Alexshy

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Alexshy last won the day on October 11

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About Alexshy

  • Rank
    Dragon
  • Birthday July 26

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

  • Best Pony
    Fluttershy and Luna
  • Best Pony Race
    No Preference

Profile Information

  • Gender
    Female
  • Location
    Equestria
  • Personal Motto
    One small step for a man, one giant leap for Equestria!
  • Interests
    IT and technology, RPG... aaaaand PONIES! Writing pony fic included.

MLP Forums

  • Opt-in to site ads?
    Yes
  • Favorite Forum Section
    Sugarcube Corner

Contact Methods

  • Twitter
    https://twitter.com/Alexshy_SA
  • Fimfiction
    https://www.fimfiction.net/user/293719/Alexshy
  • deviantART
    https://alexshy-sa.deviantart.com/
  1. Alexshy

    Boop a snoot, any snoot

    *cautiously (not to spread the Royal Flu) boops @Fluttershy Friend @CypherHoof @Jade Fire @Yoye Wolfgrel @Catpone Cerberus @Thankful Brony 2 @Twilight Luna @TheRockARooster @Prospekt @Deae Rising Shine~ @Mirage @Valencia*
  2. Alexshy

    Luna Fan Club

    Thanks! *nosewiggle* One of mine favourite pictures (despite the modern Ponish):
  3. You sick? :(

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Yes, unfortunately... Sneezing and coughing all the day long

      ouch.png.1558486c88b1eee514f58df08dab0545.png

  4. Alexshy

    Fluttershy Fan Club

    That is why exactly I recommended that read Exploiting Discord and Celestia relationship leadeth to comic and dramatic moments galore. Calling her "Celly" is a free ticket to the Moon by the way
  5. Alexshy

    Fluttershy Fan Club

    Thou simply needst to read mine book then
  6. Alexshy

    Luna Fan Club

    Achooo!!! *sneezes so loud her feathers ruffle* Apologies!!!
  7. Alexshy

    Fluttershy Fan Club

    That comic is not of mine origin. Alas, I write only, can't draw... *sniff-sniff* The covers and illustrations in mine stories are by @Yoye Wolfgrel *bows thankfully* Apologies for any misunderstandings, which might have arisen.
  8. d6jdtk4.thumb.png.fa8619c77cb09022d6ff3ea0d1eb5582.png

    Squee!!! Apologies, shan't be hither tonight... *sneezes*

    1. Show previous comments  10 more
    2. Jade Fire

      Jade Fire

      *hugs* get better soon

    3. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      I'm sincerely grateful to you all, mine dear friends!!! Still alive and kicking... I'm doing mine best to be rather prancing as soon as possible. Love you all!

       

    4. Fluttershy Friend

      Fluttershy Friend

      Be such healthy as good friend you are!:squee:

  9. Alexshy

    Fluttershy Fan Club

    The "Mature" filter existeth for exactly that purpose. If 't be true thou hast disabled it, then thou hast nothing to complain about, in the earnest. Direct link: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian Forum link: I'm trying to keep them synced (in terms of chapters released and illustrations). Illustrations are courtesy of @Yoye Wolfgrel
  10. Alexshy

    Adventure The Guardian

    17. Feathery trouble. Author's note: No, tis not the whole chapter dedicated to Rainbow Dash --- Last night Alex took Twilight’s sleeping potion again, as he wasn’t sure, if he could relax enough even for a short moment, to use Luna’s advice. Not being a fan of the chemical or, in that case better say, alchemical sleep, he couldn’t deny that the night completely free of any dreams, turning off and dropping like a log at once, was what his body called for. Alex spent the rest of it behind the protection of artificial sleep and felt nearly normal upon awakening. Even managed to get to the bathroom fine… He might think that the worst was left behind, but the reality was going to prove otherwise, preparing a certain surprise for Alex. Soft morning light flooded the bathroom through the small window on the eastern “wall”. Alex turned on the water, half asleep yet, leaning on the sink and trying to yawn with his mouth closed, not luxating his jaw at the same time; the hot stream was breaking in the sink noisily, filling the air and Alex’s lungs with steam. He rubbed his face, driving away the remnants of sleep, and wiped a small clear window on the misted mirror. The tired aquamarine eyes blinked, then focused on Alex, pupils narrowing with waking and recognition… Staunch Flume was falling silently through water mist with the filly on his back, confusion and bewilderment written in his dilating eyes, remaining in Alex’s inner sight even after both ponies vanished behind the vapour clouds below… Alex fell to the motherly embrace of the ground at the foot of the Clock Tower, with trees of toy-size and Fluttershy’s cottage flashing its windows, like a small sparkle at the edge of the view; his expression became surprisingly serene with eyes closed and a faint smile ready to lighten his face… Alex slowly slid to the floor, grasping at the sink, as the forces suddenly left him; he sat there, feeling limp like a puppet with the strings cut, shivering and bracing his knees. The strong wave of realization, followed by weakness, hit him, knocking down and flooding over the head. His idea stopped looking nearly acceptable to him, let alone being capable to bring a serene smile. The remnants of sleep were broken and without yesterday’s salvatory adrenaline blockade Alex curled on the floor, cold sweat covering his forehead, when he imagined, what could have happened, if not for the vigilance and care of certain mares. ‘Moron!’ Alex gritted his teeth, trying to force the shivers away. ‘You almost took your miserable life for nothing. That would be a “perfect solution”… To leave more mares crying! Fucking idiot…’ “Alex?!” He didn’t hear the quick hoofsteps behind the blood noise in his ears, when the attack released him a bit, but the breaking monotonous sound of water made Alex raise his glance. “Alex?!” Twilight turned off the water and stared into his eyes with concern; it wasn’t an easy task to catch the focus of his floating pupils at first. “What’s going on?” she asked softly. “Proper…” Alex coughed, clearing his throat. “Proper judgment finally, I guess.” He grabbed the edge of the sink, leaning on the tub with another hand, and got up after the second attempt. “I just realized, what an idiot I was… Felt too screwed last night for it to come into my mind.” “I don’t know which part of myself I was thinking with yesterday…” the mirror got misted completely again and Alex was to wipe it carefully. “Not everypony is given another chance… Don’t know if I’m lucky yet, but I shall try not to waste it… If only my body came into agreement with my mind that fast,” he shuddered visible, holding on the edge, his knuckles getting white. “I said that last night… And I’m saying again… whatever it was, I’m glad that you didn’t do it!” “Thanks, Twilight!” Alex was examining his pale-grey, ruffled, crumpled self, but Twilight heard the expression in his words; he turned the water on and splashed a few handfuls on his face. “Well, nothing I couldn’t cope with, right?” he looked into his own eyes fixedly. “Are you sure? I mean… if… if you want to talk about that…” Twilight’s reflection watched him unconfidently. “I…” small hoof softly touched his back. “It’s okay, Twilight,” Alex kneeled, squeezing her shoulder lightly. “The “cure” was effective enough…” he rubbed a small bruise on his cheek, smirking faintly. “I’m not going to do something as stupid, if… if you’re talking about that. I have enough consequences to deal with.” “That’s exactly what bothers me, Alex,” Twilight still tried to see something at the bottom of his eyes; the result seemingly looked safe enough for the alicorn girl and she nodded slightly. “I would like to help! And I think I know, what can actually… make you breathe lighter.” “Okay, maybe later… I’m really fine, Twi,” Alex squeezed a tiny smile. “Well, not fine as in completely fine… you know, but I’m going to deal with all that. With thy help, of course,” he raised and shut the water. “I wanted to visit Willsmash and… apologize for all the ado. That’s after bringing myself to some semblance of order…” he glanced at the shower unambiguously. “Oh, of course. Sorry,” Twilight’s nose flushed. ‘I still think, that’s exactly what he needs… to stop making a monster of himself,’ she closed the door under the noise of running water, her eyes shone with some idea. Dressing into the clean after a few minutes, Alex checked his yesterday’s clothes automatically, folding them before shoving into the laundry bin, when his fingers met something rough and leathery in one of the pockets. He took out and stared at the large light silvery-green leaf, absolutely non-crumpled even after those few hours, so thick and tough it was. Alex dropped the clothes, trying to remember, what that find reminded him of, brushing away the unwelcome memory of when and where exactly he got that leaf; somehow he felt that he was failing to catch the actual and very important clue. Slowly sinking on the sofa Alex spun the light-green star puzzledly, as if he was expecting some hint to appear on its coriaceous sides. “Twilight,” Alex raised his voice a bit, hearing the hoofsteps in the main hall. “Can you… For a moment?” “Yes?” the girl trotted through the doorway maybe even faster than expected. “What’s up, Alex? Why…” “I wanted to ask, if you ever saw…” Alex stopped, Twilight’s dilated eyes told him that she saw, moreover, she considered the thing in his fingers quite unusual. “…these leaves. Where are they from?” finished he, watching the girl. “That’s…” Twilight came closer, her eyes still fixated on the leaf. “Definitely, that’s a leaf from the Tree of Harmony. But… where did you get it from, Alex?” she glanced up at him in bewilderment. Alex’s face brightened up with recognition. “The Tree of Harmony…” repeated he slowly. “Isn’t it the huge… I mean, really huge tree, lush and silvery-green… somewhere in the Everfree forest, in a wide… cleft, sort of…” Alex rubbed his temples, forcing the memory. “And even then it’s higher than all the nearby trees on the ground level, so large it is?” His eyes met Twilight’s wild glance and Alex elaborated. “I saw it in my dream once… But I tend to think the tree itself was quite real, just as…” he stumbled. “Is it, Twilight?” “Y-yes… But you never told…” she took her breath and nodded. “The Tree of Harmony is indeed in the large natural cleft, deep into Everfree. Exactly as you described, but where…” “Oh, tis not a secret,” the part of the mystery was solved, but only a part of it; Alex still had no idea, why that large leaf should tell him not only about some equestrian relict tree. “That one,” he raised it and looked through at the window – totally futile idea. “was smacked into mine face somewhere amidst my tower climbing… there is a large section of broken wall… near the top,” Alex and Twilight gulped almost synchronously. “Methinks I shoved it into mine pocket automatically, it reminded me of something, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. I still can’t,” added Alex pensively. “But now I’m sure it wasn’t the Tree… of Harmony, or how it is called… Not only it!” “The cleft is far from the edge of the forest, from the Clock Tower,” Twilight still watched the leaf in Alex’s hand, then looked aside, rising one fore hoof in her thoughts. “This leaf… any leaf could hardly reach the tower from that far…” “I simply thought, it was strange to see a tree leaf thrown to that height,” Alex chuckled nervously. “Unless it was necessary…” dropped Twilight, looking at him. Through him… “Necessary for whom?” the smile froze on Alex’s face for a moment. “Twilight?!” he was to touch her lightly to gain attention. “I-I don’t know… for sure,” muttered Twilight, she examined Alex, like seeing him anew. “I must tell princess Celestia about that…” “Oh, come on, Twi!” Alex let out a short laughter, he was unsure if the new details added to his side of the scale. “Like if Tia had no important concerns, except me gathering some leaves…” “Alex… You are incorrigible!” Twilight presented him with a slightly annoyed glance. “That’s more important, than you may think.” “If you say so…” following her through the hall to the kitchen Alex realized how late he woke, compared to his usual mornings. The breakfast was served; Alex squinted – the plates were filled with something shapeless and, frankly speaking, strangely looking. However, the smell was quite nice. “Spike slept in and… I guess, it was my turn… for a change,” Twilight produced a humble smile, Spike covered a yawn with his paw, confirming her words. “I hope it tastes better than it looks. I’m a limited experience cook, sorry.” “Morning! No offence, Alex, but you look… worse than last days,” Spike stifled another yawn and measured Alex pensively. “If you feel half that bad… well…” “Oh, mine endless gratitude!” Alex bowed sarcastically. “I can always count on you, when Jackie is not near, Spike.” “I was simply stating the obvious,” shrugged Spike. “I think you should do something with these nightmares… Anything, to help you sleep… at least sometimes.” “Actually, he is right,” Twilight raised one eyebrow, watching Alex, who tried the unusual dish carefully; despite his suspicions, it was perfectly edible and the taste was nice. Twilight visibly relaxed. “I will hardly exaggerate, if I say that the night before you woke almost every several minutes… That’s when you could fall asleep at all. How long do you think you can hold? The princess…” “I think, there is a working remedy…” Alex filled himself slowly, his thoughts were somewhere far from the table. “I’m not going to take the sleeping potion nightly till hell… ahem… Tartarus freezes over.” “Luna told me one thing and it seemed, she got the point.” He focused on the company. “When I sleepwalk, I don’t have dreams… I mean, I can’t remember a single case the actual me to see some dreams, while in that condition. I have nothing to lose, right?” he shrugged, putting down the spoon. “So, I’m going to try it tonight. The only problem is to have enough time without the actual nightmares to…” he chuckled. “…“exit myself”.” “Well…” Twilight blinked several times. “If that actually works… You were doing it regularly before anyway.” “I would feel incomparably better, if I can get rid at least of the half of the nightmares. It’s enough that I constantly think about that during the day,” Alex nodded meaningfully; Spike wanted to say something, but Twilight stopped him, making big eyes, which Alex missed completely diving into his thoughts again. ‘I still need to check something, before I take Alex to meet them,’ Twilight glanced at him quickly, biting her lip. ‘I suppose they are prudent enough, but…’ After the breakfast Alex volunteered for walking up to the market with Twilight’s list, he planned to visit the smithy, but needed to think over, what and how to tell the blacksmith and his niece. Truth be told, seeing their concern about his fate Alex felt guilty for making them worried, yet upsetting Sil by telling everything openly wasn’t an option – Alex remembered her expression last night well. However, when he was almost holding on the front door knob, his plans met a disarray in the muzzles of two guests; Alex could feel the mixture of some fancy shampoo and caramel smells. Stepping aside behind the door he opened it completely. “Hey! Twilight!” in two hops “caramel” reached the centre of the hall and grabbed the alicorn girl in a hug. “What a nice morning! I had some free time and met Rarity on my way here… I wanted to see…” her eyes found Alex behind the door and he could clearly read, whose poor soul she was after. “Ehhh… Yeah!” Twilight wiggled her wings, being released from her fluffy friend’s grasp. “Good morning, Pinkie! Good morning, Rarity!” “…Alex and ask him…” Pinkie tilted her head, examining Alex fixedly. “Morning, Twilight!” unlike her mate, Rarity pranced in gracefully, with dignity, every lady should uphold. Alex noticed that Spike was already wounded right through, even before being shot by her eyes; he quietly snorted, deliberately ignoring Pinkie’s heavy gaze, and closed the door… “Hello, darling!” Rarity turned to the sound, throwing a quick glance over Alex, but before a smile formed on her muzzle, Rarity’s eyes dilated and her expression transformed to an utterly concerned one. “Oh, Celestia! You’re so… pale and… Are you alright, Ahlex? Seriously, you’d probably better stay in bed and rest well, before returning to your work.” “Errmmm…” muttered Alex, he didn’t like, how Rarity’s eyes sparkled at the word “bed”; besides, the quiet grunt from Spike was self-explanatory. Pinkie opened and closed her mouth with offended expression, but something in his look made her agree with Rarity inwardly. Accepting no objections and noticing nothing, Rarity trotted around him and nudged lightly; not wanting to be poked by the horn accidentally, Alex obeyed, followed by the determined girl, until he found himself seated on the couch. Rarity watched him discomposedly, like if he was going to faint any moment. “Yeah…” Pinkie approached him from another side. “You look quite… beaten indeed,” she was to admit reluctantly. “What’s happened?” “Oh, come on, girls!” sighed Alex. “It’s not that I’m going to fall flat… That’s… an after effect of yesterday’s… endeavours,” added he evasively. “What kind of… endeavours those must be to get you to that condition, Ahlex?” Rarity was determined to find out everything. “That was something tough, even compared to your usual business…” she tried to smile. “Well… Let’s say the… stakes were quite high,” Alex heard, how Twilight quietly gasped, from the corner of his eye he noticed her shaking her head. “I would like to avoid that route of discussion, in the earnest. Apologies!” But Rarity wasn’t that easy to put out of countenance, Alex felt the cushions being levitated and carefully placed behind his back and under the elbow; he rolled his eyes, noticing Twilight’s smile. “Rarity, seriously… I’m okay. I actually planned to go and…” “…visit the certain pegasus girl and finally have a talk?” with deadly bluntness asked Pinkie, raising one eyebrow; nothing was going to distract her for long enough. “Yes. No… Not right now… Ugghhh!” Alex groaned, grabbing his head. “Look it’s not that simple. I wonder, if she even wants to listen to me… Especially after… I know, I need to do that. I just… must think how.” He raised his eyes almost pleadingly. “Actually, I was heading to the smithy, well, after the market, of course. We have lots of work and need to…” “I see…” sighed Pinkie, ignoring Rarity’s reproachful gaze. Thankfully, her nose twitched and Pinkie’s fluffy head turned towards the kitchen. “Hmmm… Smells delicious! Is that Spike’s, Alex’s or… your experiments, Twilight… finally.” Flushing, Twilight humbly shrugged and followed Pinkie, who quickly headed to the source of the smell; Rarity lingered for a moment, making sure that Alex was comfortably placed and not going to faint any moment, then the curiosity took over and she joined the girls, throwing a quick concerned glance over the shoulder at him. “Oh, Twilight…” Alex heard Pinkie’s sigh and couldn’t hold a giggle, vividly imagining her, leaning over the peculiar dish critically and shaking her cotton candy mane. “Although…” Pinkie fell silent, evaluating the rest of Twilight’s cooking qualities… more directly. “Mmmmm…” “Apologize to the girls for my sudden departure, Spike!” thankful for that distraction Alex jumped to his feet; grabbing the bags he quickly slid outside, followed by Spike’s vexed wave. * The first signs of approaching autumn took over the fields with overgrown and starting to yellow in some places grass; the sounds of birds became rare, only a few persistent singers broke the silence this morning, disturbed otherwise by the becoming stronger wind only. The Sun was quite high, yet evaporating the dew on the long stems, leaves and flowers, it wasn’t able to completely dry the deep variegated green sea; Alex felt it at once, trying to cut the road turn through the field and quickly reverting from that idea, as his legs got wet inevitably. Brought by the south wind as usual, the smell of apples became stronger and stronger each day; so, Alex failed to notice that he took the wrong route, occupied by his thoughts, before his glance stumbled upon the high railway embankment – he made it too far to the left, taking the familiar road to the station automatically. With the loud whistle a single loco passed above, the gust from it finally brought the peculiar railway oil and heated metal wave; Alex noticed the familiar muzzle and torpidly waved the motorpony greeting him. ‘There! When you are too deep into yourself…’ with a shrug Alex turned back, as the smithy, not the railway station was his actual aim. He kept rewinding his visit to the market constantly. It wouldn’t be any different than usual one, if not for him coming across Fluttershy at the marketplace; Alex noticed her, paying off at one of the grocery stalls and making a couple of steps away, into the constantly mingling herd. His hesitation wasn’t lengthy and Alex headed towards the bright pink-yellow figure, inwardly considerably less confident than it was written in his moves and expression. Fluttershy saw him, when he passed half of the way, tacking between ponies hurrying about their business and apologizing upon accidental collisions; she stumbled visibly, but remained at the spot, properly reading his aim. For which Alex was already grateful, despite the feeling that Fluttershy decided, it was easier to settle things at once than listening to him again, didn’t want to leave him alone. “Good morning!” inwardly facepalming Alex quietly kneeled to his… his?.. marefriend, realizing that they inevitably attracted some glances from the nearby stalls. Yet it felt better than talking through the closed door. “I… errmmm…” Fluttershy simply nodded, her wide open turquoise eyes glanced up at him, stopping at his for a second. “Morning,” Alex barely heard her, a great dose of embarrassment mixed to her hard feelings towards him at that moment, but… if Fluttershy wanted to leave, she would have done that undoubtedly. Her voice became more determined and audible. “Are you going to tell me something, I didn’t hear yet, Alex?” “Shy,” a familiar sparkle brightly lit in her eyes at that word, but quickly faded; all Alex’s thoughts left his head, dissolving in the turquoise whirlpools. “Please, forgive me…” Alex braced himself with a sigh. “I’m hardly original… but I truly mean that. I do regret, verily!” “Regret what? That you tried… what you tried. Or… that I came in time…” “Neither,” Alex swallowed a lump. “I regret of making thee cry, Shy… offending thee…” The foreign glances thickened, but they could do nothing about that; Alex heard a couple of grumpy remarks about them making a scene amidst the road, instead of finding a better place for that, not obstructing busy ponies’ way. The other time he could have laughed at that… “Sorry,” quietly whispered Fluttershy, hiding her muzzle behind the amazing hair almost completely. “I didn’t mean to… Maybe I have forgiven you already, Alex… in my mind. But I still can’t look at you and believe that you could think of… escaping… that way!” added she suddenly stronger, with barely hidden anguish, inhaling intermittently, as if struggling for air. “I… don’t know what to say…” Words could make it more miserable only, Alex stretched his arm, touching Fluttershy’s shoulder was the only thing, which came into his aching mind at that moment. The mare took a small step back, looking aside with a tiny sigh. The hand fell down halfway. “I need to go… Sorry.” Alex closed his eyes, he could hear only those receding hoofsteps in the buzz of the surrounding herd. “Hey! Are you okay?” after the eternity a passing by stallion shook him on his arm. “She has left already…” “Yeah… I know…” squeezed out Alex, slowly getting up. He shielded with his back from the curious glances and a couple of sympathetically concerned ones. Alex could hardly remember the further purchases or how he crossed the market at all. Twilight looked at him strangely, unpacking the bags upon his return, but told him only to be careful on his road to Willsmash. Alex woke up, reaching the fence, when his hand lied on the gate; Will and Silver Ingot were outside and turned to him both interrupting their conversation at once. He noticed concern and visible relief, mixed in their eyes. And… something else, maybe some flashback, in the glance of the old blacksmith; Alex didn’t fixate on that, entering the yard and stopping a few steps before the unicorns. “I would like to apologize,” without the extra foreword started he. “For all the hassle, for misleading you… For making our work irregular and… quite chaotic at times. I’m sorry!” “No need to, Alex. You did, what you could and… frankly speaking, we have nothing to complain about ever since you came here.” “I…” “You left the papers to my niece and vanished for a day,” nodded Willsmash, his tone was light, contrasting to the extremely serious glance of his attentive eye, almost evaluative. “I admit, that was… that looked strange enough. But it’s your work at the end of the day, you decide what to do with it.” Alex threw an understanding glance at the blacksmith and didn’t argue. “I want to continue… if ‘t be true ye don’t mind working with somepony that occasionally becometh incoherent,” carefully choosing words said he instead. “Twilight’s generator is barely touched… and the armour is still… nothing more than a plaything, while I’m theorizing.” Silver Ingot, who didn’t drop a word since Alex’s arrival, approached him; he caught himself on involuntary thought, how tall she was compared to the majority of ponies. Alex tried his best to endure the attentive gaze, the mare kept searching for any known only to her alarming signs, seemingly couldn’t find any and let out a tiny sigh. “Still… Why? Why did you leave the drafts to me? Those words… about “using them, when the time comes” and…” she gasped, unable to continue. Looked into those bright, almost glowing eyes and remembering her muzzle last night, when he suddenly witnessed her desperate attempt to find him, Alex felt that he couldn’t tell her the truth. He had no right to add more sadness to anypony’s life, because of his own problems. “I,” Alex looked aside. “I thought, I had another chance to return to mine home world,” lied he with the light heart. “There would be no use for them there, while their purpose was to help you improve the smithy.” “The chance was illusory…” Alex tried to shrug away the unwelcome realization, that part of his words was deadly truthful. “So…” “Welcome back, son!” nodded Will, Alex fancied the same flashback glimpse in his expression. To Alex’s surprise, Sil squeezed him around his chest with her fore legs, desperately flushing and ran into the house with a treacherous sniff; Alex stood, feeling a bit dumbfounded. “She was out of her element the whole morning,” Willsmash watched his niece with a tiny smile, then turned to Alex. “Thanks!” His gaze was full of understanding and some distant sadness, Alex didn’t have time to wonder, when the unicorn added. “I know how you feel, son,” Will checked Alex out evaluatively. “I was on that road… long ago. Before things went downwards,” he took a look over the resurrected smithy. “I’m glad, you didn’t go to the end of it.” * ‘Oh, for Harmony’s sake… what are you doing?’ Princess Celestia noticed that her teaspoon was full of salt, right before dipping it into her tea; quite in time not to completely ruin the impression of finest light food. She facehoofed inwardly, returning the salt to the appropriate place and levitating herself a spare spoon instead of the “salted” one. Her absentmindedness grounded in the recent news and Celestia paid extra attention to stop after the third spoon of sugar, not making her breakfast tea resemble some syrup. What Alex did was quite unexpected for her, as one’s reaction in general and unusual attempt to cut all the problematic knots, and especially as a strong manifestation of treating his own fail (despite obvious facts, Alex treated it as such) gravely serious, up to practically self-sentencing. Celestia knew the other side of the same medal too well to treat this news lightheartedly. ‘It may appear quite easy to see the reason for your problem in others in the moment of emotional instability. And I can’t predict… and don’t want to, truth be told… what can happen.’ Of course, the Day Princess knew all the possible details already, mostly from Twilight, and could extrapolate the missing parts of the image herself. The mere phrase “two girls made me reconsider” kept her pondering: while Fluttershy’s impulse was natural, Celestia didn’t doubt a iota, another girl was Luna, and it cost a little to conclude, she was the “brain and soul” of the rescue operation rather. Celestia watched her younger sister sitting behind the opposite edge of the long served table in the royal dining room; she wondered what thoughts occupied that head veiled with night-coloured mane, played by the wind, which brought freshness through the open window and made the curtains wave and flap. The princess loved that morning feel and smell, even when autumn was nigh, but at that moment her pensive glance was chained to the eyelashes of her sister; throwing long shadows on her cheeks, trembling lightly they made Luna looking almost sleeping, but Celestia knew her well – Luna never lost her concentration. ‘I’m confident in Lulu, sometimes even more than in myself, but…’ ‘They are becoming too close, closer than I could ever expect. What may her influence on the human fruit with? She sees no danger in him and shares too much…’ Celestia sighed. ‘What if…’ ‘On the other hoof, what did you expect from the girls? Wouldn’t you do the same in the similar circumstances?’ It wasn’t a question of falling for the human, of course, and Celestia chuckled lightly, but from purely benevolent reasons. ‘Besides, nopony knows, what could happen, if Alex put his unfortunate plan to practice…’ The thought about Discord, warning that physical elimination of the human wouldn’t be final anyway, made her huff in frustration, bright magenta eyes rolled sarcastically. The letter caught the princess mid-thought; a small green flash lit her cup, Celestia already held at her lips, and made her put it down, squinting anxiously. The letters, received that early, were usually the most important ones, as hardly anypony, especially Twilight, would dare to bother the princess with something insignificant in the morning. Celestia caught the scroll with her aura, before it dropped into her plate, and threw another quick glance at her sister; Luna yawned, sipping her nopony-knew-which-already coffee sleepily – she noticed nothing yet, unlike Celestia’s pet phoenix, who showed interest, almost sniffing the letter. Expecting to see Spikes calligraphy, Celestia discovered on that floral-honey fragrant scroll some familiar, but hard to recall hoof to her surprise; that was enough to double her attention. “Dear Princess Celestia! I never wrote to Your Highness before and knowingly apologize for any flaws, which I may thus commit! Although, the certain recent events regarding the human – which you were undoubtedly informed about by Twilight already – made me brace myself and address Your Highness directly. I know that Your Highness and the respected Royal Mage Council performed the extensive research of the means to transport the human to his home world, taking his magic resistance into consideration. It’s not a secret that your joint attempts were fruitless due to his nature and, of course, I have no reasons to not trust your expertise and effort. But I also happen to be informed that you looked mostly for the methods of transportation, basing on the assumption that somepony summoned Alex to Equestria. Your Royal Highness, princess Celestia, please forgive me my impudent attempt at advice and that wicked idea, but… what if you are dealing not with the pony, human (if it is possible) or any other known creature magic in that case? There are some powers in Equestria (I was able to witness during the events in the Crystal Empire), which can’t be strictly named sentient in pony sense, but nevertheless possess own, often unpredictable, will and plans. This we can’t deny, even if the assumption that the Crystal Heart could summon somepony is farfetched, there are a few others, as far as I know, which may have played their role. Your Highness, being absolutely sincere I am writing that with the aching heart, as Alex’s departure is the last thing I could desire. But I promised to support him in everything he aspired to, be near and provide my helping hoof no matter what. So, if his ardent wish is to leave Equestria for Earth, I can’t stay aside and keep that suggestion to myself. That would be the worst imaginably unfairness, done to Alex. Please, princess, take that idea into consideration and don’t judge me too strictly. Your always loyal subject Fluttershy. P.S.: I can’t watch him suffer and I’d better send him to Earth, than lose him completely and wittingly, even if Alex claims that the recent events won’t happen again…” Lowering the letter Celestia closed her eyes for a second, muttering in half-voice. “Poor girl!” “What, apologies?” it seemed, Luna finally noticed the scroll and made an effort to wake up, seeing her sister’s concerned muzzle. “I didn’t hear thee well, sunny…” Sending the scroll afloat across the table, instead of an answer, Celestia did her best to look relaxed again; she levitated a walnut core from the salad to Philomena, princess’ phoenix perched her armchair backrest and picked the treat with quiet cooing. With genuine interest Celestia watched Luna, catching the letter and running her eyes across the lines, waking up fast. The Night Princess squinted attentively, then the faint shadow touched her muzzle, making her wrinkle her cute nose funnily; nevertheless, it was evident, the letter provoked some uneasy thoughts in Luna. “I’ve just got that curious scroll,” dropped Celestia innocently. “What do you think, blueberry?” “Well, if ‘t be true Fluttershy sayeth, she wanteth to help Alex get home,” sighed Luna, still scanning the letter. “Then she is serious enough, as that’s hardly something she would fake.” ‘Just like me!’ “At least she firmly believeth, that may work,” added Luna aloud, putting down the paper, which rolled tightly again. “What’s about the whole idea in general?” Celestia gently stroked Philomena with magic, making the phoenix squint and stretch her neck. “It looks somewhat familiar to me… and I’m not sure, if I like that feeling.” “She didn’t make a revelation, saying thither are some powers on Equus, sentience and motives of which we can’t arrant comprehend, but can’t deny either,” Luna shrugged casually; although, her strained perky ears told Celestia, she took the letter seriously enough. “As for the actual possibility to undertake that… I don’t know… Fluttershy is correct, something like the Crystal Heart could hardly do that, but… Tia, at which hour thou preferred to listen to mom, I spent mine time watching dad’s training or craft.” “Still I would like to know your point of view about that idea applied to…” Celestia even leaned forward, forgetting about her cooling tea. “Let’s say, applied to how exactly Alex arrived in Equestria. I hope you remember it quite well, despite the four months period.” Luna kept pensive silence for a couple of minutes; finally the spear eyelashes flew up and deep blue eyes stared into sister’s. “I watched the storm through the telescope forsooth, so I dare to think, spotted more details, thou might have missed, Tia. The storm didn’t look natural, but… I’m not a specialist in teleportation magic,” her ears flattened. “Yet what else could it be except a portal to deliver the human to our world?” Universal patience and readiness to wait as long as necessary were written across Celestia’s muzzle and Luna gave up. “Okay… If ‘t be true mine memory serveth me well, the whole nature and appearance of that “storm” gave the only one answer - that was, that resembled the… unfocused meta-portal. At least three of four attributes matched,” under Celestia’s surprised glance Luna continued. “I don’t know many mages, who can create those even theoretically, not mentioning that a magical instrument like that taketh immense amounts of power.” “You underestimate yourself, Lulu,” Celestia said heartily. “I always knew, what I was to study with great effort for hours, you often were able to catch up naturally. And what’s the most complicated aspect about the meta-portals?” “Them being unfocused methinks.” “Exactly! The rare cases they used are ones, when the mage doesn’t know the exact object or location at the moment the portal is created, that is why the power consumption, the complexity, the high possibility of mistake… and as the result, even those, who can, appeal to them quite rarely. The object is chosen during the meta-portal lifetime by meeting some criterion, then… poof!” Celestia clopped her fore hooves together. “But why? Even according to his story, Alex was an average human… Or not?” “That still leaves a few questions open,” added she after the long pause. “Who or what, if we admit that idea,” she nodded towards the letter. “as feasible. Was it entirely safe? What about Alex’s abilities?” Celestia elaborated. “While he might get his metabolism and sleepwalking as the result of interaction with alicorns here, he was already magically resistant, when Fluttershy brought him to her house. In that case, how was he transferred at all?” Luna listened to her sister, biting her lower lip, visibly deciding something. “Thou knowest that I visited Alex’s dreams…” “Yes, sister. That’s exactly where my anxiety grounds from!” Celestia raised one eyebrow. “Oh, Tia, dost not start again,” huffed Luna impatiently. “I’m not talking about that. Alex’s first dream I visited was exactly about his ride at the day of… transfer. I was practically able to ride his… carriage with him, unnoticed by him at that moment, of course,” Luna shrugged. “So… It looked exactly like the unfocused meta from the other side and it took quite some time, afore it aimed at Alex.” “Funny that you mention that now only,” dropped Celestia a bit grumpily. “Sunny, I told thee, I nev’r was a specialist in warp magic, besides, I could hardly help thy research, as not the kind of the portal mattered, but the mere human’s resistance to all kinds of magic,” Luna glanced at her sister. “What I mean is, whoever transferred Alex must be a really powerful being.” “And?..” “Methinks our best bet must be the Tree of Harmony, sister. Besides, it’s quite close to the place Alex arrived to. And as we both know, it easily meets all the other conditions.” “You surely remember, what… who the Tree of Harmony actually is, blueberry!” Celestia couldn’t sound more serious at that moment. “I mean, the risks in case of…” “Although,” added she after a minute of silence. “I’ve got another interesting letter last evening, this time from Twilight. More of a short message rather, but very thought-provoking, Lulu. Very!” She put away her cup and brought her fore hooves together pensively, then glanced at Luna with concern. “The connection seems obvious, although, I don’t know what to think about all that. She wrote that Alex caught a leaf… from the Tree of Harmony… while on that tower.” Luna closed her eyes with a tiny sigh. “Considering the Clock Tower height and the distance to the cleft,” Celestia watched her with growing interest. “I’d say that leaf reaching him was least accidental. Yet it’s open to interpretation, of course. I’m not sure…” “Considering all we know about him, Tia,” Luna leaned forward meaningfully. “She is the only one capable to send him back, if ‘t be true that’s possible,” Luna shrugged with incorruptible sincerity. “The decision is thine. Trust me, I know about the risks and I would nev’r take that particular case lightheaded…” ‘…as I’m least interested in his departure!’ read Celestia in sister’s wide open eyes. * That day Alex was to finish his work earlier, long before the sunset, as Twilight insisted on the eve; he had no idea which plans she had regarding him, but assumed that would involve some help or more generator checks – Twilight was very concerned about the Golden Oak wellbeing. Fortunately, the new smelter was almost finished, at least pure building stage was, for the rest Alex needed some extra help according to his research. Anyway, nothing prevented him from tying the ends earlier and using the remaining time for more training, as lately they had less time for that; the sudden pause in work came really handy. The Sun wasn’t very hot and the air provided enough cooling, not being entirely still, thus the training took longer time, utilizing naturally beneficial conditions. Alex was to spin like a squirrel in the wheel – the blacksmith increased the difficulty and charge significantly, compared to the first time, rightfully assuming that Alex needed to progress, not stomp on the single spot. Or perhaps he supposed that heavier training left Alex fewer chances to concentrate on his darker memories. Thus busy reflecting the numerous hit attempts of blacksmith’s wooden clubs, Alex didn’t notice Twilight, appearing on the road from Ponyville and approaching the smithy. “Wow! So this is what you do, when you put your metalwork away…” Alex threw a quick glance aside, finally spotting Twilight leaning with her fore legs on the fence and watching him with wide open eyes. Not less than half a dozen sticks flew around the human, keeping him constantly on guard and making the pole in his hands move that fast, it was hard to notice. “Yeah!” he breathed out, hitting away the next club. “Will… simply… uh!.. thinks that… the closer… uh!.. to the actual battle… huh!.. the better! Ouch!” his distraction by Twilight was rewarded by a palpable slap slightly below the back. Alex groaned, attacking the clubs with new energy. “This way it will be easier, when it comes to the real encounter!” smirked Willsmash, he slowly circled around Alex, looking for a weak spot in his defence as usual. “Good afternoon, miss Sparkle!” the old unicorn nodded slightly, but with visible respect. His warm and surprisingly unofficial tone made Twilight, ready to hear “princess” again, smile and relax. ‘I understand Alex, not believing that Willsmash was guilty of some grim incidents. If only other ponies were as open-minded…’ “He could be twice more effective in the… certain condition,” noticed the blacksmith meaningfully. “But unfortunately, Alex prefers to test his abilities the most “natural way”, as he calls it!” ‘Maybe he is right,’ thought Twilight. ‘The temptation to take over the offensive “weapons” could be too high, who knows, what effect his ability colliding with magic could give…’ “Can I steal your diligent apprentice, sir?” she let out a sly smile. “Of course, young lady. One of us is about to run out of steam anyway,” chuckled Willsmash. “Your intervention allows us both keep face…” Both Alex and Twilight couldn’t hold the laughter… and Alex missed a couple of pokes more. “Hey, that’s not fair!” A few minutes later they hit the road to Ponyville; Alex hurried a bit to leave the smithy – he noticed from the corner of his eye how Twilight fixedly watches Sil pouring water onto his hands, when he washed after the training. The sly sparkles in alicorn’s eyes and the shadow of the smile made Alex facepalm inwardly; he would prefer pouring a whole bucket of cold water on his head instead of those insinuations. Luna’s jokes about Sil being one of “simply nice fillies” were more than enough. Twilight trotted with good pace, making Alex follow and wonder, what came into the book-pony’s head. They managed to cover half of the way, when Alex failed to hold his questions; Twilight was unusually silent, yet determined and her pensive expression brought faint suspicions that it might be not only about some common household help. “Well, Twi,” Alex caught up with her and walked by side. “Maybe you finally crack it up and tell what problem made you… mum. I admit that the generator is half-baked yet, but I’m not going to leave it that way. There are a few things to connect and tune, I think we’ll be up in a couple of days. Twi?” It took her a minute or two, before Twilight finally tuned in, so deep in some thoughts she looked. “What hath befallen, Twi?” Alex felt, her uneasiness relayed to him. “Oh… Errmmm… It’s not about the generator,” Twilight blinked, looking at Alex, but her glance seemed turned inside, as if she was playing something in her mind or building a better strategy. “Although, making it work will be nice of you. Actually, I thought about another thing, Alex.” Twilight fell silent again, watching the road under her hooves and the complex plan in her mind simultaneously; Alex decided to wait patiently. They almost reached the Library back yard, when passing the windmill frame Twilight dropped another grain of information. “Remember, I told you, I had an idea, how to remedy your mournful thoughts at least partially?” her smile looked a bit unconfident though. “I think I can help… You mentioned that yourself anyway.” Alex sighed, wondering if Twilight planned to try her psychoanalysis experiments on him; however, he couldn’t remember, if he mentioned psychoanalysis at any point. “Well, if you think that may really help,” he shrugged away the image of Twilight trying to find the roots of his problem in his childhood. ‘No need to dig too deeply, checking the certain road accident… err… four… almost four already! months ago is enough.’ “You’re not Rarity. I mean, what can probably go wrong, right?” Twilight chuckled nervously. They passed the Golden Oak, but when Alex threw an unequivocal glance at the front door, Twilight simply headed further across the square, making Alex even stop for a second. “Ahem… Twi?” Alex raised one eyebrow. “Ain’t we going…” “Come on, Alex,” she looked at him over the shoulder, nodding forward. “It’s not… in the Library.” “Oh… Well…” Side by side they crossed the square, a couple of streets with sunlit facades and front gardens; Twilight’s silence and pensiveness made concern slowly crawl into Alex soul, he couldn’t explain why, but something in that idea didn’t rub him well. At the same time he trusted Twilight’s wits and experience; not all the medicine tasted nice – that went without saying. Alex caught himself on suddenly paying attention to what he failed to notice seconds before – strong aroma of some late flowers in the gardens they passed. Finally Twilight stopped, her glance at Alex carried the mixed feelings, but Alex stared in another direction. He understood where exactly they were heading at once, at the very moment he noticed that house, all the windows of which were tightly curtained. Warm August sun flooded it with light, the flowers in the front garden looked only a bit wilted, maybe the owners forgot to water them properly; two ponies held a quiet conversation at the porch. But the house caused chills running down Alex’s spine; cold and blind it didn’t look like the houses in Ponyville supposed to. “Merlin’s…” Alex swallowed the sudden lump, his heart dropped and the world around turned grey and mute for a moment; Alex shook his head, shooing away the weirdness of finding himself inside a falsely drawn decoration, feeling punched in the stomach by reality. ‘Well, thou can’t deny that thou wanted to visit them forsooth. Rewinding and replaying the possible situation in thy mind… But at which hour it befalleth, thou feelest least prepared anyway.’ “T-twilight,” Alex cleared his throat. “Is it… his house?” “Yes, Alex,” Twilight’s voice was quiet and sympathetic, she still watched him frozen on the spot with slight concern. “That’s Staunch Flume’s house… and his wife’s. His sister came to support Rainstrorm on those days, but… Don’t worry, they know we may come…” Alex glared at her, but he was to admit, he was nothing to complain about, Twilight did what she could to ease that meeting. “I think everything will go smoothly.” “Although…” she threw a quick glance at two ponies at the porch. “I hoped for more privacy first.” “No, Twilight, thou art correct,” Alex took a deep breath. “This needeth to be done. The sooner the better. I lingered for too long anyway, it shan’t be easier on morrow.” He made a few steps forward, like flexing the legs, which suddenly got numb. “Alex, please,” Twilight quickly pattered along. “Mind the words… I mean not the words themselves, but… thy accent!” she made big eyes. “No need to add more awkwardness…” “I shall try,” dropped Alex. “Can’t promise anything, but…” They passed the gate under the mildly curious glances of the stallions, who interrupted their talk and moved aside, returning Twilight’s silent nod. Lingering for a second Twilight knocked on the front door twice; the hoofsteps resulted in a mid-age mare in the black neckerchief, but apparently, that wasn’t the muzzle Twilight expected to see. “Excuse us, ma’am. Can we see Mrs. Flume?” she said quietly, but determinedly. “She knows about us, I’m Twilight Sparkle and this is Alex.” “I see, princess. Come in, Your Highness and your… friend.” Twilight squinted, unable to hold the usual flush, and pushed Alex lightly inside, when the mare stepped back, revealing the room. The muffled even hum faded and Twilight noticed, what Alex saw already over the head of the mare, stumbling on the doorstep, so Twilight was to nudge him. It wasn’t obvious, who felt more dumbfounded, him or Twilight: the main room was full of unknown ponies, mares and stallions of different age and a couple of foals – more than a dozen all in all, as Alex could quickly estimate. Everypony had some black detail of clothing, the bloodshot teary eyes of the filly stood out a mile; relatives and close friends gathered to bid the last farewell to Staunch Flume and his daughter, finally unable to deny their apparent loss. Alex felt like an alien much more than he did at the Gala, where the whole herd observed his standing out frame. He closed the eyes for a moment and let the air through clenched teeth slowly – there was no way back apparently. “Good evening” weren’t the proper words for that moment and Alex and Twilight simply nodded shortly to the herd, getting a few similar gestures in response. The silence pressed his ears, but Alex was endlessly thankful for the absence of hateful glances, as he could notice shortly. “They are upstairs,” the mare in black neckerchief shortly jerked her chin towards the stairs, but that wasn’t unfriendliness, rather the expression of awkwardness – they caught the whole company by surprise. “Both Rainstorm and Azure Wreath.” “Thanks,” whispered Twilight, receiving the mare’s short nod, the latter pursed the lips and squinted, holding back tears, making Alex swallow another lump. “I had no idea…” quietly muttered Twilight, when they ascended. “They didn’t tell, the relatives were going to gather today… How are you, Alex?” she looked into his face with concern. “Been better,” face of stone, he blinked. “I… I’ll be fine. I… hope.” He made an effort over himself, following her to the half-opened door in the end of the hallway. “I beg for your excuse…” Twilight accurately hoofed the door frame. Alex barely heard the welcoming phrase. Two mares sat at the couch, their backs to the window; Alex could only see the dark silhouettes for the moment, before his eyes accommodated to the counter light. He fancied a faint smell of some potion, reminding him common natural sedatives from Earth. The pegasus mare held the earth pony one in the wing embrace, stroking her fore hoof; the latter apparently cried moments before they broke their mourning – him and Twilight. Inwardly ready for any rightful outburst of the mare losing the most precious, Alex braced himself and stepped forward. The pegasus whispered something into the ear of another mare, whom she tried to comfort, waiting for her nod, then got up. She threw back her long wavy mane with a short habitual movement, folding her wings and coming closer. Twilight kept silence. “Mrs… Flume?” his own voice sounded distant and so… artificial to Alex, the words – stupid and clumsy. “Mrs. Flume, yes,” she nodded shortly, tiny bitter smile looked like a convulsion rather. Alex wondered, how the strong and fit mare, whose muscles visibly rolled under the soft coat, as she moved, could look at the same time so deflated; as if she suddenly forgot, how to use all her strength. “Rainstorm Flume.” “I… am that human, Twilight told about. Alex… I was on the dam, when…” ‘What am I saying?’ Alex’s back crawled, he felt awful. Awfully incongruous there. He glanced down at her. “Mine…” Twilight quietly inhaled behind. “Please… Forgive me!” Alex kneeled to the pegasus, whose electric blue widened eyes stared at him perplexedly. Another mare raised her teary glance, as surprised as mrs Flume; she squinted her azure eyes, peering into him, Alex noticed the thick glasses on the coach next to her. “I… couldn’t…” He choked on words and downcasted. ‘No bucking apology can return her family!’ “Forgive you?” Rainstorm seemed not believing her ears and eyes. “You actually blame yourself in their…” she swallowed and Alex noticed a single tear trailing down her cloudy grey cheek. “I heard what happened from Staunch’s colleague and pr… miss Twilight told me the rest.” Alex closed his eyes. He felt a light touch on his arm. That was the least he expected; Alex would probably feel better, if both mares pounced him, accusing of their loss. That would feel more appropriate to the circumstances in his opinion. “I thought miss Twilight… exaggerated a bit,” the widow’s voice was soft, slightly surprised; Alex didn’t know what to say or do, that reaction caught him completely defenceless. Meanwhile Rainstorm sat right in front of him, looking concernedly into his face. “But it seems you are… How was it your fault? You were the only one, who did something, who dashed to help…” “I was to,” Alex dared to look into her eyes, to his surprise he found only sadness and sympathy there; that hurt even more. “But I failed drastically. I’m so sorry…” “Don’t be foalish! Alex… right?” Azure Wreath sighed intermittently and rose from the couch, approaching Mrs. Flume, she brashly wiped the tears, trailing down the pistachio cheeks and veiling her view. “It… it was a miracle you could reach the top, before they fell. I saw the dam… and can’t understand how you…” Shaking her short mauve mane with apricot strands, which got into her sight, she put on the glasses again to see the human better. “That’s the point,” quietly squeezed Alex through gritted teeth. “I was thither, before they fell. But I lost too much time, lingering…” “You did, what you could, more than anypony else. I know about…” Rainstorm stumbled. “The circumstances were stronger than you, Alex. Don’t blame yourself!” she shook her head slowly. “By the same logic I’m even more guilty than you are, not saving them, despite I can fly… Could I be there?” she wiped another tear, while Alex watched both mares with dilated eyes. “Could you grab them or could they fall even before you came?” “It’s pointless to guess,” added she. “You should blame those, who made that nightmare happen, nopony else.” “Storm is right! The monsters terrorizing Ponyville. And… it seems the entire Equestria,” nodded Azure Wreath, putting her fore hoof on Rainstorm’s shoulder. “I know how you feel, Alex,” Missis Flume leaned closer to his ear. “Miss Twilight told me… everything. Don’t be angry with her, please!” she intercepted the wild glare Alex threw at his alicorn friend. “There is always somepony, who cares. As a mother…” Rainstorm stumbled with a painful expression. “As a mother, I’m glad that you didn’t… finish, what you planned.” Alex squinted, making a titanic effort to hold back tears choking him. “Thank you,” he held her hoof instead, squeezing it lightly. “And… Please, forgive me, Rainstorm…” “Believest, Twilight,” said Alex, stopping amidst the street, when several minutes later they slid out of the house, like two ghosts, not wanting to disturb the mourning relatives of Flume family. “I thought, I… thou… It made me feel a zilch better forsooth. I guess, I should thank thee for that!” Truth be told, Twilight couldn’t tell for sure, if Alex actually felt any relief. But he looked a tiny bit brighter than when they entered the house, so she wanted to believe, that effort wasn’t futile. “Tellest me one thing,” Alex watched her fixedly, Twilight’s nose turned pinkish. “Didst thou actually know, how it would go?” He headed back to the Library with Twilight trying not to fall back. “Well, I won’t deny, I told them… everything,” she confessed, flattening her ears. “Rainstorm didn’t ponder too long, she said that we might come. She looked calm, yet… I didn’t know for sure. But I wanted to help and… I’m happy that it turned out as it did.” Alex went silently, he didn’t drop a word the whole road back to the library, while they crossed the streets and Twilight greeted the numerous ponies, filling the town at that hour after work. Alex simply wasn’t there, while he actually walked alongside her, looking down, occupied by the thoughts. Or maybe he didn’t want the setting Sun to hit him directly into the eyes. Only when they entered the square at the foot of the Golden Oak, he stopped and turned to the girl. “I really want to know, if ‘t be true those Seeker-bastards are straightly connected to mine arrival to Equestria! It would be a promising perspective – to leave and take them all with me, so nopony else suffered hither… On Earth, without magic… Hmpf, it would be a question, whose victory it was.” Twilight could only shake her head slowly, listening to him. ‘I’m afraid it’s not that simple anymore, Alex.’ * “Know what,” said Twilight, watching Alex consuming his dinner, if unwilling digging in the plate could be named such. “You definitely look better recently. I mean… you still come exhausted, maybe mentally even more than physically, but that looks…” she stumbled, searching for a suitable, yet not an overly blunt word. “… like exhaustion of one healing from the mortal disease, correct?” Alex came to her aid. “Not the doomed one at least.” “What?” Twilight half gasped half chuckled. “Well, upon the second thought, you’re right, something along those lines.” “Apparently, constant fighting my inner demons consciously… methodically is a bit more straining even than succumbing to them, but I don’t complain,” the fork spun in Alex’s fingers slowly, as if he was deciding about the mere necessity of the food at that moment; Alex sported a little smirk. “I’m finally able to rest at least sometimes, thanks to Luna… and thanks to Fluttershy I’m able to do anything at all,” added he slowly after the second thought. Twilight threw a quick glance at him, pondering about something she considered since Alex came back from the smithy that evening. Intercepting that glance Spike made an encouraging face and she nodded, seeing that Alex was hardly going to cope with more food. Despite the initial plan was to hoof it to Alex after the dinner, the small officially sealed scroll, enveloped in the lilac aura, floated to Alex. “Ahem, this came with evening mail, Alex,” the scroll fell into human’s stretched hand and Twilight noted the subtle, almost subconsciously automatic sniff of Alex upon unsealing it; the scroll smelled nothing but paper and ink though. Alex arched the eyebrow: the only one, who could write to him, as he thought, was still angry with him. Although, the letter didn’t cause him any anxiety, despite Alex couldn’t feel any familiar fragrance; it rather made him mildly curious. Alex unrolled the scroll, the CSC official header and seal attracted attention, making him put away the fork and read deeper into it. Predicting such reaction Twilight watched him with a smile; unwittingly Alex presented her a nice pantomime with each new line. The first few were read with the same tired, politely pretending to be interested face: Alex expected some forgotten formalities about the contract to be solved that way, nothing else. But the deeper into the text, the more noticeable changes happen to his expression: he chuckled quietly, raising one eyebrow and nodding with a content smile, then suddenly a faint shadow ran across Alex’s face and Twilight almost felt, how he shuddered. But he managed to cope with himself; a few more lines and a grin, unconfident at first, then wide and hopeful, lit Alex’s face, the latter being a nice change from his recent jaded look. Alex nodded to some of his thoughts enthusiastically. “HA!” Alex’s sudden exclamation made both Twilight and Spike jump on their chairs involuntarily. “Thither was a small possibility that mine plans were… sand castles, but they really came across that technical contradiction. That meaneth, we scored!” the sparkles in his eyes highlighted the shadow of pre-dam Alex for a moment. “Will and Sil scored finally!” “Tis not a secret… Merely mine plans working as expected…” he handed the letter to Twilight, taking his fork automatically. Twilight unrolled the naughty scroll with her aura and read aloud. “Dear Sir! Basing on our former ability to communicate personally, I took the liberty to write you unofficially, as a private individual (even if from informal approval of the directorate), as we firmly believe some of the following details must stay hidden from the foreign eye for now. This, of course, does not apply to ponies, involved in development and production, and certain princesses, whom I entirely trust in that case, knowing about their support and role in your development. Back to the news now, not being tongue-in-cheek, I have the proverbial two – good and bad – for you, sir. Starting from the good one, despite you will most definitely see its influence on your account in the nearest future, I would like to inform you that the production of your generators has started successfully. One of the existing production lines was converted to conform the technological process of your origins and is already launched. Thus the first party of smaller household-scale generators (with the supplementary equipment) was built and passed all the quality testing…” “As planned,” Alex shrugged almost dispassionately, but Twilight could fancy the subtle tint of glee in his voice; besides, he finally addressed his dinner as somepony, who hadn’t fill himself since morning. “After the demonstration in Appleloosa (as we decided, that region naturally needed the product), where the device was accepted with great enthusiasm, the entire party (after final fitting and equipping with wind propulsion units) found its owners. Moreover, we have a growing number of orders and cooperation proposals. That’s hardly a disappointment, sir. However, some technical, even better say – exploitative, difficulties were met with the heavy-duty industry size generators. As you know, a few of which were made to operate at Ponyville Dam.” Twilight stumbled and threw a quick glance at Alex; the contents of his plate interested Alex more than anything else at the moment, but… his stone-like jawline told her everything; Twilight quietly exhaled and continued. “The test showed that our existing materials aren’t durable enough under the load at high rotation speeds. In particular, the generator shafts bearings experience the high rate of wear-out; up to the degree, when maintenance becomes more expensive than the production itself, even for the manufacturer, let alone the customer. Henceforth I, and the whole Canterlot Steam Company in my muzzle (unofficially at that point), express the high hope that you are willing to fulfill your part of the deal, namely aforementioned development and construction (or material) improvement. Personally, I have no tiniest idea, how you, dear sir, would complete that task within the given technical situation, but… if you take your hard craftsmanship into action and finally perform that miracle, I will personally apologize for every word of doubt I might have. With the hope of sooner solution of our common technical problem and further fruitful cooperation Solid Deal, M.S.” Almost with a whistle of a boiling kettle Twilight stared at Alex’s face inquiringly, her nose twitched funnily. “I could probably say, you caught them a little bit unfairly… but technically I have nothing to cling to,” she snorted quietly and shook her head. “Did you actually predict that outcome and plan everything beforehoof?” “Well,” Alex tried to keep a serious face, but a sly smile found its way out anyway. “I supposed that some technical difficulties could emerge at some point of development and improving the construction. Besides, I didn’t want them to spoil mine invention by uncontrolled intervention. But I sincerely didn’t expect the troubles to emerge that fast.” “Okay, okay, methinks I had the right to reserve some guaranty that we wouldn’t turn up over the board after the large companies stepped in,” giving up under Twilights fixed and sarcastic glance, Alex raised his hands. “The point is, they won’t suffer anyway, getting their income. Quite a large one, considering the scale of mass production. I simply wanted to back up our interests and Will’s future regardless to the circumstances, don’t you think it was simply fair, Twi?” She examined him for a few long seconds, then to his surprise Alex noticed her shaking from stifled laughter; she finally gave a crack, laughing aloud, looking at Alex sly mien. “Maybe you are right, Alex,” confessed Twilight after a while. “Princess Celestia told me once, how Willsmash got out of the business because of the competition. Even with full trust credit he would have about the quarter of his previous income.” “Did Tia tell you, how she tried to help Will and what happened?” Alex interested, paying no attention to Twilight’s gasp. “Please, Twilight, don’t mention princesses within Will’s presence, okay. I don’t want him to suspect me of acting on their behalf, he looked at me strangely enough, finding out that I was a sleepwalker.” “Don’t you think that being a sleepwalker… well, for a human at least, is already enough to receive “strange glances”?” Spike rested his chin on the fists and blinked several times, looking at Alex, Twilight huffed again and Alex only shook his head. “You two may giggle as much as you want. I meant… even more strange, than facing a sleepwalker.” “Oh…” meaningfully nodded Spike, they still snorted with Twilight, sharing a hoofbump. “I’m serious Twi,” Alex facepalmed, alternating between them. “About finding out the truth regarding Will’s past as well. I don’t believe, he was treated fairly… But work comes first.” “Speaking of which,” Alex squinted at Spike. “I will need some invaluable help of the certain dragon-guy soon, we have plenty of work… Both technical and geological!” Alex emphasized the last word, instantly gaining attention from the little dragon. “Don’t know about the technical side, you know better, but I must say, I simply love geology!” Spike licked his lips involuntarily. “It completely suits my taste.” “I never had any doubts,” smirked Alex. “It appears, I will need more diamonds with that size of the new smelter, thus more digging awaits. As usual everything extra is to your service, Spike.” Twilight followed their talk with a mirthful expression, noticing pre-dam Alex showing up again for a short time, when she intercepted the attentive sad glance, which contrasted with the rest of Alex’s expression strikingly. To Twilight’s bewilderment his slow understanding nod clearly told, he almost literally read her thoughts. “I simply must share the news with Willsmash,” quickly dispelling her confusion, Alex rested the fork on his plate and stretched his shoulders. “That’s the perfect moment to tell him about the Steam Company involvement and…” “…and not getting kicked out!” snorted Spike. “Well… I thought about discussing the future plans actually, but the one is impossible without another,” Alex measured Spike with an exaggeratedly attentive glance. “So, I guess, your version isn’t far from the truth.” He bowed slightly, keeping the serious face. Twilight was going to tell those two to finally stop acting foalish, but reconsidered; she admitted Alex’s right to vent in some way after the recent events. ‘The more distracted he is from his current position, the better!’ “I have no doubt that the news couldn’t be more optimistic… if they even made you finally pay due attention to your dinner…” Twilight made a face, nodding at Alex’s plate and only then he noticed that he had unwittingly cleaned it, as somepony having nothing since morning should. “But waking somepony for that,” she checked the wall clock unequivocally. “won’t increase their understanding. If you get, what I mean.” “Oh, rest assured, Twi, I won’t wake Will and his niece simply to tell them something. But something tells me, Will can stay awake for a little longer tonight,” under her inquiring glance Alex elaborated. “He seemed barely holding himself from telling me something important and only the amount of work today prevented him… and maybe he wasn’t entirely sure in what he had to tell. I bet the old blacksmith will think about some improvement, he wanted to suggest, till the late night.” “So, unless you need some help with the dishes,” Alex got up. “I planned to recourse to my usual remedy these days and check myself, if he is still awake… as soon as I will be roaming around Ponyville anyway.” Spike waved his paw, showing that they could cope with a few plates perfectly. “Truth be told, I extend mine hope the idea, he wanted to share with me, helpeth me stay… errmmm… “unkicked” till I can explain mine,” he raised one eyebrow, masking the tension under bravado. “What are you both going to do?” “Sleep, what else,” Spike shrugged, as if somepony asked him an ultimately obvious question. “I was going to check the books to ensure I can provide the help, you recently asked me for,” Twilight’s aura enveloped and stacked the dishes one by one. “I don’t want the same hitch as with the light bulbs to be repeated,” the tip of her nose flushed slightly at the memory of her mistake and Twilight hurried to change the topic. “Besides, you will have only one attempt this time… otherwise, a lot of hard work is wasted.” “Don’t stay up too long, Twi,” Alex winked. “You risking falling asleep on the pile of books again.” “Know what?” the alicorn girl stuck out her tongue, looking at him over the shoulder. “It’s a little strange to hear that advice from somepony preferring nights for scientific work.” With that shot and victorious look she disappeared into the kitchen, carrying the plates; Spike followed her with the diplomatic face and sly sparkles in the eyes. Trailing through the high grass of the field, bringing thick mist from the lakes north from Ponyville, the fresh, almost autumn-like, breeze played with the embers of cooling down furnace and made the new sunshade flutter above the workbenches with tools, patiently waiting for the morning. Almost palpable silence fell around without the birds’ chatter in the fields, as the most heat-loving already quietly cherished their plans to travel south; only the accidental crackling of the coal and distant barking of the dogs at the town outskirts disturbed it. The brightest, rare on the deep blue velvet of the early night, stars shyly weaved their jewellery on the canvas of the August night, resembling the threads of pearls in Luna’s mane on the gala. Two smaller sparkles lit above the road to the old smithy, reflecting the light of the lone window of the house and the mist swirled, disturbed by the gaining form and volume body. The late guest threw the bag on his shoulder and headed to the welcoming light through the field, spreading the grass on the way. ‘As I expected, some fancy idea visited old Will forsooth, and he can’t sleep before fleshing it out,’ smirked Alex, watching the lit window for a while, then taking a look over the brought to the exemplary order smithy, stopping for a second at the new sunshade and wondering why such a simple detail caused a warm smile on his face. He hopped over the gate and headed to the front door, not a single gravel creaked under his feet. ‘I wonder what that may be and… extend mine hope I’m not kicked out right after the first phrase,’ Alex braced himself. The attention of the blacksmith was chained to the number of drafts on the table in front of him, but not that much to make him ignore the polite knock on the front door. Slightly surprised – Willsmash just started getting used to any visitors since a long time again, let alone that late ones – the old unicorn raised, showing agility impressive for his age. “Who goes there? And what can I help you with that late?” the opened door revealed his human apprentice, sporting a faintly nervous smile. “Good evening, mister Steel,” Alex shifted from one foot to another. “I extend mine hope I’m of no disturbance…” “Evening. But why so official, Alex?” huffed Willsmash, stepping aside and welcoming Alex in with a nod. “We already decided that it’s simply “uncle Will” for you… after…” Alex inhaled deeply, crossing the doorstep. “Allow me to tell what I have, then we shall see, if ‘t be true I still can use that… as well as if I am still welcome hither. I have only good news, but…” “Oh, come on, Alex, get inside and tell, what is bothering you…” old Will let out an encouraging smile, nudging Alex towards the room. “I have some news as well, but yours first… as you seem overly jumpy already keeping them to yourself.” Willsmash followed Alex to the table and waited markedly, until Alex took a seat, placing his bag on the next chair. “So?” “Mister Steel,” the old unicorn cringed and Alex continued with a sigh. “I shall try to be brief… Since the very beginning I tried mine best, so my own aims went parallel with the smithy interests. I could have some wicked on the first look ideas, but they managed to work somehow.” “That’s true, I must admit,” chuckled old Will lightly, not entirely catching the tail of Alex’s thoughts yet. “With our partnership, I’m more than ev’r interested in the smithy prosperity and success and mine latest work is aimed mainly at that in the long perspective.” “Well, those generators were an undoubted success, son, they brought you noticeable profit and more work to us both. For us with Silver more than for the few last years combined,” added Will, gratitude sounding clearly in his words. Alex swallowed a lump. “I plan much more than those generators with the improvements I’m working on; as you know the new smelter is capable to produce arrant different metal… how much different, I shall show. The use of it shalt be comparably advanced.” “Those generators bring profit, but they are a relatively simple product,” continued Alex under the attentive glance of the blacksmith. “Nevertheless, we don’t have enough capacities to fulfill the demand of that product. Apologies, but I see the real future of that place in making something noticeably more advanced, which can make difference even in relatively small quantities or the time of production isn’t that crucial compared to the value of the product.” “Like the blade sample you made even with our old smelter,” Will became very serious instantly. “It cuts every sample of my old steel I can offer…” “Tis one of the possible uses,” nodded Alex quickly. “But let me finish please.” “It wasn’t a simple decision and it was a part of the complex plan, sir. I would nev’r make it lightheartedly… I involved the Canterlot Steam Company into generators mass production,” that sounded like a thunder strike in the sudden silence. Willsmash leaned back on his chair, his eye stopped at Alex’s face and a shadow of the long forgotten grief ran across his face. For a single short second it seemed the old unicorn was ready to hit Alex, and Alex couldn’t blame Will for that wish at that moment; actually, Alex was prepared inwardly even for that turn in their conversation. “They have only rights to replicate and mass produce mine invention, selling it Equestria-wide outside Ponyville,” accurately continued Alex, seeing that even if he was going to be thrown out, it wasn’t going to happen immediately. “For the thirty percent of their income. We reserve the full rights for development and improvement of the construction on our own, obviously, we share the working improvements with them. We still have the related customers from Ponyville and the surrounding area.” Silence was the only response from Willsmash, his muzzle resembled his anvil at the moment and only the glaring eye scanned Alex’s face. After a long minute he dropped. “Go on, Alex. I never doubted your practical wit and suppose you wouldn’t come to me with this only.” “But the main idea was deeper than that,” Alex nodded shortly. “I signed the contract with the main condition – if CSC comes across any technical difficulty, they address us first for the help and amendments, that’s in addition to our exclusive development rights.” Will’s eyes involuntarily dilated and Alex confirmed. “Yes, that makes them practically dependent from us… if they can’t produce something. Of course, they turned a blind eye to that, mayhap even laughed… but have a look, please.” Alex opened his bag and levitated a scroll out, making Will wince – the old blacksmith threw a wild glance at the human, the understanding his collocutor was “sleepwalking” came after a second. “Strictly confidentially,” Alex allowed himself a tiny smile. The light grey aura enveloped the letter; Willsmash wrinkled his nose at the broken CSC seal and unfolded the scroll, taking a read. His single eye ran along the lines quickly, giving up Will’s tension, but… at the last passage his wrinkles smoothed and the tip of Will’s nose treacherously trembled. “Ha! A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!” Alex couldn’t believe his eyes, but the old blacksmith suddenly burst out laughing. Will laughed and laughed, dropping the scroll and holding on the table edge, almost blowing his own papers aside, while he took his breath. A small smile, more confident than before, wormed on Alex’s face as well. “Sweet Celestia!” breathed out Will, stopping as suddenly, he looked at the ceiling, listening, if he didn’t wake up Silver Ingot, who supposedly fell asleep in her room long ago. “If that was a part of your plan since the beginning…” He snorted again like a colt. “I never thought, I could feel avenged that ironically.” “Seriously, son,” Willsmash shook his head and Alex took a deep breath. “When you mentioned Canterlot Steam Company and generators mass production, I thought, I was going to kick you out of that window,” the unicorn huffed unequivocally and Alex nodded in understanding. “That was a weak part of mine plan, in the earnest.” “And I wondered, why you looked like you swallowed a wasp,” Will smirked. “But how did you know?” “Well, I supposed that the increasing load should increase the demands to the materials,” Alex elaborated. “The household usage was arrant safe, but with enterprise load, like on… the dam,” the old unicorn noticed how nodules jumped on Alex’s jaw. “they would need the more advanced materials. Truth be told, I didn’t expect the bearing giving up that fast…” “So what are we going to do now?” Willsmash shook his head, trembling from the silent laughter. “We finish the new smelter as soon as we can,” Alex threw a sly glance at his partner and teacher. “Thankfully I managed to get some help, quite capable assistants I must say. We make those details for CSC and keep them dependent from our work, they won’t be at a loss anyway. Those won’t miss their profit, notice, how they started presenting the generators in Appleloosa first…” “Yeah…” Alex could spot a sigh and sudden dark shadow running across Will’s muzzle. “There is hardly any other part of Equestria in more need and stress than Appleloosa…” “So,” accurately stated Alex. “I’m still not a persona non grata here… and we are in business…” “No, you are not, son,” the old unicorn shook his short mane determinedly, letting out a wry smile. “And yes, Tartarus, we’re going to do that… if you think we can.” “I’m more than sure, we can,” Alex crumpled the letter with contagious enthusiasm. “But I still think the future of the smithy is into more unique and sophisticated work than… “ultra-durable heavy duty bearing”. Uncle Will,” Alex looked at the blacksmith fixedly. “That armour, I’m struggling with… I need it, no doubt, but… it’s rather a prototype. What if we try to offer the really advanced armour to the royal guards?” “Guards?” Willsmash stumbled, his muzzle becoming gloomy again. “I don’t know, son… I spent half of my life… working for the army and… it brought nothing but the trouble at the end of the day.” “I shall try to keep us as uninvolved as possible,” Alex lazily spun the letter in his fingers, trying to see, what was on Will’s sheets of paper, but his ears “perked” at once – for the first time ever the blacksmith mentioned his past. Moreover, gave some emotional value to his musings; Alex was ready to catch every word. “Mayhap I can convince the princesses, we have some advantages to offer… Anyway, I’m ready to take all the negotiation in mine hands.” “Well… if we simply do our work, hoof it over to the… tin-heads and that’s all, it’s fine. You seem to have fair chances of convincing the princesses of anything, Alex!” Will threw a quick attentive glance at him. “I’d say both Luna and Celestia are hardly more stubborn than you.” “Oh…” Alex bowed sarcastically. “I may try to compete at least!” “I think, you have some news as well, uncle Will,” he nodded at the papers, covered in thin lines and some writing, but Alex couldn’t see the upside-down turned text well. “Anything about the armour? Frankly speaking, I gave up with it until the new smelter is operational – the number of burns and holes grows on the prototype, but we are going in circles. A completely different approach is necessary to reach the durability we aspire…” “No, it’s not about the armour; although, I thought about some ways to improve it indeed. Alas, all I could come to would increase the weight noticeably… Meh!...” the blacksmith shook his head. “I thought about some weapon against those Seekers and… generally against any threat you may encounter. We had a talk about, but since then a few ideas visited my old head during the long evenings.” A wide smile lit Will’s muzzle and he proudly turned the papers, pushing them closer to Alex. “I’ve made a few drafts of a glaive, we discussed. Have a look, Alex.” The sheets were tightly covered in small drafts of the glaive, with generic measures visible here and there and Alex noticed, those were fitting a human rather than a pony. He wondered how scrupulously, almost with visible love, the details were drawn; whatever old Will said, weapons and armour were his destiny. Will watched Alex, who sorted through drafts with a faint smile; finally, Alex stumbled upon one variant, attracting his attention the most. That glaive was long and massive with thin crescent blades placed almost at the right angle to the handle; not a common construction, but Alex knew, if he spun it properly, it would turn into a shield of deadly steel, being both the defence and the weapon at once. “I stopped at that variant myself,” Will noticed Alex’s pondering. “Remembering how you worked with the stick during the training we had… I think it could pay for its unusual form noticeably, even if it seems a bit clumsy at the first sight. Let the enemies check it out!” he chuckled. “Although the whole thing is indeed large and not very hoofy at the time you aren’t using it as supposed,” the unicorn frowned a bit, leaning to the draft and pointing at the size and weight he estimated. “Unfortunately the weapon of your size is either light or effective, son.” “Alas, I’m already not as mobile as I would like to be, when it comes to dealing with threats,” sighed Alex. “Unless I’m “sleepwalking” and even then my abilities are quite limited by the magic resistance… Carrying extra weight only makes the problem deeper.” “We could try making it collapsible…” Alex scratched the back of his head, examining the image thoroughly; he poked his finger. “Here, here and here… and maybe here. We can “break” it and… Still, one won’t wait till you assemble it and if we make it mechanized…” Alex fell silent for a while, leaning on his fist. “What? The idea is nice,” Will turned over another sheet and quickly drafted the glaive broken into five sections. “If the blades fold as well… it would become four times shorter and still can serve as a weapon, while folded – you can strike with both edges of it.” “Yeah…” Alex had another concern. “Although, the mechanism seems to become quite complex. Especially if we want the whole thing to be solid enough, when unfolded. What bothers me most, how the mechanical part will operate. I mean, manual unfolding is still clumsy as hay and slow…” “That’s not a problem exactly, when magic can be used to make the mechanism work.” “But…” “I mean simple magic crystals,” elaborated Willsmash, smiling at Alex’s bemusement. “Which are commonly used for lighting and some other things. They can be charged and one can easily change them, if necessary…” “They aren’t supposed to affect you with their magic,” Will guessed the reason of Alex’s silence properly. “As far as I know, you don’t react to the magical effects, which aren’t directed at you, so…” “Hmmm…” Alex was to admit, the idea seemed reasonable. “I will need more help then. I have no idea how magically propelled mechanisms work… Still, I think it may be too heavy…” “The heavier will be the strike against your enemy!” smirked Willsmash. “Hmmm… Nothing prevents us from trying,” Alex shrugged. “Let’s try making a static glaive at first. Thus we can see the possible problems, besides, I need to get used to that stuff.” “There is nothing like a good craft challenge, eh?” the blacksmith sly wink made them both laugh quietly. The wall clock struck midnight, when they finally agreed upon the best shape and construction of the main handle and blades; the mechanism was a problem mostly. Not an unsolvable, but definitely something to think through with the fresh mind. Besides, nightly walk around the town still waited for Alex, he planned to check the outskirts fast, the apple orchard was quite a mass of trees, which needed attention as well. Alex wanted to spend the rest of the night near Fluttershy’s cottage and check the edge of Everfree: quite some time passed since the last Seeker encounter in this area and if the pattern was nearly the same, extra vigilance wouldn’t hurt. Alex grabbed a couple of drafts – the copies he made to think of the mechanism in his free time, despite thoughts of “free time” called for nothing but sarcasm in his case lately – when some sound from the upstairs attracted his attention. “We woke Silver anyway,” shrugged Will, answering Alex’s inquiring mimics. “I’m sorry, didn’t mean to…” the papers flew into his bag and Alex quickly snaked out of the room. “Have a good night, mister Steel… I mean, uncle Will! And thanks…” The blacksmith only waved his hoof after Alex vanishing behind the front door. “Is everything okay, uncle?” extremely sleepy Silver Ingot levitated a lamp, stopping on the upper step of the stairs and taking a look over the room. She couldn’t hold back a yawn, covering her muzzle with the fore hoof. “Sorry.” “Still sitting over those papers…” her eyes stopped at the table and the heap of drafts, which doubled since last time she saw it. “Oh, uncle Will, why don’t you get some sleep? The day was hard and the next one will be as well, as you both continue your work now. I’ve dreamt about a beautiful jewellery piece, I’m going to make, having some inspiration finally… when I fancied voices. I thought somepony was here…” she stifled another yawn and looked at her uncle fixedly. “I was talking to myself, Sil,” unwittingly Willsmash used the short name, Alex gave Silver Ingot. “It happens with the old ponies, like me.” He shrugged with a faint smile. “Oh, you’re not that old to talk to yourself, uncle,” Silver Ingot quickly trotted down and hugged the blacksmith tenderly. “I actually thought that was Alex, roaming at nights again.” “I’m not getting younger anyway, my dear.” The Library met him with silence, but the ground floor windows were lit; with a sigh Alex hopped over the windowsill into his room, dropping the bag on the sofa. Quietly opening the door he faced the scene, he predicted earlier in letter. Spike fell asleep long ago, as otherwise he would most likely take care of that, but the lights were out upstairs and listening carefully one could fancy the quiet even snoring. Twilight drifted to the Dreamscape right on the couch in the main hall, resting her chin on the thick open book and breathing evenly – the girl saw the tenth dream already. Her bangs overshadowed her closed eyes, trembling lightly with the slight movement of girl’s eyelashes, reflecting the dreams she saw. Twilight’s fore hooves almost hugged the book, accidentally serving as her pillow; books were everywhere: in stacks around the couch and between the chandeliers, on the low table, a few even nested under Twilight’s side, visibly making her feel a bit uncomfortable. Alex watched that scene for a while, a wide smile curled his lips unwittingly; he shook his head. ‘Let’s hope, she found, what she looked for so methodically.’ He carefully extinguished the candles and when his eyes accommodated to the sudden darkness, lifted Twilight from her Procrustean bed, going to carry to her room. “Mmmm…” Twilight sighed and nested in his arms, curling into a soft lilac fluffy ball. “Auntie Celestia… A few more pages… and… I’ll go to bed…” the rest was some undetectable cooing. Doing his best not to burst laughing, Alex headed upstairs with the filly. It took a few attempts to undo the bed with his hands occupied otherwise, strangely the soft objects were harder to operate kinetically, but finally Alex was able to place Twilight comfortably on her side. She cuddled the pillow, curling again and almost covering her snoot with her tail, mumbling something; Alex could hear only “books” and “this spell… must work”. “Shhhh-shhh, sleepy head,” he accurately covered her with the blanket. After a minute, checking the rest of the lights to be off, Alex slid out of the Library: his nightly duty… and the remedy for his nightmares lay afore him. * “C’mon, Apple Bloom, we need to get to the market in time! Flour, salt and spice ain’t going to buy themselves,” Granny Smith waved to the filly, who lingered for a moment, examining a flower blooming right under somepony’s front garden fence. “Bring themselves home neither. If we are too late, the best will be bought and Ah have nothin’ to choose from.” “Ohhh… We are already late… because of my aching knees,” muttered the old mare with a sigh. “Ah’m going, Ah’m going, granny,” Apple Bloom caught up in two leaps and pranced along, making a small circle around her grandma occasionally – the redhead filly couldn’t stand still for a minute this morning. ‘Hmmm… Looks like the girls plotting something again,’ Granny Smith squinted at jumping filly, smiling inwardly and unwittingly remembering herself in that age; she didn’t know about the note from Scootaloo, Apple Bloom found earlier under her windowsill. “Ah wanted to check, granny,” elaborated the girl. “That flower looked like Marebena Officinalis… A rare plant and Ah never thought, Ah could see it in the town. Well, that one was not Marebena… but Ah was kinda shocked at first. You know, granny, school starts soon… and we want to continue practising with Zecora. We had a break, as she said that fillies must have some rest even from the Alchemy, but Ah don’t want to catch up too much.” “Marebena?” the old mare picked the main from girl’s machinegun-like speech. “Hmm… Isn’t it a bit too strong ingredient to teach you, fillies, about? Ah remember how we used to make potions with it as fillies… but we were older than you, girls. It’s not a toy… Zecora knows better, of course, Ah hope she told you about…” “You made potions, granny?” Apple Bloom jumped on the spot and glanced at Granny Smith with doubled interest. “Please, tell…” “Amateurishly,” shrugged Granny Smith, stopping for a moment; the tip of her nose got pinkish a bit. “Those were… ahem… love potions…” she chuckled. “Some of them were pure rubbish, but some actually worked… Ah’m not a master at that stuff, little Apple, better get ya’r theory from Zecora,” seeing that Apple Bloom perked her ears too curiously, the old mare hurried to change the topic. “Ah always said, the school was to offer Zecora a position,” grumbled she, starting her shaky gait again. “On the one hoof, it would be simply fair, considering you girls learning from her anyway. Why not all those, who are interested in the Alchemy? Besides, it would be a proper appraisal to her knowledge. On the other hoof…” she glanced at Apple Bloom seriously. “Those lessons would take place at school, not in Everfree. You know the forest becomes more dangerous in Autumn… with those timberwolves and… Ah always worry about you and ya’r friends, when you go there.” “Ah love you, granny!” Apple Bloom nuzzled Granny Smith’s shoulder and the old mare hugged her with the fore leg, before the filly skipped ahead again. “Don’t worry, Zecora often walks us in and out.” “Oh, you, cunning one, then come along,” Granny Smith laughed screechy and ruffled Apple Bloom’s mane. “And don’t jump around me that fast, or I may think there are two Apple Blooms… buy twice more goods and one of them will need to help me carry home everything.” “Aye, ma’am!” the filly cocked her snoot with a sly smile in her eyes. The market met them with the usual hum of the large herd of vendors and customers negotiating, sharing news and simply chattering; the saliva provoking smell from the greenery stalls clearly told that they came later than usual – the air already heated to the average daily temperature leaving no trails of almost autumn morning chillness. But the greenery stalls weren’t their aim, Apples had everything growing of their own production. Following Granny Smith along the rows, past the lazily flapping in the wind tents, Apple Bloom noticed her friends at once, despite the noisy herd. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle whispered about something in the shade of the large tree at the edge of the market square and quickly ran towards her, attracted by her gesticulation. Scootaloo’s muzzle was somewhat puzzled, even mildly concerned, while Sweetie Belle’s expressed noticeable doubt, like if she was undecided about participating in some plan, Scootaloo was bearing. “Good morning, mrs. Smith!” greeted the girls almost univocally. “Morning, Apple Bloom!” “Good morning, young fillies, good morning!” Granny Smith took an interested look over the girls, she knew well, those three in one place, meant adventures at the very least, if not some mischief. “Taking an early walk, enjoying, so to speak, the tail of your holidays?” Apple Bloom covered her mouth with the hoof behind granny’s back and Scootaloo faintly nodded. “Hi, mates!” said Apple Bloom in the most neutral tone, she was capable of at the peak of her curiosity, seeing girls’ muzzles. “We wanted to discuss the approaching Harvest Festival,” evasively started Scootaloo. “And hoped, we could… steal Apple Bloom from you for a while, if you don’t mind, of course…” “Apple Bloom is helpin’ me with the purchase, girls,” Granny Smith watched the fillies with sly sparkles behind wrinkled eyelids. “It’s too hard for me to carry everything home, so it will take some time, sorry.” “Actually, I have an idea!” Scootaloo’s ears perked. “We can help you carry the stuff. That won’t prevent us from talking, right?” she sported a smile and Sweetie Belle quickly nodded. “That would be very generous of you, young ladies! Just be careful, please, and don’t fall back.” “So,” whispered Apple Bloom, when they finally followed in the wake of Granny Smith; when she didn’t use her ear trumpet, quietly discussing the plots was perfectly safe. “What did you want to talk about? Ah bet, the Harvest Festival is the first thing, which came into your ruffled head, Scoots. What’s the matter actually?” “Don’t you plan to become a detective, mate?” Scootaloo stuck out her tongue at Apple Bloom, then added more serious. “Of course, not the Festival… Although, we must think of something special this year, you’re right here. But it’s all about another… thing, which bothers me for a while.” “Funny that he “bothers you”, while actually he bothers nopony, except maybe Twilight, while coming home at night,” smirked Sweetie Belle, throwing a quick glance at Granny Smith’s back. “Exactly!” huffed the pegasus girl. “That I was going to mention specifically, thanks!” she rolled her eyes very similarly to a certain rainbow-maned girl. “You and Rarity are doted on the human. Don’t you plan to make… “drafts” as well?” The memory made noses of all three fillies go pinkish at once; Sweetie Belle nudged Scootaloo lightly and the latter continued with a chuckle. “Remember the strange things happening at the warehouse? We couldn’t find out anything that time,” Scootaloo cringed, considering that personal pique. “And the guards quickly swept away everything. Obviously, one couldn’t fish something out of Alex either.” “Well, things became only stranger since then!” dropped she weightily. “Attention, ladies! We reached the goods we needed,” Granny Smith’s loud voice made the conspirators jump. They were to share their attention between the prices and Scootaloo’s loud whisper. “He started working with that suspicious blacksmith… but it’s kinda strange work, one day he is there, another – not… What do I say? Day?” huffed Scootaloo sarcastically, but quiet enough not to be heard by the old mare. “It’s more like the human stays way late at the smithy.” Apple Bloom only shrugged at those words, she firmly believed that anypony could work, when they felt comfortable and wanted to. “Your favourite princess works at night time,” Apple Bloom scoffed at her becoming suddenly suspicious friend. “You don’t consider that strange!” “Oh, come on!” Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “We’re not talking about Equestrian Princess, the Ruler of the Moon now. Others supposed to sleep at night normally… and Luna’s duty is by the way exactly to protect us from those, who lurk in the darkness.” “He behaves even stranger lately,” she stood her ground stubbornly. “Sometimes he roams around the town, seemingly aimlessly, while Twilight’s… generator is still unfinished. Speaking of bothering nopony,” Scootaloo glanced at Sweetie Belle meaningfully. “He broke with Fluttershy, but despite that, she tried to stay in good relations with the human, but suddenly she started avoiding him, becoming even more wailful… if it was possible. Something doesn’t quite fit here.” “Alex’s behaviour and strangeness are exactly explicable,” retorted Sweetie Belle. “He was at the dam, when two ponies died supposedly… Do you remember? I think we should stop poking nose into his affairs and cut him some slack instead. There was one of those monsters as I heard, you know, those princesses warned about. Witnessing one can easily be the reason to start behaving “strangely”, don’t you think?” “That’s what I’m talking about, Belle,” hissed Scootaloo concernedly. “He was there, right in the middle of the events… I know about the monster, the more reasons to be suspicious then! Two ponies “supposedly” died,” she huffed at the word “supposedly”. “But the human didn’t even get scratched, becoming even stranger afterwards. Not THAT type of stranger,” added she, seeing that Sweetie Belle was going to say something. “They fell from the dam,” simply sighed Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom nodded, admitting her friend was right. “Aaahhh…” waved Scootaloo in frustration. “I still insist, it wasn’t that simple. If the monster, as it was told, messed with their brains so hard, making them fall, why Alex had no signs of that.” “Well, he isn’t a pony,” simply noted Apple Bloom. “Maybe that’s why…” “It’s so nice that you both finally admit that!” even Big Mac couldn’t probably move the carriage loaded with Scootaloo’s sarcasm. “Now all we need is to make Rarity notice that and we will be fine then.” “I would like to know, what he does at the smithy, what weird plans he is bearing,” Scootaloo squinted suspiciously. “He even recruited Spike, which looks…” “Yeah,” slowly stated Sweetie Belle. “After all what Rarity did, especially after the Gala, I could think that Spike was the last one to help Alex willingly. It seems he knows what exactly they are doing and what for, still… Maybe it would be better and… well, more honest… to ask Spike instead?” “Why not Alex then?” Scootaloo glanced at her sarcastically, raising one eyebrow. “I bet it is the same thing at the moment.” “One more thing,” added she in a second. “Do you remember those rumours about the ghost and blah-blah-blah… Bipedal ghost, mind that! I wonder, if that’s Alex roaming around at nights? What for? And why ghost then?” “By the way, Rainbow thinks, these rumours have solid ground,” Scootaloo looked pensive. “She would probably try checking them… if she didn’t love a good nap more than late flights,” she let out a giggle. “Anyway, don’t you, mates, think that there are too many suspicious things combined at the same time? Way too many!” Something in the words of the pegasus filly made her friends take thought; interest mixed with doubt even on Sweetie Belle’s muzzle. Scootaloo glanced at them again with “who’s with me” expression written so clearly in her eyes. “Okay. If we are going to find out anything… If…” Apple Bloom bit her lip, thinking. “We better do that now, before school starts. This way we have more free time, in the evenings as well, but we better hurry then – only a few days remain.” “I hope you don’t put those binoculars too far…” smirked Scootaloo slyly. “The field near the old smithy isn’t the best hiding place, but…” “Ahem…” busy with their plans, girls completely missed the moment that Granny Smith was making a bargain with one of the vendors, thus using her ear trumpet; moreover, that ear trumpet was turned to them for a while already. “In the times of my youth, not poking their snoots into something out of their business was among most valuable fillies’ virtues.” Three girls winced in surprise and the old mare continued. “Ah didn’t talk much with that young… gentlecolt… but Ah… eat my ear trumpet, if he is guilty of those, you speculate ‘bout, girls. Want to know something, ask Twilight; otherwise you really shouldn’t get into that,” she glanced on them fixedly, making three girls downcast… but evidently missed the winks, they exchanged. “Oh, we were talking… purely… theoretically, granny,” Apple Bloom produced a bit strained smile; Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo supported her with quick nods. “Theoretically… Hmmm…” Granny Smith watched them a few moments more. “Hmmm… Well, young weasels, stop plotting, please, and take ya’r load each,” she nodded at the bags. “Help us to the farm and feel free to play as you wanted… But, please, don’t do anything… unwise, ‘kay?” “Okay, Granny Smith,” sighed Apple Bloom, flattening her ears obediently; although, they perked exactly the moment Granny Smith took the way back, so the fillies were following again. The girls trotted in silence for quite a while, thinking about their plans each; they reached the greenery stalls again, when Scootaloo considered it safe to touch the topic, as Granny Smith put away her ear trumpet and led them, occupied with thoughts about the cakes, she planned for dinner. “So, we decided, didn’t we?” whispered she, watching Granny Smith’s back from the corner of her eye. “They are quite busy with something in the smithy yard, we won’t get better chance, mates. Are you with us, Belle?” “Of course,” Sweetie Belle sighed doomedly. “There must be at least somepony prudent enough with you to hold you from getting into even a bigger trouble!” she huffed, rolling her eyes, but the girls could fancy the curiosity in her voice. “We may even try this evening,” Scootaloo stopped for a second and scratched behind her ear. “Let’s hit the field and watch, what they are doing there. I really hope they won’t start too late… What?” “Shhhh…” Apple Bloom nudged her lightly, pointing with mimicry at the Apple’s stall they were passing exactly. Big Mac was chewing a straw with uninvolved peaceful expression, probably not giving much attention to filly’s words; although, his ear subtly turned to the girls at once. “Oh! I doubt your brother tells anypony anyway,” quietly giggled Scootaloo. Nevertheless, she avoided touching their plans, until they left the market square completely, discussing the upcoming studies instead. “I’m going to talk to miss Cheerilee that week,” Apple Bloom straightened her saddle bags with a short hop. “Going to trade the… official Alchemy program for Zecora’s lessons. I think… I hope, miss Cheerilee won’t object after my reasoning. And I hope you are going with me, girls.” “I’ll go, if you are,” Sweetie Belle was evaluating her Alchemy talent realistically, considering it something similar to cooking in a way. “You know, Apple Bloom, without your help we wouldn’t reach half of our current knowledge.” “Same for me,” Scootaloo nodded in agreement. “Although, I don’t know, where I can need it later, but… I doubt I can bear these classes at school without your company,” she giggled. “Yeah,” Apple Bloom swayed her mane. “I for one choose studying in Zecora’s shack, full of herbal aromas, than sitting in the basement, despite its nice ventilation.” The three fillies giggled, causing Granny Smith to look back at them with interest. “Uh-oh, you plotting something again, little mischievous fillies,” her eyes were smiling though through the web of wrinkles. “When you giggle like that… I always worry about ya’r tails to stay with their sly owners,” she tried to read, which new shenanigans the girls prepared. “Granny also thinks that Zecora should teach at the school,” exclaimed Apple Bloom, feeling her nose flushing. “The program could only benefit from that, right?” “Mhm…” muttered Granny Smith, passing Carousel Boutique and turning to the far bridge across the river, as the nearest was on the road to the Clock Tower and Fluttershy’s cottage. “Mind that Ah actually meant “at school” as in “in the school building”, thus you wouldn’t need to go to the woods at least.” Talking that way they passed the southern outskirts of the town, crossed the bridge, entering the road to Apple’s; Granny Smith measuredly trudged ahead, musing about something. “We gather at eight in our Clubhouse, it’s closer to the town. And don’t forget the binoculars!” Apple Bloom reverted to their concerns quietly. “You can say, we’re planning a sleepover at the farm, that shouldn’t sound suspicious, even if reaches… them,” she raised one eyebrow markedly. “I’ll come earlier, if you don’t mind… We could wait in the Clubhouse. I simply don’t want Rarity to walk me in,” explained Sweetie Belle. “She is paranoid about the timberwolves lately… about since that incident at the railway warehouse.” Scootaloo huffed, deliberately marking the human’s involvedness again, and Sweetie Belle added. “Besides, she could probably guess, it would hardly be a sleepover… especially, if she saw Scoots being jumpy like now.” “I’ll be in time, girls. If not, don’t wait, I’ll catch you up in the field,” Scootaloo stuck out her tongue, wrinkling her nose funnily. “I’m going to try to fish something out of Rainbow Dash, maybe she knows something new. It will be easy to make her talking on the topic of human’s strangeness,” she winked slyly. “Fine!” nodded Apple Bloom, she nuzzled Sweetie Belle’s shoulder lightly “Ah’ll wait for you in the Clubhouse at… let’s say, five. That won’t turn your sister suspicious. Besides, I have an idea about the Harvest festival indeed.” * *WHAM!!!* Alex lowered the large mallet with all strength; the work was unusual enough, so he preferred to do everything manually, not completely sure in the precision of levitated tools. *WHAM!!!* That steel, even candent and flexible, resisted the hits quite noticeably and it took him much effort to give the metal stripe the desired shape. Each hit produced a bunch of sparkles, which hissed, quickly dying in the cool evening air hitting the ground. The latter was damp after the mild afternoon rain and the wind brought the smell of slowly drying grass and sometimes even coal and grease with the distant sound of rolling cars, when the gusts were the strongest, coming from the railroad direction. Thankfully, Will and Sil realized to cover the new smelter opening with some mat, when the rain started, otherwise Spike would swim in a pool of the rainwater, doing his part of the job. The inner coating, they spent a few last days on, was finely fitted, Alex checked specifically, and wouldn’t let the water out of the tray. They almost finished and planned to complete the work, before Twilight coming to their aid. ‘I’m afraid the coating can still give up and part under the powerful heating. Let’s hope Twilight knows, what she is going to do! Only Spike would love to have another attempt, I personally can’t look at the gems anymore without shuddering,’ Alex smirked and put down the mallet, listening to the field whispering in the wind and regular quiet clicks from the new smelter’s belly, when Spike positioned the next diamond on its proper place, trying not to leave even a hair-thin gap between. Alex raised the mallet and the loud bangs filled the smithy yard again, as he continued thinning and curving the first glaive blade to fit the shape they drew with the blacksmith. Finishing his daily tasks Willsmash sat in deep thoughts over the glaive folding mechanism, Sil went to her room, saying she got a few ideas for the new jewellery, nopony prevented Alex from staying one on one with his thoughts. The solitude was almost idyllic, if not the loud hits of the mallet on steel. “Let’s get a bit further,” Scootaloo pointed with her fore hoof and crawled first, leading them. “The grass is thicker there, so we won’t get caught.” “Are you kidding?” Sweetie Belle wiped the binoculars from condensing drops. “The grass is filling half of my view already, almost all I see is grass… Besides, I’m wet and, I have a suspicion, dirty as well… Ugghhh! The prickly straws in my mane…” “Nopony will see it in the darkness anyway,” chuckled Apple Bloom, nudging her friend forward lightly and sneaking after her, carefully not to disturb the long stems too obviously. “Oh, you know, I don’t care about grass or mud,” Sweetie Belle followed the pegasus filly quietly. “But I’m actually itching from those stems…” Apple Bloom was right, the quickly falling twilight smudged the colours and tints indeed, aiding the fillies in their hiding attempts. “It’s awesome that the smithy is brightly lit, I didn’t think it would be gloaming that fast.” “Speaking of which,” Scootaloo stubbornly proceeded closer to the smithy. “Are you safe, girls?” “Rarity thinks that I’m seeing the tenth dream at Apples’,” whispered Sweetie Belle, she cupped her muzzle with the hoof and quietly sneezed, causing Scootaloo to hiss cautiously. “What? I said it’s wet here…” “Macky and Applejack are in the town and granny is sleeping already… Get here, sugarcube!” Apple Bloom pulled Sweetie Belle closer to the large boulder, where they finally stopped. “It’s dryer here… Well,” she accurately raised the binoculars and threw a glance at the yard opening further in front of them. “That gives us a couple of hours, before we need to hurry back. Jackie wasn’t happy about us staying in the Clubhouse for the night… and I know why. So, we better see something soon…” “Cool! Like in the theatre,” Scootaloo barely peeked from out of the cover and corrected her field glass. “Who said, half of the view is grass?” “I still think we are too close,” Sweetie Belle sounded a bit grumpily, very similar to the certain white fashionista. Maybe because she was still pulling straws out of her mane. “So, what we are supposed to notice,” she finally used her binoculars, observing the smithy yard for a few minutes, then glancing at the girls with disappointment. “It looks quite common for me. There is nopony there, except Alex, who is busy with some forging… And I pity his ears already,” noticed Sweetie Belle. “But isn’t it, what he was supposed to do at the smithy anyway?” “I wonder, where is Spike?” Scootaloo pretended this claim passed by her ears, watching the scene fixedly. “I saw them heading here together.” Alex threw the shaped blade into the cold water tray, causing a fountain of steam and splashes, and wiped his forehead; he put down the mallet and flexed his arms habitually, then chuckled, feeling no strain – some things were still hard to get used to in his sleepwalking, like being able to take the heated metal blank with bare hands. “Ahoy! More gems…” Spike sounded muffledly, like from the barrel. “I’ve almost done here. A square foot, maybe a couple…” “Just a moment!” Alex examined the blade, noting mentally to make another pass on the edges – that would ease the sharpening of the highly durable material; he turned to the smelter finally. “Here goes… Watch your head, Spike!” A large sack with something heavy came afloat and rose over the neck of the smelter, disappearing in the opening; Alex tried to lower it slowly, as he couldn’t see, where it was going. After a minute a dry clank told him that the sack reached the bottom successfully and Alex returned to the blade and shoved it into the furnace, fanning it up with the bunch of sparkles coming out. After the short rustling and huffing, sounding muffledly from the stone construction, Alex could hear the rumble of the gems, being poured out on the smelter tray… and quite familiar crunch, followed by appetizing chewing. “Spike!” Alex squinted reproachfully. “Ffot?” with a mouthful came out from the smelter. “I’m fofally clean – fere fas a ruby in that heap…” “Well, you sorted the gems!” shrugged Alex, pulling the candent blade out and smacking it on the anvil again. “Yeah,” said the smelter. “And I’m fixing it!” Alex only snorted. “What was that, for real?” Scootaloo lowered the binoculars and looked at her friends puzzledly. “I mean… Errmmm… I dunno…” “I’m not sure, what I just saw,” slowly said Apple Bloom, very attentively examining the grass under her hooves. “So, Spike is doing something inside of that round… thing… It looks like another smelter… But…” “What?” Sweetie Belle shrugged, but she looked through her glass too fixedly and her voice sounded strange. “Alex threw a bag with some… stones, I think… inside that, well, let it be smelter, if you say so. I can’t hear everything well…” “Oh, come on!” Apple Bloom threw her fore hooves up. “Threw?! Didn’t you notice? He. Didn’t. Even. Touch it. And there is nopony except Spike and Alex around.” “Well, supposedly there are two unicorns at the smithy: the old blacksmith and his niece,” pensively muttered Scootaloo, glueing to the binoculars again. “But as you properly said, we didn’t see any of them; they must be in the house or somewhere else. How’s that possible then?” “I don’t know…” Sweetie Belle glanced up at them unconfidently. “I’m not going to jump out and the grass really prevents me seeing everything. We could probably… If it was darker, we could get on that rock,” she nodded towards the large stone nearby. “and watch from there.” “Don’t even think about that,” objected Scootaloo. “If it was darker, we couldn’t see a single straw, but… Don’t you think, if he is roaming around at nights, he must see perfectly in the darkness!” she made scary eyes. “Stop it, Scoots!” huffed the unicorn girl. “It’s Alex there, not some… cockatrice!” “In the last few minutes we definitely saw something new about him…” sarcastically smirked her friend. “Shhhh! Quiet!” Apple Bloom hissed at them, making the girls wince and stop their banter. “Look there.” She pointed towards another side of the smithy, where the road to Ponyville started behind the low fence. The girls looked at the direction of her fore hoof, then checked through the binoculars… No doubt, the familiar lilac stripy mane could belong to the only mare they knew. “And Granny Smith suggested to ask her…” Scootaloo looked at the girls fixedly. “Twilight knows well, what’s cooking here… But something tells me, she would hardly give it out.” “Couldn’t that be her lifting that bag?” “Don’t be a foal, Sweetie Belle, we just saw her a second before… I know, you like Alex. But… Let’s simply watch what happens further.” Apple Bloom only quietly sighed, she didn’t believe that the human could have some malintent, but the strange things they witnessed were real as well. Meanwhile, Twilight reached the end of the road, crossed the empty space behind the fence and was already entering the small gate. “Evening, Twilight!” Alex put away his metal stuff and waved. “So, you found the way to solve our problem and ready to help…” “Probably more confident than actually ready,” the alicorn girl let out a wry nervous smile, coming closer and nodding to the human. “Well, it’s time to find out anyway!” Alex looked more optimistic, maybe purely because it wasn’t him, who needed to try a rare spell for the not entirely predictable result. “Don’t even say anything about the light bulbs!” Twilight glanced up at him very seriously. “It didn’t even cross my mind!” Alex grinned ruffianly. “Before you mentioned…” He turned to the smelter. “Are we ready, Spike?” “Just… a second…” huffed the smelter muffledly, then another click followed. “Yeah, I think it’s all set.” “Then get out of there and we’ll try… Well, Twilight, shalt try…” Three fillies in the field froze in anticipation. ‘Here! Something important was about to happen!’ They didn’t sit in the damp grass for nothing. “Easier said than done!” sounded grumpily from the smelter, followed by the scratching of claws on the smooth surface, then the embarrassed voice said. “Darn it! I can’t climb myself… can anypony bring the rope?” Alex and Twilight exchanged glances. “Something wrong?” Alex’s bemused expression seemed to Twilight funny and helpless at the same time. “We had no rope,” slowly said Alex. “Each time Spike got in an out on his own, using claws…” “It was something to cling on here till tonight,” the smelter sighed boomingly. “Well, at least I won’t starve, while you decide how to take me out!” Spike shook the bag with the remnants of gems. “I can...” started Twilight, but Alex stopped her with a gesture. “You need to concentrate on the main thing, Twi.” “I don’t know how that works on the living creatures,” Alex told Twilight from the corner of his mouth. “Never actually tried, but…” “What do you have there with you?” he raised his voice. Three fillies in the grass perked their ears. “A wooden hammer… and a bag,” Alex and Twilight almost saw, how Spike shrugged. “What…” “Hold on the hammer, please!” Alex smirked. “Are you?” “Yeah, but I doubt that would help… WOAH!!!” In a second the wooden hammer appeared from the neck of the new smelter, then completely stunned Spike followed, holding the hammer in one paw and the bag in another. Emerging completely, he slowly passed the edge… “What the…” Spikes eyes were set on the hammer, floating in the air without any visible reasons; he turned to Alex and Twilight on the ground and his eyes dilated. “Another one to take me by the scruff,” Spike’s acid looks was quite expressive, when he safely landed. “Oh, Spike, I never abused that,” said Twilight with a slightly unconfident smile. “Errmmm… maybe once… or twice.” “Well, I appreciate you being cautious at least,” Spike handed the bag to Alex, who kneeled to him with an apologetic face. “Sorry, that was the fastest way,” Alex glanced at the quite large bag. “Know what?” he patted Spike on the shoulder. “Bring this to Rarity, she will appreciate, I suppose,” Alex winked. “Did you see, what I just saw?” Scootaloo put down her binoculars and stared at her friends. “I mean, hopefully, nopony will insist that it was Twilight levitating Spike out of that… thing!” Seeing the two pairs of bemused eyes looking at her, she added sarcastically. “If you both didn’t notice, there was no aura on that hammer, or Spike, or the bag…” “Errmmm…” started Sweetie Belle. “Oh, come on. Heard Spike saying “Another one taking me…”,” huffed Scootaloo quietly, throwing a quick glance at the smithy yard. ““Another one!”, pal… Twilight was always picking him up with her magic, when it was necessary.” “And here we saw no magic,” slowly whispered Apple Bloom. Scootaloo clung to her binoculars instead of an answer and the girls hurried to take a look. “Ahem… Gentlecolts!” Twilight reminded of the main aim of them gathering there. “If you’re done…” “Oh, of course,” Alex and Spike even stepped back. “It’s all thine, if ‘t be true thou art ready…” Twilight’s glance made Alex shut up with the mocking and, turning to the smelter, she squinted, concentrating. Her horn lit, dispelling the thickening darkness and flooding the yard, overshadowing all the other light sources, followed by an even brighter flash from inside the smelter and a very loud click, making everypony wince involuntarily. “Eh, is it done?” Alex rubbed the eyes, he was shielding with his hand, and blinked several times, when the bright glow faded. “I’m sorry!” Twilight’s nose wiggled, becoming pinkish. “I didn’t expect it being that bright…” “Let’s have a look, what we got,” Alex welcomed her. “After thee, Twi.” Hoping that everything went well, Twilight slowly approached the loading door of the smelter, opening it and lighting her horn with soft, but quite effectively penetrating the darkness light this time. Following her Alex heard the quiet sigh of relief and took a breath as well. “Wow! Like a mirror!” Spike peeked from behind Twilight’s shoulder. “Twi, you’re a genius! And somepony doubted that…” he gazed at Alex slyly. Finally Alex could take a look inside the smelter, taking the nerve; the tightly fit one next to another, but still separate diamonds merged, with the help of Twilight’s spell, into a single mirror-like surface indeed. Now the coating shielded the whole smelter from inside like glazing on the clay bowl. “Nothing prevents us now from doing, what I planned!” Alex let out a long sigh, turning to Spike and Twilight with a suddenly bright smile. “Twilight… I can’t even… Thank you!” he kneeled to the girl and hugged her, making Twilight flush again slightly. Suddenly she perked her ears, then looked over her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Twi?” Alex released her, following her glance: the old fence, dusty road, field with high grass, dissolving in the distant darkness, and a few large rocks laying here and there. “I think I heard something,” Twilight squinted, observing the darkening field; she lowered her voice considerably. “You are risking to disclose your sleepwalking widely, Alex, working here openly… You can’t hide it forever anyway, but if you don’t want everypony to know already…” “McIntosh told me today one interesting thing,” Alex got up and took a wide look over the grassy sea. “I was at the market at noon, finally managed to arrange necessary help to those two mares, Twi… So, Mac said, the fillies were plotting something,” Alex switched to whispering. “They wanted to “watch somepony at the evenings” and he guessed it could be me. But I don’t see anything… Oh, well, just a second…” “Quickly! Behind the cover,” squeaked Scootaloo, when the grass in the field started to bow almost to the ground in a long wave, approaching them slowly. “What the hay is that?!” The fillies were to lay low and crawl fast; they barely managed to whisk behind the large rock, when the grass started moving, where they hid seconds ago. “Well, the rock finally made itself useful, Sweetie Belle,” breathed out Scootaloo, leaning her back on it with a nervous smile, when they were safely hidden in its shadow. “I’m so sorry, girls,” guiltily squeaked Sweetie Belle, rubbing her snoot intensively not to sneeze once more. “Oh, drop it, partner!” Apple Bloom hugged her and Scootaloo nodded. “It is quite damp here indeed… Oh, Celestia!!!” All three of them clearly felt how the rock, they were leaning onto, wavered slightly under the unknown force. Like enthralled the fillies watched the wave of grass passing them and vanishing in the dark field; they exchanged the startled glances. “Let’s get out of here!” Scootaloo shook her head. “We saw enough!” Cautiously peeking from behind the boulder, the fillies quietly sneaked deeper into the field, towards the distant lights of the railway station; they decided to make a wide loop just in case, crossing the road from the smithy to the station further under cover of the deepening darkness. “Hmm… It seems, nothing…” shrugged Alex, turning away from the grass whispering in the night wind. “Maybe it was my imagination, I thought, I heard a sneeze… Are you going, Alex?” Twilight threw a quick look at yawning Spike. “It’s quite late for the work.” “You both go, I’ll be shortly. I need to discuss a couple of things with Will,” Alex picked up his metalwork, returning the mallet to the workbenches. “Besides, you know, I’ll be roaming around most of the night, it’s the only way to have some physical rest for me lately…” Half an hour later, when they finally reached the farm, managed to pass Applejack unnoticed and get into Apple Bloom’s room, as if nothing happened, the girls got under their blankets and fell silent for quite a while, trying to digest the impressions of the evening. “So, what do you think, mates?” Scootaloo finally broke the silence, unable to hold that to herself anymore. “I hope nopony will deny the strange things we witnessed tonight. Right, Sweetie?” she threw a side glance at the two fillies, who lied quietly, staring at the ceiling, just like her. “I won’t deny… I never kinda did, Scoots,” Sweetie Belle shrugged, staring at one point. “The thing is, what does it give us now? I mean, it wasn’t trivial to have a human in Ponyville anyway, so…” “Well, scratch the bag,” Scootaloo started pondering aloud. “We saw that somepony levitated Spike out of that thing… and we can safely assume, that wasn’t Twilight. There were two more unicorns, but that’s not them either… or there would be some aura of a different colour as well. Then we almost got caught, somepony must have made that “wave” we all saw and even felt, when it hit the rock.” “So, either we don’t know something about Alex, something Twilight definitely knows, or…” Scootaloo pulled her blanket higher, watching the shadows dancing on the ceiling – the wind became stronger at nights, bothering the trees outside. “… or it wasn’t Alex…” quietly dropped Apple Bloom, making both fillies rise a bit and look at her puzzledly. “We know that humans can’t use magic, right?” elaborated she under their glance. “We know Twilight is involved and Alex does something at nights. But who said, THAT was Alex there? Maybe we were wrong discussing it at the market… even if we didn’t name anypony directly, so, it could be a play to distract from the actual thing. They did that once, when the human just appeared.” “Isn’t it too complex for distracting us?” Sweetie Belle sounded sceptical. “Too complex in general, because…” “There is some point in that…” Scootaloo scratched the back of her head, ruffling her mane even more. “But Belle is right as well. It needs some wicked magic to mimic anypony that well. I know only three ponies, who could probably do that… Well, except Twilight, who is capable as well, I think.” “Nopony in their healthy mind would party with Chrysalis,” Scootaloo wrinkled her nose, like if she was presented some stale cheese. “Princess Celestia… She is cautious about those things. Besides, I fail to see the reason… What could she get from that… “play”?” “Hmmm… What about your favourite Princess of the Night?” “I wonder why?” Scootaloo noticed that Apple Bloom wasn’t teasing her that time, the question was genuine. “Although… she can take part in that type of… “jokes”, besides, I think, she knows enough about metalwork herself. You all saw, whoever it was, they didn’t simply bash the chunk of steel mindlessly…” “You forgot one thing…” Apple Bloom curled on her side, watching the girls. “…there was no aura on Spike or tools or grass,” thinking coherently Sweetie Belle finished for her friend. “When Twilight used her spell, the flash was simply blinding…” “Ugghhh!” groaned Scootaloo, falling back on her pillow. “I simply hate it, when I can’t understand something. I will find out… somehow… what they were making at least; maybe it can help us find the truth,” added she tiredly. “Let’s sleep already, girls,” Sweetie Belle yawned naturally. “Easier said than done,” muttered Scootaloo, moving closer to her. Apple Bloom snuggled from another side, hiding her snoot in the mane of her evenly breathing mate. Finally, the sleep defeated even the most curious ones. * “So, what have you decided?” Twilight watched Alex hunching over the generator and doing something in its metal belly. The maintenance lid lay next to him on the ground, small enough, so it was obvious, why Alex was quietly swearing, trying to find something by touch; his hand was elbow-deep into the construction, the glance aimed at the blue sky. Twilight squinted, the low evening Sun got into her eyes; she comfortably nested on the chaise lounge at the back yard, holding the book open on the necessary page with her fore hoof, a large gem slowly rotated in her view. The spell, Twilight found recently to help Alex with the new smelter coating, interested her beyond its initial purpose. Thus investing a few changes of her own, she practised it now, when she had time – and this evening gave plenty of; besides, this strangely helped her to think over the recent news or better say the consequences they might bring. The aura brightened on the gem. Click! The shapeless gem turned into the proper octahedron. Click – triangle pyramid! Click – butterfly-like shape… Spike, witnessing her exercises, said that he finally found out, whom he would ask for help with his next birthday cake decoration. Twilight chuckled, with a single gem it went immensely simpler than with the whole layer of hundreds of diamonds. “Damn! If I had time, I would have placed those contacts differently!” Alex strained, a loud snap announced success and he straightened, wiping the hand with the clean cloth. “What? Sorry…” jerking the wires coming from the generator a couple of times Alex turned to Twilight. “When are you…” Twilight downcasted, putting the now star-shaped gem on the grass. “Oh…” Alex completely switched his attention, the question was serious… and uneasy. “I have a few things to complete, but I think I’m on time. I need to run this,” he nodded towards the almost connected generator. “I’m going to finally try the new smelter tonight and discuss the future plans with Will. So, generally I’m fine with the date, Celestia planned it on. I shall be ready…” “No. Who am I trying to convince?” suddenly sighed Alex, taking a seat right on the generator, shielding Twilight from the sun with his back. “I don’t know… if I’m ready or not… I’m going to tie the ends, the best way I can. I told the girls about that chance… but I don’t know now.” “I wrote to Fluttershy,” quietly said Twilight. “I hope that’s okay. I think she will come.” “Thanks, Twi. That would be the toughest,” Alex shook his head. “But at the end of the day I must try. Although…” he rubbed his face tiredly. “I don’t know, if it works. Even Celestia seemed not entirely sure.” “The worst thing, I’m having doubts myself,” added he after a moment. “Who waiteth for me there? I mean, this me,” Twilight nodded knowingly under Alex’s glance. “Thou knowest, Twi, humans are quite xenophobic. I don’t know, if ‘t be true we were like that or became such once… but unlike ponies, who treat different creatures, even very strange ones, calmly, most of mine neighbours would be simply scared, seeing thee addressing them in the street,” Alex sighed heavily. “But you are still a human, Alex,” Twilight even raised a little, genuine quandary was written on her muzzle. “Why should anypony treat you differently?” “I became too different from mine kin,” Alex smirked sadly. “Fortunately not physically, if ‘t be true we ignore that simple fact that I most likely shall live much-much longer than them. Truth be told the latter solely is enough to rile up some.” Twilight threw a long fixed glance at Alex and nodded again, while he returned the metal lid on its place and tightened the nuts methodically. Alex slapped the generator lightly, throwing up a glance at the windmill openwork frame. “Well! Hopefully, it shalt work and I can address the last… untied end.” The windmill blades rotated slowly in the evening breeze, breaking the sudden silence with their quiet hum. Celestia’s visit to them the last evening was completely unexpected. Only five days passed since Twilight’s letter about the Tree of Harmony leaf, Alex found in his pocket and how he got it, but she didn’t expect the wheels to start rolling that fast and determinedly. Twilight was in the main hall of the Library, checking if she put all those books, she studied to find the spell suitable for gems “forging”, on their proper places; she could easily misplace something, considering the heaps of them, Alex found her sleeping among late at night. Alex was in the basement, assembling the load part of generator equipment and checking the wiring; very meticulously – exactly as he promised to Twilight, when he only started to work at her copy. A bright flash lit the Library, rows of books on the shelves along the walls, cosy couches and lamps; immediately two loud claps followed. With the first the large pristine white alicorn – princess Celestia in pony – materialized in the place of the fading flash; with the second, slightly quieter, Twilight dropped a large folio, startled by a sudden visit. “Your Highness!” Twilight took her breath, she fancied a series of quick steps up the basement stairs. “Everything okay?! Twilight!” Alex almost jumped out. His glance found nothing disastrous and stopped on princess Celestia. “Oh! Good evening, princess.” Alex bowed slightly, he didn’t have time to realize the significance of the moment and the expression of mild surprise on his face was rather diplomatic, than driven by the situation. “Good evening, Twilight, Alex!” the princess didn’t look very concerned and Alex tried his best to guess, what could bring her here out of the sudden, if not some emergency. She politely refused the tea offered by her apprentice, pulling an armchair and nesting in it instead. “I won’t take much of your time,” Celestia took a look over the few books lying here and there, then Alex hands in dust and scratch marks. “But I’d like to share this with you, as wasting the time seems harmful to me… And while my own determination hasn’t vanished,” added she quieter aside, but both her interlocutors were able to hear. “It’s about you Alex, you and your chances to leave Equestria.” Twilight gasped, not believing her ears, which perked nevertheless; Alex visibly strained. “Do you still want to try returning to your home world?” the princess repeated, looking at him seriously. Alex slowly sank, thankfully a couch happened to be under him; his eyes, glazing for a short moment, focused on Celestia’s muzzle. The princess nodded with satisfaction, continuing. “There is a certain chance that we can still return you to Earth,” Alex wanted to say something, but Celestia stopped him with a gesture. “I’m not expecting your answer right now, Alex. You must think that over thoroughly and then… well, you can send me a one-word letter, I suppose.” She looked at him almost sympathetically. “So, if nopony objects, I continue…” “As you may guess, I was informed about the recent events…” Alex sighed quietly. “…by Twilight… and by Lulu partially. Besides, my dearest student,” Celestia glanced at the girl with a loving smile of a proud teacher, making Twilight flush faintly. “wrote me about the strange incident with you on the Clock Tower, Alex. Namely that you were able to catch a leaf from the Tree of Harmony.” “The Tree is quite far from the Clock Tower, Alex. Besides, its leaves are, as you might have noticed, quite large and heavy compared to others.” “I can’t imagine the hurricane necessary to catch and throw that leaf on that distance,” after a moment Celestia shook her head slowly. “Probably the one, pegasi use to lift water to Cloudsdale, could. But there was none on that day, natural or artificially made.” “Yet if we assume that you getting that leaf was an intentional part of some plan, then…” the princess shrugged meaningfully. “Trying to find a way to send you back,” Celestia noticed, how Alex winced involuntarily. “We supposed that you were brought by some form of usual magic, even if very powerful and sophisticated one. Thus pony, gryphon or any other… of the various creatures in general sense. But there are different sources of magic on Equus and not all of them are directly connected with so-called mages, as we understand them.” “Earlier I’ve got a letter, voicing the assumption that you were brought to Equestria by some different powers, ancient and native to Equus, but not of pony origin.” Alex threw a quick glance at Celestia, remembering Discord’s idea at once. Mentioning the lord of Chaos wasn’t the smartest idea though. ‘But who could… What if?.. Impossible!’ Alex’s eyes dilated. “The letter, the following information, provided by Twilight, our own analysis of the events, you appeared here within,” princess Celestia seemed deep into her thoughts and missed Alex’s reaction. “Everything tells, that you might have been brought to Equus by the Tree of Harmony magic. Moreover, it’s very likely that the Tree is exactly the power, bringing you.” “And you suppose…” slowly started Alex. “…that it can send you back. Yes,” the princess nodded seriously. “In theory, but the arguments in favour of that theory are very strong.” “What about his magical resistance?” Twilight finally regained her voice and immediately picked the most concerning aspect. “Shan’t it be dangerous…” “There are certain risks,” the princess admitted unwittingly and Alex clearly saw, Celestia didn’t approve the idea entirely yet. “But if somepony… something can cope with your unfortunate ability, then it’s the Tree. I’m sure, we with Lulu can convince her… it… to open the proper portal and then… We can only hope.” “That’s, of course, if you are still willing to try…” “Her?” Alex startled on his couch; he looked into Celestia’s eyes. “What do you mean under “her”?..” “If you decide to try that way,” Celestia pretended that she didn’t hear his question. “Simply send me your answer. We don’t need to waste any time, so, the upcoming Friday is as fitting as a saddle.” “I suppose Twilight will gladly make us a company, as maybe somepony else…” “Yes, princess!” squeaked Twilight, still abashed. “I would like to…” “Excellent! Simply don’t take a large herd with you,” Celestia got up with a merciful smile. “Not mentioning that the whole process isn’t for everypony’s eyes. You will have plenty of time to tell those you want everything you need, Alex… if you decide to depart,” added she. “Well! I need to leave you on that note, my duties won’t wait!” “Twilight, dear! Alex!” Celestia nodded. “Be well!” With another bright flash the alicorn princess vanished. Alex looked at still stunned Twilight and decided that his question could wait. She remembered Alex’s expression precisely, a mixture of surprise, disbelief, concern and unasked questions; Twilight watched Alex gathering the instruments, as he finally finished connecting the generator. Spike, who returned to the Library the moment before Celestia’s departure, couldn’t understand what the talk was about for quite a while; he still rubbed his eyes, blinded by the flash of princess’ teleport. “I-I don’t know,” slowly said he. “It looks tricky for me, Twi. They couldn’t find the way to send him back for three months in a row… and then, boom! The Tree of Harmony will save the day?..” “I’m not going to deny its powers, but…” Spike scratched the back of his head. “But wouldn’t your magical resistance be enough of a problem… even for the Tree.” “Apparently, Tia thinketh that if ‘t be true the Tree of Harmony, supposedly, made this befall,” Alex shrugged. “It can find a safe way to deal with me.” “So are you going to try?” Twilight watched him with concern. “If I could only tell that easily,” Alex dropped back on the couch, squeezing his temples. “I don’t know if ‘t be true it worketh for sure… But to try meaneth to leave all the friends I made hither. Leave all the friends again, diving into the unknown.” “What shalt befall after mine return? I don’t know for sure. But on the other hand, if ‘t be true I don’t try, it seemeth, I shan’t be able to live in peace with myself! Besides, the longer I stay, the more I change. Time may come the return is impossible simply because of these changes…” “Are you going to tell the girls?” Twilight asked quietly. “I have to!” simply stated Alex. “Obviously not at some “Good-bye human!” kind of party, even if that’s exactly how Pinkie sees that.” He tried his best for his smile at least not to look bitter. “I shall talk with everypony I know and value… Shan’t be too many,” Alex sighed. “I don’t know about… Will she even listen to me?” “I can tell Fluttershy about Celestia’s suggestion,” the hoof gently touched Alex’s arm. “No matter how angry she is at you… I think she will come… At least it would be her own decision…” “Thank thee, Twilight!” Alex hugged the girl heartily, snuggling his forehead to hers. “Thou savest mine worthless butt again!” The present Alex looked paying more attention to the details, he was assembling, or maybe he was hiding his anxiety about that evening; he visited all the girls earlier that day, except two, for the obvious reasons, waiting for one of the latter made him visibly nervous. Twilight watched him gathering the instruments, despite all the sympathy, she firmly decided to keep certain evaluations to herself; some situations could only be spoilt by the foreign advice. “Well, let’s go and look… if this thing winds up at once,” Alex smirked, heading back to the Library; Twilight followed him closely. The placement was chosen specifically that way, so the rotor frame was visible from any of the back windows. Alex asked Twilight to flip the main switch, connecting the generator, from inside of the Golden Oak; he listened to the even hum of the load balance and nodded contentedly. Going down the dark stairs to the basement, Twilight was to cast the minimal light, as Alex insisted that they should test the electric lighting, not her undoubted abilities. With the flip of the switch right at the entrance the basement was flooded by the soft light of a couple of bulbs at the ceiling, making all sorts of strange equipment emerge from the shadows along the walls. “Now I guess I have only one aspect uncovered,” Alex folded his arms at the chest, looking satisfied and at the same time a little unsure. “Tonight. I told Willsmash, I would come late. But before there is one more… thing to do.” Twilight sighed. ‘Don’t know if I worry more that she won’t come at all, or about her reaction at his possible departure. I can only hope, it will go smoothly with Flutters, just like with the rest.’ * “…so, Ah thought, you wouldn’t refuse to be our referee once again, sugarcube,” Applejack leaned on the fence, crossing her fore legs in high boots and moving her stetson aback. She caught Pinkie accidentally passing the farm and decided to waste no time. “You know, Twilight thinks these challenges are ‘bit stupid”, she always says that we are “unique and daring in our own way and have nothing to argue upon”,” she rolled her eyes. “While Ah think otherwise – if Rainbow wants a challenge, Ah will give her one.” “Don’t say, like if you don’t,” chuckled her fluffy mane mate. “You have no chances to fool Auntie Pinkie!” She stood on her hind legs, putting her fore legs on the fence and placing her chin on the hooves, staring at Applejack, like if reading her like a book. The sunlight came through her mane, turning it almost flaming ginger. “Well…” Applejack slyly raised one eyebrow. “This time it was her idea.” “Anyway… Fluttershy always worries about us too much instead of judging,” shrugged Applejack. “And Rarity is always busy, besides, she would hardly like some rumble in the open… where twigs can get into her mane,” she squinted at Pinkie meaningfully. “So, you’re the only one, who can save the day, partner.” “You know, I’m up for any shenanigans, except the hunger-strike,” giggled Pinkie, waving her fore hoof in the air lightheartedly. “Besides, I’m dying to find out, when this “Most Daring Mare” thing gets you both bored…” Applejack got her last phrase past her ears, watching something on the path to Ponyville, Pinkie came from a few minutes before. Following her glance the latter noticed the long human figure, looking distorted in the heated flickering air. In a couple of minutes Alex reached them, waving his hand in greeting; both girls noticed his hesitant expression at once. “Good morning, Jackie!” Alex squeezed a smile. “Hi, Pinkie! It’s… actually good that I caught you here likewise.” He threw a searching gaze behind Applejack’s back, hiding his embarrassment in the casual look, and whistled. “No chance,” chuckled Applejack, following his glance. “Winona sleeps in her kennel, paws off. Strange thing, we let her out guarding at night, of course… but she looks, as if she played catch with somepony each night. Go figure…” “Errmmm…” Watching him interestedly, Pinkie nodded, Alex could read in her wide-open eyes the wish to ask something about him and Fluttershy, but he couldn’t find proper words in the critical moment, stumbling. “Come on, partner, you look like swallowing a wasp,” Applejack came to his aid a bit harshly. “What’s troubling you, Alex?” “I’m simply trying to compact the story, Jackie…” mumbled Alex, before Pinkie could open her mouth. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the simplest things. And… no, Pinkie, this time it’s not about us with Shy… not only…” “You won’t tell, if you don’t start, sugarcube!” huffed Applejack, reaching over the fence and patting his arm. “Celestia visited the Library yesterday,” Alex took a deep breath. “With the news… She told me… and Twilight…” “Don’t pull the crops, Alex,” seeing his confusion Applejack even jumped over the fence and looked into Alex’s eyes. “Did they find the…” “No. Not them,” quickly retorted Alex, a faint shadow slid across his face. “After all those investigations… somepony gave them a totally fresh idea and… She thinketh, thither probably is a method to send me back. Hither, I said that…” Both girls stared at him like thunderstruck: Pinkie forgot that she was going to scold Alex for not explaining himself to Fluttershy, Applejack simply opened and closed her mouth several times. “Yeah, I also thought that I can’t be easily surprised now,” Alex closed his eyes, shaking head. “That new approach made them conclude, the Tree of Harmony may be involved in mine arrival to Equestria and… Ti… princess Celestia thinketh, she can “persuade” it to return me as well.” “I have no idea how though,” added he in the complete silence, which made bumblebees over the dog-rose shrubs perfectly audible. “But the princesses mostly achieve, what they aspire…” he drastically failed at the smile attempt. “So…” Applejack regained her voice, blinking fast. “So, that may easily mean a “Good-bye”,” nodded Alex seriously. “I… I don’t know, if it worketh, but if it doth…” “I’m glad, I have the friends like you, girls!” Alex raised his glance. “All of you…” In a wink Alex found himself in the tight embrace of the tough pony with the golden mane, several minutes before discussing her chances to become the acknowledged “most daring mare”; he clumsily stroked her shoulders, the hay-coloured braid, smelling of bark and apples, soft sensitive ears. “When?” simply asked she. “This weekend. I don’t know the exact time yet,” Alex alternated to Pinkie and slowly shook his head, looking into her questioning eyes. “Tia wanted to keep it private, sorry.” “I… know that was important for you, partner…” Applejack sniffed, blinking off a treacherous tear. Alex looked down into her green eyes and nodded barely noticeable. “Well… Good luck with it!” she snuggled her forehead into his chest before releasing him. It was Pinkies turn and she looked up at him like a puppy with huge sparkly eyes, wrinkling her nose and bathing Alex in caramel smell of her soft puffy mane. She didn’t look that determined to put something into his mind that moment. “Please, Alex, talk with Flutters, okay? She suffers more than she tells…” “I’m working at it,” Alex swallowed a lump, squeezing Pinkie in return. ‘We with Twilight do.’ “I shan’t leave without a word, I promise.” “You are an incorrigible stubborn foal, Alex!” Pinkie shook her head, sending another caramel wave. “But I wish you luck as well! One can always find a party somewhere, eh?” she winked, making Alex smile involuntarily. “Thank you! Jackie, Pinkie… Thank you, girls,” Alex squinted with a sigh. “If everything… plays out… I won’t forget, in the earnest!” He could probably say more, but Alex wanted his possible farewell to be brief; as painless as he could make it, despite his own heart was full of doubts and hesitation fighting his wish to return. Hitting the road back to the town he threw a quick glance over the shoulder, two mares stood at the fence, shoulder to shoulder, watching the receding human. Extremely unsure about the next visit, how to approach it and what to expect, Alex lingered before coming to that door. He visited the rest of his customers: those he started building generators for and those waiting for their turn, apologizing for his possible absence (he preferred to play safely) and directing them to Willsmash; Alex explained that the blacksmith would finish the assembly and qualified specialists take the installation part, if he – Alex wouldn’t be available for any reason. He ordered more coal for the smithy, keeping in mind that he planned some intensive work that night. When he returned to the Library to write a few lines to the Canterlot Steam Company and send that letter, Twilight looked at Alex very fixedly and asked directly, when he was going to visit Rarity, causing the instant flush. Thus the Sun passed half the sky, when Alex finally reached Carousel Boutique… despite he passed it a couple of times since morning. He took a look over the small front garden with roses, then a deep breath and crossed the door yard; the note “Closed” gained his attention at once and Alex stumbled for a second, trying to guess what could make the determined fashionista avoid her work on the pretty common day. Coming here alone Alex had no idea what to expect from Rarity, but keeping in mind her previous shenanigans he realized, being prepared to literally everything wasn’t a futile precaution; the girl finding out that it could be their last meeting didn’t make things easier. ‘It seems that I’m looking for a reason to delay that visit even longer…’ that shameful thought made Alex’s ears burn and he listened carefully to the silence in the house, then knocked on the door. Knocked another time, inwardly surprised; usually Rarity didn’t lock and reacted to the guests and potential customers faster. “Who’s there?” Rarity’s voice, he finally heard, was extremely tired and somewhat colourless, but Alex was glad to hear her, as he started worrying already. “That’s me, Alex,” he tried to sound neutral. “Oh…” the unlocked door opened, revealing exhausted and sleepy Rarity, in the night gown, but with amazingly perfect mane still. Her eyes were pinkish, when she batted her long eyelashes, glancing up at Alex. “Hi, darling! Come in…” She moved aside, letting the puzzled human in; Alex threw a look around the hall, noticing that everything was generally normal, then stared at Rarity. “Are you okay?” “Me?” Rarity re-asked, she threw a quick glance at herself and the tip of her nose flushed. “Squee!” Although she didn’t rush to bring herself into “appropriate order” immediately and that worried Alex even more. Rarity shivered slightly in her night gown. “I’m okay, Ahhlex!” the familiar notes made Alex relax a bit. “But the night was awful, darling! Sweetie Belle caught a cold… Well, I very much hope it’s not contagious, and the doctor said it was a simple cold.” “She came to me at night with the aching head and high temperature,” Rarity rolled her eyes woefully, following Alex into the room and nodding towards an armchair. “Sneezed and coughed all night long and her sore throat turned her almost mute. She said, she had no idea, how that happened.” “But I think I know,” sighed Rarity with a dry expression. “That sleepover she and the fillies arranged… The nights turning cold, I think they kept running in the field too late.” Alex stumbled suddenly, Rarity almost bumped into him; her words immediately brought before his inner sight the evening Twilight helped them with the new smelter, applying her spell and then saying that she fancied some noise from the field. Alex stood, looking at the waves of high grass in his memory. ‘Interesting, how much could they see and understand? Although… it’s not that important now… And the poor girl must have gotten cold that night.’ “What’s up, darling?” Rarity looked into his eyes with concern. “Take a sit, please.” “No, no, I’m fine, Rarity. Better tell, how’s Belle doing?” Alex shook away the useless suspicions. “As I said the night was sleepless, I did my best to lower the temperature, but succeeded only a couple of hours ago, Ahhlex. The doctor came and examined her; thankfully he is confident, it’s only a cold, not something more serious,” Rarity took a breath. “But we must treat it not to have complications. School starts on Monday and I’m afraid she can miss the first days of studies, darling, she was so bad. Poor thing got asleep, right before you came… and I’m almost off my hooves as well.” “Rarity, I’m very sorry that Sweetie Belle is ill,” Alex turned to the tired unicorn girl. Bothering the sick filly was the last thing, he wanted to do. “I won’t… Please, tell her everything, when… when she feels better.” “Tell her what?” Rarity raised her widening eyes at him. “Ahhlex, you’re making me…” “It’s… Merlin’s pants! It’s not that easy…” Alex shook his head, stopping Rarity. “Okay… Princess Celestia visited me yesterday…” he tried spilling out the uneasy part as fast as possible. “She thinks… There are certain reasons for… Ughhh! Celestia thinks that they can try to return me home. Using the magic of the Tree of Harmony.” Rarity gasped, covering her lips with the fore hoof; Alex nodded meaningfully. “Mayhap the Tree of Harmony is somehow involved in mine arrival.” Alex got a déjà vu feeling, when the unicorn girl grabbed him into a quick hug, snuggling tight in her fluffy night gown. To his surprise there was nothing lustful in Rarity’s gesture that time, despite the fixed gaze of dilated, suspiciously glistening eyes, she gave Alex. The girl quietly sniffed, then burst into quiet tears; Alex didn’t know what to do, stroking her shoulders and soft silky mane slowly. “Rarity! Please… I… I don’t know if ‘t be true it worketh, like princess supposed… All the previous attempts, well, theoretically, failed,” Alex almost lulled the mare in his embrace. “So, thither is not much hope, this one is any different… But…” “You must try,” Rarity finished for him. “It is very important for you, Ahhlex… You speak strangely again… I understand,” she hid her muzzle on Alex’s chest, nodding shortly with a fitful sigh; he held her trembling shoulders. “But that means, it can easily be the last time… last time I see you, darling!” Rarity leaned back to take a better look of Alex and wiped her tears brashly. The girl stretched on her hind legs, giving Alex a tender warm kiss on his neck. “Let’s hope, everything plays out the best way for you, Ahlex!” Rarity let out a tiny unconfident smile, watching Alex with glistening starry eyes. “Oh, you desperately need a decent haircut again, darling…” “Rarity, I’m sorry…” Alex choked on words, as if a giant hand squeezed his throat. She nodded, squinting, and looked aside; sniffing again Rarity waved her hoof, fearing of her own possible reactions and biting her lip. Alex nodded knowingly, slowly retreating to the exit. The door closed. Upholding the lady look wasn’t necessary anymore and Rarity dashed upstairs, stifling her sobbing not to wake her sister. Alex leaned on the front door from outside, covering his eyes with the palm. ‘Merlin’s pants!’ he gritted his teeth, the heart painfully sank. ‘What shalt this evening bring?’ * “Well! You worried for nothing!” Twilight’s voice was exaggeratedly cheerful. “And me as well!” She clicked the switch several times with her fore hoof, then with magic, making the lights in the basement blink accordingly. “I placed the extra contacts here,” pointed Alex, following her tone, while perfectly understanding, what his alicorn friend was worried about, masking it behind the casual talk. “So you can make any equipment get power from the generator, saving your magic for the… more delicate manipulations.” The sound from above made them both turn their heads. “Good evening, Fluttershy,” Spike opened the front door, welcoming their guest in. Alex could hear the quiet soft voice, but didn’t get the exact words. The door at the upper end of stairs opened as well. “Come on, guys,” Spike huffed. “Stop messing with your technical stuff and don’t make Flutters wait!” Alex took a deep breath; they exchanged meaningful glances and Twilight nudged him to the stairs lightly. “I told her everything,” Twilight followed Alex, who ascended on the cotton legs. “I mean everything Celestia suggested and that she planned to try tomorrow. I thought that could save you both time and effort for the… more important things.” “Thanks, Twilight,” whispered Alex feelingly. “I don’t know, if I can find the right words, let alone explain everything that happened recently.” The hall looked darker after the electric light, with the candles in stands and last rays of the sunset burning out through the windows. Spike closed the front door, leaving the evening coolness outside, but the wind brought the familiar floral aroma, making Alex inhale full chest involuntarily and suddenly feel strange serenity, despite he couldn’t predict the result of the forthcoming talk. She was there. Fluttershy made only a couple of steps inside, looking around, as if she came to the Library for the first time, unconfidently raising one fore hoof, still undecided, if she made a proper choice, but realizing that she couldn’t change anything and hardly wanted to. She nodded to Twilight shortly, then her turquoise eyes stopped at Alex; Fluttershy blinked slowly, looking at him through the naughty strands of her lush mane falling on her muzzle, as she kept her head low. Alex’s heart skipped a beat, he made a few steps towards the girl, feeling how all the carefully prepared words left his mind in a wink. Fluttershy let out a quiet sigh, her soft ears perked and soaring lightly she dashed to him in a flurry, leaving her doubts behind; she wrapped her legs around Alex and hid her muzzle on his neck. The cloud of awesome mane filled Alex’s view, he buried his face in the fragrant hair, breathing thirstily, feeling her racing heart at his chest, holding his mare carefully and stroking her back. Holding back tears Alex found the silky ear, whispering. “Please, forgive me… I… I was an idiot, Shy!” “Shhh… Don’t say anything,” she snuggled to him even tighter, breathing fitfully; small hooves stroked Alex with the same tenderness, he never expected to return. “I don’t want to remember those… things. And you shouldn’t. I’m sorry, Alex, I was so scared that I could lose you… and so angry because of that, at you, at myself…” She leaned back, meeting his glance and Alex was to balance on the shore of those bottomless lakes again. The next moment he felt the soft lips covering his neck and face with fast frantic kisses; overwhelmed he sank to the floor, holding Fluttershy in his hands, his head spinning mercilessly, when she shared the breath with him passionately. “Ahem…” barely audibly cleared her throat Twilight; red as a boiled lobster she pulled widely smiling Spike to the kitchen, where addressed him with some contrived problem deliberately loud. “I was far from smart myself,” whispered Fluttershy, when she took her breath, resting her head on Alex’s shoulder. “Twilight told me, what was happening. I spent the whole day thinking… what was really important for me, for you, for… us.” “Shy…” Alex inhaled fitfully, he finally found the strength to get up with her and move to the nearby couch, holding the girl on his lap; proper words barely came to mind. “I couldn’t be more wrong in mine whole life, standing on the top of that tower…” he fell silent, shuddering from the memory. “It maketh me debate my choices more and more, would trying that… thing with the Tree bring any good to everypony.” “I know, you need to try that… Just like with… your work, with the Seekers. You couldn’t live peacefully, knowing that you ignored that chance… And I am… Who am I to take it from you?” the small hoof stroked his chest gently. “I remembered, what was important for me, what I promised… to myself at least. I promised to stay with you, to support you no matter what. Even in your attempt to get to your world… even if it hurts to accept that,” added Fluttershy quietly. “Thou art mine little guardian angel…” Alex swallowed a lump, brushing through the marvellous mane tenderly, snuggling his cheek to her forehead. “Which methinks I didn’t deserve…” “Don’t say that!” Fluttershy looked into his eyes. “I don’t know and I’m not going to judge. What I care of now… is that we are together… I’m not going to leave you till… while…” she fell silent, but it was clear what she tried to say; Alex nodded and Fluttershy squeezed him even tighter. “It’s going to happen tomorrow,” she simply stated that, colourlessly, but suddenly calm. “I don’t know, what is going to happen,” sincerely admitted Alex. “Tia thinks, she can “convince” the Tree of Harmony to send me back… supposing that it brought me here in the first place. Maybe it works, or maybe it’s just my stupid expectations,” he wanted to add something else, but said instead. “I couldn’t believe, you wrote and told her about that idea.” “I simply wanted you to be safe, Alex,” Fluttershy looked into his eyes seriously. “And I don’t mean safe from the Seekers or anything else… Exactly – safe, doesn’t necessarily mean “safe next to me”. I finally realized, she wanted the same.” Alex understood, she wasn’t referring Celestia. “Why don’t we have time, Alex? We could solve our problems somehow… all… three of us,” she bit the lip, but faintly nodded, submitting to that thought inwardly. “That doesn’t matter now,” she shook her mane, filling the air with strong honey-floral aroma. “I’m going to stay with you as long as necessary. I’m going with you to the Tree tomorrow… and then… we’ll see, I guess.” Fluttershy leaned to him, rubbing her silky cheek against Alex’s trembling palm, he dissolved in that kiss completely, closing the eyes, floating… Floating away on the pink sea of her amazing hair surrounding them. Puzzled by the silence flooding the hall Twilight peeked in to find Alex and Fluttershy on the couch, snuggling together, like they were freezing, even if it was obviously warm in the room. Fluttershy rested her head on Alex’s chest, watching with him the candle lights of the small chandelier on the table; they didn’t drop a word for quite a while, making their lilac friend concerned. “Everything okay, guys?” Twilight took an edge of the opposite seat and looked at them inquiringly. “You both are… far from here.” “What? Oh, sorry, Twilight,” Alex looked confused, hugging the soft yellow shoulders he stroked them lightly. “We thought about… things… Right, Shy?” “Ummm… Twilight, I w-wanted to ask one thing… if it’s okay with you,” Fluttershy woke from her contemplation and the tip of her nose flushed. “C-can I… stay? I mean, it’s only about twenty-four hours till… you know…” she leaned to Alex, who nodded, being caught off guard by that mere idea, yet accepting it wholeheartedly. “We won’t disturb you…” “Of course, you can…” Twilight’s muzzles flushed as well, but added determinedly. “You can stay, Flutters, I understand. What disturbance are you even talking about?” “Thanks, Twi!” Alex and Fluttershy said that almost in unison, the smile touched both their faces. “I need to check my animals in the morning, of course,” Fluttershy glanced at him apologetically. “But I’ll try to be back after the noon the latest.” “You don’t need to justify,” Alex wrapped his arms around the girl, making Twilight flush again involuntarily. “I need to settle some odds with the company, so, my morning will be filled with papers anyway.” “I have one more thing to do though,” added Alex quietly, nuzzling Fluttershy’s mane and making her squint and perk her ears. “And I don’t know how you look at that, Shy… I need to visit the smithy, before I leave. I must run the new smelter and check, if I give Will the working instrument,” he added quickly, before anypony could say something. “It won’t take much time, but I need to go… while “sleepwalking”.” A theatrical pause made the silence so thick, everypony could hear the candles crackling, when Spike, who joined them a moment ago, froze and exhaled, glaring at Alex and Fluttershy. “I couldn’t fall asleep yet anyway, probably at all tonight,” the pegasus girl looked up into his eyes, stifling shivers and letting out a small smile instead. “If… If you don’t mind… I would like to see… M-maybe I could take everything you do there lighter, if I knew exactly…” she stumbled, then the small hoof touched Alex’s chest. “Can I go with you? I got used to thinking that old Will was to be avoided, but…” Saying that Alex was knocked all of a heap was next to saying nothing, he could shortly nod only after a minute; Twilight thought that many problems could have been avoided that way, but prudently kept that to herself – it wasn’t the best moment to judge the past mistakes. Everypony barely noticeably, but obviously took their breath. “I extend mine hope the whole thing shan’t be deadly boring for thee,” Alex finally regained his voice. “But that meaneth, we must depart soon… I don’t want to be much of an overnight burden for them.” “To tell the truth, I always wanted to see, how it happens,” with a tiny smile Fluttershy kissed him tenderly; Alex’s strain simply dissolved in her touch. “Your sleepwalking… It hard for me to imagine…” “Ahem… I hope my help with the smelter won’t be needed tonight,” pronouncedly busily asked Spike. “I would like to address my sleep sometimes, if you don’t mind!” he puffed jokingly, making everypony laugh. “Yes, Spike! I think we can cope,” Alex still chuckled, with his eyes only thanking the dragon boy for relieving the atmosphere. “By the by, talking about sleep I remembered something,” muttered Alex pensively; he looked into Fluttershy’s eyes seriously. “Can you relay my good-bye to Rainbow, Shy? When you go home in the morning… If you see her, of course… Say that I’m sorry for the bar… No! Scratch that! That would be a bad idea… Simply tell her, I wish her luck… despite all the complications between us.” Fluttershy sighed with the sudden shine in her eyes, she hugged Alex tight. “I will!” * “Rest assured, that’s still not entirely usual even for me,” Alex measured the dusty road, holding back his pace to let Fluttershy keep up with him; he looked at her still bemused muzzle and let out a small encouraging smile. “I doubt a couple of months is enough to get used to that, even if it becomes a part of your everyday life. I still have that feeling of surreal, each time I appear near… my sleeping body.” He obviously meant that moment, when he finally fell asleep in his room with Fluttershy slowly stroking his hair; the girl looked, as if she was ready to sit next to him till the morning or even longer if necessary. “Ahem… Fluttershy?” the quiet voice made her wince. She was ready to something alike, as much as one could be ready for some totally wicked experience, yet it took Fluttershy an effort not to squeak loudly, waking Alex up, the real Alex. Another one stood in the opposite corner of the room, watching Fluttershy, who covered her mouth with the fore hoof, and pressing the index finger to his lips. “Shhhh… That’s me, Shy,” Alex, the proxy-Alex, approached and accurately touched her shoulder, letting Fluttershy feel that nothing had changed since that night in her garden – the hand was still warm and solid. “That’s how it happens,” he whispered. “Well, when I appear near my material self, not on some distance.” “That’s…” Fluttershy blinked several times, alternating between Alex sleeping on the sofa and Alex leaning over. “Sweet Celestia, that’s… weird, to say the least!” “I still believe it’s not the weirdest part,” chuckled Alex, opening the window quietly and waving to Fluttershy. “Let’s go!” “You know, Shy, I always wondered,” Alex stopped for a moment, the sky colours were quickly fading, smudging into the solid dark blue and black, where the rare dark clouds wandered slowly; the brightest stars already encrusted the velvet night here and there, little by little forming the known and unknown constellations, as more of them became visible. “Where Earth was in that pattern,” he nodded towards the night sky. “It must be somewhere near… Well in the universal scale – near, as I know some of the constellations. They are the same here and in our world… But the others…” Alex inhaled deeply and slowly shook his head; the cool air brought the familiar scent of the smoke and heated metal from the smithy. Alex smiled wryly. “That doesn’t entirely compute, Shy.” “I don’t know, how that’s possible, dear…” Fluttershy sighed quietly, the talk about Earth hardly made her mood brighter. “You said once that you may be on Earth… simply… another version of it. I didn’t understand quite. But if that means… we c-could meet again… maybe…” with another rueful sigh she fell silent. Alex felt the small hoof on his arm and the next second Fluttershy reached out to him, raising on her hind legs and putting the fore hooves on his chest. Leaning to her Alex held the girl on her waist, feeling the soft coat and the silky touch of her lips on his own; it tasted sweet and time stopped again with their kiss. The omnipresent cicadas screeched again, encouraged by the silence, disturbed only by a couple of late dogs, barking at the edge of the town. The sudden whistle of some night bird in the field made Fluttershy twitch in Alex’s arms slightly; Alex cursed the feathery peacebreaker inwardly. “It’s becoming quite fresh,” he looked deep into girl’s eyes, the brightening stars reflected in the turquoise bottomless lakes, making Alex doubt his decision the most at that moment. “I can carry you, if you want…” he brushed through the sumptuous pink hair, removing the naughty strands from Fluttershy’s muzzle and planting another small kiss on her nose. “I-I’m okay…” Fluttershy snuggled her cheek to his chest tighter, looking somewhere in the dark fields. “I… just don’t want to…” She didn’t need to finish, Alex understood that it wasn’t their late visit, she spoke about. “Look, the lights are up at the smithy,” Fluttershy pointed her fore hoof exaggeratedly cheerful. “It seems they aren’t even going to sleep.” Slowly, unwillingly she released him and both human and pegasus walked on side by side again. “I notified Will earlier today about that,” quietly said Alex. “I’m still trying to find out, why he is treated like that… I saw no tiny reason for that, Shy. Whatever Willsmash had in his past, I’m not sure it is worth alienating him now. Moreover, transferring that on his niece.” “But, of course, all that doesn’t matter now,” added he aside in half-voice. Mutely, followed by the cicadas as they passed the field, they crossed the empty space in front of the fence; Alex reached the gate first, understanding Fluttershy’s hesitation. A couple of windows threw the beams of light on the ground and the old blacksmith was outside, fanning the smithy at that moment; candent coals lit his scarred face with an eye patch from below with bright red and yellow, turning him into the semblance of his own work from some aged darkened bronze. “Good evening!” Alex opened the gate. “I’m sorry for a small delay, uncle Will…” Fluttershy raised one eyebrow behind his back, still invisible for the blacksmith. “Oh… Evening!” Willsmash left the bellows and turned to the sound. “I’ve got your letter, Alex, and kept the fires hot. I wonder what was the urge to gather at night though…” his single eye watched the human shrewdly and Alex thought that the old unicorn guessed, if not knew, about his plans. “Hi, Alex!” Silver Ingot appeared at the doorstep, attracted by the talk. “Errmmm…” she had a better view and noticed Alex’s follower, real surprise reflected in her widening eyes; from all the ponyvillers she could imagine Fluttershy coming to the smithy the last. “I came not alone tonight,” following her glance Alex elaborated. “Fluttershy…” “Good evening, mister Steel,” Fluttershy peeked from behind Alex and stepped into the light. “Silver Ingot,” she nodded to the filly; flushing a little Fluttershy scratched the ground with her fore hoof unconfidently, then raised it, glancing at them through the mane, which fell on her eyes again. “I-I’m sorry… if I am disturbing you… I simply wanted to see…” she stumbled and flushed to the roots of her long pink hair. ‘…if you aren’t that dangerous as ponies tell,’ finished for her Alex and sighed inwardly. “You wanted to see, if what we are doing with your… friend is totally safe and couldn’t harm anypony, primarily Alex,” Willsmash sported an understanding smile, it was warm and open at the same time, like if the old blacksmith remembered how it was – to meet guests, and did it with pleasure. With a welcoming gesture he added. “Well, it’s a nice idea, miss Fluttershy. Good evening! Join us and judge by yourself.” Flushing even more, but with visible relief, Fluttershy trotted to the porch, as Silver Ingot came down. “I hope all of your animal friends feeling well, miss Fluttershy,” said she timidly, stopping next to the pegasus girl. “I saw you buying herbs at the market this morning, sorry…” “Oh, it’s for the tea… They are alright, thank you,” a bright tender smile lit Fluttershy’s muzzle. “And… it’s simply Fluttershy or Flutters… for the friends.” “Alex calls me Sil,” both girls immediately blushed, while Alex watched them fixedly with rounded eyes. “And I admit, it’s more hoofy than the whole name quite often.” “Ahem…” Alex cleared his throat a bit hoarsely, making the old unicorn quietly chuckle; throwing an unambiguous glance at the new smelter, Alex stepped forward. “I… We came for one certain reason tonight…” Alex looked around and Will strained a bit. “Truth be told, I have no idea whether this worketh or not…” slowly said Alex, downcasting. “Too many variants appeared to be useless afore, but in case it doth…” He raised his glance and dropped. “The princess thinketh, thither is one possible way to send me home!” Willsmash nodded in confirmation of some thoughts, Silver Ingot gasped raising the fore hoof to her mouth and Fluttershy simply sighed heavily. “It is involving the Tree of Harmony,” Alex walked back and forth, getting his head together. “As princess Celestia believeth, it might be involved in mine transfer hither. She is going to try to… persuade the Tree of Harmony to send me back the same or similar way. On morrow!” added he meaningfully, while both unicorns listened to him like stunned; Fluttershy simply bit her lip silently. “Tomorrow evening to be exact.” “When it works,” with a huge effort Alex braced himself. “IF it works… I don’t want all that we did to be lost.” “You have all my notes and calculations,” he turned to Will determinedly. “And I’m going to run the new smelter and explain everything you need to know to use it as planned… for the smithy to work, moreover succeed,” he interrupted the blacksmith with a gesture. “Sorry… I wrote to Canterlot Steam Company and asked them to send all the blueprints of details they have problems with. On morrow I shall prepare final letters, making them work directly with you, Willsmash.” “But,” Alex glanced at the smelter again. “We need to run that thing first!” “Well, it’s your decision, son, and I won’t dissuade you,” sighed Will. “But… are you absolutely, completely sure about your leaving, about returning to your world? I mean, you’re not the same Alex, which came here, anymore.” “I’m not sure about anything already, it seemeth…” muttered Alex with a sad smile. “I’ve noticed, how you were moving Alex, you came here sleepwalking, right?” Silver Ingot looked at him inquiringly under the surprised glance of Fluttershy. “Would the others easily accept all the changes, which happened to you? Especially that one,” added she thoughtfully. “I always wonder, why you don’t use it in training…” ‘And she doesn’t know about my supposed life span. That’s the real problem!’ Alex opened his mouth to reply, but Fluttershy was faster, her soft melodic voice sounded suddenly firm. “I suppose the real friends differ in the way that they can accept him regardless to Alex’s new abilities or appearance changes, be it sleepwalking or even… fire breathing. Even wings or horn are not the reason…” “Merlin’s pants!” Alex chuckled nervously. “I still hope I’m lucky enough, getting neither of the latter. Considering all the circumstances, it would be great if at least mine own parents accepted me as… the real me. I would hardly be surrounded by a crowd, thus hiding mine new abilities is an easier task, than it seems at first.” “Anyway… Back to our matter of importance,” Alex addressed the smelter again. “I’ve loaded it, as you asked, and the materials you brought yesterday are there,” Willsmash nodded towards the awning over the workbenches. “Excellent!” Alex lovingly stroked the side of the smelter. “Thanks, uncle Will!” Like before, in a second or two the large construction “sighed”, as the coal inside ignited, getting hotter and hotter, so soon the rare sparkles flew out of the neck of the smelter pulled by the roaring flames and draught. Alex didn’t pay the process much attention though, he didn’t look overly concentrated, simply waiting for something; the blacksmith witnessed that the new smelter could reach much higher temperatures on its own, without foreign influence. “There is nothing new for every unicorn in the process,” elaborated Alex. “I’m not interfering with it and the smelter reaches much higher temperatures, simply being lit initially. Obviously, you can amplify the heating a bit more with your magic perhaps, but what it gives itself, in this mode, is already much higher than the old one.” The old blacksmith cupped his beard, watching attentively, and Alex pulled and levitated a few chunks of metal and some ore from the workbenches. “Normally, those elements can’t be combined in an alloy,” he winked mischievously, while the materials disappeared in the smelter maw. “But not at that temperature. And the result will be much more durable than anything, we made afore.” “Well, I see nothing strange or dangerous so far,” noted Fluttershy, they kept a safe distance with Silver Ingot. “If Alex said before it was mere metalwork, it would be easier to accept… Of course, it all depends on what the result is aimed at,” added she meaningfully. “Oh, miss… Sorry… Fluttershy, knowing Alex,” chuckled Silver Ingot, causing Fluttershy’s fixed glance. “It’s not that simple as it seems. I think, we didn’t see everything yet.” “Now choose the mould and try making something of that metal,” offered Alex. “We don’t have the necessary calibres for the bearings yet, so it can be some mallet or… And, uncle Will, handle the mould with your magic only, before it cools down a bit, as the current tools will most likely melt in contact.” “Hmmm… It’s easier to say…” Willsmash picked out the form carefully, stopping on the mould, they made recently; supposedly it was to hold fine under the higher temperature filling. Meanwhile, Alex opened the smelter tray, letting out a wave of unendurable heat, as the hell raged inside; he let out a smile, seeing what mould Will brought – from all the possible variants the old unicorn chose the glaive blade, another one was already made by Alex. “Here we go,” Willsmash landed the mould next to the tray. “Well, not worse than any other, I suppose,” chuckled Alex. “It will make a perfect scythe anyway, one, which won’t wear out for ages. Quite useful, if you need to fight that thick grass,” Alex nodded towards the field, making Will shake head with a sigh. “What? I’m trying to think positive, no matter what…” The shining blob of candent metal floated out of the smelter tray, guided by Alex’s will; he accurately lowered it into the mould, letting to spread and fill it entirely. The mould crackled and hissed, becoming almost red from the heat, but it stood intact this time; Alex smirked approvingly and welcomed Willsmash with a wide gesture. After an hour of hard work another bladed started to shape out. Willsmash was surprised by the actual ease of the new metal in forging and sharpening. He was to pick the mould and the blank with his magic indeed, as Alex said; even the mallets were to be applied fast at first not to weld to the future blade. The blank clung, slowly taking the desired shape, letting considerably less sparkles out than regular metal before; Will was to hold it above the smelter neck to heat, as the old smithy couldn’t raise the temperature of the metal enough. The cold water went after the anvil, then grindstone took its duty. Everything froze under the deep dark sky, even the omnipresent cicadas fell silent, while the old blacksmith worked. Finally, the strange complex patterns and shapes showed up on the forged surface and sharpened edges of the dark matte blade. Alex watched the result, catching himself on the thought that it resembled him Luna’s feathers somehow. “As expected,” Alex took a look over Will’s shoulder. “I may know something about the metals, but… the blade made by me is complete crap compared to the real master’s work.” “For each is time, Alex, for each…” Will stopped himself and looked at Alex apologetically. “Yeah, well… Let’s check it,” Alex looked aside, then pulled his earlier blade from the stand. “Methinks it a good use for it.” The hit wasn’t very hard, as Willsmash felt awkward still, yet the new blade made a deep notch on the older sample; Silver Ingot squeaked excitedly and both girls stepped closer to have a better look. “I’d like to know how you did that, son,” Willsmash slowly shook his head. “Even if I know your calculations in general…” “Well, as I said, the process is quite simple in that case,” Alex shrugged. “Every unicorn can probably handle the smelting itself, as all you need is to ignite. The smelter, however, due to its construction can operate at higher temperature, about six-seven hundreds centi… well, Kelpigrade. I suppose it’s the same from the physical point of view. Under those conditions and with new components, unmixable in other cases, totally new steel… alloy is formed.” He took the blade, examining it, watching the ligature of complex patterns with visible pleasure. “Nopony with the existing in Equestria technology can top that, thus using that smelter at its minimal capabilities, you can compete the companies now,” Alex glanced at old Will slyly. “Even knowing the components they won’t be able to copy the process itself.” “All you probably need is to keep overly curious snoots away from the smelter,” added he. “That’s quite a task!” Fluttershy couldn’t hold back a short chuckle. “I mean… we’re in Ponyville…” “That’s really fascinating! I can’t… I can never thank you enough, Alex,” the old blacksmith was unable to mask the sudden glance in his eye. “But… I have a feeling, you were going to achieve more.” Alex couldn’t but nod barely noticeable. “That’s what the smelter does by itself practically,” Will looked at Alex evaluatively. “I can’t believe that was the top of your hard work. Forgive my old unicorn’s curiosity, but I would like to know, what that smelter is really capable of. What was your goal, son?” Alex hesitated, he planned to tell and show everything, but wasn’t sure if it was reasonable at that moment, considering that could be his last evening on Equus – the full smelter capabilities demanded his direct involvement. Under the curious glances of both girls he finally gave up. “I planned to rise the smelting temperatures much more than that,” confessed Alex. “Six hundreds Kelpigrade isn’t the reachable limit, and with twice or even thrice more, we could add some elements in the alloy, which would make, for example, the armour made of it be practically impenetrable for basic magical fireballs, let alone simple projectiles.” “The process isn’t that simple though,” added he, tenderly stroking the convex side of his construction. “Even that smelter couldn’t hold temperatures that high on its own, as approaching two thousand Kelpigrade the inner coating would start to evaporate simply. Thus my newly obtained abilities were needed to isolate the plasma co… sorry, let’s say the… core, the orb of the strongest flame and raise the pressure in it considerably, as with pressure increase we can raise the temperature easier.” “But to achieve that, I would need to control the process constantly,” Alex looked at the stunned ponies and shrugged. “If we remove pressure fast, the core will explode. That’s totally unsafe, as you understand. I don’t know, if somepony else can do the same,” added he after a minute of strained silence. “Presumably yes, after some trials, understanding the process completely… That’s why I left all my notes.” “You really found a common language with fire, Alex,” whispered Fluttershy. “But how?” “If only I knew. Maybe because the flames were what I came here through,” Alex shuddered unwittingly. “Anyway, I can control all the material objects while sleepwalking, but… with fire the results are especially promising. Speaking of which I don’t know the chances of somepony doing, what I described, so…” “We would like to see, what you worked on so hard,” softly said Silver Ingot. “Please.” “I m-might treat that… differently before… but I’d like to know, w-what you invested so much effort and even… your soul in.” Hearing that from Fluttershy Alex was shocked, to say the least; the one, who tried to keep him away from everything connected to that old smithy, weapons forging, Seekers, wanted to have a look at his “dangerous contrivance”. Alex looked at the girl completely anew… almost like at the moment, Fluttershy stared the enraged seekers’ victim. “Okay…” he exhaled, realizing that he couldn’t avoid that demonstration anyway. “But… please, keep distance. Just in case… I can shield the temperature excess, but not the light… And… That’s the first time I shall try that on practice!” He checked the tray of evenly burning smelter to be tightly shut, when Fluttershy and both unicorns took the safe place, closer to the house; nothing could probably go wrong. Nothing should go wrong! “Well, let’s try it,” squeezed Alex through the gritted teeth and closed his eyes, concentrating his inner view on the smelter’s inside. The hum began to grow. “The hardest thing is to keep all the things isolated,” elaborated Alex, he spoke slowly, visibly paying most attention to the flames. “The burning core, pressurized, the materials for the alloy; they must be near the core, but not in it… as with the pressure increasing, their melting temperature increases likewise. The less air is near the alloy, the better, as under that temperature, the oxygen shalt simply burn out some components. Well…” The smelter produced a loud sucking sound, pulling air through the upper opening. “Don’t look directly on it!” dropped Alex, producing some inner push. A column of light hit the sky out of the smelter neck, with the audible rustle and crackling something emerged from the humming stone construction. The unbearable light flooded the surroundings, turning the night almost into the bright day. Three ponies were to shield their eyes with the fore hooves: the orb appearing above the smelter was hardly larger than a wagon wheel, but it was a piece of raging hell, with flames swirling and curling in the constant whirlpool, making the “surface” of the sphere constantly change its candent patterns of white, bright yellow and red. Providently standing his back to it Alex let out a small smile and opened his eyes. “Most heat is going upwards now,” he cast a side glance at the fire orb. “Exactly as it was supposed to work.” Despite all the shielding, the heat was barely endurable; Fluttershy squeaked and made a small step back. “Methinks it’s enough,” Alex became serious at once, driving the flaming sphere back into the smelter belly much faster than he raised it. “Prithee, give me a couple of minutes…” Soon the sound from inside the smelter became usual again and Alex took his breath. He quickly approached Fluttershy and kneeled to her, hugging the girl softly; Fluttershy snuggled to his chest, hiding her muzzle, but Alex saw that she wasn’t scared… overwhelmed rather. “Apologies, if it was somewhat scary!” he glanced at the rest. “It… could be a nice weapon… against those monsters,” pensively said Silver Ingot; Alex was surprised by that simple idea not coming into his head. “Unfortunately, too many conditions should be met at once for it to work,” he slowly and reassuringly stroked Fluttershy’s mane, until she glanced up at him more confidently. “I used fire against them already, but never thought…” “How… how hot it was?” the blacksmith finally regained his voice. “I mean inside that… thing.” “One – one and a half thousand Kelpigrade approximately,” shrugged Alex casually. “I planned to raise the temperatures slowly initially, experimenting with materials. Wanted to reach three thousand at some point… maybe four. I don’t yet have the elements needing that temperature to fuse.” “That’s probably won’t matter anyway tomorrow,” added he quietly, making Fluttershy let out a woeful sigh in his arms. * Some small birds landed on the balcony parapet and jumped back and forth along the hoofrail, chirping and chattering freely, so quiet and motionless Alex and Fluttershy sat. Some of them undoubtedly knew Fluttershy well, yet politely kept some distance not disturbing the closeness of the mare and the man, as if feeling the seriousness of the moment. Leaning his back at the warm sunlit trunk Alex embraced his marefriend from behind and softly nuzzled her fragrant mane, making the girl squint from pleasure and almost purr in his arms. She followed him, shortly after Alex got at the upper balcony of the Library, making him company and snuggling to Alex’s chest; since then they haven’t said a single word, but neither of them considered it necessary. If they started talking, they would have touched the imminent partying sooner or later and neither Alex nor Fluttershy wanted that spoiling their probably last afternoon together. They sat there about a couple of hours or maybe more; surprisingly Alex didn’t feel any glimpse of unease, despite that was the highest reachable point of the Golden Oak for him – the entire Ponyville lied in front of their eyes. But the town below with the herd mingling in the streets, carriages rolling, the talk, muffledly coming through the foliage, like the hum of some large beehive, was of no importance for Alex and Fluttershy. Deep in his thoughts, Alex travelled his fingers through Fluttershy’s sumptuous mane; the soft silky ear twitched, flicking his nose slightly – he must have accidentally tickled her. With a tiny smile Fluttershy looked up at Alex, he didn’t fight the desire to dive into those turquoise lakes entirely, sharing a passionate kiss with her. Even the birds shut up for a second… or so it seemed to Alex and Fluttershy, who didn’t hear anything except the hearts of each other, beating so close. The Sun long passed the noon and moved slowly on its daily route to the western edge of the sky; its rays caressed everything they touched, telling that the last day of the Summer is not the last warm day. Everything promised the calm and relaxing evening and the end of the week for the busy, tired herd in the streets below. The oak leaves lulled, quietly whispering around Alex and Fluttershy, framing the balcony as a fluffy green and bronze cloud. Fluttershy closed her eyes, hiding the nose at Alex’s neck; inwardly he was thankful for no tears coming out of those beautiful eyes, realizing that the time for tears would inevitably come later. Alex’s day started early, he woke from a tender kiss on his nose, when Fluttershy left his embrace early in the morning, and the Library shortly after – she hurried to see her animal friends and take care of those, who needed that, to return in time. Waking up completely Alex remembered, what he was going to undertake; he felt how his soul is ripped in halves by the wish and doubts fighting again. Thinking of it at that moment he couldn’t remember if it was his dream… well, as in the usual dream, or Luna really did come to him, while he was sleepwalking, for the second time during one night. On the one hand, he clearly spent that night, softly cuddling Fluttershy on his sofa, on the other hand, the memory of him sitting in the field, watching the stars with Luna, whose head rested on his shoulder, was too vivid to be a simple dream. ‘If I leave, will I ever see her again, at least in my dreams? Will she be able to show me Fluttershy again?’ Alex sighed and got to the routine, trying not to think, what his life would be like, if he succeeded with that portal; he had some questions, opened by his possible departure, to solve there and then exactly. The day started with a heap of letters: Alex wrote to the Canterlot Steam Company, explaining them the current work layout and Willsmash’s position as his assignee, when Alex wasn’t available; to the patent bureau and attorney – about delegating the rights to the blacksmith and his niece; to Will himself – filling him in the new order of things after own departure; to a couple of local customers, whose orders weren’t yet fulfilled; a few words for Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, whom he didn’t have a chance to see… A whole load of papers. Gathering the rest of his notes, which could be of any use for Will’s future work and shoving them into a thick envelope, Alex thought that it would be probably a nice idea to ask Twilight rewriting at least the letters to CSC and patent bureau in ink. Involuntarily Alex flushed: when it came to the quills, he was still worse than a foal, making a total mess on the sheet of paper. Finally, he took a look around; the room was almost like when he entered it for the first time, he already transferred the minerals to the smithy. Only the armour piece, he worked on and probably was never to finish, lied in the corner and… the accurately folded ancient tapestry of the Night Crown on the small table. “I think I’m done,” Alex caught Twilight in her study with the large tome on transportation magic; the girl masked her nerves behind refreshing in her memory, what could be useful that night. “Could you please send all those?” He placed the large stack on the table. “You know, Alex,” this time Twilight turned to him at once, putting her fore hoof on the letters and throwing an attentive glance over him. “I will surely send them all, immediately… after you are not here, in Equestria. If you are not here…” Alex nodded silently, then he leaned and hugged Twilight tight. “I would love to have at least one such friend in my home world, Twi! No more is necessary…” The alicorn girl blinked fast and turned away for a second, when he let off her. “Are… are you going to take something with you?” Twilight’s voice noticeably trembled. “I don’t know. When I got here, all my belongings got lost,” Alex shook his head. “I will be lucky keeping my clothes, when… if I get to Earth. It would be a waste methinks…” “Which giveth me an idea, Twilight,” Alex looked over his shoulder towards his room pensively. “The Royal Tapestry… I don’t want it to vanish. Alas, I can’t take it, but I don’t want it to gather dust for another thousand of years either. Please, givest it to Fluttershy… if she taketh it. I want them to keep being friends, no matter what, Twi…” “As soon as you are on your way home…” Twilight shortly nodded. “What are you going to do now, Alex?” “Simply wait, look at Equestria while I still can, trying to remember, what I like about it,” Alex shrugged with a sad, but somehow light smile. “I shall be upstairs,” he raised his eyes. “Shy promised to come early…” holding her hoof for a second in his hands, Alex exited. Feeling the soft touch on his shoulder Alex winced and woke up from his thoughts. Twilight looked down at them both apologetically. “It’s time, mates… The Sun is already setting and we must be at the edge of Everfree after the sunset. I promised the princesses that we wouldn’t be late. The road through the forest isn’t very short and Celestia thought it could take some effort to… open the portal.” “Well…” Alex got up, still holding Fluttershy on his arms; her kiss burnt his neck, the girl snuggled closer into him, realizing that it could be the home straight. “I guess, it’s now or nev’r.” ‘I’m for “nev’r”, please…’ flashed in Fluttershy’s head, but she let off Alex with a tiny smile, fluttering and landing next to him. Spike met them at the bottom of the stairs, as usual he was busy with something about the house, but interrupted his job, hearing the hoofsteps. “I’ll stay here, if you don’t mind; no need to make the place herded,” the little dragon looked a bit confused. “Just in case… well, you know… It was a pleasure…” “Even despite Rarity?” Alex smirked slightly. “Even despite Rarity!” Spike nodded firmly, squeezing the palm Alex offered for the handshake. “Good luck, mate!” “Same to you, Spike, and thanks…” Followed by his glance, two ponies and one human exited the Golden Oak Library and headed around, to the back yard and further in the field. Alex asked the girls to get around the town through the outskirts or even the crops if possible, he didn’t want to gain useless attention to their late walk. “I talked with everypony I needed,” explained Alex, when they reached the road from the Apples’ Farm to the railway station and headed south. “The whole town shalt find out eventually, if I leave… but not right now. I don’t want to run into anypony I know close, especially other girls…” Twilight nodded after a momentary thinking and Fluttershy only sighed, quietly, but both Alex and Twilight could hear. She shivered slightly, maybe because some autumn-like coolness crawling from the field, and whispered. “It’s getting colder, I think, we’ll have a foggy morning…” Fluttershy stumbled upon that word and downcasted, realizing that the morning would be different regardless to the fog. Despite Alex’s precautions, they still ran into one familiar pony: reaching the crossroads, where the road to the farm merged with the one rounding Ponyville from the south and heading to the Clock Tower – exactly the road they needed, Alex and girls saw Big Mac examining the large apple trees at the orchard edge. “Evening!” McIntosh greeted the girls energetically and turned to Alex, lowering his voice. “Jackie told me… So, it’s tonight… yar going to…” Alex shortly nodded; following the direction of his gaze Big Mac elaborated. “Autumn cutting… Better planed beforehoof, mate. Well… Ah hope you’ll get, what yar lookin’ for.” ‘If only I knew, what I’m really looking for now…’ Alex squeezed a wry smile, waving Applejack’s brother a good-bye. Passing Ponyville from the south Alex asked the girls to pace up a bit, the further part of the road, right behind the park and bridge over the river could be easily seen from Carousel Boutique; Alex didn’t want to bother Rarity once again, even knowing that she was most likely busy taking care of the ill younger sister. He turned away from the town and let the girls slightly forward, the regret pulled Alex’s heart, he didn’t say a word to the fillies; Fluttershy threw quick glances at him over the shoulder, noticing him becoming gloomier with each step. Finally, she quietly told something to Twilight and both girls slowed down to walk head to head with Alex. The Sun slowly approached the horizon, as if letting everypony enjoy the soft colours of the sunset longer. It seemed that Celestia was especially benevolent this evening, letting her star paint the skies and gathering clouds in all the tints of pink, red and golden, even some threads of aquamarine. The sunlit cottage with its garden and surrounding trees, the openwork bridge over the stream, the water wheel (it seemed to Alex, as if he built it ages ago) looked unreally ideal, without any wrong line or curve, like cut from the satin paper and glued to the pastel grass and apples fragrant evening. A little further to the south-east the solid mass of the Clock Tower, bronze in the oblique sunlight, threw the long pitch black shadow, like some giant clock hand, pointing to the west; it blinked in the last rays of the sun with the single, survived by some miracle, glass in the high window and the dusk began taking over. Alex, Fluttershy and Twilight reached the edge of the Everfree forest, when the sunset gave up finally and the thin pink stripe on the western edge of the sky vanished behind the trees completely; at the same time gentle silvery shine started flooding the east, rising higher and higher, highlighting the clouds – the Moon took its nightly throne. They stopped under the first trees on the edge, unseen from the field, let alone from the town; Alex inhaled the full chest of the forest air, filled with dampness and the mix of unknown smells – there were lots of plants in Everfree blooming even in the very end of the Summer. Twilight wanted to say something, but a bright flash made them three wince a little, revealing the large yet gracious frame of the white alicorn princess; with another flash the smaller fine chiselled figure appeared – Luna joined her sister. “Good evening, Twilight, Fluttershy, Alex!” Celestia bowed her head slightly. Luna nodded to everypony, then stepped forward. Completely ignoring her sister’s astounded gaze Luna approached Alex and snuggled her cheek to Alex’s face, hugging his shoulders with her fore leg. She kept like that for a while, closing her eyes, a single tear left a silver trail on her silky blue cheek; Alex swallowed a sudden lump, wrapping his arms around the swan neck, caressing her mane and feeling lavender aroma surrounding him. Surprisingly Fluttershy didn’t say a word; she looked away, when Luna nuzzled Alex’s temple biting her lip woefully, and even the small, but passionate kiss, left by the blue lips on Alex’s neck, was met with understanding. “Ahem…” Celestia sounded nervous, clearing her throat. “It’s time to go, if… If you decided that you are giving it a try, Alex!” Alex opened his eyes and slowly nodded, feeling how Luna’s heart sank and skipped a beat; he looked into those dark blue eyes, forcing his own to stay dry. “Let’s do it.” “I suppose you don’t know the path to the Tree, Alex, do you?” Celestia looked over her shoulder, deepening into the forest, as she automatically took the lead. She headed more to the east, than the old road, which dived under and ran into the darkness between the trees; they were to walk almost straight through the forest. Alex remembered his old dream with the Tree of Harmony; he was “transferred” somewhere near the cleft… besides, he had no idea, if it was a good moment to mention his strange acquaintance with the Tree. “No, princess, only the road to the Old Castle,” said he under Luna’s quick glance. ‘She definitely was there and that was more than a simple dream’, thought Alex. It happened that Luna and Fluttershy took places by Alex’s sides silently, each one avoided starting the talk, feeling the awkwardness because of the presence of another – friends and rivals by coincidence at the moment. Twilight had nothing left than join her mentor on that walk, as she didn’t want to stay in rearguard alone; walking next to Fluttershy or Luna looked the same as taking one’s side psychologically for her, which Twilight tried to avoid at any cost there. Secretly peeking over the shoulder, while trying to pace up with Celestia, whose long legs gave an unquestionable advantage on the walk, Twilight noticed the quick tensed glances both girls exchanged occasionally; they did their best to keep them unnoticed by Alex though. Naturally, Alex was to address them both due to the same diplomatic reasons, Twilight could hear “girls”, said most neutrally; the rest of the quiet talk slipped by her ear, when the girls replied. Twilight sighed, realizing the complexity of the situation and Alex’s position at the moment, then turned to Celestia. “Your Highness, I’m sorry, is something still bothering you? I supposed our reckoning was right and… the Tree is exactly…” “My dear Twilight,” the princess let out a small smile, making her jaw relax a bit and her glance warmed. “Almost everything in our situation is bothering me to some extent. Our reckoning is doubtlessly correct and the Tree of Harmony is what we need, as sh… it brought the human to our world most likely. But… the correctness of our current deeds is what I doubt, concerned if they won’t bring us trouble in the long perspective.” Twilight opened her mouth with a bewildered expression, listening to Celestia’s explanation. “You see, Twilight, I’m concerned about the safety of our subjects first. And I’m still not entirely sure which aims the Tree of Harmony is pursuing in that exact case. It’s an ancient entity… much more ancient than Equestria itself, than us with Luna obviously. What is considered beneficial to Equus in general… in the universal sense, is not obligatorily beneficial for Equestria in particular. That’s a complex question, Twilight. Needless to say that I’m in doubt still… yet I agreed to try. Probably simply because I’m worried that Alex presence here may be… only “may”, but… dangerous for us. So, if we can send him back, it’s a way out…” Celestia intercepted Twilight’s look back. “And it’s not because of Luna’s… affection. Well… because of it as well,” her nose became slightly pinkish. “But the actual premise is different.” “But how can Alex be…” “Dangerous?” Celestia leaned to her apprentice and lowered her voice. “He is gaining more power, you won’t deny, my faithful student. But is he able to control it? Besides his connection to the Seekers isn’t entirely clear to me. And the way Alex… “consumes” them literally,” Celestia cocked her head, shaking her flowing mane. “He is practically absorbing the evil magic, Twilight. What if he can’t dispel it entirely?” “Luna, although, sees no danger in him. She is so happy… especially when Alex reaches some new horizon,” Celestia sighed heavily. “If I didn’t have any suspicions on his account, I could have been happy for her without any deep concerns.” Twilight fell silent, having no words to say; she didn’t want to believe that the assumption of the princess was possible, on the other hoof, the experience and wisdom of the latter… ‘That is why I decided to stay close… Besides, he is my friend!’ Twilight nodded to her thoughts. They seemed to walk for a couple of hours already or maybe even more, with quite a good pace, as despite the wilderness, the forest was clear and easily passable. The quiet whisper of the lush crowns above was disturbed by the rare sounds of night birds and fading, then gaining the volume again as they passed screeching of the cicadas. Once a single hedgehog crossed their way, huffing and stomping in a hurry; otherwise, the forest was unusually quiet that night. Far above, separated by the green umbrella, the light rain started, making the leaves babble louder and forest smells become sharper, better pronounced in the damp air. With the gathering clouds darkness under the trees made the regal sisters light their path with magic. Four ponies and one human walked deeper and deeper into the Everfree forest. After a short while the forest started to change subtly: the trees they passed became older and bigger, the gaps between them – naturally wider; the ground noticeably inclined in the direction they were heading. The rain slowly faded away, as modestly as it started and the bright Moon peeked through parting clouds, pouring liquid silver onto the forest. The breeze touched the trees making their leaves whisper hastily. Alex stopped, waking from his thoughts; they didn’t talk with Luna and Fluttershy for the last half an hour already. He suddenly had the strongest feeling of déjà vu, turning his head and taking a look around, his glance filling with recognition. The thick trunks were dimly lit by the rays of moonlight, which couldn’t come through the crones entirely. ‘I definitely was here before!’ “What’s happened, Alex?” princess Celestia turned and looked at him with interest. “We need to go, we are…” “Close,” automatically said Alex, making Celestia squint suspiciously; Luna’s muzzle, on the contrary, lit with a tiny warm smile. “Somehow I know it!” Unwittingly he made a few steps and caught up with the princess; Twilight subtly fell back, taking the strategic position between Fluttershy and Luna. “This-a-way… if ‘t be true mine memory isn’t failing me.” His old dream was the easiest explanation, but Alex couldn’t help noticing the striking semblance of what he saw in that dream and what unrolled in front of him at the moment. Alex walked next to Celestia, listening to the cicadas concert with some night bird soloing in the distance. He didn’t need the guidance now, subtly getting ahead of the princess, who silently watched him. The grass rustled softly under his feet. The wind, which he felt on his face, brought some tart and exhilarating scent, Alex knew it, he felt it for the third time. The previous one was in his “dream”; although, Alex wasn’t sure if it wasn’t the first experience of “sleepwalking”, even if unconscious. But he still couldn’t recognize, where he felt it for the first time, so that smell becoming so familiar to him. The ground lowered noticeably in that direction. Alex walked through the forest, stepping over the fallen trees, for a moment he forgot he wasn’t alone there. Celestia falling back and joining the rest helped creating that illusion; the four mares watched Alex, each with different feelings, but each with a certain degree of surprise. The forest thinned meanwhile and the ground inclined more and more in the direction he was heading. Just when Alex wondered, if the distance would considerably differ between his dream and reality, the trees parted and he stepped into the wide opening brightly lit by the moon; the ponies followed close, exiting from under the tree crowns to the moonlit glade. Alex looked over the shoulder, his eyes wide with bewilderment; nopony produced a sound, only Celestia slowly nodded, welcoming Alex to proceed. A deep cleft started right at the edge of the forest and went further and deeper guarded by the trees on both sides and forming a natural path between its stone walls; so Alex went down that slope. Soon the cleft became more like a canyon and Alex noticed that they got about sixty feet lower than the rest of the forest. He didn’t feel any unease about that or about the whole situation. Maybe the faint glow, coming from behind the turn of that cleft, calmed him and attracted at the same time. Reaching the dead end, Alex saw the familiar natural chamber. Irregular in shape it was framed with the tree crones far above and lit by the Moon. But that wasn’t what made Alex’s heart skip a beat. Again. There was a giant tree in the far end of that “chamber”, the biggest Alex saw in his life: much more than sixty feet high, its crone must be on the same level, the crones of common trees above were. Alex stopped at some distance, taking a look over the giant crone, rather silvery than green, almost glowing, the enormous trunk and branches were of the same colour, silvery roots covered the ground. The glow seemed slowly pulsating, as if the tree had a heart. Or perhaps it was the heart itself, of the Everfree for example, or… “The Tree of Harmony,” unnoticed, Celestia got next to him, leaning to Alex’s ear. Alex couldn’t help but stand there with an involuntary feeling of serenity, of peace and… harmony filling him near that miracle of nature. But he wasn’t the same inexperienced about the magic Alex as before. “I shall… better stay here, till… till the portal is ready, Tia,” whispered Alex hoarsely. “If the Tree of Harmony… agrees to let me through.” Paying no attention to how wicked it sounded Alex watched Celestia, who approached the trunk, which looked like a silver column twelve feet in diameter. Back at home Alex was never able to stand near a really high tree and look up to the top as he immediately imagined the whole height of it… and heights and Alex didn’t come together well. It was so long ago, seemingly in another life… Alex wasn’t sure which of them was more dreamlike at that moment. Celestia touched the trunk with the golden-shod fore hoof, leaning her head towards the Tree, almost touching the silver bark with her glowing horn. She looked, as if she was quietly talking to the “forest deity”… trying to convince of something. Alex wasn’t surprised when the Tree audibly chimed upon Tia’s touch, but the deep sound pierced seemingly his whole self, making his heart thump loudly. Alex twitched and stepped back, he breathed heavily, but heard the light steps behind nevertheless. Alex turned around quickly… he saw the night coloured alicorn in front of himself: the blue shades on her eyelids, the starry night mane and tail, the noble beauteous look. Alex noticed the sly sparkles in Luna’s large dark-blue eyes, when she spread her wings and granted him a smile, making her cheeks round in a familiar way, awakening to reality the image from his dream: the human figure stepping out of the shadows cast by the cleft wall, the young and graceful girl, Alex already saw in the old dream of his. The dark-blue long noble dress, the long hair of seemingly all colours of the night sky, the blue shades on upper eyelids and the whole beautiful face with clearly delineated features. Yet when she smiled, her cheeks rounded almost childishly. Alex shook his head, feeling like knocked out, the vision blurred and faded, leaving the real Luna in front of him. With a tender and slightly sad smile she passed Alex, flooding him with lavender aroma and joining her sister under the Tree of Harmony. Fluttershy and Twilight approached quietly, exchanging glances with Alex; he softly hugged both girls around their shoulders, preparing to wait. Several minutes passed in silence broken by the faint Tree chime only, Luna and Celestia stood, bowing their heads towards the giant trunk, as if mentally negotiating with the forest giant about something. The Moon peeked through another opening between the clouds and its light mixed with the silver glow of the Tree, flooding the cleft. Both girls and Alex held their breath, waiting for the result, any result, as after some time Alex started thinking, their idea wasn’t going to work and the Tree of Harmony refusing or being unable to address princesses’ request. Suddenly a bright sparkle appeared halfway to the Tree, floating above the side of the low rooted hill, it quickly grew, turning into a spindle-like pool of flowing and flickering light. Alex’s heart skipped a beat. ‘Did they succeed forsooth?!’ “The Tree of Harmony agreed to open a portal, Alex,” softly said Celestia. “But we need to direct it better, basing on the information from your memories. Give me some time.” Alex nodded completely dumbfounded, as if he had some other choice; meanwhile, Luna quietly joined them at the bottom of the hill. “Teleportation magic is Tia’s fancy forsooth, I’m of little help hither.” Alex nodded, the realization, those were his last minutes in Equestria, squeezed and tumbled his guts, leaving a cold emptiness feeling in his stomach. Did he fear that risky journey? Perhaps, just as everypony feared the unknown; although, the events of the last four months made him take things incomparably easier, than Alex just coming to Equestria did. Celestia’s horn glowed brightly, braiding her own magic strand by strand into the shimmering portal matter; the warp grew a bit larger, flickering like the candlelight under somepony’s breath. “Twilight!” Alex turned to the girls. “For the last few weeks… and if ‘t be true I think of that, for the whole time being hither, I met more compassion and support, than through the several years back on Earth. All that from seemingly complete strangers, who could give no damn about me… But…” he hugged the lilac alicorn girl tight. “Thank thee! Please, stay that awesome friend, for the girls, for everypony, who needeth. It shalt be nice to know that somewhere friendship is more than merely a word…” Twilight sniffed quietly, rubbing the soft coat of her cheek against Alex’s neck, almost squeaking her wish of good luck; Alex nodded silently, stroking her mane shortly and hearing the hoofsteps behind, which meant only one thing. “This is it,” Celestia looked at Alex seriously, finishing correcting the portal with her magic. “If you still want to leave, you must leave now. The Tree of Harmony possesses its own powerful magic, different from ours… Hopefully, it will work as we wanted. But…” the princess stumbled again. “It also has its own will and nopony can predict, how long the “door” will stay open.” “Thank you, Tia,” Alex released Twilight softly and turned to Celestia; despite her concerns and suspicions, she agreed to help him. “And forgivest me if ‘t be true I occasionally took the liberty…” “I may think of it,” Celestia cocked her head. “Regardless to what has been between us, don’t keep hard feelings and have a safe… road ahead. The Sun blessing is upon you.” She touched his shoulder lightly. Alex’s heart ached, when he turned to her sister. “Luna,” whispered Alex, suddenly his throat became totally dry and full of sandpaper. “I...” In a dark-blue flurry she grabbed him and enveloped in her wings, wrapping her fore legs around Alex. “I love thee!” a single tear burned Alex’s shoulder like the drop of metal from his smelter; the silky lips swept on his cheek and in a second Alex felt lavender breath mixing with his, when they locked on his mouth, like trying to remember and keep the feeling. “I shall try to reach… Beest careful, mine heart!” Trying not to look at Celestia, whose reproachful sigh he heard a moment before, Alex turned to Fluttershy. The pegasus girl looked completely crushed, Alex kneeled to her eye level, pulling her closer, snuggling to his chest. The turquoise lakes overflowed and he was to wipe the tears trailing down her silky cheeks constantly. “Shy! Shy, please… Dost not think bad of me.” He cupped her cheeks with both hands and looked into her incredible glistening eyes. “I’m very sorry, Fluttershy. For everything, except that wolf.” She shivered in snicker or maybe in weeping, grabbing his shoulders convulsively and kissing him deeply. The world spun around overwhelmed Alex, Celestia and Twilight looked away flushing; only Luna watched them, she nodded slowly with a serene smile, closing her eyes. “I love you, Alex,” the yellow lips breathed in his ear, when they finally broke their kiss. “But I know, where you belong. Go, if you must… if you’re not ready to stay… I will miss you, while I breathe.” “Shy…” whispered Alex under his breath, almost groaned, releasing small yellow pegasus from his embrace. She sank, staring at the ground, unable to raise her eyes; tears rolled down her cheeks, leaving the glowing marks on the carpet of thick leaves. Alex straightened and stepped towards the portal; he braced himself, realizing that it might work just as well as kill him. But it was worth the risk perhaps. To reach his aim, to leave and solve all problems that easily, while still not taking anyone’s life. “The time isn’t on your side, Alex,” reminded Celestia quietly. Slowly Alex approached the pool of flowing quicksilver, floating in the air. From that close he could hear the faint hum, resembling Alex the chime of the Tree of Harmony. Alex stretched his hand towards the portal, almost touching the constantly changing surface with the fingers. The portal began to change from the liquid metal semblance to the opalescent. Watching it fixedly Celestia pursed her lips with concern. With the quick step forward, Alex reached the warp and touched it. The glowing whirlpool trembled, sparkles flowing between Alex fingers, where they touched the portal. The blinding white shine consumed his figure, making him invisible to the ponies, who watched from a distance. Completely bemused Alex felt some sort of elastic border with his fingers, which he tried to break through… “Forgive me, Guardian, but you can’t leave now,” the soothing female voice in his head made Alex twitch, like from the electric discharge. The Tree of Harmony glowed intensively, the light spread from the centre of the trunk to the branches, smaller twigs and leaves seemingly; the loud juicy sound of a bursting giant cord broke the silence with the warp widening and blasting with an unbearable flash. The sonic wave swept the leaves, swirling them in the air and making everypony wince back, knocking them to the ground; only Celestia managed to remain standing on all four, bowing her head to resist the gust. The returning twilight let everypony regain their sight slowly; when colourful spots stopped floating in front of their eyes, the mares froze in disbelief. The warp disappeared, but where it was, lied Alex, curled and motionless. The glow of the Tree faded and the chiming almost ceased; it took maybe a minute of tingling silence, before he opened the eyes and tried to make them look straight, exactly when Fluttershy and Luna were ready to dash to him, worrying about his life. With a moan of pain Alex wiped his face, kneeling and taking a bewildered look around. “What…” wheezed he, coughing with the grimace of pain… Then something which nopony expected happened. Something dark, deeper than the night sky above, raised behind his shoulders. Alex heard the sound of his shirt tearing apart, when two enormous wings towered from his back. He wiggled them chaotically with an expression of complete shock on his face. Alex had already noticed that he was still in Equestria, on the same spot he planned to leave from; evidently, the portal based on the Tree of Harmony magic didn’t work… Didn’t work as they expected, bestowing Alex the problem of incomparably bigger scale, it seemed: the worst thing, Alex realized through his quaking shock, was that he couldn’t control those wings well. It wasn’t even obvious how he could stand with them, but they were light enough for him not to affect his posture. With a lost and panicking expression Alex got onto his feet, hearing the loud noise the wings unfurled with. Completely against his will they started flapping, harder and harder, producing the wind, which sent small twigs and leaves flying. With another convulsive movement they pushed Alex up in the air. Another pressure wave made the ponies crouch, peppering them with dust and leaves. Fluttershy, whose tears dried in a second, Twilight, Luna and Celestia gazed up to see, how he flew out of the Tree of Harmony cleft, rising above the surrounding trees in a matter of seconds. The wings spread in the open air completely, overshadowing Luna’s Moon for a moment. Twilight woke up from the stupor first. “Hey, move! He can’t handle them yet!” she yelled, unfolding her wings and soaring after Alex. She must have remembered, how many troubles her own wings brought her first, when she just became an alicorn. All that considering her being familiar with magic and equestrian laws of nature. At first Twilight was helpless in the air like a foal and took flight lessons from Rainbow Dash for quite a while, before she could hold in the air without sheer terror. ‘Sweet Celestia, what can happen, when he remembers about his fear of heights?!’ flashed in her head. Fluttershy and Luna got airborne the second later and all three girls rose quickly in form of a long spear with Alex at its point. Celestia stayed on the ground, her horn glowing with magic. She was readying some powerful spell to suspend them in the air in case something went wrong. Throwing a quick glance down and seeing Luna and Fluttershy following her close, Twilight felt more confident; nevertheless, she realized that they had only one attempt, as they were unable to catch him with magic. They could rely on their speed and strength only. Alex stormed into the night sky with the feeling he couldn’t explain. With the portal literally failing he had nothing to celebrate, yet some new feeling nested in his chest and, to his utter surprise, it was rather some joy than sorrow. Alex couldn’t tell how that happened, most likely the wings showed their own will, as he wasn’t sure, if he was commanding them anyhow. But did the birds ever think how to use their wings exactly? They simply flew! He raised above the forest circumfused in the moonlight, spreading the wings like two flowing sheets of night. Through the widening clearance in the clouds, to the clear night sky. From there the variety of shapes looked like hills bathing in liquid silver, flowing, changing, like dunes in the wind; the endless sea of Everfree peeked through the gaps in them, framed with the real mountains far to the west, which glaciers shone in the soft moonlight. The Moon took its throne rightfully, flooding the skies and rare thin higher clouds with the glow, making the stars visible only further at the edges of the sight. The wind ruffled the large feathers with quiet rustling. His feathers?!! Alex’s involuntary smile faded, then he looked down, realizing where he suddenly got… Framed with the clouds and the green carpet of the forest, the cleft with the Tree of Harmony looked like toys. Alex could barely spot a tiny bright sparkle far-far below – Celestia. He managed to notice three winged silhouettes: lilac, yellow and dark blue – following him by a narrowing spiral, when the ground with all objects on it tripled in his sight; Alex’s pupils narrowed, becoming pin-prick and he felt cold sweat on his forehead. He remembered Fluttershy, unable to raise in the air when scared; immediately his newly-gained wonderful wings folded tight with loud flap and Alex fell down, gaining speed. “Merlin’s pants,” he closed his eyes, shrinking at the face of the imminent collision. “What a stupid way to die, after the portal didn’t kill me…” But instead of the hit, he felt a strong push and his fall almost stopped. Alex opened his eyes to see three ponies catching him; Luna and Fluttershy held his shoulders, while Twilight managed to grasp around his waist. Maximum of concentration was written on her muzzle, when all three tried their best to bring him down safely. Alex heart still beat somewhere under his throat, when they all reached the ground practically at the spot he soared from, at the roots of the Tree. In a wink Celestia reached them, materializing a wide belt instead of the supporting spell. “We got in time!” breathed out Twilight, almost collapsing to the ground, releasing her grasp. “Luna, Fluttershy!” Celestia raised her voice. “Girls, let him stand!” Exchanging grumpy glances, they let go of Alex: Fluttershy with a confused squeak, Luna very unwillingly. “Merlin’s pants!” Alex finally focused on the white alicorn princess in front of him, as if he just realized, where he was. He got up, shivering. “I… What hath befallen?” He almost fell, grabbing Luna’s shoulder to keep balance; the wings jerked menacingly. “Hold still, please,” Celestia interrupted him sternly, wrapping the belt, which felt like a stripe of soft, elastic and durable leather, around his waist, tightly pulling his wings to the body and fixating them folded. “Here. Just in case!” Alex glanced at her thankfully. “Can you walk?” giving them a couple of minutes to take their breath Celestia looked into Alex’s eyes, nodding with satisfaction to the return of meaningful expression in them. “I can carry him, Tia,” Luna hugged Alex with her wing under the reproachful glare of her sister. “It’s okay… I shall go myself,” whispered Alex, he didn’t raise his eyes, dumbfounded and confused. But he properly interpreted Celestia’s quiet huff, the human riding the alicorn was a bit much. “I’m okay, Luna, in the earnest,” he snuggled his forehead to her velvet neck for a moment. “I ask you to do only one thing, Lulu,” Celestia quietly addressed her sister, walking next to her, when they exited the cleft and slowly headed back to Ponyville through the dark and silent forest. “Watch him please tonight, but without the… direct intervention,” she glanced at Luna meaningfully. Seeing her nodding without visible enthusiasm, Celestia elaborated, leaning to her ear. “I don’t know what happened there… and why. But you can’t deny the obvious! He became a sleepwalker, he can control objects in that condition and… now he got wings. Granted, they aren’t much obedient yet, but that’s the question of practice, as we know. Too much semblance to the certain dream… nightmare of mine, blueberry, don’t you think?” “Oh, sunny, dost not start again…” Luna rolled her eyes, quickly checking over her shoulder. “It was only a dream…” “I know, it’s only a possibility,” her sister didn’t want to hear any objections. “But it’s still a possibility! I don’t like where it goes…” Alex trudged after them mechanically, his glance was still directed inwards and his whole expression showed disbelief in the wicked things happening to him; his attention was barely enough to step over the fallen trees not to fall. Without conspiring others decided to leave him alone for a while, simply making sure he was safely moving in the proper direction; Alex was to overcome that shock first, addressing him was almost futile before that. “I think it will be better, if you stay at home tonight, Fluttershy. No offence!” Twilight looked at her friend apologetically. “He needs to get in peace with himself and needs to do it in solitude, I believe. That’s too much of a change, dear, I simply remember myself… So…” They followed Alex, guarding him from behind, when he stumbled too obviously. “If you can cope with everything…” Fluttershy batted her eyelashes modestly. Inwardly she was ready to jump and sing, like a foal… and to her own surprise, she wasn’t ashamed of that feeling, despite Alex’s plan failed. Well, maybe a tiny bit, but the tiny bit didn’t count! “I think it’s rational indeed. Hopefully, she understands the reasoning as well, Twi,” Fluttershy glanced meaningfully at Luna’s flowing mane and tail. The rest of the way everypony kept silence: pensive and moody Celestia; Luna with shared sister’s concerns and happiness fighting in her soul; Twilight, trying to figure how to deal with the new problems; Fluttershy, whose heart jumped, like a carefree birdie, and she couldn’t do anything with that: ‘Didn’t work, the portal didn’t work!’ They still felt the remnants of that shock, when they saw Alex, not transferred by the Tree of Harmony; and Alex the most of them all. He raised his eyes, only when they exited the forest and faced the moonlit field with the Clock Tower and cottage in the view. Fluttershy apologized, squeezing Alex in a hug and kissing him on the nose; she vanished behind her front door even before confusedly blinking Alex could understand, what was going on. Nevertheless, Twilight could spot the quick glances, Luna and Fluttershy threw at each other. Luna in her turn didn’t want to release him longer, she slid her cheek against Alex’s, closing her eyes and almost purring. She kept nuzzling him, until Celestia almost jerked forward to pull her sister away. With a bright flash both princesses departed, leaving Twilight and Alex on the road to Ponyville. Thus Alex and Twilight walked to the town together. All girl’s efforts to get Alex talking resembled watering the desert sand, he replied with interjections, insipidly, moving his legs like a clockwork doll; finally Twilight dropped that worthless ploy, simply keeping close to him just in case. The wall clock was showing 2 am exactly, when they trudged into the Library tiredly, closing the door and leaving the cool night behind. The Golden Oak met them with silence, Spike went to bed long ago; a large envelope, most likely delivered by the evening mail, waited for them on the table – “CSC” letters stood out on the thick paper. In the dim light of the hall, flopping on the couch, Alex squeezed out more than a couple of meaning words. “The irony!” muttered he, glimpsing the packet and covering his face. “I got the wings long after the moment I really needed them…” Twilight only sighed, understanding the route of his thoughts perfectly. “On the other hand, there is no point in the wings, when you can’t fly anyway.” “Actually, you can fly, Alex!” Twilight sat in front of him, she looked for his glance with slight concern. “You need to learn to control the process properly. There is a difference…” “They can fly!” Alex jerked his head back, bearing in mind the wings. “But we can’t come to an agreement…” “I suppose this is where I can… and must help you. You can’t keep them tied with that belt for the rest of your life. I’m not a professional flyer, Alex, but as soon as I manage to keep in the air somehow, I will teach you the same at least.” “Thanks, Twi… Although, I don’t know if there is a chance. The mere thought of them getting free scares me… much,” Alex flinched again, when the belt creaked quietly from the unconscious wings movement. “You will get used to them eventually,” Twilight ruffled his hair lightly. “Did I tell you, how I landed on my muzzle once, learning to fly?” * “Are you sure, she will react normally, Twi?” Alex checked the oven, then took an edge of the chair near the table; despite using the belt, given by Celestia, he still took extra caution not to knock anything down, suddenly feeling like an elephant in the china shop. Remembering Spike’s reaction, Alex smirked wryly; Twilight’s aide dropped and broke the cup, he opened and closed his mouth silently for a few minutes, then poked Alex’s folded wings a couple of time, as if trying to make sure that they were real, finally turning to Twilight with mute question in dilated eyes. “I did my best today, nopony to see me, but… Even Sil looked strangely at me the whole day. I may say, they got used to my… strangeness, nearly as well as you did, but they seem to be unsure, what to expect next.” “Familiar feeling,” Twilight glanced at him evaluatively across the table. “Simply give it some time, Alex. Be yourself, the wings didn’t make you another… human.” “Oh, thanks, Twi! They make me not enough of a human perhaps…” “You think so? Hmmm…” she tilted her head slightly. “You look the same Alex to me. Anyway, jokes aside, you have a problem… again. And Rarity is the one who can help you.” “Yeah,” grimaced Alex. “Each time something happens, I end up with my shirt torn to pieces. That’s becoming a tradition…” Twilight snorted. “That’s your fate in Equestria, Alex. Deal with it! Better tell, how was your first day with… the extra parts?” “Know what, I can’t deny your Tree of Harmony some wicked sense of humour, Twi! I wanted to travel home and… I got something that was normally used for travelling… kinda… But… what’s the point of the wings, when you can’t fly, except scaring the living hell from everypony around?” “So, my day was spent…” Alex looked through the kitchen window at the darkening sky. “Under the auspices of being as invisible as only I could.” * The last night passed completely without usual nightmares, which Alex would be happy about, if not for one reason: namely, him unable to close his eyes even for a second. Saying he was totally shocked was next to saying nothing; Alex realized that in addition to a small possibility of him being successfully transferred home there were fair chances to get something screwed. But that wasn’t that kind of “wrong” he could imagine, let alone be ready for. Besides the wings didn’t let Alex relax and sleep normally; every pose, he tried to lie down in, he felt them and despite they were the natural part of Alex’s body, they were quite an unusual part for him. Truth be told, quite naughty one as well. Alex couldn’t control them, they constantly tried to open and trembled; he was to keep them tied with that belt, materialized by Celestia. The latter didn’t add any comfort. Needless to say that Alex tossed and turned from side to side the whole night; there was no question to sleep on his back, as nopony could probably sleep on something that felt like a pair of very restless dolphins. However, he didn’t feel noticeably tired, the adrenaline rush of last evening wasn’t going to release Alex that easily. Thus as soon as the rectangle of the window began to brighten, Alex dropped the fruitless attempts to get asleep and jumped off his sofa, as if he never needed any rest. He pulled on his pants in a wink and already reached for the shirt, when he remembered about his “small” problem. Alex sighed heavily: last night his shirt turned into tatters in a matter of moments, he had a few spare, of course, but they would either meet the same fate or he simply couldn’t put them on, because of those two feathery troubles behind his shoulders. With a heavy sigh, checking the belt just in case, Alex trudged to the bathroom; the whole house was sleeping yet, as it was only the glimpse of the morning, the Sun even not showed yet. Alex splashed cold water in his face, again and again, the reflection in the mirror stood the same though; watching it fixedly Alex imagined the possible reaction of ponyvillers and closed his eyes in despair. ‘Like if I wasn’t quite strange for them afore.’ Anyway, he had work to address, thus moving that early was a good idea not to attract anypony attention; Alex preferred not to think, how the blacksmith and his niece could look at him. Even laying in his bed Alex wondered, why everything behind the window was so grey and… monochromatic. When he returned to his room and opened the frame, he was granted by the dim milky space outside; from the windowsill Alex could discern only the nearby shrubs, a few feet further everything vanished in the thick morning fog. “Autumn is coming,” Alex inwardly twitched, imagining how that fog should feel against the bare skin, but he had no other choice – the fog would settle with the Sun rising higher, but that would mean ponies filling the streets as well. “Merlin’s pants!” Alex got over the sill and shuddered, feeling the mist settling on his torso. “Thankfully it’s quite warm yet, even in the mornings! But soon it will be a problem…” Alex understood now, why on all the images of angels he saw they were depicted in some sort of togas – that was the only simple variant to make clothes, if one had wings. Alex tried his best to dispel the inevitable, but not less unpleasant because of that, thoughts about winter. Carefully crossing the back yard Alex dived under the metal frame at the last moment and deepened into the field. He found the old road almost by touch, inwardly thankful for its mere existence; the fog already started settling, forming quite thick dew on the grass, thus going straight through the field would mean getting his legs wet to the bone. Besides, it was the easiest way to go astray, even if Alex walked to the smithy and back countless times – the visibility ended in a couple of yards. Alex inhaled the full chest of damp freshness, the silence around was almost absolute; his own steps on the old road sounded muffledly in that thick mist, adding the surreal feel. ‘I’m lucky this morning,’ he quickly headed north, expecting to reach the smithy before the visibility improved. ‘Today’s fog is a perfect cover, but what should I do in the evening and the next morning, and all the other days the weather is not on my side?’ As soon as the Golden Oak and the generator windmill at the back yard vanished from his view, Alex’s world narrowed to a short part of the road under his feet, framed by two waves of grass at sides. Nothing disturbed the silence, only once some early bird shrieked loudly, flying by high above the milky mist. Alex had a feeling he is marching on one spot from time to time, so monotonous the view around was. After about half an hour of walking, he almost bumped into the smithy fence; Alex completely missed the free space around it, occupied by his thoughts. ‘What would old Will say? I’m trying to “depart” for the second time already… But this time my return exceeds all imaginable expectations.’ Alex found the gate and got in; he could hop over the low fence at any spot, but he wanted to have at least some orientation. From the distance that close the ghostly silhouette of the house and other large constructions were slightly visible in the fog. All lights were out, the complete silence told him that the blacksmith and his niece were still in Luna’s realm. Suddenly an idea came to Alex’s mind: he had quite a lot of free time and the thoughts of how he should move with those new parts visited him already. Peering around Alex found the stand and pulled a wooden pole out; weighing it in the hand he got into the open space not to knock something off in that murk suddenly. He gave the stick a wide swing and moved along the small circle, facing the centre and deflecting the imaginary enemy attacks; Alex tried to combine the majority of moves, they used with Willsmash during his training. The belt, restricting his wings, immediately strained and creaked slightly; the wings reacted on every move and lunge, applying maximum effort to unfold, especially at jumps. They desired to take another flight evidently, even against the will of their owner. ‘That seems to be a bigger problem than I thought before!’ the image of his belt giving in and the wings taking freedom appeared in Alex’s inner sight. ‘Twilight is right, I need to learn to control them as soon as I can.’ The rising Sun little by little dispelled the fog, evaporating in its still summer-like warm light: first, the house and whole smithy yard became clearly visible in the retreating mist, then fresh wind from the hill on the west scattered the remaining shreds completely. Suddenly the surroundings regained the depth of view and sound: the sea of grass around, waking up Ponyville on the south with its roofs peeking among the foliage; some omnipresent birds, sounding like titmice, fluttered in the field covertly, chirping and chattering. A heavy train passed the station; distant whistle made Alex turn his head towards the sound. Alex decided to take a rest and wait till the unicorns wake up. He found a short log and nested on it, putting it on its side, turning his back to the house and the rising Sun; the warm contrast with the sticky fog was so pleasant, making Alex relax and put the stick across his lap. He thought that the wings of that size could definitely be used in the close combat somehow; the only problem was to make them follow his orders, not trying to dictate own rules. Time passed unnoticeably, the Sun got higher and higher, drying and warming everything around. He was pulled back from his musings by a quiet gasp from behind, followed by a girly holler; Alex turned around to notice Silver Ingot disappearing in the doorway. “Uncle Will! Uncle, come here, quick!” she rushed upstairs, something tingled in the house, knocked over by the girl in her hurry. “You need to see that…” Alex facepalmed with a sigh. How many reactions like that was he to get? Besides, by all means, that wasn’t the worst one. Returning back home in the evening, when everypony would be still awake, but free of their daily business already, looked like a real trouble to him, making Alex shudder. The hoofsteps returned downstairs at double; Sil reached the doorframe and leaned on it, staring at Alex without blinking, she looked close to fainting. Willsmash made a couple of steps closer, examining Alex from head to toe; he swallowed forcedly and exhaled almost with a whistle. “Errmmm… Alex?” there was a subtle question in old unicorn’s voice, he was obviously flabbergasted, just like his niece, simply controlled it better; Will slowly sat down on the porch. “Yes! Merlin’s pants, it’s me…” Alex stifled rushing out nervous laughter. “And who did you expect? Celestia?” “Well… It looks like Luna more,” taking over his shock Will noted with a slight irony. “Judging by the colour at least…” “Oh… Come on!” Alex rolled his eyes. “You told us that you planned to attempt transferring back to your world, with the help of the Tree of Harmony, right?” Willsmash looked at him fixedly. “But I couldn’t imagine, you were supposed to… fly home actually.” He let out a small wry smile. “That’s the worst thing about it,” Alex snorted, raising; the wings twitched, making the belt creak again loudly. “I knew something could go wrong during the transfer attempt and agreed to that consciously. But I couldn’t predict it could go that degree of wrong, Will. And don’t even ask me to show them, they are restrained for a reason – I can’t control them… yet. Last night the first thing they did was raising me at about the mile height and… if not the girls, I would turn into an uninviting pancake on the ground in no time!” “What’s the point of the wings, if you can’t fly?” added he sadly. “Only causing trouble.” “So they are real, actual, working wings… Wow!” gasped Silver Ingot. “Yeah, they are the real working part of me, Sil. And they almost killed me last night,” sighed Alex. “Come to think of it now, I was to predict something like that, considering how non-hostile, but strong magic affected me… But… It’s done already, I guess, I need to find a way to deal with it only.” “Sorry!” Silver Ingot giggled quietly, she evidently overcame her first shock. “I simply thought… you have some sort of magic, don’t deny it… Now this… Only one detail is missing…” “Merlin’s pants! No. Way!” dropped Alex. “That’s not funny. I’m not going to even approach to some serious magic anymore.” “That’s easier said than done here, in Equestria,” the old blacksmith shook his head slowly. “Well, if we finally decided, that’s the real me…” Alex took out a thick envelope. “I have news for us all. That’s the better topic for discussion than… non-working wings.” “Oh, I’m sure that’s not some insuperable obstacle, Alex. All you need is some time and help from somepony, who can fly well!” noted Silver Ingot over her shoulder, heading back into the house. “She is actually right, son,” the blacksmith moved aside, leaving space on the step. “Twilight wasn’t a good flyer at all, when she got wings.” “I know, she told me,” Alex dropped next to him. “But she had acrophobia neither…” “Anyway, the company finally sent me all the necessary blueprints, it seems,” he opened up the envelope with CSC marking and smirked. “Now we can show them, what the contract was about!” The day passed unnoticeably, filled with work; Alex and Willsmash made the new moulds and mandrels for the ordered bearings. Despite the company complained high wearing of the casings only, they decided to make the whole bearing on their own, including the separator parts and balls, so all the details had the same durability and the whole device to have one common, maximally possible life span. Interrupting only for dinner and only because Sil insisted and practically pulled them from work, they didn’t even notice, how twilight began wrapping the smithy, the road, the field around with its soft veil. Alex could gladly stay there till real darkness, it looked the better variant than returning, when somepony could easily notice him; news spread over Ponyville like a bonfire, but Alex wasn’t yet ready to reveal his new self to everypony around. Granted, the reaction of Willsmash and his niece was quite restrained, in comparison to what Alex expected, but the more he thought about the upcoming evening, the less optimism remained. “At least Twilight could fold her wings tight and look almost like usual, when she needed,” thought Alex, when he finally said goodbye to the unicorns and hit the road to the town; the dusk became quite dense already, the thin stripe of light was still visible on the west, but a few brightest stars already showed themselves on the darkening sky. “I extend mine hope I shan’t bump into anypony,” muttered Alex, hiding in the thick shrubs, under the shade of enormous Golden Oak crown; it was only a few yards distance to his window, but every inch was open for the accidental look from the broad square in front of the Library. The square looked empty at the moment, inhaling deeply the oak leaves aroma and trying his best not to startle any small birds, Alex climbed out of the shrubs and rushed to the “wall”, snuggling to the dark trunk. ‘Damn!’ His room was unlit, but the door to the main hall wasn’t shut – some light came through the open and uncurtained window, falling on the ground. Throwing another attentive glance around Alex slid to the lit opening and leaned on the windowsill. “Mummy!” A quiet, very surprised voice made Alex twitch and quickly look back – a small foal looked at him with slowly widening eyes from the far edge of the square, they crossed with his mother right at that moment, the mare he impatiently pulled to gain attention. “Mom, look…” Alex simply dived in the window, curling under it and falling silent, listening carefully. He could hear both voices, but couldn’t understand the exact phrases. The mare said something about Twilight and wings, apparently convincing her foal that he saw things simply, being sleepy or something along those lines… * “Well, thankfully we live at the very edge of the town, Alex,” Twilight laughed at his story. “And you didn’t come across any of our closest neighbours this evening.” “Yeah,” Alex extinguished the oven, the kitchen filled up with the smell of baked mushrooms and some spice, making Twilight sniff the air with a content smile. “You can laugh, but it was quite a relief to hear them heading their road and nopony knocking on the front door with questions.” “Rest assured, Alex, I was probably even more unconfident and uneasy, when I only got them,” Twilight ruffled her feathers slightly. “I sneaked through the town quickly, folding the wings tight and… you don’t need to know how clumsy my first flight attempts were.” “I was lucky, Rainbow agreed to help me and taught me to hold in the air properly and then fly decently,” added she. “Of course, I’m not a pro flyer still and prefer teleporting, something I can do better than flights, it goes without neighing.” “But,” she covered Alex hand with her fore hoof. “I promised to teach you… well, as nicely as I only can… and I’m not taking my words back. I think you agree with me easily that asking Dashie would be a futile attempt in advance, so I didn’t. Fluttershy was going to help us, so, I think we can solve this problem in its time. The rest is the question of your self-acceptance, Alex,” Twilight stared at him meaningfully. “The ponies may be surprised at first. What am I saying? They will be surprised, of course… But nopony treats you as a… How did you say?.. as a “mutant” here.” “Maybe you are right,” Alex got up again, he pulled the tray out of the oven, filling the plates and returning to the table. “A bit hot yet…” “I think I can wait,” Twilight slowly sniffed again. “Despite it’s hard to.” “Unfortunately I have a more urgent problem at the moment – clothes. Maybe I can make the wings to pull through the pre-made openings, but for that I need to learn to control them first. And we have the winter coming…” Alex sighed with his head in his hands. “Hmmm… You shouldn’t worry, Alex. At least the girls saw you, when you had much fewer clothes on anyway,” Twilight giggled, making Alex flush to the roots. “Jokes aside, we are going to solve that problem tonight. I hope she can come and figure out something.” “That’s the case, when I fear the “solution” more than the problem itself,” Alex made a face. Somepony knocked on the front door. Alex sighed and Twilight rushed to open. “Stay here for now, please…” “Okay, if you say so,” Alex shrugged somberly and prepared to listen. “Good evening, Twilight,” Rarity stepped in and stopped, puzzled by the darkness in the main hall. “You said it was urgent, darling… but I could only come because Sweetie Belle felt better, she is sleeping now.” “Thanks, Rarity! It’s really important, well, maybe not that urgent, but it’s not getting warmer outside, so we naturally need your expertise and help,” Twilight, whose eyes accommodated to the darkness already, pulled Rarity in and walked to the couch. “Take a sit.” “Okay… Mmmmm!...” Rarity raised her snoot and sniffed. “Smells tasty! What is it?” “You’ll see and taste it a bit later, we’ll be glad, if you make us a company,” Twilight waved her hoof. “But now, please, tell me, can you help?” “Oh… I don’t eat after six… Well, maybe a little bit…” Rarity fidgeted on her coach, the smell was too tempting. “Okay, back to the business,” she sighed. “What did Alex throw out this time, so he needs my help with the clothes again? I know, he couldn’t get back to his world, but… what did you mean under “feels strangely”?” “And why on Equus it’s so dark here?” Rarity took a surprised look around. “And you moved all the furniture to the walls…” she stared at Twilight suspiciously. “What are you folks up to?” “Wait a second. We didn’t light candles not to knock them down, but you can use your magic to light it up a bit,” Twilight lit her own horn, both girls squinted, but at least Rarity could see the room, which was emptied in the middle indeed. She raised her voice a bit. “Alex, please, come here!” “Are you absolutely sure?” the voice from the kitchen sounded muffledly and made Rarity giggle. “Come on, Ahlex, darling! I don’t bite…” The girls heard some rustling and after a moment Alex, very confused, almost sideways, brought himself into the dimly lit main hall. Rarity blinked, examining his figure in the shadows attentively. Then blinked again, squinting. “Twilight, darling, could you give more light, as soon as you both are furnishing the main room that extravagantly…” Rarity already lit her own horn. “O-okay… Alex, what are you waiting for? Show her… You won’t go higher than the ceiling here anyway.” Alex sighed and untied the belt, unreeling it off himself; Rarity’s eyes started widening, in the brighter light she noticed, what wasn’t supposed to be there. With a soft rich feathery rustle two large black wings, which towered folded behind Alex’s back before, unfurled slowly; the tips met the opposite walls with a quiet thud, a few books fell of the shelves. “I’m sorry, Twi,” Alex threw a side glance at the wings, they trembled slightly, as if not entirely believing into their sudden freedom. “See now, why I wanted to remove all the candles…” “It’s okay, I will tidy…” Twilight was interrupted by another, slightly louder, rustle. She and Alex exchanged glances over Rarity, their fashionista friend simply fainted and slid to the floor. “I told you,” Alex raised one eyebrow, folding his wings with visible effort and quickly securing them with the belt again. “Something tells me that I can regret that demonstration, when she revives.” Twilight quietly snorted, levitating senseless Rarity back to the couch. ---  If 't be true you like the story (and have FimFiction account, otherwise, you can't vote), please, take a minute to support the book hither: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian "Thumbs up" are very welcome, comments either. Mine most sincere gratitude in advance! A shoutout to the caring friend, good author and simply valorous pony - @Longhaul Read his stories, please: Same story on FimFiction: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/412124/lighting-the-dark-path Support the author thither please (thumbs up) they are really good
  11. Alexshy

    Boop a snoot, any snoot

    Poof! *appears amidst the herd* The Boopening shalt nev'r end!!! *giggling like a filly, boops @Fluttershy Friend (How dost thou like that part of DT?) @Mirage @Cypherhoof @Jade Fire @Catpone Cerberus @Out of Service aka Longhaul @Hierok (Welcome back, mine friend) @Twilight Luna @Yoye Wolfgrel @Snow @Duality @Valencia @Princess of Snow @Thankful Brony 2 @TigerGeekGuy @Prospekt @TheRockARooster *
  12. Alexshy

    Fluttershy Fan Club

    Correct thou art, mine valorous friend. Although, certain, specifically strong lessons, sink in faster Stay tuned for the new chapter (not that 17th one coming shortly, but the 18th).
  13. Alexshy

    Fluttershy Fan Club

    I can guess whither Flutters learned that Well, 't shalt serve her [Dashe] a lesson
  14. Mine hooves are freezing now, despite I'm not outside!

    mlp-art-my-little-pony-%D1%84%D1%8D%D0%B

    For Harmony's sake, why are we mares having such a bad microcirculation?! *sniffs*

    1. Show previous comments  23 more
    2. CypherHoof

      CypherHoof

      have to wonder if you actually WANTED lots of sockpony Luna images, my princess :)

    3. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      @CypherHoof: Actually no, mine hooves were really cold. The images are quite flattering though :orly:

    4. Mirage

      Mirage

      And socks for Sunday...

      Image result for princess luna socks anthro