Sabine thought Coltriella’s palace always looked pretty good with the sun behind it. The first rays peaking over the horizon bathed it in a sort of charismatic glow that always reminded you who was on top of this heap, though there was always a little pretentiousness that went with it.

 

Oh well.

 

Sabine nodded her head in thanks to the guards in front of the palace gates and walked through unhindered, keeping her hood up, over her head and making sure the palace insignia was on display on her cloak. In the wee hours of the morning, Sabine walked towards the steps of the palace but did not climb them. The cloaked mare, instead, walked around the stairs, around the base of the palace towards the palace garden.

 

She crept through the royal sanctuary, watching as several pegasi guards trained a good distance away with Ao himself. The sweat covered pegasus barked orders as he spryly flit through the air and corrected their forms.

 

She smirked, and ignored him for now. He’d be too wrapped up to notice her, most ponies were. Something about a hood detracted attention if you didn’t sell yourself in it, especially when it had the seal on it.

 

She rounded the corner to come face to face with two guards. They two ponies managed very weak, tired smiles in return, one even breaking his to yawn. “Well hey there, you two are looking energetic.” Sabine chuckled dryly.

 

“We’re night guards.” The yawning one mumbled in agitation, but the two stood aside for her. Sabine walked between them, standing by the wall while the two guards closed around her, blocking her from view as the mare’s horn flashed, and her and her clothing disappeared from view.

Not soon after, she was climbing the palace’s tallest tower with enchanted hooves, enjoying the breeze that was flying across the desert and underneath her cloak. It was going to be a hot day today, but she was okay with that. A good sweat never hurt her before.

 

She came to the window of the tallest tower of Coltriella, and peeked inside. Light was pouring in, allowing her to see the finest room in all of Coltriella, the interior barely touched by its owner other than the bed, where a conspicuous lump laid. She gave a polite knock on the window.

 

Silence.

 

“Hmm.” Sabine knocked again, harder, louder, and the lump twitched. That time she was heard. She waited patiently, renewing the enchantment on her hooves and taking a moment to enjoy the view. Ah, her city was looking fine this morning. What would she add today though? They’d want to finish that playground, of course, but she’d been hearing the forth ring needed another water bar. Yes, maybe another donation there to get that started…

She knocked again, harder. “Get up, dammit, we need to talk.” She grumbled to the occupant of the room. The lump once again twitched in the bed, but did not move further. Sabine rolled her eyes, and with a sigh, slammed her hoof down on the wood of the window, again and again and again, watching with increasing agitation as the bed-ridden figure squirmed in impotent rage.

 

Finally the blanket was nearly thrown off the bed, and the mare in it wiggled her way off it. The heavily annoyed mare dragged her way across the room to the window, her mane a sandy gold that, even untamed, curled and waved gorgeously across her back, while her coat was the same soft pink her father had.

 

She also had a pair of very dark rings around a pair of highly annoyed, brown eyes. Sabine took a step back as a kick opened the window, and Sadi’o’farrosun’o’eropafaniquehuomla gave her, or at least the air where she thought Sabine was, a look that promised death if she knocked again. “This had better be some amazing freakin’ information.” Sadi growled, only to get lightly shoved inside by an invisible hoof.

 

“Sorta, but I also had an idea.” Sabine admitted as she slipped inside and shut the window, ending her invisibility spell. Sadi glared after her quietly as the other mare pulled her cloak off and politely hung it over the back of a nearby sofa. She normally wasn’t this difficult to deal with, but a few months worth of pain was enough to drive any pony a little mad. “How’s the illness coming?”

 

“Awful.” Sadi grunted, then slid onto the couch and curled up, eyes still focused on Sabine. “Though it’d probably help if I could get some actual sleep you interruptive little-”

 

“Calm down Princess.” Sabine raised a hoof and went into the little kitchen nook. Some tea would calm her down, probably a little soup too. She could feel Sadi’s eyes on her the whole time. “I managed to get them to talk a little last night.”

 

“Mhmm?” Sadi grunted again, eyes half-closed as Sabine came back to sit in front of her. Sabine sighed, and she quietly repositioned the princess onto her stomach and made to splay her legs out so Sabine could give her a very gentle massage.

 

“I got the name ‘Princess Celly’, and they mentioned a ‘Princess of the Night’.” Sabine told the mare beneath her, her hooves working the princess’ back. She couldn’t believe how often she’d been doing this just to keep Sadi comfortable enough to listen.

 

Serving the princess had always been a job she was proud of. She made her bed, cleaned her room, washed her hair, and scrubbed her hide, but she also did things even To’Ao would never find out about. She was the perfect assistant. As far as the record books were concerned, Sabine did not officially exist. She had a life and friends outside the palace and did volunteer work, but a quick check of her profile showed an entirely blank slate. That meant she could perform her duties, maintain a social life, and never once be charged or accused of anything. She did not have to sign any documents to get things done. Even Coltriellas’ most interesting visitors had their names written down somewhere. Sabine’s name didn’t even show up on her pay-card.

 

Yet… she knew every guard in Coltriella by name, and through Sadi had control over them, including the Royal Skylords. They knew her, of course, but very few knew precisely what she was up to at any given moment. ‘Scale the palace? Of course!’ They’d say. Why? They didn’t need to know, and they were trained to not question it. ‘Let you into the royal chambers in full guard regalia to spy on the supposed intruders? As you wish!’ And any guard that spoke was under the princess’ enchantment to not even mention her assistant. Any that tried, well… a painfully swollen tongue for a few days was considered sufficient punishment.

 

Sabine smiled to herself as she ran her hooves up and down Sadi’s back, resulting in a loud chain of pops. She was just as good at keeping secrets from her own boss too. Though she couldn’t help but wonder how she would react if she let it slip that she spent most of her free nights getting drunk and warming another mare’s bed?

 

“That’s it?” Sadi mumbled. The soft pink mare turned her head to give Sabine a very bemused look. “We know about Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.” She let out an annoyed moan and stretched out further, pushing her back into the working hooves and sniffing softly. “They’re the damned rulers of Equestria!”

 

“Yeah.” Sabine nodded slowly. Oh Twilight, why did you have to be so vague? This could have been over with by now… “They mentioned it was Princess Luna who blessed their journey though. They have their rulers’ sanction to be here and to talk to you.”

 

Sadi squeezed her eyes shut and curled her forelegs around her snout. “Of course they would. No, that would be the perfect reason for them to be here.”

“You’re stressing yourself.” Sabine warned, reaching forward to delicately massage her ruler’s horn before the headache could blow in. “Look, I know everything points right at them, but I think we might be misinterpreting it. They’re good girls.”

 

“Or they’re good actors.” Sadi mumbled.

 

“You know how good I am at sniffing out liars.” Sabine gently chimed in, sliding off of her to face her directly. It would probably alleviate some of her stress to be told face-to-face. She wondered if she’d get mad if she went and got her bed sheet for her… she was always so picky with how she kept her room. She could always request a sheet from the launderer…

 

“You’re not above being tricked.” Sadi reminded her assistant with a harsh bite in her voice. Sabine sighed. Probably true, but Twilight was a pretty bad liar. Good at changing the flow of conversation, but a terrible liar. She was not at all here for fully peaceful reasons.

 

“True, but they’re not what you’d call, I dunno, subtle?” She hummed in thought. The princess was shivering a little. “They let me into their home freely,” she went to the door and opened it, then rang a tiny, silver bell, “they allow me to take them drinking…” a servant approached from down the hallway, recognizing the mare calling him immediately and offering her a short bow. “Get me two blankets from the laundry room please, Sadi’o’farrosun’o’eropafaniquehuomla is awfully cool.” The servant nodded and sped away, and Sabine shut the door. “And they trust me enough to share a few more personal secrets. Would you like my opinion?”

 

Sadi opened her eyes and gave her a very temperamental look. Sabine ignored it to go check the tea and broth. “Sabine, if I can’t trust your opinion then I’ll have to trust some other pony’s.” She growled harshly. Sabine smirked. She loved to question the princess, just a little game of annoyance.

 

“Oh yes, and you positively love everypony else compared to me. Anyhow.” She took the tea off the stove and began to pour a fresh cup, trotting back to Sadi with the cup floating just in front of her face. After helping the princess right herself on the couch, Sadi lifted the cup with her own magic. Without missing a beat, Sabine took the blankets from the serving boy, and calmly wrapped them around Sadi’s body. “They’re innocent girls here on a mission they probably aren’t prepared for.”

 

“…” Sadi sipped her tea and glanced to the window. She squeezed her eyes shut at the light pouring in and groaned. Sabine started lighting the candles to let the princesses’ eyes adjust to the difference. “And?”

 

“They aren’t bad. They aren’t violent. They’re confused, lost, and happy to have some help in a foreign country while handling their own feelings for each other. In other words, they’re a bunch of frilly mares with no idea how to go about their own mission other than simply wait for you.” Sabine brought a few scented candles and set them on the tables by Sadi, lit them, and created a magical breeze to carry the scent to her charge. “Despite what the rhyme told you, I doubt they’re here to intentionally harm anypony.”

 

“Then why not go find out like I asked you to?” Sadi took a deep sniff of the scented candles, then sipped her tea and snuggled into her blankets, eyes closed slowly as she relaxed. “I trust you, Sabine. That’s why I asked you specifically.”

 

Sabine went and stirred the broth in thought. She had an idea. If her insticts were misleading her, she would be making a terrible mistake, but it could also end this whole game of cloak and dagger before she was ordered to take extremes. She calmly ladled the broth into a bowl, blew the steam away, and smiled gently as she brought the bowl to Sadi and set it on the nearby stand. She used a telekinetically grasped spoon to feed her sick princess. “I think you should hear them out.”

 

Sadi didn’t answer, waiting for a few more spoonfuls of the simple, hot broth before saying anything. “Do you now?” She asked, sniffing loudly and taking another sip of tea. Sabine could see the princess thinking about it. “I could be putting myself in danger.”

 

“I could be there, if need be.” Sabine whispered consolingly, offering another spoonful. “We could find out their mission the easy way. It would be quicker, it would be easier to handle, you’d just have to give the word.”

 

“…” Sadi swallowed the broth roughly, and looked into Sabine’s eyes. They maintained eye contact for several long moments. “You would hate me if I ordered you to hurt your friends.” She whispered.

“I would hate myself if they hurt you, Sadi.” As much as she found the Equestrians fascinating, fun, interesting… and warm… compared to her charge, they were disposable, no matter how much she wanted to preserve her budding friendship with them.

 

“… Fine. I’ll hold hearings today.” Sadi sighed and rubbed her skull with her hooves. “Sabine, I’ll need you to furnish my chair and warn the cooks. Also, I’ll need you present to be my shadow archivist.”

 

“Alright.” Sabine smiled, and mentally began running through preparations. “I’ll be sure to follow them to the palace and give them some forewarning.”

“Excellent.” Sadi sipped the last of her tea, then took a hold of the broth spoon and stirred her meal idly. She glanced up to Sabine with a small flicker in her eyes. “Also, be ready to incapacitate, no weapons ready.”

 

Sabine let out a small sigh of relief, nodded, and turned away with a smile. “Of course, Sadi.” Before leaving, Sabine washed the dishes and put them away, helped Sadi back into bed. She picked up her cloak and dusted off the couch it was laid over, then blew out the candles and slipped out the window.

 

She had a good day ahead of her.

 

----------

 

“Heehee! Applejack, quit it!” Rarity’s squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to return to a peaceful night’s sleep, but Applejack attacked relentlessly.

 

Applejack’s teeth kneaded the white ear of her roommate. Rarity squirmed, pushing herself to the other side of the bed, but a foreleg wrapped around her abdomen kept her in place. Applejack grinned, nibbling more aggressively. “I’ma thinkin’ no.” Rarity craned her neck and gave her a rather unamused glare.

 

“You know I hate doing anything in the morning before I get made up.” Rarity sulked to herself, even though there was a small part of her that actually enjoyed it. Another part of her was angry. Her little farmpony just woke her up from an absolutely marvelous dream, one featuring the very mare lying next to her, and something even more sweet and enjoyable than anything her fantasyland could ever hope to produce for her. Her dreams were no longer the source of all her wildest fantasies. Rather, it was when she was nearly dragging herself in or out of bed and a certain blonde mare decided to intrude on her personal space and whisper tiny, sweet, personal little anecdotes from her feelings and thoughts…

 

Was this what she’d really been looking for all these years? What she’d been trying to find in a prince, in a business master, in some rich-in-cash colt’s personality? She had never felt so at peace here, where she could focus on more… personal aspects of her life. Where she and a certain mare could finally put aside those troublesome differences in their lives… and let a few feelings through.

 

She doubted her feelings were always there. She had, at first, very much disliked Applejack and merely tolerated her, until more stellar aspects of her personality began to shine through. There was a certain rough, almost manly quality to the mare Rarity found herself endeared to. She was repulsed by it at first, Applejack was a mare, she should have acted like it! Now she saw that a mare wasn’t required to act dainty, refined, and clean. At least not when they could still be as soft-hearted and attentive as her Applejack…

So yes. The personality, the attentiveness, and even the roughness was all something Rarity had been looking for in a colt. Yet, it came to her in the exact opposite… and she didn’t mind.

 

Applejack mumbled, nipping at her ear again. Rarity tugged away, grinning as Applejack pouted. She wiggled to the other side of the bed and pulled the sheets around her.

 

 “Oh c’mon Rare…” Applejack wiggled closer, and ran a trail of kisses up her neck until she was once again nibbling her ear.

 

Rarity squealed into her hoof. Bless those sensitive ears of hers, Applejack found her one weakness within minutes of their first night of snuggling and found it hilarious to spend hours torturing her with them.

 

“Appleja~ack!” The white pony whined, kicking a leg out as Applejack’s mouth traveled down to her neck again. “Please!” Her horn flashed, and Applejack was tossed onto her stomach. Rarity stood by the bed, panting and shaking from the farm mare’s antics. “Just…” She turned her head and gave Applejack a small smile, a smile the other pony returned with a little more mischief. “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be right out.”

 

“…” Applejack let Rarity lock herself in the bathroom before pulling herself out a bed. She stretched, letting her body unwind itself as she made her way to the door. How’d she get here in life? One moment she’s on her farm not giving a second thought to finding herself a partner in life, the next she’s teaching one of the most difficult mares she ever knew how to fly a dragon, more than once the both of them mistaking a casual brush of their foreleg or snout as something deeper.

 

She got one heck of a catch though. Rarity was one of the most strong-willed, smarter-than-she-looks, heart-o’-gold ponies she’d ever gotten to know. Though she had a stubborn streak a mile wide when it came to the right things and a palette aimed for high-class, yet refined by the rough. She would be weird to return to Equestria with. Maybe they wouldn’t work out…

 

“Nah.” Applejack chided herself for thinking too far ahead. She always worried when she did. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle would be enthusiastic, but she’d hate to leave Scootaloo out. Maybe they’d have to change that.

 

Applejack raised an eyebrow. Was that humming? It certainly had Pinkie Pie’s energy, but it sounded a little too deep. Sounded like… “Rainbow Dash?” She poked her head around the corner.

 

The pegasus was cooking. She was actually cooking. Not snacking, not ordering take-out, not going to a restaurant or some fast-food place or complaining about how hungry she was until somepony got her food, she was genuinely cooking. Dash hated to cook. Applejack learned that on the day they met at a festival, where Dash took part in almost every competition, almost.

Her humming erupted into singing. The farm pony winced, not only was it off-key, but she couldn’t hit high notes for nothing. "Dash?"

An instant later, a second Dash appeared in front of her, baring her dark mane colors and a smile bright enough to rival the sun. Applejack shrieked as her friend latched onto her neck and snuggled her. The pegasus giggled. "Good morning Applejack! How are you?" She brought her into a bear hug, still bouncing on the tips of her rearhooves.

Applejack stared at her friend quietly. "I’m…" Applejack faught to keep her jaw from dropping as Dash let out a tiny, enamored sigh. "… I’m okay?"

"Great!" Dash squeaked, and leapt off of Applejack. The farm mare’s ears flattened to her skull. What could be worse than an off-key singing Rainbow Dash? Two of ‘em.

"Yeah…" Applejack trailed off as more Dashes appeared. All six of them pitched in to help. Some dancing, others singing.

… There were birds singing outside. Did… did Coltriella have native birds?

Wait-wait-wait. "Dash, did you just get bit by the jitterbug this mornin’?" Dash hadn’t been this carefree the whole time here. Not to mention that, not once in all of Applejack’s experience with the Pegasus had she ever been this happy…

"I got bit by a little something!" Purple Dash giggled while swinging by, her cheeks actually burning red.

Applejack narrowed her eyes. What could Dash be so perky about this morning? There wasn’t anything-

… Twilight.

"Dash!" Applejack caught Blue Dash by her tail. The perky pony stopped, nearly hopping in place. Applejack took a deep breath, and smiled. "How’s Twilight this morning?"

"Oh, she’s fine! She’s asleep right now so I thought I’d wake her up to something nice!" Her blush reddened. If Applejack didn’t know any better, she might as well been on fire. The pegasus rubbed her front legs together, starring at the ground tentatively."I owe her."

‘Owe her?’ Applejack’s eye twitched. "Owe her for what!?" She swore, if Twilight and Dash did anything while drunk, anything even slightly beyond appropriate Applejack was going to have to have a good, long talking to with Sabine. Probably with some shouting mixed in.

"We~eell…" Blue Dash’s eyes went to the ceiling. "I was having a bad dream last night and she woke me up when she got back." She began to giggle, trying to keep her mouth closed, but she began to snort with laughter. "She’d crawled into bed with me…" Now all of Dash was turning bright red, and Applejack could feel the heat pouring off of her.

"Uh-huh…" Applejack chewed her tongue. Yeah, she and Sabine were going to have a good talk when she came back…

"And… well…" Dash put a hoof to her mouth and giggled. Applejack cocked her jaw. She and Rarity could cuddle later, they were going to have to lay down the law, Equestrian style.

 

"Oh!" Dash slipped into one body and started filling a pair of plates with scrambled eggs and waffles, giving Applejack a perky smile before gingerly placing the plates on her back."If you need us, be sure to knock!" Dash winked and skipped out the door.

Applejack huffed quietly to herself and started for her room. Rarity was going to hear about this.

----------

Dash nudged the door open. It was taking all of her self-control right now to not go bouncing straight to her. She could feel herself shaking. She would need to hurry, it was making it difficult to carry the plates.

The world seemed so much more… interesting now. She never realized how impressive the architecture of the house was, or how much fun you could have cooking… at least for a loved one. Her heart hammered in her chest. Was this what it felt like? Was this what it felt like to love somepony?

Before she had always considered the moniker of girlfriend as that: a title, one that said that belonged to another pony specifically and no other. She always thought of it as, like, you asked somepony who was good looking, and that meant you were theirs and it came with all the status and class a good looking pony should bring, and opened up things like kissing and… other things.

While she had never been comfortable to take things beyond kissing, she never really thought of kissing as anything else other than something that felt good. She never knew how many feelings you could express through something so simple.

She winced as the door clicked behind her. A quick glance to the figure lying in her bed told her she hadn’t moved. She placed one of the plates onto the stool next to her. Her legs were shaking now more than ever, and a small part of her worried she would burst into flames at any moment.

That feeling felt more like a reality as she loomed over Twilight’s sleeping form. She placed a plate next to the sleeping unicorn and gently nuzzled her ear.

 

Her little egghead, the smartest, most magical mare in Equestria - no, the world was hers! Somehow, someway she managed to wrangle a kiss out of Twilight, without even trying! She’d be damned if she let the opportunity go. She wouldn’t just let this slide. She had her wings taken from her, and she wasn’t going to let anything else important get away without being chained down and having her limbs taken off first.

 

She heard a tiny mumble from the sleeping mare. Smiling, she pecked a kiss on her ear. “Wake up Twilight. I got some breakfast…”

The unicorn looked up at Dash with tired eyes. Starring at the pegasus before her, she yawned. “Mm… Dash…?” She rubbed her eyes. “You got wha-” The mare’s eyes widened as Dash leaned down without a second thought and pressed her lips to Twilight’s.

 

Twilight froze as their lips touched. Dash could feel her tense, her body heating up. The pegasus giggled, pressing her tongue into her mouth. Twilight still tasted bitter from the alcohol, but she continued to explore her mouth anyway. So many things could be said through a kiss… she could feel hesitation and confusion slowly give way into an unsure kiss back. When Dash pushed in for more, the dam broke, and Twilight returned it hungrily.

 

She felt the unicorn’s forehooves lock around her neck, and the raw, repressed want poured through as insecurities and the embarrassment lifted, letting feelings Twilight had never felt before run through her whole body.

For her, nothing in the world felt better. She could feel it in a tremor of her stomach, so much love and care, slowly welling up, her chest expanding as she took a deep breath. Dash parted the kiss to do the same, and felt that powerful, wonderful pain push up her throat… and…

 

“Dash.” Twilight whispered, before Dash kissed her again. She pressed her lips against the unicorn, sending her mind reeling, her entire body floating once more as they kissed. She could feel it in her throat. “Dash!” She gasped.

 

“Yes Twilight?” Dash leaned down and whispered through barely focused eyes, her lips catching Twilight’s again for just a moment, before Twilight wrenched away with a gasp.

 

“Twilight?” Did she do something wrong? Twilight rolled away, leaning over the side of the bed. Dash leapt in front of her, looking into her dazed eyes.

 

“Dash… away…” Twilight pushed at Dash’s chest as she spoke around a thick tongue. “Get away!”

 

“A-away?” Dash repeated, shocked, staring wide-eyed at the mare she’d been opening herself up to moments before, watching as Twilight gave her a glare.

 

“G-get away from me, now!” Twilight gagged out, covering her snout and groaning in pain.

 

Dash, stunned, took a few steps back, fighting the sudden moisture in her eyes as she was pushed back. “B-but why?”

 

Twilight looked up at her for a few seconds with red eyes, not saying anything as her entire face and neck tensed. Twilight grimaced, and with a violent cough, barfed all over Dash’s hooves.

----------

 

A brush lay forgotten on the countertop. Applejack sat still near the wall as Rarity paced the length of the bathroom with barely constrained fury in her eyes. “Tell me she was joking!”

 

“I swear on Granny Smith’s grandmamma’s rocker.” Applejack replied, sour look on her face. Rarity scoffed. “I swear to ya, Dash had never been so giddy before. She made Pinkie Pie look calm!”

 

“Of all the- oh this is just the worst!” Rarity stomped, a small part of her grateful she didn’t chip a hoof. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” She glared at the floor. “This was supposed to be special! A romance to remember, starring Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, a match made only in the wildest fantasies!” She grasped her brush and meekly tossed it into the bathtub. Her legs gave out, the mare slumped on the rug. “It was supposed to be slow, beautiful even! A cautious discovery of their feelings and desires! A careful dance of love and togetherness!”

 

Applejack sighed softly, grabbing her Stetson from the closet. She knew Rarity wouldn’t like the news, but the unicorn seemed especially broken up by it. “Well yeah, but this has happened. I ain’t sayin’ it’s right but it’s up to them to look after their own relationship.” Applejack lifted her hat to see Rarity giving her an aghast look. “What I am sayin’ is that I dun’ think Twilight was in the right state o’ mind when it happened. I’m thinkin’ a bit o’ that booze Sabine was talkin’ her int’a had t’do with it.”

 

Rarity touched her hoof to her chin. After a moments pause, she growled. “You’re absolutely correct! That horrid, mind-bending poison was what rushed their romance!” Rarity rose to her hooves, marching for the door. “Applejack, we shall have a word with Twilight about this alcohol ordeal and forbid her from it!”

 

“But we should also have a talkin’ to with Sabine! She’s the one who got ‘er all drunk and not thinkin’ right!” She opened the door with a light kick, leading Rarity out. “Next time she comes ‘round here we’re givin’ her the sternest talkin’ to she’s ever gotten!”

 

“Right!” Rarity turned up her nose. Sabine would be hearing from her.

 

“- be sure she takes it with warm milk, the taste is pretty awful otherwise. Can she walk yet?” They paused as they heard a familiar voice.

 

Pinkie answered the question from the kitchen. “Not super well but I think I can get her moving, no problem!” Applejack was about to step around the corner, but a hoof from Rarity yanked her back.

 

“Yeah, see if you can get her to move around a little, get the blood pumping before she rests up. You guys have any trash cans, or buckets?” Sabine asked, hoofsteps shuffling around the kitchen.

 

“Probably! Ooh, I should go look! I bet there’s all sortsa neat stuff in the closets we didn’t see! I bet I can found a buncha buckets! Why?”

 

“’Cause throw-up is easier to clean out of a bucket than off of a floor.”

 

“Oooh… Ew.” Pinkie snickered. Sabine was at the stove, heating a glass of milk while the pink mare was putting together a big breakfast with Dash’s dishes. “Do you preferred scrambled or sunny-side up?”

 

“What’s scrambled?” Sabine asked, taking the cup off the stove to sniff it.

 

“You don’t know!?” Pinkie gave her a funny look. “Scrambled Eggs are only the best way to make eggs! I’m making ‘em!”

 

“Well alright. If you say so.” Sabine smiled and took the glass of warm milk. She set a small box on her back. “I’ll go get this to Fluttershy then. I’m pretty sure she’ll appreciate it…” Sabine nearly jumped as she rounded the corner. “Well hey there girls! Today’s lookin’ good and… um…”

 

They were giving her a pair of long, hard glares. Her eyes widened, and slowly she backed away from them both as she made her way to Fluttershy’s room. They followed with slow, deliberate steps.

 

‘Okay Sabine. Don’t panic.’ She told herself, eyes closing as she quickened her pace. ‘They’re probably mad because the girls were drunk. Right, you haven’t done anything exposing. Wait, have I?’ She paused and thought back to the night before. It was a big, happy blur and a long night of cuddling with a pillow… but nothing exposing. ‘Okay…’ She politely knocked on Fluttershy’s door and turned and turned around, giving the two mares a completely innocent smile. “So… uh… hi!”

 

An animalistic snarl came from Rarity’s throat. “You…” Rarity started.

 

Sabine opened the door, and was quick to slip inside and shut it.

 

You cannot escape justice!” Rarity roared, bowling Applejack over as she bucked the door, the sudden force nearly throwing the door off its hinges.  A second jab threw the door open. “You wretch! You have sullied a good relation-”

 

A small cry interrupted Rarity. Sabine winced, and fixed the lump in the bed with a pitying stare. “Don’t cry Fluttershy, c’mon, I got something that’ll make you feel better.”

 

“P-please…” A tiny voice whispered. Applejack nearly had a heart attack as images of Twilight’s growing horn flashed in front of her. “Anything to end this…”

 

Sabine placed the glass of milk on the nightstand and emptied the contents of the box. Rarity dashed to the foot of the bed, nearly knocking Sbiane over. “Fluttershy! Dearie, what has happened to you!? Are you sick?” She leaned over and lifted the lifted the blanket slightly, exposing her head. The pegasus whimpered in response.

 

Applejack placed a hoof against her forehead. “Yowch, that don’t feel good…”

 

“Move.” Sabine pushed Rarity to the side. She picked up the glass of milk and the odd leaf ball, and angled Fluttershy’s head to face her. “Open your mouth.”

 

 Fluttershy’s eyes shot open as the unpleasantly bitter taste made her taste buds sting. “Here, have a drink, okay, now don’t swallow. Let it break down first and then swallow.” Fluttershy took the glass and chugged it down.

 

Sabine let out a tiny sigh of relief. Before she could complete that action, something gripped the back of her neck. She was dragged backwards as Rarity walked to the door. “Applejack, dear, make sure Fluttershy stays well.”

 

The door to the bedroom closed behind them, Sabine gave Rarity a nervous smile as she was all but dragged across the living room by the unicorn’s magic. “So… hi Rarity, what’s up?” She squeaked as the unicorn tossed her onto her back, glaring snout-to-snout at her.

 

“Do you have ANY idea what you have done!?” Rarity shouted, pointing her hoof in the direction of Twilight’s and Dash’s room. Sabine could feel cold sweat pouring down her neck as she gulped again. Pinkie poked her head out of the kitchen to see what the shouting was about.

 

“D-do I ha-have to guess?” Sabine whimpered, curling her forelegs in front of her chest defensively. Okay, so Twilight did something. Oh… shoot, they didn’t break each other’s hearts, did they?

 

A moments pause. “Did… did Twilight hurt Dash while drunk?”

 

“NO! You drunken little scoundrel! I have spent days watching what could have been a romance of the ages evolve from slight interest to full-blown curiosity and denial, intermingling with precious alone moments where emotions are nearly full to bursting and you!” A hoof poked Sabine’s chest as Rarity’s horn glowed dangerously. “Your little drinking game with Twilight caused her to… caused her to…” Rarity ground her teeth together. “Under your poisonous influence she did patty cakes with Dash!”

 

“…what?” Sabine scrunched up her nose in confusion, and grunted as she was pushed out of the way. Rarity stared into Pinkie’s eyes with confusion, they nearly screamed of joy.

 

“They did!?” Pinkie launched herself into Rarity, knocked the unicorn onto her back and grinning down at her. “This is great, wonderful, fanTASTIC news! Oooh, I can’t believe it! Can you believe it!? I can’t believe it! Twilight’s finally turned in her v-card! I need to go get her a cake to celebrate! Eee!” Pinkie launched herself back into the kitchen, leaving Rarity to lay on the ground, confused.

 

“… Pinkie!” She finally called, getting up with a small shake. “This is not cause for celebration! This is an abomination to romance everywhere!” Rarity turned and stared at Sabine, who could only stare. “Caused by you!

 

“Yeah.” Sabine glanced around and picked herself up. “What’s patty cakes?” She gasped, ducking as a pink rocket nearly collided with her head.

“I’m going out to buy ingredients! Be back soon!” Pinkie Pie called out from the street, leaving the door wide open.

 

Rarity was still glaring at her. She still wasn’t sure what happened, what she did wrong, or whether or not she just really really screwed up her mission, but smiling always helps. So she did.

 

 “Come!” Rarity ordered, turning in a huff to walk to Twilight’s room. “You will apologize to Twilight for making her act indecently!”

 

“Look, I don’t know what happened but can I at least get-” She was interrupted as a magical tether began dragging her, and she sighed heavily. “Am I at least allowed to know what patty cakes are!?”

 

----------

 

Twilight Sparkle had suffered plenty of collisions, plenty of head-aches and stomach-aches, a kick or two, more than a few falls and even some burns and shocks. Not to mention a concussion from a flower pot, then an anvil, and then a baby grand piano. But none of them, ever, compared to this.

 

This was the second time in the span of a month Twilight ever wanted to die.

 

“-an-and Dash… y-you can ha-ave all my b-best adven-venture books, ‘n-and I wa-want you t-to know that I-I love you m-more than anything ‘n-” Her stomach wrenched.

 

“Twilight, just shut up and vomit.” Dash rolled her eyes as she held Twilight’s mane back. Twilight had her head in the toilet bowl. She paused, before heaving in another toss up. It was ugly and disgusting but, hay, her marefriend just admitted to loving her because of it. If this didn’t earn her another kiss when Twilight was all better, she didn’t know what would.

 

“’m so sorry…” Twilight whispered, coughing into the porcelain bowl as Dash held her around the chest. She felt beyond awful. Had something happened last night? Did she eat some really bad cake or something? Did she somehow skip a day of her life?

 

Dash used a hoof to rub her back. She was incredibly cuddly, most of the time- “Blauugh!”

 

Dash sighed, and her hoof went to Twilight’s neck. “Feeling any better?”

“My head…” She flushed the toilet and pressed a towel to her mouth. As she did so, she suddenly found herself unable to turn away from her little pegasus. It was so… adoring. Twilight blushed when she remembered that look was fixed on her, that she was the object of Dash’s attention. She managed a quivering smile. “A li’l…”

 

“Great!” Dash’s grinned from ear to ear, and began nuzzling against the sick lavender pony before her.

 

Twilight stared guiltily into the bowl. This wasn’t fair… she was sick when she could be figuring out why she was suddenly in a relationship. Not that she minded! It was just… sudden. “Um…” She paused as her stomach clenched and a rush of hot air ran up her throat, a warning of things to come.

 

“Twi?” Dash whispered, leaning in close and gingerly rubbing her marefriend’s chest with her hoof. “I really want to thank you for last n-”

 

“Hroaaaagghhck!….” Her head was in the bowl once again.

 

“Yeah, I getcha, it can wait.” So things weren’t ideal right now. That was okay, given a few hours, heck, maybe a day at the most Twilight would be fine. Then they could really get down and start talking, maybe do a little cuddling… a kiss or two. Dash could feel herself heat up, and she had to remind herself she was an adult. She shouldn’t be getting this excited over kissing. She’d seen mares and colts get this hot and jittery over more intimate things, but not kissing!

 

Dash’s mind blanked. She hadn’t even considered that yet… she glanced to Twilight, then to herself, briefly, and shuddered. A small part of her was glad Twilight was too busy making friends with the toilet to see Dash’s discomfort.

 

She blushed as she looked over Twilight’s body in that way. She doubted her little egghead would care even a little for the act. Heck, maybe she never wanted to. That was fine with Dash, she never wanted to be that vulnerable to anypony.

 

“Dash…” Twilight whispered, turning her head slightly to look to the pegasus. Rainbow Dash was staring at the wall with wide eyes, seemingly lost in some weird, ponderous thought that Twilight could only guess at. Then Dash’s grip tightened, and Twilight winced. “Dash!” She called a little louder.

 

“Wha’- huh?” Dash glanced to Twilight, and shook her head to clear her mind of those nasty thoughts. “What’s up?”

 

“Squeezing…” Twilight whimpered, taking a breath to flex her chest a little.

 

“Oh!” Dash let go, and Twilight sighed softly in relief… and promptly vomited again. “Sorry. Uh, hey, can I get you anything? Some water?” Dash asked, wanting to clear her head real quickly.

 

“D-don’t leave me!” Twilight gasped, quickly turning to face her. Dash couldn’t even move her legs if she tried. She was suddenly locked into place, and it didn’t matter what ugly thoughts she was having, Twilight needed her.

 

Dash leaned forward and pressed her head against Twilight’s neck, “Of course I won’t! Don’t worry, I’m here for you.” She leaned up and gently kissed at Twilight’s cheek, making the purple mare turn rosy red underneath her coat.

 

“Thank you…”

 

Both mares turned their heads to look as the bathroom door opened. Sabine carefully took a few steps in, took one look at Twilight, and gave a low whistle. “Oh, man, I have some good timing.”

 

“What do you want?” Dash grunted. Twilight pulled her head away, saying hello to the bowl once again.

 

Sabine paused, glanced behind herself, and sighed. “Nopony’s happy to see me this morning. Don’t you worry!” She walked inside and looked over Twilight carefully, but kept her distance. Blue was being especially defensive. Not to mention close… “I got just the thing!”

 

“The thing for what?” Dash asked, moving to sit between Sabine and Twilight. She looked back at the door when another pony entered.

 

“What our rather intrusive friend is trying to say is that she brought something to make Twilight feel better.” Rarity’s gaze turned from Sabine to Rainbow Dash. The pegasus could’ve swore that her eyes went from hardened-steel to sad-puppy in that instant. “Can you have her lay down?”

 

“Uh, yeah. Just a moment. C’mon Twi.” Dash stood up and helped her lie on her back, then began gently rubbing her stomach.

 

Rarity stared. She couldn’t admit to knowing Dash very well. They spent very little time hanging out together unless it was as a group, or if one needed the others’ particular talents. Yet she’d always had this image of a rough, devil-may-care mare who would take the drill sergeant “if I can do it so can you” approach to handling ponies. She never once considered that Dash could be so-

 

“Don’t you worry about a thing Twi, you’re gonna be all better! Wanna stay in bed today?”

 

Rarity felt her knees knock a little in pure delight Dash returned a sappy, thankful smile from the unicorn. The action followed up with a kiss to her forehead. How could Rainbow Dash of all ponies be considered adorable?!

 

“Rarity?” Sabine stepped around Dash, taking care to not get close enough for it to be deemed “offensive”. She checked Twilight’s eyes, then nodded to the other unicorn. “The cure?”

 

“Ah.” Rarity tore her eyes off Dash’s and Twilight’s moment, and used her magic to carry the small ball of whatever-Sabine-had over to Twilight with a glass of warm milk. Sabine had Twilight open her mouth and keep the awful, dusty, dry, bitter ball of vegetation in her mouth, and then hot milk was poured in to relieve some of the taste.

 

“So, what is this stuff?” Dash finally asked as Twilight gave up fighting the bad taste and did her level best to not throw up. She finally started to gulp as the mass of leaves and twigs softened and flowed down her throat.

 

“Hangover cure.” Sabine answered, laying down next to Twilight and smiling. “I thought you’d need it! She was drinking like crazy last night.”

 

“Oh.” Dash shook her head.

 

“Hmmhumhm hurr?” Twilight hummed through her full mouth.

 

“Yeah. Hangover cure.” Sabine bobbed her head. Rarity finally moved from the door to sit just behind Twilight’s head and keep an eye on things as Sabine continued. “A hangover’s like… it’s basically a kick in the ass for drinking. I don’t really get why it happens, but if you drink too much your head and stomach start to rebel and get mad at you for being a dummy. Lucky us, there’s this herbal crap that helps calm your body down.”

 

Nopony said anything for a few minutes as Twilight laid still on the ground. When she fully opened her eyes and glanced up at her pegasus, she managed a smile.

 

Dash giggled. “It worked.”

 

Twilight sighed, nuzzling Dash. For some reason, this felt like the greatest moment in her life.

 

“Great! Now I need to go check on-” The door slammed shut. Rarity cleared her throat, and Sabine cringed. “Oh come on! You haven’t even told me what I’m supposed to do!”

 

“Apologize!” Rarity ordered, pointing to Twilight. The lavender mare and her blue pegasus gave the two a blank stare.

 

“Ugh.” Sabine rubbed her forehead a little, but sighed and lowered her head. “I’m really sorry Twilight. I should have told you about the hangover. It slipped my mind and I should have remembered…”

 

“Oh, well… It’s okay. I mean, you brought me a cure for it and there’s not much more I can ask for. Heck, I don’t think I’d have even cared last night after those first few drinks.”

 

Sabine smiled, but Rarity cleared her throat even louder. “That is not what I meant.” Rarity snarled, teeth almost grit as she looked between Dash, Twilight, and Sabine.

 

“Oh c’mon Rarity! I apologized for the bad thing already! And you won’t even tell me what patty cakes is! Can I please just-”

 

“No! I think you need to understand that you have- I mean, what she did when she’d come home inebriated thanks to your ‘fun’!” Rarity snorted, and Sabine cocked her head to the side. “Thanks to you, these two and their budding relationship has already been marred the day before they started it!”

 

“… What!?” Sabine rubbed her eyes with her hooves. “What are you talking about!? I brought Twilight home unharmed and she kept her hooves to herself the whole night!” She insisted, but Rarity still glared.

 

“Thanks to you, these two have… the night she came home, Twilight-” Rarity gave Twilight a sad look, “It’s ruined!” Rarity wailed suddenly. “A wonderful, beautiful romance ruined! Ruined I say, because of your activities!” The white unicorn pointed a hoof at the Coltriellan.

 

“Wh-what are you talking about!? Look at them!” Dash and Twilight glanced at each other, and blushed.

 

“Applejack told me everything! She told me about your glee, your shyness, your carelessness with your abilities! She told me all about your conversation, and while I cannot blame you, I am most ashamed that you allowed yourself to have… have sex with Twilight while she was not in the right state of mind!”

 

Dash’s eyebrows nearly went through the roof. Twilight turned bright red, while Sabine looked stunned. “… That’s what patty cakes is!?”

 

“W-we didn’t-” Dash stood up quickly, standing over Twilight almost defensively. They didn’t did they? Where were their hooves last night!? Around their backs, right… Okay, there was no sex! “We definitely did not-”

 

“But!” Rarity reared. “B-but Applejack told me about it this morning! After she saw you in the kitchen, dancing about, doing your little flame dance and giggling like a foal!” Rarity glanced at Twilight, who was covering her mouth with her hooves.

 

“Because we spent all of last night snuggling and kissing!” Dash’s cheeks turned bright red.

 

Snuggling and kissing!?” Rarity’s jaw dropped. “Ah, b-but… she said you…” Rarity held her head in her fore hooves. “You were dancing! You were giggling and stuttering and, and you were so happy and cooking breakfast! Surely you weren’t just-…” Rarity set her hooves down slowly, and stared Dash in the eye. “You really were.” She said almost breathlessly. “You were giddy as a school filly on Hearts and Hooves Day, because of a kiss!?

 

“You… you were ecstatic.” Rarity whispered, staring as Dash squeezed herself to a shocked Twilight. “You were dancing. You, Rainbow Dash, you were dancing and cooking… over a kiss.”

 

Sabine backed herself into a corner. She snorted, and put a hoof to her mouth.

 

“A kiss. Made you giddy. As a school filly.” Rarity whispered again, reverence entering her voice as she stared down at Dash. Rarity gasped, her chest filling with air as a realization hit her. “Dash… Oh my, sweet Celestia, Rainbow Dash!”

 

“Wh-what?” Dash whimpered, risking a glance up at Rarity as her smile filled her vision.

 

“You’re adorable!” Rarity squealed. Dash let out a squeak and burrow her head into Twilight’s chest.

 

“Dash?” Twilight whispered, causing her friend to look to her briefly, face tight with embarrassment. “Is that true? Did me kissing you make you do, well, everything she said?” Twilight asked.

 

Dash tried to hide her face, but Twilight gently lifted her. She looked embarrassed enough to go up in flames. “Y-yes…”

 

Twilight stared into her eyes for a long while, and a strange feeling shot up her neck. She pressed her lips to Dash.

 

The room went deathly quiet. Nopony batted an eye, and not even a stray hair moved as Twilight slowly closed her eyes and relaxed, laying back down as she pulled Dash closer to keep the kiss. It took Dash a full minute to find the willpower to lift her lips away, if even half an inch.

 

“You… hehe, you taste awful…” Dash wiped her mouth with a fore hoof.

 

“Sorry.” Twilight blushed, licking around her mouth, Dash’s taste still lingering, dulling the taste of bitter medicine. “Guess I forgot.”

 

“Yeah.” Dash nipped at Twilight’s cheek softly, making the unicorn giggle. “After a moment, I kinda did too.”

 

Rarity squee’d.

 

----------

 

“Are you alright, Applejack?” She stiffed, the sudden sound snapped her out of her stupor.

 

“Yeah…” Applejack turned her head towards the door. “I just got this weird feelin’…” It felt like a thousand Raritys getting all overly-dramatic about something at the same time. Somehow… somehow this spelled bad news for her. She was going to get an earful of something from her unicorn.

 

“Oh.” Fluttershy nestled into her pillow, and gave her friend a gentle smile. “I feel much better now. Thank you very much Applejack.” Applejack smiled and tucked her in.

Applejack smiled as the bedridden pegasus cracked open an eye. “Is there anything else I can getcha Sugarcube? Feel up to a little breakfast?”

 

“Just a little. Thank you so much.” Applejack gave her a nod.

 

“My pleasure, Sugarcube.” She could smell breakfast going, and something a little… sweeter. Her expression suddenly turned to confusion as she entered the kitchen.

 

Pinkie Pie had just pulled a cake from the oven.

 

“A cake?”

 

“You betcha! It’s a time to celebrate!” Pinkie giggled. “I heard the news from Rarity this morning! I just can’t believe it! It’s so exciting!”

 

“Pardon?” She opted to check the stove, hopefully there was still some breakfast left. Poor Fluttershy. “What’s excitin’?” She frowned. “And what exactly didja hear?”

 

“Oh, you know!” Pinkie beamed at Applejack. “Just that Twilight and Dashie turned in their one-time offer, satisfaction guaranteed v-tickets to each other for a night of wonderful fantabulous fun!” Pinkie snorted as she giggled, and Applejack covered her face with her hoof.

 

“Ugh! Pinkie!” Applejack stared in disappointment at her bouncy. She gave an irritated sigh. “This ain’t a reason ta celebrate! This is Twi’s first relationship, and Dash’s first serious one! They just got rushed into a life changin’ thing ‘cause of that no-good-”

 

“Applejack!” Rarity’s voice rang from the hallway, and the farm mare paused to cock her ear. “Applejack, dear, where are you?” There was no mistaking it: undeniable excitement sugar-coated Rarity’s every word, and she wasn’t about to guess why.

 

“In the kitchen, hon! Pinkie’s here too, makin’ a cake…” She muttered, glancing to Pinkie as the party mare started squirting blue and purple frosting along the edges of the cake. When Applejack turned back to face the doorway, she hardly had any time to register Rarity flying at her. She grunted with the impact, the sudden force knocking the wind out of her.

 

“Oh tis the eve of a beautiful romance! We come together with love in our eyes!” Rarity squeaked, pulling the earth pony into a tight bear hug. She then proceeded to giggle into her ear.

 

“Rare!” Applejack poked her tummy with a hoof. The unicorn leapt off her, her face flushed. “What’s gotten int’a you?”

 

Rarity sighed. “Oh, just a little love in the air is making me all tingly! I found out exactly why Rainbow Dash was so happy this morning!” Rarity hopped in place and squealed like a little filly.

 

Applejack worked her jaw for a moment. “Wasn’… Wasn’t it ‘cause Twi came and did the deed with her?”

 

“Why yes!” Rarity clapped her forehooves together, earning a confused look from the farmpony. “They most certainly did do the deed, if that deed was a loving, passionate kiss that absolved our poor, dear Rainbow Dash’s nightmares and laid her feelings to rest!” Rarity shuddered as she let out a breathless whimper, and her eyes sparkled with romantic hope.

 

Applejack choked on her own word. She offered a nervous chuckle. “Ye’re kiddin’ me, right Rare? Dash was that bouncy over a kiss? Ya can’t possibly-”

 

“You should have been there.” She grinned. “The trust in their eyes, the sparks that flew when Twilight kissed her, their oh-so-cheesy lovey-dovey talk… it truly is a romance of the ages.”

 

“Oh…” Applejack rubbed her forehead with her hoof. “If that’s all it is, then, well, perhaps I should apologize to Sabine fer thinkin’ she was, y’know…” She gasped as Rarity wrapped a foreleg around her neck and lead her for the door.

 

“That, my love, can wait! I have witnessed two sweet mares in the throes of romance and I am beyond excited.” Rarity leaned over and whispered into Applejack’s ear. “I’m ready for our little morning play-date.”

 

Pinkie, forgotten by the counter, watched as Applejack’s face slowly shifted from cautious embarrassment to brimming excitement.

 

She turned her head back to the cake and began thinking. If Twilight and Dashie weren’t the ones who’d had their moment, then… Pinkie finished squeezing out the lettering and smiled. “Congratulations Applejack!”

 

----------

 

Fluttershy’s leg shook as she tried to put weight on it. A moment later and her strength seemed to return. Smiling slightly, she dragged herself out of bed. Whatever Sabine had made her eat had worked wonders, and she felt like she could go through the day now.

 

She walked to the bathroom and pressed a hoof to the door. Her expression dropped slightly, a string of giggling told her she’d have to wait. She wondered what got Rarity so giddy this morning?

 

She found Pinkie in the kitchen. “Good morning.” She called, a little more power in her voice than usual.

 

“Oh! Hi!” Pinkie waved to her while bouncing in place. “Feeling better?” She asked, bouncing across the kitchen.

 

“Much, thank you. I’m sorry if I was a little difficult.” Fluttershy scuffed at the floor with her huff, but a tiny nuzzle from her bright pink friend alleviated her worries.

 

“I’m sorry I shook you awake! If I had known…” Pinkie wrapped her hooves around her neck.

 

“It’s okay Pinkie.” Fluttershy giggled. She couldn’t be mad at her friend for wanting to wake her up for breakfast. Now that she was up and about and everything felt better, breakfast sounded marvelous. So did a martini, but that would have to wait a long time. “I would love something to eat though.”

 

“Then you’re just in luck!” Pinkie hopped back to her pans and smiled as she smelled the food. “It’s almost ready! Give me five minutes and I’ll give you plenty of yummy, nummy, face-stuffingly amazing things to eat!”

 

“That sounds amazing Pinkie. Thank you very much.”

 

Fluttershy turned to go sit at the table, but found herself locking eyes with Rainbow Dash. “Morning Fluttershy!” Dash called without hesitation. Fluttershy froze as mixed feelings ran through her, but she quickly shoved them out of the way. She offered a genuine smile to her oldest and best friend.

 

“Good morning Rainbow Dash. You’re looking very good today.” Fluttershy mouthed her own words. “Oh, I mean, you usually look good, but it’s nice to see you smile.” This past week, with how serious things had been, seeing Dash actually happy in the morning was a good sign she was improving.

 

“I had an amazing morning.” Dash sighed. Her expression suddenly dropped, and pressed a hoof to her face. “Oh gross, you smell worse than Twilight!”

 

“Oh, sorry…” She tried to hide her blush behind her mane, only for her to get a full whiff of it. She smelled like sweat, alcohol, and sand. Her face reddened. “I meant to clean up, but, well, Rarity has the bathroom at the moment…”

 

Dash laughed, swatting her backside with her tail, earning a squeak from the other pegasus. “Well hay, if that’s the case you might as well come use ours. Twilight should be out of the bath by now.”

 

“Oh, th-thank you.” Fluttershy said as she followed. The bathroom door was closed, but judging by the humming Twilight was out of the water. “So, how amazing was your morning?”

 

Dash giggled. “You won’t believe it! I- I don’t know how it happened - well I kinda do! - but… but Twilight and I are finally together!”

 

Fluttershy’s legs nearly gave out. The shock of finding out, so suddenly and so soon hurt more than she’d expected, and her hangover was no longer the thing that hurt the most. Her heart felt like it had been crushed, and she had to turn her head away from Dash. “Y-you are?” A small tear formed her eye, which she promptly wiped away with a hoof.

 

Dash turned her head to glance at Fluttershy, her expression suddenly fell. “Um, yeah. This morning…” She took a step towards the her, and Fluttershy stepped back. “Fluttershy, what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing…” She hated herself for how jealous she felt. She knew this was coming, she and Sabine had even talked about it in length. It was just so soon, so sudden… she felt her jaw quiver, and she swallowed her own self-loathing.

 

She could not hate Dash for this. As much as her heart told her that her oldest friend had betrayed her, undermined her feelings, and took away something precious from her, she had to reason with herself this was not the case. Since returning from their capture they had been acting different. Twilight belong to Dash, she knew that, even if she always sort of held onto that tiny inkling of hope…

 

She sucked in a deep breath. Rainbow Dash, her oldest and boldest friend, did not deserve any hate. As much as it pained Fluttershy to do so, as much as every part of her body rebelled, she gently leaned over and pressed her forehead to Dash’s neck, and hid her face. “I’m very happy for you and Twilight.” She said, her mouth feeling dry.

 

Something heavy rested on her head, and a protective hoof wrap around her back. She grit her teeth, and relaxed as Dash comforted her. “What’s wrong, Fluttershy?” It clearly took some effort for Dash to keep herself calm. She was probably panicking over her right now…

 

“I-it’s nothing.” Fluttershy insisted, and took a shallow breath in. “I’m happy for you two…” She needed to relax. This would hurt less later, her head knew that, but the rest of her body was telling her this was the end. She could be happy for Rainbow Dash. She just had to keep telling herself that they were meant to be, and she herself could remain content with being Twilight’s friend.

 

“You can’t lie to me, Fluttershy.” Dash nudged her, trying to catch her eye, but Fluttershy refused to look. “C’mon Fluttershy, what’s the matter?”

 

Before Fluttershy could shoot her down again, the bathroom door opened. Both girls looked up as Twilight stepped out, wearing a fluffy bath robe, her hair twisted and done up in a cute bun. “Hey, Dash, I was looking at the book and-” She spotted the looks on both girls’ faces, and quickly walked over. “Dash? Fluttershy? What’s the matter?”

 

“Something’s got Fluttershy down.” Dash shrugged a little and teased the shy mare’s wings, but Fluttershy quickly retracted them. “C’mon Fluttershy, you can tell us…”

 

Fluttershy buried her snout into Dash’s neck, and tensed when Twilight slid in to nuzzle against her side. “N-no I c-can’t…” She choked as her two friends, one whom her body told to hate with every ounce of her being, and the other whom she wanted more than anything else in the world, held her between them.

 

“Dash?” Twilight whispered. “Can you go get some breakfast? I’m going to clean Fluttershy up.” There was a few moments of hesitation, but Dash finally nodded.

 

“Yeah yeah, sure. Be right back.” Dash promptly released Fluttershy, and shut the bedroom door behind her as she left. Fluttershy managed to look up to meet Twilight’s eyes, but the unicorn wasn’t looking, she was leading the way to the bathroom.

 

Twilight kept the door open a crack and nudged Fluttershy to the tub, where she began to run water from the faucet. A simple spell heated the water up as she went and got her brush.

 

Fluttershy watched with her snout pointed at the water, shame filling her as she realized how foolish she must have looked. It was obvious something was wrong, but there was no way she could tell her right now… She winced and let out a low whimper as telekinetically scooped water drenched her hair, body, and wings. Twilight ran the brush trough her mane, and she fought back a squeak.

 

Twilight calmly began working out her knots. “Will you please tell me what’s wrong?” Fluttershy winced. As the unicorn tried to catch her eye, she turned to face the wall.

 

“It’s nothing…” Fluttershy whispered. This was supposed to be okay. She wanted this sort of closeness with Twilight, she just wished it wasn’t because she was so hurt…

 

“Hey, I got some scrambled eggs and stuff from Pinkie.” She heard Dash’s voice as the door was opened. It was also full of worry, like she was the problem here.

 

Dash wasn’t the problem, she couldn’t be. “Nng…” Fluttershy straightened her wet wings out and flapped them in agitation. She heard a small yelp, and quickly glanced over to Twilight and Dash. They were both wiping their faces, and Fluttershy bit her lip. “I-I’m sorry! I’m so sorry…” She glanced back at the water. “I didn’t mean to screw things up…”

 

“Screw what up? It’s just a little water.” Dash said. Fluttershy refused to meet her eyes. Part of her wanted to kindle this small, shallow anger and wallow in her own sorrow, but she knew if she looked up and faced her, if she looked into her eyes and saw her concern, she wouldn’t be able to hate Dash, not even a little. She would break down crying if she did because, no matter what, she knew she couldn’t change this. Not just because they were such good friends, but because Fluttershy couldn’t bring herself to harm Dash or Twilight in any way, even emotionally. “Fluttershy? Please?” A strong hoof ran down her back. “What’s the matter?”

 

“N-nothing…” Again. They knew. They could tell. She was such an awful liar.

 

“Fluttershy, this isn’t ‘nothing’.” Twilight began to work her tail with the brush now. “Please tell us. We want to help you.”

 

Fluttershy sniffled a little. “N-no, it’s nothing… that’s all it is…”

 

“Don’t give me that crap Fluttershy!” Dash slammed a hoof against the side of the tub. “We’re your friends! You can tell us anything! We’re here to help you…” Dash shook a little, but calmed when Twilight gently leaned against her.

 

“You can’t help me!” Fluttershy’s voice raised, only a little, but it was just enough to stun the other two girls. “You just can’t…” Her voice lowered once more, and she stared down into the water again.

 

Dash opened her mouth, but Twilight nudged her softly. Their eyes met. Twilight’s were filled with worry. Dash looked like she was about to start yelling.

 

 Twilight took a deep breath. “Fluttershy.” She placed a hoof on her back. The pegasus didn’t move. “Fluttershy, look at me, please? Just for a second?”

No, that would make her feel worse. She wanted to just be alone for a while, however she could, but Twilight’s voice was magnetic. If she didn’t look, they would just worry more. If they worried more… Fluttershy sniffled, and slowly lifted her chin to look into Twilight’s eyes.

 

Soft, blue regret. That was all Twilight could read in those eyes. A self-loathing strong enough to drag Fluttershy down somewhere dark. Twilight hated that look. It was so disturbing to see it on her friend’s face, or anypony’s face, but most of all on Fluttershy’s. If there was one pony in the world who didn’t deserve any amount of loathing, even from herself, it was Fluttershy. Twilight’s mouth felt thick with cotton, but after swallowing a few times, she moved her hoof over to gently lift Fluttershy’s chin. She took a deep breath. “Can I take you drinking tonight?”

 

Fluttershy’s eyes widened, and she shuddered, even in the warm water. “Hn?” She stared into Twilight’s eyes. Twilight looked sincere about her offer, no hint of mischief of excitement.

 

“Last night…” Twilight gave a low chuckle, and leaned in. “You were amazing last night.” Fluttershy’s cheeks lifted from sorrow to surprise. “The way you spoke, what we talked about, how loud you got… wow, Fluttershy. Last night, you were really happy and confident. Can we do that again?”

 

Dash nosed in a little, taking up some of Fluttershy’s view. “All of us?” Dash added, watching Fluttershy with concern.

 

Fluttershy felt a twinge of anger at Dash’s intrusion, but she ignored it. She was concerned, that was all. Fluttershy could understand, even with how pathetic she was acting. Though… Twilight had a point. Last night, all her problems seemed to slip away. She spoke. She shouted. She held a conversation. She had been happy…

 

If they went drinking again tonight, though, they’d have Dash. Could she handle that? “I…” She gulped, and met their eyes. They both looked hopeful, even through their own sadness. “I guess we can.”

 

Even if tonight turned out to be a train wreck, and she, for whatever reason, ended up regretting even taking one sip when the time came, it was worth it to see the smile on Twilight’s face.

 

----------

 

Today was going to be an ugly, painful day.

Sadi slipped out of bed, careful not to move too fast or too suddenly. The front of her forehead ached, as did every joint in her body. Her stomach, despite being full of tea and a light stew, felt like a rock had been dropped in it.

She messaged her head with a forehoof. Her stupid doctors did everything they possibly could to relieve the pain and cure her, but so far they were stretching it. The only thing they could ever agree on was bed rest, and between it came spoonfuls of awful tasting medicines ranging from the latest top-of-the-line bacteria-flushing medicine - which just a really fancy way of saying they'd made a laxative.

She hated doctors. When they weren't being totally incompetent they insisted on poking, prodding, and keeping her as uncomfortable as possible while they were around. All she wanted these days was Sabine, she could make their esteemed princess feel better at least.

Her head turned to her dress closet. Try and contort herself into one of those? No thank you. Her guests would simply have to understand their princess was in no mood for fineries today. At the very least, though, she could stand a bath.

She took the silver bell by the door and gave it a small ring. Within seconds she was being escorted by two attendants to her own washroom. She blearily stared at the activity around her as the few ponies she called on ran the water, added in the scents and the oils, and carefully helped her in.

The water felt good. Not just good, really good. Here, she could forget all her troubles. Here, she was at peace. The pain in her head was… almost bearable.

 

 She winced when the towel mare knocked on the door. Grudingly, she allowed her attendants to lift her, carefully lean her to the side into one's embrace while the other used a delicate scrub-brush to clean out her coat. The mare she was leaning against was warm at least, and the colt scrubbing her was well-trained to be as delicate and soothing as a masseur. She relaxed slightly, vaguely aware of her mind drifting off into nothingness.

The palace stood before her, deathly quiet. The stairs had caved in, as if a giant had stepped on them, her personal tower annihilated, while the palace underneath it cracked and crumbled underneath growing fires.

High in the air, a Golding dragon hovered above the wreckage. There was a figure on it, a mare, with a light blue coat and a rainbow mane and tail, shouting something about Twilight Sparkle. The rainbow mare flew away, and Sadi's eyes followed her until she couldn't see her through the blaze that had overtaken Coltriella.

At her hooves laid Sabine, being carefully held by a mare she did not know in a server's outfit. Sabine whispered something, an apology, and the mare held her tighter.

There was a noise. Even muffled by the limits of her vision, the noise made her shake and tremble in terror. She could not describe it. A dragon's roar, a mare's scream, a pony's whinny, and some unknown groan that put out the very stars in the sky. Sadi looked over the first wall of Coltriella to see the horizon had been set ablaze, and whatever had made the noise was completely obscured by the setting sun.

It made that ghastly noise again, and sand blew from all around it from the force of its despair. It took a step, and the outer wall of Coltriella was obliterated. It took another step, and the sixth ring of Coltriella was turned to dust. Then it took a third step, raised its chin high to the air, and screamed.

Sadi's eyes widened, and her head rattled until the mare she was leaning against stopped shaking her. "Sadi?" The attendant whispered, and Sadi quickly looked up to meet her eyes. She regretted the sudden movement, and grit her teeth as her head blazed in pain. She nearly gored the poor mare as she pressed her forehead against her chest, and despite the other mare’s discomfort, the servant didn’t move.

The colt who had been washing her rested a cold rag on her forehead, dulling the pain after a few moments. Images of the vision flickered before her eyes whenever she closed them, mostly of the obscure thing that had destroyed her home. She could recall nothing about it except its face.

Paint had blazed in the creature’s eyes. She had never seen anything so broken before. It hurt. It hurt to even think about it. As the world came back to her she became vaguely aware of her surrounding, of the cold chills running down her spine. Also, she had been hyperventilating.

 

She pressed her face into the mare's chest again. Her stomach lurched, and she grit her teeth to keep her breakfast down. "W-what-" Sadi hissed. "What did I say?"

She detected a hint of nervousness in the air, and the two attendants above her glanced at each other. "Y-you said what you always say when you sleep, Sadi."

"The rhyme." The colt said, watching his princess groan. "You just kept whispering the rhyme..."

"Was it any different?" Sadi whispered as she slid her eyes shut.

Pain. Anger. Hatred. Despair. It stared at her. It stared at Sabine. It stared at the unknown serving mare. It stared at all of Coltriella, and cried.

"It was faster this time." The mare answered very softly, as if afraid.

"I could barely make out the words." The colt said, pressing himself to the floor and making himself as small as possible. "I'd thought you'd gone mad."

Sadi looked between her two servants, and grit her teeth as she hoisted herself up out of the mare's grip to lean against the back of the bathtub. "I must be." Sadi sighed, and lifted her forelegs. The two attendants glanced to each other, and grabbed brushes to continue her cleaning. "I hope you're right Sabine..."

----------

"- and with a puff of smoke, the little showboat ran with her tail tucked between her legs!"

Twilight ignored the gasps of delight behind her, and with a gentle glow of her horn flipped the page of the book in front of her.

 

Ardennian magic draws its power from the power from strong emotions, this has lead to the stigma of most Ardennian unicorns to be impulsive and violent. Powerful and ambitious unicorns were feared more than any other of Ardennia's inhabitants. That fear became instrumental in many unicorns rise to high positions of authority. Through a vicious cycle, that fear eventually stemmed not only to those in power, but to even the most humble of unicorns.

As the fears of the pubic continued to increase, Belezia gathered her most trusted associates to draft a formal schooling system. One with a focus on teaching advanced magic as well as personal restraint. The ruling bodies did not see the school for what it was, but as a potential coup. As a result several attempts have been made on her life, and the possibility for a school was no more. This was the start of the infamous Ardennian genocide.

The exact number of unicorns killed is still unknown to this day. What is known is that Belazia had escaped. Coltriella's small magical resource now thrives thanks to her teachings, and despite some pressuring and reassurances from the current leader of Ardennia, Belezia chose to remain in Coltriella to protect and empower its unicorns and her beloved new home.

"Ahem, pardon me? My Queen?" Twilight's ear twitched at Rarity's voice. She groaned, glaring at the seamstress. Her expression soon feel however as she noticed the small assemble of unicorns looking at her. The awe-filled expressions on their faces were beginning to make her feel uncomfortable, yet at the same time slightly amusing.

"Yes m'lady?" Twilight answered with a smirk. Rarity chuckled, taking Twilight’s book from her, and much to the lavender mare’s annoyance, slammed it shut. "I know you love your reading but really! You should be the one telling these stories! Your fans have so many questions!"

Twilight looked over her little ‘club.’ Some of their clothing had a few more streaks of purple and white than yesterday. She stood up and stretched her legs. "Is that right?"

"Yes!" A young Belezian nodded her head, levitating a paper and writing stick. "I know Sul will be ready for you soon, but there's so much we want to know!"

"Well okay then. What would you like to know?" Twilight put on a faux smile. The moment those words left her mouth, the room burst into a chorus of questions.

 

She took a step back, laughing nervously. Wracking her brain for something, anything, to restore order she raised a hoof. Much to her surprise, they stopped talking. "Let's start with you." She pointed to the far left unicorn.

"When you faced down the Ursa Minor, were you scared?" He asked, holding up his own set of notes.

Twilight couldn't help but smile at the question. "Of course I was, that Ursa Minor was one of the biggest things I'd ever seen! But..."

She'd never thought she'd be in this position before, telling ponies all the little details about her accomplishments, and watching their faces rise in fall in joy and terror. It was embarrassing, but the unicorn thought she was getting better at it.

After awhile the unicorn couldn’t help but wonder if she was putting too much effort into her answers. "- but no, the Gala wasn't as bad for me. I didn't get much of a chance to speak to Princess Celestia but I at least got to be with her, and in the end, I got to be with all of my friends and the Princess!" Twilight beamed, and the ten Belezians whispered among themselves as they wrote. "Are there any more questions?"

 

One of the older males at back of the room was nervously glancing around. He slowly raised a hoof, but then hesitated and started to put it back down. ‘Too late.’ Twilight choked back on a giggle. “You, at the end."

 

Everypony paused to look at him, and the horror ran clear across his face. Twilight smirked. "Don't be shy, I'm not going to bite."

He face turned an adorable shade of crimson as he nervously steadied himself. His eyes flickered from his hooves to Twilight's face, and it took him a moment to speak up. "Have..." He swallowed. "Have you ever loved somepony?"

Twilight blinked. She could’ve swore she felt her own face heating up. "Well." Twilight started, unable to keep herself from smiling. "Yes." Her eyes briefly slipped to Rarity. The white unicorn giggled, then nudged Twilight to keep talking. "A very lovely, unique mare."

The colt nodded slowly, his eyes flickering about as he spoke up again. "A-and she loves you back?"

Twilight hesitated to answer. It seemed obvious from the way they connected this morning, the way she had... Twilight's face burned red, and Rarity fell into a fit of giggles beside her as Twilight imagined the kiss again, the one she had so tactfully vomitted all over. "I suppose so."

"Don't be so modest dear!" Rarity grinned energetically. She gave Twilight and affectionate nuzzle, earning a squeak from the lavender mare. "Is there any doubt anymore?"

Twilight starred very intently at the floor, trying to avoid the gazes of her little fan club. Still, she could only smile at Rarity's reassurance. No... everything had been perfect this morning. She knew she had her feelings figured out. Even now, preparing herself for today's lesson, whenever her thoughts slipped to Dash, her stomach fluttered and her lips ached just to find her little pegasus. She still wasn't sure how it happened, but in her pounding waves of her chest she didn't care in the slightest.

"She loves me just as much as I love her." Twilight nodded her head.

There was a soft gasp from her crowd, and her whole body started to glow red under her coat. "How did you tell her...?" The male asked again, his gaze stuck firmly to a certain door.

"Well." Twilight rubbed the back of her neck, and some whispered encouragement from Rarity made her chuckle. Twilight remembered the first time she told Dash that she loved her, and hid a laugh. "Okay, see, she was holding my mane back while I was throwing up in the toilet..."

"Twilight!" Rarity gasped, then burst out laughing as the Belezians, as one, cocked their heads.

"'Cause the night before a friend took me out drinking, and I got really really drunk!"

"That is quite enough!" Rarity gave Twilight a playful push, and Twilight pushed back with a giant smile as the Belezians' jaws dropped.

"And this morning I had a huge hangover, and I pretty much confessed in-between begging her to kill me and tossing up everything."

"Don't give them bad ideas, Twilight. Sul will kill us both!" Rarity fought to keep her balance laughing as the Belezians... the Belezians were writing.

"So, you told her this morning?" The male asked, encouraged, and Twilight bobbed her head.

"To be honest, she sort of told me first." Twilight admitted with a smile. "She woke me up with breakfast in bed, then kissed me, and, well, I kind of knew then."

"So..." The nervous Belezian looked at the door again and blushed. "A kiss then?"

"Well, it got my attention." Twilight chuckled nervously. She stopped when the unicorn stumbled over to the door and knocked twice. It opened, and a male servant poked his head out.

"Yes sir-!?" he squeaked as the unicorn ignored his question and kissed him. He then awkwardly pushed them both inside, slamming the door behind him.

The nine remaining Belezians all had the exact same look of dawning realization, and then excitedly whispered among themselves. Rarity gave Twilight a wink and a nudge of pride. "Look at you. Three hours into a relationship and you're already encouraging romance! You do me proud."

"Isn't that Applejack's job?" Twilight muttered dryly, and began to stride towards the lifts to see if Sul was ready for them yet.

Rarity stared after Twilight with a stunned look. "Di-did you just-"

The lift lowered, revealing the tall, mint-green archmage of the city. She quietly surveyed the room, and after a long pause, sighed. "You're riling up my little ones again."

"So sorry, lady Sul, but your little ones had quite a few questions for our dear Queen." Rarity's flank nudged Twilight's, and Twilight let out a groan.

"Of course they did. Well, I am ready for your instruction now. Please." Sul stepped to the side, and two joined her in the lift.

Twilight thought back to the book she'd been reading. The book Dash had bought for her. The book Dash had bought for her. Twilight heated up again, and she couldn't hide her silly grin, but fought it for her own mind's sake. She thought back to what she'd been reading. Not who had bought it, or why, or the promptness and the sweetness of the gesture and how much she wanted to smooch- The book. She had been reading. And the things. In the book!

She hadn't gotten past the history chapter yet but she was already learning enough information to make even the Princesses curious! The emotional magic they were being taught was Ardennian, and this Belezia mare simply modified it and taught it when she moved to Coltriella. It was hard not to have questions. "Sul?"

"Yes, Twilight?" Sul answered without looking down as she lead the way towards the instruction room.

"I've been reading on the history of Coltriellan magic and I was wondering, did you know Belezia?"

Sul paused, and then chuckled. She continued to walk, a little more mirth in her steps. "Well I would certainly hope so. Belezia is my Ardennian name."

Twilight and Rarity both paused in step, but then quickened their pace to keep up with Sul. "You're Belezia?" Rarity repeated, and Sul nodded. "But everypony here calls you Sul!"

The tree mares steps off the lift. "In Coltriella, it is considered an honor to have a title. Titles are usually earned through military, through rank, or through deed. Ha'Jin'Vega, for instance, is the High General, so it is a part of her name. To'Ao'Coltriella is, in fact, the Ao of Coltriella. My title is Sul'o'Amnitanus. We use them in place of our names so everypony knows what we have done or what we do."

"Soul of the Animated..." Twilight whispered to herself in thought.

Rarity looked a little perturbed, but a few things clicked in her head. "I see. In Equestria, your birth name is considered more important than your title... no matter how flashy it is." Her expression dropped, she liked being called 'Lady Rarity'.

"In Coltriella, your position is considered more important, especially if it's one that earns you a title." Twilight looked at the course set out for them, a single large metal hoop, which she could only guess at its purpose.

"So how did you earn your title?" Rarity asked as Sul grabbed a cactus apple from a nearby table. She took with her magic and smiled softly.

"I got it from my father." She took a bite and grabbed a couple more, placing them before the two mares.

"Oh!" Twilight spoke up, smiling a little. "I get it. You were good at 'come to life' spells in Ardennia, right?"

Sul's warm little chuckle got them both confused, and she shook her head. "Actually, no. I was terrible at animation spells. Even today it's my worst discipline. The best I can do is a levitation spell to pretend the object is moving by itself."

Twilight frowned in confusion, and Rarity spoke up first. "Then how did you get that title? Was your father just being ironic?"

"Oh, no, father was quite straight-forward." Sul's smile disappeared for a moment. "If you couldn't earn your title based on skill or legend, you could always kill a title-holder for their's." She took out a scroll from the wall, ignoring the looks she was getting from the two.

"B-But Sul..." Twilight's stomach pitted. "Your own father?"

"Hm." Sul answered in a quiet grunt as she unrolled the paper. "Yes. My father. Quite a man. An excellent magister. He taught me everything I knew, raised me to be something of an icon, a beacon of power to the other unicorns of Ardennia. He was respected and admired for his powerful and unique magic. As the original Sul'o'Amnitanus, he was an excellent leader to the unicorn population of Ardennia."

"But you killed him!" Rarity accused, eyes wide. She took an unsteady step back as Sul approached, laying the scroll in front of her.

Twilight couldn't imagine murdering her own father. He was such a kind, loving stallion, and he made her childhood so comfortable. "... Why?" She whispered.

"In every young pony's life, there is a point where they begin to question their parents' views and ideas about the world." Sul calmly looked them both in the eye. "My father planned to rule Ardennia and make it a unicorns' paradise. Kings and Queens were to be trampled underhoof while unicorn-centric monarchs took what they wanted. Earth ponies and pegasi alike were to be forced under the rule of a bunch of emotional children-"

 

Sul paused to watch their faces slowly turn to understanding, and Sul nodded to herself. "I took part in the first raid on a local kingdom, thinking it would be a bloodless coup that it would help secure the first part of the plan to bring Ardennia under a single, powerful ruler. Yet when I marched through the streets...” Her expression hardened. “I went to tell my father about how out of control his soldiers were, only to find him forcibly copulating with the king's daughter. Right over the lord's corpse."

 

Her gaze drifted to the glass dome above them. "So I killed him. As well as every unicorn that damn well deserved it. I took care of the princess while trying to reorganize the unicorn movement into something more peaceful. But when word got out about the king, well... you know the rest."

Twilight rubbed her front leg in embarrassment. "I-I'm sorry. I just assumed-"

"It's nothing to concern yourself with. This was a long time ago."

"What about the princess you rescued?" Rarity frowned. This sort of thing... it simply didn't happen in Equestria. She didn't know if it was the magic, the Princesses, or the stability of the land, but murder, rape, and coups were more like story elements than historical fact.

"I brought her here, took care of her. Watched over the kid my rotten father made with her, watched her die from childbirth, watched the kid grow, took care of his kid when he and his wife were killed in the war..." She trailed off thoughtfully as she watched the two mares. They had a small look of relief, and Sul felt a bit herself. "It just became a bit of a cycle. Though I suppose that may end soon. I doubt I'll live long enough to see my own grand nephew/niece."

"Oh don't be so pessimistic!" Rarity smiled and walked forward a few steps, nudging Sul's leg affectionately. The old mare smiled just a little bit. "You still look good and young! I'm sure you'll get to see a new generation born, just as kind and noble as you."

Sul paused. She thought back through her life, the mistakes she made, the lies she believed in, and the children she raised so they would not fall to the same problems... Rarity seemed to believe she was a good mare though. She had caused a lot of problems as a younger mare, but perhaps... perhaps she was making up for it. "I sincerely hope you are correct. Speaking of training a new generation, let's turn our attention to the next lesson, shaping and controlling the air..."

Peace was the key word here. Air was the embodiment of free will. It did not simply bow to any pony. It required a push, a guide to lead it down the right path. Creating wind was all good and well, but contorting it to your own desires was an exercise in and of itself. Air escaped its hold quickly, and in its own way, warned the rest of itself where to avoid. Grabbing air was as difficult as it sounded. Guiding and shaping it took calm, fine-tuned control.

'The opposite of yesterday.' Twilight noted as she watched Rarity turn a portion of air into a razor-sharp blade that struck her portion of cactus apple.

 

"Wow Rarity..." Twilight whispered in slight awe as she eyed the deep crevice the air blade had made in the fruit. It didn't go all the way through the cactus apple, but the cut was deep and clean. It would cause quite a gash in pony flesh... Twilight winced at that thought. She hated to think this would be something they'd use against other ponies...

"Very very well done for a first try." Sul spoke up with a greatly encouraged tone, impressed as she lifted up the fruit with her magic. "Rarity, your mind is as sharp as knife. Excellent focus. The only thing you are lacking is power." She glanced down to Rarity. "It is important to conserve energy, but you must also put in enough to complete the task at hand." In Sul's hold, the cut cactus apple split into two, then was quartered, then turned into eighths without much effort. She stuck one portion in her mouth and chewed, and presented one to Rarity.

Her attention drifted back to Twilight. "Just I instructed Rarity. Keep your mind clear, but open. Take control of the wind and focus it into a point while guiding it through your apple. Don't make it stop or change direction for any reason."

In that moment, Sul noticed a floating envelope in front of her. A quick look at the front showed no address, no name, nothing. Sul briefly wondered who could have sent it, then noticed it was of lower-class quality. She nodded and opened it, and unfolded the letter for a read.

Auntie,

Just letting you know that Sadi will be seeing Twilight today. I'll be there to make sure there are no mishaps. Please don't keep her for too long, I don't know when Sadi will be ready for her.

'This early?' Sul wondered to herself. Sadi was supposed to be bed-ridden. Somehow she doubted To'Ao would be told about this. She shook her head, letting out a small sigh. If word of the Equestrians' mission had gotten to her, she'd no doubt jump to help out as soon as possible, no matter what condition she was in. Still, she was somewhat sad that Twilight and Rarity would be able to leave so early. It was quite a visit...

BAM.

Sul glanced up quickly to the two unicorns she was teaching. Twilight and Rarity both had their shocked faces speckled by red fruit, both standing by the table which had been tipped onto its side. Sul was... not surprised. "Twilight, what did I saw about focus and precision?"

"... Yes Sul..." Twilight sighed, righting the table and grabbing another fruit. Rarity moved to go stand behind Sul.

----------

"Dash, wouldja just hold still!?" The heavy practice sword cleaved through the air, narrowly missing the speedy pegasus. Applejack growled as she felt the tip of Dash's wooden short sword jab her in an opening in the Coltriellan armor she was wearing, right into the back of her leg.

"Nope!" Dash leapt over Applejack, as the blonde turned with a quick side swipe. Before Dash could retaliate, Applejack bucked her legs backwards, but only caught air as Dash slipped backwards. Applejack turned rapidly, and Dash leapt backwards again to avoid the wooden sword.

The pegasus grinned, the farm mare hadn't gotten a single blow on her yet! Dash was focused on making sure it stayed that way, but AJ was getting more and more aggressive.

She was also getting sloppy. The farmpony put everything she had into her swings, trying to land even one little mark on Dash, but the pegasi had no trouble leaping around her and getting around each blow.

"That's enough dancing Blue! More offense!" Vega roared from across the field, turning her head away quickly to deflect a swipe from Pinkie Pie. "Good, close in when your opponents are distracted." She whispered around her weapon while shoving Pinkie back.

Dash slid behind Applejack when the latter slipped on a discarded sword sheath, and had to duck underneath her friend's backlegs as they went up above her head. "What the hay are y'all waitin' for?" Applejack demanded as she turned.

Dash deflected the practice sword sweeping for her chest, then chuckled as Applejack reared up with her front hooves to bring them down onto Dash. Seeing her opportunity, Dash slid underneath Applejack, pressed her head against the farm mare's stomach, and shoved upwards. Applejack squealed as she was sent onto her front hooves, and Dash slid out from underneath her.

"Ya consartin' cheatin' hidey-hoovin' li'l snake in the grass!" Applejack shouted, but had to readjust the sword hilt in her mouth, then froze up as she felt the wooden sword tip drive into her rump. She whirled around with a loud squeal while Dash laughed. "Foul! Foul!"

"It was not a foul! Your big flabby butt is totally fair game!" Dash wiggled her eyebrows mockingly as Applejack snorted in rage at her rival's massive smile. "Stop wiggling it in my face so much and maybe I won't go poking at it!"

"If y'all'd stop leapin' and slippin' 'round me maybe y'all wouldn't see my flank so much ya cheatin' no good weasel!" Applejack immediately butt heads with Dash. Dash's grin matched Applejack's snarl. "If this were a real fight I wouldn'a be so polite and woulda plowed yer hind int'a the ground!"

Dash snorted loudly. "You couldn't buck a grape vine in the wind you're so slow! I'm just taking advantage of how dumb you're being to whoop you and you're making this easy!"

"I ain't dumb, I'm gettin' pissed that ye're bein' such a li'l sneak!"

"Maybe you just suck and need to learn to aim better!"

"I'm tryin' but y'all keep jumpin' outta range 'n behind me!"

"Pfft! You're just bein' a baby!"

"I ain't bein' a baby, ye're bein' a cheat!"

"Liar!"

"Did y'all just call me a liar!?"

"Maybe I called you a wimp!"

"Of it is on!"

Pinkie watched the two mares tussle and fight. Curses, insults, and retorts were thrown from the rising ball of dust, and Pinkie slowly turned to look at their trainer, currently on the ground, cackling her head off. "Hmmmm..."

Dash and Applejack paused briefly as they heard hoofsteps. Dash’ and both shrieked as Pinkie tackled them both. "Pinkie!"

All around them, the wind began to pick up.

----------

The sandsea of Coltriella was nearly as vast and immeasurable as the oceans. It seemed strange that such a fruitful place had been going barren, but despite how little vegetation grew there, in a way, Coltriella was still beautiful.

Sprawling green hills had been replaced by mounds of golden sand that changed with each new breeze, and the once plentiful fauna had been replaced creatures toughened by the searing heat and the threatening winds. The small little dune lizards that rested during the day had grown ever resilient over the many years as the grassland receded, and where there had once been hundreds of thousands of colorful birds, there were now just as many spiders and scorpions, sleeping just beneath a blanket of white and gold grains.

No, Coltriella was not beautiful in the way most ponies imagined, but its tenacity was something to be admired. Even its ponies did not fear the desert, and braved them daily for supplies. The further west they went, the worse things seemed to be, but the stronger the ponies were as a result. All things about the sands, above and below it were hardened by the roughness they'd endured.

There was perhaps only one creature tougher, more rough than the great monsters that stalked the far west, one creature with more ferocity than the scarabs in defending its home, one creature more suited to the sands than even the ponies that sought to tame them.

This being slept for a long time, yet far below the sands, deep below the rocks, underneath the pouring lava...

A nightmare stirred him.

----------

The shadows from the Blade Hold's walls were stretched across the courtyard when Vega called for the fencing ponies to gather around her.

The three mares sat in front of the high general, each panting from the work-out. Vega's eyes slowly ran over the three of them, the big mare hardly even tired, and she glanced directly at Applejack. "Blondie."

Applejack sat up straight, and stared into Vega's eyes. "Yes'm?" Even though Vega was still tough on them, and did not restrain herself from taunting them, the three girls could at least manage to look her in the eye now.

Vega snorted through her nostrils. "Tough shit out there. You let Blue play you like a fuckin' fiddle. You aren't little miss badass yet so don't fight like it. I'll be teaching you one-on-one tomorrow to show you how you should be kicking ass. Go do your cooldown stretches and get outta here. Blue." Vega turned her head to look directly at Dash now, and Dash looked into Vega's eyes without hesitation. Her hair and tail went up higher, regaining its color as she steeled herself. "Not bad. You're fighting right, but when I give you some one-on-one I'm going to show you how a pro could turn your little skip-and-dance into bloody mess. Go join Applejack, cool-down, get out."

Dash let out a sigh of relief and get away from Vega.

"Pinks." Pinkie Pie sucked in a deep breath and looked Vega in the eye. "You and I are doing more one-on-one." Pinkie Pie let it out, deflating for a moment, but then puffed right back up and got to her hooves to get ready. "You're getting better, but you aren't thinking like you're in a battle. With a sword like that, you need to think on your hooves about how to create openings. We'll work on that now."

"Yes ma'am!" Pinkie bobbed her head.

Applejack began her stretching, but stopped as a smirk crossed her face."So, gonna go see yer li'l bookworm when we're done here?" The farmpony grinned as the pegasus began to blush. Her cheeks were redder than her family’s prized crop. Even the smallest mention of Twilight made her jumpy.

"If you must know, yes. I'm going to go make sure Twilight and Rarity are okay." Dash answered with a defiant look on her face. Applejack stifled a giggle.

"Well ain't you a real sweetheart? Checkin' up on the ladies like that." Applejack tore her gaze from the pegasus, continuing her set of stretches. "So in all seriousness, you 'n Twi?"

Dash remained quiet. After a long pause, the small smile began to emerge. "Yeah. Me and Twilight."

"Well I'll be." Applejack's tone was a lot more jubilant. "Y'know, I woulda bet ten ta nothin' on you shackin' up with anypony but Twi a month ago. You two're like night and day."

Dash thought about it, then shrugged off the thought. "I guess we are. I mean, I'm a pegasus and she's a unicorn."

"Not just that." The two rolled onto their stomachs, and started doing push-ups. "But ye're all speed and no thought, Twi's all thought and," Applejack frowned, "well I guess she is kinda the action sort, but she's more of an organized pony than a racin' one, ya get my drift?"

"Nope." Dash gave her friend a smug look. "She's smart, yeah, but that doesn't mean we're too different. I mean, I'm pretty smart too!"

"Uh." Applejack raised an eyebrow at Dash. "She's real careful, your first idea is always ta kick some rear-end."

"So?" Dash looked confused by Applejack's prodding, and the farm mare rolled her eyes. Dash always was a little on the dense side when it came to the emotional stuff.

"So, what I'm sayin' is, you 'n her don't got a lot in common. I mean, it took the two of ya gettin' captured and chosen together to see the other like ya do now. Ye're an athelete, she's a librarian. Ya gettin' me now?"

Dash rose to her hooves and gave the farmpony an annoyed look. "Yeah, I 'getcha'. I know we don't have a lot in common, but I don't really care. She gets me, she's easy to open up to. She's..." Dash thought for a moment on the right word, then nodded. "She's grounded. She understands stuff, and knows the right words, or read it in a book somewhere." Dash started to walk towards the gates, around the time Applejack finished and pulled herself up. "And she's tougher than she looks!"

Applejack watched her disappear around the gate, then chewed her lower lip in thought. It was perfectly like Dash to get annoyed at the pestering, but Applejack hadn't been expecting that answer. For a moment, she wondered what had happened between her and Twilight, but then shook her head. 'None o' my business.'

She made her way towards the exit and paused. Turning to the nearby guard pony, she decided to ask directions for the stables.

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Rainbow Dash took several hesitant steps into the courtyard of the Sanctum of Horns. Compared to the rest of the city, this place was quiet. The ponies sitting around outside spoke in whispers to eachother while they sat about waiting.

Dash raised an eyebrow as she looked around at every pony waiting around. Was this some sort of meet and greet? She couldn't say she knew a lot about the unicorns here other than that they were a bunch of magic suppressing cheaters. "'scuse me." She mumbled as she weaved and nudged her way through the crowd. She squeezed between noble and commoner alike, ignoring the stares she was getting as she walked towards the door.

She put her hooves on the first of three steps leading to the simple door, and just before she lifted her hooves to take to the next step, she noticed a difference behind her. Glancing backwards, she noted that everypony had gone quiet.

She was met the stares of dozens of foreign ponies she did not know. They seemed almost confused, even a little angry at her as she stood on the steps. She quietly nudged her sword with her leg to make sure it was still there, and walked up to the next step. Almost collectively they began to glare.

Was this some sort of joke? If they weren't going to go inside, why should they care if she was? With an annoyed snort, Dash ignored the ponies watching her. It was just a door! You were supposed to go in it!

Somepony moved towards her, a furious look in her expression, and Dash flicked her tail out of the pony's way when she tried to grab her.

"Idiot!" The mare hissed, "Get away from there, you're-"

 

She knocked.

 

Dozens of ponies gasped. Her ears twitched to at least one pony screaming. She raised an eyebrow. Just what was with these ponies?

There was a click, and the door opened behind Rainbow Dash. Dash glared back at the ponies staring at her, once again stunned, and she walked backwards through the door with a small glare and closing the door behind her. She turned around quickly, baring a smug smile. "Thanks for the-"

Twelve unicorns were sitting around her in a semi-circle, all watching her with big, crazy eyes. Dash stared back, slowly backing away from the unexpected group of ponies. She flinched as her flank pressed against the door she had just came through. They were starring. On any normal day Dash would have loved the attention, but this was just creepy.

One of the young mares in the group spoke. "Hello." She called in a polite voice.

Dash's eyes went left and right, looking for a way out, and saw none. She checked the door behind her and saw that it did not have a handle either. Okay, she was trapped. She glanced back to the mare. "... Hi?" The unicorns glanced back and forth between each other. A colt that must have been younger than Dash raised his hoof. Dash raised a curious eyebrow at the pony. "What's up?"

"Is it true that you are the sharpened edge of Celestia's fury?" He asked. Before Dash could so much as blink, he continued, "The uncompromising blade held to the throat of her foes, the vindictive flames of her anger to burn her enemies without heed nor compromise, the endless tide of her mighty army, forged in boiling blood and hammered by the gavel of justice to overwhelm her foes in an endless wave of sword and flame?".

 

Dash's eye twitched. The fires of what? The tides of what? She made a small, strangled noise in her throat as the twelve ponies watched her. "... Sure?"

As one, the twelve ponies grabbed papers and pencils and started writing rapidly, obvious to the weirded out expression on the pegasi’s face. One of the ponies stopped writing and looked up at her. "What's your favorite color?"

Dash stared for a few, long seconds. "Blue?"

"Oooh." They all whispered at once, and kept writing.

"L-look. Twilight Sparkle and Rarity are here, right?" She asked, edging away from the door. There had to be a corridor, anything.

As a single unit, each unicorn brightened up, growing big smiles while one mare took charge of things. "Why yes! Our queen and the fair lady are taking their lessons upstairs."

"Cool, thanks." Dash stood and hugged the wall, away from the ponies. 'Heh. Queen.' She forgot about Twilight's "title" every now and then. It was kind of silly to think about since Twilight didn't look the part, and definitely didn't act like some stuck-up prick. It was still funny to think about, to be in a relationship with a queen, especially since that queen returned it. She wondered what that... made... her...? "What are you doing?" Dash stared back at Belezians following her.

The same girl that spoke up earlier stepped forward. "We were just wondering, Lady Rainbow Dash, if you might wait outside? Archmage Sul doesn't like interruptions..." She then glanced to her hooves, and then looked back up to Rainbow Dash with a tiny blush. "We were also wondering if you could honor us by showing us your magic?"

Dash stared at the dozen of Belezians watching her with shiny, pleading eyes, and her jaw cocked. "Didn't you guys already see it when you, y'know, put them out?" Dash asked dryly. Most of them smiled sheepishly, and with a blush the mare spoke again.

"Well, yes, but not up close!" She squeaked. A glance from the pegasus caused her to wither in front of her.

"I thought they were cool until, well, we had to stop you!" A colt spoke up from behind her.

"... Right." Dash considered just heading up and seeing Twilight, but as she watched their hopeful looks, something sparked in her belly. That yearning look to see something impressive and beyond imagination, to see a skill that so few mortal ponies have mastered that watching it in person would be an honor worth paying for. For the first time since losing her wings, Rainbow Dash had a crowd. As realization dawned on her, and Dash glanced up and down the row of ponies that had made her and Twilight look like chumps. They, the magic-masters of Coltriella, wanted to see her stuff.

Dash slipped on an easy-going smile, and calmly walked through the crowd of ponies to the center of the building. They followed wordlessly behind her, not sure what to expect as Dash trotted up to a nearly empty table. An idle kick here, a gentle brush there, and it was clear of books, giving her plenty of leg room. Dash stood tall and proud as she gave the unicorns a self-satisfied smile. "Well I'm not sure what to tell you. It's really no big deal." She flexed her wings briefly, and what was easily mistaken for a simple, prideful stretch was ignored.

"After all, it's something a natural like me can do with her eyes closed." A second Dash rose up from behind the table and slid onto the flat surface on her back, sharing Bright Dash's winner's grin. There was a collective gasp from the group of unicorns as they stared at Dark Dash, and with the audience distracted, Bright Dash's orange stripe faded away, and Dark Dash rolled onto her back to show only one side of her colors as her green stripe faded from view.

"Tch." The twelve Belezians turned their heads quickly towards the noise, as a third Dash with an orange strip and a green stripe eyed a book. "Psyco-Conductive Theories of the Ponies' Mind? What kinda crap is that?" She snorted and lifted her head, then moved to show only her orange stripe as her green strip vanished.

"It's egg-head talk." Purple Dash called, sitting on a cushion at another table with Red Dash, the two sharing a bowl of bread rolls and water bowls while Blue Dash and Yellow Dash read the names of the books the other was looking at out loud.

"Y'know, Twilight would like some of this stuff." Green Dash called from the top of a bookshelf, skimming through a book that Orange Dash had tossed up to her.

"She's probably read it already." Red, Blue, and Purple all said at once, in the same tone, without bothering to look at each other.

"Yeah, you're right." Orange, Yellow, and Green answered at the same time without a single glance away.

Red Dash subtly snuck a glance to the Belezians as they stared, beamed, or gasped. Four of them fainted.

Perfect.