paused. Turning the piece in her hooves, she did her best to look at every last bit of the structure. The angles, the light and shade, the way the wooden texture got increasingly slanted against the edges.

Something’s weird … Hey, that’s it! Scootaloo twisted the two pieces against each other, and suddenly they fully interlocked. The notches weren’t cut straight! They were cut at an angle, leaving some leeway for the pieces to turn. Scootaloo quickly gathered another plate and stuck it on, and for the fourth plate, she could find one that was long enough to connect with two at the same time. She just needed a small one here and another broad one there.

“Look!” Scootaloo said. She put her construction on the table and it didn’t collapse.

“Wow, nice going, Scootaloo,” Magnolia said, “you made a box.”

“Whoa, what are you making?” Scootaloo said.

“I can only tell when it’s finished,” Magnolia said. By now, she held a fairly complicated assembly of folded paper, and still she showed no signs of stopping her work.

“Can I have a paper too, please?” Scootaloo said.

“Sure,” Magnolia said and passed her a sheet.

The paper was rather imposing in its perfect whiteness. How ever could she create something that was better than that little square of purity?

Most of the other ponies, who were big enough to use paper, had elected to fold the paper along the diagonal. Apparently however, that led to too narrow bases, the constructs toppling over on their own. So Scootaloo made a shorter fold, leaving some of the paper to dangle, flattening the edge with her hoof as cleanly as she could.

Picking up on what the other ponies did, she folded the resulting triangle halfway over itself, pulling up the free edge and tucking it into the fold. The crease opened up within itself, releasing an unfolded sleeve from underneath, creating a structure that was stable in all directions. Hey! This thing almost made itself! Just repeat the same thing on the smaller bit, fold both around each other, and finally there was a place to tuck the dangling bit from the beginning into, creating a broad base. It was done.

“Look!” Scootaloo said, “It’s an umbrella!”

“Are you sure?” Magnolia said. She took Scootaloo’s creation and turned it upside down. “Because I think it’s a swan.”

“Whoa,” Scootaloo said. It was a bit wobbly and not entirely proportioned, but the slanted tip and parting lower side really looked like the beak and wings of a swan. “And what are you making?”

Magnolia held up the result of her work, and Scootaloo couldn’t believe her eyes. It was a beautiful flower, its long, slender paper stalk adorned with little leaves and crowned by a bloom with eight pretty petals.

“It’s so pretty,” Scootaloo said.

“Here, it’s for you,” Magnolia said and gave the flower to Scootaloo.

“Wow, thanks,” Scootaloo said, “I only have this swan for you …”

“Cool, thanks!” Magnolia said, inspecting the relatively crumpled paper with reverence.

“Very well,” Scribe said, “Everypony has given their creation to somepony else? Here, little one, this is for you.” She gave an intricate braid of paper flowers to a little filly and gratefully received a small snowflake in return.

“Good,” Scribe continued, “And so we proceed to the final part of our little gathering. It is to remind us never to linger and always to move. For it is not the goal that beckons the sage wanderer, but the path that leads to it. Nothing that we create lasts forever, all will eventually be turned to dust. But it is what we do that counts, what path we choose to tread, for our combined marks are deep enough to surpass the ages.”

She presented a small bowl glazed with delicate spiralling patterns and shapes so very fine suggesting ritual meaning. After loading a few scraps, Scribe then reached into a satchel under her cape and held up a tiny figment perceivably brimming with magic.

“And now, together, everypony,” she said.

Some ponies seemed way too giddy as everypony leaned in closer. The entire table collectively took in a deep breath, and then blew onto the figment in Scribe’s hoof. Her horn began glowing. And then, Scootaloo saw. The spiral shape on her horn was made up of much smaller, astonishingly delicate patterns. Scribe merely touched the magical figment with her nose, and it promptly popped into a bunch of glowing embers that slowly sailed down into the bowl and erupted into a small fire.

Everypony clopped their hooves in amazement and the first pony threw a paper creation into the flame. Another pony followed, and soon everypony was cheering enthusiastically and putting their crafts into the fire.

“Wait, we’re supposed to do that?” Scootaloo said, “I can’t just burn your pretty flower.”

“Are you kidding me?” Magnolia said, “We get to burn stuff! There’s nothing more awesome than that. Come on!”

Magnolia chucked the swan into the flame, and before she could think it better, Scootaloo also put in the flower. It wrinkled and was promptly reduced to glowing ash.

But all was right when Scootaloo turned back to her grinning friend.

“I’m glad we got to do this together, Scootaloo,” Magnolia said and lunged in for a hug.

“I’m also glad,” Scootaloo said, returning the embrace.

It was true. What she had made or lost suddenly no longer mattered. Scootaloo was really glad to have made a friend she could share the moment with.

All in all, this entire thing was kind of cool.

Their mommies had already caught up and were waiting outside, busy conversing about grown-up stuff.

“Hey there, fillies,” Magnolia’s mom said, “I trust you had fun torching stuff?”

“I like how the cinders glow,” Magnolia said, “Mommy, can we go ahead? I need to show Scootaloo the festival.”

“Sure thing,” her mom said, “We’ll be right behind you, in case you ever need to take a seat. Anyway, Fluttershy, you have to tell me about the forest bushes in your garden.”

“Oh, it’s not that difficult,” Fluttershy said, “you can keep forest plants at home if you follow some basic principles …”

Magnolia set quite a pace, but she paid attention not to walk too fast, so Scootaloo could keep up. The festival became progressively more festive the further they went in. Colorful banners and streamers decorated the walls and street lights, vendor stalls and exhibits put mysterious carvings, icons, and enchanted runes on display, and even the walkway seemed to become broader and more regal, giving all the curious visitors enough space to gawk to their hearts’ extent.

The increasingly present ravens were quite enamored with the decorations as well. The cunning ebony birds lined every nook, protrusion and structural support, starry eyes observing every movement and prominent object with latent intelligence.

Most popular with the birds was a particularly animated piece of decoration, wrapped in silken robes and laden with piles of gold and jewels, countless ravens perched on his head and shoulders near the shiny things. The frail Conductor’s voice boomed across the plaza loud enough to make echoes.

“Welcome! Welcome!” he bellowed, “To the annual Choir of Commerce Celebration of the Coin. Come in and take with you a piece from the wonders of the world. Whether rich in heart or full of purse, you are invited for a show and a fancy. Enjoy board and talent from the farthest corners of Equestria.”

Many of the stalls went through great lengths to be as obnoxious as possible. Jewelry vendors had crystals and gems strapped together and enchanted to glitter with blinding intensity. A more esoteric wood carver had a clattering pony completely covered in runes and insignias dancing for attention. Herbal stores spewed forth billowing smoke of the most intense colours and intoxicating aromas to disorient passersby into coming closer. And Fluttershy was soon lost to the potent smells of a tea shop.

The most conspicuous of stores was one that didn’t do anything whatsoever. On display was a long table with an impressively detailed miniature town, complete with miniature houses and miniature furniture. In fact, the shop seemed to sell tiny pieces of furniture in many variations, much to the interest of one lone pony. She could been mistaken for anypony from behind, if it weren’t for those unmistakable blonde locks.

“Hi Terry!” Scootaloo said.

“Scootaloo!” Terry said upon turning, “There you are. I’ve been hoping I’d see you. Hey, nice pacifier.”

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said, “I almost didn’t recognize you in that dress. Looks so much airier than the other one.”

“Yeah,” Terry said, “I had to convince my mom to let me go with auntie, after which I didn’t feel like wearing that posh old thing.”

“Suits you well,” Scootaloo said, “Magnolia, this is my friend Terry.”

“I greet you,” Terry said, “my name is Terry Cloth, of royal --”

Magnolia gasped. “Is that a doll house?” she exclaimed.

“Oh my gosh, do you have dollies too?” Terry said, “These are the finest doll furnitures I’ve ever seen. Look at the detail on this little book case.”

“It’s even got the book titles painted on,” Magnolia said, and they both squealed delightedly in unison.

The display was rather remarkable. There were multiple miniature rooms fully equipped with stylish doll-sized furniture. The living room was built out of cozy felt and wood, the lounge’s carpet was more detailed than most real ones, and the workshop had tools made from real iron. Somepony had obviously put way more attention to these model interiors than most real ones, and it was certainly enough to keep Terry and Magnolia momentarily occupied.

Which was just as well, because Scootaloo kind of needed a bathroom break already. Except, in Scootaloo’s case, it conveniently was more like a pee-your-pants break, and she was willing to put a minute aside for that. Since the opportunity presented itself, why not take it?

Scootaloo pretended to be particularly interested in one of the dressed dolls on display, while secretly making herself comfortable. She parted her hind legs a bit to make her tummy more relaxed and wiggled her rear to confirm the snug presence of her soft diaper beneath her skirt. With everything taken care of, Scootaloo simply let go, and already she could enjoy the prickling relief as she comfortably piddled where she stood.

Few ponies really paid attention to the dolls vendor, and, for whatever reason, those who did seemed to find the dolls representing infants the most interesting. On display was a tiny felt doll of a baby filly, who came with tons of accessories and little dresses and carriages. Whoever bought these would get more than enough entertainment from the sheer number of things to do.

Obviously, the doll wore a doll diaper, but it was rather pathetic. In fact, the worryingly thin white underwear wasn’t a diaper at all, but some kind of training panties for foals. The doll also came with a selection of little doll potties. That’s how potty training worked. She was supposed to have only little accidents into the thin training pants, and then uncomfortably make her way to the potty and learn how to use it instead.

Scootaloo staggered. It was positively disgraceful. The entire concept of a potty was revolting. She wouldn’t be caught dead using one. In fact, she made sure to empty herself down to the very last drop, into her vastly superior diaper. Not a single moment would she waste on anything even as much as resembling a toilet, if she could help it.

The soaked plastic warmed the insides of Scootaloo’s thighs, as the diaper began its arduous task of absorbing all the liquid and drying her urine-soaked fur. But that was no longer any of Scootaloo’s concern. She had done what she had needed to do, and that was basically the extent of it for her. Scoffing one last time at the potty training implements, Scootaloo strutted away victoriously and rejoined her friends.

“And then you can stitch on the petals from top to bottom,” Terry said, “it’ll make the prettiest little dress without much effort.”

“Wow, cool,” Magnolia said, “I’ll try it out first thing.”

They departed from the stall, pleasantly sated with mutual doll impressions and experiences. In Terry’s case, probably more than that, her saddlebags were noticeably heavier than when they had arrived.

Scootaloo agreed to lend her stroller as storage space for the time being, earning a hearty clap on the shoulder from Victory, for sparing her back for once. This way, Scootaloo, Terry and Magnolia were free to roam about in the time it took the three grown-ups to catch up.

“So, neither of you have been to the festival before?” Magnolia said.

“Well, it’s my first time in Skyview, so no,” Scootaloo said.

“Neither have I,” Terry said, “my mom wouldn’t allow me to go. She thinks it’s below us to mingle with commoners. Well, I certainly don’t think that, and neither does auntie, so we came together this year.”

“Wow, that’s awfully mean of your mom,” Magnolia said.

“So I have come to realize,” Terry said.

“Well, I guess I have to give you two the lay of the land then,” Magnolia said, “We’re in the vendor area right now. You can tell because there’s nothing but stalls here, everypony’s trying to get rid of their stuff.” And ponies were buying, too. “You can go around the middle on either side, which leads to the real plaza or to the festival area. There’s food on one side and music on the other. Or we can go straight down the middle, which leads to that thing over there. That’s the colosseum.”

“Colosseum?” Scootaloo said. The imposing round building was continuously being brightened up with lamps and floodlights as the sun went down, making it the radiant centerpiece of the festival grounds. “Sounds colossal.”

“Well, it’s not a real colosseum like in the excavations,” Magnolia said, “More like the remains of one. The seats are there, and they have a stage in the middle. But they keep it maintained so they can have the magic show duel there.”

“A magic show?” Scootaloo said, “We have one of those in Ponyville. Not too terribly exciting.”

“Not a magic show. A magic show duel!,” Magnolia said, “I go to this show every year, and it’s always a blast. Just see for yourself.”

Scootaloo and Terry were lucky to have somepony who knew her way around the place. The storefront jungle was already confusing enough, but the back alleys were just endless rows of the same undecorated buildings, standing close enough to almost fully block out the streetlights. Scootaloo was beginning to question if the shortcut had been worth it.

The clink of glass resounded, and an empty bottle rolled out from a small, dark alley. It would have been unremarkable otherwise, but there was the label. It read, Calimyrna Brandy.

“Hey,” Scootaloo said, “I recognize the bottle. Where did that come from?”

She stopped and peeked into the alley. It was difficult to see, but something was there. Something moving. Whatever it was, it was large, and it thrashed heavily against the concrete.

Scootaloo knew she shouldn’t go closer, but her curiosity was stronger. Before she realized how hungry the maw of darkness loomed, she had already been swallowed up.

“What … Who goes there?” rasped a deep voice.

It was a large stallion, old and fat, struggling to stand upright against the questionable support of bottles and trash. He reeked intensely of sweat and alcohol. He panted, his eyes unfocused beneath his massive, dirty white brows and beard, trying to make sense of the intrusion.

The wind suddenly bit colder, but Scootaloo wasn’t afraid. Terry stood protectively in front of the two smaller ponies, she was almost as big as the stallion, and obviously way stronger. Besides, he was outnumbered.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Terry challenged.

“Do you not recognize me?” the stallion gave a croaking laugh, “I’m the town drunk. And that’s what I’m here to do. I drink. At least until you interrupted me.”

“Well, you shouldn’t drink so much, mister,” Scootaloo said, “it’s not healthy for you.”

The drunk’s face contorted in disbelief. But then he gave a bellowing laugh. “What you say is not wrong, little one,” he said, “it is not right to drink beyond one’s own limit. But some things are even less right. For instance, my suffering. And you can not presume to deny a pony the chance to forget their suffering.”

“But what suffering could be so bad to justify damaging yourself over it?” Magnolia said.

“I wish you should never find out, innocent one,” the drunk said, “I travelled here because I learned that somepony else would be present. Somepony who was once very close to me. Oh, how much I have thought about her, and what injustice I have wrought by abandoning her decades ago. I have tried to find her, but every ripped up letter was another piece of my heart, gone. Now that I have found her, I could not help to drink some courage. And more courage. Until there was no more courage left. Look at me. How could I even sully her graceful presence like this?”

“Do you really think she would reject you?” Terry said, “After such a long time that you have not seen each other?”

“Yeah,” Magnolia said, “If you’ve been thinking of her for decades, she wouldn’t be the kind of pony to refuse you, would she?”

“You should just go talk to her,” Scootaloo said, “I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? She’s gonna say no? Well, like, whatever, at least you got it off your chest.”

The drunk had raised his bottle to drink, but he stopped. He put it aside, grumbling to himself.

“Oh, dear Princess, have I not suffered enough,” he said, sighing heavily, “I will consider what you say. And now, you go. Little foals, what are you even doing here. Can’t you see this is a dark alley? You are not supposed to be here. Go away! Shoo!”

Scootaloo and her friends took the advice and briskly left the back alleys.

“See, and that’s why I don’t drink alcohol,” Scootaloo said, “I can’t imagine ending up like that.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Magnolia agreed.

Terry gave them an incredulous look. “Uh, aren’t you two a bit young to be talking about drinking alcohol?” she said.

“Um,” Scootaloo said.

“Oh come on,” Magnolia said, “you can’t tell me you never tried it when you were my age.”

Terry shrugged. “Point taken,” she said.

Back on the busy side of the plazas, the grownups were already waiting for them. Victory was already swinging a tankard of an unspecified beverage, and Magnolia’s mom came to greet them.

“Where have you fillies been?” she said.

“We took a shortcut, mommy,” Magnolia explained, “but it ended up taking longer. We just wanted to see the pet show!”

Indeed, quite a lot of animals were gathered in a space prepared with toys and little trick stages. A row of cats sat contentedly on the sidelines, watching the busy movement of the public, while derisively grooming themselves. Several small critters were solving puzzles, rats trying to find the exits of mazes and squirrels matching shapes and colors, dogs and rabbits standing on two, sometimes even one, legs, while trying to balance plates on their heads or jumping over small obstacles.

A number of smaller animals were gathered around Fluttershy, who was holding an animated conversation with a tiger. Beside her stood Merry Winds, trying to hold very, very still, her eyes huge. Though Scout, twisting in the sleeve around her chest, and happily trying to grab the beast’s whiskers, had issues of timidness.

“Hi, Merry. Hi, Scout,” Scootaloo said, “is Circuit here too?”

Scout gurgled in greeting. Merry nodded her head towards the other corner of the area, her eyes fixed on the massive feline. “Dog show,” she mumbled.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said and trotted in the indicated direction.

“Oh, look at the puppies!” Terry said. A jumble of little furballs had begun going for her hooves, much to her delight, as she nuzzled into their soft fur and watched them jump over and around each other in play.

“Wow, aren’t you a pretty one,” Magnolia said. A poodle had taken particular interest in her, and presented its perfectly kept appearance to her, deigning itself to let her stroke its immaculate fur while expertly concealing its enthusiasm.

A particular dog had also noticed Scootaloo’s presence, but she already knew that one.

“Not again,” Scootaloo said, but the gigantic hound was already all over her and diligently slobbered every dry spot on her face with slimy dog drool, knocking at least another dog and a visitor over with its massive wagging tail. “Eww!” Scootaloo complained, “Ever heard of breath mints?”

“Fang! Down! Come on, boy!” somepony said, “When are you ever going to learn not to pounce strangers?”

“I don’t know, he really seems to like her,” a second, familiar voice said. Scootaloo wiped the slime from her eyes and found Circuit holding out a dirty rag for her.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said, wiping herself off, “I wouldn’t mind the scruffy love, but being covered in goop is starting to get old.”

“Well, he’s usually an intelligent dog,” Circuit said, “he can do quite a number of tricks.”

“What, you mean besides being huge, and slobbering on ponies?” Scootaloo said.

“Sure,” Fang’s owner said. The colt was barely taller than them, and seeing the gigantic creature at his attention was kind of funny. “I bet ya Fang can fetch this stick before any other dog. Believe me?”

“I don’t know,” Scootaloo said, “Fang looks kinda heavy. I don’t think he can run that fast.”

“Alright, just look,” he said. A short whistle, and Fang was completely still, staring at the colorful stick his owner held up. Fang’s owner targeted an empty area and tossed the stick. “Fetch.”

Now, Scootaloo was no expert on dog training, but even she knew something like this was a bad idea in a place cramped with dogs. Several other dogs had perked up at the signal, including muscular mutts and lean running dogs. As soon as the stick was tossed, a mad dash began, smaller dogs trying to wiggle past as the larger specimens attempted to outmuscle each other in chase of the prize.

None of them came close to the stick, however. Everyone was forced aside when Fang came thundering through, plowing his way through the group and toward the goal. Fang picked up the stick and a chunk of earth, and came scrambling back to his owner, spraying dirt and spittle everywhere.

“Told ya,” he said, “good boy, Fang. Such a good boy.”

Almost meekly, Fang enjoyed his treat.

“I’m never doubting Fang again,” Scootaloo said.

“Alright, I’ll catch up with you later, okay?” Circuit said, “Gotta hit the streets with the gang.” He hoofbumped his friend and went over to join Scootaloo.

“The gang?” Scootaloo said.

“Well, I see you haven’t come alone,” Circuit said.

“Oh my gosh, what happened to you, Scootaloo?” Terry said, “You look … interesting.”

“Magnolia and Terry, this is Circuit,” Scootaloo said, “Circuit, this is Magnolia and Terry.”

“Hey, I recognize you from school,” Circuit said, “You’re the mare who plays with dollies, right?”

Terry’s eyes could have cut diamonds. “Got a problem with that?” she growled.

“Well yeah,” Circuit said, “the problem’s that they’ve been making fun of you. I always thought that was awfully unfair. I mean, you weren’t hurting anypony, right? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself.”

“Yeah … ” Terry said, “I, uh, … I could probably have reacted differently, I guess. Would have saved some trouble. But I realized this only now, after I met Scootaloo.”

“Yeah, Scootaloo’s like that, isn’t she? She’s pretty mature for her size,” Circuit said, “Oh, hey, Scootaloo. Nice pacifier, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said.

“What are all these animals doing here anyway?” Magnolia said, “They weren’t here last year.”

“I guess they’re trying to put on a show for the smaller foals who can’t watch the magic performance,” Circuit said, “Hey, they have little lambs back there. Wanna go look?”

Indeed, the latter half of the pet area was a small grass yard surrounded by a little fence. Though the fence was more of a symbolic suggestion and kept neither the animals in, nor the droves of little foals out. Only a family of sheep remained inside and contentedly chewed on the grass offered by over eager visitors.

“They’re so cute!” Magnolia gasped, “I wanna hug them all! Come here, little ones.”

“Whoa, watch out,” Terry said, holding Magnolia’s tail fast, as the smaller pony was fully enveloped. A whole bunch of little lambs immediately became aware of the newcomers and came bounding over to check them out. The wave of fluffy white wool rolled over Magnolia, but, aside from getting her hat knocked off, she came out unharmed and giggling.

“They’re so soft!” Magnolia squealed, “It tickles!”

“And so small. How droll,” Terry said. She didn’t let go of Magnolia for fear of losing her in the waves of wool, but she still enjoyed some of the baby animal goodness.

A singular lamb was brave enough to separate from the group and approach to check out Circuit and Scootaloo. The tiny animal was unsure at first, but slowly it snuck closer, cautiously stepping up to pry at Scootaloo’s hooves. Then it suddenly grew brazen and began rubbing up against her forelegs.

“Hey, little guy,” Scootaloo said, “what are you doing all the way over here? Don’t you wanna get back to your brothers and sisters?”

“Maybe he’s a loner,” Circuit said, “hey, you should pet him to make him feel better.”

Scootaloo began stroking the lamb’s back. Its wool was so soft, she could veritably sink her hoof in it. Before she thought it any better, Scootaloo bent down and embraced the little lamb in a big hug. The lamb bleated in confusion for a moment, but then it grew comfortable and raised its head, nuzzling into Scootaloo’s neck.

Its pleasant smoothness was almost overbearing. Scootaloo snuggled the wiggly little thing close, and it made her feel warm and cozy all over, tickling her with every movement as it leaned into her embrace. The lamb obviously enjoyed it too, happily giving little bleats and turning over to also get snuggled from the other side. Maybe it thought Scootaloo was its mommy. How funny was that!

Scootaloo was about to call Circuit over to join in, but she just barely caught him looking away. Circuit had been observing the hug with way too much interest, and now rivalled the sheep in trying to look cool.

“Hey, do you want a hug too?” Scootaloo said, “It’s okay, you don’t have to feel bad.”

“Uh,” Circuit said. But Scootaloo had already closed the gap and took him into a big hug.

Circuit wasn’t as soft as the sheep, but he certainly enjoyed the it no less. He was slightly bigger than her, but she still managed to close her hooves around him and held him tight to show him the joy of a friendly embrace. It wasn’t long before the enthusiasm spread to Circuit and he raised his hooves to return the amicable gesture.

The hug ended after a comfortable while and the two friends returned their attention to the animals with renewed vigour.

Part 15

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“Drink! Drink! Drink!”

She couldn’t feel her tongue.

Her throat was like sandpaper.

But Scootaloo drank.

“She’s actually gonna do it.”

“I can’t believe it!”

Only a tiny bit of the queer liquid remained. No turning back now. She held her breath and forced the last of it down.

“Aahh,” Scootaloo sighed and slammed her cup on the ground. “Looks like you owe me a cup of mana juice, bozo.”

Everypony cheered.

Everypony except for one. The colt who had started it all. His self-satisfied grin was now notably absent.

“It’s called mango juice,” he grumbled.

“She did it!” somepony said, “I thought you said she was too small to drink it all.”

“Ah, stuff it,” the colt said, “Okay, filly, you got me this time.”

He reluctantly reached into his purse and paid the vendor, who was practically drooling over the coin.

“Hey, good work, kid,” the vendor said, “you won! Look, I still have a bunch of food in my cart. What do you say, a little eating contest? It’ll be fun! I’ll even give you guys a five percent discount. Today only!”

“I don’t know,” Scootaloo said, “I think” - urps - “sorry. I think I’ll pass.”

The world slowly returned to her senses. The air was as heavy with the smells of exotic foods as the many fat purses jingling with coins. The taste on Scootaloo’s tongue also came back. It wasn’t like the sweet mango juice wasn’t yummy, but the sawdust-like texture made it kinda hard to drink. And downing an entire cup just like that, without knowing what it would taste like, hadn’t been her best decision either.

In any case, Scootaloo had enough. She picked her pacifier back up and left.

The colt turned his shoulder as she departed. Scootaloo didn’t know exactly what it was, but he was weird. His spiky mane stood out like a hearth’s warming sparkler in the crowd of adolescents gathering around him. He wore earrings, piercings, chains around his neck. Clad in metal like a knight’s armor. Though he was a pegasus, his body was muscular like she had hardly seen in Skyview city.

He was the king of the playground.

The grown-ups mostly decided to stay clear of the plaza, to seek shelter from errant balls, frisbees or frolicking fillies or colts. Except for the food vendors, of course, who couldn’t seem to quickly enough get rid of their prepared foods and exotic recipes from afar. After all, no spice smelled sweeter than the promise of an overburdened parent’s gold.

“Boy, you really showed him, Scootaloo,” Terry said, her mouth full of greasy brown stuff, of which she had more in her hooves, “Good going, filly. Wow, these taste amazing. What are they called again?”

“They’re falafels,” Magnolia said, “My mom likes to make them when chickpeas are cheap later in the year. She always buys the stuff in huge bags. But I don’t mind, I’m not usually allowed to eat something so greasy.” She grabbed another helping with a glistening hoof.

“So, you know the guy?” Scootaloo said.

“Ugh,” Terry made, rolling her eyes, “don’t even remind me.”

“Local bully in school,” Circuit said, “They call him Slog. I’ve never talked to him myself, but he and his gang have been giving Terry a hard time.”

“I’m certainly not giving them the time of day,” Terry stated, “I know I should act my age, but bullies like him never deserve your attention. He’s the reason my mom doesn’t want me to mingle with ponies from the lower city. She says I’ll get my clothes ruined with the soot from the steel mill.”

“Well, I heard his parents both worked in the steel mill their entire lives,” Circuit said, “like many other ponies, those who work in the lower city stay in the lower city. They also usually have their own schools down there, and so their children also stay in the lower city.”

“I think his mane looks funny,” Magnolia piped up.

“But he goes to school with you?” Scootaloo said, “That must be tough. Going to school while working in a factory all day.”

“Whatever,” Terry said, “We’ve all got our problems. And it’s not like he’s alone by himself. Look how everypony’s crowding around him.”

“I wanna look at his mane …” Magnolia said.

“Doesn’t seem like he particularly enjoys the attention,” Scootaloo said. The crowd was still in uproar, but Slog seemed to have made a silent exit. “Sometimes, a bit of empathy can go a long way.”

“Hmpf,” Terry huffed.

As they finished, Scootaloo ended up having a falafel too. She didn’t get what everypony found so great about them. Sure, its texture was hearty and pleasant, but all the coriander made it taste kind of like soap. Well, at least the grease was decent.

Suddenly, somepony came barging straight into the plaza-turned-playground.

“They’re starting!” the excited pony proclaimed, “The magic duel, it’s beginning! Come on, everypony! Get going or you’ll miss it!”

A few older ponies immediately bounded off to the colosseum's entrance. But the vast majority, all smaller foals, fanned out radially from the space, avoiding collision with each other with cunning efficiency as they rapidly closed the distance to their parents. Sleeves and collars were tugged ruthlessly, and they cried and begged to move faster, as the migration began.

Magnolia, Circuit and Terry had already caught up to their respective guardians and began with the bargaining for haste. Scootaloo had no idea what this all was about, but the urgency was suddenly very real.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Scootaloo said, “We have to go, mommy!”

“Hello there, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “Is everything alright? I haven’t seen you all evening. How are you enjoying our visit to the festival?”

“Yes, mommy,” Scootaloo said, “it’s great. I’ve been playing with Magnolia and Circuit and Terry.”

She really wanted to get a move on, but she also didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for some snuggles. Fluttershy gave Scootaloo a kiss on the cheek, and Scootaloo turned her other cheek as quickly as she could to receive a kiss there as well. Then they rubbed noses together with the utmost expeditiousness.

“Mommy, we have to go,” Scootaloo said, “The magic duel’s starting, and we can’t be late.”

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “Okay, Scootaloo. Just give me a moment to get the stroller and pack our things. Then we can leave.”

“But mommy!” Scootaloo said, “All the good seats will be taken if we come too late!”

“Ah, just let ‘em go,” Magnolia’s mom said from under her hat. She didn’t even get up from the bench she was lying on. “They’ll be fine. Magnolia knows her way around.”

“Besides, Terry’s there to take care of things if need be,” Victory said, “isn’t that right?”

“Yes, auntie,” Terry called, already halfway around the corner.

“Fine,” Fluttershy said, “Go ahead, Scootaloo. We’ll be right behind you.”

Scootaloo had to go! The red flag was waving last call, Circuit’s tail vanishing into the crowd. Scootaloo quickly let go of Fluttershy and scuttled off into the unknown.

All the ponies were gathering to see the show. The grounds opened up closer to the colosseum, and everypony proceeded to pile on and cramp up the plaza. Even worse, most everypony carried bags and trunks bulging with loot, making progress a fruitless proposition. Magnolia tried to navigate her way around the maze of grown-ups’ legs, but crammed crowds and weighed wagons proved obstacles unnavigable. They had to stop and wait up for the less nimble, but more burly, Terry to carve a path.

Finally, the entry arch to the colosseum popped up above excited heads, but that was as close as it came. The crowd had ground to a complete halt, impatient foals fussing with their equally impatient parents, as everypony watched the tiny trickle through the entryway.

“Oh no,” Circuit said, “we’ll never get inside at this rate.”

“What are you guys doing?” Magnolia said. Scootaloo turned her head, but she was no longer beside them. Where was she? Oh! She was above! “The building has no roof. Come on!”

“Right,” Circuit said and jumped into the air.

Scootaloo ran after them, while her friends, same as many other provident ponies, took to the skies. Her friends were so far away! Could they even hear her? Scootaloo tried jumping after them as high as she could, but her wings barely elevated her above the crowd.

“Hey! Wait for me!” Scootaloo called, “Don’t leave -- oof.”

Two strong hooves grabbed her around the chest and she was lifted away. Terry held Scootaloo tightly, as they rose after the others.

The bedlam was even more impressive from an altitude. Despite the sea of ponies flooding against the Colosseum’s front, the surrounding webwork of market streets were still brimming with commerce.

Scootaloo had never seen so few ponies in a crowd. Even the more common inhabitants of this city, gryphons, diamond dogs, lizards and the occasional dragon, weren’t predominantly frequent in the heterogeneous crowd, which meandered between alleys and past overloud market criers like a stream jammed with hooves, horns, antlers, wings, scales, plates, smooth fur, shining chitin and possibly even icky slime. They were all the same, in the eyes of the Choir, as long as they had coin.

And everyone was trying to get a piece of that cake. The easiest way of which was to sell basically junk. Picture frames beset with beautifying gemstones. Playing cards hoof-drawn with the pictures Saddle Arabia’s rulers. Carved figurines of animals so rare nopony had ever heard of them before. They were mass-produced souvenirs and fake exotic trinkets meticulously designed to elicit as strong of an emotional response as possible to overshadow the feeling of a lighter purse.

But that was what made it all so appealing. Exploring inbetween stalls and behind the back alleys for that sweet deal on an actually rare artifact, honestly crafted decoration, exotic food and drink, or simply giving in to the high of a decadent purchase. No matter the origin, species, age or creed, everyone understood the laws of commerce.

Scootaloo wasn’t usually afraid of heights, but the solid landscape of market stalls awash with the flooding crowd made her feel a bit queasy. But, now, she felt extra secure in Terry’s grasp. Terry obviously had a lot of experience carrying her dollies around, and she held Scootaloo with equal, unyielding firmness.

Not that Scootaloo was a dolly. Because she wasn’t. She was clearly bigger than a dolly, and her mane and her tail were obviously real. The most important difference though, a fact which Terry was inconveniently ignorant of, was that dollies usually didn’t have anything to hide beneath their skirts fluttering in the wind. Especially nothing with painfully bright and colorful prints, and obviously saggy from previous use.

Somepony flew past from below. Scootaloo promptly crossed her hind legs and held her skirt down.

“Where are they?” Terry said.

“Over there,” Scootaloo said, “by the ravens.”

“Scootaloo,” Terry said, “There’s ravens everywhere.”

“No, look,” Scootaloo said, “by the statues. Red tail.”

“Right,” Terry said, and followed Circuit’s striking feature.

To complete the drawings of fake ravens, and the alcoves on the outer wall populated with real ravens, the circular building was crowned by a ring of majestic raven statues, similarly populated with real ravens, who were observing the flocks of ponies with stoic onyx eyes. They crossed the threshold, and descended into the massive bowl. Despite its huge dimensions, the colosseum’s endless rows of stone benches were already filled up on the entrance side. Luckily, the far side was all theirs!

“Awesome!” Circuit said, “We got almost front row!”

“You sound surprised,” Magnolia said, “Trust me. These have been the best seats for years. Excuse me, we need some room here ...”

“Uh,” the seat’s occupant said, “sure thing.”

The seats had been taken by a group of adolescents. They looked like they were about to protest, but when the remarkably smaller Magnolia slammed into the stone bench and brashly spread her wings to make room for her friends, they thought it better. Circuit promptly claimed his own spot on the cold stone. He landed beside Magnolia and appreciatively sat down on his haunches, sidling up to her.

Scootaloo was simply plopped down on her rear. She didn’t complain, the stone wasn’t too cold for her, she was sitting quite softly.

“Uh, okay,” the pony from before said as Terry snuggled in between him and Scootaloo, “aren’t you a bit young to be sitting here?”

“Aren’t you a bit old to be so nosy?” Terry shot back.

His gang laughed.

“She’s got you there,” somepony else said.

“I’m just saying,” he pouted, “they’ve got an age restriction in here.”

“How did you guys get here anyway?” Scootaloo said, “you obviously didn’t fly.”

All of them were Zebras. Their speech bore no particular inflection, but the leader’s stripes had an exotic beauty to them.

“Oh, we got in early,” stripes grinned, pulling out a pack of Savannah Sensations from one of the many pouches on his vest, “my brother brought them fresh from the Vast. You’d be surprised the places these things can get you. A bunch here, a pack there, and whoosh, you find yourself in front row seats on the magic show of the year. Want one?”

“Uh ... ” Circuit said, “Smoking? Seriously? Didn’t you think we’re too young to enter, just now?”

Stripes shrugged.

“The show of the year?” Magnolia said, “You think they’re going to beat that one time with the lizard gladiator?”

Stripes choked. “You were here for that?” he said, “That must have been, like, more than five years ago. Totally wrecked the place, too. Though not so bad like when they brought that war machine up from the Diamond Hollows. Boy, those saws screeched my ears out.”

“Yeah,” Magnolia said, “What were they thinking, trying to contain that huge mountain of steel and gears? It barely worked with the dragon fire the year before …”

“Steel? Dragon fire? What the hay are you two talking about?” Scootaloo said, “All I see is a bunch of ponies standing around, and looking at dirt.”

They were hard to miss, the ponies loitering around in the center of the arena, being blasted with the full force of several stadium lights. A bunch of them hung around in the upturned earth, and a bunch more huddled on an ugly slab of concrete.

“What did you expect?” stripes laughed.

“I just didn’t think it would look so ... ugly,” Scootaloo said.

“You have no idea, do you? Look there,” stripes pointed with his cigarette, “those ponies in the dirt. They’re all unicorns, right? What do you think they’re doing?”

Something was particular about those six ponies standing in an exact circle. Scootaloo couldn’t quite see the ground because the earth was severely upturned, but she could swear something twinkled before one set of hooves.

“Are they ...” Scootaloo said, “are they channeling a rune?”

“Dome of protection!” Magnolia said, “They need it to keep the destruction contained inside.”

“D-Destruction!?” Terry said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be safe,” stripes laughed, “at least that’s what I hope ... hey, you guys wanna buy some smokes?”

Ponies were piling on in front and behind them. In fact, the entire stadium had become filled up, to the very outermost seats, and even further beyond, as ponies circled excitedly above the show floor. Despite the arena being open overhead, most everyone squeezed past each other between the benches, and the air was getting hot and stuffy at an alarming rate.

Just when Scootaloo thought the general commotion couldn’t get any louder, the crowd began roiling with excited shouts. The ponies on the center stage finally broke open their cloaked huddle, and revealed a long and slender form, an elegant curved and inscribed horn, and a, very recently, familiar face.

“Is that ...” Scootaloo shouted, “Is that Scribe? The mare from the arts and crafts session earlier?”

“Oh yeah, she’s fighting tonight,” Magnolia said, “Did I forget to tell?”

“Fighting?” Scootaloo said, “Are you for serious? Isn’t she a bit old for that?”

“Hey!” Magnolia grinned, “I dare you to say that to her face!”

Scribe looked almost bored without her entourage, like she was solemnly loitering around the spacious premises. But the way she carried herself suggested something else entirely. Her hooded cloak barely acknowledged the spotlights, too dark to be made of regular fabric, yet it played so lightly in the wind like no bolstered material could. Underneath the blackness glinted the varnished buckles of several belts strapped around her chest and limbs, with reinforced prongs and holes strong enough to secure countless clandestine satchels and bags along her body.

It was easy to mistake Scribe’s gear as casual wear at first glance, but beneath the veil of complacency lay cruel preparation.

“And who’s she supposed to fight?” Scootaloo said.

“Dunno,” Magnolia said, “it’s a secret.”

“The secret is if they’ll even show up,” Circuit said, returning from above, “They say the identity hasn’t been revealed yet, but apparently they don’t know where the pony is. Here, I got us some popcorn.”

Terry promptly dug in, to calm her nerves.

Just then, somepony entered the stage. The lanky figure was obviously no fighter, but he sported a very stylish cap with the Choir’s raven insignia.

“Fillies and gentlecolts,” his annoyingly shrill voice tore across the stadium, “The magic show duel of the century is set to begin in just a few more minutes, right after we’ve fixed a minor technical difficulty. And you better hold on to your seats, hats, wings, and whatever else you got, because this one’s going to be a doozy ... Where the hay is that guy anyway?” He whispered the last part to his associate, but the words resounded clear as day.

“Well,” the zebra colt said, “looks like this one’s a bust.”

“Yeah, what the hay?” somepony said behind them.

“Come on, I’ve got good money on this fight,” somepony else complained.

The generally increasing dissatisfaction couldn’t be overheard. The only ponies who weren’t up in the air and getting restless were those six ponies standing around the stage. They didn’t keep particularly still, but were noticeably concentrated. The lights were too bright to see any glow on their horns, but when Scootaloo turned her head just right, she could see the dome of protection’s translucent geometry encasing the arena with perfect regularity.

“Those guys are good,” Scootaloo said, “Who are they? They’re not even wearing any uniforms or, like, safety equipment.”

“Mercenaries perhaps?” Circuit suggested, “They don’t look the official type, and they must have quite some training to keep their cool in a crowd this big.”

“They’re Royal Guard,” stripes said.

“Royal Guard?” Terry exclaimed, spraying popcorn, “You must be joking. To think the princesses would support such barbarism!”

“Obviously they don’t support it, officially,” stripes said, “but far be it from the princesses to interfere with something that’s established tradition. They had gladiator arenas in Skyview ever since the city was founded. The throne don’t want to ban it, they just want to make sure nothing bad happens when everypony’s gathered in one place. So they send out these dudes, special Royal Guard units, but without the armor.”

“I can’t believe it,” Terry said, “secret agents? Sent by the throne? That’s so dishonest! They’re the princesses, for Celestia’s .... uh, sake.”

Stripes grinned. “Then you wouldn’t want to know how many others there are --”

Somepony new entered the arena, and the stadium roared.

The figure obviously was no mercenary, nor a trained Royal Guard. He was big, fat, old, unkempt, and he couldn’t even walk straight to begin with. The stallion stumbled about, his tattered cerulean robes and white beard disfigured by dark stains of unspeakable grime, the probable origins of which he carried with him in a bundle on a crooked stick across his back. From several clanking bottles peeked a very familiar, now-empty bottle of Calimyrna Brandy.

Scootaloo gasped. “It’s the drunk,” she said, “from earlier, in the alleyway. How did he manage to get in there? Somepony’s gotta help him, before he gets hurt!”

But nopony did such thing. On the contrary, his stumbling attempts to traverse the broken earth and clamber onto the central platform were met with jeers and jubilation in equal parts. The old pony managed his way onto the concrete, but most of his efforts were tied up in trying to stand upright without falling over.

“Fillies and gentlecolts, friends of furious fights,” the announcer with the annoying voice proclaimed, “the moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. I hope you’re sitting pretty, because this is going to blow you off your seats.”

“I knew this was a bad idea,” the drunk said.

“They can’t be serious,” Scootaloo said, “they’re gonna beat up the old stallion just like that?”

“In the one corner,” the announcer continued, “hailing from the snaking valleys of the far east, as skilled as she is graceful, court scholar of the Eternal Dynasty and teacher of generations, advisor to the throne, agent and diplomat, Scribe of the Black Petal!”

“And in the other corner, forged in the cold lands beyond the Broken Spire, hero of a thousand battles and distinguished by Equestria’s highest decorations, guardian patron of the northern realms, last Archmeister of the Order of the Thunderhoof --”

“Yeah, yeah, get on with it already,” the old stallion spat, “all you ponies do is talk.”

“Gorn the Destroyer!” the announcer trumpeted, and the crowd went wild.

The announcer had already scrambled out of the ring, and his assistant followed suit, putting as much distance between himself and the contestants as possible. Gorn stood on wobbly hooves, not daring to raise his gaze from the ground. But Scribe had ceased all movement. Her entire being was fixated, with razor-sharp attention, on the creature before her.

“Look,” Gorn said, “I don’t know what drove me to come here, but I realize it was a mistake. If you let me go, I will just turn around and --”

It was barely as much as a nod of her head, a sparkling projectile sliced through the air from underneath Scribe’s cloak, connected with Gorn’s face and smashed into the magic dome, splintering into countless icy shards that evaporated without a trace. Gorn reeled from the ephemeral projectile’s impact, but the dark blood he drew from his cheek was as palpable as the excitement of the screaming crowd.

Scootaloo was in a suffocating predicament of her own, Terry had decided to hold on to her for support.

“That’s blood!” Terry howled, “They can’t be serious! That’s monstrous!”

“What was that?” Circuit said, “What did Scribe shoot at him? And how did she conjure it from thin air?”

“She didn’t,” Magnolia explained, “it’s a magically infused icicle. She’s one of the ancient Primordial Shadows, she must have prepared infused elements in advance before the fight.”

“Scribe, it doesn’t have to be like this,” Gorn huffed, the excitement now fully unhinging him in his drunken haze, “if you would let me just --”

Another little capsule had rolled from one of the many folds of her gear into Scribe’s grasp. She let it burst on the ground, and the spilt water promptly turned into more crystalline icicles under her attention, whizzing through the air with deadly resolve.

Gorn had no chance to react, he would have been done for, but lucky for him, he tripped, and the icy projectile missed by a hair’s breadth from ripping his tendons into pieces. He stumbled and turned to avoid falling, twisting just out of the next icicle’s path, which punched a hole clean through his fluttering scarf. As he got back up, his gnarled branch rolled off his shoulders. Swirling the long rod around his back, he caught it in his hoof, just barely as another icicle missed his neck.

This time, Gorn didn’t falter. He stepped forth and snapped his staff straight in front of him, bottles still dangling in their cloth, as he smashed the final sharp projectile off its course mid-flight. As the ice scraped away the grime, his tool revealed itself not as a brittle old piece of wood, but as an intricate combat staff addled with crystalline and black steel reinforcements.

“How did he do that?” Scootaloo gasped, “He looks like he can barely stand straight.”

“He’s an ages old warrior,” stripes said. Unlike his hollering friends, he sat and watched the fight with quiet attention, “he trained and led the only order of monk-warriors that could protect an entire realm on its own. Watch him, he’s only getting warmed up.”

The more rapid Scribe’s movements became, the more dreamlike she danced across the stage, and the more fierce her assault grew. She went all out with the icicles, smashing several beads of water on the ground and letting the exploding clump of ice bite into her hooves. Her horn cut through the ice like a shining emerald blade, increasingly sizzling with raw power as she rapidly flung hundreds of tiny razor blade shards at her opponent.

Gorn’s drunken dance was neither luck nor chance, but cold calculation. He twisted and stumbled to elude most of harm’s way, and his combat staff struck and whirled in his hooves, a barrier of force impenetrable by frontal assault, behind the cover of which he moved into a tactically advantageous position.

Scribe saw through his weakness. The closer Gorn got, the more area he had to cover against the projectiles firing off from all around her. She ripped the glacial clump from the ground and cracked it open, firing off projectiles from all around a wide arc, simultaneously. Gorn had no chance to defend, as shards penetrated his defenses and sliced his robes.

But Gorn only had to get close enough. In one fluid motion, the bottle from his satchel had landed in his hoof and he took a deep swig. He cleared the way with a downward strike and smashed his staff’s steel head against the stone, sending sparks flying. Scribe only had a moment to react as she realized what he was about to do.

Gorn exhaled mightily and blew the liquid in his mouth into the sparks, creating a massive jet of blinding white hot flame blasting clean across the arena. The quarter of the stadium audience within the explosion area promptly took to the skies in search of safety, but the charring wildfire was aptly contained by the guards’ inhibiting dome.

A deafening crack followed as ice and fire crashed, and dirty hissing steam exploded across the arena. Scribe came stumbling out of the carnage, her personal shield still up, as she tried to find her bearings. She anticipated an attack from every side, but too late did she see her opponent’s massive form come in from above, steel blunt of the weapon trained directly for her skull.

Gorn struck the ultimate blow, but smoke and cloth was all that his staff touched, before he smashed a crack into the concrete. Scribe was gone.

“Shadow Walk!” Magnolia exclaimed and jumped up in excitement.

“What’s that mean?” Circuit said, following suit, “She can go invisible? That’s impossible!”

“Not impossible,” Magnolia said, “but the conditions have to be right. You can see her movement if you watch closely, but with this fog, he’ll never be able to spot her.”

Indeed, Gorn turned every which way in an attempt to catch his opponent, but a whisper of mist and a flutter of cloth was all the fog would permit. It was impossible to tell where Scribe was exactly, but she was moving faster than seemed possible. It was almost too late when Gorn pulled up his staff and bashed aside the surrepetitious strike of twin glowing emerald fangs, the soaring sparks only more fuel for the roaring crowd.

Again the shadow viper struck, this time from below, swinging in from a wide arc as the two glowing blades made for Gorn’s hooves. Though he twisted out of the attack’s path in the last moment, his attempt at a counterattack met with nothing but thin air. He spun around and swung his staff in a circle, trying to keep the shadows at bay, but he was losing the battle quickly.

That is, until he finally managed to dislodge the empty bottle from the cloth at the end of his stick. The glass described an arc through the air when Gorn came around once more, his entire form shrouded in cerulean mists as he struck it with terminal precision. The glass didn’t shatter, but it veritably disintegrated into its base components, a fine sparkling mist of pure quartz and silicates exploding across the dome.

“That can’t be!” Scootaloo said, “That was magic! How can he do that? He’s not even a unicorn!”

“Gorn is a Battle Transmuter by war profession,” stripes said, “and the finest at his craft. Note his specifically crafted armor that serves as his magical focus.”

“Armor?” Scootaloo said, “You mean those rags he’s wearing?”

But the glittering starfield was what made Gorn’s clothing so striking. His tunic, his sash and the bands around his limbs and tail, in every fold and crease of cloth shimmered tiny sapphires and diamonds, hundreds of them, glowing and pulsating with raw arcane power that flowed into his hooftips.

Another thing glittered ever more clearly: the increasingly complete outline of his elusive opponent, who kept picking up the star dust with every move. Scribe never stayed in one place, but Gorn could now predict her strikes with ease, and soon he had enough of a lock on her position to begin an offensive of his own.

Instead of waiting for her to attack, Gorn launched himself forward and struck his staff at a point on the air. Scribe just barely threw up her guard as she was knocked back into the corporeal world, twin obsidian daggers hissing with the elemental wrath channeled through her hooves. But the much bigger stallion conserved his momentum and crashed into the smaller mare, issuing a deafening warcry, as he knocked her clean out of range.

That was all the time Gorn needed. He caught the little piece of cloth that had been fluttering by his side, swept it across the field and drew in the myriads of elemental particles, to coalesce along the staff’s form to the purest of crystalline structures. Chunk for chunk interlinked, he drew a strand of light out of the air.

Scribe had recovered just in time to dodge the diamond chain slapping heavily against the ground, splinters exploding from the furrow in the concrete. She righted herself and jumped to the side as the chain struck again. It was slow and easy to evade, but the long range made it impossible for her to close the gap as it continuously kept her on her hooves.

But the chain had never intended to strike her, only to keep the pace, as the two combatants’ rhythms of striking and dodging aligned. The time was right, and Gorn feigned another attack, but swept the chain of light across the field instead, catching Scribe around the hooves and throwing her to the ground. He reeled in her flailing form, while launching himself in her direction, building up momentum as he raised his staff to strike.

The diamond chain disintegrated, and immediately reassembled around Gorn’s combat staff to form the sharp and heavy point of an ethereally infused assault cudgel, descending upon Scribe like a meteor of balefire fury. The impact promptly cracked the arena underneath, arcs of blinding light licking at the ground, as the elemental barrier Scribe had thrown up in the last possible moment dispersed the raw kinetic energy to the surroundings.

Gorn’s war maul only grew in mass as it assimilated the flying concrete, the powerhouse of muscle and magic working without pause as he struck again, trying to smash through Scribe’s violently sparkling shield. With ever increasing force, the massive blunt weapon came down once more, driving Scribe deeper into the concrete crater.

The crowd was wild, standing, flying, shouting and generally misusing the seats in every way imaginable. Half of them was calling for Scribe to yield, and the other half opposed the sentiment.

“What the hay is she doing?” Terry howled, “She has to get out of there or he’s going to crush her!”

“She doesn’t want to get out of there,” Magnolia said, “her Lightning Shield will hold. The concrete bears no elemental power that she can draw from. She’s using his strength to crack it open. Watch what happens when she reaches the earth and stone underneath!”

Scribe chose the exact moment that Gorn’s ever-growing weapon had become too unwieldy for proper defense. Now was the time to act. All of the seething jade power vanished from her form and moved into the cracks underneath. Gorn realized his mistake, and aborted his attack to defend from below. Barely he avoided being impaled by the massive rock spike that erupted from the ground.

He just about managed to break off the dire stalagmite’s sharp point, but the unstoppable force of the earth powered through his weapon’s crystalline structure, digging straight into the steel reinforced combat staff contained within, and broke it apart like so much as a mere twig. Gorn reeled from the blocked attack, and caught himself just in time to roll out of the way as a second mountain shard exploded forth from underneath.

One more earthen column rose to meet him with terminal velocity, but Scribe rode this one herself, and she had assembled shards of rock into a massive spiked barrier at its point. Trapped between two stone formations, Gorn had no room to evade. He grabbed a splinter of his staff and hastily assembled a shield before the avalanche rolled over him.

The impact smashed the rock formation wide open, but Gorn held on, pushing against the primordial forces with his incandescent tower shield. Scribe didn’t waste the opportunity and jumped off the rolling rocks, doing a light flip over her opponent that carried two tiny strikes of blazing death.

With uncanny intuition, Gorn had twisted his shield upwards just in time to deflect the dagger attacks, but the lightning infused blades crackled and exploded, smashing the shield into his own face and burying him underneath. Scribe landed elegantly and promptly commenced on an attack vector, twin blades pointed forward seeking obliteration. Anticipating the move, Gorn rose to block one of the daggers with his half-broken shield and deflect the other one with the diamond broadsword held firmly in his jaw.

Gorn stepped forward and slashed with his sword. Scribe ducked away and took the opportunity to strike with her daggers. Lightning arced across his skin as Gorn barely twisted out of the attack, hitting Scribe on her exposed side with his kite shield in retaliation. The blow forced her to the ground, where she promptly kicked at his hooves. He jumped out of the way and went for a low slash, but Scribe did a backflip out of range.

She jumped into the air and threw a glowing fire pebble in his direction. Gorn struck it with the broadside of his sword and shot it back, but that had played into Scribe’s plan. The orb ignited, but Scribe caught the explosion with her horn, twisted around and threw the glob of volatile energies back at him.

The angry glob of fire slapped heavily into the craggy spire between them, sending a crackling spray of molten rock in every direction. Gorn narrowly hid behind his kite shield from the rain of furious fire that pelted the dome of protection, its maintainers hiding behind errant rocks as the intense heat wave rippled through the raging audience.

Only one figure stood tall as the air caught fire. Her hooves infused with boiling magma, Scribe unleashed the full arcane potency of the raw elements, blasting across the field of flame to strike at the downed warrior with the anger of a meteor impact. Gorn raised his luminescent shield to deflect the attack with ease, but it was never Scribe’s intention to get past his defenses.

Her molten shards struck him again and again, their fiery violence hidden behind a veil of embers that sizzled every surface they contacted with. Its indestructibility was no help as the diamond shield began to heat up, biting into Gorn’s foreleg as he flailed to shake it off, giving Scribe the opening she’d been waiting for.

But even in the face of defeat Gorn remained resourceful. He endured the pain until Scribe reached out for the fatal blow, and then he acted, kicking out and bashing the burning disc right into her jaw. Scribe reeled, and Gorn desperately scrambled to pick up pieces of his broken staff from the ravaged arena.

Engulfed in flames, Scribe turned and lunged at her now defenseless opponent, but a well-placed strike from his hastily assembled winged spear kept her at bay. She attempted to flank him, but Gorn’s skillful application of the radiant long weapon made her duck out once more. The destructive power of her attacks was worthless if she couldn’t land them, so Scribe had to adjust.

She feigned another lunge, but when the spear came, the elemental pebbles were already rolling down her hooves. Swiveling around, Scribe kicked a glacial cascade spanning half the arena into existence, punching the spear straight into Gorn’s body and shoving him out of the frozen razor spikes’ range.

Gorn couldn’t back up any further, a scalding puddle of molten rock behind his back, when another ice explosion came. He swiveled around and thrust the spear into the ground, vaulting into the air to escape the freezing danger, but this time, Scribe rode the ice and was closing in fast. Devoid of other options, he pulled out his spear and smashed it into the tip of the frozen column. The arena exploded into hissing steam as the frigid mass burst against the lava, pushing Scribe away just long enough for Gorn to stabilize on the spiky tips of the rapidly cooling obsidian beneath him.

It was difficult to see, it was difficult to breathe, both contestants were beaten and bruised and severely drained of their powers, but there was still no place for respite. Scribe struck from the shadows, her glowing daggers impacting with Gorn’s staff with enough ferocity to break through his enchantment and crack the spear of light into two.

Scribe attacked again, but her proximity gave Gorn gorn an opening to slap her across the side with his newly-formed rapier, sending her sprawling. He committed another thrust at her, but she jumped over it, offering a slash of her dagger, under which he ducked. They turned around and attacked again, blades met and sent sparks flying.

Neither of them could win this fight by defending. Both contestants came to the same realization. There was only one way out. Scribe drew in every errant flame that remained in the arena and lunged at her opponent in full offense, and Gorn likewise charged at her in full thrust. The twin daggers were trained right at him, but he didn’t defend. Neither did Scribe seize the occasion to parry the rapier. A piece of imbued ice impaled on the thrusting weapon came in contact with the dagger’s burning infusion, and exploded in a thick, crackling arcane mist that enveloped the two combatants just as their strikes connected simultaneously.

The roaring crowd made it impossible for Scootaloo to hear her friends, even though they, including Terry, were right beside her, on top of their seats, hollering and yelling at the top of their lungs. There had been a subtle deployment of security forces bearing the Choir’s insignia, who were equipped with long ropes and nets to keep the roiling flocks of spectators from getting too close to the stage. They cordoned off the masses with practiced routine, but even the security wardens were taken aback, as a stillness began to descend upon the colosseum.

There was no more movement from the inside of the magical dome. The violent exchange had come to a sudden standstill, and the silence was almost deafening.

The arcane mists had become benign and fell away, revealing the still forms of the combatants lying on the ground.

Scribe was standing on top of Gorn in an executioner’s stance, her daggers kept with fatal precision only a hair’s breadth from his eyes.

Gorn held Scribe’s limbs in a gladiator’s lock, the deadly point of his rapier poking her throat.

Both were still as statues, ready to thrust at any moment.

But instead, they began breathing again.

“It’s good to see you again,” Scribe said, “master.”

“M-master!?” Scootaloo almost fell off her seat.

“I told you not to call me that anymore, Scribe,” Gorn said, “ ... but it’s good to see you again, too. I yield!”

The stadium erupted in cheers. Ponies were fluttering up and down the cordon, hailing the winner and expressing their exasperation on the defeated’s behalf in equal measures.

But no screaming and yelling was loud enough to match the saliency of jingling coins exchanging hooves. That had been the true battle. Those who had lost their bets looked as though they might have been inside the smoldering arena themselves, but the victors, with all the more satisfaction, collected their earnings, a remarkable portion of which landed in the zebra group’s hooves.

“She’s so cool!” Magnolia gushed at the frontlines, “I love you Scribe!”

“Are you kidding me?” somepony beside her said, “Gorn is the biggest champion there is. He wiped the floor with her!”

“No way,” somepony else interjected, “She is way mightier than him. She just had to hold back because this is an exhibition show!”

“I’m not convinced that magic duel was just for show,” Circuit said, “but that was just epic.”

“That was just awful,” Terry said, “I’m so glad nopony got hurt. Did you see how easily they tore up that stage? They’re both so powerful ...”

She beheld Gorn as he stood up and hobbled from the arena, leaning against Scribe for mutual support. Both of them looked worse for the wear, but that didn’t stop them from having a conversation that was apparently long overdue. The announcer soon gave up on following them and trying to announce the winner. Between all the noise from the audience, and the racket of the cleanup detail that had swooped in with some clouds to rinse the hissing sludge out of the cracked concrete, nopony would have paid attention anyway.

“Of all the places,” Scribe said, “a crowded trade city was the last place I would have expected to meet you, if at all. I had thought you an old fool who had abandoned me.”

“No,” Gorn said, “I have never abandoned you. It was my own cowardice that kept me from facing you again. After the fall of the Order, I dared not respond when you sought me out. How could I stand before you after what had occurred? I fled, and I did not look back. In my folly, I believed that time would wash away that which I could not forget.”

“And yet, here you are,” Scribe said, “Against all judgement, you appear in this most unlikely of locations. I wonder, what made you change your mind?”

“You see,” Gorn said. He paused and turned to look, across half the colosseum and past the restless crowd, precisely at Scootaloo and her friends.

“Even the most experienced of scholars must yet bow to the enlightening wisdom of a small filly.”

He winked at Scootaloo with his unbruised eye. Scribe nodded in understanding, and they left the Colosseum together.

“Oh, my gosh,” somepony said. Everypony in Scootaloo’s immediate surrounding was looking at her. “Did he ... did he just wink at you?”

“Dude, that’s so cool.”

“Everypony! Gorn the Destroyer just winked at this little filly.”

“Incredible! How does he know you?”

“Well, you see ... “ Scootaloo tried to say, but they were all over her, as if touching her would somehow bring them closer to their idols. A young mare with a blond mane and incredibly complicated earrings seemed particularly infatuated with her.

“That’s, so, like, droll,” she said, “going for the whole, youthful innocence style, right?”

“Look at the awesome jacket!”

“If I ever have a filly, I want her to be small and cute just like her!”

“Oh, I love the mane. Who’s your stylist?”

“Uh,” Scootaloo said. She drew back as somepony grabbed her mane, but inadvertently moved right into even more curious limbs. “I, uh ... “

Two large hooves grabbed Scootaloo around the waist and batted away the intruders. “Hey! Hooves to yourself!” Terry said, “She’s mine.”

“Yeah!” Scootaloo said, “Wait, what?”

“Come on, guys,” Circuit said, “I think this is a good time to bounce.”

The admiring crowd followed Scootaloo and her friends into the air, but was quickly lost in the general commotion.

Part 16

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“I think they’re gone now.”

Fluttershy’s fur was so soft. It was like the most soothing balm on Scootaloo’s muzzle as she sought refuge from the increasingly frigid wind outside. She twisted and turned, and the silky fluff caressed her cheeks in all the most pleasant ways in response. Scootaloo would have been content to just stay here and investigate this wondrous material further, were it not for the call of duty. Plenty of younger fillies and colts were causing an increasingly excited racket outside, and Scootaloo could already feel the musics of this strange land grip her by the marrow.

“And then she made woosh and boom, and ice exploded from the ground,” Magnolia fawned, dreamily hanging in her mother’s hooves and making the kicking motions into the air, “she’s so cool. The way she moves around the arena, like a shadow. She was almost invisible! How is that possible? This must have been the best magic duel ever.”

“Uh huh,” Magnolia’s mom said, “I’ve heard that one before.”

“But this time it’s for real,” Magnolia said.

“Well, lucky you I’ve put away some bits for the new fan merchandise for your collection then, huh?” Magnolia’s mom exchanged a nuzzle with her daughter. Her motherly face bore lines of tiredness, and she had been wistfully eyeing the bar, but she showed restraint in her daughter’s presence. “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Enjoying ourselves?” Terry said, “That fight was absolutely dreadful!” She was also hanging in her aunt’s hooves, but that was because she was so worn out.

“Dreadfully exciting, that is?” Victory said.

“Well, yes,” Terry said, “but that’s beside the point. They kept beating each other up, and they destroyed the entire stage in the process. It was so loud. Everything crackled and sparked and exploded! How can anypony enjoy something like this? I wish nopony would fight ever again.”

“A noble request,” Victory said. Though she held Terry tenderly, her large frame seemed a bit tense. She showed restraint as well, but her hoof restlessly played with an awfully familiar pack of Savannah Sensations. “But sometimes, for some things, you have to fight. That’s just the way the world turns. Be grateful that you have somepony else to do it, so that you don’t need to.”

“Will you fight for me, auntie?” Terry said.

“Only thing I’m going to fight here is my thirst,” Victory remarked.

“Gorn’s poise was magnificent,” Circuit said, “he looked like a true warrior of light, clad in radiant armor and wielding mace and chain made of diamonds.”

“Do you hear that? The big and strong hero,” Merry Winds cooed at Scout. She herself wasn’t particularly interested, but the tiny pony in her hooves was practically glued to Circuit’s enthusiastic recounting. “Here, why don’t you take him for a spell?”

“Gorn descended upon the realm with the righteous fury of an inspired champion on a virtuous quest,” Circuit continued as he took Scout onto his back, “and with skill and his ingenious enchanted gear, he roamed the lands to vanquish all darkness. You like that, huh?”

Scout squealed and blubbered excitedly, shaking his stubby little hooves in an attempt at applause.

“That’s enough!” Scootaloo said, emerging from under Fluttershy’s jacket, “What is that music?”

“Oh, that?” Magnolia said, “That’s the marching band.”

“They have a marching band?” Scootaloo said.

“Sure,” Magnolia said, “what good would be a festival without a marching band?”

“And where is that marching band?” Scootaloo said.

“Coming through here,” Magnolia giggled, “why else did you think everypony was gathering?”

Well, not everypony. Scootaloo diligently scanned the skies to confirm the absence of her new fan club, before she fully crawled out of Fluttershy’s clothing and nuzzled up to her from the outside. Figures those big clingy ponies wouldn’t hang around the little foals’ fairgrounds, especially with the more adult attractions around.

It was the perfect setup, really. A few enclosed fireplaces were scattered around the otherwise empty court, making it the perfect place for little fillies and colts to frolic and exhaust their mind-boggling nighttime energies. A big statue enticed the little ones, glittering like a million stars and granting drained parents the opportunity to slip away briefly and follow the beckon of the adjoining ring of summer bars. The big coconut bar’s faux jungle masks grinned greedily at their newest catch of carnally satiated colosseum survivors.

“Wanna go watch?” Magnolia said.

“You’d like that, huh?” Circuit giggled, directed toward the little foal on his back. The steady beat of percussion instruments came lively from beyond the management building, and little Scout was all giddy to get to the bottom of the enchanting tune.

Terry watched the little being flail his limbs with utmost fascination. The tiny clothes he wore were not unlike the pretty garments in her dolly bag.

“Bluh ...” was all that came out of Scootaloo’s mouth. She had attempted to take part in the conversation, but Fluttershy had absentmindedly begun nuzzling the top of her head, sending a pleasurable shiver down between her ears. Whatever she had been thinking of just now couldn’t have been as important as the electric buzz caused by Fluttershy’s probing muzzle grazing around the base of her ear.

Terry observed Scootaloo, hanging entranced in her mommy’s forelegs, the pacifier contentedly bobbing in her mouth.

Terry regarded Circuit, carrying the tiny little Scout on his back. Dressed in pretty little clothes and truly reliant on the bigger pony to take care of him. Just like a real little doll.

“Can I carry Scootaloo, Miss Fluttershy?” Terry said, bouncing eagerly, “I’ll be very careful with her, I promise. We’ll go see the marching band. Can I?”

Fluttershy waited for Scootaloo to respond, but soon realized the pile of putty in her hooves wasn’t going to. “I think she would like that,” Fluttershy cooed, “It would be a nice break from all the fighting. Wouldn’t that be nice, Scootaloo? A bit of music?”

“Uwuh,” Scootaloo said.

“That was a yes, I’m sure,” Terry said.

Scootaloo changed hooves. First, she was being held under the forelegs, which always tickled a bit, and then she lost the ground under her hooves as she was hoisted up on Terry’s back. Terry was really good at this, not once in the smooth process was Scootaloo at risk of slipping, and she could promptly feel Terry’s wings at her knees, subtly keeping her in balance.

“All set back there?” Terry said.

“Your mane’s so pretty,” Scootaloo said. Indeed, Terry’s curly locks shone almost like the gilded statue itself.

“Uh ... thanks,” Terry said, “so, where’s that marching band again?”

“They’re back at the entrance, but they’ll come through the plaza,” Magnolia said, “we should go get some spots over there in the middle, those are the closest.”

“Great idea,” Victory beamed, “you guys go ahead. We’ll be waiting right over here, by the bar table. Come on, Fluttershy, let’s go.”

“Um,” Fluttershy said, but she was already being dragged off to meet the jungle masks.

Riding somepony else is amazing fun. Scout could attest to that, he bounced around and squealed in delight as the friends ambled into the plaza. Sure, Scootaloo had ridden Fluttershy on the way here, but that had been by necessity. Being carried on Terry’s back was obviously not necessity, since Scootaloo, unlike Scout, could already walk on her own. Still, it was pretty cool not to have to. Terry was big and strong, and she seemed more than a little eager to have somepony to watch over, as she constantly looked back to make sure Scootaloo was still there. So why not indulge her?

“Didn’t you literally just carry Scootaloo in and out of the colosseum?” Circuit said.

“Yeah, so?” Terry said.

“Nothing, I’m just wondering why it’s suddenly such a big deal,” Circuit said.

“Well, technically, there were no fillies allowed in the colosseum, so I didn’t officially have her with me back then,” Terry said, “but she’s very officially my little filly now. Besides, she looks kind of precious, even though she’s not even the smallest of us.”

“Hey!” Magnolia said, “I’m bigger than Scootaloo.”

“You sure about that?” Terry said.

“Yeah I’m sure. Look,” Magnolia said. She reared up on her hind legs and stood right next to Terry, so that she was as upright as Scootaloo.

“Huh?” Scootaloo said. She had been fully engaged with Terry’s locks, but now she looked up, and straight at Magnolia’s nose.

“I stand corrected,” Terry said, “I guess you’re the smallest filly of us, Scootaloo.”

“Told ya,” Magnolia said with satisfaction, “and soon I’m gonna outgrow you guys, too.”

“I somehow doubt that,” Terry said, but she let Magnolia happily lead on regardless.

Scootaloo tried to pay attention to the conversation, but Terry’s locks were just so incredibly funny. Every time she pulled one out, it bounced back into place immediately. They were so smooth and perfectly brushed, Scootaloo couldn’t imagine keeping her own mane like that. She’d have to brush every day. Maybe even twice! How did Terry do it?

And how did Scout do it? He wasn’t distracted by Circuit’s intriguingly red mane whatsoever, he comfortably held on to the bigger pony’s back like the most natural thing in the world. In fact, he twisted and turned to marvel at all the other ponies and everything that went on around him without restraint.

Scootaloo’s situation was a bit different, though. Circuit, being an infant, obviously had a diaper on under his trousers, but he was too little to understand, or care about, its state of usage. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was very much aware of her own underwear’s condition, and it became all the more apparent as the movement of Terry’s shoulders kneaded the squishy moist bulk against her rear with every step. Scootaloo was glad that her skirt had ridden down between her hind legs and created a buffer to sit on, she’d hate to sully Terry’s pretty dress with her thoroughly used diaper.

“Whoa, it’s so high,” Magnolia said.

They’d stopped at one of the big bonfires. It was several times higher than themselves, and released pretty streams of embers into the night sky. Despite its size, it wasn’t particularly hot, feeling more like a pleasant warm blanket than a punctual source of heat. The fire was enclosed in a metal cage, but little ponies were standing all around, actually touching the metal and comforting themselves on the flame.

“Hey, it’s not even hot,” Circuit said, testing the cage before letting Scout at it.

“The grating’s pretty small,” Terry said, “I wonder how they fuel the fire.”

“Astute observation, young pony,” the attendant said. Apparently, even the lowly labourers got to wear fancy drapings with Choir insignias on them. “This is a magical fire. It burns much slower and at a much more even rate, and it can go many hours without needing to be refueled. The fire is kept in check by specially enchanted crystals from the Crystal Empire far in the north, who used them for thousands of years. Go ahead, you can let her touch it. It’s not hot.”

Terry got closer to the cage and let Scootaloo run her hoof over the metal. The flames almost touched her skin, and yet she only felt a slight tingle pulling on her senses. What a funny feeling!

“You like that, huh?” Circuit said as the two foals giggled in unison.

“You know what else they’ll like?” the attendant said, “Listen.”

Everypony listened. Even Scout got all quiet, but when a crisp and happy little tune penetrated the noise of countless jubilating foals, he was the first to take notice and squirm and wiggle in its direction.

“Is that ... somepony playing a song?” Circuit said.

“Yes, that’s the piper,” the attendant said, “He has a little space for dancing especially for foals, just like your two. See where all those ponies are gathering? Why don’t you go check it out?”

“That sounds so cute!” Terry said, “What are we waiting for?”

“Seriously? A foal dance?” Magnolia groaned.

“Oh, stop complaining,” Terry said, “We went to your big bad magic fight. Now, it’s time we do things my way.”

“Fine,” Magnolia said, rolling her eyes.

Again they were on the move, and still Scootaloo couldn’t shake that distant sensation of discomfort. Scout merrily rode on Circuit’s back and bounced every which way without care, and for all intents and purposes, Scootaloo was a little foal same as him. However, it was no use denying that she had a specific problem to deal with that he didn’t.

Scootaloo was beginning to need the bathroom again, and the need rapidly grew in immediacy. Too bad she’d had all that juice earlier, because it pushed her little game to its limits all the sooner. The diaper Scootaloo wore was meant for little babies, and the thorough soaking she had given it earlier in the evening had pretty much maxed out its capacities. There was no way it would hold up through another use, and that wasn’t a risk Scootaloo could take, especially not while sitting on Terry’s back. She was left with no choice other than to hold it back and to wait for a quiet moment to take care of the problem discreetly.

“Oh, excuse me please, miss,” a small filly with a big bow on her tail said. She had bumped into Terry’s leg while dancing backwards.

“Not to worry, little one,” Terry said, “could you show us where the foals can go to dance?”

“Sure,” the filly said, “it’s over there, right in front of the piper.”

The piper was an older stallion with a flute, sitting on the ground near one of the fires. Despite its small size, the flute produced incredibly loud and clear sounds, which were fabricated into a light and chipper tune by the piper’s skilled hooves. It was impossible not to love that sound, Scout promptly began squealing in glee, and Scootaloo also began feeling invigorated by the silly little melodies and random staccato highlights that had the surrounding foal crowd bouncing and cheering in unison.

“But you have to hold her by the hooves,” the filly with the bow said, “because foals can’t dance on their own, and they could fall down.”

“Thank you, we will keep it in mind,” Terry said.

The dance floor was really pretty. Most other foals wore neat clothes, bows, hats, booties and any other apparel that could be fit on them, and the adults had no qualms about exhibiting their little ones in a blatant unspoken fashion competition. Everypony was proud how well their offspring could follow the tunes and look stylish at it, while the foals were having a blast on the dance floor. Scout fit in perfectly with his subtle little dress shirt and pants with triple stitched seams, Circuit was more than willing to enter him into the rankings.

“Alright, Scootaloo, time to dance,” Terry said.

“Time to dance?” Scootaloo said, “Since when did you get to decide?”

“Oh, don’t be such a foal,” Terry said, “besides, weren’t you the one who showed me how to dance in the first place?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “but that was a fun dance, just for giggles, not something serious like this.”

Scootaloo was dismounted from Terry’s back, but when she was put on the ground, Terry didn’t let go of her forehooves. Terry had a massive grin plastered all over her face as she held Scootaloo upright and nodded her to go on.

“At least you’re enjoying yourself,” Scootaloo said.

“Up, up, Scootaloo,” Terry said, “Look how much fun the other foals are having.”

The piper’s flute had a simple tune it kept repeating, not more than a few notes, over and over again, giving the foals ample time to get used to the general tempo and mood. It never got boring, though, because the old stallion regularly mixed in rapid highlights and mismatched tones, raising his flute into the air as the foals synchronously jumped at the signal. His technique worked wonders, every youngling in the circle enthusiastically took part in the game, no matter if pony, zebra, griffin, deer or otherwise. Even Scout had figured out his role within moments, and he was excitedly dancing alongside Circuit as naturally as if he had been doing it his whole life.

Scootaloo carefully broadened into a ready stance, steadying herself against Terry’s hooves. The flute was relentless in its excited twittering, and as soon as it began repeating its cycle, Scootaloo leapt into action.

She stepped to one side and shifted her weight over to step back in the other direction, but the piper switched tunes again before she had finished, and Scootaloo stumbled over her own hind legs and fell onto her rear.

“Oh my gosh, Scootaloo, are you alright?” Terry said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “just let me try this again.”

If Scout and the baby griffin beside Scootaloo could do the dance, then so could she. Scootaloo got up and got ready again, this time for real. When the moment came, Scootaloo began dancing, faster and more concentrated than before to make sure she could keep up with the piper’s speed.

It would have worked too, Scootaloo managed to step back and forth in rhythm with the others. But she hadn’t anticipated the short burst staccato from the flute, the suddenness of which demanded the utmost flexibility. Scootaloo tried hopping from one side to the other, but when she stood upright and attempted to turn, it was actually the bulk of her saggy diaper that forced her knees apart and hindered her movement too much. She lost balance and fell onto her rump again.

Somepony giggled, and Scootaloo quickly pulled her skirt down to cover the soggy thing under her tail. But the baby griffin was simply amused about Scootaloo’s contortions.

“Poor Scootaloo,” Terry gasped.

“Don’t be disheartened, little filly,” mommy griffin said. She was an impressive presence, bigger than Terry and gilded in silks and jewelry, yet her sharp claws held her toddler’s tiny limbs with the utmost courtesy. “You must not try to pull away from your big sister like that. Why don’t you try getting snuggly with her?”

Scootaloo got up again and touched hooves with Terry, but this time she leaned into her, their faces almost touching. How exactly was this was going to make things better?

“Don’t overthink it, just relax,” the griffin said, “why doesn’t big sister make a silly face for you?”

“A silly face?” Terry said, “How do I do that?”

“You don’t even know how to make a silly face?” Scootaloo said, “Here, look.”

To demonstrate her point, Scootaloo crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. Her pacifier promptly tumbled to the ground. Oops.

“Careful, Scootaloo,” Terry giggled. She reached over, picked up the pacifier and plopped it back into Scootaloo’s mouth. “We’re lucky it landed on its dry side, huh?”

Terry smiled, and Scootaloo couldn’t help doing the same. It was kind of cool how attentive Terry was. She always held Scootaloo so securely and made sure everything was alright with her. Why had Scootaloo worried so much when in reality there had been nothing to worry about?

“A silly face, you say?” Terry said, “Let me give it a try.”

She pursed her lips and flared her nose in a bizarre grimace, emphasizing the fact that she was unable to cross her eyes.

“Stop! Stop,” Scootaloo laughed, “that’s terrible!”

“Terrible, huh?” Terry smirked, “Then why are you laughing?”

Scootaloo was giggling on end, but not only because of Terry’s expressive experiments. The moment just made her feel so free of care, because obviously Terry no longer cared either, and Scootaloo found the laughter of the other foals more infectious than she had anticipated. And, amazingly, so was their rhythm! Scootaloo had barely noticed, but she was wiggling her backside perfectly in tune with everypony else.

“There you go, Scootaloo,” Terry cheered.

“This is so cool!” Scootaloo said.

She didn’t dare think about what she was doing. It was going so well! The piper’s little melody animated her hind legs to hop around effortlessly, and Scootaloo found herself following its call. It was like her hind legs moved on their own!

Terry was obviously enjoying it too, proudly brandishing her own little dancer with a huge grin on her face. The baby gryffin caught up to Scootaloo’s flow and danced along, as did Scout and Circuit, and Magnolia with the bow filly. Everypony was having so much fun, and Scootaloo was right in the middle!

“Seems like our newcomers found the ropes,” the piper said. His voice was impressively loud for how old he was. “What do you think, everypony? Should we give them a warm welcome? Let’s show them the crazy dance!”

“Yay!” everypony applauded. “Crazy dance!”

The piper’s flute had barely quieted down before it sprung to life again, but this time, it threw all rhyme and reason to the wind. True to its name, the crazy dance song changed its arrhythmic melody more quickly than seemed possible, the piper working magic with his hooves, and the result was an absurdly fast twittering that sounded like several melodies interwoven, going up and down, up and down, faster and slower, louder and ever louder.

But the flute’s tone was still drowned out by the excited squeals and jubilations from the foalish bedlam on the dance floor. The adults held their little ones upright as they flailed and frolicked every which way, animated laughter underlining the chaos of little limbs and tails.

It was no use trying to contain it, the random melody had taken hold of Scootaloo, and she couldn’t stop the laughter from bubbling out as she followed it with equally random dancing, always just a hair’s breadth from tipping over thanks to Terry’s stabilizing pulls. The bigger pony was similarly bereft of her balance despite not even dancing, but holding a real foal in her hooves had Terry so giddy with excitement, her own little treasure, more precious than the most intricate of dollies, making her equal to all the other mommies and daddies around the place, imperishable shepherds of their ecstatic little flock.

And so, the two of them danced the crazy dance.

Scootaloo’s compatriots soon began to fall, first the baby gryffin, who landed on her claws and rolled over on her back to giggle, then Scout, losing his hooves under himself and landing softly on his rear. Scootaloo herself had no choice but to follow, too flimsy was the pretense of restraint. She hopped in place and twisted around, and let herself fall onto her rear, barely registering the cushy landing as she pulled Terry down for a hug, their necks moving in unison against each other as the two of them giggled.

Sure, they were being silly, but it didn’t feel crazy at all.

The piper stopped abruptly. “Seems that’s about all the time we have,” he said, “the big show’s coming through.”

The silence was jarring at first, but pretty soon, something else sounded through. Something entirely unexpected. A beat. A rhythm. Regular! Orderly! Not crazy.

The marching band! The realization rippled across the wide-eyed little faces, and a miniature stampede broke out as everypony tried to make their way to the far end of the plaza. And indeed! Through the gate of the administrative building came a row of ponies, perfectly in line.

And what a sight they were! Flag carriers, wearing elaborate uniforms with the most excessive of headdresses, the feathery decorated pomp of which put everything Scootaloo had seen so far into the shadow. Wings outstretched, their feather- and shoulderguards gleamed with countless tiny buttons. No, those were insignias, so many different symbols, each and every one --

“Oof,” Scootaloo was yanked back by her tail, “hey!”

“Hey yourself,” Terry said around Scootaloo’s tail, “I’m still in charge, remember? I said I’d look after you, so no running off.”

“But the marching band!” Scootaloo said, “Can we go closer please?”

“Sure, just hop on,” Terry said. Scootaloo scrambled to climb on her back, until a wing curled around Scootaloo’s haunches, and lifted her up onto the increasingly familiar place behind Terry’s curly locks.

There weren’t only ponies among the flag carriers, not even just pegasus ponies. Behind the first row marched another block unicorns and earth ponies, all bearing the pennant depicting the Canoness’ black raven form, increasingly interspersed with all manners of different folk, many gryphons and some diamond dogs, but Scootaloo also spotted dragons of different sizes, catfolk and a hippogriff. The horseshoes and decorative spurs were marvellous, gleaming in the fiery light as the band marched across the cobble in unison, clack, clack, clack, as if they had mixed cannon fire into their song.

Despite their impeccability and the uniforms, the didn’t seem military at all, but more like a coherent gathering of like minded individuals, driven by the common ideas they so proudly paraded, the Choir’s values of progress, productivity and profit. The music was strange yet familiar. The snare drums beat a simple two-four, the volume of which had Terry folding her ears, and were accompanied by a rather shrill, but strangely enticing, melody from the trumpets (Scootaloo had to hold Terry’s ears shut), and a very big pony with a very big tuba brought up the finish, which was not particularly in tune, but very loud. Poor Terry.

Scootaloo enjoyed the whole process immensely, as did all the other ponies on the sidelines, marching along with the band all the way around and then to the center of the plaza. The last to arrive was a distinctly different group, a throng of smaller, and much younger, little ponies dressed in fine clothes, though only few of them seemed pleased with the fact. Blazers were too small, dresses too stiff, ties too tight, and, worst of all, everypony was watching them as they were being led by an older mare ...
“Wait!” Scootaloo said, “I know her! That’s the conductress! From the church.”

“Who?” Terry said.

“And her young pony singing group!” Scootaloo said, “I know those ponies. Please, Terry, you have to let me go over to them!”

Scootaloo was barely set down and she quickly toddled over to the singers. She felt a bit out of place, wearing her grubby jacket and plain skirt instead of fine robes, but all the wider grew her grin when the conductress recognized her, and waved her over to take place on the side, among some of the other singers. Scootaloo was part of this group, and what a group it was! It had been so cool back in the church. Could it be ... ?

The audience had grown quiet, at least relatively so, and everypony was at their place. The conductress raised her robed hooves and silently mouthed a countdown. The song began.

“The wanderer was alone, he carried his scraps and a bundle of wood ...”

Yes! It was her favourite song! Scootaloo sprang forth and vigorously sang along.

“ ... but he had no fire, for the night was so dark and he was so cold.”

She loved this story. How the ponies met by chance, but then they worked together. And they built something out of nothing, because they treated each other fair. It got better and better.

“The powderer was alone, he had his bottles and lint and boxes of flash, but freeze he did, and see he could naught, since he did not have coal.”

The song progressed. Discoveries were made, alliances were forged. The ponies in the ensemble got a bit quieter, but that only spurred Scootaloo on. Everypony deserved to revel in the splendour of this great story.

“The wanderer and the powderer met, and they exchanged what they had, built a pyre so high, from distant they came, warm light for all.”

Ponies came in droves, the settlement was made, prosperity flourished. The singers became quieter still, stumbled over their words. They had forgotten their lines. Scootaloo had to help remind them, so she sung loud and clear.

“The families joined with hoof and quill, the night so warm and the dawn so bright, plough and board, word and heart, for the ways of old were gone.”

The settlement turned into a market and then a town and then a city. This was the best part, because mutual respect and fairness had built a grand monument. And it never stopped. Such was the power of friendship! The chorus had grown still, but Scootaloo blasted on.

“The wanderer and the powderer sat, on the thoroughfare lush and full, ne’er brass nor pride, for all was right, let this story be told.”


The audience erupted into cheers, the applause so intense, Scootaloo thought she could feel the cobbles vibrate. Even the singers were applauding her, and the conductress couldn’t decide between relief and satisfied smugness. There were her friends, Terry, Circuit and Magnolia, cheering for her.

“You go, Scootaloo,” Magnolia called.

“Dude, that was awesome,” the colt next to Scootaloo said.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said.

“How many times did you sing that song?” he said, “I only ever saw you at practice once.”

“Well, uh ... that one time I was at the church,” Scootaloo said, “I thought the song was really cool.”

The colt blinked. “Seriously?” he said, “You learned the entire song from singing it one time?”

“Hey!” Scootaloo said, “I didn’t learn anything. I was having fun. That’s different.”

The colt shrugged. There was no more time for conversation, as the next choral began. Scootaloo obviously couldn’t contribute much since she hadn’t heard this song before, but it gave her the chance to blend a bit more into the background, stepping behind somepony else who sang particularly vigorously. Soon, the marching band joined in and provided a small musical backdrop to enhance the fillies’ and colts’ singing, and Scootaloo thought it worked really well, as she worked her way further back. She reached the back row before the song ended and finally managed to slip away unnoticed.

She needed to escape. This was it. She could take no more of the discomfort.

Scootaloo needed a bathroom, and she needed it now.

The call of nature had been there for a while, but Scootaloo had thought she could will it away, led herself to believe it would cease if she just ignored it hard enough. She’d been having so much fun with her friends, such a cool time hanging around at the fair, she’d wished she’d never have to take care of her problem at all. But of course she did. The need had grown more and more urgent to the point where it began to be painful, and no amount of shifting her weight and walking on the tips of her hooves would change it.

Scootaloo had found herself pressing her hind legs together in an attempt to physically support her aching tummy, but it was an exercise in futility, the bulging mass of sagging plastic between her thighs barely permitting her to touch her knees together, let alone for Scootaloo’s desperate efforts to have any noticeable effects.

In fact, she only made things worse, the diaper’s soggy, supple pulp now squeezed firmly against her rear end, constantly tantalizing her as she moved. It’s so soft and thick. Just use it. Just relax. It’s all moist and soggy anyway. And after wearing it for hours, things probably didn’t smell like roses either back there. What difference would it make at this point? Come on. Just do it. It’d be so easy.

It was a nice fantasy. But that’s what it was. A fantasy. In reality, the poor baby diaper around Scootaloo’s hindquarters stood no chance. In reality, she was a grown pony, and the diaper had already been used before. There was no way it would be able to provide enough absorbency. It’d overflow, and she’d get herself and her clothes wet, and leave marks on the ground, and it would be terrible. And Fluttershy would have to deal with it. That was most terrible of all.

Scootaloo cursed the fact that she’d had so much to drink. She cursed the diaper for being made for foals instead of her. But most of all, she cursed herself for disappointing Fluttershy. Fluttershy had put in so much effort into their little game, taken such good care of Scootaloo to make her feel like a little filly. And Scootaloo had botched it. She had allowed something disgusting to be about to happen, something that would inconvenience her beloved Fluttershy so. Scootaloo couldn’t let it happen. She had to find an out. She had to take off the diaper and take care of the problem the adult way. Even though it meant her fantasy would all be over.

There were few ponies behind the buildings. Scootaloo had just followed where the fewest ponies went, away from the lively streets, so nopony would see her desperate stiff-legged waddle. Where were the restrooms? It was so dark. And there seemed to be fewer houses whatsoever, the ground had turned earthen and sometimes even muddy. There were a bunch of trees and bushes ahead. Uh oh, this was a green area, not a public service building.

Had she come the wrong way? But there were still ponies around. In fact, they were standing on the grass. A whole row of different creatures, anxiously looking toward a dense cluster of vegetation. Were they standing in line? For a bush? But why would --

“Well, well, well,” a female voice said, “who do we have here? Aren’t you the famous little filly from the colosseum? With the big strong celebrity friends?”

“What are you doing out here?” another voice said, “You look kind of lost.”

It was Scootaloo’s fan club. The young mare with the jingling earrings, and her companion, who had so many extensions tacked into her mane, she looked almost like a colorful upside down mop. They had been so eager to get a piece of Scootaloo back in the arena, she was surprised they hadn’t tracked her down earlier.

The mop was starting to look concerned.

“You aren’t lost, are you?” she said, “Do you know where your mommy is?”

“Um, yes, she’s back there,” Scootaloo said, “I’m not lost.”

“Good,” earrings grinned, “wouldn’t want a cutie such as yourself get lost in the dark, now would we? Especially somepony with cute little cheeks such as yours.” She reached over and gave Scootaloo’s cheek just a little pinch. Scootaloo would have complained, but she was busy painfully squeezing her hind legs together.

“Oh my gosh,” mop said, going to town on Scootaloo’s other cheek, “I wish I could have skin this soft. What do you think the girls would say?”

“They’d be, like, so envious,” earrings said, “If we took her with us. Just look at her adorable little glitter dummy.”

“I, umm ...” Scootaloo said. She tried to evade the hooves probing for her pacifier, but she failed, and her pacifier ring was successfully flicked, “I was just, uh, wondering what those ponies are standing there for.”

The two mares looked at the waiting line, and then erupted into squealing laughter. “You are so precious,” earrings said.

“Yeah,” mop said, “why, don’t you know what this is, little filly?”

“Um,” Scootaloo said, “no?”

“These ponies are all here for the same reason,” mop said, “to go behind that bush.”

Earrings came close and whispered, “That’s the latrine.”

Oh. That made sense. It was dark, and a bush was still better than nothing. But that meant ... the mud that Scootaloo had been walking through ...

“Eww!” Scootaloo said. The two mares broke out into uncontrollable giggles.

“Yeah, it’s not the place a precious little filly such as you wants to be,” mop said, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Nor does it look like she needs to,” earrings snickered, pointing toward Scootaloo’s rear.

Scootaloo quickly turned her backside away from them, earning another adoring pair of giggles. She could feel her underwear sagging beneath the hem of her skirt.

“Um, maybe ...” Scootaloo said, “maybe you could help me? I was kinda ... looking for the restroom.”

Their eyes couldn’t have bulged any further, before the two mares broke out into laughter so gleeful, even some of the ponies in line turned to look.

“Oh my gosh, that’s just too cute,” earrings said. The hooves were at it again, playing with Scootaloo’s ears, ruffling her mane.

“Look, filly,” mop said, “why don’t you just go back to your mommy?”

“It’s kind of urgent,” Scootaloo pleaded, pressing a hoof between her hind legs.

“You’re a good filly,” earrings sighed, “but you worry too much. Little fillies shouldn’t need to worry. This is festival night. You just enjoy yourself. Your mommy seems to have taken care of things, didn’t she?”

“You think so?” mop said, “Shouldn’t we help her with the bathroom?”

“Why?” earrings said, “She seems to be all set. Didn’t you see what she has under her skirt?”

“Yeah,” mop said, “Uh, newsflash? Fillies aren’t supposed to go in their training panties.”

“She’s not wearing training panties,” earrings rolled her eyes.

“Yes she is,” mop said.

“Is she?” earrings said.

“Isn’t she?” mop said.

“Uh, filly, are you wearing training panties?” earrings said.

Scootaloo couldn’t stop the conversation from escalating. She had to go so bad. She had no more attention left to do anything but look at them in confusion.

They stepped closer. “May we look?” earrings said.

Scootaloo nodded. Anything to get this torture over with.

She took the hem of the skirt from Scootaloo’s hoof and curiously lifted it up all the way. The two mares giggled.

“Okay, you’re right,” earrings said, “those are definitely not training panties.”

That much was clear. Nothing about the crinkly white plastic wrapped around Scootaloo’s butt, holding in place lavish mounds of fluffy absorbency right where it was needed the most, left open any question about its purpose. And the point was only driven home by the soft and comfy ruffles around the leg elastics, and the cute little drawings of baby blue clouds and swirls along the side, framing the image of the grinning cartoon bunny. Despite the dire situation, at least he was in good spirits.

But what stuck out to Scootaloo the most wasn’t any of that, it was just the tiny glimpse of sturdy, broad, blue plastic on her sides, before the mare lowered her skirt again. The diaper tapes. The very same tapes Fluttershy had fastened around Scootaloo’s hips earlier in the evening.

Those tapes were the lynchpin of a diaper, were what made it all work. So small, yet so important. They were what sealed the diaper in place, what kept it exactly where it needed to be, sturdy enough to never come undone prematurely. Or, indeed, the foal wouldn’t take it off herself, because she was supposed to stay in the diaper, and the diaper would take care of the foal’s needs.

Fluttershy had known exactly what she did. Foals were wrapped up in diapers because they didn’t know any better than to just go when nature called. That’s what they were supposed to do. That was the only responsibility Scootaloo had. How incredibly silly would it be to think otherwise?

“Well, that settles it, sugar,” earrings let go of Scootaloo’s skirt and smoothed it down with a hoof, soft crinkles from under the fabric.

“You’d better scurry on,” mop said, “go back to your mommy.”

“B-but ...” Scootaloo said, “but I need to go ...”

“Sweetie,” earrings sighed, “I told you, you worry too much. You just go and have some fun. Your mommy already took care of things, didn’t she? Do you trust your mommy, little filly?”

“Yes,” Scootaloo said, “I trust my mommy.”

“That’s a good filly,” mop giggled, “And do you love your mommy?”

“Yes!” Scootaloo said, “I love my mommy very much!”

“There you go,” earrings said, and winked, “Don’t worry. We won’t tell anypony, okay? Now go on. I’m sure she’s waiting for you.” She patted Scootaloo’s behind. Crinkle. “Go on!”

Scootaloo couldn’t catch up. Everything was happening so fast. She was already walking between buildings, back toward the plaza. And before she knew it, she felt the tingle of anticipation in her tummy. Her body was getting ready to release, and it didn’t seem like Scootaloo was getting any say in the matter.

Nor did she want to. This was what was supposed to happen, it was normal for every foal to relieve herself where she stood, and that was also true for Scootaloo. Because she was a foal. She was Fluttershy’s little filly, there were no two ways about it. Scootaloo had tried, and failed, to apply grown-up logic to the situation just moments earlier. How silly of her! No wonder her solution hadn’t been any good.

Scootaloo trusted Fluttershy more than anypony else, and that’s why she knew everything was going to be alright. She didn’t actually wear anything to cover her diaper, so it was probably just going to be dripping on the floor, maybe into her boots. And the floor was already yucky enough, so it was fine. Scootaloo’s urge flared, the impending relief a pleasant buzz between her ears.

Scootaloo was excited. She stood and spread her hind legs slightly to get more comfy, and she suckled on her pacifier to calm herself down. The rubber teat was extra yummy today, gently pleasing Scootaloo’s lips and softly playing around her tongue as she munched on it. Nuk, nuk, nuk, it went. And Scootaloo (finally!) got to go tinkle.

A shudder ran down Scootaloo’s back as she began emptying herself straight into her clothing. The hot liquid spilled all over her buttocks, soaking her skin and into her fur, as it immediately oversaturated the diaper’s superabsorbent core and began pooling inside the watertight plastic underwear.

“Mmh... ahh,” Scootaloo groaned. She didn’t even care anymore, awash with overwhelming relief, she just stood completely still, relishing the sensation as her overfull belly got lighter and lighter, reveling in the much needed respite. Scootaloo just suckled on, the pacifier’s plastic shield soft and comforting against her lips, as the fresh warm urine mingled with the stale old pee underneath her tail.

“Everything alright over there?”

“Hey, don’t interrupt her, that’s rude,” earrings reprimanded mop.

Oh no. Scootaloo had been standing with her tail raised right in their direction. It was super obvious what she was doing. She quickly lowered her tail and tucked it between her hind legs.

Oh no! You can’t have your tail between your legs when you pee! Roused by her subconscious, Scootaloo pulled her tail out from between her legs again and kind of left it halfway in the air, but that made her instinctively crouch down just a bit, slightly squishing the soaking warm pulp more tightly against her skin. Great. Now everypony could tell.

But Scootaloo didn’t care. It felt so good. She was completely relaxed, just letting her body do its thing. It felt so right. Just going potty at her own pace. And the diaper handled it remarkably well, the warm liquid crept to the diaper’s front first, completely soaking the fur on Scootaloo’s lower belly from side to side, but then the diaper began distributing the excess fluid in the other direction, getting everything drenched up Scootaloo’s hindquarters, even past her tail and a bit up her back.

And then, a realization crept up on her. Her diaper was completely full, flooded to the point of saturation. The pooling urine had risen until it stood to the top, waiting to be absorbed as the diaper worked off its new payload, only contained by the twin warm lines of the elastic bands around her legs. But this was exactly what the diaper was built for. No more than a few drops had snuck past the triple ruffled leak guards, merely moistening the insides of her thighs.

But other than that, the diaper held. No leaks.

Scootaloo was speechless. It was a diaper made for babies. And it served her perfectly well, even as she patiently waited for the last bit of pee to trickle out.

She was finished. The diaper held.

Scootaloo stood up from her crouch, paying no special attention to being careful. The diaper sagged, but it sat perfectly snug. She wanted to go see her friends, so she began walking in their direction, no second thought given, just like every other little filly or colt in this world. The diaper got squished and kneaded around between her thighs, already now swollen beyond belief and constantly growing still, squeezing out a bit of liquid and absorbing it somewhere else.

But the diaper held. It was perfectly suited for the careless waddle Scootaloo had grown so comfortable with.

She couldn’t wait to get back and rejoin the fun. Nuk, nuk, nuk. Oh, just one last thing.

“Thanks!” Scootaloo waved back to the two mares standing in line.

She got two waves and giggles in turn.

Part 17

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“There you are, Scootaloo!”

“You can’t just run off on me like -- uh, okay.”

Scootaloo snuggled up to Terry in a big hug, grinning all the way.

“Sorry,” Scootaloo said, “I didn’t mean to run off. I just wanted to check if there’s anything interesting back there.”

“And? Is there?” Terry said.

“No,” Scootaloo said, “Did I miss anything over here?”

“Well, they sang a bunch,” Terry said, “And then they stopped. Some guy wearing a mountain of gold and a bunch of crows just showed up.”

“That could only be Conductor Fair Pass,” Scootaloo said, “And they’re ravens. Let’s go see him.”

Terry raised a brow at Scootaloo’s newly acquired waddle. It was difficult to walk with a significantly increased weight strapped to her lower half, not to mention the by now absurdly proportioned bulk. Scootaloo did her best, despite looking ridiculous, to counteract the imbalance with a wider gait and through increased use of her tail. Thankfully, Terry didn’t say anything. She did, however, elect not to take Scootaloo on her back this time.

The plaza was absolutely packed. It’s as if everypony had crammed in on the last centimeter of space just to be part of whatever was going on. They were even sitting on the metal cages around the cold fire, though, curiously, there was nopony flying immediately overhead. The band and the singing group had been swallowed by the masses, but Terry and Scootaloo managed to squeeze their way through to Circuit and Magnolia, who had been occupying the best spots.

“What’s he gonna do with the bucket?” Scootaloo said.

“That’s not a bucket,” Magnolia said, “it’s a chalice. Don’t you see the grape vines?”

“What’s he gonna do with the chalice then?” Scootaloo said.

“Just listen,” Magnolia said.

Fair Pass’ sermon couldn’t be overheard, his piercing voice easily dwarfing the noise of the crowd. He couldn’t be overlooked either, the massive golden chalice, despite the intricacy of its grape vine decorations, overshadowed by his towering jewelry regalia. Indeed, only one thing shone more radiantly than his elaborate robes, and that was the ravens’ obsidian plumage, flocks of birds sitting packed on the chalice’s rim and on top of and all over the conductor himself, blazing smooth black feathers, and sparkles in their attentive eyes.

“... and the story has been well received, my listeners,” Fair Pass preached, “for this year, we look back upon a most stellar record of growth and prosperity. We saw the return of our brave sailors from the far side of the world, just recently. We witnessed the renewed interest in our history and our culture. We secured more trade outposts, built more real estate, stored more surplus and grew our workforce than beyond the past years’ wildest dreams. And we serenade, my listeners, we sing, ever moving forward, and one song rings louder than any other. It is the song of mutual respect and cooperation, for the Canoness listens, and she carries the tune beyond the horizons of Equestria.”

“Rise, my listeners! Progress! Who you are here, your future sings bright indeed. And remember to share your wealth! Especially you, who tonight came out the colosseum victorious. The Canoness listens! And so your intent is just, of your wishes she will approve!”

With the last word, Fair Pass swung his hooves theatrically, and the ravens took to the air, from his head and his back, from the rim of the chalice and from inside the chalice. It must have been hundreds, an endless flurry of onyx beaks and feathers, catching the golden light like a roiling maelstrom among the stars.

Somepony stepped forward and threw a shiny bit into the chalice. Except the coin never landed inside, one of the birds caught it out of the air and made off with it into the darkness.

“What are they doing?” Scootaloo cried over the increasing commotion.

“Throwing money,” Magnolia said.

“What?” Scootaloo said.

“It’s a donation,” Magnolia said, “You donate to the Choir, and the Canoness is gonna make your wish come true. Look!”

More and more ponies stepped forward, and they all cried their wishes into the sky before tossing a glinting coin toward the chalice.

“I wish to be part of the next airship crew!”

“I wish to buy my own house near the farm!”

“I wish that pretty zebra at school would notice me!”

None of the dazzling arcs described by the golden bits even reached their terminus. With perfect precision, accurately and without collisions, did the ravens pluck the money out of the air. Even if somepony completely missed their mark, a flash of claw of beak was at the ready to accept the offering and carry it away.

Magnolia had produced her own coin from a bag. “I wish to be big and strong,” she said, “so I can stand up for myself and for my friends, and that I can help everypony who needs it. Kind of like Terry’s auntie.”

“Hey!” Terry said.

Magnolia tossed the coin really high, almost hitting one of the ravens, who took it and promptly flew off.

“Okay,” Terry said, “I wish to be smart and kind, and to never lose my temper. So I can get the job at the daycare and look after cute little foals all day.” She cautiously threw her coin, and ducked when a raven closed in, but the bird elegantly evaded her and claimed the bit.

Circuit sought Scout for advice, but the tiny pony was aglee with the shiny spectacle. “I guess I should be wishing for success in school and stuff,” Circuit said, “But, oh, what the hay. Release the new issue of Power Ponies already!” His coin went the way of the others.

Scootaloo was left with empty hooves. “But ... I don’t have a ...”

Wait. In her jacket. Breast pocket. Something hard. What was that? She undid the button, and pulled out a perfectly shiny new bit.

“Cool!” Scootaloo gasped. Just what she needed!

She carefully clasped the coin in a hoof, reached out, and threw the bit into the air as far as she could. One of the ravens immediately locked on to her, came in at a low arc, and picked up the small piece of metal, vanishing merrily into the night.

Scootaloo’s friends gathered around her.

“So? What did you wish for?” Magnolia said.

“Uh,” Scootaloo said, “I just wished for you guys’ wishes to come true.”

“Really?” Terry said, “You wished nothing for yourself?”

“Nah,” Scootaloo said, “These last two days, I already got everything I ever wished for.”

Scootaloo was swooped up, the world a blur of fur and smiles, as her friends piled on for a group hug. What was up with them? Scootaloo had only said the truth, no need to make a big deal.

Nevertheless, she enjoyed the snuggle, however brief it was. The raven ritual was beginning to escalate, and they had to scurry away from the plaza to avoid the barrage of metal and feather.

Scootaloo had meant what she said, though, and probably even in ways she couldn’t fully tell. She’d been having one heck of a time in these two days, seeing so many amazing new things and having so much fun. And, she had enjoyed every moment of it to its fullest. Scootaloo cherished the excitement of discovery, being among great ponies and feeling the air of progress, and she loved playing filly and being allowed to wear comfy diapers and play her little games and have neat clothes.

But that wasn’t all. There was more, something that Scootaloo only now found herself able to begin to understand. Because she could do stuff to her heart’s content, and never, not even once, was she made to doubt herself, to keep secret what she wanted, being scared of the repercussions. For the first time since she could remember, there was no fear, no apprehension.

For the first time, ever, Scootaloo was free to be herself.

And it was all thanks to this amazing city, thanks to her incredibly cool friends, and thanks to her breathtaking companion, Fluttershy.

Fluttershy, and the other grown ups, were still with the jungle masks, but they seemed to be nearing last call. Scootaloo longed to be with her.

Meanwhile, somepony had managed to pull a piece of wood from one of the cold fire cages. A small impression in the dirt served as impromptu fire pit, and Scootaloo and her friends joined the others around the flame.

Magnolia and Terry huddled close to the elusive warmth, as did Circuit, who held little Scout close. Scootaloo didn’t get to choose her seat either, she was simply picked up and plopped down onto the hard packed dust. Not that she minded, though, Scootaloo was probably sitting more comfortably than anypony else. The particulars of the malleable damp bulk underneath made for a surprisingly luxurious seat.

They talked. The subjects were familiar and very adolescent. School, parties, relationships. Scootaloo found herself completely unable to follow the conversation. The presence of the voices was soothing. She soon wiggled free of Terry’s protective embrace, and scuttled closer to the fire. The light clear flame was mesmerizing as it danced on top of the solitary piece of wood. The wood was barely even charred, yet the flame managed to be so bright, and though it seemed kind of impotent, there was still some heat to be felt. Scootaloo found herself entranced, reaching out with a hoof and --

“Oops, careful there,” somepony said, and Scootaloo was pulled back.

“Gotta watch you more closely, huh, Scootaloo?” Terry said.

“She’s cute,” the other pony said, “is she, like, your little sister or something?”

“No, we’re not related,” Terry said, “But her mommy is right around the corner. I am supposed to take care of Scootaloo for tonight, and that means she’s my little treasure. Isn’t that right?”

Terry held Scootaloo close and gave her a light kiss on the back of the head. Scootaloo found her cheeks flaring up from the cutesy gesture, but she didn’t care. The other pony giggled, and Scootaloo happily grinned back around her pacifier.

Scootaloo’s friends and the others went to different schools, but apparently had some common acquaintances. That meant lots of juicy details from events the other side hadn’t heard of. School, parties, relationships. Scootaloo usually indulged in these topics eagerly, but now she found herself way too relaxed to participate. She crawled off to the side a bit, joined Scout in examining some rocks. The rocks would be pretty if they weren’t covered in dust.

In fact, the procession had kicked up a lot of dust. Over in the plaza proper, the donation festivities had died down a bit, but lost none of their fervor. The most devoted of the Choir’s followers remained, serenading melodic praises alongside Fair Pass, amidst a plume of dust, feathers and bird droppings. Most ponies were glad to leave the space and spend their remaining money at the bars on the other side.

All, except for one. Scootaloo recognized the figure. He was big. His piercings were gleaming as much as his spiky mane. It was Slog. And he wasn’t headed for the bars, he was walking straight towards her, until he had built himself up in front of Scootaloo, in all his armored glory.

“Hey, filly,” Slog said, “nice singing back there.”

“Uh ...” Scootaloo said, “Really? I mean, thanks?”

Slog raised a brow, piercings jingling.

“Sorry,” Scootaloo said, “you just didn’t look like somepony who would be interested in singing.”

“Right,” Slog said, “just giving credit where credit’s due.” He mustered Scootaloo. “Looks can be deceiving, you know.”

“It’s not the looks that matter,” Magnolia joined in, holding a hoof against her chest, “it’s what’s in here. It’s the heart. A good friend is a good friend, no matter how they appear.”

Slog either ignored her or considered her words silently. He then turned to Scootaloo. “I saw you at the colosseum,” he said. His voice was strong, hard, like it needed to force its way out of his bulking neck. “Seems like the contestants recognized you. How come?”

“Oh, that’s a long story,” Scootaloo and Magnolia giggled, “We can tell you if you want.”

“Did you come here to see the fight as well?” Magnolia said.

“Yes,” Slog said.

He remained silent, but Magnolia didn’t let up, “So? How much did you enjoy it? It was awesome, right?”

“Uh,” Slog said. His stoicism began to crack. “Yes ... The fight was a very impressive display of combat prowess. We’ve seen Scribe in the ring before, you know, but when they announced that she would be facing a mystery opponent, it was sure to be something new. I’d never seen a transmuter in battle before, and for it to be the legendary Gorn ...”

“And he was the biggest challenge Scribe had faced yet,” Magnolia marveled, “No fight had taken her this long to finish. I wonder if she’s found her equal?”

“It wouldn’t be surprised,” Slog said, “for I couldn’t follow Gorn’s movements myself. He was very fast, and his range of transmutation skills practically endless.”

“He wasn’t doing anything particularly arcane though,” Scootaloo said, “Given that he’s no unicorn, and channels magic through his gear, I’d wager he employed only simple materia transmutes, using the dust and the concrete as its base. His magical equipment would have never held if he hadn’t constructed it with such precision. That’s where his true strength lies.”

Slog seemed genuinely surprised. “You know about transmutation magic?” he said.

“Not very much,” Scootaloo said, “but I’ve seen it used before. Twilight taught us in magic class.”

“Twilight?” Slog blinked, “Twilight Sparkle?”

“You know her?” Scootaloo said.

“Sure I know her,” Slog said, “Twilight Sparkle. Protegé of Princess Celestia herself. One of the most remarkable magical prodigies of our time. They keep writing about her in the Colossus, and many more magazines. I’m just surprised that you would have met her.”

“Oh, I live in the same town as her,” Scootaloo said, “I’m Scootaloo by the way. And this is Magnolia.”

Slog regarded the two fillies and said, “And I’m --”

“Oh, we know who you are,” Terry said acridly, barely looking over her shoulder.

“Huh?” Slog said, blinking, “What’s her problem?”

“Don’t you what’s her problem me, big guy,” Terry spat, “You know exactly what my problem is.”

“I really don’t,” Slog said defiantly.

“Oh, you don’t, huh?” Terry said, “Back at school? When you made me look ridiculous in front of everypony? You led me on and made everypony laugh at me. Dollies? Does that ring a bell? You bullied me, and you didn’t even care!”

“I did no such thing!” Slog shouted, “I don’t, bully, anypony. Bullying is for losers, and I sure as hay didn’t hear you call me a loser right now.”

Terry’s jaw dropped at the preposterous retort.

“They have a history,” Circuit whispered to the bewildered onlookers.

“Besides,” Slog said, “if I insulted you, you probably did something to tick me off, so it’s your fault, really.”

“My fault!?” Terry fumed, “How dare you! Don’t believe walking around decorated like a hearth’s warming tree gives you a free pass to make ponies around you miserable, and then insist it’s their fault!”

“Well, it’s hard to imagine it’s not,” Slog said, “don’t think nopony notices your arrogance from afar, with your haughty dress and your snotty attitude.”

“Snotty attitude? I’ll give you a snotty attitude, you little --”

“Guys! Guys,” Circuit said, standing between the two. Slog was large, but Terry was considerably larger still, “Enough. No need to fight tonight, okay? It wouldn’t be beneficial for either of us. So let’s just calm down, everypony.”

“I’m not here to fight,” Slog said, “I was just here to talk to these two fillies. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

“These two fillies,” Terry hissed, “are my friends.”

“So?” Slog said, “Does that make them your property? Your precious little toys that you have to protect from the big, bad savage from the gutters of the lower city?”

“If the ponies from the lower city,” Terry said, “are all as uncultured, rude buffoons as you, then yes! That’s exactly what it means!”

“Better to be rude than to be stuck up,” Slog said.

“Better to be stuck up than to be barbaric,” Terry said.

They were heaving. Scootaloo feared that violence might yet happen, but it didn’t. Slog wordlessly turned away and walked.

“To think I even bothered coming up here,” he said, “all I find is the same narrow minded pretense they keep telling us about.”

“Oh, you’re just looking for trouble,” Terry said, “I know your type.”

“Don’t speak about my type,” Slog said, “I don’t need any more of that.”

“Come on, cut him a break,” Scootaloo remarked, “It must be difficult enough for him, if he’s paying for his own going to school.”

“What?” Slog spun around, furious, “Who told you that?”

“I just heard,” Scootaloo said, “that you choose to go to school in the city instead of the lower city. And that you work at the steel mill all day. I just wondered if you pay your own tuition, because your parents wouldn’t permit you to go?”

“I don’t need permission from anypony,” Slog roared, “I’m not somepony’s plaything, I’m not somepony’s property. I’m not a worker from the steel mill. I’m not a buffoon from the lower city. I’m myself, I’m my own pony, and nopony is going to take that away from me. Not you, not the steel mill workers, not my parents, not anypony.”

“I’ve been defending you city ponies in front of my parents all my life, even though you’re making it increasingly difficult for me. I know this is not the way forward. I know we’re not supposed to let the old way separate us. But my parents have been in the lower city all their lives. They don’t know how to break out, how to learn to understand what and who lives above their heads. Only I can do that. And if they make me work for it, then so be it.”

Scootaloo didn’t know somepony so muscular could tremble like a twig in the wind. “And your parents don’t want you to be here,” she said, “because they don’t want you to mingle with city folk. Because nothing good ever comes from that.”

“H-how do you know?” Slog said, eyes wide.

“Because Terry told me that her mother said exactly the same thing about lower city folk,” Scootaloo said.

Terry had shut up as well, quite taken aback by the outburst. “My mother didn’t want me to come here either,” she said, “but I went anyway. I don’t believe her reasons, that it wouldn’t do me any good. Never did.”

Slog swallowed. “It’s difficult,” he said, “I don’t ... it sometimes feels overwhelming. I can’t make them stop. Stop talking about their ways, and about our ways. They don’t want to. Because our ways are better than theirs. It’s how it’s always been. In the mill, on the street. I don’t want to hear it, and they don’t want to hear me.”

“And you can’t make them stop,” Terry said, “because they repeat endlessly, countless lifetimes of the same. Not just your seniors, but others of your age. They know it all. They do as they should. They belong. They’re insiders. And you are just a foal. Funny words and nonsense. You just go to the festival, and see for yourself that mingling with them will do you no good.”

“So all you can do is leave,” Slog said, “and see for yourself. Show them you’re no longer a foal.”

“Well, maybe you are,” Terry said, “maybe it’s better that way.”

“Wow ...” Magnolia said, “you guys have it tough with your parents. I don’t have any problems with mine.”

“I also like my mother,” Terry said, “it’s not like she’s a bad pony. I just don’t believe she understands everything right. That would be unreasonable to think, right? Nopony can understand everything.”

“I think my folks back down are doing their best,” Slog said, “and, hey, whatever works for them, works for them. I just don’t agree with them. But that doesn’t make them bad ponies. I just need to find my own way.”

“Have you considered moving into the city,” Terry said, “on your own?”

“Well, when I’m done with school,” Slog said, “I’ll surely be thinking about it. Don’t know what I’ll do for a job yet, but ... I’ll be thinking.”

“I, uh ...” Terry said, “Maybe we should talk.”

“Um,” Slog said, failing to meet Terry’s eyes, “I just ... I don’t - sometimes it’s just getting a bit much, you know. I don’t want to, but everyone talking at me, shouting at me, I feel like I’m buried, like I’m not getting any air. And then I start shouting, or I say things that I wish I hadn’t said. Like, you know ...”

Slog was fumbling over his words. He didn’t look so big anymore.

“I was just thinking ...” Terry said, “I mean ...”

“Look,” Slog said, “I really need to go now. My folks are expecting me home. But I’m kinda ... glad we talked. I’ll see you guys at school, alright?”

“Sure,” Terry said.

Slog departed, but not before turning over his shoulder and catching her gaze at last, “And ... um. Sorry.”

Then he was gone.

“Well, that was something,” somepony said. The group around the fire had watched with a spectrum of expressions, from shocked to entertained. One pony looked almost disappointed they hadn’t fought in the end.

“At least they got to talk it out,” Circuit rolled his eyes, “I’m sure I wouldn’t have heard the end of it if they hadn’t.”

“You’re sure?” Magnolia said, “Didn’t we meet for the first time just today?”

“Yeah, but I have a feeling we’ll be meeting again,” Circuit said, pointing at Scootaloo, “at least while she’s around.”

“Hey!” Scootaloo protested, “It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t even do anything.”

“Duh,” Circuit said, “Foals don’t do anything. They are just foals. That’s all they do. Isn’t that right, Scout?”

Scout received a nuzzle on the cheek. He blubbered in delight.

They got back around the fire. Barely anypony spoke, and most avoided Terry, who seemed to be caught up in her thoughts anyway. It was late. Scootaloo was getting tired, and she was glad to see the bars were beginning to close up. She was longing for her comfy bed, and truth be told, her hindquarters were beginning to feel kind of cold and clammy. She was lucky to have her friends nearby, she wasn’t sure how she would have fared without the comfort of their presence.

“Say, Terry,” Magnolia said, “what does your mother actually do for a living?”

“She owns companies,” Terry said.

“In the city?” Magnolia said.

“Yes,” Terry said.

“Is that what you were going to talk to Slog about?” Magnolia said.

“I said we’d talk,” Terry said, “nothing more.”

“Do you like him now?” Magnolia said.

“I still think he’s a buffoon,” Terry said.

They left it at that.

Ponies got up to leave. The entire plaza had become rather empty, a few figures drunk from the festivities lingered to marvel at the astonishing setup, but there was no trace of Fair Pass, or the marching band, or the singing group, or the majority of the crowd. In fact, the airspace above the fairgrounds had been opened up again, and ponies were descending with ropes and chains to tie down their vendor stall supplies, or to pack up and leave, and in the distance guards were patrolling the outer walls of the colosseum to make sure there were no partygoers left alone at dangerous heights.

Conversation around the fire died out, and everypony was content to stare at the magical flame wordlessly, the silent fire only contributing to the general tiredness with its hypnotizing soft ballet. It was soon time to go home. The grown ups arrived.

“Hey there, everypony,” Victory said, grinning from ear to ear. The smell suggested she’d finally had her smokes. She walked over to Terry and crossed necks with her, and Terry returned the gesture affectionately. “Has my little Terry been a good filly for me tonight?”

“I hope so,” Terry said.

“Well, that was a surprisingly mature answer,” Victory said.

“I guess they’re not so little after all, huh?” Magnolia’s mom said, and the four mares laughed nonsensically, obviously more than just a bit tipsy. She embraced Magnolia gently.

“Just enjoy it while it lasts, girls,” Merry Winds said, “I know I will.” She closed in on Circuit and Scout and pulled them both into a gleeful hug. Circuit hugged her back with similar enthusiasm, and little Scout was just happy at the funny feeling of being embraced.

Even while inebriated, Merry’s motherly instincts were unfaltering. In one subtle and confident motion, her hoof slipped down toward Scout’s bottom, and skillfully probed a few spots with some light prodding. Scout didn’t understand what was going on, he watched the other ponies with huge eyes, tracking their motions and watching the complex movement of their faces. But the way Merry’s ears perked up, he had something less than sophisticated inside his diaper.

Scootaloo snickered. Poor Scout. He was so small, he couldn’t resist having his diaper checked in front of everypony. It was clear what had transpired, if only from looking at Merry’s rumpled nose. How embarrassing it must have been, in front of all the --

Uh oh.

Movement. From behind.

“Hiya, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, voice like honey.

“Hi, mommy!” Scootaloo said, “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, sweetie,” Fluttershy said. She embraced Scootaloo from behind so graciously, Scootaloo instinctively went almost limp. The sudden warmth of motherly hooves was wonderful, one big limb around the chest and the other one around the tummy.

But Scootaloo couldn’t prevent it from happening. The most natural thing in the world, Fluttershy’s hoof slid down across Scootaloo’s stomach, down below her skirt, seeking to examine what was between her hind legs.

Fluttershy gasped. “Scootaloo!”

“Yes, mommy,” Scootaloo said. Fluttershy hadn’t even needed to check underneath Scootaloo’s skirt, the sodden plastic-clad bulk hung heavily out under the hem.

“Oh, you really need a fresh diaper, sweetie,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes, mommy!” Scootaloo said. She sucked on her pacifier as hard as she could to create some distraction. Everypony was watching.

“Sorry, we don’t have any diapers left in your stroller,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes, mommy,” Scootaloo said.

This literally couldn’t get any more embarrassing.

“You used them all up today,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes, mommy,” Scootaloo said.

Or maybe it could.

“Do you wanna go back to the hotel?” Fluttershy said.

“Mhm,” Scootaloo nodded yes. Only her pacifier could save her now.

In reality, nopony had paid particular attention, except for Terry, who was biting her hoof to hold back her laughter. Oh boy, was she going to have a field day with this one.

Fluttershy left briefly, and returned with the stroller. Scootaloo was picked up and placed into the luxurious seat, finally able to lean back and relax, the world becoming framed by comfy, soft upholstery.

But her predicament wasn’t quite over, Fluttershy was unable to pull the strap closed between Scootaloo’s hind legs. She had to pick Scootaloo up again and sit her upright, and only then did she manage to pull the strap up and just barely snap it into the waist belt, the fabric taut around the considerable bulk of Scootaloo’s diaper. Scootaloo was starting to understand why foals were always uncomfortable when their diapers were full, but she would manage until the hotel.

All the things were packed, everypony said their farewells.

“I guess this is goodbye, huh?” Terry said to Scootaloo, “I’m glad you were here.”

“I’m also glad I was here,” Scootaloo said.

“Will you come to visit us again?” Magnolia said.

“I hope so,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, you’d better make sure,” Circuit said.

They hugged, and then they parted. They went in different directions, so Scootaloo was soon left with only the mollifying soft security of the stroller.

And the very pretty pony pushing it, as Scootaloo looked at Fluttershy’s chin from below.

Scootaloo sure hoped she’d come to visit again.

All in all, being herself felt pretty good.

Part 18

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A little seed in a pod.

Scootaloo had felt good when they had parted with her new Skyview friends. She liked those ponies. There are a lot of weird things in this world. Things that you can only take on together with friends. Good friends. Friends you trust. Scootaloo was glad she found herself trusting them. She was glad that she had been able to help them. Things were moving forward. There was no stagnation. Even though it didn’t look like much. Just a little get together. But when all was said and done, they ended up being different than before. They were ripe. Plum and juicy. Like an apple at Applebloom’s farm. A ripe apple. Ready to go forward, to move on, to fall from the tree. And carry on their little seeds. Little apple seeds. Yeah, that’s what Scootaloo was. A little seed in a pod.

Scootaloo must have dozed off at some point.

She couldn’t help it, the stroller’s ever so gentle tremble had lulled her in, as it rolled over cobble flattened by untold times’ worth of use, and Fluttershy was breathing onto the top of her head, rhythmically making the hair on Scootaloo’s neck stand on end. It was like a hot sauna after a cold day, the mollifying warmth of Fluttershy’s presence sapping Scootaloo of her strength, penetrating relaxation, and Scootaloo knew she couldn’t resist, instead relishing her pacifier’s soft rubber presence, and the secure comfort of her stroller seat/pod. And Scootaloo got comfortable, which wasn’t easy at first, because she had to adjust her posture in unexpected ways, and naturally spread her hind legs apart, so the damp, swollen presence of her diaper wouldn’t be such a nuisance. And then Scootaloo relaxed, and watched the moon whenever it showed its face between buildings.

She didn’t notice she had been snoozing, but suddenly, they were at the hotel. Oh, and the little bit of drool hanging off her chin was a good indication she had been sleeping, too.

Fluttershy tried to be quiet because it was in the middle of the night, but the hotel manager snapped awake anyway at the front desk, chipper as ever to receive his patrons, despite the fact that Fluttershy had taken the stroller inside.

“Good evening to the young mares,” he said, his grin like muscle reflex.

“Um,” Fluttershy said, “Hello. I hope you don’t mind us taking the stroller into our room. We’re just having, kind of, a small situation.”

“No bother, of course,” the manager echoed, “If it fits, it fits, I always say. There’s staff in the kitchen, I’m sure they’ll whip you something up if you just ask. Otherwise, you know where to find me.”

“Thanks,” Fluttershy said. Scootaloo thought she could hear his head thudding on his desk after they were around the corner.

Fluttershy walked them back to their room. The stroller just about fit through the door, and Fluttershy parked by the entrance. Then she briefly excused herself to the bathroom. An emergency.

It was unsurprising, Fluttershy smelled somewhat of alcohol, sugar and sweet gummies. She must have tasted her way through quite a few fancy drinks, though it was always hard to tell whether the easy elegance, with which Fluttershy weaved through the room, was a result of her particular choice of beverage, or merely part of her natural magnificence.

Scootaloo found herself rather intoxicated as well. Somepony had tidied up the hotel room and left fresh towels and linens. It reminded her of the first time they were here, yesterday evening, and what had happened underneath those sheets. Or, for that matter, what had happened earlier today. The kiss that had never quite stopped lingering on Scootaloo’s lips, the mere thought of which seemed to rekindle the heat on her cheeks. For even the alcohol was unable to mask that airy, delicious smell of Fluttershy’s breath.

Scootaloo found herself rather squirmy in her stroller seat.

“I’m sorry, Scoots,” Fluttershy said when she returned, “I’m sure you’re eager to get out of your mussy clothes. How about we take a quick shower together? Wash off all the grime and get us all nice and clean.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “I’d like that.”

“That’s good to hear,” Fluttershy said.

She closed in and bowed down to unstrap Scootaloo from the stroller. Her beautiful pink mane was like a glazed silken sea, infinitely deep and fresh, and Scootaloo was a parched wanderer in the desert. She wanted to help Fluttershy and tried to climb out of the stroller.

“No, no,” Fluttershy giggled, “let me handle that, silly. Little baby fillies don’t know how to get out of their strollers on their own, did you forget?”

“Thanks, mommy,” Scootaloo said. Of course Fluttershy would be on point in her thinking.

Scootaloo leaned back into the seat, and Fluttershy lifted her skirt to check underneath. But Fluttershy’s giggling didn’t cease, and, in fact, she soon couldn’t contain it, and had a small fit of laughter.

“Sorry, sorry,” Fluttershy said, “I’m so sorry, Scootaloo. I didn’t mean to laugh. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen such a full diaper before. This thing looks rather done for.”

It did look kind of silly. Fluttershy had lifted Scootaloo’s skirt just to make sure she wasn’t seeing things, but the sodden plastic bulk of Scootaloo’s diaper was sagging so severely, there was no hope of covering it up. It lay fat and soggy on the stroller’s seat, almost touching Scootaloo’s knees. And against the dark and yellow stained, bloated plastic backdrop, the cartoon rabbit was still overly excited, smiling back at them encouragingly. It looked absolutely ridiculous. Scootaloo couldn’t help giggling as well.

“Maybe we should have taken more diapers,” Fluttershy said, “I didn’t mean to let you sit in this thing all evening.”

“Don’t worry, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo grinned, “Little baby fillies don’t understand when they need a change, right?”

To prove her point, Scootaloo squeezed her hind legs together, squishing the crinkly mass a bit. A bit of liquid was pressed out and dripped down her skin, but Scootaloo didn’t mind, that’s just the way things are for a foal.

“You’re right, of course,” Fluttershy said, “and I’m glad you feel that way. I wasn’t sure whether or not you would feel bothered by something like this.”

“I never feel bothered when I’m with you,” Scootaloo bit her tongue, but the words had already slipped out.

Fluttershy just smiled. Her warm, forgiving smile. The smile that said, everything is okay. The smile that Scootaloo craved so much, especially after she’d just said something cheesy like a complete dork.

“That’s very nice of you to say, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said. She hugged Scootaloo, and Scootaloo hugged back, much preferring Fluttershy’s amazingly soft fur to any clothes or linens, really

Fluttershy subtly took advantage of the situation, and moved a hoof down to undo the buttons on Scootaloo’s skirt. She then pulled away the skirt, and laid her hoof on the crinkly plastic underneath. A rip, and the tail tape was pulled open, the sodden material immediately sagging away and leaving Scootaloo’s hindquarters cold in the air. Scootaloo shuddered.

Fluttershy got Scootaloo undressed, but wouldn’t let her be any help in the process. Scootaloo had to lie back and busy herself with her pacifier as Fluttershy took off her boots.

“There we go,” Fluttershy said, “doesn’t it feel all nice and airy, to finally be out of those dank old boots?” She lightly kissed Scootaloo on the newly exposed hoof, and Scootaloo jolted, squealing at the sudden ticklish sensation.

“Huh?” Fluttershy grinned, “Do your little hoovsies like being in the air?”

“Yes, mommy!” Scootaloo laughed, “Hoovsies!”

“That’s right,” Fluttershy said, “and I’m sure your little tummy would like some fresh air as well.”

Fluttershy opened Scootaloo’s jacket and freed her of it, first one foreleg, and then the other. The jacket was lifted away. Scootaloo hadn’t used the wing sleeves, and it was great to air out her feathers a bit. Fluttershy was right, it did feel much better this way, much less clammy.

And that only left the hard part.

“Let’s get you out of this old diaper,” Fluttershy said, “we have to be careful not to make a mess, don’t we?”

She reached between Scootaloo’s hind legs, gathered most of the sodden pulp in her hoof, and gently but firmly pressed it against Scootaloo. Then she reached over with her free hoof, and pulled open the tapes around Scootaloo’s waist, the plastic underwear promptly falling slack as soon as the last tape came undone. The diaper’s weight now rested in Fluttershy’s hoof, and she carefully lowered the front, letting the soggy inside slide smoothly down Scootaloo’s skin, wary of whatever might lurk inside.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy commented.

The diaper fell open, and nothing lurked inside. It was only Scootaloo. But the diaper had obviously exceeded its capacity for absorbency, the surface of the absurdly swollen pulp was glistening with wetness, and there were little pockets of liquid standing against the leak guards. It was kind of icky, actually. Scootaloo’s fur was dripping with whatever the diaper hadn’t been able to absorb, and the sweet fragrance of baby powder wasn’t quite able to hide the smell of wet plastic and stale pee.

“This diaper looks like it’s been through quite something,” Fluttershy said.

“Um ...” Scootaloo said, “I guess ...” She fiddled with her hooves. The situation shouldn’t have bothered her so much, but the air on her clammy exposed skin, the soppy squishiness underneath, and the smell. It was all a bit much. “I just needed the bathroom so badly, back at the fair. And I didn’t think it through ... sorry. I should have paid attention to how much I drink.”

“No, you shouldn’t have, silly,” Fluttershy said, “have you ever seen a foal who pays attention to how much she drinks?”

“No,” Scootaloo said.

“I didn’t think so,” Fluttershy said, “I’d rather you just enjoy yourself, and let me take care of the complicated stuff. For example, how much you should drink.”

“You’re probably right,” Scootaloo said.

“Do you trust your mommy to take care of stuff?” Fluttershy cooed.

“Yes!” Scootaloo said, “I trust you. I’m glad you’re taking care of things. And letting me drink all I want.”

“That’s good to hear,” Fluttershy said. As a reward, she gave Scootaloo a little kissy on the nose. Scootaloo giggled and squirmed around happily. “And another one,” Fluttershy said, and a loving peck on the cheek followed.

Scootaloo relished the affectionate contacts, they made everything feel so alright. But she still couldn’t relax. In fact, the bubbling excitement in her stomach was beginning to take on an electric undercurrent. The incredibly soft fur on Fluttershy’s face, the silken touch of her breath when she got close, the infinite depths of her eyes when she beheld Scootaloo. It was all a bit much. But in a good way.

Fluttershy gathered Scootaloo’s tail, then she embraced Scootaloo and carefully lifted her out of the stroller. The diaper remained in the seat, completely bloated and soaked through from back to front. What had once been a regal hourglass shape was now the legacy of the valiant struggle the superabsorbent core had ultimately succumbed to.

Scootaloo stood aside and out of the way. Fluttershy didn’t know how to approach the thing. She first tried to roll it up as usual, but the diaper was too pliable and threatened to pour out of her hooves. Ultimately, she settled on grabbing the diaper by the four corners and lifting it up like a heavy plastic bag. She fluttered into the bathroom with the sagging bundle in her hooves - no way she was holding that by teeth - and dropped it into the little, freshly emptied, diaper bin by the changing table.

Fluttershy’s movements were efficient, yet subtly elegant and aesthetically very pleasing. Scootaloo had no chance to keep up with that, so she just plodded after her, hooves indiscreetly sounding on the tiles.

“Whew, now that that’s taken care of,” Fluttershy said, theatrically wiping her brow, “we’ll go about getting all nice and cleaned up.” A streak of dust remained on her forehead. “And good thing too, seems like we need it.”

Fluttershy got undressed and got into the shower. She took the showerhead in her hooves and checked the water temperature, blossoming forth a plume of steam.

“Alright, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “come into the shower, sweetie. But please sit down, we wouldn’t want you to slip on the wet ground.”

The little basin was barely big enough, and with the curtain pulled, Scootaloo found herself with a face full of dirty Fluttershy. Which wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

“Um, Fluttershy?” Scootaloo said. She pointed at her pacifier. “Shouldn’t I take this out?”

“Do you want to?” Fluttershy said.

“No,” Scootaloo said.

“Okay then,” Fluttershy giggled, “Button up! Here comes the water.”

Despite the warning, Fluttershy cupped the shower head with a hoof and gently drizzled the stream over Scootaloo’s face. How cool! The plastic pacifier was impermeable to the wetness. She only took it out briefly, rinsing all the day’s worth of drool out of the fur on her chin, before enjoying its rubbery comfort once more.

The water was so soothing. So warm. It crept down her scalp like a mollifying warm web, dripped down onto her shoulders, running over her chest and down her back, pearling on her feathers, weighing her down as it continuously soaked into her fur. Scootaloo just sat, and Fluttershy caressed her so gracefully, brushing the strands of wet mane out of her face, the basin darkening with dust and mud.

Then it stopped. Scootaloo opened her eyes. Fluttershy was holding the showerhead out for her. “Your turn,” she said.

Scootaloo took the shower head, and it promptly slipped out of her grasped and clattered to the ground, spraying water everywhere.

“Easy now,” Fluttershy giggled, very gently. Funny, Scootaloo usually wasn’t this clumsy.

Scootaloo tried again, and directed the shower onto Fluttershy, like Fluttershy had done before. The water poured over the large, slender mare, weighing her down, steam now everywhere, an uncharacteristic deep groan of contentment from her. Fluttershy’s mane was so long, it clung to her body, gentle pink outlines of her long and thin elegance, pooling in the water. Scootaloo reached out and also brushed a pink strand out of Fluttershy’s face. Fluttershy smiled, eyes closed.

Fluttershy lathered up with a piece of soap. She undertook the task of cleaning herself on her own, because clearly Scootaloo wasn’t in any condition to. Scootaloo, now basically reduced to a mount for the showerhead, couldn’t decide whether she should pay attention not to blast Fluttershy in the face with water, or whether she should look away, to keep the flawless beauty of the magnificent creature before her untarnished.

Fluttershy’s glistening body twisted as she scrubbed her armpits, curved perfection, the sight had Scootaloo breathing increasingly heavy, or maybe it was the steamy air. And then Fluttershy uncoiled her agile legs, Scootaloo marveled at their length, and just barely looked away before Fluttershy noticed.

“No need to be embarrassed, Scoots,” Fluttershy smiled. Everything was all right. “I don’t mind washing up in front of somepony else, and certainly not in front of you, my little filly.”

“I’m not embarrassed,” Scootaloo said, “I’m ... uh ...” Humbled. Awed. Impassioned.

“Silly,” Fluttershy giggled, “Well, I hope you’re ready, because it’s your turn now.”

Fluttershy took the showerhead, had Scootaloo stretch out her limbs, and the dance of the soap across Scootaloo’s skin began. For some reason it felt incredibly funny, she immediately started giggling when the round little thing raced down her forelegs, and Fluttershy giggled too, making a game out of poking and prodding Scootaloo’s sensitive spots on her chest and belly. She never failed her duty to thoroughness though, even carefully scrubbing out the insides of Scootaloo’s hooves as the little pony was on the floor from laughter, her sensitive hooves abuzz from the contact.

Scootaloo’s mane and tail were duly rinsed out, but when Fluttershy got to her back, Scootaloo had to hold her muzzle shut, as the soap probed around the delicate undersides of her wings. Scootaloo bit down on the pacifier and just about managed to keep her composure, but her efforts were ultimately fruitless, her trembling wings twitched involuntarily, and Fluttershy noticed.

“Sorry,” Scootaloo said.

“Don’t worry about it, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “Some of our body parts can be very sensitive, it’s normal. Come here, it’ll be easier if you hold on to me. We’re almost done, I promise.”

Fluttershy embraced Scootaloo and held her close, and it was much easier that way indeed, in the comforting safety of Fluttershy’s dripping shoulders, while a careful hoof traced the edge of Scootaloo’s wing and brushed down her primary feathers. Fluttershy mercifully was finished soon, and then moved her hooves further down, below Scootaloo’s tail, but both of them were more familiar with that sensation, due to all the diaper changes, as Fluttershy caressed Scootaloo’s dripping wet buttocks with confidence. In fact, Scootaloo found herself enjoying the pampering of her hindquarters a lot, and a little squeak of pleasure escaped into Fluttershy’s mottled chest fur.

“That’s right, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “let’s get all that yucky stuff out of there, shall we?” Fluttershy proceeded further down, and Scootaloo stood with her hind legs a bit more apart, so Fluttershy could easily reach every spot she needed to reach. Fluttershy’s work was bold and thorough, and Scootaloo was impressed, doing her best in turn not to let her shivers of pleasure become apparent.

The fresh towels were so wonderfully fluffy. Scootaloo’s world became quivering softness as Fluttershy rubbed her dry vigorously, pacifier handle clacking against the plastic shield, and Fluttershy also dried off Scootaloo’s mane and tail, which was done pretty quickly since they weren’t particularly long. Scootaloo, in turn, after watching for a while, was allowed to help Fluttershy dry off, and dutifully stood on her towel-wrapped tail to press out the water.

Scootaloo couldn’t wait for the diaper change. She was glad it no longer terrified her, like yesterday when she had been on the changing table, because that meant she could pay more attention to all the pleasant little details. The changing table had the perfect height for bigger fillies to climb up, the sturdy polymer plastic mat crinkled ever so softly as it adapted to her weight, the pervasive scent of baby powder and sweet aromas of foal care products indulged her senses.

Fluttershy didn’t intervene, she was too amused. “My little fuzzy filly seems very eager to get on the changing table,” she said.

“Fuzzy? I’m not fuzzy,” Scootaloo said. She looked down at her chest. The towelling had left her fur standing in a hazy fluff. “Um. I guess I am.”

“You’re a little fuzzball, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy giggled, “would my little fuzzball like to have a nice fresh diaper for bed?”

Scootaloo wasn’t sure about the term fuzzball, but she nodded eagerly regardless. The magnificent sound of crinkling plastic made an enticing backdrop as Fluttershy squeaked a diaper out of the package, and fluffed out the flattened hourglass shape into its natural elastic curl.

“It’s a bird!” Scootaloo adeptly identified the cartoon animal on the diaper.

“Yes, it is,” Fluttershy said, “though it’s hard to tell what kind. It seems to have a tooth on its beak, but it looks kind of too small to be a bird of prey. I wonder if the cartoonist who drew this knew much about birds.”

“It looks kind of like Greif,” Scootaloo said.

“Hm,” Fluttershy said, “I suppose it does. If Greif were a parrot instead of a golden eagle.”

Fluttershy grabbed Scootaloo’s hind legs and lifted them up in a very smart motion, lifting her rear just enough for the soft diaper to be slipped in place against her tail, while simultaneously providing Fluttershy with access to the most sensitive parts of Scootaloo’s skin, a generous helping of foal cream finding its way onto Scootaloo’s rump.

“Greif is an impressive bird,” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “but his owner is kind of a creep. She didn’t even say a word when we met her, remember? She could have at least come to the petting zoo, the whole thing was kinda dull with only the usual animals.”

“Well, Greif doesn’t exactly strike me as the type for being pet,” Fluttershy said, “although I trust you enjoyed the remainder of the festival.”

“It was amazing,” Scootaloo said earnestly, “It was great to meet Terry and Magnolia and Circuit again. They’re cool. We had a lot of fun together, and the show fight was amazing. I’m not sure they fought entirely for show, because it seemed fairly serious, but the two contestants are both so cool too. There were kind of a lot of ponies, I wish it hadn’t been so crowded, but it’s okay, because we stuck together. And ... yeah ...”

Fluttershy let Scootaloo relish the moment in silence. Since Scootaloo had used her diapers like a foal, Fluttershy had to be thorough with the skin cream, like with a foal, to make sure every part of her skin was duly protected. Scootaloo trembled a bit, and she had become pretty warm between her thighs, which kind of amused Fluttershy. But her duty came first and foremost, and she made sure to thoroughly coat Scootaloo’s lower belly and deep inside her folds with the protective layer of cream.

Enough was eventually enough, and Fluttershy grabbed the crinkling diaper front and pulled it up snug against Scootaloo, the amazingly soft thickness humbly taking place between her legs, shielding her sensitive skin with its bulwark of cloudy fluff. Fluttershy ripped open the sticky tapes and pulled them tight around Scootaloo’s hips, crinkling them stuck against the front of the diaper with a hoof. Then she embraced Scootaloo, pulled her upright, fastened the tail tape.

The diaper was snug, secure, infrangible. Scootaloo could be carefree, and whenever she needed her diaper, it would be ready. It was such a simple concept, yet so delightfully liberating, and it took somepony as genius as Fluttershy to truly understand. Scootaloo wanted to climb down and thank her.

“Not so fast, we’re not quite done yet,” Fluttershy said. She picked up Scootaloo and turned her around so she faced the wall.

“Huh?” Scootaloo said, “What are -- ohh ... “

A spark of a contact, and then an electric jolt. Fluttershy’s muzzle unabashedly wiggled its way into Scootaloo’s plumage, curiously brushing all feather and fuzz sideways until she came in contact with the edge of the wing, already extended so invitingly. And then Fluttershy expertly fell into the instinctual motions, slowly advancing across the entire length of the wing, while her lips cautiously tugged on every quill and pulled out every piece of down that came loose.

Fluttershy was preening Scootaloo.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “there’s a whole lot of molt in here.”

“Sorry,” Scootaloo said, “I, um. I don’t know how to preen.” The words came unusually easily.

“Oh, I wouldn’t expect you to,” Fluttershy said, “your wings are too small for you to do it yourself.”

The words were not insulting, but simple, stated observation. And it was natural to hear them from Fluttershy, because Fluttershy merely intended to state the fact so she could do something about it. Still, some shame lingered. Years of reserve wouldn’t be undone so easily.

“Wanna hear a funny story?” Fluttershy said, “Did you know that Rainbow Dash didn’t know how to preen either when she was a filly?”

“Really?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah,” Fluttershy said, “I used to do it all the time for her. She was just more interested in flying and sleeping than taking the time to look after herself, I guess. She used to get the most fierce cramps and aches in her wings whenever I wasn’t around, because they lost their lifting capacity and had irregular air patterns. Rainbow Dash got around eventually, I explained to her that good flying wasn’t just about being strong or fast, but also about paying attention to the details. Preening is important for getting the molt out of your feathers, and arranging the feathers neatly on top of each other again, so that your wings are balanced and tidy. You should have it done from time to time, even if you don’t fly.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Scootaloo said, “thanks for doing it for me.”

“I’m happy to,” Fluttershy said, “and we’re done.”

Scootaloo was lifted up and sat down on the floor. Her wings felt fresh, her whole body abuzz with the pleasant tingle of cleanliness. Fluttershy had done a tremendous job of cleaning her up. Scootaloo didn’t even feel like walking, so she kind of just observed and crawled after, her tail end crinkling all the way, as Fluttershy preened as well, disposed of the discarded yellow and orange feathers in the bin, and then went to make the bed.

Scootaloo couldn’t take her eyes off Fluttershy’s hypnotizing figure. The lighting in the room was dim, the shoddy crystals splintered and cracked along their edges, imbalancing the distribution of magic contained in their molecular structure into regular patterns of discontinuities, casting a crystalline mesh of light onto Fluttershy, which served to accentuate her form to an extreme degree. The rounded elongated shape of her midsection twisted all the way, and the flexing muscles on her legs carried her so fluently, it was like watching water flowing through a landscape, unstoppably nuanced, as Fluttershy walked out of the room.

Silence. Scootaloo would have lost control right then and there, but she was stunned.

When Fluttershy came back, she carried something white. The thing had a weird little cap. A ring of plastic with a rubber nipple on top?

“How about a little snack, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said, “It’s a baby bottle. They had one standing in the kitchen.”

“A baby bottle?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah,” Fluttershy said, “You know. The kind that little foals drink out of. I thought it’d be good to get something warm in you to help you sleep. Come on!”

Fluttershy climbed on the bed and laid down, curling sideways and creating an inviting little pocket between her forelegs and belly that practically had Scootaloo written all over. Scootaloo found herself unable to think as she was reeled in by the irresistible pull. She clambered onto the bed, much clumsier and crinklier than the larger pony had, and then she crawled over to Fluttershy, and Fluttershy grabbed her and gently pulled her close, laying her down in the comfortable little nest of warmth.

Scootaloo laid on her back, Fluttershy’s soft tummy on her one side, Fluttershy’s hind legs supporting Scootaloo’s rear, and Fluttershy’s grinning face right in front of her own. It was pure bliss. The baby bottle closed in, brushing across Scootaloo’s mouth, a soft rubber nipple teasing its way between her lips. Its shape was entirely different from the broad and utilitarian pacifier, tantalizingly soft and round.

“Open up,” Fluttershy said gently.

The rubber was thinner, and was graced by a cute little hole at the tip. Plus, it was also held in place by Fluttershy instead of sitting there on its own. Scootaloo regarded Fluttershy, and Fluttershy looked back expectantly.

“You gotta suckle, silly,” Fluttershy giggled.

“Oh right,” Scootaloo said. She sucked on the nipple, and a few warm drops came out. The milk was incredibly rich and fatty, and the stark sweet flavor had somewhat of a sharp texture to it. It was a luxurious taste, savory and comforting, and Scootaloo sucked out some more, chewing on the rubber and letting the fluid come out, until she had enough in her mouth to swallow.

“Does it taste good?” Fluttershy said.

“It’s yummy,” Scootaloo said. Oops. The nipple had slipped out of her mouth, but amazingly, it didn’t spill any of its contents. Fluttershy put it back in, and Scootaloo continued to suckle. “Though it tastes unusual. The milk has a bit of a tang to it.”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, “I didn’t see any cows around, so I suppose it’s sheep milk, or something.”

With her free hoof, Fluttershy gently caressed Scootaloo’s tummy, increasingly suffused by the pleasant drink, warmed up and relaxing after the cold night out. The hoof moved a bit lower, brushing over the plastic of Scootaloo’s diaper and smoothing it down. The diaper was not only practical, saving Fluttershy from headaches she might have otherwise had, but it was also kind of cute, making Scootaloo’s wiggly hind legs stick apart and her rump bulge out adorably.

“So,” Fluttershy said, “I’ve been meaning to ask. What’s so great about diapers anyway?”

“Um,” Scootaloo said.

“I don’t mean to be nosy,” Fluttershy said, “Just curious. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want.”

“It’s okay,” Scootaloo said, “but ... I just, uh ... I don’t know.”

“I figured as much,” Fluttershy said, “It doesn’t strike me as something that is easily explained. But you do like them, right?”

“Uh ... y-yes,” Scootaloo said. She felt at a loss to say something to explain herself, even though she had toiled over the topic a million times. “They kind of, like, feel good. I like how they feel. Because they are soft, and ... uh, comfy.”

Fluttershy smiled warmly, and gave Scootaloo’s diaper a few crinkly pats. “I can see that,” she said, just squeezing a bit of the diaper ever so gently in her hoof, “I also think they are pretty soft, and very gentle to the touch. Kind of appropriate for the soft forms of little foals. Do you find the feeling of something soft against your skin pleasant?”

“Well, who wouldn’t?” Scootaloo said.

That made Fluttershy laugh. “I suppose you’re right,” she said, “But there are many things that are soft. Like some of the animals we saw today. But the way I see it, diapers are much more special to you. They’re kind of like super fluffy clothing, right? Do you like how fluffy they are?”

“Um ... I ...” Scootaloo fumbled with her words.

“It’s alright, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “I thought it would be nice for you to have a chance to talk about it. And I’m a bit curious too, because there are so many different things for a young mare to be interested in, you’d think. You can talk to me freely, if you want. You’ll still be my little fuzzball, okay?”

“Fuzzball?” Scootaloo said.

“Well, yeah,” Fluttershy said, gently patting Scootaloo’s belly, her hoof almost vanishing in the still fuzzy fur.

“Okay, fuzzball then,” Scootaloo giggled, “I mean, yeah, I always thought it was kind of neat, how they are so ...” She wiggled her hind legs a bit, but the mounds of fluff between them wouldn’t yield. “... so thick. It’s always so, present, the thickness, it’s always there. You can always feel it. And it’s so good because it’s so soft. It’s almost like wearing super thick underpants. Well, uh, except ... “ Rustling and crinkling with every movement. “ ... of plastic.”

“Plastic, huh?” Fluttershy said. Her eyes now twinkled with earnest curiosity, like a juicy secret being revealed, alcohol still lingering in the air. “Do you like the feel of plastic?”

“Not really,” Scootaloo said, “I mean, I never thought it was anything special.”

“But you like panties made of plastic?” Fluttershy prompted.

“I guess?” Scootaloo said, “They aren’t like, really panties.”

“No, of course not,” Fluttershy said, “panties are panties and diapers are diapers. There are many kinds of plastic, right? There’s thick plastic and clear plastic and sturdy plastic. And diapers are made of especially soft and thin plastic, because they’re supposed be comfortable to wear.”

“Right!” Scootaloo said, “and panties, they’re so silly to put on, because you have to pull them up all the way. And diapers have their sticky tapes, you can just go and tape them on super easy. I think that’s really neat.”

“Moreso when somepony else tapes them on for you, right?” Fluttershy said and winked.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said. The words were spilling out at this point. “And they’re super elastic all over, it’s like they want to hold on to you. It just feels so good, when you can be sure the diaper will be there, and don’t have to worry. And I also like how it sounds. Like when you do anything, how you can always hear the rustling.”

Fluttershy had been playing with Scootaloo’s elastic waistband, tugging on it and making it crinkle. “The rustling’s pretty cute,” she said, “when you hear the sound, you just know there’s a cute foal around. You know the plastic rustles because it’s thick enough to be watertight, right?”

“Yes ...” Scootaloo said.

“And there’s the pretty leg ruffles,” Fluttershy said, “that make sure when the diaper is used, they catch the liquid, and all of it stays inside.”

“Yes,” Scootaloo said.

“Do you also like using your diaper?” Fluttershy said.

Under her fur, Scootaloo had already been blushing something fierce, but this question caught her tongue.

“I see,” Fluttershy giggled, “I mean, it’s not unheard of. Do you also like peeing in your regular clothes?”

“Yuck,” Scootaloo said, “No way. That’s just gross.”

“It is, huh?” Fluttershy said, “But you like peeing in your diaper.”

“But that’s different,” Scootaloo said, “Because I’m allowed to use it, right?”

“Of course you are,” Fluttershy said, “That’s what your diaper is made for. In fact, you’re supposed to use it, because that’s what foals do. So, you like going in your diaper because you’re allowed to?”

“And because it’s kinda neat,” Scootaloo said, “because, you know, how foals can just go whenever they want. It’s just so cool that you don’t have to think about it, and don’t have to bother looking for a toilet and stuff.”

“So a diaper is like a toilet for you?” Fluttershy said.

“A much better one,” Scootaloo said.

“A much better toilet, huh,” Fluttershy teased, “Because it’s kinda neat to use. Isn’t that something.”

Scootaloo had nothing more to say, the conversation had drained her of all resolve, and she couldn’t stop giggling as all her intimate secrets just spilled out like that. It was so liberating, but also paralyzingly exciting.

“So,” Fluttershy said, “did you enjoy when I made you poop in your diaper earlier today?”

Scootaloo buried her face in her hooves. “No way,” she gasped, “you did that on purpose?”

“Of course,” Fluttershy said, “I thought it was fun. Did you too?”

Scootaloo peeked out behind her hooves, and Fluttershy just smiled at her affectionately.

“I hope nopony noticed,” Scootaloo said.

“They did,” Fluttershy said, without letting Scootaloo get too alarmed, “but it was okay. Nopony thought anything of it. Just a little filly doing what little fillies sometimes do, right?”

“Right,” Scootaloo said, “That was ... also kinda neat.”

“Yeah,” Fluttershy said, “and then you were a bit of a saggypants, afterwards. Wasn’t that funny?”

“It felt funny for sure,” Scootaloo said.

“I bet it did,” Fluttershy said.

The baby bottle had run empty sometime earlier, but the lust for sensory pleasure still lingered on Scootaloo’s lips. She couldn’t help herself, she snuggled closer to Fluttershy just to be able to take in more of her intoxicating presence, her warmth, her scent.

“Thank you, Fluttershy,” Scootaloo said, “for all of this. I really enjoyed it a lot. For the first time, I didn’t have to feel bad about the things ... that I usually feel bad about. Like not being able to fly, or being too small, or not knowing how to preen. It’s weird, but it felt so normal. And that was so very special for me.”

“You’re welcome,” Fluttershy said, “but just so you know, I enjoyed it too. And I don’t think anypony would really fault you for it, not really. Because those things, they don’t define who you are, Scootaloo. You’re not your weak wings, and you’re not your small body. And to like being a foal and wearing diapers ... okay. So what? You’re you, Scootaloo. You’re so much more than these small details. And ...” She leaned closer and spoke softly. “I like you for who you are.”

Fluttershy gave a soft little kiss on Scootaloo’s forehead. Scootaloo couldn’t help it, she promptly turned around to return the cutesy gesture, but Fluttershy had already moved away, and Scootaloo kissed the air.

“Oh, you wanted to give me a smooch?” Fluttershy giggled, “Here.”

She leaned back down, presenting her neck, and Scootaloo immediately latched on and planted little pecks up and down its length, from Fluttershy’s chin all the way down to her chest, which bounced with that pleasant laugh. Fluttershy also went to town on the top of Scootaloo’s head, and as she aimed to nuzzle down towards Scootaloo’s nose, and Scootaloo tried to reach Fluttershy’s ears, they twisted around each other, and it quickly became too uncomfortable, so they untangled, and just looked at each other.

Fluttershy’s cerulean eyes were so infinitely cool and deep, like a lake of fresh mountain water, gargantuan bedrock of a thousand year foundation, and a thousand more yet to come, the lure of infinite possibilities, just plunge in, dive into the cool, see where you wind up in the flow, you can never know.

But Fluttershy was so attached, so very grounded in the reality of the situation. She kept her cool, held back, smiling, everything is alright, her breath caressed the bridge of Scootaloo’s nose. She waited, let Scootaloo make the move, joyful companionship, let her decide, Fluttershy would be fine either way. So Scootaloo decided. They pressed muzzles together, first noses, and then lips, and then they kissed.

It was the kiss that simply was. No questions, no answers, nothing at all, except for that deep cool mountain lake. Both of them enjoyed the affectionate contact, and Scootaloo never broke her gaze, just staring into those mesmerizing eyes, but Fluttershy wasn’t good at being stared at, so she began grinning, and Scootaloo grinned too. They broke, and snuggled closer together, warmth building between their touching bellies.

“I like you,” Scootaloo said.

“I like you too,” Fluttershy said.

And then they kissed again, more voluptuously than ever before, lips parted and tongues adjoined, for Scootaloo was overcome by an insatiable hunger that she couldn’t seem to satisfy, a ravenous appetite had been unleashed in the back of her head, lusting and ever desiring for more, more of this, more of Fluttershy, her body, her warmth, her smell, her fur, her mane, her breath, her essence. And Fluttershy offered herself, chest heaving with heavy breaths, giving in to Scootaloo’s carnal advance, kissing and groping and testing every dimension of what the younger and more inexperienced pony had to give.

And so many things clicked into place at once, just suddenly made sense. Fluttershy liked to help, and she enjoyed being needed, and deep down, she sought to be desired, sought those disturbances in the stillness of the lake, mixing up the murk of the depths, the level surface of a thousand year history, breaking what had always been, molten explosions from below or else foreign impacts from above, or even just the light touch of a little fuzzball.

They kissed for a comfortable time more before they’ve had their fill, and then they embraced, lying with each other in still intimacy, Scootaloo examined the side of Fluttershy’s neck, and Fluttershy held on to Scootaloo in the pleasurable but breathtaking glow of companionship.

Scootaloo was half on top of Fluttershy at this point, and then something else struck her, the fascination was so terribly ingrained, even now there was no escape, and with all the dams broken on this evening, there was nothing to stop the newly struck spring from spilling out.

“Um, Fluttershy?” Scootaloo said, “May I ...”

“Yes?” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo ached to turn away in shame, but she couldn’t, not while the fire in her belly roared. “May I touch your wings?” Scootaloo said.

“Sure,” Fluttershy said.

She rolled over onto her stomach and presented her immaculate plumage, right there for the taking, Scootaloo barely dared commit to the sacrilegious act, but found herself moving closer. She clambered further onto Fluttershy, cautiously and clumsily closing in on those wings, thick diaper crinkling under her tail, she was reduced to little more than a curious infant, in sight of such majestic beauty.

Fluttershy extended a wing, it was long and elegant, the primary, secondary and tertiary feathers stacked perfectly in the regular staccato of general purpose flight, and no matter how far it stretched, the wing remained the ideal image of pegasus anatomy, the culmination of an evolutionary leap, perfect balance, perfect weight, perfect lift. Such immaculacy in the form of a body part would have given anypony pause, yet Scootaloo couldn’t resist, touched perfection with a hoof, Fluttershy trembled underneath, curious contacts across soft downs and barbs that distributed essential fats and oils across the surface of every feather, rainbow sheen brilliant even without natural light.

And then Scootaloo leaned in, she was starving, she needed more, needed to experience it with all of her senses, the unfelt tickle on her hoof, the intoxicating smell of Fluttershy’s body, fur and feathers, Fluttershy whimpering into the pillow. Scootaloo got closer, placed her lips onto the edge of Fluttershy’s wing, down feathers so soft, and she nibbled down the length of the bone and muscle, Fluttershy breathing heavily and her wings twitching like mad, and her powerful flight muscles bulging around her ribcage. This was the pony who could fly from some backwater train station to Skyview in one go, soar the skies for an entire day without complaint, and now she was moaning into the pillow, hind legs kicking as she desperately tried finding purchase in the sheets, wings quivering and fully extended, as Scootaloo gave the other one the same treatment.

Scootaloo had been standing behind Fluttershy, and then she felt wetness on her hind leg. She turned to look lower, and there, from between Fluttershy’s athletic thighs, a long, clear strand of liquid drizzled onto the sheets and onto Scootaloo. The sight of Fluttershy’s elegant haunches, trembling with unfelt power, lured her in, expanded her reach untoward all the treasures yet untapped, a trail of kisses leading down Fluttershy’s trembling back and down to her rear end.

All this hidden grace, boundless complexities of beauty hidden in plain sight, now suddenly all within Scootaloo’s grasp. She felt so free, felt a freedom to surpass any sensation of flight, free like a little butterfly carried onward by unfathomable turmoils, a little butterfly taking on destiny itself, just seeing where it would wind up. A glistening imprint remained where Scootaloo had kissed Fluttershy’s cutie mark. And Scootaloo embraced Fluttershy’s hindquarters, the long pink tail flicked aside invitingly. For Fluttershy didn’t look back over her shoulders, because she didn’t want to, or else because she was unable to, but the language her body spoke was raw and instinctual, clearer than any word or gesture.

Scootaloo made her way underneath Fluttershy’s tail, and then she made Fluttershy stand with her hind legs further apart, drunk with sight and scent, even now as tantalizing as the very first time she had become aware of them. And the depths were deeper and more alluring than ever.

Fluttershy was spotless. Smooth. Pure. And that purity presented itself just for her, just for Scootaloo, dripping heavily with clear, thick juices, the insides of her thighs coated lavishly in the glistening liquid, intimately warm and smelling nothing short of breathtaking. It was pure Fluttershy through and through, in a fidelity Scootaloo hadn’t thought possible. She held her hoof under Fluttershy, gathered some of the viscous juice, brought it up to her muzzle, sniffed it curiously, touched it with her tongue. The taste, it was pure Fluttershy, the ravenous hunger closed in on the sensation with starving desperation, this was everything she hadn’t known to be longing for, and Scootaloo just gave in to the devouring craving.

Scootaloo pressed her face against Fluttershy and gave her mare parts a good lick. Fluttershy arched her back and squealed, but immediately clamped her mouth shut with her hooves, they were in a hotel and there were other ponies around, so she had to be quiet. But Scootaloo wasn’t done exerting her newfound power, far from it, and she closed in again and kissed Fluttershy’s nether lips in earnest, sending Fluttershy heaving and groaning mutedly into the pillows.

Scootaloo made out with Fluttershy’s magnificent folds, and she was voracious, for Scootaloo took everything she wanted and more, sucking, licking, kissing, slurping, satiating herself to her heart’s desire, no rubber nipple could compare to the softness of Fluttershy’s skin, and no honeyed milk could hold a candle to her sublime taste. Scootaloo just opened her mouth as wide as it went, and pressed her tongue against where the taste was the strongest, and drank every last drop that she could.

She could tell when Fluttershy’s instincts took over, and her body fell into the primal motions of nature, and Scootaloo wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, her face firmly in place between Fluttershy’s thighs and the juices gushing down her chin, as Fluttershy arched her back and began humping into Scootaloo with bestial ferocity, the sensuous flame driving her on to go faster and faster, and Scootaloo didn’t even have to do much, she just held in place, counterpoint to Fluttershy’s principal act, flesh and taste driven harder and harder into her senses, a maelstrom of pleasure racing toward its tumultuous climax.

Scootaloo could also tell when Fluttershy came, which was the moment the taste reached a sudden peak in intensity, salty, sour, sweet, tangy, bitter, savoury, all the flavours at once, and more, Fluttershy’s essence so indescribably pure, as Fluttershy slammed herself into Scootaloo and began tensing up and shaking, and Scootaloo sucked as hard as she could and caressed and rubbed Fluttershy’s soft, sweaty buttocks and thighs, pulling her over the precipice of a monumental orgasm that had her flailing on the sheets, the pillows just barely silencing the howls of ecstasy. The juices kept gushing, and Scootaloo kept drinking her fill, for she had descended into the mountain lake, and claimed her due reward, and she kept holding and embracing and soothing Fluttershy as the beautiful mare tumbled over the waves of pure bliss.

Bliss that Scootaloo had caused, all on her own, for the pony she adored so much. Scootaloo emerged from the depths, breathed deep, and Fluttershy promptly collapsed on the sheets, panting heavily. She was still reeling, blinking, trying to catch her breath, beads of sweat running down her brow.

Scootaloo had done this. Only a little fuzzball, and still, this was her power, the power to turn such beauty into exaltation. The power to create, to make something that hadn’t been there before and wouldn’t have been there without her. The power to shape the flow of reality to her will. This sensation was foreign, but new and exciting. Scootaloo sat back and remained in still consideration, regarding Fluttershy in this most intimate of moments.

Fluttershy recovered eventually.

She looked around, and locked eyes with Scootaloo. She smiled, tiredly, and Scootaloo smiled too, and then she grinned, and Scootaloo grinned too, and they broke out into laughter, and the birdie on Scootaloo’s diaper grinned as well, pure, unrestrained joy all around.

“You look ridiculous,” Fluttershy said.

“You look pretty,” Scootaloo said.

Fluttershy stood up and went to the bathroom to clean up. She returned soon, holding a bunch of foal wipes, and went to work wiping Scootaloo’s face, chin and chest clean. She held Scootaloo, and Scootaloo leaned into Fluttershy’s embrace, relishing the comforting closeness. Fluttershy caressed her for a bit, and then she grabbed Scootaloo’s crotch through the diaper, and squeezed invitingly.

“Do you want to, as well?” Fluttershy said.

“No,” Scootaloo said, “I’d rather just cuddle.”

“That’s fine by me,” Fluttershy said.

Fluttershy went and retrieved the pacifier, and plopped it back into Scootaloo’s mouth. Its soft rubbery presence was incredibly soothing, Scootaloo suckled on it with barely a break.

She stayed close to Fluttershy and helped her clean up the bed.

Part 19

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“So, about last night ... “

“What about last night?” Fluttershy said.

Traffic was painfully slow. It seemed that everypony was headed the same way as them this morning, and there was a remarkable number of those who couldn’t, or were unwilling to, fly themselves. Not that the cab driver seemed to mind, she was engrossed in a conversation with the driver of the adjacent cab, inching forward slowly so they wouldn’t have to fly circles while the congestion cleared up. Truth be told, Scootaloo had never fathomed an airspace so crowded that it needed traffic rules, though she was hardly surprised to find it in this fantastic megalopolis.

The delay left quite a bit of time to think about last night.

“I dunno,” Scootaloo said, “I thought we were supposed to talk about it.”

“Well?” Fluttershy said, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Scootaloo said, “I just can’t tell what it’s going to mean. For us. Like, if things are going to stay the same, between us.”

“Of course not,” Fluttershy said.

“Oh,” Scootaloo said.

The upper part of Skyview was coming up. To call it an upper city would be inappropriate, because it certainly wasn’t a city, more like an immensely proportioned monument to pegasus culture and architecture. Even from an angle, the gargantuan pantheons’ hypostyles towered into the sky, flat roofs of unimaginable dimensions suspended upon countless skyscraper-sized pillars; ponies, carts and airships mere specks of imagination against the grandeur, easily flying around and above each other, even inside the structures.

The foundation itself was no less awe-inspiring, although sized only a tiny fraction of Skyview city’s and the lower city’s gigantic dimensions. A compact fence of columns enveloped the cloud platform itself, from the docks down to the central support tower, brimming with magical emanations, and densely decorated with myth and history, huge carvings and statues of pegasus ponies and many other kinds of creatures wielding spears, scales and overflowing amphoras, visionaries’ stares ahead into a bright future.

“Things never stay the same, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said. The presence of her voice was so calming. “Call it chance, accident or fate. But that’s just what life is. Constant change. You can’t stop change, and you can’t prevent things from changing. All you can do is to go with it, and make the best of it that you can. And try to do things that you enjoy, along the way.”

“I guess,” Scootaloo said, “But ... aren’t things supposed to get super awkward from now on?”

“Well, do you want to feel awkward?” Fluttershy said.

“No,” Scootaloo said.

“I don’t want to either,” Fluttershy said, “and I rather enjoyed last night. Did you enjoy it too?”

“Yes,” Scootaloo said.

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said. She kissed Scootaloo on the top of her head affectionately.

Regardless of its heritage, there were modern ponies leading modern lives in the upper city. The ancient superstructures contained regular buildings within, several at a time usually, and were brimming with all kinds of anachronistic activity, ponies in sleek designer clothes reading their printed newspapers of choice, eating fast food or drinking caffeinated hot sugary beverages, markings on the ground and permanent clouds bearing traffic signs to regulate the flow of carts, wagons, chariots, taxis, coaches, lorries, balloons, airships, skyships, yachts, dirigibles, gyrocopters, and whatever unnamed transportation devices populated the skies, smoke and steam in the shape of the wind, posters, billboards, electric lights, magic constructions, and, of course, cloudscapes as pure blue and white as the virgin sky.

In fact, the district might have been constructed just yesterday - cloud buildings don’t leave ruins - hadn’t it been for the scores of non-flying tourists to evidence its reputation, marvelling at the fantastic view, strictly confined to the wooden docks and the cobble of the central avenues, where they could walk.

The cab landed on the marina, among the few other cloudwalkers. The long, winding edge of the cloud island was clearly populated by those better off, all the vehicles parked on, or anchored against, the countless little bridges and jetties bore that particularly spotless varnish of an owner with too much spare time, and the pace of the pedestrians and aerial promenaders was rather leisurely. Even the cab driver took some time to help unload Fluttershy’s and Scootaloo’s baggage.

There was an attempt to transfer Scootaloo from the cab into the stroller, but Scootaloo broke free and made her way across the pier instead, to look over the railing.

“Wow,” Scootaloo said.

“It is quite the sight,” Fluttershy said, “It’s like some kind of landscape.”

The entire city of Skyview sprawled out underneath, a vast expanse of buildings, houses, shacks, plazas, communes, estates, halls and cooperatives in all their multivariate glory, stone and lumber, cloud and rainbow, steel and glass, magicka and corporea intertwined, to create not merely a city in the sky, but a resplendent domain of the very heavens, so vast and overflowing with life down to the most minute of complexities. The scale of it all was truly breathtaking. And indeed it seemed to have very much of a landscape, the meeting of large and small, new and old, commerce, social, industry, infrastructure, arts and utilities, styles, cultures, purposes, all crashing together and intermingling, forming seas and mountains. The city’s countless ages were painted brightly in the constant emanescent struggle of the next idea, the obvious next step, surviving, adapting, integrating, forming a symbiosis, an emergent ecosystem of life, so many species, so many creatures living together in the compacted social biodiversity that enabled this world to function.

And as ponies are changed by their environment, so is the environment changed by them, the burroughs broken up and criss-crossed by alleys and streets, and everywhere vehicles and fliers evaporated into the skies and congealed into vast, slow-moving clouds of traffic, before raining back down into the ramps and promenades carrying the wild streams of commerce, to seep back into the city districts, or fertilize the rolling green plains of the fields, or float in new soil for the fortresses and towers to grow ever higher, or to vanish over the horizon and trickle away.

“I can’t see the city’s edge,” Fluttershy said, squinting her eyes.

“It’s so huge,” Scootaloo said, “Look! Back there! That’s the colosseum, right? There were, like, thousands of ponies in there yesterday, and now it looks so tiny from here. I can’t believe we’re standing on top of it all.”

“You’d better believe it,” the cab driver laughed, “because it beats the alternative. They really put in a lot of work to make sure all this junk here doesn’t just fall down. Quite the view, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “Though I didn’t think it would look so ... green. Why aren’t there more houses? The lower city sure as hay didn’t look so green when we looked down on it.”

“Kid,” the cab driver said, “how much food do you think it takes to sustain a city of this size? A whole lot. It’s not like we can just leave the city boundaries to plough the lands.”

“Oh, you mean like in the fields?”

“You’ve been to the fields?”

“Yeah, we visited one just yesterday, and they grew a whole bunch of stuff there,” Scootaloo squinted her eyes, “though I can’t tell which one it was.”

“I wouldn’t blame you for it,” the cab driver laughed, “even I don’t know how many fields we have at the moment. I’d say about a third of the city’s area is dedicated growing areas. That’s quite a lot compared to any ground city I’ve ever seen. Not that I’m complaining, though, it makes my job rather easy since the traffic’s rarely bunched in one place.” Her flying gear was light and utilitarian, banded jacket and trousers and run of the mill headgear, but there were a couple of newspapers peeking from her pockets. “There’s always ponies trying to snatch every piece of arable land, they’re constantly forming new companies to farm and harvest what they can. Food, alchemy, chemicals, medicine, drugs, you name it. There’s a serious effort to redistribute and expand the fields all the time.”

Scootaloo gasped. “But surely they can’t be making the entire city just fields?”

“Of course not,” the cab driver was amused, “that’s where the ecological boards come in. Things have to be tightly regulated in this city for it to work. The size of the ecological environments needs to be limited in order not to collapse, crops have to be rotated, there’s insects and birds and animals, and so on. That’s why they’re constantly forming new companies, because they have to disband the old ones and find out what works next.”

“How do you know so much about these things?” Scootaloo marveled, “that’s so cool.”

“Well, companies and co-operations forming and collapsing and relocating, that’s when ponies need my services the most,” she gestured toward her carriage, “and when emotions run high, they tend to talk a lot. It’s the same whenever the city’s tethered, really.”

“Tethered?” Scootaloo said, “Like an anchor?”

“They don’t really drop an anchor,” the cab driver laughed, “it’d have to be big enough smash whatever’s underneath into smithereens. No, Skyview’s relocating right now, and ponies are talking about forming new companies and co-ops already, even though it’ll still take a couple of years to arrive. A remote place called Emerald Escarpment, though I’d never heard of it before.”

“Me neither,” Scootaloo said.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “isn’t the Emerald Escarpment very far away from any pony city or settlement?”

“Yup,” the cab driver said, “two thousand kilometers from cold Stratfurt, bordered by volcanic mountains and the Large Wastes. That’s the beauty of our city, isn’t it? No territorial responsibilities means we can just pack up and move over there, where no one else would bother. The papers say there were recent volcanic activities, and the upturned minerals will make us all rich. Well, at least it’ll make us cab drivers rich, that I know for sure. Anyway, you guys know where you’re headed?”

“Oh, um,” Fluttershy said, “we heard there was a science fair, and we were hoping to visit.”

“The academies, sure,” the cab driver said, “Just follow the crowd. It’s the heart and center of this place, you can’t miss it. And you had better not miss it, you’re a bright kid, you should look into the place. I’ve never seen a filly so interested in sociology and economics before, more than even most adults! Well, I’ll see you around.”

“Goodbye, and thanks,” Fluttershy said, on Scootaloo’s behalf, “They really seem to like you around here, Scoots.”

Scootaloo mumbled her goodbyes. She was flustered. Why had she suddenly received a compliment? She hadn’t even done anything special. The cab driver’s story had simply been interesting.

Fluttershy picked Scootaloo up and straddled her into the stroller, and plopped the pacifier into her mouth, which was appreciated, Scootaloo hadn’t realized how much she desired its rubbery presence right now.

They left the marina and its alien vehicles behind using one of many ramps onto the main streets. They crossed another security moat, a cloud bridge over an earthen dike to keep the non-fliers off the clouds, leaving the distant miniature city behind and stepping into the almost comically oversized upper city.

The only thing of constant scale were the ponies and creatures roaming the streets, though they also came in every size, dragons and drakes and buffalos and elks and ponies and dogs and catfolk and some manners of creatures she didn’t know the names of, who seemed completely oblivious to the buildings’ ridiculous scale, except when they navigated around protruding ornaments and companionways, or craned their necks to read the towering traffic signs. There were a couple of foals toddling around a massive marble column, laughing and playing catch, and Scootaloo just barely repressed her instinct to jump up and join them, because she was really a grown up pony and had an obligation to educate herself. Luckily, Scootaloo was back to full clothing, jacket, skirt and pantyhose, revealing nothing to indicate the contrary.

There were plenty of street vendors, though none of them had any signs or tables out, making them look rather out of place. Fluttershy bought a pretty bouquet of meadow flowers from a florist’s cart, and they sat by the wayside and ate, watching the throngs flow past.

“Do these flowers taste kind of weird?” Scootaloo said, “They don’t taste like in Ponyville.”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, chewing, “they surely taste different. A bit salty.”

“They taste like metal for me,” Scootaloo said, “I can barely taste out the real aromas.”

“I don’t think I mind that much,” Fluttershy said, “thought it certainly takes some getting used to ... uh ... ” She turned with the wrapping paper in hoof, but there was no trash bin to be seen. At all, along the entire street, actually.

“Over here, Miss,” a stallion said. He carried sticks and rakes on a tool belt, and a yoke mounted with bags of trash, into which he accepted Fluttershy’s refuse.

“Huh?” Scootaloo said, “Do you walk around collecting trash all day?”

“Well, not me, personally,” the stallion said, “there’s enough of us around.” Indeed, down the street in both directions, ponies stood with bags and sticks, and took the trash of passers-by who were attentive enough to give it to them, or picked it up from those who weren’t.

“That seems odd,” Fluttershy said, “why are you collecting it manually instead of using trash bins?”

“Hah,” the trash collector made, “You haven’t seen the houses of the ponies who live here, have you? They have the money, let me tell you. Don’t worry, lots of tourists stop to ask, but this job isn’t too bad, and the pay’s rather good, so I’m not complaining.”

And as Fluttershy and Scootaloo walked past the next block, which was really only one heavy-roofed stoa, they saw one of the houses he had referred to. Marble and polished rock gave way to cloud, a massive piece of cloud property rising in the distance, with perfectly cultivated rainfall lakes and rainbows, and intricate decorative sculptures lining the edges, a resplendent cloud estate perched on the very top, showing off the lofty buttresses and layered terraces of classical pegasus architecture, perfectly visible from every viewpoint.

“It’s a real cloud mansion!” Scootaloo said, “But it’s so big! Much bigger than Rainbow Dash’s cloud house. Who lives in there?”

“Likely some important politician. Or maybe the boss of a company,” Fluttershy said, “Reminds me a lot of Cloudsdale. Good thing Rainbow Dash’s house isn’t so big though, or she’d blot out all of Ponyville’s sunlight.”

The whole trip had taken on kind of a homely feeling, though Scootaloo couldn’t quite pinpoint the cause. Maybe it was the architecture, even though she never had been to different cloud houses, neither in the orphanage, nor in Ponyville. But it touched on Scootaloo’s pegasus ancestry, made the cultural genes deep withins stir.
Or maybe it was the fact that you became intimately familiar with the little details of every great building you passed, because they were gigantic, and covering the distance took ages.

The road went up a ramp, and then they walked under a huge, empty pantheon, countless hooves and paws and claws clopping and clicking against the polished white stone, which was not marble, but limestone or maybe basalt, Fluttershy explained. And everypony knew exactly which turn to take and where to go, except for Scootaloo and Fluttershy, who continued the way they had come from. Eventually they exited the structure, and the way opened up into a large and pretty plaza. It wasn’t really a plaza, it was just the continuation of the regular cobbled street, but its sheer scale made it appear like a meeting ground.

“There it is!” Fluttershy said, “University.”

“What? Where,” Scootaloo said. Fluttershy indicated a large stoa like many others, but with a string of symbols on the gable, senseless triangles and lines. “That’s the writing language of Atlassian Pegasus navigators and explorers,” Fluttershy explained.

“How do you know this kind of stuff?” Scootaloo said, “Atlassians? Isn’t that, like, super ancient history?”

“Quite so,” Fluttershy said, “I had to take a course at flight school. They have signs like this in Cloudsdale, too. Shall we go in?”

In they went, but the feeling of familiarity wouldn’t let go of Scootaloo, and it became more and more oppressive as they closed. The entrance wasn’t difficult to spot, many ponies went in through the arching main doorways, many obvious students draped in non-conform colours and sporting weird mane styles, and also younger fillies and colts of school age. There was a large number of bikes and skates and scooters and flight goggles and helmets piled up in the general vicinity of a mounting rack, and there were strollers too, so Fluttershy parked their stroller nearby, and unfastened Scootaloo, stashed her pacifier, picked her up and placed her on the ground.

Scootaloo kept close to Fluttershy as they went through the entrance, but that was when it hit her, all at once.

The explosion of noise of many ponies talking at the same time, their voices echoing off the walls, and the musty smell of old wooden benches and chalkboards suffused with sweat and cleaning agents, and book bindings and glue and paper and deodorant and scarce lunches in backpacks. Rows of desks in classrooms, students and teachers arguing and gossiping and laughing, hoofprints in white chalk dust on the ground, creaking floorboards.

“But ...” Scootaloo said, “but --”

“Hmm?” Fluttershy said.

“But it’s a school!” Scootaloo said.

“Yes, it’s a school,” Fluttershy said, “what did you think it was? Come now.”

Fluttershy pulled, but Scootaloo was frozen in place.

It was a school.

She didn’t want it to be. She’d been enjoying herself too much, without school, without having to think about it. About the noise and the confusion. About books she didn’t understand, about words that were too long to pronounce, lists of dates and tables of names, learn this and that, it made her head swim, everypony passing the exam she hadn’t even taken, teachers whispering behind her back because they knew she was a lost cause, she was an idiot, and her peers in the classroom solving reaction equations without effort, while she was still singing the multiplication song in her head, it was giving her vertigo, her hooves were locked up, she was falling, and she had to hold on to survive.

“Um, Fluttershy?” Scootaloo said, “Could you wait for a moment? I don’t know if I want to go in there.”

“Oh, Scootaloo ... ” Fluttershy said. She wrapped a wonderfully downy wing around Scootaloo, and held the smaller pony until she stopped shaking. “You don’t have to be scared. It’s a science fair, everypony here will be really nice. We’ll just go together and see what nice things they have on display, okay?”

“But it’s a school,” Scootaloo said, “And doesn’t feel right to go in with ... what’s going on at home. I don’t know if a school is a place where I belong.”

“I know Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “I know things aren’t always easy. But this is not a school like you know it. Everypony is here because they want to be here, and the students here don’t just study, they learn. It will do you well to see how other schools can work, and I want you to come inside and take a look. Will you do that for me?”

“I would do anything for you,” Scootaloo mumbled, and so that Fluttershy heard, “but I can stay close to you, okay?”

“You can always stay close to me,” Fluttershy said. Her wing was soft and warm.

And so, Scootaloo marched on, half-ducked behind Fluttershy’s tail, with trepidation, but also new resolve. The main hall was huge, an ancient pegasus construction with sunlight finding its way in through the very high roof, and many floors beset with terraces around a central open space, through which ponies could fly up and down. But it was also modern, because there were ramps for those who didn’t fly.

Then the shouting began.

“Come work with the Institute of Aeronautical Engineering! Invest in your future with the longest running industry in all the skies!”

“Deep Green is looking for new recruits! Soil! Growth! Life! This is your opportunity to make a contribution to Skyview’s unique biosphere, that lasts!”

“Where would you be without the floor? That’s right! A pancake on the ground! The Architects’ Guild has issued new funds for student programs, and we’re looking for interested candidates!”

Recruitment stands besieged the main entrance, easily a hundred and more, and everypony was trying to shout over everypony else in order to advertise their open positions. Ponies in suits, wearing expensive earrings and glasses and watches, but also trying to appeal to the youth with fancy coloured manes and shirts and hoof bands with ironic quotes on them, throwing out their bait, pens and pencils and sticky notes and pocket calendars and printed flyers, all stamped with corporate logos, like carrots on sticks. And the catch was phenomenal, every booth was filled with students and researchers, the glimmer of opportunity in their eyes as job offers were discussed, the smell of cheap deodorant and coffee. Scootaloo made her way past one stall after the other, trying to dodge the assault of noise and free junk, while Fluttershy trailed behind, and diligently collected all the flyers and put them in her pocket.

“Come work with us! It’s the best job ever!”

“We’ll pay your tuition! We’ll give you money!”

“We’re forming a mining and excavation co-op. We need drills and shovels, and mine construction, and transport and logistics, and storage, and refining and shipping.”

That caught Scootaloo’s attention. “Huh? You’re going to mine the Emerald Escarpment? But isn’t that years away?”

“Yes!” the mining pony said, “But there’s so much to be done before then. Think of the equipment, and you need light, air and food down there. And then we’re all going to be rich!”

She shoved a pile of pamphlets into Scootaloo’s face. Scootaloo ducked away quickly, but Fluttershy collected them anyway.

They eventually escaped up a ramp onto the first floor, a sea of moving heads underneath. The elevated walkway looked much more like an academic institution, some pictures and historic events adorning the walls, and the carpet was soft, and there were many doors with various nonsensical numbers on them.

A nearby door was open and an arrow sign pointed inside, and a good number of smaller fillies and colts followed its call. Fluttershy and Scootaloo went inside.

It was a classroom. Well, there were no desks or chairs, but the worn windows and the old heating pipes and the scratched chalkboard told it all.

Of course it was a classroom. What else. Scootaloo was beginning to get annoyed to the point of turning around. But Fluttershy was there and pushed her forward, so Scootaloo sucked it up and went inside anyway.

A crowd had gathered in the small room. Fluttershy and Scootaloo stood at the back, but Scootaloo was grabbed and pushed through to the front row, where all the other little colts and fillies were, shuffling and squirming about, trying to find a comfortable position on the hard tiled floor. Scootaloo didn’t know what all the fuss was about, she was sitting quite comfortably.

There was a wide teacher’s desk in the front with some instruments on it, some metal stands, flasks and test tubes, and a faucet. Behind it stood three ponies in lab coats. They were young like students, but looked like professors, pens sticking out of their pockets, ties around their necks, and appearing utterly bored. To the side, the happy flame of a burner bounced underneath a propped up small steel barrel, an old beer keg according to the label.

“Good morning, everypony,” one of the professors said, even though it wasn’t even morning.

“Good morning,” the little ponies said in chorus.

The rhyme left a bad taste in Scootaloo’s mouth. Same as in her school.

“Welcome to the physics lab,” the professor droned, “It is the place where we teach physics. Physics is the study of the universe’s fundamental properties. In practice, even though they are the same, we distinguish between two basic constituents of the universe, matter and energy. Everything we see around us is matter. Matter comes in different principle states, relating to different quantities of energy, such as solid, liquid and gaseous. Let us see these different principle states in action.”

One of the assistants walked over to the burner. “Safety first,” she said, donning some oven mitts. Propped against the table, she turned off the flame, then stuffed a cork in the barrel’s opening, lifted the barrel and placed it in the sink.

“We boiled some water in the barrel,” the professor said, “Meaning that we added heat and the water vaporized. Heat turns water into vapour. If we decrease the heat of the barrel, the vapour inside will turn back into water.”

The assistant turned on the faucet. Condensation dripped from the pipe, the water must have been frigid. Everypony turned silent, watching the water drizzle down the rounded steel. Even the professors didn’t seem much inclined to do anything, scratching their heads or coughing noncommittally.

Then, from one moment to the next, the steel barrel was flat like paper.

The boom was loud enough to knock everypony back, like a punch in the chest, windows vibrating, and water was ejected in every direction, spraying the audience full on in the faces.

Then everypony screamed at once, and the screams turned into squeals of delight, and everypony began laughing. The filly beside Scootaloo couldn’t stop laughing and doubled over, and Scootaloo held her upright, caught up in a laughing fit of her own, her heart racing, hooves electric with the pleasant tingle of adrenaline.

“That was awesome!”

“I know, right?!”

The professor was dripping wet too, but he didn’t even seem to notice, and carried on, with water running down his face. What a professor! He wasn’t bored at all, it was just an act. And what an act it was! Scootaloo found herself fascinated with whatever he would come up next. She vaguely remembered reading or hearing of these terms, matter, energy, principal states. But this was so much cooler!

Next up were mass and motion. The professor explained about mass and energy and impulse and momentum, and there were some formulas, you could multiply around with one and the other to get the third, but that meant you couldn’t net increase or decrease any of them by converting it into one of the others.

“Is anypony here with a skateboard?” the professor said.

There happened to be some skaters in the crowd, so he picked out two of them and had them line up on opposite walls. They sat down on their boards and were given a length of rope. The small pony sat still, while the muscular one pulled in the rope, reeling in the smaller one while barely moving himself. No big surprise, he looked much heavier. The rolled toward each other until their skateboards clinked together.

Then they went back to their original locations, and this time, the small pony pulled on the rope, moving herself toward the barely moving bigger one. And then, something incredible happened. No way! As their boards met, they touched on the exact same tile as before!

“For every action, there is an equal reaction in the opposite direction,” the professor proclaimed, “this fundamental principle can be found not only as a universally observable physical relation, but also in any other form of mechanically or chemically quantifiable system, as a philosophical worldview, and, indeed, in alchemy and magic. The aether tends to quantify the world in different terms than the physical, such as friendship and love, but actually follows the exact same fundamental principles.”

He fished a black marble from his pocket and dropped it on the floor.

“Oops,” he said, “I seem to have lost my marbles. Would you pick it up?”

The closeby unicorn walked over to pick up the shiny black dot, but when he reached down to grab it, it was like his horn was pushed away, and he lost his balance and fell on his flank.

“That’s right, you can’t pick it up,” the professor said, “and that is why there are staves or wands for all kinds of spells, but not telekinesis. This is a piece of the reagent Orichalyx II. which I have ... borrowed, from the alchemy lab. It can keep up the enchantment indefinitely, but it still adheres to the law of opposite reaction, in the case of telekinesis, manifesting on the absence of attraction. Your horn manifests upon the very same, which causes the smallest relative point of attraction to move outside of your influence, immediately pushing you away. Quite the party gag under a napkin, if I do say so myself.”

He placed a second black marble on the floor, and both marbles began attracting and moving toward each other, but when they got too close, sure enough, they changed directions away from each other, until they eventually turned back once more and rolled together again, oscillating back and forth.

Scootaloo had already known this behaviour. She wasn’t familiar with these particular marbles, but they reminded her of the reagent pieces she had gotten from Twilight, which she had moved around with her wings in a similar fashion.

The marbles were passed around, and while most found them pretty, the unicorns made faces and quickly passed them on. They didn’t feel special to Scootaloo though.

Scootaloo was enraptured with the demonstration. The professors had a cool experiment for every topic they brushed on. They mixed some stinky chemicals to create something that smelled pleasantly like strawberries. Then they cooked up some dirt and some reagents and watched the gold flakes fall out at the bottom, measured the thickness of the micrometer-thin flakes by measuring a stack of them with a ruler and applying some math, and watched a couple of swirly colours and things flying around through a microscope.

Scootaloo couldn’t believe the demonstration was already over. She had tried to keep her distance, this was a school after all, but the recalcitrant feeling in her gut had proven too powerful, bubbling excitement alternating with the pleasant buzz of playful exploration; when something new comes along, and you have no idea what you are doing, but you keep playing around with it, and suddenly it starts makes sense.

“This was so cool!” Scootaloo said, with a huge grin splitting her face, rapidly toddling over to Fluttershy, who was among the other parents on the sidelines.

“It was quite an impressive demonstration,” Fluttershy said, and gave Scootaloo a big hug, but Scootaloo couldn’t stop twisting and turning, so excited was she. “Although maybe a bit loud at some points.”

They filed back out of the room, and, Scootaloo realized, something started to make sense. The main hall’s open space was now full of ponies flying, up and down the floors, and the walkways were also ripe with activity, and all of the ponies were on their own journeys of exploration, going to their classrooms, looking through ancient decorated bookshelves, carrying their notes and instruments. Not because they had to, or because somepony forced them, but because they too were caught up in the hunt. The hunt through dogmatic questions and confusions, for the ever elusive prey of discovery. The promise of enlightenment, a piece of understanding, a seductive challenge, because every answer was sure to open the path to more questions.

Scootaloo felt the very same tantalizing lure pulling on her thoughts.

On the far end of the halls, classrooms gave way to grand lecture halls with huge doors. Water fountains bearing depictions of a long scholarly history decorated the walls. The high altitude rainwater was refreshing, and further invigorating. The lecture halls seemed popular, everypony was streaming into the one with a sign, in normal Equestrian font.

“Symposium on ecologistics and ecosym ... symbiotics?” Scootaloo said, “What’s that?”

“Oh, just the biggest and most famous conference in all of ecologics and engineering,” a random student passing by said, “and they’ve got the biggest and most famous eco-engineer, Power Set, to hold a talk!”

“Get in, quick,” somepony else said, “I hear he’s getting ready to speak.”

And so, Scootaloo and Fluttershy went in. The lecture hall was quite large, and the walls were detailed with symbols and decorations in marble finish, but the furniture was rather utilitarian, just rows upon rows of elevated benches, all looking down upon the speaker desk in the centre. A speaker was presently finishing her talk, but it was too loud to understand anything. The room was so packed, the audience was already standing on the stairs, but somepony offered their seat to Fluttershy, because she was with child. How neat!

So they waited, Scootaloo snuggled into Fluttershy’s lap, and they observed as a immaculately groomed stallion stepped onto the stage. His appearance was truly remarkable, no matter what you were looking for. He wore a homely knitted sweater, and rather stylish designer glasses, but he was toned and athletic with a spring in his step, and his mane was combed back to mirror-like smoothness, no doubt thanks to several bottles of hair gel, and not a single drop of sweat stood on his handsome face under the brightness of the spotlight, which must have been the result of unfathomable cosmetics. The stallion sat at the desk and donned the voice medallion.

“Good afternoon everypony,” he said in a buttery smooth voice, and already the audience was cheering, “my name is Power Set. I am the founder and CEO of Powerdynamics, the Equestria-wide, founded-in-Skyview leading company for your modern energy engineering needs, including electrical engineering, photovoltaics and photoreactivity, arcane machining, and more. But, I trust you all are here because you already know this.” He winked, and the audience laughed. Scootaloo didn’t get it.

He proceeded to recount the beginnings of his company, how his forefathers had founded it to keep up with Skyview’s increasing need for sustainable energy, and how he steered its corporate path to new levels of profitability. Then he listed off his company’s inventions, and explained some pieces of machinery in detail, even going as far as to draw schematics onto the chalkboard, always remembering to mention which of his company’s department produced which parts. The whole thing was an advertisement show, and yet everypony was frantically scribbling in their notebooks. He kept babbling on and on, and Scootaloo would have soon fallen asleep if not for the cheers and rounds of laughter from the audience in reaction to bad jokes.

“... and thus the piezzobubonic accentuators control the moment of flux tension by miniscule movements, the moving parts patented by my esteemed colleagues of my precision engineering department. Yes, yes, I know, us scholars can’t stand patents, it hurts my heart as well, but whatever makes the investors happy, right?” Laughter. “Speaking of investors, at the dawn of the new financial year, we have plenty of positions open for all lines of education and experience, so why don’t you come talk to us and see if we can find a fruitful engagement?”

The room descended into chaos. Some assistants began distributing flyers and brochures for Power Set’s company, and everypony was hooves over heads to get hold of one, or all of them. Scootaloo took cover when they threw the fliers into the crowd, but Fluttershy picked some up, and stashed them.

It was eventually time for the next speaker, an old, corpulent stallion wearing a green shirt, waddling his way up on stage. He wearily eyed the throng of students crowding around the superstar, but paid no further mind. It would take a while until all the students had filed out of the hall, after their idol, but this was the heavyset stallion’s time slot, so he put on the voice medallion and began speaking anyway.

“We are the company Deep Green owned by the university’s Department of Ecologics and Environmental Engineering,” he droned sedately, “We are responsible for the balancing of Skyview’s biosphere that keeps the city afloat, so to speak. Let’s start with the fundamentals. A healthy ecological environment is critical for any permanent settlement to flourish. A functioning ecology requires four equally important components, minerals and gases, soil, plantlife and animals. Any of these aspects can spiral out of control if not treated with care, such as the parasitic fungus that spreads quickly if left unchecked, requiring the introduction of predatory bacteria, which in turn will multiply uncontrollably, necessitating an increase of microbes and worms in the soil, and so on. You always want to test new techniques in the lab before fielding them.”

Most ponies were gone, but Scootaloo couldn’t see why. The speaker’s story was enrapturing. It seemed really difficult to keep a closed ecosystem like the cloud city of Skyview in balance, especially when it needed to produce enough pony-edible food to sustain most of the city. A large diversity of plants and wildlife had been taken from mountain tops and arctic tundras, due to their adaptability to the high altitudes and extreme situations of cold and aridity that could occur in Skyview. They consisted not just of animals and flowers, but the vast majority of biomass consisted of mosses, fungi and insects, which were responsible for the viridity and chemical balance of the soil. The soil was not just dirt, but in fact a very nuanced system of worms, microbes, bacteria and multicellular organisms, which transported and transmuted the minerals and chemicals from which all other life sustained itself.

“... and one of the biggest problems is raising the levels of nitrites, nitrates and sodium in the soil to sustainable levels, since the biosphere only processes it slowly, and adding it too quickly may fatally salt the earth. One of the more promising projects consists of a special fertilizer mixed with alchemical reagents affine to nitrites --”

“Do the vegetables have many nitrites too?” Scootaloo piped up.

“Who said that?” the old stallion said, and, seemingly becoming aware of the lecture hall for the first time, squinted against the light. His question was pointless though, the only other ponies in the audience were his assistants, wearing green shirts, who were asleep. “What makes you think that the nitrite content of the vegetables is abnormal?”

“Well, we tasted some flowers earlier,” Scootaloo said, “and we thought they tasted kind of like salty metal. Was that because of too much nitrite?”

“Ah, a biologist’s sense of taste,” the stallion said, “an oversaturation in sodium and nitrates, in fact. But it highlights the great care we have to take when applying procedures that alter the entire ecosystem. Most predatory plants won’t take the increased sodium so well, while some forms of bacteria will thrive. Very astute observation, young colt.”

“I’m not a colt. I’m a filly!” Scootaloo said.

“Hm? Oh, yes, yes,” the old pony said distractedly, “The other source of organic sustenance actually stems from the mineral foundation in the soil. This is where a mobile city such as Skyview comes in practical, since the mineral compounds rich enough to nourish the biosphere are typically found in uncivilized lands ...”

And off he was again. Scootaloo didn’t understand much of what he said, but she got the general gist of it, and she found the subject pretty fascinating.

What interested her even more, though, was that bulking old stallion, somepony so utterly enraptured in his topic of expertise, that he barely registered the room he was sitting in, freely sharing his experience just for the sake of spreading knowledge. Such a wealth of insight, of understanding the subtle inner workings of the complex and vital mechanism that was the flowerbed of the city’s prosperity. And it made sense to Scootaloo, she could see how one would get caught in the inexorable pull of the unknown, stumbling around, discovering, understanding, inventing. This pony embodied all of those stages in one, and the whole concept suddenly became so much less ephemeral, so much more practical and real.

Scootaloo had tried not to think of school, she was on vacation after all, and her memories of school weren’t particularly pleasant to begin with, but she couldn’t help it. She ended up sitting in a lecture hall, listening to somepony speak, just like in her school, yet it was so different, it captivated her, and she found herself able to understand. Scootaloo could easily see herself sitting on these lecture benches just a while longer.

The talk was over, and the stallion announced cake and coffee break, licking his lips. But Scootaloo didn’t want any cake, she wanted to go see more of the university instead.

Part 20

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“Dude, we shouldn’t have gotten so wasted at the festival.”

“Yeah, but it was, like, totally worth it.”

Quite a few of the students looked rather hungover, but they had no way of sneaking off from their posts in the exhibition areas, all of the sections were jammed with curious faces who wanted to have things explained.

And Scootaloo was smack in the middle. Like many other onlookers, she was enchanted by the bizarre assembly of greenery, her eyes huge, like those of the colourful fish floating around in the tank.

“It’s called Hydroponics,” the mare from the Institute of Alternative Botany said, “a symbiotic mix of plants is settled in absence of soil, we grow them on a bed of soft polyurethane foam, and they receive sustenance from water enriched with nutrient minerals. We deliver these nutrients simply from the waste of specifically cultivated fish, who live in the water tanks beneath the growing frame. We only need to feed the fish the nutrients they can’t get from the remains of the plants, but otherwise, the system is self-sustaining.”

The juicy green plants grew their roots through the foam and boldly dipped them into the clear water, and the fish happily swam between them and cleaned their scales against them, and nibbled on dead branches. A fully contained system of life. So simple, yet so useful, and ponies had made it their own. There was something humbling about the thought. “And why would you do this?” somepony said.

“Well, do you see much soil around here?” the botanist said, “All the soil that we have in Skyview, had to be painstakingly dredged up from below, and you can’t get more returns by just dumping more soil on top of it. But I can tell you what Skyview does have, and that’s space, lots of it, and rainwater. We’re aiming to get most the cloud homes to use hydroponics to grow their own food, and though we’ve still got many issues to solve, such as the infeasibility of large-scale monoculture, we’ve got big plans to expand in the future.”

Fluttershy admired the clever construction too, but was soon dragged on by an overexcited Scootaloo. The university had so many faculties and institutes and projects and ponies on the exhibition floor. She just had to see them all!

The ecologists’ area was topped off by a showing of farming equipment. Granted, it was fancy equipment, shovels, spades, scythes, flails, carts and wagons, all constructed from single cast pieces of neatly polished metal alloys, lightweight and easily portable, and obviously not meant for the rugged earth and stone of ground soil. But still.

“I don’t get it. It’s just a plow,” Scootaloo said, “why is everypony fawning over it like that?”

“I don’t think the ponies living in Skyview have much experience with plows,” Fluttershy said, “they live in the clouds after all, so why would they need them? Besides, it’s quite a pretty plow, isn’t it?”

“Hm, I guess that makes sense,” Scootaloo said.

The plow indeed had a unique aesthetic, its long, elegant supports gleaming with the same polish as its curved blades. It was broad, seemingly able to glide across the soft soil, ready to be pulled by multiple ponies with wingspan, and --

“Whoa,” Scootaloo said as she was swept off her hooves.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Fluttershy teased, lifting Scootaloo up and placing her on the perch.

“Yes, it’s pretty, it’s pretty,” Scootaloo giggled, and she found herself unable to stop laughing from the unexpected turn of events. She now sat a good bit higher than the general crowd, and many ponies looked up, and regarded fondly the happy colts and fillies climbing around playfully on the farming equipment, and - yes! - Scootaloo was just the same, earning adoring smiles as she sat on the big machine, giggling and kicking her legs and crinkling and wagging her tail.

“But who’s gonna pull me now?” Scootaloo said.

“Well, I could pull you,” Fluttershy said, ”but I don’t think the university would be too happy if we started planting fields in their pretty floor.” She winked, and Scootaloo laughed and laughed.

It was so cool to have Fluttershy by her side. Fluttershy always knew what to say, and, Scootaloo was only beginning to realize, Fluttershy always made the best of every moment. She had sparked Scootaloo’s enthusiasm without her even noticing. Scootaloo’s initial trepidation of coming here seemed so distant now. How silly! What reason would she have not to learn about all these awesome things?

And so, Scootaloo toddled on through the exhibition, and Fluttershy followed close by, never directly telling her where to go, but still making sure they wound up in the right places.

There was a huge model of Skyview, made by some students of architecture. It looked kind of like a stack of three spinning tops, but the amount of detail was incredible, all of the tiny structures were there, the harbour, and the elevator, and the ruins, and the colosseum, and, amazingly, they all were to scale. They even had tiny wooden ponies dangling from the clouds!

All manners of unbelievable arcane inventions were on display. They had enchantments that would make your clothing impervious to extreme heat - the demonstrating student didn’t fear the huge flame at all! And there were magic wands so amazingly small that they could fit in your pockets, yet they cast cinders and sparks and magelights, just like the real deal.

And a crystal that captured the shapes in the room with a bright flash - you could look at a rough outline of yourself from every angle in the tiny thing. And shield spells on wheels, and potions that made you glow, and books that repeated what you said. And lightning in glass spheres, and chemicals changing colours, and a cackling maniac slicing through lumber with a huge, air pressure-driven circular saw.

And some of the inventions were thoroughly polished, but many looked like they were hastily cobbled together, yet they worked perfectly well, the students who had invented them proudly standing aside and explaining how they worked. And the words they used were so simple, so logical, they just made sense. Most of the inventions were basic, so obvious, how had nopony else thought of them before? Scootaloo could walk up to things and touch them, and everypony was enthusiastic to appraise and discuss. It all felt so practical and, ironically, down to earth.

One station in particular caught Scootaloo’s attention. It was a wide table, labelled Institute of Material Sciences, and it was occupied by a material scientist, a loud stallion with a penetrating laugh, who in detail, and accompanied by bad jokes, explained the various objects made of, and pieces of, advanced materials on display.

There was a cutting knife that floated on water, a piece of insulating material that was cold on one side and warm on the other, glowing staplers, punchers, and other office supplies, as well as various household items.

At present, the loud stallion talked about a piece of reinforced fabric. “This right here, fillies and gentlecolts, is the future of lightweight protective gear. No other flexifoam technology can be worn as regular clothing, yet still be relied upon for lifting weights and weathering impacts, because it is soft and flexible at the regular, but becomes hard and durable under stress. Try taking that out of context!” The older ponies in the crowd laughed.

The joker slapped the piece of fabric against the table. It produced a solid knock, like wood against wood. “See? Not a dent, neither in the foam, nor in the table. Just a simple carbon-polymer compound, and a teensy bit of magic, and you have the makings to revolutionize airship design, military applications, and frat house initiation ceremonies.” It was the students who laughed this time.

“Excuse me,” Scootaloo said, “but what’s this?”

“Oh, but I believe you know exactly what that is, my little filly,” the stallion said, “because every mommy and daddy in Equestria knows what it is, and greatly appreciates it too when it’s needed. Well, except immediately after it’s been needed. Believe me, I’ve had three foals, I know what I’m talking about.” The parents in the crowd laughed.

He picked up the diaper and showed its pretty white inside. The diaper was much smaller than Scootaloo’s, but the lovely sight still transfixed Scootaloo like little else. “Yes, but why is it here?” she said.

“Now that’s a good question,” the stallion said, “allow me to demonstrate.” He tore it open and plucked out a bit of the diaper’s fluffy inner pulp - how macabre! - and then he held the piece above a little dish and began rubbing it between his hooves, until a bit of dust peppered out. “Can you tell me what this is?”

“This powdery stuff?” Scootaloo said, “Looks like salt.”

“This, my little pony, is the very essence of a diaper,” the stallion said, and then he carefully brought over a topped off glass of water, and dumped the entire glass onto the tiny bit of powder.

“Hey, why did you drown the powder?” Scootaloo said.

“It is called a Superabsorbent Polymer, and it’s what makes the diaper work,” he said, “they are made from compounds of specific substances containing sodium hydroxide, forming a poly-acrylic acid sodium salt polymer. Due to its specific structure, this polymer can bond with the hydrogen atoms of water in extreme amounts, allowing it absorb five hundred times its own weight in water. Yes! You heard that right! Five hundred!”

And Scootaloo wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. From the water in the dish rose a translucent, gelatinous clump, dwarfing the amount of water as it grew bigger and bigger, and the liquid became less and less, as the increasingly solidifying superabsorbent polymers soaked it all up. In fact, when the water was gone, the surface of the polymer clump became matte. Scootaloo touched it, it felt like something between jelly and soft rubber, but shockingly, the surface was completely dry!

“I can’t believe it!” Scootaloo said.

“You had better believe it,” the stallion hooted, “for you can see why the modern diaper has taken modern parenting by storm. Take a bit of the superabsorbent polymers, mix them with some soft plant fibres, and you’ve got a comfortable piece of clothing, that’s ready to perform its duty, when duty calls. Haha!”

Scootaloo paid no more attention to what he said. Such a fascinating piece of chemical engineering! Such a small amount of the tiny particles, and they had soaked up all of that water. It was ingenious! And if that’s what a pinch of the stuff could do, just what was an entire diaper full of it capable of? Scootaloo suddenly felt humbled by the ingenuity of it all, and was keenly aware of the colossal amounts of absorbency that rested within the soft, snuggly pillow underneath her tail.

“It really is something,” Scootaloo said to Fluttershy afterwards, “ponies take these things for granted, as if it were totally unremarkable, but there’s so much genius behind it!”

“Yes, it was very interesting to see how a diaper works,” Fluttershy said, “but it’s also a nice invention that’s good for everypony. Diapers are beneficial to a foal’s health after all, and they keep them safe and comfortable, so why wouldn’t you use them? Oh, speaking of which ...”

“Um,” Scootaloo managed to say. As a natural part of the conversation, Fluttershy stepped around her, lifted her skirt and gently prodded her rear with a hoof.

Everypony could see. Scootaloo had to stand still, and pretend she didn’t care about what Fluttershy was doing back there, so it would seem like an everyday thing and nopony would get suspicious. Not that anypony was paying attention anyway, every pony who walked by was much too preoccupied with the flashy showcases to notice something so ordinary as Fluttershy checking the state of her little filly’s pants. But still. Better hold still, and be safe than sorry.

But Scootaloo’s underwear was still fluffy and dry, and so Fluttershy deemed its state acceptable. She pulled the skirt back down and stroked it smooth with her hoof, and the ordeal was finalized with a light smooch on Scootaloo’s cheek. Awesome! The excursion could continue.

More aerospace and aeronautiacal technologies followed, since that was the title of the faculty which had taken up post at the far end of the exhibition hall. Navigation devices seemed very important, they were present at almost every booth, and in all kinds of shapes and forms, compasses and magical directional trackers, star charts in wooden frames with adjustable grids and constellations, various indicators of weather and environmental conditions, and so on. The sky maps were one of the most complicated things Scootaloo had ever seen, they were just endless drawings of lines and curves and circles and crosses, and the ponies reading them pushed around transparent plates with more lines and curves and circles and crosses on them.

“You see,” somepony explained, “you can track the projected path of the city, or any skyborne object with known initial position and trajectories, using the bow here.” One of the sliders. “Line it up with the markers you have placed on the map, and then rotate it until this line crosses the calendar date, which will indicate the area and elevation the object will be at any given time from now until then. You can use the first and the second,” two more plates, “to account for obstacles, weather and environmental conditions, which in turn you should be equipped to track with another bow ...” He had an entire box of them.

Scootaloo didn’t understand a single thing, but the neat shapes and inscriptions on the table sure looked fascinating. Learning to navigate was hard, especially if the objects and the skyscape were moving all the time. Would Scootaloo have to learn this as well, if she were to become a mate, or a captain, on an airship? It would be so funny if it was her, standing over that map and reading it, and somepony else was looking on and didn’t understand a thing.

They also had lots of airborne vehicles and machinery, the most simple of pegasus chariots, carts and wagons and coaches, lightweight bags and jackets and travelling gear, small boats and dirigibles, an incredibly complicated steam-powered propeller engine cleanly cut in half (Did the guy with the circular saw do that?), diagrams and pictures of gyrocopters, blimps, and even a massive cruiser, which already looked impressive in image, though they couldn’t bring in the original for obvious reasons.

Lots of magic was involved as well, including various weatherproof materials, enchanted communications devices, potions and tonics for endurance, heightened senses, speed and high altitudes, permanent clouds, plenty of weather spells on scrolls and wands, and so on.

Just as Scootaloo was starting to grow tired, something curious caught her attention. It was a mannequin stuck into an absurd dress, seemingly out of some kind of rubber, and each front hoof was connected with the back hoof on the same side by a drape adorned with long, shiny lamellae.

“What is that thing?” Scootaloo said.

“That looks like feathers,” Fluttershy said, “maybe some kind of wingsuit?”

“A wingsuit?” Scootaloo said, but, yes, it made sense! The gills were neatly placed on top of each other, just like feathers, and the suit appeared to react to movements of air in the room. In fact, it almost looked like it would fly away if somepony opened the window!

“Fly away ...” Scootaloo gasped, “You mean ponies fly with this? Can I fly with this too?”

To soar through the skies.

“Sorry, kid, it’s not yet finished,” the attendant said, “we can’t legally let anypony attempt to fly with it, and it’s probably better that way too, at least until we got figured out how to control the guidance systems more finely, or the next downdraft is going to send you plummeting with your wings trapped inside.”

“When’s it going to be finished?” Scootaloo said.

“I can’t tell you, because I don’t know,” she said, “but, listen, why don’t you check back in a couple of months? We’re sure to have something new by then.”

“Months?” Scootaloo said, “But I’m only here today ...”

“It’s okay, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “let’s just wait and see, okay? I’m sure the nice ponies will come up with something good in the end.”

Scootaloo was a bit sad for missing out, but it was only logical, you can’t rush important things like that. And safety should always come first, or you would crash pretty bad. She had learned that lesson, many times. “Okay,” she said.

But still. She would not get a second chance. Maybe. Probably. She couldn’t tell. It felt like she would spoil the moment if she thought about anything but the here and now, so Scootaloo held her chin up, signaled her readiness to Fluttershy, and together they pressed on.

In the far corner, they had an area entirely dedicated to the basics of pegasus magic, the weather, and flight. There was a pegasus feather suspended in the flickering air over a small flame, to demonstrate the concept of updraft. It was familiar, Scootaloo had had many lessons with Rainbow Dash about it.

They also had various objects of differing weights, fabric, metal, wood, crystal, which you could drop from a chute in the table to demonstrate the effects of gravity. And a ball attached to another ball attached to a frame, to show how double pendulum physics works. Visualisations and diagrams about various physical forces, stream lines, the movement of the winds, and pegasus anatomy, flight muscles running around their entire rib cages, and hollow bones responsible for their lessened weight.

And an articulated model of a pegasus wing, that could be twisted and turned to showcase all the control postures needed for pegasus flight. Of course, every pegasus knew these things, at least intuitively, and so the area was mostly occupied by very little fillies and colts, who marveled at the pretty setups and were having a blast with the toys, and Scootaloo.

Probably the least appreciative of being surrounded by a bunch of screaming preschoolers were the two students in charge of the station, who looked like they had been very recently, and possibly still were, rather intoxicated, and were suffering a massive hangover. Presently, the one with the long, disheveled mane attempted to keep his bleary eyes open as he explained a big diagram plate, which showed the internal anatomy of a pegasus wing and its flow behaviour through a couple of swirly drawings.

“And that’s why wings can be, like, fully expanded and retracted to, uh, compact sizes,” he said, “because of the arrangement of the bones along the upper edge, there is the ... uhhhhh ... this bone right here ... it, holds up the bottom of the feathers so they can, like, stack up, and when they do, back there it’s the ... you know, the big feather. It’s angled in a way so the streaming air can make, kinda like, pockets under the wing.”

He kicked his friend, who was presently trying to pull his grimy beanie over his eyes so he could sleep while standing, in the shin. “Ponyfeathers. Dude, you’re doing the next one,” he whispered too loudly, “I’m going for a smoke.”

“Huh wha?” beanie said. But the other was already gone.

“Uh ... okay, so, over here we’ve got, uh, the thing,” he said, perplexed, inspecting the strange installation with the same curiosity as the crowd of little ponies that had followed him over.

It was basically an upright wooden structure behind a glass plate, like a simple maze, a few paths leading to the top. And at the bottom, there lay something Scootaloo immediately recognized. It was a small crystal marble, the abstracted glow of a very familiar enchantment inside.

It was exactly like hers! Just like the enchanted marble she had gotten from Twilight!

“Yeah, so, you’ve got this little thing in there, and, like ... “ beanie said, “I guess it’s pretty, and stuff.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. It was outrageous. How could somepony live surrounded by the most marvellous amazing things, and have not the slightest clue about how they worked?

“And you have, like, these little handles, and you can grab them, and push them inside, uh,” he said, pushing a little plunger in the direction of the marble, which, no surprise, resisted his efforts. The marble stayed still. “What the hay is wrong with this thing? Maybe you have hit it, you know, like a pinball machine.”

“Dude! Come on!” Scootaloo said.

“What?” beanie said, “What am I supposed to do when this thing’s broken.”

Scootaloo stormed forward. “It’s not broken, haybrain,” she said, “you’re just doing it wrong. It’s supposed to showcase pegasus magic! Have you ever heard of hitting a pegasus to make her do what you want her to? Of course not. You have to go at it gently, naturally. Here, look.”

Scootaloo took the plunger just beside the marble, and gently moved it inside, displacing the air in the maze. And lo, the enchantment in the marble immediately reacted, softly moving on the current. Scootaloo pulled her tool in the other direction, and the marble amazingly began to gain height, like a little feather on the wind.

The audience gasped. “How did you do that?” a little filly asked, eyes huge.

“I didn’t do anything,” Scootaloo said, “every pegasus can do this. It’s how flight, and all pegasus magic, works. The magic reacts to the intensity of the air’s movement. It tries to go in the direction opposite to the change, and that’s why developed pegasus wings can carry the full weight of a grown pony. But it also resists the effect of strong changes, like a hard gust of wind, which is great for creating updraft.” Scootaloo yanked on the plunger, but the marble stopped hard and jumped into the air.

“You mean everypony can do this?” a young colt asked.

“Sure, it’s easy,” Scootaloo said, “you can probably move this thing with your wings. You know, every action has an opposite reaction, and stuff.”

She reared up close to the glass, and flapped her wings away from it, and, just like her own marble back at home, the little crystal ball bounced in her direction and stopped in the air, as if weightless.

That was enough to send the crowd into a riot. All of the tiny ponies came rushing toward Scootaloo, and pressed their faces against the glass, and tried to look at the marble from every angle.

“How did she do that?”


“That’s so cool.”

Everypony without wings grabbed the plungers and tried to move them around to see the effects, and the pegasus ponies flapped their tiny wings and watched the marble bounce around wildly, the little maze exit out of reach and forgotten, simply for the joy of watching the small thing react.

And Scootaloo saw it, as the young colt worked his feathers, his face lighting up, the magic his own body exhibited, amplified, truly felt for the first time. And the ponies moved their wings around consciously, and waved their hooves in the air, it felt so much different! How had they never noticed! And they took to the air and flew around the room, even though they weren’t supposed to fly inside, but the magic of discovery couldn’t be stopped.

“That was a captivating demonstration, my little filly,” an old, stately pony, wearing a fine suit and a hat, said, as he stepped forward from the pack of panicking parents. “And how exactly did you say this worked?”

“They call it the Lombodrik force,” Scootaloo said, “it’s an important part of pegasus magic and gives them their flight. A pegasus’ wings turn irregularities in the air movement into lift and conserve momentum through adverse conditions. Most birds, for example, don’t have that magic, so they need much bigger wings in relation to their body mass.”

“That’s interesting,” the stallion said, “And how do you know all this?”

“Oh, I got such an enchanted marble gifted to me, so I just tried playing around with it,” Scootaloo said, “I also got a book, that’s where I found out about the name. I didn’t really understand the book at all, but it was really fun trying to copy what was written in there in real life. It worked on my scooter, too.”

“Oh? Your scooter, you say?” the stallion said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “I needed a better break for my scooter, because I kept crashing, so I put the marble in a little box and bolted it to the scooter. Now I can break with my wings like usual, but it’ll come to a full stop much more quickly. And without tipping over, so that’s a plus.”

“Remarkable,” the stallion said, “and that scooter, do you think you could bring it to me so I might see it?”

“Why do you ask?” Fluttershy stepped in.

“Oh, have I forgotten to introduce myself again,” the old stallion laughed, “my name is Strange Attractor, and I am the dean of the Faculty of Aerospace and Aeronautical Technologies. So pleased to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, mister dean. I am Fluttershy, and this is Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I was very intrigued by your interest in flight magic mechanics, Scootaloo,” the dean said.

“Do you know a lot about this stuff?” Scootaloo said.

“Oh yes,” the dean laughed, “We use quite a variety of flight-related arcana to make the machines around the city’s core work. Keeping Skyview afloat, as a figure of speech. In fact, I had been thinking about them at the precise moment when you started talking about your own discoveries. Curious, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s why I am keen to see your construction, if you find the chance.”

“Oh, we’d love to bring the scooter here,” Fluttershy said, “but we live quite far away, and we need to focus on finishing up school, first.”

“Ah, but of course,” the dean said, “nothing goes over the simple joy of a good primary education. Very well, I hope you found something interesting at the faculty. Do stop by again if you have the chance.”

“We’ll do our best,” Fluttershy said. The dean went his ways, and Fluttershy and Scootaloo tried to get someplace away from the crowd.

Machines, magic, arcana, materials, wingsuits ... keeping the city afloat. This university really seemed to have its hooves in everything. And the scooter? What was so special about it anyway? Scootaloo had just skimmed through a book she didn’t understand, and tried to copy it, and it had been more or less an accident when it had worked. She had just passed time with it. It was nothing special, right? After all, everypony had just shrugged when she showed it.

Fluttershy and Scootaloo went through a side door, and suddenly were outside, on a sprawling marble balcony under clear sky. Many ponies were out here trying to catch some fresh air. Well, most of them anyway, except for the smokers, who huddled by the door, somepony showing off his tiny magic wand with a little flame dancing at the tip.

The marble was weathered and old, probably ancient, untold stories hidden within its chaotic and swirly textures, yet it seemed impervious to the passage of time, as if one pony could stand on it, or a thousand ponies, it didn’t matter. And that’s probably what had happened, thousands of ponies over hundreds of years.

Fluttershy was about to say something, but she decided to keep still, and leave Scootaloo to her thoughts. To be honest, Scootaloo wasn’t doing much thinking, as they ambled through the open space, she just enjoyed the silence, and listening to the quiet murmurs of the smokers and the skygazers, and the little snips of conversation and stories and raunchy jokes told by students, and the greetings whenever somepony landed on the balcony, and if they had something interesting in their saddlebags.

All these ponies. They were here, living their lives in this wonderful and bizarre city, and have been for a long time, and will do so for a long time still. Everypony was so driven, so focused on doing their thing, and they all huddled together in obviously finite space, and they talked and fought and cooperated and invented and built, and this was the result, all of this, the huge pantheon across the street casting its shadow on them, the city with its streets and houses and food and factories and its endless stream of visitors, merchants, workers, opportunists new residents. All of it, just to continue to make it work, progress, pony ingenuity, invention, creation. Life.

And in some sense, it was like that in all of Equestria, with its metropolises, and railroads, and military and navy fleets, and politics and ambassadors and delegations, and newspapers and schools and hospitals and industries and nations and cultures and species.

Scootaloo had never thought of it like that, but it was like that even in Ponyville. Good old Ponyville. Had Scootaloo had her eyes closed all the time? But there it was. Applebloom, always with some new building or equipment on her farm. Those things were new and fresh! And Sweetie Belle’s magic lessons growing ever more complicated. And Rainbow Dash’s and her team’s weather. And the ponies at school, Diamond Tiara’s voluntary projects, Rumble’s camps, Dinky’s muffins, Zipporwhill, Snips, Snails, Chipcutter, Featherweight, Pipsqueak, Twist; and there were parties, and clothes, and music, and the library, and Wonderbolts, and the clubhouse.

And there was Fluttershy. The stewardess of whatever and whoever lived on all the surrounding lands. How many countless ponies relied on her skills? How much did she really know? How much had she seen in her work? How many problems had she solved? And yet, brimming with all that expert knowledge and experience, she simply stood there, and gently smiled down at Scootaloo, smiled without restraint, unweathered, fresh and bold, at the young and impressionable and inexperienced and untraveled and awkward little filly.

Scootaloo wanted to say something as well. But they were interrupted.

“You left quite the impression on grandpa. A rare sight these days. You must be Scootaloo and Fluttershy.” It was another dapper stallion, but not so old as the dean, and quite well groomed. But his coat’s particular shade of red was immediately familiar.

“Yes?” Fluttershy said.

“Did you just say grandpa?” Scootaloo said.

“Oh, that’s what we call Strange,” he said, and winked, “You know. Every faculty’s gotta have a nickname for their dean. And he’s kinda old, so that’s what stuck. I’m Lane, by the way, Circuit’s father.”

“Nice to meet you,” Fluttershy said, “it’s, uh, impressive that you recognized us.”

“I couldn’t help it,” Lane laughed, “after how much Circuit told me about you guys yesterday. He was pretty excited about hanging out with you, and I think I can see the reason why.” He nodded toward Scootaloo. “Listen, I know it’s a bit late, but can I treat you to lunch at the cafeteria? We could talk a bit.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t want to impose,” Fluttershy said.

“Not at all, grandpa is paying anyway,” he laughed again, “Seriously, faculty staff gets to eat for free, and most of the regulars should be gone by now, so it will be just us.”

They agreed to go for lunch, and Lane took them to the topmost floor of the building. He was a quirky stallion, but Scootaloo recognized, apart from the coat, plenty of Circuit in him, so it wasn’t difficult at all to talk to him casually.

“What’s a dean?” Scootaloo said.

“The dean is the highest scientific instance of a specific academic institution,” Lane said, “so, in theory, the dean gets to have the last word on scientific decisions and in which direction to take the research. That’s rarely what a dean does practically, though. Since it takes so much experience to make scientific decisions, deans are usually quite old, and they’re much better at mentoring existing projects, and reeling in new students, and doing PR, and making sure everypony works to their strengths. Me and Strange Attractor go way back, I used to be his student, but I saw that he was doing more and more organization and less real research, so that’s why I eventually left academia.”

The cafeteria was on the roof of the building. Unsurprisingly, the roof was big enough to hold a small settlement, and there was a settlement indeed, which appeared to be university buildings and dormitories, though their architecture was way modern. And no wonder the buildings were placed up here, the view was fantastic.

“But you still work at the university?” Scootaloo said.

“I hold lectures, yes,” Lane said, “that’s my way of contributing to science, since science would be nothing without the students. Plus, I find that the best ideas spring from conversation with fresh student minds. Aside from that, I usually work at my job at the tail.”

Scootaloo gasped. “The tail! I thought you weren’t supposed to call it that name!”

“Don’t worry,” Lane snickered, “they’ve been calling the weather factory that, ever since it was built. And why not? It’s the most apt name for it after all. Just don’t tell Circuit I called it that. I think he’d get upset.”

The cafeteria wasn’t too empty, but it sure looked like it because of the bare walls, smooth floor and minimalistic furniture. The food smelled good. The grown ups loaded up with awesome salads and hay and cheese, and Fluttershy obtained a cute colourful foal’s plate with soft pasta and tomato sauce for Scootaloo.

“But your weather factory is huge! It’s so much bigger than the one back home,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, yes,” Lane said, “the tail is not just the weather factory, it also consists of other facilities that make up Skyview’s ecological infrastructure. My own work lies with the weather department, but the close proximity to my colleagues’ installations makes all kinds of synergistic arrangements possible. This way we can have sewage treatment work in tandem with rain water harvest and the biochemical recycling plants. A city like Skyview wouldn’t be able to sustain itself when its on the move, for years, or even decades, on end, without these kinds of efficiencies, and that’s why the ecological cycle and waste management are so important to us.”

“Oh, yeah, we saw ponies picking up the trash out on the street,” Scootaloo said, “we thought it was weird. I mean, I get it, you gotta recycle it, but don’t you have anything more worthwhile for those ponies to do?”

Lane blinked, and then he laughed. “You think wrong if you assume trash to be worthless. It’s the other way around! Trash is the most valuable thing we have! We’re sending those ponies out in increasingly more districts because we need those valuables. What we perceive as trash, the things which are spoiled or broken or we don’t have any need for anymore, those contain valuable materials, chemicals, reagents, which must be collected and broken down and recomposed and re-used as different kinds of materials and energies, until those turn into trash again, and so on. It’s the trash cycle! And it makes extremely efficient use of things that are otherwise hard to come by.”

Everypony seemed to be taking their foals to eat here, so there was a lot of noise, but no more free high chairs. So Scootaloo was seated on a regular chair, which made her feel a slight bit more grown up. At least, that was, until Fluttershy started cutting up Scootaloo’s pasta for her.

“That’s why we don’t only have fire and machines to do the recycling for us, because all our chemical and alchemical knowledge amounts to nothing more than a little sandbox in the grand construction of the universe. The real recycling, the production of complex chemicals and reagents, is done by plants, and bacteria, and even animals. Ecosystems! Sludge tanks! Biotopes and processing cultures. Every plastic bottle, every piece of rotten food, every pencil shaving, all of it can be turned back into things that are useful to us, or even valuable, from clean water and soil to complex or organic chemicals and even reagents. Like your little ball of Heptonyx IV that you showed off earlier.”

“Heptonyx IV? So that’s what it’s called?” Scootaloo said, “Because I have one at home just like it.”

“I can’t say for sure, but that’s probably what you have, yes,” Lane said, “there are a couple of reasons why this reagent in its fourth moment is so perfectly suitable for enchantment with flight magic, but to keep it short, the material’s substructure has a very similar shape to the arcane potential patterns of pegasus magic. It means that the enchantment won’t run out for a long time. Ironically, the reagent is notoriously inconvenient to dig up, since it’s plentiful in lands that are otherwise inhospitable. It is said that the historical pegasus cloud cities of ancient times were lost because they travelled too far into such areas.”

Something was poking Scootaloo’s face. She turned her muzzle so the annoyance would go away, but then she realized that it was Fluttershy, trying to feed her.

“Open up, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “it’s time to get something nice and warm in your tummy.”

Scootaloo wanted to look for ways to protest, but Fluttershy was right, and Scootaloo was hungry, and the pasta was yummy.

“Like in wh--” Scootaloo said, but Fluttershy wiped her face with a napkin.

“Sorry, you had some sauce on your cheek,” Fluttershy said.

“Like the Emerald Escarpment?” Scootaloo said, now fresh and clean.

“How did you know there were valuables there?” Lane said.

“Just a guess,” Scootaloo said, “since everypony’s talking about it. But isn’t that still far away?”

“Well, yes,” Lane said, “the city’s moving at a steady pace of one point six centimetres per second, which will take us there in about fifteen years, barring any weather anomalies. But that’s what we’re hoping to improve. We use flight magic and enchantments for the city’s propulsion and guidance systems, and with more of it, we hope to make some improvements. And that’s where your little scooter project comes in.”

Scootaloo drank from the cup of juice that was held in front of her. After the main course, there were some fresh fruit, which Fluttershy cut up into little pieces that were easier to feed to Scootaloo. Lane smiled fondly at the cutesy antics, and at Scootaloo’s foiled attempts to have a normal conversation. Did all parents find this stuff amusing?

“But what’s my scooter got to do with it?” Scootaloo said.

“Everything,” Lane said, “your construction is quite similar to how we build our greatest technological feats. Well, of course, we don’t exactly throw some enchanted balls into a box and call it a day, but, the principle’s the same, I guess is what I’m trying to say. There’s a reason why the Faculty of Aeronautics is so overrun, we need lots of new research on flight magic.”

“But how does that work?” Scootaloo said, “So many students in your faculty aren’t pegasi, or aren’t even ponies, for that matter. How do you do flight magic when you can’t fly?”

“There’s more to flight magic than just flying, Scootaloo,” Lane said, “and you certainly don’t have to be able to fly to make use of it. Quite the opposite, in fact! We’re always looking for students who aren’t pegasus ponies, or who don’t have wings. The best projects have students from all walks of life, and the best students practice much more than only their special fields. Variety is the key advantage, just like our ecosystems, and our biodiversity, it creates synergies, it cross-pollinates, it adapts.”

“You don’t have to be able to fly ...?” Scootaloo said.

“Most certainly not,” Lane said, “what you achieve depends on you, and not on what you can or can’t do.”

The thought was extortionate, but it made more and more sense, given what Scootaloo had seen. The entire city worked that way, the industry and trade of lower Skyview, the closed ecosystem of the central district, and technological craze of the upper city, all of it required a diversity of knowledge to function, and nopony could slack off, but nopony could be greedy either, or it would all come crashing down. So they made sure that everypony had something to do, and everypony got the opportunity to do something awesome.

“I wish my school was as cool as yours,” Scootaloo said.

“How so?” Lane said, “What’s wrong with school?”

“My school is nothing like this,” Scootaloo said, and Fluttershy stopped feeding her, “it’s all just books and tests and dates and tables. And there are so many assignments. I just can’t make heads nor tails of it. They say every subject is so important, and I’ve been trying to look at all the books, but whenever I’m finished with one assignment, I’m already late for the next. So I just go outside to work on my scooter, or go for a hike, or meet with my friends. But then I’m even more late. And everypony tells me I should stop wasting my time. It just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know where to start with it, or where it ends.”

There. She was talking about school again, even though she hadn’t wanted to spoil the moment. What a dunce Scootaloo was, but she couldn’t help it from spilling out. At least Fluttershy showed some compassion, touching Scootaloo softly on the side to signal her presence. But Lane remained unfazed, and just put his cutlery down calmly.

“Scootaloo,” Lane said, “what is school?”

“Huh?” Scootaloo said, “School is ... a place where you go and they teach you stuff. Right?”

“Wrong,” Lane said.

“Why?” Scootaloo said.

“Because nopony can teach you stuff, ever, except for yourself,” Lane stated, “sure, they can show you stuff, or they can explain stuff to you, but only you can truly know how and why you learn, so learning is solely your own responsibility. All that a school can do is give you opportunities, and throw stuff at you to see what works. And if some subjects don’t work out? Hey, that’s fine, that’s what we’re here to find out. And if somepony’s giving you a hard time? Well, screw them!”

“Lane!” Fluttershy gasped.

“I’m sorry for the language,” he held his hooves up apologetically, “But it’s true. You shouldn’t treat school like school, Scootaloo. You should treat school more like a playground.”

“What?” Scootaloo said.

“You can do whatever you want,” Lane said, “you can try out everything, as crazy as it might seem, without fearing the risk of dangerous consequences. And not only that, they’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t work, and you get valuable feedback and pointers, and all of it for free! How cool is that? Seize the moment as it comes, Scootaloo, because before you know it, it’ll be over, and you’ll come out the other side looking back on what you’ve learned.”

“That makes no sense!” Scootaloo said.

“It’ll make sense, in time,” Lane said, and gave Fluttershy a wink, “believe me, I’ve had this conversation with all of my kids. All it takes is a little motivation to kickstart a budding young mind.”

“That’s right, I suppose,” Fluttershy said, “well, thank you for the interesting conversation anyway. I believe we, learned, a lot.”

“Don’t mention it,” Lane said as he stood, “I’m happy to help. I hope you’ll find the chance to visit again. I think Circuit quite enjoyed Scootaloo’s company.”

“It could be a while,” Fluttershy said, “we need to head back home soon.”

“That’s fine. In any case, you know where to find me. You have friends in Skyview.”

They said their goodbyes and Lane left. Scootaloo and Fluttershy sat for a bit longer.

Part 21

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“Just look at that perfect arrangement.”

It really was a perfect arrangement. From little troughs of earth affixed to the cloud wall grew cute little flowers, and the mound of earth was angled in a way to provide more space higher up, so that a second type of flower of a different colour could grow interspersed to the first one, and up a lattice on the wall, forming a perfect colour gradient. Somepony must have spent a lifetime creating this arrangement.

Just like somepony could spend a lifetime being stuck in the sludge tank that was her life.

“Oh, quit being a mopey filly, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I’m not being mopey,” Scootaloo huffed, “I’m just thinking.”

“Well, I’m thinking we should just enjoy the rest of the day,” Fluttershy said, “so why don’t you relax and take a look around? The houses are gorgeous.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Scootaloo sighed.

What was there to be cranky about, after all? The sun shone warmly, and everything had grown quiet and peaceful the further they got away from the university. In fact, they were pretty much alone in the fake alleyway. Away from the district centre, as commercial superstructures gave way to private estates (more like small countries, really, judging by the size of the plots), the residents had apparently grown bored enough to build walls and fake house fronts around the avenue, to give a small, ground-bound, hometown impression. While the detail was staggering, hardened cloud carved to look like bricks, the final result looked, let’s say, interesting, and a bit surreal, bricks floating in the sky. At least the plants smelled nice.

And there were more and more plants the further they progressed down the alley, and, eventually, the gravel stopped crunching beneath the stroller’s wheels and gave way to the soft squish of an actual, real lawn.

“Looks like some kind of park,” Fluttershy said, “or maybe a public garden? Just look at the flowers.”

“Hm,” Scootaloo said, “these ponies sure love their empty space.”

It was almost disappointing the grass didn’t show any mirror reflections, so perfectly flat was it cut, down to the very last, flawlessly trimmed, green blade. And it stretched on all the way into the distance, where it was delimited by an almost geometrically immaculate row of flowers in splendid colourful bloom, and beyond lay another grassy yard that met with walls of carefully sculpted trees and bushes, between which more green and colours shone through. The idea was plain obvious: the neat arrangements segregated the green field into lots of quiet parcels that provided some sense of privacy, while still maintaining the park’s overarching aesthetic, by way of a little gravel path snaking between the plots, lined with pretty benches and bushes.

The areas were themed too. Some of the ponies strolling about kept to the red flowers, some to the yellow flowers, some preferred the metal lamp posts, some the colourful murals. There was a bit of life here.

Somewhere nearby, a foal cried with joy. A mare sat in the grass and held the tiny being aloft with both hooves, and spun about, sending the little foal into excitable squeals, as everything in the world moved at once, and she soared through the skies.

Soared, like some ponies would never discover that they could.

“Gah!” Scootaloo made, “I just don’t get it! Why did nopony ever tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Fluttershy said.

“Tell me how awesome things are,” Scootaloo said, “we’ve seen so much stuff around this place. And all of it makes sense. Everything works the way it does for a reason. And you can look at things and touch them. It’s so real. It feels like everything has a purpose. Nothing here is drifting around pointlessly, with no goal or end in sight. Feels like being stuck in the mud, with nopony there to help me out.”

“Oh, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “things are different everywhere. You can’t blame other ponies for doing what they do.”

“I know,” Scootaloo said, “I guess I’m just frustrated. I don’t get why everypony’s suddenly talking to me when I don’t even know what I want to say to them. And then back home, when I need to find the words for many things at once, there’s nopony who listens. It’s like with the scooter. Why’s everypony here suddenly so interested in it? Nopony thought it was anything special when I showed it to them back home.”

“I think your scooter is pretty good,” Fluttershy said, “I’m impressed by what you did with a bit of magic.”

“You do?” Scootaloo said, “But I told you about it earlier. You also thought that it was nothing special.”

“I don’t believe I quite understood what the flight magic stuff was about, back then,” Fluttershy said.

“What do you mean?” Scootaloo said, “Weren’t you to flight school?”

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “You know I never actually finished flight school.” She looked genuinely hurt.

Great going, Scootaloo.

You did it again. Let your mouth run off when your brain couldn’t keep up.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to say it like that!” Scootaloo said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She wanted to climb out of the stroller’s seat, but found that she was strapped in quite securely, so instead she turned around to face Fluttershy the best she could. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Scootaloo stretched and wiggled her hooves in Fluttershy’s direction as far as they would reach. Thankfully, Fluttershy stepped in for a hug.

“It’s okay, silly,” Fluttershy giggled, “I get what you were trying to say.”

“I didn’t want to say anything hurtful,” Scootaloo said into Fluttershy’s chest, “I just wanna hang out with you.”

“No harm done,” Fluttershy said, gently holding Scootaloo until she was less upset. And what else would she do? Fluttershy was perfect after all. Scootaloo couldn’t believe her luck to be travelling with somepony so awesome.

“But you gotta understand that nopony can know all the things going on in the world,” Fluttershy said, “everypony is trying to make the best of what they can do. And I sure know doing your best pays off. There were certainly times when I wish I had finished flight school.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

“And if you feel somepony doesn’t appreciate what you do,” Fluttershy said, “they’re not trying to do it on purpose, it’s just that they don’t really understand what you’re doing. And it’s your responsibility to educate them.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said, “I’ll do my best.”

“That’s good to hear,” Fluttershy said, “Are you feeling any better?”

“Yes,” Scootaloo said, feeling Fluttershy’s silky smooth mane on her face.

“Let’s just enjoy the rest of the day without worry, okay?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes,” Scootaloo said.

“Will you be my little filly?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes?” Scootaloo said, “Fluttershy? What are you ...”

But Fluttershy had already unbuckled Scootaloo’s seat belt, and Scootaloo found herself in her warm embrace, and then Fluttershy stepped back and swooped into the air.

“So you wanna fly, huh?” Fluttershy said, “Is that right?”

“Wha -- aaaah,” Scootaloo squealed, as Fluttershy dashed up and tossed her into the skies.

Scootaloo’s flailing limbs found no purchase, everything dropped away, air cold in her lungs, her heart racing. And suddenly, everything was still.

That moment of perfect weightlessness at the apex of her ascent. It was like floating in a dream. She was free. She was flying.

Then she dropped back down, and Fluttershy plucked her out of the air, and Scootaloo was warmly embraced again, breathing hard, as both of them giggled in unison.

“You like flying, huh?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes!” Scootaloo said, unable to stop laughing, adrenaline pumping. And then she was tossed up again.

It was even better this time. That calm, that quiet, only the wind playing in her mane, no ropes, no saddles, only Scootaloo, high above, the whole world sprawled out underneath, Fluttershy and the stroller and the grass and the mare with the foal, who smiled up at Scootaloo, observing the wondrous discovery of a new sensation.

“You like being a little filly, huh?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes!” Scootaloo laughed. Up she went.

She loved being a little filly. Because just like that infant in the grass, that had been lifted in the air by her guardian, Scootaloo too, had received the unbelievable chance to discover this feeling, for the first time. And it was all thanks to her beloved Fluttershy, who ensured Scootaloo could make this wondrous experience safely, because Fluttershy was always there to catch her.

“But you also wanna take responsibilities, like a grown up pony?” Fluttershy said.

“No!” Scootaloo was breathless from laughter.

Freedom. No gravity, no baggage, no wings. Nothing weighing her down. Only Scootaloo and the skies. The air, the sun, her skin atingle with the exciting buzz of novel sensations.

“But you do want ponies to talk to you and listen to you?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes!” Scootaloo squealed.

She saw everything from a new point of view, the flowers, the grass, the trees and bushes the perfectly tended clouds with their mansions perched on top, the gargantuan structures in the distance, like she had never seen before. The sense of wonder without restraint or restriction.

“So you do want to be grown up?” Fluttershy said.

“I don’t know!” Scootaloo breathed.

Up into the sky, twisting, seeing everything at once until she was dizzy, and she flapped her tiny wings to draw out the moment as long as possible, which probably didn’t help, but it felt so right, because she did the best she could given the circumstances. And for the last time she came down, and Fluttershy caught her, but they descended further until they landed on the lawn, and flopped over into a crazy tumble.

Scootaloo laughed, so caught up in the moment, and Fluttershy laughed too, quite breathless herself, as they lay in the grass. It smelled so good, juicy and hearty, and it felt pleasantly cool to the touch against the heat building up under her clothing. Fluttershy sat up, but Scootaloo was already on her hooves and jumped into Fluttershy’s lap, snuggling into her and hugging her as hard as she could.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Scootaloo mumbled, her face fully immersed in Fluttershy’s jacket, “You were the only one who ever listened to me. And you made all of this happen. Thank you so much, Fluttershy!”

“You’re very welcome,” Fluttershy said, “I think it was a wonderful trip.”

“And thank you for being my mommy!” Scootaloo cried, “You’re the most awesome mommy ever!”

“I’m also glad I could try being a mommy for such a wonderful filly like you,” Fluttershy said.

It was good that Scootaloo’s face was hidden, because her cheeks felt really warm now, and it probably was not because of the clothing. Fluttershy is so cool. Scootaloo couldn’t believe her luck to be with such a wonderful pony, who had showed her so much she had never realized she wanted to know. And no matter what came after, Scootaloo could rest assured that these awesome experiences would always stay with her.

Fluttershy began nuzzling the top of Scootaloo’s head. The little tickles she delivered so skillfully behind Scootaloo’s ears radiated calm and relaxing warmth, and Scootaloo eased further into Fluttershy’s embrace, and silently took it all in, Fluttershy’s movements, the weight of her body, her breathing.

No gravity.

Eventually, it was time to get up. Scootaloo, still feeling stupendously mellow, was lifted under her forelegs and plopped down into the grass.

Fluttershy wiped her brow. “Whew! We may have overdone it a bit with the dress code, huh?” she said. “I feel like it’s awfully warm around here.”

“Yeah, there isn’t much wind, either,” Scootaloo said, “The lower cities felt much more windy. They must have some kind of magic in place.”

“Probably, yes,” Fluttershy said. She reached back to undo her buttons, and undressed. Her jacket came off, as did her boots. She carried the clothes over to the stroller and stashed them under the seat, in the big tray, covering the spare diapers for Scootaloo in the process. How fortunate! Scootaloo may have been a bit of a baby, but that didn’t mean that everypony immediately had to know.

“Your turn,” Fluttershy chirped, “let’s take off this stuffy jacket first.” She reached around Scootaloo and undid her buttons as well. Usually, it would feel weird for somepony to fumble around your wings, but for Scootaloo, being taken care of by her mommy was the height of all feelings.

The jacket came off, one foreleg first and then the other, and landed in the stroller, and the cooler air was immediately refreshing, as Scootaloo shook out her mane. Fluttershy came back and went to work on Scootaloo’s boots. That was pretty nice too! The boots were thickly padded travel gear, and as each of them slipped off, Scootaloo promptly wiggled her hooves liberally, relishing the stimulating cool.

Then Fluttershy embraced Scootaloo securely and pulled her upright, onto her hind legs. “Uhm ... “ Scootaloo said, but it was too late, Fluttershy had already unfastened her skirt, and the rugged cloth fell away and crumpled on the ground. Okay. She could work with this. Her pantyhose must have slipped down, because there was an obvious ring of shiny plastic sticking out around Scootaloo’s waist, which seemed to be extra bright white in the sunlight, but that was no problem, just pull up the pantyhose a bit and ...

Fluttershy proceeded to undo Scootaloo’s pantyhose.

“Uh ... mommy?” Scootaloo said. “W-what are you doing?”

“I’m taking our clothes off, remember?” Fluttershy said.

“Oh ... “ Scootaloo said, “O-okay ...”

“Don’t worry, Scoots,” Fluttershy said, “it’ll feel much better, you’ll see.”

Sure it felt better, already now the gentle chill had been incredibly satisfying, but the act was still almost indecently obvious.

Fluttershy hooked her hooves in, and began pulling down Scootaloo’s pants, trying to work her way down Scootaloo’s thick underwear, while the diaper, in turn, promptly began breathing and fluffing out in its newfound freedom, becoming ever more bulkier, and making the whole ordeal increasingly an exercise in wiggling and pulling and dancing from hoof to hoof. Even the mare with the foal, who had been so far otherwise preoccupied, immediately pricked her ears, Scootaloo saw it clearly, at the intimate noise that was familiar to every mommy and daddy with a little foal, the unmistakable squeaking and rustling of fabric against baby-diaper-plastic.

The mare stood, took her foal by the hoof, and together they moved carefully toward Scootaloo and Fluttershy, who had just managed to break free of the trousers’ constricting hold.

“Hello there,” the mare said, “lovely day, isn’t it?”

“It’s a wonderful day,” Fluttershy said, “and rather warm, too.”

“Yeah, I see you’ve come to realize so,” the mare smiled. Then she bowed her head down to the little foal and began cooing like mad. “Oh, look at that! What’s that!” Big gasp, point towards Scootaloo. “That’s a little filly! Look at that nice little filly! Go on, say hello to her!”

The mare didn’t think that Scootaloo’s get-up was indecent at all. And why would she? Scootaloo looked exactly like you would expect a little filly to look. In fact, she was dressed almost eerily the same as the little foal, both naked except for the curious expressions on their faces, and even their pretty little diapers looked the same, soft smooth plastic kept entirely in immaculate white and baby blue, and, as if there was any uncertainty as to the foals’ underwear’s purpose, the big, broad, blue sticky tapes around their waists and above their tails sealed the deal.

No. Wait. There was a difference. The foals diaper had the swirl patterns, but none of the cartoon animals that danced around on Scootaloo’s diaper. Scootaloo had an ally, the cartoon bird with the crooked beak that smiled enthusiastically from the front of her diaper! That meant, even though she and the foal were the same in being little, Scootaloo had the much cooler mommy who got her the much cooler diapers! How awesome was that!

“Go on!” the mare cooed, “Don’t you wanna say something to the nice filly? Go ahead!”

The foal was obviously much too young to understand what was going on. “Blagurg,” she said.

“Uh,” Scootaloo was hard pressed for something intelligent to say, “blagurg.”

The grown-ups giggled.

“Well, that’s all the conversation we’re going to get out of them, I suppose,” the mare said, “anyway, have a nice day.” She made the little foal wave her hoof before leaving. Scootaloo waved back.

“What a cute little foal,” Fluttershy said, and when they were out of earshot, she added silently, “But I think you’re cuter still, Scoots.” and gave Scootaloo a little kiss on the cheek. “Come, let’s go.”

Scootaloo gladly followed.

The park must have been the quietest place in all of Skyview, and it was not just because of the sound-dampening effect of the bushes planted everywhere. There was barely anypony here, and the few ponies that Fluttershy and Scootaloo encountered seemed to be just passing through. Maybe ponies were afraid of stepping onto the delicate lawn and flower arrangements, or maybe it just wasn’t the most active time of day, but in either case, it was kind of sad that nopony was around to enjoy the pleasant surroundings. The park was remarkably well-kept and entirely free of trash or blemishes, and each of its segments surprised with neat little theme that was more interesting than the last.

Scootaloo was a bit nervous at first. Though she had already mastered walking with her diaper on, giving the soft fluff enough space to rest comfortably between her hind legs by using a wide-stanced waddle, she still trailed a bit behind, and stayed close to Fluttershy’s tail, so she would have something to hide behind if somepony saw her.

But soon enough, her curiosity got the better of her. They came upon a little patch that was entirely violet. Violet flowers, including actual violets, violet shrubbery and a tree in violet bloom. And it smelled great too, like a candy. How could somepony have such a fascination with violet! It was intriguing.

Scootaloo couldn’t help herself, and dashed off to new frontiers, always onward behind the next row of bushes, to see what surprises lay beyond. There was a parcel with some smoothed logs arranged in a circle, like a ritual place, and another plot with a tiny pond, into which all the surrounding plants dipped their roots (Did that count as hydroponics?), and a piece of jungle comprised of densely growing ferns with thick leaves that didn’t taste good at all, and some grape vines growing on strings, a bunch of overgrown large rocks, fruit trees, big trees, small trees, pretty trees, park benches, sun loungers, picnic tables, and so on.

Somepony walked past them, but Scootaloo was so emboldened by the sense of discovery, she didn’t run away at all. She had to put her personal reservations aside, and walk past them with her head held high. This is for science! Besides, it was becoming increasingly clear that nopony really cared when Scootaloo waddled by. She was just a little filly after all, and it was normal for a little filly to look at everything with great curiosity, because she didn’t know how this wondrous world worked yet, and to crinkle profusely with every tiny movement of her hooves, because her mommy had dressed her in nifty white diapers, that would comfort her with their warm and soft presence, and that would prevent her from leaving a trail of puddles everywhere she went.

In fact, Scootaloo was proud of how good care Fluttershy took of her, and it was simply right to show it off. Fluttershy deserved it.

And so, Scootaloo began prancing, proudly holding up her mane, which Fluttershy had washed recently, and stretching out her wings, which Fluttershy had recently preened, and she also swayed her tail, because Fluttershy had gone through so much trouble to make wearing a diaper feel normal for her, so Scootaloo let everypony know how little of a problem she had with the fact that they could see her diaper plain as day. It was exciting! Scootaloo couldn’t believe how much spring she suddenly had in her step, and everything was fine, because Fluttershy was just behind her, always making sure she walked just slowly or quickly enough to keep up with her bouncy little filly.

As soon as they rounded the next corner, Scootaloo stopped bouncing. It was a patch of grass, with a sandbox in the middle.

And there were three ponies playing in the sandbox.

“Why don’t you go say hello to them?” Fluttershy said, “That looks like quite a nice sandbox.”

“But,” Scootaloo said, “Do I have to?”

“Don’t worry, Scoots, I’ll stay right over here on the bench,” Fluttershy said, “where I can see you. You can go have some fun, and I can rest my hooves for a moment. We’ve been walking all day, after all.”

“Oh. Okay,” Scootaloo said.

Of course she would go over to them. No problem. Let’s go. She had to honour Fluttershy’s request. And she was just a little filly, doing little filly things, so chances were those ponies wouldn’t even take notice of her, right?

Scootaloo got no three steps in, and all of them stopped what they were doing, and looked up at her. And, of course, how could they not? With the park being so quiet, and Scootaloo’s hindquarters being entirely wrapped up in plastic, the egregious crinkling of her steps was impossible to overhear. Scootaloo was committed, however, and so she had no choice but to steadily waddle, and crinkle, her way over to the sandbox.

“Ugh, great, another foal,” one of the young stallions said, rolling his eyes. He was wearing a vest emblazoned with his own cutie mark, showing two hammers crossed, as well as a hoof band and some fine slippers. Wow! Those were some serious duds.

“Oh, cut it out,” the young mare said. Her cutie mark was the sun shining on some houses. “Come here, little filly. Don’t listen to that mean old bully. He’s just jealous because his baby sister is getting more attention than him.”

“I’m not jealous!” hammers complained, “And will you stop saying that?”

“I’ll stop saying it when you stop bullying the foals,” sunshine said, “and besides, what’s there to be jealous about? The little filly just wants to play in the sandbox, isn’t that right?”

“Uh,” Scootaloo said.

“But she’ll ruin everything!” hammers said, “Foals always break stuff. That’s all they do!”

“Well, I suppose sometimes we need to break stuff to move on, don’t we?” sunshine said,
“Come over here, little filly, you can play with us, and that’s my final decision.”

“Ugh,” hammers rolled his eyes again, this time with the utmost emphasis, “Fine. The filly can play with us. As long as she doesn’t stink up the place.”

“Hey!” Scootaloo said, “I don’t stink!” But the other was no longer paying attention.

Ordinarily, Scootaloo would have thought these ponies a tad too old to be playing in a sandbox, but their project looked complex enough to make up for it. It was some kind of sand construction, where deep furrows ran between piles of sand.

“What are you guys doing anyway?” Scootaloo said.

“We’re building sand castles, and moats,” the remaining colt said, who seemed completely oblivious to his surroundings. Despite wearing glasses, his face was only centimetres away, as he put little windows into a crude sand house with a stick. “Look, this is the fortress, and there are villages here, and here. And the river will be here and between the main buildings, though we still have to divert it so it won’t cause any floods.”

“A river? Neat,” Scootaloo said, “haven’t seen any of those around here.”

“Yeah, Skyview doesn’t have any rivers. Yet.” hammers said. “That’s why I intend to create them, when I’m the best engineer in all the city.”

“Cool,” Scootaloo said, “so you’ve already got plans for that?”

“Uh, well, no,” hammers said, “we’re still in the modelling phase, right here. Consider it a proof of concept.”

“Come here,” sunshine said, “you can help me carry the sand.”

Scootaloo climbed over the sandbox wall and stepped into the sand. It felt really strange under her hooves, it was soft and gave in under her weight, but only for a tiny bit, and then it was compressed and solid. Walking on it was a bit of a challenge, because it always felt like the sand would slip away or give in, even though it never did. Scootaloo worked her way through to sunshine, and plopped down into the sand beside her.

“Hi there,” sunshine said. She had no qualms whatsoever about ruffling Scootaloo’s mane with a hoof. Scootaloo endured quietly. Not much a little filly could do. “You seem quite interested. Wanna help?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said.

“Alright,” sunshine said, “see this village here? It still needs some houses. You can just do like me.”

Scootaloo took some sand in her hooves, but it was sand from the surface and it was too dry. So she dug her hooves into the sand and got some out from further down, which was a bit more moist and clumpy. She slapped the sand onto the ground near some piles that resembled a village, and began pressing it together, shaping it upward, like a little tower. And, surprisingly, the sand held.

“Wow, look! It doesn’t even fall over,” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah, it’s special sand,” sunshine said, “It’s sand from the shores of the eastern sea. My dad told me about it. Somepony, I forgot the name, who was on an expedition there, thought the sand was good for modelling, so they brought some back and dedicated a portion to the city’s sandboxes. They’ve got a couple of them around.”

Scootaloo saw why the other ponies were so absorbed. This sand was amazing, and it would have been a shame to let it go to waste, so Scootaloo gave her best effort to build the prettiest little houses she could. She built houses with flat roofs, and houses with conical roofs, and then she built a house and put a second house on top of it, a two-story house. She mimicked the pony with the glasses, who was already on his four-houses-high tower.

“Good job,” sunshine said, “the village is coming along nicely. Which means we’ll need to dig a few more rivers. Can you fetch the shovel?”

There was a little shovel in the corner of the sandbox. The distance wasn’t too far, so Scootaloo decided to just roll over and crawl. That made sunshine giggle.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she said, “I just can’t believe how much sand you’ve already got stuck on you. Here, let me help.”

She reached over, and, with a few firm swats of the hoof, dusted most of the sand off of Scootaloo’s diaper.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said.

Hm. Shouldn’t it feel weird for somepony to be touching her hindquarters? No, Scootaloo’s just a little filly, so it’s like, whatever. And she was genuinely grateful for being kept clean and tidy.

Now equipped with a shovel, sunshine and Scootaloo began digging a path for a new fictitious river around the village, but they got carried away fairly soon, and branched off and dug out deltas, connecting their river with the rivers of other villages and the moat around the fortress. Every village needed to be supplied with water after all, and there was going to be a lake on one side, so there was quite a bit of digging to be done.

Sunshine seemed really into the construction effort, and Scootaloo loved being able to help her. She made little walls and structures where needed, fetched and brought away more sand, and watched in awe as sunshine attempted to smooth out perfectly rectangular canal walls. All that Scootaloo needed to do was to sit back and --

“Pthui,” Scootaloo spat out all the scratchy sand from her mouth, “Ew. Where did all this sand come from?” Oh. Her hoof was now covered in sand and drool. Had she been trying to suck on it? Come to think of it, her mouth had been feeling increasingly more annoyingly empty.

Sunshine giggled. “Hey,” she said, “don’t you have, like, a pacifier for that, or something?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said meekly, “but my mommy has it ...”

“Alright, alright,” she said, “I’ll fetch it for you. Where’s your mommy?”

Scootaloo pointed, back on the path, on the other side of a bush, there on a bench was Fluttershy, lounging in the sun. Sunshine got up and walked over. How nice of her, to do something like this for Scootaloo! Then again, of course, she was, same als always, just a little filly, and didn’t know how to fetch a pacifier on her own.

Sunshine talked to Fluttershy in the distance, then she pointed toward Scootaloo, and then pointed toward her mouth. It was no big mystery what they were talking about. Fluttershy had understood, as she reached into the stroller and gave the pacifier to sunshine.

Sunshine returned, her mane bouncing as she ran. “Here you go,” she said, happily carrying Scootaloo’s super awesome pink glitter pacifier. But she didn’t just give it over, she instead kept it by its handle and bowed down, holding the rubber nipple directly in front of Scootaloo’s mouth. She was so close, Scootaloo could feel her breath. Scootaloo took the rubber nipple in her mouth and immediately began suckling, and for a moment, their faces were so close, their lips would have touched if it weren’t for the pacifier’s plastic shield.

But sunshine just let go of the pacifier handle and turned back to her work. It was the most obvious thing in the world. This was the normal way in which to give stuff to little foals, and that was that.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said around the incredibly comforting rubber in her mouth.

“You’re welcome,” sunshine said, “come on, we still need to build a dam.”

They had erected a sprawling settlement in the sand. The castle was finished, complete with inner fortress, castle walls, and a moat, and the surrounding lands were touched up with some hills and some ridges to give it some character. In particular, there was a river running between two hills that sunshine had deemed perfect for a dam, so she had begun piling up sand in shape of a big wall. But what was that!

“No, no, you’re doing it all wrong,” Scootaloo said.

“What’s the matter?” sunshine said.

“Look,” Scootaloo said, “you can’t make your dam straight like that. It’ll have much more water pressure in the center than on the sides, and it’ll burst. You have to make it curved. Here, let me show you.”

Scootaloo erased the previous construction and began a new dam, this time better, with a more solid foundation, and a nice curve in the uphill direction so the water pressure would distribute evenly.

“Impressive,” hammers piped up, “how did you know this?”

“Oh, we used to do this back in my hometown,” Scootaloo said, “a bunch of streams appear in the forest and the bluffs whenever it rains, so we went out and made dams from rocks and mud.”

Sunshine gasped. “A groundside town! I can’t believe it,” she said, “I’ve always wanted to go visit one. It must be so cool! Earth and grass everywhere, and the landscape, and the juicy plants, and you can run in one direction without falling off.”

“Yeah, but your sky city is pretty cool too,” Scootaloo said, “you have all the skies for yourselves, and the horizon is never the same, and there’s always new ponies around, and no insects and critters everywhere.”

“You say that like it’s a good thing,” sunshine laughed, “we could trade places. I can go live in a ground city and you can live here. Wouldn’t that be silly?”

“That would be silly,” Scootaloo said.

Their dam came along nicely, and when they topped it off to be perfectly level, they built another couple, smaller dams, and the others also built some dams to redirect the flow of imaginary water as they see fit. Eventually, the whole are seemed about covered in dams, and the four ponies sat back and marvelled at their creation.

“It’s time,” hammers announced, “go get a cloud.” And glasses jumped up and flew into the sky.

“Time for what?” Scootaloo said.

“Time to test our construction against some real waters,” hammers said, not without some anticipatory satisfaction.

Where he would find a cloud, Scootaloo didn’t know, the sun was pleasantly warm on her skin, and she was content just sitting there quietly, with the soft sand under her legs, and the soft thick fluff under her hindquarters, without a care in the world. But lo, not a minute later, glasses returned, and in his forelegs he held a nice, fat, ripe piece of cloud.

“Whoa, good idea,” Scootaloo said.

“Now we only have to introduce the water in an orderly fashion,” hammers said, “try pouring it in uphill, so it goes down.”

The pony with the glasses had an interesting technique of getting water from the cloud carefully. He didn’t jump on it, but instead, he held it fast and squeezed it ever so gently with his hooves, almost massaging the buoyant little thing, coaxing out whatever moisture it held. Then he twisted one end a bit to give the cloud a little point, and indeed, it worked.

Soon, enough water had accumulated to form a little drop, which rolled down his hoof and the underside of the cloud, and then hung at the tip, the clear cool water glinting beautifully in the sunlight, and it dripped away, a pretty little translucent globe of liquid, and pittered into the sand with a tiny splash.

And that’s when Scootaloo felt it.

She needed to go to the bathroom, badly.

Not that it was much of a surprise, she had been feeling kind of full all day, and she was still wearing the same diaper from when they had gotten up, so she hadn’t even been able to take care of her morning pee yet. She simply hadn’t cared enough to pay it any mind, but now, watching the water drip from the cloud, nature’s call was suddenly very real, and very urgent.

Of course, nopony else noticed, they were much too occupied with bringing their waterworks to life. And, technically speaking, Scootaloo wasn’t supposed to notice either. Little foals didn’t know how to use any bathrooms, and they couldn’t really feel the urge until it was there, so when it was time, they were supposed to just let it happen, and let things just take care of themselves.

And Scootaloo realized, underlined by an increasing tingle of excitement, that that was exactly what she felt like doing.

So, she decided, she would do just that, and she would do it right now, so there would be no time to think it any better. After all, Fluttershy had made sure that everything was taken care of, and she had told Scootaloo to do as she pleased, and there was nopony Scootaloo trusted more than Fluttershy. So Scootaloo left the whole ordeal behind her, and instead returned her attention to the fascinating little drip of water that the other ponies had managed to coerce out of the cloud.

Scootaloo felt the fullness of her tummy, but instead of tightening up, she fully relaxed her stomach, and continued to sit still as she had done before. Meanwhile, the sand had soaked up enough cloud water that a little stream could form, as a little liquid frontier pushed down the first riverbed.

There was an instinctual reaction to hold herself in, but Scootaloo forced herself not to, suckling diligently on her pacifier to calm herself down, while keeping herself consciously relaxed, as her internal pressure built up at an alarming rate. The stream of water in the sand had progressed far enough to reach the first delta, and everypony held their breath as the water first progressed down one path, and finally the other. Hurray! Their design had worked!

Scootaloo was confronted with her biggest barrier yet, the instinctual urge to press her hind legs together, in a last-ditch effort to physically prevent herself from having an accident by sheer force of pressure. But it wasn’t an accident, everything was going exactly the way it was supposed to, so her hind legs would remain just the way they were now, no pressure whatsoever. And with the final hindrance overcome, the urge peaked, and Scootaloo finally began relieving herself, and a pleasant little trickle began making its way out of her, and into the waiting absorbent fluff.

“It’s working! It’s working!” hammers exclaimed, “Look, all the streams are carrying water. Now every village will be supplied! Great job!”

And not only that, the individual streams also carried approximately the same amount of water, so they really had engineered the flow quite well. The success of their project only contributed to just how right everything felt, everypony watching in awe as their creation came to life, with the foal of the group, Scootaloo, sitting on her butt in the back lines, and watching attentively, while absent-mindedly making a little tinkle under herself. Scootaloo was free of concerns, simply enjoying the pleasant feeling of relief, as the warm puddle spread underneath her buttocks and gently seeped into her fur.

But there was one challenge left.

“Will the dams hold?” hammers said.

“Maybe we should add one some more material,” sunshine said, “come on, bring me some more sand.”

It was Scootaloo’s call. She wasn’t finished going yet, but that wouldn’t be an issue, since little foals weren’t supposed to have any control over when they went, and they just did their deeds no matter where they were or what they were currently doing. Besides, Scootaloo was on duty. Getting that sand was more important.

Scootaloo got up, but as soon as she lifted her weight from the ground, her little trickle burst into a fully unrestrained spill. She had to pause for a moment to wait for the electrifying shudder of relief to pass, as she now emptied herself in earnest. It felt wonderful to be getting lighter by the second, and with her pacifier’s mollifying presence, Scootaloo felt confident enough to proceed.

She picked up the shovel and dug out some of the firm sand. It felt strange to be moving around and doing work, while, at the same time, trying to ignore the sensation of herself urinating freely, but the emptier Scootaloo got, the more pleasant the sense of relief became, and the more natural the whole thing felt. In fact, she could feel the weight, by which she got lighter, increasingly dragging down around her waist and her tail, because, as strong as her super absorbers were, they couldn’t handle all of the liquid at once, so it began pooling heavily between her legs, the diaper swelling and creating more absorbent capacity to soak it up.

Scootaloo got into an awkward waddle, carrying the sand. It was a very alien sensation, to be moving while going, but since she wasn’t able to hold it back, there was nothing else she could do but to just deal with it. With her hind legs’ movement, the weight of her body shifted back and forth, causing the warm liquid to splutter all over her hindquarters, and onto her skin, and against the insides of her thighs. Fortunately, her confidence in her diaper was well-founded, for its tapes were strong enough to keep everything exactly where it was supposed to be, and the ruffled leak guards were absolutely watertight and didn’t allow a single drop to escape, at least as far as anypony could tell.

“Awesome, thanks,” sunshine said. She took the sand brought by Scootaloo and reinforced their biggest dam a bit more, but Scootaloo could see that it was already enough and it would hold the rising water level no problem. Nevertheless, Scootaloo still enjoyed watching the enthusiastic work, and she hoped nopony took notice of her, because she couldn’t help crouching a little bit, after all, her tail twitching, as the last of it finally came out. Scootaloo didn’t even push, she just let it trickle on its own, so lost was she in the all-encompassing relief.

And, of course, the dam held. The water level rose, until it was at the height of the side channel and could calmly stream away. All of the buildings remained standing, including Scootaloo’s tower, and the castle had its moat filled, and every village now had access to a river, and the remaining water pooled in the lake at the bottom. It was good timing too, because the cloud had all but dissolved, as the pony with the glasses fanned the last wisps away, the fur on his chest mottled and wet where he had held it.

“Great job, everypony,” hammers said, “you too, filly. It’s amazing how well everything held up. I can’t wait to try it again. Maybe it can work for real?”

They stayed for a bit longer and admired their creation, fooled around for a bit, or, in Scootaloo’s case, engaged in a bout of spontaneous demolition work and knocked over her tower. She couldn’t complain about the state of her diaper, while it hadn’t quite absorbed all of the liquid yet, and Scootaloo squeezed some of the warm pee out of the diaper and back into her fur when she sat down, it had grown noticeably thicker and squishier, making it very comfortable to sit on.

Some bells had rung earlier, and the ponies eventually announced that they needed to be home for dinner.

“But what about the village?” Scootaloo said.

“Eh, we’ll build another one,” sunshine said.

And so it was time to go. They went back to the path, but instead of following it, they crossed it and went into a small building on the other side, that was incredibly well hidden.

“What’s that?” Scootaloo said.

“It’s a toilet, what else?” Sunshine said.

Right. There were tiny signs on the door handles. “We need to wash our hooves before we go home, or our parents will get mad for dragging the dirt in. See?” She showed her hooves. Scootaloo agreed. “But I don’t think I can take you inside, so you’ll have to go back to your mommy. Can you do that?”

And so they said their goodbyes, and parted ways.

Part 22

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Scootaloo started back towards Fluttershy.

Despite the added weight hanging under her tail, she had a spring in her step. What a nice bunch of ponies. Even the bully turned out to be nice. Or maybe Scootaloo just thought he was nice. Maybe she thought everypony was nice, because she was just so happy, so delighted, so ecstatic. It was so awesome to be able to do what she wanted. What she really wanted. Without any reservations, without worries gnawing at her, just to be herself.

It was all thanks to Fluttershy, sweet, wonderful Fluttershy, who cared for Scootaloo in ways so brazenly emotional and nurturing, like nopony had ever done before.

And toilets ... who needed toilets? Scootaloo certainly didn’t. Whereas those other ponies had to foal around in dark, weird, uncomfortable bathroom stalls, Scootaloo had been allowed to relieve herself comfortably and neatly into her diapers, and that’s the only way she would ever want to do it, thank you very much. No fanciness, no cold tiles, no being crammed in with other ponies, only her doing her own thing within the privacy of her special underwear. No toilets for her.

But then, Scootaloo slowly came to a halt. Wait a second. She certainly didn’t need the toilet, but she did need to use the toilet, even if, as was true for all little foals, it would land in her comfy diapers. And she couldn’t deny it, with the thrill of the recent experience still fresh in mind, the act was wonderfully enjoyable. And even though she had finally gotten around to taking care of her morning pee, Scootaloo wasn’t necessarily done yet. She still needed the bathroom. The other way.

Not like it was particularly urgent. But it would be pleasant, and Scootaloo loved pleasant. It would be just like with all little foals, who were supposed to just let it happen, because they couldn’t know yet what they had to do when they felt the need. Just think about it. How cool would that be? Scootaloo, just minding her own business, and when she felt it, she would just stop, and squat down, and lift her tail and ...

And Scootaloo decided, that was exactly what she wanted to do. And so she would simply do it. Why not?

Just one thing, she would ask Fluttershy for permission first, because she somehow felt obliged to. But Fluttershy would hopefully allow it, because Fluttershy always seemed to know what Scootaloo really wanted, and Scootaloo found the idea increasingly more cool and exciting.

Scootaloo found herself running, or at least waddling rapidly, with her heart beating harder than before, her cheeks warm, adrenaline pumping, and the electrifying tingle in her tummy and her hooves was getting too much to ignore. She loved the purely physical sensations that kept vying for her attention, the pacifier’s slippery, soft, chewy rubber on her tongue and between her teeth, just begging to be suckled and chewed on with gusto, and the stalwart presence of the diaper, its sodden inner pulp hanging warm and heavy in the soft crinkly plastic between her thighs.

But way more important to Scootaloo was her newfound liberty, her freedom of mind, lightweight and without baggage, because everything was so simple and so logical when she took it by face value, and it made her so curious, yearning for more, always going to the next question behind every answer. She could have done this forever, and Fluttershy knew it, because Fluttershy was Scootaloo’s mommy, and Fluttershy knew how much she enjoyed it, enjoyed being her little filly, and Scootaloo would do everything she could to be the best little filly possible.

So Scootaloo stormed around the bush and ran to Fluttershy’s bench. “Mommy! Mommy, may I --”

She froze cold. There was somepony else on the bench with Fluttershy.

“Oh, who do we have here?” the elderly mare said. She had a white mane and carried a walking stick, but her eyes were full of youthful adoration when she spotted Scootaloo. She laughed heartily. “Looks like she’s quite the little adventurer, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, my,” Fluttershy giggled as well, “Scootaloo, what happened with you?”

Scootaloo had already been sighted, there was no escape, so she composed herself and tried walking toward the two ponies with as much dignity as she could. But it wasn’t just the diaper’s heavy sag now, counteracting Scootaloo’s covert movements with its swollen weight and unmistakable crinkle, it was also the caked sand breaking away from her fur and hailing onto the gravel.

“Oh, aren’t you just the sweetest little thing?” the old mare said, “Come here, let us wipe that off. We want to look nice for mother, don’t we?”

Scootaloo approached the elderly pony, who reached out with a shaky hoof and grabbed Scootaloo’s cheeks, roughly brushing the sand out of her face.

“Uh, thank you,” Scootaloo said. The old mare sighed dreamily.

“In all the years I’ve been taking walks in this park,” she said, “I have never seen a little angel so polite. You’re quite the special filly, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes, she’s quite something alright,” Fluttershy said, and they exchanged a knowing laugh.

Scootaloo let the old mare fawn over her a little bit more, getting her ears grabbed and her mane straightened out and her cheeks pinched, because the elderly pony looked positively ecstatic while doing it. But then it was enough. Scootaloo still had pressing matters to attend to, and, because Scootaloo had been thinking about it so much, it was starting to actually become pressing.

She walked over to Fluttershy, and waited for an appropriately long moment while the two mares talked, and then she hopped up on the bench.

“Mommy?” Scootaloo said.

“What is it?” Fluttershy said.

“Um,” Scootaloo said. She nervously leaned in to Fluttershy’s ear, on the far side, so the other pony wouldn’t be able to hear what she said, and whispered quietly, “um, I need to go potty, uh, big time. May I use my diaper for it?”

Fluttershy giggled fondly. “Oh, yes, you may,” she said, “how nice of you to ask.”

Yes! Score! Now all she had to do was to pull off a smooth exit, and she was home free. Scootaloo hopped off the bench, back onto the gravel, and then she just coolly strolled away in the direction of the nearest bush.

The old mare watched the secretive little filly sneak off into the privacy behind some bushes, and the sight was enough to send both her and Fluttershy into a bout of adoring laughter.

Why were they laughing? Must have been some really funny joke.

Anyway, Scootaloo had found the perfect spot, between a couple of neatly trimmed bushes, which were so dense that they kept her in the shade, and deep enough to give her a hidden vantage point on the path. It was perfect! Now she could finally get on with it.

Scootaloo waited a bit, rocking on her hooves, until she felt the time was right. And then, from the back of her head, the urge to relieve herself made its way to her conscious, and she stood with her hind legs further apart, and squatted down, her sagging diaper barely not touching the grass, and she lifted her tail, like she had seen little foals do, and it all felt quite natural to her as well. The pressure in her stomach grew more urgent, and with her butt sticking out, Scootaloo gave a little push, and ...

Somepony walked just by her, and Scootaloo immediately jumped back upright. That was a mistake, because they probably wouldn’t have noticed her otherwise, but now she had drawn attention to herself.

Luckily, it turned out just to be the three ponies from the sandbox, now washed clean and fresh, probably on their way home, and of the three, only sunshine had even noticed Scootaloo. The young mare was puzzled for a second, but then she realized what Scootaloo was doing there, because the sight of a little filly, stark naked except for a thick diaper, looking on nervously from the questionable privacy of a bush, hardly left any question about what she was doing there.

Sunshine made a gesture for Scootaloo not to worry, and then pulled her hoof across her mouth like an invisible zipper. Scootaloo’s secret would be safe with her. What a relief. Sunshine was pretty cool, and the others hadn’t noticed, so all was well, and soon Scootaloo was left thankfully alone again.

But now, all the pressure in her stomach had vanished. How frustrating! She had wanted to go so bad, and now she didn’t need to anymore! Why were there so many ponies right now. There had been nopony all day, and now when Scootaloo needed her privacy, they all came out! Unbelievable.

Scootaloo found herself pacing back and forth, fruitlessly of course, but that was when she realized she was doing it all wrong.

She needed to calm down.

Really calm down.

Because little fillies were not stressed out and nervous, but tranquil and relaxed. Only little foals, who were imperturbable in their knowledge that everything was all right and taken care of for them, knew how to truly unwind, and let all the pressures just fall away until they were left happy and mellow.

Scootaloo slowed her breathing, and closed her eyes, taking in all of the sounds, the rustling of the leaves, the swaying of the flowers, the distant noise of city traffic, and the warmth on her skin from the real sunshine, and how appetizing it all smelled, freshly cut grass and sweet and savoury blooms. She breathed deep, filled her lungs with cooling air, and exhaled all of her tensions.

She walked back onto the path, not with a forced gait, but walked naturally, enjoying her pacifier’s soft and yummy presence, and exactly as awkwardly as it needed to be with the thickness of her diaper between her legs, no pretense involved, gravel crunching underhoof.

There were some fallen leaves in the grass, which were so pretty in their amber colours, leading Scootaloo to a small tree with tiny wild apples. The tree’s shade was much more natural, broken up to let through just the right amount of sunlight while still being pleasant on the eyes, and Scootaloo just stood and breathed. Some of the small, hard apples had fallen on the ground, and they lay sprawled out in various stages of decomposition, smelling sour and sweet and ripe, the splendour of nature’s variety on awesome display.

Scootaloo was inspecting the particular colourful swirls on a little apple.

But then.

Oh! What was that? Yes, a subtle but firm pressure inside, signaling her stomach’s readiness for movement. It came so naturally, but it caught Scootaloo’s fancy, because she knew what that feeling meant, it was a precursor for some very foalish satisfaction, and relief, and pleasant lightness, and her skin was already tingling in anticipation.

So Scootaloo stopped, made herself comfortable, and bent her knees, and then she just relaxed and breathed calmly. She wouldn’t let anything interfere, not the protests of her inner voice, for getting ready to do her business into her clothing, nor the fact that she was happily squatting the middle of the road. Foals didn’t worry about stuff like this, so why should she?

Not a moment later, she felt the pressure mount. Scootaloo arched her back instinctually, and her tummy tightened on its own, her tail twitched and raised up high. It was time. A pleasant shudder ran down her spine, and she lazily began emptying herself into her diaper.

Scootaloo didn’t even need to do anything, her body gave gentle pressure on its own, easing the soft mass into her waiting diaper. She carefully wiggled her rear back and forth, making sure she was as comfortable as possible in accordance to the rising and softening urges in her stomach, and she neatly filled out the seat of her thick underwear, the plastic cover crinkling softly from its new contents’ weight and size.

Her trembling legs almost gave away, so intense was the wave of relief that crashed over Scootaloo, primal and raw, and so deliciously pleasant, her pacifier was already dripping with drool. Scootaloo couldn’t help it. She buckled her knees, sticking out her hindquarters, ears splayed and nose rumpled, and then she took in a deep breath, and, huffing and grunting, gave the most satisfying of pushes.

Her diaper crinkled as Scootaloo completely emptied herself, the strained tapes tugging on her hips and her tail, making sure she felt the full extent of what she was doing, but Scootaloo collected herself, and then she pushed again. The diaper was already full, so the plastic cover eventually bulged to its limit, and the stretchy elastics around Scootaloo’s legs pulled it back in, squishing the warm volume liberally across her buttocks.

With that, she was done. She was all finished. Scootaloo felt light as the heavens, completely empty and easy, no more unpleasantness left within her. And though the weight had been transferred to her brimming diaper, the fluff and the plastic and the tapes and the elastics still did their job perfectly well, making sure that everything stayed exactly where it was supposed to be, and Scootaloo could go about her ways in the utmost comfort and carefreeness.

And it was working. Though Scootaloo was still panting, trying to come to grips with all the wonderful sensations, her hooves had stopped trembling, and she was able to carefully stand up, and focus on her surroundings again, the grass, the apple tree, the wind, the sun, the clouds, the ponies in the sky, consciously calming herself down and returning to her tranquil ways.

She inspected another apple, such pretty colours of red and green, and there were some young saplings around the apple tree, what delicate branches they had, everything was so interesting, she could have looked at this area all day.

But Scootaloo was utterly distracted. She couldn't help it. Though the formerly debilitating feelings of emptiness and relief had grown to manageable levels, they were now beginning to drive her wild with excitement. She could think of nothing else. Her diaper was so awesome. How could something so comfy be so practical at the same time? She loved having such cute diapers. Scootaloo’s diaper was incredibly full. It was kind of icky but also kind of cool at the same time. She had never felt this good after going to the bathroom. In fact, screw the bathroom. Scootaloo needed no bathrooms. She would never go to the toilet again. She only wanted diapers, and nothing else.

The fantasies were pleasant, but a much more important reality was waiting. Fluttershy! It was time to return to her.

So Scootaloo took a careful step. And then she took another step. The movement was easy, effortless. Soon she was walking. It did feel a bit different, sure, it was hard to ignore the squishy presence against her hindquarters, but truth be told, it only sat there, snugly held in its place underneath Scootaloo’s tail, barely a nuisance at all. And Scootaloo’s diaper had grown excessively soggy in the meantime, which contributed much more to her already considerable trouble walking straight, and even that barely bothered her.

She didn’t need to walk for long. Fluttershy was already coming in her direction, and spotted her from afar.

Scootaloo slowed down, then stopped. All of a sudden, she felt a bit nervous. Had she taken it too far? Fluttershy had been so selfless and generous with her, had Scootaloo taken advantage of that generosity?

But then, Fluttershy smiled. And all the sunshine in the entire world couldn’t have matched the brilliant radiance of the smile on that gentle, beautiful face. All her reservations blown to the winds, Scootaloo started, and ran as fast as she could. She had to be there. She had to be with Fluttershy. She wanted and desired Fluttershy more than anything.

And Fluttershy broke out into a grin. The sight of her little Scootaloo toddling toward her with that telltale broad-legged toddler waddle was just too much, and she stretched out her hooves invitingly.

And Scootaloo grinned as well, because she couldn’t have been any happier, and she stumbled into Fluttershy and leapt into her hooves, and Fluttershy embraced her tightly and lifted her from the ground, laughing and cuddling Scootaloo and giving her little kisses on the ears, while Scootaloo desperately nuzzled into the soft fur on Fluttershy’s neck with her face and her nose, leaving pacifier drool wetness in it.

“You’re certainly being super cuddly today, aren’t you, Scoots?” Fluttershy laughed.

“I love you, mommy!” Scootaloo said, her legs wiggling in the air, already halfway squirmed up on Fluttershy’s shoulders, unable to get enough of that dreamlike down, and the silken hair of Fluttershy’s mane, which so graced the bridge of Scootaloo’s nose with its alluring touch.

Fluttershy let Scootaloo do her thing for a bit, but then she pulled her off and placed her back on the ground, rubbing their noses together for comfort. Though it was certainly more than just comfort for Scootaloo, who tensed up and found herself quite sensitive as her warm nose touched with Fluttershy’s.

Fluttershy knew exactly how much Scootaloo was enjoying herself right now, it was obvious. And how could it be any different? Scootaloo was her little filly, she had proven to know Scootaloo better than Scootaloo did know herself, so why should she try to resist it? Compared to her clever, loving, wonderful mommy, Scootaloo was just a little foal, a bundle of feelings and instinct and curiosity, and she didn’t know any better than to simply enjoy the experiences she found herself in.

Scootaloo could barely hold Fluttershy’s gaze for more than a moment before looking away bashfully, but she didn’t need to, she didn’t have any secrets from her mommy. And Fluttershy only smiled her welcoming, benevolent smile, and though Scootaloo could swear there was a hint of amusement beginning to tug at Fluttershy’s lips, she was nevertheless an endless source of reassurance.

“I see you’ve had fun in the sandbox, huh?” Fluttershy said, “Have the other ponies been good company?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, snuggling into Fluttershy’s embrace, “they let me help them build a sand castle.”

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said.

A bit more snuggling followed, but it didn’t have a calming effect on Scootaloo at all. On the contrary, the stillness only made Scootaloo all the more acutely aware of her situation, of the fantastic smell of Fluttershy’s fur, the softness of Fluttershy’s chest, the warm sunlight tickling her back, the soft thickness between her hind legs, the warm weight hanging under her tail. And Fluttershy was aware of it too, Scootaloo was becoming increasingly restless, and every time they shifted and Scootaloo’s diaper rustled, the big little filly tensed, and her breath came out short and fast.

“And did you do the thing that you told me about just before?” Fluttershy said.

Scootaloo pulled back, but, of course, Fluttershy hadn’t meant it in mean spirit at all. In fact, Fluttershy was grinning quite broadly.

Because if Scootaloo was having so much fun, why shouldn’t Fluttershy enjoy herself a bit as well?

“Um,” Scootaloo managed to say. But she didn’t need to answer. Casually, while speaking, Fluttershy had already slipped a hoof around Scootaloo’s back, and the curious hoof had steadily wandered down until it had reached Scootaloo’s flank, and now it began probing the soggy plastic.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said.

The hoof made its way further towards Scootaloo’s tail. Naturally, Scootaloo couldn’t feel any of it directly, the brimming diaper had grown way too thick to permit Fluttershy’s delicate touch, but under the pressure, the plastic crinkled noisily, and Scootaloo could feel the warm mush against her hindquarters move around quite blatantly.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said again. She giggled sweetly. “Seems like you stayed true to your word, Scoots.”

“Uh,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, don’t you worry,” Fluttershy said, “We packed some clean diapers in the stroller for you, so we’ll have you nice and fresh in no time. Shall we go back to the park bench? It’s nice and quiet there.”

Clearly, given Scootaloo’s state of coherence, or lack thereof, Fluttershy wasn’t expecting a response, so she affirmed her decision with a few adoring pats on Scootaloo’s butt, and put her back on her hooves, ready to get going.

But Scootaloo had something else on her mind. It was really dumb and kinda weird, but she couldn’t help it. The tingle all over her body was so addictive, and she had never had this chance. She had to take it. She had to ask.

“Uh, mommy?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes?” Fluttershy said.

“Um, could I ...” Scootaloo said, “I mean ... could we, maybe ...”

“What is it, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy said.

“Could we possibly,” Scootaloo said, “wait for a bit longer before the, uh, change? I mean, just a bit. Just a few moments. Um ...”

“Oh?” Fluttershy said.

There was no sign of the adverse reaction Scootaloo had feared. On the contrary, Fluttershy seemed more and more entertained, as the unceasing amusement in her eyes kindled into a veritable spark of mischief. She remained still, thought over Scootaloo’s request for a moment.

Or maybe she just liked watching Scootaloo squirm.

“Is that something that you would enjoy, Scoots?” she said.

“If it’s okay with you,” Scootaloo said, her voice very small, “I mean, if it’s not a problem. We don’t have to ...”

“Of course it’s not a problem, Scoots,” Fluttershy giggled, “don’t be silly. That’s what your diapers are made for, isn’t that right? We can try it if you want, let’s stay in that diaper for a couple of moments longer.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo eloquently put forth. She knew she was supposed to be feeling embarrassed, but her debilitating titillation made it difficult to think of anything else.

“Don’t worry about it,” Fluttershy said, and leaned in close to Scootaloo’s ear, whispering conspiratorially, “Listen, how about we play a little game?”

“A game?” Scootaloo breathed.

“Yes, a game of pretend,” Fluttershy said, “We’ll just say that you had a little accident back there. But we’ll pretend that I didn’t notice yet, and you didn’t notice either. And then we’ll just do regular stuff. Doesn’t that sound silly?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “we could do that.”

“Great,” Fluttershy said. She gave Scootaloo a secretive wink, and then stood up, and pretended to talk in an as normal as possible, everyday voice. “Oh, hello there, Scootaloo. Isn’t it a nice day today? Do you want to go for a walk in the park?”

“Uh,” Scootaloo said.

“You’re supposed to say, yes, I would like to go for a walk,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes, I would like to go for a walk,” Scootaloo stammered.

“Good job,” Fluttershy said, “okay, then let us go for a nice walk.”

And, without warning, Fluttershy walked. Scootaloo had no time to hesitate, though her mind was still reeling from the realization that she had just been allowed to keep playing in a used diaper, Fluttershy was gaining distance, and Scootaloo had to walk beside her, at regular speed, to keep up. She thought it would feel weird, but it didn’t. It was actually quite pleasant, if she ignored the warm presence being shifted back and forth with the motions of her diaper.

Fluttershy was right. The diaper had been made for this, its absorbency strong enough to keep Scootaloo reasonably dry, and the elastic leak guards tight enough to make sure everything stayed in place.

So Scootaloo walked dutifully beside Fluttershy, beside her mommy, feeling utterly secure, because her mommy was there with her, and took care of everything, and made sure Scootaloo had everything she needed to enjoy herself. That’s what Fluttershy does. Fluttershy’s a wonderful, amazing pony. It wasn’t far-fetched to think that a pony could have a fascination with her, right?

Scootaloo only realized she had been staring at Fluttershy with a dumb grin on her face when Fluttershy came in and nuzzled her on the cheek. The little touch felt wonderful and amazing too.

They didn’t have to walk far. Just around the corner, adjacent to the sandbox, there was the remainder of the typical assorted foalish fun.

“Look, mommy,” Scootaloo said, “a playground! Well, kinda.”

“I’d say its a small playground,” Fluttershy said. Truthfully, it was just a few playthings on a patch of grass, but they were brightly coloured and looked inviting, so the intention was clear. “On the plus side, there’s absolutely nopony here. Seems like this playground has been waiting just for you, Scootaloo.”

Waiting just for her? How nice of the playground. Scootaloo stepped closer in awe. Some little swings, a slide, a couple of sitting places, but the biggest was the round metallic construction in the center.

“Do you want to go on the climbing rack?” Fluttershy said, “I know how much you like being up high.”

A climbing rack wouldn’t usually be any challenge, but this one was a bit trickier. The individual bars were arranged irregularly, at arbitrary angles and shorter or longer than the others. It would have taken effort to climb this one even for a big pony, but for a little filly, nervously sucking on her pacifier and keeping close to her mommy, the task was daunting indeed.

“You don’t have to worry, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “come, I’ll help you.”

She grabbed Scootaloo securely around the waist and lifted her to the rack. Now Scootaloo had no choice. She had to make her mommy proud. She determinedly hooked her forehooves into two of the metal bars, and stepped on the underlying two with her hind hooves. Fluttershy kept holding her all the way, so Scootaloo grabbed the next bar higher up, reached about for a good hold, and then pulled herself up one step higher, finding a spot to stand securely.

And it worked! The climbing rack turned out not to be random at all. It looked chaotic from the outside, but no matter where Scootaloo stood, she always found another place to put her hooves on that would give her a good grip. What a clever design!

Climbing up turned out to be a blast, at least until there was a halt halfway through, when Scootaloo fished around with her hind leg for a step, but found none.

“It’s over there, Scootaloo, look,” Fluttershy said, gently pulling her in the direction.

The next step was quite far out. Scootaloo would have to make a large step. And she knew exactly what that would entail. And so did Fluttershy, at least Scootaloo was increasingly getting that impression. But it didn’t matter. Scootaloo would keep her word. Holding her breath, Scootaloo stretched out her leg and stepped onto the far rung.

The motion caused her diaper’s tapes to stretch around her hips, which, in turn, pulled the diaper up more tightly, squishing whatever soft and warm contents rested inside up against Scootaloo. She shuddered in pleasure, waiting for the paralyzing sensation to pass, and soon, hopefully before Fluttershy could notice, forged on. Just like Scootaloo had promised, she pretended not to notice. And why would she? Little foals can’t help what’s in their diapers, that’s why they’re wearing them in the first place. Her mommy had wrapped up Scootaloo’s behind in a nice thick diaper for exactly this reason, so she could continue playing without having to worry or pay any attention at all. And Scootaloo would honour Fluttershy’s efforts, so she played on.

Step after step, she climbed as quickly as she could, the summit calling to her, she had to get on top, and when she was almost there, there was but one obstacle. The last step was too far up. She reached out with a hoof, but it was too high.

“Mommy, I can’t reach it,” Scootaloo said.

“It’s okay, I’ll help you,” Fluttershy said, “Together, we can make it.”

In the meantime, Fluttershy had taken to the air, flying beside Scootaloo to help her climb. Presently, she only had to lift Scootaloo to the top and they would have made it. So, one foreleg around Scootaloo’s waist to hold her tight, Fluttershy reached down past Scootaloo’s belly and planted her other hoof securely between her hind legs.

There was no need to be surprised. This was a regular fashion in which to carry infants, after all. This way, Fluttershy would be able to lift Scootaloo without danger of falling off. So Scootaloo sucked it up and let herself fall forward, dropping her weight into Fluttershy’s hooves.

Scootaloo gasped, just barely resisting the urge not to push her hips forward when Fluttershy’s hoof pressed the sodden diaper fluff tightly up against her. But Fluttershy also did her part in pretending not to notice, and flew up to the top with Scootaloo, holding her trembling big little filly so that her hooves could touch the topmost rungs.

“Yay!” Fluttershy said, “We did it, Scootaloo! We are at the top!”

“Y-yay ...” Scootaloo panted, “thanks, mommy.”

“Oh my,” Fluttershy snickered, “you seem quite exhausted. This climb really did heat things up, didn’t it?” It wasn’t clear whether she was referring to Scootaloo’s physical exertion, or the sweltering warmth on the inside of Scootaloo’s thighs, which were instinctively trying to press together around Fluttershy’s hoof. Fluttershy rewarded the efforts with a tantalizing little squeeze, sending Scootaloo gasping and stumbling, right into Fluttershy’s loving embrace. “I think we’ll need a moment to cool down, won’t we? And I know just the place. That swing set over there looks really nice.”

Fluttershy carried her jumpy little filly over to the swings. It was a simple suspended wooden bar with two swings, a regular swing, which was just a seat hanging on two ropes. But the other swing was a foal’s swing, where the seat was replaced by a wide cloth belt with a strap suspended down the middle. The foal would be placed on the strap, and the belt would ensure she wouldn’t be able to fall out.

Unsurprisingly, Fluttershy made directly for the foal swing. It looked too small, but Scootaloo put her hind legs through the openings regardless, when she was lowered down. It would be a tight fit, but, yes, Fluttershy just barely managed to wiggle Scootaloo’s hindquarters through the belt. Scootaloo would be able to make it, and if she just sat down carefully enough, there would be no --

Fluttershy dropped Scootaloo into the seat.

Scootaloo’s hooves clenched tightly around the cloth belt as she landed heavily in her diaper’s contents, the plastic crinkling furiously under the strain. The feeling was foreign and weird, because she sat on the cloth band, and it pressed everything up against her with the weight of her body, but it was also terribly exciting, because the diaper’s material was so tantalizingly soft and squishy. Scootaloo’s hind legs were still trying to press together to feel more of it, but the compacted bulk was simply too much, she could barely touch her knees.

But before she became too desperate, Fluttershy’s grinning face popped up before Scootaloo and began nuzzling her.

“Enjoying yourself?” Fluttershy said, planting a series of electrifying little kisses on the bridge of Scootaloo’s nose. “Such a nice idea to build this little playground for all the fillies and colts who are in need of some relaxing fun, isn’t it? We should do some swinging, it would be a shame to let it go to waste.” Scootaloo squirmed. It was hardly relaxing for her.

Fluttershy went behind Scootaloo and began pushing her swing. The first few pushes were inconsequential, they were only to get Scootaloo into the swinging mood, barely any motion to speak of. But then, Fluttershy pulled Scootaloo far back, and gave her her first real swing.

Scootaloo raced towards the ground, but she never touched it, suspended high enough in the air, she curved upwards and was instead flung toward the sky. There it was again, that moment of weightlessness, butterflies in her stomach, at the apex of the swing. But then, it was different.

The weight of her body followed a moment later, but the swing was already heading back the other direction, she slipped forward by a miniscule amount inside her diaper, pressing herself severely into the squishy material. Scootaloo gasped when she was forced to hump her diaper, the buzzing pleasure coursing through her body, paralyzing her, the thrill overtaking everything. So caught up was Scootaloo, she didn’t even notice she had swung back to the other end of her trajectory. Fluttershy caught her, and pushed her forward again.

The inertia caused Scootaloo’s body to slide backwards again, her butt smooshing hard into her diaper, elastics taut, plastic crinkling, Scootaloo desperately holding on, as she was on her way forward again.

Then she was at the top, the summit, weightlessness, sunlight, pleasure exploding from between her legs, and she swung back again, into Fluttershy’s loving grasp, her beautiful smile, her adorable laughter. Back and forth, up and down, squishing and mushing, love and laughter.

“Mo ... mommy,” Scootaloo panted between swings, “mommy ...”

Fluttershy caught her and stopped her, and immediately began lavishing her with cutesy little kisses on the cheek, and nuzzling, and chest rubbing, and mane tussling. Not that it would make and difference in appearance, Scootaloo was a heaving, sweating mess, desperately suckling on her pacifier, trying to make sense of it all. Some drool had found its way down her chin and was now glistening in her chest fur, but it was all the same to Fluttershy, who kept giving Scootaloo all of her love and affection.

“Wasn’t that so much fun?” Fluttershy giggled.

“Y-yeah ...” Scootaloo said, “but I - I think I’m g-gonna ... I’m gonna ...”

“Oh, look,” Fluttershy said, “we still have one thing left. Let’s go down the slide!”

Before Scootaloo could respond, she was lifted out of the swing set, one hoof around her back and the other one beneath her rear, and Fluttershy held her quivering form close as she carried her over to the slide. It was an otherwise basic little foal’s slide made of hard plastic, except that it wasn’t straight, but had a bit of a hump at the centre, to make the ride more exciting.

Scootaloo still hadn’t found her voice, so she couldn’t protest when she was sat down on the top of the slide. It probably didn’t matter, since the swing had already caused the diaper to liberally smear its contents across her backside, and she was just a little foal, so she wasn’t supposed to worry about such things anyway.

“Ready?” Fluttershy said. Scootaloo’s hind legs were pointed toward the lower end, and the plastic dip was just waiting for her. No better time than now.

Then Fluttershy let go. Well, she didn’t really let go, Scootaloo was way too little of a foal to be sliding alone, so she flew beside her and held her. But Scootaloo was off. She went faster and faster, smoothly gliding down the course, plastic against plastic, and it was quite thrilling, the immediacy of speed and motion, as the ground raced towards her.

Then came the hump. Scootaloo raced into it with all her momentum, and the shape of the hump pressed against her butt, pressing all of the sodden diaper pulp up against her hard, and Scootaloo erupted with pleasure, as she was eternally tantalized, with the release she yearned so much, but it was just another glimpse, just barely not enough. She gasped, and Fluttershy had to hold her upright, but eventually, she smoothly slid down to the end.

“Let’s go again!” Fluttershy exclaimed cheerfully.

She carried Scootaloo back to the top. Scootaloo was like a little doll at this point, blubbering and crinkling and holding on to mommy, and Fluttershy lovingly cuddled her and nuzzled her, before sending her down the slide again. The hump came at her another time, and the diaper was squished around, and Scootaloo was shaken by a shock of pure pleasure, and she just gave up. There was no more reason to be had. Scootaloo needed to release, and she needed to release now.

When they arrived at the bottom, Scootaloo held Fluttershy’s hoof. Of course, Fluttershy knew exactly what was the matter, and gave her a reassuring kiss on the cheek, and Scootaloo sat there, a full diaper between her legs, chest heaving, cheeks warm, tail twitching like mad.

“Now, Scootaloo, let’s see,” Fluttershy said, using her overly normal pretend voice, “we haven’t checked your diaper in a while, have we? Well, we’d better take a look.”

Fluttershy pulled Scootaloo upright with a hoof, and reached around her with the other hoof, moving below her tail. Then, Fluttershy blatantly slapped Scootaloo’s diaper, and pressed the squishy mass against Scootaloo’s butt. Scootaloo tensed, and whimpered in desperation. This was it. This was what she needed. Just a bit more.

“Oh, Scootaloo!” Fluttershy said pretend-casually, “Seems like you had a bit of an accident, huh? Did my little filly make her big potty into her diapies?” Fluttershy’s cutesy cooing made Scootaloo’s body tingle all over, and she was blubbering and whimpering like a foal. “Are you quite sure you’re all finished, though?” Fluttershy spoke softly. “Isn’t there something else that you still need to do in your diapers?”

Fluttershy placed Scootaloo on the ground. Then she went over to a free spot and sat down in the grass, and beckoned Scootaloo to come and join her.

Scootaloo shakily pulled herself up as best as she could, the sensations of her soft rubbery pacifier and her thick saggy diaper now ruling over her, and with her last effort, began crawling toward Fluttershy.

But then Scootaloo looked up, and saw what she had really waiting for her.

Fluttershy was the likeness of beauty itself. The sun shone down on her, making her yellow fur light up into an inviting blaze, and the long strands of her gorgeous pink mane were draped elegantly down her body, emphasizing her captivating curves and the alluring shape of her body, and her delicate hooves and wings were open, waiting just for Scootaloo to throw herself into. And Scootaloo couldn’t have been any more seduced. She desired nothing more than Fluttershy.

So Scootaloo crawled toward her, crawled with abandon, uncaring that she was moving recklessly, her diaper crinkling severely, every movement of hers accompanied with a mush and a squelch between her legs, her rear sealed snugly into its plastic wrapping, holding the warm and saggy mass in place, every little movement teasing Scootaloo’s already desperately quivering flesh beyond the breaking point.

And Scootaloo eased into Fluttershy’s lap, and Fluttershy embraced her, and Scootaloo tried to kiss her, but bumped into Fluttershy’s face with her pacifier instead, but Fluttershy kissed back anyway, because she had so much love to give, so much affection. She didn’t care that Scootaloo was clumsy and messy and helpless and desperate, was panting and quivering and dripping freely, the diaper dutifully soaking everything up. Because Scootaloo was her little filly, and nothing deserved more kindness than her little filly’s curious, well-meaning, truthful, spirited, fun loving little soul.

Fluttershy turned the limp Scootaloo around, and held her back against her chest. Then she reached down, and parted Scootaloo’s hind legs, first the one, then the other, so she could easily access what lay inbetween. The diaper was still sort of white, but glowed with the typical golden discoloration of a good use, and sagged under the according weight. Fluttershy touched the diaper with the tip of her hoof, running it over its smooth plastic surface.

“Shall I?” Fluttershy asked.

Scootaloo nodded weakly in response.

A moment of silence to enjoy the warm sun, the fresh air, the city sounds, both of their hearts beating together.

Then Fluttershy, ever so gently, gathered the diaper in her hoof, and pressed it firmly against Scootaloo, and pushed it up and down, steadily rubbing its squishy contents against Scootaloo’s sensitive parts.

Scootaloo exploded in pure ecstasy. She jumped, and bucked her hips hard, humping into Fluttershy’s hoof with all the strength she had left, and Fluttershy kept rubbing her firmly, pressing the crinkly soggy plastic up between Scootaloo’s thighs, and Scootaloo gasped severely, but Fluttershy brought up her other hoof and held the pacifier in place, and Scootaloo suckled on the rubber nipple, muffled whimpers and moans escaping around Fluttershy’s firm hoof.

And Scootaloo mindlessly humped into Fluttershy’s hoof, her instincts taking over, and Fluttershy gathered up more of the saggy diaper, and brought it up against Scootaloo’s butt and squished it into Scootaloo’s crotch, and Scootaloo spasmed and groaned, shaken by the roaring fire of her orgasm rolling over her in a crushing wave, leaving her panting and debilitated.

And Scootaloo came again, even harder than before, but she had no strength left, so she spread her legs as far as she could, desperately begging for more attention, and Fluttershy immediately picked up on it, kneading and squishing and pressing and mushing Scootaloo’s diaper, and she gathered as much sodden mass through the plastic as she could, and rubbed it against Scootaloo’s crotch, made her feel how much she had soaked and filled it up, and Scootaloo only quivered, and more drool came past her pacifier’s plastic shield.

Scootaloo came one more time.

And Fluttershy traced the shape of the diaper, ran her hoof along the leak guards, played with the sticky tapes, caressed the insides of Scootaloo’s thighs, massaged her belly and her flank, and then she went back to rubbing Scootaloo’s crinkly diaper directly against her crotch, and Scootaloo spasmed and moaned, and Fluttershy rubbed with the tip of her hoof, rubbed with its edge, rubbed with her palm, rubbed quickly, rubbed slowly, rubbed hard, rubbed soft, to make sure Scootaloo could feel her diaper in every way she had ever desired.

Fluttershy continued playing with the diaper for a bit, even though it eventually became clear that Scootaloo was done, laying limp and still in Fluttershy’s embrace, completely immersed in the haze of post-coital bliss. The diaper felt kind of funny, all soggy, and also fairly icky, but the plastic was completely dry, and the diaper had done its job perfectly and kept everything outside free of any kind of mess. All clever construction, and the work of the super absorbers. A remarkable feat indeed.

Then Fluttershy snuggled Scootaloo for a bit, and Scootaloo just grinned dumbly, and let it happen, taking in every piece of affection with a savouring squeal or a comfortable groan, like the true foal that she was.

Fluttershy carefully placed Scootaloo in the grass, and told her to stay still (unnecessarily, Scootaloo was limp), and then she quickly went over to the stroller and retrieved a fresh diaper and some changing supplies.

They could have looked for some kind of changing table, but in actuality, the grass was a perfectly fine spot too. Scootaloo was already situated in the grass comfortably, and, even though her dreamy face didn’t show it, its refreshing temperature would help her cool down.

So Fluttershy sat beside Scootaloo, and ripped open the sticky tape above her tail, and rolled her on her back, and spread her hind legs, and proceeded confidently and responsibly with the diaper change. Without hesitation, she unfastened the two tapes around Scootaloo’s waist, and opened up the front of the diaper.

Gathering Scootaloo’s hind legs with one hoof, Fluttershy lifted her butt into the air, and prudently pressed the front part of the diaper against Scootaloo’s rear, and pulled away most of the mess in a practiced series of deft motions. Afterwards, she pulled aside the used diaper, and took out some foal wipes, and thoroughly cleaned away the dirt from Scootaloo’s skin, and her folds, and her fur, until Scootaloo’s soft, cute hindquarters were left squeaky clean.

Fluttershy took her time too. She breathed deep, and enjoyed the quiet, and went at her work earnestly. It wasn’t like she was in any hurry, but more than anything, she relished the chance to give something very special to somepony she liked very much. It wasn’t even much of anything for Fluttershy, she’d had her fun too, taking care of an excitable and gentile little filly for a while, and she could hardly believe that it should mean so much to Scootaloo. Her little Scootaloo, who’d never really had any parents, probably had never been intimate with her foster parents, never enjoyed unconditional love and support. It felt good to be able to give her something like this, a small bit of peace, if only for a while.

In the end, Scootaloo was squeaky clean indeed.

Fluttershy slipped a new diaper under her. After applying some skin care cream, she pulled up the fresh and fluffy diaper’s front, which smelled wonderfully of sweet foal powder, to be greeted by a cartoon anteater with a long silly tongue. How quaint.

Fluttershy ripped open the tape and stuck them tight, rubbing them flat under severe crinkling protest, and by the time she pulled her little filly up to stick on the last tape above her tail, Scootaloo seemed to have returned back to this world.

Scootaloo looked quite content, and she attempted to communicate, but, even though she had regained the ability to speak, she didn’t seem to know what to say. And what would you say in such a situation anyway?

So, instead, Scootaloo temporarily took out her pacifier, and kissed Fluttershy.

It was a very gentle, and very heartfelt kiss, completely lacking the fire of arousal, and instead aglow with the much more subtle, much more powerful radiance of unbounded love. And for that reason, of all their kisses, this was the most satisfying one. Because Scootaloo was in love with Fluttershy, and she wanted her to know it, and she wanted to say thank you, but she couldn’t say it because she was embarrassed, so instead she just kissed her, and poured all of her heart into that kiss.

And after the kiss, they sat, quietly, in the green, in the strange city, in the sky, enjoying themselves, enjoying each other’s company, the clouds, the trees, the traffic, the buildings, everything was cool and intriguing. Just a loving mommy and her little diapered filly. And they watched, and they listened, and they breathed. Never letting go of each other.

The sun was beginning to set. The end of a day.

The end of a journey.

“We have to go back to Ponyville?” Scootaloo said.

“Yes,” Fluttershy said.

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

Everything ended somewhere. And everything began somewhere. Scootaloo would have to give this some more thought.

But not now.

Now, Scootaloo sat in the grass, and enjoyed the rest of the evening, together with Fluttershy.

Part 23

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More coffee.

Scootaloo regarded the grounds at the bottom of her cup. The stuff, like wet sand, sat on the cheap porcelain in little clumps and swirls, evidencing the motions within the absent fluid that had carried them there. A little trail of the black grains ran up the cup’s wall, and even remained in tiny heaps on the rim, where they had made contact with Scootaloo’s lips. She had drank too deep into her fill, because she didn’t know how to drink coffee, and she didn’t even like it, the taste was disgusting. But she yearned for more anyway.

A tiny drizzle touched down lightly against the window. The weather was downcast, not too heavily, and usually you wouldn’t even have noticed the gentle sprinkle, if not for the dark flakes of soot, or ash, that seemed to be plaguing the lower city air, maybe the accidental result of some fabrication process, or the smoke from chimneys of the many foundries. Tiny specks of dark clung to the glass, and streamed down within water droplets, just like coffee grounds. Seemed like Skyview had problems of its own after all.

But that didn’t keep its inhabitants from barrelling on. Despite the weather, the street was busy as ever, all manners of ponies and creatures walking past, caught up in their daily adventures, absorbed in news and conversation, talking and shouting and laughing, markedly unhindered by the protective cloaks and rain covers over their heads, their baskets, their carts, their wagons.

Across the street, somepony uncovered his cart, gleaming metal tire covers and wooden spokes. The stable doors revealed a wagoner’s workshop, a splendid wagon of varnished boards and reinforced struts half-finished in the works. Maybe this wagon would one day be the delivery pony’s, or maybe he worked for the shop and fetched the materials, and the wagon would go on grand adventures beyond the city limits with its owner. Whatever the case, the young stallion unloaded his cargo, and then he threw back his hood, and looked toward the sky. His eyes were gleaming, prospecting the future, and, coffee grounds staining his fur, he smiled.

Because, however dire the circumstances, the future was here, and everypony got their chance.

Everypony, except Scootaloo.

“Where’s the coffee, for life’s sake,” Scootaloo snarled.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “language.” The admonishment had been light, almost playful, which made it sting all the much more.

“Sorry,” Scootaloo said.

Fluttershy sat on the other side of the table, softly sipping from her steaming cup. She didn’t look out of place whatsoever, nestled into the old furniture, with a decent breakfast spread around her, as if she had never left this restaurant since two days ago, when they had had a break here after their arrival. The restaurant was fairly busy still, many travelers stopping by for refreshments, some still wearing their flight gear, while others had it donned again, in preparation for takeoff, like Fluttershy’s heavy flight scarf, and Scootaloo’s little bandanna.

Of course, only now had Scootaloo come to understand why they were here, why all these ponies travelled, why they toiled every day. There was this sense of discovery, of unexplored frontiers, exerting its irresistible, almost physical, pull, just waiting to be examined, because there were things that you couldn’t learn from any book, that you had to observe, to touch, to feel, for yourself.

And then there was the city itself, because no pony, no zebra, no dragon, no gryphon, no diamond dog or hippogriff or any other creature, was exempt from the rule of trade, from making a profit, from competing and bartering and cooperating, from the universal laws of economy. And they all went about their jobs, and, begrudgingly, paid their taxes, and the money went to the state, and the state, in turn, paid them the money back for their services, to build and maintain the city. Skyview city, a vast machine so infinitely complex and nuanced, ever changing and expanding, that it could only grow organically, by the hard work of ponies and creatures of all walks of life, with all their abilities and humours and desires and faults. Driven by an unsatisfiable hunger for discovery, and achieved by means of coexistence.

Scootaloo would not forget. Scootaloo tried not to forget.

Finally, the waiter arrived with a fresh serving of coffee.

Fluttershy got a refill. She moved and acted with such perfect grace, it seemed almost unnatural, ephemeral. Yet she was entirely grounded in the exact place and time of the now, her hooves moving effortlessly around the table, her long, immaculate mane swaying in the draft. Fluttershy put in a couple of pieces of sugar, dropping them as gently as possible, so her beverage wouldn’t spill out, and topped it off with the weird-tasting goat milk. Then, she took a bite from a buttered biscuit, and continued eating her banana.

Of course, she would be needing all that energy, for she would be doing all the flying, because Scootaloo couldn’t. Just one more entry on the long list of things Scootaloo would never be able to pay Fluttershy back for.

Scootaloo took her coffee black.

“I’m sorry for swearing,” Scootaloo said, “I just never thought it would feel this way. Now that we have to go back home ... “

“It’s okay,” Fluttershy said, “but we always knew our little vacation would end eventually, so there’s no point in resenting the fact.”

“I know,” Scootaloo said.

“Which reminds me,” Fluttershy said, “it’s a good thing too, because we were just running out of your allowance money. Here, I know it’s not much, but I wanted to give you the rest.”

Fluttershy pushed the coins over the table. It was a pathetic four bits.

Scootaloo didn’t care to think what she would waste the money on.

She was sad that her delightful time in Skyview was going to come to an end. She had discovered so much, made so many new friends, had so much fun, and she hated the idea that all of it would be taken away from her. Of course she hated it. Who wouldn’t? And her relationship with Fluttershy? Well, Scootaloo had botched her entire life up to this point, so she could trust herself to make their next encounter as awkward as possible. Just another moment of clumsiness, down for the count.

But there was something new brewing in Scootaloo’s cocktail of emotions. Something she hadn’t anticipated thus far.


Real, honest fear.

The fear of loss was so great, it made Scootaloo’s hooves tremble. And it wasn’t the loss of something she had, but of something she would have been able to have, the loss of her future. Even now, she could already feel the oppressive presence of home, of Ponyville, looming over her, threatening to blot out her recollection of this wonderful place. The daily trot, crushing her back into hopeless lethargy. Her former classmates, now official graduates, getting on with their lives, while Scootaloo was held back and locked into the perpetuum of pointless tests and jumbled books and numbers. Her young adults counsel, her teachers, her foster parents, everypony resenting her for being a lost cause, Scootaloo, the idiot, wasting her time, the featherbrain, getting into crashes because she always has her head in the clouds, ending up going nowhere. It would all come back. Daily routine, grinding the memories out of her, like sand in the wind, making her forget.

She was scared that she would forget.

There was a family in the restaurant. Parents with their kids. About to leave through the front door, the foal was having her clothes adjusted for the weather outside. Everypony was fawning over her, holding her so she wouldn’t fall over, and making sure she was comfortable. And whenever the foal did something right, she would be rewarded with little squeals, touches, kisses. Only the utmost praise and affection.

Scootaloo wiggled on her seat. She pressed her hind legs together, but her limbs simply touched, there was nothing between them. She was wearing regular, adult underwear.

That absence was more painful than anything else. Scootaloo was aware of her physical deficiencies, of her crippled wings and her dwarven body, but this omission felt entirely different, like someone had ripped a piece straight out of her soul, phantom pain in the back of her head, something that should be there but wasn’t, she was debilitated, her very essence wailed because it felt just so wrong.

“I just wish it didn’t have to end,” Scootaloo said. At least, she tried to say it, but her voice cracked, and she suddenly had to blink the blurriness out of her vision, and wipe her nose.

“It’s okay, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said calmly, “there’s no need to cry. There, there.”

She reached out with a hoof, gently brushed Scootaloo’s cheek. Scootaloo absorbed the affection from the little gesture, and imagined she was being praised and fawned over by the bigger pony. It gave her little solace, but she didn’t care, she cherished every second that she could spend with Fluttershy.

They sat in sombre silence, drowned in the noise of the crowded restaurant.

Fluttershy was the picture of calm composure as she ate, but she regarded the miserable pile of Scootaloo on the other end of the table intensely. She finished up her fruit and her pastries, and neatly put her table napkin onto the tray.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, “I’ve been thinking when to bring this up with you ...”

“What is it?” Scootaloo grumbled into the complicated patterns of scratches on the table top’s worn wooden surface.

“I believe,” Fluttershy said, carefully, “there might be a possibility that we could return to Skyview again.”

“What!” Scootaloo cried.

Jumping up, she had knocked over her cup, coffee splashing onto the ground. Under the stares of curious onlookers, she wormed her way between the tables over to the serving counter, retrieved one of the cloth rags that were placed there for this exact reason, and took it back to the table, wiping up the trail of coffee along the way.

“Oh, for the love of ...” Scootaloo said, breathless, “What was that?”

“I said that we could visit this city again,” Fluttershy said.

“I can’t believe --”

“But, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes?” Scootaloo said.

“But,” Fluttershy said, “In return, I will ask something of you.”

“Yes,” Scootaloo cried, desperately, “Yes! Anything!”

And Fluttershy looked her directly in the eyes, calm, collected, in full earnest, and said, “In return, you will take the Equestrian State Graduation Exam. And you will pass.”

The coffee had soaked through the rag, and was running down Scootaloo’s foreleg.

“What?” Scootaloo said, tears welling up again, “But I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can,” Fluttershy said.

“But I can’t!” Scootaloo raged, her cheeks now burning, “I can’t take the exam! I can’t take exams! I don’t know how to take exams! I’m an idiot!”

“Scootaloo, you are not an idiot,” Fluttershy thundered, “and that’s final.”

Scootaloo shut up, like she had never shut up in her life.

“Look,” Fluttershy said, “I know you don’t believe that you can pass the exam. But what you believe doesn’t matter. The truth is, you can.”

“But how?” Scootaloo said, “There’s so many subjects, and I never understood any of them.”

“Scoots, during our stay here in Skyview, we’ve learned a lot, you and I,” Fluttershy said.

“But I didn’t learn,” Scootaloo protested, “I was having fun! Our stay here was amazing, there were so many wonderful sights.”

“Didn’t you listen to what Lane said, yesterday?” Fluttershy said, “Call it learning, call it fun, call it whatever you want, but learning is not about memorizing dusty old books. I have seen you explore and experience things in this city that even I hadn’t known about before. You have even lectured a couple of students at university about their own subject, for Celestia’s sake!”

Scootaloo was upset and delighted that Fluttershy swore. “Yes,” she said, “but --”

“And didn’t we get to see all these amazing sights, together?” Fluttershy said, “I saw you admire the architecture of these buildings, when we visited the ancient ruins. And I was there when you delved into the history of this place.”

“Yes ...” Scootaloo said. It was true. Ever since they had visited the ruins of the Pendaros buildings, she had meant to dust off her own history book from school, to see if there were more such delectably absurd stories buried in there.

“And didn’t we explore the curious streets of this city,” Fluttershy said, “and its weird layout, and the greenery inbetween?”

“Yes,” Scootaloo said. The streets and the buildings and the parks and the cable cars and the fields, and the trade routes, and the air traffic, and why the city was layouted the way it was, and why it was important to read maps and sky charts. Every piece of this intricate design worked together in wondrously subtle ways, and her geography books seemed more than suspiciously ripe with the reasons why things worked out this way.

“And we went swimming, and had a wonderful time exercising, and watching other ponies at their crafts,” Fluttershy said.

“Yes.” Scootaloo said. She had always hated team sports, and group activities, because she hated being forced to do the same stuff that everypony else did, even though she couldn’t, and she didn’t want to. Maybe solo sports were more up to her speed? And she liked singing ...

“And we saw so much more of what’s going on in this city,” Fluttershy said, “The nature, and the sciences, and the festivals, and the engineering, and the magic.”

“Yes!” Scootaloo said. She had experienced every form of academia that she knew, before even finding out about it. She had that longing to finally pinpoint the difference between biology and chemistry, and she knew where she had both of those books. And her decrepit magic tomes, to unleash the information contained within, in such an awesome show of battle magic. She just had to know how that worked. And Scootaloo wanted to know more. She wanted to know about all the animals, and the ecosystems. And the tools of physics and alchemy to get there. And all the tables and numbers ... was it true? They didn’t matter? It was just about the relationships?

And she wanted machines, and artifacts, and constructs, know how to build them, know how they worked. She wanted to know about relationships, and constraints, and formulas, so she would be better prepared when she got to see them in real life.

Because none of her books had been written without purpose. Every book had a story behind it, every lesson was the result of somepony trying something out, and trying to communicate their findings. There was awesome exploration, discovery, excitement, behind every page turned, no matter how rotten and dusty it was.

And more than anything, something presented itself to Scootaloo, something, that, she had come to realize, she had never had in her life before.

A chance.

Her chance.

“Yes!” Scootaloo said, “Yes! Fluttershy! I have school books for all of this!”

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said, “and I want you to study all of them, for the exam.”

“But how?” Scootaloo said, “There are so many!”

“I want you to study,” Fluttershy said, “like you have never studied before. Remember, there is still time, a couple of weeks, in fact, which is more than enough. I want you to study every single page in every single book that you have. I want you to recite chapters in the morning and exercises in the evening, until you have memorized every last figure and every last paragraph. Read every book as many times as you need, copy it down, memorize it by sheer repetition if you need to, or make a song about it, like you have memorized that song by singing it only once.”

Fluttershy took Scootaloo’s hoof.

“The point is,” Fluttershy said, “No matter what you believe, no matter what you think, you have shown that you are capable of this. I know it, too. You just need to start doing it, and keep doing it.”

“Yes!” Scootaloo pleaded, “I will! I will do it! I want to learn everything that I have from school! I want to take that test!”

“And I want you to give it your best,” Fluttershy said.

They eventually left the restaurant, many guests still covertly staring at them. But Scootaloo didn’t care. Her mind was reeling. Even now, she was making plans in her mind, where she had stashed all of her books, how much paper she would need for her notes, when to go to sleep, when to rise, her schedule, her diet. How to get as many hours of studying in as she could. She was burning with excitement. She wanted to start learning, now.

They quickly crossed into the gateway building. Fluttershy pulled out the key and retrieved their flight gear from the locker. She saddled up, making sure the straps sat tightly and securely, and then she donned the rest of her equipment, pulling her aviator’s goggles over her eyes. Then she turned around, and put Scootaloo’s equipment on for her, because the smaller pony was way too distracted to do it on her own.

The building housed a shop, it was a tiny duty-free souvenir stall selling overpriced trinkets, little symbols and figures of the city and its landmarks, and travel novelties, such as games and books. The small travel books had covers hardened against the weather, and little straps to be tied around hooves. One of the books was educational, the title read “Equestria: castles and cities”. Scootaloo looked at the price.

It was exactly four bits.

Scootaloo excused herself.

She returned with a little book dangling from her hoof. “Um, Fluttershy?” she said, “Is it okay if I read during the flight?”

Fluttershy responded calmly, of course, but that twinkle of pride in her eyes was praise enough to make Scootaloo weak in the knees. “Of course,” Fluttershy said, “I think that’s a very nice idea.”

They stepped through the gates, and onto the platform. Scootaloo mounted the saddle, pulled out the map so they could plot the course, and Fluttershy checked that her boots were strapped in nice and securely. After finishing up her preparations, Fluttershy walked up to the platform’s edge, felt the wind.

The grimy rain lightly drizzled on the top of Scootaloo’s head.

She looked up into the overcast skyscape, and, coffee grounds splashing onto her spectacles, suddenly, she understood what that pony across the street had felt.

And she smiled.


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“But that’s impossible!”

Scootaloo buzzed her wings as hard as she could. The familiar road around the outskirts of Ponyville flew by, she was going way faster than any time past, during which she had crashed. Scootaloo didn’t care, much to the chagrin of her two passengers.

“Do you know what this means?” Sweetie Belle cried.

She held on to Apple Bloom for her dear life, and Apple Bloom clambered onto Scootaloo in turn. Good for them that Scootaloo was so small, or they would have never all managed to fit on the scooter at the same time.

“Yeah,” Apple Bloom commented, “It means we finally know why we haven’t seen Scootaloo in weeks.”

“But, just look at it!” Sweetie Belle said.

She held the document in front. It was a stately affair, over twenty pages stapled together. The cover page held the typical decorations, the official title of the state exam, Scootaloo’s name, the signatures of Miss Cheerilee and the commissioner. And the final score in big, red lettering.

One hundred percent.

“Nopony was supposed to ever get such a score!” Sweetie Belle said.

“Yeah, well, they weren’t expecting me then,” Scootaloo said, “besides, i think they just copied the exercises from the books anyway, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“Not big of a deal!” Sweetie Belle hollered, “Not big of a deal! Try telling that to Miss Cheerilee, or the commissioner!”

“I don’t think she got the chance,” Apple Bloom said, “Did you see their faces? Scootaloo was out of the school building before they even got a word in.”

“I don’t care about the school building,” Scootaloo said.

Promptly, she beat her wings in the other direction. After years of practice, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle curled up, and held onto Scootaloo in a protective curl, expecting to crash. But the box under the scooter clacked repeatedly, and the vehicle gently rolled to a standstill, no harm done. They had arrived at Ponyville’s botanical marvel, the overgrown burough. Fluttershy’s cottage.

“Does that mean you’re gonna leave us?” Sweetie Belle said.

“No way,” Scootaloo said, “why would I leave you?”

“Because you’re going to study in that fancy sky city of yours,” Apple Bloom said.

“I never said I’m going to study there,” Scootaloo said, “I just said I’m going to visit there again. I wouldn’t even know how to pay the tuition.”

“Can’t you take a job, or something?” Apple Bloom said.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “No. I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it now. Besides, we can go there together, can’t we? Anyway, I need to go say thanks to Fluttershy real quick, because she was the one who encouraged me to do this.”

Birds and critters suspiciously glowered at her from the trees and shrubbery, as Scootaloo ran up the path, crossed the neat little bridge over the stream, and arrived at Fluttershy’s front door. She rapped at the door, and Fluttershy opened up way too quickly. She had been waiting for her.

“Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said, and Scootaloo practically shoved the papers into her face.

“I did it!” Scootaloo whooped excitedly.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, leafing through the pages of the test, and seeing nothing but red check marks indicating correctness, her eyes growing bigger by the moment.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy said, “Scootaloo that is wonderful! You did perfectly on this test. That is really impressive!”

“And I did it, all thanks to you,” Scootaloo said, “Thank you so much, Fluttershy!”

“Oh, I am very happy to help,” Fluttershy said, “but this was your doing, really.”

Suddenly, the test didn’t seem so important anymore, as they stepped closer and crossed necks, nothing but amicable warmth between them, and Scootaloo could have been no prouder in front of Fluttershy.

“Here, I have a little something for you,” Fluttershy said. She went into the cottage and came back holding a little gift bag, way too quickly. She had been expecting this too.

“Sorry I didn’t make a gift basket out of it,” Fluttershy said, “but I thought a bag would be more appropriate in this case.”

It was a cloth bag with a cover. Inside, there were a bunch of pretty flowers, a few juicy leaves, a neat little congratulations card, the typical fare. But beyond that, a bit of perfect white plastic shone through. It was the remaining diapers, neatly stacked against each other so as to fit into the bag. And on the other side, there was a bottle of baby powder, and a pack of foal wipes. And her pretty purple glitter pacifier!

“Do you have someplace in your room where you can hide them?” Fluttershy said.

“Yes,” Scootaloo said, “Oh, thank you, Fluttershy!”

“You are very welcome,” Fluttershy said, “I thought you deserved to have a bit of fun, after all this.”

Scootaloo shouldered the bag, and went in for another hug. Fluttershy graciously embraced her, and held her for a few, very tender, moments.

But Scootaloo remained, fidgeting.

“Yes?” Fluttershy said.

“Um,” Scootaloo said, “You said that we could go back, to Skyview? Together?”

Fluttershy smiled. “Oh boy,” she said, “You only just finished the test, and are already on your way to the next adventure. Listen, we can’t go right now, since I can’t just up and leave my cottage. I’ve got work to do, and ponies depend on me being here. How about this, why don’t you just take the next couple of weeks off, and enjoy the rest of summer vacation? I believe that you really should have a break.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo said.

“And, in the meantime, I’ll make preparations for the journey,” Fluttershy winked.

Scootaloo cheered, and hugged Fluttershy one more time, thanking her over and over.

“It’s okay, Scoots,” Fluttershy giggled, “now, go and show your test to your foster parents. I’m sure they will be excited.”

“I will,” Scootaloo said, already on her way back to her scooter, and the waiting Crusaders, “see you soon, Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy waved her goodbye, and watched the little pony rejoin her friends, and drive her scooter back into Ponyville.

She remained for a bit, just standing in the doorway, delighting in the very nice time she had spent together with Scootaloo. What a strange pony she was, but also pretty cute. Fluttershy didn’t quite understand everything that was going on in Scootaloo’s head, but she felt like exploring their relationship a bit further.

“You’re almost grown up, Scootaloo,” Fluttershy said into the wind. She giggled. “And I hope you will always stay that way.”