Alexshy

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Alexshy last won the day on October 11 2018

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About Alexshy

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    Kirin
  • Birthday July 26

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

  • Best Pony
    Fluttershy and Luna
  • Best Anthropomorphic FiM Race
    Alicorn
  • Best Princess
    Luna Selena of Equestria
  • Best Mane Character
    Fluttershy
  • Best CMC
    Love them all
  • Best Season
    1

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  • 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.

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  1. 20. Nightmare Knight The loud dry crash woke Fluttershy, pulling her from the deep sleep and warm comfy bed at once. Pushing away the blanket, she sat and stared in front of her for a few moments trying to understand, if the sound disturbing her was real or simply a part of her dream. Which, frankly speaking, she forgot already. The room was flooded with darkness and no light came through the curtains from outside. Fluttershy listened carefully: the rattle of rain on the windowsill and roof, plaintive cries of the wind and rare distant blasts of thunder told her that the latest forecast was correct. They said it was going to be a thunderstorm that night, but nopony warned it would be so strong. The pegasus girl checked Angel curling next to her on the blanket and hiding his nose under the paw. Seeking protection and comfort the rabbit sneaked to his master and slept, anxiously twitching his ear from time to time when sounds of thunder reached through the house walls. With a tiny smile, Fluttershy covered him with the edge of the blanket and slid to the floor; she approached the window, not lighting the lamp, and tried her best to see anything through the gap between the curtains. Nothing, except the wall of rain, a few leaves flying by behind the glass and chaotic waving of the twigs of the nearest tree, which can be seen through the night, not even lit by the Moon, which hid behind the dense, fast running clouds. Unable to disperse the darkness, frantically swaying electric light was the only tiny sparkle in the back yard. The wind raged like an unleashed beast, forcedly hitting the glass at times and adding strained creaking of the trees to the night sounds. Not finding the source of the noise waking her, Fluttershy returned to bed and tried to fall asleep again. It became a harder task, as she couldn’t help but thinking about her animal friends, living outside, for example, the hens in the coop. Realizing that they must be protected by the solid well-made shed, both from the chilling wind and the harm the raging elements can inflict, she couldn’t make herself stop worrying nevertheless. Fluttershy was to remind herself that all her little friends were safe, otherwise, she would have felt something already; finally, she managed to plunge into the restless sleep again, curling under the blanket and pulling peacefully sniffing Angel closer. The next morning was a perfect example of strange randomness of the weather in Autumn, in October specifically; when one day seemed like the heaven aqueducts split opened and all the elements in the world broke loose, while on another the weather could hardly be finer making it hard to distinguish if it was still Autumn or Spring began already. That morning was one of the latter: skies cleared up and the rising sun quickly dispelled autumn chillness, warming up the valley, the fields and sneaking between the remaining leaves into Fluttershy’s window. Fluttershy woke up when the first rays reached through the curtains, which she forgot to shut tightly last night, and warmly tickled her nose. The room miraculously changed, not provoking gloomy thoughts anymore; the girl stayed in the bed for a while, staring at the ceiling, brightly lit, so even the brown wooden beams looked completely different, lighter and homely. She tried to remember what disturbed her amidst the night. While she pondered if it was only in her dream or she actually got up, trying to see something in the back yard, Angel stretched and yawned widely, getting out of his blanket nest; he twitched his pink nose funnily and made a Victory sign with his ears, glancing at puzzled Fluttershy inquiringly. “Oh, Angel, you must be hungry, dear!” she finally paid attention to him impatiently tapping with his hind paw. “Just a moment longer…” Fluttershy jumped out of the bed, guided out of the bedroom and downstairs by the sudden idea; the rabbit blinked twice then rushed after her. To his surprise that run didn’t end in the kitchen, but rather continued out of the front door; Fluttershy stopped in the garden, under her bedroom window and tried to imagine vividly her midnight awakening. Finally, stepping accurately on the fallen leaves and avoiding the open ground, still wet and slippery, she headed deeper amidst the trees with a heavy foreboding, followed closely by Angel, who couldn’t understand why the so important breakfast became suddenly delayed. The image opening to their sight brought tears to the girl’s eyes and even the usually unflappable rabbit turned up his head, staring with flattened ears – the large maple tree, one Fluttershy loved to sit under so much, probably the oldest and largest tree in her garden, was severely hurt by the overnight storm. Thankfully the rain was so strong that the tree didn’t catch on fire, but an unfortunate lightning bolt hit the maple in the middle of its fork so hard, the long crack ran down the trunk separating it into two thinner halves almost to the ground. Fluttershy could reach the end of the crack standing on her hind legs and stretching. Angel sat and watched it silently with opened mouth, impressed beyond imaginable. Granted the trunk halves were strong enough to keep standing, but the mass of the branches from both sides made their task harder; upcoming stronger winds and snow could easily break one or even both of the parts, destroying the arboreal giant completely. Tears streamed down the yellow cheeks, Fluttershy couldn’t and wasn’t going to hold them: that tree was more than her friend, as long as she remembered herself, that old maple was there. Fluttershy loved to spend evenings under that tree, despite the sunsets were not visible from that spot, and watch the far-flung east orchard peacefully waving its crowns behind the field. They had picnics there when other girls visited her and… somehow their short dates with Alex, when he circled the town and surroundings nightly, happened in its vast shade as well. Of course, Fluttershy didn’t grow the maple from the small seed, watching it flourish and mature, but that didn’t make her feel less for the wounded tree. “Calamity! What can I do…” sinking to the ground and staring helplessly at the wide, cracked trunk Fluttershy didn’t notice herself asking that aloud, neither she noticed at once Angel lightly tapping her side with his paw. “Oh! What, Angel?” The rabbit poked with his fluffy paw somewhere behind his shoulder then he pretended to take off an imaginary hat and dusting it off by smacking on his hip, finally, he perked the ears, glancing at the girl expectantly. “A-Applejack?” Fluttershy thought that she recognized his pantomime. “Yes… She must know what to do in that case, you’re right Angel. Thank you, dear!” And, placing a small kiss on his snoot, she stormed away in a wink. Flushed and flattered Angel could only sigh and roll his eyes, watching the lush pink tail flashing between the trees; apparently, the breakfast was delayed even more than he could have expected. Promptly avoiding the cold and humid field, where the remnants of fog slowly but inevitably gave up positions to the gaining sunlight, Fluttershy rushed down the road to Ponyville. In a matter of minutes, she passed the old white barn, then cut sharply to the left, when the grassy field was replaced by the sparse strip of the forest – the west orchard buffer grove neighboured the town there. Pushing through the bushes and diving under the low branches, Fluttershy ran, paying no attention to the small twigs pulling her mane and dropping leaves on her. The tears dried out in the wind; biting her lip, the girl thought about the tree. What if they couldn’t do anything in time? She crossed a couple of streams over narrow wooden bridges and entered another road separating the apple trees from the grove; Sweet Apple Acres was already visible on the edge of the orchard, which extended as far as the eye could see. Feeling her sides aching from the mad gallop – she probably set her personal record reaching the farm in less than half an hour – Fluttershy took her breath and headed to the buildings. The sun already dried shorter grass there and the wind was bringing the warm smell of hay, making Fluttershy calm down a bit. ‘If there is anypony knowing everything about trees in Ponyville, that must be Applejack, she knows how to heal the tree wounds… anything that can be healed at least.’ Passing the windmill lazily stirring the morning air, she noticed that the doors of the large red barn were unlocked; the noise coming from inside told Fluttershy that Apples already woke, starting their workday. With loud barking Winona sprung out and started jumping around Fluttershy joyfully, recognizing their guest at once. The girl was to stop for a moment and pat the dog on her head, before approaching the barn, which seemed dark inside after the bright morning. The motes and hay blades danced in the light coming through half-open doors; the hay covered floor at the entrance was slightly wet. A bit further numerous haystacks piled up in two large stalls, going into the dark depths of the long barn. “Morning, Fluttershy!” Applejack waved her fore hoof, then grabbed the rope with her teeth, pulled forcedly and threw the bale of hay onto her back. “We left a few stacks right behind the doors yesterday,” explained she, disappearing in the shadows; with a light grunt, she put her burden into the pile. “Thank Celestia, none of ‘em got wet during the storm!” “Hey, pal, what’s happened?” appearing in the sight again Applejack finally noticed ruffled and heavily breathing Fluttershy. “Ah haven’t seen you that worried for ages.” She came closer and looked into her friend’s eyes with concern, then called for order the tail-wagging dog. “Calm down, Winona!” “That… storm…” Fluttershy took her breath. “Applejack, the large maple tree in my garden… I-I don’t know, maybe it was the wind… or maybe the lightning struck it. It’s almost broken in half!” she sniffed and looked at her friend almost pleadingly. “I thought that you might help. I mean… if anypony knows how to treat tree wounds, that must be you, Jackie…” “Oh, Ah see…” Applejack let out a tiny smile. “Of course, partner, Ah’m coming with ya, if it is so important. Give me a minute…” With a short thankful nod, Fluttershy watched Applejack carrying and throwing into the stack two remaining bales, closing the barn doors and telling Winona to stay at the farm to some displeasure of the dog. “Okay, I’m ready!” Applejack dusted off her stetson with such a familiar move, which would make Fluttershy smile under different circumstances. “You look like you ran all the way to the farm, mate…” noticed she, when they passed the gate and hit the road to the town. “Did you really?” seeing Fluttershy shrugging exclaimed Applejack. “Why didn’t you simply fly?” “I guess, it was stronger than me…” quietly said Fluttershy and flushed to the roots. “As usual in such cases.” “Hmm, it must be serious,” Applejack shook the head; Fluttershy kept silence, trotting forward intently so she made her friend even pace up a bit. “I don’t know…” finally dropped she, looking at Applejack with hope. “That’s why I called you, only you can tell. It does look serious to me.” “Well… We use tar to patch up the small wounds and cracks,” said Applejack, when they crossed the grove, leaving Ponyville on their left. “But something tells me it’s not yar case, right?” Fluttershy only sighed heavily. “You see, normally trees can heal pretty well,” explained Applejack, trying to cheer up her upset friend a bit. “The main thing is, how fast you can close the wound and pull the parts together tightly… before the crack edges dry up completely.” “That’s what I feared the most,” whispered Fluttershy when they cut the road through the grove again. “I seriously don’t know how you manage to help, as the main trunk is almost slit in halves, but I am to try at least.” “Let me see it first, then Ah can tell,” Applejack followed Fluttershy trotting between the trees in a calmer manner; bringing over friend’s support the girl seemed to relax but only a little. Applejack preferred the practical approach to the emotional one. “There are two main enemies in yar case, partner: the worst is anythin’ that can get into the crack – water, dirt, vermin, anything foreign to the tree, got it? And another is tree’s, well, its parts’ own weight – strong winds can make the damage worse.” “When you tell it that way, it makes me desperate…” Fluttershy ripped another sigh. “Just bein’ realist, sugar cube,” the sandy mare shrugged apologetically, “if the trunk is that large, yar say, it’ll be hard to impossible to cover the crack, let alone keep it that way. Hey,” suddenly she glimpsed an idea, “why don’t ya ask yar Alex as well. He looks technically savvy enough to come up with somethin’…” “Umm… Let’s start with him being not mine that much as you imply,” Fluttershy glanced at her friend with visible regret in her voice. “As much as Ah can notice, he isn’t staying in Canterlot either!” Applejack noticed meaningfully. The girls stopped and looked up when some large shadow passed above the treetops making the sunbeams on the ground flicker and thrash about; it was too big for an accidental pegasus, so the girls exited the grove a little cautiously. However, the answer was predictable. “Mornin’, Alex!” smirked Applejack, when making a small loop, ruffled and tired, Alex almost slammed next to them, sending the dust and blades of grass fly, as he folded his wings. “What ya doin’?” Fluttershy let out a tiny smile and waved her fore hoof, her thoughts were too busy with the accident. “Morning, girls!” Alex breathed heavily, visibly strained and sweating, he wiped his forehead. “What made you run back and forth so early?” “That’s unfair! We asked first,” Applejack raised one eyebrow puzzledly examining Alex from head to toe. “Okay, okay,” he paced with them on the road taking a breath, apparently, that walk was easier than anything he was up to before. “Don’t laugh only.” Applejack shrugged imperturbably as if saying that she got used to almost anything already, and Fluttershy expressed a glimpse of interest, showing Alex that he was safe to tell. “I realized that my wings were the only reliable fast way to get anywhere in Equestria,” elaborated Alex with an undefined gesture when they passed the old white barn with last humble shreds of fog hiding in its shade. “Unable to use magic, I either use them or have to stick to the trains and carriages, balloons aren’t the fastest transport as well. Besides, it’s plain stupid – not to use what is given so providently; these wings have yet undisclosed potential, so… I was training while the sun was still low. Trying to find out what they are capable of, you know.” “I guess, telling you to be careful is… well, excessive,” Fluttershy glanced at him with a faint smile. “Just be, okay? I-I mean you’ve mastered them only recently…” “I am prudence embodied,” laughed Alex. “But if you don’t try, you’ll never know. It appeared that I needed to be taken by the scruff and thrown into the situation to get over it… Acrophobia included.” “Actually, I planned to try taking the sonic barrier using them, in case I need to get somewhere really fast,” whispered he in Applejack’s ear. “Don’t tell Shy yet, she looks sad and burdened enough without extra worries. What’s up with that look of hers by the way?” “That’s exactly what we are goin’ to see, partner!” emphatically exclaimed she, noticing Fluttershy’s perked ear. “Ya need to have a look, too, Alex.” “If Ah were you, Ah’d have worried more that Dashie wouldn’t find out,” dropped Applejack from the corner of her mouth. “You stopped kicking each other on sight not long ago, Alex. Ah have no idea how she may react on such plans though…” “Well, the more reasons for me to force up my training if I may need to flee fast enough soon,” chuckled Alex. They were already approaching the turn to the clump of trees surrounding Fluttershy’s cottage in the field. Remembering girl’s anxiety, Alex scanned the landscape and the house itself but noticed nothing that looked unusual or might cause his yellow friend concern. “It’s in the garden, on the opposite side of the house,” Fluttershy read it in his attentively seeking eyes, opening the gate and letting Alex and Applejack through. Alex noticed a few relatively small branches broken by the night storm, but the rest looked normal to him: the shutters were in their places, the roof – undamaged, seeing that the house at least was safe made him take a breath. In a minute they crossed the front garden and walked around the house, then he understood the reason for Fluttershy’s distress. “Yeah…” slowly uttered Applejack lifting her head and knocking the stetson to her nape, “that’s worse than Ah thought…” The large maple tree looked quite bad even for Alex’s casual eye. According to his experience, each tree with such wounds started to ail sooner or later, naturally attracting harmful insects and diseases, rotting or withering, if only the strong winds or damp snow didn’t knock it down under its own weight, ending its suffering earlier. He didn’t need to look at Fluttershy to realize, that wasn’t the kind of answer she was looking for. “Well,” meanwhile, Applejack made a funny face, pondering and scratching her nape, “even that one can be helped… in theory, as Twilight could say. But only if,” she glanced at her friends meaningfully, “we manage to bring and fix both parts of the trunk together. Ah’d say today or next morning in the worst case… The best time would have been a couple of hours ago, to be honest,” she shrugged as if apologizing for the inevitable trouble. “And Ah mean squeezin’ both parts together really tight under “fixing”!” added Applejack. “Mah guess it’ll take lots of effort to do, the more to keep it staying that way – the tree is too old and large.” ‘Obviously, if ya don’t consider dropping that darn hard to carry out idea,’ read in her doubting eyes but the mare kept it to herself. “Listen, Jackie,” Alex walked around the tree examining the detriment. “I’m not a gardener, but methinks this case calls for technical approach. I mean the whole “bring and hold together” aspect. The live tree can’t be soldered… alas,” added he, running his fingers on the bark compassionately. “We use tar to patch up the tree wounds,” nodded Applejack, “but this one is too large…” Alex was to admit as well that the chances of success were illusive. Fluttershy alternated between friends with so much hope written in her eyes, that he gave up finally. Cupping Fluttershy’s woeful muzzle in his hands, Alex wiped her welling tears. “I’ll ask Willsmash, maybe he could come up with some idea how to hold that thing as a whole,” he shook his head, embracing the pegasus girl softly and planting a kiss on her nose. “See you in the evening,” he turned to contentedly watching them Applejack, “if we invent something; we’ll need Mac’s help… or even more folks to lend a hoof.” Next morning Fluttershy woke up to the voices and various mechanical noises under her window. The wall clock told her that it was very early and the girl yawned and stretched in her bed for a short while. Apparently, the concerns stressed her to the point Fluttershy dropped senseless into the sleep on the eve. Concerns! She remembered at once what was bothering her the whole day before and sat on the bed momentarily, throwing back the thin blanket. Making sure that her flurry didn’t wake Angel, Fluttershy rushed to the window and flung opened it: her garden was full of ponies and mechanisms at that early hour, making the girl cease her yawn at once at risk of dislocating the jaw. The grass around the ill-fated maple tree was quite trampled down already by the numerous hooves, but Fluttershy admitted that she could easily forgive that, if only the tree got all the necessary aid; besides, the grass could easily manage itself after an occasional accident, while the tree didn’t. Completely awoke, Fluttershy saw the old blacksmith and Alex drawing the rope through some wooden blocks, which formed a complex construction around the injured maple. A couple more stallions, whom she could probably see in the market, were stretching nearby – apparently, Alex had enlisted some support, not relying completely on their with Willsmash limited forces. Four large thick poles were planted deeply into the ground in two pairs on both sides of the tree and a mammoth-size, by the pony standards, sledgehammer rested next to one of them. Fluttershy remembered the booming sound reaching her ears through the deep sleep and most likely waking her initially. The named wooden blocks were attached to the metal-bound poles and some of them to each other, within the pattern and purpose Fluttershy was only going to understand. The girl fancied metal noise and Applejack entered her view with a large bucket, clattering its handle; she placed the bucket to the row of the similar ones, each filled with something dark brown as Fluttershy could notice. “Hey, good morning, sugar cube!” Applejack spotted her friend awoke and waved her fore leg greetingly. “Ah’m sorry for bringin’ ya some noise and mess today.” “Eeyup!” sounded a bit muffledly. Appearing from the bushes behind, Big Mac carried another bucket in his mouth and a couple more on the back. “This should be enough,” he placed his burden near the rest and smiled at Fluttershy. “Mornin’!” Muttering some hurried greeting, the pegasus girl rushed to the bathroom to splash a few hooffuls of cold water onto her muzzle and completely drive the Sandpony away. In a minute more she stood in the garden with Applejack and her brother, gazing amazedly at the whole bunch of blocks and the web of ropes surrounding the tree. “Like that, partner?” smirked Applejack chewing a straw. “The tree is huge and that’s all the help we have managed getting’ that early,” she nodded towards the stallions. “Seems, mister Steel foresaw that and suggested a system of blocks to aid our force from the very beginning. And the whole way of holdin’ the darn trunk together is also his idea. Well, those two will explain better… Ah underestimated the old fogey, even after all they with yar Alex did,” Applejack shook her head, pretending to not notice Fluttershy’s weak protest against the “yar Alex” term. As if in the answer to her words, the old unicorn finally noticed the proprietress’ arrival and head to their small group with a greeting smile. “I apologize for that early noise and all the stuff we brought with us,” he poked at the mechanism. “Oh, no worries, truly. Everything is okay!” Fluttershy started persuading him ardently that she had no objections as long as her tree had a chance to be healed. “Anyway, that’s me who called for help!” “Then, let me explain what we are going to do,” Willsmash smiled softly. “Mmm, to be sure it’s okay for you.” “As you can see, we plan to use a system of blocks to amplify our efforts and bring the trunk parts together. We wrapped the clamps with some cloth to minimize the possible damage to the bark,” Willsmash meant two large wooden things attached to the tree halves from opposite sides, the ropes started at them before coming through the multitude of blocks. “Thus we pull into one direction and the parts are supposed to… squeeze together.” “But how would it hold that way?” the concern gave way to the genuine interest in Fluttershy’s eyes. “Well, that’s the most interesting part,” winked the blacksmith. “A happy idea came into my mind that we had enough new metal of Alex’s making to use it freely, where it looked the most suitable. So, we made a few very durable and separable hoops to rivet around the trunk and make it hold.” “Don’t worry miss,” added the unicorn seeing the question in girls’ eyes. “The hoops are right of the size and we wrapped them as well to play as safe as we could…” “Morning, Shy!” completing the final checks, Alex joined them. He let out a small smile at the girl’s glowing glance and elaborated. “The thing is, that metal is completely inert, it won’t harm the tree anyway. We had two methods in mind: the first is letting the tree to grow around the hoops. It will do it at ease and, as I said, no harm would be done to the maple itself,” added he under the doubtful expression of his marefriend. “But, naturally, the metal hoops will stay inside of the trunk that way…” “And the second?” quickly asked Fluttershy making both Alex and Willsmash smile instantly. “Well, we consider leaving enough space between the hoops, to make and place new ones, of the slightly bigger size, each year, taking off the old,” Alex shrugged, inwardly smiling to his assumption about Fluttershy’s reaction turning out correct. “Obviously, these poles will need to stay here in that case,” he pointed over his shoulder. “I like the second method better!” categorically stated the yellow pegasus girl, making everypony break into an understanding smile. “Then we’re going to start! If everypony is ready?” after the approval nod from Alex, Willsmash waved to somepony else. “Silver, filly, will you give me a hoof?” Unnoticed by Fluttershy before, another member of the rescue team – the tall unicorn filly approached them, greeting her timidly. “Yes, uncle Will, when you need.” The thick ropes creaked in the ensuing silence broken only by the rustle of the leaves and strained breathing; being pulled through the old blocks, they were giving up slow and hardly. Ponies’ hooves ploughed the ground when Applejack, Big Mac and a couple of stallions joined Alex in their joint attempt to bring the trunk halves together. Naturally, unable to use a common harness, Alex was to make a large loop on his part of the rope and put it on one shoulder, across his chest adding a leather stripe underneath. All five strained their muscles at maximum and Fluttershy could see that a few months of work at the smithy left the noticeable trace; she could guess, who used that huge sledgehammer she spotted before. Little by little, with the barely audible creaking, the parts of the large tree started returning to their initial position; it became a bit easier to pull, as they got the halves moving. The blocks began to rotate and a few containing the ratchet locks started clicking slowly, fixing the progress of the rescuers and not letting the ropes pull back. “Could you please take a closer look if we pull the right direction, miss?” watching the blocks and correcting their position with his magic, Willsmash addressed Fluttershy. “As the only one here capable to fly and not pulling…” added he with a smile. “Oh, of course!” the girl jerked one ear funnily and soared, making a few loops around the wounded tree and examining the crack closely. “I think you doing it right,” she returned to them after a minute. “Not that we expected to combine the part ideally, right as they were,” noticed the unicorn, “but the closer the better!” “Okay, enough with resting, let’s try once again,” exhaled Alex, his muscles strained resembling some twisted cables, as he forcedly pulled his loop. He and Mac took the very end of the rope providing the main thrust, but the closer the trunk part came to each other, the harder it was to move them some more. Fighting with some structural changes which happened with the trunk, they did their best: McIntosh and Alex pulled bringing the tree parts closer, then Applejack and the stallions held their progress in addition to the blocks, letting the guys move a bit further before jerking the rope forcedly again. “Urrghhh!” Applejack clenched the teeth, her and stallions’ giant effort made the ratchets produce several clicks more letting Big Mac and Alex gain a few more steps. The tree parts were very close to each other, but the hooves started sliding on the damp grass and ground already. Alex had it the worst – his boots slid on the grass the most, telling him that their soles’ resource wasn’t endless and the problem of sooner replacement approached as never before. “H-hold it, Jackie!” breathed he out, hearing another click of the ratchet. “It seems we won’t go any further that way.” Accurately releasing the loop, Alex checked the trunk; the crack almost closed at the lower third and it was about a palm-thick gap at the top. However, looking at two deep ruts he managed to scratch into the soil, completely tearing away the grass, Alex was to admit, he could hardly be of any help that way. “Let’s try differently…” sitting on the grass, he started unlacing the shoes; the quick glance on the soles told him they were almost smooth, no wonder the boots slid under the load that heavy. “Okay, the final dash!” Alex returned to his improvised horse-collar. The next few minutes of forceful pulling and huffing showed that their task was going to be much harder than everypony planned. Granted that Alex’s bare feet slipped less, they pressed into the soil, but at least gave him stable support. The ponies plunged their hooves hard into the ground to gain and keep every inch. But when the ratchets fixed their progress and Alex and Big Mac almost sank down breathing heavily, there still was a tiny but noticeable gap between the trunk parts. “Ah thought mah biceps would pop…” uttered Applejack dropping on the grass next to Alex and leaning on his shoulder. “Isn’t lookin’ that we gonna pull the darn thing any tighter!” “Eeyup!” her brother wiped the glistening forehead throwing an evaluating glance at the maple tree. Both stallions breathed heavily and showed with all their look complete agreement. On that note, everypony present looked slightly depressed and the hope, which had once lit in Fluttershy’s eyes, faded. “Maybe we can clamp it that way?” the blacksmith wasn’t going to give up though. “We could probably still pull the hoops’ ends together and lock them…” “The lower ones will definitely fit,” noticed Silver Ingot, she walked around the tree, checking the crack. “No-no, this won’t cut it!” Applejack smirked sadly. “We need to close the gap completely and seal with tar for it to heal with time, otherwise…” she shrugged meaningfully. “I feel that we lack just a bit more impulse,” frowned Alex. “The gap is thinner than a dime already!” First, he wanted to try using wings to the aid, but quickly reconsidered that idea: right above the ground Alex’s huge wings would be useless for that task, likely sending dirt flying or hurting somepony instead of the help. The flapping above sounded almost like a long-anticipated sign. “Hey, folks! Whatcha all doing here?!” the familiar cocky voice reached their ears; throwing their heads up, the rescuers could observe the cyan ruffled mare hovering over the tree. “And what’s with all those ropes and stuff?” Rainbow Dash circled the whole scene twice, then quickly landed. “Some technical mumbo-jumbo! I could guess…” she squinted at the human. “Hey, Alex…” suddenly she noticed the depressed and miserable look on Fluttershy’s face, rushing to her friend in a wink and giving her a wing hug. “What’s going on?” Rainbow alternated between those present, then turned to Fluttershy again. “And why such sour faces, y’all?” Alex sighed only; truth be told, that was exactly the chance and free hoof they needed, but he was unsure yet if it was okay to ask her and about Rainbow’s reaction on him doing that. Meanwhile, Fluttershy shortly explained to her friend everything. “And that’s all!” snorted Rainbow Dash finally. “Know what, you should call me right from the start, pal!” she patted Fluttershy on the shoulder lightly, then soared hovering low over the grass. “Now, back to work everypony. Let’s do it!” the mare sported a cheerful grin. However, when they took their clamps and handles again, it turned out that there was nothing to grab on the rough and dirty rope for her. Rainbow gaze at the rope with doubt, visibly denying the idea of picking it with her teeth. “Fine!” the cyan ruffian wasn’t somepony easy to discourage. “You pull and I’ll push… somepony, to help!” Dash took a quick look over the company. “You!” she pointed at Alex unambiguously. “Your back is wide enough to place my hooves on it firmly. I’ll show you how to push!” “Just don’t push with flying…” Alex muttered feigningly grumpy, estimating the bruises small girl’s hooves could leave. “Spoilsport!” grinned Dash. “That was an awesome idea…” Once again, Alex felt how seemingly every muscle in his body strained when the rope stretched, looking aside her saw that everypony else was pushing their limits; next moment he felt Rainbow’s fore hooves between his shoulder blades. The pegasus mare started flapping her wings with insane speed causing the noticeable wind. Suddenly, Alex felt easier to pull, a power reserve appeared; pulling hard, he made a step, then another one hearing how the blocks started turning again. A click! One more! With a quiet crunch, the trunk halves finally touched; the ponies and human pulled a little more, for another click of the ratchets. “Quickly! The hoops!” exclaimed the blacksmith. “Already here, uncle Will!” Silver Ingot fixed with cotter pins of the same metal each hoop the old unicorn placed on the trunk. In five minutes the work was done, a number of wide shiny metal rings embraced the maple on about the foot distance one from another. Fluttershy whisked to the cottage returning in a moment with the jar of water and glasses and offering them to the exhausted company, who dropped on the grass nearby. “Well… The Moment of Truth!” smirked Willsmash when he and Alex started releasing the ratchets one by one, very slowly and accurately. The ropes gave slack and finally fell, but the tree stood as if nothing happened not giving out a creak. “Woohoo!” Rainbow Dash jumped and threw her fore hooves in the air. “Yay!” Fluttershy sighed quietly but wholeheartedly. “One more thing, girls!” the old blacksmith interrupted their elation. “Would you be so kind to patch the whole crack with that tar?” he pointed towards the row of buckets. “Of course, we’ll help you with lifting.” Silver Ingot nodded in agreement. “So, what are the chances?” sitting on the ground and watching Fluttershy and Rainbow flittering around the fixed tree, Alex hugged Applejack and Big Mac around their shoulders. “What would you say, Jackie?” “Ah’d say quite high!” Applejack habitually pushed her stetson to the nape examining the huge tree crown. “If nothin’ got into the crack…” “Eeyup!” confirmed the stallion, a smile from well-done job shone on his usually unflappable muzzle. “Yeah… If only the “anti-Seekers” helmet could be constructed that simply…” muttered Alex. “Never mind!” He waved casually under the puzzled glance of the Apple siblings. “Just my inner technical… or maybe even creative troubles!” Soon the last inch of the crack was properly sealed with tar and tired but satisfied girls returned the sticky buckets to the ground. Alex, Will and Silver Ingot were reeling the ropes and gathering the blocks into the cart they brought them on. High into the sky, the sun shone almost like in Summer, making Alex reconsider putting on his shirt, as he didn’t want to stain it. “Thank you so much, friends!” bringing her fore hooves together, Fluttershy hovered like a balloon filled with joy, she squinted and a happy smile curled her lips. “Jackie, Mac, mister Steel, Silver Ingot and Dashie, of course! Everypony! I have no words to tell how grateful I am for all, what you’ve done! Squee!” “Yeah, uncle Will, Sil, thanks for saving the day!” throwing the sledgehammer into the cart with some effort, Alex sported a wide smile. “Frankly speaking, yesterday I had no idea how to help, so… If not you, then…” he spread his arms. The next moment Alex was to catch and hold the yellow projectile jumping on him and cuddling. “Thank you, so much, my love!” whispered Fluttershy in his ear, nuzzling Alex’s hair and snuggling to him, completely ignoring the fact that seven ponies were watching, including two barely familiar stallions. “If you didn’t tell, I wouldn’t have probably asked anypony but Applejack about that tree…” “Well, well, don’t exaggerate, Shy,” Alex stroked the pink mane; wanting to put the girl back on the ground, he felt something strange happening – Fluttershy couldn’t release him that easily. The pegasus girl pulled her legs, twitched, then squeaked surprisedly and bashfully – her small hooves, most likely drabbled in the tar, stuck to Alex’s heated skin firmly. Fluttershy flushed to the roots of her lush mane, hiding her face on human’s chest. “Heh, you both need to wash that tar away now!” smirked Rainbow Dash slyly, she inwardly praised herself for abstaining patting Alex on the back with some comment, as her own hooves would no doubt do the same. At the very thought girl’s nose turned pinkish and pupils narrowed from that mental image. “Ehhh…” Alex grunted, unsure if to laugh over the situation or flush like his marefriend. “Well… We must go,” passionlessly noticed Willsmash, his eyes laughed though; the blacksmith nudged lightly his niece, who turned pinkish as well. “Come on, girl, we have lots of work at the smithy.” Partially that was the case indeed, at the same time the old unicorn noticed how Silver Ingot stared at Alex and Fluttershy, despite the embarrassment. “Yeah… And… I’ll bring the instruments later, uncle Will,” muttered Alex. “It’s okay, son!” the blacksmith winked. “Your friends already offered their help,” he nodded towards the stallions, who harnessed themselves to the cart already. “Don’t worry about that, you have your own “problem” to address!” Rainbow and Silver Ingot giggled, blushing desperately, and even Applejack coughed hiding her smile. * From the bird’s-eye view Everfree looked like a green fuzzy constantly swaying carpet; amazingly, but the deeper into the forest, the less the presence of Autumn felt. There, farther from the fringe, yellow and red colours were still rare guests, most of the crowns being freshly green. Maybe because it was warmer deeper in the woods and the inhabitants didn’t feel Autumn approach that sharply, or maybe because it was Everfree – living on its own, often very strange laws. The floral ocean spread everywhere, as broad as one’s eye could see, reaching the horizon and beyond on the south, no matter how high one tried to fly. Comparing to the entire forest size, the Old Castle was on the edge of it, but that “edge” was still over the mountain, the swamp, a few rivers and a canyon. However, what once took Alex the whole day on foot, was a matter of a few hours for a flyer. Alex didn’t consider himself a skilled one, let alone the best – he had one hell of a road to progress yet – but he was most confident about reaching the Castle in about three hours maximum. The same time the flight to Canterlot took at his current speed; trying to take the sonic barrier over the unknown area wouldn’t be the smartest idea. With a few powerful flaps the human raised higher, where no shadow could obstruct the warm sunlight heating the black feathers despite the oncoming cool air. Sincerely unable to imagine himself doing that only recently, Alex finally started finding pleasure in flying, as soon as he entirely felt the wings as an integral part. However, he still preferred to look forward than right down below. Thankful for the clear weather, otherwise he couldn’t either see the forest because of the clouds or warm himself, Alex looked for the familiar landmarks he remembered from his first ever journey in Equestria. The first landmark Alex spotted was something new he didn’t pass by on his arrival; the large glade in the woods was a bit aside from his path back then. Some dark monument towered in the centre of the grassy opening; he fancied a winged pony figure on the large rectangle block, but Alex didn’t have time for the sightseeing, simply noting the place mentally for the further occasion. He could say that he knew the nearest edge of Everfree on few miles deep decently enough, but didn’t remember coming across something alike yet. The first actually familiar landmark was the huge mountain, Alex once was to cross over on the narrow shelf belting it. At the view of the closer mountainside with its numerous terraces forming the giant natural stairs, overgrown with the shrubs and crooked undersized trees, Alex couldn’t hold back a smile. That was the place where his actual equestrian adventures started, changing his life the way it became. ‘I don’t want to imagine, what could have happened if I hadn’t come to the right place and time!’ Alex was to admit almost feeling the touch of the soft yellow feathers on his skin again. Last time, after patching up the cracked maple tree, they were to wash off that sticky tar indeed, ending together with Fluttershy in the shower and… Occupied by these thoughts, Alex even lost height a little; catching himself on that in time, he soared higher not to crash into the mountain and laughing inwardly at himself. The rocky mass slid underneath him in a matter of minutes and nothing blocked the tremendous view from his eyes anymore. Far-far away at the south Alex could discern the canyon, looking like a thin dark thread from that distance, and a tiny dull spark deeper in the woods – those were the survived roofs of the ancient castle, he headed to. So, Alex had a beeline to his destination; he sped up, planning to reach the castle till noon if the weather conditions kept being benevolent. ‘Alas, I had no chance to undertake a trial sortie,’ Alex was musingly gliding above the far mountainside which was the giant clay slide ending in the overgrown swamp. ‘Back then I had the only aim to get outside of the ruins and reach some civilization. Thus I have no idea how the Old Castle territory looks.’ ‘There wasn’t any garden in front of the entrance as far as I can remember,’ noticed Alex to himself, “so it must be on the other side, which I haven’t seen at all. Granted, there must be at least one pond as she said… But what if there are many? Ugh!” Realizing that he knew very approximately what to look for, Alex inwardly praised the idea to hit the sky early in the morning. Nopony knew how long would he search and he still had a busy day laying ahead, most of which he was to spend on the wing. About three hours of flight between Ponyville and the Old Castle and the same amount between the town and his final aim gave him a few hours to search, almost no time to rest, and even considering all that, Alex would have returned home after the midnight most likely. Hard enough, but on the other hand that promised one hell of the training, Alex was preparing for quite a while for. The changing landscape was flying past underneath, during the last couple of hours Alex had time to estimate the necessary speeds if he wanted to reach faster the castle, Canterlot, the eastern coast of Equestria, for example (he had the approximate map in his memory at that time). It turned out that he had to triple the speed of sound at least to be able to reach distant regions in reasonable time, especially if that involved reacting on Seekers’ attacks. That called for the certain effort and was a matter of perspective yet. Then Alex tried to imagine how migratory birds could sleep during their flight and still keep the height and course. The latter was the most difficult thing to lay into his mind, as Alex himself occasionally checked the direction to the constantly growing in size thread of the canyon and the noticeable spot of the castle behind. He almost started yawning, cheered up by the amusing occasion. Flying by, Alex frightened away a large flock of crane-like birds, gathering before their seasonal journey south-wise and digging out something at the shallows of one of the forest rivers. The large white-grey birds started gazing into the skies cautiously when his shadow slid across the bank, then the whole flock took wing flying slowly further down the stream, where the thick tree crowns almost covered the whole river width. ‘These… cranes must have seen only accidental pegasi here in the wild,’ smirked Alex inwardly. ‘Which makes me probably the largest threat in the sky…’ ‘…after the dragons,’ remembered he, taking a look around just in case. Soon enough, the landscape occupied by the large thick trees started narrowing and shifted to the right, giving way to the more rocky ground, which raised steadily towards his goal. The last rows of trees turned up squeezed in the narrow valley and Alex saw the old barely visible road emerging from under the crowns and going down to the narrow part of the canyon. The latter suddenly appeared from behind the high cliffs the landscape under him turned into. Aiming straight at the stone mass of the Old Castle, Alex threw a look at the broken bridge far below to his right and involuntarily swallowed a lump at the memory of his horrible rencontre. Only the ropes fastened together by a few planks remained above the abyss filled with the swirling non-ceasing fog hiding there from the warm sunlight. Damply glistening, the cliffs looked as unfriendly as half a year before, with occasionally falling small stones blown off the walls by the wind squeezed between them; roots and crooked bushes protruded from the stony surface here and there as if peeking into the darkening depth with the distant river roaring below. After the narrow bare stripe of ground on the opposite side of the canyon, the road dived under the foliage again occasionally revealing itself and hiding under the tree crowns – about a mile of last straight part of it to the castle entrance. ‘I wonder if there still are no large predators here, especially after the manticore left this area…’ Alex didn’t take any weapon with him, fairly supposing it would interfere with his plans for that day and relying on his speed and armour mostly, mentally praising Luna’s idea with the helmet once again. Coming into its rights, Autumn could be the reason for the surrounding silence, rarely broken by the birds, but Alex flew lower, preferring to keep an eye and listen just in case. Emerging from behind the last trees, the Old Castle appeared in his sight in its entire time-injured glory: the walls towered, looking blindly with their dark window holes and embrasures, partially collapsed towers still guarded the area and the wide stairs, withstanding the stone-shattering time, was running to the large double doors, one leaf of which lied on the stone floor, torn from the hinges. Having limited time for his quest, Alex reconsidered the idea to enter them and have another look at the throne hall where he spent his first ever night in Equestria. Instead of that, he soared higher raising above the chipped walls and galleries, flying over the inner yard and heading to the large park area, which he could already spot from there. The garden occupied many acres of land behind the castle; in some places between the overgrown trees, the ancient crumbling wall protruded, naturally unnoticed by him during his first visit. The paths and alleys were barely guessed among the verdure, run wild aeons ago; Alex fancied several garden sculptures in a few moss-covered stone moulds and once carefully trimmed but growing completely unruly since then trees. ‘Yeah, discerning anything in that mess would be one hell of a task… If there is anything to discern,’ sighed Alex. It took him a few rounds of flying low above the trees to find what he was looking for. Some glades looked like they could once be the garden ponds, but the time was merciless to them; shoaling and swamping during the last thousand years of oblivion, they slowly gone covered with grass and became solid ground or even worse, miry spots on the once glorious face of the garden. Finally, the glow of light on the water surface attracted human’s attention and Alex rushed to the farther, most overgrown part of the castle garden. This water body survived by some miracle, likely because it was erstwhile the whole lake, wide and deep; even a few centuries were not enough to wipe it from the face of Equus. Alex accurately landed on the edge of the large glade being slowly conquered by the trees and bushes, guessing that the lake must have been taking the place entirely when the castle was new. At present, the actual lake took barely one-third of its former bounds: water still shimmered behind the stripe of lakeside vegetation. Coming closer to water, Alex noticed that the lake surface was covered here and there with the familiar large leathery leaves, swaying on the light ripples caused by the breeze. Near the centre of the lake where it kept considerable depth, the leaves were almost twice the size of the rest, each easily as large as human’s torso. ‘They are that huge indeed! Fascinating!’ Alex caught himself staring at those green “rafts” in awe, he knew about some tropical flowers having such leaves, but never actually saw one before. For his luck, the leaves stood till the first cold, that seriously simplified Alex’s task; however, he was to admit that with the flowers it would be much easier. Pondering how cold the water could be in this small lake, Alex quickly took off his clothes leaving them on the grassy shore accurately folded and jumped into the water. Thankfully it appeared to be warmer than he expected, easily explained by the stillness, any running water would be chilling this time of the year. That turned out an underestimated first convenience, as the actual task took him more time and effort than Alex calculated preparing for his trip. Inwardly praising himself for finding in Twilight’s library the book on rare equestrian plants and studying thoroughly the corresponding section, Alex dived into the lake time after time, determined to pick up his prize no matter what. It took him more than two hours, despite he finally started following the stems coming down from the large leaves, as the water appeared to be considerably muddy near the bottom. Needless to say, it was getting worse after each unlucky attempt; this and the mere limit of air in his lungs, made him perform a seemingly endless number of dives, resting on the surface shortly. It was approaching noon when Alex, tired and chilled, finally emerged from the stirred up waters and swam to the shore; exiting the lake he was ready to flop, but first he took and stretched the providently taken cloth-bag. Taking out a sheet of fabric, Alex soaked it with water and wrapped something resembling three oblong lumps of solid mud into the cloth. Hiding his trophy back into the bag, he placed the whole thing into the shade of a small shrub and sprawled on the sunlit grass spreading his wings. The sun poured its gentle warmth over the human watching small clouds floating across the sky, the light breeze waved the grass and leaves making them whisper lullingly and bringing the faint smell of the overgrown lake. If he wasn’t to head back shortly, Alex would gladly fall asleep under that natural lullaby and rested for a while, but this part was barely half of his plans. Besides, resting in an unknown place having only a thin metal band on his head of all the clothes wasn’t the smartest idea. This being said, there Alex made another discovery – despite his numerous dives into the cool lake, the circlet remained warm on his head. In about an hour, when the sun warmed and dried him, Alex cleaned the remaining algae from his skin and got dressed. He nicely soaked the bag again, preparing for the return. The large wings spread sending the grass and leaves into the air, Alex threw one last glance at the water surface below. ‘Maybe I return here someday… This lake deserves the second chance!’ Flying above the garden and Old Castle grounds, Alex was going to head back home, when something stopped him, making land in front of the entrance. He couldn’t deny himself of taking another look at the giant throne hall, the place where, he was to admit that, his conscious equestrian life started. Getting up the wide stone stairs, Alex entered the broken doors, finding himself again in the high arched hall with long lancet windows and tiled floor. He didn’t run or rush this time, approaching the stepped elevation slowly, watching the dust specs dancing in the inclined sun rays coming through the windows. Two thrones were on their place, naturally. Alex went up the steps and stroked the armrest of the left one lightly, his contemplative glance stopped on the wall behind the thrones. The left holder was empty, as the night-blue royal tapestry adorned the wall of his room in the Golden Oak Library, folded twice, as it covered the floor otherwise. The right holder still supported the golden-white Day Crown tapestry. Following the sudden impulse, Alex soared with a smile; approaching the holder, he accurately detached it from the wall and brought the cloth stripe down. ‘Why not?’ he thought, carefully folding the tapestry tightly. ‘This one may return to its owner as well…’ A sudden feel made him wince and almost drop the tapestry; clenching his teeth, the human looked back at the castle doors. That feel was impossible to confuse with something – the proximity of the appearing Seeker made Alex gloom and sent goosebumps up his back. However, he finished folding the white tapestry without any rush, taking it under his arm. ‘Here nothing can hold me from taking the bastard out when and how I want!’ Alex crossed half of the throne hall at accelerating pace when the unambiguous feeling vanished as abruptly as it came. ‘Hmm… That’s really strange! And suspicious…’ Alex reconsidered and ran to the doors. ‘What’s going on hither?!’ He almost jumped out of the double doors, rushing down the stairs and mentally ordering to bring on the armour. The human figure lit with silvery glow and, clanking with his metal apparel, Alex stopped amidst the open space in the castle front throwing a piercing gaze around. At first nothing happened at all, but Alex wasn’t going to be easily persuaded: never before he came across a Seeker who “arrived” and completely vanished a few seconds later. Alex was one hundred per cent sure that he would have felt the monster if it was there still. ‘The silence is deafening!’ Remembering it then, Alex never noticed the animals reacting the Seekers’ presence anyhow. In the schoolyard and nearby and in Apples’ orchard – everywhere he heard the birds and insects, even when the Seekers appeared the next moment. The complete absence of birds’ voices signalled about some large predator presence rather than his usual enemy. Alex thought that leaving the glaive at home might be a bad idea. The familiar roar, sounding from the dense foliage on the opposite edge of the large natural square in front of the castle entrance, solved the question at once making Alex frown and clench his fists protected by the metal spiked gloves. ‘Damn! Like if I was missing your presence here!..’ With huffing and muffled sneezing of a large beast, the bushes across parted, revealing Alex’s old “acquaintance” – manticore! The human had no doubt it was the same one “greeting” him when Alex had just arrived: the large lion-like monster limped noticeably and its left paw and side of the muzzle were decorated with a few relatively fresh scars. The manticore leaned closer to the ground and let out another earsplitting sneeze, rubbing its muzzle with the paw and shaking its large head. Alex noticed that the beast looked grizzled, but taking a better look he was to admit, the reason of it wasn’t the age; monster’s head, shoulders and fore paws looked powdered, covered in some dark-greyish dust. It looked as if the manticore huffed into the almost burned-out fireplace, but at the same time wasn’t funny at all. Meanwhile, the master of the forest sniffed the air noisily and stopped; the slit-like pupils narrowed and the yellow eyes flashed – the manticore spotted the intruder. Making a few more steps towards Alex, the beast scratched the ground with his claws unambiguously and let out a roar, making a few birds escape the nearest tree in a hurry. Then the deafening silence fell for a few long seconds allowing to clearly hear the rustling of the leaves in the faint wind. It wasn’t clear if the animal recognized its former enemy, which in addition caused it to fail so painfully and ignominiously once. Alex was unsure if the manticores possessed of complex intellect, in that case the monster would have probably attacked him already. The prey looked no doubt differently for the manticore: ironclad and visibly… barbed, it looked larger, darker and definitely more formidable. Watching the puzzled and hesitant manticore, Alex remembered how the wild birds ruffled on purpose, trying to look larger and more threatening to turn the conflicts to their advantage. Now he could use that method easily. With a loud flap the huge wings unfurled throwing a broad shadow, the dark feathers dimly gleamed in the sunlight slightly ruffled by the wind on the margins. Without the second thought, Alex struck his steel gloves together, clanking the spikes and causing a few sparks to fall on the ground. That turned out to be a proper move: he caught out of the corner of his eye the barely noticeable retreating impulse of the beast. The evil yellow eyes scanned the human from head to toe or, better say, from the top of the wings to the steel spiky boots; the monster growled dully, to rather keep face than actually threatening. Regardless to its intellect level, it registered at once that prey had visibly thick skin, sharp claws and vast wings. The manticore, whose ancestors’ rudimental wings became rather a decoration long ago, realized that it had nothing to oppose the powerful aerial attack. Besides, Alex kept looking directly into the beast’s eyes, confident to show that sign of threat and challenge common for the animals. Still growling like a diesel engine running on idle, the monster preferred to recede slowly; deliberately demonstrating its spite and keeping the eyes on the human, the manticore backed away to the forest not to show its back shamefully. With an ironic snort, Alex pulled up his bag and soared; removing the armour in the air, he made a wide loop over the castle, followed by the grumpy growling from under the trees. ‘Interesting, what was that powder-thing covering its muzzle?’ Alex returned to his thoughts, taking the return course. The sudden guess was thunder-like. ‘The Seeker! I felt one before exiting the Old Castle… Then it suddenly vanished.’ ‘The manticore must have killed it! That is why the beast growled – the “prey” dematerialized as soon as it received crucial wounds, as they always do when defeated,’ Alex chuckled thinking about his sudden discovery, unsure if it was of the useful kind though. ‘So, the Seekers can affect only ponies with their powers?! The most sentient beings supposedly inhabiting these lands… That definitely adds to the whole image of those attacks as being purposely planned. But not flawlessly as we can see!’ Knowing the Seekers, Alex was sure, that one was taken by surprise by the manticore, otherwise the battle could last much longer; he noticed the tendency of them appearing larger and larger, both in mass and quantity. At least the good news was that the black abominations were vulnerable for the attacks of the natural large predators; it allowed to assume that the forests could confront that threat on their own to the certain extent. With those inspiring thoughts, Alex headed back north: the most outrageous part of his plan still awaited. Twilight was covering the land, but the night was still young; rather the late evening when the colours turned dull, yet everything becoming so clear and perfectly visible in the soft slowly fading light. Princess Celestia lingered on the balcony of her room, enjoying the tranquillity and freshness. She lowered the Sun moments before and was watching the show of interchanging colours at the western edge of the sky. ‘…these two must be planning something for the upcoming holiday,’ the princess inhaled the cool air descending from the snowy mountain top, with autumn slowly gaining it felt stronger and stronger each evening, despite them being quite warm yet. Continuing her thought, she watched the shadows slowly flooding the castle garden below, becoming almost solid in its distant corners. ‘It’s less than a month but I can clearly tell when they see each other – Lulu is shining the next morning and smiles slyly,’ Celestia sighed. ‘I hope they don’t throw out something overly eccentric.’ “Woe me, She brought you here for my burdens…” muttered she under the breath. “Now I don’t know what to expect the next day!” As if correlating with princess’ thoughts, something started happening in the castle garden. Squinting, Celestia watched the torch lights crossing the condensing shadows far below, she fancied the shouts of the guards and hasty commands. ‘What again?!’ inwardly groaned Celestia jumping over the balcony railing and gliding on the spread wings. She landed closer to the castle wall and leisurely headed towards the source of ado. The rare birds fell silent, scared by the scurrying guards and only the omnipresent cicadas screeched in the thickening darkness occasionally pierced by the torches. “Did they bother thee likewise, sunny?” the cheerful silvery voice made Celestia wince from surprise – the shadows under the alley trees parted, revealing the dark blue winged silhouette, whose large eyes flashed reflecting the fires. “I must confess, they puzzled me. I was going to attend mine nightly duties, Tia, at which hour all that fuss started to befall. Let’s go and find out, sister!” “I was going to suggest the same…” two alicorns headed along the alley to the largest congestion of the guards. “Do you have any idea, what that might be?” the Day Princess glanced at her sister. “Non the slightest,” the Night embodied trotted forward determinedly, watching the ponies with amusement; sparks danced in Luna’s eyes and her mane and tail seemed to continue endlessly into the stars filled sky. “Methinks somepony sneaked into the garden… again,” added she with a tiny laughter. “Your Highness!” the guard shift commander emerged like magic when the princesses entered the small round square between the flowerbeds and trimmed shrubs; he bowed to Celestia and Luna, reporting. “We noticed some movement in the park! I sent the guys to check, but they couldn’t catch anypony. But a few saw the intruder definitely, it moved quickly and smoothly, like a shadow.” “No, it’s not a Seeker, Your Highness!” added the stallion under the grumpy glance of Celestia. “But something comparably large.” Princess Celestia threw a meaningful gaze at her sister: the Seekers were something everypony present could easily feel, the rest of the options for some “large intruder” were truly limited. “Hmmm… I don’t know what to say…” Luna smiled mysteriously, catching the course of sister’s thoughts at once. “Thou knowest, sunny, I can easily feel the presence of our subjects, but not this time…” The loud distant splash deeper in the garden interrupted her. It sounded as if something large entered the water smoothly but still noisily due to its size. “That’s from the pond…” Celestia raised one ear and her eyebrow simultaneously. “Your Highness! Princess Celestia, Princess Luna!” the officer bowed apologetically, then he began shouting the commands into the darkness, gathering his guards and directing them. In a doubled flash, both alicorns disappeared, teleporting right to the supposed place of the incident. The princesses outrun the guards noticeably, materializing at the bank of the large water body and peering into the opening view. It was brighter there, as the pond or better say a lake was quite large, with a wide grassy shore separating the water from the last line of trees. In the shadows of the latter, both Luna and Celestia froze silently trying to get any glimpse of the foreign presence. Everything was quiet: the evening breeze barely moved the sedge and reeds here and there, some distant bird whistled twice shortly and the silence reigned again. The dark mirror of the lake kept rippling faintly, but that even disturbance could be easily explained by the wind, it wasn’t possible to determine some other single source of it. Numerous stars lit on the dark blue sky completely replacing the daylight by their soft glow. “I can see nothing forsooth,” whispered Luna from the corner of her mouth, her eyes scanned the lake surface reflecting the starlight. “What can we say about me then…” muttered Celestia, she all turned into hearing trying to catch the faintest sound. “I don’t have the night sight nearly equal.” Suddenly a tiny splash reached their hearing; the sisters noticed slightly stronger ripples coming in widening circles towards the shore. With a short huff, Luna soared spreading her wings, her horn lit brightly and in a few moments the light started flooding the area – far beyond the park, the Moon arose in the dark blue sky painting everything around in silver and making the circles coming from the centre of the lake clearly visible. However, there was no sign of any presence except them when Princess Luna landed softly, observing the finally lit water. “Tell me frankly, blueberry,” Celestia squinted, “could that be him?” “Oh, Tia, that could be anypony, literally,” Luna shrugged indefinitely batting her long eyelashes; her whole figure shimmered in the moonlight, making only stronger the impression that the night sky was the continuation of her mane. “I can feel Alex, if ‘t be true he is sleepwalking,” mercifully added she finally. “Obviously, it’s not that case, dear. But I can’t… errmmm… detect him in his usual condition. Why would he have ventured sneaking hither in the first place?” “Isn’t it a question to you two rather?” Celestia made a face. “Anyway, it’s quiet now…” she changed the topic as the first guards with their torches started appearing among the trees. Despite all of the precautions, the guards managed to notice him and Alex was to waste some time messing with them in the darkening garden, trying to disorient and leave behind. Just as planned, nopony disturbed him when he approached the large lake, at the grassy bank of which he and Luna met once. Inwardly regretting that he wasn’t some duck, Alex dived into the water; he could do nothing about the splash and realized that it could attract unnecessary attention. At least the lake was large enough, so he had a fair chance to retreat on the opposite side if somepony appeared. The first thing bothering him at that moment was the volume of his lungs, supposed to allow Alex to accomplish what he started in one go – it became too herded around. He was to admit his luck: when Alex accurately emerged, he could quickly spot some movement on the lakeshore – two large silhouettes under the trees, a bigger and lighter one and a smaller night-coloured one. ‘Damn! What could I expect with all the fuss…’ Alex threw a glance around, noticing a large fallen tree bathing its crown in the lake; fortunately for him, it must have fallen that day and whoever responsible for that didn’t have time to remove it. Filling his lungs with air, the human silently dived again heading towards that overgrown shore. He did his best to reach the aim underwater but his lungs were burning mercilessly when Alex dared to accurately emerge behind the sunken trunk. There, in the dense foliage, he could be not afraid of being easily spotted. However, Alex didn’t hurry to climb out of the water: first of all, he decided to watch and listen, but he couldn’t discern the words of the princesses quiet talk. Besides, Alex found out too late that the shore he hit was overgrown and wild, without a decent path to the water and quite muddy. The darker silhouette soared and in a moment the Moon poured its light on the surroundings shining on his hiding spot brightly. Muttering damnations under his breath, Alex snuggled closer to the trunk of the fallen tree, making sure that only his head showed above the water between the thicker branches. Fortunately, the tree kept its foliage mass almost entirely, not even withered yet, being partially submerged in the lake. Spreading his wings to keep them under the water surface, Alex stopped moving completely when the arriving guards rushed to search the lake shores; he tried to breathe once in a while, not to reveal his position by an accidental splash or movement. “Nopony here! Here either!” holding their torches high, the guards ran back and forth in a few yards distance, making Alex dive lower keeping only his eyes above the surface. “Where did they vanish?!” Having brushed the area around the lake several times, the guards gave up on the elusive visitors finally; by that moment his wings palpably soaked in seemingly half of the lake water, not to mention that Alex started freezing a little. He preferred not to think of the flying with wet wings, having no time or place to dry at least partially, let alone about bathing at nights in October being far from healthy, despite it was relatively warm still. At last, all the noises faded leaving Alex in the company of screeching cicadas only; he watched the lights receding between the trees on the opposite bank but stood motionless for a good few minutes more, just in case of some very meticulous pony trying to ambush the relaxed intruder. However, everything was quiet and Alex headed to the lakeshore doing his best not to slap the wet wings against water. It was overgrown there by the most modest standards, no wonder the guards couldn’t notice him even passing closely; Alex found himself soiled and covered in wet leaves and grass stems when he finally crawled onto the dry land. ‘Great!’ he thought rattling his teeth and feeling the goosebumps conquering half of his body. ‘Would I trade a cold for the surprise for my love?’ Deciding that it was worth the trouble anyway, Alex flapped the wings strongly while staying on the ground to dry and clean them a little at least; drops and dirt filled the air but at least he warmed up with intensive movement. Soaring like that was unusually hard, despite Alex had an experience of flying with his armour on already. ‘Doesn’t matter, it helps me warm myself,’ Alex smirked contentedly. ‘Hmpf! I did it anyway!’ With a few heavy flaps, he raised above the castle grounds heading home finally. ‘I’d kill for a hot tub now!’ When the guards found nothing, even if they visibly tried hard, Princess Celestia ordered them to return to their posts and continue the service as usual. The sisters headed back to the castle and Celestia did her best to take no notice of Luna’s sly mien; deep inside the older sister admitted that the irony was rightful, but admitting it openly was a totally different thing. “I really need to pay more personal attention to the guards training,” squeezed she out finally with a sigh, pursing her lips with concern. “When Shining held everything in his hooves, it was incomparably better! But now they have their own domain to supervise… and the guards relaxed noticeably indeed.” The Night Princess kept the polite silence trotting along with her sibling and pretending to be entirely occupied by the pleasures of their night walk in the garden. “Okay, okay, I admit it – you told me that long ago, blueberry!” one fluffy white ear twitched. “But… you know, I despise conflicts greatly… only as the last resort…” “I know,” softly said Luna raising her starry eyes at the sister. “But something is coming… If ‘t be true we don’t want the conflict, we must not let it ignite… and this calleth for vigilance and readiness.” She let out an understanding smile. “Well, on the bright side of the Moon, allowest me to take thee to bed, Tia. Thou had a busy day.” The sisters soared above the park with its flowerbeds and gravel paths, hedges and benches, heading towards the large lit balcony high on the castle wall. Another surprise waited for them upon landing: at the line of light coming through the half-curtained doors of the bedroom, there was some sort of parcel. Appearing to be the tightly folded thick white fabric, it made the princesses exchange glances. The cloth rustled softly, unrolling in the golden aura of Celestia’s magic, as the princess took the package and raised it to examine. The Day Crown royal tapestry from the Old Castle opened to sisters’ sight. “Ahem!..” Celestia squinted meaningfully at daintily smiling Luna as if saying ‘Now tell me it wasn’t him!’ During the breakfast Twilight kept thoughtful silence smiling faintly from time to time; she watched Alex fixedly as if trying to decipher what was on his mind. In his turn, Alex did his best to imitate the blissful ignorance almost sincerely surprised by his friend musings. “Did something happened, Twi?” barely keeping the poker face, Alex inquired reaching for another toast. “Thou art unusually quiet today…” He realized that he slipped only noticing Twilight’s victorious glance and sighed faintly. “Mmmm… Nothing in particular yet, but I wonder…” with a wry smile, Twilight watched him over the cup she levitated. “I stayed awake late last night… got absorbed in a book,” she shrugged when Alex coughed masking a giggle, “but that didn’t prevent me from listening.” “And?” this time Alex showed the polite perplexity, trying to guess how seriously his lilac hostess was “absorbed in her book”. “You appeared shortly before midnight,” purple eyes kept watching him fixedly but with amusement. “And rambled about the ground floor without the lights…” “I simply didn’t want to wake up anypony that late!” actually, he expected everypony to be sleeping upon his a bit messy arrival. “Well, you didn’t… Anyway, I listened to you moving things and rustling with something, rubbing and scouring… then filling the tub.” Alex sighed: seemingly, all his nocturnal escapade was monitored by her curious ears in details and he was to be thankful that she didn’t come down in person to inquire, what he was fidgeting there with. “You were impressively accurate, Alex, judging by only a couple of mud prints I was able to spot in the bathroom this morning. I can imagine how much you would need to wipe, missing only these two in the dark.” “Sorry, Twi…” “Oh, don’t worry, considering how long you soaked in the tub, thanks for cleaning the rest,” Twilight put down her cup and smiled, looking into Alex’s eyes. “Actually, I fell asleep before hearing you going to bed and worried in the morning if I wouldn’t find you sleeping in the cold tub.” “How did you manage to clean these wings?” added she suddenly. “I was considering even offering you some help… but realized it w-wouldn’t be… entirely decent,” the alicorn filly blushed and hid behind her cup making the human nearly choke on his coffee. “Ahem… Somehow…” clearing his throat, muttered Alex. “Thanks for the concern anyway!” Knowing about men and women taking the bath together in some cultures, he still shook his head dispelling the image of Twilight rubbing his back and wings. ‘Be grateful it’s not Rarity…’ the inner voice mercilessly reminded him. Alex gazed at the girl, her utter embarrassment told him that Twilight’s words rather manifested some friendly mutual assistance – ultimately, that was the same girl who helped to patch him up when he was completely unconscious – that made Alex relax. “What are you plotting, mate?” after a minute of awkward silence, the girl decided to change topic returning to her guess-game. “Ooze and coastal mud, Alex, the stains even smelled of some pond or lake.” Alex downcasted and Twilight continued pondering aloud. “It took you a whole day, it means that water body must be at least Canterlot-far, right?” “I can’t tell, yet,” Alex braced himself returning her glance. “That may completely ruin the meticulously prepared surprise. Moreover, the surprise, which is dear to me to turn out well,” confessed he. “I’m most definitely sure that you and Princess Luna are planning something for the upcoming holiday,” slowly said Twilight. “And I don’t want you to get in trouble. Both of you actually… That’s why asking.” “Oh, don’t you worry, Twi,” Alex let out a laughter. “What we plan for the Nightmare Night is completely innocent… Isn’t that holiday made specifically for jokes and pranks, both on Earth and Equus?” “And what did you do last night?..” she gazed at him slyly. “You know me, I won’t spill to anypony, including those involved. Even without the Pinky Promise…” “As I never told anypony about the reasons making you and Harry ramble about the surrounding Ponyville forests at least twice a week… and that frying pan, you are hiding in your room for me and Spike not to accidentally use for regular cooking…” suddenly added she with a strange but undoubtedly humorous expression. “Errmmm…” Alex stared at Twilight, unable to squeeze a word. “Don’t worry,” the girl waved her fore hoof nonchalantly. “I realize perfectly that humans are omnivores, like for example bears. And I admire your efforts greatly. Not to mention that I personally won’t complain about poisonous snakes population decrease around the town,” Twilight shuddered a little. “But Fluttershy is better to stay uninformed, naturally. So, Alex, you see that I can keep secrets…” “How?..” overcoming the initial shock, Alex unfroze. “I mean…” “Oh, that’s easy,” Twilight smiled and started gathering the dishes with her magic. “I visit Zecora regularly… You know about Zecora, Alex? So, she saw you both brushing the woods a few times… and was naturally surprised, what a human and a bear could scout out together. Also, she told me about noticeable snake populace decrease. The rest… Well, logic is my friend, Alex!” the girl glanced at him meaningfully. “By the way,” added she, “knowing and walking through a quite large area, Zecora didn’t come across any cockatrice for quite a while. The latter even she is happy about…” Alex chuckled then turned very pensive freezing with a plate in his hands. “Twilight,” started he slowly, “I suddenly thought… that zebra, Zecora… she lives at the edge of Everfree all alone and wanders the whole nearby woods…” “So what?” hearing Alex’s concern, Twilight put down the dishes and looked at him inquiringly. “How come, she isn’t afraid of these cockatrices exactly? If they are so dangerous for the ponies… I mean nopony can expect, what runs into you next moment in the thicket!” “Oh, that’s what you’re about…” Twilight smiled. “Zecora has an ancient tribal mask, she wears in the woods, especially in the less known parts of Everfree.” Seeing that Alex wasn’t comprehending still, the girl elaborated. “The main secret of the mask is that it allows the owner not to look on the object directly… Some trick with mirrors or something… I would like to examine that mask, but Zecora treats it too carefully to let somepony mess with it, let alone dis…assem…ble…” Twilight’s eyes began widening, as Alex, sitting still up to that moment, as if he was frozen, suddenly jumped to his feet nearly breaking the plate he held. “Of course!!!” he cried out making Twilight jump on her seat. “Arrrghhh… I was such an idiot! Not looking directly…” Alex grabbed his temples groaning. “Of course… That may work! Perseus fought Medusa Gorgo looking at her reflection in the shield!..” Twilight kept watching him with the mixed expression: somehow admiration and shock of witnessing a madman combined in her look. “Twilight! You’re a genius!!!” Alex jumped up to the girl lifting her in a hug. “Pure genius!” “But who in the healthy mind agrees to test that hypothesis?..” he stopped swirling the alicorn filly and pondered. “Errmmm… Alex…” with the blushing nose, Twilight touched his shoulder lightly reminding of herself still hanging in Alex’s arms. * Alex woke up and opened his eyes, a moment ago he had a very strong feeling that somepony called him; it could probably be a part of his dream, but the sensation didn’t vanish after awakening. Besides, he learned well that dreams and reality were connected to a greater extent than it was customary to think. Moreover, Alex simply knew what he needed to do and where he was to be at that moment. Thus, even if he was called in his dream, it wasn’t a reason to ignore that or think it was his imagination only. The wall clock showed a few minutes before one am, a rare case of him sleeping already at that time, instead of engineering something or taking a route around the town. Alex took a listen: the rest of the Golden Oak was quiet; wearied by the daily chores, its inhabitants saw the tenth dream already, even Twilight with her wont to read in bed. Forcefully rubbing his face a few times and waking up completely, Alex put on his clothes; habitually, he opened the window and got over the sill leaving the frame unlocked. He did that every time not wanting to wake anypony at the Library by turning on the lights in the main hall and using the front doors. He quietly swore and started to tuck the edges of his pant-legs into his boots – the grass under the window was cold and humid from the gathered dew and it seemed that Alex landed right in the middle of the wettest place. Promptly avoiding the shrubs belting the Library there not to take a chilling shower that early, Alex jumped over the flowerbed and took his way around the huge trunk to the front door. The square in front of the Library was completely empty at that hour, the suppressive number of ponyvillers were totally not nocturnal ponies. The human took a look around, over the dimly lit Ponyville streets meeting there, with their houses sleeping under the shelter of the trees; colourful in the faint light of the nearest light posts, they turned completely grey deeper in his field of view, where the ordinary pony eye could discern nothing. Alex inhaled the night freshness, swallowing lightly when the wind brought to him the smell of the mushroom stew with herbs made by Spike; thankfully, so he didn’t feel the immediate urge to return, they three gave it due attention last evening. Twilight decided to shut the kitchen door tightly, for the delicious smell not to imbue the rest of the Library, yet nothing prevented it to come outside making the passing ponies sniff the air and turn heads throughout the rest of the day. However, the same wind got under Alex’s shirt and ran along his ribs making the human shiver lightly and reminding that it went deeper and deeper into the Autumn. Feeling the accidentally brought that way surge of cheerfulness, Alex turned right, north-west and ran lightly across the square to warm himself up; it looked like a long walk awaited. Following the non-leaving him guiding sensation, he chose the narrow path snaking from the square among the trees and quickly leaving the town boundaries heading to the school. The night was dark, no Moon granting the skies its benevolent presence, but at the same time clear and Alex could see the dark blue carpet incrusted with thousands of stars in the gaps between the tree crowns. The omnipresent cicadas and the joining to them further in the field grasshoppers kept rasping, breaking the surrounding silence and making Alex think with a smile that the whole Equestria needed to freeze over for those stubborn insects to stop their nightly concerts and seek shelter for the coming Winter. Exiting from under the foliage roof, the path turned sharply to the south-west, directly to the school on the sloping hills; Alex’s direction was still north-west, across the field, which no doubt would make him wet head to toe, and the thread of the railroad. Not losing time for useless pondering, Alex soared spreading the wings widely and feeling the wind playing with the feathers and his ruffled uncombed hair. Making a loop under the star-woven sky and feeling the singular sharpness in thoughts and senses, Alex crossed the field leaving the rusty but still waving softly in the breeze sea of grass below. Across the rails, the station and warehouses never ended their bustle, only slowing it a bit during the night. Brightly lit in the necessary areas, they told that the Ponyville dam generators started working in full force; that woke a bittersweet feeling in him. Automatically, Alex listened to his senses, but everything seemed to be calm below and his spontaneous trip that night had another, completely peaceful purpose. Leaving the railway station on his right, Alex headed further towards the large lake surrounded by the old willows; the one where he learned to fly with the girls. Some inner feeling told him that it was his destination that night and the curiosity took the lead making Alex fly around the large water body first, trying to detect the source of his urge for that late walk. Like some black ink spilt on the reddened tablecloth, the lake stood out with its blackness even on the dark in that moonless night field. Shielded along its perimeter by various vegetation, the mirror of the water surface was completely motionless, undisturbed by the wind. Alex did one wide circle, then another, seeing no motion except his reflection in that shred of sky, which brought myriads of stars to the ground. Bathing their long drooping green braids, the large willows guarded the banks. He always wondered how those trees could keep their summer dress when others started to surrender to autumn painting; then suddenly drop their entire crown at once during one day. Alex finally landed near the place they started each day of his flight practice finding nopony on the wooden gangway either. Standing on the planks for a while, Alex listened to the screechy concert of the cicadas, catching no other sounds except his heartbeat and inhaling the damp, smelling of grass and alga air. Somewhere afar an owl uttered a hoot and fell silent. The stars blinked in the still water among the flat round leaves of water lilies. Returning on the bank after a few minutes of his futile vigil, Alex was about to confess his sudden night voyage stupid but he decided to wait for a while longer instead, as the feeling of him being needed there persisted. He walked back and forth, then turned to the lake putting his face to the light breeze; Alex froze on the spot crossing his arms on the chest. It looked as if he stood submerged in his deep musings but contrary to that Alex listened to the faintest sound attentively. Thereby he was able to register the lightest hoofstep on the grassy shore behind, a second before his nose told him who it was, as the wind faded for a while. Smiling already, Alex decided to act his role till the end, thus remained motionless inhaling the surrounding him lavender and guessing what to expect. “Finally! I thought thou would nev’r come…” the light warm breath touched Alex’s hair and in a moment he felt a tender loving bite on his ear. “Dost thou know it’s indecent to make thy mare wait, lief?” a tiny silvery laughter was followed by another passionate bite making the human realize – the last period they were separated with the princess came out too long for her patience to endure. Truth be told, being nuzzled by her on the hair, Alex felt that he was starting to boil as well when mare’s fore legs and wings wrapped around him. He turned in her embrace slowly to be met by Luna’s deep shimmering eyes. “The more you wait, the better the greeting is, my love!” his fingers travelled through her coat on the shoulders reaching the shoulder blades and stroking along and about; Alex wasn’t going to stop feeling how alicorn girl’s muscles strained under the silky skin and slight trembling went through her body. Being cuddled that way, he wasn’t able to reach her wings but, apparently, it wasn’t necessary that night, as even that touch seated Luna on the grass at once making her almost purr. “Thou!” groaned Luna squeezing him tighter. “Thou knowest that I missed…” she dug a kiss on his lips instead of the words. ‘So soft… And tender…’ the single thought floated in Alex’s head, while the man and the mare shared their breath snuggling closer and closer. Luna’s lips were gentle but demanding and Alex felt losing to them – his hands rubbed girl’s shoulders and back more and more chaotically. However, when she released him for a while, equally exhausted by that passion wave, Alex noticed, gathering his thoughts, that Luna looked as cross-eyed and melted as he did. “Wait a minute! Lu…” his voice drowned into another kiss, Alex tried to reason muffledly but soon gave up, returning her caresses with doubled ardency. Running his palms through the amazingly soft mane, he reached her sensitive ears and scratched behind lightly, making Luna moan and tremble again. “We demand more!” breathed out the Night Princess into his ear between attacks of her thirsty lips and seeking tongue, locking Alex in the feathery cocoon and surrounding with lavender aroma. Snuggled to her fluffy heating chest and stormed with kisses, Alex felt girl’s racing heart and decided to wait till this tide subsided. Indeed, after a few minutes of sweet madness, Luna calmed down a bit giving Alex some space; he cuddled her softly, kissing girl’s neck and stroking her soothingly. “Apologies!” Luna snuggled her nose to Alex’s forehead, trying to even out her rapid breathing. “I got… a zilch… carried away, mine love. Even if the princess must say that not, as Tia would say,” she giggled closing her eyes, while Alex stroked her cheeks lovingly, “I missed thee. Besides, with approaching celebration… and our idea. Whom am I trying to palaver?! I got excited, Alex. Nothing was befalling for quite a while…” “Hmm… I wouldn’t say so…” resting his head on Luna’s shoulder, Alex remembered his own latest events starting from the fire at the school and ending with his recent visit to Canterlot. “…except one thing mayhap,” Luna glanced at him slyly. “Thou knowest, somepony sneaked into the castle grounds a few days afore, played hide and seek with the guards in the garden startling them nicely. Oh, that was quite a sight!” she let out a joyful laughter. “Or… mayhap that was somehuman,” inquired she looking into Alex’s eyes; he could see the sparks of amusement and curiosity in these dark-blue lakes, “as we found another Royal Tapestry at Tia’s balcony anon. Soundeth familiar, lief, doth it not?” “Errmmm… I thought it would be a natural polite gesture to return another one to its owner likewise!” Alex pursed his lips with the most diplomatic expression. “Took a look around the Old Castle anyway, as I… wasn’t in the mood to appreciate its glory the last time…” “Oh, yeah! And the sightseeing trip ended arrant near our garden’s lake!” chuckled Luna nuzzling him again. “Something telleth me, it wasn’t that simple… Thou didn’t even visit me…” she pouted jokingly. “Believest me, I wasn’t quite prepared for that…” Alex clearly didn’t expect the talk going along that route. “Let’s say, not suitable for thy visual pleasure, mine love.” “Nonsense! That was nev’r a problem…” huffed Luna. “Thou art definitely hiding something…” she examined the human fixedly, then brought nose to nose with Alex. “Should I use… love torture to find out? Mayhap tickle thee till thou confess…” “Fat chance!” smirked Alex, staring into her eyes and putting his palms on Luna’s chest softly. “You know well you are way more ticklish than me, Luna. I’ll win that game flat. Better tell me what you planned for the celebration.” She watched him for a minute, half-heartedly admitting that Alex was most likely right about the outcome of the mutual tickling. “Okay. Why don’t we have a trot?..” decided Luna mercifully, adding aside and causing another smile on Alex’s face. “Methinks I need to cool down a zilch anyway…” They slowly walked along around the dark lake, followed by the cicada’s rasping; Luna leaned to Alex’s ear whispering something, occasionally letting out a giggle like a school-filly. “Isn’t it a bit much though?” Alex shook his head with a smile when Luna finished and waited for his reaction. “I mean we all had a few unnerving incidents already…” “Mmmm, hardly!” Luna shone with optimism. “First, it’s only a… how is it called now… prank?” after his nod she continued. “Second, it’s all the same each year. Granted, the foals love me, they love at which time I act as Nightmare Moon at the celebration. But what I realized since the first year back to Equestria, nice Nightmare Night fun calleth for a quality scare, so… it’s about time we bring some novelty, lief.” “Besides, Tia’s concerns gave me that wondrous idea!” the Night Princess broke into a sly smile. “Mayhap it even helpeth ease her tension, if ‘t be true she sees it’s a joke only. Who knoweth… Alex?” she peeked into his face, seeing that he slowed down noticeably, pondering about something. “What’s bothering thee, mine love?” “Different things, Luna, many different things…” muttered Alex; he stopped then as if waking from his thoughts. “Sorry, love!” he wrapped his arms around the alicorn girl. “Now when you mentioned armour and stuff… that led me to our current problems directly.” “The Seekers?” Luna nodded semi-affirmatively. “Exactly! You won’t deny them being a part of something bigger and more sinister,” Alex sighed, “but we are blindfolded still. Yet the dangers they deliver are more than enough for now to consider.” Seeing that he gained her keen interest, Alex started to tell about his recent troubles regarding the pony armour: in particular the helmet part of it, his hopes to shield the ponies from the Seekers mind-crushing effect and attempts to keep the protection practically usable in the battle. Luna listened to him not interrupting, nodding occasionally; she had already seen the victims, dealt with the monsters, and realized the complexity of the task. “…Twilight gave me an idea recently, by pure accident,” Alex let out a small smile, “but that was a lucky accident methinks. She mentioned Zecora’s tribal mask… which serves her protection against a random cockatrice in Everfree. I thought, what if breaking the direct visual contact would be enough to get rid of the devastating effect.” “So I’m working on it… when I have time,” he added after a moment of silence. “But I came to a natural problem: I can make a prototype which carries out the idea, but… That’s only an experiment, which can succeed or fail, yet the price of failure is too high. I can’t imagine somepony ready to try it themselves…” “I understand,” Luna nodded slowly. “’tis double trouble, Alex. And finding a so-called volunteer isn’t the main part of it, correct? Thy choice to allow somepony to take risks is rather.” “Yeah,” Alex frowned. “Even if somepony claims they are willing to, can I decide not knowing about the outcome?” he rubbed his temples. “Dost thou even sleep, Alex?” Luna examined him appraisingly. “Thanks to you, my love, I can rest physically at least. It’s not always sleeping, as we know it,” Alex shrugged with shoulders and wings simultaneously. “I ramble around Ponyville while sleepwalking often, still it’s better than nothing.” “Truth be told,” confessed he embarrassedly, “I still have occasional nightmares, when I sleep normally. I guess, some experience needs more time to wind out and some will never fade completely.” “Carest to share?” asked Luna, when after a minute of silence they moved on along the bank watching the scattered pearls above. She was to wait, watching the pensive human and once even pulling him away from the particularly dense bushes Alex almost bumped into. “Various things,” uttered Alex finally. “Mostly those you know already. The Dam,” Alex cringed visibly, “don’t know if I get rid of that ever, it returns once in a while… Sometimes I see my parents, whom I won’t see in reality ever again most likely. I see them aged and helpless, which maketh mine heart shrink and ache… or attacked by some robbers… or something else… alike. I see that but can’t help even in the dream,” he gritted the teeth making an audible sound. “Even saw my ex-girlfriend a few times…” Alex noticed the quickly perked blue ear and preferred to change the topic, rightfully thinking that there was nothing fascinating in his vision of Elen dating another man in his dream; he realized that maybe not right at that moment but within the following year it would be only natural. Instead of that, Alex remembered another dream, not entirely sure himself if that could be called a nightmare. ‘Probably yes,’ concluded he inwardly, ‘considering all the given circumstances and my inability to sort things out simply.’ “How would you like that one?” smirked Alex glancing at Luna. “We three,” she nodded slightly showing her understanding who that “three” meant, “are sitting in the room… some room, that doesn’t really matter. As if we were in the middle of some talk but then a sudden uncalled pause emerged spoiling the atmosphere completely.” He stopped under the large willow and turned to the princess with the unvoiced question in his eyes. “In that dream I have no idea what the talk was about or what caused the cooling silence. You both look at me and I feel the urge to say something, but I can’t… Can’t find the words and… The mere thought that words may be worse than silence… I usually wake at that moment,” dropped he cutting it short. “Still undecided?” Luna came closer touching his shoulder lightly; to his surprise, Alex couldn’t see any frustration in her beautiful eyes, some understanding rather. “I’d say it might be better that way but… we have all the time of this world…” “Which can’t be said about her,” quietly added Alex, he glanced at Luna seriously. “Besides, all the time of this world can turn out limited,” Alex followed the willow leaf, which dropped from the tree and slowly floated down; swirling and swaying, it finally touched the water surface, waking the ripples and making the stars flicker in the dark mirror of the lake. “With all the recent…” “Thou hast seen something else, correct?” Luna seemed to peek into the very depths of his soul. “Not a regular dream… More like a…” “…vision? Maybe,” Alex nodded slowly. “I don’t know what to make out of it yet…” He fell silent for a while, elaborating then. “I saw the Tree of Harmony again, Luna! Moreover, I heard it, like… like it was when the portal didn’t work. This time it wasn’t the single glimpse… It’s hard to explain forsooth!” “Mayhap thou shall show me instead then,” Luna watched him sympathetically. Before Alex could ask the stupid question “How?”, she moved closer to him, embracing with her soft wings. “Simply relax, lief. Relax and tryest to recall thy vision in details,” her eyes filled his entire view reflecting the stars; Alex started falling in the dark-blue velvet well. The ground under his boots, the cliff walls, the roots and ivy stalks entwining them – everything was emitting the soft silvery light telling Alex that it was most likely a dream, as even in Equestria common rocks didn’t glow all by themselves. He looked up, seeing the trees far above peeking over the edge of the cleft; they beamed with the same silvery glow. Everything around him stood out strikingly against the completely dark sky, where nothing could actually produce that light the landscape bathed in, convincing Alex it was happening in his mind rather. However, as he already learned, even if it was in his head, that didn’t mean it wasn’t real. Alex looked over himself: apparently, he was the only one keeping his natural colours there, like an actor, put among masterfully and lovingly prepared but still extremely surreal decorations. At least he certainly knew where he found himself; Alex walked, followed by the loud echo of his steps and small stones rolling from under his feet along the path inclined forward, deeper into the canyon and round its turn, where the turning blindingly bright glow came from. He couldn’t help but notice that the silvery glow was the main if not the only motive of that vision – as he decided for himself it was exactly the one. The surroundings were undisturbed by any other sensual stimuli: his ears couldn’t register any sound except that he produced, despite the foliage galore around and above, which should definitely rustle from the slightest wind. Come to think of it, Alex couldn’t feel any wind, the air was completely still. The same referred to the smells – there were simply none, except maybe something faint, yet very familiar to him, intensifying as Alex proceeded. Exiting the canyon to the broad cleft, the human was to shield his eyes with the palm of his hand first, so bright was the glow of the large tree at its far end. It looked exactly the same way as that one time Alex saw it in reality. The twelve-foot in diameter trunk bearing the enormous crown of silvery branches and leaves, the latter resembled maple ones being larger and thicker though – the Tree of Harmony. The tart scent filled the air, exhilarating, tuning to the cheerful mood despite ones will; the silvery glow faded slightly as Alex’s eyes accommodated and its slow strong pulse became visible. The Forest Deity breathed with life. Netting the low hill, the silver roots, large and small, covered the ground almost entirely. Bright sparks of the same silver light floated in the crown, all over it; looking like some large fireflies, they most likely were the part of the tree or its magic, as Alex concluded. He stopped: remembering how his single real contact with the Tree of Harmony ended, Alex preferred to keep as much distance from it as he only could. ‘Some miracles are better to watch from afar!’ decided he noticing how the pulse of the glow got in sync with his heartbeat; at the same time, Alex caught himself on hearing the quiet but discernible chiming of the giant tree. “Greetings, Guardian!” the deep soothing female voice sounded in his head; Alex was inwardly prepared for something like that and it didn’t make him wince like the first time. “Come closer! Don’t worry, it’s entirely safe,” added the voice with a tint of amusement. “I wouldn’t say it was so the last time!” Alex wasn’t inspired to agree with “her”, whoever it was. He shrugged with his wings meaningfully. Nevertheless, he approached a bit more; Alex’s head was full of questions and wasting the sudden chance to ask them would be simply stupid… if he already was there, be it his dream or not. Trying the surface with his foot, like a swimmer tried the water, Alex finally dared to stomp on the roots-covered ground, causing a barely noticeable change in the tone of chiming. ‘Is she having fun?’ He remembered how the princesses, mostly Celestia referred the Tree of Harmony, becoming more puzzled only. ‘Why “she” by the way?’ But the questions Alex started with were different. “What’s with that “guardian” stuff? Why the guardian? Why me, pray tell? I’m a simple human…” Alex stopped short, the feathers on his wings’ margins ruffled. “Okay! Scratch that… Not a simple human now, but still… I’m Alex, that’s all methinks…” “I’m afraid it’s not that simple now!” the human could easily imagine, how the owner of that voice was smiling daintily. “Patience, Guardian Alex… As for the why part, it’s up to you to decide… if you doubt the already known reasons still.” “Is that a dream of mine?” interrupted Alex adding inwardly. ‘Or I am dragged somewhere against mine will again!’ “That’s my way to contact you, Guardian,” the entity seemingly didn’t take offence by his little lack of tact, elaborating a bit more. “You can call it a dream if you want though.” “It’s utterly strange…” muttered Alex, automatically coming closer and looking at the Tree of Harmony. “It’s because I limited the perception purposely,” “she” sounded surprised by his question. “That is why you see, feel or hear less of distracting things. For now, I wanted to tell you one story, Guardian,” added the voice meaningfully. “Apologies?! A story?..” Alex shook his head and raised both hands in a shielding gesture. “I’m afraid I don’t arrantly receive… Is thither a supposed connection to our current problems?” “If I’m not mistaken, I mentioned patience already, no?” the voice audibly chuckled that time. “Simply believe, you need to hear that for your further… decisions, Guardian.” ‘What’s with that “guardian” kink every time?’ Alex nodded doomedly. “Okay, I’m all ears,” he said dryly, pondering if to seat was a good idea in case the story turned out to be long enough; however, he decided to keep standing so far to limit the contact with the silvery roots, just in case. “Excellent!” The glow of the Tree faded a bit more, preparing for the better storytelling atmosphere, as Alex decided for himself with a smirk; he was sceptical still. “There was a distant planet,” the voice was seemingly going to start from afar and Alex inwardly rolled his eyes, while doing his best to keep the diplomatic mien. “Well, it still is obviously, but our story refers to the ancient times… ancient for you, Guardian.” Listening to “her” with one ear, Alex was pondering if it was the right time to insist on calling him simply “Alex” or at least not calling him “guardian” all the time. He was genuinely irked every time called that way; as far as Alex knew, all of his attempts to help somepony while staying in Equestria were dictated by momentarily impulses of compassion, selfless mutual assistance, not some virtual duty feeling. He would do the same absolutely while staying in his world; where exactly, until the recent times, he aspired, only recently coming to terms with the thought that most likely he would never get that chance. He even admitted the positive aspects of staying in Equestria. But being assigned an uncalled position without even giving complete crucial information… That really looked like a flout. ‘How am I supposed to confront something I have no idea about?’ Alex cringed. ‘Thou either trust thy “employees”… or not but in the latter case dost not expect the due dedication.’ “The inhabitants, since the moment of gaining sentience, lived in harmony with nature and, what’s more important, magic,” the Tree of Harmony made a dramatic pause but the polite quandary was written across Alex’s face, while inwardly his condition could be rather described by the phrase: ‘What the hay I’m going to hear?!’ Nevertheless, that couldn’t put out of countenance his telepathic collocutor. “Yes, there was magic on that planet… and still is. But we’ll return to that moment a little later.” “The main thing is,” the soft voice continued, “while there were different times and, wars and conflicts or periods of undisturbed prosperity, they always felt themselves as a part of that planet’s life, never forgetting about being her children.” “Her?..” Alex thought that the personification came out very deliberate. “Love was more than a beautiful word. Duty, trust and honour were valued unconditionally,” “she” kept elaborating, as if not hearing his concern. “Friendship could not be bought or broken easily. And magic… Magic simply existed, recognized by all. Alongside with science, naturally, as two means of knowledge coexist without interfering or denying each other.” “In brief, life, bright feelings and harmony were really valued. Valued the most!” the female voice in Alex’s head stated feelingly. “But life, friendship and magic are the favourite bait for those, who can’t understand them entirely, secretly fear and hate, but most important crave to devour, annihilate, while still feeding on these positive emanations,” “she” audibly sank; the silvery glow faded even more in unison with the sad things the Tree of Harmony mentioned. “Happiness can’t be eternal or continuously long…” uttered Alex musingly. “Right you are, Guardian!” the wave of glow travelled from the roots of the Tree to its crown. “…but that’s the way we can distinguish it… and enjoy while it lasts.” A long pause hung in the air, in the silence undisturbed by the wind or leaves rustle and only the faint chime of the Tree of Harmony accompanied the thoughts of both. “There are and always were… and unfortunately always will be the powers which try to devour the life and magic in every world they exist or at least corrupt, turn them into something not burning these powers from inside by the mere fact of their existence,” the voice suddenly continued. “That planet didn’t become an exclusion, couldn’t avoid that fate.” ‘It’s always the same,’ Alex slowly shook his head in understanding, ‘there are always some, who can’t stand if the others don’t suffer…’ “Feeling united with their home world,” the Tree of Harmony stated solemnly, “the inhabitants confronted the global threat and prevented the tragedy, which seemed imminent.” “Good for them, I guess!” smirked Alex. “But still… how is that connected to our current circumstances, pray tell?” “The most direct way!” exclaimed the voice showing the glimpse of frustration for the first time; the whole Tree of Harmony flashed brighter for a second. “Your impulsiveness and restlessness, Guardian! They may turn out very detrimental for the task… or may not. It’s indiscernible yet…” “she” calmed down as suddenly as became agitated before. “The same fate awaits Equus if nobody interferes…” “However, despite the defenders managed to win a battle, they lost the war,” concluded the voice sadly. “Not entirely yet, but evil… The Evil, if you want to know,” added “she” meaningfully, “spreads and takes root everywhere it can.” “How come?” Alex gazed up at his magical collocutor. “If the… “inhabitants” averted the tragedy…” “Alas, all the attempts to destroy that evil completely have failed. The possibility of such is unknown.” ‘Great!’ huffed Alex inwardly. ‘It turns out there were more cases, which I won’t be told about most likely. And on top of that pie, we are going to face an invulnerable enemy. Merlin’s pants! Great at double!’ “Where it failed with force, the evil succeeded with trickery and villainy!” Alex could almost imagine how the ethereal female silhouette could bow her head in grief. “Alas, along with the noble defenders, there turned out to be enough of the eager onhangers. Enlisting their support the evil corrupts the mere life on that planet till today!” “Magic fell as the first victim!” elaborated “she” sadly. “Little by little, it became possible to make the natives forget about its mere existence, believe they never knew or used any, deem any mention of it as lunacy. The science was slowly turned into the rival, instead of the faithful ally, completely denying what was once supporting and completing it. At the same time, while it seemed completely impossible in that situation, the multitude of false beliefs and prejudices only widened. While some genuinely aspired to the reign of rationality and reason over the feelings – we’ll leave aside the advisability of that, they at least wanted the best – others abused that intention.” “Next, the common and natural values started being questioned. Love, trust, honour… Friendship finally!” the glow began to flare up again. “They were substituted, the most stealthily, by the cult of power and wealth.” “Tell me, Alex,” inquired the Tree of Harmony addressing the human by his name probably for the first time. “Even dealing with the commercial companies here, in Equestria, have you ever seen that money had such overwhelming power over your neighbours?” Alex could only shake his head slowly; never and nowhere in Equestria he could witness that. His own deal with Canterlot Steam Company, dictated to him by the most honourable motives at that moment, for a single short moment seemed something… not entirely deserved by this land. “Eventually,” softly concluded the voice, as if his collocutor could watch Alex’s torments, “the mere life started being depreciated.” “Was…” Alex raised his eyes at the Tree voicing his sudden wild guess. “Is that planet… Earth?” “Yes, Guardian, it is…” the Tree chimed louder in approval. “And it’s still struggling, ever since that battle was won and the whole war turned undercover.” “There was a powerful mage,” added the soft deep voice, “the one among those, who confronted the usurper.” “I can easily believe that some legends were developed,” Alex let out a smile, this time not an ironic but rather a tired one. “I always thought, and regretted, truth be told, that my home world had no magic. A minute ago I was told that all mine previous assumptions in that sphere were wrong. I’m at a loss forsooth…” he shrugged. “But thither always were historical persons, whom the folk started to ascribe magical powers over time. As a tribute to something they wished to exist but saw no signs of.” “Naturally!” this time “her” voice definitely chuckled. “But in that case it wasn’t ascribing only. He was a great mage of his time. Really was, mind that, Guardian. Really a mage! In that part and regarding his deeds, the legends don’t lie a iota. But the whole theory about his downfall from the charms of some… Lady is pure misconception…” “Do you know that every living planet has a spirit?” the voice dropped all the joviality, suddenly becoming entirely serious. “The soul, if you want to put it that way, the embodiment of the power of life they carry… Some may call it powers of nature or Mother Nature or even… Gaia, right? Is it the term still occasionally used in your home world?” Alex’s thoughts stumbled. He could easily accept the poetical naming of natural forces, he came to the admittance of magical forces beyond his former imagination limits (like the immortal princesses ruling the celestial bodies), but to confess that the whole planet might possess the consciousness… that was a bit much. ‘On the other hand, how is it less possible than the whole concept of noosphere?!’ glimpsed in Alex’s mind; still, he tried to find suitable words but failed. “The nature of that spirit never changes regardless of the name given by the locals,” with Alex’s “silent agreement”, the voice continued. “So, in a way, he indeed met the Lady… but it wasn’t his bane, Guardian! It was his vocation. The acceptance and realization of which made him a different person in a way. All he did before was a matter of public domain; all he did after was a bit more concealed from public eye… Perhaps that was a mistake, which eased the efforts of the attackers later.” “The mage was among those few who won this battle… delaying the fate of your home world!” that sounded like a thunder strike in Alex’s consciousness. “Becoming the last Earth’s Guardian!” “Wait!!!” hundred of questions swarmed in Alex’s head; so far everything he was told was truly vague. Perhaps, he had an idea about who that mage in question could be… but that guess was even wilder than the one he already made, despite last time he hit the target perfectly. However, before Alex could even think of and word out the most important for him, the silvery glow started brightening. It spread and flooded his vision, filling the surroundings with the dense silvery mist, so the Tree, the cleft, the surrounding forest, even the sky above dissolved in that milky haze. Alex couldn’t even see his own hand brought closer to the eyes. Apparently, that was the end of the audience. Alex winced and emerged from his vision. When he managed to focus, like waking from the deep sleep, he could see only the shimmering stars far above – he found himself resting on something soft and silky, looking into the sky. The stridulation of insects served the uniform background for the otherwise soundless night, the wind brought damp freshness from the lake; Alex thought that it was too late in the Autumn to lie on the ground, but amazingly, he was feeling warm. “Tis interesting and… quite ambiguous. Even for Her,” sounded near his right ear, weaving into his lazy thoughts – Alex didn’t yet recover from that sudden vision pulling him right amidst his recent dream. “Still provideth the ground for some analysis, lief.” Alex rallied and raised himself carefully leaning on the elbows, the soft and silky something he was lying on turned out to be Luna’s shoulder – the alicorn girl rested on her side on the grass, providing him support and sharing her warmth, when Alex was unconscious during his vision. It was the first time he came across that extravagant method of familiarizing with someone’s memories, no wonder the human felt slightly disoriented first. Finding himself practically wrapped in her starry mane, Alex smiled carelessly for a moment enjoying the lightest touch on his cheek, when Luna nuzzled him tenderly. He turned and wanted to give her a short kiss, but as soon as their lips met, the large blue wing covered Alex’s shoulders holding him in the place for a while longer. Truth be told for a lot longer than he planned. “Call me dumb, my love, but I didn’t get much out of that,” Alex made a sarcastic face when he was given back the ability to rest his head on Luna’s shoulder. “Except a vague and very superficial story about some powers changing the way of life on my native planet in ancient times. I get that there is a suspicion… or even confidence that the same powers made Equus their aim. But the rest still blooms with questions…” “Methinks we may safely conclude, we have the same enemy as thy home world met aeons ere,” the princess was more categorical in her judgments. “At least the Tree of Harmony presumeth that. I tend to believe her insight in the aspects alike!” “The Seekers truly don’t look like some powers going to corrupt the mere essence of life,” chuckled Alex. “Like somepony’s minions – maybe, their main purpose is to literally seek for something – okay, we know that as well. But isn’t it simply, I don’t know… stupid to send something so unreliable and, let’s be frank, dumb across the space to search.” “We don’t know what was used as the… first wave in the case with thy world, Alex,” Luna shrugged with wings, lightly ruffling his hair. “I still have mostly nothing but questions as the result of that story,” muttered Alex a bit grumpily. “Mayhap that was the exact purpose of even telling thee something, mine love,” Luna started nuzzling Alex’s hair and neck softly, occasionally planting a small kiss and quickly taking his frustration about the strange vision away. “She is responsible for bringing thee hither, and ev’r since, that was her chosen method – to make thee ask questions and seek answers thyself.” “Maybe…” Alex caught himself on absently stroking Luna’s fore leg as he melted from her gentle touch. Suddenly he perked up, returning to his favourite question. “By the way, Luna, why She? Does that mean that the Tree of Harmony is actually Equus… Gaia?! Because, I simply can’t imagine another magical… entity that powerful…” “She is!” the princess simply nodded. “The spirit of our planet. The Tree is her material embodiment. Something we can communicate with… when She wanteth that, of course.” “That doesn’t explain the strange fact that… She is informed about things happening on Earth in the days of yore!” Alex made a face. “And if we suppose that She knows more than tells… How’s that even possible?” “Alex!” Luna stared at him in surprise, the stars in her deep blue eyes shone brighter. “Apologies, but that… noosphere was a theory of thine! I guess it that Earth’s Gaia is still unharmed, even if ‘t be true the ranks of her allies thinned. Mayhap the ability of these spirits to communicate is exactly the part of that noosphere, dost thou think otherwise?” “Besides, at which hour She needed, She could pick thee from thy home world and bring hither at ease,” Luna let out a sly smile. “Fair point,” Alex was to admit; he stroked her cheek tenderly admiring Luna’s muzzle when she smiled. Remembering his first vision, where Luna appeared in his dream as a human female, he was to admit that he adored that expression regardless of the form. The pony version was even more enjoyable having the advantage of being unexpectedly cute. “The spirits of our planets must be really similar,” Alex started pondering aloud. “Considering the similarity of the conditions, the life itself… Why not indeed, maybe they are siblings in some way. It’s natural for sisters to have a heart-to-heart talk occasionally, right, Luna?” he glanced at her jokingly. “Hey! Are all such spirits… female sorta?!” it suddenly came to his mind. “In all the seriousness, I have no tiniest idea, Alex,” Luna raised one eyebrow at him. “Why don’t thou ask Her next time She wanteth to talk? And all the other questions thou hast… Mindst that I don’t guarantee getting the answers, but still worth trying methinks!” Alex saw the smile in her eyes; like a school filly, Luna was teasing him again. “Questions…” sighed Alex. “The same about that mage the Tree of Harmony mentioned… By the way, Luna, does the spirit of Equus have some actual name? I mean that addressing the powerful spirit, moreover a lady as the Tree… is a bit… strange to say the least…” “I don’t know either!” Luna shook her head with light regret. “She nev’r objected that name or being referenced as She, Her, etcetera likewise. So, what’s about that mage, Alex?” “I simply thought,” Alex turned to his side to see her better and looked into Luna’s eyes, “that magical abilities could be crucial for becoming that… guardian-thing.” He cringed a bit at that word. “I don’t like to guess what is expected from me… I wasn’t asking for that… honour,” Alex smirked wryly. “Even so, didn’t it render the whole idea futile? To bring someone who has below zero understanding of magic. Why me again?” “I guess that wasn’t the determining factor when choosing a human,” retorted Luna, raising a bit. “How many humans who know anything about magic currently dost thou know, Alex? Hmmm… Methinks the point was to get a human exactly… The rest of the motives though… Well, those were her estimations. Again, why not ask Her then… along with her name? As long as thou hast already established a relationship with the lady…” “If I can be sure in something in that world,” uttered Alex jokingly dry, “it is that you never cease teasing me, you mockingbird, you…” Not giving her time to reply, Alex pushed the alicorn girl back to the grass leaning over her and enjoying the excitement appearing in her widening eyes. The willow-tree kept shedding its leaves on the man and mare melting together in a kiss. * Spreading far in the cooling evening air, the sounds of mallet chopped the silence, otherwise broken by gusts of wind and the monotonous hum of the smelter. The latter worked in its regular mode, prepared for the ordinary job. The smell of heated metal mixed with the scents of dry grass and soil from the field, divided into rectangle sectors and ploughed along the contours, so it wouldn’t catch and spread fire in the still dry weather. ‘Autumn took completely over,’ Alex watched from under his palm the distant thread of the train pulling its smoke plume and cutting the rusted field in halves. ‘Why do I have a feeling that everything is going to heat up only?’ The majority of songbirds left, some headed to the south, some simply moved to warmer Everfree from the emptying field, their place taken by the omnipresent sparrows, titmice and crows. Occasionally, the wind dragged by the colourful leaves from a couple of trees at the smithy yard, reminding about the time order. But the Sun shone bright and the skies were still clear inspiring positive thoughts. Alex shook his head dispelling the memories of his recent vision with all its allusions. ‘Right now we have some issues of the day to address instead of guess-games regarding our future!’ Since noon he was busy with an urgent order: the directing rails for metalworking machines were not the most complex but meticulous job, as they needed to be precisely made from the metal durable to a wide range of effects, especially considerable loads under the high temperatures. Thus Alex spent half of the day on something looking for the uninformed eye like a bunch of simple rails, yet demanding attention and accuracy in the work. Not to mention that moving each was quite a tough (should we say weighty) task and Alex had time to regret he didn’t come to the smithy sleepwalking that day. The old blacksmith, on the contrary, hid in the house after lunch and most definitely worked on something new; Alex could occasionally hear metal noise and clanking sounding from the half-open window. He even fancied some strange cloud of violet fog or smoke leaving the window a couple of times. Uncle Will didn’t tell him yet what he was going to make, offering with a sly smile to have a look at the final product. “If I manage to make it play out well,” ambiguously said the old unicorn making Alex even more intrigued. Especially considering that he noticed how, in addition to the regular casts, Willsmash filled some prepared forms with the most durable metal the last time Alex was operating the smelter as the sleepwalker. Alex had some suspicions that it might be related to the glaive, as they finally come to a suitable constructive decision. The prototype was already made, stored in Will’s house not to bring it each time for training – the weapon came out huge by the pony standards and quite unhandy to simply carry around while not in the battle. They worked at the possible solutions for that problem, but till that day stumbled upon certain technical difficulties, not least related to Alex inability to contact with any foreign magic. Foreign because those who knew the human decided that his wings, sleepwalking and everything related were still magic, but different, mostly like Princess Luna’s inborn ability to reign others’ dreams. Thus, the second half of Alex’s day consisted of routine hard work, when the heavy mallet came up and down hitting the steel bars almost automatically as if becoming the natural continuation of his hand, and the attempts to guess what was made behind the curtains. A simple weapon could be assembled in less than an hour, considering Willsmash had all the parts prepared beforehoof; Alex assumed it involved something more complex than some plain mechanic. Finally, he was about to call it a day, with considerable effort moving the last metal rail under the canopy: the order was to be taken and transported on the next day. Scooping from the rainwater barrel, Alex was already washing the hands and cooling his face and shoulders when Silver Ingot suddenly ran onto the porch; taking a look over the yard and spotting Alex, she quickly waved at him to come. “Uncle Will wanted to show you something…” she started with a cryptic expression but Alex’s shirtless view made the unicorn filly blush habitually; with a smile Alex realized that noises from the window ceased a while ago indeed. “Okay, Sil, I’m coming,” he picked up his shirt and nodded towards the instruments. “Just a minute… I’ll tidy up here a bit.” “No worries! I’ll do…” with a smile the filly headed towards the “creative mess” enveloping the pliers in her aura. “Thanks, Sil! Just… be careful with the sledgehammer or don’t move it at all, I’ll bring it in later…” Alex hurried inside. In the dim light of the room – only the table in the middle was brightly lit – Willsmash met him, extremely pleased by his own technical achievement. Something oval or rather fusiform, about two foot in length rested in the middle covered with the thick fabric. “I finally managed to solve the problem!” the blacksmith pointed towards the mysterious object. “Come on, Alex, have a look. And a swing, of course!” the unicorn winked his uninjured eye. “It’s quite compact…” Alex involuntarily started smiling; his hand froze reverently over the cloth. “Uncle Will, don’t say it is the…” “See yourself!” the old unicorn nudged him lightly closer to the table. Holding his breath, Alex removed the fabric. What was underneath mostly resembled an elongated double edge war axe blade of unusual shape and without the actual handle: the middle part was a metal cylinder of the human’s grip-handy diameter, spindle-like with the nested sections visible on the narrowing ends, two double edge crescent-shaped blades were movably attached to the opposite tips, going towards each other on both sides of the middle part. The central shape had a visible ring near the convex round window shimmering with all tints of violet. The metal surfaces were snaking with the familiar peculiar pattern of lines, distinctive to their famous highly durable metal. When Alex reached for the object, it appeared strangely warm, making Alex glance at Willsmash in bewilderment. “I used our blueprints and drafts to make the details and the whole mechanism,” explained the blacksmith with a content smile, “but it would be dead if not one idea – I finally managed to put a magic crystal inside of the construction.” “And it actually works now!” added he proudly. “So, yes, it’s a glaive… as you meant it to be. Don’t worry, the crystal is isolated from the direct touch, remembering your uneasy relationship with magic,” mister Steel let out a tiny smile. Unable to believe his eyes, Alex picked up the unusual weapon weighing it in the hand. “It’s still quite heavy,” nodded the unicorn noticing that. “But at least it became handier to carry and use…” “And how do I…” Alex kept staring at the metalwork masterpiece in his hand. “Stretch your hand and turn that ring in the middle,” suggested the blacksmith. “I tested it already and it works fine, simply be careful not to pierce or knock over something with it. The ring is a bit tight,” noticed he, “and locks with a click in both positions. But it made to be easily operated with a single hand if necessary.” Following blacksmith’s directions, Alex outstretched the right arm with the glaive and turned the ring with his index and thumb fingers with a tiny effort; it went smoothly stopping with a dry audible click, the round eye glowed brighter. Then a miracle started happening: with a faint sizzle, the central part began to unfold section by section, turning into a nearly six-foot length handle. Each couple of sections from both sides turned a bit upon coming out, locking in position, as Alex guessed. Finally, both blades turned opening at thirty degrees angle and locked forming the bevelled tips of the deadly weapon. The glow faded. “It locks itself both after folding and unfolding, not wasting the crystal energy,” Willsmash started explaining the process, while Alex took the glaive with both hands bringing closer and examining it amazedly. “Thus it will stand any hit, which it would stand if made of the solid metal. Besides, if the crystal discharges completely after opening the glaive, it won’t accidentally fold until recharged.” “The eyelet gives you an opportunity to check the crystal condition,” added the unicorn. “If the normal shimmering fades visibly, it must be replaced. I’m still thinking of the ways for you to do it yourself,” confessed he, “meanwhile, somepony will need to do it for you and recharge the crystals. But don’t worry, Alex, one crystal can easily withstand many cycles.” “Now give it a swing!” with a smile, Willsmash moved the table aside with his aura, freeing more space in the middle of the room. Carefully, not to hit anything, Alex swayed the glaive; heavy on the first touch, it spun in his arm surprisingly easy, circling him in honed movement, obedient just like the still version was. Stepping back, the old unicorn watched Alex rotating their creation faster and faster with the enthusiasm of a foal trying the new toy. First carefully, as such exercises better were performed outside than in the room, even the biggest one in the house, then to the point when a glowing dome shielded the human who put to the use everything they trained. That wasn’t some wooden pole already but an impenetrable wall of steel for the possible attackers to take into account. Finally, Alex slowed down the weapon swing and took the glaive vertically, freezing on the spot for a moment and saluting to the master. “Thank you, uncle Will!” he looked at the smiling blacksmith with the deepest gratitude. “It’s wondrous forsooth!” Instead of an answer, Willsmash picked the cloth, which covered the glaive, with his aura and threw it to the ceiling towards the human; the stripe of fabric started falling freely but didn’t reach the floor, cut midway by a single aimed strike like it was thin air, not the thick linen. “When you need it compact, simply turn the ring back to the click,” casually noticed Willsmash, nevertheless extremely pleased by the effect. Needless to say, Alex immediately tried to fold the glaive watching the backwards process like enthralled. Then he unfolded the weapon once again, getting used to it. “Apologies, if ‘t be true I look like a foal with the new toy!” properly guessing the impression he made, Alex looked over his shoulder with a wide happy grin, giving the glaive another wide swing and picking it under his arm. “Uncle Will, may I…” “Tomorrow, okay?” Willsmash chuckled into his beard. “I need to adjust a few things yet.” “Not sure now if I can sleep well,” laughed Alex folding the glaive and returning it on the table. “Uncle Will!” reached their ears from outside through the open window. “Uncle Will, here they came regarding the job!” “So, you did it, Alex,” not believing his ears, the blacksmith shook his head with a smile. “And what’s more surprising – somepony actually reacted that call…” “What’s so strange about it?” Alex raised one eyebrow slyly. “We thought long ago that we could only benefit from a few helping hooves. And sending a vacancy ad in the local newspaper was natural. I was sure that it would work… and it did.” “Try to look at the life more optimistically, uncle Will,” added he with a smile, “ponies don’t necessary think bad about you, they rather got used to that being some… common practice here. Calls for changing methinks. Besides, sometimes pe… ponies simply need a job, not too dangerous – we surely care about safety – and without any crime.” “I’ll better check who it is…” still barely believing in that, Willsmash hurried outside; Alex lingered over the glaive, excitedly examining the blades, which seemed to glow in the dimly light. “There, that colt asked for the job vacancy we had,” Silver Ingot nodded towards the gate when her uncle showed up on the porch. “He is quite young but looks strong enough…” added she in half-voice. “Alex is also quite young,” shortly chuckled Willsmash. “Let’s see what this one has on his mind and what he is worth.” Lit by the low sun, leaning his fore hooves on the fence from the side of the road, a unicorn colt waited for the smithy owner; even if he was nervous, he did his best not to show that and so far coped decently, except maybe some stiffness in the pose, which he tried to make laid-back. Silver Ingot said “colt”, but he could be equally called a stallion; quite young and slim, but visibly muscular. Apparently, he wasn’t avoiding the hard work and had plenty of to practice. Waving the withered grass in the field, the cool evening wind played with colt’s mane and tail making a small muscle on his shoulder twitch lightly. “Good evening, mister! How can I help you?” the blacksmith approached examining the newcomer with the piercing look of his attentive eye. “Good evening, sir! Mister Steel, right? I’m Diamond Chisel,” the colt withstood the glance with entire seriousness. “I heard the smithy sent a vacancy ad, even saw it in the newspaper… So, you need more workers. They say the smithy is fully operational again, so… I think I’m exactly the pony you need!” concluded he with a small smile. “Hmmm… I like the spirit,” nodded Willsmash. “But I hope it’s understandable if I ask some questions.” “Well, I have… nothing to hide,” the colt waved his fore leg in a sincere gesture. “Did you have any experience with metalwork, Diamond Chisel?” the old unicorn proceeded right to the matter of things. “Which exactly, if yes?” “I’m afraid I have nothing to boast about here,” shrugged the colt. “Till today I have worked with metal in the form of finished tools and objects only. But I’m ready to learn everything I need to know and do…” The old blacksmith nodded at his words smiling; so far the newcomer made a good impression. Besides, they had nothing to choose from yet, frankly speaking, getting this one applicant looked a miracle to mister Steel. “Where have you worked before?” asked Willsmash pondering which position one could willingly change to the dubious smithy job. Deep inside he still wasn’t sure of citizens acceptance, despite the recent episode with Fluttershy, clearly showing that more ponies, than he supposed, were ready to deal with the blacksmith. “Formally I’m still working at the building site,” chuckled the colt a bit sadly. “You know, the construction at the north-east of Ponyville, but this job is coming to the natural end and…” “Formally? Sorry,” Willsmash blinked a couple of times, not completely understanding the problem. “Well,” sighed the unicorn colt, “I don’t feel myself a part of the crew anymore… Became a… white crow, since the time I parted some views with the rest of the team.” “Was that exactly what made you look for the different job?” the blacksmith stared at him puzzledly and the colt was to elaborate. “I reconsidered my attitude towards the foreigners… and that seemed to rub badly with the others. So,” he smirked wryly, “I nearly became one myself. Besides, as I said the construction is almost completed and I decided to try myself on the different field. But, yes, the former is the main reason.” “Uncle Will,” listening to them till that moment, Silver Ingot headed back to the house, “if you don’t need me, I’ll address the dinner.” “Yes, dear, if you please!” “Alex won’t stay for the dinner this time again, right?” asked the filly picking the door with her aura already. After the affirmative nod of her uncle, the girl sighed and disappeared into the house. “So it’s true,” half-inquiringly stated the colt, with some tension in his voice. “They said the human was working at the smithy… and it turns out correct.” “Yes,” Willsmash raised the eyebrow. “Alex is an equal partner here, so, naturally, he works at the smithy. Is there any problem? With the humans in particular…” “N-no, sir. Of course not!” however, the colt’s smile was a bit stiff. The next moment he glanced at the house behind Willsmash and strained. “Uncle Will!” sounded from the porch, Alex came down smiling. “That’s some real magic! I hope you finish with tuning tomorrow, am dying from the wish to try its full capabilities.” Willsmash looked over the shoulder: Alex shone like a polished horseshoe, apparently, the impression, given by the new glaive, exceeded all blacksmith’s expectations. Then Alex’s eyes stopped at the newcomer, the human blinked a few time and they widened, going from recognition to surprise and then to genuine interest. Quickly gazing back at Diamond, the old unicorn spotted a faint shadow, which slid across the colts muzzle, and a barely noticeable retreat impulse. However, the colt coped with himself and kept face. “So, this is our job applicant?” Alex showed nothing except hospitality. “Good evening!” “Mhm…” the blacksmith alternated between them with growing interest. “I’ve asked about the experience already. But even without it, the guy seems fine for our needs, as long as he is willing to learn.” ‘Yeah, especially that we have nopony else to come yet…’ chuckled Alex inwardly. Then he spread his arms. “Well, as long as the gentlecolt is entirely confident that he wants to try and isn’t afraid of hard work… I see no reasons to object either.” “Feel free to come on the morrow, sir!” Alex addressed Diamond, who stood with round eyes like thunderstruck. “And… welcome!” At first … looked completely frozen and Alex inwardly had a moment of foalish fun, imagining how Pinkie would surely have waved in front of his eyes or tried to wake him loudly. Coping with the feelings, their new workpony squeezed out words of gratitude and said goodbye crumpledly. “Was that one of the stallions, you came to blows with in the bar in spring?” Willsmash Steel followed the receding figure of the extremely puzzled colt when the latter finally left. “Yup! Uncle Will, don’t tell Sil about that, okay?” answering the inquiring glance of the blacksmith, Alex shrugged. “If he came here willingly, I want the guy to have a completely clean start. Our… racial dispute is water under the bridge.” “Hmmm… Fine!” the unicorn smiled into his beard. “Otherwise, he has fair chances to be morally executed daily… If only morally!” * “Is everything okay, Lulu?” Princess Celestia glanced across the table at her sister. “You are smiling quietly for the whole day… I know it’s your rightful holiday, but still… a bit unusual, blueberry…” Luna indeed was mysteriously cheerful: in the morning, when she entrusted the Court to Celestia with that tiny smile, and then later in the evening, right after getting up, preparing for her nightly duties, which included the special holiday activities on that day – all the time she was subtly enjoying some idea. Even knowing sister’s love for the Nightmare Night – the day when pranks were officially encouraged – Princess Celestia looked puzzled; she couldn’t remember her regal sister being so inspired the last year for example. “Simply anticipating,” Luna daintily sipped her usual coffee with the most innocent look, but the sparkles dancing in her deep blue eyes told her sister at once, there was anything but simple in Luna’s expectations. “I have so many plans for this night, so many places to visit. It’s always exciting, even more because of befalling once a year, sunny!” “Like every year, dear, when you try to cover all the significant places of Equestria,” noticed Celestia casually. “Do you plan to visit Ponyville again?” “Yes, Tia, like the good old tradition,” smirked Luna, putting her cup away. “Alas, only Ponyville is getting the special treatment tonight…” she sighed with a tint of disappointment. “It would be quite difficult to bring this trick to every place…” “Don’t overdo it… you two,” Celestia looked at her fixedly, while Luna was musingly observing the darkening sky behind the arched windows. “What? Oh… thou knowest us, sister, we are prudence embodied,” the big blue filly pretended to just wake up from her thoughts and shrugged. “No casualties!” “We?” with a wry smile the Solar Princess rolled her eyes, shuddering slightly at the word “casualties”; sometimes her sister’s humour was borderline scary. “Does “we” mean you – Luna Selena of Equestria… or is my primary assumption correct?” “Either way is valid, sunny!” Luna only smiled, wishing puzzled Celestia a good night. That day finally came; shorter than every previous one, while the nights fell darker and longer each. The air, misty and humid at night, was crystal clear in the daylight, subtly bringing the chillness of upcoming season. Managing to survive the Running of the Leaves, the golden and red foliage fluttered in the light wind from the western mountains. The spirit of general anticipation filled the air: the foals were given no homework for that weekend, thus having that Saturday completely free of celebration unrelated affairs. The adults in their turn were preparing to deliver them a long-awaited holiday and, truth be told, to enjoy the process as well, remembering their own adventures during Nightmare Nights. Thus Ponyville reminded some noisy beehive long before the actual celebration started. The activity was noticeably centripetal and reached its maximum at the Town Hall square – the largest open place of the town, where the majority of Ponyville-wide celebrations were usually held. Mayor Mare was extremely supportive of the event, even taking a significant role in it; her only stipulation was to aim pumpkin-catapults away from the actual Town Hall. The latter was easily affordable, aiming them towards the creek, skirting Ponyville from the south, so, the aquatic friends of Fluttershy could have personal part of Nightmare Night feast when an accidental projectile missed the targets and smacked into the waters instead. However, Mayor Mare never got tired to repeat each October 31st – “No pumpkin stains on the Town Hall, okay!!!” Applejack was to hire a few stallions to help with the loaded wagons, otherwise she and Big Mac would never manage to deliver in time all the treats Apple Farm usually supplied for the celebration. Harnessed like the others, she pulled the next overloaded cart, huffing tiredly. Her head was occupied by the dilemma: to put on her Nightmare Night costume meant to reveal it beforehoof and probably bedraggle on the road, but lingering with that could lead to having no time to put it on or forgetting something important. Applejack secretly regretted not following brother’s advice; Big Mac already had a word with Rarity, whose boutique was almost next to the Town Hall, and brought his packed costume, leaving it at unicorn fashionista’s home. Not doing that herself now looked even more stupid to Applejack, as the last stroke of her own disguise needed Rarity’s help anyway. Big Mac pulled his burden almost relaxedly and looked content, chewing a straw in the corner of his light smile. Applejack threw a glance at him; perhaps he thought about the better ways to set up the holiday attractions, he was going to help with after delivering the goods. Or, and Applejack had a strong suspicion of that, McIntosh heard out of the corner of his ear about the most likely being prepared surprise part of the party… But trying to pull a word about that out of his mouth was like watering the sand in Appleloosa desert. “Where are the fillies, Ah’d want to know?” Applejack pushed her stetson to the nape and wiped her forehead. “At the clubhouse,” shrugged Big Mac, still in his thoughts. “Last time Ah saw them there, with Babs. Making final touch to their costumes…” “Ah certainly hope they know, what they’re doin’!” smirked Applejack. Babs, Apple Bloom’s cousin, came to visit Apples on the holiday. Applejack was still unsure if the fillies were entirely safe with their older friend… or not, as that mischievous short-maned filly could equally keep the girls in hooves or serve exactly as a detonator for their TNT pack. But apparently, it was either sending them four to the clubhouse or putting all the watching after the colourful hurricane (plus Winona naturally adding to the rush) sweeping around the farm on the shoulders of Granny Smith. “Hmmm… Ra-ra, I still don’t see the point in the costume being quite alike the dresses you usually make,” Pinkie’s voice sounded muffled because of her own Nightmare Night disguise; she stepped back and looked evaluatively over Rarity’s long dress. “Maybe a bit more extravagant than usual… The bow and the whole length of it… Are you sure, you can walk normally? I mean, this should definitely get under your hooves.” “Besides,” she snorted quietly. “Nopony will probably doubt that it is you, knowing your artistic tastes…” “Oh, stop it, Pinkie, and help me tighten the belt properly!” Rarity rolled her eyes, batting the carefully outlined eyelashes: the whole dark and red makeup advantageously contrasted against her pale coat and she cocked her head graciously, boasting the high complex manedo her hair was constructed into. “You should educate yourself better, daarin’. That’s not “one of my extravagant dresses”! I’m the neighponese geisha assassin, dangerous mare fatale…” “Fotefeff! Ff fu fure, fu fan freaff fine fif ffat?” “What, sorry?” Rarity was too busy estimating the result in the large mirror. “I said, are you sure you can breathe fine with that?” Pinkie let go off the belt, when Rarity nodded contentedly, tightening her already shapely waist and letting Rarity fix the rest with her aura. “And… What if you need to run… I doubt you can in such a long dress…” “Hmpf!” huffed Rarity, she opened the hem cut and stretched her hind leg out, demonstrating a pack of throwing knives strapped to her thigh instead of the answer. “I’m not going to run from anypony! They should run,” glanced she at Pinkie with emphasis. “…and more of those are placed instead of the hairpins, yes.” Rarity winked. “By the way, with all due respect, I doubt I can see something creepier than your costume tonight… Unless you plan to throw the same trick as three years ago, daarin’. But I’m sure everypony is prepared.” “You know that was a mistake,” Pinkie Pie pouted jokingly. “And… scaring the hay out of others is the point of Nightmare Night, isn’t it?” “One of the points…” corrected her Rarity. “Another is to GET MORE CANDY!” exclaimed Pinkie, at that moment the large sundew-like floral maw slammed shut, making her owner sound muffled again. With a little effort, Pinkie opened the large raptorial plant flower mounted around her head and giggled, making the numerous green tentacles and leaves on her neck and shoulders shake; Rarity watched that scene with the mix of reproach and carefully hidden shiver. “I decided that dressing as chickens and stuff was irrational, when it came down to candy,” Pinkie raised one brow. “Omnivorous monster-plant is way better for that purpose! With that I can gather tons of it literally with little to none effort,” she sported a wide grin. “I’m sure you will,” muttered Rarity aside. “Would like to see a suicide refusing to pay that thing off.” “Knock-knock!” Rainbow tried the front door with a feeling of knocking on the fortress entrance. The shutters were closed on the ground floor, upper floor windows were curtained tight; no sound came out of the cottage and the whole yard looked as if prepared to stand an assault. The opening door revealed a small part of Fluttershy’s muzzle and her turquoise eye cautiously focused on Rainbow Dash. Obviously, the yellow pegasus girl expected somepony else and a certain dose of anxiety added to recognition and reserved joy in her glance. “Oh… Th-this is you, Dash,” Fluttershy opened the door a bit wider and Rainbow almost saw, how her friend scanned the landscape behind Dash’s back carefully. Angel’s pink nose peeked funnily from her sumptuous mane between Fluttershy’s perked ears; it was so funny, Rainbow couldn’t hold a snort. “Of course, it’s me, pal! Who did you expect – hurricane?” “Is there a difference?” Fluttershy let out a tiny smile. “Slip in!” she slammed the door shut the second after Rainbow Dash squeezed through. “Heh! You can brisk nevertheless, mate… That’s not bad!” she hugged Fluttershy tight, making Angel leave his cover and hop into the living room. “What’s going on though?” “Oh, you know,” Fluttershy rolled her eyes tiredly, welcoming her guest to follow the bunny; automatically Rainbow noticed the unusual silence in the cottage. “I thought it’s already started… l-like each year.” “I thought you have grown over this fear, Flutters, and wanted to bring you back to the herd tonight,” chuckled Rainbow Dash, flopping into one of the armchairs and glancing at the hostess slyly. “Especially since you are friends with… booooo!” she made scary eyes and waved her fore hooves in the air, “Princess Luna… Oops!” “Sorry, mate!” Rainbow cupped her mouth with the fore hoof, throwing a guilty glance at Fluttershy. “Oh, that’s okay, Dashie,” with a more relaxed smile Fluttershy brushed away sudden awkwardness. “We are friends with her, no matter what.” “Then why not have some fun indeed?” after a momentary thinking Rainbow cheered up again. She examined Fluttershy’s mane with interest. “You know, Flutters… We could… Really, we could paint you into Chrysalis! What?” “If I didn’t know you, I’d have thought you were joking…” Fluttershy stared at her friend bemusedly. “But this is a bit… much, Dash, don’t you think?” She picked up Angel and nested in another armchair, keeping him on her knees and shaking her head. “Why not?!” Rainbow seemed quite inspired by her idea. “You have mane and tail long enough, you can fly… better than you think,” she squinted at Fluttershy, “don’t deny it. And you can be quite… persuasive if you want. And that would bring a fresh breath into the celebration, if you ask me, scaring the whole town shitless!” Dash sported a wide grin. “Thanks!” Fluttershy wasn’t sure the idea was that bright. “I can’t… hiss like her. Yeah, definitely!” Rainbow Dash burst laughing, making both Fluttershy and Angel jump on the spot. “Hiss! Aha-ha-ha! Hiss… Seriously, Shy, you keep underestimating yourself!” Rainbow watched her friend admiringly. “With the proper disguise that wouldn’t be necessary! Telling ya!..” she kept snorting for a while. “Anyway, that’d be super awesome…” “Who are you going as?” Fluttershy interested politely, stroking Angel behind his ears soothingly. “Oh!” Rainbow Dash puffed proudly, clearly telling that Fluttershy’s method worked. “I think it won’t hurt if I tell you… especially as you’re not going to tell everypony,” she made a face and shrugged. “I’m going as Meteor-Mare. Kinda suits, right?” the cyan pegasus smirked. “I’m absolutely positively not going to tell anypony,” assured her Fluttershy with a kind smile. “Especially as I’m not going. But…” added she, not letting her friend object, “could the superhero start helping those in need already?” With those words Fluttershy pulled a huge and seemingly quite heavy bag from behind her armchair, pushing it towards silent Rainbow. “Can you place that next to the garden entrance, please. And that note on the gate, Dash?” Fluttershy smiled apologetically. “I’m afraid we’re under siege tonight…” Dumbfounded Rainbow Dash picked the announcement, written on the hard carton sheet. “PLEASE - take the treats you need (from the bag) - don’t forget others may need as well - the main request: do not disturb the animals Thank you very much and enjoy the holiday!” She still chuckled, shaking her head, while nailing the note to the gate. “Well, daarin’, if you don’t rush and dash, they will sit like a glove, properly spread and holding vertically,” Rarity bucked aside her long hem and stepped back to estimate the work done. Judging by her proud huff, she was quite satisfied. Especially that she needed to fix everything in a hurry, especially while being a bit restrained in her moves due to her own extravagant costume. Not to mention that she was to reveal her costume beforehoof to at least two of her friends, which Rarity did very reluctantly. “They look very natural if you ask me. Like a part of you, Jackie!” the unicorn fashionista pulled lightly with her magic the medium size manticore wings attached to Applejack’s back under the grey-sandy velvet overalls, quite similar to real lion coat, and nodded contently. “If you say so, sugarcube!” Applejack stepped back cautiously, not to knock over something in that kingdom of exemplar order, as her generous friend managed to tidy up the ribbons, pins and all the other accessories after Pinkie helped her to dress. The mare threw a glance over herself in the large mirror; the pleasure of realistically looking costume mixed with a tint of incertitude in her green eyes. “Ah’m worried if Ah don’t get too hot under that,” muttered she, seemingly not the first time as Rarity rolled her carefully outlined eyes. “Maybe fixing the wings with some belts would be easier… Ah’m almost of the manticore colour anyway…” “You think so, daarin’?! Remember. Three. Rules. Of Rarity!” uttered separately her friend. “I’m not going to trade any of them for ease,” the unicorn girl huffed. “Besides, where would you hide your cutiemark then, tell me? That’s not mentioning the ugly belts visible around your body. No, no, no! You won’t need to run like mad, Jackie. For once relax, daarin’! You already did everything you could to make it great, now simply enjoy the celebration…” She cocked up her head, flaunting the dark and bright-red makeup on her glowingly white skin, confidently shaking her high manedo; when it came to fashion-related questions, Rarity was steadfast like a rock. Applejack took a look over the Neighponese assassin: her appraisingly squinted eyes, fore hoof musingly cupping her chin, the throwing knives, as if by chance they shone behind the garter glimpsing in the high cut of Rarity’s long white dress. Naturally, the mare preferred not to argue over the insignificant things. “Well… as we have come to the agreement on this…” Rarity let out a victorious smile and began to pull a long leathery-looking hose over her friend’s braided tail. “Ouch!” Applejack alternated from hoof to hoof, Rarity probably pulled a bit hard. “Stand still, daarin’! One more pull…” the unicorn girl made one last effort and the manticore tail firmly nested over the natural one. “And be careful with it. The tip is quite heavy, don’t hit somepony with it.” With her aura Rarity levitated a large hairbrush from somewhere and addressed the lush fluffy mane made of false fur and attached together with the round brown ears to Applejack’s head over her own gathered and hidden mane. Gently holding the desperately flushing friend under her chin, Rarity started brushing future manticore’s mane through murmuring something under her breath. The whole image of the dangerously looking girl in a flowing white dress grooming the predator was quite picturesque and, apparently, there was at least one thankful beholder to admire it. “Eeyup!” sounded from the door to another room. Fully equipped in his costume, Big Mac was standing there for a while already, leaning on the door frame and enjoying the sight with an impassive expression but a smile written in his eyes. “What?” both girls inquired simultaneously; Rarity stopped brushing Applejack’s false mane and flushed a little as well. With her Nightmare Night costume and makeup it turned out surprisingly cute. Under sister’s glare, the stallion winked then pulled lower his wide tricorn with cuts for the ears and long shabby feather; he made an absent face, his sight glazed, eyes staring into one point. “Uuurghhhh!” uttered Big Mac and walked across the room with a staggering unsteady gait. His beautifully tailored camisole and pants were artificially worn out, made threadbare and torn in artistically selected places. The same treatment was delivered to his knee-high boots, which looked like they spent their long and glorious life in the multitude of raids and battles but still managed to hold together by some magic. His wooden sword was painted to look rusty and notched and an ancient pistol shoved behind the belt made an impression that it rusted in a single chunk ages ago. Deliberately stomping on one spot for a while as if he was troubled with choosing the direction, Big Mac turned to check the impression he made and glanced at the girls slyly. “Confess, Macky, you’ve chosen the role with fewer words on purpose, so this costume,” joking, Rarity nevertheless couldn’t hold back a shudder looking at his makeup, despite she herself painted all those scars, bruises and old wounds. In the dim light, the result of her mastery looked specifically believable: it seemed that pieces of flesh were really torn out here and there, a fake broken bone protruded from the ripped sleeve, carefully attached to appear realistic. “Eeyup!” McIntosh sported a wide grin, which came out both cheerful and, truth be told, intimidating, considering his current look. “Besides, this won’t prevent me from helping with the attractions.” “Just be careful not to scare away the foals, bro!” Applejack smirked watching him enjoying the costume as if her brother returned to the foalhood for this evening. “He is doing it too realistically, what a strike of inspiration!” the girls exchanged glances and Rarity nodded determinedly. “It was a good idea to go without the eyepatch…” “Look, daarin’, I think we must tidy up here as well!” With these words, Rarity began brushing the mane again. “Ah’m sorry, partner!” Applejack downcasted a little. “Ah should bring my stuff here beforehoof, not to detain everypony… just like Macky did. He is prepped and kickin’ already.” “Urrghhh!” behind their backs, the stallion swayed in front of the mirror, rolling his eyes in a terrifying manner. “Oh, come on! Stop it Mac!” giggled both mares. “You’re getting a tiny bit too much believable!” “Spike!” Twilight puzzledly examined the dark second level of the Library hall, there was no light in any of the rooms and only a few candles burned dimly on the ground floor. She checked the empty bathroom and the kitchen, also pitch dark – there was nopony in both. Alex’s door was closed but a stripe of light was peeking from underneath, showing that he was probably working even on the holiday eve. As he asked to stay undisturbed that evening, the alicorn girl concluded that hardly the human and her dragon aide would have some technical dispute, thus Spike couldn’t be there either. “Spike!” another call remained unanswered and only the even rows of books stared at her from the endless shelves around the darkening room as the last rays of sunlight slowly faded in the windows on both sides of the front door. ‘Where did this little imp go?’ “Pffft…” Twilight spat out and removed with her aura the false fangs, which frankly speaking were making her shouts sound quite muffled as the girl didn’t get used to them yet, despite they were one of the main parts of her tonight’s costume. “Spiiiiike!!!” she flushed a bit feeling a tiny prick of guilt; some rustle followed by a sigh sounded from behind Alex’s door when Twilight’s voice rolled across the Golden Oak Library without let or hindrance. “We’re running late! Where are you lingering?” added she less sonorously. With a well-discernible yawn sound, something fluffy if not say shaggy trudged from the darkness of the upper floor and started descending, muffledly yawning each next step of the stairs. Twilight watched the phenomenon silently with question and amusement mixed. “Well… yawn… to have a nap… be-e-e-yawn-fore the holiday was a nice thought,” muttered the fluffy creature, “the only… yawn… problem is to wake completely. Arrrghhh!” it bucked up a bit, ruffling even more. “Spike?!” Twilight stifled a smile; her eyes unwittingly rounded. “Yeah! Who else that could be, Twi?” the creature threw back the shaggy hood of the faux-fur cape revealing the sleepy but content muzzle of the little dragon. The next second Spike stumbled and bewilderment started filling his quickly waking eyes. “Whom is your costume supposed to present, for Celestia’s sake?” He still couldn’t hold another yawn, examining Twilight with wide-open eyes. “And why it’s so dark here anyway?” “That’s more atmospheric!” Twilight winked jokingly; the lack of light was indeed unusual for this place of knowledge even in the evenings. The few candles couldn’t dispel the shadows gathering in far corners of the large hall surrounded by the high bookcases, thus the room began looking a little creepy, quite suitable for the Nightmare Night though. “As for the costume… this time I chose something more in the spirit of the night,” Twilight put back the false fangs and cocked her nose. “I’m Count Dracula! Quiver you mortals!.. So, does it sound earnestly?” she stretched her old-fashioned tux and snow-white shirt with lush jabot, wrapping herself in the pitch-black cape with high collar and red lining. “That’s a powerful vampire from human mythology, based on the real historical figure by the way,” the girl squinted meaningfully. “The problem is, probably nopony knows a bit about him,” chuckled Spike. “Although I must confess, it looks intimidating anyway. So, I guess that you must be fine.” “Of course, I must be fine!” snorted Twilight quite proud of her effort; she shook her mane, which the filly gathered into a flat knot on her nape, pulling her bangs back as well and leaving only two strands to hang on both sides of her face – thus the manedo came out looking short and manly, yet antique to the extreme. “And what’s your costume representing, pray tell?” “I’m a weredragon!” proudly puffed Spike. “The weredragon! The one and only in Equestria! Rawr!” he stood on all four, putting the hood back on his head and puffing, so his cape looked even more fluffy and his tail, disguised as the wolf’s one, bristled. Spike giggled and raised back to his feet. “That’s was easy to make, Twi. Besides, I have my own fangs,” he grinned. “I like the result and must admit it wasn’t a bad idea.” “Well, certain progress since the year you dressed as a… dragon,” Twilight couldn’t hold back and sprinkled a laughter almost making her false fangs fly out of her mouth and causing another quiet rustle from behind Alex’s closed door. “At the very least it a better idea than your suggestion to dress me as a Neighponese ghost-filly from the well, with long black mane and in a white nightgown!” huffed Spike, he squinted at Twilight then at the door. “I guess where these ideas are coming from! But that one would be too much…” “Japanese, Spike. It’s called Japanese there,” Twilight let out a smile. “Don’t be a bore… That looks so unfamiliar and frighteningly eerie for our everyday life, you would certainly scare the hay out of everypony.” “But thanks!” retorted Spike with a dry mien. “I’ll let you both play with human mythology if you want. To dress me in a girly nightgown…” he snorted loudly. “Speaking of which,” the small dragon nodded at Alex’s door. “Is he not going to celebrate? Especially as they have a similar holiday at their home world…” “He said, he needed some quiet time for work,” Twilight shrugged, meticulously extinguishing the candles with her aura, so the large hall becoming completely dark with the faintest light coming only through the two windows and the gap under Alex’s door, “and would come later.” She wrinkled her nose and waved the hoof as the last candle went out with the dense smoke. “But I think he is plotting something for the celebration. Some surprise, maybe with somepony else,” Twilight leaned closer whispering in Spike’s ear almost hidden behind the fluffy hood. “He didn’t tell exactly, but I clearly saw Alex being slightly nervous,” she winked slyly, adding louder while trotting to the front door. “Come on, Spike! We’re late already and I don’t want to miss something interesting!” The square in front of the Golden Oak and the streets falling in were half-lit compared to usual Ponyville nights; maybe for the atmosphere or maybe to deliver more resources to light the Town Hall square, where the main herd gathered. One way or another, thick dusk made the costumes of scurrying here and there foals look winningly realistic, which was highly welcomed by the latter. Besides, it was the night among a few during the year when the foals were allowed to have fun around the town without constant parental supervision, so the youngsters did their best to use the chance to the fullest. For the whole evening, Twilight was to open the front door countless times for the next portion of costumed candy hunters, laughing and letting everypony go with some prize. The foals were still rather afraid to knock on Alex’s half-open window, despite the gamine wish to do that clearly read on their muzzles. The human in his turn supposed that he took enough part in the holiday bringing two large baskets of various confection from the market that morning, thus providing those proverbial treats. At that moment the numbers of the foals in the streets thinned and the general movement became visibly centripetal: everypony headed to the southern square, from where the breeze brought the variety of tasty scents and hum of the large herd. Wrapping up in the luxurious cape and closely followed by the Weredragon, count Dracula – also known as Twilight in common life – headed towards Carousel Boutique, the shortest path to the Town Hall from the Library. The closer to the Town Hall the more ponies filled the town streets; some foals still roamed about and tried their luck at the neighbourhood doors but the majority of the ponyvillers gathered at the “central” square already enjoying the treats, attractions and each other costumes. The main event of the Nightmare Night was also highly anticipated as a yearly tradition, as since her return, Princess Luna never failed to shed her attention on Ponyville on that holiday. Numerous ponies, foals and adults, outran Twilight and Spike; many of them glanced at the strange couple: some with interest, some with a smile, a few with genuine shuddering – Twilight’s costume was quite impressive. Even if the majority of ponyvillers didn’t have an idea about count Dracula, they caught the general vampire motive; besides, with the generous help of Rarity, Twilight evidently put her soul into the costume making it atmospheric. Thus when she decided to jokingly throw a grim glance and reveal a fang through a wry smile to a group of high school fillies, dressed as fairies, ghosts and mermares, the latter first squeaked in exaggerated fright, then sped up, running forward, laughing and nudging each other, looking back at the pale “stallion” with unnaturally red lips and his strange follower. Needless to say, that a fluffy dragon with a wolf-like tail was a view unusual enough for many of the passers to pay their attention to; Spike was completely satisfied with the effect as in general he preferred the sweets-and-candy aspect of Nightmare Night to the prank-and-scare one. “Well, it seems that this year everything is going to run smoothly again,” noticed Twilight when they passed the Bouncing Barrels bar and turned left on the corner to cut the path through some alleys. “Without the major incidents, I hope… We haven’t seen some undoubtedly prepared pranks yet, of course, but…” The sight of the bar sign and showcase made Twilight smile remembering the actual incident between Alex and Rainbow there and the talks it woke; she looked back at her friend and aide. “Don’t you think so, Spike?” “If you say so…” a bit muffledly sounded he crunching with something; Spike miraculously managed to get hold of some sweets already, completely unnoticed by Twilight. “Don’t forget about possible Alex’s plans, we know nothing about,” he reminded meaningfully. “And if that’s not enough… we always have Pinkie to the rescue. Hey, want some candy?” “Hmmm… Not now, maybe later…” muttered Twilight, clearly realizing that later it might be nothing to talk about when it came down to candies and Spike. His words made her pondering; while believing in the decent level of prudence of the human, the girl remembered that random foals threw out a wild trick yearly. Till that moment it got along without any accidents. ‘May it keep that way…’ A few more minutes of trotting, another sharp turn of the narrow alley, and the Town Hall square revealed itself to the friends’ view. Brightly lit by the multitude of torches and colourful lamps on the posts and ropes stretched in various directions, it seemed to hospitably accommodate the whole town. Costumed ponies were everywhere: along the stalls with different treats outlining the square, around the attractions where foals and their parents waited for their turn, mingling and chattering joyfully at the free part of the square, despite calling it “free” would be quite optimistic. However, surprisingly there was enough room for everypony to have fun and enjoy the Nightmare Night celebration, nopony felt constrained or unwelcome. ‘Almost nopony…’ corrected herself Twilight; scanning the vast square from her vantage point before they both entered the seething sea of ponyvillers, she couldn’t find at least one family anywhere – Steels. Apparently, Willsmash and his niece didn’t feel confident enough yet to join the celebration, preferring to watch it from the distance or simply not attending at all. Twilight couldn’t hold back a sigh of sadness imagining that. Otherwise, whoever only was there: foals and adults dressed as wizards, zombies and ghosts, based on their fantasy, time and effort devoted for their costumes. It didn’t matter that some characters repeated: Twilight could count a few different skeleton costumes, a couple of astronauts in round transparent helmets (she was almost sure that one colt simply put a round fish tank onto his head), pirates of different seas and cultures, mermares – mostly high-school fillies preferred that type of costume. One could easily form a whole assault squad from the ghosts of various sizes and forms to storm a small fort if necessary. Of course, there were a lot of unique and original ones: beasts and monsters, a few historical figures, Twilight even spotted one timberwolf and frowned lightly remembering the rumours of them coming quite close to the town that Autumn. A filly dressed as Princess Celestia glimpsed in the herd, making Twilight blink a few times first, questioning her vision of the mentor suddenly visiting Nightmare Night celebration. “Aha! Here you are!” something green and rainbow-tailed flashed past wincing from surprise Twilight and Rainbow Dash landed near them for a second only to grab her and Spike, pulling them through the slowly mingling herd towards the opposite edge of the square, closer to the attractions. “Come on, pals! Stop lingering there like unwelcome!” Twilight noticed that Rainbow had time to pay tribute to her love of the whole life – apple cider – and energy gushed over the edge of the already speedy and adventurous filly. Finding her path between the strolling and communicating ponies by some miracle, Dash pulled them past the large scene with completely occupied rows of seats: Mayor Mare declaimed something for the engrossed in narrative foals and a number of colts and fillies of a bit older age – that was a story of Nightmare Night origins and the tradition most likely. This year the mare dressed as a weeping ghost, quite veracious at sight, even mixing in the scary and attractive aspects. Twilight chuckled inwardly: Spike’s complaints about Mayor Mare’s totally unfitting and atmosphere destroying attempt to dress as a clown two years before didn’t fell on deaf ears. Be it a killer-clown not some regular hilariously clumsy one, that would have been a different story. “I flew past you, mates, two times before I spotted Spike in the herd!” Rainbow Dash stopped only when she brought them near the attractions and stalls with Apples’ treats, joining the rest of the friends there. “First I thought it was some unknown stallion,” giggled she, examining Twilight from head to hoof. “But there is only one dragon in Ponyville… even if dressed so… unusually!” “What’s the character, by the way?!” the cyan girl pulled Twilight by her cape lightly; her friend watched Big Mac trotting on the treadmill and spinning the carousel to the great pleasure of the riding and waiting for their turn foals. Twilight could appreciate the effort invested in his costume. Meeting her glance, McIntosh let out a small smile then made a scary face and grunted making the foals squeak and burst in a whoop of laughter. “Huh? What, sorry?” Twilight asked Rainbow to repeat her question. “Oh. Tonight I’m Count Dracula, the great and…” she stumbled and coughed remembering some associative link, “the terrifying vampire lord!” “That’s from human mythology…” inputted Spike glancing at Rainbow with self-explanatory mien. “Oh, I see!” meaningfully huffed the mare. “And you must be…” she looked fixedly at him examining, “… a weredragon, right?” “How did you guess?!” Spike stared at Dash. “Hmmm…” the Meteor-Mare sported a wide grin. “First, I’m the smartest mare alive… after Twilight,” added she. “And second, you definitely share my love for timberwolves imitation, so a pure guess… or maybe your tail suggested that!” The mention of timberwolves made Twilight fall into thoughts again until she was pulled out by approaching Applejack. “Roar!” she let out a slightly tired smile, demonstratively waggling her scorpion tail. “What a night! Ah have no spare minute…” despite she involved a few mares and stallions to help with the stalls and attractions, Applejack was quite busy, wiping the forehead with the lion paw of her costume. “Ah think we need to expand next year,” she said taking a look over overherded place with all the stalls and the row of catapults occupying the river bank part of the opening. “It becomes ‘bit tight ‘ere with all the stuff, sugarcubes!” Twilight nodded. She didn’t know absolutely all the ponyvillers like Pinkie, but watching the herd even she could spot a few new muzzles here and there; foals and their parents coming for the holiday from distant farms and mining villages, naturally they gravitated to the nearby bigger towns for entertainment. “And where are the rest?” as if reading her thoughts, inquired Spike taking a seeking glance over the closest part of the square. With a smile Twilight guessed whom he was looking for. “Pinkie?” Applejack shrugged. “She was feeling kinda tight ‘ere. Ah guess she is scurryin’ around the town on her candy hunt.” She chuckled watching the new ponies approaching the stalls and attractions, nopony left unsatisfied. “If Ah’m not mistaken, Pinkie wanted to check on Flutters also… even maybe try to talk her through to visit the celebration,” the girls sighed. “Ya know, each year is the same but she still hopes to persuade her one day.” “Mhm…” Rainbow Dash coughed strangely, she shook her head at girls’ inquiring glance and kept to herself that she suggested Fluttershy dress up as Chrysalis a few hours ago. “Must be cider coming up my nose…” muttered she embarrassedly. “Daarin’, I told her, that was a bad idea… considering her costume!” lazily spoke the familiar voice from behind making Twilight and Spike turn their heads. “But that’s Pinkie for you. Good evening, friends!” Their eyes stopped on the almost glowing figure behind making both count Dracula and Weredragon admit, that night Rarity probably topped her list of spectacular appearances. Her white coat looked as if the girl used some makeup to turn it ghostly glowing, competing with the colour of her long neighponese dress with thin bright red and black trim. Raising on her hind legs, Rarity leaned casually on the nearby stall; with a spark of reflected light, the throwing knives glimpsed behind the black garter on her confidently outstretched leg showing in the high cut of her flowing dress. Picking with her aura a hairpin, which turned out to be a narrow stiletto blade, Rarity threw a glance of the half-lidded lovingly outlined eyes over the company and began polishing her fore hoof examining it as if nothing else could interest her more. “I mean, Pinkie’s costume is outright scary… I don’t envy Shy seeing that in her yard probably,” uttered she blowing aside one of a few strands, which fell on her face escaping Rarity’s high manedo and fashioning her look somewhat relaxed but at the same time extremely tough. “Ummm… Errmmm… What?” Twilight opened and closed her mouth for a while causing Applejack and Rainbow giggles behind; the girls already saw Rarity and have some time to accommodate to her outstanding look, recovering from the initial amazement. Spike in his turn looked as if all of neighponese assassin’s knives bulleted through him, in other words, he was shot on the spot yet evidently enjoyed it immensely. Satisfied by the effect, Rarity let out a smile mercifully approaching and hugging Twilight, who still blinked slightly dumbfounded. But when the mare-fatale leaned and planted a kiss onto Spike’s nose, the girls thought that they nearly saw the heart-shaped scarlet bubbles coming out of weredragon’s mouth, ears and nostrils; Spike was on the verge of turning into a boiling puddle. “So, what do you think, Twi?” still chuckling, Applejack returned to her idea, while Spike was hanging limp in Rarity’s cuddle like a rag doll. “Ah’d say we’re moving the catapults and the whole shootin’ range behind the stream next year and freeing quite some space for the herd,” she poked her hoof at the row of pumpkin-launching mechanisms facing the field prepared for the game. “Thus Mayor Mare will finally calm down about the Town Hall safety once and forever!” Her suggestion made everypony turn to the outer border of the circle drawn by the light flooding the place. The latter provided perfect visibility for the ponies entertaining themselves on the Town Hall square but at the same time rendered everything behind that limited area of bright light pitch black for their eyes. The bridge and the opposite bank of the stream barely peeked from the darkness, the rest was veiled by the night stealthily seizing power. Raising from the stream, it mixed with the star-encrusted night sky, slightly diluted by their silvery light up there. “I begin worrying,” muttered Twilight; wrapping into her cape and pulling the collar higher, she stared into the night with concern, “like every year.” Unwittingly she came closer to the stream as if trying to see something on the other side. “You see, the entire town is gathered here… even the ponies from nearby farms and villages came,” elaborated she turning to the friends following her. “Everypony is having fun and nopony usually thinks there are distant places, which keep functioning despite the celebration. But while the station and hospital are occupied by professionals trained to react to every incident properly, there are ponies who stay alone, singled out… and unprotected if something happens. You know whom I mean…” “Hey! Why the sad faces?” she was pulled from her thoughts by some cheerful ringing voices behind the friends’ backs. “It’s Nightmare Night – time to have fun and stuff. What are ye mournin’ about?” “I thought about Fluttershy always staying alone and separated from the rest of us during that holiday, her and Steels,” sighed out Twilight slowly turning to the sound; in a second she froze on the spot shutting her mouth with an audible clank of false fangs, the girl was sure that the rest of her friends shared her sentiments. Right in front of them, on the grassy bank, sat four little abominations, one a bit taller than the other three. Granted these were simply costumed fillies, but… Without the exclusion, the costumes made count Dracula, Weredragon, Manticore, Meteor-Mare and even the Neighponese Assassin, who already saw Pinkie’s costume and seemingly couldn’t be surprised by anything, swallow nervously. Thin, in the grey-black tight fit tricots, painted carefully to look like bony yet tendinous bodies, in strange wide shabby cloaks, the four monsters grinned pleasedly with the wide toothy maws of their large skull-like papier-mache heads, coloured with fluorescent paint. The night breeze played with long hoary ruffled false manes, bringing chills into the souls of the beholders; Twilight heard a hiccup leaving Rainbow’s mouth. “We saw the light in Fluttershy’s cottage when leaving the orchard,” shrugged one of the monsters, tilting her head. “Ah guess that she must be okay with her animals.” “Do you like the costumes, sis?” asked another, sporting a horn on her head. “We spent the whole day preparing…” “Yay! Look at them!” giggled the third, the cloak on her back fluttered revealing the excited batting of the small wings. “We are the Four Wendigos of Ponepocalypse!” proclaimed she happily. “Ummm…” the larger creature timidly picked the ground with her hoof, glancing at Manticore. “The girls asked so much to think out something unusual… So, I came up with that… Don’t be mad with me, big cousin, okay…” “Babs!” breathed out Applejack. “How could Ah have not guessed?” “Of course, Ah’m not mad,” smiled she widely. “You were busy, didn’t get into trouble and… easily managed to make one of the best disguises for tonight, girls. Ah think that’s a win!” “Yeah! Even got me for a second…” half-heartedly confessed Rainbow Dash; she already started the cheerful fuss with the fillies when they began reeling around her with happy squeaking, so contrasting with their looks. Twilight and Rarity watched the scene with mixed feelings, as the girls’ costumes were truly impressive; Applejack was simply happy that Cutie Mark Crusaders didn’t get into a story. Spike… was a special case, ogling Rarity with almost heart-shaped eyes and not noticing anything around, even letting slide the fact that the fillies relieved him of a portion of sweets. He had time to regret not dressing as neighponese ghost, that way they would look quite fitting with Rarity. As if ordered, the full moon emerged from behind the eastern hills and hurried up from the horizon; the Night Princess prepared for her visits across Equestria. The silver light softly spread across the valley partially dispersing the thick darkness and flooding the distant fields up to the Everfree edge with ghostly glow, as the fog was already gathering above the cooling grassy plain. Floating above the mist, the rare trees looked like boats on the silvery sea surface. Far on the south, the friends noticed a small spark of light surrounded by the trees: Fluttershy’s cottage apparently was lit, warm and safe making them all breathe out with relief. “Yeah, let’s move the catapult range to the other bank next year,” stated Twilight when the whole company headed towards the celebrating herd, “and bring more lights here.” She cringed slightly in the cooling air. “The Nightmare Night is coming!!! Prepare your fright everypony!!!” chanted the herd on the Town Hall square; the moonrise cheered up the foals and adults unambiguously telling that their Princess was with them, mentally at that moment and in pony in the nearest future, visiting the town traditionally. The tall silhouette of the Weeping Ghost scoured among the holiday-makers; Mayor Mare gathered the foals before Zecora’s arrival and the usual trip to the old monument to Nightmare Moon on the edge of Everfree. “Relax, sugarcube!” Applejack hugged Twilight tickling her with the false lion mane. “Ah suppose yar fears are groundless tonight, everything is goin’ to slide smoothly like a plough on the dry soil.” “Yeah, Jackie, it seems I can relax only when I…” A sudden gust rushed through the square, making flames of the torches quiver noisily and the garlands of small colourful flags tremble frantically as if they were ready to tear from the ropes and go with the wind like the leaves from the nearby trees. Stopping for a moment and looking at each other with surprise the ponies turned their eyes to the dark, yet almost cloudless sky: nice weather was promised by pegasi and stars – the brightest of them – weaved the giant galaxy map on the dark blue canvas. One more bright star lit above Ponyville, dazzling and flaring up for a few seconds before fading away and everypony saw a small dark dot, darker than the skies around, which grew quickly approaching the town. In a couple of minutes, a large winged silhouette could be seen; the dim metallic gloss showed it wasn’t an ordinary pegasus. Lower and lower; the familiar chest plate and hoofwear glared in the moonlight, making everypony duck instinctively (despite they knew, they had nothing to fear in fact) when the tall dark blue alicorn hovered above the Town Hall square. Her mane and tail seemed endless, shimmering with stars and dissolving into the night sky, becoming a part of it as they waved in the insensible wind. The intimidating visitor inclined her head in the smooth round helmet, slit to let her ears and lush mane through; her eyes shone brightly, taking a look over the medley gathering below. “CITIZENS OF PONYVILLE!!!” the deafening voice rolled over the town and spread across the valley as an unstoppable avalanche, fading at the edge of Everfree and making the trees tremble anxiously. “THE MASTER OF THE NIGHT GREETS YOU! MAY THE NIGHTMARE NIGHT REIGN OVER EQUESTRIA!!!” The giant figure landed quite gracefully, yet everypony felt the light quiver of the ground under their hooves; all the ponies bowed low, throwing cautious glances at the newcomer. “P-princess… Luna?” a colt wrapped in the bandages, he represented a mummy obviously, sounded with a mixture of hope and concern. Naturally, as the princess usually arrived in her normal form. “Of course, foals!” “Nightmare Moon” chuckled quietly. “And who did ye expect? Starswirl?” She glanced slyly over the herd, which visibly relaxed at those words of their princess, despite her unusual arrival. Even the first Nightmare Night after her return Luna came to Ponyville as herself, accompanied by the Night Watch guards; the same was the next year celebration. She played Nightmare Moon for the thrill and entertainment of the young colts and fillies, but usually later through the celebration when the foals headed to the monument in the Everfree forest to present the treats gathered by them to the Master of the Night. Thus her appearing without any escort and under the Nightmare Moon disguise right away was a surprise. Catching the familiar soothing tones in the deep voice of the princess, which echoed even when she didn’t use the Royal Canterlot variant of it, the ponies, adults and foals, allowed themselves to smile timidly. The foals though quickly gathered around their beloved princess, which towered above them, as in her nightmarish form she easily competed with Celestia. Rarity forgot that a moment ago she understood Fluttershy, who was avoiding Nightmare Night celebrations. Applejack threw a quick glance at Big Mac, who smirked too obviously, clearly showing that he knew something about the holiday, which others didn’t. Even the air seemed to warm up a bit and the hum of the herd quickly filled the spacious square again. “Your Highness! It’s such an honour… Have a taste of our finest bakery, please!” Applejack made a wide welcoming gesture, suggesting to pay attention to the stalls with Apple family products offering a great choice of the bakery, fruits, bakery with fruit filling and drinks. Her voice sounded a bit tense, despite all the girls knew the princess well; her unusual appearance puzzled everypony present. Choosing a piece of the famous apple pie, or even Apples’ Pie if giving it the due honour, “Nightmare Moon” gave it a dainty bite. With a toothy smile, she watched the foals competing in fishing large ripe apples out of the water barrel, using only their mouths, of course; however, Twilight could notice a couple of quick expectant gazes in the direction of the southern fields, thus her suspicions about something being plotted for the celebration turned into assurance. Meanwhile, the herd continued enjoying themselves: adults joining the foals at the attractions, remembering their own foalhood and having much fun, ponies paying due attention to the treats and bringing content smiles on the muzzles of Applejack and Big Mac, foals of all ages gathering around Luna. Those stared at “Nightmare Moon” with the full of love shining eyes, thrilled with their own bravery of coming close to their favourite princess; the ones getting a nuzzle or a mane ruffle from her, looked at the rest like somepony who successfully dared to take a celebrity autograph. The princess herself visibly felt much more confident than during her first Nightmare Night celebration after the return; she even took part in quite a few attractions including the “apple-bucking contest”, despite it wasn’t a sport she was really keen of. Luna was rather attracted by some aim involving entertainments like tossing the toy velcro spiders into the silky net. But her chosen sport was still pumpkin-shooting, no wonder that after a while “Nightmare Moon” ended at the catapult shooting range absorbedly examining that year device changes. Somehow, while staying with the girls generally, Twilight kept watching the princess, feeling more and more convinced that anticipation of something glimpsed in her eyes occasionally. The filly started to realize the reasons making Alex stay at home that night, but the actual plot intrigued her; while others evidently suspect nothing, Twilight noticed one more pony throwing similar glances towards “Nightmare Moon” – McIntosh probably had a chance to hear something at the market or from the human directly even if accidentally, as those two became good friends. With a smile the lilac girl admitted that the majority of neighbours often underestimated Big Mac’s watchfulness. “Calamity!” the first large pumpkin launched by “Nightmare Moon” missed the target by nearly a foot, smacking aside on the bank. The princess frowned but less than could have been expected in a similar situation. Luna missing the target was a shock for the herd, but Twilight saw that the princess watched the fields behind the stream with more attention than she paid to the actual aim; “Nightmare Moon” definitely expected something to happen momently. The anticipated events didn’t linger to start. First, another strong windflaw swept from the south over the herded square; it felt exactly like the one prevenient to the thunderstorm, making the torches flicker and the flags flap loudly, gaining everypony’s attention. Raising from beyond Everfree, the dark clouds stained the lit by the Moon skies; they impended at visible pace, but strangely kept over the valley thus leaving the night light unobstructed, so the misty scene was still nicely lit. One or two distant forked lightning bolts flashed the clouded sky and after a few seconds the sound of thunder reached the ears of ponyvillers. A strange hopping figure showed up on the road through the fields, approaching the town. Twilight and other girls watched it with a mixture of perplexity and concern. Finally, it reached the bridge over the stream and crossed it in a few familiar hops. However, the looks of that figure caused a few frightened screams in the herd, despite all of the ponies saw that persona already. “Now you understand why I said that her costume was probably the scariest, don’t you, daarin’?” Rarity appeared behind like a ghost making Twilight wince a little, the outlined eyes watched their mutual friend. “Made me shudder even when I helped her to dress!” The rest of the girls were to admit – Rarity told the truth: the large plant-shaped maw clapped with every hop, overshadowing her view and delivering Pinkie much trouble to keep the course, artificial leaves and green tendrils around her neck frantically waved in the air, giving her semblance with some extraequestrial monster. Some ponies from the herd already prepared to flee till the newcomer reached the circle of brighter light and they saw that it was Pinkie Pie – broadly known party-pony and confectioner. Her hooves braked on gravel with an audible screech, the fake sundew slammed shut again causing the frustrated grunt of its owner. With some effort, Pinkie opened that green maw huffing and breathing heavily. “Celebrating?!” loudly inquired she inhaling deeply and started jabbering at machine-gun pace. “Better look what is going behind my back, folks! I went to check upon Fluttershy, how she was doing alone in her cottage, maybe to convince her to finally join us or at least cheer up a bit on that festive night…” she took a deep breath. “Is she okay?” at the same time asked Twilight, Rarity and Rainbow Dash. “… she is, but that’s not the point, girls. She is fine with her animal friends in their volunteered solitude… as usual, but…” Pinkie rounded her eyes. “When I left her, I saw something exiting the woods.” “What the...” uttered Spike, he even refrained from unwrapping the next candy. “Not again, Pinkie!” The pink girl glared at him deadly serious, making others catch her anxiety. “Something?” Applejack raised one eyebrow. “Ah don’t understand. Can ya be more specific, sugarcube?” Twilight gazed at “Nightmare Moon” – the princess watched the scene with relaxed interest but the sparks of amusement danced deep in her eyes. “I don’t know…” exhaled Pinkie still taking her breath. “I only noticed it was something bipedal and large. When it entered the moonlight, I thought I’d better be here telling you about that. As I ran off, it didn’t approach the cottage but followed me instead…” The holler of fright interrupted her as somepony from the herd actually spotted something in the moonlit sea of fog. “Look!” Pinkie turned back and poked with her fore hoof towards the valley behind the stream. “Just look there!” Quiet at first, the herd started to grumble concernedly as more and more ponyvillers noticed what she meant. A large dark figure moved across the field heavily wandering above the floating milky surface. As Pinkie said, the creature looked bipedal, stripes of mist curled and swirled around its legs as it slowly but persistently strolled towards Ponyville with the pace of the approaching storm front. The clouds already moved closer, flashed and ripped by a few more bolts of lightning; the delayed thunder was rolling its loaded train cars across the sky. With the wind getting stronger, the fog reached the far bank of the stream and started to flow down to the water, separate sheets of it wreathing around the bridge railings already. The herd fell silent, unable to get their eyes away from the opening view. The figure looked huge to them, maybe because it really was, or maybe the silvery light, the haze and the large deep shadow it cast were to blame. Coming closer it appeared to shine metallically with its dark spiked carapace or armour; the armoured legs agitated the clouding mist as if the creature was wading in shallow water. It had two arms carrying some long object, which glimmered dimly in the silvery moonlight; what looked like a black hunch behind its back turned out to be a couple of folded wings. First ponies began to leave the square with the muffled hollers of terror when the intruder got into the bright spot and revealed its spiked head having no face or muzzle – the front surface was smooth and mirror-like, reflecting the glints of light. The first shreds of fog already snaked into the lit area on the near bank, flooding the bridge with the milky haze completely. With a loud flap, the creature unfurled its pitch-black wings turning out to be vast and soared making the mist around curl and follow it forming a ghostly column in the air. Coming into the moonlight it appeared to have two legs and two arms covered entirely with the same darkly gleaming spiked armour. It took a few powerful heavy wing-beats to cover half of the distance separating it from the square; the thick clouds drifted closer and closer to the town, overshadowing the starry sky almost completely. The wind blew stronger, but the frightened ponyvillers thought they were feeling the gust born by the giant wings. The herd finally unfroze leaving the square with scared neighing and cries; bustling in the squash they almost turned over the stalls, which kept standing only by some miracle, and began hiding in the alleys, thick bushes of nearby gardens, behind the porches of nearest houses. In a wink, the entire square became deserted with empty stopped attractions, a few flags laying on the ground and accidentally dropped food. But the cautious and at the same time curious eyes watched from every nook and cranny, how the events were supposed to unroll further. It turned out that only the girls and a few ponies, whose curiosity took over the fright, remained at the brightly lit square. Twilight – almost sure that it was some prank prepared by Luna and Alex, even if she started having doubts in the last few seconds. Spike silently clinging to her leg, his furry cloak and false tail looked bristled while he stared at the intruder. Rarity already holding the throwing knife with her aura – she seemed to immerse in her role overly that night. Naturally, Rainbow simply couldn’t flee spoiling her “the most daring mare” reputation and Applejack couldn’t leave her stalls unattended, especially considering that four “Wendigos of Ponepocalypse” peeked curiously from under one of them. Besides, Applejack was genuinely curious as well, as she thought she knew only one resident looking very alike the creature approaching. And, of course, she couldn’t show a weak spot in front of Rainbow, whom Applejack raced to “the most daring mare” title usually. Pinkie hid behind Big Mac, who watched the scene calmly; a smile of amusement curled the corner of his mouth as Twilight could notice in bewilderment. He definitely was better informed about the circumstances than the others. Staying to the right of Twilight, “Nightmare Moon” watched the whole scene with a dainty content smile, her mere sight convinced the girl that there was nothing to fear, despite the impressive scene unrolling before Twilight’s eyes. In a few more flaps, the armoured figure crossed the stream landing right after the bridge so heavily, everypony fancied the ground trembling under their hooves. Keeping the giant wings unfurled, so they overshadowed half of the ponies’ view, the newcomer stuck the object he carried into the ground; the latter turned out to be the long shining weapon, resembling two scythe blades put on both handle ends under an unusual angle. The next moment with the earsplitting sound of thunder, a lightning bolt dropped from the clouds swirling above the figure in the sky; it hit the weapon making it shine and soaking into the ground the second after accompanied by the joint scream of terror sounding from the surrounding the square darkness. The Nightmare Knight (how Twilight already called the monster) spread his arms, the spiked gloves squeezed the air with their clawed fingers predatorily. Everypony felt the push of air as if it was jerked towards the creature and the next moment all the torches and lanterns on the square went out – the flames flowed towards the hands gathering and curling into two large fireballs around the palms. “CITIZENS OF PONYVILLE…” started the intruder sonorously; the voice boomed from the closed helmet making the glass in Town Hall windows tingle. The fog swirled under his feet already; two fireballs reflected in the smooth mirror of the helmet, making it look like two flaming eyes were under its transparent surface. “Nightmare Moon” headed towards him majestically and greeted the Nightmare Knight with a light nod, sporting a content toothy grin. The next second Twilight, and frankly speaking the rest of the ponies present, started blinking puzzledly, as what they could never expect such a situation happening. The armoured figure started shaking visibly and the muffled trumpeting, which sounded from under the helmet, resembled most closely… a fit of uncontrollable laughter. The Nightmare Knight released the flames, which immediately flew to their original places and in a second the square was lit by the warm light of torches and colourful lanterns again. Nopony noticed how the heavy clouds vanished revealing the star-woven skies again and the fog crawled back to the field. The spiked glossy helmet shone brightly and the next moment only a thin metal band glimmered on the head of its owner. Alex folded almost in half, laughing till tears trailed from his eyes; he wanted to wipe them, reconsidered and took off the armoured glove first. “Just look at them!” he leaned to smiling “Nightmare Moon” nodding towards the curious eyes shining at the edge of the lit area and muzzles, which started peeking timidly out of the hiding spots. “Yet, they didn’t run away arrant…” impressed, he even stopped laughing for a second, then seeing the expressions of approaching girls, started snorting again. “Alex!!!” Twilight tried to glare at him reproachfully, but unwittingly she was smiling already; partially because it turned out to be an innocent prank, even if scary enough at first. The girl was to admit that the recent events made them all suspect the worst, unfortunately; she would be the first greeting the return of careless days. “Of course, it’s me!” Alex cracked a wide joyful smile. “Not some… Grim Reaper?!” “Ah thought the Seekers started coming in the new form…” Applejack squinted at him jokingly suspicious. “Ahhlex!” Rarity batted her spear-long eyelashes; she put the throwing knife behind her garter demonstratively outstretching her leg through the dress cut. “I almost threw that at you, daarin!” the unicorn girl produced a flirty smile. “Ahem… I guess it was smart to come armoured then,” winked Alex. “Now, when I’m safe… Am I? Excellent! It’s time to remove it to avoid accidents,” said he wrapping in the same silvery shine. The next second it faded revealing the familiar Alex in his usual pants and free-fit shirt to the gathering ponies, as the rest of the herd started entering the square timidly seeing that the danger was imaginary. His wings shrunk, enough for the human to be able to fold them properly. “Right in time, pal!” Rainbow Dash huffed with a tint of self-reproach; she was to admit believing in the play among the others and receiving some scare indeed. “I thought that Nightmare Moon returned again and… got herself a Nightmare Knight already.” The girls moved closer as the atmosphere became defused, but they all were outstripped by a flurry of little grey-mane monsters. Three of them rushed to the human and began running around him with cheerful and militant wails, then hung on Alex laughing, while the fourth sat at the safe distance still looking at the human slightly wary. “What’s with that… apocalyptical motive?” squinted Alex hugging Apple Bloom and Scootaloo, while Sweetie Belle almost climbed on his shoulders. “And you must be Apple Bloom and Jackie’s cousin… Babs, right?” he turned to the fourth filly with a smile, causing the girl to blush and shrug muttering something. “Ah’m asking myself the same question the whole night…” chuckled Applejack. “Even both of them, partner!” “I fell for that… Again…” sighed Pinkie Pie, finally approaching and nudging Alex, she pouted. “But you scared the hay out of me and the others with all that horrible camouflage of yours! Don’t even deny that!” “Says who?” Alex felt that laughter started raising up his chest again. “Have you seen yourself in the mirror recently, mate? I must say, I hurried to Ponyville when I saw some monster with tentacles rolling down the road towards the town.” Forgetting about her pouting, Pinkie already snorted at the mental image of herself rushing through the foggy field and admitting there was a reason in Alex’s words. “Eeyup!” sounded behind the girls’ backs. Big Mac watched the scene with an overly satisfied look. “Thanks, mate!” Alex showed him a thumb up, heartily grateful for keeping the “conspiracy”. “For not sharing what you might have glimpsed in my words. Otherwise, that would probably ruin the effect.” “Always welcome!” the stallion winked. “Secrets are grave with me, you know.” “In a way, I managed to… hmmm… “get myself the Nightmare Knight” forsooth!” Alex suddenly felt the warm feathery cuddle on his shoulders, when the fillies finally released him rejoining with Babs and watching him and the princess excitedly. The ponies hummed when “Nightmare Moon” leaned to the human and nuzzled him tenderly. Automatically Alex wrapped his arm around princess’ neck planting a kiss on her cheek and snuggling his forehead to her soft flowing mane much to the delight of the herd. And registered a flash even through his closed eyelids that very moment. Alex knew, there were photo cameras in Equestria, even if he didn’t come across any so far, yet one turned out to be nearby at the most unfitting moment possible. ‘Great! I hope the photo won’t hit the press… “Nightmare Moon and the human” – Tia will skin me alive; she is occasionally squinting at me already since the gala!’ “But how was it even possible?!” inquired Twilight loudly seeing that the herd was catching each move, while “Nightmare Moon” was still cuddling Alex. “Oh, that’s a rather simple trick,” smirked Alex feeling Luna’s shoulder heating his own. “I was sleepwalking all the time,” he lowered his tone, “actually I am now.” With those words, he outstretched the hand and caught an apple, which rushed towards him from one of the stalls with bullet speed. “Sometimes it can be “abused” for pure fun!” “And I took the burden of the rest of… special effects, weather and lightning,” “Nightmare Moon” shone like a school filly. “We caught ye all off guard, isn’t it wondrous?!” Right at the moment when Alex relaxed, enjoying the successful joke and planning to address the party by joining the rest of the herd with the girls, he fancied some faint noise from behind. “Help!” a weak exhausted voice sounded from the hat of mist above the water. “Please, help!” With the sinking heart, Alex turned on the spot instantly: two fillies, limping tiredly, crossed the bridge, showing from the dense fog. “Help!” repeated one of them; another simply slid down the railing to the ground losing all the strength. Reaching them first, to his utter relief, Alex found out that they were safe at least, exhausted to the extreme but not visibly wounded. The unicorn and earth fillies were a little younger than “Wendigos” who reached them second after Alex, curiously perking their ears but staying aside to give him space. Scratched and ruffled all over, both of them looked as if they wandered the forest for quite a while and covered considerable distance: small twigs and leaves got stuck in their manes and tails, dust-covered their coats turning into wet dirt on the legs, as the girls waded the last miles through the damp foggy field. They even smelled of dust and leaves, as Alex realized lifting the unicorn filly from the ground and heading with her to the rest of the herd; the earth filly followed supported by Babs and the girls. “Now, can… you tell what… happened?” he turned to the earth filly who seemed to be overcoming their compelled trip better when her unicorn friend was placed on Twilight’s cloak and Rarity already bustled around her with the brought by somepony medkit. “I haven’t seen anything serious, but… are you both wounded?” “No… sir,” the filly took some effort to whisper hoarsely; Apple Bloom whisked away and returned with some water and after a few sips the girl could continue. “We are just so tired… And the legs… ache… But we don’t know what’s with…” she choked on words and tears sprayed from her closed eyes. “Thither was somepony else with you two?” Alex felt the chills along the spine. “Calm down, lief, and tellest us everything!” Princess Luna approached insensibly and leaned over kneeled Alex examining the filly. “Tryest to be brief please!” The contrast between the appearance of “Nightmare Moon” and the soothing voice was so striking that the filly opened her eyes and looked at the princess and the human completely normal, the tears dried out as fast as they flowed. “I’m so sorry… Princess!” with an intermittent sigh started the girl barely audibly. “We wanted to prank you…” “Prank me?” “Nightmare Moon” sounded genuinely surprised and Alex shared her feeling. ‘To prank the prankster… How did they ev’r come to that idea? Moreover, hoped to succeed…’ “We thought… that we might… that we could probably… scare you, Princess. Or at least catch by a surprise…” the earth filly let out a weak smile but then squinted again from the upcoming tears. “It was our joint idea… Nopony is… Err… We are all guilty, all three of us. Only find him please…” “Whom, pray tell?” “Nightmare Moon” touched her softly with the wing comforting. “Dost not cry, dear.” Alex turned all ears prepared to catch every word. “Pipsqueak…” breathed out the filly. “We planned to… hide near the monument, wait till the rest of the foals arrive… and Your Highness as well, obviously. To check “Nightmare Moon’s” nerves! Sorry-y-y!!!” she couldn’t hold any longer and burst into tears. “Pipsqueak…” sighed “Nightmare Moon”. “Of course, how didn’t I guess ere!” she cuddled the filly softly with her wings, lifting with the aura and bringing closer to her friend; Alex followed, exchanging glances with Twilight who looked inwardly panicking. “We thought that we knew the road well,” added the unicorn filly quietly; she came to her senses with the help of Rarity and Applejack and picked herself to a sit. “But the forest looks… so different at night. We lost the road…” she sighed woefully. “Walked for a while with no direction… Pip claimed that he knew the path.” “I guess when he confessed of feeling as lost as we were, it was too late already,” added she slowly after a pause. “We were so scared…” cried her earth pony friend. “Then… these sounds and fog came… and we got separated with him in the dark. He must be there still… in the fore-e-e-est!!!” “So much for coming to the unknown woods without a pegasus…” muttered Alex so only Twilight and Rainbow, standing behind, could hear him. “How did you manage to find the way then?” asked he genuinely puzzled. “We didn’t… by ourselves I mean…” the unicorn filly downcasted blushing. “We… simply… saw somepony with wings in the darkness,” her friend sniffed and took the breath, “… and followed them quietly.” That could probably make Alex laugh under different circumstances – the girls noticed him on the fringe of Everfree and followed. He realized that they were so close to the fields at that moment that could find the town direction themselves, but darkness and fright prevented them from thinking straight. Yet they kept enough sense to savvy the way out. “Good girls!” he let out a small smile getting up. ‘Fortunately that was me, not something else with wings… don’t know what else you have here except dragons and manticores…’ “Methinks I know the rest,” Alex took a look over the herd, which made the quietly talking ring around them. “We must look for him immediately – the forest is dangerous at this time.” What happened next simply made everypony, except Princess Luna, freeze in bewilderment – the human simply dissolved in the thin air. In a matter of seconds, his figure turned more and more transparent finally disappearing to the silent thrill of the herd; the majority of ponyvillers simply dropped the jaws, their eyes popping of surprise. “What… the…” started Rainbow Dash frowning. “Aren’t we supposed to search?” “Wait!” Twilight held her easy jumping to conclusions friend. “I think I know what he is up to…” Indeed, after a couple of minutes of deafening puzzled silence, they all heard the approaching loud sound of the large wings, somepony did their best to reach the Town Hall square as fast as possible. In a second, sending dust and straws flying, Alex landed abruptly among the ponies. “Okay, now I’m ready,” he took the breath, squeezing something, which resembled a double-edge axe without a handle. “I’m going immediately!” “Shouldn’t we all…” started Rainbow, “Nightmare Moon” nodded. “No!” retorted Alex glancing at the girls seriously. “I need all the strong ponies hither to keep the citizens and the town watched after. Besides, it’s not safe thither, I heard the wolves earlier…” “Luna,” he turned to the disguised princess. “Zecora must come shortly, when she doth, join me in search, please. Methinks we can cope. Twilight, you, the girls, Zecora and Mayor Mare are more than enough to keep everypony organized and safe. I extend mine hope we’re not late…” “You don’t know where to start…” Twilight glanced at him with concern. “The monument,” simply shrugged Alex. “Isn’t it the statue on the large black block?” getting the confirming nod he added. “I’ll start from thither in spiral…” “Be careful!” “Beest careful, lief!” ‘I’ll better be fast!’ Followed by princesses’ parting wishes, with a powerful flap, Alex rushed into the dark sky, wrapping into his armour on the fly and unfolding the glaive. Contrary to what they got accustomed to during their scholar excursions to Everfree, the night forest appeared completely different: dark, ruffling, almost alive, damp from the fog and vapour, it unwelcoming and borderline scary to the colt. In fairness, he was to admit that all of their trips were rather superficial, barely scratching the fringe of the enormous forest; they never went deep, as the teachers preferred prudence to dubious experience. Maybe it was their fault he found himself there completely unprepared or… maybe he shouldn’t come there at all. However, he always thought that he remembered the road to the Nightmare Moon monument well. It would be probably true, if there was more light, natural or artificial, just as it was during his first Nightmare Night trip to the monument with Zecora. Hoping that he could orient from his memories, the colt was to witness, how progressively different every forest became with ceasing light. He was roaming for about two hours already if counting from the moment he confessed to the girls that he lost the path; more – from the moment he actually lost it but feared to admit his suspicions looking too feasible to ignore. Eventually, it turned out to be his idea to make a joke ambush on Princess Luna near the Nightmare Moon monument trying to scare or at least surprise her. He was simply very convincing, infecting two classmates with that plan, so the girls started to think it was mutual. So it had ripened into the gnawing guilt – he couldn’t hear them anymore, despite how carefully he listened. But the foal could hear enough at the same time, all the kinds of nightly noises which affect one’s imagination so much. The forest breathed, it creaked and rustled constantly and occasional wails of nocturnal birds didn’t make these sounds easier to accept; even without the rain, something dripped coldly every now and then onto his scruff, sending chills along his spine. He was fancying shadows in the dark thicket and that urged the poor colt to move, as staying on the one spot was even scarier. Maybe the same reasons made them three panic an hour ago and lead to girls and him losing each other in the woods. It happened as if by some wicked magic: one moment they trotted together stepping over the fallen trees, one by one on the narrow path, which rather glimpsed among the verdure, but as soon as the girls and he got distracted by something, it appeared that they couldn’t see each other, let alone reach. First they tried to call each other and gather orienting by voice, but for some strange reason, the foals only distanced more with each moment, finally getting completely disoriented in the quickly darkening forest. He tried to yell for a while longer but quickly fell silent after he couldn’t hear the fillies anymore. The colt remembered about the wild animals and wholeheartedly hoped that the girls did too, dropping the futile attempts to give him an audible sign. It could equally be a welcoming sign for the hungry timberwolves, who were known to come closer to the settlements in the colder season. The thought about these abominations made his head spin, or maybe that was the stuffy air filled with fumes. The colt snuggled his forehead to the wetly smelling pine and almost cried. From his current position, their idea stopped looking that bright and promising. ‘Shut it, Pip!’ in a minute he clenched the teeth listening to the rustling darkness around. ‘You need to get out of the forest and find help…’ With some effort he left his tar-smelling halt and moved on. ‘The road was visible back then! It couldn’t overgrow that much in two years…’ he tried to convince himself, groping onto that saving thought. ‘If the girls get out to the monument, they can probably return to the town without problems…’ The colt deliberately drove away the memory that they easily lost that path before. Besides, he couldn’t find the monument himself, no matter how hard he tried. Finally, the chilling thought that he was walking in circles, wider or narrower but still circles every time, visited Pipsqueak. “Sweet Celestia! How scary it is…” whispered he, simply to hear some voice, even if it was his own. The distant sound resembling howling almost made colt’s heart jump out of his throat, so fast and unevenly it started beating; it darkened in his eyes and Pip rushed headlong not seeing the way. Suddenly, some light glimpsed among the trees not far from him. The colt changed direction, dashing towards that clearance in the woods reaching it in a matter of seconds. Jumping out to a large glade, he took a breath. There was no monument, nothing familiar in general; Pip found another completely random glade nopony-knew-where in Everfree. Not giving him time to think about his situation, the howling sounded from somewhere very close that time. Pip took a look around: with ominous rustling the surrounding bushes parted letting out the timberwolves. One by one they entered the glade staring at the frozen on the spot colt with the evil glowing sparks of their green eyes. Looking for a single foal in the depths of Everfree seemed to be a desperately futile task, but Alex did his best to dispel those thoughts and concentrate on his search instead. He quickly reached the Nightmare Moon monument; able to distinguish the familiar silhouette from a lower height, he didn’t lose time for landing at the large glade but slowly flew on widening spiral scanning the thicket below. Extremely grateful to Luna for that favour – the Moon quickly reached zenith pouring all the light on the scene – Alex peered into the mishmash of swaying shadows and brighter stripes to the ache in his eyes. He wholeheartedly hoped for the foal to keep some intent to survive still and move, realizing that it was next to impossible to notice a motionless creature in such circumstances, even at daylight, let alone in the darkness, despite all the night vision capabilities one might have. Till that moment Alex was able to spot only a couple of owls seeking for prey in the dense carpet of the Everfree; they quickly hid in the thicker foliage as soon as his shadow slid in their field of view. The trees were giving way to bushes and the latter to the trees again, there were a few tiny openings in the overgrown forest, but nothing resembling a pony yet to be found. Alex circled and circled, scanning the landscape below, soaring higher and lowering again to see the terrain from different angles; he tried his best to shove the growing feeling of despair deeper, realizing that the task was getting harder with every next minute of fruitless search. ‘I did correct!’ he was convincing himself. ‘One winged rescuer can do more than a herd of roaming in the dark woods ponies…’ Of course, he could ask pegasi, but actually he needed only one pony instead – Luna; she could see in the darkness as well as Alex, what couldn’t be said about the majority of ponies, pegasi or not. Besides, he didn’t have a squad of well armoured and trained guards at hand and putting the citizens at risks wasn’t his aim. ‘No, thanks! Enough…’ Gritting his teeth Alex continued gliding over Everfree. Suddenly, almost on the border of his vision, Alex spotted some cautious movement. Realizing that a frightened foal would hardly sneak insidiously, he took a better look nevertheless. The dark shadows threading through the undergrowth were noticeably larger than an average pony and the whole manner of moving was different. On the one hand, Alex was glad they were not Seekers, the latter he would have sensed yet approaching the edge of the forest. On the other hand, the familiar green glow of narrow-cut eyes told him – those were timberwolves; Alex’s heart sank at the thought they could already have had their feast. ‘Merlin’s pants! May he still be unnoticed by these freaks!’ Trying to keep on the leeward side and doing his best to produce less noise possible, Alex approached the sneaking pack. New and new beasts entered his sight from the thicket. ‘One, two, three…’ when Alex reached a dozen, he was close to panic at the thought that the wolves finding the colt earlier than him; they had no wings thankfully, but they saw perfectly in the darkness and had numerical advantage and speed. At that moment one timberwolf stopped and started sniffing, followed then by a few others; they inhaled the wind greedily, then one of the beasts raised its head and let out a not very loud but blood-chilling howl. The whole pack turned and headed somewhere deeper in the woods speeding up on the go. Now, when they all started running, Alex could see all of them; to his surprise there was more than he thought, two dozens of beasts at the very least. Betting everything on that chance, as the coincidence looked very suspicious, Alex decided to follow – the wolves spotted something, which they took for easy prey. A large glade, which Alex didn’t notice earlier, opened to his eyes; from the bird’s eye view, Alex could see the small figure entering the glade and freezing at a loss. He finally found the missing foal but so the timberwolves did, the first of them already reached the surrounding the glade shrubs and entered the clearing. There was no time to keep silence, Alex rushed to the glade at full speed, so the wings produced audible swish. Having nowhere to run when the first timberwolf crouched with low-pitch grumble preparing to pounce, Pipsqueak closed the eyes. He couldn’t hold back the squeal, realizing that it was the last thing he could ever do in his short life. Unable to move, the foal heard a hard blow but strangely felt nothing except the gust of wind on his muzzle; some shadow covered him. He dared to peek slightly in the very moment to see how the giant black wing hit the timberwolf mid-jump, swiping it away and sending in the air. The wolf smashed its back into the nearest tree and collapsed like a rag. Pip was about to faint: some creature, seeming huge to the frightened foal, landed right above him gleaming metallically. The multitude of spikes strewed the armour, made of dark metal with thin linear pattern, the sharp-clawed fore paws squeezed some strange long weapon; Pipsqueak squinted aside spotting how the spiked leg scratched the ground seeking for a better stance and leaving deep furrows, the wings had lowered shielding him from the sides. The new monster looked at him from above and freezing from terror, the colt saw his own miserable and deadly scared reflection in the smooth mirror-like face of the faceted helmet. The rest of the wolves growled viciously, unambiguously stating their intents. Pip’s first impulse was to flee as fast as he could, but on the edge of sanity, he realized that the arrived creature was addressing him. “Dost not run if thou wantest to live!” the winged nightmare roared out muffledly like from the barrel. “They shall tear thee apart given the chance!” “Hie, climb on mine back!” one wing lowered to give the colt a lift; with the remaining strength Pip jumped and hung on it. In bewilderment, he saw that the row of long spear-sharp spikes went along the armour spine, they were so long that he could climb on them as on a ladder. Which Pip did, clambering on the shoulders of his unexpected saviour; he realized only then – that “monster” was the human, Pip saw numerous times in the town. “… but dost not step on the wings, for thou may fall!” another wing flapped out dartingly hitting two more approaching timberwolves, knocking them down and sending them rolling shamefully on the ground. It was clearly showing that the previous strike wasn’t only a lucky coincidence. Pip shrunk into a ball clinging to the spikes with the last bit of strength and keeping away from the vast wings, which folded again preparing for the battle. Furious at failure, the timberwolves howled and the nearest forest replied them in chorus: more and more beasts sprung out to the glade. Alex saw that the whole pack gathered to take them down, no less than two dozens. He grinned louringly under his helmet and grabbed the glaive for the better swing. ‘Come on, you rotten logs!’ But inevitably, Alex was to admit there were too many of them, strong, quick and determined; more than he would have expected for the one person to cope with. ‘They can easily exhaust me if the battle takes too long. I need to take down as fast and as many of them as I can, while I still can move fluently!’ Eager to overcome the unexpected, stubborn hindrance or somehow reach the foal and tear him apart, the timberwolves tried to go head-on; the three most impatient beasts pounced at him at once anticipating the easy victory as they most likely thought. The glaive swished in its wide swing and one silvery gleaming blade met the head with the yawping maw, cutting it off at once like a piece of soft cheese. Totally unusual for the battle smell of tar and fresh wood spread into the air and Alex thought that sharpening the blade to perfection wasn’t futile. The rest two wolves evidently hoped to dive under enemy’s arm and the slightly lagging behind wing, thus clinging and dropping him to the ground, but another blade met them flat at the end of the hard blow, crushing into their muzzles, striking out teeth and breaking the jaws. The glaive justified its purpose entirely and the following wing strike bumped the wounded and squealing wolves one into another, sweeping them aside. The human was to make a u-turn to fade the impulse and meet the beasts in the face again, simultaneously demonstrating the row of sharp spikes on the back. Realizing that the enemy turned out to be way more mobile and dangerous than they expected, the timberwolves rushed in front of him at the clearing, looking for a weak spot and advantageous moment for the next attack. They snarled angrily, the green glowing eyes glared at the human with wild malice but to his surprise, Alex noticed that all the beasts behaved nearly equally. There was no visible leader in that pack or at least Alex was unable to distinguish one at that moment. ‘Tis becoming complicated!’ glimpsed in his mind. ‘Killing the leader would have seriously shaken their confidence.’ The hive-mind behaviour could be probably explained by the peculiar nature of his enemy, being the wildest mix of plant and animal, but Alex had no time for biological research. Raising the glaive, he began to rotate it like a heavy nearly six-foot diameter propeller, placing the gleaming impenetrable shield between them and the wolves. The timberwolves became annoyed to the extreme: wherever the vile creatures tried to squeeze, thereto went the silver sizzling death, blocking their most dodgy attempts to attack. One, the most impatient or hungry, or maybe both simultaneously, pounced for the sheer luck into the seeming opening… only to be met by the whirlpool of steel. Ripped to shreds, the beast peppered the glade with its small wooden pieces, like a dry branch caught in a fan. That discouraged the attackers but only for a second at most; the wolves rushed at Alex with doubled persistence yet hardly more cautiously. The necessity to constantly think about the foal curled behind his shoulders made Alex’s position worse. He couldn’t move as fast as he would like to, fearing that the colt might fall to the ground; in that case his fate would have been sealed in a matter of seconds. In dispersing wolves, especially timberwolves, some fire could appear of invaluable help… but Alex realized that the reasons making him refrain from sleepwalking there were incomparably more crucial. Strike! One more strike! Sawdust and small leaves fanned into the air when another timberwolf was thrown away with a long torn wound on its side. ‘Damned wretches, when do you get it?!’ Angry roaring followed by a hard blow or sizzling cut was turning into the sound of flying away or heavily collapsing body. Alex did his best to keep the wolves up front, constantly turning and dancing on the glade; the wings were folding and stretching again, delivering the knocking the enemy strikes and sweeping the beasts which tried to attack from flanks. In an attempt to restrain the irritating foe, one timberwolf gripped the tip of the wing with its teeth. Folding momentarily, the wing pulled the dazed beast closer and impaled it on the promptly offered blade, making the attacker go limp at once when the turning glaive tore it almost in halves. Roaring and howling, the timberwolves became mad with rage as their attempts brought them more and more fails. Their behaviour turned chaotic and thus even more dangerous. Despite all his efforts and due to the inevitable fatigue, they started to get around the human, glaring at the unreachable for them so far foal. They couldn’t do anything with the armoured human, even if they would have succeeded at exhausting him and knocking down to the ground, but they showed unambiguously what was their real aim. Alex fought soundlessly if not taking the hardening breath into account: he was to fight not for a show or sport, but for one defenceless life, as he realized well that all the predators needed was to pull the colt off his back. ‘I need to train more!’ Alex began to feel all the armour on him clearly. ‘These are not Seekers, who crumble at the first direct touch… And the armour makes things tougher…’ “Look out! Behind!!!” “Get down!” without the second thought, folding his wings tight, Alex made the glaive draw a full circle above himself. Barely crouching in time, Pipsqueak couldn’t avoid glancing back at the right moment to see, how the wheezing shiny crescent dash cut the air and chopped away the grinning head of timberwolf and the very tip of Pip’s tail almost in the beast’s mouth. The claws creaked on the smooth metal surface of the armour and wolf’s body collapsed to the ground. Alex swung the glaive stopping it sharply aside and shaking off tar from the heated blade. He jumped back to keep all the wolves in sight again, using the momentarily pause to take the breath and plan further tactics. All over it turned out that he needed to take down the absolute majority of the pack for them with the foal to be left alone – inscrutably, the beasts kept ignoring their own casualties. Thus all other variants were extremely dangerous for his “passenger”. Apparently, the beasts decided to wear the human down and receive their prey at all costs. But there was absolutely no valour in their persistence. Granted they attacked the armed enemy without hesitation, but their initial intent – as long as Alex knew them – was always to outnumber and run down somepony weaker. Remembering his first acquaintance with them, Alex roared into the helmet muffledly, his eyes darkened. Dash – Strike! Dash – Strike! He did his best to catch the wolves at the end of their pounces, dodging them and bringing inescapable retribution whenever possible. Going into pure defence, Alex spun the weapon, constantly moving not to give them another chance to come around him and delivering only perfectly aimed hits back and forth, left and right, not wasting energy for enemies’ provocations. More and more timberwolves remained on the tar stained grass motionless or crawled away severely crippled, but many of them remained, beaten and wounded lightly and therefore extremely wrought-up. Flying away could look a feasible way out, but Alex was to admit, soaring from the flat ground with extra weight would have taken a few precious seconds, when his attention would have been dispersed. Perfect chance for the wooden bastards to use it to their advantage and drag the foal away. The roars and loud clanking of steel woke up the entire Everfree on a couple of miles radius and the forest froze in terror, waiting for the outcome of that brutal fight. ‘Fucking logs! What do you need to stop?!’ Alex retreated, making the sawdust fly with every hit he delivered to the timberwolves and occasionally squinting over the shoulder to ensure that Pipsqueak was still there, at the verge of fainting but still holding on. He missed one pounce, forced to change hand and smash the beast’s muzzle with the steel spiked glove. A few wolves regrouped already and were preparing to take on the human up front again, not giving him any breath. “ENOUGH!!!” the thunder-like voice rolled over the forest. Something overshadowed the moonlight and a blue glowing fireball of magic bolted into the ground in front of the attacking timberwolves; exploding like a good grenade, it blinded everypony for a few moments. It looked as if some giant hand brushed the remaining beasts away to the thicket like paper cranes – only their scared shameful squealing was reaching Alex’s ears from the darkness. “The saviour of the… night…” Alex exhaled resting one end of his glaive on the ground; he leaned on it, breathing heavily. “Thanks! They almost succeeded in getting us.” “Princess!..” at the sight of the large winged silhouette hovering above them, Pip squeaked with relief, still hanging on Alex’s shoulders. “Evening, young mister!” it was so strange to hear the familiar silvery voice coming from “Nightmare Moon” that Alex unwittingly smiled; she sounded jokingly, but the glance of the alicorn princess was serious. “We shall touch the reasons and lessons of this incident sometime anon…” promisingly stated she making the colt downcast in shame. The princess landed folding her broad wings. When moonlight could fall freely onto the glade, the eyes of “Nightmare Moon” widened. Parts of the beasts and a few wooden bodies were scattered all over the surface. “They were only wild animals…” started she with an audible tint of reproach. “Couldn’t thou simply have flown away taking the foal with thee? Instead of that… slaughter…” “Apologies, lief… I had no chance to take off risking him being dragged off mine back or simply falling!” retorted Alex looking right into her deep dark blue eyes with vertical slits of the pupils. “Barely finding him moments afore he was going to become their supper, I picked up the colt a fraction of second afore they pounced. Preferred not to risk…” Enveloping in a bright glow, his helmet dissolved leaving only a thin metal band on human’s head and making Pipsqueak nearly fall from his back from surprise. “Besides, they had no hesitations at which hour almost killing Fluttershy half a year ere!” added Alex meaningfully, pressing something on the glaive handle, so with light sizzle the whole weapon started folding and took its compact form in a few seconds allowing to attach it to the belt. She took another look at the glade, at Alex still catching his breath, at Pipsqueak barely holding onto human’s shoulders only because the spiked armour gave him a grip. “I… I’m sorry!” after a few seconds of thinking, softly said “Nightmare Moon”. “I could think better… Thou had no choice forsooth, lief!” The next moment she did something that made Pipsqueak release his hold in amazement; he would undoubtedly fall if the princess didn’t catch him up with her magic promptly. “Nightmare Moon” approached the human and gave him a long tender kiss. “Were they not supposed to return already, if everything went fine?” Pinkie peered into the star-woven sky. Despite the celebration turned out crumpled, nopony left the square and many did the same thing as Pinkie, watching the night sky and asking themselves one uneasy question. Somepony ran to find and bring there Pipsqueak’s mother and the earth mare sobbed quietly, consoled by a few neighbours. She didn’t know for sure, but the unknown was worse than any news. “Calm down, Pinkie…” Twilight asked softly, inwardly being reeled into a clot of tight nerves. “They have the whole Everfree fringe to search through…” at these words the sobs became more audible. “At the end of the day, the princess is with them and… Alex is worth something when it comes down to a fight, don’t you think?” Twilight added confusedly. “Exactly! And I am worried about them all!” Pinkie fidgeted on the spot impatiently. Rarity did her best to hold together, squeezing Spike and Sweetie Belle in her hug, but girl’s eyes were pinprick from deeply hidden terror. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Babs gathered around Applejack, who leaned on brother’s shoulder staring at one point, stressed and upset. Rainbow nervously flew back and forth in front of the falling quiet herd. “If they don’t show up for five minutes more, I’m going to join the search! Nopony can stop me…” she stated unobjectionably. “Who’s with me?!” The rolling over the herd hum showed that there were quite a few pegasi sharing Dash’s enthusiasm. So far, Twilight, Zecora (she just came to uphold the Nightmare Night tradition), Mayor Mare and a humble number of guards managed to keep the ponyvillers adequate and listening to the voice of common sense, but empathy could take over at any moment, making the situation only worse. “Shhh… Listen!” Twilight suddenly hushed, raising her eyes to the sky and trying to hear something. After a minute of tensed listening, they fancied the approaching sounds of wings cutting the cool night air. Highlighted by the Moon, two bright metallically glimmering dots appeared in the night sky. The silhouettes grew with each second, gaining the attention of all eyes of the herd; one moved fluently, another flew lower, heavily flapping its giant black wings. “Nightmare Moon” landed first, gracefully as every self-respecting princess usually did. Alex almost flopped to the ground, landing hard on one knee and keeping the wings raised almost vertically not to knock down anypony on the square. The herd tensely froze in silence. An embarrassed pony muzzle emerged from behind Alex’s shoulder, peeking through his ruffled hair. Resting his palm on the ground, Alex leaned lower letting the colt slide off his back; after a momentary hesitation, Pipsqueak darted through the parting herd towards his tear-stained mother. Even if the mare wanted to explain her son the impropriety of his deed, she forgot about that at once grabbing and squeezing the foal, kissing him frantically and weeping but from happiness already. The herd roared in delight and relief making the glass in Town Hall’s windows tingle and both Pip and his mom crouch. Alex barely had time to remove his sharp-edged armour before a white and greyish brown flurry grabbed him into a hug Harry-bear would envy, filling his vision with curly vanilla smelling mane. “You saved him!.. You saved my boy…” the mare wept hanging on human’s neck; Alex’s shirt was quickly getting soaked in the collar area. “Thank you! Thank you! I can’t… Thank you…” “It’s okay ma-am,” diplomatically started Alex, supporting himself with both hands not to fall forward on the ground – he couldn’t even get up before she grabbed him. “I found him… but… it’s the princess who saved us both, so…” he made an effort to get up, staggering when Pipsqueak’s mother released him. She darted to the sitting next to Alex and smiling “Nightmare Moon” and without second thought hugged her tight as well, somewhere around the chest, where the earth pony could reach, muttering the words of gratitude and sobbing. “Nightmare Moon’s” eyes rounded, she raised her fore hoof unconfidently and was stroking the mare on the mane and shoulders softly. In a moment the mare realized that something unusual was happening and stepped back a little, freezing confusedly: the situation, her own actions and princess’ appearance combined put Pip’s mom into cognitive dissonance for a while. “Oh… Your Highness! Forgive me please my…” “No-no, tis fine forsooth,” the princess chuckled lightly, then turned to the human with a sly anticipating smile. “Finally, thou art without these edges and thorns, lief!” before Alex could realize, he was captured in another very soft and feathery lavender fragrant embrace. He shook his head dispelling the silly and completely random thought about Luna smelling of lavender even in her disguise and guesses about Nightmare Moon’s native “flavour”. He was to admit, the warm cuddle was awesome, considering Alex felt quite beaten up and tired after the fight. In exchange for support and tenderness, Alex could come to terms with the fact that the entire herd was staring at him and “Nightmare Moon”, who rested her head on top of his with a blissful expression. However, Luna wasn’t going to stop at that; shielding them with her wing, she leaned closer and gave him a sweet passionate kiss. Tasting her lips, Alex was to throw back his head and wrap his arms around “Nightmare Moon’s” neck not to fall. Flushing at once, he noticed how purring from pleasure princess lost her guard for a second lowering her wing; a camera glimpsed in the whistling and cheering herd almost momentarily. ‘Merlin’s pants! They took a picture of that… Well… To hell with that…’ Alex turned in Luna’s embrace and cuddled her properly, brushing the fingers through her flowing mane and making the herd hoot even louder. “Alas… I need to continue mine voyage,” sighed “Nightmare Moon” still holding him with her wings. “But I’m not saying goodbye for tonight,” exhaled she in Alex’s ear quietly. “Have a very scary Nightmare Night, mine beloved ponies!” declared the princess, releasing her human and soaring into the night. “The Night Crown’s blessing is upon you!” she departed in a bright flash of the magical teleport. Sunday lied ahead and the common decision of ponyvillers was to continue the celebration by joining Pip’s miraculous rescue to the main event. Discussing the surprisingly lucky outcome of school-foals failed joke, ponies began mingling about the square again. The extinguished lanterns were lit, the torches changed where necessary, the attractions – wound up and Applejack already gathered volunteers to send to the farm for the additional snacks. Only an occasional curious glance thrown by somepony at Alex (as he was the single remaining participant – Pip’s mother took the colt home as it was too much of a shock for both) reminded about the incident. ‘All well that ends well…’ Alex was pondering if simply sitting down on the hoofworn grass on the bank was okay, as his whole body started aching from the strain. However, it could become only worse after resting on the ground. He also wondered inwardly, where the camera disappeared and how many copies of the photo would hit the public the next day. “One thing she is right about, daarin!” Alex almost jumped on the spot, so quietly Rarity approached him, entirely justifying her Nightmare Night character. “You aren’t bristling with thorns now, Ahhhlex! So nice for…” murmured she raising on her hind legs and taking his arm. Rarity snuggled to the human so tightly, Alex could feel every inch of her silky stylish dress and girl’s pacing up heartbeat. Too tired to resist, Alex sighed quietly and wrapped his arm around Rarity’s shoulders; the unicorn girl’s face took the expression, which usually appeared on Opal’s muzzle when Rarity’s cat was given sour cream to her heart’s content. As the result, melting Rarity squeezed him around the waist, snuggling even closer, almost nuzzling on the chest. “Looking good, you two,” chuckled Twilight, approaching them. “The Nightmare Knight and Neighponese Assassin!” dusting off her black-red cape and wrapping herself into it, she sported a wide grin, demonstrating the gleam of her false fangs. “Nightmare Knight…” repeated she, “that may stick!” “Look, I’ve long wanted to ask,” seeing that Rarity wasn’t reacting, Twilight raised closer to Alex’s ear. “Why didn’t you go after Pipsqueak while sleepwalking? That looked reasonable, as you have more capabilities that way… besides, less risky for you…” “It’s how it is on the first sight,” nodded Alex. “But actually it’s a bit more complex. Just imagine somepony waking the real me up during the fight… Yes,” he added seeing the girl paled suddenly, “I would have vanished amidst the fight – instant death to one I was going to rescue in that case. I preferred to take one risk than another…” “Hey! Why are you three sticking out here, aside from the fun?” Rainbow Dash popped seemingly out of the ground, pulling Twilight and Alex to the square with the rest of the herd. “It happens once a year and is going to be over this time soon!” “Sorry, girls. I feel a bit wrung out. Besides, I had different plans…” Alex shook his head entrusting softened and slightly cross-eyed Rarity to Twilight and Rainbow. “I’m going to check if everything is fine with Shy… and then, I think I visit Steels – I saw the lights being on at their place, so I won’t be an annoyance.” “I’ll be fine Twi. Not going to stay awake till morning anyway,” added he with a bit tired smile. “Don’t make too much noise when you and Spike return home.” * The cottage was surrounded by such an overwhelming and completely unnatural for that time of the day silence that Alex became suspicious at the moment approaching it; at the opposite side of the stream, even before crossing the small bridge, his surprise turned into concern and shortly after – anxiety. The mere fact that Fluttershy’s yard wasn’t occupied by some noisy and fidgety little critters was a sign of something truly outstanding happening there or… already happened. Alex involuntarily sped up, even if he trudged as a turtle before, having certain reasons for pensiveness and hesitancy. The latter could be easily explained by his aim leading Alex to Fluttershy’s cottage that day: he wanted to bring some clarity into their relationship. Or better say in the relationship connecting him, Fluttershy and Princess Luna. So far, things kept being complicated and clarity was rather a figure of speech, as Alex was to admit reluctantly. On the other hand, the current circumstances were far from being ideal either, at least without the “declaration of intent” from one or all of the sides. Currently, the girls were rather bearing each other’s presence and gathering them both around Alex was dangerously explosive; even despite their inborn sense of tact and dignity, let alone the known friendship between Princess Luna and Fluttershy, an occasional thunderbolt flashed in their mutual glances in such case. Putting his hand on the gate, Alex marvelled, how loud its creak came out in the surrounding him in the cool air silence. Granted, Autumn came to its decline and it was the second of November, so the majority of the small animals entered their hibernation already or were on the verge of, while the songbirds long left. However, not hearing the hens and not seeing any movement at the yard was unprecedented for that household. The whole place looked and sounded (or better say stood mute) like it was outwaiting non less than some carpet bombing. ‘Merlin’s pants! What hath befallen hither?!’ The human caught himself upon crossing the garden path almost on his toes, unwittingly conforming to the stressful atmosphere. The front door was unlocked, it wasn’t unusual or worrying per se as in general doors were never locked in Ponyville at daytime, which still didn’t cease to surprise Alex, accustomed to the “human society”. The mere fact that it wasn’t even properly shut drove him into the deeper anxiety. Trying to produce no sound, Alex opened the door and infiltrated into the hall leaving the entrance unblocked just in case. A quick glance around told him that all the things from the furniture to small trinkets were seemingly on their places, yet he couldn’t be absolutely sure, as he didn’t cross that threshold for quite a while. The cottage met Alex with the same silence; Fluttershy was never noisy, but silence accompanied by deserted outside only emphasized the impression of wrong. Not knowing what could be happening there, Alex decided to accurately check all the rooms himself. Naturally, he started from the kitchen – the next to the hall considerably large room. A fleeting glance from the doorstep didn’t reveal anything outstanding, except maybe a used cup neither removed from the table nor washed. Something crunched under his feet when Alex entered the room. Shifting his sight down, he froze on the spot like thunderstruck: shards of the broken porcelain plate glimmered dimly on the floor. There was nothing else except the plate parts and it didn’t look as if it was dropped accidentally. Alex thought that he was fancying some faint scent in the air but it was so thin making it hard to recognize. Suppressing the wish to shout her name, Alex clenched his fists; if any stranger was still in the house, they were to be found and treated accordingly. ‘Kicked in the ass for trespassing!’ Alex gritted his teeth audibly making two lumps on his cheeks twitch. Fancying some faint sound from the hall, he stormed back and threw another wild glance around the large room trying to locate the source. Another rustle came from under the large armchair right in front of him and in a second the casually thrown plaid moved slightly revealing the rabbit head, very unconfident and wiggling the ears warily. In a second Angel emerged from his hideout entirely and sat watching the human with the mix of embarrassment, anxiety and grumpiness, which could look funny under different circumstances. He threw a cautious look around and put a paw to his mouth calling for silence. “Heigh, Angel!” Alex quietly squatted down not to tower over Fluttershy’s little friend; he made an effort to relax his rope-strained nerves and smile as casually as possible. “Dost me a favour, tellest what hath befallen hither? What’s about all that silence, pray tell?” The rabbit stared up at him raising one eyebrow and placing his ears parallel to the floor in complete bewilderment. “Ahem…” Alex braced himself with a sigh leaning closer and whispering. “Can you… tell me what’s… happened here? The whole place looks as if… the air-raid warning was issued.” Angel sighed and facepalmed with the soft paw with a quite miserable look. “Did somepony come here before me?” Alex realized that without some basic knowledge of interspecies communication, which was foals’ game for his yellow pegasus friend but Chinese language for him, it went down to some guess-game. “Are they still here?” The rabbit nodded energetically, so even his ears waggled. Then Angel scratched his nape and decided to demonstrate graphically. He marched back and forth putting on an overly confident look, then sat again looking up to Alex inquiringly. “Guards?” Alex blinked a few times. “What guards could forget here?” Angel stomped his hind paw and shook the head quickly showing that Alex totally failed following his pantomime. With a sigh he repeated the show, now with exaggeratedly cheerful and proud yet at the same time gamine look. “Discord…” muttered Alex more to himself. “But he wouldn’t render the place that deserted…” Another facepalm almost made the rabbit fall flat; with an impatient squeak, Angel hopped closer to Alex and pulled the edge of his wing, jerking it a few times insinuatingly and making the human ponder for a second. “A princess?!” finally savvied Alex, his heart sank upon the next guess. “Princess Luna?” Angel nodded very quickly then crouched with his head in his fore paws. “They quarrelled?!” The rabbit threw such a glance up at him that Alex could almost read ‘You can’t even imagine how!!!’ in it. ‘So that’s what made all the animals hide!’ Alex could easily imagine Luna resorting to the Royal Canterlot Voice in the heated argument, but for what it’s worth, Fluttershy didn’t fit that image at all. Nevertheless, Alex was one hundred per cent sure, Luna would have never made some damage for the mere sake of the argument. ‘It comes out that Fluttershy broke the plate during the quarrel!’ His eyes rounded involuntarily. ‘It’s definitely time to interfere… even if it starts looking downright scary.’ Meanwhile, Angel pointed with his glance at the stairs unequivocally and made a desperate face. “They are both upstairs?!” breathed out Alex. “And it’s silent for a while already… What could be going on there?..” The rabbit nodded very fast, then rolled his eyes – ‘Well, what did you expect me to do anyway?’ “Ooookay…” Alex rose with a sigh turning towards the stairs. Feeling the sudden pull, he looked back to notice bemusedly how Angel pulled the tip of the wing and shook his head. “I must…” Angel only shrugged and waved his paw – ‘I warned you, but if you’re suicidal…’ “You know, the idea doesn’t look safe to me either…” smirked Alex. “Thanks, bro…” He headed upstairs trying to tread lightly – some wooden steps creaked audibly, while Angel followed his receding back and, just in case, hid under the armchair again. The bedroom door turned out to be slightly open throwing a narrow stripe of light into the darker corridor, but Alex couldn’t catch a sound from inside. For that he needed to come close and listen. Even without that he knew that both girls were inside: the honey-floral and strong lavender scents mixed were reaching him; now Alex realized what was that familiar faint aroma downstairs. Lavender simply had time to wind out considerably, since Luna left the ground floor. Feeling somehow that knocking would appear completely dumb, Alex swallowed and grabbed the knob; bracing himself, he flung the door open and made the first step into the bedroom. Made a step and was staggered; the sight opening to his eyes made Alex freeze on the spot feeling how his jaw was inevitably dropping. The room was exactly as he remembered it: with the bathroom door and the bed at the left wall and the hearth and the dresser at the right, the armchair and the bookcase near the large window – laconic and comfortable at the same time. The lights were out, the wind coming through loosely closed window played with the curtains slightly; soft evening light seeped into the room making the large wooden beams, crossing the white ceiling, cast deep shadows. Lavender and honey embraced Alex welcoming him like a long-anticipated guest; he realized why the aroma came in waves, trying to comprehend what he saw. Luna and Fluttershy were both sitting on Fluttershy’s bed: Luna deeper with Fluttershy nesting in front of her. Enveloping the large hairbrush with her blue aura, the princess was musingly combing pegasus girl’s long splendid mane. Ruffling like a bird, with her eyes closed dreamingly, Fluttershy faintly wiggled her shoulders from pleasure, almost purring and bringing a smile on Luna’s face. Girl’s lush pink tail probably waiting for its turn to be brushed interlaced with princess’ mane and tail, which covered almost the entire bed, flowing softly and shimmering in the slanting rays of light. Quick Luna’s glance she threw at Alex told him that the girls most likely were waiting for him since the moment Alex entered the cottage. However, the whole scene wasn’t artificial, as it would take considerable time and effort to brush Fluttershy’s sumptuous mane making it exquisitely smooth and silky – thus it wasn’t a play for his eyes exclusively; somehow the girls managed to find common ground. “Finally, thou art hither,” stated the princess wrapping her fore leg around Fluttershy; she buried her muzzle in girl’s hair and watched the human while peeking slyly from the soft cloud of the pink mane. Fluttershy opened up one eye focusing on Alex with some effort, then leaned on her friend’s shoulder, enjoying the cuddle. Under any other circumstances Alex would have found the whole scene utterly amusing, but that day he was extremely serious about his wish to sort things out. Yet at the same time, he couldn’t deny that the sight was quite arousing. Clearing his throat, the human made another step releasing the door handle. “How come…” started Alex noticing from the corner of his eye, how the bedroom door closed slowly enveloped in the blue aura. Without even looking back he knew that it stood under Luna’s magic, thus locked and promptly cutting all the escape ways. “Ahem… I mean what art thou doing hither, Luna?” “Well… I thought that ladies in friendship didn’t need special reasons to visit each other for some talk and quality time!” Luna shrugged with her wings in feigned surprise. “Am I correct, Fluttershy?” “Mhmm…” the pegasus girl murmured in agreement, snuggling closer to her bigger friend. “Seriously though,” the princess put away the hairbrush, “I came hither with the same aim as thou didst, Alex – to clarify our complex relationship. And… I must admit, the beginning of the talk was far from being relaxed or diplomatically discreet.” “Errmmm… Alex, stop playing shy at last,” Fluttershy looked at him lovingly but strictly. “Why don’t you come closer?.. We don’t bite!” both girls smiled daintily watching the human expectantly. Throwing one last glance over his shoulder, Alex made sure that the door was indeed wrapped in Luna’s magic; bracing himself, he approached the girls finally treating each other like real friends should. Seeing his doubts, Fluttershy patted the bed cover in front of her, letting out another encouraging smile. “What has happened here?” Alex sank at the bed edge. “The whole place looked… overrun…” “Luna came here about an hour before you,” Fluttershy started elaborating while Luna quietly snorted at Alex’s association, “ to talk about… us three. And…” Alex noticed her fidgeting in embarrassment. “And I lost my temper.” “Umm… I’m not quite…” Alex blinked. “I-I mean I’m not proud of it,” muttered Fluttershy, the flush started flooding her muzzle. “T-to tell the truth… I’m rather a-ashamed of that momentary impulse…” “That was quite a scene,” chuckled Luna softly. “I nev’r expected the talk to be easy, but…” Meanwhile, Fluttershy kept getting brighter and brighter in her flush. “Thou knowest that I resort to the Canterlot Royal Voice oft… Let’s say at which hour the situation demandeth,” the princess cocked her eyebrows meaningfully. “But… Methinks I didn’t yet come across somepony shouting back at me so fiercely!” To his surprise, Alex noticed that Luna cracked an almost content smile; he shook his head inwardly confessing that he couldn’t understand the girls at the moment. “Squee!” Fluttershy sat red as a carrot. “Please, Luna… I… I’m already…” Alex moved closer on the bed, finally sitting himself properly and taking Fluttershy’s fore hoof in his hands; he looked into her eyes. “We shan’t repeat all the words we have spoken about each other… Or mention the certain plate…” Luna decided mercifully, squeezing Fluttershy in her cuddle and nuzzling her mane intensively. “Tis history… of no relevance to our matter of importance forsooth.” “Are you both okay?” Alex watched the girls fixedly, trying to imagine the scene between them and admitting that he lacked fantasy to fancy it as large as life. Both nodded, Fluttershy relaxed a bit slowly returning to her natural colour. “Did you Sta…” “No! But I was close to that…” whispered Fluttershy bashfully. “Not that it would necessarily work on me,” smirked Luna slyly. “But the realization that we are friends appeared of greater value at the end of the day! Even if stimulated in such a way…” ‘Thither shan’t be a better moment!’ Alex braced himself. ‘Merlin’s pants! Head, why art thou so empty?..’ “It’s great, because…” uttered he finally, “I wanted… I…” “Afore thou say anything…” Luna stopped him softly, releasing Fluttershy from her embrace. “We didn’t tell thee the final point – the result of our talk.” The girls exchanged glances in the gesture of almost visible mental agreement. “So, we both are confident in our feelings…” Luna let out a dainty smile moving a bit on the bed. “Nothing hath changed over time or events…” “…and we admit that nopony should take losses!” added Fluttershy raising her glance at Alex. “But at the same time we don’t want you to feel as if you hurt any of us… or feel forced and tormented either.” “As two adult mares,” concluded Luna, “we decided that the best way would be to… share thee!” Her smile shone brightly and the princess looked extremely pleased with their with Fluttershy mutual solution. “Errmmm…” Alex wasn’t sure if he understood her properly. “What, sorry?” “Practically the same what we did all that time already,” said Fluttershy taking his hand. “B-but with… mutual consent. Squee! I-I mean between me and Luna… that is…” she downcasted confusedly. “Exactly!” ‘I wonder what they are up to?!’ Alex noticed the joyful sparks dancing in Luna’s eyes; Fluttershy slid closer to him. “Exactly as it soundeth!” Luna whispered in his ear but perfectly audible for everypony present. “Share thee… in all the meanings of that word… in turn or… simultaneously if ‘t be true that cometh in agreement with situation and desires.” “Yes… Even that way!” Fluttershy began to flush rapidly; with a relief, Alex saw that it was still his Fluttershy, whose decision took her quite a nerve and effort but at the same time her voice was extremely confident at that moment. “So… What didst thou want to say?” Luna breathed into his ear making the hair stand on ends on Alex’s nape and causing crowds of goosebumps; he realized that the alicorn princess ended up behind him, while he watched Fluttershy’s struggles. “It… doesn’t matter… now…” squeezed out Alex feeling her nuzzling his hair while Fluttershy leaned closer putting her fore hooves on Alex’s shoulders. “All that mattereth now is… us!” Luna let out a happy silvery laughter while he melted from her short hot kisses on the neck. Alex reached back with his fingers meeting the silky coat on Luna’s hip and making her sigh excitedly; he hugged Fluttershy with another arm watching the turquoise eyes moving closer and closer till they filled his entire soul. --- 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
  2. 32ht-1595717393-473799-full

    Canterton High: Ponynormal

     

    怪談とポニー

     

    An update on the novel status...

    IT'S PUBLISHED!

    Check it on FimFiction https://www.fimfiction.net/user/293719/Alexshy/stories

    Obviously, ye need to be legal and have your Mature filter properly set.

    1. Loyal Defender

      Loyal Defender

      Beautiful image! :squee:

       

  3. Dearest Subjects! :orly:

    I had drastically failed at being forgotten, as I saw... for which I'm wholeheartedly grateful to you all!!!

    Yes, you all! KEEP BEING AWESOME!!!

    *bows*

    Thanks a lot for your congratulations and birthday wishes!

     

    A tiny disclaimer hither (if 't be true ye don't mind): While I may still not be as active hither as afore, I'm back to literary work and regaining the drive. Thus the writing of the book shalt be restarted shortly. Meanwhile, we (Lunar Cycle Studio) are working on a new j-horror style story. Due to its M-rating it shalt be available soon on FimFiction for 18+ audience. Manga based on the novel is in TBD status, the new OCs (not all of them yet) can be seen hither: https://www.deviantart.com/yoye-wolfgrel/art/The-Curious-Four-848282310 (sfw image, don't worry)

    1. Show previous comments  7 more
    2. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      @CypherHoof 🐎 : The story barely mentions the Princesses, otherwise the characters are completely original.

    3. CypherHoof 🐎

      CypherHoof 🐎

      fair enough; my comment was more general, rather than specific to your new story :)

    4. Loyal Defender

      Loyal Defender

      Glad you're still around! You always brighten my day! or is it night...? :ooh:

       

  4. Happy Birthday mine Princess! 

    MLP Birthday of Luna by 0Bluse on DeviantArt

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Warmest gratitude from the depth of mine heart! :LunaMCM:

  5. Merry birthiversary! :blue_baloon::balloon::blue_baloon:

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks kindly! :twi:

  6. Hope you’re doing well and having a happy birthday! ^_^ 

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks, I'm doing mine best to. Back to literary work likewise.

  7. Merry Birthiversary!

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks! :LunaMCM:

  8. :blue_baloon:Happy Birthday, my night Princess!! :balloon:
    B7006CC0-96A2-4067-BE2D-6F2E51C4404F.thumb.png.90c472379f40a6cb52fabb7176bace4b.png

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks, mine friend! *hugs*

  9. Haaaaappy birthday! :balloon: :yay:

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      YAAAAAAY!!! :pinkie:

  10. :blue_baloon:Happy Birthday!:balloon:

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Mine gratitude!

  11. Pleasant fetal transmogrification day!

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      :D Yeah, almost hitting another thousand! :orly:

  12. Happy birthday, my friend! :pinkie: May it be a wonderful one! ^_^

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks kindly! I was quite nice :LunaMCM:

  13. @Alexshy Happy happy birthday to you! Lots of cake and fluffy ponies all for you!

    IMG_0583.thumb.PNG.e05e3cb639a8218c6b6c72eb903e611f.PNG

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks, mine friend *hugs*

  14. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, @Alexshy

     

    ezgif-6-f2983032997b.gif.6f9867f34587827389eedb6bb6a6546b.gif

    1. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      *hugs and boops* Woohoo!

    2. Sparklefan1234

      Sparklefan1234

      @Alexshy *Hugs and boops back*

      image.gif.986c0202db40344ff911ec2ee90cd0c9.gif

      image.gif.3e1ec753aa76a9a6df982b700ff4ab6f.gif

  15. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    :discord_balloon::discord_balloon:

    Spoiler

    MY QUEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    *kneels*

    1280x1024 Princess Luna 1280x1024 Resolution HD 4k Wallpapers, Images,  Backgrounds, Photos and Pictures

     

    1. SpookyBrony42

      SpookyBrony42

      The birthday is celebrated by @Alexshy in the definite, third person, present, passive tense.

    2. Alexshy

      Alexshy

      Thanks, mine friend! *hugs*